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BBC NEWS | Science & Environment | Mammoth-killing comet questioned

The theory that a comet wiped out the megafauna and Clovis people of North America has taken a hit thanks to a thorough analysis of charcoal layers beneath lakes and peat bogs from across North America. The discovered two things: there is no evidence of a continent-wide fire, and that the number of wildfires during the 5,000-year period around the time of the supposed strike increased dramatically. In fact, they discovered that the incidence rate of wildfire increased during periods of rapid climate change such as the one the Earth is currently undergoing.
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Ancient Egyptian Faience

A ceramic-like material made of finely-ground quartz crystals, mixed with things like copper oxide, powdered limestone, and alkali salts, pressed into a mold and allowed to dry. This allows some of the chemicals to move to the surface (self-glaze) which then turn blue-green (like turquoise) when fired. You can see examples of this at the Egyptian exhibit, now currently at the Museum of Civilization in Gatineau.

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Study links mammoth extinction, comets - USATODAY.com

A study published in the journal Science links nanodiamond crystals found at six sites around North America to a comet swarm that may have struck the earth 12,900 years ago, resulting in a continent-wide wildfire that brought the North-American megafauna and the Clovis people to extinction, as well as triggering an ice age. The proposal is not completely accepted by scientists who suggest that further study is required.

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Scientists believe that the beat shown here, known as Indohyus, may be the evolutionary link between land mammals and cetaceans.
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Mammoth tusks from Russia and Alaska, dating between 30,000 and 34,000 years ago, have been found to contain bullet-like pieces from an ancient meteor shower embedded in the skyward side of their tusks. This seems to suggest that a meteor detonated in the air over that region at that time. The researchers had been looking for evidence of a theoretical air burst over North America 13,000 years ago, but the only evidence they found of meteorite impacts involved bones that were far too old. 
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Recently-discovered 67-million year -old dinosaur remains included petrified tissue within an uncollapsed envelope of petrified skin. The remains provide an unprecedented and detailed view into the soft-tissue structures of a typical dinosaur. Remains of this type are rare because the conditions under which the dinosaur died had to have result in it being mummified, so that the soft tissues were mineralized before they had a chance to decay.
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Reuters: Science
Secrets of Assassins' fort unearthed in Syria - Nestled at the foot of Syria's coastal mountains, an ancient citadel has been put on the tourist map by restoration and excavation that revealed mysteries of the medieval Assassins sect, once based here.

Snot for 'Bots - The robotic schnozz can sniff for bombs and air pollution, along with other simple chemicals, but it still can't tell a smushed banana from a sprig of peppermint. Now researchers at the University of Warwick in England have hit upon a way to dramatically improve a robot's sense of smell: synthetic snot.

Science Blog -
Olive product slows spread of HIV in body - Olive oil has become part of the fight against the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) - the cause of AIDS - thanks to the research carried out by the Bionat team, from the University of Granada, headed by Prof. Andrés García-Granados, senior lecturer in Organic Chemistry. Their work shows that maslinic acid - a natural product extracted from dry olive-pomace oil in oil mills - inhibits serin-protease, an enzyme used by HIV to release itself from the infected cell into the extracellular environment and, consequently, to spread the infection into the whole body. These scientists from Granada determined that the use of olive-pomace oil can produce an 80% slowing down in AIDS spreading in the body.
Technique could confirm prion infection - Scientists have made significant advances towards the development of a technique that could be used to confirm whether someone is infected with variant CJD.
Drug fights alcoholism, study finds - A drug already approved for nicotine addiction also curbs alcohol dependence, a new animal study shows. One dose alone cut drinking in half. The finding is particularly encouraging, the researchers say, because the animals did not turn to drinking in excess after the drug was stopped, a common pattern when people take current drugs to curb alcohol consumption.
Late-night teens more prone to problems? - A propensity for activities in the evening rather than in the morning may offer clues to behavioral problems in early adolescence, according to psychologists who have found that kids who prefer evenings are more likely to exhibit antisocial behavior, rule-breaking, and attention problems.
Emotional memories can be suppressed with practice - A new University of Colorado at Boulder study shows people have the ability to suppress emotional memories with practice, which has implications for those suffering from conditions ranging from post-traumatic stress disorder to depression.

PhysOrg.com - latest science and technology news
Robot walks on water - Water striders, insects that walk on the surface of the water, may never set foot on land in their lives, and yet they’re not swimmers. Over the past million or so years, this insect - sometimes called a water skater - has optimized its use of surface tension to balance its 0.01-gram body on lakes, ponds, and even oceans.
Boosting key milk nutrients may help lower type 2 diabetes risk - Most Americans fail to get the calcium and vitamin D they need, but this shortfall could be affecting more than their bones. It may, at least in part, be one reason behind the epidemic of type 2 diabetes, suggests new research conducted at Tufts University.
The cell phone connects to the hip bone - U.S. scientists are developing a technology that allows mobile electronic devices to communicate by sending vibrations through bones.
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New Scientist Tech - Aviation

Nuclear rockets could cut cost of Moon base - Nuclear-powered rockets could save NASA billions of dollars in launch costs for its planned return to the Moon, a top nuclear scientist says. He argues that the higher efficiency of nuclear propulsion would reduce the number of launches needed to build a lunar base.

