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Tue, 28 Nov 2023
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Blue Planet

Seamount twice the size of world's tallest building discovered 'hidden under the waves'

tallest seamount guatamala
© Schmidt Ocean Institute
Researchers detected the seamount using multibeam sonar aboard the vessel Falkor (too).
Scientists aboard the Falkor (too) research vessel have documented, for the first time, an extinct volcano towering 5,250 feet above the seabed in international waters in the Pacific Ocean.

Ocean explorers mapping the seabed off the Pacific coast of Guatemala have discovered a mountain twice as high as the Burj Khalifa, the world's tallest building, hiding deep beneath the waves.

The 5,250-foot-tall (1,600 meters) formation is a seamount — a large, underwater geological feature typically formed from an extinct volcano. Scientists discovered the cone-shaped seamount 7,870 feet (2,400 m) below sea level during an expedition organized by the Schmidt Ocean Institute this summer, according to a statement shared with Live Science.

"A seamount over 1.5 kilometers tall which has, until now, been hidden under the waves really highlights how much we have yet to discover," Jyotika Virmani, the executive director of Schmidt Ocean Institute, said in the statement.


'Goddess particle': Earth slammed by ultra-powerful cosmic ray, and we have no idea where it came from

cosmic rays

When powerful cosmic rays hit gas molecules in Earth's atmosphere they create a cascade of energetic particles that are detected on the ground. By tracing back these particles to their source, researchers can estimate how powerful the original cosmic ray was.
Researchers have detected one of the most powerful cosmic rays ever seen slamming into Earth — but they have no idea what caused it or where it came from. The extremely energetic particle, which has been named after a Japanese goddess, arrived from the direction of a void in the universe where almost nothing is known to exist, according to new research.

Cosmic rays are highly energetic particles, mainly consisting of protons or helium nuclei, that are constantly raining through every square inch of the universe (including our bodies). But a small subsection of cosmic rays, which hit Earth roughly once per square mile every year, are accelerated to even greater energy levels by some of the universe's most intense phenomena.

Comment: It's been shown that increased cosmic rays entering our atmosphere increases cloud cover, and one wonders what other effects, if any, they might have on our planet, and the life residing in it.

Microscope 1

New paper in BioEssays recognizes Kuhnian "paradigm shift" against 'junk' DNA

RNA graphic
© Illustra Media
RNA, via Illustra Media’s documentary "Origin".
In September, I wrote about prolific functions discovered for short tandem repeats (STRs), formerly considered a type of "junk DNA." Now a newly published paper in BioEssays has strongly rebuffed the idea of junk DNA — using the language of Kuhnian paradigm shifts. Before we go any further, let's review just what a Kuhnian paradigm shift is.

The phrase comes from the work of a famous Harvard University historian and philosopher of science, Thomas Kuhn. In his influential book The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, he documented how new ideas in science typically take hold through what are called "paradigm shifts," where the leading framework within a field (the "paradigm") starts to accrue evidential problems (goes into "crisis") until it finally gives way to a new idea that challenges the status quo. Kuhn further showed that most scientists spend most of their time doing "normal science" — basically solving scientific puzzles within the framework of the dominant paradigm. He observed that the scientists of the old guard paradigm are "often intolerant" of "new theories" that are being proposed by new scientists proposing ideas that challenge the reigning paradigm. A new theory "emerges first in the mind of one or a few individuals" but then it spreads because the field faces "crisis-provoking problems," especially among scientists who are "so young or so new to the crisis-ridden field that practice has committed them less deeply than most of their contemporaries to the world view and rules determined by the old paradigm."

Comment: The above mentioned video:

Further reading:


Bacteria store 'memories' and pass them on for generations, study finds

Bacterial swarm
© The University of Texas at Austin
Bacterial swarm on a laboratory plate.
Scientists have discovered that bacteria can create something like memories about when to form strategies that can cause dangerous infections in people, such as resistance to antibiotics and bacterial swarms when millions of bacteria come together on a single surface. The discovery — which has potential applications for preventing and combatting bacterial infections and addressing antibiotic-resistant bacteria — relates to a common chemical element bacterial cells can use to form and pass along these memories to their progeny over later generations.

Researchers at The University of Texas at Austin found that E. coli bacteria use iron levels as a way to store information about different behaviors that can then be activated in response to certain stimuli.

The findings are published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Scientists had previously observed that bacteria that had a prior experience of swarming (moving on a surface as a collective using flagella) improve subsequent swarming performance. The UT-led research team set out to learn why. Bacteria don't have neurons, synapses or nervous systems, so any memories are not like the ones of blowing out candles at a childhood birthday party. They are more like information stored on a computer.

Comment: One day the scientists will realize they are very bad philosophers, and that memory is at root a cognitive function. This will lead more and more of them to adopt a variety of panpsychism, such as that developed by Alfred North Whitehead, or more recently, Christopher Langan. Mind is universal, and fundamental.


Astronomers find a brilliant explosion that just keeps on exploding

A brilliant flash of blue light briefly outshined its host galaxy before fading away — but then it exploded again, and again.
Tasmanian Devil
© Caltech / R. Hurt (IPAC)
Artist's impression of the Tasmanian Devil, an explosive flare that keeps on flaring, so far more than a dozen times.
On September 7, 2022, an automatic telescope picked up a blazing dot of blue light some 1,000 times brighter than a typical supernova. The brilliant blue flare lasted only days before it faded away, but not before an automated system had put astronomers on alert.

The system designated the event AT2022tsd, but it some came to be called the "Tasmanian Devil." It joined the short list of a special class of objects discovered in 2018 known as luminous fast blue optical transients (LFBOTs). Astronomers think these explosive flares are a special kind of supernova, but they could also be stars ripped apart in the intense gravitational field surrounding a neutron star or black hole. The devil, as they say, is in the details.

But while the Tasmanian Devil's discovery was a welcome surprise, the real bombshell came 100 days later. In December that year, Anna Ho (Cornell University) and colleagues were reviewing routine images that had monitored the fading flare when, to their bewilderment, they found a red-colored burst almost as bright as the original blue one, and in the same position on the sky.

Scouring for more data, both in the archive and then with new observations, the astronomers found another outburst — and then another, and another. The energy of each one of these outbursts is equivalent to that released from an exploding star. Overall, at least 14 flares followed the first one, Ho and colleagues report in Nature, and it's likely there were many more they missed.

"An event like this has never been witnessed before," says team member Jeff Cooke (Swinburne University of Technology and the ARC Centre of Excellence in Gravitational Wave Discovery, Australia).

"Indeed, optical flares following an explosive transient like the Tasmanian Devil — with luminosity similar to supernovae, but only lasting a minute or two — are a completely new (and unexpected) discovery," agrees Ashley Chrimes (ESA), who wasn't involved with the study.


Recently discovered nova investigated by astronomers

AT 2023prq
© Research Notes of the AAS (2023). DOI: 10.3847/2515-5172/ad0a99
DSS image of the Andromeda Galaxy and its surroundings. AT 2023prq is shown (star) with the two tidal stream classical novae (AT 2016dah and AT 2017fyp).
Astronomers from the Liverpool John Moores University have performed photometric and spectroscopic observations of a recently discovered nova, known as AT 2023prq. Results of the observational campaign, published in the November issue of the Research Notes of the American Astronomical Society (AAS), shed more light on the nature of this nova.

A nova is a star experiencing a sudden increase in brightness and slowly returning to its original state, a process that could last many months. Such an outburst, which releases an immense amount of energy, is the result of the accretion process in a close binary system containing a white dwarf and its companion. Studying novae is crucial in advancing our knowledge about fundamental astrophysical processes, including stellar evolution.

AT 2023prq (other designation ZTF23aaxzvrr) was detected by the Zwicky Transient Facility (ZTF) on August 15, 2023, in the halo of the Andromeda galaxy (or Messier 31, M31). It had an r′-band magnitude of 17.13 and shortly after its detection, follow-up observations of this nova commenced in order to get more insights into its properties.

Astronomers Michael Healy-Kalesh and Daniel Perley from the Liverpool John Moores University in Liverpool, UK, were among the first to observe AT 2023prq after it was identified. They used the Liverpool Telescope (LT) and various other ground-based facilities to monitor the nova until the end of August 2023.


Proteins are rare and isolated — and thus, are unable to evolve

NASA curiosity rover mars
A self-portrait taken by NASA's Curiosity rover taken on Sol 2082 (June 15, 2018).
Were the laws of physics and chemistry fine-tuned to allow proteins to evolve easily? This claim is a key element in a conception of design advocated by theologian Rope Kojonen. He believes, in effect, that God designed the laws of nature so that proteins and other biological phenomena can evolve. In a previous post, I discussed an article, "On the Relationship between Design and Evolution," that I wrote with Stephen Dilley, Casey Luskin, and Emily Reeves. Both in the article and in a series at Evolution News, we have been critiquing Kojonen's book The Compatibility of Evolution and Design, which argues that evolutionary theory can be reconciled with the belief that life demonstrates evidence of design. Here, I will expand my previous argument about proteins, showing functional proteins are rare and isolated — and thus, cannot evolve. If my account is correct, then Kojonen's view of design is fatally flawed.


Intelligent design proponent Dembski has won the argument with his critics

Mt. Rushmore
© Discovery Institute Press.
New edition of The Design Inference shows how

One of the foundational books undergirding the intelligent design research program is The Design Inference: Eliminating Chance through Small Probabilities, by mathematician and philosopher William Dembski. He developed a rigorous methodology for design detection. His work was initially praised by esteemed scholars. Then, he applied his design-detection apparatus to biology and demonstrated that life displays clear evidence for design. After making this connection, he faced enormous opposition for daring to challenge the sacred dogma of secular society that life is an unintended product of the blind forces of nature.

Many of the attacks were little more than knee-jerk reactions, but some raised legitimate concerns and asked relevant questions. In the decades that followed, Dembski responded to critics and refined his model. He also collaborated with computer scientists Robert J. Marks and Winston Ewert, along with other scholars, to expand upon his initial ideas and further apply them to biology (here, here, here).

Comment: More from Dembski and Ewert:


China's latest venture could be key to human activity on Mars

China Mars rover Zhurong
© CNSA via AP
China's Mars rover, Zhurong, is seen near its landing platform during a mission to the planet in 2021.
Commercial spaceflight companies like SpaceX have made space travel more accessible, and allow more research for future missions to the moon and Mars, astronauts said.

A robotic space chemist could create oxygen on Mars using materials from the planet's surface, Chinese researchers behind the project say.

A refrigerator-sized machine equipped with artificial intelligence and a robotic arm broke down material from five meteorites and analyzed it to identify a chemical formula that creates a substance that can cause oxygen to separate from water. Researchers said it would have taken a human 2,000 years to find that formula.

Comet 2

Comets that 'bounce' from planet to planet could spread life across the universe

comet graphic
© Getty Images/Lev Savitskiy
Artist's impression ofa comet soaring through space near two exoplanets.
New research shows how comets could be a source of extraterrestrial life in planets outside of our solar system.

Scientists suspect that comets may have delivered the organic ingredients necessary to cook up life on Earth, and new research shows how exoplanets could have received these special deliveries from comets, too.

In its early history, Earth was bombarded with impacts from asteroids, comets and other cosmic bodies leftover from the formation of the solar system. Scientists still debate how the planet got its water and the molecules needed to form life, but comets are likely candidates.

But if comets could have potentially delivered the seeds of life to Earth, could they do the same for exoplanets elsewhere in the universe? With that question in mind, a team of researchers from University of Cambridge's Institute of Astronomy developed mathematical models that helped them show how comets could theoretically deliver similar building blocks of life to other planets in the Milky Way galaxy.

While the research is far from conclusive evidence for life on other worlds, the team's findings could help narrow down the search for life-hosting exoplanets.

Comment: Comets bring more than just the 'building blocks of life'. They bring the code telling what to do with those blocks: