Men at Higher Risk for Mild Memory Loss Than Women

ST. PAUL, Minn. – Men may be at higher risk of experiencing mild cognitive impairment (MCI), or the stage of mild memory loss that occurs between normal aging and dementia, than women, according to a study published in the January 25, 2012, online issue of Neurology®, the medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology.

“These results are surprising, given that women generally have higher rates of dementia than men,” said study author R.O. (Rosebud) Roberts, MB ChB, MS, of the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., and a member of the American Academy of Neurology. “The risk of MCI in men and women combined was high in this age group of elderly persons. This is disturbing given that people are living longer, and MCI may have a large impact on health care costs if increased efforts at prevention are not used to reduce the risk.”

For the study, a group of 1,450 people from Olmsted County, Minn., between the ages of 70 and 89 and free of dementia at enrollment underwent memory testing every 15 months for an average of three years. Participants were also interviewed about their memory by medical professionals. By the end of the study period, 296 people had developed MCI.

The study found that the number of new cases of MCI per year was higher in men, at 72 per 1,000 people compared to 57 per 1,000 people in women and 64 per 1,000 people in men and women combined. MCI with memory loss present was more common at 38 per 1,000 people than MCI where memory loss was not present, which affected 15 per 1,000 people. Those who had less education or were not married also had higher rates of MCI.

“Our study suggests that risk factors for mild cognitive impairment should be studied separately in men and women,” said Roberts.

Another finding of interest in the study showed that among people who were newly diagnosed with MCI, 12 percent per year were later diagnosed at least once with no MCI, or reverted back to what was considered “cognitively normal.” Roberts said the majority of people with MCI, about 88 percent per year, continue to have MCI or progress to dementia.

The study was supported by the National Institutes of Health, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, the Robert H. and Clarice Smith and Abigail van Buren Alzheimer’s Disease Research Program and was made possible by the Rochester Epidemiology Project.

The American Academy of Neurology, an association of 24,000 neurologists and neuroscience professionals, is dedicated to promoting the highest quality patient-centered neurologic care. A neurologist is a doctor with specialized training in diagnosing, treating and managing disorders of the brain and nervous system such as Alzheimer’s disease, stroke, migraine, multiple sclerosis, brain injury, Parkinson’s disease and epilepsy.

Released: 1/17/2012

Source: American Academy of Neurology

Related Link:

http://www.newswise.com/articles/study-men-at-higher-risk-for-mild-memory-loss-than-women

To Turn Up the Heat in Chilies, Just Add Water!

Newswise — Biologists have learned in recent years that wild chilies develop their trademark pungency, or heat, as a defense against a fungus that could destroy their seeds. But that doesn’t explain why some chilies are hot and others are not.

New research provides an answer: Hot chilies growing in dry areas need more water to produce as many seeds as non-pungent plants, but the Fusarium fungus is less of a threat in dryer environments so chilies in those areas are less likely to turn up the heat. In wetter regions, where Fusarium thrives, wild chilies build up their reserves of spicy capsaicin in self-defense.

“Despite the reduced benefit of pungency in dry environments, hot plants still occur there, as does the deadly fungus. That suggests that the greater presence of non-pungent plants that produce substantially more seeds is the result of a fitness-based tradeoff,” said David Haak, lead author of a paper describing the research published Wednesday (Dec. 21) inProceedings of the Royal Society B. The Royal Society is the United Kingdom’s academy of science.

Haak, a post-doctoral researcher at Indiana University, conducted the research as part of his doctoral work at the University of Washington. Co-authors of the paper are Leslie McGinnis of the University of Michigan, who did the work while a UW undergraduate; Douglas Levey of the University of Florida and Joshua Tewksbury, a UW biology professor who leads the research group.

The scientists examined pungency differences by comparing the proportion of pungent plants with that of non-pungent plants in 12 populations of wild chilies in southeastern Bolivia along a 185-mile line that gradually progressed from a relatively dry region to a wetter region. They conducted plant censuses in focal populations five times between 2002 and 2009, and tagged plants in each census so they could determine new seedlings the next time.

They found that, starting in the dryer northeast part of the section, 15 to 20 percent of the plants had pungent fruit, and pungency increased along the line toward the wetter southwest, where they never found a single plant that did not produce pungent fruit.

They also selected three populations of chili plants that each produced both pungent and non-pungent fruit and spanned the range of rainfall and pungency differences. They then grew seeds from those plants in the UW Botany Greenhouse to examine what affect water availability had on pungency.

The 330 plants that resulted from those seeds were grown under identical conditions until they reached their first flowering, then were separated into two groups – one that received plenty of water and one that was stressed by receiving only the amount of water available to plants in the driest area of Bolivia from which seeds were taken.

The scientists found that under water-stressed conditions, non-pungent plants produced twice as many seeds as pungent plants. That suggests the pungent plants trade some level of fitness for protection from the Fusarium fungus, Haak said.

The researchers determined the pungent plants have developed a reduced efficiency in water use, so in dryer areas they produce fewer seeds and are more limited in reproduction. In wetter areas, non-pungent plants are at a reproductive disadvantage because they are much more likely to have their seeds attacked by the fungus.

“It surprised us to find that the tradeoff to produce capsaicin in pungent plants would involve this major physiological process of water-use efficiency,” Haak said.

He noted that over the entire range, 90 to 95 percent of the chili fruits had some level of fungal infection, and pungent plants were better able to defend themselves.

The research was funded by grants from the National Science Foundation; the National Geographic Society; Sigma Xi, the scientific research society; and the UW Department of Biology.

Released: 12/20/2011

Source: University of Washington

Related Link:

http://www.newswise.com/articles/to-turn-up-the-heat-in-chilies-just-add-water

Low Vitamin D Levels Linked to Depression

DALLAS – Jan. 5, 2012 – Low levels of vitamin D have been linked to depression, according to UT Southwestern Medical Center psychiatrists working with the Cooper Center Longitudinal Study. It is believed to be the largest such investigation ever undertaken.

Low levels of vitamin D already are associated with a cavalcade of health woes from cardiovascular diseases to neurological ailments. This new study – published in Mayo Clinic Proceedings – helps clarify a debate that erupted after smaller studies produced conflicting results about the relationship between vitamin D and depression. Major depressive disorder affects nearly one in 10 adults in the U.S.

“Our findings suggest that screening for vitamin D levels in depressed patients – and perhaps screening for depression in people with low vitamin D levels – might be useful,” said Dr. E. Sherwood Brown, professor of psychiatry and senior author of the study, done in conjunction with The Cooper Institute in Dallas. “But we don’t have enough information yet to recommend going out and taking supplements.”

UT Southwestern researchers examined the results of almost 12,600 participants from late 2006 to late 2010. Dr. Brown and colleagues from The Cooper Institute found that higher vitamin D levels were associated with a significantly decreased risk of current depression, particularly among people with a prior history of depression. Low vitamin D levels were associated with depressive symptoms, particularly those with a history of depression, so primary care patients with a history of depression may be an important target for assessing vitamin D levels. The study did not address whether increasing vitamin D levels reduced depressive symptoms.

The scientists have not determined the exact relationship – whether low vitamin D contributes to symptoms of depression, whether depression itself contributes to lower vitamin D levels, or chemically how that happens. But vitamin D may affect neurotransmitters, inflammatory markers and other factors, which could help explain the relationship with depression, said Dr. Brown, who leads the psychoneuroendocrine research program at UT Southwestern.

Vitamin D levels are now commonly tested during routine physical exams, and they already are accepted as risk factors for a number of other medical problems: autoimmune diseases; heart and vascular disease; infectious diseases; osteoporosis; obesity; diabetes; certain cancers; and neurological disorders such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases, multiple sclerosis, and general cognitive decline.

Investigators used information gathered by the institute, which has 40 years of data on runners and other fit volunteers. UT Southwestern has a partnership with the institute, a preventive medicine research and educational nonprofit located at the Cooper Aerobics Center, to develop a joint scientific medical research program aimed at improving health and preventing a wide range of chronic diseases. The institute maintains one of the world’s most extensive databases – known as the Cooper Center Longitudinal Study – that includes detailed information from more than 250,000 clinic visits that has been collected since Dr. Kenneth Cooper founded the institute and clinic in 1970.

Other researchers involved in the study were Dr. Myron F. Weiner, professor of psychiatry and neurology and neurotherapeutics; Dr. David S. Leonard, assistant professor of clinical sciences; lead author MinhTu T. Hoang, student research fellow; Dr. Laura F. DeFina, medical director of research at The Cooper Institute; and Benjamin L. Willis, epidemiologist at the institute.

Visit http://www.utsouthwestern.org/mentalhealth to learn more about clinical services in psychiatry at UT Southwestern.

Released: 1/5/2012

Source: UT Southwestern Medical Center

Related Link:

http://www.newswise.com/articles/low-vitamin-d-levels-linked-to-depression-ut-southwestern-psychiatrists-report

Time for a Change? Johns Hopkins Scholars Say Calendar Needs Serious Overhaul

Newswise — Researchers at The Johns Hopkins University have discovered a way to make time stand still — at least when it comes to the yearly calendar.

Using computer programs and mathematical formulas, Richard Conn Henry, an astrophysicist in the Krieger School of Arts and Sciences, and Steve H. Hanke, an applied economist in the Whiting School of Engineering, have created a new calendar in which each new 12-month period is identical to the one which came before, and remains that way from one year to the next in perpetuity.

Under the Hanke-Henry Permanent Calendar, for instance, if Christmas fell on a Sunday in 2012 (and it would), it would also fall on a Sunday in 2013, 2014 and beyond. In addition, under the new calendar, the rhyme “30 days hath September, April, June and November,” would no longer apply, because September would have 31 days, as would March, June and December. All the rest would have 30. (Try creating a rhyme using that.)

“Our plan offers a stable calendar that is absolutely identical from year to year and which allows the permanent, rational planning of annual activities, from school to work holidays,” says Henry, who is also director of the Maryland Space Grant Consortium. “Think about how much time and effort are expended each year in redesigning the calendar of every single organization in the world and it becomes obvious that our calendar would make life much simpler and would have noteworthy benefits.”

Among the practical advantages would be the convenience afforded by birthdays and holidays (as well as work holidays) falling on the same day of the week every year. But the economic benefits are even more profound, according to Hanke, an expert in international economics, including monetary policy.

“Our calendar would simplify financial calculations and eliminate what we call the ‘rip off’ factor,’” explains Hanke. “Determining how much interest accrues on mortgages, bonds, forward rate agreements, swaps and others, day counts are required. Our current calendar is full of anomalies that have led to the establishment of a wide range of conventions that attempt to simplify interest calculations. Our proposed permanent calendar has a predictable 91-day quarterly pattern of two months of 30 days and a third month of 31 days, which does away with the need for artificial day count conventions.”

According to Hanke and Henry, their calendar is an improvement on the dozens of rival reform calendars proffered by individuals and institutions over the last century.

“Attempts at reform have failed in the past because all of the major ones have involved breaking the seven-day cycle of the week, which is not acceptable to many people because it violates the Fourth Commandment about keeping the Sabbath Day,” Henry explains. “Our version never breaks that cycle.”

Henry posits that his team’s version is far more convenient, sensible and easier to use than the current Gregorian calendar, which has been in place for four centuries – ever since 1582, when Pope Gregory altered a calendar that was instituted in 46 BC by Julius Caesar.

In an effort to bring Caesar’s calendar in synch with the seasons, the pope’s team removed 11 days from the calendar in October, so that Oct. 4 was followed immediately by Oct. 15. This adjustment was necessary in order to deal with the same knotty problem that makes designing an effective and practical new calendar such a challenge: the fact that each Earth year is 365.2422 days long.

Hanke and Henry deal with those extra “pieces” of days by dropping leap years entirely in favor of an extra week added at the end of December every five or six years. This brings the calendar in sync with the seasonal changes as the Earth circles the sun.

In addition to advocating the adoption of this new calendar, Hanke and Henry encourage the abolition of world time zones and the adoption of “Universal Time” (formerly known as Greenwich Mean Time) in order to synchronize dates and times worldwide, streamlining international business.

“One time throughout the world, one date throughout the world,” they write in a January 2012 Global Asia article about their proposals. “Business meetings, sports schedules and school calendars would be identical every year. Today’s cacophony of time zones, daylight savings times and calendar fluctuations, year after year, would be over. The economy — that’s all of us — would receive a permanent ‘harmonization’ dividend.”

View a website about the Hanke-Henry Permanent Calendar here:
http://henry.pha.jhu.edu/calendar.html

Read Hanke and Henry’s January 2012 Global Asia article about calendar reform here:
http://www.cato.org/pub_display.php?pub_id=13940

Released: Released: 12/27/2011

Source: Johns Hopkins

Related Link:

http://newswise.com/articles/time-for-a-change-johns-hopkins-scholars-say-calendar-needs-serious-overhaul

Health News….Breakthrough in Treatment to Prevent Blindness

Photo Credit: UCSF, Bruce Gaynor, MD, performs an ocular examination on a patient in Ethiopia, where there is a high prevalence of trachoma, the world’s leading cause of preventable blindness.

Newswise — A UCSF study shows a popular treatment for a potentially blinding eye infection is just as effective if given every six months versus annually. This randomized study on trachoma, the leading cause of infection-caused blindness in the world, could potentially treat twice the number of patients using the same amount of medication.

“The idea is we can do more with less,” said Bruce Gaynor, MD, assistant professor of ophthalmology at the Francis I. Proctor Foundation for Research in Ophthalmology. “We are trying to get as much out of the medicine as we can because of the cost and the repercussions of mass treatments.”

In a paper published this month in The Lancet(http://www.thelancet.com/journals/lancet/article/PIIS0140-6736%2811%2961515-8/fulltext), researchers conducted a cluster-randomized trial, using an antibiotic called azithromycin to treat trachoma in Ethiopia, which has among the highest prevalence in the world. They picked 24 communities and randomized the two treatment options: 12 villages were given azithromycin every six months and the other 12 were treated every 12 months.

“What we found was the prevalence of trachoma is very high at baseline. Forty to 50 percent of the children in these communities have this condition,” Gaynor said. “They are the most susceptible and it can quickly spread from person to person by direct or even indirect contact.”

Researchers tracked both groups and found the prevalence of infection decreased dramatically.

“We found that from as high as 40 percent, the prevalence of trachoma went way down, even eliminated in some villages regardless of whether it was treated in an annual way or a biannual way,” Gaynor said. “You can genuinely get same with less.”

Their finding is significant because of how easily the disease spreads. Trachoma can be transmitted through touching one’s eyes or nose after being in close contact with someone who is infected. It can also be spread through a towel or an article of clothing from a person who has trachoma. Even flies can transmit the disease.

Approximately 41 million people are infected with trachoma globally, and 8 million go blind because of lack of access to treatment. More than 150 million doses of azithromycin have been given out worldwide to treat this disease. Unlike other antibiotics, resistance to azithromycin has not been found in Chlamydia trachomatis, the bacteria that causes trachoma.

This and the paper’s major finding give hope to Africa, Asia, the Middle East, and parts of Latin America and Australia, where trachoma is still a major problem.

“We will now be able to reach more people and make the treatment go twice as far as before,” Gaynor said. “This will make a huge impact in slowing down trachoma-related blindness globally.”

Gaynor is the corresponding author of the paper; the lead author is Teshome Gebre, PhD, of the Carter Center, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, and Atlanta, GA; co-authors are Berhan Ayele, MSc, and Mulat Zerihun, MPH, and Paul M. Emerson, PhD, of the Carter Center, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, and Atlanta, GA; Asrat Genet, MD, of Amhara Regional Health Bureau, Ethiopia; Thomas Lietman, MD, of the Francis I. Proctor Foundation, UCSF Dept. of Ophthalmology, UCSF Dept. of Epidemiology and Biostatistics, and UCSF Institute for Global Health; Travis C. Porco, PhD, of the Francis I. Proctor Foundation, UCSF Dept. of Epidemiology and Biostatistics, and UCSF Institute for Global Health; Nicole E. Stoller, MPH, Zhaoxia Zhou, BA, Jenafir I. House, MPH, Sun N. Yu, MPH, and Kathryn J. Ray, MS, of the Francis I. Proctor Foundation; Jeremy D. Keenan, MD, of the Francis I. Proctor Foundation and UCSF Department of Ophthalmology.

The study was supported by funds from the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

Released: 12/21/2011

Source: University of California, San Francisco (UCSF)

Related Link:

http://www.newswise.com/articles/breakthrough-in-treatment-to-prevent-blindness

Truly Amazing….New Cotton Fabric Cleans Itself When Exposed to Ordinary Sunlight

Imagine jeans, sweats or socks that clean and de-odorize themselves when hung on a clothesline in the sun or draped on a balcony railing. Scientists are reporting development of a new cotton fabric that does clean itself of stains and bacteria when exposed to ordinary sunlight.

Newswise — Imagine jeans, sweats or socks that clean and de-odorize themselves when hung on a clothesline in the sun or draped on a balcony railing. Scientists are reporting development of a new cotton fabric that does clean itself of stains and bacteria when exposed to ordinary sunlight. Their report appears in the ACS’ journal Applied Materials & Interfaces.

Mingce Long and Deyong Wu say their fabric uses a coating made from a compound of titanium dioxide, the white material used in everything from white paint to foods to sunscreen lotions. Titanium dioxide breaks down dirt and kills microbes when exposed to some types of light. It already has found uses in self-cleaning windows, kitchen and bathroom tiles, odor-free socks and other products. Self-cleaning cotton fabrics have been made in the past, the authors note, but they self-clean thoroughly only when exposed to ultraviolet rays. So they set out to develop a new cotton fabric that cleans itself when exposed to ordinary sunlight.

Their report describes cotton fabric coated with nanoparticles made from a compound of titanium dioxide and nitrogen. They show that fabric coated with the material removes an orange dye stain when exposed to sunlight. Further dispersing nanoparticles composed of silver and iodine accelerates the discoloration process. The coating remains intact after washing and drying.

The authors acknowledge funding from Donghua University and the National Natural Science Foundation of China.

Released: 12/16/2011

Source: American Chemical  Society (ACS)

Related Link:

http://newswise.com/articles/new-cotton-fabric-cleans-itself-when-exposed-to-ordinary-sunlight

Some Great Ideas on How to Minimize Your Stress During this Holiday Season

Photo Credit: Royalty-Free image, Minimize your holiday stress by making time for yourself and getting a good night's sleep, says a Ryerson University psychology expert.Newswise — The holidays are a festive time of year filled with friends and family. But with our focus so much on others, we can forget ourselves and become inexplicably stressed and sad. The key to enjoying the upcoming season is being aware of the things (and people) that affect us:

1. Manage your expectations: With so much going on, particularly with other people, this may not be the best time to expect perfection. Don’t set yourself up for undue stress by hosting parties for dozens of people, complete with a gourmet menu and stunning décor. Starting with modest and achievable expectations increases the likelihood that you will avoid disappointment.

2. Add a good night’s sleep to your “to-do” list”: Don’t deprive yourself of sleep to get more done. Sleep deprivation is a major mood killer—consider scaling back your to-do list and get some rest. An irritable host will be noticed long before the place cards and napkin rings that you stayed up until 2 a.m. to finish.

3. Mind your sleep schedule over the holidays: Sleep is a major factor in mood. With a holiday schedule full of late night parties, hours of travel, shopping, cooking and cleaning you quickly find yourself deprived of a few hours night after night. Adopting a sleep schedule that is radically different from the schedule you keep during the year can produce jetlag-like symptoms of fatigue, insomnia, and poor mood. Children are especially susceptible to this: watch your young child’s mood disintegrate with a later and more varied holiday schedule.

4. Avoid “crashing”: The holidays are filled with foods that initially boost our mood and then produce longer term sugar crashes, sluggishness, and bloating. Eat healthy meals throughout the holidays and snack on healthier options such as fruits and vegetables before a party so that you are less likely to fill up on junk food and sweets. Including healthier foods in your diet will stabilize your blood sugar, rather than cause it to spike, which means a happier and more energetic you.

5. Know your limits: We all know the holidays can be a prime time for the airing of family issues and grievances. If visiting a particular relative ruins the holidays for you, devise a new plan that limits your exposure to that person or situation. If having dinner with a cantankerous aunt leaves you with resentment and ill feelings for days afterwards, skip it. It’s better to exercise good self-care over the holidays than to agree to plans that will result in a tense atmosphere and hurt feelings.

6. Make time for you: People often forget to prioritize themselves throughout the year and it gets even worse over the holidays. Take some time just for yourself. If you haven’t had a chance to do this during the day, set aside time before bed to wind down and relax. Even a half hour walk or soak in the tub at the end of the day will make a world of difference.

7. Still tossing and turning all night?: If you find yourself lying in bed with visions of budgets, menus and obligations running through your head – get out of bed. Leave your room to find something that relaxes you and return to bed when you are sleepy. Being upset or awake in the place where you should be finding rest can lead to longer term associations between your bed and stress and anxiety.

Released: 12/8/2011

Source: Ryerson University

Related Link:

http://www.newswise.com/articles/minimize-your-stress-this-holiday-season-ryerson-expert

Environmental Update….Affordable Solar: It’s Closer Than You Think!

Photo Credit: Sarah Bird, Affordable solar power is on the horizon, says Joshua Pearce, pictured here with a high-tech photovoltaic panel.

Newswise — It’s time to stop thinking of solar energy as a boutique source of power, says Joshua Pearce.

Sure, solar only generates about 1 percent of the electricity in the US. But that will change in a few years, says Pearce, an associate professor of electrical engineering and materials science at Michigan Technological University. The ultimate in renewable energy is about to go mainstream.

It’s a matter of economics. A new analysis by Pearce and his colleagues at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario, shows that solar photovoltaic systems are very close to achieving the tipping point: they can make electricity that’s as cheap—sometimes cheaper—as what consumers pay their utilities.

Here’s why. First, the price of solar panels has plummeted. “Since 2009, the cost has dropped 70 percent,” says Pearce. But more than that, the assumptions used in previous studies have not given solar an even break.

“Historically, when comparing the economics of solar and conventional energy, people have been very conservative,” says Pearce.

To figure out the true cost of photovoltaic energy, analysts need to consider several variables, including the cost to install and maintain the system, finance charges, how long it lasts, and how much electricity it generates. Pearce and his colleagues performed an exhaustive review of the previous studies and concluded that the values given those variables were out of whack.

For example, most analyses assume that the productivity of solar panels will drop at an annual rate of 1 percent or more, a huge overestimation, according to Pearce. “If you buy a top-of-the-line solar panel, it’s much less, between 0.1 and 0.2 percent.”

In addition, “The price of solar equipment has been dropping, so you’d think that the older papers would have higher cost estimates,” Pearce says. “That’s not necessarily the case.”

Equipment costs are determined based on dollars per watt of electricity produced. One 2010 study estimated the cost per watt at $7.61, while a 2003 study set the amount at $4.16. The true cost in 2011, says Pearce, is under $1 per watt for solar panels purchased in bulk on the global market, though system and installation costs vary widely. In some parts of the world, solar is already economically superior, and the study predicts that it will become increasingly attractive in more and more places.

In regions with a burgeoning solar industry, often due to favorable government policies, there are lots of solar panel installers, which heats up the market.

“Elsewhere, installation costs have been high because contractors will do just one job a month,” says Pearce. Increasing demand and competition would drop installation costs. “If you had ten installers in Upper Michigan and enough work to keep them busy, the price would drop considerably.”

Furthermore, economic studies don’t generally taken into account solar energy’s intangible benefits, reduced pollution and carbon emissions. And while silicon-based solar panels do rely on a nonrenewable resource–sand–they are no threat to the world’s beaches. It only takes about a sandwich baggie of sand to make a roof’s worth of thin-film photovoltaic cells, Pearce says.

Based on the study, and on the fact that the cost of conventional power continues to creep upward, Pearce believes that solar energy will soon be a major player in the energy game. “It’s just a matter of time before market economics catches up with it,” he says.

The study, “A Review of Solar Photovoltaic Levelized Cost of Electricity,” was coauthored by Kadra Branker and Michael Pathak of Queen’s University and was published in the December 2011 edition of Renewable and Sustainable Energy Reviews, Volume 15, Issue 9, pages 4470-4482.

Released: 12/8/2011

Source: Michigan Technological University

Related Link:

http://www.newswise.com/articles/affordable-solar-it-s-closer-than-you-think

How Does He Do It? Researcher Explains How Santa Delivers Presents in One Night

Newswise — Don’t believe in Santa Claus? Magic, you say? In fact, science and technology explain how Santa is able to deliver toys to good girls and boys around the world in one night, according to a North Carolina State University researcher.

NC State’s Dr. Larry Silverberg, professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering, can explain the science and engineering principles that allow Santa, also known as Kris Kringle or Saint Nicholas, to pull off the magical feat year after year.

Silverberg was team leader on a first-of-its-kind visiting scholars program at Santa’s Workshop-North Pole Labs (NPL) last year. “Children shouldn’t put too much credence in the opinions of those who say it’s not possible to deliver presents all over the world in one night,” Silverberg says.

With his cherubic smile and twinkling eyes, Santa may appear to be merely a right jolly old elf, but he and his NPL staff have a lot going on under the funny-looking hats, Silverberg says. Their advanced knowledge of electromagnetic waves, the space/time continuum, nanotechnology, genetic engineering and computer science easily trumps the know-how of contemporary scientists.

Silverberg says that Santa has a personal pipeline to children’s thoughts – via a listening antenna that combines technologies currently used in cell phones and EKGs – which informs him that Mary in Miami hopes for a surfboard, while Michael from Minneapolis wants a snowboard. A sophisticated signal processing system filters the data, giving Santa clues on who wants what, where children live, and even who’s been bad or good. Later, all this information will be processed in an onboard sleigh guidance system, which will provide Santa with the most efficient delivery route.

However, Silverberg adds that letters to Santa via snail mail still get the job done. “While he takes advantage of emerging technologies,” Silverberg says, “Santa is, in many ways, a traditionalist.”

Silverberg is not so naïve as to think that Santa and his reindeer can travel approximately 200 million square miles – making stops in some 80 million homes – in one night. Instead, he posits that Santa uses his knowledge of the space/time continuum to form what Silverberg calls “relativity clouds.”

“Based on his advanced knowledge of the theory of relativity, Santa recognizes that time can be stretched like a rubber band, space can be squeezed like an orange and light can be bent,” Silverberg says. “Relativity clouds are controllable domains – rips in time – that allow him months to deliver presents while only a few minutes pass on Earth. The presents are truly delivered in a wink of an eye.”

With a detailed route prepared and his list checked twice through the onboard computer on the technologically advanced sleigh, Santa is ready to deliver presents. His reindeer – genetically bred to fly, balance on rooftops and see well in the dark – don’t actually pull a sleigh loaded down with toys. Instead, each house becomes Santa’s workshop as he utilizes his “magic bag of toys” – a nano-toymaker that is able to fabricate toys inside the children’s homes. The presents are grown on the spot, as the nano-toymaker creates – atom by atom – toys out of snow and soot, much like DNA can command the growth of organic material like tissues and body parts.

And there’s really no need for Santa to enter the house via chimney, although Silverberg says he enjoys doing that every so often. Rather, the same relativity cloud that allows Santa to deliver presents in what seems like a wink of an eye is also used to “morph” Santa into people’s homes.

Finally, many people wonder how Santa and the reindeer can eat all the food left out for them. Silverberg says they take just a nibble at each house. The remainder is either left in the house or placed in the sleigh’s built-in food dehydrator, where it is preserved for future consumption. It takes a long time to deliver all those presents, after all.

“This is merely an overview, based on what we learned at the NPL, of Santa’s delivery methods,” Silverberg says. “Without these tools, it would be impossible for him to accomplish his annual mission, given the human, physical and engineering constraints we face today.”

Released: 12/6/2011

Source: North Carolina State University

Related Link:

http://newswise.com/articles/researcher-explains-how-santa-delivers-presents-in-one-night

Science and Space…NASA’s Kepler Mission Confirms Its First Planet in Habitable Zone of Sun-like Star

This diagram compares our own solar system to Kepler-22, a star system containing the first "habitable zone" planet discovered by NASA's Kepler mission. Image credit: NASA/Ames/JPL-Caltech

NASA’s Kepler mission has confirmed its first planet in the “habitable zone,” the region where liquid water could exist on a planet’s surface. Kepler also has discovered more than 1,000 new planet candidates, nearly doubling its previously known count. Ten of these candidates are near-Earth-size and orbit in the habitable zone of their host star. Candidates require follow-up observations to verify they are actual planets.

The newly confirmed planet, Kepler-22b, is the smallest yet found to orbit in the middle of the habitable zone of a star similar to our sun. The planet is about 2.4 times the radius of Earth. Scientists don’t yet know if Kepler-22b has a predominantly rocky, gaseous or liquid composition, but its discovery is a step closer to finding Earth-like planets.

Previous research hinted at the existence of near-Earth-size planets in habitable zones, but clear confirmation proved elusive. Two other small planets orbiting stars smaller and cooler than our sun recently were confirmed on the very edges of the habitable zone, with orbits more closely resembling those of Venus and Mars.

“This is a major milestone on the road to finding Earth’s twin,” said Douglas Hudgins, Kepler program scientist at NASA Headquarters in Washington. “Kepler’s results continue to demonstrate the importance of NASA’s science missions, which aim to answer some of the biggest questions about our place in the universe.”

Kepler discovers planets and planet candidates by measuring dips in the brightness of more than 150,000 stars to search for planets that cross in front, or “transit,” the stars. Kepler requires at least three transits to verify a signal as a planet.

“Fortune smiled upon us with the detection of this planet,” said William Borucki, Kepler principal investigator at NASA Ames Research Center at Moffett Field, Calif., who led the team that discovered Kepler-22b. “The first transit was captured just three days after we declared the spacecraft operationally ready. We witnessed the defining third transit over the 2010 holiday season.”

The Kepler science team uses ground-based telescopes and the Spitzer Space Telescope to review observations on planet candidates the spacecraft finds. The star field that Kepler observes in the constellations Cygnus and Lyra can only be seen from ground-based observatories in spring through early fall. The data from these other observations help determine which candidates can be validated as planets.

Kepler-22b is located 600 light-years away. While the planet is larger than Earth, its orbit of 290 days around a sun-like star resembles that of our world. The planet’s host star belongs to the same class as our sun, called G-type, although it is slightly smaller and cooler.

Of the 54 habitable zone planet candidates reported in February 2011, Kepler-22b is the first to be confirmed. This milestone will be published in The Astrophysical Journal.

The Kepler team is hosting its inaugural science conference at Ames Dec. 5-9, announcing 1,094 new planet candidate discoveries. Since the last catalog was released in February, the number of planet candidates identified by Kepler has increased by 89 percent and now totals 2,326. Of these, 207 are approximately Earth-size, 680 are super Earth-size, 1,181 are Neptune-size, 203 are Jupiter-size and 55 are larger than Jupiter.

The findings, based on observations conducted May 2009 to September 2010, show a dramatic increase in the numbers of smaller-size planet candidates.

Kepler observed many large planets in small orbits early in its mission, which were reflected in the February data release. Having had more time to observe three transits of planets with longer orbital periods, the new data suggest that planets one to four times the size of Earth may be abundant in the galaxy.

The number of Earth-size and super Earth-size candidates has increased by more than 200 and 140 percent since February, respectively.

There are 48 planet candidates in their star’s habitable zone. While this is a decrease from the 54 reported in February, the Kepler team has applied a stricter definition of what constitutes a habitable zone in the new catalog, to account for the warming effect of atmospheres, which would move the zone away from the star, out to longer orbital periods.

“The tremendous growth in the number of Earth-size candidates tells us that we’re honing in on the planets Kepler was designed to detect: those that are not only Earth-size, but also are potentially habitable,” said Natalie Batalha, Kepler deputy science team lead at San Jose State University in San Jose, Calif. “The more data we collect, the keener our eye for finding the smallest planets out at longer orbital periods.”

NASA’s Ames Research Center manages Kepler’s ground system development, mission operations and science data analysis. NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., managed Kepler mission development.

Ball Aerospace and Technologies Corp. in Boulder, Colo., developed the Kepler flight system and supports mission operations with the Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics at the University of Colorado in Boulder.

The Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore archives, hosts and distributes the Kepler science data. Kepler is NASA’s 10th Discovery Mission and is funded by NASA’s Science Mission Directorate at the agency’s headquarters.

Released: December 5, 2011

Source: NASA

Related Link:

http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/kepler/news/kepscicon-briefing.html

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