Science

New Scanning Technique Reveals Secrets Behind Great Paintings (bbc.com) 26

Researchers in the US have used a new scanning technique to discover a painting underneath one of Pablo Picasso's great works of art, the Crouching Woman (La Misereuse Accroupie). From a report: Underneath the oil painting is a landscape of Barcelona which, it turns out, Picasso used as the basis of his masterpiece. The new x-ray fluorescence system is cheaper than alternative art scanning systems -- and it is portable, making it available to any gallery that wants it. Details were revealed at the American Association for the Advancement for Science in Austin, Texas. The Crouching Woman is a painting from Picasso's blue period.

What is remarkable is that the landscape painting beneath -- probably by a student artist -- is turned 90 degrees. The contour of the hills in the background becomes the crouching woman's back. She takes on the shape and form of the Catalan countryside. Kenneth Brummel, a curator at the Art Gallery of Ontario in Toronto, said that he was "excited" when he first learned what lay underneath the Crouching Woman. "It helps to date the painting and it also helps to determine where the painting was made," he told BBC News. "But it also gives a sense of the artists with whom the painter was engaging. And these insights help us ask new, more interesting and scientifically more accurate questions regarding an artist, their process and how they arrived at the forms that we see on the surface of a painting."

Earth

73 Percent of Fish In the Northwestern Atlantic Have Microplastics In Their Guts 81

According to a new study published today in the journal Frontiers in Marine Science, microplastics have been found in the stomachs of nearly three out of every four mesopelagic fish caught in the Northwest Atlantic. "These findings are worrying, as the affected fish could spread microplastics throughout the ocean," reports Phys.Org. "The fish are also prey for fish eaten by humans, meaning that microplastics could indirectly contaminate our food supply through the transfer of associated microplastic toxins." From the report: Microplastics are small plastic fragments that have accumulated in the marine environment following decades of pollution. These fragments can cause significant issues for marine organisms that ingest them, including inflammation, reduced feeding and weight-loss. Microplastic contamination may also spread from organism to organism when prey is eaten by predators. Since the fragments can bind to chemical pollutants, these associated toxins could accumulate in predator species. Mesopelagic fish serve as a food source for a large variety of marine animals, including tuna, swordfish, dolphins, seals and sea birds. Typically living at depths of 200-1,000 meters, these fish swim to the surface at night to feed then return to deeper waters during the day.

The researchers caught mesopelagic fish at varying depths, then examined their stomachs for microplastics back in the lab. They used a specialized air filter so as not to introduce airborne plastic fibers from the lab environment. The team found a wide array of microplastics in the fish stomachs -- with a whopping 73% of the fish having ingested the pollutants.
Sci-Fi

Would You Fear Alien Life or Welcome It? (cnet.com) 212

If you've ever watched a science fiction movie about aliens, you'll know that humans tend to freak out and destroy everything when faced with incontrovertible proof of the existence of alien life. But a new analysis from Arizona State University psychology professor Michael Varnum and his colleagues suggests that humans might actually remain pretty calm and collected when that big news breaks. CNET reports: Varnum makes this conclusion based on an analysis of newspaper articles covering past potential discoveries of extraterrestrial life. Specifically, he and his colleagues looked at articles about the weird dimming of so-called "Tabby's Star," Earth-like planets around the star Trappist-1, and the potential discovery of Martian microbe fossils from 1996. They found language in the stories demonstrated much more positive emotion than fear or other negative emotions. In a second study, the team also surveyed over 500 people, asking them to guess how they and humanity would react to an announcement that alien microbial life had been discovered. In the case of both their own reaction and everyone else's, the participants hypothesized responses that were more positive than negative. The research was published last month in Frontiers in Psychology.
Earth

Coffee Beans Are Good For Birds, Fancy Brew Or Not (sciencedaily.com) 31

Zorro shares a report from The New York Times (Warning: source may be paywalled; alternative source ): Birds are not as picky about their coffee as people are. Although coffee snobs prefer arabica beans to robusta, a new study in India found that growing coffee does not interfere with biodiversity -- no matter which bean the farmer chooses. In the Western Ghats region of India, a mountainous area parallel to the subcontinent's western coast, both arabica and robusta beans are grown as bushes under larger trees -- unlike in South America, where the coffee plants themselves grow as large as trees, said Krithi Karanth, who helped lead the study, published Friday in the journal Scientific Reports.

Arabica and robusta farms proved equally good for these creatures. "Some birds do better with arabica than robusta, but overall, they're both good for wildlife," she said. The difference is important, because data shows that more farmers in the area have been shifting to robusta in recent years, as prices rise for the variety, which is easier to grow. The researchers counted 106 species of birds on the coffee plantations, including at-risk species, such as the alexandrine parakeet, the breyheaded bulbul and the nilgiri woodpigeon. The findings show that farming is not incompatible with wildlife protection, said Jai Ranganathan, a conservation biologist and senior fellow at the National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis, at the University of California, Santa Barbara, who was not involved in the research.

Medicine

Concussions Can Be Detected With New Blood Test Approved by FDA. (nytimes.com) 21

The Food and Drug Administration this week approved a long-awaited blood test to detect concussions in people and more quickly identify those with possible brain injuries [Editor's note: the link may be paywalled; alternative source]. From a report: The test, called the Banyan Brain Trauma Indicator, is also expected to reduce the number of people exposed to radiation through CT scans, or computed tomography scans, that detect brain tissue damage or intracranial lesions. If the blood test is adopted widely, it could eliminate the need for CT scans in at least a third of those with suspected brain injuries, the agency predicted. Concussion-related brain damage has become a particularly worrisome public health issue in many sports, especially football, affecting the ranks of professional athletes on down to the young children in Pop Warner leagues. Those concerns have escalated so far that it has led to a decline in children participating in tackle sports.
United States

Household Products Now Rival Cars As a Source of Air Pollution, Say Scientists (theguardian.com) 84

An anonymous reader quotes a report from The Guardian: Household cleaners, paints and perfumes have become substantial sources of urban air pollution as strict controls on vehicles have reduced road traffic emissions, scientists say. Researchers in the US looked at levels of synthetic "volatile organic compounds", or VOCs, in roadside air in Los Angeles and found that as much came from industrial and household products refined from petroleum as from vehicle exhaust pipes. The compounds are an important contributor to air pollution because when they waft into the atmosphere, they react with other chemicals to produce harmful ozone or fine particulate matter known as PM2.5. Ground level ozone can trigger breathing problems by making the airways constrict, while fine airborne particles drive heart and lung disease. Writing in the journal Science, De Gouw and others report that the amount of VOCs emitted from household and industrial products is two to three times higher than official US estimates suggest. The result is surprising since only about 5% of raw oil is turned into chemicals for consumer products, with 95% ending up as fuel.
Space

SpaceX Hits Two Milestones In Plan For Low-Latency Satellite Broadband (arstechnica.com) 81

SpaceX is about to launch two demonstration satellites, and it is on track to get the Federal Communications Commission's permission to offer satellite internet service in the U.S. "Neither development is surprising, but they're both necessary steps for SpaceX to enter the satellite broadband market," reports Ars Technica. "SpaceX is one of several companies planning low-Earth orbit satellite broadband networks that could offer much higher speeds and much lower latency than existing satellite internet services." From the report: Today, FCC Chairman Ajit Pai proposed approving SpaceX's application "to provide broadband services using satellite technologies in the United States and on a global basis," a commission announcement said. SpaceX would be the fourth company to receive such an approval from the FCC, after OneWeb, Space Norway, and Telesat. "These approvals are the first of their kind for a new generation of large, non-geostationary satellite orbit, fixed-satellite service systems, and the Commission continues to process other, similar requests," the FCC said today. SpaceX's application has undergone "careful review" by the FCC's satellite engineering experts, according to Pai. "If adopted, it would be the first approval given to an American-based company to provide broadband services using a new generation of low-Earth orbit satellite technologies," Pai said.

Separately, CNET reported yesterday that SpaceX's Falcon 9 launch on Saturday will include "[t]he first pair of demonstration satellites for the company's 'Starlink' service." The demonstration launch is confirmed in SpaceX's FCC filings. One SpaceX filing this month mentions that a secondary payload on Saturday's Falcon 9 launch will include "two experimental non-geostationary orbit satellites, Microsat-2a and -2b." Those are the two satellites that SpaceX previously said would be used in its first phase of broadband testing.

Medicine

Ultra-Processed Foods May Be Linked To Cancer, Says Study (theguardian.com) 320

An anonymous reader quotes a report from The Guardian: Ultra-processed" foods, made in factories with ingredients unknown to the domestic kitchen, may be linked to cancer, according to a large and groundbreaking study. Ultra-processed foods include pot noodles, shelf-stable ready meals, cakes and confectionery which contain long lists of additives, preservatives, flavorings and colorings -- as well as often high levels of sugar, fat and salt. They now account for half of all the food bought by families eating at home in the UK, as the Guardian recently revealed. A team, led by researchers based at the Sorbonne in Paris, looked at the medical records and eating habits of nearly 105,000 adults who are part of the French NutriNet-Sante cohort study, registering their usual intake of 3,300 different food items. They found that a 10% increase in the amount of ultra-processed foods in the diet was linked to a 12% increase in cancers of some kind. The researchers also looked to see whether there were increases in specific types of cancer and found a rise of 11% in breast cancer, although no significant upturn in colorectal or prostate cancer. "If confirmed in other populations and settings, these results suggest that the rapidly increasing consumption of ultra-processed foods may drive an increasing burden of cancer in the next decades," says the paper in the British Medical Journal.
Earth

Tesla Roadster Elon Musk Launched Into Space Has 6 Percent Chance of Hitting Earth In the Next Million Years (sciencemag.org) 148

sciencehabit shares a report from Science Magazine: SpaceX CEO Elon Musk grabbed the world's attention last week after launching his Tesla Roadster into space. But his publicity stunt has a half-life way beyond even what he could imagine -- the Roadster should continue to orbit through the solar system, perhaps slightly battered by micrometeorites, for a few tens of millions of years. Now, a group of researchers specializing in orbital dynamics has analyzed the car's orbit for the next few million years. And although it's impossible to map it out precisely, there is a small chance that one day it could return and crash into Earth. But don't panic: That chance is just 6% over a million years, and it would likely burn up as it entered the atmosphere.

Hanno Rein of the University of Toronto in Canada and his colleagues regularly model the motions of planets and exoplanets. "We have all the software ready, and when we saw the launch last week we thought, 'Let's see what happens.' So we ran the [Tesla's] orbit forward for several million years," he says. The Falcon Heavy rocket from SpaceX propelled the car out toward Mars, but the sun's gravity will bring it swinging in again some months from now in an elliptical orbit, so it will repeatedly cross the orbits of Mars, Earth, and Venus until it sustains a fatal accident. The Roadster's first close encounter with Earth will be in 2091 -- the first of many in the millennia to come.

AI

To Fight Fatal Infections, Hospitals May Turn to Algorithms (scientificamerican.com) 4

The technology used by Facebook, Google and Amazon to turn spoken language into text, recognize faces and target advertising could help doctors combat one of the deadliest killers in American hospitals. From a report: Clostridium difficile, a deadly bacterium spread by physical contact with objects or infected people, thrives in hospitals, causing 453,000 cases a year and 29,000 deaths in the United States, according to a 2015 study in the New England Journal of Medicine. Traditional methods such as monitoring hygiene and warning signs often fail to stop the disease. But what if it were possible to systematically target those most vulnerable to C-diff? Erica Shenoy, an infectious-disease specialist at Massachusetts General Hospital, and Jenna Wiens, a computer scientist and assistant professor of engineering at the University of Michigan, did just that when they created an algorithm to predict a patient's risk of developing a C-diff infection, or CDI. Using patients' vital signs and other health records, this method -- still in an experimental phase -- is something both researchers want to see integrated into hospital routines. The CDI algorithm -- based on a form of artificial intelligence called machine learning -- is at the leading edge of a technological wave starting to hit the U.S. health care industry. After years of experimentation, machine learning's predictive powers are well-established, and it is poised to move from labs to broad real-world applications, said Zeeshan Syed, who directs Stanford University's Clinical Inference and Algorithms Program.
Space

The Next Falcon Heavy Will Carry the Most Powerful Atomic Clock Ever Launched (space.com) 128

schwit1 shares a report from Space.com: This isn't your average timekeeper. The so-called Deep Space Atomic Clock (DSAC) is far smaller than Earth-bound atomic clocks, far more precise than the handful of other space-bound atomic clocks, and more resilient against the stresses of space travel than any clock ever made. According to a NASA statement, it's expected to lose no more than 2 nanoseconds (2 billionths of a second) over the course of a day. That comes to about 7 millionths of a second over the course of a decade. n an email to Live Science, Andrew Good, a Jet Propulsion Laboratory representative, said the first DSAC will hitch a ride on the second Falcon Heavy launch, scheduled for June.

Every deep-space mission that makes course corrections needs to send signals to ground stations on Earth. Those ground stations rely on atomic clocks to measure just how long those signals took to arrive, which allows them to locate the spacecrafts position down to the meter in the vast vacuum. They then send signals back, telling the craft where they are and where to go next. Thats a cumbersome process, and it means any given ground station can support only one spacecraft at a time. The goal of DSAC, according to a NASA fact sheet, is to allow spacecraft to make precise timing measurements onboard a spacecraft, without waiting for information from Earth. A DSAC-equipped spacecraft, according to NASAs statement, could calculate time without waiting for measurements from Earth -- allowing it to make course adjustments or perform precision science experiments without pausing to turn its antennas earthward and waiting for a reply.

Space

New Horizons Probe Captures Images At Record Distance From Earth (engadget.com) 55

jwhyche writes: The New Horizons probe has captured the farthermost images of Earth. The probe took images of Earth from a distance of over 3.79 billion miles on December 5th, 2017. This beats the image Voyager 1 captured 27 years ago. The Voyager image was taken at a distance of 3.75 billion miles and has become known as the "Pale Blue Dot" photo. Engadget notes that this new record is likely to be broken again within a matter of months. "The [New Horizons spacecraft] is slated to swing by another Kuiper Belt object (2014 MU69) on January 1st, 2019 and record more imagery in the process," reports Engadget. "So long as the mission goes according to plan, New Horizons could hold on to its lead for a long time."
Medicine

Hospitals May Turn To Algorithms To Fight Fatal Infections (scientificamerican.com) 54

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Scientific American: Clostridium difficile, a deadly bacterium spread by physical contact with objects or infected people, thrives in hospitals, causing 453,000 cases a year and 29,000 deaths in the United States, according to a 2015 study in the New England Journal of Medicine. Traditional methods such as monitoring hygiene and warning signs often fail to stop the disease. But what if it were possible to systematically target those most vulnerable to C-diff? Erica Shenoy, an infectious-disease specialist at Massachusetts General Hospital, and Jenna Wiens, a computer scientist and assistant professor of engineering at the University of Michigan, did just that when they created an algorithm to predict a patient's risk of developing a C-diff infection, or CDI. Using patients' vital signs and other health records, this method -- still in an experimental phase -- is something both researchers want to see integrated into hospital routines.

The CDI algorithm -- based on a form of artificial intelligence called machine learning -- is at the leading edge of a technological wave starting to hit the U.S. health care industry. After years of experimentation, machine learning's predictive powers are well-established, and it is poised to move from labs to broad real-world applications, said Zeeshan Syed, who directs Stanford University's Clinical Inference and Algorithms Program. Shenoy and Wiens' CDI algorithm analyzed a data set from 374,000 inpatient admissions to Massachusetts General Hospital and the University of Michigan Health System, seeking connections between cases of CDI and the circumstances behind them. The records contained over 4,000 distinct variables. As it repeatedly analyzes this data, the ML process extracts warning signs of disease that doctors may miss -- constellations of symptoms, circumstances and details of medical history most likely to result in infection at any point in the hospital stay.

