Category: News Posts

Argentina’s Navy Says Fresh Noises Are Not From Missing Submarine

Argentina’s navy has said sounds detected from the bottom of the ocean are not from the submarine which has been missing in rough seas for five days with 44 crew on board.

Spokesman Enrique Balbi said “a biological source” was behind the noises which were picked up by two Argentinian navy ships searching for ARA San Juan and by sonar buoys dropped by a US P8 surveillance plane.

The navy has also revealed the submarine’s last communication, on Wednesday, was to report a mechanical breakdown related to its batteries.

Captain Gabriel Galeazzi, who runs the naval base in Mar del Plata, which was the submarine’s destination, said mechanical problems were not uncommon and rarely posed a risk.

The announcement regarding the noises dashed hopes raised by a CNN report on Monday that stated the sounds could be crew members banging tools against the hull.

The sounds are not from the submarine and do not correspond to a pattern that could be interpreted as Morse code,” Balbi said.

The five-day search has entered a “critical phase”, the navy said, because the submarine is approaching the probable limit of its oxygen reserves.

Earlier on Monday, Balbi told reporters that although the vessel has enough food and fuel to survive 90 days on the surface, it only had enough oxygen to survive for seven days underwater.

Balbi also speculated that the submarine could have already been traveling underwater due to the rough conditions on the surface when it last made contact on Wednesday morning.

The news came on the morning the submarine had been scheduled to arrive at Mar del Plata naval base on its 10-day journey from Argentina’s southernmost city of Ushuaia.

This phase is critical,” said Balbi. The submarine “should have arrived in Mar del Plata on Sunday or today Monday if the problem had only been a communications breakdown”.

A large number of international ships and aeroplanes, including a British polar exploration vessel, are braving strong winds and six-metre high waves in the area off the coast of Patagonia where the submarine was lost.

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Pass it on: New Scientist

Scientists Discover Diving Flies Using Bubble Submarines To Survive Underwater In California’s Lake Mono

Flies in a Californian lake have abandoned the air for the water.

The “diving flies” of Lake Mono can crawl underwater without even getting wet.

Now scientists have discovered how these insects are able to survive underwater and remain dry.

The flies are incredibly repellent to water; so repellent that a protective bubble of air forms around their bodies when they enter the water.

They also have clawed feet that they can use to anchor themselves to the bottom of the lake.

This strange behaviour was described by the novelist Mark Twain in his travel memoirs, but has never before been understood.

You can hold them under water as long as you please – they do not mind it,” wrote Twain. “They pop up to the surface as dry as a patent office report.

Plunging underwater is “a death sentence” to most insects, said Professor Michael Dickinson, a fly researcher at the California Institute of Technology and one of the study’s co-authors.

Lake Mono in particular doesn’t seem like an attractive place to live. It’s highly alkaline and three times saltier than the ocean.

Despite this, its conditions have proved appealing to these unusual insects.

The hostile conditions mean that there aren’t any predators living in the lake that could eat the flies, but plenty of bacteria for them to feed on.

The chemical composition of the lake should actually make it more difficult for insects to enter it, as negatively charged ions in the water are attracted to positive charges found on insect skin.

What Professor Dickinson and his collaborator Dr Floris van Breugel found was a particularly thick covering of hairs on the diving flies. This hair was coated with water-repellent wax that gave them their aquatic abilities.

The scientists are interested in the applications such a wax might have in materials science, but also in the neurobiology underlying a fly’s decision to live in a lake.

It is such an incredibly weird thing for a fly to deliberately crawl underwater,” said Professor Dickinson.

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Pass it on: Popular Science

Asteroid From Another Star System Is Unlike Anything Seen Before

The object, called ‘Oumuamua, is probably an asteroid that’s at least 10 times longer than it is wide.

Something strange sailed past Earth last month, and thanks to some quick work, astronomers managed to get their first good look at a visitor from interstellar space.

