Stories of modern science... from UPI

By JIM KLING, UPI Science Writer  |  Dec. 7, 2001 at 1:26 AM
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, Dec. 6 (UPI) --


Observations from two satellites have been combined to form the first complete world map of lightning activity. The results show that Central Africa, the Himalayas and parts of South America are the world's biggest lightning rods, with an area centered around DR Congo experiencing 81 lightning flashes per square kilometer per year. The map shows that lightning is a rare event at sea and almost never occurs at the poles. The data should help improve understanding of weather patterns and weather prediction, Steve Goodman of NASA's Global Hydrology and Climate Center told New Scientist. Sensors on the two satellites gathered data over periods of five and three years, respectively. The map supplements and improves upon earlier representations put together from ground-based detectors.


Long theorized and extensively searched for, the Higgs boson may turn out to be a flight of fancy, researchers told New Scientist. Physicists believed that the Higgs boson is the subatomic particle that explains why matter has mass. After analyzing data from the LEP accelerator at the CERN nuclear physics lab near Geneva, physicists conclude that there's no evidence that the particle exists. And that should have theorists scratching their head for a while, because the Higgs boson is central to the standard model of matter. Without it, physicists have no explanation for mass. The announcement follows up an announcement made by researchers from another group at LEP, who claimed they had found the Higgs boson, but later admitted that they had made an error in their calculations. Its existence is looking "less and less likely", said Steve Reucroft, of Northeastern University. Others think finding the Higgs boson is a matter of looking a little harder. "It's just at a higher energy than we're sensitive to," predicts David Plane, head of LEP's OPAL experiment.


For the first time since the attacks of September 11, the space shuttle Endeavor has lifted off and is heading towards the International Space Station (ISS) with a relief crew. The launch had been scheduled for last Thursday, but it was delayed by problems on ISS and bad weather. The security around lift-off was unprecedented, with a no-fly zone extending 35 miles around the launch pad, and the astronauts receiving an escort by guards armed with automatic weapons. Endeavor is scheduled to dock with the ISS on Friday, where it will drop off Expedition Four - Ukrainian-born commander Yuri Onufrienko and US astronauts Carl Walz and Daniel Bursch. The team will remain on ISS until May 2002.


A team of researchers is scanning the brains of thousands of volunteers to produce the most sophisticated and detailed map of the human brain that has ever been assembled. "We don't understand the human brain in great detail yet," Arthur Toga, director of the Laboratory of Neuroimaging at the University of California in Los Angeles told the BBC. "The objective is to try to create a map that describes not only the brain's structure but its functions in a comprehensive way." The team hopes to use the data to help determine brain differences among individuals and eventually be able to tell a pathological brain from a normal one. "Many neurological or psychiatric conditions produce subtle differences in the brain and in order for us to be sensitive to those differences we have to fully understand what the brain looks like when it is normal," said Toga. The brain map currently used as a model comes from a 60-year-old French woman, but a map from a single individual is woefully inadequate for representing the entire human population.

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