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Smoking mothers may alter the DNA of their children

sciencehabit sciencehabit writes  |  4 days ago

sciencehabit (1205606) writes "Pregnant women who smoke don’t just harm the health of their baby—they may actually impair their child’s DNA, according to new research. A genetic analysis shows that the children of mothers who smoke harbor far more chemical modifications of their genome--known as epigenetic changes--than kids of non-smoking mothers. Many of these are on genes tied to addiction and fetal development. The finding may explain why the children of smokers continue to suffer health complications later in life."
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Bird flocks resemble liquid helium

sciencehabit sciencehabit writes  |  5 days ago

sciencehabit (1205606) writes "A flock of starlings flies as one, a spectacular display in which each bird flits about as if in a well-choreographed dance. Everyone seems to know exactly when and where to turn. Now, for the first time, researchers have measured how that knowledge moves through the flock—a behavior that mirrors certain quantum phenomena of liquid helium. Some of the more interesting findings: Tracking data showed that the message for a flock to turn started from a handful of birds and swept through the flock at a constant speed between 20 and 40 meters per second. That means that for a group of 400 birds, it takes just a little more than a half-second for the whole flock to turn."
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Comet to make close call with Mars

sciencehabit sciencehabit writes  |  about a week ago

sciencehabit (1205606) writes "In mid-October, a comet sweeping through our inner solar system for the first time will pass near Mars—so close, in fact, that if it were buzzing Earth at the same distance it would fly by well inside our moon’s orbit. And while material spewing from the icy visitor probably won’t trigger the colossal meteor showers on the Red Planet that some scientists predicted, dust and water vapor may still slam into Mars, briefly heating up its atmosphere and threatening orbiting spacecraft. However it affects the planet, the comet should give scientists their closest view yet of a near-pristine visitor from the outer edges of our solar system."
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Western U.S. states using up ground water at an alarming rate

sciencehabit sciencehabit writes  |  about a week ago

sciencehabit (1205606) writes "A new study shows that ground water in the Colorado basin is being depleted six times faster than surface water. The groundwater losses, which take thousands of years to be recharged naturally, point to the unsustainability of exploding population centers and water-intensive agriculture in the basin, which includes most of Arizona and parts of Colorado, California, Nevada, Utah, New Mexico, and Wyoming. Because ground water feeds many of the streams and rivers in the area, more of them will run dry."
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Dogs experience humanlike jealousy

sciencehabit sciencehabit writes  |  about two weeks ago

sciencehabit (1205606) writes "Our canine pals can act every bit as resentful, bitter, and hostile as a jealous child—even if the interloper is nothing more than a stuffed toy hound. Researchers modified a test originally developed to assess the emotion in 6-month-old infants. They videotaped 36 dogs as they watched their owners completely ignore them while turning their attention to three different objects: a realistic-looking stuffed dog, a plastic jack-o’-lantern, and a book. All the dogs pushed at their owners when the people talked to and petted the toy, and nearly 87% bumped it or tried to get between it and their beloved human. Almost 42% of the dogs actually snapped at the stuffed interloper. The study supports the idea that not all jealousy requires the ability to reflect on one’s self and to understand conscious intentions, as some scientists have argued, but that there is a more basic form of the emotion that likely evolved as a way of securing resources such as food and affection."
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Had there been no Higgs boson, this observation would have been the bomb

sciencehabit sciencehabit writes  |  about two weeks ago

sciencehabit (1205606) writes "Ever wonder what particle physicists would have done had the Higgs boson not existed? Even before they fired up the atom smasher that 2 years ago blasted out the Higgs—the $5.5 billion Large Hadron Collider (LHC) at the European particle physics lab, CERN, near Geneva, Switzerland—researchers said that if they didn't find that coveted quarry, it wouldn't be a total disaster. If there were no Higgs, they said, then a particular ordinary particle interaction should instead go haywire and hint at whatever nature was doing to get by without the Higgs. Now, physicists at the LHC have spotted the rare interaction in that "no-lose" theorem, which is known as WW scattering."
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Elephants may have best noses on Earth

sciencehabit sciencehabit writes  |  about two weeks ago

sciencehabit (1205606) writes "Scientists have identified and examined olfactory receptor genes from 13 mammalian species. The researchers found that every species has a highly unique variety of such genes: Of the 10,000 functioning olfactory receptor genes the team studied, only three are shared among the 13 species. Perhaps not surprisingly, given the length of its trunk, the African elephant has the largest number of such genes—nearly 2000, the scientists report online today in the Genome Research. In contrast, dogs have only 1000, and humans and chimpanzees, less than 400—possibly because higher primates rely more on their vision and less on their sense of smell."
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Miscalculation may explain expansion of Antarctic sea ice

sciencehabit sciencehabit writes  |  about two weeks ago

sciencehabit (1205606) writes "Despite global warming, the fringe of sea ice around Antarctica is expanding slightly, in contrast to the marked decline of sea ice in the Arctic. Scientists have blamed this curious fact on various forces, from shifting winds to smaller waves, but a new study suggests a more mundane culprit: an error in the way the satellite data have been processed. The miscalculation, the authors say, might be making the sea ice increase appear larger than it is."
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Members of previously uncontacted tribe infected with flu

sciencehabit sciencehabit writes  |  about two weeks ago

sciencehabit (1205606) writes "Brazil’s Indian affairs department has announced an event that many anthropologists and medical researchers had feared. In the remote Brazilian state of Acre, members of a long-isolated Amazon tribe have contracted influenza after making voluntary contact with the outside world a few weeks ago. Some researchers now fear that the contacted individuals will spread the potentially fatal virus to other nonimmunized members of their tribe."
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What keeps stone arches from falling down?

sciencehabit sciencehabit writes  |  about two weeks ago

sciencehabit (1205606) writes "People often wonder how delicate arches and finely balanced pillars of stone stand up to the stress of holding up their own immense weight. Actually, new research suggests, it’s that stress that helps pack individual grains of sand together and slows erosion of the formations. At large scale in the real world, stress transmitted through arches and pillars to their bases slows down—but doesn’t stop—natural sculpting due to wind and water, the researchers say. Bits of the landform that don’t bear weight are among the first to wear away, which helps explain why arches are often unusually smooth."
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New map fingers future hot spots for U.S. earthquakes

sciencehabit sciencehabit writes  |  about two weeks ago

sciencehabit (1205606) writes "Earthquake risk assessments can seem pretty abstract at first glance, with their “percent probabilities” and “peak ground accelerations.” But the U.S. Geological Survey’s (USGS’s) national hazard maps, updated periodically, pack a powerful punch: Insurance companies and city planners rely heavily on the maps, which influence billions of dollars in construction every year. Today, USGS scientists released the most recent earthquake hazard assessments for the country. Although the picture hasn’t changed much on a national scale since the last report in 2008, the devil is in the details, the report’s authors say—and some areas in the country are now considered to be at higher risk for powerful quakes than once thought."
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Report: Climate changing more rapidly than at any point on record

sciencehabit sciencehabit writes  |  about two weeks ago

sciencehabit (1205606) writes "A new look at the “vital signs” of Earth’s climate reveals a stark picture of declining health. As global temperatures rise, so do sea level and the amount of heat trapped in the ocean’s upper layers. Meanwhile, mountain glaciers and Arctic sea ice are melting away beneath an atmosphere where concentrations of three key planet-warming greenhouse gases continue to rise. “Data show that the climate is changing more rapidly now than it has at any time in the historical record,” says Thomas Karl, director of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA’s) National Climatic Data Center in Asheville, North Carolina. “The numbers speak for themselves.”"
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Computer learns to distinguish hundreds of birdsongs

sciencehabit sciencehabit writes  |  about two weeks ago

sciencehabit (1205606) writes "If you’re a bird enthusiast, you can pick out the “chick-a-DEE-dee” song of the Carolina chickadee with just a little practice. But if you’re an environmental scientist faced with parsing thousands of hours of recordings of birdsongs in the lab, you might want to enlist some help from your computer. A new approach to automatic classification of birdsong borrows techniques from human voice recognition software to sort through the sounds of hundreds of species and decides on its own which features make each one unique. More rudimentary programs have been developed before, but this is the first one that actually learns to distinguish one song from another."
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Star Trek "warp drive" crushes diamonds to dust

sciencehabit sciencehabit writes  |  about two weeks ago

sciencehabit (1205606) writes "The world’s largest laser, a machine that appeared as the warp core in "Star Trek into Darkness", has attained a powerful result: It's squeezed diamond, the least compressible substance known, 50 million times harder than Earth's atmosphere presses down on us. The finding should help scientists better understand how material behaves at the great pressures that prevail deep inside giant planets."
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Sexual harassment is common in scientific fieldwork

sciencehabit sciencehabit writes  |  about two weeks ago

sciencehabit (1205606) writes "Universities and other workplaces have codes of conduct guarding against sexual harassment. But what about the more casual venue of scientific fieldwork—which is also a workplace? A new survey finds that sexual harassment and assaults occur frequently in the field, with little consequence for the perpetrators or explicit prohibitions against such conduct. The study reveals that the primary targets were young women who were harassed, assaulted, and even raped by men who were usually senior to them in rank, although men also reported harassment."
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Flying dinosaur had longest known tail

sciencehabit sciencehabit writes  |  about two weeks ago

sciencehabit (1205606) writes "A new type of flying dinosaur has been found in northeastern China. The creature was about 1.2 meters long and had feathers on all four limbs. Its feathery tail, which takes up about 30% of its total length, is the longest known among flying dinosaurs. The creature weighed 4 kilograms, making it among the heaviest flying dinosaurs known. As for its long tail, the dino probably used it to slow itself down when descending, thus avoiding crash landings."
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Hardcore pot smoking could damage the brain's pleasure center

sciencehabit sciencehabit writes  |  about three weeks ago

sciencehabit (1205606) writes "It probably won’t come as a surprise that smoking a joint now and then will leave you feeling pretty good, man. But smoking a lot of marijuana over a long time might do just the opposite. Scientists have found that the brains of pot abusers react less strongly to the chemical dopamine, which is responsible for creating feelings of pleasure and reward. Their blunted dopamine responses could leave heavy marijuana users living in a fog—and not the good kind."
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Elite group of researchers rule scientific publishing

sciencehabit sciencehabit writes  |  about three weeks ago

sciencehabit (1205606) writes "Publishing is one of the most ballyhooed metrics of scientific careers, and every researcher hates to have a gap in that part of his or her CV. Here’s some consolation: A new study finds that very few scientists—fewer than 1%—manage to publish a paper every year. But these 150,608 scientists dominate the research journals, having their names on 41% of all papers. Among the most highly cited work, this elite group can be found among the co-authors of 87% of papers. Students, meanwhile, may spend years on research that yields only one or a few papers. “[I]n these cases, the research system may be exploiting the work of millions of young scientists,” the authors conclude."
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Hair-raising technique detects drugs, explosives on human body

sciencehabit sciencehabit writes  |  about three weeks ago

sciencehabit (1205606) writes "That metal ball that makes your hair stand on end at science museums may have a powerful new use. Scientists have found a way to combine these Van de Graaff generators with a common laboratory instrument to detect drugs, explosives, and other illicit materials on the human body. In the laboratory, scientists had a volunteer touch a Van de Graaff generator for 2 seconds to charge his body to 400,000 volts. This ionized compounds on the surface of his body. The person then pointed their charged finger toward the inlet of a mass spectrometer, and ions from their body entered the machine. In various tests, the machine correctly identified explosives, flammable solvents, cocaine, and acetaminophen on the skin."
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Physicists spot potential source of 'Oh-My-God' particles

sciencehabit sciencehabit writes  |  about three weeks ago

sciencehabit (1205606) writes "For decades, physicists have sought the sources of the most energetic subatomic particles in the universe—cosmic rays that strike the atmosphere with as much energy as well-thrown baseballs. Now, a team working with the Telescope Array, a collection of 507 particle detectors covering 700 square kilometers of desert in Utah, has observed a broad "hotspot" in the sky in which such cosmic rays seem to originate. Although not definitive, the observation suggests the cosmic rays emanate from a distinct source near our galaxy and not from sources spread all over the universe."
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