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Sun, 28 May 2017
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Science & Technology


Dogs can 'talk' to humans, says new study

© Christopher Pledger
Dogs have a surprising ability to make humans understand what their barks and growls mean, a study has shown.

Women were better than men at recognising when a dog was being playful or threatening, or feeling fear, scientists discovered.

For the study, 40 volunteers listened to different growls recorded from 18 dogs that were guarding their food, facing a threatening stranger, or playing a tug-of-war game.

Overall, participants correctly classified 63 per cent of the growl samples - significantly more than would be expected by guesswork alone, said the researchers.

Each growl type was also recognised above chance level. The human listeners identified 81 per cent of the "play" growls but were less good at recognising food guarding and threatening growls.

Dr Tamas Farago and his team from Eotvos Lorand University in Hungary wrote in the journal Royal Society Open Science: "Participants associated the correct contexts with the growls above chance.


Researchers find more evidence linking changes in the prefrontal cortex to psychopathic behavior

© LANBO/Shutterstock.com
Researchers have added to a growing body of evidence linking criminal psychopathy and changes in the prefrontal cortex of the brain.

After scanning the brains of 124 inmates in the US, the team found that psychopathic traits such as a lack of empathy and impulsive antisocial behaviour were associated with larger than average grey matter volumes in the prefrontal cortex.

The find doesn't necessarily mean changes in the prefrontal cortex can cause psychopathy or vice versa - correlation does not equal causation, after all.

But it's not the first study to connect changes in the prefrontal cortex to psychopathy, and it suggests a link worth investigating further - particularly if it could help researchers find ways to better predict who might be at risk of displaying psychopathic traits and intervening before they commit a crime.


Narwal mystery solved with drone footage

Rarely has footage of fishing caused such a stir in the scientific community.

However, the aerial video of a pod of Narwhals using their long tusks, which has earned them the nickname Unicorn of the Sea, to knock some Arctic cod senseless and easier for consumption has drawn attention from around the globe.

"There's been a debate for 400 years about what those tusks are used for," said University of Windsor assistant biology professor Nigel Hussey, who was part of the team of researchers who shot the video using drones.

"It's an iconic animal because of what is essentially an erupted tooth. There's been many hypothesis, but no one has observed or proven anything specifically.

"This footage is the first time we have a direct observation of the tusk being used for a specific behaviour."

Bizarro Earth

Study finds loss of Central American tropical forests links to cocaine money-laundering - dubbed 'Narco-deforestation'

© Oregon State University
Deforested land. Central American forests are giving way to pasture land for cattle ranches.
Central American tropical forests are beginning to disappear at an alarming rate, threatening the livelihood of indigenous peoples there and endangering some of the most biologically diverse ecosystems in North America. The culprit? Cocaine.

Central American tropical forests are beginning to disappear at an alarming rate, threatening the livelihood of indigenous peoples there and endangering some of the most biologically diverse ecosystems in North America.

The culprit? Cocaine.

The problem is not the cultivation of the coca plant -- which is processed into cocaine -- that is causing this "narco-deforestation." It results from people throughout the spectrum of the drug trade purchasing enormous amounts of land to launder their illegal profits, researchers say.

Ice Cube

Mysterious flashes of light from Earth captured by NASA's EPIC satellite

© NASA/NOAA/U.S. Air Force
An image from the EPIC instrument aboard DSCOVR, taken on Dec. 3, 2015, shows a glint over central South America (circled in red).
One million miles from Earth, a NASA camera is capturing unexpected flashes of light reflecting off our planet.

The homeward-facing instrument on NOAA's Deep Space Climate Observatory, or DSCOVR, launched in 2015, caught hundreds of these flashes over the span of a year. NASA's Earth Polychromatic Imaging Camera (EPIC) instrument aboard DSCOVR is taking almost-hourly images of the sunlit planet from its spot between Earth and the sun. In a new study, scientists deciphered the tiny cause to the big reflections: high-altitude, horizontally oriented ice crystals.

"The source of the flashes is definitely not on the ground," said Alexander Marshak, DSCOVR deputy project scientist at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, and lead author of the new study in Geophysical Research Letters, a journal of the American Geophysical Union. "It's definitely ice, and most likely solar reflection off of horizontally oriented particles."


Scientists spot never-before-seen lava waves on Jupiter's volcanic moon Io

The planets have aligned for researchers from UC Berkeley - quite literally.

A rare cosmic alignment enabled scientists to observe, for the first time, waves of lava bubbling across a giant molten lake on Jupiter's moon Io.

The researchers, who published their findings in Nature last week, first noticed the lava floes by observing neighboring moon Europa pass in front of Io in March 2015. Icy Europa blocked the light from volcanic Io and reflected on its icy surface the two never-before-seen waves.

UC Berkeley's Katherine de Kleer, the lead author on the paper, told IFLScience that the waves, which had "different velocities and start times," tell scientists that "there's some complex system underneath the volcano."


Global search finds 'lost' forests covering an area two-thirds the size of Australia

© TERN AusPlots, Author provided
Ground-based observations were a crucial part of the survey
A new global analysis of the distribution of forests and woodlands has "found" 467 million hectares of previously unreported forest - an area equivalent to 60% of the size of Australia.

The discovery increases the known amount of global forest cover by around 9%, and will significantly boost estimates of how much carbon is stored in plants worldwide.

The new forests were found by surveying "drylands" - so called because they receive much less water in precipitation than they lose through evaporation and plant transpiration. As we and our colleagues report today in the journal Science, these drylands contain 45% more forest than has been found in previous surveys.


Possible bright supernova discovered in Cygnus

© Gianluca Masi
New possible supernova AT 2017eaw is shown at the tick marks. The object is located about 2 minutes northwest of the the galaxy's center. The galaxy got its "Fireworks" nickname for all its supernovae. More supernovae have now been discovered here than in any other single galaxy.
Last night, Utah amateur Patrick Wiggins discovered a possible bright supernova in the spiral galaxy NGC 6946 in Cygnus. If confirmed, AT 2017 eaw will become the 10th supernova found in this explosion-rich galaxy in the past century, reaffirming its reputation for fireworks of the grandest kind.

It was Wiggins' third supernova, and he found it by comparing a CCD image made on May 14.24 UT through his 0.35-m f/5.5 reflector near Erda, Utah with one taken several years ago and another from May 12. Nothing showed on either image, leading him to suspect a supernova.

To be sure, he watched the new object for over an hour to see if it moved. Faint asteroids have masqueraded as supernovae before, but this one didn't budge. Italian astronomer Gianluca Masi did a check for known asteroids in the vicinity and none were listed. For the moment then, it appears we have a brand new stellar blowup in our night sky.

Through a combination of good fortune and hard work, Wiggins happened to catch the star during the early stage of the blast. He estimated its magnitude at +12.8. Others have since confirmed the discovery and pinned the star's brightness at +12.6, bright enough to spot in telescopes as small as 6-inches!


New research finds mega-quakes can cause Earth's crust to rip open and snap shut

© Harsha Bhat
This illustration, based on computer models, shows how the hanging wall (right) of a thrust fault can twist away from the foot wall (left) during an earthquake.
Like a crocodile's jaw opening and snapping shut, Earth's crust can rip apart and then violently close back up during an earthquake, a new study finds.The discovery refutes previous claims that this kind of phenomenon was impossible, and the new research could potentially require that current seismic maps be redrawn.

The study focused on a particular paradox associated with thrust faults, a crack in Earth's crust, where geologic forces are slowly pushing a huge slab of continental crust up and over an oceanic layer.

"For a long time, it was assumed that thrust faults, subduction zone faults being a class of such faults, could not have a large amount of slip close to the Earth's surface," said Harsha Bhat, a research scientist at the École Normale Supérieure (ENS) in Paris and co-author of the new study with California Institute of Technology graduate student Vahe Gabuchian.

A dormant hypothesis

The assumption was made because as the continental slab grinds over the oceanic one below, it scrapes off the soft surface clay and leaves it piled up in the subduction zone. Geologists thought that any energy generated from a seismic event within the thrust fault would peter out once it hit the soft clay and that a large slip wouldn't happen near the surface.


Japan's Mt. Fuji had possible simultaneous eruptions in past says researchers

© Akira Baba
An instrument that measures geomagnetism is seen embedded in lava near Mount Fuji.
Mount Fuji may have erupted twice in close succession roughly a thousand years ago, according to a team of researchers at the Yamanashi Prefectural Government Mount Fuji Research Institute who used a geomagnetic dating technique.

Previous research using various methods has revealed that Mount Fuji has erupted 42 times over the last 2,200 years. It appears that there are stretches of time where the volcano erupted every few decades. However, even with estimates using data from sources such as ancient documents and geological surveys, there are still many eruptions that have yet to be dated.

Akira Baba from the Yamanashi research institute and his colleagues collected samples from lava flows at 380 locations around the foot of Mount Fuji, and analyzed the magnetic iron ore in the rock for the first time. When the ore is heated to high temperatures and then cooled, it records the geomagnetic strength and direction of the Earth's magnetic field at that particular time. Lava is heated to roughly 1,000 degrees Celsius during an eruption before cooling, so the scientists can examine the geomagnetic data documented in the ore to estimate when a given eruption occurred.