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Learning to fly: This colorful web is the most complete look yet at a fruit fly’s brain cells

Learning to fly: This colorful web is the most complete look yet at a fruit fly’s brain cells | Amazing Science | Scoop.it
Scientists compiled 21 million images to craft the highest-resolution view yet of the fruit fly brain.

 

If the secret to getting the perfect photo is taking a lot of shots, then one lucky fruit fly is the subject of a masterpiece.

Using high-speed electron microscopy, scientists took 21 million nanoscale-resolution images of the brain of Drosophila melanogaster to capture every one of the 100,000 nerve cells that it contains. It’s the first time the entire fruit fly brain has been imaged in this much detail, researchers report online July 19 in Cell.

 

Experimental neurobiologists can now use the rich dataset as a road map to figure out which neurons talk to each other in the fly’s brain, says study coauthor Davi Bock, a neurobiologist at Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Janelia Research Campus in Ashburn, VA.

 

The rainbow image shown at top and in the video below captures the progress on that mapping so far. Despite the complex tangle of neural connections pictured, the mapping is far from complete, Bock says. Neurons with cell bodies close to each other are colored the same hue, to demonstrate how neurons born in the same place in the poppy seed–sized brain tend to send their spidery tendrils out in the same direction, too.

 

The dataset is already enabling new discoveries about the fruit fly brain. For instance, Bock and colleagues are interested in the neurons that help flies make memories. He and his team traced neurons that send messages to and from a structure in the fly’s brain called the mushroom body, which is involved in learning and memory. In the process, the researchers discovered a new type of neuron that talks to cells in the mushroom body. The brain has two such neurons, one on each side, Bock says. Each has a broad crown of dendrites that receive signals from neurons in many different places in the brain. Because of their far-reaching influence, the cells might be involved in integrating different kinds of sensory information, he suggests.

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Neutrino found in Antarctica provides astronomy breakthrough by tracing its origin to a blazar

Neutrino found in Antarctica provides astronomy breakthrough by tracing its origin to a blazar | Amazing Science | Scoop.it
For the first time, scientists traced the origins of a neutrino that traveled 3.7 billion light-years to Earth and was found in the Antarctic ice by the IceCube detector.

 

Scientists and observatories around the world were able to trace the neutrino to a galaxy with a supermassive, rapidly spinning black hole at its center, known as a blazar. The galaxy sits to the left of Orion's shoulder in his constellation and is about 4 billion light-years from Earth.
 
Scientists say the discovery heralds a new era of space research, allowing the use of these particles to study and observe the universe in an unprecedented way. And the finding suggests that scientists will be able to track the origin of mysterious cosmic rays for the first time.
 
"This identification launches the new field of high-energy neutrino astronomy, which we expect will yield exciting breakthroughs in our understanding of the universe and fundamental physics, including how and where these ultra-high-energy particles are produced," Doug Cowen, a founding member of the IceCube collaboration and Penn State University professor of physics and astronomy and astrophysics, said in a statement. "For 20 years, one of our dreams as a collaboration was to identify the sources of high-energy cosmic neutrinos, and it looks like we've finally done it!"
 
Blazars are a type of active galaxy with one of its jets pointing toward us. In this artistic rendering, a blazar emits both neutrinos and gamma rays could be detected by the IceCube Neutrino Observatory as well as by other telescopes on Earth and in space.
The findings were published in two studies in the journal Science on Thursday. One study includes the detection of the neutrino, and the follow-up study determined that this blazar had produced neutrinos in multiple bursts before in 2014 and 2015.
 
A combination of observations and data across the electromagnetic spectrum, provided by observatories on Earth and in space, makes this a prime example of how "multi-messenger" astronomy is helping make discoveries possible. Multi-messenger astronomy also contributed to the discovery of the neutron star collision that created light, gravitational waves and gold in October.
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The Arctic Ocean has lost 95 percent of its oldest ice — a startling sign of what’s to come

The Arctic Ocean has lost 95 percent of its oldest ice — a startling sign of what’s to come | Amazing Science | Scoop.it

Over the past three decades of global warming, the oldest and thickest ice in the Arctic has declined by a stunning 95 percent, according the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s annual Arctic Report Card.

 

The finding suggests that the sea at the top of the world has already morphed into a new and very different state, with major implications not only for creatures such as walruses and polar bears but, in the long term, perhaps for the pace of global warming itself.

 

The oldest ice can be thought of as a kind of glue that holds the Arctic together and, through its relative permanence, helps keep the Arctic cold even in long summers. “The younger the ice, the thinner the ice, the easier it is to go away,” said Don Perovich, a scientist at Dartmouth who coordinated the sea ice section of the yearly report.

 

If the Arctic begins to experience entirely ice-free summers, scientists say, the planet will warm even more, as the dark ocean water absorbs large amounts of solar heating that used to be deflected by the cover of ice. The new findings were published as climate negotiators in Poland are trying to reach a global consensus on how to address climate change.

 

In March 2018, NASA scientists with the Operation IceBridge mission, which surveys the polar regions using research aircraft, witnessed a dramatic instance of the ongoing changes. Flying over the seas north of Greenland, in a region that usually features some of the oldest, thickest ice in the Arctic, they instead saw smooth, thin strips binding together the thicker, ridged pieces.

 

“I was just shocked by how different it was,” said NASA’s Nathan Kurtz, who has flown over the area multiple times. The floating sea ice had broken up entirely the previous month — very unusual for this location — and now was feebly freezing back together again.

Scientists think a strange wind event caused the breakup in this region just a few hundred miles south of the North Pole — so it’s unclear whether it is directly linked to climate change. Still, the breakup could be just one more sign of the growing fragility of the oldest ice.

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Thousands of Unstudied Plants May Be at Risk of Extinction

Thousands of Unstudied Plants May Be at Risk of Extinction | Amazing Science | Scoop.it
Plants often get short shrift in conservation circles, but machine learning could help botanists save tens of thousands of species.

 

Pleurothallis portillae is one odd-looking orchid. Sporting a small nub of a flower nestled in a long, bulbous leaf that droops like a pair of string beans, it’s considered fashionably drab by collectors. But its true home is in the remote cloud forest of the Ecuadorian Andes—a region where, according to an algorithm, it’s most likely under threat of extinction.

 

Plants have long gotten short shrift in conservation circles. Although perhaps a fifth of the kingdom’s species are at risk, according to the UK’s Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, identifying which ones are on the brink is a somewhat anecdotal business. Less than 10 percent of plant species have been assessed by the IUCN Red List, considered the preeminent global directory of extinction threat. Comprehensive evaluations, which take time and money, end up favoring so-called “charismatic” species, the lions and polar bears that grace glossy donation mailers. That, and the sheer number of known plant species—almost 400,000 of them, spread far across the globe in hard-to-reach places, with thousands more being discovered every year—makes the whole affair a massive, underfunded game of catch-up.

 

But botanists are drowning in data that could potentially help, says Anahí Espíndola, a professor of evolutionary ecology at the University of Maryland. “We wanted to find a way to speed up the process.” In a study appearing Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, she and her co-authors use reams of data to predict the status of 150,000 plant species whose vulnerability is currently unknown.

 

Professors, curators, and citizen scientists have long gone out into the field in search of plants common and rare, returning with meticulous records of their observations that pile up in public databases. Data is available, to varying degrees, for hundreds of thousands of plants. In recent years, all that rough-and-tumble exploring has also generated millions of GPS points referring to locations where individual plants were observed.

 

Espíndola’s team found that if they crunched the numbers available for plants already listed on the IUCN Red List—data on the species’ range, location, and traits, as well as regional climate and geographic indicators—they could build a machine learning model that could predict the status of other species.

 

As of September 2016, the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) lists 116 extinct species, 132 possibly extinct species, 35 extinct in the wild species, 13 possibly extinct in the wild species, five extinct subspecies, one extinct in the wild subspecies, and four extinct varieties of plants.

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A Neuromorphic Star Is Born: The World’s Most Powerful Supercomputer

A Neuromorphic Star Is Born: The World’s Most Powerful Supercomputer | Amazing Science | Scoop.it

The human brain is a complex, organic machine comprised of electrochemical signals pulsing rapidly through a neural network highway. Its functions and mechanics have enthralled and puzzled scientists and thinkers as far back as the ancient Egyptians in 17th-century B.C. In early November, centuries of neuroscience and decades of AI computer research culminated with the world’s most powerful supercomputer being turned on for the very first time.

 

Created by the University of Manchester’s School of Computer Science, this neuromorphic machine was designed to mimic the biological processes of the human brain by utilizing:

  • Over 1 million cores
  • 7 terabytes of RAM
  • 57,000 system-in-package nodes (SiP), each containing 18 cores as well as a 128-megabyte synchronous dynamic random-access memory (SDRAM)
  • 64 kilobytes of data tightly-coupled memory (DTCM) in each core
  • 32 kilobytes of instruction tightly-coupled memory (ITCM) in each core

 

All of these elements come together to create a process similar to human brain function. Rather than transferring large amounts of data from one point to another, like a traditional computer, the supercomputer transmits billions of small bits of information to thousands of system locations at the same time.

 

This machine, which has been nicknamed SpiNNaker, standing for “Spiking Neural Network Architecture,” was designed and planned for 20 years, and was built over the course of about 10 years.

 

“SpiNNaker completely rethinks the way conventional computers work,” said Steve Furber, an ICL professor of computer engineering at the University of Manchester. “We’ve essentially created a machine that works more like a brain than a traditional computer, which is extremely exciting.”

 

SpiNNaker is expected to provide neuroscientists with valuable insight into brain mechanics, bringing about the dawn of a new era in robotics and artificial intelligence (AI). Using this advanced neuromorphic technology, engineers can create highly precise robots capable of operating advanced and complex functions.

 

Intelligent machines already play a critical role in the manufacturing industry, and in the future, advanced neuromorphic AI like this could expand the entire industry to unprecedented levels. For now, SpiNNaker’s birth signifies a new chapter in modern technology.


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Smithsonian researchers name new ocean zone: The rariphotic

Smithsonian researchers name new ocean zone: The rariphotic | Amazing Science | Scoop.it

Based on the unique fish fauna observed from a manned submersible on a southern Caribbean reef system in Curaçao, Smithsonian explorers defined a new ocean-life zone, the rariphotic, between 130 and 309 meters (about 400 to 1,000 feet) below the surface. The rariphotic occurs just below a previously defined reef zone, the mesophotic, which extends from about 40 to as deep as 150 meters (about 120-450 feet). The role of this new zone as a refuge for shallower reef fishes seeking relief from warming surface waters or deteriorating coral reefs is still unclear.

 

The initial motivation for studying deep-reef ecosystems was the declining health of shallow reefs. Many researchers wonder if deeper reef areas, sometimes known as the "coral reef twilight zone," might act as refuges for shallow-water organisms. As the Smithsonian researchers sought to answer this question, it became clear to them that scientists have only scratched the surface when it comes to understanding the biodiversity of reef fishes.

 

"It's estimated that 95 percent of the livable space on our planet is in the ocean," said Carole Baldwin, curator of fishes at the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History, lead author of the study and director of the Smithsonian's Deep Reef Observation Project (DROP). "Yet only a fraction of that space has been explored. That's understandable for areas that are thousands of miles offshore and miles deep. But tropical deep reefs are just below popular, highly studied shallow reefs--essentially our own back yards. And tropical deep reefs are not barren landscapes on the deep ocean floor: they are highly diverse ecosystems that warrant further study. We hope that by naming the deep-reef rariphotic zone, we'll draw attention to the need to continue to explore deep reefs."


