Daily Bulletin for 05/18/2017

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Is Antarctica Gaining or Losing Ice?

Eric Betz, Discover

For years, scientists have debated whether heavy inland snowfall on the vast East Antarctic Ice Sheet Earth’s largest balances out the rapid melting in West Antarctica.Given enough snowfall, the continent might not yet be contributing to sea level rise.

The Mystery of the Wasting House-Cats

Emily Anthes, NY Times Magazine

Most days, the back room of the Animal Endocrine Clinic in Manhattan is home to half a dozen cats convalescing in feline luxury. They lounge in their own individual condos, each equipped with a plush bed, a raised perch and a cozy box for hiding. Classical music plinks softly from speakers overhead.

Chaco Canyon’s Civilization Continues to Puzzle

Bruce Bower, ScienceNews

Chaco Canyon is a land of extremes. Summer heat scorches the desert canyon, which is sandwiched between sandstone cliffs nearly two kilometers above sea level in New Mexico’s northwestern corner. Bitter cold sweeps in for winter. Temperatures can swing as many as 28 degrees Celsius during the course of a day. Through it all, Chaco Canyon maintains a desolate beauty and a craggy pride as home to one of ancient America’s most enigmatic civilizations.

Can Plants Hear?

Marta Zaraska, Scientific American

Pseudoscientific claims that music helps plants grow have been made for decades, despite evidence that is shaky at best. Yet new research suggests some flora may be capable of sensing sounds, such as the gurgle of water through a pipe or the buzzing of insects.

A New Explanation for Dark Energy

Matt Williams, Universe Today

Since the late 1920s, astronomers have been aware of the fact that the Universe is in a state of expansion. Initially predicted by Einstein’s Theory of General Relativity, this realization has gone on to inform the most widely-accepted cosmological model the Big Bang Theory. However, things became somewhat confusing during the 1990s, when improved observations showed that the Universe’s rate of expansion has been accelerating for billions of years.

How Friction Melts Sliding Rock

Charles Day, Physics Today

When two rock formations slide past one another during an earthquake, the friction generated melts the rock to create a liquid layer that eases further movement. At 10001550C, interface temperatures during sliding exceed the melting points of most minerals.

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.

Cancer Drug Also Fights Severe Asthma

Meghana Keshavan, Stat

Ablockbuster cancer drug may have a surprising new use: It’s showing real promise in treating severe asthma. That may help researchers better understand the basic biology of the chronic condition and develop new medications, according to a small proof-of-principle study published on Wednesday in the New England Journal of Medicine.The trial studied imatinib, known commonly under the brand name Gleevec, in 62 patients with severe and difficult-to-treat asthma. Imatinib is a chemotherapy used to treat leukemia and other cancers.

Impact Created Pluto’s Great Red ‘Whale’

Megan Gannon, Space.com

In 2015, scientists learned that there’s a giant red “whale" on Pluto. This dark-colored region could be the mark of a giant impact the same one that produced Pluto’s huge moon Charon, according to a group of researchers in Japan.The surface of Pluto the biggest object inside the Kuiper Belt, the ring of ice bodies beyond Neptune’s orbit remained mysterious for decades. Astronomers knew the dwarf planet as little more than a blurry orb until NASA’s New Horizons probe revealed its surprisingly complex features in high definition during a flyby in July 2015.

T.Rex Had Bone-Shattering 8000 Pound Bite

Laura Geggel, Live Science

Tyrannosaurus rex could gnash and chomp its teeth together with such force that it could easily pulverize the bones of its prey, a new study finds.The king of dinosaurs could bite down with a force of 7,800 pounds-force (34,522 newtons), a force equal to the weight of three small cars, the researchers found.But the real damage T. rex inflicted came from its teeth, each of which could exert pressures reaching 431,000 pounds per square inch (2,974 megapascals), “which allowed T. rex to bite through and even shatter bone before consuming it," said lead study researcher Paul Gignac, an…

Defending the Reality of Time

George Musser, Quanta Magazine

Physicists and philosophers seem to like nothing more than telling us that everything we thought about the world is wrong. They take a peculiar pleasure in exposing common sense as nonsense. But Tim Maudlin thinks our direct impressions of the world are a better guide to reality than we have been led to believe.Not that he thinks they always are. Maudlin, who is a professor at New York University and one of the world’s leading philosophers of physics, made his name studying the strange behavior of entangled quantum particles, which display behavior that is as counterintuitive as can be;…

Cannibal ‘T. Rex’ Ants Seen Live for First Time

Stephanie Pappas, Live Sci

An ant named after the fierce, carnivorous dinosaur Tyrannosaurus rex has been observed alive for the first time and it failed to live up to the dinosaur’s reputation.Tyrannomyrmex rex is a timid, finicky eater, new research finds. The ants can, however, turn to cannibalism in times of need.Until now, these Asian ants were a complete mystery to science, despite being discovered more than 20 years ago. No one had ever collected more than a single specimen, and no one had ever observed a T. rex ant alive for an extended period of time. So when biologist Mark Wong stumbled across a colony of…

Vast Magnetic Field Links Milky Way to Other Galaxies

Daily Galaxy

For the first time, astronomers have detected a magnetic field associated with the Magellanic Bridge, the filament of gas stretching 75 thousand light-years between the Milky Way Galaxy’s nearest galactic neighbors: the Large and Small Magellanic Clouds (LMC and SMC, respectively). “There were hints that this magnetic field might exist, but no one had observed it until now," says Jane Kaczmarek, at the University of Sydney, and lead author of the paper describing the finding."Not only are entire galaxies magnetic, but the faint delicate threads joining galaxies are magnetic, too,"said Bryan…

New Models Predict Weather Four Weeks Ahead

Catherine Meyers, IS

Today, if you’re wondering whether rain will wash out your upcoming weekend camping trip, you can whip out your smartphone and check a 10- or even 15-day forecast. And if you’re hoping for a white winter, you can turn to a seasonal outlook to judge the chances for extra snowfall. But what if you want to know if the average weather will be out-of-the-ordinary in the second half of the coming month?

Flower Sellers Destroy Illegal Gene-Edited Petunias

David Malakoff, SM

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced today that U.S. flower distributors have begun to destroy countless petunia plants after federal scientists confirmed that they were genetically engineered (GE) to produce vivid orange, red, and purple blooms. The agency says the flowers pose no risk to the environment or to human health, but GE organisms need special permits to be sold in the United States.Distributors apparently imported or bred the flowers without realizing the plants had been GE. On 2 May, the Germany-based horticultural firm Selecta Klemm informed USDA’s Animal and…

Meteorite Beads Reveal Spread of Prehistoric Culture

Traci Watson, NN

Blackened and irregular, the prehistoric beads found in a centuries-old Illinois grave don’t look like anything special. But the latest analysis1 shows that they were fashioned from an exotic material: the shards of a meteorite that fell to Earth more than 700 kilometres from where the beads were found.The link between the Anoka meteorite, which landed in central Minnesota, and the Illinois beads confirms that 2,000 years ago, goods and ideas were moved hundreds of miles across eastern North America, says Timothy McCoy, co-author of the analysis and curator-in-charge of meteorites at…

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