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Science News

Lionfish expedition: Down deep is where the big, scary ones live

Lionfish have become an invasive species of enormous concern off the Atlantic Coast and in the Caribbean Sea.Earth & Climate

Last month, the first expedition to use a deep-diving submersible to study the Atlantic Ocean lionfish invasion found something very disturbing -- at 300 feet deep, there were still significant populations of these predatory fish, and they were big. Big fish in many species can reproduce much more efficiently than their younger, smaller counterparts, and lionfish are known to travel considerable distances and move to various depths. This raises significant new concerns in the effort to control this invasive species that is devastating native fish populations on the Atlantic Coast and in the Caribbean Sea.

"We expected some populations of lionfish at that depth, but their numbers and size were a surprise," said Stephanie Green, the David H. Smith Conservation Research Fellow in the College of Science at Oregon State University, who participated in the dives. OSU has been one of the early leaders in the study of the lionfish invasion.

Uncommon Measure: Acoustic Result Could Change Definition of Temperature

A new measurement of a fundamental physical constant marks a turning point in the quest to craft a perfect temperature scale
Measurements from exquisitely sensitive thermometers such as this acoustic resonator could lead to a new definition of temperature.By Lee Billings

The most accurate thermometer in the known universe sits in a rather nondescript white building in Teddington, England, on the campus of the U.K.’s National Physical Laboratory (NPL). It looks nothing like a slender tube filled with mercury or colored alcohol. Instead, it’s a copper vessel about the size of a large cantaloupe, filled with dilute ultrapure argon gas and studded with microphones and microwave antennas, precisely shaped by a diamond-tipped lathe so that its radius varies with an uncertainty of only about 12 atomic layers of copper. The purpose of this thermometer is not really to measure temperature, however. Rather, new results from this and other similar devices could soon allow scientists to redefine temperature completely and bring it in line with the meter and other standard international units of measurement.

What the device actually measures is the relation between energy, as measured in joules, and temperature, as measured in the international standard unit, the kelvin. This relation is expressed as the Boltzmann constant and, in a perfect world, would be the kelvin’s ideal physical basis. That it’s not is purely a historical accident born of the fact that most of our planet’s surface is covered with liquid water, a substance which conveniently changes to ice or vapor at well-known thresholds of temperature.

Technology News

A 360TB disc that holds data for more than 1 million years?

A major breakthrough in storage technology could dramatically change our perception of data preservation.
An illustration of data being recorded to the five-dimensional optical storage Christopher MacManus

In the future, we might be able to save our history to a glass storage medium that could potentially outlive humankind. The new type of memory also touts mind-blowing specifications, such as 360TB per disc data capacity and the ability to withstand extreme temperatures up to 1,832 Fahrenheit.

By harnessing the power of a speedy femtosecond laser, researchers successfully wrote and read 300KB of data to an everlasting medium that consists of self-assembled nanostructures within fused quartz. Think of it as a real-life version of the memory crystals seen in the old "Superman" movies.

Amazingly, the femtosecond laser, which emits short and powerful pulses of light, can encode data to three layers of nanostructured dots within the glass only five micrometers apart. The researchers claim the femtosecond laser writes data in five dimensions -- a figure based on the size, orientation, and three-dimensional position of the nanostructures.

A team from University of Southampton's Optoelectronics Research Center and Eindhoven's University of Technology took part in the storage breakthrough. The team leader was Led by Jingyu Zhang.

Compare Urban Life Around the Globe With New Side-by-Side City Maps

Photo: Urban ObservatoryBy Greg Miller

More than half of humanity now lives in cities, and that proportion is increasing. The United Nations predicts that 70 percent of the world’s population will live in urban areas by 2050. Understanding what works and what doesn’t work in these densely populated environments is a more urgent now than ever.

A new exhibit and website launched this week hopes to help by providing a way to directly compare cities head to head on a variety of factors, including demographics, land use, and transportation.

The Urban Observatory is a collaboration between Esri, the geospatial software giant; the transmedia company; and Richard Saul Wurman, the creator of TED and other highbrow conferences. A physical exhibit, featuring an array of HD screens arrayed in a semicircle (see photo above), was unveiled this week at Esri’s user conference in San Diego, but you can play around with it on your own on the website.

The project sprang from a keynote speech Wurman gave at the Esri conference in 2010, in which he proposed studying 19 cities that will reach 20 million inhabitants in the 21st century. That idea became the seed for Wurman’s 19.20.21 project, and the goal of the new Urban Observatory is to extend this type of comparative analysis to lots more cities.

Environmental News

Insect Discovery Sheds Light On Climate Change

Fossil of a newly discovered family of extinct scorpionflies from McAbee, B.C. (Credit: Image courtesy of Simon Fraser University)Simon Fraser University

July 11, 2013 — Simon Fraser University biologists have discovered a new, extinct family of insects that will help scientists better understand how some animals responded to global climate change and the evolution of communities.

"The Eocene Apex of Panorpoid Family Diversity," a paper by SFU's Bruce Archibald and Rolf Mathewes, plus David Greenwood from Brandon University, was recently published in the Journal of Paleontology.

The researchers named the new family the Eorpidae, after the Eocene Epoch, the age when these insects lived some 50 million years ago. The fossils were found in British Columbia and Washington state, most prominently at the McAbee Fossil Beds near Cache Creek, B.C.

This new family raises questions about its extinction. Insect families have steadily accumulated since before the Eocene, with few, scattered losses -- apart from the distinct exception of a cluster of family extinctions within a group of scorpionflies that includes the Eorpidae.

Distant Earthquakes Trigger Tremors at U.S. Waste-Injection Sites, Says Study

Seismograph (stock image). (Credit: (C)huebi71 / Fotolia)The Earth Institute at Columbia University

July 11, 2013 — Large earthquakes from distant parts of the globe are setting off tremors around waste-fluid injection wells in the central United States, says a new study. Furthermore, such triggering of minor quakes by distant events could be precursors to larger events at sites where pressure from waste injection has pushed faults close to failure, say researchers.

The 2010 Chile earthquake set off tremors near waste-injection sites in central Oklahoma and southern Colorado, says a new study in Science.

Among the sites covered: a set of injection wells near Prague, Okla., where the study says a huge earthquake in Chile on Feb. 27, 2010 triggered a mid-size quake less than a day later, followed by months of smaller tremors. This culminated in probably the largest quake yet associated with waste injection, a magnitude 5.7 event which shook Prague on Nov. 6, 2011. Earthquakes off Japan in 2011, and Sumatra in 2012, similarly set off mid-size tremors around injection wells in western Texas and southern Colorado, says the study. The paper appears this week in the leading journal Science, along with a series of other articles on how humans may be influencing earthquakes.

Medical News

Use Redistricting Maps to Make Organ Allocation More Equitable, Researchers Advocate

Ohio redistricting mapJohns Hopkins Medicine

July 11, 2013 — Using the same type of mathematical formulas used to draw political redistricting maps, Johns Hopkins researchers say they have developed a model that would allow for the more equitable allocation of livers from deceased donors for transplantation.

Currently, in the United States, where you live dictates the availability of a liver transplant. Studies show that geography can mean the difference between a 10 percent chance of dying while on the waiting list for a donor liver, and a 90 percent chance, the researchers say. The new model depends not on the longstanding relationships among medical centers used to create the current unbalanced system, but on making the distribution of organs as equitable as possible, they say.

"This is gerrymandering for the public good," says study leader Dorry L. Segev, M.D., Ph.D., an associate professor of surgery and epidemiology at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. "We have applied to transplantation the same math used for political redistricting, school assignments, wildlife preservation and zoning issues." A report on the research is published in online in the American Journal of Transplantation.

Nerves Play Key Role in Triggering Prostate Cancer and Influencing Its Spread

Prostate cancerAlbert Einstein College of Medicine

July 11, 2013 — Researchers at Albert Einstein College of Medicine of Yeshiva University have found that nerves play a critical role in both the development and spread of prostate tumors. Their findings, using both a mouse model and human prostate tissue, may lead to new ways to predict the aggressiveness of prostate cancer and to novel therapies for preventing and treating the disease. The study published online today in the July 12 edition of Science.

Prostate cancer is second to skin cancer as the most common cancer in men. The National Cancer Institute estimates that 238,590 new cases of prostate cancer will be diagnosed in 2013, and 29,720 men will die from the disease.

