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Tue, 27 Jun 2017
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Science & Technology


Experts at Queen's University in Ireland warn Earth is overdue for catastrophic asteroid strike

© NASA/Don Davis
Experts with Queen's University Belfast (QUB) in Northern Ireland have warned that it's only a matter of time before a large asteroid strikes Earth, causing a natural catastrophe unparalleled in the ruin that it would bring.

Dr. Alan Fitzsimmons, an expert with QUB's Astrophysics Research Center, compared the inevitable destruction to the Tunguska event of 1908, when a meteoroid exploded in orbit above a Siberian forest, raining impactors down on the woods below. The impact, estimated to have been the equivalent of 3 to 5 megatons of TNT (333 to 500 times as much power as the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima), flattened 770 square miles of forest. No human casualties were reported, but had the event happened in a densely populated area, the casualties would have likely been in the millions.

Since then, Earth has had its fair share of near misses. In January, an asteroid as big as or larger than the Tunguska impactor came within 110,000 miles of Earth - less than half the distance between the Earth and the moon, a stone's throw by astronomical standards. In August 2027, an asteroid half a mile long is expected to buzz the Earth, and has a tiny chance of striking the planet.


European Space Agency approves search for habitable planets

The European Space Agency (ESA) has approved the launch of a deep-space observatory to hunt down habitable planets in other star systems and any alien life forms that may reside there.

An ESA committee approved the PLATO Mission on Tuesday during a meeting in Madrid, according to Warwick University, whose scientists will be taking part in the project.

"This means it can move from a blueprint into construction," a university statement reads.

The launch, due to take place in 2026, will see PLATO (Planetary Transits and Oscillations of stars) and its 26 onboard telescopes launched into the 'L2' virtual point in space, located 1.5 million kilometers (932,000 miles) beyond Earth.

Once it has reached its destination in space, PLATO will "monitor thousands of bright stars over a large area of the sky, looking for regular dips in brightness as planets pass by them."

It will also investigate seismic activity in some of the host stars, determining their masses, sizes, and ages "with unprecedented accuracy."


Hawking: Go to other worlds, 'Earth is becoming too small for us.' Aldrin: 'Get your ass to Mars.'

Moving off-world may be our only choice.
Renowned physicist Stephen Hawking has warned yet again that humans should leave Earth and explore other planets to avoid doomsday. Speaking at the Starmus Science Festival in Trondheim, Norway, Stephen Hawking stressed the necessity of one day leaving the planet due to climate change and dwindling resources.
"I am convinced that humans need to leave earth. The Earth is becoming too small for us, our physical resources are being drained at an alarming rate," Hawking said, as cited by British media, adding that there is no more space on Earth to overcome a new crisis.

"When we have reached similar crisis in our history there has usually been somewhere else to colonize. Columbus did it in 1492 when he discovered the new world. But now there is no new world. No Eutopia around the corner. We are running out of space and the only places to go to are other worlds," he stated.

"If humanity is to continue for another million years, our future lies in boldly going where no one else has gone before," the 74-year-old said, noting that humanity is about to enter a new era, in which "colonization of other planets is no longer science fiction, it can be science fact." Hawking added that there is no other option.

Comment: Space may be the final frontier, but mankind, so far, is a parasite and not necessarily a mutually beneficial one. If it was, the resources on the planet would be in balance and mankind would have respect for the importance of that.

Evil Rays

Founder of Alibaba Jack Ma warns about dangers of artificial intelligence

© Wang Ping / Global Look Press
Alibaba founder Jack Ma
The founder of Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba, Jack Ma, is warning artificial intelligence will replace human workers, but it will never replace human wisdom.

"Artificial intelligence may take a lot of jobs away. If we don't move fast enough. If we're not innovative enough. If we don't give simple and easy technology products for small businesses, most of them can't survive in 10 years. If small businesses can't survive, we can't survive," said Ma, speaking in Detroit at the Gateway 17 conference for entrepreneurs.

Black Cat 2

Cougars fear humans, run away from recorded voices

Like great white sharks and grizzly bears, mountain lions are one of the most fearsome wild animals for many Americans.

But new research shows that the lions may be more afraid of us than we are of them.

Scientists at UC Santa Cruz placed audio and video equipment in the Santa Cruz Mountains near areas where lions had killed deer and other animals. When a lion came to feed, a motion-activated device broadcast the sounds of people talking and Pacific tree frogs croaking, in addition to turning on a tiny hidden video camera.

In 29 experiments with 17 lions from December 2015 to June 2016, the lions ran away in 83 percent of cases as soon as they heard human voices — and only once when they heard the frog sounds.


Russia will deliver test batch of nuclear fuel to US reactor in 2019

© Alexandr Kryazhev / Sputnik
Samples of fuel assemblies (FA) TVS-2M (VVER-1000) and TVS-Kvadrat (PWR-900) manufactured by JSC Novosibirsk Chemical Concentrate Plant.
Russia's nuclear fuel company has launched production of fuel assemblies for a nuclear reactor in the US. The first test batch of fuel assemblies is scheduled to be delivered to the US in 2019, a senior company official has said.

TVEL, the fuel supply wing of the Russian State Atomic Energy Corporation, Rosatom, has begun production of TVS-KVADRAT (FA-SQUARE), the new fuel type designed for PWR (pressurized water reactor) plants of Western design.

"A contract on test-industrial operations with one of the US [nuclear power plants] operators is already signed, and we'll deliver test batch of TVS-KVADRAT fuel assemblies in 2019," TVEL's Senior VP for Commerce and International Business, Oleg Grigoriev, told reporters at a news conference during the Atomexpo-2017 forum on Tuesday.


Doodling activates the brain's reward pathways

Your brain's reward pathways become active during art-making activities like doodling, according to a new study from Drexel University.

Girija Kaimal, EdD, assistant professor in the College of Nursing and Health Professions, led a team that used fNIRS (functional near-infrared spectroscopy) technology to measure blood flow in the areas of the brain related to rewards while study participants completed a variety of art-making projects.
"This shows that there might be inherent pleasure in doing art activities independent of the end results. Sometimes, we tend to be very critical of what we do because we have internalized, societal judgements of what is good or bad art and, therefore, who is skilled and who is not," said Kaimal. "We might be reducing or neglecting a simple potential source of rewards perceived by the brain. And this biologocial proof could potentially challenge some of our assumptions about ourselves."
For the study, co-authored by Drexel faculty including Jennifer Nasser, PhD, and Hasan Ayaz, PhD, 26 participants wore fNIRS headbands while they completed three different art activities (each with rest periods between). For three minutes each, the participants colored in a mandala, doodled within or around a circle marked on a paper, and had a free-drawing session.


A World First: Scientists create 'liquid light' at room temperature

© Felix Russell-Saw/Unsplash
A Frankenstein mash-up of light and matter.
For the first time, physicists have achieved 'liquid light' at room temperature, making this strange form of matter more accessible than ever.

This matter is both a superfluid, which has zero friction and viscosity, and a kind of Bose-Einstein condensate - sometimes described as the fifth state of matter - and it allows light to actually flow around objects and corners.

Regular light behaves like a wave, and sometimes like a particle, always travelling in a straight line. That's why your eyes can't see around corners or objects. But under extreme conditions, light can also act like a liquid, and actually flow around objects.

Bose-Einstein condensates are interesting to physicists because in this state, the rules switch from classical to quantum physics, and matter starts to take on more wave-like properties. They are formed at temperatures close to absolute zero and exist for only fractions of a second.

But in this study, researchers report making a Bose-Einstein condensate at room temperature by using a Frankenstein mash-up of light and matter.
"The extraordinary observation in our work is that we have demonstrated that superfluidity can also occur at room-temperature, under ambient conditions, using light-matter particles called polaritons," says lead researcher Daniele Sanvitto, from the CNR NANOTEC Institute of Nanotechnology in Italy.


Were LIGO's gravity wave detections all noise? Independent analysis suggests that may be the case

© LIGO, NSF, A. Simonnet (SSU)
The 30-ish solar mass binary black holes first observed by LIGO are likely from the merger of direct collapse black holes. But a new publication challenges the analysis of the LIGO collaboration, and the very existence of these mergers.
After an effort of more than 100 years and a collaboration involving over 1,000 scientists, we all celebrated. It was Feb. 11, 2016, and LIGO had just announced their first direct detection of gravitational waves. Analysis of the data attributed the signal to a black hole merger that happened several billion light years away. But what if there wasn't a signal at all, but rather patterns and correlations in the noise that fooled us into believing we were seeing something that wasn't real? A group of Danish researchers just submitted a paper arguing that the celebration might have been premature.

A team of five researchers — James Creswell, Sebastian von Hausegger, Andrew D. Jackson, Hao Liu and Pavel Naselsky — from the Niels Bohr Institute in Copenhagen, presented their own analysis of the openly available LIGO data. And, unlike the LIGO collaboration itself, they come to a disturbing conclusion: that these gravitational waves might not be signals at all, but rather patterns in the noise that have hoodwinked even the best scientists working on this puzzle.

Better Earth

Pacific invasion: Bizarre asexual, glow-in-the-dark sea creatures

© rowandemboats / Instagram
The creatures can reproduce asexually.
A party of pyrosomes invading the Pacific is causing great concern that the non-native creature could damage the area's food chain. Millions of the translucent, cucumber-shaped species have been spotted much further north than their usual haunts.

Typically found in the Tropics, pyrosomes - meaning 'fire bodies' due to their bioluminescence - have been spotted in the waters off Alaska and British Columbia. One fisherman told National Geographicthat when he dragged up 50 fishing hooks they were on almost every one.

"It got to the point where they couldn't effectively fish," Leon Shaul of the Alaska Department of Fish and Game said.