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Mon, 27 Mar 2017
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NASA scientists reveal how 'spiders' grow on Mars

© NASA/JPL-Caltech/Univ. of Arizona
These five images from the HiRISE camera on NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter show different Martian features of progressively greater size and complexity, all thought to result from thawing of seasonal carbon dioxide ice that covers large areas near Mars' south pole during winter.
Erosion-carved troughs that grow and branch during multiple Martian years may be infant versions of larger features known as Martian "spiders," which are radially patterned channels found only in the south polar region of Mars.

Researchers using NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) report the first detection of cumulative growth, from one Martian spring to another, of channels resulting from the same thawing-carbon-dioxide process believed to form the spider-like features.

The spiders range in size from tens to hundreds of yards (or meters). Multiple channels typically converge at a central pit, resembling the legs and body of a spider. For the past decade, researchers have checked in vain with MRO's High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) camera to see year-to-year changes in them.

"We have seen for the first time these smaller features that survive and extend from year to year, and this is how the larger spiders get started," said Ganna Portyankina of the University of Colorado, Boulder. "These are in sand-dune areas, so we don't know whether they will keep getting bigger or will disappear under moving sand."

Dunes appear to be a factor in how the baby spiders form, but they may also keep many from persisting through the centuries needed to become full-scale spiders. The amount of erosion needed to sculpt a typical spider, at the rate determined from observing active growth of these smaller troughs, would require more than a thousand Martian years. That is according to an estimate by Portyankina and co-authors in a recent paper in the journal Icarus. One Martian year lasts about 1.9 Earth years.

"Much of Mars looks like Utah if you stripped away all vegetation, but 'spiders' are a uniquely Martian landform," said Candice Hansen of the Planetary Science Institute, Tucson, Arizona, a co-author of the report.

Comment: Other incredible NASA images from Mars' south pole include these giant 'worm' like features:

© NASA/JPL-Caltech/Univ. of Arizona
The bizarre 'worms of mars': The polar cap is made from carbon dioxide (dry ice), which does not occur naturally on Earth.
Another image of the Martian landscape created by the photographer Michael Benson .

© Michael Benson/NASA/JPL/University of Arizona/Kinetikon Pictures


Another giant asteroid is about to brush by Earth on St. Patrick's day

© Shutterstock
A massive space rock is swinging by to say hello this Patrick's Day.

The "near Earth asteroid" - which was discovered by NASA earlier this year - will brush past on Friday.

NASA monitors "near Earth asteroids" or NEOs to predict possible collisions.

This particular space rock is dubbed 2017 EG3.

Potentially Hazardous Asteroids (PHAs) are space rocks larger than approximately 100m that can come closer to Earth than 0.05 AU.


Quantum Theory: Can it explain why jokes are funny?

© Jokes | LearnEnglish | British Council
Some call this "pun"ishment.
Why was 6 afraid of 7? Because 789!

Whether this pun makes you giggle or groan in pain, your reaction is a consequence of the ambiguity of the joke. Thus far, models have not been able to fully account for the complexity of humor or exactly why we find puns and jokes funny, but a research article recently published in Frontiers in Physics suggests a novel approach: quantum theory.

Aiming to answer the question of what kind of formal theory is needed to model the cognitive representation of a joke, researchers suggest that a quantum theory approach might be a contender. In their paper, they outline a quantum inspired model of humor, hoping that this new approach may succeed at a more nuanced modeling of the cognition of humor than previous attempts and lead to the development of a full-fledged, formal quantum theory model of humor. This initial model was tested in a study where participants rated the funniness of verbal puns, as well as the funniness of variants of these jokes (e.g. the punchline on its own, the set-up on its own). The results indicate that apart from the delivery of information, something else is happening on a cognitive level that makes the joke as a whole funny whereas its deconstructed components are not, and which makes a quantum approach appropriate to study this phenomenon.


Neuroscience may be on the wrong track in understanding the brain, a radical rethink is needed

© Justin Pickard/Flickr, CC BY-SA
Has neuroscience been on the wrong track for centuries?
Understanding the human brain is arguably the greatest challenge of modern science. The leading approach for most of the past 200 years has been to link its functions to different brain regions or even individual neurons (brain cells). But recent research increasingly suggests that we may be taking completely the wrong path if we are to ever understand the human mind.

The idea that the brain is made up of numerous regions that perform specific tasks is known as "modularity". And, at first glance, it has been successful. For example, it can provide an explanation for how we recognise faces by activating a chain of specific brain regions in the occipital and temporal lobes. Bodies, however, are processed by a different set of brain regions. And scientists believe that yet other areas - memory regions - help combine these perceptual stimuli to create holistic representations of people. The activity of certain brain areas has also been linked to specific conditions and diseases.

The reason this approach has been so popular is partly due to technologies which are giving us unprecedented insight into the brain. Functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), which tracks changes in blood flow in the brain, allows scientists to see brain areas light up in response to activities - helping them map functions. Meanwhile, Optogenetics, a technique that uses genetic modification of neurons so that their electrical activity can be controlled with light pulses - can help us to explore their specific contribution to brain function.


Planetary scientists are discovering volcanoes everywhere they look

Jupiter’s moon Io is the most volcanically active place in the solar system thanks to a rough tug from mighty Jupiter that warps the planet’s interior structure.
Our closest planetary neighbor shares a surprising feature with Earth: volcanoes. A new study, published February 1st in the journal Science Advances, revealed interesting new details about the volcanic history of Mars. Thomas Lapen, first author of the paper and Professor of Geology at the University of Houston, told Astronomy that their analysis of Martian meteorites showed that volcanic activity on Mars has been ongoing since at least 2.4 to 0.15 billion years ago—and likely continues today.

