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Fri, 17 Nov 2017
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Science & Technology


Researchers document transformation of graphite into hexagonal diamond

The DCS two-stage gas gun used for experiments is linked to the APS x-ray beam
A new study by Washington State University researchers answers longstanding questions about the formation of a rare type of diamond during major meteorite strikes.

Comment: Let's all look on the bright side, if/when a major space rock slams in to the planet, there's be lots of diamonds to keep the survivors happy in the rubble-strewn planet in which must now live.


Dust belt discovered around Proxima Centauri

© Astrobiology
Sketch (not to scale) of the proposed components in the Proxima Centauri planetary system. Question marks indicate marginally detected features.
Proxima Centauri, the star closest to our Sun, is known to host at least one terrestrial planet candidate in a temperate orbit. Here we report the ALMA detection of the star at 1.3 mm wavelength and the discovery of a belt of dust orbiting around it at distances ranging between 1 and 4 au, approximately.

Given the low luminosity of the Proxima Centauri star, we estimate a characteristic temperature of about 40 K for this dust, which might constitute the dust component of a small-scale analog to our solar system Kuiper belt. The estimated total mass, including dust and bodies up to 50 km in size, is of the order of 0.01 Earth masses, which is similar to that of the solar Kuiper belt. Our data also show a hint of warmer dust closer to the star.

We also find signs of two additional features that might be associated with the Proxima Centauri system, which, however, still require further observations to be confirmed: an outer extremely cold (about 10 K) belt around the star at about 30 au, whose orbital plane is tilted about 45 degrees with respect to the plane of the sky; and additionally, we marginally detect a compact 1.3 mm emission source at a projected distance of about 1.2 arcsec from the star, whose nature is still unknown.


Horses can read our body language, even when they don't know us

© University of Sussex
Amy Smith with Red
Horses can tell the difference between dominant and submissive body postures in humans, even when the humans are not familiar to them, according to a new University of Sussex-led study.

The findings enhance our understanding of how animals can communicate using body posture across the species barrier, and are specifically helpful for informing horse handlers and trainers about the ways horses perceive human body language.

Psychology researchers worked with 30 domestic horses to see whether they were more likely to approach a person displaying a dominant body posture (involving the person standing straight, with arms and legs apart and chest expanded), or a submissive posture (slouching, keeping arms and legs close to the body, relaxed knees).

They found that even though the horses had been given food rewards previously by each person when in a neutral body posture, they were significantly more likely to approach the individual displaying a submissive rather than a dominant posture in follow-up trials.


Stephen Hawking: AI will become a new life form and replace humans

© Colin Anderson / Getty Images
One day robots could entirely edge out human beings and become a new life form that is even capable of replicating itself, Stephen Hawking has warned, once again predicting a rather grim future for humankind.

"I fear that AI may replace humans altogether," the renowned physicist told Wired magazine, as cited by the Cambridge News. "If people design computer viruses, someone will design AI that improves and replicates itself. This will be a new form of life that outperforms humans," Hawking added.

However, humanity itself has already reached "the point of no return"and may destroy itself first, the 75-year-old academic predicts. "Our earth is becoming too small for us, global population is increasing at an alarming rate and we are in danger of self-destructing."

Comment: See also:


Research suggests rare metal found in meteors can be used to kill cancer cells

© University of Warwick
Diagram showing iridium attacking a cancer cell by making it produce singlet oxygen
Cancer cells can be destroyed using the same metal from the asteroid believed to have caused the dinosaurs' extinction.

Research by the University of Warwick in the UK and Sun Yat-Sen University in China found the dense metal, iridium, can be used to kill cancer cells by directly targeting them and filling them with a deadly 'version' of oxygen.

A rare metal that is found in meteoroids, iridium has been discovered in large amounts within the Earth's crust from 66 million years ago, prompting the theory that it came from the asteroid that caused the extinction of dinosaurs.


Latest research concludes that animals make rational decisions

© University of Houston
Cameron Buckner, assistant professor of philosophy at UH, says empirical evidence suggests a variety of animal species are able to make rational decisions, despite the lack of a human-like language.
Previous research has shown that animals can remember specific events, use tools and solve problems. But exactly what that means - whether they are making rational decisions or simply reacting to their environment through mindless reflex - remains a matter of scientific dispute.

Cameron Buckner, assistant professor of philosophy at the University of Houston, argues in an article published in Philosophy and Phenomenological Research that a wide range of animal species exhibit so-called "executive control" when it comes to making decisions, consciously considering their goals and ways to satisfy those goals before acting.

He acknowledges that language is required for some sophisticated forms of metacognition, or thinking about thinking. But bolstered by a review of previously published research, Buckner concludes that a wide variety of animals - elephants, chimpanzees, ravens and lions, among others - engage in rational decision-making.


More ideological censorship: Education NGO retracts essay citing intelligence research - because it was "wrong"

A British education training nonprofit is being accused of censorship after it retracted an opinion essay challenging environmental determinism from its website.

The essay, titled "Are there any limits to what schools can achieve?" was published on the website of Teach First last Thursday to foster more dialogue following an education summit in Wembley a day earlier. The essay's author and summit panelist, Toby Young, says he was blindsided at the sudden retraction two days after its publication.

"The first I knew about it [the article's retraction] was when I heard about it on Twitter," said Mr. Young, director of the New Schools Network, a charter school advocacy charity based in London. "As it was, I found myself on a Saturday morning having to defend myself from an organisation I have always supported and which I had always thought of as on the same side as me in the education reform movement."

Mr. Young's opinion piece summarized some of the scientific literature on intelligence to cast doubt on the belief that environments alone can determine pupils' educational achievement. It was published alongside a rebuttal essay by Sonia Blandford, founder and C.E.O. of education charity, Achievement for All.

On Oct. 28, both essays were retracted by Teach First. "We made a mistake," the charity announced on Twitter. "We published two blogs with opposing views as part of a recent debate on education. One was wrong. We've removed it. Sorry."


Hot, rocky exoplanets are the scorched cores of former gas giants

© Hubble, ESA and M. Kornmesser
The planets are nestled close to their stars, where stellar winds may have blown ancient atmospheres away By 1:58pm, October 31, 2017

Earth may not provide the best blueprint for how rocky planets are born.

An analysis of planets outside the solar system suggests that most hot, rocky exoplanets started out more like gassy Neptunes. Such planets are rocky now because their stars blew their thick atmospheres away, leaving nothing but an inhospitable core, researchers report in a paper posted online October 15 at arXiv.org. That could mean these planets are not as representative of Earth as scientists thought, and using them to estimate the frequency of potentially life-hosting worlds is misleading.

"One of the big discoveries is that Earth-sized, likely rocky planets are incredibly common, at least on hotter orbits," says planetary scientist Eric Lopez of NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., who wasn't involved in the study. "The big question is, are those hot exoplanets telling us anything about the frequency of Earthlike planets? This suggests that they might not be."

Comet 2

Scientists: 'Chicxulub impact event produced huge sulfur cloud that plunged world into ice age'

When a massive meteorite slammed into Earth 66 million years ago, it vaporized rocks, sending up enough climate-changing gases to spark mass extinction, say scientists
New, more precise calculations help re-create how the collision affected Earth's climate

The asteroid collision that may have doomed the dinosaurs 66 million years ago really stank. A new analysis of gases released from vaporized rocks at the impact site in modern-day Mexico suggests that the smashup released up to three times more smelly, climate-cooling sulfur than previously believed.

The Chicxulub impact spewed about 325 billion tons of sulfur and 425 billion tons of carbon dioxide into the air, researchers report October 31 in Geophysical Research Letters.

This relatively modest release of CO₂ might have contributed to long-term planetary warming. But the massive cloud of sulfurous gas would have more immediately blocked out the sun, the researchers suggest, plunging the planet into a dark Narnia-style winter that was colder and longer than previously thought. That could help explain why so many of Earth's plants and animals went extinct around this time, even those living nowhere near the impact crater (SN: 2/4/17, p. 16).


'Our minds can be hijacked': the tech insiders who fear a smartphone dystopia

Google, Twitter and Facebook workers who helped make technology so addictive are disconnecting themselves from the internet. Paul Lewis reports on the Silicon Valley refuseniks alarmed by a race for human attention

Electrophonic cocaine junkies
Justin Rosenstein had tweaked his laptop's operating system to block Reddit, banned himself from Snapchat, which he compares to heroin, and imposed limits on his use of Facebook. But even that wasn't enough. In August, the 34-year-old tech executive took a more radical step to restrict his use of social media and other addictive technologies.

Rosenstein purchased a new iPhone and instructed his assistant to set up a parental-control feature to prevent him from downloading any apps.

He was particularly aware of the allure of Facebook "likes", which he describes as "bright dings of pseudo-pleasure" that can be as hollow as they are seductive. And Rosenstein should know: he was the Facebook engineer who created the "like" button in the first place.

A decade after he stayed up all night coding a prototype of what was then called an "awesome" button, Rosenstein belongs to a small but growing band of Silicon Valley heretics who complain about the rise of the so-called "attention economy": an internet shaped around the demands of an advertising economy.

Comment: See also: Facebook abusing monopoly of power for profit and working with US Deep State to censor news