Earth’s magnetic field could completely reverse within a single lifetime

Earth’s magnetic field could completely reverse within a single lifetime

Earth’s magnetic field is constantly shifting around, and every 200,000 to 300,000 years, it flips north and south completely. Currently, we’re long overdue for a reversal, and scientists suggest that it could very well happen within the next century, potentially altering life in ways that aren’t possible to predict.

For the longest time, the scientific community believed that these reversals took as many as 7,000 years to completely switch, according to a 2004 study funded by the National Science Foundation. Over the last few years, however, many scientists have suggested that the shifts in the magnetic field have occurred at previously unimagined speeds.

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Boeing is going to be offering spaceflights for paying tourists

Boeing is going to be offering spaceflights for paying tourists

When NASA first announced its new partnership with Boeing and SpaceX, many people thought that space travel for the average citizen is one step closer to reality, and apparently they were right. The “space taxi” that the two companies are developing won’t just be for astronauts, it will also contain a seat for paying tourists.

That’s right, as part of Boeing’s proposal with NASA, the CST-100 vehicle will have a seat that is reserved for a regular citizen who is willing to pay to go up into space and float around in the International Space Station with trained professionals.

“Part of our proposal into NASA would be flying a Space Adventures spaceflight participant up to the ISS,” John Mulholland, Boeing’s Commercial Crew Program Manager, tells Reuters. Space Adventures is a Virginia-based space tourism company founded in 1998. Since 2010, they have been offering a number of spaceflight-related experiences, including spacewalks, suborbital spaceflights and launch tours.

Mr. Mulholland added that the price of the seat would be high enough to be competitive with what the Russian space agency is charging space tourists, which is a hell of a lot. According to Tom Shelley, president of Space Adventures, British singer Sarah Brightman is currently training for a 10-day stay at the station. In January, she’ll become the eighth paying passenger to visit the ISS, hitching a ride on the Russian Soyuz rocket, and it looks like the trip is going to cost her roughly $52 million.

Read more about the story at Reuters.

Researchers have found the world’s first semi-aquatic dinosaur

Researchers have found the world’s first semi-aquatic dinosaur

An international team of researchers has discovered the fossils of the largest know predator to ever walk the earth. The most interesting part about this discovery, however, is the fact that the dinosaur is believed to have been semi-aquatic, meaning that it spent a significant portion of its time swimming around in water, overturning the common view that dinosaurs were purely terrestrial creatures.

“We’ve resurrected a giant from deep time… a lost world buried for more than 95 million years,” said Nizar Ibrahim, a paleontologist at the University of Chicago and lead author of the study. “It is arguably the most enigmatic dinosaur yet described.”

The skeleton of the creature, known as Spinosaurus, was discovered in Morocco’s desolate Kem Kem beds, a treasure trove of 95 million year old dinosaur fossils that rest beneath the Sahara desert. Back when these dinosaurs were still alive, around the mid-Cretaceous period, the Sahara contained a lush river system and was teeming with life.

“I call this ‘river of giants’ the most dangerous place on Earth, a true predator’s paradise. You virtually never see such a high ratio of meat-eaters to plant-eaters,” says Ibrahim. “Paleontology is like detective work. It’s amazing to piece together clues and re-create a hundred-million-year-old landscape where gigantic predators flourished and enormous evolutionary changes unfolded.”

Read more about the story at the Smithsonian.

 

Archaeologists have revealed some of Stonehenge’s hidden secrets

Archaeologists have revealed some of Stonehenge’s hidden secrets

Using ground-penetrating radar, high-resolution magnetometers, and various other techniques, a group of archaeologists has been able to look deep into the soil that lies beneath the famous Stonehenge, and what they found was astonishing.

According to Birmingham University, the team of archaeologists from both Birmingham and Bradford University, as well as the Ludwig Boltzmann Institute in Vienna were able to generate a detailed map of seventeen previously unknown ritual monuments, as well as a massive timber building which they believe was used for burial ceremonies.

“New monuments have been revealed, as well as new types of monument that have previously never been seen by archaeologists,” said Professor Vincent Gaffney of Birmingham University, the leader of the project. “Up till now, we had absolutely no idea that the stones were there.”

“You’ve got Stonehenge which is clearly a very large ritual structure which is attracting people from large parts of the country. But around it people are creating their own shrines and temples. We can see the whole landscape is being used in very complex ways,” Gaffney was reported as saying at the British Science Festival.

“New monuments have been revealed, as well as new types of monument that have previously never been seen by archaeologists. All of this information has been placed within a single digital map, which will guide how Stonehenge and its landscape are studied in the future,” Gaffney said. “Stonehenge may never be the same again.”

Read more about the story at BBC.

 

Researchers have successfully demonstrated telepathy

Researchers have successfully demonstrated telepathy

A group of neuroscientists have successfully tested the world’s first brain-to-brain interface which allows to humans, connected through the internet, to consciously communicate with each other using their minds with no additional sensory cues.

One researcher, who was attached to a brain-computer interface (BCI) in India, successfully sent words to the brain of a fellow researcher in France, who was wearing a computer-to-brain interface (CBI). Essentially, these researchers have developed devices that enable telepathy.

Coauthor of the study and Professor of Neurology at Harvard Alvaro Pascual-Leone explains that the researchers “were able to directly and noninvasively transmit a thought from one person to another, without them having to speak or write. This in itself is a remarkable step in human communication, but being able to do so across a distance of thousands of miles is a critically important proof-of-principle for the development of brain-to-brain communications. We believe these experiments represent an important first step in exploring the feasibility of complementing or bypassing traditional language-based or motor-based communication.”

While this may seem like a small feat, it is an incredibly significant step towards achieving telepathy through the use of technology, the ability to exchange thoughts directly with another person. The uses for this kind of technology in the future are innumerable.

Read more about the story at IFL Science.

New deep-sea creature doesn’t fit into any current classification

New deep-sea creature doesn’t fit into any current classification

The deep sea is home to some of nature’s strangest and most outlandish creatures, from razor-toothed fish that lure their prey with tiny lights, to giant isopods that look like basketball-sized rolly polly. The latest creature to join that strange, alien world is a mushroom-like sea creature that doesn’t actually fit into a modern classification.

Scientists have been unable to classify the deep sea mushrooms using current taxonomies and believe that the creatures could be related to groups that were thought to have been extinct for around five-hundred million years. The creatures represent an enitely new genus, which has been dubbed Dendrogramma by its Danish discoverers.

“Current evidence suggests that they represent an early branch on the tree of life,” Jørgen Olesen, an expert in biosystematics at the University of Copenhagen and co-author of the paper, said in a release. “Finding something like this is extremely rare, it’s maybe only happened about four times in the last 100 years. We think it belongs in the animal kingdom somewhere; the question is where.”

Read more about the story at National Geographic.

 

Disney is looking to implement drones into its theme parks

Disney is looking to implement drones into its theme parks

Disney has a long history of using advanced animatronics and high technology for its shows and theme’s park, but some of the entertainment company’s new patents mean anything, Disney could be taking things to the next level by using drones as floating TV screens and animatronic puppet masters. Each patent outlines uses for swarms of small, synchronized quadcopters or multicopters, which could either enhance or fully replace the company’s existing light shows, fireworks displays, and parade balloons.

The first two patents outline different methods for producing light shows, the first of which uses large, flexible screens that are lifted into the air by small, remote-controlled craft. These screens would be large projection surfaces that are made out of mesh that would allow wind to flow through them. Or drones to produce their own images using loosely woven strips of LEDs. The drones would be able to detect each other and work together in unison, according to a central program.

The second method would use swarms of small drones that are each equipped with a light and act as “floating pixels”. These drones would be able to change the color of their lights as needed which would enable an operator to program them to make picture or abstract displays that look like fireworks. While this certainly isn’t the first time that a company has tried something like this, Disney is trying to add enough specificity to warrant a patent.

Read more about the story at Market Watch.

North Carolina researchers are developing remote controlled cyborg moths

North Carolina researchers are developing remote controlled cyborg moths

Researchers from North Carolina State University have published a study which shows how their goal to create cyborg moths, also called “biobot” moths, have progressed. It is hoped that these biobots will be able to be controlled electronically, such as remotely adjusting the flight muscles for the cyborg moths.

