Welcome to Science Saturday, where the Overnight News Digest crew, consisting of founder Magnifico, regular editors jlms qkw, maggiejean, wader, Oke, rfall, and JML9999, alumni editors palantir, Bentliberal, and ScottyUrb, guest editor 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 Reuters.
Carbon dioxide level crosses milestone at Hawaii site
By Environment Correspondent Deborah Zabarenko
WASHINGTON | Sat May 11, 2013 5:32am EDT
The amount of climate-warming carbon dioxide in the atmosphere topped 400 parts per million at a key observing station in Hawaii for the first time since measurement began in 1958, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said on Friday.
To many scientists, crossing the 400 ppm threshold, which means that there are 400 molecules of carbon dioxide for every million molecules in the air, is a bit like the Dow Jones Industrial Average rising above 15,000 points.
"It's important mainly as a milestone that marks a steady progress of increasing carbon dioxide in the atmosphere," said James Butler of NOAA's Earth System Research Laboratory.
More stories after the jump.
Recent Science Diaries and Stories
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by Desert Scientist
Going Foreward with Brain Imaging Should Include a New "Neuroethics"
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This week in science: Highs and lows
Green diary rescue: Wading out of the abstract into the practicalities of sustainability
by Meteor Blades
LinkTV on YouTube: Kayaking the LA: Revitalizing an Urban River
Earth Focus features the film Rock the Boat which follows a controversial kayaking expedition down the partially cemented Los Angeles River, an act of civil disobedience led by satirical writer George Wolfe, whose goal was to have the Environmental Protection Agency declare the river navigable so that it could gain protection under the Clean Water Act. Boating down the LA River became a political movement which lead to changes in federal policy and opened up public access to a long-neglected waterway. With George Wolfe and Thea Mercouffer, film director. Produced in collaboration with the Environmental Film Festival in the Nation's Capital.
Discovery News on YouTube: 15,000-Year-Old Words We Still Use
There are words we speak today that cavemen would have understood. Anthony tells us which words these are and why they're so significant.
Discovery News on YouTube: Robots Are Stealing Your Job
Robots are awesome, but beware: they're after your jobs! Trace looks at the work robots are doing today, that once required a human touch.
NASA Television on YouTube: Coolant Pump Replaced on ISS on This Week @NASA
Outside the International Space Station, Expedition 35 Flight Engineers Chris Cassidy and Tom Marshburn of NASA conducted a 5-hour, 30-minute spacewalk on the station's P6 truss to replace a suspect pump controller box which distributes coolant to the station's thermal control system. The quick-turnaround spacewalk was mounted just 48 hours after an ammonia coolant leak developed on P6. After installing the spare pump, power was turned on, and the system appeared to be working properly with no indications of ammonia leaking from the pump. Also, Humans 2 Mars, 40th Anniversary of Skylab, Marshburn "Testifies" From Space, Next ISS Crew Focused on Launch, Curiosity Rover Update, Landsat's Vegas Time-Lapse, Fruit Flies Improving Flight, Student Launch Projects and more!
NASA Television on YouTube: ScienceCasts: Sunset Triangle
The three brightest planets in this month's night sky are lining up for a beautiful sunset conjunction at the end of May.
NTDTV on YouTube: Annular Solar Eclipse Seen from Australia's Outback
Scientists and astronomers from around the world gathered at Tennant Creek In Australia's outback to view an annular Solar eclipse on Friday, beginning just before 7 a.m.
The next total solar eclipse will be visible from Africa, Southern Europe and Eastern Americas in November 2013.
Space.com on YouTube: Buzz Aldrin's Visions For Missions: Mars and More | Video - Part 1
The Apollo 11 Moonwalker stopped by the SPACE.com newsroom to talk about his new book 'Mission To Mars'.
Space.com on YouTube: Star Trek Galileo Shuttlecraft To Land At Space Center Houston
Star Trek's original prop shuttlecraft will be heading to the Johnson Space Center's visitors attraction, once its restoration team is done. SPACE.com found project leader Adam Schneider and crew in the ship's Atlantic Highlands, NJ "space-dock."
Nature (UK): Common source for Earth and Moon water
Chemical fingerprints of lunar rocks suggest both bodies already had their water at birth.
09 May 2013
Measurements of the chemical composition of Moon rocks suggest that Earth was born with its water already present, rather than having the precious liquid delivered several hundred million years later by comets or asteroids. And in finding a common origin for the water on Earth and the Moon, the results highlight a puzzle over the leading theory for the formation of Earth's satellite.
Geochemist Alberto Saal of Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island, and his colleagues built on recent studies, including their own, that have revealed a substantial amount of water in the Moon’s interior. To find the source of the water, the team relied on a chemical fingerprint — the relative amounts of hydrogen and deuterium, a hydrogen isotope that has one extra neutron in its atomic nucleus.
In investigating primitive lunar samples carried to Earth by the Apollo 15 and 17 missions, the team found a deuterium-to-hydrogen ratio that matched the isotopic ratio in carbonaceous chondrites, which include some of the most primitive meteorites known. The ratio is also similar to that found in water on Earth. The findings “suggest a common source of water for both objects” and provide “a very important new constraint for models of Earth and Moon origin”, says planetary scientist Robin Canup of the Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colorado, who was not part of the study.
Nature (UK): Moon rocks offer new view of lunar dynamo
Process that generated magnetism lasted 160 million years longer than previously thought.
06 May 2013
The Moon clung to its magnetic field until at least 3.56 billion years ago, a study suggests — about 160 million years longer than scientists had thought.
That small change may be enough to rule out some ideas about how the Moon generated and held onto its ancient magnetism, through a process known as a dynamo.
“It seems like the lunar dynamo lasted very late in the Moon’s history,” says Benjamin Weiss, a palaeomagnetics expert at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in Cambridge. “That’s a very surprising result.”
Reuters: Spacewalking repairmen replace space station's leaky pump
By Irene Klotz
CAPE CANAVERAL, Florida | Sat May 11, 2013 4:36pm EDT
A pair of spacewalking astronauts wrapped up a hastily planned repair job on Saturday to replace a suspect coolant pump needed to keep the International Space Station at full power.
NASA astronauts Chris Cassidy and Tom Marshburn put on spacesuits and left the space station's airlock shortly before 9 a.m. EDT to attempt to stem an ammonia coolant leak that cropped up on Thursday.
Over the next four hours, they installed a spare pump, then positioned themselves to check for signs of escaping ammonia ice crystals when the system was turned back on.
"No flakes," Cassidy reported to flight controllers at the Johnson Space Center in Houston.
Nature (UK): Oceans under surveillance
Three projects seek to track changes in Atlantic overturning circulation currents.
07 May 2013
A ‘global conveyor belt’ stirs the oceans from top to bottom, with surface currents transporting warm water to the poles while cold water in the depths flows back to the tropics. But it operates in fits and starts, with the strength of the currents varying widely. Eager for a better understanding of how the vagaries of the conveyor belt shape weather and climate, oceanographers are planning two new large-scale projects to watch over Atlantic currents.
An array of instruments between Florida and the Canary Islands has been continuously monitoring the strength of the North Atlantic portion of the global conveyor belt since 2004. In December, if all goes well, an international project led by the United States will begin another set of continuous measurements of the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation (AMOC), using an array of sensors strung between South Africa and Argentina. And this month, US and British funding agencies are set to decide whether they will support a new surface-to-bottom monitoring array between Labrador in Canada and Scotland, UK. The United Kingdom will also decide whether to continue operating the existing array.
Expanding such monitoring is crucial if scientists are to improve seasonal weather and climate forecasts, says Harry Bryden, an oceanographer at the University of Southampton, UK. Components of the AMOC, such as the Gulf Stream, ferry vast amounts of heat from the tropics to high latitudes, heating the winds that keep Europe’s climate mild. As a result, year-to-year and longer-term changes in the strength of these currents can affect seasonal conditions across much of Europe, Africa, South America and North America.
Nature (UK): Moth smashes ultrasound hearing records
Insect can sense higher pitches than any other known species.
08 May 2013
Many moths have evolved sensitive hearing that can pick up the ultrasonic probes of bats that want to eat them. But one species comes pre-adapted for anything that bats might bring to this evolutionary arms race. Even though its ears are extremely simple — a pair of eardrums on its flanks that each vibrate four receptor cells — it can sense frequencies up to 300 kilohertz, well beyond the range of any other animal and higher than any bat can squeak.
“A lot of previous work has suggested that some bats have evolved calls that are out of the hearing range of the moths they are hunting. But this moth can hear the calls of any bat,” says James Windmill, an acoustical engineer at the University of Strathclyde, UK, who discovered the ability in the greater wax moth (Galleria mellonella). His study is published in Biology Letters.
The moths were most sensitive to frequencies of around 80 kilohertz, the average frequency of their courtship calls. But when exposed to 300 kilohertz, the highest level that the team tested, the insects' eardrums still vibrated and their neurons still fired.
Nature (UK): Seafood diet killing Arctic foxes on Russian island
Mercury pollution in marine animals may be behind a population crash.
08 May 2013
An isolated population of Arctic foxes that dines only on marine animals seems to be slowly succumbing to mercury poisoning.
The foxes on Mednyi Island — one of Russia’s Commander Islands in the Bering Sea — are a subspecies of Arctic fox (Vulpes lagopus) that may have remained isolated for thousands of years. They were once numerous enough to support a small yet thriving group of fur hunters. After humans abandoned the settlement in the 1970s, the fox population began to crash, falling from more than 1,000 animals to fewer than 100 individuals today.
