Science & Technology


Biologists Announce Discovery of an Entirely New Branch of Life

© Hans Hillewaert via Wikimedia
Mmm, Fungus.
In further proof that we never know just how much we don't know, a paper published in Nature suggests that biologists in the UK have discovered an entirely new and unique branch in the tree of life. A group of mysterious microscopic organisms related to fungus are actually so different that they make up their own kind of fungal group. Another way to say that: there are so many of these distinctly different kinds of organisms living in so many diverse places, that the biodiversity among this new group might be as vast as the entire known fungal kingdom. In fact, they might not actually be fungi at all.

The scientists who have discovered this new clade--a clade is like a branch on the tree of life that consists of an organism and all of its descendants--have named it cryptomycota, which loosely means "hidden from the kingdom Fungi" so we're told. And indeed the cryptomycota have remained hidden from sight even though it turns out they are everywhere, living in many different environments, including freshwater lakes and sediments, as well as pond water.
Eye 1

UK Police buy software to map suspects' digital movements

Minority Report
© John Anderton/AP
Police have bought software that maps suspects' movements in space and time, in a step towards the futuristic crime detecting imagined in Minority Report.
Geotime software, bought by the Met, collates data from social networking sites, satnavs, mobiles and financial transactions

Britain's largest police force is using software that can map nearly every move suspects and their associates make in the digital world, prompting an outcry from civil liberties groups.

The Metropolitan police has bought Geotime, a security programme used by the US military, which shows an individual's movements and communications with other people on a three-dimensional graphic. It can be used to collate information gathered from social networking sites, satellite navigation equipment, mobile phones, financial transactions and IP network logs.

Police have confirmed its purchase and declined to rule out its use in investigating public order disturbances.

Campaigners and lawyers have expressed concern at how the software could be used to monitor innocent parties such as protesters in breach of data protection legislation.

Direct Air Capture Is Pricey Fix for Climate Change

Capturing carbon dioxide in the Earth's atmosphere makes little sense compared to dealing with greenhouse gas sources such as coal and natural gas power plants, according to a new report. But direct air capture might prove more cost-effective down the road.

Scrubbing CO2 from the smokestack of a coal power plant costs about $80 per metric ton, whereas removing a metric ton of CO2 from the atmosphere might cost an estimated $600 under optimistic scenarios. That's because the CO2 emissions from power plants have 300 times greater concentration than the CO2 in the atmosphere.

Doppler effect found even at molecular level - 169 years after its discovery

doppler effect rotational
Whether they know it or not, anyone who's ever gotten a speeding ticket after zooming by a radar gun has experienced the Doppler effect - a measurable shift in the frequency of radiation based on the motion of an object, which in this case is your car doing 45 miles an hour in a 30-mph zone.

But for the first time, scientists have experimentally shown a different version of the Doppler effect at a much, much smaller level - the rotation of an individual molecule. Prior to this such an effect had been theorized, but it took a complex experiment with a synchrotron to prove it's for real.

"Some of us thought of this some time ago, but it's very difficult to show experimentally," said T. Darrah Thomas, a professor emeritus of chemistry at Oregon State University and part of an international research team that today announced its findings in Physical Review Letters, a professional journal.

Most illustrations of the Doppler effect are called "translational," meaning the change in frequency of light or sound when one object moves away from the other in a straight line, like a car passing a radar gun. The basic concept has been understood since an Austrian physicist named Christian Doppler first proposed it in 1842.

But a similar effect can be observed when something rotates as well, scientists say.

EPA Whistleblower Criticizes Global Warming in Peer-Reviewed Study

Claims of Catastrophic Warming Are Overwhelmingly Contradicted By Real-World Data

The scientific hypotheses underlying global warming alarmism are overwhelmingly contradicted by real-world data, and for that reason economic studies on the alleged benefits of controlling greenhouse gas emissions are baseless. That's the finding of a new peer-reviewed report by a former EPA whistleblower.

Dr. Alan Carlin, now retired, was a career environmental economist at EPA when CEI (Competitive Enterprise Institute) broke the story of his negative report on the agency's proposal to regulate greenhouse gases in June, 2009. Dr. Carlin's supervisor had ordered him to keep quiet about the report and to stop working on global warming issues. EPA's attempt to silence Dr. Carlin became a highly-publicized embarrassment to the agency, given Administrator Lisa Jackson's supposed commitment to transparency.

Dr. Carlin's new study, A Multidisciplinary, Science-Based Approach to the Economics of Climate Change, is published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health. It finds that fossil fuel use has little impact on atmospheric CO2 levels. Moreover, the claim that atmospheric CO2 has a strong positive feedback effect on temperature is contradicted on several grounds, ranging from low atmospheric sensitivity to volcanic eruptions, to the lack of ocean heating and the absence of a predicted tropical "hot spot."

UBC lab seeks process to convert greenhouse gas emissions to fuel

© Jason Payne, PNG, Vancouver Sun
David Wilkinson of UBC's Clean Energy Research Centre is working to lower CO2 emissions by converting the gas into methane, methanol and other chemicals for combustion or electric cells.
Catalyst could use solar radiation to create carbon-neutral source.

University of B.C. scientists are working to harness the sun's energy to power a process that converts the planet-threatening greenhouse gas carbon dioxide into a useful fuel.

David Wilkinson, executive director of the Clean Energy Research Centre at UBC, says concentrated CO2 emissions from power plants combined with water can be converted to methane, methanol, formic acid and other fuels suitable for combustion or electric cells using known chemical processes.

Huge Gamma-ray Flares Mystify World's Astronomers

Crab Nebula
© The Daily Galaxy
The Crab Nebula has stunned astronomers by emitting an unprecedented blast of gamma rays, the highest-energy light in the Universe, from a small area of the famous nebula. The cause of the 12 April gamma-ray flare, which lasted for some six days, hitting levels 30 times higher than normal and varying at times from hour to hour, described at the Third Fermi Symposium in Rome, is a complete and total mystery. The Crab's recent outburst is more than five times more intense than any yet observed.

Nasa's Fermi space observatory is designed to measure only gamma rays, that emanate from the Universe's most extreme environments and violent processes. Since its launch nearly three years ago, Fermi has spotted three such outbursts, with the first two reported earlier this year at the American Astronomical Society meeting.

The Crab Nebula is composed mainly of the remnant of a supernova, which was seen on Earth to explode in the year 1054. At the core of the brilliantly coloured gas cloud is a pulsar - a rapidly spinning neutron star that emits radio waves which sweep past the Earth 30 times per second. But so far none of the nebula's known components can explain the signal Fermi sees, said Roger Blandford, director of the Kavli Institute for Particle Astrophysics and Cosmology, US.

The Human Body, Searchable in 3-D

3D Anatomical Views
© Healthline and GE Healthyimagine
Anatomical views: BodyMaps, a 3-D visual search tool, allows a user to search and navigate the human body. Shown at left is the left ventricle of the heart. Pop-up text gives definitions, descriptions, and common conditions. At right, the “deep muscle” view of the knee shows layers of the body from the skin and muscles down to the arteries, vessels, and bones.

The first online 3-D interactive search tool of the human body was released today. It allows a user to view and navigate the human anatomy, male or female, down to the finest detail - from the muscles and deep muscles to the nerves, arteries, vessels, and bones. This new tool, called BodyMaps, was developed by Healthline Networks, a company that provides medical information to consumers online, and GE Healthyimagination, a Web-based platform that shares and promotes projects that focus on consumer health, such as apps or healthy how-to videos.

BodyMaps is a consumer tool developed to educate the user on health conditions or medical ailments. At the center of the BodyMaps page is a 3-D image of the body; at left is textual information about the body section being shown. As a user mouses over the text, the section of the body in the image is highlighted, and vice versa if a user mouses over the image. At the bottom is a scrubber that lets the user rotate the body 360 degrees. The page also features videos, tips on staying healthy, information on symptoms and conditions, and a definition of the section in view.

The user can select a body region to explore by clicking the text or image, or by using the search tool. Selecting shoulders generated a crisp, high-definition 3-D image of the shoulder section, starting at the skin level, with the option to click through to see the muscles, nerves and vessels, and bone. Choosing the deltoid muscle, a definition popped up and the remaining muscles were shaded out. An option to read more provided a lengthy definition and description of the muscle, including common injuries and their causes and symptoms.

Destroyer of Galaxies Discovered: Hyper Cosmic Storms

Galaxy with Molecular Flow
© ESA/AOES Medialab
An artist’s impression showing a galaxy with a molecular outflow. Herschel has discovered that such outflows can travel at 1000 km/s, which could deplete the galaxy of the gas needed for further star formation within one million to 100 million years.
The European Space Agency's Herschel infrared space observatory has detected raging winds of molecular gas streaming away from galaxies. Suspected for years, these outflows may have the power to strip galaxies of gas and halt star formation in its tracks.

The winds that Herschel has detected are extraordinary, some blowing at a speed of more than 1000 km/s, or about 10,000 times faster than the wind in a terrestrial hurricane.

This is the first time that such molecular gas outflows have been unequivocally observed in a sample of galaxies. This is an important discovery because stars form from molecular gas, and these outflows are robbing the galaxy of the raw material it needs to make new stars. If the outflows are powerful enough, they could even halt star formation altogether.

"With Herschel, we now have the chance to really study what these outflows mean for galactic evolution," says Eckhard Sturm from the Max-Planck-Institut für extraterrestrische Physik in Germany, the lead author of this work. Dr. Sturm and colleagues used Herschel's Photoconductor Array Camera and Spectrometer to study 50 galaxies.

Neanderthals Died Out Earlier Than Thought: Study

Neanderthal versus Modern Humans
© Ian Tattersall
Comparison of Neanderthal and modern human skeletons. Photo: K. Mowbray, Reconstruction: G. Sawyer and B. Maley,
Neanderthals may have died out 10,000 years earlier than is commonly believed, suggests new dating of the remains of a Neanderthal infant.

The finding, published today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, may revise the present Neanderthal timeline. It's commonly believed that Neanderthals from what is now Russia died out around 30,000 years ago. The latest discovery could push back the Neanderthal extinction, at least for this region, to 39,700 years ago, which was the age of the infant's fossil.

Since modern humans are believed to have arrived in the northern Caucasus region just a few hundred years beforehand, that means our species may not have had much, if any, time to interact with Neanderthals.