Friday, October 31, 2008
- NewScientist.com news service
- Rachel Courtland
The Hubble Space Telescope has reawakened and is taking its first pictures of the sky after a series of glitches left it idle for a full month.
Engineers successfully booted up the probe's main camera, the Wide-Field Planetary Camera 2, on Saturday. The instrument, which is set to be swapped out in 2009 during the telescope's last servicing mission, is now taking its last scheduled images of the sky.
"It is a relief that everything is working well," says Rodger Doxsey, head of the Hubble mission office at the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore, Maryland. "We did a few calibration observations, which worked fine, and then restarted science observing with it over the weekend."
Hubble has been mostly dormant since late September, when a device needed to collect and process data from the telescope's science instruments failed.
In an attempt to revive the probe, NASA successfully switched the device over to a back-up "B-side" about two weeks ago. The switch also involved other devices housed in Hubble's main control unit for science instruments, the Science Instrument Command and Data Handling (SI C&DH) unit.
But problems with the unit sent the telescope back into standby, or "safe", mode on 16 October, before the probe's science instruments could be turned back on.
Now that the Wide-Field Planetary Camera 2 is operating again, mission managers are planning to switch on the telescope's two other cameras.
Engineers will next attempt to restart the telescope's Advanced Camera for Surveys, which shut down last week due to a timing problem between two software routines. The camera's ultraviolet sensor, the Solar Blind Channel, is the only one that still works on the ACS – power problems knocked out the camera's two other channels in 2007.
Testing is currently being conducted on Hubble's infrared camera, called NICMOS (Near Infrared Camera and Multi-Object Spectrometer), to see if it can interface with the "B-side" of the instrument control unit, Doxsey told New Scientist.
NICMOS, which is used to observe faint, distant galaxies, has been incapacitated since September, when problems turned up in the spectrometer's cooling unit. If testing goes well, engineers will turn on the cooling unit and start the camera in the next few weeks.
The fifth and final shuttle mission to the telescope was originally scheduled to take off on 14 October, but the mission was put on hold in order to prepare a spare SI C&DH unit to be sent up on the shuttle.
A new launch date for the servicing mission has not been set, but NASA has been eyeing an opening in February. Some officials say that target could be optimistic, as the replacement part may have undiagnosed problems.
Some wines have been found to contain high levels of metals such as copper, zinc and nickel
Having just one glass of wine a day could expose the drinker to potentially dangerous levels of metals linked to cancer, heart attacks and Parkinson's disease, scientists warn.
A study claims that some wines contain dangerously high levels of naturally occurring metals such as copper, zinc and nickel.
The highest levels of contamination were found in wines from Hungary and Slovakia. French wines were third on the list.
However, the wine industry and Britain's food watchdog urged drinkers not to panic, saying that the levels of metals were within recognised safety levels.
The study looked at the reported levels of metal ions - or charged atoms - in around 100 bottles of wines from 16 countries. The metals naturally occur in the soil and are absorbed by growing vines.
Researchers at Kingston University in London used a new technique developed by American experts to measure the risk to regular drinkers over many years.
The tool - called a target hazard quotient (THQ) - gives an indication of risk based on the known safe upper dose for each metal and the likely long-term exposure of someone drinking one glass of wine a day.
Professor Declan Naughton, who reports the findings in Chemistry Central Journal, said the only wines that posed no risk to health were from Argentina, Brazil and Italy.
'If you have a THQ of more than one then you should be concerned,' said Professor Naughton.
'In the past we have seen seafood contaminated with mercury with a THQ level of 20. But here we were seeing levels up to 300. It was astonishing and it gives cause for concern.'
Critics of THQs say the technique exaggerates the risk by assuming that all pollutants in food or drink enter the bloodstream.
However, Professor Naughton said they actually underestimated the risk to older or infirm drinkers who were more vulnerable to contaminants.
