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News Bytes of the Week—Headless Snake Bites Hapless Man

Teacher in space, giant Lego man goes swimming and more…

I've had it with these $#&@?! dead snakes biting me
Farmer Danny Anderson, 53, must have thought he had things under control after using a shovel to hack the head off a snake that had slithered onto his farm in central Washington State. He couldn't possibly have predicted what happened next: The severed head did a "backflip almost" and bit his finger, the AP reports, sending Anderson to the hospital as his tongue swelled from venom. Actually, maybe he could have predicted this bizarre plot twist from straight out of Snakes on a Plane 2. At least five other men have received snakebites on their fingers from dead or decapitated snakes, according to a 1999 New England Journal of Medicine paper. The phenomenon may go even further back. As noted in the December 1999 SciAm, poet Percy Bysshe Shelley wrote in an 1820 letter to his wife Mary that "vipers kill, though dead." In fact, "decapitated snake heads are dangerous for between 20 and 60 minutes after removal from the body of the snake," Jeffrey Suchard of the Good Samaritan Regional Medical Center in Phoenix told SciAm's own Steve Mirsky earlier that year. So remember: wait an hour before handling a dead snake. (AP)

Twister in Brooklyn
A tornado tore through downtown Brooklyn Wednesday night, the first twister to hit the borough since 1889 and only the sixth to touch down in New York City since 1974, Newsday reports. Conspiracy theorists immediately cried global warming. Climate researcher James Hansen told the blog Wired Science that individual weather events don't have single causes. But can global warming increase the tendency for bad storms, by giving them more heat to draw energy from? "There," Hansen says, "the answer seems to be yes." (Newsday; Wired Science)

Space teacher
Space Shuttle Endeavour lifted off on Thursday on an 11-day mission to the International Space Station, carrying teacher-astronaut Barbara Morgan, who trained and waited 22 years for a shot at space travel: Morgan, 55, served as backup for fellow space teacher Christa McAuliffe, who died when the ill-fated 1986 Challenger mission blew up 73 seconds after liftoff. Morgan has always insisted that McAuliffe "was, is and always will be our first teacher in space"—even though McAuliffe technically never reached space . "I'm just another teacher going in space and there are more to come," Morgan said. "People will be thinking of Christa and the Challenger crew and what they were trying to do, and that's a good thing." (New York Times; NASA preflight interview)

Mars Phoenix rises
In other space news, the Mars Phoenix lander blasted off last week on its nine-month journey. After a risky landing, the spacecraft is set to take up residence on the Red Planet's north pole, where it will dig into the arctic soil and ice for traces of water and the possibility of ETs. ( NASA)

… And this little (cloned) piggy
Japanese researchers say they have achieved a cloning first, er, fourth: they claim to have cloned a pig from a cloned clone's clone. (Got that?) The geneticists responsible for the fourth-generation clone, a male pig born at Tokyo's Meiji University in July, told the Associated Press it proves that multiple generations of clones are possible in mammals much larger than mice, which have already been multiply cloned. In other words, Attack of the Clones, meet Animal Farm… (AP)

Because nobody would buy "Baby Doofus" videos
Plunking your infant in front of the tube to watch one of those "Baby Einstein" videos may be a bad move. University of Wisconsin researchers surveyed 1,000 parents to gauge the vocabularies of their eight-to-16-month-olds and found that for every hour spent in front of such ostensibly educational videos, their kids knew six to eight fewer words than other children, perhaps because of a lack of real-time interaction with adults, the Los Angeles Times reports. "Older kids may be different,'' researcher Andrew Meltzoff said in a statement, "but the youngest babies seem to learn language best from people." (University of Washington)

The weekend forecast—in 2014
Putting meteorologist's 10-day forecasts to shame, climate researchers from England's weather service, the Met Office, claim to have created the first climate model that works for the next few years instead of decades out, by taking into account current atmospheric and ocean data. Their model predicts a brief leveling off of temperatures, followed by steady warming until 2014 that would make half of the years after 2009 warmer than it was in 1998, the steamiest year on record. (Met Office)

Foot-and-mouth outbreak
British biosafety workers sealed off an animal vaccine laboratory southwest of London suspected to be the source of an outbreak of footh-and-mouth virus that struck cattle last week on a farm near Guildford, four miles away, the AP reported. Health and safety officials cited a "strong probability" that people might have inadvertently carried the highly contagious animal virus to the farm from the high-security lab in Pirbright, home to vaccine-maker Merial Animal Health as well as a government animal research center. Although the disease does not normally affect people, it is debilitating to animals. The European Union banned British livestock, meat and dairy imports on Monday, two days after the U.K. culled the Surrey cattle in an attempt to stop the virus from spreading outside a containment area. At least one additional outbreak occurred at a neighboring farm on Monday after the controlled kill, according to the BBC. (AP; BBC)

Where the brain makes fever
The newest way to knock out a fever: remove a pinpoint cluster of brain cells just behind the eyes. Researchers report that mice are unable to spike a temperature unless a speck of gray matter no bigger than the head of a pin is pumping out certain receptors for the hormone prostaglandin produced by the body during an infection. The trigger is in a part of the hypothalamus called the median preoptic nucleus, near where the optic nerves cross. (Nature Neuroscience)

Women to macho men: Get lost
Good news for androgynous guys seeking long-term love: Women believe guys with more feminine features are better catches. In a British study, women rated male faces higher on scores of commitment and fidelity if the visages were digitally altered to have more of a Cilian Murphy look—finer features, wider eyes, fuller lips—than if they were more Russell Crowe-ish with square jaws, smaller eyes and larger noses. (University of St. Andrews)

Largest extrasolar planet has density of cork
Astronomers say they have found the largest and least dense planet yet—a gas giant twice the size of Jupiter—orbiting the star GSC02620-00648 in the constellation Hercules, 1,435 light-years away. Called TrES-4, the celestial whopper is the 19th extrasolar world found to transit between its star and Earth, allowing researchers to get a bead on its radius from the amount of starlight it blocks. (California Institute of Technology)

Quadruple galaxy pileup
If galaxies were businesses, the Securities and Exchange Commission would nix a newly observed merger. Astronomers have spied four hefty galaxies in the process of colliding into a single galaxy that may end up being 10 times as massive as our own Milky Way. Located in the galaxy cluster CL0958+4702, nearly five billion light-years away, the discoverers said in a statement that the starry globs mark the first observed collision between two big galaxies. (Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics)

Giant Lego man washes ashore in Netherlands
Art school prank? Legoland refugee? Family of undersea giants? The world isn't sure how or why a massive eight-foot-tall Lego figure beached itself on a resort beach in Zandvoort, the Netherlands. Let's just hope it comes in peace. View a slide show of the giant toy here. (Gizmodo)

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