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Fri, 02 Dec 2016
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Science & Technology


Dutch theoretical physicist's new theory of gravity does away with dark matter

Let's be honest. Dark matter's a pain in the butt. Astronomers have gone to great lengths to explain why it must exist and exist in huge quantities, yet it remains hidden. Unknown. Emitting no visible energy yet apparently strong enough to keep galaxies in clusters from busting free like wild horses, it's everywhere in vast quantities. What is the stuff - axions,WIMPS, gravitinos,Kaluza Klein particles?

Estimated distribution of matter and energy in the universe.
It's estimated that 27% of all the matter in the universe is invisible, while everything from PB&J sandwiches to quasars accounts for just 4.9%. But a new theory of gravity proposed by theoretical physicist Erik Verlinde of the University of Amsterdam found out a way to dispense with the pesky stuff.

Unlike the traditional view of gravity as a fundamental force of nature, Verlinde sees it as an emergent property of space. Emergence is a process where nature builds something large using small, simple pieces such that the final creation exhibits properties that the smaller bits don't. Take a snowflake.

The complex symmetry of a snowflake begins when a water droplet freezes onto a tiny dust particle. As the growing flake falls, water vapor freezes onto this original crystal, naturally arranging itself into a hexagonal (six-sided) structure of great beauty.

The sensation of temperature is another emergent phenomenon, arising from the motion of molecules and atoms.

So too with gravity, which according to Verlinde, emerges from entropy. We all know about entropy and messy bedrooms, but it's a bit more subtle than that. Entropy is a measure of disorder in a system or put another way, the number of different microscopic states a system can be in. One of the coolest descriptions of entropy I've heard has to do with the heat our bodies radiate. As that energy dissipates in the air, it creates a more disordered state around us while at the same time decreasing our own personal entropy to ensure our survival. If we didn't get rid of body heat, we would eventually become disorganized (overheat!) and die.

Cell Phone

Portrait of owner's lifestyle can be created through trace molecules on phone and other personal items

© Kevin Lamarque / Reuters
New research carried out by US scientists has discovered exactly what the molecular data that you leave on your cell can tell about you. And the answer is - well, almost everything.

Scientists at University of California's San Diego School of Medicine and Skaggs School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences say they can now build a comprehensive lifestyle profile for a phone's owner, including details about their diet, health, use of cosmetics, and even the places they've visited.

The results of the study have been published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The cutting-edge technology could be useful for criminal investigations, airport screenings, environmental studies, and medicine, to name just a few applications.However, the study's authors think its potential use in forensics is its primary strength.

"Imagine a scenario where personal belongings such as pens, keys, phones, or handbags are found at an investigative site. It is often valuable to the investigative team that is trying to trace back the belongings to an individual to understand their personal habits, even when DNA evidence is also available," the abstract of the study says.

"Such information could help a criminal investigator narrowing down the owner of an object found at a crime scene, such as a suspect or missing person," it adds.

Snow Globe

Global freezing: 15-year ice age predicted to hit in only 4 years as sun prepares to 'hibernate'

The world could be facing a 15 year winter
A 15-YEAR long mini ice age could be due to hit the Northern hemisphere in just FOUR years as the sun prepares for 'hibernation' - triggering a barrage of cataclysmic events.

A team of experts have warned that huge seismic events, including volcanic eruptions, plunging global temperatures and destabilization of the Earth's crust will become more common after worrying changes to the surface of the Sun were recorded.

It could take up to 15 years for solar activity to return to normal with extreme weather and freezing temperatures continuing until 2035.

The warning will infuriate environmental campaigners who argue by 2030 the world faces increased sea levels and flooding due to glacial melt at the poles.

Solar activity, measured by the appearance of sun spots, has been declining at a greater rate than at any other time in history, it has emerged.

The Sun is now without spots for the first time in five years after 21 days of minimal activity were observed through the course of 2016.

Comment: And It seems as though we are well along in this process as per this climate science blog:
Record Global Cooling Over The Last Eight Months

Over the last eight months, global temperatures over land have cooled a record 1.2 C. November is seeing record cold in Russia and South Australia, so we should see the record cooling trend continue.


As temperatures cool at a record pace, experts say global warming is now unstoppable.

Climate change may be escalating so fast it could be 'game over', scientists warn | The Independent

People in Russia might tend to disagree with this assessment.


Brain implant allows paralyzed ALS patient to operate speech computer with her mind

© UMC Utrecht
At UMC Utrecht, a brain implant has been placed in a patient enabling her to operate a speech computer with her mind. The researchers and the patient worked intensively to get the settings right. She can now communicate at home with her family and caregivers via the implant. That a patient can use this technique at home is unique in the world. This research was published in the New England Journal of Medicine.

Because she suffers from ALS disease, the patient is no longer able to move and speak. Doctors placed electrodes in her brain, and the electrodes pick up brain activity. This enables her to wirelessly control a speech computer that she now uses at home.

"This is a major breakthrough in achieving autonomous communication among severely paralyzed patients whose paralysis is caused by either ALS, a cerebral hemorrhage or trauma," says Professor Nick Ramsey, professor of cognitive neuroscience at the University Medical Center (UMC) Utrecht. "In effect, this patient has had a kind of remote control placed in her head, which enables her to operate a speech computer without the use of her muscles."

Comment: Medical breakthrough: Brain implant allows paralyzed man to regain sense of touch

Cell Phone

Apps responsible for the biggest spike in traffic deaths in 50 years

© Fabrizio Costantini for The New York Times
Brett Hudson installed a Bluetooth system in his 2002 Chevy TrailBlazer to allow hands-free phone calling, but he concedes that the setup is not risk-free. Credit
The messaging app Snapchat allows motorists to post photos that record the speed of the vehicle. The navigation app Waze rewards drivers with points when they report traffic jams and accidents. Even the game Pokémon Go has drivers searching for virtual creatures on the nation's highways.

When distracted driving entered the national consciousness a decade ago, the problem was mainly people who made calls or sent texts from their cellphones. The solution then was to introduce new technologies to keep drivers' hands on the wheel. Innovations since then — car Wi-Fi and a host of new apps — have led to a boom in internet use in vehicles that safety experts say is contributing to a surge in highway deaths.

After steady declines over the last four decades, highway fatalities last year recorded the largest annual percentage increase in 50 years. And the numbers so far this year are even worse. In the first six months of 2016, highway deaths jumped 10.4 percent, to 17,775, from the comparable period of 2015, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

"This is a crisis that needs to be addressed now," Mark R. Rosekind, the head of the agency, said in an interview.

Bizarro Earth

Double tectonic shifts may have teamed in New Zealand's recent earthquake

The powerful earthquake that struck New Zealand was unusual in that a big event on one fault may have immediately triggered a big event on a second fault, experts said on Monday.

An earthquake of magnitude 7.8 pummeled central New Zealand at 12.02 a.m., killing at least two people, damaging roads and buildings and setting off hundreds of strong aftershocks.

"When an earthquake occurs you are changing the stress field immediately, and if there was one fault that was pretty close to breaking, the energy from an earthquake can just tip it over the edge so that may have been what happened today," Adam Pascale, head of Australia's Seismology Research Centre, told Reuters.

New Zealand's GNS Science agency principal scientist Kelvin Barrowman told Radio New Zealand: "It seems like the earthquake was more like two earthquakes, but very closely spaced in time."

What remains unknown, and disconcerting, is whether the high number of aftershocks were just that, or "foreshocks" preceding another large quake.

Comment: Large earthquakes can trigger aftershocks on separate faults within moments causing greater damage


German scientists measure smallest fragment of time

© Benoit Tessier / Reuters
The team measured an event at 850 zeptoseconds

News has never happened so fast: Now scientists have now measured the smallest fragment of time ever observed. A zeptosecond (one trillionth of a billionth of a second) was used to measure an electron escaping its atom for the first time.

A team from the Max Planck Institute of Quantum Optics in Garching, Germany, were studying Albert Einstein's photoelectric effect when they made the quicker than lightning-fast discovery, New Scientist reports.

Firing ultraviolet laser pulses at a helium atom they excited its electrons. A near-infrared laser pulse was also fired at the atom, detecting an escaping electron as soon as it left the atom.


Will tonight's supermoon affect human behavior?

Do not be alarmed if you find yourself struggling to fall asleep tonight, for there could be a perfectly scientific reason for your insomnia. Hovering outside your window will be the biggest and brightest moon the planet has seen since January 1948 - a scientific phenomenon that takes place only when a full moon coincides with the moon being the closest it gets to us on its orbit.

Clouds permitting, the "supermoon" will look around 14 per cent larger and 30 per cent brighter than the average full moon. It will be the closest the moon has been to Earth for more than 60 years, and the closest it will come until November 2034.

So what does it mean? According to astrologers a supermoon is simply an intensified new moon or full moon - a time to focus on new beginnings. But when a supermoon is involved these new starts can take on an even more dramatic tone. Some even see them as omens of impending disaster, or a warning of something momentous coming towards us.

Aside from mythical meanings and unfounded alarmist proclamations, any full moon - never mind a supermoon as big as this - has long been seen as having the ability to trigger emotional reactions and extreme behaviour.

And while it may be easy to scoff, these theories have been given added credence in recent years by claims that there is a spike in admissions to hospitals when the moon is full, and by police forces reporting a rise in crime.


Like a bat out of hell: Brazilian free-tailed bat is the fastest animal on Earth at 100 mph

© Wikimedia Commons
Frio Cave is home to a whopping 10 Million Mexican (or Brazilian) Free-tailed bats
The mighty cheetah has been clocked at 75 mph — the speediest runner on the planet.

Perhaps you know that the fastest animal in the sea, the sailfish, cruises through the water at 68 mph.

In the sky, the peregrine falcon reigns supreme. Wings folded as the bird plummets through the air, it reaches 220 mph to divebomb unsuspecting prey with the advantage of gravity.

Next to those more familiar speed freaks, the Brazilian free-tailed bat flew under the radar.

They are little yet voracious animals, known to gobble up moths, beetles and other insects by the hundreds each night.

They fly in clusters of several million, their colonies forming the largest collection of warm-bodied animals around.

As for their flying speeds, it was thought to be a respectable but not record-setting 59 mph.

The truth is faster — a lot faster, according to new research led by ecologists at the University of Tennessee at Knoxville.

The bats were documented flapping, level to the ground, at a whopping 100 mph.


World's tallest tropical tree discovered in Borneo, Malaysia

© Robin Martin, Carnegie Institution for Science
This is the world's tallest tropical tree
The world's tallest tropical tree has been discovered at the heart of the Malaysian Island of Borneo, in the state of Sabah. This record-breaking specimen towers 94.1m (nearly 309ft) and its canopy reaches a diameter of 40.3m (132ft).

In June 2016, a team of scientists had already announced they had found the tallest tropical tree on our planet. The specimen they had recorded - a yellow meranti - reached a height of 89.5m, and was also found in Malaysia. This record was not destined to last long however.

On 10 November 2016, Gregory Asner of the Carnegie Institution for Science at Stanford University announced that not only had he found the more impressive, 94.1m tall, tropical tree but he had also identified 49 trees with a greater height than the yellow meranti discovered five months ago - all exceed the 90m mark.