Stories of modern science... from UPI

By JIM KLING, UPI Science Writer


Observations of microbes found deep within the Earth suggest that life can exist at more extreme conditions than had been thought, according to research published in this week's edition of the journal Science. The bacteria survive at pressures equivalent to those found 160 kilometers underwater -- a pressure that no organism was believed capable of surviving. "We shouldn't rule out the possibility of life [on other planets], even if it isn't found on the surface," Anurag Sharma of the Carnegie Institution told New Scientist. The findings aren't a big surprise to Dave Roberts of the Natural History Museum in London, but "It is difficult to see where you would get life under this sort of pressure in nature." The researchers made the observation by subjecting two common species of bacteria, E. coli and Shewanella oneidensis, to extreme pressures using a diamond anvil cell. The results encourage researchers who hope to find life beneath the surface of solar system bodies such as Jupiter's moons Europa, Callisto and Ganymede.



A new analysis of fish bones found in Peru suggests that a climate change occurred 5,000 years ago, leading to the phenomenon known as 'El Niño,' according to a report in this week's edition of the journal Science. El Niño is an event that includes irregular cycles of warming of the ocean waters off the coast of Peru. "Our data strengthen the argument that El Niño, as we know it, began relatively recently -- since 5000 years ago," said C. Fred T. Andrus, a postdoctoral associate at the University of Georgia. Andrus. "This is more evidence that climate change is the norm, and climate stability is the exception in the earth's history, even in relatively recent times. Given the enormous global impact of El Niño, it's important to understand that climate is a naturally variable system, and that just six thousand years ago El Niño was less frequent." The bones are of a type of sea catfish that stay near shore but away from river mouths, where oxygen from freshwater can complicate the analysis. "(The bones) act like miniature temperature recording devices," said Douglas E. Crowe of the University of Georgia. "Throughout the life of a fish, they grow concentrically larger, and the ratio of oxygen isotopes in each individual growth band allows us to determine the temperature of the water at that time. By looking at the entire (sample) we can reconstruct the water temperature history throughout the life of the fish, from season to season and year to year."



The ivory-billed woodpecker hasn't been sighted in 50 years, but a team of searchers in a swampy Louisiana forest believe they heard one of the animals, according to a New York Times report. The bird is striking, with black and white coloration and a 30-inch wingspan -- if any still exist, it is the largest woodpecker in North America. The search team was inspired by a 199 sighting by David Kulivan, a student at Louisiana State University who convinced a number of experts that his sighting was credible. On January 27, in the Pearl River Wildlife Management Area near Slidell, Louisiana, the team members heard a series of double raps characteristic of the drumming of the ivory-billed woodpecker. Members of a Cornell Lab of Ornithology team heard similar sounds on the same day. They found other evidence as well, including bark scraped off trees and large nest cavities. "We are puzzled," said David Luneau, a birder and professor of engineering technology at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock, who was a member of the search team, which was supported by Zeiss Sports Optics. "We recommend more searches in the area," Luneau said.



Researchers have captured antimatter atoms for the first time, according to a New Scientist report. Particle physics holds that every particle has a corresponding antiparticle with the same mass but the opposite charge. Any such pairs annihilate each other if they come in contact, release a large burst of energy that researchers hope one day to harness. Antihydrogen atoms were detected in particle accelerators in the late 1990s, but they were moving at near the speed of light and could not be stored or studied. The researchers, working on the ATRAP experiment at the European Laboratory for Particle Physics (CERN), claim to have made and storied thousands of antiatoms in a particle trap made of up of powerful magnetic fields. They started by piping antiprotons and antielectrons into the same space. Once confined, some of the particles did not move, suggesting that they had formed antihydrogen atoms. "It's hard to see how you could avoid having some antihydrogen in there," Gerald Gabrielse of Harvard University, who led the team.

(EDITOR: For more information on El Niño, call 706-542-8501)

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