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Fri, 24 Feb 2017
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Science & Technology


Study: Earth's water may have originally been formed deep within its mantle

© flickr-jgsgeology
A new study led by a team of scientists at UCD shows that a reaction between silicon dioxide that is found in quartz crystals and fluid hydrogen at high temperatures and pressure, found in the earth's upper mantle, can create water.
Earth's water may have originally been formed by chemical reactions deep within the planet's mantle, according to research led by University College Dublin.

The new theory offers an alternative explanation as to how the life-giving liquid may have originated on Earth. Previously, scientists have suggested that comets that collided with the planet could have deposited large amounts of ice on the Earth which later melted, forming water.

The investigators carried out computer simulations which found that reactions between high-pressure and high-temperature fluid hydrogen and silicon dioxide in quartz, found in Earth's upper mantle, can form liquid water under the right conditions.

The simulations were carried out by Dr Zdenek Futera, UCD School of Chemical and Bioprocess Engineering, under the direction of Profesor Niall English, UCD School of Chemical and Bioprocess Engineering, and the Materials, Energy and Water Simulations research group. The team at UCD also worked closely with co-author of the paper, Professor John Tse, University of Saskatchewan in Canada.

The exercise tested the reaction at different temperatures and pressures typically found in the upper mantle 40 to 400km below the surface of the Earth.

The simulations revealed that the silica and fluid hydrogen could form water when exposed to temperatures of just over 1400°C and at pressure 20,000 times higher than Earth's atmospheric pressure.

Silica is found in abundance above and below the surface of the earth in the form of the mineral quartz - the Earth's crust is 59 per cent silica.


Life in space stops aging says NASA

© Pixabay
NASA experts summed up the first results of their experiment involving astronaut twin brothers Mark and Scott Kelly. It turned out that life in space affects human health and stops the aging process.

Scott Kelly and Mark Kelly, as described by NASA, were involved in an unusual experiment in which experts tried to assess how life on orbit affects human health. Scott and Mark are identical twins and their life was spent in a similar manner — both of them are astronauts.

The experiment was based on the observation of health conditions of both brothers. The only difference between them was that Kelly lived for over a year aboard the ISS, while his brother Mark spent his time on earth.

At the end of the experiment, the scientists came to a surprising conclusion. It turned out that telomeres — essential parts of human health that protect chromosomes from deterioration — became longer in Scott Kelly's white blood cells over the period of time he spent in space. Usually, telomeres on the contrary shorten with time as people get older, space.com wrote.

Experts assume that such changes in Scott's blood "could be linked to increased exercise and reduced caloric intake during the mission." However, they also noted that "upon his return to Earth, they began to shorten again."

In other words, this was the first experiment that showed that life in space for some yet unknown reason leads to a condition when cellular aging process is completely stopped or even reversed. Who knows, maybe it is the first step toward resolving the mystery of human aging and creating an elixir of life.


Solar winds might be carrying oxygen from Earth to the moon

The desolate moon environment may not be so alien to us humans after all, with new analysis of Japanese spacecraft data suggesting oxygen ions rain down from Earth to the lunar surface periodically. The study was carried out by a team from Japan's Osaka University and involved investigating data collected by Japan's lunar orbiter Kaguya.

Kaguya, also known as the Selenological and Engineering explorer, mapped the surface of the moon before dropping to its surface in June 2009.

As the Moon lays in the earth's magnetosphere, which is an area hit by the sun particles commonly referred to as solar winds, the craft picked up evidence of oxygen ions, according to the Nature Journal study.


Quantum supercomputer could 'change life completely' in a decade

© Professor Winfried Hensinger of Sussex University
Physicists have produced the first-ever blueprints for a large-scale quantum computer that could herald a technological revolution in computing.

If the industrial blueprint works, it could see the first super-fast quantum machine being built within a decade at a cost of tens of millions of pounds.

Quantum computers have long been seen as the next stage in computing technology. Scientists believe this next generation machine could be many millions of times faster than contemporary computers.

An international team the University of Sussex published the new blueprint in the academic journal Science Advances.


Google's Boston Dynamics unveils 'nightmare-inducing' wheeled robot

Boston Dynamics is best known for its bipedal and quadrupedal robots, but it turns out the company has also been experimenting with some radical new tech: the wheel.

The company's new wheeled, upright robot is named Handle ("because it's supposed to handle objects") and looks like a cross between a Segway and the two-legged Atlas bot.

Handle hasn't been officially unveiled, but was shown off by company founder Marc Raibert in a presentation to investors. Footage of the presentation was uploaded to YouTube by venture capitalist Steve Jurvetson.

Raibert describes Handle as an "experiment in combining wheels with legs, with a very dynamic system that is balancing itself all the time and has a lot of knowledge of how to throw its weight around." He adds that using wheels is more efficient than legs, although there's obviously a trade-off in terms of maneuvering over uneven ground. "This is the debut presentation of what I think will be a nightmare-inducing robot," says Raibert:

Creating a more efficient robot that can handle basic tasks like moving objects around a warehouse would certainly be of benefit for Boston Dynamics. Although the company has consistently wowed the public with its robots, it's struggled to produce a commercial product that's ready for the real world.


