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male fruit flies enjoy ejaculation

moody red lighting in a lab is helping researchers figure out what fruit flies like best about sex.the question has arisen as scientists try to tease out the neurobiological steps in how the brain’s natural reward system can get hijacked in alcoholism, says neuroscientist galit shohat-ophir of bar-ilan university in ramat gan, israel.male fruit flies (drosophila melanogaster) were genetically engineered to ejaculate when exposed to a red light. ejaculation increased signs in the insects’ brains of a rewarding experience and decreased the lure of alcohol, researchers found. after several days in this red-light district, the flies tended to prefer a plain sugary beverage over one spiked with ethanol. males not exposed to the red light went for the boozier drink, shohat-ophir and colleagu...





this plastic-gobbling enzyme just got an upgrade

just a few tweaks to a bacterial enzyme make it a lean, mean plastic-destroying machine.one type of plastic, polyethylene terephthalate, or pet, is widely used in polyester clothing and disposable bottles and is notoriously persistent in landfills. in 2016, japanese scientists identified a new species of bacteria, ideonella sakaiensis, which has a specialized enzyme that can naturally break down pet.now, an international team of researchers studying the enzyme’s structure has created a variant that’s even more efficient at gobbling plastic, the team reports april 17 in proceedings of the national academy of sciences. the scientists used a technique called x-ray crystallography to examine the enzyme’s structure for clues to its plastic-killing abilities. then, they genetically tweaked...





a hole in an ancient cow’s skull could have been surgery practice

ancient surgeons may have practiced dangerous skull-opening procedures on cows before operating on people.a previously excavated cow skull from a roughly 5,400- to 5,000-year-old settlement in france contains a surgically created hole on the right side, a new study finds. no signs of bone healing, which start several days after an injury, appear around the opening. one or more people may have rehearsed surgical techniques on a dead cow, or may have tried unsuccessfully to save a sick cow’s life in what would be the oldest known case of veterinary surgery, researchers conclude online april 19 in scientific reports.evidence of skull surgery on humans, whether for medical or ritual reasons, goes back about 11,000 years (sn: 5/28/16, p. 12). ancient surgeons needed to know how and where to s...





nasa’s tess spacecraft launches to begin its exoplanet search

after a two-day delay, the planet-hunting tess telescope successfully launched into a clear blue sky at cape canaveral, fla., at 6:51 p.m. edt on april 18.tess, the transiting exoplanet survey satellite, is headed to an orbit between the earth and the moon, a journey that will take about two months. in its first two years, the telescope will seek planets orbiting 200,000 nearby, bright stars, and identify the best planets for further study. tess’ cameras will survey 85 percent of the sky by splitting it up into 26 zones and focusing on each zone for 27 days apiece.tess launched on a spacex falcon 9 rocket. a previous launch attempt on april 16 was scrubbed so that spacex could run more tests on the rocket’s guidance, navigation and control system. spacex recovered the rocket’s first ...





why touch can be such a creepy sensation in vr

there’s a fine line between immersive and unnerving when it comes to touch sensation in virtual reality.more realistic tactile feedback in vr can ruin a user’s feeling of immersion, researchers report online april 18 in science robotics. the finding suggests that the “uncanny valley” — a term that describes how humanoid robots that look almost but not quite human are creepier than their more cartoonish counterparts — also applies to virtual touch (sn online: 11/22/13).experiment participants wearing vr headsets and gripping a controller in each hand embodied a virtual avatar holding the two ends of a stick. at first, users felt no touch sensation. then, the hand controllers gave equally strong vibrations every half-second. finally, the vibrations were finely tuned to create the...





this meteorite’s diamonds hint that it was born in a lost planet

a chunk of space rock may have been forged inside a long-lost planet from the early solar system. tiny pockets of iron and sulfur embedded in diamonds inside the meteorite probably formed under high pressures found only inside planets the size of mercury or mars, researchers suggest april 17 in nature communications.the parent planet no longer exists, though — it was smashed to smithereens in the solar system’s violent infancy.“we probably have in our hands a piece of one of these first planets that have disappeared,” says philippe gillet of école polytechnique fédérale de lausanne, or epfl, in switzerland.epfl physicist farhang nabiei, gillet and their colleagues analyzed minuscule fragments of the almahata sitta meteorites. these meteorites are famous for coming from the first...





how ravens caused a ligo data glitch

columbus, ohio — while the data was amassing, suddenly there came a tapping,as of something gently rapping, rapping at ligo’s door.the source of a mysterious glitch in data from a gravitational wave detector has been unmasked: rap-tap-tapping ravens with a thirst for shaved ice. at the advanced laser interferometer gravitational-wave observatory, or ligo, in the desert of hanford, wash., scientists noticed a signal that didn’t look like gravitational waves, physicist beverly berger said on april 16 at a meeting of the american physical society.a microphone sensor that monitors ligo’s surroundings caught the sounds of pecking birds on tape in july 2017, berger, of the ligo laboratory at caltech, said. so the crew went out to the end of one of the detector’s 4-kilometer-long arms ...





