New Study Sheds New Light on Planet Formation

2:07:04 AM, Wednesday, July 11, 2012

"(Phys.org, July 4, 2012) A study published in the July 5 edition of the journal Nature is challenging scientists' understanding of planet formation, suggesting that planets might form much faster than previously thought or, alternatively, that stars harboring planets could be far more numerous.

The study—a collaboration between scientists at the University of Georgia; the University of California, San Diego; the University of California, Los Angeles; California State Polytechnic University and the Australian National University—began with a curious and unexpected finding: Within three years, the cloud of dust circling a young star in the Scorpius-Centaurus stellar nursery simply disappeared.

"The most commonly accepted time scale for the removal of this much dust is in the hundreds of thousands of years, sometimes millions," said study co-author Inseok Song, assistant professor of physics and astronomy in the UGA Franklin College of Arts and Sciences. "What we saw was far more rapid and has never been observed or even predicted. It tells us that we have a lot more to learn about planet formation."

Lead author Carl Melis, a postdoctoral fellow at UC San Diego, said, "It's like the classic magician's trick: Now you see it, now you don't. Only in this case we're talking about enough dust to fill an inner solar system, and it really is gone."

The scientists first identified their star of interest by examining data from the Infrared Astronomical Satellite, or IRAS, which surveyed more than 96 percent of the sky in 1983. The star, known as TYC 8241 2652 1, was surrounded by a cloud of dust that was identifiable by its distinctive radiation of infrared energy. Like a skillet absorbing heat and then radiating it, the dust cloud was absorbing energy from the central star and radiating it in the infrared range. This warm dust is thought to be the raw material from which planets form, but scientists don't have a clear understanding of how long the process takes..."

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Women Infected with Toxoplasma Gondii Have Increased Risk of Attempting Suicide: Study

1:53:48 AM, Wednesday, July 11, 2012

"(medicalxpress.com, July 2, 2012) Women infected with the Toxoplasma gondii (T. gondii) parasite, which is spread through contact with cat feces or eating undercooked meat or unwashed vegetables, are at increased risk of attempting suicide, according to a new study of more than 45,000 women in Denmark. A University of Maryland School of Medicine psychiatrist with expertise in suicide neuroimmunology is the senior author of the study, which is being published online today in the Archives of General Psychiatry.

"We can't say with certainty that T. gondii caused the women to try to kill themselves, but we did find a predictive association between the infection and suicide attempts later in life that warrants additional studies. We plan to continue our research into this possible connection," says Teodor T. Postolache, M.D., the senior author and an associate professor of psychiatry and director of the Mood and Anxiety Program at the University of Maryland School of Medicine. He also serves as research faculty at the University of Maryland Child and Adolescent Mental Health Innovations Center and is a senior consultant on suicide prevention for the Baltimore VA Medical Center.

About one-third of the world's population is infected with the parasite, which hides in cells in the brain and muscles, often without producing symptoms. The infection, which is called toxoplasmosis, has been linked to mental illness, such as schizophrenia, and changes in behavior..."

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World's Fastest Camera Used to Detect Rogue Cancer Cells

1:55:51 AM, Saturday, July 07, 2012

"(Phys.org July 6, 2012) The ability to distinguish and isolate rare cells from among a large population of assorted cells has become increasingly important for the early detection of disease and for monitoring disease treatments.

Circulating cancer tumor cells are a perfect example. Typically, there are only a handful of them among a billion healthy cells, yet they are precursors to metastasis, the spread of cancer that causes about 90 percent of cancer mortalities. Such "rogue" cells are not limited to cancer — they also include stem cells used for regenerative medicine and other cell types.

Unfortunately, detecting such cells is difficult. Achieving good statistical accuracy requires an automated, high-throughput instrument that can examine millions of cells in a reasonably short time. Microscopes equipped with digital cameras are currently the gold standard for analyzing cells, but they are too slow to be useful for this application.

Now, a new optical microscope developed by UCLA engineers could make the tough task a whole lot easier..."

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New Type of Black Hole Found - Relic of Early Universe?

1:37:29 AM, Saturday, July 07, 2012

"(Nat. Geo. July 5, 2012) There's a strange new brute on the celestial block—the middleweight black hole, a new study says.

After nearly three years of spying a superbright object nearly 300 million light-years away, astronomers with NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory and SWIFT telescope recently announced the discovery of HLX-1, the first representative of a new type of black hole.

Until recently, black holes were thought to come in only two sizes: Small stellar varieties that are several times heavier than our sun, and supermassive black holes that pack the gravitational punch of many million suns—large enough to swallow our entire solar system.

Notorious for ripping apart and swallowing stars, extra-large black holes live exclusively in the hearts of most galaxies, including our own Milky Way.

The new middleweight black hole is between these two types—equal to the matter of about 90,000 suns..."

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Spaceflight May Extend the Lifespan of Microscopic Worm

1:23:03 AM, Saturday, July 07, 2012

"(Phys.org July 6, 2012) The effect of spaceflight on a microscopic worm — Caenorhabditis elegans (C. elegans) — could help it to live longer.

The discovery was made by an international group of scientists studying the loss of bone and muscle mass experienced by astronauts after extended flights in space. The results of this research have been published today, July 5 2012, in the online journal Scientific Reports.

Dr. Nathaniel Szewczyk, from The University of Nottingham, was part of the ICE-FIRST project which involved scientists from Japan, France, the US, and Canada. They discovered that spaceflight suppressed accumulation of toxic proteins that normally accumulate within aging muscle. They also discovered a group of genes that are expressed at lower levels during spaceflight. When the expression of these same genes were lowered in worms back on Earth the worms lived longer..."

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LHC Claims New Particle Discovery

5:08:38 AM, Wednesday, July 04, 2012

"(BBC July 4 2012) Cern scientists reporting at conferences in the UK and Geneva claim the discovery of a new particle consistent with the Higgs boson.

The particle has been the subject of a 45-year hunt to explain how matter attains its mass.

Both of the two Higgs-hunting experiments at the Large Hadron Collider have reached a level of certainty worthy of a "discovery".

More work will be needed to be certain that what they see is a Higgs, however.

The CMS team claimed they had seen a "bump" in their data corresponding to a particle weighing in at 125.3 gigaelectronvolts (GeV) - about 133 times heavier than the proton at the heart of every atom.

Indications are strong, but it remains to be seen whether the particle the team reports is in fact the Higgs - those answers will certainly not come on Wednesday.

The result announced at Cern, home of the LHC in Geneva, was met with applause.

The CMS team claimed that by combining two of its data sets, they had attained a confidence level just at the "five-sigma" point - about a one-in-3.5 million chance that the signal they see would appear if there were no Higgs particle.

However, a full combination of the CMS data brings that number just back to 4.9 sigma - a one-in-2 million chance..."

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New Way to Grow, Isolate Cancer Cells May Add Weapon Against Disease

1:58:21 AM, Tuesday, July 03, 2012

"(phys.org July 2, 2012) A new method to isolate and grow the most dangerous cancer cells could enable new research into how cancer spreads and, ultimately, how to fight it. University of Illinois researchers and collaborators in China found that while a traditional culture of cancer cells has only a few capable of starting new tumors, a soft gel is capable of isolating tumor-repopulating cells and promoting the growth and multiplication of these cells in culture. The new culture technique could allow researchers to better study metastatic cancers.

The news a cancer patient most fears is that the disease has spread and become much more difficult to treat. A new method to isolate and grow the most dangerous cancer cells could enable new research into how cancer spreads and, ultimately, how to fight it.

University of Illinois researchers, in collaboration with scientists at the Huazhong University of Science and Technology in China, published their results in the journal Nature Materials.

"This may open the door for understanding and blocking metastatic colonization, the most devastating step in cancer progression," said Ning Wang, a professor of mechanical science and engineering who co-led the study..."

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Hidden Portals in Earth's Magnetic Field

1:06:34 AM, Tuesday, July 03, 2012

"(Phys.org, July 2 2012) A favorite theme of science fiction is "the portal" -- an extraordinary opening in space or time that connects travelers to distant realms. A good portal is a shortcut, a guide, a door into the unknown. If only they actually existed...

It turns out that they do, sort of, and a NASA-funded researcher at the University of Iowa has figured out how to find them.

"We call them X-points or electron diffusion regions," explains plasma physicist Jack Scudder of the University of Iowa. "They're places where the magnetic field of Earth connects to the magnetic field of the Sun, creating an uninterrupted path leading from our own planet to the sun's atmosphere 93 million miles away."

