Science wRap: Hyperloop, Amazon oil drilling, Area 51

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In this week's Science wRap: a high-concept transport system, a carnivorous mammal, cancer genes, Amazon oil drilling, and the legendary Area 51

Science wRap is a weekly roundup of some of the top stories from the world of science, technology, and environment.

MANILA, Philippines – In this week’s Science wRap: a high-concept transport system, a carnivorous mammal, cancer genes, and the mysterious Area 51.

High-speed transport

TRANSPORT OF THE FUTURE? Hyperloop passenger transport capsule conceptual design sketch. Image courtesy SpaceX

Traveling from San Francisco to Los Angeles in less than an hour? If inventor and entrepreneur Elon Musk has his way, it will be possible, thanks to the Hyperloop. In Musk’s design, passengers will be transported in pressurized tubes in near-supersonic speeds – 1,220 km/h. Musk says its a cross between a “Concorde, a rail gun and an air hockey table.” But are scientists and experts thrilled? More on Rappler, The New York Times, Wired, NPR, and The Verge.

Ecuador gives go signal for Amazon oil drilling

YASUNI PROTEST. People protest against the exploitation of oil in the Yasuni National Park, an incredibly biodiverse part of Ecuador's Amazon, in front of the Carondelet presidential palace in Quito on August 15, 2013 moments before the country's president, Rafael Correa, gives a statement on the decision to exploit oil reserves there or not. Photo by AFP / Juan Cevallos

The government of Ecuador will drop a plan to ban oil drilling in their Yasuni park, part of the massive Amazon rainforest, after they failed to raise $3.6 billion for a trust fund that will protect the nearly 4,000 square miles of forest. “The world has failed us,” Ecuadoran President Rafael Correa told citizens, after only $13 million was raised, and has formally requested the National Assembly to allow developing 1% of the park. Ecuadorans protested the move, and the move was heavily criticized locally and globally. More on The New York Times, The Independent, and France24.

Cancers and genes

There are at least 21 major mutations in genes that cause a majority of tumors among humans, a new study said, paving the way for possible new treatments. The study, published in the journal Nature, said unique “graffiti signatures” are left behind by mutated DNA, and the 21 account for at least 97% of cancers. Twelve signatures, meanwhile, are still unexplained. It is the largest ever analysis of cancer genomes, noted BBC News. More on Sky News and MedicalXpress.

Meet the olinguito

NEW SPECIES. Kristofer Helgen, curator of mammals at the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History, speaks as he introduces olinguito, a new species of Carnivore he and his team have newly discovered August 15, 2013 at the Smithsonian Castle in Washington, DC. It took Helgen and his team on a journey from museum cabinets in Chicago to cloud forests in South America to discover and confirm the new species of olinguito (Bassaricyon neblina), which has been mistakenly identified for more than 100 years. Alex Wong/Getty Images/AFP

Scientists have discovered a new carnivorous mammal in the forests of Colombia and Ecuador, the first new species identified in the Western Hemisphere in decades. The Bassaricyon neblina, or the olinguito, was identified after more than a decade. More on Rappler and BBC News.

Area 51 finally acknowledged

It has been feasted upon by conspiracy theorists for decades, and now, the US government finally acknowledges its existence. Area 51, a base in the middle of the Nevada desert, is revealed to be a testing site for the US’s spy planes, outlined in a 400-page report made public August 15. The report was obtained by the National Security Archive of the George Washington University, after the government fulfilled the center’s Freedom of Information (FOI) request. Read more on ABC News, CNN, and Reuters.


Other notable stories

Can social media harm animals? Apparently, yes. A study published in PLOS One showed that the endangered primate slow loris has been a victim of its own online stardom. Read more on LiveScience and The Guardian.

Heat waves and climate change Heat waves are going to be more frequent and harsher regardless of the levels of carbon dioxide emissions, a study said Thursday. More on Rappler.

BEATING THE HEAT. Middle school students jump into a fountain to cool down at a park in central in Tokyo, July 8, 2013, during a heat wave. Photo by Franck Robichon/EPA

India’s potential diamond trove Researchers say southeast India could be the next hotspot for diamonds, after geologists found out the region has the right ingredients for the gem to form. More from NBC News/LiveScience.

Happiness? Not on Facebook A study says Facebook makes people more connected, but not happier. Read the study on PLOS One; More on Rappler and The Atlantic.

We close this week’s Science wRap with this video of the aftermath of the meteor that exploded over the city of Chelyabisnk, Russia in February 15 this year. A NASA satellite was able to observe and collect data from the aftermath of the event, and scientists produced this video showing the effects of the explosion.

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