Jul 2, 2011

Aircraft punch 50-kilometre-wide holes in clouds

Giant circular holes in clouds are caused by aircraft flying through. The planes create small holes a few tens of metres across, which can then expand to a width of tens of kilometres in a few hours.

Such holes have long been linked to aircraft, but until now no one could explain how they got so big. "It was a mystery," says Andy Heymsfield of the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colorado.

Heymsfield and his colleagues used a satellite called GOES to track 92 cloud holes over Texas over 4 hours in January 2007. The holes grew substantially within an hour, before slowly shrinking. The majority of the holes reached a diameter of between 10 and 50 kilometres.

It was clear how the holes got started. The clouds were supercooled, meaning their water was in liquid form despite being below 0 °C. Water can stay supercooled for a long time if left alone, but any disturbance turns it into ice. A plane flying through is more than enough to trigger freezing, at which point the resulting ice crystals fall away, leaving a hole. But that should only form a small hole.
Heat from ice

Heymsfield wondered if a side effect of making ice was causing the holes to grow. When liquid freezes it releases a little heat. This would cause the warmer air around the ice crystals to rise and the surrounding air to fall, starting a circulating current. As the falling air moved into a warmer zone its previously supercooled liquid water would evaporate.

The circulating air would carry this effect outwards, disrupting more of the cloud and triggering further evaporation. A cascade would be set off, causing the rapid expansion of the hole.

To test this idea, Heymsfield ran a detailed computer model of the internal workings of a cloud. He introduced a line of ice crystals such as that produced by an aircraft and watched as a hole grew to a diameter of 4.4 kilometres in 90 minutes.

Read more at New Scientist

Millions of Fishes: The Ultimate Marine Library

Immersed in thousands of gallons of isopropyl alcohol in a warehouse-like room, 2 million fish sleep forever. Marine biologist Phil Hastings is their keeper.

Hastings, who curates the Scripps Institution of Oceanography’s library of fish in California, inherited the responsibility in 1999. He’s been sorting, identifying, preserving and studying the jarred specimens ever since.

The library’s first specimens arrived around 1875 with a fisherman’s catch, but it wasn’t until the 1940s that the collection grew in earnest. Today the shelves cradle creatures gathered during some 21,000 collection events, many from around-the-world cruises. Another 27,000 fishes will soon be added after sitting unsorted for half a century.

Altogether the specimens are a unique snapshot of marine life in Earth’s recent history. “We tried to estimate just the cost of all the ships that went out to collect animals, and it went into the billions of dollars. But you can’t go back in time,” Hastings said. “From a historical standpoint, the collections are priceless wonders of the world.”

Other Scripps oceanographic collections include invertebrates, mud cores and rocks. Photographer Marc Tule, a former marine biology student, has received unprecedented access to the collections. “It was an extreme honor and a labor of love,” he said. “Since I’m a big fan of marine science, it was kind of like photographing the hottest celebrities you can imagine.”

Read more and see pictures at Wired Science

Jul 1, 2011

Genitals Are Loudest Animal's Noisy Tools

Supporting the notion that it's not the size that counts, researchers have recorded the loudest sound ever produced from an animal when adjusted for its body size. The water boatman, a tiny aquatic insect about the size of a flea that lives on the bottoms of rivers and ponds, uses its minuscule penis to produce chirps as loud as a lawnmower.

The boatman makes the sounds by rubbing a special sound-producing appendage on its abdomen against its penis. How the tiny appendage -- only 50 microns long -- can produce so loud a sound remains a mystery.

The findings signify more than just the novelty of an insect stroking its private parts extremely loudly. James Windmill, one of the researchers who made the discovery, notes that a better understanding of the discovery could lead to new acoustic devices like smaller sonar systems for unmanned underwater vehicles or miniaturized ultrasound probes for medical applications.

Researchers made the finding after someone known to Jérôme Sueur of the Muséum national d'Histoire naturell in Paris, told Sueur he thought he was hearing sounds from insects in rivers around Paris, but he had no idea what the insects were.

Sueur and colleagues David Mackie and Windmill, engineers at the University of Strathclyde in Glasgow, Scotland, began to investigate. They published their results in the journal PLoS ONE.

"We had a bit of trouble to start with because we thought the sounds were coming from relatively larger insects because the sounds were so loud," Windmill told Discovery News. "After bringing insects into the lab, we figured out it was this one."

The fact that people along the water's edge can hear the sounds indicates just how loud they are. Only 1 percent of sound released in water is transferred into the air above.

The researchers recorded the boatman making a series of chirps that peaked at 99 decibels. Adjusted for the insect's tiny size, this is the loudest sound produced by any animal.

Typically, larger animals make louder sounds.

"This small aquatic insect constitutes a major exception to this rule," said Fernando Montealegre of the University of Bristol, U.K.

The loudest sound ever recorded in an absolute sense was a 236-decibel burst from a sperm whale.

More at Discovery News

Russian court bans Scientology literature as ‘extremist’

A court in a Moscow suburb has banned works by the founder of the Church of Scientology, officials said Thursday.

The Shchyolkovo court ruled that “What is Scientology?” and other books by L. Ron Hubbard “contain calls for extremist activities,” the Prosecutor General’s office said in a statement.

It said that once the court decision comes into force, scientology books will be put on the federal list of extremist materials banned for release throughout Russia. The court made the ruling following a request by local prosecutors.

A court in the Siberian city of Surgut had earlier made a similar decision, but then overturned it. Scientology officials said they would protest the decision.

“There have been many legal violations, the case is unfounded and the trial was hasty,” the group’s attorney Sergei Korzikov told The Associated Press. “We could not defend our legal interests.”

Full story at the Washington Post

Scientists Track Brain Activity as False Memories Are Formed

How easy is it to falsify memory? New research at the Weizmann Institute shows that a bit of social pressure may be all that is needed. The study, which appears in the journal Science, reveals a unique pattern of brain activity when false memories are formed -- one that hints at a surprising connection between our social selves and memory.

The experiment, conducted by Prof. Yadin Dudai and research student Micah Edelson of the Institute's Neurobiology Department with Prof. Raymond Dolan and Dr. Tali Sharot of University College London, took place in four stages. In the first, volunteers watched a documentary film in small groups. Three days later, they returned to the lab individually to take a memory test, answering questions about the film. They were also asked how confident they were in their answers.

They were later invited back to the lab to retake the test while being scanned in a functional MRI (fMRI) that revealed their brain activity. This time, the subjects were also given a "lifeline": the supposed answers of the others in their film viewing group (along with social-media-style photos). Planted among these were false answers to questions the volunteers had previously answered correctly and confidently. The participants conformed to the group on these "planted" responses, giving incorrect answers nearly 70% of the time.

But were they simply conforming to perceived social demands, or had their memory of the film actually undergone a change? To find out, the researchers invited the subjects back to the lab to take the memory test once again, telling them that the answers they had previously been fed were not those of their fellow film watchers, but random computer generations. Some of the responses reverted back to the original, correct ones, but close to half remained erroneous, implying that the subjects were relying on false memories implanted in the earlier session.

An analysis of the fMRI data showed differences in brain activity between the persistent false memories and the temporary errors of social compliance. The most outstanding feature of the false memories was a strong co-activation and connectivity between two brain areas: the hippocampus and the amygdala. The hippocampus is known to play a role in long-term memory formation, while the amygdala, sometimes known as the emotion center of the brain, plays a role in social interaction. The scientists think that the amygdala may act as a gateway connecting the social and memory processing parts of our brain; its "stamp" may be needed for some types of memories, giving them approval to be uploaded to the memory banks. Thus social reinforcement could act on the amygdala to persuade our brains to replace a strong memory with a false one.

More at Science Daily

Jun 30, 2011

Study raises questions on how much info the brain can store throughout life

A little practice goes a long way, according to researchers at McMaster University, who have found the effects of practice on the brain have remarkable staying power.

The study, published this month in the journal Psychological Science, found that when participants were shown visual patterns – faces, which are highly familiar objects, and abstract patterns, which are much less frequently encountered – they were able to retain very specific information about those patterns one to two years later.

We found that this type of learning, called perceptual learning, was very precise and long-lasting, says Zahra Hussain, lead author of the study who is a former McMaster graduate student in the Department of Psychology, Neuroscience & Behaviour and now a Research Fellow at the University of Nottingham. These long-lasting effects arose out of relatively brief experience with the patterns about two hours, followed by nothing for several months, or years.

Over the course of two consecutive days, participants were asked to identify a specific face or pattern from a larger group of images. The task was challenging because images were degraded faces were cropped, for example and shown very briefly. Participants had difficulty identifying the correct images in the early stages, but accuracy rates steadily climbed with practice.

About one year later, a group of participants were called back and their performance on the task was re-measured, both with the same set of items they d been exposed to earlier, and with a new set from the same class of images. Researchers found that when they showed participants the original images, accuracy rates were high. When they showed participants new images, accuracy rates plummeted, even though the new images closely resembled the learned ones, and they hadn t seen the original images for at least a year.

Full Story with details at McMaster Uni

Dino-Era Animals: Now in Full Color

The world's first birds, along with dinosaurs and other prehistoric animals, likely sported colorful, patterned exteriors.

Paleontologists have long speculated that such animals were colorful, but finding concrete evidence has been challenging, given that most specimens consist of drab fossilized bones.

Now a scientific team has discovered patterned chemical traces of a pigment, an important component of color, in the remains of species that lived up to 120 million years ago.The findings were described in a new paper in the latest issue of Science Express.

"Color is only what we see," co-author Phil Manning told Discovery News, explaining that it's "a function of structure, chemistry and interplay of light. A bright red apple in sunlight has color, but the same apple has no color in a pitch-black room, as no light is interacting with its surface to yield color."

Since light levels and vision come into play, dinosaur-era animals' "perception of color would have been very different from our own," added Manning, a University of Manchester paleontologist.

Geochemist Roy Wogelius, Manning, and other researchers collaborated with Uwe Bergmann of the Department of Energy's SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory to examine the remnants of prehistoric, now-extinct animals. These included two important fossilized birds: Confuciusornis sanctus, which lived 120 million years ago and featured the world's first known bird-like beak; and Gansus yumenensis, considered by many to be the oldest modern bird. It lived more than 100 million years ago and looked a bit like a modern grebe.

The lab's powerful X-rays unveiled traces of pigment in the specimens. Chief among those was copper, which Manning explained stays behind as a "ghost of the biosynthesis and composition of eumelanin pigment, whose structure compares well with that mapped in living species."

Eumelanin is one of the coloring agents responsible for brown eyes and dark hair in many modern species, including humans. It would have been one of the factors that determined the birds' color patterns, along with structural properties of the birds' feathers and other pigments they ingested as part of their diets.

"We were able to map elevated levels of eumelanin pigment in the neck, body and distal tail feathers of C. sanctus," Manning said. These provide some hint as to how different shades produced eye-catching patterns on the beaked bird.

"G. yumenensis, however, only preserved the distinctive copper biomarker indicating the presence of eumelanin pigment, given the structural data was long lost in the sands of time," he added.

Read more at Discovery News

Jun 29, 2011

Vegetarian Dinosaur Fought With Its Head

Not all dinosaurs had huge teeth and a taste for flesh, but new research suggests that at least one scrappy plant-eating dinosaur was a talented fighter, waging battle with its best weapon: a hard head.

Scientists for years have theorized that certain dinosaurs head butted, with the animals smashing their heads into each other to determine which fighter possessed the best natural crash helmet. Now a new study in PLoS One supports that such behavior did indeed take place.

Eric Snively, a post-doctoral researcher in biomedical engineering at Ohio University, and colleague Jessica Theodor found that the bony anatomy of Stegoceras validum and other pachycephalosaurs would have permitted head butting, allowing the dinosaurs to withstand incredible blows without damaging the brain.

"Pachycephalosaur domes are weird structures not exactly like anything in modern animals," Snively was quoted as saying in a University of Calgary press release. "We wanted to test the controversial idea that the domes were good for head butting."

He continued, "Finding out brings us closer to their social lives: were pachycephalosaurs more likely just showing off their domes like peacocks with their tails, or were they also cracking their heads together like musk oxen?"

Snively and Theodor CT scanned the remains of the bony-headed dinosaurs along with the heads of modern hoofed animals that engage in different kinds of combat.

"Our analyses are the closest we can get to observing their behavior," Snively explained. "In a way, we can get 'inside their heads' by colliding them together virtually. We combined anatomical and engineering analyses of all these animals for a pretty thorough approach. We looked at the actual tissue types in the skulls and heads of the animals."

Theodor shared that head butting is one way that males compete with other males for access to females.

"It's pretty clear that although the bones are arranged differently in the Stegoceras, it could easily withstand the kinds of forces that have been measured for the living animals that engage in head butting," she said.

Read more at Discovery News

25-Foot-Long Giant Squid Found Off Florida's Coast

Recreational fishermen on Monday found a rare 25-foot-long giant squid floating off the Florida coast, according to a University of Florida press release.

Robert Benz spotted the giant squid while fishing with friends Joey Asaro and Paul Peroulakis. They somehow managed to haul the enormous dying squid onto the back of their 23-foot boat.

"I thought we definitely need to bring it in, because no one's going to believe us if we don't," Benz was quoted as saying in the press release. "I didn’t want to leave it out there and just let the sharks eat it."

The huge squid, which later perished, was first brought to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission Tequesta Field Laboratory in Palm Beach County. It was later collected by scientists from the University of Florida. It's now the only one of its kind in the collections of the Florida Museum of Natural History.

"It's so rare to get these specimens and they're such deep-water animals that we don't know much about how they live," said John Slapcinsky, Florida Museum malacology collection manager. "This specimen provides an excellent opportunity to learn things about these creatures we couldn’t find out any other way."

It's possible that the giant squid died a natural death. These deep ocean dwellers only reproduce once in their lifetime. After that, they often slowly die. Slapcinsky believes the squid was in that dying state of lethargy when the fishermen found it near the surface in 170 feet of water.

As huge as this squid is, members of the species can grow up to 60 feet long and weigh more than 1,000 pounds. They live a mysterious life in the ocean depths, so not much is known about their reproduction, ecology and life span.

Sightings have inspired myths about sea monsters and other wild tales. It's true that these animals can fight with large sperm whales, as the whales are their common predators.

"This is a pretty massive animal," Slapcinsky said. "It took about six people to move it, and it wasn’t light."

Read more and see more pics and a video at Discovery News

Jun 28, 2011

11 Animal Wonders of Evolution

The evolution of life has not been an orderly affair. Every time a biological age is swept aside, a few creatures remain. Millions of years later, many are still with us.

Sometimes these animals are called "living fossils," but it's not a good term. After all, their lineages haven't survived ice ages and warm spells and every natural upheaval just to be visualized in amber by some upstart hairless ape. A better term is "evolutionarily distinct." They're simply, impressively unique.

"Evolutionarily distinct creatures contain more genetic diversity. They look different. They tend to be behaviorally different. These are species that are different from everything else on the planet," said Jonathan Baillie, conservation program director at EDGE of Existence.

EDGE stands for Evolutionarily Distinct and Globally Endangered, which are the criteria of the animals it tries to protect. They're not just singularly unique, but desperately imperiled and often unappreciated: Pangolins and purple frogs and Laotian rock rats don't have the charisma of traditional conservation favorites, yet in some ways they're more important. To use an art world analogy, losing an EDGE species isn't like losing a Renoir or Monet, but the entirety of French Impressionism.

"We've grown up with rhinos and tigers and lions on TV. Our generation is quite familiar with those. It's now possible expand conservation beyond that," said Baillie. "By conserving EDGE creatures, you save a disproportionate amount of genetic, ecological and behavioral diversity."

On the following pages, Wired.com takes a tour of our favorite EDGE animals.

Siau Island Tarsier

After receiving Critically Endangered status from the International Union for the Conservation of Nature in June, the recently discovered Siau Island tarsier is expected to become an official EDGE animal.

The modern descendants of a lineage that can be traced to the dawn of modern mammals, tarsiers are the smallest known primates. Adapted for hunting insects and other invertebrates in nighttime forests, their heads can rotate almost 360 degrees, and their eyes can outweigh their brains.

Read more and see more pictures at Wired Science

Mummy Stash Found in Italian Church

Hundreds of bodies stacked one of top of the other emerged during restoration work in the church of Roccapelago, a remote mountain village in north-central Italy.

