Million-Year-Old Fossils Show Hippos Going for a Swim

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Million-Year-Old Fossils Show Hippos Going for a Swim


Visualizing the Motion of Corals

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Visualizing the Motion of Corals

Found! Hidden Ocean Locked Up Deep in Earth’s Mantle

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Found! Hidden Ocean Locked Up Deep in Earth’s Mantle

Can You Condition Your Body To Require Less Sleep?

Post 5512     Robert T. Gonzalez                                    

Can You Condition Your Body To Require Less Sleep?                                                                 Can You Condition Your Body To Require Less Sleep?                                                                            

One way to have more time for work and play every day is to sleep a little bit less. But eventually, staying awake for longer periods can have a negative impact on the quality of our lives. So where does the break-even point lie, and can it be shifted?

What You Stand To Lose

Few things do your body better than a good night’s rest. While many of its molecular and cellular mechanisms remain unresolved, we know that sleep helps us consolidate memories ,fight infection and manage stress – all while contributing to the maintenance and repair of just about every tissue in our bodies. Meanwhile, a lack of sleep can affect everything from your performance at work to your performance in bed. Foregoing sleep for extended periods of time has been shown to cause your body’s metabolism to go haywire. High blood pressure. Obesity. Heart disease. Diabetes. They’re all tied to a lack of sleep and crummy sleep habits – what researchers refer to as poor sleep hygiene. “Sleep services all aspects of our body in one way or another: molecular, energy balance, as well as intellectual function, alertness and mood,” says sleep expert Dr. Merrill Mitler, a neuroscientist at the National Institutes of Health.

One of the most extensive human sleep deprivation studies ever conducted sheds light on what happens when our bodies are deprived of the sleep they need. Researchers led by Hans Van Dongen, professor of sleep and chronobiology in the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Pennsylvania, limited study volunteers to various levels of sleep deprivation for 14 consecutive days (for example, 6 hours in bed per night for two weeks straight). The researchers then compared test participants’ cognitive and physiological abilities at the end of this period to those of test participants who had gone one, two, and three nights without sleep.

Their results showed that restricting sleep to six hours per night caused cognitive performance and reaction times to drop so dramatically, that by the end of the 2-week period, these test participants were performing as poorly as subjects who had forgone sleep entirely for two nights straight.

What little evidence there is for people acclimating to less sleep comes from a 2009 study conducted by scientists at Walter Reed Army Institute of Research. Researchers led by Thomas Balkin, chairman of the National Sleep Foundation, investigated the effects of “sleep banking” by having test subjects spending ten hours in bed every night for a week. When members of this “extended” sleep group were subsequently deprived of sleep, their performance on motor and attentional tasks suffered less than that of participants in the “habitual” sleep group, who had not been allowed to “bank” sleep in advance, but had rather stuck to their normal sleep schedule.

Can You Condition Your Body To Require Less Sleep?

Photo Credit: Davide Cassanello via flickr | CC BY 2.0

It would be inaccurate, however, to say that members of the extended sleep group had conditioned themselves to require less sleep. They still performed worse on the motor and attentional tasks than they would have if they were fully rested. What’ more, their dleep-deprived performance was only compared to that of the habitual sleep group for five days. It stands to reason that this performance gap would shrink to zero over time. Consider, also, that the average time in bed for test subjects who were not allowed to “bank” sleep was 7 hours. That’s time in bed, not time spent sleeping. Given that sleep experts recommend most adults get between 7 and 8 hours of sleep a night, it’s likely that members of the habitual group started the experiment with a handicap, and that that the test subjects who were forced to spend a few extra hours in bed were getting closer to the amount of sleep they actually needed.

To summarize: Your body must have sleep. Full stop. As of 2014, there is no strong evidence that a person can condition his or her body over time to require less sleep. “The fact is,” says Mitler, “when we look at well-rested people, they’re operating at a different level than people trying to get by on 1 or 2 hours less nightly sleep.”

But What Does Your Body Need?

Of course, what our bodies require and what we give them are two very different things.

An earlier headline for this post read “Can You Condition Your Body To Get By On Less Sleep?” The answer to that question – and it is, in case you missed it, a very different question than the one now posed – is yes.

In point of fact, society has been managing on less and less sleep for years. In 2005, a poll conducted by the National Sleep Foundation concluded that Americans averaged just 6.9 hours of sleep per night. According to the report, that’s two hours less than people were sleeping on a nightly basis back in the 19th century; an hour drop per night compared to fifty years ago; and 15—25 minutes less per night since the turn of the century.

Requirements vary from person to person, so there is, technically speaking, no “right” amount of sleep, but experts say the average adult needs between 7 and 8 hours per night. Babies, 16 hours. Children and teenagers, 10 and 9 hours, respectively.

That the typical American is sleeping fewer hours than the minimum recommended average would suggest that many of us are already coping regularly with the side-effects of sleep deprivation.

What About People Who Function on Four Hours Per Night?

Margaret Thatcher is said to have averaged about four hours of sleep per night. This means one of two things. 1) The Iron Lady could have been more ferrous still, had she only gotten more sleep, or 2) Thatcher actually owed her political status and leadership style to her indefatigability.

Can You Condition Your Body To Require Less Sleep?

It’s impossible to say now, but it could be that Thatcher belonged to what the Wall Street Journal‘s Melinda Beck referred to in 2011 as “The Sleepless Elite,” a small subset of the population – between 1 and 3% – that functions perfectly fine on less than six hours of sleep a night. Investigations conducted by University of California San Francisco researcher Ying-Hui Fu suggest there could be a genetic basis to lower sleep requirements. When a mutated gene called hDEC2, a variation found in the DNA of short sleepers, was replicated in mice, the animals required less sleep overall and needed less rest to recover from bouts of sleep deprivation.

It is safe to say that most of us are not like Margaret Thatcher when it comes to our achievements or our reputations. It is equally safe to say that most of us are not members of “The Sleepless Elite.” More likely is that we’re simply not aware of how sleepy we really are.

In the sleep deprivation study led by by Van Dongen, mentioned earlier, test participants who were subjected to consecutive nights of decreased sleep were asked to rate their subjective feelings of sleepiness. Their self-assessments were terrible. While increases in self-rated sleepiness were observed, they were small. After two weeks of sleep deprivation, most volunteers believed themselves to be functioning relatively normally, even though their cognitive and physiological abilities were comparable to those of subjects who had gone days without sleeping whatsoever.


A Gorgeous Visualization Of Kepler’s Discoveries

Post 5511        Robert T. Gonzalez

A Gorgeous Visualization Of Kepler’s Discoveries                                                                                                                                                                                               A Gorgeous Visualization Of Kepler's Discoveries                                                                           

This visualization, created by UC Berkeley astronomer Alex Parker, is one of the most beautiful representation of alien worlds we’ve ever seen.                                        

Original post by Mika McKinnon on SPACE

This is the Prettiest Visualization of Kepler’s Planets Yet!

I’m enchanted by Alex Parker’s visualization of the planets discovered by the first phase of the Kepler Space Telescope’s exoplanet-hunting mission. The simple swarm of time-vs-distance for exoplanetary orbits captures the overwhelming number of alien worlds with a minimalistic, elegant aesthetic.

This is the Prettiest Visualization of Kepler's Planets Yet!

The horizontal axis is time — how long it takes a planet to orbit its sun. It caps out at 1000 days, so a handful of planets fall outside the figure range. The vertical axis is orbital distance away from the home star, with the star at the center.

The visualization does have some caveats — this includes a bunch of planet-candidates that haven’t been confirmed yet, although it doesn’t have any of the candidates that have been confirmed as false-positives that are most certainly not-planets.

The Kepler Space Tescope has been responsible for discovering literally hundreds of exoplanets, which have been visualized as zooming flybyspiled around one staran interactive blob, orgraphed out in discoveries-over-time. While Alex Parker grumbles that he never did finish the figure the way he wanted to, I think this one may be my very favourite for the sheer simplicity. Although his black-and-white version with a cut-off of 100-day periods (excluding approximately 7% of planets and candidates) is a strong contender for competition…

This is the Prettiest Visualization of Kepler's Planets Yet!

We’ve found simply mind-boggling numbers of exoplanets — each of those past visualizations is from the time before we knew about this planet, or that one, or this whole pile of multi-planetary systems over there. We’ve crossed into such overwhelming numbers of planets that I like basking in their multitude, with the details fading into a pattern of wonder instead of trying to marvel at each individual planet with its own unique quirks. Parker has captured their variety from the massive horde of planets huddled to their suns to those brave wanderers on more exotic orbits while eliminating the endless details that distract from the mass of far-off worlds. It’s simple, elegant, mathematic art: the beauty of orbital mechanics embedded in the wonder of alien worlds.

The Kepler Space Telescope suffered a series of mechanical failures last year, knocking out its ability to stay stable and threatening to end its incredibly productive life. This temporarily ended its planet-hunting mission, cutting down the number of proposed discoveries even as new processing techniques started moving candidate planets to confirmed planets en masse.

However, after a bunch of very clever engineers unintentionally had a lot of free time on their hands during the shutdown last fall, they came up with a plan to balance the remaining functioning stabilizers against pressure from the solar wind, using solar powers as an improvisational reaction wheel. The revived K2 mission is ramping up to start hunting for yet more exoplanets around alien suns, so soon this visualization will also be outdated, with more worlds piling their pinpricks of data into our growing knowledge about how very crowded it is in the universe.

Image credit: Alex Parker


Heartbreaking Photos of Children Who Are Risking Everything to Reach the United States

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Heartbreaking Photos of Children Who Are Risking Everything to Reach the United States

Michelle Frankfurter tells the stories of these young migrants and also those of the thousands who jump aboard “the death train”
June 11, 2014                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      

michelle frank a seasoned professional with exceptional operational …

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Follow us: @SmithsonianMag on Twitter                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          A Honduran boy, at a shelter in Tapachula, a border town in Chiapas. Children are often running away from abusive home situations when they come to Mexico, but once there they are often trafficked or enslaved. He worked as a sex worker. At the shelter, kids can attend school and have a safe place to sleep at night (Michelle Frankfurter)                                                                                                                                  

Why would a 53-year-old award-winning photojournalist with a successful wedding photography business leave the comfort of home and take risks that would endanger her life and well-being? A humanitarian crisis that has led to 47,000 unaccompanied children to be apprehended by U.S. border security in just the past eight months. Michelle Frankfurter has turned her concern and her camera to document the dangerous journey many young, aspiring immigrants from throughout Mexico and Central America take to better their lives and escape the extreme poverty of their home countries.


                                                                                                  A sleeping kid in the canal zone that straddles the border of Tijuana and San Diego. This area is called El Bordo (the Edge), the name aptly represents where the people are in their lives. (Michelle Frankfurter)


For eight years, Frankfurter has accompanied youths on freight trains, commonly referred to as the “death train” or la bestia because so many travelers do not survive the trip. Originating in the southern Mexico town of Arriaga, the migrants, many of whom have illegally entered Mexico from countries further south such as Nicaragua, El Salvador and Guatemala, take various freight routes that lead to the border towns of Cuidad Juarez, Tijuana, Laredo, Piedras Negras and Nogales. Those who board in Arriaga, can simply clamor aboard up ladders while the train is in the station and sit on top of the train. This is where Frankfurter would begin her trips. Further along the way the train must be boarded while in motion. Many people slip, lose their grasp and fall under the train. Others fall asleep while underway and fall off the train. Sometimes criminal organizations like the Zetas try to extort money from the migrants at various points along the trip and push them off the train if they don’t pay.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                         A Salvadoran migrant feeds her infant son at the Casa de la Misericordia migrant shelter in the Arriaga in July, 2010. (Michelle Frankfurter)


Frankfurter, who once described this project as part of her “amazing midlife crisis”, has created a collection of startlingly beautiful and empathetic images of families and children, some as young as 9 years old, traveling alone. She sees her subjects as brave, resilient and inspiring and is producing a book of these images called Destino, which can be translated as either “destination” or “destiny.”


Inspired by the epic tales of Cormac McCarthy and other authors, Frankfurter has been photographing in Mexico for years. In 2009, her interest was piqued by Sonia Nasario’s Enrique’s Journey, the story of the Central American wave of immigrants from the view of one child.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      This 17-year-old Honduran boy, photographed in Tenosique, is an example of the phenomenon known as the surge; he was traveling alone, had no money and knew no one in the United States. He said his cousin showed up drunk and hacked off his arm because his sister had killed the cousin’s dog. (Michelle Frankfurter)


“The economy was still limping along and I didn’t have much work booked,” says Frankfurter. “I found myself having the time, a vegetable bin filled with film, some frequent flyer mileage, and my camera ready. Beginning this project, I felt like I was falling in love. It was the right time, right place and right reason. I felt I was meant to tell this story.”


I spoke with Frankfurter in-depth about her experiences on the train.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                         Guatemalans sleeping near the track in Lecheria, an industrial zone, in Mexico City in July, 2010. A migrant shelter used to stand here, but it was was closed when neighbors threatened violence. (Michelle Frankfurter)


On the books she had been reading:


“I was infatuated with these scrappy underdog protagonists. I grew up reading epic adventure tales and the migrants I met fit this role; they were anti-heroes, rough around the edges but brave and heroic.”


