Vol. 1 / No. 8 — Solar Somersaults, Vitamin Deficiencies, and Pretty Time-Wasters


Solar Polar Flip

In the news this week, the still-happening-I-promise-no-seriously end to the solar maximum is still imminent, with the Independent reporting that the poles are really going to reverse themselves in the next few weeks. Thankfully this means very little for us here on Earth, though it could upset a few things in space.

Made in China

After China announced last month that they had achieved a tenfold increase in plasma confinement time in their tokamak reactor and the news last week that they had landed a rover on the moon, you might think they’d wait a few minutes before showing off their scientific prowess again, but you’d be wrong. This week a consortium operating at China’s Beijing Electron-Positron Collider announced that they have discovered two new charged particles. Symmetry magazine has this full story.

You Are What You Eat

A new study in the journal Nature this week suggests that it only takes three or four days of eating differently to change the makeup of your microbiome. This could have been a really advantage to early humans moving from place to place, but may be less of one now. Scientific American has the story.

In other dietary news, Scientific American is also reporting that mothers may produce different milk for boys and girls in times of stress and plenty. In a study of Kenyan women of both richer and poorer households, the fat content of the milk they produced differed for boys and girls. In the wealthier women, they produced richer milk for sons, whereas the poorer produced richer milk for daughters. The logic is that in good times, the higher risk / higher reward of having a son takes precedence over the lower risk / lower reward of having a daughter (where risk is “risk of not having children” and reward is “reward of having many vs few children). Evolution doesn’t play dice, but she does make calculations.

Gorgeous Time Waster

Remember the American wind map? The one that takes all the surface wind speeds from around the country and makes them into a gorgeous piece of kinetic art? Remember how you spent hours just staring at the darn thing? Well, now you can see the whole world. I’m not getting anything done today.

Vitamin Deficiencies?

While I won’t tell you not to take multivitamins, I will suggest that you take a look at the latest science on the subject. In a meta-article from the journal the Annals of Internal Medicine they analyzed the conclusions from three separate studies and concluded that in many cases multivitamins have no proven benefits. From the headlines (“Study Finds Multivitamins Are a Complete Waste of Money,” “Skip the Supplements“) you might think that means no benefits for anyone, but it’s important to read the fine print: the studies were of multivitamins taken by people with otherwise healthy diets. If you’re taking one because your diet sucks, or are taking a specific vitamin because of a known deficiency, you might still want to take them. The Independent has the rundown, but as always, talk to an actual health professional if you want actual health advice.

Waters of Mars

News from Mars this week that not only was it wetter for longer than previously thought on Mars, but that it may be wet there still, further increasing the chances that we’ll find life on our neighbouring world (even if it might be from here).

“Universal” flu shot

Flu vaccines typically last for a year, because the rate of mutation in influenza is so rapid, but recently researchers at Stanford decided to take a second look at how they go about flu vaccine targeting. Typically vaccines have targeted the so-called “head” of the protein; but researchers recently discovered that the smaller “tail” of the HA (hemagglutenin) protein changes much less over time, opening up the possibility of a flu shot that could last multiple years by targeting the tail. Maybe someday we’ll only have to get a flu shot once a decade.

Robinhood to the rescue

Tired of paying fees every time you trade your stocks? Don’t have stocks because trading them is for rich people who can afford trading fees? A new company is trying to turn the industry on its head by making trading fees a thing of the past. This week Robinhood announced that they’ve raised $3million in venture capital to produce an app to do just that. If it works, maybe someone like me could even trade stocks.

Happy Birthday, little island!

Earth’s newest island has been confirmed. In late November, volcanic processes led to the formation of the island of Niijima on the ring of fire, about 600 miles south of Tokyo. NASA’s Earth Observatory has the full story.

Holiday Decorations

Finally, I’m ending this post with a bit of pretty: io9 has a selection of space-themed wallpapers available for download. Go take a look, and have a great week.