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Hate crimes in U.S. rose last year, FBI report says

A new FBI report released Monday shows an increase in hate crimes committed in the United States last year.

Based on data submitted by law enforcement agencies across the nation, the FBI said more than 6,100 hate crimes were recorded in 2016 — up from more than 5,800 in 2015, with an increase in incidents involving bias against Jews, Muslims, and LGBT people.

Anti-Semitism was the leading cause, followed by anti-Muslim animus. Of the number of hate crimes motivated by racial bias, 50 percent were directed against black people.

“It’s deeply disturbing to see hate crimes increase for the second year in a row,” said Jonathan A. Greenblatt, chief executive of the Anti-Defamation League, in a statement Monday, as reported by The Washington Post. “Hate crimes demand priority attention because of their special impact. They not only hurt one victim, but they also intimidate and isolate a victim’s whole community and weaken the bonds of our society.”

The report also found that white people carried out the largest number — 46 percent — of hate crimes last year, while black people were responsible for about 25 percent.

“No person should have to fear being violently attacked because of who they are, what they believe, or how they worship,” said Attorney General Jeff Session, in a statement following release of the report.

The FBI report is most likely woefully incomplete because not all victims or jurisdictions report hate crimes.

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HEALTH NATURE NONE SCI Science

Even light drinking can increase cancer risk, study reports

The American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) reports that alcohol consumption heavily increases a person’s risk for cancer, according to a new study in the Journal of Oncology.

This discovery follows a survey that found 70 percent of Americans do not recognize drinking alcohol as a risk factor for cancer. That is concerning because alcohol consumption is known to increase the risk of several cancers, including head, neck, esophageal, liver, breast, and colorectal.

Alcohol is officially classified as a carcinogen by the International Agency for Cancer Research. Roughly 3.5 percent of all U.S. cancer deaths — roughly 19,500 deaths — are related to alcohol. While the greatest risks are linked to heavy, long-term use, even low alcohol consumption (defined as less than one drink per day) or moderate consumption (up to two drinks per day for men, and one drink per day for women) can increase risk.

In addition, researchers found that, among women, light drinkers have a four percent increased risk of breast cancer, while moderate drinkers have a 23 percent increased risk of the disease. Heavy drinkers who consume more than eight drinks a day have a 63 percent increased risk of breast cancer.

Both men and women who drink heavily have a much greater chance of head, neck, and oral cancers as well because those tissues come into direct contact with alcohol carcinogens.

“Alcohol consumption is one of the most difficult dietary factors to accurately ascertain,” Anne McTiernan, a cancer prevention researcher at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle who was not involved in the study, told Reuters.”Most people don’t know how much they’ve drunk (in terms of ounces), or how much alcohol is in what they drink. And most don’t accurately recall how often they drink.” 

Researchers hopes to draw attention to the strong links between drinking alcohol and risks for several types of cancer. They hope studies such as this one could help more people understand the risks of drinking and perhaps lead to new policy changes as well.

“The more you drink, the higher the risk,” said Clifford A. Hudis, the chief executive of ASCO who was not involved in the research, according to The New York Times. “It’s a pretty linear dose-response.”

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HEALTH NONE SCI Science TECH TECH_Social TECH_Technology

Smartphones can be a major source of frustration, study reports

A group of scientists from Nottingham Trent University have found evidence that suggests smartphones tend to worsen moods and make people upset, a new study published in IEEE Access reports.

In the study, the researchers asked 50 participants to download an app that collected information about their phone’s notifications — including email and social media — over a five week period. They then calculated how each subject reacted to the different notifications.

The team found that nearly a third of the half a million alerts recorded in the study triggered negative emotions, causing users to be hostile, upset, nervous, afraid, or ashamed.

Though every notification came with a reaction, the data showed alerts relating to non-human activity — such as general phone updates and wifi availability — had the worse impact the subjects’ mood. In addition, work-related alerts made people upset as well.

However, the participants were happy when they received messages from friends. This was especially true when they got multiple at once.

“These digital alerts continuously disrupt our activities through instant calls for attention,” said lead author Eiman Kanjo, a researcher at the Nottingham Trent University, according to Telegraph UK. “While notifications enhance the convenience of our life, we need to better-understand the impact their obsessive use has on our well-being. It is clear that social notifications make people happy, but when they receive lots of work-related and or non-human notifications, the opposite effect occurs.”

These new findings are important because they show it is possible to predict a phone users’ mood based on the data they receive each day. As a result, it could one day be possible to personalize or structure notifications in a way that makes people less upset. Such changes could have far reaching effects on mental health.

