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New Chirality Solution Proposed
May 9, 2012
It's long been a mystery why cells use one hand of two-handed molecules, like left-handed amino acids and right-handed sugars. A new proposal solves the mystery, explaining how this phenomenon called homochirality arises naturally. Wait a minute...
Planetary Radiometric Dates 1/3 Younger
May 1, 2012
The half-lives of radioactive isotopes may not be as well-known as thought. One decay rate frequently used to date solar system objects had to be adjusted down to 66% of its former assumed value, impacting theories of planet formation.
Animals Have Biological GPS
April 30, 2012
Global Positioning System (GPS): that's a function. Maintaining a suite of satellites is one method for achieving the function. But there are other ways to figure out where in the world you are, and two very different animals show the way – naturally – using Earth's global magnetic field.
From Wonders of Nature to Wonders of Technology
April 22, 2012
Living things have solved physics problems like design engineers. Inventors are just now catching on to their tricks in ways that could improve our technology, weaning us off our crude, polluting past and ushering in advanced technology that is not only greener but more effective. The latest stars are two insects and a bacterium.
OOL for Landlubbers
February 12, 2012
No part of the universal evolutionary scenario gets more overhauls than the origin of life. Some say it began in the sea, some on the land. Some say it began at the bottom of the sea; others say that is the worst place for life to get going. The latest idea favors freshwater hot springs on land.
Lunar Upsets Challenge Paradigms
January 27, 2012
Forty years after the last moonwalkers came home, new discoveries about the moon are calling into question what scientists know about our celestial partner. But is it legitimate for scientists to invoke mystery forces when a favored theory faces falsifying evidence?
News for the Birds
January 24, 2012
Our amazing feathered friends range from tiny hummingbirds to fast-running ostriches, from penguins to pigeons. In both living and fossil forms, they provide endless opportunities for study and fascination. Here are a few recent examples of news for the birds, in both good and bad connotations of the phrase.
Geologists 750% Wrong in Death Valley
January 23, 2012
A volcanic explosion in northern Death Valley occurred 800 years ago, not 6,000, “far more recently than generally thought,” according to new dating estimates. The event that created Ubehebe Crater is so recent, in fact, geologists think another devastating explosion could happen today.
Tilt-A-World: Another Constraint on Habitability
January 12, 2012
Did you ever ride a Tilt-A-Whirl, one of those cheap carnival rides that makes you dizzy and sick? Our planet would be like that if its inclination were out of control. Without tilt stability, a new study reveals, we wouldn't be sick, we'd be dead, or never alive in the first place. It's not enough to be in the Habitable Zone. Would-be inhabited planets need to avoid a new problem, called “tilt erosion.”
A Young Moon for Life
January 3, 2012
Our moon is unique in the solar system. Just the right size and just the right distance, it is positioned to stabilize the tilt of Earth’s axis, providing stable seasonal cycles. Science lacks data so far to know just how unique the Earth-moon relationship in a habitable zone is among other stellar systems. We know from the planets of our own solar system that moons come in all sizes, from tiny Deimos to massive Titan, and orbit in apparently arbitrary radii from their host planets. What astrophysicists can do is predict what would happen on earth if things were different. That’s what one scientist did. Another discovery could change the view of the moon’s surface being unaltered for billions of years.
Loving Dark Matter Rather Than Light
December 31, 2011
There are two ways to describe dark things in science. One is phenomena we know exist, even if invisible to us, because we can measure their effects with instruments (X-rays, infrared radiation). The other is darkness as a placeholder for something not yet explained. Cosmologists have been talking about “dark matter” for decades now, and “dark energy” since the 1990s. Which category of dark ideas are they? Whether scientifically valid phenomena or placeholders for ignorance, one thing is clear from recent articles: much more knowledge is needed.
December 25, 2011
Could any “useless” natural object composed of simple materials exceed the beauty of a snow crystal? As you wish for a white Christmas, think about two snowflake designers: one who makes them in a lab, and one who makes them in clouds.