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Science & Medicine

Study: Dinosaurs spread as forests shrank

London -- The collapse of ancient rainforest 300 million years ago helped clear the way for the rise and proliferation of dinosaurs, British researchers say.

Researchers at the University of London and University of Bristol say in the Carboniferous period North America and Europe lay at Earth's equator and were covered by steamy rainforests until global warming brought about their fragmentation and collapse, kicking off an evolutionary explosion among reptiles, BBC News reported.

"Climate change caused rainforests to fragment into small 'islands' of forest," Howard Falcon-Lang from the University of London says.
"This isolated populations of reptiles, and each community evolved in separate directions, leading to an increase in diversity."

Calif. space company eyes Florida launches

Mojave, Calif. -- A private rocket company says it has reached a deal with a Florida organization for possible demonstration launches of its reusable suborbital spacecraft.

Private aerospace company Masten Space Systems of Mojave, Calif., announced a partnership last week with Space Florida to explore the possibility of launches from the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, SPACE.com reported.

Space Florida was created by the Space Florida Act, enacted in 2006 to pursue the growth and development of a sustainable aerospace industry in the state.

"We have been looking at Florida as a launch option for some time now," Masten founder and Chief Executive Officer David Masten said in a statement.

Researcher says Earth's oceans 'homegrown'

Cambridge, Mass. -- Earth's oceans were homegrown and not delivered by icy comets and asteroids as long contended, U.S. researchers say.

Astronomers have long theorized that comets and asteroids delivered the water for the world's oceans during an epoch of heavy bombardment that ended about 3.9 billion years ago, but researchers at Massachusetts Institute of Technology contend the water came from the very rocks that formed the planet, AAAS ScienceMag.org reported Monday.

Geologist Linda Elkins-Tanton says computer simulations show a large percentage of the water in the molten rock forming the early Earth would quickly form a steam atmosphere before cooling and condensing into an ocean.

Gray wolf no longer endangered?

Denver -- U.S. and state officials are trying to determine what a healthy number of gray wolves is for the species in the northern Rockies.

Interior Secretary Ken Salazar discussed the issue Monday at a meeting in Denver with the governors of Idaho, Montana and Wyoming, The Denver Post reported. The meeting was closed to the public and news media, but those who attended said there was general agreement the gray wolf can be taken off the endangered species list, returning control of populations to the states.

"The successful recovery of the gray wolf is a stunning example of how the Endangered Species Act can work to keep imperiled animals from sliding into extinction," Salazar said in a statement.

Study: Being clean may make you sick

AnnArbor, Mich. -- An ingredient in antibacterial soaps may provoke more allergies, and some plastics used in soap bottles may affect the immune system, U.S. researchers say.

Triclosan, widely used in products such as antibacterial soaps, and bisphenol A, found in many plastics and food containers, are both in a category of chemicals called endocrine-disrupting compounds thought to threaten human health by mimicking or affecting hormones, ScienceDaily.com reported Tuesday.

A University of Michigan School of Public Health study compared levels of urinary bisphenol AA and triclosan with cytomegalovirus antibodies and diagnoses of allergies or hay fever in a sample of U.S. adults and children over age 6.

Venus clouds may yield climate clues

Paris -- European scientists say a mysterious, high-altitude layer of sulphur dioxide in the atmosphere of Venus has been explained, with possible earthly connections.

Sulphuric acid clouds blanket Venus at an altitude of between 30 and 45 miles, formed by sulfur dioxide from volcanoes combining with water to form sulfuric acid droplets.

Intense solar radiation above 45 miles should destroy any sulfur dioxide above that height, so scientists were puzzled when a European Space Agency probe found a layer of sulfur dioxide at about 55 miles, an ESA release said.

Season saw fewest Pacific storms on record

State College, Pa. -- The 2010 Atlantic Hurricane Season was an active one but the Eastern North Pacific basin yielded the fewest storms on record this year, forecasters said.

The Pacific Basin normally sees 15 tropical storms form each season, with an average of nine becoming hurricanes, but this year only seven tropical storms formed, with three becoming hurricanes, Accuweather.com reported Tuesday.

Sixty percent of all storm development in the region during the season occurs in September and October, but this September was the quietest on record with only one tropical storm, Accuweather meteorologist Dan Kottlowski said.

October yielded no tropical activity, something that hasn't happened since 1977, he said.

Polar bears seen with 'piggy back' cubs

London -- Polar bears are carrying cubs on their backs while they swim through icy waters, possibly because of global warming melting arctic ice, U.K. researchers say.

Scientists say they believed it to be a new behavior, possibly the result of bears having to swim longer distances in the ocean because of reduction in the amount of ice used by the bears as seal-hunting territory, Britain's Daily Telegraph reported.

During the longer swims, traveling on the mother's back could be vital for the survival of the cubs, scientists say, as being on the mother's back means the cub's body is in direct contact with the adult's fur and a large part of the baby is out of the icy water, thereby reducing heat loss.

Invasive shrimp species found in Wales

Cardiff, Wales -- British environmentalists say an invasive "killer" shrimp that feeds on native counterparts, young fish and insect larvae has been detected in Wales.

The predatory Dikerogammarus villosus can have serious impacts on the ecology of habitats it invades and can cause extinctions, the BBC reported.

Dubbed the killer shrimp by biologists for its voracious appetite, it often kills its prey and leaves it uneaten.

Originally from the steppe region between the Black Sea and the Caspian Sea, D. villosus, which can grow to be much larger than native freshwater shrimp, has been spreading across Western Europe for 10 years.

Old galaxy seen making new stars

Oxford, England -- U.K. astronomers say a nearby galaxy, well past its cosmic "prime" for producing stars, shows evidence it is still churning out baby stars.

Images from the Hubble Space Telescope show the core of an elliptical galaxy known as NGC 4150, thought to be well past its period of star formation, surrounded by streamers of dust, gas and young, blue stars considerably less than 1 billion years old, SPACE.com reported Tuesday.

Scientists say the finding suggests elliptical galaxies can still have some youthful vigor left, possibly through encounters with smaller galaxies, and that the star birth in NGC 4150 may have been kicked off by a collision and merger with a dwarf galaxy.