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Scientists tab new continent: Zealandia

It may be time to update those geography books. Scientists are now claiming there is a new continent.

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Zealandia was named as that new continent, according to a study released online Thursday by The Geological Society of America.

Zealandia joins the other continents: Africa, Asia, Antarctica, Australia, Europe, North America and South America. However, some geologists do argue that Europe and Asia are one continent, known as Eurasia.

For years, Australia and New Zealand were believed to share the continent called Australasia, the Weather Channel reported. But a recent 10-year project conducted by 11 researchers determined that they are, in fact, on separate continents. 

New Zealand now calls a 1.8 million square mile land mass known as Zealandia home. This new continent also includes New Caledonia, along with several other territories and island groups.

Geophysicist Bruce Luyendyk first coined the term Zealandia back in 1995.

"This is not a sudden discovery but a gradual realization; as recently as 10 years ago we would not have had the accumulated data or confidence in interpretation to write this paper," the authors wrote for the March/April 2017 issue of GSA Today, a Geological Society of America journal.

The researchers used recent and detailed satellite-based elevation, along with gravity maps of the ancient seafloor, to show that Zealandia is part of one unified region.

GSA Today #Science Online Ahead of Print'Zealandia: Earth’s Hidden Continent' https://t.co/gB85focR0w https://t.co/fTa7B0Xo1P pic.twitter.com/ZYQFFTr3ey — geosociety (@geosociety) February 16, 2017

Scientists discover 60 new planets, including one 'super Earth'

For the past two decades, scientists have been searching for exoplanets — planets beyond our own solar system — using the W.M. Keck Observatory in Hawaii as part of a project called the Lick-Carnegie Exoplanet Survey.

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As the astronomers observed 1,600 stars, they found 60 new planets and additional evidence of 54 others.

One of the 60 new planets, according to the recent study published by the Lick Observatory and astronomy departments at multiple universities, is a "super Earth" called GJ 411b.

"Super Earth," according to TechTimes.com, is described as a hot planet with a rocky surface. It also orbits the star GJ 411, the fourth nearest star to the sun.

Scientists used a popular technique called radial velocity, which measures changes in the color and location of stars, to detect the planets.

According to Mikko Tuomi of the University of Hertfordshire, one of the colleagues involved in the project and study, the findings challenge conventional assumptions that only a few stars had planets.

Instead, there seems to be a nearly infinite number of planets beyond the solar system, TechTimes.com reported.

Read more about the study and its methodology.

Your dog knows when you’re behaving badly, new research shows

Dogs can recognize rudeness and they use that knowledge in how they behave around mean humans, a new study, published recently in the journal Neuroscience and Biobehavioral Reviews, has found.

Researchers from Canada and Japan studied dogs and monkeys in a series of experiments designed to observe how the animals would behave in a so-called moral situation, the New Scientist reported.

>> Read more trending news   Dogs watched as their owners tried to open a container while two actors stood nearby. One of the actors either helped or refused to help while the second actor stood by passively in both scenarios.

Then the dogs were offered treats. They accepted treats from both the helpful or passive actor, but refused treats, in a majority of cases, from the actor who was behaving rudely, essentially judging the mean actor on how he treated another person, the study concluded.

Researchers also discovered Capuchin monkeys behaved in the same way in similar experiments using a third party instead of a dog owner.

Scientists concluded that the monkeys understood helpfulness and fairness and that the dogs were able to comprehend and sought to avoid a rude person.

Both dogs and monkeys viewed rude people negatively, scientists said. They also concluded that animals are socially aware of the human and animal behavior around them.

Alzheimer’s disease fueled by gut bacteria, new study finds

Swedish researchers have discovered a link between intestinal bacteria and Alzheimer’s disease.

Scientists at Sweden’s Lund University found that certain kinds of gut bacteria accelerated the onset of the illness.

