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Tue, 30 May 2017
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Technology allows shoppers to pay with their faces

© Kim Brunhuber/CBC
Most facial recognition systems are currently used to look for shoplifters
Chinese shoppers will soon be able to free up their hands, thanks to new technology that enables consumers to pay with their faces.

"We have finished an experiment for facial recognition payment and it will be used in the near future," said Chen Jidong on Monday, who is in charge of biometric identification technology at Ant Financial, the affiliate financial service of Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba.

Eye 1

Google's AI future is so impressive it's scary

© Getty Images
Google CEO Sundar Pichai delivers the keynote address of the Google I/O conference
The company is quietly transforming your camera into a search engine. Google this week held its developer conference for 2017, where it teased some of the brand new features coming to its products and services.

What we saw on stage was undeniably impressive, but one of the demonstrations in particular was frighteningly so. Google Lens will give the company greater insight into our daily lives than ever before.

Bizarro Earth

Geologists: Large volcanic eruption may have caused first mass extinction of life on earth

© Kunio Kaiho
The researchers found Hg enrichments in sedimentary rocks deposited in North America and southern China 445-443 million years ago. Hg enrichments are products of multiple phases of a large igneous province volcanism. This, they say, could have led to the environmental changes that caused the disappearance of many marine animal species.
Researchers in the U.S. and Japan say they may have found the cause of the first mass extinction of life on Earth.

There have been five mass extinctions since the divergent evolution of early animals 600 to 450 million years ago (Figure 1). Volcanic activity was the cause of both the third and fourth, while an asteroid impact led to the fifth. But triggers of the first and second mass extinctions had, until now, been unknown. The new study strongly suggests volcanic activity caused the first mass extinction.

It occurred at the end of the Ordovician. This age is between the divergence of the Ordovician and land invasion of vascular land plants and animals. Animals in the Ordovician-Silurian comprised marine animals like corals, trilobites, sea scorpions, orthoceras, brachiopods, graptolite, crinoid and jawless fish. Approximately 80 percent of species disappeared at the end of the Ordovician.

A team led by Dr. David S. Jones of Amherst College and Professor Kunio Kaiho of Tohoku University looked into possible triggers of the first mass extinction. They took sedimentary rock samples from two places—North America and southern China—and analyzed their mercury (Hg) content. They found Hg enrichments coinciding with the mass extinction in both areas. This, they believe, is the product of large volcanic eruptions, because the Hg anomaly was also observed in other large igneous province volcanisms.


Researchers discover surprisingly hot groundwater along New Zealand's Alpine Fault

© 123RF
The scientific team drilled into the South Island's Alpine Fault.
A scientific team that drilled into the South Island's Alpine Fault has discovered surprisingly high temperatures and the potential for large geothermal resources.

Lead scientist Professor Rupert Sutherland, from Victoria University, says the extreme activity was unexpected.
"Nobody on our team, or any of the scientists who reviewed our plans, predicted that it would be so hot down there," he said.

"This geothermal activity may sound alarming, but it is a wonderful scientific finding that could be commercially very significant for New Zealand."
He said it was too early to say how big or how hot the resource might be.

The Deep Fault Drilling Project - led by Victoria and Otago universities and GNS Science - was carried out in Westland, north of Franz Josef Glacier, in 2014.

More than 100 scientists from 12 countries drilled nearly 900m at Whataroa to try to understand how earthquakes occur in geological faults.

The results, published in the journal Nature, discuss the site's geothermal gradient - a measure of how fast the temperature increases going deeper beneath the Earth's surface.

The team found water hot enough to boil at a depth of 630m. Similar geothermal temperatures are normally found at depths greater than 3km.


Astronomers discover moon orbiting 'Snow White' dwarf planet

These two images, taken a year apart, reveal a moon orbiting the dwarf planet 2007 OR10.
A new study has revealed that the third-largest dwarf planet in our solar system has its own moon.

Researchers used three different space observatories to confirm that dwarf planet 2007 OR10, which is nicknamed "Snow White," is orbited by a moon.

Snow White is a 1,530 kilometer-wide (950 mile) dwarf planet, while the new moon has been measured at between 240 to 400 kilometers (150-250 miles) in diameter. They are located in the frigid Kuiper Belt, on the outskirts of our solar system, beyond Neptune.

The moon was spotted in archival images of Snow White taken by NASA's Hubble telescope. Observations of the dwarf planet by the agency's Kepler Telescope first alerted astronomers to the possibility of a moon circling it.


NASA probe Juno completes latest flyby of gas giant Jupiter

NASA's Juno spacecraft collected more crucial data during its latest flyby of Jupiter, the probe's fifth science orbit since beginning its monumental mission.

Juno's many onboard instruments collected various forms of data during the close flyby. These readings will be returned to Earth for analysis along with images captured by the spacecraft's JunoCam.

The spacecraft got closest to the center of the gas giant at about 2,200 miles (3,500km) above Jupiter's "mysterious cloud tops" - the secrets of which, NASA believes, the flyby will help reveal.


Magnetic field detected between magellanic clouds

© Axel Mellinger, Central Michigan Univ.
This visible-light mosaic shows the Magellanic Clouds in the context of the Milky Way's galactic plane.
A magnetic field appears to span the space between the Large and Small Magellanic Clouds, the two dwarf galaxies being consumed by our Milky Way Galaxy.

For stargazers in the Northern Hemisphere, it's easy to forget that the Milky Way is actively consuming two dwarf galaxies. Those in the Southern Hemisphere have a front row seat to watch our galaxy wreak havoc on the Large and Small Magellanic Clouds (LMC and SMC). But there's more to the story — the dwarfs are not only gravitationally interacting with the Milky Way but with each other as well.

The gravitational effects evident from these interactions can tell us a lot about the history and evolution of these galaxies as well as the environments surrounding them, but gravity isn't the only force at work here. Magnetic fields play a role as well, one astronomers are still trying to puzzle out. Now, for the first time, researchers using the Australia Telescope Compact Array radio telescope in New South Wales, Australia, have detected a magnetic field in the space between the Magellanic Clouds. Called the Magellanic Bridge, this structure is a 75,000 light-year long filament of gas and dust that stretches from the LMC to the SMC. These results are published in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society (full text here).


Researchers study mice and mindfulness

© Illustration by Renaud Vigourt
Mice do not, so far as we know, practice meditation. But in order to study how that activity affects human brains at the cellular level, researchers at the University of Oregon managed to put murine brains into a somewhat equivalent state. Their experiments, reported in March in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, suggest new ways of investigating how a person's brain can constantly reshape itself.

Past studies have suggested that people who meditate tend to have more white matter in and around the anterior cingulate cortex, a part of the brain involved in regulating emotions. Meditation also seems to intensify theta-wave activity, a type of rhythmic electrical pulsation often associated with a state of calm. Psychologists at Oregon speculated that the surge in theta waves stimulated the production of cells in the white matter. But they needed to develop an animal model of this activity; they obviously couldn't examine the living brain tissue in meditating humans.


Steven Hawking says humanity has 100, not 1,000, years to find new planet to live on

© NASA / Reuters
Renowned theoretical physicist and cosmologist Stephen Hawking has again called on humanity to redouble its efforts to colonize other worlds before the Earth becomes uninhabitable. This time, however, the deadline is even tighter.

Speaking to The Royal Society in London ahead of the Starmus IV festival to be held this June in Trondheim, Norway, Hawking reiterated his desire for humanity to unite with the singular purpose of becoming a multi-planetary species.


Tabby's star is dimming again

© Ars Technica
Image of the star KIC 8462852 at infrared (left) and ultraviolet (right) wavelengths.
For the last few years, a distant star in the constellation Cygnus, known officially as KIC 8462852 and unofficially as Tabby's star or the WTF star, has intrigued astronomers due to its irregular but significant dimming. Astronomers have struggled to find a natural explanation for why the star dims so much, 20 percent, before returning to its regular brightness.

These observations have led to various hypotheses, including the exotic notion of some kind of alien megastructure passing between the star and Earth-based telescopes. Now the enigmatic star has been observed to be dropping in flux again, and astronomers have put out a call for telescopes around the world to measure light coming from the system.

As of Friday morning, it appeared that the light curve coming from the star had only just begun to dip, offering observatories a chance to observe most of dimming cycle.