Science & Technology


Amazon Expedition Discovers New Monkey

© Julio Dalponte
The researchers discovered what appears to be a new species of Callicebus, or titi, monkey, with unique features on its head and tail.

A possible new species of monkey has been discovered during an expedition in an unexplored part of the Amazon in mid-western Brazil.

A specimen, which scientists know is a type of Callicebus, or titi, monkey has been turned over to experts at the Emílio Goeldi Museum in the Brazilian state of Para, where it will be studied and formally described.

"This primate has features on its head and tail that have never been observed before in other titi monkey species found in the same area," said Julio Dalpone, the biologist who discovered the monkey during the World Wide Fund for Nature-backed expedition.

The expedition found the monkey between the Guariba River and the Roosevelt River in the northwestern part of the Brazilian state of Mato Grosso.

The 20-day expedition undertaken in December of 2010 explored four protected areas of the Guariba-Roosevelt Extractive Reserve, the Tucumã State Park and the Roosevelt River and Madeirinha River. It was intended to gather information to improve the management of these areas.


Sex with Neanderthals Made Us Stronger

© Corbis
A replica of an old Neanderthal man at the Neanderthal Museum in Mettmann, Germany. New research suggest interbreeding with Neanderthals helped boost our species' immunity.

Mating with Neanderthals and another group of extinct hominids, Denisovans, strengthened the human immune system and left behind evidence in the DNA of people today, according new research.

The findings add to the growing body of evidence that modern humans who left Africa around 65,000 years ago mated with Neanderthals and Denisovans -- two archaic species that lived in Europe and Asia.

The study, which appears in this week's Science, is among the first to show how the interbreeding shaped modern human genes and the attributes they confer to us.

Peter Parham, a professor of cell biology, microbiology and immunology at the Stanford University School of Medicine, and his team focused their analysis on "HLA" genes, which are fast-evolving vital components of the human immune system.

"The modern human populations who left Africa to colonize other continents were likely to have been small groups who started off with limited HLA diversity and suffered further reduction of HLA diversity due to disease," Parham told Discovery News. "Interbreeding with archaic humans introduced additional HLA variants into the modern human population that increased their genetic viability and capacity to resist infection."


Boffins Build Powerful Yet "Table-Top Size" Atom-Smasher

Suitcase plasma cannon collider surfs on friggin LASERS

Forget about mounting your lasers on the nearest shark, what you really want is a laser plasma accelerator you can put on your kitchen table.

Scientists at the US Department of Energy's Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) have managed to create powerful electron beams from much, much, much smaller accelerators than before, which could be used as compact high-energy colliders for fundamental physics - doing the sort of research the Large Hadron Collider is doing right now.

The wee accelerators could also be used as "sources of intensely bright beams of light" for investigating new materials, biological structures and green chemistry. Or, presumably, for table-top disco lighting.


British Men May Have a Hunter-Gatherer Past

© skoggy, stock.xchng
A member of the Queen's Guard outside of Buckingham Palace in London.
British men may trace their lineage back to hunter-gatherers, not farmers as had previously been suspected.

A new genetic lineage study finds that, contrary to previous research, British men do not descend from immigrant farmers who migrated west from the Near East around 10,000 years ago. Instead, the new study finds that a common Y-chromosome gene in today's British men traces back to hunter-gatherers who settled in Europe long before farming got popular.

In a study first published online in August 2010 in the European Journal of Human Genetics, researchers from the Sorenson Molecular Genealogy Foundation in Utah reported that a certain genetic mutation on the Y chromosome (male sex chromosome) was most common in the southeast of Europe and much less prevalent on the British Isles and other northwestern regions. This southeast-northwest pattern matched the spread of the Linearbandkeramik, or Linear Pottery, culture, a Neolithic culture known for their pottery kitchen dishes.


'Jurassic Mother' Found in China

© Mark A. Klingler/Carnegie Museum of Natural History
Early cousin. The restored skeleton and body of the Jurassic mammal Juramaia.

Way back in the Late Jurassic, 160 million years ago, your closest relative looked like a shrew. That's not an insult but an evolutionary truth that stems from a new fossil discovery that pushes back the earliest appearance of the peculiar group of mammals to which we, as well as many other mammal species, belong. During the heyday of the Jurassic dinosaurs, our own ancestors were just getting their start in the dark corners of the Mesozoic world.

Living mammals are split into three subgroups: the egg-laying monotremes; the pouched marsupials; and, the most diverse of all, placental mammals, which includes everything from humans to bats to whales. Each group diverged at different times, and determining when marsupials and placentals split from each other has been problematic. Fossil discoveries point to the Cretaceous, about 125 million years ago, whereas estimates made on genetic differences among living mammals suggest that the split happened even earlier.

Now the discovery of a partial skeleton of a small, shrewlike mammal, described online today in Nature, pushes back the date of the divergence by 30 million years, to 160 million years ago. Found in the famous fossil beds of Liaoning, China, the newly discovered little mammal has been named Juramaia sinensis, or "Jurassic mother from China."


Mystery Ingredient Influences Cloud Formation

© hirekatsu, stock.xchng
Clouds create colorful stripes across the sky at sunset.

The bad news about clouds: We know even less about them than we thought we did.

The good news: We might be on our way to figuring them out.

A new cloud chamber that contains man-made air and uses a particle beam to mimic cosmic rays has revealed that cloud formation in the lower atmosphere involves at least one ingredient as yet unknown to science. However, the experiment also has uncovered some chemical fingerprints that may help researchers track down the mystery vapor.

The results are important because clouds and their precursors, aerosols, are the largest sources of uncertainty in climate change models. Researchers know that greenhouse gas emissions warm the Earth and that aerosols and clouds could moderate some of that effect by reflecting sunlight back into space. But these particles are so elusive and poorly understood that it's difficult to account for them in computer models of the climate. And now researchers are learning about how little they knew about cloud formation in the first place, said study researcher Jasper Kirkby, a particle physicist at the CERN particle physics laboratory in Switzerland.

"We know even less about aerosols than we thought we did," Kirkby told LiveScience. "So we had problems before and now we've got bigger problems."


Five Years Later, Pluto's Planethood Demotion Still Stirs Controversy

© David Aguilar / Center for Astrophysics
Artist's impression of Pluto and Charon as seen from one of Pluto's other moons.
Five years ago today, the solar system lost a planet.

On Aug. 24, 2006, Pluto - which had been known as the ninth planet since its 1930 discovery - was demoted to the newly created category of "dwarf planet."

The decision was controversial, rankling some scientists who disagreed with the reasoning behind it. It also upset and confused many laypeople, who had regarded the nine planets as permanent fixtures in the sky - key touchstones for their understanding of the cosmos, and their place in it.

But Pluto's reclassification shows that our knowledge of the world around us is always changing, that scientific truths aren't handed down from on high. And that reminder may be the greatest legacy of the longstanding debate about Pluto's planet status.

"This debate shows people, especially kids, that science is always evolving, and it's exciting," said planetary scientist Scott Sheppard of the Carnegie Institution of Washington, who hunts for faraway dwarf planets. "And you should get involved in science, because there's a lot more to learn out there."


The Dark Planet - Scientists Find Mysterious Jovian-Size Planet That Is Dark As Coal

© Unknown

Scientists have found what is considered the darkest planet so far discovered - a body the size of the biggest planet in our solar system, which emits only a "faint red glow," despite orbiting extremely close to its sun. According to data gathered so far, the planet, first discovered about five years ago, is darker than coal or black acrylic paint.

And scientists have yet to figure out how a planet could reflect so little light.

The planet, labeled TrES-2b and located nearly 718 light years from Earth in the direction of the constellation Draco, has been determined to reflect far less light than any known planet. Astronomers revealed their findings in a paper accepted for the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.

Using data from NASA's Kepler Mission, the scientists - David Kipping of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics and David Spiegel from Princeton University - found that the Jupiter-sized body has a geometric albedo (a measure of reflectivity) below 1 percent.


Global tsunami monitoring could follow from discovery

© Unknown
Airglow waves captured by the Illinois imaging system over Hawaii. The red line represents the location of the ocean-level tsunami at the time of the image.
Researchers from Brazil, France and the United States, using a highly sensitive, wide-angle camera at the top of Haleakala volcano in Hawaii, detected the 'airglow' signature in the atmosphere of the 11 March tsunami that devastated Japan, demonstrating that the genesis of a tsunami leaves a fingerprint in the ionosphere - an ionised zone of the atmosphere more than 80 kilometres up.

Tsunamis usually cause the sea level to rise rapidly by a few centimetres, which displaces the air immediately above it. This creates waves in the air that move quickly upward, eventually reaching and disturbing the ionosphere. Interaction with the charged ionosphere creates a faint red glow, the signature airglow that can be detected.

This effect was predicted in the 1970s, but little progress has been made since then on using these observation methods. The researchers presented their observations in a paper in Geophysical Research Letters last month (7 July).

"We have been studying the ionosphere since 1999, but we didn't expect to end up with a new method for tsunami detection," Jonathan Makela, an electrical engineer at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, United States, and the lead author of the paper, told SciDev.Net.


Stars as Cool as the Human Body

© Unknown
This artist's conception illustrates what a "Y dwarf" might look like. Y dwarfs are the coldest star-like bodies known, with temperatures that can be even cooler than the human body.
Scientists using data from NASA's Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE) have discovered six "Y dwarfs"-- star-like bodies with temperatures as cool as the human body.

Astronomers hunted these dark orbs for more than a decade without success. When viewed with a visible-light telescope, they are nearly impossible to see. WISE's infrared vision allowed the telescope to finally spot the faint glow of a half dozen Y dwarfs relatively close to our sun, within a distance of about 40 light-years.

"WISE scanned the entire sky for these and other objects, and was able to spot their feeble light with its highly sensitive infrared vision," says Jon Morse, Astrophysics Division director at NASA Headquarters in Washington.

The Y's are the coldest members of the brown dwarf family. Brown dwarfs are sometimes referred to as "failed" stars. They are too low in mass to fuse atoms at their cores and thus don't burn with the fires that keep stars like our sun shining steadily for billions of years. Instead, these objects cool and fade with time, until what little light they do emit is at infrared wavelengths. The atmospheres of brown dwarfs are similar to those of gas giant planets like Jupiter, but they are easier to observe because they are alone in space, away from the blinding light of a parent star.