Welcome to Science Saturday, where the Overnight News Digest crew, consisting of regular editors ScottyUrb, Bentliberal, wader, Oke, rfall, and JML9999, founder Magnifico, alumni editors palantir and jlms qkw, guest editors maggiejean and annetteboardman, and current editor-in-chief Neon Vincent, along with anyone else who reads and comments, informs and entertains you with this week's news about science, space, and the environment.
This week's featured story comes from MSNBC.
Comet turns into a Christmas star
By Alan Boyle
If anyone questioned whether Comet Lovejoy would become the star of the season — and a lot of people did — the pictures of the past few days have removed any doubt. In the Southern Hemisphere, the death-defying comet is truly this year's "Star of Wonder."
Not only do we have an amazing video of the long-tailed iceball rising from the horizon, as seen from the International Space Station, we also have the stunning pictures and video released today by the European Southern Observatory. Skywatchers at the ESO's Paranal Observatory in Chile captured the comet against the glittering backdrop of the Milky Way.
NASA has a YouTube video
International Space Station Commander Dan Burbank captured spectacular imagery of Comet Lovejoy as seen from about 240 miles above the Earth's horizon on Wednesday, Dec. 21.
More stories after the jump.
Recent Science Diaries and Stories
The "War on Christmas" hype has it backwards!
by don mikulecky
The Daily Bucket - Improbable Butterbutt
by enhydra lutris
Climate's war on Christmas?
Santa - How Does He Do It?
by jim in IA
This week in science: The future's so bright ...
National Geographic: Pictures: Fire Destroys "Temple of Knowledge" in Egypt
Pharaonic faces stare out from charred pages in Cairo's Egyptian Scientific Complex on Monday. The documents are among thousands of precious historic works damaged or destroyed by a fire that consumed the structure over the weekend.
News 3 from New Zealand has more.
Thousands of rare documents burned in Egypt clash
By Aya Batrawy
Tue, 20 Dec 2011 10:39a.m.
Volunteers in white lab coats, surgical gloves and masks stood on the back of a pickup truck Monday along the banks of the Nile River in Cairo, rummaging through stacks of rare 200-year-old manuscripts that were little more than charcoal debris.
The volunteers, ranging from academic experts to appalled citizens, have spent the past two days trying to salvage what's left of some 192,000 books, journals and writings, casualties of Egypt's latest bout of violence.
Institute d'Egypte, a research centre set up by Napoleon Bonaparte during France's invasion in the late 18th century, caught fire during clashes between protesters and Egypt's military over the weekend. It was home to a treasure trove of writings, most notably the handwritten 24-volume Description de l'Egypte, which began during the 1798-1801 French occupation.
Hat/Tip to annetteboardman for the links to this story.
From Universe Today on YouTube:
MSNBC: Quintet gangs up on alien worlds
By Alan Boyle
What happens when Fraser Cain of Universe Today and Astronomy Cast brings together Universe Today's Nancy Atkinson, the Planetary Society's Emily Lakdawalla, Bad Astronomy's Phil Plait and yours truly to discuss today's revelations about Earth-size exoplanets? Worlds collide! Watch this experimental Google+ Hangout talk show and let us know if you want to see more of these.
MSNBC: 10 gifts of science for Christmas
Frankincense, mistletoe and why a shot of brandy is good for you (really!)
Space.com: Space Christmas: Festive Photos of Cosmic Beauty
Space.com: Happy Holidays 'Red Planet' Tour--Santa's View
The Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter has taken amazing imagery of the frozen surfaces of Mars. Take in the breathtaking sights on this holiday tour aboard Santa's "Red Planet" sleigh.
Last of the Space Advent Calendar from MSNBC.
Satellites document North Korea's dark ages
Holiday calendar: Season's tiltings
Holiday calendar: Circle of power
Holiday calendar: North Pole revealed
Holiday calendar: Sleigh ride in orbit
Sunday December 18, 2011 8:34 AM
Many of Ohio’s ancient earthworks are aligned to astronomical events, such as the apparent rising and setting of the sun or the moon on key dates in their cycles.
The main axis of the Octagon Earthworks at Newark, for example, lines up to where the moon rises at its northernmost point on the eastern horizon.
Clearly, ancient Americans were paying close attention to the sky, but why?
Australian Broadcasting Corporation: Alice Gorman, Space Archeologist
Dr Alice Gorman's fascination with space junk bridges the worlds of traditional archaeology and space science.
Alice is an expert in traditional cultural heritage, in particular Aboriginal stone tool analysis, but her primary interest is space archaeology. She lectures in both areas at Flinders University.
