Science & Technology


Mergers of galaxy clusters drive new star formation and rebirth of comatose galaxies

© Andra Stroe
A radio image highlighting the shock wave (seen here as the bright arc running from bottom left to top right) in the 'Sausage' merging cluster, made using the Giant Metrewave Radio Telescope. The shock wave was generated 1 billion years ago, when the two original clusters collided, and is moving at a very high speed of 9 million kilometres per hour.
Galaxies are often found in clusters, which contain many 'red and dead' members that stopped forming stars in the distant past. Now an international team of astronomers, led by Andra Stroe of Leiden Observatory and David Sobral of Leiden and the University of Lisbon, have discovered that these comatose galaxies can sometimes come back to life. If clusters of galaxies merge, a huge shock wave can drive the birth of a new generation of stars -- the sleeping galaxies get a new lease of life. The scientists publish their work on 24 April in the journal Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.

Galaxy clusters are like cities, where thousands of galaxies can be packed together, at least in comparison to the sparsely-populated space around them. Over billions of years, they build up structure in the universe -- merging with adjacent clusters, like growing cities absorb nearby towns. When this happens, there is a huge release of energy as the clusters collide. The resulting shock wave travels through the cluster like a tsunami, but until now there was no evidence that the galaxies themselves were affected very much.


Liquid mercury could lead to royal tomb in Pyramid of the Feathered Serpent

© Reuters / INAH / Files / Handout via Reuters
Tunnel that may lead to a royal tombs discovered underneath the Quetzalcoatl temple in the ancient city of Teotihuacan.
An archaeologist has made the startling discovery of liquid mercury beneath an ancient pyramid in Mexico, which predates the Aztecs. This could mean the presence of a royal tomb right below one of the most cryptic cities in the Americas.

Local researcher Sergio Gomez announced the discovery on Friday of "large quantities" of the element underneath the Pyramid of the Feathered Serpent - the third largest in the ancient ruined city of Teotihuacan, which is shrouded in mystery and was once one of the largest in the hemisphere.

"It's something that completely surprised us," he told Reuters, standing at the entrance to the ancient pyramid, located about 30 miles (50 km) northeast of Mexico City.


Leading seismologist: California's 'Big One' could trigger super cycle of destructive quakes


A major earthquake - the Big One - is statistically almost certain in California in the coming decades, and there is even worse news below the ground: it is likely to be followed by a series of similar-sized temblors, according to a leading seismologist.

The current relatively quiet seismic period - in which "far less" energy is being released in earthquakes than it is being stored from tectonic plate motions "cannot last forever," said University of Southern California earth sciences professor James Dolan while delivering a new paper during the Seismological Society of America conference in Pasadena.

"At some point, we will need to start releasing all of this pent-up energy stored in the rocks in a series of large earthquakes," Dolan stressed.

The earthquake could spark a "super cycle," meaning "a flurry of other Big Ones, as stresses related to the original San Andreas fault earthquake are redistributed on other faults throughout Southern California," he said.

Comment: Given the amount of tectonic and volcanic activity we've been seeing in the region of the ring fire recently, it may not be decades before we see something absolutely catastrophic occur in California and the surrounding area.

See also:


Human embryos modified in controversial first

© Dr. Yorgos Nikas/SPL
Human embryos are at the centre of a debate over the ethics of gene editing.
Scientists have genetically modified a human embryo for the first time. Junjiu Huang, a gene-function researcher at Sun Yat-sen University in Guangzhou, China, confirmed that his team has modified the gene responsible for a potentially fatal blood disorder in non-viable embryos — ones that cannot result in a live birth.

They reported their work, which up until now was merely a rumor, in this week's online journal Protein & Cell.

The results will no doubt reignite an already highly contentious debate between those who think editing the genome of a human before it's born could prevent genetic disease and those who believe the unpredictable effects could be devastating to humankind.

Huang's team used a technique well known in genetic science called CRISPR/Cas9. Essentially, scientists inject an embryo with an enzyme of the same name that can be programmed to bind and splice DNA at a specific gene location.