delayed launch of nasa’s next exoplanet hunter is now set for tonight

editor's note: this story has been updated april 18 with new launch plans for tess.the launch of nasa’s next exoplanet hunter, tess, has been rescheduled for 6:51 p.m. edt april 18. you can watch launch coverage on nasa tv starting at 6:30 p.m. spacex, whose falcon 9 rocket is set to carry tess into space, had scrubbed the satellite’s planned april 16 just hours before liftoff, saying it needed to do more analysis of the rocket’s guidance, navigation and control systems. such delays aren’t unusual, and space x had reason to be cautious: the company has had a falcon 9 blow up on the launchpad before.tess, short for transiting exoplanet survey satellite, will be the first nasa science mission launched on a spacex falcon 9 rocket. spacex plans for the rocket booster to return af...





masses of shrimp and krill may play a huge role in mixing oceans

when it comes to tiny ocean swimmers, the whole is much greater than the sum of its parts. ocean turbulence stirred up by multitudes of creatures such as krill can be powerful enough to extend hundreds of meters down into the deep, a new study suggests.brine shrimp moving vertically in two different laboratory tanks created small eddies that aggregated into a jet roughly the size of the whole migrating group, researchers report online april 18 in nature. with a fluid velocity of about 1 to 2 centimeters per second, the jet was also powerful enough to mix shallow waters with deeper, saltier waters. without mixing, these waters of different densities would remain isolated in layers.the shrimp represent centimeter-sized swimmers, including krill and shrimplike copepods, found throughout the w...





these seals haven’t lost their land ancestors’ hunting ways

some seals still eat like landlubbers.just like lions, tigers and bears, certain kinds of seals have claws that help the animals grasp prey and tear it apart. x-rays show that the bones in these seals’ forelimbs look like those found in the earliest seals, a new study finds.ancestors of these ancient seals transitioned from land to sea at some point, preserving clawed limbs useful for hunting on land. but clawed paws in these northern “true seals,” which include harbor and harp seals, seem to be more than just a holdover from ancient times, says david hocking, a marine zoologist at monash university in melbourne, australia. instead, retaining the claws probably helps northern true seals catch a larger meal than they could with the stiff, slippery fins of other pinnipeds such as sea l...





this ancient maya city may have helped the snake king dynasty spread

washington — new insights into an ancient maya kingdom are coming from a remote outpost in the guatemalan jungle.aerial laser maps, excavations and stone-slab hieroglyphics indicate that la corona, a largely rural settlement, became a key part of a far-ranging classic-era maya kingdom that incorporated sites from southern mexico to central america, researchers reported on april 15 at the annual meeting of the society for american archaeology. classic maya civilization lasted from around 250 to 900.a dynasty of kaanul rulers, also called snake kings, expanded their domain from their home city of calakmul in mexico by using la corona as a relay center for precious stones and other goods from kaanul-controlled sites farther south, said archaeologist marcello canuto.“our work supports the ...





dogs lived and died with humans 10,000 years ago in the americas

washington — a trio of dogs buried at two ancient human sites in illinois lived around 10,000 years ago, making them the oldest known domesticated canines in the americas.radiocarbon dating of the dogs’ bones shows they were 1,500 years older than thought, zooarchaeologist angela perri said april 13 at the annual meeting of the society for american archaeology. the previous age estimate was based on a radiocarbon analysis of burned wood found in one of the animals’ graves. until now, nearly 9,300-year-old remains of dogs eaten by humans at a texas site were the oldest physical evidence of american canines.ancient dogs at the midwestern locations also represent the oldest known burials of individual dogs in the world, said perri, of durham university in england. a dog buried at germa...





here’s why putting a missile defense system in space could be a bad idea

columbus, ohio — a beefed-up missile defense system might seem like a good idea in a time of heightened nuclear tensions. but such enhancements could have dangerous consequences.the current u.s. missile defense system isn’t all it was cracked up to be, performing unreliably in tests, physicist and missile defense expert laura grego argued april 14 at a meeting of the american physical society. enhancing the system’s power, however, by building missile defense in space, for example, might put the world on a slippery slope to space warfare, she warned.the worries come against the backdrop of north korea’s nuclear weapons and missile tests (sn: 8/5/17, p. 18) and an upcoming missile defense review from the u.s. department of defense, expected in may. that review could accelerate effor...





