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Sat, 21 Jan 2017
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Cloud Lightning

How getting hit by lightning changed a woman's synesthesia

Head trauma made her see strange colors, even ones that are "not even real."

© Jorge Silva/Reuters
Lightning strikes over Lake Maracaibo.
By age 20, AB had suffered four concussions, gotten viral meningitis, and been struck by lightning. "She's unofficially the unluckiest girl alive," says Kevin Mitchell, a neurogeneticist at Trinity College Dublin, who published a recent case study on AB, a pseudonymous subject. Her series of unfortunate events also ended up producing a scientific puzzle.

Because before all this, ever since she was a child, AB had been able to see colors with musical notes and perceive unique auras around people, the study reports. This mixing of senses is a little-understood phenomenon known as synesthesia. Synesthesia can come in many different forms, including colors that evoke sounds, words that evoke tastes, or even sounds that evoke touch. For AB, each insult to her brain—the concussions, the meningitis, the lightning—altered her synesthesia in different ways, both subtle and dramatic. Her synesthesia eventually returns exactly the same as before it went away.

6 intriguing types of synesthesia: Tasting words, seeing sounds, hearing colours and more


NASA: Huge planet hurling comets to their doom in nearby solar system

© nasagoddard / Instagram
The Hubble telescope has detected signs of several doomed comets plunging right for the heart of a nearby star. Astronomers says a Jupiter-like planet likely 'slingshot' the comets to their doom.

The star in question, roughly 23 million years old, is HD 172555, found in a nearby 'teenage' solar system 95-light years from Earth.

Astronomers believe such comets may hold the key to several long-running theories about the makeup of nearby star systems and how life-forming elements find their way onto planets.

"In fact, these star-grazing comets may make life possible, because they carry water and other life-forming elements, such as carbon, to terrestrial planets,"said Carol Grady of NASA's Goddard Spaceflight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, who is leading the study of the data.


Dystopian future now a reality as car-makers install 'emotional' AI's into vehicles

Bad idea installing 'emotions' in cars
Honda has teased the first image of what looks to be an ambitious new concept car — an experimental vehicle dubbed the NeuV. The automaker will be showcasing the car at CES on January 5th and says it will be automated, electric, designed for commuters, and will come equipped with artificial intelligence in the form of something called an "emotion engine."

Details are vague on what this all means, but Honda describes the emotion engine as a set of technologies that will "enable machines to artificially generate their own emotions." Will that mean some sort of in-car assistant that's cheery or grouchy depending on how much fuel there is in the tank? Or perhaps some sort of animated dashboard that gives you the stink eye when you cut someone off in traffic?

Comment: Or perhaps all that and more. Writing a computer program is one thing, but once you introduce artificial intelligence, it has the capacity to think, grow and learn beyond it's original programming - which means what AI can and will do, will eventually become unpredictable and out of human expectation and control.

Comment: It's foolish and naive to not be the least bit concerned when introducing artificial intelligence into society. Current technology is growing exponentially, beyond most people's ability to keep up with, meanwhile there is no concomitant emotional and spiritual development among people in society to balance out their growing reliance and addiction to technology. With the 'millennial' generation showing themselves to potentially being the most technologically dependent, inept and incapable generation of our time, what makes anyone think introducing AI will be of any benefit - and who is thinking of the long-term implications? Dystopian futures have been shown in a number of books and movies throughout the years, and it's well-worth paying attention to and watching them again but with a different outlook, realizing that something like that might just be around the corner. For further reading: And also watch:

Eye 1

P-REACT: New technology can detect suspicious behavior and catch criminals in the act

© Alan Thornton/Getty
Caught in the act? P-REACT can pick up suspicious behaviour.
Petty criminals had better watch out. A computer vision system has been developed that detects suspicious behaviour in CCTV footage as it happens. The system can then alert CCTV operators to intervene, and save the footage in case it is needed for evidence.

Researchers involved in the P-REACT project, which is the work of a consortium of European companies and organisations and is partly funded by a grant from the European Commission, say the surveillance technology could help catch criminals in the act and relieve police of "digital evidence overload" by highlighting video clips most likely to be relevant to investigations.

"If a camera at a gas station picks up suspicious activity, the video footage will be sent to the cloud, people at the gas station will be alerted, and nearby cameras will be told to look out for the criminals too," says project coordinator Juan Arraiza at Vicomtech, a research foundation in San Sebastian, Spain.

P-REACT tracks people's movements to work out whether they're simply walking along a street, for instance, or doing something dodgy. Its algorithms have been trained on sample scenes of people fighting, chasing someone or snatching a bag. They had to be finely tuned to identify these activities: hugging can look a lot like fighting, for example, while running can be mistaken for giving chase.

Fireball 2

White House says risk of catastrophic asteroid impact 'real'

© Reuters
The US government has proposed an increased global effort to locate 300,000 or so Earth-impact risks and prepare for potential future meteor collisions that could destroy cities.

Near Earth Objects (NEOs) are defined as asteroids or comets that come near our planet's orbit. A recently released White House document entitled 'National Near-Earth Object Preparedness Strategy' details how low-probability, high consequence impacts pose a "significant and complex challenge".

The report says that while a "civilization-ending"smash with space rocks over the next 200 years is unlikely, the risk of "smaller but still catastrophic NEO impacts is real."

Comment: For more information on Near Earth Objects and the impact they can have. Read:


India plans to launch over 100 satellites in single mission

© Erik Kulu - University of Tartu / Wikipedia
ESTCube-1 illustration
India is planning to launch 103 satellites in February in a single mission, breaking the record currently held by Russia. Most of them are CubeSat nanosatellites measuring 10x10x11cm.

The record payload will be carried by India's Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV) from the Sriharikota spaceport, the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) said.

"We are making a century by launching over 100 satellites at one go," ISRO director S. Somnath told a science convention in the southern state of Andhra Pradesh, according to the Press Trust of India.

Ice Cube

Study finds potential instability in Atlantic Ocean water circulation system could trigger global cooling

© stock.adobe.com
One of the world's largest ocean circulation systems may not be as stable as today's weather models predict, according to a new study.

In fact, changes in the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation (AMOC) — the same deep-water ocean current featured in the movie "The Day After Tomorrow" — could occur quite abruptly, in geologic terms, the study says. The research appears in the Jan. 4 online edition of the journal Science Advances.

"We show that the possibility of a collapsed AMOC under global warming is hugely underestimated," said Wei Liu, a postdoctoral associate in the Department of Geology and Geophysics at Yale University and lead author of the study. Liu began the research when he was a graduate student at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and continued it at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, prior to coming to Yale.


FRBs: Source found for most mysterious message from the universe

© Robin Beck/AFP/Getty Images
Very Large Array, one of the world's premier astronomical radio observatories near Socorro, New Mexico.
A mysterious signal coming from deep in the universe has finally been traced to its source.

Fast Radio Bursts, or FRBs, have only been heard 18 times and have been a puzzle to scientists since they were detected in 2007. Nobody knows where they could be coming from or how they might be triggered, with speculation ranging from a huge star, jets of material shooting out of a black hole - or even aliens.

FRBs are powerful but very short radio waves, which last no more than a millisecond. The first was found by Australia's Parkes telescope in 2007. Since then, 17 have been heard, but only one of them has been heard repeatedly. That repeated burst was studied for six months, letting scientists find its exact position in the sky. It seems to be coming from a faint dwarf galaxy more than three billion light years away, scientists said.

FRB 121102, as it is referred to, was found using the Very Large Array. That is a multi-antenna radio telescope operated by the US National Science Foundation.


Astronomers observe new double-ringed galaxy 'unlike anything seen before'

A new double-ringed galaxy unlike "anything astronomers have observed before" has been spotted approximately 359 million light-years from Earth.

Named 'PGC 1000714' or 'Burcin's Galaxy', the object has a "well-defined elliptical-like core surrounded by two circular rings," according to astronomers.

It seems to belong to an extremely rare 'hoag-type' class of galaxy. Such galaxies are known for their round core surrounded by a ring, with nothing visibly connecting them. Much like galaxies in our own solar system, these are usually disc-shaped.


Washington State's Mount Rainier to get new digital-warning system for massive mudflows

© Mike Siegel/The Seattle Times
Orting schools, as well as the Pierce County town itself, are in the potential path of Mount Rainier mudflows.
After the deadly Oso landslide enveloped a neighborhood in 2014, scientists and emergency managers launched a review of how they detect massive mudflows on one of the world's most dangerous volcanos: Mount Rainier.

"That event (Oso) moved about 8 million cubic meters of mass," said Scott Heinze, deputy director of Pierce County's emergency-management department. "The projection for a Mount Rainier lahar is between 250 to 500 million cubic meters of mass — exponentially greater."

Pierce County Executive Pat McCarthy pushed for the review, which examined the functionality of the current warning system and also compared it to others around the globe, he said. The sensors, which were installed in the 1990s, monitor fast-moving gushes of mud and debris, or lahars.

Volcanic mudflows — formed by large landslides or suddenly melting snow and ice during eruptions — are considered the mountain's greatest hazard.

Comment: Hopefully the new sensors will be ready before something happens: