Science this week – October 29, 2011

Science news for the week ending October 29, 2011 from EarthSky.

Artist’s concept. LkCa 15 b and its star. Credit: Karen L. Teramura

On October 19, astronomers, for the fist time, took a “picture” of a planet forming around its star. They say this protoplanet, or newly forming planet – called LkCa 15 b – is actually being built before our eyes from gas and dust surrounding a young star. The astronomers who conducted this research – from universities in Hawaii and Australia – said LkCa 15 b is the youngest planet ever found – about 5 times younger than the previous record holder. Images have revealed that the forming planet sits inside a wide gap between the young parent star and an outer disk of dust.

Image Credit: NOAA

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration – NOAA – released its 2011-2012 winter outlook for the United States on October 20. NOAA’s winter outlook shows warmer and drier conditions for the southern portions of the United States, including Texas. Cooler and wetter conditions are possible for the northern parts of the United States, stretching from Seattle, Washington to the Great Lakes region. You can find more details at earthsky.org. Search for ‘winter outlook 2011’.

Photo credit: FaceMePLS

There is no link between long-term use of cell phones and tumors of the brain or central nervous system, according to new research published online in the British Medical Journal in October, 2011. In what is described as the largest study on the subject to date, Danish researchers found no evidence that the risk of brain tumors was raised among 358,403 mobile phone subscribers over an 18-year period. Several scientific bodies had previously suggested that cell phone use was possibly cancer-causing, and the researchers involved in the recent study note that further monitoring of the connection between health and cell phone use is warranted.

Melting ice via DiscoveryNews

On October 21, Sweden’s Lund University announced climate researcher Svante Björck’s discovery that truly global warming – warming in Earth’s northern and southern hemispheres simultaneously – has not occurred in the past 20,000 years, since around the end of the last Ice Age. Björck reviewed global climate data from a large number of research publications to get this result. He said his study goes 14,000 years farther back in time than previous studies, adding, “What is happening today is unique from a historical geological perspective.” His results were published in the science journal Climate Research.

Chromosome wall display. Image Credit: I Don’t Know, Maybe.

Researchers at Yale University say that most genes associated with psychiatric illnesses are expressed before birth in the developing human brain…and, they add, they’ve figured out where these genes are located, throughout the brain. The researchers analyzed 1,340 human tissue samples, translated the samples into a whopping 1.9 billion data points and, then, used the data to create an unprecedented map of genetic activity in the brain. Details appeared in the scientific journal Nature on October 27.

Image Credit: SMU and Google

New research from Southern Methodist University (SMU) Geothermal Laboratory shows that geothermal resources across the United States are capable of producing more than three million megawatts of renewable power – that’s 10 times the installed capacity of the country’s coal power plants. SMU researchers deduced this from sophisticated coast-to-coast maps they created of geothermal resources, or heat from the Earth’s interior. They relied on data from Google Earth, and released their results on October 25.

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