September 12th, 2013
02:50 PM ET

Voyager 1 becomes first human-made object to leave solar system

At the edge of the heliosphere, you wouldn't know by looking whether you left the cradle of humanity behind and floated out into interstellar space. You would just see unfathomably empty space, no matter which side of the invisible line you were on.

But scientists now have strong evidence that NASA's Voyager 1 probe has crossed this important border, making history as the first human-made object to leave the heliosphere, the magnetic boundary separating the solar system's sun, planets and solar wind from the rest of the galaxy.

"In leaving the heliosphere and setting sail on the cosmic seas between the stars, Voyager has joined other historic journeys of exploration: The first circumnavigation of the Earth, the first steps on the Moon," said Ed Stone, chief scientist on the Voyager mission. "That's the kind of event this is, as we leave behind our solar bubble."

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Filed under: NASA
Cannibalism evidence in historic Jamestown
May 1st, 2013
07:51 PM ET

Researchers: Cannibalism at Jamestown

The winter of 1609 to 1610 was treacherous for early American settlers. Some 240 of the 300 colonists at Jamestown, in Virginia, died during this period, called the "Starving Time," when they were under siege and had no way to get food.

Desperate times led to desperate measures. New evidence suggests that includes eating the flesh of fellow colonists who had already died.

Archaeologists revealed Wednesday their analysis of 17th century skeletal remains suggesting that settlers practiced cannibalism to survive.

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Filed under: History • Virginia
Flu activity decreasing, CDC says
January 25th, 2013
01:15 PM ET

Flu activity decreasing, CDC says

Flu activity is still high, but is decreasing in many parts of the country, according to a report from the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention examining data from the week of January 13 to 19.

A total of 47 states reported "widespread" geographic influenza activity, down from 48 last week. "Widespread" means that more than 50% of geographic regions in a state - counties, for example - are reporting flu activity. This is a measure of the spread of the flu, not its severity.

High levels of influenza-like illness were seen in 26 states, representing a decrease from the 30 reported last week. Cases in the Southwest and Northwest were rising, but levels seem seem to be declining in the South, Southeast, New England and the Midwest.

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Scientists getting clearer picture of 'God particle'
The CDF detector at Fermilab in Batavia, Illinois, has given scientists new clues to the Higgs boson.
March 7th, 2012
04:22 PM ET

Scientists getting clearer picture of 'God particle'

This could be the year of the Higgs boson, the most sought-after particle in all of physics. More clues about it are emerging at a U.S.-based collider whose budgetary woes shut it down last year.

The Department of Energy’s Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory (Fermilab) has just announced that it has found hints of the ever-so-important particle, which are consistent with observations from the Large Hadron Collider.

Finding the Higgs boson would help explain the origin of mass, one of the open questions in physicists' current understanding of the way the universe works.

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How about some fighting dinosaurs for $2.8 million?
June 10th, 2011
01:59 PM ET

How about some fighting dinosaurs for $2.8 million?

If you've got a heap of extra cash waiting to be spent on something that will make your friends jealous, you might consider heading to Dallas on Sunday.

Heritage Auctions is offering four dinosaurs, including a "fighting pair" made up of an allosaurus and a stegosaurus, as well as 9-foot-tall shark jaws and more than 200 other curiosities of natural history. And while they may make excellent conversation pieces in an oversized living room, museums would hope that you'd donate them so that more people can see them and scientists can study them further.

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Filed under: Dinosaurs • Science • Texas
New kind of planet discovered
May 18th, 2011
01:00 PM ET

New kind of planet discovered

The planets in our solar system get along with each other pretty well. But sometimes when multiple planets orbit the same star, there’s a confrontation that is, the gravity of one planet interferes with another’s. In this way, smaller ones can get kicked out, left to float in the dark without a star to go around.

These “lonely planets” represent an entirely new category of planets, and are perhaps more numerous in our galaxy than stars, scientists report Wednesday in the journal Nature.

"It gives us a good clue about how planet formation works. It suggests that there's a lot of violent encounters between planets near the end of the planet formation process," said David Bennett, astronomer at the University of Notre Dame.

Bennett and colleagues discovered 10 such planets, each probably the size of Jupiter, in a survey called the Microlensing Observations in Astrophysics, which used a 5.9-foot telescope in New Zealand to scan our galaxy, the Milky Way.

