Science & Technology


'Dwarf planet' Ceres' bright spots puzzle scientists

Ceres is puzzling astronomers with giant bright-white spots behaving very differently from each other in infrared light. As the enigma around the anomaly grows, NASA now says their origins and properties are very different.

The latest infrared mapping of Ceres shows a diverse mix of climatic and geological phenomena, which can only be explained once the current NASA probe, Dawn, gets closer to its target. Now, the month-old infrared photographs of bright spots, released April 13 in Vienna at a meeting of the European Geosciences Union, are leading to further speculation as to the rock's history and the presence of water on it.

On visible light images taken beforehand, the two anomalous spots appear bright white, leading to speculations about so-called cryovolcanoes. But the newly-released infrared photos show that the spots have completely differing thermal properties.

"This dwarf planet was not just an inert rock throughout its history. It was active, with processes that resulted in different materials in different regions. We are beginning to capture that diversity in our color images," Chris Russell, principal investigator for the Dawn mission, says.

And NASA's Dawn probe, which is currently about 28,000 miles (45,000km) away, proves there's more to Ceres than meets the eye.

Eye 1

Your Facebook chats are being read by CIA-backed company

© Flickr/ Robert S. Donovan
While sending a web link over Facebook Chat, a group of app developers noticed a curious amount of activity. Pulling at the thread, they discovered a mysterious company known as Recorded Future, and a potential CIA conspiracy.

Facebook Chat seems innocuous enough. So thought Bosnadev, a group of coders and bloggers, when they used the communication program to send a link. But something seemed amiss.

"During the testing of an application we've set up in a non-published area we have noticed some unusual activity," the blog reads. "The link for the app was sent via Facebook chat and afterwards comes the interesting part."

After checking the IP activity, they noticed 16 internet protocol ID tags, "lots of IPv6 for a single Facebook check."

With their interest piqued, Bosnadev ran another test, creating a fresh URL and sending it through a Facebook Chat window. Despite the fact that this new web link only existed in a single chat screen - nowhere else on the Internet - they noticed a similar amount of activity. Two IP addresses were their own, but Bosnadev had no explanation for the other 10 which appeared.

Comment: Big Brother never sleeps, and your social media accounts are never safe from the prying eyes of the CIA and NSA.


SpaceX launch successful: Dragon en route to ISS, but reusable rocket landing fails

A SpaceX Dragon capsule carrying more than two tons of supplies is on its way to the International Space Station after a successful launch from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station atop a Falcon 9 rocket.

After its 4:10 p.m. blastoff, the Falcon 9 booster flew itself from space back down to a ship stationed in the Atlantic Ocean, but hit it too hard and broke apart.

"Ascent successful," SpaceX CEO Elon Musk reported on Twitter. "Dragon enroute to Space Station. Rocket landed on droneship, but too hard for survival."

The experimental attempt to land the 14-story rocket stage on the unpiloted "drone ship," the company's second try since January, is part of SpaceX's efforts to develop reusable rockets that could lower launch costs.

Musk later added that the rocket stage appeared to have landed on the ship but then tipped over because of too much sideways motion, indicating that SpaceX came closer to success.

© Terence Horan/Marketwatch, SpaceX,
SpaceX is also continuing the attempts to achieve a controlled landing of the Falcon9 booster. All attempts so far have failed, with the booster either sinking into the ocean or undergoing what SpaceX CEO Elon Musk described as “rapid unscheduled disassembly” upon striking the landing pad.

Comment: See also:

2 + 2 = 4

How "clean" was sold to America with fake science


Listerine advertisement from 1928. The Household Magazine.
The average American's daily hygiene ritual would seem unusual—nay, obsessive—to our forebears a hundred years ago. From mouthwash to deodorant, most of our hygiene products were invented in the past century. To sell them, the advertising industry had to create pseudoscientific maladies like "bad breath" and "body odor."

Americans had to be convinced their breath was rotten and theirs armpits stank. It did not happen by accident. "Advertising and toilet soap grew up together," says Katherine Ashenburg, author of The Dirt on Clean. As advertising exploded in the early 20th century, so did our obsession with personal hygiene.

Comment: While hygiene is certainly important to body and mind as well as a show of consideration towards others, it's interesting how the ad industry preys on people's fears in order to drive consumerism.

Comet 2

New Comet: C/2015 G2 (MASTER)

CBET nr. 4092, issued on 2015, April 10, announces the discovery of a comet (magnitude ~11) on R-band images taken by P. Balanutsa et al. with the MASTER (Mobile Astronomical System of the Telescope-Robots) 0.4-m f/2.5 reflector at the South African Astronomical Observatory. The new comet has been designated C/2015 G2 (MASTER).

We performed follow-up measurements of this object, while it was still on the neocp. Stacking of 10 unfiltered exposures, 30-sec each, obtained remotely on 2015, April 08.8 from Q62 (iTelescope network - Siding Spring) through a 0.50-m f/6.8 astrograph + CCD + focal reducer, shows that this object is a comet with a very bright coma nearly 3 arcmin in diameter and a tail about 15 arcminutes long in PA 253.

Our confirmation image (click on it for a bigger version)

© Remanzacco Observatory

Eye 1

Iris scanner identifies a person 40 feet away

© Cellular Solutions
Police traffic stops are in the news again, tragically, sparking a new round of discussion on whether and how to outfit police with cameras and other technology.

For several years now, researchers at Carnegie Mellon University's CyLab Biometrics Center have been testing an iris recognition system that can be used to identify subjects at a range of up to 40 feet.

Like similar biometric technologies — fingerprint or facial recognition systems — the Carnegie Mellon project uses mathematical pattern-recognition techniques. The technology captures images from a live photographic or video feed and runs them through a database to find a potential match.


Really now! NASA promises 'definitive evidence' of alien life by 2025

© NASA/JPL-Caltech
Simulated View from Europa's Surface (Artist's Concept)
We are on the cusp of discovering alien civilizations, NASA's top scientists have said. They predict we're one generation away from finding something in our Milky Way neighborhood, which is bustling with environments conducive to life.

Making their comments at a panel discussion Tuesday, the space scientists predict that the first discoveries will come within a decade. Chief scientist Ellen Stofan believes we'll have "definitive evidence within 20 to 30 years," as "in most cases we have the technology, and we're on a path to implementing it. And so I think we're definitely on the road."

"I think we're one generation away in our solar system, where it's on an icy moon or on Mars, and one generation [away] on a planet around a nearby star," former astronaut John Grunsfeld said at the session.

NASA has made huge strides in both spotting distant worlds and analyzing their chemical composition. Stofan said: "We know where to look." Indeed, the Kepler mission has found no shortage of rocks that could support life, while icy moons in our own galaxy have long been suspected to hold incredible secrets beneath their own crust - among them Jupiter's enigmatic moons - especially Europa, where a gargantuan body of water rages beneath the thin surface and water vapors are literally sprayed 200 km upward, giving clues to life-supporting minerals beneath. This while Ganymede is thought to have more water than all of Earth's oceans combined.

Comment: While the ideals of space exploration and discovery are noble and should be well lauded and supported, one can't help but wonder how much willful ignorance or misdirection exists with NASA's announcement. After all, with the mounds and mounds of research that already exists, how difficult is it to accept that not only is there alien life in the universe other than our own, but that the E.T.s have been visiting Earth for quite a long time now.

Magic Wand

Tesla was right: Scientists wirelessly transmit electricity through the air

Scientists in Japan have successfully transmitted electric energy wirelessly through the air, proving that Nikola Tesla was onto something big.

For years debates have raged about whether or not power could be transferred through the air, and while there have been many reports of this being achieved on a small scale, there has never been a major mainstream study into the phenomenon, until now.

Scientists with the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency used microwaves to deliver electricity to a specific target 55 meters away.

"This was the first time anyone has managed to send a high output of nearly two kilowatts of electric power via microwaves to a small target, using a delicate directivity control device," a spokesman for the agency told AFP on Thursday.


50 years of DNA research turned upside down as scientists discover second programming language within genetic code

Scientists have discovered a second code hiding within DNA. This second code contains information that changes how scientists read the instructions contained in DNA and interpret mutations to make sense of health and disease.

A research team led by Dr. John Stamatoyannopoulos, University of Washington associate professor of genome sciences and of medicine, made the discovery. The findings are reported in the Dec. 13 issue of Science.

Read the research paper. Also see commentary in Science, "The Hidden Codes that Shape Protein Evolution."

The work is part of the Encyclopedia of DNA Elements Project, also known as ENCODE. The National Human Genome Research Institute funded the multi-year, international effort. ENCODE aims to discover where and how the directions for biological functions are stored in the human genome.

Comment: As the study's authors allude to, this discovery pulls the rug from under 'genetic determinism'. This means that every time a doctor has said "Sorry, but it's in your genes," he or she has only had half the answer. We may be 'hardwired' towards certain proclivities, but we also appear to have a wide range of choice as to the expression of those proclivities.

If the programming of one code is regulated by the programming of second code, and if "DNA is an incredibly powerful information storage device," then we're naturally left wondering to what extent the information - in the form of learning, diet (food, after all, is a form of 'ingesting information'), and environmental impressions - that a person consciously, or even passively, takes in during his or her lifetime, could fundamentally regulate the expression of that person's genes during his or her lifetime.

In short, we have far more latent ability to expand our free will than we realize.


A longer life may lie in number of anti-inflammatory genes

© EKS/
Why do some kinds of animals live longer than others? For mammals, part of the answer may lie in the number of anti-inflammatory genes.

From mouse to man — and across 12 other mammal species examined — researchers found that those with more copies of genes called CD33rSIGLEC, which is involved in fighting inflammation, have a longer life span.

Moreover, mice that researchers bred to have fewer copies of these genes experience premature aging and early death compared with normal mice, the study found.

"Though not quite definitive, this finding is provocative," said Dr. Ajit Varki, a professor of medicine at the University of California, San Diego School of Medicine, who co-led the study.

"As far as we know, it's the first time life span has been correlated with simple gene copy number."

Scientists report this finding today (April 7) in the online journal eLife.

Inflammation is a healthy and necessary function of a body's immune system, and is triggered when tissues are injured by bacteria, viruses, toxins or some other kind of trauma. It happens when chemicals released by the immune system to fight infection or repair tissue cause blood vessels to leak, resulting in telltale swelling and redness.

Chronic inflammation, however, is a prolonged reaction of the immune system that is damaging and life-threatening. This might be an overreaction to food proteins such as gluten, as seen in people with celiac disease; a self-destructive attack of the body's on parts, as seen in those with rheumatoid arthritis; or long-term inflammatory activity that culminates in a host of ailments, such as circulatory disease, some cancers, and Alzheimer's disease.

In this last example, chronic inflammation is seen as a hallmark of aging. Vast classes of pharmaceutical drugs to treat chronic diseases work by fighting inflammation. The Mediterranean-style diet — high in fruits, vegetables and healthy oils — is also aimed at reducing inflammation, and is thought to increase human life expectancy.