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Fri, 28 Oct 2016
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Eye 1

Humans use avatars to talk to rats

© University College London
In the film Avatar, humans are linked to genetically engineered bodies so they can communicate more easily with the alien Na'vi. A group of computer scientists in the U.K. is making that a reality - - but with rats.

The team, based at University College London and the University of Barcelona, used a system of movement-tracking software, cameras and laptops, along with a virtual-reality headset. The set-up also included a rat in a pen.

To interact with the rat, a person puts on the VR headset and sees a virtual room. A camera with tracking software picks up the user's movements and duplicates them in a virtual room. Meanwhile another camera looks at the rat. In the virtual room, the (human) user sees another person, which is the avatar of the rat.

As the rat moves, so does its avatar. The tracking software picks up both the movement of the rat around its pen and where its face is pointing and duplicates that in the virtual environment. So the human user sees a person running around the room, with his or her face pointing in the same direction as the rat's is.

Eye 1

Internet snooping GCHQ to data mine Facebook and Twitter for intelligence

© David Goddard/Getty Images
GCHQ: setting up a 'digital fishing net', according to its critics.
Civil liberties fears as eavesdropping agency recruits maths, physics and computing experts to analyse social networks

Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Google+, Pinterest: all of them could be the source of valuable intelligence that the UK's intelligence agencies want to know about - and now government eavesdropping and security agency GCHQ is developing new tools to sift through them for nuggets of useful data.

The Cheltenham-based organisation is recruiting maths, physics and computing experts to devise groundbreaking algorithms that will automatically extract information from huge volumes of speech, text and image content gathered "across the full range of modern communications media".


Tick Tock: New clues about biological clocks and health

© Wikimedia Commons
Genes and proteins run biological clocks and help keep daily rhythms in synch.
After you roll your clocks back by an hour this Sunday, you may feel a bit bleary, maybe even disoriented. That's because your body has its own network of tiny, coordinated biological clocks. These clocks are responsible for our circadian rhythms, the roughly 24-hour cycles of physical, mental and behavioral changes that influence sleep patterns, hormone release, body temperature, hunger and more.

Researchers funded by the National Institutes of Health are identifying the genes and proteins that run biological clocks and figuring out exactly how they help keep daily rhythms in synch. This knowledge could aid the development of remedies for a range of clock-related disorders, from insomnia and jet lag to diabetes.


Elephant speaks Korean out loud

© Current Biology, Stoeger et al
Koshik, an elephant at the Everland Zoo in South Korea, can speak Korean aloud. Here Ashley Stoeger and Daniel Mietchen record his vocalizations.
A zoo elephant in South Korea, can speak Korean out loud, researchers say. The pachyderm is capable of saying "hello," "good," "no," "sit down" and "lie down" - all by using its trunk to do the work of lips in a process scientists don't fully understand.

The elephant likely does not understand the actual meaning of what he says, researchers said.

Past reports have suggested both African and Asian elephants were capable of vocal mimicry like parrots. African elephants have been known to imitate the sound of truck engines, and a male Asian elephant living in a Kazakhstan zoo was said to utter sounds resembling Russian and Kazakh, but that case was never investigated scientifically.

Scientists investigating an Asian elephant known as Koshik say the beast can imitate human speech, pronouncing words in Korean, and those who know the language can readily understand Koshik. He accomplished this in a very unusual way - using his trunk stuck inside his mouth. [Watch Koshik Speak Korean]

Elephants cannot use their lips to make sounds like humans do, since their upper lips are fused with their noses to form their trunks. Instead, Koshik somehow controls the sounds coming from him by moving his trunk inside his throat.

Comet 2

New type of 'space weathering' observed on asteroid Vesta

This image from NASA's Dawn spacecraft features the distinctive crater Canuleia on the giant asteroid Vesta. Canuleia, about six miles (10 kilometers) in diameter, is distinguished by the rays of bright material that streak out from it. There is also a more subdued unnamed crater of about the same size to the northeast. A comparison of these two craters illustrates how freshly excavated materials on Vesta appear quite different from background soils. The image was taken by Dawn's framing camera on Oct. 20, 2011, from an altitude of about 420 miles (680 kilometers).
The surface of the giant asteroid Vesta is weathering in a way that appears to be completely different from any other asteroid yet visited, according to new data recorded by NASA's Dawn spacecraft. This new type of space weathering suggests that there's something about Vesta - perhaps its mineral composition or its position in the solar system - that makes its surface environment fundamentally different from other asteroids studied thus far.

The new data are presented in a paper published Nov. 1, 2012, in the journal Nature.

Space weathering is the term used to describe how the surfaces of airless bodies like asteroids and some moons change over time. The phenomenon was first identified on our own Moon. Soil ejected from fresh impact craters looks brighter than the surrounding background soil, often forming bright rays streaming away from the crater. It wasn't clear at first why newly exposed soil would look different.

As laboratory equipment improved, scientists eventually showed that soils darken over time on the lunar surface because they are exposed to a constant barrage of tiny meteorites as well as energetic particles from the sun known as the solar wind. As these materials interact with the surface, they produce a fine coating of metal nanoparticles that builds up on soil grains over time, darkening the soil. Deeply buried material lacks that coating, so when it's churned up by a large meteorite impact, it has a brighter appearance than the weathered soil.


Scientists offer quantum theory of soul's existence

© news.com.au
Scientific proof: according to the quantum consciousness theory, the soul lives within structures called microtubules that live inside brain cells.
A pair of world-renowned quantum scientists say they can prove the existence of the soul.

American Dr Stuart Hameroff and British physicist Sir Roger Penrose developed a quantum theory of consciousness asserting that our souls are contained inside structures called microtubules which live within our brain cells.

Their idea stems from the notion of the brain as a biological computer, "with 100 billion neurons and their axonal firings and synaptic connections acting as information networks".

Dr Hameroff, Professor Emeritus at the Departments of Anesthesiology and Psychology and Director of the Centre of Consciousness Studies at the University of Arizona, and Sir Roger have been working on the theory since 1996.

They argue that our experience of consciousness is the result of quantum gravity effects inside these microtubules - a process they call orchestrated objective reduction (Orch-OR).

In a near-death experience the microtubules lose their quantum state but the information within them is not destroyed. Or in layman's terms, the soul does not die but returns to the universe.


Leaks found in Earth's protective shield

© AOES Medialab
When Earth’s magnetic field and the interplanetary magnetic field are aligned, for example in a northward orientation as indicated by the white arrow in this graphic, Kelvin–Helmholtz waves are generated at low (equatorial) latitudes.
Our planet's protective magnetic bubble may not be as protective as scientists had thought. Small breaks in Earth's magnetic field almost continuously let in the solar wind - the stream of magnetic, energized plasma launched by the sun toward the planets - new research has found.

"The solar wind can enter the magnetosphere at different locations and under different magnetic field conditions that we hadn't known about before," Melvyn Goldstein, an astrophysicist at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, said in a statement.

Charged particles in the solar wind can interrupt GPS signals and power systems, as well as create dazzling auroras.

The magnetosphere is the planet's first line of defense against the solar wind. Scientists knew that this plasma stream occasionally breached the magnetosphere near the equator, where the Earth's magnetic field is roughly parallel to the magnetic field in the solar wind. The new study, published Aug. 29 in the Journal of Geophysical Research, found that these breaks can happen under a wider range of conditions.

"That suggests there is a 'sieve-like' property of the magnetopause [the outer edge of the magnetosphere] in allowing the solar wind to continuously flow into the magnetosphere," Goldstein said.


Witches, Comets and Planetary Cataclysms

© Dot Connector Magazine
This article was first published in The Dot Connector Magazine, official publication of Sott.net.

When you think of Halloween, what is the first image that comes to mind? I took a little informal poll among my friends, family and associates. Guess what image came in first? Jack-o-lanterns! Bet you thought I was going to say "witches". Well, I sure thought it would be witches, but they only came in a close second!..

When I think of Halloween, I think of grade-school art projects where we cut out silhouettes of witches to paste onto large yellow moons made of construction paper. The witch was always on a broom with her black dress flying in the wind, accompanied by a black cat sitting on the back of the broom. I wondered even then how the cat managed to stay on and why anybody would think that straddling a broomstick as a seat would be even remotely comfortable.


Voyager 1 detects weirdness at Solar System edge

Voyager 1 is the most distant man-made object and is thought to have recently escaped the sun's sphere of influence. The probe, launched 35 years ago, is therefore mankind's first interstellar vehicle careening into the vast expanse of space between the stars.

Needless to say, as one of two deep space probes launched in 1977, Voyager 1 has explored previously unknown regions of the solar system, making groundbreaking discoveries as it went. Now, in a new paper published in the Journal of Geophysical Research, scientists analyzing data streaming from the spacecraft have uncovered a small mystery right at the solar system's magnetic boundary with the interstellar medium. She may be old, but you can't keep a good probe down.

As the sun travels through the galaxy, it carries its magnetic field with it, creating a magnetic "bubble" -- the heliosphere -- that all planets, spacecraft and people live inside. Until recently, Voyager 1 (and her sister probe Voyager 2) have also existed completely inside the sun's environment. Both probes could detect the high energy particles streaming from the sun and they 'felt' the solar magnetic field. At time of writing, Voyager 1 is nearly 122 AU from the sun (over three times the average Pluto-sun distance) and it takes over 17 hours for a signal to travel from the probe to Earth.

So, in an effort to detect when the Voyager probes might exit the heliosphere, scientists have kept a watchful eye on two key pieces of data -- particle energy counts and magnetic field strength (and orientation).

Comet 2

Incoming! Tunguska-class bolide to miss Earth by just 22,500km on 15 February 2013

Asteroid 2012 DA14 will pass by Earth at a distance of 22,500km on 15 February 2013. How long before one of these things hits?
An asteroid the size of a city block is due to come whizzing past Earth closer than any other of its size in recorded history in February next year, according to astronomers.

The asteroid, referred to as 2012 DA14, has a diameter of approximately 45m and an estimated mass of 130,000 tonnes. It was discovered at the start of 2012 and is set to travel between the Earth and our geostationary communication satellites on 15 February 2013. At a distance of just 22,500km this will be the closest asteroid 'fly by' in recorded history.

Asteroid and comet researchers will be gathering at the University of Central Florida (UCF) in Orlando, U.S., to watch the event, but experts say there is no chance of a collision - this time.