Scientists have photographed light moving faster than the speed of light

A team of researchers at Washington University in St. Louis has taken images of a laser pulse generating an optical Mach cone: the equivalent of a sonic boom, but for light. To make an optical Mach cone, a pulse of light would need to be traveling faster than the waves it's emitting can propagate forward. But the researchers were able to peel apart the properties of a laser beam, interacting separately with velocity, wavelength, and frequency. They directed the beam through a layered confection of silicone panels, aluminum oxide powder, and dry ice. The source of the light waves was moving faster than the waves themselves as they passed through the layers, leaving behind the optical Mach cone.


Bees suffering from 'deformed wing virus'

© Science News
A mite-virus alliance attacks bee populations.
A wing-deforming virus shortens the lifespan of wild honeybees already contending with a startlingly long list of existential threats, researchers said Wednesday. Spread by microscopic mites, the microbe disrupts bees' foraging and curtails their lives, experiments confirmed for the first time.

"Deformed wing virus strongly reduced the chances for workers to survive to foraging age," scientists reported in the Royal Society journal Proceedings B [sic][Proceedings of the Royal Society, Series B]. It also "reduced the life expectancy and total activity span" of infected bees, they found.

Bees around the world -- especially in Europe and North America -- have been decimated in recent years by a mysterious blight called "colony collapse disorder", in which entire populations disappear or die out. Research has pointed an accusing finger at agricultural pesticides, viruses, fungi, parasites, malnutrition because of fewer flowers -- or some combination of the above.

More than just the survival of the bees is at stake. Scientists recently calculated that 1.4 billion jobs, and three-quarters of crops, depend on pollinators, mainly bees. All told, there are some 20,000 bee species that fertilise more than 90 percent of the world's 107 major crops. At the same time, the United Nations estimates that 40 percent of invertebrate pollinators -- mostly bees and butterflies -- are at risk of extinction.

Comment: See also: Mystery surrounds virus which is devastating bee colonies


Traces of a lost continent found in Indian Ocean

© Seeker
Indian Ocean topography shows Mauritius as part of a chain of progressively older volcanoes that extend from the active hot-spot of Réunion toward the 65-million-year-old Deccan Traps in India.
A piece of an ancient continent, running from India to Madagascar, has been discovered under the tiny island of Mauritius off the East Coast of Africa.

The "lost continent" was formed in the breakup of the supercontinent, Gondwana, which began pulling apart about 200 million years ago. The small piece of crust was later covered by lava from volcanic eruptions on the island, researchers said, after the breakup of Africa, India, Australia and Antarctica, which formed the Indian Ocean.

The scientists, who published the study in the journal Nature Communications, said there are many pieces of the undiscovered continent, which they call Mauritia, found around the Indian Ocean, from the breakup of Gondwana.

"According to the new results, this break-up did not involve a simple splitting of the ancient super-continent of Gondwana," said Wits University geologist Lewis Ashwal, in a statement. "But rather, a complex splintering took place with fragments of continental crust of variable sizes left adrift within the evolving Indian Ocean basin."


The end of fillings? Researchers develop drug that regrows damaged teeth

Researchers at King's College London in the United Kingdom have discovered that Tideglusib, a drug designed to regrow brain cells in patients living with neurological disorders such as Alzheimer's, can stimulate the stem cells contained in the pulp of teeth. This discovery generates enough dentine - the hard, calcified tissue beneath the outer enamel surface in teeth - and naturally regenerates the damaged teeth, substantially reducing the need for artificial fillings.

Previous work by the team has shown that Tideglusib stimulates stem cells in the center of the tooth, triggering them to develop into odontoblasts (specialized tooth cells) and boosting the production of dentine, allowing larger defects to be reversed. Professor Paul Sharpe, lead author of the study, commented:

"The simplicity of our approach makes it ideal as a clinical dental product for the natural treatment of large cavities, by providing both pulp protection and restoring dentine. In addition, using a drug that has already been tested in clinical trials for Alzheimer's disease provides a real opportunity to get this dental treatment quickly into clinics."

Bizarro Earth

Chimps attack and murder former tyrant

© Jill D. Pruetz
A violent end
It was a gruesome scene. The body had severe wounds and was still bleeding despite having been lying for a few hours in the hot Senegalese savanna.

The murder victim, a West African chimpanzee called Foudouko, had been beaten with rocks and sticks, stomped on and then cannibalised by his own community.

This is one of just nine known cases where a group of chimpanzees has killed one of their own adult males, as opposed to killing a member of a neighbouring tribe.

These intragroup killings are rare, but Michael Wilson at the University of Minnesota says they are a valuable insight into chimp behaviour such as male coalition building.

"Why do these coalitions sometimes succeed, but not very often? It's at the heart of this tension between conflict and cooperation, which is central to the lives of chimpanzees and even to our own," he says.