Welcome to Sott.net
Thu, 27 Oct 2016
The World for People who Think

Science & Technology


Our Neanderthal DNA might actually be doing us some good!

© Martin Meissner/AP
Reconstructions of a Neanderthal man, left, and woman at the Neanderthal museum in Mettmann, Germany.
Most human genomes harbor small fragments of Neanderthal DNA, the legacy of prehistoric hanky-panky between our ancestors and their hominid cousins.

For the most part, that inheritance has been detrimental. Research suggests that as much as 10 percent of the human genome was inherited from archaic hominids other than Homo sapiens, but the majority of that material was weeded out by tens of thousands of years of natural selection. The DNA that does remain has been blamed for increasing risk of depression, Type 2 diabetes, Crohn's disease, lupus, allergies,addiction and more.

But geneticists Fernando Racimo, Davide Marnetto and Emilia Huerta-Sanchez wanted to find evidence that our archaic inheritance actually does us some good. They went looking for instances of adaptive introgression — a phenomenon in which a newly introduced piece of genetic material is so beneficial that it quickly radiates out into the entire population.


New fault connections in San Francisco Bay area, massive destruction looms ahead

© Robert Galbraith / Reuters
Warnings from beneath California are getting grimmer with each passing geological study. A previously unseen fault line has been spotted, doubling the length of existing faults and threatening an even more colossal quake.

The next 'Big One,' an earthquake of magnitude 7.0+, is generally expected in the US along the San Andreas line. Many geologists agree that the fault has reached such a level of stress that the new massive quake is a matter of when, not if. In June, large-scale motion was detected along the fault line, creating further panic in cities such as Los Angeles and San Francisco. But the new phantom danger lies in the Bay Area, along two merged faults running parallel to San Andreas.

Upping the ante this week was the troubling discovery of a hidden 'bridge' between two volatile fault zones - Rodgers Creek and the Hayward fault - outlined on Thursday in the journal Science Advances. Together they stretch 115 miles (185km), from wine country in the northwest, down to Oakland, terminating just north of San Jose. They pose a big enough danger when unconnected. But this newly discovered connection effectively means they're a single fault now. This threatens to produce a 'rubber-band effect' twice the magnitude when the fault eventually ruptures.

"Because the longer a fault stretches, the bigger the earthquake it can produce. And here we've just doubled the length of this fault," explains David Ponce, a geologist with the research group, speaking to Popular Mechanics. According to Ponce, the combined fault zones "constitute one of the most dangerous earthquake risks in the nation."

Comment: For more information, see also:

2 + 2 = 4

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.