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Environmental Scientist

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Study shows that Oil is the dominant reason countries go to war

Researchers have for the first time provided strong evidence for what conspiracy theorists have long thought - oil is often the reason for interfering in another country's war.

Throughout recent history, countries which need oil have found reasons to interfere in countries with a good supply of it and, the researchers argue, this could help explain the US interest in ISIS in northern Iraq.

Researchers from the Universities of Portsmouth, Warwick and Essex modelled the decision-making process of third-party countries in interfering in civil wars and examined their economic motives.

They found that the decision to interfere was dominated by the interveners' need for oil over and above historical, geographical or ethnic ties.


NASA's Dawn Spacecraft Captures Best-Ever View of Dwarf Planet

NASA's Dawn spacecraft has returned the sharpest images ever seen of the dwarf planet Ceres. The images were taken 147,000 miles (237,000 kilometers) from Ceres on Jan. 25, and represent a new milestone for a spacecraft that soon will become the first human-made probe to visit a dwarf planet.

"We know so little about our vast solar system, but thanks to economical missions like Dawn, those mysteries are being solved," said Jim Green, Planetary Science Division Director at NASA Headquarters in Washington.

At 43 pixels wide, the new images are more than 30 percent higher in resolution than those taken by NASA's Hubble Space Telescope in 2003 and 2004 at a distance of over 150 million miles (about 241 million kilometers). The resolution is higher because Dawn is traveling through the solar system to Ceres, while Hubble remains fixed in Earth orbit. The new Dawn images come on the heels of initial navigation images taken Jan. 13 that reveal a white spot on the dwarf planet and the suggestion of craters. Hubble images also had glimpsed a white spot on the dwarf planet, but its nature is still

"Ceres is a 'planet' that you've probably never heard of," said Robert Mase, Dawn project manager at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. "We're excited to learn all about it with Dawn and share our discoveries with the world."


Learning From Animal Friendships

A goat frolics with a baby rhinoceros. A pig nestles up to a house cat. A rat snake makes nice with the dwarf hamster originally intended as its lunch.

Few things seem to capture the public imagination more reliably than friendly interactions between different species — a fact not lost on Anheuser-Busch, which during Sunday’s Super Bowl will offer a sequel to “Puppy Love,” its wildly popular 2014 Budweiser commercial about friendship between a Clydesdale and a yellow Labrador puppy. The earlier Super Bowl spot has drawn more than 55 million views on YouTube.

Videos of unlikely animal pairs romping or snuggling have become so common that they are piquing the interest of some scientists, who say they invite more systematic study. Among other things, researchers say, the alliances could add to an understanding of how species communicate, what propels certain animals to connect across species lines and the degree to which some animals can adopt the behaviors of other species.

“There’s no question that studying these relationships can give you some insight into the factors that go into normal relationships,” said Gordon Burghardt, a professor in the departments of psychology and ecology and evolutionary biology at the University of Tennessee, who added that one video he liked to show students was of a small and persistent tortoise tussling over a ball with a Jack Russell terrier.


Surprise! Water Once Flowed on Huge Asteroid Vesta

Liquid water apparently flowed on the surface of the huge asteroid Vesta briefly in the relatively recent past, a surprising new study suggests.

"Nobody expected to find evidence of water on Vesta. The surface is very cold and there is no atmosphere, so any water on the surface evaporates," study lead author Jennifer Scully, a postgraduate researcher at UCLA, said in a NASA statement. "However, Vesta is proving to be a very interesting and complex planetary body."

Scully and her colleagues analyzed images of Vesta — the second-largest object in the main asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter — captured by NASA's Dawn spacecraft, which orbited the 318-mile-wide (512 kilometers) protoplanet from July 2011 through September 2012.

The researchers noticed curved gullies and fan-shaped deposits within eight different Vesta impact craters. These craters are young compared to the 4.56-billion-year-old Vesta; all of them are thought to have formed within the last few hundred million years.



Why A Fake Article Titled “Cuckoo for Cocoa Puffs?” Was Accepted By 17 Medical Journals

As a medical researcher at Harvard, Mark Shrime gets a very special kind of spam in his inbox: every day, he receives at least one request from an open-access medical journal promising to publish his research if he would only pay $500.

"You block one of them with your spam filter and immediately another one pops up," Shrime, an MD who is pursuing a PhD in health policy, tells me.

These emails are annoying, for sure, but Shrime was worried that there might be bigger issues at stake: What exactly are these journals publishing and who is taking these journals to be credible sources of medical information?

Shrime decided to see how easy it would be to publish an article. So he made one up. Like, he literally made one up. He did it using www.randomtextgenerator.com. The article is entitled "Cuckoo for Cocoa Puffs?" and its authors are the venerable Pinkerton A. LeBrain and Orson Welles. The subtitle reads: "The surgical and neoplastic role of cacao extract in breakfast cereals." Shrime submitted it to 37 journals over two weeks and, so far, 17 of them have accepted it. (They have not "published" it, but say they will as soon as Shrime pays the $500. This is often referred to as a "processing fee." Shrime has no plans to pay them.) Several have already typeset it and given him reviews, as you can see at the end of this article. One publication says his methods are "novel and innovative"!. But when Shrime looked up the physical locations of these publications, he discovered that many had very suspicious addresses; one was actually inside a strip club.


