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Fast radio bursts could help solve the mystery of the universe’s expansion

Fast radio bursts could help solve the mystery of the universe’s expansion

Astronomers have been arguing about the rate of the universe’s expansion for nearly a century. A new independent method to measure that rate could help cast the deciding vote.For the first time, astronomers calculated the Hubble constant — the rate at which the universe is expanding — from observations of cosmic flashes called fast radio bursts, or FRBs. While , the technique could mature into a powerful tool for nailing down the elusive Hubble constant, researchers report April 12 at arXiv.org.Ultimately, if the uncertainties in the new method can be reduced, it could help settle the...

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Apr 21
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The already tiny neutrino’s maximum possible mass has shrunk even further

The already tiny neutrino’s maximum possible mass has shrunk even further

To understand neutrinos, it pays to be small-minded.The subatomic particles are so lightweight, they’re almost massless. They’re a tiny fraction of the mass of the next lightest particle, the electron. But scientists still don’t know exactly how slight the particles are. A new estimate from the KATRIN experiment, located in Karlsruhe, Germany, further shrinks the maximum possible mass neutrinos could have.The puny particles have masses of , physicist Diana Parno reported April 19 at a virtual meeting of the American Physical Society. For comparison, electrons are more than 600,000 times as...

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Apr 21
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A new technique could make some plastic trash compostable at home

A new technique could make some plastic trash compostable at home

A pinch of polymer-munching enzymes could make biodegradable plastic packaging and forks truly compostable.With moderate heat, enzyme-laced films of the plastic within days to weeks, Ting Xu and her colleagues report April 21 in Nature.“Biodegradability does not equal compostability,” says Xu, a polymer scientist at the University of California, Berkeley and Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. She often finds bits of biodegradable plastic in the compost she picks up for her parents’ garden. Most biodegradable plastics go to landfills, where the conditions aren’t right for them to break...

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Apr 21
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Corals’ hidden genetic diversity corresponds to distinct lifestyles

Corals’ hidden genetic diversity corresponds to distinct lifestyles

Stony corals that build reefs have been hiding their diversity in plain sight. A genetic analysis of the most widespread reef coral in the Indo-Pacific revealed that rather than being a single species (Pachyseris speciosa), it was actually of coral, researchers report April 2 in Current Biology.Coral reefs are the condominiums of ocean biodiversity, supporting more species per square meter than any other marine habitat. Understanding which coral species foster that biodiversity and how those corals behave is vital to taking care of them, especially as a warming climate (SN: 5/6/20). “Just...

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Apr 12
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Hints of an ancient coronavirus outbreak appear in modern East Asian DNA

Hints of an ancient coronavirus outbreak appear in modern East Asian DNA

An ancient coronavirus, or a closely related pathogen, triggered an epidemic among ancestors of present-day East Asians roughly 25,000 years ago, a new study indicates.Analysis of DNA from more than 2,000 people shows that accumulated over the next 20,000 years or so, David Enard, an evolutionary geneticist at the University of Arizona in Tucson, reported April 8 at the . The finding raises the possibility that some East Asians today have inherited biological adaptations to coronaviruses or closely related viruses.The discovery opens the way to exploring how genes linked to ancient viral...

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Apr 14
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How the laws of physics constrain the size of alien raindrops

How the laws of physics constrain the size of alien raindrops

Whether they’re made of methane on Saturn’s moon Titan or iron on the exoplanet WASP 76b, alien raindrops behave similarly across the Milky Way. They are always close to the same size, regardless of the liquid they’re made of or the atmosphere they fall in, according to the first generalized physical model of alien rain.“You can get raindrops out of lots of things,” says planetary scientist Kaitlyn Loftus of Harvard University, who published for what happens to a falling raindrop after it has left a cloud in the April Journal of Geophysical Research: Planets. Previous studies have looked at...

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Apr 19
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50 years ago, scientists claimed marijuana threatened teens’ mental health

50 years ago, scientists claimed marijuana threatened teens’ mental health

The continuing battle over pot — , April 24,1971The White House Conference on Youth voted to legalize the sale of grass (with restrictions). On the same day, the Journal of the American Medical Association published an article condemning the use of marijuana by the young.… The researchers conclude that marijuana smoking is particularly harmful to the adolescent. It adds unnecessary anxieties to the already disturbing problems of physical and psychological maturation.Fifty years after the recommendation to legalize the recreational use of marijuana, at least 15 U.S. states have done so. In...

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Apr 20
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Neandertal DNA from cave mud shows two waves of migration across Eurasia

Neandertal DNA from cave mud shows two waves of migration across Eurasia

Neandertal DNA recovered from cave mud reveals that these ancient humans spread across Eurasia in two different waves.Analysis of suggests an early wave of Neandertals about 135,000 years ago may have been replaced by genetically and potentially anatomically distinct successors 30,000 years later, researchers report April 15 in Science. The timing of this later wave suggests potential links to climate and environmental shifts.By extracting genetic material from mud, “we can get human DNA from people who lived in a cave without having to find their remains, and we can learn interesting...

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Apr 15
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How researchers can keep birds safe as U.S. wind farms expand

How researchers can keep birds safe as U.S. wind farms expand

Wind energy is surging in the United States. In 2020, turbines generated about — roughly 50 times the share of wind-generated electricity in 2000 —according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. While the growth is a positive step toward curbing climate change, scientists say, it could be bad news for birds.An estimated 140,000 to 500,000 birds die each year due to turbine collisions. Bird if the U.S. Department of Energy achieves its goal of expanding wind energy to 20 percent of the country’s electricity demand by 2030.To prevent avoidable deaths, some scientists are advocating...

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Apr 12
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This praying mantis inflates a strange pheromone gland to lure mates

This praying mantis inflates a strange pheromone gland to lure mates

Praying mantises — with their angular features, huge eyes and centaur posture — often seem a bit alien. But researchers have recently found one mantis species that takes this otherworldly quality to the next level: Females of this species have an inflatable pheromone gland that protrudes from the back of the abdomen like a green, Y-shaped balloon. This odd organ is unlike anything seen in mantises before, researchers online April 21 in the Journal of Orthoptera Research.In October 2017, herpetologist Frank Glaw was moving through the nighttime rainforest in Amazonian Peru at the Panguana...

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Apr 26
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