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Tue, 25 Oct 2016
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Science & Technology


New technology for dating ancient rock paintings

A new dating method finally is allowing archaeologists to incorporate rock paintings - some of the most mysterious and personalized remnants of ancient cultures - into the tapestry of evidence used to study life in prehistoric times. That's the conclusion of a new report in ACS' Analytical Chemistry.

In the study, Marvin W. Rowe points out that rock paintings, or pictographs, are among the most difficult archaeological artifacts to date. They lack the high levels of organic material needed to assess a pictograph's age using radiocarbon dating, the standard archaeological technique for more than a half-century. Rowe describes a new, highly sensitive dating method, called accelerator mass spectrometry, that requires only 0.05 milligrams of carbon (the weight of 50 specks of dust). That's much less than the several grams of carbon needed with radiocarbon dating.


In Science and Technology, Efforts to Lure Women Back

It will come as no surprise that many career re-entry programs, designed to help at-home mothers return to the work force, are disappearing, victims of hard times among the Wall Street firms and banks that led the so-called on-ramping trend.

But a new bright spot is emerging. Small, innovative return-to-work programs are springing up in other sectors -- specifically in science, engineering and technology. Prospects for long-term job growth in these fields are relatively good, and many employers expect a talent shortage, partly because of high quit rates among experienced women.


Space shuttle Discovery launch postponed

© unknown
NASA has postponed the launch of space shuttle Discovery just hours before lift-off.
NASA postponed the launch of space shuttle Discovery just hours before it was to head to the international space station on Wednesday because of a hydrogen gas leak that could have been catastrophic at liftoff.

The leak was in the same system that has already caused a vexing one-month delay. Shuttle managers were shooting for another launch attempt on Thursday night provided they could fix the problem quickly.

The gaseous hydrogen began leaking just as the launch team was close to wrapping up the loading of Discovery's external fuel tank for a late-night liftoff. The seven astronauts had yet to board the spaceship.


'Peking Man' far older than thought

Barrel-chested "Peking Man," the collective name given to the treasure trove of homo erectus fossils found near the Chinese capital in the 1920s, is some 200,000 years older than previously thought, according to a new study.

Using a new dating technique, Chinese and US researchers led by Guanjun Shen of Nanjing Normal University determined that the tool-making "erect man" lived in and around the caves of Zhoukoudian - among the most highly-prized sites in the study of early humans - as far back as 780,000 years ago.

The findings, published in the London-based science journal Nature, are sure to stir controversy among scientists, who have long debated the timing and routes of hominin migrations.


Scottish Space Flight Potential Confirmed

Westminster SNP Leader Angus Robertson MP has said he is "delighted" following discussions about the potential for commercial space flight from RAF Lossiemouth in his Moray constituency. He was speaking after meeting with UK Science Minister Lord Drayson and Dr Ian Gibson of the British National Space Centre.

Mr Robertson had arranged the meeting to establish whether there were any legislative or regulatory impediments to space flights into near earth orbit. The leading developer of the ground-breaking technology Virgin Galactic has expressed an interest in operating from RAF Lossiemouth.

Flights would be able to carry both space tourists and launch satellites into orbit.


The Lost Siblings of the Sun

© NASA / ESA / Hubble Heritage Team (AURA / STScI)
This Hubble closeup of part of the Trifid Nebula in Sagittarius shows the kind of environment where the Sun and solar system were probably born. Massive hot stars dominate the scene; they will run through their brief lives quickly and explode as supernovae. The larger white box shows several more modest stars that recently formed in the retreating gas-and-dust pillar to their right. The small box highlights a "proplyd," a protoplanetary disk around a star that may end up like our Sun.
Most stars are born in clusters rather than singly, and there's plenty of evidence that the Sun was too.

For one thing, the material of the infant solar system (as preserved in the earliest meteorites) was enriched by fresh supernova debris from at least one very young, massive star (with 15 to 25 solar masses) that exploded less than 5 light-years away, no more than 2 million years after the Sun's formation. Today no such massive star exists within 300 light-years of the Sun. Clearly, the early solar system had stars close around it.

But that was 4.57 billion years ago. Where are the Sun's cluster-mates now?

Some of them, it turns out, should remain surprisingly nearby. An analysis by Simon F. Portegies Zwart (University of Amsterdam) finds that the Sun's birth cluster started off with about 500 to 3,000 solar masses and a diameter smaller than about 20 light-years - typical for open clusters. Evidence for the cluster's mass and size, Zwart writes, is preserved in the anomalous chemical abundances and structure of the Kuiper Belt - the small, icy objects in the outer solar system beyond Neptune. Some of the Kuiper Belt's objects are still dynamically "hot"; they were stirred up and scattered by the gravity of at least one nearby cluster star making a close pass in early days.

Magic Wand

Belief and the brain's 'God spot'

© D. Kapogiannis
Brain areas activated by considering how involved God (or another perceived supernatural entity) is. These are areas that also help us understand the intentions of others and the emotional significance of these intentions.
Scientists say they have located the parts of the brain that control religious faith. And the research proves, they contend, that belief in a higher power is an evolutionary asset that helps human survival.

A belief in God is deeply embedded in the human brain, which is programmed for religious experiences, according to a study that analyses why religion is a universal human feature that has encompassed all cultures throughout history.

Scientists searching for the neural "God spot", which is supposed to control religious belief, believe that there is not just one but several areas of the brain that form the biological foundations of religious belief.

The researchers said their findings support the idea that the brain has evolved to be sensitive to any form of belief that improves the chances of survival, which could explain why a belief in God and the supernatural became so widespread in human evolutionary history.


Single top quark detected

Physicists have identified the production of the elusive single top quark, two research teams report.

Previously top quarks have been observed only when produced in pairs, as when they were initially discovered 14 years ago at the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory in Batavia, Ill. Now, researchers using Fermilab's two detectors announced March 9 that they have detected single top quarks. The techniques used to find the singleton quarks could help to identify other rare particles, such as the Higgs boson, the scientists say.

Control Panel

Riot Dynamics Modeled

© Unknown
Computer-modeled crowds
Researchers use computer scenarios to study crowd behavior in time and space

Every day, all over the world, people assemble peacefully into crowds in places such as shopping malls, sporting events, concerts and tourist sites - but crowds can shift from peaceful to unruly, even riotous, in just a few minutes given the right conditions.

The factors that cause a "charged" crowd to reach a "tipping point" and erupt into violence are not well understood by scientists because crowd behavior is so difficult to study. No one wants to incite a riot for the sake of science and surveys of individuals about their behavior as part of a crowd have not been that reliable.

"Crowds are complex, adaptive systems that may seem chaotic but have an underlying order," said Paul Torrens, associate professor in the School of Geographical Sciences at Arizona State University, and director of its Geosimulation Laboratory. "They self-assemble in time and space and exhibit geometric patterns based on layer upon layer of human-to-human and human-to-environment interactions. They are almost impossible to model realistically."

But that is exactly what he and his colleagues are intent on doing.

Better Earth

Earth Seen 'Healing' After Big Quake

© E. Fielding et al
Three-dimensional perspective view of vertical displacement of the land surface south of Bam, Iran during the three and a half years after the December 26, 2003 earthquake derived from analysis of radar images. The model below shows the zone of rock damage that contracted or healed after the earthquake, with the green colors showing the strongest contraction.

For the first time, scientists have watched as the Earth's surface "heals" itself following the disruptive jolt of an earthquake, in this case, the 2003 temblor that devastated Bam, Iran.

The fault under the city erupted in a 6.6-magnitude quake on Dec. 26 that year, leveling the town and killing more than 26,000 people. But though devastation was evident, there was no clear fault mark at the surface.

"The fault slipped maybe 2 or 3 meters [6.5 to 10 feet] at depth, but at the surface, when colleagues of mine went out, they found some cracks, but the motion on those cracks is only about up to 25 centimeters [10 inches] or less," said one of the scientists who studied the quake, Eric Fielding of Caltech. "We have some layer of material near the surface that's behaving differently from the fault at depth."

Seismologists had noticed similar mismatches between depth and surface fault movements during other earthquakes. Because eventually both layers of the fault have to match up, the question was, "what's happening in this surface layer?" Fielding said.