Now named ‘Oumuamua, Hawaiian for “a messenger from afar arriving first,” the object is the first known lump of rock and ice from another star system, which gives astronomers a chance to glimpse a scrap left over from an alien planet’s formation.

This has been crazy-cool. For the asteroid community, this is as big as the gravitational-wave announcement,” NASA astronomer Joseph Masiero said when the object was discovered, referencing the recent detections of ripples in space-time that have been amazing astrophysicists.

It’s extraordinarily elongated, which is extremely unusual—we don’t see anything like that in our solar system,” says study leader Karen Meech of the University of Hawaii’s Institute for Astronomy.

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Pass it on: New Scientist

What Can You Actually Do With Your Fancy Gene-Editing Technology?

The unthinkable has become conceivable,” said David Baltimore from the California Institute of Technology, at a historic summit on human gene editing currently taking place in Washington, D.C.

We are close to altering human heredity and we need to decide how we as a society are going to use this capability.

The summit—a three-day event organized by August scientific institutions from three countries—offers a chance for scientists, ethicists, lawyers, and interested members of the public to “consider the scientific and societal implications of genome editing” at a time when it has never been easier or more powerful.

It’s a spiritual successor to a similar conference at Asilomar, California, in 1975, when delegates debated the ethics of nascent genetic-engineering technology.

Baltimore was involved in both meetings, and he says that things are very different now.

The difference lies in a suite of new tools for changing a person’s DNA, especially the much-hyped CRISPR-Cas9 system, which allows scientists to easily delete, tweak, or insert genes.

With this power at hand, old questions about playing God, making designer babies, and ushering in dystopian Brave New Worlds of genetic haves and have-nots, take on fresh urgency.

These same leitmotifs are trotted out with every new wave of genetic technology—IVF, cloning, stem-cell therapies, mitochondrial-replacement therapy—but some say they are more pertinent than ever.

In the past, it’s been simple for scientists to dismiss these possibilities,” said Robin Lovell-Badge from The Francis Crick Institute. “But we’re rapidly getting to the point where we can no longer deny them.

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Pass it on: New Scientist

The Physics Behind Dandelion Seed Plume Dispersal Revealed

An image of a dandelion fruit in the University of Edinburgh wind tunnel with the flow visualized using smoke seeding and illuminated using a laser sheet gives the viewer an idea of how the flow moves around the dandelion’s parachute.

Fluffy dandelion seeds act like parachutes. Understanding this may improve drone design and miniaturization.

The fluffy dandelion seed head, that gauzy, white sphere that is really a cluster of seeds on wispy filaments — infuriates gardeners, but delights physicists.

That’s because those seeds may lend key insights into the physics of parachutes, useful for designing small drones, or micro air vehicles (MAVs).

An interdisciplinary collaboration of three groups including researchers in fluid dynamics, micro fabrication and biomechanics at Scotland’s University of Edinburgh will present their findings on the topic at the 70th annual meeting of the American Physical Society’s Division of Fluid Dynamics, held Nov. 19-21, in Denver, Colorado.

Investigators reveal why, at low Reynolds numbers, the rules for big parachutes don’t apply to small dandelions.

The Reynolds number, the ratio of inertial forces to viscous forces, is often used in engineering to predict whether flow conditions will be turbulent, a high Reynolds number, or laminar.

Although the physics and design rules of man-made parachutes are well-understood, until the Edinburgh team’s effort, the flow around the miniature parachute of the dandelion was not.

The answer, according to research team member Cathal Cummins, is in the vortex.

In our work, we uncover the flight mechanism of a parachuting dandelion fruit, and reveal a new type of vortex, responsible for its flight capacity,” Cummins said.


The work can potentially be applied to miniaturizing MAVs useful for remote observation and dispersion in a range of applications, from agriculture to space exploration, especially in conditions hazardous to humans.

Their works starts with a parachute model.

The dandelion has evolved a parachute that addressed atmospheric considerations, carrying its seed in slow, steady descent and with minimal use of materials.

In terms of physics, the dandelion parachute has evolved to achieve high drag without sacrificing stability, and with very little material — it’s 90 percent empty space.

This leads to a quadrupling of the drag coefficient compared with an impervious membrane, such as a wing section.

Our research could shift the paradigm in the design of small passive flyers such as micro air vehicles,” Cummins said.

Previous models of the dandelion fruit considered that each parachute filament acts independently, and that the total drag force supplied by the parachute can be found by adding up each of these contributions.

In the laboratory, researchers showed that building a low-porosity miniature parachute leads to a destabilizing of this STV, and hence a turning moment causing the fruit to spin.

By choosing a highly porous parachute, the dandelion allows just enough airflow through its canopy to stabilize this STV, eliminating this turning moment.

At the same time, the drag coefficient of the parachute is quadruple that of a low-porosity one. “Our research shows that the dandelion’s parachute is an exquisite example of less is more,” Cummins said.

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Pass it on: Popular Science

Earth Will Be Rocked By A Year Of Devastating Earthquakes

earthquake roation

DEVASTATING earthquakes could be on the rise next year as the rotation of Earth slows down, scientists have warned.

The speed of Earth’s rotation fluctuates extremely mildly – extending or decreasing the length of a day by a millisecond – but this tiny deceleration could have devastating consequences.

Scientists have warned if the rotation slows it could lead to more major earthquakes.

Research from Roger Bilham of the University of Colorado in Boulder and Rebecca Bendick of the University of Montana in Missoula looked at earthquakes with a magnitude higher than seven since 1900.

The duo found five years since the turn of the 20th century where there were significantly more 7.0 earthquakes – all of which were years that earth’s rotation speed had slowed down slightly.

Prof Bilham told the observer: “In these periods, there were between 25 to 30 intense earthquakes a year.“The rest of the time the average figure was around 15 major earthquakes a year.”

And in 2018, the Earth’s rotation speed is set to slow down leading to a jump on the six magnitude seven or higher quakes we have had this year.

Prof Bilham said: “The correlation between Earth’s rotation and earthquake activity is strong and suggests there is going to be an increase in numbers of intense earthquakes next year.”


The inference is clear. Next year we should see a significant increase in numbers of severe earthquakes.”

We have had it easy this year. So far we have only had about six severe earthquakes. We could easily have 20 a year starting in 2018.

Exactly why a decrease in rotation speed can lead to more major earthquakes is unclear, but experts believe it could be down to changes in the Earth’s core which ultimately has an effect on the surface.

The team also could not say exactly where the earthquakes will occur, but Bilham suggests that a slower rotation speed will lead to more tremors on and around the equator – such as South America, New Zealand and other places that sit on top of the Ring of Fire.

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The Big Bang: What Really Happened At Our Universe’s Birth?

It took quite a bit more than seven days to create the universe as we know it today.

Our universe was born about 13.7 billion years ago in a massive expansion that blew space up like a gigantic balloon.

That, in a nutshell, is the Big Bang theory, which virtually all cosmologists and theoretical physicists endorse. The evidence supporting the idea is extensive and convincing.

We know, for example, that the universe is still expanding even now, at an ever-accelerating rate.

Scientists have also discovered a predicted thermal imprint of the Big Bang, the universe-pervading cosmic microwave background radiation.

And we don’t see any objects obviously older than 13.7 billion years, suggesting that our universe came into being around that time.

All of these things put the Big Bang on an extremely solid foundation,” said astrophysicist Alex Filippenko of the University of California, Berkeley. “The Big Bang is an enormously successful theory.

So what does this theory teach us? What really happened at the birth of our universe, and how did it take the shape we observe today?

The beginning

Traditional Big Bang theory posits that our universe began with a singularity — a point of infinite density and temperature whose nature is difficult for our minds to grasp.

However, this may not accurately reflect reality, researchers say, because the singularity idea is based on Einstein’s theory of general relativity.

