Mapping early human settlements in Syria, Iraq
This mound at Tell Brak, northeastern Syria, is entirely artificial. It formed as a result of 6,000 years of human occupation.
March 19th, 2012
04:08 PM ET

Mapping early human settlements in Syria, Iraq

Archaeology is a delicate trade, requiring discipline, dedication and, most of all, patience. Groundbreaking discoveries can take years to come to fruition.

Unless, of course, you manage to streamline the discovery process by teaching a computer to do your work for you.

At Harvard University, anthropologist Jason Ur and his colleague Bjoern Menze have programmed a computer to recognize traces of long-term human activity from satellite images, especially in ranges of the electromagnetic spectrum that are invisible to the human eye. Their new study is published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

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A fruit fly walks into a bar ...
A male fly courts a virgin female fly.
March 15th, 2012
02:59 PM ET

A fruit fly walks into a bar ...

It sounds like the premise of a "Far Side" comic: A fruit fly with an insatiable sexual appetite is no good with women and looks for respite at the bottom of a bottle.

But revelations about those puny nuisances that have been annoying your oranges all week didn’t come from Gary Larson, but from a group of researchers at the Heberlein lab at the University of California, San Francisco.

Galit Shohat-Ophir, the team’s lead researcher, and her colleagues discovered that the more a male fruit fly’s sexual advances are rejected, the more likely the fly will turn to alcohol as a consolation.

The findings, which they published in the journal Science, were the culmination of years of research on the “reward” pathway in the brain, which is linked to addiction.

“A reward is a kind of stimulus that reinforces behavior, in that it increases the chance that the behavior will occur again,” Shohat-Ophir told CNN Light Years. “Usually, it’s pleasure-related effects.”
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Filed under: Discoveries • On Earth
February 23rd, 2012
01:22 PM ET

Oops! Speed of light may still be the limit

By Christopher Cottrell, CNN

It could have shaken the very cornerstones of modern physics but - oops! - it experienced some technical difficulties. An experiment suggesting that particles could travel faster than the speed of light had some potential flaws, scientists announced Thursday.

The contemporary understanding of how the universe works is based on Albert Einstein’s 1905 Special Theory of Relativity, which says the speed of light is a constant that cannot be exceeded - it's the universe's speed limit. To go beyond it would be to look back in time, the late German physicist said.

Scientists at OPERA – which stands for Oscillation Project with Emulsion-Racking Apparatus – were surprised last year to find that tiny particles called neutrinos were arriving at their destination faster than expected. They were tasked with tracking tiny particles as they soar through 730 kilometers of solid rock between a particle accelerator at CERN in Geneva and the Gran Sasso underground laboratory in Italy.

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