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How can we improve plant growth?
April 10, 2015 08:36 AM - Edd Gent, SciDevNet

Supercomputers and genetic engineering could help boost crops’ ability to convert sunlight into energy and tackle looming food shortages, according to a team of researchers. Photosynthesis is far from its theoretical maximum efficiency, say the authors of a paper in Cell, published on 26 March. They say that supercomputing advances could allow scientists to model every stage in the process and identify bottlenecks in improving plant growth.

Sun experiences seasonal changes
April 7, 2015 09:35 AM - UCAR AtmosNews

The Sun undergoes a type of seasonal variability, with its activity waxing and waning over the course of nearly two years, according to a new study by a team of researchers led by the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR). This behavior affects the peaks and valleys in the approximately 11-year solar cycle, sometimes amplifying and sometimes weakening the solar storms that can buffet Earth’s atmosphere.

White fat, brown fat, now beige fat and obesity
April 4, 2015 08:58 AM - Universtiy of California San Francisco

Those extra pounds around your belly that no amount of exercise seems to shake off? That's not just fat; it's what scientists call white fat – unhealthy, energy-storing fat.

Brown fat, however, has been known to contain energy-burning, heat-producing qualities that could be key to helping people lose weight. The key is finding a way to increase brown fat in the body and reduce the white fat.

Hibernating mammals have brown fat, and human babies are born with it to help them keep warm outside the womb. Adults also have varying amounts of brown fat, but researchers weren't sure if it’s the same kind babies are born with, and if not, where it comes from.

Plant roots may accelerate carbon loss from soils
April 3, 2015 02:33 PM - Oregon State University

Soil, long thought to be a semi-permanent storehouse for ancient carbon, may be releasing carbon dioxide to the atmosphere faster than anyone thought, according to Oregon State University soil scientists. In a study published in this week’s online edition of the journal Nature Climate Change, the researchers showed that chemicals emitted by plant roots act on carbon that is bonded to minerals in the soil, breaking the bonds and exposing previously protected carbon to decomposition by microbes.

Why is Mars so different from Earth?
April 1, 2015 07:40 AM - Roger Greenway, ENN

Did Mars ever support life of any sort?  Why is Mars so different from Earth? Can we deduce its history from current conditions?

NASA's Curiosity rover is using a new experiment to better understand the history of the Martian atmosphere by analyzing xenon. 

While NASA's Curiosity rover concluded its detailed examination of the rock layers of the "Pahrump Hills" in Gale Crater on Mars this winter, some members of the rover team were busy analyzing the Martian atmosphere for xenon, a heavy noble gas. 

Curiosity's Sample Analysis at Mars (SAM) experiment analyzed xenon in the planet's atmosphere. Since noble gases are chemically inert and do not react with other substances in the air or on the ground, they are excellent tracers of the history of the atmosphere. Xenon is present in the Martian atmosphere at a challengingly low quantity and can be directly measured only with on-site experiments such as SAM.

NASA captures best images yet of a dwarf planet
March 29, 2015 08:14 AM - NASA JPL

As NASA's Dawn spacecraft closes in on Ceres, new images show the dwarf planet at 27 pixels across, about three times better than the calibration images taken in early December. These are the first in a series of images that will be taken for navigation purposes during the approach to Ceres.

Over the next several weeks, Dawn will deliver increasingly better and better images of the dwarf planet, leading up to the spacecraft's capture into orbit around Ceres on March 6. The images will continue to improve as the spacecraft spirals closer to the surface during its 16-month study of the dwarf planet.

Antioxidant Effects differ by Leaf Color
March 27, 2015 01:47 PM - University of the Basque Country

Lettuce, one of the indispensable vegetables in the Mediterranean diet, is a food that greatly benefits health, mainly because it is rich in antioxidants. But not all lettuce varieties have the same antioxidant effect. According to a study led by the researcher Usue Pérez-López of the Department of Plant Biology and Ecology of the UPV/EHU's Faculty of Science and Technology, the colour of the leaves of these vegetables determines the speed at which their compounds act. So lettuces with green leaves have antioxidants that react more slowly while red-leaf ones have a faster effect. The results of this study have been set out in a paper "Phenolic Composition and Related Antioxidant Properties in Differently Coloured Lettuces: A Study by Electron Paramagnetic Resonance (EPR) Kinetics" recently published by the ‘Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry'.

Antarctic ice loss is accelerating
March 27, 2015 07:08 AM - British Antarctic Survey

New research published this week in the journal Science Express describes how the ice shelves around Antarctica are thinning and therefore allowing more of the ice sheet behind them to flow into the sea. 

Using nearly two decades of satellite data, the team of international researchers observed an acceleration of ice loss from the continent’s ice shelves, with an increase in loss of 70% in West Antarctica over the last decade. In the Amundsen and Bellingshausen regions, some ice shelves have lost up to 18% of their thickness in less than two decades. 

How NASA is planning on diverting an asteroid
March 26, 2015 07:29 AM - Eric Hand, Science

NASA has decided to pluck a small boulder off an asteroid and bring it back to the vicinity of Earth, rather than bag up an entire asteroid, agency officials in charge of the Asteroid Redirect Mission (ARM) announced today.

The $1.25 billion mission, which is planned to launch in December 2020, would send a robotic spacecraft for a rendezvous with an asteroid in 2022. After touching down on the asteroid’s surface, the spacecraft would snatch a boulder several meters across. The spacecraft would then orbit the asteroid for up to 400 days, testing out an idea for defending Earth from a catastrophic asteroid impact: using the spacecraft’s own gravitational field to subtly alter the asteroid’s orbit. Next, the spacecraft would bring the snatched rock back to Earth’s vicinity in 2025. Finally, as part of preparations for a possible mission to Mars, astronauts would visit and examine the rock for some 25 days, using the planned Orion spacecraft to make the trip.

Was there ever life on Mars?
March 25, 2015 08:05 AM - Roger Greenway, ENN

Did Mars ever support life?  This question has intrigued us for centuries!  We have had spacecraft on Mars for quite a while poking and analyzing soil and rocks and taking photos.  Now NASA has new data which help answer these questions.

A team using the Sample Analysis at Mars (SAM) instrument suite aboard NASA's Curiosity rover has made the first detection of nitrogen on the surface of Mars from release during heating of Martian sediments. 

The nitrogen was detected in the form of nitric oxide, and could be released from the breakdown of nitrates during heating. Nitrates are a class of molecules that contain nitrogen in a form that can be used by living organisms. The discovery adds to the evidence that ancient Mars was habitable for life.

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