a new plastic film glows to flag food contaminated with dangerous microbes

pathogen detectors built into plastic patches could someday spare you food poisoning.carlos filipe, a chemical engineer at mcmaster university in hamilton, canada, and colleagues have developed a new kind of flexible film that’s coated in molecules that glow when they touch e. coli cells. this type of sensor also glows in the presence of molecules secreted by e. coli, so the material doesn’t have to be in direct contact with bacterial cells to flag food contamination.sensors about the size of postage stamps fluoresced brightly when tested on tainted meat and apple juice, but not when the sensors touched unspoiled samples, the researchers report online april 6 in acs nano.next, the scientists plan to make films that glow in the presence of other bacteria, such as salmonella, says study ...





the launch of nasa’s next exoplanet hunter is delayed

editor's note: tess' planned launch on april 16 has been delayed. we will update this story as news develops.the launch of nasa’s next exoplanet hunter, tess, has been delayed two days. spacex, whose falcon 9 rocket is set to carry tess into space, tweeted the news at 4:17 p.m. edt april 16 — two hours and 15 minutes before the scheduled launch.spacex, which has had a falcon 9 blow up on the launchpad before, will do more analysis of the rocket’s guidance, navigation and control systems before the next launch attempt, now scheduled for april 18.tess, short for transiting exoplanet survey satellite, will be the first nasa science mission launched on a spacex falcon 9 rocket. spacex plans for the rocket booster to return after launch and land on a barge in the atlantic ocean.once te...





dogs lived and died with humans 10,000 years ago in the americas

washington — a trio of dogs buried at two ancient human sites in illinois lived around 10,000 years ago, making them the oldest known domesticated canines in the americas.radiocarbon dating of the dogs’ bones shows they were 1,500 years older than thought, zooarchaeologist angela perri said april 13 at the annual meeting of the society for american archaeology. the previous age estimate was based on a radiocarbon analysis of burned wood found in one of the animals’ graves. until now, nearly 9,300-year-old remains of dogs eaten by humans at a texas site were the oldest physical evidence of american canines.ancient dogs at the midwestern locations also represent the oldest known burials of individual dogs in the world, said perri, of durham university in england. a dog buried at germa...





the facebook data debacle may not change internet behavior

if you’re not paying, you’re the product, so the saying goes. for years, facebook users have known that they — or, more specifically, their data — make up the bulk of the goods the social media company leverages for profit.then came news that london-based data firm cambridge analytica accessed an estimated 87 million facebook profiles without permission and used that data for political campaigning. the public was incensed.  the hashtag #deletefacebook started trending on twitter, and media outlets have published a slew of how-tos on blocking online snoops. facebook ceo mark zuckerberg was brought before congress april 10 and 11 to answer for the company’s handling of user data.but it’s unclear if the uproar will actually change how people behave online or help them wrest more...





lasers squeezed iron to mimic the conditions of exoplanet cores

physicists have simulated the cores of some large rocky exoplanets by pummeling iron with lasers. the resulting measurements give the first clue to how iron might behave inside planets outside the solar system that are several times the mass of earth, researchers report april 16 in nature astronomy.“until now, there’s been no data available on the state of these materials at the center of large exoplanets,” says ray smith, a physicist at lawrence livermore national laboratory in california.working at the national ignition facility, smith and his colleagues aimed 176 lasers at a pellet of iron a few micrometers thick wrapped in a gold cylinder. the lasers delivered enough energy over 30 billionths of a second to compress the iron to pressures up to 14 million times earth’s atmospher...





‘weird math’ aims to connect numbers and equations to the real world

weird mathdavid darling and agnijo banerjeebasic books, $27weird math sets out to “reveal the strange connections between math and everyday life.” the book fulfills that laudable goal, in part. at times, teenage math prodigy agnijo banerjee and his tutor, science writer david darling, find ways to make complex math relatable, like linking chaos theory to weather forecasting and virtual reality. but there’s a tension between precision and accessibility, and the authors don’t always find the sweet spot.the book offers an in-depth exploration of the history of a number of mathematical concepts that banerjee and darling find intriguing. some of their choices — including the mathematics of music, higher dimensions and chaos theory — are written in clear, accessible langu...





the facebook data debacle may not change internet behavior

if you’re not paying, you’re the product, so the saying goes. for years, facebook users have known that they — or, more specifically, their data — make up the bulk of the goods being sold by the social media company to advertisers and other third parties.then came news that london-based data firm cambridge analytica accessed an estimated 87 million facebook profiles without permission and used that data for political campaigning. the public was incensed.  the hashtag #deletefacebook started trending on twitter, and media outlets have published a slew of how-tos on blocking online snoops. facebook ceo mark zuckerberg was brought before congress april 10 and 11 to answer for the company’s handling of user data.but it’s unclear if the uproar will actually change how people behave...