Sep 21, 2012

How Do We Make Moral Judgments? Insights from Psychological Science

We might like to think that our judgments are always well thought-out, but research suggests that our moral judgments are often based on intuition. Our emotions seem to drive our intuitions, giving us the gut feeling that something is 'right' or 'wrong.' In some cases, however, we seem to be able to override these initial reactions.

Matthew Feinberg and colleagues hypothesized that this might be the result of reappraisal, a process by which we dampen the intensity of our emotions by focusing on an intellectual description of why we are experiencing the emotion.

Across several studies, participants read stories describing moral dilemmas involving behaviors participants would probably find disgusting. Participants who reappraised the scenarios logically were less likely to make intuition-based moral judgments. These findings suggest that although our emotional reactions elicit moral intuitions, these emotions can also be regulated.

"In this way," the researchers write, "we are both slave and master, with the capacity to be controlled by, but also shape, our emotion-laden judgmental processes."

You See, the Ends Don't Justify the Means: Visual Imagery Influences Moral Judgment

In comics, superheroes are often forced by a villain to choose between saving a single person (usually their lover) or many innocent people. The villain expects the superhero either to make a deontological choice (it's wrong to sacrifice one for many) or a utilitarian choice (it's better to save more people). Most people (including superheroes) tend to use their imagination to visualize difficult scenarios.

To investigate what role visual imagery plays in moral judgment, researchers Elinor Amit and Joshua Greene tested whether volunteers were more visually or verbally oriented, then presented them with moral dilemmas. Visually oriented people were more likely to make deontological judgments, focusing on the one above the many.

Read more at Science Daily

Prehistoric Rocks Contain Clues for Future Climate

For most of the past decade, Dr. Wan Yang has spent his summers in the Bogda Mountains in northwest China, collecting rock samples that predate dinosaurs by millions of years in an effort to better understand the history of Earth's climate and perhaps gain clues about future climate change.

"The formation of rocks has everything to do with climate," says the associate professor of geological sciences and engineering at Missouri University of Science and Technology. "Different climate settings have different sediments, soil types and vegetation. The beauty of the geological record is that we can see changes in the past, which gives us some guide to predict future changes."

Yang spends his summers working in northwest China because it's one of the few places to have a land record from Pangea, the supercontinent that existed between 200 million and 350 million years ago. Land records are hard to preserve because they are exposed to the elements, Yang says, so most research has typically been done using marine records instead. The seawater offers better protection of the rocks below, as Missouri S&T students saw first-hand in June during a field course led by Yang and two other professors from Trinity and Guizhou universities in southern China.

After the field course was complete, Yang, along with two Missouri S&T graduate students and collaborators from Chinese institutes, spent six weeks camping and hiking in the high desert, where temperatures averaged between 100 and 120 degrees. The team was surprised to uncover a complete, fossil skeleton of a vertebrate animal while working to collect their samples. The two-foot long skeleton was later covered to protect it from being exposed to the elements.

"Most people don't realize that 250 million years ago, the greatest, most severe mass extinction in the Earth's history occurred," Yang says. "That's when the Earth's climate shifted from icehouse to greenhouse. There are a lot of theories, but we don't know the real causes of the mass extinction yet."

Yang returned to Rolla in early August with more than 300 pounds of volcanic ash (known as tuff). Zircon, a special mineral in the ash, can be used to accurately date the rocks and will help to more precisely determine the pace of the terrestrial mass extinction and climatic change, he says.

"There are so many things we would like to know," he says.

What is known is that after remaining in a greenhouse state for about 230 million years, Earth transitioned back to an icehouse climate roughly 30 million years ago. Since then, Earth's climate has cycled between glacial and interglacial periods. For example, 18,000 years ago there were glaciers just north of Kansas City, Mo., he says.

"For the last 6,000 years, we've been in an interglacial period," he says. "The climate has been warm but it's within natural variations. We've seen more extreme ones and theoretically, it's time to go glacial," Yang says.

Read more at Science Daily

Growing Corn to Treat Rare Disease

The seeds of greenhouse-grown corn could hold the key to treating a rare, life-threatening childhood genetic disease, according to researchers from Simon Fraser University.

SFU biologist Allison Kermode and her team have been carrying out multidisciplinary research toward developing enzyme therapeutics for lysosomal storage diseases -- rare, but devastating childhood genetic diseases -- for more than a decade.

In the most severe forms of these inherited diseases, untreated patients die in early childhood because of progressive damage to all organs of the body.

Currently, enzyme treatments are available for only six of the more than 70 diverse types of lysosomal storage diseases.

"In part because mammalian cell cultures have been the system of choice to produce these therapeutics, the enzymes are extremely costly to make, with treatments typically ranging from $300,000 to $500,000 per year for children, with even higher costs for adults," says Kermode, noting the strain on healthcare budgets in Canada and other countries is becoming an issue.

Greenhouse-grown maize may become a platform for making alpha-L-iduronidase, an enzyme used to treat the lysosomal storage disease known as mucopolysaccharidosis I, according to research published in this week's Nature Communications.

The findings could ultimately change how these enzyme therapeutics are made, and substantially reduce the costs of treating patients. The novel technology manipulates processes inside the maize seed that "traffick" messenger RNAs to certain parts of the cell as a means of controlling the subsequent sugar processing of the therapeutic protein.

In this way, the researchers have been able to produce the enzyme drug in maize seeds. The product could ultimately be used as a disease therapeutic, although it is still "early days," says Kermode, and several research goals remain to be accomplished before this can become a reality.

Kermode says the success of the work underscores the power of multidisciplinary research that included contributions from SFU chemistry professor David Vocadlo, and from UBC Medical Genetics professor Lorne Clarke. It further underscores the importance of connections between SFU and Australia's Griffith University, through collaborative researchers Mark von Itzstein and Thomas Haselhorst.

"In 2005, we had the basis of our story worked out," says Kermode. "Taking it to the next level involved their precise analyses to determine the sugar residues on the therapeutic enzyme produced by the modified maize seeds.

"When we first looked at the sugar analysis data we were amazed at how well the 'mRNA-trafficking strategy' had worked, and the high fidelity of the process for controlling the sugar-processing of the therapeutic protein. This is critical as sugar processing influences the characteristics of a protein (enzyme) therapeutic, including its safety, quality, half-life in the bloodstream, and efficacy. The work could well extend to forming a platform for the production of other protein therapeutics."

