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Science | The Guardian

Latest Science news, comment and analysis from the Guardian, the world's leading liberal voice

Published: Sat, 10 Dec 2016 03:12:44 GMT2016-12-10T03:12:44Z

Copyright: Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. 2016

New diabetes treatment could eliminate need for insulin injections

Thu, 08 Dec 2016 19:00:07 GMT2016-12-08T19:00:07Z

Tested in mice, therapy involves a capsule of genetically engineered cells implanted under the skin that release insulin as required

A cell-based diabetes treatment has been developed by scientists who say it could eliminate the need for those with the condition to inject insulin.

The therapy involves a capsule of genetically engineered cells implanted under the skin that automatically release insulin as required. Diabetic mice that were treated with the cells were found to have normal blood sugar levels for several weeks.

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Favourite reads of 2016 - as chosen by scientists

Fri, 09 Dec 2016 15:05:22 GMT2016-12-09T15:05:22Z

Writers from the Guardian’s science blog network pick out the books from across the cultural spectrum that delighted them most this year

A couple of weekends ago, the Guardian published its seasonal selection of the best books of the year as chosen by a roster of novelists, poets, playwrights, and the occasional historian. In response, the scientist and writer Matthew Cobb expressed his frustration on Twitter:

Two cultures anyone? 40 writers choose 110 books of the year, only 2 could conceivably be described as science books

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Dinosaur tail trapped in amber offers insights into feather evolution

Thu, 08 Dec 2016 17:00:05 GMT2016-12-08T17:00:05Z

Fragment complete with fossilised bones and traces of muscles, ligaments and mummified-looking skin dates from around 99 million years ago

A length of fluffy plumage discovered within a piece of amber has been identified as part of a dinosaur tail, offering new insights into the evolution of feathers.

Around 3.7cm long, with chestnut-coloured feathers on the top and pale feathers underneath, the tail was found complete with fossilised bones as well as traces of muscles, ligaments and mummified-looking skin.

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Strobe lighting provides a flicker of hope in the fight against Alzheimer’s

Wed, 07 Dec 2016 18:00:37 GMT2016-12-07T18:00:37Z

Exposure to flashing lights stimulates brain’s immune cells to clean up toxic proteins causing the disease, study finds

Strobe lighting has been shown to reduce levels of the toxic proteins seen in Alzheimer’s disease, in findings that raise the tantalising possibility of future non-invasive treatments for the disease.

The study, in mice, found that exposure to flickering light stimulated brain waves, called gamma oscillations, that are known to be disturbed in Alzheimer’s patients. Boosting this synchronous brain activity appeared to act as a cue for the brain’s immune cells, prompting them to absorb the sticky amyloid proteins that are the most visible hallmarks of the disease in the brain’s of people with Alzheimer’s.

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Turkey: your delicious Christmas dinner dinosaur

Wed, 07 Dec 2016 08:00:25 GMT2016-12-07T08:00:25Z

The evolutionary history of birds as dinosaurs is quite apparent, even in a turkey on your dining table

The fact that birds are the direct descendants of dinosaurs is now and overwhelmingly supported theory in palaeontology, though most will not know much beyond the recent plethora of discoveries of feathered dinosaurs. While these are obviously a wonderful example, the ancestry of birds is more than skin (or feather) deep and since mostly palaeontologists work from bones it may not be a surprise to learn that you can see plenty of dinosaurian traits in your Christmas dinner.

A typical roasting turkey is already missing the head, probably the neck and the feet, all of which contain some key traits to identify them as dinosaurs. Still, as you carve your way through your dinosaurian dinner there are plenty of features remaining that can point you to the evolutionary history of the main course. Although birds have the best part of 140 million years of adaptation to flight behind them (and then quite a lot of change wrought by domestic breeders) there are multiple features that can easily be traced between them and their predecessors. Let’s start with one that should be familiar to everyone – the wishbone.

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Lab notes: the dinosaur with the waggly tail

Fri, 09 Dec 2016 12:25:44 GMT2016-12-09T12:25:44Z

How much is that amber in the window? The one with the waggly dinosaur tail? That’s how I imagine the conversation went at the Chinese market where a piece of amber containing a section of feathery dinosaur tail was found. The fragment has given researchers some fascinating insights into the evolution of feathers. Not a bad day’s shopping. So take your time on your next trip to a market in case of treasure - after all, given that astronomers have found that Earth’s day lengthens by two milliseconds a century, you’ve got more time to play with. You could probably have a quick coffee too, or nip into the Science Museum to check out their new Zaha Hadid-designed maths gallery. Something that might also give a bit of extra leisure time to (and make life considerably more pleasant for) millions of diabetics worldwide is a new cell-based treatment that could end the need for insulin injections. Let’s all celebrate by going to see some charming, flickering seasonal lights. With any luck there will be a strobe effect, which a new study has indicated stimulates the brain’s immune cells to clean up toxic proteins seen in Alzheimer’s disease.

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More foreign holidays will mean more skin cancer, scientists predict

Thu, 08 Dec 2016 19:29:31 GMT2016-12-08T19:29:31Z

A 78% increase in non-melanoma skin cancer may see the cost to the NHS of treating the disease rise to £465m a year by 2025

The number of Britons developing the two most common forms of skin cancer will increase as a direct result of people getting tans on foreign holidays and in salons, experts are warning.

