Oldest Antarctic ice ever found shows climate of 2.7 million years ago

Science - Posted On:2017-08-17 12:45:01 Source: arstechnica

Antarctic ice cores have recorded an impressive span of climatic history for us, covering the last 800,000 years. But scientists are greedy, always looking to go back just a little further. Climate records based on things like seafloor sediment cores already take us much further back, but ice cores can reveal unique details. Groups are currently searching for locations to drill new ice cores that might provide a contiguous record back to over the million-year mark.

But another group has been cheating, and this has allowed them to take a big leap past everyone else. Instead of looking at places where the ice at the bottom might be oldest, they’ve been looking at places where that oldest ice has been squeezed up to the surface against high points of bedrock. A few years ago, they published data from samples of ice that came back at right about 1 million years old. At a conference on Wednesday, the researchers revealed the fruits of their second attempt—ice as old as 2.7 million years, blowing away their previous record.

The ice is fairly squished up and convoluted, with sections of ice less than 800,000 years old showing up between sections of ice between 1 million and 2.7 million years old—the effort to determine its age requires careful dating based on isotopes of argon. But the researchers are able to measure greenhouse gas concentrations from trapped air bubbles and indicators of past ocean temperature.

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Yes, it really has taken NASA 11 years to develop a parachute

Science - Posted On:2017-08-17 10:59:57 Source: arstechnica

Last week, NASA’s acting chief technologist, Douglas Terrier, visited one of NASA’s main contractors in the Houston area, Jacobs. Along with a handful of media members, he spent about an hour touring the company’s engineering development facility, where the company supports NASA programs from the International Space Station to the Orion spacecraft.

At one stop during the tour, Terrier learned about a new distiller that might more efficiently recover water from urine during long-duration missions. At another, he learned about new debris sensors that will go to the station to record micrometeorite and orbital debris impacts. And at yet another, he heard about the parachute system that Jacobs has helped develop for the Orion spacecraft.

The Jacobs engineer who talked about the contract said the company had partnered with several Houston-based firms and leveraged knowledge from the region’s large oil-and-gas economy. These partnerships, she said, had saved money for NASA over the course of the agency’s 11-year contract with Jacobs to design and build Orion’s parachutes.

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NASA official: It’s “fair“ to ask if America is serious about spaceflight

Science - Posted On:2017-08-17 10:44:56 Source: arstechnica

Last week, NASA’s acting chief technologist, Douglas Terrier, visited one of NASA’s main contractors in the Houston area, Jacobs. Along with a handful of media members, he spent about an hour touring the company’s engineering development facility, where the company supports NASA programs from the International Space Station to the Orion spacecraft.

At one stop during the tour, Terrier learned about a new distiller that might more efficiently recover water from urine during long-duration missions. At another, he learned about new debris sensors that will go to the station to record micrometeorite and orbital debris impacts. And at yet another, he heard about the parachute system that Jacobs has helped develop for the Orion spacecraft.

The Jacobs engineer who talked about the contract said the company had partnered with several Houston-based firms and leveraged knowledge from the region’s large oil-and-gas economy. These partnerships, she said, had saved money for NASA over the course of the agency’s 11-year contract with Jacobs to design and build Orion’s parachutes.

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We may have caught supernova debris slamming into neighboring stars

Science - Posted On:2017-08-17 10:29:57 Source: arstechnica

Supernovae are some of the most energetic events in the Universe, sending massive shock waves out into the interstellar medium. And there's every reason to think those shock waves run into things before they've had much of a chance to dissipate. Many stars have companions, either planets or other stars that orbit in reasonable proximity. In fact, there's an entire subtype of supernova that appears to require a nearby companion.

So what happens to these objects when the shock wave hits? With our improved ability to rapidly identify supernovae, we may be on the cusp of finding out. Several times recently, researchers have spotted an extra blue glow to the burst of light from a supernova. And, in the most detailed observations yet, they make the case this glow comes from the supernova debris slamming into a companion star.

A supernova explosion that envelopes a nearby star is an inevitability. Eta Carinae, for example, is a system with two stars that are at least 30 times the Sun's mass, meaning they'll both eventually explode as a type-II supernova. Whichever goes first will undoubtedly send debris into the second. But there's a different class of supernova, type-Ia, which requires the presence of a nearby star.

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FDA slams more homeopaths for playing fast and loose with toxic chemicals

Science - Posted On:2017-08-17 08:14:57 Source: arstechnica

The Food and Drug Administration sent a sharp letter this month to a Canadian-based homeopathic pharmaceutical manufacturer named Homeolab USA. The letter warned of “significant violations” the agency found during a recent inspection and poor quality control of the company’s infant teething products that contain the deadly poison, belladonna, aka deadly nightshade.

The letter, dated August 2 and posted on the agency’s website Wednesday, includes a lengthy list of quality and manufacturing process failures that renders Homeolab’s products “adulterated,” the agency concluded. These include failing to test the quality of ingredients or ensuring consistent levels of belladonna in the products.

Homeolab is just the latest homeopathic company slammed by the FDA for problems related to belladonna-containing products. For years, the agency has been investigating reports of infants having seizures, losing consciousness, and, in some cases, dying after using such products. The symptoms were all consistent with belladonna poisonings. Last September, the FDA warned consumers to avoid the homeopathic teething gels and tablets distributed by Hyland’s, CVS, and others.

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Google Lunar X-Prize Extends Deadline Through March 2018

science - Posted On:2017-08-17 06:14:57 Source: slashdot

schwit1 writes: The Google Lunar X-Prize has announced that it has extended its contest deadline from the end of 2017 to the end of March 2018 for the finalists to complete their lunar rover mission and win the grand prize of $30 million. They also announced several additional consolation prizes that all of the remaining five contestants can win should they achieve lunar orbit ($1.75 million) or successfully achieve a soft landing ($3 million), even if they are not the first to do it. At least one team, Moon Express, will be helped enormously by the extra three months. This gives Rocket Lab just a little extra time to test its rocket before launching Moon Express's rover to the Moon. Read more of this story at Slashdot.

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Deadly Drug-Resistant Fungus Sparks Outbreaks In UK

science - Posted On:2017-08-16 23:44:58 Source: slashdot

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Ars Technica: More than 200 patients in more than 55 UK hospitals were discovered by healthcare workers to be infected or colonized by the multi-drug resistant fungus Candida auris, a globally emerging yeast pathogen that has experts nervous. Three of the hospitals experienced large outbreaks, which as of Monday were all declared officially over by health authorities there. No deaths have been reported since the fungus was first detected in the country in 2013, but 27 affected patients have developed blood infections, which can be life-threatening. And about a quarter of the more than 200 cases were clinical infections. Officials in the UK aimed to assuage fear of the fungus and assure patients that hospitals were safe. "Our enhanced surveillance shows a low risk to patients in healthcare settings. Most cases detected have not shown symptoms or developed an infection as a result of the fungus," Dr Colin Brown, of Public Health England's national infection service, told the BBC. Yet, public health experts are uneasy about the rapid emergence and level of drug resistance the pathogen is showing. In a surveillance update in July, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said that C. auris "presents a serious global health threat." It was first identified in the ear of a patient in Japan in 2009. Since then, it has spread swiftly, showing up in more than a dozen countries, including the U.S., according to the CDC. So far, health officials have reported around 100 infections in nine U.S. states and more than 100 other cases where the fungus was detected but wasn't causing an infection. Read more of this story at Slashdot.

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Australian Scientists Figure Out How Zinc-Air Batteries Can Replace Lithium-Ion Batteries

science - Posted On:2017-08-16 18:44:59 Source: slashdot

Researchers at the University of Sydney has figured out how to solve one of the biggest problems standing in the way for zinc-air batteries to replace lithium-ion batteries. The reason zinc batteries are so sought after is because they're powered by zinc metal -- the 24th most abundant element in Earth's crust. Not only are they cheaper to produce than lithium-ion batteries, they can theoretically store five times more energy, are much safer and environmentally friendly. The problem with zinc batteries stems around them being difficult to charge because of the lack of electrocatalysts needed to reduce and generate oxygen during the discharging and charging of a battery. labnet shares a report from Gizmodo: "Up until now, rechargeable zinc-air batteries have been made with expensive precious metal catalysts, such as platinum and iridium oxide. In contrast, our method produces a family of new high-performance and low-cost catalysts." These new catalysts are produced through the simultaneous control of the composition, size and crystallinity of metal oxides of earth-abundant elements like iron, cobalt and nickel. They can then be applied to build rechargeable zinc-air batteries. Researcher Dr Li Wei, also from the University's Faculty of Engineering and Information Technologies, said trials of zinc-air batteries developed with the new catalysts had demonstrated "excellent rechargeability" -- including less than a 10 percent battery efficacy drop over 60 discharging/charging cycles of 120 hours. The research was published in the journal Advanced Materials. Read more of this story at Slashdot.

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The origin of complex life on Earth just got a little less mysterious

Science - Posted On:2017-08-16 15:44:59 Source: arstechnica

Life on Earth goes back at least two billion years, but it was only in the last half-billion that it would have been visible to the naked eye. One of the enduring questions among biologists is how life made the jump from microbes to the multicellular plants and animals who rule the planet today. Now, scientists have analyzed chemical traces of life in rocks that are up to a billion years old, and they discovered how a dramatic ice age may have led to the multicellular tipping point.

Writing in Nature, the researchers carefully reconstruct a timeline of life before and after one of the planet's most all-encompassing ice ages. About 700 million years ago, the Sturtian glaciation created what's called a "snowball Earth," completely covering the planet in ice from the poles to the equator. About 659 million years ago, the Sturtian ended with an intense greenhouse period when the planet heated rapidly. Then, just as things were burning up, the Marinoan glaciation started and covered the planet in ice again. In the roughly 15 million years between the two snowballs, a new world began to emerge.

Jochen J. Brocks, a geologist from the Australian National University, Canberra, joined with his colleagues to track the emergence of multicellular life by identifying traces left by cell membranes in ancient rocks. Made from lipids and their byproducts, cell membrane "biomarkers" are like fossils for early microorganisms. By measuring chemical changes in these membranes, Brocks and his team discovered a "rapid rise" of new, larger forms of sea-going plankton algae in the warming waters after the Sturtian snowball. Some of these lifeforms were eukaryotes, meaning they had developed a nucleus—that's another necessary step on the road to multicellular life.

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Tiny Robots Crawl Through Mouse's Stomach To Release Antibiotics

science - Posted On:2017-08-16 14:15:00 Source: slashdot

Tiny robotic drug deliveries could soon be treating diseases inside your body. For the first time, micromotors -- autonomous vehicles the width of a human hair -- have cured bacterial infections in the stomachs of mice, using bubbles to power the transport of antibiotics. From a report: "The movement itself improves the retention of antibiotics on the stomach lining where the bacteria are concentrated," says Joseph Wang at the University of California San Diego, who led the research with Liangfang Zhang. In mice with bacterial stomach infections, the team used the micromotors to administer a dose of antibiotics daily for five days. At the end of the treatment, they found their approach was more effective than regular doses of medicine. The tiny vehicles consist of a spherical magnesium core coated with several different layers that offer protection, treatment, and the ability to stick to stomach walls. After they are swallowed, the magnesium cores react with gastric acid to produce a stream of hydrogen bubbles that propel the motors around. This process briefly reduces acidity in the stomach. The antibiotic layer of the micromotor is sensitive to the surrounding acidity, and when this is lowered, the antibiotics are released. Read more of this story at Slashdot.

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Deadly drug-resistant fungus sparks outbreaks in UK—and it’s stalking US

Science - Posted On:2017-08-16 13:00:00 Source: arstechnica

More than 200 patients in more than 55 UK hospitals were discovered by healthcare workers to be infected or colonized by the multi-drug resistant fungus Candida auris, a globally emerging yeast pathogen that has experts nervous.

Three of the hospitals experienced large outbreaks, which as of Monday were all declared officially over by health authorities there. No deaths have been reported since the fungus was first detected in the country in 2013, but 27 affected patients have developed blood infections, which can be life-threatening. And about a quarter of the more than 200 cases were clinical infections.

Officials in the UK aimed to assuage fear of the fungus and assure patients that hospitals were safe. “Our enhanced surveillance shows a low risk to patients in healthcare settings. Most cases detected have not shown symptoms or developed an infection as a result of the fungus,” Dr Colin Brown, of Public Health England's national infection service, told the BBC.

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Deadly, drug-resistant fungus sparks outbreaks in UK—and it’s stalking US

Science - Posted On:2017-08-16 12:30:00 Source: arstechnica

More than 200 patients in more than 55 UK hospitals were discovered by healthcare workers to be infected or colonized by the multi-drug resistant fungus Candida auris, a globally emerging yeast pathogen that has experts nervous.

Three of the hospitals experienced large outbreaks, which as of Monday were all declared officially over by health authorities there. No deaths have been reported since the fungus was first detected in the country in 2013, but 27 affected patients have developed blood infections, which can be life-threatening. And about a quarter of the more than 200 cases were clinical infections.

Officials in the UK aimed to assuage fear of the fungus and assure patients that hospitals were safe. “Our enhanced surveillance shows a low risk to patients in healthcare settings. Most cases detected have not shown symptoms or developed an infection as a result of the fungus,” Dr Colin Brown, of Public Health England's national infection service, told the BBC.

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New Work Suggests That P Is Not Equal To NP

science - Posted On:2017-08-16 11:30:01 Source: slashdot

New submitter cccc828 writes: In a new paper Norbert Blum tackles the P=NP question and finds them to be not equal. While this is exciting news (for theoretical computer scientists at least), remember that there is a long list of findings pointing either way. Read more of this story at Slashdot.

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Researchers use lasers to weld spider silk to kevlar

Science - Posted On:2017-08-16 10:59:57 Source: arstechnica

Spider silk has some amazing material properties, so there's lots of enthusiasm for the prospect of using it to make something useful. Unfortunately, spiders aren't domesticated, and attempts to make the silk proteins in other organisms aven't been entirely successful. And then there's the matter of what to do with silk once you have it. It doesn't always cooperate with modern manufacturing techniques.

But some researchers in India figured out a way to get spider silk to play nicely with lasers. Under the right conditions, the silk itself helps amplify a laser's power, to the point where it can either cut the silk in specific locations, or soften it to the point where it can be bent or welded.

The work relies on a physics effect termed "nonlinear multiphoton interactions." In the simplest terms, the effect allows two photons of a given energy to act as a single photon of twice the energy (higher combinations are also possible). It's a nonlinear effect, since it involves a sudden jump in energy; you don't end up with any photons in between, at 1.5x the original energy.

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The Google Lunar XPRIZE recognizes that some landers will fail

Science - Posted On:2017-08-16 09:14:57 Source: arstechnica

The $30 million Google Lunar XPRIZE was announced nearly a decade ago, with the goal of landing a privately funded robot on the Moon that travels more than 500 meters and returns high-definition images and video to Earth. It had an ambitious timeline of just five years. But like almost all big projects in aerospace, this deadline kept slipping to the right. In 2015, it was extended to require a launch by the end of 2017.

By this year, five teams remained in the competition—SpaceIL, Moon Express, Synergy Moon, Team Indus, and Hakuto. Each had attained a contract to meet the requirement to launch a mission to land on the Moon by the end of this year to claim the bulk of the prize money. But still, no one seemed quite ready to launch to the Moon just yet.

In recognition of this, the prize organizers have extended the deadline for completion of the mission to March 31, 2018, giving each of the groups an additional three months. Organizers also added incremental prizes along the way, $1.75 million for completing one orbit around the Moon or entering a direct-ascent approach to the lunar surface, and $3 million for a soft landing on the Moon. The overall prize value remains $30 million.

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“Alternative” medicine’s toll on cancer patients: Death rate up to 5X higher

Science - Posted On:2017-08-16 07:59:58 Source: arstechnica

Unproven alternative treatments are clearly risky. Some carry the risk of direct harms, such as improperly diluted homeopathic tablets, blinding stem cell injections, contaminated supplements, or tainted placenta pills. And others, such as magic healing crystals and useless detoxes, may risk indirect harm by taking the place of evidence-based treatments.

However obvious the risks, measuring them has been tricky. For one thing, patients aren’t always eager to provide data, let alone admit to their doctors that they’ve ditched conventional therapies. But, by digging into the National Cancer database, researchers at Yale have finally quantified one type of risk for cancer patients—the risk of death. And the results are grim.

Those who skipped or delayed conventional treatment to use alternative ones had as much as a 5.7-fold increased risk of dying within five years than those who stuck with conventional medicine, the researchers reported in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute. Though the study was small and had several gaps—including not knowing the types of alternative treatments patients had tried—the researchers hope that it spurs discussion and “greater scrutiny of the use of [alternative medicine] for the initial treatment of cancer.”

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Energy Drinks May Trigger Future Substance Use, Says Study

science - Posted On:2017-08-16 06:14:58 Source: slashdot

New research suggests persistent consumption of energy drinks may predispose young adults to substance use. "Investigators, led by Amelia M. Arria, PhD, School of Public Health, University of Maryland, College Park, found that college students who regularly drink highly caffeinated energy drinks were at increased risk for later use of alcohol, cocaine, or prescription stimulants," reports Medscape. From the report: The research included students enrolled in an ongoing longitudinal study that began in 2004 at a large public university. The analysis included 1099 participants (54% women; 72% non-Hispanic white) who completed at least one annual assessment in which patterns of energy drink consumption were assessed. In interviews, participants were asked which energy drinks they had consumed, and how often, in the past year. They were categorized into three patterns of use: Frequent (52 or more days); Occasional (12 - 51 days); Infrequent (1 - 11 days). The investigators found that sensation seeking, conduct problems, and behavioral dysregulation were all positively associated with a higher probability of energy drink consumption, with the nonuse group having the lowest and the persistent group the highest risk scores. The study was published in the journal Drug and Alcohol Dependence. Read more of this story at Slashdot.

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Scientists Finally Unlock the Recipe For Magic Mushrooms

science - Posted On:2017-08-15 23:44:58 Source: slashdot

An anonymous reader writes: Aside from being a schedule 1 drug, scientists haven't fully understood the chemistry behind how mushrooms produce the chemical psilocybin -- until now. A new study may finally lay the groundwork for a medical-grade psilocybin patients can take. Gizmodo reports: "Living things make molecules through a series of chemical reactions, similar to how car makers produce cars on assembly lines. Enzymes act as the workers/robots, speeding up the reactions by helping put the pieces together. Actually making psilocybin requires mapping the biological factory. A 1968 paper (obviously it was in 1968) offered a proposed order of events leading to a finished psilocybin molecule, by adding radioactive elements and watching what happened to them on the assembly line. The researchers thought that maybe tryptophan, the amino acid everyone wrongly says makes you sleepy, was the first piece, which then went through four successive steps to become the finished product. The new study shows that the 1968 paper got the order wrong, and introduces the responsible genes and enzymes, the workers that do the specific task to get the final product. This time around, mapping the factory required sequencing the genomes of two magic mushroom species, Psilocybe cubensis and Psilocybe cyanescens. Then, the researchers found exactly which genes produce the required enzymes and spliced them into E. coli bacteria. Using those enzymes, they were able to rebuild the factory and create their own psilocybin." The study has been published in the German journal Angewandte Chemie. Read more of this story at Slashdot.

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NASA may finally be getting a leader—Oklahoma pilot Jim Bridenstine

Science - Posted On:2017-08-15 20:59:58 Source: arstechnica

NASA may finally be close to getting some clarity about its leadership during the Trump administration. On Tuesday, NASA Watch reported that the President will nominate US Representative Jim Bridenstine (R-Okla.) as administrator and Aerojet Rocketdyne Vice President John Schumacher as deputy administrator. Both men have been rumored to be nominated for these posts in recent weeks, but there have been no official confirmations as yet.

Two sources familiar with Washington, DC, space politics confirmed the choices to Ars, but one of them offered a caveat. "I have heard same from multiple sources, but this is Trump world," one DC-based source said. A formal announcement has been in the works for September, but a date and location have not yet been set. A NASA spokeswoman did not reply to a query from Ars on Tuesday evening.

John Logsdon, a noted space historian and author of several books, including After Apollo? Richard Nixon and the American Space Program, said he has been hearing the same names. "Appointing Jim Bridenstine and John Schumacher as the top two NASA officials is an intriguing and potentially very productive move," Logsdon told Ars, via e-mail. "Bridenstine, for several years, has been conceptualizing what is needed for, as he suggests, an 'American Space Renaissance' and has been testing his ideas with multiple audiences. Schumacher is a Washington space community veteran, with years of both senior NASA and space industry executive experience. Together, they can bring both fresh ideas and a sense of political and policy realism to the space agency."

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Sources: Trump administration has picked its NASA leader

Science - Posted On:2017-08-15 18:45:00 Source: arstechnica

NASA may finally be close to getting some clarity about its leadership during the Trump administration. On Tuesday, NASA Watch reported that the President will nominate US Representative Jim Bridenstine (R-Okla.), as administrator and Aerojet Rocketdyne Vice President John Schumacher as deputy administrator. Both men have been rumored to be nominated for these posts in recent weeks, but there have been no official confirmations as yet.

Two sources familiar with Washington, DC, space politics confirmed the choices to Ars, but one of them offered a caveat. "I have heard same from multiple sources, but this is Trump world," one DC-based source said. A formal announcement has been in the works for September, but a date and location have not yet been set. A NASA spokeswoman did not reply to a query from Ars on Tuesday evening.

John Logsdon, a noted space historian and author of several books, including After Apollo? Richard Nixon and the American Space Program, said he has been hearing the same names. "Appointing Jim Bridenstine and John Schumacher as the top two NASA officials is an intriguing and potentially very productive move," Logsdon told Ars, via e-mail. "Bridenstine, for several years, has been conceptualizing what is needed for, as he suggests, an 'American Space Renaissance' and has been testing his ideas with multiple audiences. Schumacher is a Washington space community veteran, with years of both senior NASA and space industry executive experience. Together, they can bring both fresh ideas and a sense of political and policy realism to the space agency."

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