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Putting a face on hallucinations aids symptoms of schizophrenia

New Scientist Feed - Thu, 11/23/2017 - 3:30pm
Interacting with a digital representation of a hallucinated voice can reduce the power it has over people with schizophrenia, and the distress it causes
Categories: Science

Project Lyra, a Mission to Chase Down that Interstellar Asteroid

Universe Today Feed - Thu, 11/23/2017 - 1:16pm

Back in October, the announcement that the first interstellar asteroid triggered a flurry of excitement. Since that time, astronomers have conducted follow-up observations of the object known as 1I/2017 U1 (aka. `Oumuamua) and noted some rather interesting things about it. For example, from rapid changes in its brightness, it has been determined that the asteroid is rocky and metallic, and rather oddly-shaped.

Observations of the asteroid’s orbit have also revealed that it made its closest pass to our Sun back in September of 2017, and it is currently on its way back to interstellar space. Because of the mysteries this body holds, there are those who are advocating that it be intercepted and explored. One such group is Project Lyra, which recently released a study detailing the challenges and benefits such a mission would present.

The study, which recently appeared online under the title “Project Lyra: Sending a Spacecraft to 1I/’Oumuamua (former A/2017 U1), the Interstellar Asteroid“, was conducted by members of the Initiative for Interstellar Studies (i4iS) – a volunteer organization that is dedicated to making interstellar space travel a reality in the near future. The study was supported by Asteroid Initiatives LLC, an asteroid-prospecting company that is dedicated to facilitating the exploration and commercial exploitation of asteroids.

Artist’s impression of the first interstellar asteroid, “Oumuamua”. This unique object was discovered on 19 October 2017 by the Pan-STARRS 1 telescope in Hawaii. Credit: ESO/M. Kornmesser

To recap, when `Oumuamua was first observed on October 19th, 2017, by astronomers using the University of Hawaii’s Panoramic Survey Telescope and Rapid Response System (Pan-STARRS), the object (then known as C/2017 U1) was initially believed to be a comet. However, subsequent observations revealed that it was actually an asteroid and it was renamed 1I/2017 U1 (or 1I/`Oumuamua).

Follow-up observations made using the ESO’s Very Large Telescope (VLT) were able to place constraints on the asteroid’s size, brightness, composition, color and orbit. These revealed that `Oumuamua measured some 400 meters (1312 feet) long, is very elongated, and spins on its axis every 7.3 hours – as indicated by the way its brightness varies by a factor of ten.

It was also determined to be rocky and metal rich, and to contain traces of tholins – organic molecules that have been irradiated by UV radiation. The asteroid also has an extremely hyperbolic orbit – with an eccentricity of 1.2 – which is currently taking it out of our Solar System. Preliminary calculations of its orbit also indicated that it originally came from the general direction of Vega, the brightest star in the northern constellation of Lyra.

Given that this asteroid is extra-solar in nature, a mission that would be capable of studying it up close could certainly tell us a great deal about the system in which it formed. It’s arrival in our system has also raised awareness about extra-solar asteroids, a new class of interstellar object that astronomers now estimate arrive in our system at a rate of about one per year.

Because of this, the team behind Project Lyra believe that studying 1I/`Oumuamua would be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. As they state in their study:

“As 1I/‘Oumuamua is the nearest macroscopic sample of interstellar material, likely with an isotopic signature distinct from any other object in our solar system, the scientific returns from sampling the object are hard to understate. Detailed study of interstellar materials at interstellar distances are likely decades away, even if Breakthrough Initiatives’ Project Starshot, for example, is vigorously pursued. Hence, an interesting question is if there is a way to exploit this unique opportunity by sending a spacecraft to 1I/‘Oumuamua to make observations at close range.”

But of course, rendezvousing with this asteroid presents many challenges. The most obvious is that of speed, and the fact that 1I/`Oumuamua is already on its way out of our Solar System. Based on calculations of the asteroid’s orbit, it has been determined that 1I/`Oumuamua is traveling at a speed of 26 km/s – which works out to 95,000 km/hour (59,000 mph).

No mission in the history of space exploration has traveled this fast, and the fastest missions to date have only been able to manage about two-thirds that speed. This includes the fastest spaceship to leave the Solar System (Voyager 1) and the fastest spaceship at launch (the New Horizons mission). So creating a mission that could catch up to it would be a major challenge. As the team wrote:

“This [is] considerably faster than any object humanity has ever launched into space. Voyager 1, the fastest object humanity has ever built, has a hyperbolic excess velocity of 16.6 km/s. As 1I/‘Oumuamua is already leaving our solar system, any spacecraft launched in the future would need to chase it.”

However, as they go on to state, taking on this challenge would inevitably result in key innovations and developments in space exploration technology. Obviously, the launch of such a mission would need to happen sooner other than later, given the asteroid’s rapid rate of travel. But any mission that is launched within a few years’ time will not be able to take advantage of later technical developments.

As famed writer Paul Glister, one of the founders of the Tau Zero Foundation and the creator of Centauri Dreams, noted on his website:

“The challenge is formidable: 1I/’Oumuamua has a hyperbolic excess velocity of 26 km/s, which translates to a velocity of 5.5 AU/year. It will be beyond Saturn’s orbit within two years. This is much faster than any object humanity has ever launched into space.”

As such, any mission mounted to 1I/`Oumuamua would entail three notable trade-offs. These include the trade-off between travel time and delta V (i.e. the velocity of the spacecraft), the trade-off between the launch date and travel time, and the trade-off between the launch date/trip time and the characteristic energy. Characteristic energy (C3) refers to the square of the hyperbolic excess velocity, or the velocity at infinity with respect to the Sun.

Diagram showing the orbit of the interstellar asteroid ‘Oumuamua as it passes through the Solar System. Credit: ESO/K. Meech et al.

Last, but not least, is the trade-off between the spacecraft’s excess velocity at launch and its excess velocity relative to the asteroid during the encounter. Excess velocity is preferable at launch, since it will result in shorter travel times. But a high excess velocity during the encounter would mean the spacecraft would have less time to conduct measurements and gather data on the asteroid itself.

With all that accounted for, the team then considers various possibilities for creating a spacecraft that would rely on an impulsive propulsion system (i.e. one with sufficiently short-duration thrust). In addition, they assume that this mission would not involve any planetary or solar fly-bys, and would fly directly to 1I/`Oumuamua. From this, some basic parameters are established which they then lay out.

“To summarize, the difficulty of reaching 1I/‘Oumuamua is a function of when to launch, the hyperbolic excess velocity, and the mission duration,” they indicate. “Future mission designers would need to find appropriate trade-offs between these parameters. For a realistic launch date in 5 to 10 years, the hyperbolic excess velocity is of the order of 33 to up to 76 km/s with an encounter at a distance far beyond Pluto (50-200AU).”

Last, but not least, the authors consider various mission architectures that are currently being developed. These include those that would prioritize urgency (i.e. launching within a few years’ time), like NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS) – which they claim would simplify the design of the mission. Another is SpaceX’s Big Falcon Rocket (BFR), which they claim could enable a direct mission by 2025 thanks to its in-space refueling technique.

Artist’s impression of the ITS (BFR) conducting a service run to the ISS. Credit: SpaceX

However, these types of missions would also require a Jupiter flyby in order to provide a gravity-assist. Looking to more long-term techniques, which would emphasize more advanced technologies, they also consider solar sail-driven technology. This is exemplified by Breakthrough Initiatives’ Starshot concept, which would provide mission flexibility and the ability to react quickly to future unexpected events.

While this approach would entail waiting, possibility for future encounters with an interstellar asteroid, it would allow for quick response and a mission that could do away with gravity assists. It could also enable a particularly attractive mission concept, which is to send tiny swarms of probes to rendezvous with the asteroid. While this would entail significant investment, the value of the infrastructure would justify the expense, they claim.

In the end, the team determined that further research and development is necessary, which underwrites the importance of Project Lyra. As they concluded: “[A] mission to the object will stretch the boundary of what is technologically possible today. A mission using conventional chemical propulsion system would be feasible using a Jupiter flyby to gravity- assist into a close encounter with the Sun. Given the right materials, solar sail technology or laser sails could be used… Future work within Project Lyra will focus on analyzing the different mission concepts and technology options in more detail and to down select 2 – 3 promising concepts for further development.”

It is an age-old axiom that daunting challenges are essential to innovation and change. In this respect, the appearance of `Oumuamua in our Solar System has stimulated interest in exploring interstellar asteroids. And while an opportunity to explore this asteroid may not be possible in the next few years, the arrival of future rocky interlopers in our System might just be reachable.

Further Reading: arXiv, Centauri Dreams

The post Project Lyra, a Mission to Chase Down that Interstellar Asteroid appeared first on Universe Today.

Categories: Science

A Simon’s Cat Thanksgiving special

Why Evolution is True Feed - Thu, 11/23/2017 - 11:30am

Here’s a short new Simon’s Cat animation called “Fast Food (a Thanksgiving special)”.  The two moggies team up to steal an entire Thanksgiving dinner! It’s curious, though, since Simon lives in the UK and I didn’t think they had Thanksgiving there.

May the rest of you have good noms today!

Categories: Science

Huge dose of brain chemical dopamine may have made us smart

New Scientist Feed - Thu, 11/23/2017 - 11:00am
Two “thinking” regions of human brains are much richer in a neurotransmitter called dopamine than the equivalent brain regions in apes and monkeys
Categories: Science

My Indian lecture tour

Why Evolution is True Feed - Thu, 11/23/2017 - 10:00am

I head off to India for about three weeks starting December 15, and will give a series of lectures in five cities. The talks are sponsored by The Indian Institute of Science Education and Research (special thanks to Professor L. S. Shashidhara of Pune for organizing this).

It will be busy and probably exhausting, but I always enjoy meeting my Indian colleagues, and at the end there’s a reward in Delhi: a friend’s son is getting married and I’m invited to the ceremony. It won’t be one of those religious groom-rides-in-on-a-white-horse affairs, but it will be fun, and my first Indian wedding.

For my Indian readers, here is the schedule giving dates and topics. I don’t have times or venues, but you can contact the relevant institutions to get those, or I’ll post them here if they tell me. There are several topics ranging from straight scientific research on speciation to free will and “ways of knowing.” If you do want to come, I’ll be glad to sign any of my books that you bring.

Here are the talks in chronological order:

I will, of course, put up posts documenting my travels and all the good local food I expect to have (and have requested as my only emolument). I look forward to revisiting one of my favorite countries.

Jai Hind!

Categories: Science

The New York Times reports on creationism vs. evolution

Why Evolution is True Feed - Thu, 11/23/2017 - 8:30am

Reader Historian, in a recent comment, called my attention to this 10-minute New York Times video, “Rising doubts about evolution. . . in Science class.” Click on the screenshot at bottom to see it.

It’s mostly about the Louisiana Science Education Act of 2008, which, embodying creationists’ and Republicans’ effort to sneak the Bible and climate-change denial into public-school science classrooms, calls for “critical thinking,” which is an excuse to “teach both sides” as if they had equal weight. One Louisiana science student says that it goes even further than that: in her class creationism is explicitly the preferred theory.

One of the criticisms of this video, as I recall, is that the report itself gives creationists and evolutionists equal weight, and you can’t deny that it gives both roughly equal time. We see Douglas Axe, John West, and Stephen Meyer from the Discovery Institute, Dr. Georgia Purdom from Answers in Genesis on the stupid and wrong creationist side, balanced by Ken Miller and Zack Kopplin on the evolution side.  To my mind, Miller does a good job pointing out the weaknesses of these “critical science” bills, which have been proliferating since teaching creationism was time and again struck down by U.S. courts. But of course the Discovery Institute team makes the reasonable-sounding case, “Why not expose kids to both sides of the issue?” and asking for “airing the public discussion”.

The problem, of course, is that there isn’t really a scientific issue about the validity of evolution or anthropogenic global warming, except for those who have either Biblical or pecuniary interests that lead them to reject the science. One could, as I believe several readers did, make the case that in producing this video, the New York Times is allowing purveyors of nonsense to make their case—as if we had a similar video for dowsing (now being used by British water companies; more tomorrow on that) or flat-earth “theory.” In fact, there is no more evidence against evolution than there is against a round earth. A newspaper—or a university—need not give discredited science, or purveyors of lies, a public airing.

Having watched this video, I don’t find it too objectionable, but think it should have centered more on the nefarious purpose of these “teach-both -sides” bills rather than on the truth of evolution. (After all, Meyer gets to say that there is “very compelling evidence of design in the history of life” and that “neo-Darwinism. . . is increasingly obsolete.”)

But watch for yourself. Do you think this was a useful video? Is it invidious to allow creationism, or its sophisticated-sounding Intelligent Design incarnation, air time at the nation’s premier news site?


Categories: Science

App can tell you if a mosquito is about to give you malaria

New Scientist Feed - Thu, 11/23/2017 - 7:34am
AI trained to differentiate the whines of 3500 species of mosquitoes can use your cheap smartphone to tell you if that nearby mosquito will put you at risk of Zika, malaria and dengue fever  
Categories: Science

Strong bones may be vital for maintaining memory in old age

New Scientist Feed - Thu, 11/23/2017 - 7:34am
A hormone secreted by bone reverses age-related memory loss in mice, hinting that strengthening your bones may protect you from some of the ravages of old age
Categories: Science

Sarah Silverman jumps the rails

Why Evolution is True Feed - Thu, 11/23/2017 - 7:00am

Sarah Silverman, every Jewish boy’s dream girl, has a new series premiering on Hulu, “I love you, America.” It started on October 12, and, according to the Guardian, is a kind of Clintonian “listening tour,” in which she meets and interacts with Americans of all stripes—including Trump supporters. (Silverman’s a diehard Democrat who initially supported Bernie Sanders before Clinton became the candidate). As the Guardian notes:

[Silverman] out to prove that patriotism transcends partisanship. The show, which premieres on 12 October, is being billed as a “social-politics sandwich”, stacked with the meaty perspectives of Americans across the ideological spectrum. As Silverman explained recently, it’s not quite sketch comedy, not quite standup, and not quite a talkshow.

The brief description, as well as the video below, doesn’t really get me excited:

Instead, it’s a kind of comic cross-country pilgrimage, reveling in awkward and often obstinate encounters between people who see eye-to-eye on practically nothing. In one episode, Silverman, who is Jewish, will dine with a family who have never met a Jew. In another, she’ll host Megan Phelps-Roper, a former member of the Westboro Baptist church. The comic’s inclination to engage with those who disagree with and even offend her materialized in the wake of Donald Trump’s election. As her sister, Susan, told the New York Times: “She was sobbing, beside herself, like her guts were coming out, but in that conversation, she said we have to start listening to each other and can’t go on like this in our own echo chambers.” Silverman, generally sarcastic and idiosyncratic, seems ennobled by the country’s intense polarization, too. “You’ve never changed someone’s mind by arguing,” she added.

The intent of the show sounds fine, but knowing Silverman she’ll turn it into a non-enlightening and not-so-funny comedy routine.  The show’s “anthem”, described and shown below, puts her a bit over the line in her approbation of identity politics (even though she says she decries them):

I Love You, America comes with an official hymn, too, released on Monday ahead of the show’s premiere. In it, Silverman’s sings the country’s praises and its pitfalls, offering something of a mission statement for her new project. “I love you America, from sea to shining sea, from the east coast to the west coast, and whatever’s in between,” she sings in top-to-bottom denim, parroting the “coastal elite” persona by which many entertainment figures are characterized.

