Welcome to Sott.net
Sun, 19 May 2019
The World for People who Think

Science & Technology


Russia's new surveillance plane flew over two US top nuclear labs and several military facilities

© Unknown
The route also covered a number of Army and Air Force bases, a major proving ground, and one of America's last chemical weapon storage sites.

One Russia's two Tu-214ON aircraft has conducted what appears to be its first-ever flight over the United States under the Open Skies Treaty. This agreement allows member states to conduct aerial surveillance missions, with certain limitations in hardware and in the presence of monitors from the surveilled country, over each other's territory. Today's sortie took the Russian plane over parts of West Texas, through New Mexico, and into Colorado, including overflights of Fort Bliss, White Sands Missile Range, Sandia and Los Alamos National Laboratories, and finally hitting up the Pueblo Chemical Depot.

The Tu-214ON, with the registration number RF-64525, took off from Rosecrans Air National Guard Base in Saint Joseph, Missouri, at around 1:50 PM local time on Apr. 25, 2019. The aircraft arrived at Rosecrans three days earlier and the Russian Ministry of Defense says it will continue flying from the base in Missouri until Apr. 27, 2019.

After leaving Rosecrans, the modified airliner flew a relatively straightforward route south at a constant speed of around 270 knots, or 310 miles per hour, and at altitudes between 5,000 and 7,000 feet. The flight path through Kansas, Oklahoma, and into Texas took the plane over a number of major U.S. military installations, including the U.S. Army's Fort Riley and the U.S. Air Force's McConnell Air Force Base, both in Kansas, Vance Air Force Base and Fort Sill in Oklahoma, and Sheppard Air Force Base and Dyess Air Force Base in Texas.

Comment: A photo documentation of the flight included.

Microscope 2

Degrees of freedom? Bacteria make individual decisions when navigating a maze

bacteria maze
© ETH Zurich
Behavioral experiment with bacteria: a T-maze with a chemical gradient presents bacterial cells with the choice of approaching or avoiding the attractant at each branching.
Although they are considered the simplest of all life forms, even microorganisms sense their environment and are able to actively move within it. This allows them to identify both food and harmful substances and to move towards or away from them, guided by the concentration gradient of the substance in their environment. The journey of many microbes can thus be viewed as a sequence of decisions based on chemical gradients.

The ability of cells to target or avoid particular substances is called chemotaxis. Until now, scientists have generally considered the chemotactic properties of bacteria to be a common feature of a species or population -- as if all cells behaved more or less the same. In this case, average values are sufficient to describe their movement behaviour. Now, researchers at ETH Zurich have observed the chemotaxis of bacteria in a behavioural experiment. "If you look with the appropriate technology, you'll find astonishing behavioural differences even within a population of genetically identical cells," report Mehdi Salek and Francesco Carrara, the lead authors of a study recently published in Nature Communications.

Comment: Even bacteria have some degree of freedom, some iota of spontaneity. Of course, most scientists will interpret this as the researchers above due: strictly in terms of efficient causation and biological/physical determinism. The bacteria don't 'choose' to take the paths with more or fewer nutrients - the number of relevant proteins determine which path they will take. And they may be correct, as far as it goes. But for centuries scientists have excluded final causation from their methodology: nature doesn't have purposes, and lower organisms don't have any kind of experience. This is where they go wrong. Even the bacteria probably have some vague sense that nutrients are good. Even if they don't, their behavior is obviously goal-directed. And as the researchers above point out, even making the 'wrong' choice has its potential advantages. In other words, even at the lowly level of bacteria, there is purpose in taking 'the road less travelled'. Maybe there's more going on here than simply the number of a particular protein.

Blue Planet

Pacific Ocean: The world's tallest waves are getting taller

ocean waves
© iStock.com/Bobbushphoto
Waves in the stormy Southern Ocean have grown an average of 30 centimeters since 1985.
The frigid Southern Ocean is well known for its brutal storms, which can sink ships and trigger coastal flooding on distant tropical islands. Now, a new study suggests the biggest waves there - already the world's largest - are getting bigger, thanks to faster winds attributed to climate change.

Peter Ruggiero, a geophysicist at Oregon State University in Corvallis who was not involved in the study, calls the increase "substantial," and says he is particularly concerned by evidence that the tallest waves are gaining height at the fastest rate. "If [those waves hit] at high tide, it could be potentially catastrophic."

For the past 33 years, global satellites have been collecting data on ocean waves - and the winds that drive them. By bouncing energy pulses off wave crests and measuring the time those pulses take to come back, instruments called altimeters aboard satellites can measure wave height - the taller the waves, the faster the signal returns. Other satellite instruments monitor changes in the reflectivity of the ocean surface, which is reduced by wind-generated ripples, to estimate the speed of ocean winds. But interpreting the data is difficult: Different satellites can give different estimates of wind speed, for instance.

Comment: More on large waves:


Accidental discoveries: Scientists create a new wonder material that could revolutionise batteries and electronics

Phosphorene nanoribbons
© Oliver Payton/University of Bristol
Phosphorene nanoribbons
Some of the most famous scientific discoveries happened by accident. From Teflon and the microwave oven to penicillin, scientists trying to solve a problem sometimes find unexpected things. This is exactly how we created phosphorene nanoribbons - a material made from one of the universe's basic building blocks, but that has the potential to revolutionise a wide range of technologies.

We'd been trying to separate layers of phosphorus crystals into two-dimensional sheets. Instead, our technique created tiny, tagliatelle-like ribbons one single atom thick and only 100 or so atoms across, but up to 100,000 atoms long. We spent three years honing the production process, before announcing our findings.

The two-dimensional ribbons have a number of remarkable properties. Their width to length ratio is similar to the cables that span the Golden Gate Bridge. Their incredibly uniform but manipulable width allows their properties, such as whether and how they conduct electricity, to be fine-tuned. They are also incredibly flexible, which means that they can follow the contours of any surfaces they're put on perfectly, and even be twisted.


Philosophers want back into science - without them, science is lost

© Creative Commons via Pixabay
Take it slow and don't pretend to know. Socratic ignorance is the hallmark of wisdom.
They used to be called "natural philosophers" before William Whewell coined the term "scientist" in 1833. During the Victorian boom, it appeared that scientists could work on their own, applying their scientific method to all kinds of natural phenomena, and make great progress independently of philosophy. The two factions grew apart, with scientists sucking all the prestige out of the room with their experiments in everything from atomic physics to cosmology, leading to highly visible advances in things that make a difference in human life: transportation, energy, and health. One might call the 20th century a "philosopher of the gaps" period, with scientists basking in the headlines and philosophy finding less and less to do.

That's a distorted picture, of course. Some of the greatest philosophers of science in history (e.g., Popper, Kuhn) made big waves in the 20th century and continue to do so (think of Thomas Nagel). And as philosophers like to point out, philosophy is unavoidable: ignoring philosophy is a philosophy in and of itself. In terms of social prestige, though, philosophy has descended far from its lofty position as "queen of the sciences" (other contenders for that title being astronomy and mathematics). The big grant money flows to the science buildings, with philosophers across campus still (in the popular misconception) meditating on their navels. Some philosophers figure the best way to get some of their prestige back is to advertise their benefits for scientists.

Comet 2

Are they finally taking the threat seriously? NASA teams with 'international partners' to plan asteroid impact exercise

Comment: Well. After two decades of us harping on about it...

© International Space Station
Yes, that ring right there was once an asteroid impact...
While headlines routinely report on "close shaves" and "near-misses" when near-Earth objects (NEOs) such as asteroids or comets pass relatively close to Earth, the real work of preparing for the possibility of a NEO impact with Earth goes on mostly out of the public eye.

For more than 20 years, NASA and its international partners have been scanning the skies for NEOs, which are asteroids and comets that orbit the Sun and come within 30 million miles (50 million kilometers) of Earth's orbit. International groups, such as NASA's Planetary Defense Coordination Office (PDCO), the European Space Agency's Space Situational Awareness-NEO Segment, and the International Asteroid Warning Network (IAWN) have made better communication of the hazards posed by NEOs a top priority.

In the spirit of better communication, next week at the 2019 Planetary Defense Conference, NASA's PDCO and other U.S. agencies and space science institutions, along with international partners, will participate in a "tabletop exercise" that will play out a realistic-but fictional-scenario for an asteroid on an impact trajectory with Earth.

A tabletop exercise of a simulated emergency is commonly used in disaster management planning to help inform involved players of important aspects of a possible disaster and identify issues for accomplishing a successful response. In next week's exercise, attendees at the conference will play out a fictional NEO impact scenario developed by the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory's Center for NEO Studies (CNEOS).

Comment: Notice how they seamlessly integrated the reality of the cosmic bombardment threat into consensus reality...

Anyway, zapping incoming debris out of our way is still a pipe-dream. The Russians have only just developed a missile that approaches the speeds asteroids reach. Technologically, they still need to test them 'in the field' and not on computer simulations 'in the lab'.

And that can only happen after Great Power Games stop and humanity collectively SEES the threat. Which, as is obvious from the hardcore zero-sum game being played on the international stage these days, is nowhere near its conclusion.

Humanity is doomed to learn the hard way just how serious a threat it is...

See also:


Astronomers find quasars are not nailed to the sky, they "wiggle"

© Robin Dienel/Carnegie Institution for Science
Until recently, quasars were thought to have essentially fixed positions in the sky. While near-Earth objects move along complex trajectories, quasars are so remote that they were believed to offer stable and reliable reference points for use in navigation and plate tectonics research. Now, an international team of astrophysicists featuring researchers from the Moscow Institute of Physics and Technology has found that quasars are not entirely motionless and explained this behavior. The findings were published in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.

"The apparent positions of quasars change with the radiation frequency used to observe them. Researchers predicted this effect about 40 years ago based on the theory of synchrotron radiation and observed it soon afterwards," explains Alexander Pushkarev, a leading researcher at the Crimean Astrophysical Observatory and Lebedev Physical Institute of the Russian Academy of Sciences. "Our study aimed to find whether this effect varies with time, and if so, then on what timescales and to what extent the apparent position shift changes."

Comment: See also: The finding brings to mind current thinking of the movement of our own solar system:


Simple sea anemones are not as simple as scientists once thought

sea anemone
© Sergio Stampar
This Pachycerianthus magnus tube anemone has a surprisingly complex mitochondrial genome, Ohio State researchers found.
The tube-dwelling anemone is an ancient sea creature that resembles a prehistoric flower. The animals live slow, long and predictable lifestyles and look fairly similar from species to species.

It'd be easy to use the word "simple" when considering this relative of coral and jellyfish. But wait -- not so fast.

New research on tube anemones is challenging everything that evolutionary biologists thought they knew about sea animal genetics. The mitochondrial DNA of the tube anemone, or Ceriantharia, is a real head scratcher, from its unexpected arrangement to its previously unimagined magnitude.

Researchers, including a team from The Ohio State University, have published new findings showing that the DNA of the tube anemone does what few other species' mitochondrial genomes have been shown to do. It defies the classic doughnut shape it "should" be in and is arranged in several fragmented pieces, the number of which vary depending on the species.

Fireball 2

International space agencies team up to practice for an asteroid striking Earth

Asteroid Strike
© Pixabay
You've gotta hand it to America's space scientists: they're resilient. Despite an admission that they may not be able to stop the asteroid Bennu from turning Earth into a smoldering crater filled with the ashen remains of its human inhabitants, NASA's Planetary Defense Coordination Office (PDCO) has teamed up with FEMA and other agencies for what amounts to a wargaming exercise to prepare themselves for a catastrophic asteroid strike.

The best part of this? The ESA is tweeting out bits and pieces of the scenario - that an asteroid named 2019PDC has been spotted and calculated to have a 1 in 100 chance of striking Earth - as if it were happening in real time. The agency has wisely hashtagged the relevant tweets with #FICTIONALEVENT to avoid any War of the Worlds scenarios.


Store of the future: Walmart unveils AI inventory control system, claims it won't replace workers

Walmart AI system inventory

Similar to Amazon Go’s convenience stores, the store has a suite of cameras mounted in the ceiling. In Walmart’s case the cameras will monitor inventory levels.
Walmart this morning unveiled a new "store of the future" and test grounds for emerging technologies, including AI-enabled cameras and interactive displays. The store, a working concept called the Intelligent Retail Lab - or "IRL" for short - operates out of a Walmart Neighborhood Market in Levittown, N.Y.

The store is open to customers and is one of Walmart's busiest Neighborhood Market stores, containing more than 30,000 items, the retailer says, which allows it to test out technology in a real-world environment.

Similar to Amazon Go's convenience stores, the store has a suite of cameras mounted in the ceiling. But unlike Amazon Go, which is a grab-and-go store with smaller square footage, Walmart's IRL spans 50,000 square feet of retail space and is staffed by more than 100 employees.

Plus, in Walmart's case, these AI-powered cameras are not being used to determine which items customers are buying in order to automatically charge them. It still has traditional checkout stations. Instead, the cameras will monitor inventory levels to determine, for example, if staff needs to bring out more meat from the back-room refrigerators to restock the shelves, or if some fresh items have been sitting too long on the shelf and need to be pulled.

The idea is that the AI will help the store associates know more precisely where and when to restock products. And this, in turn, means customers will know the produce and meat is always fresh and in stock when they arrive.

Comment: Automation, economic collapse, basic income slavery: Our dystopic future?