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Engineers developing a HAL 9000-type AI system for monitoring planetary base stations

Engineers developing a HAL 9000-type AI system for monitoring planetary base stations | Amazing Science | Scoop.it

A team of engineers at TRACLabs Inc. in the U.S. is making inroads toward the creation of a planetary base station monitoring system similar in some respects to Hal 9000—the infamous AI system in the movie 2001: A Space Odyssey. In this case, it is called cognitive architecture for space agents (CASE) and is outlined in a Focus piece by Pete Bonasso, the primary engineer working on the project, in the journal Science Robotics.

 

Bonasso explains that he has had an interest in creating a real Hal 9000 ever since watching the movie as a college student—minus the human killing, of course. His system is designed to run a base situated on another planet, such as Mars. It is meant to take care of the more mundane, but critical tasks involved with maintaining a habitable planetary base, such as maintaining oxygen levels and taking care of waste. He notes that such a system needs to know what to do and how to do it, carrying out activities using such hardware as robot arms. To that end, CASE has been designed as a three-layered system. The first is in charge of controlling hardware, such as power systems, life-support, etc.

 

The second layer is more brainy—it is in charge of running the software that controls the hardware. The third layer is even smarter, responsible for coming up with solutions to problems as they arise—if damage occurs to a module, for example, it must be sealed off from others modules as quickly as possible. The system also has what Bonasso describes as an ontological system—its job is to be self-aware so that the system can make judgment calls when comparing data from sensors with what it has learned in the past and with information received from human occupants. To that end, the system will be expected to interact with those humans in ways similar to those portrayed in the movie.

 

Bonasso reports that he and his team have built a virtual reality prototype of a planetary base, which CASE has thus far managed to run for up to four hours. He acknowledges that a lot more work needs to be done. Luckily, they still have a lot of time, as plans for human habitation of Mars and beyond are still decades away.

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Sea levels may rise more rapidly due to Greenland's accelerating ice melt

Sea levels may rise more rapidly due to Greenland's accelerating ice melt | Amazing Science | Scoop.it

Rising sea levels could become overwhelming sooner than previously believed, according to the authors of the most comprehensive study yet of the accelerating ice melt in Greenland.

 

Run-off from this vast northern ice sheet – currently the biggest single source of meltwater adding to the volume of the world’s oceans – is 50% higher than pre-industrial levels and increasing exponentially as a result of manmade global warming, says the paper, published in Nature on Wednesday.

 

Almost all of the increase has occurred in the past two decades – a jolt upwards after several centuries of relative stability. This suggests the ice sheet becomes more sensitive as temperatures go up. “Greenland ice is melting more in recent decades than at any point in at least the last four centuries, and probably more than at any time in the last seven to eight millennia,” said the lead author Luke Trusel, of Rowan University. We demonstrate that Greenland ice is more sensitive to warming today than in the past – it responds non-linearly due to positive feedbacks inherent to the system. Warming means more today than it did even just a few decades ago.”

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Giant tortoise genomes provide insights into longevity and age-related disease

Giant tortoise genomes provide insights into longevity and age-related disease | Amazing Science | Scoop.it
The genomes of two long-lived giant tortoises, including Lonesome George, reveal candidate genes and pathways associated with their development, gigantism and longevity.

 

Lonesome George's species may have died with him in 2012, but he and other giant tortoises of the Galapagos are still providing genetic clues to individual longevity through a new study by researchers at Yale University, the University of Oviedo in Spain, the Galapagos Conservancy, and the Galapagos National Park Service.

 

Genetic analysis of DNA from Lonesome George and samples from other giant tortoises of the Galapagos—which can live more than 100 years in captivity—found they possessed a number of gene variants linked to DNA repair, immune response, and cancer suppression not possessed by shorter-lived vertebrates.

The findings were reported Dec. 3 in the journal Nature Ecology & Evolution

 

In 2010, Caccone began sequencing the whole genome of Lonesome George, the last of the species Chelonoidis abingdonii, to study evolution of the tortoise population on the Galapagos. Carlos Lopez-Otin at the University of Oviedo in Spain analyzed this data and other species of tortoises to look for gene variants associated with longevity.

 

"We had previously described nine hallmarks of aging, and after studying 500 genes on the basis of this classification, we found interesting variants potentially affecting six of those hallmarks in giant tortoises, opening new lines for aging research," Lopez-Otin said.

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Extreme winter weather in the US linked to a warming Arctic

Extreme winter weather in the US linked to a warming Arctic | Amazing Science | Scoop.it

When the Arctic is unusually warm, extreme winter weather is two to four times more likely in the eastern United States, according to new research. It’s too early to tell whether the warming Arctic is causing this severe cold spells and if so, how exactly. But the study shows how global climate change can have ripple effects at the local level, close to home.

 

Researchers analyzed a variety of atmospheric data in the Arctic, as well as how severe winter weather was in 12 cities across the US from 1950 to 2016. Since 1990, as the Arctic has been warming up and losing ice, extreme cold snaps and heavy snow in the winter have been two to four times more frequent in the eastern US and the Midwest, while in the western US, their frequency has decreased, according to a study published today in Nature Communications. The study, however, only shows there might be a correlation — not a direct causal link — between the warming Arctic and severe winters in the US. And it doesn’t show how exactly the two are connected, so it doesn’t really add much to what scientists already knew, according to several experts.

 

The Arctic is warming up at unprecedented rates, and the sea ice is melting. At the same time, extreme cold snaps and heavy snowfalls have increased in North America, Europe, and Asia. So there is a forceful debate in the climate science community about how, if at all, the changing Arctic may be driving these weather extremes in the Northern Hemisphere. It’s also unclear if the increase in extreme winter weather is just happening naturally, or because of climate change. Today’s paper doesn’t show that the Arctic is responsible, so it doesn’t put the debate to rest, some experts say.