Observations by NASA's THEMIS spacecraft and Europe's Cluster probes suggest that these magnetic portals open and close dozens of times each day. They're typically located a few tens of thousands of kilometers from Earth where the geomagnetic field meets the onrushing solar wind. Most portals are small and short-lived; others are yawning, vast, and sustained. Tons of energetic particles can flow through the openings, heating Earth's upper atmosphere, sparking geomagnetic storms, and igniting bright polar auroras..."

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US Sees Stronger Hints of Higgs

12:07:30 AM, Tuesday, July 03, 2012

"(BBC 7/2/2012) Hints of the Higgs boson detected last year by a US "atom smasher" have become even stronger, scientists have said.

The news comes amid fevered speculation about an announcement by researchers at the Large Hadron Collider on Wednesday.

Finding the particle would fill a glaring hole in the widely accepted theory of how the Universe works.

This 30-year hunt is reaching an end, with experts confident they will soon be able to make a definitive statement about the particle's existence.

The latest findings have come from analysis of data gathered by the US Tevatron particle accelerator, which was shut down at the end of last year.

Researchers squeezed the last information out of hundreds of trillions of collisions produced by the Tevatron - which was based at the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory (Fermilab) in Illinois - since March 2001.

The latest findings have come from analysis of data gathered by the US Tevatron particle accelerator, which was shut down at the end of last year.

Researchers squeezed the last information out of hundreds of trillions of collisions produced by the Tevatron - which was based at the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory (Fermilab) in Illinois - since March 2001..."

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NASA Astronauts Brought Playmates to the Moon

2:45:23 AM, Monday, July 02, 2012

"(news.discovery.com June 15, 2012) When NASA sent its Apollo astronauts to the moon, it sent them with "cheat sheets" -- wrist checklists attached to their suits that outlined the main stages of surface activities for each extravehicular activity (EVA).

But like all flight hardware, crews didn't train with their real checklists; they trained with a copy and only signed off on the unassembled flight version. Assembling the checklist fell to the backup crew, and also gave them a great opportunity to sneak practical jokes into the mission.

Dave Scott, Jim Irwin, and Al Worden were the Apollo 12 backup crew supporting Pete Conrad as commander, Al Bean as lunar module pilot, and Dick Gordon as command module pilot respectively. For Scott, being in charge of assembling the checklists was too good an opportunity.

Scott, Irwin, and Worden spent a fair bit of time flipping through the Conrad and Bean's checklists figuring out where to put in gags. They added a few cartoons and deliberately misspelled "albedo" as "albeano" in Bean's checklist. But it was the pictures they added that really caught the crew's attention..."



-- Obviously Discovery censored them, but I tracked them down for you. You're welcome. ;)

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Pyura Chilensis, the Living Rock

2:16:21 AM, Monday, July 02, 2012

"(boingboing.net, June 28 2012) This is not a geode. It's an animal. An apparently delicious animals with clear blood, whose body is accumulates surprisingly large amounts of a rare metal used to strengthen steel.

This is Pyura chilensis—an immobile ocean creature. Besides the other traits I mentioned, P. chilensis is also capable of both sexual and asexual reproduction. At the Running Ponies blog, Becky Crew explains the results of a 2005 study that detailed the creature's breeding habits for the first time.

The results showed that P. chilensis is born male, before becoming cosexual – having both male and female gonads – in its adolescence as it increased in size. The researchers also found that given the choice – that is, if situated around other individuals – these organisms prefer to breed via cross-fertilisation, writing, “Given that more events of natural egg spawning followed by successful settlement and metamorphosis were recorded in our paired specimens and in our manipulated cross trials … it appears that cross-fertilisation predominates in this species.”

Manríquez and Castilla also found that a greater number of fertilised eggs resulted from the paired specimens, which suggests that cross-fertilisation, or reproducing with another individual, predominates because it is more effective. This assumption was strengthened by the fact that individuals that had cross-fertilised before being put in isolation took at least two months before successfully producing offspring via selfing. However, they were careful to note that while cross-fertilisation was preferred, selfing did not produce inferior offspring. “No perceptible differences in fertilisation, settlement and metamorphosis success among self and outcross progeny were found,” they reported. This suggests that when stuck alone in the ocean, selfing provides an advantageous opportunity for loner P. chilensis individuals to still pass on their genes..."

