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Sun, 22 Apr 2018
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Mississippi floods are the biggest in 500 years - and human intervention may be partly to blame

Floods along the Mississippi River in spring 2011

Floods along the Mississippi River in spring 2011 rivaled the Great Flood of 1927 in size. Human engineering of the river may be making such floods bigger.
The world's longest system of levees and floodways, meant to rein in the mighty Mississippi River, may actually make flooding worse.

Using tree rings and lake sediments, researchers re-created a history of flooding along the lower Mississippi River extending back to the 1500s. This paleoflood record suggests that the past century of river engineering - intended to minimize flood damage to people living along the river's banks - has instead increased the magnitude of the largest floods by 20 percent, the researchers report April 5 in Nature.

Climate patterns that bring extra rainfall to the region don't account for the dramatic increase in flood size, the team found. "The obvious culprit is that we have really modified the river itself," says Samuel Munoz, a geoscientist at Northeastern University in Boston.

Comment: As evidenced by the waterways around the industrialised world that tend to be filthy and increasingly devoid of life, there is a lot we do not yet know about water. At the same time, as noted in the article, flooding was still on the increase which is probably attributable to our planets entry into an ice age: Also check out SOTT radio's: The Health & Wellness Show: Water: What Do We Really Know?


Scientists discover a dozen new black holes at centre of Milky Way

milky way
© John Colosimo (colosimophotography.com)/ESO
The center of the Milky Way, shown in this photograph from the Paranal Observatory in Chile, may be swarming with thousands of small black holes.
The center of the Milky Way may be abuzz with black holes. For the first time, a dozen small black holes have been spotted within the inner region of the galaxy in an area spanning just a few light-years - and there could be thousands more.

Astrophysicist Charles Hailey of Columbia University and his colleagues spotted the black holes thanks to the holes' interactions with stars slowly spiraling inward, the team reports in Nature on April 4. Isolated black holes emit no light, but black holes stealing material from orbiting stars will heat that material until it emits X-rays.

In 12 years of telescope data from NASA's orbiting Chandra X-ray Observatory, Hailey and colleagues found 12 objects emitting the right X-ray energy to be black holes with stellar companions. Based on theoretical predictions of how many black holes are paired with stars, there should be up to 20,000 invisible solo black holes just in that small part of the galaxy.

Comment: See Also: And check out SOTT radio's: Behind the Headlines: Earth changes in an electric universe: Is climate change really man-made?


Building a machine that breaks the laws of thermodynamics

blocks falling apart
© Martin Leon Barreto

We thought only fools messed with the cast-iron laws of thermodynamics - but quantum trickery is rewriting the rulebook, says physicist
Vlatko Vedra

A FEW years ago, I had an idea that may sound a little crazy: I thought I could see a way to build an engine that works harder than the laws of physics allow.

You would be within your rights to baulk at this proposition. After all, the efficiency of engines is governed by thermodynamics, the most solid pillar of physics. This is one set of natural laws you don't mess with.

Yet if I leave my office at the University of Oxford and stroll down the corridor, I can now see an engine that pays no heed to these laws. It is a machine of considerable power and intricacy, with green lasers and ions instead of oil and pistons. There is a long road ahead, but I believe contraptions like this one will shape the future of technology.

Comment: See also:

Microscope 1

Scientists in Russia uncover part of enzyme linked to 'immortality' and cancer

DNA peptides
© CC0
Manipulations with telomerase, an enzyme vital for proper cell division, can make cells virtually immortal as well as fight and prevent cancer. But in order to do so, scientists first have to understand its structure.

Russian biologists from Moscow State University have recently published a study devoted to the structure of part of the telomerase enzyme. One of the authors noted that the study will help develop treatments that can both stimulate or inhibit the enzyme's activity.

Telomerase is required for the proper duplication of the DNA peptides via RNA. It is normally active in the parts of the body that require frequent or constant cell multiplication with proper DNA inheritance, such as stem cells or reproductive cells. Its activity "thickens" its layer overtime and, although it can regenerate, its activity decreases over time, preventing proper cell divisions and resulting in ageing.


Some Amazon Key features, including keyless entry, remote lock and unlock, go nationwide

Demo of Amazon Key
© Sarah Tew/CNet
A demo of Amazon Key, which enables package delivery right into your home.
A handful of Amazon Key's main features are being rolled out across the US.

That means you can now use the service anywhere in the country for keyless entry, remote lock and unlock, and guest access, the company said Thursday. Plus, five more locks now work with Amazon Key, for a total of eight locks available for Amazon Key customers.

But if you were waiting for in-home delivery using Amazon Key, that's not part of the expansion. In-home delivery will still only be available to Prime customers in 37 US cities and surrounding areas.

Comment: See also:


Team of astronomers find 72 bright and fast explosions

Astronomers find 72 bright flashes
© M. Pursiainen / University of Southampton and DES collaboration
Images of one of the transient events, from eight days before the maximum brightness to 18 days afterwards. This outburst took place at a distance of 4 billion light years.
Gone in a (cosmological) flash: a team of astronomers found 72 very bright, but quick events in a recent survey and are still struggling to explain their origin. Miika Pursiainen of the University of Southampton will present the new results on Tuesday 3 April at the European Week of Astronomy and Space Science.

