Wednesday, January 14, 2015

China's Spacecraft Enters Orbit to Plan for Possible Mining Mission

China's bold plan to land a robotic spaceship on the moon and bring it back to Earth has moved another step forward. Chang'e 5 is being designed to make a soft landing on the moon and collect at least 4lbs of rock and soil samples before returning to Earth. If successful, that would make China only the third country after the United States and Russia to meet such a challenge. China is also looking to mine the moon for the rare helium isotope that some scientists claim could meet global energy demand far into the future, according to a report in The Times.
- Daily Mail

Can Pigs Empathize?

There are a handful of traits that scientists and philosophers would argue would make us human, including self-awareness and language. Another key part of being human is thought to be our ability to empathize. We know that pigs are ‘intelligent’ animals and that they feel emotions such as stress.  They are also social animals, and so presumably if other animals do empathise with one another, then a pig might be a likely candidate.
- Scientific American

Meet the Last Speaker of a Dying Language (Video)

Marie Wilcox is the last fluent speaker of the Wukchumni language spoken by a Native American tribe of less than 200 remaining members.
- National Geographic

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Tiny Fish Skull May Be Ancestor of Jawed Vertebrates

The remains of a 415-million-year-old fish skull from Siberia — though miniscule in size — offer hints about the origins of all jawed vertebrates, ranging from reptiles to humans. Researchers originally uncovered the roughly 0.8-inch-long skull in the 1970s, and classified the specimen as a bony fish. There are two main types of living jawed vertebrates: those made of bone and those made of cartilage. Now, a new, more in-depth examination of the ancient fish's brain case shows that the fossil has characteristics of both bony fish, such as salmon and trout, and fish made of cartilage, including sharks and manta rays. The Siberian fossil also suggests that sharks — which are made of cartilage and long thought to be more primitive than bony-jawed vertebrates — are more evolved than had been previously thought.
- Discovery News

Are Computers Better Judges of Personality Than Friends?

When it comes to truly knowing someone's personality, a computer  may do a better job than the individual's friends andfamily members , a new study suggests. Scientists developed a computer model that mined the Facebook "Likes" of study  participants, looking at the products , activities, sports, musicians, books and restaurants to which people gave the "thumbs up." The researchers found that this computer model predicted people's personalities more accurately than did most of the person's friends and family members, with the exception of spouses, suggesting that automated systems could help people make important life decisions, such as choosing career paths or romantic partners.
- Live Science

Could Earth's Slowing Rotation Break the Internet?

The year 2015 will be one second longer to compensate for the Earth's slowing rotation – but that could cause big problems for the internet.
- The Christian Science Monitor

Monday, January 12, 2015

How Civilization Really Declined on Easter Island

The downfall of Easter Island may have had more to do with preexisting environmental conditions than degradation by humans, according to a new study of the remote speck of land made famous by its enormous stone-head statues.
- Newser

170-Million-Year-Old 'Fish Lizard' Fossil Unearthed in Scotland

A prehistoric marine-reptile fossil found in Scotland's Isle of Skye represents a new species that lived about 170 million years ago. The specimen was a member of a group of extinct marine  reptiles called ichthyosaurs. Researchers say the creature helps to fill in a gap in the fossil record during the Middle Jurassic period, which lasted from about 176 million to 161 million years ago.
- Live Science

Scientists Observe Solar System Planets Like Alien Worlds

A new scientific  paper simulates how several rocky Solar System bodies would look if glimpsed at the light-years distance of alien worlds. Across such great spans, exoplanets are just dim specks. But what little light does get to us could, the study suggests, imply intriguing details about their surface features, provided we know what to look for.