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Researchers studied both healthy mice and those with Alzheimer’s disease. They placed both gut bacteria from healthy and diseased mice into rodents with no bacteria.

 

The mice that received bacteria from diseased rodents “developed more beta-amyloid plaques in the brain” compared to the mice that had received bacteria from healthy mice.

Beta-amyloid plaques build up between the nerve cells in the brains of people with Alzheimer’s disease. The presence of the plaques are one of the main signs of the disease.

“It was striking that the mice which completely lacked bacteria developed much less plaque in the brain,” study researcher Frida Fak Hallenius said.

“Our study is unique as it shows a direct causal link between gut bacteria and Alzheimer’s disease.”

Fak Hallenius with the Food for Health Science Center will now begin studying ways to prevent the disease and delay its onset.

“We consider this to be a major breakthrough as we used to only be able to give symptom-relieving antiretroviral drugs,” she said.

Alzheimer’s disease is the most common form of dementia. As many as 5 million people were living with the disease in 2013, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The study included researchers from Switzerland, Germany and Belgium.

The study results were published in the online journal Scientific Reports.

Why first-born children really do have a mental edge

Birth order really does make a difference in intelligence levels, according to a new study.

First-born children have a mental edge and “outperform their siblings” in thinking skills, researchers at the University of Edinburgh and the University of Sydney reported.

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The oldest child receives “more mental stimulation from their parents in the early years,” the study’s authors concluded.

Researchers analyzed statistics from an investigation by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the U.S. Children of the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth, which followed 5,000 children from before birth to 14 years old.

Every child was tested every two years on reading recognition and picture vocabulary assessments. Scientists also collected information on family background and economic conditions.  

“First-born children scored higher than their younger siblings on IQ tests as early as age 1,” scientists said.

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

“Although all children received the same levels of emotional support (from their parents),” researchers found that “first-born children received more support with tasks that developed thinking skills.”

Researchers also reported that parental behavior changed as they had more children. They did not offer the same mental stimulation to the younger siblings and engaged less with the younger children in activities like reading, crafts, and even musical instruments, the study found

The report could help explain the so-called birth order effect. Past studies have found that the oldest sibling tends to be better educated and to make more money later in life.

“Our results suggest that broad shifts in parental behavior are a plausible explanation for the observed birth order difference in education and labor market outcomes,” the University of Edinburgh’s Ana Nuevo-Chiquero said.

The study was published in the Journal of Human Resources.

‘Dripping’ on the rise among teen e-cigarette users, study finds

An increasing number of high school students, who use e-cigarettes, are also “dripping,” Yale University researchers reported in a new study.

Scientists surveyed more than 7,000 teenagers from eight high schools in southeastern Connecticut in 2015.

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They discovered that more than 26 percent of the 1,080 students who reported having tried an e-cigarette also said they had tried dripping.

Dripping is a term used to refer to putting the e-liquids, or flavor liquids, used in electronic cigarettes directly on to the heating coils of the e-cig, instead of in the cartridge.

The teens who drip “report it produces thicker clouds of vapor, a stronger hit in the back of the throat when inhaled, and a more pleasurable taste,” researchers said.

Yale University psychiatry professor Suchitra Krishnan-Sarin was the lead author in the study.

“One of the concerns I have is when you are looking at the safety and risk of e-cigarettes, one really has to look at the risks of alternative uses also,” she explained.

“Kids are actually using these electronic products for other behaviors, not just for vaping e-liquids from cartridges or tanks.”

White, male teenagers, who had tried multiple tobacco products, and those who had used e-cigarettes on more days in the month before they were surveyed, were more likely to use the devices for dripping, the study concluded.

Scientists still don’t know the long and short-term effects of vaping on the lungs, Krishnan-Sarin said.

More research is needed, she added.

The study was published in the journal Pediatrics on Monday. 

First images from landmark weather satellite blow scientists away

The first images from a landmark weather satellite launched in November are beaming back to Earth, and scientists are seeing the third planet from the sun like never before.

Towering cloud tops bubbling with ice, spreading puddles of rain-cooled air from growing thunderstorms, and vast fields of grainy Saharan dust can now be viewed in a striking Technicolor detail that almost seems 3D.

It’s innovation that has been more than two decades in the making — an upgrade from 1980s-era technology that can send images not only at a quality four times better than what was previously available, but also at five times faster the speed.

“Someone used the word ‘stunning,’ and I would say that is a pretty good adjective,” said Steve Goodman, a senior scientist with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. “What blew me out of the water was the spatial resolution. I think this will change our understanding of what we know about clouds and severe weather.”

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What makes color composite imagery from #GOES16 better than similar imagery from earlier GOES satellites? Find out @ https://t.co/IYO7NuXLs8 pic.twitter.com/tmz9Zv3HHx— NOAA Satellites (@NOAASatellites) January 27, 2017

The pictures are coming from the GOES-16 satellite, previously dubbed GOES-R when it was still Earth-bound. GOES stands for Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite, and the GOES-16 is the latest in a series of GOES satellites that were first launched in 1975. Geostationary means that GOES-R will orbit with the Earth, keeping pace with the planet’s spin and with a focus mostly on North America.

It carries the Advanced Baseline Imager — a 16-channel camera built by the Melbourne-based Harris Corp. The current satellites have just five channels.

While the current satellites take 1,400 scans to capture the Western Hemisphere, the Imager can do it in 21. During severe weather, forecasters can hone in on particular storms and request scans every 30 seconds.

“With GOES-16, you basically see weather as it is happening, rather than weather that happened earlier,” Goodman said.

Radar images scan about every six minutes, so to see how a storm is changing means a 12-minute wait, Goodman said. In Florida, the delay can be a problem for meteorologists tracking summertime thunderstorms that can evolve quickly when the afternoon sea breeze picks up on both coasts.

Florida thunderstorms can build on each other, sparking multi-cell systems that can be hard to track with slow-moving radar and satellite images.

“You have storms developing and you don’t know which storm you are looking at in the second image. It’s a big mishmash,” Goodman said. “GOES-16 gives you continuous traceability.”

It’s hoped the rapid refresh of images will help forecasters better predict dangerous weather so that warnings can issued earlier. The satellite also has a Geostationary Lightning Mapper — the first of its kind in orbit — that will help determine whether a thunderstorm is developing by looking at not just cloud-to-ground lightning, but also cloud-to-cloud lightning.

“The greatest use of GOES-16’s new capabilities will be in monitoring severe weather events, such as squall lines that pass through the Florida Peninsula, and for observing wildfire events such as can occur in the Everglades,” said Chris Velden, a hurricane expert and senior researcher at the University of Wisconsin’s Space, Science and Engineering Center. “The very high spatiotemporal image sampling will be able to detect and track these smaller-scale events.”

Velden expects the satellite to also improve hurricane forecasting by giving scientists a more intimate look at the winds swirling around the cyclone high in the atmosphere. The National Hurricane Center will have access to the images beginning March 1 and will be able to use them in a provisional manner for the 2017 hurricane season that begins June 1, Goodman said.

But the impact on tropical meteorology will depend on where GOES-16 is ultimately placed.

There is debate about whether it should be over the Pacific Ocean, or the Atlantic Ocean, Goodman said.

California doesn’t get a high frequency of severe weather, but wildfires and storms over Hawaii and Alaska will be more visible if it’s over the Pacific. Over the Atlantic, it will see tropical cyclones more clearly, plus tornadoes in Dixie Alley, which loosely includes Louisiana, Alabama, Mississippi, Tennessee and sometimes the western stretch of Florida.

If GOES-16 finds a home over the Pacific, the next satellite, which has identical technology, will launch in spring 2018 and be placed over the Atlantic.

“The big thing is, we haven’t changed the instrumentation in 22 years, and the lightning mapper is a whole new thing,” Goodman said. “When I turn on the TV and see the lightning flashes dancing on cloud tops, I’m going to toast to that.”

World is a giant hologram, new study reveals. Seriously?

It sounds like a surprise ending in a science fiction movie: The universe is one big hologram and what we think of as reality could be just an illusion.

But that’s the finding of a new study by a team of international researchers from the United Kingdom, Canada and Italy, among others.

>> Read more trending news  

The theory is similar to the science behind watching a 3-D movie. The images have width, height, and depth, yet the film actually originates from a 2-D screen, scientists said.

"Imagine that everything you see, feel and hear in three dimensions (and your perception of time) in fact emanates from a flat two-dimensional field, study co-author Kostas Skenderis of the University of Southhampton said.

“The idea is similar to that of ordinary holograms where a three-dimensional image is encoded in a two-dimensional surface, such as in the hologram on a credit card. However, this time, the entire universe is encoded," Skenderis said.

The theory has been around since the 1990s, but with the advancement in technology, including telescopes and sensory equipment, scientists have been able to detect a large amount of hidden data in the aftermath of the Big Bang, or creation of the universe, in the “white noise” or microwaves left over from the event.

“Holography is a huge leap forward in the way we think about the structure and creation of the universe,” Skenderis explained.

The research could also help bridge the gap between Albert Einstein’s relativity theory and quantum field theory.

“Scientists have been working for decades to combine Einstein’s theory of gravity and quantum theory. Some believe the concept of a holographic universe has the potential to reconcile the two,” Skenrderis added.

The study was the published in the journal Physical Review Letters on Monday.

NASA’s Cassini spacecraft gets up close and personal with Saturn’s rings

NASA’s Cassini spacecraft has beamed back new images of Saturn’s rings as the probe continues its mission around the sixth planet from the sun.

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The newest image shows a region of Saturn’s A ring and more detail on the ring than has ever been seen before, NASA said.

You can clearly see ridges on the left of the photo, which are called density waves. The waves were created by Prometheus, one of Saturn’s moons, as it moves in its orbit around the planet.

New, incredibly close views of Saturn's rings from our "Ring-Grazing" orbits. https://t.co/SUKjTqg1dX pic.twitter.com/TJkD9TPjyX— CassiniSaturn (@CassiniSaturn) January 30, 2017

This close-up photo of the A ring was taken at a distance of 33,000 miles away with Cassini’s wide-angle camera.

Cassini is in the last phase of its Saturn mission, which is scheduled to end in April when the probe is expected to dive into the planet’s atmosphere in its final farewell. 

Creating a tastier tomato now in the works by Florida scientists

Tomatoes just don’t have the same flavor they once did.

The taste of the fruit in the varieties that are found in the supermarket is described as bland, at best, and like cardboard, at worst.

>> Read more trending news 

“Modern commercial tomato varieties are substantially less flavorful than heirloom varieties,” according to a new study in the journal Science.

The fruit has lost most of its flavor over the decades mainly as farmers have mass produced a larger version of it, scientists said.

Now researchers at the University of Florida believe they have the recipe for growing a better tasting tomato because they’ve discovered which genes control the flavor.

Biologist Harry Klee has studied the flavor of fruits and vegetables, especially the tomato, for the past decade.

“The taste of a tomato is the consequence of the interactions of sugars, acids and a set of 15-20 volatile compounds,” Klee said.

Klee said the ultimate goal of his research is to produce a better tasting tomato, including heirloom tomatoes, wild relatives, and cultivated tomatoes.

As part of his research, Klee and his team taste-tested more than 100 varieties of tomatoes and measured the chemical and genetic properties of almost 400 different varieties.

They discovered modern varieties of tomatoes are deficient in flavor chemicals.

Klee said he hopes researchers can restore the flavor of tomatoes by cross-breeding existing plants and grow a tastier fruit. 

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