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Science News Roundup: 12/14

This week we’ve got cancer prevention news that’s sure to put a smile on the face of many Persephoneers, new evidence of liquid water on Mars in the distant past, fracking earthquakes, and possible glimpses of a proposed fundamental particle that has never before been observed directly. Allons-y!

(NY Times) Researchers have found that drinking four or more cups of coffee a day may help prevent endometrial cancer. From 1980 to 2006, they tracked 67,470 women who were between the ages of 34 and 59 when the study began. After controlling for other risk factors, the women who drank four or more cups of coffee a day had a 25% lower risk of developing endometrial cancer than those who averaged less than a cup a day. Unfortunately, added milk and sugar negated some of the health benefits, so I hope y’all like your coffee black. Bottoms up, ladies!

(BBC News) The NASA rover Opportunity has found what may be the clearest indication yet that liquid water existed on Mars billions of years ago. It has photographed a thin vein of rock that appears to be gypsum, a mineral that forms from crystals left behind when water evaporates. Another rock found by the rover appears to have an extraordinarily high zinc content, which is caused when zinc precipitates out of very hot water. Further analysis is needed on both rocks, but if confirmed, they would be very strong proof that Mars did, in fact, support liquid water and could have maybe even evolved very simple life forms.

(NY Times) Hydraulic fracturing (or “fracking,” as it is commonly called), a process used to mine natural gas found in shale deep below the earth’s surface, may be to blame for small earthquakes in regions not commonly associated with seismic activity. There are two possible culprits: water injected into the shale migrating into deeper rock formations, and disposal wells, where the waste water and other liquids left over from drilling are deposited well over a mile below the earth’s surface. The majority of the quakes have been small, since most faults aren’t capable of producing large tremors, but they can still cause minor damage and rattle nerves. There isn’t sufficient data to confirm the cause of most of the quakes, but there’s a high enough correlation that it certainly merits further study, especially since gas companies aren’t currently required to do comprehensive geological surveys to search for hidden faults before drilling gas or disposal wells.

(BBC News) Researchers at the Large Hadron Collider announced that they may have glimpsed proof of the Higgs boson. First proposed in 1964, it is thought to be the fundamental particle that imparts mass to every particle in the universe. Two separate groups of researchers at the LHC have been searching for proof of its existence and independently found clues at the same mass. As of right now, it is still possible that these observations were measuring errors, but it is still exciting news in the field of particle physics; the mass was previously unknown and these discoveries allow the search to be narrowed down significantly. It is believed that the researchers will now be able to confirm or deny its existence within the next year.

By [E] Hillary

Hillary is a giant nerd and former Mathlete. She once read large swaths of "Why Evolution is True" and a geology book aloud to her infant daughter, in the hopes of a) instilling a love of science in her from a very young age and b) boring her to sleep. After escaping the wilds of Waco, Texas and spending the next decade in NYC, she currently lives in upstate New York, where she misses being able to get decent pizza and Chinese takeout delivered to her house. She lost on Jeopardy.

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