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Submission + - NASA aircraft probe Namibian clouds to solve global warming puzzle (

sciencehabit writes: Off the coast of Namibia, for several months a year, a layer of smoke from African savanna fires drifts over a persistent deck of low clouds. It’s the perfect place to investigate the thorniest problem in all of climate science: how haze and clouds interact to boost or moderate global warming. Now, after weeks of delay and uncertainty, an airborne research campaign is about to begin. On 29 August, NASA will fly aircraft into the heart of this natural laboratory for about a month, with plans to return in 2017 and 2018. Complementary efforts from France and the United Kingdom would have expanded the sampling area but were postponed when the teams couldn’t get diplomatic clearances from Namibia.

Submission + - Dim nearby galaxy is nearly 100% dark matter (

sciencehabit writes: Astronomers have spotted a dim and unexpectedly dense galaxy that may be almost entirely made of dark matter. Dubbed Dragonfly 44, this nearby group of stars has less than 1% the number of stars in our Milky Way galaxy. But the motions of stars within Dragonfly 44 (as inferred from images captured in an exposure lasting more than 33 hours and collected over 6 nights) tell a different story. Those stars are orbiting the center of the galaxy much faster than expected based on the estimated heft of its visible matter, suggesting Dragonfly 44 as a whole is more massive than meets the eye and is thus chock-full of dark matter. In fact, the group of stars contains an estimated mass of 1 trillion suns (about the same as our Milky Way) and is about 99.99% dark matter.

Submission + - 'Octobot' is the world's first soft-bodied robot (

sciencehabit writes: Researchers have created the first completely soft-bodied robot, dubbed the “octobot.” The palm-sized machine’s exterior is made of silicone. And whereas other soft robots have had at least a few hard parts, such as batteries or wires, the octobot uses a small reservoir of hydrogen peroxide as fuel. The basic design can be scaled up or down, increasing or decreasing fuel capacity depending on the robot’s job. As the field of soft robotics advances, the scientists envision these robots being used for marine search and rescue, oceanic temperature sensing, and military surveillance.

Submission + - Earth-like planet found orbiting our nearest stellar neighbor (

sciencehabit writes: After years of scrutinizing the closest star to Earth, a red dwarf known as Proxima Centauri, astronomers have finally found evidence for a planet, slightly bigger than Earth and well within the star’s habitable zone—the range of orbits in which liquid water could exist on its surface. Researchers have already found hundreds of similarly sized planets, and many appear to be far better candidates for hosting life than the one around Proxima Centauri, known as Proxima b. But researchers are excited because the planet is just a stone’s throw away from Earth, cosmically speaking. At 4.25 light-years distant, Proxima b may be within reach of telescopes and techniques that could reveal more about its composition and atmosphere than that of any other exoplanet discovered to date.

Submission + - Atomic bombs and oil addiction herald Earth's new epoch: The Anthropocene (

sciencehabit writes: Although the Anthropocene is already a widely popular shorthand for humanity's global environmental reach, for the past 7 years a small group of scientists has been mulling whether to propose the term as a formal span of geologic time. This month, the group voted to propose the Anthropocene as the Holocene's successor, with its start at the industrial boom that followed World War II. Before a formal submission can go to the International Commission on Stratigraphy, the bureaucracy that governs geologic time, researchers must still identify a stratigraphic section rich in geochemical markers of this postwar transition. They have a high bar to clear: Many stratigraphers are skeptical of their initiative and fear being drawn into a political statement.

Submission + - Clinical trials in cats and dogs could develop new blockbuster drugs for people (

sciencehabit writes: Over the past decade, researchers have conducted hundreds of clinical trials on cats and dogs to discover new therapies and medicines. The idea is that—unlike lab rodents—our pets live in the same world we do, and naturally get many of the same diseases, so they could hold the key to developing new treatments for people at a fraction of the normal cost, and potentially yield a trove of new drugs for pets themselves.

Submission + - NIH moves to lift moratorium on animal-human chimera research (

sciencehabit writes: The National Institutes of Health (NIH) today announced that the agency soon expects to lift a moratorium on funding for controversial experiments that add human stem cells to animal embryos, creating an organism that is part animal, part human. Instead, these so-called chimera studies will undergo an extra layer of ethical review but may ultimately be allowed to proceed. Although scientists who support such research welcomed the move, some were left trying to parse exactly what the draft policy will mean. It is “a step in the right direction,” says Sean Wu, a stem cell researcher at Stanford University in Palo Alto, California, who co-authored a letter to Science last year opposing the moratorium. But "we still don’t know what the outcome will be case by case,” he adds. However, some see the proposal as opening up research in some areas that had been potentially off-limits.

Submission + - Hints of exotic new particle fade at world's largest atom smasher (

sciencehabit writes: Particle physicists’ hopes have been dashed. Eight months ago, experimenters working with the world’s biggest atom smasher—the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) at the European particle physics laboratory, CERN, in Switzerland—reported hints of the first wholly unexpected new particle in decades, one that could have required a rethink of the prevailing theory of fundamental particles and forces. Now, however, physicists at the LHC have collected and analyzed roughly four times as many data as they had last December. And with that extra data, the signs of the new particle have faded away as mere statistical fluctuations, researchers reported today.

Submission + - Mysterious, ice-buried Cold War military base may be unearthed by climate change (

sciencehabit writes: It sounds like something out of a James Bond movie: a secret military operation hidden beneath the Greenland Ice Sheet. But that’s exactly what transpired at Camp Century during the Cold War. In 1959, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers built the subterranean city under the guise of conducting polar research—and scientists there did drill the first ice core ever used to study climate. But deep inside the frozen tunnels, the corps also explored the feasibility of Project Iceworm, a plan to store and launch hundreds of ballistic missiles from inside the ice.

The military ultimately rejected the project, and the corps abandoned Camp Century in 1967. Engineers anticipated that the ice—already a dozen meters thick—would continue to accumulate in northwestern Greenland, permanently entombing what they left behind. Now, climate change has upended that assumption. New research suggests that as early as 2090, rates of ice loss at the site could exceed gains from new snowfall. And within a century after that, melting could begin to release waste stored at the camp, including sewage, diesel fuel, persistent organic pollutants like PCBs, and radiological waste from the camp’s nuclear generator, which was removed during decommissioning.

Submission + - SPAM: Apollo astronauts much more likely to die from heart disease

sciencehabit writes: Apollo lunar astronauts are four to five times more likely to die from cardiovascular disease than astronauts who never left Earth’s orbit or who never flew at all, according to a new stud. When the Apollo crew members ventured to the moon between 1968 and 1972, they exited a magnetic shield around Earth called the magnetosphere, which protects us from cosmic radiation. A team of researchers believed those rays, which come from outside our solar system, may have caused the Apollo astronauts’ circulatory systems to function incorrectly. To test this, they put mice in tiny harnesses to simulate weightlessness and bombarded them with the same type of cosmic radiation that the Apollo astronauts received. What happened in the mice confirmed the researcher’s fears: Although weightlessness had no apparent effect on the rodents, the radiation impaired enzymes that control blood vessels’ ability to relax. As a result, the vessels had a tendency to stay small and tight, which made it harder for blood to flow. In humans, this could lead to high blood pressure and, in some cases, heart disease. The findings, the authors say, highlight the dangers for future astronauts as they explore Mars and beyond.
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Submission + - Bronze Age inferno preserved an extraordinary view of life in the United Kingdom (

sciencehabit writes: Reconstructing daily life in the Bronze Age has been difficult in northern Europe. Most houses were poorly preserved, traced out by postholes or barren remains of hearths, and offer up only meager fragments of pottery. A major excavation near Peterborough, U.K., promises to fill in the picture. Archaeologists have dug up 3000-year-old roundhouses that were perched on stilts above a river, perhaps for defense or facilitating trade. The building materials and much of the contents are well-preserved because the five houses were quickly abandoned during a fire and then collapsed into a river. The rich array of artifacts includes textiles, wooden objects, metal tools, and complete sets of pottery. The arrangement of artifacts could indicate how various sections of the houses were used and perhaps new details about diet. The fact that all the buildings burned down, apparently at the same time, and the belongings were left behind, suggests the fires may have been part of an attack.

Submission + - Popular doping drug may not actually help cyclists (

sciencehabit writes: In June, Dutch scientists finished the largest study yet to find out if erythropoietin (EPO), a drug popular among professional cyclists, really enhances athletic performance. The researchers recruited 48 trained amateur cyclists and gave them either EPO or a placebo for 8 weeks. Participants were subjected to seven endurance tests, culminating in a race up the Mont Ventoux in France, one of cycling's legendary ascents. The researchers are still analyzing results but have already shared one key outcome: Riders on EPO weren't faster than those on placebo. Other researchers find it hard to believe that EPO would do nothing, based on previous studies and athletes' stories. But they applaud the team for subjecting EPO to a large randomized controlled trial, the gold standard in medicine.

Submission + - Massive neutrino experiment undermines our sense of reality (

sciencehabit writes: Data from a massive neutrino experiment show that the elusive subatomic particles must literally be of two mutually exclusive types at once—poking a hole in our intuitive sense of reality. The result is bedrock quantum mechanics. But it's the sort of thing typically shown with highly controlled quantum optics experiments and not with nearly undetectable neutrinos.

Submission + - Daredevil-like ability allows us to size up rooms—even when we can't see t (

sciencehabit writes: The blind comic book star Daredevil has a highly developed sense of hearing that allows him to “see” his environment with his ears. But you don’t need to be a superhero to pull a similar stunt, according to a new study. Researchers have identified the neural architecture used by the brain to turn subtle sounds into a mind’s-eye map of your surroundings.

Submission + - When is it OK for our cars to kill us? (

sciencehabit writes: Self-driving cars are already being tested on the road, but tricky questions about their ethics remain. Should autonomous vehicles protect their passengers at all costs? Or should they be programmed to sacrifice their passengers, if it means protecting others? A new study says “yes” and “yes.” Scientists asked 451 online survey-takers if—in the event of an inevitable accident—it was more appropriate to sacrifice passengers or bystanders, a quandary known as the trolley problem in ethics. When the ratio was one-to-one, that is, one passenger to one pedestrian, about 75% of respondents said the passenger should be saved, they report online today in Science. But as the number of pedestrians went up, survey-takers started to change their minds.

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