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Sun, 19 Feb 2017
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Blue Planet

Genetic study of North Americans suggests we are even more diverse than we thought

© Getty
As individuals, our DNA offers insight into things like our personalities, our health and where we come from. But taken together, all those individual portraits can add up to paint a detailed history of humankind.

A study published this week in Nature Communications led by the DNA testing company Ancestry.com presents exactly this kind of bird's eye view. Last month, Ancestry surpassed 3 million customers in its DNA databases. That's an awful lot of DNA, and now the company has set its sites on figuring out exactly what it might learn from all of it.

In the new study, Ancestry's scientists set out to build a picture of how North America's population moved across the country over the past few hundred years. Using genotype data from over 700,000 individuals who have purchased the company's DNA kits, scientists created a network of genetically-identified relationships and then used network analysis techniques to identify clusters of individuals.

Question

The reasons why, once we start worrying, some of us just can't stop

A certain amount of worrying is a normal part of life, especially these days with barely a moment passing without some disconcerting headline landing in your news feed. But for some people, their worrying reaches pathological levels. They just can't stop wondering "What if ...?". It becomes distressing and feels out of control. In the formal jargon, they would likely be diagnosed with Generalised Anxiety Disorder, but excessive worrying is also a part of other conditions like panic disorder. There are many factors that contribute to anxiety problems in general, but a new review in Biological Psychology homes in on the cognitive and emotional factors that specifically contribute to prolonged bouts of worry. Its take-home points make an interesting read for anyone who considers themselves a worrier, and for therapists, the review highlights some approaches to help anxious clients get a hold of their excessive worrying.

The review authors, Graham Davey and Frances Meeten at the University of Sussex and the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology and Neuroscience, explain that what gets many pathological worriers worrying in the first place is that they seem to be highly vigilant to any sources of threat and danger, and if there's any ambiguity about whether a situation is threatening or not, they will tend to interpret it as being dangerous. If they haven't yet heard from their daughter today, for instance, the problem worrier will not only notice this fact, they will also contemplate that it's because she's in trouble, rather than simply busy.

Magnify

Longest ever personality study finds no correlation between measures taken at age 14 and age 77

Imagine you've reached the fine age of 77 and you hear news of a school reunion. You're going to have the chance to meet up with several of your former classmates who you haven't seen since you were fourteen-years-old. They'll look a lot different, of course, but what about their personality? Will they be broadly the same as they were back then?

Past research that's looked at trait changes from adolescence to mid-life has shown there tends to be a moderate amount of stability, so too research that's looked at changes from mid-life into old age. Put these two sets of data together and you might expect to see at least some personality stability across an entire lifespan. Your classmates probably won't have changed completely.

Comment: Childhood Personality Can Predict Important Outcomes in Emerging Adulthood


Info

7500-year-old solar event recorded in tree rings

© Nagoya University
Figure: Picture of the bristlecone pine forest in California, the United States where the bristlecone pine sample for this study used to live (taken by Prof. A.J.T. Jull). In this forest, there are many living old trees exceed 1000 years old. Harsh environments make bristlecone pines very dense and long lives.
An international team led by researchers at Nagoya University, along with US and Swiss colleagues, has identified a new type of solar event and dated it to the year 5480 BC; they did this by measuring carbon-14 levels in tree rings, which reflect the effects of cosmic radiation on the atmosphere at the time. They have also proposed causes of this event, thereby extending knowledge of how the sun behaves.

When the activity of the sun changes, it has direct effects on the earth. For example, when the sun is relatively inactive, the amount of a type of carbon called carbon-14 increases in the earth's atmosphere. Because carbon in the air is absorbed by trees, carbon-14 levels in tree rings actually reflect solar activity and unusual solar events in the past. The team took advantage of such a phenomenon by analyzing a specimen from a bristlecone pine tree, a species that can live for thousands of years, to look back deep into the history of the sun.

"We measured the 14C levels in the pine sample at three different laboratories in Japan, the US, and Switzerland, to ensure the reliability of our results," A. J. Timothy Jull of the University of Arizona says. "We found a change in 14C that was more abrupt than any found previously, except for cosmic ray events in AD 775 and AD 994, and our use of annual data rather than data for each decade allowed us to pinpoint exactly when this occurred."

Info

Cause of noises made by meteors found

© Spalding et. al./Scientific Reports
Bright, flaring meteors are sometimes accompanied by faint noises. What's strange about these popping, sizzling, rustling, and hissing sounds are that they reportedly occur almost instantly to earthly onlookers. This makes little sense, as meteors are as far as sixty miles away from viewers on the ground, so any sound they make should take several minutes be heard. What's going on? Do meteors somehow defy the laws of physics?

Researcher Richard Spalding and several of his colleagues at Sandia National Laboratories recently set out to study this strange phenomenon, and in a study just published to the journal Scientific Reports, they announce that the sounds are likely created through light.

Meteor fireballs sometimes pulse with light many times brighter than the full Moon, and these blasts can briefly heat the surfaces of objects many miles away. Such sudden temperature changes can actually create sound.

"We suggest that each pulse of light can heat the surfaces of natural dielectric transducers," Spalding and his colleagues write. "The surfaces rapidly warm and conduct heat into the nearby air, generating pressure waves. A succession of light-pulse-produced pressure waves can then manifest as sound to a nearby observer."

Mars

New study reports massive Mars volcano erupted for 2 billion years

© NASA/JPL-CalTech/USGS
An aerial view of Olympus Mons, the largest volcano in the solar system. The image was taken by the Viking 1 Orbiter.
An unusual meteorite found in Algeria in 2012 has given scientists information about volcanic activity on Mars, and it's not like anything we've ever seen on Earth.

Analysis of the 6.9-ounce meteorite, labeled Northwest Africa (NWA) 7635 by an international team of scientists, has helped determine that sometime in its 4.5 billion-year history, Mars had a single volcano that erupted continuously for more than 2 billion years.

"We've never seen anything like that on Earth," says Marc Caffee, professor of physics and astronomy at Purdue University and a member of the research team.

The research was published this week in the journal Science Advances.

So far, more than 100 meteorites in collections around the world have been identified as Martian meteorites. "Even though we've never had astronauts walk on Mars, we still have pieces of the Martian surface to study, thanks to these meteorites," Caffee says.

Most Martian meteorites are found either in Antarctica or North Africa. "Between Antarctica and other deserts we add more than 1,000 meteorites per year, but only a few of those are interesting, including those originating from Mars and the moon," Caffee says. "The standard ones are sent to the Smithsonian, but the unusual ones are sent to NASA and the community of scientists is informed in case they want to request samples."

Nebula

Black hole's feeding frenzy is breaking records

© CXC/M. Weiss; X-ray: NASA/CXC/UNH/D. Lin et al, Optical: CFHT
Artist illustration depicting the record breaking "tidal disruption event" (TDE). The red shows hotter material that falls toward the black hole and generates a distinct X-ray flare. The blue shows a wind blowing from the in-falling material.
A giant black hole ripped apart a nearby star and then continued to feed off its remains for close to a decade, according to research led by the University of New Hampshire. This black hole meal is more than 10 times longer than any other previous episode of a star's death.

"We have witnessed a star's spectacular and prolonged demise," said Dacheng Lin, a research scientist at UNH's Space Science Center and the study's lead author. "Dozens of these so-called tidal disruption events have been detected since the 1990s, but none that remained bright for nearly as long as this one."

Using data from a trio of orbiting X-ray telescopes, NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory and Swift Satellite as well as ESA's XMM-Newton, researchers found evidence of a massive "tidal disruption event" (TDE). Tidal forces, due to the intense gravity from the black hole, can destroy an object -- such as a star -- that wanders too close. During a TDE, some of the stellar debris is flung outward at high speeds, while the rest falls toward the black hole. As it travels inward, and is ingested by the black hole, the material heats up to millions of degrees and generates a distinct X-ray flare.

Galaxy

Discovery: Mysterious white dwarf pulsar

© Mark Garlick/University of Warwick
AR Scorpii, the first discovered white dwarf pulsar.
An exotic binary star system 380 light-years away has been identified as an elusive white dwarf pulsar -- the first of its kind ever to be discovered in the universe -- thanks to research by the University of Warwick.

Professors Tom Marsh and Boris Gänsicke of the University of Warwick's Astrophysics Group, with Dr David Buckley from the South African Astronomical Observatory, have identified the star AR Scorpii (AR Sco) as the first white dwarf version of a pulsar -- objects found in the 1960s and associated with very different objects called neutron stars.

The white dwarf pulsar has eluded astronomers for over half a century.

AR Sco contains a rapidly spinning, burnt-out stellar remnant called a white dwarf, which lashes its neighbour -- a red dwarf -- with powerful beams of electrical particles and radiation, causing the entire system to brighten and fade dramatically twice every two minutes. The latest research establishes that the lash of energy from AR Sco is a focused 'beam', emitting concentrated radiation in a single direction -- much like a particle accelerator -- something which is totally unique in the known universe.

Battery

New artificial intelligence wrist device reads tone of conversations

© MIT SCAIL
Ever worried your conversations might be boring? Well help could be at hand from a watch that gives a warning buzz if you've started droning on.

Scientists from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) have created a device worn on the wrist that uses artificial intelligence to read the tone of conversations. The wristband of the device is loaded with sensors that capture physiological data such as heart rate, blood pressure, blood flow, temperature and movement.

The MIT team combined that information with audio recordings to analyse a conversation's pitch, energy levels and vocabulary in the development of an algorithm that assesses the tone with an 83% accuracy level.

It understands happy, sad or neutral tones and some versions could tell you if you're boring others by collecting negative signs such as pauses, fidgeting and putting a hand to one's face.

The device could be linked to smartphones that would then vibrate if a conversation was going downhill, researchers said. The prototype focuses on the wearer, but later versions could also analyse audio from all sides of a conversation, telling us whether the people we are with are still interested in what we are saying.

Seismograph

Ankara mayor warns of technology triggering man-made earthquakes

© AFP/Adem Altan
Ankara Mayor Melih Gokcek
Ankara's outspoken mayor on Tuesday warned that outside forces could be using sophisticated technology to try to trigger a manmade earthquake in a deliberate bid to harm Turkey's fragile economy.

Melih Gokcek, who has been mayor of the Turkish capital since 1994, made the outlandish claims on Twitter where he regularly updates his more than 3.7 million followers, often writing in capital letters.

His comments were made after two quakes hit the western Canakkale province on Monday and Tuesday morning, measuring 5.3 and 5.2 magnitude respectively, the Turkish Disaster and Emergency Management Authority (AFAD) said.

In these tweets, Gokcek shared a video which claimed there were tools for causing manmade quakes, and he called all submarines and ships with large equipment to be taken under control of the authorities.

Comment: As evidenced in our 2010 article, Connecting the Dots: Mass murder in Haiti, plane madness in the skies, 'man-made' earthquakes as a means of warfare is not a fantastical or outlandish claim.
Israel has certainly chosen an interesting time to announce ongoing "research into how earthquakes are formed" by inducing earthquakes, while the Pentagon announced February 7 that it was planning further "earthquake simulations", beginning in Alaska sometime this spring.

We've seen since 9/11 that the US government has no qualms obliterating whole countries through "creative destruction", leaving millions dead and wounded in the wake of its imperialistic goals and thirst for oil. If it had the means to cause earthquakes at specific locations, would it be shy about using it? Many are suggesting HAARP as the likely culprit, but the high amounts of concentrated energy required to cause an earthquake at a specific location may require a more precise method of delivery. Perhaps a good place to start looking is space-based weapons. Reagan's Strategic Defense Initiative "Star Wars" program didn't die with the Soviet Union. In fact, the "Evil Empire" was the justification for the real Evil Empire to construct technologies that would enable it to control the whole planet:
"Environmental warfare is defined as the intentional modification or manipulation of the natural ecology, such as climate and weather, earth systems such as the ionosphere, magnetosphere, tectonic plate system, and/or the triggering of seismic events (earthquakes) to cause intentional physical, economic, psycho-social, and physical destruction to an intended target geophysical or population location, as part of strategic or tactical war." (Eco News)
As far back as 1955 John von Neumann said that "Intervention in atmospheric and climatic matters... will unfold on a scale difficult to imagine at present... this will merge each nation's affairs with those of every other, more thoroughly than the threat of a nuclear or any other war would have done." In 1977, the nations of the world were obviously aware of the dangerous implications of the Pentagon's development of "environmental modification techniques" because an international Convention was ratified by the UN General Assembly banning "military or other hostile use of environmental modification techniques", which it defined as "any technique for changing - through the deliberate manipulation of natural processes - the dynamics, composition or structure of the earth, including its biota, lithosphere, hydrosphere and atmosphere, or of outer space."

The Pentagon is (or was, until its report was taken offline) on record as having claimed the ability to modify terran and space weather as part of its strategic arsenal:
"[Weather modification] offers the war fighter a wide range of possible options to defeat or coerce an adversary... Weather modification will become a part of domestic and international security and could be done unilaterally... It could have offensive and defensive applications and even be used for deterrence purposes. The ability to generate precipitation, fog and storms on earth or to modify space weather... and the production of artificial weather all are a part of an integrated set of [military] technologies." (US Air Force document AF 2025 Final Report)
In April 1997, then-Defense Secretary William Cohen, answering a journalist's question about an apparently unrelated topic at a conference on terrorism, slipped in some curious remarks about the type of weapons available to those bent on terrorising humanity. The following exchange is taken verbatim from a transcript posted on the Department of Defense website, which used to found here:
Q: Let me ask you specifically about last week's scare here in Washington, and what we might have learned from how prepared we are to deal with that (inaudible), at B'nai Brith.

A: Well, it points out the nature of the threat. It turned out to be a false threat under the circumstances. But as we've learned in the intelligence community, we had something called -- and we have James Woolsey here to perhaps even address this question about phantom moles. The mere fear that there is a mole within an agency can set off a chain reaction and a hunt for that particular mole which can paralyze the agency for weeks and months and years even, in a search. The same thing is true about just the false scare of a threat of using some kind of a chemical weapon or a biological one. There are some reports, for example, that some countries have been trying to construct something like an Ebola Virus, and that would be a very dangerous phenomenon, to say the least. Alvin Toeffler has written about this in terms of some scientists in their laboratories trying to devise certain types of pathogens that would be ethnic specific so that they could just eliminate certain ethnic groups and races; and others are designing some sort of engineering, some sort of insects that can destroy specific crops. Others are engaging even in an eco- type of terrorism whereby they can alter the climate, set off earthquakes, volcanoes remotely through the use of electromagnetic waves. So there are plenty of ingenious minds out there that are at work finding ways in which they can wreak terror upon other nations.