Earth

25 Years of Satellite Data Shows Global Warming Is Accelerating Sea Level Rise (usnews.com) 342

An anonymous reader quotes a report from The Associated Press: Melting ice sheets in Greenland and Antarctica are speeding up the already fast pace of sea level rise, new satellite research shows. At the current rate, the world's oceans on average will be at least 2 feet (61 centimeters) higher by the end of the century compared to today, according to researchers who published in Monday's Proceedings of the National Academies of Sciences. Sea level rise is caused by warming of the ocean and melting from glaciers and ice sheets. The research, based on 25 years of satellite data, shows that pace has quickened, mainly from the melting of massive ice sheets. It confirms scientists' computer simulations and is in line with predictions from the United Nations, which releases regular climate change reports. Of the 3 inches (7.5 centimeters) of sea level rise in the past quarter century, about 55 percent is from warmer water expanding, and the rest is from melting ice. But the process is accelerating, and more than three-quarters of that acceleration since 1993 is due to melting ice sheets in Greenland and Antarctica, the study shows.
Space

SpaceX's Falcon Heavy Center Booster Lacked Ignition Fluid To Light Engines and Land On Platform (latimes.com) 164

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Los Angeles Times: The center core booster of SpaceX's Falcon Heavy didn't land on a floating sea platform as intended during last week's first test flight because it ran out of ignition fluid, company Chief Executive Elon Musk said Monday. Musk took to Twitter on Monday morning to give a few more updates on the Falcon Heavy's first flight. After liftoff, the rocket's two side boosters touched down simultaneously on land, eliciting cheers and applause from the crowd of SpaceX employees gathered in the company's Hawthorne headquarters, as seen on the launch livestream. Those two boosters, which were used in previous launches of SpaceX's workhorse Falcon 9 rocket, will not be reused again, Musk said in a post-launch news conference last week. But the center core booster ended up hitting the Atlantic Ocean at 300 mph and about 328 feet from the floating platform where it was supposed to land. Musk said Monday that there wasn't enough ignition fluid to light the outer two engines of the booster "after several three engine relights."
Medicine

The Flu and Airports (fastcompany.com) 180

An anonymous reader writes: The CDC says this year's flu season is on track to either rival or dethrone 2009's swine flu. 3,000 people across the U.S. have died as a result of the flu in the first 20 days of 2018, according to the National Center for Health Statistics, and that number has likely risen. If you want to avoid the flu (and of course you do) the National Institute of Health says orange juice won't cut it. Instead, the best flu prevention is a vaccine, and it's not too late to get one. Pair a flu shot with frequent hand washing, and avoiding touching your eyes, nose, or mouth so you don't transfer any virus from your hands, and you just might manage to avoid the flu.
ISS

The Trump Administration is Moving To Privatize the International Space Station: Report (techcrunch.com) 235

The Trump administration is planning to privatize the international space station instead of simply decommissioning the orbiting international experiment in 2024, The Washington Post reports. From a report: According to a document obtained by the Post, the current administration is mulling handing the International Space Station off to private industry instead of de-orbiting it as NASA "will expand international and commercial partnerships over the next seven years in order to ensure continued human access to and presence in low Earth orbit." The Post also reported that the administration was looking to request $150 million in fiscal year 2019 "to enable the development and maturation of commercial entities and capabilities which will ensure that commercial successors to the ISS -- potentially including elements of the ISS -- are operational when they are needed." The U.S. government has already spent roughly $100 billion to build and operate the space station as part of an international coalition that also includes the European Space Agency, the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, and the Russian Space Agency.
Science

A Chemical Bath and a Hot-press Can Transform Wood Into a Material That is Stronger Than Steel, Researchers Find (nature.com) 250

