Universe Dying?; Seals Use Voice Recognition; Bacteria Helps Smokers Quit

Posted August 13th, 2015 at 2:42 pm (UTC-4)
1 comment

Astronomers Say our Universe is Dying

Is our universe slowly dying?  An international group of astronomers, who studied more than 200,000 galaxies and precisely measured the energy produced within a large portion of the cosmos, have confirmed that a section of the Universe is generating about half as much energy as it did two billion years ago.

Furthermore, the astronomers, using many of the world’s most powerful ground based telescopes and three space based telescopes, said that it the most complete assessment of the energy output of the nearby Universe.

Scientists have known that the energy of the Universe is slowly fading away since the late 1990’s, but the new study provides new details that it’s taking place across all wavelengths in the electromagnetic spectrum, from the ultraviolet to the far infrared.

The research team recently presented their findings at the International Astronomical Union’s 29th General Assembly held from August 3 – 14 in Honolulu, Hawaii.

Male Elephant Seals Develop Voice Recognition

Pity the male elephant seal who tries to find a female mate during breeding season.

The competition for a lady elephant seal’s attention, among the male population, is pretty stiff to say the least.

The males call attention to themselves with a lot of arguing and posturing among themselves

While somewhat rare, violent and bloody fights do break out between opponents vying for the affection of a particular female.

But a new study by researchers at the University of California at Santa Cruz has found that the males learn to recognize the unique call of their adversaries so that they can decide whether they should engage in a brutal fight or avoid confrontation by fleeing.

It turns out that these calls communicate a male elephant seal’s status in the dominance hierarchy.

The researchers said that the call of an individual male is very distinctive and the sound is always the same, regardless of the situation.

Astronomers Identify Smallest Supermassive Black Hole

Astronomers using NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory and the 6.5-meter Clay Telescope at the Las Campanas Observatory in Chile have identified the smallest supermassive black hole (SMBH) ever detected.

Small and supermassive…isn’t that a bit of an oxymoron? Well, not really.

Scientists who made the identification say that this SMBH, called RGG 118, may be small in size but contains enough mass that allows it to behave like those that are bigger and in some cases much bigger in size.

Originally discovered by the Sloan Digital Sky Survey, RGG 118 is located in the center of dwarf galaxy some 340 million light years away and has about 50,000 times the mass of the sun.

The astronomers said that their discovery may provide clues to how larger black holes formed along with their host galaxies some 13 billion years or more in the past.

Bacteria May Soon Help Smokers Quit

If you’re a smoker, who has been trying to quit, you already know just how hard dropping the tobacco habit can be.  You may have tried going ‘cold turkey’, used smoking cessation aids such as nicotine gum and patches or methods such as hypnotism and acupuncture, but you remain addicted.

But soon there just might be another weapon in your arsenal to fight your smoking habit: bacteria. Yes, scientists are finding that little microorganisms like those that can make great tasting yogurt or make you quite sick might someday help you quit smoking.

Writing in the Journal of the American Chemical Society, researchers at California’s Scripp’s Research Institute have reported success with bacteria that thrive on nicotine.

After conducting lab tests on mice, they found that NicA2, an enzyme found in the bacteria called Pseudomonas putida, broke down all the nicotine contained in various blood samples within 30 minutes. The scientists believe that this bacterial enzyme could possibly blunt the effects of this highly addictive chemical compound in humans.

Rick Pantaleo
Rick Pantaleo maintains the Science World blog and writes stories for VOA’s web and radio on a variety of science, technology and health topics. He also occasionally appears on various VOA programs to talk about the latest scientific news. Rick joined VOA in 1992 after a 20 year career in commercial broadcasting.

New Sunspot Index Breaks Link Between Solar Activity and Climate Change

Posted August 11th, 2015 at 2:42 pm (UTC-4)
3 comments

Large field-of-view image of sunspots. The image has been colored yellow for aesthetic reasons. (Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences)

Large field-of-view image of sunspots. The image has been colored yellow for aesthetic reasons. (Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences)

A newly updated analysis of sunspot numbers over the last 400 years suggests solar activity has nothing to do with climate change, a discovery that eliminates a key argument used by those who question human caused climate change.

Some of those who suggest that climate change is not anthropogenic in nature contend that changes in the sun’s activity are responsible for any increase or decrease in global temperatures.