The problem is, there’s no reason whatsoever to believe general relativity in that regime,” said Sean Carroll, a theoretical physicist at Caltech.

It’s going to be wrong, because it doesn’t take into account quantum mechanics. And quantum mechanics is certainly going to be important once you get to that place in the history of the universe.

So the very beginning of the universe remains pretty murky. Scientists think they can pick the story up at about 10 to the minus 36 seconds one trillionth of a trillionth of a trillionth of a second after the Big Bang.

Inflation was the ‘bang’ of the Big Bang,” Filippenko said. “Before inflation, there was just a little bit of stuff, quite possibly, expanding just a little bit. We needed something like inflation to make the universe big.

During inflation, dark energy made the universe smooth out and accelerate. But it didn’t stick around for long.

Scientists don’t know what might have spurred inflation. That remains one of the key questions in Big Bang cosmology, Filippenko said.

Cosmologists and physicists are working hard to refine their theories and bring the universe’s earliest moments into sharper and sharper focus.

But will they ever truly know what happened at the Big Bang?

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Pass it on: New Scientist

How To Succeed In The Asteroid Business Without Really Mining

When most people think of asteroids, they might think of phrases like “civilization killer.” Or “boring rock.”

But other people think “business opportunity.” A growing set of companies, including Deep Space Industries and Planetary Resources, want to mine asteroids for all they’re worth.

After digging out materials like water and precious metals, entrepreneurs can sell those commodities in space—to the maybe-burgeoning exploration industry  and back on Earth.

But Earthlings are still a long way from mining asteroids. In the meantime, then, mining companies need a short-term financial plan to stay in business.

To make money and advance their technology in the lean years the ones between mission planning and cashing in on those sweet, sweet space rocks they sometimes have to get creative.

Not every nascent space company gets to rely on billionaire backing (that’s what the main mining-of-the-future competitor, Planetary Resources, did).

No, Deep Space Industries had to start by searching for funders.

Last fall, the upstart company snagged a seed investment from the firm Metatron Global, money that will help it make general hires and drive product development.

But that’s not the only kind of investment the company is looking for. Other collaborators are putting money into specific R&D projects, like Deep Space Industries’ first planned mission: Prospector-X.

Set for launch in 2017, this nanosatellite will stay in low-Earth orbit, testing the tech that will go to an actual asteroid—like propulsion, navigation, and resistance to radiation.

To support that prototype mission, Deep Space Industries has partnered with Luxembourg. Yes, the country.

Why … Luxembourg? It’s known for finance and banking, says Meagan Crawford, Deep Space Industries’ director of communications, and has “a deep background in mining and the steel industry, as well as a vibrant high-tech industry.

But that money is a long ways away. Which is why it’s important to realize that Prospector-1’s bones are a “solar system exploration platform,” says Crawford.

That platform doesn’t have to be mine-oriented. Once Deep Space Industries has its own Prospector-1, it plans to sell other copies of the platform to other entities.

Businesses, sure. But also nations. “Countries that don’t have their own space programs who are looking to break in to the space industry,” says Crawford.

Kind of like a space-program starter-kit,” I say.

She says yes.

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Pass it on: Popular Science

No, there Hasn’t Been A Human ‘Head Transplant’, And There May Never Be

Neurosurgeon Sergio Canavero is in the news again, claiming to have performed the first successful human head transplant. But even cursory analysis reveals that he hasn’t.

And scientific logic suggests he never will.

In February 2015, Sergio Canavero appeared in this very publication claiming a live human head will be successfully transplanted onto a donor human body within two years.

He’s popped up in the media a lot since then, but two years and nine months later, how are things looking?

Well, he’s only gone and done it! As we can see in this Telegraph story from today, the world’s first human head transplant has been successfully carried out.

Guess all those more timid neurobods who said it couldn’t be done are feeling pretty foolish right now, eh?

Well, not quite. Because if you look past the triumphant and shocking headlines, the truth of the matter becomes very clear, very quickly.

These “successful” procedures are anything but

Many of Canavero’s previous appearances in the media have been accompanied by claims of successful head transplant procedures.

But, how are we defining “successful” here? Canavero’s definition seems to be extremely “generous” at best.

For instance, he recently claimed to have “successfully” performed a head transplant on a monkey. But did he?

While the monkey head did apparently survive the procedure, it never regained consciousness, it was only kept alive for 20 hours for “ethical reasons” and there was no attempt made at connecting the spinal cord.

So even if the monkey had survived long-term it would have been paralysed for life. So, it was a successful procedure.

If you consider paralysis, lack of consciousness and a lifespan of less than a day as indicators of “success”.

There was also his “successful” rat head transplant, which involved grafting a severed rat head onto a different rat, a living one that still had its head.

Exactly how this counts as a “transplant” is anyone’s guess. It’s adding a (functionally useless) appendage onto an otherwise healthy subject.

And this recent successful human head transplant? It was on corpses!

Call me a perfectionist if you must, but I genuinely think that any surgical procedure where the patients or subjects die before it even starts is really stretching the definition of “success” to breaking point.

Maybe the procedure did make a good show of “attaching” the nerves and blood vessels on the broad scale, but, so what?

That’s just the start of what’s required for a working bodily system. There’s still a way to go.

You can weld two halves of different cars together and call it a success if you like, but if the moment you turn the key in the ignition the whole thing explodes, most would be hard pressed to back you up on your brilliance.

Perhaps the techniques used to preserve the heads and attach them have some scientific value, but it’s still a far cry from the idea of someone wandering around with a fully functional body that isn’t the one they were born with.

Canavero seems to have a habit of claiming barnstorming triumph based on negligible achievements, or even after making things much worse. He seems to be the neurosurgical equivalent of the UK Brexit negotiating team.

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Pass it on: Popular Science

Elon Musk Unveils Tesla Electric Truck – And A Surprise New Sports Car

Elon Musk unveiled Tesla’s first electric semi-truck on Thursday evening at an event in Los Angeles that also included the surprise reveal of a new Tesla sports car.

The new Roadster, which has the same name as the first electric vehicle produced by Tesla from 2008 to 2012, emerged from the back of one of the trucks at the end of a presentation that focused largely on the economic and performance needs of truck drivers.

The point of doing this is just to give a hardcore smackdown to gasoline cars,” Musk said. “Driving a gasoline sports car is going to feel like a steam engine with a side of quiche.”

While the sports car provided a jolt of excitement for Tesla enthusiasts, much of the event focused on pitching the truck to truck drivers – customers with very different concerns than the average Tesla owner.

In typical Musk style, the CEO had hyped the truck on Twitter throughout the week.

On Sunday, he promised that it “will blow your mind clear out of your skull and into an alternate dimension”, while on Wednesday he teased that the truck “can transform into a robot, fight aliens and make one hell of a latte”.

There was no espresso machine to be seen, but Musk did promise a laundry list of features that he claimed would ensure the overall cost of ownership will be 20% less per mile compared with diesel trucks.

Among them: faster acceleration, better uphill performance, a 500-mile (805km) range at maximum weight at highway speed, and “thermonuclear explosion-proof glass” in the windshield.

Safety features include enhanced autopilot, lane-keeping technology, and a design that makes jackknifing “impossible”, Musk said.

Musk claimed it would be “economic suicide” to continue using diesel trucks, saying the Tesla version, if driven in convoy, would be cheaper than shipping goods by rail.

The CEO’s promises for the new Roadster were no less ambitious. Musk said the car’s acceleration from 0 to 60 mph and 0 to 100 mph, as well as its quarter-mile speed, were all “world records” for production cars.

He said production on the trucks would begin in 2019 and the sports cars would be available in 2020.

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Pass it on: Popular Science