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Sat, 22 Oct 2016
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Unusual cluster of gigantism in Ireland traced to ancient gene

© fujji / Shutterstock.com

Mid-Ulster in Northern Ireland is home to the highest proportion of people with gigantism than any other place on Earth, scientists say.
The land of giants. It sounds like something from a fairy tale, but it arguably exists in a region of Northern Ireland where a cluster of people with a genetic predisposition grow abnormally tall.

In Mid-Ulster, about 1 in 150 people carry a genetic mutation to the AIP gene that leads to an overproduction of growth hormone resulting in acromegaly, also known as gigantism. The hormone disorder is spurred by a tumor on the pituitary gland, a pea-sized organ at the base of the brain.

Comment: Standing tall: The 1,500-year-old mutant giant gene that is still causing excessive growth in Northern Ireland


Jupiter spacecraft captures images of towering polar storms

Storms larger than half the size of Earth at Jupiter's north pole.
A spacecraft taking pictures of Jupiter with a camera that a Tucson-based scientist manages has sent back pictures of a storm that would dwarf any earthbound hurricane.

NASA's Juno spacecraft made a first pass by Jupiter in August, and its instruments were turned on just to test them. The camera pictured a storm more than half the size of Earth.

Candice Hansen of the Planetary Science Institute in Tucson says what her camera captured amazed everyone.

"We always thought we would do some science with JunoCam," she said.

Hansen says the camera's main purpose is to connect the public to the space mission by asking for online voting on what will be photographed.


Mysterious flaring objects could be an entirely new phenomenon say astronomers

© NASA/CXC/UA/J.Irwin et al.
Scientists have detected two mysterious objects in space that dramatically flare into a burst of bright X-rays, and they're like nothing we've ever seen before.

These mysterious X-ray sources - which have been observed erupting in two different galaxies - qualify at their peak as what astronomers call ultraluminous X-ray sources (ULXs), but their unusual flaring behaviour doesn't match up with any known cosmic phenomena.

"We've never seen anything like this," says astronomer Jimmy Irwin from the University of Alabama. "Astronomers have seen many different objects that flare up, but these may be examples of an entirely new phenomenon."

Irwin began looking for evidence of unusual X-ray activity after scientists detected extremely bright flaring near a galaxy called NGC 4697. Only two very brief bursts were observed at the time - one in 2003 and one in 2007 - and nobody knew what caused them.

To see if they could find evidence of similar flares, Irwin and his team sifted through archival data covering 70 galaxies collected by NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory.

After examining several thousand X-ray sources in Chandra's records, the team identified two mysterious flaring objects that might be the same thing as what was detected near NGC 4697.

The first they found, located near the galaxy NGC 4636 - some 47 million light-years away from us - was captured during an outburst in February 2003.

The other object - near the galaxy NGC 5128 at a distance of some 14 million light-years from Earth - was seen to flare five times between 2007 and 2014.

While that makes it sound like these flares happen only rarely, that's not necessarily the case.

Bizarro Earth

Study finds hidden connection between two dangerous fault zones in San Francisco

The longer a fault stretches, the bigger the earthquake it can produce.
The most dangerous earthquake fault in the San Francisco Bay Area is connected to another, which means both could rupture simultaneously and unleash major devastation, a new study finds.

The Hayward Fault has long been considered a threat because it runs under densely populated neighborhoods east of San Francisco. The new work found that beneath San Pablo Bay, it joins with a second, less active underground fracture to the north.

Scientists had already considered the possibility of both faults rupturing at once, whether they are connected or not. So the discovery doesn't change the estimated earthquake hazard much, although it confirms suspicions that the stage is set for what could be a massive quake.

If the Hayward and Rodgers Creek faults broke simultaneously along their combined 118 miles, they could produce a magnitude 7.4 quake, said scientists from the U.S. Geological Survey.


Map shows which parts of the US are at the highest risk from a devastating solar storm

© Getty Images
Solar storms have the ability to disrupt Earth’s magnetic field and wreak havoc on our electric power grid.
Be ready.

Scientists have drawn up the first ever map of areas of the US that would be at the biggest risk if a catastrophic geomagnetic storm - generated by solar energy erupting from the Sun - were to strike Earth.

While these kinds of intense geomagnetic storms are very rare, when they do hit, a stream of highly charged particles carried on the solar wind can disrupt Earth's magnetic field, causing havoc for electric power grids on the surface.

A particularly powerful solar ejection could potentially send us back to the Dark Ages for months or even years by causing widespread power outages around the planet, with a damage bill estimated to be as high as US$2.6 trillion.

So knowing which particular power grids stand to be hardest hit by such an intense solar storm is a pretty good idea - and that's the thinking behind the new map developed by researchers at the US Geological Survey.

"Power grids are grounded, so they can pick up electric fields generated deep inside the Earth," geophysicist Jeffrey Love told Dave Mosher at Business Insider. "But that geoelectric activity depends on the geology, and that's different from one region to the next."

In particular, areas at a higher latitude - and therefore closer to Earth's magnetic poles - receive the greatest barrage of particles during a solar storm.

Comment: Interesting that the team can't seem to get Congressional funding for charting what, in human terms, is far and away the most vulnerable area of the United States - but they can enact Executive orders extracting resources from citizens if such an eventuality should occur. See: New Executive Order points to devastating space event, unprecedented government response - and public's lack of preparedness


A new inflatable 'weapon' in Russia's arsenal

© James Hill for The New York Times
Deep in the Russian countryside, the grass sways in a late-summer breeze. In the distance, the sun glistens off the golden spires of a village church. It is, to all appearances, a typically Russian scene of imperturbable rural tranquillity.

Until a sleek MIG-31 fighter jet suddenly appears in a field, its muscular, stubby wings spreading to reveal their trademark red star insignia. A few moments later, a missile launcher pops up beside it.

Cars on a nearby road pull over, the drivers gaping in amazement at what appear to be fearsome weapons, encountered so unexpectedly in this serene spot. And then, as quickly as they appeared, the jet and missile launcher vanish.

"If you study the major battles of history, you see that trickery wins every time," Aleksei A. Komarov, the military engineer in charge of this sleight of hand, said with a sly smile. "Nobody ever wins honestly."


No signal yet from ExoMars lander after descent to Red Planet

Scientists at the European Space Agency have received no signal from the Schiaparelli module since it attempted a risky landing on the surface of Mars. ESA scientists are waiting for data from a probe in Mars' orbit to confirm whether the craft landed safely.

The ground module of the joint European-Russian mission was supposed to land at 14:47 GMT, and the most immediate confirmation of success was to come through an array of radio telescopes located in India, but so far they have failed to provide a clear signal from the Schiparelli probe. The ESA has cautioned that this method of detection was still "experimental," however.


Are pilots days numbered? - First robot-manned flight has just happened

© Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images
Mike Hopkins, Eric Hahn and Robert Griffin work on the legs of the ESCHER robot while preparing for the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) Robotics Challenge at the TREC (Terrestrial Robotics Engineering and Controls) Lab at Virginia Tech April 9, 2015 in Blacksburg, Virginia.
The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) has just successfully completed the first robot-manned flight yesterday at a small airport in Virginia on a turboprop plane.

The robot, which was part of a two man crew where it acted as an assistant pilot, looked simple with metal rods and tubes that acted as its hands and feet. However, its simplicity belies the complexity of its internal make-up, which allows it to do the flying during the demonstration. The robot expertly maneuvered the throttle and successfully completed the flight.

DARPA has been working with the program called Aircrew Labor In-Cockpit Automation System (ALIAS) in collaboration with Aurora Flight Sciences. They have started the program in response to the growing need for pilots in both commercial and military flights.

Asked how reliable the robots are, John Langford, CEO and chairman of Aurora, said that it is like a "human pilot with 600,000 hours of experience." He added that it can do better than a human pilot because it can react faster and smarter because it carries with it every information about the aircraft system.

Fireball 5

Are dark comets an extinction threat to the Earth?

© The Extinction Protocol
There are many cosmic catastrophes that could do us in, completely irrespective of anything that happens here on Earth. A star could pass into our Solar System and swallow up our planet whole, or eject us from our orbit and cause us to permanently freeze over. A supernova or gamma ray burst could go off too close to us, disintegrating all life on the Earth's surface. Or, as we know it did at least once before some 65 million years ago, a large, fast-moving object like a comet or asteroid could have a catastrophic collision with Earth. At least if we're prepared, we ought to see one coming and be able to take preparations. But what if there's no chance; what if an incoming comet is somehow unseeable? David Bertone heard about that possibility, and wants to know!

I recently came across a few articles regarding dark comets, and to say the least it freaked me out! [...] Is Napier right about the dark comets? Are they truly a threat to us [on] earth? We have lots of threats to life on Earth, and getting struck by a large, fast-moving, unexpected object is certainly among them! Bill Napier is a scientist who studies potentially hazardous objects from outer space. He rightly points out that, while most efforts to catalogue the potential dangers to Earth focus on near-Earth objects like the asteroids that leave the main belt and cross Earth's orbit, that might not be a good reflection of what's actually likely to get us. Nor is it necessarily an asteroid orbiting interior to Jupiter or a comet orbiting exterior to the orbit of Neptune, just waiting to get perturbed and flung into the inner Solar System. There are plenty of objects orbiting in between the orbits of the four gas giants, known as centaurs, that could be hurtled inwards without any warning, and most of them have not been catalogued. Napier postulates that many of these centaurs may be invisible to us, even after being flung inwards, until it's far too late.

Comment: Comet Swift-Tuttle may just be one of many visitors from the cosmos during this time of increasing electrical interaction within our solar system. And, it is not only impacts that have ramifications for our planet. It is also what the comets carry with them that may alter our biosphere and Earth's living organisms forever.

Suggested reading: Earth Changes and the Human-Cosmic Connection (The Secret History of the World Book 3) by Pierre Lescaudron, Laura Knight-Jadczyk


Ancient cave art solve mystery of the "Higgs bison"

© Carole Fritz and Gilles Tosello
A reproduction of the blurred black charcoal drawing of a steppe bison (Bison priscus) from the Aurignacian period, Chauvet-Pont d'Arc cave (Ardèche, France).
A newly identified hybrid animal has been "hiding in plain sight," according to researchers who spotted its depiction in well-known cave art thousands of years old.

Researchers have identified a previously unknown hybrid species of bison and cattle, with the help of cave drawings dating to at least 12,000 years ago.

Nicknamed the Higgs Bison (a play on the physics term Higgs boson) because of its once mysterious, elusive past, DNA analysis has verified the existence of the hybrid.

A new study published in the journal Nature Communications describes how the animal originated more than 120,000 years ago through the hybridization of the extinct Aurochs, the ancestor of modern cattle, and the Ice Age Steppe bison, which ranged across the cold grasslands from Europe to Mexico.

Higgs Bison eventually became the ancestor of the modern European bison, also called the wisent.

Study co-author Alan Cooper, director of the University of Adelaide's Australian Center for Ancient DNA, said that the Auruchs and the Ice Age Steppe bison were "doing things they are not meant to be doing together and producing a completely new species that survived, which is bizarre because normally that's not meant to happen in mammals."