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Wed, 18 Jan 2017
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Science & Technology


People who learn a second language later in life are more likely to develop synesthesia

People with synesthesia experience the sensory world in a unique way — for example, they "taste" words or "hear" colors. Now, new research suggests that people who learn a second language but aren't exposed to that second language very early in life are more likely to have this sensory-switching ability than those who are natively bilingual.

"Groups of people with different linguistic backgrounds have different rates of synesthesia — and quite different rates," said study co-author Marcus Watson, an experimental psychologist at York University in Toronto. "It ranges from 0 percent to about 5 percent depending on what their language background is."

The findings bolster a theory that synesthesia — the bizarre brain phenomenon in which one sensory or cognitive experience is automatically triggered by another — may develop to improve learning in complicated, ruled-based tasks such as mastering reading, music theory and time telling.

Comment: More on the mysteries of synesthesia:

Ice Cube

Scientists now warn of new Ice Age as temperatures plummet - 80°F in Russia

Extreme cold and snow pound the northern hemisphere as some scientists warn of the potential for ice age conditions.
Some impressive winter events have been taking place all across the northern hemisphere lately. Especially eastern and southeastern Europe have been pounded by massive snowfalls and tremendously cold temperatures. Turkey has been buried by heavy snows and extreme temperatures have gripped the entire USA and vast areas of Russia.

The global warming climate appears to have been hacked by natural factors.
  • In Russia Moscow celebrated the coldest orthodox Christmas in 125 years.
  • Snowfall paralyzed the city of Istanbul, Turkey.
  • Massive snow falls across the Balkans, Italy and Greece.
  • Dozens of Europeans have since frozen to death.
  • Northern Albania villages have been cut off by 120 cm of snow.
  • A temperature of -62°C (-80°F) was recorded in Chanty-Mansijsk (Russia).
Arctic conditions spread deep into the Mediterranean

These are all odd events when considering the "consensus" forecasts made 15 years ago, which warned that snow and ice would become rare.

In fact many scientists warned that Mediterranean conditions would spread into northern Europe. Lately, however, just the opposite has happened: Arctic conditions have plunged down into the Mediterranean!

Even worse, there is no end in site for the harsh European winter conditions, German mass circulation daily Bild writes here.

Comet 2

Another close shave: Asteroid discovered 4 days ago whizzes past Earth

© Erik Simonsen / Getty Images
An asteroid between 11 to 34 meters across (36 to 111ft), roughly the size of 10 jumbo African elephants, made a remarkably close approach to Earth on Monday morning, passing by at a distance only half that of the Moon.

According to the Slooh Observatory, the space rock, dubbed 2017 AG13, was moving at about 10 miles per second, making it hard to spot with a telescope.

"This is moving very quickly, very nearby to us," Eric Edelman, an astronomer with Slooh, said during a live broadcast of the surprise flyby at 7:47am ET on January 9.


Earth's Moon Formed in 'Moonlet' Mash-Up After Many Earth Impacts

© Hagai Perets; real images of Mars and Ganymede and an artist’s image of a planet courtesy of NASA were used in the picture construction
An artistic depiction of a collision between two planetary bodies that will form a new moon, while a pre-existing moon already orbits the proto-Earth
Earth's moon may be the product of many small moonlets that merged after multiple objects as big as Mars collided with Earth, leaving disks of planetary debris orbiting the planet, a new study suggests.

This idea that multiple impacts led to the moon's birth challenges the most prevalent theory of lunar formation, which suggests that one giant impact led to the formation of the moon.

The new, multiple-impact hypothesis suggests that about 20 moon- to Mars-size objects struck the Earth, flinging debris from the planet into orbit. There, the debris formed disks around the Earth that looked somewhat like Saturn's rings. Over centuries, debris in several disks accreted to form moonlets that migrated farther and farther from the Earth due to tidal interactions. Eventually, the moonlets settled at a distance known as the Hill radius, coalescing to form one big moon.

Comment: See also:


Amazon's 'Mothership': Retailer Gets Patent for Mega-Drone

© USPTO.gov
Cobble a group of drones together and you get a "collective drone," capable of lifting heavier burdens.
What happens when you connect a flock of flying drones? You get a "collective unmanned aerial vehicle" that's capable of lifting heavier burdens and flying greater distances than smaller drones can, according to a patent recently granted to online retailer Amazon.

The Amazon Technologies Inc. patent describes a large and robust flying drone made up of numerous smaller drones, designed to make long-distance flights or to carry heavy packages.

According to the patent, filed Feb. 19, 2015, and granted Dec. 29, 2016, individual modules could detach from the collective drone body once they were no longer required, and operate independently to deliver smaller burdens.

Comment: See also:

Fingerprint and eye-scanning drones to make deliveries in UAE
Amazon delivery drones: Jeff Bezos promises half-hour shipping soon
Where Is The Outrage? US government to deploy thousands of drones over US cities

Microscope 1

Researchers create bio-compatible synthetic spider silk that could be used in regenerative medicine

© Lena Holm
A nest of artificial spider silk fibers.
Supple, light and biodegradable but stronger than steel: researchers said Monday they have succeeded in producing synthetic spider silk, one of nature's strongest materials.

Refined through the long process of evolution, the silk threads spun by spiders are 30 times thinner than a human hair and stronger even than Kevlar, a synthetic fibre used in making bullet-proof vests.

Scientists have long strived to copy the unique properties of the threads—essentially long chains of linked protein molecules.

When spinning, the spider secretes a protein solution through a narrow duct, along which the acidity changes and pressure increases, causing the molecules to link up and form chains.

But spiders are notoriously difficult to farm—producing small quantities of silk, and with a propensity for eating each other.

Now a team from Sweden said they have managed to copy the spider's feat using proteins in E.coli bacteria and a "spinning apparatus" which mimics the pH changes that spiders use to make silk.

Comment: Mother Nature's bio-superlens: Scientists achieve world first by using spider silk to view previously 'invisible' structures


SpaceX delays first Falcon 9 launch since explosion

© Joe Skipper / Reuters
Bad weather is blamed on the delay.
SpaceX has pushed back the latest Falcon 9 launch to January 14. Originally scheduled for January 8, the launch is its first since a rocket exploded in September 2016, destroying US$200 million worth of communication satellites in the process. SpaceX is blaming bad weather at the California launch site for the delay, with high winds and rain forecast at the Vandenberg Air Force Base in the coming days.

Iridium Corporate, whose satellites are being carried on board the Falcon 9, also tweeted about the delay. Ten satellites from Iridium are scheduled to be launched on Falcon 9 rockets by the end of 2017. On September 1 last year the Falcon 9 exploded during its launch in Florida, destroying a $200 million Amos-6 satellite belonging to Israeli company Spacecom.

An investigation found that a failed canister of helium inside one of the rockets' oxygen tanks exploded upon launch. In a statement SpaceX said changes would be made to the canisters' design to prevent future issues. A launch rehearsal was completed without problems on January 5. SpaceX is scheduled to deliver payloads on the Falcon 9 in the coming months, including a delivery to the International Space Station (ISS) on February 8.


Liquid iron - Clenched by iron bands

© ESA/DTU Space
A schematic of Earth’s electrical connections.
Is it liquid metal that circulates below the surface?

On November 23, 2013 the European Space Agency (ESA) launched the Swarm mission satellites from the Plesetsk Cosmodrome in northern Russia. Swarm consists of three identical orbiters, Alpha, Bravo and Charlie, placed in two different orbital planes. Alpha and Bravo fly side-by-side in an 87.4º inclination at an altitude of 450 kilometers (which will slowly decay to 300 kilometers), while Charlie was placed in an 88º inclination at 530 kilometers. All three are in a polar orbit. Propellant on the three satellites is expected to last about five and a half years. They will then burn up in the atmosphere.

Among other instruments, each satellite is equipped with a vector field magnetometer and electric field sensor, so that Swarm can measure variations in the electromagnetic fields generated by Earth's oceans and lithosphere. Since Earth's magnetic field is thought to be created by an "electric dynamo" thousands of kilometers below the surface, there is no way to "see" what is taking place there except indirectly.

Swarm mission manager, Rune Floberghagen wrote:
"We have very few ways of probing deep into the structure of our planet, but Swarm is making extremely valuable contributions to understanding Earth's interior..."
Earth's electromagnetic field does not originate from a single source. Instead different areas generate greater or lesser fluctuating electromagnetism—exactly how it changes is not known. Swarm analyzes differences in the time signatures among the satellites, as well as electromagnetic flux density surrounding Earth's fields, in order to determine what factors influence those changing fields.

Light Saber

US Air Force petitions for laser-based jet fighter weapons

The US Air Force (USAF) has issued a request for proposals (RFP) related to its efforts to field a laser-based self-protection system for its tactical combat aircraft.

The laser will be housed in a supersonic flight-capable pod to be developed under the Laser Pod Research and Development (LPRD) contract.

The RFP, posted by the Air Force Research Laboratory, Directed Energy Directorate, Laser Division (AFRL/RDL) on the Federal Business Opportunities (FedBizOpps) website on 5 January, seeks research proposals for the service's Laser Advancements for Next-generation Compact Environments (LANCE) project, which is geared at integrating a defensive laser weapon aboard current and future fighter-sized aircraft.

Comment: See also:


Spectacular collision of suns will create new star in night sky in 2022

The star will appear in the constellation Cygnus, also know as the Northern Cross
At the beginning of the 3rd century civil war raged in Britain as the Roman emperor Septimius Severus sought to quell unrest in the north.

But unknown to the fighting cohorts and Caledonian tribes, high above their heads two stars were coming together in a huge cataclysmic explosion.

Now 1800 years later the light from that collision will finally arrive on Earth creating a new star in the night sky - dubbed the 'Boom Star - in an incredibly rare event which is usually only spotted through telescopes.

Before their meeting the two stars were too dim to be seen by the naked eye, but in 2022, the newly formed Red Nova will burn so brightly in the constellation Cygnus that everyone will be able to to see it.

"For the first time in history, parents will be able to point to a dark spot in the sky and say, 'Watch, kids, there's a star hiding in there, but soon it's going to light up," said Dr Matt Walhout, dean for research and scholarship at Calvin College, Michigan, where the prediction was made.