Friday, January 12, 2018

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Strange Mars structures may be trace fossils

The Mars Curiosity rover has discovered some rather peculiar structures and nobody knows what they are.

Measuring mere millimeters in length, these angular stick-like features were visible in the first batch of photographs taken this year using the rover's Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI) instrument.

"They look remarkably similar to Ordovician trace fossils I have studied and photographed here on Earth," said astrobiologist and author Barry DiGregorio.

"If not trace fossils, what other geological explanations will NASA come up with ?"

Keen to get to the bottom of the mystery, the Curiosity team sent the rover back for a closer look.

"This site was so interesting that we backtracked to get to where the rover was parked for this plan," said Curiosity team member Christopher Edwards. "In the work space in front of the rover, we have some very peculiar targets that warranted some additional interrogation."

While at present it remains unclear whether or not the mystery structures really are the fossil remnants of some ancient alien species, NASA scientists are currently not ready to rule out the possibility.

"If we see more of them... then we begin to say that this is an important process that's going on at Vera Rubin Ridge," said Curiosity project scientist Ashwin Vasavada.
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Friday, December 29, 2017

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"Double whirlpools" observed for first time

For the first time, scientists have recorded a bizarre phenomenon in fluid dynamics, which up until now had only ever been theoretically predicted, but never observed in the wild.

Huge whirlpools known as eddies, which can measure hundreds of kilometers across, are relatively common, however now it turns out that, under certain conditions, pairs of these swirling vortices can actually join together to form double whirlpools capable of traveling large distances across the sea.

"Ocean eddies almost always head to the west, but by pairing up they can move to the east and travel ten times as fast as a normal eddy, so they carry water in unusual directions across the ocean," said oceanographer Chris Hughes from the University of Liverpool.

"What we found was a pair of eddies spinning in opposite directions and linked to each other so that they travel together all the way across the Tasman Sea, taking six months to do it."

It turns out that these double whirlpools, which have been dubbed 'modons', have been appearing on satellite imagery for decades, but until now nobody had known what they were.

"My thinking is that these linked, fast moving eddies could 'suck-up' small marine creatures and carry them at high speed and for long distances across the ocean," said Hughes.

"You would get particular blobs of water where the biology and the conditions are totally different from the surrounding area," Hughes told Popular Science.

"It's quite possible there are shoals of particular types of fish following these eddies for their special conditions. Fish would actually actively follow the eddies by choice because of what's in them."
The findings are reported in Geophysical Research Letters.
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Wednesday, December 27, 2017

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Helicopter drone could one day explore Titan

NASA is considering a mission to Saturn's moon Titan that would use a drone to scout across large areas.
Titan is a place that, on the outset, appears to possess many things that seem uncannily familiar - oceans, rivers, snow-capped mountains and even an active weather system.

Take a closer look however and it soon becomes apparent that Titan couldn't be more alien. Its rivers and oceans aren't filled with liquid water but with an exotic form of liquid hydrocarbons, while its snow-capped peaks are actually dusted with a coating of methane, not water ice.

While the Huygens probe managed to catch a glimpse of this alien world back in 2005, scientists have since longed for an opportunity to explore a much larger part of Titan's surface.

Now though, it looks as though such a mission might actually be on the cards, that is, at least, if it is selected by NASA as one of two finalists for the space agency's robotic exploration program.

The plan would see a helicopter drone known as the Dragonfly land on Titan by parachute before taking off and exploring vast swathes of the moon's surface.

After each flight, it would return to its landing site so that it could recharge its batteries with its radioisotope thermoelectric generator.

Other sites of interest could then be visited on subsequent flights.

"Titan is a fascinating ocean world," said Elizabeth Turtle, principal investigator for Dragonfly.

"There's so much amazing science and discovery to be done on Titan, and the entire Dragonfly team and our partners are thrilled to begin the next phase of concept development."

Exploring Titan holds a daunting set of challenges. But as we’ve seen in recent years, NASA and its partners have the capability to meet those challenges.

Dragonfly is part of NASA’s New Frontiers program. New Frontiers missions are planetary science missions with a cap of approximately $850 million. New Frontiers missions include the Juno mission to Jupiter, the Osiris-REx asteroid sample-return missions, and the New Horizons mission to Pluto.
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Monday, December 18, 2017

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Glowing trees could replace street lights

By using embedded nanoparticles in leaves, scientists at MIT have created plants that glow in the dark paving the way for trees to replace streetlights.

The breakthrough, which could pave the way for environmentally-friendly public lighting solutions that don't even require electricity, has the potential to revolutionize how we light up our homes and cities.

To give the plants their glowing ability, Professor Strano (the senior author of the study) and his colleagues used luciferase, the same substance that gives fireflies their glow.

After immersing the plants in a solution containing these particles and exposing them to high pressures, the scientists were able to produce plants that glowed for nearly four hours,however researchers are looking to expand on the idea and create larger plants that glow indefinitely.

"The light is ultimately powered by the energy metabolism of the plant itself."

"Our target is to perform one treatment when the plant is a seedling or a mature plant, and have it last for the lifetime of the plant," said study senior author Professor Michael Strano.

"Our work very seriously opens up the doorway to streetlamps that are nothing but treated trees, and to indirect lighting around homes."

"Plants can self-repair, they have their own energy, and they are already adapted to the outdoor environment," said Professor Strano. 
"We think this is an idea whose time has come.”
Source: Independent
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'Extinct' mammal found alive in Australia

The crest-tailed mulgara was once widely distributed across sandy deserts in inland Australia.
The crest-tailed mulgara - a small carnivorous marsupial - was thought to have died out a century ago.

At a time when species are disappearing from our planet on a regular basis, the news that this particular variety of mulgara has survived against all odds is particularly welcome.

It was discovered by a team from the University of New South Wales in Sturt National Park.

"The crest-tailed mulgara was once widely distributed across sandy desert environments in inland Australia, but declined due to the effects of rabbits, cats and foxes," said Dr Rebecca West.

"The species weighs around 150 grams and has pale blonde fur and a thick tail with a distinctive black crest."

The discovery is particularly timely as scientists with the Wild Deserts project are planning to remove several types of predator from the region to help support the return of native mammal species.

"The aim of this project is to return mammal species not seen in their natural habitat for over 90 years in Sturt National Park," said National Parks and Wildlife Service area manager Jaymie Norris.

"Rabbits, cats and foxes will be eradicated from two 20-square-kilometre fenced exclosures in Sturt National Park, before locally extinct mammals are reintroduced."

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Thursday, December 14, 2017

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The Ropen

The Ropen (Flying demon) is the local name of a cryptid on Umboi Island, Papua New Guinea that glows while flying, and which is held by many cryptozoologists as a possible living pterosaur.


It is said to produce a light, possibly to attract fish. According to the book Searching for Ropens, it is "any featherless creature that flies in the Southwest Pacific, and has a tail-length more than 25% of its wingspan." On the Island, the word "ropen" refers to a large nocturnal creature that glows briefly as it flies. The ropen is the subject of folklore  but it is also believed by some natives to be a real animal. Descriptions vary, but it is often said to be batlike, and sometimes, pterosaur-like.

The ropen is believed to be nocturnal and to exhibit bioluminescence. Purportedly it lives on a diet of fish, though there have been some reports of the creature feasting on human flesh, especially from grave robbery. 

Despite popular myth, the Ropen itself was not fabricated by creationists. It was first sighted in 1935 by famous biologist Evelyn Cheesman, who believed in evolution and was well respected in the scientific community.

At least five light expeditions, 1994-2004, were conducted by American creationists, including Carl Baugh, Paul Nation, Jonathan Whitcomb, Garth Guessman, and David Woetzel (usually one or two Americans at a time). Only about three sightings resulted from these investigations: only distant, brief views of the ropen-light; essentially no shape was seen by explorers on these expeditions.

In October of 2004, Genesis Park staff conducted a three week trip to the remote Siassi island off the western coast of Papua New Guinea, somewhat south of the Manus island group. The goal was to hike into the mountainous interior of Siassi to follow-up on intriguing reports received from coastal communities on the south of the island. Dozens of interviews were conducted and the credibility of witnesses was carefully tested by the use of black and white profiles. After carefully collating the dozens of interviews, a composite drawing (below) of most likely characteristics possessed by the Ropen was assembled.

In November, 2006 one of the earlier explorers, Paul Nation returned to Papua New Guinea and videotaped two lights on a ridge above Tawa, a remote village on the mainland. Indava is what the creature is called by the local villagers and one described it in terms of a small airplane. These nocturnal, apparently bioluminescent creatures appeared to have colonized the top of a cliff where they sleep during the day. Investigators believe that these creatures are similar to the ropen, if not the same species.

In March of 2007, Paul Nation returned to Tawa Village. The temperatures at night had dropped to below 40 degrees Fahrenheit with wind and rain which made him conclude that the indavas had left the cliff. Villagers told Nation that the creatures live in trees without any permanent colony location. During this second expedition to the Tawa area, Nation learned to distinguish between distant automobile headlights (bright-white, with slow movement) and the dimmer yellow lights made by the creatures. Indava's fly mostly above the tree canopy, following ridges on hills and mountains where there are neither roads nor automobiles.

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Monday, December 11, 2017

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Google's AI has built another, superior AI

Google's AI can learn and improve over time.
The Google Brain project has created an AI that is capable of designing a 'child' AI superior to itself.

The new artificial intelligence, which is known as AutoML (Automated Machine Learning), acts as a controller neural network that can develop a child AI network for specific tasks.

To demonstrate the system, Google researchers tasked AutoML with developing a child AI known as NASNet that can recognize objects ( cars, trees, people etc. ) in video footage in real-time.

By analyzing the performance of NASNet, implementing improvements and then repeating this process thousands of time, AutoML was able to create an AI that superseded all other versions.

The resulting NASNet child AI was 1.2% more accurate and 4% more efficient that any existing human-made version of the same system.

"We hope that the larger machine learning community will be able to build on these models to address multitudes of computer vision problems we have not yet imagined," the researchers wrote. 
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