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Sat, 24 Mar 2018
The World for People who Think

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Coffee affects cannabis and steroid metabolism

© NorthWestern Now
Chicago - It's well known that a morning cup of joe jolts you awake. But scientists have discovered coffee affects your metabolism in dozens of other ways, including your metabolism of steroids and the neurotransmitters typically linked to cannabis, reports a new study from Northwestern Medicine.

In a study of coffee consumption, Northwestern scientists were surprised to discover coffee changed many more metabolites in the blood than previously known. Metabolites are chemicals in the blood that change after we eat and drink or for a variety of other reasons.

The neurotransmitters related to the endocannabinoid system - the same ones affected by cannabis - decreased after drinking four to eight cups of coffee in a day. That's the opposite of what occurs after someone uses cannabis. Neurotransmitters are the chemicals that deliver messages between nerve cells.

Cannabinoids are the chemicals that give the cannabis plant its medical and recreational properties. The body also naturally produces endocannabinoids, which mimic cannabinoid activity.


Babies can logically reason even before they can talk says new study

© The Verge
One-year-old babies may not be able to speak, but they are able to think logically, according to new research that shows the earliest known foundation of our ability to reason.

Legendary psychologist Jean Piaget believed that we didn't have logical reasoning abilities until we were seven, but scientists scanned the eyes of 48 babies and found that they're able to reason through the process of elimination. The research was published today in the journal Science.

The type of reasoning in question, process of elimination, is formally called "disjunctive syllogism." It goes like this: if only A or B can be true, and A is false, then B must be true. So, if the cup is either red or blue, and it is not red, then it is blue. Process of elimination isn't necessarily the easiest form of reasoning, says Justin Halberda, a psychologist and child development expert at Johns Hopkins University who was not involved in today's study, but it's a crucial one for higher thinking. "One of the central pieces that separates human reasoning from all other forms is to negate a premise - you see that if it's not A, it's something else," he says. "That's quite fancy stuff."


Scientists in Russia testing lasers to blow up deadly asteroids

© Pixabay
Remember last week, when we learned that NASA has official plans to blow up deadly asteroids with nuclear bombs? Well, we've got more good news: Russian scientists from ROSATOM (aka, the Rosatom State Nuclear Energy Corporation) and MIPT (the Moscow Institute of Physics and Technology) have been building tiny, scale-model asteroids and blowing them up with lasers in order to figure out how to destroy real-life asteroids. They've even figured out how much energy we'd need to demolish a 200-meter wide, non-metallic asteroid: the equivalent of about 3 megatons of TNT.

The experiments are based on miniature asteroids about 8 to 10 millimeters wide that have been carefully manufactured to reflect the density, rigidity and shape of real asteroids-even the chemical compositions and porosity are realistic. To reflect the diversity of asteroid shapes, spherical, ellipsoidal, and cubical models were created, too. From there, the scientists shot them with a laser and measured the effects, including how much energy per gram of mass was needed to destroy the model. One of the more interesting discoveries they made was that asteroids have weak points-targeting a cavity on a model asteroid required less energy for the whole thing to blow up, meaning that if we ever want to blow an asteroid out of the sky, we'd probably target the cavities.


Russia responds to Western warmongering... by announcing plans for manned Mars mission and lunar base

© NASA / Greg Shirah / Reuters
Russia is launching an ambitious series of missions to the Red Planet, starting with an unmanned Mars mission in 2019, President Vladimir Putin said in an interview.

"We are planning unmanned and later manned launches - into deep space, as part of a lunar program and for Mars exploration. The closest mission is very soon, we are planning to launch a mission to Mars in 2019," the president said in an interview shown in a new documentary by Andrey Kondrashov.

He added that the lunar exploration program would target the polar regions of the moon.


Red alert: Jupiter's 'spot' turning orange and changing shape

Jupiter orange spot
© JPL-Caltech/SwRI/MSSS/Gerald Eichstadt/Sean Doran / NASA
Jupiter's Great Red Spot has been shrinking for 150 years but scientists studying the enormous swirling storm have discovered that the iconic spot is changing color. It's also growing longer.

The storm, which has been monitored since 1830, was once big enough to swallow three Earths, however it could now only fit one. This drastic reduction has left scientists unsure about its fate.

To try to figure out how it may change in the future, a team of researchers have traced the evolution of the cyclone by examining archived observations of the Great Red Spot. "Storms are dynamic, and that's what we see with the Great Red Spot. It's constantly changing in size and shape, and its winds shift, as well," explained Amy Simon, lead author of new research on Jupiter published in the Astronomical Journal.

The team mined data from observations dating back as far as 1979, from the two Voyager missions, as well as information obtained from NASA's Hubble Space Telescope and the Outer Planets Atmospheres Legacy (OPAL) project. The new findings indicate that the Great Red Spot recently started to drift westwards faster than before and, as it has contracted in size, it has also stretched up. "It's almost like clay being shaped on a potter's wheel," NASA's Elizabeth Zubritsky explained.


Astronaut Scott Kelly has different DNA than twin brother after one year in space

kelly twins astronauts
© Tony Cenicola
NASA's twin astronauts Scott, left, and Mark Kelly. Scott spent a year in space while Mark stayed on Earth as a control subject. Researchers looked at the effects of space travel on the human body.
The Twin Study propelled NASA into the genomics era of space travel. It was a ground-breaking study comparing what happened to astronaut Scott Kelly, in space, to his identical twin brother, Mark, who remained on Earth. The perfect nature versus nurture study was born.

The Twins Study brought ten research teams from around the country together to accomplish one goal: discover what happens to the human body after spending one year in space. NASA has a grasp on what happens to the body after the standard-duration six-month missions aboard the International Space Station, but Scott Kelly's one-year mission is a stepping stone to a three-year mission to Mars.

If the results of the Twins Study are like a play, Act 1 began at NASA's Human Research Program (HRP) 2017 Investigators' Workshop (IWS), where the ten teams presented their preliminary findings. Reports included data on what happened to Scott Kelly, physiologically and psychologically, while he was in space, and compared the data to Mark Kelly, as a control subject on Earth. The 2018 IWS is Act 2, where findings from 2017 were corroborated, with some additions. Researchers also presented what happened to Scott after he returned to Earth, again while making comparisons to Mark. Act 3 will be debuted later in 2018 when an integrated summary publication is expected to be released.


The big bang was not the beginning

big bang
© Marcel Christ/Gallerystock
First hints are emerging of a universe that existed before our own: an alien world of chaos where time, space and geometry were yet to form

We are told it was big, yet it was probably unimaginably small. We are told there was a bang, yet there was apparently no sound, and no space for anything to explode into. Some think it might have happened multiple times, so even its definite article is in doubt.

Although everyone has heard of the big bang, no one can say confidently what it was like. After all, recounting the beginning of time is about finding not just the right words, but the right physics - and ever since the big bang entered the popular lexicon, that physics has been murky.

Perhaps no longer, thanks to an unusual way of delving into our universe's backstory that has emerged over the past few years. In this view, the essence of space and time can exist beyond the confines of the cosmos, but in a state of roiling chaos we would not recognise. The big bang is not a hard-and-fast beginning, but a moment of profound transformation - one quite different from anything most of us could have imagined.

Comment: See also:


Hawking's Paradox: A brief history of Stephen Hawking and his legacy

Stephen Hawking 1
© Gemma Levine/Getty
Stephen Hawking, the world-famous theoretical physicist, has died at the age of 76.

Hawking's children, Lucy, Robert and Tim said in a statement: "We are deeply saddened that our beloved father passed away today.

"He was a great scientist and an extraordinary man whose work and legacy will live on for many years. His courage and persistence with his brilliance and humour inspired people across the world.

"He once said: 'It would not be much of a universe if it wasn't home to the people you love.' We will miss him for ever."

The most recognisable scientist of our age, Hawking holds an iconic status. His genre-defining book, A Brief History of Time, has sold more than 10 million copies since its publication in 1988, and has been translated into more than 35 languages. He appeared on Star Trek: The Next Generation, The Simpsons and The Big Bang Theory. His early life was the subject of an Oscar-winning performance by Eddie Redmayne in the 2014 film The Theory of Everything. He was routinely consulted for oracular pronouncements on everything from time travel and alien life to Middle Eastern politics and nefarious robots. He had an endearing sense of humour and a daredevil attitude - relatable human traits that, combined with his seemingly superhuman mind, made Hawking eminently marketable.

But his cultural status - amplified by his disability and the media storm it invoked - often overshadowed his scientific legacy. That's a shame for the man who discovered what might prove to be the key clue to the theory of everything, advanced our understanding of space and time, helped shape the course of physics for the last four decades and whose insight continues to drive progress in fundamental physics today.

Comment: Though Hawking had his blind spots (like when it comes to climate change), his contributions to his field are notable and his warnings about our precarious future are not to be taken lightly. See also:


If Earth ever receives signals from alien civilization, they will probably already be dead

milky way
Electromagnetic signals (blue circles) from alien civilizations will continue traveling through the Milky Way even after the aliens are gone. The appearance of a doughnut hole represents when a civilization dies out.
If signals from an alien civilization ever reach Earth, odds are the aliens will already be dead.

In an effort to update the 1961 Drake Equation, which estimates the number of detectable, intelligent civilizations in the Milky Way, physicist Claudio Grimaldi and colleagues calculated the area of the galaxy that should be filled with alien signals at a given time (SN Online: 11/1/09).

The team, which includes Frank Drake (now a professor emeritus at the SETI Institute in Mountain View, Calif., and the University of California, Santa Cruz), assumed technologically savvy civilizations are born and die at a constant rate. When a civilization dies out and stops broadcasting, the signals it had sent continue traveling like concentric ripples on a pond. Part of the Milky Way should be filled with these ghost signals.


Nature plus nurture: How biology breaks the 'cerebral mystique'

© yodiyim/iStockphoto
Changing minds: Many people view the brain as special and separate from the rest of the body. Alan Jasanoff argues that this "cerebral mystique" is the wrong way to think about the brain.
The Biological Mind explores how the brain, body and environment make us who we are

At a small eatery in Seville, Spain, Alan Jasanoff had his first experience with brains - wrapped in eggs and served with potatoes. At the time, he was more interested in finding a good, affordable meal than contemplating the sheer awesomeness of the organ he was eating. Years later, Jasanoff began studying the brain as part of his training as a neuroscientist, and he went on, like so many others, to revere it. It is said, after all, to be the root of our soul and consciousness. But today, Jasanoff has yet another view: He has come to see our awe of the organ as a seriously flawed way of thinking, and even a danger to society.

In The Biological Mind, Jasanoff, now a neuroscientist at MIT, refers to the romanticized view of the brain - its separateness and superiority to the body and its depiction as almost supernatural - as the "cerebral mystique." Such an attitude has been fueled, in part, by images that depict the brain without any connection to the body or by analogies that compare the brain to a computer. Admittedly, the brain does have tremendous computing power. But Jasanoff's goal is to show that the brain doesn't work as a distinct, mystical entity, but as a ball of flesh awash with fluids and innately in tune with the rest of the body and the environment. "Self" doesn't just come from the brain, he explains, but also from the interactions of chemicals from our bodies with everything else around us.

Comment: We may not be just our brains, but like a car, it's worth learning how it operates to get the best use out of it.