Welcome to Sott.net
Fri, 28 Oct 2016
The World for People who Think

Science & Technology


And the bird that can stay airborne the longest is.....

© N. Camilleri
A Common Swift is in the sky.
The common swift is able to fly continuously for 10 months, without touching down for even a second, according to an extraordinary study which finds the species can stay in the air far longer than any other bird.

Researchers tagged 13 common swifts and followed their every move for two years. They found that while swifts land for two months during the breeding season, it is incredibly rare for them to roost during the rest of the year, when they are migrating between Europe and Africa.

Three didn't alight

In three cases, the bird didn't land on the ground, a tree, water, or anything else for the whole 10 months, while none of the 13 common swifts in the study spent more than 0.5 per cent of their time out of the air.

2 + 2 = 4

Cause of phantom limb pain in amputees, and potential treatment, identified

Researchers have identified the cause of chronic, and currently untreatable, pain in those with amputations and severe nerve damage, as well as a potential treatment which relies on engineering instead of drugs.

© Credit: Osaka University

Measurement of brain activity in a patient with phantom limb pain.
Researchers have discovered that a 'reorganisation' of the wiring of the brain is the underlying cause of phantom limb pain, which occurs in the vast majority of individuals who have had limbs amputated, and a potential method of treating it which uses artificial intelligence techniques.



'Something is happening' - Outer solar system getting weirder

© WikiMedia Commons
Artists concept of the Solar System as viewed from Sedna.
Several newly discovered objects on the outskirts of the solar system suggest that something strange is afoot. While some scientists point to the odd behavior of the newfound residents as further proof for the existence of the hypothetical Planet Nine (a yet-unseen super Earth proposed to inhabit the outskirts) not everyone is convinced.

The new inhabitants include a small icy world with one of the longest known orbits and several smaller objects clustered together extremely far from the sun.

The newest of these objects is L91, an icy world that can travel as far from the sun as 1430 astronomical units (AU), or 1,430 times the Earth-sun distance, one of the longest known orbital periods. L91 never draws closer to the sun than 50 AUs, farther away than even Pluto.

And L91's distant path is shifting.

"It's orbit is changing in quite a remarkable way," astrophysicist Michele Bannister told scientists last week at the American Astronomical Society's Division for Planetary Sciences in Pasadena, California. Bannister, an astrophysicist at Queen's University Belfast, identified minute changes in the object's orbit that could come from the passing gravity of other stars or interactions with the hypothetical Planet Nine. Simulations by the team suggest that the tiny tugs are more likely to come from beyond the solar system, whether distant stars or galactic winds.

Konstantin Batygin, an astronomer at the California Institute of Technology, said, "I think it's a story that's not implausible, but I also think it's not needed." Batygin, who announced the existence of Planet Nine last January, thinks the unusual orbits of L91 and other newfound objects are more likely explained by the hypothetical planet.

Bannister and her team spotted L91 using the Outer Solar System Origins Survey, a 4-year survey hunting distant moving objects using the Canada-France-Hawaii Telescope. L91's mass and size remains unknown.

"It's right at the limit of what we could actually detect in the sky," Bannister said.


More Junk Science and Headline Lies: Second hand smoke linked to higher risk of stroke

The increased risk of stroke that comes with smoking may extend to nonsmokers who live in the same household and breathe in secondhand smoke, a U.S. study suggests. Researchers found that never-smokers who had a stroke were nearly 50 percent more likely to be exposed to second hand smoke at home than people who had never had a stroke.

Comment: Note the weasel words highlighted above - may, suggests. This is the first indication that the study actually found nothing that is considered statistically significant. If there was a proven result, they would be loudly proclaiming it.

During the study, stroke survivors exposed to second hand smoke were also more likely to die from any cause compared to those without second hand smoke exposure.

"Second-hand smoke is a risk to all people, but those with a history of stroke should take extra care to avoid it," said lead author Dr. Michelle Lin of the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine in Baltimore. One in four nonsmokers (58 million people) in the U.S. are still exposed to secondhand smoke, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Comment: There are exactly zero studies that find a causal link between second hand smoke and any of the so called "tobacco related" diseases. Even the WHO study which was supposed to prove once for all the harm of second hand smoke, could find no statistically significant result. Nonetheless they still decided that it had to be an issue and proclaimed it as such when they released the study. There is a good summary of the events here.

