Science & Technology


Are you smarter than a 5-year-old? Preschoolers can do algebra, Johns Hopkins study shows

Psychologists say kids rely on their innate number sense to solve for x.

Millions of high school and college algebra students are united in a shared agony over solving for x and y.

For those to whom the answers don't come easily, it gets worse: Most preschoolers and kindergarteners can do some algebra well before entering a math class.

Study ties bad sleep to lower brain volume

Sleep Deprivation
© Twin Design / Shutterstock
People who have trouble sleeping tend to have less volume in certain regions of the brain than those without sleep problems, a new study of Persian Gulf War veterans suggests.

"People discount the importance of sleep. So many things seem so much more important than a few extra hours of sleep a night," lead author Linda L. Chao told Reuters Health.

"The study suggests we shouldn't discount sleep importance," she said.

Chao, from the University of California, San Francisco, collaborated with researchers at the Department of Veterans Affairs Medical Center in San Francisco on the study published in the journal Sleep.

Previous research has linked sleep disturbances to structural brain changes, the authors note. In their study, sleep was associated with the amount of gray matter in the brain's frontal lobe in particular.

The Pentagon basically wants to merge you with a robot

© Mike Agliolo/Getty

From artificial mammal brains to prosthetics that feel like real limbs, the military's blue-sky researchers are aiming to bring man and machine closer than ever before.

You've probably never looked at a mammal's brain and thought "Gee, I wish I could yank that out of its skull and shrink it onto a chip." Nor have you likely gazed upon a colony of ants and remarked "wouldn't it be great if we could get spy drones to work together like that?"

That's because you don't work for the Defense Advanced Projects Research Agency, the Pentagon's way, way out science and technology arm. Their annual budget request, which they made public on Thursday, reads like something out of lost a Philip K. Dick notepad.

DARPA, for the uninitiated, acts as the Pentagon's blue-sky research agency, always looking beyond the horizon for the technologies which will have the greatest impact in the future. If you've ever found yourself wondering, Joker-style, where the U.S. military gets those wonderful toys - like the Internet, global positioning systems and stealth bombers - chances are it started out as idea on a drawing board at DARPA.

This year the Obama administration requests nearly $3 billion DARPA for the research outfit - a nearly $136 million increase over the agency's last budget year. Tucked away inside that $3 billion are a number of new and fascinating projects: ones to make faster, more cooperative unmanned systems, to mimic parts of the human body for smarter computers, and to even build prosthetics that feel like real hands.

Torvosaurus gurneyi: Huge new dinosaur was predator king

Two scientists in Portugal have identified the largest carnivorous dinosaur ever found in Europe, a 10-metre-long brute called Torvosaurus gurneyi that was the scourge of its Jurassic domain
A new dinosaur species discovered in Portugal dominated the food chain 150 million years ago -- the Tyrannosaurus Rex of its time, researchers said Wednesday.

The new species is the largest land predator discovered in Europe and one of the largest worldwide of the Jurassic era, said authors Christophe Hendrickx and Octavio Mateus of the Universidade Nova de Lisboa and Museu da Lourinha.

The Torvosaurus gurneyi, like T. Rex, was a bipedal carnivore with blade-like teeth more than 4 inches (10 centimeters) in length, they said in a report published in the US journal PLOS ONE.

"This was clearly a fierce predator," Mateus told AFP. "Wherever he arrived, he was the owner and master. No one could rival Torvosaurus during the late Jurassic. This is the equivalent of T. rex but 80 million years before."

The scientists estimate Torvosaurus gurneyi grew up to 33 feet (10 meters) long and weighed some 4 or 5 tons. Its skull measured nearly four-feet (115 centimeters) long, smaller than the T. Rex, but not by a huge margin.

Astronomers spots rare asteroid break-up

© AFP Photo/D. Jewitt
A handout photo released on March 6, 2014 by the ESA shows the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope observations of asteroid P/2013 R3
Astronomers said Thursday they have witnessed the distant break-up of an asteroid, a rare event that was not caused by a violent space collision or a close encounter with the Sun.

Instead, the asteroid, located some 300 million miles (483 million kilometers) from the Sun, was likely weakened over time by multiple small run-ins with other space objects, said the report in Astrophysical Journal Letters.

And now, astronomers are watching asteroid P/2013 R3 come undone as a result of a subtle effect of sunlight, which causes the asteroid to rotate at an increasingly fast rate.

"Seeing this rock fall apart before our eyes is pretty amazing," said lead investigator David Jewitt, a professor in the University of California Los Angeles Department of Earth, Planetary and Space Sciences.

Unique scent blocks mosquitoes' sense of smell - could render human skin invisible to insects

© Desconocido
Chemicals naturally found in humans could help produce better mosquito repellents

A naturally occurring substance found in human skin could yield a viable alternative to existing mosquito repellent, scientists say.

They say the chemical could help render people "invisible" to the insects.

At the American Chemical Society meeting, they revealed a group of compounds that could block mosquitoes' ability to smell potential targets.

When a hand with these chemicals was placed in a mosquito filled enclosure, it was completely ignored.

The team says their work could help prevent the spread of deadly diseases.

Mosquitoes are among the most deadly disease-carrying creatures. They spread malaria, which in 2010 killed an estimated 660,000, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).

Ulrich Bernier of the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) who presented the work, said his team was exploring other options to Deet - a repellent which some do not favour.

Facebook 'in talks to buy drone satellite firm' to bring internet connectivity everywhere, so everyone can be spied on!

© Guardian
Facebook is reportedly interested in acquiring a company that makes drones to replace satellites, capable of flying at high altitude for up to five years at a time.
Social network said to be in talks with Titan Aerospace in order to bring internet connectivity to people in the developing world

Facebook is reportedly in discussions to acquire Titan Aerospace, a manufacturer of drones, for around $60m.

Titan Aerospace specialises in solar-powered, very high flying drones capable of staying airborne for five years at a time, positioned as a more cost-effective alternative to orbital satellites dubbed as "atmospheric satellites".

The talks, confirmed by technology site TechCrunch, indicate that Facebook is likely interested in these satellite alternative drones that fly as high as 20km in altitude as part of its initiative.

Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg took to the stage at Barcelona's Mobile World Congress in February to elaborate on the coalition's plans to connect the next five billion people to the internet in developing nations. The drones could be used to blanket large areas of Africa and other countries with internet access.

SOFIA gives scientists a first-class view of a supernova

Image of M82 with supernova SN2014J at near-infrared wavelengths made Feb. 20 by the FLITECAM instrument on SOFIA.
Astronomers wanting a closer look at the recent Type Ia supernova that erupted in M82 back in January are in luck. Thanks to NASA's Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA) near-infrared observations have been made from 43,000 feet - 29,000 feet higher than some of the world's loftiest ground-based telescopes.

(And, technically, that is closer to M82. If only just a little.)

All sarcasm aside, there really is a benefit from that extra 29,000 feet. Earth's atmosphere absorbs a lot of wavelengths of the electromagnetic spectrum, especially in the infrared and sub-millimeter ranges. So in order to best see what's going on in the Universe in these very active wavelengths, observational instruments have to be placed in very high, dry (and thus also very remote) locations, sent entirely out into space, or, in the case of SOFIA, mounted inside a modified 747 where they can simply be flown above 99% of the atmosphere's absorptive water vapor.

During a recent 10-hour flight over the Pacific, researchers aboard SOFIA turned their attention to SN2014J, one of the closest Type Ia "standard candle" supernovas that have ever been seen. It appeared suddenly in the relatively nearby Cigar Galaxy (M82) in mid-January and has since been an exciting target of observation for scientists and amateur skywatchers alike.
Fireball 5

Asteroid came close today and missed, but there's another tonight!

Asteroid 2014 EC
This afternoon asteroid 2014 DX110 zoomed by the Earth at a distance closer than the moon. NASA said:
As happens about 20 times a year with current detection capabilities, a known asteroid will safely pass Earth Wednesday closer than the distance from Earth to the moon.

This asteroid, 2014 DX110, is estimated to be about 100 feet (30 meters) across. Its closest approach to Earth will be at about 217,000 miles (about 350,000 kilometers) from Earth at about 1 p.m. PST (4 p.m. EST) on March 5. The average distance between Earth and its moon is about 239,000 miles (385,000 kilometers).
We're all more aware of these small yet dangerous asteroids that slide right by the Earth because, one, NASA and others are getting better at discovering them on approach; and, two, there was that surprise meteorite that blew up over Chelyabinsk last year (see gallery below), injuring hundreds and generally freaking people out.

Now, as Slate reports, a smaller one will pass even closer tonight ... and of particular note, it was spotted just yesterday:
An asteroid called 2014 EC that was discovered only last night will pass the Earth just after midnight UTC tonight, sliding past us at a distance of just 56,000 km (35,000 miles) above Earth's surface! This rock is roughly 10 meters across - half the diameter of the Chelyabinsk asteroid. A miss is as good as a mile, as they say, but it shows that there are lots of these things passing us all the time.
As the veil lifts and we humans get better at seeing just how much danger is circling our little blue life raft, scientists and enthusiasts are arguing that we need a plan. In response, the U.N. has established the International Asteroid Warning Network for that purpose.

Scientists revive giant virus from 30,000-year-old Siberian permafrost

giant virus
© Julia Bartoli & Chantal Abergel, IGS, CNRS/AMU
French and Russian researchers have revived a 30,000-year-old living virus from deep below the frozen Siberian tundra, which they say is the largest ever discovered. It targets amoebae, but hints that other ancient viruses could be in the Earth's soil.

The giant virus was discovered by a group of scientists led by Jean-Michel Claverie and Chantal Abergel, a husband-and-wife duo at Aix-Marseille University in France.

The contagion, which has been dubbed Pithovirus sibericum due to its oddly long and narrow shape, infects amoebae and presents no threat to humans, Nature scientific journal reported.

The Greek word "pithos" represents a large container used by the ancient Greeks to store wine and food. "We're French, so we had to put wine in the story," said the researchers, who published their results in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Scientists have long known that viruses can survive for thousands of years. For example, latent smallpox virus genes were discovered in 400-year-old mummies.

However, the Siberian virus is not latent. It has shown to be able to infect host cells and replicate.