Science & Technology


Rainforest fungus capable of eating plastic pollution

One of the biggest problems facing the earth, plastic pollution, could soon meet its match if students at Yale University are able to breed a recently discovered plastic-eating fungus on a large scale.

Plastic pollution, exemplified by the giant floating island of trash the size of Texas in the Pacific ocean, is highly detrimental to the world's ecosystem because it breaks down extremely slow. In fact, according to the National Center for Biotechnology Information, plastic doesn't actually biodegrade:
"Plastics do not biodegrade, although, under the influence of solar UV radiations, plastics do degrade and fragment into small particles, termed microplastics."
This presents humans with a challenge that must soon be met, considering much of our plastic trash ends up in the ocean where it breaks down into toxic microplastics, winding up in sea life. Not only is this dangerous to the sea life, but it's also dangerous to people because we end up consuming these very fish which we are poisoning with our trash.

How nerve cells communicate with each other over long distances: Travelling by resonance

© Gunnar Grah/BrainLinks-BrainTools
Resonance in the activity of nerve cells (left) allows activity within the brain to travel over large distances, e.g. from the back of the head to the front during the processing of visual stimuli.
How nerve cells within the brain communicate with each other over long distances has puzzled scientists for decades. The way networks of neurons connect and how individual cells react to incoming pulses in principle makes communication over large distances impossible. Scientists from Germany and France provide now a possible answer how the brain can function nonetheless: by exploiting the powers of resonance.

As Gerald Hahn, Alejandro F. Bujan and colleagues describe in the journal PLoS Computational Biology, the ability of networks of neurons to resonate can amplify oscillations in the activity of nerve cells, allowing signals to travel much farther than in the absence of resonance. The team from the cluster of excellence BrainLinks-BrainTools and the Bernstein Center at the University of Freiburg and the UNIC department of the French Centre national de la recherche scientifique in Gif-sur-Yvette created a computer model of networks of nerve cells and analyzed its properties for signal propagation.

"Spooky" quantum entanglement reveals invisible objects

Cat outline etchings
© Gabriela Barreto Lemos
These cat outline etchings are normally invisible to the wavelength of light that made the pictures.
Like twins separated at birth who are later reunited, two laser beams revealed invisible objects in a display of their weird quantum connection, researchers reported on Wednesday.

The images, of tiny cats and a trident, are an advance for quantum optics, an emerging physics discipline built on surprising interactions among subatomic particles that Einstein famously called "spooky."

A conventional camera captures light that bounces back from an object. But in the experiment reported in the journal Nature, light particles, or photons, that never strike an object are the ones that produce its picture.

"Even other physicists say 'you can't do that' at first, but that is quantum behavior for you, very strange," says Gabriela Barreto Lemos of the Institute for Quantum Optics and Quantum Information in Vienna, Austria, who led the study.

A 2009 University of Glasgow experiment with a divided laser beam first demonstrated such "ghost imaging." But experts say the new technique, which uses two laser beams of different colors, offers new visualization advantages.

The two laser beams are "entangled" in quantum physics terms, meaning their photons share characteristics even when far apart. So broadly speaking, altering one alters the other.

"What they've done is a very clever trick. In some ways it is magical," says quantum optics expert Paul Lett of the National Institute of Standards and Technology in Gaithersburg, Maryland, who was not part of the experiment team. "There is not new physics here, though, but a neat demonstration of physics."

No descendants are left from the first Eskimos

© Claus Andreasen
This photos shows Qajaa, a grass-covered deep-frozen midden in West Greenland with remains from Early Paleo-Eskimo cultures.
Ancient human DNA is shedding light on the peopling of the Arctic region of the Americas, revealing that the first people there did not leave any genetic descendants in the New World, unlike previously thought.

The study's researchers suggest the first group of people in the New World Arctic may have lived in near-isolation for more than 4,000 years because of a mindset that eschewed adopting new ideas. It remains a mystery why they ultimately died off, they added.

The first people in the Arctic of the Americas may have arrived about 6,000 years ago, crossing the Bering Strait from Siberia. The area was the last region of the New World that humans populated due to its harsh and frigid nature.

But the details of how the New World Arctic was peopled remain a mystery because the region's vast size and remoteness make it difficult to conduct research there. For example, it was unclear whether the Inuit people living there today and the cultures that preceded them were genetically the same people, or independent groups.

The scientists analyzed DNA from bone, teeth and hair samples collected from the remains of 169 ancient humans from Arctic Siberia, Alaska, Canada and Greenland. They also sequenced the complete genomes of seven modern-day people from the region for comparison.

