Category: News Posts

Diamonds Probably Don’t Crystallize In The Atmosphere Of Uranus

A new study finds that diamonds probably don’t crystallize in the atmospheres of planets such as Uranus and Neptune.

The conclusion is contrary to recent speculation that small diamonds would spontaneously form in carbon rich layers of the gas giant planets. White dwarf stars, according to the study, are veritable diamond factories.

Physicists at the Universtiet van Amsterdam and the FOM Institute for Atomic and Molecular Physics in the Netherlands performed a numerical analysis showing that at the temperatures and pressures in gas giant planets like Uranus.

Arrangements of carbon atoms would be much more suitable for creating tiny bits of graphite rather than diamond.




In white dwarfs, on the other hand, the simulation shows that the conditions would cause the carbon atoms to line up in configurations that are much more amenable for diamond crystallization.

The conclusion is consistent with the 2004 discovery of a cooling white dwarf star that appears to have a solid diamond core 4000 kilometers across.

Although diamond formation in the atmospheres of gas giants is not strictly impossible, the Dutch physicists say that the odds are exceedingly slim that a diamond could have formed under the conditions that exist in Uranus in the entire lifetime of the universe.

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Study Finds That Taking Heavy Doses Of Vitamin B Supplements May Increase Lung Cancer Risk

A new study has found a link between heavy vitamin B6 and B12 supplementation and lung cancer in men, especially men who smoke.

The researchers report that the risk is two to four times greater for long-term users of the supplements compared to non-users.

The study analyzed data for just over 77,000 participants, age 56-70, in the VITamins And Lifestyle (VITAL) cohort study, a long-term observational study that examined the association between vitamin and mineral supplementation and cancer risk.




Participants reported their vitamin B usage, including dosage information, for the 10-year period prior to the study.

The research team found the highest risk for male smokers taking more than 20 mg of B6 or 55 micrograms of B12 a day for 10 years.

Male smokers taking B6 were at three times greater lung cancer risk; those taking B12 were at four times greater risk. Non-smoking men were at twice the risk as those not taking the supplements. Women were not found to be at greater risk.

The study accounted for a range of factors that could influence the outcome, including age, race, education, alcohol consumption, body mass, and family history of lung cancer.

With these and additional factors weighed in, the risk remained high for men taking high doses of the supplements, particularly smokers.

Our data shows that taking high doses of B6 and B12 over a very long period of time could contribute to lung cancer incidence rates in male smokers. This is certainly a concern worthy of further evaluation,” said lead study author Theodore Brasky, PhD in a press statement.

The recommended daily intake of vitamin B6 is 1.3 milligrams in men and women ages 19-50; 1.7 milligrams in men aged 51 and older; and 1.3 milligrams in women aged 51 and older, according to the National Institutes of Health.

For B12 the recommended daily amount is 2.4 micrograms for ages 14 and older. The amounts of both vitamins associated with cancer risk in this study were significantly higher than the government’s recommendations.

These findings contradict a long-held belief that vitamin B supplementation may reduce cancer risk.

Previous research found a link between high levels of B6 and a reduction in lung cancer risk for smokers and nonsmokers, but the participant sample size was considerably smaller than in the latest study.

This was an observational study, and it’s important to note (as with all studies of this type) that the findings are a correlation, not proof of causation.

A second study is underway to replicate these results in another large participant group.

The study was published in the Journal of Clinical Oncology.

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Total Eclipses Aren’t As Rare As You Think

As millions flock to the path of totality across the U.S. for this once-in-a-generation event, you should know it’s going to happen again in less than two years.

However, you won’t notice. It’s going to happen over the Pacific Ocean and skirt the southern edge of Argentina. In fact, eclipses occur around the globe roughly every 18 months.

We’ve had 9 total solar eclipses since 2001.




So why do they feel so rare?

It can take hundreds of years for eclipses of the sun to pop up in the same place. But if you are willing to travel wherever you need to go, you can see them a lot more often, although not all of them happen in places you can easily get to.

There’s even been a double eclipse—recently.

Less than a year ago, NASA scientists caught both the Earth and the moon crossing in front of the sun.

The Earth blocked out the sun completely from the perspective at NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory at the same time the moon started to cross in front of the sun.

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People Who ‘Hear Voices’ Can Detect Hidden Speech In Unusual Sounds

People who hear voices that other people can’t hear may use unusual skills when their brains process new sounds, according to research led by Durham University and University College London (UCL).

The study, published in the academic journal Brain, found that voice-hearers could detect disguised speech-like sounds more quickly and easily than people who had never had a voice-hearing experience.

The findings suggest that voice-hearers have an enhanced tendency to detect meaningful speech patterns in ambiguous sounds.

The researchers say this insight into the brain mechanisms of voice-hearers tells us more about how these experiences occur in voice-hearers without a mental health problem, and could ultimately help scientists and clinicians find more effective ways to help people who find their voices disturbing.




The study involved people who regularly hear voices, also known as auditory verbal hallucinations, but do not have a mental health problem.

Participants listened to a set of disguised speech sounds known as sine-wave speech while they were having an MRI brain scan.

Usually, these sounds can only be understood once people are either told to listen out for speech, or have been trained to decode the disguised sounds.

Sine-wave speech is often described as sounding a bit like birdsong or alien-like noises. However, after training people can understand the simple sentences hidden underneath (such as “The boy ran down the path” or “The clown had a funny face”).

In the experiment, many of the voice-hearers recognised the hidden speech before being told it was there, and on average they tended to notice it earlier than other participants who had no history of hearing voices.

The brains of the voice-hearers automatically responded to sounds that contained hidden speech compared to sounds that were meaningless, in the regions of the brain linked to attention and monitoring skills.

The small-scale study was conducted with 12 voice-hearers and 17 non voice-hearers. Nine out of 12 (75 per cent) voice-hearers reported hearing the hidden speech compared to eight out of 17 (47 per cent) non voice-hearers.

Lead author Dr Ben Alderson-Day, Research Fellow from Durham University’s Hearing the Voice project, said: “These findings are a demonstration of what we can learn from people who hear voices that are not distressing or problematic.”

It suggests that the brains of people who hear voices are particularly tuned to meaning in sounds, and shows how unusual experiences might be influenced by people’s individual perceptual and cognitive processes.

People who hear voices often have a diagnosis of a mental health condition such as schizophrenia or bipolar disorder. However, not all voice-hearers have a mental health problem.

Research suggests that between five and 15 per cent of the general population have had an occasional experience of hearing voices, with as many as one per cent having more complex and regular voice-hearing experiences in the absence of any need for psychiatric care.

Co-author Dr Cesar Lima from UCL’s Speech Communication Lab commented: “We did not tell the participants that the ambiguous sounds could contain speech before they were scanned, or ask them to try to understand the sounds.

Nonetheless, these participants showed distinct neural responses to sounds containing disguised speech, as compared to sounds that were meaningless.

This was interesting to us because it suggests that their brains can automatically detect meaning in sounds that people typically struggle to understand unless they are trained.

The research is part of a collaboration between Durham University’s Hearing the Voice project, a large interdisciplinary study of voice-hearing funded by the Wellcome Trust, and UCL’s Speech Communication lab.

Durham’s Hearing the Voice project aims to develop a better understanding of the experience of hearing a voice when no one is speaking.

The researchers want to increase understanding of voice-hearing by examining it from different academic perspectives, working with clinicians and other mental health professionals, and listening to people who have heard voices themselves.

In the long term, it is hoped that the research will inform mental health policy and improve therapeutic practice in cases where people find their voices distressing and clinical help is sought.

Professor Charles Fernyhough, Director of Hearing the Voice at Durham University, said: ‘This study brings the expertise of UCL’s Speech Communication lab together with Durham’s Hearing the Voice project to explore what is a frequently troubling and widely misunderstood experience.

Professor Sophie Scott from UCL Speech Communication Lab added: “This is a really exciting demonstration of the ways that unusual experiences with voices can be linked to — and may have their basis in — everyday perceptual processes.

The study involved researchers from Durham University, University College London, University of Porto (Portugal), University of Westminster and University of Oxford.

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Mountain Forest Growth Has Established The Earth’s Climate For Millions Of Years

The Earth’s atmospheric carbon dioxide has remained remarkably stable over the past 24 million years.

And scientists believe they have now solved part of the mystery as to why this has been the case, despite changing geological conditions.

They believe that ancient tree roots in the mountains may play an important role in controlling long-term global temperatures acting as a type of natural ‘thermostat’.

When CO2 levels became too low for plants to grow properly, forests in mountains appear to have kept the climate in check by slowing down the removal of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.




This study shows how trees can act as brakes on extreme climate change, and the roots of trees in tropical mountains such as the Andes play a disproportionate role,” Yadvinder Malhi, professor of Ecosystem Science at Oxford University said.

However, these responses take thousands to millions of years and cannot do much to slow the rate of global warming we are experiencing this century.

Researchers from Oxford and Sheffield Universities discovered that temperatures affect the thickness of the leaf litter and organic soil layers, as well as the rate at which the tree roots grow.

In a warmer world, this means that tree roots are more likely to grow into the mineral layer of the soil, breaking down rock which will eventually combine with carbon dioxide.

This process, called weathering, draws carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere and cools the planet.

The theory suggests that mountainous ecosystems have acted like the Earth’s thermostat, addressing the risk of ‘catastrophic‘ overheating or cooling over millions of years.

In their research paper, published online in Geophysical Research Letters, the researchers carried out studies in tropical rain forests in Peru.

They measured growth of the tree roots across different sites of varying altitude – from the warm Amazonian Lowlands to the cooler mountain ranges of the Andes- every three months over several years.

At each of the sites, they also measured the thickness of the organic layer above the soil.

This information was then combined with data of monthly temperature, humidity, rainfall, and soil moisture to calculate the likely breakdown process of the basalt and granite rocks found in the mountain ranges of Peru.

Using this model, scientists were able to scale up their results to calculate the likely contribution of mountain forests worldwide to global weathering rates.

The researchers then calculated the likely amount of carbon to be pulled out of the atmosphere through weathering when the Earth became very hot.

They looked at the volcanic eruptions in India 65 million years ago, known as the Deccan traps.

The model also allowed them to calculate the weathering process and carbon feedback after the Earth’s cooling 45 million years ago, when great mountain ranges like the Andes and the Himalayas were first formed.

The paper suggests that mountainous regions may play a particularly important role in drawing carbon out of the atmosphere because they have abundant volcanic rock which is highly reactive to weathering when it disintegrates.

This is a simple process driven by tree root growth and the decomposition of organic material,” said lead researcher Chris Doughty, from Oxford University.

Yet it may contribute to Earth’s long-term climate stability. It seems to act like a thermostat, drawing more carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere when it is warm and less when it is cooler.

A series of climatic events over the last 65 million years ago have resulted in global temperatures rising and falling.

However, the weathering process that regulates carbon dioxide in the atmosphere may be buffered by forests that grow in mountainous parts of the world.

In the past, this natural process may have prevented the planet from reaching temperatures that are catastrophic for life.

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Why A Few Drops Of Water Make Whisky Taste Better

Ignore the snobs, because most experts agree: a few drops of water enhance the taste of whiskies, from well-rounded blends to peat bombs redolent of smoke, tobacco and leather.

The only real question is, why is this true?

The answer, a pair of biochemists in Sweden said Thursday, resides in the subtle interplay of molecules that brings those bursting with flavour to the surface of the liquid amber in one’s glass.

The smoky flavour typical of whiskies made on the Scottish island of Islay, for example, can be traced to a group of flavour-packed molecules known as phenols, and to one in particular called guaiacol.




Laboratory simulations revealed that adding a splash of H2O makes guaiacol rise to “the air-liquid interface,” Bjorn Karlsson and Ran Friedman of Linnaeus University in Kalmar, Sweden reported in the journal Scientific Reports.

Because this drink is consumed at the interface first,” they continued, belabouring the obvious as only scientists can, “our findings help to understand why adding water to whisky helps to enhance its taste.

Higher concentrations of guaiacol are found in Scottish whiskies than in American or Irish ones, the study found.

For any whisky, the importance of adding water is already evident in the manufacturing process.

Whiskies are made by distilling fermented grains, such as barley or rye. Distilled malt whiskies typically contain around 70 percent alcohol before being aged in oak barrels for at least three years.

Maturation reduces the alcohol content by 5 to 15 percent, But that is still far too high for optimal drinking pleasure, so the whisky’s alcohol content is further diluted to around 40 percent before bottling by adding water.

At least one famous connoisseur, Winston Churchill, has suggested that the scientists may have gotten things backwards in their findings.

When I was a young subaltern in the South African War, the water was not fit to drink,” Britain’s wartime prime minister famously reminisced.

To make it palatable we had to add whisky.

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Vitamin C Could Be Up To 100 Times More Effective Than Drugs At Killing Cancer Cells

Researchers from the University of Salford gave cancer cells increasing doses of the antibiotic doxycycline over three months.

They then gave the cells vitamin C, which restricts their energy source to just glucose.

This kept the cells alive, albeit severely weakened. Vitamin C does this by inhibiting most of the cells’ energy-making processes.

The researchers then took away glucose, resulting in the cells’ starvation.




Results, published in the journal Oncotarget, revealed that when vitamin C is given with doxycycline it is nearly 100 times more effective than standard-of-care drugs at killing cancer cells, according to the researchers.

This builds on research by the University of Salford back in March that found vitamin C alone is up to 10 times more effective at stopping cancer cell growth than drugs.

As doxycycline and vitamin C are both relatively non-toxic, the findings could dramatically reduce the possible side effects of cancer treatment, the researchers add.

Professor Lisanti said: “This is further evidence that vitamin C and other non-toxic compounds may have a role to play in the fight against cancer.

Our results indicate it is a promising agent for clinical trials, and as an add-on to more conventional therapies, to prevent tumour recurrence, further disease progression and metastasis.

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Stem Cell Technique Could Lead To New Ways To Treat Male Infertility

Scientists have created immature sperm cells in a laboratory dish and injected them into eggs to produce mouse offspring.

The Chinese researchers say their stem cell technique could pave the way for new treatments for male infertility.

British experts have called for the results to be independently verified and pointed out that any practical application is likely to be a long way off.

The mouse cells produced were technically “spermatids” – undeveloped sperm that lack tails and cannot swim.




Yet when they were injected into mouse eggs, mimicking a common IVF technique called Icsi (intracytoplasmic sperm injection), they delivered viable embryos and healthy, fertile babies.

In the UK, using spermatids in the same way to produce a pregnancy would be illegal.

Dr Jiahao Sha, from Nanjing Medical University who co-led the research, which was reported in the peer-reviewed journal Cell Stem Cell, said: “If proven to be safe and effective in humans, our platform could potentially generate fully functional sperm for artificial insemination or in-vitro fertilisation techniques.

Because currently available treatments do not work for many couples, we hope that our approach could substantially improve success rates for male infertility.

The scientists began with stem cells taken from mouse embryos which were exposed to a carefully mixed cocktail of chemicals. This triggered their transformation into primordial germ cells, the first step on the developmental path to becoming sperm.

Next, the germ cells were exposed to testicular cells and testosterone in an attempt to mimic the natural environment of the testes.

When the resulting spermatids were injected into mouse eggs, they proved capable of producing embryos that developed normally.

Infertility affects around 15% of couples and can be traced to the man in about a third of cases.

A major cause of male infertility is the failure of pre-cursor cells in the testes to undergo a special type of cell division called meiosis.

In 2014, a team of distinguished reproductive biologists writing in the journal Cell proposed a set of “gold standard” criteria to prove that all the essential steps of meiosis have taken place in artificially created eggs or sperm.

They included showing evidence of correct DNA content in the cell nucleus at specific meiotic stages, normal chromosome number and organisation, and the ability of the engineered cells to produce viable offspring.

Scientists in the UK praised the “mammoth” achievement of their Chinese colleagues – but said there were still many obstacles to be overcome before sperm-like cells grown in the laboratory could be of use to infertile men.

Professor Richard Sharpe, from the Medical Research Council Centre for Reproductive Health at the University of Edinburgh, said safety was a major issue.

Bear in mind that if germ cells do not format their DNA correctly, it may not only affect the resulting individual but might also affect the next generation,” he warned.

Allan Pacey, Professor of Andrology at the University of Sheffield, said the study was an “interesting step forward”, but added: “In spite of these encouraging results, we are still some way from immediately applying this technique as a potential cure for human male infertility.”

It remains to be seen if this technique could be applied in humans to create sperm-like cells that might be useable in IVF.

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Speedy White Dwarf Fragment Might Have Survived A Partial Supernova

Astronomers have discovered a star like none seen before. They think it may be the remnant of an incomplete supernova explosion, something that would explain one mystery, but create enough new ones to keep them happily hunting for a long time.

LP 40-365 is a 15th magnitude star, making it far too faint to see with the naked eye, but much brighter than the vast majority of objects recorded in sky maps.




Catalogs of stars registered the fact that it appears to be traveling very rapidly compared to the rest of the galaxy, and interested by such speedster stars, Professor Lilia Ferrario of the Australian National University and some fellow astronomers decided to check it out.

What they found, Ferrario told IFLScience, was more fascinating than anyone expected. LP 40-365’s light spectrum clearly marks it as a white dwarf, but one smaller than any we have seen before – just 0.14 times the mass of the Sun.

White dwarfs are extremely compact stars, where gravitational collapse is prevented by the pressure exerted by a gas of degenerate electrons. A teaspoon of white dwarf material would weigh many tonnes on Earth,” Ferrario said in a statement.

White dwarfs are the remnants of medium to large stars that have run out of fuel. They are called dwarfs because they are very compact, but, even with all the material they have lost, their masses are close to that of the Sun.

LP 40-365 “must have interacted with something to end up the way it is,” Ferrario told IFLScience.

The explanation Ferrario and her colleagues have presented in Science is that LP 40-365 is the result of what is called a Iax supernova.

Type Ia supernovas are thought to occur when a white dwarf star that is part of a binary system with another star draws gas away from its companion until it has so much it explodes, although a subclass is triggered by the collision of two white dwarfs.

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‘Alternative Cancer Therapies’ May Increase Your Risk Of Death

Cancer patients who use alternative medicine more than twice as likely to die,” is the stark message from The Independent.

Researchers found that people who chose alternative medicine instead of conventional cancer treatments were much less likely to survive for at least five years.

Conventional treatments included surgery, radiotherapy, chemotherapy or hormone treatments. The research only applies to people who choose not to have conventional treatments.

Overall, 78% of people having conventional treatment for cancer survived at least five years, compared to only 55% of people having alternative treatment alone.




The difference was biggest for breast cancer, where people who chose alternative therapies were more than five times as likely to die within five years as those who chose conventional treatments.

Because this is an observational study, we don’t know if other factors might have affected people’s survival chances, as well as treatment choice. However, treatment choice seems the most likely explanation.

There are reports that some people find complementary treatments of benefit during cancer treatments. For example, some people have said that acupuncture helped them cope better with the side effects of chemotherapy.

But importantly, the emphasis is very much on the “complementary” and not on the “alternative“. Ignoring medical advice on the treatment choices that potentially offer the most benefit could prove fatal.

This was an observational case control study. This means researchers identified people with cancer who chose to use alternative therapies (cases) and compared their outcomes with those of people with cancer who chose conventional treatments (controls).

The controls were matched as far as possible with each case based on age, sex, demographics and type of cancer. Observational studies can show trends and links between factors (in this case between

Observational studies can show trends and links between factors (in this case between type of treatment and length of survival after cancer diagnosis) but cannot prove that one causes the other.

Researchers used data from the US National Cancer Database to identify patients with breast, lung, colorectal or prostate cancer, who opted not to receive conventional cancer therapies, but were recorded as having had “other-unproven cancer treatments administered by non-medical personnel.

These patients were matched with two patients with the same type of cancer, who were similar in other ways, but had opted for conventional treatment.

Researchers then looked to see how many people lived for at least five years, comparing those who chose alternative therapies with those who chose conventional cancer treatments.

Researchers only included people who had cancer that had not yet spread from the initial site. This type of cancer is usually treatable by conventional treatments.

They also excluded people with stage 4 (advanced) cancer, those whose treatment was intended to be palliative rather than curative, and people whose treatment was unknown.

Researchers found 281 people who matched the criteria and who had opted for alternative therapy only. Of these, 280 were matched to 560 people with the same cancer, who chose conventional cancer treatments.

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