SCIENCE IN THE NEWS
I'm Bob Doughty with Sarah Long, and this is the VOA Special English program SCIENCE IN THE NEWS.
This week -- a report on the powerful storms of this past month ... news of a new dinosaur, and the oldest modern European ... and, a look at one way feeling happy may be good for the health.
Earlier this month, South Korea was hit by its strongest ocean storm since records began a century ago. At least one-hundred-seventeen people were killed in Typhoon Maemi. And there were damage estimates of four thousand million dollars.
The following week, Hurricane Isabel tore into the mid-Atlantic coast of the eastern United States. American officials said the powerful storm was responsible for at least forty deaths. And, in northwestern Mexico, Hurricane Marty was blamed last week for five deaths.
Hurricanes and typhoons are the same thing. Weather scientists call them hurricanes when the storms develop east of the International Date Line. They call them typhoons when the storms happen west of the date line. And they call the same kind of powerful ocean storm a cyclone when it forms in the Indian Ocean.
Weather experts use these names to describe storms that have winds of more than one-hundred-twenty kilometers an hour.
Experts in different countries are responsible for observing storm movements and warning people about any danger. Warning centers are found in twenty-two places. These include Bangladesh, Burma, China, Fiji, Hong Kong, India, Japan, New Zealand, South Korea, Thailand, Vietnam and the United States.
Technology has given weather experts better tools to do their job. Satellites observe weather conditions from space. Radar systems gather information from the ground. Airplanes can drop special instruments into storms. These devices record information about air movements.
Weather experts have gotten better in recent years at telling where an ocean storm will hit land. But they say they still need to improve their ability to tell how powerful the storm will be when it gets there.
They say part of the problem is because the storms develop over water. This makes it more difficult to measure exact conditions. However, scientists are working to improve their ability to tell what is happening inside a storm. They say this should lead to better predictions of the intensity.
Scientists in Switzerland have announced the newest discovery of a set of dinosaur footprints in the Jura mountains. They say the prints were found along several ancient paths near the village of Chevenez.
The footprints suggest that the dinosaurs were probably three to four meters high. Scientists believe the dinosaurs that left them were sauropods. Sauropods are among the biggest animals ever. They had huge bodies with very small heads at the end of long necks. They also had long, powerful tails. Sauropods ate plants.
The prints are believed to be about one-hundred-fifty million years old. They would have been left during the Jurassic Period. That time in Earth's history is named for the Jura mountains. The area is shared by Switzerland and France. Scientists have found many fossils of similar age there. The Jurassic period began about one-hundred-eighty-million years ago. It lasted about fifty million years.
Sauropods were on Earth long before the Jurassic period. In fact, scientists in South Africa recently announced the oldest known sauropod fossils. The bones are about two-hundred-twenty-million years old. They date back to the middle of the Triassic period.
James Kitching is a widely known fossil hunter at Witwatersrand University in Johannesburg. He found the bones of the two-ton creature in nineteen-eighty-one. But they were wrongly identified at the time as belonging to an ancestor of sauropods.
Recently another scientist at Witwatersrand, Adam Yates, re-examined the bones. He decided that they represented a new kind of sauropod.
Mr. Yates named the new sauropod Antetonitrus (ant-ee-tone-ite-rus). That is Latin for "before the thunder." The name connects the dinosaur to a well-known plant eater that came later. Brontosaurus is a Latin word meaning "thunder lizard."
Scientists knew that plant-eating dinosaurs with four legs, like sauropods, developed from older ones with two legs. Mr. Yates says Antetonitrus walked on four legs but still had the ability like its ancestors to hold things.
Adam Yates and James Kitching worked together on the new study. The Proceedings of the Royal Society in Britain published their research.
Fossil researchers in the United States also made an announcement recently. They believe they have identified the oldest known fossil in Europe of a modern human. They say the jawbone is from the mouth of someone who lived around thirty-five-thousand years ago.
Three Romanian cave explorers found the jawbone last year in the Carpathian mountains of Romania. Other face and head bones were found in the same cave earlier this year. Scientists used the process called radiocarbon dating to find the age of the jawbone. They say they expect to find the other bones the same age.
Erik Trinkaus of Washington University in Saint Louis, Missouri, was one of the two leaders of the research. He says the bones show some qualities found in earlier periods of human development. He says not only is the face very large, but so are the jaws and the teeth. This is especially true of the wisdom teeth at the back of the mouth.
Mr. Trinkaus says the bones possibly show that early modern humans and Neanderthals had children together.
At the time, early modern humans existed with Neanderthals as that species was disappearing in Europe. But scientists disagree about whether the two groups mixed.
Mr. Trinkaus and Romanian researcher Oana Moldovan reported their results in The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The Journal of Human Evolution will publish a separate report later.
A small study in the United States shows how brain activity may influence the body's defenses against disease. The findings also appear in The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Richard Davidson led the study. He directs the Laboratory for Affective Neuroscience at the University of Wisconsin in Madison. Professor Davidson and his team worked with fifty-two people chosen from a long-term health study. All were between the ages of fifty-seven and sixty.
The team wanted to study electrical activity in the prefrontal cortex of the brain. Earlier studies linked increased activity in the right side of this area with depression, anger and sadness. Greater activity in the left side has been linked with happier emotions.
The team asked the people to think about two events – one that made them happy and another that made them sad, fearful or angry. Each time, the researchers measured the electrical activity in both sides of the prefrontal cortex.
Next, the people received injections of vaccine against the influenza virus. Like other vaccines, it is designed to increase the number of antibodies in a person's defense system. Antibodies fight infection. The researchers wanted to know if the people who showed more activity in the left side would also show greater protection after the vaccine.
Over the next six months, the researchers took blood from the fifty-two people to count the antibodies against influenza. They found higher levels of antibodies in the people who had more activity in the left side instead of the right side. The left side of the prefrontal area in the brain is the side linked to happier emotions.
Professor Davidson at the University of Wisconsin says the study helps show how the mind can influence the body.
SCIENCE IN THE NEWS was written by Nancy Steinbach and George Grow. Our producer was Cynthia Kirk. This is Bob Doughty. And this is Sarah Long. Join us again next week for more news about science in Special English on the Voice of America.