Science & Technology


Cassini Spacecraft To Dive Into Water Plume Of Saturn Moon

NASA's Cassini spacecraft will make an unprecedented "in your face" flyby of Saturn's moon Enceladus on Wed., March 12.

The spacecraft, orchestrating its closest approach to date, will skirt along the edges of huge Old-Faithful-like geysers erupting from giant fractures on the south pole of Enceladus. Cassini will sample scientifically valuable water-ice, dust and gas in the plume.

This is an artist concept of Cassini flying past Enceladus.
Cow Skull

Ancient Bones of Small Humans Discovered in Palau

Thousands of human bones belonging to numerous individuals have been discovered in the Pacific island nation of Palau.

Some of the bones are ancient and indicate inhabitants of particularly small size, scientists announced today. (See pictures of the Palau remains and where they were found.)

The remains are between 900 and 2,900 years old and align with Homo sapiens, according to a paper on the discovery. However, the older bones are tiny and exhibit several traits considered primitive, or archaic, for the human lineage.

"They weren't very typical, very small in fact," said Lee Berger, a paleoanthropologist at the University of Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, South Africa.

©Stephen Alvarez
A newfound skull from Palau (center) is compared with a model of a modern human female skull (left) and a model of Homo floresiensis' skull (right).

Scientists have discovered thousands of bones of small-bodied humans on the Pacific island nation of Palau. Analysis of the bones suggests they align with modern humans but exhibit similarities to Homo floresiensis, the so-called hobbit found on the Indonesian island of Flores in 2003.

Wandering Albatrosses Follow Their Nose

The first study of how individual wandering albatrosses find food shows that the birds rely heavily on their sense of smell. The birds can pick up a scent from several miles away, U.S. and French researchers have found.

Albatrosses and other sea birds feeding. Wandering albatrosses fly for thousands of miles across the ocean, usually gliding a few feet above sea level. Floating carrion, especially squid, make up a large part of their diet.

"This is the first time anyone has looked at the odor-tracking behavior of individual birds in the wild using remote techniques," said Gabrielle Nevitt, professor of neurobiology, physiology and behavior at UC Davis and an author on the study with UC Davis graduate student Marcel Losekoot of the Bodega Marine Laboratory and Henri Weimerskirch of the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique, France.

Mysterious pits shed light on forgotten witches of the West


Evidence of pagan rituals involving swans and other birds in the Cornish countryside in the 17th century has been uncovered by archaeologists.

Since 2003, 35 pits at the site in a valley near Truro have been excavated containing swan pelts, dead magpies, unhatched eggs, quartz pebbles, human hair, fingernails and part of an iron cauldron.

Computer program decides what's considered attractive

Paris - To the likely dismay of those who argue beauty is in the eye of the beholder, biostatisticians said Wednesday they had devised a computer program to predict whether a face will be considered attractive.

The software crunches a mass of calculations on the geometry and symmetry of the face, including so-called "golden ratios" of proportions between the eyes, nose, ears and lips singled out in previous research into the mystery of beauty.

The team put the program through its paces in tests on 18 male and 18 female volunteers aged 19 to 61. The human guinea pigs were shown pictures of 420 people drawn from the general population, equally divided among men and women, and were asked to rate the faces for attractiveness on a scale of one to 10.

Renaissance chess master and the Da Vinci decode mystery

A masterpiece from the early literature of chess has recently resurfaced after being thought lost for five centuries.

The rediscovery of this book is of much more than scholarly or antiquarian interest, for it has been suggested that its chess puzzle diagrams were not only designed by Leonardo da Vinci, but also drawn by him and, the most tantalising prospect of all, perhaps even composed by him.

Da Vinci chess

Ancient Graves Found in Greece

Athens, Greece - Greek workers discovered around 1,000 graves, some filled with ancient treasures, while excavating for a subway system in the historic city of Thessaloniki, the state archaeological authority said Monday.

Sun's Corona Is Both Hot And Kinky

Astrophysicists are having a heated debate over the wave structure of the Sun's Corona - a debate which may one day influence solar weather forecasting and the theory behind fusion reactors.

The Sun's core is about 6000 degrees C, but its outer layer, the Corona, which is filled with a strong magnetic field, is 200 to 300 times hotter.

Skeleton Of Sun's Atmosphere Reveals Its True Nature

The Sun's outer atmosphere or corona is incredibly complex, as shown in observations from space. It is also extremely hot, with a temperature of over a million degrees by comparison with that of the Sun's surface of only 6000 degrees.

Typical image of the solar corona clearly revealing the complex tangle of heated magnetic loops from TRACE.

Spring Is Aurora Season

What are the signs of spring? They are as familiar as a blooming daffodil, a songbird at dawn, a surprising shaft of warmth from the afternoon sun. And, oh yes, don't forget the aurora borealis. Spring is aurora season. For reasons not fully understood by scientists, the weeks around the vernal equinox are prone to Northern Lights. Canadians walking their dogs after dinner, Scandinavians popping out to the sauna, Alaskan Huskies on the Iditarod trail -- all they have to do is look up and behold, green curtains of light dancing across the night sky. Spring has arrived!

©Jan Curtis of the Geophysical Institute at the University of Alaska
This photograph of an aurora was taken in Alaska.