Science

3.46-Billion-Year-Old 'Fossils' Were Not Created By Life Forms 61

Posted by Soulskill
from the stupid-tricksy-fossilses dept.
sciencehabit writes: What are the oldest fossils on Earth? For a long time, a 3.46-billion-year-old rock from Western Australia seemed to hold the record. A 1993 Science paper (abstract) suggested that the Apex chert contained tiny, wormy structures that could have been fossilized cell walls of some of the world's first cyanobacteria. But now there is more evidence that these structures have nothing to do with life. The elongated filaments were instead created by minerals forming in hydrothermal systems, researchers report (abstract). After the minerals were formed, carbon glommed on to the edges, leaving behind an organic signature that looked suspiciously like cell walls.
Sci-Fi

Astronaut Snaps Epic Star Trek Selfie In Space 140

Posted by samzenpus
from the zero-g-cosplay dept.
mpicpp writes with this story about astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti's tribute to a Star Trek icon. "Captain Kathryn Janeway led the USS Voyager through many harrowing lost-in-space adventures. She was the first female Starfleet captain to take the lead role in a 'Trek' series. Janeway is fictional, but she is an inspiration to many women interested in space. European Space Agency astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti, the first Italian woman in space, took a moment to celebrate Captain Janeway at around 250 miles above Earth. Cristoforetti is currently aboard the International Space Station. She tweeted a selfie on April 17 while dressed in a Star Trek: Voyager-style red and black uniform with a purple turtleneck. The image shows her pointing a thumb at SpaceX's Dragon supply capsule."
The Almighty Buck

William Shatner Proposes $30 Billion Water Pipeline To California 632

Posted by samzenpus
from the pipe-it-in dept.
Taco Cowboy writes The 84-year-old Star Trek star wants to build a water pipeline to California. All it'll cost, according to Mr. Shatner, is $30 billion, and he wants to KickStarter the funding campaign. According to Mr. Shatner, if the KickStarter campaign doesn't raise enough money then he will donate whatever that has been collected to a politician who promise to build that water pipe. Where does he wants to get the water? Seattle, "A place where there's a lot of water. There's too much water," says Mr. Shatner.
Earth

Pull-Top Can Tabs, At 50, Reach Historic Archaeological Status 118

Posted by timothy
from the remember-making-giant-chains-of-these dept.
New submitter kuhnto writes A simple relic of 20th century life has taken on new meaning for archaeologists: The ring-tab beer can — first introduced 50 years ago — is now considered an historic-era artifact, a designation that bestows new significance on the old aluminum cans and their distinctive tabs that are still found across the country.
Earth

If Earth Never Had Life, Continents Would Be Smaller 59

Posted by timothy
from the war-of-concretion dept.
sciencehabit writes It may seem counterintuitive, but life on Earth, even with all the messy erosion it creates, keeps continents growing. Presenting here this week at the annual meeting of the European Geosciences Union, researchers say it's the erosion itself that makes the difference in continental size. Plant life, for example, can root its way through rock, breaking rocks into sediment. The sediments, like milk-dunked cookies, carry liquid water in their pores, which allows more water to be recycled back into Earth's mantle. If not enough water is present in the mantle about 100 to 200 km deep to keep things flowing, continental production decreases. The authors built a planetary evolution model to show how these processes relate and found that if continental weathering and erosion rates decreased, at first the continents would remain large. But over time, if life never evolved on Earth, not enough water would make its way to the mantle to help produce more continental crust, and whatever continents there were would then shrink. Now, continents cover 40% of the planet. Without life, that coverage would shrink to 30%. In a more extreme case, if life never existed, the continents might only cover 10% of Earth.
Earth

Resistance To Antibiotics Found In Isolated Amazonian Tribe 52

Posted by timothy
from the strong-willed-organisms dept.
sciencehabit writes When scientists first made contact with an isolated village of Yanomami hunter-gatherers in the remote mountains of the Amazon jungle of Venezuela in 2009, they marveled at the chance to study the health of people who had never been exposed to Western medicine or diets. But much to their surprise, these Yanomami's gut bacteria have already evolved a diverse array of antibiotic-resistance genes, according to a new study, even though these mountain people had never ingested antibiotics or animals raised with drugs. The find suggests that microbes have long evolved the capability to fight toxins, including antibiotics, and that preventing drug resistance may be harder than scientists thought.
The Military

Scientists Locate Sunken, Radioactive Aircraft Carrier Off California Coast 192

Posted by Soulskill
from the what-you-leave-behind dept.
HughPickens.com writes: Aaron Kinney reports in the San Jose Mercury News that scientists have captured the first clear images of the USS Independence, a radioactivity-polluted World War II aircraft carrier that rests on the ocean floor 30 miles off the coast of Half Moon Bay. The Independence saw combat at Wake Island and other decisive battles against Japan in 1944 and 1945 and was later blasted with radiation in two South Pacific nuclear tests. Assigned as a target vessel for the Operation Crossroads atomic bomb tests, she was placed within one-half-mile of ground zero and was engulfed in a fireball and heavily damaged during the 1946 nuclear weapons tests at Bikini Atoll. The veteran ship did not sink, however (though her funnels and island were crumpled by the blast), and after taking part in another explosion on 25 July, the highly radioactive hull was later taken to Pearl Harbor and San Francisco for further tests and was finally scuttled off the coast of San Francisco, California, on 29 January 1951. "This ship is an evocative artifact of the dawn of the atomic age, when we began to learn the nature of the genie we'd uncorked from the bottle," says James Delgado. "It speaks to the 'Greatest Generation' — people's fathers, grandfathers, uncles and brothers who served on these ships, who flew off those decks and what they did to turn the tide in the Pacific war."

Delgado says he doesn't know how many drums of radioactive material are buried within the ship — perhaps a few hundred. But he is doubtful that they pose any health or environmental risk. The barrels were filled with concrete and sealed in the ship's engine and boiler rooms, which were protected by thick walls of steel. The carrier itself was clearly "hot" when it went down and and it was packed full of fresh fission products and other radiological waste at the time it sank. The Independence was scuttled in what is now the Gulf of the Farallones sanctuary, a haven for wildlife, from white sharks to elephant seals and whales. Despite its history as a dumping ground Richard Charter says the radioactive waste is a relic of a dark age before the enviornmental movement took hold. "It's just one of those things that humans rather stupidly did in the past that we can't retroactively fix.""
Science

Newly Discovered Sixth Extinction Rivals That of the Dinosaurs 88

Posted by samzenpus
from the end-of-the-line dept.
sciencehabit writes Earth has seen its share of catastrophes, the worst being the 'big five' mass extinctions scientists traditionally talk about. Now, paleontologists are arguing that a sixth extinction, 260 million years ago, at the end of a geological age called the Capitanian, deserves to be a member of the exclusive club. In a new study, they offer evidence for a massive die-off in shallow, cool waters in what is now Norway. That finding, combined with previous evidence of extinctions in tropical waters, means that the Capitanian was a global catastrophe.
Technology

The Crazy-Tiny Next Generation of Computers 104

Posted by samzenpus
from the getting-small dept.
An anonymous reader writes University of Michigan professors are about to release the design files for a one-cubic-millimeter computer, or mote. They have finally reached a goal set in 1997, when UC Berkeley professor Kristopher Pister coined the term "smart dust" and envisioned computers blanketing the Earth. Such motes are likely to play a key role in the much-ballyhooed Internet of Things. From the article: "When Prabal Dutta accidentally drops a computer, nothing breaks. There’s no crash. The only sound you might hear is a prolonged groan. That’s because these computers are just one cubic millimeter in size, and once they hit the floor, they’re gone. 'We just lose them,' Dutta says. 'It’s worse than jewelry.' To drive the point home, Dutta, an assistant professor of electrical engineering at the University of Michigan, emails me a photo of 50 of these computers. They barely fill a thimble halfway to its brim."
Mars

Road To Mars: Solving the Isolation Problem 137

Posted by Soulskill
from the cryostasis-is-not-just-for-sci-fi-and-weekly-meetings dept.
An anonymous reader writes: As space technology matures, new missions are being funded and humanity is setting its goals ever further. Space agencies are tackling some of the new problems that crop up when we try to go further away than Earth's moon. This New Yorker article takes a look at research into one of the biggest obstacles: extended isolation. Research consultant Jack Stuster once wrote, "Future space expeditions will resemble sea voyages much more than test flights, which have served as the models for all previous space missions." Long-duration experiments are underway to test the effects of isolation, but it's tough to study. You need many experiments to derive useful conclusions, but you can't just ship 100 groups of a half-dozen people off to remote areas of the globe and monitor all of them. It's also borderline unethical to expose the test subjects to the kind of stress and danger that would be present in a real Mars mission. The data collected so far has been (mostly) promising, but we have a long way to go. The technology and the missions themselves will probably come together long before we know how to deal with isolation. At some point, we'll just have to hope our best guess is good enough.
Earth

Can Civilization Reboot Without Fossil Fuels? 363

Posted by Soulskill
from the time-to-start-breeding-dinosaurs dept.
An anonymous reader writes: We often talk about our dependence on fossil fuels, and vigorously debate whether and how we should reduce that dependence. This article at Aeon sidesteps the political bickering and asks an interesting technological question: if we had to rebuild society, could we do it without all the fossil fuels we used to do it the first time? When people write about post-apocalyptic scenarios, the focus is usually on preserving information long enough for humanity to rebuild. But actually rebuilding turns out to be quite a challenge when all the easy oil has been bled from the planet.

It's not that we're running out, it's that the best spots for oil now require high tech machinery. This would create a sort of chicken-and-egg problem for a rebuilding society. Technological progress could still happen using other energy production methods. But it would be very slow — we'd never see the dramatic accelerations that marked the industrial age, and then the information age. "A slow-burn progression through the stages of mechanization, supported by a combination of renewable electricity and sustainably grown biomass, might be possible after all. Then again, it might not. We'd better hope we can secure the future of our own civilization, because we might have scuppered the chances of any society to follow in our wake."
Earth

Mystery "Warm Blob" In the Pacific Ocean Could Be Causing California's Drought 173

Posted by samzenpus
from the it's-getting-hot-in-here dept.
Mr D from 63 writes A mysterious "warm blob" in the Pacific Ocean could be the reason why US West coast states like California are experiencing their worst ever drought, a new study says. From the article: "Nick Bond, a climate scientist at the Joint Institute for the Study of the Atmosphere and Ocean at the University of Washington, began watching the blob a year and a half ago. 'In the fall of 2013 and early 2014, we started to notice a big, almost circular mass of water that just didn't cool off as much as it usually did, so by spring of 2014 it was warmer than we had ever seen it for that time of year,' Bond said in a news release about the studies appearing in Geophysical Research Letters."
Earth

California Looks To the Sea For a Drink of Water 332

Posted by samzenpus
from the taking-the-salt-out dept.
HughPickens.com writes Justin Gillis writes in the NYT that as drought strikes California, residents can't help noticing the substantial reservoir of untapped water lapping at their shores — 187 quintillion gallons of it, more or less, shimmering invitingly in the sun. Once dismissed as too expensive and harmful to the environment desalination is getting a second look. A $1 billion desalination plant to supply booming San Diego County is under construction and due to open as early as November, providing a major test of whether California cities will be able to resort to the ocean to solve their water woes. "It was not an easy decision to build this plant," says Mark Weston, chairman of the agency that supplies water to towns in San Diego County. "But it is turning out to be a spectacular choice. What we thought was on the expensive side 10 years ago is now affordable."

Carlsbad's product will sell for around $2,000 per acre-foot (the amount used by two five-person U.S. households per year), which is 80 percent more than the county pays for treated water from outside the area. Water bills already average about $75 a month and the new plant will drive them up by $5 or so to secure a new supply equal to about 7 or 8 percent of the county's water consumption. Critics say the plant will use a huge amount of electricity, increasing the carbon dioxide emissions that cause global warming, which further strains water supplies. And local environmental groups, which fought the plant, fear a substantial impact on sea life. "There is just a lot more that can be done on both the conservation side and the water-recycling side before you get to [desalination]," says Rick Wilson, coastal management coordinator with the environmental group Surfrider Foundation. "We feel, in a lot of cases, that we haven't really explored all of those options."
Power

The Myth of Going Off the Power Grid 281

Posted by Soulskill
from the tell-that-to-my-hamster-wheel-colony dept.
Lasrick writes: Dawn Stover uses Elon Musk's announcement that Tesla will soon be unveiling plans for a battery that could power your home as a starting point to explore the idea that "going off the grid" is going to solve climate change. "The kind of in-house energy storage he is proposing could help make renewables a bigger part of the global supply. But headlines announcing that a Tesla battery 'could take your home off the grid' spread misconceptions about what it takes to be self-sufficient — and stop global warming." Stover worries that shifting responsibility for solutions to climate change from governments to individuals creates an 'every-man-for-himself' culture that actually works against energy solutions and does little to reduce overall greenhouse gas emissions. Instead, "smart grid" technology would be much more efficient: "With a smarter grid, excess electricity generated by solar panels and wind turbines could be distributed to a network of on-the-grid home and car batteries. Some utilities have also experimented with using home water heaters as an economical substitute for batteries."
Earth

The Last Time Oceans Got This Acidic This Fast, 96% of Marine Life Went Extinct 417

Posted by Soulskill
from the it's-not-easy-being-green dept.
merbs writes: The biggest extinction event in planetary history was driven by the rapid acidification of our oceans, a new study concludes (abstract). So much carbon was released into the atmosphere, and the oceans absorbed so much of it so quickly, that marine life simply died off, from the bottom of the food chain up. That doesn't bode well for the present, given the similarly disturbing rate that our seas are acidifying right now. A team led by University of Edinburgh researchers collected rocks in the United Arab Emirates that were on the seafloor hundreds of millions of years ago, and used the boron isotopes found within to model the changing levels of acidification in our prehistoric oceans. They now believe that a series of gigantic volcanic eruptions in the Siberian Trap spewed a great fountain of carbon into the atmosphere over a period of tens of thousands of years. This was the first phase of the extinction event, in which terrestrial life began to die out.
NASA

America's Methane Mystery: NASA Set To Investigate Hotspot Over the 4 Corners 111

Posted by samzenpus
from the hot-spot dept.
schwit writes A "hot spot" of the largest concentration of methane seen over the United States is in the area near the Four Corners intersection of Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico and Utah and covers 2,500 square miles. The hotspot predates widespread fracking in the area. Researchers from several institutions are now in the Four Corners region of the U.S. Southwest with a suite of airborne and ground-based instruments, aiming to uncover reasons for a mysterious methane "hot spot" detected from space. "With all the ground-based and airborne resources that the different groups are bringing to the region, we have the unique chance to unequivocally solve the Four Corners mystery," said Christian Frankenberg, a scientist at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California, who is heading NASA's part of the effort.
Earth

Did Natural Selection Make the Dutch the Tallest People On the Planet? 298

Posted by timothy
from the my-grandmother-could've-told-you-that dept.
sciencehabit writes The Dutch population has gained an impressive 20 centimeters in the past 150 years and is now officially the tallest on the planet. Scientists chalk up most of that increase to rising wealth, a rich diet, and good health care, but a new study suggests something else is going on as well: The Dutch growth spurt may be an example of human evolution in action. The study shows that tall Dutch men on average have more children than their shorter counterparts, and that more of their children survive. That suggests genes that help make people tall are becoming more frequent among the Dutch. "This study drives home the message that the human population is still subject to natural selection," says Stephen Stearns, an evolutionary biologist at Yale University who wasn't involved in the work. "It strikes at the core of our understanding of human nature, and how malleable it is."
Moon

Collision With Earth's "Little Sister" Created the Moon 83

Posted by samzenpus
from the all-that's-left dept.
astroengine writes The primordial planet believed to have smashed into baby Earth, creating a cloud of debris that eventually formed into the moon, was chemically a near-match to Earth, a new study shows. The finding, reported in this week's Nature, helps resolve a long-standing puzzle about why Earth and the moon are nearly twins in terms of composition. Computer models show that most of the material that formed the moon would have come from the shattered impactor, a planetary body referred to as Theia, which should have a slightly different isotopic makeup than Earth.
Space

Organic Molecules Found Circling Nearby Star 33

Posted by samzenpus
from the solar-nursery dept.
sciencehabit writes Astronomers have detected chemical precursors of building blocks of life in the large disk of dust and gas whirling around a young nearby star. These complex organic molecules, two forms of cyanide and one chemically related compound, likely formed after the protoplanetary disk collapsed, the researchers say. The same chemicals are found in roughly similar proportions in comets circling our sun, which may have brought them to Earth billions of years ago. "We know that the solar system isn't unique in its number of planets or abundance of water," says Karin Öberg, an astrochemist at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics in Cambridge, Massachusetts. "Now we know that we're not unique in organic chemistry. From a life in the universe point of view, this is great news."
Earth

Obama Says Climate Change Is Harming Americans' Health 304

Posted by Soulskill
from the mexicans-and-canadians-sure-dodged-a-bullet dept.
HughPickens.com writes: The Washington Post reports on new comments from President Obama, who says global warming isn't just affecting the weather — it's harming Americans' health. He has announced steps government and businesses will take to better understand and deal with the problem. Obama said hazards of the changing climate include wildfires sending more pollution into the air, allergy seasons growing longer, and rising cases of insect-borne diseases. "We've got to do better in protecting our vulnerable families," said Obama. "You can't cordon yourself off from air."

Speaking at Howard University Medical School, Obama announced commitments from Google, Microsoft and others to help the nation's health system prepare for a warmer, more erratic climate. Google has promised to donate 10 million hours of advanced computing time on new tools, including risk maps and early warnings for things like wildfires and oil flares using the Google Earth Engine platform, the White House said. Google's camera cars that gather photos for its "Street View" function will start measuring methane emissions and natural gas leaks in some cities this year. Microsoft's research arm will develop a prototype for drones that can collect large quantities of mosquitoes, then digitally analyze their genes and pathogens. The goal is to create a system that could provide early warnings about infectious diseases that could break out if climate change worsens.