sciencehabit writes: A lawsuit over alleged cruelty to a special breed of horse appears to have prompted the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA’s) move last week to remove thousands of reports and documents relating to animal welfare from its website. The scrubbing has outraged animal welfare advocates — and made strange bedfellows of groups that oppose and support scientific research involving animals, with both sides condemning USDA’s actions. It appears, however, that the agency’s decision had little—if anything—to do with animal research.
sciencehabit writes: Could dark matter consist of primordial black holes, as numerous as the stars? It’s an old, improbable idea, but it made a Lazarus-like comeback a year ago, when the discovery of gravitational waves suggested that the cosmos abounds with unexpectedly heavy black holes. With decades-long searches failing to find the hypothetical dark matter particles that theorists have favored, physicists are turning to more radical ways of explaining the universe’s missing mass.
sciencehabit writes: The Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO) is not only the most sensitive detector of ripples in spacetime. It also happens to be the world's best producer of gravitational waves, a team of physicists now calculates. Although these waves are far too feeble to detect directly, the researchers say, the radiation in principle could be used to try to detect weird quantum mechanical effects among large objects.
sciencehabit writes: After decades of effort, physicists have probed the inner working of atoms of antihydrogen—the antimatter version of hydrogen—by measuring for the first time a particular wavelength of light that they absorb. The advance opens the way to precisely comparing hydrogen and antihydrogen and, oddly, testing the special theory of relativity—Albert Einstein’s 111-year-old theory of how space and time appear to observers moving relative to one another, which, among other things, says that nothing can move faster than light.
sciencehabit writes: In an unusual paper, a leading theoretical physicist says that the citation for the 2015 Nobel Prize in Physics is wrong. The two winners, who led enormous experiments that studied particles called neutrinos, deserved the prize, says Alexei Smirnov of the International Centre for Theoretical Physics in Trieste, Italy. But the Nobel committee's pithy 12-word description of their findings misstates what one of the experiments did.
sciencehabit writes: It’s often said that the heavens run like clockwork. Astronomers can easily predict eclipses, and they can foretell to a fraction of a second when the moon passes in front of a distant star. They can also rewind the clock, and find out when and where these events happened in the past. But a new historical survey of hundreds of eclipses, some dating back to the 8th century B.C.E., finds that they aren’t as predictable as scientists thought. That’s because Earth’s spin is slowing down slightly. Not only that, the study also identifies short-term hiccups in the spin rate that have been missed by cruder models.
sciencehabit writes: Raw blueberries, bursting with vitamins and antioxidants, can also harbor the gut-ravaging human norovirus—a leading cause of foodborne illness from fresh produce. Now, scientists think they have found a way to sterilize blueberries without damaging the delicate fruit’s taste or texture: bathing them in purple plumes of plasma—a gas of ions made from just air and electricity. Plasma has an advantage over other sterilizing technologies like ultraviolet radiation, because the ionized gas can reach every nook in which norovirus might hide on the surface of the berries.
sciencehabit writes: Just lifting off the surface of Earth and landing on another planet is bad enough. But how intense are the dangers of actually traveling in space? Science Magazine ticks off the top 5 dangers of space travel, from shrinking spines to mutiny to space fungus.
sciencehabit writes: There’s an abundant new swath of cosmic real estate that life could call home – and the views would be spectacular. Floating out by themselves in the Milky Way galaxy are perhaps a billion cold brown dwarfs, objects many times as massive as Jupiter but not big enough to ignite as a star. According to a new study, layers of their upper atmospheres sit at temperatures and pressures resembling those on Earth, and could host microbes that surf on thermal updrafts.
The idea expands the concept of a habitable zone to include a vast population of worlds that had previously gone unconsidered. “You don’t necessarily need to have a terrestrial planet with a surface,” says Jack Yates, a planetary scientist at the University of Edinburgh in the United Kingdom, who led the study.
sciencehabit writes: Building a quantum computer has gone from a far-off dream of a few university scientists to an immediate goal for some of the world’s biggest companies. Tech giants Intel, Microsoft, IBM, and Google are all plowing tens of millions of dollars into quantum computing, which aims to harness quantum mechanics to vastly accelerate computation. Yet the contenders are betting on different technological horses: No one yet knows what type of quantum logic bit, or qubit, will power a practical quantum computer. Google, often considered the field’s leader, has signaled its choice: tiny, superconducting circuits. Its group has built a nine-qubit machine and hopes to scale up to 49 within a year—an important threshold. At about 50 qubits, many say a quantum computer could achieve “quantum supremacy” and do something beyond the ken of a classical computer, such as simulating molecular structures in chemistry and materials science, or solving problems in cryptography. Small startup company ionQ, a decided underdog, is sticking with its preferred technology: trapped ions.
sciencehabit writes: A simple observation of an extremely dim star may point to, literally, the biggest manifestation of weird quantum phenomena yet. Light from a lonely neutron star 400 light-years away is polarized, just like light reflecting off a pond, a team of astronomers reports. This suggests that, as predicted, the neutron star's ultraintense magnetic field is distorting empty space through a quantum mechanical effect involving ghostly “virtual” particles lurking in the vacuum—the sort of thing usually seen only on the atomic scale.
sciencehabit writes: “Painful, bizarre, and wasteful experiments.” Buying dogs “just to cut them apart and kill them.” These statements might sound like the rhetoric used by extreme animal rights groups, but they come from White Coat Waste—a new, unlikely coalition of fiscal conservatives and liberal activists that aims to end federal funding for research involving dogs and other animals by targeting people’s pocketbooks in addition to their heartstrings. Last week, the group made its first foray into the political arena, holding a briefing on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., for reporters and congressional staff. Speakers called on policymakers to launch an audit of the agencies that fund animal research, and depicted animal studies as another example of big government spending run amok.
“I can’t think of any right-wing groups that have taken on animal research before,” says Tom Holder, the director of Speaking of Research, an international organization that supports the use of animals in scientific labs. “It’s a new way to crowbar off policymakers who might not otherwise support” efforts to end the use of animals in research.
sciencehabit writes: We've all been there: You're waiting for your Uber or Lyft driver to pick you up. You've got just enough time to make your meeting. But then the ride gets canceled and now you're definitely going to be late. Did you just get turned down by a driver that is searching for better fares? The results of a massive study of taxi drivers in Beijing support that suspicion: Avoiding certain passengers based on their destination is profitable. As companies like Uber and Lyft become the de facto public transportation system in many places, this profit-motivated bias will leave some people stranded on the curb.
sciencehabit writes: Earlier this week, four U.S. states voted to legalize recreational use of marijuana, whereas four states made it legal as just a medicine. But as national tolerance grows for the drug, a new study suggests the marijuana in circulation bears little resemblance to what the government requires federally funded academics to use, a handful of special strains approved by the U.S. National Institute on Drug Abuse. The finding calls into the question the validity of dozens of studies based on the government-grown marijuana.
sciencehabit writes: A computer program has parsed the content of 2.5 million neuroscience articles, mapped all of the citations between them, and calculated a score of each author's influence on the rest to determine the most influential brain scientists of the modern era. The program, called Semantic Scholar, is an online tool built at the Allen Institute for Artificial Intelligence in Seattle, Washington. It hopes to expand to all of the biomedical literature next year, over 20 million papers. The program sees much more than the typical academic search engine, says the project leader. "We are using machine learning, natural language processing, and [machine] vision to begin to delve into the semantics."