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June 6 2014

Pluto Might Have Earthquakes, and Here’s Why We Should Care


Let’s be real: we don’t know much about Pluto. We didn’t even “discover” it wasn’t a planet; we just changed our definition of “planet” to exclude it, after we realized there might be a hundred spherical objects of comparable size out there on the fringes of our solar system.

NASA’s New Horizons probe is set to give us our first close-up look at Pluto next summer, but until then these are the best pictures we have, courtesy of the Hubble Space Telescope.

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June 6 2014

Mars or bust, says new report on NASA human space exploration


If NASA is to make great strides in its human spaceflight program, it needs to go big or go home -- and get to the Martian surface, says a new congressionally mandated report.

But the 285-page report from the National Research Council goes on to say the agency won't succeed unless it does so in a smart, well-planned way, venturing far beyond the International Space Station in low-Earth orbit with the help of a clear, step-by-step plan.


Related: US must play nice with China to put astronauts on Mars

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June 6 2014

Light from huge explosion 12 billion years ago reaches Earth


Intense light from the enormous explosion of a star 12.1 billion years ago -- shortly after the Big Bang -- recently reached Earth and was observed by a robotic telescope. Known as a gamma-ray burst, these rare, high-energy explosions are the catastrophic collapse of a star at the end of its life. Astronomers can analyze the observational data to draw further conclusions about the structure of the early universe.

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June 6 2014

Solar energy: Springtime for the artificial leaf


On a bright spring morning in Pasadena, California, the air is rich with the smells of cut grass and flowers. Photosynthesis seems effortless here: the fronds and blooms that line the walkways of the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) bask in the sunlight, quietly using its energy to store sugars, stretch their leaves, deepen their roots and tend to their cellular processes.

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June 6 2014

Your Vanilla Ice Cream Is About to Get Weirder


Synthetic biology—or "synbio" for short—is the stuff of science fiction brought to life. Whereas standard-issue biotechnology involves inserting a gene from one organism into another, synbio entails stuff like inserting computer-generated DNA sequences into living cells: i.e, creating new organisms altogether. And the technology has made a major breakthrough.

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June 6 2014

Artificial Sweetener Could Be Used As a Safer Insecticide


A natural, non-toxic insecticide might be in your kitchen, a new study says.

In what started out as a middle school science project, scientists discovered that erythritol, the main ingredient in the artificial sweetener Truvia, is toxic to fruit flies.

This does not mean anyone using Truvia to sweeten their coffee or tea is in danger.

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June 6 2014

Infertility in Spanish Pigs Has Been Traced to Plastics. A Warning for Humans?


A strange catastrophe struck Spain's pig farmers in the spring of 2010. On 41 farms across the country—each home to between 800 and 3,000 pigs—many sows suddenly ceased bearing young.

On some farms, all the sows stopped reproducing. On others, those that did become pregnant produced smaller litters.

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June 6 2014

System turns cow poop into clean water


Scientists are developing a system that can take cow manure and turn it into water that is clean enough for livestock to drink. It also extracts nutrients that can be re-used as fertilizer.

Currently the system produces about 50 gallons of water from 100 gallons of manure. The goal is to increase that number to about 65 gallons. The team says they hope the technology—called the McLanahan Nutrient Separation System—will be ready for commercialization by the end of this year.

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June 6 2014

Convert waste CO2 and chicken feathers into fertiliser


TALK about killing two birds with one stone. Every year we ditch millions of tonnes of chicken feathers, and pump climate-altering carbon dioxide into the air. But combine the two in the right way and you can make an otherwise-scarce fertiliser.

More than 5 million tonnes of chicken feathers are produced globally every year. Most get thrown into landfill where they can sit for decades without breaking down.

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June 6 2014

Cleaning the air with roof tiles


Engineering students have created a roof tile coating that when applied to an average-sized residential roof breaks down the same amount of smog-causing nitrogen oxides per year as a car driven 11,000 miles makes. They also calculated it would cost only about $5 for enough titanium dioxide to coat an average-sized residential roof.

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June 6 2014

Medieval manholes: plumbers led the way in utility maintenance


The story of the medieval plumbers who maintained a complex water supply system, which was centuries ahead of its time, has been revealed by a historian. A unique network of subterranean tunnels, partly dating back to the 14th century, still lies beneath the streets of Exeter, Devon. These once channeled fresh drinking-water from springs outside the town-walls to public fountains at the heart of the city.

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June 6 2014

Finding the lost art of Angkor Wat


Long-lost paintings have been discovered on the walls of Cambodia’s ancient Angkor Wat temple, thanks to the keen observations of an Australian National University (ANU) researcher.

The ancient paintings date back almost 500 years and depict deities, animals, boats and the temple itself, giving historians a new understanding of life in a relatively unknown period of Cambodia’s history.

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June 6 2014

Archaeologists find Bronze Age settlement beneath Aberdeen park and ride site


4,000-year-old pottery from the early Bronze Age, the remains of timber roundhouses and evidence of Iron Age smithing are among the discoveries made by archaeologists investigating a proposed park and ride site near Aberdeen.

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June 6 2014

How New Tech for Ancient Fossils Could Change The Way We Understand Animals


Picture a paleontologist and you probably imagine someone in a rocky desert digging up dinosaur bones, or hunched over a slab of rock in a lab, slowly chipping away ancient sediment layers to reveal the fossilized remains of a bygone epoch.

But according to a new paper penned by University of Bristol paleontologists, that image of solitary, dusty dinosaur scientists is sorely out of date.

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June 6 2014

Anthracosuchus balrogus: Giant Prehistoric Crocodile Discovered


Paleontologists have discovered a new species of crocodile-like reptile that swam in the rivers of what is now Colombia during Paleocene, about 60 million years ago.

The newly discovered prehistoric monster has been named Anthracosuchus balrogus.

The specific epithet, balrogus, derives from the Balrog, the name of a ferocious fictional creature that appeared in J.R.R. Tolkien’s novel ‘The Lord of the Rings’ and dwelled deep in the middle-Earth ‘Mines of Moria.’

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June 6 2014

What a 66-million-year-old forest fire reveals about the last days of the dinosaurs


As far back as the time of the dinosaurs, 66 million years ago, forests recovered from fires in the same manner they do today, according to a team of researchers from McGill University and the Royal Saskatchewan Museum.

During an expedition in southern Saskatchewan, Canada, the team discovered the first fossil-record evidence of forest fire ecology – the regrowth of plants after a fire – revealing a snapshot of the ecology on earth just before the mass extinction of the dinosaurs.

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June 5 2014

Post ice-age extinctions of large mammals linked to humans, not climate change


A team of researchers with Aarhus University in Denmark has concluded that the die-out of large mammals after the last ice-age was due more too human activity than a changing environment. In their paper published in Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, the team describes how they conducted a country by country survey of all known species extinctions from one thousand years ago to 132,000 years ago.

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