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Sliding scale, "lost" New England, autism genetics, lumpy electrons, more

Sliding scale (NASA)

You have probably seen "cosmic zoom" videos, where you start with an ordinary human, zoom out to the edge of the universe, then zoom in to the center of a proton. I've posted links to such things. This link is to an interactive version. You control the direction and speed of zoom with a scroll bar, and can click on objects going by to get more information on them.

"Lost" New England (ScienceNOW)

A lot of New England is wooded, but it used to be less so. Around the early 1800s, it was pretty deforested and under farming. A new form of laser ranging lets archeologists spot the borders of old farm fields, beneath the tree cover.

Autism genetics (Discover)

Autism has a genetic component, but a complex one. Geneticists have sequenced the genomes of 32 autistic children and found genes in common with social anxiety and epilepsy. They have also four more genes connected to autism.

Jacobean science (Science Daily)

Ever hear of John Wilkins? Me either. But Prof. Allan Chapman of Oxford has researched him. Wilkins was a great science popularizer, a sort of Carl Sagan of the seventeenth century. In the middle of the English Civil War, while also occupied with political and religious acrobatics (he was a minister and eventual C. of E. bishop while at the same time marrying into Cromwell's family), he managed to popularize Copernicus and Galileo, along with the idea that the stars spread out forever, and are not bound to a "sphere of fixed stars" as in either the old astronomy or early versions of the new, and speculated about the practicalities of air and space travel. 2014 is the 400th anniversary of his birth.

Sleep as reset (Science Daily)

The reason for sleep is a long-standing mystery. I recently posted an article about the recent hypothesis that sleep is needed so the brain can rinse out its cerebral fluids. Here is another recent hypothesis: sleep is the time during which new experiences are edited and integrated into memory. That's not a new idea, but the new aspect put forward by Tononi and Cirelli is that new memories actually need to be made less vivid and immediate, so they don't crowd out all the previously accumulated learning.

Lumpy electrons (Phys.org)

Not-lumpy electrons, really. If we think of an electron as any shape other than a speck, we think of it as a sphere. But is it perfectly spherical? Recent careful tests of the distribution of an electron's electric field are more than ten times more sensitive than previous efforts, and have found the electron is pretty darn spherical. If the Earth were that perfectly spherical, there would be less than a hair's breadth of difference between the north and south hemispheres.