Discovered: What a never-before-seen type of rock tells us about water on Mars; forecasting the flu based on weather; atoms get colder than absolute zero; you'll change more than you think.
The new, watery meteorite from mars. A rock recovered last year from the deserts of Morocco has been identified as a never-before-seen type of meteorite from Mars, and it contains much more water than scientists have ever seen in stones from the red planet. That little guy you see to the right, Northwest Africa (NWA) 7034, was analyzed by a team of researchers led by the University of New Mexico's Carl Agee. "It has some resemblance to the other Martian meteorites but it's also distinctly different in other respects," he says, "both in the way it just looks in hand sample, but also in its elemental composition." This new basaltic breccia rock differs from the three previously known categories of Martian meteorite—Shergotty, Nakhla, and Chassigny—and appears to have formed when a mixture of elements were fused together during a volcanic eruption. The two-billion-year-old meteorite also has 10 times as much water lodged inside it than previously studied samples. "A lot of people believe that early Mars ... was a lot warmer and a lot wetter, and maybe even a harbor for life," says Agee. "When did this transformation to drier conditions occur? Well, NWA 7034, because of its greater age, may be able to address those questions." [BBC]
Tracking the flu with weather reports. Combining from Google Flu Trends and weather reports, scientists have been trying to figure out how to predict flu season like your local forecaster. In a recent study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, researchers say they can tell as much as seven weeks in advance when flu season will hit New York City hardest. Health officials hope that by combining data on rainfall, humidity, and temperature with epidemiology research, they'll be able to best time vaccination campaigns and other public health efforts. [NPR]
Atoms may be able to freeze below absolute zero. The entire concept of the Kelvin scale's absolute zero (or −273.15° in Celsius) is predicated on being an impassible lower limit. The theory holds that particles at that temperature stop moving entirely. But Ludwig Maximillian University's Ulrich Schneider and his colleagues have shown that by placing frozen atoms in a vacuum and shooting them with lasers can actually get colder than absolute zero. "The temperature scale as we know it starts at zero and goes up to infinity, but it doesn't stop there," says Schneider. [New Scientist]
Change is more possible than you think. People tend to think they're incapable of changing all that much, researchers have found—even though new evidence shows their personalities, behaviors, and taste morph quite a bit over the years. "Middle-aged people—like me—often look back on our teenage selves with some mixture of amusement and chagrin," says Harvard psychologist Daniel T. Gilbert, who authored a new study into the "end of history illusion," which posits that people underestimate their likelihood to change going into the future. "What we never seem to realize is that our future selves will look back and think the very same thing about us. At every age we think we’re having the last laugh, and at every age we’re wrong.” [The New York Times]
Inset image: Carl Agee / University of New Mexico