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Showing posts from December 30, 2015

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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