Discovered: The smoking maggot; closing the 405 freeway in Los Angeles reduced pollution; measuring the edge of a black hole; benzodiazepines connected with dementia.
Clearer skies during Carmageddon. The closure of the 405 freeway in Los Angeles this past July may have increased road rage, but at least it temporarily brought down pollution levels. Researchers at the University of California, Los Angeles's Institute of the Environment and Sustainability have found that air quality over the 10-mile stretch improved by an astounding 83 percent during the weekend it was shut down. Air quality in other parts of the city also greatly improved, with Santa Monica and parts of West Los Angeles clearing up by as much as 75 percent. "Seeing such a dramatic reduction [in pollutants] in West L.A. was really quite surprising," says professor Suzanne Paulson, who led the research. "It gives a very dramatic view of how clean the air could be." Throughout the city as a whole, L.A. air was 25 percent cleaner than normal during Carmageddon. [Los Angeles Times]
Maggots provide clues about murder suspects. Hair, blood, semen... there are already plenty of gross crime scene clues for forensics teams to examine. But now—thanks to researchers at the Autonomous University of Nuevo León in San Nicolás, Mexico—there's an even nastier one: maggots. A team of pathologists led by Maria de Lourdes Chavez-Briones and Marta Ortega-Martinez were able to identify the body of a burn victim by studying the maggots feeding on the corpse's remains. The body belongs to a woman thought to have been abducted and murdered. The burns made it impossible to identify her, but the researchers were able to extract DNA from the maggots found at the crime scene. Maggots have been used to establish time of death, but this marks the first time the bugs have been used to ID a body. [Ars Technica]
Measuring the abyss. The event horizon—that limit at which matter has no hope of escaping the massive gravitational pull of a black hole—is being measured for the first time. "Once objects fall through the event horizon, they're lost forever," says MIT Haystack Observatory researcher Shep Doeleman. "It's an exit door from our universe. You walk through that door, you're not coming back." Doeleman wanted to know how closely matter can orbit a black hole without getting sucked in, so he and his astronomer colleagues imaged the supermassive black hole at the center of the M87 galaxy. From this, they calculated that matter can come as close as 5.5 times the size of the black hole before crossing the point of no return. For this particular solar system, that means anything gets within 70 billion miles of the black hole will be vacuumed into obliteration. [Space.com]
Do benzos cause dementia? Millions of Americans are prescribed anxiety-relieving benzodiazepines in the form of drugs like Xanax, Klonopin and Ativan. But the side-effects of such drugs have often been called into question. New research from Harvard University and University of Bordeaux scientists isn't making the drugs look any better. In a study of over 1,000 elderly people, the scientists found that those taking benzodiazepines had a 50 percent higher chance of developing dementia. "Our data add to the accumulating evidence that use of benzodiazepines is associated with increased risk of dementia, which, given the high and often chronic consumption of these drugs in many countries would constitute a substantial public health concern," writes lead author Sophi Billioti de Gage. "Therefore, physicians should carefully assess the expected benefits of the use of benzodiazepines in the light of these adverse effects and, whenever possible, limit prescription to a few weeks as recommended by the good practice guidelines." [The Telegraph]