Humans may have lived in America 115,000 years earlier than we thought

April 27, 2017 by  
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For years, scientists have believed that humanity was a relatively recent visitor to the North American continent, migrating from Siberia only 15,000 years ago. Now, more accurate dating of mastodon fossils from California shows that an early human ancestor likely existed on the continent 130,000 years ago , far further back than even the most extreme estimates made by previous researchers. The fossils consist of elephant-like teeth and bones, which were discovered in Southern California during the construction of an expressway in 1992. The fossils bear clear signs of deliberate breakage using stone hammers and other early human tools – but until recently, dating technology was not sophisticated enough to accurately pinpoint the era from which they originated. Related: Archaeologist suggests ancient humans helped catalyze the Sahara’s desertification Using new methods to measure traces of natural uranium in the bones, researchers with the US Geological Survey and the Center for American Paleolithic Research found these bones were far older than the era when humans are generally accepted to have lived in America. While these people were clearly somehow related to modern-day humans, and were advanced enough to create and use stone tools, researchers say that they wouldn’t have been Homo sapiens as we know them. Our species didn’t leave Africa until 80,000 to 100,000 years ago. Instead, some likely candidates are Homo erectus, the Neanderthals, or perhaps a little-known hominid species called the Denisovans , whose DNA can still be found in Australian aboriginal populations today. It’s likely this ancient human population died out before Homo sapiens eventually crossed the Pacific. It’s believed they did not interbreed with modern humans and likely are not direct ancestors of any Native American groups. The new findings have been published in the journal Nature . Via Phys.org Images via San Diego Natural History Museum

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Humans may have lived in America 115,000 years earlier than we thought

Why scientists will march in over 400 cities on Earth Day

April 21, 2017 by  
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Even if the president of the United States rejects science , scientists plan to make their voices heard. Tomorrow they’ll march on Washington, D.C. and over 400 locations around the world in the March for Science . While organizers say the march was inspired by the success of the January 21 Women’s March, they also emphasize their event is nonpartisan. Their march will celebrate science and highlight “the need to respect and encourage research that gives us insight into the world.” Tens of thousands of people are expected to show up for the March for Science in Washington, D.C. tomorrow. People will gather at the Washington Monument starting at 8:00 AM, and will participate in teach-ins and a rally program until the march at 2:00 PM. Speakers include Bill Nye and pediatrician Mona Hanna-Attisha who helped expose Flint , Michigan lead poisoning. Related: Trump inspires 400 scientists to run for office Trump isn’t the only reason for the March for Science. Scientists and academics have been concerned for years now over public distrust of science. The event’s mission page says, “People who value science have remained silent for far too long in the face of policies that ignore scientific evidence and endanger both human life and the future of our world. New policies threaten to further restrict scientists’ ability to research and communicate their findings. We face a possible future where people not only ignore scientific evidence, but seek to eliminate it entirely…We must take science out of the labs and journals and share it with the world.” The American Association for the Advancement of Science , the American Chemical Society , and the American Geophysical Union all support the march. Satellite marches will take place on six different continents. You can register for the march in Washington, D.C. or find a march near you here . If you can’t attend the Earth Day science march, you can march for climate science in the People’s Climate Mobilization on DC on April 29. + March for Science Via The Washington Post Images via Wikimedia Commons and March for Science

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Why scientists will march in over 400 cities on Earth Day

World’s first full-size IBC bifacial solar module takes in light from both sides

April 13, 2017 by  
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What if both sides of a solar panel could take in light? That’s the idea pursued by researchers at the Solar Energy Research Institute of Singapore (SERIS), National University of Singapore , and Germany’s International Solar Energy Research Center Konstanz . They’ve succeeded in developing and fabricating the first full-size interdigitated back contact (IBC) bifacial solar module in the world. The groundbreaking module could last longer and generate more power than the conventional variety. The team’s new bifacial solar module could offer better, more efficient solar energy in the near future. It can absorb light on both its front and back sides. Their prototype was made with bifacial ZEBRA IBC solar cells, which have an efficiency of up to 22 percent. According to SERIS CEO Armin Aberle, these IBC cells are known for reliability and durability. Related: New bifacial solar module takes advantage of direct and reflected sunlight Double- glass insulation enclosing the module means its warranty could be longer than most solar modules: 30 years or even more. And since the cells are bifacial – the researchers report a bifaciality of 75 percent – the module can produce up to 30 percent more power . SERIS’ PV Module Cluster Director Wang Yan said, “With SERIS’ new module design, panels with 350 watts front-side power can be made with 60 23 percent efficient screen-printed IBC cells. Considering an additional 20 percent of power via the panel’s transparent rear surface, each 60-cell IBC bifacial module will produce a stunning 400 watts of power in the real world.” The revolutionary solar module will be displayed at the upcoming International Photovoltaic Power Generation Conference & Exhibition from April 19 to 21 in Shanghai, China. Aberle said, “The module technology offers world-class front side power while providing free extra power from the rear side.” He said the next step is transferring the technology to industrial partners, and the product could be on the market in around two years. Via Phys.org Images via Solar Research Institute of Singapore

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World’s first full-size IBC bifacial solar module takes in light from both sides

Scientists capture first ever image of dark matter web that connects galaxies

April 12, 2017 by  
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For the first time ever, scientists have captured an image of a dark matter bridge, confirming the theory that galaxies are held together by a cosmic web. Until now, the massive dark matter web was hidden to us, but using a series of individual images to create a composite, researchers have identified the elusive cosmic connector. Dark matter makes up about a quarter of the universe, but it is difficult for us to detect it because it doesn’t reflect or shine light. But using a technique called weak gravitational lensing, researchers were able to identify distortions of distant galaxies as they are influenced by a large, unseen mass, such as dark matter. Related: Newly discovered ‘ghost galaxy’ full of dark matter is as big as the Milky Way The scientists looked at more than 23,000 galaxy pairs to create a composite image that shows the dark matter web for the first time. Researchers published their findings in the journal Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society . “By using this technique, we’re not only able to see that these dark matter filaments in the universe exist, we’re able to see the extent to which these filaments connect galaxies together,” said Seth D. Epps, one of the scientists, along with Michael J. Hudson, who completed the research. via Phys.org images via Epps and Hudson, The weak-lensing masses of filaments between luminous red galaxies

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Scientists capture first ever image of dark matter web that connects galaxies

Drones weave moth-inspired pavilion from carbon fiber threads

April 12, 2017 by  
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The buildings of the future could be built with the help of drones . The unmanned aerial vehicles were put to the test in the University of Stuttgart’s latest robotically constructed pavilion, the cantilevering ICD/ITKE Research Pavilion 2016-17. Inspired by leaf miner moths, the biomimetic pavilion is lightweight yet incredibly strong and is made from 184 kilometers of resin-impregnated glass and carbon fiber. Created as part of a series of digitally fabricated pavilions, the ICD/ITKE Research Pavilion 2016-17 explores the potential of fiber composite materials in architecture and scalable fabrication processes. Spanning twelve meters in length, the cantilevering research pavilion has a surface area of approximately 40 square meters that weighs 1,000 kilograms. Its woven design draws inspiration from the silk “hammocks” spun by the larvae of leaf miner moths. The pavilion was constructed with two different types of robots : flying drones and stationary machines. Two stationary machines were set up on the far points of the pavilion and were equipped with industrial robotic arms strong enough to wind the carbon fiber threads. The drones were used to pass the fiber between the two stationary machines. The two types of robots communicated without the need for human intervention using an integrated sensor interface that collected real-time data. Related: Robots weave an insect-inspired carbon-fiber forest in London “The pavilion’s overall geometry demonstrates the possibilities for fabricating structural morphologies through multi-stage volumetric fibre winding, reducing unnecessary formwork through an integrated bending-active composite frame, and increasing the possible scale and span of construction through integrating robotic and autonomous lightweight UAV fabrication processes,” wrote the interdisciplinary team. “The prototypical pavilion is a proof-of-concept for a scalable fabrication processes of long-span, fibre composite structural elements, suitable for architectural applications.” + University of Stuttgart ICD Photographs by Burggraf / Reichert

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Drones weave moth-inspired pavilion from carbon fiber threads

Low-cost solar absorber could supercharge solar power plants

April 6, 2017 by  
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One of the major challenges in developing solar panels has been creating photovoltaic cells which can absorb as much solar energy as possible – without overheating to the point that they begin to simply radiate energy back into the atmosphere. In the past, this has meant that commercially available solar cells only manage to convert about 30 percent of sunlight they absorb into energy. Researchers from Purdue University may have found a way to overcome this issue by modifying regular silicon wafers to more efficiently absorb the energy at higher temperatures than ever before. The new study, published in the journal Applied Physics Letters , outlines how silicon wafers can be coated with thin films of tantalum and silicon nitride to enhance their ability to absorb sunlight. The modified surface is then able to selectively absorb photons within a certain range on the light spectrum, while reflecting those that cannot be used. Related: Flexible new solar panel is almost 80% lighter than traditional panels The resulting solar cells can withstand temperatures up to 535 degrees Celsius without any performance or stability issues, converting a staggering 50 percent of sunlight into useable energy. This research has some interesting applications – for instance, the same film could be painted on the surface of mirrored parabolic troughs used in concentrated solar plants in order to make them even more efficient. While the film isn’t yet ready for any kind of commercial application, the authors of the study hope it will inspire others to try a similar experimental approach to enhancing solar absorption. Via Phsy.org Images via Purdue University and Shutterstock

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Revealing map shows the distribution of all known ocean trash

April 3, 2017 by  
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There’s still a lot the average person doesn’t know about the trash clogging up our oceans . Alfred Wegener Institute (AWI) scientists are tackling this public awareness crisis with LITTERBASE , a tool that makes it easy for the public to visualize the issue. They pulled together results from 1,237 scientific studies on two revealing maps to show exactly where known marine litter is distributed, and how it affects 1,249 marine species. AWI scientists realized there’s a large amount of research being done on the issue of marine litter, but since there are so many studies it’s hard for policymakers, authorities, and the public to reference the information they need to combat the issue. So they gathered the research in LITTERBASE in two maps. One combines 591 publications to show the distribution of garbage around the world. The other draws on 751 publications to show wildlife interactions with litter . According to LITTERBASE information cited by The Maritime Executive, 34 percent of species ingest trash, 31 percent colonize it, and 30 percent get tangled up or trapped in trash. Related: New report says plastic trash to exceed fish in the sea by 2050 AWI scientists also found in 10 years the concentration of garbage at an Arctic Ocean deep-sea station increased 20-fold. Plastic and glass were the worst offenders. It’s difficult to determine where the plastic trash came from, as it can often travel great distances before landing on the ocean floor. The maps could also help bring older studies back into public awareness. AWI scientist Melanie Bergmann said, “While compiling LITTERBASE, I discovered a cache of old data on litter in the Antarctic , which the signatory countries of the Antarctic Treaty gathered on a regular basis. In addition, the ingestion of microplastic at the beginning of the food chain was investigated for various groups of plankton and unicellular organisms as far back as the 1980s. As such, LITTERBASE will also help us rediscover old and in some cases forgotten findings.” You might notice the map has large blank swaths; the researchers note those aren’t necessarily clean areas. Rather, they just don’t yet have information for those spaces. You can check out the map of marine litter here and the map of wildlife interactions with trash here . + LITTERBASE Via The Maritime Executive Images via screenshot and Wikimedia Commons

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Revealing map shows the distribution of all known ocean trash

NASA scientists propose to make Pluto a planet again

February 21, 2017 by  
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Alan Stern has never been happy with Pluto’s demotion to dwarf planet. Principal investigator of NASA’s New Horizons mission, he told Gizmodo the International Astronomical Union’s new definition of a planet, which excludes Pluto, is “bullshit.” So he and a team of other NASA scientists have submitted a proposal to the IAU to once again refine the definition of what makes a planet, which would not only include Pluto , but also pretty much any round object in space that is smaller than a star. In the introduction of the new proposal , the scientists express concern that Pluto’s demotion to dwarf planet diminishes its standing in the public perception. Apparently a lot of people want to know why NASA sent New Horizons to Pluto if it’s not a planet anymore. To mitigate the public’s concern, they propose a “geophysically-based definition of “planet” that importantly emphasizes a body’s intrinsic physical properties over its extrinsic orbital properties.” In this case, a planet would be “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.” Related: New evidence of clouds could make Pluto a planet again https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xmqDpuDLVYw As Gizmodo points out, such a definition would make a lot more objects in space planets, including Earth’s moon , but the existing definition excludes a lot of space bodies that deserve new consideration. Here are a few of NASA’s concerns with the existing definition of planets, as broken down by Science Alert: “First, it recognises as planets only those objects orbiting our Sun, not those orbiting other stars or orbiting freely in the galaxy as ‘rogue planets’,” they explain. Second, the fact that it requires zone-clearing means “no planet in our Solar System” can satisfy the criteria, since a number of small cosmic bodies are constantly flying through planetary orbits – including Earth’s. Finally, and “most severely”, they say, this zone-clearing stipulation means the mathematics used to confirm if a cosmic body is actually a planet must be distance-dependent, because a “zone” must be clarified. This would require progressively larger objects in each successive zone, and “even an Earth-sized object in the Kuiper Belt would not clear its zone.” While Stern formerly expressed concern that astronomers, not planetary scientists, have control over this definition, the final decision rests with the IAU. Pluto fans stay tuned. Via Gizmodo Images via NASA

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NASA scientists propose to make Pluto a planet again

Ancient microbes survive inside massive cave crystals for 50,000 years

February 20, 2017 by  
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Scientists have found strange, ancient microbes in Mexico’s Naica crystal caves that could be around 50,000 years old. Although the caves are so hot they’ve been described as hell – while also being so magical they’ve been described as Fairyland – the microbes have survived for thousands of years trapped in crystals . A biologist who studied the microbes referred to them as super life. Scientists discovered 40 different microbe strains and some viruses in the caves. The microbes are so bizarre that even their closest relatives are genetically 10 percent different, which is about as far away as mushrooms and humans, according to NASA Astrobiology Institute director Penelope Boston, who recently presented the research. The dormant microbes survived on minerals like manganese and iron. Related: Researchers discover that architecture has an impact on which microbes thrive around you The Naica caves are a great example of an extreme environment. Found by miners only around 100 years ago, the caves were isolated from the rest of the world for centuries until a mining company commenced drilling. According to Phys.org, some of the caves are as colossal as cathedrals , and are covered in crystals. But the magnificent caves are so sweltering the researchers could work for just about 20 minutes before retreating to a cool room around 100 degrees Fahrenheit. They wore inexpensive space suits and kept ice packs on their bodies. The find doesn’t claim the prize for oldest extreme life – years ago scientists wrote about living microbes trapped in salt and ice that may be around half a million years old. But Boston told the BBC the microbes her team found are extraordinary because “they are not very closely related to anything in the known genetic databases” and scientists can add the recently found microbes “to this atlas of possibilities that we can apply to different planetary settings.” The findings draw on nine years of research, but have not yet been published in a journal. Boston aims to run more genetic tests on the microbes, but did present the find at the recent American Association for the Advancement of Science conference in Boston, Massachusetts late last week. Via the BBC and Phys.org Images via Wikimedia Commons ( 1 , 2 )

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Ancient microbes survive inside massive cave crystals for 50,000 years

The US solar market grew by a record-breaking 95% last year

February 16, 2017 by  
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The United States solar market grew an astounding 95 percent in 2016, installing an extraordinary 14.5 gigawatts of new solar capacity, according to the annual Solar Market Insight Report (SMI) from GTM Research and the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA). For the first time in history, solar ranked as the number one source of new electric generating capacity in the US, accounting for 39 percent of new capacity additions across all fuel types in 2016. “What these numbers tell you is that the solar industry is a force to be reckoned with,” said Abigail Ross Hopper, SEIA’s president and CEO. “Solar’s economically winning hand is generating strong growth across all market segments nationwide, leading to more than 260,000 Americans now employed in solar.” Related: Solar power now provides twice as many jobs as coal in U.S. A record 22 states each added more than 100 megawatts of solar, with California topping the list for cumulative solar capacity at 18,304 MW. There are now more than 1.3 million solar PV installations in the US, with a cumulative capacity of 42.3 GW. Wind energy also enjoyed a great year, accounting for 26 percent of all new electric generating capacity. Most of the new solar capacity was in utility-scale solar, which grew 145 percent from 2015. For the first time since 2011, the non-residential market outpaced residential solar installations — community solar added a record of more than 200 MW, led by Minnesota and Massachusetts; and rate design and net energy metering resulted in the development of new non-residential solar projects, particularly in California. + US Solar Market Insight Via CleanTechnica Images via Wikimedia and SEIA

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The US solar market grew by a record-breaking 95% last year

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