Sci/tech

'No evidence' of links between Pacific earthquakes
January 5, 2012 12:43 PM - María Elena Hurtado, SciDevNet

Scientists have rejected fears that a series of highly destructive large-scale earthquakes in the past few years, in countries bordering the Pacific Ocean, signal an increased global risk of these deadly events. Several vast earthquakes have taken place since 2004 — in Chile, Indonesia and Japan — leading some academics to express concern that they may be linked.

The Perils of Vacuum Cleaners
January 5, 2012 12:24 PM - Andy Soos, ENN

A vacuum cleaner is a device that uses an air pump to create a partial vacuum to suck up dust and dirt, usually from floors, and optionally from other surfaces as well. Does not sound so bad does it? Some vacuum cleaners — those basic tools for maintaining a clean indoor environment in homes and offices — actually contribute to indoor air pollution by releasing into the air bacteria and dust that can spread infections and trigger allergies, researchers report in a new study. It appears in the ACS' journal Environmental Science & Technology. Lidia Morawska and colleagues explain that previous studies showed that vacuum cleaners can increase levels of very small dust particles and bacteria in indoor spaces, where people spend about 90 percent of their time. In an effort to provide more information about emission rates of bacteria and small dust particles, the scientists tested 21 vacuum cleaners sold in Australia. The vacuums came from 11 manufacturers, included those marketed for household and commercial use, ranged in age from six months to 22 years and cost from less than $100 to almost $800. They looked at the effects that age, brand and other factors had on the amount of small particles and bacteria released into air.

Rare Moon Mineral Found on Earth
January 4, 2012 08:41 AM - Sid Perkins, Science AAAS

A mineral previously known only from moon rocks and lunar meteorites has now been found on Earth. Researchers discovered the substance—dubbed tranquillityite after the Sea of Tranquility, where Apollo 11 astronauts landed on the Moon in July 1969— at six sites in Western Australia. The mineral occurs only in minuscule amounts and has no economic value, but scientists say it could be used for age-dating the rocks in which it occurs.

Moon Study: Crust to Core
January 3, 2012 01:16 PM - Editor, ENN

NASA's twin spacecraft to study the moon from crust to core have arrived in lunar orbit. Named Gravity Recovery And Interior Laboratory (GRAIL), the spacecraft are scheduled to be placed in orbit on December 31 and January 1. "Our team may not get to partake in a traditional New Year's celebration, but I expect seeing our two spacecraft safely in lunar orbit should give us all the excitement and feeling of euphoria anyone in this line of work would ever need," said David Lehman, project manager for GRAIL from NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. The distance from Earth to the moon is approximately 250,000 miles. NASA's Apollo crews took about three days to travel to the moon. Launched from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station Sept. 10, 2011, the GRAIL spacecraft are taking about 30 times that long and covering more than 2.5 million miles (4 million kilometers) to get there.

Math and Piegons
December 30, 2011 08:24 AM - Andy Soos, ENN

There is a common saying that being a bird brain means you are not very bright. But how bright is that? Pigeons can learn abstract numerical rules, a skill that scientists had believed only primates possessed. Although the birds may not be able to do higher math, their ability to reason numerically is likely something that a wide variety of species can do, too, researchers say. Many species, from honeybees to elephants, can discriminate between quantities of items, sounds, or smells, and represent numbers mentally. However only primates (all species, from lemurs to chimpanzees) were known previously to be able to reason numerically.

Satellite Studies Reveal Groundwater Depletion around the World
December 29, 2011 01:11 PM - Andrew Burger, Global Warming is Real

Access to freshwater resources has always been a critical need for human and all forms of life on Earth. With a world population estimated at just shy of 7 billion and growing, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization says agricultural production will need to increase 70% by 2050. As agriculture takes up most of human water use, that’s going to put vastly greater demands and strains on our water resources at a time when climate change is changing temperature and precipitation levels and patterns in ways that cannot be predicted at local levels but are likely to make this even more difficult to achieve.

Tsunami Debris
December 29, 2011 09:16 AM - Andy Soos, ENN

Anything that goes into the ocean will eventually either sink or float. Debris from the tsunami that devastated Japan in March could reach the United States as early as this winter, according to predictions by NOAA scientists. However, they warn there is still a large amount of uncertainty over exactly what is still floating, where it's located, where it will go, and when it will arrive. Responders now have a challenging, if not impossible situation on their hands: How do you deal with debris that could now impact U.S. shores, but is difficult to find? Just another garbage wave to worry about but one that is not directly a result of man's bad habits.

Too clever by half: is technology killing the planet?
December 28, 2011 08:48 AM - Ian Michler, Ecologist

Technology is at once a hugely constructive and a hugely destructive force, and for the most part we have been content to ignore the latter while enjoying the benefits of the former. But, suggests Ian Michler, it’s high time that we begin to think seriously – and innovatively – about tempering its damaging effects

Dawn at Vesta
December 23, 2011 10:06 AM - Andy Soos, ENN

Vesta is the second-most-massive asteroid after the dwarf planet Ceres,and comprises an estimated 9% of the mass of the asteroid belt. Vesta is thought to be a remnant protoplanet with a differentiated interior. It lost some 1% of its mass less than a billion years ago in a collision that left an enormous crater occupying much of its southern hemisphere. NASA's Dawn spacecraft has sent back the first images of the giant asteroid Vesta from its low-altitude mapping orbit. The images, obtained by the framing camera, show the stippled and lumpy surface in detail never seen before, piquing the curiosity of scientists who are studying Vesta for clues about the solar system's early history. The surface shows abundant small craters, and textures such as small grooves and lineaments that are reminiscent of the structures seen in low-resolution data from the higher-altitude orbits. Also, this fine scale highlights small outcrops of bright and dark material.

Diving Marine Mammals and Decompression
December 22, 2011 10:03 AM - Andy Soos, ENN

Decompression sickness (DCS) describes a condition arising from dissolved gases coming out of solution to form bubbles inside the body upon depressurization. So how do marine mammals, whose very survival depends on regular diving, manage to avoid DCS? Do they, indeed, avoid it? In April 2010, the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution’s Marine Mammal Center (MMC) invited the world’s experts in human diving and marine-mammal diving physiology to convene for a three-day workshop to discuss the issue of how marine mammals manage gas under pressure. Twenty-eight researchers discussed and debated the current state of knowledge on diving marine mammal gas kinetics—the rates of the change in the concentration of gases in their bodies. "Until recently the dogma was that marine mammals have anatomical and physiological and behavioral adaptations to make the bends not a problem," said MMC Director Michael Moore. "There is no evidence that marine mammals get the bends routinely, but a look at the most recent studies suggest that they are actively avoiding rather than simply not having issues with decompression."

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