The process, and others like it, could make the humble material an eco-friendly alternative to using plastics and metals in the manufacture of cars and buildings, Nature reported this week. From the report: "It's a new class of materials with great potential," says Li Teng, a mechanics specialist at the University of Maryland in College Park and a co-author of the study published on 7 February in Nature. Attempts to strengthen wood go back decades. Some efforts have focused on synthesizing new materials by extracting the nanofibres in cellulose -- the hard natural polymer in the tubular cells that funnel water through plant tissue. Li's team took a different approach: the researchers focused on modifying the porous structure of natural wood. First, they boiled different wood types, including oak, in a solution of sodium hydroxide and sodium sulfite for seven hours. That treatment left the starchy cellulose mostly intact, but created more hollow space in the wood structure by removing some of the surrounding compounds. These included lignin, a polymer that binds the cellulose. Then the team pressed the block -- like a panini sandwich -- at 100C (212F) for a day. The result: a wooden plank one-fifth the thickness, but three times the density of natural wood -- and 11.5 times stronger. Previous attempts to densify wood have improved the strength by a factor of about three to four.
Businesses

Searching For Lithium Deposits With Satellites (economist.com) 49

A group led by Cristian Rossi, an expert on remote sensing, is using satellites already in orbit to detect and map geological and botanical features that might betray the presence of subterranean lithium. Though satellite prospecting of this sort has been employed before, reads a new report in The Economist, to look for metals such as gold and copper, using it to search for lithium is new. From the report, which may be paywalled: The searchers are not searching blind. They know, from mining records dating from the mid-1800s, that there is lithium in Cornwall's rocks. Those records tell of underground springs containing salts of lithium -- at that time quite a recently discovered element. Back then these springs were seen, at best, as curiosities, and at worst as flooding risks, because there was then no market for the metal. Today, there is. In particular, lithium is the eponymous component of lithium-ion batteries. These power products ranging from smartphones to electric cars, and are being tested as a means of grid-scale electricity storage which could make the spread of renewable energy much easier. No surprise, then, that prices have been rising. In 2008 a tonne of lithium carbonate cost around $6,000. Now it would set you back more than $12,000.
Social Networks

Is Social Media Causing Childhood Depression? (bbc.com) 131

General practitioner Rangan Chatterjee says he has seen plenty of evidence of the link between mental ill-health in children and their use of social media. "One 16 year-old boy was referred to him after he self-harmed and ended up in A&E," reports BBC. Dr. Chatterjee was going to put him on anti-depressants, but instead worked with him to help wean him off social media. "He reported a significant improvement in his wellbeing and, after six months, I had a letter from his mother saying he was happier at school and integrated into the local community," says Dr. Chatterjee. That and similar cases have led him to question the role social media plays in the lives of young people. From the report: "Social media is having a negative impact on mental health," he said. "I do think it is a big problem and that we need some rules. How do we educate society to use technology so it helps us rather than harms us?" A 2017 study by The Royal Society of Public Health asked 1,500 young people aged 11-25 to track their moods while using the five most popular social media sites. It suggested Snapchat and Instagram were the most likely to inspire feelings of inadequacy and anxiety. YouTube had the most positive influence. Seven in 10 said Instagram made them feel worse about body image and half of 14-24-year-olds reported Instagram and Facebook exacerbated feelings of anxiety. Two-thirds said Facebook made cyber-bullying worse.

Consultant psychiatrist Louise Theodosiou says one of the clearest indications children are spending too long on their phones is their behavior during a session with a psychiatrist. "Two or three years ago, it was very unusual for a child to answer their phone or text during an appointment. But now it is common," said the Royal Manchester Children's Hospital doctor. She has seen a rise in cases where social media is a contributing factor in teenage depression, anxiety and other mental health issues. These problems are often complex and wide-ranging -- from excessive use of gaming or social media sites to feelings of inadequacy brought on by a constant bombardment of social media images of other people's lives, to cyber-bullying.

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