Wines from Hungary and Slovakia were found to have the highest levels of metal contamination
The study found high levels of a host of metals including copper, nickel, zinc, chromium, manganese and vanadium in both red and white wine. Levels of lead were below the dangerous levels. Professor Naughton called for more, urgent, research into the risk to health.
'Excess intake of metal ions is credited with pathological events such as Parkinson's disease,' he said.
'In addition to neurological problems, these ions are also believed to enhance oxidative damage, a key component of chronic inflammatory disease which is a suggested initiator cancer'.
He said the wine industry should take 'urgent steps' to remove hazardous metals during production, and that regulatory authorities should consider putting the levels of metals on the labels of wine.
But The Wine and Spirit Trade Association urged drinkers not to panic.
A spokesman said: 'All wine sold in the UK has to comply with European legislation governing ingredients and the wine-making process and UK food safety legislation.
'There is strong scientific evidence testifying to the health benefits of moderate consumption of alcohol.'
The Food Standards Agency said: 'From the information the agency has it would appear that the researchers have used a method that is not widely used in Europe.
'When carrying out research in this area the Agency looks at actual exposure levels and based on previous research into dietary exposure to metals there is no reason for consumers to be concerned.'
Risk list?1. Hungarian, 2. Slovakian, 3. French, 4. Austrian, 5. Spanish, 6. German,
7. Portuguese, 8. Greek, 9. Czech, 10. Jordanian, 11. Macedonian, 12. Serbian
When you see somebody you hate, whether it's an evil ex or a mean colleague, your brain undergoes a rather unexpected transformation. A new study published in PLoS One today reveals that hatred isn't the blind, irrational emotion it might seem. In fact, hate activates the brain regions associated with higher reason and the ability to predict what other people will do.
British neuroscientists did fMRI brain scans of subjects while they looked at pictures of people they claimed to hate. As a baseline, they also showed them pictures of people they felt neutrally about. Not surprisingly, hatred activated the regions of the brain associated with aggression and the motor regions that would translate this aggression into action. And given that love often turns into hate, it's not too surprising that hatred also activates two brain regions, the putamen and the insula, associated with passionate, romantic love.
What is surprising is the degree to which hatred is associated with logic and planning. The researchers write in their paper:
What seems not to be in doubt is that this cortical zone involves the premotor cortex, a zone that has been implicated in the preparation of motor planning and its execution. We hypothesize that the sight of a hated person mobilizes the motor system for the possibility of attack or defense. In addition, the involvement of the frontal pole consider to be critical in predicting the action of others, arguably an important feature when confronted by a hated person . . . it is more likely that in
the context of hate the hater may want to exercise judgment in calculating moves to harm, injure or otherwise extract revenge.
So basically, hating somebody heightens your judgment and your ability to assess what other people are likely to do next. The researchers note that in this way hatred is neurologically unlike love, which tends to deactivate judgment.
Semir Zeki, one of the authors, suggested that they are on the path to developing tools that might allow researchers to figure out how much somebody hates another person just by doing a brain scan. Somehow, he imagines this might be used in court:
Interestingly, the activity in some of these structures in response to viewing a hated face is proportional in strength to the declared intensity of hate, thus allowing the subjective state of hate to be objectively quantified. This finding may have legal implications in criminal cases, for example.
Given that hate crimes lead to tougher sentences many states, Zeki might well be right. If a court can prove that somebody committed an act of violence while under the influence of hate, that person might go to jail for a much longer time than they would otherwise.
A new survey has found that men think blondes are better as girlfriends, but brunettes are the best for settling down with.
Almost one in five say blondes are sexier than other girls, with just under half saying they had more outgoing personalities.
When it comes to marriage, however, more than half said they would rather wed a dark-haired woman because they were more dependable and sensible.
Hairdresser Andrew Collinge's company carried out the poll.
"It's always been said that blondes have more fun and men obviously enjoy going out for dates with blondes as well as upgrading them to girlfriend status," he said.
"But when it comes to marriage, men seem to opt for brunettes as they see them as more dependable and down-to-earth.
"This is really surprising when you think we're in 2008 and the blonde versus brunette debate is still rumbling on - I'm surprised as I thought men were more modern than this! I'm obviously in the minority as I married a blonde."
Out of a poll of 3,000 men, almost half said dark-haired women were the most loving.
Mr Collinge added: "This just goes to show how important first impressions are to men, however it doesn't mean it's time to rush to the salon for a drastic image change - at the end of the day, men marry a person not just a head of hair.
"It's more important that women are happy and confident in who they are and how they look, and make the most of what they have.
"It's all about having a good relationship with yourself that makes you attractive."
Men also felt brunettes were the best homemakers with 51 per cent thinking they were best at organising the home, while 48 per cent thought they were the best cooks.Original here
Physicists get CSI on the LHC.
Physicists are close to finalizing a repair plan for the Large Hadron Collider (LHC), the world's most powerful particle accelerator located at CERN, near Geneva in Switzerland.
The LHC has been out of commission since mid-September after an electrical fault destroyed part of the machine and caused several tonnes of liquid helium to leak into the tunnel (see 'Eight month delay for LHC'). The incident damaged up to 29 of the LHC's superconducting magnets and contaminated the pristine 'beam pipe' that carries protons around the collider's ring. Physicists hope to have the machine repaired and ready for first collisions by May or June 2009.
But simply replacing the damaged magnets will not be enough — physicists and engineers at CERN must also ensure that a similar accident cannot occur in the future. "The real question is how did this happen?" says Lucio Rossi, a CERN physicist who's helping to oversee the repairs.
The heart of the problem
The answer lies at the heart of the LHC's cutting-edge technology. The collider steers fast-moving protons around its 27-kilometre ring using magnetic fields of more than 8 Tesla — roughly a hundred thousand times that of Earth. High fields require high currents, and if the LHC used standard copper coils it would need its own 1,000-megawatt power station. So, to save energy and money, physicists use superconducting niobium–titanium cables. These cables, each as wide as a finger, can carry thousands of amps of current without any resistance — but only when cooled to 1.9 kelvin (–271.3°C).
“It's like a killing, the victim cannot talk.”
The physicists investigating the failure are focusing on a faulty connection between the cables that make up the LHC's electrical 'bus' — the route for supplying current to the magnets.
During a power test on 19 September, a section of bus where two cables were spliced together began to warm up. As soon as it crossed the superconducting temperature barrier, the joint became unable to support the 8,700 amps passing through it. The connection melted and the current arced to other parts of the machine, punching a hole through the vacuum vessel and the beam pipe. Six tonnes of liquid helium escaped through the hole, doing further damage to nearby magnets.
The current was so powerful that it vaporized much of the wire, so there's no way to tell for sure what happened, Rossi says: "It's like a killing, the victim cannot talk." But Lyn Evans, who heads up the LHC project, says that physicists and engineers "are sure" that a faulty splice caused the accident. The high current probably led the defective connection to gradually come undone, raising the resistance until the bus lost its superconductivity.
All the king's horses
The key to preventing a similar disaster will be detecting faults in time, Rossi says. The enormous currents inside the LHC cannot simply be switched off, as it takes around a minute for heating coils and bypass circuits to dissipate the power contained inside the magnets. In order to have sufficient stopping time, he says, "we will have to detect the effect when a precursor appears."
Fortunately, it seems that early detection will be possible. On the basis of tests conducted on 24 October, Rossi says he is confident that LHC operators will be able to detect millivolt changes in the electrical bus — indicative of an impending failure — soon enough to divert the thousands of amps coursing through the machine's cables. Engineers are also looking at the possibility of detecting tiny increases in the temperature of liquid helium around the wire, another warning sign.
The improved detection system alone should be enough to prevent a future accident of this type, says Jim Strait, a physicist consulting for CERN from the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory, America's high-energy physics laboratory in Batavia, Illinois. "I'm highly confident that an event of the same sort will not happen again," he says.
CERN physicists and engineers are also hoping to minimize the damage from future failures by providing more emergency outlets for the liquid helium inside the machine. In the minutes following the accident, the liquid helium around the bus vaporized and rapidly expanded into the surrounding vacuum vessel with such force that it was able to push magnets off their concrete stands. The damage occurred in part because the relief valves meant to prevent a pressure build-up were overwhelmed by the surge.
Evans says that the group is planning to add more relief valves to the machine. And Rossi says that they are also looking at replacing some steel bolts on the vacuum vessel with plastic ones that will fail when pressure builds up, allowing still more outlets through which helium can escape.
"That doesn't mean that there won't be faults one hasn't foreseen," warns Strait. "But improvements in vacuum relief will limit collateral damage." Making the necessary repairs and modifications to the machine in time for a restart in May 2009 will be a "big job", he adds. But, he says, "I have seen CERN do other things where the naysayers said that it couldn't be done. And they did it."
Psychologists have found that while both parents influence the attractiveness of their daughters, male attractiveness is not inherited.
Handsome men with masculine looks are likely to pass on masculine features, but not facial attractiveness.
Prof David Perrett and Prof Elisabeth Cornwell, of the University of St Andrews, also said that a mother's beauty made no difference to the attractiveness of her sons as adults.
The theory suggests it is not unusual for attractive parents to produce a beautiful daughter while failing to pass on the same good looks to a son.
While many celebrity mothers produce stunning daughters - such as Goldie Hawn and her daughter Kate Hudson or Jerry Hall and her daughter Georgia - the same is not necessarily true of celebrity fathers.
Sean Stewart, the son of Rod Stewart and his first wife Alana, would probably be judged less attractive than his model sister Kimberly.
Prof Perrett said it has previously been suggested that a woman could increase her own reproductive success by choosing a "sexy" mate whose genes would be passed on to male offspring, making them irresistible to the next generation.
But the new study, published in the current edition of the journal Animal Behaviour, contradicts the theory.
He said: "We checked to see if male and female facial traits are inherited. For the male line, we find that facial masculinity conforms to the rule 'like father - like son'. Masculine dads have masculine sons.
"But we did not find any evidence that facial attractiveness is passed from father to son.
"We are perplexed as to why we did not find any evidence for the inheritance of attractiveness in males, through either the female or male parent.
"The answer may be because women vary considerably in the extent to which they find masculinity attractive.
"We know that attractive feminine women show a strong preference for masculine male faces for long-term partners."
The researchers studied the family photo albums of students, collecting images of over 100 females and 100 males and their respective biological parents taken over several years.
The photos of each student, father and mother were rated separately for attractiveness, and for femininity/masculinity.
They found evidence that attractiveness passed from both father and mother to daughter, and also that attractive fathers were more likely to produce attractive, feminine daughters, whether the mother was attractive or not.
Earlier research in America found that attractive parents were 26 per cent more likely to have a daughter than a son as their first child - a statistic apparently borne out by Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie's first child.
In that study the researches concluded that "beautiful parents have more daughters than ugly parents".Original here
Dogs are the only animals that can read emotion in faces much like humans, cementing their position as man's best friend, claim scientists.
Research findings suggest that, like an understanding best friend, they can see at a glance if we are happy, sad, pleased or angry.
When humans look at a new face their eyes tend to wander left, falling on the right hand side of the person's face first.
This "left gaze bias" only occurs when we encounter faces and does not apply any other time, such as when inspecting animals or inanimate objects.
A possible reason for the tendency is that the right side of the human face is better at expressing emotional state.
Researchers at the University of Lincoln have now shown that pet dogs also exhibit "left gaze bias", but only when looking at human faces. No other animal has been known to display this behaviour before.
A team led by Dr Kun Guo showed 17 dogs images of human, dog and monkey faces as well as inanimate objects.
Film of the dogs' eye and head movement revealed a strong left gaze bias when the animals were presented with human faces. But this did not occur when they were shown other images, including those of dogs.
"Guo suggests that over thousands of generations of association with humans, dogs may have evolved the left gaze bias as a way to gauge our emotions," New Scientist magazine reported.
"Recent studies show that the right side of our faces can express emotions more accurately and more intensely than the left, including anger. If true, then it makes sense for dogs - and humans - to inspect the right hand side of a face first."
Surprisingly, when the dogs in the study were shown an upside-down human face, they still looked left. In contrast, humans lose their left gaze bias altogether when shown an inverted face.
This may be because the right side of a dog's brain, which processes information from the left visual field, is better adapted to interpreting human facial emotion than the left side, the scientists believe.
Science correspondent, BBC News
The research has plugged a gap, say the researchers
The rise in temperatures at Earth's poles has for the first time been attributed directly to human activities, according to a study.
The work, by an international team, is published in Nature Geoscience journal.
In 2007, the UN's climate change body presented strong scientific evidence the rise in average global temperature is mostly due to human activities.
This contradicted ideas that it was not a result of natural processes such as an increase in the Sun's intensity.
At the time, there was not sufficient evidence to say this for sure about the Arctic and Antarctic.
We really can't claim anymore that it's natural variations that are driving these very large changes
Peter Stott, Met Office
Their study indicates that humans have indeed contributed to warming in both regions.
Researchers expected this result for the Arctic - because of the recent sharp increase in the melting of sea ice in the summer in the region - but temperature variations in the Antarctic have until now been harder to interpret.
Today's study, according to the researchers, suggests for the first time that there's a discernable human influence on both the Arctic and Antarctica.
The research team took the temperature changes over the polar regions of the Earth and compared them with two sets of climate models.
One set assumed that there had been no human influence the other set assumed there had.
The best fit was with models that assumed that human activities including the burning of fossil fuels and depletion of ozone had played a part.
According to one of the researchers involved with the study, Peter Stott, head of climate monitoring and attribution at the Met Office, formally showing that the Antarctic was being influenced by human activities was the key development
"In the recent IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) report for example," he said, "it wasn't possible to make a statement about the Antarctic because such a study had not been done at that point.
"But nevertheless when you do that you see a clear human fingerprint in the observed data. We really can't claim anymore that it's natural variations that are driving these very large changes that we are seeing in our in the climate system."
Professor Phil Jones, director of the Climate Research Unit at the University of East Anglia, said: "Our study is certainly closing a couple of gaps in the last IPCC report.
"But I still think that a number of people, including some politicians, are reluctant to accept the evidence or to do anything about it until we specifically come down to saying that one particular event was caused by humans like a serious flood somewhere or even a heatwave.
"Until we get down to smaller scale events in both time and space I still think there will be people doubting the evidence."
Generation We is new to me. Have you heard of it? It’s the Millennial Generation of Americans born between the years 1978 and 2000. They are being hailed as the next “greatest generation.” I take just a little offense to that statement, being GenX myself.
In an effort to mobilize, organize and propel Generation WE to their world changing destiny, author Eric Greenberg has launched a new website and video created by award winning producers. They accompany his book Generation We: How Millennial Youth are Taking Over America and Changing our World Forever.
Well, good for them. Really. It’s a dirty job that no one else wants to take responsibility for, so I suppose they’re welcome to it. I’m not bitter. My oldest daughter was born in 1999 (I’m not that old, you know) so she is one of them. A world changing Gen-We kid. I believe she could single handedly change the world. She’s planning on it already. So I’m going to try to put my GenX pessimism aside.
Here’s what Greenburg has to say about the video that has made quite a splash:
As this video shows, those of the Millenial Generation are optimists. They see beyond party lines and partisan politics and much more concerned with ideas that help the greater good….They want to protect the environment, lower the federal deficiet, create affordable health care and reduce our dependence on foriegn oil, all issues that already affect Democrats and Republicans alike.
