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Fri, 21 Jan 2022
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New type of earthquake discovered

Rebecca Harrington
© RUB, Kramer
Rebecca Harrington is an expert in analysing induced earthquakes.
The recently discovered seismic events are slower than conventional earthquakes. Their existence supports a scientific theory that until now had not been sufficiently substantiated by measurements.

A Canadian-German research team have documented a new type of earthquake in an injection environment in British Columbia, Canada. Unlike conventional earthquakes of the same magnitude, they are slower and last longer. The events are a new type of induced earthquake that have been triggered by hydraulic fracturing, a method used in western Canada for oil and gas extraction. With a network of eight seismic stations surrounding an injection well at distances of a few kilometres, researchers from the Geological Survey of Canada, Ruhr-Universität Bochum, and McGill University recorded seismic data of approximately 350 earthquakes. Around ten percent of the located earthquakes turned out to exhibit unique features suggesting that they rupture more slowly, similar to what has previously been observed mainly in volcanic areas.

The group headed by Hongyu Yu - first at RUB, later at the Canadian Geological Survey of Canada - and RUB Professor Rebecca Harrington describes the results in the journal Nature Communications, published online on 25 November 2021.

Microscope 2

Caltech finds amazing role for noncoding DNA

dna artist conception
© lisichik, via Pixabay
Scientists at Caltech may have sounded the final death knell for the "junk DNA" myth. If only Dan Graur had known this years ago, it might have saved a lot of wasted rhetoric. ENCODE, readers recall, found that 80 percent of the genome is transcribed, even if only a small part codes for proteins. The functions of those non-coding regions were only hinted at. Now, the windows are opening on organization so all-encompassing for all those non-coding RNA transcripts, it is truly mind-boggling what goes on in the nucleus of a cell.

Using a new survey tool they call RD-SPRITE, Caltech researchers, in cooperation with others at USC and UCLA, mapped the spatial organization of all the DNA and RNA in the nucleus. It was challenging, they admit, to explore the spatial roles of RNA transcripts that don't produce proteins, because the nucleus is a dynamic place crowded with DNA, proteins, and numerous RNAs of unknown function. Let them explain in their paper in Cell1 what they found in the resulting maps:
These maps reveal higher-order RNA-chromatin structures associated with three major classes of nuclear function: RNA processing, heterochromatin assembly, and gene regulation. These data demonstrate that hundreds of ncRNAs form high-concentration territories throughout the nucleus, that specific RNAs are required to recruit various regulators into these territories, and that these RNAs can shape long-range DNA contacts, heterochromatin assembly, and gene expression. These results demonstrate a mechanism where RNAs form high-concentration territories, bind to diffusible regulators, and guide them into compartments to regulate essential nuclear functions. [Emphasis added.]

Comment: That anyone ever seriously considered anything within the biological genome as "junk" or without function is laughable in hindsight. Nothing within the highly organized microbiology of life is useless owing to the transcendent intelligence of its designers. As stated above, the materialist bias truly blinds one from perception of Truth.

See also:


Evolution and the biopolymer problem

Structure of RNA

The structure of the RNA for the large ribosomal subunit in E. Coli. (About 3000 nucleotides.) The ribosome also has a small RNA sub unit (~1500 nt) and about 50 proteins. A happy accident?
We address the following hypothesis: If purely natural processes produced the first living organism, such processes must have conveniently strung together perfect sequences of monomers (i.e., the basic building blocks of life: amino acids, nucleotides, lipids, and sugars) to form the essential biopolymers of life: RNA, DNA, proteins, and glycans. Thankfully, we know enough about natural processes to provide a definitive answer to this hypothesis.

We start by assuming that nature could form the monomers out of simpler molecules, select them out of a morass of other harmful and undesired molecules, concentrate them in one location, and accomplish this faster than the natural degradation of the monomers. (An earlier Long Story Short episode on the origin of life clearly refuted these assumptions.) A natural process to form biopolymers must then overcome several additional barriers.


Strange things happening in Earth's atmosphere over the North pole - NASA launches rocket to investigate

Cusp around Earth
© Andøya Space Center/Trond Abrahamsen
North of Norway over the Norwegian and Greenland Seas, a magnetic bubble known as the cusp surrounds Earth and dips inward. Some air in the cusp is unusually dense, and the CREX-2 mission aims to understand why.
Strange things happen in Earth's atmosphere at high latitudes. Around local noon, when the Sun is at its highest point, a funnel-shaped gap in our planet's magnetic field passes overhead. Earth's magnetic field shields us from the solar wind, the stream of charged particles spewing off the Sun. The gap in that field, called the polar cusp, allows the solar wind a direct line of access to Earth's atmosphere.

Radio and GPS signals behave strangely when they travel through this part of the sky. In the last 20 years, scientists and spacecraft operators noticed something else unusual as spacecraft pass through this region: They slow down.

"At around 250 miles above Earth, spacecraft feel more drag, sort of like they've hit a speed bump," said Mark Conde, a physicist at the University of Alaska Fairbanks and the principal investigator for NASA's Cusp Region Experiment-2, or CREX-2, sounding rocket mission. That's because the air in the cusp is noticeably denser than air elsewhere in the spacecrafts' orbits around Earth. But no one knows why, or how. By understanding the forces at play in the cusp, scientists hope to better anticipate changes in spacecraft trajectories.

The CREX-2 payload was successfully launched at 3:25 a.m. EST on December 1, 2021, from the Andøya Space Center in Norway. The four-stage Oriole IV sounding rocket carried the payload to an apogee of 392 miles. Preliminary reports are that the flight was successful and the ampules carrying the vapors performed as planned. Good data was received including data from the vapor imaging team.


China's lunar rover spots cube-shaped 'mystery hut' on far side of the moon

It's likely a large boulder excavated by an ancient lunar impact.
Cube Shaped Lunar Object
© CNSA/Our Space
An image from China's Yutu 2 showing a cube-shaped object on the horizon on the far side of the moon.
China's Yutu 2 rover has spotted a mystery object on the horizon while working its way across Von Kármán crater on the far side of the moon.

Yutu 2 spotted a cube-shaped object on the horizon to the north and roughly 260 feet (80 meters) away in November during the mission's 36th lunar day, according to a Yutu 2 diary published by Our Space, a Chinese language science outreach channel affiliated with the China National Space Administration (CNSA).

Our Space referred to the object as a "mystery hut" (神秘小屋/shenmi xiaowu), but this a placeholder name rather than an accurate description.

Team scientists have expressed a strong interest in the object and Yutu 2 is now expected to spend the next 2-3 lunar days (2-3 Earth months) traversing lunar regolith and avoiding craters to get a closer look, so updates can be expected.

A likely explanation for the shape would be a large boulder which has been excavated by an impact event.


New form of biological self-replication or overexcited hype?

Model of a self-replicating xenobot
© Evolution News
Model of a self-replicating xenobot
Scientists at the University of Vermont, Tufts University, and the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering at Harvard University claim to have created the first self-replicating xenobot. Xenobots are artificially interconnected biological tissues whose arrangements are determined by some algorithm. An announcement at the Wyss Institute website lauds the researchers for having "discovered an entirely new form of biological reproduction" and for applying their discovery to "create the first-ever, self-replicating living robots." CNN science writer Katie Hunt described the research in equally glowing terms in her article "World's first living robots can now reproduce, scientists say":
The xenobots are very early technology — think of a 1940s computer — and don't yet have any practical applications. However, this combination of molecular biology and artificial intelligence could potentially be used in a host of tasks in the body and the environment, according to the researchers. This may include things like collecting microplastics in the oceans, inspecting root systems and regenerative medicine.
Achieving true self-replication would be a historical accomplishment, but are these descriptions accurate or more appropriately categorized as hype.

Microscope 1

'Pac-Man' blobs become world's first self-replicating biological robots

pacman xenobots self replicating artificial life
© Douglas Blackiston and Sam Kriegman
An artificial-intelligence-generated Pac-Man shaped parent xenobot scoops up a sphere of stem cells.
These bio-bots are made from frog cells.

Tiny groups of cells shaped like Pac-Man are the world's first self-replicating biological robots.

The tiny bots are made from the skin cells of frogs, but they don't reproduce by mitosis or meiosis or any of the other ways cells divide and replicate in normal circumstances. Instead, they build more of themselves from raw materials — free-floating frog skin cells — creating multiple generations of nearly identical organisms.

In action, the bots (dubbed "xenobots" by their inventors), even look like Pac-Man. They move in wild corkscrews and spirals, their open "mouths" scooping the free-floating skin cells into piles. The cells tend to adhere, or stick together, once put in contact with one another, so these piles gradually meld into new, spiraling xenobots.

Comment: Kreigman's last remarks could almost be taken as an unconscious endorsement of intelligent design.


Study suggests Sun is likely an unaccounted source of the Earth's water

The sun, solar winds and asteroid Itokawa.
© Curtin University
The sun, solar winds and asteroid Itokawa.
A University of Glasgow-led international team of researchers including those from Curtin's Space Science and Technology Centre (SSTC) found the solar wind, comprised of charged particles from the Sun largely made of hydrogen ions, created water on the surface of dust grains carried on asteroids that smashed into the Earth during the early days of the Solar System.

SSTC Director, John Curtin Distinguished Professor Phil Bland said the Earth was very water-rich compared to other rocky planets in the Solar System, with oceans covering more than 70 percent of its surface, and scientists had long puzzled over the exact source of it all.

"An existing theory is that water was carried to Earth in the final stages of its formation on C-type asteroids, however previous testing of the isotopic 'fingerprint' of these asteroids found they, on average, didn't match with the water found on Earth meaning there was at least one other unaccounted for source," Professor Bland said.

"Our research suggests the solar wind created water on the surface of tiny dust grains and this isotopically lighter water likely provided the remainder of the Earth's water.

"This new solar wind theory is based on meticulous atom-by-atom analysis of miniscule fragments of an S-type near-Earth asteroid known as Itokawa, samples of which were collected by the Japanese space probe Hayabusa and returned to Earth in 2010.


Ultra-dense exoplanet seemingly made of solid iron has been spotted by astronomers orbiting a nearby star

According to the Interactive Extra-Solar Planets Catalogue, humans have spotted some 4,878 planets in 3,604 solar systems other than our own. Termed exoplanets, only few have been found in the habitable zone around their parent star, and none have been confirmed to have life.

There are few things that are standard or typical across the universe, but the exoplanet GJ 367b still manages to stick out as an oddball in Earthling discoveries. Astronomers at the German Aerospace Center's Institute of Planetary Research, using data gathered by NASA's Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS), reported the find in a paper published in Science on Thursday.

© NASA/JPL-Caltech
Artist’s rendering of TOI-1231 b, a Neptune-like planet about 90 light-years away from Earth.


Second exoplanet with four stars discovered
Darker than asphalt: Hubble telescope captures images of pitch-black exoplanet
'Behaving like a comet': Astronomers discover enormous exoplanet with wild, slingshot-like orbit

Blue Planet

Recycling of tectonic plates found to be a key driver of Earth's oxygen budget

Parinacota Volcano Atacama Desert  Chile
© Glenn Gaetan
Parinacota Volcano, in the Atacama Desert of Chile.
A new study co-led by a Cornell researcher has identified serpentinite -- a green rock that looks a bit like snakeskin and holds fluids in its mineral structures -- as a key driver of the oxygen recycling process, which helped create and maintain the sustaining atmosphere for life on Earth.

"This cycle is a really a big deal," said Esteban Gazel, associate professor of earth and atmospheric sciences in Cornell's College of Engineering, and co-lead author on the study. "In the end, we're talking about the budget of oxygen on the planet and how that gets balanced through processes like subduction."

Earth is constantly recycling its life-giving supply of water and oxygen as tectonic plates sink, or subduct, deep into the planet. Elements are carried down as one piece of the planet's crust slips below another, and resurface through the resulting volcanoes.

It's a critical process, but how, exactly, subduction recycles oxygen and allows it to interact with other elements has always been a topic of debate among geoscientists.

Comment: Gazel has refined and expanded the theory which was proposed in 2010

Geologist's Discoveries Resolve Debate About Oxygen In Earth's Mantle