On why she took on the task:


“It was a job for perhaps someone half my age. But I also felt that everything I had done prior to this prepared me for this project. I feel a connection to the Latin American people. I had spent time as a reporter in Nicaragua working for Reuters when I was in my 20s. In a way I became another character in the adventure story, and I added some moments of levity to the journey just by the improbability of being with them. Somehow I made them laugh; I alleviated some difficult situations, we shared a culturally fluid moment. I was very familiar with the culture, the music, the food the language, and so in a way, I fit right in, and in a way I stood out as quite different.”                                                                                                                        This is a group of Central American migrants on the first leg of the journey, starting in Arriaga, Mexico, about 160 miles from the Guatemalan border in July, 2010. (Michelle Frankfurter)


On the challenges these migrants face:


“The worse thing I experienced myself was riding in the rain for 13 hours. Everyone was afraid that the train would derail, the tracks are old and not in good condition and derailment is common. Last year, there was a derailment in Tabasco that killed eight or nine people”


“I felt I had a responsibility to collect their stories, be a witness to their lives and experiences. Overwhelmingly I got the sense that, even in their own countries they were insignificant, overlooked, not valued. When in Mexico, it’s even worse for the Central American immigrants, they are hounded and despised. They are sometimes kidnapped, raped, tortured or extorted. Local people demonstrate to close the shelters for the migrants and the hours they can stay in the shelters are often limited to 24 hours, rain or shine. When and if they to make it to the United States, it’s no bed of roses for them here either.”                                                                                                                                                                                                                                           Francisco is a Salvadoran traveling with his sister. He told everyone that the woman was his wife because he felt that afforded more protection for her. (Michelle Frankfurter)

On re-connecting with some of her subjects:


“I recently connected on Facebook with a family and found out that they settled in Renosa (Mexico), they gave up on getting to the U.S., at least for now.”


“I met one person in a shelter in a central Mexico; later he had lost everything along the way except for my business card. He showed up on my front lawn in Maryland one day. He had no family in the U.S., it was when the recession was at it’s deepest and there was no work. I helped him and he helped me. I taped his stories for the record, and I found him a place to stay.He shared some of the horrors of his experience. Once he and a group of migrants in a boxcar almost asphyxiated when a fire they made for warmth got out of control and consumed the oxygen in the car. Other times the migrants could barely walk they were so stiff from a long and dangerous exposure to cold.”                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                           Migrants ride between boxcars on a northbound cargo train through the southern Mexican state of Oaxaca in February, 2011. Traveling in small groups is considered safer and attracts less attention from police or criminal gangs. (Michelle Frankfurter)


On how she stayed safe during her journeys:


“I stayed in shelters along the train line and when I had a good group, I asked to go along. In the shelters people live dormitory style, it’s a bit like college, sharing stories and thoughts about life, the future.  We are social animals, people like to listen and share life stories.  We’d sit on Blanca’s bed and share “la cosas de la vida.” When I traveled with a group, we were a bonded group. People form coalitions based on mutual needs. And friendships are formed quickly because the circumstances are so intense. My decision to travel alone, not to take a fixer or travel with anyone but the migrants was a good one. People opened up to me more, related to me more, we were doing this thing together. They realized I was interested in their lives, I cared and I identified with them. They were happy to have me along, I was welcome.”                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                   A Guatemalan woman holds her 6-month-old baby; she also has 2 other boys and is fleeing an abusive marriage. Her sister lives in California and she hopes for her sister’s help in getting across the border. Taken in Arriaga, January, 2014. (Michelle Frankfurter)


On how to solve the crisis:


“The United States can’t fix all these things, the responsibility for fixing lies with the countries [such as Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador] themselves, but we can help. And we should because indirectly we do bear responsibility. Our society uses and is interested in cheap labor, and cheap products, this is our relationship with these countries for years, so in a way we are conflicted about changing that system. Global corporations take advantage of the fact that there is little or no regulation, lots of cheap labor and no protections for workers on top of that. Then if circumstances change, on a whim companies will move and destabilize an entire area. Then people have no option but to migrate, with factories closed there are no other options. Add to the mix, criminal organizations selling drugs, guns, trafficking humans and wildlife, and you can understand why people need to leave.”

                                                                                               A view of the Tijuana – San Diego border fence as seen from the Mexican side of the border in August, 2010. (Michelle Frankfurter)

This mural is painted on the wall of the La 72 Refugio Para Personas Migrantes migrant shelter in the border town of Tenosique in the southern Mexican state of Tabasco. It illustrates the cargo train route crisscrossing Mexico. The map includes a legend indicating locations of migrant shelter, sites of extortion, regions where kidnappings and assaults occur, U.S. border fence, and a demographic breakdown of the various cartels and the regions they control. (Michelle Frankfurter)