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Thu, 11 Feb 2016
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Scientists find new cause of strong earthquakes

© Christelle Wauthier/Penn State
Nyiragongo volcano (2002)
A geologic event known as diking can cause strong earthquakes -- with a magnitude between 6 and 7, according to an international research team.

Diking can occur all over the world but most often occurs in areas where the Earth's tectonic plates are moving apart, such as Iceland, Hawaii and parts of Africa in the East African Rift System. As plates spread apart, magma from beneath the Earth's surface rises into the space, forming vertical magma intrusions, known as dikes. The dike pushes on the surrounding rocks, creating strain.

"Diking is a known phenomenon, but it has not been observed by geophysical techniques often," said Christelle Wauthier, assistant professor of geosciences, Penn State who led the study. "We know it's linked with rift opening and it has implications on plate tectonics. Here, we see that it also could pose hazards to nearby communities."

The team investigated ties between two natural disasters from 2002 in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, East African Rift System. On Jan. 17, the Nyiragongo volcano erupted, killing more than 100 people and leaving more than 100,000 people homeless. Eight months later a magnitude 6.2 earthquake struck the town of Kalehe, which is 12 miles from the Nyiragongo volcano. Several people died during the Oct. 24 earthquake, and Kalehe was inundated with water from nearby Lake Kivu.

"The Kalehe earthquake was the largest recorded in the Lake Kivu area, and we wanted to find out whether it was coincidence that, eight months before the earthquake, Nyiragongo erupted," said Wauthier.

The researchers used a remote sensing technique, Interferometric Synthetic Aperture Radar, to measure changes to the Earth's surface before and after both natural disasters.

Fireball 2

NASA unsure how close enormous asteroid 2013 TX68 will come to Earth on March 5th

© AFP 2016/HO/NASA
This artist's rendition released 20 April, 2005 by NASA shows a massive asteroid belt in orbit around a star the same age and size as our Sun.
A sizable asteroid is set to rocket past Earth next month, and scientists, while confident it will not strike our planet, are nonetheless unsure how close it will actually come.

Discovered two years ago, near-Earth object 2013 TX68 is roughly the size of a basketball court; fairly small, as asteroids go. TX68 is locked in an orbit that brings it near our planet every few years.

The next transit is expected to occur March 5. How close will it come to Earth? Scientists aren't exactly sure.

"The variation in possible closest-approach distances is due to the wide range of possible trajectories for this object, since it was tracked for only a short time after discovery," NASA officials said in a statement released Wednesday.

While there's no risk of impact, the asteroid could come as close as 11,000 miles from Earth, or inside the orbit of many satellites. For comparison, the Moon is 238,900 miles from Earth.

On the other extreme end of the scale, TX68's transit could occur 9 million miles away.

Ice Cube

Researchers successfully thaw rabbit brain from cryogenic storage

A rabbit's brain has been successfully returned from long-term cryogenic storage, marking the first time a whole mammalian brain has been recovered in near-perfect condition.

It marks a significant breakthrough in the field of cryonics and boosts the prospect of one day bringing frozen human brains back to life.

Researchers from 21st Century Medicine (21CM) used a new technique called Aldehyde-stabilized cryopreservation that filled the vascular system of the rabbit brain with chemicals that would allow it to be cooled to -211 degrees Fahrenheit (-135 degrees Celsius). When it was thawed, the cell membranes, synapses, and intracellular structures remained intact.

The researchers' findings, recently published in the journal Cryobiology, were recognized by the Brain Preservation Foundation, which awarded 21CM the $26,735 Small Mammal Brain Preservation Prize.


The Russians engineer an ATV that can 'walk on water'

Russia’s SHERP ATV
Would you like to go wherever the hell you want? Using its self-inflated tires, Russia's SHERP ATV can give you that pleasure. It will climb over obstacles as tall as 27.5 inches, swim with ease, turn like a tank and look awesome in any situation for only $49,000 worth of Rubles.

The SHERP is Alexei Garagashyan's brilliant invention. It weighs just 2,866 pounds dry, so while it might only have a 44.3 horsepower 1.5 liter Kubota V1505 four-cylinder diesel linked to a five-speed manual, it will still do 28 mph on land, or 3.7 mph in water, depending on the wind. It will also crawl at up to 9.3 mph in first gear.

With its giant custom tires and the skid-steer, it can also turn in its own length, which is 11 feet. And as long as the trees ahead are at least 8.2 feet apart, this crazy two seater will find a way through them.


Dialects found to distinguish wolf species

© Time Davis/Corbis
Wolf species have distinctive howling repertoires that function like dialects, finds the biggest study ever done on canid howling.

A research team from the United States, United Kingdom, Spain and India ran more than 2,000 different recorded howls from 13 canid species and subspecies (the canid family includes wolves, jackals, and domestic dogs) through a software algorithm that boiled them down to 21 howl types (depending on pitch and other characteristics).

They found that different wolf species use the howl types in ways that are specific to them. Timber wolves, for example, use a preponderance of low, flat howls, as opposed to higher vocals used by red wolves.

The scientists said their findings could aid in conservation efforts. For example, while most of the vocal dialects they studied were distinct enough between species to prevent confusion, a few were so similar that they could help fuel interbreeding between different species.

Comment: Also see Wolves identify each other by howl


Hundreds of undiscovered galaxies found behind the Milky Way

An annotated artist's impression showing radio waves travelling from the new galaxies, then passing through the Milky Way and arriving at the Parkes radio telescope on Earth (not to scale).
Our Milky Way may be beautiful, but it sure can ruin our view of the cosmos.

Now, astronomers have just taken a peek behind the mess of stars and dust to find a veritable galactic zoo in a previously unexplored region of space. But we're not talking about just one or two galaxies; researchers have applied a new survey technique using the Australia-based Parkes radio telescope to find hundreds of undiscovered galaxies.

"The Milky Way is very beautiful of course and it's very interesting to study our own galaxy but it completely blocks out the view of the more distant galaxies behind it," said Lister Staveley-Smith, of The University of Western Australia and International Centre for Radio Astronomy Research (ICRAR).

A total of 883 galaxies have been identified within 250 million light-years from Earth, a third of which have never been seen before. They are all located in the "Zone of Avoidance", a region of space usually inaccessible to telescopes beyond the Milky Way's galactic bulge.


Mini ice age could be unleashed by a medium-sized asteroid strike

© ESA/P. Carril
Artist's illustration of asteroids headed toward Earth.
A strike by a medium-size asteroid could change Earth's climate dramatically for a few years, making life difficult for people around the world, a new study suggests.

Such an impact on land (as opposed to at sea) could cause average global temperatures to plunge to ice age levels and lead to steep drops in precipitation and plant productivity, among other effects, researchers said.

"These would not be pleasant times," Charles Bardeen, of the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colorado, said in December during a presentation at the annual fall meeting of the American Geophysical Union (AGU) in San Francisco.


Trees have social networks too

© Credit Gordon Welters for The New York Times
“When I say, ‘Trees suckle their children,’ everyone knows immediately what I mean.” PETER WOHLLEBEN
In the deep stillness of a forest in winter, the sound of footsteps on a carpet of leaves died away. Peter Wohlleben had found what he was looking for: a pair of towering beeches. "These trees are friends," he said, craning his neck to look at the leafless crowns, black against a gray sky. "You see how the thick branches point away from each other? That's so they don't block their buddy's light."

Before moving on to an elderly beech to show how trees, like people, wrinkle as they age, he added, "Sometimes, pairs like this are so interconnected at the roots that when one tree dies, the other one dies, too."


Human cognitive function may be influenced by the seasons

© Dck Clevastam/Plainpicture
Do seasons affect memory?
To everything there is a season - and your brain is no exception.

It's well known that some people report that their mood is influenced by the seasons. But can the time of year affect other cognitive functions?

To find out, Gilles Vandewalle and colleagues at the University of Liege in Belgium scanned the brains of 28 volunteers while they performed attention and working memory tests at different times of the year. To ensure the results were influenced by the seasons rather than the environmental conditions on the test day, the participants were confined to a lab for 4.5 days prior to the test, exposed to a constant light level and temperature.

Although their test scores didn't change with the seasons, activity in some brain areas showed a consistent seasonal pattern among the volunteers: brain activity peaked in the summer on the attention task and in the autumn on the memory task.


Bacteria in poop reveals how bears hibernate

© Cephas/Wikimedia Commons
Does a bear poop in the woods? The answer to such an obvious question is of course "yes." Now, bacteria in that poop is revealing how bears hibernate, BBC reports.