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Gift

Spying for everyone: Civilian drones take off this Christmas

Drone
© AFP Photo/Bertrand Langlois
Andrew Steele, 15, chose a drone as a Christmas present. And he's not alone. Thousands of drone fans - young and old - turned out at a recent show in Los Angeles.

While historically people have thought of drones as military aircraft or flying devices used by businesses, the growth of drones as recreational vehicles has exploded.

And the range of devices on offer - many of which could end up giftwrapped under the Christmas tree next week - is as varied as the demand for them.

"I really like how it stays static, how it stays at the same place when you move it," said the teenager, whose parents had to fork out $1,200 for his present.

The success of the quadricopter has enabled the Chinese manufacturer who makes them to multiply the number of people it employs by 100 in eight years.

Comment: It's bad enough that the government is using drones to spy on US citizens, and now our neighbors have the opportunity as well. If that is not worrying enough, operators lose control of the devices, they often crash, and other drones are able to attain heights that pose serious risks to passenger aircraft.

Bats, butterflies, roaches, mosquitoes, and birds: The coming micro-drone revolution

Cloud Lightning

Birds may detect approaching storm from 900km away by infrasound waves

© Alamy
The golden-winged warblers may have picked up infrasound from tornadoes, which travels through the ground.
A group of songbirds may have avoided a devastating storm by fleeing their US breeding grounds after detecting telltale infrasound waves.

Researchers noticed the behaviour after analysing trackers attached to the birds to study their migration patterns. They believe it is the first documented case of birds making detours to avoid destructive weather systems on the basis of infrasound.

The golden-winged warblers had just returned from South America to their breeding grounds in the mountains of Tennessee in 2013 when a massive storm was edging closer. Although the birds had just completed a migration of more than 2,500km, they still had the energy to evade the danger.

The storm, which spawned more than 80 tornadoes across the US and killed 35 people, was 900km away when the birds, apparently acting independently of one another, fled south, with one bird embarking on a 1,500km flight to Cuba before making the return trip once the storm had passed.
Binoculars

Crows join humans, apes and monkeys in exhibiting advanced rational thinking

© Lomonosov Moscow University.
Study finds crows spontaneously solve higher-order relational-matching tasks.
Crows have long been heralded for their high intelligence -- they can remember faces, use tools and communicate in sophisticated ways.

But a newly published study finds crows also have the brain power to solve higher-order, relational-matching tasks, and they can do so spontaneously. That means crows join humans, apes and monkeys in exhibiting advanced relational thinking, according to the research.

Russian researcher Anna Smirnova studies a crow making the correct selection during a relational matching trial.

"What the crows have done is a phenomenal feat," says Ed Wasserman, a psychology professor at the University of Iowa and corresponding author of the study. "That's the marvel of the results. It's been done before with apes and monkeys, but now we're dealing with a bird; but not just any bird, a bird with a brain as special to birds as the brain of an apes is special to mammals."
Comet

Comet Finlay in bright outburst, visible in small telescopes

Comet Finlay
© J. Cerny, M. Masek, K. Honkova, J. Jurysek, J. Ebr, P. Kubanek, M. Prouza, M. Jelinek
Comet Finlay on December 16th shows a bright coma and short tail. Its sudden rise to 9th magnitude was confirmed on December 18th by Australian comet observer Paul Camilleri. The moderately condensed object is about 3 arc minutes in diameter.
Short-period comet 15P/Finlay, which had been plunking along at a dim magnitude +11, has suddenly brightened in the past couple days to +8.7, bright enough to see in 10×50 or larger binoculars. Czech comet observer Jakub Cerny and his team photographed the comet on December 16th and discovered the sudden surge. Wonderful news!

While comets generally brighten as they approach the Sun and fade as they depart, any one of them can undergo a sudden outburst in brightness. You can find Finlay right now low in the southwestern sky at nightfall near the planet Mars. While outbursts are common, astronomers still aren't certain what causes them. It's thought that sub-surface ices, warmed by the comet's approach to the Sun, expand until the pressure becomes so great they shatter the ice above, sending large fragments flying and exposing fresh new ice. Sunlight gets to work vaporizing both the newly exposed vents and aerial shrapnel. Large quantities of dust trapped in the ice are released and glow brightly in the Sun's light, causing the comet to quickly brighten.

Some comets flare up dramatically. Take 29P/Schwassmann-Wachmann. Normally a dim bulb at 17th magnitude, once or twice a year it flares to magnitude 12 and occasionally 10!
Info

Think you're all European or African? Most are mixed

Colors
© ThinkStock
Many Americans who identify as European actually carry African ancestry just as many Americans who identify as African carry European ancestry, finds an extensive new genetic analysis.

DNA tells no lies, so the findings, published in the American Journal of Human Genetics, reveal just what a melting pot of different racial and ethnic groups exists in the United States.

"Our study not only reveals the historical underpinnings of regional differences in genetic ancestry, but also sheds light on the complex relationships between genetic ancestry and self-identified race and ethnicity," study author Katarzyna Bryc of 23andMe and Harvard Medical School said in a press release.

Bryc and her team studied DNA sequence variations called "single-nucleotide polymorphisms" in the genomes of more than 160,000 African Americans, Latinos and European Americans. Study participants provided saliva samples, where the DNA sequence variations were found.

The researchers found that more than 6 million Americans who self-identify as European likely carry African ancestry. As many as 5 million self-described European Americans might have at least 1 percent Native American ancestry, according to the study.
Cell Phone

How we unwittingly assist the surveillance state

surveillance
© Omar Rubio
We live in a world increasingly dominated by our personal data.

Some of those data we choose to reveal, for example, through social media, email and the billions - yes, billions - of messages, photos and Tweets we post every day.

Still other data are required to be collected by government programs that apply to travel, banking, and employment and other services provided by the private sector. All of these are subject to extensive government data collection and reporting requirements.

Many of our activities generate data that we are not even aware exist, much less that they are recorded. In 2013, the public carried 6.8 billion cell phones. They not only generate digital communications, photos and video recordings, but also constantly report the user's location to telephone service providers. Smartphone apps, too, often access location data and share them through the internet.

Comment: See also:

Sensitive personal information for Sale: "Data Brokers" know more about you than you know

Snowden says, 'Get rid of DropBox' and avoid Facebook

Info

Lobster stuns scientists by growing back four legs and both claws in a month

© SWNS
Clawdia the lobster has stunned experts by re-growing her missing limbs in just one month
When Clawdia was found by fisherman crippled and pregnant, her outlook did not look good - but she has made a remarkable recovery

A lop-sided lobster that lost four legs and both claws has stunned experts by growing them all back in just one month.

Crippled Clawdia stood little chance of survival in the wild before she was found by fishermen.

She was missing all her legs missing on one side, was pregnant, and was also missing both claws.
Horse

Domestication of horses might have had negative impacts

Scientists tracing the horse's genome have found as humans domesticated the wild horse thousands of years ago, they affected the horse's DNA.

Scientists looked at two samples from the Taymyr Peninsula in Siberia, one of which dates back some 16,000 years and the other more than 40,000 years - well before humans domesticated horses.

In their research, two groups of genes covering social behavior, learning capabilities and muscular development, among other traits, could've been key in the domestication process.

They also found that wild subspecies of the domesticated horse, such as the Przewalski's horse, aren't actually ancestors of the domesticated horse, but a sister species that developed concurrently.
Info

Meditation changes how genes are expressed - study

© Nadir Hashmi
First study to show rapid beneficial changes from meditation at the molecular level.

The health benefits of meditation are becoming well-established, but we still know little about how these effects are achieved.

A new study, though, sheds light onto the molecular changes that take place in the body as a result of meditation.

For their new study, Kaliman et al. (2014) recruited 19 experienced meditators, who each carried out an intensive 8-hour session of mindfulness meditation.

