Ceres Isn’t the Icy Dwarf Planet We Thought It Was


Here is the latest Science News from Discover Magazine.

Ceres Isn’t the Icy Dwarf Planet We Thought It Was
The asteroid belt hides lots of mysteries of the solar system’s past, but perhaps no place holds more mysteries than Ceres. It’s an oddball place — a dwarf planet in the midst of our solar system’s belt of smaller debris. And it’s an ancient world possibly left over from the era when the planets first came together. New findings from the NASA Dawn Vesta/Ceres probe published today in Nature and Nature Geosciences only make it more intriguing. Cosmic Traveler The paper published in Nature

This AI Can Beat a Top Fighter Pilot
Move over Maverick, there’s a new Top Gun in town. A new program developed by researchers at the University of Cincinnati could give real-life fighter pilots a run for their money. Called ALPHA, the artificial intelligence has proven itself by repeatedly besting an experienced fighter pilot in a dogfight simulator without once being shot down. And, instead of a requiring a room-sized supercomputer, the program ran on a laptop. Ice Cold, No Mistakes The system is based on a type of pro

Ancient Tombs May Have Doubled As Telescopes
Ancient astronomers may have used tombs to probe the heavens. New research suggests that prehistoric humans may have relied on long dark chambers in igloo-shaped structures known as ‘passage graves’ to see the rising stars. The extended narrow entrances of the graves, which are scattered across Europe, may have amplified a viewer’s night vision, allowing them to detect stars rising at twilight sooner than they would otherwise be able to. “By using these passage graves, the observer wou

Watch NASA’s Final Rocket Booster Test Light up the Desert
NASA on Tuesday completed the second and final test of the solid rocket booster that’s expected to take humans to Mars. The booster is one of two that will power the space agency’s Space Launch System (SLS), along with four liquid propellant engines. NASA hopes to launch an unmanned version of the SLS by 2018, taking their Orion spacecraft on a journey beyond the moon and back. A previous test of the rocket in March 2015 at higher temperatures went off without a hitch — Tuesday’s trial ru

Digital Deception: How to Spot a Lie Online
There are three things you can be sure of in life: death, taxes – and lying. The latter certainly appears to have been borne out by the UK’s recent Brexit referendum, with a number of the Leave campaign’s pledges looking more like porkie pies than solid truths. But from internet advertising, visa applications and academic articles to political blogs, insurance claims and dating profiles, there are countless places we can tell digital lies. So how can one go about spotting these online fib

Seafloor Exploration Reveals Vast Methane-Driven Oasis Just Miles from Los Angeles
The following is one article in a series of dispatches from the E/V Nautilus. I am serving as a participating scientist on the Central California leg of the 2016 expedition; live footage of our exploration on the seafloor can be found at www.nautiluslive.org. Malibu, California has long been known as the playground of the rich and famous, a coastal tendril of the 18 million person greater Los Angeles megalopolis. Its beaches serve up consistent sun and waves, movie stars’ mansions line the wi

Drug Trial Scandal at N.Y.U.? What We Know
The New York Times breaks the story of an ostensibly serious case of misconduct at New York University (NYU): New York University’s medical school has quietly shut down eight studies at its prominent psychiatric research center and parted ways with a top researcher after discovering a series of violations in a study of an experimental, mind-altering drug. A subsequent federal investigation found lax oversight of study participants, most of whom had serious mental issues. The Food and Dru

Light Pollution Tricks Tree Buds into Bursting Early
When cities light up the night, it confuses the trees. In places where night-time light pollution is at its worst, trees burst into bloom a week earlier than trees rooted under dark skies, according to a 13-year study from researchers at the University of Exeter in the United Kingdom. Ringing in spring earlier in urban areas could have important ramifications for entire ecosystems, as changes in tree health send ripples throughout local food chains. Timing is Everything For trees, timin

How Researchers Will Carry Out the Search for Extraterrestrial Life
Is there life beyond our planet? Astronomers have asked that question ever since we realized that there actually was something beyond our planet. Given the vastness of the universe, however, we’re not likely to journey out and meet it for ourselves anytime soon. Instead, astronomers are searching for a way to bridge the vast distances of interstellar space and search for subtle signs of life on other planets from right here on Earth. SETI has garnered attention for its far-reaching aim: t

Should scientists work at night?
Over at Retraction Watch, we learn about the case of a PhD student who has been caught out in acts of apparent scientific fraud (image manipulation.) What caught my eye about this story is something his supervisor said about possible warning signs: The fact that this happened and I didn’t catch it proves that I was not vigilant enough. I had no suspicions that this student could do something like this. I should have. In retrospect, there were several red flags, including his developing tendency

Everything Worth Knowing About … Antibiotic Resistance
Can we get ahead of their wily ways?

Huge Aquifers Discovered Deep Under Drought-Stricken California
In drought-stricken California, a new study finds that there is indeed gold “in them thar hills.” The gold here, of course, being none other than fresh water, a resource that may well surpass the shiny yellow metal in terms of value as farmers, corporations and average citizens struggle to absorb the impacts of an historic drought that shows few signs of letting up. A new study by researchers from Stanford University plumbs new depths for hints of useable water and seems to have hit the j

Drone Delivery Startup Takes Aim at Amazon
A drone delivery startup that carried out the first government-approved test in the United States has recently shown how drones could deliver disaster relief supplies from ship to shore. The startup’s greater ambitions include nothing less than challenging Amazon and Google in the race to get drone delivery services off the ground. The delivery drones belonging to Flirtey, a startup based in Nevada, can carry up to five and a half pounds on round-trip journeys of up to 10 miles. Such

Everything Worth Knowing About … Creativity
Igniting the spark.

Getting Under the Alien Skin of the New ‘Independence Day’
If you are looking for cerebral science fiction stories that meticulously explore the outer limits of known science, Roland Emmerich is not your guy. The auteur behind the 1996 alien-invasion movie Independence Day and its new sequel, Independence Day: Resurgence, is all about spectacle over subtlety. (2012 and The Day After Tomorrow are also his handiwork.) Blowing up cities? Check. Sciencing the sh*t out of things? Not so much. Taken on its own terms, though, the first Independence Day

How Committed is Discovery to No Fakes?: Reality Bites Part IV
This is the fourth and final installment of my four-part series on the Discovery Channel show Venom Hunters. In Parts I, II and III, I explain how the show started from a flawed premise, and went downhill from there, seemingly including breaking laws and staging scenes. In Part IV, I explain why it matters that Discovery Channel and Authentic Entertainment are held accountable. In May, Discovery made the official decision not to continue Venom Hunters into a second season. Even though the show

From Unethical to Unlawful? Reality Bites Part III
This is Part III of a four-part series on the Discovery Channel show Venom Hunters, and the apparent bad behavior of the network, production company, and cast members involved. Parts I and II revealed how the production company pursued a flawed premise against the advice of several venom professionals, and then probably faked or staged scenes and storylines to promote that premise. In this post, I look at whether the stars were permitted or licensed properly in the states they were filmed.

Gun Deaths Dropped Following Australian Gun Control Laws, Study Says
Gun deaths dropped in Australia following a massive buyback program and tighter gun laws, according to a new study published Wednesday. However, the scientists say they can’t decisively prove a connection. Researchers from the University of Sydney compared firearm deaths both before and after the 1996 Port Arthur Massacre, when a gunman killed 35 people and wounded 23 others. That mass shooting prompted Australian legislators to take action, launching a firearm buyback program and si

A Sneak Peek at the First Cyborg Olympics
While working as a professor in the sensory-motor systems lab at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich (ETH), Robert Riener noticed a need for assistive devices that would better meet the challenge of helping people with daily life. He knew there were solutions, but that it would require motivating developers to rise to the challenge. So, Riener created Cybathlon, the first cyborg Olympics where teams from all over the world will participate in races on Oct. 8 in Zurich that

Lies, Damned Lies, and <i>Venom Hunter</i> Contracts: Reality Bites Part II
This is Part II of a four-part series on the Discovery Channel show Venom Hunters and the apparent bad behavior of the network, production company, and cast members involved. In Part I, I revealed how the show failed to get actual venom producers as stars due to their commitment to an inaccurate premise. Now I examine what seems to be flagrant falsification, something Discovery promised they weren’t going to do anymore. Perhaps in part to reinforce the idea that the cast members were profession

Prey Can’t Resist a Spider in White Socks
Maybe you can catch more flies with honey than with vinegar, but if you’re trying to catch grasshoppers, the best method is bright white socks. The white patches on the front legs of certain Asian spiders make prey willingly flock to them—and scientists don’t really understand why. Dolomedes raptor is known as a fishing spider. It lives near streams in the forests and cities of East Asia. Females are a little bigger than males—up to about an inch across—and the two sexes have different hu

Blobs and Pitfalls: Challenges for fMRI Research
Brain scanning is big at the moment. In particular, the technique of functional MRI (fMRI) has become hugely popular within neuroscience. But now a group of big-name neuroimaging researchers, led by Russ Poldrack, have taken a skeptical look at the field, in a new preprint (currently under peer review) called Scanning the Horizon: Future challenges for neuroimaging research. Poldrack et al. do a great job of discussing the various problems including limited statistical power, undisclosed an

Americans Expect Drone Pizza Delivery by 2036
Some Americans may be more likely to reach for a shotgun than their wallet if they saw a drone hovering at the door. But a new survey found that a majority of American respondents expect drone pizza delivery to be “normal” by the year 2036. Other predictions deemed “likely” by a majority of Americans in the survey include cashless technologies completely replacing physical money, doctors’ appointments in virtual reality becoming routine, and self-driving cars outnumbering normal cars. By

Remember the Alamosaurus
One of the best things about my job is that I get to talk to a lot of paleontologists (admittedly my favorite -ologists). A couple years ago, I was fortunate to chat with Anthony Fiorillo and Ron Tykoski, both of the Perot Museum of Nature and Science in Dallas. We were all on the phone to talk Nanuqsaurus hoglundi, the Hobbit of tyrannosaurids, a ferocious little fella found well above the Arctic Circle. But, like most of the paleofolks I encounter, Fiorillo (the museum’s chief curator)

Anonymity Doesn’t Always Promote Online Aggression
It’s widely said that anonymity on the internet helps to promote aggressive, low quality or trolling comments. On this view, the anonymous commenter, knowing they cannot be held accountable, is free to do things that they would be ashamed to do under their real name. But now German researchers Katja Rost and colleagues challenge this view, in a new study published in PLOS ONE. Rost et al. say that real names can actually be associated with more aggression than anonymous posts, based o

Are We Loving Monarchs to Death?
Until recently, monarchs have mostly been at Mother Nature’s mercy—contending with disease, weather fluctuations, and heavy predation in the wild. Lately, however, the efforts of a well-meaning public to bring monarch eggs and larvae indoors to raise to maturity, or to purchase large numbers of farmed monarchs for release into the wild, may be making life even more difficult for the beleaguered butterfly. Experts suggest such activities expose monarchs to disease, interfere with its genet

<i>Venom Hunters</i> Receives Venomous Backlash: Reality Bites Part I
This is Part I of a four-part series on the Discovery Channel show Venom Hunters and the apparent bad behavior of the network, production company, and cast members involved. Stay tuned for more. “I think the excuse that it’s just TV is bullshit. It’s just TV that hurts the animals, hurts people, and dumbs down science,” Jim Harrison said with quiet anger. It was clear he’s no fan of one of Discovery Channel’s newest reality shows, Venom Hunters. Jim Harrison, the director of the Kentucky Reptil

Salts on Mars Are a Mixed Blessing
It’s a major component of solid rocket propellants. It allows water to exist as liquid on Mars, despite atmospheric pressure at the Martian surface being roughly 0.6 percent that on Earth. It also can be broken down to release oxygen that astronauts and future colonists in a Mars settlement could breathe. It’s called perchlorate and it’s abundant on Mars –10,000 times more abundant in Martian dirt than in soils and sands of Earth. That may sound like a good thing, considering the useful p

Everything Worth Knowing About … Sea Level Rise
How many cities will our oceans swallow?

With soaring temperatures in the forecast, risks rise from California’s Sherpa Fire, and other blazes across the West
From a trail near my house along Colorado’s Front Range, the majestic Rockies ordinarily stand out in clear relief against blue Western skies. But when I set out on a run this morning, those skies were gauzy, and the mountains were barely visible. The cause: smoke blowing in from wildfires burning to the west. With temperatures beginning to soar under a growing dome of high pressure, firefighters are struggling to contain major wildfires in California, Arizona, New Mexico and other wes

Lidar Reveals a New City Hidden in the Cambodian Jungle
A wide-ranging aerial study of archeological sites in Cambodia reveals a Khmer empire that was larger and more sophisticated than previously thought. By attaching a Lidar scanning system to helicopter skids, Damian Evans, the leader of the Cambodian Archaeological Lidar Initiative (CALI), peered beneath 734 square miles of dense rainforest canopy to map the topography of the ground beneath. He found dozens of new sites that were previously invisible to archaeologists, and significant evid

NOAA confirms it: temperatures across Earth’s land and sea surfaces are still running at record highs
Earlier this week, NASA released its monthly analysis of global average temperatures — and now NOAA has followed with its own. The two agencies concur: With last month coming in as the warmest May on record, average temperatures across Earth’s land and sea surfaces continue to run at record highs. According to both NOAA and NASA, January through May 2016 was the warmest such period on record. And the record-breaking streak actually goes back even farther — a total of 13 months by NOAA’

A Golden Marsupial Mole Makes a Rare, Above-ground Appearance
Take a good look, because once this squirming lump of golden fur dives back into the ground, you probably won’t see it again for a long time. The adorable creature is a northern marsupial mole, Notoryctes caurinus, known more commonly by its aboriginal name, karrkaratul. It was found by rangers affiliated with the Tjamu Tjamu Aboriginal Corporation during an expedition to the outback last week, after it scurried across the road in front of their vehicle. The crew stopped for a quick photo

Where Are All the Prehistoric Women and Children?
This post originally appeared in the online anthropology magazine SAPIENS. Follow @SAPIENS_org on Twitter to discover more of their work. Stone tools, like Acheulean hand axes, remain well-preserved for eons because they are stones first, tools second. Fired ceramics remain well-preserved for millennia because they are, in essence, human-made stone. Metal tools may, in some rare instances, endure for millennia, but their material hardness belies chemical fragility; most are not stable ove

Here’s what the brutal heat wave now setting up across a large part of the U.S. looks like — in four simple graphics
I created the animation above to show how the heat wave coming to a large portion of the United States is forecast to evolve between now and Tuesday. Check out the spreading stain of deep red in the graphical forecast maps that make up the animation. The stain shows temperatures soaring under a massive heat dome forecast to build over Southern California, Arizona, other parts of the Southwest, and beyond. Not shown in the animation is the stifling heat and humidity already afflicting p

Gene Therapy in ‘Orphan Black’ Is Pretty Spot On
Gene therapy is all the rage among researchers in several fields of medicine, and the BBC America sci-fi TV hit Orphan Black has made sure to get its own piece of the action. As with reproductive cloning and other biotech issues hashed out over the last four years, characters in the “The Black” are making references to gene therapy with a twist that’s far-fetched, but grounded in state-of-the-art science and real-life emerging possibilities. With the season 4 finale set to air tonight,

Reflections On Voodoo Neuroscience
Seven years ago, neuroscientists Ed Vul and colleagues made waves with their paper on ‘voodoo correlations’ in social neuroscience. Now, in a new paper, historian of medicine Cornelius Borck looks back on the voodoo correlations debate and asks whether neuroscience might be likened to voodoo in another sense. Borck argues that neuroscience has something in common with animism, the religious belief that spirits inhabit various objects. In particular, he says, fMRI studies can be likened to

Researchers Add New Variables to the Happiness Equation
In 2014, Discover reported on an equation that purported to lay out key variables that determine how happy we are. It said, in a nutshell, lower your expectations if you want to be happier. But the pursuit of happiness is far more complicated than simply expecting nothing, so it’s no surprise that the “happiness equation” has since grown. Now, on top of lowering your expectations, you might want to avoid scrolling through your Facebook newsfeed comparing yourself to other smiling faces. I

Going, going, GONE — California’s snowpack has vanished
A premature melt-out has replenished reservoirs, but with a drying La Niña probably coming, California’s water woes are far from over After El Niño failed to deliver salvation from California’s epic drought, it has now come to this: Statewide, snowpack is down to just 6 percent of normal for this time of year. For all intent and purposes, this vital source of water for tens of millions of Californians, and one of the world’s most productive agricultural economies, has vanished prematu

Coffee Won’t Give You Cancer, But Hot Drinks Might
Drinking coffee isn’t going to give you cancer, but they way you drink it might. Those are the findings of 23 scientists from 10 countries who reviewed roughly 1,000 studies looking at the long-debated link between drinking coffee and getting certain types of cancer. They found no basis for the claims that your daily cuppa will give you cancer — if anything, it might protect against tumors — but they did find a potential link between extremely hot beverages and certain types of cancer. Th

LIGO’s Second Gravitational Wave Detection Refines Black Hole Theories
Chad Hanna was enjoying a quiet Christmas night with family in rural western Pennsylvania when he got the text message. He sprang for his phone, surprising his in-laws. Then he grabbed his laptop and flew up the stairs to an empty bedroom. The cosmos had quietly gifted scientists with a second gravitational wave, dubbed GW151226, from two black holes that collided 1.4 billion light-years away. The signal from those black holes — one 14 solar masses and the other eight — showed the final d

Everything Worth Knowing About … Stem Cells
Superheroes of the cellular world.

A Molecule Deep in Space Could Help Explain the Origins of Life
A peculiar new molecule hovering within a star-forming dust cloud in deep in space could help explain why life on Earth is the way it is. The cloud, called Sagittarius B2, resides near the center of the Milky Way, and it’s there that researchers from the California Institute of Technology discovered an organic element that displays a key property shared by all life. Propylene oxide is the first element discovered outside of our solar system to exhibit chirality, or the presence of two dis

Sheep on Valium Teach Scientists about Anxiety
How do you know when a farm animal is unhappy? Animal welfare researchers wish they had easy ways to measure malaise in pigs, or stress in cows. But those tools are lacking—which is why scientists in Australia studied sheep they’d dosed with Valium. “Animals are not able to talk to express their emotions,” says Caroline Lee, an animal welfare scientist at CSIRO in New South Wales. “We need to use other ways of understanding how they are feeling.” One such way is to look for changes in

Lastest analysis from NASA: It’s now eight straight months of record shattering global warmth
By NASA’s reckoning, May was the warmest such month on record. But Earth’s particularly high fever may be breaking — at least for now. Another month gone, and another record bites the dust. According to an analysis by NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies, last month was the warmest May in a record extending back to 1880. By the reckoning of NASA GISS, this marks the eighth straight month of record high global temperatures. And it keeps 2016 on track to enter the record books as war

Negative Results, Null Results, or No Results?
What happens when a study produces evidence that doesn’t support a scientific hypothesis? Scientists have a few different ways of describing this event. Sometimes, the results of such a study are called ‘null results’. They may also be called ‘negative results’. In my opinion, both of these terms are useful, although I slightly prefer ‘null’ on the grounds that the term ‘negative’ tends to draw an unfavorable contrast with ‘positive’  results. Whereas, my impression is that ‘null’ makes i

These Experiments Are Building the Case to Terraform Mars

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