May 6, 2017 | David F. Coppedge

Weekend Digest, May 6, 2017

Here’s a collection of quick takes on interesting developments in the science news.


Cassini Grand Finale underway

SATURN: “The Big Empty” — that’s what Cassini scientists are calling the surprising gap between Saturn’s D-ring and the planet. Cassini has completed two high-dives through the gap and has 20 more to go before it finally dives into the planet on September 15. ( See a dramatic movie of the first ring dive at JPL’s official Cassini site.

DINOSAUR: Our contributing scientist Jerry Bergman was consulted by World Magazine for expert opinion on the row about dinosaur taxonomy. See his article on CEH here.

PILTDOWN: Samuel Redman writes on The Conversation about “what the Piltdown hoax can teach us today.” The hoax flourished because much of the discussion 1912-1952 was behind closed doors. Redman thinks the rise of open science, faster communication and better popular media can help prevent a recurrence.

ELITISM: We need to break science out of its ivory tower, says Max Liboiron at The Conversation. His solution: more open science and local science instead of uniformity in academia. Let the public get involved in science projects.

NEANDERTHALS: Did Neanderthals reach America? Colin Barras considers that controversial possibility at New Scientist, based on alleged 130,000-year-old mammoth kills.

COSMOLOGY: Since the lack of dark matter still perplexes astronomers (The Conversation), it’s “time to keep an open mind on dark matter and rivals that do away with it,” opines New Scientist. One team reported by Science Daily explains the acceleration of the universe without dark energy.

MALARIA: A natural cure for malaria from a common weed? Science Daily reports that a clinical trial in Congo cured 18 people of malaria in just 5 days after treatment via pills of an extract from Artemisia annua, “sweet wormwood”. All 18 were dying from severe cases, but responded completely. The plant grows locally, so extraction of the ingredient “can be owned, operated, and distributed by Africans for Africans,” helping the economy as well.

DINO-BIRD: Is this Chinese chicken with modern feathers a dinosaur? Live Science says so, but admits it could have been a flying bird. Brian Thomas at ICR gives some cautions about interpreting evolution from feathers.

BIO-INSPIRATION: Hate dandelions? Give them to your local science lab. Science Daily says that the tips of the parachute-like seeds make perfect tips for pipettes.

BODY: The liver increases in size by half in a natural daily rhythm, says Science Daily. This doesn’t happen with other organs, except maybe the stomach at hot dog eating contests.

CELL: “Our body temperature might not ever get much hotter than 37°C,” says New Scientist. “But it turns out that the insides of our cells can reach a scorching 50°C,” (122 °F), due to the rapidly spinning ATP synthase motors in mitochondria. And yet those motors run at 100% perfect efficiency, according to a paper in PNAS.

BRAIN: Mammal brains (including human brains) contain circuitry that enables split-second decisions when cues conflict, says Medical Xpress.

SUNDAY FUNNIES (Compliments of Brett Miller):


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