Given that the meteorites Lapen and his group studied came from a single ejection site on Mars, they reveal over 2 billion years of stacked lava flows, Lapen said. The discovery could help scientists decipher more about how often volcanoes erupted on Mars, as well as time periods when they were most active.

Lapen explained that the type of volcanic activity that occurs on Mars is called basaltic volcanism, which is similar to the type of volcanism seen, for example, in volcanoes in Hawaii. These types of volcanoes produce fluid lava and are rarely explosive.

But Mars isn't the only extraterrestrial body with volcanoes. Volcanoes—in various forms—are also found on other planets, moons, and even asteroids. Take, for instance, Jupiter's moon Io, which has active volcanoes that spew gas and melted rock, or Venus, which is covered with over 1,000 volcanoes, according to NASA. It's not yet determined whether these venusian volcanoes are active or not.


Supernova spotted in constellation Lupus

© Racheal Beaton/Carnegie Institution for Science
When most people hear the word supernova, they envision a massive star reaching the end of its life and exploding outwards to leave a ghostly remnant in its place. This is called a Type II supernova — the spectacular Supernova 1987A, which recently celebrated its 30th anniversary, was a Type II.

Alternatively, a Type Ia supernova occurs when a white dwarf, the remnant of a Sun-like star, grows too massive after stripping a binary companion star of its outer layers. When the white dwarf reaches a critical mass, a runaway fusion reaction occurs in its core and the star explodes in a Type Ia supernova. Such a supernova has just been spotted occurring in a galaxy about 55 million light-years away.

Announced by Rachael Beaton at the the Observatories of the Carnegie Institution for Science in Pasadena, CA, and known as 2017cbv (though Beaton has nicknamed it Bob), the explosion was spotted in NGC 5643, a spiral galaxy in the constellation Lupus.

The area of the sky it inhabits is also part of the area covered by the Carnegie-Irvine Galaxy Survey, a project aimed at gathering optical and near-infrared images of bright Southern Hemisphere galaxies. NGC 5643 was also the home galaxy of SN 2013aa, which occurred in early 2013.


Super humans that are sexier, stronger and smarter will arrive by 2029 as brains begin to fuse with machines

© 20th C Fox
Science fact? Harnessing the power of the mind was a favourite of science fiction, including Star Trek's Vulcan mind meld

Technological singularity will turn us into super humans some time in the next 12 years, according to a Google expert.

This might sound like science fiction, but Google's Director of Engineering, Ray Kurzweil has made 147 predictions since the 1990s and has an 86 per cent success rate.

Kurzweil says when we live in a cybernetic society we will have computers in our brains and machines will be smarter than human beings.

He claims this is already happening with technology - especially with our addiction to our phones - and says the next step is to wire this technology into our brains.

Comment: Read more:

Most of our history is 'the history of stupidity': Stephen Hawking lectures about artificial intelligence

The dangerous and growing corporate monopoly on artificial intelligence by tech giants


Tiny satellite with miniature laboratory helps scientists carry out remote experiments in space

© Amir Cohen / Reuters
Israeli-Swiss company SpacePharma's miniature laboratory is seen at their research and development site in Herzliya, Israel
Orbiting the earth at more than 500 kilometres (300 miles), a tiny satellite with a laboratory shrunk to the size of a tissue box is helping scientists carry out experiments that take gravity out of the equation.

The technology was launched into space last month by SpacePharma, a Swiss-Israeli company, which on Thursday announced that its first experiments have been completed successfully.

In space, with hardly any interference from earth's gravity, cells and molecules behave differently, helping researchers make discoveries in fields from medicine to agriculture.

Nestle turned to zero gravity - or what scientists refer to as microgravity - to perfect the foam in its chocolate mousse and coffee, while drugmakers like Eli Lilly have used it to improve drug designs.

Evil Rays

Mind-controlled cats?! Incredible spy technologies that are real

© Stokkete/Shutterstock
Bond, James Bond

Killer umbrellas, stick-on fingerprints and lock-picking cellphones — James Bond and his nemeses certainly used their share of bizarre spy gadgets over the years.

But many of the most far-out devices seen in old movies have been made obsolete by incredible leaps in today's consumer technology, said Vince Houghton, a historian and curator at the International Spy Museum in Washington, D.C.

"A modern smartphone does more than most people could do 10 years ago on 10 different things," Houghton told Live Science.

For instance, nowadays, "wires," like those used to catch mobsters plotting on tape, are now entirely wireless, and they're so tiny that they can be concealed in earrings, buttons and even patches under the skin, Houghton said.

And although most of today's cutting-edge spy technology is classified, knowledge of a few bizarre techniques does get leaked. From eavesdropping techniques to programmed kitties, here are some of the most incredible real-world spy technologies.


Clean meat? Memphis Meats serves up chicken produced from cells in lab

© Quartz
To lure people put off by the freakiness of lab-made meat, the industry wants to call it "clean food"
'Clean meat' developers say it avoids towering costs of feeding, caring for livestock; Tyson Foods takes note

A Bay Area food-technology startup says it has created the world's first chicken strips grown from self-reproducing cells without so much as ruffling a feather.

And the product pretty much tastes like chicken, according to people who were offered samples Tuesday in San Francisco, before Memphis Meats Inc.'s formal unveiling on Wednesday.

Scientists, startups and animal-welfare activists believe the new product could help to revolutionize the roughly $200 billion U.S. meat industry. Their goal: Replace billions of cattle, hogs and chickens with animal meat they say can be grown more efficiently and humanely in stainless-steel bioreactor tanks.

Comment: Inside the meat lab: The future of food