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Science News

Power behind primordial soup discovered

Life from space?Physics & Chemistry

Researchers at the University of Leeds may have solved a key puzzle about how objects from space could have kindled life on Earth. While it is generally accepted that some important ingredients for life came from meteorites bombarding the early Earth, scientists have not been able to explain how that inanimate rock transformed into the building blocks of life.

This new study shows how a chemical, similar to one now found in all living cells and vital for generating the energy that makes something alive, could have been created when meteorites containing phosphorus minerals landed in hot, acidic pools of liquids around volcanoes, which were likely to have been common across the early Earth.

"The mystery of how living organisms sprung out of lifeless rock has long puzzled scientists, but we think that the unusual phosphorus chemicals we found could be a precursor to the batteries that now power all life on Earth. But the fact that it developed simply, in conditions similar to the early Earth, suggests this could be the missing link between geology and biology," said Dr Terry Kee, from the University's School of Chemistry, who led the research.

Badass Shark Teeth Weapons Hint at Shadow Diversity

Shark Teeth Weaponby Ed Yong

When life gives you lemons, make lemonade.

When life sticks you on an isolated island surrounded by shark-infested waters, make utterly badass weapons out of shark teeth.

This is what the people of the Pacific Gilbert Islands have been doing for centuries. Sharks are a central part of their lives. Many social customs and taboos revolve around the finer points of shark-hunting. Young boys go through initiation rites where they kneel on a beach, looking towards a rising sun and slice their hairlines open with shark teeth, letting the blood run into their eyes until sunset. And with no metal around, they used shark teeth to adorn their weapons.

A shark is a fast, electric-sensing torpedo, whose business end holds two conveyor belts of regenerating steak knives. To further weaponise its weapons is practically the definition of being badass. Here’s how to do it: You drill a tiny hole in each tooth, and bind them in long rows to a piece of wood, using braided coconut fibres and human hair. Depending on the shape of the wood, you can make a sword. Or a dagger. Or a trident. Or a four-metre-long lance. And then, presumably, you hit people really hard with them.

Technology News

Zuckerberg Announces Facebook Home, Not A New Phone

Image Credit: Tomislav Pinter / Shutterstock.comMichael Harper for

Facebook’s CEO Mark Zuckerberg wasted no time today in getting to the point of today’s meeting. “We’re finally going to talk about that Facebook phone,” said Zuckerberg as he took the stage in Menlo Park.

However, the social giant hasn’t created a phone, it created Home — a “Family of apps” meant to keep users tied into the Facebook system throughout their day.

But just as the rumors predicted, HTC will be the first to release a phone with Home natively installed. The HTC First will be available exclusively through AT&T and both the phone and Home will be available beginning April 12. AT&T will begin taking pre-orders for the HTC First today.

Since this is a family of apps and not a forked version of Google’s OS, Android-wielding Facebook fans will be able to install Home on their HTC One, HTC One X and Samsung Galaxy S III and 4, as well as others.

Installing Home will be easy; Facebook will place a shortcut to the Google Play store right in the Android version of their app. From here, users only need to click install.

“We think that this is the best version of Facebook there is,” said Zuckerberg after announcing the phone, as cited by USA Today‘s Brett Molina.

Anonymous Hacks Into North Korean Social Network

Image Credit: Photos.comLee Rannals for

The hacking group Anonymous is flexing its guns and getting involved in the North Korean controversy. On Thursday, members of the hacktivist group began hacking and vandalizing social networking profiles linked to North Korea and even kicked a news site offline.

The group says it has accessed 15,000 usernames and passwords from a university database in a collective it calls “Operation Free Korea.” Anonymous is calling for leader Kim Jong-un to step down, for a democratic government to be put into place, and for the people to have uncensored access to the Internet.

Anonymous wrote to Kim-Jong-un: “So you feel the need to create large nukes and threaten half the world with them? So you’re into demonstrations of power?, here is ours: We are inside your local intranets (Kwangmyong and others); We are inside your mailservers; and We are inside your webservers. Enjoy these few records as a proof of our access to your systems (random innocent citizens, collateral damage, because they were stupid enough to choose idiot passwords), we got all over 15k membership records of and many more. First we gonna wipe your data, then we gonna wipe your badass dictatorship ‘government’.”

