An ephemeral organ, long dismissed merely as afterbirth, increasingly is viewed as critical to understanding the health and course of pregnancy.
The placenta may be dismissed as “afterbirth,” deemed an afterthought in discussions about pregnancy and even relegated, literally, to the trash bin. But at long last it is beginning to get its due.
In the past three weeks, scientists have published three significant studies of this ephemeral organ. One gave a detailed analysis of all the genes expressed, or converted into functioning proteins, in the placenta; another experimented with a way to silence that expression when it causes trouble. In the third, researchers created mini-placentas, three-dimensional clusters of cells, or organoids, that mimic the real thing in the lab, and can be used as models for studying it.
In addition, at a recent meeting in Bethesda, Md., of the Human Placenta Project, several teams of researchers showed off sophisticated new techniques that enable the placenta to be studied in real time. That work could help doctors diagnose dangerous complications in pregnancy — including pre-eclampsia (a form of high blood pressure), preterm birth and fetal growth restriction — early enough to intervene. It might also help to reveal why boys are much more vulnerable than girls to disorders of brain development, including schizophrenia, A.D.H.D., autism, dyslexia and Tourette syndrome.
The problem with science is that so much of it simply isn’t. Last summer, the Open Science Collaboration announced that it had tried to replicate one hundred published psychology experiments sampled from three of the most prestigious journals in the field. Scientific claims rest on the idea that experiments repeated under nearly identical conditions ought to yield approximately the same results, but until very recently, very few had bothered to check in a systematic way whether this was actually the case. The OSC was the biggest attempt yet to check a field’s results, and the most shocking. In many cases, they had used original experimental materials, and sometimes even performed the experiments under the guidance of the original researchers. Of the studies that had originally reported positive results, an astonishing 65 percent failed to show statistical significance on replication, and many of the remainder showed greatly reduced effect sizes.
Live: Frontiers of Science and Innovation Series Lecture
Natalie Batalha is a professor of astronomy and astrophysics at University of California, Santa Cruz and former astrophysicist at NASA Ames Research Center and the project scientist for NASA's Kepler Mission. She holds a Bachelor's degree in physics from the University of California (UC), Berkeley, and a Doctoral degree in astrophysics from UC Santa Cruz. Batalha started her career as a stellar spectroscopist studying young, sun-like stars.
In 1999, Natalie joined the Kepler Mission and has contributed to many different aspects of the science, from studying the stars themselves to detecting and understanding the planets they harbor. Batalha led the analysis that yielded the discovery in 2011 of Kepler-10b—the mission's first confirmation of a rocky planet outside our solar system. And she led the effort to understand planet populations in the galaxy based on Kepler discoveries. In 2015, she joined the leadership team of a new NASA initiative dedicated to the search for evidence of life beyond the Solar System.
The size of the universe is hard to fathom, and it’s expanding even faster than scientists originally thought. While humans will never map out the entirety of space, that doesn’t stop them from exploring it. The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) has been around since 1958. Japan, Russia, and France—just to name a few countries—all have space agencies dedicated to exploring the final frontier.
Since NASA’s inception 60 years ago, astronauts have landed on the moon, parked a robot-controlled rover on Mars, and discovered thousands of exoplanets—planets that orbit stars outside of this solar system. Scientists can even explore the 95% of invisible space composed of dark energy, dark matter, and dark radiation. In 2018 alone, scientists have discovered that earth may have been shaped like a doughnut, stars are sometimes colder than planets, and all sunlike stars probably have twins.
Stacker compiled a list of 30 mind-blowing space discoveries after searching news archives and checking the latest from NASA. Click through to see what they’ve uncovered.
Physicists from the Emmanuel Kant Baltic Federal University (BFU) have analyzed one of the possible models of dark energy and have come to the conclusion that the future of our universe could be much more unstable and possibly catastrophic than previously believed.
The research was published in The European Physical Journal C.
"Regard for a new class of singularities (infinite state of a parameter) makes our universe's future unpredictable and dangerous. This research indicates that certain singularities could emerge suddenly and practically at any time. Neither stars nor even galaxies would survive a disaster like this," BFU Professor Artyom Yurov, a co-author of the research, told Sputnik.
At the turn of the 21st century, space science made a number of important discoveries, such as indirect proof of the universe's inflationary expansion, dark matter and dark energy, gravitation waves and more. In 1998, it was found that the universe was expanding at an accelerated rate.
Scientists believe that the acceleration is caused by the so-called "dark sector" of the universe. Observations have shown that well-known baryonic matter is just 4.9% of the universe, with the "dark sector" composed of the mysterious dark matter (26.8%) and even more mysterious dark energy (68.3%) accounting for the remaining 95.1%.
There are three main hypotheses concerning dark energy. The first one has it that dark energy is a cosmologic constant, that is, invariable energy density that is evenly distributed across the universe. The second hypothesis defines dark energy as a quintessence or a dynamic field whose energy density varies in space and time. The third hypothesis assumes that dark energy is a manifestation of modified gravity at distances reaching the order of the visible part of the universe.
"The future of the universe depends on which of these models is true. If the second hypothesis is correct and dark energy is really a quintessence, then the future may hold a lot of amazing and unpleasant surprises. In particular, singularities are likely to appear during accelerated expansion! For example, the medium pressure of the quintessence could suddenly 'explode'," Mr. Yurov said.
Cambridge University Professor John Barrow made calculations in 2004 showing that a catastrophic event like this was possible. A more extensive mathematical study of this enabled physicists Sergei Odintsov, Shinichi Nojiri and Shinji Tsujikawa to classify possible catastrophic singularities.
Ten years in, the Large Hadron Collider has failed to deliver the exciting discoveries that scientists promised.
The Large Hadron Collider is the world’s largest particle accelerator. It’s a 16-mile-long underground ring, located at CERN in Geneva, in which protons collide at almost the speed of light. With a $5 billion price tag and a $1 billion annual operation cost, the L.H.C. is the most expensive instrument ever built — and that’s even though it reuses the tunnel of an earlier collider.
The L.H.C. has collected data since September 2008. Last month, the second experimental run completed, and the collider will be shut down for the next two years for scheduled upgrades. With the L.H.C. on hiatus, particle physicists are already making plans to build an even larger collider. Last week, CERN unveiled plans to build an accelerator that is larger and far more powerful than the L.H.C. — and would cost over $10 billion.
I used to be a particle physicist. For my Ph.D. thesis, I did L.H.C. predictions, and while I have stopped working in the field, I still believe that slamming particles into one another is the most promising route to understanding what matter is made of and how it holds together. But $10 billion is a hefty price tag. And I’m not sure it’s worth it.
In 2012, experiments at the L.H.C. confirmed the discovery of the Higgs boson — a prediction that dates back to the 1960s — and it remains the only discovery made at the L.H.C. Particle physicists are quick to emphasize that they have learned other things: For example, they now have better knowledge about the structure of the proton, and they’ve seen new (albeit unstable) composite particles. But let’s be honest: It’s disappointing.
Loss of kidney function in old age is not inevitable
Hunter-gatherers do not suffer from it
AS PEOPLE get older, their kidneys concentrate urine less effectively. Since, like most things, kidneys might expected to deteriorate with the passage of time, this is no great surprise. Yet a study just published in the American Journal of Physical Anthropology by Asher Rosinger of Pennsylvania State University suggests this notion is wrongheaded. Dr Rosinger has found that hunter-gatherers in Africa and forager-horticulturalists in South America are able to produce, into their seventies, urine which is just as concentrated as that of those in their twenties.
Monitoring urine concentration matters because, as the kidneys’ urine-concentrating ability diminishes, so too does their ability to filter out toxins and waste products from the blood. Eventually, this can force those with poorly functioning kidneys to undergo painful, expensive and time consuming dialysis.
While studying the literature on the matter, Dr Rosinger noticed that all relevant research had taken place in industrialised countries. Aware that past work with non-industrialised populations had shown that some conditions long thought to be age-related and inevitable, such as declining cardiovascular function, were not, Dr Rosinger decided to look similarly at kidney function.
He and his colleagues examined the urine-concentrating ability of 15,055 American adults who were neither pregnant nor suffering from kidney disease. In particular, they measured urine’s specific gravity. They then compared the specific gravities of their American samples with those of samples from 116 adult Tsimane, living in the lowlands of Bolivia, and 38 Hadza, living in Northern Tanzania.
As they expected, the density of American urine dropped significantly with the age of its producer. That of Tsimane and Hadza urine, however, did not. In fact, it remained unchanged. Kidneys do not appear to wear out, then, when operating in a context similar to the one in which human beings evolved. Precisely what it is about the modern, developed world which causes kidneys to deteriorate remains unclear. But if that thing could be identified, and proved tractable to treatment, then dialysis might become a thing of the past.
NASA reveals final, sad message sent by Martian rover Opportunity before dying
If you didn’t think the demise of the Martian rover Opportunity was sad enough, wait until you hear its final message to NASA.
After more than 15 years collecting extraordinary data from the red planet, the car-shaped rover’s final transmission was: “My battery is low and it’s getting dark.”
Opportunity ceased functions on Feb. 13 in Perseverance Valley — a 14-mile-wide crater, reported Express.
“It is because of trailblazing missions such as Opportunity that there will come a day when our brave astronauts walk on the surface of Mars,” said NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine. “And when that day arrives, some portion of that first footprint will be owned by the men and women of Opportunity, and a little rover that defied the odds and did so much in the name of exploration.”
With a Martian storm blacking out the sun, the solar-powered rover messaged NASA with its final goodbye.
Flight controllers tried numerous times to make contact, even sending a wakeup song “I’ll Be Seeing You” by Billie Holiday. When that failed to revive Opportunity, NASA also played, fittingly, David Bowie’s “Life on Mars?” “Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go” by Wham! and Gloria Gaynor’s disco anthem “I Will Survive.”
The NASA Opportunity rover bolted from Earth on July 7, 2003, before setting down on Mars Jan. 25, 2004. The robotic rover was designed to explore the surface of Mars for about three months but it exceeded all expectations by surviving 15 years on Mars’ harsh terrain.
“For more than a decade, Opportunity has been an icon in the field of planetary exploration, teaching us about Mars’ ancient past as a wet, potentially habitable planet, and revealing uncharted martian landscapes,” said associate administrator for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate, Thomas Zurbuchen.
Its creation is a perfect illustration of how science progresses
“La république n’a pas besoin de savants ni de chimistes.” With that curt dismissal a court in revolutionary France cut short the life of Antoine-Laurent de Lavoisier, argued by some to be the greatest chemist of all. Lavoisier’s sin was tax farming. He had been a member of the firm that collected the monarchy’s various imposts and then, having taken its cut, passed what remained on to the royal treasury. That he and many of his fellow farmers met their ends beneath a guillotine’s blade is no surprise. What had distinguished Lavoisier from his fellows, though, was what he chose to spend his income on. For much of it went to create the best-equipped chemistry laboratory in Europe.
Nothing comes of nothing. Where the story of the periodic table of the elements really starts is debatable. But Lavoisier’s laboratory is as good a place as any to begin, for it was Lavoisier who published the first putatively comprehensive list of chemical elements—substances incapable of being broken down by chemical reactions into other substances—and it was Lavoisier and his wife Marie-Anne who pioneered the technique of measuring quantitatively what went into and came out of a chemical reaction, as a way of getting to the heart of what such a reaction really is.
Lavoisier’s list of elements, published in 1789, five years before his execution, had 33 entries. Of those, 23—a fifth of the total now recognised—have stood the test of time. Some, like gold, iron and sulphur, had been known since ancient days. Others, like manganese, molybdenum and tungsten, were recent discoveries. What the list did not have was a structure. It was, avant la lettre, a stamp collection. But the album was missing.
Creating that album, filling it and understanding why it is the way it is took a century and a half. It is now, though, a familiar feature of every high-school science laboratory. Its rows and columns of rectangles, each containing a one- or two-letter abbreviation of the name of an element, together with its sequential atomic number, represent an order and underlying structure to the universe that would have astonished Lavoisier. It is little exaggeration to say that almost everything in modern science is connected, usually at only one or two removes, to the periodic table.
A second person has probably been cured of HIV
The treatment tailors stem-cell transplants intended for leukaemia
ESTABLISHED HIV infection is easy to control but impossible to cure. Or almost impossible. The exception seems to be Timothy Brown, a man often referred to as the Berlin patient. In 2006, after a decade of successfully suppressing his infection with anti-retroviral drugs, Mr Brown developed an unrelated blood cancer, acute myeloid leukaemia. To treat this life-threatening condition he opted, the following year, for a blood-stem-cell transplant. And, at the same time, he volunteered as a guinea pig for an experimental anti-HIV treatment, which worked. Now, a team of doctors in London have reported a similar case.
Blood-stem-cell transplantation is a normal, though radical, treatment for various sorts of blood cancer. Stem cells are the precursors from which particular tissues grow. Blood-stem-cell transplantation involves using drugs (backed up, in Mr Brown’s case, by radiotherapy) to kill a patient’s natural blood-producing tissue, the bone marrow, and then transfusing in new stem cells from a donor.
So far, so normal. But Mr Brown, at the suggestion of his doctors, chose from among the 267 possible tissue-matched donors one who had inherited from both parents a mutation that, in healthy people, prevents HIV infection in the first place. (The mutation in question alters one of the proteins the virus attaches itself to when entering a cell.) After two such transplants Mr Brown was cleared of the leukaemia and, as far as it is possible to tell, HIV had stopped replicating in his body.
Space Is Very Big. Some of Its New Explorers Will Be Tiny.
The success of NASA’s MarCO mission means that so-called cubesats likely will travel to distant reaches of our solar system.
Last year, two satellites the size of cereal boxes sped toward Mars as though they were on an invisible track in space. Officially called MarCO A and MarCO B, they were nicknamed Wall-E and EVE, after the animated robots from the Pixar movie, by engineers at NASA.
They were just as endearing and vulnerable as their namesakes. The satellites, known as cubesats, were sent to watch over NASA’s larger InSight spacecraft as it attempted a perilous landing on the surface of Mars at the end of November.
Constellations of small satellites like the MarCOs now orbit Earth, used by scientists, private companies, high school students and even governments seeking low-budget eyes in the skies. But never before had a cubesat traveled 300 million miles into space.
On Nov. 26, as the InSight lander touched down, its status was swiftly relayed back to Earth by the two trailing cubesats. The operation was a success, and the performance of the MarCO satellites may change the way missions operate, enabling cubesats to become deep space travelers in their own right.
One Day There May Be a Drug to Turbocharge the Brain. Who Should Get It?
In 2011, Dr. Dena Dubal was hired by the University of California, San Francisco, as an assistant professor of neurology. She set up a new lab with one chief goal: to understand a mysterious hormone called Klotho.
Dr. Dubal wondered if it might be the key to finding effective treatments for dementia and other disorders of the aging brain. At the time, scientists only knew enough about Klotho to be fascinated by it.
