Discovered: Curiosity dispels theory of Martian methane; the flu could presage diabetes; political opinions can't outlive three questions; archaeologist says he's found Europe's oldest town.
Methane is M.I.A. on Mars. Back in 2009, NASA announced some pretty astounding observations from Mars. They thought they'd spotted signs of methane in the red planet's atmosphere, which would force astronomers to contemplate the possibility of biological activity on Mars. NASA's Curiosity rover hasn't made any close encounters of the third kind yet, and after analyzing Mars' atmosphere, turned up no traces of methane. The rover used its Sample Analysis at Mars to measure atmospheric composition for the first time today, and while more tests need to be conducted to determine methane presence definitely, it's not looking good for everyone who hoped Curiosity would find little green men. "The bottom line is that we have no detection of methane so far," says NASA/JPL's Chris Webster. "But we're going to keep looking in the months ahead since Mars, as we all know, may yet hold surprises for us." [Space.com]
Political convictions are no match for abstract thought. There's a great Louis C.K. routine in which he describes getting flustered by his daughter's incessant question—"why?—to everything he says. "You don't even know who the fuck you are at the end of the conversation," he joked. That's basically what psychologists at the University of Illinois discovered in their research on political convictions. They found that if you just ask highly partisan people "why" questions three times about an unrelated topic (such as maintaining health) before gauging their political views, their convictions tend to drift into more moderate territory. "We used the ground zero mosque as a particularly polarizing issue," says University of Illinois professor Jesse Preston. "People feel strongly about it generally one way or the other." But they felt much less strongly about the proposed mosque near grounds zero after being asked "why" questions three times. "We observed that liberals and conservatives became more moderate in their attitudes. After this very brief task that just put them in this abstract mindset, they were more willing to consider the point of view of the opposition." [University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign]