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Tanning beds costing millions in U.S. medical bills, study finds

The rosy glow of indoor tanning pales in comparison to the millions of dollars in medical costs associated with tanning beds.

A new study, published in the Journal of Cancer Policy, found that tanning beds caused more than 250,000 cases of skin cancer and 1,200 deaths in 2015, at a cost of more than $340 million in medical bills.

>> Read more trending news  

“The use of tanning devices is a significant contributor to illness and premature mortality in the U.S., and also represents a major economic burden in terms of the costs of medical care and lost productivity,” researchers from the University of North Carolina concluded.

Previous studies have found significant health risks in the use of tanning beds because they emit UV-A and UV-B rays, which have been linked to cell damage, including DNA mutations and skin cancers.

>> Got a question about the news? See our explainers here 

Scientists called indoor tanning “a public health hazard in the United States,” estimating that some 30 million people use tanning devices at least once a year and an estimated 35 percent of adults in the U.S. have used the devices.

A 2011 study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found some 13 percent of students in the 9th through the 12th grades used a tanning bed at least once a year, too.

Ultimately researchers said they hoped information in this study and others like it will help reduce the use of tanning beds.

Millions at risk from earthquakes related to gas and oil industries, USGS warns

More than 3 million people in the central United States, the majority in Kansas and Oklahoma, are at risk for human-induced earthquakes this year, the U.S. Geological Survey warned in a new report released Wednesday.

Combined with people at risk for ground-shaking hazards from natural quakes in the same region, the numbers of those in potential quake zones is around 4 million, the USGS said.

>> Read more trending news 

 Residents in these areas face a significant chance of property damage from induced seismic activity in 2017, the report said.

“The good news is that the overall seismic hazard for this year is lower than in the 2016 forecast, but despite this decrease, there is still a significant likelihood for damaging ground shaking in the CEUS  (central U.S.) in the year ahead,” said Mark Petersen, the chief of the USGS National Seismic Hazard Mapping Project.

This year’s forecast is lower than last year because there were fewer significant quakes in 2016 than 2015.

“This may be due to a decrease in wastewater injection resulting from regulatory actions and/or from a decrease in oil and gas production due to lower prices,” the USGS report said.

Some scientists say the quakes result from fracking, which includes a process of collecting wastewater and using high pressure to inject it into deep underground wells, which can ultimately cause dormant faults to shift, according to the USGS.

>> Got a question about the news? See our explainers here 

“The forecast for induced and natural earthquakes in 2017 is hundreds of times higher than before induced seismicity rates rapidly increased around 2008,” Petersen said.

“Millions still face a significant chance of experiencing damaging earthquakes, and this could increase or decrease with industry practices, which are difficult to anticipate.”

This is only the second year that the USGS annual earthquake risk maps have included human-induced quakes. Previous maps only identified hazards from natural earthquakes.

Lego set to honor women of NASA, including Katherine Johnson of 'Hidden Figures'

Lego fans, we have liftoff.

The Denmark-based toy maker announced Tuesday that it will release a fan-designed Women of NASA set featuring minifigures of mathematician Katherine Johnson – whose story was told in the Academy Award-nominated film "Hidden Figures" – and four other trailblazers.

>> Read more trending news

Everything is AWESOME! @LegoNASAWomen has been approved by #LEGO and will soon be available in stores!!! https://t.co/jCqq6ce9FM pic.twitter.com/Yj2ZOOiS1h— Lego NASA Women (@LegoNASAWomen) February 28, 2017

Science editor and writer Maia Weinstock submitted the set to the Lego Ideas competition "to celebrate accomplished women in the STEM professions," a Lego Ideas spokeswoman said in a video.

"We're really excited to be able to introduce Maia's Women of NASA set for its inspirational value as well as build-and-play experience," the spokeswoman said.

>> Watch the video here

According to its project description page, the set also features minifigures of Sally Ride, America's first woman in space; Mae Jemison, the first African-American woman in space; computer scientist Margaret Hamilton; and astronomer Nancy Grace Roman.

Lego said it is still working on the set's design and will have more details about pricing and availability later this year or early next year.

Read more here.

Risks of smoking-related lung disease lowered by fruits, veggies, study says

Past and current smokers can lower the risks of developing chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, or COPD., by eating five or more servings of fruits and vegetables every day.

Swedish researchers studied 44,000 men between the ages of 45 and 79 over a 13-year period. About one in four were current smokers and almost two-thirds were former smokers.

>> Read more trending news  

The research, published in the Thorax, found just over 1,900 new cases of COPD during the study period. Current and former smokers, who ate more than five servings of fruits and vegetables every day were 40 percent and 34 percent less likely to develop the lung disease, respectively. For each additional serving above five, researchers discovered a 4 percent lower risk of COPD in former smokers and an eight percent reduction in risk in current smokers.

Scientists did not see any benefit in eating lots of fruits and vegetables in reduction of COPD risks for non-smokers.

>> Got a question about the news? See our explainers here  

 Researchers believe it’s the anti-oxidants in fruits and vegetables that could help curb or reduce the harmful effects of smoking.

Chronic lower respiratory disease, primarily COPD, was the third leading cause of death in the U.S in 2014, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Almost 16 million Americans reported being diagnosed with the lung disease.

Bees create buzz by learning to play golf

Bumblebees playing an improvised game of golf are creating quite a buzz among scientists.

>> Read more trending news

The bees have learned to push a ball into a hole to receive a reward, New Scientist reported.

Scientists know that bees can learn to pull a string to reach an artificial flower containing sugar solution. Bees sometimes have to pull parts of flowers to access nectar, so this isn’t a difficult concept to learn. So Olli Loukola at London’s Queen Mary University tried a more complex task.

Loukola wanted to see if bees could learn to move an object that was not attached to a reward, New Scientist reported. His team built a circular platform with a small hole in the center that was filled with a sugar solution. A researcher showed the bees how to “putt” a ball across the “green,” using a plastic bee on a stick that demonstrated how to move the round object.

The researchers trained three groups  bees differently, New Scientist reported. One group watched a previously trained bee solving the task; another was shown the ball moving into the hole, pulled by a hidden magnet; and a third group was given no demonstration, but was shown the ball already in the hole containing the reward.

The researchers then let the bees do the task on their own. The bees that watched others move the ball were the most successful and took less time to solve the task. Bees that saw the magnetic demonstration also were more successful than those that did not view it.

When the bees were trained with three balls placed at different distances from the hole, most of the successful bees moved the one closest to the hole. This showed that they were able to make generalizations to solve the task more easily, rather than copying exactly what they had seen, New Scientist reported. They also succeeded when faced with a black ball after being trained with a yellow one, showing they weren’t just attracted to the specific color.

“They don’t just blindly copy the demonstrator; they can improve on what they learned,” Loukola said. He thinks this cognitive flexibility could help the bees forage successfully in changing natural environments. “This ability to copy others and improve upon what they observe, I think that’s really important.”

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Space travel is measured in light years, but what's a light year anyway?

Stars and galaxies in outer space are just so far away, it’s hard to comprehend the staggering distances.

Scientists have come up with ways to measure space distance that are easier to understand.

A light year is one of those space measurements and is similar to how a mile or kilometer measures distance on Earth. Distances in space are so vast, though, that a mile or a kilometer is just too small a number to be useful, because of the huge numbers involved in space travel. Light years work better.

A light year is measured by the time it takes a ray of light to travel a given distance.

While a light year has nothing to do with time as we know it on Earth, it does measure the distance that light travels, or the time it takes the light to move in one year, according to NASA.

>> Read more trending news  

Since light moves at about 186,000 miles or about 300,000 kilometers a second, it can travel almost 6 trillion miles or about 10 trillion kilometers in a year.

If people could travel at the speed of light, they would be able to circle the Earth more than seven times in just a second.

In one second, light travels a distance of one light second, and in a year, light travels a distance of one light year.

Related: Nasa finds 7 'Earth-sized planets' orbiting star just 40 light years away

The moon is a little over one light second from Earth, meaning it would take a beam of light on Earth a little more than a second to reach the moon. The sun, which is 93 million miles from earth, is measured in light minutes and is some eight light minutes away.

Mars is under 25 light minutes from Earth, depending on its orbit around the sun, and the other planets in the solar system are several light hours from Earth.

The Milky Way galaxy, for example, measures about 150,000 light years across. The Andromeda galaxy, the nearest large galaxy, is more than 2 million light years away.

How long does it take to travel a light year? Here’s an example. The next closest star after the sun, is called Proxima Centauri. It is just over 4 light years away. If a spacecraft were traveling 38,000 miles per hour, it would still take 80,000 years to reach the star, according to the University of Virginia Physics Department.

Scientists find 7 'Earth-sized planets' orbiting star 40 light-years away, NASA says

Forthy light-years from Earth, scientists have discovered seven "Earth-sized planets" in the largest-ever cache of planets found around a single star outside of our solar system.

>> Read more trending stories

"The discovery gives us a hint that finding a second Earth is not just a matter of if, but when," said Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator of the Science Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters. "You can just imagine how many worlds are out there that have a shot at becoming a habitable ecosystem that we can explore."

Three of the newly discovered planets are in what's known as the habitable zone, the area around a star where a rocky planet is most likely to have liquid water, according to NASA. The Hubble Space Telescope has started to scan four of the planets, including the three found in the habitable zone.

New record! We've found 7 Earth-sized planets around a single star outside our solar system; 3 in habitable zone: https://t.co/GgBy5QOTpK pic.twitter.com/NEavRSXDU2— NASA (@NASA) February 22, 2017

The planets were found by astronomers using ground and space telescopes around an ultracool, red dwarf star named TRAPPIST-1, according to the European Organisation for Astronomical Research in the Southern Hemisphere (ESO).

The findings were published Wednesday in the scientific journal Nature. The paper's lead author, astronomer Michael Gillon, described the planets as "the seven wonders of TRAPPIST-1."

"The energy output from dwarf stars like TRAPPIST-1 is much weaker than that of our sun," said Amaury Triaud, one of the co-authors of the Nature paper. "Planets would need to be in far closer orbits than we see in the solar system if there is to be surface water. Fortunately, it seems that this kind of compact configuration is just what we see around TRAPPIST-1."

Scientists characterized the discovery as a significant leap in the search for alien life during a news conference on Wednesday afternoon.

"Answering the question, 'Are we alone?' is a top science priority, and finding so many planets like these for the first time in the habitable zone is a remarkable step forward toward that goal," Zurbuchen said.

The planets were spotted when scientists noticed dips in TRAPPIST-1's light output, according to ESO. The discovery was made using Spitzer, an infrared telescope that trails Earth as it orbits the sun, NASA officials said.

Astronomers determined that the dips were caused by the planets as they passed between the star and Spitzer.

The planets have been temporarily named with letters, TRAPPIST-1b through TRAPPIST-1h, in order of increasing distance from their parent star.

NASA to announce 'discovery beyond our solar system'

Scientists will share newly discovered information on Wednesday about planets that orbit stars other than Earth's sun at a 1 p.m. news conference hosted by NASA.

>> Read more trending stories

The announcement that NASA would share findings on a "discovery beyond our solar system" came Monday. The vague nature of the tease prompted speculation that scientist could unveil the discovery of an alien species.

NASA conference at 6, supposedly presenting a finding "beyond our solar system" #Aliens #Nasa pic.twitter.com/aYhPFcmmvk— Will Doyle (@ALifeOfAnxiety) February 22, 2017

Has Nasa found ALIENS? Space agency to announce 'discovery beyond our s... https://t.co/PGv4Qig1Fe via @alienufovideos pic.twitter.com/DiG9PcQWBc— Alien UFO Sightings (@alienufovideos) February 22, 2017

However, as Mashable pointed out in an article headlined "It's not aliens. It's never aliens. Stop saying it's aliens," it's not aliens. Scientists promised that despite the news conference not addressing alien life, the announcement would still include "exciting news."

Pssst! We've got exciting news from beyond our solar system! Spoiler: NOT aliens. Watch at 1pm ET: https://t.co/mzKW5uV4hS Q? Use #askNASA pic.twitter.com/uHremmTTqK— NASA (@NASA) February 22, 2017

NASA will air the news conference at 1 p.m. on its website.

Speakers include Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator of the Science Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters; Michael Gillon, astronomer at Belgium's University of Liege; Sean Carey, manager of NASA's Spitzer Science Center; Nikole Lewis, astronomer at Baltimore's Space Telescope Science Institute and Sara Seager, professor of planetary science and physics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge.

The group will follow the presentation at 3 p.m. with a Reddit Ask Me Anything conversation about exoplanets.

Will Pluto regain its planetary swagger? Scientists are pushing for it

A decade ago, poor Pluto got some unsettling news.

It wasn't really a true planet, the International Astronomical Union said. Pluto was demoted to a more minor player in the solar system, a dwarf planet at best.

But a handful of NASA scientists are leading a charge to redefine the word planet in a bid that could give Pluto back its planetary swagger.

>> Read more trending stories

Because, really, being a planet is better, they said.

"In the mind of the public, the word 'planet' carries a significance lacking in other words used to describe planetary bodies," the group wrote in a proposal to IAU. "In the decade following the supposed 'demotion' of Pluto by the IAU, many members of the public, in our experience, assume that alleged 'non-planets' cease to be interesting enough to warrant scientific exploration."

The group, which includes Sol Alan Stern, the principal investigator of the New Horizons mission to Pluto, notes that the shaming of Pluto was not the intent of the IAU.

IAU's definition of planet in 2006 changed to an object that must circle the sun without being some other object's satellite and be large enough to be rounded by its own gravity, but not so big that it begins to undergo nuclear fusion like a star."

Pluto didn't cut the mustard following the discovery of other large objects in the Kuiper Belt.

Now, the scientists on Pluto's planetary team claim a common question they hear is: "Why did you send New Horizons to Pluto if it's not a planet anymore."

The proposed new definition is a bit of a mouthful:

"A planet is a sub-stellar mass body that has never undergone nuclear fusion and that has sufficient self-gravitation to assume a spheroidal shape adequately described by a triaxial ellipsoid regardless of its orbital parameters."

But can be summed up with "round objects in space that are smaller than stars." (This is the elementary school definition, the scientists note).

It's in the hands of the IAU to rule on the plan. If it's approved, Pluto may indeed regain its planetary prowess.

WATCH: SpaceX launches Falcon 9 rocket from Florida's Kennedy Space Center

SpaceX's Falcon 9 rocket launched Sunday morning from Kennedy Space Center after a failed attempt Saturday.

>> PREVIOUS STORY: SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket launch aborted

The rocket – which blasted off from launch pad 39A with a Dragon supply ship on top – was packed with cargo Friday that will be brought to the International Space Station. The cargo includes 5,500 pounds of science experiments, research equipment and supplies for astronauts.

>> Click here to watch the launch

Sunday's launch was SpaceX’s first in Florida since the September explosion of a Falcon 9 rocket at the nearby SpaceX Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. That launch damaged the company's pad.

There hasn't been a launch from Kennedy Space Center since 2011. 

>> Read more trending news

Astronauts lifted off from pad 39A six times from 1969 to 1972 on their way to the moon. The pad hasn't been used since the retirement of the space shuttle program.

Read more here.

Breathtaking. #rocket #SpaceX #wftv pic.twitter.com/4x4P1SAyc1— Julie Salomone (@JSalomoneWFTV) February 19, 2017

Right on schedule, solar arrays have been deployed on @SpaceX #Dragon cargo spacecraft. Watch: https://t.co/mzKW5uDsTi pic.twitter.com/NCqYrCNR7x— NASA (@NASA) February 19, 2017 <script async src="//platform.twitter.com/widgets.js" charset="utf-8"></script>

pic.twitter.com/6Ve3YJoStm— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) February 19, 2017 <script async src="//platform.twitter.com/widgets.js" charset="utf-8"></script>

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