Related: Scientists closer to understanding why red hair genes increase skin cancer risk

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Earth's day lengthens by two milliseconds a century, astronomers find

Wed, 07 Dec 2016 00:01:15 GMT2016-12-07T00:01:15Z

The gradual slowing of the planet’s rotation is causing our day to lengthen, a comparison of nearly 3,000 years of celestial records has revealed

There may never be enough hours in the day to get everything done, but at least the forces of nature are conspiring to help out.

Astronomers who compiled nearly 3,000 years of celestial records have found that with every passing century, the day on Earth lengthens by two milliseconds as the planet’s rotation gradually winds down.

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Cross Section: Neil deGrasse Tyson – Science Weekly podcast

Wed, 07 Dec 2016 15:19:10 GMT2016-12-07T15:19:10Z

What first attracted one of the world’s foremost astrophysicists to the night sky? Are we alone in the universe? And how can scientific thinking benefit us all?

Subscribe & Review on iTunes, Soundcloud, Audioboom, Mixcloud & Acast

Visiting the Hayden Planetarium as a young boy, Dr Neil deGrasse Tyson immediately fell in love with the world of astronomy. Fast forward a couple of decades, and Neil continues to inspire people from all generations. Through his role as the director at the very planetarium that first sparked his interest, and as an author, presenter, and communicator, Neil’s enthusiasm for the subject he loves is truly unrivalled.

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British Antarctic research station to be moved due to deep crack in the ice

Wed, 07 Dec 2016 06:41:46 GMT2016-12-07T06:41:46Z

Dormant chasm has opened up and risks cutting the station off from the rest of the ice shelf

Britain is preparing to move its research station in the Antarctic 23km further inland because it is under threat from a growing crack in the ice.

The British Antarctic Survey’s Halley VI research station has recorded data relevant to space weather, climate change, and atmospheric phenomena from its site on the Brunt Ice Shelf shelf since 2012.

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A brief history of Tim: Peake's space capsule to go on display at Science Museum

Mon, 05 Dec 2016 16:28:09 GMT2016-12-05T16:28:09Z

Soyuz TMA-M used by British astronaut on journey to and from International Space Station will be shown at London museum

The spacecraft used by Tim Peake on his journey to and from the International Space Station is to go on display at London’s Science Museum.

The Soyuz TMA-M that launched the British astronaut into orbit in December 2015 and returned him to Earth in June will be put on show for the public from early next year.

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Breakthrough prize awards $25m to researchers at 'Oscars of science'

Mon, 05 Dec 2016 01:00:09 GMT2016-12-05T01:00:09Z

Researchers in life sciences, fundamental physics and mathematics share awards from prize founders Yuri Milner, Mark Zuckerberg and Sergey Brin

It is not often that a scientist walks the red carpet at a Silicon Valley party and has Morgan Freeman award them millions of dollars while Alicia Keys performs on stage and other A-listers rub shoulders with Nasa astronauts.

But the guest list for the Breakthrough prize ceremony is intended to make it an occasion. At the fifth such event in California last night, a handful of the world’s top researchers left their labs behind for the limelight. Honoured for their work on black holes and string theory, DNA repair and rare diseases, and unfathomable modifications to Schrödinger’s equation, they went home to newly recharged bank accounts.

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Galactic gold rush: the tech companies aiming to make space mining a reality

Tue, 06 Dec 2016 12:00:11 GMT2016-12-06T12:00:11Z

Asteroids and the moon contain vast quantities of natural resources, including water, that could be worth billions and fuel a new phase of space exploration

Many tech entrepreneurs will promise you the moon. Naveen Jain is hoping to deliver it.

Five years ago, the founder of dotcom search giant InfoSpace set his sights on actual space, creating Moon Express, a startup with the then outlandish goal of mining the moon for minerals.

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First edition of Isaac Newton's Principia set to fetch $1m at auction

Mon, 05 Dec 2016 00:01:08 GMT2016-12-05T00:01:08Z

Rare European copy of key mathematics text is going under hammer at Christie’s in New York with record guide price

A first edition of Sir Isaac Newton’s Principia Mathematica could become the most expensive print sold of the revolutionary text when it goes under the hammer with a guide price of at least $1m (£790,000) this month.

The extremely rare continental copy being sold by auction house Christie’s in New York is one of a handful of texts thought to have been destined for Europe and has minor differences from those distributed in England by Newton and the book’s editor, Edmond Halley.

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Mostly dead: what archaeology reveals about death and resurrection

Fri, 09 Dec 2016 13:00:29 GMT2016-12-09T13:00:29Z

UK courts recently allowed a teenager’s body to be cryogenically frozen, but the desire to preserve our dead for resurrection is nothing new

When a judge’s decision to allow a 14 year old to have her body preserved through cryonics after her death hit the headlines, it prompted numerous opinion pieces on the rights of the dying and the dead and discussions about promises of life after death. But while the technology might be changing, these debates are age-old, as humans have long attempted to ensure their place in the afterlife, or avoid it all together.

7000 years ago in South America, the Chinchorro people began to artificially mummify their dead, but it would be another 2000 years before there was any evidence that early human cultures believed in resurrection. The ancient Egyptians are the most well-known practitioners of mummification and while it was not strictly required for resurrection in the afterlife, it was seen to provide the best opportunity for a smooth transition from this life to the next.

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Over 200 years of deadly London air: smogs, fogs, and pea soupers | Vanessa Heggie

Fri, 09 Dec 2016 08:00:23 GMT2016-12-09T08:00:23Z

60 years after the Clean Air Act, Londoners still suffer from air pollution. What can we can learn from two centuries of campaigns against city smog?

On 9 December 1952 the Great Smog officially ended – for five days a thick layer of air pollution, mostly caused by coal fires, had covered London and caused the deaths of thousands of residents. 64 years later the London Mayor has committed £875 million to tackle the problem. This week the Royal Society of Biology hosted an event on air pollution and health (#greyskyresearch) and the Royal Society of Chemistry will run their annual Air Pollution conference next week. After two centuries of fatal London fogs, what have we learnt?

Fogs were relatively common in London in the 1700s, but by the early 1800s these had become deadly, as the smoke and fumes from industrialisation and urban growth were trapped by calm, still air. It was not just the pollution that was a threat to life and health, but also the traffic, and newspapers were full of tragic stories of accidents: in the 1837 December fog the Times reported that “an aged female named Jane Wilson” was “knocked down by a cart and severely injured” and Chelsea resident Mr Phillips was thrown out of his chaise into the road where a “cart passed over his right thigh, and fractured it dreadfully”. Animals suffered too - in 1873 the annual cattle show at Smithfield market was ruined by a December fog that left the “fat cattle…panting and coughing”, and many of the animals collapsed and died.

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Royal Society funds small museums to tell stories of local science "heroes" | Rebekah Higgitt

Thu, 08 Dec 2016 12:20:58 GMT2016-12-08T12:20:58Z

From dinosaur hunters to new dimension discoverers, the Local Heroes scheme will fund projects to celebrate and explore science across the UK

The Royal Society today announced the 15 successful projects that its Local Heroes scheme will fund. These grants go to small museums across the UK, from Orkney to Plymouth, to explore the lives and legacies of scientists with close connections to their communities.

I was fortunate to be on the judging panel and to see the richness, variety and imagination offered by all the applicants. The funding is only up to £3000, which is not much for museums that are often already suffering cuts from local authority budgets, but the imaginative projects have great potential to intrigue, inform and inspire.

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Archaeology sheds light on Mongolia’s uncertain nomadic future

Wed, 07 Dec 2016 13:00:31 GMT2016-12-07T13:00:31Z

As a herding lifestyle practiced for millennia is threatened by contemporary climate change, archaeology offers a long-term perspective

Around the world, traditional subsistence practices provide a resilient source of ecological knowledge that improves humanity’s ability to respond to environmental crises. In Central Asia, a herding lifestyle practiced for millennia is increasingly threatened by the speed and magnitude of climate change.

Although the global mean temperature is predicted to rise by 2C over the coming century, this trend will likely be more severe in high altitude and high latitude environments. In the subarctic steppes of Mongolia, nearly one-third of the population makes their living through migratory herding of livestock – sheep, goat, horse, cattle, camel, and yak. For these herders, the effects of climate change have been immediate and dramatic. Mongolia has experienced summer droughts, extreme winter weather, pasture degradation, a shrinking water supply, and desertification, leading to seasonal herd die-offs. These processes have a cascading effect, reinforcing other issues caused by human activity and globalisation.

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Heads in the Cloud: Are Westworld’s Robots Poorly Designed?

Wed, 07 Dec 2016 12:11:35 GMT2016-12-07T12:11:35Z

The park engineers in HBO’s Westworld should probably be fired for some of the bad choices they made

HBO’s new Westworld series has spawned countless gigabytes of online discussion and speculation as its intricate plot has unfolded. The design of the robots, and of the intelligence that guides them, has attracted less comment. That’s a shame; when you dive into the construction of the park there are some very odd choices that are worth pulling apart.

(Warning: spoilers ahead.)

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Science Museum's maths gallery soars with stunning Zaha Hadid design

Wed, 07 Dec 2016 09:31:52 GMT2016-12-07T09:31:52Z

New gallery tells stories of how maths underpins the world

In 1818, the Foreign Secretary Lord Castlereagh sent a letter to all British consuls across the world, asking them to obtain examples of their local standard weights. At that time the UK had no universal conversion table between the many different systems of weights and measures used by foreign cities.

It took two years for all 71 sets of weights to arrive in London, where they were put in two cabinets installed in the Royal Mint. When the measurements were compared with each other, the Mint discovered that almost every previous conversion table was wrong – and that for the previous century these errors had been costing UK traders dosh.

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It's impossible for robots to steal your job - no matter what the Daily Mail says | Dean Burnett

Tue, 06 Dec 2016 14:59:14 GMT2016-12-06T14:59:14Z

The Daily Mail has reported that robots could ‘steal’ 15 million UK jobs. But It’s practically impossible to ‘steal’ a job, so why is the notion so persistent?

Stealing. Most dictionaries define “steal” as some variation of “taking another person’s property without permission or legal right, and with no intention to return it”. You can steal a wide range of things from someone, and you can even do it metaphorically (“stolen my heart”, anyone?). But how do you steal someone’s job?

A job isn’t property in the strictest sense. It’s not a possession, a thing we can own. If anything, it’s more of an agreement. “I’ll do this service for you, and you’ll give money to me in return”. Is it possible to steal an agreement?

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Alan Finkel warns investment has stalled over climate policy uncertainty

Fri, 09 Dec 2016 07:52:21 GMT2016-12-09T07:52:21Z

Australia’s chief scientist vows to ‘thoroughly analyse all options’ for energy market despite row over emissions trading

Australia’s chief scientist, Alan Finkel, has tried to stay out of the fresh political row over emissions trading but says his review of the energy market will continue to analyse all the options to ensure future security of power supply and compliance with climate obligations.

Finkel’s comments follow a briefing he gave on Friday to the prime minister and state and territory leaders about his preliminary report about the state of Australia’s energy market. He warned that investment had stalled because of national policy uncertainty, and concluded current federal climate policy settings would not allow Australia to meet its emissions reduction targets under the Paris agreement.

