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Study: Cancer partly caused by bad luck

Authors of a provocative study published Thursday say that their research shows most of the mutations that lead to cancer crop up naturally.

>> Read more trending news

People can get cancer from tobacco smoke or can inherit the trait, but Bert Vogelstein and CristianTomasetti at the Johns Hopkins Kimmel Cancer Center suggest that many cancers are unavoidable, NPR reported.

"We all agree that 40 percent of cancers are preventable," Vogelstein said at a news conference. "The question is, what about the other cancers that aren't known to be preventable?"

Vogelstein, who is also an investigator with the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, explained how he and Tomasetti have refined that question. He said that every time a perfectly normal cell divides, it makes several mistakes when it copies its DNA. These are naturally occurring mutations, NPR reported.

 

Most of the time, those mutations are in unimportant bits of DNA. That's good luck. "But occasionally they occur in a cancer driver gene. That's bad luck," Vogelstein told NPR.

After two or three of these driver genes get mutated in the same cell, they can transform that healthy cell into a cancer cell.

In their new paper in Science, the researchers attempted to show how often those random errors are an inevitable part of cell division, how often they are caused by variables like tobacco smoke and how often they are inherited.

 

The researchers found that 66 percent of the total mutations are random, while 29 percent are due to the environment. The remaining 5 percent are due to heredity.

So, what can people do about preventing cancer? "Nothing. Right now, nothing," Vogelstein told NPR.

Parrots make each other laugh, at least kea birds in New Zealand do

 

New Zealand’s highly intelligent parrot, the playful kea bird, has a contagious “play call,” like human laughter, that makes other kea birds want to play more.

A new study in the journal Current Biology found that the kea is the first nonmammal species to display infectious laughter, joining humans, chimpanzees and rats in that realm.

>> Read more trending news

When scientists played recordings of the kea’s “play call” to keas in the wild, they found “the play call elicited significant increases in both the number of instances of play and play length.”   

Lead study researcher Raoul Schwing said the “play call” made keas immediately start to play, but not by joining play that was already happening.

“Instead they spontaneously started to play with the bird next to them, or played solitarily in the air or with an object,” Schwing said in an email to National Geographic.

What this means, Schwing said, is that the call does not “invite” the birds to play, but instead affects their mood by putting them in a friskier frame of mind.

“The fact that at least some of these birds started playing spontaneously when no other birds had been playing suggests that, similar to human laughter, it had an emotional effect on the birds that heard it, putting them in a playful state,” Schwing said.

The kea, a highly social and curious bird, native to New Zealand’s South Island, is on the country’s Nationally Endangered list.

It’s estimated as many as 5,000 survive in the wild, but the birds are especially vulnerable to predators because they nest on the ground.

Study: Solar system could have more than 100 planets (including Pluto)

Remember when Pluto was demoted to a dwarf planet in 2006? Well, a group of scientists is making a case for its comeback as the proper planet many of us grew up knowing.

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Johns Hopkins University scientist Kirby Runyon and his colleagues have proposed new criteria for classifying a planet that would not only label Pluto a planet again, but would label 100 other objects in the solar system as planets, too.

According to Tech Times, the current definition of a planet — last changed by the International Astronomical Union (IAU) in 2006 — requires that a celestial body is in orbit around the Sun, has sufficient mass for its self-gravity to overcome “rigid body forces” so that it retains a nearly round shape and has cleared the neighborhood around its orbit.

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

Pluto was demoted because it doesn’t meet IAU’s requirement of a clear area throughout its orbit.

But according to Runyon and his colleagues, no planet has actually completely cleared its orbit. Even Earth, Mars, Jupiter and Neptune share their orbits with asteroids, according to Science Daily.

Instead, the scientists argued, the definition of a planet should focus on the body itself and not things like location.

>> RELATED: Scientists discover 60 new planets, including one ‘super Earth’ 

Under their new proposed criteria, a planet is “a sub-stellar mass body that has never undergone nuclear fusion” with enough gravitational heft to maintain a roughly round shape, Science Daily reported.

Based on this definition, there could be nearly 110 planets in the solar system, including both Jupiter’s and Earth’s moons.

According to Science Daily, the new definition doesn’t require approval from a central governing body and has already been adapted by scientists at the University of Hawaii.

Read more about the study at ScienceDaily.com.

Eclipse will cross U.S. for first time since 1918

The Great American Eclipse” will cross the United States on Aug. 21, CNN reported.

>> Read more trending news 

It has been 99 years since a total solar eclipse crossed the country from the Pacific to the Atlantic. The total solar eclipse on June 8, 1918, crossed the country from Washington to Florida.

During the solar eclipse, the moon will pass between the sun and the Earth, appearing to block the sun for almost 90 minutes.

>> Related: Rare total solar eclipse visible from America in August

The eclipse is expected to cross the country from Portland, Oregon, to Charleston, South Carolina. Residents in other parts of the country will see a partial eclipse.

Scientists and space enthusiasts are already booking hotels for the big moment, CNN reported.

 

Weird, Dr. Seuss-looking flower discovered in Texas park isn’t a flower at all

 

It’s white with big pink spots all over it, and if you didn’t know better, you’d swear it was a flower that jumped right off the page of a Dr. Seuss children’s book.

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But it’s not a flower at all. It’s called a wool sower gall and it’s been getting a lot of attention since Texas park rangers at Atlanta State Park near Texarkana discovered one on Tuesday.

The galls are created when a wool sower wasp lays its eggs in a white oak, park officials said.

“When the eggs hatch in the spring, chemicals on the grubs stimulate the plant to produce this gall, which provides food and protection for the growing wasps,” park officials said on Facebook.

Park officials said their Facebook post on the sower gall is getting a lot of attention as interested nature lovers look for more information on the colorful gall.

 

 

Mass coral bleaching hits Great Barrier Reef for 2nd consecutive year

An aerial survey of the Great Barrier Reef last week showed widespread coral bleaching for the second consecutive year, an indication that water temperatures stayed too warm for coral to survive, Australian officials said.

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"We are seeing a decrease in the stress tolerance of these corals," said Neal Cantin, of the Australian Institute of Marine Sciences. "This is the first time the Great Barrier Reef has not had a few years between bleaching events to recover. Many coral species appear to be more susceptible to bleaching after more than 12 months of sustained above-average ocean temperatures."

Bleaching occurs when coral, invertebrates that live mostly in tropical waters, release the colorful algae that live in their tissues and expose their white, calcium carbonate skeletons. Bleached coral can recover if the water cools, but if high temperatures persist for months, the coral will die.

Eventually the reef will degrade, leaving fish without habitats and coastlines less protected from storm surges.

Officials with the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority and the Australian Institute of Marine Science found severe bleaching in the central part of the Great Barrier Reef Thursday during a six-hour flight between Townsville and Cairns. The area was spared the severe widespread bleaching seen last year.

"How this event unfolds will depend very much on local weather conditions over the next few weeks," said David Wachenfeld, director of reef recovery for the Marine Park Authority.

Wachenfeld emphasized that it's unlikely that all the bleached coral found Thursday will die.

"As we saw last year bleaching and mortality can be highly variable across the 344,000 square kilometer (133,000 square mile) Marine Park — an area bigger than Italy," he said.

The first global bleaching event occurred in 1998, when 16 percent of corals died. The problem spiraled dramatically in 2015-2016 amid an extended El Nino natural weather phenomenon that warmed Pacific waters near the equator and triggered the most widespread bleaching ever documented. This third global bleaching event, as it is known, continues today, even after El Nino ended.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Great white shark visits on the rise off Cape Cod, study finds out why

Great white sharks are discovering what tourists have known for years: Cape Cod is a great place to spend the summer.

The latest data from a multiyear study of the ocean predators found that the number of sharks in waters off the vacation haven appears to be on the rise, said Greg Skomal, a senior scientist with the Massachusetts Division of Marine Fisheries, and the state's top shark expert.

>> Read more trending news  

But that's no reason to cancel vacation. The sharks are after seals, not humans, and towns are using the information from the study to keep it that way.

"How long does it stay and where does it go are the questions we're trying to answer," Skomal said. "But for the towns, it's a public safety issue."

Researchers using a plane and boats spotted 147 individual white sharks last summer. That was up slightly from 2015, but significantly more than the 80 individual sharks spotted in 2014, the first year of the study, funded by the Atlantic White Shark Conservancy

More than half the white sharks spotted last summer hadn't previously been documented by this study. Researchers have also tagged more than 100 to track their movements.

The white shark population is probably significantly larger, because the scientists can't possibly spot all of them, Skomal said.

Captain Chip Michalove of Outcast Sport Fishing tagged the 6th white shark of the season yesterday off South Carolina. The 10ft male was named Hunter. Massachusetts Division of Marine FisheriesPosted by Atlantic White Shark Conservancy on Saturday, March 11, 2017

Two of the more interesting findings are the increasing number of young sharks, and that they appear to be swimming farther afield.

"Last summer we saw greater numbers of smaller sharks, including juveniles, and that tells us that the population is rebuilding," Skomal said.

Great whites, made famous in the 1975 movie "Jaws," about a monstrous shark that terrorizes a fictional New England resort town, are coming to Cape Cod waters to feast on seals. Once hunted to near extinction, the now-protected seals are found in great numbers.

The seals used to be concentrated at the Monomoy Wildlife Refuge, off limits to humans, but as they have moved farther north, so have the sharks, Skomal said.

>> Got a question about the news? See our explainers here 

The risk of a swimmer being attacked by a shark is minimal, and Cape Cod towns would like to keep it that way.

Smithsonian Magazine 'Can Social Media Give Sharks a Better Reputation?' - "Tagged sharks are typically assigned...Posted by Atlantic White Shark Conservancy on Sunday, March 12, 2017

The last documented fatal great white shark attack in Massachusetts waters was in 1936, Skomal said. In 2012, a man bitten while swimming off Truro required 47 stitches and surgery to repair damaged tendons. In 2014, two young women kayaking off Plymouth were attacked, although neither was bitten.

Nathan Sears, the natural resources manager in Orleans, said the study is invaluable and is already prompting changes in how the town manages its beaches.

The Atlantic White Shark Conservancy operate in the US around the NE, near a base in Chatham where many great whites are...Posted by Earth Times on Monday, March 13, 2017

The town used to fly dangerous marine life flags - they have a picture of shark on them - only when they knew there was a shark in the area. Now, he said, they fly the flag every day during the tourist season.

"The fact that they have an eye on the situation from the air is crucial," he said. "And if they spot a shark in the swimming area, we'll close the beach."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Saturn’s closest moon looks like a UFO — or pasta

On Thursday, NASA released photographs of Pan, one of Saturn's 53 confirmed moons, and its distinctive, bulging shape has viewers comparing it to a flying saucer — or ravioli.

>> Read more trending news

“Saturn’s tiny moon resembles a large ravioli … Yum!” tweeted photojournalist Seph Lawless.

The images of Saturn’s innermost moon were taken by NASA's Cassini spacecraft, showing the form of the tiny satellite, which has an average radius of 8.8 miles. Pan rotates 83,000 miles away from Saturn and is located within the Encke Gap of Saturn’s A-ring. It orbits the planet in 13.8 hours.

Cassini's Twitter account tweeted a gif showing the raw images.

According to NASA's website, Pan's strange shape comes from what is called an equatorial ridge, a characteristic it shares with one of its sister moons, Atlas, CNN reported.

Our closest looks ever at Saturn's tiny moon Pan: https://t.co/ZeEPE7M8jQ pic.twitter.com/kiQ1A8YUav— CassiniSaturn (@CassiniSaturn) March 9, 2017 <script async src="//platform.twitter.com/widgets.js" charset="utf-8"></script>

Saturn's tiny moon resembles a large ravioli ...Yum! 🚀👽💫#FridayFeeling pic.twitter.com/W4c4yT03yW — Seph Lawless (@seph_lawless) March 10, 2017

NASA finds 'lost' lunar spacecraft orbiting moon nearly a decade after it disappeared

Nearly a decade after scientists lost contact with the first unmanned Indian lunar spacecraft to shoot into space, NASA scientists said the spacecraft has been found.

>> Read more trending stories

The Indian Space Research Organization launched Chandrayaan-1 in October 2008 for "chemical, mineralogical and photo-geologic mapping of the Moon," according to The Indian Express. Less than a year later, researchers said they lost contact with the spacecraft.

But on Thursday, NASA scientists announced that they found Chandrayaan-1 and NASA's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter 237,000 miles above the Earth's surface while scanning the lunar poles.

"Finding (the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter) was relatively easy, as we were working with the mission's navigators and had precise orbit data where it was located," Maria Brozovic, a radar scientist at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California, said in a NASA report. "Finding India's Chandrayaan-1 required a bit more detective work because the last contact with the spacecraft was in August of 2009."

The Indian spacecraft, which is small at about half the size of a smart car, was found using existing interplanetary radar technology.

"Although the interplanetary radar has been used to observe small asteroids several million miles from Earth, researchers were not certain that an object of this smaller size as far away as the moon could be detected, even with the world's most powerful radars," NASA said in its report. "Chandrayaan-1 proved the perfect target for demonstrating the capability of this technique."

Scientists said the discovery could be pivotal to planning future moon missions.

The large radar antennas at NASA's Goldstone Deep Space Communications Complex in California, the Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico and the Green Bank Telescope in West Virginia working in tandem might be used to detect and track "even small spacecraft in lunar orbit," scientists said.

Meanwhile, NASA researchers said, "Ground-based radars could possibly play a part in future robotic and human missions to the moon, both for a collisional hazard assessment tool and as a safety mechanism for spacecraft that encounter navigation or communication issues."

Stephen Hawking: People must control aggression or face humanity's demise

While physicist Stephen Hawking is optimistic about the future, he warned in an interview published Tuesday that, with the pace of technological advancement, humans must gain control over their aggressive instincts in order to survive.

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The famed English scientist told The Times that the issue lies in the instincts humanity has honed to survive so far.

"Since civilization began, aggression has been useful inasmuch as it has definite survival advantages," he told the British newspaper. "It is hard-wired into our genes by Darwinian evolution. Now, however, technology has advanced at such a pace that this aggression may destroy us all by nuclear or biological war. We need to control this inherited instinct by our logic and reason."

>> Related: Stephen Hawking: Be wary of answering if space aliens come calling

He suggested that the creation of a world government might be necessary to ensure that humanity is addressing high-impact challenges, such as climate change and the rise of artificial intelligence.

"We need to be quicker to identify such threats and act before they get out of control. This might mean some form of world government," Hawking said. "But that might become a tyranny."

It's not the first time that Hawking has said that humanity needs to be aware and cautious to ensure the survival of our species. Last year, he predicted that humanity would see a catastrophic disaster within the next 1,000 years that could ultimately lead to our demise if we fail to establish colonies on other planets.

He warned in a 2015 Ask Me Anything segment on Reddit that artificial intelligence could one day surpass human intelligence "by more than ours exceeds that of snails."

"All this may sound a bit doom-laden but I am an optimist," Hawking told The Times. "I think the human race will rise to meet these challenges."

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