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Sun, 21 Jul 2019
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Scientists find 'mystical' psychedelic compound in the pineal gland, neocortex and the hippocampus

brains Produce DMT
In the past few years, thrill-seekers from Hollywood, Silicon Valley and beyond have been travelling to South America to take part in so-called Ayahuasca retreats. Their goal: to partake in a brewed concoction made from a vine plant Banisteriopsis caapi, traditionally used by indigenous people for sacred religious ceremonies. Drinkers of Ayahuasca experience short-term hallucinogenic episodes many describe as life-changing.

The active ingredient responsible for these psychedelic visions is a molecule called dimethyltryptamine (DMT). For the first time, a team led by Michigan Medicine has discovered the widespread presence of naturally-occurring DMT in the mammalian brain. The finding is the first step toward studying DMT-- and figuring out its role -- within the brains of humans.

"DMT is not just in plants, but also can be detected in mammals," says Jimo Borjigin, Ph.D., of the Department of Molecular and Integrative Physiology. Her interest in DMT came about accidentally. Before studying the psychedelic, her research focused on melatonin production in the pineal gland.

In the seventeenth century, the philosopher Rene Descartes claimed that the pineal gland, a small pinecone-shaped organ located deep in the center of the brain, was the seat of the soul. Since its discovery, the pineal gland, known by some as the third eye, has been shrouded in mystery. Scientists now know it controls the production of melatonin, playing an important role in modulating circadian rhythms, or the body's internal clock. However, an online search for notes to include in a course she was teaching opened Borjigin's eyes to a thriving community still convinced of the pineal gland's mystical power.


Cosmic fireworks Eta Carinae still exploding after nearly 200 years

Eta Carinae
© NASA, ESA, N. Smith (University of Arizona, Tucson), and J. Morse (BoldlyGo Institute, New York)
If you were to have looked up at the sky 181 years ago you'd have noticed one seemingly new and incredibly bright star burning up the heavens during an event known as The Great Eruption of 1838. The Great Eruption occurred in the constellation Carina when Eta Carinae, a two-star system, formed a nebula so massive that, for a time, it was bright enough for Mariners to navigate by.

Although the Great Eruption has long since faded from the view of the naked human eye, its tumultuous explosion is still going on and is quite visible to the Hubble telescope, which recently returned a stunning image of the moribund binary system.


Four asteroids on potential collision courses with Earth

Asteroid impact
© NASA/Don Davis
Asteroid impacts Earth
It's a scenario straight out of a Hollywood blockbuster, an asteroid is careening towards Earth and is set to wipe out human existence. To mark Asteroid Day, here are four space rocks on a collision course with our planet.

The United Nations fears that the possibility of an asteroid smashing into a densely populated area isn't being taken seriously enough, so it designated June 30 as International Asteroid Day to raise awareness about the potentially catastrophic occurrence.

The date was chosen because the largest asteroid impact in recorded history took place over Tunguska, Russia on that day in 1908 when an enormous asteroid exploded and destroyed hundreds of acres of forest. To mark the event, here are four asteroids that could wallop into Earth.

1979 XB
1979 XB
© European Space Agency
With its 900-meter diameter, if this enormous rock hits our planet the impact would be devastating. It's currently hurtling through the solar system at nearly 70,000kph and is getting almost 30km closer to Earth every second.

The European Space Agency (ESA) has put it in second place on its 'Risk List' for Near-Earth Asteroids. The orbit of this minor planet is unreliable but it's predicted to have a chance of hitting Earth midway through this century.

Experts warn that 1979 XB could suddenly come a lot closer to Earth, given only a tiny variation in its orbit. Its next predicted approach of Earth is set to come in 2024.

Better Earth

On the origin of life, scientists help break the poisonous spell of the materialist world view

James Tour, Rice University

James Tour, Rice University, in a scene from Episode 5 of Science Uprising.
If you follow the news, you've seen countless headlines like this: "Amazing Discovery May Hold Key to Origins of Life," "Found: The Origin of Life," "Scientists May Have Found the Chemical Compound That Started Life," and on and on. Michael Egnor wrote about just such a story here yesterday.

The origin of life is the deepest mystery imaginable and it sounds like scientists have it all figured out. Or just about. The new episode of Science Uprising, "Origin of Life: Intelligence Required," firebombs that persistent and influential myth, advanced by scientists themselves and their media helpers. It does so in just seven devastating minutes.

"We See the Human Soul"

It's crucial to materialism to believe that blind, natural processes alone could have blundered about and generated life from dumb chemical predecessors. Whether it happened on our planet or another, all the wonders of the first living cell must have come into existence with no need for intelligent design. Any hint to the contrary threatens to topple a whole of way of thinking about human beings and about all life, that denies any reality beyond the material. "We are not materialists," says the masked narrator of Episode 5, "We see the human soul":


Hubble Space Telescope detects buckyballs ions in interstellar space

hubble buckeyball ions space
Scientists working with the Hubble Space Telescope have found a very complex molecule out there in space. Called Buckyballs, after renowned thinker Buckminster Fuller, they are a molecular arrangement of 60 carbon atoms (C60) in the rough shape of a soccer ball. Though it's not the first time these exotic molecules have been spotted in space, it is the first time that Buckyball ions have been found.

The Buckyballs, (aka Buckminsterfullerenes) were found in the Interstellar Medium (ISM,) the diffuse matter and radiation that exists in between solar systems. Since ISM is the sort of fundamental matter out of which stars and planets eventually form, astronomers are really interested in it. Understanding the contents of the ISM sheds light on the rise of stars, planets, and eventually life itself.


Biologists call to overhaul flawed taxonomic categories

© Quanta Magazine; source: Nick Hobgood; Bernard DUPONT; Luc Viatour; Ryan McMinds
Segmented worms and millipedes look more alike than jellyfish and corals do, and their lineages also diverged more recently. Yet segmented worms and millipedes are in different phyla (Annelida and Arthropoda), while jellyfish and corals are both Cnidaria. Such inconsistencies highlight problems with the meaning of the phylum category.
Carl Linnaeus was probably not the first scientist to realize the inherent connectedness of life on this planet. But he articulated and codified it. In the 10th edition of his Systema Naturae, published in 1758, he established a system of naming and organizing life that endures to this day - what we still call Linnaean taxonomy, although today's system is somewhat different from the five-rank hierarchy he proposed. The principle is the same, though: Life is organized into nested ranks, with each higher tier representing a larger group of related organisms to which the species at the bottom belong.

This ranked taxonomy - domain, kingdom, phylum, class, order, family, genus, species - is foundational to biology pedagogy. Every student learns it, often through a mnemonic like "Didn't Know Popeyes Chicken Offered Free Gizzard Strips" or "Dear King Phillip Came Over For Great Spaghetti."

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Sugar could make clothing almost indestructible

Single Celled Organism
© University of Virginia
Sugar coats the surface of tiny appendages called pili in the single-celled organisms scientists studied, allowing them to exist in extreme environments.
The secret to making clothing practically indestructible could be the same thing that makes us grow out of it: sugar.

A new discovery from the University of Virginia School of Medicine reveals how sugars could be used to make almost indestructible cloth and other materials.

Nature figured it out long ago, but the answer has been hidden away in bubbling baths of acid.


Mysterious cosmic radio burst detected in a completely unexpected region of space

Fast Radio Burst
For years, astronomers have struggled to understand the source of fast radio bursts, powerful split-second pulses of energy that originate far outside our galaxy. In an astonishing technical feat, astronomers have finally managed to pinpoint the galactic origin of a one-off FRB-but its unexpected location in space suggests scientists need to go back to the drawing board.

New research published today in Science describes the first single FRB to have its location pinpointed to a specific galaxy.

"This is a very significant result," Shriharsh Tendulkar, an astronomer from McGill University who wasn't involved with the new study, told Gizmodo. "Firstly, from a technical point of view, it is a very challenging task to find a non-repeating fast radio burst and to precisely measure its position at the same time with the same telescope."

Indeed, a repeating FRB has been localized to a distant galaxy before, a feat accomplished by a Cornell University-led team in 2017. But FRBs come in two flavors: repeaters and one-offs, the latter of which are more common but, up until this point, were impossible to pinpoint in space owing to their transient nature. A team led by astronomer Keith Bannister from the Commonwealth Science and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) at the Australia Telescope National Facility is now the first to localize the galactic origin of a single, non-repeating FRB.

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Physicists discover new optical phenomenon: croissant-shaped twists of light

Light torque
© Kevin Dorney, Kapteyn-Murnane Group, Jila-University of Colorado Boulder
Using two time-delayed laser pulses shot into argon gas, optical physicists have discovered a whole new property of light called self-torque. Shining this type of laser on a flat surface yields a croissant-shaped puddle of light.
The pastry-like optical phenomenon could one day be used in industrial applications or to improve communications technology.

WHAT DO YOU get when you add up a bunch of donuts? According to optical physicists: a croissant.

That's the result of new research revealing a never-before-seen property of light called self-torque. This newfound characteristic of photons involves a twisting laser beam that spins faster and harder, similar to a bit of dirt as it whirls down a drain. The odd behavior, described today in the journal Science, might one day lead to improved communications technology and novel ways of manipulating microscopic objects.

"We're always discovering new things in science, but it's not that often you discover a new fundamental property," says study coauthor Kevin Dorney, a physical chemist at the JILA laboratory run by the University of Colorado, Boulder, and the National Institute of Standards and Technology.

Extreme optical baking

The recipe for pastry-shaped lasers starts with a type of light that possesses what's known as orbital angular momentum. This property, itself only officially discovered in 1992, can be imparted to a laser beam when it passes through a seashell-shaped lens. The light emerges looking like a helix corkscrewing around a central point. Shine the laser on a surface, and it will look like a fat ring with a hole in the center or, more colloquially, a donut.

A nano-size particle placed in its path will start to spin like a planet around a star-hence the property's astronomical moniker.


Huawei CEO: If we ditch Android, Google will lose 800 million users

In the latest response from Huawei on the Trump Ban, Huawei CEO Ren Zhengfei says that if Huawei ditches Android, Google will lose 800 million users.

"Huawei and Google will always be on the same line of interest, and if we don't load Google's system, Google will lose 700-800 million users in the future," Zhengfei said.

The quoted number of potentially departing Android users is a curious one, considering that there's little knowledge regarding how many Android users are currently using Huawei devices. Perhaps Huawei's CEO knows this because of mobile analytics information, in the same way Google knows it has over 2 billion users on its mobile OS.

Outside of this, however, the number seems pulled out of thin air. There is something worthy about it, when one considers that Huawei is the second largest global manufacturer in the world and that many of its devices run Android (though some of its devices run Windows). So, perhaps the number is likely, probable, or even reasonable to imagine.