The study was led by stem-cell expert Paul Frenette, M.D., professor of medicine and of cell biology and director of the Ruth L. and David S. Gottesman Institute for Stem Cell and Regenerative Medicine Research at Einstein. In earlier research, Dr. Frenette and colleagues had discovered that the sympathetic nervous system regulates hematopoeitic stem cell niches -- the sites in the bone marrow where red blood cells are formed.

Space News

NASA's OPALS to Beam Data from Space Via Laser

This artist's concept shows how the Optical Payload for Lasercomm Science (OPALS) laser will beam data to Earth from the International Space Station. (Credit: NASA)NASA/Jet Propulsion Laboratory

July 11, 2013 — NASA will use the International Space Station to test a new communications technology that could dramatically improve spacecraft communications, enhance commercial missions and strengthen transmission of scientific data.

The Optical Payload for Lasercomm Science (OPALS), an optical technology demonstration experiment, could improve NASA's data rates for communications with future spacecraft by a factor of 10 to 100. OPALS has arrived at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida from the agency's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. It is scheduled to launch to the space station later this year aboard a SpaceX Dragon commercial resupply capsule on the company's Falcon 9 rocket.

"OPALS represents a tangible stepping stone for laser communications, and the International Space Station is a great platform for an experiment like this," said Michael Kokorowski, OPALS project manager at JPL. "Future operational laser communication systems will have the ability to transmit more data from spacecraft down to the ground than they currently do, mitigating a significant bottleneck for scientific investigations and commercial ventures."

 First Distant Planet to Be Seen in Color Is Blue

The Hubble Space Telescope was used to measure visible light from one of the best-studied planets outside our solar system, HD 189733 b
Blue gas giant By observing exoplanet HD 189733 b before, during and after it disappeared behind its host star, astronomers were able to discover that its colour is a deep blue.By Devin Powell and Nature magazine

A navy-blue world orbiting a faraway star is the first exoplanet to have its colour directly measured.

Discovered in 2005, HD 189733 b is one of the best-studied planets outside the Solar System, orbiting a star about 19 parsecs away in the Vulpecula, or Fox, constellation. Previous efforts to observe the planet focused on the infrared light it emits — invisible to the human eye.

Last December, astrophysicist Tom Evans at the University of Oxford, UK, and his colleagues used the Hubble Space Telescope to observe the planet and its host star. Hubble's optical resolution is not high enough to actually 'see' the planet as a dot of light separate from its star, so instead, the telescope receives light from both objects that mix into a single point source. To isolate the light contribution of the planet, Evans and his colleagues waited for the planet to move behind the star during its orbit, so that its light would be blocked, and looked for changes in light colour.

Odd News

What is the average penis length?

A study tries to find the real answer to that question and discovers men have been telling the truth all along
(Credit: Heitor Barbosa via Shutterstock)By Tracy Clark-Flory

Let’s just get this out of the way up front: 14.15 cm (or 5.57 inches). That’s the mean length of an erect penis, according to a new study. I’ll wait here while you break out the measuring tape.

Finished yet? OK, with that out of the way, we can get to the more interesting stuff (said like a true vagina-haver). The study out of Indiana University, “Erect Penile Length and Circumference Dimensions of 1,661 Sexually Active Men in the United States,” is just what it sounds like. The main, ahem, thrust of the research was to get men to accurately measure their own penis length — in other words, to cut through the cultural BS (and, OK, proven preference for larger members) that might encourage a man to inflate his number. Despite worries about inaccurate reporting, the researchers went with a self-measurement approach. That’s because many men have trouble getting fully aroused, or maintaining an erection, in front of a researcher with a measuring tape.

As for why the measurements were taken of erect penises, which introduces its own complicating factors, the paper explains that this is “largely regarded as the least biased” method. As “growers” are quick to explain, stretching out a penis gives a more accurate measurement of its erect dimensions than simply measuring as it hangs flaccid — but stretching someone’s penis out to measure it “may introduce bias if experimenters vary in the amount of force used to stretch the penis.” The problems introduced by having men wield the ruler privately are preferable.

Originally posted to Overnight News Digest on Thu Jul 11, 2013 at 09:00 PM PDT.

Also republished by SciTech.

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