Science & Technology


Supermoon makes its way over Earth this weekend

© Reuters/Mike Blake
Americans with their eyes to the sky this weekend could get a chance to see Earth's moon as it rarely appears. Starting Friday evening, a so-called "supermoon" will be viewable across the United States.

There will be a full moon in the sky starting Friday night and into early Saturday, and this time around the super-sized satellite will look larger than usual. When a full moon occurs at the same time that its orbit brings it closest to the Earth, as expected this weekend, onlookers are greeted with what scientists at NASA call a "supermoon."

Five supermoons are expected in all during the course of 2014, and two of them already happened in the month of January. Beginning Friday evening, however, Americans will have their third chance this year to see a full moon coincide as the satellite's orbit reaches "perigee" (or "near earth").

Scientists expect that this weekend's full moon will reach perigee at around 222,611 miles away from Earth - around 30,000 miles closer than the moon will be when it's at its furthest this year.
Bacon n Eggs

Food influences body clock and may ease jet lag

Steak and Bacon
Food could be a new weapon in shaking off the effects of jet lag after research in mice showed that the insulin released as a result of eating can be a key factor in restoring a disrupted body clock.

Miho Sato and her colleagues at The Research Institute for Time Studies at Yamaguchi University in Japan did experiments in mice and tissue cultures to show, for the first time, that increases in insulin affect circadian rhythms. These daily rhythms affect alertness, sleep patterns, and mediate many other physiological processes.

Your biological clock is regulated by two broad factors: first, the central rhythm is reset daily by light, as sensory input from the eyes is processed by a small part of the brain called the suprachiasmatic nucleus.

The rise and fall of hormones linked to sleep, for example, match this rhythm. But circadian rhythms are also present in peripheral "clocks" in a wide range of cell types in the body. Some of these can be influenced by food.

Sato demonstrated the role of insulin by shifting the peripheral body clock in the livers of mice by feeding them only at night. They then split the mice into two groups, supressed insulin levels in one group, and returned all the mice to daytime feeding. Four days later, the livers of the non-supressed mice had readjusted to a normal daily rhythm, as revealed by the daily rise and fall of liver-gene expression. The livers of the insulin-suppressed mice had still not returned to normal.

Scientists say 80 percent of light in space is missing

Scientists now believe that a tremendous amount of light that would otherwise be illuminating our universe is mysteriously absent.

How much light exactly? According to new research conducted by a team of international scientists and funded in part by NASA, the National Science Foundation and the Ahmanson Foundation, around 80 percent of the universe's light is nowhere to be found.

"It's as if you're in a big, brightly lit room, but you look around and see only a few 40-watt lightbulbs," astronomer Juna Kollmeier - a Carnegie Institution for Science professor and the lead author of the new study on missing light said in a statement this week. "Where is all that light coming from? It's missing from our census."

Kollmeier and company have published their research in the latest edition of The Astrophysical Journal Letters, and there they explain further why they have reason to believe that the universe is missing around 400 percent of its light.

Stem cell patient grows nose on her back eight years after surgeons inject cells

  • Unnamed woman had tissue from her nose implanted in her spine in the hope the cells would help repair nerve damage causing paralysis
  • Treatment failed and woman complained of increasing pain in the area
  • Eight years later, a 3cm growth made of nasal tissue and bones appeared
A woman has developed a nose-like growth eight years after a stem cell treatment to cure her paralysis failed.

At the Hospital de Egas Moniz in Lisbon, Portugal, the unnamed woman, a U.S. citizen, had tissue from her nose implanted in her spine. Doctors hoped the cells would develop into neural cells and help repair the nerve damage to the woman's spine. But the treatment failed.

However, last year, eight years after the stem cell operation, the woman, then 28, complained of increasing pain in the area. Doctors discovered a three-centimetre-long growth, which was found to be mainly nasal tissue, as well as bits of bone and nerve branches that had not connected with the spinal nerves.

New study suggests plants can 'listen'

a 'listening' plant?
© Nigel Cattlin, Alamy
Mousear cress (Arabidopsis thaliana) creates an increased amount of mustard oil, a defense meant to deter an insect attacker, when it "hears" a caterpillar chewing on its leaves.
The aptly named mousear cress may respond to caterpillar munching sounds. Plants have long been known to react to changes in their environment, and may respond to light, temperature, and touch.

But are they listening too?

For the Arabidopsis plant, the answer is a loud and clear "yes."

The distinct, high-amplitude vibrations produced by a cabbage butterfly caterpillar munching on a leaf of this flowering mustard plant, commonly called mousear cress, throws its defenses into high gear, according to a study published in Oecologia this month by two researchers at the University of Missouri.

The study, which combined audio and chemical analysis, is the first to find evidence that plants respond to an ecologically relevant sound in the environment, said Heidi Appel, a senior research scientist in the Division of Plant Sciences at Missouri.

Comment: Slowly but surely scientists in all fields are realizing that ALL is information!


Arecibo captures its first 'fast radio burst'

Arecibo Observatory
© National Astronomy and Ionosphere Center
The Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico.
The Arecibo Observatory has captured one of the most fleeting, mysterious and rare deep-space events - a so-called "fast radio burst" (FRB) that lasted a mere three one-thousandths of a second. Cornell, McGill University and other astronomers report this peculiar event today (July 10) in the Astrophysical Journal.

Until now, the Parkes Radio Telescope in New South Wales, Australia, had discovered all five previously known FRBs. This breakneck burst was found Nov. 2, 2012, and not formally reported until this paper, as astronomers needed to verify its authenticity and to rule out cosmic noise.

"It was a single pulse - additional observations of the same direction on the sky have shown nothing," said James Cordes, Cornell professor of astronomy and an author on the paper. "The nature of these bursts had been in doubt until recently, and the discovery at Arecibo cements the case that they are astrophysical, rather than some unique form of radio interference at Parkes."
Book 2

'Peer review ring' smashed: Scholarly journal retracts 60 articles

peer review
Every now and then a scholarly journal retracts an article because of errors or outright fraud. In academic circles, and sometimes beyond, each retraction is a big deal.

Now comes word of a journal retracting 60 articles at once.

The reason for the mass retraction is mind-blowing: A "peer review and citation ring" was apparently rigging the review process to get articles published.

You've heard of prostitution rings, gambling rings and extortion rings. Now there's a "peer review ring."

The publication is the Journal of Vibration and Control (JVC). It publishes papers with names like "Hydraulic engine mounts: a survey" and "Reduction of wheel force variations with magnetorheological devices."

The field of acoustics covered by the journal is highly technical:
Analytical, computational and experimental studies of vibration phenomena and their control. The scope encompasses all linear and nonlinear vibration phenomena and covers topics such as: vibration and control of structures and machinery, signal analysis, aeroelasticity, neural networks, structural control and acoustics, noise and noise control, waves in solids and fluids and shock waves.
JVC is part of the SAGE group of academic publications.

Comment: Nothing out of the ordinary about Chen. Most scientists only care about getting published; they could care less whether their papers are actually legit or not. Peer review is a joke, a good idea on the surface, but which is easily and often abused.

Bizarro Earth

'Sonic boom' earthquake shatters expectations

Super-deep earthquakes
© Scripps Institution of Oceanography
The locations of two super-deep earthquakes offshore of Kamchatka in 2013.
One of the world's deepest earthquakes was also a rare supersonic quake, upending ideas about where these unusual earthquakes strike.

Only six supersonic (or supershear) earthquakes have ever been identified, all in the last 15 years. Until now, they all showed similar features, occurring relatively near the Earth's surface and on the same kind of fault. But last year, a remarkably super-fast and super-deep earthquake hit below Russia's Kamchatka Peninsula, breaking the pattern.

"This was very surprising," said Zhongwen Zhan, lead author of the study, published today (July 10) in the journal Science. "It's not only deep, it's supershear, and it's also quite small."

The weird earthquake struck May 24, 2013, about 398 miles (642 kilometers) beneath the Sea of Okhotsk offshore of the Kamchatka Peninsula. The magnitude-6.7 quake was an aftershock to the largest deep earthquake on record, a magnitude 8.3 that also hit May 24.
Solar Flares

Solar neutrons observed on orbit around Mercury

solar flare 2011-06-11
© NASA/STEREO/Helioviewer
A solar flare erupted on the far side of the sun on June 4, 2011, and sent solar neutrons out into space. Solar neutrons don't last long enough to make it to Earth, but NASA's MESSENGER spacecraft, orbiting around Mercury, was able to observe them, offering a new technique to study these giant explosions
Scientists using data from NASA's MESSENGER spacecraft have discovered part of the outer layer of the Sun that is sending out modestly energetic subatomic particles called fast neutrons.

MESSENGER's close proximity to the Sun - the spacecraft orbits Mercury at a distance as close as 28 million miles from the Sun, compared to Earth's 93 million miles - allowed instruments to detect solar neutrons as they flowed past Mercury into space, according to a paper in Journal of Geophysical Research: Space Physics.

"To understand all the processes on the Sun we look at as many different particles coming from the Sun as we can - photons, electrons, protons, neutrons, gamma rays - to gather different kinds of information," said David Lawrence of the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Lab, the first author on the paper. "Closer to Earth we can observe charged particles from the Sun, but analyzing them can be a challenge as their journey is affected by magnetic fields."

Comment: Reference: Lawrence, D. J., W. C. Feldman, J. O. Goldsten, P. N. Peplowski, D. J. Rodgers, and S. C. Solomon (2014), Detection and characterization of 0.5 - 8 MeV neutrons near Mercury: Evidence for a solar origin, J. Geophys. Res. Space Physics, 119
Accessible here.


Human cells' protein factory has an alternate operating manual

© Bruce A. Shapiro and Wojciech K. Kasprzak
The human gene CCR5 is critical for HIV infection. A complex structure in its messenger RNA can cause the ribosome to slip at the area in green, making the ribosome read the remaining genetic code as nonsense RNA. This decreases the amount of CCR5 protein produced. A microRNA (miR-1224, in purple) increases stalling at that site. This causes more slippage, further reducing CCR5 production and helping to regulate the immune response.
Working with a gene that plays a critical role in HIV infection, University of Maryland researchers have discovered that some human genes have an alternate set of operating instructions written into their protein-making machinery. The alternate instructions can quickly alter the proteins' contents, functions and ability to survive.

This phenomenon, known as programmed ribosomal frameshifting, was discovered in viruses in 1985. But the UMD study, published online July 9, 2014 in the journal Nature, is the first to show that a human gene uses programmed ribosomal frameshifting to change how it assembles proteins, said senior author Jonathan Dinman, UMD professor of cell biology and molecular genetics.

In the immune system-related gene that Dinman and his colleagues studied, programmed ribosomal frameshifting triggers a process the body can use to eliminate some immune system molecules, thereby reining in potentially harmful side effects such as fever, inflammation and organ failure. The discovery could lead to better treatments for AIDS, allergies and rejection of transplanted organs, Dinman said.

"This has useful implications in situations where you want to shut down the immune response in one part of the body but not in another, or shut down one facet of the immune response," Dinman said. "It could lead to very specific therapies without side effects."

The ribosome, the protein factory in every living cell, gathers amino acids and assembles them into protein chains to make almost anything the cell needs. A strand of ribonucleic acid, or messenger RNA, is the template.

Each amino acid is represented by a group of three molecules called nucleotides; each triad is called a codon.

Specialized molecules called transfer RNAs "read" each codon and deliver the matching amino acids to the ribosome for assembly. Some codons act as stop signs, instructing the ribosome to release the finished protein chain.