When I tell people I'm a space archaeologist …
The first reaction is that they assume that I'm using remote sensing to look at sites on Earth. Then I say: 'No, no, no, I'm actually looking at rockets and planetary landing sites and orbital debris'. And then sometimes there's a look of puzzlement, then a little bit of a think, then I'll see an expression of revelation and they'll say: "Oh you're actually looking at those things!" So either they'll think it's really crazy or ok, that all makes sense.
Hat/Tip to annetteboardman for these stories.
Space.com via MSNBC: Astronauts arrive at space station for the holidays
International space station 'back at full strength' with six crew members
By Clara Moskowitz
updated 12/23/2011 10:53:32 AM ET
Three astronauts arrived Thursday at the International Space Station just in time for a zero gravity holiday party to begin a five-month stay in orbit.
NASA astronaut Don Pettit, Russian cosmonaut Oleg Kononenko and Dutch astronaut Andre Kuipers of the European Space Agency docked at the orbiting laboratory at 10:19 a.m. ET as the two spacecraft sailed 240 miles over southern Russia. They arrived aboard a Russian Soyuz spacecraft, which launched Wednesday from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan.
"The Soyuz crew arrives down the chimney of the space station with an early Christmas present for the station's crew," NASA spokesman Rob Navias said during the televised space rendezvous.
Space.com via MSNBC: How astronauts celebrate Christmas in space
Decorations, cards, gifts, big meals and a party also celebrate new arrivals
By Mike Wall
updated 12/24/2011 10:56:12 AM ET
The six astronauts aboard the International Space Station can't come home for the holidays, but they're doing their best to make the season bright hundreds of miles above Earth's surface.
The spacefliers have decked the halls of the $100 billion orbiting lab, and — like many of us Earthbound folks — they plan to celebrate Christmas with a party and a feast.
"We've already put up decorations, and we've gathered together all the cards and gifts that our friends and families have sent to us, and we're planning a couple of big meals," NASA astronaut Dan Burbank, commander of the space station's current Expedition 30 mission, said last week. "That'll be great."
MSNBC: Moon telescope tested on Earth
By Alan Boyle
After a wild night on top of Hawaii's Mauna Kea volcano, researchers report that they've successfully tested the remote-control system for a prototype telescope that could someday be looking at the cosmos from the surface of the moon.
The demonstration for the International Lunar Observatory precursor instrument, or ILO-X, came a day earlier than originally plannned, due to a wave of chilly, stormy weather that was sweeping over Hawaii. Temperatures on Mauna Kea reportedly dipped to 16 below zero Fahrenheit overnight.
"It was certainly challenging," Steve Durst, founder and director of the International Lunar Observatory Association, told me today. "We succeeded after some time in imaging celestial objects — not as many as we wanted, because of the extreme conditions."
Planet Earth Online via physorg.com: Fossils shed light on evolutionary origin of animals from single-cell ancestors
December 22, 2011
Tiny fossils that scientists have thought for decades were the embryos of the earliest animals ever found have turned out to be the remains of much simpler microbial organisms.
In a Science paper that's likely to dismay many palaeontologists, an international team of researchers describe how they used X-rays from a specialised particle accelerator to model the internal structure of hundreds of the 580-million-year-old microfossils in three dimensions.
The results left little doubt that the fossils are from single-celled organisms of an evolutionary grade that came before complex, multi-cellular animals. The fossils occur as clumps of cells, representing different stages in a process of progressive division, just like the early stages of embryonic development seen in animals like humans.
But unlike animal embryos, where the cells organise themselves into tissues and organs, the X-ray examination revealed the fossil organism simply carried on dividing to produce hundreds of thousands of spores that were eventually released to be distributed by ocean currents.
Springer via physorg.com: Plant-eating dinosaur discovered in Antarctica
December 19, 2011
For the first time, the presence of large bodied herbivorous dinosaurs in Antarctica has been recorded. Until now, remains of sauropoda - one of the most diverse and geographically widespread species of herbivorous dinosaurs - had been recovered from all continental landmasses, except Antarctica. Dr. Ignacio Alejandro Cerda, from CONICET in Argentina, and his team's identification of the remains of the sauropod dinosaur suggests that advanced titanosaurs (plant-eating, sauropod dinosaurs) achieved a global distribution at least by the Late Cretaceous. The Cretaceous Period spanned 99.6-65.5 million years ago, and ended with the extinction of the dinosaurs.
Montana State University via physorg.com: Dinosaurs with killer claws yield new theory about flight
December 14, 2011
New research from Montana State University's Museum of the Rockies has revealed how dinosaurs like Velociraptor and Deinonychus used their famous killer claws, leading to a new hypothesis on the evolution of flight in birds.
In a paper published Dec. 14 in PLoS ONE, MSU researchers Denver W. Fowler, Elizabeth A. Freedman, John B. Scannella and Robert E. Kambic (now at Brown University in Rhode Island), describe how comparing modern birds of prey helped develop a new behavior model for sickle-clawed carnivorous dinosaurs like Velociraptor.
"This study is a real game-changer," said lead author Fowler. "It completely overhauls our perception of these little predatory dinosaurs, changing the way we think about their ecology and evolution."
Hat/Tip to annetteboardman for these stories.
Our Amazing Planet via MSNBC: Weird wildlife: The real land animals of Antarctica
Forget penguins and seals — we're talking tardigrades and springtails, collembola and mites
By Andrea Mustain
updated 12/22/2011 1:27:11 PM ET
Ask anyone to name an Antarctic land animal, and chances are the response will be, "penguin." Try again, says David Barnes, a scientist with the British Antarctic Survey.
"Penguins aren't really residents on land. All the species except for one — emperor penguins — spend most of their lives at sea," Barnes told OurAmazingPlanet.
"And likewise the other sea birds go north during Antarctica's winter," he added.
It turns out that the usual suspects — penguins, seals — don't actually live on the continent. They just visit.
"In order to see Antarctica's resident land animals, you have to have a microscope," Barnes said.
LiveScience via MSNBC: Spiders' sexual cannibalism produces healthier offspring
Researchers: Male sacrifices are evidence of 'paternal investment'
By Jennifer Welsh, LiveScience Staff Writer
updated 12/23/2011 11:20:37 AM ET
The unkind act of butchering and eating your mate after sex, typified by the female black-widow spider and praying mantis, may make for healthier babies, new research suggests.
The researchers found that a male orb-web spider makes the ultimate evolutionary sacrifice: giving his life for the health of his offspring.
Sexual cannibalism is the act of one partner eating the other after sex. In the orb-web spider Argiope bruennichi, the female tries to grab and wrap up the male at the onset of mating so she can snack on him during sex. In the lab, only about 30 percent of the males survive their first mating, but by letting the female gnaw on them, the males prolong the sex act, making it more likely they will inseminate their partner.
Of these survivors, half go on to find a second mate, while the others try again for the same female. Due to the male's anatomy, two copulations is the limit. (When you are facing a life without sex, is it really worth it to go on?)
Discovery News via MSNBC: Rudolph's red nose has nothing on his eyes
Study: Reindeer the first large mammal known to have UV vision
December 24, 2011
The reindeer of Christmas myth must meet high expectations this time of year — not just hauling heavy loads of gifts over long distances — but also helping navigate from the tundra to the rest of the world.
And even though most real reindeer never pull sleighs through snowy nights, new research suggests that their eyes would be far better suited to the task than Santa's are. Unlike people, the study found, reindeer can see ultraviolet light — which probably allows them to detect food and predators in a mostly white environment.
The study makes reindeer the first large mammal known to have UV vision. And it raises questions about how animals that are highly specialized to their environments will adapt as their environments change.
Emory University via physorg.com: Skeletons point to Columbus voyage for syphilis origins
December 20, 2011
Skeletons don't lie. But sometimes they may mislead, as in the case of bones that reputedly showed evidence of syphilis in Europe and other parts of the Old World before Christopher Columbus made his historic voyage in 1492.
None of this skeletal evidence, including 54 published reports, holds up when subjected to standardized analyses for both diagnosis and dating, according to an appraisal in the current Yearbook of Physical Anthropology. In fact, the skeletal data bolsters the case that syphilis did not exist in Europe before Columbus set sail.
"This is the first time that all 54 of these cases have been evaluated systematically," says George Armelagos, an anthropologist at Emory University and co-author of the appraisal. "The evidence keeps accumulating that a progenitor of syphilis came from the New World with Columbus' crew and rapidly evolved into the venereal disease that remains with us today."
Hat/Tip to annetteboardman for this story.
The Columbus Dispatch: OSU pair’s climate work wins top award
Professors win prestigious Benjamin Franklin Medal
By Robert Vitale
The Columbus Dispatch Monday December 19, 2011 7:00 AM
When they started out as climate scientists in the 1970s, Lonnie Thompson and Ellen Mosley-Thompson wanted to learn history.
Now, they’re trying to predict the future.
