Category: News Posts

Neptune’s Moon: Triton

We don’t know with what beverage William Lassell may have celebrated his discovery of Neptune’s moon, Triton, but beer made it possible.

Lassell was one of 19th century England’s grand amateur astronomers, using the fortune he made in the brewery business to finance his telescopes.

He spotted Triton on 10 October 1846 — just 17 days after a Berlin observatory discovered Neptune.

Curiously, a week before he found the satellite, Lassell thought he saw a ring around the planet. That turned out to be a distortion caused by his telescope.

But when NASA’s Voyager 2 visited Neptune in 1989, it revealed that the gas giant does have rings, though they’re far too faint for Lassell to have seen them.

Since Neptune was named for the Roman god of the sea, its moons were named for various lesser sea gods and nymphs in Greek mythology.

Triton (not to be confused with Saturn’s moon, Titan), is far and away the largest of Neptune’s satellites. Dutch-American astronomer Gerard Kuiper (for whom the Kuiper Belt was named) found Neptune’s third-largest moon, Nereid, in 1949.

He missed Proteus, the second-largest, because it’s too dark and too close to Neptune for telescopes of that era.

Proteus is a slightly non-spherical moon, and it is thought to be right at the limit of how massive an object can be before its gravity pulls it into a sphere.

Proteus and five other moons had to wait for Voyager 2 to make themselves known. All six are among the darker objects found in the solar system.

Astronomers using improved ground-based telescopes found more satellites in 2002 and 2003, bringing the known total to 13.

Voyager 2 revealed fascinating details about Triton. Part of its surface resembles the rind of a cantaloupe.

Ice volcanoes spout what is probably a mixture of liquid nitrogen, methane and dust, which instantly freezes and then snows back down to the surface.

One Voyager 2 image shows a frosty plume shooting 8 km (5 miles) into the sky and drifting 140 km (87 miles) downwind.

Triton’s icy surface reflects so much of what little sunlight reaches it that the moon is one of the coldest objects in the solar system, about -400 degrees Fahrenheit (-240 degrees Celsius).

Triton is the only large moon in the solar system that circles its planet in a direction opposite to the planet’s rotation (a retrograde orbit), which suggests that it may once have been an independent object that Neptune captured.

The disruptive effect this would have had on other satellites could help to explain why Nereid has the most eccentric orbit of any known moon it’s almost seven times as far from Neptune at one end of its orbit as at the other end.

Neptune’s gravity acts as a drag on the counter-orbiting Triton, slowing it down and making it drop closer and closer to the planet.

Millions of years from now, Triton will come close enough for gravitational forces to break it apart possibly forming a ring around Neptune bright enough for Lassell to have seen with his telescope.

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Pass it on: New Scientist

Scientists Found Out That Wounds Sustained At Night Heal Twice As Slowly Injuries Sustained At Daytime

Body clocks cause wounds such as cuts and burns sustained during the day to heal around 60 percent faster than those sustained at night, scientists have discovered in a finding that has implications for surgery and wound-healing medicines.

In a study published in the journal Science Translational Medicine on Wednesday, the scientists showed for the first time how our internal body clocks regulate wound healing by skin cells, and optimize healing during the day.

Burns that happened at night took an average of 60 percent longer to heal than burns that occurred during the day, the scientists found.

Night-time burns – sustained between 8pm to 8am – were 95 percent healed after an average of 28 days, compared with only 17 days if the burn happened between 8am and 8pm.

Body clocks – known as circadian rhythms – regulate almost every cell in the body, driving 24-hour cycles in many processes such as sleeping, hormone secretion and metabolism.

The key to accelerated daytime wound healing, the scientists found, was that skin cells moved more rapidly to repair the wound and there was also more collagen – the main structural protein in skin – deposited around the wound site.

This is the first time that the circadian clock within individual skin cells has been shown to determine how effectively they respond to injuries,” said John O‘Neill, who co-led the research at Britain’s Medical Research Council Laboratory of Molecular Biology.

