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Sat, 13 Feb 2016
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Study finds dog owners are happier and more conscientious than cat owners

© Rex Features
Dog owners are happier, more conscientious and less neurotic than cat owners, according to researchers at Mahattanville College, New York.

In a new study, Is Happiness a Warm Puppy? Examining the Relationship between Pets and Well-Being, academics surveyed 263 people in order to investigate the relationship between pet ownership and subjective well-being,

The results indicated that pet owners did not significantly differ from non-pet owners when it came to levels of happiness, positive emotions, negative emotions or major personality traits.

However, pet owners were found to be more satisfied with life than non-owners - and dog owners scored higher than cat owners on all measures of well-being.

Researchers said: "It's unclear whether the lack of differences between pet owners and non owners are due to adaptation to pet ownership or if pets do not have a strong effect on well-being.

Info

Mussels and oysters consume microplastic particles similar in size to their phytoplankton prey

Tiny pieces of plastic may endanger Pacific oysters by adversely affecting their reproduction, according to a new study. They may have similar effects on other marine bivalves, raising questions about their impacts on marine ecosystems more broadly.

The plastic pieces are known as microplastics are, which are defined as being anywhere from 5 mm in size to just 1 nanometer (0.000001 mm). Scientists refer to primary microplastics and secondary microplastics: the former are intentionally manufactured super-small, primarily used in cosmetics and personal care products, industrial scrubbers used for abrasive blast cleaning, microfibers used in textiles, and pellets used in plastic manufacturing processes; the latter are the result of larger pieces of plastic disintegrating over time.

Imagery of plastic pollution in the ocean often focuses on more visible impacts, such as trash that has become entangled around the neck of a marine mammal, or the appalling sight of vast amounts of plastic in the stomachs of seabirds on Midway Atoll. It is of course far harder to demonstrate the impacts of pollution that can not be seen, but those impacts are very real.

Comment:


Info

Scientist in Britain given go-ahead to genetically modify human embryos

© Reuters/Michael Daider
A scientist works with human genetic material at a laboratory.
Scientists in Britain have been given the go-ahead to edit the genes of human embryos for research, using a technique that some say could eventually be used to create "designer babies".

Less than a year after Chinese scientists caused an international furore by saying they had genetically modified human embryos, Kathy Niakan, a stem cell scientist from London's Francis Crick Institute, was granted a licence to carry out similar experiments.

"The Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) has approved a research application from the Francis Crick Institute to use new 'gene editing' techniques on human embryos," Ms Niakan's lab said on Monday.

It said the work carried out "will be for research purposes and will look at the first seven days of a fertilised egg's development, from a single cell to around 250 cells".

Ms Niakan plans to carry out her experiments using CRISPR-Cas9, a technology that is already the subject of fierce international debate because of fears that it could be used to create babies to order.

CRISPR can enable scientists to find and modify or replace genetic defects, and many of them have described it as "game-changing".

Moon

China posts hundreds of never-before-seen high-quality color photos of the moon

© China National Space Administration / The Science and Application Center for Moon and Deepspace Exploration / Emily Lakdawalla
In a previously unseen act of information generosity, China has shared hundreds of photos taken by its Chang'e-3 lunar rover - leaving the world stunned by the detail of the high-quality color images.

The China National Space Administration published images, videos and scientific data on its website, making them available to anyone who registers.

China is the third nation after Russia and the US to land on the moon, and this was the first soft-landing on the Earth's only natural satellite in 37 years - the previous one being Russia's Luna 24 probe in 1976.

Eagle

Dutch National Police train eagles to take down drones

© www.ign.com
Eagles: the new drone patrol
No matter how many regulations are put in place, drones are cheap enough now that frequent misuse is becoming the norm. There's no good way of dealing with a dangerous drone: you can jam its radios to force it to autoland, or maybe try using an even bigger drone to capture it inside a giant net. In either of these cases, however, you run the risk of having the drone go completely out of control, which is even more dangerous. Or, you can be like the Dutch National Police, and train eagles to take down drones for you.




The video, as you probably noticed, is in Dutch, but here's what I've been able to piece together: the Dutch police (like police everywhere) know that drones are going to become even more of a problem than they already are, so they've been testing ways of dealing with a drone in an emergency, like if a drone is preventing an air ambulance from landing. The police are looking into electronic solutions, but also physical ones, including both nets and trained eagles.

Sun

New insights into the solar magnetic dynamo

© NASA/SVS
(Illustration) This comparison shows the relative complexity of the solar magnetic field between January 2011 (left) and July 2014. In January 2011, three years after solar minimum, the field is still relatively simple, with open field lines concentrated near the poles. At solar maximum, in July 2014, the structure is much more complex, with closed and open field lines poking out all over – ideal conditions for solar explosions.
The surface of the sun writhes and dances. Far from the still, whitish-yellow disk it appears to be from the ground, the sun sports twisting, towering loops and swirling cyclones that reach into the solar upper atmosphere, the million-degree corona - but these cannot be seen in visible light. Then, in the 1950s, we got our first glimpse of this balletic solar material, which emits light only in wavelengths invisible to our eyes.

Once this dynamic system was spotted, the next step was to understand what caused it. For this, scientists have turned to a combination of real time observations and computer simulations to best analyze how material courses through the corona. We know that the answers lie in the fact that the sun is a giant magnetic star, made of material that moves in concert with the laws of electromagnetism.

"We're not sure exactly where in the sun the magnetic field is created," said Dean Pesnell, a space scientist at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. "It could be close to the solar surface or deep inside the sun - or over a wide range of depths."

Getting a handle on what drives that magnetic system is crucial for understanding the nature of space throughout the solar system: The sun's magnetic field is responsible for everything from the solar explosions that cause space weather on Earth - such as auroras - to the interplanetary magnetic field and radiation through which our spacecraft journeying around the solar system must travel.

So how do we even see these invisible fields? First, we observe the material on the sun. The sun is made of plasma, a gas-like state of matter in which electrons and ions have separated, creating a super-hot mix of charged particles. When charged particles move, they naturally create magnetic fields, which in turn have an additional effect on how the particles move. The plasma in the sun, therefore, sets up a complicated system of cause and effect in which plasma flows inside the sun - churned up by the enormous heat produced by nuclear fusion at the center of the sun - create the sun's magnetic fields. This system is known as the solar dynamo.

Eye 1

Total integration: Company launches biometric tattoo for banking and medical care

Apparently a tech company called Chaotic Moon is looking to take advantage of the 20% of humans who already have a proclivity toward tattoos. For the rest? An appeal to safety and security, of course, and an assurance that a future offering could be a "Band-Aid-like package."

Chaotic Moon's dual-purpose tattoo is comprised of electro conductive ink embedded with sensors and microchips. Here is the reasoning why this product is so desirable according to one of the developers, Eric Schneider, who mentions the banking aspect to CBSNewYork:
"We carry wallets around and they are so vulnerable (more vulnerable than millions of people getting hacked at once? - N.W.). With the tech tattoo you can carry all your information on your skin and when you want your credit card information or your ID, you can pull that up automatically through the system," he said.

Comet 2

Summary of comets and asteroids news for January 2016

This post introduces a new monthly column that will serve as a summary of the most important news about comets & asteroids and an overview of the comets discovered (and recovered) throughout the month just ended. During the month of January 2016, 8 new comets were discovered, there were 2 recoveries and cometary activity has been reported for 2 previously discovered objects (earlier designated as asteroids).

Moreover, observations of a secondary companion for comet P/2015 Y2 = P/2010 V1 (IKEYA-MURAKAMI) and the discovery of the binary nature of asteroid (2242) BALATON have been reported. "Current comet magnitudes" & "Daily updated asteroid flybys" pages are available at the top of this blog (or just click on the underline text here).

The dates below refer to the date of issuance of CBET (Central Bureau Electronic Telegram) which reported the official news & designations.

- Comet Discoveries

Jan 07 Discovery of C/2016 A1 (PANSTARRS)
Jan 07 Discovery of P/2016 A2 (CHRISTENSEN)
Jan 07 Discovery of C/2016 A3 (PANSTARRS)
Jan 16 Discovery of C/2016 A5 (PANSTARRS)
Jan 20 Discovery of C/2016 A6 (PANSTARRS)
Jan 23 Discovery of P/2016 A7 (PANSTARRS)
Jan 23 Discovery of C/2016 B1 (NEOWISE)
Jan 29 Discovery of C/2016 A8 (LINEAR)
© J. Masiero/Gemini Observatory/AURA
Comet C/2016 B1 (NEOWISE).

Eye 1

Biometric banking coming to an ATM near you

© shutterstock
Regular readers will be aware of our ongoing chronicle covering the increasing use of biometrics in a range of security measures from standard police use, to travel, to banking.

The video below makes the same plea to embrace new technology that is always heard when discussing a solution to the very real threat of identity theft. However, it is worth noting that in this case the company which is developing the solution is Diebold. This is the company that has been charged with hacking democracy during an investigation into bribery, fraud, and a "worldwide pattern of criminal conduct."

Comment: What will you do when you can no longer buy or sell without submitting to biometric identification?


Mars

Antarctic fungi possibly able to survive on Mars - ISS experiment shows promise

© European Space Agency
An astronaut fixes the EXPOSE-E platform onto the International Space Station. ESA
Two super-resilient fungi were able to survive, and even grow, when exposed to a Mars-like environment aboard the International Space Station (ISS). The experiment gave clues as to how life may have once thrived on the Red Planet and possibly could again.

The tiny fungi, Cryomyces antarcticus and Cryomyces minteri, are two cryptoendolithic organisms found in extreme conditions on Earth. They are able to survive in the cracks of rocks by feeding on traces of minerals. Members of the ISS Lichens and Fungi Experiment (LIFE) team collected samples in the McMurdo Dry Valleys, a snow-free desert in Antarctica that suffers from high winds and low temperatures, making it arguably the least hospitable place on the planet.
© S. Onofri et al.
Section of rock colonized by cryptoendolithic microorganisms and the Cryomyces fungi in quartz crystals under an electron microscope.
The team then blasted them up to the space station and placed them outside the Columbus module on a special research platform known as EXPOSE-E that has an atmosphere consisting of 95% CO2, 1.6% argon, 0.15% oxygen, 2.7% nitrogen, and 370 parts per million of H2O; with a pressure of 1,000 Pascals - all parameters similar to those found on Mars. The fungi were also pelted with ultra-violet radiation.

Eighteen months later, scientists studied the results, which have been published in the journal Astrobiology.