Click to zoom
Click to zoom
Excerpt from theweek.com
By Kimberly Alters
Scientists conducting research this summer found that Venus may have had enough water in its atmosphere at one point to cover the entire planet in an ocean about 80 feet deep, according to Discovery News. But because the extremely warm surface of Venus likely made it impossible for such an ocean to form, scientists concluded that instead of massive oceans of water, the planet may have once been home to oceans of carbon dioxide fluid.
The planet's atmosphere is 96.5 percent carbon dioxide by volume, said lead study author Dima Bolmatov, and the extreme atmospheric pressure on the surface of Venus could have caused the gas to enter a "supercritical state." A supercritical fluid "can have properties of both liquids and gases," which Bolmatov said could have paved the way for oceans of liquid-like carbon dioxide on Venus. You can read the full study at The Journal of Physical Chemistry Letters.
Minerals taken from lagoons reveal a century-long drought occurred between A.D. 800 and A.D. 900, right when the Mayan civilization disintegrated.
Excerpt from Livescience.com
By Tia Ghose
Minerals taken from Belize's famous underwater cave, known as the Blue Hole, as well as lagoons nearby, show that an extreme, century-long drought occurred between A.D. 800 and A.D. 900, right when the Mayan civilization disintegrated. After the rains returned, the Mayans moved north — but they disappeared again a few centuries later, and that disappearance occurred at the same time as another dry spell, the sediments reveal.
Rise and decline
From A.D. 300 to A.D. 700, the Mayan civilization flourished in the Yucatan peninsula. These ancient Mesoamericans built stunning pyramids, mastered astronomy, and developed both a hieroglyphic writing system and a calendar system, which is famous for allegedly predicting that the world would end in 2012.
But in the centuries after A.D. 700, the civilization's building activities slowed and the culture descended into warfare and anarchy. Historians have speculatively linked that decline with everything from the ancient society's fear of malevolent spirits to deforestation completed to make way for cropland to the loss of favored foods, such as the Tikal deer.
The evidence for a drought has been growing in recent years: Since at least 1995, scientists have been looking more closely at the effects of drought. A 2012 study in the journal Science analyzed a 2,000-year-old stalagmite from a cave in southern Belize and found that sharp decreases in rainfall coincided with periods of decline in the culture. But that data came from just one cave, which meant it was difficult to make predictions for the area as a whole, Droxler said.
The main driver of this drought is thought to have been a shift in the intertropical convergence zone (ITCZ), a weather system that generally dumps water on tropical regions of the world while drying out the subtropics. During summers, the ITCZ pelts the Yucatan peninsula with rain, but the system travels farther south in the winter. Many scientists have suggested that during the Mayan decline, this monsoon system may have missed the Yucatan peninsula altogether.
The team found that during the period between A.D. 800 and A.D. 1000, when the Mayan civilization collapsed, there were just one or two tropical cyclones every two decades, as opposed to the usual five or six. After that, the Maya moved north, building at sites such as Chichen Itza, in what is now Mexico.
But the new results also found that between A.D. 1000 and A.D. 1100, during the height of the Little Ice Age, another major drought struck. This period coincides with the fall of Chichen Itza.
The findings strengthen the case that drought helped usher in the long decline of the Mayan culture.
Excerpt from cnn.com
Imagine you're the kind of person who worries about a future when robots become smart enough to threaten the very existence of the human race. For years, you've been dismissed as a crackpot, consigned to the same category of people who see Elvis lurking in their waffles.
In 2014, you found yourself in good company.
This year, arguably the world's greatest living scientific mind, Stephen Hawking, and its leading techno-industrialist, Elon Musk, voiced their fears about the potentially lethal rise of artificial intelligence. They were joined by philosophers, physicists and computer scientists, all of whom spoke out about the serious risks posed by the development of greater-than-human machine intelligence.
In a widely cited op-ed co-written with MIT physicist Max Tegmark, Nobel laureate Frank Wilczek and computer scientist Stuart Russell, Hawking sounded the AI alarm. "One can imagine (AI) outsmarting financial markets, out-inventing human researchers, out-manipulating human leaders, and developing weapons we cannot even understand. Whereas the short-term impact of AI depends on who controls it, the long-term impact depends on whether it can be controlled at all."
Musk was reportedly more emphatic, expanding on his tweeted warnings by calling AI humanity's biggest "existential risk" and likening it to "summoning the demon."
The debate over AI was given a big boost this year by the publication of philosopher Nick Bostrom's "Superintelligence: Paths, Dangers, Strategies," which makes a close study of just why and how AI may be so catastrophically dangerous (2013's "Our Final Invention" by documentarian James Barrat makes a similar case).
Bostrom: When machines outsmart humans
Bostrom is the director of the Future of Humanity Institute at Oxford, one of several new institutions devoted to studying existential threats to the human race, of which AI figures centrally. In May, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology christened its own Future of Life Institute. In the academic community at least, AI anxiety is booming.
They're right to be worried.
The first and most immediate issue is the potential for AI to put large numbers of humans out of work. A study by Carl Frey and Michael Osborne of Oxford's Program on the Impacts of Future Technology put the matter starkly. In their analysis of over 700 jobs, almost half could be done by a computer in the future. This wave of computerization could destroy not simply low-wage, low-skill jobs (though those are in acute danger) but some white-collar and service sector jobs previously thought to be immune as well. Technology is marching on both our manual and mental labor.
As serious a threat as widespread job loss is, we've seen this movie before. During past technological upheavals, humans have cleverly created jobs and industries from the ashes of obsolete ones. We may be able to keep our collective heads above water even if AI encroaches on more creative and intellectual industries (heck, we may even start working less).
What we should be more concerned about is humanity losing its perch as the Earth's foremost intelligence.
For those anxious about AI, current efforts to develop self-correcting algorithms ("machine learning"), coupled with the relentless growth in computer power and the increasing ubiquity of sensors collecting all manner of intelligence and information around the world, will push AI to human and ultimately superhuman intelligence. It's an event that's been dubbed "the intelligence explosion," a term invoked in 1965 by computer scientist Irving John Good in a paper outlining the development path for artificial intelligence.
What makes an intelligence explosion so worrisome is that intelligence is not a tool or a technology. We may think of AI as something that we use, like a hammer or corkscrew, but that's fundamentally the wrong way to think about it. Sufficiently advanced intelligence, like ours, is a creative force. The more powerful it is, the more it can reshape the world around it.
Artificial intelligence does not need to be malevolent to be catastrophically dangerous to humanity. When computer scientists talk about the possible threat to humanity from superintelligent AI, they don't mean the Terminator or Matrix.
Instead, it's typically a more prosaic end: humanity wiped out because an AI tasked with a simple goal (say, creating paper clips, an example that is often used) requisitions all the energy and raw materials on Earth to relentlessly churn out paper clips, outsmarting and out-maneuvering all human attempts to stop it. In Hollywood's telling, there are always humans left to fight back, but such an outcome is implausible if humanity is faced with a truly superior intelligence. It would be like mice attempting to outwit a human (we're the mice). In that event, AI researchers like Keefe Roedersheimer see a less inspiring finale: "All the people are dead."
Click to zoom
Your New Years's Resolution! Make this New Year's the Most Significant One in Your Life! ~ Go Vegetarian! Narrarted by Alec Baldwin
ADVISORY: Emotionally stirring content. Let this presentation be the motivation you need to make the biggest change you've ever made in your entire life! An animal will love you for it!
Click to zoom
SHARING IS CARING!
Click to zoom
Excerpt from nbcnews.com
This was a great year for dinosaurs. Dreadnoughtus, "Jar Jar Binks," and a swimming Spinosaurus all made headlines — and 2015 could hold even more surprises.
It wasn't always like this. From 1984 to 1994, there were about 15 new dinosaur species named per year. This year, nearly one species was discovered every week.
"We're absolutely in a golden age of dinosaur discovery," David Evans, who oversees dinosaur research at the Royal Ontario Museum, told NBC News. "It is probably a better time to be a dinosaur paleontologist now than any other time in the last century."
The 'Jurassic Park' effect
When it comes to finding dinosaurs in the dirt, paleontologists are using the same tools that they were 30 years ago. Satellite images might give them a better view of dig sites, but for the most part the process has not changed much.
So why are there so many dinosaur discoveries these days? More people are looking for them. Evans estimates that the number of dinosaur paleontologists has more than quadrupled in the last 30 years.
Every paleontologist interviewed for this story pointed to one catalyst for the paleontology boom: Steven Spielberg's 1993 blockbuster "Jurassic Park."
"It put the most lifelike, scientifically accurate dinosaurs ever on the big screen," Evans said. "That helped the public moved beyond the classical view of dinosaurs as slow, dim-twitted creatures."
Famed Montana State University paleontologist Jack Horner admits he has a special affection for the film. He served as scientific adviser for the original "Jurassic Park" and was the inspiration for Dr. Alan Grant, the movie's protagonist. He also consulted on the upcoming "Jurassic World" starring Chris Pratt.
"'Jurassic Park' attracted an incredible number of people to the field," Horner told NBC News. "I'm hoping that we put together something cool with 'Jurassic World' that people will really like and get more children interested in paleontology."
