A stinking, poisonous lake filled with carbon dioxide and hydrocarbons might not seem like the kind of place for living things to thrive, but researchers have discovered life in Trinidad's Pitch Lake, a hot asphalt lake teeming with all kinds of noxious gases and containing very little water. But the discovery isn't just of interest to biologists; Pitch Lake is thought to be the closest thing we have on Earth to the hydrocarbon lakes on Saturn's Titan moon.
The more we learn, the more we realize we don't know. Radio astronomers at the University of Manchester in the UK have discovered a baffling new object in a nearby galaxy that's unlike anything we've ever seen in the Milky Way. It could be the first-ever detection of a micro-quasar, or a young supernova, or even an offshoot of the massive black hole that is believed to anchor M82. But the nature of the object has rendered each of those theories somewhat unlikely, leaving researchers casting about for answers.
From rabies to bird flu to HIV, diseases passing from animals to humans is a well-known phenomenon. But a virus jumping from plants to humans? Never. At least, that's what doctors thought until Didier Raoult of the University of the Mediterranean in Marseilles, France, discovered that the mild mottle virus found in peppers may be causing fever, aches, and itching in humans. If validated, this would mark the first time a plant virus has been found to cause problems in people.
This year, the White House is asking you to send more than just your taxes to the government on April 15th. They also want you to send your ideas on which grand, unsolved scientific challenge of the 21st century you think the US should tackle first. They're thinking big here. Landing-on-Mars, cure-for-HIV, cold-fusion big. And Uncle Sam wants you to help them direct the research.
The brain is a difficult place to wander around without a map. But while the human brain, with its billions of neurons, is far too vast a frontier for us to map using current means, researchers have been building a cell-by-cell detailed map of the neural pathways in the brains of fruit flies, shedding light on how the neurons in our own brains connect and function.
Until recently, radio astronomers have concentrated almost exclusively on the high-energy radiation streaming in towards Earth from exotic stellar bodies like pulsars, quasars, and super-massive black holes. But now, a new European observatory called the Low Frequency Array (LOFAR) has begun releasing data on the low-energy radiation that permeates the Universe.
Late last year, English scientists created the first real-world instance of spin ice, a long-hypothesized type of crystal that can behave as a magnet with only one pole. These monopole magnets could form the basis of quantum computing memory, so it was disappointing to find out that the spin ice only behaved as a monopole at -454 degrees Fahrenheit.
Cocaine is a hell of a drug, but getting shocked with a Taser while riding high on methamphetamines probably beats any white-knuckled cocaine experience hands down. And that's exactly what happened to some lucky sheep in a new study that tested the effects of Tasers on meth-addled targets, funded in part by Taser International.
Viruses generally get a bad rap, but they can also be very helpful little machines. For instance, bacteriophages have been engineered to clear up infections that seemed otherwise untreatable, and genetic material from viruses has been used to ease biofuel production.