"While cigarette smoking has long been known to increase the risk of stroke, less is known about the relationship between secondhand smoke and stroke," Lin said by email.

Comment: The only studies claiming a causal link between smoking and stroke are epidemiological studies which are prone to error. They are based on observational studies, with questionnaires which are easy to manipulate to get any result you want.

Comment: The headline bears NO resemblance to the actual results of the research. Sadly this is all too typical of tobacco research and the subsequent false reporting of its results. Sponsors who fund this sort of research will only accept one result, the one proving harm from tobacco. To ensure future funding, the results must be presented to conform to the required result.

Read more about junk science and Tobacco Control here:



Strange change in colors on Saturn's northern pole

A camera on Cassini spacecraft revealed a change in colour on the northern polar region of the planet which occurred in four years.
© Reuters
Saturn's atmosphere and its rings in a false colour composite. The mosaic shows the tail of Saturn's huge northern storm. The images were taken with the Cassini spacecraft wide-angle camera using a combination of spectral filters sensitive to wavelengths of near-infrared light
Two pictures taken in the space of four years by Nasa's Cassini spacecraft have revealed that Saturn's north polar region has changed colour. In 2012, the area inside the north-polar hexagon on Saturn was a darker, blue-grey shade. It is now a brighter golden colour.

The Cassini mission is a joint project between Nasa, ESA (the European Space Agency) and the Italian Space Agency. It is the first in-depth, up-close study of Saturn and its system of rings and moons, which started in 1997 when the orbiter and an ESA probe were launched into space. Seven years later, they reached Saturn, and the Cassini spacecraft became the first to orbit Saturn. For more than a decade now, scientists have uncovered a lot about the sixth planet from the Sun and the mission will come to an end next year.


Another one bites the dust: Third USAF weather satellite breaks up in orbit

© Lockheed
An artist’s illustration of a Defense Meteorological Satellite Program satellite in orbit.
A third U.S. Air Force weather satellite that launched more than 20 years ago has broken up in orbit, Air Force Space Command disclosed Monday evening.

Air Force officials confirmed the breakup of the long-retired Defense Meteorological Satellite Program Flight 12 satellite (DMSP F-12) after the Joint Space Operations Center at Vandenberg Air Force Base, California, detected an additional object orbiting alongside the 22-year-old satellite.

DMSP F-12, which the Air Force retired from service in 2008, had the same battery assembly that was implicated in the February 2015 breakup of DMSP F-13.

While both satellites were built by Lockheed Martin and launched less than a year apart, DMSP F-13 was still in service when it suffered its breakup, producing nearly 150 pieces of debris.

Comment: Are these satellites just falling to pieces because of bad design? Is someone using them as target practice? Or are some of them falling victim to the increase in space rocks penetrating our skies? (For example: Space rock collision? USAF satellite explodes in Earth orbit) What exactly are these satellites used for? From Lockheed:
Today, DMSP is still providing strategic and tactical weather prediction to aid the U.S. military in planning operations at sea, on land and in the air. The satellites, equipped with a sophisticated sensor suite, can:
  • Image visible and infrared cloud cover
  • Measure precipitation, surface temperature, and soil moisture
  • Collect specialized global meteorological, oceanographic, and solar-geophysical information in all weather conditions


Russia reportedly successfully tests nuclear-capable hypersonic glider warhead

© Sergey Kazak / Sputnik
Russian strategic missile troops reportedly launched an RS-18 ballistic missile on Tuesday. The launch may have been a test of the advanced hypersonic glider warhead, which would be able to defeat US anti-missile systems.

The test was conducted at midday from a site near the town of Yasny, Orenburg region, in the southern Urals, and the warhead reached the Kura test range in Kamchatka in Russia's Far East.

"The test was a success. The warhead was delivered to Kura field," the Defense Ministry reported.

Popular defense blog MilitaryRussia.ru says the launch was meant to test Russia's hypersonic glider warhead, currently known by its developer designation, 'object 4202', or Aeroballistic Hypersonic Warhead.

Comment: More on the "Satan" missile: Russia unveils first image of prospective super-heavy ICBM set to replace 'Satan' missile


Blue-leaf begonias use quantum mechanics to survive low light environments

© Matthew Jacobs
Begonia species adapted to deep-shade conditions display blue leaf iridescence, a striking form of structural color originating from specialized chloroplasts in the epidermis.
There's a very good reason for this plant's iridescent color.

In the fading twilight on the rainforest floor, a plant's leaves glimmer iridescent blue. And now scientists know why. These exotic blue leaves pull more energy out of dim light than ordinary leaves because of an odd trick of quantum mechanics.

A team of plant scientists led by Heather Whitney of the University of Bristol in the U.K. has just discovered the remarkable origin and purpose of the shiny cobalt leaves on the Malaysian tropical plant Begonia pavonina. The plant owes its glimmer to its peculiar machinery for photosynthesis, the process plants use to turn light into chemical energy. Strangely enough, these blue leaves can squeeze more energy out of the red-green light that reaches the eternally dim rainforest floor. Whitney and her colleagues describe the blue leaves today in the journal Nature Plants.

"It's actually quite brilliant. Plants have to cope with every obstacle that's thrown at them without running away. Here we see evidence of a plant that's actually evolved to physically manipulate the little light it receives," says Whitney, "it's quite amazing, and was an absolutely surprising discovery."


Why ice ages occur every 100,000 years


Why does our planet experience an ice age every 100,000 years?

Deep storage of carbon dioxide in the oceans may have triggered this unexplained phenomena, new research shows.
© Lisieki and Raymo
LR04 δ18O from Lisieki and Raymo (2005) correlated to the temperature anomaly inferred from the deuterium concentration in ice cores from EPICA Dome C, Antarctica (Jouzel et al., 2007). The main orbital (purple), tectonic (brown) and oceanic (blue) events are indicated (see the text for the references of each event). The orange box represents the start of the onset of the Northern Hemisphere glaciations. 100 kyrs and 40 kyrs correspond to the orbitally-driven glacial/interglacial cycles period. This period changed from 41 kyrs to 100 kyrs during the Mid-Pleistocene Transition toward 1 Ma (MPT). click to enlarge
Experts from Cardiff University have offered up an explanation as to why our planet began to move in and out of ice ages every 100,000 years.

This mysterious phenomena, dubbed the '100,000 year problem', has been occurring for the past million years or so and leads to vast ice sheets covering North America, Europe and Asia. Up until now, scientists have been unable to explain why this happens.

Our planet's ice ages used to occur at intervals of every 40,000 years, which made sense to scientists as the Earth's seasons vary in a predictable way, with colder summers occurring at these intervals.

However there was a point, about a million years ago, called the 'Mid-Pleistocene Transition', in which the ice age intervals changed from every 40,000 years to every 100,000 years.

New research published today in the journal Geology has suggested the oceans may be responsible for this change, specifically in the way that they suck carbon dioxide (CO2) out of the atmosphere.


Strange signals coming from deep in space 'probably' aliens, scientists say

© Terry W. Virts / NASA
Scientists have heard hugely unusual messages from deep in space that they think are coming from aliens.

A new analysis of strange modulations in a tiny set of stars appears to indicate that it could be coming from extraterrestrial intelligence that is looking to alert us to their existence.

The new study reports the finding of specific modulations in just 234 out of the 2.5 million stars that have been observed during a survey of the sky. The work found that a tiny fraction of them seemed to be behaving strangely.

And there appears to be no obvious explanation for what is going on, leaving the scientists behind the paper to conclude that the messages are coming from aliens.

"We find that the detected signals have exactly the shape of an [extraterrestrial intelligence] signal predicted in the previous publication and are therefore in agreement with this hypothesis," write EF Borra and E Trottier in a new paper. "The fact that they are only found in a very small fraction of stars within a narrow spectral range centered near the spectral type of the sun is also in agreement with the ETI hypothesis," the two scientists from Laval University in Quebec write.

Comment: Related articles: