‘Coffee-Ring Effect’ Could Reveal What’s in Your Tap Water

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‘Coffee-Ring Effect’ Could Reveal What’s in Your Tap Water

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'Coffee-Ring Effect' Could Reveal What's in Your Tap Water

Tap-water droplets from two buildings on the Michigan State University campus leave behind different coffee-ring patterns; “hard” water is shown on the left, and water treated with a softener is shown on the right.

Credit: Xiaoyan Li

The physics of the so-called “coffee-ring effect” — how particles in liquid cause darkened areas to form at the perimeter of a spill — is helping scientists to quickly and cheaply identify the mineral contents of tap water, according to new research.

Residues left behind when tap water evaporates are “like fingerprints” for the water’s properties and contents, Rebecca Lahr, an assistant professor in the chemistry department in Lyman Briggs College at Michigan State University, told the American Chemical Society (ACS) in a statement.

Compared to coffee rings, the patterns and whorls produced by minerals in tap water are highly intricate. And while you may not be able to detect the specific blend of beans that produced a coffee ring, Lahr and her colleagues are finding a wealth of information in the mineral traces from water droplets, she told the ACS. [Why Does My Water Taste Weird?]

Testing methods for tap water can be expensive and time-consuming, and the researchers wanted to find a way that would allow anyone, anywhere in the world, to rapidly and inexpensively identify certain signatures in drinking water, using the water’s own residue patterns, Lahr said in a video.

The researchers sampled tap water from different sources. Then, they dried water droplets on aluminum strips and used a cellphone camera enhanced with a jeweler’s loupe to magnify and photograph the residue. In the patterns, the researchers identified distinctive markers representingwater hardness and alkalinity, as well as the presence of dissolved solids and metals, according to the ACS.

Over time, recognizable patterns emerged for water quality, and the patterns that the researchers saw were consistent across tap-water samples gathered from the same communities across the southern Michigan area, the ACS reported.

These techniques could be effective ways to engage people in examining their own water, Lahr said in the statement. They also could be used to build a database of known residue patterns created by tap water under normal conditions that could help people quickly spot anomalies that may affect their water quality.

The findings were presented at the 254th National Meeting & Exposition of the American Chemical Society, held Aug. 20 to 24 in Washington, D.C.

Original article on Live Science.


How Do Palm Trees Withstand Hurricanes?

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How Do Palm Trees Withstand Hurricanes?

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How Do Palm Trees Withstand Hurricanes?

Palm trees sway in the strong wind at Santa Lucia Beach, in Cuba, on Sept. 9, 2017, during Hurricane Irma.

Credit: Str/Xinhua/Zuma

Trees generally snap, or at least lose a few branches, when faced with hurricane-strength winds. Not palm trees. These staples of the tropics typically bend during gusty weather.

How does the mighty palm usually stay standing, swaying — sometimes violently — in storms?

For starters, unlike traditional trees, palm trees are not made of wood. “Instead, you’ll find a jumble of spongy tissue, scattered instead of arranged” inside a palm, geochemist Hope Jahren wrote in her autobiography “Lab Girl” (Vintage, 2016). [Are Trees Vegetarian?]

Most trees lay down rings as they grow every year. But not the palm tree; some of its cells are malleable, and others can easily flex and then return to their original position.

A palm tree cross section

A palm tree cross section

Credit: Cheng Wei/Shutterstock

“[Its] lack of conventional structure is what gives the palm its flexibility and makes it supremely adapted … to the gentle island breezes that periodically coalesce into ruthless hurricanes,” Jahren wrote in her book.

This arrangement has helped the palm tree flourish in warm and windy tropical areas the world over. There are 188 known genuses of palm, and 2,585 species, said Judy Jernstedt, a professor of plant sciences at the University of California, Davis.

“I think that suggests that it’s a successful growth form, and they’ve been successful in the environmental niches that they’ve occupied,” Jernstedt said.

However, not all palms are alike. A palm planted in a new area might not fare as well as a palm in its native home, Jernstedt said. Moreover, if the ground is wet — from a hurricane surge, for instance — that could weaken the ground where the palm’s roots extend and make it easier for powerful winds to uproot the tree, she said.

While the palm tree is technically a tree, palms are actually more closely related to grass, corn and rice than they are to other trees, Jernstedt said. They’re also quite old. Palms belong to the Arecaceae family, a group that emerged about 100 million years ago, during the Cretaceous period, when nonavian dinosaurs still roamed the Earth, according to the Angiosperm Phylogeny website, run by Peter Stevens, a professor of biology at the University of Missouri-St. Louis.

Original article on Live Science.

Photos: Colorful Blooms Sprout Across the World’s Driest Desert

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Photos: Colorful Blooms Sprout Across the World’s Driest Desert


Credit: Mario Ruiz/Zuma

How Spaceflight Changes the Building Blocks of the Human Body

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How Spaceflight Changes the Building Blocks of the Human Body

Astronaut Ed White performed the first American spacewalk during the Gemini 4 mission on June 3, 1965.

Credit: NASA

Humans first journeyed into space in 1961, but even half a century later, questions remain about how spaceflight affects the human body. In a new study, scientists got down to the molecular level to better understand why weightlessness causes changes in the body.

A number of effects have been documented in the handful of individuals who have experienced spaceflight, including changes to the body’s metabolism, temperature control, muscle tone and immune system, according to the study — but the mechanisms driving these changes still aren’t fully understood.

The answer, however, may reside in one of the body’s building blocks: proteins. [7 Everyday Things That Happen Strangely In Space]

In the new study, published online Aug. 15 in the journal Scientific Reports, researchers from Canada and Russia found that spaceflight lowered the concentrations of certain proteins in the body, and some of these proteins appeared to return more slowly to their pre-spaceflight levels than others.

Looking at the differences in protein concentrations is one way to understand some of the larger changes that take place in the body duringspaceflight. For example, the researchers found that nearly all the proteins that were affected by spaceflight were related to just a few processes in the body, including fat metabolism, blood clotting and immunity.

The scientists, for example, found that “in weightlessness, the immune system acts like it does when the body is infected because the human body doesn’t know what to do and tries to turn on all possible defense systems,” senior study author Evgeny Nikolaev, a professor of chemical physics at the Skolkovo Institute of Science and Technology in Russia, said in a statement.

To study the effects of spaceflight on proteins in the body, the scientists took three blood-plasma samples from each of 18 Russian cosmonauts before and after long-duration missions to the International Space Station. The first sample was taken 30 days before the mission, the second sample was taken immediately after the cosmonaut returned to Earth, and the final sample was taken seven days after that. In future studies, Nikolaev noted that cosmonauts could take blood samples while in orbit to provide more accurate accounts of how protein concentrations change.

The scientists used a mass spectrometer to analyze the concentrations of 125 different proteins in the cosmonauts’ blood plasma. (Mass spectroscopy is a technique used to assess the different masses in a given sample.)

Just 19 of the 125 different proteins analyzed were found at different concentrations both immediately after and seven days after the cosmonauts’ return to Earth, compared with pre-spaceflight levels, according to the study. Concentrations of several proteins, for example, were lower immediately after spaceflight, but returned to pre-spaceflight levels within seven days. It’s possible that the changes in concentrations in these instances were due to the final stage of the flight, which includes the emotional stress of landing, the researchers wrote. [6 Surprising Facts About the First Manned Space Mission]

Another group of proteins were found to be at similar concentrations to pre-spaceflight levels immediately after landing, but then either increased or decreased in the following days. These changes may reflect how the body reacclimates to Earth’s gravity after spaceflight, according to the study.

Two of the proteins, which are involved in transporting fat and iron through the blood, were at significantly lower levels both immediately after the cosmonauts’ return from space, and seven days. These lingering changes suggest that the body had made certain adaptions to handle spaceflight, the researchers wrote.

“Weightlessness for humans is completely new in evolutionary terms, being an environmental factor [that] our species has not faced during thecourse of evolution,” the researchers wrote in the study. Because of this, the ways that humans adapt to weightlessness are not predictable, they said.

Originally published on Live Science.

This Week’s Strangest Science News

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This Week’s Strangest Science News


At Live Science, we delve into science news from around the world every day — and some of those stories can get a little weird. Here are some of the strangest science news articles from this week.

Fire ants weren’t going to go softly into the night after Harvey flooded Houston. Rather, they banded together to make fire ant rafts, which are buoyant, in part, because the ants can trap air with their bodies. [Read more about the fire ant rafts, and learn how to sink them]

Fossilized eggs belonging to the Cretaceous dinosaur Heyuannia huangi hold traces of pigment hinting that they were a blue-green color. To the naked eye, they appear blackish-brown.

Fossilized eggs belonging to the Cretaceous dinosaur Heyuannia huangi hold traces of pigment hinting that they were a blue-green color. To the naked eye, they appear blackish-brown.

Credit: Copyright 2017 Wiemann et al.

About 66 million years ago, a bird-like dinosaur laid a clutch of blue-green eggs in what is now China. How do researchers know the color of these ancient eggs? They studied the pigments within them. [Read more about the dinosaurs’ colorful eggs]

Birling Gap beach and the Seven Sisters chalk cliffs, East Sussex, England.

Birling Gap beach and the Seven Sisters chalk cliffs, East Sussex, England.

Credit: Solnechnaja/Shutterstock

A strange chemical fog swept through beaches in southern England on Sunday (Aug. 27), prompting nearly 150 people to seek medical attention for stinging eyes, sore throats and vomiting. The fog disappeared on Monday, and its contents are still unknown. [Read more about the mysterious chemical fog]

Some people in California put sunscreen on their eyes, thinking it would offer protection while they gazed at last week’s solar eclipse (which was a partial eclipse in the Golden State). However, this was a bad idea: sunscreen doesn’t protect your eyes if you look at the sun, and it can sting and irritate your eyes, as well. [Read more about this sunscreen debacle]

Researchers found that Myrmoteras ants' jaws work differently than those of any other known ant.

Researchers found that Myrmoteras ants’ jaws work differently than those of any other known ant.

Credit: Steve Shattuck

This is a cool party trick: The jaws of Myrmoteras ants can snap shut in about half a millisecond. What’s more, these ants’ jaws are unique, and work differently than those of other known ant species. [Read more about these spectacular, superfast ants]

A prehistoric human skeleton in the Chan Hol Cave near Tulúm on Mexico's Yucatán peninsula.

A prehistoric human skeleton in the Chan Hol Cave near Tulúm on Mexico’s Yucatán peninsula.

Credit: Tom Poole/Liquid Junge Lab

Cryptic divers stole what may be among the oldest human skeletons in North America. The skeleton was found in an underwater cavern on Mexico’s Yucatán Peninsula five years ago. Although robbers stole most of it, scientists are studying a few bones the robbers missed. [Read more about the looted, prehistoric skeleton]

Artificial intelligence provides an offbeat perspective on what lies ahead for the characters of "Game of Thrones."

Artificial intelligence provides an offbeat perspective on what lies ahead for the characters of “Game of Thrones.”

Credit: HBO

A software engineer has programmed artificial intelligence (AI) to write a new “Game of Thrones” book using the characters and style from George R.R. Martin’s hit “A Song of Ice and Fire” series. But the AI’s effort might still have a ways to go before it becomes a best-seller, especially when you take this sentence it wrote into account: “Jaime killed Cersei and was cold and full of words, and Jon thought he was the wolf now.” [Read more about the “Game of Thrones” AI]

Want more weird science news and discoveries? Check out these and other “Strange News” stories on Live Science!

Original article on Live Science.

Why Does a Total Solar Eclipse Move from West to East?

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Why Does a Total Solar Eclipse Move from West to East?

The moon’s shadow, projected on Earth during a total solar eclipse, as seen from space. While the moon normally rises in the east and sets in the west, a total solar eclipse moves from west to east.


Paul Sutter is an astrophysicist at The Ohio State University and the chief scientist at COSI Science Center. Sutter leads science-themed tours around the world at AstroTouring.com

Every day, the same routine. The sun rises in the east. Breakfast. Off to work. Work. Home from work. Dinner. The sun sets in the west. Repeat. It’s a pattern familiar to everyone on Earth. For countless generations, we’ve relied on the regular cycles of the heavens to help demarcate our days.

But a total solar eclipse, like the big one coming to the continental United States on Aug. 21, will break the routine. In addition to the moon completely covering the face of the sun — which, let’s admit, is alreadypretty spectacular — the event will move in an unfamiliar and possibly disquieting direction: from west to east.  [Total Solar Eclipse 2017: When, Where and How to See It (Safely)]

The normal, daily rising and setting of celestial objects isn’t due to their own movement, but rather the rotation of Earth. As our planet spins on its axis, the heavens appear to rise up from the east, arch their way across the sky, and settle into the west.

It’s hard to blame our ancestors for assuming that Earth — which seemed very large and strong — was incapable of movement, with the ethereal denizens of the heavens gliding along their nested crystal spheres, giving humans our familiar, clockwork celestial movements.

After centuries of serious work, people realized that Earth does indeed spin, and the motion of the sun, moon and stars is only apparent. But when it comes to solar eclipses we’re faced with a new incongruity: why does the path of a solar eclipse start in the west and end in the east?

The answer is simple, but it’s not something we’re accustomed to thinking about: the moon itself orbits Earth from west to east. In other words, if you could rocket up high above the North Pole, the moon would trace out a counterclockwise circle. But Earth rotates about 30 times for a single lunar orbit, so it’s not something we normally notice. During a solar eclipse, the path of the moon’s shadow must follow the motion of the moon itself — to the east.

The solar eclipse is a wonderful opportunity to experience astronomy at its most basic: understanding the intricate dance of heavenly objects.

Follow us @Spacedotcom, Facebook and Google+. Original article onSpace.com.

A Sonic Attack in Cuba? How an Acoustic Weapon Might Work

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A Sonic Attack in Cuba? How an Acoustic Weapon Might Work

Credit: Shutterstock

A supersecret sonic weapon being used to attack diplomats in a foreign country may sound like the start of a sci-fi novel, but that’s exactly what several U.S. diplomats in Cuba may have been exposed to, the U.S. State Department recently announced.

The physical symptoms, which the State Department would not confirm, but which some news reports have suggested included hearing loss, got so bad that some of these officials had to be recalled from their duties in Havana.

“Some U.S. government personnel who were working at our embassy in Havana, Cuba, on official duties — so they were there working on behalf of the U.S. embassy there — they’ve reported some incidents which have caused a variety of physical symptoms,” Heather Nauert, a spokeswoman for the State Department, said in a news briefing Aug. 9.

After an extensive investigation, U.S. officials determined that a secret sonic weapon was to blame. [Mind Controlled Cats?? 6 Incredible Spy Technologies]

But what exactly could that weapon be, and how could it cause hearing loss without any of the people involved noticing a painful audible sound?

While the mysterious story has a lot of holes, one possibility is that the workers were exposed to infrasound, or low-frequency sound waves that are below the audible hearing range, said Charles Liberman, a hearing loss researcher at Harvard Medical School and Massachusetts Eye and Ear in Boston.

The strange symptoms emerged in the fall of 2016, when several employees at the U.S. embassy in Havana began complaining of physical symptoms. Many of the individuals were new to the embassy and some had to return to the United States because of the severity of their symptoms — the details of which have yet to be disclosed. An investigation by the U.S. government concluded that the symptoms could be attributed to a device that operated outside the audible hearing range and was used somewhere, possibly in their houses, Time magazine reported. Right now, there’s no word on whether these devices were deliberately used. [Flying Saucers to Mind Control: 22 Declassified Military & CIA Secrets]

In retaliation, the U.S. government expelled two Cuban diplomats on May 23, Nauert said.

Cuba denied any involvement in the bizarre scenario.

“Cuba has never permitted, nor will permit, that Cuban territory be used for any action against accredited diplomatic officials or their families, with no exception,” according to a statement from the Cuban government.

Another possibility is that some other hostile group (such as Russian agents) may have initiated the attack, Time reported.

There are so many details missing in this story that it’s hard to explain exactly what the device could be, Liberman said. However, sound-induced hearing loss requires that the mechanical part of the ear that senses audible sound be overloaded.

“You overstimulate the part of the ear that’s mechanically tuned to those frequencies and it falls apart,” Liberman.

If the people in the embassy didn’t hear anything, that suggests the weapon probably didn’t operate in the normal hearing range, or else it would have caused pain and been distracting, Liberman said. (Human audible hearing range is typically between 20 hertz, or cycles per second, and 20 kilohertz). If so, there’s little possibility for it to damage the mechanical parts of the ear that are tuned to those frequencies, he said.

However, it’s possible the devices somehow generate infrasound — the type of low-frequency sound given off by windmills or wind generators with the beating of the blades. Infrasound is below the human hearing range.

And yet, many people claim these machines are making them sick, and there are several lawsuits from people who live or work near wind farms, claiming they make them sick, according to Liberman.

“There is a growing controversy about people who live near these windmills who start feeling bad,” Liberman told Live Science. “They get headaches, they get dizzy, they get nausea.” [10 Odd Causes of Headaches]

For instance, a 2014 study in the journal Royal Society Open Science found that low-frequency sounds below the audible range could disrupt little whistles made by the ear, called spontaneous optoacoustic emissions, in response to noise. (How that mapped to symptoms, however, wasn’t clear.)

In this instance, one possibility is that the infrasound stimulated the part of the ear not dedicated to hearing — the vestibular system that controls balance, Liberman said. In that instance, the symptoms wouldn’t appear immediately.

“You could imagine them being very slow onset and very persistent,” Liberman said. “It might take days before you even notice any funny sensations.”

That may explain why the State Department refused to describe the symptoms experienced by their employees as including hearing loss, Liberman said.

The other type of sound humans can’t hear is ultrasound, which is above 20 khz. That’s a less likely possibility because high-frequency sound dissipates quickly with distance and in tissue such as the ear. However, high-intensity, focused ultrasound has been used for everything from breaking kidney stones to cauterizing tissues in the body.

But the fact that it doesn’t work well across long distances means it’s tough to imagine a device could get close enough to the people to work, without them suspecting, Liberman said.

What’s more, if a covert acoustic device using ultrasound produced enough energy to permeate and damage the ear from far away, it would probably heat the head up, too, Liberman said.

However, it’s theoretically possible that high-frequency ultrasound may have somehow damaged the blood vessels in the ear canal, thereby leading to damage, he said. That seems less likely, but “I’ve been in science long enough to not discount as impossible things that seem improbable,” Liberman said.

While the idea of a silent sonic weapon sounds like something out of James Bond, Inspector Gadget or the reject pile of DARPA, the idea of using sound as a weapon has a long history.

For instance, studies show that animals exposed to high-intensity, focused ultrasound can experience lung and brain damage. And a cruise line circling the pirate-infested waters off the Somali coast has taken to using a military-grade “sonic weapon” to deter would-be hijackers, the BBC reported. This long-range device, also known as a sound cannon, can cause permanent hearing loss at distances of up to 984 feet (300 meters), according to the BBC. Other companies have developed a magnetic acoustic device, commonly referred to as a sound laser, that deploys incredibly painful, focused beams of sound to deter people from an area,NPR reported. The Israeli army has also used a device known as “The Scream,” which damages the inner ear, causing nausea and dizziness,Wired reported.

Originally published on Live Science.