“In the big picture, we want to know whether we can control the movement of moths for use in applications such as search and rescue operations,” said Doctor Alper Bozkurt, assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering at NC State and co-author of the study. “The idea would be to attach sensors to moths in order to create a flexible, aerial sensor network that can identify survivors or public health hazards in the wake of a disaster.”

The study details the techniques that the research team has developed for affixing a series of electrodes to the thorax of a moth pupa, at a stage in the insect’s life cycle where it is metamorphosing into an adult moth. Doctor Bozkurt, working alongside Doctor Amit Lal of Cornell University, used electromyographic signals to understand exactly how the moth’s muscles were used mid-flight, with different electrical signals responsible for coordinating different sets of muscles.

“By watching how the moth uses its wings to steer while in flight, and matching those movements with their corresponding electromyographic signals, we’re getting a much better understanding of how moths maneuver through the air,” Bozkurt said. “We’re optimistic that this information will help us develop technologies to remotely control the movements of moths in flight. That’s essential to the overarching goal of creating biobots that can be part of a cyberphysical sensor network.”

Read more about the story at Discovery.

 

Scientists have confirmed the presence of life beneath Antarctica

Scientists have confirmed the presence of life beneath Antarctica

Half a mile beneath the West Antarctic Ice Sheet, deep within and underground lake, scientists have discovered a diverse ecosystem of mineral-eating, single-celled organisms that managed to survive, and thrive, despite the fact that they have never seen the light of the sun.

There were earlier claims of similar microbes that were drawn from a different Antarctic lake, said the authors of the new study published in Nature, but these claims were controversial due to the fact that the samples had been contaminated, a problem which was avoided with these most recent samples thanks to especially careful drilling techniques.

“It’s the real deal,” said Peter Doran, an Earth scientist at the University of Illinois at Chicago, who was not involved in the study. “There was news that they found life early this year, but a bunch of us were waiting for the peer reviewed paper to come out before we jumped for joy.”

This finding has concluded an effort that spanned a few years to confirm the presence of life below the coldest, driest continent on Earth. The scientific community considers the implications of this study nothing short of profound, potentially reshaping how medications are made and even human understanding of how life survives in other extreme environments, be they in Earth or in outer space.

“Our report in Nature is indeed the first time the presence of life has been confirmed beneath the Antarctic ice sheet,” says John Priscu, chief scientist for Whillans Ice Stream Subglacial Access Research Drilling, or WISSARD, which made the discovery. “There’s unknown organisms, pharmaceuticals we can search out, food preservatives, things of that nature. There’s a lot of stuff down there, a lot of biological material we never knew about.”

Read more about the story at Smithsonian.

Neanderthals co-existed with humans for far longer than expected

Neanderthals co-existed with humans for far longer than expected

Modern humans and our heavy-browed relatives, the Neanderthals, co-existed in Europe for around ten times longer than was previously though, a new study suggests. The most comprehensive dating of Neanderthal bones and tools that has ever been carried out has come to the conclusion that the two species lived s-de-by-side for up to 5,000 years.

Using new carbon dating techniques and advanced mathematical models, researchers have examined around two-hundred samples that were found scattered at forty sites all across Europe, from the Iberian Peninsula to Western Russia. The researchers concluded with a reasonable degree of certainty that pockets of Neanderthal culture survived until between 41,030 and 39,260 years ago.

“We believe we now have the first robust timeline that sheds new light on some of the key questions around the possible interactions between Neanderthals and modern humans,” said Thomas Higham, an archaeologist at the University of Oxford who led the study. “I think we can set aside the idea of a rapid extinction of Neanderthals caused solely by the arrival of modern humans. Instead we can see a more complex process in which there is a much longer overlap between the two populations where there could have been exchanges of ideas and culture.”

This new information puts the disappearance of Neanderthals earlier than was previously thought, but it also supports that idea that they live alongside humans, who arrived in Europe between 43,000 and 45,000 years ago. While these is evidence that modern humans contain some surviving Neanderthal genes in their DNA, which suggests that at least some interbreeding took place, scientists still aren’t sure how extensive the contact between the two species was, or the reasons behind the disappearance of the Neanderthals.

“These new results confirm a long-suspected chronological overlap between the last Neanderthals and the first modern humans in Europe,” said Jean-Jacques Hublin, director of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, who wasn’t involved in the study.

Read more about the story at National Geographic.