With the best air pressure sensor ever on Mars, scientists find a mystery

Science - Posted On:2019-02-20 08:44:57 Source: arstechnica

There's a new meteorologist on Mars. Although NASA's InSight spacecraft landed on the red planet late in 2018 to measure the planet's geology—primarily by listening for Mars quakes—it also brought some sophisticated meteorology equipment with it.

The space agency has set up a website to share that information, which includes not only daily high and low temperatures, but unprecedented hourly data on wind speed, direction, and air pressure for InSight's location near the equator in Elysium Planitia. "We thought it was something that people might have some fun with," Cornell University's Don Banfield, who leads InSight's weather science, told Ars.

Other spacecraft have brought comparable temperature and wind sensors to Mars before, but none have carried such a precise air pressure sensor. The new sensor is 10 times more sensitive than any previous instrument because InSight needs to detect slight movements in the Martian ground, and from such movements infer details about the red planet's interior. For this, weather matters.

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Some weird things are happening with air pressure on Mars

Science - Posted On:2019-02-20 08:29:57 Source: arstechnica

There's a new meteorologist on Mars. Although NASA's InSight spacecraft landed on the red planet late in 2018 to measure the planet's geology—primarily by listening for Mars quakes—it also brought some sophisticated meteorology equipment with it.

The space agency has set up a website to share that information, which includes not only daily high and low temperatures, but unprecedented hourly data on wind speed, direction, and air pressure for InSight's location near the equator in Elysium Planitia. "We thought it was something that people might have some fun with," Cornell University's Don Banfield, who leads InSight's weather science, told Ars.

Other spacecraft have brought comparable temperature and wind sensors to Mars before, but none have carried such a precise air pressure sensor. The new sensor is 10 times more sensitive than any previous instrument because InSight needs to detect slight movements in the Martian ground, and from such movements infer details about the red planet's interior. For this, weather matters.

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Neuroscientists Say They've Found An Entirely New Form of Neural Communication

science - Posted On:2019-02-20 02:14:58 Source: slashdot

Scientists think they've identified a previously unknown form of neural communication that self-propagates across brain tissue, and can leap wirelessly from neurons in one section of brain tissue to another -- even if they've been surgically severed. The discovery offers some radical new insights about the way neurons might be talking to one another, via a mysterious process unrelated to conventionally understood mechanisms, such as synaptic transmission, axonal transport, and gap junction connections. ScienceAlert reports: "We don't know yet the 'So what?' part of this discovery entirely," says neural and biomedical engineer Dominique Durand from Case Western Reserve University. "But we do know that this seems to be an entirely new form of communication in the brain, so we are very excited about this." To that end, Durand and his team investigated slow periodic activity in vitro, studying the brain waves in This neural activity can actually be modulated - strengthened or blocked - by applying weak electrical fields and could be an analogue form of another cell communication method, called ephaptic coupling. The team's most radical finding was that these electrical fields can activate neurons through a complete gap in severed brain tissue, when the two pieces remain in close physical proximity. slices extracted from decapitated mice. What they found was that slow periodic activity can generate electric fields which in turn activate neighboring cells, constituting a form of neural communication without chemical synaptic transmission or gap junctions. "To ensure that the slice was completely cut, the two pieces of tissue were separated and then rejoined while a clear gap was observed under the surgical microscope," the authors explain in their paper. "The slow hippocampal periodic activity could indeed generate an event on the other side of a complete cut through the whole slice." The findings are reported in The Journal of Physiology. Read more of this story at Slashdot.

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FDA Warns Against Using Young Blood As Medical Treatment

science - Posted On:2019-02-19 22:44:58 Source: slashdot

An anonymous reader quotes a report from CNN: The U.S. Food and Drug Administration warned Tuesday against using plasma infusions from young blood donors to ward off the effects of normal aging as well as other more serious conditions. Plasma, the liquid portion of the blood, contains proteins that help clot blood. The infusions are promoted to treat a variety of conditions, including normal aging and memory loss as well as serious conditions such as dementia, multiple sclerosis, heart disease and post-traumatic stress disorder. "There is no proven clinical benefit of infusion of plasma from young donors to cure, mitigate, treat, or prevent these conditions, and there are risks associated with the use of any plasma product," FDA Commissioner Dr. Scott Gottlieb wrote in a statement Tuesday. "The reported uses of these products should not be assumed to be safe or effective," he added, noting that the FDA "strongly" discourages consumers from using this therapy "outside of clinical trials under appropriate institutional review board and regulatory oversight." Gottlieb said that "a growing number of clinics" are offering plasma from young donors and similar therapies, though he did not name any in particular. Read more of this story at Slashdot.

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These quarries supplied the stones that built Stonehenge

Science - Posted On:2019-02-19 20:14:58 Source: arstechnica

Excavations at two ancient quarry sites in western Wales suggest how ancient people probably quarried some of the stones now standing at Stonehenge.

The 42 stones in question are some of the smaller parts at Stonehenge, relatively speaking: they still weigh two to four tons each. They're called the bluestones, and they came all the way from western Wales. Chemical analysis has even matched some of them to two particular quarries on the northern slopes of the Preseli Hills.

One, an outcrop called Carn Goedog, seems to have supplied most of the bluish-gray, white-speckled dolerite at Stonehenge. And another outcrop in the valley below, Craig Rhos-y-felin, supplied most of the rhyolite. University College London archaeologist Michael Parker Pearson and his colleagues have spent the last eight years excavating the ancient quarry sites, and that work has revealed some new information about the origins of Stonehenge.

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How Streaming Music Could Be Harming the Planet

science - Posted On:2019-02-19 19:59:59 Source: slashdot

An anonymous reader quotes a report from the BBC: Current digital technology gives us flawless music quality without physical deterioration. Music is easy to copy and upload, and can be streamed online without downloading. Since our digital music is less tangible than vinyl or CDs, surely it must be more environmentally friendly? Even though new formats are material-free, that doesn't mean they don't have an environmental impact. The electronic files we download are stored on active, cooled servers. The information is then retrieved and transmitted across the network to a router, which is transferred by wi-fi to our electronic devices. This happens every time we stream a track, which costs energy. Once vinyl or a CD is purchased, it can be played over and over again, the only carbon cost coming from running the record player. However, if we listen to our streamed music using a hi-fi sound system it's estimated to use 107 kilowatt hours of electricity a year, costing about $20 to run. A CD player uses 34.7 kilowatt hours a year and costs about $7 to run. So, which is the greener option? It depends on many things, including how many times you listen to your music. If you only listen to a track a couple of times, then streaming is the best option. If you listen repeatedly, a physical copy is best -- streaming an album over the internet more than 27 times will likely use more energy than it takes to produce and manufacture a CD. If you want to reduce your impact on the environment, then vintage vinyl could be a great physical option. For online music, local storage on phones, computers or local network drives keeps the data closer to the user and will reduce the need for streaming over distance from remote severs across a power-hungry network. Read more of this story at Slashdot.

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Blood of the young won’t spare rich old people from sadness and death, FDA says

Science - Posted On:2019-02-19 16:45:00 Source: arstechnica

The US Food and Drug Administration issued an alert Tuesday, February 19, warning older consumers against seeking infusions of blood plasma harvested from younger people. Despite being peddled as anti-aging treatments and cures for a range of conditions, the transfusions are unproven and potentially harmful.

In a statement, FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb and the director of FDA's Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research, Peter Marks, wrote:

Simply put, we're concerned that some patients are being preyed upon by unscrupulous actors touting treatments of plasma from young donors as cures and remedies.

Establishments in several states are now selling young blood plasma, which is the liquid portion of blood that contains proteins for clotting. The sellers suggest that doses of young plasma can treat conditions ranging from normal aging and memory loss to dementia, Parkinson's disease, multiple sclerosis, Alzheimer's disease, heart disease, or post-traumatic stress disorder, according to the FDA.

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Middle-Age Men Who Can Do 40+ Push-Ups Have Lower Heart Disease Risk, Study Finds

science - Posted On:2019-02-19 16:00:00 Source: slashdot

A new study finds that active middle aged men who can do more than 40 push-ups at a time have a significantly lower risk of heart disease. From a report: Researchers at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health followed more than 1,100 middle-aged male firefighters over a decade. They looked at two specific measures: how many push-ups they could do and their exercise tolerance on a treadmill. They found that men who could do more than 40 push-ups had a 96-percent lower risk of heart disease than those who could do no more than 10 and their ability to do push-ups was a better predictor of cardiovascular disease than their stamina on a treadmill test. Read more of this story at Slashdot.

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Gene editing still has a few bugs in the system

Science - Posted On:2019-02-19 11:15:01 Source: arstechnica

Of late, gene editing has been in the news due to an ethically reckless experiment in which human embryos were subjected to an inefficient form of gene editing. The subjects, now born, gained uncertain protection from HIV in exchange for a large collection of potential risks. A large number of ethicists and scientists agreed that this isn't the sort of thing we should be using gene editing for.

That response contains an implicit corollary: there are some things that might justify the use of gene editing in humans. Now, a series of papers looks at some reasonable use cases in mice and collectively find that the technology really isn't ready for use yet.

Gene editing will likely always come with a bit of risk; when you're cutting and pasting DNA in millions of cells, extremely rare events can't be avoided. So the ethical questions come down to how we can minimize those risks, and what conditions make them worth taking.

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After nearly $50 billion, NASA’s deep-space plans remain grounded

Science - Posted On:2019-02-19 11:15:01 Source: arstechnica

During the last 15 years, the US Congress has authorized budgets totaling $46 billion for various NASA deep-space exploration plans. By late summer, 2020, that total is likely to exceed $50 billion, most of which has been spent on developing a heavy-lift rocket and deep space capsule that may carry humans into deep space.

In a new analysis that includes NASA's recently approved fiscal year 2019 budget, aerospace analyst Laura Forczyk found that, of this total, NASA has spent $16 billion on the Orion capsule, $14 billion on the Space Launch System rocket, and most of the remainder on ground systems development along with the Ares I and Ares V rockets.

For all of this spending on "exploration programs" since 2005, NASA has demonstrated relatively little spaceflight capability. The Ares I launch vehicle flew one time, in 2009, to an altitude of just 40km. (It had a dummy upper stage and fake capsule). The Ares project, as part of NASA's Constellation Program, would be abandoned the next year, as it was behind schedule and over budget. Later, in 2014, NASA launched an uncrewed version of its Orion spacecraft on a private rocket to an altitude of 400km. The first flight of the new SLS rocket, again with an uncrewed Orion vehicle, may occur in 2021.

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We’re still a long way from using gene editing for medical conditions

Science - Posted On:2019-02-19 10:59:57 Source: arstechnica

Of late, gene editing has been in the news due to an ethically reckless experiment in which human embryos were subjected to an inefficient form of gene editing. The subjects, now born, gained uncertain protection from HIV in exchange for a large collection of potential risks. A large number of ethicists and scientists agreed that this isn't the sort of thing we should be using gene editing for.

That response contains an implicit corollary: there are some things that might justify the use of gene editing in humans. Now, a series of papers looks at some reasonable use cases in mice and collectively find that the technology really isn't ready for use yet.

Gene editing will likely always come with a bit of risk; when you're cutting and pasting DNA in millions of cells, extremely rare events can't be avoided. So the ethical questions come down to how we can minimize those risks, and what conditions make them worth taking.

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New carbon capture solvent is another stab at optimism in a stagnant industry

Science - Posted On:2019-02-19 10:29:59 Source: arstechnica

Capturing carbon emissions before they enter the atmosphere is a white whale for the fossil fuel industry.

In theory, if a power plant or a factory could easily eliminate carbon emissions by filtering them out of flue gas, then the plant would be able to pursue business as usual with some simple retrofits—no threat of future regulations mandating lower emissions, no push to switch to completely new technologies.

The problem is that carbon capture is energy-intensive and expensive, it doesn't capture all the carbon dioxide being released, and it's not always clear what to do with the gas after it's captured. (The current best option is to find underground caverns in which the carbon can be stored, or sell the CO2 to older oil fields for enhanced oil recovery.)

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Carbon capture struggles for footing, but optimism is in no short supply

Science - Posted On:2019-02-19 10:14:57 Source: arstechnica

Capturing carbon emissions before they enter the atmosphere is a white whale for the fossil fuel industry.

In theory, if a power plant or a factory could easily eliminate carbon emissions by filtering them out of flue gas, then the plant would be able to pursue business as usual with some simple retrofits—no threat of future regulations mandating lower emissions, no push to switch to completely new technologies.

The problem is that carbon capture is energy-intensive and expensive, it doesn't capture all the carbon dioxide being released, and it's not always clear what to do with the gas after it's captured. (The current best option is to find underground caverns in which the carbon can be stored, or sell the CO2 to older oil fields for enhanced oil recovery.)

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High-tech toilet seat monitors your heart as you sit on the can

Science - Posted On:2019-02-19 09:14:57 Source: arstechnica

If developing heart disease scares the poo out of you, this new monitor may be just the thing.

Engineers at Rochester Institute of Technology have designed a high-tech toilet seat that effortlessly flushes out data on the state of your cardiovascular system. The tricked-out porcelain throne measures your blood pressure, blood oxygen level, and the volume of blood your heart pumps per beat (stroke volume)—taking readings every time you sit down to catch up on some reading of your own. The engineers, led by David Borkholder, recently published a prototype of the seat in the open-access journal JMIR mHealth and uHealth.

According to the inventors, the seat’s daily data dump could make patients and their doctors privy to early warning signs of heart failure, potentially helping to prevent further deterioration and avoid costly hospital stays. Moreover, the seat could ease in-home monitoring for heart patients, who often strain to consistently track their tickers with other, non-toilet-based monitors.

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The wrath of grapes: A tale of 12 dead microwaves and plasma-spewing grapes

Science - Posted On:2019-02-18 16:30:00 Source: arstechnica

DIY science enthusiasts know that, if you put a halved grape into a microwave with just a bit of skin connecting the halves, it'll produce sparks and a fiery plume of ionized gas known as a plasma. There are thousands of YouTube videos documenting the effect. But the standard explanation offered for why this occurs isn't quite right, according to a new paper in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. And its authors only needed to destroy a dozen microwaves to prove it.

"Many microwaves were in fact harmed during the experiments," admitted co-author Hamza Khattak of Trent University in Canada. "At one point, we had a microwave graveyard in the lab before disposing of the many early iterations in electronic waste."

Co-author Aaron Slepkov first became interested in the phenomenon when, as an undergraduate in 1995, he noticed there was no formal (i.e., scientifically rigorous and peer-reviewed) explanation for how the plasma was being generated. Once he'd finished his PhD and established his own research group at Trent University, he started doing his own experiments (microwaving grapes for science) with one of his undergraduate students. They used thermal imaging and computer simulations of both grapes and hydrogel beads in their experiments.

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These scientists broke 12 microwaves to learn how grapes create plasmas

Science - Posted On:2019-02-18 16:15:00 Source: arstechnica

DIY science enthusiasts know that, if you put a halved grape into a microwave with just a bit of skin connecting the halves, it'll produce sparks and a fiery plume of ionized gas known as a plasma. There are thousands of YouTube videos documenting the effect. But the standard explanation offered for why this occurs isn't quite right, according to a new paper in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. And its authors only needed to destroy a dozen microwaves to prove it.

"Many microwaves were in fact harmed during the experiments," admitted co-author Hamza Khattak of Trent University in Canada. "At one point, we had a microwave graveyard in the lab before disposing of the many early iterations in electronic waste."

Co-author Aaron Slepkov first became interested in the phenomenon when, as an undergraduate in 1995, he noticed there was no formal (i.e., scientifically rigorous and peer reviewed) explanation for how the plasma was being generated. Once he'd finished his PhD and established his own research group at Trent University, he started doing his own experiments (microwaving grapes for science) with one of his undergraduate students. They used thermal imaging and computer simulations of both grapes and hydrogel beads in their experiments.

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A 5km asteroid may briefly occult the brightest star in the night sky

Science - Posted On:2019-02-18 11:30:00 Source: arstechnica

Sirius, a binary system, is the brightest star in the night sky. The larger of the two stars, Sirius A, is about 25 times more luminous than the Sun, and Sirius is relatively nearby, at less than 9 light years from our Solar System.

On Monday night, for a few areas of South and Central America, as well as the Caribbean, Sirius will probably briefly disappear. This will occur as a small asteroid passes in front of the star, occulting it for up to 1.6 seconds, according to the International Occultation Timing Association. (Yes, the acronym is IOTA).

In this case, the asteroid 4388 Jürgenstock will have an apparent diameter just an iota bigger than Sirius. The angular diameter of the asteroid is about 0.007 arcseconds (an arcsecond is 1/3,600th of a degree of the night sky), whereas the angular diameter of Sirius is 0.006 arcseconds. Thus, as the asteroid passes in front of Sirius, the star will briefly dim, perhaps completely, before quickly brightening again. Sirius may appear to blink once, slowly.

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A 5km asteroid may briefly occult the brightest star in the sky

Science - Posted On:2019-02-18 10:59:57 Source: arstechnica

Sirius, a binary system, is the brightest star in the night sky. The larger of the two stars, Sirius A, is about 25 times more luminous than the Sun, and Sirius is relatively nearby, at less than 9 light years from our Solar System.

On Monday night, for a few areas of South and Central America, as well as the Caribbean, Sirius will probably briefly disappear. This will occur as a small asteroid passes in front of the star, occulting it for up to 1.6 seconds, according to the International Occultation Timing Association. (Yes, the acronym is IOTA).

In this case, the asteroid 4388 Jürgenstock will have an apparent diameter just an iota bigger than Sirius. The angular diameter of the asteroid is about 0.007 arcseconds (an arcsecond is 1/3,600th of a degree of the night sky), whereas the angular diameter of Sirius is 0.006 arcseconds. Thus, as the asteroid passes in front of Sirius, the star will briefly dim, perhaps completely, before quickly brightening again. Sirius may appear to blink once, slowly.

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A small asteroid may briefly blot out Sirius Monday night

Science - Posted On:2019-02-18 10:44:56 Source: arstechnica

Sirius, a binary system, is the brightest star in the night sky. The larger of the two stars, Sirius A, is about 25 times more luminous than the Sun, and Sirius is relatively nearby, at less than 9 light years from our Solar System.

On Monday night, for a few areas of South and Central America, as well as the Caribbean, Sirius will probably briefly disappear. This will occur as a small asteroid passes in front of the star, occulting it for up to 1.6 seconds, according to the International Occultation Timing Association. (Yes, the acronym is IOTA).

In this case, the asteroid 4388 Jürgenstock will have an apparent diameter just an iota bigger than Sirius. The angular diameter of the asteroid is about 0.007 arcseconds (an arcsecond is 1/3,600th of a degree of the night sky), whereas the angular diameter of Sirius is 0.006 arcseconds. Thus, as the asteroid passes in front of Sirius the star will briefly dim, perhaps completely, before quickly brightening again. Sirius may appear to blink once, slowly.

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Georgia Tech scientists figured out how maggots can eat so much, so fast

Science - Posted On:2019-02-17 12:15:00 Source: arstechnica

How do the larvae of black soldier flies eat so much, so fast, despite their tiny size? Scientists at Georgia Tech have been studying this "collective feeding" behavior and found that one strategy for maximizing the larvae's feeding rate involves forming maggot "fountains." The scientists described the results in a recent paper in the Journal of the Royal Society Interface, along with an entertaining video showing a swarm of larvae consuming an entire pizza in just two hours.

"This is the first time, as far as I know, that we've really tried to quantify how much they were able to eat, and how they are able to do it," said graduate student and co-author Olga Shishkov, who demonstrated the research on Saturday at the American Association for the Advancement of Science meeting in Washington, DC. It's not the first time she's had fun demonstrating the maggots' hearty appetite in creative ways: last year, she videotaped the critters devouring a heart-shaped donut for Valentine's Day.

Shishkov's advisor is David Hu, who runs a biolocomotion laboratory at the Georgia Institute of Technology studying how various creatures move. He is perhaps best known for his work with fire ants, but his lab also studies cat tongues, water striders, snakes, various climbing insects, mosquitos, and, of course, black soldier fly larvae.

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