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Fri, 09 Dec 2022
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Grey Alien

Extraterrestrial signal search is underway using the southern hemisphere's biggest radio telescope

MeerKAT telescope in South Africa,
© Danielle Futselaar / Breakthrough Listen / SARAO
Artist’s impression of the MeerKAT telescope in South Africa, and the Breakthrough Listen compute cluster, scanning the sky for possible signals (represented as binary codes) from extraterrestrial intelligence. One of the first targets to be observed by the new instrument will be the Alpha Centauri system, represented as the three stars towards the top right of the image.
Vanderbijlpark, South Africa - Breakthrough Listen - the initiative to find signs of intelligent life in the universe - announced today, at a conference organized by the South African Radio Astronomy Observatory (SARAO), the start of observations using a powerful new instrument deployed to the MeerKAT radio telescope in the remote Karoo region of South Africa. The new search for technosignatures - indicators of technology developed by extraterrestrial intelligence - expands the number of targets searched by a factor of 1,000.

The astronomers and engineers on the Breakthrough Listen team have spent the last three years developing and installing the most powerful digital instrumentation ever deployed in the search for technosignatures, and integrating the equipment with the MeerKAT control and monitoring systems in cooperation with SARAO engineers. The new hardware complements Listen's ongoing searches using the Green Bank Telescope in the USA, the Parkes Telescope in Australia, and other telescopes around the world. But while Listen's programs at the GBT and Parkes involve moving these thousand-ton-plus dishes to point at targets all over the sky, the program on MeerKAT usually won't mechanically move the antennas.

"MeerKAT consists of 64 dishes, which can see an area of the sky 50 times bigger than the GBT can view at once," explained Breakthrough Listen Principal Investigator Dr. Andrew Siemion. "Such a large field of view typically contains many stars that are interesting technosignature targets. Our new supercomputer enables us to combine signals from the 64 dishes to get high resolution scans of these targets with excellent sensitivity, all without impacting the research of other astronomers who are using the array."

Cloud Lightning

Why does lightning zigzag? At last, we may have an answer to the mystery

© Douglas M. Paine
Everyone has seen lightning and marvelled at its power. But despite its frequency - about 8.6 million lightning strikes occur worldwide every day - why lightning proceeds in a series of steps from the thundercloud to the earth below has remained a mystery.

There are a few textbooks on lightning, but none have explained how these "zigzags" (called steps) form, and how lightning can travel over kilometres. My new research provides an explanation.

The intense electrical fields in thunderclouds excite electrons to have enough energy to create what are known as "singlet delta oxygen molecules". These molecules and electrons build up to create a short, highly conducting step, which lights up intensely for a millionth of a second.


A power law keeps the brain's perceptions balanced

abstract fractals
© Zouassi
Researchers have discovered a surprising mathematical relationship in the brain's representations of sensory information, with possible applications to AI research.

The human brain is often described in the language of tipping points: It toes a careful line between high and low activity, between dense and sparse networks, between order and disorder. Now, by analyzing firing patterns from a record number of neurons, researchers have uncovered yet another tipping point — this time, in the neural code, the mathematical relationship between incoming sensory information and the brain's neural representation of that information. Their findings, published in Nature in June, suggest that the brain strikes a balance between encoding as much information as possible and responding flexibly to noise, which allows it to prioritize the most significant features of a stimulus rather than endlessly cataloging smaller details. The way it accomplishes this feat could offer fresh insights into how artificial intelligence systems might work, too.


New fossil find overturns more than a century of knowledge about the origin of modern birds

Janavis finalidens
© Roc Olive
Artist's impression of Janavis finalidens
Fossilised fragments of a skeleton, hidden within a rock the size of a grapefruit, have helped upend one of the longest-standing assumptions about the origins of modern birds.

Researchers from the University of Cambridge and the Natuurhistorisch Museum Maastricht found that one of the key skull features that characterises 99% of modern birds -- a mobile beak -- evolved before the mass extinction event that killed all large dinosaurs, 66 million years ago.

This finding also suggests that the skulls of ostriches, emus and their relatives evolved 'backwards', reverting to a more primitive condition after modern birds arose.

Using CT scanning techniques, the Cambridge team identified bones from the palate, or the roof of the mouth, of a new species of large ancient bird, which they named Janavis finalidens. It lived at the very end of the Age of Dinosaurs and was one of the last toothed birds to ever live. The arrangement of its palate bones shows that this 'dino-bird' had a mobile, dexterous beak, almost indistinguishable from that of most modern birds.


Supermassive black hole devours a star, blasts its remains towards Earth

black hole
© Universal History Archive/Universal Images Group/Getty Images
The Herschel Space Observatory has shown that galaxies with the most powerful, active, supermassive black holes at their cores produce fewer stars than galaxies with less active black holes.
A supermassive black hole swallowed up a star, ripping it apart, and uniquely expelled a beam of light from its center.

In a scientific research report published on Wednesday, astronomers say a previously unknown black hole was made known to observers when a star passed too close and was devoured.

Astronomers then observed a jetted stream of "afterglow" from the catastrophe, which experts call a Tidal Disruption Event (TDE), heading straight toward the Earth.

"The event started when an ill-fated star approached the supermassive black hole (SMBH) on a nearly parabolic trajectory and was ripped apart into a stream of gaseous debris," read the scientific paper, published on Nov. 30. "About half of the mass stayed bound to the black hole, underwent general-relativistic apsidal precession as the gas fell back towards the pericenter, and then produced strong shocks at the self-crossing point."


Signs of megatsunami generated by asteroid impact detected on Mars

© AP Photo / NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS
About 4.5-3.5 billion years ago, Mars is believed to have had an active surface hydrosphere. At the time, the northern plains of the planet were covered by a salty ocean with a volume up to 15-17 million km³, comparable with the current state of the Arctic Ocean.

A team of planetologists led by Alexis Rodriguez, a researcher at the Institute of Planetology in Tucson, US, have discovered a previously unknown crater on the surface of the Chryse Planitia, whose formation about 3.4 billion years ago generated a powerful tsunami wave. The asteroid that caused it was comparable in size to the meteorite that destroyed the dinosaurs, scientists wrote in an article in the journal Scientific Reports.

Much to the surprise of planetary scientists, the first images of the Maya Valley from Viking 1 lacked the typical landform features associated with floods which had been expected, including lined deposits of rocks and drop-shaped accumulations of sand and clay. Instead, photos of the "Mayan valleys" showed plains covered with a number of large cobbles.


NASA releases "extraordinary" Webb Telescope images of Saturn's most intriguing moon

© JWST Titan GTO Team
Titan has the only substantial atmosphere of any Solar System moon.
Behold Titan, Saturn's largest moon. It appears in rare form in new James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) imagery, and astronomers are thrilled.

Features on Titan, including a methane sea called Kraken Mare, and the dark-colored sand dunes of Belet, appear in JWST's observations. An international team of researchers shared their Titan chronicle Thursday, December 1, via a blog NASA runs for JWST.

"At first glance, it is simply extraordinary! I think we're seeing a cloud!" This message from researcher Sebastien Rodriguez from the Universite Paris Cité poured into the email inboxes of many astronomers earlier last month. It set into motion an investigation that, while still awaiting the peer-review process, is an exciting start. The potential of JWST's instruments to investigate outer Solar System worlds is showcased in a blog post. Titan, an Earth-like moon, has revealed land features and clouds.


Blue Planet

Toxoplasmosis turning wolves into pack leaders, new research suggests

Mexican wolves Brookfield zoo
© Antonio Perez / Chicago Tribune
Mexican wolves wrestle in their habitat at Brookfield Zoo in Brookfield on Feb. 7, 2018.
It seems that grey wolves are yet more victims of the strange and poorly-understood toxoplasma gondii parasite — but in their case, the effects of this brain worm seem to be driving the wolves toward leadership roles.

A new study in the journal Communications Biology details how an analysis of 27 years of data found that grey wolves in Yellowstone National Park that were infected with the T. gondii parasite were, like most animals who get the associated toxoplasmosis disease, driven toward risk-taking behaviors.

While that often plays out poorly in other animals — including humans, who can catch toxoplasmosis from cat crap, some scientists say — the infected canids surveyed by the Yellowstone Wolf Project for the study appeared to be up to 46 times more likely to become pack leaders in the wake of infection. This may be because T. gondii has been shown in other mammals — including, in humans in particular — to increase testosterone levels, the research notes.


Elon Musk says he's confident Neuralink device ready for humans

Elon Musk
"We are now confident that the Neuralink device is ready for humans, so timing is a function of working through the FDA approval process."

At an event at its Fremont, California headquarters on Wednesday night, Elon Musk's Neuralink Corp. announced that it is hoping to start inserting its coin-sized computing brain implant into human patients within six months.

According to Bloomberg, the brain-computer interface (BCI), will "allow a person with a debilitating condition — such as amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) or the aftereffects of a stroke — to communicate via their thoughts."

The CEO of Twitter and owner of Tesla wrote on the social media platform Wednesday night in response to a write up by the outlet about the device, "We are now confident that the Neuralink device is ready for humans, so timing is a function of working through the FDA approval process."

The device translates neuronal activity into data that could be interpreted by a computer and during the event, Musk revealed the company is developing implants that can go into the spinal cord to potentially restore movement in someone who is paralyzed and an ocular implant to improve or restore human vision.

Musk said at the event, "As miraculous as that may sound, we are confident that it is possible to restore full-body functionality to someone who has a severed spinal cord."

Comment: While everyone who still has a shred of commonsense may be applauding Musk's overhaul of Twitter, the oligarchic mouthpiece of libertarian ideals helps usher in the technology of totalitarian transhumanism.

See: Meet Elon Musk - Technocratic Huckster


Climate models can never work, says computer modeller

© pagespeed.ic
If you cannot make a model to predict the outcome of the next draw from a lottery ball machine, you are unable to make a model to predict the future of the climate, suggests former computer modeller Greg Chapman, in a recent essay in Quadrant. Chapman holds a PhD in physics and notes that the climate system is chaotic, which means "any model will be a poor predictor of the future". A lottery ball machine, he observes, "is a comparatively much simpler and smaller interacting system".

Most climate models run hot, a polite term for endless failed predictions of runaway global warming. If this was a "real scientific process'" argues Chapman, the hottest two thirds of the models would be rejected by the International Panel for Climate Change (IPCC). If that happened, he continues, there would be outrage amongst the climate scientists community, especially from the rejected teams, "due to their subsequent loss of funding". More importantly, he added, "the so-called 97% consensus would instantly evaporate". Once the hottest models were rejected, the temperature rise to 2100 would be 1.5°C since pre-industrial times, mostly due to natural warming. "There would be no panic, and the gravy train would end," he said.

As COP27 enters its second week, the Roger Hallam-grade hysteria - the intelligence-insulting 'highway to hell' narrative - continues to be ramped up. Invariably behind all of these claims is a climate model or a corrupt, adjusted surface temperature database. In a recent essay also published in Quadrant, the geologist Professor Ian Plimer notes that COP27 is "the biggest public policy disaster in a lifetime". In a blistering attack on climate extremism, he writes:
We are reaping the rewards of 50 years of dumbing down education, politicised poor science, a green public service, tampering with the primary temperature data record and the dismissal of common sense as extreme right-wing politics. There has been a deliberate attempt to frighten poorly-educated young people about a hypothetical climate emergency by the mainstream media, uncritically acting as stenographers for green activists.