Welcome to Sott.net
Sun, 05 Jul 2020
The World for People who Think

Science & Technology


New spot discovered on Jupiter

Clyde Spot
Figure A
This image from NASA's Juno spacecraft captures several storms in Jupiter's southern hemisphere (Figure A). Some of these storms, including the Great Red Spot at upper left, have been churning in the planet's atmosphere for many years, but when Juno obtained this view of Jupiter, the smaller, oval-shaped feature at the center of the image was brand new.

The new feature was discovered by amateur astronomer Clyde Foster of Centurion, South Africa. Early on the morning of May 31, 2020, while imaging Jupiter with his telescope, Foster noticed a new spot, which appeared bright as seen through a filter sensitive to wavelengths of light where methane gas in Jupiter's atmosphere has strong absorption. The spot was not visible in images captured just hours earlier by astronomers in Australia.

On June 2, 2020, just two days after Clyde Foster's observations, Juno performed its 27th close flyby of Jupiter. The spacecraft can only image a relatively thin slice of Jupiter's cloud tops during each pass. Although Juno would not be travelling directly over the outbreak, the track was close enough that the mission team determined the spacecraft would obtain a detailed view of the new feature, which has been informally dubbed "Clyde's Spot."

The feature is a plume of cloud material erupting above the upper cloud layers of the Jovian atmosphere. These powerful convective "outbreaks" occasionally erupt in this latitude band, known as the South Temperate Belt (JunoCam observed another outbreak at this latitude back on Feb. 7, 2018).

Arrow Up

Coronavirus 2.0 more contagious, but no more lethal: Why that's very good news

corona, masks corona
© AFP / Kazuhiro NOGI
A major global study of coronavirus DNA sequences has confirmed that a mutant strain known as Spike D614G is far more contagious than previous strains, but no more lethal.

The news comes from research published this week in the US scientific journal 'Cell'. It involved the genetic sequencing of more than 6,000 coronavirus DNA sequences collected from around the world. Of all of these thousands of variants, one that had the researchers particularly worried was the Spike D614G strain - a mutant virus with a crucial change in its DNA code affecting the so-called 'spike proteins' on the virus's surface. These spikes are what allow it to enter human cells, and the mutation seems to make it even better at doing so.

A preliminary version of these findings had already been published on the open-access preprint repository bioRxiv ahead of a peer review as "an early warning" to other researchers studying new strains of the virus. But, since then, the scientists behind the study have confirmed that the new strain is not associated with "increased disease severity." In other words, it doesn't make people any sicker than the previous strains that initially spread in Europe and America.

Comment: Well, as we know one can't trust Covid death statistics. They have been wildly overblown since hospitals have been ordered to include every death with Covid, as well as those distinctly from Covid. So, if the 'second wave' begins....take it with a degree of skepticism.


Extragalactic neutral hydrogen emission detected for the first time

FAST telescope
© unknown
The Five-hundred-meter Aperture Spherical radio Telescope (FAST) is a radio telescope located in southwest China. It consists of a fixed 500 m (1,600 ft) diameter dish constructed in a natural depression in the landscape. It is the world’s largest filled-aperture radio telescope.
The Five-hundred-meter Aperture Spherical Radio Telescope (FAST) is the largest telescope with the highest sensitivity in the world. Extragalactic neutral hydrogen detection is one of important scientific goals of FAST.

Recently, an international research team led by Dr. CHENG Cheng from Chinese Academy of Sciences South America Center for Astronomy (CASSACA) observed four extragalactic galaxies by using the FAST 19-beam receiver, and detected the neutral hydrogen line emission from three targets with only five minutes of exposure each. This is the first publication for FAST to detect extragalactic neutral hydrogen.


Mind-reading algorithm uses EEG data image reconstruction based on what we perceive

Facial imaging
© assets.newatlas
A new technique developed by neuroscientists at the University of Toronto Scarborough can, for the first time, reconstruct images of what people perceive based on their brain activity gathered by EEG.

The technique developed by Dan Nemrodov, a postdoctoral fellow in Assistant Professor Adrian Nestor's lab at U of T Scarborough, is able to digitally reconstruct images seen by test subjects based on electroencephalography (EEG) data.
"When we see something, our brain creates a mental percept, which is essentially a mental impression of that thing. We were able to capture this percept using EEG to get a direct illustration of what's happening in the brain during this process."
For the study, test subjects hooked up to EEG equipment were shown images of faces. Their brain activity was recorded and then used to digitally recreate the image in the subject's mind using a technique based on machine learning algorithms.


How to stop artificial intelligence being so racist and sexist

digital justice
© mattjeacock/Getty
Bias and injustice hidden in AI can be hard to root out.
Something is rotten at the heart of artificial intelligence. Machine learning algorithms that spot patterns in huge datasets, hold promise for everything from recommending if someone should be released on bail to estimating the likelihood of a driver having a car crash, and thus the cost of their insurance.

But these algorithms also risk being discriminatory by basing their recommendations on categories like someone's sex, sexuality, or race. So far, all attempts to de-bias our algorithms have failed.

But a new approach by Niki Kilbertus at the Max Planck Institute for Intelligent Systems in Germany and colleagues claims to offer a way to bake fairness right into the process of training algorithms.

Comment: It's odd that they're assigning terms like 'racist' and 'sexist' to a machine that has no capacity for emotional reasoning. It is literally just looking at the facts. If gay drivers are more likely to get in accidents, to take an example from above, the unbiased algorithm is going to factor that into assigning car insurance rates. Car insurance companies have been weighting rates based on gender for decades, with men getting higher rates than women because they're statistically more likely to have accidents. Is that sexist?

At the end of the day, it seems like what is really at issue is the fact that the people creating the algorithms are uncomfortable with what the data is telling them. The numbers don't care about political correctness.

See also:

Microscope 2

CRISPR gene editing in human embryos wreaks chromosomal mayhem

human embryo
© Pascal Goetgheluck/Science Photo Library
Editing of human embryos is controversial.
Three studies showing large DNA deletions and reshuffling heighten safety concerns about heritable genome editing.

A suite of experiments that use the gene-editing tool CRISPR-Cas9 to modify human embryos have revealed how the process can make large, unwanted changes to the genome at or near the target site.

The studies were published this month on the preprint server bioRxiv, and have not yet been peer-reviewed1,2,3. But taken together, they give scientists a good look at what some say is an underappreciated risk of CRISPR-Cas9 editing. Previous experiments have revealed that the tool can make 'off target' gene mutations far from the target site, but the nearby changes identified in the latest studies can be missed by standard assessment methods.

Comment: See also:


Better method to find the age of dogs in 'human years'

By mapping molecular changes in the genome over time, UC San Diego researchers developed a formula to more accurately compare dog age to human age — a tool that could also help them evaluate how well anti-aging products work.

If there's one myth that has persisted through the years without much evidence, it's this: multiply your dog's age by seven to calculate how old they are in "human years." In other words, the old adage says, a four-year-old dog is similar in physiological age to a 28-year-old person.

But a new study by researchers at University of California San Diego School of Medicine throws that idea out the window. Instead, they created a formula that more accurately compares the ages of humans and dogs. The formula is based on the changing patterns of methyl groups in dog and human genomes — how many of these chemical tags and where they're located — as they age. Since the two species don't age at the same rate over their lifespans, it turns out it's not a perfectly linear comparison, as the 1:7 years rule-of-thumb would suggest.
Dog to Human Years
© Cell Press
To calculate your dog’s age in “human years” based on epigenetics, find the dog’s age along the bottom axis and trace your finger straight up until you reach the red curve. Then trace your finger straight over to the left to find the corresponding human age.
The new methylation-based formula, published July 2 in Cell Systems, is the first that is transferrable across species. More than just a parlor trick, the researchers say it may provide a useful tool for veterinarians, and for evaluating anti-aging interventions.


The western white-throated sparrow song that swept North America

white throated sparrow

The white-throated sparrow
Since 2000, a strange new type of song in white-throated sparrows has spread across the continent at stunning speed.

The birds were singing something strange.

Ken Otter and Scott Ramsay first noticed it in the early 2000s, when they were recording white-throated sparrows in Prince George, a city in western Canada. The birds are so ubiquitous across the country, and the male's song so distinct, that bird-watchers have put words to it: Oh sweet Canada, Canada, Canada. But the white-throated sparrows in Prince George were singing something different. They had lopped a note off Canada, so the song sounded more like Oh sweet Cana, Cana, Cana.

At first, Otter and Ramsay, biologists at the University of Northern British Columbia and Wilfrid Laurier University, respectively, thought they had simply discovered a new song dialect unique to sparrows in Prince George. But an even stranger pattern emerged when they and a small team of researchers spent the next two decades gathering archival recordings, crowdsourcing bird songs, and driving hundreds of miles through Canada to record white-throated sparrows. According to a new study out today, the song they first heard in Prince George had spread east across the country — at remarkable speed. By 2017, all white-throated sparrows in western Canada were singing the new song variant and half were singing it as far east as Ontario. Oh sweet Cana, Cana, Cana is taking over Canada.


Light flows like a river when shone through a soap bubble

bubble light lazer
© Anatoly Patsyk, Uri Sivan, Mordechai Segev & Miguel A. Bandres
Light behaving strangely
Shine a beam of light through a soap bubble and it could behave in an unexpected way. The light may split into branches like a tree, creating many narrower beams in a phenomenon that could be used to study the curvature of space-time.

This strange branching behaviour has been observed in several different types of waves, but never before in visible light. Mordechai Segev at the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology in Haifa and his colleagues fired a laser across a membrane made of soap, similar to a normal soap bubble you would see when washing your dishes, to observe visible light branching for the first time.

"No one predicted this to happen," says Segev. "It was a complete surprise in the lab." The soap membrane had random variations in its thickness, so the researchers expected the laser beam to separate out into disordered speckles.

Comment: Check out the following short videos below to see the awesome visuals and for more on the experiments findings:


Mistakes ID critics make: Protein rarity

Pushing a loaded wheelbarrow
© Matteo / CC BY
Pushing a loaded wheelbarrow across a flat driveway.
In previous articles, I demonstrated how substantial quantities of biological information cannot emerge through any natural process (see here and here), and I described how such information points to intelligent design. Now, I am addressing the mistakes typically made by critics who challenge these claims (see here, here, here, and here). See my post yesterday, here, on misapplying information theory.

A second category of errors relates to arguments against the conclusion that the information content of many proteins is vastly greater than what any undirected process could generate. Most of the critiques are aimed at the research of Douglas Axe that estimated the rarity of amino acid sequences corresponding to a section of a functional β-lactamase enzyme. Many of the attacks result from the skeptics' failure to properly understand Axe's 2004 article in the Journal of Molecular Biology or the underlying science.

Random Processes

The most common mistake is to appeal to studies that demonstrate that random processes can generate structures that perform very simple functions. For instance, our immunity system can manufacture at least a trillion unique antibodies, and at least one will typically bind to any invading germ. This achievement is possible since the probability is relatively high for a random search to locate an amino acid sequence that sticks to some molecule, so the required amount of new information is relatively small. For instance, only a few billion trials are needed to find an antibody that can bind to an antibiotic molecule and break it apart. The problem is that this task is much easier than randomly generating an entirely new amino acid sequence that folds into an enzyme's three-dimensional structure and performs the required complex structural (conformational) changes. Highly specified dynamic structures are required to support an enzyme's often very complex chemical activities.