Mice bred to make extra Klotho lived 30 percent longer, for instance. But scientists also had found Klotho in the brain, and so Dr. Dubal launched experiments to see whether it had any effect on how mice learn and remember.
The results were startling. In one study, she and her colleagues found that extra Klotho protects mice with symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease from cognitive decline. “Their thinking, in every way that we could measure them, was preserved,” said Dr. Dubal.
he and her colleagues also bred healthy mice to make extra Klotho. They did better than their fellow rodents on learning mazes and other cognitive tests.
Klotho didn’t just protect their brains, the researchers concluded — it enhanced them. Experiments on more mice turned up similar results.
“I just couldn’t believe it — was it true, or was it just a false positive?” Dr. Dubal recalled. “But here it is. It enhances cognition even in a young mouse. It makes them smarter.”
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Five years have passed since Dr. Dubal and her colleagues began publishing these extraordinary results. Other researchers have discovered tantalizing findings of their own, suggesting that Klotho may protect against other neurological disorders, including multiple sclerosis and Parkinson’s disease.
Now Dr. Dubal and other researchers are trying to build treatments based on these results. Either by injecting Klotho into the body or by stimulating the brain to make more of the hormone, they hope to treat diseases like Alzheimer’s.
The researchers developing these treatments readily acknowledge that they may fail. And other Klotho experts think there’s a huge amount of work left to do first to figure out how Klotho affects the brain.
“You’ve got all of this amazing stuff showing a really major impact, but we can’t really explain why,” said Gwendalyn D. King, a neuroscientist at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. “That’s where we’re stuck.”
But what happens if scientists get unstuck? What if a drug that enhances cognition really were possible?
Eric Juengst, the director of the University of North Carolina Center for Bioethics, has been thinking about these questions for two decades — back when such drugs were little more than thought experiments.
We tend to think of drugs that enhance performance — say, sports doping — as bad. Drugs that cure or prevent diseases are good. “The scientific community and the public all draw that line,” said Dr. Juengst.
Darkness Visible, Finally: Astronomers Capture First Ever Image of a Black Hole
Astronomers at last have captured a picture of one of the most secretive entities in the cosmos.
Astronomers announced on Wednesday that at last they had captured an image of the unobservable: a black hole, a cosmic abyss so deep and dense that not even light can escape it.
For years, and for all the mounting scientific evidence, black holes have remained marooned in the imaginations of artists and the algorithms of splashy computer models of the kind used in Christopher Nolan's outer-space epic “Interstellar.” Now they are more real than ever.
“We have seen what we thought was unseeable,” said Shep Doeleman, an astronomer at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, and director of the effort to capture the image, during a Wednesday news conference in Washington, D.C.
The image, of a lopsided ring of light surrounding a dark circle deep in the heart of a galaxy known as Messier 87, some 55 million light-years away from Earth, resembled the Eye of Sauron, a reminder yet again of the implacable power of nature. It is a smoke ring framing a one-way portal to eternity.
DeepMind Can Now Beat Us at Multiplayer Games, Too
Chess and Go were child’s play. Now A.I. is winning at capture the flag. Will such skills translate to the real world?
Capture the flag is a game played by children across the open spaces of a summer camp, and by professional video gamers as part of popular titles like Quake III and Overwatch.
In both cases, it’s a team sport. Each side guards a flag while also scheming to grab the other side’s flag and bring it back to home base. Winning the game requires good old-fashioned teamwork, a coordinated balance between defense and attack:
Video by DeepMindCredit
In other words, capture the flag requires what would seem to be a very human set of skills. But researchers at an artificial intelligence lab in London have shown that machines can master this game, too, at least in the virtual world.
In a paper published on Thursday in Science (and previously available on the website arXiv before peer review), the researchers reported that they had designed automated “agents” that exhibited humanlike behavior when playing the capture the flag “game mode” inside Quake III. These agents were able to team up against human players or play alongside them, tailoring their behavior accordingly.
“They can adapt to teammates with arbitrary skills,” said Wojciech Czarnecki, a researcher with DeepMind, a lab owned by the same parent company as Google.
Through thousands of hours of game play, the agents learned very particular skills, like racing toward the opponent’s home base when a teammate was on the verge of capturing a flag. As human players know, the moment the opposing flag is brought to one’s home base, a new flag appears at the opposing base, ripe for the taking.
DeepMind’s project is part of a broad effort to build artificial intelligence that can play enormously complex, three-dimensional video games, including Quake III, Dota 2 and StarCraft II. Many researchers believe that success in the virtual arena will eventually lead to automated systems with improved abilities in the real world.
Something of a new lunar race is underway, but the motivations differ from what put men on its surface 50 years ago.
Everyone, it seems, wants to go the moon now.
In January, Chang’e-4, a Chinese robotic spacecraft including a small rover, became the first ever to land on the far side of the moon. India is aiming to launch Chandrayaan-2 this month, its first attempt to reach the lunar surface. Even a small Israeli nonprofit, SpaceIL, tried to send a small robotic lander there this year, but it crashed.
In the coming decades, boots worn by visitors from these and other nations could add their prints to the lunar dust. China is taking a slow and steady approach, and foresees its astronauts’ first arrival about a quarter of a century in the future. The European Space Agency has put out a concept of an international “moon village” envisioned for sometime around 2050. Russia has also described plans for sending astronauts to the moon by 2030, at last, although many doubt it can afford the cost.
In the United States, which sent 24 astronauts toward the moon from 1968 to 1972, priorities shift with the whims of Congress and presidents. But NASA in February was suddenly pushed to pick up its pace when Vice President Mike Pence announced the goal of putting Americans on the moon again by 2024, four years ahead of the previous schedule.
“NASA is highly motivated,” Jim Bridenstine, the former Oklahoma congressman and Navy pilot picked by President Trump to be the agency’s administrator, said in an interview. “We now have a very clear direction.”
For India, reaching the moon would highlight its technological advances. China would establish itself as a world power off planet. For the United States and NASA, the moon is now an obvious stop along the way to Mars.
Apollo 11 Anniversary: Everything You Need to Read on the Moon Landing
On the morning of July 16, 1969, Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins lifted off for the moon. Four days later, Mr. Armstrong and Mr. Aldrin set foot on the moon’s surface, the first of 12 American astronauts to complete this feat. Apollo 11 fascinated the world, with hundreds of millions tuning in to watch it on TV. It also changed the way we understood our solar system.
Fifty years later, the amazement caused by Apollo 11 has not worn off. The New York Times has been covering the anniversary of the moon landing, looking back at the event’s meaning, and forward to humankind’s next giant leaps in space.
Here is a roundup of some of our reporting this year on Apollo 11.
There's so much about the human brain that continues to baffle and mystify our top medical researchers, but one aspect of its complex design is starting to come into focus. Contrary to previous widely held beliefs, the human brain exists in a perpetual state of constant change. The documentary The Brain That Changes Itself explores these groundbreaking findings as heralded in a book of the same title by psychiatrist and researcher Dr. Norman Doidge.
For four hundred years, the common perception was that the brain worked much like a computer, and its functionalities were set as firmly in place as any machine. But what if the brain is actually morphing and maturing at all times based upon the stimuli of its environment? Such a notion, as argued by Dr. Droidge, would alter our perspectives on brain disease and dysfunction, and revolutionize our understanding of human nature itself.
The revolution began with the discovery of neuroplasticity, a term used to describe the structural changes of neurons in response to factors like environment, thought processes, and bodily injury. The phenomenon of neuroplasticity provides evidence of the brain's stunning malleability, and its inherent capacity to overcome and adapt to even the most severe challenges. Ongoing studies are indicating that in many cases, the healthy parts of the brain can be recruited to supplant those that are defective.
Dr. Droidge has not come to these conclusions on his own. They result from the tireless efforts of some of the world's most progressive medical scientists. The Brain That Changes Itself introduces us to many of these brilliant figures as well as a host of patients who have benefited from their brave new world of research. Their findings offer hope to victims of crippling neurological conditions like stroke, cerebral palsy, and chronic depression.
The implications set forth are not limited to the treatment of traumatic injury. This exciting realm of medical science can point the way to a more enlightened existence, and unlock a potential in the human species never before believed possible. For that reason alone, this film is a fascinating exploration that is relevant to all viewers.
Source: Top Documentary Films
Norman Doidge, FRCP(C), is a Canadian-born psychiatrist, psychoanalyst, and author of The Brain That Changes Itself (2007) and The Brain's Way of Healing (2015). The Brain That Changes Itself describes some of the latest developments in neuroscience, and became a New York Times and international bestseller.
Proof emerges that a quantum computer can outperform a classical one
A leaked paper has given the game away
In an article published in 2012 John Preskill, a theoretical physicist, posed a question: “Is controlling large-scale quantum systems merely really, really hard, or is it ridiculously hard?” Seven years later the answer is in: it is merely really, really hard.
Last week a paper on the matter was—briefly and presumably accidentally—published online. The underlying research had already been accepted by Nature, a top-tier scientific journal, but was still under wraps. The leak revealed that Google has achieved what Dr Preskill dubbed in his article, “quantum supremacy”. Using a quantum computer, researchers at the information-technology giant had carried out in a smidgen over three minutes a calculation that would take Summit, the world’s current-best classical supercomputer, 10,000 years to execute.
A credible demonstration of quantum supremacy, which few disagree that the leaked paper represents, is indeed a milestone. It will divide the history of the field into two eras: a “before”, when quantum computers were simply hoped to outpace even the best classical kind, and an “after”, when they actually did so. There has been much talk, including in this newspaper, about the latter era. Now it has arrived.
How much energy would it take to travel through time?
12 Oct, 2019 14:56 / Updated 9 hours ago
Time travel has always fascinated mankind, but a Star Trek kind of warp drive has till now been impossible to build. This hasn’t discouraged scientists to continue researching it.
Scientists have long debated the practicality of warp drive—or traveling faster than the speed of light. While some argue that the entire concept defies the laws of physics as we know it, others continue to press on in their effort to prove that warp drive could one day be a reality, sparking an era in which we would finally become a true space-voyaging species.
