Excellent animation comparing the rotations of the planets in our solar system

James O'Donoghue, a planetary scientist at JAXA (Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency), made this excellent clip comparing the rotations, tilts, and sidereal day lengths of the eight planets and two of the dwarf planets in our solar system.

There are many more dwarf planet candidates, but they aren't mapped so aren't included," O'Donoghue writes. "More space missions would be a good idea."


Below, another one of O'Donoghue's fantastic videos:

(via Cliff Pickover) Read the rest

More than 800 Russian academic articles retracted after "bombshell" report reveals plagiarism and other misconduct

After Antiplagiat, a private plagiarism detection company, accused Russia's scientific and scholarly journals of being rife with plagiarism, self-plagiarism, duplication and other misconduct, the Russian Academy of Sciences chartered a committee to investigate the problem: their report confirmed the accusations, finding more instances of plagiarism/self-plagiarism, as well as instances in which the same paper was published in different journals under different authors' names. Read the rest

The secrets within a 2,600-year-old preserved brain of a decapitated man

Back around 500 BCE or so in what is now York, U.K, a gentleman was decapitated for who-knows-why and his head quickly buried. To the amazement of the archaeologists who dug up the skull in 2008, the cranium still contained a well-preserved brain. According to University of London neurologist Axel Petzold and his colleagues, understanding how the tissue has survived for more than 2,500 years may lead to new methods for extracting valuable information from ancient tissue. From Science:

Using several molecular techniques to examine the remaining tissue, the researchers figured out that two structural proteins—which act as the “skeletons” of neurons and astrocytes—were more tightly packed in the ancient brain. In a yearlong experiment, they found that these aggregated proteins were also more stable than those in modern-day brains. In fact, the ancient protein clumps may have helped preserve the structure of the soft tissue for ages..

The research also could provide insight into protein-based neurological diseases like Alzheimer's and dementia.

"Protein aggregate formation permits millennium-old brain preservation" (Journal of the Royal Society Interface) Read the rest

Seeking out extraterrestrials by their stench

One way to determine whether distant worlds may be home to extraterrestrials is to seek out the presence of biosignatures, molecules that indicate the existence of past or present life, in the exoplanet's atmosphere. (The chemical composition of the atmosphere affects its color spectra, observable with telescopes.) According to new MIT research, one biosignature may be a stinky, poisonous gas found in swamps, bogs, and even some animals' bowels. From MIT:

MIT researchers have found that phosphine is produced by... anaerobic organisms, such as bacteria and microbes, that don’t require oxygen to thrive. The team found that phosphine cannot be produced in any other way except by these extreme, oxygen-averse organisms, making phosphine a pure biosignature — a sign of life (at least of a certain kind).

In a paper recently published in the journal Astrobiology, the researchers report that if phosphine were produced in quantities similar to methane on Earth, the gas would generate a signature pattern of light in a planet’s atmosphere. This pattern would be clear enough to detect from as far as 16 light years away by a telescope such as the planned James Webb Space Telescope. If phosphine is detected from a rocky planet, it would be an unmistakable sign of extraterrestrial life.

“Here on Earth, oxygen is a really impressive sign of life,” says lead author Clara Sousa-Silva, a research scientist in MIT’s Department of Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences. “But other things besides life make oxygen too. It’s important to consider stranger molecules that might not be made as often, but if you do find them on another planet, there’s only one explanation.”

Read the rest

Anne Dagg, pioneering giraffe biologist and feminist critic of "evolutionary psychology" receives the Order of Canada

Anne Innis Dagg was the first female biologist to study giraffes; while all the men who preceded her had observed firsthand that male giraffes are super queer (their primary form of play is a game dubbed "penis fencing," which is exactly what it sounds like), only Dagg was willing to write it down and publish it. Read the rest

Wanda Diaz Merced is a blind astronomer who hears the science of the stars

Wanda Diaz Merced is an astronomer at the International Astronomical Union (IAU) Office for Astronomy Outreach in Mitaka, Japan. Diaz Merced is blind and uses a technique to transform data from astronomical surveys into sounds for analysis. Over at Nature, Elizabeth Gibney interviewed Merced about how "converting astronomical data into sound could bring discoveries that conventional techniques miss." From Nature:

How did you begin your work with sonification?

Sonification has been around for a long time. In 1933, for example, US physicist Karl Jansky reported detecting the first radio waves from space, as an audible hiss in his antenna. But at some point, visualization came to dominate the way we interpret astrophysical data. When I was an intern at NASA in 2005, my mentor, Robert Candey, wanted me to create a prototype data analysis tool that would familiarize blind people with space-physics data. So we developed software that could map astronomical data into sound — its pitch, rhythm and volume. Then, in my 2013 PhD dissertation at the University of Glasgow, UK, I proved that it is useful....

Can you describe a real-world example?

There are many. Sonification can help us to study the habitability of an exoplanet, by understanding how much high-energy cosmic and solar rays interact with its magnetic field or atmosphere. Such interactions cause fluctuations of electromagnetic emission from that star system that vary in a way that relates to frequency . BBut because astronomers usually separate out different frequency components into many graphs, this is easy to miss.

Read the rest

Watch crane collapse onto boat, causing a terrible oil spill in the Galapagos Islands

In the Galapagos Islands, a shoreside crane toppled over while loading a shipping container onto a barge, capsizing the boat and causing a terrible oil spill of hundreds of gallons of diesel fuel. It was Charles Darwin's 1835 studies of the Galapagos Islands's biodiversity that sparked his theory of evolution by natural selection. From ABC News:

(The site of the spill,) San Cristobal Island is one of more than a dozen in the Galapagos, which is home to rare wildlife species and one of the world's most protected natural destinations. The remote islands are roughly 600 miles away from Ecuador, the country that owns them.

Ecuadorean President Lenín Moreno said he declared the state of emergency when the collision first occurred but said the situation was under control as of early Monday.

"Thanks to the timely intervention of several institutions, we have it under control. I am in permanent contact with @normanwray and the COE is activated to watch over the galapagueños," Moreno said in a tweet translated from Spanish. The COE is Ecuador's Emergency Operations Committee .

Read the rest

Astonishing stabilized time-lapse showing the Earth's rotation from the ground

Photographer Eric Brummel created this magnificent time-lapse video of the Milky Way in which the sky is stabilized so you can experience the Earth's rotation. He captured the footage at Font's Point, Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, California. From Universe Today:

Eric created this time-lapse by using a star-tracker with his camera. A star-tracker rotates the camera at the same speed as the Earth, but in the opposite direction. It has the visual effect of stabilizing the sky. Usually, star-trackers are used to stabilize the camera during a long exposure, to avoid blurry or streaked stars in the image.

(via Daily Grail) Read the rest

We need a "science of the night"

In the journal Nature, University of Melbourne researcher Michele Acuto argues that what happens in our cities after dark has a tremendous impact on energy, sustainability, waste, and inequality "yet scholarship and policy often neglect these dark hours." According to Acuto, we need a coordinated and cross-disciplinary "science of the night" to gather data and build understanding if we hope to tackle societal-scale issues and build truly smart cities. From Nature:

For instance, few analyses look to see whether policies exacerbate inequalities, which tend to be worse at night. The hospitality and entertainment sectors get most of the focus, even though more midnight workers are employed in logistics and health care. Work at University College London (UCL) demonstrated that night-time spaces for LGBT+ people (people from sexual and gender minorities) are important for community life, and are also at a higher risk of closing than other establishments. UCL also highlighted inequality in transport options: London’s celebrated 24-hour Night Tube serves bustling downtown and restaurant districts, and so does more to accommodate late-night revellers than low-income late-shift workers...

Information about the night-time is also crucial for a sustainable planet. At the Connected Cities Lab, we are working with the Melbourne School of Design and the London-based design firm Arup to evaluate how cities are performing at night-time vis-à-vis the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. This is no academic exercise. Evidence that late-night and shift workers have higher risks of conditions such as heart disease, mental-health disorders and cancer reinforce other analyses calling for a higher night-time wage.

Read the rest

See the winners of the best optical illusion of the year contest

Every year, the nonprofit Neural Correlate Society, an organization "that promotes scientific research into the neural correlates of perception and cognition," holds a competition for the Best Illusion of the Year. This year's winner is the above "Dual Axis Illusion" created by Frank Force (USA).

"This spinning shape appears to defy logic by rotating around both the horizontal and vertical axis at the same time!" reads the description. "To make things even more confusing, the direction of rotation is also ambiguous. Some visual cues in the video will help viewers change their perception."

Below, second prize winner "Change the Color" by Haruaki Fukuda (Japan) and third prize winner "The Rotating Circles Illusion" by Ryan E.B. Mruczek and Gideon Paul Caplovitz (USA).

Read the rest

Sequencing an anciet girl's genome from a 5,700-year-old piece of chewing gum

Almost 6,000 years ago on the island of Lolland, Denmark, a young girl disposed of her chewing gum. Now, University of Copenhagen researchers have used that gum, made from birch pitch, to sequence the girl's full genome. From Science:

The child had black hair, blue eyes, and dark skin, and was more closely related to hunter-gatherers from Western Europe than to farmers who had more recently settled in the region. She left traces of her most recent meal in the gum—she had been chewing hazelnuts and duck. But her oral microbiome also revealed that life could be hard—she had the Epstein-Barr virus and probably had suffered from mononucleosis in her life.

More in the scientific paper: "A 5700 year-old human genome and oral microbiome from chewed birch pitch" (Nature Communications) Read the rest

The DNA in his semen was completely replaced with another man's DNA

Writing for the New York Times, Heather Murphy has a fascinating story about the unexpected results of a bone marrow transplant.

When a patient receives a bone marrow transplant, the patient's own cells are destroyed and replaced with cells from a donor. Thereafter, the patient is a "chimera," with two sets of DNA. It's believed that other than helping the recipient's immune system, the donor DNA has little impact on the recipient:

“Their brain and their personality should remain the same"

However, the duplicate DNA can cause confusion in criminal investigations.

Murphy's article recounts a multi-year experiment carried out by the Washoe County Sheriff’s Department when an employee received a bone marrow transplant. Realizing the opportunity to further scientific knowledge, they swabbed "the heck" out of the patient before and following the procedure. Four years later, they found surprising results:

Swabs of his lips and cheeks contained his DNA — but also that of his donor. Even more surprising to Mr. Long and other colleagues at the crime lab, all of the DNA in his semen belonged to his donor. “I thought that it was pretty incredible that I can disappear and someone else can appear,” he said.

Read the rest of the article here, including a discussion of whether the change to the recipient's DNA will have an impact on future offspring. And if you're interested in forensic uses of DNA, check out this story about "rapid DNA testing."

(Image via Wikipedia.) Read the rest

This rebar-tying video is weirdly calming

I'm not an engineer, but I can't stop watching this hypnotic and oddly satisfying video of tying rebar. Read the rest

A "Google Street View" for the natural sounds of remote Australia

The Australian Acoustic Observatory project, described by its creators as a kind of "Google Street View of sound," is a new acoustic sensor network of hundreds of microphones and digital audio recorders distributed across multiple remote ecosystems on the continent. The solar-powered system will record animal and natural sounds continuously for 5 years. According to lead researcher Paul Roe of the Queensland University of Technology (QUT) Ecoacoustics Research Group and colleagues, the observatory will enable scientists and the public to listen to "a galaxy of sounds — it is like the heartbeat of the environment." While scientists will use the data to better understand the ecosystems and how they are changing over time, I bet sound artists have a (ahem) field day with the recordings once the public can listen in. From ABC News:

It was hoped citizen scientists would embrace the hidden animal world that was being captured, along with students and artists.

"For example, we will have citizen science projects where we can kind of search for a particular animal within the soundscape. People can use it to explore the environment to understand what is happening, how does the sound change," he said...

Professor Roe said 400 sensors have been placed across 100 sites in seven distinct eco-regions covering desert, grassland, shrublands and temperate, subtropical and tropical forests.

It might be then that we get birds arriving because there has been some water and trees are flowering, or there might be frogs which are going to call, they are going to come out of the desert and call after rain.

Read the rest

The Life Cycle podcast talks transhumanism with Kernel CEO Bryan Johnson and "To Be a Machine" author Mark O'Connell

Is your brain a machine? Are your thoughts and feelings just malware of the mind? (And what "really" is a machine, anyway?) John and Eva referee the transhumanist fight of the century. In the blue corner, we have Eva meeting founder and Bryan Johnson, CEO of Kernel, straight from his office in LA. And in the red corner, John meets with To Be a Machine author Mark O'Connell in a cafe in Dublin. Time to get out the popcorn! Round One, ding-ding...

The Life Cycle is a production of Klang Games, creator of Seed, the planet colonization MMO -- watch the new trailer here.  Subscribe to The Life Cycle on Apple PodcastsGoogle Podcasts, and Spotify. Follow The Life Cycle on Twitter and Instagram. Read the rest

People with half a brain. Literally.

For some children with severe epilepsy, the best treatment may be a very rare surgical procedure in which a large portion -- even half -- of the child's brain is removed or disconnected. Amazingly, many of these individuals can relearn motor, language, and cognitive skills. How? The brain reorganizes itself and builds new connections. To better understand this incredible process, and hopefully inform new interventions and rehabilitation, Caltech neuroscientists conducted brain scans on six adults "all of whom received the surgeries as children and now have relatively normal cognitive abilities." From Caltech:

"Despite missing an entire brain hemisphere, we found all the same major brain networks that you find in healthy brains with two hemispheres," says Dorit Kliemann, lead author of the new report and a postdoctoral scholar who works in the laboratory of Ralph Adolphs (PhD '93), the Bren Professor of Psychology, Neuroscience, and Biology, and the director of the Caltech Brain Imaging Center.

The brain scans also revealed an increased number of connections between the brain networks in the patients compared to healthy individuals. For example, the regions in the patients' brains that control the function of walking appeared to be communicating more with the regions that control talking than what is typically observed.

"It appears that the networks are collaborating more," says Kliemann. "The networks themselves do not look abnormal in these patients, but the level of connections between the networks is increased in all six patients...."

Says Kliemann, "It's truly amazing what these patients can do.

Read the rest

Light is slow, actually

This video depicts light speed in contexts where it appears to be slow. The moon is 1.2 light seconds from Earth; Mars several light minutes. This is, of course, why humans aren't moving out of this solar system any time soon. Read the rest

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