The scientists found the transients in data from the Dark Energy Survey Supernova Programme (DES-SN). This is part of a global effort to understand dark energy, a component driving an acceleration in the expansion of the Universe. DES-SN uses a large camera on a 4-metre telescope in the Cerro Tololo Inter-American Observatory (CTIO) in the Chilean Andes. The survey looks for supernovae, the explosion of massive stars at the end of their lives. A supernova explosion can briefly be as bright as a whole galaxy, made up of hundreds of billions of stars.

Pursiainen and his collaborators found the largest number of these quick events to date. Even for transient phenomena, they are very peculiar: while they have a similar maximum brightness to different types of supernovae they are visible for less time, from a week to a month. In contrast supernovae last for several months or more.


Study finds modern human viruses millions of yrs old, can be traced to first-ever animals

flu virus
Many of the viruses infecting humans today have evolved from ancient animals and can even be traced back to the first vertebrates ever to exist, according to new research.

The study by researchers at The University of Sydney along with the China Center for Disease Control and Prevention and the Shanghai Public Health Clinical Centre, has been published in the journal Nature and offers new insight on the modern-day understanding of viruses.

The team says it made its discovery by looking for RNA - rather than DNA - viruses in 186 animal species not previously covered in viral infection studies. In doing so, they found 214 novel RNA viruses in apparently healthy reptiles, amphibians, lungfish, ray-finned fish, cartilaginous fish and jawless fish.


Diamond batteries made of nuclear waste can generate power for thousands of years

diamond batteries
Scientist have developed an ingenious means of converting nuclear power plant waste (76,430 metric tons in the US alone) into sustainable diamond batteries.

These long-lasting batteries could be a clean and safe way to power spacecraft, satellites, and even medical devices.

Scientists from the University of Bristol Cabot Institute are hitting two birds with one stone, thanks to their lab-made diamond that can generate electricity and is made from upcycled radioactive waste.

In nuclear power plants, radioactive uranium is split in a process called nuclear fission. When the atoms are split, heat is generated, and that heat then vaporizes water into steam that turns electricity-generating turbines.

A severe downside of this process is the creation of dangerous radioactive waste, which ultimately deposits in the graphite core that it is housed in. Today, this nuclear contamination is safely stored away until it stops being radioactive...and with a half-life of 5,730 years, that takes quite a while.

The scientists found a way to heat the radioactive graphite to release most of the radioactivity in a gaseous form. The gas is subjected to high temperature and low pressures that turn it into a man-made diamond.

When these diamonds are placed near a radioactive field, they generate a small electrical current. The developers enclosed the diamond battery in another non-radioactive diamond to absorb the harmful emissions, which in turn allowed for the generation of even more electricity, making the battery nearly 100 percent efficient.


Mystery of how birds navigate is solved: Researchers discover eye proteins that allow them to SEE the Earth's magnetic field over their normal vision

Migrating birds appear to have a 'sixth sense' which means they always manage to find their nesting grounds

Migrating birds appear to have a 'sixth sense' which means they always manage to find their nesting grounds - a talent that has long mystified scientists. According to new research, which looked at robins (stock image) and zebra finches, a protein called Cry4 is responsible
Migrating birds appear to have a 'sixth sense' which means they always manage to find their nesting grounds - a talent that has long mystified scientists.

Now researchers have found the secret to this skill is down to a protein in the bird's eyes that is sensitive to blue light.

This protein lets them 'see' Earth's magnetic field as an overlay on their normal field of view, two studies suggest.

Scientists from Lund University in Sweden looked at zebra finches, while researchers from Carl von Ossietzky University Oldenburg in Germany studied European robins.

For a bird to know roughly where it is in the world, and correct itself if it goes off course, it needs what is known as 'true navigation'.

They do this by using the magnetic field to plot their migratory routes.

Scientists believe the Earth's core is responsible for creating its magnetic field.


New mind-reading device can translate brainwaves into words

Brainwave Reading Device
© YouTube
It's strange to think that the first mainstream voice assistant, Siri, was only introduced in 2011. Now, seven years later, researchers from the University of California have created a device capable of translating brainwaves into text with 90 percent accuracy.

Other companies, like the Boston-based startup Neurable, have been able to harness brainwaves to navigate menus or create effects in VR, but the prospect of a mind-reading brain-to-text device may cross the line between technological breakthrough and privacy nightmare.

A new paper, published in the Journal of Neuroengineering, outlines the results of the initial experiments and follows on from the team's previous research in 2016 into neural speech recognition (NSR).

The system works by implanting electrodes over the brain's surface and sensing brain activity, including signals related to combinations of consonants and vowels. After processing these signals, the device is able to display sentences picked up from the subject's brain in real time.

Especially impressive is the device's ability to process words it has not seen before.