Warp Drive For Dummies
Warp drive is just plain awesome; after all, the idea of going where no man has gone before holds great appeal, and the opportunities it would afford are literally endless. But while scientists duke it out over the feasibility of this faster-than-light warp drive, those of us with a non-scientific brain are left befuddled as to what that means. What it really means.
In Star Trek, warp drive is achieved when matter and antimatter collide in a fusion-like fashion, which is mediated by dilithium crystals. Of course, dilithium crystals don’t really exist, but the rest of the ingredients for warp drive really do exist.
The matter we’re talking about here is deuterium, which is a hydrogen gas—in real life. Antimatter exists too. While matter is composed of particles, antimatter is made up of antiparticles. Antimatter has the same mass and spin as its matter counterpart, but it has an opposite electric charge and opposite properties. When the antimatter and matter collide, they are both destroyed, creating a source of energy that would propel a spaceship at speeds greater than light travels.
Why “Givin’ Her All She’s Got, Captain” May Not Be Enough
There are several challenges to the concept of warp drive, but the greatest challenge is overcoming a little thing known as Einstein’s Theory of Relativity. The theory goes like this, according to Roger Rassool, physicist at the University of Melbourne:
“As objects travel faster and faster, they get heavier and heavier—the heavier they get, the harder it is to achieve acceleration, so you never get to the speed of light.”
Not all scientists are ready to give up on the idea just yet, despite it violating the Theory of Relativity and requiring more energy than is practical.
Warp Drive 2.0, The Alcubierre Workaround
In the ‘90s, physicist Miguel Alcubierre theorized about how we could get around that pesky Theory of Relativity by theorizing that a spaceship could travel at the speed of light without actually traveling at the speed of light—instead, the spaceship would travel inside a “wave”, created by stretching the fabric of spacetime.
But Alcubierre’s drive still would require a massive amount of energy, not to mention Alcubierre’s drive concept was just theoretical, with some arguing that it, too, was impossible.
But that didn’t stop NASA from carrying on with the experiments. And they did manage to make some progress. Again, theoretically speaking.
Warp Drive 2.1, The New Frontier
But progress in this field is ongoing, and in August, new work on this warp drive concept was presented by Joseph Agnew, undergraduate engineering student at University of Alabama in Huntsville’s Propulsion Research Center, who said at this year’s American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics Propulsion and Energy Forum that he had watched Star Trek (both the old and new) and noticed how Star Trek had either predicted or inspired countless innovations. He has since spent the bulk of his academic career researching the idea of a warp drive.
In the last decade, progress has continued, leaving lots of “bite-size” problems still to be addressed, Agnew said, as opposed to one massive challenge.
All About the Energy
But if there were one big challenge with warp drive, it would be the energy; the amount of positive and negative energy that would be required to create the warp bubble outlined in the Alcubierre drive would be massive and impractical. Scientists agree that this would have to come from exotic matter, which would theoretically cut down the amount of energy required down to a mass the size of Jupiter.
What would it take?
To put this warp drive reality into practice, there are still many hurdles that remain, including major funding, progress in quantum physics and significant advancements in alternate forms of energy that would be sufficient to propel a starship through the solar system in a reasonable amount of time.
This article was originally published on Oilprice.com
NASA Astronauts Complete the First All-Female Spacewalk
Jessica Meir and Christina Koch ventured outside the International Space Station on Friday to replace a power controller.
NASA reached a milestone on Friday when two Americans, tasked with replacing a power controller, ventured out of the International Space Station: the astronauts, Christina Koch and Jessica Meir, became the first to take part in an all-female spacewalk.
The walk, which lasted seven hours and 17 minutes and included a brief call with President Trump, was not purposefully planned by the agency. As NASA explained it, one was bound to happen eventually because of the increasing number of female astronauts.
But news of the milestone attracted far greater interest than spacewalks normally do, and on Friday, American officials celebrated it as a historic achievement. They pointed to the agency’s ambitious goals to put the first woman and the next man on the moon, and then to forge a path to Mars.
Live video of the spacewalk showed two figures in bulky white gear — first Ms. Koch, then Dr. Meir — working outside of the space station, which glowed against the blackness of space. The women could be heard talking to controllers, and helmet cameras showed the view as they clambered along the outside of the space station.
Perfectly preserved 3,000 yr MUMMIES found in newly-discovered Egyptian sarcophagi (PHOTO, VIDEO)
Egyptian archeologists have opened a number of sealed coffins that they accidentally discovered earlier this week. Inside they found mummies of men, women and children – all in excellent condition.
Thirty sarcophagi were uncovered under a mound behind the Asasif Necropolis on the west bank of the Nile River by local scientists, who were conducting an unrelated excavation.
One of the archeologists noticed something in the sand, which later turned out to be the face of an ancient coffin. Further digging revealed a whole cache of wooden sarcophagi adorned with colorful paintings and inscriptions stacked on each other in two layers.
Excavation team leader Mostafa Waziri said he was proud that the discovery of the sarcophagi was made by “Egyptian hands,” unlike many other significant finds in the country that were made by foreign archeologists.
Inside the coffins there were mummies of male and female priests as well as children, he said, adding that the burial dates dating back to the 10th century BC under the rule of the 22nd Pharaonic dynasty.
The gender of the mummies was established by the shape of their hands, as men were laid to rest with closed palms, while women had them opened.
The coffins were likely so richly decorated to compensate for the fact they weren’t buried properly in tombs. However, this shortcoming was what allowed them to remain so well preserved as the sand protected the sarcophagi not only from termites, but tomb raiders too, Waziri explained.
The coffins will undergo some restoration before being moved to a special showroom that will be opened at the Grand Egyptian Museum in Giza next year.
TODAY'S PAPER | OCTOBER 21, 2019
India building world’s biggest face recognition system
Anwar Iqbal Updated October 20, 2019
WASHINGTON: India is trying to build the world’s biggest facial recognition system to immediately detect a suspect, says an official announcement released to the international media.
The proposed database the Automated Facial Recognition System, aims to “modernize … information gathering, criminal identification, verification and its dissemination” across the country.
India has asked IT companies across the world to send their proposals to the National Crime Record Bureau in New Delhi.
India hopes that the project would enable law enforcement agencies in its 29 states and seven union territories to access a single, centralized database.
A detailed 172-page document published by the bureau says that the system would match images from India’s growing network of CCTV cameras against a database of mug-shots of criminals, passport photos and images collected by various government agencies.
The document says that the new facial recognition platform “can play a very vital role in improving outcomes” when it comes to identifying criminals, missing persons and bodies. It will also help police forces “detect crime patterns” and aid in crime prevention, it adds.
According to a survey conducted in 2018, the crime rate in India is high, particularly in large urban centres.
As of 2016, Delhi had the highest cognizable crime rate of 974.9 (per 100,000 persons) and Uttar Pradesh had the highest incidence of crime based on percentage of share.
In 2016, there were 709.1 offences per 100,000 people in 19 big cities, compared to the national average of 379.3.
Google Claims a Quantum Breakthrough That Could Change Computing
SANTA BARBARA, Calif. — Google said on Wednesday that it had achieved a long-sought breakthrough called “quantum supremacy,” which could allow new kinds of computers to do calculations at speeds that are inconceivable with today’s technology.
The Silicon Valley giant’s research lab in Santa Barbara, Calif., reached a milestone that scientists had been working toward since the 1980s: Its quantum computer performed a task that isn’t possible with traditional computers, according to a paper published in the science journal Nature.
A quantum machine could one day drive big advances in areas like artificial intelligence and make even the most powerful supercomputers look like toys. The Google device did in 3 minutes 20 seconds a mathematical calculation that supercomputers could not complete in under 10,000 years, the company said in its paper.
Scientists likened Google’s announcement to the Wright brothers’ first plane flight in 1903 — proof that something is really possible even though it may be years before it can fulfill its potential.
“The original Wright flyer was not a useful airplane,” said Scott Aaronson, a computer scientist at the University of Texas at Austin who reviewed Google’s paper before publication. “But it was designed to prove a point. And it proved the point.”
Still, some researchers cautioned against getting too excited about Google’s achievement since so much more work needs to be done before quantum computers can migrate out of the research lab. Right now, a single quantum machine costs millions of dollars to build.
The company says its quantum computer can complete a calculation much faster than a supercomputer. What does that mean?
Google officially announced last week in the journal Nature that it achieved the milestone of “quantum supremacy.” This phrase, coined by the physicist John Preskill in 2012, refers to the first use of a quantum computer to make a calculation much faster than we know how to do it with even the fastest supercomputers available. The calculation doesn’t need to be useful: much like the Wright Flyer in 1903, or Enrico Fermi’s nuclear chain reaction in 1942, it only needs to prove a point.
Over the last decade, together with students and colleagues, I helped develop much of the theoretical underpinning for quantum supremacy experiments like Google’s. I reviewed Google’s paper before it was published. So the least I can do is to try to explain what it means.
Until recently, every computer on the planet — from a 1960s mainframe to your iPhone, and even inventions as superficially exotic as “neuromorphic computers” and DNA computers — has operated on the same rules. These were rules that Charles Babbage understood in the 1830s and that Alan Turing codified in the 1930s. Through the course of the computer revolution, all that has changed at the lowest level are the numbers: speed, amount of RAM and hard disk, number of parallel processors.
But quantum computing is different. It’s the first computing paradigm since Turing that’s expected to change the fundamental scaling behavior of algorithms, making certain tasks feasible that had previously been exponentially hard. Of these, the most famous examples are simulating quantum physics and chemistry, and breaking much of the encryption that currently secures the internet.
As SpaceX Launches 60 Starlink Satellites, Scientists See Threat to ‘Astronomy Itself’
Various companies are pressing ahead with plans for internet service from space, which has prompted astronomers to voice concerns about the impact on research from telescopes on Earth.
On Monday morning, SpaceX launched one of its reusable rockets from Cape Canaveral, Fla., carrying 60 satellites into space at once. It was the second payload of Starlink, its planned constellation of tens of thousands of orbiting transmitters to beam internet service across the globe.
