Science & Technology


New research indicates Popigai, Chesapeake Bay craters created by separate asteroids

Sometime between the demise of the dinosaurs and the rise of primates, Earth suffered a one-two punch from two unrelated asteroids. The double whammy could signify chaos in the inner solar system, triggering a cascade of events that perhaps plunged Earth into the recent ice age.

The impacts that made the Popigai crater in Siberia and the Chesapeake Bay crater on the US East Coast were two of the largest asteroid strikes since the one that killed the dinosaurs, so big that their dust left thin layers of debris all over the globe.

The depth of debris layers shows that the asteroids struck in quick succession - within 20,000 years of each other, around 36 million years ago. A Popagai-sized impact happens just once every 20 million years. So the thinking was that the two rocks were fragments of one larger asteroid.

But when Birger Schmitz of Lund University in Sweden examined sediment from a site in central Italy containing debris from both impacts, he found two distinct types of meteoritic grains. Those from the part of the deposit associated with Popigai were rich in iron; those from the part associated with Chesapeake Bay were iron-poor. So the pair can't be explained by a single body breakup - they must be from two separate asteroids (Earth and Planetary Science Letters,

But how could that happen? One explanation is that chaos in the inner solar system disturbed asteroids' orbits, sending several Earthwards.

It's even possible that a change in Earth's own orbit sent the asteroids on their paths. Such a shift might explain why Earth entered an ice age around 35 million years ago: a new orbit meant less energy from the sun.

Comment: Russia's Popigai meteor crash linked to mass extinction


Alarm on ISS: US computers fail! Russian computers to the rescue!

© Wikimedia Commons
The International Space Station. Soon to be off-limits to the United States?
The crew of the International Space Station were put on alert briefly over a computer failure in the US segment. It took efforts by the spacemen, as well Russian and American ground control, to set things straight.

The glitch occurred early Saturday morning. The crew were woken up by an alarm signal.

"There was a computer malfunction in the American segment of the ISS," Russian space agency Roscosmos' spokesman Igor Burenkov told the TASS news agency. "The Russian and US ground controls acted together quickly. Besides, Russian cosmonauts Gennady Padalka and Mikhail Kornienko helped their American crewmate Scott Kelly to restore the computer in the American segment."

After analyzing the situation, specialists took the decision to reroute the US computer's lines to back-up Russian ones.

Comment: An awful lot of electrical malfunctions are happening in space :
A test spacecraft for Europe's future satellite-navigation system has been rocked by a surge of space radiation.
A telemetry failure 25 minutes before the scheduled docking prompted last week's unscheduled flyby.


Titan: Saturn's moon has polar winds, just like Earth

In our solar system, the objects with rainfall, rivers and oceans can be counted on two fingers: Earth, and Saturn's moon Titan. Both also share a thick atmosphere, rocky ground and plate tectonics, and now, they have one more thing in common: polar wind that pulls gases from their atmospheres right out into space.

Saturn's largest moon, Titan, is the first known planetary body besides Earth to have such a peculiar polar wind. NASA's Cassini orbiter, which has been investigating Saturn since 2004, measured evidence of the effect as it flew through Titan's atmosphere and magnetic tail over the course of 23 flybys. Cassini's Plasma Spectrometer (CAPS) caught the escaping particles red-handed by the charges they gave off in their flight.

"Titan's atmosphere is made up mainly of nitrogen and methane, with 50 percent higher pressure at its surface than on Earth," Andrew Coates, of University College London Mullard Space Science Laboratory, who led the study, said in a statement. "Data from CAPS proved a few years ago that the top of Titan's atmosphere is losing about seven tonnes of hydrocarbons and nitriles every day, but didn't explain why this was happening. Our new study provides evidence for why this is happening."

That evidence came in the form of electrons with a specific energy — 24.1 electron volts — that the researchers knew would have come from a particle's interaction with light.

Comment: It turns out that Titan's seas and lakes hold an amazing treasure:
Rather than water, the seas and lakes are however made up of liquid ethane, methane, and propane, and are thought to hold hundreds of times more natural gas and other hydrocarbons than the entire known oil and natural gas reserves on Earth.

Original article:
'Magic island' appears out of nowhere on Titan, Saturn's biggest moon, then quickly disappears

Cloud Lightning

Researchers discover way to guide electric discharges through use of lasers

Lightning dart across the sky in a flash. And even though we can use lightning rods to increase the probability of it striking at a specific location, its exact path remains unpredictable. At a smaller scale, discharges between two electrodes behave in the same manner, streaking through space to create electric arcs where only the start and end points are fixed.

How then can we control the current so that it follows a predetermined path? Professor Roberto Morandotti and his colleagues have discovered a way to guide electric discharges—and even steer them around obstacles—through the clever use of lasers. This scientific breakthrough was published on June 19, 2015, in Science Advances, the new open-access journal from the prestigious editors of the international journal Science.


Got ink? FBI researching biometric tattoo identification

© REUTERS / Ronen Zvulun
Tattoos might be the next biometric frontier, with one in five Americans sporting ink these days. The FBI is partnering with academia and private firms to develop a computer program that could help police identify people based on their body ink.

Matching tattoos with the government database could help officials identify victims of natural disasters, such as earthquakes or tsunamis. However, the government's primary interest is they believe matching the tattoos into a computer system, could help to catch more criminals, as they have more body ink than the general population, according to computer scientist Mei Ngan.

Ngan works at the National Institute for Standards and Technology (NIST), a branch of the Department of Commerce that teamed up with the FBI to organize a "challenge" workshop. This gave an opportunity to universities and corporations to show off the results of their research into tattoo-matching technology.


The developing relationship between psychiatry and electrophysiology

Almost 100 years since the recording of the first human electroencephalogram, Dr. Andrew F. Leuchter, Deputy Editor of new journal Neuropsychiatric Electrophysiology, describes the growth of knowledge about how electrophysiologic techniques can enhance treatment of neuropsychiatric illnesses.

© Wikimedia Commons
Connecting electrophysiologic techniques with psychiatric disorders.
We are approaching the 100th anniversary of the demonstration that the brain is an oscillatory organ, and the first recording of a human electroencephalogram (EEG). German psychiatrist Hans Berger was a keen observer who recognized that the first oscillations he detected (eponymously named 'Berger waves', and later 'alpha waves') were reactive to the stimulation of the patient, and sensitive to the presence of illnesses such as dementia.

The enthusiasm generated by Berger's discovery soon gave way to skepticism: his interest in cerebral energetics and psychic phenomena led him to speculate about using EEG to quantify the energy of a human thought, and transmitting thoughts from one individual to another.


Dramatic increase in earthquakes in central and eastern U.S. due to oil industry's high-rate injection wells

© Bill Ellsworth, USGS
A new study ties high-rate injection wells like this salt water disposal well in Colorado to enormous earthquake increase.
A dramatic increase in the rate of earthquakes in the central and eastern U.S. since 2009 is associated with fluid injection wells used in oil and gas development, says a new study by the University of Colorado Boulder and the U.S. Geological Survey.

The number of earthquakes associated with injection wells has skyrocketed from a handful per year in the 1970s to more than 650 in 2014, according to CU-Boulder doctoral student Matthew Weingarten, who led the study. The increase included several damaging quakes in 2011 and 2012 ranging between magnitudes 4.7 and 5.6 in Prague, Oklahoma; Trinidad, Colorado; Timpson, Texas; and Guy, Arkansas.

"This is the first study to look at correlations between injection wells and earthquakes on a broad, nearly national scale," said Weingarten of CU-Boulder's geological sciences department. "We saw an enormous increase in earthquakes associated with these high-rate injection wells, especially since 2009, and we think the evidence is convincing that the earthquakes we are seeing near injection sites are induced by oil and gas activity."



Russia wants to see smaller objects in space: new satellites under construction

© EngineeringRussia
The Russian Defense Ministry will construct more than ten complexes of new-generation space surveillance systems, increasing the precision of space observation. This would "reduce the minimum size of space objects detected by 2-3 times," the press release said. Roscosmos plans to launch more satellites and set up global imaging center to become a major player in Earth remote sensing services and meet commercial orders for imagery from foreign states and private companies. The facility will bring together all Russia's satellite imaging equipment for taking pictures of the Earth and aims to have 20 satellites at its disposal by 2025.

Comment: Is Russia expecting trouble in Kazakhstan? A number of earthquakes already hit the region: Kazakhstan also experienced cases of increased animal deaths:


Bionic ear could harness brain's 'octopus cells' to improve sound

© shironosov/iStockphoto
People who use cochlear implants may one day be able to better understand speech against a noisy background thanks to a new Australian discovery.

Biomedical engineer Professor David Grayden, of the University of Melbourne, and colleagues, have identified how the brain uses neurones called 'octopus cells' to pick up the unique rhythm of someone's speech.

The findings are published in a recent issue of PLOS ONE.

One of the biggest challenges for people who use a cochlear implant (also called a bionic ear) is picking out particular speech in the presence of background noise, especially in a room full of other people talking.

"The worst situation is what's called the 'cocktail party situation'," says Grayden.

Current cochlear implants deal with this problem by using directional microphones pointing to the front of the head.

Even then, however, the target speech needs to be 10 to 15 decibels louder than the background sounds in order to be heard properly, says Grayden.

Grayden and colleagues figured that if they could work out how the brain manages this challenge, they could pave the way for improving the performance of bionic ears.


Scientists discover traces of methane in Mars meteorites

© Flickr/ NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center
An international team of researchers discovered a possible clue in the search for life on Mars: traces of methane in Martian meteorites, which could be a possible food source for lifeforms on the Red Planet.

Scottish and Canadian scientists found various levels of methane in each of the eight samples of Martian volcanic rock they examined, reported. Basic forms of life beneath Mars' surface could use the gas as a food source, much like microbes do on Earth.

Other researchers will be eager to replicate the findings using different measurement tools and techniques, according to co-author Sean McMahon, a Yale University postdoctoral associate.

"Our findings will likely be used by astrobiologists in models and experiments aimed at understanding whether life could survive below the surface of Mars today," McMahon was quoted as saying by