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Wed, 24 Aug 2016
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Science & Technology


Secret of gorillas' language unravelled

Gorillas have a vast array of gestures with which they communicate, scientists have discovered.

From performing a pirouette to waving their arms about, gorillas use more than 100 different movements to communicate - more than any other mammal.

Gorillas may be our closest relatives, but to a human onlooker some of the actions seem bizarre.

Whereas it is unsurprising that a touch on the arm can be a signal to calm down or an invitation to have a cuddle, it would not be so easy to guess that a pirouette would be a warning that another gorilla should stop a particular action.

Evil Rays

Not everyone cheers as Wi-Fi takes to the skies

For all the annoyance of being crammed into an aluminum tube at 35,000 feet with a bunch of strangers, air travel has offered one benefit: the ability to tell bosses and colleagues, "I'll be on a flight, so you won't be able to reach me."

So much for that excuse.

Wireless Internet service is starting to spread among airlines in the United States - Delta and American have installed it on more than a dozen planes each, and several other carriers are planning to test it.


Deliberate confusion? Scientists losing war of words over climate change

Who understands the probabilities of climate change? Certainly not the general public, if psychological tests on volunteers in the US are to be believed.

The public, it seems, thinks climate scientists are less certain about their conclusions than they actually are. The results could explain why the minority views of "climate sceptics" get proportionally more attention from the general public than those of climate scientists.

Scientists are by their nature reluctant to express results as absolutely certain, and climatologists are no exception. Future projections based on climate models always come with error bars - an indication of how likely the data is to be accurate.


Meet the scoundrels of astronomy

© Wikimedia Commons
Nicolaus Reimers Baer ("Ursus") (1551-1600) Ursus incited a bitter controversy in 1588, when he published a geocentric model of the solar system (pictured) that looked quite similar to Tycho Brahe's. In both models, the planets orbited the Sun, while the Sun orbited the Earth.

History is littered with astronomers who doggedly pursued fame at the expense of the scientific method.

While researching a biographical encyclopaedia, Thomas Hockey of the University of Northern Iowa compiled a list of "really bad" astronomers. Some were combative, while others seem to have stolen ideas or manufactured data, infiltrating the astronomical community "like wolves among the sheep". Hockey discussed them last month at a meeting of the American Astronomical Society.


Y Chromosome and Surname Study Challenges Infidelity 'Myth'

Our surnames and genetic information are often strongly connected, according to a study funded by the Wellcome Trust.

The research, published this week in the journal Molecular Biology and Evolution, may help genealogists create more accurate family trees even when records are missing. It also suggests that the often quoted "one in ten" figure for children born through infidelity is unlikely to be true.

Dr Turi King and Professor Mark Jobling from the University of Leicester examined the Y chromosomes of over 1,600 unrelated men with forty surnames (including variations in spelling). Sons inherit both the Y chromosome and - generally - the surname from their fathers, unlike daughters, who do not carry this sex-specific chromosome and usually change their surname through marriage.

Hereditary surnames were introduced to Britain by the Normans at the time of the conquest. The practice of using hereditary surnames filtered down from Norman noble families to all classes of society so that by the fourteenth century people in many classes had surnames and by the sixteenth century it was rare not to have one.


Dig Unearths 13th Century Ceramic

© BBC News
The mask was unearthed at a site where new homes will be built.
A rare ceramic face-mask jug dating back to the 13th century has been uncovered at a building site in Rothesay in Argyll.

The find came after a house builder commissioned an archaeological dig on the site of the former Rothesay Council Chambers and Sheriff Court buildings.

Fyne Homes plans to develop 25 new homes on the land.

The artefact will be surrendered to the Crown who will decide where it will be housed.


Cosmologists 'See' the Cosmic Dawn

Cosmic Dawn z=8.5 shows the Universe 590 million years after the Big Bang
The images, produced by scientists at Durham University's Institute for Computational Cosmology, show the "Cosmic Dawn" - the formation of the first big galaxies in the Universe.

The Cosmic Dawn began as galaxies began to form out of the debris of massive stars which died explosively shortly after the beginning of the Universe. The Durham calculation predicts where these galaxies appear and how they evolve to the present day, over 13 billion years later.

The researchers hope their findings, which highlight star forming galaxies, will improve their understanding of dark matter - a mysterious substance believed to make up 80 per cent of the mass in the Universe.

Gravity produced by dark matter is an essential ingredient in galaxy formation and by studying its effects the scientists eventually hope to learn more about what the substance is.

The research is published in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society and was funded by the Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC) and the European Commission.


Six Reasons You Won't Want a Kindle for Business

With proper respect for the views of fellow PCW blogger Zack Stern, none of his six reasons why I am supposed to spend $359 on an ebook reader really impressed me.

The apologetics necessary to make Kindle--a name perilously close to "kindling"--sound like a good deal reminds me of the excuses made when Larry Ellison was planning to introduce a $500 PC. Back then, it seemed like a good price, but achieving it required some major trade-offs. In the end, Ellison failed, but today we have lots of $500 PCs that traded nothing to reach the price point. Prices just came down.

Even if I thought Kindle was a really great idea--and I don't--$359 is way too pricey, especially as a business toy. There's a recession going on! When it's over, however, a nicer Kindle might cost a more-interesting $99.

It's no secret why Amazon is so Kindle-crazed: Electronic books are a major preoccupation in the publishing industry, which would love to replace its addiction to wood pulp with a closer relationship to ol' Reddy Kilowatt. Then they can charge us (over time) just as much for books that they no longer have to print.


Scanner reveals details of Egyptian mummy inside casket

Stunning images from within the unopened casket of a 3,000-year-old Egyptian mummy have been revealed using a hi-tech hospital scanner.

The elaborately decorated coffin contains the wrapped remains of Meresamun, a woman believed to have been a singer-priestess at a temple in Thebes in 800 BC.
© Independent
Scan shows coffin and details of Meresamun's skeleton, including her eye sockets, jaw and shoulders

Experts do not want to disturb the casket, which has remained sealed since Meresamun was laid to rest almost 1,000 years before the birth of Christ.

But now cutting edge X-ray technology has allowed scientists to peer through the coffin and obtain astonishing 3D images of the mummy, still wrapped in her linen bandages.


Messenger Continues Hunt For Ever-Elusive Vulcanoids

The so-called vulcanoid region between the orbit of Mercury and the Sun is the main gravitationally stable region that is not known to be occupied. The region is, however, the most difficult to observe. Any vulcanoids would be difficult to detect from Earth because of the strong glare of the Sun. Previous vulcanoid searches have revealed no bodies larger than 60 kilometers in diameter.

MESSENGER reaches its orbital perihelion today and passes within 0.31 astronomical units (AU) of the Sun (one AU is nearly 150 million kilometers or 93 million miles).

The mission's imaging team is taking advantage of the probe's proximity to the fiery sphere to continue their search for vulcanoids - small, rocky asteroids that have been postulated to circle the Sun in stable orbits inside the orbit of Mercury.

Vulcanoids are named after Vulcan, a planet once proposed to explain unusual motions in Mercury's orbit. Scientists have long suspected that these small, faint "space rocks" exist. There is a gravitationally stable region between the orbit of Mercury and the Sun, which means that any objects that originally formed there could have remained for billions of years and might still be there today.