Most distant galaxy identified [via The Daily Telegraph]
Writing in Nature yesterday a group of European scientists announced the discovery of the galaxy most distant from our own — UDFy-38135539, 13.1 billion lightyears away. Light from the galaxy, therefore, has taken most of the universe’s life to reach us; the Big Bang happened approximately 13.7 billion years ago. ”These observations are at the limit of what can be achieved with the best current technology on the best telescopes available today,” said University of Bristol professor Malcolm Bremer. “In the near term, improvements to that technology and the launch of the James Webb Space Telescope (successor to the Hubble Space Telescope) will improve our ability to carry out studies like this.”
Britain’s ‘earliest hospital’ discovered [via The Guardian]
British archaeologists have uncovered what may be Britain’s first hospital, a site in Winchester carbon dating to between 960 and 1030 — before the Norman invasion of 1066. “This is an important archaeological development,” said Dr Simon Roffey from the University of Winchester, which conducted the dig. “Historically, it has always been assumed that hospitals were a post-conquest phenomenon, the majority founded from the late 11th century onwards. However, our excavations have revealed a range of buildings and, more significantly, convincing evidence for a foundation in the 10th century.” Winchester, near the southern coast of the county of Hampshire, was the capital of England at the time.
End of the Earth Postponed [via LiveScience]
A new textbook argues that “the accepted conversions of dates from Mayan to the modern calendar may be off by as much as 50 or 100 years,” throwing doubt on the widely popularized claim that the world will end in 2012 because the ancient Mayan stops then. The error occurred in early calculations from Mayan to Gregorian dates. The author, however, does not offer any solution to a proper conversion.
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A Habitable Exoplanet – For Real This Time [via Wired]
Astronomers announced yesterday the discovery of the first planet outside our solar system that lies within its star’s habitable zone, the orbital area where the temperature would make water liquid rather than ice or vapor. Gliese 581g orbits a red dwarf 20 light-years away, is three times the mass of Earth and orbits its sun every 36.6 Earth days. Its year is much shorter because its star is only 1 percent as bright as the Sun, and its rotational period indicates one side likely faces the sun at all times, leading to a frigid half, a boiling half and a ring of perpetual twilight where life may be able to form.
Monkeys can recognize themselves in mirrors [via MSNBC]
Scientists have discovered that rhesus macaques, a South Asian monkey, can recognize themselves in mirrors, a critical test for cognitive science in determining self-recognition and ultimately self-awareness. Mirror recognition is a skill adults humans have but babies do not, indicating the ability develops with the brain. Some primates, including chimpanzees and bonobos, as well as dolphins, elephants and magpies, have also passed the mirror recognition test. Notably, the macaques that recognized themselves had been implanted with electrodes to monitor their brain activity; macaques lacking the implant failed the test.
Rare pink hippo spotted [via The Daily Telegraph]
British photographers Will and Matt Burrard-Lucas were hunting wildebeest in Kenya when they stumbled across a pink hippopotamus, a rare sighting. The creature is leucitic, not albino, meaning it has some spots of pigmentation. Leucitic animals rarely survive in the wild, however, as they are more easily visible to predators. Hippos, however, are strong enough to fight off most attackers.
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Gene limits learning and memory in mice [via Medical Daily]
Scientists at Emory University’s School of Medicine have found that “deleting a certain gene in mice can make them smarter by unlocking a mysterious region of the brain considered to be relatively inflexible.” Mice without the gene were better able to remember objects and navigate mazes, indicating the gene somehow limits memory or the ability to learn. Researchers jokingly dubbed it the “Homer Simpson gene.”
Pope’s astronomer says he would baptize an alien if it asked him [via The Guardian]
Papal astronomer Guy Consolmagno said at a talk before the British Science Festival this week that alien species, if ever found, might have souls and could be baptized if they request it. “Any entity – no matter how many tentacles it has – has a soul,” Consolmagno said. The astronomer also dismissed intelligent design. “The word has been hijacked by a narrow group of creationist fundamentalists in America to mean something it didn’t originally mean at all. It’s another form of the God of the gaps. It’s bad theology in that it turns God once again into the pagan god of thunder and lightning.”
Lost Libraries: The strange afterlife of authors’ book collections [via the Boston Globe]
Read the whole thing. A teaser: “Most people might imagine that authors’ libraries matter–that scholars and readers should care what books authors read, what they thought about them, what they scribbled in the margins. But far more libraries get dispersed than saved. In fact, David Markson can now take his place in a long and distinguished line of writers whose personal libraries were quickly, casually broken down. Herman Melville’s books? One bookstore bought an assortment for $120, then scrapped the theological titles for paper. Stephen Crane’s? His widow died a brothel madam, and her estate (and his books) were auctioned off on the steps of a Florida courthouse. Ernest Hemingway’s? To this day, all 9,000 titles remain trapped in his Cuban villa.”
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Diamond Star Thrills Astronomers [via the BBC]
A chunk of crystallized carbon 50 light-years from earth has astronomers is a tizzy. An old white dwarf star now faded and collapsed on itself, the “diamond” is estimated to be 10 billion trillion trillion carats. “You would need a jeweller’s loupe the size of the Sun to grade this diamond,” said astronomer Travis Metcalfe of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics. Astronomers have named the object “Lucy” after the Beatles song “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds.”
Facebook-Fed Plant Killed by Kindness [via Discovery News]
A Queensland, Australia plant set up to be watered by people on Facebook was killed by kindness, scientists report, when too many people fed the plant. The project was attempting to examine the intersection of emotions and social networking. “There have been some people who are very proactive with the plant’s engagement who maintain conversations with the plant over some weeks,” creator Bashkim Isai said. “But there are a very large number of people who just come on there, say hello and then do nothing more, they don’t really have an interest in continuing.”
The Face of Facebook: Mark Zuckerberg Opens Up [via The New Yorker]
The New Yorker profiles Facebook creator and youngest-ever billionaire Mark Zuckerberg. Zuck, as his friends refer to him, is notoriously reclusive, and indeed the opening up referenced in the title is often gleaned through IM records and interviews with friends and family rather than testimony from the man himself. The piece expertly examines issues of privacy that have plagued Facebook recently, and reveals the drive Zuckerberg has to continue developing Facebook as a product and a social media marketing tool.
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