Science & Technology


Falling energy levels in galaxies mean the Universe is slowly dying, say astronomers

© The Independent, UK
'The universe has basically sat down on the sofa, pulled up a blanket and is about to nod off for an eternal doze'.
The Universe is slowly dying according to astronomers who have made a study of the fall in energy levels resulting from the fusion of matter taking place in the nuclear furnaces of the stars of more than 200,000 galaxies.

A wide-spectrum survey of the galaxies has revealed the precise levels of energy generated within an immense segment of space and found that it is only half of what it was 2bn years ago - and that it is continuing to fade.

Previous work had already discovered that the conversion of matter to energy in the cosmos was declining but this is the most detailed survey to date of the sky across a wide range of light wavelengths, astronomers said.

Researchers from the International Centre for Radio Astronomy Research (ICRAR) in Western Australia used seven of the world's most powerful telescopes to observe galaxies at 21 different wavelengths of light, from the far ultraviolet to the far infrared - the most comprehensive audit of the energy output of a nearby part of the Universe.

Initial observations were conducted using the Anglo-Australian Telescope in New South Wales and supporting observations were made by two orbiting space telescopes operated by NASA and another belonging to the European Space Agency, scientists said. The research is part of the Galaxy and Mass Assembly (Gama) project, the largest multi-wavelength survey of space.


New eyewear protects users from undesired facial recognition technology

© National Institute of Informatics / Facebook
Japanese scientists have developed a new pair of shades which protect users from undesired and secretive facial recognition technologies, felt by many to infringe on privacy. Next year one can 'hide' from Big Brother's watchful eye for just $240.

The new "Privacy Visor" developed by Japan's National Institute of Informatics (NII) won't make you invisible but it, will certainly keep you anonymous and protected from automatic facial recognition techniques for the time being, according to its creators.

The trick lies in a series of crafted lenses that reflect, refract and absorb light in different directions and from different angles. The technology renders one's face nearly unrecognizable to the face-detection software available on the market today.

"The Privacy Visor is the world's first product with this technology," said Professor Isao Echizen, who led the research. "We are often told not to unveil our personal information to others, but our faces are also a type of an ID. There should be a way to protect that."

Eye 1

More Facebook privacy violations: Scanning program monitors chats for criminal activity

© Minyanville
Facebook has a new little-known software that monitors your profile chat and pictures for criminal activity. The software will proceed to alert an employee at the company who will then decide whether to call authorities or not.

The software will monitor individuals who have a 'loose' relationship on social media networks, according to an interview with Facebook Chief Security Officer, Joe Sullivan.

Reuters interview with the security officer explains that Facebook's software focuses on conversations between members who have a loose relationship on the social network. For example, if two users aren't friends, only recently became friends, have no mutual friends, interact with each other very little, have a significant age difference, and/or are located far from each other, the tool pays particular attention.

Comment: If you desire private communications, don't use Facebook.


Astronomers discover another planet that has two suns in its sky

NASA's planet-hunting Kepler spacecraft operating in a new mission profile called K2. Credit: NASA Ames/JPL-Caltech/T Pyle
Astronomers at the 29th International Astronomical Union General Assembly will announce on August 14 the discovery of a new transiting "circumbinary" planet, bringing the number of such known planets into double digits. A circumbinary planet orbits two stars, and like the fictional planet "Tatooine" from Star Wars, this planet has two suns in its sky. The discovery marks an important milestone and comes only four years after the first Kepler circumbinary planet was detected. Once thought to be rare or even impossible, these ten discoveries confirm that such planets are common in our galaxy. The research was recently published in the Astrophysical Journal.

The new planet, known as Kepler-453 b, also presented astronomers with a surprising twist—the tilt of the orbit of the planet rapidly changes, making transits visible only 9 percent of the time. "The detection was a lucky catch for Kepler," said William Welsh, professor of astronomy at San Diego State University and lead author of the study. "Most of the time, transits would not be visible from Earth's vantage point." The change of orientation of the planet's orbital plane, known as precession, brought it into proper alignment halfway through the space telescope's lifetime, allowing three transits to be observed before the end of the mission. "The low probability for witnessing transits means that for every system like Kepler-453 we see, there are likely to be 11 times as many that we don't see," added co-author Jerome Orosz, also a professor of astronomy at San Diego State University. The precession period is estimated to be approximately 103 years. The next set of transits won't be visible again until the year 2066.


Predator or prey? The shape of animals' eyes holds the key, study reveals

© The Independent, UK
The eyes might just be a window into an animal's soul.
It is often said that the eyes are a window to the soul and now research suggests that their shape can be used to distinguish between predator and prey in the animal kingdom.

A study by the University of California and Durham University found that animals with pupils shaped like vertical slits are more likely to be ambush-predator species such as cats and crocodiles.

Meanwhile, plant-eating "prey" species such as sheep and goats tend to have horizontal, elongated "letterbox" pupils. And circular pupils are linked to "active foragers" - animals that chase down their prey rather than creeping up and ambushing them.

The analysis of 214 species, which appears in the journal Science Advances, suggests that there are good evolutionary reasons for these differing optical designs.

Tests showed that eyes with horizontal-slit pupils offered an expanded field of view. Located on each side of the prey animal's head, they provide a panoramic visual display that improves its chance of spotting approaching danger.

The slits also have the added advantage of limiting the amount of dazzling light from the sun, making it easier to see the ground.

"The first key visual requirement for these animals is to detect approaching predators, which usually come on the ground," said the report's lead scientist, Professor Martin Banks of the University of California at Berkeley. "They need to see panoramically on the ground with minimal blind spots. Once they do detect a predator, they need to see where they are running. They have to jump over things."

The research found that vertical slits, meanwhile, give the predator the improved depth of field and the ability to judge distances that helps them secure their prey.

2 + 2 = 4

Researchers propose new models to predict financial crises

© Daniel Tenerife/Wikipedia
Social network diagram
Researchers have proposed a model to predict financial crises using a multiplex network model in which debts with different priorities are mutually held by banks. Their results have been published in Physics.

Although much research has been conducted on the risk of financial markets since the bankruptcy of Lehman Brothers in 2008, most studies have adopted the information-cascade model, a simple model of information transmission through a network. However, a risk transmission model via more complicated structures is necessary because a real financial market has a multitude of overlapping transactions.

When a financial institution goes bankrupt, creditors with high-priority bonds (called senior bonds) can be fully repaid from the institution's remaining assets, while lower-priority creditors (those with junior bonds) cannot. In the traditional financial crisis model, it has been unclear how the difference in non-repayment risk due to debt priorities affects systemic risk.

Comment: Also see "The Network of Global Corporate Control":

The structure of the control network of transnational corporations affects global market competition and financial stability. So far, only small national samples were studied and there was no appropriate methodology to assess control globally. We present the first investigation of the architecture of the international ownership network, along with the computation of the control held by each global player. We find that transnational corporations form a giant bow-tie structure and that a large portion of control flows to a small tightly-knit core of financial institutions. This core can be seen as an economic "super-entity" that raises new important issues both for researchers and policy makers.

Cloud Lightning

Lightning can alter the atomic structure of rocks: Just like meteor impacts

A powerful lightning strike can create the kind of massive pressure needed to create shocked lamellae, atomic structures that were previously thought to result from a meteor impact, or a nuclear explosion.

Such structures, which form under an estimated pressure of at least 10 gigapascals and lack of hot temperature, were first discovered when scientists studied blast sites of underground nuclear tests. Then it turned out that they are encountered worldwide in craters left by meteor impacts. Volcanoes cannot produce such pressure, so geologists long considered the presence of shocked quartz or other minerals as good evidence pointing to the impact origin of a crater.

But according to a new study published in the journal American Mineralogist, bolts of lightning can induce the type of changes in atomic structure that create shocked minerals. "I think the most exciting thing about this study is just to see what lightning can do," co-author Reto Gieré of the University of Pennsylvania told PhysOrg. "To see that lightning literally melts the surface of a rock and changes crystal structures is fascinating."

Gieré and his fellow mineralogists from the Albert-Ludwigs-Universität, the GeoForschungsZentrum Potsdam and the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organization went to Les Pradals in southern France to study fulgurites. They are glass tubes that are left behind after lightning strikes sediment or rocks.

Comment: The book Earth Changes and the Human Cosmic Connection shows how our atmosphere is filling up with cometary dust causing electric discharges, e.g. more lightning. See also:


Wasps mind-control zombie spiders into weaving 'cocoon' webs

© Keizo Takasuka
Orb-weaver spider (Cyclosa argenteoalba) with parasitoid wasp (Reclinervellus nielseni) larva on its back.
For some unlucky spiders, the zombie apocalypse is now. Some parasitic wasp larvae can take over their minds, forcing them to weave special webs the wasps use to support and protect their cocoons. A new study shows that the webs these particular zombie spiders weave are reinforced versions of the ones they normally use while molting, suggesting the wasps may be hijacking this pathway in the spiders' brains.

The horror begins when a parasitic wasp dive-bombs a spider and stings it, causing temporary paralysis. The wasp then injects the spider with an egg or glues it to the spider's abdomen and flies off. After a few weeks, the egg hatches into a larva and starts to grow by making small holes in the spider's abdomen and sucking its blood. When it reaches the last stage of its development, the larva somehow induces the spider to spin a web on which it builds its cocoon—but not until it has killed the spider and sucked it dry.

Comment: Any Resemblance to Actual Pathological Systems in our Societies, is Purely Coincidental... of course.

Comment: Reference: K. Takasuka et al. "Host manipulation by an ichneumonid spider ectoparasitoid that takes advantage of preprogrammed web-building behaviour for its cocoon protection", J Exp Biol 218, 2326-2332, 2015 (behind paywall)


Color perception adapts to changes in seasonal environment

The change of seasons may also affect how we perceive certain colors.
In many parts of the world, the annual seasons come with their own colors - more green in the summer, more white and gray in the winter.

Interestingly, the change of seasons may also affect how we perceive certain colors, according to new research published in Current Biology.

The specific color in this case is yellow, and our eyes tend to interpret what 'real' yellow looks like as being different in the winter compared to summer.

Yellow is one of four "unique hues" perceived by the human eye, along with blue, green, and red. This distinction means that these colors are read by the eye as 'pure' - or not mixed with any other colors.


Hackers can use sound and radio waves to steal data

© Kacper Pempel / Reuters
A new hacking technique that uses sound and radio waves can siphon data from devices even without internet access. Showcased at the Black Hat security summit in Las Vegas, the 'Funtenna' hack has the potential to unravel the Internet of Things.

By uploading a malicious program to a device, the hackers can vibrate the physical prongs on general-purpose input/output circuits at a frequency of their choice. The resulting vibrations can be picked up by an AM radio antenna.

The setup, dubbed "Funtenna" by its creators, was presented to the audience at the Black Hat hacking conference in Las Vegas on Wednesday by Ang Cui of the Manhattan-based Red Balloon Security.

Cui, who recently completed a PhD at Columbia University, spoke with several reporters before his presentation, providing a preview of the technique. Unlike the previous hacking techniques, "Funtenna" works by turning the infected device into a transmitter.