Daily Bulletin for 05/20/2017

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Chemists Zeroing on Reactions That Sparked Life

Robert Service, Science

DNA is better known, but many researchers today believe that life on Earth got started with its cousin RNA, because that nucleic acid can act as both a repository of genetic information and a catalyst to speed up biochemical reactions. But those favoring this RNA world hypothesis have struggled for decades to explain how the molecule’s four building blocks could have arisen from the simpler compounds present during our planet’s early days.

Nuclear Physics Might Crack Open Standard Model

Ethan Siegel, Forbes

If you want to discover new secrets and mysteries about the fundamental Universe, you collide particles at higher and higher energies to crack open what lies inside. At least, that’s been the most successful method so far! But there’s another approach: to look at how these fundamental particles bind together in interesting, unusual, and even unstable ways.

Earth’s Strange Light Flashes Finally Explained

Sarah McQuate, Nature

Mysterious flashes of light that show up on satellite images of Earth’s landmasses have puzzled researchers for a couple of years. Now, scientists have finally pinpointed the culprit: ice crystals floating high above the planet’s surface.The finding could help refine ideas of how clouds regulate the Earth’s temperature. And it could aid scientists looking for Earth-like exoplanets orbiting other stars.

Discoveries Fuel Fight Over Universe’s First Light

Ashley Yeager, Quanta

Not long after the Big Bang, all went dark. The hydrogen gas that pervaded the early universe would have snuffed out the light of the universe’s first stars and galaxies. For hundreds of millions of years, even a galaxy’s worth of stars or unthinkably bright beacons such as those created by supermassive black holes would have been rendered all but invisible.

Tabby’s Star Is Dimming Again

Eric Berger, Ars Technica

For the last few years, a distant star in the constellation Cygnus, known officially as KIC 8462852 and unofficially as Tabby’s star or the WTF star, has intrigued astronomers due to its irregular but significant dimming. Astronomers have struggled to find a natural explanation for why the star dims so much, 20 percent, before returning to its regular brightness.

Quantum Test Could Reveal Limits of the Mind

Anil Ananthaswamy, NewSci

The boundary between mind and matter could be tested using a new twist on a well-known experiment in quantum physics.Over the past two decades, a type of experiment known as a Bell test has confirmed the weirdness of quantum mechanics specifically the spooky action at a distance that so bothered Einstein.

A Grand New Theory of Life’s Evolution

Sarah Zhang, The Atlantic

The modern world gives us such ready access to nachos and ice cream that it’s easy to forget: Humans bodies require a ridiculous andfor most of Earth’s historyimprobable amount of energy to stay alive.Consider a human dropped into primordial soup 3.8 billions years ago, when life first began. They would have nothing to eat.

A Radical New Approach to Treating Infection

Usha Lee McFarling, Stat

LA JOLLA, Calif. As her father lay dying of sepsis, Janelle Ayres spent nine agonizing days at his bedside. When he didn’t beat the virulent bloodstream infection, she grieved. And then she got frustrated. She knew there had to be a better way to help patients like her dad.

Global Seed Vault Floods From Melting Permafrost

Damian Carrington, Guardian

It was designed as an impregnable deep-freeze to protect the world’s most precious seeds from any global disaster and ensure humanity’s food supply forever. But the Global Seed Vault, buried in a mountain deep inside the Arctic circle, has been breached after global warming produced extraordinary temperatures over the winter, sending meltwater gushing into the entrance tunnel.

Scientists Study Glass Spheres From Volcanic Lightning

Dave Berndtson, PBS

Studying volcanic eruptions in person can be dangerous, and scientists have died trying. Volcanic lightning yes, volcanoes make lightning! by contrast offers a safer opportunity to examine what happens inside a volcano. But these bright bolts still occur in vicious environments, plus the thick, dense plumes of ash can obscure lightning strikes.

“Combustible Ice" Extracted From Seafloor

Matthew Brown, The Independent

Commercial development of the globe’s huge reserves of a frozen fossil fuel known as combustible ice has moved closer to reality after Japan and China successfully extracted the material from the seafloor off their coastlines.

Creationist Geologist Sues U.S. Park Service

Amanda Reilly, Science News

The Interior Department is facing a lawsuit from a Christian geologist who claims he was not allowed to collect rocks from Grand Canyon National Park because of his creationist beliefs.In the suit filed earlier this month, the Australian geologist, Andrew Snelling, says that religious discrimination was behind the National Park Service’s (NRS’s) decision to deny him a permit to gather samples from four locations in the park.

Plasma Jet Engines Could Take Planes to Space

Sandrine Ceurstemont, NewSci

FORGET fuel-powered jet engines. We’re on the verge of having aircraft that can fly from the ground up to the edge of space using air and electricity alone.Traditional jet engines create thrust by mixing compressed air with fuel and igniting it. The burning mixture expands rapidly and is blasted out of the back of the engine, pushing it forwards.

Particle-Free Quantum Communication Achieved

Edwin Cartlidge, P-World

Four years ago, theoretical physicists proposed a new quantum-communication scheme with a striking feature: it did not require the transmission of any physical particles. The research raised eyebrows, but now a team of physicists in China claims it has demonstrated that the “counterfactual" scheme works.

The Case for Building Electric Roads

Jamie Condliffe, MIT Technology Review

The prospect of hitting the open road and never having to refuel is a compelling one. And as several new field trials have demonstrated, it’s also increasingly realistic.The technology, known as inductive charging, is straightforward in theory. A system sets up an alternating electromagnetic field, and then an induction coil in a smaller device harvests power from it.

Why Lots of Scientists Are Heckling Bill Nye

Hilary Brueck, Forbes

It happened in the wee hours of the morning Friday on Twitter: A group of scientists started introducing themselves to science superstar Bill Nye with a brand new hashtag: #BillMeetScienceTwitter.Dani Rabaiotti who studies the effects of climate change on wild dogs in Africa at University College London, was the first to say hello to Nye:

‘Fat But Fit’ Is a Big Fat Myth

Smitha Mundasad, BBC Health

The idea that people can be fat but medically fit is a myth, say experts speaking in Portugal.Their early work, as yet unpublished, involved looking at the GP records of 3.5 million people in the UK.They say people who were obese but who had no initial signs of heart disease, diabetes or high cholesterol were not protected from ill health in later life, contradicting previous research.

Dwarf Planet ‘Snow White’ Has Its Own Moon

Mike Wall, Space.com

The third-largest dwarf planet in our solar system has its own moon, a new study reveals.Astronomers used three different telescopes to detect and characterize a moon orbiting 2007 OR10, which is known informally as “Snow White."Snow White is a 950-mile-wide (1,530 kilometers) dwarf planet in the Kuiper Belt, the ring of frigid bodies beyond Neptune. The object’s newfound satellite is pretty big, with an estimated diameter of 150 to 250 miles (240 to 400 km), researchers reported in the new study.

Planned Lunar Space Station Is Unnecessary

Ethan Siegel, SWaB!

With the end of the space shuttle program and the planned decommissioning of the International Space Station on the horizon, NASA is strongly debating what its next steps for human spaceflight will be. The Obama-era plans of asteroid redirection and capture appear to be disfavored, paving the way for a bold new direction. While many are looking to Mars with great hope, some are calling to return to the Moon first. But the proposal the administration recently put forth advocates for none of them, instead choosing to pursue a crewed lunar orbiter, claiming that it paves the way for future…

Single Mutation Responsible for Zika Proliferation

Beth Mole, Ars Tech

A single mutation may explain why Zika suddenly erupted from obscurity to become the alarming re-emerging infectious disease it is today, researchers report in Nature.According to researchers from Texas and China, the mutation boosts Zika’s ability to hop into feasting mosquitoes that can then shuttle the virus to more victims. Based on archived viral strains, the mutation popped up sometime between the virus’ low-profile outbreaks in Southeastern Asia (which took place in 2007 and 2012) and Zika’s explosive emergence in the Americas beginning in 2015.

Plate Tectonics Absent on Mars and Titan

Andrew Masterson, Cosmos

River system patterns indicate that plate tectonics exerts a greater influence on landscape on Earth than it does on Mars or Saturn’s moon Titan.The processes that created the topography of Titan and Mars are not well understood, so a team led by Benjamin Black from the City University of New York set out to see if ancient river networks visible on each might yield some clues.In a study published in the journal Science, the team reports that drainage systems on Earth are influenced by a shorter wavelength of planetary activity than those of the other two bodies.

Polar Bear Hits Treadmill for Science

Mindy Weisberger, Live Science

A polar bear at the San Diego Zoo named Tatqiq recently went the extra mile to help scientific research by steadily plodding along on a treadmill at the zoo’s Institute for Conservation Research.Five months of training prepared the 16-year-old bear for her 10-minute walk, zoo officials said in a statement. With every step the bear took in the enclosed treadmill, biologists tracked her movements and activity levels, so they could better understand how polar bears expend their energy.

‘Tunable’ Rice Plants Can Fight Multiple Diseases

Ryan Cross, Science Mag

Farmers are constantly spraying pesticides on their crops to combat an array of viral, bacterial, and fungal invaders. Scientists have been trying to get around these chemicals for years by genetically engineering hardy plants resilient to the array of diseases caused by microbial beasties. Most attempts so far confer protection against a single disease, but now researchers have developed a rice plant that fights multiple pathogens at oncewithout loss to the crop yieldby hooking up a tunable amplifier to the plant’s immune system.For as long as I have been in this field, people have…

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