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Bug

Fossils from 460 million year old human-sized sea scorpion unearthed in Iowa

© Yale University / James Lamsdell
Earth's first big predator may have been an underwater scorpion that grew to nearly six feet in length, according to a new study.

Some 150 pieces of previously unknown fossils were recovered from the site of a meteor impact by Iowa Geological Survey geologists, under the Upper Iowa River. The creature is estimated to have lived 460 million years ago, long before the dinosaurs reigned, when Iowa was still an ocean.

First described Monday in the journal BMC Evolutionary Biology, the scorpion - named Pentecopterus decorahensis, after an ancient Greek warship - could grow to 5ft 7 inches long (170 centimeters) and had a dozen arms sprouting from its head, which it used to grab prey and push it into its mouth.

Ice Cream Bar

Ice cream resistant to the rays of the sun invented by scientists

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© Toby Melville / Reuters
Will your sundae last till Monday? Ice cream resistant to the melting rays of the sun could possibly hit the stores within the next three to five years, scientists say.

Researchers from the University of Dundee and Edinburgh believe they have found a new recipe, which should whip fans of frozen treats into a frenzy.

The new ingredient is based on a protein that binds together air, fat and water in ice cream to make it lick hot weather conditions, rendering it more immune to melting.

Besides prolonging enjoyment, the development could mean ice cream is made with fewer calories and lower levels of saturated fat. The recipe is also said to prevent ice crystals from forming - ensuring a fine and smooth texture.

Solar Flares

Study: Jet of electric current amplifies space weather at equatorial regions

© Brett A. Carter
A naturally occurring electric current, called an electrojet, flows about 60 miles (100 km) above Earth's surface along the equator.
Solar explosions can threaten power grids even in areas near the equator, places long thought safe from such disruptions from the sun, say researchers who studied a weird flow of electricity pulsing above the equatorial regions.

Solar eruptions can blast Earth with super-heated electrically charged particles. When these explosions slam into Earth's magnetosphere— the shroud of electrically charged particles around Earth held together by the planet's magnetic field — they can trigger disturbances known as geomagnetic storms.

Geomagnetic storms can generate geomagnetically induced currents — electrical currents in power lines, telecommunications cables, oil and gas pipelines, and other long wires that can damage power grids. For example, in 1989, an extreme geomagnetic storm blacked out the Canadian province of Quebec in about 90 seconds, leaving 6 million customers in the dark for nine hours, damaging transformers as far away as New Jersey, and nearly taking down U.S. power grids from the Eastern Seaboard to the Pacific Northwest.

The impacts of geomagnetic storms are strongest at high latitudes near the poles. As such, there was previously little concern that solar activity could lead to blackouts in lower latitudes near the equator.

Now, scientists find that so-called interplanetary shocks — gusts of solar wind — can trigger damaging geomagnetically induced currents even in equatorial regions.

Comment: Another indicator of increased electrical activity moving towards equatorial regions may be recent aurorae sightings.

Aurorae occur when charged solar particles reach local magnetic field lines, where they enter the planetary atmosphere and excite its atoms and molecules. As they deactivate, the particles produce light emission.

The Aurora Borealis, the so called 'Northern lights' have been observed recently heading 'South', providing a spectacle in parts of England even. While the Aurora Australis, or the 'Southern lights' have been seen further north in New Zealand than usual.

The winning Electric Universe model, and much more related information, are explained in the book Earth Changes and the Human Cosmic Connection by Pierre Lescaudron and Laura Knight-Jadczyk.


Info

Scientists track down the neural basis of multitasking

© Reuters/Kim Kyung-Hoon
What makes someone better at switching between different tasks? Looking for the mechanisms behind cognitive flexibility, researchers at the University of Pennsylvania and Germany's Central Institute of Mental Health in Mannheim and Charité University Medicine Berlin have used brain scans to shed new light on this question.

By studying networks of activity in the brain's frontal cortex, a region associated with control over thoughts and actions, the researchers have shown that the degree to which these networks reconfigure themselves while switching from task to task predicts people's cognitive flexibility.

Experiment participants who performed best while alternating between a memory test and a control test showed the most rearrangement of connections within their frontal cortices as well as the most new connections with other areas of their brains.

Comment: Also see: Study shows why some types of multitasking are more dangerous than others


Robot

Android conversationalist reassures human interviewer he will keep him in his 'human zoo'

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Androids are being developed that have an uncanny resemblance to people. A pinnacle example is an android crafted by roboticist David Hanson that resembles the famous and deceased science fiction writer Philip K. Dick. What makes android Dick so remarkable isn't so much his appearance as it is his ability to hold an intelligent conversation.

The creators of android Dick uploaded the deceased author's work onto the android's software, as well as conversations with other writers. If the android was asked a question that had been posed to the real Dick, the robot would answer the question as Dick would. The robot was also able to answer a series of complex questions. If the robot was asked a question that it was unfamiliar with, its software would attempt to answer the question using what is called "latent semantic analysis."(1)

Android Dick in conversation

Android Dick's speaking abilities were put to the test in an interview with a reporter from PBS NOVA. Android Dick's brain is comprised of a tapestry of wires that are connected to a laptop. As the conversation proceeded, Philip's facial recognition software kept track of the reporter's face. In addition, speech recognition software transcribed and sent the reporter's words to a database in order to assemble a response.

The questions posed to Dick were by no means trivial. When the reporter asked if the android could think, it responded, "A lot of humans ask me if I can make choices or if everything I do is programmed. The best way I can respond to that is to say that everything, humans, animals and robots, do is programmed to a degree." Some of the androids responses were pre-programmed, whereas others were assembled from the internet.(2)

Dick continued, "As technology improves, it is anticipated that I will be able to integrate new words that I hear online and in real time. I may not get everything right, say the wrong thing, and sometimes may not know what to say, but everyday I make progress. Pretty remarkable, huh?"(2)

Comment: Readers interested in Androids and the Turing test should check out the 2015 film, Ex Machina, the trailer below:




Solar Flares

Comet plunges into the Sun

On Friday, Aug.28th, the sun swallowed a comet. The Solar and Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO) spotted the icy visitor from the outer solar system making a headlong plunge into our star. One comet went in; none came out. Click to play the movie:


Heated by the sun at point blankrange, the comet's fragile ices vaporized, leaving at most a "rubble pile" of rock and gravel scattered along its sungrazing orbit. Any remains are invisible from Earth.

The comet, R.I.P., was probably a member of the Kreutz family. Kreutz sungrazers are fragments from the breakup of a single giant comet many centuries ago. They get their name from 19th century German astronomer Heinrich Kreutz, who studied them in detail. Several Kreutz fragments pass by the sun and disintegrate every day. Most, measuring less than a few meters across, are too small to see, but occasionally a bigger fragment like this one (~10 m to 50 m) attracts attention.

Binoculars

Underground lakes of pure water exist below Wind Cave National Park in South Dakota

© AP
This 1982 photo provided by The National Park Service shows a park employee sitting on a rock in Calcite Lake at The Wind Cave National Park in the Black Hills of South Dakota. The underground lakes, which were discovered in the 1960s, aren't home to any animal life but prominent cave microbiologist Hazel Barton has discovered there is bacteria - albeit scant - in the lakes. Barton hopes to decipher how the bacteria survives and answer questions about how it interacted before multicellular organisms came along and perhaps find new sources of antibiotics.
Hundreds of feet beneath the Black Hills, a team of scientists and researchers snake through dark, narrow and silent corridors of ancient rock to reach their goal: what is thought to be some of the purest water on Earth.

The crew of National Park Service scientists that's anchored by microbiologist Hazel Barton travels sporadically to the lowest reaches of South Dakota's Wind Cave National Park to study a series of underground lakes, which were discovered in the 1960s and aren't home to any animal life or even easily detectable microscopic organisms.

But Barton, from the University of Akron, has discovered there is bacteria—albeit scant—in the lakes. She's beginning to analyze about six years of data and hopes to decipher how the bacteria survives, answer questions about how it interacted before multicellular organisms came along and perhaps find new sources of antibiotics.

Ice Cube

Bizarre Mars crater reveals huge slab of ice at shallower depths than any seen before

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© NASA/JPL-Caltech/University of Arizona
Scientists have finally solved the mystery of Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter's puzzling discovery of a perfect, terraced, gigantic crater. And it's better than 'aliens'. For humans have just discovered water ice at much shallower depths than previously thought.

It all started with the MRO's finding of a crater that was too bizarrely shaped. A meteor impact normally results in debris flying out in different directions. Not the case here; the crater was perfectly terraced and the size of California and Texas - two of America's three biggest states - put together.

The predictable flurry of articles declaring it as a UFO landing emerged soon thereafter. But Ali Bramson of the University of Arizona's Lunar and Planetary Laboratory (LPL) dispelled the sensationalism - and offered something better: "an enormous slab of water ice, measuring 130 feet thick."

Bramson explained the initial confusion: "Craters should be bowl-shaped, but this one had terraces in the wall.

"When the crater is forming, the shock wave from an object hitting a planet's surface propagates differently depending on what substrates are beneath the area of impact," and, therefore, "If you have a weaker material in one layer, the shock wave can push out that material more easily, and the result is terracing at the interface between the weaker and stronger materials."

Telescope

Sturgeon Moon celestial phenomenon first of three consecutive supermoons occurring this year

© Mario Anzuoni / Reuters
The moon is pictured atop a downtown building in Los Angeles, California August 28, 2015.
Tonight the world has been able to observe a spectacular celestial phenomenon - the supermoon, also known as the Sturgeon Moon. It is the first of three consecutive "supermoons" occurring this year.

In fact, the term 'supermoon' is not astronomical. Scientists call this event a 'perigee moon': it takes place when the full Moon reaches the closest point to Earth on its oval orbit. This point is called perigee and it is about 50,000 km closer to our planet than the opposite side of the Moon's elliptical path - apogee.

Target

Potential Kuiper Belt flyby targeted by 'New Horizons' team

© NASA/JHUAPL/SwRI/Alex Parker
Path of NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft toward its next potential target, the Kuiper Belt object (KBO) 2014 MU69, nicknamed “PT1” (for “Potential Target 1”) by the New Horizons team. NASA must approve any New Horizons extended mission to explore a KBO.
NASA has selected the potential next destination for the New Horizons mission to visit after its historic July 14 flyby of the Pluto system. The destination is a small Kuiper Belt object (KBO) known as 2014 MU69 that orbits nearly a billion miles beyond Pluto.

This remote KBO was one of two identified as potential destinations and the one recommended to NASA by the New Horizons team. Although NASA has selected 2014 MU69 as the target, as part of its normal review process the agency will conduct a detailed assessment before officially approving the mission extension to conduct additional science.

"Even as the New Horizons spacecraft speeds away from Pluto out into the Kuiper Belt, and the data from the exciting encounter with this new world is being streamed back to Earth, we are looking outward to the next destination for this intrepid explorer," said John Grunsfeld, astronaut and chief of the NASA Science Mission Directorate at the agency headquarters in Washington. "While discussions whether to approve this extended mission will take place in the larger context of the planetary science portfolio, we expect it to be much less expensive than the prime mission while still providing new and exciting science."

Comment: 10 Reminders About the Regions Beyond Neptune
  1. The Kuiper Belt and the Oort Cloud are regions of space. The known worlds and comets in both regions are much smaller than Earth's moon.
  2. The Kuiper Belt and the Oort Cloud surround our sun, a star. The Kuiper Belt is a doughnut-shaped ring, extending just beyond the orbit of Neptune from about 30 to 55 AU. The Oort Cloud is a spherical shell, occupying space at a distance between five and 100 thousand AU.
  3. Long-period comets (which take more than 200 years to orbit the sun) come from the Oort Cloud. Short-period comets (which take less than 200 years to orbit the Sun) originate in the Kuiper Belt.
  4. There may be are hundreds of thousands of bodies larger than 100 km (62 miles) and an estimated trillion or more comets within the Kuiper Belt. The Oort Cloud may contain more than a trillion bodies.
  5. Some dwarf planets within the Kuiper Belt have thin atmospheres that collapse when their orbit carries them farthest from the sun.
  6. Several dwarf planets in the Kuiper Belt have tiny moons.
  7. The are no known rings around worlds in either region of space.
  8. The first mission to the Kuiper Belt is New Horizons. New Horizons reached Pluto in 2015.
  9. Neither region of space is capable of supporting life as we know it.
  10. Both the Kuiper Belt and the Oort Cloud are named for the astronomers who predicted their existence during the 1950s: Gerard Kuiper and Jan Oort.