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Mon, 21 Oct 2019
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World's largest geode formed when Mediterranean sea disappeared

Pulpí Geode
© Hector Garrido
Most geodes can fit in the palm of your hand. The Pulpí Geode can fit your entire family inside it. A researcher stands inside the crystal-filled cave known as the Pulpí Geode — the single largest geode on Earth.
In an abandoned mine in southern Spain, there is a room of pure crystal.

To get there, you'll have to descend deep into tunnels, climb a ladder into an inconspicuous hole in the rocks and squeeze through a jagged tube of gypsum crystals barely wide enough for one person. If you make it that far, you'll be standing inside the world's largest geode: the Pulpí Geode, a 390-cubic-foot (11 cubic meters) cavity about the size of a cement mixer drum, studded with crystals as clear as ice and sharp as spears on every surface.

While you may have never stood inside a geode, you've probably held, or at least seen, one before.

"Many people have little geodes in their home," Juan Manuel García-Ruiz, a geologist at the Spanish National Research Council and co-author of a new paper on the history of the Pulpí Geode, told Live Science. "It's normally defined as an egg-shaped cavity inside a rock, lined with crystals."

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Surprising benefits of exercising before breakfast

© Treebo
According to a new study, published in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism health scientists at the universities of Bath and Birmingham found that by changing the timing of when you eat and exercise, people can better control their blood sugar levels.

The six-week study, which involved thirty men classified as obese or overweight and compared results from two intervention groups (who ate breakfast before / after exercise) and a control group (who made no lifestyle changes), found that people who performed exercise before breakfast burned double the amount of fat than the group who exercised after breakfast.

They found that increased fat use is mainly due to lower insulin levels during exercise when people have fasted overnight, which means that they can use more of the fat from their fat tissue and the fat within their muscles as a fuel. To test proof-of-principle the initial study involved only men, but future studies will look to translate these findings for different groups including women.

Whilst this did not lead to any differences for weight loss over six weeks, it did have 'profound and positive' effects on their health because their bodies were better able to respond to insulin, keeping blood sugar levels under control and potentially lowering the risk of diabetes and heart disease.

Building on emerging evidence that the timing of meals in relation to exercise can shift how effective exercise is, the team behind this study wanted to focus on the impact on the fat stores in muscles for individuals who either worked out before or after eating and the effect this had on insulin response to feeding.


Doctors' beliefs influence patients' pain, study finds

Placebo Effects
© Hero Images, via Getty Images
New findings about the placebo effect may influence how doctors are trained to interact with patients.
Researchers have found the placebo effect, where a medical treatment with no active ingredient still works, is "contagious" and can be passed on from doctors to patients.

The finding, reported in the journal Nature Human Behaviour, suggests doctors with a stronger belief in their treatments may enact a self-fulfilling prophecy, unwittingly delivering more effective medicine.

The placebo effect is well established. Simply believing an injection will take pain away can make it work, even when the syringe is just full of saltwater.

Those expectations drive powerful changes in the brain, releasing the body's own internal pain killers or "endogenous opioids", which then faithfully deliver up the result.

But the researchers, led by Luke Chang from Dartmouth College in New Hampshire, US, were intrigued by evidence that the beliefs of the "treater" can also influence whether something works.

For example, when school teachers are led to believe certain students are "growth spurters", those kids do better on a standardised test at the end of the year.


Indian PM Modi speaks out against anti-technology sentiment, says AI can be harnessed to benefit mankind

modi and a robot
© REUTERS/Brendan Mcdermid; REUTERS/Edgard Garrido
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has spoken out against anti-technology sentiment in his country, arguing that the debate over artificial intelligence (AI) is needlessly pessimistic.

Speaking at his official residence during the launch of a new book on the subject, Modi told attendees that a "major effort is being made to demonize technology. Attempts are being made to create an atmosphere of fear."

He stressed that concerns about the potential of rogue or dangerous AI systems have stemmed from a poor understanding of what the technology offers to the world.

"The debate should be on how to create a bridge between artificial intelligence and human intentions," he said. Technology, according to Modi, can be used "for everyone's development."

His comments were part of a launch event for a new book, 'Bridgital Nation,' which envisages India becoming a leading economic power by 2030 thanks to the country's decision to embrace advanced technology.


Hubble captures an asteroid 'photobombing' the Crab Nebula

asteroid Crab Nebula
© ESA/Hubble & NASA, M. Thévenot (@AstroMelina)
The asteroid was snapped streaking across the nebula.
After NASA and the ESA threw open the Hubble Space Telescope archives to amateur astronomers, one of them managed to find a stunning 'photobomb' of an asteroid crossing in front of the mesmerizing Crab Nebula.

The US and European space agencies started the Hubble Asteroid Hunter citizen science project in June, but were not prepared for the overwhelming enthusiasm shown by over 1,900 volunteers who managed to complete 300,000 classifications of nearly 11,000 images in only 1.5 months, blowing past even the most optimistic expectations for the project.

One astronomy enthusiast in particular, Melina Thévenot from Germany, discovered a captivating image while trawling through the archives. Thévenot processed different versions of a 2005 image of the Crab Nebula, combining views taken in blue, green and red filters, and found the trail of asteroid 2001 SE101 is visible near the nebula's center.

The Crab Nebula, also known as Messier 1 or M1, is the expanding remnant of a supernova explosion first observed by astronomers in 1054. The rapidly spinning neutron star left behind after the explosion is visible at the centre of the image as well (it is the leftmost star in the binary pair).

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Mysterious newly discovered virus DEFIES EVOLUTION, current scientific understanding

© PublicDomainPictures from Pixabay
Scientists in Japan have discovered a new type of virus which could redefine our understanding of viruses and how they propagate and spread, all while sifting through pig feces.

Unlike most other organisms which fall under the definition of 'life,' viruses have no cells: they are merely a particle of genetic material (RNA or DNA) within a protein shield that is capable of infecting a cell before replicating.

While sifting through pig feces, as you do, researchers from the Tokyo University of Agriculture and Technology (TUAT) came across a virus which defied everything we thought we knew about the infectious agents.

"The recombinant virus we found in this study has no structural proteins," says virologist Tetsuya Mizutani from TUAT about the strain of a type of enterovirus G (EV-G) the team encountered. "This means the recombinant virus cannot make a viral particle."


Talented slime mold with no brain and '720 sexes' unveiled at Paris zoo

the blob
It's official: Humans are canceled. If we're not intent on slowly destroying the planet, then we're getting busy being downright nasty to each other online. But in a world increasingly devoid of human role models, there are some unlikely sources of inspiration out there.

Enter The Blob — a yellowish chunk of slime mold set to make its debut at the Paris Zoological Park on Saturday. With nearly 720 sexes, and the ability to heal itself in two minutes if cut in half, The Blob (or La Blob, as it's called in France) is surprisingly accomplished for such a simple organism.

And despite having no mouth, eyes, or brain, slime mold can remember things and solve simple problems. Impressive, considering that some humans reach political office without mastering most of these tasks.

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Long strand of DNA from Neanderthals found in Melanesians

© Marcin Rogozinski / Alamy Stock Photo
Many of us have at least a little Neanderthal DNA inside us
Many people have DNA inside them that they inherited from extinct hominins like the Neanderthals - and now we know that in some cases it isn't just tiny snippets but long stretches.

Over the past decade, genetic analysis of human DNA has revealed that ancient humans must have interbred many times with other hominins such as Neanderthals. The result is that DNA from these extinct groups can be found in many human populations today.

In particular, everyone whose primary ancestry was outside Africa carries some Neanderthal DNA, while many people from Asia - especially South-East Asia - have DNA from the mysterious Denisovans. Some of this DNA may have been advantageous for modern humans.

However, these studies were limited to small pieces of DNA. "Most people have focused on looking at single nucleotide changes," says Evan Eichler at the University of Washington in Seattle. This means just one "letter" of a gene has been altered.

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'This is surprising': Researchers find California quakes have awakened quiet fault line

Garlock fault
© Screenshot/Courtesy of Planet Labs Inc
The 160-mile-long Garlock fault that runs northeast-southwest along the Mojave Desert in Southern California has begun moving for the first time on record, according to a study published Thursday by Caltech scientists and based on new satellite radar images.

"This is surprising, because we've never seen the Garlock fault do anything. Here, all of a sudden, it changed its behavior," lead author of the study Zachary Ross, an assistant professor of geophysics at Caltech, is quoted as saying by the Los Angeles Times. "We don't know what it means."
According to the scientists, a portion of the fault has shifted about 0.8 inches since July, when two earthquakes took place in the region. The 6.4-magnitude tremor that struck 122 miles northeast of Los Angeles on July 4 was followed one day later by a powerful 7.1-magnitude earthquake that caused a fissure within the Little Lake fault zone in Southern California's Indian Wells Valley area.

Comment: New theory to explain the San Adreas fault - zipper fault


November features rare astronomical event that won't occur again until 2032

mercury transit sun november 2019
© Solar and Heliospheric Observatory/NASA/ESA via AP
This composite image of observations by NASA and the ESA's Solar and Heliospheric Observatory shows the path of Mercury during its November 2006 transit. On Monday, May 9, 2016, the solar system's smallest, innermost planet will resemble a black dot as it passes in front of the sun. NASA says the event occurs only about 13 times a century.
Grab your telescopes and get some solar filters ready. A rare transit of Mercury across the sun will occur on Nov. 11. This rare astronomical event won't happen again until 2032, so don't miss out!

One of the most highly anticipated astronomical events of the year is less than a month away, and if you want to see it with your own eyes, you will need to start preparing for it now.

A rare astronomical alignment known as a Mercury Transit will occur on Monday, Nov. 11, and will be visible across almost all of North America, South America, Europe, Africa and western Asia from 7:35 a.m. EST to 1:04 p.m. EST.