Researchers at Moscow State University wanted to find out if the population crash was caused by diseases introduced by the hunters and their dogs, so they teamed up with Alex Greenwood, head of the wildlife diseases department at the Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research in Berlin, as well as other colleagues in Germany and Iceland. They screened for four common canine pathogens in foxes captured on Mednyi Island and in the pelts of museum specimens of Commander Island foxes. All they found was a handful of cases of the parasite Toxoplasma gondii, which causes the disease toxoplasmosis, but that alone did not account for the population crash.
LiveScience: Plague Helped Bring Down Roman Empire, Graveyard Suggests
Charles Choi, LiveScience Contributor
Date: 10 May 2013 Time: 07:26 AM ET
Plague may have helped finish off the Roman Empire, researchers now reveal.
Plague is a fatal disease so infamous that it has become synonymous with any dangerous, widespread contagion. It was linked to one of the first known examples of biological warfare, when Mongols catapulted plague victims into cities.
The bacterium that causes plague, Yersinia pestis, has been linked with at least two of the most devastating pandemics in recorded history. One, the Great Plague, which lasted from the 14th to 17th centuries, included the infamous epidemic known as the Black Death, which may have killed nearly two-thirds of Europe in the mid-1300s. Another, the Modern Plague, struck around the world in the 19th and 20th centuries, beginning in China in the mid-1800s and spreading to Africa, the Americas, Australia, Europe and other parts of Asia.
Discover Magazine: Pandemic Chatter
By Keith Kloor
May 10, 2013 12:22 pm
I’m not on the pandemic beat, but some of the best science journalists are, and they are busy these days. Today, David Quammen, author of the recently published and critically acclaimed book, Spillover: Animal infections and the next human pandemic, has an op-ed in the New York Times. It begins:
Terrible new forms of infectious disease make headlines, but not at the start. Every pandemic begins small. Early indicators can be subtle and ambiguous. When the Next Big One arrives, spreading across oceans and continents like the sweep of nightfall, causing illness and fear, killing thousands or maybe millions of people, it will be signaled first by quiet, puzzling reports from faraway places — reports to which disease scientists and public health officials, but few of the rest of us, pay close attention. Such reports have been coming in recent months from two countries, China and Saudi Arabia.
The worrisome Chinese bird flu strain that has gotten a lot of attention is not, in its present form, going to cause a pandemic, says Thomas Frieden, director of the U.S. Centers of Disease Control (CDC). But if you want to learn about the potential for its lethal mutation, and why you should be worried about it, read this piece in Foreign Policy by veteran science journalist Laurie Garrett.
Hat/Tip to annetteboardman for these stories.
Natur(UK): Blood hormone restores youthful hearts to old mice
Protein relieves age-related stiffening and thickening of cardiac muscle.
10 May 2013
Researchers have identified a blood hormone that makes ageing hearts in mice look young again. The authors of the study say their finding offers therapeutic potential for the treatment of age-related heart disease, an increasingly common cause of heart failure.
The protein, known as growth differentiation factor 11 (GDF11), circulates at high levels in the blood of young mice but declines with age. In a study published this week in Cell1, the researchers report that elderly mice treated with the protein experience a reversal of tissue ageing in the heart.
“I think it’s a stunning result that, for the first time, points at a secreted protein that maintains the heart in a young state,” says cardiologist Deepak Srivastava, director of the Gladstone Institute of Cardiovascular Disease in San Francisco, California, who was not involved with the research. “That’s pretty remarkable.”
Nature (UK): Sickly mosquitoes stymie malaria’s spread
Researchers harness bacteria to cripple insects that transmit disease.
09 May 2013
Scientists have engineered mosquitoes to carry a bacterium that confers resistance to the malaria parasite — a long-sought advance that could eventually curb malaria cases in humans.
A team led by Zhiyong Xi, a medical entomologist at Michigan State University in East Lansing, infected Anopheles stephensi mosquitoes with Wolbachia bacteria to produce insects that could pass the infection on to their offspring. Female mosquitoes that carried Wolbachia also bred with uninfected mates, the researchers report today in Science, swiftly spreading the malaria-blocking bacterium to entire insect populations within eight generations.
“This is the first paper reporting that it is indeed possible to use Wolbachia to control malaria,” says geneticist Steven Sinkins of the University of Oxford, UK. But he cautions that field trials will be the real test of this advance.
Nature (UK): Psychiatry framework seeks to reform diagnostic doctrine
Critics say clinical manual unfit for mental-health research.
10 May 2013
Nassir Ghaemi, director of the Mood Disorders Program at Tufts Medical Center in Boston, Massachusetts, has felt shackled by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), often called the bible of psychiatry. Some of his depressed patients occasionally show manic behaviour but do not fulfil the DSM’s criteria for a diagnosis of bipolar disorder. Ghaemi is interested in whether such patients might respond better to drugs for bipolar disorder than for depression. But his colleagues warned him against straying from the DSM when he applied for funding at the US National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), because peer reviewers tended to insist on research that hewed to DSM categories. Ghaemi held off from applying.
If NIMH director Thomas Insel has his way, Ghaemi and other mental-health researchers will no longer feel the weight of the DSM. “NIMH will be re-orienting its research away from DSM categories,” Insel wrote in a blog entry on 29 April. The latest edition, the DSM-5, will be unveiled on 22 May at the annual meeting of the American Psychiatric Association in San Francisco, California. Like many psychiatrists, Insel questions whether the DSM’s categories accurately reflect the way the brain works. He is pushing a project that aims to create a new framework that classifies mental-health disorders according to their biological roots. “Going forward, we will be supporting research projects that look across current categories — or sub-divide current categories — to begin to develop a better system,” Insel wrote.
The blog post made waves in the media and rattled some psychiatric clinicians and researchers. But Insel says that he has been talking about the issue since 2008. “The word was just still not out there,” he says. Insel says that he has increasingly received complaints from grant applicants who have tried to follow his guidance, only to be shot down by peer reviewers for eschewing DSM scripture.
The Guardian (UK): Babylon's hanging garden: ancient scripts give clue to missing wonder
A British academic has gathered evidence suggesting garden was created at Nineveh, 300 miles from Babylon
The Guardian, Sunday 5 May 2013 13.52 EDT
The whereabouts of one of the seven wonders of the ancient world – the fabled Hanging Garden of Babylon – has been one of the great mysteries from antiquity. The inability of archaeologists to find traces of it among Babylon's ancient remains led some even to doubt its existence.
Now a British academic has amassed a wealth of textual evidence to show that the garden was instead created at Nineveh, 300 miles from Babylon, in the early 7th century BC.
After 18 years of study, Stephanie Dalley of Oxford University has concluded that the garden was built by the Assyrians in the north of Mesopotamia – in modern Iraq – rather than by their great enemies the Babylonians in the south.
World Bulletin (Turkey): Roman-era mosaic tiles found in Milas
Excavations unearthed mosaic tiles one meter below the surface. The excavations at the field continue.
Excavations in a field in Milas, a district of the southwestern province of Mugla, has uncovered mosaic tiles belonging to the Roman era.
The excavations began after the Milas Gendarmerie Command raided a store in Milas upon a tip-off and found five Roman-era pots there. Also, three unregistered rifles, one unregistered handgun and fireworks were seized in the raid. Two suspects were taken into custody.
An excavation team then started working in the field where the two suspects reportedly said they had found the pots. Excavations unearthed mosaic tiles one meter below the surface. The excavations at the field continue.
LiveScience: Jerusalem's Ancient 'City of Quarries' Reveals City-Building Rocks
Jeanna Bryner, LiveScience Managing EditorA huge quarry, along with tools and a key, used by workers some 2,000 years ago have been discovered during an excavation in Jerusalem prior to the paving of a highway , the Israel Antiquities Authorities (IAA) announced.
The first-century quarry, which fits into the Second Temple Period (538 B.C. to A.D. 70), would've held the huge stones used in the construction of the city's ancient buildings, the researchers noted.
Plataforma SINC (Spain) and AlphaGalileo via Science Daily: Elephant's Tomb in Carmona May Have Been a Temple to the God Mithras
May 10, 2013
The so-called Elephant's Tomb in the Roman necropolis of Carmona (Seville, Spain) was not always used for burials. The original structure of the building and a window through which the sun shines directly in the equinoxes suggest that it was a temple of Mithraism, an unofficial religion in the Roman Empire. The position of Taurus and Scorpio during the equinoxes gives force to the theory.
The Carmona necropolis (Spain) is a collection of funeral structures from between the 1st century B.C. and the 2nd century A.D. One of these is known as the Elephant's Tomb because a statue in the shape of an elephant was found in the interior of the structure.
Art Daily: Archaeologists find human remains of about 28 individuals thought to be approximately 1,500-2,500 years old
COLIMA.- A burial site with the osseous remains of some 28 individuals, whose antiquity is estimated to be around 1,500 and 2,500 years, was discovered by archaeologists from the National Institute of Anthropology and History (INAH) east of the city of Colima. The quantity of skeletons found here lead archaeologists to believe this is a pre Hispanic burial site related to western cultures.
Marco Zavaleta Lucido, an archaeologist of the INAH Center in Colima, explained that this area, of about 114 meters square [374.01 square feet], has burials distributed inside and outside of a shaft tomb. The tomb consists of a funerary complex made up by a vertical well of varying depth that leads to a vault where the dead were deposited.
LiveScience: Ancient Roman Cemetery Discovered Beneath Parking Lot
Jeanna Bryner, LiveScience Managing Editor
Date: 03 May 2013 Time: 09:07 AM ET
Hidden beneath a parking lot in Leicester, England, archaeologists have discovered a 1,700-year-old Roman cemetery that seemed to show no religious bias.
The new discovery, found at the junction of Newarke and Oxford Streets, includes numerous burials and skeletal remains from 13 individuals, both male and female of various ages. The cemetery is estimated to date back to around A.D. 300, according to University of Leicester archaeologists who led the dig.
University of Southampton (UK) via Science Daily: Secret Streets of Britain's 'Atlantis' Are Revealed
May 9, 2013
A University of Southampton professor has carried out the most detailed analysis ever of the archaeological remains of the lost medieval town of Dunwich, dubbed 'Britain's Atlantis'.
Funded and supported by English Heritage, and using advanced underwater imaging techniques, the project led by Professor David Sear of Geography and Environment has produced the most accurate map to date of the town's streets, boundaries and major buildings, and revealed new ruins on the seabed. Professor Sear worked with a team from the University's GeoData Institute; the National Oceanography Centre, Southampton; Wessex Archaeology; and local divers from North Sea Recovery and Learn Scuba.
He comments, "Visibility under the water at Dunwich is very poor due to the muddy water. This has limited the exploration of the site.
BBC: Mystery of 200-year-old British soldier found in the dunes of Holland
By Caroline Wyatt Defence correspondent, BBC News
The 200-year-old body of a British Coldstream Guards soldier was found in sand dunes in the Netherlands. Who was he?
For more than two centuries, the remains of a soldier lay undisturbed on a windy beach in the northern Netherlands.
But in March 2011, birdwatchers discovered bones and metal artefacts among sand-dunes that had once been covered in asphalt.
Hat/Tip to annetteboardman for these stories.
Science World Report: Paleontologists Uncover Oldest Species of Bone-Headed Dinosaur in North America
Paleontologists have uncovered a new species of bone-headed dinosaur. Now, they've found out that this plant-eating dinosaur represents the oldest of its kind in North America--and possibly the world.
Named Acrotholus audeti, the dinosaur's remains were partially discovered on a ranch in Canada in 2008. The six-foot-long dinosaur once roamed the Earth about 85 million years ago, prowling the ground on two legs. Its large, dome-shaped head was used for display to other members of its species. In fact, some researchers believe that it could have been used in head-butting contests--rather like how deer put on displays in contests for females during the spring.
University of Alberta (Canada) via Science Daily: Four New Dinosaur Species Identified
May 8, 2013
Just when dinosaur researchers thought they had a thorough knowledge of ankylosaurs, a family of squat, armour plated, plant eaters, along comes University of Alberta graduate student, Victoria Arbour.
Arbour visited dinosaur fossil collections from Alberta to the U.K. examining skull armour and comparing those head details with other features of the fossilized ankylosaur remains. She made a breakthrough that resurrected research done more than 70 years ago.
Arbour explains that between 1900 and 1930 researchers had determined that small variations in the skull armour and the tail clubs in some ankylosaurs constituted four individual species of the dinosaurs.
Science News: Human ancestors had taste for meat, brains
Kenyan fossils serve up earliest evidence of regular hunting
By Bruce Bower
Human ancestors living in East Africa 2 million years ago weren’t a steak-and-potatoes crowd. But they had a serious hankering for gazelle meat and antelope brains, fossils discovered in Kenya indicate.
Three sets of butchered animal bones unearthed at Kenya’s Kanjera South site provide the earliest evidence of both long-term hunting and targeted scavenging by a member of the human evolutionary family, anthropologist Joseph Ferraro of Baylor University in Waco, Texas, and his colleagues conclude.
Nature (UK): Most Europeans share recent ancestors
Genetic sequences link far-flung populations and bear marks of historical events.
Whether they are a Serb and a Swiss, or a Finn and a Frenchman, any two Europeans are likely to have many common ancestors who lived around 1,000 years ago. A genomic survey of 2,257 people from 40 populations finds that people of European ancestry are more closely related to one another than previously thought, and could help to bring about new insights into European history.
Hat/Tip to annetteboardman for these stories.
OurAmazingPlanet via LiveScience: Lava Hints At Earth's Deep Carbon Cycle
Becky Oskin, OurAmazingPlanet Staff Writer
Date: 06 May 2013 Time: 09:02 AM ET
Most of Earth's carbon clusters deep beneath the surface, in hot mantle rocks that churn below the planet's thin crust.
"Most people probably don't recognize that the vast majority of carbon — the backbone of all life — is located in the deep Earth, below the surface — maybe even 90 percent of it," Elizabeth Cottrell, a geologist at the Smithsonian's Museum of Natural History, said in a statement. Cottrell is lead author of a new study examining how the mantle's carbon cycle changes the chemistry of lava that forms new ocean crust.
At mid-ocean ridges, the gaping fractures that criss-cross Earth's ocean floors, lava oozes out directly from the mantle. Studying this lava gives geoscientists clues to what's going on thousands of miles below the surface.
Reuters: Solar-powered plane wraps first leg of flight across United States
by David Bailey, Laila Kearney and Braden Reddall
Sun May 5, 2013 5:04am EDT
The flight from San Fransisco to Phoenix took 18 hours and 18 minutes on Saturday - and didn't use a drop of fuel.
