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Science News

Anemone eats bird, and other surprising animal meals

IT'S REAL  A giant green anemone eats a seabird at Haystack Rock in Cannon Beach, Erika Engelhaupt

There’s an old saying in journalism: If a dog bites a man, that’s not news. Man bites dog: That’s news.

So how about a sea anemone that chows down on a bird? Researchers have reported finding a giant green anemone chowing down on a young cormorant. The photo of the event looks something like a purple Thanksgiving turkey being attacked by a neon-green hairbrush.

The picture is surprising because, as researcher Lisa Guy of the University of Washington in Seattle told Deep Sea News, it’s an “example of an apex predator being consumed by an animal that doesn’t seem to really do anything.”

Most people think of sea anemones as pretty floral-looking blobs, and they are, but they’re also carnivorous predators. The giant green anemone (Anthopleura xanthogrammica) regularly eats small fish, crustaceans and mussels. And now it looks as though it may not be terribly unusual for well-placed anemones to vacuum up bird chicks that get knocked from their nests into the water.

Oldest most complete, genetically intact human skeleton in New World

Divers Alberto Nava and Susan Bird transport the Hoyo Negro skull to an underwater turntable so that it can be photographed in order to create a 3-D model. Researchers detailed their analysis of the oldest most complete, genetically intact human skeleton discovered in the New World in a paper published today in the journal Science. This project was led by the Mexican government’s National Institute of Anthropology and History and supported by the National Geographic Society.National Geographic Society

The skeletal remains of a teenage female from the late Pleistocene or last ice age found in an underwater cave in Mexico have major implications for our understanding of the origins of the Western Hemisphere's first people and their relationship to contemporary Native Americans.

In a paper released today in the journal Science, an international team of researchers and cave divers present the results of an expedition that discovered a near-complete early American human skeleton with an intact cranium and preserved DNA. The remains were found surrounded by a variety of extinct animals more than 40 meters (130 feet) below sea level in Hoyo Negro, a deep pit within the Sac Actun cave system on Mexico's Yucatán Peninsula.

"These discoveries are extremely significant," said Pilar Luna, INAH's director of underwater archaeology. "Not only do they shed light on the origins of modern Americans, they clearly demonstrate the paleontological potential of the Yucatán Peninsula and the importance of conserving Mexico's unique heritage."

Technology News

Twitter Opinion Quickly Stablizes

A study of millions of tweets found that public opinion quickly solidifies, even without an overwhelming concensus. Allie Wilkinson reports.
Twitter iconBy Allie Wilkinson

All rise, the Twitter court of public opinion is now in session.

And the next case on the docket will reach a quick verdict. Because public opinion solidifies rapidly on Twitter. That’s according to a study in the journal Chaos. [Fei Xiong and Yun Liu,

Researchers collected almost 6 million tweets during a six-month period. They sorted the tweets for either positive or negative sentiments, then focused on three topics related to electronics.  

At first opinions fluctuated, with one side gaining a slight advantage. This advantage grew gradually and then quickly leveled off, leaving one opinion in a stable and dominant position—but without an overwhelming consensus.

Silly Putty material inspires better batteries: Silicon dioxide used to make lithium-ion batteries that last three times longer

Silicon polymer and battery used for the research.University of California - Riverside

Using a material found in Silly Putty and surgical tubing, a group of researchers at the University of California, Riverside Bourns College of Engineering have developed a new way to make lithium-ion batteries that will last three times longer between charges compared to the current industry standard.

The team created silicon dioxide (SiO2) nanotube anodes for lithium-ion batteries and found they had over three times as much energy storage capacity as the carbon-based anodes currently being used. This has significant implications for industries including electronics and electric vehicles, which are always trying to squeeze longer discharges out of batteries.

"We are taking the same material used in kids' toys and medical devices and even fast food and using it to create next generation battery materials," said Zachary Favors, the lead author of a just-published paper on the research.

The paper, "Stable Cycling of SiO2 Nanotubes as High-Performance Anodes for Lithium-Ion Batteries," was published online in the journal Nature Scientific Reports.

Environmental News

How Low Will the Arctic's Summer Sea Ice Go?

Seasonal sea ice projections for this summer could be improved by including measurements of pools of water that collect on top of sea ice as it melts
The dark teal waters of the melt ponds atop Arctic sea ice stand in stark contrast to the bright white of the ice and snow in this photo taken on July 12, 2011.By Andrea Thompson and Climate Central

The spring Arctic sea ice melt is well underway, the ice contracting to cover a progressively smaller area until it eventually reaches its annual minimum extent at the end of the summer.

Although this year's melting has progressed in fits and starts, Arctic ice coverage has been below average since reaching its annual maximum in March, according to the latest update from the National Snow and Ice Data Center. It is unclear what this early spring extent will mean for the annual minimum in September, as models have proven to be poor at predicting unusual outcomes.

A new study has suggested, however, that projections might improve if the models took into account how much of the sea ice surface was covered in melt ponds, or the pools of water that collect on top of the ice as it melts. These pools reinforce the melt cycle because their blue depths absorb the sun’s rays, causing warming and further melt, while the bright white ice reflects the light.

Emissions from forests influence very first stage of cloud formation

 A new study sheds light on the very first step of cloud formation.Carnegie Mellon University

Clouds play a critical role in Earth's climate. Clouds also are the largest source of uncertainty in present climate models, according to the latest report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Much of the uncertainty surrounding clouds' effect on climate stems from the complexity of cloud formation.

New research from scientists at the CLOUD (Cosmics Leaving OUtdoor Droplets) experiment at CERN, including Carnegie Mellon University's Neil Donahue, sheds light on new-particle formation -- the very first step of cloud formation and a critical component of climate models. The findings, published in the May 16 issue of Science, closely match observations in the atmosphere and can help make climate prediction models more accurate.

Cloud droplets form when water vapor in the atmosphere condenses onto tiny particles. These particles are emitted directly from natural sources or human activity, or they form from precursors emitted originally as gaseous pollutants. The transformation of gas molecules into clusters and then into particles, a process called nucleation, produces more than half of the particles that seed cloud formation around the world today. But the mechanisms underlying nucleation remain unclear. Although scientists have observed that the nucleation process nearly always involves sulfuric acid, sulfuric acid concentrations aren't high enough to explain the rate of new particle formation that occurs in the atmosphere. This new study uncovers an indispensable ingredient to the long sought-after cloud formation recipe -- highly oxidized organic compounds.

Medical News

Deadly MERS Camel Virus Crosses Ocean to U.S.

Infection’s spread is still limited, although cases have nearly tripled in past two months
MERS virusBy Helen Branswell

The virus took its time crossing the Atlantic. And when the first patient suffering from Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS) finally did turn up in the U.S., he made his way, improbably, to Munster, Ind., population 23,413. A week later a second appeared, flying from the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia to the home of the Magic Kingdom—Orlando, Fla. Both men are doctors who work in Saudi hospitals, the best places in the world right now to avoid if you do not want to catch what is officially known as the MERS coronavirus (MERS-CoV). For both, their travel involved multiple legs—two flights plus an intercity bus for the Indiana patient and four flights for the Florida patient—to get to their destinations, sharing the air with several hundred fellow passengers along the way.

The Indiana man has recovered; the man in Florida remains in the hospital and is said to be improving. Aided by counterparts at Public Health England who are tracing travelers on Saudi Arabia–to-London flights, state and federal public health staffs in the U.S. have spent untold hours identifying people with whom the men came in contact and testing dozens of health care workers, family members and friends. Fingers crossed, there have been no reports that they passed the virus to others in their travels.