Scientists have been tracking that solar activity within the sun’s solar cycle by counting sunspots for years.

For the last 160 years scientists have relied on the Wolf Sunspot Number (WSN) – also called the International sunspot number, relative sunspot number, or Zürich number – to count the number of sunspots present on the surface of the sun.

Use of the WSN, since its introduction by Rudolph Wolf in 1856, has allowed scientists to develop a historical record of solar activity over time.

But in 1994 scientists began to question whether the WSN was an accurate method to build a reliable index of historical sunspot records.

Since telescope technology before modern times wasn’t as advanced as today the scientists thought that perhaps some smaller sunspots were being missed in the count.

So, a new counting method called the Group Sunspot Number (GSN) was created by Douglas Hoyt and Ken Schatten in 1994 and introduced in 1998.

Creators of this new way of counting sunspots said that they were able to add to amount of available sunspot data since it included measurements made further back into the sunspot historical record by Galileo, Thomas Harriot and Christoph Scheiner.

However there are huge discrepancies between the WSN and GSN for sunspot measurements made before 1885 and around 1945.  This has become a contentious issue among scientists for some time.

One of the links between solar activity and climate change that’s often cited by the non-believers of human caused climate change is a time period called the Maunder Minimum.

A drawing of the Sun made by Galileo Galilei on 23 June 1613 showing the positions and sizes of a number of sunspots. Galileo was one of the first to observe and document sunspots. (The Galileo Project/M. Kornmesser)

A drawing of the Sun made by Galileo Galilei on 23 June 1613 showing the positions and sizes of a number of sunspots. Galileo was one of the first to observe and document sunspots. (The Galileo Project/M. Kornmesser)

During the Maunder Minimum, which took place between 1645 and 1715, scientists noticed fewer sunspots on the sun’s surface.  Winters throughout this time were also unusually harsh.

Some scientists have said that following the end of the Maunder Minimum, which was also the beginning of the industrial revolution, a new period of increased solar activity began.

This period of increased solar activity, which is said to have peaked in the late 20th century with the Modern Grand Maximum, also happened to coincide with a rise in global temperatures.

While the GSN index reflected this pattern of increased solar activity the WSN didn’t show such a pattern.

A group of scientists led by Frédéric Clette, Director of the Sunspot Index and Long-term Solar Observations program at the World Data Center, Ed Cliver from the National Solar Observatory and Leif Svalgaard of Stanford University have found that the discrepancies between the WSN and GSN were due to a major calibration error in the Group Sunspot Number.

So scientists reconciled and recalibrated the sunspot index which has eliminated the discrepancies between the WSN and GSN.

The resulting new sunspot index called the Sunspot Number Version 2.0, which also includes the older historical data of the GSN, shows that solar activity has been constant over the past few centuries without any noteworthy long-term upward trends in solar activity since 1700.

This means that any rise in global temperatures since the beginning of the industrial revolution or end of the Maunder Minimum cannot be attributed to an increase in solar activity.

The scientists presented their new sunspot index at the International Astronomical Union’s 29th General Assembly being held in Honolulu, Hawaii through August 14th.

Rick Pantaleo
Rick Pantaleo maintains the Science World blog and writes stories for VOA’s web and radio on a variety of science, technology and health topics. He also occasionally appears on various VOA programs to talk about the latest scientific news. Rick joined VOA in 1992 after a 20 year career in commercial broadcasting.

NASA Camera Snaps Images of the Moon Crossing Face of The Earth

Posted August 8th, 2015 at 1:30 am (UTC-4)
1 comment

This animation features actual satellite images of the far side of the moon, illuminated by the sun, as it crosses between the DSCOVR spacecraft's Earth Polychromatic Imaging Camera (EPIC) and telescope, and the Earth. (NASA/NOAA)

This animation features actual satellite images of the far side of the moon, illuminated by the sun, as it crosses between the DSCOVR spacecraft’s Earth Polychromatic Imaging Camera (EPIC) and telescope, and the Earth. (NASA/NOAA)

Since the beginning of the space age more than 50 years ago, NASA, the U.S. space agency, has provided the world with spectacular images of our planet, solar system and universe.

Now, NASA has just released an amazing ‘animated gif’ (see above) that shows the moon as it moves across of the sunlit side of Earth.

The images that were used to produce the gif were taken by the Earth Polychromatic Imaging Camera (EPIC) aboard the NASA/National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) Deep Space Climate Observatory (DSCOVR).  They were taken from the satellite’s position between the sun and Earth at a distance of about 1,609,344 kilometers.

“It is surprising how much brighter Earth is than the moon,” said Adam Szabo, DSCOVR project scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland in a press release. “Our planet is a truly brilliant object in dark space compared to the lunar surface.”

The key mission for the DSCOVR satellite will allow NOAA to monitor the solar wind in real-time so that the U.S. agency can provide advanced warnings of above average amounts of high-energy particles produced by the sun.

Powerful bursts of these high-energy particles can impact items such as power grids, communications systems, and satellites orbiting close to Earth.

DSCOVR Mission's EPIC Instrument - Earth Polychromatic Imaging Camera (NASA/DSCOVR)

DSCOVR Mission’s EPIC Instrument – Earth Polychromatic Imaging Camera (NASA/DSCOVR)

EPIC is a four megapixel CCD (charge-coupled device) camera and telescope mounted on the DSCOVR satellite.

The device continuously keeps the fully lit Earth in its sights as our home planet rotates on its axis.

NASA says that EPIC will provide scientists with observations of Earth’s ozone, vegetation, cloud height, as well as atmospheric aerosols – tiny particles of material suspended in the atmosphere.

Each image taken by EPIC is shot through filters that cover 10 narrowband channels of the spectral band from ultraviolet to near infrared.

The ‘natural color’ pictures of Earth, according to the space agency, are produced by EPIC, with a combination of three distinct monochrome images – red, green and blue – that are taken in quick succession.

NASA says that once EPIC begins to make its regular observations, scheduled for some time next month, it will post color images to a special website.

The images, taken daily, will show different views of a rotating Earth and will be available to the public some 12 to 36 hours after EPIC sends them back to Earth.

Rick Pantaleo
Rick Pantaleo maintains the Science World blog and writes stories for VOA’s web and radio on a variety of science, technology and health topics. He also occasionally appears on various VOA programs to talk about the latest scientific news. Rick joined VOA in 1992 after a 20 year career in commercial broadcasting.

Pancreatic Cancer Test; Bonobos Talk Like Babies; Yeast Cleans Toxic Waste

Posted August 5th, 2015 at 8:10 pm (UTC-4)
1 comment

Simple Urine Test for Pancreatic Cancer Possible

Researchers in the United Kingdom have found that high levels of three specific proteins in urine can indicate early-stage pancreatic cancer.

They say that their discovery could lead to an inexpensive and noninvasive test to screen people who are at high risk of developing the disease, which is almost always fatal.

The research team at Bart’s Cancer Institute at Queen Mary University of London found that the particular three-protein ‘signature’ can detect the most common form of pancreatic cancer when still in its early stages.

World’s Glaciers Melting Faster Than Ever

A new study shows that the world’s glaciers are melting faster than ever.

An international team of researchers led by the World Glacier Monitoring Service have completed a comprehensive analysis of data on global glacial changes for the last 120 years.

The researchers at the University of Zurich find that glaciers today are losing between one half to one meter of ice thickness each year.

Even if climate remains stable, the study indicates that glaciers in many parts of the world will very likely suffer further ice loss.

Bonobos Make Sounds Like Human Infants

A new study provides evidence that bonobos, our closest relatives in the animal world, can vocalize in a way that is similar to human infants.

After conducting their study on wild bonobos, researchers from the University of Birmingham, UK, and the University of Neuchatel, Switzerland, found that these primates produce a call type, they call the ‘peep.’

Their research indicated that the sound of the bonobos ‘peeps’ varied depending on context, such those made when alarmed, during feeding, traveling, resting or grooming.

These sound variations were found to be similar to those made by human infants.

New Yeast Strain Could Help Toxic Waste Cleanup

Russian microbiologists have found that a new strain of yeast called Yarrowia lipolytica Y-3492 was quite effective in treating waste water that contain certain chemical compounds.

