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Tue, 17 Jul 2018
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Dust storm swallows Mars

mars dust storm 2018
A martian dust storm that started in late May, silencing NASA's Opportunity rover, has now wrapped itself around the entirety of Mars, transforming the appearance of the Red Planet. "Mars has essentially vanished beneath the dust," says longtime Mars photographer Damian Peach of the UK. He created this animation showing how much has changed: [You can see the animation here]

"The animation shifts back and forth between a reference image of the Tharsis region taken by the Mars Global Surveyor spacecraft and my own image taken on June 28th," he explains. "The volcanic peaks of Tharsis remain clear, and also a dark spot in Valles Marineris, but little else matches known albedo markings, especially the dark/light streaks."

Comment: Video below shows the progression and extent of the Martian dust storm:

And it's not just on Mars epic storms are taking place, on Earth we're seeing the same kinds of extreme weather and similar is also occurring on other planets; it's solar system wide climate change.

Also check out SOTT radio's:


Game-changing: AI tool for tracking human and animal movements has big implications

AI movement tracking
© Mackenzie Mathis
A mouse reaches for a lever.
Scientists are already using it to study octopuses, electric fish, surgical robots, and racehorses.

In a video, a rodent reaches out and grabs a morsel of food, while small, colored dots highlight the positions of its knuckles. In another clip, a racehorse gallops along a track; again, small, colored dots track the position of its body parts. In a third video, two human dancers circle around each other as those same dots unfailingly follow the sometimes fluid, sometimes jerky movements of their limbs.

These videos are showcases for DeepLabCut, a tool that can automatically track and label the body parts of moving animals. Developed this year by Mackenzie Mathis and Alexander Mathis, a pair of married neuroscientists, DeepLabCut is remarkable in its simplicity. It has allowed researchers to download any video from the internet and digitally label specific body parts in a few dozen frames. The tool then learns how to pick out those same features in the rest of the video, or others like it. And it works across species, from laboratory stalwarts like flies and mice to ... more unusual animals.

Comment: See also:


Do dogs really understand our words?

Dog Understands Words
© Fred Ohlander on Unsplash
Scrolling back through my Instagram posts recently, I came across a short video I took last summer. I'm throwing a ball into a lake for my parent's yellow lab, Johnson, to fetch. Johnson is pretty excited about the whole affair - perhaps in part because after the successful retrieval you can hear my dad, sitting on the dock offscreen, praising his effort: "Good boy! GOOD BOY!!!"

This is a scene that probably sounds familiar to many dog owners. We talk to our dogs not only to praise them, but to ask them to perform actions, to identify objects, and sometimes to scold them. And for the most part, they seem to possess some level of understanding. Dogs are motivated by praise, and find this type of social reinforcement equally or more rewarding than food. Your dog may be able to react to many commands, and they may know some of their favorite toys by name. If you ask Johnson, 'Where is your ball?" he will search for it without fail. And Johnson's ability to retrieve his favorite toy is nothing in comparison to what has been reported in some other dogs, like a border collie named Rico that knows the names of over 200 items, or a dog named Sofia that can respond to combinations of two words to perform actions paired with specific objects.

But how dogs process human language was still unknown. To find out more, two research groups used a functional magnetic resonance imaging scanner (fMRI) to see which parts of dogs' brains are active when we talk to them. They are looking for evidence that will tell us if dogs understand what words are, what words mean, and whether the areas of their brains that they use to process this information are similar to the areas we use.


Quiescent Sun: More than 3 months without a sunspot*

spotless sun quiet sun
© Solar Dynamics Observatory
The sun on July 2, 2018
"What if the worst is to come?" - Dr Carlo Testa.

"The Belgian department of solar physics research (SIDC) says we are about to touch 100; that is, a hundred days in which we do not see spots on our sun," says Italian meteorologist Dr Carlo Testa.

During a time of few or no sunspots (a solar minimum) the Sun emits less energy than usual, says Dr Testa. "According to some scholars this situation could lead to climatic upheavals."

Suffice it to recall, says Testa, that between 1645 and 1715 the most significant solar minimum of history, the Little Ice Age, occurred, bringing years and years marked by very strict winters that lasted until June.



'Parallel internet': Russia reportedly can create its own version of the world wide web according to Foreign Ministry official

© CC0 / geralt
Russia has the means to create its own version of the Internet as a worst-case scenario contingency, according to a high-ranking Foreign Ministry official.

The head of the Russian Foreign Ministry's Department for New Challenges and Threats, Ilya Rogachev, announced that Russia has the necessary capabilities to create an alternative to the Internet, Russian media reports.

Comment: Western sanctions: Russia ready to be cut off from internet with its own web


Directed energy weapon: China develops a powerful new laser assault rifle

chinese and russian guards
© Reuters
Chinese armed police and Russian national guards take part in a joint counter-terrorism drill.
Chinese Armed Police units may soon have a new weapon, a portable laser beam that can reach targets from a kilometer away and is powerful enough to set flammable things on fire.

Although classified as "non-lethal," the infrared laser projector can "burn through clothes in a split second ... If the fabric is flammable, the whole person will be set on fire," according to a South China Post report. The device is called ZKZM-500 and has been prototyped by the Xian Institute of Optics and Precision Mechanics at the Chinese Academy of Sciences in Shaanxi province.

It weighs about 3kg, has an effective range of 800 meters and is powered by a lithium battery pack. It fires in bursts of no more than two seconds and lasts for over 1,000 'shots' before requiring recharge.


Chinese media: China's super-powerful rocket under development outstrips Europe's, NASA's

Launching rocket
© AP Photo/ Cai Yang/Xinhua via AP
In this photo provided by China's official Xinhua News Agency, a Long March-4C rocket carrying a relay satellite, named Queqiao (Magpie Bridge), is launched from southwest China's Xichang Satellite Launch Center, Monday, MAY 21, 2018
China is currently developing an ultra-powerful rocket that could deliver heavier payloads into low-Earth orbit than NASA's devices can, according to Chinese state-run news agency Xinhua.

By 2030, the Chinese Long March-9 rocket will be capable of carrying 140 tonnes into low-Earth orbit, which extend out to 1,200 miles above the Earth's surface, according to Long Lehao, a senior official at the Chinese Academy of Engineering.

In comparison, Europe's Ariane 5 rocket can deliver 20 tonnes into low-orbit while Elon Musk's Falcon Heavy can catapult 64 tonnes. The Long-March 9 would also outstrip the 130 tonnes that will be delivered by NASA's Space Launch System (SLS), which is currently under development and expected to become operational in 2020.


Astronomers capture first-ever image of a newborn planet forming amid a disk of gas and dust

© ESO/A. Müller et al
Astronomers have captured the first ever confirmed image of a newborn planet forming around a young dwarf star - an ambitious task that has previously proved elusive to scientists.

The planet was caught in the act of formation amid a disk of gas and dust surrounding a young dwarf star, known as PDS 70.

The stunning snapshot, considered the first robust detection of a young planet, was captured by the SPHERE instrument on the ESO's' Very Large Telescope and stands out clearly as a bright point to the right of the blackened center of the image.

The unique photo was made possible thanks to the use of a filter, known as a coronagraph, which blocks the light from the central star and allows the detection of the much fainter disc and planetary companion, the ESO explained.


US Department of Energy: US Air Force test-drops upgraded nuke from B-2 stealth bomber over Nevada

Pentagon's stelth bomber
© Alberto E. Rodriguez / Getty Images / AFP
The US Air Force has tested the B61-12 nuclear bomb by dropping a dud from a B-2 Spirit stealth bomber over Nevada, as part of an ambitious project to extend the service life of the bomb, introduced in 1968, by another 20 years.

"The Department of Energy's National Nuclear Security Administration (DOE/NNSA) and the US Air Force completed two non-nuclear system qualification flight tests of the B61-12 gravity bomb on June 9 at Tonopah Test Range in Nevada," the Department of Energy announced last week. "These tests are the first such end-to-end qualification tests on a B-2A Spirit Bomber for the B61-12."

The experiments included running trials on "NNSA designed bomb assembly and US Air Force acquired tail-kit," as part of the effort to evaluate the "aircraft's capability to deliver the weapon and the weapon's non-nuclear function."

Comment: See also: US successfully tests new nuclear gravity bomb


Scientists say they've found a way to make invisibility cloaking

"Our work represents a breakthrough in the quest for invisibility cloaking."
Harry Potter
© J.K. Rowling/Warner Bros
Harry Potter
Researchers from Montreal's National Institute of Scientific Research (INRS) just published a study in Optica detailing a new approach to invisibility cloaking.

Their device, called a spectral invisibility cloak, is the first to manipulate the color (or frequency) of the light waves that interact with an object, rendering it invisible.