Category: News Article

Saturn’s Rings Are Younger Than Previously Thought

By Steven Novella

The gorgeous rings of Saturn are one of the most dramatic features of our solar system, and certainly a favorite of any backyard astronomer. Are they, however, a fixture that have been present for the majority of the life of our solar system, or are they a recent addition?

Of course we have no observations from millions or billions of years ago, so we can only infer their probable age. Up until recently astronomers believed they were probably ancient because the large collisions that likely produced them would have been far more likely in the early crowded solar system. However – recent evidence from Cassini has changed that conclusion.

The Cassini probe made detailed observations of Saturn and its rings for years, until it plummeted into the planet this September. Scientists are still analyzing all the data it sent back home. Two lines of evidence suggest that the rings of Saturn are far younger than previously suspected

Continue reading by clicking the name of the source below.

Against Trump’s Promises, GOP Won’t Include Johnson Amendment Repeal in Tax Bill

By Hemant Mehta

While the Republican Party’s tax scam continues being “worked” on, there’s always hope that a couple of GOP senators will come to their senses (like the entire Democratic delegation) and stop this monstrosity that benefits the wealthy at the expense of millions of Americans. But thanks to their incompetence, two wrongs might make a right.

One of the perks of this bill for the Religious Right was going to be the ability for pastors to endorse candidates from the pulpit without fearing the loss of their churches’ tax exemptions. This was better known as the repeal of the Johnson Amendment, and it was something Donald Trump had been promising them for years. He even said at a prayer breakfast in February that he would “get rid of and totally destroy the Johnson Amendment.” Then, months later, he signed an executive order purporting to do just that… even though it did no such thing.

To be sure, you could count on a single hand the number of churches whose tax exemptions have been revoked by the IRS over the past decade — and that’s after a horrible accident. The IRS just never acted on these violations even when baited by the Religious Right. But Congress was determined to make sure the IRS couldn’t take action even if they wanted to.

Continue reading by clicking the name of the source below.

This visitor from beyond our solar system will be probed for signs of life

By Ben Guarino

Our solar system has a visitor. It’s cylindrical, dark and reddish, a quarter-mile long. The object won’t be staying. This fall, astronomers announced that the thing came blazing into our neck of the galaxy at speeds of up to 196,000 mph. It is now headed away as quickly as it came.

The object’s trajectory is so strange and its speeds are so blistering that it probably did not originate from within our solar system. Its discoverers concluded that the object is a rare interstellar traveler from beyond our solar system, the first object of its kind observed by humans.

Astronomers at the University of Hawaii, who discovered the object with the Pan-STARRS 1 telescope, said the visitor was an asteroid. In October, they named the asteroid ‘Oumuamua — Hawaiian for “messenger.” ‘Oumuamua, which appears rocky or metallic, lacks the characteristics of a comet.

Continue reading by clicking the name of the source below.

Rio’s Pentecostal mayor takes on the capital of Carnival

By Anthony Faiola and Anna Jean Kaiser

 The mayor of this sultry metropolis slashed funding for Carnival, the city’s gay pride parade and a procession honoring an Afro-Brazilian goddess. Mayor Marcelo Crivella, a Pentecostal Christian, calls the moves fiscal prudence. But Rio’s liberals see a thinly veiled crusade to impose God’s law from city hall.

As political polarization intensifies in the United States, Latin America’s largest nation is locked in its own escalating culture wars, with the rise of an increasingly powerful religious right.

Evangelical politicians such as Crivella — a 60-year-old bishop and former gospel singer who once claimed that homosexuality could result from botched abortions — are finding enormous success in Brazil. Their rise comes as conservative Protestant faiths make massive inroads in this predominantly Catholic country and as corruption scandals taint traditional political parties, causing more Brazilians to vote outside the box. 

Continue reading by clicking the name of the source below.

Antarctic Microbes Can Survive on Air Alone

By Stephanie Pappas

Talk about an extreme diet. Antarctic microbes are capable of surviving on air, according to a new study published in the journal Nature.

Soil microbes that live in polar deserts must contend with extremely dry conditions, nutrient-poor dirt and 24-hour darkness for half the year. Now, a genetic study of some of these microscopic survivors reveals that they pull it off by gleaning trace gases right out of thin air.

“This new understanding about how life can still exist in physically extreme and nutrient-starved environments like Antarctica opens up the possibility of atmospheric gases supporting life on other planets,” study leader Belinda Ferrari, a microbiologist at the University of New South Wales in Australia, said in a statement.

Continue reading by clicking the name of the source below.

Tiny sea creatures upend notion of how animals’ nervous systems evolved

By Amy Maxmen

A study of some of the world’s most obscure marine life suggests that the central nervous system evolved independently several times — not just once, as previously thought1.

The invertebrates in question belong to families scattered throughout the animal evolutionary tree, and they display a diversity of central nerve cord architectures. The creatures also activate genes involved with nervous system development in other, well-studied animals — but they often do it in non-neural ways, report the authors of the paper, published on 13 December in Nature.

“This puts a stake in the heart of the idea of an ancestor with a central nerve cord,” says Greg Wray, an evolutionary developmental biologist at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina. “That opens up a lot of questions we don’t have answers to — like, if central nerve cords evolved independently in different lineages, why do they have so many similarities?”

Continue reading by clicking the name of the source below.

Roy Moore Longs for Theocracy in Non-Concession Speech

By Hemant Mehta

Last night, Roy Moore reiterated that he wasn’t conceding his Senate race in Alabama to Democrat Doug Jones just yet before reminding us why he had no business ever going to Congress even before the molestation scandal came to light.

Moore sounded like a retiring pop star singing his greatest hits, hitting on his campaign platform of We’re Not Fundamentalist Christian Enough.

Today, we no longer recognize the universal truth that God is the author of our life and liberty.

Abortion, sodomy, and materialism have taken the place of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

We have stopped prayer in our schools.

We have killed over 60 million of our unborn children.

We have redefined marriage and destroyed the basis of family, which is the building block of our Country.

We have even begun to recognize the right of a man to claim to be a woman, and vice versa.

Immorality sweeps over our land.

Speaking of immorality, nowhere in that video was there an apology to the women who accused him of molestation and general creepiness.

Continue reading by clicking the name of the source below.

You Don’t Need to Take an Oath on a Bible, or Any Religious Text

By Jonah Engel Bromwich

It was an odd footnote to the Alabama Senate race Tuesday night.

In an interview on CNN, hours before the Republican candidate Roy S. Moore would go on to lose the election, his spokesman asserted that elected officials in the United States were required to take the oath of office on a Christian Bible.

The spokesman, Ted Crockett, used the argument to justify Mr. Moore’s position that Muslim politicians should not be allowed in Congress.

The comments capped off a 10-minute interview in which Mr. Crockett discussed the allegations of sexual abuse against Mr. Moore and reiterated the candidate’s contention that homosexual acts should “probably” be illegal.

“You have to swear on a Bible to be an elected official in the United States of America,” Mr. Crockett said.

The CNN anchor Jake Tapper responded: “You don’t actually have to swear on a Christian Bible. You can swear on anything, really. I don’t know if you knew that.”

Continue reading by clicking the name of the source below.

Spectacular Geminid Meteor Shower Peaks Tonight! How to Watch Online

By Elizabeth Howell

If it’s clear outside on Wednesday night (Dec. 13) and Thursday morning (Dec. 14) before dawn, be sure to go outdoors. One of the year’s top meteor showers, the Geminids, will peak, with rates as high as one or two meteors per minute at around 10 p.m. local time. However, the show will start around 7 p.m. local time, according to the magazine Sky & Telescope.

But if you can’t make it out, or if skies are gloomy, you can also watch a Geminids webcast here from NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Alabama starting at sunset, about 4:40 p.m. CST (5:40 p.m. EST, or 2230 GMT) on Dec. 13. The Virtual Telescope Project will also host a webcast here showing live views from Italy, starting at 5 p.m. EDT (2200 GMT) on Dec. 13, and Arizona, starting at 5 a.m. (1000 GMT) on Dec. 14.

“The Geminids are usually one of the two best meteor showers of the year,” Alan MacRobert, senior editor at Sky & Telescope, said in a statement. “Sometimes, they’re more impressive than the better-known Perseids of August.”

The meteors will appear to radiate from the constellation Gemini, which is in between the constellations Taurus and Cancer. To find Gemini, look for the bright constellation Orion (easily visible due to the “belt” of three stars in a row). Gemini is just over Orion’s right shoulder. But there’s no need to look directly at Gemini to see the meteors.

Continue reading by clicking the name of the source below.

The GOP tax plan would blow a hole in American science

By Julia Belluz

If you thought the Republican tax plan was just about huge tax cuts for the wealthy, think again. It’s also a major attack on science.

To understand why, let’s step back a bit. The scientific enterprise in America heavily relies on grad students. They do mostly invisible work in thousands of labs and research institutions across the US, on everything from basic research about human cells to clinical research on how to cure cancer. Their contributions are essential to running studies.

In exchange for that labor during their training, the federal government gives them a break on their taxes.

Very simply, grad students get their tuition and other school fees waived while they’re teaching or researching. When tax season rolls around, they’re exempted from having to pay taxes on that money (which never hits their pockets).

But under the House version of the tax bill, these waivers would become taxable income. “This means that MIT graduate students would be responsible for paying taxes on an $80,000 annual salary, when we actually earn $33,000 a year,” explained one MIT grad student, Erin Rousseau, in an op-ed in the New York Times. “That’s an increase of our tax burden by at least $10,000 annually.”

Continue reading by clicking the name of the source below.