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Bees create buzz by learning to play golf

Bumblebees playing an improvised game of golf are creating quite a buzz among scientists.

>> Read more trending news

The bees have learned to push a ball into a hole to receive a reward, New Scientist reported.

Scientists know that bees can learn to pull a string to reach an artificial flower containing sugar solution. Bees sometimes have to pull parts of flowers to access nectar, so this isn’t a difficult concept to learn. So Olli Loukola at London’s Queen Mary University tried a more complex task.

Loukola wanted to see if bees could learn to move an object that was not attached to a reward, New Scientist reported. His team built a circular platform with a small hole in the center that was filled with a sugar solution. A researcher showed the bees how to “putt” a ball across the “green,” using a plastic bee on a stick that demonstrated how to move the round object.

The researchers trained three groups  bees differently, New Scientist reported. One group watched a previously trained bee solving the task; another was shown the ball moving into the hole, pulled by a hidden magnet; and a third group was given no demonstration, but was shown the ball already in the hole containing the reward.

The researchers then let the bees do the task on their own. The bees that watched others move the ball were the most successful and took less time to solve the task. Bees that saw the magnetic demonstration also were more successful than those that did not view it.

When the bees were trained with three balls placed at different distances from the hole, most of the successful bees moved the one closest to the hole. This showed that they were able to make generalizations to solve the task more easily, rather than copying exactly what they had seen, New Scientist reported. They also succeeded when faced with a black ball after being trained with a yellow one, showing they weren’t just attracted to the specific color.

“They don’t just blindly copy the demonstrator; they can improve on what they learned,” Loukola said. He thinks this cognitive flexibility could help the bees forage successfully in changing natural environments. “This ability to copy others and improve upon what they observe, I think that’s really important.”

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Space travel is measured in light years, but what's a light year anyway?

Stars and galaxies in outer space are just so far away, it’s hard to comprehend the staggering distances.

Scientists have come up with ways to measure space distance that are easier to understand.

A light year is one of those space measurements and is similar to how a mile or kilometer measures distance on Earth. Distances in space are so vast, though, that a mile or a kilometer is just too small a number to be useful, because of the huge numbers involved in space travel. Light years work better.

A light year is measured by the time it takes a ray of light to travel a given distance.

While a light year has nothing to do with time as we know it on Earth, it does measure the distance that light travels, or the time it takes the light to move in one year, according to NASA.

>> Read more trending news  

Since light moves at about 186,000 miles or about 300,000 kilometers a second, it can travel almost 6 trillion miles or about 10 trillion kilometers in a year.

If people could travel at the speed of light, they would be able to circle the Earth more than seven times in just a second.

In one second, light travels a distance of one light second, and in a year, light travels a distance of one light year.

Related: Nasa finds 7 'Earth-sized planets' orbiting star just 40 light years away

The moon is a little over one light second from Earth, meaning it would take a beam of light on Earth a little more than a second to reach the moon. The sun, which is 93 million miles from earth, is measured in light minutes and is some eight light minutes away.

Mars is under 25 light minutes from Earth, depending on its orbit around the sun, and the other planets in the solar system are several light hours from Earth.

The Milky Way galaxy, for example, measures about 150,000 light years across. The Andromeda galaxy, the nearest large galaxy, is more than 2 million light years away.

How long does it take to travel a light year? Here’s an example. The next closest star after the sun, is called Proxima Centauri. It is just over 4 light years away. If a spacecraft were traveling 38,000 miles per hour, it would still take 80,000 years to reach the star, according to the University of Virginia Physics Department.

Scientists find 7 'Earth-sized planets' orbiting star 40 light-years away, NASA says

Forthy light-years from Earth, scientists have discovered seven "Earth-sized planets" in the largest-ever cache of planets found around a single star outside of our solar system.

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"The discovery gives us a hint that finding a second Earth is not just a matter of if, but when," said Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator of the Science Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters. "You can just imagine how many worlds are out there that have a shot at becoming a habitable ecosystem that we can explore."

Three of the newly discovered planets are in what's known as the habitable zone, the area around a star where a rocky planet is most likely to have liquid water, according to NASA. The Hubble Space Telescope has started to scan four of the planets, including the three found in the habitable zone.

New record! We've found 7 Earth-sized planets around a single star outside our solar system; 3 in habitable zone: https://t.co/GgBy5QOTpK pic.twitter.com/NEavRSXDU2— NASA (@NASA) February 22, 2017

The planets were found by astronomers using ground and space telescopes around an ultracool, red dwarf star named TRAPPIST-1, according to the European Organisation for Astronomical Research in the Southern Hemisphere (ESO).

The findings were published Wednesday in the scientific journal Nature. The paper's lead author, astronomer Michael Gillon, described the planets as "the seven wonders of TRAPPIST-1."

"The energy output from dwarf stars like TRAPPIST-1 is much weaker than that of our sun," said Amaury Triaud, one of the co-authors of the Nature paper. "Planets would need to be in far closer orbits than we see in the solar system if there is to be surface water. Fortunately, it seems that this kind of compact configuration is just what we see around TRAPPIST-1."

Scientists characterized the discovery as a significant leap in the search for alien life during a news conference on Wednesday afternoon.

"Answering the question, 'Are we alone?' is a top science priority, and finding so many planets like these for the first time in the habitable zone is a remarkable step forward toward that goal," Zurbuchen said.

The planets were spotted when scientists noticed dips in TRAPPIST-1's light output, according to ESO. The discovery was made using Spitzer, an infrared telescope that trails Earth as it orbits the sun, NASA officials said.

Astronomers determined that the dips were caused by the planets as they passed between the star and Spitzer.

The planets have been temporarily named with letters, TRAPPIST-1b through TRAPPIST-1h, in order of increasing distance from their parent star.

NASA to announce 'discovery beyond our solar system'

Scientists will share newly discovered information on Wednesday about planets that orbit stars other than Earth's sun at a 1 p.m. news conference hosted by NASA.

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The announcement that NASA would share findings on a "discovery beyond our solar system" came Monday. The vague nature of the tease prompted speculation that scientist could unveil the discovery of an alien species.

NASA conference at 6, supposedly presenting a finding "beyond our solar system" #Aliens #Nasa pic.twitter.com/aYhPFcmmvk— Will Doyle (@ALifeOfAnxiety) February 22, 2017

Has Nasa found ALIENS? Space agency to announce 'discovery beyond our s... https://t.co/PGv4Qig1Fe via @alienufovideos pic.twitter.com/DiG9PcQWBc— Alien UFO Sightings (@alienufovideos) February 22, 2017

However, as Mashable pointed out in an article headlined "It's not aliens. It's never aliens. Stop saying it's aliens," it's not aliens. Scientists promised that despite the news conference not addressing alien life, the announcement would still include "exciting news."

Pssst! We've got exciting news from beyond our solar system! Spoiler: NOT aliens. Watch at 1pm ET: https://t.co/mzKW5uV4hS Q? Use #askNASA pic.twitter.com/uHremmTTqK— NASA (@NASA) February 22, 2017

NASA will air the news conference at 1 p.m. on its website.

Speakers include Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator of the Science Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters; Michael Gillon, astronomer at Belgium's University of Liege; Sean Carey, manager of NASA's Spitzer Science Center; Nikole Lewis, astronomer at Baltimore's Space Telescope Science Institute and Sara Seager, professor of planetary science and physics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge.

The group will follow the presentation at 3 p.m. with a Reddit Ask Me Anything conversation about exoplanets.

Will Pluto regain its planetary swagger? Scientists are pushing for it

A decade ago, poor Pluto got some unsettling news.

It wasn't really a true planet, the International Astronomical Union said. Pluto was demoted to a more minor player in the solar system, a dwarf planet at best.

But a handful of NASA scientists are leading a charge to redefine the word planet in a bid that could give Pluto back its planetary swagger.

>> Read more trending stories

Because, really, being a planet is better, they said.

"In the mind of the public, the word 'planet' carries a significance lacking in other words used to describe planetary bodies," the group wrote in a proposal to IAU. "In the decade following the supposed 'demotion' of Pluto by the IAU, many members of the public, in our experience, assume that alleged 'non-planets' cease to be interesting enough to warrant scientific exploration."

The group, which includes Sol Alan Stern, the principal investigator of the New Horizons mission to Pluto, notes that the shaming of Pluto was not the intent of the IAU.

IAU's definition of planet in 2006 changed to an object that must circle the sun without being some other object's satellite and be large enough to be rounded by its own gravity, but not so big that it begins to undergo nuclear fusion like a star."

Pluto didn't cut the mustard following the discovery of other large objects in the Kuiper Belt.

Now, the scientists on Pluto's planetary team claim a common question they hear is: "Why did you send New Horizons to Pluto if it's not a planet anymore."

The proposed new definition is a bit of a mouthful:

"A planet is a sub-stellar mass body that has never undergone nuclear fusion and that has sufficient self-gravitation to assume a spheroidal shape adequately described by a triaxial ellipsoid regardless of its orbital parameters."

But can be summed up with "round objects in space that are smaller than stars." (This is the elementary school definition, the scientists note).

It's in the hands of the IAU to rule on the plan. If it's approved, Pluto may indeed regain its planetary prowess.

WATCH: SpaceX launches Falcon 9 rocket from Florida's Kennedy Space Center

SpaceX's Falcon 9 rocket launched Sunday morning from Kennedy Space Center after a failed attempt Saturday.

>> PREVIOUS STORY: SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket launch aborted

The rocket – which blasted off from launch pad 39A with a Dragon supply ship on top – was packed with cargo Friday that will be brought to the International Space Station. The cargo includes 5,500 pounds of science experiments, research equipment and supplies for astronauts.

>> Click here to watch the launch

Sunday's launch was SpaceX’s first in Florida since the September explosion of a Falcon 9 rocket at the nearby SpaceX Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. That launch damaged the company's pad.

There hasn't been a launch from Kennedy Space Center since 2011. 

>> Read more trending news

Astronauts lifted off from pad 39A six times from 1969 to 1972 on their way to the moon. The pad hasn't been used since the retirement of the space shuttle program.

Read more here.

Breathtaking. #rocket #SpaceX #wftv pic.twitter.com/4x4P1SAyc1— Julie Salomone (@JSalomoneWFTV) February 19, 2017

Right on schedule, solar arrays have been deployed on @SpaceX #Dragon cargo spacecraft. Watch: https://t.co/mzKW5uDsTi pic.twitter.com/NCqYrCNR7x— NASA (@NASA) February 19, 2017 <script async src="//platform.twitter.com/widgets.js" charset="utf-8"></script>

pic.twitter.com/6Ve3YJoStm— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) February 19, 2017 <script async src="//platform.twitter.com/widgets.js" charset="utf-8"></script>

Scientists tab new continent: Zealandia

It may be time to update those geography books. Scientists are now claiming there is a new continent.

>> Read more trending news

Zealandia was named as that new continent, according to a study released online Thursday by The Geological Society of America.

Zealandia joins the other continents: Africa, Asia, Antarctica, Australia, Europe, North America and South America. However, some geologists do argue that Europe and Asia are one continent, known as Eurasia.

For years, Australia and New Zealand were believed to share the continent called Australasia, the Weather Channel reported. But a recent 10-year project conducted by 11 researchers determined that they are, in fact, on separate continents. 

New Zealand now calls a 1.8 million square mile land mass known as Zealandia home. This new continent also includes New Caledonia, along with several other territories and island groups.

Geophysicist Bruce Luyendyk first coined the term Zealandia back in 1995.

"This is not a sudden discovery but a gradual realization; as recently as 10 years ago we would not have had the accumulated data or confidence in interpretation to write this paper," the authors wrote for the March/April 2017 issue of GSA Today, a Geological Society of America journal.

The researchers used recent and detailed satellite-based elevation, along with gravity maps of the ancient seafloor, to show that Zealandia is part of one unified region.

GSA Today #Science Online Ahead of Print'Zealandia: Earth’s Hidden Continent' https://t.co/gB85focR0w https://t.co/fTa7B0Xo1P pic.twitter.com/ZYQFFTr3ey — geosociety (@geosociety) February 16, 2017

Scientists discover 60 new planets, including one 'super Earth'

For the past two decades, scientists have been searching for exoplanets — planets beyond our own solar system — using the W.M. Keck Observatory in Hawaii as part of a project called the Lick-Carnegie Exoplanet Survey.

>> Read more trending stories

As the astronomers observed 1,600 stars, they found 60 new planets and additional evidence of 54 others.

One of the 60 new planets, according to the recent study published by the Lick Observatory and astronomy departments at multiple universities, is a "super Earth" called GJ 411b.

"Super Earth," according to TechTimes.com, is described as a hot planet with a rocky surface. It also orbits the star GJ 411, the fourth nearest star to the sun.

Scientists used a popular technique called radial velocity, which measures changes in the color and location of stars, to detect the planets.

According to Mikko Tuomi of the University of Hertfordshire, one of the colleagues involved in the project and study, the findings challenge conventional assumptions that only a few stars had planets.

Instead, there seems to be a nearly infinite number of planets beyond the solar system, TechTimes.com reported.

Read more about the study and its methodology.

Your dog knows when you’re behaving badly, new research shows

Dogs can recognize rudeness and they use that knowledge in how they behave around mean humans, a new study, published recently in the journal Neuroscience and Biobehavioral Reviews, has found.

Researchers from Canada and Japan studied dogs and monkeys in a series of experiments designed to observe how the animals would behave in a so-called moral situation, the New Scientist reported.

>> Read more trending news   Dogs watched as their owners tried to open a container while two actors stood nearby. One of the actors either helped or refused to help while the second actor stood by passively in both scenarios.

Then the dogs were offered treats. They accepted treats from both the helpful or passive actor, but refused treats, in a majority of cases, from the actor who was behaving rudely, essentially judging the mean actor on how he treated another person, the study concluded.

Researchers also discovered Capuchin monkeys behaved in the same way in similar experiments using a third party instead of a dog owner.

Scientists concluded that the monkeys understood helpfulness and fairness and that the dogs were able to comprehend and sought to avoid a rude person.

Both dogs and monkeys viewed rude people negatively, scientists said. They also concluded that animals are socially aware of the human and animal behavior around them.

Alzheimer’s disease fueled by gut bacteria, new study finds

Swedish researchers have discovered a link between intestinal bacteria and Alzheimer’s disease.

Scientists at Sweden’s Lund University found that certain kinds of gut bacteria accelerated the onset of the illness.

>> Read more trending news 

Researchers studied both healthy mice and those with Alzheimer’s disease. They placed both gut bacteria from healthy and diseased mice into rodents with no bacteria.

 

The mice that received bacteria from diseased rodents “developed more beta-amyloid plaques in the brain” compared to the mice that had received bacteria from healthy mice.

Beta-amyloid plaques build up between the nerve cells in the brains of people with Alzheimer’s disease. The presence of the plaques are one of the main signs of the disease.

“It was striking that the mice which completely lacked bacteria developed much less plaque in the brain,” study researcher Frida Fak Hallenius said.

“Our study is unique as it shows a direct causal link between gut bacteria and Alzheimer’s disease.”

Fak Hallenius with the Food for Health Science Center will now begin studying ways to prevent the disease and delay its onset.

“We consider this to be a major breakthrough as we used to only be able to give symptom-relieving antiretroviral drugs,” she said.

Alzheimer’s disease is the most common form of dementia. As many as 5 million people were living with the disease in 2013, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The study included researchers from Switzerland, Germany and Belgium.

The study results were published in the online journal Scientific Reports.

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