Second inflatable spacecraft launched - The firm Bigelow Aerospace has launched its second inflatable space module, Genesis 2, taking another step towards its goal of building crewed, inflatable space stations that could be leased to paying customers.

National Geographic News
Ancient "Salt Cured" Man Found in Iranian Mine - The mummy of a salt mine worker, naturally preserved in the mineral for 1,800 years, surfaced recently in Iran—but scientists might just leave it be.

Technology Review Feed - Biotech Top Stories
Listening for a Strange Brew - Researchers at the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL) have devised a way to quickly measure and track the quality of fermenting liquids, such as beer, without having to draw samples from a batch. Sampling fermenting liquids is necessary to ensure quality, but it can be time-consuming and potentially contaminating. By using ultrasonic backscattering, a method of reading sound signals as they bounce off targets and back to a sensor, the PNNL team's system avoids these drawbacks and gives the brewer greater control over the fermenting process.

Physics Org
Simple Magnet Can Control Color of Liquid - University of California, Riverside nanotechnologists have succeeded in controlling the color of very small particles of iron oxide suspended in water simply by applying an external magnetic field to the solution. The discovery has potential to greatly improve the quality and size of electronic display screens and to enable the manufacture of products such as erasable and rewritable electronic paper and ink that can change color electromagnetically.

BBC News | Science/Nature | World Edition
Good vibes power tiny generator - A tiny generator powered by natural vibrations could soon be helping keep heart pacemakers working.
Hopes for better vCJD diagnosis - Scientists are perfecting a test which they hope will confirm mad cow disease (vCJD) in humans.
Artificial skin 'cuts scarring' - A prototype artificial skin used to heal wounds has been developed by British researchers. ICX-SKN is produced from fibrin gel, a blood clotting protein and fibroblast cells, found in human skin.
Girl could give birth to sibling - A Canadian mother has frozen her eggs for use by her seven-year-old daughter, who is likely to become infertile.
Cloned sperm created in the lab - Cloning sperm could enable men with very low sperm counts to become fathers, say US scientists. By injecting a single healthy mouse sperm into a mouse egg from which the genetic material had been removed, they were able to make new sperm. With some refining, the Cornell University team believes the technique could be used for infertile couples.
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Source: ABC News
Researchers at Northwestern University have developed a method for repairing, at least partially, a spinal cord that has been severed. Until now, such injuries lead only to paralyzation, but a recent experiment on a pair of mice demonstrated that they could restore at least partial function, and do so without surgery. The key is to use nanostructures that contain chemicals which trigger axonal, rather than glial cell, growth. This works because, when the spinal cord is injured, glial cells form scar tissue which prevents axonal growth through the injured area. As a result, a nerve connection between the severed portions is never achieved and the person remains paralyzed. The new treatment method, if applied immediately, circumvents that process and prevents scar tissue from being built while encouraging neurons to cross the injury site.

Source: ABC News
When I gave exams, I banned cell phones, knowing that they could be used to store or text-message answers. It now appears that iPods and other digital media players are being added to the list. Students have been found storing notes in song titles and recording them as music. It appears the only way to be sure of no cheating is to require all exams to be written in the nude. Of course, that presents other problems, but at least it could provide some entertainment for those spending hours monitoring exams.

Source: BBC News
A London medical team have just performed the first gene therapy to treat an eye disorder. The patient had a faulty RPE65 gene which prevents the cells at the back of the retina from detecting light. The procedure appears to have worked on animals, so 12 individuals are being given the treatment to see if their sight can be at least partially restored.

Source: Globe and Mail
The Ontario government has agreed to allow OptiSolar Farms to build what could be North America's largest solar farm in Sarnia. As expected, critics are up in arms for various reasons but none of the complaints seem to hold much weight. The project should be completed by 2010 and will generate more than 40 megawatts of power.

Source: BBC News
An analysis of preserved collagen from T.Rex bones reveals that the proteins in the bones are similar to those found in chickens, strengthening the theory that modern birds evolved from dinosaurs.
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Source: National Geographic
Snagged from [livejournal.com profile] fugaciouslover. Prototaxites stood more than 8 metres tall, and flourished between 420 and 370 million years ago with fossils being found around the world. A recent study may have finally identified what this organism was... a giant fungus.

