Scientific discoveries this week: 10/22/12

Illinois, USA- New neuroscience research confirms the power of a handshake. Strangers who make a firm, friendly handshake make a better impression than those who do not. The greeting dates to ancient times when it was a way of showing one carried no weapons. The study was led by Beckman Institute researcher Florin Dolcos. The institute found that “a handshake preceding social interaction enhanced the positive impact of approach and diminished the negative impact of avoidance behavior on the evaluation of social interaction.” Furthermore, their results demonstrated increased sensitivity to approach than to avoidance behavior in the amygdala and superior temporal sulcus, which are linked to a positive evaluation of approach behavior. Additionally, the nucleus accumbens, a reward processing region, showed greater activity for handshake than for non-handshake conditions. Dolcos further highlighted in her findings that it is not just any handshake that leads to positive feelings. A firm, confident, yet friendly handshake, as is often promoted as good business practice, leads to the highest amount of positive feelings.

Hawaii, USA- A comprehensive study of hundreds of galaxies observed by the Keck telescopes in Hawaii and NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope revealed an unexpected pattern in the evolution of galaxies. Astronomers thought disk galaxies settled into their present form about 8 billion years ago with little change since. Susan Kassin, the study’s lead researcher, said, “The trend we’ve observed instead shows the opposite, that galaxies were steadily changing over this time period.” Today most star-forming galaxies are orderly dish-shaped systems, such as the Milky Way and Andromeda. Rotation in these galaxies dominates over other internal motions. In contrast, most distant blue galaxies (the color indicates stars are forming within them) exhibit disorganized motions in multiple directions. Furthermore, according to the study, galaxies exhibit a steady shift toward greater organization to the present time as the disorganized motion dissipates and rotation speeds increase. This trend is true for galaxies of all masses but the most massive systems always show the highest level of organization. The team studied a sample of 544 blue galaxies, located between two billion to eight billion light-years away, with stellar masses between 0.3 percent to 100 percent of the mass of the Milky Way.

Venezuela- An analysis of 14 years of oceanographic observations in the southern Caribbean off the coast of Venezuela shows that arctic ecosystems are not the only systems being affected by global climate trends. The research, known as the CARIACO Ocean Time-Series Program shows that tropical ecosystems are affected by global climate change and have accompanying economic impacts. Microscopic plankton production has steadily declined and the species of plants supporting the food web have shifted. These ecosystem changes affect the way this region exchanges carbon dioxide with the atmosphere and have caused local sardine fisheries to collapse, leading to a negative impact on the area’s economy. The study links these ecosystem changes to a decline in the upwelling of nutrient-rich waters caused by weakening trade winds in the region and an average sea surface warming of 1°C. The research indicates a link between global climate change and the collapse of tropical ecosystems.

France – Researches recently discovered a new source of cosmic rays in the Arches cluster near the center of the Milky Way. Particles are accelerated in the shock waves generated by tens of thousands of young stars moving at speeds of around 700,000 km/h. The cosmic rays create a characteristic X-ray emission by interacting with the atoms in the surrounding gas. Their origin differs from cosmic rays discovered a hundred years ago by Victor Hess, which originate in the explosions of supernovae. These events lead to high energy cosmic rays that are detected in the region of the Earth. However, solar wind prevents low-energy cosmic rays from entering the heliosphere, leading to a lack of knowledge on their composition and flux outside the Solar System. The researchers began by studying the X-ray emission that could theoretically be generated by low-energy cosmic rays in the interstellar medium. They then looked for signs of this theoretical emission in X-ray data collected by XMM-Newton. By analyzing the properties of the X-ray emission of interstellar iron recorded, they found the signatures of a large fast ion population in the vicinity of the Arches cluster. The cosmic rays are in this area are produced in high-speed collisions of the star cluster with a gas cloud in its path. The energy density of the accelerated ions is around a thousand times greater than that of cosmic rays in the neighborhood of the Solar System and have a different source than the supernovae cosmic rays found by Hess.

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