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Mars once had an entire ocean -- and then lost it, scientists say

Dry, dusty Mars once had an ocean that held as much water as the Arctic Ocean and covered a larger share of the Red Planet’s surface than the Atlantic Ocean does on Earth, according to a surprising new study.

The findings, described online in the journal Science, examined the patterns in the Martian atmosphere to try to understand how much water it has lost in the last few billion years – and finds that the planet may have been wetter and for longer than scientists may have thought.

As the scientists examined their surprising findings, “the story started to make sense,” said lead author Geronimo Villanueva, a planetary scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md.

Researchers have gone back and forth on whether Mars held enough water for long enough to have given microbial life a sporting chance to emerge on the Red Planet. NASA’s Curiosity rover has tasted the air and found that the Martian atmosphere may have been stripped so long ago that there was a slim chance...

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Oxytocin makes men eat less, choose healthier foods

First, we learn that the "love hormone" oxytocin makes men more trusting, nurturing and sociable. Then, we learn that a shot of the stuff makes partnered men less likely to stray or even flirt with other women. Now, we learn that a puff of oxytocin up the nose makes men eat less, and choose foods that are less fatty.

If there were a scientific conspiracy to turn men into cuddly, highly evolved salad-eaters, oxytocin might be a powerful weapon.

A study released Thursday found that 25 healthy men who got a dose of aerosolized oxytocin and then offered a man-sized serving of breakfast consumed fewer calories, decreased their fat intake, and showed improved measures of metabolic function such as insulin sensitivity.

The study, led by Harvard Medical School's Dr. Elizabeth Lawson, is to be presented in San Diego this Sunday at the annual meeting of the Endocrine Society, a leading group of hormone experts active in treatment and research.

The men served as their own control group: during...

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Potential weight-loss agent from a tree is almost too good to be true

It has qualities so remarkable, it could come from the land of Oz (and could become the television doctor's next big thing, too): a compound derived from a tree growing in South and Central America prompted obese mice to lose 20% to 30% of their weight. It also allowed normal, healthy mice to chow down on fatty foods -- as much as they wanted -- and never become obese, accumulate excess fat or develop diabetes.

Oh, and it only worked in females.

new study details the effectiveness with which a synthetic compound that mimics a flavenoid found in the leaves of the primula tree prompted the muscles of female mice to behave as if they were getting regular, intensive exercise.

Compared to female mice who got a placebo, those who got an oral formulation of a compound called 7,8-dihydroxyflavone (7,8-DHF for short) burned more calories, became more sensitive to the effects of insulin and developed body compositions that had more lean tissue and less fat.

The study also offers cruel justice...

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Don't believe the light: Supernova in 'Einstein Cross' is a cosmic trick

An exploding star goes supernova only once – but if you’re really, really lucky, you might just get to see it happen four times. An international team has discovered four separate images of the same distant supernova arranged in the shape of a cross – and this unusual trick of the light could help scientists test the structure of the cosmos.

The formation of the four supernova images, in the shape of the Einstein Cross, had been predicted half a century ago by Sjur Refsdal, the late Norwegian astrophysicist and a pioneer in gravitational lensing, and the new supernova is named in his honor.  

While Refsdal did not live to see the discovery of this Einstein Cross, “he’d be delighted,” said Caltech astronomer Richard Ellis, who was not involved in the paper and who met Refsdal years ago. “It’s just beautiful imaging. It’s almost like a piece of art; you look at the image and there’s no question what’s going on.”

SN Refsdal sits some 9.3 billion light-years away, and at that distance it...

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D'oh! Homer Simpson beat scientists in race to find Higgs boson mass

Does Homer Simpson deserve a share of the 2013 Nobel Prize in physics? Did the European Organization for Nuclear Research and its scientific partners waste $10 billion constructing the Large Hadron Collider? 

In short, could particle physicists have saved themselves a lot of trouble and simply watched a 1998 episode of “The Simpsons” to figure out the mass of the Higgs boson?

In the episode, titled “The Wizard of Evergreen Terrace,” a mid-life crisis inspires Homer to become an inventor in the mold of Thomas Edison. One scene features him at a blackboard working on an equation to calculate the mass of a Higgs boson, the elusive subatomic particle that is key to understanding why objects in the universe have mass in the first place. (You can see a picture of the blackboard here.)

Simon Singh, a science writer with a doctorate in particle physics, crunched Homer’s numbers and declared that the usually hapless Homer got his math pretty much right.

“That equation predicts the mass of the...

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Even with breaks for exercise, lengthy sitting linked to heart disease

Bad news for the desk-bound office worker, the long-haul road warrior and the couch surfer: even a heart-pumping regimen at the gym, apparently, won't undo the harm done by sitting, a new study finds.

Irrespective of hours spent in moderate-to-intensive physical activity, says the new research, those who do the most sitting have the highest levels of coronary artery calcification in the arteries feeding oxygenated blood to their hearts.

Coronary artery calcification leads to the formation of sticky plaques inside our arteries, causing narrowing and breaking off to cause heart attacks. A study to be presented at an upcoming meeting of the American College of Cardiology said that, in 2,031 subjects participating in the Dallas Heart Study, levels of this early biomarker for heart disease tracked neatly with the hours of daily sitting measured by an accelerometer.

That neat parallel was not at all perturbed when the researchers considered subjects' exercise patterns. For each daily hour of...

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