They were compared with a group of 21 others who engaged in quiet non-meditative activities for the same period of time.

Both groups gave blood samples before and after their activities.

After analysing these samples at the molecular level, they found some remarkable changes.

Amongst the group of experienced meditators, changes could be seen in the way certain important genes were expressed.

The expression of genes which are involved in inflammation, and generally in the body's stress-response, were down-regulated.

These changes were not seen in the control group.

The body's stress-response is important for all sorts of health conditions such as cancer, metabolic diseases and neuropsychological problems.

Comment: Éiriú Eolas - 'Growth of Knowledge' is excellent breathing and meditation technique. Regular application and practice with Éiriú Eolas will help detoxify your mind, body and spirit in addition to improving overall health and wellness. Learn more about the many benefits of Éiriú Eolas here.

Mars

More evidence of Solar System-wide 'Climate Change': Outgassing on Mars - Methane 'belches' detected on Red Planet

© NASA/JPL/CALTECH/MSSS
The US space agency's (Nasa) Curiosity rover has detected the intermittent "belching" of methane gas on Mars.

The robot sees very low-level amounts constantly in the background, but it also has monitored a number of short-lived spikes that are 10 times higher.

Methane on the Red Planet is intriguing because here on Earth, 95% of the gas comes from microbial organisms.


Comment: This is actually an assumption, not proven fact. Oil is also assumed to be the result of the decomposition of once-living organic matter, even though it's extracted from way below the maximum theoretical extent of fossil layers.


Researchers have hung on to the hope that the molecule's signature at Mars might also indicate a life presence.


Comment: They can 'hope' all they want, but it's a false hope. See previous comment.


The Curiosity team cannot identify the source of its methane, but the leading candidate is underground stores that are periodically disturbed.

Curiosity scientist Sushil Atreya said it was possible that so-called clathrates were involved.

"These are molecular cages of water-ice in which methane gas is trapped. From time to time, these could be destabilised, perhaps by some mechanical or thermal stress, and the methane gas would be released to find its way up through cracks or fissures in the rock to enter the atmosphere," the University of Michigan professor told BBC News.
A likely source for such mechanical stress would be 'marsquakes':

Massive 'earth'-quake detected on Mars, 23 February 2012

...although thermal stress is another possibility: maybe Mars' dormant volcanoes, vents and calderas are becoming active like they are on Earth?
This, of course, still leaves open the question of how the methane (CH4) got into the clathrate stores in the first place.

It could have come from Martian bugs; it could also have come from a natural process, such as serpentinisation, which sees methane produced when water interacts with certain rock types.

At the moment, it is all speculation. But at least Curiosity has now made the detection.

Comment: Let's get something straight here (because to listen to these scientists, you'd think nothing remarkable or out of the ordinary was going on): methane was first detected on Mars in 2005. That's just 9 years ago! Until then it was not known that methane was present on Mars at all. And now, already, large quantities are being detected in 'burps' or sudden spikes.

There has been increased methane outgassing here on Earth too recently:

Arctic Ocean leaking methane faster than anticipated
Vast methane plumes discovered escaping from Arctic seafloor north of Siberia
New climate change threat: Arctic seabed releases millions of tons of methane into atmosphere

As well as recent "increasingly stormy" conditions on Uranus, this year we have seen increased volcanic activity on Jupiters moon Io, scientists have been puzzled by the wobble of Saturn's moon Mimas and a major increase in asteroid activity has seen MIT astronomers upgrade the solar system from stable to dynamic

What is causing these recent solar system-wide 'climate changes'?

We have also seen deluges, meteor fireballs, 'thunder-snow', unseasonal tornadoes, 'super-storms' here on the BBM last month.

Could it be part of an overall 'grounding' of our solar system, caused perhaps by the close approach of the system's Twin Sun? Clearly something BIG is producing systemic effects, rather than isolated effects on individual planets.

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