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Thu, 17 Aug 2017
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Monkey Wrench

Moscow wins top international prize for futuristic bridge

© Sputnik
The Zhivopisny Bridge over the Moskva River.
Moscow's futuristic Picturesque Bridge has been recognized as an international masterpiece by the prestigious Auguste Perret architectural prize. The bridge's designer, Nickolay Shumakov, is the first Russian to receive the award.

Russia's Union of Architects announced that Shumakov would receive the special prize earlier in July. The Prize for Applied Technology in Architecture was founded in memory of Auguste Perret, former honorary president of the International Union Of Architects (IUA).


Keck telescope twilight observations reveal huge storm on Neptune

© N. Molter/I. De Pater, UC Berkeley/C. Alvarez, W. M. Keck Observatory
Spectacular sunsets and sunrises are enough to dazzle most of us, but to astronomers, dusk and dawn are a waste of good observing time. They want a truly dark sky.

Not Ned Molter, a UC Berkeley astronomy graduate student. He set out to show that some bright objects can be studied just as well during twilight, when other astronomers are twiddling their thumbs, and quickly discovered a new feature on Neptune: A storm system nearly the size of Earth.

"Seeing a storm this bright at such a low latitude is extremely surprising," said Molter, who spotted the storm complex near Neptune's equator during a dawn test run of twilight observing at W. M. Keck Observatory on Maunakea, Hawaii. "Normally, this area is really quiet and we only see bright clouds in the mid-latitude bands, so to have such an enormous cloud sitting right at the equator is spectacular."


As we approach solar minimum, cosmic ray flux continues upward trend


The sun is currently featuring one lonely visible sunspot region and this relatively blank look is becoming more and more common as solar cycle 24 heads towards the next solar minimum. In fact, there have been 42 days in 2017 with a completely blank sun - already ten more days than all of last year - and this makes up almost one-quarter of the time for this year. Solar cycle 24 has turned out to be historically weak with the lowest number of sunspots since cycle 14 peaked more than a century ago in 1906. In fact, by one measure, the current solar cycle is the third weakest since record keeping began in 1755 and it continues a weakening trend since solar cycle 21 peaked in 1980. One of the natural impacts of decreasing solar activity is the increase of cosmic rays that can penetrate into the Earth's upper atmosphere and this can have many important consequences.
© climate4you.com
Daily observations of the number of sunspots since 1 January 1900 according to Solar Influences Data Analysis Center (SIDC). The thin blue line indicates the daily sunspot number, while the dark blue line indicates the running annual average. The recent low sunspot activity is clearly reflected in the recent low values for the total solar irradiance. Data source: WDC-SILSO, Royal Observatory of Brussels, Belgium. Last day shown: 31 May 2017.
Cosmic rays

Galactic cosmic rays are high-energy particles originating from space that impact the Earth's atmosphere. Most of the incoming cosmic ray particles are protons and they actually arrive as individual particles - not in the form of a ray as the term "ray" would suggest. Usually, cosmic rays are held at bay by the sun's magnetic field and its solar winds sweep them aside when they pass by Earth. As the sun plunges towards a minimum phase, there is typically less and less solar activity (e.g., solar storms, coronal mass ejections), and the weakening magnetic field and solar wind provides less and less shielding for the Earth.

Comment: ...and much more besides! Cosmic rays may regulate pretty much all life on Earth - its alphas, its omegas, and everything in-between. So if we're living through a significant spike, can that be seen in terms of what's going down these days on this planet?...


New Neptune storm appears in a bizarre location

© N. Molter/I. De Pater, UC Berkeley/C. Alvarez, W. M. Keck Observatory
Researchers observing Neptune with the Keck Observatory spotted a massive, bright cloud complex crossing the planet's equator. It brightened considerably between June 26 and July 2.
A nearly Earth-size storm system was spotted near Neptune's equator, surprising scientists because no bright clouds have ever been seen in that location.

The storm is about 6,000 miles (9,000 kilometers) in length - about three-quarters Earth's diameter - and is even huge compared to the size of Neptune: it spans nearly 30 degrees in both longitude and latitude. When astronomers studied the storm between June 26 and July 2, it appeared to get brighter.

"Seeing a storm this bright at such a low latitude is extremely surprising," Ned Molter, a graduate student at the University of California, Berkeley, said in a statement. He saw the storm while doing a test run at the W. M. Keck Observatory at Mauna Kea, Hawaii.

"Normally, this area is really quiet and we only see bright clouds in the mid-latitude bands, so to have such an enormous cloud sitting right at the equator is spectacular," he added.


New images from Alaska's seafloor suggest high tsunami danger

Scientists mapping the seafloor off the coast of Alaska have identified a segment of the subduction zone they say signals the potential for a major tsunami in an area that normally would be considered benign.
© Kyodo
After-effects of Japan's tsunami.
Major tsunamis usually occur at the shallow portions of subduction zones, the areas where one of the tectonic plates that make up Earth's surface dives below another. Called crash zones, they are dangerously active and tectonic interactions can cause some of the world's biggest earthquakes and tsunamis.

The research, led by seismologist Anne Bécel of Columbia University's Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, shows that segments of subduction zones capable of producing tsunamis have three characteristic structural configurations and the mapping and study of the subduction zone off the Alaska coast "suggests this part of Alaska is particularly prone to tsunami generation."

"The possibility that such features are widespread is of global significance." In addition to Alaska, she said, "waves could hit more southerly North American coasts, Hawaii and other parts of the Pacific." Bécel noted that when the energy at the point of subduction is high and suddenly is released, the resulting earthquake can make the ocean floor jump up and down like a spring. The motion then transfers to the overlying water, creating the tidal wave.


Russian and South Korean scientists reach initial stage in joint project to clone extinct woolly mammoth

South Korean specialist hails opening of new World Mammoth Centre in Siberia, dedicated to bringing beast back to life.

© The Siberian Times
A whooly mammoth inside a permafrost cave in Yakutsk.
Cloning guru Professor Hwang Woo-Suk did not go into details of the progress made in restoring the extinct species after several thousand years of extinction, but made clear he expected to publish new research in scientific journals as soon as 'checks' are complete.

Speaking in Yakutsk - Russia's mammoth capital which is to host a pioneering new international centre dedicated to the creature - the controversial South Korean scientist confirmed progress in bringing the animal back to life after cooperation between experts from the two countries.

'As a result of tireless joint efforts, we have achieved what we call the 'initial stage' on our way to recovering the mammoth,' he said, thanking Russian president Vladimir Putin for his support for research in this field. 'At this stage, thorough scientific checks are under way.

'Once they are completed, we will publish the results in scientific journals.'

Comment: For more information on the catastrophes that caused the extinction of the mammoths and how millions ended up flash-frozen overnight, see: Of Flash Frozen Mammoths and Cosmic Catastrophes


Corrupt science: Chinese government finds hundreds of researchers guilty of engaging in peer-review fraud scam

The Chinese government has found almost 500 researchers guilty of misconduct in relation to a recent spate of retractions from a cancer journal.
After a sweeping research misconduct investigation, China's Ministry of Science and Technology (MST) has found nearly 500 researchers guilty of engaging in a peer-review fraud scam. Announced late last week (July 27), MST's findings indicate that 486 scientific paper authors engaged, to some degree, in a scheme to nominate either fictitious or paid peer reviewers who would write positive reviews of their manuscripts.

"We should eradicate the problem from its roots," He Defang, director of MST's regulatory division in Beijing, tells Science.

MST is meting out stiff penalties to the guilty researchers. These range from suspending their research projects and canceling grants to rescinding promotions or even harsher retribution. "They will face punishment according to the Communist Party of China discipline regulations and the regulations on personnel from public institutions," He told Chinese news outlet Xinhua.

The nature of the scam is not unprecedented, with Chinese authors being accused of similar practices in the recent past.

Comment: Unfortunately such practices are rife within the scientific community. The failure of peer review is one of science's dirty "secrets."


Facebook updates its technology to better flag 'fake news' for it's readers

© Tobias Hase/Global Look Press

Comment: When you control the flow of information, you control what people think.

Facebook is updating its technology to better flag "fake news" stories and send them to fact checkers. It will also post "related articles" underneath misleading or false stories, to help users make more informed decisions about what they read and share.

The social media giant announced in April that it was testing its "related articles" model, which is aimed at providing "easier access to additional perspectives and information, including articles by third-party fact checkers."

On Thursday, the site announced that the system was ready to be rolled out.

"Since starting this test, we've heard that Related Articles helps give people more perspectives and additional information, and helps them determine whether the news they are reading is misleading or false. So we're rolling this out more broadly," the company wrote in a statement.


'Glowing' water in exoplanet's atmosphere discovered by NASA's Hubble telescope

A 'glowing' water atmosphere has been detected on an enormous super-hot exoplanet, offering the strongest evidence yet for a stratosphere on a planet outside our solar system.

Researchers using data from NASA's Hubble telescope observed hot water molecules on WASP-121b, a type of exoplanet called a 'hot Jupiter.'

This is the first time glowing water molecules were observed on an exoplanet - a planet orbiting a star outside our solar system - and indicates a stratosphere on an exoplanet, researchers said.

A stratosphere is a layer of atmosphere, in which temperature increases with higher altitudes. On Earth, it lies some 50km overhead.

Microscope 2

Geneticist warns 'superior designer babies' born into the upper class could be just years away after DNA breakthrough

© Vladimir Godnik / Global Look Press
'Superior' designer babies born into the upper class with genetically modified physical appearances and intelligence could be just years away, a British geneticist has warned, after scientists announced they had used gene editing to repair a mutation in human embryos.

In a world first, US researchers announced on Wednesday in the science journal Nature they had used the controversial gene editing technique, CRISPR-Cas9, to correct a mutation for a heart condition in embryos.

The technique could eventually let doctors remove inherited conditions from embryos before they go on to become a child. That, in turn, opens up the possibility of diseases like cystic fibrosis and ovarian cancer being wiped out entirely, researchers say.

Although the scientists only edited out mutations that could cause diseases, it modified the nuclear DNA that sits right at the heart of the cell, which also influences personal characteristics such as intelligence, height, facial appearance and eye color.