About one-third of the mass grave, consisting of 281 bodies of adults, infants and children, turned out to be mummies.

"We found about 100 mummies. We can say that an entire community, who lived here from the mid-16th to the 18th centuries, has been naturally mummified. This is quite unique," Donato Labate and colleagues from the Archaeological Superintendency of Emilia Romagna said.

Found in the crypt of the church, the mummies have hands clasped in prayer and feature intact skin, tendons, and hair. 

The bodies were unearthed fully dressed with tunics, thick socks and caps.

According to Iolanda Silvestri and Marta Cuoghi Costantini, ancient textile experts of the Institute for Cultural and Artistic Heritage of Emilia-Romagna, the clothes reveal a simple lifestyle.

"Forget silk or elaborate embroidery, these people were dressed for the mountains," the researchers said.

Made from wool, linen and cotton of different thickness,the clothes often featured simple laces with geometrical patterns at the wrists and neck.

Read more and see the pictures at Discovery News

The Ledge, a movie guaranteed to cause controversy in the US

To all the liberal minded Brits who go about their day with nothing more than a rather infrequent “be a winner not a sinner” from a Christian with a megaphone outside Oxford St Tube, a story like the one told in the movie The Ledge might seem a little over dramatic. However the idea of “coming out as an atheist” to your family is downright scary to some and focusing your movie on the topic of free-thinking is a brave move for both actors and producers alike.

According to a recent gallup 2011 poll America is still a very religious society with over 92% saying “yes” to the question “Do you believe in God?”. It’s a regular topic of conversation on main stream news channels and has caused outrage even when used as a topic for jokes in mainstream entertainment.

Many stories have emerged of atheists being persecuted, mostly by the Evangelical groups inside institutions such as the Armed Forces, but there also instances where non-believers have received even harsher treatment when using legal methods to oppose religious practices, such as the case of Damon Fowler and Ellen Beth Wachs.

So the release of the film The Ledge will at least be a controversial one in the US – it’s being heralded as the “Brokeback Mountain” for American atheists and could cause a wave of renewed interest in the movement.

The story focuses on the lives of two people from opposing ends of the spectrum, who become enrolled in a lethal game that neither God nor the police can stop. It stars Charlie Hunnam from Sons of Anarchy, Patrick Wilson, Liv Tyler and Terrence Howard.


Jun 27, 2011

Prehistoric BBQ Leftovers Found

Stone Age barbecue consumers first went for the bone marrow and then for the ribs, suggest the leftovers of an outdoor 7,700-year-old meaty feast described in the July issue of the Journal of Archaeological Science.

The remains, found in the valley of the River Tjonger, Netherlands, provide direct evidence for a prehistoric hunting, butchering, cooking and feasting event. The meal occurred more than 1,000 years before the first farmers with domestic cattle arrived in the region.

Although basic BBQ technology hasn't changed much over the millennia, this prehistoric meal centered around the flesh of an aurochs, a wild Eurasian ox that was larger than today's cows. It sported distinctive curved horns.

Another big difference is how meat was obtained then.

"The animal was either caught in a pitfall trap and then clubbed on the head, or shot with a bow and arrow with flint point," co-author Wietske Prummel, an associate professor of archaeozoology at the University of Groningen, told Discovery News.

Prummel and colleague Marcel Niekus pieced together what happened by studying an unearthed flint blade found near aurochs bones. These show that after the female aurochs was killed, hunters cut its legs off and sucked out the marrow.

According to the study, the individuals skinned the animal and butchered it, reserving the skin and large hunks of meat for carrying back to a nearby settlement. Chop marks left behind by the flint blade show how the meat was meticulously separated from the bones and removed.

Burn marks reveal that the hunters cooked the meaty ribs, and probably other smaller parts, over an open fire. They ate them right at the site, "their reward for the successful kill," Prummel said.

The blade, perhaps worn down from so much cutting, was left behind and wound up slightly scorched in the cooking fire.

Niekus told Discovery News, "The people who killed the animal lived during the Late Mesolithic (the latter part of the middle Stone Age). They were hunter-gatherers and hunting game was an important part of their subsistence activities."