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Drone Hacked By University Of Texas At Austin Research Group

1:54:24 AM, Monday, July 02, 2012

"(huffingtonpost.com 06/29/2012) When the U.S. Department of Homeland Security dared a Texas university research group to bring down a flying drone, the team accepted the challenge and did just that.

Turns out it's not too difficult to hack a drone.

Nor too expensive, for that matter. RT reports that the University of Texas at Austin scientists, led by Professor Todd Humphreys, managed to bring down a flying drone with a spoofer costing just $1,000. The research group gained control of the University-owned drone by using a device to hack its GPS system, according to Scientific American..."

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Planet Seen Evaporating Due to Huge Stellar Flare

1:33:09 AM, Monday, July 02, 2012

"(Nat. Geo. June 28, 2012) An alien planet has been caught "burping" off some of its atmospheric gas following a violent flare on its parent star, according to a study released Thursday.

The observation—the first of its kind—offers astronomers a rare glimpse of an extreme space-weather event on a planet outside our solar system.

"This discovery tells us that [atmospheric] evaporation is a genuine phenomenon for planets close to their stars," said study leader Alain Lecavelier, an astronomer at the Institute of Astrophysics in Paris.

For the new study, Lecavelier and his team examined the atmosphere of HD 189733b, a Jupiter-like planet about 60 light-years from Earth.

The gas giant circles its host star in a very close orbit—equal to 1/30th the distance between Earth and the sun—earning it classification as a "hot Jupiter."

The team was hoping to witness evaporation of the planet's atmosphere, an event that until now had been seen on only one other world..."

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Astronomers Shed New Light on Explosive Solar Activity

1:24:05 AM, Monday, July 02, 2012

"(phys.org July 1, 2012) The first images of an upward surge of the Sun's gases into quiescent coronal loops have been identified by an international team of scientists. The discovery is one more step towards understanding the origins of extreme space storms, which can destroy satellite communications and damage power grids on Earth.

The study published today by University of Cambridge scientists working with colleagues in India and the USA is the first to visualise the movement of gases at one million degrees in coronal loops – solar structures that are rooted at both ends and extend out from active regions of the Sun. Active regions are the 'cradle' for explosive energy releases such as solar flares and coronal mass ejections (CMEs).

The observation will help scientists understand what is considered to be one of the most challenging issues in astrophysics – how solar structures are heated and maintained in the upper solar atmosphere. Extreme solar activity can lead to severe space storms that interfere with satellite communications and damage electric power transmission grids on Earth. Solar activity is cyclical, with the next maximum forecast to occur around May 2013, and severe space weather is now listed very high on the UK's 2012 National Risk Register of Civil Emergencies..."

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Nanoporous Graphene Could Outperform Best Commercial Water Desalination Techniques

2:53:13 AM, Sunday, June 24, 2012

"(Phys.org June 22, 2012) Although oceans and seas contain about 97% of Earth’s water, currently only a fraction of a percent of the world’s potable water supply comes from desalinated salt water. In order to increase our use of salt water, desalination techniques must become more energy-efficient and less expensive to be sustainable. In a new study, two materials scientists from MIT have shown in simulations that nanoporous graphene can filter salt from water at a rate that is 2-3 orders of magnitude faster than today’s best commercial desalination technology, reverse osmosis (RO). The researchers predict that graphene’s superior water permeability could lead to desalination techniques that require less energy and use smaller modules than RO technology, at a cost that will depend on future improvements in graphene fabrication methods.

The scientists, David Cohen-Tanugi and Jeffrey C. Grossman of MIT, have published their study on water desalination using single-layer nanoporous graphene in a recent issue of Nano Letters.

“This work shows that some of the drawbacks of current desalination techniques could be avoided by inventing more efficient and targeted membrane materials,” Grossman told Phys.org. “In particular, tailored nanostructuring of membranes could allow for actual flow of water (with full salt rejection) via size exclusion, leading to much higher permeability compared to reverse osmosis.”

This is not the first time that researchers have investigated the use of nanoporous materials for desalination. In contrast to RO, which uses high pressure to slowly push water molecules (but not salt ions) through a porous membrane, nanoporous materials work under lower pressures and provide well-defined channels that can filter salt water at a faster rate than RO membranes..."

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