Environmental News

Discovery of 1,800-year-old 'Rosetta Stone' for tropical ice cores

Photo by Lonnie Thompson, Courtesy of Ohio State University.Earth & Climate

Two annually dated ice cores drawn from the tropical Peruvian Andes reveal Earth's tropical climate history in unprecedented detail -- year by year, for nearly 1,800 years. Researchers at The Ohio State University retrieved the cores from a Peruvian ice cap in 2003, and then noticed some startling similarities to other ice cores that they had retrieved from Tibet and the Himalayas. Patterns in the chemical composition of certain layers matched up, even though the cores were taken from opposite sides of the planet.

In the April 4, 2013 online edition of the journal Science Express, they describe the find, which they call the first annually resolved "Rosetta Stone" with which to compare other climate histories from Earth's tropical and subtropical regions over the last two millennia.

The cores provide a new tool for researchers to study Earth's past climate, and better understand the climate changes that are happening today.

High School Students Debate Climate Change: Adapt or Geoengineer?

As part of a national contest, teams of high school students argue adaptation is the only viable response to global warming whereas another team calls for geoengineering
CLIMATE CHANGE: High school students argue society may soon need to decide: geoengineering or adaptation.By Andrew Scherffius , Augustus Boling , Daniella Mikhael-Fard , Noella Park , Jackie Sandoval , Connor Smith , Riordon Smith , Bozeman High School , Notre Dame High School and The Daily Climate

BOZEMAN, Mont. — We live in a world that is never far from the brink, a world where, unfortunately, constant action is the only thing keeping many potential cataclysms at bay. Such tireless efforts are not always enough, and many challenges require even greater attention. Such is the case with climate change.

The increasingly dire situation, one that humanity is only now just learning to cope with, has made one thing clear: we must value adaptation as our first and foremost response to climate change. The other option, mitigation, is simply too grand in scope and too constrained by time. Successful adaptation efforts, which are currently being widely practiced, should be our highest priority.

When discussing climate change, the first thing that should be clear is the impractical nature of pure mitigation; it is an unfeasible undertaking for an apathetic species, and the deadline is too imminent. We can’t afford to stumble in our efforts, but the sad truth is that we already have. Political dissension hinders efforts greatly, and the leviathan of world government is slow to move. This has created a growing pessimism within the scientific community, with the Guardian reporting that almost nine out of 10 climate scientists don’t believe political efforts to restrict global warming to 2º Celsius will succeed.

Medical News

Dream contents deciphered by computer

Similar brain patterns emerge when seeing an object and conjuring it during sleep
DreamingBy Rachel Ehrenberg

A computer can decode the stuff of dreams. By comparing brain activity during sleep with activity patterns collected while study participants looked at certain objects, a computer learned to identify some contents of people’s unconscious reveries.

“It’s striking work,” says cognitive psychologist Frank Tong of Vanderbilt University in Nashville, who was not involved in the research. “It’s a demonstration that brain activity during dreaming is very similar to activity during wakefulness.”

The work, reported April 4 in Science by Japanese researchers led by Yukiyasu Kamitani of Advanced Telecommunications Research Institute International, adds to somewhat scant knowledge of how the brain constructs dreams, says Tong. The research could lead to a better understanding of what the brain does during different states of consciousness, such as those experienced by some coma patients.

Dreams are a bit of a black box and difficult to study. Experiments with mice have revealed aspects of sleep and dreaming, such as how the experiences contribute to forming memories. But a mouse can’t tell you what it dreamed about. And the sleep stage that’s richest in dreams — REM sleep — typically kicks in about 90 minutes after a person conks out, making it time consuming to gather data on dreams. The noisy fMRI brain scanning machine doesn’t help.

Light found in cocaine addiction tunnel

Lasers that stimulate targeted neurons ease drug compulsion in rats
Researchers reduced rats’ compulsive cocaine use by shining lasers to stimulate key neurons (shown in green in this micrograph of a rat brain slice).By Puneet Kollipara

Rats that will go to great lengths to get a cocaine fix might blame a group of sluggish neurons. Controlling the problem may come down to a flick of a light switch: Stimulating those brain cells with lasers reduces the addicted rats’ cocaine use, researchers report in the April 4 Nature.

“It's an outstanding piece of work,” says neuroscientist A.J. Robison of Michigan State University, who wasn’t involved in the study. The findings could help researchers better understand the role of neural circuitry in drug addiction in humans, he says.

Scientists know that when certain neurons fire less frequently in the prelimbic cortex, a brain region that handles impulse control and reward-driven behavior, a person’s self-control can decrease. But researchers didn’t know whether using cocaine chronically could make the neurons drowsy to begin with, and whether that sluggishness could also promote drug use in spite of ill consequences.

Space News

Scientists to Io: Your volcanoes are in the wrong place

IoAstronomy & Space

Jupiter's moon Io is the most volcanically active world in the Solar System, with hundreds of volcanoes, some erupting lava fountains up to 250 miles high. However, concentrations of volcanic activity are significantly displaced from where they are expected to be based on models that predict how the moon's interior is heated, according to NASA and European Space Agency researchers.

Io is caught in a tug-of-war between Jupiter's massive gravity and the smaller but precisely timed pulls from two neighboring moons that orbit further from Jupiter -- Europa and Ganymede. Io orbits faster than these other moons, completing two orbits every time Europa finishes one, and four orbits for each one Ganymede makes. This regular timing means that Io feels the strongest gravitational pull from its neighboring moons in the same orbital location, which distorts Io's orbit into an oval shape. This in turn causes Io to flex as it moves around Jupiter.

NASA Celebrates 30th Anniversary Of First Satellite Communications Network

Image Caption: Artist concept of the first TDRS satellite. Credit: NASAredOrbit Staff & Wire Reports

Thursday marked the 30th anniversary of the deployment of NASA’s first Tracking and Data Relay Satellite, TDRS-A, which was carried into space as part of space shuttle Challenger’s maiden voyage on April 4, 1983.

TDRS-A was deployed a day after the shuttle’s launch, as astronauts released the probe from Challenger’s cargo bay, officials from the US space agency said. Following 39 adjustment burns, it successfully achieved geosynchronous orbit around the equator, traveling more than 22,000 miles above the Earth’s surface. It would later be renamed TDRS-1 and kicked off what NASA officials called “a new era in spacecraft-to-ground communications.”

“The launch of the first TDRS spacecraft 30 years ago opened a new era for satellite communications,” Jeff Volosin, deputy associate director of exploration and space communication at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland, said in a statement. “This revolutionary network, the only one of its kind in the world, has enabled NASA’s astronauts and robots to relay their outstanding scientific achievements to Earth.”

Initially, NASA had to rely upon ground stations at various locations throughout the world to serve as their communications network. At best, this network could support approximately 15 percent of a spacecraft’s orbit during the Mercury, Gemini and Apollo flights, the space agency explained.

Odd News (Nightmare Edition)

New Faced-Sized Species Of Tarantula Discovered In Sri Lanka

Image Credit: British Tarantula Society/ Ranil NanayakkararedOrbit Staff & Wire Reports

Arachnophobes beware: scientists have found an enormous, previously undiscovered species of tarantula — said to be about the same size as a human face — in a remote village in Sri Lanka.

The species, which was discovered by the South Asian country’s Biodiversity Education and Research (BER) agency, has “unique daffodil-yellow markings” on its eight-inch long legs and a “distinctive pink band” around its body, according to Sky News reports.

It has been named Poecilotheria rajaei in honor of Michael Rajakumar Purajah, a local police officer who helped the researchers traverse a dangerous jungle in order to locate the spider.

A study describing the species has been published in the British Tarantula Society Journal. Tharaka Kusuminda, an undergraduate studying Export Agriculture at Sabaragamuwa University, is credited as the author of the study.

“Scientists first encountered the new tarantula in 2009, when villagers in northern Sri Lanka gave them the corpse of one that they had killed,” Colin Schultz of explained. “From there, the scientists went on a quest to find more, routing around in tree holes and bark peel with a foot-wide hand net.”

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