Science & Technology

Comet 2

Comet Lovejoy heading our way

Comet Lovejoy
© Gerald Rhemann
The new Comet Lovejoy, C/2014 Q2, as imaged on November 27th by Gerald Rhemann in Austria using a remotely operated 12-inch f/3.6 astrograph in Namibia.
A new Comet Lovejoy, designated C/2014 Q2, is heading our way out of deep space and out of the deep southern sky. It may brighten to 5th magnitude from late December through much of January as it climbs into excellent viewing position for the Northern Hemisphere, high in the dark winter night.

This is Australian amateur Terry Lovejoy's fifth comet discovery. He turned it up at 15th magnitude in Puppis last August, in search images that he took with a wide-field 8-inch scope. It hasn't moved very much since then - it's still in Puppis as of December 11th - but it's hundreds of times brighter now at visual magnitude 6.8, reports David Seargent in Australia. On the 9th "I saw it easily using a pair of 6x35 binoculars," he writes. Using a 4-inch binocular telescope at 25×, he says it was a good 8 arcminutes wide with a strong central condensation and no visible tail.

And it's picking up speed across the sky for a long northward dash.

Can cops predict crime?

Predicting Crime
© Thinkstock
New software uses records of previous crimes to predict areas or "hot spots" where police are then dispatched.
The field of "predictive policing" is becoming more and more common as law enforcement officials take advantage of new tools of computer science, machine learning and big data to figure out where criminals may strike next.

These programs are a far cry from Minority Report, the Tom Cruise film/Philip K. Dick novel in which citizens were arrested days or weeks before they committed crimes. But prediction methods are getting better, focusing not on an individual's brain or personality, but rather individual kinds of behavior of large groups of people -- in this case, the habits of bad guys.

Predictive policing "is not about replacing police officers with Robo-Cop," said Jeff Brantingham, an anthropologist at the University of California, Los Angeles, who has developed predictive policing software for several big city departments.

"It's about predicting where and when crime might occur."

Brantingham's software uses records of previous crimes -- their location, time of day and type of crime -- to predict areas or "hot spots" where similar events may occur. Police are then dispatched to the area to keep a lookout, or just disrupt any possible criminal behavior.

The PredPol (Predictive Policing) software program is deployed in Los Angeles, Atlanta and Tacoma, Wa., among other cities.

Officials with the Cambridge (Mass.) Police Department are working with statistics experts from the Massachusetts Institution of Technology in another direction -- trying to find patterns of behavior in the "modus operandi" previous criminal cases to stop future ones.

Mysterious Mars 'cookie' formation on planet's surface is latest bizarre Martian find

© NASA/JPL-Caltech/University of Arizona
A mysterious formation on the surface of Mars has been described as looking like a “brain” or “cookie.” The newly found landform appeared to be circular in shape and measured roughly 2 kilometers (1.2 miles) wide, according to NASA.
"Cookie," "brain" and "deformed waffle" are the words used to describe a mysterious formation on the surface of Mars that appeared in a photograph released last week by NASA. The strange landform is circular with raised ridges running through its center. Scientists said it measures roughly 2 kilometers (1.2 miles) wide.

Rather than being the product of some giant Martian bakery, the cookie-like formation was likely the result of ancient volcanic activity, according to researchers with NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California. The feature was discovered in the planet's Athabasca region, the site of some of Mar's youngest lava flows.

The Martian surface, once a violent environment, is replete with dormant volcanoes. Some of them are 100 times larger than any volcano on Earth, in part because Mars' crust, unlike Earth's, remains stationary, allowing the lava to pile higher for much longer. Lower surface gravity on Mars has resulted in much longer lava flows than those produced by Earth's volcanic eruptions, NASA said.

Comment: Mars has been more and more in the news lately:


Discovery that Mars' Gale Crater was once lake evidence of wet and warm climate

This is a part of a series of images that reconstructs the geology of the region around Mars' Mount Sharp, where NASA's Curiosity Mars rover landed and is now driving.
The discovery that Mars' Gale Crater was once Gale Lake adds a powerful piece of evidence for an ancient wet and warm climate that lasted much longer than previous predictions. Now, if only the computer models would agree.

To account for a lake that lasted for millions or even tens of millions of years means the Martian atmosphere would have had to be not only far thicker than the puny envelope of gases that surrounds it today, but also loaded with water, said Ashwin Vasavada, deputy project scientist for NASA's Curiosity Mars rover.

The Curiosity science team announced Monday that the 96-mile-wide crater where the rover landed in August 2012 was once a lake.

"The landscapes of Mount Sharp indicate that rivers, lakes and groundwater were present over millions of years, something that would be impossible on Mars today," Vasavada said.

Today, water on Mars is frozen around the planet's poles. Even if the atmosphere were thicker (generating pressure that would permit water to exist as a liquid, rather than just as solid or gas) water would still preferentially gather in the polar regions, leaving the atmosphere dry. Gale Lake would have evaporated quickly.

"To get a long-lived lake in Gale Crater there must have been so much water in the climate system that the frozen latitudes were essentially filled up, that water was forced to warmer latitudes where it would exist as liquid," Vasavada said.

Comment: What the computer models fail to take into consideration is that the Mars of today is most likely vastly different from Mars thousands of years ago. There are a number of cosmic changes that can affect a planet's climate, and it's likely that Mars at one time was able to support life due to its wet and warm climate.

Comet 2

Geminid meteor shower to occur December 12 - 14

Geminid meteors

Peak viewing for the 2014 Geminid meteor shower will probably occur on from late evening December 13 through dawn on December 14.
The peak night of the 2014 Geminid meteor shower will probably occur on the night of December 13 (morning of December 14). The night before (December 12-13) may offer a decent sprinkling of meteors as well. Geminid meteors tend to be few and far between at early evening, but intensify in number as evening deepens into late night. A last quarter moon will rise around midnight, but Geminid meteors are bright! This shower favors Earth's Northern Hemisphere, but it's visible from the Southern Hemisphere, too. If you're at a temperate latitude in the Southern Hemisphere, try waiting a little later - until close to midnight - to see the beginning of the Geminid shower.

Comment: In December 2012 NASA was able to catch one of the brightest fireballs observed by its network of meteor cameras in over four years of operation.

NASA video captures 2012 Geminid meteor shower fireball


Mastodons weren't hunted to extinction by Ice Age humans - they simply froze to death, new study finds

© National Post
Paleontology student Hillary McLean pieces together a tusk of an ancient mastodon, part of an extensive discovery unearthed from Snowmass, Colo., inside a workroom at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science.
Despite popular belief that North American mastodons were hunted to extinction by Ice Age humans, a new Canadian-led study is claiming that the prehistoric beasts simply froze to death.

"To think of scattered populations of Ice Age people with primitive technology driving huge animals to extinction, to me is almost silly," said Grant Zazula, chief paleontologist for the Yukon Territory and the study's lead author.

"It's not human nature just to see everything in your path and want to kill it," he said.

The paper, published this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, carbon dated 36 mastodon bones from across Canada and the United States.
Comet 2

Rosetta's comet findings fuel debate on origins of Earths oceans

comet 67p water
© Spacecraft: ESA/ATG medialab; Comet: ESA/Rosetta/NavCam
First measurements of comet's water ratio
ESA's Rosetta spacecraft has found the water vapour from its target comet to be significantly different to that found on Earth. The discovery fuels the debate on the origin of our planet's oceans.

The measurements were made in the month following the spacecraft's arrival at Comet 67P/Churyumov - Gerasimenko on 6 August. It is one of the most anticipated early results of the mission, because the origin of Earth's water is still an open question.
Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko
© ESA/Rosetta/NAVCAM
Comet on 20 November. This mosaic comprises four individual NAVCAM images taken from 30.8 km from the centre of Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko on 20 November 2014. The mosaic has been slightly rescaled, rotated, and cropped, and measures roughly 4.2 x 5.0 km.
One of the leading hypotheses on Earth's formation is that it was so hot when it formed 4.6 billion years ago that any original water content should have boiled off. But, today, two thirds of the surface is covered in water, so where did it come from?

In this scenario, it should have been delivered after our planet had cooled down, most likely from collisions with comets and asteroids. The relative contribution of each class of object to our planet's water supply is, however, still debated.

Comment: Take a good look at Comet 67's close-up. Does that look like an "icy snowball"? Yet the scientists interviewed on mainstream media will mindlessly quote those words when discussing this or that comet and profess to be puzzled when the pictures don't fit their expectations, even though the last few years of research have produced many such images. But they hang on to their theories for dear life. A marginalized, but much better explanation can be found in the Electric Universe theories of Wallace Thornhill.


Quantum teleportation of subatomic particles reaches 15.5 miles across optical fiber

© GAP, University of Geneva (UNIGE)
These crystals captured and stored quantum information at the end of the teleportation.
A new distance record has been set in the strange world of quantum teleportation.

In a recent experiment, the quantum state (the direction it was spinning) of a light particle instantly traveled 15.5 miles (25 kilometers) across an optical fiber, becoming the farthest successful quantum teleportation feat yet. Advances in quantum teleportation could lead to better Internet and communication security, and get scientists closer to developing quantum computers.

About five years ago, researchers could only teleport quantum information, such as which direction a particle is spinning, across a few meters. Now, they can beam that information across several miles.

Scientists estimate that there are nearly 5.25 trillion pieces of plastic in the ocean

garbage in the ocean
We know the oceans are home to tons of plastic garbage, from discarded nylon fishing nets that ensnare sea turtles to packing straps that strangle the life out of marine mammals. But because all that plastic is coming from everywhere, it's difficult to tell how much of it, exactly, is floating around - an important question, given its pernicious effects on the ecosystem and possible toxic repercussions to humanity's dinner plate.

Thanks to an international research effort spanning six years, we now have a much better idea of the sheer bulk of plastic water pollution. The minimum count is 5.25 trillion plastic particles littering the seas, say scientists in a new study in PLOS ONE. All those teeny bits - the result of the gradual breakdown of larger plastics, as well as escaped nurdles and microbeads used in cosmetics - add up to 269,000 tons, or about the weight of 2,150 adult blue whales.
Cell Phone

More veiled Russophobia? Forbes names YotaPhone 2 'most disruptive smartphone' of 2014

© AFP Photo / Kirill Kudryavtsev
Head of Yota Devices Vladislav Martynov holds a Yotaphone with a dual screen during its presentation in central Moscow on December 2, 2014.
For once being disruptive is a good thing. Forbes magazine describes the new Russian designed YotaPhone 2 as 2014's Most Disruptive Smartphone. The review calls it exciting and innovative and is "a rare beast" with both a radical and conformist design.

Comment: Reviewer Ewan Spence failed to provide any real reasons for using the word 'disruptive' in the article title.

According to reviewer Ewan Spence, the developers created a product which combines features which makes it stand out among other smartphones. They are modern and innovative designs; the second e-Ink display on the back of the device and its unique software.

The model features a power-saving electronic paper-like screen on the back that displays basic information like a clock and message alerts and can also be used to read books. There are special apps just for the display and games are available too. A second regular display lights on only when needed for more complex tasks.

Comment: Yes, there is a learning curve for using the product, as well as distinct advantages when compared to the products of established market leaders like Samsung and Apple. Every company faces challenges when they release their products. In fact, YotaPhone 2 did extraordinarily well considering the fact that it is a new product and it is competing with established global leaders. This is not 'disruptive' as Forbes claims. It is disruptive to the sales of Samsung and Apple.It has become normal for Western leaders and their authoritarian followers to criticize anything Putin promotes.