Tag: evidence (page 7 of 19)

Milky Way Galaxy May Be 50 Percent Bigger Than We Thought

 Excerpt from cbsnews.com Rings of stars thought to surround the Milky Way are actually part of it, according to new research, meaning the galaxy is bigger than previously believed.The findings extend the known width of the Milk...

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Minnesota Twins Provide Intriguing Evidence of Incarnate Road Map


The Jim's.jpg
Minnesota Twins (not the baseball team) James & James, whose similar stories defy chance and coincidence.

Excerpt from people.com 
May 7th, 1979

One of science's so far uncrackable mysteries is the comparative impact of heredity vs. environment. An obvious experimental method would be to raise identical twins separately, but that could hardly be done with humans. So for the last 10 years University of Minnesota psychologist Thomas Bouchard, 41, has been studying twins under less than ideal, lab-controlled conditions—until, eureka, he ran into the stuff of social scientists' dreams. Identical twin males, who had been separated by adoption at three weeks, suddenly rediscovered each other in Ohio at age 39.

Within two weeks after reading about them in the press, Dr. Bouchard had the twins in his Minneapolis lab for tests. At the outset of his investigation the psychologist said, "I think there are going to be all kinds of differences that will surprise even the twins." But what was immediately apparent were eerie similarities that left even Bouchard "flabbergasted."

Curiously, both had been christened James by their adoptive parents, the Jess Lewises of Lima and the Ernest Springers of Piqua, 40 miles away. As schoolboys, both enjoyed math and carpentry—but hated spelling. Both pursued similar adult occupations: Lewis is a security guard at a steel mill, and Springer was a deputy sheriff (though he is now a clerk for a power company). Both married women named Linda, only to divorce and remarry—each a woman named Betty. Both have sons: James Alan Lewis and James Allan Springer.

The two men shared one other fact in common. As Jim Springer put it, "I always felt an emptiness." Neither the Springers nor the Lewises ever met the 15-year-old (unwed) mother of their sons, and both couples were told that their adoptive child had a twin who died at birth. Then one day, when Jim Lewis was 16 months old, his mother visited the Miami County courthouse to settle the adoption paperwork, and an official remarked offhandedly, "They named the other little boy 'Jim' too."

For 37 years that hint tugged at Mrs. Lewis, who occasionally urged her son to find out if it was true. Finally, last Thanksgiving, he agreed to search—though he says he doesn't know why. Jim Lewis wrote the probate court, which had a record of the adoption, and contacted the Springer parents in Piqua. "I came home one day," Lewis recounts, "and had this message to call 'Jim Springer.' " When he phoned Springer, Lewis blurted out: "Are you my brother?" "Yup," Springer replied. Four days later, last Feb. 9, Lewis drove to meet his twin for an emotional reunion.

Dr. Bouchard offered expenses and a small honorarium to get them to Minneapolis for a week of extensive physical and psychological tests. He wanted to begin as soon as possible to preclude their reminiscing together too long and thus "contaminating" the evidence. Though not the first such separated twins—the records show 19 previous sets in the U.S. among some 75 worldwide—Lewis and Springer were believed to have been apart by far the longest.

The detailed results of Bouchard's textbook case will be revealed to the twins themselves, but to protect their privacy will be buried among other data in the professor's book on differential psychology now in progress. There has been one development that may leave the twins still puzzling over heredity and environment. On Feb. 28 Jim Lewis, having divorced his second wife, Betty, married a woman named Sandy Jacobs. Betty and Jim Springer were present, with Jim serving as his newfound brother's best man.

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Surface of Venus revealed by new radio telescope data


http://www.smnweekly.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/03/Surface-of-Venus-revealed-by-new-radio-telescope-data.jpg



Excerpt from smnweekly.com
By David M. DeMar

New radio telescope data from the National Radio Astronomy Observatory has revealed for the first time ever just what Venus has under its thick veil of clouds that otherwise occlude its surface from view.
25 million miles distant from us, Venus looks to the naked eye – or through a light telescope – much like a cloudy marble, thanks to the thick cloudbanks of carbon dioxide ringing the planet. However, the surface underneath, long a mystery to planetary scientists, has been laid bare thanks to the work of Puerto Rico’s Arecibo Observatory radio transmitter and the Green Bank Telescope, a radio telescope located in West Virginia and operated by the National Science Foundation.
The two facilities worked together with the NRAO in order to uncover the hidden surface of Mars. Arecibo sent radar signals to Venus, where they penetrated the thick atmosphere and bounced off the ground. The returning radio signals were picked up by the GBT in West Virginia in a process known as bistatic radar; the result is a radar image that shows craters and mountains strewn across the surface of Venus at a surprisingly high resolution.
The image is bisected by a dark line, representing areas where it’s particularly difficult to receive useful image data through the use of bistatic radar. However, scientists are intending to compare multiple images as time goes by in order to identify any active geologic processes on the surface of Venus such as volcanic activity.
It’s no particularly easy task to compare radar images in search of evidence of any change in this manner says Smithsonian senior scientist Bruce Campbell, but the work will continue. Campbell, who works at the National Air and Space Museum in the nation’s capital and is associated with the center for Earth and Planetary Studies, added that combining images from the latest NRAO endeavor and others will yield large amounts of data on how the surface of Venus might be altered by other processes.
The radar data, and a scientific paper based on it, will be published in April in Icarus, the scientific journal dedicated to studies of the solar system.

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Astronomers Find Massive Exoplanet With Four Parent Stars

Artist rendering of the system 30 Ari with its exoplanet and four stars. Excerpt from techtimes.com By Dianne Depra  Researchers seeking to study the complexities of exoplanets with multiple stars have found a new system with four. Cal...

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Archaeologists find two lost cities deep in Honduras jungle


Archaeologists in Honduras have found dozens of artifacts at a site where they believe twin cities stood. Photograph: Dave Yoder/National Geographic
Archaeologists in Honduras have found dozens of artifacts at a site where they believe twin cities stood. Photograph: Dave Yoder/National Geographic
Excerpt from theguardian.com


Archaeological team say they have set foot in a place untouched by humans for at least 600 years in a site that may be the ‘lost city of the monkey god’

Archaeologists have discovered two lost cities in the deep jungle of Honduras, emerging from the forest with evidence of a pyramid, plazas and artifacts that include the effigy of a half-human, half-jaguar spirit.
The team of specialists in archaeology and other fields, escorted by three British bushwhacking guides and a detail of Honduran special forces, explored on foot a remote valley of La Mosquitia where an aerial survey had found signs of ruins in 2012.
Chris Fisher, the lead US archaeologist on the team, told the Guardian that the expedition – co-coordinated by the film-makers Bill Benenson and Steve Elkins, Honduras and National Geographic (which first reported the story on its site) – had by all appearances set foot in a place that had gone untouched by humans for at least 600 years.
“Even the animals acted as if they’ve never seen people,” Fisher said. “Spider monkeys are all over place, and they’d follow us around and throw food at us and hoot and holler and do their thing.”
“To be treated not as a predator but as another primate in their space was for me the most amazing thing about this whole trip,” he said.
Fisher and the team arrived by helicopter to “groundtruth” the data revealed by surveying technology called Lidar, which projects a grid of infrared beams powerful enough to break through the dense forest canopy.
The dense jungle of Honduras. Photograph: Dave Yoder/National Geographic
The dense jungle of Honduras.Photograph: Dave Yoder/National Geographic
That data showed a human-created landscape, Fisher said of sister cities not only with houses, plazas and structures, but also features “much like an English garden, with orchards and house gardens, fields of crops, and roads and paths.”
In the rainforest valley, they said they found stone structural foundations of two cities that mirrored people’s thinking of the Maya region, though these were not Mayan people. The area dates between 1000AD and 1400AD, and while very little is known without excavation of the site and surrounding region, Fisher said it was likely that European diseases had at least in part contributed to the culture’s disappearance.
The expedition also found and documented 52 artifacts that Virgilio Paredes, head of Honduras’s national anthropology and history institute, said indicated a civilisation distinct from the Mayans. Those artifacts included a bowl with an intricate carvings and semi-buried stone sculptures, including several that merged human and animal characteristics.
The cache of artifacts – “very beautiful, very fantastic,” in Fisher’s words – may have been a burial offering, he said, noting the effigies of spirit animals such as vultures and serpents.
Fisher said that while an archaeologist would likely not call these cities evidence of a lost civilisation, he would call it evidence of a culture or society. “Is it lost? Well, we don’t know anything about it,” he said.
The exploratory team did not have a permit to excavate and hopes to do so on a future expedition. “That’s the problem with archaeology is it takes a long time to get things done, another decade if we work intensively there, but then we’ll know a little more,” Fisher said.
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“This wasn’t like some crazy colonial expedition of the last century,” he added.
Despite the abundance of monkeys, far too little is known of the site still to tie it to the “lost city of the monkey god” that one such expedition claimed to have discovered. In about 1940, the eccentric journalist Theodore Morde set off into the Honduran jungle in search of the legendary “white city” that Spanish conquistadors had heard tales of in the centuries before.
He broke out of the brush months later with hundreds of artifacts and extravagant stories of how ancient people worshipped their simian deity. According to Douglas Preston, the writer National Geographic sent along with its own expedition: “He refused to divulge the location out of fear, he said, that the site would be looted. He later committed suicide and his site – if it existed at all – was never identified.”
Fisher emphasised that archaeologists know extraordinarily little about the region’s ancient societies relative to the Maya civilisation, and that it would take more research and excavation. He said that although some academics might find it distasteful, expeditions financed through private means – in this case the film-makers Benenson and Elkins – would become increasingly commonplace as funding from universities and grants lessened.
Fisher also suggested that the Lidar infrared technology used to find the site would soon be as commonplace as radiocarbon dating: “People just have to get through this ‘gee-whiz’ phase and start thinking about what we can do with it.”
Paredes and Fisher also said that the pristine, densely-wooded site was dangerously close to land being deforested for beef farms that sell to fast-food chains. Global demand has driven Honduras’s beef industry, Fisher said, something that he found worrying.
“I keep thinking of those monkeys looking at me not having seen people before. To lose all this over a burger, it’s a really hard pill to swallow.”

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Could Saturn’s moon Titan host an alternate type of life?


Titan


Excerpt from mashable.com

In a world first, chemical engineers have taken a different look at a question astronomers and biologists have been pondering for decades: Does Saturn moon Titan host life?

Of course, Titan is way too hostile for life as we know it to eke out an existence — it is a frigid world awash with liquid methane and ethane and a noxious atmosphere devoid of any liquid water. But say if there is a different kind of biology, a life as we don't know it, thriving on the organic chemistry that is abundant on Titan's surface?

Normally, astrobiologists combine what we know about Earth's biosphere and astronomers zoom in on other stars containing exoplanets in the hope that some of those alien world have some similarities to Earth. By looking for small rocky exoplanets orbiting inside their star's habitable zones, we are basically looking for a "second Earth" where liquid water is at least possible. Where there's liquid water on Earth, there's inevitably life, so scientists seeking out alien life 'follow the water' in the hope of finding life with a similar terrestrial template on other planets.

Titan, however, does not fall into this category, it is about as un-Earth-like as you can get. So, chemical molecular dynamics expert Paulette Clancy and James Stevenson, a graduate student in chemical engineering, from Cornell University, Ithaca, New York, have looked at Titan in a different light and created a theoretical model of a methane-based, oxygen-free life form that could thrive in that environment.

There is no known template for this kind of life on Earth, but the researchers have studied what chemicals are in abundance on Titan and worked out how a very different kind of life could be sparked.

As a collaborator on the NASA/ESA Cassini-Huygens mission, Lunine, professor in the Physical Sciences in the College of Arts and Sciences’ Department of Astronomy, has been fascinated with the possibility of methane-based life existing on Titan for some time, so he joined forces with Clancy and Stevenson to see what this hypothetical life form might look like.

In their research published in the journal Science Advances on Feb. 27, Clancy and Stevenson focused on building a cell membrane "composed of small organic nitrogen compounds and capable of functioning in liquid methane temperatures of 292 degrees below zero (Fahrenheit; or 94 Kelvin)," writes a Cornell press release. On Earth, water-based molecules form phospholipid bilayer membranes that give cells structure, housing organic materials inside while remaining permeable. On Titan, liquid water isn't available to build these cell membranes.

"We're not biologists, and we're not astronomers, but we had the right tools," said Clancy, lead researcher of the study. "Perhaps it helped, because we didn't come in with any preconceptions about what should be in a membrane and what shouldn't. We just worked with the compounds that we knew were there and asked, 'If this was your palette, what can you make out of that?'"

The researchers were able to model the ideal cell that can do all the things that life can do (i.e. support metabolism and reproduction), but constructed it from nitrogen, carbon and hydrogen-based molecules that are known to exist in Titan's liquid methane seas. This chemical configuration gives this theoretical alien cell stability and flexibility in a similar manner to Earth life cells.
"The engineers named their theorized cell membrane an 'azotosome,' 'azote' being the French word for nitrogen. 'Liposome' comes from the Greek 'lipos' and 'soma' to mean 'lipid body;' by analogy, 'azotosome' means 'nitrogen body.'" — Cornell
"Ours is the first concrete blueprint of life not as we know it," said lead author Stevenson, who also said that he was inspired, in part, by Isaac Asimov, who wrote the 1962 essay "Not as We Know It" about non-water-based life.

Having identified a possible type of cell membrane chemistry that functions in the Titan environment as a cell on Earth might, the next step is to model how such a hypothetical type of biology would function on Titan. In the long run, we might also be able to model what kinds of observable indicators we should look for that might reveal that alien biology's presence.

That way, should a mission be eventually sent to Titan's seas, sampling the chemical compounds in the soup of organics may reveal a biology of a very alien nature.
Scientists have been trying to know if life could exist on Titan, the largest moon of Saturn. According to scientists, there are possibilities that life could survive amidst methane-based lakes of Titan. After conducting many studies, they have found signs of life on Titan, but the scientists also said that life will not be like life on earth.
As per some scientific reports, Titan is the only object other than earth which has clear evidence of stable bodies of surface liquid. Like earth, the moon has mountains, islands, lakes and storms, but it doesn’t have oxygen, which is a major element to support life. It means that only oxygen-free and methane-based can exist on Titan.
According to lead researcher Paulette Clancy, “We didn’t come in with any preconceptions about what should be in a membrane and what shouldn’t. We just worked with the compounds that, we knew were there and asked, ‘If this was your palette, what can you make out of that”.
Clancy said although they are not biologists or astronomers, they had the right tools to find life on Saturn’s largest moon. Adding to that, the researchers didn’t know what should be in a membrane and what should be not. They worked with compounds and found that life can exist on Titan, but would be very different from earth’s life, Clancy added.
According to reports, the researchers had used a molecular dynamics method to know about Titan. They screened for suitable candidate compounds from methane for self-assembly into membrane-like structures. As per the researchers, the most promising compound they discovered was an acrylonitrile azotosome, which is present in the atmosphere of Titan.
As per the researchers, acrylonitrile has shown good stability and flexibility similar to that of phospholipid membranes on Earth. It means that the Saturn largest has atmosphere and conditions to support life in a different way than earth.
- See more at: http://perfscience.com/content/2141391-life-titan-would-be-different-earth#sthash.2Kqc3Ewf.dpuf

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Mars Had an Ocean, Scientists Say, Pointing to a Treasure Trove of New Data





Excerpt from nytimes.com

After six years of planetary observations, scientists at NASA say they have found convincing new evidence that ancient Mars had an ocean.

It was probably the size of the Arctic Ocean, larger than previously estimated, the researchers reported on Thursday. The body of water spread across the low-lying plain of the planet’s northern hemisphere for millions of years, they said.

If confirmed, the findings would add significantly to scientists’ understanding of the planet’s history and lend new weight to the view that ancient Mars had everything needed for life to emerge.
“The existence of a northern ocean has been debated for decades, but this is the first time we have such a strong collection of data from around the globe,” said Michael Mumma, principal investigator at NASA’s Goddard Center for Astrobiology and an author of the report, published in the journal Science. “Our results tell us there had to be a northern ocean.”
But other experts said the question was hardly resolved. The ocean remains “a hypothesis,” said Ashwin Vasavada, project scientist of the Curiosity rover mission at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif.

Dr. Mumma and Geronimo Villanueva, a planetary scientist at NASA, measured two slightly different forms of water in Mars’ atmosphere. One is the familiar H2O, which consists of two hydrogen atoms and one oxygen atom.

The other is a slightly “heavier” version of water, HDO, in which the nucleus of one hydrogen atom contains a neutron. The atom is called deuterium.

The two forms exist in predictable ratios on Earth, and both have been found in meteorites from Mars. A high level of heavier water today would indicate that there was once a lot more of the “lighter” water, somehow lost as the planet changed.

The scientists found eight times as much deuterium in the Martian atmosphere than is found in water on Earth. Dr. Villanueva said the findings “provide a solid estimate of how much water Mars once had by determining how much water was lost to space.”

He said the measurements pointed to an ancient Mars that had enough water to cover the planet to a depth of at least 137 meters, or about 450 feet. Except for assessments based on the size of the northern basin, this is the highest estimate of the amount of water on early Mars that scientists have ever made.

The water on Mars mostly would have pooled in the northern hemisphere, which lies one to three kilometers — 0.6 to 1.8 miles — below the bedrock surface of the south, the scientists said.
At one time, the researchers estimated, a northern ocean would have covered about 19 percent of the Martian surface. In comparison, the Atlantic Ocean covers about 17 percent of Earth’s surface.

The new findings come at a time when the possibility of a northern ocean on Mars has gained renewed attention.

The Curiosity rover measured lighter and heavier water molecules in the Gale Crater, and the data also indicated that Mars once had substantial amounts of water, although not as much as Dr. Mumma and Dr. Villanueva suggest.

“The more water was present — and especially if it was a large body of water that lasted for a longer period of time — the better the chances are for life to emerge and to be sustained,” said Paul Mahaffy, chief of the atmospheric experiments laboratory at the Goddard Space Flight Center.

Just last month, the science team running the Curiosity rover held its first formal discussion about the possibility of such an ocean and what it would have meant for the rest of Mars.

Scientists generally agree that lakes must have existed for millions of years in Gale Crater and elsewhere. But it is not clear how they were sustained and replenished.

“For open lakes to remain relatively stable for millions of years — it’s hard to figure how to do that without an ocean,” Dr. Vasavada said. “Unless there was a large body of water supplying humidity to the planet, the water in an open lake would quickly evaporate and be carried to the polar caps or frozen out.”

Yet climate modelers have had difficulty understanding how Mars could have been warm enough in its early days to keep water from freezing. Greenhouse gases could have made the planet much warmer at some point, but byproducts of those gases have yet to be found on the surface.

James Head, a professor of geological sciences at Brown University, said in an email that the new paper had “profound implications for the total volume of water” on ancient Mars.

But, he added, “climate models have great difficulty in reconstructing an early Mars with temperatures high enough to permit surface melting and liquid water.”

Also missing are clear signs of the topographic and geological features associated with large bodies of water on Earth, such as sea cliffs and shorelines.

Based on low-resolution images sent back by the Viking landers, the geologist Timothy Parker and his colleagues at the NASA Jet Propulsion Lab reported in 1989 the discovery of ancient shorelines. But later high-resolution images undermined their conclusions.

Still, Dr. Parker and his colleagues have kept looking for — and finding, they say — some visible signs of a northern ocean. The new data “certainly encourages me to do more,” he said in an interview.

Other researchers have also been looking for signs of an ancient ocean.

In 2013, Roman DiBiase, then a postdoctoral student at the California Institute of Technology, and Michael Lamb, an assistant professor of geology there, identified what might have been a system of channels on Mars that originated in the southern hemisphere and emptied steeply into the northern basin — perhaps, they said, water flowing through a delta to an ocean.

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What happens to your body when you give up sugar?





Excerpt from independent.co.uk
By Jordan Gaines Lewis


In neuroscience, food is something we call a “natural reward.” In order for us to survive as a species, things like eating, having sex and nurturing others must be pleasurable to the brain so that these behaviours are reinforced and repeated.
Evolution has resulted in the mesolimbic pathway, a brain system that deciphers these natural rewards for us. When we do something pleasurable, a bundle of neurons called the ventral tegmental area uses the neurotransmitter dopamine to signal to a part of the brain called the nucleus accumbens. The connection between the nucleus accumbens and our prefrontal cortex dictates our motor movement, such as deciding whether or not to taking another bite of that delicious chocolate cake. The prefrontal cortex also activates hormones that tell our body: “Hey, this cake is really good. And I’m going to remember that for the future.”
Not all foods are equally rewarding, of course. Most of us prefer sweets over sour and bitter foods because, evolutionarily, our mesolimbic pathway reinforces that sweet things provide a healthy source of carbohydrates for our bodies. When our ancestors went scavenging for berries, for example, sour meant “not yet ripe,” while bitter meant “alert – poison!”
Fruit is one thing, but modern diets have taken on a life of their own. A decade ago, it was estimated that the average American consumed 22 teaspoons of added sugar per day, amounting to an extra 350 calories; it may well have risen since then. A few months ago, one expert suggested that the average Briton consumes 238 teaspoons of sugar each week.
Today, with convenience more important than ever in our food selections, it’s almost impossible to come across processed and prepared foods that don’t have added sugars for flavour, preservation, or both.
These added sugars are sneaky – and unbeknown to many of us, we’ve become hooked. In ways that drugs of abuse – such as nicotine, cocaine and heroin – hijack the brain’s reward pathway and make users dependent, increasing neuro-chemical and behavioural evidence suggests that sugar is addictive in the same way, too.

Sugar addiction is real

Anyone who knows me also knows that I have a huge sweet tooth. I always have. My friend and fellow graduate student Andrew is equally afflicted, and living in Hershey, Pennsylvania – the “Chocolate Capital of the World” – doesn’t help either of us. But Andrew is braver than I am. Last year, he gave up sweets for Lent. “The first few days are a little rough,” Andrew told me. “It almost feels like you’re detoxing from drugs. I found myself eating a lot of carbs to compensate for the lack of sugar.”
There are four major components of addiction: bingeing, withdrawal, craving, and cross-sensitisation (the notion that one addictive substance predisposes someone to becoming addicted to another). All of these components have been observed in animal models of addiction – for sugar, as well as drugs of abuse.
A typical experiment goes like this: rats are deprived of food for 12 hours each day, then given 12 hours of access to a sugary solution and regular chow. After a month of following this daily pattern, rats display behaviours similar to those on drugs of abuse. They’ll binge on the sugar solution in a short period of time, much more than their regular food. They also show signs of anxiety and depression during the food deprivation period. Many sugar-treated rats who are later exposed to drugs, such as cocaine and opiates, demonstrate dependent behaviours towards the drugs compared to rats who did not consume sugar beforehand.
Like drugs, sugar spikes dopamine release in the nucleus accumbens. Over the long term, regular sugar consumption actually changes the gene expression and availability of dopamine receptors in both the midbrain and frontal cortex. Specifically, sugar increases the concentration of a type of excitatory receptor called D1, but decreases another receptor type called D2, which is inhibitory. Regular sugar consumption also inhibits the action of the dopamine transporter, a protein which pumps dopamine out of the synapse and back into the neuron after firing.
In short, this means that repeated access to sugar over time leads to prolonged dopamine signalling, greater excitation of the brain’s reward pathways and a need for even more sugar to activate all of the midbrain dopamine receptors like before. The brain becomes tolerant to sugar – and more is needed to attain the same “sugar high.”

Sugar withdrawal is also real

Although these studies were conducted in rodents, it’s not far-fetched to say that the same primitive processes are occurring in the human brain, too. “The cravings never stopped, [but that was] probably psychological,” Andrew told me. “But it got easier after the first week or so.”
In a 2002 study by Carlo Colantuoni and colleagues of Princeton University, rats who had undergone a typical sugar dependence protocol then underwent “sugar withdrawal.” This was facilitated by either food deprivation or treatment with naloxone, a drug used for treating opiate addiction which binds to receptors in the brain’s reward system. Both withdrawal methods led to physical problems, including teeth chattering, paw tremors, and head shaking. Naloxone treatment also appeared to make the rats more anxious, as they spent less time on an elevated apparatus that lacked walls on either side.
Similar withdrawal experiments by others also report behaviour similar to depression in tasks such as the forced swim test. Rats in sugar withdrawal are more likely to show passive behaviours (like floating) than active behaviours (like trying to escape) when placed in water, suggesting feelings of helplessness.
A new study published by Victor Mangabeira and colleagues in this month’s Physiology & Behavior reports that sugar withdrawal is also linked to impulsive behaviour. Initially, rats were trained to receive water by pushing a lever. After training, the animals returned to their home cages and had access to a sugar solution and water, or just water alone. After 30 days, when rats were again given the opportunity to press a lever for water, those who had become dependent on sugar pressed the lever significantly more times than control animals, suggesting impulsive behaviour.
These are extreme experiments, of course. We humans aren’t depriving ourselves of food for 12 hours and then allowing ourselves to binge on soda and doughnuts at the end of the day. But these rodent studies certainly give us insight into the neuro-chemical underpinnings of sugar dependence, withdrawal, and behaviour.
Through decades of diet programmes and best-selling books, we’ve toyed with the notion of “sugar addiction” for a long time. There are accounts of those in “sugar withdrawal” describing food cravings, which can trigger relapse and impulsive eating. There are also countless articles and books about the boundless energy and new-found happiness in those who have sworn off sugar for good. But despite the ubiquity of sugar in our diets, the notion of sugar addiction is still a rather taboo topic.
Are you still motivated to give up sugar? You might wonder how long it will take until you’re free of cravings and side-effects, but there’s no answer – everyone is different and no human studies have been done on this. But after 40 days, it’s clear that Andrew had overcome the worst, likely even reversing some of his altered dopamine signalling. “I remember eating my first sweet and thinking it was too sweet,” he said. “I had to rebuild my tolerance.”
And as regulars of a local bakery in Hershey – I can assure you, readers, that he has done just that.
Jordan Gaines Lewis is a Neuroscience Doctoral Candidate at Penn State College of Medicine

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Strange find on Titan sparks chatter about life


Titan


Excerpt from nbcnews.com

Studies may suggest methane-based organic processes ... but maybe not  
New findings have roused a great deal of hoopla over the possibility of life on Saturn's moon Titan, which some news reports have further hyped up as hints of extraterrestrials.
However, scientists also caution that aliens might have nothing to do with these findings.

All this excitement is rooted in analyses of chemical data returned by NASA's Cassini spacecraft. One study suggested that hydrogen was flowing down through Titan's atmosphere and disappearing at the surface. Astrobiologist Chris McKay at NASA's Ames Research Center speculated that this could be a tantalizing hint that hydrogen is getting consumed by life.

"It's the obvious gas for life to consume on Titan, similar to the way we consume oxygen on Earth," McKay said.

Another study investigating hydrocarbons on Titan's surface found a lack of acetylene, a compound that could be consumed as food by life that relies on liquid methane instead of liquid water to live.
"If these signs do turn out to be a sign of life, it would be doubly exciting because it would represent a second form of life independent from water-based life on Earth," McKay said.
However, NASA scientists caution that aliens might not be involved at all.

"Scientific conservatism suggests that a biological explanation should be the last choice after all non-biological explanations are addressed," said Mark Allen, principal investigator with the NASA Astrobiology Institute Titan team. "We have a lot of work to do to rule out possible non-biological explanations. It is more likely that a chemical process, without biology, can explain these results."
McKay told Space.com that "both results are still preliminary."

To date, methane-based life forms are only speculative, with McKay proposing a set of conditions necessary for these kinds of organisms on Titan in 2005. Scientists have not yet detected this form of life anywhere, although there are liquid-water-based microbes on Earth that thrive on methane or produce it as a waste product. 

On Titan, where temperatures are around minus-290 degrees Fahrenheit (-179 degrees Celsius), any organisms would have to use a substance that is liquid as its medium for living processes. Water itself cannot do, because it is frozen solid on Titan's surface. The list of liquid candidates is very short — liquid methane and related molecules such as ethane. Previous studies have found Titan to have lakes of liquid methane.

Missing hydrogen? 

The dearth of hydrogen Cassini detected is consistent with conditions that could produce methane-based life, but do not conclusively prove its existence, cautioned researcher Darrell Strobel, a Cassini interdisciplinary scientist based at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore. Strobel wrote the paper on hydrogen appearing online in the journal Icarus.


Strobel looked at densities of hydrogen in different parts of the atmosphere and at the surface. Previous models from scientists had predicted that hydrogen molecules, a byproduct of ultraviolet sunlight breaking apart acetylene and methane molecules in the upper atmosphere, should be distributed fairly evenly throughout the atmospheric layers.

Strobel's computer simulations suggest a hydrogen flow down to the surface at a rate of about 10,000 trillion trillion molecules per second. 

"It's as if you have a hose and you're squirting hydrogen onto the ground, but it's disappearing," Strobel said. "I didn't expect this result, because molecular hydrogen is extremely chemically inert in the atmosphere, very light and buoyant. It should 'float' to the top of the atmosphere and escape."

Strobel said it is not likely that hydrogen is being stored in a cave or underground space on Titan. An unknown mineral could be acting as a catalyst on Titan's surface to help convert hydrogen molecules and acetylene back to methane.

Although Allen commended Strobel, he noted "a more sophisticated model might be needed to look into what the flow of hydrogen is."

Consumed acetylene? 

Scientists had expected the sun's interactions with chemicals in the atmosphere to produce acetylene that falls down to coat Titan's surface. But when Cassini mapped hydrocarbons on Titan's surface, it detected no acetylene on the surface, according to findings appearing online in the Journal of Geophysical Research.


Instead of alien life on Titan, Allen said one possibility is that sunlight or cosmic rays are transforming the acetylene in icy aerosols in the atmosphere into more complex molecules that would fall to the ground with no acetylene signature.

In addition, Cassini detected an absence of water ice on Titan's surface, but loads of benzene and another as-yet-unidentified material, which appears to be an organic compound. The researchers said that a film of organic compounds is covering the water ice that makes up Titan's bedrock. This layer of hydrocarbons is at least a few millimeters to centimeters thick, but possibly much deeper in some places. 

"Titan's atmospheric chemistry is cranking out organic compounds that rain down on the surface so fast that even as streams of liquid methane and ethane at the surface wash the organics off, the ice gets quickly covered again," said Roger Clark, a Cassini team scientist based at the U.S. Geological Survey in Denver. "All that implies Titan is a dynamic place where organic chemistry is happening now."

All this speculation "is jumping the gun, in my opinion," Allen said.

"Typically in the search for the existence of life, one looks for the presence of evidence -- say, the methane seen in the atmosphere of Mars, which can't be made by normal photochemical processes," Allen added. "Here we're talking about absence of evidence rather than presence of evidence — missing hydrogen and acetylene — and oftentimes there are many non-life processes that can explain why things are missing."

These findings are "still a long way from evidence of life," McKay said. "But it could be interesting."

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As Dawn Spacecraft Approaches, A Second Mysterious Light Emerges on Planet Ceres

Photo : NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA/MPS/DLR/IDA/PSI Excerpt from sciencetimes.com Originally discovered in 1801 by an astronomer in Sicily, Ceres has had quite an interesting history to date. Originally believed to be a shining star in the sky, when i...

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Bees Do It, Humans Do It ~ Bees can experience false memories, scientists say



Excerpt from csmonitor.com


Researchers at Queen Mary University of London have found the first evidence of false memories in non-human animals.

It has long been known that humans – even those of us who aren't famous news anchors – tend to recall events that did not actually occur. The same is likely true for mice: In 2013, scientists at MIT induced false memories of trauma in mice, and the following year, they used light to manipulate mice brains to turn painful memories into pleasant ones.

Now, researchers at Queen Mary University of London have shown for the first time that insects, too, can create false memories. Using a classic Pavlovian experiment, co-authors Kathryn Hunt and Lars Chittka determined that bumblebees sometimes combine the details of past memories to form new ones. Their findings were published today in Current Biology.
“I suspect the phenomenon may be widespread in the animal kingdom," Dr. Chittka said in a written statement to the Monitor.
First, Chittka and Dr. Hunt trained their buzzing subjects to expect a reward if they visited two artificial flowers – one solid yellow, the other with black-and-white rings. The order didn’t matter, so long as the bee visited both flowers. In later tests, they would present a choice of the original two flower types, plus one new one. The third type was a combination of the first two, featuring yellow-and-white rings. At first, the bees consistently selected the original two flowers, the ones that offered a reward.

But a good night’s sleep seemed to change all that. One to three days after training, the bees became confused and started incorrectly choosing the yellow-and-white flower (up to fifty percent of the time). They seemed to associate that pattern with a reward, despite having never actually seen it before. In other words, the bumblebees combined the memories of two previous stimuli to generate a new, false memory.

“Bees might, on occasion, form merged memories of flower patterns visited in the past,” Chittka said. “Should a bee unexpectedly encounter real flowers that match these false memories, they might experience a kind of deja-vu and visit these flowers expecting a rich reward.”

Bees have a rather limited brain capacity, Chittka says, so it’s probably useful for them to “economize” by storing generalized memories instead of minute details.

“In bees, for example, the ability to learn more than one flower type is certainly useful,” Chittka said, “as is the ability to extract commonalities of multiple flower patterns. But this very ability might come at the cost of bees merging memories from multiple sequential experiences.”

Chittka has studied memory in bumblebees for two decades. Bees can be raised and kept in a lab setting, so they make excellent long-term test subjects.

“They are [also] exceptionally clever animals that can memorize the colors, patterns, and scents of multiple flower species – as well as navigate efficiently over long distances,” Chittka said.

In past studies, it was assumed that animals that failed to perform learned tasks had either forgotten them or hadn’t really learned them in the first place. Chittka’s research seems to show that animal memory mechanisms are much more elaborate – at least when it comes to bumblebees.

“I think we need to move beyond understanding animal memory as either storing or not storing stimuli or episodes,” Chittka said. “The contents of memory are dynamic. It is clear from studies on human memory that they do not just fade over time, but can also change and integrate with other memories to form new information. The same is likely to be the case in many animals.”

Chittka hopes this study will lead to a greater biological understanding of false memories – in animals and humans alike. He says that false memories aren’t really a “bug in the system,” but a side effect of complex brains that strive to learn the big picture and to prepare for new experiences.

“Errors in human memory range from misremembering minor details of events to generating illusory memories of entire episodes,” Chittka said. “These inaccuracies have wide-ranging implications in crime witness accounts and in the courtroom, but I believe that – like the quirks of information processing that occur in well known optical illusions – they really are the byproduct of otherwise adaptive processes.”

“The ability to memorize the overarching principles of a number of different events might help us respond in previously un-encountered situations,” Chittka added. “But these abilities might come at the expense of remembering every detail correctly.”
So, if generating false memories goes hand in hand with having a nervous system, does all this leave Brian Williams off the hook?

“It is possible that he conflated the memories,” Chittka said, “depending on his individual vulnerability to witnessing a traumatic event, plus a possible susceptibility to false memories – there is substantial inter-person variation with respect to this. It is equally possible that he was just ‘showing off’ when reporting the incident, and is now resorting to a simple lie to try to escape embarrassment. That is impossible for me to diagnose.”

But if Mr. Williams genuinely did misremember his would-be brush with death, Chittka says he shouldn’t be vilified.

“You cannot morally condemn someone for reporting something they think really did happen to them,” Chittka said. “You cannot blame an Alzheimer patient for forgetting to blow out the candle, even if they burn down the house as a result. In the same way, you can't blame someone who misremembers a crime as a result of false memory processes."

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What It’s Like to Be at the 24th International UFO Congress







Excerpt from nbcnews.com
By Katie Linendoll
FOUNTAIN HILLS, Ariz. — If words like UFO, extraterrestrial, crops circles and abductee have ever piqued your paranormal interest, do yourself a favor and head to the International UFO Congress. 

The annual conference—which holds the Guinness record for being the largest convention dedicated to unidentified flying objects—takes place in the picturesque desert town of Fountain Hills, and this year it ran from Feb. 18 to 22. It's worth noting that Arizona is known as a hotbed of activity when it comes to sightings. Thousands flock to the annual event, which is produced by Open Minds, a paranormal research organization. 

Each attendee has his or her own reason for being there. My goal was to find out if modern science and technology have changed the game when it comes to UFO sightings and evidence gathering. 

"A lot of people think, go to a UFO convention, it's going to be tinfoil hats, but that's not what this is. We have NASA astrobiologists speak, scientists, high-ranking military officials, the works. I mean, there's a lot of really credible people covering this subject," said UFO Congress co-organizer and paranormal journalist Maureen Elsberry.

Air Force UFO documents now available online

When attending a UFO conference, the best approach is to come in with an open mind, ask lots of questions and talk with people about why they are there. Everyone has a story, from the speakers to the attendees, and even the vendors (some of whom double as ufologists). 

The highlight of this year's conference was undeniably the speaker series, and it was standing room only to see one man, Bob Lazar. Lazar first spoke out in 1989, claiming that he'd worked as a government scientist at a secret mountainside facility south of Area 51's main site, where he saw remarkably advanced UFO technology. Critics have sought to discredit Lazar, questioning his employment record and educational credentials. 

During the conference, George Knapp, an investigative TV reporter in Las Vegas who broke the Lazar story in '89, led an onstage question-and-answer session with Lazar, who discussed the work he did at a place called S4. Lazar spoke in detail about the alien UFO hangars and UFO propulsion systems he was allegedly asked to reverse engineer, and even loosely sketched them out for the audience. 

"All the science fiction had become reality," said Lazar, who was noticeably uncomfortable and clearly surprised by the fact that, decades later, he remains such a draw. 

You never know whom you'll bump into at the Congress. In the vendor hall, I met sculptor Alan Groves, who traveled all the way from Australia to peddle his "true to scale" Zetan alien figurines. I wondered if his side gig was lucrative, only to realize he was selling the figures like hotcakes. Then we talked about his day job, and he told me he's worked on special and creature effects for films such as "Star Wars," "Alien," "Labyrinth" and "Jurassic Park." 

Many of the attendees told me that hard evidence is a requirement for ufologists and paranormal field experts. Derrel Sims, also known as Alien Hunter, told me he spent two years in the CIA, and also has served as a police officer and licensed private investigator. 

He said his first alien encounter happened at age 4, and others in his family have also seen aliens. In 38-plus years of alien research, Sims has learned this: "If you look, the evidence is there." To date, he said, more than 4,000 pieces of that evidence exist. 

Sims is adamant about only working with evidence-based methods, using DNA tests and collecting samples as well as relying on ultraviolet, infrared and x-ray tools in his research. He said that, in 1992, he discovered aliens leave their own kind of fluorescent fingerprint, and he continues to test for these clues. He added that if you have had an alien encounter, it's important to react quickly to gather evidence: "fluorescence" stays on the skin for only 24 hours. He said that other marks aliens leave include "scoop" marks, which are an identifying thread some abductees have in common. 

Another commonality he's discovered is heritage. He said that, in his research, he has found 45 percent of all abductions happen to Native Americans, Irish and Celtic people, and he said that women also have a higher chance of being abducted. 

When it comes to filming hard-to-explain phenomena, Patty Greer, who makes documentaries about crop circles, said that quadcopters — a.k.a. drones — have added production value to her films. Lynne Kitei, who covered a mass UFO sighting in her book and in the documentary The Phoenix Lights, said that even low-tech tools, like the 35mm film she used, are still a reliable way to gather proof of inexplicable flying craft, especially because they offer something an iPhone doesn't: negatives.

White House responds to UFO request

Night vision also offers added opportunities for UFO researchers, according to Ben Hansen, who was the host and lead investigator of SyFy channel's "Fact or Faked: Paranormal Files." He's now the owner of Night Vision Ops, an online store that sells night-vision technology. Hansen said that the consumer accessibility of new military-grade technologies in thermal and light amplification scopes are upping the game for the everyday UFO enthusiast. 

To close out an intense few days on site at the Congress, Hansen's team invited me to a night watch near Arizona's Superstition Mountains. It was fascinating to see the latest optics add incredible clarity to the night sky, amplifying available light up to 50,000 times beyond what the unaided eye can see. Using the right technology, we were also able to see that a certain flying object, which made everyone nearby jump, wasn't a UFO after all. It was a bat. 

I was surrounded by some serious tech all weekend, and it was eye-opening to see the ways that UFO hunters are gathering scientific evidence to learn more about the paranormal world. But I have to say, the gadget that was the most useful to me at the conference was my iPhone, which I used to download a free nightlight app for kids. For the few hours I managed to sleep, it was with the soothing illumination provided by "Kiwi the Green Koala." In short, I was officially freaked out.

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