Dark Edge of Sunspots Reveal Magnetic Melee

In what may be one of the most important steps in understanding sunspots since they were discovered by Chinese sky watchers more than two millennia ago, researchers have discovered that the lines of magnetic force that surge out of sunspots appear to peel apart like husk off an ear of corn as some of the lines are dragged back beneath the surface by a sort of solar quicksand. This “quicksand” and the magnetic fields it bends create the penumbrae around some sunspots, the strange rings of mid-darkness that have eluded explanation by astronomers since Galileo first sketched them. With the help of sophisticated computer models and data from solar telescopes that give spectacular views of the sun, researchers at the University of Rochester, University of Colorado, University of Cambridge, and University of Leeds have reported an answer to several mysteries of sunspots in the current issue of Nature.

Beer, yeast offer new insight into evolution

Researchers studying yeast reproductive habits have for the first time observed a rapid method for the creation of new species, shedding light on the way organisms evolve. “Most models of speciation require gradual change over a very long period of time, and geographic or ecological isolation for a new species to arise,” says University of Houston biologist Michael Travisano. “Our study suggests that mating two separate species to produce hybrids can result in a new species readily and relatively quickly, at least in yeast, but possibly in other organisms as well.”

From the bone of a horse, a new idea for aircraft structures

The horse, a classic model of grace and speed on land, is now an unlikely source of inspiration for more efficient flight. So says a group of University of Florida engineers who have recreated part of a unique bone in the horse’s leg with an eye toward lighter, stronger materials for planes and spacecraft.
The third metacarpus bone in the horse’s leg supports much of the force conveyed as the animal moves. One side of the cucumber-sized bone has a pea-sized hole where blood vessels enter the bone. Holes naturally weaken structures, causing them to break more easily than solid structures when pressure is applied. Yet while the third metacarpus does fracture, particularly in racehorses, it doesn’t break near the hole – not even when the bone is subjected to laboratory stress tests. UF engineering researchers think they’ve figured out why – and they’ve built and are testing a plate that mimics the bone’s uncanny strength in a form potentially useful for airplanes and spacecraft.

Scientists Find that Ulcer-Causing Pathogen Uses Hydrogen for Energy

In a new study, a microbiologist has discovered that the bacteria associated with almost all human ulcers – one that is also correlated with the development of certain types of gastric cancer in humans – uses hydrogen as an energy source. The finding is novel because most bacteria use sugars and other carbohydrates to grow, says Dr. Jonathan Olson, assistant professor of microbiology at North Carolina State. The human pathogen Helicobacter pylori does not.

Environmental Enrichment Reverses Learning Impairments from Lead Poisoning

Environmental enrichment that stimulates brain activity can reverse the long-term learning deficits caused by lead poisoning, according to a study conducted by researchers at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. It has long been known that lead poisoning in children affects their cognitive and behavioral development. Despite significant efforts to reduce lead contamination in homes, childhood lead poisoning remains a major public health problem with an estimated 34 million housing units in the United States containing lead paint. The Hopkins study is the first to demonstrate that the long-term deficits in cognitive function caused by lead can be reversed and offers a basis for the treatment of childhood lead intoxication.

Heisenberg’s revenge: Energy need may cap size, ability of quantum computers

The energy required to create an accurate quantum computer may limit the ability of scientists to make these novel devices small, fast, cheap and efficient, says a University of Arkansas researcher. Quantum computing relies on using single atomic particles as units for information storage. Manipulating this information requires pulsed electromagnetic fields?which contain energy. The researcher found that the energy needed to perform a calculation is inversely proportional to the error rate: In other words, more energy means less uncertainty.

Insects’ survival, mating decrease with age in wild

A unique insect has given researchers the opportunity to study aging in the wild for the first time. “Aging – or senescence – has been seen under controlled conditions in the lab, but never before in insects living in their naturally evolved habitat,” says U of T zoology doctoral candidate Russell Bonduriansky. “Our study of antler flies shows these animals do age in the wild.” Bonduriansky and co-researcher Chad Brassil, both of the evolutionary ecology group at U of T, studied male antler flies to see if there was aging – a term used to denote a deterioration of the body’s vital functions, not chronological time. The two zoologists examined the flies to see if their abilities to survive to the next day and to mate deteriorated with age.

New NASA theory may help improve weather predictions

Less precipitation and more lightning eventually may be forecast as a result of a NASA study that shows that cloud droplets freeze from the outside inward instead of the opposite. The new theory of how super-cooled water droplets in clouds freeze, which appears in this week’s on-line edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, reverses a 60-year-old assumption.

Large-scale climate changes occur naturally, new research says

A Canadian researcher has found new evidence that — contrary to previous belief — the past 6,000 years have been marked by large-scale climate changes occurring naturally, on a regular basis. He and his research team have documented four abrupt climate shifts over the past 5,500 years in western Canada, occurring on average every 1,220 years. Until now the last 6,000 years has been considered climatically stable, with the main evidence of large-scale shifts being found in the Greenland ice cores and sediments from the Atlantic Ocean. The team’s findings are reported in the current issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Researchers ID new mammal down under

In the current crisis of global biodiversity loss, the discovery of new species is a welcome addition. But the recent finding that the mountain brushtail possum, an arboreal marsupial mammal of Australian wet forests, is actually made up of two species also poses new conservation challenges. The new species is proposed in an article in the latest Australian Journal of Zoology (Volume 50, Issue 4), authored by Earthwatch-supported biologist Dr. David Lindenmayer (Australian National University) and colleagues. “Geographic dimorphism in the Mountain Brushtail Possum (Trichosurus caninus) – the case for a new species,” describes how the northern and southern populations of the mountain brushtail possum are both morphologically and genetically distinct.

Rupture of Denali fault responsible for 7.9-mag Alaskan earthquake

Geologists just back from a reconnaissance of the 7.9-magnitude Alaska earthquake of November 3 confirm that rupture of the Denali fault was the principal cause of the quake. According to Caltech geology professor Kerry Sieh, Central Washington University geological sciences professor Charles Rubin, and Peter Haeussler of the U.S. Geological Survey, investigations over a week-long period revealed three large ruptures with a total length of about 320 kilometers. The principal rupture was a 210-kilometer-long section of the Denali fault, with horizontal shifts of up to nearly 9 meters (26 feet). This places the rupture in the same class as those that produced the San Andreas fault’s two historical great earthquakes in 1906 and 1857. These three ruptures are the largest such events in the Western Hemisphere in at least the past 150 years.