Science & Technology


Predator or prey? The shape of animals' eyes holds the key, study reveals

© The Independent, UK
The eyes might just be a window into an animal's soul.
It is often said that the eyes are a window to the soul and now research suggests that their shape can be used to distinguish between predator and prey in the animal kingdom.

A study by the University of California and Durham University found that animals with pupils shaped like vertical slits are more likely to be ambush-predator species such as cats and crocodiles.

Meanwhile, plant-eating "prey" species such as sheep and goats tend to have horizontal, elongated "letterbox" pupils. And circular pupils are linked to "active foragers" - animals that chase down their prey rather than creeping up and ambushing them.

The analysis of 214 species, which appears in the journal Science Advances, suggests that there are good evolutionary reasons for these differing optical designs.

Tests showed that eyes with horizontal-slit pupils offered an expanded field of view. Located on each side of the prey animal's head, they provide a panoramic visual display that improves its chance of spotting approaching danger.

The slits also have the added advantage of limiting the amount of dazzling light from the sun, making it easier to see the ground.

"The first key visual requirement for these animals is to detect approaching predators, which usually come on the ground," said the report's lead scientist, Professor Martin Banks of the University of California at Berkeley. "They need to see panoramically on the ground with minimal blind spots. Once they do detect a predator, they need to see where they are running. They have to jump over things."

The research found that vertical slits, meanwhile, give the predator the improved depth of field and the ability to judge distances that helps them secure their prey.

2 + 2 = 4

Researchers propose new models to predict financial crises

© Daniel Tenerife/Wikipedia
Social network diagram
Researchers have proposed a model to predict financial crises using a multiplex network model in which debts with different priorities are mutually held by banks. Their results have been published in Physics.

Although much research has been conducted on the risk of financial markets since the bankruptcy of Lehman Brothers in 2008, most studies have adopted the information-cascade model, a simple model of information transmission through a network. However, a risk transmission model via more complicated structures is necessary because a real financial market has a multitude of overlapping transactions.

When a financial institution goes bankrupt, creditors with high-priority bonds (called senior bonds) can be fully repaid from the institution's remaining assets, while lower-priority creditors (those with junior bonds) cannot. In the traditional financial crisis model, it has been unclear how the difference in non-repayment risk due to debt priorities affects systemic risk.

Comment: Also see "The Network of Global Corporate Control":

The structure of the control network of transnational corporations affects global market competition and financial stability. So far, only small national samples were studied and there was no appropriate methodology to assess control globally. We present the first investigation of the architecture of the international ownership network, along with the computation of the control held by each global player. We find that transnational corporations form a giant bow-tie structure and that a large portion of control flows to a small tightly-knit core of financial institutions. This core can be seen as an economic "super-entity" that raises new important issues both for researchers and policy makers.

Cloud Lightning

Lightning can alter the atomic structure of rocks: Just like meteor impacts

A powerful lightning strike can create the kind of massive pressure needed to create shocked lamellae, atomic structures that were previously thought to result from a meteor impact, or a nuclear explosion.

Such structures, which form under an estimated pressure of at least 10 gigapascals and lack of hot temperature, were first discovered when scientists studied blast sites of underground nuclear tests. Then it turned out that they are encountered worldwide in craters left by meteor impacts. Volcanoes cannot produce such pressure, so geologists long considered the presence of shocked quartz or other minerals as good evidence pointing to the impact origin of a crater.

But according to a new study published in the journal American Mineralogist, bolts of lightning can induce the type of changes in atomic structure that create shocked minerals. "I think the most exciting thing about this study is just to see what lightning can do," co-author Reto Gieré of the University of Pennsylvania told PhysOrg. "To see that lightning literally melts the surface of a rock and changes crystal structures is fascinating."

Gieré and his fellow mineralogists from the Albert-Ludwigs-Universität, the GeoForschungsZentrum Potsdam and the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organization went to Les Pradals in southern France to study fulgurites. They are glass tubes that are left behind after lightning strikes sediment or rocks.

Comment: The book Earth Changes and the Human Cosmic Connection shows how our atmosphere is filling up with cometary dust causing electric discharges, e.g. more lightning. See also:


Wasps mind-control zombie spiders into weaving 'cocoon' webs

© Keizo Takasuka
Orb-weaver spider (Cyclosa argenteoalba) with parasitoid wasp (Reclinervellus nielseni) larva on its back.
For some unlucky spiders, the zombie apocalypse is now. Some parasitic wasp larvae can take over their minds, forcing them to weave special webs the wasps use to support and protect their cocoons. A new study shows that the webs these particular zombie spiders weave are reinforced versions of the ones they normally use while molting, suggesting the wasps may be hijacking this pathway in the spiders' brains.

The horror begins when a parasitic wasp dive-bombs a spider and stings it, causing temporary paralysis. The wasp then injects the spider with an egg or glues it to the spider's abdomen and flies off. After a few weeks, the egg hatches into a larva and starts to grow by making small holes in the spider's abdomen and sucking its blood. When it reaches the last stage of its development, the larva somehow induces the spider to spin a web on which it builds its cocoon—but not until it has killed the spider and sucked it dry.

Comment: Any Resemblance to Actual Pathological Systems in our Societies, is Purely Coincidental... of course.

Comment: Reference: K. Takasuka et al. "Host manipulation by an ichneumonid spider ectoparasitoid that takes advantage of preprogrammed web-building behaviour for its cocoon protection", J Exp Biol 218, 2326-2332, 2015 (behind paywall)


Color perception adapts to changes in seasonal environment

The change of seasons may also affect how we perceive certain colors.
In many parts of the world, the annual seasons come with their own colors - more green in the summer, more white and gray in the winter.

Interestingly, the change of seasons may also affect how we perceive certain colors, according to new research published in Current Biology.

The specific color in this case is yellow, and our eyes tend to interpret what 'real' yellow looks like as being different in the winter compared to summer.

Yellow is one of four "unique hues" perceived by the human eye, along with blue, green, and red. This distinction means that these colors are read by the eye as 'pure' - or not mixed with any other colors.


Hackers can use sound and radio waves to steal data

© Kacper Pempel / Reuters
A new hacking technique that uses sound and radio waves can siphon data from devices even without internet access. Showcased at the Black Hat security summit in Las Vegas, the 'Funtenna' hack has the potential to unravel the Internet of Things.

By uploading a malicious program to a device, the hackers can vibrate the physical prongs on general-purpose input/output circuits at a frequency of their choice. The resulting vibrations can be picked up by an AM radio antenna.

The setup, dubbed "Funtenna" by its creators, was presented to the audience at the Black Hat hacking conference in Las Vegas on Wednesday by Ang Cui of the Manhattan-based Red Balloon Security.

Cui, who recently completed a PhD at Columbia University, spoke with several reporters before his presentation, providing a preview of the technique. Unlike the previous hacking techniques, "Funtenna" works by turning the infected device into a transmitter.


NASA reveals EPIC video of sunlit 'dark side' of moon crossing over Earth

© / NASA
This image shows the far side of the moon, illuminated by the sun, as it crosses between the DSCOVR spacecraft's Earth Polychromatic Imaging Camera (EPIC) camera and telescope, and the Earth - one million miles away.
NASA has released spectacular footage of the "dark side" of the moon - fully illuminated - as the Earth's natural satellite was moving across the sunlit side of our planet. The unique shots were captured by the Deep Space Climate Observatory.

Taken by the Earth Polychromatic Imaging Camera (EPIC), the images show a unique view of our planet and the moon from one million miles away. The capture of this rare spectacle was made possible due to the orbiting trajectory of the DSCOVR satellite that is positioned between the Sun and the Earth, giving it the capability to see the far side of the moon.

"It is surprising how much brighter Earth is than the moon," said Adam Szabo, DSCOVR project scientist at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. "Our planet is a truly brilliant object in dark space compared to the lunar surface."

The series of images taken on July 16 were compiled into GIF animation that depicts the moon flying over the North America and the Pacific Ocean. The images taken from the satellite's point of view also clearly show the tilt of the Earth, with the North Pole located in the upper left corner.


Astronomers discover mysterious plasma blob lurking in deep space and no one knows why

© David Nunuk/Science Photo Library
The Parkes Radio Telescope picks up faint signals from distant pulsars
We're homing in on the blobs from outer space.

In the past three decades astronomers have seen dips in the radio signals from quasars and pulsars, seemingly caused by a dark object passing by. These events don't all look the same, so it isn't clear if they share a cause. Sometimes different radio frequencies are delayed by different amounts, while other times the radio signal twinkles.

Now new observations are giving us a clearer picture. Bill Coles of the University of California, San Diego, and his colleagues used the Parkes Pulsar Timing Array, which carefully measures pulsar signals in an attempt to detect gravitational waves. The team used it to look for radio waves held up by a passing blob.

Eye 1

Big Brother in your bathroom: Get updates on your health status by gazing into the Wize Mirror

© unknown
Mirror mirror on the wall, am I at risk of heart disease? Behavioural change is the most effective method in implementing primary prevention in terms of a healthy lifestyle. It is also the most viable approach to reduce the socio-economic burden of chronic and widespread diseases, such as cardiovascular and metabolic diseases. Wize Mirror soon available to consumers, looks like a mirror, but incorporates 3D scanners, multispectral cameras and gas sensors to assess the health of someone looking into it.

The mirror will assess health status by examining the person's face, looking at fatty tissue, facial expressions and how flushed or pale they are, including telltale markers of stress or anxiety, while the gas sensors take samples of the user's breath looking for compounds that give an indication of how much they drink or smoke. The 3D scanners analyse face shape to spot weight gain or loss, while the multispectral cameras can estimate heart rate or haemoglobin levels.

After the software has analysed the face - which only takes about a minute - the mirror produces a score that tells the user how healthy they seem. It also displays personalised advice on how to improve their health.

Comment: It's already quite simple to check your own pulse, ascertain if you are pale or step on a scale to see if you've gained weight. Don't know how much your drink or smoke? Count the number of empty bottles and cigarette butts. What's missing from the article is where this data goes once it's collected. This is simply another "smart" technology invention that will erode privacy under the guise of looking out for your health.


The Euphrosynes: A reservoir of dark NEO asteroids discovered in the outer edge of the asteroid belt

© NASA/JPL-Caltech
The asteroid Euphrosyne glides across a field of background stars in this time-lapse view from NASA's WISE spacecraft. WISE obtained the images used to create this view over a period of about a day around May 17, 2010, during which it observed the asteroid four times.
High above the plane of our solar system, near the asteroid-rich abyss between Mars and Jupiter, scientists have found a unique family of space rocks. These interplanetary oddballs are the Euphrosyne (pronounced you-FROH-seh-nee) asteroids, and by any measure they have been distant, dark and mysterious -- until now.

Distributed at the outer edge of the asteroid belt, the Euphrosynes have an unusual orbital path that juts well above the ecliptic, the equator of the solar system. The asteroid after which they are named, Euphrosyne -- for an ancient Greek goddess of mirth -- is about 156 miles (260 kilometers) across and is one of the 10 largest asteroids in the main belt. Current-day Euphrosyne is thought to be a remnant of a massive collision about 700 million years ago that formed the family of smaller asteroids bearing its name. Scientists think this event was one of the last great collisions in the solar system.

A new study conducted by scientists at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, used the agency's orbiting Near-Earth Object Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (NEOWISE) telescope to look at these unusual asteroids to learn more about Near Earth Objects, or NEOs, and their potential threat to Earth.