Science News: Undergoing a virtual colonoscopy might be just the ticket for people at high risk of colorectal cancer who need screening every few years, a new study finds. By spotting 85 percent of polyps, computed tomography scans offer a way to detect the precancerous growths in a way that is less invasive than a conventional colonoscopy, a European team of researchers reports in the 17 June Journal of the American Medical Association.
Diagnostic Accuracy of Computed Tomographic Colonography for the Detection of Advanced Neoplasia in Individuals at Increased Risk of Colorectal Cancer
The Independent: The most powerful camera that has ever been used to survey another planet is capturing spectacular pictures of the surface of Mars to reveal a rich tapestry of geological features.
Located on board the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, a Nasa probe launched in 2005, the HiRise camera has already taken detailed images of the outlines of ancient extra-terrestrial seas and rivers—the first unambiguous evidence that shorelines once existed on the Red Planet.
Credit: NASA/JPL/University of Arizona
The camera has also witnessed in high-resolution detail the moment when the warmth of the Martian spring forced puffs of dust through the thin polar caps of dry ice—solid carbon dioxide—to form weird “starburst” patterns on the surface of the planet.
Photo: Sulfate and Clay Strata in Gale Crater
Credit: NASA/JPL/University of Arizona
“Spring on Mars is quite different from spring on Earth because Mars has not just permanent ice caps, but also seasonal polar caps of carbon dioxide,” said Candice Hansen-Koharcheck, of Nasa’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California.
Various: Cosmologist Adrian Melott has been researching for some time mass extinctions in the Earth’s fossil records and linking them to astrophysical events.
Recently, Melott and Brian Thomas looked at the Ordovician extinction, which occurred 450 million years ago and resulted in the loss of 60% of marine invertebrates.
According to computer simulations and matched with the fossil record, they find that their data suggests that photons from a gamma-ray burst approximately over the South Pole (and no further than -75 degrees) caused the atmosphere’s chemistry to change, doubling the level of ultraviolet-B solar radiation reaching the surface.
In this scenario parts of north China, Laurentia, and New Guinea—which lay north of the equator—should be a refuge from the ultraviolet effects, and show a different pattern of extinction in the “first strike” of the end-Ordovician extinction, if it was induced by such a radiation event.
Melott cautions that gamma-rays or x-rays may not be the main cause for extinction events but could be the trigger for tipping an already stressed environment into a catastrophic event.
Late Ordovician Geographic Patterns Of Extinction Compared With Simulations Of Astrophysical Ionizing Radiation Damage
In a broader article in SEED magazine Melott talks about his earlier research on cyclic mass extinctions.
There are at least 20 mass extinctions throughout the fossil record that fit a 62-million year cycle. Sometime ago Melott suggested that the solar-system’s orbit around the Milky Way’s center—which oscillates through the galactic plane with a period of around 65 million years, is the key—the galactic magnetic field protects the solar-system from extragalactic cosmic rays.
As the solar system “bobs” out of the galactic plane it becomes exposed to these cosmic rays which can cause enhanced cloud formation and depletion of the ozone layer, killing off many small organisms at the base of the food chain and potentially leading to a population crash.
The Extinction Oscillator
Do Extragalactic Cosmic Rays Induce Cycles in Fossil Diversity?
Related Physics Today article
Recent Nearby Supernovae May Have Left Their Marks on Earth May 2002
Carnegie Institution for Science: Emergency plans to counteract global warming by artificially shading the Earth from incoming sunlight might lower the planet’s temperature a few degrees, but such “geoengineering” solutions would do little to stop the acidification of the world oceans that threatens coral reefs and other marine life, report the authors of a new study in the journal Geophysical Research Letters. The culprit is atmospheric carbon dioxide, which even in a cooler globe will continue to be absorbed by seawater, creating acidic conditions.
Sensitivity of ocean acidification to geoengineered climate stabilization
Nature: LaHaye and colleagues have taken an important step towards the observation of quantum phenomena in nearly macroscopic moving objects.
They report experimental evidence of an intriguing interplay between a superconducting artificial atom and a micrometre-size mechanical resonator. Remarkably, their findings can be described using the ‘language’ of radiation–matter interactions, which has also been successful in explaining the coupling of a superconducting artificial atom to microwave photon.
Nanomechanical measurements of a superconducting qubit
UC Santa Cruz: Astronomers Bülent Kiziltan and Stephen Thorsett of the University of California, Santa Cruz, have come up with a more accurate way to peg the ages of millisecond pulsars.
The standard method for estimating pulsar ages is known to yield unreliable results, especially for the fast-spinning millisecond pulsars, says Kiziltan.
“An accurate determination of pulsar ages is of fundamental importance, because it has ramifications for understanding the formation and evolution of pulsars, the physics of neutron stars, and other areas,” he adds.
The standard approach to determine the “characteristic” or “spin-down” age of a pulsar is based on two parameters: the period between pulses and the rate at which they slow down. Kiziltan and Thorsett showed that this method may over- or under-estimate the age of a pulsar by a factor of 10 when applied to millisecond pulsars.
To improve the accuracy of the standard technique, they incorporated additional constraints that arise from the spin-up process and physical limits on the maximum spin period. “We modified the age calculations to be consistent with these constraints and showed that this approach can achieve estimates closer to the true age of the pulsar,” Kiziltan says.
By including in their model previously ignored features such as the maximum possible rate of rotation and subtle shifts in the observed radio frequency due to a pulsar’s motion across the sky, the team finds that some millisecond pulsars are up to 10 times younger or 10 times older than earlier estimates suggest.
Washington Post: Federal investigators at the GAO say the next generation radiation detectors—that are scheduled to be bought by the Department of Homeland Security—are only marginally better at detecting hidden nuclear material in cargo containers than monitors already at US ports, but would cost more than twice as much.
The monitors now in use can detect the presence of radiation, but they cannot distinguish between threatening and nonthreatening material. Radioactive material can be found naturally in ceramics and kitty litter, but would be of no use in making a bomb, for instance.
The DHS has said the new machines it is developing can distinguish between kitty litter and dangerous radioactive material and produce fewer false alarms than the current ones.
The new one are also better at detecting lightly shielded material. But the machines perform at about the same level when detecting radiological and nuclear materials hidden in a lead box or casing, the most likely way a terrorist would try to sneak the materials into this country.
Physics Today: On Friday, the Democrats narrowly won passage in the House for the 1200-page American Clean Energy and Security Act by a 219–212 vote—two votes more than required.
The bill calls on the US to cut production of greenhouse gases by 17% of 1990 levels by 2020 and 83% by mid-century. Currently US greenhouse gas emissions are rising on average by 1% each year.
Despite statements on both sides of the aisle insisting that they want to combat climate change, a number of Republicans and Democrats have been mounting a rear-guard action to weaken the bill, particularly in its long and convoluted passage through the House Energy and Commerce committee.
The outcome depended on locking in the so-called “Blue Dog Democrats” and the number of moderate Republicans—despite pressure from Republican leadership to kill the bill (more).
In his weekly address President Obama hailed the bill and stated that he was looking forward to the Senate clearing passage “so that we can say, at long last, that this was the moment when we decided to confront America’s energy challenge and reclaim America’s future.”
“As this legislation moves to the Senate, it is also important to consider its international implications,” says Eileen Claussen of the Pew Center on Global Climate Change . “Enactment of a comprehensive energy and climate bill along the lines of the ACES Act will finally allow the US to help lead the efforts toward a global agreement in which the major economies of the world, both developed and developing, play their part to address the climate challenge.”
House narrowly passes climate change bill Physics Today
House Passes Bill to Address Threat of Climate Change New York Times
Climate Change Activists Dismayed by Some of Bill’s Provisions Washington Post
ScienceNOW: Scientists probing the outer reaches of our solar system have hit upon an unusual phenomenon much closer to home. Instruments aboard a NASA spacecraft have detected fast-moving hydrogen atoms emanating from the Moon. The atoms, which originated as protons from the Sun, may help scientists study the lunar surface and other solar system objects in greater detail than believed possible.
The Guardian: America’s emerging clean energy economy created new jobs at twice the rate as more traditional industries in the years leading up to the economic downturn, a new study released today claimed.
The report by the Pew Charitable Trusts provides the first hard evidence of jobs created by the rising demand for environmentally friendly services, and in the new clean energy sectors like wind and solar.
It said such jobs grew at a rate of 9.1% from 1998–2007, easily outstripping job growth in traditional areas of the economy, which was 3.7%.
The study stopped before the economic downturn, which has caused steep job losses in the traditional economy. Some 347,000 Americans were put out of work in May alone.
However, its authors also noted that the rapid growth came at a time when there was little or no federal government support for clean energy—unlike today when Barack Obama has committed to greening the economy.