The researchers suspect these people lived in large settlements and frequented the Tjonger location for aurochs hunting. After the Iron Age, the area was only sparsely inhabited -- probably due to the region becoming temporarily waterlogged -- until the Late Medieval period.

Read more at Discovery News

Over 1000 New Species Found in New Guinea

A fanged frog, a bright yellow snail and a blue lizard are among more than 1,060 new species recently found on the Melanesian island of New Guinea, environment group World Wildlife Fund said.

Among the new species discovered from 1998 to 2008 were 218 new kinds of plants (of which around 100 are orchids), 580 invertebrates, 134 amphibians, 2 birds, 71 fish (including an extremely rare 8-foot-long river shark), 43 reptiles and 12 mammals.

The bad news is that nearly all are at risk due to human activities, such as logging and forest conversion to agriculture.

“This report shows that New Guinea’s forests and rivers are among the richest and most biodiverse in the world. But it also shows us that unchecked human demand can push even the wealthiest environments to bankruptcy,” Neil Stronach, WWF Western Melanesia’s Program Representative, was quoted as saying in a press release.

He added, "If you look at New Guinea in terms of biological diversity, it is much more like a continent than an island. Scientists found an average of two new species each week from 1998 to 2008 –- nearly unheard of in this day and age."

Check out some of the recently discovered new species:

(Blue-eyed spotted cuscus (Spilocuscus wilsoni), Papua New Guinea. One new mammal species has been discovered in the region on average every year over the past ten years. The highest diversity of tree-dwelling marsupials in the world exists on New Guinea, with an incredible 38 species. One of these species, the Blue-eyed Spotted Cuscus (Spilocuscus wilsoni), a small possum endemic to Papua in Indonesia, was discovered in 2004. Copyright: © WWF/Tim Flannery)

(Monitor lizard (Varanus macraei), Papua New Guinea. The most striking new reptiles identified in New Guinea in the last decade are the three new monitor lizards discovered on tiny islands off the Vogelkop (Birdís Head) Peninsula of Papua in Indonesia. Varanus macraei, found on the island of Batanta and described in 2001, is one of the most spectacular reptile discoveries anywhere. Capable of reaching a metre in length, this beautiful species is black with a mesmerising pattern of turquoise and blue. Copyright: © WWF/Lutz Obelgonner)

(Wattled Smoky Honeyeater (Melipotes carolae), Papua New Guinea. In November 2005, a team led by Conservation International landed by helicopter into a lost world deep in the forests of New Guineaís mist-shrouded Foja Mountains in Indonesiaís Papua Province. Within minutes of arriving in this isolated range, the field team discovered a new bird species, the Wattled Smoky Honeyeater (Melipotes carolae). The entire Foja forest tract covers some 9,712 sq km and is the largest road-free tropical forest in the Asia-Pacific. People from nearby villages do not enter the uplands, in part because of inaccessibility, but also because the summits are considered sacred. What also helped the honeyeater elude discovery was its silent nature. The scientists never heard or recorded the species making a sound, a characteristic that separates Melipotes carolae from other honeyeaters.
Copyright: © WWF/Bruce Beehler)

See more pictures and read more at Discovery News

Songbirds Use Grammar in Tweets

We may not be able to use "bird brain" as an insult anymore. Japanese scientists have discovered that songbirds are using their own form of grammar.

The study challenges the belief that only humans are able to use grammatical rules to process strings of sound such as sentences.

The experiments, described in Nature Neuroscience this week, were carried out on Bengalese finches by Kentaro Abe and Dai Watanabe of the University of Kyoto in Japan.

Bengalese finches are tiny birds, which are easily domesticated and very social. They also do a lot of vocalizing. Each male has his own song call, which he varies quite a bit, but is distinctively his own, explains Abe. When he hears another male, his response is usually to make a burst of calls in reply (about 30 calls in 10 seconds).

Bird song can be thought of as being like a sentence, with the different sounds being like words. The scientists played jumbled-up bird songs to individual finches to see whether the birds responded with the usual burst of calls to the jumbled songs.

To their surprise they found that there were some jumbled songs that elicited a call-burst response and some that did not. Even more surprising: all the birds responded in the same way. If one bird ignored a jumbled call, all the other birds ignored that call too.

