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Sat, 21 Oct 2017
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Science & Technology


Vision drawn to meaning, not what sticks out

Conventional thinking on visual attention is that our attention is automatically drawn to "salient" objects that stand out from the background. Researchers at the UC Davis Center for Mind and Brain mapped hundreds of images (examples far left) by eye tracking (center left), "meaning" (center right) and "salience" or outstanding features (far left). Statistical analysis shows that eyes are drawn to "meaningful" areas, not necessarily those that are most outstanding. Credit: John Henderson and Taylor Hayes, UC Davis

Our visual attention is drawn to parts of a scene that have meaning, rather than to those that are salient or "stick out," according to new research from the Center for Mind and Brain at the University of California, Davis. The findings, published Sept. 25 in the journal Nature Human Behavior, overturn the widely-held model of visual attention.

Arrow Up

Strange flashes in the quantum realm may create gravity

© Emma Johnson/Getty
Gravity comes about in a flash, a model of how wave forms of quantum systems collapse reveals a way they could create gravitational fields, and perhaps even reconcile two pillars of physics

How do you reconcile the two pillars of modern physics: quantum theory and gravity? One or both will have to give way. A new approach says gravity could emerge from random fluctuations at the quantum level, making quantum mechanics the more fundamental of the two theories.

Of our two main explanations of reality, quantum theory governs the interactions between the smallest bits of matter. And general relativity deals with gravity and the largest structures in the universe. Ever since Einstein, physicists have been trying to bridge the gap between the two, with little success. Part of the problem is knowing which strands of each theory are fundamental to our understanding of reality.

One approach towards reconciling gravity with quantum mechanics has been to show that gravity at its most fundamental comes in indivisible parcels called quanta, much like the electromagnetic force comes in quanta called photons. But this road to a theory of quantum gravity has so far proved impassable.

Now Antoine Tilloy at the Max Planck Institute of Quantum Optics in Garching, Germany, has attempted to get at gravity by tweaking standard quantum mechanics.


Strong solar blast sparks global aurora and doubles radiation levels on the surface of Mars

An unexpectedly strong blast from the Sun hit Mars this month, observed by NASA missions in orbit and on the surface.

"NASA's distributed set of science missions is in the right place to detect activity on the Sun and examine the effects of such solar events at Mars as never possible before," said MAVEN Program Scientist Elsayed Talaat, program scientist at NASA Headquarters, Washington, for NASA's Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution, or MAVEN, mission.

The solar event on Sept. 11, 2017 sparked a global aurora at Mars more than 25 times brighter than any previously seen by the MAVEN orbiter, which has been studying the Martian atmosphere's interaction with the solar wind since 2014.

It produced radiation levels on the surface more than double any previously measured by the Curiosity rover's Radiation Assessment Detector, or RAD, since that mission's landing in 2012. The high readings lasted more than two days.

Strangely, it occurred in conjunction with a spate of solar activity during what is usually a quiet period in the Sun's 11-year sunspot and storm-activity cycle. This event was big enough to be detected at Earth too, even though Earth was on the opposite side of the Sun from Mars.


Russia develops electromagnetic weapons which could 'neutralize entire armies'

Russia is developing radio-electronic weapons, which use a powerful UHF impulse capable of destroying all electronic equipment miles away and even changing the course of a war.

The Listva, a remotely operated mine clearance vehicle capable of detecting and blowing up mines up to 100 meters away, is one such weapon.

An armored vehicle equipped with a UHF emitter moves in front of a mobile missile system. It detects radio-controlled landmines planted along and away from the road using ground-penetrating radar and then uses ultra-high-frequency rays to neutralize them.

This is a novel technique, which had never been used before.

During a drill on Wednesday, some 20 real cellphone-controlled explosive devices were planted along the route of a column of Yars mobile ballistic missile systems. A single Listva vehicle spotted all of them and blew them up long before the missiles reached the area.

Comment: These types of weapons have actually been around for a while, we just don't hear too much about them or when they are used.

Microscope 1

Genetic study suggests much older origin for Homo sapiens species, evolutionary split may have occurred up to 350K years ago

© Mattias Jakobsson/Reuters
Dr. Helena Malmström conducting on-site sampling of bone material in a mobile sampling lab pictured in this handout photo obtained by Reuters September 28, 2017.
Genetic data from the skeletal remains of seven people who lived centuries ago in South Africa's KwaZulu-Natal Province is offering intriguing new evidence that our species, Homo sapiens, is older than previously believed.

Scientists said on Thursday they sequenced the genomes of the seven individuals including a boy who lived as a hunter-gatherer at Ballito Bay roughly 2,000 years ago. In doing so, they were able to estimate that the evolutionary split between Homo sapiens and ancestral human groups occurred 260,000 to 350,000 years ago.

Until recently, the prevailing belief was that Homo sapiens arose a bit before 200,000 years ago. The new study and fossil discoveries from Morocco announced in June indicate a much older origin.

Homo sapiens emerged on the African landscape following millions of years of human evolution, including a split 600,000 to 700,000 years ago from the lineage that led to the now-extinct Neanderthals. The period from that split until the advent of our species was a critical one.


Travel anywhere on Earth in under an hour with Elon Musk's 'Big F**king Rocket'

© elonmusk / Instagram
Everyone's favorite comic book supervillain, Elon Musk, has unveiled his latest set of dastardly plans. The South African-Canadian billionaire wants to make humans a multi-planetary species, and his patience has just about run out.

Musk revealed his latest ambitious plans at the International Astronautical Congress in Adelaide, Australia, on Friday. He and his company, SpaceX, already have an impressive CV, but these latest plans, if achieved, will revolutionise human space travel.

The company's aptly-titled "Big F*cking Rocket (BFR)" will be crucial to the plans, which looks set to be used for much more than just trips to the moon and Mars.

A derivative of SpaceX's Falcon rockets, which have successfully taken supplies to the International Space Station and returned safely to Earth, Musk plans to use the BFR for terrestrial trips too.

The aim, he claims, is to bring passengers "anywhere on Earth in under an hour," essentially making any city accessible to the weekend traveler.


'Jupiter is not a gas giant' - Juno Jupiter mystery

The Current State of JUNO

The lead scientist, Dr. Scott Bolton, admits essentially that Jupiter is not a gas giant, stating " We're seeing a lot of our ideas were incorrect and maybe naive."
  1. Scientists are puzzled to see that the familiar striped cloud layers 'may be' only skin deep. These zones and belts either don't exist or the Juno microwave instrument just isn't sensitive to it.
  2. The gravity experiment is not seeing a concentrated core at the center of the planet or a pure hydrogen interior, the two competing hypotheses, Dr. Bolton stated "and what we found was that neither are true." Instead, the data suggests a 'fuzzy' core, with unexplained 'anomalous masses'.
  3. The enormously powerful ultraoviolet auroral ovals are imagined to be due to energetic particles descending around the poles, but what the Juno JEDI energetic particle detector has detected to date are streams of electrons coming upward from the polar regions.
Dr. John Connerney states " Its a 180-degree turnabout from the way we were thinking about these emissions."
© acksblog
Fig.1 In the JEDI 90 TOFxE spectrum for ions on day 240, 2016, the abscissa shows the energy deposition in the SSD array in digital number and keV. The ordinate shows the time of flight measured for each ion in digital number and nanosecond. Clear tracks are observed for protons, helium, oxygen, sulfur, and an unexpected heavy ion track labeled Mg/Na.
The Cassini probe, in orbit since 2004, finally ended last week. Optimistically, Dr. Bolton mused that "Eventually we will compare ..." the data from the two missions and "We will really be able to advance our understanding of how these giant planets work." This is doubtful, since in the entire 13 years orbiting, Cassini was not able to determine the rotation rate of Saturn.

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'Ingenious': Possible end to hereditary disease as Chinese scientists find way to edit human embryo

© Armin Weigel / Global Look Press
Chinese scientists have successfully altered the genetic code of a human embryo, an "ingenious" breakthrough that experts believe could be key to eradicating hereditary diseases.

Using a technique known as 'base editing', researchers from Sun Yat-sen University in Guangzhou filtered through three-billion 'letters' of our genetic code to remove a single error responsible for a potentially deadly blood disorder.

"We are the first to demonstrate the feasibility of curing genetic disease in human embryos by base editor system,"Junjiu Huang, one of the scientists involved in the research, told BBC.

During the experiments, which were carried out on tissues taken from a patient with the blood disorder beta-thalassemia and inserted into cloned human embryos, a strand of DNA was examined to pinpoint the offending base. The team then used base editing, a more advanced form of the Crispr gene-editing technique to repair the faulty gene.

Eye 1

Apple warns iPhone's facial recognition technology won't work on children under 13 as faces are too similar

© Apple
The iPhone X uses facial recognition to to unlock itself
Apple has said children should not use the new iPhone's facial recognition technology, saying faces of under-13s could be too similar to each other to protect phones from intruders.

The iPhone X, which is set to go on sale next month, uses a facial recognition system called Face ID to unlock phones, verify payments and gain access to apps. It has an array of sensors at the top of the phone that scan the users' face and compare it to the model stored on the phone.

Apple says the chances of an imposter being able to trick the system are one in a million, making facial recognition more secure than the one in 50,000 chance that somebody else could fool a phone's fingerprint scanner.

However, in a security paper on Wednesday it said that since under-13s' faces are still developing, there is a greater chance that the feature may not work as intended and other children - especially brothers or sisters - will be able to unlock the phone.

Comment: Facial recognition in the wrong hands: Don't trust the police around your new iPhone X


Comet K2 - farthest active inbound comet ever seen

Compass Image for Comet C/2017 K2.
NASA's Hubble Space Telescope has photographed the farthest active inbound comet ever seen, at a whopping distance of 1.5 billion miles from the Sun (beyond Saturn's orbit). Slightly warmed by the remote Sun, it has already begun to develop an 80,000-mile-wide fuzzy cloud of dust, called a coma, enveloping a tiny, solid nucleus of frozen gas and dust. These observations represent the earliest signs of activity ever seen from a comet entering the solar system's planetary zone for the first time.

The comet, called C/2017 K2 (PANSTARRS) or "K2", has been travelling for millions of years from its home in the frigid outer reaches of the solar system, where the temperature is about minus 440 degrees Fahrenheit. The comet's orbit indicates that it came from the Oort Cloud, a spherical region almost a light-year in diameter and thought to contain hundreds of billions of comets. Comets are the icy leftovers from the formation of the solar system 4.6 billion years ago and therefore pristine in icy composition.

"K2 is so far from the Sun and so cold, we know for sure that the activity-all the fuzzy stuff making it look like a comet-is not produced, as in other comets, by the evaporation of water ice," said lead researcher David Jewitt of the University of California, Los Angeles. "Instead, we think the activity is due to the sublimation [a solid changing directly into a gas] of super-volatiles as K2 makes its maiden entry into the solar system's planetary zone. That's why it's special. This comet is so far away and so incredibly cold that water ice there is frozen like a rock."

Based on the Hubble observations of K2's coma, Jewitt suggests that sunlight is heating frozen volatile gases - such as oxygen, nitrogen, carbon dioxide, and carbon monoxide - that coat the comet's frigid surface. These icy volatiles lift off from the comet and release dust, forming the coma. Past studies of the composition of comets near the Sun have revealed the same mixture of volatile ices.

Comment: See also: Study: Our sun probably has an evil twin called Nemesis

For more information on comets, Oort cloud, Electric Universe model, Nemesis - Sol's dark companion - and much more, see Pierre Lescaudron and Laura Knight-Jadczyk's book, Earth Changes and the Human-Cosmic Connection.

Perhaps 'something wicked this way comes?'