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Scientific Discoveries: 1/27/14

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Written by Jessica Deters

Posted on 26 January 2014

What time is it anyways?
University of Colorado, Boulder—A group of researchers led by the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) developed a strontium atomic clock that is hailed as the most stable and precise device for measuring time in existence. The strontium clock, said to be able to accurately tell time for approximately the next 5 billion years, is housed in at the Joint Institute for Laboratory Astrophysics located at the University of Colorado Boulder. Though the clock holds new world records for both its precision and stability, researchers believe the clock still has room for improvement. Jun Ye, group leader and NISIT/JILA Fellow, said, "We already have plans to push the performance even more. You can expect more new breakthroughs in our clocks in the next five to 10 years."


Asian Air Changing Climate
Texas A&M University—The Chinese economy has exploded since the 1980s, as manufacturing and industrial plants sprung up throughout the country. However, with economic growth came an increased reliance on coal and a boom in the amount of cars on the road. Continually increasing emissions from coal and cars led to major pollution throughout China and its neighbors. Researchers at Texas A&M University in conjunction with researchers from NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory found that this air pollution from industrial Asia is impacting air circulation worldwide. "The models clearly show that pollution originating from Asia has an impact on the upper atmosphere and it appears to make such storms or cyclones even stronger," Renyi Zhang, atmospheric science professor at Texas A&M, said. "This pollution affects cloud formations, precipitation, storm intensity and other factors and eventually impacts climate. Most likely, pollution from Asia can have important consequences on the weather pattern here over North America."


Water Detected on Dwarf Planet Ceres
European Space Agency—The Herschel space observatory definitively detected water vapor on the dwarf planet Ceres. According to Michael Küppers of the European Space Agency in Spain, "This is the first time water vapor has been unequivocally detected on Ceres or any other object in the asteroid belt and provides proof that Ceres has an icy surface and an atmosphere." More about Ceres will be known in the spring of 2015 as NASA's Dawn mission will arrive at Ceres to examine its surface.


Ancestors Boasted Lactase Enzyme According to Study
Switzerland—Lactose, a relatively new addition to the human diet, requires a certain type of enzyme in order to be digested properly. Since the introduction of dairy products as a food source, humans have developed the lactase enzyme to aid in the digestion of lactose. Without this enzyme, lactose travels through the intestines undigested and is converted into acids and gas in the colon, which causes much pain and discomfort. A recent study from the University of Zurich's Center for Evolutionary Medicine found that a thousand years ago, the population of a central European town had an ability to digest lactose similar to that of present-day central Europeans. The study provides evidence for a much wider spread tolerance for lactose at a much earlier time than previously believed.