Archive for July, 2010

5-star pet hotels on the rise


Within the last two decades, many pet owners have crossed the line from treating their pets like animals to treating them like any other family member. The Longcroft Luxury Cat Hotel in Hertfordshire, England is a five-star example of that transition.

According to the hotel’s website, owners Abi and Matt Purser give their feline guests the option to receive a tailored “a la cat” menu every night, a heated chalet all to themselves, 24-hour veterinarian service, if needed, and luxurious grooming services amongst other amenities.

The site states, “The Hotel offers six very large luxury heated chalets each with their own bedroom and exercise area creating the perfect stress-free retreat for your much treasured pet whilst they are in our care.”

The suites have four-poster beds and each have their own unique theme. A UK paper shows a picture of the Savanna Suite, which is decorated in shades of purple that surround a black wrought iron four-poster bed. Purser also sends kitty postcards to their owners about how they are doing while they are away.

According to the daily, there are also other special touches, including bird boxes outside of the suite windows to keep the cats entertained, as well as a porcelain drinking fountain that contains constant flowing oxygenated water for them to drink. Even their meals are served on bone china on a silver platter.

NASA telescope made in Utah set to finish survey


A telescope made by Utah State University’s Space Dynamics Lab for NASA is on track to complete its first sky survey.

So far, the Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer — or WISE — project has discovered 25,000 asteroids.

The lab’s WISE program manager John Elwell says the project has been exciting.

Elwell says WISE has produced 1.3 million images, including distant galaxies and brown dwarf stars, as well as 100,000 asteroids. The asteroids mainly occupy an area between Mars and Jupiter. About 90 of these space rocks travel “near” Earth, meaning roughly 30 million miles from the planet.

Elwell says the first sky map was set for completion on Saturday. Over the next three months, WISE will map half of the sky again so astronomers can see what’s changed.

Sleep may help you remember better


Struggling to remember something you wanted to do today? Then take a nap, it may help improve your memory, a new study has claimed.

Researchers at the Washington University in St Louis found that sleeping well helps people remember tasks on their to-do lists.

The scientists said feeling refreshed after a full night’s rest is a great aid to “prospective memory” – which helps a person to remember to do something in the future.

The findings can help understand better the role sleep plays in brain processing as well as memory, they said.

“We found that sleep benefits prospective memory by strengthening the weak associations in the brain, and that hasn’t been shown before,” study author Prof Mark McDaniel was quoted as saying by the Telegraph.

For their study, the scientists tested 24 university students, asking them to perform different word games on a computer.
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Spark of multicellular life two billion years old: study


Scientists unveiled fossils from west Africa Thursday that push back the dawn of multicellular life on Earth by at least 1.5 billion years.

Just how complex the newly discovered organisms are is sure to be hotly debated.

But there can be no doubt that the creatures unearthed from the hills of Gabon, visible to the naked eye, have upended standard evolutionary timelines.

“The cursor on the origin of complex multicellular life is no longer 600 million years ago, as has long been maintained, but more like 2.1 billion years,” said Abderrazak El Albani, a researcher at the University of Poitiers and lead author of the study.

The findings were published in the British journal Nature.

Up to now, conventional scientific wisdom held that the planet was populated only by single-celled microbes until the so-called Cambrian explosion, a major surge of biodiversity that began some 600 million years ago.

Ever-more complex life forms emerged rapidly from there, eventually creating an evolutionary tree with homo sapiens atop one of its branches.

“Multicellularity represents one of the principle thresholds in evolutionary history,” Philip Donoghue and Jonathan Antcliffe from the University of Bristol said in a commentary, also in Nature.

But the new organism, which appears to have lived in colonies, shows that the drive toward complexity began much sooner.

Shaped like cookies with ragged edges and a lumpy interior, more than 250 specimens have been found so far, El Albani said.

“They have different body shapes, and vary in size from one to 12 centimetres (0.4 to 5.0 inches),” he said.

The fossilised creatures may also have crossed another threshold of evolution far earlier than any other known organism.

Unlike simple bacteria, their cells appear to have membrane-bound nucleus housing and protecting its chromosomes, the genetic blueprints for life.

Geochemical analysis shows that the organisms lived in slightly-oxygenated ocean waters, leading the researchers to speculate that oxygen may have been an essential catalyst for the leap from single- to multi-cell life forms.

“The Proterozoic Eon saw two major events of oxygen build-up in the atmosphere and the oceans,” El Albani explained.

The first of these would have occurred just before the Gabon specimens emerged, and the second ahead of the Cambian explosion.

Earth’s earliest, primitive life forms are thought to have sparked to life about 3.9 billion years ago after the so-called Late Heavy Bombardment, a 100-million-year fusillade during which our young planet was pummeled by meteorites that blasted craters the size of Thailand and France.

Fossils reveal microscopic life forms 3.5 billion years old, and geochemical clues point to more primitive organisms — thought by some to be the common ancestor to all things living — 300,000 million years before that.