When SpaceX, the private rocket company founded by Elon Musk, launched the first batch of Starlink orbiters in May, many astronomers were surprised to see that the satellites were extremely bright, causing them to fear that the constellation would wreak havoc on scientific research and transform our view of the stars. Since then, many scientists have been on a mission to better quantify the impacts of Starlink and to share their concerns with SpaceX.
In response, SpaceX has said that it wants to mitigate the potential impacts of Starlink. But at the same time, the company is still moving full steam ahead.
In October, Mr. Musk announced that he was using Twitter via a Starlink internet connection, as his company was requesting permission from the Federal Communications Commission to operate as many as 30,000 satellites on top of the 12,000 already approved. Should SpaceX succeed in sending this many satellites to low-Earth orbit, its constellation would contain more than eight times as many satellites as the total number currently in orbit.
That move added to the worries of many astronomers.
When James Lowenthal, an astronomer at Smith College, first saw the train of Starlink satellites marching like false stars across the night sky in the spring, he knew something had shifted.
“I felt as if life as an astronomer and a lover of the night sky would never be the same,” he said.
Two pig-monkey chimeras born in Chinese organ-growing experiment
Scientists in China say they've successfully created two pigs that were born with a small proportion of monkey cells in their bodies. The chimeras — or creatures created with two sets of DNA — lived for a week before they died, according to a paper published in the journal Protein & Cell.
The pig-monkey hybrids had the head of a pig, the body of a pig and pretty much all the other features of a pig, but many of their internal organs included a small amount — less than 0.1 per cent — of macaque monkey cells.
"This is the first report of full-term pig-monkey chimeras," Tang Hai, one of the study's corresponding authors, told The New Scientist. Hai and his team produced the chimeras at the State Key Laboratory of Stem Cell and Reproductive Biology in Beijing.
The hybrids are part of a broader effort to one day use pigs to grow human organs for transplantation. It's illegal to create fully grown human-animal hybrids, so Hai and his team used another primate as the next best thing.
They created the chimeras by developing embryonic monkey stem-cell embryos, then injecting them into pig embryos five days after fertilization. The scientists implanted thousands of these embryos in sows to be carried to term.
The process produced 10 piglets: eight normal ones and two chimeras. They all died within a week, although the cause of death has not been determined.
Hai suggested they died due to complications with the in vitro fertilization process because the purebred pigs didn't survive, either.
The Chinese scientists aren't the only ones pushing the boundaries of science and science fiction. A Japanese scientist is also trying to create a human-rat hybrid in order to grow a human pancreas.
Scientists in California created pig-human hybrids in 2017, but they were only allowed to grow for a month before they were destroyed.
Hai says his team will try to produce more chimeras with a higher proportion of monkey cells in the future.
I have a lot of respect for James Lovelock. He’s an independent scientist, and there are plenty of reasons to find him inspiring.
Just some things I respect about him:
- He came up with the Gaia hypothesis , which proposed that the Earth is a organic, self-regulating system. This was heavily criticized from all sides at the time, but Lovelock continued to push the idea and it eventually entered mainstream thought.
-He’s done original work in an impressive number of fields, including medicine, space exploration (at NASA), climate science, and nuclear research.
-As an lone scientist, he was the first to identify CFCs in the atmosphere and near-singlehandedly bring down an empire that was damaging the ozone layer.
-He’s 98 years old and, as far as I know, still inventing things and still doing science.
I just finished his book A Rough Ride to the Future, which is a mix of autobiography, theory, and interesting visions of the future.
Part of the book is autobiographical, and — in this essay — I want to look at the sacrifices and choices that Lovelock made in order to pursue his life as an lone, independent scientist and inventor.
Meet Nobel Prize winner Rosalyn Sussman Yalow, who let doctors see into your blood
Her radioimmunoassay technique enabled scientists to measure hundreds of trace biological substances for the first time
Bertha Parker, the trailblazing first Indigenous North American archaeologist, taught herself how to excavate a site
What she found in a tiny crevice in Gypsum Cave rewrote the history of humans in North America
These Images Show the Sun’s Surface in Greater Detail Than Ever Before
A new telescope in Hawaii takes aim at our nearest star and its mysteries.
On Wednesday, astronomers released what they said were the most detailed images ever taken of the surface of our sun.
As seen through the brand-new Daniel K. Inouye Solar Telescope in Hawaii, the sun looks like a boiling pot of popcorn, belying the notion of a bland yellow orb.
Seen from afar, stars are gentle twinkling harbingers of romance and of the mysterious secret order of the universe. Grist for campfire philosophizing and armchair astrobiology.
Up close it is a different story.
Here, 93 million miles from the nearest star — the one we call the sun — the creatures of Earth eke out a living on the edge of almost incomprehensible violence. Every second, thermonuclear reactions in the center of the Sun turn 5 million tons of hydrogen into pure energy. That energy makes its way outward, through boiling gas pocked with magnetic storms that crackle, whirl and lash space with showers of electrical particles and radiation.
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