Month: September, 2018

Pollution Is Turning Sea Snakes Black For A Surprising Reason

The turtle-headed sea snake usually sports beautiful bands of alternating black and white. But for decades, researchers have been puzzled by populations living near Pacific Ocean cities that seem to have lost their stripes.

Now a new study may finally have an answer: The pigment in black skin may help city snakes rid themselves of industrial pollutants.

By collecting shed skin from turtle-headed sea snakes in a variety of habitats, scientists discovered that all-black, urban snakes had higher concentrations of trace elements such as arsenic and zinc than did snakes far from cities.

Importantly, the team found the same phenomenon in skin samples from another black-and-white banded snake, the sea krait.




Finally, the scientists observed all-black sea snakes shed their skins more frequently than their rural counterparts, supporting the idea that the darker color allows reptiles to withstand the stresses of city life.

Snake populations are declining worldwide due to human activities, so it is good news that one species evolved a way to resist to pollution,” says study leader Claire Goiran, a marine biologist at the University of New Caledonia and the LabEx Corail.

If the researchers’ findings are correct, the turtle-headed sea snake would join a short list of animals that show “industrial melanism.”

The most famous example is the United Kingdom’s peppered moth, which evolved a darker color to stay camouflaged in forests blackened by coal pollution.

But it was another color-changing animal that made Goiran suspect industrial melanism in turtle-headed sea snakes: She read a paper by University of Warsaw biologist Marion Chatelain that found Parisian pigeons with darker feathers were better able to store toxins than their light feathered counterparts.

What’s more, the pigment that makes feathers (and skin) dark, called melanin, has a tendency to bind to metal ions, which means that growing darker feathers can actually serve as a way for birds to expel toxins from their bodies.

Home to around 100,000 people and a nickel metallurgical plant, Nouméa and its surrounding waters contain both urban and industrial pollution, she says. Goiran suspects the snakes absorb the toxins via the fish that they eat.

Chatelain called the new study interesting, as it’s likely the first to demonstrate a link between darker colorations and metal concentrations in a reptile.

For instance, the study analyzed the metal content between dark and light bands on sea kraits, not turtle-headed sea snakes.

The authors hypothesize that the same trends hold true for the turtle-headed species— but to know this, Chatelain says, skin samples from both colorations of the species from an urban area are required.

Therein lies the problem: It’s almost impossible to find a striped turtle-headed sea snake in an urban area these days, says Goiran.

In Nouméa, as few as 5 percent of the turtle-headed snakes still have their stripes, she says. What’s more, the species only sheds its skin three to four times a year, reducing the odds a researcher will find a sample.

On the other hand, sea kraits shed their skins on land, so they’re much easier to collect.

The study is not finished yet,” Goiran says. “We have many more things to learn from sea snakes.

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Some Ants Are Not As Industrious As You Think. Meet The Lazy Ants!

LAZY ANT

Ants are thought to be industrious and efficient, with everyone in the colony working really hard. However, that might not be as true as once thought.

Some species of ants were actually found to have what’s called lazy ants in their colonies and scientists are baffled!

In 2015, a group of ants called Temnothorax rugatulus are labelled as lazy. This species of ants build their colonies under rocks in the lands of western North America.




Daniel Charbonneau and Anna Dornhaus at the University of Arizona think that these lazy ants are old. They noticed that these lazy ants seem to do nothing–nothing at all.

However, when observed keenly, they found that these “lazy” ants aren’t actually as useless as they thought; their behaviors are just different from other ants.

These ants walk more slowly, are isolated in colony interaction networks and have the smallest behavioural repertoires,” he says.

These lazy ants aren’t necessarily old as they’ve once assumed, they just seem to be immature workers.

LAZY ANT

Their appearances are different too, with plumper bodies and usually having egg cells inside them. Researchers hypothesized that this might their way of storing food–putting it inside them to share with other ants later.

Inactive workers storing food for the colony,” he says. It could also be that the eggs inside them are the food for their brothers and sisters, since there are other species of ants that lay unfertilized edible eggs. However, what this laziness for is still uncertain.

LAZY ANT

As the authors state, there very likely is not just one reason for these inactive ants,” Erik Frank at the University of Würzburg in Germany says. “They probably have various benefits for the colony and reasons for their inactivity.

The researchers are now looking into other ant species to see if lazy ants exist on other types. “The next thing is really starting to look at the function and explanation for inactivity across species to see if there’s some main mechanism which facilitates inactivity,” Charbonneau says.

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Tiny Space Rover Shoots Majestic Movie On Asteroid’s Surface

What makes a movie great? Dialogue, plot, settings, drama. Or you can just shoot a short on an asteroid.

Japan’s Hayabusa 2 mission successfully deployed two Minerva robotic rovers to the surface of an asteroid named Ryugu over the weekend. Japan’s space agency JAXA sent back pictures, but now we have a 15-frame-long movie courtesy of Rover-1B.

Enjoy ‘standing’ on the surface of this asteroid!” JAXA wrote in a Thursday tweet.

Director J.J. Abrams will be envious of the movie’s impressive sun-lit lens flare, which rotates across the scene. The asteroid’s rocky surface is visible in the bottom half of the frame.




JAXA released a host of images from the asteroid over the last few days, including the highest-resolution Ryugu surface image yet. The views show an inhospitable-looking environment covered in rocks and boulders.

Hayabusa 2 arrived at its asteroid target in June. This is a sequel to the original Hayabusa mission, which returned a sample of an asteroid back to Earth in 2010.

Hayabusa 2 hopes to pull off the same feat as the original mission. If all goes as planned, it will bring back a bit of Ryugu in late 2020.

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How To Make Portable Computer On A USB Drive And Bring It Wherever You Go

If you’re using your flash drive as a vehicle for simple file transfers, you’re missing out on one of the single-best roles one of these wee data buckets can fulfill.

Indeed, hardcore enthusiasts know that simple flash drives are perfect portable repositories for all the software that can breathe life into an otherwise ailing PC.

In this video we’ll show you how to to create a bootable USB drive containing Linux Mint, so that you can try out Linux without installing it on your computer.

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High Sugar Diets Linked To Heightened Depression Risk In Men

doughnuts

Millions of sweet-toothed British men could be making themselves anxious and depressed by consuming too much sugar, a study suggests.

Scientists found that men who consumed more than 67g of sugar per day – the equivalent of two regular cans of coca-cola – increased their risk of mood disorders by more than a fifth compared with those with an intake of less than 39.5g.

Since the average British man has a 68.4g per day sugar habit, according to the National Diet and Nutrition Survey published in 2013, the findings do not bode well for the mental health of the UK male population.




The study ruled out the possibility that the results can be explained by unhappy men comforting themselves with sugary treats.

Lead researcher Dr. Anika Knuppel, from University College London’s Institute of Epidemiology and Health, said: “High sugar diets have a number of influences on our health but our study shows that there might also be a link between sugar and mood disorders, particularly among men.”

”There are numerous factors that influence chances for mood disorders, but having a diet high in sugary foods and drinks might be the straw that breaks the camel’s back.”

There is increasing evidence for the physical damage sugar has on our health. Our work suggests an additional mental health effect.”

depressed

For reasons that are unclear, the study which looked at thousands of civil servants of both sexes found no link between sugar intake and new mood disorders in women.

The findings are based on data from Whitehall II, a major long-term investigation into physical and mental health problems encountered by people working at different levels of the UK civil service.

Sugar consumption was compared with rates of common mental disorders in more than 5,000 men and 2,000 women between 1983 and 2013.

Participants were placed into three groups according to their daily sugar intake. After five years, men in the top group were 23 per cent more like to have developed a common mental disorder such as depression or anxiety than those in the bottom group.

sugar

The top tier men consumed more than 67g of sugar per day and the bottom group less than 39.5g.

British adults consume roughly double recommended levels of added sugar, three quarters of which comes from sweet foods and drinks, said the researchers.

Dr Knuppel added: “Sweet food has been found to induce positive feelings in the short-term. People experiencing low mood may eat sugary foods in the hope of alleviating negative feelings. Our study suggests a high intake of sugary foods is more likely to have the opposite effect on mental health in the long-term.”

Co-author Professor Eric Brunner, also from UCL, said the new sugar tax on soft drinks which takes effect in April 2018 was a “step in the right direction”.

He said: “Our findings provide yet further evidence that sugary foods and drinks are best avoided. The physical and mental health of British people deserves some protection from the commercial forces which exploit the human ‘sweet tooth’.”

sugar

Catherine Collins, from the British Dietetic Association, was one of a number of experts to urge caution. “Whilst the findings as reported are interesting, the dietary analysis makes it impossible to justify the bold claims made by the researchers about sugar and depression in men.”

“More surprising is the lack of reported effect in women, who have a far more emotional relationship with food,” she said. Reducing intake of free sugars is good for your teeth, and may be good for your weight, too. But as protection against depression? It’s not proven.”

Professor Tom Sanders, a nutrition expert at King’s College London, said: “This is an observational study not a clinical trial and its interpretation needs to be treated with caution.”

“While the authors have tried to adjust for the effects of social factors there still is a risk of residual confounding. There is also a major problem in that sugar intake is under-reported in the overweight and obese, which the authors acknowledge.”

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Dark Mode And A Preview Of The Mac’s Future

The latest operating system update for Mac includes Dark Mode.

If you own an iPhone, there’s good reason to look forward to the new version of iOS every year.

It usually comes with meaningful improvements to the interface, useful new apps and features — like this year’s Screen Time option that monitors how much you use your apps — and even the occasional performance improvements.

But if you’ve owned a Mac in recent years, there’s been little reason to get excited for new releases of macOS.

Some hidden corner of the operating system might get a new feature, a sharp edge or two will be rounded out, and maybe another feature from iOS will appear on the desktop.

macOS Mojave, the new version coming out today, is a prototypically 2010s macOS release: filled with minor improvements, some additions from iOS, and little to praise or complain about.

I like it, and I think there are things that make it worth installing. But more than ever, it has me wondering: where is this platform going?

There are some changes inside Mojave that start to answer that Big Question. But in day-to-day use, they’re not actually fun or helpful updates, so I’m going to dive into those first.




Among the things that do affect your day-to-day use are some real crowd-pleasers. First and foremost: there’s finally a dark mode.

I don’t know what it is that gets people going about dark modes, but everyone loves them. So including one in macOS has long been a popular request and low-hanging fruit for Apple.

This year, Apple’s finally done it. You’ll be asked on startup whether you want to go with light or dark mode, and you’ll even be given a wallpaper to match.

Dark mode is not going to change the way you use your computer. And because developers need to add support to all of their apps, it won’t even work everywhere yet.

Take note: the Voice Memos app is now on the Mac.

But there’s really nothing bad I can say about it. If you’ve been waiting for it, it’s here. I think the biggest quality-of-life improvement in Mojave is directly on the desktop.

Apple has a new idea about how organizing files should work, and it’s actually really handy for keeping your desktop from turning into a complete mess.

The feature, called Desktop Stacks, automatically groups items on your desktop into “stacks” (basically fancy folders) of similar types of things.

So one stack collects images, another collects screenshots, another collects PDFs, and so on.

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How To Protect Astronauts From Space Radiation On Mars

In this image taken by the Viking 1 orbiter in June 1976, the translucent layer above Mars’ dusty red surface is its atmosphere. Compared to Earth’s atmosphere, the thin Martian atmosphere is a less powerful shield against quick-moving, energetic particles that pelt in from all directions – which means astronauts on Mars will need protection from this harsh radiation environment.

On Aug. 7, 1972, in the heart of the Apollo era, an enormous solar flare exploded from the sun’s atmosphere. Along with a gigantic burst of light in nearly all wavelengths, this event accelerated a wave of energetic particles.

Mostly protons, with a few electrons and heavier elements mixed in, this wash of quick-moving particles would have been dangerous to anyone outside Earth’s protective magnetic bubble.

Luckily, the Apollo 16 crew had returned to Earth just five months earlier, narrowly escaping this powerful event.

In the early days of human space flight, scientists were only just beginning to understand how events on the sun could affect space, and in turn how that radiation could affect humans and technology.

Today, as a result of extensive space radiation research, we have a much better understanding of our space environment, its effects, and the best ways to protect astronauts—all crucial parts of NASA’s mission to send humans to Mars.

The Martian” film highlights the radiation dangers that could occur on a round trip to Mars. While the mission in the film is fictional, NASA has already started working on the technology to enable an actual trip to Mars in the 2030s.

In the film, the astronauts’ habitat on Mars shields them from radiation, and indeed, radiation shielding will be a crucial technology for the voyage.




From better shielding to advanced biomedical countermeasures, NASA currently studies how to protect astronauts and electronics from radiation – efforts that will have to be incorporated into every aspect of Mars mission planning, from spacecraft and habitat design to spacewalk protocols.

Radiation, at its most basic, is simply waves or sub-atomic particles that transports energy to another entity – whether it is an astronaut or spacecraft component.

The main concern in space is particle radiation. Energetic particles can be dangerous to humans because they pass right through the skin, depositing energy and damaging cells or DNA along the way.

This damage can mean an increased risk for cancer later in life or, at its worst, acute radiation sickness during the mission if the dose of energetic particles is large enough.

Fortunately for us, Earth’s natural protections block all but the most energetic of these particles from reaching the surface. A huge magnetic bubble, called the magnetosphere, which deflects the vast majority of these particles, protects our planet.

And our atmosphere subsequently absorbs the majority of particles that do make it through this bubble.

Importantly, since the International Space Station (ISS) is in low-Earth orbit within the magnetosphere, it also provides a large measure of protection for our astronauts.

“We have instruments that measure the radiation environment inside the ISS, where the crew are, and even outside the station,” said Kerry Lee, a scientist at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston.

A long solar filament erupted into space on April 28-29, 2015. This type of eruption, called a coronal mass ejection, or CME, is sometimes followed by a wave of high-energy particles that can be dangerous to astronauts and electronics outside the protection of Earth’s magnetic system and atmosphere. For our journey to Mars, we will have to incorporate protection against this particle radiation into every aspect of mission planning.

This ISS crew monitoring also includes tracking of the short-term and lifetime radiation doses for each astronaut to assess the risk for radiation-related diseases.

Although NASA has conservative radiation limits greater than allowed radiation workers on Earth, the astronauts are able to stay well under NASA’s limit while living and working on the ISS, within Earth’s magnetosphere.

But a journey to Mars requires astronauts to move out much further, beyond the protection of Earth’s magnetic bubble.

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The SpaceX Crew Dragon – Elon’s First Step to Mars

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Elon Musk’s plan to get humans to Mars can only be achieved if they first get people to space. For this, they have built the Crew Dragon capsule, which will finally start testing at the end of this year, with the first astronauts scheduled for Spring 2019.

SpaceX’s Crew Dragon capsule is a manned version of their Dragon cargo capsule. Fully autonomous with room for 7 passengers, this is the most advanced space craft ever built. Along with the new Boeing Starliner, this will give NASA 2 different options to send up astronauts for the first time in their history.

Launching astronauts into space from American soil would be the first time that’s happened since 2011, when the famed Space Shuttle flew its last mission. The first two astronauts to fly on Crew Dragon are Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley, two seasoned astronauts with years of experience between them.

World Of Math Aflutter Over New Proof Of 160-Year-Old Hypothesis

The 90-year-old mathematician Michael Atiyah has presented what he referred to as a “simple proof” of the Riemann hypothesis, a problem which has eluded mathematicians for almost 160 years.

The world of maths and the Twitter-sphere have been a frenzy ever since the British-Lebanese mathematician indicated he was to give a lecture on Monday at the Heidelberg Laureates Forum in Germany on what is widely regarded as the most important outstanding problem in maths.

Although it is almost incomprehensible for people without intensive maths training, the hypothesis describes the distribution of prime numbers among positive integers.

Prime numbers, very simple by definition, are the building blocks of modern mathematics, especially number theory. Achievements in prime number theory have been widely applied to computer sciences and telecommunications.

 




However prime numbers are also mysterious and inexplicable – the pattern in which prime numbers emerge in the line of positive integers has remained elusive to generations of mathematicians.

Riemann proposed a theory that can, in a way, shed light on that mystery; but he could not prove it, nor could all the brilliant minds that came after.

If a solution to the Riemann hypothesis is confirmed, it would be big news as mathematicians would be armed with a map to the location of all such prime numbers; a breakthrough with far-reaching repercussions in the field.

Atiyah, who specialises in geometry, is one of the UK’s most eminent mathematical figures, having received the two awards often referred to as the Nobel prizes of mathematics; the Fields Medal and the Abel Prize.

 

$1 million prize

As one of the six unsolved “Clay Millennium Problems”, any solution would be eligible for a $1 million prize. This has tempted many mathematicians over the years, none of which has yet been awarded the prize.

Atiyah is well aware of this history of failure. “Nobody believes any proof of the Riemann hypothesis, let alone a proof by someone who’s 90,” he said, but he hoped his presentation would convince his critics.

In it, he paid tribute to the work of two great 20th century mathematicians, John von Neumann and Friedrich Hirzebruch, whose developments he claims laid the foundations for his own proposed proof.

It fell into my lap, I had to pick it up,” he said in advance of giving his talk.

He has produced a number of papers in recent years making remarkable claims which have so far failed to convince his peers.

The Clay Millennium Prizes, announced in 2000, were conceived to record seven of the most difficult problems with which mathematicians were grappling at the turn of the second millennium.

They were also designed “to elevate in the consciousness of the general public the fact that in mathematics, the frontier is still open and abounds in important unsolved problems; to emphasise the importance of working towards a solution of the deepest, most difficult problems; and to recognise achievement in mathematics of historical magnitude”.

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