For a career that has taken the husband-and-wife researchers to some of the most remote parts of the planet on a quest to understand global climate change, they’ve been selected to receive a scientific honor that has gone in the past to people such as Albert Einstein, Enrico Fermi, Orville Wright and Stephen Hawking.
The Independent (UK): Scientists discover source of rock used in Stonehenge's first circle
Discovery reignites debate over transportation of smaller standing stones
Scientists have succeeded in locating the exact source of some of the rock believed to have been used 5000 years ago to create Stonehenge's first stone circle.
By comparing fragments of stone found at and around Stonehenge with rocks in south-west Wales, they have been able to identify the original rock outcrop that some of the Stonehenge material came from.
The work - carried out by geologists Robert Ixer of the University of Leicester and Richard Bevins of the National Museum of Wales - has pinpointed the source as a 70 metre long rock outcrop called Craig Rhos-y-Felin, near Pont Saeson in north Pembrokeshire. It's the first time that an exact source has been found for any of the stones thought to have been used to build Stonehenge.
Hat/Tip to annetteboardman for this story.
LiveScience via MSNBC: New suspect in 'Great Dying': Prehistoric coal explosion
May have been cause of world's most devastating mass extinction, research suggests
By Jennifer Welsh, LiveScience Staff Writer
updated 12/22/2011 8:59:43 PM ET
A great explosive burning of coal set fire and made molten by lava bubbling from the Earth's mantle , looking akin to Kuwait's giant oil fires but lasting anywhere from centuries to millennia, could have been the cause of the world's most-devastating mass extinction, new research suggests.
The event, called the Great Dying, occurred 250 million years ago, at the end of the Permian period. "The Great Dying was the biggest of all the mass extinctions," said study researcher Darcy Ogden of the Scripps Institution of Oceanography in San Diego. "Estimates suggest up to 96 percent of all marine species and 70 percent of all land species were lost."
Researchers still debate the cause of this mass-extinction event, implicating everything from asteroids to volcanic eruptions to a decrease of the oxygen in the atmosphere.
MSNBC: Liars likely to use texts to deceive
By Athima Chansanchai
In a recent social experiment at a university, a group of students given the opportunity to deceive classmates using various mediums of communication were more likely to lie through texts than any other interaction that involved more direct contact with others.
The study, done by researchers at the Sauder School of Business at the University of British Columbia, involved 170 co-eds who performed mock stock deals using one of four methods: texting, face-to-face, audio or video chats.
They were split into groups of "brokers" and "buyers," each given real cash incentives to really get into their roles. Commissions figured prominently for brokers, while buyers' rewards were dependent on the value of their mock stock.
MSNBC: 2012 Watch: The countdown begins
By Alan Boyle
What is it about doomsday that draws a crowd?
Time after time, doomsayers have predicted the breakdown of society on a date certain, stirring up a buzz that builds to a crescendo and ends in a crash when doomsday doesn't come. 1844 brought the Great Disappointment, 1999 brought the Y2K alarm, 2011 brought the Rapture ruckus, and exactly a year from today, we're due for the Maya apocalypse.
If the past is any indicator, we'll be intently blogging, tweeting and indulging in black humor as the clock ticks down to Dec. 21, 2012. Then, on Dec. 22, we'll look around for the next doomsday.
LiveScience via MSNBC: You do the math — because that pigeon over there can
Psychologists show birds can count up to 9, and pick up and apply numerical rules
updated 12/22/2011 3:07:02 PM ET
Pigeons may not be so bird-brained after all, as scientists have found the birds' ability to understand numbers is on par with that of primates.
Previous studies have shown that various animals, from honeybees to chimpanzees, can learn to count when trained with food rewards. In 1998, researchers discovered that rhesus monkeys can not only learn to count to four, but can also pick up on numerical rules and apply them to numbers they haven't seen before, allowing them to count up to nine without further training.
With this finding in mind, psychologists at the University of Otago, in New Zealand, sought to find out if pigeons — another animal shown to count — have a numerical competence similar to rhesus monkeys.
Archaeology: Top 10 Discoveries of 2011
Volume 65 Number 1, January/February 2012
Years from now, when we look back on 2011, the year will almost certainly be defined by political and economic upheaval. At the same time that Western nations were shaken by a global economic slump, people in the Middle East and North Africa forcefully removed heads of state who had been in power for decades. “Arab Spring,” as the various revolutions have collectively been named, will have far-reaching implications, not just for the societies in which it took place, but also for archaeology. No year-end review would be complete without polling archaeological communities in the affected areas to determine whether sites linked to the world’s oldest civilizations, from Apamea in Syria to Saqqara in Egypt, are still intact. Our update appears here.
