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Hurricanes may trigger earthquakes

© Dmme.virginia.gov
Damage from the 2011 earthquake in Louisa County, Virginia.
In August 2011, the Virginia earthquake shook the east coast. Days later, Hurricane Irene may have caused more earthquakes

On August 23, 2011 a rare magnitude 5.8 earthquake hit Virginia. The shaking cracked the Washington Monument, toppled part of the National Cathedral and shook around a third of the U.S. population. Later that week, Hurricane Irene moved into the region, wiping out power, downing trees and, according to new research presented at the meeting of Seismological Society of America, says Nature, triggering more small earthquakes in the recently ruptured fault.

The rate of aftershocks usually decreases with time, says study leader Zhigang Peng, a seismologist at the Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta. But instead of declining in a normal pattern, the rate of aftershocks following the 23 August, 2012 , earthquake near Mineral, Virginia, increased sharply as Irene passed by.

Comment: The scientists suggest that hurricanes might relieve stress on faults, producing temblors.
Hurricane Irene, a powerful storm that ran north along the US East Coast four days after a magnitude-5.8 earthquake rattled Virginia in 2011, may have triggered some of that earthquake's aftershocks, scientists reported today at the annual meeting of the Seismological Society of America in Salt Lake City, Utah.

The rate of aftershocks usually decreases with time, says study leader Zhigang Peng, a seismologist at the Georgia Institute of Technology (Georgia Tech) in Atlanta. But instead of declining in a normal pattern, the rate of aftershocks following the 23 August 2011, earthquake near Mineral, Virginia, increased sharply as Irene passed by.

Peng and Xiaofeng Meng, a graduate student at Georgia Tech, then compared the aftershocks' timing to atmospheric-pressure readings in the earthquake zone, testing their hypothesis that a decrease in pressure caused by the storm's travel up the East Coast might have reduced forces on the fault enough to allow it to slip. That effect would be particularly strong for a thrust fault such as the one involved in the Virginia earthquake, Meng says. In that type of fault, one block of crust slides over another as the two blocks are pushed together.


The researchers are not the first to examine a potential link between hurricanes and seismic activity. Shimon Wdowinski, a seismologist at the University of Miami, Florida, says that he has found a strong correlation between extremely wet tropical cyclones striking Taiwan and big earthquakes that occur up to three years later. He thinks that the erosion of landslide debris in such a storm's aftermath triggers a change in fault loading, eventually producing an earthquake.


Facial recognition technology being developed to identify people whose faces are covered

An image from the recent study, showing how the neural networks estimate “facial keypoints” even when the face is covered.
Facial recognition is becoming more and more common, but ask anyone how to avoid it and they'll say: easy, just wear a mask. In the future, though, that might not be enough. Facial recognition technology is under development that's capable of identifying someone even if their face is covered up - and it could mean that staying anonymous in public will be harder than ever before.

The topic was raised this week after research published on the preprint server arXiv describing just such a system was shared in a popular AI newsletter. Using deep learning and a dataset of pictures of people wearing various disguises, researchers were able to train a neural network that could potentially identify masked faces with some reliability. Academic and sociologist Zeynep Tufekci shared the work on Twitter, noting that such technology could become a tool of oppression, with authoritarian states using it to identify anonymous protestors and stifle dissent.

The paper itself needs to be taken with a pinch of salt, though. Its results were far less accurate than industry-level standards (when someone was wearing a cap, sunglasses, and a scarf, for example, the system could only identify them 55 percent of the time); it used a small dataset; and experts in the field have criticized its methodology.

"It doesn't strike me as a particularly convincing paper," Patrik Huber, a researcher at the University of Surrey who specializes in face tracking and analysis, told The Verge. He pointed out that the system doesn't actually match disguised faces to mugshots or portraits, but instead used something called "facial keypoints" (the distances between facial features like eyes, noses, lips, etc) as a proxy for someone's identity.


Australian researchers find new way to build quantum computers

© University of New South Wales/Handout via REUTERS
An illustration shows a pair of flip flop qubits, a major advance in quantum computing design, developed by engineers Andrea Morello (L) and Guilherme Tosi from the University of New South Wales in Sydney, Australia.
Researchers in Australia have found a new way to build quantum computers which they say would make them dramatically easier and cheaper to produce at scale.

Quantum computers promise to harness the strange ability of subatomic particles to exist in more than one state at a time to solve problems that are too complex or time-consuming for existing computers.

Google, IBM and other technology companies are all developing quantum computers, using a range of approaches.

The team from the University of New South Wales say they have invented a new chip design based on a new type of quantum bit, the basic unit of information in a quantum computer, known as a qubit.

The new design would allow for a silicon quantum processor to overcome two limitations of existing designs: the need for atoms to be placed precisely, and allowing them to be placed further apart and still be coupled.

Solar Flares

Giant sunspot unleashes two more powerful solar flares including X1.3

© YouTube/SIC | Solar Imagery Center (screen capture)
X1.3 solar flare
An active, sun-spotted region of the sun that unleashed powerful solar flares earlier this week fired two more significant solar flares this morning.

As a result, radiation flowing from the sun's surface may bring brilliant auroras and strong geomagnetic storms to Earth through Saturday (Sept. 9), according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Space Weather Prediction Center (SWPC).

The first flare peaked at 6:15 a.m. EDT (1015 GMT) and is classified as an M7.3, or a midlevel flare. At 10:36 a.m. (1436 GMT), a second and more powerful X1.3 solar flare was observed. X-class solar flares are the most intense.

Solar flares are bright flashes of radiation that come from magnetically active regions on the surface of the sun. When the sun's magnetic fields get twisted and tangled, they can send enormous bursts of energy speeding toward Earth in a matter of minutes. Particularly intense magnetic storms on the sun's surface can send huge clouds of plasma called coronal mass ejections (CMEs), which take up to three days to reach Earth.

Comment: A couple of days ago the sun unleashed a monster X9.3 solar flare, the strongest in a decade.

A severe G4-class geomagnetic storm commenced, sparking auroras from as far south as Arkansas in the US to Scandinavia. This incredible photo was taken by Jani Ylinampa in Rovaniemi, Lapland, Finland.

© Jani Ylinampa


SpaceX deploys covert US military spaceplane as Hurricane Irma closes in

© SpaceX / Facebook
SpaceX is well-known for taking risks but launching a classified US military satellite into orbit with a 50 percent chance of success and a category five hurricane bearing down on the launch pad is a whole new frontier.

Hurricane Irma is not due to make landfall in Florida until the weekend, but adverse weather conditions surrounding the storm system left mission control with just a 50/50 chance of success. Irma was roughly 900 miles from Kennedy Space Center prior to launch.

It was the company's second time launching a payload of such significance to US national security interests but the first time launching the X-37B vehicle since winning the $96.5 million US Air Force contract in March, beating previous holder the United Launch Alliance (ULA).

Solar Flares

Sun unleashes monster X9.3 solar flare, strongest in a decade

This solar flare was the most powerful for 11 years.
Early this morning (Sept. 6), the sun released two powerful solar flares - the second was the most powerful in more than a decade.

At 5:10 a.m. EDT (0910 GMT), an X-class solar flare - the most powerful sun-storm category - blasted from a large sunspot on the sun's surface. That flare was the strongest since 2015, at X2.2, but it was dwarfed just 3 hours later, at 8:02 a.m. EDT (1202 GMT), by an X9.3 flare, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Space Weather Prediction Center (SWPC). The last X9 flare occurred in 2006 (coming in at X9.0).

According to SWPC, the flares resulted in radio blackouts: high-frequency radio experienced a "wide area of blackouts, loss of contact for up to an hour over [the] sunlit side of Earth," and low frequency communication, used in navigation, was degraded for an hour.


New research says 'vampires' are people with a blood disorder

© Universal Pictures / Global Look Press
A rare blood disorder may be responsible for the myth.
Porphyrias, a group of eight known blood disorders, affect the body's molecular machinery for making heme, which is a component of the oxygen-transporting protein, hemoglobin. When heme binds with iron, it gives blood its hallmark red color.

The different genetic variations that affect heme production give rise to different clinical presentations of porphyria - including one form that may be responsible for vampire folklore.

A clinical cause for nocturnal blood drinking?

Erythropoietic protoporphyria (EPP), the most common kind of porphyria to occur in childhood, causes people's skin to become very sensitive to light. Prolonged exposure to sunshine can cause painful, disfiguring blisters.

"People with EPP are chronically anemic, which makes them feel very tired and look very pale with increased photosensitivity because they can't come out in the daylight," says Barry Paw MD, PhD, of the Dana-Farber/Boston Children's Cancer and Blood Disorders Center. "Even on a cloudy day, there's enough ultraviolet light to cause blistering and disfigurement of the exposed body parts, ears and nose."

Staying indoors during the day and receiving blood transfusions containing sufficient heme levels can help alleviate some of the disorder's symptoms. In ancient times, drinking animal blood and emerging only at night may have achieved a similar effect - adding further fuel to the legend of vampires.

Now, Paw and his team of international investigators report - in a paper in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS)- a newly discovered genetic mutation that triggers EPP. It illuminates a novel biological mechanism potentially responsible for stories of " vampires" and identifies a potential therapeutic target for treating EPP.


How Google is recording you and storing the data

© Sun
DID you know that Google has been recording you without your knowledge?

The technology giant has effectively turned millions of its users' smartphones into listening devices that can capture intimate conversations - even when they aren't in the room.

If you own an Android phone, it's likely that you've used Google's Assistant, which is similar to Apple's Siri.

Google says it only turns on and begins recording when you utter the words "OK Google".


Jupiter captured in glorious detail by Juno flyby

The images were part of the probe's seventh flyby.
NASA's Juno spacecraft is gifting us its latest batch of images taken during its seventh flyby of Jupiter. The latest snaps reveal the beauty of the planet's swirling clouds with the public invited to add color to the raw images.

The space probe made the flyby on September 1, coming within 3,500km (2,200 miles) of the planet. Swirling clouds are visible in the images, indicating storms in the planet's upper atmosphere.


Do solar storms lead to beached whales?

© Dan Kitwood/Getty
Sperm whales stranded at Skegness on England's North Sea coast in January 2016.
In early 2016 a spate of sperm whale strandings in the North Sea perplexed scientists. Many theories were proposed for why 29 of the huge marine mammals - all males, most relatively young - died on European beaches in the course of January and the first few days of February, ranging from poisoning by pollutants to climate-change-induced dislocation.

According to a paper published in the International Journal of Astrobiology, however, the real cause was not human activity of any sort - it wasn't even on Earth.

Instead, the authors propose that solar storms threw off the navigation systems of the whales and led them to become lost and stranded. Solar storms, caused by ejections of charged particles from the Sun, disrupt the Earth's magnetic field, especially near the poles, where they are also responsible for producing auroras.

Lead author Klaus Heinrich Vanselow of Christian-Albrechts-Universität in Kiel, Germany, had earlier found correlations between solar activity and recorded numbers of North Sea sperm whale strandings over several centuries of historical records. The new study is the first to connect specific strandings to specific solar activity, however.