It seems that the order of syllables matters to the birds, and that suggests grammar in action.

"It's as if you were presented with a sentence like 'we will go to the zoo tomorrow,'" said Gisela Kaplan, an authority on bird song at the University of New England.

"Some versions of the sentence such as 'tomorrow we will go to the zoo' and 'we will go to the zoo tomorrow' are grammatically acceptable, others like 'zoo go we will tomorrow the to' are not."

"Obviously with these birds the syllables can't just be put anywhere, and that suggests that humans aren't unique in being able to order sound logically. The fact that birds can do this, even if only at a simple level, is mind boggling," said Kaplan.

Read more at Discovery News

Indian woman cuts off attackers head and parades it through village

A 35-year old woman decided to take the law into her own hands when a man came up to her while she was gathering grass for her cattle and tried to sexually assault her. In the end, the man learned the hard way that you never, ever attack a woman using a large blade in an isolated field.

The scene from a horror movie took lace in the village of Makkapurva, which is about 170 miles south east of the city of Lucknow. When the man attacked her, she turned on him and eventually, well, cut his head off with a sickle. Not one to just let it alone, she held the trophy up high, parading it around the local market as people fled in horror.

Full story at Weird Asia

Jun 26, 2011

What You Learned About Static Electricity Is Wrong

For many of us, static electricity is one of the earliest encounters we have with electromagnetism, and it’s a staple of high school physics. Typically, it’s explained as a product of electrons transferred in one direction between unlike substances, like glass and wool, or a balloon and a cotton T-shirt (depending on whether the demo is in a high school class or a kids’ party). Different substances have a tendency to pick up either positive or negative charges, we’re often told, and the process doesn’t transfer a lot of charge, but it’s enough to cause a balloon to stick to the ceiling, or to give someone a shock on a cold, dry day.

Nearly all of that is wrong, according to a paper published in today’s issue of Science. Charges can be transferred between identical materials, all materials behave roughly the same, the charges are the product of chemical reactions, and each surface becomes a patchwork of positive and negative charges, which reach levels a thousand times higher than the surfaces’ average charge.

Where to begin? The authors start about 2,500 years ago, noting that the study of static began with a Greek named Thales of Miletus, who generated it using amber and wool. But it wasn’t until last year that some of the authors of the new paper published a surprising result: contact electrification (as this phenomenon is known among its technically oriented fans) can occur between two sheets of the same substance, even when they’re simply allowed to lie flat against each other. “According to the conventional view of contact electrification,” they note, “this should not happen since the chemical potentials of the two surfaces/materials are identical and there is apparently no thermodynamic force to drive charge transfer.”

One possible explanation for this is that a material’s surface, instead of being uniform from the static perspective, is a mosaic of charge-donating and charge-receiving areas. To find out, they performed contact electrification using insulators (polycarbonate and other polymers), a semiconductor (silicon), and a conductor (aluminum). The charged surfaces were then scanned at very high resolution using Kelvin force microscopy, a variant of atomic force microscopy that is able to read the amount of charge in a surface.

The Kelvin force microscopy scans showed that the resulting surfaces were mosaics, with areas of positive and negative charges on the order of a micrometer or less across. All materials they tested, no matter what overall charge they had picked up, showed this mosaic pattern. The charges will dissipate over time, and the authors found that this process doesn’t seem to occur by transferring electrons between neighboring areas of different charge—instead of blurring into the surroundings, peaks and valleys of charge remain distinct, but slowly decrease in size. The authors estimate that each one of these areas contains about 500 elementary charges (that’s ±500 electrons), or about one charge for each 10nm2.

The reason that this produces a relatively weak charge isn’t because these peaks and valleys are small; the charge difference between them is on the order of 1,000 times larger than the average charge of the whole material. It’s just that the total area of sites with positive and negative charges are roughly equal (the two are typically within a fraction of a percent of each other). The distribution appears to be completely random, as the authors were able to produce similar patterns with a white noise generator that fluctuated on two length scales: 450nm and 44nm.

Read more at Wired

Dinosaurs Had Mammal-Hot Blood

Unless you’ve been fossilized in a cave for the last few decades, you’ve probably heard about the debate over whether dinosaurs were coldblooded or warmblooded. Researchers have attacked this question using computer modeling to determine things like body mass and heat-loss rates, or compared locomotion and energy use.

