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Thu, 19 Jan 2017
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Science & Technology


FRBs: Source found for most mysterious message from the universe

© Robin Beck/AFP/Getty Images
Very Large Array, one of the world's premier astronomical radio observatories near Socorro, New Mexico.
A mysterious signal coming from deep in the universe has finally been traced to its source.

Fast Radio Bursts, or FRBs, have only been heard 18 times and have been a puzzle to scientists since they were detected in 2007. Nobody knows where they could be coming from or how they might be triggered, with speculation ranging from a huge star, jets of material shooting out of a black hole - or even aliens.

FRBs are powerful but very short radio waves, which last no more than a millisecond. The first was found by Australia's Parkes telescope in 2007. Since then, 17 have been heard, but only one of them has been heard repeatedly. That repeated burst was studied for six months, letting scientists find its exact position in the sky. It seems to be coming from a faint dwarf galaxy more than three billion light years away, scientists said.

FRB 121102, as it is referred to, was found using the Very Large Array. That is a multi-antenna radio telescope operated by the US National Science Foundation.


Astronomers observe new double-ringed galaxy 'unlike anything seen before'

A new double-ringed galaxy unlike "anything astronomers have observed before" has been spotted approximately 359 million light-years from Earth.

Named 'PGC 1000714' or 'Burcin's Galaxy', the object has a "well-defined elliptical-like core surrounded by two circular rings," according to astronomers.

It seems to belong to an extremely rare 'hoag-type' class of galaxy. Such galaxies are known for their round core surrounded by a ring, with nothing visibly connecting them. Much like galaxies in our own solar system, these are usually disc-shaped.


Washington State's Mount Rainier to get new digital-warning system for massive mudflows

© Mike Siegel/The Seattle Times
Orting schools, as well as the Pierce County town itself, are in the potential path of Mount Rainier mudflows.
After the deadly Oso landslide enveloped a neighborhood in 2014, scientists and emergency managers launched a review of how they detect massive mudflows on one of the world's most dangerous volcanos: Mount Rainier.

"That event (Oso) moved about 8 million cubic meters of mass," said Scott Heinze, deputy director of Pierce County's emergency-management department. "The projection for a Mount Rainier lahar is between 250 to 500 million cubic meters of mass — exponentially greater."

Pierce County Executive Pat McCarthy pushed for the review, which examined the functionality of the current warning system and also compared it to others around the globe, he said. The sensors, which were installed in the 1990s, monitor fast-moving gushes of mud and debris, or lahars.

Volcanic mudflows — formed by large landslides or suddenly melting snow and ice during eruptions — are considered the mountain's greatest hazard.

Comment: Hopefully the new sensors will be ready before something happens:

Bizarro Earth

Zombie apocalypse could give humans just 100 days to live

© pixababy
The zombie virus would spread through the human population at a rate faster than the black death, according to a study from UK scientists.

Once introduced on Earth, the zombie virus would condemn the human population to extinction in less than six months, scientists at Leicester University (UK) have calculated.

Comment: This meme could be symbolic for both the state of the population and a premonition of possible things to come:


New state of water discovered

© University of Waikato
The growing list of corrections science textbook writers will have to make could make our third grade curriculum practically unrecognizable. In addition to nixing Pluto from the classic lineup of planets in our solar system, teachers may have to add a second liquid state to the traditional phases of water—aka solid ice, liquid, and gas. Researchers presented this fourth state recently in a paper for the International Journal of Nanotechnology. The writers found that, when heated between 122 to 140 degrees Fahrenheit (or 50 and 60 degrees Celsius), water's physical properties undergo a change that cannot be so easily classified.

But to understand why this is relevant, let's take a step back. States of matter, as you probably learned in grade school, have to do with the way atoms and molecules arrange themselves depending on the amount of energy present, or lack thereof.

Put simply, the higher the temperature, the higher the energy and the more disorganized the atoms become. Less energy is present at cooler temperatures, which is why water molecules are more orderly in a solid ice stage than in vapor. You've probably seen some version of this explaining it visually (image left).

As detailed in this recent paper, researchers found a surprising glitch in water's physical properties once it reached 122 degrees Fahrenheit, a structural change that appeared to be an extra, less atomically organized liquid phase. Independent researchers will need to conduct follow-up experiments to prove this second liquid state, and should they succeed, the implications could be wide-ranging. Water plays a crucial role in the development of most organisms, which means understanding how it operates could help us better understand our own biological systems on a fundamental level. What this finding proves more than anything, though, is how quickly and easily basic concepts can change. Water's fourth state may not feel as groundbreaking as discovering the world revolves around the sun, but time will tell how much it may change our understanding of the world in big and small ways.


Designer creates anti-surveillance clothing to hide people from facial recognition software

© Adam Harvey
An image of a Hyperface pattern, specifically created to contain thousands of facial recognition hits. Photograph
The use of facial recognition software for commercial purposes is becoming more common, but, as Amazon scans faces in its physical shop and Facebook searches photos of users to add tags to, those concerned about their privacy are fighting back.

Berlin-based artist and technologist Adam Harvey aims to overwhelm and confuse these systems by presenting them with thousands of false hits so they can't tell which faces are real.

The Hyperface project involves printing patterns on to clothing or textiles, which then appear to have eyes, mouths and other features that a computer can interpret as a face.

This is not the first time Harvey has tried to confuse facial recognition software. During a previous project, CV Dazzle, he attempted to create an aesthetic of makeup and hairstyling that would cause machines to be unable to detect a face.


Exposure to misinformation can enhance memory recall

Getting inaccurate information about an event usually makes it harder for people to remember the original details. But new research suggests that there may be times when misinformation actually boosts memory.

The study shows that people who actually notice that the misinformation is inconsistent with the original event have better memory for the event compared with people who never saw the misinformation in the first place.

Psychological scientist Adam Putnam of Carleton College, lead author, says:
"Our experiments show that misinformation can sometimes enhance memory rather than harm it. These findings are important because they help explain why misinformation effects occur sometimes but not at other times - if people notice that the misinformation isn't accurate then they won't have a false memory."


Forget the Shovel, Ancient Finds Now Made From Space

Archaeology now has much better tools than lucky amateurs with shovels.

Space archaeologist Sarah Parcak examines a satellite image.
Badgers discovered the burial site of 12th-century Slavic warriors and a Stonehenge cremation burial. The Lascaux cave paintings were discovered by four schoolchildren and a dog. The 5,000-year-old corpse of Ötzi was discovered when hikers happened upon in the Alps. The Rosetta Stone was discovered by French soldiers expanding their fort.

Many discoveries in archaeology have happened this way, by accident. But archaeology now has much better tools than badgers and lucky amateurs with shovels.

Take, for example, the search for the ancient lost city of Itjtawy in Egypt.

"Finding it randomly would be the equivalent of locating a needle in a haystack, blindfolded, wearing baseball mitts," explained Sarah Parcak, a space archaeologist and founder of the Laboratory for Global Observation at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, in her TED Talk.

Comment: Related articles:


Diamonds that 'know where they are' could make GPS satellites redundant

© Martin Poole / Global Look Press
Engineered synthetic diamonds could replace global positioning systems and make driverless cars a reality due to their sensitivity to magnetic waves, scientists have claimed.

Experts at Oxfordshire-based tech company Element Six are researching the properties of crystals which contain a gap in the atomic lattice of the diamond, known as a "nitrogen vacancy defect."

The team claim these lab-grown red diamonds demonstrate a remarkable sensitivity to magnetic waves and hope they could one day be tuned to pinpoint their location on the earth by reading magnetic waves from the sun.


A brand-new human organ has been classified

Researchers have classified a brand-new organ inside our bodies, one that's been hiding in plain sight in our digestive system this whole time.

Although we now know about the structure of this new organ, its function is still poorly understood, and studying it could be the key to better understanding and treatment of abdominal and digestive disease.

Known as the mesentery, the new organ is found in our digestive systems, and was long thought to be made up of fragmented, separate structures. But recent research has shown that it's actually one, continuous organ.