A solar-powered airplane that developers hope eventually to pilot around the world landed safely in Phoenix on the first leg of an attempt to fly across the United States using only the sun's energy, project organizers said.
The plane, dubbed the Solar Impulse, took 18 hours and 18 minutes to reach Phoenix on the slow-speed flight, completing the first of five legs with planned stops in Dallas, St. Louis and Washington on the way to a final stop in New York.
Nature (UK): Quantum meld brings photons together
Merging the information of two photons could boost quantum-optical technologies.
09 May 2013
Encoding information in quantum particles such as photons, the quanta of light, could lead to powerful new technologies, such as ultrafast quantum computers and unbreakable quantum cryptography. A method for loading the information carried by two photons into a single photon, described in Nature Photonics1, suggest a way to boost the efficiency of data transmission in such systems.
Data streams in conventional fibre-optic networks are routinely combined, or 'multiplexed', to increase network capacity. For example, digital data can be encoded into light pulses of different wavelengths, which are sent simultaneously along a single fibre and separated again (‘de-multiplexed’) at the other end.
This sort of capability would be handy in quantum information technology too. It would entail feeding the data carried by two or more 'quantum bits', or qubits, into one. Two qubits each carrying a binary digit (1 or 0) — encoded, for example, in the polarization of photons — could be replaced by a single photon with four possible states, capable of specifying both digits.
Nature (UK): Pear-shaped nucleus boosts search for new physics
The strange shape of radium 224 could lead to test alternatives to standard model.
08 May 2013
A lopsided atomic nucleus may help to refine nuclear theory. The stubby pear shape, described today in Nature, may also be pointing towards new tests of particle physics that could reveal why matter became more common than antimatter in the early moments of the Universe.
Nuclei are held together by the strong nuclear force, which acts against the electrostatic repulsion that pushes protons apart. But calculating the interplay of these forces from first principles is complex, and theorists have instead devised several competing models to describe the structure of nuclei, based on empirical data and simplifying assumptions. Most nuclei are roughly spherical or rugby-ball shaped, but the models suggest that some sport a permanent bump, like a pear (and some may even be shaped like bananas or pyramids). However, the models do not quite agree about which nuclei are most likely to be pear-shaped.
Until now, only one pear-shaped nucleus had been found experimentally: radium 226, whose shape was sketched out back in 1993. That isotope was relatively easy to work with because it is long-lived. Other putatively pear-shaped peers are highly unstable and difficult to handle.
Nature (UK): Quantum computer passes speed test
Posted by nicola jones
09 May 2013 | 20:24 BST
The world’s only commercially-available quantum computer has faced much controversy about whether it is actually faster or better than a conventional computer. A new independent speed test helps to answer that question.
In short: the D-Wave quantum computer is thousands of times faster than other commercial computers at the very specific problem it was designed to solve. The computer is about average on other types of problems, and, importantly, it is still not clear whether the speed advantage will scale up as the computer gets bigger. That would be necessary to fulfil one of the big promises of quantum computing: making otherwise-intractable problems solvable.
LiveScience: Mystery of Abraham Lincoln's Funeral Train Solved by Chemist
Denise Chow, LiveScience Staff Writer
Date: 09 May 2013 Time: 07:14 AM ET
Before President Abraham Lincoln was laid to rest, a train carried his body on a two-week funeral procession across the Northern U.S. states in 1865. Mourners from New York to Illinois gathered to see the train and pay their final respects, but despite drawing millions of spectators, one detail of the much-publicized event was thought to have been lost to history: The color of the president's railcar.
Now, in a case of historical sleuthing, Wayne Wesolowski, a chemist at the University of Arizona in Tucson, has put together the missing piece of the puzzle.
By analyzing tiny paint chips from one of only a few surviving artifacts from the train, Wesolowski discovered that the true color of the historic railcar was a brownish-red color that he describes as "dark maroon."
Hat/Tip to annetteboardman for this story.
Science Crime Scenes
Washington Post: Ancient Syrian castles serve again as fighting positions
“If the rebels got control of this citadel, it would mean that the direct shelling on the areas in old Homs would stop,” said Jalal Abu Soliman, a member of the Local Coordination Committees, a Syrian activist group. That, he said, would allow the rebels to take full control of the city.
Opposition activists in Hama say regime forces occupying the medieval al-Madiq citadel have maintained an upper hand by using the structure to shell villages to the north that are sympathetic to the opposition and might otherwise rise up to fight.
Wars often carry eerie parallels to a region’s earlier history, but Middle Eastern historians are fearful about what the current fight may bring to Syria’s rich historical sites.
N.Y. Times: The Met Will Return a Pair of Statues to Cambodia
By TOM MASHBERG and RALPH BLUMENTHAL
Published: May 3, 2013
Six weeks ago the Metropolitan Museum of Art sent two of its top executives to Cambodia to resolve a thorny dispute: whether two pieces of ancient Khmer art that the museum has long prominently exhibited were the product of looting.
In days they had their answer. Cambodian officials documented that the two 10th-century Khmer statues, donated to the Met in four pieces as separate gifts between 1987 and 1992, had indeed been smuggled out of a remote jungle temple around the time of the country’s civil war in the 1970s.
On Friday the museum said it would repatriate the life-size sandstone masterworks, known as the Kneeling Attendants, which have guarded the doorway to the Met’s Southeast Asian galleries since they opened in 1994.
The Canadian Press via The Record (Canada): First Nations group outraged at destruction of ancient rock art sites
NANAIMO, B.C. — Members of a Nanaimo First Nations group are outraged after crews contracted by BC Hydro damaged a documented ancient rock art site during work last week.
Douglas White, chief of the Snuneymuxw First Nation said the damage is disrespectful of native heritage and he doesn’t understand how crews could make the mistake, since existing petroglyph rock art sites are documented and protected by legislation.
Petroglyphs can be more than 2,000 years old and typically feature etched drawings that serve as a record of First Nations history on the surface of flat bedrock sandstone.
Hat/Tip to annetteboardman for these stories.
Reuters: U.S. returning looted Tyrannosaurus skeleton to Mongolia
By Deborah Zabarenko
WASHINGTON | Mon May 6, 2013 5:27pm EDT
A 70-million-year-old dinosaur skeleton from the Gobi Desert that was smuggled to the United States in pieces and auctioned for more than $1 million was returned on Monday by the U.S. government to Mongolia.
The huge Tyrannosaurus bataar's skull was on display at a repatriation ceremony near the United Nations in New York, where officials of the U.S. Attorney's Office in Manhattan and the U.S. Immigration and Customers Enforcement (ICE) formally turned over the nearly complete skeleton to Mongolian officials.
Mongolia demanded the return of the 8-foot-tall (2.4 meter), 24-foot-long (7.3 meter), mostly reconstructed cousin of the Tyrannosaurus rex last year after commercial paleontologist Eric Prokopi sold it at a Manhattan auction last spring for $1.05 million.
Science, Space, Environment, and Energy Policy
Nature (UK): US warheads to get a facelift
Obama boosts ‘stockpile stewardship’ funds at energy labs.
07 May 2013
When he took office in 2009, US President Barack Obama bolstered efforts to secure nuclear materials around the globe. That spring, speaking in Prague, he said that he would push Congress to ratify a long-pending treaty to ban nuclear testing. By 2010, he had reached an agreement with Russia to reduce the number of nuclear weapons in both countries’ arsenals to historic lows.
Yet the weapons laboratories of the US Department of Energy continue to be lavished with money. The administration’s 2014 budget proposal would boost funding for the weapons programme to US$7.9 billion, nearly 30% more than when Obama took office. This rising flow of cash contrasts strikingly with a shrinking stockpile (see ‘Small stockpile, big expense’). Life-extension programmes for weapons would receive more than $1 billion of this ‘stockpile-stewardship’ budget, including $537 million for a showcase initiative to modify and modernize the B61 line of nuclear gravity bombs.
By keeping weapons scientists busy at top-of-the-line facilities, Obama says that he is maintaining a nuclear deterrent, one based as much on retaining brains as on projecting brawn. “We’re going to keep investing in these programmes,” he said, during a non-proliferation event in Washington DC in December 2012, “because our national security depends on it.”
Nature (UK): Neuroscientists brainstorm goals for US brain-mapping initiative
Posted by Helen Shen
06 May 2013
More than 150 neuroscientists descended on Arlington, Virginia this week to begin planning the Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies (BRAIN) Initiative—an ambitious but still hazy proposal to understand how the brain works by recording activity from an unprecedented numbers of neurons at once.
President Barack Obama announced the initiative on 2 April, which will be carried out by three federal agencies—the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the National Science Foundation (NSF), and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA)—alongside a handful of private foundations. Most neuroscientists have relished the attention on their field, but have also been left wondering what it means in scientific terms to “understand” the brain, what it will take to get there, and how much will be feasible in the programme’s projected 10-year lifespan. They gathered at an inaugural NSF planning meeting taking place from 5-6 May to discuss their ideas and concerns.
“The belief is we’re ready for a leap forward,” says Van Wedeen, a neurobiologist at Harvard Medical School in Boston, Massachusetts, and one of the NSF meeting organizers. “Which leap and in which direction is still being debated.”
Nature (UK): NASA astrophysicists seek ideas for the next 30 years
Posted by Alexandra Witze
06 May 2013
Why plan for 10 years out when you can plan for 30? One NASA advisory group is going for the long haul: between now and December it intends to draw up “a compelling, 30-year vision” for NASA’s astrophysics division.
