Science & Technology


Remote galaxy discovered shining with infrared light equal to more than 300 trillion suns

© NASA/JPL-Caltech
Dusty 'Sunrise' at Core of Galaxy (Artist's Concept).
A remote galaxy shining brightly with infrared light equal to more than 300 trillion suns has been discovered using data from NASA's Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer, or WISE. The galaxy, which belongs to a new class of objects recently discovered by WISE -- nicknamed extremely luminous infrared galaxies, or ELIRGs -- is the most luminous galaxy found to date.

"We are looking at a very intense phase of galaxy evolution," said Chao-Wei Tsai of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, lead author of a new report appearing in the 22 May issue of The Astrophysical Journal. "This dazzling light may be from the main growth spurt in the size of the galaxy's black hole"

Professor Andrew Blain, from the University of Leicester's Department of Physics and Astronomy, has been involved with WISE since its inception in 2001, and has been responsible for examining and validating the data from the WISE telescope. He is a co-author of the new report into this discovery.

The galaxy, known as WISE J224607.57-052635.0, may have a behemoth black hole at its belly, gorging itself on gas.


Ocean's hidden world of plankton revealed in 'enormous database'

© Christian Sardet / Tara Oceans
Planktonic organisms such as these single-celled creatures are found throughout the oceans
The hidden world of the ocean's tiniest organisms has been revealed in a series of papers published in the journal Science.

An international team has been studying samples of plankton collected during a three-year global expedition.

They have so far found 35,000 species of bacteria, 5,000 new viruses and 150,000 single-celled plants and creatures.

They believe that the majority of these are new to science.

Dr Chris Bowler, from the National Centre for Scientific Research (CNRS), in Paris, told BBC News: "We have the most complete description yet of planktonic organisms to date: what's there in terms of viruses, bacteria and protozoa - we finally have a catalogue of what is present globally."

© Noan Le Bescot / Tara Oceans
This tiny crustacean was found in a sample taken in the South Pacific
Planktonic organisms are minute, but together they make up 90% of the mass of all of the marine life in the oceans.

They include viruses, bacteria, single-celled plants and creatures (protozoa).

They form the very base of the food chain, and produce - through photosynthesis - half of the oxygen we breathe.

However, until now, little has been known about this unseen ocean ecosystem.

The Tara expedition, primarily funded by the French fashion designer Agnes B, set out to change that.

© M Ormestad / Kahikai / Tara Oceans
Many of the organisms are new to science
© C Guiguand / Tara Oceans
So far the team has analysed 579 of the 35,000 samples that were collected
An international team of scientists took part in expeditions onboard the Tara schooner between 2009 and 2013.

It sailed 30,000km across the world's oceans, with researchers collecting 35,000 samples, taking them from the very top layers of the ocean down to 1,000m below the waves.

The project has cost about 10m euros.


Majority of European men descended from just 3 ancestors, study finds

© Reuters/Paul Hackett
Two-thirds of modern-day European males trace their genetic roots to just three Bronze Age forbears, who almost literally launched the "population explosion" many centuries ago, a new DNA study suggests.

Before coming to this conclusion, a research team from the University of Leicester analyzed the DNA sequences of 334 modern European men from 17 different European and Middle Eastern populations, focusing on the large portions of the Y-chromosome passed exclusively from fathers to sons.

Their findings were published in the Nature Communications.

After that they compared the DNA from each population in order to trace the key mutations in the genomes and find out when they might have occurred. Such an approach allowed the scientists to trace paternal lines down through a long period of history.

One mutation they found originated around 4,750 to 7,340 years ago and is prevalent in Norwegian and Orcadian populations. The second occurred between 3,700 and 6,500 years ago and has spread throughout Spain, Italy, France, England and Ireland. The third dated from about 3,470 to 5,070 years ago is prominent in the Sami in Lapland, Norwegians, Danes and Friesian populations in the Netherlands, as well as being found in France, Hungary, Serbia and Bavaria, the study reports.

According to the researchers, these three paternal lines account for about 63 percent of modern European men. That means that from 371.25 million males currently living in Europe around 233 million are descendants of just three men, as reported by the Daily Mail.

Those branches of the European genetic tree are fairly young, which suggests most modern populations settled in Europe only after the spread of farming during the Neolithic era, rather than during the period of hunter-gatherers moving across the continent in the Paleolithic era, as previously thought.


Andromeda and the Milky Way might collide sooner than expected

Andromeda’s halo is gargantuan. Extending for at least 2 million light years, if we could see in our night sky it would be 100 times the diameter of the Moon or 50 degrees across!
The merger of the Milky Way and Andromeda galaxy won't happen for another 4 billion years, but the recent discovery of a massive halo of hot gas around Andromeda may mean our galaxies are already touching. University of Notre Dame astrophysicist Nicholas Lehner led a team of scientists using the Hubble Space Telescope to identify an enormous halo of hot, ionized gas at least 2 million light years in diameter surrounding the galaxy.

The Andromeda Galaxy is the largest member of a ragtag collection of some 54 galaxies, including the Milky Way, called the Local Group. With a trillion stars — twice as many as the Milky Way — it shines 25% brighter and can easily be seen with the naked eye from suburban and rural skies.


Tesla's Hyperloop could revolutionize transportation

Elon Musk is at it again. Next year the construction of an innovative, ultra-speed transportation system called 'Hyperloop' will commence in central California. It is the world's first supersonic overland transport system, with the ability to reach speeds up to 800 mph. Like most other Musk-inspired creations, the Hyperloop concept seems like something straight out of the future.

"We feel now that we're at a stage where questions are answered on a theoretical level so now we're moving on to prototyping," Dirk Ahlborn, CEO of Hyperloop Transportation Technologies (HTT), told IBTimes UK.

To begin, the first 5-mile stretch Hyperloop system will begin construction in 2016 in a brand-new sustainable community called Quay Valley, located between Los Angeles and San Francisco.

"This five-mile stretch will allow us to completely test the technology, from the boarding process to the safety procedures - really everything except top speed," Ahlborn said.


Iron in the brain boosts Alzheimer's risk

© old person/iStockphoto
High levels of iron in the brain indicates you are more likely to develop Alzheimer's, say researchers.

The findings, published in in Nature Communications, suggest it might be possible to arrest the disease using drugs that remove iron from the brain.

"We think that iron is contributing to the disease progression of Alzheimer's disease," says neuroscientist Dr Scott Ayton from the University of Melbourne.

"This is strong evidence to base a clinical trial on lowering iron content in the brain to see if that would impart a cognitive benefit."

Ayton says iron was first implicated in Alzheimer's disease in the 1950s, following post mortem studies showing higher iron levels in the brains of those with the disease.

"But there has been debate for a long period of time whether this is important or whether it's just a coincidence," says Ayton.

To help settle this question, Ayton and colleagues studied the link between iron and Alzheimer's disease in three groups of people: 91 people with normal cognition; 144 people with mild cognitive impairment; and 67 people with Alzheimer's disease.

At the beginning of the study, the researchers measured the iron binding protein, ferritin, in cerebrospinal fluid that surrounds the brain, as a proxy for iron levels in the brain.

Over the next seven years they carried out regular cognitive tests and took MRI brain scans to look for degeneration in the brain.

Bizarro Earth

Giant craters found in Swiss Lake

© ETH Zurich
The "Crazy crater" is 525 feet (160 meters) wide.
Four giant craters were found by accident in the muddy floor of one of Switzerland's largest lakes, a new study reports.

Researchers surveying Lake Neuchâtel for evidence of past earthquakes spotted the craters near the lake's northwestern shore near the Jura Mountains. The biggest crater is 525 feet (160 meters) wide and almost 100 feet (30 m) deep. The pits are among the largest and deepest pockmarks ever found in Earth's lakes, the researchers said. The giant craters are similar in size to seafloor pockmarks created by methane-gas explosions. However, the researchers think that erupting groundwater excavated these "crazy craters."

"These craters are, in fact, springs," lead study author Anna Reusch, a doctoral student at the ETH Zurich Geological Institute, said in a statement.

Reusch and her co-authors found the craters at water depths of 328 feet (100 m) or more. The team was using ship-based sonar to search for sediment that had been disturbed by earthquakes.

The Swiss Alps occasionally shake from earthquakes of up to magnitude 6, studies have shown. Scientists are also investigating the risk of earthquake- and landslide-triggered tsunamis in Alpine lakes. In the past decade, researchers have discovered that tsunamis wiped out villages along the shores of both Lake Geneva and Lake Lucerne in the past 1,500 years.

But instead of ancient quake or tsunami deposits, Reusch and her colleagues stumbled upon an enormous feature they dubbed Chez-le-Bart crater ("Crazy crater"). "I never expected anything like this," Reusch said. "The craters were so interesting that we simply had to take a closer look at this phenomenon," she added.


University students design solar-powered desalination system that produces potable ocean water

© Matthew Modoono/Northeastern University.
Ryan Wasserman, E'15, tests his group's solar desalination system on a particularly sunny day on campus.
Five Northeastern University student-researchers have worked to address the worldwide water crisis, designing a solar-powered desalination system that produces potable ocean water.

They created the device for their senior capstone project, which was supervised by mechanical and industrial engineering professor Mohammad Taslim. Team members comprised Eric Anderson, Jon Moll, Dave Rapp, Murphy Rutledge, and Ryan Wasserman, all E'15.

In their project report, the students pointed to the urgent need to solve the global water shortage: Some 750 million people lack access to clean water, according to, and approximately 840,000 people die each year from a water related disease. Indeed, the water crisis represents the greatest risk facing the world today.

"We wanted to work on this project precisely because of the world's water problem," said Wasserman, who recently graduated with his Bachelor of Science in Mechanical Engineering. "Developing nations like Haiti need a cost-effective method for obtaining usable water without power input."

Cell Phone

Hacker implants NFC chip to bypass security scans and exploit Android phones

Chips in hand.
Going by hacker stereotypes, it'd be pretty easy to physically identify anyone committing an act of digital crime. A combination of pallid skin, hoody and laptop is the biggest giveaway. Such hackneyed images of hackers are, of course, evidently wrong, bordering on offensive. Real hackers penetrating business networks have the common sense to avoid cliched clothing and try to conceal their tools.

For those who can bear the pain, biohacking, where computing devices are injected under the skin, provides a novel way to acquire real stealth to sneak through both physical and digital scans. That's why US navy petty officer Seth Wahle, now an engineer at APA Wireless, implanted a chip in his hand, in between the thumb and the finger - the purlicue apparently - of his left hand. It has an NFC (Near Field Communications) antenna that pings Android phones, asking them to open a link. Once the user agrees to open that link and install a malicious file, their phone connects to a remote computer, the owner of which can carry out further exploits on that mobile device. Put simply, that Android device is compromised. In a demo for FORBES, Wahle used the Metasploit penetration testing software on his laptop to force an Android device to take a picture of his cheery visage.

Comment: Another can of cyber worms! As they say: If it is possible, it has already been done!

Biohacking or wetware hacking is the practice of engaging biology with the hacker ethic. It encompasses a wide spectrum of practices and movements one of which are the "grinders" who design and install do-it-yourself body-enhancements such as magnetic implants.

According to Wahle, he put the chip in when he was still employed by the military and it was never detected despite going through scanners every day. Imagine the currently unlimited options...and what the upcoming crack-down will impose on the public-in-general. A probing question, indeed.


Nature or nuture? Twins hold the answer

© shironosov/iStockphoto
The degree to which we are a product of our genes or the environment has been calculated by an analysis of 50 years of twin studies.

In a study published today, an international team including Australian researchers shows an almost 50-50 split in the influence of genes or the environment on the development of various human traits.

The finding, published in Nature Genetics, is based on a review of 2748 studies involving 14 million twin pairs from across 39 countries.

The twins involved in the various studies ranged in age from 18 to 64 years.

Co-first author Dr Beben Benyamin, at the Queensland Brain Institute, says it has long been established that genetics influence almost all human traits.

"But there is still some controversy and differences in terms of how much of the variation [in traits] is due to genetics and how much is due to environment," Benyamin says.

He says the team, including Dutch and American researchers, looked at all published twin studies to answer this puzzle.

Benyamin says while identical twins are genetically the same, non-identical twins share 50 per cent of their DNA.

The researchers were able to determine the contribution of genetics and the environment on the trait by measuring how similar various traits are between identical twins and non-identical twins.

"If the trait is genetic then you would expect identical twins will be more similar than the non-identical twin. The more similar an identical twin to a non-identical twin then we can infer the trait is largely due to the genetic factor," says Benyamin.