Science & Technology


Artificial light from iPad screens could be spoiling our sleep patterns

Artificial Light
© The Independent, UK
Using iPads at night might suppress the release of the hormone melatonin.
Reading books on an iPad and similar e-readers in the evening may disturb sleep patterns because of the type of light the device emits, scientists said.

The researchers found evidence to suggest that using iPads at night might suppress the release of the hormone melatonin which is involved in inducing sleepiness, resulting in the shifting of the normal circadian rhythm governing the body's 24-hour biological clock.

The study of 12 adults for two weeks involved comparing reading from an iPad or a printed book before bedtime. The melatonin levels of each volunteer were monitored and their sleep patterns and morning alertness were also monitored.

The participants took nearly 10 minutes longer to fall asleep and had a significantly lower amount of dream sleep after reading from a light-emitting e-reader than they did after reading from a printed book, according to the study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science.

"Our most surprising finding was that individuals using the e-reader would be more tired and take longer to become alert the next morning. This has real consequences for daytime functioning, and these effects might be worse in the real world as opposed to the controlled environment we used," said Anne-Marie Chang of Penn State University.

Spying for everyone: Civilian drones take off this Christmas

© 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.

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 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!

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

© 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

© 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


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

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.

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.

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.