Discovered: Republican women have more "feminine" features; some evidence for Mars' watery past; element 113 is synthesized; how the brightest stellar event ever recorded happened.
Are GOP women prettier? Using the questionable metric of "stereotypically feminine facial features," researchers at the University of California, Los Angeles argue that feminine-looking women tend to be Republican. "At least when it comes to female politicians, assessing how much a face reflects gender norms may be one way of guessing political affiliations," writes lead author Kerri Johnson. Put simply, the "Michele Bachmann Effect" stipulates that Republican women are usually pretty and Democrat women are usually ugly. To prove that they weren't alone in this perception, the researchers corralled "politically uninformed" undergraduates into looking at images of female politicians. They asked the subjects to guess the party affiliation of the women in the photos, and found that they were able to guess with a fair degree of accuracy based on the perceived feminine features alone. In an interesting twist, the reverse happens when talking about male politicians. Democratic male politicians were perceived as more masculine looking than their Republican colleagues. [UCLA]
Curiosity finds ancient streambed on Mars. While cruising through the Gale Crater, NASA's Curiosity rover stumbled on evidence to support the theory that water once flowed on the Red Planet. This "Hottah" rock outcropping shown in this image contains smooth gravel that scientists believe was worn down by once-flowing water that may have been up to hip-deep. "Plenty of papers have been written about channels on Mars with many different hypotheses about the flows in them," says UC Berkeley's William Dietrich. "This is the first time we’re actually seeing water-transported gravel on Mars. This is a transition from speculation about the size of streambed material to direct observation of it." Does this mean life flourished on Mars at one point? Perhaps, though Curiosity investigators are waiting to explore other regions before getting too excited. "A long-flowing stream can be a habitable environment," says the California Institute of Technology's John Grotzinger. "But it is not our top choice as there might be other places that have preserved organic carbon better than this, and we need to assess the potential for preservation of organics. We’re still going to Mount Sharp, but this is insurance that we have already found our first potentially habitable environment." [Universe Today]
Japanese scientists synthesize elusive ununtrium. One of the heaviest elements has been successfully synthesized for the first time by Japanese scientists. Ununtrium is the 113th element on the periodic table, and it's so heavy and unstable that it can only be brought into existence for fleeting moments in a lab setting. Kosuke Morita's team at the RIKEN Nishina Center for Accelerator-based Science has been working on this for nine years. Using the RIKEN Linear Accelerator just outside of Tokyo, they mashed zinc and bismuth together, adding up their combined protons to 113, the number needed to create ununtrium. "I would like to thank all the researchers and staff involved in this momentous result, who persevered with the belief that one day, 113 would be ours," says Morita. "For our next challenge, we look to the uncharted territory of element 119 and beyond." If corroborated, this synthesis will mark the first time an Asian research team gets to name an element. [Los Angeles Times]
Our 11th century ancestors got to see the brightest stellar event ever. Researchers have pinpointed April 30, 1006 as the day the Earth witnessed the brightest steller event ever recorded in history. The SN 1006 supernova caught the eye of 11th century civilizations from China to Egypt, where primitive astronomers observed a huge spot three times brighter than Venus and 25 percent as luminous as the moon, visible for three years. All that light came from two white dwarfs merging, according to the theory put forth by a team of astronomers from the University of Barcelona, Instituto de Astrofisica de Canarias and the CSIS. "In this work the existing stars in the area have been studied, regarding distance and possible contamination by elements of the supernova, and the results show that there is no star that could be considered the progenitor of this explosion," says research co-director Pilar Ruiz-Lapuente. The remnants, as shown in the NASA image at left, are still visible but significantly less bright. [Science Daily]