Wednesday, January 20, 2016

How Many Planets in our Solar System, do You Think?

"We have convincing evidence that the census of the solar system is incomplete.”

A huge planet might be sitting at the edge of our solar system without ever being seen.

The world — which could be about ten times as massive as Earth — would be large enough to become the ninth planet of our solar system.

The planet has not yet been seen by scientists. Instead, they have found it by watching the way that dwarf planets and other objects in the outer solar system move — their orbits seem to be disturbed by something huge but hidden sitting out there.

“If there’s going to be another planet in the solar system, I think this is it,” Greg Laughlin of the University of California, Santa Cruz told National Geographic. “It would be quite extraordinary if we had one. Fingers crossed. It would be amazing.”

If the planet exists, it is thought to be about ten times as massive or three times as large as Earth. That sort of sized planet occurs throughout the universe — but has been an obvious omission from our own.

"This would be a real ninth planet," says Brown, the Richard and Barbara Rosenberg Professor of Planetary Astronomy. "There have only been two true planets discovered since ancient times, and this would be a third. It's a pretty substantial chunk of our solar system that's still out there to be found, which is pretty exciting."

It would be around 200 to 300 times as far away from the sun is when it gets closest to the star, scientists say. It will spend some of its time as much as four times as far away as that, and an entire orbit of the sun probably takes about 20,000 years.

The planet might have made its way out to the edge of the universe when it was thrown out there by the gravity of Jupiter or Saturn, the scientists suggest.

At such distances, the planet could be impossible to spot — even with the two huge telescopes that are currently looking for it. So little light is sent back from that far away, that it might never make it back for us to see.

It is surrounded by much brighter lights — even the distant Pluto could be about 10,000 times brighter — and so scientists have to be sure that they point telescopes at exactly the right point and pick out an already very unlikely speck of light.

That is why the scientists have spotted the potential planet by seeing the disturbances that it is causing in the gravitational field of the far star system. There appears to be a “great perturber” upsetting the movement of other objects in that far away region, and the new paper — authored by Michael Brown and Konstantin Batygin and published in the Astronomical Journal — claims that is being caused by a mysterious, unknown world.

The solar system does not often change. The only recent addition was Pluto, which was found in 1930 and spent most of the 21st century as its most distant and smallest planet — until it was controversially downgraded to being just a dwarf planet, and the solar system went back to having eight members.

If the new planet is real, then it will definitely be a planet, scientists say. Since it dominates a bigger region than any of the other planets, it would "the most planet-y of the planets in the whole solar system", Brown said.

The downgrading of Pluto was partly the result of work by astronomer Michael Brown, who co-wrote the new paper. He had found that Pluto was surrounded by a huge number of similarly sized planets, and the International Astronomical Union decided that Pluto would be excluded from a new definition.

The two astronomers found the new potential planet while they were looking at those small rocks. They seemed to fly around on orbits that could not be happening by chance, and instead were best explained by a big ninth planet sitting out there with them.

A ninth planet has long been hypothesized — and become the basis of some conspiracy theories — originally going under the name Planet X. It was first talked about more than a century ago, and looking for that planet was what brought astronomers to find Pluto.

The name of the planet will be crowd-sourced too, if the researchers get their way — as opposed to being proposed by the discoverer and then approved by the International Astronomical Union (IAU), which is the usual way of doing things. Brown’s and Batygin’s personal name preference is “George,” a hat-tip to British astronomer William Herschel, who discovered Uranus and wanted to name it Georgium Sidus (the Georgian Planet) after King George III. That might be a hard sell to the IAU—to say nothing of nearly all other stargazers, who tend to like a little more lyricism in their cosmos. “We actually call it Fatty when we’re just talking to each other,” Brown admitted.

Whatever the planet is eventually called, its very existence will do more than simply add to the population of the solar system. It will also add to its mystery. Even in our tiny corner of the universe, it seems, there can still be big surprises lurking.

Brown acknowledged that the history of astronomy is riddled with false hopes. Urbain Le Verrier, the French mathematician who correctly predicted the existence of Neptune, in 1846, also predicted the existence of a planet orbiting between the sun and Mercury. He called it Vulcan, and it turned out not to exist. Every few years, someone announces the discovery of Planet X, some large object that Galileo and four centuries of his descendants missed, only to retract it. “If somebody proposed this—if I picked up a newspaper and read a headline—my first reaction would be, Oh my God, these guys are crazy,” Brown said of his and Batygin’s finding. “But if somebody then looked at the evidence, they’d have a hard time disagreeing that the evidence is there.”

