Researchers using data from the European Space Agency's Cluster spacecraft have found evidence that a “plasmaspheric wind” is releasing a kilogram (over two pounds) of plasma from the plasmasphere into the magnetosphere every second.
I swear you’re not reading an X-Men comic. Supervillains do not appear to be involved. Yet.
The plasmasphere is a region of dense, cold plasma that surrounds the Earth. Filled with charged particles, it’s shaped like a donut and forms the inner part of the magnetosphere, the area around our planet controlled by the magnetic field.
The existence of plasmaspheric wind was theorized over two decades ago, but it’s difficult to detect. It requires fancy instrumentation and detailed measurements of moving particles in the plasmasphere. Now, the four Cluster spacecraft have provided ion measurements from the plasmasphere that support the plasmaspheric wind theory.
We need to understand what’s going on in the plasmasphere because of its effect on things like satellites, GPS and traveling astronauts. Presumably, we also need to keep one step ahead of Magneto.
Maybe you've heard this a jillion times: Core strengthening is vital if you want to avoid injury. But is it true? A new study doesn't conclusively say one way or the other, but it sure casts some doubt on the incrediblycommon assertion.
In the study, released in the journal Physical Therapy, 1,100 soldiers aged 18 to 35 were divided into two groups. One group used a core stabilization exercise program that lacked sit-ups, while the other used a traditional exercise program that included bent-knee sit-ups. The point was to compare how the two programs affected the rate of musculoskeletal injury.
Why the focus on sit-ups?
Despite longstanding tradition and the widespread popularity of sit-ups, it has been postulated that this exercise results in increased lumbar spine loading, potentially increasing the risks of injury and low back pain (LBP). Specifically, sit-ups produce large shear and compressive forces on intervertebral disks and across the lumbar spine. Increased muscle activation anteriorly results in both initial hyperextension and subsequent hyperflexion of the lumbar spine, contributing to large compressive forces during sit-ups.
Sit-ups have long been an important yardstick by which the US Army measures physical health. But if they're causing injuries, or failing to prevent injuries that core strengthening could prevent, that might need to change.
The results, though, didn't show any massive difference in injuries between the two groups. “There were no differences in the percentages of soldiers with musculoskeletal injuries. There also were no differences in the numbers of days of work restriction for musculoskeletal injuries overall or specific to the upper extremity.”
It’s worth nothing that the results for the two groups weren't identical. Soldiers who completed the traditional exercise program did have more days of work restriction than the other group if their injury was to the low back.
As much as we all like studies that conclusively prove broad truths, the reality is that what we “know” tends to advance in teensy increments. This study is one thread in a much larger tapestry. What it tells us, though, is that sit-ups might not be the bogeyman and core strengthening might not be quite the miracle each has been portrayed as—as usual, more studies are needed.
Springs underwater and the coral reefs that live near them sustain other species.
Rising carbon dioxide levels—and oh boy, do we haz them—lead to lower pH in our oceans. The lower the pH, the more acidic the water. Coral reefs, underwater structures notoriously unwilling to relocate, are stuck dealing with the result. A new paper shows that coral reefs that have been exposed to acidic waters are less dense and more fragile.
Marine scientist and paper co-author Adina Paytan points out that it could’ve been worse. “The good news is that they don't just die,” she says, in what one can only imagine to be a hollowly perky tone of voice. “They are able to grow and calcify, but they are not producing robust structures.”
Fortunately, what she’s not saying is that the whole wide world of coral has gone rickety. Scientists, being scientists, work hard to gather data that lets them make predictions about what will happen. In this case, the study focused on coral located near underwater springs off of Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula, where the ocean water becomes naturally more acidic.
Vibrant coral community at submarine springs along the Caribbean Coast of Mexico.
Because, though they can simulate conditions in a laboratory, scientists can’t be deliberately acidifying coral environments in the wild, now can they? By looking at a place where coral is already surviving in conditions of higher acidity, the paper’s authors found a site “where nature is already doing the experiments for us,” explains Don Rice, program director in the National Science Foundation's (NSF) Division of Ocean Sciences.
For Paytan, the results mix not-terrible news with a concise course of action. "We need to protect corals from other stressors, such as pollution and overfishing. If we can control those, the impact of ocean acidification might not be as bad."
The remains of an 11th-century Norse settlement found at L’Anse aux Meadows (on the northern tip of Newfoundland) are evidence of the first European presence in North America. That’s really cool, but it’s not news—the remains were found over a half century ago.
What’s news is that an American researcher from Brown University may have figured out a way to reconstruct a possible voyage undertaken by some of the people who lived there.
Keep in mind that the outpost at L’Anse aux Meadows, consisting of some timber-framed turf buildings, was only occupied for a maximum of 25 years. (And it might’ve been used for a mere two years—scientists just aren’t sure.) So hard evidence is pretty difficult to come by.
What Kevin Smith (the deputy director and chief curator of the Haffenreffer Museum of Anthropology, not the Clerks guy) found was that jasper fire starters found near one of the halls at L’Anse aux Meadows most likely came from Notre Dame Bay, 143 miles south of the settlement.
Jasper fragment used for starting fires, found 33 feet from a North American Viking structure
That suggests that Norse explorers left the outpost, went south, and arrived in an area of Newfoundland that’s known to have been heavily populated by the ancestors of the Beothuk people. If they did undertake such a voyage, it’s extremely likely that contact occurred between the indigenous people and the Vikings.
Of course, with so little evidence to go on, the story is largely speculation. It’s not known whether it happened at all, or, if it did, whether it was the very first contact between Europeans and North Americans, or simply a very early example of it. But it’s a lead that gives researchers another clue into the world as it was a millennium ago.
Space iron shown in the blue nickel-rich areas on the virtual model, bottom left.
Did ancient Egyptians make jewelry out of metal from space? According to a new article in Nature, they did indeed.
Archaeologists believe that iron smelting in ancient Egypt started around the sixth century BCE. But an iron bead found in a cemetery in 1911 at Gerzeh, about 43 miles south of Cairo, dates from approximately 3,300 BCE. Scanning electron microscopy, optical imaging and CT scanning revealed the presence of nickel-rich areas on the tube-shaped bead, indicating celestial provenance. The metal, it seems, came from a meteorite.
According to Egyptologist Joyce Tyldesley, who co-authored the study that revealed the bead's true nature, the finding offers a clue about the beginnings of the Egyptian religion. “The sky was very important to the ancient Egyptians,” she points out. “Something that falls from the sky is going to be considered as a gift from the gods.”
Big Bird is a terrible example to us all, at least when it comes to bird anatomy. Check out those gams and you’ll see why. Like humans, real birds are bipedal, but their legs aren’t straight up and down. Instead, bird legs zigzag in such a way that birds are essentially in a permanent crouch, using their muscles to resist gravity. We humans don’t have to do that―our weight is borne passively on our straighter frames.
But of course, we can’t fly. The crouching posture peculiar to birds, says a recent study published in Nature, has everything to do with their evolution from dinosaur ancestors into animals capable of flight.
Previously, it was believed that the bird stance came about as a way for bird bodies to balance as massive T-Rex-style tails disappeared. Using 3-D digital reconstruction, however, the authors of the study determined that the key change was actually in the size of those adorable dinosaur arms. According to co-author John R. Hutchinson:
The tail is the most obvious change if you look at dinosaur bodies. But as we analyzed, and reanalyzed, and punishingly scrutinized our data, we gradually realized that everyone had forgotten to check what influence the forelimbs had on balance and posture, and that this influence was greater than that of the tail or other parts of the body.
Read more about the evolutionary adaptation that made bird flight possible here.