These planets are likely gaseous, and would not be hospitable to life.

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Predator dinosaurs may have been night-hunters
April 14th, 2011
02:20 PM ET

Predator dinosaurs may have been night-hunters

Following on the heels of the discovery of a new dinosaur species, another interesting piece of research has come out about these prehistoric monsters: Many carnivorous species were nocturnal.

The study, published in the journal Science, casts doubt upon the idea that hundreds millions of years ago (up until about 65 million years ago), most dinosaurs were active only during the day, leading mammals to hide from them in the shade. In fact, several carnivorous dinosaur species were probably sleeping during the day, and would hunt at night, new research suggests.

"It gives us a new view of how to reconstruct the dinosaur era and how the environment in the Mesozoic, the dinosaur era, was actually used," said Lars Schmitz, a postdoctoral researcher in the Department of Evolution and Ecology at the University of California, Davis, and co-author of the study. "That's a totally new component of paleontology."

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Filed under: Animals • Dinosaurs
New dinosaur species is a missing link
April 12th, 2011
07:15 PM ET

New dinosaur species is a missing link

It's fitting that a place called Ghost Ranch, New Mexico, would yield the discovery of a scary-looking creature. But it's not a ghost - it's a dinosaur.

This dog-sized, ferocious-looking critter is called Daemonosaurus chauliodus, which means something along the lines of  “buck-toothed evil lizard,” says Hans-Dieter Sues, lead author of the published research describing this dinosaur, and curator of vertebrate paleontology at the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History.

The illustration above compares the head and neck with a quarter. You can see that it has a short snout and enormous front teeth.

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Early universe revealed at 4 trillion degrees
The Large Hadron Collider smashes matter at unprecedented speeds and energies. And it creates heat you can't even imagine.
February 20th, 2011
05:52 PM ET

Early universe revealed at 4 trillion degrees

You've probably heard about the $10 billion particle-smashing machine underneath the border between France and Switzerland. To refresh, it's called the Large Hadron Collider, and its mission is to collide matter at unprecedented speeds and energies to figure out what our universe is made of and how it came to be.

In Washington on Sunday, I sat down with Yves Schutz of the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN). Schutz is a scientist with ALICE, an experiment designed to examine what the universe was like immediately after it was formed in the Big Bang. He had spoken about the experiment at the American Association for the Advancement of Science annual meeting.

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Scientists pleasantly surprised by number of Earth-size, distant planets
The planet Kepler-10b orbits a star similar to our own Sun in its temperature, mass and size.
February 19th, 2011
06:02 PM ET

Scientists pleasantly surprised by number of Earth-size, distant planets

Where might extraterrestrials live? The first step is figuring out what other planets out there have conditions like our own.

Scientists using NASA's Kepler space telescope are working hard to find candidates for inhabitable planets. So far, it seems that for approximately every two stars in the galaxy, there is one possible planet, NASA's William Borucki said Saturday at the American Association for the Advancement of Science annual meeting in Washington.

Researchers have found some 1,200 candidate-planets and, of them, about 54 are earth-size candidate planets in habitable zones - in other words, perhaps at a distance from their stars that may be suitable for life. Earlier this month officials at NASA announced the discovery of five probable planets about the size of Earth, as well as six larger than our planet that are orbiting a single star. But bear in mind that Venus is also considered an "Earth-sized planet," and clearly no lifeforms live there (as far as we know).

Scientists on the Kepler mission revealed Saturday that you're probably going to have to wait until at least 2012 to find out anything substantial about the habitability of what appear to be Earth-sized planets. That's because scientists need to be able to see three transits of a planet around a star in three years before they'd be willing to say too much about them, and the project has only been going since 2009 (after all, our planet goes around the sun three times in three years).

And even then, Kepler wasn't designed to look at individual planets. But it might identify some that the James Webb Space Telescope, which will launch in 2014, can probe in further detail, looking at atmospheres and such. And note that the probability of having found our own particular planet using Kepler technology is only 12%.

And we won't be traveling to meet our potential new neighbors anytime soon. The stars about the size our sun that Kepler has been looking at are about 1,000 to 3,000 light years away, where one light year is about 6 trillion miles.

But there have been some fascinating surprises from the Kepler mission. One of them is that there appear to be a remarkable number of planets about the size of Neptune, which has a diameter four times that of Earth, said Sara Seager, physicist at Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

The planet Kepler-10b, shown in the photo above, is a particularly interesting find because it likely has no atmosphere, but does have liquid oceans that are essentially lava lakes, she said.

The existence of many small planets in the galaxy that Kepler has found also amazed scientists, because there was a possibility that they would have been destroyed by larger planets long ago.

"It was a wonderful surprise to see this large number of small planets we have found," Borucki said.

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Celebrating Madame Curie's discoveries
February 18th, 2011
07:02 PM ET

Celebrating Madame Curie's discoveries

One of the most famous female scientists, Marie Curie had tremendous influence on our understanding of radioactivity. This year is the 100th anniversary of her Nobel Prize in Chemistry.

Curie's accomplishments were celebrated Friday at the American Association for the Advancement of Science's annual meeting in Washington.

Here are some things you might not know about Curie:

* Her name at birth was Maria Sklodowska.
* When studying X-rays was the cool thing to do, Curie turned her attention to Becquerel rays, which are emitted from uranium.
* Curie's quest to find other elements that would emit these rays led her to discover the element polonium.
* Polonium was named after Marie Curie's birth country of Poland.
* Curie published a paper about the discovery of polonium, even though she wouldn't have been able to measure its atomic weight with the materials she had.
* She discovered radium in 1898.
* Her husband, Pierre Curie, refused to accept the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1903 unless Marie could be included - and then she was.
* The Curies could not attend the Nobel ceremony in 1903 because of poor health; they had been working in a laboratory with deplorable conditions.
* Marie Curie replaced her husband as professor of physics at the Sorbonne in 1906, after he was killed by a horse-drawn wagon.
* In 1911, she won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry, becoming the first person to win a Nobel Prize in two categories.

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Humans may have left Africa for Eurasia earlier than believed
These small hand axes are at least 100,000 years old. A team of scientists found these tools in the United Arab Emirates.
January 27th, 2011
03:45 PM ET

Humans may have left Africa for Eurasia earlier than believed

Scientists have discovered new evidence suggesting that modern humans first left Africa to explore Eurasia much earlier than previously thought.

An international team of scientists has uncovered a tool kit that indicates that modern humans, who looked and perhaps behaved much like us, must have lived in eastern Arabia about 100,000 to 125,000 years ago. The collection of small hand axes, scrapers and other tools was found in Jebel Faya, United Arab Emirates. A report about the discovery appears in the journal Science.

The people who made these tools "are our ancestors, I have no doubt about that," said Hans-Peter Uerpmann, of the University of Tubingen in Germany, who collaborated on the project, at a press teleconference Wednesday.

But the findings still do not prove definitively that modern humans made these tools, as the researchers did not find human remains near them, said Ted Goebel, anthropologist at Texas A&M University, who was not involved in the study. They potentially could have been made by Neanderthals or Neanderthal-like hominids, who were already in Eurasia at that time, Goebel said.

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Putting 'science' back in anthropology
December 3rd, 2010
01:59 PM ET

Putting 'science' back in anthropology

Remember Anthro 101? You probably learned about far-off cultures and methods of observing human social life, in addition to some human evolution, perhaps. Your professor likely referenced published research, and the course catalog said it was a “social science.”

So naturally there was an online uproar when the American Anthropological Association took out the word “science” from its long-term goal statement at a meeting on November 20.

This week, Twitter has been buzzing with anthropologists and social science enthusiasts weighing in on #aaafail, concerned that anthropology is rejecting science. And the American Anthropological Association is receiving a slew of comments and petitions to change the statement, which will be taken into consideration, said Damon Dozier, spokesman for the group.

"Our process is built up through engagement, and I think that engagement is happening now," he said.

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October 29th, 2010
04:41 PM ET

Ozzy and Sharon Osbourne: Who's healthier?

If Ozzy Osbourne had a genetic predisposition to an incurable illness, he wouldn't want to know, he told the TEDMED 2010 conference Friday.

But his wife, Sharon, whose idea it was to get both of their genomes sequenced, is very interested in what her own genes might say about incurable diseases, and wants to prepare herself.

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Filed under: Health • Showbiz