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John Glenn, former astronaut and US senator – video obituary

Thu, 08 Dec 2016 22:23:22 GMT2016-12-08T22:23:22Z

Former astronaut and US senator John Glenn has died aged 95 in Ohio on Thursday. Glenn was the third US astronaut in space and the first of them to get into orbit. He then spent 24 years as a Democratic senator from Ohio and briefly made a run for president in 1984

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John Glenn, first US astronaut to orbit Earth, dies aged 95

Thu, 08 Dec 2016 20:39:34 GMT2016-12-08T20:39:34Z

Glenn served 24 years as a US senator from Ohio and later became the oldest person to be sent into space

John Glenn, a former astronaut and US senator for almost quarter of a century, has died in Ohio aged 95.

Glenn died on Thursday afternoon at the James cancer hospital in Columbus, according to Hank Wilson of the John Glenn School of Public Affairs. Ohio governor John Kasich also confirmed the news on Twitter.

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Orangutan stuns zookeepers by becoming pregnant while on the pill

Thu, 08 Dec 2016 03:04:33 GMT2016-12-08T03:04:33Z

Adelaide zoo is hoping to support 34-year-old orangutan Karta through her pregnancy as she has lost six infants in the past

A Sumatran orangutan at Adelaide zoo has fallen pregnant, despite being on contraceptives.

Karta the 34-year-old orangutan is due early in 2017. Jodie Ellen, a senior primate keeper, announced the “exciting but nerve-wracking” news on the zoo’s Facebook page. “It wasn’t a planned pregnancy,” she said. “Mother Nature actually intervened.”

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Pregnant women in UK told to watch for heart disease symptoms

Wed, 07 Dec 2016 00:01:15 GMT2016-12-07T00:01:15Z

Condition is leading cause of death in UK in months before and weeks after childbirth, says audit led by medical royal colleges

Pregnant women are being told to look out for the symptoms of heart disease, which is now the leading cause of death in the months before and weeks after childbirth.

Two in every 100,000 women who gave birth between 2009 and 2014 died as a result of heart disease in the UK – nearly a quarter of all maternal deaths in the period, according to an audit led by the medical royal colleges.

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Somerset skeletons are oldest evidence of monks found in UK

Mon, 05 Dec 2016 12:23:24 GMT2016-12-05T12:23:24Z

Carbon dating of remains unearthed in Beckery chapel near Glastonbury indicate monastic life dating back to fifth or early sixth centuries

Skeletons excavated at a site near Glastonbury are the oldest examples of monks ever found in the UK, carbon dating has proved.

The remains, unearthed at the medieval Beckery chapel in Somerset, said to have been visited by legendary figures such as King Arthur and St Bridget, indicate a monastic cemetery dating back to the fifth or early sixth centuries AD, before Somerset was conquered by the Saxon kings of Wessex in the seventh century.

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A leap forward or a step too far? The new debate over embryo research

Sun, 04 Dec 2016 14:07:00 GMT2016-12-04T14:07:00Z

British scientists are limited to research on embryos under 14 days old – until recently no one was able keep an embryo alive that long. But now an ethical struggle looms

Later this week some of the world’s leading scientists will gather at University College London to debate a simple but highly controversial notion: that it is time to scrap the 14-day limit on embryo research.

Thanks to recent scientific breakthroughs, researchers have reached a point where they can begin to think of experimenting on embryos up to 28 days in age. The benefits for medical science would be considerable.

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Row over allowing research on 28-day embryos

Sun, 04 Dec 2016 09:00:09 GMT2016-12-04T09:00:09Z

Scientists say increasing limit from 14 days will give greater insight into congenital conditions

Scientists will make a controversial call this week to extend the current 14-day limit for carrying out experiments on human embryos to 28 days. The move follows recent breakthroughs that have allowed researchers to double the time embryos can be kept alive in the laboratory.

By extending the current research period, major insights into congenital conditions, heart disease and some cancers could be gained, they will argue at a conference in London on Wednesday.

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Hi-tech replica to bring prehistoric art of Lascaux within reach

Sat, 03 Dec 2016 20:29:16 GMT2016-12-03T20:29:16Z

£48m recreation of French caves will let visitors experience magic of the ‘prehistoric Sistine chapel’ for first time in decades

In the Dordogne village of Montignac sur Vézère, the story of how one boy and his dog discovered one of the most haunting examples of prehistoric art has gone down in local folklore.

On 8 September 1940, Marcel Ravidat’s black-and-white mongrel, Robot, dived into a hole in the ground in pursuit of a rabbit. The 17-year-old Ravidat retrieved his pet, and returned a few days later with three friends to explore what appeared to be an underground cave. Dropping into the rocks, they entered a grotto where the flickering light of their oil lamp lit upon a painting of a red bull. The rest is prehistory.

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Climate scientists condemn article claiming global temperatures are falling

Sat, 03 Dec 2016 14:48:52 GMT2016-12-03T14:48:52Z

A Republican-led panel promoted a misleading tabloid story alleging earth may not be warming, relying on data that leaves out important points of context

Climate scientists have denounced the House committee on science, space and technology after the Republican-held panel promoted a misleading story expressing skepticism that the earth is dangerously warming.

On Thursday afternoon, the committee tweeted a Breitbart article alleging: “Global Temperatures Plunge. Icy Silence from Climate Alarmists”. The story linked to a British tabloid, the Daily Mail, which claimed that global land temperatures were plummeting, and that humans were not responsible for years of steadily increasing heat.

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Moon village concept attracts worldwide support

Fri, 02 Dec 2016 18:10:57 GMT2016-12-02T18:10:57Z

European Space Agency says proposals for permanent lunar outpost have generated international interest

Futuristic plans for a moon village proposed by the European Space Agency are winning support around the world.

Related: Is a moon village the next step for space exploration? ESA's chief thinks so

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Virgin Galactic tests new spaceplane

Thu, 08 Dec 2016 21:30:10 GMT2016-12-08T21:30:10Z

Replacement craft’s high-altitude glide test was first free flight since 2014 fatal accident

Virgin Galactic’s new VSS Unity spaceplane has flown free for the first time this week. It was released from its carrier aircraft at 10:40am EST. After a 10-minute glide, it landed back on its runway in Mojave.

This is Virgin Galactic’s first free flight test since the fatal accident in October 2014 that destroyed the company’s initial spaceplane, and claimed the life of one pilot and injured another.

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John Glenn obituary

Thu, 08 Dec 2016 21:14:29 GMT2016-12-08T21:14:29Z

Glenn was the first US astronaut to orbit the Earth, and later became one of his country’s most effective senators

John Glenn, who has died aged 95, was the first American to orbit the Earth and later the oldest person ever to be sent into space. During his long career he transformed himself from a highly decorated combat pilot and astronaut – one of the “Mercury Seven” group of military test pilots selected in 1959 by Nasa to become America’s first astronauts – into one of his country’s longest-serving and most effective senators.

His historic space flight on 20 February 1962, when Glenn performed three orbits of the Earth in the Friendship 7 spacecraft, travelling 81,000 miles at more than 17,000mph, was broadcast live around the world. Unbeknown to Glenn, the control centre had received signals early in the flight showing that the heat shield appeared to have broken loose. In the capsule itself the attitude controls had failed. By the time Glenn learned of the heat shield problem during his third orbit, he was reconciling himself to the likelihood that he would have to calculate his own angle of re-entry. If he got it wrong, the capsule would burn up. If he got it right, failure of the heat shield might well produce the same outcome.

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Rocket men: why tech’s biggest billionaires want their place in space

Mon, 05 Dec 2016 08:00:18 GMT2016-12-05T08:00:18Z

Forget gilded mansions and super yachts. Among the tech elite, space exploration is now the ultimate status symbol

The explosion could be felt 30 miles away. At 9.07am on 1 September, a SpaceX rocket containing 75,000 gallons of liquid oxygen and rocket-grade kerosene ignited into a fireball that could be seen from orbit, billowing black smoke into the gray sky around its Cape Canaveral launch pad.

On board was a $200m, 12,000lb communications satellite – part of Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s project to deliver broadband access to sub-Saharan Africa.

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Will Trump go to Mars? Nasa’s nervous wait

Sun, 04 Dec 2016 13:00:14 GMT2016-12-04T13:00:14Z

The president-elect’s priorities for the US space agency are of crucial importance for Earth as well as for future space exploration

In Nasa language it’s called a pivot. It’s a policy change, a U-turn or a departure from a goal set by the previous US president. Until the election of Donald Trump, space insiders and even Nasa itself had a pretty good idea what, under a Hillary Clinton presidency, that pivot was going to be. It wasn’t going to be popular but it was necessary.

People had been whispering it for more than a year. Even as the Nasa PR machine talked endlessly about “the journey to Mars”, those in the know understood that it was little more than a pipe dream. Following the election, a “transition team” would be sent to take stock at Nasa, and the agency’s goals would gradually pivot away from Mars and to the moon.

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Saiful Islam: ‘You need more than one electric eel to light a Christmas tree’

Sun, 04 Dec 2016 08:00:09 GMT2016-12-04T08:00:09Z

Chemistry professor Saiful Islam on his plans to show ‘electricity in the raw’ during his Royal Institution Christmas Lectures – with the help of 1,000 lemons

Saiful Islam, 53, is professor of materials chemistry at the University of Bath. Later this month he is giving the 80th Christmas Lectures at the Royal Institution, entitled Supercharged: Fuelling the Future.

Your Christmas Lectures at the Royal Institution are going to be all about energy. What’s the next energy revolution going to look like?
Hopefully it is going to be a lot cleaner than it is now. We could have a greater degree of solar power, hopefully a greater deal of electrification of transport – with the renewables we are going to need energy storage. I think that wind will play a part. I think fossil fuels will still be around because they are very energy dense, they are still being dug up and, as we know in China, lots of coal power stations are being built. But if we want to have a really cleaner, more sustainable future, we do need to move over to greener energy technologies.

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Kazuo Ishiguro: 'We’re coming close to the point where we can create people who are superior to others'

Fri, 02 Dec 2016 17:23:28 GMT2016-12-02T17:23:28Z

Social changes unleashed by new technologies could undermine core human values unless we engage with science, warns author

Imagine a two-tiered society with elite citizens, genetically engineered to be smarter, healthier and to live longer, and an underclass of biologically run-of-the-mill humans. It sounds like the plot of a dystopian novel, but the world could be sleepwalking towards this scenario, according to one of Britain’s most celebrated writers.

Kazuo Ishiguro argues that the social changes unleashed by gene editing technologies, such as Crispr, could undermine core human values.

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The balloonist MP who gave his life for meteorology

Thu, 01 Dec 2016 21:30:00 GMT2016-12-01T21:30:00Z

Intrepid trio were trying to find the cause of a thick fog that had descended on Victorian London. But then disaster struck

English meteorology may seem rather tame, but it can be hazardous, as shown by a balloon expedition by the Meteorological Council in December 1881.

The expedition, in a balloon called Saladin, was to examine the conditions that had produced “a very peculiar fog”, thick enough to delay the trains in London.

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The focus on maths and science doesn’t add up. The arts must be in the equation | Kester Brewin

Fri, 09 Dec 2016 07:30:22 GMT2016-12-09T07:30:22Z

Throwing resources at science, technology, engineering and maths in England hasn’t worked. We need to reaffirm the importance of a more rounded education

As a long-time maths teacher, the latest assessments by the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study and Programme for International Student Assessment make for tough reading. They indicate that there is little evidence of real gains having been made in maths and science in England over the past four years.

Related: UK schools fail to climb international league table

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Can’t we judge people on their merits, instead of their genes? | Catherine Shoard

Thu, 08 Dec 2016 07:00:09 GMT2016-12-08T07:00:09Z

The obsession with pedigree as an explanation for success and failure is just a present day form of narcissism

Are the novelist Anthony Powell and the actor Danny Dyer related? The biology has yet to be checked, but the evidence is compelling. Spiritually, at least, these two are blood brothers, intimately linked. Both are entertainers, both are fans of the pithy putdown (Powell: “His mastery of the hard-luck story was of a kind never achieved by persons not wholly concentrated on themselves”; Dyer: “Mate, you look like an earthworm who’s whacked a hoodie on”). And both are raging snobs. For Powell, lineage was of paramount importance, Burke’s Peerage his favourite book. Between writing, he devoted his studies to his own ancestry. The pedigree of others determined his attitude to them, from aristo pals to the postman. For all, he endeavoured to trace their descent back as far – and as posh – as possible.

Related: Who Do You Think You Are? review – arise, King Danny Dyer

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Mission not yet accomplished on the Higher Education and Research Bill

Tue, 06 Dec 2016 09:33:37 GMT2016-12-06T09:33:37Z

As the far-reaching Higher Education and Research Bill reaches the House of Lords, further amendments are needed to ensure it succeeds in its aims

Power – where is it located? How is it won and lost? On the face of it, Prime Minister Theresa May is the most powerful person in the UK. But she is struggling to “take back control” on behalf of the country because of the lack of unity on Brexit amongst her ministers. And now the shock result of the Richmond by-election is inducing panic among senior Conservatives, worried that they will not be able to convert a double-digit lead in the polls into a thumping parliamentary majority at the next general election.

Former Chancellor George Osborne recently provided some candid insights into the power-plays that rumble through Whitehall as the government machine wrestles with the process of policy-making. When things go wrong, he said, “it’s almost always, I tell you now, cock-up not conspiracy.

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More terrifying than Trump? The booming conspiracy culture of climate science denial | Graham Readfearn

Tue, 06 Dec 2016 06:52:40 GMT2016-12-06T06:52:40Z

Conspiracy websites and hyperpartisan media outlets are building huge online audiences who want to hear climate change is a hoax

Back in December 2015, Donald Trump gave a 30-minute live interview to the website and its combustible leader, Alex Jones.

“Your reputation is amazing and I will not let you down,” said Trump, who, at the time, was leading in most polls for the Republican presidential nomination.

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Why is a banned pesticide that harms bees actually being used more? | Patrick Barkham

Mon, 05 Dec 2016 18:42:07 GMT2016-12-05T18:42:07Z

Scientists fear that neonicotinoid manufacturers are copying tobacco industry tactics in a bid to end the moratorium on this devastating chemical

Halfway through a video of a speech by the biologist Professor Dave Goulson there is an abrupt loss of sound. Goulson, who has devoted his working life to highlighting the catastrophic decline of bees, is giving a talk to hundreds gathered at the National Honey Show in 2015. Strangely, his words are silenced for 20 seconds of the video uploaded by the show to YouTube, precisely when he discusses the impact on bees of the most widely used insecticides in the world – neonicotinoids.

Related: Leading insecticide cuts bee sperm by almost 40%, study shows

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Google's satellite timelapses show the inconvenient truth about our planet

Mon, 05 Dec 2016 13:33:48 GMT2016-12-05T13:33:48Z

Google’s new Timelapse project allows you to see how anywhere in the world has changed in the last 32 years; from evaporating lakes to exploding cities, it’s a document of recklessness

The image of the Earth from space is so seared into human consciousness that it is hard to conceive what it was like to live without the picture of our planet as a blue sphere that we all now carry in our minds.

The first photographs of the Earth’s surface seen from 100 miles were taken in 1947. By 1968, the famous Earthrise image photographed by the crew of Apollo 8 framed our planet as a beautiful oasis in black space. Today, stunning and intensely informative pictures of the Earth’s surface are being taken from space constantly: so comprehensively, for so long, that Google has now created timelapses that show three decades of change.

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Our obsession with the natural world isn't about power – it's about love

Fri, 02 Dec 2016 16:04:20 GMT2016-12-02T16:04:20Z

Why do we get a kick out of looking at animals? We’re asserting our dominion over nature – but also trying to understand and preserve it

We humans love to look at other species. The BBC series Planet Earth II is a huge hit. As well as the authority of David Attenborough’s voice, this is because it offers a series of incredible HD glimpses of the secret lives of animals. The latest sequence that had my family glued to the screen featured a pride of lions chasing a giraffe. Astounding.

