Month: July, 2017

How to Watch The 2017 Solar Eclipse Safely

solar eclipse

The total solar eclipse being called the “Great American Eclipse” will pass through 14 states from Oregon to South Carolina on August 21. Though eclipses are not rare per se, it’s uncommon for a total solar eclipse to sweep across the third most populous country in the world.

The mainland United States has not experienced such a celestial event since 1979. The rarity of these events means many of us may not be aware of the potential dangers. Fortunately, NASA and other experts are here to help.




Watching an eclipse can be a mesmerizing, unforgettable event, but it can also cause permanent eye damage without the proper safety precautions.

With the countdown just past the one-month point, NASA has published a set of safety tips for those who are planning to watch, so that viewers have the right safeguards in place before they become transfixed by the incredible sight.

NASA isn’t trying to be the eclipse safety glasses police,’” Alex Young, associate director for science in the Heliophysics Science Division at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, said in a statement.

solar eclipse

But “it’s important that individuals take the responsibility to check they have the proper solar eclipse viewing glasses.

The only safe way to look directly at the sun is with special solar filters. Those can come in the form of glasses or handheld solar viewers.

NASA’s guidelines advise viewers to use only glasses or viewers with certification information with a designated ISO 12312-2 international standard. They should also have a manufacturer’s name and address printed on them.

People also should ensure that their glasses or viewers are not older than three years and don’t have scratched or wrinkled lenses.

solar eclipse

NASA warns against using any homemade filters and ordinary sunglasses, even if the lenses seem very dark.

Watching an eclipse without the appropriate protection can cause solar retinopathy, which the American Academy of Ophthalmologists describes as an injury to retinal tissues commonly associated with sun gazing or eclipse viewing that can result in impaired vision.

Recovery is unpredictable and uncertain. Sometimes, the damage can be permanent.

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Pass it on: Popular Science

DNA-Based Sunscreen Gets More Effective With More Use

sunscreen

One of the hassles involved with using sunscreen is the fact that you shouldn’t just apply it once depending on who you ask, it should be reapplied at least once every few hours.

That isn’t the case, however, with an experimental new coating made from DNA. It actually gets more effective the longer it’s left on the skin.




Led by assistant professor of biomedical engineering Guy German, a team at New York’s Binghamton University developed thin and optically transparent crystalline DNA films, then irradiated them with ultraviolet light.

It was found that the more UV exposure the films received, the more their optical density increased, and the better they got at absorbing the rays.

Ultraviolet light can actually damage DNA, and that’s not good for the skin,” states German.

sunscreen

We thought, let’s flip it. What happens instead if we actually used DNA as a sacrificial layer? So instead of damaging DNA within the skin, we damage a layer on top of the skin.

Additionally, it turns out that the films slow water evaporation through the surface of the skin, thus keeping skin hydrated for longer periods of time. With that in mind, the technology could have at least one other application.

If it’s optically transparent and prevents tissue damage from the sun and it’s good at keeping the skin hydrated, we think this might be potentially exploitable as a wound covering for extreme environments,” says German.

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Pass it on: Popular Science

Building Block for ‘Vinyl Life’ Found on Saturn’s Moon Titan

saturn

When winter comes to Titan’s poles, it brings seasonal downpours of toxic molecules that could, under the right conditions, assemble themselves into structures like the biological membranes that encase living cells on Earth.

Called vinyl cyanide, those molecules are created high in Titan’s atmosphere, and now, scientists know there’s a truckload of them tucked into the moon’s orange haze that probably rain down on its icy surface.

More than 10 billion tons of it could be floating in Ligeia Mare, the second-largest lake in the north, according to the paper published today in Science Advances.




What the compound does once it gets into Titan’s lakes, and whether it actually self-assembles, is still a mystery. But based on the molecule’s hypothesized ability to form membranes, the discovery raises the question of whether one of life’s key requirements might be easily achievable in Titan’s alien oceans.

Titan has unique and weird chemistry, and all the evidence we have so far suggests there’s a possibility for it to be doing a lot of things we think are necessary for life to exist,” says Johns Hopkins University’s Sarah Hörst.

Everything we have ever learned from planetary science tells us that other worlds are way more creative than we are.

The largest of Saturn’s moons has intrigued astrobiologists for decades: Titan is more or less Earthlike except for its completely different chemistry.

saturn

It’s the only other world in the solar system where liquids stream and surge across the surface, it clings to a puffy nitrogen atmosphere, and it’s literally covered in complex organic compounds.

But temperatures on Titan plunge so low (-290°F) that water is hard as rock, so liquid ethane and methane flow into its seas instead.

The dunes near its equator aren’t made of sand but of frozen plastics, and it rains compounds normally synthesized in chemical processing plants on Earth.

In other words, if life evolved on Titan, its molecular machinery would be fine-tuned for efficiency in hydrocarbons rather than water.

saturn

There is nowhere else in the entire solar system that has those liquid hydrocarbon lakes,” says study coauthor Conor Nixon of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center. “You need a whole new biology to support that.”

The idea that vinyl cyanide might form something similar to Earthly cells comes from a research group at Cornell University.

That team looked at about a dozen of Titan’s atmospheric molecules and used computer models to determine which of them had the ability to self-assemble into membrane-like structures called azotosomes.

Helmed by then-graduate student James Stevenson, the team found that vinyl cyanide had the best chance of forming something that could be astrobiologically relevant in Titan’s extremely cold, liquid methane seas.

saturn

Like Earthy membranes, the simulated configuration was both strong and flexible, possibly forming a hollow sphere capable of sequestering other ingredients necessary for life, and its tendencies to aggregate or separate in methane were just right.

So far, no one has done the actual lab experiment needed to prove vinyl cyanide can form membranes. It’s difficult working with cryogenic methane and poisonous cyanide and after all, there’s only so much you can do to replicate what’s happening on Titan when you live on Earth.

We still are at the very beginning of the experimental work that’s really necessary to understand Titan’s lakes,” Hörst says. “But we’re never going to fundamentally know what the system is doing until we’re able to go back.”

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According To Experts, North Korea Missile Test Shows It Could Reach New York

North Korea

The North Korean leader, Kim Jong-un, has issued a fresh challenge to Donald Trump by conducting a second ballistic missile test-launch which experts said placed US cities in range of potential attack.

The missile launch was meant as a stern warning for the US, North Korea’s state news agency said. The ICBM, which aimed for maximum distance, flew for 47 minutes and 12 seconds while travelling 998km (620 miles) and reaching a maximum altitude of 3,724.9 meters (12,220ft), the North said.




The test was ordered by the North’s leader, Kim Jong-un, who was cited as saying that the launch reaffirmed the reliability of the country’s ICBM system and an ability to fire at random regions and locations at random times with the entire US mainland now within range.

Kim said the launch sent a serious warning to the US, which has been “meaninglessly blowing its trumpet” with threats of war and stronger sanctions, the news agency said.

The launch on Friday from Chagang province came less than a month after Pyongyang claimed to have tested its first ICBM.

We assess that this missile was an intercontinental ballistic missile, as had been expected,” Pentagon spokesman Jeff Davis said in a statement.

missile

The missile was launched from Mupyong-ni and traveled about 1,000km before splashing down in the Sea of Japan. We are working with our interagency partners on a more detailed assessment,” he said.

Melissa Hanham, an expert in North Korea’s missile program from the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies, said the test showed that “Alaska was in range” and a 45-minute test flight suggested it could reach New York City.

In a telephone conversation after the test, the heads of the US and South Korean militaries discussed “military response options”, the Pentagon said.

Japan led the international condemnation of North Korea’s latest launch, which appeared to have been timed to mark commemorations of the end of Korean war in 1953.

Kim Jong-Un

This clearly shows the threat to our nation’s safety is severe and real,” said Japan’s prime minister, Shinzo Abe, vowing to do “our utmost to protect the safety of the Japanese people”.

South Korea’s president, Moon Jae-in, chaired an national security council meeting in the early hours of Saturday. The defence minister, Song Young-moo, later said Seoul would prepare independent measures to curb the North’s nuclear threat.

Along with joint efforts to deter proliferation we will prepare independent measures to curb it as soon as possible,” Song told a press conference in Seoul.

boat

Earlier this month, Moscow blocked a UN security council statement condemning North Korea’s last missile launch because it said that rocket was also medium-range, despite assertions by the US and Pyongyang.

Analysts remain skeptical as to whether North Korea has the ability to miniaturise a nuclear weapon that could be fired on such a missile. Even so, the launch is the latest reminder of Trump’s failure to advance in his bid to rein in Kim’s nuclear ambitions.

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Pass it on: New Scientist

High Sugar Diets Linked To Heightened Depression Risk In Men

doughnuts

Millions of sweet-toothed British men could be making themselves anxious and depressed by consuming too much sugar, a study suggests.

Scientists found that men who consumed more than 67g of sugar per day – the equivalent of two regular cans of coca-cola – increased their risk of mood disorders by more than a fifth compared with those with an intake of less than 39.5g.

Since the average British man has a 68.4g per day sugar habit, according to the National Diet and Nutrition Survey published in 2013, the findings do not bode well for the mental health of the UK male population.




The study ruled out the possibility that the results can be explained by unhappy men comforting themselves with sugary treats.

Lead researcher Dr. Anika Knuppel, from University College London’s Institute of Epidemiology and Health, said: “High sugar diets have a number of influences on our health but our study shows that there might also be a link between sugar and mood disorders, particularly among men.”

”There are numerous factors that influence chances for mood disorders, but having a diet high in sugary foods and drinks might be the straw that breaks the camel’s back.”

There is increasing evidence for the physical damage sugar has on our health. Our work suggests an additional mental health effect.”

depressed

For reasons that are unclear, the study which looked at thousands of civil servants of both sexes found no link between sugar intake and new mood disorders in women.

The findings are based on data from Whitehall II, a major long-term investigation into physical and mental health problems encountered by people working at different levels of the UK civil service.

Sugar consumption was compared with rates of common mental disorders in more than 5,000 men and 2,000 women between 1983 and 2013.

Participants were placed into three groups according to their daily sugar intake. After five years, men in the top group were 23 per cent more like to have developed a common mental disorder such as depression or anxiety than those in the bottom group.

sugar

The top tier men consumed more than 67g of sugar per day and the bottom group less than 39.5g.

British adults consume roughly double recommended levels of added sugar, three quarters of which comes from sweet foods and drinks, said the researchers.

Dr Knuppel added: “Sweet food has been found to induce positive feelings in the short-term. People experiencing low mood may eat sugary foods in the hope of alleviating negative feelings. Our study suggests a high intake of sugary foods is more likely to have the opposite effect on mental health in the long-term.”

Co-author Professor Eric Brunner, also from UCL, said the new sugar tax on soft drinks which takes effect in April 2018 was a “step in the right direction”.

He said: “Our findings provide yet further evidence that sugary foods and drinks are best avoided. The physical and mental health of British people deserves some protection from the commercial forces which exploit the human ‘sweet tooth’.”

sugar

Catherine Collins, from the British Dietetic Association, was one of a number of experts to urge caution. “Whilst the findings as reported are interesting, the dietary analysis makes it impossible to justify the bold claims made by the researchers about sugar and depression in men.”

“More surprising is the lack of reported effect in women, who have a far more emotional relationship with food,” she said. Reducing intake of free sugars is good for your teeth, and may be good for your weight, too. But as protection against depression? It’s not proven.”

Professor Tom Sanders, a nutrition expert at King’s College London, said: “This is an observational study not a clinical trial and its interpretation needs to be treated with caution.”

“While the authors have tried to adjust for the effects of social factors there still is a risk of residual confounding. There is also a major problem in that sugar intake is under-reported in the overweight and obese, which the authors acknowledge.”

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Pass it on: Popular Science

‘Don’t Finish The Course Of Antibiotics’ – Experts Turn Medical Advice On Its Head

ANTIBIOTIC

Doctors must stop telling patients to finish an entire course of antibiotics because it is driving antimicrobial resistance, a group of eminent specialists has warned.

Patients should be encouraged to continue taking medication only until they feel better, to avoid the overuse of drugs, experts from bodies including Public Health England and the University of Oxford are now advising.

Current guidance from the NHS and the World Health Organization says it is essential to ‘finish a course’ of antibiotics to avoid triggering more virulent forms of disease.




But in a new article in the British Medical Journal (BMJ), 10 leading experts said the public health message is not backed by evidence and should be dropped. They claim it actually puts the public at greater risk from antimicrobial resistance.

“Historically, antibiotic courses were driven by fear of undertreatment, with less concern about overuse,” said lead author Martin Llewelyn professor of infectious diseases at Brighton and Sussex Medical School.

“The idea that stopping antibiotic treatment early encourages antibiotic resistance is not supported by evidence, while taking antibiotics for longer than necessary increases the risk of resistance. We encourage policy makers, educators, and doctors to stop advocating ‘complete the course’ when communicating with the public.”

Fears that stopping antibiotics early could trigger more dangerous forms of disease date back to Alexander Fleming who found that bacteria quickly become ‘acclimatised’ to penicillin and patients who take insufficient doses may transmit a more dangerous strain to family members.

Sir Alexander Fleming

In his Nobel Prize acceptance speech in 1945, Fleming warned: “If you use penicillin, use enough.

But in the BMJ article the experts argue that when a patient takes any antibiotics it allows dangerous strains of bacteria to grow on the skin and gut which could cause problems later. The longer the course, the more the resistance builds.

In the UK, at least 12,000 people die from antibiotic-resistant bugs each year, experts estimate – more than die of breast cancer.

The specialists also warn that current guidance ignores the fact that patients often respond differently to the same antibiotic, with some needing longer courses than others.

ANTIBIOTIC

Commenting on the research Alison Holmes, Professor of Infectious Diseases at Imperial College London said it was ‘astonishing’ that doctors still do not know the optimum duration for taking drugs even though a long course raises the risk of bacterial resistance.

The ‘complete the course’ message directly conflicts with the societal messages regarding the changes needed in behaviour and attitudes to minimise unnecessary exposure to antibiotics,” she said.

However the Royal College of GPs said it was ‘concerned’ about allowing patients to judge for themselves when to stop taking medication, and argue it could cause confusion.

Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard, Chair of the Royal College of GPs, said: “Recommended courses of antibiotics are not random – they are tailored to individual conditions, and in many cases courses are quite short, for example for urinary tract infections, three days is often enough to cure the infection.”

ANTIBIOTIC

Chief medical officer Dame Sally Davies, also said that the message to the public should remain unchanged until there was further research.

“NICE is currently developing guidance for managing common infections, which will look at all available evidence on appropriate prescribing of antibiotics,” she said.

“The Department of Health will continue to review the evidence on prescribing and drug resistant infections, as we aim to continue the great progress we have made at home and abroad on this issue.”

Yet many independent experts argued that changes to prescribing rules were long overdue.

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Pass it on: Popular Science

The Tardigrade: Practically Invisible, Indestructible ‘Water Bears’

Water bear

When scientists at the American Museum of Natural History mounted an exhibit about creatures that survive under conditions few others can tolerate, they did not have to go far to find the show’s mascot.

“We just got them from Central Park,” said Mark Siddall, a curator of the show, Life at the Limits. “Scoop up some moss, and you’ll find them.”




He was talking about tardigrades, tiny creatures that live just about everywhere: in moss and lichens, but also in bubbling hot springs, Antarctic ice, deep-sea trenches and Himalayan mountaintops. They have even survived the extreme cold and radiation of outer space.

Typically taupe-ish and somewhat translucent, and a sixteenth of an inch or so long, they are variously described as resembling minuscule hippopotamuses, mites or, most commonly, bears.

Many people call them “water bears” or “bears of the moss.” The word “tardigrade” is from the Latin for “slow walker” and pronounced TAR-dee-grade.

tardigrade

Once an object of interest only among zoological specialists, tardigrades now are generating widespread enthusiasm. Admirers have produced artwork and children’s books about them, and have even organized the International Society of Tardigrade Hunters “to advance the study of tardigrade biology while engaging and collaborating with the public.”

According to the society, formed this year at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, people can find tardigrades if they gather some lichen or moss, especially on a damp day, put it in a shallow dish of water, and “agitate” it a bit. Debris will settle to the bottom of the dish, and tardigrades will probably be prowling in it.

The museum exhibit, which runs until January, also includes beetles, flowers, corals and other animals with unusual ways of coping with hostile environments.

moss

Confronted with drying, rapid temperature changes, changes in water salinity or other problems, tardigrades can curtail their metabolism to 0.01 percent of normal, entering a kind of suspended animation in which they lose “the vast, vast, vast majority of their body water,” Dr. Siddall said. They curl up into something called a “tun.”

Tuns have been reconstituted after more than a century and brought back to life as tardigrades, looking not a day older. Little is known about their evolution, which is too bad because biologists think it must have been interesting. But tardigrade fossils are hard to spot.

People who have become transfixed by tardigrades often say they came across a photo or article by chance.

