SciTech Briefs

Scientists suggest why laughter feels good

Scientists at the University of Oxford released the results of a study that may help explain why laughter is pleasurable. A series of experiments tested participants’ resistance to pain before and after a bout of laughter that was induced by various comedic videos. Pain was induced at certain times by a freezing wine sleeve wrapped around participants’ forearms.
The results showed that laughter caused an increase in pain resistance, and the scientists attribute the pain resistance to an increased flow of endorphins that accompany muscle contractions involved during laughter.

Source: The New York Times

Snails may have flown over Mexico in birds’ bellies

Two different species of snail found in Central America with a common ancestor were thought to have been separated for good. They were separated when a land bridge sprang up between them nearly 3 million years ago. A study released this week, however, shows that the DNA of both populations provides evidence of the two snail species mingling long after the land bridge formed. Scientists believe that a heron may have eaten some snails from either species, flown over modern-day Mexico, and excreted them several days later near the other species; they are thought to have survived due to their armored shells.

Source: Science

NASA plans to build deep-space rocket

On Wednesday, NASA announced plans for a large $10 billion deep-space rocket to carry astronauts to locations much further than the International Space Station, such as the moon and Mars. The rocket’s first test flight is scheduled for 2017 from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The rocket is aimed to be more powerful than the Saturn booster used during the Apollo missions that took place between 1969 and 1972. The new rocket project is working toward President Obama’s request for a human expedition to an asteroid by 2025 and a trip to Mars sometime in the 2030s.

Source: Reuters

Prehistoric feathers found preserved in amber

Paleontologists at the University of Alberta in Edmonton searched through more than 4,000 amber inclusions collected in western Canada and found 11 prehistoric feathers. The amber samples, which are between 70 and 85 million years old, provide paleontologists with the most diverse and best preserved set of samples to date. The features of the feathers suggest that they may have come from non-avian dinosaurs such as Sinosauropteryx.

Source: Nature

Thermal imaging camera reveals dishonesty

Researchers in the United Kingdom are experimenting with thermal imaging technology to detect when someone is lying. The thermal imaging camera captures differences in facial temperature in response to questioning. Certain areas of the face, such as around the eyes and the cheeks, are highly sensitive to temperature rise, and are closely monitored by the imaging technology. About 30 to 40 subjects have been tested so far with a two in three success rate.

Source: CNN

Exoplanet orbiting two stars discovered

A planet 200 light-years away orbiting two stars was recently discovered thanks to NASA’s Kepler space telescope. The telescope measured small decreases in brightness as the planet occasionally passed in front of each of the two stars, blocking some of the stars’ light. There is also evidence of the planet’s gravity pulling on the two stars, shifting their orbits and causing them to eclipse each other at irregular times.

Source: Science