This might seem like overkill, given that astronomers already perform “decadal surveys” every 10 years to prioritize future missions. In fact, the latest decadal survey came out just three years ago, with a midterm review due to start two years from now. The new ‘roadmap’ isn’t meant to replace the decadal survey process, says NASA’s Paul Hertz, head of the astrophysics division. “What the roadmap does is it looks out 30 years and provides a vision of what astrophysics might do,” he told a virtual town-hall meeting on 6 May.
In other words, more of a wish list than a prioritizing document.
Nature (UK): US bill would keep helium store afloat
Russia and Qatar prepare to dominate market as gas price inflation puts researchers under pressure.
03 May 2013
US lawmakers have taken a significant step towards averting a global crisis in helium supply, thanks to a bill passed by the House of Representatives on 26 April. If it passes the Senate and becomes law, the bill would delay the imminent closure of the world’s only strategic helium reserve. It would also increase the price of the gas from the reserve, so helium-dependent researchers and industry could still face ballooning costs. However, the prospect of higher prices is encouraging the development of new helium sources in Qatar and Russia, which may ultimately lead to a more stable helium market.
With a boiling point of 4 kelvin — lower than that of any other element — liquid helium has many uses, including cooling the superconducting magnets in medical imaging scanners. The semiconductor industry also relies on the inert gas to shield delicate crystals from contaminants during manufacturing.
Demand is on the rise. More than 100 million cubic metres of helium is extracted from natural gas worldwide every year, yet meeting global needs requires a further 60 million cubic metres a year from the US Federal Helium Reserve, a vast geological reservoir near Amarillo, Texas, that stores helium from past gas extraction.
KIVI-TV: Boise teacher to embark on deep-sea expedition
By Steve Bertel
Students and teachers from across the United States -- including Earth Sciences teacher Chris Taylor from South Junior High in Boise – will embark on Dr. Robert Ballard’s ship of exploration, the Exploration Vessel Nautilus, as it explores the water of the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean Sea this summer.
According to a news release from the Boise School District, Taylor was selected as one of fourteen JASON National Argonauts and will join the expedition from August 16 to 23, as the Nautilus transits from Puerto Rico to Montserrat.
Bournemouth Echo (UK): Jon Egging Trust helps youngsters get inspired by archaeology
THE Jon Egging Trust has teamed up with one of the UK’s largest heritage companies to inspire young people about archaeology.
Wessex Archaeology is working with the charity’s Blue Skies Programme, through which selected teenage students are provided with a unique opportunity to build confidence and self-esteem and achieve training in work and life skills.
Hat/Tip to annetteboardman for these stories.
Science Writing and Reporting
Bad Astronomy on Slate: No Need to Worry About Global Warming, Folks: More Carbon Dioxide Will Be Awesome
By Phil Plait
Posted Friday, May 10, 2013, at 7:45 AM
I see a lot of pretty amazingly bad global warming denial online. It ranges from mildly cherry-picked data to such baldly transparent garbage that you have to wonder if the person who wrote it can possibly, actually believe what they are saying is true.
After reading dozens, hundreds, of such mind-numbing articles, I think we’ve found a winner. One that is so sweepingly wrong and based on such a ridiculous premise that it’s weapons-grade denial. Unsurprisingly, it was published in the Wall Street Journal, which has a lengthy history of printing reality-free OpEds about climate change. Perhaps surprisingly, it was penned by two actual scientists, William Happer and Harrison Schmitt. I’ll have more about them later.
I present to you the article, titled—seriously—“In Defense of Carbon Dioxide”. At least the title isn’t misleading; it really is an article that is saying, “Sure, we’re dumping vast amounts of CO2 into the atmosphere, but don’t worry, because plants love it! We had lots more CO2 in the air millions of years ago and everything was fantastic!”
Science is Cool
Daily Gate City: Columbus' ships coming to Keokuk this month
Posted: Tuesday, May 7, 2013 11:13 am | Updated: 11:16 am, Tue May 7, 2013.
The Pinta and the Nina, replicas of Columbus’ ships, will open in Keokuk on Friday, May 31. The ships will be docked at the Keokuk Yacht Club, 2029 River Rd., until their departure early Tuesday morning, June 10.
The Nina was built completely by hand and without the use of power tools. Archaeology magazine called the ship “the most historically correct Columbus replica ever built.” The Pinta was recently built in Brazil to accompany the Nina on all of her travels. She is a larger version of the archetypal caravel. Historians consider the caravel the space shuttle of the 15th century.
BBC: Bottle digging in old dumps can yield collectable finds
By Robert Cooper BBC News Online
Digging up bottles from old rubbish dumps may be an unusual pastime but some of the rarer finds can sell for hundreds of pounds.
Bottle digger Steven Armstrong describes his hobby scouring Victorian and Edwardian dumps as "archaeology for the man in the street" .
Some of his finds he keeps for his own collection, but he has sold most of the hundreds of bottles he has dug up over the years.
The Northumberland and Durham Bottle Collectors' Club has 80 members, while many others in the region pursue the pastime on a less formal basis.
Hat/Tip to annetteboardman for these stories.