Discovered: A link between autism and maternal obesity, computer science confirms Super Mario brothers is hard, a childhood obesity gene, and there's something funky on the sun. 

  • A link between autism and obesity. Here's the latest in the quest to figure out the mysterious causes of autism. Obese mothers were 67 percent more likely to have children with autism or other disorders on the spectrum, compared to average weight moms. It's not an exact link, but it's meaningful. "And while the study does not conclude that diabetes and obesity cause ASD and developmental delays, it suggests that fetal exposure to elevated glucose and maternal inflammation levels adversely affect fetal development," explains researcher Paula Krakowiak. Over a third of women of child-bearing age are obese, by the way. [UC Davis]
  • Computer scientists confirm Super Mario Brother is hard. This is one of those studies we can't believe time and money went into. But real researchers "discovered" the Nintendo game Super Mario problems is computationally hard. Actually it is "NP" hard, meaning, in the words of iProgrammer's Alex Armstrong, "most difficult to solve by computational means because the time it takes to find a solution tends to increase so quickly with the size of the problem that it just isn't practical to perform the computation," he writes. All the research basically finds that though there is a solution to the video game it takes a very long time to figure it out. [The Washington Post]
  • A childhood obesity gene? Speaking of obesity, science has decided that some children have a genetic predisposition to obesity. "We have definitively identified and characterized a genetic predisposition to common childhood obesity," said researcher Struan F.A. Grant. To figure this out, researchers collected tons of DNA from obese children and then compared it with other similar analyses, confirming that genetics are involved. Now that the gene's been discovered, time for more research. "This work opens up new avenues to explore the genetics of common childhood obesity," continued Grant. "Much work remains to be done, but these findings may ultimately be useful in helping to design future preventive interventions and treatments for children, based on their individual genomes." [Children's Hospital of Philadelphia]
  • There's something funky on the sun. Looking through his telescope, just like any other day, researcher Neil Sheeley saw bright spots normally found on a different part of the sun, which he now calls "coronal cells." "We think the coronal cells look like flames shooting up, like candles on a birthday cake," explains the researcher. "When you see them from the side, they look like flames. When you look at them straight down they look like cells." The visibility has something to do with the sun's magnetic field. "Sometimes the cells were gone forever, and sometimes they would reappear exactly as they were," he continues. "So this means we need to figure out what's blowing out the candles on the birthday cake and re-lighting them. It's possible that this coronal cell structure is the same structure that exists inside the coronal holes -- but they're visible to us when the magnetic fields are closed, and not visible when the magnetic fields are open." Anyway, there's the image to the right from a bunch of different angles. [NASA]