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Twin Earth May Be Better Than Earth for Life

Scientific American News - Thu, 04/17/2014 - 20:50
Pseudo-Earths are out there. That's the message of today's exciting announcement that a planet about the same size as Earth lives in its star's habitable zone--the temperate region around a star...

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First Earth-Size Planet That Could Support Life Found

Scientific American News - Thu, 04/17/2014 - 16:12
NASA's Kepler space telescope has identified a planet that is both similar in size to Earth and within the habitable zone of its sun

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Female Insect Uses Spiky Penis to Take Charge

Scientific American News - Thu, 04/17/2014 - 16:00
A cave insect's marathon sex sessions extract nourishment along with sperm from a reluctant male

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The Digital Cameras NASA Sent Into Space In The 90s

Popular Science News - Thu, 04/17/2014 - 15:30

Kodak Hawkeye II Tethered Imaging Accessory Credit: James McGarvey

In December 1975, a Kodak lab engineer created the first fully digital camera—and snapped a 100-by-100-pixel image to a cassette tape in 23 seconds.

Fast forward a couple decades and the CCD--charge-coupled device--started to emerge as the go-to technology for digital imaging. The image sensor converts light into electrical charges, thus replacing film inside traditional cameras.

To catch on the trend, folks at NASA started sending early CCD cameras up into space. In 1991, the Kodak’s Hawkeye II mounted on a Nikon F3 (developed by Kodak engineer McGarvey) went on shuttle mission STS-44 while the NASA H.E.R.C.U.L.E.S. module on a Nikon F4 (developed by NASA’s lab) went on shuttle mission STS-48, and both went up to space. They were among the earliest digital units up in space, PopPhoto reports.

Click through to PopPhoto for video footage of the cameras in operation on board the Space Shuttle.

Match-Fixing Took Place in Ancient Greek Wrestling

Scientific American News - Thu, 04/17/2014 - 15:02
A contract from A.D. 267, the first of its kind ever found, details an agreement between the backers of two teen wrestlers in the finals of an important regional competition

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Did Iapetus's Mountains Fall From Space?

Popular Science News - Thu, 04/17/2014 - 14:36

The ridge of Iapetus NASA/JPL If you could hike to the equator of Saturn's moon Iapetus, you would find a strange sight: a sudden mountain range jutting out of the ground, more than 12 miles high. Images from the Cassini spacecraft show that the ridge is a narrow 12 miles in width, and extends for more than 800 miles along the middle of the moon. But where did this narrow ridge come from? Iapetus appears to lack the signs of volcanism or geologic activity that seem likely to create such peaks. 

Scientists have suggested that the mountain range did not come from forces within Iapetus--they rather fell from the sky. In a new study, published online in arXiv (but yet to be peer-reviewed), researchers created 3D images of the peaks, working with Cassini data. They found that most of the triangular-shaped peaks were near their "angle of repose," the fixed angle a material reaches as it erodes and falls toward the ground. This idea is suggestive of an "exogenic" origin (meaning, from outside the moon). "The evidence of slope angles close to the angle of repose make the case for an exogenic origin more plausible," they wrote. Presumably the peaks would have a different shape, or a wider variety of shapes, if they were created by forces within Iapetus. 

The working hypothesis is that the material that fell out of the sky, so to speak, came from an impact with some large planetary body, like the collision that likely created our moon. This material then formed a ring around Iapteus that proved to be unstable, and then fell toward it, creating the ridge we see along its equator. A collision would also help explain why Iapetus has a lopsided orbit, and may help explain why one side of it always faces away from Saturn

In case you're wondering how peaks on Iapetus compare to those on Earth or elsewhere in our planetary neighborhood, here's a helpful guide to the mountains of our solar system

[via Medium]

To Hades and Back: Exploring the Deepest Part of the Ocean

Scientific American News - Thu, 04/17/2014 - 13:38
Humans have been to every corner of the planet and built either an Internet café or a Starbucks in almost every city. You can find plastic in the middle of the ocean and Mt.

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Found: The Most Potentially Life-Friendly Exoplanet So Far

Popular Science News - Thu, 04/17/2014 - 13:02

What Kepler-186f Might Look Like If It Has Clouds and Seas NASA Ames/SETI Institute/JPL-CalTech

Five hundred light-years away, Earth has a cousin. Kepler data has revealed there's rocky planet out there that's similar in size to Earth and may have the right conditions for liquid water on its surface. It's the first planet ever discovered with both these Earth-like qualities.

Astronomers are constantly seeking more Earth-like exoplanets because, well, Earth is the only planet we know of that has life. So the more Earth-like a planet is, scientists hope, the more likely it is to be able to support life—or perhaps already be home to living things. "The idea is that this is a step on the path for looking for life in the universe," says Thomas Barclay, an astrophysicist who analyzes exoplanet-hunting data for the NASA Ames Research Center in California. He worked on the discovery of this planet, which is called Kepler-186f.

While Kepler-186f is the first exoplanet of its kind ever discovered, scientists think it won't be the last.

"We expect there to be more out there," Barclay tells Popular Science. The fact that such Earth kin have never appeared in the data before doesn't mean they're rare, he says. They're just difficult to find with today's tools. "We're pushing the boundaries of what we're doing right now. This discovery is a major milestone."

Barclay thinks future NASA projects, such as the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite and the James Webb Space Telescope, will make such discoveries easier…  and more detailed. Because Kepler-186f is so far away, many things about it will have to remain unanswered, for now. For example, it's impossible to know whether it truly has liquid water on its surface. Astronomers only know there's nothing to indicate it can't have liquid water.

"We expect there to be more out there," Barclay says.

Here's what we do know. Barclay and his colleagues determined Kepler-186f is just 10 percent larger than Earth, which means it's too small to be made entirely of gas, like Jupiter. "It's probably composed of some proportion of iron, rock, ice, water, just like our own [planet]," Barclay says. "The exact ratio of those different properties isn't something we can measure."

The astronomers also figured out how much energy the planet receives from its star, which is a red dwarf. The radiation not so much that water would boil away. It could be enough to maintain liquid water, so long as Kepler-186f has an atmosphere to keep it warm, like Earth does. The data can't say whether the planet has an atmosphere, however.

Lastly, the team was able to guess at the planet's colors—which may not be really sophisticated science, but it's fun to know. The light Kepler-186f gets from its star is redder than Earth's sun's light. That means any water oceans it has would appear a duller blue than Earth's own seas. If the planet has icebergs or clouds, those will look orange.

There aren't any immediate followup studies planned for Kepler-186f. Instead, astronomers are hoping the future will reveal Earth cousins closer by, and thus easier to analyze. One great thing to find would be an Earth "twin," instead of an Earth "cousin." The twin would have to orbit a sun-like star, instead of a dwarf, like Kepler-186f does. A bigger, brighter sun would give the planet more energy than Kepler-186f's dwarf—energy that life needs.

Barclay and his colleagues published their work today in the journal Science.

Land Rover's New Concept SUV Doesn't Have Door Handles

Popular Science News - Thu, 04/17/2014 - 12:00

Discovery Concept Land Rover

Look closely at Land Rover's latest SUV concept and you might be able to see something missing: the door handles. The Discovery, you see, has evolved beyond the need for human hands—it will now allow you to enter and exit the vehicle only when its anatomically superior petrol-brain decides it is time. 

No, kidding. The doors are gesture-controlled—you open them with a wave of the arm. Although, along with that, Land Rover does have some major plans for a fleet of SUVs all based around the Discovery: gesture-controlled augmented reality windshields, an "invisible" hood drivers can see through—even, one day, eye-tracking controls. Please enable Javascript to watch this video


Of course, we haven't seen any of those features in action yet. The concept you see in the video above is only a baseline for SUVs yet to be released—the first of which, the just-announced Discovery Sport, we don't have any images of. (Will it have door handles? These are the Big Questions.)

But we want to believe in a future where we can flick our wrists and have a digital sun shade fall over the windshield. At the New York Auto Show, we caught up with David Saddington, studio director of interior design at Land Rover, so he could tell us more about the company's plans. In the meantime, we have that and some tantalizing digital demonstrations. 




Soot and Smog Put China's Babies at Risk

Scientific American News - Thu, 04/17/2014 - 12:00
China’s smoke-belching coal plants and heavy traffic may be signs of a bustling economy but health experts fear the country’s dirty air is hurting its infants

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Wacky Winter Weather of 2014 Caused by 4,000-Year-Old Jet Stream

Scientific American News - Thu, 04/17/2014 - 11:10
Cold back East and warmth out West is a jet stream pattern that has been in place for 4,000 years, according to new research

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Alligator Snapping Turtles, the Dinosaurs of the Turtle World, Are Actually 3 at-Risk Species

Scientific American News - Thu, 04/17/2014 - 11:04
Alligator snapping turtles look pretty intimidating. These massive, prehistoric-looking reptiles can reach more than 66 centimeters in length and weigh more than 100 kilograms.

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Toyota Has A Tron Bike

Popular Science News - Thu, 04/17/2014 - 11:00

I have made this comparison before, and perhaps will again, but, damnit, this is a Tron bike, right? That is, inarguably, what this is.

The FV2 is a concept motorcycle from Toyota, set up only a little ostentatiously at the New York Auto Show. Instead of a steering wheel, the cycle turns when a driver leans into a curve. Instead of tires, it has flashing UFO discs. 

And it'll probably never hit the road. The plans for it are—we'll say ambitious. The cycle would learn about traffic ahead of jams, and give the driver the data through an augmented reality windshield. The cycle, according to Toyota, would eventually use facial recognition and heart monitoring to determine a driver's mood, and track usual destinations to help the driver get where they're going faster. 

It's likely more a sort of automotive think-piece than a real plan for a manufacturable vehicle. But, we can dream. 

Rebuilding Memories Makes Them Stick

Scientific American News - Thu, 04/17/2014 - 10:30
Even after his death, the famous amnesic H. M. is revolutionizing our understanding of how memory works and how we maintain it as we age

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The Science of Memory

Scientific American News - Thu, 04/17/2014 - 10:10
Managing editor Sandra Upson introduces the May/June 2014 issue of Scientific American MIND

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Beard Fashions Are Governed By Darwinian Selection

Popular Science News - Thu, 04/17/2014 - 10:00

Darwinian whiskers Darwin had a righteous beard. Julia Margaret Cameron via Wikimedia Commons By the beard of Darwin! Some studies have shown that women generally like beards, while others show that whiskers make men appear older and more aggressive. New research suggests that it's all relative, though, and that men's beard fashions follow a pattern of Darwinian selection, becoming most attractive (to both women and men) when they are rare. 

In the study, published in the journal Biology Letters, the scientists asked 1,453 women and 213 men to rate the attractiveness of men with four different levels of "beardedness," with the extremes being clean-shaven and fully bearded. Study participants were either shown mostly full beards, mostly clean-shaven countenances, or a mixture of all four (with intermediate levels of light and heavy stubble). Both women--and men--said that heavy stubble and full beards were most attractive when they were rare, the BBC reported. Clean-shaven faces were also judged most desirable when they were not common. 

This is an example of negative frequency-dependent selection, in which traits are most desirable when they are rare. This "rule" explains why male guppies develop different bright colors, for example, the BBC noted. "Negative frequency-dependent preferences may therefore play a role in maintaining variation in men's beards and contributing to changing fashions," the researchers wrote. 

Does this imply that hipsters--infamous for doing the opposite of what's generally seen as cool--may be on to something? I'd tell you, but the answer involves some obscure filmmaker you probably haven't heard of. 

Structural Science: How Strong are Eggshells?

Scientific American News - Thu, 04/17/2014 - 10:00
An egg–cellent engineering exercise from Science Buddies

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Is It Good For Kids To Have A Pet?

Scientific American News - Thu, 04/17/2014 - 09:00
People overwhelmingly believe that having pets is overall a good thing for children. Indeed, a 2003 paper by developmental psychologist Gail F.

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Turn A Tea Bag Into A Lantern

Popular Science News - Thu, 04/17/2014 - 09:00

The tea bag lantern Trevor Johnston

Every plain, paper tea bag conceals an exciting crash course in lift. In a six-second video on Vine, user “oh so tracy” empties a tea bag, folds it into a tube, and lights it on fire. After the bag burns down, the remains of the still-flaming tube flies into the air to create a miniature Chinese lantern. We asked Mark Drela, an aerodynamics professor at MIT, how it works. 

Cost: A few cents
Time: 2 minutes


1) Igniting the top of the tea bag warms air inside and above the paper tube, making that air less dense.

2) The hot air rises and draws in cooler air (primarily through the tube’s base).

3) Once most of the paper burns, the tea bag is light enough for the cool updraft to buoy it skyward.

WARNING: Burning paper can ignite other flammable objects, especially indoors. Kids (and pyromaniacs), please seek supervision before attempting.

Watch the results from the original Vine below:

This article originally appeared in the May 2014 issue of Popular Science.

16% of China's Soil Is Polluted

Scientific American News - Thu, 04/17/2014 - 08:43

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