Science in the News Weekly
NASA has launched a competition to find "space apps" to aid space exploration and education. The two-day event brought programmers together on seven continents to see how creative they could be with NASA's store of space data. Problems NASA wants solved include improving data sharing after disasters and spotting good lunar landing sites.
In other space news, data collected from an ice-watching satellite reveal that the vast ice shelves extending from the shores of western Antarctica are being eaten away from underneath by warming ocean currents. Meanwhile, Europe's Cryosat mission is now watching the ebb and flow of Arctic sea ice with high precision.
And a German radar satellite is returning regular images of the Pine Island Glacier (PIG) ice shelf. Scientists expect its observations to alert them to the birth of a monster iceberg covering some 750 square kilometers.
Elsewhere, scientists working on the Cassini probe have witnessed small clumps of ice plowing through one of Saturn's main rings. As they plunge through, the ice balls leave glittering trails behind them referred to as mini-jets.
And, finally, a group of wealthy, adventurous entrepreneurs announced a new venture called Planetary Resources Inc., which plans to send swarms of robots to space to scout asteroids for precious metals and set up mines to bring resources back to Earth.
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A 150-pound fossil recovered last year in northern Kentucky is puzzling experts, who are trying to determine whether it was an animal, a mineral or a form of plant life from a time when the Cincinnati region was underwater. Scientists say the fossil is 450 million years old.
In other news of the ancient past, the New York Times featured paleontological fieldwork that has been going on in the Nova Iorque area of Brazil.
Genetic analysis has revealed that an ancient Swedish farmer came from the Mediterranean. Researchers say the woman's genome provides clues as to how agriculture spread across Europe.
Creatures once thought to be dinosaurs have been recategorized as very different, distantly related sorts of archosauriforms (the major group to which dinosaurs, crocodiles and many related lineages belong). Smithsonian looked at what these reinterpretations have meant to the field.
Scientists used to think that violent impacts on Earth during the lunar Late Heavy Bombardment lasted several hundred million years. But new simulations suggest that Earth's pummeling lasted for billions of years.
New genetic evidence suggests that polar bears may have originated about 600,000 years ago. Previous studies have suggested that the polar bear, Ursus maritimus, emerged much later, about 150,000 years ago.
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The Guardian recounted the story of how a book about fish nearly sank Isaac Newton's Principia. The lavishly illustrated Historia Piscium, or History of Fishes, by John Ray and Francis Willughby, was so expensive that it forced the Royal Society to withdraw from its promise to finance publication of Newton's Principia, one of the most important works in the history of science.
Even as coal-fired power plants are being phased out in Oregon and Washington, Boardman, an agribusiness outpost across the river from vineyards owned by the Columbia Crest winery, is among at least half a dozen ports in the region weighing whether to ship millions of tons of coal to Asia from the Powder River Basin of Wyoming and Montana.
In other environmental news, California citrus growers are terrified about what they say will be the inevitable local arrival of the dreaded citrus disease huanglongbing, now that it has been discovered in Los Angeles County. The Asian citrus psyllid insect carries the tree disease, which has no cure.
As the oyster industry heads into the fifth summer of its most unnerving crisis in decades, scientists are pondering a disturbing theory. They suspect water that rises from deep in the Pacific Ocean--icy seawater that surges into Willapa Bay and gets pumped into seaside hatcheries--may be corrosive enough to kill baby oysters.
Defying the global trend, some glaciers on Asia's Karakoram mountains are getting thicker, researchers say. Satellite data show that glaciers in part of the Karakoram range, to the west of the Himalayan region, are putting on mass.
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The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel explored lupus, a devastating and much misunderstood illness. The hereditary autoimmune disease attacks various organs of the body.
In other biomedical news, it was 57 years ago--April 12, 1955--that the polio vaccine developed by Jonas Salk was found to be 90 percent effective. The vaccine was part of an historic scientific push that basically wiped out polio. In the years before the vaccine was available, up to 20,000 people contracted polio in the U.S. each year.
The New York Times reported that a new FDA rule will require farmers and ranchers to get a prescription from a veterinarian before using antibiotics in farm animals. It's hoped that more judicious use of the drugs will reduce deaths from antibiotic-resistant diseases.
Researchers say an experiment in Brazil to reduce populations of the dengue-carrying Aedes aegypti mosquito, by releasing millions of genetically modified insects into the wild, is working.
A new study links autism and developmental delays in young children to obesity and diabetes in their mothers.
And, finally, last week the FDA approved a radioactive compound for evaluating people with cognitive impairment for Alzheimer's disease. The drug, called Amyvid, binds to amyloid plaques, the calling card of Alzheimer's disease in the brain. When administered before a PET scan, Amyvid allows doctors to see whether amyloid has begun to build up.
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