Daily Bulletin for 05/19/2017

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Man “Proves" ESP Is Real, Shows That Science Is Broken

Dan Engber, Slate

It seemed obvious, at first, that Jade Wu was getting punked. In the fall of 2009, the Cornell University undergraduate had come across a posting for a job in the lab of one of the world’s best-known social psychologists. A short while later, she found herself in a conference room, seated alongside several other undergraduate women. Have you guys heard of extrasensory perception? Daryl Bem asked the students. They shook their heads.

Super-Supermassive Black Hole on the Run

Andrew Masterson, Cosmos

Astronomers are chasing a rogue black hole with a mass 160 million times greater than the Sun.The black hole, located 3.9 billion light years away, was first spotted by NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory. While most black holes are stationary, and sit at the centres of galaxies, this one is unusual because it is on the move.

Trees in the Eastern U.S. Are Heading West

Emma Marris, Nature News

Ecologists have long predicted that climate change will send plants and animals uphill and towards the poles in search of familiar temperatures. Such movements have increasingly been documented around the world. But a study now shows that changing rainfall patterns may be driving some tree species in the eastern United States west, not north.

Animal Rights Activists vs. Environmentalists

Maggie Koerth-Baker, 538

The Humane Society and Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families seem like two groups that could, conceivably, coexist in adjoining booths at your local Earth Day festival. But these organizations have instead ended up on opposite sides in a debate over how the Environmental Protection Agency should go about regulating thousands of potentially harmful chemicals that Americans come into contact with every day.

First Possible Proof of Parallel Universes Found

Paul Ratner, Big Think

A new study about one of the most inexplicable places in the cosmos may offer the first proof that we are living in a multiverse. The idea of a multiverse proposes that an infinite amount of universes, including the one we are living in, exist in parallel to each other.These universes differ in a variety of physical properties, featuring multiple Big Bangs, space bubbles and maybe even an alternate version of you who is reading this article in a world run by slugs. The multiverse hypothesis has been so far been impossible to test but has supporters among such scientists as…

Fake Caterpillars Appear Around the Globe

Nell Greenfieldboyce, NPR

Dozens of scientists recently glued fake green caterpillars onto plants around the world in an unusual study to see how the caterpillars’ risk of getting eaten varied from pole to pole.Any ant, slug, lizard, bird or beetle that attacked the soft clay caterpillars left telltale bite marks that were later analyzed by a lab in Finland.It turns out the risk of being eaten was eight times higher at the equator than close to the poles, according to a newly published report in the journal Science.

‘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.

Blood Stem Cells Finally Produced in Lab

Amy Maxmen, Nature News

After 20 years of trying, scientists have transformed mature cells into primordial blood cells that regenerate themselves and the components of blood. The work, described today in Nature1, 2, offers hope to people with leukaemia and other blood disorders who need bone-marrow transplants but can’t find a compatible donor. If the findings translate into the clinic, these patients could receive lab-grown versions of their own healthy cells.One team, led by stem-cell biologist George Daley of Boston Children’s Hospital in Massachusetts, created human cells that act like blood stem cells, although…

‘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…

NASA Extends Invitation for Europa-Lander Ideas

Nicole Kiefert, Astronomy

NASA is launching another competition for scientists: help pick instruments for a Europa lander.Jupiter’s Moon has been a target for scientists for a while, after Voyager 1 and the Galileo spacecraft unveiled a potential ocean back in the 1990’s. While a Europa lander mission is still in Phase B and hasn’t been officially been approved quite yet, the team is still planning ahead just in case."The possibility of placing a lander on the surface of this intriguing icy moon, touching and exploring a world that might harbor life is at the heart of the Europa lander mission," Thomas Zurbuchen,…

How Evolution Gave Bird Eggs Their Spots

The Economist

COLLECTING wild birds’ eggs is a hobby, once popular, that is frowned on today. In some countries, it is illegal. That, though, makes past collections the more valuable. And one of them, assembled by the splendidly named John Colebrook-Robjent and bequeathed by him, in 2008, to the Natural History Museum’s outpost at Tring, north-west of London, has recently been pressed into service. Its job was to answer questions about the arms races that go on between some birds and the nest parasites (cuckoos and so forth) that attempt to trick them into raising the parasites’ young.

The Surprising Odds of Our Existence

Ethan Siegel, SWaB!

In order for you to exist, a great many unlikely events needed to unfold in exactly the way that they did. The exact sperm cell and egg cell needed to meet to create you with the DNA sequence that encoded you, and brought you into existence; a one-in-250 million chance for a sperm cell alone. That needed to happen each time in an unbroken string for millions of generations of your ancestors, going back to well before they were human beings or even hominids of any type. Other unlikely events needed to occur as well: life needed to take hold on Earth, Earth needed to form as a habitable planet…

Galaxy Displays 10th Supernova in 100 Years

Alison Klesman, Astronomy

A new supernova just lit up the sky, and it’s bright enough for amateur astronomers to search out with their scopes. Named SN 2017eaw, this event marks the death of a massive star and the 10th supernova observed in NGC 6946, otherwise known as the Fireworks Galaxy, in 100 years. If you have a 6-inch scope or larger and access to dark skies, you can find this supernova to the northwest of its host galaxy’s nucleus as it continues to brighten for up to a week, then remains bright for several more weeks.

What Are the Limits of Quantum Computing?

Chris Lee, Ars Technica

The race to build the first useful quantum computer continues apace. And, like all races, there are decisions to be made, including the technology each competitor must choose. But, in science, no one knows the race course, where the finish line is, or even if the race has any sort of prize (financial or intellectual) along the way.On the other hand, the competitors can take a hand in the outcome by choosing the criteria by which success is judged. And, in this rather cynical spirit, we come to IBM’s introduction (PDF) of “quantum volume" as a single numerical benchmark for quantum computers….

The Venera Program: When Russia Went to Venus

Cosmos Magazine

On 16 May 1969, the Venera 5 space probe reached Venus. It had set off on its journey four months earlier, as part of the Venera program (Russian for Venus), the long-running series of Soviet missions to the second planet from the Sun.As the probe approached the Venusian atmosphere, the main spacecraft jettisoned a capsule enclosing the scientific instruments, which opened a parachute and drifted to the surface, transmitting atmospheric data for 53 minutes on the way down.

Cooling the Planet With Wooden Skyscrapers

Jeff Tollefson, Nature News

One building stands out in the old logging town of Prince George, Canada. Encased in a sleek glass facade, the structure towers above most of its neighbours, beckoning from afar with the warm amber glow of Douglas fir. Constructed almost entirely from timber in 2014, the 8-storey, 30-metre building is among the tallest modern wooden structures in the world. But it is more than an architectural marvel. As the home of the Wood Innovation and Design Centre at the University of Northern British Columbia (UNBC), it is also an incubator for wooden buildings of the future and a herald for a…

SESAME Synchrotron Finally Opens in Middle East

Richard Blaustein, PW

A scientific facility designed to foster collaboration in the Middle East is finally open after taking 15 years to build. The Synchrotron-light for Experimental Science and Applications in the Middle East (SESAME) was officially opened yesterday by King Abdullah II of Jordan in a ceremony at the lab’s site near Amman, Jordan. SESAME is a third-generation synchrotron light source and will be used by scientists in the region for a range of experiments from condensed-matter physics to biology.

Burmese Python May Be the New Lab Rat

Daniel Engber, NYT Magazine

As Amit Choudhary opened the package of snake blood, the first thing he noticed was its color. It looked like yogurt. The blood plasma, harvested from a Burmese python shortly after feeding, was so clogged with fatty acids that it was not clear but milky white. An oily mess like that should be toxic, Choudhary thought. Indeed, when he smeared the same amount of fatty acids on a plate of human pancreatic cells, the kind that supply the body with insulin, they self-destructed from the stress. Yet he knew the snake could somehow thrive, even as its plasma turned to yogurt after every single meal.

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