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Alien life possible on small Saturn moon, maybe on a Jupiter moon, too 

 

One of Saturn’s small, white moons has the perfect conditions for life in its icy crust-covered ocean.

The Cassini spacecraft, in a fly-by of the moon Enceladus, discovered some of the building blocks for life in plumes of vapor and particles erupting through cracks in the moon’s crust, according to a report from Cassini mission researchers in the journal “Science.”  

>> Read more trending news

The vapor or gas contains hydrogen, one of the essential components of life.

“A form of chemical energy that life can feed on appears to exist on Saturn's moon Enceladus,” a NASA spokesperson said in a news release.

Space agency scientists believe there could be microbial life around hot spots in the moon’s ocean, just like on Earth, where hydrothermal chemical reactions occur deep in the ocean when cold water interacts with molten rocks.

Life on Earth needs three main ingredients to exist and flourish: liquid water, a source of energy for metabolism and the right chemicals, primarily carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, oxygen, phosphorus and sulfur.

>> Related: NASA’s Cassini spacecraft gets up close and personal with Saturn’s rings

“This is the closest we've come, so far, to identifying a place with some of the ingredients needed for a habitable environment,” NASA’s Thomas Zurbuchen said.

”These results demonstrate the interconnected nature of NASA's science missions that are getting us closer to answering whether we are indeed alone or not.”

In addition, Hubble Space Telescope researchers reported in The Astrophysical Journal Letters that they’ve spotted the same vapor jets erupting from Jupiter’s large, icy moon Europa, which also has a liquid ocean beneath its icy crust.

 

Scared of flying? Climate change will make it worse

If rising sea levels and bleached coral reefs weren’t bad enough, climate change may also make for bumpier flights.

According to a paper published in the journal Advances in Atmospheric Sciences, jet streams in both the northern and southern hemispheres are expected to strengthen at the cruising altitudes of aircraft as the globe warms.

>> Read more trending news

That means more wind shear at high altitudes as increases in carbon dioxide concentrations flood the atmosphere, says Paul Williams, an atmospheric scientist at the University of Reading in England.

The study focused on transatlantic flights, noting that “climate change may have important consequences for aviation, because the meteorological characteristics of the atmosphere influence airport operations, flight routes, journey times, and the safety and comfort of passengers and crew.”

“We’re particularly interested in severe turbulence, because that’s the kind of turbulence that’s strong enough to hospitalize people,” Williams told The Washington Post.

Williams said more severe turbulence may force flights to find new routes, which could increase flying time, use of fuel and airplane wear-and-tear.

There are three main types of turbulence: 

  • Convective turbulence is caused by thunderstorms formed as the sun heats the land and the warm moist air rises and cools into clouds. When the clouds can’t hold any more water, it rains, causing a downdraft of cold air and wind. 
  • Clear-air turbulence cannot be detected visually and is not associated with clouds. It occurs typically in the high atmosphere with variations of wind in jet streams — currents of air in the Earth’s atmosphere caused by the planet’s rotation and heating by the sun.
  • Mechanical or mountain turbulence happens when wind encounters tall obstructions, such as mountains, trees or buildings that disrupt its smooth flow. The disrupted air can form eddies on the other side of the obstruction that will jostle the plane.

Williams’ study focused on clear-air turbulence, which he said will increase “significantly” as the climate changes.

Williams said that better turbulence forecasts and mechanisms already on planes will help mitigate severe bumpiness.

“But even an increase in light turbulence can cause greater wear and tear on planes or force pilots to use extra fuel redirecting their flight paths to avoid rough patches,” The Post wrote.

Run for your life! Study says one hour run could equal 7 extra hours of life   

Run for your life, literally. Just one hour of running each day could extend a person’s life by as much as seven hours, according to a new study.

Iowa State University professor and study co-author Duck-chul Lee and his colleagues analyzed data from the Cooper Institute in Dallas,  a non-profit dedicated to health research and education, and other recent large studies on the relationship between exercise and mortality, the New York Times reported. 

>> Read more trending news

The research concluded that running reduced premature deaths by almost 40 percent, and that runners tended to live about three years longer than non-runners, regardless of other health factors, including obesity, drinking and smoking. 

For an average run of two hours a week, scientists figured that would equal less than six months of running time over a 40 year period, but they said it could equal a life extension of about three years, returning more time to a person than it consumes, the NYT reported. 

>> Related: Bathe and burn, baths as good as 30-minute walks

Other forms of exercise, like walking and biking, are also beneficial, the study found, but running seems to have the greatest impact.

The research was published in March in the journal “Progress in Cardiovascular Disease.”

Pink moon on the rise puts on show in night sky, signals spring

The first full moon of spring, called the Full Pink Moon, is getting ready to put on a show in the night sky this week, but it may not be exactly pink.

>> Read more trending news

It’s called a pink moon because it usually signals the blossoming of the pink wildflower known as ground phlox, according to the Old Farmer’s Almanac. The moon is also known as the Egg Moon, Sprouting Grass Moon, Easter Moon and Fish Moon.

The names come from the early Colonial settlers, who learned them from the Native Americans. They used the lunar cycle and lunar months to keep track of time and the seasons.

The moon reaches peak fullness on Tuesday at 2:08 a.m. Eastern Time and Monday night at 11:08 p.m. Pacific Time, according to Space.com, but will be visible everywhere until Wednesday. 

Thousands of ants form rare ‘raft’ in Florida

Rainfall on the University of Florida campus has led to thousands of fire ants partaking in a rare phenomenon.

>> Read more trending news

A video tweeted out by the university’s entomology department shows the fire ants creating an ant raft at UF’s Natural Area Teaching Laboratory. 

An ant raft is a mechanism used by ants to avoid drowning in floods, according to Live Science. The large grouping of linked ants, which takes a little under two minutes to form, creates a water-repellent grouping that allows the entire group to float above floodwaters, according to Live Science.

Though likely impossible to quantify, the video posted on Twitter shows a massive gathering on ants floating above water.

A sea change in the Arctic 

Mayo Clinic study: High-intensity interval training can reverse aging process

A new study by the Mayo Clinic found that certain workouts can reverse the aging process.

The study found that a high-intensity interval training workout, combined with resistance training, can turn back time.

>> Read more trending news

"You're essentially slowing down that aging process, (which) I think is amazing, because we didn't have those things before," said Dr. Vandana Bhide, of the Mayo Clinic.

The study was conducted by researchers in Rochester, Minnesota, and targeted two age groups -- 18 to 30-year-olds and 65 to 85-year-olds.

As we age, we lose muscle mass. Researchers found that a combined workout increases muscle mass, and on the cellular level, reverses some of the adverse effects of aging.

"For older people, it allows them to be more functional, to be able to do as much as they can at whatever age,” Bhide said.

Researchers tracked data over 12 weeks.

"It's not overnight, but we think of it taking years," Bhide said.

Florida-based fitness franchise Orange Theory Fitness focuses on these types of workouts.

"It kind of just reaffirms what we already believe here," head coach Justin Hoffman said. "We've seen tremendous strength gain, even (at) 70 years plus, with just 3 to 4 days of interval training.”

Bhide said older people who are interested in these workouts should check with their doctor before starting. And as with any exercise program, everybody is different and may not get the same results.

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.

>> Read more trending stories

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.

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