Sources and Additional Information:

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Is Biking while High on Marijuana Dangerous?

You may think that this question is stupid and answer YES right away as Marijuana consumption might affect your balance, orientation, and other senses. And you will be dead wrong – sorry! A new study produced a completely opposite set of results – scientists found that marijuana does not impact in negative way people ability to safely ride a bicycle.

The participants in the experiment rode a bike through an obstacle course while completely sober and then after smoking one, two and three joints.

“Hardly any coordinative disturbances could be detected under the influence of high or very high THC concentrations,” the study, published by the International Journal of Legal Medicine, found.

A representation of the course that participants had to bike while stoned.

The scientific study, titled, “The effect of cannabis on regular cannabis consumers’ ability to ride a bicycle,” was conducted by German and Austrian researchers.

The cannabis cigarettes, which were standardized to contain 300 micrograms of THC per kilogram of body weight, were supplied by Dutch grower Bedrocan with the approval of the German government. Test participants “were instructed to consume the joints in the following way: 4-s inhalation, 10-s holding breath, and 15-s exhalation,” the study says.

While cycling the obstacle course, the fourteen participants in the study were given demerits for errors like leaving the track, knocking over barrels, swerving, running a red light and failing to go at a green light. Along the way, they had to slalom between poles and were presented with distractions like balls rolling in their path, verbal interruptions and being subjected to the glare of torch lights.

“Hardly any driving faults occurred under the influence of cannabis,” the researchers wrote. “Only a few driving faults were observed even under the influence of very high THC concentrations… On average, there is no increase in the number of demerits after the cannabis consumption.”

None of this is to say that operating any vehicle, particularly automobiles, while under the influence of marijuana or other drugs, is recommended. Driving while stoned is illegal, even in states that have ended cannabis prohibition.

Marijuana and Sports

Well, there is no second or third opinion. Driving under influence is illegal, unsafe, and irresponsible, does not matter what type of vehicle you are driving. However, what can be said on using marijuana when it is not dangerous for the user and people nearby?

The surprising evidence comes that marijuana might actually help some people perform better at certain sports. This may sound crazy. But there are people that say training while high has helped them unlock new performance gains.

In November, Men's Journal interviewed elite triathlete Clifford Drusinsky, a Colorado gym owner who also leads training sessions fueled by marijuana edibles. "Marijuana relaxes me and allows me to go into a controlled, meditational place," Drusinsky told Men's Journal. "When I get high, I train smarter and focus on form."

Outside Magazine correspondent, Gordy Megroz, wrote in the February issue of that magazine that while he has never been much of a pot smoker, he heard enough close friends — especially skiers — say that getting high helped their performance that he decided to give it a shot.

Megroz first tried a cannabis gummy while on one of those snow-covered mountains and wrote that with a "slight yet very functional high," he "felt invincible and proceeded to attack the steepest lines without fear" — ski-speak for feeling able to tackle the craziest parts of a mountain. It is easy to see how this kind of fearlessness could be appealing to an expert skier, but could lead anyone — especially a novice — into making a dangerous decision.

Stanford Medical School professor Keith Humphreys explained to Megroz that there is a scientific explanation for this. "We have cannabinoid receptors throughout our brains, and when the THC hits those receptors, it triggers a system that reduces anxiety," Humphreys said. "That you would feel more aggressive is a natural reaction to the drug."

In the World Anti-Doping Association's current ban on competing while stoned, the organization cites studies that show marijuana can decrease anxiety and increase airflow to the lungs by acting as a bronchodilator, something that decreases resistance in the airways.

So Megroz decided to perform further tests, with the help (and under the supervision) of a physiologist. The basic test was simple. He got on a treadmill, set the pace for five miles per hour, and then increased the ramp angle 2.5% every two minutes. Sober, he could keep it up for 19 minutes. But stoned, he could last 19:30 — a "substantial performance gain," according to the physiologist. He repeated the test twice more with similar results. He also found that he got less sore after a heavy squat session.

In other words, getting stoned helped him perform and recover better.

What does the science say about marijuana and exercise?

Up today, there is not much research available yet on how pot affects performance. As long as marijuana is considered a Schedule 1 drug by the Drug Enforcement Agency, it is incredibly difficult for researchers to study its effects. It is becoming easier as states legalize medical and recreational use, but there is not a ton of research yet, and it will still be hard to do unless the government changes that policy.

But the little evidence we have on pot also explains some potential performance gains. Researchers say that marijuana has an anti-inflammatory effect and that the chemical compounds that come from weed might mimic the body's natural endorphins, which could help increase our pain threshold like a natural runner's high and make it easier to push through a tough workout.

So there's evidence that pot can help people deal with pain and inflammation while decreasing anxiety and improving mood, but it also has potentially risky motor-control side effects that could lead to an accident, especially in a sport where a wrong turn (like mountain biking or skiing) could be disastrous.

Yet decreased anxiety can lead to dangerous decisions. There is also a temporary elevated heart rate associated with consuming marijuana, which could be a negative side effect for athletes and a risky complication for anyone with a preexisting heart condition.

What Athletes Say?

The World Anti-Doping Association bans cannabis use during competition, citing studies that say the drug decreases anxiety, potentially helping athletes stay calm in the heat of competition, and acts as a bronchiodilator, which increases airflow to the lungs. Therefore, most pro athletes who use marijuana are obviously reluctant to admit it, but in 2003, skateboarder Bob Burnquist told Thrasher magazine, “I have learned a lot of tricks while stoned.”

One of the high profile skiers admitted that the drug improves his skills on the mountain, claiming that he can “feel the snow better”.

Medical marijuana's benefits for alleviating pain, decreasing nausea, and improving mood are well known. Therefore, it is not hard to see why those same qualities would appeal to endurance athletes, who must cope with high levels of pain, stress, and boredom during grueling hours-long events. "It may help some athletes get into a zone and put their bodies through very tough physical activity," says Mark Ware, a McGill University professor and executive director of the Canadian Consortium for the Investigation of Cannabinoids. "It may enable them to focus on those repetitive tasks."

Just as endorphins help you push through an intense workout, these endocannabinoids could increase your pain threshold to do the same.

And it's not just endurance athletes. "Frank," a climbing guide in Boulder, Colorado, who prefers not to use his real name, says that two-thirds of the pro climbers he knows use marijuana before climbing and working out. "People have a stereotype of a zoned-out stoner, but for a lot of people it makes them super focused and motivated," says the guide. "For climbers I work with, it's like drinking two espressos. They're psyched, ready to go."

Whether marijuana really gives these athletes an edge, is not something exercise science has solved. "What research we have is anecdotal," says Iñigo San Millán, director of the Human Performance Lab at the University of Colorado. "We know it might help with inflammation, sleep, and pain relief. But we don't know if it will improve performance — or if it might even jeopardize it."

Here is what we do know: When marijuana is ingested, its chemical compounds, known as cannabinoids, bind with receptors in the brain and body that regulate pain, mood, appetite, and memory. Scientists suspect that these receptors may play a role in aerobic activity's neurological benefit — a.k.a. the runner's high. "The endocannabinoid system works like endorphins," says Andrea Giuffrida, an associate professor at the University of Texas Health Science Center and an expert on endocannabinoids. Giuffrida and his colleagues have conducted studies showing that after high-intensity treadmill running, people have elevated levels of naturally occurring endocannabinoids in their bloodstream. What that suggests? Just as endorphins help you push through an intense workout, these endocannabinoids could increase your pain threshold to do the same.

There could be other athletic advantages beyond pain relief. Studies have shown that low doses of THC increase motor activity in mice — so maybe a bit of pot could equal a little extra speed. What's more, an intriguing study from the University of Bordeaux in France found that when the brain is exposed to marijuana, it reacts to the THC by producing more pregnenolone. That chemical is a precursor to the natural steroids produced by the body, and is often used as a supplement to increase energy and reduce fatigue.

Marijuana and Exercise Eliminate Your Muffin Top

While the research on the marijuana and exercise engagement is still on the early stages of development, there is convincing evidence that engaging in moderate exercise each week is a smart way to burn off the extra calories in your diet to maintain a lean body shape. No one doubts that, but the news are that marijuana can actually help with weight management, while accompanying the physical exercises. According to a recent study from the American Journal of Medicine, researchers have discovered that pot smokers actually have 16% higher levels of fasting insulin in their bodies than those who abstain from marijuana. In addition, the study indicated that cannabis users have 17% lower insulin resistance levels as well as significantly smaller average waist circumferences than their non-smoking counterparts.

Since insulin is an important hormone that signals your body’s cells to take in glucose for energy, having too much unused sugar floating around in your cells will lead to weight gain, especially in the tummy region. As the ultimate enemy to fight against the notorious muffin top, the cannabinoids that are found as active ingredients in marijuana will help handle insulin properly and facilitate more efficient metabolic functioning. Therefore, beyond the obvious pleasurable effects of a high, marijuana and exercise go hand in hand in improving health.

As always, the keys are moderation, consideration, and common sense.

Sources and Additional Information:

Sunday, January 3, 2016

15 Experts’ Recommendations to Making New Year's Resolutions Stick

New Year Resolutions

A New Year is not just a calendar mark, it is a trigger point for many people, bringing desire to change the essential life aspects for better, turn around life failures and refresh the dying personal relations. A fresh and optimistic spirit of “new year, new me” motivates many to make a New Year’s resolution. Based on the latest research, more than fifty percent of all Americans decide to themselves to do more or less of something in their day-to-day lives. Losing weight, exercising on a regular basis and becoming adept at financial management usually top the list of resolutions. However, good intentions may gradually turn into setbacks or flat out despair when a well-thought plan evaporates like smoke. The reality is that only 8 percent of folks will succeed to a certain degree at keeping their New Year’s resolutions.

How you Can Decide to Change your Life for Better?

Well, you know the best of all people, what you are really not happy about. That might be a really problem, or might be artificially created. In any case, it is as real as it is real for you. Just to give you statistical sample, of what Americans’ care about the most (2015 data), here is the list of the 10 most popular resolutions:

1. Lose Weight
2. Getting Organized
3. Spend Less, Save More
4. Enjoy Life to the Fullest
5. Staying Fit and Healthy
6. Learn Something Exciting
7. Quit Smoking
8. Help Others in Their Dreams
9. Fall in Love
10. Spend More Time with Family

Do some resolutions ring a bell to you? Or, do you have a wholly different list of the prioritized intentions? Or, you need to discuss the list of the resolutions with your therapist? In any case, making the mental or written list is very important. But it is even more important to act upon pursuing these tasks well over the New Year holidays season.

How to Keep New Year’s Resolutions?

Now you know that keeping the resolutions is not an easy process. Here are some recommendations from the specialists on the strategies and approaches you may consider, helping you on the way to the personal victory.

1. Make it something you really want. Do not make it a resolution, that you "should" want, or what other people may tell you to want. It has to fit with your own values.

"Put some thought into it," says Richard O'Connor, author of "Happy at Last: The Thinking Person's Guide to Finding Joy." And avoid knee-jerk New Year's resolutions, he says. "I encourage people not to make cheap resolutions, but to save it for something meaningful."

2. Limit your list to a number you can handle. "It's probably best to make two or three resolutions that you intend to keep," says O'Connor. That way, you are focusing your efforts on the goals you truly want.

3. Clearly define your goals. Many people in the spirit of New Year’s loudly proclaim, “This is the year I’m going to finally get in shape.” But, what does that mean? Do you intend to lose a certain number of pounds? Reach a body-fat percentage goal? Run three miles without rest? Bang out 10 pull-ups? The first step to behavior change is to clearly understand what “it” is.

4. Visualize the end results. As writer Rod Ebrahimi says, “focus on the carrot, not the stick”. If you are having trouble staying motivated, focus on what you’ll get from your end goal—whether that’s feeling better at a lower weight, being able to impress your friends with your new guitar skills, or just being able to breathe now that you’ve quit smoking. Staying positive seems like common sense, but it can be hard when you are in the middle of a big plateau.

5. Track your progress. “If you can measure it, you can change it” is a fundamental principal of psychology. These measurements will be a source of motivation as you reflect on where you started and where you are. They will also help you to identify plateaus or “sticking points” in your progress so you can adjust your efforts.

6. Make One Change at a Time. Once you understand that you have only a limited amount of willpower, it's easy to understand why multiple resolutions aren't likely to work, says Ian Newby-Clark, Ph.D., a psychologist at the University of Guelph in Canada. Most resolutions actually require many behavior changes. Sure, some are straightforward, like remembering to take a calcium pill every day — but a successful weight-loss program, for example, calls for more than just a decision to eat less. You have to shop and cook differently, start or ramp up an exercise routine, maybe even ditch certain social or family events. "Thinking through these substrategies boosts success rates," says Newby-Clark. "But it would take too much attention and vigilance to do all that and also decide it's time to brush your teeth for the full two minutes and become better informed about world events."

7. Piggyback Your Resolution with Existing Habits. If your resolution involves building small habits—like, say, flossing every day or taking daily vitamins—you can “piggyback” these habits with other, already-established ones. Stick your dental floss in your shower and floss during your shower, or put your vitamin jar inside your kitchen cupboard so you always remember to take them when you eat breakfast. The easier you can form the habit, the more likely it is to stick.

8. Have patience. You must set realistic goals and realize that progress is never linear. Some people will see rapid gains only to hit resistance later in their efforts. For others, initial progress may be painfully slow but then they suddenly achieve rapid breakthroughs. Making lasting changes takes time.

Experts say it takes about 21 days for a new activity to become a habit and six months for it to become part of your personality. It will not happen overnight, so be persistent and patient!

9. Publicize your goals to friends and family. As embarrassing as it might be to announce your specific resolution to the world, social support is critical. Yes, it takes some personal courage and vulnerability to share something that you might actually fail at, but to dramatically increase your odds of success you will want support from those around you.

10. Put it on your schedule. How often do you hear people say they cannot “find the time” to do something. Nobody finds time. We all choose to spend our time the way we do—whether that’s eating junk food or going to a spin class. Make your new goals a priority and actually schedule them into your calendar. If you have a fitness goal schedule time for your workouts. If you want to declutter, schedule time to clean out your closet on your calendar. If you want to save money, put in a weekly budget review onto your Sunday afternoons. Think of these time blocks as important appointments—just like an appointment with a doctor. Do not automatically schedule something else over them. That which is scheduled gets done.

11. Stop “all or nothing” thinking. It is better do something than nothing. Are you guilty of “all or nothing” thinking? Do you ever think, “Well, I might as well get dessert since I already ate those French fries?” And then, “I blew my diet last night so I’ll just restart it next week.” The difference between doing something rather than nothing is huge. If you do not have a full hour to workout at the gym, just decide to make it the best 20-minutes you can. If you have a slight cold or minor injury, decide to just walk the track for a couple miles. If you have a financial emergency and cannot save your full 10% this month, just save what you can. The bottom line is, any effort towards your goal is better than no effort.

12. Lift Your Spirits. Watching funny movies — or doing just about anything that puts you in a good mood — also helps when willpower starts wearing down. In a particularly sneaky study, researchers asked a group of 30 hungry students to sit in a room that smelled like freshly baked cookies. Although a plate of M&Ms and still-warm cookies was placed within reach, participants were told to snack on a bowl of radishes. Then they were left alone for 10 to 12 minutes in order to exhaust their self-restraint.

Next, some of the students watched a film clip of Robin Williams doing stand-up, while another group viewed a film about dolphins. When, in the last part of the experiment, they were asked to perform a complex tracing project that called for lots of self-control, students who had seen the funny film stuck with the trying task for about 13 minutes. The Flipper crowd hung in for only nine.

13. Get up, when you slip up. None of us are perfect. As the great Vince Lombardi said, “It isn’t whether you get knocked down, it’s whether you get back up.” Resiliency is the key. Don’t turn relapses or temporary failures into total meltdowns or excuses for giving up. Instead, just acknowledge the mistake and recommit to the path.

14. Reward Yourself. This does not mean that you can eat an entire box of chocolates if your resolution is to eat a better diet. Instead, celebrate your success by treating yourself to something you enjoy that does not contradict your resolution. If you have been sticking to your promise to eat better, for example, reward yourself with new fitness clothing or by going to a movie with a friend.

15. Ask for support. Accepting help from those who care about you and will listen strengthens your resilience and ability to manage stress caused by your resolution. If you feel overwhelmed or unable to meet your goals on your own, consider seeking professional help. Psychologists are uniquely trained to understand the connection between the mind and body. They can offer strategies as to how to adjust your goals so that they are attainable, as well as help you change unhealthy behaviors and address emotional issues.

Sources and Additional Information: