How Astronomers Detect Dark Matter; Scientists Produce Odorless Odors

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Discovered: Astronomers hot on the trail of dark matter; bullies make kids act dumb; "olfactory white" smells like everything and nothing; Vikings feasted on poor, cute, innocent seals. 

Detecting dark matter. Theoretically, scientists know that dark matter lies at the center of our galaxy. But conventional observation methods aren't able to detect these supermassive yet invisible particles, so scientists working with the Fermi Gamma-Ray Spacecraft’s Large Area Telescope instrument have been trying to develop a new way to pinpoint the elusive substance. Their new insight holds that, while dark matter can't be seen directly, the wreckage made from dark matter particles colliding can be. By training their sights on the line produced from gamma-ray emanations, astronomers could prove the existence of dark matter. "For now, we cannot exclude the possibility that the line in the galactic center is a dark matter line," says Ohio State University physicist Andrea Albert. "Within a year we hope to have an answer." [Scientific American]

Bullying victims play dumb. The physical marks of bullying may be easy to spot, but the psychological damage often remains hidden. According to the UK's  Anti-Bullying Alliance, almost half of children have tried to suppress their natural talents for fear that they might be bullied for being too good at something. Their survey polled 1,042 children ages 11 to 16, finding that 25 percent of them even quit an activity they excelled in due to taunting. "It's unacceptable that rather than celebrate their talent, they feel that they have to hide their gifts, purposely underachieve in crucial subjects and miss out on things they enjoy because of bullying," says Anti-Bullying Alliance chair Ross Hendry. [BBC News]

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Smells that don't smell. It seems counterintuitive that a potpourri of pungent smells would add up to smell like nothing, but that's exactly how olfactory researchers at Israel's Weizmann Institute of Science were able to produce the smell equivalent of featureless "white noise," or "olfactory white." The human nose contains hundreds of different biochemical receptors, but can't easily separate smells from one another when they're sniffing them all at once. Noam Sobel was able to prove this by producing a bunch of different odor-cocktails, each with different ingredients, but all of which smelled exactly the same to smell-inundated subjects. This is "a clever piece of work that shows the olfactory system works exactly as we would predict from our current understanding of it," according to Tim Jacob, a Cardiff University neuroscientist who was not involved in the work. "That is, if you stimulate every olfactory 'channel' to the same extent, the brain cannot characterize or identify a particular smell." [Science Now]

Vikings ate seals. If Marvel Comics teaches us anything about Vikings, it's that they were huge and totally ripped. And what kind of protein did they consume to get so bulky? Seal, of course. Scientists from the University of Copenhagen and Vancouver's Simon Fraser University have discovered that Vikings that migrated to Greenland in the 1500s adopted to their new home by incorporating the cute, lovable creatures into their diet shortly before they disappeared without a trace. "“Even though the Norse are traditionally thought of as farmers, they adapted quickly to the Arctic environment and the unique hunting opportunities," says researcher Jan Heinemeier. "During the period they were in Greenland, the Norse ate gradually more seals. By the 14th century, seals made up between 50 and 80 per cent of their diet." [University of Copenhagen]

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