cornell research

Calm lakes on Titan could mean smooth landing for future space probes

The lakes of liquid methane on Saturn’s moon, Titan, are perfect for paddling but not for surfing. New research led by The University of Texas at Austin has found that most waves on Titan’s lakes reach only about 1 centimeter high, a finding that indicates a serene environment that could be good news for future probes sent to the surface of that moon.

“There’s a lot of interest in one day sending probes to the lakes, and when that’s done, you want to have a safe landing, and you don’t want a lot of wind,” said lead author Cyril Grima, a research associate at the University of Texas Institute for Geophysics (UTIG). “Our study shows that because the waves aren’t very high, the winds are likely low.”

The research was published in the journal Earth and Planetary Science Letters on June 29. Collaborators include researchers at Cornell University, NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory and The Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory. UTIG is a research unit of the UT Jackson School of Geosciences.

Titan is the largest moon of Saturn and one of the locations in the solar system that is thought to possess the ingredients for life. In photos taken by the Cassini orbiter, a NASA probe, it appears as a smooth brown orb because of its thick atmosphere clouded with gaseous nitrogen and hydrocarbons. However, radar images from the same probe show that it has a surface crust made of water ice and drenched in liquid hydrocarbons. On Titan, methane and ethane fall from the sky as rain, fill deep lakes that dot the surface, and are possibly spewed into the air by icy volcanoes called cryovolcanoes.

“The atmosphere of Titan is very complex, and it does synthesize complex organic molecules–the bricks of life,” Grima said. “It may act as a laboratory of sorts, where you can see how basic molecules can be transformed into more complex molecules that could eventually lead to life.”

On top of that, it’s also thought to have an ocean of liquid water beneath its icy crust.

As a graduate student at the Université Grenoble Alpes in France, and then a postdoctoral fellow at UTIG, Grima developed a technique for measuring surface roughness in minute detail from radar data. Called radar statistical reconnaissance, the technique has been used to measure the snow density and its surface roughness in Antarctica and the Arctic, and to assist the landing site selection of NASA’s Mars lander InSight, which is scheduled to launch next year. Researchers at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory suggested he apply the technique to measuring Titan’s waves.

The research zeroes in on the three largest lakes in Titan’s northern hemisphere: Kraken Mare, Ligeia Mare and Punga Mare. Kraken Mare, the largest of the three, is estimated to be larger than the Caspian Sea. By analyzing radar data collected by Cassini during Titan’s early summer season, Grima and his team found that waves across these lakes are diminutive, reaching only about 1 centimeter high and 20 centimeters long.

“Cyril’s work is an independent measure of sea roughness and helps to constrain the size and nature of any wind waves,” said co-author Alex Hayes, an assistant professor of astronomy at Cornell University. “From the results, it looks like we are right near the threshold for wave generation, where patches of the sea are smooth and patches are rough.”

The results call into question the early summer’s classification as the beginning of the Titan’s windy season, Grima said, because high winds probably would have made for larger waves.

Information on Titan’s climate is essential for sending a probe safely to the surface. Although there are no formal plans for a mission, Grima says that there are plenty of concepts being developed by researchers around the world. The study indicates that if a future mission lands in early summer, there’s a good chance that it is in for a smooth landing.

anonymous asked:

I use tumblr to blog about my struggle with bipolar disorder and anxiety because I can do it anonymously. Otherwise, I'd worry about someone from my real life finding it (seems like there are a lot of "therapy" blogs around like that). Have you seen a trend in people self-identifying in a more public way on social media? And is it still wiser for people with mental illness to avoid "going public," or have we reached a tipping point with stigma where coming out is now better?

I don’t know if more people are disclosing their offline identities more frequently today than in years past, but I think it is essential that people think about WHY they are or are not disclosing their identities. A 2014 study by researchers at Cornell University found that people who posted public status updates with real names had two main goals: 1) social validation – looking for general liking, social feedback and approval; and 2) self-expression, which often involves venting emotions, especially negative, and talking about problems.  If you most of your posts are some form of venting then I would suggest not going public. If on the other hand your posts are efforts for social validation then there would be a real benefit and little downside to disclosing your identity.

As you mentioned, there are pros and cons to disclosure. I recommend writing a pros and cons list as part of your process to decide whether now is the right time for you to come out. For example, some benefits to posting anonymously including more comfort being honest and vulnerable. Some of the downsides of posting anonymously include more trolling and suspicion on the part of the audience (e.g. is this person who they say they are?). Some of the upsides of disclosure include fully and authentically integrating your online and offline self and using “known self” as a tool to fight trolls. Being “out” about your mental illness online makes it easier to be out with your employer, which is essential if you need to use work-related treatment. Downsides of disclosing your identity include social exclusion based on disclosed material and possible employment discrimination.

I wish I could say that employers are progressive enough (or concerned enough about the law) not to discriminate against people with known mental illnesses or substance use disorders, but the research suggests otherwise. Stacey Freedenthal, tenured associate professor of social work at the University of Denver, and Marsha Linehan, developer of Dialectical Behavior Therapy, “came out” as suicide attempt survivors in the New York Times. Their disclosures were courageous and inspiring, and most likely helped many publicly acknowledge their own struggles with suicidal ideation or suicide attempt. And yet, both Stacey and Marsha acknowledged that their career stability was a big part of why they were willing to come out.

Disclosing your identity online means you will be known offline. As with any coming out, ask yourself:

  • why do I want to come out?
  • to whom will I come out?
  • what story will I tell that will help my audience understand me?
  • who will support me the quickest and who is least likely to support me?
  • after I disclose my identity what do I expect?
  • who will support me through my coming out?

And of course, you need to give folks time to accept the new you.

I have definitely seen a trend. In the five years I have been a mental health speaker, I can say student and adult audiences are more open, knowledgeable and less hesitant to share their experiences.  

If you are personally considering disclosing, there is research showing the positive effects of ‘going public,’ it can decrease shame, positively impact self-esteem and strengthen your belief in your ability to achieve your goals.

However, independent of public opinion,it is important to gauge your level of comfort as oppose to what other people think about mental illness.

Here are couple things to consider if you are thinking about self-disclosing:

  • Openness may bring about negative thoughts and action by others -

You cannot control what a stranger, friend or family member thinks about people with mental illness. Ask yourself are you at a space where you feel comfortable that you someone may judge you negatively for your mental illness or pass you over for a job, apartment or other opportunity. You may be at a space where you feel it does not matter what others think or it does not matter as much as it did in the past.  

  • Any relapses may be more widely known than preferred -

    Having a episode of depression or a bout of anxiety does not make you bad, broken or wrong, but when we are in those states, it can feel like we are the worst people in the world.  Being out can be more stressful now because you may begin to worry what others are thinking of you and what you are thinking of yourself - am I a failure, am I a fraud, maybe I really did not have my condition under control.  If you have relapses, practice putting them into perspective by discovering ways to affirm you are not broken, but that you have a condition that has these symptoms.  I will be the first to say practicing this perspective is not easy, but it is important.

    I recommend reaching out to people who have decided to share openly online and ask them what their experience has been.  You can check out the blog on my site as a place to start -  If you connect with someone’s journey, email the blog editor and we will see if we can connect you. As you mentioned there are many people ‘coming out’. Find out what their experience is like, weigh the pluses, the potential minuses and decide what is right for you.

    2goldensnitches  asked:

    How do tree grafts work, and Why are they so widely used for growing fruit?

    Odds are, almost every fruit you have ever eaten is from a grafted tree.

    What we call ‘cultivars’ of fruiting trees in horticulture are usually clones of a single seedling. Take the ‘Gala’ apple: it was a single tree planted from seed in the 1930s. This one tree yielded such desirable fruit, that since the 1930s, pieces of it can been kept alive as ‘scions’ and grafted to ‘rootstocks,’ which are seedling trees, or rooted clones. The original ‘Gala’ apple tree seedling is long dead, but there are pieces of this tree still growing all over the world, yielding the same fruit.

    In the orchard business, this means producing trees with predictable dimensions, fruiting style, branching habits, harvest dates, yield, and levels of disease resistance. Clones are a much less risky investment than seedlings, which can vary widely. Clones have a name and ‘brand’ that is established and likely to find a reliable marketplace.

    In terms of mass-production of food, this practice of grafting trees produces fruit of a reliable size, shape, texture, and flavour, which makes them easily transportable and marketable. Consumers prefer to know a ‘name’ of an apple they like, as opposed to examining or reading about the characteristics and uses of a type of fruit, and will consistently purchase fruit from a favourite well-branded cultivar. 

    The importance of the name of a new apple cultivar in marketing is evident and supported by research at Cornell, where exciting names led consumers to spend more money for the same variety with a “generic” or non-exciting name (Rickard et al., 2011). Willingness-to-pay auctions are indicating traits of interest to consumers willing to pay a premium, and they are often variety dependent. In addition, the response from buyers is also being examined relative to new varieties and fruit size premiums (Carew et al., 2012). [x]

    I’m not saying this industrialised side to it is good, but it’s just how fruit production has become.

    I graft my trees with scion wood that I have traded or purchased in order to get a wide variety of high-quality fruit, and so in the future, I can cross high-quality cultivars with each other and plant seeds. My hobby – and the main subject of the site – is planting from seed. In that respect, I like to get seed from ‘pedigree’ parents, because there is so much written about these trees.

    Those pieces of wood – scion wood – are from other cloned trees: some of the scions I worked with this year are from trees that were planted in the 1700s, but are kept perpetually alive today by being grafted.

    I also graft a number of my trees with multiple scions, so that a single tree produces many cultivars of fruit (I call them my “frankentrees”), which is a better economy of space for a home gardener: my red-fleshed apple tree, pollarded apple, ‘family tree’ of cherries, multi-grafted pear, multi-grafted pear 2, almost all of my plums and apricots, or my almond tree that is grafted with peaches and nectarines are all multi-grafted trees.

    As for how it works, biologically, and other reasons for doing it, you can refer to the following posts:

    I also have an archive of everything I’ve ever posted on the subject if you want to read more: #grafting.

    I hope that answers your question!


    Engineered Cotton Makes Magical Garments

    A Cornell University lab is applying nanotechnology to make textiles do a whole range of new and useful tricks.

    Chemical and biomolecular engineer Juan Hinestroza and his team in the textiles nanotechnology lab are adding tiny bits of metal into fibrous material like cotton. When woven into a textile, the augmented yarn can produce light, kill disease-causing microbes or act as a filter to trap harmful gas. In addition, the metal oxides allow the yarn to be fashioned into conductive components like transistors for electronics.

    “We want to transform traditional natural fibers into true engineering materials that are multifunctional and that can be customized to any demand,” Hinestroza said. “We are chemists, we are material scientists, we are designers, we want to create materials that will perform many functions, yet remain as flexible and as comfortable as a t-shirt or an old pair of jeans.”

    Keep reading
    Behold A Robot Hand With A Soft Touch
    Using light-conductive materials, researchers have built a robot hand that can sense shapes and textures. Soft robotics holds promise for better prosthetics or machines with a more "human" touch.

    Robotics researchers at Cornell University made a hand that has something close to a human touch — it can not only touch delicate items but also sense the shape and texture of what it comes into contact with.

    Imagine a hand-shaped balloon, with light signals running through bendable so-called waveguides, pipes that carry waves, inside the fingers. When the hand touches something, the waveguides bend, distorting or changing the light signals. That change gives the robot data on whatever it is the hand is touching.

    Relying on light signals also means that robotic hands could be made with cheaper materials, which could lead to cheaper prosthetic hands that give the wearer a sense of touch, says Robert Shepherd, assistant professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering at Cornell who co-authored the study.

    Zhao estimates her soft robotic hand could be made for under $50 — even less with mass production, though you’d need more money to add a battery and a compressor tank, for the compressed air that controls the robotic fingers. Shepherd says it’s the cheapest product of its kind.

    Are you snacking on wasps!?

    First thing’s first, is a fig a fruit? A vegetable? A fig is actually classified as an ‘inflorescence’ – a cluster of many flowers and seeds contained inside a bulbous stem. This calls for a special pollinator and for the fig tree that is a queen fig wasp. She is just about the perfect size for the job, however she often will lose her wings and antennae as she crawls through a small bract-lined opening in the fig, called the ostiole. Her reward is access to the florets within. As she travels around inside, she pollinates the fig and lays her eggs. With her mission complete, she dies and is digested by the fig. Once the eggs hatch, the offspring mate and the females collect pollen – actively gathering with a specialized pouch in some species and inadvertently gathering in others – while the males carve exit holes through the fig. The females will leave to pollinate and lay eggs in other figs, but the males die inside the same fig in which they were born.

    Keep reading


    World’s first IVF puppies

    Seven beagle-mix puppies have been born with the help of IVF, making them the first ever dogs to be born using this treatment. The pups are being called “seven bundles of scientific joy” by many, and it’s easy to see why. Researchers at Cornell transferred 19 embryos into a female host dog and then delivered the dogs by cesarean. 

    Damn you wonderful Olive Garden mints!

    7 Ways Restaurants Screw You Over (With Science)

    #6. Getting A Free Chocolate With Your Bill Guilts You Into Tipping More

    A group of researchers at Cornell set out to determine the effects of complimentary chocolate on restaurant tipping, because they have to study something now that all known diseases have been cured forever. They found that when customers were given a small piece of chocolate with their check, they tipped more than customers who received no reward. Not only that: The more free chocolate you get, the more money you leave on the table. No wonder the Easter Bunny has been doing his job for no salary for so long – he’s making a killing in tips.

    Read More

    Why Doesn’t Justin Bieber Get Shamed Like Taylor Swift

    It seems that hopping from one romantic partner to another is perfectly acceptable in our society — that is if you’re a guy, of course. If you want evidence, you need only look to the highly scrutinized culture of celebrity relationships. Specifically, high-profile headline-makers Taylor Swift and Justin Bieber, who provide a perfect microcosm of this sexist double standard.

    Back in June, Swift suddenly split from her partner of 15 months, Scottish DJ Calvin Harris. Two weeks later — while the public was still speculating on their separation — Swift was spotted getting cozy at the Met Gala with her current boyfriend, actor Tom Hiddleston. The pair soon became “Hiddleswift” to a fixated public, but not without the 26-year-old songbird getting some serious heat for having the “nerve” to move onto another love interest so … swiftly.

    Swift’s back-to-back romances even spawned a Twitter hashtag, #IDumpedTaylorSwiftBecause, which became a repository for sexist snark — and vocal feminists. The misogyny became so brutal that Amber Rose, notorious shaming target and founder of the Amber Rose Slut Walk, felt the need to come forward to defend Swift. In an interview with the Daily Beast, Rose said the backlash was because, for a woman, moving on so quickly is “unheard of, and she’s acting very ‘slutty’ and for some reason needs time to ‘let her p***y rest. That’s how people look at it, and it’s just like, hell no! If I’m done, why do I have to sit in the house and be lonely?”

    Fast-forward to earlier this month, when Bieber lit up Instagram by posting a series of photos of himself hanging out with 17-year-old model Sofia Richie (daughter of Lionel) in Tokyo. His Instagram is now deleted, because the photos drove Beliebers to spew venom at Richie — literally, in Internet terms. Fans barraged both Bieber’s and Richie’s accounts with hateful comments and accusations of Richie being a “snake” — complete with snake emoticons — for simply spending time with the star.

    But Bieber seemed to move on even more quickly than Swift — just a week later he was spotted jetting off to the U.K. to spend time with another pretty young thing, model Bronte Blampied. (For the record, it’s still on with Richie.) Instead of inciting Internet ire, as Swift did, Beiber was free to play the field. No slut-shaming. No bullying hash tags. No need for anyone to come to his defense.

    Justin Bieber is free to play the field in peace. Why can’t Taylor Swift?

    So why the double standard? According to Slate, new research confirms that slut-shaming is a sexist thing reserved just for women, and it’s deeply ingrained in the psyches of both males and females. And the article points out that it’s not just men who are judging and shaming women for moving on too quickly or for being sexually permissive: “Promiscuous women can’t get a break — even from other promiscuous women,” the article says.

    In the study referenced by the Daily Beast (conducted by Cornell University researchers and published in the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships), a woman with 20 sexual partners was viewed as “less competent, emotionally stable, warm, and dominant” than a woman with just two partners. A man with 20 partners, on the other hand, was seen as “more competent and emotionally stable” than his less-experienced counterpart. This assessment came from both male and female participants. The Daily Beast quoted UCLA sociologist Jessica Carbino as saying, in regard to the findings, “men and women both agree that men should actively pursue female partners and that women should be passive recipients to their advances,” and that “when women do not adhere to these scripts they are viewed negatively.”

    “There is a simple reason why female celebrities get treated in this way,” says James Preece, a prominent U.K. dating expert and dating coach. “It’s because men (and quite often women) find their behavior threatening. We are conditioned to believe that men should have the sexual power, and when a woman starts taking control, it confuses the balance. It makes the men worry that they’ll never be attractive enough to get the women they lust after. Women get upset because these women are taking the attention away from them and they know they can’t compete,” Preece tells Yahoo Style.

    “Times are changing, and we are all free to date anyone we choose as long as it doesn’t hurt anyone,” says Preece. Free in a literal sense, yes. But in the court of public opinion? Not quite yet.
    Why Political Correctness Is Actually Great for America, According to Science

    Next time someone tells you to check your privilege, do it. Not only will it improve your perspective on life, but according to new research, it’ll make you more creative, too.

    In a recent study, researchers from Cornell University found that political correctness — the avoidance of offensive remarks or words chided by some as social censorship — prompts discussion and ideas far more than it hinders them.

    Dolphins, crows, primates and parrots have all been observed using unique calls when they want the attention of specific members of their groups. This means that, at least among these species, individual animals actually have the equivalent of their own names. Most perplexing of all seems to be parrots, because according to pirate-movie logic, it should scientifically turn out that every single parrot ever has the same name.

    But now that scientists know that parrots have signature calls, a few questions come up, like: Who gets to decide the signature call that’s given to each parrot chick? Is it the parrots themselves who decide what they should be called, thus making it an innate characteristic? Is some sort of alpha parrot handing out identifying sounds? In order to answer all these questions, researchers at Cornell University filmed parrots in the wild of Venezuela, along with their newborn chicks, to see exactly when and how a parrot got its name.

    What the scientists found was that it was not the parrot newborns who got to choose their signature calls. Instead, it was the proud parrot parents who gave each chick its name. Much like a human, the adult parrot will choose a name for its young soon after it’s born. Each parrot, though, may tweak its own signature call as it grows older, elongating a whistle here or shortening a chirp there, essentially giving itself a nickname.

    6 Things You Won’t Believe Animals Do Just Like Us


    Seven tussling puppies could bring a smile to anyone’s face. But one litter has a team of scientists beaming more than usual.

    The puppies — five beagles and two “bockers,” or beagle-cocker spaniel mixes — are the first ever born through in vitro fertilization.

    IVF has been used successfully in other animals — including, notably, humans — for decades. But despite numerous attempts, scientists had never succeeded in using IVF in dogs.

    But this year, researchers at Cornell transferred 19 embryos into a female host dog. In July, after a scheduled cesarean section, they welcomed seven new puppies into the world.

    7 Bundles Of Scientific Joy: ‘Test Tube Puppies’ Prove IVF Can Work In Dogs

    Photos: Mike Carroll/Cornell University and Jeffrey MacMillan/Cornell University

    According to research from Cornell University and the University of Indianapolis earlier this year, people who met their significant other through friends, family or community, as opposed to at a bar or online, not only had “stronger ties,” but got positive reinforcement that their organic way of meeting was more “socially acceptable.”

    On the other hand, the study found that couples who met online were self-conscious about their unions, despite the fact that the stigma against online dating has been shrinking for years. “Our results suggest that those who meet via weak ties perceive lower levels of support for their unions,” the researchers report in their abstract.
    Mapping Microbes in the New York City Subway

    Public transit systems have always conjured images of bacteria-ridden seats and handles spreading microbes from person toppers all day long. Weill Cornell Medical School researchers swabbed benches, railings, and turnstiles in all the subway stations on all 24 lines in the New York City Subway, proving that image mostly true.

    Bacteria make up almost half of all of the organisms found in the subway; however, that shouldn’t worry daily riders. Viruses, not bacteria, are the true spreaders of sickness. You can only catch the flu or a cold from fellow passengers through viruses, which only made up a small fraction of a percentage of all organisms found. Because the researchers used DNA tests to analyze the samples, the DNA from people who travelled through each station and line could be identified, allowing the ancestry of ethnic populations within the city to be mapped.

    The South Ferry station - the one that provided iconic photos of a flooded New York City during Hurricane Sandy - was also sampled, yielding 10 species of bacteria that weren’t found anywhere else in the subway system.

    The most interesting part of all of this is that 48% of the microbes found did not match any known organism. This emphasizes the ever-changing diversity of the unique ecosystems that develop in urban environments. Millions of people from around the world pass through the NYC Subway every year, making for one of the most interesting science experiments in microbiology.

    By Oliver K., Discoverer

    Edited by Jessica F.



    The discovery of a split-second burst of radio waves by scientists using the Arecibo radio telescope in Puerto Rico provides important new evidence of mysterious pulses that appear to come from deep in outer space.

    The finding by an international team of astronomers, published July 10 in The Astrophysical Journal, marks the first time that a so-called “fast radio burst” has been detected using an instrument other than the Parkes radio telescope in Australia. Scientists using the Parkes Observatory have recorded a handful of such events, but the lack of any similar findings by other facilities had led to speculation that the Australian instrument might have been picking up signals originating from sources on or near Earth.

    “Our result is important because it eliminates any doubt that these radio bursts are truly of cosmic origin,” said Victoria Kaspi, an astrophysics professor at McGill University in Montreal and Principal Investigator for the pulsar-survey project that detected this fast radio burst. “The radio waves show every sign of having come from far outside our galaxy – a really exciting prospect.”

    Exactly what may be causing such radio bursts represents a major new enigma for astrophysicists. Possibilities include a range of exotic astrophysical objects, such as evaporating black holes, mergers of neutron stars, or flares from magnetars – a type of neutron star with extremely powerful magnetic fields.

    “Another possibility is that they are bursts much brighter than the giant pulses seen from some pulsars,” notes James Cordes, a professor of astronomy at Cornell University and co-author of the new study.

    The unusual pulse was detected on Nov. 2, 2012, at the Arecibo Observatory, a National Science Foundation-sponsored facility that boasts the world’s largest and most sensitive radio telescope, with a radio-mirror dish spanning 305 meters and covering about 20 acres.

    While fast radio bursts last just a few thousandths of a second and have rarely been detected, the international team of scientists reporting the Arecibo finding confirm previous estimates that these strange cosmic bursts occur roughly 10,000 times a day over the whole sky. This astonishingly large number is inferred by calculating how much sky was observed, and for how long, in order to make the few detections that have so far been reported.

    “The brightness and duration of this event, and the inferred rate at which these bursts occur, are all consistent with the properties of the bursts previously detected by the Parkes telescope in Australia,” said Laura Spitler, lead author of the new paper. Dr. Spitler, now a postdoctoral researcher at the Max Planck Institute for Radio Astronomy in Bonn, Germany, was a PhD student at Cornell when the research work began.

    The bursts appear to be coming from beyond the Milky Way galaxy based on measurement of an effect known as plasma dispersion. Pulses that travel through the cosmos are distinguished from man-made interference by the effect of interstellar electrons, which cause radio waves to travel more slowly at lower radio frequencies. The burst detected by the Arecibo telescope has three times the maximum dispersion measure that would be expected from a source within the galaxy, the scientists report.

    The discovery was made as part of the Pulsar Arecibo L-Band Feed Array (PALFA) survey, which aims to find a large sample of pulsars and to discover rare objects useful for probing fundamental aspects of neutron star physics and testing theories of gravitational physics.

    Efforts are now under way to detect radio bursts using radio telescopes that can observe broad swaths of the sky to help identify them. Telescopes under construction in Australia and South Africa as well as the CHIME telescope in Canada have the potential to detect fast radio bursts; astronomers say these and other new facilities could pave the way for many more discoveries and a better understanding of this mysterious cosmic phenomenon.

    God’s Chosen Planet

    Why creationists are praying we never find alien life.

    Could primordial soup be served ice-cold and made with a liquid other than water? Astrobiologists believe that it’s possible on Titan. Although the temperature on Saturn’s massive moon is a chilly minus 179 degrees Celsius, it has a thick nitrogen atmosphere rich in organic molecules and a surface speckled with methane lakes. These ingredients, according to computer simulations recently conducted at Cornell University, could combine to form cellular membranes, which are crucial for the evolution of complex cells. “Ours is the first concrete blueprint of life not as we know it,” said one of the researchers in a news release. Another expressed hope that we might someday send a probe “to float on the seas of this amazing moon.” But the creationists at the hilariously misnamed Discovery Institute, a prominent advocate for intelligent design theory, had a different spin on the story. It described the Cornell researchers as hucksters who had proved nothing: “Get out your checkbook, U.S Congress. Coming up: a search across the Solar System for stone-cold dead BUBBLES.” Ridiculing astrobiologists is a favorite sport at the Discovery Institute, which complains on its news site that “hardly a month goes by lately when the science media fail to breathlessly report the discovery of a new planet, in some star’s ‘habitable zone,’ that might hypothetically be capable of supporting life.” The institute attributes the coverage in part to hype purposefully generated by “organized science” to shake down the government for grant money.

    (via Creationist cosmology conflicts with astrobiology: Extraterrestrial life would be evidence of evolution.)

    New Molecule Found In Space Connotes Life Origins:  

    Hunting from a distance of 27,000 light years, astronomers have discovered an unusual carbon-based molecule – one with a branched structure – contained within a giant gas cloud in interstellar space. Like finding a molecular needle in a cosmic haystack, astronomers have detected radio waves emitted by isopropyl cyanide. The discovery suggests that the complex molecules needed for life may have their origins in interstellar space.

    Using the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array, known as the ALMA Observatory, a group of radio telescopes funded partially through the National Science Foundation, researchers studied the gaseous star-forming region Sagittarius B2.

    Astronomers from Cornell, the Max Planck Institute for Radio Astronomy and the University of Cologne (Germany) describe their discovery in the journal Science (Sept. 26.)

    Organic molecules usually found in these star-forming regions consist of a single “backbone” of carbon atoms arranged in a straight chain. But the carbon structure of isopropyl cyanide branches off, making it the first interstellar detection of such a molecule, says Rob Garrod, Cornell senior research associate at the Center for Radiophysics and Space Research.

    This detection opens a new frontier in the complexity of molecules that can be formed in interstellar space and that might ultimately find their way to the surfaces of planets, says Garrod. The branched carbon structure of isopropyl cyanide is a common feature in molecules that are needed for life – such as amino acids, which are the building blocks of proteins. This new discovery lends weight to the idea that biologically crucial molecules, like amino acids that are commonly found in meteorites, are produced early in the process of star formation – even before planets such as Earth are formed.

    Garrod, along with lead author Arnaud Belloche and Karl Menten, both of the Max Planck Institute for Radio Astronomy, and Holger Müller, of the University of Cologne, sought to examine the chemical makeup of Sagittarius B2, a region close to the Milky Way’s galactic center and an area rich in complex interstellar organic molecules.

    With ALMA, the group conducted a full spectral survey – looking for fingerprints of new interstellar molecules – with sensitivity and resolution 10 times greater than previous surveys.

    The purpose of the ALMA Observatory is to search for cosmic origins through an array of 66 sensitive radio antennas from the high elevation and dry air of northern Chile’s Atacama Desert. The array of radio telescopes works together to form a gigantic “eye” peering into the cosmos.

    “Understanding the production of organic material at the early stages of star formation is critical to piecing together the gradual progression from simple molecules to potentially life-bearing chemistry,” said Belloche.

    About 50 individual features for isopropyl cyanide (and 120 for normal-propyl cyanide, its straight-chain sister molecule) were identified in the ALMA spectrum of the Sagittarius B2 region. The two molecules – isopropyl cyanide and normal-propyl cyanide – are also the largest molecules yet detected in any star-forming region.

    Crowdsourcing Pest Control in New York

    Paul Glader on New York’s program to eradicate the Asian long-horned beetle:

    “They have managed to kill roughly eighty thousand trees in the U.S. Left unchecked, they could kill millions more, affecting bird habitats and blighting landscapes in many parts of the country. According to researchers at Cornell University, invasive species like the Asian long-horned beetle cost the United States more than a hundred and thirty-seven billion dollars per year.”

    Above: a female Asian long-horned beetle. Photograph by Barbara Strnadova/Getty.