Science & Technology


A Higgs-Gravity connection may leave traces in white dwarfs

White Dwarf
Image of Sirius A and Sirius B taken by the Hubble Space Telescope. Sirius B, which is a white dwarf, can be seen as a faint pinprick of light to the lower left of the much brighter Sirius A.
The discovery of the Higgs boson at the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) in 2012 marked an important step toward understanding the origin of the mass of fundamental particles. Since mass plays a major role in gravity, the Higgs could also reveal insights into the nature of gravity. One possibility is that the Higgs field could couple to a specific spacetime curvature, a scenario that is invoked in various extensions of the standard model.

Now, scientists have shown that dying stars called white dwarfs can be used to investigate and place limits on the coupling between the Higgs field and spacetime curvature. The study, by Roberto Onofrio at the University of Padova in Italy and the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and Gary A. Wegner at Dartmouth College in Hanover, New Hampshire, is published in a recent issue of The Astrophysical Journal.

"Conceptually, I think that our work is trying to create a 'common' language between microphysics and macrophysics in the following sense," Onofrio told "So far, people have looked for the consequences of the Higgs field in the microworld, at the so-called Fermi scale, i.e., the attometer scale (1 am = 10-18 m), and for the consequences of gravity at the macroscopic scale, from an apple upward in terms of size and masses. Yet, both have in common the central role that mass plays in the standard model of elementary particle physics and in gravitation. So by starting to talk of masses involving both the Higgs field (which is supposed to give inertial mass to all fundamental particles) and gravitation (where the gravitational mass of a body is a key concept), one can check for their consistency or for the presence of possible contradictions."

Human genome: Shaped by an evolutionary arms race with itself?

Human Genome
© LiveScience
New findings by scientists at the University of California, Santa Cruz, suggest that an evolutionary arms race between rival elements within the genomes of primates drove the evolution of complex regulatory networks that orchestrate the activity of genes in every cell of our bodies.

The arms race is between mobile DNA sequences known as "retrotransposons" (a.k.a. "jumping genes") and the genes that have evolved to control them. The UC Santa Cruz researchers have, for the first time, identified genes in humans that make repressor proteins to shut down specific jumping genes. The researchers also traced the rapid evolution of the repressor genes in the primate lineage.

Their findings, published September 28 in Nature, show that over evolutionary time, primate genomes have undergone repeated episodes in which mutations in jumping genes allowed them to escape repression, which drove the evolution of new repressor genes, and so on. Furthermore, their findings suggest that repressor genes that originally evolved to shut down jumping genes have since come to play other regulatory roles in the genome.

"We have basically the same 20,000 protein-coding genes as a frog, yet our genome is much more complicated, with more layers of gene regulation. This study helps explain how that came about," said Sofie Salama, a research associate at the UC Santa Cruz Genomics Institute who led the study.

Gravitational wave detection by frequency matching oscillating stars?

gravitational waves
© Credit: NASA
Energetic events, such as this artist’s rendition of a binary-star merger, are thought to create gravitational waves that cause ripples in space and time.
Scientists have shown how gravitational waves - invisible ripples in the fabric of space and time that propagate through the universe - might be "seen" by looking at the stars. The new model proposes that a star that oscillates at the same frequency as a gravitational wave will absorb energy from that wave and brighten, an overlooked prediction of Einstein's 1916 theory of general relativity. The study, which was published today in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society: Letters, contradicts previous assumptions about the behavior of gravitational waves.

"It's pretty cool that a hundred years after Einstein proposed this theory, we're still finding hidden gems," said Barry McKernan, a research associate in the Museum's Department of Astrophysics, who is also a professor at CUNY's Borough of Manhattan Community College; a faculty member at CUNY's Graduate Center; and a Kavli Scholar at the Kavli Institute for Theoretical Physics.

Gravitational waves can be thought of like the sound waves emitted after an earthquake, but the source of the "tremors" in space are energetic events like supernovae (exploding stars), binary neutron stars (pairs of burned-out cores left behind when stars explode), or the mergers of black holes and neutron stars. Although scientists have long known about the existence of gravitational waves, they've never made direct observations but are attempting to do so through experiments on the ground and in space. Part of the reason why detection is difficult is because the waves interact so weakly with matter. But McKernan and his colleagues from CUNY, the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, the Institute for Advanced Study, and Columbia University, suggest that gravitational waves could have more of an effect on matter than previously thought.
Fireball 5

Meteor strikes may not be random

Scientists have found that meteor impacts are not random events but may occur as Earth passes through streams of meteoroids.
Meteor impacts are far less random than most scientists assumed, according to a new analysis of Earth-strike meteors.

The research, reported on the pre-press astrophysics website, concluded that meteor impacts are more likely to occur at certain times of the year when Earth's orbit takes us through streams of meteoroids.

The majority of meteors analysed hit the Earth in the second half of the year, say the researchers, brothers Carlos and Raúl de la Fuente Marcos of the Complutense University of Madrid.

"This lack of randomness is induced by planetary perturbations, in particular Jupiter's, and suggests that some of the recent, most powerful Earth impacts may be associated with resonant groups of Near Earth Objects and/or very young meteoroid streams," they report.

Meteoroid streams can be generated by the break-up of an asteroid or comet.

A planet or moon can also affect nearby asteroids and meteors, herding them into loose orbits called 'resonant streams', which can be broken up by big planets such as Jupiter and Saturn.

The study is based on 33 meteor impact events detected between 2000 and 2013 by infrasound acoustic pressure sensors, operated by the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organization.

The sensors are designed to detect clandestine nuclear tests, but also pick up meteor impacts with an explosive energy in excess of a thousand tonnes of TNT.
Blue Planet

China's "Supercave" is the world's biggest cave chamber

© Carsten Peter, National Geographic
The photographer’s lights illuminate the green-hued Getu He river in the Miao Room—considered the world’s second largest cave chamber by area.
China's immense Miao Room cavern, hidden beneath rolling hills and reachable only by an underground stream, is the world's biggest cave chamber, an international mapping team reported on Sunday. (Related: "China's Supercave.")

A laser-mapping expedition funded by the National Geographic Society reported the new measurement at the United Kingdom's national caving conference in Leek this weekend.

Richard "Roo" Walters, a British co-leader of the 2013 international caving expedition conducted under the auspices of China's Institute of Karst Geology in Guilin, reported that the Miao Room Chamber measures some 380.7 million cubic feet (10.78 million cubic meters) in volume. (See: "Empire of Rock" in National Geographic Magazine.)

Mantis shrimp eyes help scientists develop 'cancer-seeing' phone camera

© AFP Photo / Alex Ogle
Mantis shrimp.
The brilliant natural design of the Mantis shrimp's eyes allows the colorful crustacean to see cancer within our bodies. Now, scientists in Australia have reproduced the critters amazing ability in a camera that might one day be put in your smartphone.

Researchers from the University of Queensland in Australia announced the discovery earlier this week, which could revolutionize the way we detect one of the top global killers.

The mantis shrimp has one of the most elaborate visual systems ever discovered. Researchers at the university found that the shrimp's compound eyes are perfectly designed to detect polarized light, which reflects differently off of different types of tissues, including those of the cancerous or healthy variety.

"We see color with hues and shades, and objects that contrast - a red apple in a green tree for example - but our research is revealing a number of animals that use polarized light to detect and discriminate between objects," Professor Justin Marshall, from the Queensland Brain Institute at the University of Queensland, said in a press release.

The shrimp's amazingly complex eye has provided a perfect template for scientists to develop their own technology.

"Nature has coming up with elegant and efficient design principles, so we are combining the mantis shrimp's millions of years of evolution - nature's engineering - with our relatively few years of work with the technology."
Black Magic

Monsanto GMO wheat contaminates field at Montana State University

© El Ciudadano
Monsanto's experimental genetically modified wheat has been discovered growing in the second US field in Montana, about a year after the discovery of the company's unapproved crop growing in Oregon disrupted US wheat exports.

The plants were discovered at a test site at Montana State University, where back in 2000-2003 Monsanto was conducting field trials of its wheat, genetically modified to tolerate Roundup herbicide.

Although the government believes the wheat never reached market, it has still opened an investigation into finding the rogue plants at a site that was not supposed to host any tests after 2003, USDA's Department of Agriculture's Animal & Plant Health Inspection Service announced on Friday.

