May 17, 2013 1:07 pm
King Richard III, the leader of England from 1483 to 1485, was the last English king killed in battle—struck by an arrow during a fight for the throne. His body was buried in a church, the Greyfriars in Leicester, but as centuries passed his burial grounds were lost. In September, word came from a team at the University of Leicester that they may have found the dead king’s body, buried beneath a parking lot.
Follow up work, including genetic testing, doubled-down on the assessment, an the question became what to do with the late king’s recently-exhumed remains. Some want him re-buried in Leicester, where he fell. His family wants his body brought to York, to be buried alongside his relatives. But wherever Richard III’s real skull goes, forensic artists working with the Richard III Society in Leicester are trying to make sure his visage is not lost again. They’ve created a bust of Richard III’s head, which will go on tour around England over the next few years.
The forensic art team, says the Atlantic, tried to “ determine what the king’s face would have looked like in person (well, “in person”).”
From there, the team used stereolithography – yep, 3D printing — to convert that rendering into a physical model of the king’s face. They extrapolated details like hair color and clothing style from portraits painted during Richard’s time.
The results of this endeavor are fairly creepily Tussaudian: The twisted-spined king, in the form of a 3D-printed bust, looks essentially like a decapitated wax figure. But it’s a high-tech wax figure. The forensics-based model — which, yes, will now be going on a tour throughout England — offers a new perspective on an old story: It brings a new dimension, quite literally, to ancient history.
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May 16, 2013 10:24 am
It’s been just over four years since NASA’s exoplanet-hunting Kepler satellite switched on and began staring unwaveringly at the same patch of the universe, watching for the subtle dips of light caused by a far-off planet passing in front of its star. Where the ancient Greeks knew of five planets besides our own Kepler gave us thousands. Extrapolations from this tiny patch of sky gave us hints of billions more.
Originally designed to run for three-and-a-half years, Kepler has pushed on. But the satellite’s quest may be at an end. Sad news came out from NASA yesterday that one of the satellite’s reaction wheels, a device that keeps Kepler’s eye steady, has failed. There may still be a way to fix the broken wheel or concoct some other strategy to keep Kepler shooting straight. But without a steady gaze the satellite can no longer carry out its mission.
In the science press, the obituaries are already rolling out. Though many scientific experiments teach us something new about the world, few have been able to so clearly redefine our place in the universe as Kepler. Decades ago, the planets in our solar system were all we knew. Now, we’re practically swimming in them.
Kepler may be down (but not “out”), but that doesn’t mean the discoveries will stop. It will take years to sort through and analyze all the data the mission has already collected. And, follow up research using other satellites on Kepler’s exoplanet “candidates” could still yet unveil the marvels of the universe.
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May 14, 2013 3:19 pm
Last year was one of the worst wildfire seasons in Colorado’s recent history. A series of destructive blazes drove tends of thousands of people from their homes and caused hundreds of millions of dollars of damage.
Last year’s awful fire season was spurred by a dry winter and higher-than-average temperatures. Those same conditions are back, says Climate Central, and the western U.S. is at risk once more.
Drought conditions have encompassed nearly the entire Western half of the country, with the worst of it centered in the Southwest and into California, which received only about 25 percent of its average precipitation during the year-to-date. “We’re confident we’re going to see above-normal significant fire potential,” Sullens said.
From California to Colorado, he says, the early-summer fire risk is high. Indeed, California has already seen a big blaze.
Forecasters are also concerned about a high risk of large wildfires along the Pacific Coast from California northward to Washington, and inland into Idaho and Southwest Montana, where very dry conditions exist in areas that have an abundance of vegetation, or fuel, to support potential fires.
… Vilsack said the combination of the drought, an abundance of dead or weakened trees from an epidemic of mountain bark beetles, and a likelihood of another unusually hot and dry summer is “a combination that doesn’t bode well.”
In many places the spring fire season has been off to a slow start, says Andrew Freedman, but according to the federal government this “has no bearing on where we think this fire season is going to go.”
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May 14, 2013 9:43 am
In Belize, they needed to build a road. Roads require rocks, there happened to be a really convenient, large pile of rocks for the construction team to use nearby. It also happened to be one of the largest Mayan pyramids in the country. Now that pyramid is gone, destroyed by bulldozers and backhoes.
The construction company building the road appears to have extracted crushed rocks from the pyramid to use as road fill. The pyramid, called the Nohmul complex, is at least 2,300 years old and sits on the border of Belize and Mexico. It’s over 100 feet tall, the largest pyramid in Belize left over from the Mayans.
Jaime Awe, the head of the Belize Institute of Archaeology said that the news was “like being punched in the stomach.” The pyramid was, he said, very clearly an ancient structure, so there’s no chance the team didn’t realize what they were doing. “These guys knew that this was an ancient structure. It’s just bloody laziness,” Awe told CBS News. He also said:
“Just to realize that the ancient Maya acquired all this building material to erect these buildings, using nothing more than stone tools and quarried the stone, and carried this material on their heads, using tump lines. To think that today we have modern equipment, that you can go and excavate in a quarry anywhere, but that this company would completely disregard that and completely destroyed this building. Why can’t these people just go and quarry somewhere that has no cultural significance? It’s mind-boggling.”
And it turns out that this is an ongoing problem in Belize. The country is littered with ruins (although none as large as Nohmul), and construction companies are constantly bulldozing them for road fill. An archaeologist at Boston University said that several other sites have already been destroyed by construction to use the rocks for building infrastructure. There isn’t much in the way of protection or management of these sites in Belize, so many people who live in the country either aren’t aware of their significance, or aren’t taught to care.
The Huffington Post has photographs from the scene, showing backhoes and bulldozers chipping away at the stone structure. HuffPo ends this story on a lighter note, pointing out that due to the destruction, archaeologists can now see the inner workings of the pyramid and the ways they were built.
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May 14, 2013 8:56 am
Today, Angelina Jolie announced that she has decided to have a preventive double mastectomy, after testing positive for the BRCA1 gene implicated in increasing the risk of breast cancer in women. Her decision is a drastic one, but she’s not the only woman to have both breasts removed before any sign of cancer. While the procedure is still rare, rates of preventive double mastectomies are on the rise. But no one is quite sure what’s driving these increasing rates, and doctors disagree about the benefits of the procedure.
Jolie joins a few celebrities who have had the procedure. Sharon Osbourne had her breasts removed last year. Miss America contestant Allyn Rose said in January that she would have hers removed once the contest was over. In 2006, the then 23-year-old Lindsay Avner became one of the first women to undergo the procedure to avoid breast cancer. A study from last year reported that the rate of these surgeries—which remove breasts before cancer is found—is on the rise. In 2002, 94 women in Pennsylvania had preventative surgery. In 2012 that number was 455. (These number include both women who had two seemingly healthy breasts removed and women who had one healthy breast removed after a diagnosis of cancer in the other.) The Journal of Clinical Oncology found that bilateral mastectomies—in which a woman with cancer in one breast has both removed—increased from 1.8 percent in 1998 to 4.8 percent in 2003.
It’s hard to track these sorts of things, though. There is no good nationwide data on exactly how many are done each year and how that number has changed from year to year. But doctors generally agree that the rate is increasing.
The reasons for that increase are also slippery. Easier and cheaper genetic testing is providing more women with the information that often spurs the procedure. And surgeries to remove the breasts are getting safer and less expensive, as are plastic surgeries to replace tissue or minimize scarring.
The women who opt for the surgery cite a few reasons. The first is the real risk of breast cancer. Angelina Jolie, in her opinion piece for the New York Times, says that “doctors estimated that I had an 87 percent risk of breast cancer and a 50 percent risk of ovarian cancer.”
The second is peace of mind. Women living with the gene say they feel as though cancer is looming over them at all times. “There wasn’t a minute where it didn’t cross my mind in some way,” Sara Tenenbein wrote in XO Jane. “BRCA was taking over my entire life.” Tenenbein opted for the preventive double mastectomy. She knows her choice was unusual, but she doesn’t regret it. “I know that I chose something extreme in order to live without fear. I chosejoie de vivre over vanity, and I am proud of it,” she writes.
“A lot of women really feel that it’s liberating,” Jocelyn Dunn, a breast surgeon in Palo Alto, California, told the Daily Beast. “Regrets are rare.” But peace of mind has a dark side, too. The Daily Beast also talked to Stephen Sener, a doctor and former president of the American Cancer Society. “The main motivation is fear. Some women say, ‘I can’t live with the anxiety of having this happen again’.” The opening of a 2007 story about another woman who chose the surgery reads: “Her latest mammogram was clean. But Deborah Lindner, 33, was tired of constantly looking for the lump.”
But doctors say that there’s also a problem in risk perception. Only 5-10 percent of the women who get breast cancer are positive for the “breast cancer genes.” Women with the genes have a 60 percent chance of getting breast cancer. But having the double mastectomy doesn’t guarantee that you’ll be cancer free, either. One study found that the procedure doesn’t work for all women. The study looked at women who have preventive mastectomies after being diagnosed with cancer in one breast and found that the procedure only seemed to help women under 50 whose cancer was in very early stages. Another study that looked at preventive mastectomies says that, while the procedure does reduce the risk of developing breast cancer, “there is conflicting evidence on whether or not it reduces breast cancer mortality or overall death.”
While the research is still out on how effective it is, women who have the BRCA1 gene or a family history of breast cancer might see people like Jolie and Osbourne as examples. Removing both breasts might seem drastic, but it can feel worth it to those who have watched a loved one die of cancer. But that fear and dread could be pushing women to make decisions that aren’t medically sound. Allyn Rose, the Miss America contestant, says her father suggested the procedure, and when she pushed back he told her that, if she didn’t do it, “you’re going to end up dead like your mom.”
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