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Wed, 26 Jul 2017
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Is our Sun slowing down?

The spotless Sun of July 21, 2017.
The Sun, now halfway through its life, might be slowing its magnetic activity, researchers say, which could lead to permanent changes in the sunspots and auroras we see.

The Sun has changed its figure, researchers say, and might keep it that way.

The structure of the Sun's surface, where sunspots live, appears to have changed markedly 23 years ago. That's when solar magnetic activity might have started slowing down, Rachel Howe (University of Birmingham, UK, and Aarhaus University, Denmark) and collaborators speculate in paper to appear in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society (full text here). Such a structural change might help explain the Sun's mysteriously weak cycles in recent years.

The interior of the Sun pulsates as rhythmically as a human heart. But while the heart pulses at one fairly steady frequency, the Sun reverberates at thousands of different frequencies.

Pressure changes inside the Sun create these reverberations, just like pressure changes in the air create sound. The sound waves inside the Sun are outside the range of human hearing - they're too low frequency - but if we sped them up, we could hear them just like any other sound.

Some of these sound waves come from deep within the Sun, while others come from shallower layers. Since these sound waves can tell us about the structure of the solar interior, scientists measure them constantly using instruments like the Birmingham Solar-Oscillations Network.


The biotech industry is taking over the regulation of GMOs from the inside

© Ensia
The British non-profit GMWatch recently revealed the agribusiness takeover of Conabia, the National Advisory Committee on Agricultural Biotechnology of Argentina. Conabia is the GMO assessment body of Argentina. According to GMWatch, 26 of 34 its members were either agribusiness company employees or had major conflicts of interest*.

Packing a regulatory agency with conflicted individuals is one way to ensure speedy GMO approvals and Conabia has certainly delivered that. A much more subtle, but ultimately more powerful, way is to bake approval into the structure of the GMO assessment process itself. It is easier than you might think.


Leaf on the wind: Watch Su-35 Russian fighter jet's stunning flight maneuvers at MAKS 2017 (VIDEO)

The titillating Su-35
The Russians demonstrate that you don't need to spend a gazillion dollars to make an amazing fighter jet

This is a story of two jets-and two air shows.

The Paris Air Show was supposed to put to rest the unpatriotic criticisms of Lockheed's "5th generation" 100-gazillion-dollar baby: The majestic F-35.

It didn't.

The jet performed mediocre at best. At worst, people were basically calling it a sack of 5th generation garbage:

Comment: The Russians also debuted their new Sukhoi T-50 PAK-FA fighter. This article hints at its technological innovations:
"For now, I'd say that no physical limits exist for pilots of the PAK-FA when mastering and exploiting the aircraft," Russian Air Force Commander Viktor Bondarev said on Saturday, as quoted by TASS.

The PAK-FA (Perspective Air Complex of Frontline Aviation) T-50 is a fifth-generation fighter jet, equipped with advanced radar-evading stealth technology and "electronic pilot" function.

"Engineers are working to allow the aircraft do the most for the pilot," Viktor Bondarev added, highlighting the aircraft's characteristics, including improved engine, bombload, and flight range.

Having performed its maiden flight in 2010, the PAK-FA was built to replace the Sukhoi Su-27 in frontline tactical aviation. The Russian Air Force is expected to receive the first batch of 12 T-50s by 2019.

While the defense ministry is still looking forward to the new aircraft, visitors to the MAKS 2017 Air Show got to see the jets up in the skies, performing breathtaking aerobatic maneuvers. The two T-50s flew alongside two other super-maneuverable jets - the Sukhoi Su-34 and Su-35, awing the audience at Zhukovsky Airfield.


Study suggests Mars volcano went dormant around same time dinosaurs went extinct

This digital-image mosaic of Mars' Tharsis plateau shows the extinct volcano Arsia Mons. It was assembled from images that the Viking 1 Orbiter took during its 1976 to 1980 working life at Mars.
Around the same time that the dinosaurs became extinct on Earth, a volcano on Mars went dormant, NASA researchers have learned.

Arsia Mons is the southernmost volcano in a group of three massive Martian volcanoes known collectively as Tharsis Montes. Until now, the volcano's history has remained a mystery. But thanks to a new computer model, scientists were finally able to figure out when Arsia Mons stopped spewing out lava.

According to the model, volcanic activity at Arsia Mons came to a halt about 50 million years ago. Around that same time, Earth experienced the Cretaceous-Paleogene extinction event, which wiped out three-quarters of its animal and plant species, including the dinosaurs.

Jacob Richardson, a postdoctoral researcher at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland and co-author of the new study, presented the findings today (March 20) at the 48th annual Lunar and Planetary Science Conference, The Woodlands, Texas.

Comment: Speaking of impacts... If the proposed timing is close to correct, perhaps both Earth and Mars experienced similar "cosmic" events around the same time? It may more may not have had anything to do with the volcano, but it's an interesting question to ask: Did Mars also experience a major "event" all those millions of years ago? If so, what effects might it have had there?

Evil Rays

Neural network software: Cell phones are about to become more powerful than you could imagine

Many people don't realize that some of the most significant technological breakthroughs in recent years, like voice and facial recognition software, autonomous driving systems, and image recognition software, have not actually been designed by humans, but by computers. All of these advanced software programs have been the result of neural networks, popularly referred to as "deep learning."

Neural networks are modeled loosely after the human brain and learn like them in similar ways by processing large amounts of data, along with algorithms fed to the networks by programmers. A neural net is then able to teach itself to perform tasks by analyzing the training data. "You essentially have software writing software," says Jen-Hsun Huang, CEO of graphics processing leader Nvidia.

Microscope 2

California scientists catch glimpse of hypothesized self-annihilating particle for first time

© Jim Young / Reuters
Physicists in California have discovered evidence of Majorana fermions, long-hypothesized particles that are their own antiparticles. Scientists hope that in the future, their discovery will help manufacture more robust quantum computers.

Antimatter has been the staple of science fiction for decades, since physicist Paul Dirac suggested in the late 1920s that every particle has its antiparticle and that the pair annihilates in case of a collision, producing lots of energy. A decade later Ettore Majorana hypothesized that there may be particles that serve as their own antiparticles.

For eight decades the existence of Majorana particles, or more precisely Majorana fermions, remained hypothetical, though there is strong evidence that neutrinos may be one. But over the past few years advances in material science allowed several new experiments to find evidence of the such particles.

Comment: Self-destructing particles? Maybe they should call them American empirions...


SpaceX ending development of propulsive landings for Dragon spacecraft missions to Mars over safety concerns

© Scott Audette / Reuters
SpaceX will no longer produce the next version of their Dragon spacecraft capable of propulsive landings, altering their manned mission to Mars. CEO Elon Musk said they will eventually visit the red planet, but in "a vastly bigger ship."

Speaking at the International Space Station Research and Development Conference (ISS R&D) in Washington, DC Wednesday, SpaceX CEO Elon Musk sighed when he announced the company was ending development of Dragon propulsive landings, adding it was "a tough decision."

The decision means that SpaceX Dragon capsules will be forced to make splashdown landings with parachutes, just as capsules have traditionally landed in the past.


Afghan girls win silver medal of courageous achievement in robotics competition

© Paul J.Richards / AFP
An all-girl team from Afghanistan was awarded a silver medal for "courageous achievement" at an international robotics competition in Washington, DC. They only made the competition after President Donald Trump personally intervened to get them visas.

The Afghan team made headlines earlier this month when their visa application was turned down by the US embassy in Kabul, prompting critics to blame Trump's temporary travel ban, which affects applicants from Iran, Libya, Syria, Somalia, Sudan and Yemen, all countries with a Muslim majority population. Afghanistan, however, is not on that list.

Trump himself reportedly urged the Department of Homeland Security to find a way for their visit to happen, and the team was able to enter the US on "parole."

At the First Global robotics competition, the Afghan girls competed against 162 other teams from 157 countries, including a team of Syrian refugees. Their robot, named Better Idea of Afghan Girls, was able to sort orange and blue balls by color and put them in the correct places, simulating water purification.


Space experts baffled during House testimony after Dana Rohrabacher asks if civilizations lived on Mars

© NASA / Reuters
A California congressman baffled a panel of space experts testifying in Washington when he asked if it was possible that Mars was home to an ancient alien civilization. The panel told him that there was "no evidence" and it would be "extremely unlikely."

A hearing before the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology on Tuesday was interrupted when Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-California) requested additional time to ask the panel of scientists with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) if there was any evidence of archaic extraterrestrials living on the red planet.
"You have indicated that Mars was totally different thousands of years ago," said Rohrabacher, who is the vice chairman of the Science, Space and Technology Committee and a member of the Space and Aeronautics Subcommittee since he first entered Congress in 1989.

"Is it possible that there was a civilization on Mars thousands of years ago?" he asked.


Philadelphia child receives double hand transplant in world first surgery

© The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia / YouTube
Zion Harvey suffered a cataclysmic infection when he was just two years old, forcing doctors to amputate both his hands and feet to save his life. Now aged ten, Harvey is the world's youngest successful double hand transplant recipient.

Harvey suffered kidney failure soon after the amputations and underwent two years of dialysis before his mother Pattie Ray donated her kidney. With the unyielding support of his family and medical staff, Harvey was able to live his life while patiently waiting for a suitable match.

In July 2015, Harvey finally received donor hands from a deceased child and the surgical team could embark on the landmark surgery. The first successful hand transplant on an adult was completed in 1998 but there were no recorded successes on child patients.