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Fri, 19 Jul 2019
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Bizarro Earth

Is a long-dormant Russian volcano waking up?

Bolshaya Udina Volcano
© gezyer/iStock/Getty Images Plus
SLEEPING GIANT - Bolshaya Udina, a volcano on Russia’s Kamchatka Peninsula, has long been inactive. Some scientists suggest the volcano is waking up, based on nearby seismic activity. But others say those rumblings may be linked to active volcanoes in the region.
Seismic rumbles beneath a long-dormant volcano on Russia's Kamchatka Peninsula could herald an imminent eruption, a team of scientists says. But other researchers say that the observed seismic activity could be related to already erupting volcanoes in the region.

Fewer than 10,500 people live within 100 kilometers of the volcano, called Bolshaya Udina, making a catastrophic eruption that would affect large numbers of people extremely unlikely. When the volcano last erupted is unknown, but it hasn't for at least 10,000 years, so many volcanologists consider it no longer active, or "extinct." But Kamchatka is home to numerous active volcanoes, including nearby Bezymianny, which most recently erupted March 15.

Scientists had detected an apparent increase in seismic activity in the vicinity of Bolshaya Udina beginning in late 2017. So researchers, led by geophysicist Ivan Koulakov of the A.A. Trofimuk Institute of Petroleum Geology and Geophysics in Novosibirsk, Russia, installed four temporary seismic stations near the volcano. From May 5 to July 13, 2018, the stations recorded a swarm of 559 earthquakes.

Overall, from October 2017 through February 2019, researchers detected about 2,400 seismic events, the strongest of which was a magnitude 4.3 earthquake in February. Previous to that 16-month period, scientists detected only about 100 weak seismic events in the region from 1999 to 2017.


Earth is moving toward the same meteor swarm that scientists think caused the Tunguska explosion in 1908

meteor swarm
Over the next several weeks, our planet will have a close encounter with the Taurid meteor swarm. It will be the closest that we have been to the center of the meteor swarm since 1975, and we won't have an encounter this close again until 2032. So for astronomers, this is a really big deal. And hopefully there will be no danger to Earth during this pass, but some scientists are absolutely convinced that the Tunguska explosion of 1908 which flattened 80 million trees in Russia was caused by an object from the Taurid meteor swarm. As you will see below, the last week of June will mark the point when we are the closest to the center of the meteor swarm, and so that will be when the risk is the greatest. According to CBS News, our planet "will approach within 30,000,000 km of the center of the Taurid swarm" by the end of this month...
This summer, Earth will approach within 30,000,000 km of the center of the Taurid swarm, the study says. That would be Earth's closest encounter with the swarm since 1975 and the best viewing opportunity we'll have until the early 2030s.
30 million kilometers may sound like a great distance, but in astronomical terms that is not very far at all, and it is important to remember that distance is measured from the exact center of the meteor swarm.

Comment: See also:


Light side of the moon: What causes flashes on the moon?

Lunar flare 1953
© Leon H. Stuart
A “lunar flare” example of TLP – seen near the lunar terminator, or line between light and dark on the moon, on November 15, 1953, by Leon H. Stuart in Tulsa, Oklahoma. He caught the flash with an 8-inch telescope.
People have reported seeing Transient Lunar Phenomena - unusual flashes and other lights on the moon - for at least 1,000 years. Yet they're still mysterious. Now a scientist in Germany is using a new telescope to try to solve the mystery.

Even though it's so close and has been visited by both robotic spacecraft and human astronauts, the moon can still be a mysterious place. There is a lot we still don't know about our nearby neighbor, including what causes unusual flashes of light and other light phenomena on its surface. These brief light displays - also known as Transient Lunar Phenomena (TLP) - have been seen for centuries, but they're still not entirely explained. Recently, a professor in Germany announced his new study to try to figure out, at last, what is creating these intriguing lunar phenomena.

Hakan Kayal is Professor of Space Technology at Julius-Maximilians-Universität Würzburg (JMU) in Bavaria, Germany. He wants to try to find the explanation(s) for these odd light phenomena. He and his team have built a new telescope in a private observatory in Spain. The new telescope started lunar observations in April 2019. It is in a rural area far from light pollution about 60 miles (100 km) north of Seville. As to why it is located in Spain, Kayal said:
There are simply better weather conditions for observing the moon than in Germany.

Comment: See also: Light Side of the Moon


Russia's next-gen MiG-35 fighters superior to F-35, half the price

© Russian Aircraft Corporation
Russia's Aerospace Force has received two modern MiG-35 fighter jets and is expected to get four more fighters of this model by the end of this year, said Ilya Tarasenko, general director of the MiG corporation.

"In the last three years, we made a major breakthrough in the MiG-35 program. In the shortest time possible, we launched the production of this aircraft, we tested it, and in two and a half years we moved from development activities to a contract with the Russian Ministry of Defense," said Tarasenko.

According to the director of the corporation, it is planned to deliver another four aircraft by the end of the year.

The company expects to sign another contract with the Ministry of Defense for the MiG-35, Tarasenko added.

The MiG-35 is the newest 4++ generation multipurpose fighter designed to gain air supremacy and land targets outside the enemy's air defense zone. It also received precision targeting capability as well as the optical tracking system that gives you the ability to detect and track enemy aircraft or drones without relying on ground-based radar information.

At just $40 million USD per unit, they come in at less than half the price of the massively dysfunctional F-35.


AI brings figures from still photos to life

Still Image Coming to Live
© Screenshot: Chung-Yi Weng/YouTube
Watching the rapid evolution of AI and the related disciplines of alt-reality is one of the best things about working for Outer Places. There is technology that exists now that I could have only dreamed of as a kid; things and programs that still have more in common with the science-fiction films I grew up watching than the waves of computers that paved the way for the ubiquity of tech in our lives.

The latest of these is a project created by researchers from Facebook and the University of Washington called Photo Wake-Up. Photo Wake-Up combines AI in the form of machine vision and both augmented and mixed reality to do something really quite extraordinary: it detects figures in paintings, photographs, or other images, isolates them, and then animates them, making them appear to leave their 2-D surface.

Yes: it's another nail in the Flatweb's coffin and it couldn't have come at a better time.

Bizarro Earth

The ocean is sinking into Earth's mantle, and a dead supercontinent is partly to blame

hydrothermal vents
Every year, billions of gallons of ocean water fall into the Earth at tectonic plate boundaries, then gush back out at hydrothermal vents like the one seen here. A new study shows that this deep water cycle may contribute to hundreds of feet of sea level loss over time.
The ocean is a big bathtub full of 326 million cubic miles (1.3 billion cubic kilometers) of water, and somebody has unplugged the drain.

Every day, hundreds of millions of gallons of water stream from the bottom of the ocean into Earth's mantle as part of a very wet recycling program that scientists call the deep water cycle. It works like this: First, water soaked up in the crust and minerals at the bottom of the sea both get shoved into Earth's interior at the undersea boundaries where tectonic plates collide. Some of that water stays trapped (some studies estimate that two to four oceans' worth of water are sloshing through the mantle), but large amounts of that water get spewed back to the surface via underwater volcanoes and hydrothermal vents. [50 Interesting Facts About Planet Earth]

It's not a perfect system; scientists think there's currently a lot more water plunging into the mantle than spewing out of it - but that's OK. Overall, this cycle is just one cog in the machine that determines whether the world's oceans rise or fall.

Now, in a study published May 17 in the journal Geochemistry, Geophysics and Geosystems, researchers report that this cog may be more important than previously thought. By modeling the fluxes in the deep water cycle over the last 230 million years, the study authors found that there were times in Earth's history when the gargantuan amount of water sinking into the mantle played an outsize role in sea level; during those times, the deep water cycle alone may have contributed to 430 feet (130 meters) of sea-level loss, thanks to one world-changing event: the breakup of the supercontinent Pangaea.

"The breakup of Pangaea was associated with a time of very rapid tectonic plate subduction," lead study author Krister Karlsen, a researcher at the Centre for Earth Evolution and Dynamics at the University of Oslo, told Live Science. "This led to a period of large water transport into the Earth, causing associated sea-level drop."

Comment: A tectonic plate near Portugal may be peeling apart-and that could shrink the Atlantic Ocean


Aquaterra: Rising seas swallowed countless archaeological sites

sea level rise history map
© Deep Time Maps/Alison Mackey/Discover
From Doggerland to Beringia, the sea took some of prehistory's most important archaeological sites. All over the world, scientists are beginning to find them again.
Whatever you learned in school about how our species spread across the planet is wrong.

For decades, textbooks taught that humans left our ancestral African homeland and spread across the world via the landmasses we know today, reaching Australia less than 50,000 years ago and the Americas a mere 13,500 years ago. But there's a continent-sized gap in our knowledge about our collective past that scientists are only now starting to fill in.

From the North Sea to the island-dotted tropics between Asia and Australia, from the frigid waters of the Bering Strait to the sunny Arabian Peninsula, now-submerged coastal landscapes were exposed and accessible to our ancestors at multiple times in prehistory, including key periods of human expansion across the globe. The square mileage of these areas now under the seas is equal to that of modern North America.

"My own view is that there are certainly sites out there," says University of York archaeologist Geoff Bailey. "Some of the areas [that would have been] most attractive to humans are now underwater."

Microscope 2

"Genes Out of Nothing"? Two Studies Demonstrate the Power of Mind


Screenshot of the game FoldIt
Two recent experiments highlight the power of mind to direct natural processes against astronomical improbabilities. One study boasts of getting "New genes out of nothing." (The echo of Lawrence Krauss's book A Universe from Nothing is noteworthy.) The other study shows what human minds can do with protein precursors (the translated products of genes) by using "design selection" as opposed to natural selection.

The Challenge

In the "genes out of nothing" camp, researchers at Uppsala University describe the challenge they face - and that standard Darwinian processes had to face:
How do new genes and functional proteins arise and develop? This is one of the most fundamental issues in evolutionary biology. Two different types of mechanism have been proposed: (1) new genes with novel functions arise from existing genes, and (2) new genes and proteins evolve from random DNA sequences with no similarity to existing genes and proteins. In the present study, the researchers explored the latter type of mechanism: evolution of new genes and proteins from randomised DNA sequences - de novo evolution, as it is called. It is fairly easy to understand that when a gene already exists, it can be modified and acquire a new function. But how does "nothing" turn into a function affording a small advantage that is favoured by natural selection? [Emphasis added.]
Upon reading this news, however, one finds another case of artificial selection. True, they started with 500 million randomized sequences, but the scientists selected the goal: finding polypeptides able to confer antibiotic resistance. While they were delighted to see successes out of their sample, their experiment had nothing to do with natural selection. Even worse, they only tested short polypeptides 22-25 amino acid residues long. The sequence space rises exponentially with polypeptide length, ensuring that even small proteins of 100 aa would be vastly outnumbered by useless ones.

Microscope 1

Translation of genes more complex than expected

dna in cell
© Juan Gärtner / Adobe Stock
Researchers from the group of Marvin Tanenbaum at the Hubrecht Institute have shown that translation of the genetic information stored in our DNA is much more complex than previously thought. This discovery was made by developing a type of advanced microscopy that directly visualizes the translation of the genetic code in a living cell. Their study is published in the scientific journal Cell on June 6th.

From gene to protein

Each cell in our body contains the same DNA, yet different cells, like brain cells or muscle cells, have different functions. The differences in cell function depend on which parts of the genetic information (called genes) are active in each cell. The genetic information stored in these genes is translated by specialized translation factories called ribosomes. Ribosomes read the genetic code and assemble proteins based on the information stored in this genetic code analogous to a factory building a machine based on a blueprint. Proteins are the workhorses of our body and perform the functions encoded in our genes. For our cells and organs to function correctly, it is critical that the genetic information stored in our genes is translated accurately to proteins. If the genetic code is translated incorrectly, harmful proteins can be produced, which can lead to neurological diseases such as Huntington's disease.


What could go wrong department: Fungus genetically engineered to produce spider venom that kills mosquitoes

GMO fungus kills mosquitos
© Brian Lovett
An Anopheles gambiae mosquito with our transgenic fungus emerging from its body after death. This is a merged version of a natural light image and a green fluorescent image.
A new weapon in the war against malaria-carrying mosquitoes has arrived just in time for summer.

Researchers from the University of Maryland and the Research Institute of Health Sciences in Burkina Faso have figured out a way to genetically alter a fungus to produce deadly spider venom that kills mosquitoes.

The fungus, known as Metarhizium pinghaense, which is already deadly to mosquitoes even without the added venom, works so well that in one trial, it nearly killed off an entire population of the pest in 45 days.

"We are using a gene encoding a single toxin, one of the many toxins in spider venom," Dr. Raymond St. Leger of UMD Entomology told Fox News.

"The toxin has been thoroughly characterized by our Australian collaborator Glenn King and approved for use as an insecticide by the EPA, so this toxin has been confirmed to be safe for everything but insects."

Comment: More on the 'war on mosquitoes' and genetic engineering: