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Dec. 5, 2012 at 6:58 PM
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Astronomers see solar system being born

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va., Dec. 5 (UPI) -- U.S. astronomers say they've observed a young star with a rotating dust disk considered the youngest still-forming planetary system ever found.

The infant star surrounded by a swirling disk of dust and gas is more than 450 light-years from Earth in the constellation Taurus, the National Radio Astronomy Observatory reported Wednesday.

While just one-fifth the mass of the sun, it will probably pull in material from its surroundings and eventually match the sun's mass, scientists said.

The disk of material surrounding the young star contains at least enough mass to make seven planets the size of our solar system's largest world Jupiter, they said.

"This very young object has all the elements of a solar system in the making," John Tobin of the National Radio Astronomy Observatory said.

The developing solar system is no more than 300,000 years old, astronomers said, compared to the 4.6-billion-year age of our sun and its planets.

"In many ways, this system looks much like we think our own solar system looked when it was very young," Tobin said.

Study: Most mobile Web browsers unsafe

ATLANTA, Dec. 5 (UPI) -- Smartphone Web browsers are unsafe and even cybersecurity experts can't detect when they've have landed on potentially dangerous websites, a U.S. study found.

In a critical area that informs user decisions -- the incorporation of tiny graphical indicators in a browser's URL address field -- all of the leading mobile browsers fail to meet security guidelines recommended by the World Wide Web Consortium for browser safety, researchers at the Georgia Institute of Technology reported Wednesday.

The graphic icons are called either SSL (secure sockets layer) or TLS (transport layer security) indicators and serve to alert users when their connection to the destination website is secure and the website they see is actually the site they intended to visit.

Without that graphical confirmation of a secure site, even expert users have no way to determine if the websites they visit are real or impostor sites phishing for personal data, the researchers said.

"We found vulnerabilities in all 10 of the mobile browsers we tested, which together account for more than 90 percent of the mobile browsers in use today in the United States," computer science Professor Patrick Traynor said.

"The basic question we asked was, 'Does this browser provide enough information for even an information-security expert to determine security standing?' With all 10 of the leading browsers on the market today, the answer was no."

The Web consortium has recommended how SSL indicators should be built into a browser's user interface and desktop browsers do a good job of following those recommendations, researchers said, but in mobile browsers the guidelines are followed inconsistently at best and often not at all.

"Research has shown that mobile browser users are three times more likely to access phishing sites than users of desktop browsers," Georgia Tech doctoral student Chaitrali Amrutkar said. "Is that all due to the lack of these SSL indicators? Probably not, but giving these tools a consistent and complete presence in mobile browsers would definitely help."

Indoor lawns help students handle stress

ITHACA, N.Y., Dec. 5 (UPI) -- Grass lawns brought indoors are helping students at Cornell University in New York deal with the stress of final exams, school officials said.

The school's Department of Design and Environmental Analysis has used sections of turf to creating grassy oases of calm in the lobbies of two libraries as well as two science buildings on campus, a university release reported Wednesday.

"Being in touch with nature helps people be calmer, and they feel refreshed and productive," school Administrator Eveline Ferretti said.

The first indoor lawn was installed in the school's Mann Library in the fall.

"The library is the perfect place for it," Ferretti said, noting "it's great to see people willing to lay down in the grass and just relax there. The main goal is really to make people happy."

Marcia Eames-Sheavly, director of the Garden-Based Learning program, said she understands the calming allure of grass.

"We know from research that time spent in nature fosters diverse facets of our well-being, from cognitive function, to lower stress levels. [Indoor lawns] are easy to create, and do not require elaborate materials."

New coating can protect historic buildings

IOWA CITY, Iowa, Dec. 5 (UPI) -- Historic limestone buildings and statues can be protected from pollution with a single layer of a water-resistant coating, U.S. and British researchers say.

A University of Iowa researcher and her colleagues from Cardiff University, writing in the journal Scientific Reports, say they've developed a new way to minimize chemical reactions that cause buildings made of limestone to deteriorate.

"This paper demonstrates that buildings and statues made out of limestone can be protected from degradation by atmospheric corrosion, such as corrosion due to pollutant molecules and particulate matter in air, by applying a thin, one-layer coating of a hydrophobic coating," Vicki Grassian, an Iowa professor of chemistry and chemical and biochemical engineering, said.

The coating includes a mixture of fatty acids derived from olive oil and fluoridated substances that increase limestone's resistance to pollution, the researchers said.

One of the buildings examined in the study was York Minster, a cathedral located in York, England, and one of the largest structures of its kind in northern Europe.

Construction of the cathedral began in the 1260s.

York Minster was a perfect structure to study and test the coating, Grassian said, because its limestone surface has been exposed for decades to acid rain, sulfur dioxide and other pollutants.

"We showed in particular that the degradation of limestone from reaction with sulfur dioxide and sulfate particles could be minimized with an application of this coating."

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