This Is What The Aurorae Look Like On Mars

Post 6896

Ria Misra

This Is What The Aurorae Look Like On Mars

This Is What The Aurorae Look Like On Mars

The aurorae here on Earth are a pretty impressive sight to behold, but, just like Earth, it turns out that Mars also has aurorae visible to the naked eye — with one pretty startling difference.

NASA, ESA, and several researchers joined together to figure out, first, if Mars had visible aurorae, and, second, just what those might look like. To answer their questions, they built a model to see if they could replicate an aurora. Using a planetary simulator set to mimic Martian conditions, researchers did create an other-worldly aurorae. But there was one surprise:

This Is What The Aurorae Look Like On Mars1

That brilliant blue-purple shade of light isn’t just an effect of laboratory conditions, it’s also what you would see if you were lucky enough to be standing on the surface of Mars’ south pole in the right conditions.

But while blue is the most common color you’d be likely to see, the green and red aurorae of our planet show up as well, with hints of both of those colors (which you can see a bit of in the lower right corner of the simulation) on the fringes of the Martain aurorae.

Top Image: Artist’s conception of aurora on Mars, NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS and CSW/DB; Bottom Image: Aurorae simulation, D. Bernard/IPAG — CNRS.


How Did The Ancient Vikings Make This Super-Strong Sword?

Post 6895

Ria Misra

How Did The Ancient Vikings Make This Super-Strong Sword?

How Did The Ancient Vikings Make This Super-Strong Sword?

When we look at the history of new technologies, we tend to think of only our most recent past. But more than a thousand years ago, blacksmiths succeeded in making a set of ultra-strong swords — that are tricky to re-create even today.

After reading about the technology behind the legendary swords of Damascus, Kinja-userFormless-One reminded us of another set of famous, very old swords — swords that were also a technological marvel of the time:

Consider this: making Damascus is not the only lost art of ancient weapon smiths. The Vikings also had swords made of crucible steel, known as Ulfberts (because that was the name stamped onto all of them, in accordance with Nordic tradition). This was before the 10’th century. Crucible steel wouldn’t be seen again until basically the dawn of the industrial revolution. This is big, because crucible steel is springier and tougher all around than Damascus and anything else from the time— Ulfberts were, materially speaking, the best swords ever made up until that point. Were they as sharp as Damascus? Probably not, but there is a limit to how sharp a sword really needs to be once you realize that they aren’t knives. Swords have a biomechanical advantage over knives because of their length— you can accelerate the tip of the weapon so fast and effortlessly that if they hit unarmored or lightly armored flesh, you can count on it cutting whether it is made of bronze, crucible steel, or Damascus. Thus, the advantage of crucible steel and other stiff-yet-springy steels that came around in the Renaissance period gave them durability and strength that you really want in a weapon. Those weapons were made to compete in an arms vs armor race where stabbing was often how you attacked a man in plate, that didn’t really happen in the middle east where Damascus comes from. In context, the weapons that came out of Europe were perfect for European warfare. The weapons made in India and the middle east were perfect for Indian and middle eastern warfare. And the two styles of warfare rarely came into contact during that time, except to some degree in Eastern Europe where there was contact with the Ottoman Turks.

A recent NOVA documentary featured swordsmiths from today attempting to re-create the Ulberfht swords, using modern techniques — a feat they did manage, but not without plenty of trouble along the way.

Image: Ulfberht sword, 850–900, From the Met’s Collection Lent by Laird and Kathleen Landmann, 2006

Stunning Footage Captures Never Before Seen Deep Ocean Creatures

Post 6894

Maddie Stone

Stunning Footage Captures Never Before Seen Deep Ocean Creatures

Stunning Footage Captures Never Before Seen Deep Ocean Creatures

In the Internet age, it’s easy to tell yourself you’ve seen it all. But while you’ve probably consumed a lifetime’s worth of cat videos, explosion gifs, and Hitler-vs-dinosaur action sequences at this point, the natural world’s still got plenty of surprises in store.

Including, it turns out, a plethora of fascinating creatures that lurk in the barely-explored deep ocean off the coast of Puerto Rico.

Stunning Footage Captures Never Before Seen Deep Ocean Creatures

For the first time ever, a collection of strange, beautiful, and totally-alien looking creatures that live some 10,000 feet below the ocean’s surface are saying hello to humanity. The video footage shown below was caught by a remotely operated vehicle on a unique, crowd-sourced exploration supported by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). Researchers were able to watch the footage in real time and offer their expertise through an Internet chatroom. Basically, Twitch for science.

Oceans cover two thirds of our planet’s surface, and yet we’ve only explored five percent of them. It’s mind boggling to imagine that scientists might discover life on another world before we fully come to appreciate what lives beneath the waters of this one. [IFLScience via Quartz]

Follow Maddie on Twitter or contact her at

An Inside Look at the Construction of NASA’s Next Mission to Mars

Post 6893

Maddie Stone

An Inside Look at the Construction of NASA’s Next Mission to Mars

An Inside Look at the Construction of NASA's Next Mission to Mars

Preparations for NASA’s next mission to Mars are kicking into high gear. And the technology the space agency is building for the Martian lander slated to launch in 2016 is enough to make science fiction fans foam at the mouth.

The mission, Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport(InSight for short) is going to be the very first devoted to studying the interior structure of the Red Planet. Exploring Mars’ deep subsurface will shed light on how the planet has evolved geologically over time, but InSight could also offer clues about Earth’s future and the evolution of rocky planets at large. Mars, roughly half the size of Earth, lost all of its core heat eons ago, which in turn caused tectonic activity to grind to a halt. In the distant future, something similar will happen on the blue marble, and our rapidly-aging little brother might show us what to expect.

According to NASA, the technical capabilities of InSight represent a critical step toward amanned mission to the Red Planet, which the space agency hopes to ship off in the 2030s. Let’s have a look at some of the components of the geologically-minded craft now under construction by Lockheed Martin.

An Inside Look at the Construction of NASA's Next Mission to Mars

Solar arrays on InSight are deployed in this test inside a clean room at Lockheed Martin Space Systems.

An Inside Look at the Construction of NASA's Next Mission to Mars

A top view of InSight’s cruise stage, which has its own solar arrays, thrusters, and radio antennas.

An Inside Look at the Construction of NASA's Next Mission to Mars2

In this photo, the back shell of InSight is being lowered onto the mission’s lander. InSight’s back shell, along with a heat shield, together comprise an aeroshell which will protect the lander from burning up as it plunges into Mars’ upper atmosphere.

An Inside Look at the Construction of NASA's Next Mission to Mars34

The heat shield, under construction.

An Inside Look at the Construction of NASA's Next Mission to Mars5

The most important part of InSight—the science deck, containing all the tools necessary to carry out plenty of awesome sciencing. Or so we think. All we know so far about this oversized motherboard is that the large circular component is a covering that’ll protect InSight’s seismometer—a device used to record earthquakes, volcanic activity, and other types of below ground motion—after the instrument is placed on the Martian ground.

An Inside Look at the Construction of NASA's Next Mission to Mars67

WTF is this?! Oh, it’s the guts of the lander, being assembled by Lockheed Martin engineers in a clean room. Rad, I was worried somebody let Doc Brown loose on the premises.

An Inside Look at the Construction of NASA's Next Mission to Mars

And of course, no space mission would be complete without a big-ass parachute to make the landing extra soft, amirite?

Image Credits: NASA/ JPL-Caltech / Lockheed Martin

Follow Maddie on Twitter or contact her at

Urine Test Could Detect Cancer One Day, As New Method Shows Promise

Post 6892

Urine Test Could Detect Cancer One Day, As New Method Shows Promise

Detecting diseases such as cancer could one day be done with a urine test, if a new technique demonstrated in two new studies proves to be safe and effective in people.

The new method works by using genetically engineered bacteria to detect markers of disease in the body, researchers described in two new studies.

With current methods, diagnosing certain diseases can be time-consuming and difficult. For example, some cancers can only be confirmed with invasive biopsies, and CT scans can only see tumors once they’ve grown relatively large, on the order of a half-inch. Other disorders can be hard to pin down because the markers they leave in the blood or urine are at such low concentrations that they are hard to detect.

Now, using engineered bacteria similar to the type in yogurt, researchers say they have found ways to see cancers sooner and seek specific chemicals in bodily fluids, making testing easier on patients as well as providing more accurate tests.

In one of the two new studies, researchers at MIT and the University of California, San Diego used altered Escherichia coli bacteria to colonize tumors in mice that spread to the liver from other organs (known as metastasizing tumors). The strain of E. coli they used was a harmless one that is often used to promote gastrointestinal health, and was fed to the mice orally.

Once inside the mice, the bacteria fed on chemicals produced by the “necrotic core” of dead cancer cells at the center of the tumor. “In the tumors, in the necrotic core, [the bacteria] get energy from the dying cancer cells,” Tal Danino, an MIT postdoctoral researcher and lead author of the paper, told Live Science. [5 Crazy Technologies That Are Revolutionizing Biotech]

At the same time, the researchers injected the mice with a mix made of the sugar galactose linked to a protein called luciferin, which is the same molecule that glows when fireflies light up.

The E. coli were engineered so that, as they fed off the tumor cells, the bacteria produced an enzyme that split the galactose from the luciferin. The luciferin was filtered out of the blood by the kidneys, and ended up in the animals’ urine, turning the urine of mice with metastasizing liver tumors red.

The bacteria could be programmed to pick up on any chemical, not just the stuff given off by dead tumor cells, Danino said. The work is still in its early stages, and it’s not clear whether the system would work in people. But if it does work, researchers could use it to detect almost any altered biological state in the body, though it’s likely that cancers will be the first targets, Danino said.

The second research team, at the French Institute of Health and Medical Research (INSERM), used another strain of E. coli, with differently engineered genes, to detect glucose and other markers in urine to show that a patient had diabetes. The researchers gave the E. coli a gene that, in the presence of sugar and other markers of diabetes, produces a molecule that alters the color of the urine.  They experimented with samples of human urine, from both healthy people and people with diabetes.

But in this case, the researchers also sought a way to solve the problem of detecting the very small concentrations of the markers that doctors are often seeking. They engineered the E. coli to not only make chemicals that change the urine’s color, but also make more of that chemical, so that the color changes are visible.

This is similar to what transistors in radios do — amplify signals so that people can hear them — but in this case, it’s a biological signal, the researchers said. “We show a proof of concept,” said Jérôme Bonnet, the researcher at INSERM who led the study. “If we use amplification … we can bring these biosensors closer to clinical requirements.”

What makes both techniques powerful is the ability to detect tiny amounts of the chemicals the bacteria are seeking, the researchers said. Danino said one issue with cancer that spreads to the liver is that it’s hard to see the tumors until they are about a half-inch across, and by that time, the cancer is much harder to treat.

The new findings show that bacteria can get into the body and colonize much smaller tumors only millimeters in diameter, thus offering the chance to detect potentially deadly cancers much sooner, he said.

Bonnet said the bacterial urine test for diabetes that the researchers created in the new study is unlikely to replace the diagnostic tools available now. However, there are other markers that researchers might want to look for, and bacteria can often do it better than conventional methods. “We’re relying on detection systems that rely on natural systems,” he said.

The next steps for the MIT team will be to try to detect other kinds of cancer, and work to show that the bacteria they made are safe and effective to use in people.

The French group is planning to try to look for other biomarkers of diseases, and see what can be most useful in clinical settings.

Both studies appear today (May 27) in the journal Science Translational Medicine.

Follow Live Science @livescience, Facebook & Google+. Original article on Live Science.

Tattoos Can Cause Serious Adverse Reactions

Post 6891

Tattoos Can Cause Serious Adverse Reactions

Getting inked may have long-term consequences beyond just having to live with your ex-girlfriend’s name on your bicep for decades.

About 1 in 10 people who get tattoos experiences problems with the tattoo, including infection, itching, swelling and redness, according to a small study in the June issue of the journal Contact Dermatitis. Many people in the study had complications that lingered for years after the tattoo was inked, the researchers said.

“I’m not anti-tattoo at all; I happen to think tattoos are beautiful,” said study co-author Dr. Marie Leger, a dermatologist at the New York University Langone Medical Center in New York City. But people should know that “there are certain risks,” Leger added. [16 Oddest Medical Cases]

Anecdotal reports

Leger began noticing that a surprising number of patients were coming into her clinic because of issues with their tattoos. She began to wonder how common these issues were, and after chatting with friends and colleagues, she realized they also had stories about tattoo-related complications.