Read more at Science Daily

How the Tabby Cat Got Its Stripes

From where does a tabby cat get its stripes? The same place cheetahs get their spots.

A new study finds the same gene that is responsible for the cheetah's color patterns causes a tabby's stripes. Mutations in this newly identified gene transform a tabby's typical striped pattern into a less familiar "blotched" look. In cheetahs, similar mutations smear spots into thick stripes.

"What this is, is the first connection of a gene involved in pattern formation in cats to their molecular status," said study researcher Stephen O'Brien of the National Laboratory for Cancer Research.

Now "we know where the mutation is in this particular gene" to cause the pattern changes, O'Brien told LiveScience.

Stripes or spots?

O'Brien and his colleagues contributed to the original sequencing of the domestic cat genome, which was completed in 2007. Besides being interesting from a basic science standpoint, O'Brien said, cat genetics may help researchers understand human disease and genetic development.

One mystery of cat development is how cats have come to have such varied coats, from solid colors to "mackerel" tabby patterns of thin vertical stripes. The researchers were particularly interested in what turns the mackerel pattern into a "blotched" tabby pattern, seen more often in European cats than American ones.

A map of kitty pedigrees allowed the researchers to narrow down the genetic culprit to one region of the chromosome containing three large genes. They then sequenced the genomes of two batches of tabbies, one with blotched coats and the other striped ones, and narrowed the culprit further to a gene called Taqpep.

Three separate mutations of the Taqpep gene in the domestic cat and another mutation in the same gene in the king cheetah can cause the tabby pattern to go from striped to splotchy, and, in the cheetah, from spotty to striped, the researchers found. This means the gene has mutated multiple times across kitties' evolutionary history.

Cat color blueprint

The Taqpep gene holds the blueprint for a molecule usually found on cell membranes and used for passing messages from outside the cell to the inside. A mutation of the gene causes color pattern changes by interfering with the deposition of pigment during development, O'Brien said.

Read more at Discovery News

Sep 20, 2012

Khoe-San Peoples Diverged Before 'Out-Of-Africa' Migration of Modern Humans

Genetically, culturally and ethically the Khoe-San have something special to add to this world.  The largest genomic study ever conducted among Khoe and San groups reveals that these groups from southern Africa are descendants of the earliest diversification event in the history of all humans -- some 100,000 years ago, well before the 'out-of-Africa' migration of modern humans.

Some 220 individuals from different regions in southern Africa participated in the research that led to the analysis of around 2.3 million DNA variants per individual -- the biggest ever.

The research was conducted by a group of international scientists, including Professor Himla Soodyall from the Human Genomic Diversity and Disease Research Unit in the Health Faculty at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg.

Entitled Genomic variation in seven Khoe-San groups reveals adaptation and complex African history, the study has been selected for early online publishing in the scientific journal, Science, on September 20, 2012.

"The deepest divergence of all living people occurred some 100,000 years ago, well before modern humans migrated out of Africa and about twice as old as the divergences of central African Pygmies and East African hunter-gatherers and from other African groups," says lead author Dr Carina Schlebusch, a Wits University PhD-graduate now conducting post-doctoral research at Uppsala University in Sweden.

Soodyall, from National Health Laboratory Services in South Africa, has a long standing relationship with Khoe and San communities and said that the findings are a "phenomenal tribute to the indigenous Khoe and San people of southern Africa, and through this magnificent collaboration, we have given the peoples of Africa an opportunity to reclaim their place in the history of the world."

Besides the publication of the study, the authors will also be visiting the San groups in the Kalahari, in the Askam area in South Africa on the 24th of September 2012 for the country's Heritage Day celebrations. "We are excited that together with some of our colleagues from Uppsala University, we will be able to join in the celebrations with the San groups in the Kalahari who participated in our research and to acknowledge their contribution in making our research possible."

The researchers are now making the genome-wide data freely available: "Genetic information is getting more and more important for medical purposes. In addition to illuminating their history, we hope that this study is a step towards Khoe and San groups also being a part of that revolution," says Schlebusch. Another author, Professor Mike de Jongh from University of South Africa adds, "It is important for us to communicate with the participants prior to the genetic studies, to inform individuals about the nature of our research, and to also go back to not only to share the results with them, but also to explain the significance of the data for recapturing their heritage, to them."

According to Assistant-Professor Mattias Jakobsson from Uppsala University, these deep divergences among African populations have important implications and consequences when the history of all humankind is deciphered.

The deep structure and patterns of genetic variation suggest a complex population history of the peoples of Africa. "The human population has been structured for a long time," says Jakobsson, "and it is possible that modern humans emerged from a non-homogeneous group."

The study also found surprising stratification among Khoe-San groups. For example, the researchers estimate that the San populations from northern Namibia and Angola separated from the Khoe and San populations living in South Africa as early as 25,000 -- 40,000 years ago.

"There is astonishing ethnic diversity among the Khoe-San group, and we were able to see many aspects of the colorful history that gave rise to this diversity in their DNA," said Schlebusch.

The study further indicates how pastoralism first spread to southern Africa in combination with the Khoe culture. From archaeological and ethnographic studies it has been suggested that pastoralism was introduced to the Khoe in southern Africa before the arrival of Bantu-speaking farmers, but it has been unclear if this event had any genetic impact.

The Nama, a pastoralist Khoe group from Namibia showed great similarity to 'southern' San groups. "However, we found a small but very distinct genetic component that is shared with East Africans in this group, which may be the result of shared ancestry associated with pastoral communities from East Africa," says Schlebusch.

With the genetic data the researchers could see that the Khoe pastoralists originate from a Southern San group that adopted pastoralism with genetic contributions from an East African group -- a group that would have been the first to bring pastoralist practices to southern Africa.

The study also revealed evidence of local adaptation in different Khoe and San groups. For example, the researchers found that there was evidence for selection in genes involved in muscle function, immune response, and UV-light protection in local Khoe and San groups. These could be traits linked with adaptations to the challenging environments in which the ancestors of present-day San and Khoe were exposed to that have been retained in the gene pool of local groups.

Read more at Science Daily

Ancient Tooth Shows Oldest Sign of Dentistry

Italian researchers believe they have discovered the oldest dental filling -- a beeswax cap applied to a left canine tooth about 6,500 years ago.