Source: National Geographic
New simulations have led scientists to the conclusion that global warming may reduce, rather than increase, the strength of hurricanes. The key is that a rise in ocean temperature will also increase wind shear which inhibits hurricane formation. What they have yet to discover his how wind shear and hurricane formation interact to generate the storms we observe. Without this knowledge, it is impossible to accurately predict the rate of hurricane formation as the Earth's temperature rises.

Source: msnbc.com
An interesting article found by [livejournal.com profile] _luaineach. When the average person makes a mistake, the anterior cingulate cortex generates a pulse a few milliseconds after the mistake is recognized. This pulse, called the ERN (Error-Related Negativity) is noticeably subdued in people impulsive and antisocial disorders. It should be noted that all the participants in the study were average, healthy university students; however, those with subdued ERNs were more impulse than average, just not to a degree that reduced their ability to function within society. The researchers theorize that reduced ERN generation may be at the heart of pathologies related to poor impulse control.

Source: CBC News
Another story noticed by the ever-vigilant [livejournal.com profile] ancalagon_tb. NeuroSky has developed a toy that allows users to control certain video games with their minds. The company demonstrated a game in which users must concentrate to keep a light sabre active. The device reads the EEG signals they generate while performing the task and compare them to baseline EEG levels related to concentration, relaxation, and anxiety.

Source: New Scientist
DARPA researchers, recognizing the problems of depending solely on GPS to obtain accurate position information, are looking at using other "signals of opportunity" to help soldiers find their position. They are looking at using television signals to augment GPS in situations where the position of the television transmitter and time of transmission is known.
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Source: Nature
Scientists have discovered a protein (NpHR) that, when exposed to light, switches off nerve firing. Specifically, the protien pumps chloride ions into the nerve cell when exposed to yellow light, effectively silencing the nerve until the ionic equilibrium has been re-established. Meanwhile, a protien ChR2 performs the opposite function when exposed to blue light, effectively activating the cell. NpHR is considered important to understanding nerve function because it allows researchers to silence individual nerve cells to determine how important they are to a particular activity. ChR2 had already earned its spurs by allowing researchers to replace large, clumsy electrodes with lasers that could activate individual nerve cells rather then activating clusters of them. It is hoped that this technique will eventually replace electrode stimulation in patients such as those being treated for sever depression. One researcher hopes that this technique may allow them to stimulate retinal cells directly, bypassing rods and cones that may have been damaged by injury or disease.

Source: National Geographic
Scientists believe they have found the gene that makes small dogs, well, small. The gene is located near IGF-1 which helps animals grow from birth to adolescence. Small dogs have an increase in mutations around this gene, resulting in it being suppressed. They are now searching for other genes that may interact with it to control body size.

Source: National Geographic
It appears that the charred remains of Joan of Arc may be far older than once thought... going all the way back to ancient Egypt. It appears that the relics thought to be the bones of Joan of Arc are actually the bones of an Egyptian mummy from sometime between the 3rd and 6th century BC. The relic had been officially recognized by the Vatican as authentic in the late 1800s. The bones were apparently charred by someone attempting to lend authenticity to the relic. The possibility of the relics being a fake arose when the bones were examined using an unusual technique: odour analysis by a trained panel. They detected the hints of plaster (legend had it she was burned on a plaster stake), but the hints of vanilla confused the panellists. The vanilla aroma would not arise from cremation, but would be produced by mummification. Chemical analysis bore this out. It only goes to show that the nose knows, and that some people can literally smell a forgery.

Source: CBC News
Another story noticed by [livejournal.com profile] ancalagon_tb. As we move into the 2011 peak of the 11-year sunspot cycle, it appears that GPS satellites could be at risk interruption. These satellites are used for everything from navigation to synchronizing money transfers. As a result, many aspects of today's increasingly-connected society could be at risk of disruption should GPS services be disrupted. The problem is that solar flares can generate electromagnetic interference that effectively "drowns out" the GPS signal. Fortunately, redundancy in the system will allow us to weather all but the worst solar storms.

Source: USA Today
Last but not least, the results are in on how much of an impact the early Daylight Savings Time had on energy consumption. And the answer is: none. Yes, those of you with SAD can take comfort in the fact that your suffering was, indeed, for naught. The US and Canadian governments managed to create the impression of solving a problem, but in a way that, predictably, would do nothing at all to solve the problem.
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Source: National Geographic
Enceladus, one of Saturn's moons, may have all the components necessary to create some form of life say astronomers. The planet's core is believed to have been hot during it's early development, possibly hot enough to create the material components of life, particularly nitrogen. Combine this with water and a core still hot enough to create geysers of steam and the moon features the bet chance of being a place to find extraterrestrial life, albeit albeit fairly primitive.

Source: PhysOrg
A prominent scholar at the University of the Holy Land in Jerusalem believes that remains claimed in James Cameron's documentary to be of Mary Magdalene are actually the remains of two women. He says that the script was written by two different hands, one part stating that the occupant was a woman named Mary while the second, possibly later, inscription names the occupant as a woman named Martha. He believes that the remain of Martha were added later so that the ossuary, at one point, contained the remains of both women.

Source: ABC News
Micromanagers beware, nagging may make it less likely that what you want done will be accomplished. Psychologists have published a study indicating that nagging will encourage the other person to do the opposite of what the nagger wants. The impetus of the research was Psychologist Tanya Chartrand's frustration that her husband had a tendency to do the opposite of what she wanted. He, being a psychologist as well, joined with her into researching the problem. They claim that their study shows that attempts by another person to exert control over an individual results in the one being controlled rebelling against that control. They admit, however, that the results are not conclusive. Her personal response to the research was that, given what they have learned, her husband should be in a better position to "suppress his reactant tendencies" and do what he is told. He sees it as an automatic response to a controlling spouse so it not convinced that it is possible to suppress those tendencies. It appears that they still have issues to work through.

Source: Globe and Mail
The RIAA is continuing a crackdown on illegal downloads. In the latest report, 50 Ohio students have been served an RIAA legal notice, using Ohio University as the intermediary, to settle out of court for $3,000 in damages or face a law suit that could cost them $750 per recording that it can be proven they pirated. They have 20 days to respond to the letter before the cases go to court. The RIAA has sued more than 18,000 people since 2003 and intends to send more than 400 letters each month as part of an accelerated program to stop music pirating. More than 13 universities have been contacted and ordered to forward the notices to students they claim are guilty of pirating. Looks like the RIAA has found a cash cow they can milk by acting as police, judge and jury. Says one Globe reader in the comments section: " Extortion is a criminal offense, which occurs when a person either obtains money, property or services from another through coercion or intimidation or threatens one with physical harm unless they are paid money or property." While piracy is inherently wrong (not to mention illegal), what the RIAA is doing stinks to high heavens.

Source: Globe and Mail
As of March 14th, Revenue Canada's electronic tax system was back in action and processing the backlog of tax returns.
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Source: PhysOrg
Iran has recently completed a successful launch of a spacecraft. The launch is part of a drive to place their own private and commercial satellites into orbit without having to rely on other countries. In particular, they want to place more communications satellites into orbit so that they can expand the number of land and mobile telephone lines, and internet users, in the next five years.

Source: UC Davis News & Information
Researchers have proposed that certain types of bacteria could be used to turn deep, sandy soil into something more like cement. Bacillus pasteurii generates calcite that bond to soil, turning it into a cement-like material. By injecting these bacteria into the soil and feeding them properly, soil that would formerly collapse during an earthquake remains rigid.

Source: SlashDot
An interesting article by Eric Flint which postulates that the current structure of DRM actually sets up a situation that encourages piracy. Like SlashDot, I'll simply quote a part here: "Electronic copyright infringement is something that can only become an 'economic epidemic' under certain conditions. Any one of the following: 1) The products they want... are hard to find, and thus valuable. 2) The products they want are high-priced, so there's a fair amount of money to be saved by stealing them. 3) The legal products come with so many added-on nuisances that the illegal version is better to begin with. Those are the three conditions that will create widespread electronic copyright infringement, especially in combination. Why? Because they're the same three general conditions that create all large-scale smuggling enterprises. And... Guess what? It's precisely those three conditions that DRM creates in the first place. So far from being an impediment to so-called 'online piracy,' it's DRM itself that keeps fueling it and driving it forward."

Source: PhysicsWeb
Researchers at Jerusalem University have developed a way to create 3D structures by chemically folding flat paper discs. The discs are treated with a monomer solution which is then heated, causing the paper disc to curl up in accordance with the pattern formed by the monomer solution. Regions of higher concentration shrink more than those of lower concentration so by varying the concentration over the surface of the disc, the final structure can be precisely controlled.

Source: Globe and Mail
A film crew claims to have identified the location of Jesus's ossuary, and has completed DNA analysis of it and its companion. The other ossuaries apparently contained the remains of Mariamne (Mary Magdelene), Matthew, and Yose (Jesus' brother). DNA testing showed that Yeshua (Jesus) and Mariamne were not related, indicating that they may, instead, have been married. The original bones were, apparently buried in unmarked graves long ago in accordance with Jewish custom. The ossuaries have been proven by archaeologists to be authentic and from the same time period, but there is no way to confirm that this is the same Yeshua on which the Christian Bible is based. Odds of it NOT being the same have been estimated at between 1 in 600 to 1 in 42 million. The documentary will air on the Discovery channel on March 4.

January 2010

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