Of course, traditional fieldwork took place in 2011 as well. Archaeologists uncovered one of the world’s first buildings in Jordan. In Guatemala, a Maya tomb offered rare evidence of a female ruler, and, in Scotland, a boat was found with a 1,000-year-old Viking buried inside.
There will be more end of year top 10 lists next week.
Irish Central: The magic of the tombs at Newgrange on the winter solstice
Take a step back in time at Newgrange, in County Meath
By DARA MCBRIDE, IrishCentral Staff Writer
Published Tuesday, December 20, 2011, 4:09 PM
Updated Thursday, December 22, 2011, 11:21 AM
Newgrange in County Meath, Ireland, is one the most famous prehistoric sites in the world for good reason. It’s constructed in such a way that at dawn on the shortest day of the year (the winter solstice) a narrow beam of sunlight illuminates the floor of the structure’s inner chamber just after sunrise, filling the long passageway with a bright shaft of sunlight.
It’s a marvel of early astronomy that never fails to amaze because Newgrange actually predates the great pyramid of Giza in Egypt by at least 500 years. Built somewhere between 3100 and 2900 B.C., the famous passage tomb at Newgrange is estimated to be approximately 5,000 years old, even predating Stonehenge in Britain by 1,000 years.
Art Daily: One of Wales's most prized ancient masterpieces is secured by National Museum Wales
The Capel Garmon Firedog becomes a permanent Museum treasure.
CARDIFF.- An elaborately decorated Iron Age firedog in the form of an iconic double-crested mythical beast, and nearly 2,000 years old, has found a permanent home within Wales’s national archaeological collections.
In recognition of its uniqueness as one of the finest surviving prehistoric iron artefacts in Europe, it has been accepted by the Welsh Ministers in lieu of inheritance tax from the previous owners. Formerly on loan to the National Museum, this treasure is now secured for present and future generations - and represents a significant addition to the nation’s collections of Early Celtic Art.
The firedog - part ox and part horse in its attributes - is a masterpiece of early blacksmithing. Originally one of a pair, it once defined the hearth at the centre of an Iron Age chieftain’s roundhouse. Seen in flickering firelight, during feasting events, political gatherings and story-telling, it would have been viewed as a powerful symbol of authority.
University of the West of England via physorg.com: Was St. Edmund killed by the Vikings in Essex?
December 19, 2011
Keith Briggs, a visiting research fellow in linguistics at the University of the West of England, has proposed a new site for the battle in which King Edmund of East Anglia was killed in 869. If confirmed, the new proposal would change our understanding of the early history of Suffolk and especially of the town and abbey of Bury St. Edmunds.
The story of Edmund, king and martyr, has become a kind of foundation myth for the county of Suffolk, but contains at least one element of truth - in 869 there was a battle between the East Anglians and the Vikings; Edmund was captured and later killed. About 100 years later the story was written down - soon after, Edmund came to be considered a Christian martyr and the new abbey (founded about 1020) at Bury St Edmunds was dedicated to him. Edmund's remains were believed to be housed in the abbey, miracles were attributed to him, and Bury thus became a major pilgrimage site and a rich and powerful abbey for the next 500 years.
The Guardian (UK): Rio's Cemetery of New Blacks sheds light on horrors of slave trade
Tooth analysis shows Africans taken from wide area ranging from Sudan in the north-east to Mozambique in the south
Tom Phillips in Rio de Janeiro
guardian.co.uk, Tuesday 20 December 2011 15.21 EST
Tom Phillips in Rio de Janeiro Locals called it the "cemetery of the new blacks", but in truth it wasn't much of a cemetery. Devoid of headstones, wreaths or tearful mourners, this squalid harbourside burial ground was the final resting place for thousands of Africans shipped into slavery.
The new world greeted them with a lonely death in an unfamiliar land.
For decades the cemetery and those buried there between 1760 and 1830 were forgotten, hidden under layer after layer of urban development.
But 15 years after the cemetery's fortuitous discovery – during the renovation of Petrucio and Ana de la Merced Guimaraes's family home when builders unearthed a series of muddy skeletons – academics now believe they have evidence of the true reach of the slave trade.
Agence France Presse via physorg.com: Experts urge 18th-century 'Irish giant' be laid to rest
December 21, 2011
Experts called Wednesday for the skeleton of Charles Byrne, the "Irish giant", to be removed from a London museum where it has been on display for almost 200 years and buried at sea, as he wanted.
