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Sunday, Nov 23rd

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Tightened muzzle on scientists is 'Orwellian'

Andrew Weaver, a climatologist at the University of VictoriaThe Harper government has tightened the muzzle on federal scientists, going so far as to control when and what they can say about floods at the end of the last ice age.

Natural Resources Canada (NRC) scientists were told this spring they need "pre-approval" from Minister Christian Paradis' office to speak with journalists. Their "media lines" also need ministerial approval, say documents obtained by Postmedia News through access-to-information legislation.

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Tiny solar cells fix themselves

Tiny solar cells fix themselvesResearchers have demonstrated tiny solar cells just billionths of a metre across that can repair themselves, extending their useful lifetime. The cells make use of proteins from the machinery of plants, turning sunlight into electric charges that can do work. The cells simply assemble themselves from a mixture of the proteins, minute tubes of carbon and other materials.

The self-repairing mechanism, reported in Nature Chemistry, could lead to much longer-lasting solar cells. The design and improvement of solar cells is one of the most vibrant areas of science, in part because sunlight is far and away the planet's most abundant renewable energy source.

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New Mars tests find possible life ingredients

Viking lands on Mars 1976Thirty-four years after NASA's Viking missions to Mars sent back results interpreted to mean there was no organic material - and consequently no life - on the planet, new research has concluded that organic material was found after all.

The finding does not bring scientists closer to discovering life on Mars, researchers say, but it does open the door to a greater likelihood that life exists, or once existed, on the planet.

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Chemical basis for first life theorized

molecules of lifeIt's a chicken-and-the-egg puzzle: How could the basic biochemicals like amino acids and nucleotides have come about when there were no catalysts, like proteins or ribosomes, around to create them? Now scientists propose that a third type of catalyst could have jumpstarted metabolism and life itself, deep in hydrothermal ocean vents, an article in The Biological Bulletin says.

The scientists' theory says molecular structures involving transition metal elements -- iron, copper, nickel, etc. -- and ligands -- small organic molecules -- could have catalyzed the synthesis of basic biochemicals, monomers, that acted as building blocks for more complex molecules, leading ultimately to the origin of life.

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Stephen Hawking: God did not create Universe

Stephen HawkingThere is no place for God in theories on the creation of the Universe, Professor Stephen Hawking has said. He had previously argued belief in a creator was not incompatible with science but in a new book, he concludes the Big Bang was an inevitable consequence of the laws of physics.

The Grand Design, part serialised in the Times, says there is no need to invoke God to set the Universe going. "Spontaneous creation is the reason there is something," he concluded.

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Study shakes up scientists' view of San Andreas earthquake risk

Study shakes up scientists' view of San Andreas earthquake riskSouthern California is long overdue for a major earthquake along the San Andreas fault, according to a landmark study of historic seismic activity released Friday.

The study, produced after several years of field studies in the Carrizo Plain area about 100 miles northwest of Los Angeles, found that earthquakes along the San Andreas fault have occurred far more often than previously believed.

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Magnetic mega-star discovery challenges black hole theory

Magnetic mega-star discovery challenges black hole theoryA neutron star with a mighty magnetic field has thrown down the gauntlet to theories about stellar evolution and the birth of black holes, astronomers said today. The "magnetar" lies in a cluster of stars known as Westerlund 1, located 16,000 light years away in the constellation of Ara, the Altar.

Westerlund 1, discovered in 1961 by a Swedish astronomer, is a favoured observation site in stellar physics. It is one of the biggest cluster of superstars in the Milky Way, comprising hundreds of very massive stars, some shining with a brilliance of almost a million Suns and some two thousand times the Sun's diameter.

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