Science Briefs

April 28, 2013 

Found: Massive star factory in early days of universe

A team of astronomers has discovered a massive, dust-filled galaxy churning out stars when the cosmos was a mere 880 million years old – making it the earliest starburst galaxy ever observed.

The galaxy is about as massive as our Milky Way, but produces stars at a rate 2,000 times greater, a rate as high as any galaxy in the universe. Generating the mass equivalent of 2,900 suns per year, the galaxy is especially prodigious.

“Massive, intense starburst galaxies are expected to only appear at later cosmic times,” said Dominik Riechers, who led the research while a senior research fellow at Caltech. “Yet, we have discovered this colossal starburst just 880 million years after the Big Bang, when the universe was at little more than 6 percent of its current age.” The paper describing the findings was published in the journal Nature.

New keyboard for touchscreens?

Researchers at Germany’s Max Planck Institute for Informatics have created a new keyboard called KALQ that enables faster thumb-typing on touchscreen devices. They used computational optimization techniques in conjunction with a model of thumb movement to search among millions of potential layouts before identifying one that yields superior performance. After a short amount of practice, users could type 34 percent faster than they could with the traditional QWERTY layout.

Two-thumb typing is ergonomically very different from typing on a physical keyboard. Normal users using a QWERTY on a touchscreen device are limited to typing at a rate of around 20 words per minute – slow compared to the rates achieved on physical keyboards.

The new keyboard? Left thumb: M, B, W, H (top line); P, space, X, C (second line); R, Y, S, Z (third line); D, N, F, V (bottom line). Right thumb: G, T, O, J (top line); I, E, space, U (second line); K, A, L, Q (third/bottom line).

(Note: The image of the new keyboard posted at did not show keys for punctuation.)

How , parents, kids, pooches transfer microbes

As much as dog owners love their kids, they tend to share more of themselves – at least in terms of bacteria – with their canine cohorts

That is one finding of a new study led by the University of Colorado at Boulder that looked at the types and transfer modes of microbes from the guts, tongues, foreheads and palms (or paws) of members of 60 American families, including canines. Identifying how such bacterial communities can be affected by environmental exposure may help scientists better understand how they can be manipulated to prevent or treat disease, said associate professor and study co-leader Rob Knight. A paper on the subject appears in the online journal, eLIFE.

The team sampled 159 people and 36 dogs; for humans, they looked at the tongue, forehead, right and left palm and fecal samples to detect individual microbial communities. For dogs, fur was sampled instead of skin on the forehead and all four paws were swabbed for bacteria in the absence of canine palms.

“One of the biggest surprises was that we could detect such a strong connection between their owners and pets,” said Knight. “In fact, the microbial connection seems to be stronger between parents and family dogs than between parents and their children.”

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