Month: December, 2018

Why Is Yawning So Contagious?

If looking at the image above makes you yawn, you’ve just experience contagious yawning.

What is yawning? And why do we do so much of it? Neuroscientist and yawn expert Robert Provine says it’s “ancient and autonomic.” It stems from early evolution and is common to many creatures—even fish do it.

It’s autonomic in the sense that it roots in the brainstem, way down in the basement level of the brain, where certain responses are so built-in they don’t even qualify as reflexes.

Yawning has many triggers, including boredom, sleepiness, and temperature.




A 2014 study suggested that there’s a “thermal window” (at around 68°F) for human yawning; as ambient temperature approaches body temperature or goes down near freezing, we yawn less.

According to the paper, we may yawn to regulate the temperature of our brains. This isn’t the same as saying we yawn to take in extra oxygen, as evidence to date says we don’t.

It means that yawning might act to draw brain-soothing ambient air in through the nose and mouth.

COPYCAT YAWNING?

Over the years, scientists have observed “contagious yawning” in chimpanzees, humans, baboons, bonobos, wolves, and, to a certain extent, dogs. Yawning feels good, so why not join in when someone else yawns?

Well, you’re not really “joining in,” because you aren’t copying the yawn on any conscious level. It happens because you just can’t help it. If you become self-conscious about a yawn, it stops.

While many past studies have documented the phenomenon, a more recent study, published in the journal Adaptive Human Behavior and Physiology, contends that yawns may not be contagious after all—or at least that we have not yet proven it.

Experimental psychologist Rohan Kapitány of the University of Oxford conducted a review of the scientific literature on contagious yawns and found very little conclusive evidence to back up our long-held assumption that yawns are contagious.

The belief that yawns are contagious seems self-evident,” Kapitány said, “but there are some very basic reasons for why we might be mistaken in this.”

“If we fail to dissect that which we think we know, we might end up with conclusions that do not reflect reality.”

“In this instance, the literature hasn’t questioned the basic features of contagious yawning, and ended up with a wide range of unstandardized methodologies and conclusions.

Still, because Kapitány’s study was small and extremely limited, he and his fellow authors urge other scientists to challenge their findings with experiments of their own.

I may be wrong!” Kapitány said. “Maybe yawns are contagious!” Kapitány says he’d like to see “more robust” attempts to falsify the claim that yawns are contagious rather than “simply demonstrating it over and over [in] slightly different contexts with richer and richer explanations.

WHO DOESN’T CATCH YAWNS?

Some people with autism or schizophrenia don’t exhibit a yawn-contagion response. The same is true of children under the age of four years. This has led to a variety of theories about yawning’s relationship to empathy and the brain’s mirror-neuron system (MNS).

The idea here is that MNS deficits might lead to missing hidden empathetic cues that trigger contagious yawning. The MNS seems to be involved in the process to some extent.

fMRI scans on a range of people have shown that other parts of the brain also “light up” in response to images of yawning, perhaps more so than the areas normally associated with empathy.

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Pass it on: Popular Science

The European Space Agency Sets Its Sights On Mercury

Get a month of CuriosityStream for free at http://www.curiositystream.com/joescott.

The European Space Agency – or ESA – has been a major player in the commercial launch space for decades with their Ariane series of rockets. But they also have been racking up some impressive interplanetary missions, their latest one being the BepiColumbo mission to Mercury.

Here we break down the ESA, talk about some of their biggest victories, and where they want to go in the future.

Bizarre New Species Of Fish: Ocean Sunfish

sunfish

As gigantic as the ocean sunfish can be, it still seems like only half a fish.

Unique traits

Sunfish, or mola, develop their truncated, bullet-like shape because the back fin which they are born with simply never grows. Instead, it folds into itself as the enormous creature matures, creating a rounded rudder called a clavus.

Mola in Latin means “millstone” and describes the ocean sunfish’s somewhat circular shape. They are a silvery color and have a rough skin texture.




Mola are found in temperate and tropical oceans around the world. They are frequently seen basking in the sun near the surface and are often mistaken for sharks when their huge dorsal fins emerge above the water.

Their teeth are fused into a beak-like structure, and they are unable to fully close their relatively small mouths.

sunfish

Size and Weight

The mola are the heaviest of all the bony fish, with large specimens reaching 14 feet vertically and 10 feet horizontally and weighing nearly 5,000 pounds. Sharks and rays can be heavier, but they’re cartilaginous fish.

Parasites

Ocean sunfish can become so infested with skin parasites, they will often invite small fish or even birds to feast on the pesky critters. They will even breach the surface up to 10 feet in the air and land with a splash in an attempt to shake the parasites.

sunfish

Movement and Diet

They are clumsy swimmers, waggling their large dorsal and anal fins to move and steering with their clavus. Their food of choice is jellyfish, though they will eat small fish and huge amounts of zooplankton and algae as well. They are harmless to people, but can be very curious and will often approach divers.

sunfish

Threats to Survival

Their population is considered vulnerable. Sunfish frequently get snagged in drift gill nets and can suffocate on sea trash, like plastic bags, which resemble jellyfish.

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Pass it on: Popular Science

Three Ancient Texts That Completely Shatter History As We Know It

There are numerous ‘controversial’ ancient texts that have been found throughout the years around the globe.

Most of them are firmly rejected by mainstream scholars since they oppose nearly everything set forth by mainstream historians.




Some of these ancient texts are said to shatter mainstream beliefs and dogmas that have been considered as firm foundations of modern-day society.

The 3,600-year-ol Kolbrin Bible

The Kolbrin Bible is considered by many as the first Judaic/Christian document which spells out understanding of human evolution, creationism, and intelligent design.

The mathematical principles of the Kolbrin reflect the interest of the ancient Druids in astronomy and mathematics and speak of global cataclysms of the past.

It is an ancient text that according to many scholars dates back at last 3,600 years, but could be much older.

Scholars believe this ancient manuscript was written at the same time as the Old Testament was being composed.

The Book of Enoch

Ever since it was discovered, the Book of Enoch has been considered one of the most controversial ancient texts discovered on the planet.

The Book of Enoch is an ancient Jewish religious manuscript which is traced back to Enoch, the great-grandfather of Noah.

The Book of Enoch is considered by many scholars one of the most influential non-canonical apocryphal writings.

It is believed to have greatly influenced Christian beliefs.

This ancient text describes (the first part) the demise of the Watchers, the angels who fathered the Nephilim.

The Book of Giants

This ancient text believed to date back over 2000 years proves — according to many authors — that the ancient Nephilim were real beings and described how they were destroyed.

It was discovered several decades ago at the Qumran Caves where researchers came across the Dead Sea Scrolls.

Specifically, the Book of Giants speaks about creatures that inhabited our planet in the distant past and how they were destroyed.

The Book of Giants — which by the way is incomplete — offers a different perspective about the Nephilim.

According to the ancient text, the Giants — The Nephilim — became aware that due to their violent ways, they face an imminent destruction. They asked Enoch to speak on their behalf to God.

The ancient texts detail how the Nephilim lived on Earth and created chaos and destruction.

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Pass it on: New Scientist

How the Mars Moon Phobos Got Its Grooves?

The weird linear grooves scoring the surface of the Mars moon Phobos were likely carved by boulders knocked loose by a giant impact, a new study suggests.

That impact created Phobos’ most notable feature — the 5.6-mile-wide (9 kilometers) Stickney Crater, which is about one-third as wide as the moon itself.

These grooves are a distinctive feature of Phobos, and how they formed has been debated by planetary scientists for 40 years,” study lead author Ken Ramsley, a planetary scientist at Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island, said in a statement.

We think this study is another step toward zeroing in on an explanation.

Mars has two tiny moons — Phobos and Deimos, both of which the Red Planet may have nabbed from the nearby asteroid belt long ago.




Phobos’ parallel grooves were first spotted in the 1970s by NASA’s Mariner and Viking missions. In the decades since, researchers have advanced many hypotheses to explain their origin.

For example, they may have been carved by material blasted off Mars by powerful impacts. Or they could be strain marks showing that Mars’ gravity is tearing Phobos apart.

Or bouncing, rolling boulders freed by the Stickney-causing impact could have created the grooves. This idea was first advanced in the late 1970s by researchers Lionel Wilson and Jim Head, the latter of whom is a co-author on the new study.

In the new work, the researchers used computer models to simulate how debris set in motion by the Stickney smashup may have traveled across Phobos’ surface.

The model is really just an experiment we run on a laptop,” Ramsley said in the same statement. “We put all the basic ingredients in, then we press the button and we see what happens.

What happened supports the rolling-boulder idea, study team members said. In the simulations, for example, rocks set in motion by the Stickney impact tended to travel on parallel paths, matching the observed groove patterns.

In addition, some of the simulated boulders traveled all the way around Phobos, rolling over the tracks of their fellow bounders. This could explain an oddity of the actual grooves — that some of them overlay one another.

There’s another puzzling aspect of the Phobos features — a weird “dead spot” free of grooves. But the new modeling work has an answer for that, too: The dead spot is a low-elevation area just beyond a slight “lip” of rock.

It’s like a ski jump,” Ramsley said. “The boulders keep going, but suddenly there’s no ground under them. They end up doing this suborbital flight over this zone.”

All in all, the work “makes a pretty strong case” that the “rolling-boulder model accounts for most if not all the grooves on Phobos,” Ramsley said.

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Pass it on: New Scientist

Marriott Hacking Exposes Data of Up to 500 Million Guests

Marriott’s reservation database has been hacked, potentially affecting hundreds of millions of guests who have stayed in the hotel chain’s properties since 2014, the company announced on Friday.

In a press release on its website, the company said it was first alerted that an unauthorized party had attempted to access its guest reservation database for its Starwood properties, which comprises hotel chains including the W and Four Points by Sheraton, on September 8.

An investigation revealed that there had been “unauthorized access to the Starwood network since 2014,” and that approximately 500 million guests’ personal information had been compromised.




For roughly 327 million of those guests, the data breach revealed “some combination of name, mailing address, phone number, email address, passport number, Starwood Preferred Guest (‘SPG’) account information, date of birth, gender, arrival and departure information, reservation date, and communication preferences,” according to the company’s statement. Other guests’ credit card numbers and expiration dates also may have been accessed.

We deeply regret this incident happened,” Marriott president and CEO Arne Sorenson said in a statement.

We fell short of what our guests deserve and what we expect of ourselves. We are doing everything we can to support our guests, and using lessons learned to be better moving forward.”

Who is affected by the Marriott hack?

The hack affected an estimated 500 million guests who have stayed at Marriott’s Starwood brand hotels since 2014.

Those properties include the W Hotels, the St. Regis, Sheraton Hotels & Resorts, Westin Hotels & Resorts, Element Hotels, Aloft Hotels, the Luxury Collection, Tribute Portfolio, Le Méridien Hotels & Resorts, Four Points by Sheraton, Design Hotels, and Starwood-branded timeshares, according to the company.

Marriott will begin emailing guests whose information may have been compromised on November 30, the company said in a statement.

It has also set up a dedicated website and call center for guests who have questions about the hack and whether their information was compromised, and is giving guests in the US, UK, and Canada free year-long subscriptions to WebWatcher, a software that alerts users of potential identity theft or fraud.

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Pass it on: New Scientist

NASA Probe Arrives at Asteroid Bennu on Monday

I hope you’re not all partied out after the InSight lander’s successful touchdown on Mars this week, because there’s another big spaceflight event just around the corner.

NASA’s OSIRIS-REx probe will officially arrive at the near-Earth asteroid Bennu at about 12 p.m. EST (1700 GMT) today, Monday (Dec. 3), ending a 27-month deep-space chase.

NASA will mark the occasion with a special webcast event from 11:45 a.m. to 12:15 p.m. EST (1645 to 1715 GMT), which you can watch live here at Space.com, courtesy of NASA TV.

The space agency will also air an “arrival preview program” at 11:15 a.m. EST (1615 GMT). You can catch that here at Space.com as well.

The $800 million OSIRIS-REx mission launched on Sept. 8, 2016, embarking on a looping trek toward the 1,640-foot-wide (500 meters) Bennu.

Upon arrival, the probe will take up a position about 12 miles (20 kilometers) from the space rock, NASA officials said.

OSIRIS-REx will then fly by Bennu repeatedly over the next four weeks, gathering data that will help mission team members establish the asteroid’s mass.

With this information in hand, OSIRIS-REx will slide into orbit around the space rock on Dec. 31 — just hours before NASA’s New Horizons probe cruises past the distant object Ultima Thule, billions of miles from Earth.




The diamond-shaped Bennu will then become the smallest object ever to be orbited by a spacecraft.

OSIRIS-REx will study the rock from orbit for the next 18 months or so and then make its way down to Bennu’s surface to grab a sizeable sample of material in mid-2020.

The spacecraft will depart the asteroid in March 2021, and the sample will come down to Earth in a special return capsule in September 2023.

Scientists around the world will study this material, looking for clues about the role that carbon-rich asteroids such as Bennu may have played in bringing the building blocks of life to Earth.

OSIRIS-REx — which is short for “Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, Security-Regolith Explorer” — will also make significant contributions in other ways, mission team members have said.

For example, the probe’s measurements should help researchers better understand the resource potential of Bennu-like space rocks.

And other data will increase knowledge of how asteroids move through space, which in turn should improve predictions of where hazardous rocks are headed.

Bennu is itself a potentially dangerous asteroid; there’s a very small probability that it could hit Earth in the late 22nd century.

OSIRIS-REx isn’t the only active asteroid-sampling mission. Japan’s Hayabusa2 spacecraft is currently orbiting the 3,000-foot-wide (900 m) Ryugu, which shares Bennu’s diamond shape.

Hayabusa2 will grab a Ryugu sample next year and return it to Earth in late 2020, if all goes according to plan.

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Pass it on: New Scientist