Or is it? Is watching nature documentaries an enlightened attempt to comprehend our fellow creatures, or just another example of human beings imposing a gaze of power and knowledge on animals – classifying, controlling and ultimately skinning and stuffing them in the name of science?

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This is the most dangerous time for our planet | Stephen Hawking

Thu, 01 Dec 2016 18:28:32 GMT2016-12-01T18:28:32Z

We can’t go on ignoring inequality, because we have the means to destroy our world but not to escape it

As a theoretical physicist based in Cambridge, I have lived my life in an extraordinarily privileged bubble. Cambridge is an unusual town, centred around one of the world’s great universities. Within that town, the scientific community that I became part of in my 20s is even more rarefied.

And within that scientific community, the small group of international theoretical physicists with whom I have spent my working life might sometimes be tempted to regard themselves as the pinnacle. In addition to this, with the celebrity that has come with my books, and the isolation imposed by my illness, I feel as though my ivory tower is getting taller.

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Nobel laureates have spoken out – the battle to defend science under Trump has begun

Thu, 01 Dec 2016 12:36:29 GMT2016-12-01T12:36:29Z

America’s science community is getting organised as never before to hold the new administration and Congress to account

More than 2300 scientists—including 22 Nobel laureates—this week issued an open letter, outlining how they want the Trump administration and 115th Congress to make use of scientific evidence and expert advice. It remains open for signatures here.

The letter calls on the president-elect to appoint cabinet members with a track record of supporting science and promoting diversity; to protect the integrity and independence of government researchers; and to provide sufficient funding for scientific research and data collection.

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'Power posing' is a sham. Time to redefine what strength looks like | Jean Hannah Edelstein

Thu, 01 Dec 2016 12:00:00 GMT2016-12-01T12:00:00Z

A study debunked the idea that puffing yourself up physically to increase confidence works. Let’s stop prizing masculinity in power and leadership

Given the election night coup of a certain blustering, overly confident egomaniac, it might seem like channeling a very masculine idea of success is a good way to get ahead. After all, Donald Trump lurked menacingly over Hillary Clinton on the debate stage, blustered and bragged, and he triumphed. It seems a smart strategy to emulate aggressive masculine behavior if planning a power grab.

But writing in the journal Hormones and Behavior, two researchers undermined previous findings that standing in a “power pose” – that is “broad posture, hands on hips, shoulders high and pushed back”, or what I would describe as “in the manner of a blustering, bigoted kleptocrat” – has no measurable effect on feelings of emotional or physical strength.

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Meteor brightens night sky in Siberia – video

Tue, 06 Dec 2016 21:00:39 GMT2016-12-06T21:00:39Z

Videos shared by Russians on social media show a meteor turning dark night into day in parts of Siberia on Tuesday. The large fireball was seen across several areas of Khakassia in the south of the country. Local authorities say no damage was caused

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Monkey business: taxidermy of endangered primates – in pictures

Fri, 02 Dec 2016 08:00:10 GMT2016-12-02T08:00:10Z

More than 60 spectacular specimens of monkeys, apes, lemurs, lorises and bushbabies will go on show at the National Museum of Scotland from 9 December. The taxidermy was specially commissioned for the exhibition and is the first to show primates behaving as if they were in the wild

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Unmanned Russian cargo rocket crashes after takeoff – video

Fri, 02 Dec 2016 00:05:36 GMT2016-12-02T00:05:36Z

The spacecraft was heading to the International Space Station when it disintegrated 190km up in the atmosphere over Siberia on Thursday due to an unspecified malfunction, the Russian space agency said. Most of the ship’s debris burnt up as it entered the atmosphere but some fell on uninhabited areas, the agency said

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Crystalline: art from the Arctic, space and beyond - in pictures

Thu, 01 Dec 2016 16:49:41 GMT2016-12-01T16:49:41Z

From an Arctic expedition to working in a studio in the school of biology and environmental science at University College Dublin, artist Siobhan McDonald collaborates with researchers to broach subjects at the edges of current scientific knowledge

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Was Einstein wrong? Physicists challenge speed of light theory – video explainer

Tue, 29 Nov 2016 03:16:47 GMT2016-11-29T03:16:47Z

The speed of light in a vacuum has been considered one of the fundamental constants of nature since Einstein’s theory of general relativity was published a century ago. But João Magueijo, of Imperial College London, and Niayesh Afshordi, of the University of Waterloo in Canada, propose that light tore along at infinite speed at the birth of the universe. Now the pair have described for the first time how scientists can test their controversial idea

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Schiaparelli crash-landed on Mars after misjudging altitude – video report

Thu, 24 Nov 2016 09:15:41 GMT2016-11-24T09:15:41Z

The Schiaparelli lander that crashed on Mars last month flew into the red planet at 335mph after a computer misjudged its altitude, the European Space Agency said on Wednesday. Though the landing was unsuccessful, engineers will be able to use it as experience for future Mars missions

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Beautiful equations: the enigma of prime numbers – video

Thu, 24 Nov 2016 07:00:26 GMT2016-11-24T07:00:26Z

For Professor Marcus du Sautoy, the ‘enigma of prime numbers’ is at the heart of the greatest unsolved problem in mathematics. Riemann’s formula calculates how many primes there are – an infinite number that is crucial to the security of online banking

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‘Poor little snowflake’ – the defining insult of 2016

Mon, 28 Nov 2016 15:02:20 GMT2016-11-28T15:02:20Z

The term ‘snowflake’ has been thrown around with abandon in the wake of Brexit and the US election, usually to express generic disdain for young people. How can we neutralise its power – and is it a bad metaphor anyway?

Between the immediate aftermath of Brexit and the US presidential election, one insult began to seem inescapable, mostly lobbed from the right to the left: “snowflake.” Independent MEP Janice Atkinson, who was expelled from Ukip over allegations of expenses fraud, wrote a piece for the Huffington Post decrying the “wet, teary and quite frankly ludicrous outpouring of grief emails” she had received post-referendum as “snowflake nonsense”. The far-right news site Breitbart, whose executive chairman Stephen Bannon is now Donald Trump’s chief strategist, threw it around with abandon, using it as a scattershot insult against journalists, celebrities and millennials who objected to Trump’s inflammatory rhetoric; its UK site used it last week to criticise a proposed “class liberation officer” at an Oxford college who would provide more support for working-class students.

On an episode of his long-running podcast in August, Bret Easton Ellis discussed the criticism of a lascivious LA Weekly story about the pop star Sky Ferreira with a furious riposte to what he calls “little snowflake justice warriors”: “Oh, little snowflakes, when did you all become grandmothers and society matrons, clutching your pearls in horror at someone who has an opinion about something, a way of expressing themselves that’s not the mirror image of yours, you snivelling little weak-ass narcissists?”

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New species of 'weird bird'-like dinosaur discovered in China

Thu, 10 Nov 2016 14:00:34 GMT2016-11-10T14:00:34Z

Named Tongtianlong limosus - which means “muddy dragon on the road to heaven” - the dinosaur appears to have died after getting stuck in the mud

A farmer and construction workers in China have discovered the remains of a new species of bird-like dinosaur that appears to have died after getting stuck in the mud. The find, experts say, adds weight to the idea that such animals were thriving shortly before the mass extinction 66 million years ago.

Around the size of a sheep, with a beak, wings and a crest on its head, the flightless creature is thought to be a species of oviraptorosaur - a group of bird-like, feathered, toothless and short-skulled non-avian dinosaurs that were roaming the land in the period shortly before an asteroid slammed into Earth off the coast of Mexico, triggering the annihilation of swaths of life.

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Can you solve it? Are you smarter than a Singaporean 10-year-old?

Mon, 05 Dec 2016 07:00:17 GMT2016-12-05T07:00:17Z

Take the test based on Singapore’s innovative primary maths syllabus

UPDATE: Answers and explanations now posted here

Hi guzzlers,

On Tuesday we will again learn how much better Asian children are at maths, science and reading than we are with announcement of the OECD’s Pisa rankings, which compare the abilities of 15-year-olds from around the world.

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Belief in Santa could affect parent-child relationships, warns study

Wed, 23 Nov 2016 23:30:17 GMT2016-11-23T23:30:17Z

CAUTION: this article contains sensitive information concerning the existence of Santa Claus

Spoiler alert: this article contains sensitive information about the existence of Santa Claus. Children may wish to look away now.

Parents, though, are being urged to re-consider the ethics of the great Santa Claus lie. In an article published in the journal Lancet Psychiatry, two psychologists have raised the spectre of children’s moral compass being permanently thrown off-kilter by what is normally considered a magical part of the Christmas tradition.

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Theory challenging Einstein's view on speed of light could soon be tested

Mon, 28 Nov 2016 18:54:45 GMT2016-11-28T18:54:45Z

New paper describes for first time how scientists can test controversial idea that speed of light is not a constant

The newborn universe may have glowed with light beams moving much faster than they do today, according to a theory that overturns Einstein’s century-old claim that the speed of light is a constant.

João Magueijo, of Imperial College London, and Niayesh Afshordi, of the University of Waterloo in Canada, propose that light tore along at infinite speed at the birth of the universe when the temperature of the cosmos was a staggering ten thousand trillion trillion celsius.

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Newcomb's problem divides philosophers. Which side are you on?

Mon, 28 Nov 2016 07:10:23 GMT2016-11-28T07:10:23Z

Newcomb’s problem has split the world of philosophy into two opposing camps. Two philosophers explain - then take the test yourself

UPDATE: Read the poll result here.

Two boxes or not two boxes? That is the question.

For almost half a century Newcomb’s problem has been one of the most contentious conundrums in philosophy, with ramifications in economics, politics and computer science.

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Auguste Piccard: the physicist who went stratospheric

Sun, 27 Mar 2011 00:05:20 GMT2011-03-27T00:05:20Z

He wanted to investigate the theory of relativity – so he flew 10 miles up in a balloon

Nearly 80 years ago, on 27 May 1931, the Swiss physicist Auguste Piccard took off from Augsberg, Germany, in a pressurised aluminium capsule attached to a large hydrogen balloon. His destination was the stratosphere, the second major layer of our atmosphere, between six and 31 miles above Earth. No one had ever been that high before and Piccard wanted to measure the activity of cosmic rays and investigate Einstein's theory of relativity. He and his assistant, Paul Kipfer, reached a record 15,785m (9.8 miles).

It wasn't all plain sailing. For Will Gregory, who has written an opera about Piccard's big adventure, Piccard in Space, which has its premiere this week, "the thing that stood out was that everything seemed to go wrong, right from the get-go. Kipfer looked out of the window while they were doing a final check and he could see chimneys going past – they had already taken off. And then there was the leak, the spilled mercury and the bit when they nearly asphyxiated because they didn't have enough air. It was a catalogue of terrifying lurches from one catastrophe to another – just brilliant for music."

Continue reading...Auguste Piccard (centre) in 1930. Photograph: Bettmann/CORBISAuguste Piccard (centre) in 1930. Photograph: Bettmann/CORBIS

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