Increased interest led to increased paleontology budgets for museums and universities, Evans said. That has made a big difference in places like China and Argentina, relatively unexplored areas where a new generation of paleontologists has unearthed most of the recent headline-grabbing discoveries.
"The number of dinosaur researchers is much higher now than in the '90s," Thomas Holtz, a vertebrate paleontologist at the University of Maryland, told NBC News. "Anytime you are exploring a region and a slice of time that hasn't been sampled before, chances are that everything you are finding is new."
2014 and beyond
Some of the biggest discoveries of the year were not new species. Instead, they were more complete fossils of dinosaurs the scientific community knew very little about.
Take Spinosaurus, a massive carnivore that was even bigger than Tyrannosaurus rex. While its teeth indicated it ate fish, scientists were divided on whether it roamed the land and water looking for prey.
This year, the matter was settled. A new paper showed that the dinosaur's unique body structure — tiny hind limbs, dense bones, crocodile-like receptors in its snout — was best suited for the water and caused it to waddle on land.
"That was probably the most significant find of the year," Horner said.
There were other big discoveries in 2014. Dreadnoughtus fossils discovered in Argentina belonged to a creature that measured 85 feet (26 meters) long and weighed about 65 tons (59 metric tons), or about as much as a dozen elephants.
According to a NASA statement, on December 23, the agency released the names of the four American companies selected for future developmental collaborations. The companies were chosen under the auspices of the Collaborators for Commercial Space Capabilities program, which facilities industry access to NASA’s spaceflight resources. The products of the partnerships will be made available to governmental and non-governmental entities within the next five years.
The four companies that have been chosen are the following: ATK Space Systems of Beltsville, Maryland, which is space transportation capacity; Final Frontier Design of Brooklyn, New York, which is developing space suits for intra-vehicular operations; Space Exploration Technologies of Hawthorne, California, which is developing space transportation means that could be used to facilitate future deep space missions; and United Launch Alliance of Centennial, Colorado, which is developing new, less expensive launch vehicles with greater performance.
“These awards demonstrate the diversity and maturity of the commercial space industry. We look forward to working with these partners to advance space capabilities and make them available to NASA and other customers in the coming years,” said Phil McAlister, director of commercial spaceflight at NASA. Although NASA will contribute expertise, technology, evaluations and the resultant data and insights, it is up to the four companies to cover the costs of their collaboration with NASA.
New research from the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA), studying how memories are stored, finds that lost memories can be recovered—offering possible hope for patients suffering from the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease.
The finding contradicts the long-held belief that memories are stored at the connections between neurons, or synapses—areas that are destroyed by Alzheimer’s disease.
“Long-term memory is not stored at the synapse,” said lead author David Glanzman, a UCLA professor of integrative biology and physiology and of neurobiology, in a statement. “That’s a radical idea, but that’s where the evidence leads.”
According to Glanzman, the nervous system can regenerate lost or broken synaptic connections. If synaptic connections can be restored, memory will return. “It won’t be easy, but I believe it’s possible,” he said.
The findings recently were published in the open-access journal eLife.
Glanzman said the finding that the destruction of synapses does not result in the destruction of memories could have important implications for people with Alzheimer’s disease.
“As long as the neurons are alive, the memory will still be there, which means you may be able to recover some of the lost memories in the early stages of Alzheimer’s,” Glanzman said.
Click to zoom
Click to zoom
|The Andromeda Galaxy|
Click to zoom
Every culture of our world has a legend of how it all began and where we came from.
Click to zoom
Click to zoom
Click to zoom
Scientists find a 300-million-year-old fish fossil with eye tissue with rods and cones still visible
Scientists have discovered a fossilized fish so well preserved that the rods and cones in its 300-million-year-old eyeballs are still visible under a scanning electron microscope.
It is the first time that fossilized photoreceptors from a vertebrate eye have ever been found, according to a paper published Tuesday in Nature Communications. The researchers say the discovery also suggests that fish have been seeing the world in color for at least 300 million years.
Rods and cones are cells that line the retina in our eyes.
Both these cells rely on pigments to absorb light. Using chemical analysis, the scientists found evidence of one of these pigments -- melanin -- in the fossilized eye as well.
The fish pictured above is about 10 centimeters long. It was found in the Hamilton Quarry in Kansas, which was once a shallow lagoon.
Tanaka said that gills and pigments on other parts of the fish were also preserved. However, he had not looked to see whether organs and nerves were intact as well.
Tanaka said the discovery could inform the study of many vertebrates like dinosaurs, birds and other fossil fish. Scientists had thought that modern eyes had developed hundreds of millions of years ago. Now, they have definitive proof.