Dec 2, 2008 | 7
Astronomers have discovered a new planet in another solar system orbiting a red giant star that provides clues into what may happen to our own solar system five billion years from now when our own, younger sun becomes a gigantic old star.
The exoplanet (a planet in another solar system) is about six times the mass of Jupiter and orbits about 40 percent closer to its star, dubbed HD 102272, than Earth does around the sun. Scientists say this is apparently the shortest distance that a planet can be from a red giant (a large, relatively cool, elderly star) without burning up.
Dec 1, 2008 | 4
Why can mosquitoes carry deadly viruses without succumbing to them and live on to give humans West Nile, dengue fever, and a host of other fatal illnesses. According to new research, the insects' primitive immune systems recognize that the viruses are dangerous and slice the microbes' genetic material into harmless pieces.
But while fighting the viruses, mosquitoes pass them to people (and in some cases other animals), who do not seem to have the capacity to chop them up. The finding, which was published in today's Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, could lead to therapies to beef up human immunity against such microbes or ways to remove mosquitoes' defenses so that they kick the bucket when invaded by viruses instead of surviving to spread them far and wide.
Dec 1, 2008 | 3
Residents of southern California were treated to a pair of sonic booms as the U.S. space shuttle Endeavour passed overhead yesterday en route to its safe landing at Edwards Air Force Base.
Bad weather had forced the crew to divert its destination from Kennedy Space Center in Florida to Edwards. The Associated Press reports it will cost about $1.8 million to bring the shuttle back to Florida on of the back of a modified jumbo jet.
"The sonic boom sounded like a nearby explosion, very low and deep. It reminded me of a thunderclap, but shorter and with a softer timbre," screenwriter John Aboud of South Pasadena told ScientificAmerican.com in an e-mail.
Nov 26, 2008 | 10
Ever wonder how a turtle got its shell? You're not the only one. Evolutionary biologists and paleontologists have long been stumped by the question. But a recently unearthed turtle fossil, the oldest on record, may hold the answer. Researchers report in Nature today that the fossil indicates shells evolved as an extension of turtles' backbones and ribs.
"Its discovery opens a new chapter in the study of the origins and early history of these fascinating reptiles," says vertebrate paleontologists Robert Reisz and Jason Head of the University of Toronto, in a commentary accompanying the article.
Scientist have been in the dark until now because all fossilized turtles previously discovered had complete shells. But this 220 million-year-old fossil is an ancestor of the modern turtle at a stage when its shell was still evolving.
Nov 25, 2008
The never-ending war against spam scored a rare victory recently when a federal judge in San Jose, California ordered a prolific spammer to pay Facebook a whopping $873 million in damages for unleashing a torrent of unsavory messages on the social network's members.
The Associated Press reports that Adam Guerbuez, of Montreal, violated the 2003 CAN-SPAM (Controlling the Assault of Non-Solicited Pornography and Marketing) Act, which carries up to an $11,000 fine per violation. Guerbuez was charged with tricking Facebook users into revealing their logins and then blitzing the unwitting victims with some 4 million obnoxious sexually explicit messages advertising everything from pot to supposed penis enlargement techniques.
Nov 24, 2008 | 34
Increased carbon dioxide (CO2) in the atmosphere is making the Pacific coast acidic far more rapidly than previously believed, potentially wreaking havoc for creatures living in it that are unable to tolerate the swiftly changing environment.
Ecologists at the University of Chicago tracked the acidity of the Pacific off an island close to Washington state over the course of eight years. Their results, published today in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences: the waters here are becoming acidic 10 times more quickly than had been predicted using other models. Their data also shows that populations of mussels—key animals in that ecosystem—are declining rapidly as the ocean becomes less alkaline.
Nov 24, 2008 | 2
The striped bass population in San Francisco Bay has been plummeting since the 1970s and now scientists know why: fish moms are passing down damaging pollutants in the water to their young, according to a new study published today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Researchers say the findings may pave the way for stiff new regulations on the chemical culprits.
Striped bass and other fish have been dying in droves off the coast of San Francisco for decades; pollution from industry and agricultural runoff has long been blamed.
Nov 20, 2008 | 6
Attention, shoppers: If the cart you selected has a handle greased with Vaseline, you may be an unwitting participant in an undercover experiment.
Ditto if you find an envelope stuffed with cash hanging out of a mailbox.
More than 600 people unknowingly took part in a series of "field experiments" in Groningen in the Netherlands designed to test the "broken window" theory, which posits that bad behavior begets bad behavior. That is: if someone sees, say, graffiti scrawled on a building, he or she will be tempted to do the same or commit some other illegal or mischievous act.
Nov 19, 2008 | 15
The tiny Furby-like pygmy tarsier, presumed to be extinct, was found during a recent expedition to Indonesia. And the cuddly, huge-eyed nocturnal critter is the very definition of cute.
"They always look like they have a perpetual smile on their face, which adds to the attraction," says physical anthropologist Sharon Gursky-Doyen, who found the presumed lost species.
Gursky-Doyen of Texas A&M University traveled into the mountains of Sulawesi Island in Indonesia to confirm that the pygmy tarsier was unequivocally extinct, but ended up becoming the first person in more than 80 years to spot a live one.
Nov 17, 2008 | 30
A new study shows that the cancer drugs imatinib (also known as Gleevec by Novartis) and sunitinib (Sutent, made by Pfizer) halt diabetes in mice.
A team from the University of California, San Francisco and Berkeley-based drug maker Plexxikon found that most of the mice manipulated to have Type 1 diabetes no longer had diabetes symptoms after just a few weeks on either of the two drugs. The researchers, who published their results in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, also discovered that daily imitanib treatment delayed when the mice got the disease, if at all. Type 1 diabetes, which usually appears during childhood, is an autoimmune disease in which the body attacks the pancreas and limits its ability to manufacture insulin, a hormone that helps cells absorb glucose to use as fuel.
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