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Sun, 24 Sep 2017
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Science & Technology


NASA's asteroid chasing spacecraft "Osiris-Rex" swings by earth en route to space rock

NASA's asteroid-chasing spacecraft swung by Earth on Friday on its way to a space rock.

Launched a year ago, Osiris-Rex passed within 10,711 miles (17,237 kilometers) of the home planet early Friday afternoon - above Antarctica. It used Earth's gravity as a slingshot to put it on a path toward the asteroid Bennu.

Osiris-Rex should reach the small, roundish asteroid next year and, in 2020, collect some of its gravel for return to Earth. If all goes well, scientists should get the samples in 2023.

Friday's flyby was a quick hello: The spacecraft zoomed by at about 19,000 mph (31,000 kph). NASA took precautions to ensure Osiris-Rex - about the size of an SUV - did not slam into any satellites.

People 2

Phrenology is IN! Study asks if people with wide faces have a higher sex drive than those with narrow faces

The shape of your face may say a lot about your sexuality, according to a new study
New research published in the journal Archives of Sexual Behavior suggests that the size and shape of your face may predict your sex drive and how likely you are to cheat on your partner.

Recently, behavioral and psychological researchers have taken an interest in facial morphology - that is, how the shape of the human face may correlate with certain attitudes, behaviors, and personality traits.

For example, some studies have suggested that in men, a high facial width-to-height ratio (FWHR) may signal aggressiveness, unethical behavior, and even psychopathy.

New research - led by Steven Arnocky, of Nipissing University in Ontario, Canada - examines the role of men and women's FWHR in sexual relationships, infidelity, and mate selection.

Comment: It's good to remember in studies like this that they're only ever talking about correlations and trends (usually slight ones). It's not as if every person with a wide face has a higher sex drive. Here's the study's results in graph form:
So even if people with wide faces are somewhat more likely to have higher sex drives, big deal. There are people with wide faces with low sex drives, narrow faces with high sex drives. Researchers will come up with some evo-psych explanation, but that doesn't mean they're necessarily true, or that the correlation is really meaningful. It's an interesting trend, but people most likely will latch onto a headline like this and turn it into a new phrenology.

Interestingly, this isn't the only recent study to examine facial characteristics as it relates to sexuality:

Gaydar: Stanford U. creates computer algorithm that can distinguish straight from gay

Blue Planet

Research suggests gravity waves have influence over weather and climate

In fluid dynamics, gravity waves are waves generated in a fluid medium or at the interface between two media when the force of gravity or buoyancy tries to restore equilibrium. An example of such an interface is that between the atmosphere and the ocean, which gives rise to wind waves. -source

From Goethe University in Frankfurt

Gravity waves form in the atmosphere as a result of destabilizing processes, for example at weather fronts, during storms or when air masses stroke over mountain ranges. They can occasionally be seen in the sky as bands of cloud. For weather forecast and climate models, however, they are mostly "invisible" due to their short wavelength. The effects of gravity waves can only be taken into consideration by including additional special components in the models. The "MS-GWaves" research unit funded by the German Research Foundation and led by Goethe University Frankfurt has meanwhile further developed such parameterizations and will test them in the second funding period.

Arrow Down

Planned obsolescence: Apple products become much slower just before release of a new model

(Editor's note: Snopes made an effort to debunk this article. They claim it is misleading to quote the work of a student as a "Harvard Study," but we specifically said she did "what any person with Google Trends could do." The original article was published in 2014, and it is still relevant today. The purpose of this article is to get people questioning the incentives and behavior of powerful corporations.)

If you were Apple, what tricks would you utilize to increase the sales of your latest product?

If you know corporations, you'd know they use any possible trick they can as a generality to increase their profit: think of how huge a factor it would make in the sale of new iPhones if the old ones became slower.

People have made the anecdotal observation that their Apple products become much slower right before the release of a new model.

Now, a Harvard student's study has done what any person with Google Trends could do, and pointed out that Google searches for "iPhone slow" spiked multiple times, just before the release of a new iPhone each time.


Advanced life may exist in a form beyond matter

© p1.pichost.me
Astrophysicist Paul Davies at Arizona State University suggests that advanced technology might not even be made of matter; that it might have no fixed size or shape; have no well-defined boundaries; is dynamical on all scales of space and time; or, conversely, does not appear to do anything at all that we can discern; does not consist of discrete, separate things; but rather it is a system, or a subtle higher-level correlation of things. Are matter and information, Davies asks, all there is? Five hundred years ago, Davies writes, " the very concept of a device manipulating information, or software, would have been incomprehensible. Might there be a still higher level, as yet outside all human experience, that organizes electrons? If so, this "third level" would never be manifest through observations made at the informational level, still less at the matter level.

We should be open to the distinct possibility that advanced alien technology a billion years old may operate at the third, or perhaps even a fourth or fifth level - all of which are totally incomprehensible to the human mind at our current state of evolution.

Susan Schneider of the University of Pennsylvania appears to agree. She is one of the few thinkers-outside the realm of science fiction - that have considered the notion that artificial intelligence is already out there, and has been for eons.

Her study, Alien Minds, asks "How would intelligent aliens think? Would they have conscious experiences? Would it feel a certain way to be an alien?"

Microscope 1

Applying the math of theoretical physics helps in studying organism interactions without reference to species

The categorization of organisms into species, like Darwin's finches (above), has generated contentious debates in the biology community. Now, a SEAS researcher asks if there's a better way.
Applied mathematician rethinks how we differentiate organisms on the microbial scale

Even Charles Darwin, the author of The Origin of Species, had a problem with species.

"I was much struck how entirely vague and arbitrary is the distinction between species and varieties," Darwin wrote in his seminal 1859 work.

Categorizing species can get especially hazy at small, microbial scales. After all, the classical definition of species as interbreeding individuals with sexually viable offspring doesn't apply to asexual organisms. Examining shared DNA doesn't help either: collectively, E. Coli bacteria have only 20 percent of genes in common. The classification process gets even trickier as many microbes work so closely that it is unclear what to call separate organisms, let alone separate species.

The woes of classification generate contentious debates in the biology community. But, for postdoctoral fellow Mikhail Tikhonov, one field's contentious debate is another's theoretical playground. In new research, he asks: Could organism interactions be described without mentioning species at all?


Bottled lightning: Researchers can now store light as sound waves to improve data processing

The future of computing depends on it.

For the first time ever, scientists have stored light-based information as sound waves on a computer chip - something the researchers compare to capturing lightning as thunder.

While that might sound a little strange, this conversion is critical if we ever want to shift from our current, inefficient electronic computers, to light-based computers that move data at the speed of light.

Light-based or photonic computers have the potential to run at least 20 times faster than your laptop, not to mention the fact that they won't produce heat or suck up energy like existing devices.

This is because they, in theory, would process data in the form of photons instead of electrons.

We say in theory, because, despite companies such as IBM and Intel pursuing light-based computing, the transition is easier said than done.


100K nearby galaxies show no signs of advanced technological civilizations, lack technosignatures

© unknown
After examining some 100,000 nearby large galaxies in 2015 a team of researchers lead by The Pennsylvania State University astronomer Jason Wright concluded that none of them contain any obvious signs of highly advanced technological civilizations. Turning his focus closer to home this past spring of 2017, Wright proposed that an advanced civilization-an indigenous technological species could have arisen in the solar system before Earth-bound life did. Wright suggests that traces of its technology-"technosignatures"-may have survived, provided they were made of material not easily degraded by erosion or time and may remain hidden awaiting discovery under the surface of Venus and Mars.

"As we improve our understanding of ancient Earth and the history of our solar system, perhaps we may someday uncover evidence that suggests the activity of another technological civilization right here in our neighborhood," said Andrew Siemion, the director of Berkeley's SETI Research Center.


Astronomers find Milky Way's satellite galaxies to be unusually quiet

© Alamy stock photo
Early results from the Satellites Around Galactic Analogs (SAGA) Survey indicate that the Milky Way's satellites are much more tranquil than other systems of comparable luminosity and environment.
We might be more special than thought, astronomers have revealed.

A new study has discovered the Milky Way, which is home to Earth and its solar system, could in fact be an outlier, and not a 'normal' galaxy as they had previously thought.

Early results from the Satellites Around Galactic Analogs (SAGA) Survey indicate that the Milky Way's satellites are much more tranquil than other systems of comparable luminosity and environment.

The Milky Way, which is home to Earth and its solar system, is host to several dozen smaller galaxy satellites which orbit around the Milky Way and are useful in understanding the Milky Way itself.

Many satellites of those 'sibling' galaxies are actively pumping out new stars, but the Milky Way's satellites are mostly inert, the researchers found.

This is significant, according to the researchers, because many models for what we know about the universe rely on galaxies behaving in a fashion similar to the Milky Way.

'We use the Milky Way and its surroundings to study absolutely everything,' said Yale astrophysicist Marla Geha, lead author of the paper, which appears in the Astrophysical Journal.

'Hundreds of studies come out every year about dark matter, cosmology, star formation, and galaxy formation, using the Milky Way as a guide.

Blue Planet

Scientists hypothesize heat-pipe cooling was involved in evolution of all terrestrial planets including early Earth

© University of Hong Kong
Scientists have long been intrigued by the surfaces of terrestrial bodies other than Earth which reveal deep similarities beneath their superficially differing volcanic and tectonic histories.

A team of scientists from NASA, Hampton University and the University of Hong Kong propose a new way of understanding the cooling and transfer of heat from terrestrial planetary interiors and how that affects the generation of the volcanic terrains that dominate the rocky planets. Based on the present dynamics of Jupiter's tidally heated moon, Io, the scientists hypothesize that the geological histories of the solar system's terrestrial bodies, specifically Mercury, Venus, Moon and Mars, are consistent with a mode of early planetary evolution involving heat-pipes. They further propose that heat-pipe cooling is a universal process that may explain the common features seen on the surfaces of terrestrial planets.

The team's findings are discussed in a paper recently published in Earth and Planetary Science Letters.