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Fireball 5

World's largest asteroid impact zone believed uncovered by ANU researchers in central Australia

© Supplied
Rock features showing shock metamorphic deformation in the mineral quartz from the Warburton Basin impact.
Australian scientists have uncovered what is believed to be the largest asteroid impact zone ever found on Earth, in central Australia.

A team lead by Dr Andrew Glikson from the Australian National University (ANU) said two ancient craters found in central Australia were believed to have been caused by one meteorite that broke in two.

"They appear to be two large structures, with each of them approximately 200 kilometres," Dr Glikson said.

"So together, jointly they would form a 400 kilometre structure which is the biggest we know of anywhere in the world.

"The consequences are that it could have caused a large mass extinction event at the time, but we still don't know the age of this asteroid impact and we are still working on it."

The material at both impact sites appears to be identical which has led researchers to believe they are from the same meteorite.

Treasure Chest

Feces to fortune: US sewage may contain billions in precious metals

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© Heather Lowers, USGS Denver Microbeam Laboratory
Microscopic gold-rich and lead-rich particles in a municipal biosolids sample.
Scientists are perusing poop at America's wastewater treatment facilities for gold, silver, copper and other useful metals. The sewage from one million people could net $13 million in metals each year, all while making fertilizer more efficient.

More than seven million dry tons biosolids (read: poop) are generated in the US annually by more than 16,500 municipal wastewater treatment facilities. And that sewage contains metals that people ingest and otherwise flush down the toilet, or rinse out in the laundry and shower.

"There are metals everywhere," Dr. Kathleen Smith of the US Geological Survey (USGS) said in a statement, noting that they are "in your hair care products, detergents, even nanoparticles that are put in socks to prevent bad odors."

Comment: Are people going to start waste diving for gold?


Magnify

New viruses discovered in deep ocean methane seeps

© Blair Paul
Graphic of viruses attempting to "dock" on a microbial mat, using the tips of their tails.
The intraterrestrials, they might be called.

Strange creatures live in the deep sea, but few are odder than the viruses that inhabit deep ocean methane seeps and prey on single-celled microorganisms called archaea.

The least understood of life's three primary domains, archaea thrive in the most extreme environments on the planet: near hot ocean rift vents, in acid mine drainage, in the saltiest of evaporation ponds and in petroleum deposits deep underground.

Virus in the deep blue sea

While searching the ocean's depths for evidence of viruses, scientists have found a remarkable new one, a virus that seemingly infects archaea that live beneath the ocean floor.

The researchers were surprised to discover that the virus selectively targets one of its own genes for mutation, and that this capacity is also shared by archaea themselves.

The findings appear today in a paper in the journal Nature Communications.

The project was supported by a National Science Foundation (NSF) Dimensions of Biodiversity grant to characterize microbial diversity in methane seep ecosystems. Dimensions of Biodiversity is supported by NSF's Directorates for Biological Sciences and Geosciences.

New information about life in ocean depths

© Karin Lemkau
Scientist Blair Paul prepares a sediment core for further sampling on the research vessel Atlantis.
"Life far beneath the Earth's subsurface is an enigma," said Matt Kane, program director in NSF's Division of Environmental Biology. "By probing deep into our planet, these scientists have discovered new information about Earth's microbes and how they evolve."

"Our study uncovers mechanisms by which viruses and archaea can adapt in this hostile environment," said David Valentine, a geoscientist at the University of California Santa Barbara (UCSB) and co-author of the paper.

The results, he said, raise new questions about the evolution and interaction of the microbes that call the planet's interior home.

"It's now thought that there's more biomass inside the Earth than anywhere else, just living very slowly in this dark, energy-limited environment," said paper co-author Sarah Bagby of UCSB.

Galaxy

Potentially habitable Earth-like planets in the Milky Way Galaxy

© americaherald.com
Artist's representation of an ideal exoplanet.
Scientists have found thousands of Earth-like alien worlds, called exoplanets, revolving around remote stars, since the first one was discovered in 1988.
Planetary Habitability Laboratory (PHL)
The Earth Similarity Index (ESI) is a measure of Earth-likeness for exoplanets: 1.0 means identical to Earth. Zero means no similarity.

Any exoplanet with an ESI value above 0.8 can be considered Earth-like, which means that it has a similar size and composition to Earth with a temperate atmosphere that might potentially support terrestrial life forms.

Pi

The Ronin Institute for wayward academics

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© Ronin Institute
What were once quiet concerns whispered among peers at American universities have become a steady drumbeat of angst ringing out across the proverbial quad. Everyone, it seems, is aware of the woeful state of the academic job market for newly minted PhDs. Graduate students who've dedicated five, even seven, years of their lives in training for their chosen fields—even at top universities—often face a stark absence of professorial prospects. A fresh-faced PhD in, say, history, biology, or the classics might get only a couple of job interviews, even zero, never mind an actual job offer in academia.

Without a university position in hand, these highly educated would-be professors generally have two options: bounce from one part-time teaching job to another or take a job doing something else entirely. And while some—those with engineering and science doctorates, mostly—have the option of well-paid work in the private sector, others do not, and admit to feeling shame and frustration that they didn't make it in academia. At conferences and in the higher-education press, they bemoan a broken system: one that generates experts with training they cannot use without that all-important title of professor.

What if there was an alternative? The Ronin Institute, a three-month-old experiment founded by one of these would-be academics, is asking that question, hoping to revolutionize academia by connecting unaffiliated scholars to research funding and giving them credibility at the same time—no university required.

Key

Running on autopilot: Tesla will launch software to power driverless cars

© Reuters / Stephen Lam
Seeing a Tesla is about to get a lot more wild, as the company is preparing to install its self-driving software in the Model S fleet. The autopilot feature will only work on highways... as the technology may not yet be legal in the US.

Tesla will roll out an auto-steering software update for the Model S in the next three or four months, and owners won't even have to go into a Tesla store for the upgrade, founder Elon Musk said at a Thursday press conference.

Drivers will only be able to engage the autonomous system while on highways, despite having the technical ability to do a lot more.

"It is technically capable of going from parking lot to parking lot," Musk said. "But we won't be enabling that for users with this hardware suite, because we don't think it's likely to be safe in suburban neighborhoods," he continued, noting that such streets often lack posted speed limit signs and pose obstacles like children playing in the street.

Document

The 'Carolina butcher' croc that ruled the world before the dinosaurs

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© Jorge Gonzales
Scientists in the US have discovered a terrifying land-living crocodile, which lived in what is now North Carolina 230 million years ago.

The crocodile, called Carnufex carolinensis, which literally means the Carolina butcher, was a very early member of the crocodile family, but unlike its modern ancestors it was not aquatic, nor a quadruped but prowled around on two legs.

It was about 3 meters (10 feet) long and about 1.5 meter (3 feet) tall and had blade-like teeth and a long skull.

Key

Moral decisions can be influenced by tracking the eyes

© Lund University
The study is the first to demonstrate a connection between gaze and moral choices, but it is based on previous studies which have shown that for simpler choices, such as choosing between two dishes on a menu, our eye movements say what we will eat for dinner before we have really decided.
Our opinions are affected by what our eyes are focusing on in the same instant we make moral decisions. Researchers at Lund University and other institutions have managed to influence people's responses to questions such as "is murder defensible?" by tracking their eye movements. When the participants had looked at a randomly pre-selected response long enough, they were asked for an immediate answer. Fifty-eight per cent chose that answer as their moral position.

The study shows that our moral decisions can be influenced by what we are looking at when we make the decision. Using a new experimental method, the researchers tracked participants' eye movements and demanded an answer when their eye rested on a randomly pre-selected answer.

The researchers, from the Division of Cognitive Science at Lund University, University College London (UCL) and the University of California, Merced, studied in real time how people deliberate with themselves in difficult moral dilemmas. The participants had no idea that the researchers were carefully monitoring how their gaze moved in order to demand an answer at the right moment. The results showed that the responses were systematically influenced by what the eye saw at the moment an answer was demanded.

Eye 1

New Windows 10 comes complete with iris scans, facial recognition and fingerprint scanners

© Lockheed Martin
After several years of consumer complaints, Microsoft Windows 10 has been getting a lot of attention as of late for many upgrades slated for their new version of the popular operating system.

However, it appears that one feature being added to supposedly consumer-friendly applications is a suite of biometrics called Windows Hello and Windows Passport.

It's all a part of the move toward a full-fledged Smart World where YOU become the password in a matrix of online and real-world activity.

Naturally, the fear of identity theft and cyber crime of all stripes has been the sales pitch to accept this new pervasive identity tech. Apple's Touch ID was introduced in iPhone 5 which employed a fingerprint scanner for phone locking as well as to make purchases in Apple stores.

Mars

Solar-system-wide climate change: Astronomy in need of major re-write as 1,000 km high dust clouds and spectacular auroras discovered on Mars

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© University of Colorado
The MAVEN spacecraft arrived at Mars in September 2014 to study the planet's atmosphere.
NASA's MAVEN spacecraft has discovered a dust cloud billowing above Mars, up to 1,000 kilometres above the planet's surface. The dust does not threaten spacecraft orbiting the red planet, but the unexpected finding poses big challenges to atmospheric researchers trying to explain where the cloud came from.

"This is the first discovery of dust or debris at orbital altitudes around Mars," says Bruce Jakosky, a planetary scientist at the University of Colorado at Boulder and the mission's principal investigator. "It's hard to understand how this stuff got here."

Jakosky reported the finding on 18 March at the Lunar and Planetary Science Conference in The Woodlands, Texas. But the dust cloud was not the only new finding from MAVEN, which has also discovered a diffuse, high-altitude aurora glowing above Mars's northern hemisphere.

Comment: So Earth isn't the only planet undergoing a dust veil event.

And geomagnetic storms on Mars?! Until yesterday, that was considered 'impossible'...

To find out what's going on, check out:

Earth Changes and the Human Cosmic Connection