During the process, another molecule is introduced to that location to repair genetic damage.

Until now, no one has reported trying this technique on a human embryo.


Asteroid skimmed by Earth on Tuesday

It came close. 2015 HD1 passed just 0.2 lunar distances away (45,600 miles or 73,400 km).
© The Virtual Telescope Project
The Virtual Telescope Project acquired this image on Monday evening, April 20, 2015.
On Tuesday morning according to U.S. clocks - at approximately 3 a.m. CDT, or 8 UTC - a small and very faint asteroid passed just 0.2 lunar distances or 45,600 miles (73,400 km) above Earth's surface. That's about twice as far as geostationary satellites. The Mt. Lemmon Survey, based in Tucson, Arizona, first saw this asteroid three days ago, on April 18.

The asteroid was expected to reach climb briefly to magnitude +13.2 - much too faint to see with the eye alone. The Virtual Telescope Project viewed the asteroid last night and provided the image above. Read their report.

Comment: See also:


Significant portion of Deepwater Horizon oil transported to sea floor via marine snow

© Sean Gardner/Reuters
Where did the oil go?
After the accident on the Deepwater Horizon platform five year ago in the Gulf of Mexico, an estimated 210 million gallons of oil leaked at a depth of about 1,500 meters for 87 days. This spill was unusual, not only because of the duration and quantity of oil spilled, but because it was also the first oil spill at such great depths.

Where did the oil go? Initially the oil floated upward toward the sea surface. Crude oil consists of many different chemical components, each with different properties. Some of the components of the released oil formed a deep plume at around 1,000 meters of water depth, whereas another fraction continued its upward path until it reached the surface to form an oil carpet.

About 25% of the oil was recovered or removed by skimming and burning directly at the sea surface. Some of the oil evaporated and some was rapidly consumed by bacteria. But a large fraction dissipated, dissolved, or dispersed, naturally or due to the application of dispersants - chemicals that break down the oil into small droplets. These components of the oil remained in the water, even if concentrations were too low to measure reliably.

My research has focused on how oil and dispersants interacted with natural organisms in the water. My experiments suggest that a significant portion of the oil spilled from the well has been carried to the seafloor by marine particles and organisms, a finding that can help guide cleanup efforts in future spills.

Comment: The oil may have disappeared, but the devastating effects of the Deepwater Horizon spill continue to linger even after five years:


Scientists warn of supervolcanos with ability to destroy humanity, urge global governance to prepare

Mount Redoubt Eruption on April 21, 1990

A report presented by experts at a leading scientific foundation details the possibility of a supervolcano that could return humanity to pre-civilization state, urges global community to prepare.

Special Report

A report by the European Science Foundation has concluded that a large volcanic eruption poses the greatest risk to humanity and that an, "informed global governance system," is needed to prepare for the possibility.

Calling the threat of low-frequency, high impact events, "grossly underestimated," in disaster risk reduction plans worldwide, the report highlights the fact that, "large volcanic eruptions have the potential to impact climate, anthropogenic infrastructure and resource supplies on a global scale."

The 72 page report is chalked full of interesting facts and, overall, paints a picture of a world struggling to grasp the dangers posed by these rarely occurring disasters. Although the report should be read in full by anyone seeking the whole picture, the authors did incorporate a section with their key findings.

Comment: The sheer power and potential destructive force of mother nature should be humbling in its realization. Incredible to think that our planet's natural processes are capable of so much more destruction than the results of the psychopathic drive towards annihilation - which we read about every day in the articles posted to the Puppet Masters section of But even more incredible is to know that the psychopathic aims and actions that are referred to there actually do affect the Earth's changes in fascinating ways. Read Earth Changes and the Human Cosmic Connection to understand how.

Alarm Clock

Babies feel pain 'like adults', MRI scan study suggests

© Bernd Vogel/Corbis/Reuters
As recently as the 1980s it was common practice for babies undergoing surgery to be given neuromuscular blocks but no pain relief medication.
Scientists at Oxford University say a world-first form of research shows infants may be far more sensitive to pain than adults

The brains of babies "light up" in a similar way to adults when exposed to the same painful stimulus, suggesting they feel pain much like adults do, researchers said on Tuesday.

In the first of its kind study using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), scientists from Britain's Oxford University found that 18 of the 20 brain regions active in adults experiencing pain were also active in babies.

Brain scans of the sleeping infants while they were subjected to mild pokes on the bottom of their feet with a special rod - creating a sensation "like being poked with a pencil" - also showed their brains had the same response to a slighter "poke" as adults did to a stimulus four times as strong, suggesting babies have a much lower pain threshold.

"Obviously babies can't tell us about their experience of pain and it is difficult to infer pain from visual observations," said Rebeccah Slater, a doctor at Oxford's paediatrics department who led the study.

"In fact some people have argued that babies' brains are not developed enough for them to really feel pain ... [yet] our study provides the first really strong evidence this is not the case."

Even as recently as the 1980s it was common practice for babies undergoing surgery to be given neuromuscular blocks but no pain relief medication.

Last year, a review of neonatal pain management in intensive care found that although these babies experience an average of 11 painful procedures per day, 60% do not receive any kind of pain medication.

"Our study suggests that not only do babies experience pain but they may be more sensitive to it than adults," Slater said. "If we would provide pain relief for an older child undergoing a procedure, then we should look at giving pain relief to an infant."

Comment: How anyone would have believed that babies wouldn't feel pain is beyond reason.

Fireball 5

Close passage of asteroid 2015 HD1 tonight

© Gianluca Masi
Newly found asteroid 2015 HD1 will pay a close visit to Earth overnight, zipping by at just 45,600 miles at 3:11 a.m. Tuesday morning April 21.
If you wake up in the middle of the night with weird dreams about flying asteroids, I wouldn't be surprised. Around 3 a.m. (CDT) tomorrow morning April 21, a 50-foot-wide asteroid will hurdle just 0.2 lunar distances or 45,600 miles over your bed.

The Mt. Lemmon Survey, based in Tucson, Arizona, snagged the space rock Saturday. 2015 HD1 is about as big as a full grown T-rex through not nearly as scary, since it will safely miss Earth ... but not by much.

Geostationary satellites, used for global communications, weather forecasting and satellite TV, are parked in orbits about 22,300 miles above the Earth. 2015 HD1 will zip by at just twice that distance, putting it in a more select group of extremely close-approaching objects. Yet given its small size, even if it were to collide with Earth, this dino-sized rock would probably break up into a shower of meteorites.

Lucky for all of us, astronomers conducting photographic surveys like the one at Mt. Lemmon rake the skies every clear night, turning up a dozen or more generally small, Earth-approaching asteroids every month. None yet has been found on a collision course with Earth, but many pass within a few lunar distances.


The revealing truth about wolves

© Jeff Vanuga/NPL
Most of us don't see wolves as they really are
Wolves are either regarded as terrifying rabid killers, or beautiful examples of nature at its wildest

Reputation: Wolves have two public images. They inspire feelings of fear for their mad-eyed drooling, biting of children, and killing of livestock. But they also draw admiration for their strong, family-centric society, and as flagships of wild nature.

Reality: These extreme views of wolves are deeply held, but are rooted in history rather than modern-day reality. In the highly modified landscapes of Europe and North America, it is time to rethink the meaning of wolf.

How many wolves are there in Europe? If I'd answered this question a year ago, I might have suggested 1000. I would have been wrong, by an order of magnitude.

"If we'd been back in the 1970s then we'd have been talking about an endangered species," says John Linnell of the Norwegian Institute for Nature Research in Trondheim, and a member of the International Union for Conservation of Nature's Large Carnivore Initiative for Europe.

However, over the last 40 years wolves have made an incredible comeback across the continent. "At the moment we're talking about 12,000 wolves in Europe," says Linnell. During the same period, the US population has also expanded rapidly, he says.

That's a lot of wolves. So is there any truth in the notion that wolves pose a danger to humans?