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Jan. 23, 2013 at 7:09 PM
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Massive earthquakes came as surprise

CORVALLIS, Ore., Jan. 23 (UPI) -- Scientists say some recent massive earthquakes surprised them because the Pacific locations weren't thought capable of producing earthquakes of their magnitude.

The massive Tohoku, Japan, earthquake in 2011 and the Sumatra-Andaman superquake in 2004 occurred in regions scientists had thought incapable of producing a megathrust earthquake with a magnitude exceeding 8.4.

Researchers said those two temblors have led them to question the validity of existing maximum earthquake predictive models.

Past global estimates of earthquake potential were constrained by short historical records and even shorter instrumental records, they said, and scientists need to investigate longer paleoseismic records.

"Once you start examining the paleoseismic and geodetic records, it becomes apparent that there had been the kind of long-term plate deformation required by a giant earthquake such as the one that struck Japan in 2011," Oregon State University researcher Chris Goldfinger said. "Paleoseismic work has confirmed several likely predecessors to Tohoku, at about 1,000-year intervals.

"Since the 1970s, scientists have divided the world into plate boundaries that can generate 9.0 earthquakes versus those that cannot," he said. "Those models were already being called into question when Sumatra drove one stake through their heart, and Tohoku drove the second one."

Both the Tohoku and Sumatra regions had been described in textbooks as not having the potential for a major earthquake, Goldfinger said.

"Now we have no models that work," he said, "and we may not have for decades. We have to assume, however, that the potential for 9.0 subduction zone earthquakes is much more widespread than originally thought."

Astronomers take universe's temperature

CANBERRA, Australia, Jan. 23 (UPI) -- Astronomers using a telescope in Australia to take the universe's temperature say it's cooled down just as predicted in big-bang theory of its beginning.

An international team from Sweden, France, Germany and Australia used the Australia Telescope Compact Array in New South Wales to measure how warm the universe was when it was half its current age.

"This is the most precise measurement ever made of how the universe has cooled down during its 13.77-billion-year history," said Robert Braun, chief scientist for astronomy at space science at the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization.

The astronomers looked at light coming from halfway across the universe, meaning the light started its journey in Earth's direction when the universe was half as old as it is today.

They studied gas in a galaxy 7.2 billion light-years away being kept warm only by the cosmic background radiation, the glow left over from the big bang.

The big-bang theory of the birth of the universe holds that the temperature of cosmic background radiation should drop smoothly as the universe expands.

"That's just what we see in our measurements," said research leader Sebastien Muller of Onsala Space Observatory at Chalmers University of Technology in Sweden. "The universe of a few billion years ago was a few degrees warmer than it is now, exactly as the big-bang Theory predicts."

System warns drivers of icy roads

ESPOO, Finland, Jan. 23 (UPI) -- Researchers in Finland say they're working on a system to inform drivers automatically that a road ahead is slippery with ice in winter conditions.

The technology will make driving on ice safer, scientists at the VTT Technical Research Center said, as vehicles are warned in advance of a road's actual slipperiness.

In the system developed by VTT, changes in road conditions are detected in real time, based on data collected by sensors mounted in a vehicle.

"The method entails estimating the difference in the speeds of the drive shaft and freely rotating axles in various driving situations, which enables deduction of the level of friction," researcher Kimmo Erkkila said.

The information is relayed to the driver before he or she has even noticed the change in road conditions, researchers said, and observations collected from all cars can be transmitted wirelessly to a background system, which maintains a real-time slipperiness map and generates a log of the road conditions.

For each car that joins the system, the background system can produce and transmit an individual data package on road conditions, they said.

So far the system has been tested only in heavy trucks, but is compatible with other heavy vehicles and eventually could be fitted to cars, the researchers said.

Facebook use said source of envy, jealousy

BERLIN, Jan. 23 (UPI) -- Spending time on Facebook can be an unhappy experience, German researchers say, as seeing pictures and posts of other users' can lead to envy and jealousy.

The study -- "Envy on Facebook: A hidden threat to users' life satisfaction?" -- was conducted at Humboldt University in Berlin and Darmstadt's Technical University, the Los Angeles Times reported Wednesday.

In a survey of 357 people -- mostly German university students -- about a third said they felt worse after visiting the social networking site and their "general dissatisfaction" with life increased.

Holiday photos are the biggest cause of resentment, causing more than half of all feelings of envy, the researchers found.

Facebook allows users to keep up to date with a great number of people but it also produces a "basis for social comparison and envy on an unprecedented scale," the study said.

"We were surprised by how many people have a negative experience from Facebook with envy leaving them feeling lonely, frustrated or angry," researcher Hanna Krasnova of Humboldt University said.

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