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Thu, 25 May 2017
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Science & Technology

Blue Planet

Whales only recently evolved into giants

© Hugh Pearson and David Reichert, Silverback Films/BBC
A blue whale off the coast of California filmed for the BBC program “The Hunt.”

Gigantism seems like a past phenomenon, given that enormous animals such as Megalodon and Tyrannosaurus rex died out millions of years ago. The largest vertebrate that has ever lived, however, is part of the present, and not past, animal kingdom. The distinction goes to the blue whale, which can reach lengths of over 100 feet.

Blue whales use baleen — a filter-feeder system inside the mouth — to obtain massive amounts of prey from ocean water. The oldest members of the baleen-whale lineage appeared about 36 million years ago, yet new research published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B finds that very large members of this lineage only appear at around 2 - 3 million years ago, which is a drop in the evolutionary bucket.

"What makes our study unique and important is that it's the first one to explain how, when, and why baleen whales got so big," said senior author Nicholas Pysenson, curator of fossil marine mammals at the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History.


Living in Fast-Forward: Events are predicted by the human brain seconds before they happen

© Pixabay
When an object is flying in a human's direction for one reason or another, the reaction is invariably to flinch. While long thought an instinctual reflex, a team of researchers at Radboud University in the Netherlands believe brains are constantly viewing lives in fast-forward, playing out actions in an individual's head before they happen.

For the vast majority of humans, life consists of navigating and responding to environments that are in constant flux, and brains compensate for this by constantly making predictions about what's going to happen.

That's been known for some time, but it was assumed these predictions were purely associative — for instance, if an individual sees a plate of chips, a brain predicts there will be battered cod, or a hamburger, nearby. Now however, a study has suggested brains instead predict motion.

Microscope 2

Volcanic ash from ancient Far East Russia eruption found in Norway - over 3,000 miles away

Volcanoes on Russia’s Kamchatka Peninsula
It was summertime when the Ksudach volcano erupted on the Kamchatka Peninsula in Russia's Far East 7,000 years ago. The violent explosion propelled its ash high into the atmosphere, where it drifted over North America before landing 3,100 miles away on the surface of Lake Hajaren in Svalbard, Norway, and settling to the bottom. Just enough remains for scientists to find some of this ash in a sediment core from the lake. It's not much, but it is helping geologists reassess just how far volcanic ash can travel, as well as piece together climate conditions when Ksudach erupted, according to a recent report.

"In the end, we found and analyzed six particles with less than half the width of a human hair," said Willem van der Bilt, a coauthor of the report and a researcher at the University of Bergen in Norway, in a press release. Those six particles were found in a sediment core pulled from the middle of Lake Hajaren, separated out, and then chemically analyzed. Based on where they found the particles in the core, van der Bilt's team guessed they were roughly 7,000 years old, but did not know yet which volcano they had come from.

"Like human DNA, the composition of volcanic ash is unique. Geochemical analysis help us fingerprint this signature and match it with an eruption," said van der Bilt. The team had a few eruptions in mind, including Mount Mazama, the volcano that formed Crater Lake in Oregon, or the Kikai volcano in Japan. But the Svalbard ash was virtually identical to ash from Ksudach's eruption around that time. That makes it the farthest-traveled ash so far known.


Planning for a space invasion? - 'Space Aggressors' train US Forces for extraterrestrial conflict

© US Air Force/Staff Sgt. Shawn Nickel
US Army Spc. Angel Mendoza, assigned as a space aggressor operator to the 527th Space Aggressor Squadron, Schreiver Air Force Base, Colo., secures a helical antenna to a gravel pad adjacent to the flight line Aug. 8, 2016, during RED FLAG-Alaska (RF-A) 16-3, at Eielson Air Force Base, Alaska. Along with two modems and an amplifier, space aggressors at RF-A 16-3 interrupt GPS systems for navigation and weapons, which pilots use during the exercise designed to simulate the first 10 combat sorties of a surge operation or conflict.
In a large, tin-roofed warehouse near Colorado's Rocky Mountains, members of a team of modern space warriors spend their days hatching plots to defeat the US military in extraterrestrial combat.

They're called Space Aggressors.

Their job is to act like the enemy during mock space battles to help US units prepare for a conflict that may one day extend into the cosmos.

"We play the bad guys," said Captain Christopher Barnes, chief of training for the 26th Space Aggressor Squadron. "Our job is to not only understand the different types of threats and potential enemies, but also to be able to portray them and replicate them for the good guys, our Air Force."

The 26th and 527th Space Aggressor Squadrons are headquartered in a two-story warehouse at Colorado's Schriever Air Force Base, stocked with advanced radio and satellite equipment and nicknamed "the barn." Behind the building, antenna dishes trace the sky.

While attacks by the Space Aggressors are simulated, senior US military and intelligence officials warn the threat in space is very real.

America relies heavily on space assets to project force around the globe, from launching missiles to directing warships across the seas. Indeed, the Global Positioning System, or GPS, is actually a group of 31 high-orbiting satellites owned by the US government and operated by the US Air Force.


4 foot tall, 600-pound emerald found in Bahia, Brazil

© AP/ Bahia Mineral Cooperative
Miners have found a 4.3-foot (1.3-meter) tall emerald weighing more than 600 pounds (272 kilograms) in Brazil's northeastern state of Bahia.

Paulo Santana of Brazil's National Mineral Production Department said the emerald was found about 20 days ago by miners of the Bahia Mineral Cooperative.

He would not estimate the emerald's value. It was sold to a mine owner in the region.

The buyer's lawyer, Marcio Jandir, said by telephone his client wants to exhibit the emerald in museums and libraries.

Jandir did not reveal the buyer's name.

Santana said it was the second large emerald found in the region. The first one was 44 pounds heavier and was valued at more than $300 million when it was unearthed in 2001.


Researchers discover extra layer of tectonic plates within Earth's mantle

© Telusa Fotu/Agence France-Presse/Getty Images
Ash from an undersea volcanic eruption, part of the uninbabited islet of Hunga Ha’apai, 63 km northwest of the Tongan capital Nuku’alofa. 90% of the Earth’s deep seismicity occurs in the Tonga area in which scientists think they have found a subducted plate. Photograph:
Preliminary findings suggest that a mysterious series of earthquakes in the Pacific could be down to previously undetected plates

Scientists say they have found a possible layer of tectonic plates within the Earth's mantle which could explain a mysterious series of earthquakes in the Pacific.

For more than half a century scientists have known that continents drift over the surface of our planet, and that the ocean floor tears apart in their wake, with magma from the mantle filling the gap. At the other end of the process, where tectonic plates converge, oceanic plates plunge into the deeper mantle in a process called subduction.

On Tuesday, Jonny Wu of the University of Houston presented preliminary evidence of possible plate tectonics within the mantle to a joint conference of the Japan Geoscience Union and the American Geophysical Union in Tokyo.

Wu and colleagues believe they have discovered tectonic plates which subducted into the mantle millions of years ago, sliding horizontally inside a water-rich layer of the mantle known as the "transition zone," which lies 440-660km below the surface.

These subducted plates appear to travel horizontally for thousands of kilometres at speeds almost as fast as plates move at the surface.

Better Earth

NASA space probes detect human-made barrier surrounding Earth

We are changing space itself. NASA space probes have detected a massive, human-made 'barrier' surrounding Earth, and tests have confirmed that it's actually having an effect on space weather far beyond our planet's atmosphere.

That means we're not just changing Earth so severely, scientists are calling for a whole new geological epoch to be named after us - our activities have been changing space too. But the good news is that unlike our influence on the planet itself, that humungous bubble we created out in space is actually working in our favour.

Back in 2012, NASA launched two space probes to work in tandem with each other as they whizzed through Earth's Van Allen Belts at speeds of around 3,200 km/h (2,000 mph). Our planet is surrounded by two such radiation belts (and a temporary third one) - the inner belt stretches from around 640 to 9,600 km (400 to 6,000 miles) above Earth's surface, while the outer belt occupies an altitude of roughly 13,500 to 58,000 km (8,400 to 36,000 miles).

Recently, the Van Allen Probes detected something strange as they monitored the activity of charged particles caught within Earth's magnetic field - these dangerous solar discharges were being kept at bay by some kind of low frequency barrier.

When researchers investigated, they found that this barrier had been actively pushing the Van Allen Belts away from Earth over the past few decades, and now the lower limits of the radiation streams are actually further away from us than they were in the 1960s.

So what's changed?


Another use for Wi-Fi: Photographing people through walls

© YouTube/AmpliFi
Wi-Fi can pass through walls.

This fact is easy to take for granted, yet it's the reason we can surf the web using a wireless router located in another room.

But not all of that microwave radiation makes it to (or from) our phones, tablets, and laptops. Routers scatter and bounce their signal off objects, illuminating our homes and offices like invisible light bulbs.

Now, German scientists have found a way to exploit this property to take holograms, or 3D photographs, of objects inside a room — from outside it.

"It can basically scan a room with someone's Wi-Fi transmission," Philipp Holl, a 23-year-old undergraduate physics student at the Technical University of Munich, told Business Insider.

Fireball 2

Thunderbolts Space News: Electric meteors becoming accepted science

© YouTube/Thunderbolts Project (screen capture)
A new scientific study, published in the Geophysical Research Letters, argues that the sounds associated with some meteor sightings are the products of electrical activity. In this episode, we explore the significance of this breakthrough and elaborate the Electric Universe predictions and explanations for meteoritic phenomena.

Comment: For further information read Earth Changes and the Human Cosmic Connection by Pierre Lescaudron and Laura Knight-Jadczyk.


Martian Sky 'Went Metal' After Meteor Strikes

© Anil Rao

An artist's conception of NASA's Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution (MAVEN) spacecraft overlooking Mars as the planet is bombarded by meteors.
Metal detected in the sky of Mars may come from meteors streaking through the Red Planet atmosphere, a new study finds.

Interplanetary dust motes and chunks of rock often plunge at high speeds into the atmospheres of Earth and other worlds, blazing to form meteors as friction with air particles heats the objects. On Earth, the resulting smoke generates a persistent layer of metallic atoms in the atmosphere. However, until now, such layers were not directly seen elsewhere in the solar system.

These metal atoms can go on to influence their atmospheres: "After meteors burn up, their debris floats down through the atmosphere and can seed clouds," said study lead author Matteo Crismani, a planetary scientist at the University of Colorado Boulder. "This happens on Earth and probably on Mars too," he told Space.com. [Photos: NASA's MAVEN Mission to Mars]