Sunday, December 23, 2012


This year, a study published in the journal PLoS found that looking at cute animal photos helps people to improve their concentration. With that in mind, we present some of the cutest baby animal photographs of 2012.

Taking a break to look at such photos may provide a beneficial boost. "For future applications, cute objects may be used as an emotion elicitor to induce careful behavioral tendencies in specific situations, such as driving and office work," wrote Hiroshi Nittono of Hiroshima University and his colleagues.

Some of our favorite cute critter photographs this year came from the Chengdu Panda Base, which experienced a giant panda baby boom in 2012. Alejandro Grau, a spokesperson for the reserve, told Discovery News in November that "all the cubs are in good health and were photographed together for the first time."

Tuesday, December 18, 2012


Hibernating bats and HIV-AIDS patients face a similar risk.

A hyperactive immune system may cause dangerous tissue damage in both humans dealing with HIV-AIDS and bats suffering from white-nose syndrome (WNS). The immune system over-reaction, known as immune reconstitution inflammatory syndrome (IRIS), occurs when the immune system becomes active after being dormant.
"We see strong similarities between human IRIS and the pathology associated with WNS , with potentially fatal outcome in bats," said Carol Meteyer of the U.S.
"We hope that these findings will stimulate more experimental studies that yield insight into the role of the immune response during IRIS in humans as well as hibernating bats."
In HIV-AIDS patients, IRIS can occur after treatment with antiretroviral drugs allow their immune systems to recover. HIV-AIDS patients sometimes develop infections while their immune system was weakened. Once the drug treatments allow the white blood cells of the immune system to recover, the cells can go into overdrive attacking the infection. The inflammation that follows can cause damage to healthy tissue.
In bats, IRIS may happen after the bats wake up from hibernation. To conserve energy, most of the bats biological functions, including the immune system, go dormant during hibernation. White-nose syndrome attacks the bats while their immune systems can't fight back. The fungus Geomyces destructans takes advantage of this and begins devouring the bats alive, coving them with a white fuzz that gives white-nose syndrome its name.
ANALYSIS: Billion Dollar Bats in Danger
The fungal infection alone can be enough to kill the bats. However, if they survive the winter, when their immune system comes back from its hibernation dormancy it can over-react to the white nose infection. The inflammation can damage tissues, just as in HIV-AIDS patients, and can prove especially deadly if it affects the wings.

Monday, September 03, 2012

Philippines Earthquake Tsunami Alert Explained

The large earthquake that struck off the eastern coast of the Philippines today (Aug. 31) at 8:47 p.m. local time sparked tsunami warnings across a large swath of the neighboring Pacific region, yet those warnings were canceled not long after.

The magnitude-7.6 earthquake hit about 58 miles (63 kilometers) from shore along a tectonic boundary known as a subduction zone, where an oceanic plate is diving beneath a continental plate.

Earlier reports put the quake's magnitude at 7.9, but after more data from global networks of seismometers arrived, officials at the U.S. Geological Survey downgraded the magnitude to 7.6.

"There's a significant difference, but they're both really big earthquakes that can generate tsunamis, and if they occur on land they can kill lots of people," said Paul Caruso, a geophysicist with the U.S. Geological Survey in Golden, Colo.

In this case, the oceanic Philippine plate shoved deeper below the Sunda plate, a continental plate home to the Philippines, and portions of Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand and Vietnam.

The quake ruptured at a depth of about 22 miles (35 km). That's fairly shallow, Caruso said, and shallower earthquakes are more likely to cause tsunamis.

When you get a really deep quake, a lot of the energy is absorbed before it reaches the seafloor, and what causes a tsunami is the seafloor being pushed up," he told OurAmazingPlanet.

However, tsunami warnings that were in effect for the Philippines, Indonesia and Belau were cancelled by the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center in Hawaii at around 11 a.m. ET.

So-called subduction quakes — those that occur when an oceanic plate suddenly jolts deeper beneath a continental plate — are the most powerful type of earthquakes that occur on our planet.

They're also very good at shoving the seafloor, and the sheer area of the seafloor that is thrust upward — the length of the rupture, and its horizontal and vertical displacement — determines the size of the tsunami that follows.

HSW: 10 Most Destructive Storms

Data from sensors in the ocean near the site of the quake indicate a tsunami was generated, and waves are coming between 10 and 14 minutes apart, but it appears the waves aren't packing so much energy that they'll take a significant toll once they reach land.

In deep water, tsunami waves appear small, and only reach a massive size once they make it into shallower waters close to shore.

