Science & Technology


Dwarf planet Ceres now showing 'multiple' mysterious white spots

Animation of Ceres
Animation of photos of the asteroid Ceres taken by NASA’s Dawn spacecraft on Feb. 4, 2015 at a distance of about 90,000 miles (145,000 kilometers).
NASA's Dawn spacecraft has acquired its latest and closest-yet snapshot of the mysterious dwarf planet world Ceres. These latest images, taken on Feb. 4, from a distance of about 90,000 miles (145,000 km) clearly show craters - including a couple with central peaks - and a clearer though still ambiguous view of that wild white spot that has so many of us scratching our heads as to its nature.

Get ready to scratch some more. The mystery spot has plenty of company.

Take a look at some still images I grabbed from the video which NASA made available today. In several of the photos, the white spot clearly looks like a depression, possibly an impact site. In others, it appears more like a rise or mountaintop. But perhaps the most amazing thing is that there appear to be not one but many white dabs and splashes on Ceres' 590-mile-wide globe. I've toned the images to bring out more details:

white spot on Ceres
Here the spot appears more like a depression. Frost? Ice?

Comment: On January 13th, only one white spot was visible from NASA's Dawn spacecraft. Could these latest images of multiple 'white spots' on Ceres be an indication of increasing electrical discharges?

See also: Is Ceres turning into a comet? Solar systems biggest asteroid is spewing jets


Mind over matter? Prototype lets humans upload their mind into mechanized 'heads'

© Screenshot from YouTube user Bloomberg Business
An Artificial Intelligence pioneer is embracing the controversial idea of uploading the memories, thoughts and feelings of a living person into a computer to create a Mind Clone or "second self." The prototype for this new self is called 'Bina-48'.

Entrepreneur Martine Rothblatt has created a new robotic head that she hopes, one day in the future, humans will be able to upload their minds into. Bina-48 is named after Rothblatt's real-life wife, Bina Aspen, and serves as a proof-of-concept for the futuristic idea. The robot version is designed to carry on a conversation, with scientists hoping that these mind clones could give human owners a sort of artificial afterlife.

"I believe Mind Clones will be humanity's biggest invention. The market opportunity is limitless," Rothblatt told Bloomberg News. "Ultimately - just like we all want a smart phone, we all want a social media account - we are all going to want a Mind Clone. It will make everything in our life more useful, more valuable. It will give us twice as much time to do everything."

Crazy underwater video shows a camouflaged octopus 'decloak' before your eyes

octopus, camoflauge
© Jonathan Gordon/Youtube
A screen capture at the moment of truth reveals the hidden cephalopod
Diver Jonathan Gordon caught the stunning moment an octopus appeared seemingly out of nowhere. "I had literally no idea he was there until I was about a metre away," he writes about the moment this video was taken. Gordon writes that he was snorkeling in the Caribbean and dove to inspect the shell the octopus was apparently under, when the little guy decided to pop out and say hello, changing his colors rapidly.

Various cephalopods - including cuttlefish - can rapidly and dramatically change the color of their skin to blend in with surroundings.They have "thousands of color-changing cells called chromatophores just below the surface of the skin," according to the Smithsonian.

"A complex array of nerves and muscles controls whether the sac is expanded or contracted and, when the sac expands, the color is more visible. Besides chromatophores, some cephalopods also have iridophores and leucophores. Iridophores have stacks of reflecting plates that create iridescent greens, blues, silvers and golds, while leucophores mirror back the colors of the environment, making the animal less conspicuous."

New technique fights aging: Artificially lengthened telomeres?

© Reuters/Harrison McClary
The high vulnerability of cultured adult stem cells has posed a big problem for microbiological research. But a new technique, developed by Stanford scientists, can extend the life of cultured cells and offer clues to solving diseases and prolonging life.

The technique can quickly increase the length of human telomeres, the protective caps on the ends of chromosomes. As a result, the treated cells behave as if they are much younger and multiply with abandon in the laboratory dish - rather than stagnating and dying. Normally, telomeres shorten with each cell division, and this is the reason a cell eventually dies.

Winning: The FCC's chairman just announced strong, controversial network neutrality rules

FCC, Tom Wheeler
© Mark Wilson/Getty Images
FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler
  1. Tom Wheeler, the chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, just announced new regulations that will provide strong protections for network neutrality.
  2. The proposal makes use of a controversial legal maneuver called reclassification, which opens the door to regulating internet access as a public utility.
  3. Most Republicans oppose reclassification, and they're working on legislation that would establish limited network neutrality rules without reclassifying.
  4. The FCC is scheduled to vote on the proposal on February 26.
The politics of network neutrality have shifted dramatically

Wheeler has now chosen a legal strategy that he saw as too radical just nine months ago. His original network neutrality proposal, which he released last May, tried to protect network neutrality, the idea that all internet content should be treated equally, without treating internet access as a public utility. Critics argued that these rules were too weak, leaving a big loophole that would allow broadband providers to engage in exactly the kind of discriminatory behavior that network neutrality rules are supposed to prevent.

Network neutrality advocates wanted to regulate broadband providers as public utilities, a step known to insiders as "reclassification." They mounted a successful lobbying campaign, submitting millions of comments to the agency urging a stronger stance. They gained an important ally in November when President Barack Obama endorsed reclassification.

The growing momentum for reclassification spooked Congressional Republicans and their allies in the telecom industry. They worry that reclassification could open the internet up to intrusive regulation in the future. In January, two key Republican leaders announced plans to draft legislation that would protect network neutrality but take reclassification off the table. But so far that proposal has gotten a cold reception from Democrats, who believe they can get what they want on the issue without GOP help.

Murmuration: Huge flock of starlings perform a beautiful aerial ballet over Israel

© Flickr/ Martin Fisch
A massive flock of starlings creates beatiful moving sculptures in the sky over Israel.

This amazing nature phenomenon may resemble a locust swarm, but actually it is a huge flock of starlings - a murmuration. The impressive figures this massive swarm performs looks like a beautiful dance in the sky.


"Internet of things" and "Smart grid" trojan horse for further erosion of privacy

The "Internet of Things" (IoT) and Smart Grid technologies will together be aggressively integrated into the developed world's socioeconomic fabric with little-if-any public or governmental oversight. This is the overall opinion of a new report by the Federal Trade Commission, which has announced a series of "recommendations" to major utility companies and transnational corporations heavily invested in the IoT and Smart Grid, suggesting that such technologies should be rolled out almost entirely on the basis of "free market" principles so as not to stifle "innovation."[1]

As with the Food and Drug Administration and the Environmental Protection Agency, the FTC functions to provide the semblance of democratic governance and studied concern as it allows corporate monied interests and prerogatives to run roughshod over the body politic.

The IoT refers to all digital electronic and RFID-chipped devices wirelessly connected to the internet. The number of such items has increased dramatically since the early 2000s. In 2003 an estimated 500 million gadgets were connected, or about one for every twelve people on earth. By 2015 the number has grown 50 fold to an estimated 25 billion, or 3.5 units per person. By 2020 the IoT is expected to double the number of physical items it encompasses to 50 billion, or roughly 7 per individual.[2]

The IoT is developing in tandem with the "Smart Grid," comprised of tens of millions of wireless transceivers (a combination cellular transmitter and receiver) more commonly known as "smart meters." Unlike conventional wireless routers, smart meters are regarded as such because they are equipped to capture, store, and transmit an abundance of data on home energy usage with a degree of precision scarcely imagined by utility customers. On the contrary, energy consumers are typically appeased with persuasive promotional materials from their power company explaining how smart meter technology allows patrons to better monitor and control their energy usage.

Almost two decades ago media sociologist Rick Crawford defined Smart Grid technology as "real time residential power line surveillance" (RRPLS). These practices exhibited all the characteristics of eavesdropping and more. "Whereas primitive forms of power monitoring merely sampled one data point per month by checking the cumulative reading on the residential power meter," Crawford explains.

Comment: For further information about the health dangers of WiFi see:

WiFi to kill millions, with its effects being cumulative over generations


Russian scientists discover new "water dinosaur" remains in Ural Mountains

© East News/ CDA
The remains of a previously unknown marine reptile species have been discovered in Russia's Ural Mountains.

Scientists say the reptiles supposedly resemble the Plesiosaurs and might have lived more than 65 million years ago.

"Rather intact fragments of skeletons of earlier unseen plesiosauruses of the Polycotylus type, which lived in the late Cretaceous, have been found in a unique deposit in Russia's Orenburg region," Russian newspaper Rossiiskaya Gazeta quotes Vladimir Yefimov, the chariman of the local department of the Russian Paleontology Society as saying.

Having studied the fragments of skull, teeth, spine, shoulder and pelvic girdle, upper and lower limbs, the scientists estimated the reptiles might have been 4-7 meters long with a large head and powerful neck.
Life Preserver

Researchers discover cold plasma has ability to kill norovirus

cold plasma

Cold plasma consists of ionised gas molecules at room temperature
Norovirus, the most common cause of gastroenteritis in the world, can be killed with "cold plasma," researchers in Germany have reported.

The virus, which elicits vomiting and diarrhoea, has gained international notoriety for causing outbreaks on cruise ships.

However, such incidents represent merely a fraction of the tens of millions of cases that occur around the world each year.

The research appears in mBio journal.

Preventing norovirus outbreaks is complicated by the fact that the virus is highly resistant to several different chemical disinfectants.

Bleach, a chlorine-based solution, is currently the most effective treatment, but researchers are seeking more convenient alternatives.

One such alternative is cold plasma, also known as non-thermal plasma. This "fourth state of matter" consists of ionised gas molecules at room temperature. These ions can destroy many kinds of microbes, but their effect on viruses was less clear.

Naked Titan blasted by solar wind viewed for first time

© Illustration by A.Fazekas, SkySafari
Saturn's largest moon, Titan, looks more like Venus and Mars than astronomers ever suspected - at least when it comes to suffering a severe strike from the solar wind.

NASA's Cassini spacecraft made a flyby of Titan in December 2013 that offered a unique opportunity for scientists, in newly reported observations. For the first time, scientists caught a close glimpse of the large moon when it was outside Saturn's protective magnetic field.

The solar wind, basically fast-flowing charged particles, continually blasts out from the sun and past the entire solar system.

Earth's magnetic field shields the atmosphere from being stripped away by the solar wind. By studying the solar wind's impacts on worlds lacking a global magnetic field, like Venus, Mars, and now Titan, scientists learn about their atmospheres and how their chemistry changes under solar assault.