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Fri, 24 Mar 2017
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Science & Technology


Study finds massive rogue waves aren't as rare as previously thought

© H. MitsuyasuInset and Donelan, et.al
University of Miami Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science scientist Mark Donelan and his Norwegian Meteorological Institute colleague captured new information about extreme waves, as one of the steepest ever recorded passed by the North Sea Ekofisk platforms in the early morning hours of Nov. 9 2007.

Within the first hour of the day, the Andrea wave passed by a four-point square array of ocean sensors designed by the researchers to measure the wavelength, direction, amplitude and frequency of waves at the ocean surface.

Using the information from the wave set—a total of 13,535 individual waves—collected by the system installed on a bridge between two offshore platforms, the researchers took the wave apart to examine how the components came together to produce such a steep wave.


US Congress passes NASA funding bill, sets goals to "extend humanity's reach into deep space"

© Mike Brown / Reuters
A trip to Mars by 2033 is among the several long-term NASA goals included in a bill Congress just passed to fund the aerospace agency.

On Wednesday, the House followed the Senate's lead by passing the NASA Transition Authorization Act of 2017, which appropriates $19.5 billion in spending for fiscal year 2017 for exploration, space operations, science, technology, education and more.

In addition to funding, the 146-page bill aims to "extend humanity's reach into deep space, including cis-lunar space, the Moon, the surface and moons of Mars, and beyond."

For human spaceflight and exploration, the bill sets three long-term goals to expand a permanent presence beyond low-Earth orbit, through crewed missions for the purpose of reaching deep space, including "habitation on another celestial body and a thriving space economy in the 21st century."

Comment: Notable sections of the bill:
  • "Assuring Core Capabilities For Exploration" — calls for several missions: an uncrewed launch of SLS and Orion in 2018, followed by a crewed mission to the moon in 2021, and further trips to the moon and Mars after that date
  • "Journey to Mars" — asks NASA for a roadmap to send people to Mars by 2033; also steers the space agency away from pursuing the Asteroid Redirect Mission (a plan to capture an asteroid, tow it into orbit around Earth, and have astronauts explore the space rock)
  • "Human Space Flight And Exploration Goals And Objectives" — says it's the mission of NASA to "to expand permanent human presence beyond low-Earth orbit"
  • "Aeronautics" — calls on NASA to be a leader in aviation and hypersonic aircraft research; also asks the space agency to look into supersonic aircraft research that would "open new global markets and enable new transportation capabilities"
  • "Mars 2020 rover" — Congress backs up NASA's plan to use the car-sized rover to "help determine whether life previously existed on that planet"
  • "Europa" — approves of NASA's plan to send a probe to Jupiter's ice-covered moon Europa, which may have a warm subsurface ocean (and possibly host alien life)
  • "Congressional declaration of policy and purpose" — amends previous laws to make it part of NASA's mission to "search for life's origin, evolution, distribution, and future in the universe"
  • "Extrasolar planet exploration strategy" — asks NASA to explain how it will use the James Webb Space Telescope and other instruments to hunt for exoplanets
  • "Near-Earth objects" — asks NASA to accelerate its program to find killer asteroids in space
  • "Radioisotope power systems" — implores NASA to deliver a report on how it plans to make plutonium-238 — an exceedingly rare nuclear fuel for deep-space robots — and detail what its nuclear-powered exploration plans are

Apple Green

Indicators show potatoes can grow on Mars

© International Potato Center
CubeSat contained Mars atmosphere emulating Mars oxygen, carbon dioxide and atmospheric pressure.
The International Potato Center (CIP) launched a series of experiments to discover if potatoes can grow under Mars atmospheric conditions and thereby prove they are also able to grow in extreme climates on Earth. This Phase Two effort of CIP's proof of concept experiment to grow potatoes in simulated Martian conditions began on February 14, 2016 when a tuber was planted in a specially constructed CubeSat contained environment built by engineers from University of Engineering and Technology (UTEC) in Lima based upon designs and advice provided by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration in Ames Research Center (NASA ARC), California. Preliminary results are positive.

The Potatoes on Mars project was conceived by CIP to both understand how potatoes might grow in Mars conditions and also see how they survive in the extreme conditions similar to what parts of the world already suffering from climate change and weather shocks are already experiencing.


How Facebook and other information sharing platforms warp human recollection

© Pixabay
Memory is a notoriously imperfect thing, open to suggestion, amendment and distortion over time - however, experts worry that social media is exacerbating this problem by blurring the line between individual and collective recollection. Given human understanding of history shapes human thinking about the future, the results could be catastrophic.

In a study published in the journal Nature, researchers note that while history has oft been interpreted and misrepresented for political ends, social networks are proving a powerful tool for shaping memory, and users need little prompting to conform to a majority recollection of an event, even if it is wholly erroneous.

"Memories are shared among groups in novel ways through sites such as Facebook and Instagram, blurring the line between individual and collective memories. The development of internet-based misinformation, such as recently well-publicized fake news sites, has the potential to distort individual and collective memories in disturbing ways," said Professor Daniel Schacter, a memory psychologist at Harvard University.

The study cites claims of terror attacks in Sweden by President Donald Trump as a key example.

While purely fictitious, the story spread like wildfire on social media, and the study suggests some may still believe such a strike did occur, despite the claim's quick debunking. Moreover, the fantastical attacks had real-world consequences, being used to justify a travel ban on the citizens of seven countries.


Brain activity has been recorded as much as 10 minutes after death

© Artem Furman/Shutterstock.com
Doctors in a Canadian intensive care unit have stumbled on a very strange case - when life support was turned off for four terminal patients, one of them showed persistent brain activity even after they were declared clinically dead.

For more than 10 minutes after doctors confirmed death through a range of observations, including the absence of a pulse and unreactive pupils, the patient appeared to experience the same kind of brain waves (delta wave bursts) we get during deep sleep. And it's an entirely different phenomenon to the sudden 'death wave' that's been observed in rats following decapitation.

"In one patient, single delta wave bursts persisted following the cessation of both the cardiac rhythm and arterial blood pressure (ABP)," the team from the University of Western Ontario in Canada reports.


First images of Hyperloop One 'train of the future' revealed

© Steve Marcus / Reuters
Journalists and guests look over tubes following a propulsion open-air test at Hyperloop One in North Las Vegas, Nevada, U.S. May 11, 2016
The first images of the Hyperloop One test track were shown off during the Middle East Rail conference, demonstrating progress on the high-speed transport system that promises to be faster than air travel.

Hyperloop One CEO Rob Lloyd unveiled never-before-seen images of the 'DevLoop' development site, in Las Vegas, during the 11th annual Middle East Rail conference in Dubai on Tuesday.

The images show an aerial view of the construction of the world's first full-system Hyperloop test site, with a test track of 500 meters or about one-third of a mile long and 11 feet wide.

Microscope 2

DARPA scientists working to engineer cells to eat deadly bacteria

© Baltimore Sun
Researchers at the Johns Hopkins University are working to engineer single-cell organisms that will seek out and eat bacteria that are deadly to humans.

Their work combines the fields of biology and engineering in an emerging discipline known as synthetic biology.

Although the work is still in its infancy, the researchers' engineered amoeba cells could be unleashed one day in hospitals to kill Legionella, the bacteria that cause Legionnaire's disease, a type of pneumonia; or Pseudomonas aeruginosa, a dangerous, drug-resistant bacteria associated with various infections and other life-threatening medical conditions in hospital patients.

Because amoeba are able to travel on their own over surfaces, the engineered cells also could be used to clean soil of bacterial contaminants, or even destroy microbes living on medical instruments. If the scientists are successful at making the cells perform tasks, it also could have important implications for research into cancer and other diseases.

"We're using this as a test bed for determining do we understand how cells work to the point where we can engineer them to perform certain tasks," said Douglas N. Robinson, a professor of cell biology and a member of the Hopkins team. "It's an opportunity to demonstrate that we understand what we think we understand. I think it's an opportunity to push what we're doing scientifically to another level."

The five-member team's work began in October after it received a four-year, $5.7 million federal contract from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, known as DARPA.


Geologists: Offshore fault system running from San Diego to Los Angeles could produce magnitude 7.3 quake

© Scripps Institution of Oceanography at UC San Diego
In 2013, Scripps research vessel New Horizon towed a hydrophone array to map the bathymetry of the Newport-Inglewood/Rose Canyon fault zone.
A fault system that runs from San Diego to Los Angeles is capable of producing up to magnitude 7.3 earthquakes if the offshore segments rupture and a 7.4 if the southern onshore segment also ruptures, according to an analysis led by Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California San Diego.

The Newport-Inglewood and Rose Canyon faults had been considered separate systems but the study shows that they are actually one continuous fault system running from San Diego Bay to Seal Beach in Orange County, then on land through the Los Angeles basin.

"This system is mostly offshore but never more than four miles from the San Diego, Orange County, and Los Angeles County coast," said study lead author Valerie Sahakian, who performed the work during her doctorate at Scripps and is now a postdoctoral fellow with the U.S. Geological Survey. "Even if you have a high 5- or low 6-magnitude earthquake, it can still have a major impact on those regions which are some of the most densely populated in California."

The study, "Seismic constraints on the architecture of the Newport-Inglewood/Rose Canyon fault: Implications for the length and magnitude of future earthquake ruptures," appears in the American Geophysical Union's Journal of Geophysical Research.

Comment: See also:

USGS says 'no getting out of this': Major earthquake 'certain' to hit Southern California

Better Earth

New geological epoch: Diversity explosion of never-before-seen minerals

Simonkolleite-anthropocene, an anthropogenic mineral
Scientists have identified a sudden explosion of mineral diversity on the surface of our planet that would not exist if it weren't for humans, adding weight to the argument that we're living in a new geological epoch - the Anthropocene. A new study has found that the incredible upsurge of new minerals around the time of the industrial revolution led to the unprecedented diversification of crystals on Earth, eclipsing even the Great Oxidation Event 2.3 billion years ago as the "greatest increase in the history of the globe".

"This is a spike of mineral novelty that is so rapid - most of it in the last 200 years, compared to the 4.5-billion-year history of Earth. There is nothing like it in Earth's history," one of the team, Robert Hazen from the Carnegie Institution for Science told The Guardian. "This is a blink of an eye, it is just a surge, and ... we are only seeing the tip of the iceberg."

Hazen and his team analysed the 5,208 minerals on Earth that are officially recognised by the International Mineralogical Association, and found that 208 of them would not exist if it weren't for human activity.


USGS says 'no getting out of this': Major earthquake 'certain' to hit Southern California

© Francois Gohier / www.globallookpress.com
It is simply a matter of time before a major earthquake hits Southern California, according to a new study by the US Geological Survey (USGS), which examined patterns of historic quakes. The only question is how long it will be before the 'Big One' strikes.

The study - the most extensive of its kind - examined a section of the San Andreas fault that runs along Interstate 5, near Frazier Mountain in northeast Kern County.

"One of the reasons why this location is of importance is because in Southern California, the Big Bend, Carrizo, and Mojave sections of the San Andreas Fault accommodate 50-70% of plate motion. This means that the seismic hazard is high," according to Temblor.

Comment: More California earthquake warnings: New study reveals major fault under Ventura California could cause more earthquake damage than previously suspected