So, although today's quake was a significant one, it appears it didn't move the seafloor enough to cause a large tsunami.

However, Caruso warned that earthquakes can also trigger undersea landslides, which can, in turn, cause tsunamis.

It appears the earthquake has caused at least one death after a house collapsed, and Philippine authorities are warning residents to remain vigilant, in case any further earthquakes occur, the AP reported.

The tectonic region that ruptured today has a long history of shallow, strong earthquakes.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Dozens Killed, Hundreds Injured in Iran Quakes

The quakes, which struck Saturday within 11 minutes of each other, measured 6.2 and 6.0.
Iran sits astride several major fault lines and is prone to frequent earthquakes, some of which have been devastating.

Rescue teams in northwest Iran strived Sunday to dig survivors out of the rubble of villages leveled by twin earthquakes that killed at least 180 people and injured more than 1,300, according to officials.

With telephone communications disrupted in the disaster zone, northeast of the city of Tabriz, emergency teams were relying on radios and traveling in person to hard-hit villages to rescue and assess the destruction.

The quakes, which struck Saturday within 11 minutes of each other, measured 6.2 and 6.0, according to Tehran University's Seismological Center.

ANALYSIS: Why You Should Get Online In An Earthquake

The US Geological Survey, which monitors seismic activity worldwide, ranked them as more powerful, at 6.4 and 6.3 on the moment magnitude scale, respectively.

"Unfortunately, the toll is mounting and we are now at 180 dead," Khalil Saie, the head of the regional natural disasters center, told state television. He put the number of injured at 1,350.

"Up to now, there are no deaths reported in the cities and all the victims come from rural areas," he said.

Earlier he urged residents in the zone not to panic, reassuring them that "help is arriving and rescuers are already at the scene."

Iran's Red Crescent took over a sports stadium to shelter the 16,000 people left homeless or too afraid to return indoors, the Fars news agency reported.

It also provided 3,000 tents, blankets and tonnes of food -- all a sign of years of preparedness in a nation prone to sometimes catastrophic seismic activity.

President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's office posted a statement on its website expressing condolences to those in the disaster zone and calling on authorities to "mobilize all efforts to help the affected populations."

ANALYSIS: Seismic Wallpaper Stabilizes Walls in an Earthquake

According to the official IRNA news agency, 66 rescue teams were at work, using 40 devices and seven dog squads to detect buried survivors. Some 185 ambulances were sent to the area.

Those hurt were taken to hospitals in Tabriz and Ardebil, the two biggest nearby cities, both of which escaped relatively unscathed from the quakes.

In contrast, villages outlying the towns of Ahar and Varzaqan, 60 kilometers (40 miles) from Tabriz, were decimated, being closest to the epicenters of the two quakes. Dwellings close to Heris, another town close by, were also badly shaken.

Residents in the region were terrified as their homes shook around them when the quakes hit, and they fled into the streets for safety, according to reports.

Tehran University's Seismological Center said the first earthquake occurred at 4:53 pm (1223 GMT) at a depth of 10 kilometers.

HOWSTUFFWORKS: How Earthquakes Work

The second actually a big aftershock rumbled through from nearly the same spot. A series of more than 17 smaller aftershocks rating 4.7 or less rapidly followed.

The disaster zone was located around 90 kilometers from the borders with Armenia and Azerbaijan, and around 190 kilometers from the border with Turkey.

Iran sits astride several major fault lines and is prone to frequent earthquakes, some of which have been devastating.

The deadliest was a 6.6-magnitude quake which struck the southern city of Bam in December 2003, killing 31,000 people about a quarter of the population and destroying the city's ancient mud-built citadel.

Thursday, August 09, 2012

China's Three Gorges Dam Opens

The Three Gorges opened its sluices for water discharge in Yichang, central China's Hubei Province on July 5, 2012. The water influx into the Three Gorges Reservoir reached 55,000 cubic meters per second on Thursday morning due to floodwater from the upper reaches of the Yangtze River, exceeding the expected peak amount.

Thursday, August 02, 2012

Colorado High Tornado Breaks Record

The non-supercell tornado, also known as a "land spout," formed due to a large mass of warm, moist air encountering colder air higher up.
The twister touched down at 11,900 feet (3,627 meters), making it the second-highest tornado ever recorded in American history.

Most of the time, Chris Kirby chases storms, but sometimes they come to him. During a drive through the mountains this Saturday afternoon (July 28) near his home in Aurora, Colo., to photograph mountain goats and test radio equipment, he got quite a surprise: a rare, high-elevation tornado.