The filling was discovered by chance as Claudio Tuniz, Federico Bernardini and colleagues at the Abdus Salam International Center for Theoretical Physics in Trieste used a fossilized jaw bone to test new X-ray imaging equipment.

Found early last century embedded on the wall of a karstic cave near the village of Lonche, in what is now Slovenia, the bone most likely belonged a 24–30-year-old individual.

Now kept in the Natural History Museum of Trieste, Italy, the specimen consists of the left portion of an adult mandible with a canine, two premolars, and the first two molars.

To confirm their finding, the researchers used different analytical techniques, including synchrotron radiation computed micro-tomography (micro-CT), Accelerator Mass Spectrometry (AMS) and Scanning Electron Microscopy (SEM).

The analyses showed a filled vertical crack in the hard enamel and softer dentin layers of the tooth. Infrared spectroscopy identified the filling material as beeswax.

Radiocarbon dating then established that both the filling and the tooth were about 6,500 years old, suggesting that the treatment was done shortly before or after the individual's death.

The severe wear seen on the tooth was probably due "to its use in non-alimentary activities, possibly such as weaving, generally performed by Neolithic females," Tuniz said.

Although the researchers could not rule out the possibility that the beeswax was added during a funerary ritual and that the tooth cracked as it dried out in the cave's wall, they believe the hypothesis is rather unlikely.

"Other teeth have exposed dentin but no beeswax was applied. This suggests that the canine caused particular discomfort during life. Concerning a possible post-mortem application of the beeswax, one could wonder why it was applied only on the exposed dentin of the canine," the researchers wrote in the journal PLOS ONE.

Moreover the SEM images show that beeswax was probably deposited on the tooth when the crack was already formed "since the chippings on the edges of the fracture were sealed by the beeswax," Tuniz and Bernardini said.

Read more at Discovery News

Apes Enjoy Slapstick Humor

Non-human primates may enjoy watching someone else trip on a banana peel, according to new research on laughter, which found that apes might appreciate slapstick humor.

The research also helps to explain the origins of laughter and the social aspects of the behavior.

Robin Dunbar, who co-authored one such study with Guillaume Dezecache, described what non-human primates might be amused by.

"The use of language-based jokes is clearly unique to humans," Dunbar, a professor of evolutionary psychology at the University of Oxford, told Discovery News. "There is some suggestion that apes 'play practical jokes' or laugh at another's misfortune, such as the banana skin situation, but these are only casual observations."

"Human laughter derives from the play invitation vocalizations of Old World monkeys and apes, but this is normally confined to juveniles and adolescents; adults don't play," he continued.

"In apes, this is identifiably rather closer to human laughter," Dunbar explained, "and bonobos in particular use laughter a lot in play contexts, even among adults. What seems to have happened is that humans have taken these monkey/ape play vocalizations and tweaked them and increased the frequency of their use."

Human laughter still has an animalistic quality, in the sense that it involves a series of rapid exhalation-inhalation cycles comparable to other primate sounds; it's louder than human speech; and, like sneezing, laughter is contagious.

Although a room full of people can laugh at one comic's joke, Dunbar and Dezecache suspected that the size of bonded natural laughter groups might be limited and similar to social grooming. The latter facilitates bonding and makes individuals feel good, promoting connections between others. Laughter can function in a similar way.

For the study, accepted for publication in the journal Evolution and Human Behavior, the researchers studied multiple social groups in bars throughout the United Kingdom, France and Germany. They took note of conversational subgroup size and laughter subgroup size, meaning the number of individuals laughing in an obviously coordinated way.

The scientists found that laughter groups were limited to three to four individuals.

"We think laughter long predates the appearance of language in human evolution, and was co-opted from play as a mechanism to allow bonding between larger numbers of individuals," Dunbar explained. "Laughter triggers the release of endorphins, which are the neurochemicals used in bonding in monkeys and apes. Laughter allows us to increase the size of the bonding group because several people can laugh together; whereas grooming is, even in humans, a one-to-one activity, with only the recipient gaining the benefit of the endorphins."

In intimate social gatherings, people tend to laugh in sync. This doesn't happen as precisely in larger venues or even when people in different houses are responding to the same jokes on a humorous television program.

Natural laughter group size probably hasn't increased tremendously because these more modern forms of entertainment would not have had time to affect human evolution much.

Read more at Discovery News

Is Gliese 163c the Most Habitable Exoplanet?

A newly discovered alien planet may be one of the top contenders to support life beyond Earth, researchers say.

The newfound world, a "super Earth" called Gliese 163c, lies at the edge of its star's habitable zone -- that just-right range of distances where liquid water could exist.

"There are a wide range of structures and compositions that allow Gliese 163c to be a habitable planet," Xavier Bonfils, of France's Joseph Fourier University-Grenoble, told by email.

He went on to caution that several possible uninhabitable combinations exist as well.

A Newfound Super Earth

Bonfils and an international team of astronomers studied nearly 400 red dwarf stars with the High Accuracy Radial Velocity Planet Searcher (HARPS), a spectograph on the 3.6-meter telescope at the European Southern Observatory's La Silla Observatory in Chile.

Gliese 163c was one of two alien planets found orbiting the star Gliese 163, which lies about 50 light-years from Earth in the Dorado constellation The team found indications of a third planet as well but cannot confirm it at this time.

Weighing in at about seven times the mass of Earth, Gliese 163c could be a rocky planet, or it could be a dwarfed gas giant, researchers said.

"We do not know for sure that it is a terrestrial planet," Bonfils said. "Planets of that mass regime can be terrestrial, ocean, or Neptune-like planets."

 Orbiting at the inner edge of the habitable zone, Gliese 163c takes 26 days to zip around its parent star, which is considerably dimmer than our sun. The second planet, Gliese 163b, has an orbital period of only nine days, while the third unconfirmed planet circles from a distance.

Bonfils pointed out that there is about a 2 percent chance that Gliese 163c might pass between its star and the sun from Earth's perspective. If so, scientists may be able to glean more information about the distant planet by watching it cross the face of its host star.

The research has been submitted for review and publication.

A Good Candidate for Life

The Planetary Habitability Laboratory (PHL) at the University of Puerto Rico at Arecibo keeps a catalog of the alien worlds it considers good candidates to host life. The newly discovered Gliese 163c ranks fifth on the list.

 "We are finding more potentially habitable planets now than before," PHL's Abel Mendez, who was not part of the Gliese 163c discovery team, told by email.

Out of the six planets on PHL's list, four have been found in the last year alone -- Kepler-22b, Gliese 667Cc, HD 85512b, and, of course, Gliese 163c.

"Most of these are relatively close, so we can expect to find better and closer ones as our technological sensitivity to Earth-size planets improves," Mendez said.

Read more at Discovery News

Sep 19, 2012

Neanderthals May Have Worn Dark Feathers

A new analysis of bird bones at Neanderthal sites suggests our extinct human cousins adorned themselves with dark feathers plucked from vultures, jackdaws, eagles and other species.

The study is the latest to challenge the notion that symbolic behavior, like creating art and body decorations, was exclusive to modern humans.

A team of scientists led by researchers at the Gibraltar Museum examined 1,699 sites across Eurasia for evidence of birds and Neanderthals living side-by-side. There was a clear association between Neanderthal occupation and the remains of raptor and corvid species, the researchers reported Monday (Sept. 17) in the journal PLoS ONE.

The team then looked at 604 bird bones from three different Neanderthal sites in Gibraltar (Gorham's Cave, Vanguard Cave and Ibex Cave). Several of the bones showed clear cut-marks made by Neanderthal stone tools, and more than half (337) were wing bones — a finding that the researchers say isn't random.

Wing bones are low in meat compared with other parts of the birds, which suggests the Neanderthals weren't collecting these animals for food, but rather intentionally harvesting them for their feathers.

"This activity was clearly related to the extraction of the largest, most durable, and arguably most visually striking, elements of a bird's plumage," the researchers wrote.

Previous research at another Neanderthal site, Grotta di Fumane in Italy, found peeling and scraping marks on bird bones that would have been useless for food purposes; as such the researchers suggested in their 2011 paper published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, that Neanderthals were using the colorful feathers from various bird species for symbolic reasons, such as wearing them for decoration.

Read more at Discovery News

Jesus' Wife and Other Bible Rewrites

A piece of papyrus dating back to the fourth century mention a Biblical character that can't be found in scripture: the wife of Jesus Christ.

Identified by Karen L. King, a historian at Harvard Divinity school, the scroll has the following passage written in Coptic, as reported by the New York Times: "Jesus said to them, 'My wife... she will be able to be my disciple."

King cautioned that the fragment is not proof that Jesus was married, but is reflective of the debates early Christians had in the infancy of the church. After all, this wouldn't be the first time early Christian artifacts have contradicted history as written in the Bible..

As reported by Discovery News' Jennifer Viegas in March 2011, Oxford scholar Francesca Stavrakopoulou believes she found evidence that God had a wife based on an analysis of ancient texts, figurines and other artifacts.

God's wife, Asherah, was a powerful fertility goddess, and worshiped alongside Yahweh, as God is known in Hebrew. Strict monotheism, however, gradually diminished Asherah's importance in the religion of the ancient Israelites.

Changes to scripture itself can not only include omissions, but also additions as they're copied and translated from generation to generation. A project led by New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary catalogues hundreds of versions of the New Testament written in early Christendom to document changes that crept in over the years.

Although many of the alterations they discover are trivial, some changes can be much more significant, as reported by the Times-Picayune.

One example of an editorial change includes the addition of the story of Jesus saving an adulterous woman from public stoning by challenging the crowd with: Let he who is without sin cast the first stone. That tale was added to the gospel of John some 300 years after the book first appeared, according to the report.

Not only have passages been added and subtracted to the Bible over time; entire books have also been left out of the canon.

The first four books of the New Testament are the gospels, the story of Jesus according to the apostles who followed him -- Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. The Gospel of Mary, as in Mary Magdalene, dates back to the second century, later than any of the other gospels. The gnostic text paints Mary as a singular disciple among Jesus' followers who had privileged access to his teachings.

Similarly, the Gospel of Judas, the earliest copies of which date to the second century, was another gnostic book that failed to break into the Biblical canon. This gospel directly contradicts the accounts of the four apostles by painting a picture of Judas, the apostle who betrayed Jesus, as merely following through with his wishes.

Read more at Discovery News

Sharks Are Color-Blind

Sharks are color blind, new research suggests, with the toothy predators likely forever seeing the world in black and white.

The study, published in the latest Royal Society Biology Letters, is the first to investigate the genetic basis and spectral tuning of the shark visual system.

The ramifications could be huge, helping to save both sharks and people.

"The work will have a major influence on human interactions with sharks," co-author Nathan Hart, a research associate professor at the University of Western Australia's School of Animal Biology and The Oceans Institute, told Discovery News.

"Firstly, this knowledge may enable us to design fishing gear that is more specific for target fish species and thus reduces unnecessary bycatch of sharks," Hart continued. "Secondly, it may help us to design equipment that is less attractive to sharks (wetsuits and surfboards, for example) that may help to reduce attacks on humans."

Building on a study from last year, Hart and his colleagues isolated and sequenced genes encoding shark photopigments involved in vision. Photopigments are light-sensitive molecules. Through a biochemical process, they signal this detection of light to the rest of the visual system.

Photopigments are found in two places: rods and cones. The former type is more sensitive and is generally used under very dim light. The latter type is smaller and less sensitive, but is faster responding, applying more to brighter-light conditions.

The researchers determined that the studied sharks, in this case two wobbegong species, are cone monochromats. This means that the sharks only had one type of cone and one type of rod gene, supporting that they are color-blind. The findings strengthen earlier speculation about not only wobbegongs, but other shark species.

Sharks belong to a cartilaginous fish group that also includes skates and rays. Prior research indicates that skates have "no color vision at all," Hart noted. "Rays have more than one photopigment and so they have the retinal 'machinery' for color vision," he added. "Recent behavioral tests in my lab have also demonstrated that they have functional color vision."

Sharks are probably not the only large water dwellers that are color-blind. Other research indicates that marine mammals, such as whales, dolphins and seals, cannot detect colors either.

"It may be that color is not useful to them, or that they have lost the pigments for another reason," said Hart.

"It is likely that the ancestors of modern sharks could see in color," he added, so sharks and all of these animals may have once seen in color.

Read more at Discovery News

Cosmic Magnifying Lens Unveils Oldest Galaxy

Scientists have discovered the strongest evidence yet for a 13.2-billion-year old galaxy, a finding that provides a key piece of information about the universe's early childhood.

"This is the most distant (galaxy) identified with high confidence," astronomer Wei Zheng, with Johns Hopkins University, told Discovery News.

