Science & Technology


Working in orbit: Russian cosmonauts performing spectacular spacewalk

Want proof spacemen have the most exciting jobs ever? Watch this new breathtaking GoPro video of a spacewalk by two Russian cosmonauts, including the record-breaking Gennady Padalka, outside the International Space Station (ISS).

Padalka recently set a new record of 879 cumulative days spent in space. He was accompanied by Mikhail Korniyenko on the spacewalk, which lasted for 5 hours 34 minutes in open space on August 10. The video, featuring the two busy doing space chores, outside the ISS was released by Russian Federal Space Agency Roskosmos on Saturday.

Comment: This unique job sure has some amazing views.


Strange stars' rhythmic brightness governed by the Golden Mean

© Olena Shmahalo/Quanta Magazine
A pulsating star in the constellation Lyra generates a unique fractal pattern that hints at unknown stellar processes.
Nature has revealed peculiar mathematical objects that connect order and chaos.

What struck John Learned about the blinking of KIC 5520878, a bluish-white star 16,000 light-years away, was how artificial it seemed.

Learned, a neutrino physicist at the University of Hawaii, Mānoa, has a pet theory that super-advanced alien civilizations might send messages by tickling stars with neutrino beams, eliciting Morse code-like pulses. "It's the sort of thing tenured senior professors can get away with," he said. The pulsations of KIC 5520878, recorded recently by NASA's Kepler telescope, suggested that the star might be so employed.

A "variable" star, KIC 5520878 brightens and dims in a six-hour cycle, seesawing between cool-and-clear and hot-and-opaque. Overlaying this rhythm is a second, subtler variation of unknown origin; this frequency interplays with the first to make some of the star's pulses brighter than others. In the fluctuations, Learned had identified interesting and, he thought, possibly intelligent sequences, such as prime numbers (which have been floated as a conceivable basis of extraterrestrial communication). He then found hints that the star's pulses were chaotic.

But when Learned mentioned his investigations to a colleague, William Ditto, last summer, Ditto was struck by the ratio of the two frequencies driving the star's pulsations.

"I said, 'Wait a minute, that's the golden mean.'"

This irrational number, which begins 1.618, is found in certain spirals, golden rectangles and now the relative speeds of two mysterious stellar processes. It meant that the blinking of KIC 5520878 wasn't an extraterrestrial signal, Ditto realized, but something else that had never before been found in nature: a mathematical curiosity caught halfway between order and chaos called a "strange nonchaotic attractor."

Dynamical systems — such as pendulums, the weather and variable stars — tend to fall into circumscribed patterns of behavior that are a subset of all the ways they could possibly behave. A pendulum wants to swing from side to side, for example, and the weather stays within a general realm of possibility (it will never be zero degrees in summer). Plotting these patterns creates a shape called an "attractor."

Mathematicians in the 1970s used attractors to model the behavior of chaotic systems like the weather, and they found that the future path of such a system through its attractor is extremely dependent on its exact starting point. This sensitivity to initial conditions, known as the butterfly effect, makes the behavior of chaotic systems unpredictable; you can't tell the forecast very far in advance if the flap of a butterfly's wings today can make the difference, two weeks from now, between sunshine and a hurricane. The infinitely detailed paths that most chaotic systems take through their attractors are called "fractals." Zoom in on a fractal, and new variations keep appearing, just as new outcrops appear whenever you zoom in on the craggy coastline of Great Britain. Attractors with this fractal structure are called "strange attractors."

Comment: As above, so below
  • Golden ratio discovered in a quantum world


Hinxton Group report: GM embryos 'essential'

It is "essential" that the genetic modification of human embryos is allowed, says a group of scientists, ethicists and policy experts.

A Hinxton Group report says editing the genetic code of early stage embryos is of "tremendous value" to research.

It adds although GM babies should not be allowed to be born at the moment, it may be "morally acceptable" under some circumstances in the future.

The US refuses to fund research involving the gene editing of embryos.


Living in the Matrix: Physicist finds computer code embedded in string theory

Theoretical physicist, Dr. James Gates, Jr.
The idea that we live in a holographic universe that uses a form of quantum "computer code" to create the physical reality is not a new idea. In the 1940s, some physicists suggested that we live in a "computer generated" universe. In the video at the end of this article, physicists James Gates talks about this form of computer code, which he refers to as "adinkras".

In my book titled Staradigm (published in 2011), I mentioned about this idea and roughly explained how it worked. It is great to finally hear that physicists of today are finding evidence that the Universe is a giant hologram.

Here is an excerpt from my book that explains how reality works at the fundamental levels:

Comment: See also:


First head transplant to be carried out in China in 2017: Will cost $11mn

Italian doctor Sergio Canavero, along with his Chinese colleague Ren Xiaoping, is set to conduct the world's first head transplant on a 30-year-old Russian patient suffering from a rare disease. The operation is planned for December 2017. The project was first announced in 2013, and the man who volunteered for the procedure is Russian Valery Spiridonov, who suffers from the extremely rare, progressive Werdnig-Hoffmann disease.

"Canavero initially joked it would be a Christmas present, but now this is becoming a reality. Most importantly, it will happen after the results of our tests and additional experiments being confirmed," Spiridonov told RT. Canavero explained to RT why a Chinese partner was so important to have. "China wants to do it because they want to win the Nobel prize. They want to prove themselves [as] a scientific powerhouse. So it's the new space race," the Italian surgeon said.

Comment: See also:


Microsoft is downloading Windows 10 to PCs, even if you don't "reserve" a copy

© Ars Technica UK
You might be in the process of acquiring Windows 10—whether you want the free upgrade or not. Microsoft has confirmed that it is "helping upgradable devices get ready for Windows 10 by downloading the files they need" in the event that owners decide to migrate to the new OS, even if they have heretofore passed up on "reserving" their free upgrade from Windows 7 or 8.

The issue seems to revolve around the Microsoft update KB3035583, and as such it appears to only afflict individuals who have chosen to receive automatic updates. As far as we can tell, if you have automatic updates turned off, Windows 10 won't be pre-loaded onto your PC.

According to The Inquirer, the situation was first reported by an anonymous reader who claimed to have discovered a hidden directory called $Windows.~BT on his computer, despite not opting in for a free upgrade to Windows 10. The directory weighed in at "3.5GB to 6GB," according to the reader.

"I thought Microsoft [said] this 'upgrade' was optional. If so, why is it being pushed out to so many computers where it wasn't reserved, and why does it try to install over and over again?" he told the outlet.

Fireball 5

Unique twin meteorite impacts found in Sweden

© Don Dixon/Erik Sturkell/University of Gothenburg
Illustration of a twin meteorite impact that resulted in a unique double crater in Sweden.
Twin craters in a county in Sweden have been found to be the remnants of ancient simultaneous meteorite collisions that took place about 460 million years ago, say University of Gothenburg researchers. The impacts, one very large and the other about a tenth of the size, were found in the Swedish county of Jämtland. These were not the only meteorites that landed on Earth during this time.

"Around 470 million years ago, two large asteroids collided in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter, and many fragments were thrown off in new orbits. Many of these crashed on Earth, such as these two in Jämtland," Erik Sturkell, professor in the University of Gothenburg's Department of Earth Sciences, said in a news release.

During this period, Jämtland was under about 500 meters of water in that area. The impact forced the surrounding water away for a short time, during which the craters were completely dry. Sturkell explained that when the water rushed back in, it brought meteorite fragments with it and caused large sea waves. Double impacts are very unusual, and this is the first one that has been proved to land on Earth.


Spanish patient receives the first 3D-printed rib cage

In the world's first operation of such kind, a cancer suffering patient was successfully implanted with a 3D printed titanium sternum and rib implant.

The implant was done for a Spanish patient, 54, diagnosed with a chest wall sarcoma (a form of cancer in which a tumor grows inside or around the rib cage). He needed a part of his rib cage including a sternum to be removed.

There was a risk that a traditionally manufactured implant could potentially come loose over time, increasing the risk of complications and re-operations, so the man's surgeons decided to turn to 3D printing.

The technology allows for the creation of an implant that accurately replicates the size and form of the patient' rib cage.

In order to bring their idea to life, the surgeons contacted Australian medical device company Anatomics. The Spanish team also made a high-resolution computer tomography scan to plan the surgery in details as to allow Anatomics to create an accurate implant that would match the removed part.

The details of the joint Spanish-Australian project initiated by Spanish surgeons were disclosed in a press-release by the office of the Australian science and industry minister, Ian Macfarlane, on Friday.


Pakistan: Building the world's largest solar farm

Pakistan putting the sun to work.
China is helping Pakistan build the largest solar farm in the world. The Chinese company Xinjiang SunOasis took only three months to install a 100-Megawatt (MW), 400,000-panel pilot power project—marking the first solar power plant in Pakistan. The plant started selling electricity to the grid last month, according to China Dialogue. When complete in 2017, the solar farm could have 5.2 million photovoltaic cells, producing as much as 1,000 MW of electricity.

The Quaid-e-Azam Solar Power Park is a $130 million project on nearly 500 acres of land in the Cholistan desert in Punjab. And it's just the first part of a larger project, the $46 billion China-Pakistan Economic Corridor. When the entire project is complete in 2017, the site could have 5.2 million photovoltaic cells, "producing as much as 1,000 MW of electricity—equivalent to an average sized coal-fired power station—and enough to power about 320,000 households," says China Dialogue.

Comment: See also China's growing stake in Pakistan

Arrow Up

Glimmer of hope for honeybee population as U.S. court cancels approval for sulfoxaflor insecticide

A bee collects nectar from a flower in a garden in Pontevedra. Photograph: Miguel Vidal/Reuters
A U.S. appeals court ruled on Thursday that federal regulators erred in allowing an insecticide developed by Dow AgroSciences onto the market, canceling its approval and giving environmentalists a major victory.

The ruling by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, in San Francisco, is significant for commercial beekeepers and others who say a dramatic decline in bee colonies needed to pollinate key food crops is tied to widespread use of a class of insecticides known as neonicotinoids. Critics say the Environmental Protection Agency is failing to evaluate the risks thoroughly.

The lawsuit was filed in 2013 against the EPA by a number of organizations representing the honey and honey beekeeping industry. The groups specifically challenged EPA approval of insecticides containing sulfoxaflor, saying studies have shown they are highly toxic to honey bees.

A large and growing body of science has attributed alarming bee declines in recent years to several key factors, including exposure to the world's most widely used class of insecticides, neonicotinoids. In 2013, the European Union banned the three most widely used neonicotinoids based on the weight of scientific evidence indicating that these pesticides can kill bees outright and make them more vulnerable to pests, pathogens and other stressors. However, these pesticides are still widely used in the U.S. despite massive bee losses that threaten vital food crops, from almonds in California to apples in Washington.

Beekeepers report losing 42.1 percent of the total number of colonies managed over the last year