To understand how common these complications were, Leger and her colleagues randomly chose about 300 tattooed people in New York’s Central Park and asked them whether they’d had any problems with their tattoos.

About 10 percent of the people said they’d had some complications. For some, these complications were short-lived, such as bacterial infection right after the tattoo was inked, or temporary swelling and itching.

But of those who had complaints, six in 10 suffered from chronic problems. And although many had suffered from unpleasant itching or swelling for years, few had bothered to get their problems checked by a doctor, the researchers found.

Unregulated ink

Although tattoo artists and parlors are strictly regulated in order to limit infection and disease transmission risk, few people know what is in the tattoo ink itself.

“Tattoo inks aren’t very closely regulated in the United States,” Leger told Live Science.

Some studies in Europe suggest that black ink often contains carbon-based pigments, whereas red dyes may contain “azo-based hues,” which contain nitrogen compounds. Some early research hints that these inks can cause different types of reactions, Leger said.

The cause of tattoo problems isn’t clear in all cases, though there are clues for some.

“Some of the stories we got do definitely sound like tattoo allergy,” Leger said. “They’ll have a red tattoo, and then a few years later, they will get a new tattoo — and, all of a sudden, the new red and the old red tattoo become itchy and raised.”

Managing risk

Most people who get tattoos are already willing to face some risk, Leger said. After all, everyone who gets a permanent body modification faces the risk that it will turn out ugly, fade in the sun or simply not accurately reflect their personality as they age.

“I don’t think anyone gets a tattoo because it’s totally safe; I think people do it because it’s culturally a little bit rebellious,” Leger said.

But beyond the well-known risks, people should also recognize the chance that there will be physical complications, Leger said.

It’s also important that people who experience these symptoms see a doctor, Leger said. Doctors may prescribe topical ointments for itchiness, or oral steroids for more serious flare-ups. In some cases, removing the tattoo may be the best option, Leger added.

If people choose to have their tattoos removed, they should go to someone experienced in the removal process, Leger said.

“There have been case reports of tattoo removal in certain kinds of ways that can cause anaphylactic reactions,” Leger said, referring to the deadly allergic reaction that involves the closing of the throat and a dangerous drop in blood pressure.

Follow Tia Ghose on Twitterand Google+. Follow Live Science@livescience, Facebook & Google+. Originally published on Live Science

Cucumbers: Health Benefits & Nutrition Facts

Post 6890

Cucumbers: Health Benefits & Nutrition Facts

Few foods are as cool as a cucumber. These low-calorie veggies contain many nutritional benefits, including hydrating properties and valuable nutrients.

There are hundreds of varieties of cucumber, and they come in dozens of colors, but the edible types are classified as being for either slicing or pickling, according to Cornell University’s Growing Guide. Slicing cucumbers are cultivated to be eaten fresh, while pickling cucumbers are intended for the brine jar. Slicing cucumbers are usually larger and thicker-skinned than pickling ones.

In the United States, commonly planted varieties of slicing cucumber include Dasher, Conquistador, Slicemaster, Victory, Comet, Burpee Hybrid and Sprint, according to the World’s Healthiest Foods website. Commonly planted varieties of pickling cucumber include Royal, Calypso, Pioneer, Bounty, Regal, Duke and Blitz.

While most people think of cucumbers as vegetables, they are actually a fruit. They contain seeds and grow from the ovaries of flowering plants. Cucumbers are members of the plant family Cucurbitaceae, which also includes squashes and melons. The most common type of slicing cucumber found in a grocery store is the garden cucumber, Cucumis sativus, according to World’s Healthiest Foods.

Nutritional profile

Cucumbers are good sources of phytonutrients (plant chemicals that have protective or disease preventive properties) such flavonoids, lignans and triterpenes, which have antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer benefits, according to World’s Healthiest Foods. The peel and seeds are the most nutrient-dense parts of the cucumber. They contain fiber and beta-carotene, a form of vitamin A that is good for eyes, reports A study published in the Pakistan Journal of Nutrition found that cucumber seeds were a good source of minerals, and contained calcium.

“Cucumbers are naturally low in calories, carbohydrates, sodium, fat and cholesterol,” said Megan Ware, a registered dietitian nutritionist in Orlando, Florida. There are just 16 calories in a cup of cucumber with its peel (15 without). You will get about 4 percent of your daily potassium, 3 percent of your daily fiber and 4 percent of your daily vitamin C. They also “provide small amounts of vitamin K, vitamin C, magnesium, potassium, manganese and vitamin A,” Ware said

Here are the nutrition facts for cucumbers, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, which regulates food labeling through the Nutritional Labeling and Education Act:

Nutrition Facts

Cucumber, with peel, raw

Serving size:
1/2 cup, sliced (52 g)

Calories 8
Calories from Fat 0

*Percent Daily Values (%DV) are based on a 2,000 calorie diet.

Amt per Serving %DV* Amt per Serving %DV*
Total Fat 0g 0% Total Carbohydrate 2g 1%
Cholesterol 0mg 0%   Dietary Fiber 0g 0%
Sodium 1mg 2%    Sugars 0g
Protein 0g
Vitamin A 1% Calcium 1%
Vitamin C 2% Iron 1%

Health benefits of cucumbers


According to Ware, “Cucumbers are 95 percent water.” This makes cucumbers a great way to stay hydrated, especially during the summer. A cup of cucumber slices is “nearly as thirst-quenching as a glass of water,” according to Eating Well magazine.

The anti-inflammatory compounds in cucumbers help remove waste from the body and reduce skin irritation, according to the Cleveland Clinic. Preliminary research also suggests cucumbers promote anti-wrinkling and anti-aging activity, according to an article in the journal Filoterapia.

Cancer prevention

Cucumbers contain two phytonutrient compounds associated with anti-cancer benefits: lignans and cucurbitacins. In recent years, pharmaceutical companies have been paying special attention to cucurbitacins, hoping to use them in new cancer drugs. According to a 2010 research review published in Scientific World Journal, scientists have found that cucurbitacins can help block the signaling pathways that are important for cancer cell proliferation and survival.

Cucurbitacins can also inhibits the growth of pancreatic cancer cells, according to a 2009 study published in the Journal of Cancer Research looked at cucurbitacin B (which cucumber contains) on human pancreatic cancer cells and found that cucurbitacin supplements inhibited the growth of seven pancreatic cancer cell lines by 50 percent, and also increased apoptosis, or “death by suicide,” of pancreatic cancer cells.

According to World’s Healthiest Foods, lignans may protect against cancer through working with the bacteria in the digestive tract. The bacteria take the lignans and convert them into compounds such as enterodiol and enterolactone, which can bind onto estrogen receptors and possibly reduce the risk of estrogen-related cancers, such as ovarian, breast, endometrial and prostate cancers. The research is not yet clear on whether lignans actually assert anti-cancer benefits.

A 2009 meta-analysis published in the British Journal of Cancer found little or no association between lignan intake and reduced breast cancer risk. Similarly, most studies have not found significant correlations between lignan intake and reduced prostate cancer risk, according to the Linus Pauling Institute at Oregon State University, though one study of older Scottish men published in the British Journal of Nutrition showed that consuming an enterolactone-containing serum reduced the risk of prostate cancer.

On the other hand, a Journal of Nutrition study of nearly 800 American women found that those with those with the highest lignan intake had the lowest risk of ovarian cancer. Furthermore, a study published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute looked at nearly 1,000 women in the San Francisco area and found that postmenopausal women with the highest lignan intakes had the lowest risk of endometrial cancer.


You’ve probably seen pictures of people at a spa relaxing with cucumber slices over their eyes. It turns out there’s science behind this pampering ritual. Ware explained, “Cucumbers have a cooling and soothing effect that decreases swelling, irritation and inflammation when used topically. Cucumber slices can be placed on the eyes can decrease morning puffiness or alleviate and treat sunburn when placed on the affected areas.” She also noted that high vegetable intake is associated with a healthy complexion in general.

Bone health

According to the University of Maryland Medical Center, in the past few decades, it has become clear that vitamin K is important to bone health, and one cup of cucumber contains about 19 percent of the recommended daily intake of vitamin K. One review published in Nutrition noted that vitamin K intake might reduce fracture rates, work with vitamin D to increase bone density and positively affect calcium balance.

The human body uses vitamin K when building bones, and the effects seem to be especially important for women. A large 2003 American Journal of Clinical Nutrition study showed that low vitamin K levels were associated with low bone density in women, but not in men. Another study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition in 1999 found that low intakes of vitamin K were associated with an increased risk of hip fractures in middle-age women. This is especially interesting because the women saw results from eating lettuce, showing that dietary consumption of vitamin K via eating vegetables (not supplements) is beneficial. When it comes to men, the affects of vitamin K and bone health may become more apparent as they age: A 2000 study saw reduced risk of hip fracture among both elderly women and elderly men who consumed more vitamin K.


Cucumbers contain several antioxidants, including vitamin C, beta-carotene and manganese, as well as flavonoids, triterpenes and lignans that have anti-inflammatory properties. Vitamin C is well known for its immune system benefits, and beta-carotene has been shown to be beneficial for vision, according to the Mayo Clinic.

According to a 2010 animal study published in the Journal of Young Pharmacists, fresh extracts from cucumber showed increased scavenging of free radicals. Free radicals are associated with a variety of human diseases, but can sometimes be held in check by antioxidants, according to the Pharmacognosy Review.

Another study of cucumber extracts in animals, published in the Archives of Dermatological Research, found increased overall antioxidant benefits. Though this study focused on the cosmetic applications of this use of cucumbers, decreased free radicals can improve your inside organs as well as your skin.

An additional study published in Current Pharmaceutical Design found a positive association between the triterpene cucurbitacin and reduced inflammation, particularly in cancer cells. A review of triterpenes on the immune system, published in the Journal of Ethnopharmacology, suggested that they can help with inflammation and encouraged future research.

Heart health

“Eating a variety of fruits and vegetables of all kinds is associated with a reduced risk for many health conditions, such as heart disease, diabetes, stroke and obesity,” said Ware. Cucumbers’ potassium content may be especially helpful in this regard. One cup of sliced cukes contains only about 4 percent of the body’s daily potassium needs, but it comes with significantly fewer calories than most high-potassium foods like bananas. Potassium is an essential part of heart health, according to the American Heart Association. Many studies have linked it with lower blood pressure because it promotes vasodiliation (widening of the blood vessels), according to Today’s Dietitian. A study of 12,000 adults, published in Archives of Internal Medicine, showed that those who consumed 4,069 mg of potassium each day lowered their risk of cardiovascular disease and ischemic heart disease by 37 percent and 49 percent, respectively, compared to those who took 1,793 mg per day.

The vitamin K in cucumbers is also known to be essential in the blood-clotting process, according to the Harvard School of Public Health.

Risks of eating cucumbers

There can be a few risks from eating cukes. Pesticide consumption is one concern. Ware explained, “The Environmental Working Group produces a list each year of fruits and vegetables with the highest levels of pesticide residue, known as the Dirty Dozen. Cucumbers are one of the fruits and vegetables that the Environmental Working Group has placed on its Dirty Dozen list, meaning the exposure to pesticide residue is high.”

Additionally, cucumbers may be waxed to help protect them during shipping. According to World’s Healthiest Foods, both organic and conventionally grown cukes may be waxed, but organic ones can only use non-synthetic waxes with chemicals approved under organic regulations. For this reason and the pesticide concerns, World’s Healthiest Foods encourages buying organic cucumbers. But Ware stipulated, “This does not mean you should avoid cucumbers altogether if you can’t find or afford organic. The nutritional benefit of eating conventionally grown produce outweighs the risk of not eating produce at all.”


Pickling is a method of preserving food — and not only cucumbers — to prevent spoiling. There are two basic types of pickles: fermented and non-fermented, according to the World’s Healthiest Foods.

Fermented pickles have been soaked in brine, which is water that has been saturated with salt. The word “pickle” comes from the Dutch word pekel, which means brine. Brines can also contain other ingredients, such as vinegar, dill seed, garlic and lime.

Dill pickles are brined with dill added to the solution, obviously.  Kosher dills are brined with dill and garlic. “Kosher” in this case does not necessarily mean the cucumbers have been prepared according to kosher dietary laws, however; it just means garlic has been added to the brining process, according to the World’s Healthiest Foods.

Gherkin pickles are usually just immature cucumbers, according to Cornell University.

Additional resources