Month: October, 2018

Can You Really Be Scared to Death?

A friend jumps out at you when you’re turning a corner. Your heart starts pounding, and you gasp. “You scared me to death!” you say.

Of course, the fact that you can utter this common phrase means that you are not deceased. But saying this is so common, in fact, that we have to ask the question: Is it possible to be scared to death?

The answer: yes, humans can be scared to death. In fact, any strong emotional reaction can trigger fatal amounts of a chemical, such as adrenaline, in the body.

It happens very rarely, but it can happen to anyone. The risk of death from fear or another strong emotion is greater for individuals with preexisting heart conditions, but people who are perfectly healthy in all other respects can also fall victim.

Being scared to death boils down to our autonomic response to a strong emotion, such as fear.

For fear-induced deaths, the demise starts with our fight-or-flight response, which is the body’s physical response to a perceived threat.

This response is characterized by an increased heart rate, anxiety, perspiration, and increased blood glucose levels.




How does our fight-or-flight instinct lead to death, though? To understand that, we have to understand what the nervous system is doing when it’s stimulated, primarily in releasing hormones.

These hormones, which can be adrenaline or another chemical messenger, ready the body for action. The thing is, adrenaline and similar chemicals in large doses are toxic to organs such as the heart, the liver, the kidneys, and the lungs.

Scientists claim that what causes sudden death out of fear in particular is the chemical’s damage to the heart, since this is the only organ that, upon being affected, could cause sudden death.

Adrenaline opens calcium to the heart. With a lot of calcium going to the heart, the organ has trouble slowing down, which is something that can cause ventricular fibrillation, a specific type of abnormal heart rhythm.

Irregular heartbeats prevent the organ from successfully pumping blood to the body and lead to sudden death unless treated immediately.

High levels of adrenaline aren’t caused only by fear. Other strong emotions can also incite a rush of adrenaline. For example, sporting events and sexual intercourse have been known to lead to adrenaline-induced deaths.

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A NASA Spacecraft Just Broke the Record for Closest Approach to Sun

A NASA sun-studying spacecraft just entered the record books.

In April of 1976, the German-American Helios 2 probe made spaceflight’s closest-ever solar approach, cruising within 26.55 million miles (42.73 million kilometers) of the sun.

But NASA’s Parker Solar Probe zoomed inside that distance today (Oct. 29), crossing the threshold at about 1:04 p.m. EDT (1704 GMT), agency officials said.

Helios 2 also set the mark back then for fastest speed relative to the sun, at 153,454 mph (246,960 km/h).

The Parker Solar Probe is expected to best that today as well, reaching higher speeds at about 10:54 p.m. EDT (0254 GMT on Oct. 30), NASA officials said.

These records will fall again and again over the course of the Parker Solar Probe’s $1.5 billion mission, which began Aug. 12 with a liftoff from Florida’s Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.




The spacecraft will study the sun during 24 close flybys over the next seven years, getting closer and closer to our star with each encounter.

The Parker Solar Probe’s final flyby, in 2025, will bring the craft within a mere 3.83 million miles (6.16 million km) of the sun’s surface.

And the sun’s powerful gravity will eventually accelerate the probe to a top speed of around 430,000 mph (690,000 km/h), NASA officials have said.

The first of these two dozen close encounters is just around the corner: It officially begins Wednesday (Oct. 31), with perihelion (closest solar approach) coming on the night of Nov. 5.

It’s been just 78 days since Parker Solar Probe launched, and we’ve now come closer to our star than any other spacecraft in history,” mission project manager Andy Driesman, from the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Maryland, said in a statement.

It’s a proud moment for the team, though we remain focused on our first solar encounter, which begins on Oct. 31.

The spacecraft sports a special carbon-composite shield to protect itself and its instruments from intense heat and radiation during its close flybys.

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First Fossil Lungs Found In Dinosaur-Era Bird

For the first time, researchers found the presence of what they believe to be lung tissue in an avian dinosaur fossil.

About 120 million years ago in what’s now northeastern China, a bird met its end during a volcanic eruption.

Ashfall buried the animal so suddenly, its soft tissues didn’t have time to decay, and over millions of years, minerals infiltrated these tissues and preserved their form.

Now, researchers have unveiled this breathtaking specimen, which contains the first fossilized lungs ever found in an early bird.

The species Archaeorhynchus spathula lived alongside the nonavian dinosaurs during the Cretaceous period.

The newfound fossil, which preserves feathers and considerable soft tissue, shows that this primitive bird’s lungs closely resemble those found in living birds.




This suggests that birds’ hyper-efficient lungs, a key adaptation for flight, first emerged earlier than thought, and it underscores how birds—the last living dinosaurs—inherited many iconic traits from their extinct ancestors.

Everything we knew about lungs, about respiration, about evolution of [birds] was just inferring based on skeletal indicators,” says study coauthor Jingmai O’Connor, a paleontologist at the Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology in Beijing, China.

“And now we know that we were inferring less generously than we should have.”

A newly identified Archaeorhynchus specimen showing the preserved plumage and lung tissue.

O’Connor presented the discovery on October 18 at the Society of Vertebrate Paleontology’s annual meeting in Albuquerque, New Mexico, and the finding will be published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

This is an exciting discovery,” says Colleen Farmer, an anatomist and physiologist at the University of Utah who reviewed the study.

Finding bird-like lungs in this group of dinosaurs is to be expected, but it is incredible to uncover hard evidence of this soft structure.

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Here’s How To Find Out How Much Data Apple Has About You

Last October 17, Apple updated its privacy website, adding details about iOS 12 and the ability for more users to download any and all data linked to an Apple ID.

In May, Apple made it possible for users in the EU to download their own data. However, with the update, users in the US are now able to download and view the data Apple collects.

What’s included

  • Your Apple ID account details and sign-in records.
  • Data that you store with iCloud such as contacts, calendars, notes, bookmarks, reminders, email, photos, videos and documents.
  • App usage information, as it relates to use of iCloud, Apple Music, Game Center and other services.
  • A record of the items you have purchased or downloaded from the App Store, iTunes Store and Apple Books, as well as your browsing history in those stores.
  • Records of your Apple retail store and support transactions.
  • Records of marketing communications, preferences and other activity.




How to request your data

The process of requesting your data can be done on almost any Apple device and takes just a few minutes. Start by visiting Apple’s Apple ID management page and signing into your Apple ID account.

Next, scroll down to the Data & Privacy section and click on Manage Your Data and Privacy. Sign into your Apple ID when prompted. Click Get Started under the section labeled Get a copy of your data.

“Get a copy of your data” sounds promising.

The next screen will present you with a list of data categories. Select which data you want to download, and then click Continue when you’re done.

The next page will ask you to select a file size that’s easy for you to manage, and Apple will split up your data into files of that size.

That’s it. Once you complete the process, Apple will begin working on your request. It can take up to seven days, according to the company, for your request to be completed.

When your data is ready, Apple will send an email to your Apple ID with instructions for downloading and viewing your data.

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Scientists Have Finally Figured Out How To Spin Artificial Silk The Way Spiders Do

Artificial spider silk fibers on spools.

An international team of scientists has devised artificial silk that becomes a slim yet tough fiber, with help from a machine designed to mimic the spinning spiders do naturally.

The silk isn’t quite as strong as the real thing, but the researchers have a few ideas for fine-tuning the technology so it can move a step closer to the market.

Spider-Man jokes aside, spider silk is a natural super-fiber. It’s made from protein, yet it is incredibly stretchy and strong. Pound-for-pound, some fibers of spider silk can absorb more energy than the bulletproof vest material Kevlar.

What’s more, spider silk doesn’t provoke immune responses in people, so the fiber has all kinds of medical possibilities, from wound healing patches to artificial tendons.

If spider silk is such big business, why isn’t it everywhere? One obvious-seeming option, farming spiders for their silk, isn’t realistic.




Spiders tend to get territorial and eat each other. So scientists have been trying for years to make artificial spider silk instead.

New advances make headlines every so often, but by and large making commercial-grade spider silk in labs has proven extremely challenging.

In the last couple of years, though, startups have stepped up to the plate. Japan’s Spiber Inc. has partnered with The North Face to make a synthetic spider silk coat called The Moon Parka.

San Francisco-based Bolt Threads has announced a deal with Patagonia. Both these companies use single-celled hosts (yeast or E. coli bacteria) to make silk proteins instead of spiders.

A nest of artificial spider silk fibers.

Other startups are exploring engineered silkworms, and even goats.

So where does this new research fit in? Currently, making spider silk in the lab is a multi-step process. Firms must first make the proteins, then purify them, and finally spin them into fibers.

There tend to be a couple of kinks in this process. One is that the proteins clump together, making fewer of them available for spinning.

Another is that the spinning process on its own produces relatively weak silk that needs additional processing.

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Do You Have Free Will? (Hint: Not Really)

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Do you make your own decisions? Science says maybe not. Not really, anyway.

Starting in the 1950s, neuroscientists turned to split brain surgery in an effort to cure epileptics with uncontrollable seizures. Split brain surgery cut the corpus callosum, a band of nerves that connects the two hemispheres of the brain.

By doing so, they discovered some amazing side effects that basically suggest that there are subconscious modules in your brain that make decisions without your conscious awareness, and an interpreter module in your brain that translates those decisions to your conscious brain.

These tests, performed by Roger Sperry and Michael Gazzaniga, have brought up endless questions about how we make our decisions, who’s actually in charge in our brain, and whether we have actual free will.

Continent’s Oldest Spear Points Provide New Clues About The First Americans

For as long as Buttermilk Creek has wound its way through Texas Hill Country, its spring-fed waters have carved through the region’s dark, dense clays, cutting away layers of earth to expose the rock — and the history — below.

Here, archaeologists have uncovered evidence of a human settlement stretching back as far as 15,500 years: hammer stones and broken knives, fragments of fractured tools.

And now, scientists say, the Buttermilk Creek complex has offered up the oldest known spearheads in North America.

If the projectile point was the cellphone of the Pleistocene — an omnipresent technology that shaped cultures and defined daily life — the Clovis tools were the iPhone X.

These points, named for the city in New Mexico where they were first found, featured a fluted bottom and rounded sides tapering to a sharp point.

The distinctive spearheads are scattered throughout the rock record between 10,000 and 13,500 years ago, from the East Coast to the Rocky Mountains and as far south as Venezuela.

The tools are so ubiquitous that for nearly a century, archaeologists thought that the Clovis tradition represented the first people to arrive in the Americas.




But research in recent decades has revealed archaeological sites much older than Clovis, and genetic analyses of modern Native Americans suggest their ancestors crossed a land bridge from Asia to Alaska about 20,000 years ago, then migrated down the Pacific coast between 20,000 and 15,000 years before present.

So who exactly were these early Americans?

The new points uncovered at Buttermilk Creek may offer a clue, said Waters, who directs the Center for the Study of the First Americans at Texas A&M University.

Because tools are so essential to the tasks of survival — hunting, cooking, building, killing — they can say a great deal about the people who wielded them.

In more than 10 years of excavations at his site, Waters and his colleagues have found Clovis points in a rock layer dating to about 13,000 years ago.

Below that, in older rocks, they uncovered scores of stone point fragments, but no whole spearheads. It was difficult to know if they were looking at older Clovis artifacts, or something entirely different.

Then, in 2015, the archaeologists uncovered two perfectly preserved artifacts: One triangular point, which resembles a predator’s sharp tooth, and one lobe-shaped projectile with a tapered, or “stemmed,” bottom.

With these whole points as models, Waters’s team was able to make sense of the 10 additional fragments they collected.

They seemed subtly but significantly different from Clovis and other toolmaking traditions — neither a clear ancestor to the later technology, nor an obvious competitor.

Skye Gilham, a forensic anthropologist who is a member of the Blackfeet tribe in northern Montana, said that recent archaeological and genetic research has been helpful in establishing a scientific link between the first Americans and their descendants living today.

Findings like Waters’, which provide evidence for her people’s long history in the Americas, have helped ensure the return of native remains to their communities.

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FCC Frees Up Spectrum For Super-Fast Wireless Internet

US government regulators freed up unused spectrum between television channels on Thursday for super-fast wireless service and use by the next generation of mobile devices.

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) voted 5-0 to open up so-called “white spaces” — the vacant airwaves between broadcast television channels.

The FCC said the move, the first release of unlicensed spectrum in 25 years, would lead to “a host of new technologies, such as “super Wi-Fi,” and myriad other diverse applications.”

Unlocking this valuable spectrum will open the doors for new industries to arise, create American jobs, and fuel new investment and innovation,” the FCC said in a statement.

FCC chairman Julius Genachowski said it will lead to “billions of dollars in private investment and to valuable new products and services — some we can imagine, and many we can’t.




We know what the first major application will be: super Wi-Fi. Super Wi-Fi is what it sounds like: Wi-Fi, but with longer range, faster speeds, and more reliable connections,” Genachowski said.

Television networks and wireless microphone users had protested that allowing use of “white spaces” would lead to interference with their signals.

The National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) said following the unanimous vote that it would be reviewing the ruling.

Ed Black, president and chief executive of the Computer and Communications Industry Association, welcomed the FCC move.

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Tim Cook Calls For US Federal Privacy Law To Tackle ‘Weaponized’ Personal Data

Apple’s chief executive, Tim Cook, called on Wednesday for a federal privacy law in the US to protect against voracious internet companies hoarding so much digital data that the businesses know citizens “better than they know themselves” – and then often sell the information on.

Cook warned in a keynote speech that personal data was being “weaponized” against the public and endorsed tough privacy laws for both Europe and the US.

The iPhone and Mac computer giant has stood out in its explicit declarations that Apple prefers to protect its customers’ personal data.

Speaking at an international conference in Brussels on data privacy,Cook applauded European Union authorities for bringing in a strict new data privacy law in May, the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR).




This gives consumers more control over their personal information and imposes greater restrictions and transparency rules on all companies, with the threat of fines, but particularly affects the chains of companies that exploit digitally acquired data, including tech leaders such as Google and Facebook and middlemen marketers and data brokers.

The conference featured brief video comments from the Facebook chairman, Mark Zuckerberg, and Google CEO, Sundar Pichai, asserting various steps they are taking to give users greater protection, in moves observers saw as a jostling by tech giants to curry favor in Europe as regulators intensify their scrutiny.

Cook warned that the trade in personal information “has exploded into a data industrial complex”.

Data protection has become a major political issue worldwide and European regulators have led the charge in setting new rules for the big internet companies.

The GDPR requires companies to change the way they do business in the region, and a number of headline-grabbing data breaches have raised public awareness of the issue.

Cook warned that technology’s promise to drive breakthroughs that benefit humanity is at risk of being overshadowed by the harm it can cause by deepening division and spreading false information.

In the first big test of the new rules, Ireland’s data protection commission, which is a lead authority for Europe as many big tech firms are based in the country, is investigating Facebook’s data breach, which let hackers access 3m EU-based accounts.

Google, meanwhile, shut down its Plus social network this month after revealing it had a flaw that could have exposed personal information of up to half a million people.

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The Bacterium That Saved Civil War Soldiers

As the sun went down after the 1862 Battle of Shiloh during the Civil War, some soldiers noticed that their wounds were glowing a faint blue.

Many men waited on the rainy, muddy Tennessee battlefield for two days that April, until medics could treat them.

Once they were taken to field hospitals, the troops with glowing wounds were more likely to survive their injuries — and to get better faster. Thus the mysterious blue light was dubbed “Angel’s Glow.”

In 2001, 17-year-old Civil War buff Bill Martin visited the Shiloh battlefield with his family and heard the legend of Angel’s Glow.

His mom, Phyllis, happened to be a microbiologist who studied a soil bacterium called Photorhabdus luminescens or P. luminescens — which is bioluminescent, meaning it gives off its own light.




In fact, it gave off a light that was pale blue in color. Bill and his friend Jonathan Curtis wondered if this organism could be the source of Angel’s Glow. Bill’s mom encouraged them to try to find out.

The boys learned that P. luminescens live inside nematodes, tiny parasitic worms that burrow into insect larvae in the soil or on plants.

Once rooted in the larvae, the nematodes vomit up the bacteria, which release chemicals that kill the host larvae and any other microorganisms living inside them.

Bill and Jonathan were slightly stumped to find out that P. luminescens can’t survive at normal human body temperature.

But they figured out that sitting on the cold, wet ground for two days had lowered the wounded soldiers’ body temperature.

So when the nematodes from the muddy soil got into the wounds, the bacteria had the right environment to thrive — and to save the men’s lives by cleaning out other, more dangerous germs.

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