V.22 No.33 | 8/15/2013
Flipping Out Over the Sun’s Big Flip
¡Viva la Science!
By Lisa Barrow [ Tue Aug 13 2013 2:50 PM ]
Great news, you guys—the sun’s magnetic field flip probably won’t destroy the earth or anything.
V.22 No.32 | 8/8/2013
Andréia via Flickr
Ruled by Sun and Moon
¡Viva la Science!
By Lisa Barrow [ Tue Aug 6 2013 4:07 PM ]
Has science proven that we’re all just pawns of celestial balls of light?
V.22 No.31 | 8/1/2013
Dave_B_ via Flickr
I’ll Take My Hot Sauce Unleaded, Thanks
By Lisa Barrow [ Mon Jul 29 2013 2:04 PM ]
¡Ay, no! A new study finds evidence that four chile-based hot sauces imported from Mexico may contain unsafe levels of lead.
V.22 No.30 | 7/25/2013
Claudia Fugazza/Animal Cognition
Your Dog Knows What You Did Last Summer
¡Viva la Science!
By Lisa Barrow [ Tue Jul 23 2013 2:48 PM ]
Canines may be paying more attention than we thought.
V.22 No.29 | 7/18/2013
Photo by César Rincón
The Problem With Being Made in May
¡Viva la Science!
By Lisa Barrow [ Tue Jul 16 2013 3:26 PM ]
We’ve known for decades that babies conceived at certain times of the year tend, on average, to be healthier than babies conceived at other times. But what the hell, right? Why should that be? By looking at the birth records for over 1.4 million children born in the 1990s and 2000s, two economists may have figured out how it happens.
Science deals with the big, messy soup of our world. Its eternal challenge lies in teasing out what’s truly connected from that which simply happens at the same time. Previous studies have shown the correlation between infants who are born in winter and a host of problems later in life, but no one knew why it was happening. Wintertime diseases? Higher winter pollution? It could’ve been almost anything. The questions were complicated by data showing that certain mothers, ones from a lower socioeconomic tier, are statistically more likely to have children with developmental and health problems. But they’re also more likely to give birth in the first half of the year. So what’s been causing what? To study the problem, scientists needed a way to control for things like a mother’s race, marital status and education level so they didn’t end up comparing apples to oranges.
Janet Currie and Hannes Schwandt, economists out of Princeton University, came up with a solution. They looked only at mothers who had given birth to more than one child—over 600,000 of them. That way, when the differences in outcomes were measured, it had more to do with when the baby was born than the particular social conditions of the mother.
What they noticed was kind of startling. For babies conceived in May, the study found more than a 10-freaking-percent increase in premature births. The average gestation length is only about half a day shorter, but it still matters. Being born prematurely is linked to all kinds of problems, including a weaker immune system, neurodevelopmental complications and impaired vision or hearing.
Clearly, this sucks and we need to find the culprit. The study’s authors think we can most likely blame the seasonal flu, which really gets roaring in January and February, when May-conceived babies are born. The 2009-2010 flu season was particularly nasty, infecting more people than usual, and corresponded to a more dramatic dip in gestation times.
Plenty more work needs to be done to see if the common winter flu is really the reason for the premature births and therefore the reason for the generally worse outcomes of babies conceived in May. Right now, it’s just an association—the outcomes could actually be caused by some other seasonal disease or by climate or temperature, which this study wasn’t able to control for. But by looking at large samples of already-existing data, Currie and Schwandt have given other researchers a strong lead for their inquiries. And knowledge inches forward once more.
I’m Happy When it’s Sad
Study concludes sad music evokes positive emotions
By Mark Lopez [ Fri Jul 12 2013 2:21 PM ]
A group of researchers from Tokyo University of the Arts and RIKEN Brain Science Institute have decided to tackle an interesting subject: Why do we love sad songs? It's a valid question, considering many sad songs have entered the top-40 and kept listeners on their toes while belting out minor chords over hopeless lyrics. Adele's “Someone Like You” is one example that comes to mind. These researchers not only wanted to discuss the various reasons why people listen to sad music but also to see if they could pinpoint certain characteristics within the music that pique certain emotions.
They had 44 volunteers listen to two pieces of sad music and one piece of happy music, and they basically came to the conclusion that sad music actually made people feel more positive about their own lives. They concluded that while the volunteers listened to these despairing, emotionally-driven opuses, they found “sad music to be more tragic, less romantic, and less blithe than they felt themselves while listening to it,” according to an article in Science Daily. So maybe we do listen to sad music to realize how good we have it?
This got me thinking about what sad songs I enjoy listening to, or better yet, got me thinking what my favorite sad song is. As a music journalist, that's a hard question to answer because I like different things at different times. But one sad song that did come to mind was Joanna Newsom's “Go Long,” from her 2010 album Have One On Me. It's one of those songs that if you see her play it live, it utterly kills you. I witnessed the most rough-looking dudes crying like babies when the song was over. I don't cry when I hear it, but I do really enjoy it. It's a beautiful number that dissects the “Bluebeard” story in its most poetic, morbid sense. But now I'm curious … what's a notable sad song for you?
V.22 No.28 | 7/11/2013
photo by Ryo Nakano
What Sounds Sexy to a Moth?
¡Viva la Science!
By Lisa Barrow [ Tue Jul 9 2013 3:26 PM ]
Moths avoid bats. It’s nothing personal, just an understandable desire not to get devoured. In the perpetual evolutionary arms race between the nocturnal creatures, moths seem to have developed ears for the sole purpose of hearing bats’ echolocation cries—because if you want to avoid becoming someone’s midnight snack, getting wind of their approach is key.
Do you remember that part in Dead Poets Society where Robin Williams asks his students why language was invented? “To communicate,” suggests one. “No!” he replies, “To woo women.” Well, humans aren’t the only mammals that have a way of making everything about sex. Until recently, scientists believed that moths could hear sounds, but not produce them. Turns out, though, that most male moths make sounds when they want to engage in a little nookie. And not just any sounds, either—their calls are distinctly bat-like.
A sensory physiology researcher from the University of Southern Denmark, along with colleagues from the University of Tokyo, has been studying two different species of moths to find out exactly how sound is used for courtship. It’s not quite the same for everyone.
In the Asian corn borer, a moth much prettier than it sounds, males make a call that’s indistinguishable from a bat’s hunting cry. Females instinctively freeze at the sound, making it harder for the bats to find them. But in Asian corn borer society, immobility apparently equals consent, because when a female holds still, that’s when the magic of reproduction can happen.
On the other hand, male Japanese lichen moths also make sounds like bats gone a’hunting. But the females of that species aren’t fooled—they can tell the difference between a bat and a suitor. The sound the males make, then, has evolved into a specific mating call.
“The acoustic communication between bats and moths is a textbook example of the interaction between predator and prey,” says Annemarie Surlykke, the researcher from Denmark. “However, our studies show how such a system can evolve, so also moths use their ability to hear and produce sounds to communicate sexually and that they have developed many different ways of doing it. It is a beautiful example of evolutionary diversity.”
If you were wondering how moths can make sounds like bats without attracting their mortal enemies, the key seems to be volume. Moths essentially whisper their calls while only inches apart, whereas bats are pretty much just screaming through the night sky. Spooky! Since we humans aren’t equipped to hear any of it, you’ll just have to imagine what sweet nothings moths murmur to one another.
Source: Science Daily
V.22 No.26 | 6/27/2013
Credit: ESA/ATG medialab
Gone With the Plasmaspheric Wind
¡Viva la Science!
By Lisa Barrow [ Tue Jul 2 2013 12:19 PM ]
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.
Time to Sit Up and Review Your Exercise Regimen?
¡Viva la Science!
By Lisa Barrow [ Tue Jun 25 2013 3:35 PM ]
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 incredibly common 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.
Via: Saveyourself.ca – check out the lively and informed discussion taking place on their Facebook page
V.22 No.25 | 6/20/2013
The Kinda Good News About Coral Peril
¡Viva la Science!
By Lisa Barrow [ Tue Jun 18 2013 1:53 PM ]
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.
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."
V.22 No.24 | 6/13/2013
Leshaines123 via Flickr
Those Vikings Sure Got Around
¡Viva la Science!
By Lisa Barrow [ Tue Jun 11 2013 1:32 PM ]
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.
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.
V.22 No.23 | 6/6/2013
Andy Tindle, Open Univeristy
Ancient Egyptian Space Bead
¡Viva la Science!
By Lisa Barrow [ Tue Jun 4 2013 11:00 AM ]
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.”
V.22 No.22 | 5/30/2013
¡Viva la Science!
When tiny arms became crooked legs
By Lisa Barrow [ Tue May 28 2013 11:00 AM ]
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.
V.21 No.46 |
The Daily Word in BP, poorest president and Pong
By Marisa Demarco [ Thu Nov 15 2012 10:27 AM ]
BP's looking at a $4.5 billion fine and criminal charges against staff members.
The gap between rich and poor in New Mexico is the widest in the nation.
Pit bull terriers killed a Chihuahua and sent her owner to the hospital.
Debbie O'Malley might remain on the Council and take a seat on the County Commission.
Remember when 48 women training for the military said they'd been sexually assaulted or harassed by their instructors? The Air Force has a weird solution: Trainees must have a wingman all the time.
Nonstop flights from Albuquerque to New York.
FBI investigates death threats against the guy holding the coyote-killing contest in Los Lunas.
The poorest president in the world. "If you don't have many possessions, then you don't need to work all your life like a slave to sustain them."
Violence escalates in Gaza and Israel. Rockets kill 15 Palestinians and three Israelis.
Louisiana governor is the first Republican to denounce Mitt Romney's notion that he lost the election because President Obama gave gifts to minorities and youth.
5-Hour Energy shot-like drink blamed for 13 deaths.
Colorado Visitors Bureau plans NOT to capitalize on legal recreational marijuana.
Science looks at rappers' brains to find the basis of improvisation.
Pong is 40-years-old and no one has topped it, says this guy.
How to become as observant as Sherlock Holmes. (Also, "Sherlock," the BBC miniseries available on Netflix instawatch, is dope.)
V.21 No.37 | 9/13/2012
The Daily Word in Bill Clinton, Genesis and Zozobra
By Marisa Demarco [ Thu Sep 6 2012 10:06 AM ]
I-25 / Paseo overhaul will be on the ballot in November.
Are you going to Zozobra tonight?
Doug Vaughan sentenced to 12 years for Ponzi scheme.
UNM considers making Lobo Village booze-free.
Ex-President Clinton at the DNC, a recap.
Wheelchair rugby players are rock stars.
Does email cause stress?
Freddie Mercury’s private cultural identity.
Prog awards honor Genesis.
Hungarian artist makes a subway stop magical.
Voyager’s getting close to the edge of the solar system.
NASA’s Sunita Williams fixes the International Space Station with a toothbrush.
Jennifer Aniston’s going to be in a movie shooting in New Mexico soon.
Placitas Artists Series Visual Artists Reception at Las Placitas Presbyterian Church
Featuring works by Catherine Alleva (ceramics), Dorothy Bunny Bowen (wax resist paintings), Joe Anne Fredrikson (art quilts) and more.
UNM Student & Faculty Recital: Stephanie Opsal • clarinet • Alex Austell • trumpeter • Kristin Ditlow • piano at Keller Hall
Chocolate Tasting at Joliesse ChocolatesMore Recommented Events ››