“Although notifications serve an important purpose for smartphone users, the number of apps which compete for attention has grown significantly over the years,” said study co-author Daria Kuss, a psychologist in Nottingham Trent University’s International Gaming Research Unit. “Our findings could open the door to a wide range of applications in relation to emotion awareness on social and mobile communication.”

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NONE SCI Science

Blue dinosaur eggs suggest bird-like trait

A new study reveals that at least one dinosaur species laid clutches of blue-green eggs — just like robins and some other modern birds.

The discovery is detailed in the journal PeerJ.

Because many birds and all turtles, lizards, and crocodiles lay unpigmented eggs, scientists long believed colored eggshells evolved only in birds.

“Everyone thought dinosaur eggs wee white,” says study co-author Jasmina Wiemann of Yale University, in a report by National Geographic. “Once the idea that colored eggs evolved in birds and were a trait of modern birds had been suggested, no one thought about it again or dared to ask if dinosaur eggs had been colored.”

Then Wiemann and colleagues analyzed fossil eggshells from an omnivorous, feathered, parrot-beaked, ostrich-like oviraptor called Heyuannia huangi that were unearthed in the fossil beds of eastern China. They found traces of two pigments often seen in modern birds: biliverdin and protoporphyrin.

The team initially thought the blueish-green shade of the eggshells was due to mineral precipitation.

“We screened through lots of eggshells, and one day had a positive result for these oviraptor eggs,” said Wiemann. “It was a huge surprise.”

The discovery that some dinosaurs laid colored eggs adds another to a series of traits once thought to have evolved solely in birds, such as feathers and wishbones.

“Dinosaurs evolved colored eggs before birds evolved — and the reason birds have colored eggs is because they were present in their ancestors, the nonavian dinosaurs,” said Mark Norell, a paleontologist at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City, in the National Geographic report.

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Busy day in space; Scott Kelly returns and SpaceX launch attempt

Rarely does more than one notable event in space exploration occur on the same day, but today on March 1, 2016, there will be two. Astronaut Scott Kelly and two fellow ISS crewmates  will return to earth in Kazakhstan, and SpaceX will launch a satellite and attempt its fourth barge landing at sea this evening.

Astronaut Scott Kelly has completed his “Year in Space” (340 days), internet coverage will begin at NASA TV, here, beginning at 4:15 Eastern U.S. Daylight Time, with the Soyuz capsule hatch closure coverage and farewell. The hatch is scheduled to close at 4:40. Undocking coverage will begin at 7:45  with the actual undocking at 8:05. Deorbit burn and landing coverage begins at 10:15. Deorbit burn is scheduled for 10:32 p.m., with landing at 11:25 p.m. (10:25 a.m. on March 2, Kazakhstan time).

Kelly, who commanded ISS Expedition 47 and has handed command over to NASA astronaut Tim Kopra, will return with fellow “Year in Space” cosmonaut Mikhail Kornienko, and cosmonaut Sergey Volkov who has crewed six months aboard the ISS. Scott Kelly, along with his twin and fellow astronaut Mark Kelly, are the subject of an intense study at NASA to see how humans develop differently in weightless conditions versus on the ground. This will be important for future human missions to Mars and beyond.

SpaceX will launch a satellite designed by Luxembourg customer SDS this evening at 7:30 EDT and concessions have been made for the customer such that the odds of a successful first-stage barge landing will be lower than the three previous attempts, which ended in failure. However, much was learned from each failure, and the last attempt was nearly a success.Bu

SpaceX’s own coverage of SES-9’s launch and booster landing can be found here.

According to TechTimes, “due to the SES-9’s high-orbit delivery and incoming speed, SpaceX doesn’t expect an effective landing on the unmanned barge. However, industry experts expressed that an ocean barge landing will help lower costs. The SES-9 telecommunication satellite was designed by Luxembourg-based SES. It will provide broadband, video, government and maritime communications from 22,000 miles in the Asia-Pacific region.”

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James Webb Space Telescope nears completion

The final assembly of the James Webb Space Telescope’s (JWST) 6.6-meter (21 ft.) mirror will be completed in the next few days in Maryland. All four primary instruments have also completed testing in Maryland. They have passed low-temperature tests and will be combined with the mirror, then transported to the Johnson Space Center in Houston. Two years of final testing will follow.

A special device known as the cryocooler is being built and tested at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in California. It is designed to take the MIRI experiment to a lower temperature than its three siblings. It will not be assembled into the JWST until just before launch. The JWST has eight months of “wiggle room” built into its schedule, and the cryocooler risks eating into that. So far JPL reports everything is on schedule.

The JWST is considered the successor to the Hubble telescope in unlocking the secrets of the universe. It will be launched in Oct. 2018 from So. America to the L2 Lagrangian point, 1.5 million kilometers (930,000 miles) from Earth where its four primary instruments will scan the universe shielded from sunshine and Earthshine. The JWST will scan in the infrared (unlike Hubble which is visible and ultraviolet), and hopefully will reveal a host of new discoveries. Among them: imaging the first stars and galaxies; the formation and evolution of galaxies; exoplanets and ring systems around stars; the solar system planets and the possible origins of life.

The JWST originated in 1996 and it was originally budgeted to cost $ 1.6 billion and launch in 2011. That figure has since ballooned to its current $8.35 billion. At one point in 2011 when the budget stood at $5 billion the U.S. House of Representatives threatened to cut off funding completely. A special Congressional investigation ensued and backed by the American Astronomical Society’s  recommendation the project remained on track. The mission is a joint venture between NASA and its European and Canadian counterparts, the European Space Agency and the Canadian Space Agency.

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First successful ‘reused spacecraft’ launched and landed

Launch a rocket, land it, then launch it again. Jeff Bezos’s Blue Origin space company has accomplished a significant historical first in space exploration. Yesterday, the same exact rocket that became the first to visit space and land vertically repeated the accomplishment. The New Shepard spacecraft powered its unmanned capsule to 101.7 km above the Earth and landed the crew capsule and booster successfully. Ultimately the capsules will be manned by 2-3 paying customers. Returning a rocket successfully for reuse is crucial to reducing the cost of space exploration. New Shepard uses the BE-3 rocket engine.

It should be emphasized these were suborbital flights. Competitor SpaceX, founded by Elon Musk, seeks to land rockets from orbit and has done so on land once and failed three times trying to land on a barge at sea. Blue Origin also seeks to land from orbit and has revealed specific plans to do so using BE-3U and BE-4 rocket engines.

Blue Origin does not give advanced notice of its launches unlike NASA, SpaceX, and Virgin Galactic. However space enthusiasts guessed it would happen when the Federal Aviation Authority issued a temporary flight restriction for the area north of Blue Origin’s launch facility near Van Horn, TX.

Bezos founded Amazon.com and has invested over half a billion dollars of his own money in Blue Origins. Headquartered in Seattle, WA, the company is planning an orbital facility in Florida in addition to its Texas facility. During his 1982 graduation speech, Valedictorian Bezos revealed his intentions to develop “space hotels, amusement parks, colonies and small cities for 2 million or 3 million people orbiting the Earth.”

Amazon.com was founded in 1994 and Blue Origins in 2000, although the general public was not aware of Blue Origins until 2006.

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NWT_Earth

New Gaian hypothesis proposed to explain rarity of life in Universe

Physicist Enrico Fermi once asked of intelligent alien civilizations, “Where is everybody?” This has become known as Fermi’s Paradox, that to the best of our knowledge there is no evidence of any intelligent civilizations in the Universe other than our own in spite of all of life’s ingredients being common.

Life may be common throughout the solar system and in the habitable zones of other stars, but will usually become extinct within a billion years of emergence, according to a recent paper by two Australian astrobiologists. Earth may have been one of the rare places where a combination of factors led us through a “Gaian bottleneck” to allow sufficient time for the emergence of intelligent life that could build radio telescopes.

One alternative theory proposes that intelligent life is very common. If so we should have seen some sort of proof by now given modern telescopes, and have not. Another is that life itself is exceedingly rare. However all the ingredients to make life, sunlight and the six elements hydrogen, oxygen, carbon, nitrogen, sulfur, and phosphorous (HOCNSP), are extremely common in the universe. The Gaian regulation hypothesis merges the two. It notes that various conditions make it much more likely that life won’t survive in most cases after a billion years.

bottleneck

One ingredient for life to exist long enough until it can evolve into intelligent lifeforms is oxygen. It is thought that Earth’s oxygen was produced by cyanobacteria beginning 2.7 to 2.8 billion years ago. Another ingredient is liquid water, which is difficult to maintain on planetary surfaces over long time scales. Shifts in surface temperature and ice buildup and loss during the first billion years can lead to early extinction.

Microbial fossils may therefore be found on most habitable-zone worlds. The best way to test these hypotheses is to visit other worlds and explore beginning with Venus, Mars, and the Moon.

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NASA releases Dawn mission’s latest photos of asteroid planet Ceres

NASA’s Dawn mission to the asteroid belt has just released a large batch of new photographs of asteroid planet Ceres, the asteroid belt’s largest member, from the Dawn spacecraft’s lowest orbit.

According to Dawn Mission Director, Marc Rayman, at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in his latest Mission Status Update:  “After completing its orbit maintenance maneuver on Jan. 8, Dawn spent much of the weekend with its main antenna aimed at Earth as it revolved around Ceres, beaming its latest data to NASA’s Deep Space Network. Then around 9:00 AM PST on Jan. 10, the spacecraft turned to point its science instruments at the ground beneath it and resumed its program of observations of the dwarf planet. It will continue until 7:00 PM PST on Jan. 13, when it is scheduled once again to start transmitting the precious measurements stored in its memory.” So we have many more photos to look forward to besides this new crop.

The current batch of new photographs has as usual several unexpected pleasant surprises. On Dawn’s official page announcing the new shots , a fresh young crater by the name of Kapalo Crater is featured, showing more white salt streaks, this time on the crater walls.

A 32-kilometer (20-mile) crater (pictured) has geological features known as “scarps”, steep slopes and ridges similar to those on asteroid and protoplanet Vesta’s  Rheasilvia Crater. Dantu Crater, 126 kilometers wide, has a dense network of fractures similar to those found on Tycho Crater on Earth’s Moon, both young craters.

The fractured floor of Dantu Crater on Ceres is seen in this image from NASA's Dawn spacecraft. Similar fractures are seen in Tycho, one of the youngest large craters on Earth's moon. This cracking may have resulted from the cooling of impact melt, or when the crater floor was uplifted after the crater formed. Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA/MPS/DLR/IDA
The fractured floor of Dantu Crater on Ceres is seen in this image from NASA’s Dawn spacecraft. Similar fractures are seen in Tycho, one of the youngest large craters on Earth’s moon. This cracking may have resulted from the cooling of impact melt, or when the crater floor was uplifted after the crater formed.
Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA/MPS/DLR/IDA

Additionally, two important experiments have been ongoing at Ceres since December.  GRaND  is Dawn’s gamma ray and neutron detector that will help scientists calculate the abundance of elements on Ceres’ surface as well as the planet’s composition.  A spectrometer in the visible light and infrared spectrum will identify the types of minerals on Ceres’ surface.

Dawn mission’s Principle Investigator, Chris Russell at UCLA said in a statement, “When we set sail for Ceres upon completing our Vesta exploration, we expected to be surprised by what we found on our next stop. Ceres did not disappoint. Everywhere we look in these new low- altitude observations, we see amazing landforms that speak to the unique character of this most amazing world.”

The Dawn mission is expected to complete in June of this year when Dawn runs out of hydrazine fuel for its attitude-control thrusters, however mission planners are devising ways to keep the mission going longer, so there is no firm date on when the mission will end.

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NONE PHYS

Possible direct detection of gravitational waves overshadowed by controversy

When American physicists Russell Hulse and Joseph Taylor discovered the first pulsar in a binary star system in 1974, their discovery and analysis of their findings would lead to their winning the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1993, for the first indirect detection of gravitational waves as first predicted by Albert Einstein in 1916. What scientists seek now is the first direct detection.

The Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO) is designed to directly detect gravitational waves and may well have found them based on a controversial tweet posted by a well-respected theoretical physicist, Lawrence Krauss of Arizona State University’s Department of Physics. Krauss does make follow-up tweet saying he is not part of the LIGO collaboration nor associated with anyone there, but as an important and accomplished dark energy theorist that has every reason to be very interested in the results.

krauss

The general public and the scientific community are very skeptical and for good reason given the announcement by a non-participant in the experiment, as well as an anonymous source. Too many times in the recent past, from the OPERA “faster-than-light” neutrino controversy that proved to be false via an engineering malfunction, to a CERN scientist “outing” a Higgs boson discovery which turned out to be within experimental error therefore false, to the BICEP2 “confirmation” of Inflationary Big Bang “proof” that was then shown via the proper channels of peer review and discussion to be inconclusive, have well-intentioned scientists trying to “share the joy”, first, that wasn’t, turned out to be wrong.

krauss2

While many may criticize Krauss for stealing the thunder of the actual experimenters, the fact remains that such a discovery would propel it to one of the greatest scientific achievements of all time. It would also set the stage for future physics discoveries, such as the unification of quantum field theory and  general relativity into quantum gravity, which itself would enable us to devise state-of-the-art propulsion systems to quickly get us to the planets, and the stars.