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Mon, 26 Sep 2016
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Bright nova discovered in Lupus the Wolf

© Stellarium
A bright possible nova was discovered only days ago near the 3rd magnitude star Epsilon Lupi. It shot from fainter than magnitude +17.5 to its current magnitude +6.8 in just four nights … and it’s still rising. The nova is bright enough to see in binoculars for observers in the far southern U.S., where it’s visible low in the southwestern sky in late evening twilight. This map shows the sky facing southwest about an hour after sunset from Key West, Florida, latitude 24.5 degrees north.
On September 20, a particular spot in the constellation Lupus the Wolf was blank of any stars brighter than 17.5 magnitude. Four nights later, as if by some magic trick, a star bright enough to be seen in binoculars popped into view. While we await official confirmation, the star's spectrum, its tattle-tale rainbow of light, indicates it's a nova, a sun in the throes of a thermonuclear explosion.

The nova, dubbed ASASSN-16kt for now, was discovered during the ongoing All Sky Automated Survey for SuperNovae (ASAS-SN or "Assassin"), using data from the quadruple 14-cm "Cassius" telescope in CTIO, Chile. Krzysztof Stanek and team reported the new star in Astronomical Telegram #9538. By the evening of September 23 local time, the object had risen to magnitude +9.1, and it's currently +6.8. So let's see — that's about an 11-magnitude jump or a 24,000-fold increase in brightness! And it's still on the rise.

The star is located at R.A. 15h 29?, - 44° 49.7? in the southern constellation Lupus the Wolf. Even at this low declination, the star would clear the southern horizon from places like Chicago and further south, but in late September Lupus is low in the southwestern sky. To see the nova you'll need a clear horizon in that direction and observe from the far southern U.S. and points south. If you've planned a trip to the Caribbean or Hawaii in the coming weeks, your timing couldn't have been better!


Horses can communicate with their owners, say scientist

© Getty
23 out of 23 horses were able to learn to tell their trainer whether or not they needed a rug to wear.
Horses can be trained to communicate with humans to express their feelings and opinions, scientists have discovered.

Past research has confirmed that some species of animals, including apes and dolphins, can learn to communicate preferences by pointing at symbols, much like humans.

Contrary to previous expert opinions, it is now believed that horses are intelligent enough to tell their riders whether or not they want to wear a rug.

Using slices of carrot as an incentive, scientists from the Norwegian Veterinary Institute worked with a horse trainer to teach 23 horses of various breeds how to signal if they were too hot or too cold.

First, each horse was trained to approach a board hung on a fence and touch it with its muzzle.

The horses were then shown how to tell the difference between different symbols marked on the board to indicate the notion of "blanket on" (a horizontal bar), "blanket off" (a vertical bar) and no change (blank).

Finally, each horse was taught to associate a particular action with each symbol.

Hot and cold temperature challenges were performed in order to help learning and determine the animals' level of understanding.

Although the speed of learning varied, by the end of the two-week training scheme all 23 horses were able to go up to the board and indicate whether they wanted a rug to be put on or taken off.


China launches world's largest FAST radio telescope: 500 meters in diameter

© Stringer / Reuters
A 500-metre (1,640-ft.) aperture spherical telescope (FAST) is seen at the final stage of construction, among the mountains in Pingtang county, Guizhou province, China
The biggest radio telescope located in China's Guizhou Province is now operational. Featuring a reflector the size of 30 football pitches, it took five years and $180 million to construct. Called the Five-hundred-meter Aperture Spherical Telescope's (FAST), the telescope is located in a karst valley in Pingtang County, a mountainous area in southwest China.

Some 8,000 local residents were relocated to ensure a 5km radio silence zone around the facility. About $269 million were allocated to pay compensations to the villagers. The name FAST referrers to the main structure of the gigantic instrument, which has 4,450 triangular 11-meter panels and measures 500 meters in diameter. For comparison, the Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico, which held the title of world's largest radio telescope before FAST, has a 305-meter dish.

Comment: It would take a full 40 minutes for the average person to walk around the telescope.
See also:

Microscope 1

Some of the biggest problems facing science

"Science, I had come to learn, is as political, competitive, and fierce a career as you can find, full of the temptation to find easy paths." — Paul Kalanithi, neurosurgeon and writer (1977 - 2015)

Science is in big trouble. Or so we're told.

Comment: There is another problem that's facing science today which isn't mentioned in the article: harrassment, marginalization and demonization of scientists either by their peers or their employers. Some are attacked for merely investigating fields that are against scientific dogma, while others are for acts of conscience. Some examples:

Rupert Sheldrake, 'The Science Delusion': Banned TED Talk
GMO Researchers Attacked, Evidence Denied, and a Population at Risk
Silencing the Scientist: Tyrone Hayes on being targeted by herbicide firm Syngenta

Another area not touched on which bears expanding:

The Corruption of Science in America


Monsanto licenses CRISPR technology to modify crops

© Brent Stirton/GETTY IMAGES
Monsanto greenhouses on top of a research building in St Louis.
Agriculture giant Monsanto has licensed CRISPR-Cas9 genome-editing technology from the Broad Institute for use in seed development, the company announced on Thursday, a step that will likely accelerate and simplify the creation of crops that are resistant to drought or have consumer-pleasing properties such as soybean oil with fats as healthy as those in olive oil.

But the deal comes with restrictions that speak to the startling power of CRISPR, as well as widespread public anxiety about genetically modified crops: Monsanto cannot use it for gene drive, the controversial technique that can spread a trait through an entire population, with unknown consequences.

Since 2013 the Broad has issued more than a dozen licenses for commercial research using CRISPR-Cas9, including to Editas Medicine, GE Healthcare, and Evotec. This is the first for agricultural use. Genome-editing of crops offers the potential of increasing yields, reducing the use of chemical pesticides (a plant can be genetically modified to thwart insects), and making strains tolerant of the droughts that are becoming more frequent with global climate change.

But "just as in biomedicine, the use of genome editing in agriculture raises important ethical and safety concerns," Issi Rozen, the Broad's chief business officer, wrote in a blog post.


FBI finally releases long held Tesla documents on death ray, ball lightning and other information

At long last, the FBI has released its document cache of files containing information on Nikola Tesla, including his inventions like death ray and ball lightning, as well as how the government obtained his notes and memos following his death.

Tesla, an inventor and innovator considered at least decades ahead of his time, predicted and helped develop an early prototype of a smartphone, among many other things.

In the Volume 100 of Popular Science Monthly in 1922, for example, Tesla predicted video calling:

"It will soon be possible to see as well as hear by means of electricity. 'Television' will be employed as generally as telephoning. As one listens to a voice at the other end of the line, he will also see every expression of the speaker's face," explained Tesla in his article.

Comment: Don't count on too many individuals being able to replicate or advance Tesla's research - unless they were working for DARPA of course.


NASA researchers propose exotic ice cloud in Titan's stratosphere formed by 'solid-state' chemical reactions

© NASA / JPL-Caltech / Space Science Institute.
This Cassini image shows a giant cloud system in Titan’s atmosphere.
Cassini mission scientists think the appearance of a cloud of dicyanoacetylene ice in Titan's stratosphere is explained by 'solid-state' chemistry taking place inside ice particles.

The cloud is located in Titan's stratosphere and is made of a compound known as dicyanoacetylene (C4N2), an ingredient in the chemical cocktail that colors the moon's brownish-orange atmosphere.

Decades ago, NASA's Voyager 1 spacecraft spotted an ice cloud just like this one. What has puzzled scientists ever since is this: they detected less than 1% of the dicyanoacetylene gas needed for the cloud to condense.

Recent observations from NASA's Cassini mission yielded a similar result. Using the Cassini Composite Infrared Spectrometer (CIRS), the scientists found a large high-altitude cloud made of the same frozen chemical.

Yet, just as Voyager found, when it comes to the vapor form of this chemical, CIRS reported that Titan's stratosphere is as dry as a desert.

"The appearance of this ice cloud goes against everything we know about the way clouds form on Titan," said CIRS co-investigator Dr. Carrie Anderson, from NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center.

Better Earth

Wastewater injections in gas and oil drilling responsible for earthquakes, says satellite data

© Jessica Rinaldi / Reuters
An oil rig is silhouetted against the sunset in St. Lawrence, Texas
Five earthquakes which shook Texas in 2012 and 2013 were caused by wastewater injections during drilling for oil and gas, scientists said after analyzing satellite radar data.

A series of earthquakes struck near the town of Timpson in eastern Texas over the course of a year and a half, with the team of American and British researchers looking into the most powerful of them, which took place in 2012 and reached a magnitude of 4.8.

The researchers used Interferometric Synthetic Aperture Radar, or InSAR, to track the ground movements in the quakes and establish that their causes weren't natural.

"Our study reports on the first observations of surface uplift associated with wastewater injection. The detection of uplift when combined with well-injection records provides a new way to study wastewater injection," study co-author William Ellsworth, a geophysics professor at Stanford's School of Earth, Energy & Environmental Sciences, told the university's website.

Comment: Fracking is an assault on the Earth. No wonder she reacts so violently.


Tech group wants a 150 mile stretch of highway devoted to driverless cars

© Kim Kyung Hoon / Reuters
The American passion for cars is turning a new corner. Now a ban is being considered on all human drivers for a 150-mile stretch of highway. Meanwhile, solutions for pedestrians crossing in front of driverless vehicles are being developed as well.

The car of tomorrow could make drivers yesterday's news - but only once the tech companies working on self-driving cars figure out how to digitize nuanced interactions. Autonomous car makers are striving to make their product safe for both passengers and pedestrians, but testing is still in various stages.

From knowing how to anticipate other cars on the road to understanding gestures from pedestrians, there's a lot more to driving than just turning a wheel and hitting the gas.

This is a concept that Drive.ai understands and hopes to revolutionize with their unique take on driverless cars. The Silicon Valley startup believes that the experiences between driverless cars and pedestrians could be improved by focusing on human-robot interactions and developing technology that will allow cars to "learn" like an actual driver - just without high school driver's education.



White House report indicates forensics used to convict 1,000s of people may not be scientifically valid

© Mark Kauzlarich / Reuters
A fingerprint led to the arrest of New York and New Jersey bomber Ahmad Rahami, but a new report from a White House scientific advisory committee says much of what bitemark, hair, firearm and toolmark analyses provide does not meet scientific standards.

The White House's Council of Advisors on Science and Technology concluded in a report released Tuesday that widely used forensic techniques used in criminal trials in the nation's legal system might not be scientifically valid.

The report said validity "requires that a method has been subjected to empirical testing by multiple groups, under conditions appropriate to its intended use."