By Maria Sheahan FRANKFURT (Reuters) - European spacecraft Rosetta became the first ever to catch up with a comet on Wednesday, a landmark stage in a decade-long space mission that scientists hope will help unlock some of the secrets of the solar system. Rosetta, launched by the European Space Agency (ESA) in 2004, will accompany comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko on its trip around the sun and land a probe on it later this year in an unprecedented maneuver. Scientists are now on a tight schedule to learn enough about the comet using data from Rosetta to safely land the spacecraft's probe on it in November. "We know what the comet's shape is.
Scientists in South Korea say they have found a way of converting used cigarette butts into a material capable of storing energy that could help power everything from mobile phones to electric cars. In a study published on Tuesday in the journal Nanotechnology, researchers from Seoul National University outlined how they transformed the used filters, which are composed mainly of cellulose acetate fibers and are considered toxic and a risk to the environment when discarded. "Our study has shown that used cigarette filters can be transformed into a high-performing carbon-based material using a simple one-step process, which simultaneously offers a green solution to meeting the energy demands of society," said professor and study co-author Jongheop Yi. According to anti-smoking campaigners Americans for Non-smokers? Rights, cigarette butts are the most commonly discarded item worldwide, contributing more than 765,000 tonnes of waste annually.
Before the Hawaii-bound storm Julio strengthened into a hurricane, a NASA satellite spotted a high-energy flash of "dark lightning" coming from the swirling clouds. NASA's Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope is designed to detect the brightest explosions in the universe ? gamma-rays emitted from sources like supermassive black holes or stars that go supernova. On Monday (Aug. 4) at 4:19 a.m. EDT (0819 GMT), when Julio was still a fledgling tropical storm hundreds of miles off the coast of Mexico, Fermi witnessed what's known as a terrestrial gamma-ray flash (TGF) above the clouds, according to NASA. "As far as I know, a TGF from a tropical storm has never been reported before," Michael Briggs, a member of the team in charge of Fermi's Gamma-ray Burst Monitor (GMB) at the University of Alabama in Huntsville, said in a statement from NASA.
Science fiction is defined by pushing boundaries--of inner and outer space, as well as time and imagination?which is what makes it great for the theater, according to actor David Dean Bottrell. ?Stage is such a unique medium,? he states in email, ?because the audience is a participant in the proceedings.?
Bottrell aims to bring several fantastic stories to a real-time audience this spring in Los Angeles, at a festival of science fiction one-act plays called Sci-Fest.
Hundreds of supporters have pledged $72,895 (at this writing) toward Sci-Fest's ultimate goal of raising $80,000 on crowdfunding platform Kickstarter.
By professional theatrical standards it's a modest budget, with most of the money allocated to renting a theater and creating the sets, lighting, special effects, and costumes. ?To our knowledge, a sci-fi short play festival has never been done before,? states Bottrell. ?It just seemed like a challenge worth taking.?
In response to online calls for entries, the fest received over 400 submissions from playwrights around the world, according to Bottrell. The final line-up includes seven original scripts, plus an adaptation of Ursula K. Le Guin's short fiction ?The Wife's Story,? and a revival of Ray Bradbury's ?Kaleidoscope,? about a routine mission gone very wrong for seven astronauts stranded in space. Bottrell notes that Bradbury got there about 50 years before 2013's Oscar-nominated ?Gravity.?
According to Sci-Fest's online materials, over a dozen actors with credits from science fiction and horror TV shows will appear in the productions. L. Scott Caldwell, a Tony-award winning actor best known to genre fans as Rose from ?Lost,? will take the lead in the Le Guin play. Others include Julie McNiven, who played Anna in ?Supernatural?; and Armin Shimerman, who played Quark in ?Star Trek: Deep Space Nine? and Principal Snyder in ?Buffy the Vampire Slayer.? So will Dean Haglund, an actor best known as conspiracy theory enthusiast Langly in "The X-Files,? who is also listed on the fest's advisory board, along with genre icons like Nichelle Nichols and Wil Wheaton, and Jason Weisberger, the publisher of mega-blog BoingBoing.
Science fiction on stage isn't actually such a crazy undertaking: TV and movie classics like ?The Twilight Zone,? ?The X-Files,? and ?Rosemary's Baby,? grab and hold our attention (sometimes over decades of re-viewing) thanks to their big ideas and great characters, realized via good writing, directing, and acting, and less because of flashy special effects. So do recent cult science fiction film hits like ?Pi,? ?Primer,? and ?Moon.?
More pragmatically, with thousands of people turning out for the annual ComicCon geekfests around the country, including many in the costumes of their favorite science fiction, fantasy, horror, anime, and video game characters, it's possible that Sci-Fest is catching a wave. ?We think the growth potential for this festival is huge,? says Bottrell. ?We hope that this is the first of many Sci-Fests to come.?
The fest's Kickstarter campaign ends this Friday, February 28.
Narwhals are just a bit safer today. A multiyear investigation has resulted in arrests connected with illegal transporting of the whale tusks across international borders. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration?s Office of Law Enforcement, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and Environment Canada worked together to bring down the smuggling ring.
The male narwhal's iconic tusk, which is a canine tooth that extends from the left side of the upper jaw and through the lip, makes the species a target of ivory hunters. On the black market, narwhal tusks can be worth thousands of dollars each, depending on size and quality. The narwhal population is near threatened status due to the whales' inability to respond quickly to changing environments and continued hunting.
According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, dealer Gregory Logan of Alberta, Canada, sold more than 400 narwhal tusks to buyers across the U.S. between 2003 and 2010. He has active arrest warrants in the United States in connection with the case, which has so far seen the arrests of three people accused of illegal trafficking of tusks from Canada to the United States. Under the Marine Mammal Protection Act, it is illegal to transport, purchase, sell, or export (or offer to do so) any marine mammal or marine mammal product, unless the intention is public display, scientific research, or enhancing the survival of a species.
As housing prices rise, non-owners (e.g. renters) tend to have fewer kids. A new study found that for every $10,000 rise in house prices, the fertility rate of non-owners subsequently drops by 2.4 percent on average, in urban areas throughout the U.S. (Now I have an excuse the next time my parents make insinuations about "grandkids.")
Perhaps unexpectedly, though, the opposite was seen with homeowners, whose fertility goes up with home prices. For every $10,000 increase in housing prices from 1997 to 2006, owners' fertility rates rose on average 5 percent. This is partially explained by the rising equity of the home; though home equity is basically illiquid, one can extract equity from it via loans, like a second mortgage, to help pay for raising a child, the authors write.
The study suggests that "house prices are a relevant factor in a couple's decision to have a baby," which is relatively intuitive, but doesn't appear to have been shown this clearly before. While much more research has examined the link between employment rate and fertility, this research shows there is an even stronger correlation between housing prices and fertility.
"Rising home values have a negative impact on [non-owner's] birth rates because they represent, on average, the largest component of the cost of raising a child: larger than food, child care, or education," writes Laurent Belsie at the National Bureau of Economic Research. The study was published this month in the Journal of Public Economics.
David McKee, a retired biology professor from Texas A&M University, never got the chance to talk to Henry Compton about his art. Compton, an eccentric marine biologist and local fishing pier manager, passed away the week the two men were supposed to meet. After Compton's death, two cardboard boxes of his belongings ended up in the garage of his sister-in-law, Helen Compton, where they sat for about six months until she gave McKee a call?Helen had organized the unsuccessful meeting, and knew of McKee's interest in Compton's art.
Those cardboard boxes contained paintings, slides, and texts about bioluminescent fish, which became the focus of McKee's new book, Fire in the Sea.
"My first impression was 'wow,'" McKee says. "I was already familiar with Compton, and I was thinking, 'here we go again.'"
In his earlier years, Compton worked for the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, where he went on some of the first Gulf of Mexico cruises to collect deep sea life from Texas waters. From there, Compton would photograph the specimens, and then paint them into life-like environments. He wrote taxonomical descriptions as well as fanciful and strange narratives to accompany each painting.
"Back in the 1960s, we knew very little about what was in the Gulf of Mexico down at that depth, about a mile below the surface," McKee says. "In addition to the mythical types of stories he tells about the fish, there's the science story, about early deep sea research that was going on."
These paintings and texts eventually ended up in the two boxes that made their way to McKee. Though Compton was a self-taught artist, and perhaps never realized his own artistic talent as such, McKee saw his careful preservation and organization of the art and texts as a clue that he hoped one day to publish the collection.
"I feel like I've given birth, here," Mckee says. "Hank Compton was a borderline genius, and a termendous artist."
The book, which will be released on Wednesday, includes 59 of these paintings as well as the taxonomy, narratives, and background on the deep sea environment and Compton himself. You can see a sample of these here.
Using your smartphone at night might not be the smartest plan. A pair of studies found that people who used the devices after 9 p.m. were more tired and less engaged at work the next day, even when compared to people who looked at other light-emitting screens like TVs and tablets. People who used their phones got less sleep, in part because becoming re-engaged in work used up time that could have been spent sleeping and also made it more difficult to fall asleep, the studies noted.
The two studies are published in the May issue of Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes. They surveyed people from a variety of professions, as noted by Futurity:
For the first study, the researchers had 82 upper-level managers complete multiple surveys every day for two weeks. The second study surveyed 161 employees daily in a variety of occupations, including nursing, manufacturing, accounting, and dentistry.
In both cases, those who used smartphones reported feeling less focused and motivated the next day. The results further the "ego-depletion theory" that people have finite levels of self-control to draw from. "The benefit of smartphone use may? be offset by the inability of employees to fully recover from work activities while away from the office,? the scientists wrote.
There are some ways to minimize problems created by too little sleep, according to the study: "Recent research suggests that the negative effects of insufficient sleep may be mitigated by the strategic use of naps, stimulants (e.g., caffeine), reshuffling important tasks to other people, scheduling breaks, and working in teams."
Or, just don't look at your phone late at night. Although that's easier said than done.
Top quarks are the heaviest of subatomic particles, and are prime components of all matter--everything from mayonnaise to your big toe. But while they are in virtually everything, they are impossible to isolate from matter under ordinary circumstances. To study them, you need to "make" them by running particles into each other at ultra-high speeds, billions or trillions of times.
After working at it for nearly 20 years, scientists at the Tevatron particle accelerator at Fermilab have discovered the last as-yet-unproven way of making this quark--and it only took 500 trillion particle collisions to do it. "It's a very rare process... and it's very exciting" to finally witness it, Fermilab physicist Dmitri Denisov told Popular Science.
Under the Standard Model, the theory by which these particles are understood, there should be three ways of producing quarks. The first two had been shown in 1995 and 2008. In the first instance, top quarks were produced by strong nuclear force, by slamming a proton and anti-proton into each other. But in the 2008, and now the 2014 discovery, top quarks were produced in a rare event, via weak nuclear force. The finding helps reinforce the Standard Model, which predicts that quarks can be made by exploiting both types of forces, Denisov said. "It's important that all forces in nature, strong and weak, equally produce the top quark."
"My prediction is that at some point, knowing how to make this particle will also be useful for something 'next step,' " like perhaps energy production, Denisov speculated.
The actual particle collisions that made the quark took place prior to Tevatron's closure in 2011, but were only uncovered and announced in a statement today (Feb. 24) after years of analyzing massive amounts of data produced by the accelerator.