Science & Technology


U.S.Geologic Survey: Earthquake risk increased for half of U.S.

A new federal earthquake map dials up the shaking hazard just a bit for about half of the United States and lowers it for nearly a quarter of the nation.

The U.S. Geologic Survey updated Thursday its national seismic hazard maps for the first time since 2008, taking into account research from the devastating 2011 earthquake and tsunami off the Japanese coast and the surprise 2011 Virginia temblor.

Most of the changes are slight. Project chief Mark Petersen said parts of Washington, Oregon, Utah, Oklahoma, Colorado, Wyoming and Tennessee moved into the top two hazard zones.

Forming new circuits? Meet the electric life forms that live on pure energy

 Video: Electric bacteria connect to form wires

Unlike any other life on Earth, these extraordinary bacteria use energy in its purest form - they eat and breathe electrons - and they are everywhere

STICK an electrode in the ground, pump electrons down it, and they will come: living cells that eat electricity. We have known bacteria to survive on a variety of energy sources, but none as weird as this. Think of Frankenstein's monster, brought to life by galvanic energy, except these "electric bacteria" are very real and are popping up all over the place.

Unlike any other living thing on Earth, electric bacteria use energy in its purest form - naked electricity in the shape of electrons harvested from rocks and metals. We already knew about two types, Shewanella and Geobacter. Now, biologists are showing that they can entice many more out of rocks and marine mud by tempting them with a bit of electrical juice. Experiments growing bacteria on battery electrodes demonstrate that these novel, mind-boggling forms of life are essentially eating and excreting electricity.

That should not come as a complete surprise, says Kenneth Nealson at the University of Southern California, Los Angeles. We know that life, when you boil it right down, is a flow of electrons: "You eat sugars that have excess electrons, and you breathe in oxygen that willingly takes them." Our cells break down the sugars, and the electrons flow through them in a complex set of chemical reactions until they are passed on to electron-hungry oxygen.

Comment: For more on electric universe and information theory and how they may relate to these new scientific discoveries, see Pierre Lescaudron and Laura Knight-Jadczyk's new book, Earth Changes and the Human-Cosmic Connection.

Fireball 3

Close-Earth pass of 4 huge asteroids coming in August

Get ready for some huge asteroid whizzing action, because this summer we'll be witnessing 4 large space rocks passing by Earth. In August, kilometer-wide asteroids are slated to miss our home planet, luckily at a safe distance, so the armageddon isn't scheduled and Bruce Willis can stay home. First of the Near Earth Objects (NEO), asteroid 2002 JN97, discovered in May 2002 will pass our planet by 61 lunar distances (LD) on August 2. The rock is estimated to be nearly 3 kilometers wide. It will fly by the Earth at a velocity of 21 km/s
earth asteroid
We don't witness asteroids that big, passing by very often. In July there is only one asteroid that could have at least 1 km in diameter predicted to fly by Earth. It is estimated that the July 20 object, 2014 ER49 won't have more than 1200 m. Scientists estimate that several dozen asteroids in the 6-to-12-meter size range fly by Earth at a distance even closer than the moon every year. But only a fraction of these are actually detected.

Mark your calendars for August 17, because this is the day of a real asteroid frenzy. 2001 RZ11 has about 3 km in diameter and among with its 1 kilometer-wide companion, 2013 WT67, will make the day. The rocks will pass the Earth at a safe distance, of course. The first one at 34 LD and the second much closer, but still 16 LD. What is significant, 2001 RZ11 is enlisted as a Potentially Hazardous Asteroid (PHA). Those objects have the potential to make close approaches to the Earth and are of a size large enough to cause significant regional damage in the event of impact. PHAs are space rocks larger than approximately 100 m that can come closer to Earth than 0.05 AU (about 20 LD). There are currently 1489 known PHAs.

Last but not least, on August 30, about 1 kilometer-wide asteroid 2002 CU11 will swing by. At a velocity of 26 km/s, the rock will fly at the closest distance of all the asteroids mentioned above, 13.5 LD. So we can call it potentially hazardous. Next time to see it so close? Aug. 31, 2080, the 2002 CU11 will come closer than 2 LD.

As of July 04, 2014, 11209 Near-Earth objects have been discovered. Some 865 of these NEOs are asteroids with a diameter of approximately 1 kilometer or larger.

Comment: "We don't witness asteroids that big, passing by very often."

But that could change in the very near future.


Nemesis? Strange dark stuff is making the universe too bright

Size comparison of our Sun, a low mass star, a brown dwarf, Jupiter, and Earth. Stars with less mass than the Sun are smaller and cooler, and hence much fainter in visible light. Brown dwarfs have less than eight percent of the mass of the Sun, which is not enough to sustain the fusion reaction that keeps the Sun hot. These cool orbs are nearly impossible to see in visible light, but stand out when viewed in infrared. Their diameters are about the same as Jupiter's, but they can have up to 80 times more mass and are thought to have planetary systems of their own.

Light is in crisis. The universe is far brighter than it should be based on the number of light-emitting objects we can find, a cosmic accounting problem that has astronomers baffled.

"Something is very wrong," says Juna Kollmeier at the Observatories of the Carnegie Institution of Washington in Pasadena, California.

Solving the mystery could show us novel ways to hunt for dark matter, or reveal the presence of another unknown "dark" component to the cosmos.

"It's such a big discrepancy that whatever we find is going to be amazing, and it will overturn something we currently think is true," says Kollmeier.

The trouble stems from the most recent census of objects that produce high-energy ultraviolet light. Some of the biggest known sources are quasars - galaxies with actively feeding black holes at their centres. These behemoths spit out plenty of UV light as matter falling into them is heated and compressed. Young galaxies filled with hot, bright stars are also contributors.

Comment: For more on Nemesis - Sol's dark companion - see Pierre Lescaudron and Laura Knight-Jadczyk's new book, Earth Changes and the Human-Cosmic Connection.

Perhaps 'something wicked this way comes?'


Wikipedia entries increasingly created using automated bot that writes up to 10,000 articles a day

© ThinkStock
If the writing style on Wikipedia seems occasionally stilted, turns out there may be a perfectly good reason for that.

An increasing number of entries on Wikipedia are being authored by automated software, or bots, that pull raw information from databases, then use algorithms to generate text in standardized templates.

In fact, according to a recent Wall Street Journal report, a single bot program in Sweden has written more than 2.7 million articles on Wikipedia - or about 8.5 percent of the total collection.

The "Lsjbot" is the creation of Swedish university administrator Sverker Johansson, who holds degrees in linguistics, civil engineering, economics and particle physics. Johannson's author bot can generate up to 10,000 new entries a day.

Four-winged dinosaur unearthed in China

Newly discovered Changyuraptor yangi lived 125m years ago and was like 'a big turkey with a really long tail'
four-winged dinosaur
© Stephanie Abramowicz/Dinosaur Institute, NHM
An artist's impression of the new species of four-winged, microraptor dinosaur Changyuraptor yangi.
A new species of prehistoric, four-winged dinosaur discovered in China may be the largest flying reptile of its kind.

The well-preserved, complete skeleton of the dinosaur Changyuraptor yangi features a long tail with feathers 30cm in length - the longest ever seen on a dinosaur fossil. The feathers may have played a major role in flight control, say scientists in the latest issue of Nature Communications, in particular allowing the animal to reduce its speed to land safely.
2 + 2 = 4

Months before their first words, babies' brains rehearse speech mechanics

Infants can tell the difference between sounds of all languages until about 8 months of age when their brains start to focus only on the sounds they hear around them. It's been unclear how this transition occurs, but social interactions and caregivers' use of exaggerated "parentese" style of speech seem to help.

University of Washington research in 7- and 11-month-old infants shows that speech sounds stimulate areas of the brain that coordinate and plan motor movements for speech.
Blue Planet

5' giant earthworm found in Ecuador

Just imagine the fish you could catch with a worm that is five feet long. That might be what these adventurers thought when they discovered a massive earthworm that stretched yardsticks at a full metre-and-a-half in length.

The photos were submitted to Project Noah, a global study app that encourages nature lovers to document the wildlife they encounter by uploading photos to their phones.

In this case, this massive worm was found in "extremely rich forest soil" in the foothills of the Sumaco Volcano in Ecuador. According to the site's forum, it's been identified as a Martiodrilus crassus, which is Latin for "worm which feeds on dogs and small children."
Heart - Black

The Darkest Black: Scientists create 'Vantablack', a black so dark it's difficult to see

Puritans, Goths, avant-garde artists, hell-raising poets and fashion icon Coco Chanel all saw something special in it. Now black, that most enigmatic of colours, has become even darker and more mysterious.

A British company has produced a "strange, alien" material so black that it absorbs all but 0.035 per cent of visual light, setting a new world record. To stare at the "super black" coating made of carbon nanotubes - each 10,000 times thinner than a human hair - is an odd experience. It is so dark that the human eye cannot understand what it is seeing. Shapes and contours are lost, leaving nothing but an apparent abyss.

If it was used to make one of Chanel's little black dresses, the wearer's head and limbs might appear to float incorporeally around a dress-shaped hole.

Actual applications are more serious, enabling astronomical cameras, telescopes and infrared scanning systems to function more effectively. Then there are the military uses that the material's maker, Surrey NanoSystems, is not allowed to discuss.

Comment: A sign of the times, perhaps.

Apple Green

New study suggests plants can listen

The aptly named mousear cress may respond to caterpillar munching sounds. Plants have long been known to react to changes in their environment, and may respond to light, temperature, and touch.

But are they listening too?

For the Arabidopsis plant, the answer is a loud and clear "yes."

The distinct, high-amplitude vibrations produced by a cabbage butterfly caterpillar munching on a leaf of this flowering mustard plant, commonly called mousear cress, throws its defenses into high gear, according to a study published in Oecologia this month by two researchers at the University of Missouri.

The study, which combined audio and chemical analysis, is the first to find evidence that plants respond to an ecologically relevant sound in the environment, said Heidi Appel, a senior research scientist in the Division of Plant Sciences at Missouri.

Comment: More bad news for vegetarians in that science of their beloved faceless plantbased food source, no longer can be considered without functions of consciousness, but aware beings with ability to feel some kind of pain and reciprocate in more complex ways than formerly thought (purely electric and chemical communications).