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Fri, 29 Jul 2016
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Populations in the ancient Fertile Crescent are the ancestors of modern day South Asians but not Europeans

© JGU Palaeogenetics Group
Analysis of ancient DNA in the laboratory.
An international research team led by Mainz palaeogeneticists demonstrates that populations in the ancient Fertile Crescent are the ancestors of modern day South Asians but not of Europeans.

Sedentism, farming, and agriculture was invented some 10,000 years ago in a region between southeastern Anatolia, Iran, Iraq, and Syria, an area traditionally labeled as the Fertile Crescent. Most of the technology and culture associated with farming including domestic sheep, goat, cattle, and pig originated here.

The transition from a hunter-gatherer lifestyle to agriculture and sedentism was considered such a radical change in human ecology that the term Neolithic revolution was coined for it. Some 2,000 years later, the new Neolithic lifestyle appeared in southeastern Europe and shortly afterwards in Central and Mediterranean Europe.

This week, an international research team led by palaeogeneticists of Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz (JGU) published a study in the journal Science showing that the earliest farmers from the Zagros mountains in Iran, i.e., the eastern part of the Fertile Crescent, are neither the main ancestors of Europe's first farmers nor of modern-day Europeans.

"This came as a surprise," said Farnaz Broushaki, first author of the study and a member of the JGU Palaeogenetics Group. "Our team had only recently shown that early farmers from across Europe have an almost unbroken trail of ancestry leading back to northwest Anatolia. But now it seems that the chain of migration into Europe breaks somewhere in eastern Anatolia."

According to the team's previous study, Neolithic settlers from northern Greece and the Marmara Sea region of western Turkey reached central Europe via a Balkan route and the Iberian Peninsula via a Mediterranean route. These colonists brought sedentary life, agriculture, and domestic animals and plants to Europe. New research shows that some of the world's earliest farmers from Iran were a genetically distinct group and only very distantly related to the first farmers of western Anatolia and Europe.


Osmotic power: Highly efficient electricity generating system developed using water and a membrane just 3 atoms thick

© gertrudda / Fotolia
Researchers have developed a new way to generate electricity using water and a very thin membrane. The concept is fairly simple. A semipermeable membrane separates two fluids with different salt concentrations. Salt ions travel through the membrane until the salt concentrations in the two fluids reach equilibrium. That phenomenon is precisely osmosis.
Proponents of clean energy will soon have a new source to add to their existing array of solar, wind, and hydropower: osmotic power. Or more specifically, energy generated by a natural phenomenon occurring when fresh water comes into contact with seawater through a membrane.

Researchers at EPFL's Laboratory of Nanoscale Biology have developed an osmotic power generation system that delivers never-before-seen yields. Their innovation lies in a three atoms thick membrane used to separate the two fluids. The results of their research have been published in Nature.

The concept is fairly simple. A semipermeable membrane separates two fluids with different salt concentrations. Salt ions travel through the membrane until the salt concentrations in the two fluids reach equilibrium. That phenomenon is precisely osmosis.

If the system is used with seawater and fresh water, salt ions in the seawater pass through the membrane into the fresh water until both fluids have the same salt concentration. And since an ion is simply an atom with an electrical charge, the movement of the salt ions can be harnessed to generate electricity.

Solar Flares

Massive hole in the sun could lead to disruption of earth's electronics

Known as a 'coronal hole', the black mass creeping across the sun's surface has the potential to cause chaos on Earth.

A coronal hole appears on the sun's corona, or atmosphere, when the sun's magnetic field opens and allows heat from the corona to be expelled.

The lower temperature of these areas causes them to appear darker than the rest of the sun's surface. They also have lower energy and gas levels, adding to its dark appearance.

While this sounds pretty terrifying, given the Earth's dependence on the sun to survive, scientists say this discovery is not a sign of impending doom for either our star or our planet.

Coronal holes appear regularly on the sun's surface, but this one is much larger than usual. The holes can last for months and can grow to cover up to a quarter of the sun's surface, according to NASA.

Comment: If this coronal hole is much larger than usual, is it just a random occurrence, or might it have appeared due to some 'new' influence within the solar system? In other words, what is driving the seemingly abnormal behavior of our sun? For some possible explanations, see Pierre Lescaudron's Earth Changes and the Human-Cosmic Connection.

Bad Guys

The militarized mind: Biodiversity, GMOs, & gene drives

© Elizabeth Weller/flickr/cc
"Amaranth, Amaranto, love-lies-bleeding, tassel flower, Joseph's coat, or ramdana (gods own grain) is the grain of well-being," Shiva writes.
A recent report from the National Academy of Science of The United States, titled "Gene Drives on the Horizon: Advancing Science, Navigating Uncertainty, and Aligning Research with Public Values," warns:
"One possible goal of release of a gene-drive modified organism is to cause the extinction of the target species or a drastic reduction in its abundance."
Gene Drives have been called "mutagenic chain reactions," and are to the biological world what chain reactions are to the nuclear world. The Guardian describes Gene Drives as the "gene bomb."


Giant galaxy 'built in reverse' found

© NASA/JPL/Caltech/SDSS/NRAO/L. Hagen and M. Seibert
In optical light, UGC 1382 appears to be a simple elliptical galaxy (left). When astronomers incorporated ultraviolet and deep optical data (centre) they began to see spiral arms, and when that was combined with a view of low-density hydrogen gas (shown in green at right), scientists discovered that UGC 1382 is gigantic.
Scientists have been taken by surprise to discover that a galaxy they thought was tiny and conventional is, in fact, enormous and bizarre - and quite unlike anything they have seen before.

At about 718,000 light-years across, UGC 1382 is more than seven times wider than the Milky Way - 10 times larger than was previously thought. But that isn't the strange part.

Whereas most galaxies have the oldest stars closer to the centre, this one is the reverse.

"The centre of UGC 1382 is actually younger than the spiral disc surrounding it," says Mark Seibert of the Observatories of the Carnegie Institution for Science, in California.

"It's old on the outside and young on the inside. This is like finding a tree whose inner growth rings are younger than the outer rings."

Seibert and Lea Hagen of Pennsylvania State University found the galaxy by accident while they were looking for stars forming in run-of-the-mill elliptical galaxies - of which they thought UGC 1382 was one.

But when they started looking more closely at images in ultraviolet light through data from NASA's Galaxy Evolution Explorer (GALEX), they were amazed to see a vast expanse of stars that shouldn't have been there.


Rise of the machines: 47% of U.S. workforce at risk of losing their jobs to robots

© Fairfax Media via Getty Images)
Self-service checkout aisles at supermarkets are a sign that lower-wage jobs are being taken by machines, says Jason Furman, chairperson of the Council of Economic Advisers.
A senior economic adviser to U.S. President Barack Obama has issued a warning to lower-wage earners: You risk losing your job to a machine.

"Technological advances in recent decades have brought tremendous benefits but have also contributed to increasing inequality and falling [workforce] participation," said Jason Furman, chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers, in a speech in New York last week.

A 2013 study from the University of Oxford found that 47 per cent of existing U.S. employment is at risk of automation. Furman's council took that data and analyzed it to see how it would impact people at different points on the income ladder.

Comment: The signs are all pointing to the fact that the global workforce is becoming obsolete and the ruling elite will soon have little use for the majority of humanity:


New technology opening door for military to control swarms of drones with their minds

A new age of warfare is near — and it's a situation of mind over matter.

Panagiotis Artemiadis, the director of the Human-Oriented Robotics and Control Lab at Arizona State University, is developing technology that allows a person to control multiple drones using wavelengths generated by his brain.

"I have been working on brain control interfaces and human robot interactions for many years now," Artemiadis, who's also an assistant professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering, told The Post.

His previous research focused on the mind control of a single machine, such as a robotic prosthetic hand or arm.

"About two years ago I thought of doing the next step: many robots," he said.

A PhD student wearing a skin-tight cap hooked up to 128 electrodes demonstrated the technology in a video uploaded by ASU.

"We're using advanced algorithms to decipher what the person is thinking," the student says. Those signals are then communicated to the robots.

In 2014, the lab was awarded $860,000 from the Defense Advanced Research Projects and Agency and the US Air Force in order to build the mind-bending technology.

Life Preserver

Ikea to use mushroom-based packaging that will decompose in a garden within weeks

The furniture retailer is looking at using biodegradable mycelium "fungi packaging" as part of its efforts to reduce waste and increase recycling.

It's no secret polystyrene is devastating to the environment. But, do you know how exactly that is so? According to a fact-sheet provided by Harvard, polystyrene - which is made from petroleum, a non-sustainable, non-renewable, heavily polluting and fast-disappearing commodity - is not biodegradable, as it takes thousands of years to break down. In addition, it is detrimental to wildlife that ingests it.

Despite this well-known data, humans continue to toss more than 14 million tons of the stuff into landfills every year, according to the French ministry of ecology.

Sadly, until every individual decided to "be the change" and live consciously, styrofoam pollution will continue to be a problem.


Unseen brown dwarfs found lurking deep in the Orion Nebula

© Eso/H. Drass et al
This image of the Orion Nebula star-formation region was captured by Eso's Very Large Telescope in Chile. It is the deepest view ever seen of this region and reveals more very faint planetary-mass objects than expected.
Hidden deep within the Orion Nebula is a host of previously unseen faint brown dwarfs - planetary bodies that are the missing link between large planets and small stars.

An international team spotted this treasure trove of planetary bodies after capturing the deepest and most comprehensive view of the nebula to date using the Hawk-I infrared instrument on ESO's Very Large Telescope (VLT).

The presence of these low-mass bodies provides an 'exciting insight' into the history of how stars formed within the nebula itself and offers clues to how galaxies and stars of different masses evolve.

The Orion Nebula spans 24 light-years within the constellation Orion. It can be seen from Earth with the naked eye as a 'fuzzy patch' in Orion's 'sword'. Some nebulae, like Orion, are strongly illuminated by ultraviolet radiation from the many hot stars born within them, such that the gas is ionised and glows brightly.


Supernova could cause mass extinction on Earth

Supernova remnant Cassiopeia A. A supernova might have occurred around the right time and at the right distance from Earth to contribute to a minor mass extinction several million years ago.
An exploding star hundreds of light-years from Earth may have played a role in a minor mass extinction that happened 2.59 million years ago, new research indicates. Scientists modeled the light and radiation that would have reached Earth from relatively close exploding stars, or supernovae.

The impacts on Earth and its lifeforms could help explain the die-off that happened as the Pliocene Epoch wrapped up and the Pleistocene began, they say.

It's generally accepted that several stars have gone supernova about 300 light years from Earth within the past few million years. Recent evidence for these supernovae comes from two studies published in April. In one, researchers traced the amount of iron-60, a radioactive form of iron, in deep-sea crusts.

Iron-60 is catapulted into space by supernovae or in winds from massive stars; its presence can reveal when a star exploded nearby. Scientists found two influxes of iron-60, one about 1.5 to 3.2 million years ago, another at 6.5 to 8.7 million years ago.

Another group calculated the likely trajectories of recent supernovae, and found that the stars were probably nine times the size of our own sun, and exploded about 300 light years from Earth.

In the new study, scientists were curious about how these recent supernovae might have affected life on Earth, as well as our planet's atmosphere. To cause a truly catastrophic extinction, you'd need a supernova within about 26 light-years from Earth.

"This event is not close enough to have precipitated a major mass extinction, but may have had noticeable effects," wrote the researchers, who recently published the findings in Astrophysical Journal Letters.