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New atmospheric phenomenon discovered by SWARM satellites

© Dave Markel Photography
Thanks to scientists, citizen scientists, ground-based imagers and ESA’s magnetic field Swarm mission, this purple streak of light in the night sky has been discovered. Originally thought to be a ‘proton arc’, this strange feature has been called Steve.
Thanks to social media and the power of citizen scientists chasing the northern lights, a new feature was discovered recently. Nobody knew what this strange ribbon of purple light was, so ... it was called Steve.

ESA's Swarm magnetic field mission has now also met Steve and is helping to understand the nature of this new-found feature.

Speaking at the recent Swarm science meeting in Canada, Eric Donovan from the University of Calgary explained how this new finding couldn't have happened 20 years ago when he started to study the aurora.

While the shimmering, eerie, light display of auroras might be beautiful and captivating, they are also a visual reminder that Earth is connected electrically to the Sun. A better understanding of the aurora helps to understand more about the relationship between Earth's magnetic field and the charged atomic particles streaming from the Sun as the solar wind.

"In 1997 we had just one all-sky imager in North America to observe the aurora borealis from the ground," said Prof. Donovan.

Brain

Elon Musk's new startup aims to merge human brains with computers in order to engage in consensual telepathy

© Reuters / Rebecca Cook
Elon Musk
Billionaire entrepreneur Elon Musk on Thursday confirmed plans for his newest company, called Neuralink Corp., revealing he will be the chief executive of a startup that aims to merge computers with brains so humans could one day engage in "consensual telepathy."

Speaking to writer Tim Urban on the explainer website Wait But Why, Mr. Musk confirmed a Wall Street Journal report last month that Neuralink aims to implant tiny brain electrodes that first would be used to fight brain conditions but later help humanity avoid subjugation at the hands of intelligent machines.

A Neuralink spokesman said Mr. Musk plans to serve as the chief executive, adding another CEO role to his already busy schedule running electric-car maker Tesla Inc. TSLA -0.99% and rocket company Space Exploration Technologies Corp. Mr. Musk couldn't be reached for comment through the spokesman.

Neuralink's goals are arguably bolder than Tesla's plans of mass-market electric vehicles or SpaceX's ambitions to send humans to Mars. As Mr. Musk describes it, Neuralink wants to develop brain interfaces that would effectively replace human language as we know it.

Microscope 1

The past lives on: Scientists observed epigenetic memories being passed down for 14 generations

The most important set of genetic instructions we all get comes from our DNA, passed down through generations. But the environment we live in can make genetic changes, too.

Researchers have now discovered that these kinds of environmental genetic changes can be passed down for a whopping 14 generations in an animal - the largest span ever observed in a creature, in this case being a dynasty of C. elegans nematodes (roundworms).

To study how long the environment can leave a mark on genetic expression, a team led by scientists from the European Molecular Biology Organisation (EMBO) in Spain took genetically engineered nematode worms that carry a transgene for a fluorescent protein. When activated, this gene made the worms glow under ultraviolet light.

Then, they switched things up for the nematodes by changing the temperature of their containers. When the team kept nematodes at 20° Celsius (68° F), they measured low activity of the transgene - which meant the worms hardly glowed at all.

But by moving the worms to a warmer climate of 25° C (77° F), they suddenly lit up like little wormy Christmas trees, which meant the fluorescence gene had become much more active.

Beaker

Researchers' proposal may triple complexity of genetic code

© lisichik/Pixabay
A codon is a triplet of three nucleotides in DNA. Genes are read in these triplet codons, each one standing for an amino acid or a "punctuation" mark as the gene gets translated (61 of the 64 possible triplets actually code for amino acids; the others work as "start" and "stop" codons). This much we've known since the 1960s. Now, however, two scientists from the University of Utah want to complicate matters further.

An article at Phys.org explains:
The so-called central dogma of molecular biology states the process for turning genetic information into proteins that cells can use. "DNA makes RNA," the dogma says, "and RNA makes protein." Each protein is made of a series of amino acids, and each amino acid is coded for by sets of "triplets," which are sets of three informational DNA units, in the genetic code.

University of Utah biologists now suggest that connecting amino acids to make proteins in ribosomes, the cell's protein factories, may in fact be influenced by sets of three triplets - a "triplet of triplets" that provide crucial context for the ribosome. [Emphasis added.]
It sounds like a wild idea, but it was just published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. What could be the impact of this "Case for the genetic code as a triplet of triplets"?

Saturn

Earth from a billion miles away: Cassini captures amazing image

© NASA
NASA's Cassini spacecraft captured an incredible final image of Earth from a billion miles away during its orbit of Saturn's rings.

The space probe was facing Earth's Southern Atlantic Ocean, some 870 million miles (1.4 billion km) away, when the image of it was captured on April 12, says NASA.

Chalkboard

'Flying car' nails vertical take-off in stunning test run

© Lilium / YouTube
The concept of 'flying cars' was once restricted to the realm of science fiction. Now a German aeronautics firm has taken a big step towards making it a reality.

Lilium Aviation has successfully tested its all-electric vertical take-off-and-landing (VTOL) jet, stealing a march on rivals in the race to deliver the world's first 'flying car.'

Propelled by its 36 jet engines, the two-seater VTOL can reach a cruising speed of 300kph (186mph) and maintain that speed for an hour on a single charge.

Info

Zapping Islamic State: US Army tests drone-killing laser weapon

© C. Todd Lopez / US Army
Amid concerns about Islamic State's use of weaponized hobbyist drones, the US military is testing a laser weapon designed to take out the aerial menace, and small enough to be mounted on a Stryker armored vehicle.

The Mobile High Energy Laser (MEHEL) fires a 5-kilowatt beam that can either scramble the drone's circuits and sever its communications with ground control - a "soft kill" - or destroy it outright in a "hard kill," according to the military publication Stars and Stripes.

Vehicles equipped with the MEHEL took part in the 10-day Maneuver Fires Integration Experiment exercises at Fort Sill, Oklahoma last week. A total of 50 drones were shot down, some just a few seconds after being engaged, Army spokeswoman Monica Gutherie said.

Moon

Dramatic landslides on Ceres shed new light on dwarf planet

© NASA
Massive landslides spotted on the surface of Ceres provide further evidence that the dwarf planet retains a significant amount of ground ice, according to a new study.

Ceres, once thought to be an asteroid, is the largest object in the asteroid belt running between Mars and Jupiter and is the only dwarf planet in the inner Milky Way.

NASA's Dawn space probe has been in orbit around Ceres since March 2015.

"Images from Dawn show that landslides, many of which are similar to those seen on Earth, are very common on Ceres, and further the case that Ceres has a lot of water ice involved in its structure," said Britney Schmidt, an associate of the Dawn science team and assistant professor at Georgia Tech, who led the study.

Cassiopaea

Rare type Ia supernova discovery ushers in new era for cosmology

© Joel Johansson, Stockholm University
This composite image shows the gravitationally lensed type Ia supernova iPTF16geu, as seen with different telescopes. The background image shows a wide-field view of the night sky as seen with the Palomar Observatory located on Palomar Mountain, California. Far Left Image: Captured by the Sloan Digital Sky Survey, this optical light observation shows the lens galaxy and its surrounding environment in the sky. Center Left Image: Captured by the Hubble Space Telescope, this is a 20x zoom infrared image of the lens galaxy. Center Right Image: Captured by the Hubble Space Telescope, this 5x optical light zoom reveals the four gravitationally lensed images of iPTF16geu. Far Right Image: Captured by the Keck Telescope, this infrared observation features the four gravitationally lensed images of iPTF16geu and the gravitational "arc" of its host galaxy.
With the help of an automated supernova-hunting pipeline and a galaxy sitting 2 billion light years away from Earth that's acting as a "magnifying glass,'' astronomers have captured multiple images of a Type Ia supernova—the brilliant explosion of a star appearing in four different locations on the sky. So far this is the only Type Ia discovered that has exhibited this effect.

This phenomenon called 'gravitational lensing' is an effect of Einstein's Theory of Relativity—mass bends light. This means that the gravitational field of a massive object like a galaxy can bend light rays that pass nearby and refocus them somewhere else, causing background objects to appear brighter and sometimes in multiple locations. Astrophysicists believe that if they can find more of these magnified Type Ia's, they may be able to measure the rate of the Universe's expansion to unprecedented accuracy and shed some light on the distribution of matter in the cosmos.

Fortunately, by taking a closer look at the properties of this rare event, two Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) researchers have come up with a method a pipeline for identifying more of these so-called "strongly lensed Type Ia supernovae" in existing and future wide-field surveys. A paper describing their approach was recently published in the Astrophysical Journal Letters. Meanwhile, a paper detailing the discovery and observations of the 4 billion year old Type Ia supernova, iPTF16geu, was published in Science on April 21.

"It is extremely difficult to find a gravitationally lensed supernova, let alone a lensed Type Ia. Statistically, we suspect that there may be approximately one of these in every 50,000 supernovae that we identify," says Peter Nugent, an astrophysicist in Berkeley Lab's Computational Research Division (CRD) and an author on both papers. "But since the discovery of iPTF16geu, we now have some thoughts on how to improve our pipeline to identify more of these events."

Jupiter

Juno snaps stunning image of Jupiter's swirling clouds

© NASA
NASA has shared an incredible close-up portrait of Jupiter taken from the Juno probe during its fifth flyby of the giant planet.

The snap was captured by the JunoCam on March 27, as the spacecraft completed its latest orbit, at a distance of about 12,400 miles (20,000km) from the massive planet.