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Thu, 14 Dec 2017
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Space Race: 5 Billionaires who might find life outside Earth before NASA

space star
© NASA/ESA via Getty Images
Earlier this week, Russian billionaire Yuri Milner announced at the New Space Age conference in Seattle his plans to sponsor a project to send spaceships to Saturn's moon Enceladus to search for alien life. Milner appears to be the latest in a recent trend of billionaires setting their sights on the stars and using their money to help man explore the cosmos.

Between the cost of paying scientists, gathering materials and building state-of-the-art equipment, space travel is expensive. But what about those for which money is not an issue? As technology continues to advance and the idea of space travel becomes more realistic, an increasing number of the world's richest citizens have become involved in the international rush to explore our universe and perhaps even find alien life along the way. Here are five of the most recognizable (and most wealthy) individuals giving NASA a run for its money in the international space race.


Drilling in Texas leads to uptick in earthquakes, as sleeping faults reawaken

fracking site Texas
A fracking site is situated on the outskirts of town in the Permian Basin oil field, Texas
In the US since 2008, an unprecedented surge in the amount of earthquakes has hit several states. Most scientists now agree the surge is being triggered by fracking, or wastewater injections being shot into deep wells for oil and gas production.

A paper describing the reasons for an uptick in earthquakes occurring in states like Texas was published on Friday in Science Advances, and was spearheaded by lead author Beatrice Magnani, a seismologist at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Texas.

The paper analyzes fault displacements on high-resolution seismic reflection profiles in two regions of the central US, including the Fort Worth Basin (FWB) of Texas and the northern Mississippi embayment (NME). They used these areas to assess whether seismicity is induced by human activity (drilling), or if it happens naturally.

Since 2008, Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas and three other states have experienced many more earthquakes than they had previously. Strikingly, Oklahoma's earthquake rate increased from one or two each year to more than 800. In the same time period, Texas has seen a sixfold surge in quakes.

Comment: The likelihood that fracking causes an increase in earthquakes is not the only problem with this technique:
Hydraulic fracturing is a natural gas extraction method that has become extremely controversial for its environmental impacts. Fracking is the process of drilling down into the earth before a high-pressure water mixture is directed at the rock to release the gas inside. Water, sand, and chemicals are injected into the rock at high pressure, which allows the gas to flow out to the head of the well. Wastewater produced from this process is highly toxic and filled with a variety of chemicals.

In many cases, people who live near fracking sites have been able to set fire to the water and air that comes through their pipes. It has also been found to contaminate drinking water. Unfortunately, fracking is still somewhat popular publicly because people know very little about it and it is also popular politically because all of the politicians have a hand in it.
But go back to sleep - the House of Representatives says it's all Russian sponsored propaganda. As for the earthquakes, we don't need to help Mother Nature in providing more - she is doing just fine on her own and will be doing even better next year:

Scientists predict upsurge in major earthquakes for 2018 due to slowdown in Earth's rotation


Kim Dotcom to release alternative to facebook and google's censorship and cyber-stalking

Kim Dotcom
© Nigel Marple / Reuters
A global network controlled by users, rather than being dominated by corporations like Google and Facebook will offer more security, privacy activist and software developer Dmytri Kleiner told RT, referring to Kim Dotcom's notion of an "alternative internet."

The founder of Megaupload, Kim Dotcom, who is wanted in America for alleged copyright violations, pledged this week to create an 'alternative internet' to defend online privacy and freedom.

Telecom giants in the US are set for a significant victory if Washington goes ahead with its plan to repeal so-called 'net neutrality' rules, enacted to prevent internet service providers from potentially cornering parts of the digital market and charging extra fees.

2 + 2 = 4

Galapagos finches evolve into new species

cactus finch
© Andrew Peacock / Getty Images
A large cactus finch (pictured) mated with a medium ground finch to create a new species.
Finches in the Galapagos Islands have evolved into a new species, marking the first time such an evolution has been observed by scientists.

A population of finches on the Daphne Major island in the Galapagos has been undergoing changes over the past few decades, thanks to species hybridisation.

The finches are part of a group of 15 species known as Darwin's finches, which helped Charles Darwin with his discovery of the process of evolution through natural selection.


Study: Intelligent people have brains that are better connected

brain of more intelligent people
© Ulia Koltyrina / Fotolia
The brain of more intelligent people is 'wired' differently from the brain of people with less intelligence, new research finds.
Differences in intelligence have so far mostly been attributed to differences in specific brain regions. However, are smart people's brains also wired differently to those of less intelligent persons? A new study supports this assumption. In intelligent persons, certain brain regions are more strongly involved in the flow of information between brain regions, while other brain regions are less engaged.

Understanding the foundations of human thought is fascinating for scientists and laypersons alike. Differences in cognitive abilities -- and the resulting differences for example in academic success and professional careers -- are attributed to a considerable degree to individual differences in intelligence. A study just published in Scientific Reports shows that these differences go hand in hand with differences in the patterns of integration among functional modules of the brain. Kirsten Hilger, Christian Fiebach and Ulrike Basten from the Department of Psychology at Goethe University Frankfurt combined functional MRI brain scans from over 300 persons with modern graph theoretical network analysis methods to investigate the neurobiological basis of human intelligence.


