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readers were curious about pendulum saws, laser tweezers and more

cutting remark archaeologist nicholas blackwell built a version of a bronze age pendulum saw that may have been used to build mycenaean palaces, bruce bower reported in “how a backyard pendulum saw sliced into a bronze age mystery” (sn: 4/28/18 & 5/12/18, p. 32).reader fredric blum argued that a pendulum saw’s blade would have dulled too fast to completely cut through stone without having to be replaced, making for an impractical saw.ancient mycenaeans could have used the blades along with crushed emery to cut stone, blackwell says. compared with the sand that blackwell used in his experiment, crushed emery would have embedded in the blade and prevented it from wearing down as fast. but even in his experiment, the blades didn’t completely wear down. “i could have made numerous ad...





so what do you know about emmy noether?

emmy noether may be the most influential mathematician you’ve never heard of.in 1918, she solved a puzzle in albert einstein’s general theory of relativity. to do that, she created a mathematical theorem that changed forever how scientists study the universe, one that remains a guiding star for theoretical physics.not only was she a scientific pioneer, noether was by all accounts a delightful person, known for the festive gatherings at her home in göttingen, germany, where wine flowed amid spirited scholarly debate. she led students and colleagues on long walks through the countryside, talking math all the while.but noether had one big problem: she was a woman, in an era when science remained largely closed to women. a gifted student, she quickly earned her ph.d. once women were a...





the large hadron collider is getting an upgrade

smashing together a billion protons a second wasn’t enough for the large hadron collider.the particle accelerator, located at cern in geneva, is getting spiffed up to allow it to carry out collisions at an even faster rate. on june 15, scientists announced the start of construction for an lhc upgrade called the high-luminosity lhc.the upgrade will boost the collision rate by at least a factor of five. that increase should beef up the lhc’s ability to search for new particles and to study the higgs boson, the particle that the lhc detected in 2012.the first stage of construction involves establishing new buildings, shafts and caverns to house equipment. eventually, scientists will begin replacing equipment inside the accelerator, including the magnets that focus and steer the beams of p...





in 1968, scientists thought they were close to detecting gravity waves

gravity waves evidencethe long search for gravitational waves … may be in the final lap…. rotating binary stars or, perhaps, other galaxies like the milky way but far beyond it, or the center of the milky way itself, are likely sources for gravitational radiation. — science news, june 22, 1968.updatealthough joseph weber, a physicist at the university of maryland, announced a gravity wave detection in 1969, no one could verify his claim. it took almost another 50 years for researchers to directly detect gravitational waves (sn: 3/5/16, p. 24). those spacetime ripples from two merging black holes, glimpsed by the advanced laser interferometer gravitational-wave observatory, or ligo, confirmed einstein’s theory of gravity. scientists have since spotted more gravitational waves f...





magnetic fields may be propping up the pillars of creation

the pillars of creation may keep standing tall due to the magnetic field within the star-forming region.for the first time, scientists have made a detailed map of the magnetic field inside the pillars, made famous by an iconic 1995 hubble space telescope image (sn online: 1/6/15). the data reveal that the field runs along the length of each pillar, perpendicular to the magnetic field outside. this configuration may be slowing the destruction of the columns of gas and dust, astronomer kate pattle and colleagues suggest in the june 10 astrophysical journal letters.hot ionized gas called plasma surrounds the pillars, located within the eagle nebula about 7,000 light-years from earth. the pressure from that plasma could cause the pillars to pinch in at the middle like an hourglass before break...





leaf-cutter ants pick up the pace when they sense rain

in central america’s rain-drenched forests, leaf-cutting ants collect pieces of leaves on which they grow fungi for food. but the rain can hit hard, especially for a small ant. when leaf-cutting ants sense an incoming shower, they hoof it back to their nests, says a study in the may insectes sociaux.researchers from argentina, mexico and peru tested how one species of leaf-cutting ants, atta cephalotes, in costa rica deals with rain. the scientists placed hollow boxes filled with wet cotton on ant trails in the forest. when a. cephalotes walked through the boxes, they experienced higher relative humidity, as if it were about to rain. in another experiment, the researchers poured water on plants beside the trail to simulate falling raindrops. both situations caused the ants to scramble to...





the number of teens who report having sex is down

fewer teens are having sex than at any point since 1991, a national survey of u.s. high school students finds. but among those students who are sexually active, fewer are using condoms, raising the risk of contracting sexually transmitted infections.about 40 percent of teens surveyed in 2017 reported having ever had sex. that’s down from about 54 percent in 1991, the first year the survey was conducted. of the roughly 29 percent of students who are currently sexually active — defined as having had sexual intercourse with at least one person in the three months before the survey — nearly 54 percent reported that either they or their partner used a condom the last time they had had sex. ten years ago, about 61 percent of teens reported condom use.cora breuner, a pediatrician specializi...





underwater fiber-optic cables could moonlight as earthquake sensors

the global network of seafloor cables may be good for more than ferrying digital communication between continents. these fiber-optic cables could also serve as underwater earthquake detectors, researchers report online june 14 in science.“it’s a very exciting proposition,” says barbara romanowicz, a seismologist at the university of california, berkeley and the collège de france in paris.almost all seismic stations around the world are based on land, leaving many oceanic earthquakes undetected. harnessing the million-plus kilometers of underwater fiber-optic cables to monitor seafloor earthquakes would be “a great step forward” for studying earth’s interior, romanowicz says.what’s more, quake-detecting cables could bolster tsunami alert systems. “the more [seismic] station...





swirling gases reveal baby planets in a young star’s disk

baby planets growing in a disk of gas and dust around an infant star have been identified and weighed for the first time. in papers published june 13 in the astrophysical journal letters, two teams of astronomers describe a new technique to observe the newborn planets with unprecedented precision.one team, led by richard teague of the university of michigan in ann arbor, found two protoplanets about the mass of jupiter in orbit around a young star called hd 163296. the star is about 4 million years old and about 330 light-years from earth. another team led by christophe pinte of monash university in melbourne, australia, spotted a third protoplanet about twice jupiter’s mass in an even farther orbit around the same star.both groups used data from alma, the atacama large millimeter/submil...





these newfound frogs have been trapped in amber for 99 million years

about 99 million years ago, tiny frogs hopped through a wet, tropical forest — and an unlucky few ran afoul of some tree sap. four newly described frog fossils, preserved in amber, offer the earliest direct evidence of ancient frogs living in a humid tropical clime — just as many modern amphibians do.none of the frog fossils is complete, making it difficult to place the frogs within their family tree: one has a partial skull and another a froggy outline, although ct scanning revealed no remaining skeletal material inside the impression. so researchers dubbed all four fossils electrorana limoae (electrum for “amber” and rana for “frog”) in a study published june 14 in scientific reports. anatomy-wise, the ancient frogs most resemble a modern group that includes fire-bellied toad...





antarctica has lost about 3 trillion metric tons of ice since 1992

antarctica is losing ice at an increasingly rapid pace. in just the last five years, the frozen continent has shed ice nearly three times faster on average than it did over the previous 20 years.an international team of scientists has combined data from two dozen satellite surveys in the most comprehensive assessment of antarctica’s ice sheet mass yet. the conclusion: the frozen continent lost an estimated 2,720 billion metric tons of ice from 1992 to 2017, and most of that loss occurred in recent years, particularly in west antarctica. before 2012, the continent shed ice at a rate of 76 billion tons each year on average, but from 2012 to 2017, the rate increased to 219 billion tons annually.combined, all that water raised the global sea level by an average of 7.6 millimeters, the resear...





here’s what narwhals sound like underwater

narwhals are among the most elusive of whales. but for the first time, researchers have been able to eavesdrop on the creatures for days at a time as these unicorns of the sea dove, fed and socialized.biologist susanna blackwell and colleagues listened in on the clicks, buzzes and calls of the east greenland narwhal (monodon monoceros). the team’s findings, published june 13 in plos one, provide a peek into the daily behavior of the long-toothed whale. the research could help scientists determine how human-made noises may affect narwhals as the arctic warms due to climate change and shipping lanes become more open.many whale sounds are recorded using hydrophones, underwater microphones that dangle in the water. but these acoustic devices have several drawbacks: they can’t sense the dep...





dna testing can bring families together, but gives mixed answers on ethnicity

michael douglas, a new resident of southern maryland, credits genetic testing for helping him find his heritage — and a family he knew very little about.douglas, 43, is adopted. he knew his birth mother’s name and had seen a birth certificate stating his birth name: thomas michael mccarthy. over the years, douglas had tried off and on to find his birth family, mostly by looking for his mother’s name, deborah ann mccarthy, in phone books and calling the numbers. “i think i must have broken up a lot of marriages,” he laughs.his search gained urgency in the last five years as he battled a life-threatening illness. “we planned my funeral three times,” he says. douglas has a genetic disease called ehlers-danlos syndrome, caused by a variant in a gene that helps build the body’s ...





what i actually learned about my family after trying 5 dna ancestry tests

commercials abound for dna testing services that will help you learn where your ancestors came from or connect you with relatives. i’ve been interested in my family history for a long time. i knew basically where our roots were: the british isles, germany and hungary. but the ads tempted me to dive deeper.previous experience taught me that different genetic testing companies can yield different results (sn: 5/26/18, p. 28). and i knew that a company can match people only to relatives in its customer base, so if i wanted to find as many relatives as possible, i would need to use multiple companies. i sent my dna to living dna, family tree dna, 23andme and ancestrydna. i also bought the national geographic geno 2.0 app through the company helix. helix read, or sequenced, my dna, then sent ...