Previous research suggested people in the New World Arctic could be divided into two distinct groups - the Paleo-Eskimos, who showed up first, and the Neo-Eskimos, who got there nearly 4,000 years later.

Kaboom! Experimental US hypersonic weapon explodes four seconds after test launch in Alaska

© Unknown
The test was aborted by the Pentagon to 'ensure public safety'
An experimental hypersonic weapon developed to reach targets anywhere in the world within an hour has been destroyed by the US military four seconds after its launch for "public safety". The test in Alaska in the early hours of Monday morning was aborted after controllers detected a problem with the system, the Pentagon said, and the launcher is believed to have detonated before the missile was deployed.

Witnesses watched the rocket lift off at around 12.30am local time, before quickly turning nose-down and exploding, KMXT radio reported. Scott Wight, who photographed the explosion from Cape Greville in Chiniak, about 12 miles from the launch site, described the explosion as quite loud and frightening, with a fire afterwards that burned brightly.

The weapon travels at several times the speed of sound and can reach speeds in excess of 3,500 miles-an-hour, or Mach 5. It is part of a programme aiming to create a missile able to hit anywhere on Earth within an hour of getting data and the permission to launch.

Comment: US tax dollars hard at work finding new and innovative ways to kill people.

Blue Planet

Pacific 'ring of fire' tectonic plate changing: Calculations challenge assumptions about rigid lithosphere

© Credit: Corné Kreemer and Richard Gordon
A map produced by scientists at the University of Nevada, Reno, and Rice University shows predicted velocities for sectors of the Pacific tectonic plate relative to points near the Pacific-Antarctic ridge, which lies in the South Pacific ocean. The researchers show the Pacific plate is contracting as younger sections of the lithosphere cool.
The tectonic plate that dominates the Pacific "Ring of Fire" is not as rigid as many scientists assume, according to researchers at Rice University and the University of Nevada.

Rice geophysicist Richard Gordon and his colleague, Corné Kreemer, an associate professor at the University of Nevada, Reno, have determined that cooling of the lithosphere - the outermost layer of Earth - makes some sections of the Pacific plate contract horizontally at faster rates than others and cause the plate to deform.

Gordon said the effect detailed this month in Geology is most pronounced in the youngest parts of the lithosphere - about 2 million years old or less - that make up some the Pacific Ocean's floor. They predict the rate of contraction to be 10 times faster than older parts of the plate that were created about 20 million years ago and 80 times faster than very old parts of the plate that were created about 160 million years ago.

The tectonic plates that cover Earth's surface, including both land and seafloor, are in constant motion; they imperceptibly surf the viscous mantle below. Over time, the plates scrape against and collide into each other, forming mountains, trenches and other geological features.

On the local scale, these movements cover only inches per year and are hard to see. The same goes for deformations of the type described in the new paper, but when summed over an area the size of the Pacific plate, they become statistically significant, Gordon said.

The new calculations showed the Pacific plate is pulling away from the North American plate a little more - approximately 2 millimeters a year - than the rigid-plate theory would account for, he said. Overall, the plate is moving northwest about 50 millimeters a year.

"The central assumption in plate tectonics is that the plates are rigid, but the studies that my colleagues and I have been doing for the past few decades show that this central assumption is merely an approximation - that is, the plates are not rigid," Gordon said. "Our latest contribution is to specify or predict the nature and rate of deformation over the entire Pacific plate."

© Credit: Jeff Fitlow/Rice University
Rice University geophysicist Richard Gordon led a study that determined the Pacific tectonic plate is not as rigid as scientists have assumed.

Comment: There are other important factors to consider when studying tectonic plate movements, to increase our understanding of the subsequent seismic and volcanic activity, and also the formation of sinkholes (all of which are increasing at an alarming rate!), such as:

1. The slowdown of the Earth's rotation - causing mechanical stress on the crust.
2. Crustal slippage - the difference in rotation between the crust and mantle.
3. Reduction of the surface/core electric field.
4. Electromagnetism.

These factors, the Electric Universe theory, and much more are fully explained in Earth Changes and the Human-Cosmic Connection.

It is looking increasingly likely that electrical discharges may be causing recent strange phenomena, such as these glowing lights over the 'ring of fire' perhaps caused by the ignition of leaking methane which may also be contributing to the discovery of thousands of dead fish which is becoming more common and unusual whale behaviour. 'Signs of the times' indeed!

Better Earth

Pulitzer-winning scientist warns wildlife face a 'biological holocaust' - Half the planet should be set aside for wildlife

© Independent
A small portion of the Yellowstone buffalo herd graze in Yellowstone National Park.
Half the planet should be set aside solely for the protection of wildlife to prevent the "mass extinction" of species, according to one of the world's leading biologists.

The radical conservation strategy proposed by Dr E.O. Wilson, the hugely-influential 85-year old Harvard University scientist, would see humans essentially withdraw from half of the Earth.

Dr Wilson, a two-time Pulitzer Prize winner, warned that we are facing a "biological holocaust" as devastating as the extinction of the dinosaurs unless humans agree to share land more equally with the planet's 10 million other species.

Outlining his audacious "Half Earth" theory, he said: "It's been in my mind for years that people haven't been thinking big enough - even conservationists.

"I see a chain of uninterrupted corridors forming, with twists and turns, some of them opening up to become wide enough to accommodate national biodiversity parks, a new kind of park that won't let species vanish," he told the journal of the Smithsonian Institution in Washington.

Dr Wilson, who is considered the world's preeminent advocate of biodiversity, wants to create a series of "Long Landscape" wildlife chains to help species to respond to the effects of climate change by moving around.

Greenland ice study shows 'unexpected link between solar activity and climate change'

Lund University have published a reconstruction of solar activity vs snow accumulation in Greenland, which indicates a strong correlation between solar minima and a colder climate.

'The study shows an unexpected link between solar activity and climate change,' Dr Muscheler said in a press release.

'It shows both that changes in solar activity are nothing new and that solar activity influences the climate, especially on a regional level. 'Understanding these processes helps us to better forecast the climate in certain regions.'

According to the study abstract;

"We find that during the Last Glacial Maximum, solar minima correlate with more negative δ18O values of ice and are accompanied by increased snow accumulation and sea-salt input over central Greenland. We suggest that solar minima could have induced changes in the stratosphere that favour the development of high-pressure blocking systems located to the south of Greenland, as has been found in observations and model simulations for recent climate9, 10. We conclude that the mechanism behind solar forcing of regional climate change may have been similar under both modern and Last Glacial Maximum climate conditions."

Game changer? Futuristic Chinese 'supersonic' sub could reach US shores in under two hours

Chinese submarine
© Reuters/Guang Niu
Traveling from Shanghai to San Francisco in under two hours may sound like a fantasy, but China believes it's figured out how to design an underwater vehicle that can make the idea a reality.

More worryingly, though, is the possibility that the technology will be used to develop even more dangerous weaponry.

According to the South China Morning Post (SCMP), the super-fast technology was developed by scientists at the Harbin Institute of Technology, and would allow underwater submarines or torpedoes to exceed the equivalent speed of sound under water - about 3,600 miles per hour.

The idea is based on the old Soviet concept of supercavitation, which involves creating a large air bubble around an object so that it could avoid facing too much friction and travel through water quickly.

Professor Li Fengchen said that when the vessel hits the water, one of its mechanisms continuously sprays a "special liquid membrane" all over the object's surface. This membrane eventually wears off, but by the time the vessel reaches 46 miles per hour, it's going fast enough to enter supercavitation state and generate an air bubble capable of helping it cover previously unknown distances.

"Our method is different from any other approach, such as vector propulsion," Li told SCMP. "By combining liquid-membrane technology with supercavitation, we can significantly reduce the launch challenges and make cruising control easier."
Comet 2

New Comet: C/2014 Q3 (BORISOV)

Cbet nr. 3936, issued on 2014, August 24, announces the discovery of a comet (magnitude ~17) by G. Borisov (Observatory MARGO, Nauchnij) on CCD images obtained with a 0.3-m f/1.5 astrograph telescope on 2014, August 22.02. The new comet has been designated C/2014 Q3 (BORISOV).

We performed follow-up measurements of this object, while it was still on the neocp. Stacking of 10 unfiltered exposures, 60-sec each, obtained remotely on 2014, August 23.4 from H06 (iTelescope network - Mayhill) through a 0.50-m f/6.8 astrograph + CCD + f/4.5 focal reducer, shows that this object is a comet: coma about 7" in diameter elongated toward PA 215 (the comet was about +21 degree above the horizon at the moment of the imaging session).

Our confirmation image (click on it for a bigger version)
C/2014 Q3 (Borisov)
© Remanzacco Observatory
M.P.E.C. 2014-Q38 assigns the following parabolic orbital elements to comet C/2014 Q3: T 2014 Nov. 19.24; e= 1.0; Peri. = 48.40; q = 1.63; Incl.= 90.49

This is the third comet discovered by Gennady Borisov (previous were C/2013 N4 & C/2013 V2).