"We've now opened an investigation into this regulatory compliance issue," said Bernadette Juarez, director of investigative and enforcement services for APHIS, adding however that "there are no safety issues with this wheat."

The last such discovery in Oregon led to several international customers postponing US wheat deliveries, but this time exports should not be affected, US officials believe. "We remain confident that the wheat exports will continue without disruption," Juarez said.

US industry leaders also hope that exports should not be hurt by the discovery of GMO wheat in Montana.

"We are in the process now of informing our international wheat buyers," Alan Tracy, president of US Wheat Associates, said in a statement. "We do not expect any disruption in sales."

Comment: Monsanto is unlikely to face any disciplinary action due to corruption and collusion between it and the U.S. government:

Monsanto: History of Contamination and Cover-up
Monsanto took over regulatory bodies all over the world to lobby GMO
The real story behind the 'Monsanto Protection Act'

Eye 2

Tracks of tears on eye's corneal surface could hold key to cyber security

Tears can expose our most private emotions but could they also secure our most private information online?

Stephen Mason, an Australian optometrist, has discovered a new way to use scans of people's tears as passwords which he calls "the world's first one-time biometric pin".

He has focused on the cornea, rather than the iris, which is the norm in most optical scanners, because cyber criminals cannot copy the unique way tears change our eyes.

The scanner can recognise a person because each cornea has a unique map. But if a criminal was to steal and try to use the data from the last time someone logged in, the machine would find it invalid because it expects the data to change slightly each time.

"The corneal surface is wet with tears so our own data changes from moment to moment," he said. "Each data set I capture from any eye has these really tiny variations."

The hope is that the technology could be included on smartphones, from where it could be used to verify payments and access services such as email or sensitive corporate documents online. It could also be embedded in ATMs or doors to access confidential areas.

From intimate photos snatched and released online from celebrities' Apple iCloud accounts to an attack on Home Depot, the largest known security breach of a retailer, the rise in cyber crime has experts searching for better ways to verify people's identities.

Scientists discover new brain wave that reveals past thoughts and memories

© unknown
An alarming new study (posted in full below) illustrates how fast neuroscience is developing in its attempt to uncover every aspect of the human brain. A specific brain wave called P300 has been identified by researchers as a marker that essentially encodes what we observe as we go about our daily activities. Based on this specific brain wave marker, researchers are able to conduct a Concealed Information Test. In fact, the test is already being used in Japan and Israel. Researchers are hoping that new data they have published will demonstrate that the test is reliable enough to meet the higher standard of U.S. courtrooms.

The massive influx of money into Obama's BRAIN project, as well as similar research sponsored by the European Union , now exceeds $2 billion combined. Research continues full-steam ahead despite indications that human brain study is outpacing ethical parameters. Some scientists within the European arm of the project have recently threatened a boycott due to mismanagement and misuse along similar lines to what you will read below.

In our age of loosened constitutional standards and basic human rights that has permitted all innocent communications and movements to be tracked, traced and databased, any technology that aims to uncover our most mundane daily activities and thoughts must be heavily scrutinized for potential abuse. Moreover, I have highlighted some of the language in this press release that clearly demonstrates how this could move far beyond the courtroom and easily provide a new level of pervasive surveillance.

Comment: See also: A top neuroscientist warns that human cyborgs are a terrible idea
Neurological research has gotten much more attention at the federal level in recent years, especially after President Obama announced his BRAIN Initiative, a plan based on the Human Genome Project that aims to map the function of every neuron in the human brain over the next decade or so. Much of Obama's plan focuses on researching diseases such as Alzheimer's and Parkinson's, but once we better understand how the brain works, we may be able to use that research to for transhuman tinkering like mind transfers, screwing with memories, and that kind of thing.

Fireball 5

Rosetta update: Dirty snowball is "dry like hell"

The European Space Agency's Rosetta Mission to the comet 67/P may be rewriting everything astronomers thought they knew about the nature of comets. The latest high-resolution images of the comet nucleus have astonished scientists around the world, revealing a remarkably jagged, pitted, black as coal surface. It is nothing like the so-called dirty snowball or fluffy ice ball that mainstream astronomers have long envisioned. Most astonishingly, scientists have reported they have not found a single trace of water ice on the comet surface. It is, in the words of mission scientist Holger Sierks, "dry like hell."