We consistently see about a two-fold difference in wound healing speed between the body clock’s day and night. It may be that our bodies have evolved to heal fastest during the day when injuries are more likely to occur.

Treatment of wounds costs health services worldwide billions of dollars a year – in Britain’s National Health Service alone, the costs are estimated around 5 billion pounds ($6.56 billion) a year.

Experts say this is partly due to a lack of effective drugs to speed up wound closure.

John Blaikley, a clinician scientist from Britain’s University of Manchester, said these new insights into the circadian factors important in skin repair should help the search for better wound-healing drugs.

It could also help doctors improve outcomes by changing what time of day surgery is carried out, or when medicines are given, he said.

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Pass it on: New Scientist

Aluminum Foil Can Actually Improve Your Wireless Signal

If you’ve ever thought of resorting to aluminum foil to redirect your home’s poor WiFi signal, it turns out you’re not actually that far off the mark.

EurekAlert reported today that researchers at Dartmouth College have discovered that 3D printed signal reflectors, consisting of a thin layer of metal and plastic, can drastically and cheaply improve the wireless signal around a home.

These experiments were based off the idea of using an aluminum soda can behind a router in order to direct the signal away from deadening walls and other obstructions.

The team was able to analyze a space and create a custom reflector that would optimize the WiFi signal in that room.

They then fed their data into a custom program called WiPrint that designed an optimal plastic reflector and created it using a 3D printer.

The last step is to cover the object in aluminum foil and place it on the router. You can see a demonstration in the video below.

This solution solves multiple problems with WiFi signals. First of all, it’s inexpensive; if you have access to a 3D printer, it will only run you about $35.

Directional antennas cost a lot more than that. Second, it allows you control over your WiFi signal, which has more benefits than you think.

Not only does it make sure you have signal in the rooms you need it in, but it allows you to cut off signal where you don’t. This improves physical security, ensuring neighbors can’t access your network.

The next step for the team is to figure out how to design reflectors that are made of a different material than 3D printed plastic.

The idea is to eventually create an object that can actually change shape if the room’s layout changes.

This may not expand the coverage area of your router, but it will ensure that you’ll get stronger signal in the areas you need it most.

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Pass it on: Popular Science

Does Music Really Help You Concentrate?

Many people listen to music while they’re carrying out a task, whether they’re studying for an exam, driving a vehicle or even reading a book. Many of these people argue that background music helps them focus.

Why, though? When you think about it, that doesn’t make much sense. Why would having two things to concentrate on make you more focused, not less?

Some people even go so far as to say that not having music on is more distracting. So what’s going on there?

It’s not clear why the brain likes music so much in the first place, although it clearly does. Interestingly, there’s a specific spectrum of musical properties that the brain prefers.

Experiments by Maria Witek and colleagues reveal that there needs to be a medium level of syncopation in music to elicit a pleasure response and associated body movement in individuals.

What this means in plain English is: music needs to be funky, but not too funky, for people to like it enough to make them want to dance.

Your own experience will probably back this up. Simple, monotonous beats, like listening to a metronome, aren’t really entertaining. They have low levels of syncopation and certainly don’t make you want to dance.

In contrast, chaotic and unpredictable music, like free jazz, has high levels of syncopation, can be extremely off-putting and rarely, if ever, entices people to dance.

Why would music help us concentrate, though? One argument is to do with attention.

For all its amazing abilities, the brain hasn’t really evolved to take in abstract information or spend prolonged periods thinking about one thing.

We seem to have two attention systems: a conscious one that enables us to direct our focus towards things we know we want to concentrate on and an unconscious one that shifts attention towards anything our senses pick up that might be significant.

The unconscious one is simpler, more fundamental, and linked to emotional processing rather than higher reasoning. It also operates faster.

So when you hear a noise when you’re alone at home, you’re paying attention to it long before you’re able to work out what it might have been. You can’t help it.

