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Fri, 28 Oct 2016
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Science & Technology


Elon Musk's dreams for human habitats on Mars

© Refugio Ruiz / Associated Press
SpaceX Chief Executive Elon Musk answered questions about his plans to send humans to Mars in a Reddit Ask Me Anything session Sunday afternoon that prompted thousands of reader comments.

The question-and-answer session was intended as a follow-up to Musk's speech at the International Astronautical Congress in Guadalajara, Mexico, last month, in which he described plans to send up to 1 million people to Mars and turn humans into a multiplanetary species within 40 to 100 years.

His vision involves massive, reusable rocket boosters launching spaceships into a "parking orbit" where they are later refueled by propellant tankers. Eventually 1,000 spaceships carrying 100 people each would embark en masse for the Red Planet.

But there are fewer details on what they would do once they arrive. Musk has said a refueling station would be established on Mars to harvest methane fuel for the rocket so settlers could come back to Earth.

Eye 1

Big Brother: Google Has Quietly Dropped Ban on Personally Identifiable Web Tracking

When Google bought the advertising network DoubleClick in 2007, Google founder Sergey Brin said that privacy would be the company's "number one priority when we contemplate new kinds of advertising products."

And, for nearly a decade, Google did in fact keep DoubleClick's massive database of web-browsing records separate by default from the names and other personally identifiable information Google has collected from Gmail and its other login accounts.

But this summer, Google quietly erased that last privacy line in the sand - literally crossing out the lines in its privacy policy that promised to keep the two pots of data separate by default. In its place, Google substituted new language that says browsing habits "may be" combined with what the company learns from the use Gmail and other tools.

The change is enabled by default for new Google accounts. Existing users were prompted to opt-in to the change this summer.

Comment: Google continues to drive to collect information about all your online activities, at the moment so it can sell the data or target advertising to you. But it is data that is always available if the government comes calling, and it is a very complete picture. Yes, you can adjust your privacy settings, but many people do not know to do this and ultimately you are relying on the honesty of the company to not track your data if you so ask.


New research shows the universe may not be expanding at an accelerating pace

© Eurasia Review
Five years ago, the Nobel Prize in Physics was awarded to three astronomers for their discovery, in the late 1990s, that the universe is expanding at an accelerating pace.

Their conclusions were based on analysis of Type Ia supernovae - the spectacular thermonuclear explosion of dying stars - picked up by the Hubble space telescope and large ground-based telescopes. It led to the widespread acceptance of the idea that the universe is dominated by a mysterious substance named 'dark energy' that drives this accelerating expansion.

Now, a team of scientists led by Professor Subir Sarkar of Oxford University's Department of Physics has cast doubt on this standard cosmological concept. Making use of a vastly increased data set - a catalogue of 740 Type Ia supernovae, more than ten times the original sample size - the researchers have found that the evidence for acceleration may be flimsier than previously thought, with the data being consistent with a constant rate of expansion.

The study is published in the Nature journal Scientific Reports.

Professor Sarkar, who also holds a position at the Niels Bohr Institute in Copenhagen, said, "The discovery of the accelerating expansion of the universe won the Nobel Prize, the Gruber Cosmology Prize, and the Breakthrough Prize in Fundamental Physics. It led to the widespread acceptance of the idea that the universe is dominated by "dark energy" that behaves like a cosmological constant - this is now the "standard model" of cosmology."


Study reveals new earthquake hazard in Afghanistan-Pakistan border region

© University of Miami (UM) Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science
Figure 1: a) Western India plate boundary zone, includes the Chaman fault and Kabul and b) ground velocity field of the Ghazaband fault and Quetta obtained from SAR imagery of the Envisat satellite.
The uniquely designed study helps to understand earthquake hazard in politically unstable region

MIAMI—University of Miami (UM) Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science scientists have revealed alarming conclusions about the earthquake hazard in the Afghanistan-Pakistan border region. The new study focused on two of the major faults in the region— the Chaman and Ghazaband faults.

"Typically earthquake hazard research is a result of extensive ground-based measurements," said the study's lead author Heresh Fattahi, a UM Rosenstiel School alumni. "These faults, however, are in a region where the political situation makes these ground-based measurements dangerous and virtually impossible."


Bizarro Earth

Large ninth planet in distant orbit must exist, scientists say

© Caltech/R. Hurt (IPAC)
Artist's illustration of Planet Nine, a world about 10 times more massive than Earth that may lie undiscovered in the outer solar system.
Planet Nine's days of lurking unseen in the dark depths of the outer solar system may be numbered.

The hypothetical giant planet, which is thought to be about 10 times more massive than Earth, will be discovered within 16 months or so, astronomer Mike Brown predicted.

"I'm pretty sure, I think, that by the end of next winter — not this winter, next winter — I think that there'll be enough people looking for it that ... somebody's actually going to track this down," Brown said during a news conference Wednesday (Oct. 19) at a joint meeting of the American Astronomical Society's Division for Planetary Sciences (DPS) and the European Planetary Science Congress (EPSC) in Pasadena, California. Brown said that eight to 10 groups are currently looking for the planet.

Comment: Here at SOTT, we have been postulating the existence of a twin sun, a brown dwarf, to account for anomalies that could be explained by our solar system being a 'binary star system'.

The consequences of such an object (nemesis) smashing in and out through the Oort Cloud and the Kuiper Belt are chronicled in our Fire in the Sky section, and our Comets and Catastrophes series. The historical consequences can be reviewed in the book series, The Secret History of the World, by Laura Knight Jadczyk.

Below is a video we have published on the subject:


Brand-new aspect of our immune system discovered by scientist

© Imperial College London
Thousands of new immune system signals have been uncovered with potential implications for immunotherapy, autoimmune diseases and vaccine development.

The researchers behind the finding say it is the biological equivalent of discovering a new continent.

Our cells regularly break down proteins from our own bodies and from foreign bodies, such as viruses and bacteria. Small fragments of these proteins, called epitopes, are displayed on the surface of the cells like little flags so that the immune system can scan them. If they are recognised as foreign, the immune system will destroy the cell to prevent the spread of infection.

In a new study, researchers have discovered that around one third of all the epitopes displayed for scanning by the immune system are a type known as 'spliced' epitopes.

These spliced epitopes were thought to be rare, but the scientists have now identified thousands of them by developing a new method that allowed them to map the surface of cells and identify a myriad of previously unknown epitopes.

The findings should help scientists to better understand the immune system, including autoimmune diseases, as well as provide potential new targets for immunotherapy and vaccine design.


ExoMars 2016 mission: Lander chute malfunction, signal lost before landing

© ESA Robotic Exploration of Mars / YouTube
Despite the Schiaparelli test-landing sequence not going completely as expected, the ESA considers its ExoMars 2016 mission a success. The lander stopped communicating with the TGO orbiter after detaching its parachute.

The Schiaparelli reached the Mars surface, but the European Space Agency (ESA) is yet not sure about its current condition, journalists were told during a press conference on Thursday. Nevertheless the craft translated a huge amount of data from its sensors to the orbiter during the descent. The ESA said that since the landing was meant as a technology test, it considered it's the Schiaparelli part of the mission a success despite the loss of signal.

The landing sequence deviated from the nominal expectations during the transition from the parachute phase to the breaking thruster firing phase, about 50 seconds before the planned soft landing. The thrusters did fire for several seconds, observation from the orbit confirmed, but the ESA was not sure whether all of them fired as planned, the agency told journalists.


9th grader invents device to save children left in hot cars

© Mohammed Makboul
Sara Makboul works on her project in her home in Acworth, Ga.
In June 2014, Justin Ross Harris, then 33, left his 22-month-old son in the car during the workday. After he was charged with murder, the Georgia father's story became one of the most notorious cases highlighting a parent's worst nightmare: forgetting to take a child out of the backseat.

Even if Harris is found innocent, he isn't the only parent who will have to live with knowing his son would still be alive had Harris been more cognizant that day. About 37 children die annually of heatstroke after being left in a car - and the number has already climbed to 35 this year, according to the advocacy group KidsAndCars.org.

A ninth-grader from Acworth, Georgia, wants to ensure that other children won't become part of these statistics.

Sara Makboul, an outgoing, 15-year-old finalist in this year's Discovery Education 3M Young Scientist Challenge, has created a system that could save an infant or child if he or she is left alone in a sweltering car.

Other people, including many young scientists, are trying to solve the same problem as Makboul, but they haven't been very successful, she tells U.S. News. "I realized after my research that people were not actually using [these scientists' inventions] and they weren't actually working."


Vitamin B12 deficiency can now be detected with an optical sensor

Australian researchers have developed a world-first optical sensor that can detect vitamin B12 in diluted human blood -- something they believe is a first step towards a low-cost and portable, vitamin B12 deficiency test.

Previous reviews have concluded that people following a vegan diet may require additional vitamin B12 supplementation to reduce an excess risk of heart disease. Now there's a test that may help.

Vitamin B12 deficiency is associated with an increased risk of dementia and Alzheimer's disease and such a device would enable the tracking of vitamin B12 levels in high-risk patients and early intervention.

It is hoped this will help overcome the limitations of current testing methods which the researchers believe are time-consuming and costly.

The research, developed by academics at the University of Adelaide, uses biophotonics - optical technologies - to analyse and measure biological material.


Scientists discover genetic roots of schizophrenia

UCLA scientists have made a major advance in understanding the biology of schizophrenia.

Using a recently developed technology for analyzing DNA, the scientists found dozens of genes and two major biological pathways that are likely involved in the development of the disorder but had not been uncovered in previous genetic studies of schizophrenia. The work provides important new information about how schizophrenia originates and points the way to more detailed studies -- and possibly better treatments in the future.

Schizophrenia is a chronic, disabling mental illness whose symptoms can include hallucinations, delusions and cognitive problems. The illness afflicts about 1 percent of the human population -- more than 50 million people worldwide. Because the causes of schizophrenia are poorly understood, current medications can help diminish the symptoms but do not cure the disorder.

The study, which is published online in the journal Nature, is likely to have an impact beyond schizophrenia research because it demonstrates a general and potentially powerful new strategy for illuminating the mechanisms of human disease.

Comment: Separate from the genetic causes of schizophrenia, there is much research to suggest that certain types of diet and supplementation could very well help ameliorate its effects now: And then there's vitamin B3.