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AN ECLECTIC MIX OF SCIENCE, TECHNOLOGY, HISTORY AND THE ARTS

             

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Scientists have discovered hundreds of nearby galaxies that were hidden by the Milky Way

Astronomers have used radio waves to peer through the galactic mass and stardust of the Milky Way, and in so doing, have discovered hundreds of nearby galaxies previously hidden from view.

Some 883 galaxies – a third of which had never been seen before – were observed by scientists using the CSIRO Parkes radio telescope in Australia. While the former ‘hidden galaxies’ are located about 250 million light-years away from Earth, their comparative closeness in astronomical terms effectively means our own local neighbourhood of space just got a whole lot more crowded.

“The Milky Way is very beautiful of course and it’s very interesting to study our own galaxy, but it completely blocks out the view of the more distant galaxies behind it,” said astronomer Lister Staveley-Smith of the International Centre for Radio Astronomy Research (ICRAR) at the University of Western Australia.

The new-found galaxies lie within an area known as the Zone of Avoidance, so called because our view of this region of space has always been obstructed by the planets and stars that make up the Milky Way. Astronomers have been trying to map the galactic distribution there for decades without success, but thanks to the Parkes radio telescope’s receiver, that’s no longer the case. Source: Scientists have discovered hundreds of nearby galaxies that were hidden by the Milky Way 

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Bacteria ‘see’ like tiny eyeballs

Biologists say they have solved the riddle of how a tiny bacterium senses light and moves towards it: the entire organism acts like an eyeball. In a single-celled pond slime, they observed how incoming rays are bent by the bug’s spherical surface and focused in a spot on the far side of the cell. By shuffling along in the opposite direction to that bright spot, the microbe then moves towards the light.

Other scientists were surprised and impressed by this “elegant” discovery. Despite being just three micrometres (0.003mm) in diameter, the bacteria in the study use the same physical principles as the eye of a camera or a human. This makes them “probably the world’s smallest and oldest example” of such a lens, the researchers write in the journal eLife.

Cyanobacteria, including the Synechocystis species used in the study, are an ancient and abundant lifeform. They live in water and get their energy from photosynthesis – which explains their enthusiasm for bright light. Source: Bacteria ‘see’ like tiny eyeballs

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This is a good way to memorise the periodic table

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How George Orwell influenced the 21st Century pub

Orwell

Seventy years after George Orwell published an essay on what makes the perfect pub, BBC News examines how the author’s views are influencing the micropub movement. As one of the most influential writers of the 20th Century, George Orwell’s impact is still felt decades after his death.

Big Brother, the ominous leader of Oceania in his chilling dystopian novel 1984, is mentioned frequently whenever CCTV or surveillance is on the agenda, while the concept of Room 101 has become a shorthand for people’s pet hates and biggest fears. But Orwell’s influence is not restricted to debates about the security state, as a trip to a local pub can show.

On 9 February, 1946, Orwell wrote an article for the Evening Standard warmly describing his favourite pub, the Moon Under Water, a small backstreet establishment with no music, china pots with creamy stout and that crucial ingredient: a welcoming atmosphere.

The Moon Under Water may itself have been a fiction, a composite of Orwell’s favourite London pubs, but its importance as a symbol of the friendly local lives on.

DJ Taylor, who has written an acclaimed biography of the author, said the essay shows Orwell’s love of the pub as a traditional institution.

“The whole question about Orwell and pubs is very interesting,” he said. “It was a symbol of working class life that he tended to sentimentalise.”

What constitutes the perfect pub was the topic of Orwell’s last essay for the Evening Standard, with previous articles covering other aspects of typical British life, such as how to make a good cup of tea. And, despite never existing, Moon Under Water left a sizeable legacy.

Seventy years on the essay’s criteria for the perfect pub – which includes old-fashioned Victorian decorations, a snack counter, barmaids who know their customers and a garden – are still cited by ale aficionados looking for the ideal spot for a pint. And landlords running a new breed of pub say Orwell’s rules are key to a revival in real ale drinking in the UK. Edited from bbc

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Here’s what happens to your body when you’re dehydrated

Water is essential for human life. It accounts for for 50-70 percent of our body weight and is crucial for most bodily functions. Any deficit in normal body water – through dehydration, sickness, exercise or heat stress – can make us feel rotten. First we feel thirsty and fatigued, and may develop a mild headache. This eventually gives way to grumpiness, and mental and physical decline.

