Discovered: Global warming could cause more lava flow; humans started popping pills ages ago; babies begin acquiring language in womb; Mars astronauts would be very sleepy.
Cloudy with a chance of lava. We know about the rising sea levels and increased incidence of superstorms associated with global warming. But here's another nasty side-effect of unrestrained climate change: more volcano eruptions. A new study from Germany's GEOMAR Helmholtz Center for Ocean Research Kiel finds that global warming could exacerbate Earth's igneous activity. By sifting through layers of volcanic ash at the bottom of Central American seabeds, the scientists reconstructed the timeline of eruptions stretching back over 460,000 years. "In times of global warming, the glaciers are melting on the continents relatively quickly," says GEOMAR geophysicist Marion Jegen. "At the same time, the sea level rises. The weight on the continents decreases, while the weight on the oceanic tectonic plates increases. Thus, the stress changes within the Earth to open more routes for ascending magma." [Scientific American]
Ancient pills treated sore eyes. Lest we think that self-medicating is something thoroughly modern, University of Pisa researchers have found that humans were popping pills as early as 140 BC. The place: ancient Rome. The affliction: sore eyes. The remedy: zinc carbonates hydrozincite and smithsonite, the same materials used in 21st century skin and eye treatments. "To our knowledge, these are the oldest medical tablets ever analysed," says lead researcher Erika Ribechini about the sampling of pills found on a wrecked cargo ship off the coast of Italy. "Findings of such ancient medicines are extremely rare, so preservation of the Pozzino tablets is a very lucky case." [New Scientist]
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Language acquisition begins in the womb. Researchers have noticed that babies respond with familiarity to their parents' native tongues from the moment they're born, but seem to perceive other languages as unfamiliar. Pacific Lutheran University psychologist Christine Moon says that this suggests language acquisition begins while babies are still gestating. "It seems that there is some prenatal learning of speech sounds, but we do not yet know how much," Moon says. She and her colleagues reached this conclusion by studying 80 newborns, half in the United States and the other 40 in Sweden. They piped vowels associated with each country's respective language through headphones, observing how long the babies would suck their pacifiers (when they stopped, a new syllable would be triggered). They observed longer stretches of pacifier sucking when babies heard foreign syllables, suggesting that they were more interested in these strange sounds and more familiar with their native syllables. [Science News]
A trip to Mars would make astronauts very sleepy. Inspring as a manned trip to Mars would surely be, astronaut walking on the red planet might not be as spunky as the Apollo crew that hopped so energetically around the moon. Simulations done by the Mars500 team in Moscow suggest that astronauts undertaking the trip from Earth to Mars would get sleepy and sedentary during the long journey. Six volunteers between the ages of 27 to 38 who participated in Mars500 committed to a 520 mission simulation. At the end of the study, they tended to sleep more and favor leisure activities like playing video games or reading books. Commenting on these findings, Gloria Leon of the University of Minnesota says, "What they're showing is that NASA and other organizations need to pay close attention to developing some measures that will prevent hypokinesis." [Science Now]