Face of tattooed mummified princess finally revealed after 2,500 years

The first replica face has been created of the famous tattooed Siberian princess found mummified and preserved after almost 2,500 years in permafrost. A Swiss expert has used special taxidermy techniques to build an accurate reconstruction of the ice maiden who was uncovered by archaeologists in 1993.

Known as Princess Ukok, after the high altitude plateau on which she was discovered, her body was decorated in the best-preserved, and most elaborate, ancient art ever found. While her discovery was exciting, particularly given how intact her remains were, her face and neck skin had deteriorated, with no real clue as to what she once looked like.

However, now her face has been revealed to the world for the first time following the work by Swiss taxidermist Marcel Nyffenegger.

Mr Nyffenegger, who lives in the small town of Schaffhausen, was asked to work on a likeness of Princess Ukok for the Historical Museum of the Palatinate in Speyer, Germany. While he has expertise in stuffing animals, his main passion is the reconstruction of the faces of ancient peoples, including the Neanderthals.



Oldest ever: 5 planets found orbiting an 11.2-billion-year-old sun

An artist's conception of Kepler-444 -- one of the oldest known planetary systems in the universe. (Tiago Campante/Peter Devine)

The oldest planetary system ever found has been spotted by astronomers. The ancient star and five small, Earth-like planets are about 11.2 billion years old.

Until now, scientists weren’t certain that rocky planets could have formed so long ago, when the universe was five times younger than it is today. Now they know for sure that they did, according to a new study in the Astrophysical Journal.

The discovery also suggests that ancient life in our universe is more likely than was previously thought, scientists say.



Donald Trump blasts ‘loser’ Meet The Press host who mocked reality star’s presidential ambitions

There was host-on-host violence at NBC on Sunday.

Donald Trump, who hosts the network’s reality show The Apprentice, blew up on Twitter after Meet The Press moderator Chuck Todd made a crack on air Sunday morning.

Todd was discussing Trump’s Saturday speech at the Iowa Freedom Summit when he threw in a jab about the real estate mogul and reality star’s history of flirting with White House bids.

“Nobody’s going to mistake Donald Trump for a presidential candidate, I don’t think, other than Donald Trump,” Todd said.


Rooftop Solar Increases a Home’s Selling Price Across Multiple Markets

On Monday, the U.S. Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory released a report showing that homes with solar panels typically sell for $15,000 greater than those without solar panels installed. The study analyzed data collected from over 22,000 homes between 2002 and 2013 to measure the effect that solar panels have on a home’s market selling price. The report’s findings come as a boon not only to homeowners with solar panels, but also to the real estate industry, which has struggled to place a price on rooftop solar in the past.

Solar panels must operate for a number of years before they produce enough benefit to outweigh their initial cost. This sort of multi-year investment isn’t a big deal for conventional utilities, which have the capital and continuity to finance solar farms, gas power plants, and other forms of electricity generation. However, for an ordinary family looking to invest in rooftop solar panels, there is added risk associated with the fact that the panels might not pay off before the family moves out of their home—at which point any electricity cost savings are passed onto the next homeowner (assuming the solar panels stay with the home).

Thus, to effectively finance and utilize rooftop solar panels, homeowners need information not only about the value of produced solar energy, but also about how rooftop solar panels will affect the selling price of their home in the future. This sort of math is familiar to many homeowners, who usually justify the cost of home improvements like hardwood floors, new fixtures, or other upgrades based on the premium they’ll command when the home is eventually put on the market.

To reveal the effect solar panels have on a home’s selling price, researchers at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory analyzed data collected from 3,951 solar-equipped homes and 18,871 comparable homes without solar panels, located in the states of California, Connecticut, Florida, Massachusetts, Maryland, North Carolina, New York, and Pennsylvania. The data span the years 2002 through 2013, encapsulating the pre-2009 housing bubble, subsequent crash, and ongoing recovery.



Did Edgar Allan Poe Foresee Modern Physics and Cosmology?

By John Horgan

I’ve always been an Edgar Allan Poe fan, so much so that I even watched the horrifying—not in a good way–2012 film The Raven. But when I spotted an essay on Poe by novelist Marilynne Robinson in the February 5 New York Review of Books, I hesitated to read it, thinking, What more can I know about Poe?

Robinson then hooked me with her first sentence, which calls Poe “a turbulence, an anomaly among the major American writers of his period, an anomaly to this day.” She went on to reveal something I definitely didn’t know about Poe. Just before he died in 1849, when he was only 40, he wrote a book-length work titled Eureka.

According to Robinson, Eureka has always been “an object of ridicule,” too odd even for devotees of Poe, the emperor of odd. But Robinson contends that Eureka is actually “full of intuitive insight”–and anticipates ideas remarkably similar to those of modern physics and cosmology.

Eureka, she elaborates, “describes the origins of the universe in a single particle, from which ‘radiated’ the atoms of which all matter is made. Minute dissimilarities of size and distribution among these atoms meant that the effects of gravity caused them to accumulate as matter, forming the physical universe. This by itself would be a startling anticipation of modern cosmology, if Poe had not also drawn striking conclusions from it, for example that space and ‘duration’ are one thing, that there might be stars that emit no light, that there is a repulsive force that in some degree counteracts the force of gravity, that there could be any number of universes with different laws simultaneous with ours, that our universe might collapse to its original state and another universe erupt from the particle it would have become, that our present universe may be one in a series. All this is perfectly sound as observation, hypothesis, or speculation by the lights of science in the twenty-first century.”


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