ianare writes: New research supports an idea that the Red Planet was a better place to kick-start biology billions of years ago than the early Earth was. Scientists believe that when life first appeared on Earth our planet was completely submerged in water and very low in dioxygen. A theory outlined by Prof Steven Benner concludes life couldn't have originated under these conditions because borate and molybdate, two crucial catalysts to the formation of RNA, would have been extremely rare. Borate minerals help simple organic molecules form carbohydrate rings, and molybdenum then rearranges these rings to form ribose, a crucial building block of RNA. "What’s quite clear is that boron, as an element, is quite scarce in Earth’s crust," Prof Benner says, “but Mars has been drier than Earth and more oxidising, so if Earth is not suitable for the chemistry, Mars might be." An extremophile bacteria surviving the trip to Earth inside a meteorite isn't as far-fetched as it may seem. "We spend much time on 'planetary protection' so that a launch to Mars does not carry Earth bacteria to forward contaminate Mars, but we find that many bacteria (like radiodurans) can survive the trip, especially if tucked inside of the craft (or, by analogy, within the meteorite)".
ianare writes: A propaganda video from the North Korean authorities has been removed from YouTube following a copyright claim by games maker Activision. It shows a space craft flying around the world and eventually over a city resembling New York. The buildings are then seen crumbling amid fires and missile attacks. However, the dramatic images were soon recognised as having been lifted from Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3. By Tuesday, the video had been blocked, with a message notifying users of Activision's complaint shown in its place.
ianare writes: The gaming hobby of a political candidate has become an issue in a state senate race in Maine. Colleen Lachowicz's liking for back-stabbing and poison in WoW raise questions about her "fitness for office", Republicans claim. They've also detailed some of the comments Ms Lachowicz has made while talking about her orc rogue, in particular highlighting her affection for the ability to stab things and kill people without suffering a jail sentence. "I think it's weird that I'm being targeted for playing online games," said Ms Lachowicz in a statement. "Apparently I'm in good company since there are 183 million other Americans who also enjoy online games.
ianare writes: Ask who invented the Internet and you’ll spark off an argument with everyone championed from DARPA to Nikola Tesla. However, two Stanford scientists claim that the inventor may have had six legs, antennae and a taste for disrupting picnics. Professor of biology Deborah Gordon and professor of computer science Balaji Prabhakar say that red harvester ants (Pogonomyrmex barbatus) use the same Transmission Control Protocol (TCP) in foraging that the internet uses to manage data transmissions – making a sort of “Anternet”.
ianare writes: There has been a continued increase in the number of students taking A-level science and maths subjects. Physics has been especially popular. A growing fascination with science and teacher support schemes seem to be improving the teaching of maths and physics in UK state schools.
ianare writes: A group of scientists known for their skepticism about climate change has reanalyzed two centuries' worth of global temperature records. Their study largely confirms previous ones: it finds strong evidence that Earth is getting hotter. "The valid issues raised by [climate] sceptics, when addressed fully and in detail, do not significantly change the answer," says lead author Richard Muller. In a testimony to the US Congress earlier this year, Muller questioned whether global temperature records showed a significant warming during the 20th century.
ianare writes: A Russian space telescope conceived during the Cold War successfully blasted into orbit from Baikonur earlier this week. At 10 meters, RadioAstron's antenna is small compared to Earth's largest radio telescopes, which can span more than 100 m. But by combining signals with ground based telescopes using interferometry, the resulting observations will be the sharpest ever produced, with an "eye" larger than the Earth. Over the course of the telescope's five-year mission, the moon's gravity will tug the telescope up to 390,000 km from Earth.
ianare writes: Federal budget cuts are threatening to leave the U.S. without some critical satellites, and that could mean less accurate warnings about events like tornadoes and blizzards. In particular, officials at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration are concerned about satellites that orbit over the earth's poles rather than remaining over a fixed spot along the equator.
ianare writes: The European Court of Justice today issued a preliminary opinion that procedures involving human embryonic stem cells are not patentable — even if the process in question does not involve the direct destruction of embryos — because they are tantamount to making industrial use of human embryos, which "would be contrary to ethics and public policy".
ianare writes: It is safe to bet that a flying motorcycle will never be a practical transportation option, but that has not stopped Samson Motorworks, a small engineering firm in northern California's Sierra Nevada foothills, from playing the long odds. The company is building a prototype of its Switchblade Multi Mode Vehicle, or flying motorcycle, and hopes to sell a $60,000 do-it-yourself kit as early as 2011 (engine and avionics are sold separately). The Switchblade might even have "green" appeal. The engines suitable for the craft all use ordinary unleaded gas and meet California emissions standards, which are stricter than those issued by the U.S.
ianare writes: Uruguay has become the first country to provide a laptop for every child attending state primary school. The project is being promoted as an achievement of the Tabaré Vázquez government. Over the last two years 362,000 pupils and 18,000 teachers have been involved in the programme, which has cost the state $260 per child (less than 5% of the country's education budget). The annual cost of maintaining the programme, including an information portal for pupils and teachers, will be $21.The laptops use the Sugar interface running on Linux , though blind children are being taught on MS Windows. There are plans to extend the scheme to secondary schools and pre-school children next year.
ianare writes: Attempts to rig or interfere with Afghanistan's election could be caught by a system that allows anyone to record incidents via text message. The text messages are collected via an open source platform known as FrontlineSMS, which has been used to monitor elections in Nigeria. It has now been combined with a "crowd-sourced, crisis-mapping" tool known as Ushahidi, also open source, and which plots the reports on a freely-accessible map. Together they allow reports to be gathered from any part of the country with mobile phone coverage. Even though it costs the same amount of money to send an SMS as it costs to buy bread for your family, some people have said that they will be willing not to eat that evening in order to tell the international community what is going on in the country.
ianare writes: The manufacturer of a hydrogen car unveiled in London on Tuesday will make its designs available online so the cars can be built and improved locally. The Riversimple car can go 80km/hr (50mph) and travels 322km (200mi) per re-fuelling, with an efficiency equivalent to 300 miles to the gallon. The cars will be leased with fuel and repair costs included, at an estimated £200 ($315) per month. The company asserts that in the leasing model, the vested interest for the manufacturer is in producing long-lasting, fuel-efficient, high-quality products, since it bears the cost of both hydrogen and repairs. The agreement will be such that if the designs are improved by a local manufacturer, those improvements will be sent back, so that what the company refers to as its "network of manufacturers" can contribute to the overall development of the product line.
ianare writes: COROT has found the smallest terrestrial planet ever detected outside the Solar System. The amazing planet is less than twice the size of Earth and orbits a Sun-like star. It is located very close to its parent star, and has a high temperature, between 1000 and 1500C. This discovery is significant because recent measurements have indicated the existence of planets of small masses but their size remained undetermined until now. "For the first time, we have unambiguously detected a planet that is 'rocky' in the same sense as our own Earth.", said Malcolm Fridlund, ESA's COROT Project Scientist.