Scientists say that prefrontal executive control of the brain may be harnessed to help reduce the risk of anxiety

prefrontal cortex
© Matthew Scult/Duke University
Individuals whose brains exhibit a high response to threat in the amygdala (left) and a low response to reward in the ventral striatum (middle) are more at risk of developing symptoms of anxiety and depression over time. This new Duke University study shows that these at-risk individuals were less likely to develop anxiety if they also had high activity in the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (right).
Greater executive control via the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (DLPFC) may strengthen resilience for those at risk for anxiety disorders, according to a new study from Duke University. This potentially groundbreaking paper, "Prefrontal Executive Control Rescues Risk for Anxiety Associated with High Threat and Low Reward Brain Function," was published November 17 in the journal Cerebral Cortex.

This pioneering discovery is noteworthy because it may bring clinicians one step closer towards tailoring psychological therapies for individual patients that target this specific region of the PFC. As an example, individuals whose brains exhibit the at-risk signatures of generalized anxiety disorders (GAD) may be more likely to benefit from strategies that boost the brain's dorsolateral prefrontal activity. These interventions could include cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), working memory training, and/or transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS).

For this study, the neuroscientists used fMRI brain imaging to assay the triad of (1) baseline threat-related amygdala, (2) reward-related ventral striatum, and (3) executive control-related prefrontal cortex activity. Each of the 120 young adult volunteers who participated in this study provided self-reported mood and anxiety ratings at baseline and at follow-up.


Is a cure for baldness just around the corner?

© Getty
Will scientists soon finally be able to cure baldness?
For many men, going bald is just about the worst thing they can imagine happening to them. So blokes worried about their failing follicles may want to take some solace from a new study which could pave the way for a cure for baldness.

South Korean scientists have cooked up a chemical that's been shown to promote hair growth in mice. This game-changing substance has the snappy name 'CXXC-type zinc finger protein 5' and disrupts a process within cells which controls the development of hair follicles and also the healing of wounds.

When tested on mice over a 28 day period, the CXXC protein promoted the growth of new follicles.

Hair was also found to grow at a faster rate when applied to mice along with a chemical called valproic acid.

Comment: See also:


CARMEL, the code-breaking computer attempts to decipher the letters of the Zodiac Killer

zodiac killer
© Wikipedia
The computer that is attempting to decode the cryptic letters signed by the Zodiac killer can also produce haunting poems.

The Zodiac killings are a series of unsolved murders that took place from December 1968 to the early 1970s in Northern California.

The identity of the killer, allegedly responsible for the deaths of at least five people, and the targeting of a further two, remains unknown.

In addition to being a famously unsolved murder, the Zodiac gained public attention because of the letters detailing the crimes, written in code, that were frequently sent to newspapers.

The name 'Zodiac' came from one of the symbols used in the letter, and by the description given by one of the survivors of an attempted murder.

Officially declared to be 'inactive' in 2004, the case remains the subject of enthusiastic amateur investigations.

Bizarro Earth

Mysterious deep-Earth seismic signature explained?

movement of seismic waves through mantle
© Edward Garnero and Allen McNamara
The movement of seismic waves through the material of the mantle allows scientists to image Earth's interior, just as a medical ultrasound allows technicians to look inside a blood vessel.
Finding has implications for conditions that set the stage for life

New research on oxygen and iron chemistry under the extreme conditions found deep inside Earth could explain a longstanding seismic mystery called ultralow velocity zones. Published in Nature, the findings could have far-reaching implications on our understanding of Earth's geologic history, including life-altering events such as the Great Oxygenation Event, which occurred 2.4 billion years ago.

Sitting at the boundary between the lower mantle and the core, 1,800 miles beneath Earth's surface, ultralow velocity zones (UVZ) are known to scientists because of their unusual seismic signatures. Although this region is far too deep for researchers to ever observe directly, instruments that can measure the propagation of seismic waves caused by earthquakes allow them to visualize changes in Earth's interior structure; similar to how ultrasound measurements let medical professionals look inside of our bodies.

These seismic measurements enabled scientists to visualize these ultralow velocity zones in some regions along the core-mantle boundary, by observing the slowing down of seismic waves passing through them. But knowing UVZs exist didn't explain what caused them.

However, recent findings about iron and oxygen chemistry under deep-Earth conditions provide an answer to this longstanding mystery.

It turns out that water contained in some minerals that get pulled down into Earth due to plate tectonic activity could, under extreme pressures and temperatures, split up -- liberating hydrogen and enabling the residual oxygen to combine with iron metal from the core to create a novel high-pressure mineral, iron peroxide.

Comment: The rise of oxygen caused Earth's earliest ice age

Fireball 2

Geminid meteor shower: how to watch as Phaethon asteroid debris lights up Earth's skies

A view of the Geminid meteor shower Asim Patel/Wikimedia
© Asim Patel/Wikimedia
A view of the Geminid meteor shower
Photographers and sky-watchers will be treated to an awe-inspiring celestial display in December as the Geminid meteor shower lights up Earth's atmosphere.

As our planet moves through the debris field left by the Phaethon asteroid next month, flashes and trails of light will be visible overhead - as long as the weather is clear.

Phaethon, named for the son of Greek god Helios, is a rocky asteroid that orbits the Sun unusually closely.