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The mystery of lizard breath: One-way air flow may be 270 million years old

The mystery of lizard breath: One-way air flow may be 270 million years old | Amazing Science | Scoop.it
Air flows mostly in a one-way loop through the lungs of monitor lizards -- a breathing method shared by birds, alligators and presumably dinosaurs, according to a new study that may push the evolution of this trait back to 270 million years ago.


Humans and most other animals have a "tidal" breathing pattern: Air flows into the lungs' branching, progressively smaller airways or bronchi until dead-ending at small chambers called alveoli, where oxygen enters the blood and carbon dioxide leaves the blood and enters the lungs. Then the air flows back out the same way.


Birds, on the other hand, have some tidal airflow into and out of air sacs, but their breathing is dominated by one-way airflow in the lung itself. The air flows through the lung in one direction, making a loop before exiting the lung.


A new study conducted by C.G. Farmer, the study's senior author and an associate professor of biology at the University of Utah, found a mostly one-way, looping air flow in African savannah monitor lizards, Varanus exanthematicus -- one of roughly 73 species of monitor lizards -- although there was some tidal airflow in regions of the lungs. That means one-way airflow may have arisen not among the early archosaurs about 250 million years ago, but as early as 270 million years ago among cold-blooded diapsids, which were the common, cold-blooded ancestors of the archosaurs and Lepidosauromorpha, a group of reptiles that today includes lizards, snakes and lizard-like creatures known as tuataras.


One-way airflow may help birds to fly without passing out at high altitudes, where oxygen levels are low. Before the new study, Farmer and others had speculated that the one-way airflow may have helped dinosaurs' ancestors dominate the Earth when atmospheric oxygen levels were low after the Permian-Triassic mass extinction -- the worst in Earth's history -- 251 million years ago.


"But if it evolved in a common ancestor 20 million years earlier, this unidirectional flow would have evolved under very high oxygen levels," Farmer says. "And so were are left with a deeper mystery on the evolutionary origin of one-way airflow."

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Searching deep and dark: Building a Google for the less visible parts of the web

Searching deep and dark: Building a Google for the less visible parts of the web | Amazing Science | Scoop.it
The deep and dark web can be a scary place, but modern open-source technologies funded by the Defense Department can help explore it.

 

The “deep web” and the “dark web” are often discussed in the context of scary news or films like “Deep Web,” in which young and intelligent criminals are getting away with illicit activities such as drug dealing and human trafficking – or even worse. But what do these terms mean?

 

The “deep web” has existed ever since businesses and organizations, including universities, put large databases online in ways people could not directly view. Rather than allowing anyone to get students’ phone numbers and email addresses, for example, many universities require people to log in as members of the campus community before searching online directories for contact information. Online services such as Dropbox and Gmail are publicly accessible and part of the World Wide Web – but indexing a user’s files and emails on these sites does require an individual login, which our project does not get involved with.

 

The “surface web” is the online world we can see – shopping sites, businesses’ information pages, news organizations and so on. The “deep web” is closely related, but less visible, to human users and – in some ways more importantly – to search engines exploring the web to catalog it.

 

The “dark web,” by contrast, are pages – some of which may also have “deep web” elements – that are hosted by web servers using the anonymous web protocol called Tor. Originally developed by U.S. Defense Department researchers to secure sensitive information, Tor was released into the public domain in 2004.

 

Like many secure systems such as the WhatsApp messaging app, its original purpose was for good, but has also been used by criminals hiding behind the system’s anonymity. Some people run Tor sites handling illicit activity, such as drug trafficking, weapons and human trafficking and even murder for hire.

 

The U.S. government has been interested in trying to find ways to use modern information technology and computer science to combat these criminal activities. In 2014, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (more commonly known as DARPA), a part of the Defense Department, launched a program called Memex to fight human trafficking with these tools.

 

Specifically, Memex wanted to create a search index that would help law enforcement identify human trafficking operations online – in particular by mining the deep and dark web. One of the key systems used by the project’s teams of scholars, government workers and industry experts was one I helped develop, called Apache Tika.

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MIT develops 3D graphene sponge that is 10 times stronger than steel and ultralight

MIT develops 3D graphene sponge that is 10 times stronger than steel and ultralight | Amazing Science | Scoop.it

A team of researchers at MIT has designed one of the strongest lightweight materials known, by compressing and fusing flakes of graphene, a two-dimensional form of carbon. The new material, a sponge-like configuration with a density of just 5 percent, can have a strength 10 times that of steel.

 

In its two-dimensional form, graphene is thought to be the strongest of all known materials. But researchers until now have had a hard time translating that two-dimensional strength into useful three-dimensional materials.

 

The new findings show that the crucial aspect of the new 3-D forms has more to do with their unusual geometrical configuration than with the material itself, which suggests that similar strong, lightweight materials could be made from a variety of materials by creating similar geometric features.

 

The findings are being reported today in the journal Science Advances.

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Spinning super strong synthetic spider silk

Spinning super strong synthetic spider silk | Amazing Science | Scoop.it

Spiderman will need to upgrade his suit. A study in Nature Chemical Biology shows a new way to produce synthetic spider silk that comes very close to the strength of nature’s own. Jan Johansson and Anna Rising from Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences have designed a protein that is a hybrid of two natural silk proteins, and a spinning device that mimics the spider’s method of producing silk.

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Mind-controlling fungus turns insects into zombies

Mind-controlling fungus turns insects into zombies | Amazing Science | Scoop.it

Deep in forests around the world a strange fungus is lurking. It doesn’t grow on trees, or from the ground like so many other fungi that we are familiar with. Instead, this fungus infects an unfortunate insect, turning it into a mindless zombie and control of its body until the fungus matures, erupting from the dying insect. Think this sounds like a plot line from the X-Files? It’s not. For some unfortunate insects this actually happens; enter the Cordyceps fungus.

 

How can a microbe turn these normal insects into fungus-erupting zombies? Read on to find out more. Many different species of Cordyceps  are found all throughout the globe but their life cycle remains enigmatic. What we do know about their life cycle does not bode well for insects, as every species must infect an insect before it can mature and produce spores.

 

While many species of insect are infected by the Cordyceps fungus, the infamous “zombie ants” are the end result of the Ophiocordyceps fungus infecting an ant. By no means limited to ants, the Cordyceps genus of fungus infects a wide variety of different insects with each fungal species targeting a single species or multiple related species. In fact, evidence shows that each type of Cordyceps fungus has evolved along with its target host species.

 

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Fungus-infecting virus could help track spread of white-nose syndrome in bats

Fungus-infecting virus could help track spread of white-nose syndrome in bats | Amazing Science | Scoop.it

A newly discovered virus infecting the fungus that causes white-nose syndrome in bats could help scientists and wildlife agencies track the spread of the disease that is decimating bat populations in the United States, a new study suggests.

 

Regional variations in this virus could provide clues that would help researchers better understand the epidemiology of white-nose syndrome, according to Marilyn Roossinck, professor of plant pathology and environmental microbiology, College of Agricultural Sciences, Penn State.

 

White-nose syndrome is a particularly lethal wildlife disease, killing an estimated 6 million bats in North America since it was identified in 2006. The disease, caused by the fungus Pseudogymnoascus destructans, first was found in New York and now has spread to 29 states and four Canadian provinces.

 

Although several species of bats have been affected, some of the most prevalent species in the Northeast — such as little brown bats — have suffered estimated mortality as high as 99 percent. These losses have serious ecological implications. For instance, bats have a voracious appetite for insects and are credited with helping to control populations of mosquitoes and some agricultural pests.

 

The researchers examined 62 isolates of the fungus, including 35 from the United States, 10 from Canada and 17 from Europe, with the virus infection found only in North American samples.

 

P. destructans is clonal, meaning it is essentially identical everywhere it has been found in North America, making it difficult to determine how it is moving, said Roossinck, who also is affiliated with Penn State's Center for Infectious Disease Dynamics.

 

"But the virus it harbors has quite a bit of variation," she said. "For example, in all the fungal isolates from Pennsylvania we analyzed, the viruses are similar. But those viruses differ from the ones we found in isolates from Canada, New York and so forth."

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Scientists develop method to warn of toxic algae blooms before they develop

Scientists develop method to warn of toxic algae blooms before they develop | Amazing Science | Scoop.it

Toxic algae blooms in lakes and reservoirs are highly destructive, resulting in fish kills and toxicity risks to wildlife, livestock — and even humans. But their development is difficult to predict. Resource managers would like to stop such events in their tracks, before blooms cross a threshold and grow to the point of damaging a body of water.

 

A new study, published December 26, 2016, in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, demonstrates that automated monitoring systems that identify "regime shifts" — such as rapid growth of algae and then depletion of oxygen in the water — can successfully predict full-scale algae blooms in advance, and help resource managers avert their development. Prior studies indicated that this might be possible, but the researchers have now proven this is so during experiments in an isolated lake in Michigan.

 

The researchers caused an algae bloom in the experimental lake by gradually enriching it with nutrients, similar to the flow of nutrients that might occur in a lake downstream of an agricultural area or city. As they did this, they also closely monitored a nearby un-enriched lake, and a third continuously enriched "reference" lake.

 

Once the gradually enriched experimental lake exceeded pre-set boundaries, the researchers halted the flow of nutrients. They found that algae growth quickly declined, resulting in conditions similar to those in the un-enriched lake. Meanwhile, a large algae bloom formed in the continuously enriched lake.

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Winds of rubies and sapphires may strike the sky of giant exoplanet

Winds of rubies and sapphires may strike the sky of giant exoplanet | Amazing Science | Scoop.it

Dr David Armstrong in Warwick’s Astrophysics Group has discovered that the gas giant HAT-P-7b is affected by large scale changes in the strong winds moving across the planet, likely leading to catastrophic storms. It is the first weather pattern observed on any exoplanet.

 

This discovery was made by monitoring the light being reflected from the atmosphere of HAT-P-7b, and identifying changes in this light, showing that the brightest point of the planet shifts its position

 

This shift is caused by an equatorial jet with dramatically variable wind-speeds – at their fastest, pushing vast amounts of cloud across the planet.

 

The clouds themselves would be visually stunning – likely made of up corundum, the mineral which forms rubies and sapphires. The planet could never be inhabitable, due to its likely violent weather systems, and unaccommodating temperatures. One side of the planet always faces the star, because it is tidally locked, and that side remains much hotter than the other – the day side average temperature on HAT-P-7 being 2860K.

 

Thanks to this pioneering research, astrophysicists can now begin to explore how weather systems on other planets outside our solar system change over time.

 

Dr Armstrong comments on the discovery: "Using the NASA Kepler satellite we were able to study light reflected from HAT-P-7b’s atmosphere, finding that the atmosphere was changing over time. HAT-P-7b is a tidally locked planet, with the same side always facing its star. We expect clouds to form on the cold night side of the planet, but they would evaporate quickly on the hot dayside.

 

“These results show that strong winds circle the planet, transporting clouds from the night side to the dayside. The winds change speed dramatically, leading to huge cloud formations building up then dying away. This is the first detection of weather on a gas giant planet outside the solar system.”

 

First discovered in 2008, HAT-P-7b is 320 parsecs (over 1040 light years) away from us. It is an exoplanet 40% larger than Jupiter and 500 times more massive than the Earth - and orbits a star 50% more massive, and twice as large, as the Sun.

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100-eyed parasitic insect surprises scientists

100-eyed parasitic insect surprises scientists | Amazing Science | Scoop.it
The extraordinary raspberry-like eyes of a tiny parasitic insect have been described for the first time.

 

When Xenos peckii twisted-wing parasite males emerge as adults from within the body of the hapless wasp that served as their incubator, the race is on. With an adult lifetime spanning just a few hours, the male insects have to locate a female and mate before their time is up. And the challenge of locating a female mate – which is barely more than a fleshy bag of eggs with no eyes or limbs – is particularly problematic. Concealed within the body of her own host, only the female’s head and mating channel protrude from the surface.

 

Despite their short lives and singleminded mission, the males are equipped with extraordinarily sophisticated hybrid eyes – composed of up to 50 micro-eyes, each equipped with a lens that projects a minute image onto a mini-retina of ∼100 photoreceptors. However, it was unclear whether these extraordinary creatures have color vision.

 

According to Elke Buschbeck, from the University of Cincinnati, USA, some evidence suggested that the nocturnal males may lack color vision, but with the jury still out, Buschbeck and her colleagues Marisano James, Sri Nandamuri and Aaron Stahl embarked on a study to discover whether the insects’ extraordinary eyes include the basic equipment for color vision.

 

Having stumbled across a fertilized X. peckii female during the summer and nurtured the offspring in northern paper wasps until the adult males emerged, Buschbeck and her team had only 3 h to investigate the males’ eyes before they perished.

 

Cooling the insects to extend their life expectancy, Nandamuri and James then measured the electrical signals produced by the eyes in response to flashes of light ranging from ultraviolet to red wavelengths. nMeanwhile, Aaron Stahl analyzed the insect’s gene expression pattern to identify which light-sensitive opsin proteins, which are essential for color vision, are produced by the insects.

 

Impressively, the males’ responses were strongest to green light (around 539 nm), while they responded more weakly to UV light (around 346 nm). And when the team analyzed the results of Stahl’s gene expression investigation, they identified one expressed gene that could produce a green-sensitive opsin, in addition to another that could produce a UV-sensitive opsin.

 

Although the team emphasizes that these observations are not categorical proof that twisted-wing parasite (strepsipteran) males have color vision, they say, ‘the presence of distinct UV and green opsins presents the possibility that UV-green coloration could play a significant role in strepsipteran ecology, such as helping the male to find the female’.

 

And they wonder whether our own limited color vision means that we are missing one of the parasite’s key tricks: could the females be advertising their presence in their cryptic hideaways by reflecting UV light – like bright homing beacons – to attract the males during their final desperate search? ‘If so, this could help explain another aspect of the complex life cycle of these extraordinary insects’, says Buschbeck.

 

James, M., Nandamuri, S. P., Stahl, A. and Buschbeck, E. K. The unusual eyes of Xenos peckii (Strepsiptera: Xenidae) have greenand UV-sensitive photoreceptors. J. Exp. Biol. 219: 3866-3874 (2016). 10.1242/jeb.153841

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Swordfish lubricate heads for super-speedy swim

Swordfish lubricate heads for super-speedy swim | Amazing Science | Scoop.it

Reminding us of a bygone era of dueling and chivalry, swordfish are some of the most charismatic creatures in the open ocean. Embellished with a rapier-like bill — which has been known to impale boats — and alleged to reach speeds of 100 km/h-1, these animals have fascinated humans since the earliest civilizations. However, swordfish may be less fearsome than their anecdotal reputation would have us believe. ‘They have no teeth’, says John Videler from Groningen University, The Netherlands, who explains that they probably dine on squid.

 

And their formidable proboscis may be less robust than you would first assume: ‘Last summer, an article by Maria Habegger and colleagues appeared in JEB [Journal of Experimental Biology]. They were surprised to find that there is a very weak spot just at the end of the sword where it enters the head’, says Videler. Intrigued by the fish’s apparent vulnerability, Videler decided to revisit some MRI scans that he had collected 20 years earlier to identify the source of the fish’s weakness. The team publishes their discovery that the weakness is caused by a large oil gland situated at the base of the bill that lubricates the fish’s head to reduce drag and make them super-fast in the Journal of Experimental Biology.

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NASA Is Sending a Probe to Explore Jupiter’s Mysterious Trojan Asteroids

NASA Is Sending a Probe to Explore Jupiter’s Mysterious Trojan Asteroids | Amazing Science | Scoop.it

In addition to its 67 moons, Jupiter is accompanied by two giant clusters of asteroids that orbit the sun along the same path, and is packed with as many large objects as the Asteroid Belt. Yesterday, NASA announced a new mission to investigate these “trojan” asteroids. Here’s what you need to know about this exciting new project.

 

NASA announced two new space missions yesterday as part of its Discovery Program. Named Psyche and Lucy, these projects will deploy spacecraft to investigate asteroids, but the missions themselves are quite distinct. The Psyche space probe will visit a giant metal asteroid in 2030, and Lucy will investigate a half-dozen Trojan asteroids along Jupiter’s orbital plane from 2027 to 2033. By exploring the Jovian Trojans, scientists will gain a better understanding of these objects and how they got caught in Jupiter’s gravitational field, while also learning more about the chemical composition of the early solar system.

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Gene therapy for liver disease advancing with the help of adeno-associated viral vectors

Gene therapy for liver disease advancing with the help of adeno-associated viral vectors | Amazing Science | Scoop.it

In 2016, liver-directed gene therapy delivered using adeno-associated viral (AAV) vectors to treat diseases such as hemophilia have advanced into human testing. The potential for continued technological improvements to expand the therapeutic applications of gene therapy to treat liver disorders and the remaining clinical challenges are examined in a comprehensive review article published in Human Gene Therapy, a peer-reviewed journal from Mary Ann Liebert, Inc., publishers. The article is available open access on the Human Gene Therapy website.

In a recent article named "Adeno-Associated Virus Gene Therapy for Liver Disease," Lisa Kattenhorn and coauthors from Dimension Therapeutics, Cambridge, MA, provide historical context for the remarkable progress achieved using this viral particular delivery vector to target therapeutic genes to the liver. The authors describe the preclinical and clinical studies that have led to a better understanding of immune responses to AAV gene therapy. In addition, they explore areas for future development and current challenges, including readministration of AAV gene therapy and minimizing the risk of hepatocellular carcinoma.

 

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Mesmerizing map shows bird migrations throughout the year

Mesmerizing map shows bird migrations throughout the year | Amazing Science | Scoop.it

For the first time, scientists at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology have created an animated map showing the migrations of birds over the course of a year.

 

Using millions of observations from the eBird citizen science database, the map's authors were able to document the migratory movements of 118 different species. Lead author Frank La Sorte said the data offered new insights into the birds' choice of routes.

 

The study found that birds that head out over the Atlantic Ocean to spend the winter in the Caribbean and South America tend to follow a clockwise loop, tracing a path farther inland on their return. These circuitous routes seem to help the birds take advantage of weaker headwinds in fall and stronger tailwinds in spring.

 

Species that don't fly over open water tend to hew to the same narrow routes in the spring and fall, following mountain chains or isthmuses. "After tracing the migration routes of all these species and comparing them, we concluded that a combination of geographic features and broad-scale atmospheric conditions influence the choice of routes used during spring and fall migration," La Sorte said.

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Robots will destroy our jobs – and we're not ready for it

Robots will destroy our jobs – and we're not ready for it | Amazing Science | Scoop.it

Two-thirds of Americans believe robots will soon perform most of the work done by humans but 80% also believe their jobs will be unaffected. Time to think again.

 

Many of us recognize robotic automation as an inevitably disruptive force. However, in a classic example of optimism bias, while approximately two-thirds of Americans believe that robots will inevitably perform most of the work currently done by human beings during the next 50 years, about 80% also believe their current jobs will either “definitely” or “probably” exist in their current form within the same timeframe.

 

Somehow, we believe our livelihoods will be safe. They’re not: every commercial sector will be affected by robotic automation in the next several years. For example, Australian company Fastbrick Robotics has developed a robot, the Hadrian X, that can lay 1,000 standard bricks in one hour – a task that would take two human bricklayers the better part of a day or longer to complete.

 

In 2015, San Francisco-based startup Simbe Robotics unveiled Tally, a robot the company describes as “the world’s first fully autonomous shelf auditing and analytics solution” that roams supermarket aisles alongside human shoppers during regular business hours and ensures that goods are adequately stocked, placed and priced.

 

Swedish agricultural equipment manufacturer DeLaval International recently announced that its new cow-milking robots will be deployed at a small family-owned dairy farm in Westphalia, Michigan, at some point later this year. The system allows cows to come and be milked on their own, when they please.

 

Data from the Robotics Industries Association (RIA), one of the largest robotic automation advocacy organizations in North America, reveals just how prevalent robots are likely to be in the workplace of tomorrow. During the first half of 2016 alone, North American robotics technology vendors sold 14,583 robots worth $817m to companies around the world.

 

The RIA further estimates that more than 265,000 robots are currently deployed at factories across the country, placing the US third worldwide in terms of robotics deployments behind only China and Japan.

 

In a recent report, the World Economic Forum predicted that robotic automation will result in the net loss of more than 5m jobs across 15 developed nations by 2020, a conservative estimate. Another study, conducted by the International Labor Organization, states that as many as 137m workers across Cambodia, Indonesia, the Philippines, Thailand and Vietnam – approximately 56% of the total workforce of those countries – are at risk of displacement by robots, particularly workers in the garment manufacturing industry.

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Peugeot and Divergent: This Is the World's First 3D-Printed "Supercar"?

Peugeot and Divergent: This Is the World's First 3D-Printed "Supercar"? | Amazing Science | Scoop.it

 

At the Los Angeles Auto Show, automaker Divergent 3D showed off their 3D-printed Blade Supercar. The 635 kilogram (1,400 pound) car is made of a combination of aluminum and carbon fiber; accelerates to 97 kilometers per hour (60 miles per hour) in 2.2 seconds with its 700 hp engine; and can use either gasoline or compressed natural gas as fuel.

 

The Blade Supercar debuted last year in June, heralding the company’s radical, environmentally-sustainable approach to manufacturing. Divergent calls the manufacturing approach NODE, where they 3D print aluminum nodes joined together by carbon fiber tubing.

 

The process, which is similar to using Lego blocks, requires less capital and uses up fewer materials. The ease of assembly means that even semi-skilled workers can run the process.As an added bonus, Divergent 3D’s cars are 90 percent lighter and more durable than cars built with traditional techniques.

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Gliese 710 is hurtling towards us and could knock millions of asteroids towards Earth

Gliese 710 is hurtling towards us and could knock millions of asteroids towards Earth | Amazing Science | Scoop.it

Researchers have known for a while that a star called Gliese 710 is headed straight for our solar system, but they've now worked out precisely when it should arrive. The star is currently hurtling through space at about 32,000 mph, and is around 64 lightyears away.

 

Gliese 710 is about half the size of our sun, and it is set to reach Earth in 1.35 million years, according to a paper published in the journal Astronomy & Astrophysics in November. And when it arrives, the star could end up a mere 77 light-days away from Earth — one light-day being the equivalent of how far light travels in one day, which is about 26 billion kilometers, the researchers worked out. As far as we know, Gliese 710 isn't set to collide directly with Earth, but it will be passing through the Oort Cloud, a shell of trillions of icy objects at the furthest reaches of our solar system.  

 

"Gliese 710 will trigger an observable cometary shower with a mean density of approximately ten comets per year, lasting for three to 4 million years," wrote the authors of the recent study.

 

Some scientists speculate that a similar event of a star passing through the Oort cloud triggered the asteroid that wiped out the dinosaurs around 65 million years ago. However, the Gliese 710 event could make the dinosaur extinction look relatively minor. At its closest distance, it will be the brightest and fastest observable object in the sky, and as the authors say in the paper, it will be the "strongest disrupting encounter in the future and history of the solar system."

 

But it's also not the only galactic body to worry about. There are as many as 14 other stars that could come within a 3 light-year distance to us any time over the next few million years. 

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Global warming has continued for last 40+ years without any hiatus, study shows

Global warming has continued for last 40+ years without any hiatus, study shows | Amazing Science | Scoop.it

Researchers confirm continuing rising sea temperatures. Between 1998 and 2013 global warming was believed to have slowed down or paused.

 

Between 1998 and 2013 global warming was believed to have slowed down or paused. This belief was disproven two years ago when a controversial paper showed that sea temperatures have actually continued to rise and there was in fact no “global warming hiatus”. This has now been confirmed again in a new study published in Science Advances.

Zeke Hausfather and colleagues from University of California, Berkeley showed that differences in measurement techniques was to blame for the apparent hiatus. The use of modern buoys to measure ocean temperatures tended to report slightly cooler temperatures than older ship-based systems because the buoys measure the water directly from the ocean rather than after a trip through a warm engine room.

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Are Exoplanets Like Those in ‘Star Wars: Rogue One’ Really Out There?

Are Exoplanets Like Those in ‘Star Wars: Rogue One’ Really Out There? | Amazing Science | Scoop.it
In the ‘Star Wars’ universe, ice, ocean and desert planets burst from the darkness as your ship drops out of light speed. But these worlds might be more than just science fiction

 

Some of the planets discovered around stars in our own Galaxy could be very similar to arid Tatooine, watery Scarif and even frozen Hoth, according to NASA scientists. Sifting through data on the more than 3,400 confirmed alien worlds, scientists apply sophisticated computer modeling techniques to tease out the colors, light, sunrise and sunsets we might encounter if we could pay them a visit. Some of these distant worlds are even stranger than those that populate the latest ‘Star Wars’ film, ‘Rogue One.’ And others are eerily like the fictional planets from a galaxy far, far away.

 

In the ‘Star Wars’ universe, Lucas and company envision scores of worlds bustling with intelligent beings. In our Galaxy, we know of only one such world so far — Earth. But NASA exoplanet scientists think we have a fighting chance of finding life beyond our Solar System.

 

The next few years will see the launch of a new generation of spacecraft to search for planets around other stars. The Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS) and the James Webb Space Telescope will attempt to determine what’s in the atmospheres of other planets. Then, in the next decade, the Wide Field Infrared Survey Telescope (WFIRST) will bring us images of exoplanets around Sun-like stars. That’s one step closer to finding life.

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Hubble detects ‘exocomets’ taking the plunge into a young star

Hubble detects ‘exocomets’ taking the plunge into a young star | Amazing Science | Scoop.it

Interstellar forecast for a nearby star: Raining comets! NASA's Hubble Space Telescope has discovered comets plunging onto the star HD 172555, which is a youthful 23 million years old and resides 95 light-years from Earth.

 

The exocomets — comets outside our solar system — were not directly seen around the star, but their presence was inferred by detecting gas that is likely the vaporized remnants of their icy nuclei.

 

HD 172555 represents the third extrasolar system where astronomers have detected doomed, wayward comets. All of the systems are young, under 40 million years old. The presence of these doomed comets provides circumstantial evidence for "gravitational stirring" by an unseen Jupiter-size planet, where comets deflected by its gravity are catapulted into the star. These events also provide new insights into the past and present activity of comets in our solar system. It's a mechanism where infalling comets could have transported water to Earth and the other inner planets of our solar system.

 

Astronomers have found similar plunges in our own solar system. Sun-grazing comets routinely fall into our sun. "Seeing these sun-grazing comets in our solar system and in three extrasolar systems means that this activity may be common in young star systems," said study leader Carol Grady of Eureka Scientific Inc. in Oakland, California, and NASA's Goddard Spaceflight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. "This activity at its peak represents a star's active teenage years. Watching these events gives us insight into what probably went on in the early days of our solar system, when comets were pelting the inner solar system bodies, including Earth. In fact, these star-grazing comets may make life possible, because they carry water and other life-forming elements, such as carbon, to terrestrial planets."

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Astronomers Pinpoint the Location of Multiple Weird Radio Bursts Beyond Our Galaxy

Astronomers Pinpoint the Location of Multiple Weird Radio Bursts Beyond Our Galaxy | Amazing Science | Scoop.it

Fast radio bursts, powerful pulses of radio energy of unknown cosmic origin, are a source of endless fascination to astronomers and alien conspiracy theory fodder to everybody else. But while most FRBs discovered to date are one-off events—a single chirp in the interstellar void, if you will—these phenomena got more interesting last year when astronomers discovered the very first FRB signal that repeats. Now, they’ve pinpointed its location.

 

FRB 121102, the only repeating fast radio burst know to science, is located over three billion light years away, in a dwarf galaxy a thousand times dimmer than the Milky Way, according to new research published today in Nature. Not only does the new analysis confirm that mysterious radio bursts emanate from a source far beyond our galaxy, zeroing in on their location means we can start unraveling what exactly that source is.

 

All we know at this point is that FRBs are coming from something powerful. “These radio flashes must have enormous amounts of energy to be visible from over 3 billion light-years away,” Cornell astronomer and lead study author Shami Chatterjee said in a statement.

 

“I think this is a really big deal, and I’m really excited about the result,” said Peter Williams, an astronomer at Harvard’s Center for Astrophysics who was not involved with the study.

 

Over the past decade, astronomers have cataloged more than a dozen FRBs, seemingly random flashes of radio energy that appear in the sky at farflung locations and then disappear. FRB 121102 was first spotted in 2012 at the Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico, one of the world’s most powerful radio telescopes. But unlike earlier FRBs, 1211102 wasn’t just a flash in the pan: follow-up observations in 2015 revealed ten additional radio bursts emanating from the same region of space. “This unambiguously identifies FRB 121102 as repeating,” astronomers wrote of the discovery last year in Nature. 

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Published and unpublished notes from Srinivasa Ramanujan available online

Published and unpublished notes from Srinivasa Ramanujan available online | Amazing Science | Scoop.it
Srinivasa Ramanujan was born in Erode, Tamilnadu, India, on 22nd December, 1887. In his all too brief life of less than 32 years he made monumental contributions to Mathematics. While some of his contributions made into Journals - proverbial tip of the iceberg - much more remain as entries in several notebooks which he kept. The published papers were brought out in 2000, Ramanujan Papers, by Prism Publishers, Bangalore. The unpublished material in the notebooks are also of great interest to Mathematicians and they are available in book form, thanks to the efforts of the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research, Mumbai, and Narosa Publishers, Delhi.
 
To commemorate his 126th birthday on 22nd December 2013, the published papers of Srinivasa Ramanujan as well as the unpublished manuscripts are made available to the world at large via the Internet. While the published papers are available in HTML, rendered using MathJax, and PDF, the manuscripts are available in DjVu format which can be easily seen on PCs via the DjVu plugin.
 

History has seldom seen a person who was so passionate, unorthodox, as well as gifted in a field, as was Srinivasa Ramanujan, the self-taught Indian genius, who made several startling discoveries in the realm of Mathematics. Despite abject poverty and lack of formal training and encouragement, Ramanujan’s love for numbers never waned. And thanks to a chance encounter and ensuing collaboration with G.H.Hardy of Cambridge, one of the most eminent mathematicians of the world, his hidden genius came to light.

 

Ramanujan went on to make thousands of discoveries with the apparent ease of experiencing and recording a series of religious epiphanies by amystic in a trance. The methods he followed are still shrouded in a veil of mystery, since he usually skipped the formal rigour (and hence made mistakes too sometimes) and relied more on leaps of intuition to arrive at sudden, surprising results.

 

The several ‘Notebooks’ left behind by Ramanujan are strewn with cryptic formulae and equations, and are still being mined by mathematicians all over the world for beautiful gems and nuggets.

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Theory provides roadmap in quest for quark soup 'critical point'

Theory provides roadmap in quest for quark soup 'critical point' | Amazing Science | Scoop.it

Thanks to a new development in nuclear physics theory, scientists exploring expanding fireballs that mimic the early universe have new signs to look for as they map out the transition from primordial plasma to matter as we know it. The theory work, described in a paper recently published as an Editor's Suggestion in Physical Review Letters (PRL), identifies key patterns that would be proof of the existence of a so-called "critical point" in the transition among different phases of nuclear matter. Like the freezing and boiling points that delineate various phases of water -- liquid, solid ice, and steam -- the points nuclear physicists seek to identify will help them understand fundamental properties of the fabric of our universe.

 

Nuclear physicists create the fireballs by colliding ordinary nuclei -- made of protons and neutrons -- in an "atom smasher" called the Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider (RHIC), a U.S. Department of Energy Office of Science User Facility at Brookhaven National Laboratory. The subatomic smashups generate temperatures measuring trillions of degrees, hot enough to "melt" the protons and neutrons and release their inner building blocks -- quarks and gluons. The collider essentially turns back the clock to recreate the "quark-gluon plasma" (QGP) that existed just after the Big Bang. By tracking the particles that emerge from the fireballs, scientists can learn about nuclear phase transitions -- both the melting and how the quarks and gluons "freeze out" as they did at the dawn of time to form the visible matter of today's world.

 

"We want to understand the properties of QGP," said nuclear theorist Raju Venugopalan, one of the authors on the new paper. "We don't know how those properties might be used, but 100 years ago, we didn't know how we'd use the collective properties of electrons, which now form the basis of almost all of our technologies. Back then, electrons were just as exotic as the quarks and gluons are now."

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New research predicts the future of coral reefs under climate change

New research predicts the future of coral reefs under climate change | Amazing Science | Scoop.it

New climate model projections of the world's coral reefs reveal which reefs will be hit first by annual coral bleaching, an event that poses the gravest threat to one of the Earth's most important ecosystems.

 

These high-resolution projections, based on global climate models, predict when and where annual coral bleaching will occur. The projections show that reefs in Taiwan and around the Turks and Caicos archipelago will be among the world's first to experience annual bleaching. Other reefs, like those off the coast of Bahrain, in Chile and in French Polynesia, will be hit decades later, according to research recently published in the journal Scientific Reports.

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The deepest x-ray view of the universe ever seen with high concentration of supermassive black holes

The deepest x-ray view of the universe ever seen with high concentration of supermassive black holes | Amazing Science | Scoop.it
It is a record breaking image that gives an unparalleled view of the growth of black holes soon after the Big Bang.

The image from NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory was collected with about 7 million seconds, or 11 and a half weeks, of Chandra observing time.

The central region of the image contains the highest concentration of supermassive black holes ever seen, equivalent to about 5,000 objects that would fit into the area of the full Moon and about a billion over the entire sky.
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NASA's Next Trip to Saturn Will Be to Search for Alien Life

NASA's Next Trip to Saturn Will Be to Search for Alien Life | Amazing Science | Scoop.it

As the Cassini spacecraft executes its final daredevil maneuvers, scientists on both sides of the Atlantic are already thinking about the next mission to Saturn. But this time around, nobody’s talking about studying the gas giant itself. They’re talking about hunting for life in Saturn’s rings.

 
Two Saturnian moons—Titan, a world of frigid methane seas, and Enceladus, a cratered ball of ice wrapped around a liquid water ocean—are on the shortlist of places in our solar system where alien life might exist. And scientists are determined to find out if it does. That much was clear at last week’s American Geophysical Union conference, where American and European researchers presented proposals for two future spacecraft that would determine if Saturn’s strangest moons are habitable.
 
On the American side, there’s the Enceladus Life Finder (ELF), a proposed NASA New Frontiers-class spacecraft whose mission is in its name. ELF’s flight plan is simple: ten low-altitude (30 mile/50 km) passes over Enceladus’ south pole, where cracks in the moon’s icy crust spew frozen ocean water into space.
 
Diving through Enceladus’ south polar geysers, ELF would sample the moon’s ocean water like Cassini has already done, but with fancier instruments. Two state-of-the-art mass spectrometers would search for key indicators of habitability, including hydrogen gas (an energy source). The spacecraft would also hunt for life directly by profiling amino acids and carbon isotopes, which occur in specific patterns when microorganisms are present.
 

“The biggest hope for ELF is to fully characterize the habitability of Enceladus’ ocean,” Cassini project scientist and ELF co-proposer Linda Spilker said. “I would like to know if the Enceladus ocean can support life, and better yet, to find evidence for that life.”

 

Enceladus’ subsurface ocean is one of the most Earth-like environments we know of out there. But it’s also possible that a different form of biology—a far stranger onecould have sprung up in Titan’s methane seas. A hypothetical model allows for methane-based cellular organism living in Titan’s oceans. So, why only search for life-as-we-know-it when we can visit both moons on the same trip?

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Donald Schwartz's curator insight, January 12, 6:02 PM

Fly-by may not be enough, but maybe the Europeans pitch once again for the lander.

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Researchers get first look at new, extremely rare galaxy

Researchers get first look at new, extremely rare galaxy | Amazing Science | Scoop.it

Approximately 359 million light-years away from Earth, there is a galaxy with an innocuous name (PGC 1000714) that doesn't look quite like anything astronomers have observed before. New research provides a first description of a well-defined elliptical-like core surrounded by two circular rings—a galaxy that appears to belong to a class of rarely observed, Hoag-type galaxies. This work was done by scientists at the University of Minnesota Duluth and the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences.

 

"Less than 0.1% of all observed galaxies are Hoag-type galaxies," says Burcin Mutlu-Pakdil, lead author of a paper on this work and a graduate student at the Minnesota Institute for Astrophysics, University of Minnesota Twin Cities and University of Minnesota Duluth. Hoag-type galaxies are round cores surrounded by a circular ring, with nothing visibly connecting them. The majority of observed galaxies are disc-shaped like our own Milky Way. Galaxies with unusual appearances give astronomers unique insights into how galaxies are formed and change.

 

The researchers collected multi-waveband images of the galaxy, which is only easily observable in the Southern Hemisphere, using a large diameter telescope in the Chilean mountains. These images were used to determine the ages of the two main features of the galaxy, the outer ring and the central body.

While the researchers found a blue and young (0.13 billion years) outer ring, surrounding a red and older (5.5 billion years) central core, they were surprised to uncover evidence for second inner ring around the central body. To document this second ring, researchers took their images and subtracted out a model of the core. This allowed them to observe and measure the obscured, second inner ring structure.

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