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News Bytes of the Week—Ovulating Strippers Make Bigger Tips

A purpose for the appendix, The rain on Titan falls mainly on Xanadu and more—

Ovulating strippers make bigger tips
Strippers looking to shake their moneymakers most profitably may need only swing to the beat of their menstrual cycles. In a revealing study, University of New Mexico researchers (three altruistic guys) recruited 18 subjects (scantily clad women dancers) to log their work shifts, earnings and menstrual cycles (phone numbers, too?) on a Web site for two months, or about 5,300 lap dances. The naked truth: participants scored $335 per five-hour shift while ovulating compared with $260 per shift during the luteal phase after ovulation and $185 while menstruating. The dancers' scientifically gyrating pelvises provided the first direct evidence for human estrus—the equivalent of a baboon's bright red rump—the group reported in Evolution & Human Behavior. (Evol. Hum. Behav.)

Japanese robot gives face massage
For a colder, less personal touch than an ovulating stripper can provide, how about a nice relaxing facial from a robot? Designed by researchers at Tokyo's Waseda University, the WAO-1 (Waseda Asahi Oral Rehabilitation Robot 1) sports six golf ball–size ceramic spheres on steely arms, which, guided by sensors at the base of each arm, deliver a gentle, computer-controlled facial kneading meant for people suffering from jaw problems. Creators of the massaging metal insect told the Associated Press they hope to bring it to hospitals and spas nationwide—assuming clinical trials don't end in black and blue pulp. (Associated Press)

Pedophile photo untwisted—pedophile less so
The International Criminal Police Organization (Interpol) released a digitally reconstructed image this week of a man who it said has appeared in some 200 photos sexually abusing 12 young boys, possibly in Vietnam and Cambodia in 2002 or 2003. The man—white, in his 30s or early 40s with receding dark hair—had "twirled" the image of his face to obscure it, apparently using the built-in "twirl" setting in Photoshop, the image-processing software. But it seems he was either technologically inept or wanted the world to discover his identity. Although Interpol kept its untwirling technique under wraps, citing fear of child abusers learning how to dodge it, readers of the blog BoingBoing.net were quick with instructions for reversing twirled images. (Interpol; BoingBoing)

Heading to Titan? Don't forget your umbrella
If the lakes of liquid methane weren't enough to keep you away from Titan, here's another reason not to spend your next vacation on Saturn's largest moon: morning drizzle. A new Science study reports signs of liquid methane clouds and light showers each time the sun rose over the western foothills of Xanadu, Titan's predominant continent. The drizzle, which may result from moist clouds blown upslope and condensed into coastal rain, dissipated after about 10:30 A.M. local time. (press release)

Your appendix: What is it good for?
Researchers have long wondered about another vacation spoiler: the appendix. The wormlike colonic cul-de-sac offers no known benefit, but lands hundreds of thousands of Americans in the hospital every year with appendicitis, a potentially fatal inflammation. Maybe civilization has outlived the appendage's value, say Duke University researchers, who propose that it once helped people repopulate their intestines with beneficial, food-digesting germs after outbreaks of cholera or other intestinal bugs wiped out their gut competition. If so, the close quarters of modern industrialized life may have rendered the appendix little more than a potential surgeon's fee. (AP; Journal of Theoretical Biology)

NASA finds alien life—In its own backyard
NASA may have to upgrade its facilities unless it wants to spread invasive species to the stars. A new study of three of the space agency's clean rooms, where workers assemble spacecraft, has uncovered more than 100 types of bacteria, nearly half of which were previously unknown, the New York Times reports. Some were common bugs such as staph, but others were extremophiles that have evolved to extract nutrients from the air or paint. Researchers told the Times that the findings should help interpret tests for life on other planets and moons. Let's just hope NASA's stowaways don't return to the home world as killers. (New York Times; FEMS Microbiology Ecology)

All we are is dust from a black hole
Black holes may have a rep as the ultimate vacuum cleaners, but a new study finds that these galactic gobblers can belch dust with the best of them. With luck, the discovery will explain the puzzling profusion of dust bunnies—the raw material for stars, planets and life—that clouded the early universe, before the usual source of such motes—dying stars—made the scene. Researchers suspected that the culprit might be quasars, the powerful explosions fueled by gas swirling around energetic, supermassive black holes. Now astronomers have detected flakes of sapphire and ruby, along with other space crumbs, blowing from the quasar PG2112+059 some eight billion light-years away. Although the object dates to well after the universe's first days, astronomers say they may be well on their way to busting the dust mystery. (press release)

Why we love chocolate…
Hey, chocolate lovers, ever wonder why you can't resist the stuff? Could be a gut reaction—Literally. A small, new study says that people who crave chocolate daily may harbor certain bacteria that make it irresistible to them. Researchers at the Nestlé Research Center in Lausanne, Switzerland, report in the Journal of Proteome Research that chocolate junkies have different colonies of bacteria than people who are able to resist the sweet indulgence. The good news: chocolate lovers also had lower levels of LDL, the bad cholesterol. (The Journal of Proteome Research)

The kiss of death?
Consider this next time you slather on red lipstick: The Food and Drug Administration says it is probing findings by an independent lab that certain crimson glosses it tested contain potentially dangerous levels of lead. The Campaign for Safe Cosmetics says that a third of 33 red lipsticks (purchased in Boston, San Francisco, Minneapolis and Hartford, Conn.) examined contained lead levels exceeding 0.1 part per million, the FDA's upper limit for lead in candy. There are currently no FDA regs governing lead in lipstick, and the lobby hopes the findings will pressure makeup manufacturers to replace toxic chemicals in their products with safer alternatives. The cosmetic industry downplayed the findings, acknowledging "negligible" levels of lead in some lipsticks, but insisting it was neither intentional nor dangerous. "Consumers are exposed daily to lead," John Bailey, an executive vice president at the Cosmetic, Toiletry and Fragrance Association told the Associated Press, "The average amount of lead a woman would be exposed to when using cosmetics is 1,000 times less than the amount she would get from eating, breathing and drinking water that meets Environmental Protection Agency drinking water standards." Small comfort. (The Campaign for Safe Cosmetics; Cosmetic, Toiletry and Fragrance Association)

Love hurts—Literally
Stuck in a loveless marriage? Beware. A new study shows that you may be at greater risk than your happily married and single friends of having a coronary. Researchers surveyed 9,011 British civil servants on the quality of their personal relationships, including their marriages. After more than a decade of follow-up, those with the worst ratings were 34 percent more likely to have had a heart attack or other serious heart condition, the team reports in the Archives of Internal Medicine. A prior study found that couples who argued frequently were slow to heal from minor wounds. But before you sign those divorce papers, take heed: Married men, at least, tend to outlive bachelors. (Archives of Internal Medicine; wound healing study)

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