In Makira, Flying Fox Teeth Are Currency…And That Could Save the Species

By Charles Choi | October 16, 2017 4:00 pm

An example of how flying fox teeth are strung together into necklaces. (Credit: Tyrone Lavery, The Field Museum)

On the island of Makira, hunters use the teeth of giant bats known as flying foxes as currency. Now, perhaps paradoxically, researchers suggest this practice could help save these bats from potential extinction.

The giant tropical fruit bats known as flying foxes are the largest bats in the world. Of the 65 flying fox species alive today, 31 are under threat of extinction, and 28 of these threatened species live on islands. Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Living World, top posts
MORE ABOUT: animals

Even Einstein Doubted His Own Gravitational Waves

By Eric Betz | October 16, 2017 3:45 pm
(Credit: Wikimedia Commons)

(Credit: Wikimedia Commons)

Even before LIGO published its fifth detection this week, most modern scientists had already accepted gravitational waves as an observable manifestation of Einstein’s general relativity. But that hasn’t always been the case.

As recently as the 1970s, scientists weren’t sure gravitational waves were strong enough to detect. Other theorists rejected their existence outright.  Read More


Gravitational Waves Show How Fast The Universe is Expanding

By Nathaniel Scharping | October 16, 2017 3:31 pm
A cloud of debris ejected into space as two neutron stars merge. (Credit: NASA Goddard Space Flight Center/CI Lab)

A cloud of debris ejected into space as two neutron stars merge. (Credit: NASA Goddard Space Flight Center/CI Lab)

The first gravitational wave observed from a neutron star merger offers the potential for a whole raft of new discoveries. Among them is a more precise measurement of the Hubble constant, which captures how fast our universe is expanding.

Ever since the Big Bang, everything in the universe has been spreading apart. It also turns out that this is happening faster and faster — the rate of expansion is increasing. Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Space & Physics, top posts

Astronomers Tally All the Gold in Our Galaxy

By Eric Betz | October 16, 2017 2:15 pm
When two neutron stars collide, the aftermath creates heavy elements like gold. (Credit: National Science Foundation/LIGO/Sonoma State University/A. Simonne)

When two neutron stars collide, the aftermath creates heavy elements like gold. (Credit: National Science Foundation/LIGO/Sonoma State University/A. Simonne)

Before “he went to Jared,” two neutron stars collided.

That’s what scientists learned from studying the debris fallout after a cosmic explosion called a kilonova — 1,000 times brighter than a standard nova — which appeared, and was witnessed by astronomers, in earthly skies Aug. 17.

For decades, astronomers debated the origins of the heaviest elements, which includes precious metals, rare Earth elements and basically everything on the bottom rungs of the periodic table, from platinum to plutonium. Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Space & Physics, top posts
MORE ABOUT: cosmology, stars

Heads Up! A Chinese Space Station Will Plummet to Earth Within Months

By Lauren Sigfusson | October 16, 2017 1:05 pm


When you go outside you may expect rain to occasionally fall from the sky, maybe even excrement from our flying friends — but a rogue space station? As we learned from Sir Isaac Newton, “What goes up must come down,” and China’s Tiangong-1 space station is coming down fast.

The space station will plummet to Earth any time between now and April 2018, the Guardian reported last week. News broke in September 2016 that the 8.5-ton space station, called Tiangong-1, meaning “heavenly palace,” was indeed falling to Earth. Read More


California Wants to Take Human Training Wheels Off Autonomous Vehicles

By Lauren Sigfusson | October 16, 2017 12:42 pm

Self-driving vehicles could soon be cruisin’ down California streets with no humans. (Credit: Waymo)

You’ve read about self-driving cars cruising around California as companies try to prove and perfect their tech. A human sits in each car, but not because they want to joyride: it’s the law.

But that could change.

Last week, California lawmakers proposed legislation that would make it legal for companies to test self-driving cars without a human watchdog in the vehicle, and for commercial operations to begin as early as 2018. Just over 40 companies have been issued California Autonomous Vehicle Testing Permits, according to the state’s DMV, including Ford, Apple, Waymo and Tesla. Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Technology, top posts

Dawn of an Era: Astronomers Hear and See Cosmic Collision

By Eric Betz | October 16, 2017 9:00 am
Two neutron stars merge into a kilonova. (Credit: Illustration by Robin Dienel, courtesy of the Carnegie Institution for Science)

Two neutron stars merge into a kilonova. (Credit: Illustration by Robin Dienel, courtesy of the Carnegie Institution for Science)

For hundreds of millions of years, two city-sized stars in a galaxy not-so-far away circled each other in a fatal dance. Their dimensions were diminutive, but each outweighed our sun.

They were neutron stars — the collapsed cores left behind after giant stars explode into supernovas. Closer and closer they spun, shedding gravitational energy, until the stars traveled at nearly the speed of light, completing an orbit 100 times every second.

By then, dinosaurs reigned on Earth, and the first flowers were just blooming. That’s when, 130 million years ago, the dance ended.  Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Space & Physics, top posts

Gravitational Wave Hunters Set to Make Big Announcement Monday

By Nathaniel Scharping | October 13, 2017 12:19 pm

The LIGO detector in Livingston, Louisiana. (Credit: LIGO Collaboration)

The massive collaboration of scientists that’s hunting gravitational waves—with a lot of success—is set to make another big announcement on Monday.

A flurry of press releases this week have teased the news, which is set to break on Oct. 16, although they’ve been short on details. At 10 a.m. Eastern, a team from the groundbreaking gravitational wave detector LIGO will make an announcement at the National Press Club in Washington D.C. They’ll be joined by researchers from Virgo, LIGO’s Italian counterpart, and simultaneous briefings are planned in Germany and the United Kingdom.

It’s likely to be something more exciting another detection — the last was announced on Sept. 27 without nearly as much fanfare. Crucially, though, that detection marked the first time Virgo and the pair of LIGO detectors caught a gravitational wave at the same time, allowing them to roughly triangulate its position of origin in the sky. Gravitational waves from merging black holes don’t leave traces that could be seen by conventional telescopes, but collisions involving other massive bodies might.

If we could catch the event that produced a gravitational wave with a conventional telescope, it would give scientists a lot more information as to what happens during the fractions of a second when two massive bodies merge. We’ll be waiting till Monday to find out what happened. Scientists plan to livestream the announcement on Monday, and you can watch it all right here:

Monday, given the organizations involved, will probably mark the fifth gravitational wave detection in the last year or so. LIGO made history in February of 2016 when scientists presented the first evidence of a successful detection. Gravitational waves are the literal stretching of space-time caused by immensely powerful events far away in the universe. They were first predicted by Albert Einstein as a corollary to his 1915 general theory of relativity, though he doubted we’d ever discover direct evidence of them.

Download our free e-book on gravitational waves here

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Space & Physics, top posts

First AI Learned to Walk, Now It’s Wrestling, Playing Soccer

By Carl Engelking | October 13, 2017 11:41 am

Wrestling artificial intelligence from OpenAI

Oh, artificial intelligence, how quickly you grow up. Just three months ago you were learning to walk, and we watched you take your first, flailing steps.

Today, you’re out there kicking a soccer ball around and wrestling. Where does the time go?

Indeed, for the past few months we’ve stood by like proud parents and watched AI reach heartwarming little milestones. In July, you’ll recall, Google’s artificial intelligence company in the United Kingdom, DeepMind, developed an algorithm that learned how to walk on its own. Researchers built a basic function into their algorithms that only rewarded the AI for making forward progress. By seeking to maximize the reward, complex behaviors like walking and avoiding obstacles emerged. Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Technology, top posts, Uncategorized

Supplies of a Rare Cancer-Killing Compound Were Dwindling…Not Anymore

By Carl Engelking | October 12, 2017 4:28 pm

Artist’s interpretation of a cancer cell. (Credit: Shutterstock)

Bugula neritina is a rather inconspicuous marine organism. It looks like purplish seaweed, but it’s actually a branching colony of individual, tentacled zooids (the technical term for individuals in a colonial invertebrate) that resemble badminton shuttlecocks. It’s abundant, invasive and widely viewed as a pest as it accumulates on ships, dock sides, buoys and intake valves.

It might also contain a cure to some of humanity’s most devastating diseases: cancer, HIV, Alzheimer’s. Read More

MORE ABOUT: cancer


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