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Fri, 22 Jan 2021
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How Catnip gets kitties high and helps ward off mosquitoes

cat catnip
© Masao Miyazaki & Reiko Uenoyama
A cat responds to silver vine leaves.
Catnip is known to hold a special place in the hearts of felines, who often respond by rubbing their face and head in the plant, rolling around on the ground, then zoning out in a state of intoxicated repose.

But the biological mechanisms by which it works its magic, and whether it confers any additional benefits to cats, had remained unanswered questions until now.

An international team of researchers published a study in Science Advances on Wednesday, finding that catnip and silver vine, an even more potent herb found in the mountains of Japan and China, ward off mosquitoes.

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Earth's outer shell ballooned during massive growth spurt 3 billion years ago

Earth core
© Shutterstock
The Earth's crust, mantle, outer core and inner core
Around 3 billion years ago, Earth's crust ballooned during a massive growth spurt, geoscientists have found.

At that time, just 1.5 billion years after Earth formed, the mantle — the layer of silicate rock between the crust and the outer core that was more active in the past — heated up, causing magma from that layer to ooze into fragments of older crust above it. Those fragments acted as "seeds" for the growth of modern-day continents.

The researchers found evidence for this growth spurt hiding in ancient zircon crystals in stream sediments in Greenland. These extremely durable crystals — made up of zirconium silicate — formed during the growth spurt around 3 billion years ago.

"There have probably been multiple crust-forming events in the Earth's history," lead researcher Chris Kirkland, a professor of geoscience at Curtin University in Australia, told Live Science. "But this global injection event 3 billion years ago is definitely one of the biggest."

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Saturn's tilt angle is changing due to its moons

Saturn and Aurora
© NASA, ESA, J.Clark (Boston University) and Z. Levay (STSCI)
Saturn's increasing obliquity means we are sometimes getting a better view of both the rings and the auroras at it's pole than we would if it were more upright.
You know that feeling where your balance isn't quite right and you find yourself falling over very slowly, but with seemingly no power to stop? Saturn knows it too - or would if only it was a sentient being. Saturn's fall from uprightness is taking hundreds of millions of years, some scientists conclude, laying the blame on its moons.

The gas from which the planets formed swirled in the plane of their orbits. Without anything to change them, each should point straight up at right angles to their path around the Sun. The reality is messier. The angle between a planet's equator and its orbital plane is called its obliquity. Mercury, Venus, and Jupiter behave as expected, with obliquity values of just a few degrees, making their seasons almost undetectable. Mars and Neptune have values a little greater than the Earth's 23.4º, while Uranus has flopped over entirely and is rotating sideways, and a little backward, its obliquity an improbable 98 degrees.

The reasons for each tilt are as individual as the planets themselves, and sometimes all is not as it seems. Saturn's obliquity of 26.7º - neatly fitting between Mars and Neptune - isn't unusual, but still requires an explanation. Most astronomers believe the cause lies more than four billion years ago when the Solar System was young and resonance with Neptune's orbit tilted Saturn over. Dr Melaine Saillenfest of Sorbonne Université has challenged that, arguing it's actually happening before our eyes.


Honeybee microbes shape colony's social behaviour

bee hive
Recent research shows that the insect’s microbial community is central to protecting the hive from invaders—both big and small.
As summer fades to fall, flowers wilt and forager honeybees scouring for nectar may find their sweet snack to be scarce. Typically, foragers continue to search around for some last drops of nectar before winter, but if a ravenous colony is desperate enough, it may resolve to a more dire tactic — to storm a foreign beehive and rob it of its honey.

For the targeted hive, the attack can spell disaster — bees may be killed trying to defend the colony's food, while the honey theft leaves the colony at risk of starvation over the winter. Colonies try to prevent these invasions by stationing guard bees outside the hive to monitor the thousands of bees entering and exiting the hive. Guard bees use the smell of other bees' cuticular hydrocarbons (CHCs), compounds that form a waxy, water-resistant layer coating diverse insect species, to identify individuals that try to infiltrate from different colonies. Differences in CHC composition were thought to depend on genetics, but researchers have shown that day-old bees can be integrated into a foreign hive with few cases of rejection.

Comment: Studies of the human microbiome are revealing similar findings: For more fascinating finds on bees:


Statue of Liberty-sized space rock among six asteroids set to make 'close approach' to Earth on Biden's inauguration day

Six asteroids will greet Joe Biden taking the oath of office
© Marcelo Celo/ Pixabay; inset: Reuters/ Joshua Roberts
Six asteroids will greet Joe Biden taking the oath of office.
Joe Biden's reign as US president is due to get off to a rocky start - a barrage of asteroids are set to make "close approaches" to our planet as the Democrat takes the oath of office on Wednesday.

NASA has identified six asteroids that will blaze past Earth on inauguration day. The space agency labelled the plethora of space rocks as Near Earth Objects (NEOs), meaning they warrant close scrutiny.

"NEOs are comets and asteroids that have been nudged by the gravitational attraction of nearby planets into orbits that allow them to enter the Earth's neighbourhood," NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory says.

The tightest shave will see an asteroid come significantly closer to Earth than the Moon, the largest passing visitor measuring up to 305 feet (93 meters) in width. In a weird inauguration-day quirk of fate, the Statue of Liberty in New York is also 93 meters tall.

Comet 2

Newly found Comet Leonard might become 2021's brightest

Comet Leonard
© Filipp Romanov
This is what a comet looks like – just a dot to our eyes – when it’s far from the sun. Astronomers spotted Comet Leonard (inside the tick marks) in early January 2021, a year before its closest sweep past our sun. The comet might be visible to the unaided eye by the end of this year.
Hot on the heels of last summer's Comet NEOWISE it's looking like the northern hemisphere might just get another bright comet in 2021.

Discovered last week, new images of Comet Leonard appear to show the dusty visitor to the Solar System already has a bright nucleus and a tail.


No stopping AI? Scientists conclude there would be no way to control super-intelligent machines

artificial intelligence
© Gerd Altmann from Pixabay
From self-driving cars to computers that can win game shows, humans have a natural curiosity and interest in artificial intelligence (AI). As scientists continue making machines smarter and smarter however, some are asking "what happens when computers get too smart for their own good?" From "The Matrix" to "The Terminator," the entertainment industry has already started pondering if future robots will one day threaten the human race. Now, a new study concludes there may be no way to stop the rise of machines. An international team says humans would not be able to prevent super artificial intelligence from doing whatever it wanted to.

Scientists from the Center for Humans and Machines at the Max Planck Institute have started to picture what such a machine would look like. Imagine an AI program with an intelligence far superior to humans. So much so that it could learn on its own without new programming. If it was connected to the internet, researchers say the AI would have access to all of humanity's data and could even take control of other machines around the globe.

Study authors ask what would such an intelligence do with all that power? Would it work to make all of our lives better? Would it devote its processing power to fixing issues like climate change? Or, would the machine look to take over the lives of its human neighbors?


The quantum leap forward: On birthing the world's fastest, most advanced internet network, China claims supremacy over the US

High Speed Internet network
© Pixabay
Beijing's new quantum computer can solve mathematical problems in 200 seconds that it would take current supercomputers millions of years to solve - and the network around it will revolutionise how we live and work.

China achieved "quantum supremacy" with the development of its Jiuzhang quantum computer, which last month surpassed Google's Sycamore quantum device with its ability to calculate 100 trillion times faster than the fastest classical supercomputer.

The development sent shock waves around the world. But before this news could be fully digested by rival players in the quantum race, Beijing announced it had also built the world's first fully integrated quantum network. Earlier this month, a network of satellite relays and fiber optic cables between Shanghai and Beijing was able to "teleport" huge amounts of data.

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Shocking discovery: Electric eels hunt in packs in Amazon rivers

Electric eel
© Youtube
Electric eel

When darkness comes, electric eels emerge from South American river bottoms to attack their prey with up to 860 volts of electricity — enough to kill a person. Now, scientists have revealed the snakelike fish don't always go it alone: They hunt in packs, similar to wolves, orcas, and some species of tuna. The finding, a first among electric fishes, may open the way for new studies to investigate when social predation evolved among fishes.

"I was shocked," says Douglas Bastos, a biologist at the National Institute of Amazonian Research who first saw a group attack in 2012. Usually the eels, which can grow as long as a broomstick and weigh up to 20 kilograms, prey alone at night, targeting single resting fishes, he notes. "This behavior is unprecedented for electrical eels and also rare among freshwater fishes."

Comment: In recent years science has come to discover that there is cross-species hunting cooperation, so, whilst this is an interesting find, some of the comments in the article above also reveal just how limiting the scientific perspective can be sometimes; and particularly that shaped by Darwinian theory: And check out SOTT radio's:


NASA fails test of mega Moon rocket, unknown issue causes engines to shut down prematurely


NASA said the 'hot-fire' test of the RS-25 engines that will power the Artemis lunar missions shut down prematurely
NASA said the 'hot-fire' test of the RS-25 engines that will power the Artemis lunar missions shut down prematurely

NASA conducted a test firing of the engines for its giant Space Launch System (SLS) lunar rocket on Saturday but they shut down earlier than planned, the space agency said.

The "hot-fire" test at the Stennis Space Center in Mississippi was supposed to last a little over eight minutes — the time the engines would burn in flight — but they shut down just over a minute into the burn.

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