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News Bytes of the Week--(Weird Sex) in an octopus's garden

Guitar science; Breakbone fever cripples Rio; Is the Large Hadron Collider doomsday-safe? and more



Roy L. Caldwell/UC Berkeley

Octopus love: Make room for a little kink
Apparently the octopus, once believed to be the loner of the deep, is actually the ocean's resident fetishist. University of California, Berkeley, scientists report in Marine Biology that during many weeks of observing the cephalopod in reefs near Indonesia, the creatures engaged in everything from "cross-dressing" to strangulation during courtship and mating. Alpha males would never leave the side of their female consorts, and dealt with other suitors—that might try to remove the alpha male's sperm from the female and replace it with their own—harshly, sometimes by strangling them to death with their tentacles. The less manly of the lot would often impersonate females to avoid stronger males by altering stripes on their bodies to look more like those of the fairer sex. They would then sneak up on a possible mate and engage in an act of copulation that lasted up to six times longer than their more macho peers (topping out at 30 minutes). The end result: both sexual partners died within several weeks, but not until after the females each laid thousands of eggs to carry the freak show to future generations. (The Times of London)

Guitar science: Sucking the feedback out of shredding
It was a trademark move of ill-fated rock-n-rollers Jimi Hendrix and, much later, Kurt Cobain: facing their amplifiers as they wailed, their guitars cranking out notes barely audible against the sonic wall of feedback. Now Joshua Reiss, an electronic engineer at Queen Mary, University of London, reveals that he has developed a piece of software that sound engineers can use to take all the noise (but none of the fun) out of those guitar histrionics. During a preperformance sound check, his program can pick out certain frequency levels that are likely to result in a screech. Whenever the music starts to approach one of these risky frequencies during the actual show, the software adjusts the overall volume to avoid any feedback. This software is not suggested for use with most metal and punk bands. (The Guardian)

World's first manned airplane powered by hydrogen takes flight
U.S. aircraft maker Boeing announced this week that it had completed the world's first manned flights in an airplane powered by pollution-free hydrogen. The test flights in February and March outside Madrid, Spain, mark the first time a pilot has ever flown an aircraft powered by hydrogen (unmanned hydrogen fuel cell planes were flown by AeroVironment, Inc., in 2005 and hydrogen gas has been used for buoyancy in balloons and blimps for more than a century). Electricity produced by a fuel cell by combining hydrogen and oxygen powered an electric motor to turn the two-seat test glider's propeller and enabled it to fly for roughly 20 minutes at 62 miles per hour (100 kilometers per hour) at about 3,300 feet (1,000 meters) above sea level. The flights were a success, but Boeing does not expect larger aircraft to be able to fly on hydrogen anytime soon. It could, however, be used for smaller aircraft such as crop dusters or as an auxiliary source of power in jumbo jets. (BBC)

Breakbone fever cripples Rio
Dengue fever—a potentially fatal mosquito-borne disease that causes crippling muscle and joint pain—has infected at least 55,000 people in Rio de Janeiro, nearly double the number of people infected in all of Brazil last year. Brazilian officials, struggling to cope with the outbreak, have requested military aid and assistance from foreign doctors. They are not sure what caused the sudden spike in cases. The infection, also known as breakbone fever because of its symptoms, is transmitted by the Aedes aegypti mosquito and has killed at least 67 people in Rio this year, many of them children. There is no vaccine, which means the only way to stop the spread of the disease is to kill its mosquito hosts. (AP)

Newborn planet may be younger than Christianity
Researchers have spotted the youngest planet to date—an embryonic "protoplanet" still embedded in its birthing material. U.K. researchers trained radio telescope arrays at Jodrell Bank in England and the Very Large Array (VLA) in New Mexico toward the star HL Tau, 520 light-years away, where they identified a clump of small pebbles that they believe will condense into a gas giant planet some 14 times heavier than Jupiter. The star itself is thought to be no more than 100,000 years old (compared with the sun's 4.6 billion years), but researchers say the planet could have formed as recently as 1,600 years ago, kicked off by a gravitational nudge from another star wandering past. (Royal Astronomical Society)

LHC doomsday lawsuit questions physicists' instincts for self-preservation
Concerned individuals are out to save the world—from particle accelerators. According to news reports, a lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court for the District of Hawaii last month alleges that CERN (European Organization for Nuclear Research) researchers have not sufficiently investigated the possibility that they will unleash a world-destroying mini–black hole when they fire up the Large Hadron Collider (LHC), an enormous $8-billion particle accelerator set to go on line later this year near Geneva, Switzerland. Walter Wagner, a former radiation safety officer and cosmic-ray physicist living in Hawaii, raised similar concerns in 1999 over an accelerator in Long Island, N.Y., that ended up not destroying the world. This time, he and a second plaintiff are seeking a temporary restraining order against CERN until it proves the safety of the new machine, the largest ever of its kind. Physicists have repeatedly dismissed the notion of runaway black holes or any other disastrous consequences from such experiments. A spokesman for CERN, which lies well outside of Hawaii's jurisdiction, told reporters it is updating a 2003 study to address Wagner's lingering concerns. (LHCConcerns.com)

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