Standing at seven feet seven inches tall (2.3 metres), Byrne was a celebrity in his own lifetime and when he died in 1783 at the age of 22, the renowned surgeon and anatomist John Hunter was keen to acquire his skeleton.
According to the British Medical Journal (BMJ), Byrne was terrified of becoming one of Hunter's specimens and wanted to be buried at sea.
But the surgeon managed to bribe one of the Irishman's friends and took his body before it could be laid to rest in the English Channel.
Hat/Tip to annetteboardman, who sent in the above articles.
KEK (Japan) via physorg.com: A 40-year-old puzzle of superstring theory solved by supercomputer
December 23, 2011
A group of three researchers from KEK, Shizuoka University and Osaka University has for the first time revealed the way our universe was born with 3 spatial dimensions from 10-dimensional superstring theory in which spacetime has 9 spatial directions and 1 temporal direction. This result was obtained by numerical simulation on a supercomputer.
Superstring theory predicts a space with 9 dimensions, which poses the big puzzle of how this can be consistent with the 3-dimensional space that we live in.
A group of 3 researchers, Jun Nishimura (associate professor at KEK), Asato Tsuchiya (associate professor at Shizuoka University) and Sang-Woo Kim (project researcher at Osaka University) has succeeded in simulating the birth of the universe, using a supercomputer for calculations based on superstring theory. This showed that the universe had 9 spatial dimensions at the beginning, but only 3 of these underwent expansion at some point in time.
Michigan State University via physorg.com: MSU chemists become the first to solve an 84-year-old theory
December 22, 2011
The same principle that causes figure skaters to spin faster as they draw their arms into their bodies has now been used by Michigan State University researchers to understand how molecules move energy around following the absorption of light.
Conservation of angular momentum is a fundamental property of nature, one that astronomers use to detect the presence of satellites circling distant planets. In 1927, it was proposed that this principle should apply to chemical reactions, but a clear demonstration has never been achieved.
In the current issue of Science, MSU chemist Jim McCusker demonstrates for the first time the effect is real and also suggests how scientists could use it to control and predict chemical reaction pathways in general.
MSNBC: 'Neon signs' made with bacteria
By John Roach
The bar of the future may have all-organic brews on tap and blinking neon signs in the window made with millions of bacterial cells that periodically glow in unison.
The same "living neon sign" technology could also be used to help brewers and other folks monitor environmental pollutants in water such as arsenic, according to research published online Sunday in the journal Nature.
The breakthrough involved attaching a fluorescent protein to bacteria engineered with biological clocks, and then synchronizing the clocks of thousands of bacteria within a colony to create a so-called biopixel.
Science, Space, Environment, and Energy Policy
The Straights Times: Academe's exhibition of parochialism
The Straits Times
Publication Date : 23-12-2011
Under pressure, the Smithsonian has nixed its plan to host Shipwrecked: Tang Treasures And Monsoon Winds.
Based in Washington, the renowned museum co-curated that exhibition in Singapore this year. The display, which was to tour the world next year, consisted of 400 Tang-era ceramic and gold artefacts retrieved from an Arab dhow that sunk off Belitung island some 1,100 years ago.
Soon after fishermen first located it in 1998, the Indonesian government authorised a German commercial salvage operation to recover the sunken cargo. This was later sold to Sentosa Leisure Group in 2005 for an estimated US$32 million.
Partisans argue that because a commercial salvor was involved, the spirit of the Convention on the Protection of Underwater Cultural Heritage (UCH) had been violated. That treaty urges that all sunken relics be preserved in situ. It also forbids virtually all commercial salvage work.
Hat/Tip to annetteboardman for this story.
Reuters via MSNBC: Obama has options to delay Keystone pipeline
updated 12/23/2011 4:00:44 PM ET
WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama has options to kill or delay the Canada-to-Texas oil sands pipeline despite language in the payroll tax bill that forces him to make a decision on a permit by late February.
Obama signed into law on Friday the bill containing a measure ordering him to grant the permit for TransCanada Corp's Keystone XL oil sands pipeline in 60 days, unless he determines the line does not serve the national interest.
"The project now faces further uncertainty following its entanglement in Congressional maneuvering around the payroll tax extension legislation," Robert Johnston, a director for energy and natural resources at the Eurasia Group, said in a research note.
MSNBC: Nuclear renaissance? US OKs new reactor design
By Miguel Llanos, msnbc.com
Opening the door to a new generation of nuclear reactors, federal regulators on Thursday approved a design that a nuclear watchdog group acknowledged is an improvement but still not ideal.
The AP1000 reactor, designed by Westinghouse Electric Co., is safer than the current generation of U.S. reactors, which date back 30 years or more, members of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission said in voting for approval.
"The design provides enhanced safety margins through use of simplified, inherent, passive, or other innovative safety and security functions, and also has been assessed to ensure it could withstand damage from an aircraft impact without significant release of radioactive materials," NRC Chairman Gregory Jaczko said in a statement.
MSNBC: Power plant rules unveiled: Higher bills, cleaner air
Coal-fired power plants across U.S. will have to reduce pollutants
msnbc.com staff and news service reports
updated 12/21/2011 5:57:47 PM ET
WASHINGTON — The Obama administration on Wednesday unveiled rules for coal-fired power plants that mean costly investments passed on to consumers, but also health benefits.
Hundreds of older plants — which together make up the largest remaining source of unchecked toxic air pollution in the United States — will have to cut emissions or shut down.
"By cutting emissions that are linked to developmental disorders and respiratory illnesses like asthma, these standards represent a major victory for clean air and public health," Lisa Jackson, head of the Environmental Protection Agency, said in a statement.
The American Lung Association added its support, calling it a "huge victory for public health" and echoing EPA estimates that the rules will prevent 130,000 child asthma attacks and 11,000 premature deaths each year.
MSNBC: Western gray wolves coming off endangered list
Decision reflects trend of giving authority to states; some question timing
msnbc.com staff and news service reports
updated 12/21/2011 1:13:51 PM ET
ATLANTA, Mich. — The gray wolf populations in Michigan, Minnesota and Wisconsin have recovered from near extinction and as a result will be removed from the endangered species list, the Obama administration announced Wednesday.
Citing a "robust, self-sustaining wolf population" in those states, the Fish and Wildlife Service finalized a proposal first made last May. The formal delisting will take place next month.
The decision follows a trend of the federal government wanting to get out of the wolf protection business after devoting four decades and tens of millions of dollars to saving the species.
Instead, individual states are being given control over the future of the legendary predator.
MSNBC: Grant turns lab rats into scientific entrepreneurs
By John Roach
Lab scientists are getting a $50,000 assist from the U.S. government to go to school and learn the entrepreneurial skills required to take their innovations into the marketplace and, perhaps, become millionaires.
"I am basically teaching them how to do eye contact and test their hypotheses outside of the lab," Steve Blank, a startup guru at Stanford University who designed and teaches the course, told me Tuesday.
The course is part of the National Science Foundation's recently launched Innovation Corps (I-Corps) program, which aims to help researchers make the leap to entrepreneurship. The first 21 teams wrapped up the two-month-long course earlier this month.
It is modeled after Blank's Lean LaunchPad class, which replaces the traditional masters in business administration curriculum — balance sheets, business plans, etc. — with what Blank calls "the scientific method for entrepreneurship."
Science Writing and Reporting
Science News: Researchers, journals asked to censor data
Bird flu findings could provide terrorists a bioweapons blueprint, NIH panel worries
By Janet Raloff
Web edition : Wednesday, December 21st, 2011
Scientists undertake research to advance knowledge. Normally, one aspect of that advancement is to find as broad an audience for the newly acquired data as possible. But what happens if medically important data could be misappropriated for ruthless purposes? That question underlies the ruckus developing over two new bird flu papers.
After reviewing the manuscripts, a federally convened panel has asked the authors of both papers to censor important details of their work. It argued that “certain information obtained through such studies has the potential to be misused for harmful purposes.” That’s a thinly veiled reference to biowarfare. The concern is that human manipulation might transform some low-risk bug into a virus that triggers a localized epidemic — if not a runaway global pandemic.
As a second line of defense, the panel — and the Department of Health and Human Services — has strongly encouraged the journals reviewing the new papers to also ensure that no dangerous details are published.
Science is Cool
Explorations in Antiquity Center via PR Newswire: One-of-a-Kind Place in the US Offers One-of-a-Kind Trip Back to the Days of the First Christmas
LAGRANGE, Ga., Dec. 20, 2011 PRNewswire -- A one-of-a-kind place in the US, the Explorations in Antiquity Center in LaGrange, Georgia offers visitors the chance to take a one-of-a-kind trip back to the days of the first Christmas. This extraordinary attraction offers visitors the chance to experience life in the days of the first century with an engaging series of events this holiday season. Only at the Explorations in Antiquity Center will a visitor travel the road to Bethlehem through a garden of life size archaeological replicas of places which existed during the time of the first Christmas.
