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Thu, 25 May 2017
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Science & Technology


The Amazon basin maybe an ancient ocean

© Jason Houston
The area where Peru’s Manú River flows today may have once been covered by a shallow sea.
The Amazon rainforest is a treasure trove of biodiversity, containing 10% of the planet's species in its 6.7 million square kilometers. How it got to be that way has been fiercely disputed for decades. Now, a new study suggests that a large section of the forest was twice flooded by the Caribbean Sea more than 10 million years ago, creating a short-lived inland sea that jump-started the evolution of new species. But the new evidence still hasn't convinced scientists on the other side of the debate.

"It's hard to imagine a process that would cover such a large forest with an ocean," says lead author Carlos Jaramillo, a paleontologist at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute in Panama City who has been in both camps.

Researchers generally agree that parts of the Amazon were once under water, but they don't agree on where the water came from. Those in the "river camp" argue that freshwater streaming down from the rising Andes sliced up the land below, dividing plants and animals into isolated groups that later turned into new species. The fast-growing mountains also created microclimates at different elevations, sparking speciation and funneling new plants and animals into the Amazon basin. However, when marine microorganisms were discovered in Amazonian sediments in the 1990s, some scientists hypothesized that the forest was once inundated by an ocean, which created new species as forest dwellers quickly adapted to the flood.

But proving either case—the river view or the ocean view—is tough. Rocks and fossils that could paint a definitive picture are exceedingly rare. So Jaramillo and his colleagues turned to a different kind of data: cores drilled into the jungle floor. Six centimeters wide and 600 meters deep, the cylindrical cores preserve a record of the region's past environments in the form of pollen, fossils, and sediments, going back tens of millions of years. Jaramillo used two cores: one from eastern Colombia, drilled by an oil company, and one from northeastern Brazil, taken by the Brazilian Geology Survey in the 1980s.


NASA's Cassini captures eerie noise between Saturn's rings

© JPL-CalTech/Space Science Institute/NASA
The noise contained a lot less activity than scientists predicted.
There's sound in the stars - but not as much as scientists had hoped. NASA's Cassini spacecraft beamed back an eerily empty recording of the space between Saturn's rings. Less Star Trek, more dial-up modem, the area appears to be surprisingly dust-free.

"It was a bit disorienting - we weren't hearing what we expected to hear," said William Kurth, team lead with Cassini's Radio and Plasma Wave Science (RPWS) instrument. "I've listened to our data from the first dive several times and I can probably count on my hands the number of dust particle impacts I hear."

The recording, which was made on April 26, consists of mainly static with some erratic pings, signalling to NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory that the area between Saturn's rings consists of much less space dust than previously believed. If there are aliens living between the rings they love to dust.

NASA said the particles they did encounter were no larger than those in smoke, roughly one micron across, or 1,000th of a millimeter. In contrast, Cassini detected hundreds of particles per second when it crossed the plane of Saturn's rings.

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Medieval monks may have helped transform aggressive wild poultry into friendly productive farm animals

Christians in medieval Europe appear to have inadvertently influenced the evolution of modern chickens to boost traits relating to their egg-laying abilities and how friendly they are. In a new study published Tuesday, scientists say they have identified the cultural shift that led to the emergence of chickens as we know them today, with urbanization and religion the key factors involved.

Modern chickens were domesticated 6,000 years ago from Asian junglefowl. From their home continent, they spread to Europe, arriving in Greece by 500 BC. In 2015, the United Nations said there are roughly 19 billion chickens alive on Earth at any one time, the Economist reports. Yet how they came to be one of the world's most populous birds is something of a mystery.

In a study published in the journal Molecular Biology and Evolution, scientists have now tracked changes in the DNA of ancient chickens to find out when and where specific traits that were valuable to humans emerged—and what social changes were happening at this time.

Previously, scientists had identified two genes linked to the loss of seasonal reproduction, which allows for faster egg-laying, and reduced aggression and fear of humans.



Neuralink wants to connect your brain to the internet using brain-machine interfaces

© Shutterstock
The next step in human evolution
Neuralink - which is "developing ultra high bandwidth brain-machine interfaces to connect humans and computers" - is probably a bad idea. If you understand the science behind it, and that's what you wanted to hear, you can stop reading.

But this is an absurdly simple narrative to spin about Neuralink and an unhelpful attitude to have when it comes to understanding the role of technology in the world around us, and what we might do about it. It's easy to be cynical about everything Silicon Valley does, but sometimes it comes up with something so compelling, fascinating and confounding it cannot be dismissed; or embraced uncritically.

Putting aside the hyperbole and hand-wringing that usually follows announcements like this, Neuralink is a massive idea. It may fundamentally alter how we conceive of what it means to be human and how we communicate and interact with our fellow humans (and non-humans). It might even represent the next step in human evolution.

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Scientists working on synthetic DNA think it's only 5 years away

© Oleksiy Maksymenko / www.globallookpress.com
Last May a seemingly commonplace meeting kicked off a firestorm of controversy. More than 100 experts in genetics and bioengineering convened at Harvard Medical School for a meeting that was closed to the public — attendees were asked not to contact news media or to post about the meeting on social media.

The same group is getting back together in New York City next week.

To the meeting organizers, last year's secretive measures were, counterintuitively, to make sure as many people heard about the project as possible. They were submitting a paper about the project to a scientific journal and were discouraged from sharing the information publicly before it was published.

But there's another reason why this group of scientists, while encouraging debate and public involvement, would be wary of attracting too much attention. Their project is an effort to synthesize DNA, including human DNA. Researchers will start with simpler organisms, such as microbes and plants, but hope to ultimately create strands of human genetic code. One of the group's organizers, Jef Boeke, director of the Institute for Systems Genetics at NYU School of Medicine, told CNBC that incorporating synthesized DNA into mammalian (or even human) cells could happen in four to five years.


Satellite electrical damage linked to tiny space rocks says new study

© Yuri Smity UK/Getty Images
Meteor showers such as the Geminids also contain tiny space rocks sometimes no bigger than a grain of dust that can cause severe mechanical damage to satellites.
Tiny meteoroids can not only punch holes in a spaceship but also produce potentially catastrophic electromagnetic pulses. Andrew Masterson reports.

The cause of several mysterious satellite failures may have been discovered, if simulations carried out at Stanford University in California hold firm in physical space.

The simulations, published in the journal Physics of Plasmas, promise an answer to a question bothering lead author, aeronautics professor Sigrid Close, for more than seven years.

Everyone in the space business has long recognised that meteoroids - tiny space rocks sometimes no bigger than a grain of dust - can cause severe mechanical damage when they smash into a satellite.

Looking at the records of satellite collision reports, however, Close realised a small number seemed to result in electrical rather than mechanical damage. This meant - logically - the satellites must have encountered another source of electricity. What, she wondered, could that be?


Scientists find vast wave of hot gas rolling through the Perseus galaxy cluster

© NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center/Stephen Walker et al.
This X-ray image of the hot gas in the Perseus galaxy cluster was made from 16 days of Chandra observations.
Combining data from NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory with radio observations and computer simulations, an international team of scientists has discovered a vast wave of hot gas in the nearby Perseus galaxy cluster. Spanning some 200,000 light-years, the wave is about twice the size of our own Milky Way galaxy.

The researchers say the wave formed billions of years ago, after a small galaxy cluster grazed Perseus and caused its vast supply of gas to slosh around an enormous volume of space.

"Perseus is one of the most massive nearby clusters and the brightest one in X-rays, so Chandra data provide us with unparalleled detail," said lead scientist Stephen Walker at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland."The wave we've identified is associated with the flyby of a smaller cluster, which shows that the merger activity that produced these giant structures is still ongoing."

A paper describing the findings appears in the June 2017 issue of the journal Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.


Could there be remnants of ancient civilizations in our solar system?

Image of the "Face of Mars" by the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, with the Viking 1 image inset (bottom right).
The search for life in the Universe takes many paths. There's SETI, or the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence, which is searching for signals from a distant ancient civilization. There's the exploration of our own Solar System, on Mars, or underneath the subsurface oceans of Europa and Enceladus, to see if life can be anywhere there's liquid water and a source of energy. And upcoming space telescopes like James Webb will attempt to directly image the atmospheres of distant extrasolar planets, to see if they contain the distinct chemical signatures of life.

But according to Jason Wright, an astronomer at the Center for Exoplanets and Habitable Worlds at Penn State University, we could consider searching for evidence of ancient civilizations right here on Earth, or across the Solar System. Don't get excited, though, so far "there is zero evidence for prior indigenous species in the Solar System."
© Daein Ballard
Artist’s impression of the terraforming of Mars, from its current state to a livable world.
In a paper, recently submitted to the arXiv electronic preprint archive entitled Prior Indigenous Technological Species, Dr. Wright describes how we might go about searching for the technological artifacts left behind by ancient civilizations that have evolved in the Solar System. Perhaps on an ancient, cooler Venus, or on Mars in a time when it was wetter and had a thicker atmosphere. Those civilizations could have arisen millions or even billions of years ago, destroyed themselves or left the Solar System, and only ancient traces of their culture and technology would still be around.

If a civilization had reached a high level of technology, where did it go? Wright suggests a variety of catastrophes, like a swarm of comets, self destruction, or even a nearby supernova explosion that irradiated the whole Solar System with high energy gamma rays. Even without a specific event, a civilization might have simply just died out, or became permanently non-technological. Of course, these possibilities face our own human civilization. It's hard to read the paper and not consider the fate of humanity. Will future aliens search for scraps to learn about us?

Snowflake Cold

Bad news for global warming alarmists: New study about Antarctica shows there is greater ice accumulation than ice melt

Warming on the Antarctic Peninsula has long been touted by supporters of the theory man is destroying the planet by using fossil fuels as proof of the dangers of global warming. Al Gore, the face of the world-is-going-to-end climate movement, has visited Antarctica on at least two occasions to highlight the alleged problem.

"This prediction has proven true," Gore wrote about the claim Antarctica would warm faster than the global average. "Today, the West Antarctic Peninsula is warming about four times faster than the global average."

Alarmists say the melting of ice sheets in Antarctica will cause massive problems for the rest of the world. For example, left-wing website ThinkProgress wrote in 2012, "Although the vast ice sheets of the frozen continent are remote from almost all of human civilization, their warming has drastic implications for billions of people. With the melting of those almost inconceivable reserves of ice, the planet's sea levels are rising. Scientists now expect 21st-century sea level rise — on the scale of three to six feet or more — will be dominated by the melting of the Greenland and Antarctic ice caps."

Climate realists have rightfully pointed out the evidence shows total ice accumulation on Antarctica has outweighed losses, a claim bolstered by a 2015 NASA study, which found, "An increase in Antarctic snow accumulation that began 10,000 years ago is currently adding enough ice to the continent to outweigh the increased losses from its thinning glaciers." But even many climate change skeptics have accepted some significant parts of Antarctica are warming.

Comment: As to why is this occurring see: The Solar Minimum, Earthquakes and Mini Ice Age - and What to Expect: Interview with John Casey, Author ofUPHEAVAL and Dark Winter (VIDEO)

Light Saber

Just like in 'Star Wars,' this 'death star' laser really works

© Macquarie University
The "super" laser brings together the power of multiple laser beams directed into a single intense output using an ultra-pure diamond crystal at the point of convergence.
Though it's not big enough or strong enough to destroy a planet, scientists have developed an amplified laser reminiscent of the Death Star from "Star Wars," according to a new study.

The futuristic superweapon combines multiple laser beams into one destructive blast, the researchers said. The idea of merging laser beams is not new, nor has it been limited to science fiction before now. A decades-old Russian missile defense project looked to use liquid as a beam combiner, but that project was abandoned after it was deemed not practical. A similar project in the U.S. investigated laser fusion, but using different materials. Now, a team of Australian scientists has combined the principles of these two research projects and applied them to a new material: diamond.

An ultrapure diamond crystal is the key to a new proof-of-concept amplified laser. By placing a diamond at the point of convergence of the different laser beams, the power of each individual beam is transferred into one potent laser beam, the researchers said. This power transfer occurs due to Raman scattering — when particles are dispersed and excited to higher energy levels — which is especially strong in diamond, according to the scientists.