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Thu, 21 Feb 2019
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Sonar may provoke suicidal behaviour says study

Beached Whale
Beaked whales get stressed by sonar and can suffer decompression like scuba divers, according to researchers.
Scientists have long known that some beaked whales beach themselves and die in agony after exposure to naval sonar, and now they know why: the giant sea mammals suffer decompression sickness, just like scuba divers.

At first blush, the explanation laid out Wednesday by 21 experts in the Royal Society journal Proceedings B seems implausible.

Millions of years of evolution have turned whales into perfectly calibrated diving machines that plunge kilometres (miles) below the surface for hours at a stretch, foraging for food in the inky depths.

The heart rate slows, blood flow is restricted, oxygen is conserved.

So how could the ocean's most accomplished deep-sea diver wind up with nitrogen bubbles poisoning its veins, like a scuba novice rising too quickly to the surface?

Short answer: beaked whales -- especially one species known as Cuvier's -- get really, really scared.

"In the presence of sonar they are stressed and swim vigorously away from the sound source, changing their diving pattern," lead author Yara Bernaldo de Quiros, a researcher at the Institute of Animal Health at the University of Las Palmas de Gran Canaria, Spain, told AFP.

"The stress response, in other words, overrides the diving response, which makes the animals accumulate nitrogen," she added. "It's like an adrenalin shot."

One type of sonar in particular throws these whales off balance.

Black Cat 2

Physicists create a flying army of laser Schrödinger's cats

Laser Schrodinger' cats
© Christoph Hohmann, Nanosystems Initiative Munich (NIM)
A laser pulse bounced off a rubidium atom and entered the quantum world - taking on the weird physics of "Schrödinger's cat." Then another one did the same thing. Then another.

The laser pulses didn't grow whiskers or paws. But they became like the famous quantum-physics thought experiment Schrödinger's cat in an important way: They were large objects that acted like the simultaneously dead-and-alive creatures of subatomic physics - existing in a limbo between two simultaneous, contradictory states. And the lab in Finland where they were born had no limit on how many they could make. Pulse after pulse turned into a creature of the quantum world. And those "quantum cats," though they existed for only a fraction of a second inside the experimental machine, had the potential to be immortal.

"In our experiment, the [laser cat] was sent to the detector immediately, so it was destroyed right after its creation," said Bastian Hacker, a researcher at the Max Planck Institute of Quantum Optics in Germany, who worked on the experiment.

But it didn't have to be that way, Hacker told Live Science.

"An optical state can live forever. So if we had sent the pulse out into the night sky, it could live for billions of years in its [cat-like] state."

That longevity is part of what makes these pulses so useful, he added. A long-lived laser cat can survive long-term travel through an optical fiber, making it a good unit of information for a network of quantum computers.


Secrets of sepsis may lie in rare white blood cells

Sepsis Prevention
© News-Medical Net
Sepsis is a deadly health threat that affects more than 75,000 children in the United States each year. Approximately 7000 of these pediatric patients die from infection and many of the children who do survive are left with debilitating health challenges. The rates of morbidity and mortality are estimated to be even higher in developing countries. Yet despite the deadly implications of this infection, very little is known about what exactly breaks down in the immune system of a child is fighting off an infection that leads to sepsis.

Now, a team of international investigators have discovered that a rare group of white blood cells called basophils play a critical role in inducing immune responses against infections and preventing the development of sepsis. Investigators from Seattle Children's Research Institute, along with Stanford University School of Medicine and other international labs, are hopeful that the discovery can inspire future research on ways to prevent sepsis.

"Sepsis is the number one killer of children globally, yet little is known about what goes wrong in an individual's immune system to cause sepsis as it fights off an infection," Adrian Piliponsky, PhD, a principal investigator in the research institute's Center for Immunity and Immunotherapies, said in a statement. "Without this information, it's hard to predict who will develop sepsis or explain why sepsis causes a range of immune responses in different individuals."

For the study, the investigators traced immune responses back to the early stages of infections and focused on the basophils, which are thought to play a role in enhancing immune defenses against bacterial infections. According to the investigators, basophils make up less than 1% of a person's white blood cells.

Light Sabers

Apple blocks Facebook from running its internal iOS apps

© Illustration by Alex Castro / Th
Apple has shut down Facebook's ability to distribute internal iOS apps, from early releases of the Facebook app to basic tools like a lunch menu. A person familiar with the situation tells The Verge that early versions of Facebook, Instagram, Messenger, and other pre-release "dogfood" (beta) apps have stopped working, as have other employee apps, like one for transportation. Facebook is treating this as a critical problem internally, we're told, as the affected apps simply don't launch on employees' phones anymore.

The shutdown comes in response to news that Facebook has been using Apple's program for internal app distribution to track teenage customers with a "research" app.

That app, revealed yesterday by TechCrunch, was distributed outside of the App Store using Apple's enterprise program, which allows developers to use special certificates to install more powerful apps onto iPhones. Those apps are only supposed to be used by a company's employees, however, and Facebook had been distributing its tracking app to customers. Facebook later said it would shut down the app.


Declassified US report on potential for 'super EMP blackout warfare'

Electromagnetic Pulse (EMP) Weapons

Electromagnetic Pulse (EMP) Weapons
Russia, China and several other nations are developing powerful high-altitude nuclear bombs that can produce super-electromagnetic pulse (EMP) waves capable of knocking out critical electronic infrastructure, according to several declassified 2017 reports from the now-defunct Commission to Assess the Threat to the United States from EMP Attack (see below).

"Foreign adversaries may aptly consider nuclear EMP attack a weapon that can gravely damage the U.S. by striking at its technological Achilles Heel, without having to confront the U.S. military," reads the report, which notes how foreign actors could use EMP attacks virtually anywhere in the world.
"Super-EMP" weapons, as they are termed by Russia, are nuclear weapons specially designed to generate an extraordinarily powerful E1 EMP field. Super-EMP warheads are designed to produce gamma rays, which generate the E1 EMP effect, not a big explosion, and typically have very low explosive yields, only 1-10 kilotons ... Even EMP hardened U.S. strategic forces and command, control, communications and intelligence (C3I) systems are potentially vulnerable to such a threat. -Firstempcommission.org

Comment: Since the only country that has dared use weapons of mass death offensively on such as scale is the US, one can assume the real threat in the above scenarios is the US, however there are natural events which produce EMPs and the US would be wise to look into protecting itself against those:


Neuroengineers create technology that translates thought into speech

brain signals
© NeuroscienceNews.com
Summary: Researchers have developed a new system which utilizes artificial intelligence technology to turn brain signals to recognizable speech. The breakthrough could help restore a voice to those with limited, or no ability, to speak.

Source: Zuckerman Institute.

In a scientific first, Columbia neuroengineers have created a system that translates thought into intelligible, recognizable speech. By monitoring someone's brain activity, the technology can reconstruct the words a person hears with unprecedented clarity. This breakthrough, which harnesses the power of speech synthesizers and artificial intelligence, could lead to new ways for computers to communicate directly with the brain. It also lays the groundwork for helping people who cannot speak, such as those living with as amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) or recovering from stroke, regain their ability to communicate with the outside world.


Almost ready: First-ever photo of a black hole upcoming and what it might look like

Black Hole drawing
© Jean-Pierre Luminet
The year 2019 is here. With it, we've been promised a splendid moment in astronomy. For years, the Event Horizon Telescope has been working to bring us the first ever telescopic photograph of the event horizon of a black hole.

Indeed, for all their popularity in public imagination, we have never actually seen a black hole. And the reason for that is laughably simple.

Black holes, you see, are literally invisible. The pull of their gravity is so immense that, past a certain point, nothing escapes. This includes the electromagnetic radiation - such as X-rays, infrared, light and radio waves - that would allow us to detect the object directly.

That point of no return is called the event horizon, and apart from being a terrifying location you never want to find yourself in, it's also our key to actually visualising a black hole.

While we may not be able to see the black hole itself, there's a chance that its event horizon can be photographed; and we are tantalisingly close to seeing the results thanks to the Event Horizon Telescope (EHT), due for a public announcement any day now.


Our genes makes us early risers or stay up late says new study

Late Nighter
My genes made me do it. Staying up late isn't always a matter of choice, research suggests.
If you've ever wondered why some people are up at the crack of dawn while others prefer to sleep late, the answer can be found in your genes.

And it also influences your risk of schizophrenia and depression, say the authors of a new study published in the journal Nature Communications.

Researchers led by Mike Weedon from the University of Exeter in the UK studied the genomes of almost 700,000 people in the UK and US, finding a link between being an early riser and certain genes.

The results also highlighted a central role for the retina in the eye in helping the body to keep time.

Using the databases of US genetic testing company 23andMe and the UK BioBank study, the researchers compared differences in genes with the results of self-reported sleeping habits, which were double checked by having 85,000 people in the UK wear activity trackers.

In total, the results increase the number of areas of the genome known to influence whether someone is an early riser from 24 to 351.

Fireball 4

Lunar craters reveal rate of asteroid impacts tripled 290 million years ago

lunar craters moon
© NASA / LRO / USGS / University of Toronto
A team of scientists used NASA's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter data to study the Moon's craters, scaled by size and color-coded by age (blue indicates those younger than 290 million years), to understand the impact history of the Earth. Young craters dominate the lunar surface .
Researchers have estimated the ages of craters on the lunar surface, finding that the rate of large impacts nearly tripled 290 million years ago - an increase that might be ongoing.

We know that the solar system can be a chaotic place, where things crash into each other every now and then. The proof stares at us every night: The pockmarked surface of the Moon has been littered by hundreds of thousands of craters, created in asteroid impacts of all sizes.

Earth must also have been bombarded; however, our planet's active geology, including weather and plate tectonics, is extremely efficient in removing the marks left behind by ancient impacts. Only 190 impact craters are known in Earth's surface, and only one of them is more than 2 billion years old. But the Moon is expected to receive the same amount of impacts as Earth, and since the mechanisms that erode craters on Earth are not present there, the craters are preserved indefinitely. A group of researchers has now found a new way to estimate the ages of lunar craters, offering insights on the impact history of the Moon and Earth.

Comment: Sobering research.


How to tell when neo-Darwinian scientists are exaggerating

Red admiral butterfly

Red admiral butterfly
How much can the public trust confident claims by scientists? Especially about morally or politically or philosophically charged topics? Alas, not so much, as the New York Times Magazine reminds us once again in a recent article, "How Beauty Is Making Scientists Rethink Evolution." The subtitle asks, "The extravagant splendor of the animal kingdom can't be explained by natural selection alone - so how did it come to be?"

Butterfly Wings

Great question. But wait a second - haven't we all been told that Darwin's natural selection has already been shown to explain pretty much everything? Forget about pretty flowers or cute puppies. Whole scholarly books have been written claiming that Darwin's theory explains mind, law, literature, music, and more. Yet if the theory can explain much more complicated topics that involve even abstract thinking, why does it have trouble with simpler topics that don't? If it accounts for, say, the Magna Carta, why does it struggle with the colors of butterfly wings?

Still a Mystery

The author writes that some scientists think it's not natural selection that accounts for beauty. Rather it's sexual selection that does the trick. But there's a big ugly fly in that ointment. The existence of sex itself has stumped Darwinists for 150 years! It's still a mystery.

Comment: See also: