Month: June, 2018

Tiny Prehistoric Frogs Trapped In Amber Show That Death Comes At You Fast

Four pieces of amber found in Myanmar contain ancient fossilized frogs.

Life’s too short. By the time you’ve figured a few things out, the years have slipped away. All you can do is love others, let yourself be loved, and try to leave the world a better place.

Unfortunately, the same can’t necessarily be said for a group of Cretaceous frogs that got trapped in tree sap and preserved in amber, which a team of scientists described in the journal Scientific Reports on Thursday.

It’s impossible to say whether these 99-million-year-old frogs loved each other, but as the oldest frogs to be found preserved in amber and the oldest evidence of frogs inhabiting wet tropical forests, they definitely died before they got a chance to see the legacy they left the world.

These days, we’re used to picturing frogs in wet, hot climates, but we don’t know for sure when they began to occupy their preferred ecosystem.

Scientists believe that frogs emerged over 200 million years ago, but as with many animals, there exist major gaps in that fossil record, large swaths of evolutionary time for which we have no direct evidence.




In this new paper, researchers write that four small pieces of amber found in Myanmar contain evidence that could help fill in the frog’s evolutionary timeline.

These amber fossils provide direct evidence that frogs inhabited wet tropical forests before the mass extinction event at the end of the Cretaceous,” Lida Xing, an associate professor at China University of Geosciences in Beijing and first author on the paper.

By studying the remains of these four frogs, which are each about 22 millimeters long — as well as the plant, insect, and spider remains trapped in the amber with them — Xing and his colleagues established that about 99 million years ago frogs lived in an environment similar to ones that they currently inhabit.

The study’s authors dubbed the species Electrorana limoae, from the Latin words for “amber” (electrum) and “frog” (rana), as well as Mrs. Mo Li, “who purchased and provided these specimens for study,” they write.

These four pieces of amber (specimen B and D are each shown from multiple angles) are the oldest amber-preserved frogs ever found.

And while the researchers were fortunate to come into possession of the specimens, the quality of the remains did pose issues.

As you can see, the frog remains are either ripped apart or curled up, and not one of them remained intact.

Fortunately, micro-CT scans allowed the researchers to penetrate the amber to get a better look at the frogs’ anatomies and figure out where they sit in the evolutionary tree.

They determined that E. limoae is likely an ancestor of these existing species, as well as some that have been long extinct.

Living in a wet environment, most frog specimens from E. limoae’s home environment had no chance of being preserved as fossils, so this amber from Myanmar gave scientists a rare opportunity to glimpse into the tree of life and add one more piece to the puzzle of evolution.

I can only hope that there are more spectacular fossils to come,” Blackburn tells National Geographic. “In today’s tropical forests, there is a rich diversity of living frog species.

“So, there might be many more species to discover still in the Cretaceous amber from Myanmar.”

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Apple Is Partnering With Pixar As Part Of Its Big Push Into Augmented Reality

Apple announced that it’s partnering with computer animation studio Pixar to boost the company’s augmented reality initiative, the company announced Monday during its annual WWDC conference for app developers.

In iOS 12, we wanted to make an easy way to experience AR across the [eco]system, and to do that we got together with some of the greatest minds in 3D, at Pixar,” Apple senior vice president Craig Federighi said.

Together, Apple and Pixar developed a new file format for AR called “USDZ.” It’s a compact and simple format that’s designed to let people share AR content “while retaining great 3D graphics and even animations.”

The USDZ format is addressing the typically large storage size of AR content, which can make it harder to share information easily and quickly.




 

Companies like Adobe are adopting the USDZ format to work with its Creative Cloud platform, which includes apps like Photoshop and Dimension.

Once iOS 12 is released in the fall, AR content can be shared in the USDZ format in apps like Safari, Messages, and Mail, and can be managed in the Files app.

ARKit 2

Federighi also announced Apple’s latest version of its AR platform, called ARKit 2.

ARKit 2 will offer improved face tracking, more realistic rendering, support for 3D object detection, and the ability to start an AR experience based on a real-world physical object or space.

ARKit 2 will also support shared experiences, where two or more people can play AR games together.

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MIT’s New AI Can See Through Walls

MIT has given a computer x-ray vision, but it didn’t need x-rays to do it. The system, known as RF-Pose, uses a neural network and radio signals to track people through an environment and generate wireframe models in real time.

It doesn’t even need to have a direct line of sight to know how someone is walking, sitting, or waving their arms on the other side of a wall.

Neural networks have shown up in a lot of research lately when researchers need to create a better speech synthesis model, smarter computer vision, or an AI psychopath.

To train a neural network to do any of these things, you need an extensive data set of pre-labeled items.

That usually means using humans to do the labeling, which is simple enough when you’re trying to make an AI that can identify images of cats.




RF-Pose is based on radio waves, and those are much harder for humans to label in a way that makes sense to computers.

The MIT researchers decided to collect examples of people walking with both wireless signal pings and cameras.

The camera footage was processed to generate stick figures in place of the people, and the team matched that data up with the radio waves.

That combined data is what researchers used to train the neural network. With a strong association between the stick figures and RF data, the system is able to create stick figures based on radio wave reflections.

Interestingly, the camera can’t see through walls. So, the system was never explicitly trained in identifying people on the other side of a barrier.

It just works because the radio waves bounce off a person on the other side of a wall just like they do in the same room. This even works with multiple people crossing paths.

The team noted that all subjects in the study consented to have their movements tracked by the AI.

In the real world, there are clear privacy implications. It’s possible a future version of the technology could be configured only to track someone after they perform a specific movement to activate the system and “opt-in.”

As for applications, it’s not just about spying on you through walls. The MIT team suggests RF-Pose could be of use in the medical field where it could track and analyze the way patients with muscle and nerve disorders get around.

It could also enable motion capture in video games — like Kinect but good.

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The World’s Fastest Supercomputer Is Back In America

Last week, the US Department of Energy and IBM unveiled Summit, America’s latest supercomputer, which is expected to bring the title of the world’s most powerful computer back to America from China, which currently holds the mantle with its Sunway TaihuLight supercomputer.

With a peak performance of 200 petaflops, or 200,000 trillion calculations per second, Summit more than doubles the top speeds of TaihuLight, which can reach 93 petaflops.

Summit is also capable of over 3 billion billion mixed precision calculations per second, or 3.3 exaops, and more than 10 petabytes of memory, which has allowed researchers to run the world’s first exascale scientific calculation.

The $200 million supercomputer is an IBM AC922 system utilizing 4,608 compute servers containing two 22-core IBM Power9 processors and six Nvidia Tesla V100 graphics processing unit accelerators each.




Summit is also (relatively) energy-efficient, drawing just 13 megawatts of power, compared to the 15 megawatts TaihuLight pulls in.

Top500, the organization that ranks supercomputers around the world, is expected to place Summit atop its list when it releases its new rankings later this month.

Once it does — with these specs — Summit should remain the king of supercomputers for the immediate future.

Oak Ridge National Laboratory — the birthplace of the Manhattan Project — is also home to Titan, another supercomputer that was once the fastest in the world and now holds the title for fifth fastest supercomputer in the world.

Taking up 5,600 square-feet of floor space and weighing in at over 340 tons — which is more than a commercial aircraft — Summit is a truly massive system that would easily fill two tennis courts.

Summit will allow researchers to apply machine learning to areas like high-energy physics and human health, according to ORNL.

Summit’s AI-optimized hardware also gives researchers an incredible platform for analyzing massive datasets and creating intelligent software to accelerate the pace of discovery,” Jeff Nichols, ORNL associate laboratory director for computing and computational sciences, said.

The system is connected by 185 miles of fiber-optic cables and can store 250 petabytes of data, which is equal to 74 years of HD video.

To keep Summit from overheating, more than 4,000 gallons of water are pumped through the system every minute, carrying away nearly 13 megawatts of heat from the system.

While Summit may be the fastest supercomputer in the world, for now, it is expected to be passed by Frontier, a new supercomputer slated to be delivered to ORNL in 2021 with an expected peak performance of 1 exaflop, or 1,000 petaflops.
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Kodak Brings Ektachrome Back to Life

Kodak announced Thursday it will bring back its Ektachrome film, better known as color reversal film.

In 2012, Kodak discontinued its line of color reversal films, which stand out for its fine grain, clean colors, sharp tones and contrasts. At the time, Kodak blamed declining demand for such film.

A year later, Kodak divested its film business to Kodak Alaris, the UK-based company behind Ektachrome’s revival.




Over the next 12 months, Kodak Alaris will be remanufacturing the film at Kodak’s factory in Rochester, N.Y., with the revived film available for both motion picture and photography.

Color reversal film is quite complicated as its recipe is concerned,” says Diane Carroll-Yacoby, Kodak’s world wide portfolio manager for motion picture films says.

A tall tale.

It’s very unique and quite different than a black-and-white film or a color negative film.

“We’re in the process right now of procuring the components that are needed for this special film and in addition to that we are setting up a color reversal processing capability again, which we have to have in order to test the film as we manufacture it.

Into the light.

She adds: “It is a complicated project for us to bring it back but because our customers are telling us that they want it, we’re very excited to do this again. It’s kind of a really special time for us.

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Flash Recovery Of Ammonoids After Most Massive Extinction Of All Time

The study, conducted by a Franco-Swiss collaboration involving the laboratories Biogéosciences (Université de Bourgogne / CNRS), Paléoenvironnements & Paléobiosphère (Université Claude Bernard / CNRS) and the Universities of Zurich and Lausanne (Switzerland), appears in the August 28 issue of Science.

The history of life on Earth has been punctuated by a number of mass extinctions, brief periods of extreme loss of biodiversity. These extinctions are followed by phases during which surviving species recover and diversify.

The End-Permian extinction, which took place between the Permian (299 – 252.6 MY) and Triassic (252.6 – 201.6 MY), is the greatest mass extinction on record, resulting in the loss of 90% of existing species.

It is associated with intensive volcanic activity in China and Siberia. It marks the boundary between the Paleozoic and Mesozoic Eras.




Until now, studies had shown that the biosphere took between 10 and 30 million years to recover the levels of biodiversity seen before the extinction.

Ammonoids are cephalopod swimmers related the nautilus and squid. They had a shell, and disappeared from the oceans at the same time as the dinosaurs, 65 million years ago, after being a major part of marine fauna for 400 MY.

The Franco-Swiss team of paleontologists has shown that ammonoids needed only one million years after the End-Permian extinction to diversify to the same levels as before.

The cephalopods, which were abundant during the Permian, narrowly missed being eradicated during the extinction: only two or three species survived and a single species seems to have been the basis for the extraordinary diversification of the group after the extinction.

It took researchers seven years to gather new fossils and analyze databases in order to determine the rate of diversification of the ammonoids.

In all, 860 genera from 77 regions around the world were recorded at 25 successive time intervals from the Late Carboniferous to the Late Triassic, a period of over 100 million years.

The discovery of this explosive growth over a million years takes a heated debate in a new direction.

Indeed, it suggests that earlier estimates for the End-Permian extinction were based on truncated data and imprecise or incorrect dating.

Furthermore, the duration for estimated recovery after other lesser extinctions all vary between 5 and 15 million years.

The result obtained here suggests that these estimates should probably be revised downwards.

The biosphere is most likely headed towards a sixth mass extinction, and this discovery reminds us that the recovery of existing species after an extinction is a very long process, taking several tens of thousands of human generations at the very least.

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Puzzling Cosmic Glow Is Caused by Diamond Dust Glamming Up Stars

Diamond dust is responsible for a mysterious glow emanating from certain regions of the Milky Way galaxy, a new study reports.

Astronomers have long known that some type of very small, rapidly spinning particle is throwing off this faint light, which is known as anomalous microwave emission (AME). But they couldn’t identify the exact culprit — until now.

In the new study, researchers used the Green Bank Telescope in West Virginia and the Australia Telescope Compact Array to search for AME light in 14 newborn star systems across the Milky Way.

They spotted the emissions in three of these systems, coming from the planet-forming disks of dust and gas swirling around the stars.

This is the first clear detection of anomalous microwave emission coming from protoplanetary disks,” study co-author David Frayer, an astronomer with the Green Bank Observatory, said in a statement.




The study team also detected the unique infrared-light signatures of nanodiamonds — carbon crystals far smaller than a grain of sand — in these same three systems, and nowhere else.

In fact, these [signatures] are so rare, no other young stars have the confirmed infrared imprint,” study lead author Jane Greaves, an astronomer at Cardiff University in Wales, said in the same statement.

The researchers don’t think this is a coincidence.

One to 2 percent of the total carbon in these protoplanetary disks has been incorporated into nanodiamonds, according to the team’s estimates.

Another leading AME-source candidate, a family of organic molecules known as polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), doesn’t hold up under scrutiny, the researchers said.

The infrared signature of PAHs has been identified in multiple young star systems that lack an AME glow, they noted.

The new results could help astronomers better understand the universe’s early days, study team members said.

Scientists think the universe expanded far faster than the speed of light shortly after the Big Bang, in a brief period of “cosmic inflation.

If this did indeed happen, it should have left a potentially detectable imprint — an odd polarization of the cosmic microwave background, the ancient light left over from the Big Bang.

The new study provides “good news for those who study polarization of the cosmic microwave background, since the signal from spinning nanodiamonds would be weakly polarized at best,” said co-author Brian Mason, an astronomer at the National Radio Astronomy Observatory in Charlottesville, Virgina.

This means that astronomers can now make better models of the foreground microwave light from our galaxy, which must be removed to study the distant afterglow of the Big Bang,” Mason added.

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Microsoft Xbox At E3 2018: New Console And Games Coming

Microsoft’s got a new Halo for you.

The hit Xbox action series starring the superhuman Master Chief in his latest adventure to save the galaxy was teased Sunday during the company’s press conference here at the Electronic Entertainment Expo.

Phil Spencer, Microsoft’s head of Xbox, said it will be the character’s “greatest adventure” yet, though the company didn’t say much more than that, nor when it will be released.

The game will be called Halo Infinite.




The new Halo was just the tip of the spear. The day also brought announcements on some 50 games and 20 exclusives designed to show the world the Xbox is the gaming device to buy, even if it’s not the most popular.

To emphasize that, the company wowed attendees at the Microsoft Theater in downtown Los Angeles with a series of announcements about plans for its most popular franchises, including the Gears of War space shooting epic and its hit Cuphead and Ori adventures games.

And if that’s not enough, Microsoft also dropped hints about its next Xbox console, saying teams are “deep into architecting” the next device, though it didn’t give a timetable for a release.

The company also said it’s building a new streaming service designed to allow gamers to play on an Xbox, PC or phone.

The message throughout all of it: Microsoft wants fans to know it hears them.

The company has been criticized for its lack of compelling and exclusive new games, something Nintendo and Sony have been successful at over the past few years.

The top recently released games list on game-review aggregating sister site Metacritic, for example, include Sony’s God of War epic and Nintendo’s update for Donkey Kong.

While Microsoft does have some popular exclusive games of its own, such as Halo and Gears of War, the criticism has grown louder.

That includes exclusive games made by Microsoft. “We always tell our teams to focus on the gamer,” he added. “If fans ask us for exclusives and first-party titles, that’s where we’re going to focus.”

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South Florida Church Pursues Eternal Life Through Cryonics, Inflaming Critics and The IRS

Bill Faloon with his sons, Chase (left) and Chance.

First, Bill Faloon gives a shoutout to Jonas Salk, inventor of the polio vaccine. “We need to put a pedestal up for him,” Faloon argues.

He moves on to slides about Nikolai Fyodorovich Fyodorov, a 19th-century Russian librarian who believed that man’s common task is to bring the dead back to life and unite all of humanity; he is the “prophet” of the church.

Faloon then tells the crowd that “cellular senescence,” when mature cells stop reproducing, is the root cause of physical aging. If scientists could only prevent this, people could stay young forever.

I never accepted death as being inevitable,” Faloon says in a business-like tone. “Technology will advance to the point where death is rather optional.

The pews are sprinkled with about 60 people: middle-aged women, friends from a libertarian meetup group, and gray-haired couples intrigued by an ad for the church that had run in the obituary section of the daily paper.

Cameramen from Vice News duck down in the aisles, filming Faloon for an episode that’s likely to air in the fall.

Faloon’s family is here: his lanky 18- and 20-year-old sons as well as his blond wife, Debra, who is 58 but looks downright girlish in high heels and a floral dress, a hot-pink flower in her hair.




In 2013, Faloon and his longtime business partner, Saul Kent, bought, for $880,000, this building just north of downtown Hollywood that had formerly housed a Baptist congregation.

They founded the Church of Perpetual Life, which hosts once-a-month meetings with a guest speaker and a social hour.

Establishing the church is just the latest bold step in the duo’s lifelong mission of trying to extend human lifespans.

Faloon and Kent are controversial figures in a controversial field. The so-called “immortalist” movement encompasses strategies of “life extension,” from taking vitamins to receiving organ transplants.

It also includes cryonics, the idea that corpses can be cooled to extremely low temperatures and someday, somehow, be returned to life.

For their work, Faloon and Kent have been both hailed as visionaries and derided as snake-oil salesmen. They’ve been raided by the feds and thrown in jail for importing unapproved drugs.

They’ve bankrolled a slew of curious cryonics projects, from the freezing of dogs to experiments in an underground house.

Kent even had his own mother’s head detached and cryopreserved, then had to fend off a murder investigation. Now, they’re battling the IRS over the foundation’s tax-exempt status.

None of this seems to bother Faloon much. A huge round of investment from the global 1 percent is now bringing immortalist ideas out of the realm of science fiction.

Peter Thiel, founder of PayPal; Martine Rothblatt, founder of Sirius Radio; and Sergey Brin, CEO of Google, are just a few of the ultrarich who have recently begun to pour hundreds of millions of dollars into life-extension endeavors.

Death, they are betting, is a scientific problem that can be solved.

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