Kirby, who's a registered storm-spotter with the National Weather Service (NWS), took a photo of the thin twister as it briefly touched down on the side of Mount Evans, he told OurAmazingPlanet. He sent his picture to weather service staff, who used maps and line-of-sight analysis to determine that the twister touched down at 11,900 feet (3,627 meters), making it the second-highest tornado ever recorded in American history, said David Barjenbruch, a meteorologist with the NWS in Boulder.

"The funnel briefly touched down on a ridge, just enough to be deemed a tornado," Kirby said. "I'm blessed to have seen such an extremely rare phenomenon."

The highest twister ever recorded was photographed by a hiker at 12,000 feet (3,658 m) in California's Sequoia National Park on July 7, 2004, Barjenbruch told OurAmazingPlanet.

Monday, July 16, 2012

New Apple Doesn't Go Brown

Genetically Modified Apple Doesn't Go Brown: Once an apple is exposed to the air it instantly begins browning. This applies whether the fruit is sliced, bitten or simply bruised. Now, a new genetically modified apple doesn't turn brown.

Not surprisingly, food growers are up-in-arms over this new genetically modified apple. According to the New York Times American's have been eating genetically modified foods in the 1990s, but the growers don't believe this apple will be beneficial to their market. Though the company producing the apple is positive on their product, the growers are rather sour

That Fresh Look, Genetically Buffed
A small company is trying to bring to market a genetically engineered apple that does not turn brown when sliced or bruised. But it has much of the rest of the apple industry seeing red.

The company, Okanagan Specialty Fruits, says the nonbrowning apple will prove popular with consumers and food service companies and help increase sales of apples, in part by making sliced apples more attractive to serve or sell.

While Americans have been eating genetically engineered foods since the 1990s, those have been mainly processed foods. The Arctic Apple, as it is being called, could become one of the first genetically engineered versions of a fruit that people directly bite into.

But the U.S. Apple Association, which represents the American apple industry, opposes introduction of the product, as do some other industry organizations. They say that, while they do not believe that the genetic engineering is dangerous, it could undermine the fruit’s image as a healthy and natural food, the one that keeps the doctor away and is as American as, well, apple pie.

“We don’t think it’s in the best interest of the apple industry of the United States to have that product in the marketplace at this time,” said Christian Schlect, president of the Northwest Horticultural Council, which represents the tree-fruit industry in and around Washington State, which produces about 60 percent of the nation’s apples.

The Agriculture Department is expected on Friday to open a 60-day public comment period on Okanagan’s application for regulatory approval of the genetically modified apple trees. A public comment period just ended in Canada, where the company is also seeking approval.

Neal Carter, the founder and president of the company, which is based in the Okanagan Valley of British Columbia, said the nonbrowning apples could improve industry sales, much as baby carrots did for carrot sales.

A whole apple is “for many people too big a commitment,” he said. “If you had a bowl of apples at a meeting, people wouldn’t take an apple out of the bowl. But if you had a plate of apple slices, everyone would take a slice.”

Consumption of fresh apples in the United States has fallen from about 20 pounds a year for each person in the late 1980s to about 16 pounds now, according to the Agriculture Department.

Apple slices are already becoming more popular as a healthful snack, sold in bags in supermarkets and included by McDonald’s in its Happy Meals for children. The slices are often coated with vitamin C and calcium to prevent browning and preserve crispness. But that can affect the taste, Mr. Carter said.

He also said that growers would have fewer apples rejected by supermarkets because of the minor bruising that is common from handling of the fruit.

Arctic Apples, which would first be available in the Golden Delicious and Granny Smith varieties, contain a synthetic gene that sharply reduces production of polyphenol oxidase, an enzyme responsible for the browning.

The gene does not come from another species. Rather, it contains DNA sequences from four of the apple’s own genes that govern production of polyphenol oxidase. Putting an extra copy of a gene into a plant can activate a self-defense mechanism known as RNA interference that shuts down both the extra copy and the endogenous gene.

Some critics say the lack of browning could conceal problems with an apple that consumers may want to know about.

“Is it a rotten apple that looks fresh?” said Lucy Sharratt, coordinator of the Canadian Biotechnology Action Network, a coalition of groups critical of genetically engineered crops. Ms. Sharratt also said the genetic engineering was “designed to turn the apple into an industrialized product” that could be sold in plastic bags instead of as whole fresh fruit.

Mr. Carter said the injury from bruising or slicing was not harmful to consumers. If the apple were truly rotten from a bacterial or fungal infection, it would still change colors.

“The stuff that is really bad and people won’t want to eat will still be bad,” he said.