Conducting their research at peat bogs in Western Siberia, the scientists from Kazan Federal University found that this new yeast strain was effective in eliminating nitro compounds. These organic nitro compounds are commonly used in such products as explosives, herbicides, insecticides, polymers, dyes, and some medications.

The scientists focused on a waste product called trinitrotoluene (TNT), which is known to be a serious health threat.

High amounts of this nitro compound waste are produced by industries such as oil refineries and military equipment manufacturers.

Study: Religious Affiliation Low in Areas With Beautiful Weather and Scenery

Can being surrounded with beautiful weather and scenery make you less likely to join a religious congregation?

Researchers from Baylor University, a Christian school in Texas, have found that U.S. counties that have more beautiful weather and scenery also happen to have lower numbers of people affiliated with religious groups.

Beautiful weather and surroundings, according to the researchers, could be providing the kind of ‘spiritual resources’ to people that may be actually competing with traditional religious groups.

Rick Pantaleo
Rick Pantaleo maintains the Science World blog and writes stories for VOA’s web and radio on a variety of science, technology and health topics. He also occasionally appears on various VOA programs to talk about the latest scientific news. Rick joined VOA in 1992 after a 20 year career in commercial broadcasting.

July 2015 Science Images

Posted July 31st, 2015 at 7:40 pm (UTC-4)
1 comment

“There’s no place like home!” A NASA camera on the Deep Space Climate Observatory satellite has returned its first view of the entire sunlit side of Earth from one million miles away. (NASA)

“There’s no place like home!” A NASA camera on the Deep Space Climate Observatory satellite has returned its first view of the entire sunlit side of Earth from one million miles away. (NASA)

A team works on the "Incredible Science Machine" on 7/16/15 at Detroit’s “Michigan Science Center”.  This large chain reaction machine contained more than half a million objects, including about 200,000 dominoes and thousands of other common objects.  Unfortunately the contraption didn’t quite set the record for “largest chain reaction machine” since several of its sections failed after being triggered on 7/18/15.  (AP)

A team works on the “Incredible Science Machine” on 7/16/15 at Detroit’s “Michigan Science Center”. This large chain reaction machine contained more than half a million objects, including about 200,000 dominoes and thousands of other common objects. Unfortunately the contraption didn’t quite set the record for “largest chain reaction machine” since several of its sections failed after being triggered on 7/18/15. (AP)

A dying star’s final moments are captured in this image from the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope released on 7/27/15.  As the star was dying it burst into a planetary nebula known as NGC 6565. (ESA/Hubble & NASA)

A dying star’s final moments are captured in this image from the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope released on 7/27/15. As the star was dying it burst into a planetary nebula known as NGC 6565. (ESA/Hubble & NASA)

A robot took part in the groundbreaking ceremony for The College of New Jersey's planned $75 million science, technology, engineering and mathematics complex in Ewing, New Jersey on 7/7/15. (AP)

A robot took part in the groundbreaking ceremony for The College of New Jersey’s planned $75 million science, technology, engineering and mathematics complex in Ewing, New Jersey on 7/7/15. (AP)

This image of Pluto, released 7/24/15, was made by combining several images from two cameras on NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft when it was about 450,000 km from the dwarf planet.  (NASA/JHUAPL/SwRI)

This image of Pluto, released 7/24/15, was made by combining several images from two cameras on NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft when it was about 450,000 km from the dwarf planet. (NASA/JHUAPL/SwRI)

On 7/28/15, a team of scientists from the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History and The Jamestown Rediscovery Foundation at Historic Jamestowne announced the identities of four men buried within Jamestown Virginia’s historic 1608 church.  The remains have been identified as Rev. Robert Hunt, Capt. Gabriel Archer, Sir Ferdinando Wainman and Capt. William West, all high-status leaders who helped shape the future of America during the initial phase of the Jamestown colony. (James Di Loreto/Smithsonian Institution)

On 7/28/15, a team of scientists from the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History and The Jamestown Rediscovery Foundation at Historic Jamestowne announced the identities of four men buried within Jamestown Virginia’s historic 1608 church. The remains have been identified as Rev. Robert Hunt, Capt. Gabriel Archer, Sir Ferdinando Wainman and Capt. William West, all high-status leaders who helped shape the future of America during the initial phase of the Jamestown colony. (James Di Loreto/Smithsonian Institution)

NASA's NuSTAR telescope has captured high-energy X-rays coming from active regions across the sun. This image was created by combining observations from NuSTAR along with several other telescopes. The image was presented on 7/8/15 at the Royal Astronomical Society's National Astronomy Meeting in Llandudno, Wales. (NASA/JPL-Caltech/GSFC/JAXA)

NASA’s NuSTAR telescope has captured high-energy X-rays coming from active regions across the sun. This image was created by combining observations from NuSTAR along with several other telescopes. The image was presented on 7/8/15 at the Royal Astronomical Society’s National Astronomy Meeting in Llandudno, Wales. (NASA/JPL-Caltech/GSFC/JAXA)

New Horizons Flight Controllers, at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Maryland, celebrate after they received confirmation that the NASA spacecraft had successfully completed its close flyby of Pluto on 7/14/15. (NASA)

New Horizons Flight Controllers, at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Maryland, celebrate after they received confirmation that the NASA spacecraft had successfully completed its close flyby of Pluto on 7/14/15. (NASA)

Caltech led scientists discovered a powerful auroral display – seen in this artist’s conception – on a brown dwarf star some 20 light years away.  The scientists said that these auroras also happen to be hundreds of thousands of times more powerful than any detected in our solar system. This discovery was outlined in the 7/30/15 edition of the journal “Nature”. (Chuck Carter and Gregg Hallinan/Caltech)

Caltech led scientists discovered a powerful auroral display – seen in this artist’s conception – on a brown dwarf star some 20 light years away. The scientists said that these auroras also happen to be hundreds of thousands of times more powerful than any detected in our solar system. This discovery was outlined in the 7/30/15 edition of the journal “Nature”. (Chuck Carter and Gregg Hallinan/Caltech)

This photo, taken 7/20/15 through a pipe at the Baikonur Cosmodrome, shows a Soyuz-FG booster rocket with the space capsule Soyuz TMA-17M after being lifted onto its launch pad by three service towers.  The spacecraft, launched on 7/22/15 carried a new crew to the International Space Station. (AP)

This photo, taken 7/20/15 through a pipe at the Baikonur Cosmodrome, shows a Soyuz-FG booster rocket with the space capsule Soyuz TMA-17M after being lifted onto its launch pad by three service towers. The spacecraft, launched on 7/22/15 carried a new crew to the International Space Station. (AP)

This composite image of stellar cluster NGC 1333 was created by combining observations made by NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory and Spitzer Space Telescope, along with optical data from the Digitized Sky Survey and the National Optical Astronomical Observatories' Mayall 4-meter telescope near Tucson, Arizona. (NASA/CXC/JPL-Caltech/NOAO/DSS)

This composite image of stellar cluster NGC 1333 was created by combining observations made by NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory and Spitzer Space Telescope, along with optical data from the Digitized Sky Survey and the National Optical Astronomical Observatories’ Mayall 4-meter telescope near Tucson, Arizona. (NASA/CXC/JPL-Caltech/NOAO/DSS)

Rick Pantaleo
Rick Pantaleo maintains the Science World blog and writes stories for VOA’s web and radio on a variety of science, technology and health topics. He also occasionally appears on various VOA programs to talk about the latest scientific news. Rick joined VOA in 1992 after a 20 year career in commercial broadcasting.

Study: Obese People Have Little Chance of Ever Returning to Normal Weight

Posted July 27th, 2015 at 9:00 pm (UTC-4)
1 comment

Once obese there's very little chance of a return to normal weight says UK study. (Tony Alter/Flickr/Creative Commons)

Once obese there’s very little chance of a return to normal weight says UK study. (Tony Alter/Flickr/Creative Commons)

If you’ve ever tried to lose a few pounds, you know how hard it can be. A new study confirms that.

British researchers, analyzing UK health records, tracked the weight of nearly 279,000 people – 129,194 men and 149,788 women over a ten year period – 2004 to 2014 – and found the chance of an obese person returning to a normal body weight is very low.

The study, led by researchers at King’s College London and published by the American Journal of Public Health, emphasizes just how hard it is for people suffering with obesity to succeed in losing and then keeping off even small amounts of weight.

For those considered obese – Body Mass Index (BMI) of 30 to 35 – only 1 in 210 men and 1 in 124 women were able to drop enough weight to be considered “normal weight.”

The odds really increase for those who are considered severely obese – BMI of 35 to 39 – with to 1 in 1,290 for men and 1 in 677 for women reaching normal weight.

Research has shown that a five to ten percent loss of body weight not only provides significant health benefits, but is also an ideal weight loss target.

Obese people, tracked in this study, fared a little better when they aimed for a five percent weight loss.   1 in 12 men and 1 in 10 women were able to shed five percent of their weight.

But the losses were often fleeting.

Unfortunately, 53 per cent of those who lost this weight gained it back within two years and 78 percent had regained the weight within five years.

In other words the, study shows that once an adult becomes obese, there is only a small chance that they will ever get back to having a healthy body weight.

The researchers also noticed that a third of the obese people, involved with the study, cycled back and forth between losing and gaining weight – also called weight cycling and yo-yo dieting.

This led the researchers to conclude methods used for treating obesity today aren’t effective enough to allow obese people to maintain a sustained weight loss.

Body Mass Index - BMI Chart (National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute)

Body Mass Index – BMI Chart (National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute)

Researchers said a new approach may be needed.

“Current strategies to tackle obesity, which mainly focus on cutting calories and boosting physical activity, are failing to help the majority of obese patients to shed weight and maintain that weight loss,” said the study’s senior author, Professor Martin Gulliford, from the Division of Health and Social Care Research at King’s College London, in a press release. “The greatest opportunity for stemming the current obesity epidemic is in wider-reaching public health policies to prevent obesity in the population,” he added.

The researchers said their study shows an urgent need for the development of new obesity treatment methods, with an emphasis on preventing those who are overweight and obese from gaining any more weight, and helping those that who successfully lose weight to keep it off

They added that there needs to be more of an effort on preventing weight gain in the first place.

Rick Pantaleo
Rick Pantaleo maintains the Science World blog and writes stories for VOA’s web and radio on a variety of science, technology and health topics. He also occasionally appears on various VOA programs to talk about the latest scientific news. Rick joined VOA in 1992 after a 20 year career in commercial broadcasting.

Earth’s ‘Cousin’ Found; Burnt Scroll Made Readable, ET Search Boosted

Posted July 24th, 2015 at 11:24 pm (UTC-4)
1 comment

NASA Finds Earth’s Older and Bigger Cousin

NASA announced that its Kepler mission has discovered a planet and star that closely resembles the Earth and our Sun.  Some have even been calling the discovery of the exoplanet “Earth’s older and bigger cousin”.

The planet and sun are part of the Kepler-452 system and are about 1,400 light-years away and located in the constellation Cygnus.

Called Kepler-452b the Earth-like exoplanet, cis located within the star system’s “habitable zone”.  That’s the area around a star where liquid water could pool on the surface of an orbiting planet

NASA said that the Kepler mission also discovered 11 other new small exoplanets located in the habitable zone of their star systems.

Ancient and Charred Scroll Made Readable Again by New Technologies

Scientists have developed some advanced technologies that have made it possible, for the first time, to read parts of a badly burned 1,500 year old scroll.

The scroll, written in Hebrew, was discovered in 1970 inside the Holy Ark of the synagogue at Ein Gedi, Israel.

Text of damaged scroll was made readable again through the use of high-resolution scanning and an innovative new virtual unwrapping tool developed by Professor Brent Seales from the University of Kentucky.

The scroll contains the beginning of the Book of Leviticus and carbon dating has indicated that it’s from the late sixth century.

Four-Legged Snake Ancestor Found in Brazil

Scientists studying a fossil taken from the Crato Formation in Brazil said that they’ve discovered an ancient species of a four-legged snake called Tetrapodophis amplectus.

It’s thought that the Tetrapodophis’s four legs weren’t used for movement but for grasping, either to grab prey or to clasp during mating.

The quadruped serpent, which was found to be an ancestor of modern-day snakes, lived during the Early Cretaceous period some 146 to 100 million years ago.

The scientists said that their findings have provided evidence that the snake may have evolved from animals that were ground burrowers rather than from sea-based ancestors.

Lots of Friends at 20 and Good Friends at 30 Provides Well-being Later in Life

A new study from the University of Rochester (New York) has found that having an active social life at 20 and having really good friends at 30 can be beneficial to a person’s well-being as they get older.

A busy social life at 20, according to the study, helps people build a set of useful tools that can help later in life.

The researchers said that people in their twenties often get to meet people from a variety of backgrounds and have different opinions and values than ours.  This teaches us how to best manage those differences.

For people in their thirties, the study showed that having the kind of active social life as they had while they were in their twenties provided no psychosocial benefits later in life.

But, those 30 year olds who said that they had high-quality relationships that were intimate and satisfying also had a high level of well-being as they got older.

Billionaire and Scientist Will Boost Search for ET

Russian billionaire Yuri Milner and renowned theoretical physicist and cosmologist Stephen Hawking gave the search for extraterrestrial intelligence a significant boost this week when they announced the formation of the $100 million dollar Breakthrough Initiatives.

The multi-disciplinary project will span 10-years and use the world’s largest telescopes to mine data from the nearest 1-million stars in the Milky Way, and some 100 other galaxies.

The first two of these initiatives include “Breakthrough Listen,” which organizers say will be the most powerful, wide-ranging and intensive scientific search for signs of intelligent life in the cosmos.

The second initiative, called “Breakthrough Message,” will be a 1-million dollar international competition to compose digital messages that represent humanity and our planet, which one day could be sent to other civilizations beyond Earth.

Rick Pantaleo
Rick Pantaleo maintains the Science World blog and writes stories for VOA’s web and radio on a variety of science, technology and health topics. He also occasionally appears on various VOA programs to talk about the latest scientific news. Rick joined VOA in 1992 after a 20 year career in commercial broadcasting.

Rise in the Volume of Arctic Sea Ice Noted by UK Researchers

Posted July 22nd, 2015 at 10:37 pm (UTC-4)
12 comments

An image of an area of the Arctic sea ice pack well north of Alaska, captured by the MODIS instrument on NASA's Aqua satellite on Sept. 13, 2013 (NASA)

An image of an area of the Arctic sea ice pack well north of Alaska, captured by the MODIS instrument on NASA’s Aqua satellite on Sept. 13, 2013 (NASA)

Previous research has suggested that both the thickness and extent of Arctic summer sea ice have dramatically declined over the past 30 years. The data includes measurements taken by the National Snow and Ice Data Center in Boulder, Colorado.

But now, some British scientists have found the volume of Arctic sea ice has actually increased by a third after 2013’s unusually cool summer.  That’s the conclusion of a new study conducted by researchers at University College London and the University of Leeds, and published in the journal Nature.

Rachel Tilling, the study’s lead author from the Center for Polar Observation and Modelling at the University College London, said that the much cooler temperatures in the summer of 2013 were more like those recorded back in the late 1990s.

“This allowed thick sea ice to persist northwest of Greenland because there were fewer days when it could melt,” she said in a press release. “Although models have suggested that the volume of Arctic sea ice is in long-term decline, we know now that it can recover by a significant amount if the melting season is cut short.”

In an email to Science World, Julienne Stroeve, a research scientist at the National Snow and Ice Data Center, said she is “very cautious about these results (of the UK study)” because much of the processing used in the study was not well-described, which makes it difficult for others to fully reproduce their results.  However, Stroeve said she doesn’t doubt that the overall Arctic ice thickness was larger in 2013 and 2014 than in 2012, because not as much ice melted.

The shallow but extensive ponds that form on Arctic sea ice when its snow cover melts in the summer. (US Army)

The shallow but extensive ponds that form on Arctic sea ice when its snow cover melts in the summer. (US Army)

According to the Nature study, the sudden increase in sea ice volume after just one cool summer suggests that Arctic sea ice may be more resilient than has been previously considered.

Stroeve doesn’t quite agree. “I think the statement that sea ice is more resilient is a bit premature as it’s based on only 5 years of data, and it does not take into account variable precipitation as they assume climatological snow depth,” she said.

To make their findings, the British researchers used measurements taken by the European Space Agency’s CryoSat satellite between 2010 and 2014, as well as maps of sea ice extent.

CryoSat’s primary instrument, according to ESA’s website, is the Synthetic Aperture Interferometric Radar Altimeter. It was designed to meet the measurement requirements for ice-sheet elevation and the height of sea ice protruding from the water.

Stroeve says that one does not measure ice thickness directly with radar or a laser altimeter. “You need to also know snow depth and density, both of which are not known over the Arctic Ocean,” she says.

ESA's CryoSat satellite scans polar ice sheets and floating sea ice.  ((c) ESA/P. Carril)

ESA’s CryoSat satellite scans polar ice sheets and floating sea ice. ((c) ESA/P. Carril)

Professor Andrew Shepherd, Director of Center for Polar Observation and Modelling said that while it is doubtful the Arctic region will be ice-free this summer, due to the jump in sea ice volume, temperatures are expected to rise again in the future.  He likens the effects of the cool summer of 2013 as simply “winding the clock back a few years” on long-term Arctic sea ice decline.

“Understanding what controls the amount of Arctic sea ice takes us one step closer to making reliable predictions of how long it will last, which is important because it is a key component of Earth’s climate system,” he says.

The researchers said that they are planning to use CryoSat’s measurements of changing sea ice thickness not only to help improve models that are used to forecast future climate change, but also to help sailors steer their ships in the potentially dangerous Arctic region.

Rick Pantaleo
Rick Pantaleo maintains the Science World blog and writes stories for VOA’s web and radio on a variety of science, technology and health topics. He also occasionally appears on various VOA programs to talk about the latest scientific news. Rick joined VOA in 1992 after a 20 year career in commercial broadcasting.

Close Call for ISS; Threat to Polar Bears; Binary System Cannibal

Posted July 18th, 2015 at 1:00 am (UTC-4)
Comments are closed

ISS Crewmembers Back to Work after Close Call with Space Junk

Fear that a floating piece of space junk could impact the ISS sent astronauts the station’s crew scrambling onto a docked Soyuz TMA-16M spacecraft on Friday (07/17). Luckily, the debris passed the station harmlessly, and the crew was back at work.

Houston’s Mission Control was tracking a chunk of what used to be a weather satellite when they noticed that it was headed to toward the space station for possible impact Thursday (07/16) at 1201 UTC.

Loss of Sea Ice Poses Serious Threat to Polar Bears

Food has always been scarce for polar bears, but the quickening loss of sea ice during the summer months could lead to even less food available.

While the bears have certain amount of stored energy, a new study suggests they may not be able to rely on that reserve to get them through the melt season. The bears also can reduce the amount of energy they use to help prolong their supply of stored energy, but the study indicates it isn’t enough to make up for any food shortages they experience during the summer.

It May be Harder to Avoid Mosquito Bites than Thought

A new study from the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) has found that blood-feeding mosquitoes have evolved to where they can use three senses to zero-in on the human or animal host for their next meal.

Many insects, including mosquitoes, are drawn in by the odor of carbon dioxide released by humans and other animals when they exhale.  But, the study found mosquitoes can also use their vision to see their host and detect body heat with their thermal sensory abilities.

Study: Oceans Reduced the Rise of Global Surface Temperatures

Climate scientists from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) and UCLA, who studied ocean temperatures, have found that some of the heat generated by greenhouse gases has been trapped and held beneath the surface of the Pacific and Indian Oceans.

The researchers suggest this may explain the slowdown in the rise of global surface temperatures that have been observed over the past decade.

They found a layer beneath the surface Pacific and Indian Oceans, located between 91 and 305 meters, is gathering more heat than previously observed.  According to the researchers, movement of the warm subsurface ocean water has produced an unusually cooler surface which in turn has also cooled the air temperature above.

Astronomers Discover a Cannibal in a Dual-Star System

Professional astronomers with help from amateur stargazers have discovered a fascinating binary star system containing a very hot and dense white dwarf that is actually devouring its larger companion star.

Named Gaia-14aae, the rare star system is located some 730 light years away from Earth in the Draco constellation.

Another factor that sets this star system apart from others is that it contains a large amount of helium but no hydrogen, which is very strange since hydrogen is the most common element in the Universe.

Rick Pantaleo
Rick Pantaleo maintains the Science World blog and writes stories for VOA’s web and radio on a variety of science, technology and health topics. He also occasionally appears on various VOA programs to talk about the latest scientific news. Rick joined VOA in 1992 after a 20 year career in commercial broadcasting.