First 'heavy mouse' leads to first lab-grown tissue mapped from atomic life

Image shows C57BL/6 mice, the common strain of laboratory mouse, in a Cambridge animal house. This breed of animal was used in the 'heavy mouse' study.University of Cambridge

Scientists have created a 'heavy' mouse, the world's first animal enriched with heavy but non-radioactive isotopes -- enabling them to capture in unprecedented detail the molecular structure of natural tissue by reading the magnetism inherent in the isotopes.

This data has been used to grow biological tissue in the lab practically identical to native tissue, which can be manipulated and analysed in ways impossible for natural samples. Researchers say the approach has huge potential for scientific and medical breakthroughs: lab-grown tissue could be used to replace heart valves, for example.

In fact, with their earliest research on the new in vitro tissue, the team have discovered that poly(ADP ribose) (PAR) -- a molecule believed to only exist inside a cell for the purpose of repairing DNA -- not only travels outside cells but may trigger bone mineralisation.

"It was crazy to see PAR behaving in this way; it took six months of detailed analysis and many more experiments to convince ourselves," said Dr Melinda Duer from Cambridge's Department of Chemistry, who led the study, published today in the journal Science.

Space News

Mysterious "Magnetar" Likely Formed with Help from Runaway Star

The detection of a runaway star may explain how a massive object turned into a dense, magnetic magnetar instead of collapsing into a black hole
Artist's impression of the magnetar in star cluster Westerlund 1By Elizabeth Howell and LiveScience

A single "runaway" star in a distant star cluster could explain how a massive supernova avoided collapsing into a black hole, leaving behind a remnant object instead.

The find explains the presence of a magnetar — a bizarre object that is not only highly dense but also extremely magnetic — in the star cluster Westerlund 1, about 16,000 light-years from Earth. Magnetars are a rare type of neutron star that is left behind after a supernova explosion. They are also known by their "starquakes" that send gamma ray radiation into the cosmos. You can watch a video about the magnetar on

Magnetar CXOU J164710.2-455216 has been known for some time, but what puzzled astronomers was how it formed from an exploding star that was likely 40 times as massive as the sun. At that mass, nothing should have been left behind from the implosion besides a black hole.

Solar Winds Linked to Increased Lightning Strikes

Lightning electrifies the evening sky over Utah, as an intense storm charges across southern Utah and northern Arizona. Photographer David Rankin captured this incredible scene from the southern end of Lake Powell, Utah, just after sunset on Sept. 14, 2013.By Stephanie Pappas

Solar winds hitting Earth may trigger an increase in lightning, a new study suggests.

The research finds an increase in the number of lightning strikes after the streams of plasma and particles known as solar wind arrive on Earth from the sun. Exactly why this correlation exists is unclear, but researchers say the interaction of solar particles might somehow prime the atmosphere to be more susceptible to lightning.

"As the sun rotates every 27 days these high-speed streams of particles wash past our planet with predictable regularity. Such information could prove useful when producing long-range weather forecasts," study researcher Chris Scott, a professor in space and atmospheric physics at the University of Reading, said in a statement.

Odd News

Beer goggles are real, says sober science

Scientists at the University of Bristol in the UK insist that alcohol allows you to find people more attractive. This contradicts some previous research.
He likes him. But does he really like him?by Chris Matyszczyk

One of the reasons science exists is to reassure us that we are not, in fact, crazy.

Or, rather, to confirm the areas of crazy that squat inside us like pot-addled dropouts.

I am grateful, therefore, to the scientists at the UK's University of Bristol who strove to prove that a troublingly human phenomenon really does exist: beer goggles.

Should you be unfamiliar with this term, it refers to the moment when alcohol allegedly takes over your eyes and sense of judgment and makes you believe that someone of your target sex is a touch more attractive than they will be in the morning.

These scientists fought hard to find volunteers who would drink and then look at pictures of men, women and, for some inebriated reason, landscapes.

The original invitation was to all-comers. The researchers set up in three local pubs and invited everyone to participate "in the name of a (responsible) pint and science."

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