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Study makes surprising link between TV time and childhood obesity

The ill effects of being a couch potato kick in fast for kindergartners, a new study suggests.

Kindergarten children who watched television for more than one hour a day were 52% more likely to be overweight than their schoolmates who watched less TV, researchers said Sunday. The kids who spent at least an hour each day in front of the boob tube were also 72% more likely to be obese.

These figures are based on data from 12,650 children from around the country who started kindergarten in the fall of 2011 and were enrolled in a study run by the U.S. Department of Education. Researchers measured the height and weight of each young student (which were used to calculate their body mass index), and parents were asked how much TV time their kids got.

The average amount of time this nationally representative group of kindergartners spent watching TV was 3.3 hours. When the researchers did their statistical analysis to link time spent watching TV with weight, they controlled for factors that might...

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NASA gathers scientists to help find life beyond Earth

The search for life beyond our solar system is about to get a boost of brain power. 

This week NASA convened the first meeting of a team of scientists who will work collectively to determine the best way to look for signs of life around other stars.

The new group is known as the Nexus for Exoplanet System Science (NExSS), and its official goal is "to provide a synthesized approach in the search for planets with the greatest potential for signs of life," according to Jim Green, director of planetary science at NASA.

The team is made of researchers from about 20 different fields including Earth scientists, planetary scientists, astrophysicists and heliophysicists. Everyone involved has been working in their own field to figure out how to best understand how habitable planets form, what makes them habitable, and how we might detect life on a distant world, but this week marked the first time they all gathered in one room to meet and talk.

"This combination of knowledge will give us a new...

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More than a third of infants are using smartphones, tablets, study says

Have you ever been befuddled by a feature of your iPhone, only to have your 6-year-old show you how it works? A new study helps explain how this happens.

Most children have been using smartphones and digital tablets practically since birth -- literally. Fully 36% of parents who answered a recent survey said their children had “touched or scrolled a screen” before they had celebrated their first birthday, and an additional 33% of parents said their kids had done so while they were 1 year old. Only 2% of the parents surveyed said they had waited until their kids were 4 to introduce them to the wonders of the touchscreen.

In case you were figuring that these kids must have been born in the heart of Silicon Valley, think again. The researchers said they conducted their survey of 370 families in a pediatric clinic that caters to “an urban, low income, minority community” in Philadelphia. In fact, 13% of the parents who took the survey had not finished high school. Still, 77% of them said they...

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How the Hubble Space Telescope has changed our view of the universe

Among the pillars and valleys of a nebula 20,000 light-years from Earth, a stellar nursery of glowing gas and dust nurtures thousands of baby stars. This cosmic fireworks display comes to Earth courtesy of the Hubble Space Telescope, which celebrates its 25th anniversary in space on Friday.

Since its launch on April 24, 1990, the telescope has helped us discover the age of the universe, how planets come to be and the fact that most galaxies have their very own supermassive black hole. In 1998, astrophysicists used Hubble to figure out that the universe is not only expanding but accelerating – and they won the Nobel Prize in physics as a result.

Hubble has made more than 1.2 million observations and generated 100 terabytes of data, all while whirling around the Earth at 17,000 mph.

Without Hubble, astronomy "would be an awful lot poorer a field,” said Mike Garcia, a program scientist for Hubble at NASA headquarters in Washington. “The Hubble images capture the beauty of the heavens in a...

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'Hot Jupiter': Scientists catch light bouncing off an exoplanet

An international team of astronomers says it has managed to take the first direct visible-light spectrum from an exoplanet, providing a new tool to probe the nature of the "hot Jupiter" known as 51 Pegasi b.

The findings, published in the journal Astronomy & Astrophysics, offers a promising way forward to study exoplanets that doesn’t rely on waiting for a distant planet to transit, or pass in front of its host star.

"I was really happy. It was awesome ... especially when I started looking at the implications of it," said lead author Jorge Martins, an astronomer at the University of Porto in Portugal working on his PhD while at the European Southern Observatory in Chile, known as ESO. "It’s like, we’re observing a planet that is at a distance of like 3 million times the distance of the Earth to the sun, and we’re still able to see the reflected light of the planet. I don’t know. I think it’s overwhelming."

51 Pegasi b has long been known as the first confirmed discovery of a planet around...

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Catchy tune caught in your head? Try chewing gum

A new study suggests that if you want to get an annoying song out of your head, chewing a piece of gum might help.

It turns out that just the mechanical act of moving one's jaw up and down can reduce the number of times people think about a catchy song, as well as how often they "hear" that song playing in their minds.

To be clear, this method is not a silver bullet. In a series of three experiments, the researchers found that volunteers who were given chewing gum and instructions to "chew vigorously" after hearing particularly "sticky" music, such as the chorus of David Guetta's "Play Hard" or "Payphone" by Maroon 5, experienced fewer phantom memories of the songs, but not zero.

Still, the researchers say chewing gum is a tactic worth trying if you can't stop singing a song such as  "It's a Small World After All" to yourself after a visit to Disneyland.

"If you are trying to rid yourself of an unwanted tune, it is less likely to pop up involuntarily when chewing," said Philip Beaman,...

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