Blue stragglers lag behind regular stars, a polar bear gets a tropical disease, and the Appalachian Mountains triggered an ice age.

Cosmic Radiation Help Wanted

A NASA report warned that more research is needed on cosmic radiation before manned missions to the Moon or other planets can be made, which are now scheduled to take place in 2020. The report states that, unlike flights to the International Space Station—protected by the Earth’s magnetic field—flights to the Moon or Mars would be vulnerable to intense cosmic radiation. Specifically, the report calls for a better understanding of how and when solar storms occur and suggests building “storm shelters” inside spacecraft to protect astronauts from harmful space rays.

Scientists have theorized that in clusters of hundreds of thousands of stars, the heavier stars slow down and stay in the core, while the lighter stars move faster and move toward the outskirts of the cluster. But the centers of the clusters are extremely dense, making it difficult to track the motion of many stars. NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope has finally shown visible evidence of this phenomenon, known as mass segregation. Researchers measured the speed of an unprecedented 15,000 stars at the core of a dense star cluster in the Milky Way. Their findings showed that stars known as blue stragglers, thought to be collisions of two stars, moved more slowly than regular stars, huddling at the center of the cluster.

Down and Out Down Under

Stealing water from local dams and tanks has become a major problem throughout Australia, especially in small towns near the capital,  as farmers continue to face the worst drought of a generation.  In the past two weeks, Australia’s government has invested more than $682 million in drought relief.  More than 90 percent of the most populated state of New South Wales is experiencing a drought.

Australia announced plans on Oct. 25 to build the largest solar power station in the world. The government promised to contribute the equivalent of $57 million to the project, which is predicted to cost a total of $319 million. The plant uses mirrors to focus sunlight on solar cells, which will produce enough energy to power more than 45,000 homes without producing any greenhouse gases. The announcement comes as Australia faces increasing criticism that it is not doing enough in the fight against global warming, particularly as it faces its worst drought in recent history. Australia produces the most carbon dioxide per person of any nation, and, like the United States, refused to sign the Kyoto Protocol.

Through Thick and Thin

Think a fur coat and thick skin can protect you from the West Nile Virus? Not if you’re Kunik, the polar bear in the Toronto zoo who allegedly died from the disease after a mosquito bit him on the nose. Kunik was euthanized a month ago after his hind legs stopped working, zoo officials reported last week. A sample of the bear’s brain tissue has been sent to a lab for testing; if confirmed, Kunik will be the first polar bear to die of the tropical disease.

An international organization focused on eating disorder education and treatment called for a worldwide ban on hiring severely underweight models for runway shows and magazine advertisements. Similar restrictions already caused a stir at modeling agencies in September, when organizers of Madrid’s Fashion Week used Body Mass Index (BMI)—an indicator of height-weight ratio—to disqualify some models for being too thin. Now, the Academy for Eating Disorders is hoping the entire industry will only hire models who exceed a BMI deemed “healthy” by the World Health Organization.

A study published in The British Journal of Criminology has found that “crimes of everyday life” perpetrated by middle class citizens are becoming common.  In a 2002 survey of 4,500 living in England, Wales, and Germany, the researchers found that deviance was a common reaction to what is perceived as unfair market practices, unrestrained market forces, and the pursuit of profits above all else.  Common forms of bad behavior include inflating insurance claims, falsely claiming benefits, falsely claiming refunds, and not disclosing faults in a second-hand sale, among others.

Old News is Good News

A new study presents evidence that a meteor that hit the Earth 65 years ago may not have been the cause of the worldwide mass extinction—which wiped out two-thirds of all species—that ended the Cretaceous Period. The Chicxulub meteor has been blamed for the extinction of the dinosaurs. Now, some paleontologists are arguing that the Age of Reptiles ended 500,000 years later as a result of multiple meteors, volcanic eruptions in India, and a final, and much larger, impact. Volcanic eruptions of the Deccan Flood Basalts in India for a period of more than a million years, they believe, led to increases in atmospheric greenhouse gases and a global temperature increase.
An Ohio State study has theorized that the rise of the Appalachian Mountains might have led to an ice age 450 million years ago.  Through a process of weathering—in which silicate rocks that have been pushed up from the crust of the Earth are exposed to atmospheric carbon dioxide and dissolve—the planet would have cooled. (The process, called the “icehouse effect,” is the opposite of the greenhouse effect.) In the experiment, geologists found evidence that the mountains began eroding about the same time as the ice age began.

A group of Johns Hopkins researchers uncovered the only known cemetery of elite Syrians from the Early Bronze Age, roughly 2500 B.C. to 2200 B.C. Six years ago, archaeologists created a stir when they discovered an untouched tomb in Northern Syria, but now digs have revealed at least seven additional tombs nearby, established over the course of three centuries. Researchers found evidence of the ritual sacrifice of infants, puppies, and decapitated donkeys. The sacrifices, along with gold and silver treasures, suggest the tombs may have been for royalty.

Energy Ups and Downs

Investment in renewable fuels and other “clean” technologies hit an all-time high in the third quarter of this year. According to an industry investment group, venture capitalists invested $933 million this quarter, primarily in alternative energy sources, such as ethanol, biodiesel and solar power. $2.29 billion has been invested in clean technology so far this year—more than twice the amount that had been invested by this point in 2005. The surge in investments comes as an increasing number of states push for increased biofuel use.

State energy officials in China announced last week that, though they plan to continue investing in renewable energy, the nation will be reducing its renewable energy goal. China now plans to have 16 percent of its energy come from renewable sources by 2020, down from the original goal of 20 percent. Chinese officials didn’t give specific reasons for this reduction. Today, about 7.5 percent of China’s energy comes from renewable sources. The nation plans to increase its use of renewable energy mostly in the form of hydro-electric power, like the $100 billion Three Gorges Dam on the Yangtze River expected to open in 2009.

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Originally published October 29, 2006


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