Sci/tech

Andean Earthquakes to the East
May 9, 2011 07:42 AM - Andy Soos, ENN

The region west of the Andes Mountains is the leading edge of the South American continent into the Pacific Ocean. Subduction of the Nazca plate beneath South America has driven the growth of the Andes Mountains. Subduction has routinely generated earthquakes larger than magnitude 8.0 along the western margin of the mountain belt. Lesser known for tectonic activity is the eastern side. The region east of the central Andes Mountains has the potential for larger scale earthquakes than previously expected, according to a new study posted online in the May 8th edition of Nature Geoscience. Previous research had set the maximum expected earthquake size to be magnitude 7.5 (Richter), based on the relatively quiet history of seismicity in that area. This new study by researchers from the University of Hawaii at Manoa and colleagues contradicts that limit and instead suggests that the region could see quakes with magnitudes 8.7 to 8.9.

Vehicle to Grid Storage and the Future of Electric Vehicles
May 6, 2011 02:22 PM - CleanTechies Guest Author, Clean Techies

Renewable energy sources like solar and wind only generate electricity when the wind blows or the sun is out and that isn't always when customers need power. Batteries large enough to hold megawatts of electricity are prohibitively expensive but another potential source of battery storage is fast emerging: electric vehicles.

What makes humans special? The Power of communication. New from BBC Earth
May 6, 2011 10:10 AM - Editor, BBC Earth

A human's need to communicate, can be observed from the first moments of life. The intuitive reaction of a newborn to cry, lays the stepping-stone for a process which at its heart, will enable every human to successfully communicate their experience of being alive. It has been said that words are man's greatest achievement. With the first utterances of symbolic language emerging 2.5 million years ago, slowly evolved by the first Homo sapiens – the solid foundations of modern articulation have decidedly been set. Yet many would argue that speech and language was developed not out of want, but out of need. Therefore in what ways do humans communicate…without using words? Music has long been a way of communicating for necessity as well as pleasure. Such as the use of a lullaby to sooth, a folk song to warn and a chant to call to arms! But in what ways do we use rhythm and melody to communicate with nature itself?

Chimps Are Self Aware
May 6, 2011 09:18 AM - Laurent Banguet and Marlowe Hood, Discovery News

Chimpanzees are self-aware and can anticipate the impact of their actions on the environment around them, an ability once thought to be uniquely human, according to a study released Wednesday. The findings, reported in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B, challenge assumptions about the boundary between human and non-human, and shed light on the evolutionary origins of consciousness, the researchers said. Earlier research had demonstrated the capacity of several species of primates, as well as dolphins, to recognize themselves in a mirror, suggesting a fairly sophisticated sense of self.

Comet Elenin
May 5, 2011 01:57 PM - Andy Soos, ENN

A comet is an icy small Solar System body that, when close enough to the Sun, displays a visible coma (a thin, fuzzy, temporary atmosphere) and sometimes also a tail. These phenomena are both due to the effects of solar radiation and the solar wind upon the nucleus of the comet. Comet nuclei are themselves loose collections of ice, dust, and small rocky particles, ranging from a few hundred meters to tens of kilometers across. Comet Elenin is coming to the inner-solar system this fall of 2011. Comet Elenin (also known by its astronomical name C/2010 X1), was first detected on Dec. 10, 2010 by Leonid Elenin, an observer in Lyubertsy, Russia, who made the discovery using the ISON-NM observatory near Mayhill, New Mexico. At the time of the discovery, the comet was about 647 million kilometers (401 million miles) from Earth. Over the past four-and-a-half months, the comet has – as comets do – closed the distance to Earth's vicinity as it makes its way closer to perihelion (its closest point to the sun). As of May 4, Elenin's distance is about 170 million miles. It is scheduled to come as close as 22 million miles.

Araucarias gauge ancient levels of carbon dioxide
May 5, 2011 08:40 AM - Sara Coelho, Planet Earth Online

Knowing the concentration of carbon dioxide (CO2) in the atmosphere today is easy – you just go outside and measure it – but gauging levels of CO2 from millions of years ago is not so simple. Now scientists have found how araucarias can help to solve the problem.

The Eye Versus the Camera
May 4, 2011 05:01 PM - Andy Soos, ENN

Which is better: the camera or the eye (assuming normal eyesight). Visual perception is the ability to interpret information and surroundings from the effects of visible light reaching the eye. A camera merely records whatever image it receives. The human eye long ago solved a problem common to both digital and film cameras: how to get good contrast in an image while also capturing faint detail. The illusion of a bright and dark band on either side of the central stripe is due to lateral inhibition, where the cones in the retina inhibit their neighbors using negative feedback. A University of California Berkeley neurobiologist has discovered that the phenomenon involves localized positive feedback as well. Nearly 50 years ago, physiologists described the retina’s tricks for improving contrast and sharpening edges, but new experiments by University of California, Berkeley, neurobiologists show how the eye achieves this without sacrificing shadow detail.

Virus Power
April 26, 2011 03:59 PM - Andy Soos, ENN

A virus is a small agent that can replicate only inside the living cells of organisms. Most viruses are too small to be seen directly with a light microscope. The shapes of viruses range from simple helical and icosahedral forms to more complex structures. The average virus is about one one-hundredth the size of the average bacterium. Researchers at MIT have found a way to make significant improvements to the power-conversion efficiency of solar cells by enlisting the services of tiny viruses to perform detailed assembly work at the microscopic level. In a solar cell, sunlight hits a light-harvesting material, causing it to release electrons that can be harnessed to produce an electric current. The new MIT research, published online in the recent journal Nature Nanotechnology, is based on findings that carbon nanotubes — microscopic, hollow cylinders of pure carbon — can enhance the efficiency of electron collection from a solar cell's surface.

Earth Recovered from Prehistoric Global Warming Faster Than Previously Thought
April 21, 2011 05:11 PM - Editor, Science Daily

ScienceDaily (Apr. 21, 2011) — Earth may be able to recover from rising carbon dioxide emissions faster than previously thought, according to evidence from a prehistoric event analyzed by a Purdue University-led team. When faced with high levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide and rising temperatures 56 million years ago, Earth increased its ability to pull carbon from the air.

New Islands
April 21, 2011 04:35 PM - Andy Soos, ENN

What is an Island? Land that is surrounded by water. Islands are always being created and sometimes destroyed. Earth has 657 more barrier islands than previously thought, according to a new global survey by researchers from Duke University and Meredith College. The researchers identified a total of 2,149 barrier islands worldwide using satellite images, topographical maps and navigational charts. The new total is significantly higher than the 1,492 islands identified in a 2001 survey conducted without the aid of publicly available satellite imagery. The 2,149 barrier islands measure 20,783 kilometers in length, are found along all continents except Antarctica and in all oceans, and make up roughly 10 percent of the Earth's continental shorelines. Seventy-four percent of the islands are found in the northern hemisphere.

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