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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.


DARPA developing method to put injured soldiers into suspended animation to make more time until help arrives

suspended animation
Soldiers that are wounded in the battlefield often face terrifying ordeals that can quickly lead to their untimely deaths. For this reason, the military is constantly looking for ways to improve the way they respond to calls for help whenever any members get injured in the line of duty. Now the actual U.S. agency that's in charge of developing new tech that's meant to be used in the military, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), says they may have found a new viable solution.

As a report about the agency's most recent efforts state, they are looking for ways to "buy some extra time" for soldiers who are injured on the battlefield. Instead of trying to get medical care faster to the soldiers, DARPA wants to slow down time itself to increase the chances of a soldier's survival.

They plan to do this through a new method they call Biostasis, which is designed to "slow life to save life," according to an official statement. It works by slowing down the body's various biochemical reactions until a person's body ends up in a suspended state, so that time can simply pass by until medical attention finally arrives.

Comment: How much better life would be on the planet if organizations like DARPA devoted a fraction of their resources on problems not connected to war.


Brainless embryos suggest bioelectricity guides growth

Celia Herrera-Rincon and Michael Levin
© El País
The developmental biologists Celia Herrera-Rincon and Michael Levin at the Allen Discovery Center at Tufts University found evidence that signals from the developing brain affect the form of distant tissue structures in tadpoles.
The tiny tadpole embryo looked like a bean. One day old, it didn't even have a heart yet. The researcher in a white coat and gloves who hovered over it made a precise surgical incision where its head would form. Moments later, the brain was gone, but the embryo was still alive.

The brief procedure took Celia Herrera-Rincon, a neuroscience postdoc at the Allen Discovery Center at Tufts University, back to the country house in Spain where she had grown up, in the mountains near Madrid. When she was 11 years old, while walking her dogs in the woods, she found a snake, Vipera latastei. It was beautiful but dead. "I realized I wanted to see what was inside the head," she recalled. She performed her first "lab test" using kitchen knives and tweezers, and she has been fascinated by the many shapes and evolutionary morphologies of the brain ever since. Her collection now holds about 1,000 brains from all kinds of creatures.

This time, however, she was not interested in the brain itself, but in how an African clawed frog would develop without one. She and her supervisor, Michael Levin, a software engineer turned developmental biologist, are investigating whether the brain and nervous system play a crucial role in laying out the patterns that dictate the shapes and identities of emerging organs, limbs and other structures.

Comment: Would this research help explain the various signs and portents seen during the last years? See also:

Fireball 5

Did Earth collide with a fragmented comet 12,800 years ago?

YDB Event
© YDB Research Group
Astronomical Hypothesis for the YDB Impact Event

Regarding the probability of a swarm of cometary fragments hitting the Earth, Boslough et al. (2013) claimed that the YDB event is "statistically and physically impossible," whereas Napier et al. (2013) argued that such an encounter in the late Quaternary is a "reasonably probable event." We outline the latter hypothesis below; details and prime references are given in Napier (2015).

With currently accepted impact rates, there is an expectation of one extraterrestrial impact of energy 100-200 megatons over the past 20,000 y, which is inadequate to produce the observed global trauma (Bland and Artemieva 2006). However, near-Earth surveys of hazardous interplanetary objects are limited to the past ∼30 y, and extrapolation of contemporary impact rates to timescales beyond 104 y cannot be justified without further investigation, especially for comet populations.

Comment: For more on the Younger Dryas Impact and the cyclical catastrophes our planet has experienced, see:


Smallpox: The eradicated disease that could be brought back as a terrifying biological weapon

Smallpox has been eradicated since 1989, but scientists worry that that's a false sense of security.

A Discovery series released Thursday produced by Steve Rivo, Invisible Killers, explores in one episode how smallpox-eradicated in 1980-could make a surprising, deadly comeback.

That might seem inherently at odds with what we think about smallpox, a disease that starts as a fever with red bumps that become painful blisters within and outside the body, ultimately causing up to half of people afflicted with it to die. There is no cure, and smallpox permanently scars not only the body but a person's organs.

But thanks to a staggering effort fronted by the World Health Organization, the disease was eradicated in 1980.

The disease isn't dead, however. There are at least two labs-one in Moscow, the other with the CDC-that hold vials of smallpox in the event of an emergency, stockpiles that were supposed to be destroyed by 2002 but weren't after 9/11 and the subsequent anthrax attacks made bioterror a real, looming threat. The CDC still holds reserves, in addition to enough vaccinations and treatments in the event of a surprise eruption of smallpox.

Comment: See also:


Scientist finds bird couples use their songs as a complex form of communicating with each other

Canebrake wren
© Karla Rivera-Caceres
Canebrake wrens are known for their highly coordinated, operatic duets. This adult male wren was photographed mid-song
On a dewy summer morning, Karla Rivera-Cáceres, an ornithology researcher at the University of Miami, crouched in her usual workspace -- the tall grasses of Costa Rica's woodland -- and heard something unusual.

Rivera-Cáceres studies bird song, and that day she was listening to the canebrake wren, a brown bird whose bland appearance (it was once named the "plain wren") belies an unusual and extremely complex call.

Canebrake wrens are songbirds, the subset of species whose calls develop beyond the standard tweet or chirp into full-fledged ballads -- and within that group they are part of a somewhat exclusive club: duetting birds.

When two of these wrens communicate, they weave their songs into an elaborate, Sonny and Cher-style duet. They warble back and forth, literally finishing each other's phrases, with such high coordination that, to an outsider, they sound like a single voice.

But as Rivera-Cáceres sat listening that morning in 2011, she noticed something odd about this pair's effort: their duet was really bad.