We continually lose water via our breath, urine, faeces and skin. Most healthy people regulate their body’s water level remarkably well via eating and drinking, and are guided by appetite and thirst. But this is more difficult for infants, the sick, the elderly, athletes, and those with strenuous physical occupations, especially in the heat.

What happens when you dehydrate?

By the time you feel thirsty your body is already dehydrated; our thirst mechanism lags behind our actual level of hydration. Research shows that as little as 1 percent dehydration negatively affects your mood, attention, memory and motor coordination. Data in humans is lacking and contradictory, but it appears that brain tissue fluid decreases with dehydration, thus reducing brain volume and temporarily affecting cell function.

As you ‘lose’ body water without replacing it, your blood becomes more concentrated and, at a point, this triggers your kidneys to retain water. The result: you urinate less. The thicker and more concentrated your blood becomes, the harder it is for your cardiovascular system to compensate by increasing heart rate to maintain blood pressure.

When your dehydrated body is ‘pushed’ – such as when exercising or faced with heat stress – the risk of exhaustion or collapse increases. This can cause you to faint, for instance, when you stand up too quickly. Less water also hampers the body’s attempts at regulating temperature, which can cause hyperthermia (a body temperature greatly above normal). At a cellular level, ‘shrinkage’ occurs as water is effectively borrowed to maintain other stores, such as the blood. The brain senses this and triggers an increased sensation of thirst. Source: Here’s what happens to your body when you’re dehydrated  This article was written by Toby Mündel from Massey University, and was originally published by The Conversation.

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Google AI to play live Go match against world champion

Demis Hassabis

Google’s artificial intelligence (AI) software will go head-to-head with the world’s highest ranked Go player Lee Sedol, the firm has said.

It comes a week after the search giant announced that AlphaGo had beaten French Go champion Fan Hui.

That was seen as a pivotal moment for AI, similar to IBM’s Deep Blue beating Garry Kasparov at ches. The match will take place in Seoul, South Korea, and will be live-streamed via YouTube.

Demis Hassabis, head of Google’s DeepMind lab, announced the news in a tweet.

Mr Sedol said in a statement that although AlphaGo appeared to be a strong player, he was “confident” that he could win the match.

Go is widely regarded as a more complicated game than chess, because of the larger choice of moves, making it a good measure of how AI technology is developing.

Computers have played Go and beaten amateurs but, before Google’s victory against the French champion, experts had predicted that it would take another 10 years until a computer could beat the world’s best Go professionals.

There has been a long tradition of AI software going head-to-head with human players.

In 1996, IBM’s Deep Blue took on chess world champion Garry Kasparov and won, although Mr Kasparov went on to win three and draw two of the following five games.

Then in 2011, IBM’s cognitive platform Watson took on the world’s best Jeopardy players, a popular American quiz show and scooped the $1m prize.

Watson had access to 200 million pages of structured and unstructured content but was not connected to the internet during the game. Source bbc

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The Moon’s phases really do impact rainfall on Earth, study finds

We know that the Moon plays a significant role in our lives on Earth, from lighting up the night sky to setting the times of the ocean’s tides. But a new study suggests that our favourite cratered satellite also influences something else on our planet: the chances of rainfall.

Scientists from the University of Washington looked at 15 years’ worth of data supplied by NASA and the Tropical Rainfall Measuring Mission satellite owned by Japan’s space agency. They found that when the Moon is high in the sky, it creates ‘bulges’ in Earth’s atmosphere that cause a slight change in precipitation levels. The higher air pressure created by each oscillation leads to an increase in temperature, and because warmer air can hold more moisture, that means less chance of rain.

“As far as I know, this is the first study to convincingly connect the tidal force of the Moon with rainfall,” said one of the researchers, Tsubasa Kohyama. “When the Moon is overhead or underfoot, the air pressure is higher… it’s like the container becomes larger at higher pressure. “However, “No one should carry an umbrella just because the Moon is rising,” he adds. The variations in rainfall levels are so slight as to be almost imperceptible to most of us. Source: The Moon’s phases really do impact rainfall on Earth, study finds

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The Zika Virus‬ – Everything you need to know in under 60 seconds

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Physicists might have just solved one of the big problems with light-based computers

If you’ve ever seen a microchip up close, you’ll know they’re composed of all kinds of tightly wound channels along which the electrons travel. The problem with building a photon-compatible version of this is that it’s extremely difficult to get light to travel around bends. The answer? Plasmonic components, “which take advantage of the unique oscillating interactions of photons and electrons on the surface of metal”, Patrick Tucker explains over at Defense One.

Sounds good right? But once again, it’s not that simple. A lightwave is approximately 1 micrometre (1,000 nanometres), but we’re close to making transistors as small as 10 nanometres. So we have two options: transmit lightwaves ‘as is’ and destroy an efficiency gains by having enormous components, or confine the light into nanoscale surface waves known as surface plasmon polaritons (SPPs).

We can do all of this already, but in the process, the plasmonic components will experience temperature increases of around 100 Kelvin, and basically fizzle out and die. And keeping them cool isn’t as easy as simply running a fan over them. “You need a cooling system that works on the scale of the photonic chip’s key features, less than a billionth of a metre in size,” says Tucker. “It’s one reason why many don’t consider fully light-based transistors a practical possibility for decades.

“In the words of George Constanza himself, “Why must there always be a problem?” But for the first time, researchers from the Moscow Institute of Physics and Technology say they’ve come up with a solution. The heat comes from when the SPPs are absorbed by the metal in the components, so the Russian researchers have inserted what they call ‘high-performance thermal interfaces’ into the components to protect them from the metal. Source: Physicists might have just solved one of the big problems with light-based computers

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The Elephant Foot Glacier

glacier

The Elephant Foot Glacier in Greenland is almost perfectly symmetrical. So pretty. Image: Kashif Pathan/Flickr. Source: ScienceAlert

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Why is the X chromosome so odd? Traffic analogy helped us crack the mystery

You may not be aware of it, but one of your chromosomes – the X chromosome – is considerably different from the rest and has posed a puzzle for scientists for over a decade. Early in mammalian evolutionary history, what is now the X chromosome was just like any of our other chromosomes. But at some point it evolved to be different. Unlike all other chromosomes, one of the two X chromosomes in women is inactivated in nearly all cells. It also has an extremely low mutation rate and – most perplexingly – the genes that are found on it are active in relatively few of our tissues. Now a study we recently published in PLOS Biology, has begun to shed light on what’s going on – by using a traffic analogy

Read the whole article here : Why is the X chromosome so odd?

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Astronomers studying what may be the most powerful supernova ever seen

Right now, astronomers are viewing a ball of hot gas billions of light years away that is radiating the energy of hundreds of billions of suns. At its heart is an object a little larger than 10 miles across. And astronomers are not entirely sure what it is.

If, as they suspect, the gas ball is the result of a supernova, then it’s the most powerful supernova ever seen.In this week’s issue of the journal Science, they report that the object at the center could be a very rare type of star called a magnetar–but one so powerful that it pushes the energy limits allowed by physics.

An international team of professional and amateur astronomers spotted the possible supernova, now called ASASSN-15lh, when it first flared to life in June 2015. Source:  ScienceDaily

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Despite what you’ve read, our bodies don’t contain 10 times more bacteria cells than human cells

If you’ve ever read anything about the colonies of bacteria that live on and inside you, you’ll no doubt have come across the neat little ‘fact’ that microbial cells outnumber human cells in your body by a ratio of around 10:1. You’ll find it in scientific papers, magazine articles, TED talks, and popular science books, and while it does a good job at illustrating just how crucial bacteria are to the existence of human beings, it isn’t actually even remotely true.

A review of more than four decades of research into the human microbiome has found that there is zero scientific evidence to back this oft-cited factoid up. Instead, the ratio looks to be about 1.3-to-1, with the average human playing host to around 100 trillion microbes, give or take. But even that isn’t the whole story.

A team of biologists led by Ron Milo from the Weizmann Institute of Science set out to review all the available literature on the microbe populations that live inside us, and found that for a man between 20 and 30 years old, with a weight of about 70 kg (154 pounds) and a height of 170 cm (about 5’7) – they call him the ‘reference man’ – there would be about 39 trillion bacterial cells living among 30 trillion human cells. Which gives us a ratio of about 1.3:1 – almost equal parts human to microbe. Source: Despite what you’ve read, our bodies don’t contain 10 times more bacteria cells than human cells

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Making thunder at the theatre

This year marks the 250th anniversary of the Bristol Old Vic, one of the oldest working theatres in the world.

To mark the occasion, the theatre will give audiences a chance to experience productions in the way that eighteenth century theatre-goers did.

Reporter Jon Kay finds out how they make their thunder. Source bbc

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A mathematician has proposed a way to create and manipulate gravity

Yesterday, the physics community got hyped-up over rumours that scientists might have finally detected gravitational waves – ripples in the curvature of spacetime predicted by Einstein 100 years ago – and that their observations could be coming to a peer-reviewed journal near you soon.

So far, our understanding of how gravity affects the Universe has been limited to observations of natural gravitational fields created by distant stars and planets. In fact, gravity is the last of the four fundamental forces that humans haven’t figured out how to produce and control. But now André Füzfa, a mathematician at the University of Namur in Belgium, has published a paper proposing a device that could do just that – albeit in tiny doses. And it wouldn’t require any new technology.

Let’s be clear, we’re talking about incredibly small gravitational fields here, not the type of ‘artificial gravity’ that’s used throughout science fiction to keep characters on shows like Star Trek and Battlestar Galactica walking, not floating, around spacecraft. As yet, that technology isn’t possible. But being able to produce incredibly weak gravitational fields would still be incredibly exciting from a scientific point of view, because it would allow physicists to actively study gravity for the first time, and really test out Einstein’s general theory of relativity. It could even lead to new technology, such as forms of communication that are based on gravity instead of electromagnetic waves.

“Somehow, studying gravity is a contemplative activity: physicists restrict themselves to the study of natural, pre-existing, sources of gravitation,” writes Füzfa in the paper. “Generating artificial gravitational fields, that could be switched on or off at will, is a question captured or left to science-fiction.”

The theoretical device he’s proposed is based on large superconducting electromagnets, like the kind currently used in the Large Hadron Collider, to generate well-controlled and very strong magnetic fields that would allow physicists to observe the way these magnetic fields bend spacetime. Füzfa’s method hasn’t been experimentally tested, so we can’t get too excited about it just yet, but he’s done the maths behind the proposed device, and everything appears to add up. Source: A mathematician has proposed a way to create and manipulate gravity

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Four elements have just earned a permanent spot in the periodic table

Officials from the International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry (IUPAC) have confirmed the discovery of elements 113, 115, 117, and 118, announcing that there is now enough evidence to give them permanent places on the periodic table, which means they’ll also need new, official names. You won’t find these four elements in nature – they are synthetic elements that can only be produced in the lab, and because they decay in a matter of seconds, their existence has been extremely difficult to confirm. Until now, elements 113, 115, 117, and 118 had temporary names and positions on the seventh row of the periodic table because scientists have struggled to create them more than once.

“For over seven years we continued to search for data conclusively identifying element 113, but we just never saw another event,” Kosuke Morita from RIKEN in Japan said of one of the four elements. “I was not prepared to give up, however, as I believed that one day, if we persevered, luck would fall upon us again.

“Morita’s team has been credited with the confirmed discovery of element 113, which means they’ve won the naming rights too. Until now, the element been known by the temporary name, ununtrium, and temporary symbol Uut. The three remaining elements, 115, 117, and 118 – known temporarily as ununpentium (Uup), ununseptium (Uus), and ununoctium (Uuo), respectively – will also get new names.

The IUPAC has announced that a team of US and Russian researchers have fulfilled the criteria for proving the existence of the remaining three elements, 115, 117, and 118, and will be invited to propose permanent names and symbols. They have been temporarily known as ununpentium (Uup), ununseptium (Uus), and ununoctium (Uuo), respectively.”The chemistry community is eager to see its most cherished table finally being completed down to the seventh row,” Jan Reedijk, president of the Inorganic Chemistry Division of IUPAC, said last week.

The organisation advises that the new elements can be named after a mythological concept, a mineral, a place or country, a property, or a scientist, and will be presented for public review for five months before a final decision about the new official name and symbol is made. Source: Four elements have just earned a permanent spot in the periodic table

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Why groups of people can remember something that didn’t happen

Strange things happen to our memories when other people are involved: if someone else remembers an event in a particular way, for example, that can influence the way that we recall it. A shared store of knowledge – or a ‘transactive memory system’ – is more complex and comprehensive than any individual’s memory, or so the hypothesis goes.

Journalist Malcolm Nicholson from Hope&Fears decided to ask the experts to see if groups of people could really ‘remember’ something that didn’t actually happen, with the catalyst being Donald Trump’s assertion that thousands of Muslims were cheering on the streets after 9/11 – a false memory that around one-third of Republicans in a recent survey seem to share.

Cornell University’s Stephen Ceci recalls a classic psychology study from 1954 in which rugby players’ recollection of a match varied depending on which side they were playing – each team felt the other was more aggressive. He also points to cases of molestation where one child’s claims are often backed up by further reports from the other kids, due to a combination of “social pressures… and various types of suggestion”. Both can be used as examples of situations where ‘group think’ is in evidence.

“There are a few relevant studies that show people can hold distorted memories about significant public events,” the University of Warwick’s Kimberly Wade told Nicholson, pointing to the example of a study that found Americans were more likely to remember the discovery of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq than Germans or Australians.

“It’s not inconceivable that this sort of thing can happen in a group setting,” says Wade. “There are many studies showing that when two people witness the same event and discuss it, one person’s memory report can contaminate what the other person subsequently claims to remember. This is called ‘memory conformity’ in the literature, and it’s a very powerful and well-documented effect.

“She adds that a lot of false memories are self-serving, designed to make us feel better about ourselves, our relationships, and our current situation.”For some people, even if you were told a fact was wrong, you would still remember the previous incorrect fact,” adds psychologist William Hirst. “This suggests that memory is schema consistent, so if something fits into the way you think things should be it, you don’t easily revise the memory once it’s been formed.” Source: Why groups of people can remember something that didn’t happen

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Welcome to Project Soli

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Mars could gain a ring like Saturn’s due to the impending destruction of its moon Phobos

It was only a fortnight ago that scientists at NASA announced Mars’s moon Phobos is in the process of shattering apart due to tidal forces exerted on it by the red planet, and now a new study explains what this dramatic phenomenon could ultimately lead to.

The impending destruction of Phobos that’s set to take place in the next 20 to 40 million years will result in the disintegrated moon forming a ring system around its parent planet, according to scientists at the University of California, Berkeley.

The researchers’ calculations provide an answer to a puzzle scientists have long contemplated regarding the ongoing gravitational attraction between Mars and its larger moon. Phobos, which orbits Mars at a distance of just 6,000 kilometres, is gradually spiralling in towards the red planet, and the tidal forces pulling on Phobos are also responsible for weakening the structural integrity of the moon, which is believed to have a rubble-like core.

But while the gap between Mars and Phobos is closing at an extremely slow rate – narrowing by only a number of centimetres each year – the ultimate question remained: after millions of years, would Phobos inevitably collide with Mars, or would the tidal forces shatter the moon into smaller fragments before such an eventuality could take place? According to the researchers, who used observational data and a geotechnical model to calculate the integrity of Phobos, the structural failure of the moon will precede any planetary collision. Source: Mars could gain a ring like Saturn’s due to the impending destruction of its moon Phobos

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How to Forget Things on Purpose

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