 

“It’s not the first paper and it won’t be last to link the warming Arctic to cold winters, but I remain skeptical of that link,” says James Screen, an associate professor in climate science at the University of Exeter, who was not involved in the study. The mechanisms at play are still a mystery, and climate models don’t really support this hypothesis, he tells The Verge. “This is solely based on observations. In the real world, it’s really hard to untangle cause and effect.”

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Only 4% of the Internet is indexed by Google - Guide on how to find the Invisible Internet

Only 4% of the Internet is indexed by Google - Guide on how to find the Invisible Internet | Amazing Science | Scoop.it
Beneath the Internet you know lies the Deep Web: a world of secrets, lies and controversy. Learn more about the dark side of the 'Net and its denizens.

 

The internet has, in its storied history, been compared to many things: a river; a superhighway; and, perhaps most famously, a series of tubes. But as it turns out, the most apt comparison of all just might be an iceberg. Like the mighty floes that break off from glaciers, only 10% of the network we call “the internet” is visible to the general public. Hidden below the virtual waterline lies a tangled and secretive network known as the Deep Web. Unindexed by search engines, and accessible only with special browsers such as The Onion Router (Tor), the Deep Web is made up of peer-to-peer connections, which allow users to share files directly as well as secretly.

 

The Deep Web has a strong appeal to privacy advocates, who have taken advantage of the lack of tracking to shield their anonymity from advertisers and officials alike. Whistleblower Edward Snowden used the Deep Web to collect much of the information that carried him into a worldwide controversy, and journalists around the world are coming to rely on it as a more secure alternative to the public web when searching for sensitive or dangerous information.

 

But the secretive nature of the network has also made it a haven for criminals of various stripes, trafficking in everything from illegal drugs to stolen credit cards to child pornography. The Silk Road, an online marketplace driven by internet currency bitcoin, dominated headlines in 2013 when authorities succeeding in shutting it down.

 

The site had a reputation as the internet’s go-to destination for illicit drug sales, and its demise spawned both a crowd-sourced documentary from actor Alex Winter and a bevy of successors eager to capitalize on the fall of their better-known sibling.

 

Companies such as AT&T, eager to review, track, and control activity within its fuzzy borders, are working tirelessly to bring light to the corners of the Deep Web. Government officials and law enforcement agencies, concerned about piracy, illegal trafficking, and leaks, are in the strange position of attempting to police the same wild and wooly netherworld they rely on for their own clandestine operations. But scandals, secrets, and skulkers will always find their way to the shadowiest parts of the Web, and while the future of the Deep Web may be as murky as its labyrinthine tangles, it’s sure to remain a part of internet lore for years to come.

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Sir David Attenborough: Climate change is 'humanity's greatest threat'

Sir David Attenborough: Climate change is 'humanity's greatest threat' | Amazing Science | Scoop.it
Naturalist Sir David Attenborough says climate change is humanity's greatest threat in thousands of years.

 

The broadcaster said it could lead to the collapse of civilisations and the extinction of "much of the natural world". He was speaking at the opening ceremony of United Nations-sponsored climate talks in Katowice, Poland. The meeting is the most critical on climate change since the 2015 Paris agreement.

 

Sir David said: "Right now, we are facing a man-made disaster of global scale. Our greatest threat in thousands of years. Climate change. "If we don't take action, the collapse of our civilisations and the extinction of much of the natural world is on the horizon."

 

The naturalist is taking up the "People's Seat" at the conference, called COP24. He is supposed to act as a link between the public and policy-makers at the meeting. "The world's people have spoken. Their message is clear. Time is running out. They want you, the decision-makers, to act now," he said.

 

Speaking at the opening ceremony, Antonio Guterres, UN Secretary-General, said climate change was already "a matter of life and death" for many countries. He explained that the world is "nowhere near where it needs to be" on the transition to a low-carbon economy.

 

But the UN Secretary-General said the conference was an effort to "right the ship" and he would convene a climate summit next year to discuss next steps.

 

Meanwhile, the World Bank has announced $200 Billion in funding over five years to support countries taking action against climate change.

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Researchers create tiny droplets of early universe matter

Researchers create tiny droplets of early universe matter | Amazing Science | Scoop.it
Scientists have generated an ultra-hot state of matter called a quark gluon plasma in three shapes and sizes: circles, ellipses and triangles.

 

The study, published today in Nature Physics, stems from the work of an international team of scientists and focuses on a liquid-like state of matter called a quark gluon plasma. Physicists believe that this matter filled the entire universe during the first few microseconds after the Big Bang when the universe was still too hot for particles to come together to make atoms.

 

CU Boulder Professor Jamie Nagle and colleagues on an experiment known as PHENIX used a massive collider at Brookhaven National Laboratory in Upton, New York, to recreate that plasma. In a series of tests, the researchers smashed packets of protons and neutrons in different combinations into much bigger atomic nuclei. They discovered that, by carefully controlling conditions, they could generate droplets of quark gluon plasma that expanded to form three different geometric patterns.

 

"Our experimental result has brought us much closer to answering the question of what is the smallest amount of early universe matter that can exist," Nagle said.

 

Researchers from CU Boulder and Vanderbilt University lead the data analysis efforts for the PHENIX experiment. Scientists first started studying such matter at Brookhaven's Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider (RHIC) in 2000. They crashed together the heavy nuclei of gold atoms, generating temperatures of trillions of degrees Celsius. In the resulting boil, quarks and gluons, the subatomic particles that make up all protons and neutrons, broke free from their atomic chains and flowed almost freely.


Several years later, another group of researchers reported that they seemed to have created a quark gluon plasma not by slamming together two atoms, but by crashing together just two protons.

That was surprising because most scientists assumed that lone protons could not deliver enough energy to make anything that could flow like a fluid.

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Cholesterol traces suggest these mysterious fossils were animals, not fungi

Cholesterol traces suggest these mysterious fossils were animals, not fungi | Amazing Science | Scoop.it

Cholesterol clinched it: A group of strange Precambrian fossils are among the oldest known animals in the rock record. Organic molecules preserved with fossils of the genus Dickinsonia confirm that the creatures were animals rather than fungi or lichen, a study in the Sept. 21 Science says. Researchers led by paleontologist Ilya Bobrovskiy of Australian National University in Canberra analyzed levels of steroids in the fossils, which date to between 571 million and 541 million years ago. The team found an abundance of cholesterol that points firmly to the animal kingdom.

 

The finding “gets rid of the more outlandish hypotheses about what these objects were,” says MIT geobiologist Roger Summons, who cowrote a related commentary in the same issue of Science. “You can’t argue with chemistry.” Dickinsonia are part of the enigmatic Ediacara biota, the collective name for a burst of strange, alienlike life-forms that flourished during the Precambrian Eon. Ediacarans, originally named for Australia’s Ediacara Hills, where they were first discovered, are now found in Precambrian-aged rocks around the globe.

 

The new study was conducted on Ediacaran fossils extracted from a remote coastline in northwest Russia along the White Sea. The site is difficult to access — Bobrovskiy had to helicopter in and rappel down a cliff to collect the fossils — but the rewards are worth it, paleontologists say: The fossil-bearing rocks at the site haven’t been cooked and twisted by tectonic forces. The rocks are so pristine, in fact, that they still contain traces of soft tissue containing organic molecules, which researchers can use as biomarkers to help identify the fossils.

 

That’s particularly helpful when it comes to the Ediacaran fossils, which have proven difficult to place on the tree of life as they bear little resemblance to any known creatures.The Ediacarans were macrofossils, meaning that, at several centimeters across, they are large enough to see with the naked eye. But their strange shapes — for example, Dickinsonia resemble ribbed ovals that are symmetrical around a central axis — left scientists stumped. Most paleontologists suspected that Dickinsonia were animals. But some scientists argued they could be fungi, lichens or even giant, single-celled creatures called protists (SN: 1/26/13, p. 15).

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A Cyclic Universe? Avoidance of the Big Bang Singularity Based on a New Version of the Generalized Uncertainty Principle

A Cyclic Universe? Avoidance of the Big Bang Singularity Based on a New Version of the Generalized Uncertainty Principle | Amazing Science | Scoop.it

There are many scientific and non-scientific varieties of the answer about what came before Big Bang. In this paper, theorists investigate the effects of a new version of the generalized uncertainty principle (modified GUP) on the dynamics of the Universe. As the modified GUP will modify the relation between the entropy and area of the apparent horizon, it will also deform the Friedmann equations within Jacobson’s approach. They explicitly find these deformed Friedmann equations governing the modified GUP-corrected dynamics of such a Universe. It is shown in the paper that the modified GUP-deformed Jacobson’s approach implies an upper bound for the density of such a Universe.

 

The Big Bang singularity can therefore also be avoided using the modified GUP-corrections to horizons’ thermodynamics. In fact, the authors are able to analyze the pre Big Bang state of the Universe. Furthermore, the equations imply that the expansion of the Universe will come to a halt and then will immediately be followed by a contracting phase. When the equations are extrapolated beyond the maximum rate of contraction, a cyclic Universe scenario emerges.

 

Paper is here

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In 200 years, humans reversed a climate trend lasting 50 million years, study says

In 200 years, humans reversed a climate trend lasting 50 million years, study says | Amazing Science | Scoop.it

What do scientists see when comparing our future climate with the past? In less than 200 years, humans have reversed a multimillion-year cooling trend, new research suggests.

If global warming continues unchecked, Earth in 2030 could resemble its former self from 3 million years ago, according to a study published Monday in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences finds.
 
During that ancient time, known as the mid-Pliocene epoch, temperatures were higher by about 2 to 4 degrees Celsius (3.6 to 7.2 degrees Fahrenheit) and sea levels were higher by roughly 20 meters (almost 66 feet) than today, explained Kevin D. Burke, lead author of the study and a researcher and Ph.D. candidate at the Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
 
Tackling climate change could save millions of lives, report says. Today is "one of the most difficult scenarios we've ever found ourselves in," Burke said. "This is a very rapid period of climatic change. Looking for anything that we can do to curb those emissions is important."
 
Climate scientists say that our globe is about 1 degree Celsius hotter today than it was between 1850 and 1900 and that this is due in part to gas emissions from cars, planes and other human activities. Some gases, including carbon dioxide and methane, trap heat in the atmosphere, producing a "greenhouse effect" that makes the planet warmer.
 
The new study is basically "a similarity assessment," Burke said. "We have projections of future climate available for the year 2020, 2030 and so forth." For nearly 30 future decades, then, he and his co-authors drew future-to-past comparisons based on six reference periods.
 
The reference periods were the Historical, about mid-20th century; the Pre-Industrial, around 1850; the mid-Holocene, about 6,000 years ago; the last Interglacial Period, about 125,000 years ago; the mid-Pliocene, about 3 million years ago; and the early Eocene, about 50 million years ago.
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Next U.S. moon landing will be by private companies, not NASA

Next U.S. moon landing will be by private companies, not NASA | Amazing Science | Scoop.it

NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine announced Thursday that nine U.S. companies will compete to deliver experiments to the lunar surface. The space agency will buy the service and let private industry work out the details on getting there, he said.

 

The goal is to get small science and technology experiments to the surface of the moon as soon as possible. The first flight could be next year; 2019 marks the 50th anniversary of the first manned moon landing.

 

“We’re going at high speed,” said Thomas Zurbuchen, head of NASA’s science mission directorate, which will lead the effort.

NASA officials said the research will help get astronauts back to the moon more quickly and keep them safer once they’re there.

 

The initial deliveries likely will include radiation monitors, as well as laser reflectors for gravity and other types of measurements, according to Zurbuchen. Bridenstine said it will be up to the companies to arrange their own rocket rides. NASA will be one of multiple customers using these lunar services.

 

The announcement came just three days after NASA landed a spacecraft on Mars. NASA wants to see how it goes at the moon before committing to commercial delivery services at Mars. This new partnership is loosely modeled after NASA’s successful commercial cargo deliveries to the International Space Station, as well as the still-unproven commercial crew effort. SpaceX and Northrop Grumman, formerly Orbital ATK, have been making space station shipments since 2012. SpaceX expects to start transporting astronauts to the orbiting lab next year; so does Boeing.

 

Altogether, these Commercial Lunar Payload Services contracts have a combined value of US$2.6 billion over the next 10 years.

NASA wants lots of companies involved to encourage competition and get to the moon fast, so astronauts can benefit once an orbiting outpost is up and running near the moon.

Bridenstine expects to have humans working intermittently on the moon, along with robots and rovers, within a decade.

 

The nine companies, representing seven states, are:

  • Astrobiotic Technology Inc., Pittsburgh;
  • Deep Space Systems, Littleton, Colorado;
  • Draper, Cambridge, Massachusetts;
  • Firefly Aerospace Inc., Cedar Park, Texas;
  • Intuitive Machines, Houston;
  • Lockheed Martin, Littleton;
  • Masten Space Systems Inc., Mojave, California;
  • Moon Express, Cape Canaveral; and
  • Orbit Beyond, Edison, New Jersey.

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SUBSEA, the Systematic Underwater Biogeochemical Science and Exploration Analog Program

SUBSEA, the Systematic Underwater Biogeochemical Science and Exploration Analog Program | Amazing Science | Scoop.it

Exciting new discoveries on Ocean Worlds in our Solar System, in particular on Saturn’s moons Enceladus and Titan and Jupiter’s moon Europa, have helped bring together ocean explorers with interplanetary explorer counterparts. These scientists recognize that terrestrial features and systems on Earth—like hydrothermal vents—could help scientists understand systems that might be similar on the moons of Saturn or Jupiter. Studying these systems on our own planet might even help guide the search for life in space.

 

One result of this growing conversation between terrestrial and interplanetary ocean experts is the SUBSEA (Systematic Underwater Biogeochemical Science and Exploration Analog) Research Program, a new project that will investigate how what we know about the deep ocean can be applied to interplanetary worlds, how our ocean exploration telepresence paradigm might be adapted for use in human-led exploration of other planetary systems, and at a practical level, how ocean explorers can help NASA test instruments and systems destined for outer space in the deep ocean.

 
Now routinely used by terrestrial ocean explorers on vessels such as NOAA Ship Okeanos Explorer and Exploration Vessel Nautilus, telepresence technology uses high-bandwidth satellite connections to allow scientists to add their expertise to missions to explore the deep ocean on Earth no matter where in the world the ship, or the scientists, are located. In this photo, scientists at the University of Hawaii Exploration Command Center help guide an Okeanos dive to explore the water column near Malulu Seamount, located more than 4,000 kilometers away. SUBSEA will investigate how this telepresence paradigm might be adapted for use in human-led exploration of other planetary systems. Image courtesy of the NOAA Office of Ocean Exploration and Research. 
 
The SUBSEA Research Program is a partnership between NOAA’s Office of Ocean Exploration and Research (OER) and NASA, as well as the Ocean Exploration Trust  (OET) and Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution  (WHOI) and other academic institutions. The project blends ocean exploration with ocean worlds research to address knowledge gaps related to the origins of life and the habitability potential of other planets in our Solar System.
 
The SUBSEA team will conduct telepresence-based science to observe, gather instrument data, and collect samples from fluid venting locations at isolated seamounts in the deep ocean as analog environments to hydrothermal systems on other Ocean Worlds. The team will conduct their scientific fieldwork from the OET E/V Nautilus, which is equipped with the Hercules and Argus remotely operated vehicles (ROVs). These ROVs are controlled by (human) pilots and scientists located on board the Nautilus under low-latency feedback conditions (i.e., offering little delay). This on-ship team receives scientific support and exploration direction by a remote, distributed science team located at Exploration Command Centers (ECCs) throughout the U.S. and connected to the ship by a high-speed communications link. The primary ECC for this expedition is at the University of Rhode Island’s Inner Space Center .

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A Traversable Wormhole: Newfound Wormhole Allows Information to Escape Black Holes

A Traversable Wormhole: Newfound Wormhole Allows Information to Escape Black Holes | Amazing Science | Scoop.it

In 1985, when Carl Sagan was writing the novel Contact, he needed to quickly transport his protagonist Dr. Ellie Arroway from Earth to the star Vega. He had her enter a black hole and exit light-years away, but he didn’t know if this made any sense. The Cornell University astrophysicist and television star consulted his friend Kip Thorne, a black hole expert at the California Institute of Technology (who won a Nobel Prize earlier this month). Thorne knew that Arroway couldn’t get to Vega via a black hole, which is thought to trap and destroy anything that falls in. But it occurred to him that she might make use of another kind of hole consistent with Albert Einstein’s general theory of relativity: a tunnel or “wormhole” connecting distant locations in space-time.

 

While the simplest theoretical wormholes immediately collapse and disappear before anything can get through, Thorne wondered whether it might be possible for an “infinitely advanced” sci-fi civilization to stabilize a wormhole long enough for something or someone to traverse it. He figured out that such a civilization could in fact line the throat of a wormhole with “exotic material” that counteracts its tendency to collapse. The material would possess negative energy, which would deflect radiation and repulse space-time apart from itself. Sagan used the trick in Contact, attributing the invention of the exotic material to an earlier, lost civilization to avoid getting into particulars. Meanwhile, those particulars enthralled Thorne, his students and many other physicists, who spent years exploring traversable wormholes and their theoretical implications. They discovered that these wormholes can serve as time machines, invoking time-travel paradoxes — evidence that exotic material is forbidden in nature. 

 

Now, several decades later, a new species of traversable wormhole has emerged, free of exotic material and full of potential for helping physicists resolve a baffling paradox about black holes. This paradox is the very problem that plagued the early draft of Contact and led Thorne to contemplate traversable wormholes in the first place; namely, that things that fall into black holes seem to vanish without a trace. This total erasure of information breaks the rules of quantum mechanics, and it so puzzles experts that in recent years, some have argued that black hole interiors don’t really exist — that space and time strangely end at their horizons.

 

The flurry of findings started last year with a paper that reported the first traversable wormhole that doesn’t require the insertion of exotic material to stay open. Instead, according to Ping Gao and Daniel Jafferis of Harvard University and Aron Wall of Stanford University, the repulsive negative energy in the wormhole’s throat can be generated from the outside by a special quantum connection between the pair of black holes that form the wormhole’s two mouths. When the black holes are connected in the right way, something tossed into one will shimmy along the wormhole and, following certain events in the outside universe, exit the second. Remarkably, Gao, Jafferis and Wall noticed that their scenario is mathematically equivalent to a process called quantum teleportation, which is key to quantum cryptography and can be demonstrated in laboratory experiments.

 

 

John Preskill, a black hole and quantum gravity expert at Caltech, says the new traversable wormhole comes as a surprise, with implications for the black hole information paradox and black hole interiors. “What I really like,” he said, “is that an observer can enter the black hole and then escape to tell about what she saw.” This suggests that black hole interiors really exist, he explained, and that what goes in must come out.

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'Sun in a box' would store renewable energy for the grid

'Sun in a box' would store renewable energy for the grid | Amazing Science | Scoop.it

MIT engineers have come up with a conceptual design for a system to store renewable energy, such as solar and wind power, and deliver that energy back into an electric grid on demand. The system may be designed to power a small city not just when the sun is up or the wind is high, but around the clock.

 

The new design stores heat generated by excess electricity from solar or wind power in large tanks of white-hot molten silicon, and then converts the light from the glowing metal back into electricity when it's needed. The researchers estimate that such a system would be vastly more affordable than lithium-ion batteries, which have been proposed as a viable, though expensive, method to store renewable energy.

 

They also estimate that the system would cost about half as much as pumped hydroelectric storage—the cheapest form of grid-scale energy storage to date. "Even if we wanted to run the grid on renewables right now we couldn't, because you'd need fossil-fueled turbines to make up for the fact that the renewable supply cannot be dispatched on demand," says Asegun Henry, the Robert N. Noyce Career Development Associate Professor in the Department of Mechanical Engineering.

 

"We're developing a new technology that, if successful, would solve this most important and critical problem in energy and climate change, namely, the storage problem." Henry and his colleagues have published their design today in the journal Energy and Environmental Science.

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New discovery complicates efforts to measure universe's expansion

New discovery complicates efforts to measure universe's expansion | Amazing Science | Scoop.it
A study led by Texas Tech University shows that supersoft X-ray emissions can come from accretion as well as nuclear fusion.

 

Supersoft X-ray emission – a very strong level of the weakest X-rays – has long been considered a result of nuclear fusion on the surface of a white dwarf, a small, very dense star. But a new detection of supersoft emissions that are clearly not powered by fusion is showing scientists that fusion is not the only way such emissions occur, according to a study published today (Dec. 3, 2018) in the journal Nature Astronomy.

 

The event, ASASSN16-oh, was first noticed as a transient in the Small Magellanic Cloud by the All-Sky Automated Survey. Additional observations from NASA's Swift Observatory and the Chandra X-ray Observatory helped to verify the finding. "In the past, the supersoft sources have all been associated with nuclear fusion on the surface of white dwarfs," said lead author Tom Maccarone, a professor in the Texas Tech Department of Physics & Astronomy. "As a white dwarf captures material from a companion star, the material piles up on the surface and becomes hot, and, eventually nuclear fusion takes place, much like in a hydrogen bomb.

 

"But this emission is coming from a region smaller than the surface of the white dwarf, and we have strong arguments against any kind of explosion having taken place on the white dwarf. Specifically, there are no broad emission lines in the X-ray or optical spectra, so there cannot have been any kind of strong wind generated. In some cases, nuclear fusion can be steady on the surface of a white dwarf, but it cannot start immediately as steady fusion. There must be an explosion of some kind when the fusion starts."

 

The source of these emissions, then, is thought to be accretion – the process of accumulating matter – not fusion. The scientists believe the system consists of a highly evolved red giant star and a white dwarf with an extremely large disk of emission around it. The rate of inflow of matter through the disk is unstable, and when the material starts flowing more quickly, the brightness of the system shoots upward.

 

"What we're seeing here is a transient episode of supersoft emission, but without any of the signs that we associate with nuclear fusion," Maccarone said. "If a nova took place, we would expect to see material flowing away from the white dwarf. Here we don't. Instead, what we are seeing is hot emission from the disk that is transporting the material from the companion star to the white dwarf. The transfer of mass is happening at a higher rate than in any system we've caught in the past."

 

So what this finding shows is that there are two ways by which supersoft emission can be made: nuclear fusion and accretion.

"I am excited by this result," Maccarone said. "It was a totally new phenomenon, and any time one finds one of those, it's exciting."

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Physicists detected gravitational waves from four new black-hole mergers

Physicists detected gravitational waves from four new black-hole mergers | Amazing Science | Scoop.it
This brings the total number of events detected by LIGO and Virgo to 11.

 

At a weekend workshop in Maryland, physicists from the LIGO and Virgo collaboration reported four previously unannounced detections of gravitational waves from merging black holes, including the biggest-known black-hole collision to date, roughly 5 billion years ago. That merger resulted in a new black hole that is a whopping 80 times larger than the Sun.

 

All four are part of the first official catalog of gravitational wave events (called the Gravitational Wave Transient Catalog, or GWTC-1), listing all events detected to date. Their addition brings the total number to 11. Two scientific papers on the new findings have been posted to the arXiv preprint repository (here and here), pending publication.

 

LIGO detects gravitational waves via laser interferometry, using high-powered lasers to measure tiny changes in the distance between two objects positioned kilometers apart. (LIGO has detectors in Hanford, Washington, and in Livingston, Louisiana. A third detector in Italy, Advanced VIRGO, came online in 2016.) On September 14, 2015, at 5:51am EST, both detectors picked up signals within milliseconds of each other for the very first time—direct evidence for two black holes spiraling inward toward each other and merging in a massive collision event that sent powerful shockwaves across spacetime.

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It's Official: Elon Musk Plans to Send Humans to Mars in 2024

It's Official: Elon Musk Plans to Send Humans to Mars in 2024 | Amazing Science | Scoop.it

On the last day of the International Astronautical Congress in Adelaide, Australia, SpaceX CEO Elon Musk took the stage to talk about his company’s Big Falcon Rocket (BFR) project. He went on sharing details on how the technology will be utilized to transform long-distance travel on Earth. Musk also clarified how it could aid other off-world activities.

 

The basic concept behind the BFR program is to make a single booster and ship that could substitute the company’s Falcon 9, Falcon Heavy, and Dragon. This would let SpaceX to pour all the assets at present divided across those three crafts into the one project. Once finished, the BFR could be utilized to launch satellites and space telescopes or clear space debris. It would also be able to dock with the International Space Station (ISS) for the supply of cargo. Most extraordinarily, however, is the BFR’s potential to assist the establishment of off-world colonies.

 

Mission to Mars

The present BFR design is big enough to ship up to 100 people and sufficient equipment, which Musk thinks will be instrumental in making a base of operations on the Moon.  “By now, I mean, we should have a lunar base already” he said during his IAC presentation. “What the hell is going on?”

 

Musk’s ambitions go well beyond the Moon, however. SpaceX’s goal of journey to Mars as soon as they have the resources to do so is well known, and Musk shared images of a fully-fledged Martian city. Construction on SpaceX’s first ship able to head to Mars is projected to start soon, and Musk hopes to send a pair of cargo ships to the planet in 2022, however he confessed that this goal is somewhat “aspirational.”

 

In 2024, SpaceX would send astronauts to the Red Planet on-board two crewed BFRs. These first “settlers” would make a fuel plant that would work as the start of the Martian colony. After that, the plan is to construct multiple landing pads, then enlarge out into terraforming and the construction of an urban environment.

 

Musk’s goals are certainly daring. Though, putting humans on Mars will take some big, bold ideas, and his certainly qualify.

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All Ashkenazi Jews alive today can trace their roots to a group of just 350 people who lived 600 to 800 years ago

All Ashkenazi Jews alive today can trace their roots to a group of just 350 people who lived 600 to 800 years ago | Amazing Science | Scoop.it
The Ashkenazi Jewish (AJ) population is a genetic isolate close to European and Middle Eastern groups, with genetic diversity patterns conducive to disease mapping. A group of scientists report high-depth sequencing of 128 complete genomes of AJ controls. Compared with European samples, the AJ panel has 47% more novel variants per genome and is eightfold more effective at filtering benign variants out of AJ clinical genomes.

 

Reconstruction of recent AJ history from such segments confirms a recent bottleneck of merely ≈350 individuals. Modeling of ancient histories for AJ and European populations using their joint allele frequency spectrum determines AJ to be an even admixture of European and likely Middle Eastern origins. The split between the two ancestral populations is dated to ≈12–25,000 yrs, suggesting a predominantly Near Eastern source for the repopulation of Europe after the Last Glacial Maximum.

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Measles cases spike globally due to gaps in vaccination coverage, WHO reports

Measles cases spike globally due to gaps in vaccination coverage, WHO reports | Amazing Science | Scoop.it
Reported measles cases spiked in 2017, as multiple countries experienced severe and protracted outbreaks of the disease. This is according to a new report published today by leading health organizations.

 

Because of gaps in vaccination coverage, measles outbreaks occurred in all regions, while there were an estimated 110 000 deaths related to the disease.  Using updated disease modelling data, the report provides the most comprehensive estimates of measles trends over the last 17 years. It shows that since 2000, over 21 million lives have been saved through measles immunizations. However, reported cases increased by more than 30 percent worldwide from 2016. 

 

The Americas, the Eastern Mediterranean Region, and Europe experienced the greatest upsurges in cases in 2017, with the Western Pacific the only World Health Organization (WHO) region where measles incidence fell. “The resurgence of measles is of serious concern, with extended outbreaks occurring across regions, and particularly in countries that had achieved, or were close to achieving measles elimination,” said Dr Soumya Swaminathan, Deputy Director General for Programmes at WHO. “Without urgent efforts to increase vaccination coverage and identify populations with unacceptable levels of under-, or unimmunized children, we risk losing decades of progress in protecting children and communities against this devastating, but entirely preventable disease.”

 

Measles is a serious and highly contagious disease. It can cause debilitating or fatal complications, including encephalitis (an infection that leads to swelling of the brain), severe diarrhoea and dehydration, pneumonia, ear infections and permanent vision loss. Babies and young children with malnutrition and weak immune systems are particularly vulnerable to complications and death.

 

The disease is preventable through two doses of a safe and effective vaccine. For several years, however, global coverage with the first dose of measles vaccine has stalled at 85 percent. This is far short of the 95 percent needed to prevent outbreaks, and leaves many people, in many communities, susceptible to the disease. Second dose coverage stands at 67 percent.

 

“The increase in measles cases is deeply concerning, but not surprising,” said Dr Seth Berkley, CEO of Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance. “Complacency about the disease and the spread of falsehoods about the vaccine in Europe, a collapsing health system in Venezuela and pockets of fragility and low immunization coverage in Africa are combining to bring about a global resurgence of measles after years of progress. Existing strategies need to change: more effort needs to go into increasing routine immunization coverage and strengthening health systems. Otherwise we will continue chasing one outbreak after another.”

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