Giant Coral Mounds Discovered Behind the Great Barrier Reef

By Nathaniel Scharping | August 30, 2016 1:25 pm

Fossilized stromatolites near Saratoga Springs, NY. The structures they form are very close to modern-day bioherms. (Credit: Michael C. Rygel/Wikimedia Commons)

The world’s largest reef system has even more coral than we thought.

Researchers at Australia’s Great Barrier Reef say that they have discovered giant mounds of previously undiscovered coral dotting the Australian seabed, interspersed with the existing reef system. Some of these mounds are nearly one thousand feet across and 30 feet high, and have built up over the past ten thousand years or so. Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Environment, Living World, top posts

A Peculiar Signal Fuels Alien Speculation

By John Wenz | August 30, 2016 12:13 pm

This 2013 photo shows the RATAN-600 observatory, where a recent microwave transmission has SETI researchers excited. (Credit: Wikimedia Commons)

It could be nothing. In the kinds of circles that search for transmissions from alien civilizations, it always is. But nonetheless, Russian researchers in the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI) have something intriguing they’re pursuing.

Let’s heavily caveat this. SETI efforts worldwide have had plenty of promising signals. None of them have been confirmed to come from extraterrestrial civilizations. Several have turned out to be from terrestrial sources, and early on, two high profile “What ifs?” lead to the discovery of pulsars and quasars rather than alien megastructures or technologically advanced societies.

Still, there’s enough substance to this message that researchers working from the RATAN-600 observatory in Russia are investigating what might have caused it. They’ve pinpointed a likely star, HD 164595, which is located in the Hercules constellation. It’s known to have one planet, a Neptune-sized world in a 40 day orbit. Given that HD 164595 is a sun-type star, that planet would be too hot for life, but there may be other undiscovered planets in the solar system.

The signal was first detected in May 2015 at the 2.7 cm band, which is around 11 Ghz in the super-high frequency band. That places whatever the signal was in the microwave band. As Lee Berger at Ars Technica points out, there’s no known astrophysical source at these wavelengths. There’s some chatter that if (BIG if) this is of non-natural origin, it could be slightly to moderately more advanced than our own. “… if it came from an isotropic beacon, it would be of a power possible only for a Kardashev Type II civilization,” Paul Gilster at Centauri Dreams writes. “If it were a narrow beam signal focused on our Solar System, it would be of a power available to a Kardashev Type I civilization.”

In the Kardashev scaled, Type I civilizations are those somewhat like our own, technology-wise, able to utilize radio signals to reach out and make contact. Type II are more technologically advanced civilizations, the type brought up when we talk about “alien megastructures” like some people have theorized may be around Tabby’s Star.

There are other natural reasons that may have caused this. Gilster points to both potential “noise” contamination from other sources could have played a role, as well as a microlensing event which could have boosted the signal from something natural in the background. More telescope time is needed to figure it out and get to the bottom of it. Researchers could then see if it repeats (a much-needed element of SETI research, in order to gather as much data as possible), if there are other unexplored natural scenarios that could have created it, or any other scenario that might be possible.

After that, we can say for sure whether or not it’s aliens. But for now let’s go with just the words “promising,” and hope for the best but prepare for it to be bupkis. Or at least bupkis in the “is it aliens?” department.


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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Space & Physics, top posts

Welcome to the Anthropocene, the First Human Epoch

By Nathaniel Scharping | August 30, 2016 12:11 pm
NASA image acquired April 18 - October 23, 2012 This image of the United States of America at night is a composite assembled from data acquired by the Suomi NPP satellite in April and October 2012. The image was made possible by the new satellite’s “day-night band” of the Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite (VIIRS), which detects light in a range of wavelengths from green to near-infrared and uses filtering techniques to observe dim signals such as city lights, gas flares, auroras, wildfires, and reflected moonlight. “Nighttime light is the most interesting data that I’ve had a chance to work with,” says Chris Elvidge, who leads the Earth Observation Group at NOAA’s National Geophysical Data Center. “I’m always amazed at what city light images show us about human activity.” His research group has been approached by scientists seeking to model the distribution of carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuels and to monitor the activity of commercial fishing fleets. Biologists have examined how urban growth has fragmented animal habitat. Elvidge even learned once of a study of dictatorships in various parts of the world and how nighttime lights had a tendency to expand in the dictator’s hometown or province. Named for satellite meteorology pioneer Verner Suomi, NPP flies over any given point on Earth's surface twice each day at roughly 1:30 a.m. and p.m. The polar-orbiting satellite flies 824 kilometers (512 miles) above the surface, sending its data once per orbit to a ground station in Svalbard, Norway, and continuously to local direct broadcast users distributed around the world. Suomi NPP is managed by NASA with operational support from NOAA and its Joint Polar Satellite System, which manages the satellite's ground system. NASA Earth Observatory image by Robert Simmon, using Suomi NPP VIIRS data provided courtesy of Chris Elvidge (NOAA National Geophysical Data Center). Suomi NPP is the result of a partnership between NASA, NOAA, and t

(Credit: NASA/Wikimedia Commons)

This week, at the 35th International Geologic Conference in South Africa, members of a working group made a formal recommendation that the Anthropocene be officially recognized as the latest geologic epoch. This would mark a transition from the Holocene, which began almost 12,000 years ago at the end of the last Ice Age, and the beginning of the “age of humans.”
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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Environment, top posts

Tasmanian Devils Are Rapidly Evolving Resistance to a Deadly Cancer

By Carl Engelking | August 30, 2016 10:00 am
Devil facial tumor disease (DFTD) spreads when Tasmanian devils nip at each other's faces — a common behavior in social interactions. (Credit:

Devil facial tumor disease (DFTD) spreads when Tasmanian devils nip at each other’s faces — a common behavior in social interactions. (Credit: Bernhard Richter/Shutterstock)

Tasmanian devils are knocked down — we’re talking a 9-count — but they aren’t out. Not yet.

In just over 20 years, devil facial tumor disease (DFTD) has ravaged Tasmanian devils on the Australian island state, resulting in an 80 percent overall decline in the iconic species’ numbers. The transmissible cancer, distinguished by red, oozing facial tumors, is nearly 100 percent fatal, with most devils meeting their end within 6 months of contracting the disease.

Based on statistical models, devil populations on the eastern edge of the island, where field researchers first detected the disease in 1996, should already be extinct, but that hasn’t happened. Instead small populations are still hanging on, because, as new evidence suggests, Tasmanian devils might be rapidly evolving resistance to their deadly cancer. Read More

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

Jellyfish Serve as Lobster Taxis — and Dinner

By Nathaniel Scharping | August 25, 2016 4:11 pm

A slipper lobster, a close relative of smooth fan lobsters. (Credit: Peter Koelbl/Wikimedia Commons)

Life as a young smooth fan lobster is pretty easy.

As a phyllosoma, another word for lobster larvae, the crustaceans like to kick back and relax, hitching rides on Moon jellyfish instead of using their own legs to get around. What’s more, they never really have to get off because they also eat the jellyfish. It’s like taking an Uber everywhere, only the car is made out of chocolate. But how do lobsters survive on their deadly hosts?

The answer could help make it easier to keep lobster on the menu.  Read More


This ‘Ghost Galaxy’ Is 99.99% Dark Matter

By Ryan F. Mandelbaum | August 25, 2016 1:42 pm


The hazy oval isn’t glare on your screen; it’s an entire galaxy. Dragonfly 44 weighs about the same as our Milky Way, except it’s 99.99 percent dark matter and has less than a hundredth the number of stars. Dark matter is stuff that can’t interact with the electromagnetic force (how we mostly experience the world) so we can’t see or touch it.

Scientists can observe its gravitational effects, though, which keep Dragonfly 44’s paltry collection of visible stars from flying apart. There’s around five times as much dark matter as regular matter in the universe, and even our own Milky Way is around 90% dark matter. Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Space & Physics, top posts
MORE ABOUT: dark matter

Algorithm Weaves Secret Messages into Dance Music

By Nathaniel Scharping | August 24, 2016 3:54 pm

(Credit: PHOTOCREO Michal Bednarek/Shutterstock)

In Ibiza, an island in the Mediterranean Sea, the hypnotic “thump thump thump” of the club music could actually convey much more than a call to dance.

Krzysztof Szczypiorski, a researcher from Poland, has developed a technique to hide messages inside dance music using subtle variations in tempo. By raising or lowering the speed of the music at levels not detectable by humans, he transmits a series of Morse code-like signals that can be picked up by a computer program. The sonic dots and dashes are then put together to spell out a message. Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Technology, top posts
MORE ABOUT: computers

Alpha Centauri: The Hollywood Star System

By Nathaniel Scharping | August 24, 2016 12:05 pm
(Credit: Wikimedia Commons)

(Credit: Wikimedia Commons)

With the announcement today of an Earth-sized planet orbiting in the habitable zone of Proxima Centauri, Earthlings’ attention is focused once again on our nearest stellar neighbor.

The Alpha Centauri system is located some 4 light years away from Earth, which places it right in our backyard, cosmically speaking, even though it still lies roughly 25 trillion miles away from us. Spotting an exoplanet around Proxima is a huge discovery scientifically speaking, but it’s all the more exciting given the cultural significance of the Alpha Centauri system.

In a way, it validates the speculations of dozens of authors, directors, comic book artists and game designers who dared to dream of life somewhere out there.

We don’t know if anything actually exists — or even can exist — on the planet, named Proxima b, but the discovery will no doubt fuel the imaginations of a new generation of science fiction writers whose ideas now have evidence to back them up. Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Space & Physics, top posts

Chimpanzee Groups Know How to Deal With Freeloaders

By K. N. Smith | August 23, 2016 12:00 pm

Three chimpanzees pull at the cooperation apparatus, with two others looking on. (Credit: Courtesy of Frans de Waal, Yerkes National Primate Research Center)

Chimpanzees are known to be violently competitive in groups — they aren’t exactly team players.

But given enough time, it appears they can work together to stifle competition, police freeloaders and cooperatively accomplish a task. Doesn’t that sound familiar?

Human society works because we all agree on certain social norms, and we hold each other to them. The old argument is that our ability to make society work by deploying these enforcement mechanisms is a uniquely human skill set. Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Living World, top posts

Why Scientists Created See-through, Shrunken, Glow-in-the-dark Mice

By Nathaniel Scharping | August 22, 2016 3:48 pm

A whole rat made transparent with uDISCO (Credit: Ali Ertuerk)

When Victorian anatomists wanted to take a peek under the skin, they were forced to cut into the very objects they meant to study. It was really their only option, of course, as techniques such as X-rays and MRIs wouldn’t enter the lab for many years.

Today, scientists can see into bodies without ever opening them up, but their visualizations still fail to completely capture their subjects’ inner essence. The stubborn opacity of skin and organs defeats our eyes.

To give us an altogether new form of insight, researchers are making the bodies we want to peer into entirely transparent. The idea of leaching the color from organic structures has existed for several years now, but researchers from Germany say that they have created the most effective method to date. And, not only are these mice transparent, they glow in the dark as well. The technique also shrinks the mice down to about a third of their former volume, leaving the researchers with a tiny, see-through mouse that glows radioactive green. Read More



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