Free online educational courses may not be democratizing education as much as proponents believe, a study reports.

John D. Hansen, a doctoral student at Harvard University’s School of Education, and his colleagues looked at registration and completion patterns in 68 massive open online courses, or MOOCs, offered by Harvard and MIT. The data covered 164,198 participants ages 13 to 69.

In a study published in the journal Science, they reported that people living in more affluent neighborhoods were more likely to register and complete MOOCs. Each increase of $20,000 in neighborhood median income raised the odds of participation in a MOOC by 27 percent, the researchers found.

Yet the vast majority of MOOC participants are not the very affluent, who are comparatively small in number. Hansen said that it ought to be possible to adapt or redesign online courses so that they are more appealing and accessible to lower-income people. “Just because it is free and available online, it does not necessarily mean that the chief beneficiaries or users are going to be the less advantaged,” Hansen said.

 

Far, far away, a young universe

Scientists using the Hubble and Spitzer space telescopes have spotted the faintest object ever seen in the early Universe. Named Tayna, the compact galaxy was one of 22 such objects recently found thanks to an intriguing physics trick — a natural magnifying lens in space.

The tiny young galaxy existed just 400 million years after the Big Bang. Because it’s so far away, we’re seeing Tayna as it was back in the early days of the universe. Researchers believe that we may have caught it in the process of growing into a fully-sized galaxy. Tayna (“firstborn” in Aymara, a language spoken in the Andes) is about the same size as the Large Magellanic Cloud, a satellite of the Milky Way about 14,000 light years across. But it’s making stars about 10 times faster.

 

Origin of feral cats in Australia

Australia is home to an estimated 20 million feral cats, which prey on more than 100 of the country’s native species and have helped drive at least 27 species to extinction. Government officials recently sparked an international outcry after announcing plans to cull at least 2 million of the cats.

But where did they come from in the first place?

One theory held that the cats arrived with European explorers in the late 18th century, while another suggested that the cats came much earlier, around 1650, with Malaysian fishermen. According to a study in the journal BMC Evolutionary Biology, genetic testing of the cats indicates that they are probably descended from those brought by European settlers in the 19th century.

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