‘Demon Orchid’ Has a 'Devil Head’ and Claw-Like Petals                         

By Kacey Deamer on LiveScience // Photos by Marta Kolanowska

A new species of orchid is in a league of its own — not just because it’s relatively rare, but also because scientists say it looks like the devil.

The new species, Telipogon diabolicus, was named for its gynostemium, the orchid’s reproductive structure, which looks like a devil’s head. The orchid is also described as having “distinctly clawed petals,” adding to its demonic appearance, according to the researchers who discovered it.

About 30 of the reddish to dark-violet-maroon orchids — of which only several were flowering adults — were found growing in a small forest at the border between Putumayo and Nariño (regional jurisdictions called “departments”) in southern Colombia.

Read more on LiveScience


Dazzling Images of the Brain Created by Neuroscientist-Artist 

Greg Dunne

I enjoy Asian art. I particularly love minimalist scroll and screen painting from the Edo period in Japan. I am also a fan of neuroscience. Therefore, it was a fine day when two of my passions came together upon the realization that the elegant forms of neurons (the cells that comprise your brain) can be painted expressively in the Asian sumi-e style. Neurons may be tiny in scale, but they posess the same beauty seen in traditional forms of the medium (trees, flowers, and animals). 

( Thanks Livescience )


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Your smartphone just got smarter.

A device invented by biomedical engineers at Columbia University turns a smartphone into a lab that can test human blood for the virus that causes AIDS or the bacteria that cause syphilis.

The researchers got the idea for the device when examining the costs and the logistical difficulties of getting equipment for HIV testing to rural areas or developing countries.

Learn more about the device here.

Dolphins ‘Talk’ Like Humans, New Study Suggests

by Jeanna Bryner, LiveScience Managing Editor

Dolphins “talk” to each other, using the same process to make their high-pitched sounds as humans, according to a new analysis of results from a 1970s experiment.

The findings mean dolphins don’t actually whistle as has been long thought, but instead rely on vibrations of tissues in their nasal cavities that are analogous to our vocal cords.

Scientists are only now figuring this out, “because it certainly sounds like a whistle,” said study researcher Peter Madsen of the Institute of Bioscience at Aarhus University in Denmark, adding that the term was coined in a paper published in 1949 in the journal Science. “And it has stuck since.”

The finding clears up a question that has long puzzled scientists: How can dolphins make their signature identifying whistles at the water’s surface and during deep dives where compression causes sound waves to travel faster and would thus change the frequency of those calls.

To answer that question, Madsen and his colleagues analyzed recently digitized recordings of a 12-year-old male bottlenose dolphin (Tursiops truncatus) from 1977. At the time, the researchers had the dolphin breathe a mixture of helium and oxygen called heliox. (Used by humans, heliox makes one sound like Donald Duck.)

The heliox was meant to mimic conditions during a deep dive since it causes a shift up in frequency. When breathing air or heliox, the male dolphin, however, continued to make the same whistles, with the same frequency.

Rather than vocal cords, the dolphins likely use tissue vibrations in their nasal cavities to produce their “whistles,” which aren’t true whistles after all. The researchers suggest structures in the nasal cavity, called phonic lips, are responsible for the sound.

The dolphins aren’t actually talking, though.

“It does not mean that they talk like humans, only that they communicate with sound made in the same way,” Madsen told LiveScience.

“Cetean ancestors lived on land some 40 million years ago and made sounds with vocal folds in their larynx,” Madsen said, referring to the group of mammals to which dolphins belong. “They lost that during the adaptations to a fully aquatic lifestyle, but evolved sound production in the nose that functions like that of vocal folds.”

This vocal ability also likely gives dolphins a broader range of sounds.

“Because the frequency is changed by changing the airflow and the tension of the connective tissue lips in the nose, the dolphin can change frequency much faster than if it had to do it by changing air sac volumes,” Madsen said. “That means that there is a much bigger potential for making a broader range of sounds and hence increase information transfer.”

The research is detailed this week in the journal Biology Letters.

Image Credit: © Copyright 2011 Chris Johnson – earthOCEAN. All Rights Reserved.
Why It's So Freakin' Cold: Here's the Science

As if the outdoors weren’t harsh enough with Boston buried under ungodly amounts of snow and the rest of the Northeast unable to shake the bitter cold, more winter weather is on the way. So what’s behind this extreme chill?
The freezing weather is part of a weather pattern that began last year, when the polar vortex, a system of cold air swirling around the Arctic, began pushing cold air into the United States. This pattern continued on and off throughout the summer, explaining the cooler temperatures in the eastern United States, said Bob Oravec, a forecaster at the National Weather Service.

Good read by LiveScience. Unclear if anthropogenic climate change influenced this phenomena.

CIA Science Experiment: Mind Control

Talk about a bad trip. In the 1950s, the CIA launched a top-secret program called MKULTRA to look for drugs and other techniques to use in mind control. Over the next two decades, the agency used hallucinogens, sleep deprivation and electrical shock techniques in an effort to perfect brainwashing.

Keep reading


Up to 10 million gallons (38 million liters) of crude oil from the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill has settled at the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico, where it is threatening wildlife and marine ecosystems, according to a new study.

The finding helps solve the mystery of where the “missing” oil from the spill landed. Its location had eluded both the U.S. government and BP cleanup crews after the April 2010 disaster that caused about 200 million gallons (757 million liters) of crude oil to leak into the Gulf.

“This is going to affect the Gulf for years to come,” Jeff Chanton, the study’s lead researcher and a professor of chemical oceanography at Florida State University, said in a statement. “Fish will likely ingest contaminants because worms ingest the sediment, and fish eat the worms. It’s a conduit for contamination into the food web.”
Egyptian Mummy's Symbolic Tattoos Are 1st of Their Kind
A mummy of an Egyptian woman who lived 3,000 years ago was the first to be found with tattoos of recognizable symbols, with dozens illustrating her neck and torso.

More than 3,000 years ago, an ancient Egyptian woman tattooed her body with dozens of symbols — including lotus blossoms, cows and divine eyes — that may have been linked to her religious status or her ritual practice.

Preserved in amazing detail on her mummified torso, the surviving images represent the only known examples of tattoos found on Egyptian mummies showing recognizable pictures, rather than abstract designs.

The mummy was found at a site on the west bank of the Nile River known as Deir el-Medina, a village dating to between 1550 B.C. and 1080 B.C. that housed artisans and workers who built the royal tombs in the Valley of the Kings.

6 Weird Facts About Gravity

1. It’s all in your head

Gravity may be pretty consistent on Earth, but our perception of it isn’t. According to research published in April 2011 in the journal PLoS ONE, people are better at judging how objects fall when they’re sitting upright versus lying on their sides.

The finding means that our perception of gravity may be less based on visual cues of gravity’s real direction and more rooted in the orientation of the body. 

2. Coming down to Earth is tough

Astronaut’s experience has shown that a switch to weightlessness and back can be tough on the body. In the absence of gravity, muscles atrophy and bones likewise lose bone mass. According to NASA, astronauts can lose 1 percent of their bone mass per month in space.

When astronauts come back to Earth, their bodies and minds need time to recover. Blood pressure, which has equalized throughout the body in space, has to return to an Earthly pattern in which the heart must work hard to keep the brain nourished with blood. Occasionally, astronauts struggle with that adjustment. In 2006, astronaut Heidemarie Stefanyshyn-Piper collapsed at a welcome-home ceremony the day after returning from a Space Shuttle mission to the International Space Station.

The mental readjustment can be just as tricky. In 1973, Skylab 2 astronaut Jack Lousma told Time magazine that he’d accidentally smashed a bottle of aftershave in his first days back from a month-long sojourn in space. He’d let go of the bottle in mid-air, forgetting that it would crash to the ground rather than just float there.

3. For weight loss, try Pluto

Pluto may no longer be a planet, but it’s still a good bet for lightening up. A 150-pound (68 kilogram) person would weigh no more than 10 pounds (4.5 kg) on the dwarf planet. The planet with the most crushing gravity, on the other hand, is Jupiter, where the same person would weigh more than 354 pounds (160.5 kg).

The planet humans are most likely to visit, Mars, would also leave explorers feeling light-footed. Mars’ gravitational pull is only 38 percent that of Earth’s, meaning a 150-pound person would feel like they weigh about 57 pounds (26 kg). 

4. Gravity is lumpy

Even on Earth, gravity isn’t entirely even. Because the globe isn’t a perfect sphere, its mass is distributed unevenly. And uneven mass means slightly uneven gravity.

5. Without gravity, some bugs get tougher

Bad news for space cadets: Some bacteria become nastier in space. A 2007 study published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found that salmonella, the bacteria that commonly causes food poisoning, becomes three times more virulent in microgravity. Something about the lack of gravity changed the activity of at least 167 salmonella genes and 73 of its proteins. Mice fed the gravity-free salmonella got sick faster after consuming less of the bacteria.

In other words, Michael Crichton’s “The Andromeda Strain” had it wrong: The danger of infection in space may not come from space bugs. It’s more likely our own bugs grown stronger would strike us.

6. Black holes at the center of galaxies

Named because nothing, not even light, can escape their gravitational clutches, black holes are some of the most destructive objects in the universe. At the center of our galaxy is a massive black hole with the mass of 3 million suns. Scarier thought? It might be “just resting,” according Kyoto University scientist Tatsuya Inui.

The black hole isn’t really a danger to us Earthlings – it’s both far away and it’s remarkably calm. But sometimes it does put on a show: Inui and colleagues reported in 2008 that the black hole sent out a flare of energy 300 years ago. Another study, released in 2007, found that several thousand years ago, a galactic hiccup sent a small amount of matter the size of Mercury falling into the black hole, leading to another outburst.

The black hole, named Sagittarius A*, is dim compared with other black holes.

“This faintness implies that stars and gas rarely get close enough to the black hole to be in any danger,” Frederick Baganoff, a researcher at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology who was involved with the 2007 study, told LiveScience’s sister site “The huge appetite is there, but it’s not being satisfied.”
Odd Octopus: What It's Like to Be a Clever 8-Armed Creature

To learn more about the smartest invertebrates on Earth, LiveScience caught up with Katherine Harmon Courage to talk about her new book “Octopus! The Most Mysterious Creature In the Sea.”

A very cool article on octopuses/octopis/octopodes.  Read it to know how best to serve your future genius multilimbed overlords.
Before Hatshepsut: Early Egyptian Queen Revealed in Hieroglyphs
Sprawling hieroglyphs dating back around 5,000 years have been discovered in Egypt's Sinai Desert. Carved into stone, the symbols reveal secrets of the early pharaohs, including a queen named Neith-Hotep who ruled Egypt.

She is considered the first queen of Egypt and the earliest woman in history who’s name is know.  Her name was Neithhotep and was believed to have been named after the primordial mother goddess and weaver of fate (similar to Tiamat and Nammu) Neith