Discovered: Doing less chores has increased women's waistlines; watch how these capuchin monkeys crack nuts; using genetics to pinpoint the date of The Iliad; first images of a black hole's spin.
There's a correlation between housework adherence and weight. The rage potential on this study runs high, so good on The New York Times' Gretchen Reynolds for not using a headline like "Women Who Shirk Household Chores Get Fat." The authors of a new PLoS One paper essentially found that one reason American women are getting more overweight might have to do with the fact that they're spending less time on cleaning, cooking, and laundry than they did in the past. Their results don't suggest, however, that women put on more weight than men who do less housework — just that women's household roles have shifted more in recent history, and so has their weight. Edward Archer, the research fellow with the Arnold School of Public Health at the University of South Carolina in Columbia who led the study, says this doesn't mean women or men should be doing more housework, because the very nature of chores has become more sedentary anyway. [The New York Times]
Look at this capuchin monkey expertly crack open a nut. Cartoons like to portray monkeys opening bananas. But the skill that little capuchin monkeys really excel at is cracking palm tree nuts, as shown in the video linked here, recorded by researchers in Piaui, Brazil. They wondered how capuchins were so good at whacking these nuts open with stones, without having the shells or their contents fly every which way. They found that capuchins were able to place nuts in a stable position in a cracking surface to prevent rolling 84 percent of the time. This demonstrates that they can wield tools with much the same finesse as we humans use when swinging a hammer or a baseball bat. [ScienceNow]
Dating The Iliad. Is literary genetic evolutionary its own scientific field yet? Because the work being done by University of Reading evolutionary theorist Mark Pagel to find out the origins of The Iliad sounds like an awesome specialization. We already know that the epic was coded in text sometime around 762 B.C., but Pagel and his colleagues are using the principles of how genes evolve to place The Iliad in the context of linguistic evolution. "Languages behave just extraordinarily like genes," Pagel says. "It is directly analogous. We tried to document the regularities in linguistic evolution and study Homer's vocabulary as a way of seeing if language evolves the way we think it does. If so, then we should be able to find a date for Homer." [Scientific American]
First images to capture black hole spin. A new paper in Nature explains a new way to measure the rate of spin for supermassive black holes. They demonstrate the method by measuring the black hole at the center of galaxy NGC 1365, outlining a tool that could be useful for studying how such black holes formed, grew, and became supermassive. Their measurements hinge on studying high-energy emissions from these black holes, which aren't as susceptible to distortion as traditionally studied X-rays. "The black hole's spin is a memory, a record, of the past history of the galaxy as a whole," says lead researcher Guido Risaliti of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, explaining the significance of his research. [BBC News]