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Wed, 28 Sep 2016
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Science & Technology


Mystery of blood-red spot on Pluto's largest moon solved: Dark patch on Charon caused by trapped gas

The north pole of Pluto's largest moon Charon is covered by a large dark red stain (pictured) that has led to it being nicknamed Mordor after the evil land in JRR Tolkien's Lord of the Rings. Analysis of images of the area have revealed it may be caused by trapped methane gas.
Orbiting a frozen world in the darkest fringes of our solar system, the blood-coloured north pole of Pluto's largest moon Charon appears so foreboding that astronomers nicknamed it Mordor.

A study of images beamed back by Nasa's New Horizon's space probe may now have uncovered what causes the dark red patch that stains the top of the icy moon.

Named after the shadowy lands that were home to the evil Sauron in JRR Tolkien's Lord of the Rings, it appears the area is being 'spray painted' with methane gas from Pluto that becomes trapped on its surface.


Solar storms could crash U.S. upper Midwest's power grid

© vichie81/iStockphoto
Solar storms not only cause auroras, but also electrical surges that can upset power grids.
When the lights go out, the cause is often regional: Ice storms in the northeastern United States or hurricanes in the southeast. Now, a new study shows that the upper Midwest can have its own special sort of grid-destroying storm—space weather. The study finds that this region is at greatest risk of damage from storms of charged particles from the sun, which crash into Earth and send electrical currents surging along power lines, melting transformers and triggering blackouts. According to the study, those surges could be up to 100 times more powerful in northern Minnesota and Wisconsin than in other parts of the United States.

Scientists have been trying to predict geoelectric storms for decades, but have been hampered by a lack of data. Now, researchers have created the first "geoelectric hazard" map for large parts of the continental United States. Rather than providing local recommendations for making a power grid safe or short-term warnings of big storms, this new map aims to predict where large geoelectric storms can be most severe. The map, published last week in Geophysical Review Letters, draws on data about the two biggest factors in the strength of these storms—the likely interactions of space weather with Earth's magnetic field and the conductivity of Earth's crust.


Scientists develop new 'mind reading' analysis that decodes emotion flickering across brain

© Philip Kragel, Kevin LaBar, Duke University
A Duke team has mapped the distinct patterns of brain activity that correspond to seven different emotional states. The brain anatomy presented here is an average of data from 32 study subjects.
New statistical analysis powers "mind reading" ability

As you relax and let your mind drift aimlessly, you might remember a pleasant vacation, an angry confrontation in traffic or maybe the loss of a loved one.

And now a team of researchers at Duke University say they can see those various emotional states flickering across the human brain.

"It's getting to be a bit like mind-reading," said Kevin LaBar, a professor of psychology and neuroscience at Duke. "Earlier studies have shown that functional MRI can identify whether a person is thinking about a face or a house. Our study is the first to show that specific emotions like fear and anger can be decoded from these scans as well."

The data produced by a functional MRI hasn't changed, but the group is applying new multivariate statistics to the scans of brain activity to see different emotions as networks of activity distributed across areas of the conscious and unconscious brain.

These networks were first mapped by the team in a March 2015 paper in the journal Social, Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience. They identified seven different patterns of brain activity reflecting contentment, amusement, surprise, fear, anger, sadness and neutrality.

To build these maps, they had put 32 research subjects into the scanner and exposed them to two music clips and two film clips that had been shown to induce each of the seven emotions. The subjects also completed self-report questionnaires on their mood states for further validation.


Walmart patents a self-driving shopping cart

© U.S. Patent Office
The Roomba-like device, seen under the cart, would slide into position and pull the cart.
If it has wheels, there's a good chance someone, somewhere is going figuring out how to make it roll on its own.

Last week, for example, the United States government granted Walmart's patent request (thank you, Patent Yogi) for a system of self-driving shopping carts. Forget yanking carts from a train of clanking metal, or wheeling the things back to their corrals after your car is loaded.

The carts themselves won't change; instead, a fleet of Roomba-like transport units would slide under carts and ferry them through the store.

According to Walmart's patent request, customers will be able to summon one of these cart-pullers — each equipped with cameras and sensors — with their "user interface device", perhaps a smartphone app, and a motorized unit will attach to a cart parked in a docking station and pull it to the customer. Once customer and cart meet, the transport unit will serve as a personal store escort.


1bn stars mapped by 3D Gaia satellite

© ESA / Gaia / DPAC
The European Space Agency (ESA) has released the most detailed map of the Milky Way to date after cataloging the precise positions and brightness of more than 1.1 billion stars.TrendsViral

The 3D map released Wednesday, is based on observations from ESA's Gaia spacecraft, which was launched in 2013 with the express purpose of charting the most detailed map ever of the stars in our galaxy.


Eclipse of the harvest moon on 16th September

According to folklore, this Friday's full moon is the Harvest Moon--a bright orb that shines down on the ripening fields of the northern hemisphere, allowing farmers to harvest their crops late into the night. The Harvest Moon of Sept. 16th won't be as bright as usual, though. It's going to pass through Earth's shadow, producing a penumbral lunar eclipse.

© Shadow and Substance
This is a penumbral eclipse of the Moon that is centered south of India. For us in the United States, we will not see it. This eclipse is interesting, because it appears like a cloud is shading the northern portion of the Moon. If you were on the Moon, looking back towards Earth, the Sun would appear partially eclipsed. If you are in the eastern hemisphere, try looking for it. (Information derived from USNO.)
A penumbral eclipse happens when the Moon passes through the pale outskirts of Earth's shadow. It is much less dramatic than a total lunar eclipse. In fact, when observers are not alerted beforehand, they often do not realize an eclipse is underway. Nevertheless, the subtle shadow of Earth is visible to the naked eye if you know it's there.

Life Preserver

Russian scientists discover that treating cells with cold plasma leads to their regeneration and rejuvenation

Fig. 1. Low-temperature plasma generator. Left: (1) gas flow, (2) SHF electrode, (3) plasma jet, (4) power source, (5) ground electrode. Right: (6) metal tube, (7) power, (8) plasma jet.
Russian scientists have found that treating cells with cold plasma leads to their regeneration and rejuvenation. This result can be used to develop a plasma therapy program for patients with non-healing wounds. The paper has been published in the Journal of Physics D: Applied Physics.

Non-healing wounds make it more difficult to provide effective treatment to patients and are therefore a serious problem faced by doctors. These wounds can be caused by damage to blood vessels in the case of diabetes, failure of the immune system resulting from an HIV infection or cancers, or slow cell division in elderly people. Treatment of non-healing wounds by conventional methods is very difficult, and in some cases impossible.

Cold atmospheric-pressure plasma refers to a partially ionized gas—the proportion of charged particles in the gas is close to 1 percent, with a temperature below 100,000 K. Its application in biology and medicine is possible through the advent of plasma sources generating jets at 30-40?°C.

Comment: Researchers discover cold plasma has ability to kill norovirus

Eye 1

Now that the genie is out of the bottle, it is too late to consider the ethics of mind control technology?

There seems to be a troubling uptick around "ethics" recently within scientific circles that are focusing on robotics, artificial intelligence, and brain research. I say troubling because embedded within the standard appeals for caution which should appear in science, there also seems to be a tacit admission that things might be quickly spiraling out of control, as we are told of meetings, conventions, and workshops that have the ring of emergency scrambles more than debating society confabs.

Yesterday, Activist Post republished commentary from Harvard which cited a 52-page Stanford study looking into what Artificial Intelligence might look like in the year 2030. That report admits that much of what the general public believes to be science fiction - like pre-crime, for example - is already being implemented or is well on the way to impacting people's day-to-day lives. We have seen the same call for ethical standards and caution about "killer robots" when, in fact, robots are already killing and injuring humans. Really all that is left to be considered, presumably, is the degree to which these systems should be permitted to become fully autonomous.


Candidatus Frackibacter: New genus of bacteria discovered in fracking wells

© Rebecca Daly/OSU
Researchers analyzing the genomes of microorganisms living in shale oil and gas wells have found evidence of sustainable ecosystems taking hold there, populated in part by a never-before-seen genus of bacteria they have dubbed "Frackibacter."

The new genus is one of the 31 microbial members found living inside two separate fracturing wells, Ohio State University researchers and their colleagues report

Even though the wells were hundreds of miles apart and drilled in different kinds of shale formations, the microbial communities inside them were nearly identical, the researchers discovered.


Robot used during NY Fashion Week had to be disabled after it kept bumping into people

Robots dominated New York Fashion Week, but not all of them behaved themselves.

Michael Kors used the Double robot camera for its installation at Refinery29's 29 Rooms event held to coincide with NYFW in the Bushwick neighborhood of Brooklyn. The luxury designer re-created a digital street at 29 Rooms complete with shops and flowers and the robot camera—controlled by an individual user's iPad— was at the center of the action. The robot camera was designed to follow people entering the Michael Kors installation.

But the Double robot was disabled after it kept bumping into people and signs, a Michael Kors source told Heat Street.

Comment: A Silicon Valley startup is also using robots instead of people to help run their pizza business:

© AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez