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Science in the News

U.S. Astronomers Discover It, Then It's Outsourced

from the San Francisco Chronicle

When three U.S. astronomers won the Nobel Prize in physics last year, for discovering that the expansion of the universe was speeding up in defiance of cosmic gravity--as if change fell out of your pockets onto the ceiling--it reaffirmed dark energy, the glibly named culprit behind this behavior, as the great cosmic surprise and mystery of our time.

And it underscored the case, long urged by U.S. astronomers, for a NASA mission to measure dark energy--to determine, for example, whether the cosmos would expand forever or whether, perhaps, there might be something wrong with our understanding of gravity.

In 2019, a spacecraft known as Euclid will begin such a mission to study dark energy. But it is being launched by the European Space Agency, not NASA, with U.S. astronomers serving only as very junior partners, contributing $20 million and some infrared sensors.

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Records of Birds from a Time Gone By

from the San Francisco Chronicle

At first glance, the contents of the 15 glass jars in Sam Droege's collection do not look like much--bivalve shells, twigs, a fishhook. But they hint at a story that would fill a vast ornithological library. In fact, they once did.

The jars are the remnants of the federal government's first major study of birds. From 1885 to the 1940s, scientists from the Division of Economic Ornithology in the U.S. Agriculture Department dissected at least 230,000 bird stomachs. The aim was to determine which species were helping farmers and which were harmful.

To do so, the government scientists went out shooting and recruited local hunters to donate birds' innards to science. At the dissection table, the scientists recorded the stomach contents of each bird in meticulous detail--for one mallard duck, a scientist estimated that it had eaten 72,710 seeds from various plants--and preserved many of them in jars at the Patuxent Wildlife Research Center in Maryland.

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Cholera Vaccine Deployed to Control African Outbreak

from Nature News

For the first time, health officials in West Africa have begun a vaccination campaign to try to control cholera during an active epidemic.

In collaboration with the Ministry of Health in Guinea, the charity Medecins Sans Frontières (MSF; also known as Doctors Without Borders) has been administering the cholera vaccine Shanchol in the region of Boffa, 150 kilometres northwest of the country's capital, Conakry. The programme began in late April, with patients receiving a two-dose oral vaccine. In total, almost 150,000 people received at least one dose of vaccine, and just over 110,000 people received a second dose.

Iza Ciglenecki, project manager for diarrhoeal diseases at MSF, ran the campaign in Guinea. She hopes that the results will lead to more widespread use of the vaccine in epidemics. "Until very recently, no one was using this as an extra tool to control cholera," she says. "We hope to add to the evidence base regarding this vaccine to help develop an intervention criterion for the control of cholera in outbreaks."

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Turning Saltwater from Earth and Sea into Water Fit to Drink

from the New York Times (Registration Required)

SAN ANTONIO -- Drilling rigs in the midst of cow pastures are hardly a novelty for Texans. But on a warm May day at a site about 30 miles south of San Antonio, a rig was not trying to reach oil or fresh water, but rather something unconventional: a salty aquifer. After a plant is built and begins operating in 2016, the site will become one of the state's largest water desalination facilities.

"This is another step in what we're trying to do to diversify our water supply," said Anne Hayden, a spokeswoman for the San Antonio Water System.

More projects like San Antonio's could lace the Texas countryside as planners look to convert water from massive saline aquifers beneath the state's surface, as well as seawater from the Gulf of Mexico, into potable water. The continuing drought has made desalination a buzzword in water discussions around the state, amid the scramble for new water supplies to accommodate the rapid population and industry growth anticipated in Texas. But the technology remains energy-intensive and is already causing an increase in water rates in some communities.

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N.R.C. Nomination Shines Spotlight on Waste-Disposal Issue

from the New York Times (Registration Required)

WASHINGTON -- When the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee meets on Wednesday to consider President Obama's choice to head the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, three themes are likely to dominate the questioning: waste, waste and earthquakes.

Collegiality and diplomacy may also be mentioned, given that the commission's current chairman, Gregory B. Jaczko, has drawn criticism for his aggressive management style. The nuclear industry would, no doubt, prefer more uplifting confirmation hearing topics, like new reactor construction or progress on radical new designs that would make nuclear plants more useful or economical.

But for the first time, the president has chosen a geologist for the post, Allison M. Macfarlane of George Mason University, and her expertise aligns with the pressing concerns facing Congress and the nuclear industry. She is a longtime critic of the idea of burying waste at Yucca Mountain, a volcanic structure about 100 miles from Las Vegas chosen by Congress in the late 1980s, considering its geology too unpredictable. With little new plant construction, the commission's main responsibility these days is assuring the safety of the 104 plants now operating, and what to do with the decades-old problem of waste.

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China to Carry Out Manned Space Flight

from BBC News Online

China has announced it will carry out a manned space flight at some point in the middle of June.

A rocket carrying the Shenzhou 9 spacecraft has been moved to a launch pad in the north-west of the country.

According to state news agency Xinhua, it will carry three astronauts--possibly including a woman--to the Tiangong 1 space station module.

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Lack of Sleep Increases Stroke Risk

from USA Today

The 30% of working adults who routinely sleep less than six hours a night are four times more likely to suffer a stroke, says a new study. The findings are the first to link insufficient sleep to stroke; they're also the first to apply even to adults who keep off extra pounds and have no other risk factors for stroke, says Megan Ruiter, lead author of the report. It will be presented Monday at the 26th annual meeting of the Associated Professional Sleep Societies in Boston.

"People know how important diet and exercise are in preventing strokes," says Ruiter, of the University of Alabama in Birmingham. "The public is less aware of the impact of insufficient amounts of sleep. Sleep is important--the body is stressed when it doesn't get the right amount."

The number of people who report eight or more hours of sleep a night has dropped from 38% in 2001 to 28%, says the National Sleep Foundation. A government study in May found 30% of working adults get six hours or less. Experts recommend seven to nine.

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Mystery of Big Data's Parallel Universe Brings Fear, and a Thrill

from the New York Times (Registration Required)

Not long ago, a woman in Tacoma, Wash., received a suggestion from Facebook that she "friend" another woman. She didn't know the other woman, but she followed through, as many of us have, innocently laying our cookie-crumb trails through cyberspace, only to get a surprise.

On the other woman's profile page was a wedding picture--of her and the first woman's husband, now exposed for all the cyberworld to see as a bigamist.

And so it goes in the era of what is called Big Data, in which more and more information about our lives--where we shop and what we buy, indeed where we are right now--the economy, the genomes of countless organisms we can't even name yet, galaxies full of stars we haven't counted, traffic jams in Singapore and the weather on Mars tumbles faster and faster through bigger and bigger computers down to everybody's fingertips, which are holding devices with more processing power than the Apollo mission control. Big Data probably knows more about us than we ourselves do, but is there stuff that Big Data itself doesn't know it knows? Big Data is watching us, but who or what is watching Big Data?

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CT Scans on Children 'Could Triple Brain Cancer Risk'

from BBC News Online

Multiple CT scans in childhood can triple the risk of developing brain cancer or leukaemia, a study suggests. The Newcastle University-led team examined the NHS medical records of almost 180,000 young patients. But writing in The Lancet the authors emphasised that the benefits of the scans usually outweighed the risks.

They said the study underlined the fact the scans should only be used when necessary and that ways of cutting their radiation should be pursued. During a CT (computerised tomography) scan, an X-ray tube rotates around the patient's body to produce detailed images of internal organs and other parts of the body.

In the first long-term study of its kind, the researchers looked at the records of patients aged under 21 who had CT scans at a range of British hospitals between 1985 and 2002.

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Iowa Farmer Makes Mammoth Discovery...of a Mammoth!

from the Christian Science Monitor

Scientists are excited about the discovery of a nearly complete mammoth skeleton that was found buried on an Oskaloosa farm, saying such finds are rare and can yield clues about life in the area thousands of years ago.

The bones found about 60 miles southwest of Des Moines were largely undisturbed, which has allowed scientists to gather evidence that could help show what the area was like more than 12,000 years ago when the animal died. Those excavating the site have already collected pollen grains, seeds, a spruce pine needle and other plant material from the site.

"A find of this size is quite rare because it looks like we have a lot of the animal rather than just a single bone here and there," said Sarah Horgen, education coordinator for the University of Iowa Museum of Natural History, which is overseeing the excavation.

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Genome of 18-Week-Old Foetus Deciphered

from BBC News Online

A blood sample from mum and saliva from dad have been used to sequence the genome of a foetus in the womb, by US researchers. At the time, the mother was just 18 weeks into the pregnancy.

The doctors said the findings, reported in Science Translational Medicine, could eventually lead to foetuses being screened for thousands of genetic disorders in a single and safe test. However, they also caution it would raise "many ethical questions."

The scientists at the University of Washington used pieces of the foetus' DNA which naturally float around in the pregnant woman's blood. These fragments were then pieced together using the parents' DNA as a guide to build a complete 'map' of the foetus's genome. They then compared the genetic map drawn 18 weeks into pregnancy with the foetus' actual DNA taken from the umbilical cord after birth. It was 98% accurate.

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'We Don't Have to be Afraid of the Real Evidence' - Creation Museum

from the Guardian (UK)

...The Creation Museum (in Petersburg, Kentucky) bills itself as a natural history museum, but it's one from a world in which we are certain that God created the Earth and everything in it, roughly 6,000 years ago, and all in six days. Anything that looks older--fossilised dinosaur bones, multiple strata of sedimentary rock, signs of ancient water erosion and the moving of the continents--were all caused by one catastrophic event, the flood that Noah and his family so adroitly survived by building a massive floating menagerie.

This is nothing you wouldn't see or hear in your average fundamentalist church, but what makes the Creation Museum different, and controversial, is that it promotes the idea that not only is everything stated in Genesis chapters 1-11 true, but it can be proved ... with science. And the museum has teams of qualified palaeontologists, geologists, biologists and historians working on this. Oh, and baraminologists too. You haven't heard of them? Neither had I.

For anyone not familiar with the early parts of the Bible, these be the facts: God created everything in six 24-hour days; Adam and Eve were the first humans; all the bad stuff in the world, from murder to animals eating other animals, is a result of Eve's choice of afternoon snack; Noah built an ark to house two of every kind of land-dwelling animal (including dinosaurs) and his extended family, while God wiped everything clean with a worldwide flood; then God linguistically confused Noah's descendants and dispersed them around the world with the Tower of Babel incident.

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Mapping Identifies Best Targets for Malaria Prevention

from Nature News

A slim but substantial swathe of Africa stands to gain from a new strategy in malaria control. Pre-emptive treatment of children living in regions where the mosquito-transmitted disease is prevalent only during the rainy season could avert 11 million cases and 50,000 deaths a year.

The estimates are based on the world's first guidance on seasonal malaria chemoprevention, issued by the World Health Organization (WHO) in March. The guidance gives a broad stamp of approval to governments and donors seeking to use anti-malaria drugs as prophylactics in African children, and the analysis pinpoints where the strategy would be most effective, says Brian Greenwood, an infectious-disease physician at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and co-author of the analysis, which is published today in Nature Communications.

"One-size-fits-all policies, like bed nets, are great," explains Rob Newman, director of the WHO's Global Malaria Programme in Geneva. "But for policies with a number of requirements, we need these sorts of analyses to help policymakers chart the path forward."

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A Scientist's 20-Year Quest to Defeat Dengue Fever

from NPR

This summer, my big idea is to explore the big ideas of science. Instead of just reporting science as results--the stuff that's published in scientific journals and covered as news--I want to take you inside the world of science. I hope I'll make it easier to understand how science works, and just how cool the process of discovery and innovation really is.

A lot of science involves failure, but there are also the brilliant successes, successes that can lead to new inventions, new tools, new drugs--things that can change the world

That got me thinking that I wanted to dive deeper into the story of an Australian scientist named Scott O'Neill. Scott had come up with what I thought was a clever new way for combating a disease called dengue fever. Dengue is a terrible disease. It sickens tens of millions and kills tens of thousands. There's no cure, no vaccine and pretty much no way to prevent it. It's one of those diseases transmitted by a mosquito, like malaria.

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Pluto's Moons Offer Hints of Alien Worlds

from ScienceNOW Daily News

Planet or not, Pluto and its newest moons may tell us a lot about how other worlds orbit distant stars. A new computer simulation based on the motions of Pluto's satellites not only zeroes in on the masses of two of the moons but predicts that planets orbiting double stars are more widely spaced from one another than are the worlds of single stars such as the sun.

Once thought to be a lonely outpost at the solar system's edge, Pluto now has four known moons. The first, discovered in 1978 and named Charon, is half Pluto's size. The Hubble Space Telescope spotted two more, Nix and Hydra, in 2005, orbiting beyond Charon, then another in 2011. In mythology, Pluto was the god of the underworld, so the names of the satellites reflect the same dark theme: Charon ferried souls of the dead across the River Styx; Nix was the goddess of night; and Hydra was a nine-headed monster who lived in a lake near an underworld entrance.

Now astronomers Andrew Youdin, Kaitlin Kratter, and Scott Kenyon of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics in Cambridge, Massachusetts, have analyzed Pluto's newest moon, which does not yet have a permanent name. It's the smallest of the bunch and moves between the orbits of Nix and Hydra.

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Some Newfound Planets Are Something Else

from Science News

When the Kepler spacecraft finds a giant planet closely orbiting a star, there's a one in three chance that it's not really a planet at all.

At least, that's the case according to a new study that put some of Kepler's thousands of candidate planets to the test using a complementary method for discovering celestial objects in stellar orbits. The results, posted June 5 on www:arXiv.org, suggest that 35 percent of candidate giants snuggled close to bright stars are impostors, known in the planet-hunting business as false-positives.

"Estimating the Kepler false-positive rate is one of the most burning questions in this field," says astronomer Jean-Michel Désert of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, who has performed similar calculations for smaller planets. Estimates by Désert and others place the false-positive rate at less than 10 percent, which isn't necessarily contradictory given the different target populations of various research efforts.

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"Time Capsule" Warship Emerging Near D.C.

from National Geographic News

A warship submerged for two centuries in a river near Washington, D.C., could provide new insight into the relatively obscure War of 1812, say archaeologists who are preparing to excavate the wreck.

The war started because the British, who had been fighting with France since 1803, imposed restrictions on U.S. trade with the French, infuriating Americans. Relations worsened when British ships began intercepting U.S. vessels on the high seas, removing any British-born sailors, and forcing them to serve in the British navy.

The U.S. Congress declared war on the British--including their Canadian colonists--in June 1812. Scientists have known about the unidentified wartime shipwreck, which lies in the Patuxent River about 20 miles (32 kilometers) northeast of the nation's capital, since the early 1970s.

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32 Innovations That Will Change Your Tomorrow

from the New York Times (Registration Required)

We tend to rewrite the histories of technological innovation, making myths about a guy who had a great idea that changed the world. In reality, though, innovation isn't the goal; it's everything that gets you there. It's bad financial decisions and blueprints for machines that weren't built until decades later. It's the important leaps forward that synthesize lots of ideas, and it's the belly-up failures that teach us what not to do.

When we ignore how innovation actually works, we make it hard to see what's happening right in front of us today. If you don't know that the incandescent light was a failure before it was a success, it's easy to write off some modern energy innovations--like solar panels--because they haven't hit the big time fast enough.

Worse, the fairy-tale view of history implies that innovation has an end. It doesn't. What we want and what we need keeps changing. The incandescent light was a 19th-century failure and a 20th- century success. Now it's a failure again, edged out by new technologies, like LEDs, that were, themselves, failures for many years.

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World's 'Oldest Fish Trap' Found Off Coast of Sweden

from BBC News Online

Wooden fish traps said to be some 9,000 years old have been found in the Baltic Sea off Sweden, possibly the oldest such traps in existence. Marine archaeologists from Stockholm's Sodertorn University found finger-thick hazel rods grouped on the sea bed.

They are thought to be the remains of stationary basket traps. "This is the world's oldest find when it comes to fishing," said Johan Ronnby, a professor in marine archaeology.

Arne Sjostrom, a fellow archaeologist who worked on the Sodertorn project, said the sticks seemed to have been used as a "sort of fence to lead the fish into a creel or they were part of the actual creel."

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Tree of Life Project Aims for Every Twig and Leaf

from the New York Times (Registration Required)

In 1837, Charles Darwin opened a notebook and drew a simple tree with a few branches. Each branch, which he labeled with a letter, represented a species. In that doodle, he captured his newfound realization that species were related, having evolved from a common ancestor. Across the top of the page he wrote, "I think."

Two decades later Darwin presented a detailed account of the tree of life in "On the Origin of Species." And much of evolutionary biology since then has been dedicated to illuminating parts of the tree. Using DNA, fossils and other clues, scientists have been able to work out the relationships of many groups of organisms, making rough sketches of the entire tree of life. "Animals and fungi are in one part of the tree, and plants are far away in another part," said Laura A. Katz, an evolutionary biologist at Smith College.

Now Dr. Katz and a number of other colleagues are doing something new. They are drawing a tree of life that includes every known species. A tree, in other words, with about two million branches. "I think it is an amazing step forward for our community if it can be pulled off," said Robert P. Guralnick, an expert on evolutionary trees at the University of Colorado who is not part of the project.

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Author Ray Bradbury Dies at 91

from the Los Angeles Times (Registration Required)

Ray Bradbury, the writer whose expansive flights of fantasy and vividly rendered space-scapes have provided the world with one of the most enduring speculative blueprints for the future, has died. He was 91.

Bradbury's daughter confirmed his death to the Associated Press on Wednesday morning. She said her father died Tuesday night in Southern California.

Author of more than 27 novels and story collections--most famously "The Martian Chronicles," "Fahrenheit 451," "Dandelion Wine" and "Something Wicked This Way Comes"--and more than 600 short stories, Bradbury has frequently been credited with elevating the often maligned reputation of science fiction. Some say he singlehandedly helped to move the genre into the realm of literature.

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Antibody Alarm Call Rouses Immune Response to Cancer

from Nature News

Researchers working in the burgeoning field of cancer immunotherapy last week announced that a way of arming the body's natural defences to fight tumour cells has proved effective against three different types of cancer.

An antibody-based treatment developed by Suzanne Topalian, an oncologist at the Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland, and her colleagues either eliminated or shrank tumours in 49 of 236 patients with certain types of advanced skin, kidney and lung cancer. Previous cancer immunotherapies have worked in smaller percentages of patients. The results of the phase I clinical trial were published on 2 June [in the New England Journal of Medicine].

"I think it really changes the field, because the response rates are much higher," says Antoni Ribas, a cancer researcher at the Jonsson Comprehensive Cancer Center of the University of California, Los Angeles, who is testing a similar treatment in clinical trials.

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In Winning Definition of 'Flame,' Jargon Melts Away

from the New York Times (Registration Required)

Ben Ames, winner of a contest to explain a flame in terms that an 11-year-old could understand, was flummoxed when asked what he would say to someone who asked him what a flame was. "Argh," he said after a pause. "It's really hard to do this without visuals."

Mr. Ames's winning entry, announced Saturday at the World Science Festival in New York, indeed incorporated visuals--a seven-and-a-half-minute animated video of a scientist explaining fire and flames to someone chained in hell.

"It must be torture being around all these flames and not knowing what they are," the narrating scientist says helpfully before launching into how the chemical reactions generate heat and different colors of the flame.

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Ancestry Testing Goes for Pinpoint Accuracy

from Nature News

Condoleezza Rice, former US Secretary of State and national security adviser, ought to be a tough woman to surprise. Yet when Henry Louis Gates Jr, host of a US television series called Finding Your Roots, revealed that nearly half of her genetic ancestry could be traced to Europe, Rice, an African American, told Gates, "I'm stunned."

Although it is no secret that many African Americans have some European ancestry--a legacy of the transatlantic slave trade--advances in DNA analysis are beginning to provide more detailed insight for individuals. Commercial ancestry testing, once the province of limited information of dubious accuracy, is taking advantage of whole-genome scans, sophisticated analyses and ever-deeper databases of human genetic diversity to help people to answer a simple question: where am I from?

Until a few years ago, most ancestry tests for individuals relied on short stretches of DNA in cell-powering organelles called mitochondria, which are inherited through the mother, or on the Y chromosome, which a father passes down to his sons. As humans fanned out from Africa some 40,000 to 80,000 years ago and populated the world, mitochondria and Y chromosomes developed specific changes that were tied to different populations. Yet these 'uniparental markers', which chart an unbroken chain back through either the maternal or paternal line, are rarely unique to a population.

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Do Solo Black Holes Roam the Universe?

from ScienceNOW Daily News

Even gravitational monsters can get the heave-ho. Two mysterious bright spots in a disheveled, distant galaxy suggest that astronomers have found the best evidence yet for a supermassive black hole being shoved out of its home.

If confirmed, the finding would verify Einstein's theory of general relativity in a region of intense gravity not previously tested. The results would also suggest that some giant black holes roam the universe as invisible free floaters, flung from the galaxies in which they coalesced. Although loner black holes may be an entity that has to be reckoned with, they would still be rare, notes theorist Laura Blecha of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Blecha, along with observational astronomer Francesca Civano of Harvard-Smithsonian and their colleagues took detailed x-ray observations of the distant galaxy CID-42, nearly 4 billion light-years from Earth. The team focused on the region after a Hubble Space Telescope survey revealed two compact visible-light sources within the starlit body: one of them at or near the galaxy's center, the other offset from the core. Because CID-42 appears to be the remnant of two giant galaxies that collided relatively recently, it seemed likely that one or both of the compact sources were supermassive black holes.

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Ancient Birds Wiped Out Huge Insects

from Science News

A prehistoric prequel to Godzilla took place about 150 million years ago, when insects of monstrous size met their doom battling the ancestors of modern birds.

The epic struggle ended an era of insect growth spurts that coincided with upticks in the amount of oxygen in the air. Starting with the Cretaceous period, predators kept the sizes of insects down, researchers report online June 4 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

"That's when birds evolved and started to become better at flying," says Matthew Clapham, a paleontologist at the University of California, Santa Cruz. "Even though oxygen continued to increase during that time, the insects got smaller."

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Out of Asia: How Monkey and Ape Ancestors Colonized Africa

from Smithsonian

This week, I'm going to consider origin stories that go deeper into primate history than questions of when Homo sapiens evolved or when two-legged apes, or hominids, emerged.

Today, let's go really far back, to a time some 40 million years ago known as the Eocene. Monkeys and apes weren't even around yet, although their common ancestor was. But where? The discovery of a new species of Eocene primate is helping address that question.

Until about 20 years ago, the answer seemed obvious: Africa. That's where the earliest fossil evidence was found, mainly from Egypt's Fayum Depression. Starting in the 1990s, however, relevant fossils started popping up in Asia. Paleoanthropologists now consider a 45-million-year-old primate discovered in China, called Eosimias, to be the earliest anthropoid, the group of primates that includes monkeys, apes and humans. Eosimias was tiny, weighing less than half a pound. But it possessed certain dental and jaw characteristics that link it to living anthropoids.

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Ex-Spy Telescope May Get New Identity as a Space Investigator

from the New York Times (Registration Required)

The phone call came like a bolt out of the blue, so to speak, in January 2011. On the other end of the line was someone from the National Reconnaissance Office, which operates the nation's fleet of spy satellites. They had some spare, unused "hardware" to get rid of. Was NASA interested?

So when John Grunsfeld, the physicist and former astronaut, walked into his office a year later to start his new job as NASA's associate administrator for space science, he discovered that his potential armada was a bit bigger than he knew. Sitting in a room in upstate New York were two telescopes the same size as the famed Hubble Space Telescope, but built to point down at the Earth, instead of up at the heavens.

NASA, struggling to get human space exploration moving again, had spent the previous year trying to figure out how good these telescopes were and what, if anything, they could be used for. Working with a small band of astronomers for the past couple of months, Dr. Grunsfeld, famous as the Hubble telescope's in-orbit repairman, has now come up with a plan, which was presented to the public on Monday at a meeting at the National Academy of Sciences in Washington.

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Exxon Valdez Remains Controversial Near Its End in India

from the Los Angeles Times (Registration Required)

ALANG, India -- For the ship formerly known as the Exxon Valdez, even sailing quietly into the sunset is proving difficult. Now called the Oriental Nicety, it's floating off India in a kind of high-seas limbo as a court decides whether the vessel that dumped 11 million gallons of crude oil into Alaska's unspoiled Prince William Sound in 1989 can be hacked apart in this forlorn graveyard for once-mighty ships.

Local environmentalists have petitioned the High Court here in the western state of Gujarat to block its entry pending an onboard inspection for toxic chemicals, including mercury, arsenic and asbestos.

Environmentalists acknowledge it's probably no more toxic than so many other ships recycled at Alang, a city whose coastline was once edged with forest and is now lined with about 175 ramshackle yards pulling vessels apart. But they say the standoff focuses attention on India's lax environmental, labor and safety standards governing the billion-dollar ship-breaking industry.

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Wood That Reaches New Heights

from the New York Times (Registration Required)

LONDON -- Among the many apartment buildings in the London borough of Hackney, the nine-story structure on the corner of Provost Street and Murray Grove stands out, its exterior a mix of white and gray tiles rather than the usual brick. But it's what's underneath this cladding that makes the 29-unit building truly different. From the second floor up, it is constructed entirely of wood, making it one of the tallest wooden residential buildings in the world.

It was built three years ago using laminated spruce panels, up to half a foot thick and 30 feet long, that were fabricated to precise specifications in Austria, shipped across the English Channel and bolted together on site to form the exterior and interior walls, floors and roof. Even the stairwells and elevator shafts are made from these solid panels, called cross-laminated timber, which resemble supersize plywood.

Developed in Europe in the 1990s, cross-laminated timber, or CLT, is among the latest in a long line of "engineered" wood products that are strong and rigid enough to replace steel and concrete as structural elements in bigger buildings. Already popular in Europe, CLT is only beginning to catch on in North America...

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