However, it’s not just a matter of providing any old background noise to keep distractions at bay.

A lot of companies have tried using pink noise – a less invasive version of white noise – broadcasting it around the workplace to reduce distractions and boost productivity.

But views on the effectiveness of this approach are mixed at best.

While the nature and style of the music can cause specific responses in the brain, some studies suggest that it really is down to personal preference.

Music you like increases focus, while music you don’t impedes it. Given the extreme variation in musical preferences from person to person, exposing your workforce or classroom to a single type of music would obviously end up with mixed results.

Music also has a big impact on mood – truly bleak music could sap your enthusiasm for your task. Something else to look out for is music with catchy lyrics.

Musical pieces without words might be better working companions, as human speech and vocalization is something our brains pay particular attention to.

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Pass it on: Popular Science

The World’s First Temperature Control Ceramic Mug

Two years ago, Ember launched a crowdfunding campaign on Indiegogo to build a mug that keeps hot drinks hot and iced drinks cool. Contributors gave the company nearly $362,000.

Fast-forward and the five-year-old startup has now raised just north of $24 million altogether, including a $13 million Series C round that it quietly closed last week.

The individual investors supporting the company are undoubtedly encouraged by the progress it has been making since showing off its early product to the public.

For one thing, Starbucks began selling the mugs in its stores across most of the U.S. and online for $149.95 back in November.

The Westlake Village, Ca.-startup also sells its mugs on Amazon, where 186 customers have now assigned them a collective 3.5 stars out of five.

Altogether, the company, whose mugs also can be purchased at its site, says it has sold more than 20,000 mugs so far.

It has also inspired at least one new player, a company in Salt Lake City that recently turned to Kickstarter to raise funds for its own heated smart mug, called The Jül.

Ember isn’t breaking out who joined its most recent financing, though it has said in the past that its investors include StubHub CEO Scott Cutler, eBay chief product officer RJ Pitman, singers Demi Lovato and Drew Taggart of The Chainsmokers, and Robert Brunner, chief designer of Beats by Dre and the former head of design at Apple.

According to L.A. Biz, the company plans to use some of that fresh capital to expand its product set, including building a temperature-controlled baby bottle, chilled water bottles and dinner plates that can be made to stay warm.

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Pass it on: Popular Science

How To Test For Lead In Your Home Water Supply

The water crisis in Flint, Michigan, may have you asking, “Does my home’s water contain lead?”

It’s possible. The Environmental Protection Agency says between 10% and 20% of our exposure to lead comes from contaminated water.

It’s even worse for the youngest and most vulnerable: Babies can get between 40% and 60% of their exposure to lead by drinking formula mixed with contaminated water.

Lead “bio-accumulates” in the body, which means it stays and builds up over time, so ongoing exposure, even at extremely low levels, can become toxic.

While the EPA says you can’t absorb lead through the skin while showering or bathing with lead-contaminated water, you certainly don’t want to drink it, cook with it, make baby formula with it or use it to brush your teeth.

Just like in Flint, lead can enter your home when lead plumbing materials, which can include faucets, pipes, fittings and the solder that holds them all together, become corroded and begin to release lead into the water.

Corrosion is most likely to happen when water has a high acid or low mineral content and sits inside pipes for several hours, says the EPA.

While homes built before 1986 are the most likely to have lead plumbing, it can be found in newer homes as well. Until two years ago, the legal limit for “lead-free” pipes was up to 8% lead.

As of January 1, 2014, all newly installed water faucets, fixtures, pipes and fittings must meet new lead-free requirements, which reduces the amount of lead allowed to 0.25%.

But that doesn’t apply to existing fixtures, such as what is found in many older homes and public water suppliers.

Here’s a guide to assessing whether you’re at risk.

Start by calling your municipal water supplier. (If your water comes from a private well, look for information from

Ask for a copy of their Consumer Confidence Report, which lists levels of contaminants found during tests, which federal law requires be run on a regular basis.

Many public suppliers put yearly reports online, so you can also find it yourself by typing your ZIP code into the EPA’s web site at

You’ll want to see lead levels below the EPA’s action level of 15 parts per billion. If you discover a lead reading at or above that level on the report, take action.

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Pass it on: Popular Science

Apple Releases iOS 11.1.1 To Fix Annoying “I” Autocorrect Bug

iOS 11.1.1 is here, and it comes with a small but important update: a fix for the strange autocorrect bug in iOS 11.1 that has been automatically changing the letter “I” to “A [?]” for some users.

Apple had previously recommended using Text Replacement as a manual workaround so that users could type the letter “I” again, but it seems things are finally back to normal again with the new update.

Along with the autocorrect fix, the update also fixes an issue where “Hey Siri” voice recognition stopped working.

iOS 11.1.1 is available to download now.

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Pass it on: Popular Science

‘The Strangest Supernova We’ve Ever Seen’: A Star That Keeps Exploding — And Surviving!

A supernova signals a star’s death throes. Having exhausted its fuel for nuclear fusion, the star collapses, producing a gigantic explosion of matter and energy that can be seen from 10 billion light-years away.

The supernova shines for a few months, then fades. All that remains after the cosmic light show is either a dense, smoldering core, called a neutron star, or a gaping black hole.

At least, that is what’s supposed to happen.

Some 500 million light-years away, in a galaxy so distant it looks like little more than a smudge, a star exploded five times over the course of nearly two years, spewing the contents of 50 Jupiters and emitting as much energy as 10 quintillion suns.

This isn’t even the first time this star has gone supernova: Astronomers believe this same body was seen exploding 60 years ago.

Somehow, this “zombie” star has managed to survive one of the most powerful, destructive events known to science — multiple times.

It should make us question, researchers wrote Wednesday in the journal Nature, how much we really know about supernovas.

The discovery was made by scientists working on the Intermediate Palomar Transient Factory, which uses a telescope near San Diego to survey the night sky for ephemeral events like supernovas.

Iair Arcavi, an astrophysicist at the University of California at Santa Barbara and Las Cumbres Observatory who worked on the project, was mainly interested in stars in the early stages of explosion.

So, in September 2014, when the survey captured a fading supernova near the constellation Ursa Major, he didn’t give it much thought. The event looked like a garden variety star well on its way toward oblivion.

Five months later, an intern who had been assigned to look over old data asked Arcavi to look at something weird.

The intern pulled up a plot of the supernova’s emissions over the past 137 days — bizarrely, the explosion was getting brighter.

Figuring that this must be a fluke — maybe just a star in our galaxy twinkling weirdly — Arcavi broke the light from the explosion into its component wavelengths. This “spectrum” contained all the signatures of a supernova.

Even stranger, it looked like a nova that was only 30 days old — though the scientists had concrete proof that it had in fact been going on for months.

The event, dubbed iPTF14hls, was put on 24/7 watch.

The eyes of the Las Cumbres Observatory — a robotic network of telescopes positioned all over the world — followed the supernova as it brightened, then faded, then brightened again.

The nova hit five peaks of brightness before finally seeming to dwindle in summer 2016. But at 600 days old, it was already the longest-lived supernova ever observed.

In an analysis for Nature, Stan Woosley of the University of California at Santa Cruz, who was not involved in the research, wrote that a better understanding of iPTF14hls could lead to revelations about the evolution of massive stars.

The emergence of extremely bright supernovas and, maybe, the origins of the kind of black holes we’ve detected with gravitational waves.

For now,” he concluded, “the supernova offers astronomers their greatest thrill: something they do not understand.

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Pass it on: Popular Science

Relieve Stress And Anxiety With This Top-Rated Meditation App


Recently, people around the world have embraced mindfulness practices as ways to find more inner happiness and cope with difficult emotional situations.

But it isn’t just a fad propagated by yoga studios and health food companies—technology is playing a major role in helping people regain mindfulness and restore balance to their lives.

One ambassador of mindfulness-through-technology is the AI powered meditation app Aura, which was voted Apple’s #1 new app in February 2017 and currently has a 5/5 star rating in the iOS App store.

It’s available for both iOS and Android, and while it normally costs around $100 per year, Engadget readers can get a lifetime subscription today for just $60 – over 80 percent off.

While there are plenty of different meditation apps on the market, Aura stands out from the rest with a host of unique features:

1. Aura fits with your schedule and attention span.

While some competitors offer 10-30 minute meditations, Aura has options that work for anyone’s schedule.

2. It uses Machine Learning to customize your meditations.

Aura is unique in that it’s a personal meditation coach that learns from your sessions and customizes your future meditations.

Before and after each meditation, Aura asks short questions about your current mood and uses sophisticated machine learning techniques to give you a unique experience that complements your emotional state every time you use it.

3. You can track your progress over time.

Aura also keeps track of your data to paint a detailed picture of the patterns of your mental ebbs and flows.

4. You get 24/7 access for life.

Their premium subscription gives you 24/7 access to all content, so you can have it on hand whenever you need a few moments of silence.

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Pass it on: Popular Science

Pests: Let Them Do Our Dirty Work


Judging from the rate of animals going extinct, it seems that humans have only had negative effects on animal populations.

But what about the animals that live alongside humans? I’m talking about “pests”; crows, rats, cockroaches and pigeons.

These dirty pilferers, often seen pictured in exterminator advertisements are absolutely thriving in urban environments. And with the rapid growth rate of cities, the numbers of these species are likely to dramatically increase.

Exterminating pests is costly, difficult and ultimately pretty useless because they are so well adapted to living with humans, the populations continue to grow.

So if you live in a city, living with these pests is basically unavoidable. What if instead of putting our efforts into killing crows and cockroaches we found a use for them that would benefit us?

Birdbrain” is often used as a derogatory term for a person with low intelligence but it couldn’t be further from the truth.

Research has shown that crows have an intelligence level similar to apes! Crows’ and apes’ brains are so physically similar that despite having vastly different ancestors, their brains have convergently evolved to be able to solve social and physical problems with the same speed and flexibility.

Just like people, crows in different countries eat different things for dinner.

Crows in Japan, collect nuts and then drop them over fast-moving traffic. After dispatching their catch, the crows wait for the pedestrian light to turn green before crossing the road and collecting their cracked nuts. Ingenious!

On the other hand, crows in Sweden hide in wait for fisherman to leave after dropping fishing lines through holes in the ice before pulling up the lines and eating the bait themselves.

The crows learn how to do these things by trial and error themselves or observing the actions of other crows.

Hacker and writer Joshua Klein was fascinated by crows and came up with a brilliant idea that could make crows very valuable to us.

Klein built a ‘vending machine’ for crows, which over a series of stages, taught crows that if they found a coin somewhere in the city and brought it to the vending machine, they would receive a peanut.

So why not train crows to do other things? Pick up rubbish after stadium events? Or find expensive components from discarded electronics, all in exchange for some mere peanuts.

What about rats…?

Already, scientists at State University New York have engineered robo-rats, suitable for all kinds of special operations. Using wires implanted in the rat’s brain, scientists wirelessly direct the animal’s movements.

Activating one area of the somatosensory cortex makes the rat feel as if it’s left side if being touched and so it instinctively scampers in the opposite direction, and the opposite process can be done on the right-hand side.

While training the rats, the scientists used a third wire to zap the medial forebrain bundle which processes pleasure and makes you feel brilliant when stimulated.

Over the training period, the rats learnt to respond to cues and received rewards pulsed straight into their brain.

Rats have a great sense of smell so could be trained to detect explosives and then steered to a site suspected to contain land mines.

Or they could sniff out humans trapped under collapsed buildings, fitting through spaces that no dog ever could.

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Pass it on: Popular Science