New Evidence for a Preferred Direction in Spacetime Challenges the Cosmological Principle

11:06:00 PM, Friday, September 09, 2011

"According to the cosmological principle, there is no special place or direction in the universe when viewed on the cosmic scale. The assumption enabled Copernicus to propose that Earth was not the center of the universe and modern scientists to assume that the laws of physics are the same everywhere. Due to the cosmological principle, scientists also assume that the universe is “homogeneous” - having a uniform structure throughout - and “isotropic” - having uniform properties throughout.

But a few recent studies have found the possible existence of cosmological anisotropy: specifically, that the universe’s expansion is accelerating at a faster rate in one direction than another. In the most recent study, scientists have analyzed data from 557 Type 1a supernovae and found, in agreement with some previous studies, that the universe’s expansion seems to be accelerating faster in the direction of a small part of the northern galactic hemisphere.

The researchers, Rong-Gen Cai and Zhong-Liang Tuo from the Chinese Academy of Sciences in Beijing, have posted their study at

A valuable tool for cosmologists, Type 1a supernovae serve as “standard candles” due to their consistent peak luminosity, allowing researchers to measure their distance with high accuracy. Observations of these supernovae famously revealed in 1998 that the universe is not only expanding, but is doing so at an accelerating rate. And now, some observations of Type 1a supernovae at different locations in the sky hint that the acceleration is not uniform in all directions.

In their analysis, Cai and Tuo looked at the deceleration parameter, q0, to quantify the anisotropy level of the northern galactic and southern galactic hemispheres. As the scientists explain in their study, the direction with the smaller value of q0 is expanding faster than the direction with the larger value. The researchers analyzed the data using both a dynamical dark energy model and a standard model without dark energy, and found that both models revealed similar results: an anisotropy deviation of 0.76 and 0.79, respectively, and a preferred direction of (309°, 21°) and (314°, 28°), respectively. As noted by the Physics arXiv Blog, this direction of greatest acceleration is in the faint constellation of Vulpecula in the northern hemisphere..."



Imagining the Downside of Immortality

10:08:12 PM, Friday, September 09, 2011

"IMAGINE nobody dies. All of a sudden, whether through divine intervention or an elixir slipped into the water supply, death is banished. Life goes on and on; all of us are freed from fear that our loved ones will be plucked from us, and each of us is rich in the most precious resource of all: time.

Wouldn’t it be awful?

This is the premise of the TV series “Torchwood: Miracle Day,” a co-production of Starz and the BBC that has been running over the summer and ends in September. The “miracle” of the title is that no one dies anymore, but it proves to be a curse as overpopulation soon threatens to end civilization. The show is a nice twist on our age-old dream of living forever. And it is right to be pessimistic about what would happen if this dream were fulfilled — but for the wrong reasons. Materially, we could cope with the arrival of the elixir. But, psychologically, immortality would be the end of us.

The problem is that our culture is based on our striving for immortality. It shapes what we do and what we believe; it has inspired us to found religions, write poems and build cities. If we were all immortal, the motor of civilization would sputter and stop.

Poets and philosophers have long been attuned to the fact that the quest for immortality drives much of humanity’s peculiar ways. But only in recent decades has scientific evidence backed this up.

In a study that began in 1989, a group of American social psychologists found that just briefly reminding people that they would die had a remarkable impact on their political and religious views.

In their first experiment, the researchers recruited court judges from Tucson. Half the judges were reminded of their mortality (via an otherwise innocuous personality test) and half were not. They were then all asked to rule on a hypothetical case of prostitution similar to those they ruled on. The judges who had first been reminded of their mortality set a bond nine times higher than those who hadn’t (averaging $455 compared to $50)..."



'Invisible' World Discovered: Planet Alternately Runs Late and Early in Its Orbit, Tugged by Second Hidden World

11:19:25 PM, Thursday, September 08, 2011

"Usually, running five minutes late is a bad thing since you might lose your dinner reservation or miss out on tickets to the latest show. But when a planet runs five minutes late, astronomers get excited because it suggests that another world is nearby.

NASA's Kepler spacecraft has spotted a planet that alternately runs late and early in its orbit because a second, "invisible" world is tugging on it. This is the first definite detection of a previously unknown planet using this method. No other technique could have found the unseen companion.

"This invisible planet makes itself known by its influence on the planet we can see," said astronomer Sarah Ballard of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics (CfA). Ballard is lead author on the study, which has been accepted for publication in The Astrophysical Journal.

"It's like having someone play a prank on you by ringing your doorbell and running away. You know someone was there, even if you don't see them when you get outside," she added.

Both the seen and unseen worlds orbit the Sun-like star Kepler-19, which is located 650 light-years from Earth in the constellation Lyra. The 12th-magnitude star is well placed for viewing by backyard telescopes on September evenings.

Kepler locates planets by looking for a star that dims slightly as a planet transits the star, passing across the star's face from our point of view. Transits give one crucial piece of information -- the planet's physical size. The greater the dip in light, the larger the planet relative to its star. However, the planet and star must line up exactly for us to see a transit.

The first planet, Kepler-19b, transits its star every 9 days and 7 hours. It orbits the star at a distance of 8.4 million miles, where it is heated to a temperature of about 900 degrees Fahrenheit. Kepler-19b has a diameter of 18,000 miles, making it slightly more than twice the size of Earth. It may resemble a "mini-Neptune," however its mass and composition remain unknown..."



Dive-Bombing Hummingbirds Let Their Feathers Do the Talking

11:13:23 PM, Thursday, September 08, 2011

"When it comes to wooing females, male hummingbirds have something in common with World War I fighter pilot the Red Baron. During the mating season, these bright-throated males climb high into the air and then nose-dive, belting out sharp squeaks or trills to impress watching females. A new study shows how the tiny birds emit their high-pitched calls. As they fall, stiff breezes vibrate their tail feathers, giving each species a unique whistle.

Researchers had observed other birds squeaking while flying. When some doves jet away to avoid a predator, for instance, their bodies start to whistle, says Kimberly Bostwick, an ornithologist at Cornell University, who was not involved in this study. "We hear it, but we've never really understood what's going on."

Hummingbirds may be some of the squeakiest fliers. Male Anna's hummingbirds (Calypte anna), which look as if they're wearing bright-pink scarves, swoop at speeds over 20 meters per second, emitting a shriek like a startled rodent. In 2008, Christopher Clark, a physiologist now at Yale University, and colleagues first identified the source of the noise: the birds' tail plumage. When his team plucked the hummingbirds' thin, outermost tail feathers, the boisterous animals became as silent as stealth bombers.

But it still wasn't clear how the hummingbirds' plumage sang. So in the new study, Clark and colleagues put tail feathers from 14 species of "bee" hummingbirds—a rowdy group that includes the Anna's hummingbird—into a wind tunnel. At gentle breezes, the feathers just ruffled, but when the winds sped up to around the birds' normal dive velocities, about 7 to 20 meters per second, something strange happened: The feathers started to ripple rhythmically, much like the Tacoma Narrows Bridge, which famously began undulating and then collapsed in 1940 when winds hit it at just the right speed. But unlike that infamous Washington State roadway, the feathers emitted sometimes-piercing noises when they vibrated, Clark and his colleagues report today in Science..."



Probe Pictures Moon Landing Sites

10:58:17 PM, Thursday, September 08, 2011

"The pictures clearly show the hardware left on the lunar surface by American astronauts in the 1960s and 70s, including Apollo 17's "Moon buggy".

The images were acquired by the robotic Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO), which has been circling Earth's satellite since 2009.

Such shots have been returned before, but these are the best yet.

LRO has recently lowered its orbit from 50km above the Moon's surface to just 25km.