"If our current universe is a man of 70 years of age, we have reached an 'infant' of 2.5-years young," Zheng wrote in an email. "It is like an archaeologist finding an oldest piece in history."

From the cosmic microwave background radiation, scientists figure that the universe began about 13.7 billion years ago. It evolved quickly. By the time the universe was 1.4 billion years old, it not only was filled with galaxies, but the hydrogen gas between the galaxies had become highly ionized.

The universe's baby steps to reach this stage are largely missing from the picture, primarily because telescopes to image objects back that far in time are still in the planning stages. But Zheng and colleagues found another way.

Objects with extremely powerful gravity, such as a cluster of galaxies, will bend and sometimes magnify light from a more distant object, relative to Earth's line of sight.

Occasionally, the warped space will bring into focus a more distant object, a phenomenon known as gravitational lensing.

That is what Zheng and colleagues counted on when they used the Hubble Space Telescope to search for magnified galaxies behind some massive nearby clusters.

They found one, magnified by a factor of 15 times, that is believed to date back to just 500 million years after the Big Bang. The magnifier, a massive galaxy cluster known as MACS1149+2223, is one of the most powerful gravitational lenses in the sky, with a mass of 2 million billion suns.

"Even with the deepest images yet obtained by Hubble's infrared camera, it has proved extremely difficult to break through to the first 500 million years of cosmic time," noted University of Arizona astronomer Daniel Stark.

"Researchers have unveiled more than 100 galaxies thought to lie between 650 million and 850 million years after the Big Bang, but only one galaxy had been found that could be dated back to 500 million years," he wrote in this week's Nature.

Since only a very small portion of the sky was covered in Zheng's survey, the team figures they either got incredibly lucky, or the universe is filled with similar distant galaxies. The newly discovered galaxy is believed to be very compact and small -- about 0.1 percent the size of the Milky Way galaxy.

"The fact we found one such object in a small volume hints for the abundance of such objects in the early universe," Zheng said.

"We are likely just seeing the tip of the iceberg," added Stark.

Read more at Discovery News

Sep 18, 2012

How Life Arose On Earth: Researchers Brew Up Organics On Ice

Would you like icy organics with that? Maybe not in your coffee, but researchers at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., are creating concoctions of organics, or carbon-bearing molecules, on ice in the lab, then zapping them with lasers. Their goal: to better understand how life arose on Earth.

In a new study published in the Astrophysical Journal Letters, the research team provides the first direct look at the organic chemistry that takes place on icy particles in the frigid reaches of our solar system, and in the even chillier places between stars. Scientists think that the basic ingredients of life, including water and organics, began their journey to Earth on these lonesome ice particles. The ice and organics would have found their way into comets and asteroids, which then fell to Earth, delivering "prebiotic" ingredients that could have jump-started life.

The various steps needed to go from icy organics to slime molds are not clear, but the new findings help explain how the process works. The lab experiments show that organic material can begin the processing it needs to become prebiotic -- while still frozen in ice.

"The very basic steps needed for the evolution of life may have started in the coldest regions of our universe," said Murthy Gudipati, lead author of the new study at JPL. "We were surprised to see organic chemistry brewing up on ice, at these very cold temperatures in our lab."

The organics looked at in the study are called polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, or PAHs for short. These carbon-rich molecules can be found on Earth as combustion products: for example, in barbecue pits, candle soot and even streaming out of the tail pipe of your car. They have also been spotted throughout space in comets, asteroids and more distant objects. NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope has detected PAHs in the swirling planet-forming disks around stars, in the spaces between stars and in remote galaxies.

Murthy and his colleague Rui Yang of JPL used their lab setup to mimic the environment of icy PAH molecules in the quiet cold of space, at temperatures as low as 5 Kelvin (minus 450 degrees Fahrenheit, or minus 268 degrees Celsius). First, they bombarded the particles with ultraviolet radiation similar to that from stars. Then, to determine the products of the chemical reaction, they used a type of laser system known as MALDI (for Matrix Assisted Laser Desorption and Ionization), which involves zapping the ice with both infrared and ultraviolet lasers.

The results revealed that the PAHs had transformed: they had incorporated hydrogen atoms into their structure and lost their circular, aromatic bonds, becoming more complex organics. According to Gudipati, this is the type of change that would need to occur if the material were to eventually become amino acids and nucleotides -- bits and pieces of protein and DNA, respectively.

"PAHs are strong, stubborn molecules, so we were surprised to see them undergoing these chemical changes at such freezing-cold temperatures," said Gudipati.

Another bonus for the research is that it might explain the mystery of why PAHs have not yet been identified on ice grains in space. While the hardy organics are pervasive in the cosmos as gases and hot dust, researchers have remained puzzled that their signatures do not show up on ice. The new findings show that PAHs, once they stick to the ice surface, are chemically transformed into other complex organics, explaining why they might not be seen.

Read more at Science Daily

First Ever Etruscan Pyramids Found in Italy

The first ever Etruscan pyramids have been located underneath a wine cellar in the city of Orvieto in central Italy, according to a team of U.S. and Italian archaeologists.

Carved into the rock of the tufa plateau --a sedimentary area that is a result of volcanic activity -- on which the city stands, the subterranean structures were largely filled. Only the top-most modern layer was visible.

"Within this upper section, which had been modified in modern times and was used as a wine cellar, we noticed a series of ancient stairs carved into the wall. They were clearly of Etruscan construction," David B. George of the Department of Classics at Saint Anselm, told Discovery News.

As they started digging, George and co-director of the excavation Claudio Bizzarri of the Parco Archeologico Ambientale dell'Orvietano noted that the cave's walls were tapered up in a pyramidal fashion. Intriguingly, a series of tunnels, again of Etruscan construction, ran underneath the wine cellar hinting to the possibility of deeper undiscovered structures below.

After going through a mid-20th century floor, George and Bizzarri reached a medieval floor. Immediately beneath this floor, they found a layer of fill that contained various artifacts such as Attic red figure pottery from the middle of the 5th Century B.C., 6th and 5th century B.C. Etruscan pottery with inscriptions as well as various objects that dated to before 1000 B.C.

Digging through this layer, the archaeologists found 5 feet of gray sterile fill, which was intentionally deposited from a hole in the top of the structure.

"Below that material there was a brown layer that we are currently excavating. Intriguingly, the stone carved stairs run down the wall as we continue digging. We still don't know where they are going to take us," Bizzarri told Discovery News.

The material from the deepest level reached so far (the archaeologists have pushed down about 10 feet) dates to around the middle of the fifth century B.C.

"At this level we found a tunnel running to another pyramidal structure and dating from before the 5th century B.C. which adds to the mystery," George said.

Indeed, the Etruscans have long been considered one of antiquity's greatest enigmas.

A fun-loving and eclectic people who among other things taught the French how to make wine, the Romans how to build roads, and introduced the art of writing to Europe, the Etruscans began to flourish in Etruria (an area in central Italy area that covered now are Tuscany, Latium, Emilia-Romagna and Umbria) around 900 B.C., and then dominated much of the country for five centuries.

Known for their art, agriculture, fine metalworking and commerce, they started to decline during the fifth century B.C., as the Romans grew in power. By 300-100 B.C., they eventually became absorbed into the Roman empire.

Their puzzling, non-Indo-European language was virtually extinguished and they left no literature to document their society. Indeed, much of what we know about them comes from their cemeteries: only the richly decorated tombs they left behind have provided clues to fully reconstruct their history.

The subterranean pyramids in Orvieto could offer a unique insight into this civilization as the structures appear to be unique.

"The caves have indeed a shape unknown elsewhere in Etruria," Larissa Bonfante, professor emerita of classics at New York University and a leading expert on the ancient Etruscans, told Discovery News.

According to Bizzarri, there are at least five Etruscan pyramids under the city. Three of these structures have yet to be excavated.

"Clearly, they are not quarries or cisterns. I would say that there is nothing like these structures on record anywhere in Italy," Bizzarri said.

Read more at Discovery News

Roman Mosaic Found Under Farmer's Field

A giant poolside mosaic featuring intricate geometric patterns has been unearthed in southern Turkey, revealing the far-reaching influence of the Roman Empire at its peak.

The mosaic, which once decorated the floor of a bath complex, abuts a 25-foot (7-meter)-long pool, which would have been open to the air, said Michael Hoff, a University of Nebraska, Lincoln art historian and director of the mosaic excavation. The find likely dates to the third or fourth century, Hoff said. The mosaic itself is an astonishing 1,600 square feet (149 square meters) -- the size of a modest family home.

"To be honest, I was completely bowled over that the mosaic is that big," Hoff told LiveScience.

The first hint that something stunning lay underground in southern Turkey came in 2002, when Purdue University classics professor Nick Rauh walked through a freshly-plowed farmer's field near the ancient city of Antiochia ad Cragum. The plow had churned up bits of mosaic tile, Hoff said. Rauh consulted other archaeologists, including experts at the local museum in Alanya, Turkey. The museum did not have funds to excavate more than a sliver of the mosaic, so archaeologists left the site alone.

Last year, with a new archaeological permit for the site in hand, museum archaeologists invited Hoff and his team to complete the dig.

So far, the researchers have revealed about 40 percent of the mosaic. The floor is in "pristine" condition, Hoff said in a university video about the dig. It would have fronted an open-air marble swimming pool flanked by porticos.

The mosaic itself is composed of large squares, each sporting a unique geometric design on a white background, from starburst patterns to intertwined loops. It's the largest Roman mosaic ever found in southern Turkey, which was thought to be rather peripheral to the Roman Empire, according to Hoff. The existence of the mosaic suggests that Antiochia ad Cragum was far more influenced by the Romans than believed, Hoff said.

The city of Antiochia ad Cragum, founded in the first century, has a number of Roman features, including bathhouses and markets.

Hoff's team has also been excavating a third-century Roman temple in the city and a street lined with colonnades and shops.

Read more at Discovery News

Testing Relativity with Two Dead Stars

Death is an inescapable fact of life, and stars are no exception. Eventually stars burn through their nuclear fuel and die -- even our sun has an expiration date.

But a pair of burnt-out white dwarf stars are finding a scientific afterlife, enabling astrophysicists to indirectly observe gravitational waves -- faint ripples in the fabric of spacetime that travel outward, much like tossing a stone in a still pond.

Gravitational waves were first predicted by Einstein's general theory of relativity in 1916. At the time, we didn't have the technology to detect them, since they are very weak and fade very quickly, although scientists found indirect evidence in the radio wave regime of their existence in observations of a binary pulsar -- work that won the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1993.

These waves should be detectable by a a gravitational wave detector -- namely, the upgraded Laser Interferometer Gravitational Observatory (LIGO), which has been searching space for gravity waves since it opened in 2002. LIGO is a joint project between scientists at MIT, Caltech, and many other colleges and universities.

Originally, NASA planned to build a similar gravitational wave detector in space, dubbed LISA (Laser Interferometer Space Antenna), but tightened funding led to the agency scrapping those plans last year. A similar fate befell the European Space Agency's scaled-down version, the New Gravitational Wave Observatory (although Cosmic Variance reports some intriguing rumors that we still may see such a detector in the next wave of ESA projects).

Until (if) such a project transpires, astrophysicists are looking for alternative methods to detect gravitational waves, such as the merging of binary neutron stars.

Now astronomers have confirmed more indirect evidence in the optical regime of gravitational waves emitting from a pair of dead white dwarf stars. Their results will appear in The Astrophysical Journal Letters.

The binary system was discovered last April, and the two stars are so close together they make full orbits in less than 13 minutes. General relativity predicts that these orbits should show effects of gravitational waves -- namely, the stars should slowly be inching closer, and orbiting each other increasingly faster, over time.

But how could the astronomers confirm this prediction? They needed an accurate celestial clock, and the stars themselves provided it. When viewed from Earth, the two stars eclipse each other every six minutes -- like clockwork. "This is a general relativistic effect you could measure with a wrist watch," Warren Brown of the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory, one of the collaborators, commented via press release.

Read more at Discovery News

Sep 17, 2012

Cause of Chemotherapy Resistance in Melanoma Found

Researchers with UC Irvine's Chao Family Comprehensive Cancer Center have identified a major reason why melanoma is largely resistant to chemotherapy.

UCI dermatologist Dr. Anand Ganesan and colleagues found a genetic pathway in melanoma cells that inhibits the cellular mechanism for detecting DNA damage wrought by chemotherapy, thereby building up tolerance to cancer-killing drugs.

Targeting this pathway, comprising the genes RhoJ and Pak1, heralds a new approach to treating the deadly skin cancer, which claims nearly 10,000 U.S. lives each year. Study results appear online in Cancer Research, a journal of the American Association for Cancer Research.

"If we can find a way to turn off the pathway responsible for this resistance, melanoma tumors would suddenly become sensitive to therapies we've been using for the last 20 years," said Ganesan, assistant professor of dermatology and biological chemistry at UCI.

In pursuit of a cause for the chemo tolerance, he and his colleagues performed a genome-wide scan for genes controlling drug resistance in melanoma cells. Their search identified RhoJ, a gene normally involved in blood vessel growth. They saw that in response to drug-induced DNA damage in a melanoma cell, RhoJ activated another gene, Pak1, which initiated a molecular cascade suppressing the cell's ability to sense this damage -- and blocking the apoptosis process.

"Normally, such drug-induced DNA damage would result in cell death," Ganesan said. "But this blunting of DNA damage response allows melanoma cells to mutate and proliferate. Being capable of rapid adaptation and change is a hallmark feature of this challenging form of cancer and makes it very difficult to treat."

On the heels of this discovery, he and colleagues have begun exploring methods to inhibit the genes responsible for this DNA damage tolerance. What they come up with could one day supplement chemotherapy treatments for melanoma, Ganesan added.

Read more at Science Daily

Skilled Hunters 300,000 Years Ago

Finds from early stone age site in north-central Germany show that human ingenuity is nothing new -- and was probably shared by now-extinct species of humans.

Archeologists from the University of Tübingen have found eight extremely well-preserved spears -- an astonishing 300,000 years old, making them the oldest known weapons anywhere. The spears and other artifacts as well as animal remains found at the site demonstrate that their users were highly skilled craftsmen and hunters, well adapted to their environment -- with a capacity for abstract thought and complex planning comparable to our own. It is likely that they were members of the species Homo heidelbergensis, although no human remains have yet been found at the site.

The project is headed by Prof. Nicholas Conard and the excavations are supervised by Dr. Jordi Serangeli, both from the University of Tübingen's Institute of Prehistory, which has been supporting the local authority's excavation in an open-cast brown coal mine in Schöningen since 2008. They are applying skills from several disciplines at this uniquely well-preserved site find out more about how humans lived in the environment of 300,000 years ago.

The bones of large mammals -- elephants, rhinoceroses, horses and lions -- as well as the remains of amphibians, reptiles, shells and even beetles have been preserved in the brown coal. Pines, firs, and black alder trees are preserved complete with pine cones, as have the leaves, pollen and seeds of surrounding flora.

Until the mining started 30 years ago, these finds were below the water table. The archeologists say they are now carrying out "underwater archaeology without the water." Work continues almost all year round, and every day there is something new to document and recover.

Read more at Science Daily

The Warp Drive Could Become Science Fact

A warp drive to achieve faster-than-light travel -- a concept popularized in television's Star Trek -- may not be as unrealistic as once thought, scientists say.

A warp drive would manipulate space-time itself to move a starship, taking advantage of a loophole in the laws of physics that prevent anything from moving faster than light. A concept for a real-life warp drive was suggested in 1994 by Mexican physicist Miguel Alcubierre, however subsequent calculations found that such a device would require prohibitive amounts of energy.

Now physicists say that adjustments can be made to the proposed warp drive that would enable it to run on significantly less energy, potentially bringing the idea back from the realm of science fiction into science.

"There is hope," Harold "Sonny" White of NASA's Johnson Space Center said Friday (Sept. 14) at the 100 Year Starship Symposium, a meeting to discuss the challenges of interstellar spaceflight.

Warping Spacetime

An Alcubierre warp drive would involve a football-shape spacecraft attached to a large ring encircling it. This ring, potentially made of exotic matter, would cause space-time to warp around the starship, creating a region of contracted space in front of it and expanded space behind.

Meanwhile, the starship itself would stay inside a bubble of flat space-time that wasn't being warped at all.

"Everything within space is restricted by the speed of light," explained Richard Obousy, president of Icarus Interstellar, a non-profit group of scientists and engineers devoted to pursuing interstellar spaceflight. "But the really cool thing is space-time, the fabric of space, is not limited by the speed of light."

With this concept, the spacecraft would be able to achieve an effective speed of about 10 times the speed of light, all without breaking the cosmic speed limit.

The only problem is, previous studies estimated the warp drive would require a minimum amount of energy about equal to the mass-energy of the planet Jupiter.

But recently White calculated what would happen if the shape of the ring encircling the spacecraft was adjusted into more of a rounded donut, as opposed to a flat ring. He found in that case, the warp drive could be powered by a mass about the size of a spacecraft like the Voyager 1 probe NASA launched in 1977.

 Furthermore, if the intensity of the space warps can be oscillated over time, the energy required is reduced even more, White found.

"The findings I presented today change it from impractical to plausible and worth further investigation," White told "The additional energy reduction realized by oscillating the bubble intensity is an interesting conjecture that we will enjoy looking at in the lab."

Laboratory Tests

White and his colleagues have begun experimenting with a mini version of the warp drive in their laboratory.

They set up what they call the White-Juday Warp Field Interferometer at the Johnson Space Center, essentially creating a laser interferometer that instigates micro versions of space-time warps.

"We're trying to see if we can generate a very tiny instance of this in a tabletop experiment, to try to perturb space-time by one part in 10 million," White said.

He called the project a "humble experiment" compared to what would be needed for a real warp drive, but said it represents a promising first step.

Read more at Discovery News

Giant Viruses Are Ancient Living Organisms

Researchers have debated whether viruses, which have genes but no cellular structure, should be considered forms of life. A new study suggests they should, showing that giant viruses have some of the most ancient protein structures found in all organisms on the planet.

The researchers conducted a census of all the protein folds occurring in more than 1,000 organisms in the three traditional branches on the tree of life — bacteria, microbes known as archaea and eukaryotes. Giant viruses, which are considered "giant" based on the size of their genomes, also were included in the study because they are large and complex, with genomes rivaling some bacteria, University of Illinois researcher Gustavo Caetano-Anollés said in a statement.

 For instance, the ocean's largest virus, a giant virus called CroV, has genes that let it repair its genome, make sugars and gain more control over the very machinery the virus hijacks in host cells to replicate itself. (Since viruses are essentially DNA wrapped in a protein coat, they need the goods of a host to replicate themselves.)

Caetano-Anollés said his team looked at protein folds instead of genetic sequences because these structural features are like molecular fossils that are more stable over time. They assumed the folds that appear more often and in more groups are the most ancient structures.

 "Just like paleontologists, we look at the parts of the system and how they change over time," Caetano-Anollés said.

They found that many of the most ancient protein folds in living organisms were present in the giant viruses, which "offers more evidence that viruses are embedded in the fabric of life," Caetano-Anollés said. The tree his team created had four clear branches, each representing a distinct "supergroup" — bacteria, archaea, eukaryotes and giant viruses.

Read more at Discovery News

Sep 16, 2012

New Tech Stymied by Copyright Law

From Napster to iTunes to Pandora, the methods by which the public can obtain and share music have rapidly progressed.

Future groundbreaking innovations may need to wait, though, as the next generation of technology is being stymied by the very copyright laws that seek to protect the industry, says Michael Carrier, a professor of law at Rutgers-Camden.

"There is not enough attention being given to the effect copyright law has on innovation," Carrier says about the fight against copyright infringement and the attempt to extinguish every instance of piracy.

For his new article, "Copyright and Innovation: The Untold Story," to be published in the University of Wisconsin Law Review this fall, Carrier interviewed more than 30 CEOs and other top-level executives from the recording industry, technology companies, and venture capital firms to determine the relationship between copyright law and innovation.

"Many innovators working on revolutionary technologies and many venture capitalists told me that copyright law has harmed innovation in the music industry," Carrier says.

Carrier says it's impossible to say exactly which innovations have experienced roadblocks because they never publicly surfaced, "But industry leaders made clear to me that there are numerous innovations that failed to reach the market because of copyright laws," he says.

In his research, funded by a Google Research Award received last year, Carrier points to Napster as the first instance of a peer-to-peer service being liable for violating the copyright laws. Users of the service were able to share music digitally, but questions of copyright infringement surrounded the company and court rulings forced it to cease operations. It is now owned by Rhapsody.

After the Napster decision, Carrier says, "a lot of innovators were scared away from trying to work with the record labels."

Carrier also says the decision was a setback for digital music technology and services like Spotify and Pandora, which could have been developed years ago.

Attention to copyright and innovation issues increased in early 2012, when thousands of internet sites participated in a "blackout" protest against two controversial anti-piracy laws that would have punished websites that host pirated content.

Due to widespread public protests, the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and the Protect IP Act (PIPA) were ultimately pulled off the table.

"The laws presented examples of copyright holders trying to expand the law to protect themselves at the expense of everybody else," Carrier says. "We saw that the technology and internet communities have muscles to flex. Innovation needs to be part of the equation. I wrote this article to help put innovation at the forefront of the debate."

Carrier posted the article to the Social Science Research Network in July, where it became the no. 1 downloaded article and was downloaded 3,000 times in one week.

The article also generated coverage from Billboard magazine, the New York Times blog, and more than 50 music, arts, law, and technology websites around the world.

Read more at Science Daily

Mystery Spheres on Mars Baffle Scientists

A strange picture of odd, spherical rock formations on Mars from NASA's Opportunity rover has scientists scratching their heads over what exactly they're looking at.

The new Mars photo by Opportunity shows a close-up of a rock outcrop called Kirkwood covered in blister-like bumps that mission scientists can't yet explain. At first blush, the formations appear similar to so-called Martian "blueberries" -- iron-rich spherical formations first seen by Opportunity in 2004 -- but they actually differ in several key ways, scientist said.

"This is one of the most extraordinary pictures from the whole mission," said rover mission principal investigator Steve Squyres of Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y., in a statement.

"Kirkwood is chock full of a dense accumulation of these small spherical objects. Of course, we immediately thought of the blueberries, but this is something different. We never have seen such a dense accumulation of spherules in a rock outcrop on Mars."

The new photo by Opportunity is actually a mosaic of four images taken by a microscope-like imager on its robotic arm, and then stitched together like puzzle pieces by scientists on Earth.

Opportunity on Mars

The Mars rover Opportunity is currently exploring a location known as Cape York along the western rim of a giant Martian crater called Endeavour. Opportunity is one of two golf cart-size NASA rovers that landed on Mars in January 2004 (Spirit was the other) to explore different landing sites.

The solar-powered rovers were initially expected to last just 90 days on Mars, but each survived for years on the Red Planet. Spirit stopped communicating with Earth in 2010, but Opportunity is still operational.

Despite its advanced age, Opportunity is still pumping out new discoveries after more than eight years on Mars. The rover first spotted Martian blueberries soon after its landing in 2004. The blueberries are actually concretions created by minerals in water that settled into sedimentary rock.

Opportunity has seen Martian blueberries at many of its science sites during its Red Planet exploits, but the bumpy, spherical formations on the Kirkwood rock represent something new, researchers said. In Opportunity's new photo, many of the strange features are broken, revealing odd concentric circles inside.

"They seem to be crunchy on the outside, and softer in the middle," Squyres said. "They are different in concentration. They are different in structure. They are different in composition. They are different in distribution. So, we have a wonderful geological puzzle in front of us."

Squyres said he and his science team have several theories, but none that truly stand out as the best explanation for what could have created the weird bumps on Mars.

"It's going to take a while to work this out, so the thing to do now is keep an open mind and let the rocks do the talking," he said.

A Martian Spring

The Kirkwood outcrop is just one science pit stop at Cape York for Opportunity. Mission scientists have already picked out another interesting rock outcrop nearby, a pale patch that may contain tantalizing clay minerals, for possibly study after Opportunity completes its current analysis.

Meanwhile, the spring equinox is approaching on Mars, ensuring increasing levels of sunshine for Opportunity's solar arrays.

"The rover is in very good health considering its 8-1/2 years of hard work on the surface of Mars," said rover project manager John Callas of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., in a statement. "Energy production levels are comparable to what they were a full Martian year ago, and we are looking forward to productive spring and summer seasons of exploration."

While Opportunity explores the plains of its Meridiani Planum location, NASA's Mars rover Curiosity is poised to resume driving toward its first long-distance destination inside Gale Crater. The rover, which has completed its final health checks, is headed for a site called Glenelg near the base of the 3-mile (5-kilometer) Mount Sharp, a mountain that rises from the center of its Gale Crater landing site.

Read more at Discovery News