Organics Probably Formed Easily in Early Solar System

2:43:08 AM, Friday, April 06, 2012

“ScienceDaily (Mar. 30, 2012) — Complex organic compounds, including many important to life on Earth, were readily produced under conditions that likely prevailed in the primordial solar system. Scientists at the University of Chicago and NASA Ames Research Center came to this conclusion after linking computer simulations to laboratory experiments.

Fred Ciesla, assistant professor in geophysical sciences at UChicago, simulated the dynamics of the solar nebula, the cloud of gas and dust from which the sun and the planets formed. Although every dust particle within the nebula behaved differently, they all experienced the conditions needed for organics to form over a simulated million-year period.

"Whenever you make a new planetary system, these kinds of things should go on," said Scott Sandford, a space science researcher at NASA Ames. "This potential to make organics and then dump them on the surfaces of any planet you make is probably a universal process."

Although organic compounds are commonly found in meteorites and cometary samples, their origins presented a mystery. Now Ciesla and Sandford describe how the compounds possibly evolved in the March 29 edition of Science Express. How important a role these compounds may have played in giving rise to the origin of life remains poorly understood, however.

Sandford has devoted many years of laboratory research to the chemical processes that occur when high-energy ultraviolet radiation bombards simple ices like those seen in space. "We've found that a surprisingly rich mixture of organics is made," Sandford said.

These include molecules of biological interest, such as amino acids, nucleobases and amphiphiles, which make up the building blocks of proteins, RNA and DNA, and cellular membranes, respectively. Irradiated ices should have produced these same sorts of molecules during the formation of the solar system, he said…”

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Survey Gets a Grip on Dark Energy

2:38:01 AM, Friday, April 06, 2012

“Astronomers have measured the precise distance to over a quarter of a million galaxies to gain new insights into a key period in cosmic history.

The 3D map of the sky allows scientists to probe the time six billion years ago when dark energy became the dominant influence on the Universe's expansion.

No-one knows the true nature of this repulsive force, but the exquisite data in the international BOSS survey will help test various theories.

The analysis appears in six papers.

These have all been posted on the arXiv preprint server.

"This is an incredibly exciting time to be working in cosmology, and we're all privileged to be part of the Baryon Oscillation Spectroscopic Survey (BOSS)," said Prof Will Percival from the University of Portsmouth - a UK member of the international research group.

"What we've done is measure the 3D positions for just over 250,000 galaxies, covering the largest volume of the Universe ever surveyed. That gives us an amazing map that we can then analyse to try to understand how and why the Universe's expansion is accelerating," he told BBC News.

Prof Percival was speaking here in Manchester at the UK National Astronomy Meeting (NAM).

Preferred separation

The discovery that everything in the cosmos is moving apart at a faster and faster rate was one of the major breakthroughs of the 20th Century.

It went against all preconceptions. Up until the discovery, it was thought the Universe's expansion would most likely have been decelerating under the influence of gravity.

Scientists now find themselves grasping for new physics to try to explain what is going on…”

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Scientists Solve the Mystery of How Beer Goggles Work

2:14:47 AM, Friday, April 06, 2012

“(www.independent.co.uk) If you've ever had one too many and tumbled into bed with a vision, only to be greeted in the morning by a sight you'd gnaw off your own arm to escape, take heart. It won't make the memory any less painful, but you can take comfort from the fact that there is now academic underpinning for the effect known commonly as "beer goggles".

In scientific terms, even a little alcohol reduces the ability to assess facial symmetry, which plays a key role in attractiveness and human mate selection.

The effect is particularly pronounced in women, with female drinkers less able to distinguish between attractive and not so attractive men after just a couple of vodkas.

Facial symmetry, where one side of the face mirrors the other, is thought to have evolved as a mark of attractiveness as it signifies good genes. Both sexes select outward signs of genetic quality to ensure better offspring. Ratings of attractiveness in the opposite sex are highest when symmetry is at its greatest, research has shown. It's also known that attractiveness rises when people have had a drink or three: the beer goggles effect.

Male and female volunteers at Roehampton University were subjected to a battery of tests before and after consuming various drinks. The tests included studying images of 20 paired faces that had been manipulated so that one was symmetrical and the other asymmetrical. Results showed alcohol drinkers made significant errors in distinguishing between symmetrical and asymmetrical faces. The study also found that women drinkers made more errors than men. The results are to be published in the scientific journal Addiction.

"The people in our study were not drinking heavily, and the effects we have found seem to increase with the amount of alcohol consumed," said Dr Lewis Halsey, who led the study.

"What we have shown is that people's ability to detect symmetry is part of the explanation for the beer goggle effects.

"The consequences could be considerable. A lot of people say they met their partner when they were drunk. Are their marriages shorter or longer lasting? Does it change the nature of the relationship?"”

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Childbirth Takes Longer Now Than 50 Years Ago: Study

1:34:41 AM, Friday, April 06, 2012

“(Reuters) - Many tasks can be tackled more quickly now than 50 years ago, but delivering a baby naturally it seems is not one of them, according to a U.S. government study.

Compared with the 1960s, U.S. women have in recent years spent two to three hours longer in labor, according to researchers at the U.S. National Institutes of Health, who said the findings suggest doctors may need to rethink the definition of "normal" labor.

The extra time is spent in the first stage of labor - the longest part of the process, before the "pushing" stage, according to findings published in the American Journal of Obstetrics & Gynecology.

Mothers are different as well. On average, they're older and weigh more, and their newborns are bigger too.

"But even when we take these changing demographics into account, labor is still longer," said lead researcher Katherine Laughon, at the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development.

Though Laughon said the study wasn't able to fully address the potential reasons for the difference, one partial explanation may be epidural pain relief, which is far more common now than 50 years ago. Epidurals are known to slow labor down by about 40 to 90 minutes…”

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Boston Dynamics Lies Down with BigDog, Gets Giant Fleas: Robot that Jumps up to One Story

1:16:33 AM, Friday, April 06, 2012

“Remember what it was like when you first fell in love with Boston Dynamics' rocky terrain traversing BigDog robot? Get ready to fall in love all over again. Meet the Sand Flea, a plucky little 11-pound robot that can jump a mind-boggling 30 feet in a single bound, while an on-board stabilization system helps make landings a bit smoother. The RC four-wheeler's development is being funded by the Army's Rapid Equipping Force. Your move, iRobot. Check out some rad video of the big-wheeled 'bot after the break.”

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US Coast Guard Fires on Tsunami 'Ghost Ship'

12:18:49 AM, Friday, April 06, 2012

“(BBC) The US Coast Guard has used cannon to fire on a crewless Japanese ship that drifted to Alaska after the 2011 tsunami.

The coast guard earlier said they would hold off scuttling the Ryou-Un Maru after a Canadian fishing boat claimed salvage rights.

But a Canadian official later said that the Bernice C was unable to tow the 200ft (61m) Japanese "ghost ship".

The boat has no lights or power and was viewed as a danger to other ships.

It is thought to be at the vanguard of a stream of tsunami debris that has been drifting east since last year's disaster hit Japan.

The Anacapa gunnery ship of the 17th US Coast Guard began shadowing the empty ship on Wednesday afternoon.

Owner contacted

The Ryou-Un Maru was first spotted off the coast of Canadian British Columbia on 23 March.

It is currently about 170 nautical miles (196 miles; 315km) south-west of Sitka, Alaska.

The vessel was moving at about 1km/h in a maritime transport corridor that separates US and Canadian waters.

The gunnery ship would use a 25mm cannon on board the Anacapa to scuttle the ghost ship, Coast Guard Chief Petty Officer Kip Wadlow told the BBC earlier.

A Hercules C-130 air crew was ready to participate in the operation, broadcasting to mariners and air traffic to alert them and help clear the surrounding area before the demolition of the ship began.

CPO Wadlow said it would be too expensive to try to salvage the ship, and too dangerous to put anyone on board.

The ship has about 8,000 litres (2,113 gallons) of diesel on board.

The Ryou-Un Maru, a shrimping boat, has been traced to the Japanese island of Hokkaido.

Alaskan Senator Mark Begich suggested that the boat's owner had been identified, but the owner did not want the vessel back.

On 11 March 2011, a 9.0-magnitude earthquake hit Japan, triggering a tsunami that swamped a power station, prompting the worst nuclear crisis since the 1986 Chernobyl disaster.”

-- Was that really the best way to handle that? Was it?...

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Ancient Egyptian Cotton Unveils Secrets of Domesticated Crop Evolution

7:24:02 PM, Thursday, April 05, 2012

“ScienceDaily (Apr. 2, 2012) — Scientists studying 1,600-year-old cotton from the banks of the Nile have found what they believe is the first evidence that punctuated evolution has occurred in a major crop group within the relatively short history of plant domestication.

The findings offer an insight into the dynamics of agriculture in the ancient world and could also help today's domestic crops face challenges such as climate change and water scarcity.

The researchers, led by Dr Robin Allaby from the School of Life Sciences at the University of Warwick, examined the remains of ancient cotton at Qasr Ibrim in Egypt's Upper Nile using high throughput sequencing technologies.

This is the first time such technology has been used on ancient plants and also the first time the technique has been applied to archaeological samples in such hot countries.

The site is located about 40 km from Abu Simbel and 70 km from the modern Sudanese border on the east bank of what is now Lake Nasser.

They also studied South American samples from sites in Peru and Brazil aged between 800 and nearly 4,000 years old…”

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Smaller, Quicker, Secret, Robotic: Inside America’s New Space Force

4:19:32 PM, Thursday, April 05, 2012

“(www.wired.com)The past and future of America’s space arsenal intersected, briefly, in the summer of 2011. For two weeks in July, NASA’s Space Shuttle Atlantis roughly shared its Earth orbit with the Air Force’s X-37B, a 29-foot-long, highly maneuverable robotic spacecraft that entered service in early 2010 and has been cloaked in secrecy ever since. The X-37 was around 80 miles higher than the Shuttle, so it’s doubtful the four-person Atlantis crew, conducting the 135th and last Shuttle mission, ever saw the robotic craft. The X-37's small size — barely a quarter the length of Atlantis — made a sighting even less likely.

Equally striking was the difference in cost between Atlantis and its tiny robotic compatriot. Atlantis costmore than $10 billion to design and build and around $500 million to launch on that one mission. The Boeing-built X-37 mini-shuttle set the taxpayers back an estimated $1 billion for development and construction and just $180 million to send into space. (All cost figures in this story are in today’s dollars.)

There are lots of things Atlantis could do that the X-37 cannot and vice versa, complicating any direct comparison. Both craft were designed to carry scientific and military payloads into orbit:Atlantis, with its school-bus-size cargo bay, emphasized carrying capacity; the X-37, optimized for endurance, has a bay the size of a pickup truck’s bed. Still, it’s almost unheard of for a major government technology to be cheaper than its immediate predecessor. Just ask the Air Force, with its $400 million F-22 fighters replacing F-15s that cost a quarter as much.

Moreover, the X-37B is meant to be launched into space on short notice, remain in orbit for a year or more and return only when its fuel tanks finally run dry. After a few weeks or months of reconditioning, the mini-shuttle is ready to return to space atop an Atlas rocket. With its fleet of two X-37s, the Air Force can keep at least one in orbit at all times.

Because they had to support their human crews, Atlantis and her sister Space Shuttles could spend at most two weeks in orbit before their water and air supplies began to run out. Between flights the manned orbiters needed nine months of expensive reconditioning by Rockwell, the main Shuttle contractor. It would have taken a fleet of 18 Space Shuttles to ensure one was in space at all times, but NASA built only five of the massive spacecraft for a total program cost of more than $200 billion.From huge, slow and expensive to tiny, speedy and cheaper, Atlantis’ and the X-37's brief proximity last summer represented a passing-of-the-torch for the world’s leading space power. The era of big space missions is fading. “Small” is the new watch-word for America’s orbital force. But as the X-37 and a host of other new spacecraft demonstrate, small doesn’t mean less capable...”

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Pope Denounces Priests Who Question Catholic Teachings On Celibacy And Women Ordination

4:08:42 PM, Thursday, April 05, 2012

“(www.huffingtonpost.com)VATICAN CITY — Pope Benedict XVI has denounced priests who have questioned church teaching on celibacy and ordaining women, saying Thursday they were disobeying his authority to try to impose their own ideas on the church.

Benedict made the rare and explicit criticism from the altar of St. Peter's Basilica in his homily on Holy Thursday, when priests recall the promises they made when ordained.

In 2006, a group of Austrian priests launched the Pfarrer Initiative, or pastor initiative, a call to disobedience aimed at abolishing priestly celibacy and opening the clergy to women to relieve the shortages of priests.

Last June, the group's members essentially threatened a schism, saying the Vatican's refusal to hear their complaints left them no choice but to "follow our conscience and act independently."

They issued a revised call to disobedience in which they said parishes would celebrate Eucharistic services without priests, that they would let women preach, and they pledged to speak out publicly and frequently for female and married priests.

The group now claims more than 300 Austrian priests and deacons as well as supporters in other countries, and its influence has grown to such an extent that top Austrian bishops met with Vatican officials in January to discuss how to handle them, Italian news reports said.

So far, neither the Vatican nor the archbishop of Vienna, Cardinal Christoph Schoenborn, have imposed any canonical penalties on them…”

-- During a visit to Cuba, - "It is evident today that Marxist ideology as it had been conceived no longer responds to reality," Benedict continued.The Catholic Church should heed its own advice, because one would be hard pressed to find any of the Church's ideology that responds to reality!

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First Evidence For Pre-Columbian Sources Of Maya Blue

3:53:33 PM, Thursday, April 05, 2012

“Once again, science and anthropology have teamed up to solve questions concerning the fascinating, brilliantly hued pigment known as Maya Blue. Impervious to the effects of chemical or physical weathering, the pigment was applied to pottery, sculpture, and murals in Mesoamerica largely during the Classic and Postclassic periods (AD 250-1520), playing a central role in ancient Maya religious practice. This unusual blue paint was used to coat the victims of human sacrifice and the altars on which they were dispatched.

For some time, scientists have known that Maya Blue is formed through the chemical combination of indigo and the clay mineral palygorskite. Only now, however, have researchers established a link between contemporary indigenous knowledge and ancient sources of the mineral.

In a paper published online in the Journal of Archaeological Science on March 16, 2012, researchers from Wheaton College, The Field Museum of Natural History, the United States Geological Survey, California State University of Long Beach, and the Smithsonian Institution, demonstrated that the palygorskite component in some of the Maya Blue samples came from mines in two locations in Mexico’s northern Yucatan Peninsula.

Research on sources for palygorskite has been ongoing since the late 1960's. Through a combination of ethnographic research and mineralogical analyses, Dean E. Arnold, Professor of Anthropology at Wheaton College, and now Adjunct Curator of Anthropology at The Field Museum, discovered that palygorskite was well known among indigenous potters of Ticul, Yucatán. These contemporary Maya used palygorskite as a key component of pottery and also prescribed the mineral for medicinal purposes. Indigenous knowledge further extends to sources of palygorskite: potters extracted the mineral from two mines in Yucatán – one in Sacalum and the other near the city of Ticul at a location called Yo’ Sah Kab…”

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25 Unbelievable Pictures Of The Tornadoes That Hit The Dallas/Fort Worth Area

3:48:19 PM, Thursday, April 05, 2012

-- Multiple tornadoes touched down across the Dallas/Fort Worth area causing extensive damage on Monday. These pictures are pretty insane, especially the ones of the hail and semi-trucks. Fortunately, no one was killed.

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Staten Island Pit Bull Takes Bullet To Save Owner, Justin Becker, During Break-In And Survives

7:32:31 PM, Wednesday, April 04, 2012

“Kilo, the pit bull, has been hailed a super-pooch after he took a bullet to protect his owner and survived, New York Post reports.

Over the weekend, an armed intruder and would-be burglar -- posing as a FedEx delivery man -- attempted to push his way into Justin Becker's home in Staten Island, NY.

According to the Staten Island Advance, Becker lunged against the door to prevent the aggressor from getting any further, while his girlfriend, Nicole Percoco, 22, ran to the kitchen to get a knife.

That's when Becker's 12-year-old pooch, Kilo, leapt into action.

"I get the guy in between the door, and Kilo was trying to bite him to through the door," said Becker.

It was then that the gunman shot the dog in the head -- before making a quick escape.

Incredibly, the bullet ricocheted off Kilo’s skull and exited through his neck, giving the dog a chance of survival.

But Becker's girlfriend, Nicole Percoco, was certain that Kilo was going to die.

"Hold him in your arms. Let him die in your arms," she told Becker.

Instead, Becker took the wounded dog to Staten Island's South Shore Animal Hospital.

"This is like, one in a million," Dr. Greg Panarello, the vet whose clinic operated on Kilo told Fox News. "He’s very lucky."

The staff at the hospital was so impressed with Kilo -- who is now back home and recovering well -- that they adorned his bandage with an 'S' for 'superhero.'

"Kilo's amazing. This makes me realize how special he is," Percoco told the Staten Island Advance.”

-- Yes, a positive Pit Bull story for once! Love these dogs.

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Maquech Beetles Decorated and Used as Pieces of Living Jewelry

4:43:01 PM, Wednesday, April 04, 2012

-- Apparently as part of old Mayan tradition, folks in Mexico have been decorating Maquech beetles and clipping them to their clothes as living jewelry...

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2013 SRT Viper Reborn as a 640-hp Detroit-Built Supercar

4:11:54 PM, Wednesday, April 04, 2012

“The original Dodge Viper was the definition of irresistible force in a movable object -- a V-10 powered roadster that couldn't be beat in a straight line but punished those who couldn't master it around a curve. After a two-year hiatus driven by Chrysler's bankruptcy, the only V-10 American-built supercar has been reborn as the 2013 SRT Viper, and gifted with Ferrari-fighting levels of power and refinement. The fangs have grown sharper.

To a packed crowd at the New York Auto Show preview, SRT chief Ralph Gilles drove not just a production Viper on stage but a race version that will compete in the GT class of the American LeMans series. Gilles, wearing a "Detroit" t-shirt, made clear that the Viper wouldn't sell in huge numbers nor really matter to the company's finances. "The Viper shows we still have a soul here at Chrysler," Gilles says, adding that one colleague announced when the Viper plan's won approval that "today, we are a car company again."

While the company considered using pieces of the Fiat-Ferrari parts bin, Gilles and team chose instead to rework the internals of the previous Viper, which has soldiered on for several years as a track killer that was barely suitable for everyday driving. Engineers redesigned the frame to raise its stiffness and lightness, the restyled body uses mostly carbon-fiber panels, and the 8.4-liter V-10 was given a brace of updates that not only raised its power by 40 hp to 640 hp and 600 ft.-lbs. of torque, but made the power more usable. The combination of all such measures, Gilles says, creates a car that has a better power-to-weight ratio than a Lamborghini Aventador and the Chevrolet Corvette ZR1. (Fuel economy ratings are to be determined, but if you have to ask...)

But it's inside where the Viper breaks with tradition most. Admitting that the previous Viper's interior was considered a "joke" by competitors, Gilles said the new one was designed to match them. The seats are built by the same supplier who sells them to Ferrari; the dash includes two video screens. And for a car whose owners reveled in the lack of electronic driving aids, the new Viper not only comes with cruise control and stability control, but a launch system to snap off consistent drag strip times. (The launch control can be shut off, so that owners can turn the massive 355-ration Pirelli P Zero tires to smoke upon demand.)

In one small change, the Viper will be sold as two models; the GTS as a loaded version and a regular Viper with different bodywork and fewer interior options. Chrysler didn't release prices for the Viper, but the ZR1 Corvette and the Nissan GT-R now run about $100,000.

The previous Viper still holds the record for the fastest lap around Nürburgring of any production sports car. Given Chrysler almost sold off the Viper in bankruptcy, it's a marvel the car exists again at all -- but the Chrysler SRT team seems ready to take any comers once again when the Viper emerges this fall, if for no other reason than to show the company's soul survived.”

-- Do want! Always loved the Viper.

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Earth Has Scores of Mini-Moons, Models Predict

3:59:55 AM, Wednesday, April 04, 2012

“(Nat. Geo.) Our moon is not alone: Scores of unseen mini-moons are now in orbit around Earth, new computer models predict.

What's more, these tiny moons occasionally plummet through our planet's atmosphere, creating brilliant fireballs, the researchers say.

The findings are based on supercomputer simulations of ten million asteroids known to fly through the Earth-moon system. The models show that objects that circle the sun in orbits similar to Earth's are likely to be captured as mini-moons.

"We accurately tracked their motion—including the gravitational tugs from the sun and all the other planets and big asteroids in the solar system—and found that 18,000 of [these asteroids] were captured and briefly went into orbit around the Earth," said study co-author Robert Jedicke, an astronomer at the University of Hawaii.

"We estimate that there are one or two washing machine-size mini-moons and about a thousand larger than a softball [orbiting Earth] at any time," he said.

The captured moons would orbit Earth in twisted, convoluted paths. In fact, the simulations show that most mini-moons hang around for less than a year before they're either spit back out to orbit the sun or end up on a collision course with Earth, Jedicke said.

"The moon perturbs the orbit of about one in a thousand, so they hit the Earth—some of the meteors that you see at night are actually mini-moons falling to Earth."

Prehistoric Double Moons?

In addition to small space rocks, the models predict that once in awhile Earth captures something even larger.

The team's estimates show that every half century an object the size of a large dump truck—about 33 feet (10 meters) across—joins our roughly 2,100-mile-wide (3,400-kilometer-wide) moon.

And even larger objects—each the size of a football field, or about 328 feet (100 meters) across—can be captured by Earth's gravity every hundred thousand years.

At that size, Jedicke speculates, the extra moons might even be visible to the naked eye.

"A hundred thousand years is about the time frame that human beings have been doing things like leaving their handprints on cave walls, so maybe in that time frame somebody once actually looked into the sky and saw a mini-moon moving across the sky," he added.

Jedicke and his team are the first to make predictions about mini-moon sizes and distribution, and it appears their predictions are fairly accurate.

The only known mini-moon was a 9.8-foot-wide (3-meter-wide) asteroid dubbed 2006 RH120, which orbited Earth less than a year before resuming its previous life orbiting the sun.

"The size and orbital properties of 2006 RH120 are perfectly consistent with our models," Jedicke said. "Had we done our study ten years ago, we could have predicted that an object like 2006 RH120 would be detected soon."

Mini-Moons Still Hard to Spot

Even with the new simulations, the researchers caution that actually seeing more mini-moons will be challenging, because the objects are relatively small and thus faint.

In addition, the gravitational effects that draw in Earth's extra moons tend to set them whipping around the planet at high speeds, making them even harder to pinpoint.

"We are currently trying to figure out how to use astronomical surveys to spot them regularly," Jedicke said.

For instance, "the largest ones could be detectable by the advanced amateur astronomer with a 50-centimeter-diameter [20-inch-diameter] telescope," he said.

"But discovering new mini-moons will require an asteroid survey that covers much of the sky in a single night and detects objects that are very faint."”

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