After listing all the ethnicities and religions she loves, Silverman pauses for some introspection: “Wait a minute, what am I doing? I’m listing kinds of people. I’m categorizing human beings and putting them into little individual boxes. Whether I mean it or not, I’m part of the problem.”

Yes, Ms. Silverman checks her privilege, and does so below in a particularly cringworthy way:

Well, I didn’t find that very funny or intriguing, and I don’t watch Hulu anyway. I’m hoping the show is better than this prelude. If anybody’s watched the beginning of the series, weigh in below.

h/t: Heather

Categories: Science

Hunting for the finest droplet

Computers and Math from Science Daily Feed - Thu, 11/23/2017 - 6:53am
Modern passenger airplanes already consume less than three liters fuel per one hundred kilometers and passenger. Scientists are currently working on further improving this value. In addition, engineers plan to optimize the combustion process such that exhaust gas emission is reduced considerably. For this purpose, they use supercomputers and simulation methods that are usually applied for tsunami calculations or for water effects in computer games.
Categories: Science

Hunting for the finest droplet

Matter and energy from Science Daily Feed - Thu, 11/23/2017 - 6:53am
Modern passenger airplanes already consume less than three liters fuel per one hundred kilometers and passenger. Scientists are currently working on further improving this value. In addition, engineers plan to optimize the combustion process such that exhaust gas emission is reduced considerably. For this purpose, they use supercomputers and simulation methods that are usually applied for tsunami calculations or for water effects in computer games.
Categories: Science

Highly charged molecules behave paradoxically

Matter and energy from Science Daily Feed - Thu, 11/23/2017 - 6:53am
Chemistry researchers have now discovered how certain small biomolecules attach to one another. The researchers’ study also overturns the standard picture – particles with the same electrical charge appear to be drawn together and not vice versa. The results may be important for the development of new drugs.
Categories: Science

China's reversing emission flows revealed by research

Matter and energy from Science Daily Feed - Thu, 11/23/2017 - 6:43am
The flow of China's carbon emissions has reversed, according to new research. The study estimates the carbon implications of recent changes in the country's economic development patterns and role in international trade since the global financial crisis.
Categories: Science

New batteries with better performance, improved safety

Matter and energy from Science Daily Feed - Thu, 11/23/2017 - 6:43am
Currently the most important technology for batteries is the lithium-ion battery technology, but the technology is expensive and contains a flammable liquid. To satisfy the growing demand from emerging markets, researchers have devised a new battery prototype: known as "all-solid-state," this battery has the potential to store more energy while maintaining high safety and reliability levels.
Categories: Science

OK, so it’s Thanksgiving

Pharyngula Feed - Thu, 11/23/2017 - 6:33am

Who am I supposed to thank? Should I just be shouting “thank you” into the void, or feel generically grateful without cause or purpose, or be looking for some reason to feel I owe it to the universe to be praising it? Because I’m not feeling it.

This isn’t my kind of holiday. What day is Blamesgiving? Because I’d rather be snarling at a few evil bastards and punching them in face. Donald Trump, Ajit Pai, Mitch McConnell, Paul Ryan, the Alabama Idjit Brigade that’s lobbying for Ray Moore, all the people who picket Planned Parenthood, Republicans in general, Betsy Devos, Ken Ham…my list is endless, and just thinking about them all is making my punchin’ arm tired.

It’s probably a good thing my wife is me clean house and confining me to the kitchen to cook today’s dinner, because otherwise I’d just be boiling in frustration and bitterness.

Maybe you can thank her for keeping me out of your face today.

Categories: Science

Bones show Dolly’s arthritis was normal for a sheep her age

Science News Feed - Thu, 11/23/2017 - 6:00am
Cloning didn’t cause the famous sheep to age prematurely.
Categories: Science

Readers’ wildlife photos

Why Evolution is True Feed - Thu, 11/23/2017 - 5:30am

We have some nice Aussie bird shots today from reader Damon Williford of Texas. His notes and IDs are indented:

Attached are bird photos that I’ve taken in Centennial Park, Sydney, NSW on Nov 10th and 11th. Australia has been on my bucket list of places to visit for a long time, and I decided to do it now rather than putting if off for another 2-3 years. I will have more photos to send in soon. Pacific Black Duck (Anas supercillosa): Australiasian Swamphen (Porphyrio melanotus): Magpie-lark (Grallina cyanoleuca): Australian Raven (Corvus coronoides).  The calls of these ravens are very different from North American ravens and crows. The call of an Australian raven sounds like a plaintive croak. It makes me chuckle every time I hear these birds calling. JAC: Here are some sounds of that raven, though they sound like a cross between a crying baby and a howling cat:

White-faced Heron (Egretta novaehollandiae). The first photo shows an adult and the second is a immature bird based on the faded coloration:

Sulphur-crested Cockatoo (Cacatua galeritta).  To someone who has lived most of his life in the Northern Hemisphere, seeing cockatoos flying around a modern city is an unusual sight.

Categories: Science

The UK just missed a big chance to cut harmful diesel pollution

New Scientist Feed - Thu, 11/23/2017 - 5:09am
Harmful fumes from diesel vehicles are a real problem in the UK but the government's attempt to tackle this toxic issue in its budget is feeble, says Tim Chatterton
Categories: Science

Thursday: Hili dialogue

Why Evolution is True Feed - Thu, 11/23/2017 - 4:30am

Good morning on Thanksgiving Thursday in America: November 23, 2017. Today most Americans, save me, will stuff themselves until they’re insensate, then falling asleep in a food coma in front of a television football game. It’s also National Espresso Day, and Foodimentary informs us that it takes about 42 coffee beans to make one serving of espresso. And, of course, because it’s Thanksgiving (Fastgiving for me), there’s a Google Doodle of a turkey fleeing its preordained fate.

So far this is the thinnest day of the year, eventwise. Almost nothing happened on November 23 and few notables either were born or died. On November 23, 1644, John Milton published a pamphlet that Christopher Hitchens always recommended as required reading for free speech advocates: Areopagitica, a work that decried censorship. (His other recommendations included Mills’s On Liberty.) On this day in 1992, the first smartphone, the IBM Simon, was introduced in a convention in Las Vegas. Finally, on November 23, 2015, Blue Origin‘s New Shepard spacecraft became the first vehicle to return from space and land safely on Earth in a controlled vertical descent. Here’s a video of the takeoff and landing. What a clever species we are!

Notables born on November 23 include Franklin Pierce (1804), José Clemente Orozco (1883), Harpo Marx (1888), Susan Anspach (1942), Bruce Hornsby (1954), and Miley Cyrus (1992). Only one person of note died on this day, jazz singer Anita O’Day (1992).

Hili seems to be suffering from existential angst today; Malgorzata explained that she drank too much last night!

Hili: I doubt. A: What do you doubt? Hili: Today I think I doubt everything. In Polish Hili: Wątpię.
Ja: W co wątpisz?
Hili: Dziś chyba we wszystko.

Grania is back with a tweet:

'Somethings blocking your vision, lemme help'


Some tweets from Dr. Cobb. I’m mad at this fishmonger, who should have given the seal some fish! Matthew said that he didn’t “cos the seal would come back and want more”. My response: “So what’s the problem?”

Just witnessed this giant seal being chased out the door of a fishmongers shop in Wicklow town.

— Derek Byrne (@Derek1052) November 22, 2017

He blop

Categories: Science

Birds have childhood sweethearts that they stay with as adults

New Scientist Feed - Thu, 11/23/2017 - 4:15am
Whooping cranes form long-term monogamous relationships, and over half of couples first get together before they are both sexually mature
Categories: Science


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