the mars rover opportunity is sleeping, not dead, nasa says

the veteran opportunity rover isn’t dead yet. currently, the craft is in a deep sleep to ride out a massive martian dust storm, nasa officials said in a briefing on june 13. the rover may wake itself up when the storm ends.opportunity is enveloped in a vast dust storm that grew from a small patch spotted on may 30 to cover a quarter of the planet by june 12 (sn online: 6/11/18). too little sunlight is reaching the rover’s solar panels, so opportunityis in low-power mode — just barely enough to run the rover’s internal clock — until its batteries can charge again. the team hasn’t heard from opportunity since june 10, and no transmissions are expected until the storm clears.the martian summer is just beginning, so the rover should stay warm enough to survive for a long time in th...





antarctica has lost about 3 trillion metric tons of ice since 1992

antarctica is losing ice at an increasingly rapid pace. in just the last five years, the frozen continent has shed ice nearly three times faster on average than it did over the previous 20 years.an international team of scientists has combined data from two dozen satellite surveys in the most comprehensive assessment of antarctica’s ice sheet mass yet. the conclusion: the frozen continent lost an estimated 2,720 billion metric tons of ice from 1992 to 2017, and most of that loss occurred in recent years, particularly in west antarctica. before 2012, the continent shed ice at a rate of 76 billion tons each year on average, but from 2012 to 2017, the rate increased to 219 billion tons annually.combined, all that water raised the global sea level by an average of 7.6 millimeters, the resear...





in her short life, mathematician emmy noether changed the face of physics

on a warm summer evening, a visitor to 1920s göttingen, germany, might have heard the hubbub of a party from an apartment on friedländer way. a glimpse through the window would reveal a gathering of scholars. the wine would be flowing and the air buzzing with conversations centered on mathematical problems of the day. the eavesdropper might eventually pick up a woman’s laugh cutting through the din: the hostess, emmy noether, a creative genius of mathematics.at a time when women were considered intellectually inferior to men, noether (pronounced nur-ter) won the admiration of her male colleagues. she resolved a nagging puzzle in albert einstein’s newfound theory of gravity, the general theory of relativity. and in the process, she proved a revolutionary mathematical theorem that chan...





in her short life, mathematician emmy noether changed the face of physics

on a warm summer evening, a visitor to 1920s göttingen, germany, might have heard the hubbub of a party from an apartment on friedländer way. a glimpse through the window would reveal a gathering of scholars. the wine would be flowing and the air buzzing with conversations centered on mathematical problems of the day. the eavesdropper might eventually pick up a woman’s laugh cutting through the din: the hostess, emmy noether, a creative genius of mathematics.at a time when women were considered intellectually inferior to men, noether (pronounced nur-ter) won the admiration of her male colleagues. she resolved a nagging puzzle in albert einstein’s newfound theory of gravity, the general theory of relativity. and in the process, she proved a revolutionary mathematical theorem that chan...





this heavy element has a football-shaped atomic nucleus

a heavy element’s nucleus is all bent out of shape.nobelium — element number 102 on the periodic table — has an atomic nucleus that is deformed into the shape of an american football, scientists report in the june 8 physical review letters. the element is the heaviest yet to have its nucleus sized up.by probing individual nobelium atoms with a laser, the team gauged the oblong shape of three nobelium isotopes: nobelium-252, -253 and -254. these different forms of the element each contain 102 protons, but varying numbers of neutrons. the shape is not uncommon for nuclei, but the researchers also determined that nobelium-252 and -254 contain fewer protons in the center of the nucleus than the outer regions — a weird configuration known as a “bubble nucleus” (sn: 11/26/16, p. 11)....





sunshine is making deepwater horizon oil stick around

sunlight shapes oil spills’ long-term legacies.in the days and weeks after the 2010 deepwater horizon oil spill in the gulf of mexico, sunlight hit the oil slicks on the surface of the water. that triggered chemical reactions that added oxygen to oil molecules that once were just chains of carbon and hydrogen atoms. these oxygenated hydrocarbons are still sticking around eight years later with little evidence of degradation, researchers report may 29 in environmental science and technology.chemist christopher reddy of woods hole oceanographic institution in massachusetts and colleagues analyzed the oily soup of molecules floating in the gulf post-disaster. (the deepwater horizon spill was the largest marine oil spill in u.s. history, leaking more than 3 million barrels.) while investigat...