Tardigrade

I just stumbled across it,” said Thomas Gieseke, an artist and illustrator in Merriam, Kan., who created “The Tardigrade Queen,” an acrylic-on-canvas work depicting a tardigrade on a throne, complete with tiara and royal crest, which was shown at the Todd Weiner Gallery in Kansas City, Mo.

In ordinary life, tardigrades don’t get up to much. Dr. Siddall said that like most animals, they spend their time “hanging out and eating” plants and animals smaller than themselves, and possibly even indulging in cannibalism.

People often say, ‘What’s their purpose? What’s their role in the universe?’ ” Dr. Siddall said. He has no ready answer. They might be useful for the study of suspended animation. But, he added, “are we going to find a way to put humans into suspended animation? I doubt it.

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Pass it on: Mashable

Are We One Step Closer To Genetically-Modified Babies?

DNA

Genetically-modified human embryos could be made in a British lab within months.

The fertility regulator will meet tomorrow to decide whether scientists should be allowed to manipulate the genes of embryos donated by IVF patients.




If the researchers at the Francis Crick Institute in London get the go-ahead they will be the first in Britain to alter the DNA of human embryos and only the second in the world.

However, the development, which is made possible by a new, highly precise way of manipulating genes, will raise concerns that Britain is on a slippery slope towards designer babies.

Used differently, the Crispr DNA editing technique could lead to the creation of ‘perfect’ children made to order by hair or eye color.

IVF

Researcher Kathy Niakan has asked the Human Fertilisation & Embryology Authority for permission to study how an embryo’s genes affect whether it will survive the first week of life – a key time in the development of any future baby.

Currently, fewer than one in two eggs live for a week after fertilisation – and just one in eight lead to a pregnancy that lasts at least three months.

Learning more about this ‘critical’ first week of human life could allow more women to have babies by sparing them trauma of miscarriages.

Ivf

It should also improve IVF success rates, cutting the financial and emotional costs of repeated treatments.

New contraceptives could also be in the pipeline.

Dr Niakan said: “The reason this is so important is that repeated miscarriages are unfortunately extremely common but they are not very well understood. One of the main aims is to understand these very early stages of human development.”

“We believe this research could lead to improvements in fertility treatment, provide a really fundamental insight into some of the causes of miscarriage and a much deeper understanding of the earliest stages of human life.”

DNA

By stopping genes from working one by one, she hopes to find out which are key.

If the project is approved by the HFEA and a separate ethics committee, work could start in March and the first GM embryos made by the summer.

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NASA Needs Your Help For The Upcoming Full Solar Eclipse

solar eclipse

Getting a job at NASA is no walk in the park, but contributing to its upcoming science experiment could be just that easy.

While we can’t all be astronauts or rocket scientists, we can download NASA’s new GLOBE Observer Eclipse app and record data during the upcoming full solar eclipse.

The natural phenomenon, slated to take place on August 21, 2017, is expected to be one of the largest in recent memory, and will actually be the first time Americans will be able to see such an eclipse since 1979.




Heralded as the “Great American Total Eclipse,” it’ll be visible to the residents of 14 states — 12 will be in the direct path of the eclipse, while two will catch the edge.

And if you’re one of those people, NASA wants your help. “The public will have an opportunity to participate in a nationwide science experiment by collecting cloud and temperature data from their phones,” the space agency announced.

“NASA’s Global Learning and Observations to Benefit the Environment (GLOBE) Program Observer (NASA GO) is a citizen science project that allows users to record observations with a free app.”

solar eclipse

That app, the GLOBE Observer Eclipse app, can be used by the layman to “observe how the eclipse changes atmospheric conditions near them, and contribute to a database used by students and scientists worldwide in order to study the effects of the eclipse on the atmosphere.”

All you need is your smartphone and a thermometer, and you can participate in a nationwide science experiment, and sort of call yourself a part of NASA.

So what’s the point of the experiment? While scientists are well aware that temperature and cloud conditions change quickly during an eclipse, and that animals suddenly tone down their volume during such an event, it’s unclear why or how.

As such, they’re on a mission to collect as much data from all over the country as possible.

So regardless of whether you’re in one of the 12 states in the direct path of the eclipse, or in one of the two fringe states, NASA wants you to download the GLOBE Observer app, sign up for a free GLOBE account, and be ready to go outside next month with your smartphone and a thermometer.

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Pass it on: New Scientist