Scientists solve mystery of moving Death Valley rocks
By Alex Dobuzinskis LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - A solution to the longstanding mystery of why rocks move erratically across an isolated patch of California's Death Valley finally emerged on Thursday, when researchers published a study showing the driving force was sheets of wind-driven ice. Trails from the movement of the rocks, which show them changing direction suddenly in their movement across the so-called Racetrack Playa, have long befuddled scientists and the general public. Paleobiologist Richard Norris of the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, who led the study, saw the rare phenomenon first-hand last December while standing with his cousin, engineer James Norris, at the spot.
Ebola Outbreak in Sierra Leone Began at a Funeral
An extensive look at the genome of the Ebola virus reveals its behavior, when it arrived in West Africa and how it spread in the region to cause the largest-ever recorded Ebola outbreak. Researchers sequenced 99 Ebola virus genomes from 78 patients in Sierra Leone, one of the countries affected by the outbreak that started in the neighboring Guinea, and found that the virus' genome changes quickly, including parts of the genome that are crucial for diagnostic tests to work. "We've uncovered more than 300 genetic clues about what sets this outbreak apart from previous outbreaks," co-author Stephen Gire of Harvard said in a statement. The researchers studied the viruses isolated from the blood of these patients, as well as subsequent Ebola patients, to identify the genetic characteristics of the Ebola virus responsible for this outbreak.
'Jeopardy!'-Winning Computer Now Crunching Data for Science
Watch out, Sherlock, there's a new Dr. Watson in town. IBM's Watson, the computer that famously won the quiz show 'Jeopardy!', is now helping researchers make scientific discoveries. The new system, known as the Watson Discovery Advisor, could accelerate the scientific process by sifting through massive amounts of information and visualizing patterns in the data. But unlike when Watson was on 'Jeopardy!,' its new role as Discovery Advisor is "not about getting to an answer, but [rather] gaining insight into a large body of information," Merkel told Live Science.
Cosmic Quest: Who Really Discovered Neptune?
Neptune will appear directly opposite the sun in the sky tomorrow (Aug. 29), but despite the potentially clear view of the planet from Earth, the truth about the person who first discovered the distant world remains cloudy. Neptune was supposedly discovered in 1846 by Johann Gottfried Galle using calculations by Urbain Le Verrier and John Couch Adams, making it a joint British-French-German discovery. But these astronomers were not the first to observe Neptune. While sketching the moons of Jupiter with his newly discovered telescope, Galileo twice drew Neptune, which happened to be in conjunction with Jupiter in early 1613.
US Air Force Museum to Restore Retired Titan Rocket
Air Force in Dayton, Ohio announced Tuesday (Aug. 26) plans to begin restoring the 18-story-tall Titan 4Bspace launch vehicle that it's had in its collection since 2005. The towering rocket, which has been stored in gigantic pieces in a World War II era hangar at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, will be exhibited on its side when placed in the museum's new fourth building, set to open in 2016. "This is the largest artifact we have ever restored," Greg Hassler, a supervisor in the museum's restoration division, said in a statement. Between 1997 and 2005, seventeen Titan 4B rockets were launched from Cape Canaveral Air Force Base in Florida and Vandenberg Air Force Base in California.
Is the Universe a 2D Hologram? Experiment Aims to Find Out
An ongoing experiment could reveal whether or not our full and fleshed-out 3D universe is an illusion, a 2D projection onto a cosmic screen beyond our perception or understanding. The Holometer project, which is based at the U.S. Department of Energy's Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory (Fermilab) in Illinois, is now operating at full power, probing the very nature of space-time itself. "We want to find out whether space-time is a quantum system just like matter is," Craig Hogan, director of Fermilab's Center for Particle Astrophysics, said in a statement.
Brutal Winter? Almanac Could Be Wrong, Scientists Say
The United States is in for another long, cold winter, according to the newest edition of the Farmers' Almanac. This winter will see "below-normal temperatures for about three-quarters of the nation," the Almanac reads. But the predictions included in the Farmers' Almanac are just that: predictions. While NOAA's official three-month outlook for the coming winter months isn't due out until around mid-October, Artusa said that meteorologists are not seeing the climate conditions that would indicate what the Almanac refers to as a "record breaking winter."
NASA says new heavy-lift rocket debut not likely until 2018
By Irene Klotz CAPE CANAVERAL Fla. (Reuters) - NASA’s new heavy-lift rocket, designed to fly astronauts to the moon, asteroids and eventually Mars, likely will not have its debut test flight until November 2018, nearly a year later than previous estimates, agency officials said on Wednesday. NASA is 70 percent confident of making a November 2018 launch date, given the technical, financial and management hurdles the Space Launch System faces on the road to development, NASA associate administrators Robert Lightfoot and Bill Gerstenmaier told reporters on a conference call. NASA estimates it could spend almost $12 billion developing the first of three variations of the rocket and associated ground systems through the debut flight, and potentially billions more to build and fly heavier-lift next-generation boosters, a July 2014 General Accountability Office report on the program said. While the rocket might be ready for a test flight in December 2017, as previously planned, the new assessment showed the odds of that were “significantly less” than the 70 percent confidence level NASA requires of new programs, Gerstenmaier said.
Scientists find mild cases of MERS among patients' families
By Julie Steenhuysen CHICAGO (Reuters) - Fewer than half of Saudi Arabian patients in a study passed the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome virus to household members, and many of those who developed secondary infections contracted mild cases of MERS, global researchers reported on Wednesday. The study, published in the New England Journal of Medicine, confirmed observations that the virus can cause mild disease, but overall transmission rates are low. "If less than half of infected patients transmit the virus to contacts, such as in this study, we can be pretty sure that this virus will not be able to start an epidemic in humans," co-author Christian Drosten of the Institute of Virology at the University of Bonn Medical Center said in an email. MERS, thought to originate in camels, causes coughing, fever and pneumonia, and kills about a third of its victims.
Schrödinger's Cat Comes into View with Strange Physics
By sending green, red and yellow laser beams down a path to detector, researchers have shed light on the famous physics idea known as the "Schrödinger's cat" thought experiment. Over any given period there's a 50-50 chance the poison vial will open, and a person who opens the box after a given time and looks at the cat will then observe that it is either dead or alive.