This makes it easier to see equipment, such as the descent stages that put the astronauts on the surface. Some of the science experiments are visible, also - as are the trails of bootmarks left in the dirt as the crews positioned these science packages.

The Apollo 17, 14 and 12 sites are the focus of the latest release.

They were viewed by the narrow-angle imaging system on LRO's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter Camera (LROC) instrument.

At the lower altitude, this instrument sees objects at a resolution of 25cm by 25cm per pixel.

In an extreme blow-up of the Apollo 17 Lunar Roving Vehicle (LRV), it is just possible to discern the condition in which the astronauts Eugene Cernan and Harrison Schmitt parked the buggy - with its wheels turned to the left..."



'Mosaic' Fossil Could Be Bridge From Apes To Humans

10:33:40 PM, Thursday, September 08, 2011

"A pair of fossils from a South African cave have scientists both excited and puzzled. Scientists say the fossils — an adult female and a juvenile — could be the long-sought transition between ape-like ancestors and the first humans.

The bones belong to creatures related to the famous Lucy fossil found in Ethiopia in the 1970s, but their owners lived more recently — just 2 million years ago.

The reason for the excitement? Ask anthropologists what they dream about, and many will tell you it's the fossil of the last pre-human ancestor that led directly to us. Nobody's found it, and any who claim to usually get publicly whacked by their peers.

Lucy and her kind — the diminutive, ape-like Australopithecus that lived 3.2 million years ago — may well have evolved into us, the genus Homo. But a lot happened in between Lucy and the earliest humans, who emerged just over 2 million years ago. The true "transitional" species must have lived about the time we emerged.

'The Best Candidate Ancestor'

Now, we have the South African fossils, dated at 1.9 million years ago. Called Australopithecus sediba, anthropologist Lee Berger says this could be the one. "In our opinion it's probably the best candidate ancestor for giving rise to our immediate ancestor," Berger says..."



How the US Government Chose to Ruin the James Webb Space Telescope, and Blamed NASA

10:17:39 PM, Thursday, September 08, 2011

""A man can fail many times, but he isn't a failure until he begins to blame somebody else." -John Burroughs

The greatest tool for astronomers of the past 20 years has, without a doubt, been the Hubble Space Telescope.

Since its launch in 1990, it's no stretch to say more scientific knowledge has come out of this telescope than out of any instrument in history. It's taught us what the expansion rate of the Universe is, that the expansion is accelerating, has helped us understand how stars are born, directly imaged the first planets outside of our Solar System, and discovered thousands of supernovae from objects many billions of light years away, among many other things.

And, oh yes, it's taken glorious images of the most distant galaxies ever seen, as this image below shows.

This is just one tenth of the image known as the Hubble Ultra-Deep Field, taken over the equivalent of twelve days of pointing this ultra-powerful telescope at a blank area of the sky. Over 10,000 new galaxies were imaged in that image alone, which covers just one-thirtieth of a square degree. It's no exaggeration to say that Hubble has changed our view of the Universe.

But Hubble isn't the end of astronomy and astrophysics; there's a whole lot more Universe out there simply begging to be understood. How did the first stars form? What do the earliest galaxies look like? When did the first galaxy clusters show up? And, needless to say, so much more. To get there, we need a significantly larger telescope, in space, capable of viewing wavelengths of light far longer than the ones Hubble is sensitive to. And that's just what the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) -- with seven times Hubble's light-gathering power -- promises to be..."



U.S. Running Out of Astronauts: NRC

9:40:14 PM, Thursday, September 08, 2011

"A new report warns that the United States is running out of astronauts and NASA's current staffing plans are insufficient to maintain its presence on the International Space Station and prepare for the next generation of spaceflight.

NASA should take steps to ensure that it maintains a highly trained corps to meet International Space Station (ISS) crew requirements while accounting for unexpected attrition or demands of other missions, argues a new report from the National Research Council (NRC).

The number of astronauts employed by NASA has clearly been downgraded over the years from about 150 in the mid-1990's to about 61 individuals in 2011. Observers expect the agency to lose another half-dozen as a number of space shuttle pilots retiring along with their vehicle just this year.

NASA estimates that it will need a minimum 55 to 60 astronauts over the next five years, during which time their main task will be keeping the space station running.

NASA requested the NRC last year to look at the role and size of the astronaut corps during this transition time. Acting on the request the 13-member panel headed by Joe Rothenberg warned that the number is too low to keep up with future demands.

With the retirement of the shuttle program and the uncertainty during the transition to a fully operational ISS, it's even more important that the talent level, diversity, and capabilities of the astronaut office be sustained," said Joe Rothenberg, co-chair of the committee that wrote the report and a former senior NASA official now with the SSC..."

-- Time to do what we do best! Outsource!



The Devil Didn’t Invent the Fork

4:06:34 PM, Thursday, September 08, 2011

"A silverware spoiler: People used to hate the fork. When first introduced in Italy, and then in France and England, it did not go over well.

And we're not talking about the kind of eh, I'm-not-going-to-use-that-weird-thing kind of dislike; we're talking straight TOOL OF THE DEVIL abhorrence.

The whole history of the fork started off pretty benign—at least from what we can tell. The Greeks used a fork-like tool to keep their kill from twisting around while they carved it. The thing had two spears extending toward the table that secured meat and then slid easily from the flesh. A similarly styled instrument also popped up in royal courts in the Middle East in the 7th century, but this time it was used for actual eating. Because the fork was straight from handle to tine, picking up food required a stab and lift motion. Something like peas were absolutely out of the question, but we'll get to that later.

The fork drama really started when a Byzantine-born princess married the doge of Venice in 1005. She ate with a set of golden forks she brought with her, and the Italians were not pleased. "Food was a gift from God, and to use an artificial means of conveying it to the mouth implied that this heavenly gift was unfit to be touched by human hands," explains the book Feeding Desire. The plague caught up with her shortly thereafter, and Venice clergymen claimed her use of the two-pronged (horned!) utensil of vanity prompted the punishment from God.

This tool-of-the-devil branding effectively buried the flatware. "The fork was fraught with such negative meaning when first introduced in Europe that it didn't resurface for several centuries," says Darra Goldstein, Editor-in-Chief of the food and culture journal Gastronomica. But by the 1500s, Italians finally got behind what looked like a straight, small, pointy tuning fork. Forward-thinking travelers brought the innovative implement back to France and England, but instead of excitement over a clean-handed future, the fork was met with much skepticism. The French thought that, at just a few inches in length, it was too effeminate to use. And the English, like the early Italians, felt that God had deemed it unnecessary..."



Russian Plane Carrying KHL Team Crashes, Kills 43, Including NHL Veterans

1:29:45 PM, Thursday, September 08, 2011

"TUNOSHNA, Russia - A private jet carrying a Russian professional hockey team to its first game of the season crashed shortly after takeoff yesterday, killing 43 people - including European and former NHL players - in one of the worst aviation disasters in sports history. Two people survived the accident.

The crash also was the latest tragedy to befall the sport of hockey - following the sudden, offseason deaths of three of the NHL's tough-guy enforcers that has shocked fans.

The chartered Yak-42 jet was carrying the team - Lokomotiv Yaroslavl - to Minsk, the capital of Belarus, where it was to play today in its opening game of the Kontinental Hockey League season. Of the 45 people on board, 36 were players, coaches and team officials; eight were crew.

The plane apparently struggled to gain altitude and then hit a signal tower before breaking apart along the Volga River near Yaroslavl, 150 miles northeast of Moscow. One of the blue-and-white plane's charred engines poked through the surface of the shallow water.

"This is the darkest day in the history of our sport," said Rene Fasel, president of the International Ice Hockey Federation. "This is not only a Russian tragedy - the Lokomotiv roster included players and coaches from 10 nations."

One player - identified as Russian Alexander Galimov - and one unidentified crew member were hospitalized in "very grave" condition, said Alexander Degyatryov, chief doctor at Yaroslavl's Solovyov Hospital.

Among the dead were Lokomotiv coach and NHL veteran Brad McCrimmon, a Canadian; assistant coach Alexander Karpovtsev, one of the first Russians to have his name etched on the Stanley Cup as a member of the New York Rangers; and Pavol Demitra, who played for the St. Louis Blues and the Vancouver Canucks and was the Slovakian national team captain..."

- Damn...



Hens Evolve Secret Sex Strategy

12:02:54 AM, Thursday, September 08, 2011

"Scientists have discovered that female chickens have a remarkable ability to choose the father of their eggs.

Wily hens have evolved the ability to eject the sperm of unsuitable mates say researchers working with Swedish birds.

Promiscuous roosters try to ensure that their genes are passed on by mating with as many females as possible.

But by removing the genetic material of males they consider socially inferior, the hens have managed to retain control of paternity.

Many species ranging from zebras to insects use the strategy of sperm ejection - but the evolutionary ideas behind it are often uncertain.

Among birds, male Dunnocks force females to eject the sperm of other suitors in order to protect their own genes.

But this research indicates that among chickens the battle of the sexes seems to be all about female empowerment.

Working with feral fowl in Sweden, the scientists found that many matings were forced, as the roosters are twice the size of the hens.

To cope with the unwanted attention, females have evolved the ability to remove the ejaculate of those males they consider undesirable.

Dr Rebecca Dean from Oxford University carried out the study. She said: "It's really important for females to have the best male sperm to fertilise her eggs so if she can't choose before copulation then having a mechanism to choose after copulation could really increase her evolutionary fitness."

Even when unforced, the females still exercised their right to choose by opting to eject the sperm of males they considered to be at the bottom of the pecking order..."



Self-Retracting Needle Could End Botched Injections

11:51:50 PM, Wednesday, September 07, 2011

"Up to a third of the 25 million intravenous injections carried out in Britain each year fail first time, often because doctors and nurses push the needle straight through the vein without noticing, researchers said.

But the problem could be solved by a newly designed syringe which automatically detects when it enters a vein and prevents the needle from travelling any further.

Upon passing through the wall of a vein, the change in pressure activates a spring which forces the needle to instantly withdraw itself.

The needle is housed within a plastic tube, which remains in the vein and allows the drug inside the syringe to enter the blood stream.

Researchers from Nottingham Trent University, who designed the system, and Olberon medical Innovations, the medical equipment manufacturer, said the self-retracting needle could be produced for the same price as traditional needles..."



Endangered Horse Has Ancient Origins and High Genetic Diversity, New Study Finds

10:32:21 PM, Wednesday, September 07, 2011

"An endangered species of horse -- known as Przewalski's horse -- is much more distantly related to the domestic horse than researchers had previously hypothesized, reports a team of investigators led by Kateryna Makova, a Penn State University associate professor of biology. The scientists tested the portion of the genome passed exclusively from mother to offspring -- the mitochondrial DNA -- of four Przewalski's horse lineages and compared the data to DNA from the domestic horse (Equus caballus). They concluded that, although previous scientists had assumed that Przewalski's horse and the domestic horse had diverged around the time that horses were domesticated -- about 6,000 to 10,000 years ago -- the real time of the two species' divergence from one another is much more ancient. The data gleaned from the study also suggest that present-day Przewalski's horses have a much more diverse gene pool than previously hypothesized. The new study's findings could be used to inform conservation efforts to save the endangered horse species, of which only 2,000 individuals remain in parts of China and Mongolia, and in wildlife reserves in California and the Ukraine. The paper will be published in the journal Genome Biology and Evolution.

Przewalski's horse -- a stocky, short-maned species named after a Russian explorer who first encountered the animal in the wild -- became endangered during the middle of the last century when the species experienced a population bottleneck -- an evolutionary event in which many or most members of a population or a species die. "Sadly, this bottleneck was the result of human activity," Makova explained. "Przewalski's horses were hunted down for food, and their natural habitat, the steppes, were converted into farm land so the horses basically had nowhere to live and breed. By the late 1950s, only 12 individual horses remained." Makova said that because conservationists have made noble efforts to rescue this dwindling population, the present-day population has grown to 2,000.

In a study that had never been attempted by previous scientists, Makova and her team analyzed the complete mitochondrial genomes from four female lineages that currently survive within the Przewalski's horse population. They first determined that the mitochondrial genomes of two of the maternal lineages actually were identical, thus narrowing the genetic pool to three maternal lineages. Then, they tested their data against the prevailing hypotheses about the genetic history of Przewalski's horse. According to one hypothesis, Przewalski's horse evolved first, with the domestic horse later evolving as a derivative species. According to another hypothesis, the genetic story is the opposite: the direct ancestors of the domestic horse were first on the evolutionary scene, with Przewalski's horse evolving and forming a new species later. According to the former hypothesis, the divergence of the two species had to have occurred around the time of horse domestication -- about 6,000 to 10,000 years ago..."



Earthly Riches Heaven Sent: Meteorites May Have Peppered Earth With Precious Metals

10:14:05 PM, Wednesday, September 07, 2011

"A meteorite maelstrom that pummeled Earth and pocked the moon with craters billions of years ago may have had a silver lining — and linings made of other metals, too.

New evidence from old rocks suggests that many of the precious metals mined today were delivered to the planet by a bombardment of stony meteorites called chondrites that lasted for hundreds of millions of years.

“Adding a tiny amount of chondritic material could explain where many present-day metals came from,” says Matthias Willbold, a geochemist at the University of Bristol in England whose team reports the new findings in the Sept. 8 Nature.

The abundance of heavy metals near Earth’s surface has long puzzled scientists. Within 50 million years of the planet’s formation, much of its iron sank to the middle to form the core. Silver, platinum and some other precious metals followed, according to laboratory experiments that recreate this partitioning. These elements moved beyond the reach of human tools, leaving the mantle outside the core barren.

Searching for a source that could have later replenished these metals, Willbold and colleagues turned to some of the oldest known rocks on the planet’s surface. The 3.8-billion-year-old Isua greenstone belt, found in West Greenland, probably formed from melted bits of mantle that date to just after the creation of the Earth’s core but before the massive influx of meteorites that geologists call the late heavy bombardment.

The researchers focused on different forms, known as isotopes, of the metal tungsten in the rocks. When the core formed, it swallowed up most of this metal. But a short-lived element called hafnium left behind in the mantle quickly broke down into a lighter isotope, tungsten-182..."



1/8th Scale Nissan GT-R Model by UK Model Car Maker Amalgam

11:08:51 PM, Tuesday, September 06, 2011

"...Amalgam are recognized as the premiere model maker and supplier of models to high end luxury car manufacturers and racing teams globally.

At 1/8th scale this model is around 22 inches or 58 cm in length and weighs 5kg. It’s huge by any standard and is the most phenomenally well detailed model you’ll ever see.

Take a look at these photos (and the others at the link below). You can see everything has been recreated from the texture of the brake rotors, the reflections in the tail lamps, the stitching on the seats and accurate labels on the dashboard buttons.

These models are now available via Zele International in Japan for 398,000 yen a piece. For those wanting a model of their own GT-R, a custom version of the Amalgam GT-R model is available and starts at a price of 498,000 yen."

-- Wow! This looks just like a real Nissan GT-R, but it seems it comes with a price tag to match such fantastic replica at $5000+ haha... Follow the "See Here" link for more photos.



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