Founded in 2006 by Dr. James Fleming, Ed D, the Explorations in Antiquity Center, an interactive biblical archaeological museum, offers many ways for visitors to immerse their senses in ancient times. It is a museum and educational facility with programs for all ages; its mission is: "to help people experience the ancient Biblical world, its history and culture."
The Hartford Courant: CCSU Professor Debunks Atlantis Myth On National Geographic Channel Show
Kenneth Feder Is Go-To Guy For Disproving Unprovable Folktales
By SUSAN DUNNE, firstname.lastname@example.org, The Hartford Courant
December 19, 2011|
Kenneth Feder, an anthropology professor at Central Connecticut State University in New Britain, has become a go-to guy for TV show producers looking for someone to debunk bizarre archaeological claims. Whether it's the odd belief that aliens built Stonehenge, or the one that extraterrestrials built the pyramids, Feder has something to say.
"I am usually the beacon of sanity in a sea of madness," Feder says. "Sometimes I think I do TV shows too often. Sometimes, I really should ask the name of the show before agreeing to it. Once I did a show, and then found out later it was called 'William Shatner's Weird or What?' That title doesn't exactly inspire confidence."
This week, Feder is on safer ground, appearing on a show on the National Geographic Channel. The episode of "The Truth Behind" airing on Thursday, Dec. 22, is titled "The Truth Behind: Atlantis." It studies believers in Atlantis, and debunkers like Feder. The show sides with the debunkers.
Hat/Tip to annetteboardman for these stories.
MSNBC: Will future tech read your mind?
By Alan Boyle
Nothing focuses your attention on the future like a forecast, especially when it comes to the technologies that will be changing daily life in the years to come. Five years, to be exact. That's why forecasts like IBM's annual "Five in Five" are so thought-provoking, even if they're occasionally wrong.
Actually, IBM's record is pretty good: This month marks the five-year anniversary of IBM's first list of five technologies that were expected to make the most impact in five years' time. The company nailed 2006's predictions on the rise of telemedicine, location-aware mobile devices, real-time speech translation and nanotechnology. But the fifth prediction, which focused on the rise of virtual 3-D environments, hasn't worked out the way IBM expected. Sure, Second Life is still around — in fact, I'll be hosting my next "Virtually Speaking Science" show in Second Life on Jan. 4. But such virtual worlds haven't become the principal vehicle for real-world commerce ... yet.
"It's not perfect," admitted Bernie Meyerson, IBM's vice president of innovation. Sometimes the company's researchers latch onto a idea whose time has not yet come, and perhaps never will. But for the most part, "this stuff has actually panned out a lot," Meyerson said.
Is technological progress always a good thing? Not necessarily, if you're talking about key-logging software on mobile devices, or government-supported spyware. The latest predictions from IBM, issued today, have lots of potential for a dreams-vs.-nightmares debate:
MSNBC: Ashton Kutcher, friends key to Twitter's success
By John Roach
Developers of the next-big social networking application stand a greater chance at skyrocketing success if Hollywood stars and big media go gaga over it, according to an analysis of Twitter's meteoric rise in popularity.
Data collected on the number of users adopting the microblogging service in its early years (between 2006 and 2009) show that it first spread gradually via traditional social networks — real-world friends, work colleagues, neighbors — then took off when media stars started to gather their flocks.
"The first big run up in the number of Twitter users corresponded to the months that Ashton Kutcher was trying to be the first one to a million followers," Jameson Lawrence Toole, a graduate student at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and co-author of the study, told me today.
New England Complex Systems Institute via physorg.com: Mystery predators may have contributed to fiscal collapse in 2007: research
December 19, 2011
As the nation bristles, camps out, and opines against the destructive role of banks in bringing down the economy, a group of scientists has released a study that shows a critical piece of the puzzle went missing, and that piece continues to go ignored, to everyone’s peril, including the banks.
Their new study shows that banks themselves were under attack by other players on Wall Street. The study authors at the New England Complex Systems Institute (NECSI) retraced events to show that at a critical point in the financial crisis, the stock of Citigroup was attacked by traders by selling borrowed stock (short-selling) which may have caused others to sell in panic. The subsequent price drop enabled the attackers to buy the stock back at a much lower price.
This kind of illegal market manipulation is called a bear raid and the new study supports earlier suspicions that the raids played a role in the market crash.
"There used to be a rule that prevented it from happening by forbidding borrowed shares from being sold in large blocks that drive the price down," said Bar-Yam. "The Securities and Exchange Commission repealed that rule, known as the price test or uptick rule, on July 6, 2007."