They’ve studied bone structure and they’ve even used oxygen isotopes in those bones to help determine body temperatures. High growth rates observed in bones have suggested high metabolic rates (i.e., warmblooded or endothermic), but modeling has shown that very large dinosaurs, if endothermic, would probably have had problems with overheating because they wouldn’t shed heat quickly enough.

Nothing has settled the debate.

A new method for determining temperature using isotopes is now being applied to dinosaurs, and promises to provide hard data that could advance the debate. This new method, called “clumped isotope thermometry,” is based on the tendency of a heavier isotope of carbon (13C) to preferentially bond with a heavier isotope of oxygen (18O) during calcite formation in teeth and bones. The lower the temperature, the more those heavy carbons and oxygens tend to “clump” together instead of being scattered about randomly.

This analysis is much more accurate than traditional oxygen isotope thermometry, which requires assumptions about the oxygen isotopic content of the water involved in calcite formation, assumptions that increase the uncertainty in the calculation. The clumped-isotope method, which requires no knowledge of initial conditions, has been demonstrated on modern animal bones to be accurate within about 1 degree Celsius.

The researchers analyzed teeth from two types of sauropod, Brachiosaurus and Camarasaurus, and calculated a body temperature of 36 to 38 degrees Celsius (96.8 to 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit). So that settles it: They were warmblooded, right?

Not really. Remember, it’s not a question of body temperature, it’s a question of how they maintain that body temperature. Do they generate heat with a high metabolism (endothermic), or do they keep a low metabolism and absorb heat from outside the body (ectothermic)? Unfortunately, merely knowing the temperature range doesn’t answer these questions.

So, what can this information tell us? The researchers compare the calculated body temperature to several groups of modern animals. It’s 5 to 12 degrees Celsius higher than temperatures maintained by crocodiles and alligators, but lower than most birds, which tend to stay above 40 degrees Celsius. As you may have noticed, it’s right on the dot for mammals like us (and even large ones like elephants and whales).

Read more at Wired

Drug Boosts Snakebite Survival Time By Half

Rubbing snakebites with an ointment that slows the functioning of lymph glands could boost survival times by 50 percent, according to a study released Sunday.

In experiments on humans and mice, researchers in Australia showed that a class of compounds called nitric oxide donors delays the entry of toxins from potentially deadly snakebites into the blood stream.

Nitric oxide (NO), a molecule involved in regulation of blood pressure and the control of brain activity, has been shown to lower blood pressure in patients who suffer acute strokes.

The new finding is of more than academic interest: every year some 100,000 people worldwide die from snakebites, and another 400,000 must amputate limbs that have been injected with poison.

It has long been known that many snake venoms contain large molecules that transit the human body's lymphatic system before entering the bloodstream.

Separately, scientists have also established that nitric oxide slows down a pumping mechanism within the lymphatic system, a part of the body's immune system that carries a clear fluid -- called lymph -- toward the heart.

Dirk van Helden, a researcher at the University of Newcastle in New South Wales, put these two facts together to suggest a possible treatment for snakebites.

"We hypothesized that a nitric oxide-releasing agent applied topically would slow lymphatic transit time and entry of the venom into the circulation, delaying onset of toxicity," he and his colleagues wrote in the study.

To test their theory, the researchers injected a venom-like substance into one foot of 15 volunteers, and measured the time it took for the toxin substitute to reach lymph nodes in the groin.

The experiment was later repeated, except this time the drug-laced ointment was spread around the puncture within one minute of the injection.

Result: the transit time dropped from an average of 13 minutes to 54 minutes, four times slower.

Further experiments using real toxins in rats yielded roughly the same results.

Read more at Discovery News

Videos of UFO’s over London

Several videos have cropped up claiming to be UFO sightings over London. At the moment many are claiming it’s a hoax by London visual FX specialists The Mill. The Telegraph newspaper has been quick to report it’s been happening for over a week – however there is little evidence to back this up.

Other video’s available here and here.

Even though the videos have only had a few thousand views the debunking has started to take place.
Debunked video 1 here

If other videos or theories appear  please let us know in the comments.

Telegraph Article