SciNews Sunday, March 20, 2016

Neandertals in Spain 430,000 years ago; brain noise affects our movements; ultra-processed foods heavy in U.S. diet; second largest trove of natural gas in Canada; oil spills destroying shipwrecks; ultrasmall engines bend second law of thermodynamics; Arctic ice cover reaching record low; Mars passing gas – just a few of the themes in today’s eclectic collection of SciNews.  Share these stories with your students and get them excited about science.

SciNews is published twice weekly. Stay tuned for more.

7308778_s from 123rfBiology

Ancient DNA reveals who is in Spain’s ‘pit of bones’ cave. Science News

Neandertals hung out in what’s now northern Spain around 430,000 years ago, an analysis of ancient DNA suggests. That’s an earlier Neandertal presence in Europe, by at least 30,000 years, than many researchers had assumed.

Fragments of nuclear DNA from a tooth and partial leg bone discovered at Sima de los Huesos, a chamber deep inside a Spanish cave, resemble corresponding parts of a previously reassembled Neandertal genome, researchers say in a study published online March 14 in Nature.  Read more…

Blame your noisy brain for misses and fumbles. Science Daily

No matter how much we practice a given movement, it will still be imperfect. The reason for this frustration, according to a new study by neuroscientists, is in how we sense the world. A given individual neuron varies in its activity even when we see exactly the same scene, producing a certain kind of brain noise that affects our responding movements.  Read more…

Ultra-processed’ foods make up more than half of all calories in US diet. Science Daily

‘Ultra-processed’ foods make up more than half of all calories consumed in the US diet, and contribute nearly 90 percent of all added sugar intake, finds new research.  Read more…


13698187_s from 123rf

Remote Canadian gas play faces long odds amid continental glut. Globe and Mail

It is Canada’s second-biggest trove of natural gas – and nobody wants it.

A new study has identified an immense shale gas resource straddling the boundaries between the Northwest Territories, Yukon and British Columbia, reviving hope among northern leaders that international energy companies will resume exploration in the remote area despite sizable costs and nagging infrastructure constraints.  Read more…

Gulf oil spills could destroy shipwrecks faster. Science News for Students

In April 2010, an explosion at the Deepwater Horizon drilling platform caused a huge oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. Leftover oil from that spill still pollutes the Gulf. And that oil could be speeding up the destruction of old shipwrecks there, data now suggest.

Corrosion is a type of chemical reaction that can weaken — and ultimately destroy — metal structures. Researchers studied aquatic microbes that can foster this corrosion. Oil mixed into seawater roughly doubled the rate of the microbe-driven corrosion. The scientists shared their findings, here, on February 22 at the American Geophysical Union’s Ocean Sciences Meeting.  Read more…


18685938_s from 123rf

Ultrasmall engines bend second law of thermodynamics. Science News

When French engineer Sadi Carnot calculated the maximum efficiency of a heat engine in 1824, he had no idea what heat was. In those days, physicists thought heat was a fluid called caloric. But Carnot, later lauded as a pioneer in establishing the second law of thermodynamics, didn’t have to know those particulars, because thermodynamics is insensitive to microscopic details. Heat flows from hot to cold regardless of whether it consists of a fluid or, as it turns out, the collective motion of trillions of trillions of molecules. Thermodynamics, the laws and equations governing energy and its usefulness to do work, concerns itself only with the big picture.  Read more…

Earth and Space Science12693495_s from 123rf

Winter ice coverage in Arctic sea reaching record low, scientists warn. Globe and Mail

Scientists warn that the area covered by this winter’s Arctic sea ice could turn out to be the lowest ever measured.

The news comes on top of a long season of freakishly warm weather at the top of the planet, including above-freezing days at the North Pole and a months-long string of temperature records.

“The winter, overall, has been extremely warm in the Arctic,” said Ted Scambos, a glaciologist at the National Snow and Ice Data Centre in Colorado.  Read more…

If there’s life on Mars, it must be passing gas. Globe and Mail

That, in so many words, is the message that scientists will be projecting to the red planet next week when they launch a probe to investigate whether Mars is exhaling puffs of methane gas that could be the biological exhaust fumes of a microbial ecosystem living far beneath the surface.

Dubbed the ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter, the unmanned spacecraft is part of a European-Russian-led project aimed at finding evidence that Mars can support life. And while some experts remain skeptical that such evidence is there to be found, no one doubts that the scientific implications of a positive detection would be enormous.  Read more…

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