Hey! I want all those things too! Don’t we all? I have always been able to see across party lines. I’m greening up all over the place. Affordable health care? Heck yeah.
Well, the goal is good. I love what Greenburg is trying to put into action for the youngsters (there’s a word I’ve never used before).
His website Gen-we.org serves as base camp for the Generation We Movement. A non-partisan stop for information and activism for the newest generation of voters. Greenburg hopes that young people will put their newfound political power to good use and help our country achieve energy independence the clean green way.
Here’s the video that Launched the Generation We Movement:
Wow. I’m kind of inspired here. Did you see that? I think they really are different, more diverse and (hopefully) less selfish and greedy than the generations before them. I’ll drink the Kool-Aid they’re passing around.
It does seem unfair to sweep GenX under the rug and chalk us up as the lemon generation of the century. Really. It’s not like we’re all still sitting around wearing flannel listening to Pearl Jam like it was 1993. We have moved on. Just because GenX looked at reality and declared it bites, doesn’t mean we aren’t doing our to make it better. Apparently, we are lacking in numbers. We aren’t organized, but that is mostly because we see through leaders who are driven by their own interests. And that pretty much covers everyone.
And what happened to GenY? And who comes up with these designations? And shouldn’t we all just work together? You know, crossing generational gaps to save the world from the consequences of greed now in our face?
Is it the fault of the Baby Boomers as implied in the video? I spoke to one of those Boomers recently and he said, “no one really cares about air quality and global warming. They are just looking for a way to make money off of it.” I do wonder if others in his generation feel that way.
It doesn’t really matter which generation changes the world. It just matters that the job gets done. Don’t you think? Truthfully, I think the world IS changing.
Right here, right now, there is no other place I want to be.
Come on, I had to do it!
What do you think of Generation WE? Are they all that and more?
Bioethanol is increasingly used in cars, but its production from food crops such as corn is controversial because it uses valuable land resources and threatens food security. In addition, it makes use of only a small part of the whole crop. By contrast, extracting energy from olive stones uses food industry by-products.
The olive stone, produced in processing of olive oil and table olives, makes up around a quarter of the total fruit. It is rich in polysaccharides (cellulose and hemicellulose) that can be broken down into sugar and then fermented to produce ethanol.
"This research raises the possibility of using of olive stones, which would otherwise be wasted, in producing energy. In this way we can make use of the whole food crop," says Sánchez.
The team pre-treated olive stones using high-pressure hot water (essentially a pressure cooker) then added enzymes which degrade plant matter and generate sugars. The hydrolysate obtained from this process was then fermented with yeasts to produce ethanol. Yields of 5.7kg of ethanol per 100kg of olive stones have been reached,
The quantities of stones produced are relatively small in comparison with other agricultural and forestry wastes. However, if similar principles were employed across all agricultural industries, energy gains would be significant.
The crown jewel of Greenpeace’s naval arm, the Rainbow Warrior, pulled in to the harbor alongside the Kingsnorth coal-fired power plant today before six activists stormed the facility to prepare to project video of impacts of global warming onto the plant’s giant smokestack.
The action comes mere months after a jury acquitted Greenpeace protesters who had vandalized the same smokestack. The court ruled that the activists were acting in the public’s interest because the power plant will cause property destruction in the future due to its release of climate-changing greenhouse gases.
So far, Greenpeace says there have been no arrests.
The activists hope to prevent the owners of the plant, E.ON, from going through with their plan to build another coal plant nearby. Greenpeace says the new plant would spew as much greenhouse gas as the world’s 30 least-polluting countries combined. To symbolize this, 30 volunteers carried the flags of those countries into the power plant.
Two of the protesters were among the original ‘Kingsnorth Six,’ who were acquitted of all wrongdoing amid controversy this summer. Police have not reported whether the activists will face charges for today’s action.
You can follow any developments through Greenpeace UK’s website.
Photo courtesy of Greenpeace UK.