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Showing posts from December, 2015

Suspect Science: The Top 5 Retracted Papers of 2015

The scientific method is a painstaking process of observing nature, asking questions, formulating testable hypotheses, conducting experiments and collecting data … and then sometimes just making stuff up when reality doesn't match your expectations. Or maybe it just seems that way when you're reading through the retraction notices that scientific journals are posting with greater and greater frequency. There has been a 10-fold increase in the percentage of scientific papers retracted because of fraud since 1975, according to a study published in 2012 in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

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Want to Lose Weight? Fewer Americans Say Yes

In a recent Gallup poll, 49 percent of Americans said they would like to lose weight — the first time in at least 25 years that less than half of Americans reported wanting to lose weight, according to the poll. In fact, the rising percentages of people who are overweight and obese may partly explain why so many Americans consider themselves to be at a normal weight, said Dr. Holly Lofton, the director of the Medical Weight Management Program at New York University Langone Medical Center. Two-thirds of Americans are overweight or obese, putting people who are in the "normal" weight range in the minority, Lofton told Live Science.

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Disney's New Robot Scales Walls…Like Spidey

A new four-wheeled bot named VertiGo looks like a remote-controlled car that a kid might build. Researchers at Disney Research Zurich worked together with mechanical engineering students at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich (ETH) to design and build the gravity-defying bot. The robot's front wheels are steerable — like the front wheels of an automobile — which lets the person who controls the bot change its direction as it zooms around.


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5 Facts to Know About the California Methane Leak

A methane leak in Southern California has forced thousands of people from their homes. Although the gas first began spewing from a leaky underground well in October, the gas company only recently identified the source of the leak. Here are five things to know about the Southern California methane leak.


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James Bond Villain Gets 'A' for Evil, But 'F' for Brain Surgery

The latest James Bond villain in the new movie "Spectre" may get an "A" for his evil schemes, but he failed spectacularly at neuroanatomy, according to a new report. Blofeld restrains the British spy with a head clamp before revealing his evil plan: The villain plans to use a robotic drill to torture 007 and drill into his brain, erasing Bond's memories of people's faces. But Blofeld's anatomical measurements were way off, according to Dr. Michael Cusimano, a neurosurgeon at St. Michael's Hospital in Toronto.


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Everybody Freeze! The Science of the Polar Bear Club

The event is organized by the Coney Island Polar Bear Club, a group of dedicated open-water swimmers who brave the numbing ocean every Sunday from November through April. An estimated 2,000 swimmers participated in 2014, with around 6,000 to 7,000 spectators looking on, said Dennis Thomas, the club's president and a member for three decades. Thomas described preparation requirements for the dip as "rigorous" — participants must be able to put on a bathing suit.

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Missing Electrons in the Atmosphere Possibly Found

It turns out that a layer of invisible meteor dust falling to Earth every day may be sucking up electrons coming from higher in the atmosphere, creating the so-called "D-region ledge," where the concentration of electrons suddenly plunges, Earle Williams, an atmospheric electrician at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, said earlier this month at the annual meeting of the American Geophysical Union. Physicists have long been hunting for the disappearing electrons, and had turned to everything from high-flying ice clouds to electrically charged water clusters in the atmosphere to explain the sudden drop-off in this region, he said. "It's the most dramatic gradient anywhere in the ionosphere," Williams said, referring to the part of Earth's upper atmosphere where the D-region ledge is found.


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Mattel Goes High-Tech with Virtual Reality View-Master Toy

One of your favorite childhood playthings just got a high-tech makeover, thanks to a collaboration between toy-maker Mattel and Google. In October, Mattel unveiled an updated version of its View-Master — a toy that traditionally resembled a pair of plastic binoculars but was fitted with cardboard "reels" of photographs or drawings that could be viewed in three dimensions. The new View-Master adds a smartphone to the mix.


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Space Fuel: Plutonium-238 Created After 30-Year Wait

Scientists have produced a powder of plutonium-238 for the first time in nearly 30 years in the United States, a milestone that they say sets the country on a path toward powering NASA's deep-space exploration and other missions. Plutonium-238 (Pu-238) is a radioactive element, and as it decays, or breaks down into uranium-234, it releases heat. During the Cold War, the Savannah River Plant in South Carolina was pumping out Pu-238.


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Baghdad Blasts: Earthquake Detectors Map Sounds of War

Seismic equipment that was installed in Iraq to detect earthquakes has also recorded plenty of other big bangs — explosions from nearby mortars and car bombs. In Baghdad throughout 2006, the sound of bombs was common. What happened at the ammunition depot, captured by onlookers on video, is referred to in the military as a "cook-off," when excessive heat causes ammunition to explode prematurely.


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Tasmanian Devils' Mysterious Cancer May Come in Two Varieties

The Tasmanian devil has long been known to suffer from an unusual type of cancer that can spread from animal to animal, but now researchers say the endangered species is plagued by at least two kinds of infectious cancer. The finding suggests that Tasmanian devils are especially prone to the emergence of contagious tumors, and that transmissible cancers may arise more frequently in nature than previously thought, scientists added. The furry, dog-size mammals are found only on the island of Tasmania, which sits about 150 miles (240 kilometers) south of Australia.

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Volcanoes Sparked an Explosion in Human Intelligence, Researcher Argues

Vast lava flows may have provided humans with access to heat and fire for cooking their food millions of years ago, one researcher has proposed. That, in turn, would have enabled the evolution of human intelligence, Michael Medler, a geographer at Western Washington University, said at the annual meeting of the American Geophysical Union earlier this month. If cooked food provided the extra calories that allowed people to evolve big brains, and big brains are required to start fires, then how did hominins, with their teensy brains and relatively meager smarts, produce fire in the first place?


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Giant Comets Periodically Smash Earth, Scientists Say

Giant comets that originate in the planetary fringes of the solar system pose a greater threat of colliding with Earth than do asteroids, which originate closer to the sun, a new review paper argues. No centaur poses a known immediate threat to Earth, but the discovery of this massive population has led a group of astronomers to re-assess the threat of these seemingly distant bodies to this planet. Estimates currently suggest that one of these giant comets crosses Earth's orbit on average only once every 40,000 to 100,000 years, at which time the comet is believed to break up into dust and debris that can collide with the planet.


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Ingredients of Plague Risk in Western US Identified

Small outbreaks of the plague still occur in the western United States, and now new research shows these clusters don't happen at random. Every year, an average of seven people in the western United States are infected with the bacteria that cause plague (Yersinia pestis). The researchers used surveillance data of plague in wild and domestic animals from all over the American West.


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Camera trap system could help fight against poaching

By Joel Flynn The Zoological Society London (ZSL), whose mission is to promote and achieve the world-wide conservation of animals and their habitats, says it may have taken a step closer to fulfilling that with the development of a new camera, which it calls Instant Detect. Developed in partnership with other companies like Seven Technologies Group, which specializes in security technology and helped train rangers on conservation sites on how best to use Instant Detect devices, ZSL hopes it could help the fight against poaching, as well as the monitoring of endangered and other species. Instant Detect is a camera trap system that uses satellite technology to send images from anywhere in the world, according to ZSL Conservation Technology Unit Project Manager, Louise Hartley.

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India test-fires long range surface-to-air missile developed with Israel

By Sankalp Phartiyal NEW DELHI (Reuters) - India successfully test-fired on Wednesday a new long range surface-to-air missile capable of countering aerial threats at extended ranges, as Prime Minister Narendra Modi pushes to enhance the country's military capabilities. India, which shares borders with nuclear-armed China and Pakistan, is likely to spend $250 billion over the next decade to upgrade its military. It is the world's biggest buyer of defense equipment but Modi is trying to build a defense industrial base in the country to cut overseas purchases.

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3D printing process brings art to blind people

By Sharon Reich Writer and pod cast host Romeo Edmead is using his fingers to unlock a world he has never experienced before. Edmead lost his sight when he was just two-years-old, so he has always had a complicated relationship with art and museums.     While he has heard of classical paintings, he says school trips to museums were uncomfortable.     "I knew that what my friends would experience, because I went to public schools with sighted kids, and knew that what they would experience, I wouldn't necessarily experience because they could use their sense of sight and I didn't have that. ...

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Google Glass Redux: High-Tech Wearable Gets Ready for Business

Google Glass is alive and well, and it could be coming to a workplace near you. Although Google announced nearly a year ago that it would no longer be producing its futuristic Internet-connected spectacles, the company now appears to be working on a modified version of the product, for a different kind of user, according to Federal Communications Commission (FCC) filings posted yesterday (Dec. 28). The new version of Google's product has been dubbed the "enterprise edition" or "Google Glass EE," according to the tech website 9to5Google, which has been reporting the news of Glass' evolution from geeky prototype to workplace tool for months.


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Forget the Flashlight: New Ninja Shark Species Lights up the Sea

It joins a group of nearly 40 other species commonly called lanternsharks, which are marine predators with the ability to glow that live in oceans around the world, including the Indian, Atlantic and Pacific oceans, said Vicky Vásquez, lead author of the new report and a graduate student in marine science at the Pacific Shark Research Center in California. The new report documents the first time a lanternshark has ever been found off the Pacific coast of Central America, Vásquez told Live Science. The new species had a uniform dark-black coloring, as opposed to the greys and browns seen on other lanternsharks, Vásquez said.


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Trail from Ship Exhaust Leaves 'A' in the Sky

You may not have seen it, but in July there was a large "A" written in the sky over the ocean near the Kamchatka Peninsula, in far-eastern Russia. The image of the A, published on Sunday (Dec. 27) on NASA's Earth Observatory website, shows how ocean-going ships produce a stream of exhaust gases that leaves tracks across the sky behind them, called ship tracks. A camera aboard NASA's Aqua satellite took the image on July 27.


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Russia to rewrite space program as economic crisis bites

By Dmitry Solovyov MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russia is to revise its space program, the national space agency said on Tuesday after a newspaper published a report that billions of dollars of cuts may be afoot including to ambitious Moon exploration plans. Several Russian government ministries were engaged in revising the space program up to 2025, Roscosmos said in a written statement to Reuters. The authoritative Izvestia newspaper published details of what it said was a draft proposal sent by Roscosmos to the government which showed big spending cuts were being proposed to the Moon exploration program.

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Smart wheelchair moves by dummy sucks

A Barcelona-based disability foundation has created an intelligent chair so that severely disabled children can better explore their surroundings. Previous models of wheelchair were usually joystick-operated and were unusable for children without the necessary motor skills or with limited awareness of their environment. This model of wheelchair responds to voice command, head movement, or sucks of a dummy.

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Ram Statue Unearthed on Christmas Eve May Represent Jesus

A hand-carved marble statue of a ram that was uncovered last week along Israel's Mediterranean coast has archaeologists guessing about who carved the creation. Archaeologists found the statue on Thursday (Dec. 24), but they say its unclear whether it was carved by Byzantine artisans, or if it was made by Romans and then later repurposed by the Byzantine church, the Israel Antiquities Authority said. The researchers found the statue during the excavation of an ancient church in Caesarea Harbor National Park, a landmark about 25 miles (40 kilometers) south of Haifa.


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New Kind of Hydrothermal Vent Forms Ghostly Chimneys

Deep in the Caribbean Sea, researchers have discovered a new type of hydrothermal vent unlike any seen before, with huge, ghostly mounds formed from an ingredient common in baby powder. Typical hydrothermal vents consist mostly of sulfide minerals, but these vents in the Von Damm Vent Field south of the Cayman Islands are made mostly of talc, a magnesium-silicate mineral. "This vent site is home to a community of fauna similar to those found at the Mid-Atlantic Ridge in the Atlantic Ocean," study researcher Matthew Hodgkinson, a postgraduate scientist at the University of Southampton in the United Kingdom, said in a statement, referring to the plate boundary that slices through the Atlantic.


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Turtles' Wayward Travels May Mean BP Oil Spill's Impact Was Global

The far-flung journeys of juvenile sea turtles could mean that the impact of 2010's Deepwater Horizon oil spill was global. More than 300,000 sea turtles were likely in the region of the Gulf of Mexico affected by the oil spill, according to a new computer simulation. Others hailed from South America, Costa Rica and as far away as western Africa.


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From Blood Rain to Green Poo: 10 Weirdest Science Stories of 2015

The rain in Spain seemed to turn a gory shade of blood red. Last fall, residents of several villages in northwest Spain were alarmed when the water in their local fountains turned an unsettling shade of crimson. A study published in September 2015 found that Spain's bloodbaths were teeming with the microscopic freshwater algae Haematococcus pluvialis, which produce a red pigment when they're stressed.


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The 10 Strangest Animal Discoveries of 2015

For instance, in 2015 researchers identified a ruby-red sea dragon off the coast of Australia, a new species of giant tortoise in the Galápagos Islands and an ancient spikey worm with 30 legs in China. As these newfound creatures are uncovered, it's important to protect them from pollution, habitat loss and the havoc caused by invasive species, especially as Earth enters its sixth mass extinction, experts say.


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Pocket-Size Device Turns Smartphone into a High-Powered Microscope

A sleek, smartphone-powered microscope, dubbed μPeek, recently reached its funding goal on Kickstarter. The device, which attaches to the back of any smartphone (over the top of the camera lens), is about the size of a credit card and is controlled via an app, allowing you to view crystal-clear images of tiny objects and make adjustments to the microscope right on your phone. The microscope is equipped with a motorized lens and sophisticated optical components — two things usually found on expensive (and relatively big) professional microscopes.


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Venomous Sea Snake Washes Up on California Beach, Surprising Scientists

A venomous sea snake washed up on a Southern California beach recently, striking fear in the hearts of beachgoers but eliciting excitement from the scientists who study these marine reptiles. The stranded snake, which was dead when it was discovered on Dec. 12, was a yellow-bellied sea snake (Pelamis platura), the most widespread marine snake in the world. "North of the tip of Baja [California], we have only five documented observations of this snake ever.

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'Writable' Circuits Could Let Scientists Draw Electronics into Existence

Scientists have developed a way to produce soft, flexible and stretchy electronic circuits and radio antennas by hand, simply by writing on specially designed sheets of material. This technique could help people draw electronic devices into existence on demand for customized devices, researchers said in a new study describing the method. Whereas conventional electronics are stiff, new soft electronics are flexible and potentially stretchable and foldable.


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12 Flavors of Rainbows Identified

Why are there so many songs about rainbows? There are 12 types of rainbows, distinguished by various characteristics, the study suggests. Rainbows can even appear as twins, triplets or quadruplets, Jean Ricard, a researcher at the National Meteorological Research Center, in France, said here yesterday (Dec. 17) at the annual meeting of the American Geophysical Union.


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Huh? Could Cleaner Air Be Worsening Global Warming?

It may seem counterintuitive, but cleaner air could actually be exacerbating global warming trends. The soot and other particles that make up air pollution tend to scatter light back out into space. As countries around the globe have cleaned up their act, there are fewer particles to reflect light, meaning more sunlight is reaching the Earth's surface and warming it, Martin Wild, a researcher at ETH Zurich in Switzerland, said Tuesday (Dec. 15) here at the annual meeting of the American Geophysical Union.


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Ancient Mom: Oldest Brood of Preserved Embryos Found

A tiny, shrimplike creature that lived 508 million years ago has been discovered carrying about two-dozen fossilized eggs with preserved embryos in its body, making it the earliest example of brood care with preserved embryos on record, a new study finds. Recently, paleontologists revisited the W. fieldensis fossils, looking at 979 specimens from the Royal Ontario Museum in Canada and 866 specimens housed at the Smithsonian Institution National Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C. After an extensive search, the researchers found that five of the little creatures from the Canadian collection contained eggs. Carrying eggs is an example of brood care.


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US Twin Birthrate Hits All-Time High

The country's twin birthrate hit 33.9 twins per 1,000 births in 2014, up from 33.7 twins per 1,000 births in 2013, according to the report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The "twinning rate" has nearly doubled since 1980, when the rate was 18.9 twins per 1,000 births, the researchers wrote in their report, published today (Dec. 23) by the CDC's National Center for Health Statistics. However, the birthrates of triplets and higher-order births declined in 2014, from 119.5 per 100,000 in 2013 to 113.5 per 100,000 in 2014 — the lowest rate in 20 years and down more than 40 percent from the peak in 1998, when the birth rate of triplets and higher-order births reached a record 193.5 per 100,000, according to the report.

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Stem Cells May Save Northern White Rhinos

At a meeting in Vienna from Dec. 3 to Dec. 6, researchers developed a plan to use stem cells to create fertilized rhino embryos, which will be carried by surrogate southern white rhino females. This past year has been a sad one for northern white rhinos, a rapidly disappearing subspecies destroyed by habitat loss and poaching. An infection claimed Nola, a 41-year-old female at the San Diego Zoo, in November.


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Curbing Premature Birth May Hinge on a Single Molecule

Blocking a molecule in the uterus could delay or even halt premature birth, the leading cause of death and disability of newborns worldwide, according to a new study in rodents. As many as 3 percent are born quite prematurely, after less than 31 weeks of pregnancy, said study co-senior author Dr. David Cornfield, a pediatric pulmonary medicine physician and scientist at Stanford University in California. Premature birth can lead to major problems because many organs, including the brain, lungs, and liver, need the final weeks of pregnancy to fully develop.

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Skin-to-Skin 'Kangaroo-Style' Care May Benefit Newborns' Health

Babies born with a low birth weight who are regularly held by their mothers skin-to-skin — or "kangaroo style" — may have a lower risk of dying prematurely, according to a new analysis of previous research. In the analysis, researchers looked at 124 studies that examined the relationship between so-called kangaroo mother care and health outcomes in newborns. Newborns born at a low birth weight — less than 4.4 lbs. (2 kilograms) — who received kangaroo mother care had a 36 percent lower chance of dying prematurely, compared with low-birth-weight newborns who did not receive such care, the researchers found.

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Oh, Rats: Pet Rodent's Bite Gives Teen Rare Fever

A teenage girl who was scratched when breaking up a scuffle among her three pet rats wound up in the hospital with an extremely rare case of rat-bite fever. The infection, which is caused by a bacterium found in rat saliva, generally causes fever, joint pain and rash, and is fatal in up to 13 percent of cases, according to the report of the young woman's case. Rat-bite fever, which was described in writings dating back 2,300 years, is rare: Only about 200 cases of the disease have been reported in the past 150 years, the authors wrote in their report, published today (Dec. 22) in the journal BMJ Case Reports.

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Evil-Thwarting 'Rattles' Found in Prehistoric Infant's Grave

Tiny figurines that may have been used as rattling toys or charms to ward off evil spirits were discovered in the grave of an infant dating back 4,500 years, archaeologists say. The infant's remains, which were found in what appears to be a birchbark cradle, suggest he or she was less than a year old at death. On the infant's chest, archaeologists found "eight miniature horn figurines representing humanlike characters and heads of birds, elk, boar and a carnivore,"wrote archaeologists Andrey Polyakov and Yury Esin, in an article published recently in the journal Archaeology, Ethnology & Anthropology of Eurasia.


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Toddler Tech Pros? 2-Year-Olds Adept at Touch Screens

Kim Kardashian recently blamed her 2-year-old daughter, North, for posting a photo to Kardashian's Instagram account — but can toddlers really use touch screens? In the study, 91 percent of parents with touch-screen devices, such as smartphones or tablets, reported that their toddlers were able to swipe on the devices. "Children as young as 12 months of age are able to use [touch-screen] devices, and by 24 months have developed an array of skills allowing them to interact purposefully with a touch screen," the researchers wrote.

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Hail the Hydra, an Animal That May Be Immortal

A new study finds that hydra — spindly, freshwater polyps — can live seemingly forever, without aging. Unlike most multicellular species, hydra don't show any signs of deteriorating with age, according to the new research, published Dec. 7 in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. "I started my original experiment wanting to prove that hydra could not have escaped aging," study researcher Daniel Martinez, a Pomona College biologist, said in a statement.


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2 'Extinct' Sea Snakes Discovered Off Australian Coast

Two species of venomous sea snakes that were thought to be extinct have been discovered slithering off the coast of western Australia. The brownish-purple leaf-scaled sea snake (Aipysurus foliosquama) and the yellowish-brown short-nosed sea snake (Aipysurus apraefrontalis) once lived among the Ashmore and Hibernia reefs in the Timor Sea, but disappeared between 1998 and 2002, the researchers said. After that, both species were listed as critically endangered, first by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) in 2010, and next by Australia's threatened species legislation in 2011, and many scientists presumed they were extinct.


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NASA cancels launch of next Mars probe due to instrument leak

A U.S. science satellite slated to launch to Mars in March has been grounded due to a leak in a key research instrument, NASA said on Tuesday, creating uncertainty about the future of a widely anticipated effort to study the interior of the planet. The spacecraft, known as InSight, was designed to help scientists learn more about the formation of rocky planets, including Earth. The cancellation raises questions about the future of the research effort, as it will be another two years before Earth and Mars are favorably aligned for a launch.


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San Andreas May Be a 'Zipper' Fault

A new explanation for colliding faults could help explain mysterious fault lines that have mystified geologists for decades. The new explanation could explain everything from the quake-prone faults of Southern California to dynamic crust beneath the snow-capped peak of K2 in the Himalayas. The theory is deceptively simple: When two faults collide, instead of one breaking past another, they may just merge, like a zipper zipping up, said John Platt, a geologist at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles, here at the annual meeting of the American Geophysical Union.


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King Tut's Half Sister May Have Nursed Him, Carving Suggests

Egypt's famous "boy king," the pharaoh Tutankhamun, may have suckled at the breast of his half sister during his infancy, new research finds. The announcement comes on the heels of a cleaning and analysis of the tomb of Maia (or Maya), King Tut's wet nurse. Researchers discovered the tomb in 1996 in Saqqara, an ancient burial ground about 19 miles (30 kilometers) south of Cairo, according to a statement posted yesterday (Dec. 20) on the Egyptian Ministry of Antiquities' Facebook page.


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Lions Gain New Endangered Species Protections

Two lion subspecies will now be protected by the Endangered Species Act, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) announced today (Dec. 21). Panthera leo melanochaita, a lion subspecies living in eastern and southern Africa, will be listed as threatened, while Panthera leo leo, a subspecies found in western and central Africa and in India, will receive endangered status, FWS officials said. New genetic data prompted the agency to recognize western and central African lions as subspecies P. leo leo, and spurred their"endangered" classification.


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Ding dong wobbly and bright

By Jim Drury Christmas bells ringing out are a popular feature of the festive season. Colorful images showing their vibration in unprecedented detail have been released by the University of Leicester's Advanced Structural Dynamics Evaluation Center (ASDEC). Working with John Taylor & Co., a company of local bell founders, the ASDEC team scanned the structural dynamics of two large bells using a robotized 3D laser vibrometry system at approximately 4,000 measurement locations.

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SpaceX Falcon rocket blasts off and returns to safe landing

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. (Reuters) - A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket blasted off from Florida on Monday with a payload of communications satellites before the reusable main-stage booster turned around, soared back to Cape Canaveral and landed safely near its launch pad in a dramatic spaceflight first. The launch and successful return of the rocket's first stage, followed by deployment of all 11 satellites delivered to orbit for customer ORBCOMM, marked the first SpaceX flight since a June accident that destroyed a cargo ship bound for the International Space Station. ...


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Wild bee populations dwindle in main U.S. crop regions: study

By Will Dunham WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Wild bees, crucial pollinators for many crops, are on the decline in some of the main agricultural regions of the United States, according to scientists who produced the first national map of bee populations and identified numerous trouble spots. The researchers on Monday cited 139 counties as especially worrisome, with wild bee numbers decreasing while farmland for crops dependent on such pollinators is increasing. The counties included agricultural regions of California such as the Central Valley, the Pacific Northwest, the upper Midwest and Great Plains, west Texas and the southern Mississippi River valley.


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Flu Season Will Likely Peak in February, Model Suggests

This flu season will likely peak in February and could be a mild one, according to a new model that aims to forecast the flu in the United States this winter. The model uses information from past flu seasons, along with a mathematical representation of how influenza spreads through a population and the latest data on the current flu season, to predict how seasonal flu will pan out in the coming months. According to the new model, there's a less than 1 percent chance that the flu season will peak before January in most of the country, and a less than 20 percent chance that it will peak in January.

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Flu Season Will Likely Peak in February, Forecast Suggests

This flu season will likely peak in February and could be a mild one, according to a new model that aims to forecast the flu in the United States this winter. The model uses information from past flu seasons, along with a mathematical representation of how influenza spreads through a population and the latest data on the current flu season, to predict how seasonal flu will pan out in the coming months. According to the new model, there's a less than 1 percent chance that the flu season will peak before January in most of the country, and a less than 20 percent chance that it will peak in January.

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Take a Gander: Audubon Society's Christmas Bird Count Begins

Last week marked the start of the National Audubon Society's 116th annual Christmas Bird Count, which means it's the perfect time to unleash your inner birder and take a gander at migratory bird species as they fly south for the winter. Every winter, citizen scientists participate in bird-counting events across North America, from mid-December until early January, to collect data on bird migrations for the National Audubon Society. The Christmas Bird Count is the longest-running wildlife census in the United States.


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Fearing pollution, Chinese families build 'bubbles' at home

By Alexandra Harney SHANGHAI (Reuters) - Liu Nanfeng has five air purifiers, two air quality monitors and a water purification system in his Beijing apartment. "It feels hopeless." China's persistent pollution and regular product safety scandals are driving an increasing number of consumers to build bubbles of clean air, purified water and safe products at home and in their cars. Beijing's city government has twice this month issued pollution "red alerts", the first time it has triggered its most severe smog warning.


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Penguin Candid Camera: Little Birds Reveal Hunting Secrets

Wearing video cameras, the world's smallest penguins have revealed their hunting secrets: The little blue-hued birds swim together to stalk groups of prey, but when it comes to catching and killing their meals, it's every penguin for itself. Researchers wanted to learn more about why these birds formed groups when foraging, such as whether doing so gives them a better chance at capturing anchovies, krill, jellyfish and other prey. The video cameras faced forward to give a penguin's-eye view.


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'Heavy Metal' Bee Is a Headbanging Pollinator (Video)

Australia's blue-banded bee is a successful pollinator because it uses its head — literally, scientists have found. Like a heavy-metal fan headbanging to Iron Maiden, this species of blue-banded bee (Amegilla murrayensis) vibrates its head rapidly when visiting flowers. Native to Australia, blue-banded bees are solitary, with females building individual burrows in soil or clay.


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Bigger Earthquakes May Be Coming to Nepal

The terrifying magnitude-7.8 Gorkha earthquake that rattled Nepal in April is nothing compared to the temblors scientists predict could happen in the future. The shaking observed was "unusually gentle" given the magnitude of the earthquake, leading to far fewer landslides and glacial lake overflows than could have been seen, researchers said here today (Dec. 16) at the annual meeting of the American Geophysical Union. "The situation could have been far, far worse," said Jeffrey Kargel, who was a co-author on one of two related papers published today in the journal Science and presented at the meeting.


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The Art of Science: Why Researchers Should Think Like Designers (Op-Ed)

Ten Speed Press is an imprint of Penguin Random House. This fall I read "The Martian" (Crown, 2014) by Andy Weir, and it made me want to be a scientist. It's because I share those three traits — optimism, creativity and problem solving — that I'm a product designer.


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Sickle-Wearing Skeletons Reveal Ancient Fear of Demons

A few skeletons unearthed in a 400-year-old Polish cemetery have been discovered with sickles placed around their necks. Archaeologists believe this strange burial practice is evidence of a belief in magic and a fear of demons. The sickle burials were found at Drawsko cemetery, a site in northeastern Poland that dates from the 17th to the 18th centuries.


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Dinosaur's Curious Back Sail May Have Aided Migration

The bizarre rigid "sail" on the back of a newfound species of herbivorous dinosaur may have helped the paleo-beast survive in a variety of climates, a new study finds. The dinosaur lived during the Early Cretaceous period about 125 million years ago in ancient Spain, the researchers said. Perhaps the dinosaur used its sail to regulate its body temperature, much like an elephant uses its large ears to release excess body heat, the researchers said.


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The World Needs a Carbon Tax, Elon Musk Says

The world's leaders should institute a carbon tax to mitigate the worst effects of climate change and help shift the global economy away from fossil fuels and toward renewable energy, billionaire entrepreneur Elon Musk said. The current lack of a carbon tax amounts to a hidden subsidy that incentivizes "bad behavior," Musk said here Tuesday (Dec. 15) at the annual fall meeting of the American Geophysical Union (AGU).


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Deck the Halls — Scientifically! 5 Smart Tips for Holiday Decorating

'Tis the season of tangled Christmas tree lights, burnt-out menorah bulbs and dried-up mistletoe. From how to keep a Christmas tree fresh and green to ensuring that festive lights don't interfere with your home's Wi-Fi signal, here are five scientific tips that will help you stress less this holiday season. You may have heard rumors that holiday lights can interfere with Wi-Fi signals, causing slow Internet connections and, subsequently, a very frustrating holiday.

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Spacewalking astronauts fix station's stuck rail car

By Irene Klotz CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. (Reuters) - Two U.S. astronauts floated outside the International Space Station on Monday in a hastily planned spacewalk to move a stuck rail car before a Russian cargo ship reaches the outpost on Wednesday, NASA said. Station commander Scott Kelly and newly arrived flight engineer Timothy Kopra were due to spend about 3.5 hours on an abbreviated spacewalk to latch the stalled car into a parking spot along the station's exterior truss. The rail car jammed about 4 inches (10 cm) short of its intended latching point last Wednesday, blocked by a crew equipment cart that was left with its brake on.

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30 year sweatshirt tackling 'fast fashion'

By Jim Drury A young British entrepreneur has created the 30 Year Sweatshirt - a sustainable, ethical range of clothing that he says offers a practical solution to the cycle of consumption and waste caused by so-called 'fast fashion'. Londoner Tom Cridland, 25, told Reuters he has combined old-fashioned craftsmanship with a unique silicon treatment applied to fabric that prevents shrinking. The result is a sweatshirt that he guarantees will last three decades, and because the items are priced at an affordable £55 ($83 USD), he insists that buyers will also save money in the long-term.

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Microwavable Mantle: Physicists Nuke Mock Earth Layer, for Science

Scientists have jury-rigged a microwave oven and a liquid made of food and cosmetics thickener to recreate the Earth's mantle, the mysterious middle layer of the planet. The mock-up mantle could help scientists determine whether a hidden pool of radioactive elements is producing heat deep in Earth's interior, Angela Limare, a physicist at the Institut de Physique du Globe de Paris in France, said Tuesday (Dec. 15) here at the annual meeting of the American Geophysical Union. "It looks like the upper mantle is really depleted of radioactive elements," Limare said.

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Here’s How To Extend Your iPhone’s Battery Life

Apple's new case contains a lithium-ion (Li-ion) battery that doubles the time you can use your phone before it goes kaput. Gordon Gottsegen at Wired said the case makes it look like the iPhone has a "strange-looking growth on its backside." Lauren Goode at The Verge said it looks like an iPod that swallowed an iPhone.


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Futuristic Kicks: 3D-Printed Sneakers Are Tailor-Made to Your Feet

Imagine walking into a store, running on a treadmill for a few minutes and then purchasing a pair of shoes tailored precisely to the contours of your feet. The shoe and clothing company recently unveiled its Futurecraft 3D sneaker — a running shoe with a 3D-printed midsole (the part between the inner sole that touches your foot and the outer sole that touches the ground). Adidas said the midsole can be tailored to fit the "cushioning needs" of your feet, whatever those may be.


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The Key to Making Baby Pandas? Love

There's a secret to making panda babies, and it looks a little bit like love. Pandas are more likely to produce young when they have a preference for the partner they're meant to mate with, a new study finds. In a new study published Tuesday (Dec. 15) in the journal Nature Communications, researchers allowed pandas to pick their own mates by letting them observe a pair of opposite-sex bears through barriers in a special enclosure.


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The Beard Is Back: Beeswax Fixes King Tut's Broken Goatee

The imperial goatee on King Tutankhamun's golden burial mask is back in business after scientists reattached it with beeswax, according to the Egyptian Ministry of Antiquities. Staff workers at Cairo's Egyptian Museum mistakenly reattached it with epoxy glue, leaving scratch marks on the famous artifact after they used a spatula to wipe off the excess glue, Live Science reported in January. But now, after a nine-week restoration, the mask has returned to public display at the museum, Antiquities Minister Mamdouh Eldamaty said at a news conference yesterday (Dec. 17) at the museum.


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Self-driving delivery robots could be Santa's new helper

By Matthew Stock Fleets of small autonomous robots could soon become a familiar presence on public pathways with the advent of ground-based drones that aim to improve local delivery of goods and groceries.     Former Skype co-founders have launched a new company, Starship Technologies, which is preparing to test their self-driving delivery robots in London. The as yet unnamed robots are small, safe, practical and free from CO2 emissions, according to the developers.     "When you place your order online, as you do right now, but instead of getting the delivery by somebody coming up to your door and knocking on your door, you would get it by a robot," said Ahti Heinla, a Skype co-founder and CEO at Starship Technologies.    The robots can carry the equivalent of two bags of shopping and complete local deliveries in between five and 30 minutes from a designated hub or retail outlet.

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SpaceX delays launch and landing test of Falcon 9 rocket

By Irene Klotz CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla., (Reuters) - Elon Musk's SpaceX on Sunday postponed launch of an upgraded Falcon 9 rocket and an attempt to land the booster at the launch site, saying the tricky touchdown would have a better chance of success if delayed for 24 hours. A smooth landing would provide a big boost to Musk’s Space Exploration Technologies, or SpaceX, and its long-term ambition of refurbishing and reusing its rockets, an advance that could slash launch costs. The mission, rescheduled for 8:33 p.m. ET on Monday, is the first for SpaceX since June 28, when the Falcon 9 failed during an attempt to deliver cargo to the International Space Station for NASA.


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Hubble telescope shows image of new 'lightsaber' star system

GREENBELT, Md. - NASA'S Hubble telescope captured an image of a baby star buried in interstellar gas and dust with massive jets emitting from it that seem to resemble a double-bladed lightsaber from the new film "Star Wars: The Force Awakens." Dr. Jennifer Wiseman said the image of dark clouds with a long gold line through it shows the birth stage of a new star system. "This particular protostar system looks like a double-bladed lightsaber, which is timely with all the Star Wars frenzy going on right now," she added.

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Elephant Daughters Step into Murdered Matriarchs' Roles

When older members of an elephant family are killed, younger female elephants assume the roles once held by their mothers, maintaining the networks that keep extended families together, a new study has found. Over a 16-year period, researchers evaluated the changing social dynamics in groups of elephants in western Kenya as mature matriarchs were killed by poachers who hunt elephants for the ivory in their tusks. Not only did younger female elephants take up new social positions when an older matriarch died, but the links they forged with other elephant daughters mirrored connections once held by their mothers.


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Ancient Marine Reptiles Flew Through the Water

The ancient, four-flippered plesiosaur didn't swim like a fish, whale or even an otter — but instead like a penguin, a new study finds. Plesiosaurs, giant marine reptiles that lived during the dinosaur age, likely propelled themselves forward underwater by flapping their two front flippers, much like penguins do today, the researchers said. "This is the first time plesiosaur locomotion has been simulated with computers, so our study provides exciting new information on how these unusual extinct animals may have swum," said study co-author Adam Smith, a curator of natural sciences at Wollaton Hall, Nottingham Natural History Museum in the United Kingdom.


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Adorable 'Star Wars' BB-8 Droid Brought to Life with 3D Printing

A software engineer in Canada recently created a 3D-printed replica of the adorable BB-8 robot from the new "Star Wars" movie. J.R. Bedárd was inspired to build his own version of the roly-poly robot after the real BB-8 droid (the one used in the film "Star Wars: The Force Awakens") took to the stage at Star Wars Celebration, a fan convention held in April in Anaheim, California. Fans like Bedárd were amazed that the bot — which has a half dome for a head and a spherical body that rolls over the ground — actually appeared in the film and that the robot was not the product of computer-generated imagery (CGI).


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