Rare teeth from ancient mega-shark found on Australia beach

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF AFP)

 

Rare teeth from ancient mega-shark found on Australia beach

August 9, 2018
Fossil enthusiast Philip Mullaly was strolling along an area known as a fossil hotspot at Jan Juc, on the country's famous Great
Fossil enthusiast Philip Mullaly was strolling along an area known as a fossil hotspot at Jan Juc, on the country’s famous Great Ocean Road, when he spotted a giant shark tooth

A rare set of teeth from a giant prehistoric mega-shark twice the size of the great white have been found on an Australian beach by a keen-eyed amateur enthusiast, scientists said Thursday.

Philip Mullaly was strolling along an area known as a fossil hotspot at Jan Juc, on the country’s famous Great Ocean Road some 100 kilometres (60 miles) from Melbourne, when he made the find.

“I was walking along the beach looking for fossils, turned and saw this shining glint in a boulder and saw a quarter of the tooth exposed,” he said.

“I was immediately excited, it was just perfect and I knew it was an important find that needed to be shared with people.”

He told Museums Victoria, and Erich Fitzgerald, senior curator of vertebrate palaeontology, confirmed the seven centimetre-long (2.7 inch)  were from an extinct species of predator known as the great jagged narrow-toothed shark (Carcharocles angustidens).

The shark, which stalked Australia’s oceans around 25 million years ago, feasting on small whales and penguins, could grow more than nine metres long, almost twice the length of today’s great white shark.

“These teeth are of international significance, as they represent one of just three associated groupings of Carcharocles angustidens teeth in the world, and the very first set to ever be discovered in Australia,” Fitzgerald said.

He explained that almost all fossils of sharks worldwide were just single teeth, and it was extremely rare to find multiple associated teeth from the same shark.

This is because sharks, who have the ability to regrow teeth, lose up to a tooth a day and cartilage, the material a shark skeleton is made of, does not readily fossilise.

Fitzgerald suspected they came from one individual shark and there might be more entombed in the rock.

So he led a team of palaeontologists, volunteers, and Mullaly on two expeditions earlier this year to excavate the site, collecting more than 40 teeth in total.

Most came from the mega-shark, but several smaller teeth were also found from the sixgill shark (Hexanchus), which still exists today.

Museums Victoria palaeontologist Tim Ziegler said the sixgill teeth were from several different individuals and would have become dislodged as they scavenged on the carcass of the Carcharocles angustidens after it died.

“The stench of blood and decaying flesh would have drawn scavengers from far around,” he said.

“Sixgill sharks still exist off the Victorian coast today, where they live off the remains of whales and other animals. This find suggests they have performed that lifestyle here for tens of millions of years.”

 Explore further: The end-Cretaceous extinction unleashed modern shark diversity

Read more at: https://phys.org/news/2018-08-rare-teeth-ancient-mega-shark-australia.html#jCp

Snowy dirtballs streak across sky in dazzling meteor shower

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE ST. GEORGE NEWS)

 

Snowy dirtballs streak across sky in dazzling meteor shower

Composite image, St. George News

ST. GEORGE — Earth’s ancient relative, the Smith-Tuttle comet, is set to be the headliner for three nights in August, producing a brilliant light show as fragments of the 4-billion-year-old snowy dirtball streak across the skies during one of the most active meteor showers of the year.

The Perseid meteor shower will make its peak three-night appearance from Aug. 11-13, and is known to be a rich, steady meteor shower that sends 60-70 meteors slamming into the Earth’s atmosphere at more than 130,000 mph every hour. This year’s meteor shower event will be make even more spectacular by the “slender waxing crescent moon,” according to EarthSky’s 2018 Meteor Shower Guide. 

Star map depicting outline of constellations, including Perseus, where the Perseid meteor shower originates | Image courtesy of EarthSky, St. George News

Meteors are small fragments of cosmic debris entering the earth’s atmosphere at extremely high speed. They are caused by the copious amounts of particles produced each time a comet swings around the sun and eventually spread out along the entire orbit of the comet to form a meteoroid stream.

If the Earth’s orbit intersects with the comet’s orbit, as it does with the Swift-Tuttle Comet, then it passes through that stream, which produces a meteor shower. If that intersection occurs at roughly the same time each year, then it becomes an annual shower, according to the American Meteor Society.

Swift-Tuttle has an eccentric, oblong orbit around the sun that takes 133 years. The comet’s orbit takes it outside the orbit of Pluto when farthest from the sun, and inside the Earth’s orbit when closest to the sun, releasing particles of ice and dust that become part of the Perseid meteor shower.

Perseid showers last for weeks instead of days and have been streaking across the sky since July 17, and while they are heaviest during the three-day period beginning Saturday, they will continue for at least 10 days after.

The fast, bright meteors appear in all parts of the sky, roughly 50 to 75 miles above the earth’s surface and leave continual trains, which is the persistent glow caused by the luminous interplanetary rock and dust left in the wake of the meteoroid, and often remain long after the light trail has dissipated.

These meteors, which can reach temperatures of more than 3,000 degrees Fahrenheit, start from northerly latitudes during mid-to-late evening and tend to strengthen in number as the night continues, typically producing the greatest number of showers in the hours just before dawn, which is also moonless and makes them easier to see against the black backdrop.

Because meteor shower particles are all traveling in parallel paths at the same velocity, they appear to radiate from a single point in the sky, similar to railroad tracks converging to a single point as they vanish beyond the horizon. The Perseid shower originates from a point in front of the constellation Perseus, which ranks 24 on the list of largest constellations and is visible from August to March in the Northern Hemisphere.

Here are Perseid meteor shower viewing tips:

  • An open sky is essential as these meteors streak across the sky in many different directions and in front of a number of constellations.
  • Getting as far away from city lights will provide the best view, and the best time to watch the showers is between midnight and dawn.
  • Provide at least an hour to sky watch, as it can take the eyes up to 20 minutes to adapt to the darkness of night.
  • Put away the telescope or binoculars, as using either one reduces the amount of sky you can see at one time, and lowers the odds that you’ll see a meteor.
  • Let your eyes relax and don’t look in any one specific spot. Relaxed eyes will quickly catch any movement in the sky and you’ll be able to spot more meteors.
  • Be sure to dress appropriately – wear clothing appropriate for cold overnight temperatures.
  • Bring something comfortable on which to sit or lie. A reclining chair or pad will make it far more comfortable to keep your gaze on the night sky.
  • Avoid looking at your cell phone or any other light, as both destroy night vision.

To mix things up a bit, the Delta Aquariids meteor shower, which peaked July 27, the same night as the century’s longest lunar eclipse, is still showering icy space dust across the sky and is running simultaneously with the Perseid’s.

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @STGnews

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2018, all rights reserved.

‘Super Earth’ ‘most likely’ candidate to host life – but there’s a HUGE problem

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF ‘THE SUN’ NEWS)

 

GREAT SPACE 

Mysterious ‘Super Earth’ planet ‘most likely’ candidate to host life – but there’s a HUGE problem

Kepler 452b is described as Earth’s bigger, older cousin and lies in the sweet spot outside our solar system that hosts the right conditions to spawn life

A “SUPER-EARTH” planet that’s one-and-half-times the size of our own has emerged as the most likely candidate to support alien life.

There’s just one problem: Kepler 452b, as it’s known, lies beyond the confines of our solar system – a whopping 1,400 light years away from us.

 This artistic concept depicts one possible appearance of the planet Kepler-452b, the first near-Earth-size world to be found in the habitable zone of star that is similar to our sun

NASA
3
This artistic concept depicts one possible appearance of the planet Kepler-452b, the first near-Earth-size world to be found in the habitable zone of star that is similar to our sun

Discovered in 2015, the planet is located slap bang in the middle of a newly spotted “abiogenesis zone” that holds the right conditions for life to be created, according to researchers from the University of Cambridge and the Medical Research Council Laboratory of Molecular Biology.

This region of the solar system contains the ideal mix of ultraviolet light and chemical reactions to usher in early life.

It’s also in a habitable ring of space dubbed the “Goldilocks zone” due to its distance from its host star so that it’s neither too hot nor too cold.

All this astro-magic combined equals temperatures that are just right to permit liquid surface water.

 On May 12, 2009, NASA's Kepler spacecraft began hunting for planets outside the solar system. This Nasa graphic tells its story by the numbers

NASA
3
On May 12, 2009, NASA’s Kepler spacecraft began hunting for planets outside the solar system. This Nasa graphic tells its story by the numbers

In fact, the Kepler 452b’s positions within the zones are so similar to our own planet’s that it’s earned the title of “Earth’s cousin”.

It’s also been described as a “super-Earth” because its mass is 1.5-times larger than Earth’s, but much less than the solar systems other titans, including Jupiter and Saturn, known as gas giants.

The planet was spotted by the powerful telescope aboard Nasa‘s Kepler spacecraft, hence its name, which has pinpointed thousands of so-called exoplanets (planets beyond our solar systems that orbit around other stars) since its 2009 launch.

However, out of all these candidates only Kepler 452b sits in the sweet spot between its stars habitable zone and the abiogenisis zone.

The star which it orbits in the constellation of Cygnus is about 20 percent brighter than the sun and some two billion years older.

 Earth, left, and its bigger cousin Kepler 452b, right, which is 1.5 times larger than our home planet

NASA
3
Earth, left, and its bigger cousin Kepler 452b, right, which is 1.5 times larger than our home planet

Lead scientist Dr Paul Rimmer, from Cambridge University’s Cavendish Laboratory, said: “This work allows us to narrow down the best places to search for life.

“It brings us just a little bit closer to addressing the question of whether we are alone in the universe.”

Rimmer’s team say that though Kepler 452b is too far away to probe with current tech, the next-generation of telescopes (like Nasa’s Tess and the long-gestating James Webb Telescopes) should be able to identify more Earth-style planets within an abiogenesis zone.

But they add that if there is life on these exoplanets, it may look radically different to that on Earth.

The new study is published in the journal Science Advances.

Astronomers see mystery explosion 200 million light-years away

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF EARTHSKY NEWS)

 

Astronomers see mystery explosion 200 million light-years away

Supernovae, or exploding stars, are relatively common. But now astronomers have observed a baffling new type of cosmic explosion, believed to be some 10 to 100 times brighter than an ordinary supernova.

Discovery image of AT2018cow – nicknamed The Cow by astronomers – acquired by the ATLAS telescopes. Image via Stephen Smartt/ATLAS.

Space might seem unchanging as you stand on Earth looking up at the inky blackness, but it isn’t, always. Indeed, the stillness can be punctuated at times by immense explosions, such as when stars go supernova in brilliant bursts of light. Supernovae are common, relatively speaking. But now scientists have observed a new type of explosion in space, and so far they don’t have an explanation for it. A science team reported the explosion on June 17, 2018, in The Astronomer’s Telegram, which is an internet-based publication service for disseminating new astronomical information quickly. The discovery team then discussed the explosion in a June 22 article in the popular weekly science magazine New Scientist. They said they saw the immense flash coming to us from another galaxy, 200 million light-years away. And, they said, this flash must have been 10 to 100 times brighter than a typical supernova.

The mysterious flash has been nicknamed The Cow by astronomers since it was listed as AT2018cow in a database, thanks to the randomized three-letter naming system.

The asteroid-tracking ATLAS telescopes at Keck Observatory in Hawaii were the first to see the mystery explosion. At first, astronomers thought it originated in our own galaxy. They thought it might be what’s called a cataclysmic variable star, typically two stars orbiting one another and interacting in a way that increases the whole system’s brightness irregularly. But subsequent spectroscopic observations showed the explosion came from another galaxy – labeled CGCG 137-068 – located some 200 million light-years away in the direction of the constellation Hercules.

As astronomer Kate Maguire of Queen’s University Belfast noted simply to New Scientist:

It really just appeared out of nowhere.

The ATLAS telescopes acquired these images of AT2018cow, before the explosion (middle) and after it (left) in the galaxy CGCG 137-068. The far-right image shows the difference between the two and reveals the sudden brightening. Image via Stephen Smartt/ATLAS.

Indeed, and it certainly took astronomers by surprise. But apart from the brightness, the most unusual aspect of the explosion was its speed, reaching peak brightness in just two days; most supernovae take weeks to do that. As Maguire also noted:

There are other objects that have been discovered that are as fast, but the fastness and the brightness, that’s quite unusual. There hasn’t really been another object like this.

Stephen Smartt, an astrophysicist at Queen’s University Belfast and a lead scientist for the ATLAS survey, commentedto the Washington Post on June 25 that:

I’ve never seen anything like this before in the local universe.

As to what caused this intense blast, scientists don’t know yet, but they say that it is composed of a 16,000 degree Fahrenheit (9,000 degree Celsius) cloud of high-energy particles, expanding outward at 12,000 miles (20,000 kilometers) per second. It is also very bright in all parts of the electromagnetic spectrum, and its spectrum is also “surprisingly smooth,” unlike most supernovae which have distinct absorption lines. According to Smartt:

No one has successfully matched them yet to the known features we normally see in supernova.

Artist’s concept shows dust forming in an environment around a supernova explosion. Could The Cow be an object like this? If so, why is it so much brighter than an ordinary supernova? Image via ESO/M. Kornmesser.

After the flash was reported to The Astronomer’s Telegram, astronomy teams used at least 18 telescopes from around the world to study the occurrence. According to Robert Rutledge, editor-in-chief of The Astronomer’s Telegram and an astrophysicist at McGill University in Canada:

I think it’s the most notices for any individual object in such a short period of time. It has produced a lot of interest.

But if the flash isn’t a typical supernova, then what is it? As Maguire noted:

We’re not sure yet what it is, but the normal powering mechanism for a supernova is radioactive decay of nickel, and this event is too bright and too fast for that.

It could be a type 1c supernova, where the core has collapsed in a massive star that has already lost its outer veil of hydrogen and helium, but only further observations will help to determine that, or rule it out as an explanation. Astronomers will continue to study this fascinating mystery, even though the blast has already started to fade now.

Location of AT2018cow in the distant galaxy CGCG 137-068, located in our sky in the direction of the constellation Hercules. Image via Wikimedia Commons.

Bottom line: Astronomers have another fascinating mystery on their hands, as they try to figure out the nature of a huge, unusual explosion – labeled AT2018cow, nicknamed The Cow by astronomers – in a distant galaxy. Is it a type of supernova, or something more exotic?

Via The Astronomer’s TelegramNew Scientist and the Washington Post.

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India: My ancestors were not apes, says minister Satyapal Singh

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE HINDUSTAN TIMES NEWSPAPER OF INDIA)

(I am not from India, I am not a Hindu, I am a fundamentalist Christian yet I agree with Minister Singh on this issue. To me, in my beliefs, I believe that Charles Darwin is about 50% incorrect in his hypothesis about the beginning of the human race. I put this oped piece in to this article for the purpose of giving some backing too Minister Singh) (oped by: oldpoet56) 

I’m a science student, I believe my ancestors were not apes, says minister Satyapal Singh

The junior minister in the HRD ministry said people will accept what he said in 10-20 years if not immediately.

INDIA Updated: Jul 01, 2018 10:48 IST

Press Trust of India
Press Trust of India
Press Trust of India, New Delhi
Union minister Satyapal Singh in New Delhi.
Union minister Satyapal Singh in New Delhi.(HT File Photo)

Union minister Satyapal Singh on Saturday stood by his claim that Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution of man was “scientifically wrong” and said that as a science student, he believes that his “ancestors were not apes”.

The junior minister in the HRD ministry denounced those who attacked him over his comments and said “it’s not scientific temper to condemn the point of view of another person”.

“I am a science student and I have completed my PhD in Chemistry. Who all were the ones speaking against me? And, how many people stood by me? We should be compelled to think. We get scared of the press. If not today, tomorrow. If not tomorrow, then in 10-20 years, people will accept what I said. At least, I believe that my ancestors were not apes,” he said at a book launch.

“It’s not scientific temper to condemn the point of another person. Give it a thought,” the minister added.

Singh had a few months ago said Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution was wrong and the changes need to reflect in the school and college curriculum, drawing flak from various quarters.

The former Mumbai police commissioner said he was “proud to be an educated politician” and it was the “good fortune” of the country that a “nationalist government with a nationalist mindset” is at helm.

He said 99 per cent of the universities abroad “misinterpret, mistranslate” Hinduism.

“I am writing a book… And there will be a chapter on this. We will not take help from any westerner. We will give validation and documentary evidence, and we will prove what we are saying is right. Did any of our sages ask any professor from England to validate his point?” the minister asked.

The biggest blunder, he added, was that India continued to follow the education system and the mentality of the British.

Groundbreaking Treatment Cures Woman’s Advanced Breast Cancer in World First

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE GUARDIAN)

 

Groundbreaking Treatment Cures Woman’s Advanced Breast Cancer in World First

A Florida woman is still alive thanks to a unique style of immunotherapy in treating her aggressive breast cancer.

Doctors and cancer patients around the world are taking note of an incredible piece of news. A new therapy has reportedly cured a woman diagnosed with advanced breast cancer which had spread throughout her body.

This marks the first time that a woman with advanced, late-stage breast cancer has successfully been treated with immunotherapy. The team of doctors used patient Judy Perkins’s own immune cells to combat the disease.

Perkins was just 49 years old when the engineer discovered she’d been picked for a new therapy. She’d already undergone chemo treatments which continued to fail her. At best, Perkins had three years left to live.

Doctors from the US National Cancer Institute located in Maryland suggested the immunotherapy. They called her response to the treatment “remarkable.”

“My condition deteriorated a lot towards the end, and I had a tumour pressing on a nerve, which meant I spent my time trying not to move at all to avoid pain shooting down my arm. I had given up fighting,” Perkins said in an interview with The Guardian. “After the treatment dissolved most of my tumours, I was able to go for a 40-mile hike.”

Laszlo Radvanyi serves as a scientific director at the Ontario Institute for Cancer Research. Like many keeping up with this news, Radvanyi was not involved in treating Perkins. However, he’s certainly taking notice — calling the treatment “an unprecedented response in such advanced breast cancer.”

“We are now at the cusp of a major revolution in finally realising the elusive goal of being able to target the plethora of mutations in cancer through immunotherapy.”

“We are now at the cusp of a major revolution in finally realising the elusive goal of being able to target the plethora of mutations in cancer through immunotherapy,” Radvanyi said.

Doctors now hope for a major revolution in treatment opportunities available for patients. Some research teams are already developing massive clinical trials to determine just how effective immunotherapy could be for certain patients.

Simon Vincent, director of research at Breast Cancer Now, told interviewers: “This is a remarkable and extremely promising result, but we need to see this effect repeated in other patients before giving hope of a new immunotherapy for incurable metastatic breast cancer.

“Metastatic breast cancer remains incurable, and if we are to finally stop women dying we urgently need to find new ways to target and stop the spread of the disease. We are thrilled by this early finding, but we must remember that this type of immunotherapy remains an experimental approach that has a long way to go before it might be routinely available to patients.”

The process of immunotherapy takes biopsies of the primary tumor and its metastases to determine any mutations specific to a patient’s cancer. Those immune cells that made it through tumor tissue then get cultivated into billions of immune cells in a lab. The tumor tissue itself goes through a bit of gene sequencing so researchers know the main mutations of the tissue. The immune cells being grown then get analyzed to see which ones can target cancer specifically. Those immune cells are the ones that get put back into a patient in order to kill the cancer cells.

SCIENCE

18-Year-Old Boy Designs a Bra That Can Detect Breast Cancer

Perkins had over 80 billion immune cells put into her body. After 42 weeks of treatment, Perkins was declared free of cancer.

She’s been free of cancer ever since.

“It feels miraculous, and I am beyond amazed that I have now been free of cancer for two years,” Perkins said.

“I had resigned my job and was planning on dying. I had a bucket-list of things I needed to do before the end, like going to the Grand Canyon,” she added. “Now, I have gone back to normal everyday life.”

Via: The Guardian

Great White Sharks Have A Secret ‘Cafe,’ And They Led Scientists Right To It

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF NPR)

 

Great White Sharks Have A Secret ‘Cafe,’ And They Led Scientists Right To It

Scientists tagged over 30 great white sharks last fall — more than they had ever done in a single season.

Courtesy Stanford University — Block Lab Hopkins Marine Station

Great white sharks have a “hidden life” that is becoming a lot less hidden thanks to a scientific expedition that has been years in the making.

Scientists used to think the apex predators moved up and down the western coast of North America, snacking in waters with lots of food close to shore. Almost 20 years ago, Stanford marine biologist Barbara Block started putting tags on the sharks that could track their movements.

She and other researchers noticed something surprising — the tags showed that the sharks were moving away from these food-rich waters and heading more than a thousand miles off the coast of Baja California in Mexico.

Satellite images suggested the area was an ocean desert, a place with very little life.

The mystery of what was drawing the sharks to this strange place set new research into motion.

“We wanted to know if there was a hidden oasis that was formed by the currents that we couldn’t see from space,” Block said.

To find out, the scientists tagged over 30 great white sharks last fall — more than they had ever done in a single season. They’ve already gotten to know some of these animals from years of research. They’ve even given them names, such as Eugene, Tilden and Leona.

Then this spring, the research team set off on a state-of-the-art ship called the research vessel Falkor toward the mysterious area, hoping to find the sharks they tagged.

“There’s a lot of expectation when you put technology on an animal and then you take an expensive ship like the Falkor with 40 people to a box in the middle of the ocean and expect that these white sharks are going to be there,” Block said, speaking from the ship.

Sure enough, the animals were indeed swimming to this remote place, which the researchers have nicknamed the “White Shark Cafe.”

“Just as we predicted, the sharks showed up right in the cruise box,” Block added.

Schmidt Ocean Institute YouTube

The tags were programmed to pop off and float to the surface right when the Falkor was there. Each tag that reached the surface gave off a signal — and kicked off what Block called an “open-ocean treasure hunt,” as the team tried to find something the size of a small microphone in an area about the size of Colorado. These sophisticated tags record temperature, pressure, light and time.

“We doubled our current 20-year data set in three weeks,” Block said. The tags have 2,500 days of data at one- to three-second intervals, allowing researchers to see how the white sharks move up and down through the water with unprecedented detail.

In early March, two months before Falkor departed for the same mission, two saildrones were deployed from San Francisco. They have been transmitting data in real time, listening for the acoustic tags that researchers attached to great white sharks and using sonar to detect other creatures deep under the surface.

SOI/Monika Naranjo Gonzalez

The scientists will need time to parse all of this information, including new mysteries such as why male and female sharks move differently through the water. The males move up and down rapidly — sometimes 120 times a day. Females will go up to the shallow water at night, then down much deeper in the day.

“The male white shark and the female white shark are doing completely different things, and that’s not something we’ve seen so much before,” Block said. “We have to spend some time studying these behaviors to try to understand if this is courtship behavior or is this really a feeding or foraging behavior.”

And after the tags popped up, the scientists used a range of techniques to learn about the water nearby. They had a couple of saildrones, which are surface vehicles that can locate plankton and fish. They also gathered DNA from the water to figure out what is moving down there and observed creatures using a remotely operated underwater vehicle and by pulling them up in nets.

“We expected it to be the desert that the textbooks sort of advertised it would be,” said Bruce Robison, a senior scientist at the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute.

But this was no desert.

A layer of nutrient-rich plant life exists deeper under the ocean than satellites could detect. Tiny creatures feed on it, and larger creatures feed on them. And up and up. It represents “a complete food chain, a ladder of consumption, that made us believe that there was an adequate food supply out here for big animals like tunas and the sharks,” Robison said.

The scientists found that the “White Shark Cafe,” originally thought to be an ocean desert, actually is home to a diverse food chain.

Schmidt Ocean Institute

Robison was surprised by how diverse the area was, with animals such as fish, squids, crustaceans and jellyfish. They saw totally different patterns of life in sites just a few miles away from one another, an indication of the area’s complexity.

The fact that scientists didn’t even know this area existed until sharks led them there speaks to how much we still don’t know about the ocean. In fact, according to NOAA’s National Ocean Service, humans have explored just 5 percent of it.

“People don’t really get is why it’s like that — it’s because it’s really hard to do,” Block said. She added that there could be more ocean hot spots out there that scientists are not yet aware of.

And Robison said all the information they gathered could help build a case for why the White Shark Cafe should be officially protected by the U.N. cultural agency. UNESCO is considering recognizing and protecting it by making it a World Heritage Site.

Asteroid on Course to Earth Was Spotted Just Hours Before It Hit The Atmosphere

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE WASHINGTON POST)

 

Asteroid on Course to Earth Was Spotted Just Hours Before It Hit The Atmosphere

Surprise!

ALEX HORTON, THE WASHINGTON POST
5 JUN 2018

Witnesses reported a fireball streaking across the sky above Botswana on Saturday night.

The asteroid hurtling toward Earth at 10 miles (16 km) a second looked like it could be the harbinger of catastrophe. A webcam in a rural area west of Johannesburg captured it, showing a luminous orb igniting the sky in a bright flash.

NASA had only discovered the asteroid on Saturday and determined it was on a collision course for the planet, charted for entry in a vast expanse from Southern Africa and across the Indian Ocean to New Guinea and given the name 2018 LA.

The reality of the asteroid’s fiery end was less dramatic than the video shows. The asteroid was estimated at just six feet (1.8 metres) across, otherwise known as boulder-sized, NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory said in a statement.

It burned up “several miles” above the Earth’s surface.

NASA and space enthusiasts do not get many opportunities like this. Asteroid 2018 LA was only the third asteroid discovered on an impact trajectory, the agency said, and just the second time a high probability of impact was determined ahead of time.

The last predicted impact was asteroid 2014 AA, and it too was discovered only hours before it entered the atmosphere over the Atlantic Ocean on New Year’s Day in 2014, NASA said.

“[T]his real-world event allows us to exercise our capabilities and gives some confidence our impact prediction models are adequate to respond to the potential impact of a larger object,” said Lindley Johnson, an official at NASA’s Planetary Defense team, which tracks and warns of asteroids that may pose a threat to the planet.

KFDLE7J3A4ZMJHHOSXVO67EJUAThe discovery observations of Asteroid 2018 LA. (NASA/JPL-Caltech/CSS-Univ. of Arizona)

Asteroids are small remnants of violent collisions in the solar system’s history and formed around 4.5 billion years ago.

They are typically composed of rock-forming minerals like olivine and pyroxene but often contain iron and nickel, NASA said.

The Asteroid Belt between Mars and Jupiter contains hundreds of thousands of asteroids more than half a mile in size or more, with millions of smaller objects tumbling in space.

Asteroid 2018 LA was first discovered by the NASA-funded Catalina Sky Survey operated by the University of Arizona, the agency said. NASA linked to the video in its statement, and the publisher said on YouTube the video is from his father’s South African farm.

NASA relies on a patchwork of observers to track what it calls near-Earth asteroids, the agency explained in a video.

Constantly scanning telescopes capture images of the sky and movement through photos over time triggers a comparison of known objects in a database.

If the object is unknown, the agency will review the object and expedite the analysis if experts determine it will streak close to the Earth. Astronomers from NASA, other space agencies and even amateur enthusiasts then join in to refine the trajectory.

2018 © The Washington Post

This article was originally published by The Washington Post.

The West is ill-prepared for the wave of “deep fakes” From AI

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE BROOKINGS INSTITUTE)

 

ORDER FROM CHAOS

The West is ill-prepared for the wave of “deep fakes” that artificial intelligence could unleash

Chris Meserole and Alina Polyakova

Editor’s Note:To get ahead of new problems related to disinformation and technology, policymakers in Europe and the United States should focus on the coming wave of disruptive technologies, write Chris Meserole and Alina Polyakova. Fueled by advances in artificial intelligence and decentralized computing, the next generation of disinformation promises to be even more sophisticated and difficult to detect. This piece originally appeared on ForeignPolicy.com.

Russian disinformation has become a problem for European governments. In the last two years, Kremlin-backed campaigns have spread false stories alleging that French President Emmanuel Macron was backed by the “gay lobby,” fabricated a story of a Russian-German girl raped by Arab migrants, and spread a litany of conspiracy theories about the Catalan independence referendum, among other efforts.

Europe is finally taking action. In January, Germany’s Network Enforcement Act came into effect. Designed to limit hate speech and fake news online, the law prompted both France and Spain to consider counterdisinformation legislation of their own. More important, in April the European Union unveiled a new strategy for tackling online disinformation. The EU plan focuses on several sensible responses: promoting media literacy, funding a third-party fact-checking service, and pushing Facebook and others to highlight news from credible media outlets, among others. Although the plan itself stops short of regulation, EU officials have not been shy about hinting that regulation may be forthcoming. Indeed, when Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg appeared at an EU hearing this week, lawmakers reminded him of their regulatory power after he appeared to dodge their questions on fake news and extremist content.

The problem is that technology advances far more quickly than government policies.

The recent European actions are important first steps. Ultimately, none of the laws or strategies that have been unveiled so far will be enough. The problem is that technology advances far more quickly than government policies. The EU’s measures are still designed to target the disinformation of yesterday rather than that of tomorrow.

To get ahead of the problem, policymakers in Europe and the United States should focus on the coming wave of disruptive technologies. Fueled by advances in artificial intelligence and decentralized computing, the next generation of disinformation promises to be even more sophisticated and difficult to detect.

To craft effective strategies for the near term, lawmakers should focus on four emerging threats in particular: the democratization of artificial intelligence, the evolution of social networks, the rise of decentralized applications, and the “back end” of disinformation.

Thanks to bigger data, better algorithms, and custom hardware, in the coming years, individuals around the world will increasingly have access to cutting-edge artificial intelligence. From health care to transportation, the democratization of AI holds enormous promise.

Yet as with any dual-use technology, the proliferation of AI also poses significant risks. Among other concerns, it promises to democratize the creation of fake print, audio, and video stories. Although computers have long allowed for the manipulation of digital content, in the past that manipulation has almost always been detectable: A fake image would fail to account for subtle shifts in lighting, or a doctored speech would fail to adequately capture cadence and tone. However, deep learning and generative adversarial networks have made it possible to doctor imagesand video so well that it’s difficult to distinguish manipulated files from authentic ones. And thanks to apps like FakeApp and Lyrebird, these so-called “deep fakes” can now be produced by anyone with a computer or smartphone. Earlier this year, a tool that allowed users to easily swap faces in video produced fake celebrity porn, which went viral on Twitter and Pornhub.

Deep fakes and the democratization of disinformation will prove challenging for governments and civil society to counter effectively. Because the algorithms that generate the fakes continuously learn how to more effectively replicate the appearance of reality, deep fakes cannot easily be detected by other algorithms—indeed, in the case of generative adversarial networks, the algorithm works by getting really good at fooling itself. To address the democratization of disinformation, governments, civil society, and the technology sector therefore cannot rely on algorithms alone, but will instead need to invest in new models of social verification, too.

At the same time as artificial technology and other emerging technologies mature, legacy platforms will continue to play an outsized role in the production and dissemination of information online. For instance, consider the current proliferation of disinformation on Google, Facebook, and Twitter.

A growing cottage industry of search engine optimization (SEO) manipulation provides services to clients looking to rise in the Google rankings. And while for the most part, Google is able to stay ahead of attempts to manipulate its algorithms through continuous tweaks, SEO manipulators are also becoming increasingly savvy at gaming the system so that the desired content, including disinformation, appears at the top of search results.

For example, stories from RT and Sputnik—the Russian government’s propaganda outlets—appeared on the first page of Google searches after the March nerve agent attack in the United Kingdom and the April chemical weapons attack in Syria. Similarly, YouTube (which is owned by Google) has an algorithm that prioritizes the amount of time users spend watching content as the key metric for determining which content appears first in search results. This algorithmic preference results in false, extremist, and unreliable information appearing at the top, which in turn means that this content is viewed more often and is perceived as more reliable by users. Revenue for the SEO manipulation industry is estimated to be in the billions of dollars.

On Facebook, disinformation appears in one of two ways: through shared content and through paid advertising. The company has tried to curtail disinformation across each vector, but thus far to no avail. Most famously, Facebook introduced a “Disputed Flag” to signify possible false news—only to discover that the flag made users more likely to engage with the content, rather than less. Less conspicuously, in Canada, the company is experimenting with increasing the transparency of its paid advertisements by making all ads available for review, including those micro-targeted to a small set of users. Yet, the effort is limited: The sponsors of ads are often buried, requiring users to do time-consuming research, and the archive Facebook set up for the ads is not a permanent database but only shows active ads. Facebook’s early efforts do not augur well for a future in which foreign actors can continue to exploit its news feed and ad products to deliver disinformation—including deep fakes produced and targeted at specific individuals or groups.

Although Twitter has taken steps to combat the proliferation of trolls and bots on its platform, it remains deeply vulnerable to disinformation campaigns, since accounts are not verified and its application programming interface, or API, still makes it possible to easily generate and spread false content on the platform. Even if Twitter takes further steps to crack down on abuse, its detection algorithms can be reverse-engineered in much the same way Google’s search algorithm is. Without fundamental changes to its API and interaction design, Twitter will remain rife with disinformation. It’s telling, for example, that when the U.S. military struck Syrian chemical weapons facilities in April—well after Twitter’s latest reforms were put in place—the Pentagon reported a massive surge in Russian disinformation in the hours immediately following the attack. The tweets appeared to come from legitimate accounts, and there was no way to report them as misinformation.

Blockchain technologies and other distributed ledgers are best known for powering cryptocurrencies such as bitcoin and ethereum. Yet their biggest impact may lie in transforming how the internet works. As more and more decentralized applications come online, the web will increasingly be powered by services and protocols that are designed from the ground up to resist the kind of centralized control that Facebook and others enjoy. For instance, users can already browse videos on DTube rather than YouTube, surf the web on the Blockstack browser rather than Safari, and store files using IPFS, a peer-to-peer file system, rather than Dropbox or Google Docs. To be sure, the decentralized application ecosystem is still a niche area that will take time to mature and work out the glitches. But as security improves over time with fixes to the underlying network architecture, distributed ledger technologies promise to make for a web that is both more secure and outside the control of major corporations and states.

If and when online activity migrates onto decentralized applications, the security and decentralization they provide will be a boon for privacy advocates and human rights dissidents. But it will also be a godsend for malicious actors. Most of these services have anonymity and public-key cryptography baked in, making accounts difficult to track back to real-life individuals or organizations. Moreover, once information is submitted to a decentralized application, it can be nearly impossible to take down. For instance, the IPFS protocol has no method for deletion—users can only add content, they cannot remove it.

For governments, civil society, and private actors, decentralized applications will thus pose an unprecedented challenge, as the current methods for responding to and disrupting disinformation campaigns will no longer apply. Whereas governments and civil society can ultimately appeal to Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey if they want to block or remove a malicious user or problematic content on Twitter, with decentralized applications, there won’t always be someone to turn to. If the Manchester bomber had viewed bomb-making instructions on a decentralized app rather than on YouTube, it’s not clear who authorities should or could approach about blocking the content.

Over the last three years, renewed attention to Russian disinformation efforts has sparked research and activities among a growing number of nonprofit organizations, governments, journalists, and activists. So far, these efforts have focused on documenting the mechanisms and actors involved in disinformation campaigns—tracking bot networks, identifying troll accounts, monitoring media narratives, and tracing the diffusion of disinformation content. They’ve also included governmental efforts to implement data protection and privacy policies, such as the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation, and legislative proposals to introduce more transparency and accountability into the online advertising space.

While these efforts are certainly valuable for raising awareness among the public and policymakers, by focusing on the end product (the content), they rarely delve into the underlying infrastructure and advertising marketsdriving disinformation campaigns. Doing so requires a deeper examination and assessment of the “back end” of disinformation. In other words, the algorithms and industries—the online advertising market, the SEO manipulation market, and data brokers—behind the end product. Increased automation paired with machine learning will transform this space as well.

To get ahead of these emerging threats, Europe and the United States should consider several policy responses.

First, the EU and the United States should commit significant funding to research and development at the intersection of AI and information warfare. In April, the European Commission called for at least 20 billion euros (about $23 billion) to be spent on research on AI by 2020, prioritizing the health, agriculture, and transportation sectors. None of the funds are earmarked for research and development specifically on disinformation. At the same time, current European initiatives to counter disinformation prioritize education and fact-checking while leaving out AI and other new technologies.

As long as tech research and counterdisinformation efforts run on parallel, disconnected tracks, little progress will be made in getting ahead of emerging threats.

As long as tech research and counterdisinformation efforts run on parallel, disconnected tracks, little progress will be made in getting ahead of emerging threats. In the United States, the government has been reluctant to step in to push forward tech research as Silicon Valley drives innovation with little oversight. The 2016 Obama administration report on the future of AI did not allocate funding, and the Trump administration has yet to release its own strategy. As revelations of Russian manipulation of digital platforms continue, it is becoming increasingly clear that governments will need to work together with private sector firms to identify vulnerabilities and national security threats.

Furthermore, the EU and the U.S. government should also move quickly to prevent the rise of misinformation on decentralized applications. The emergence of decentralized applications presents policymakers with a rare second chance: When social networks were being built a decade ago, lawmakers failed to anticipate the way in which they could be exploited by malicious actors. With such applications still a niche market, policymakers can respond before the decentralized web reaches global scale. Governments should form new public-private partnerships to help developers ensure that the next generation of the web isn’t as ripe for misinformation campaigns. A model could be the United Nations’ Tech Against Terrorism project, which works closely with small tech companies to help them design their platforms from the ground up to guard against terrorist exploitation.

Finally, legislators should continue to push for reforms in the digital advertising industry. As AI continues to transform the industry, disinformation content will become more precise and micro-targeted to specific audiences. AI will make it far easier for malicious actors and legitimate advertisers alike to track user behavior online, identify potential new users to target, and collect information about users’ attitudes, beliefs, and preferences.

In 2014, the U.S. Federal Trade Commission released a report calling for transparency and accountability in the data broker industry. The report called on Congress to consider legislation that would shine light on these firms’ activities by giving individuals access and information about how their data is collected and used online. The EU’s protection regulation goes a long way in giving users control over their data and limits how social media platforms process users’ data for ad-targeting purposes. Facebook is also experimenting with blocking foreign ad sales ahead of contentious votes. Still, the digital ads industry as a whole remains a black box to policymakers, and much more can still be done to limit data mining and regulate political ads online.

Effectively tracking and targeting each of the areas above won’t be easy. Yet policymakers need to start focusing on them now. If the EU’s new anti-disinformation effort and other related policies fail to track evolving technologies, they risk being antiquated before they’re even introduced.

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Popular Science’s Planet #9

 

The elusive Planet Nine might be responsible for this asteroid’s bizarre orbit

Something’s got the Kuiper belt’s rocks off, and there’s a scramble to find it.

Planet Nine

An artist’s interpretation of Planet Nine.

Kevin Gill via Flickr

For a few years now, the astronomy world has been hard at work searching for a ninth planet of the solar system (no, not Pluto, it’s time to move on). There’s evidence of something massive hanging around in the outer reaches of the solar system—10 times more massive than Earth, big enough to gravitationally warp the orbits of smaller objects in its vicinity, 10 to 20 times farther away than Pluto. And yet it apparently continues to hide in plain sight, eluding our best efforts to observe it directly. If a planet orbits the sun and nobody’s there to see it, is it even real?

The latest tantalizing bit of evidence to back up Planet Nine’s existence is an asteroid called 2015 BP519, first discovered three years ago in the vast reaches of the Kuiper belt (the region of the solar system beyond Neptune). We now know the asteroid possesses a bizarre elliptical orbit that suggests something gigantic is pulling at the little bugger as it tries to make its journey around the sun.

“I’m pretty excited about the new object,” says Caltech astronomer Mike Brown, one of the first people to characterize Planet Nine, who was not involved with the study. “It is the predicted link between the very distant elongated orbits that we’ve known about and the much closer tilted orbits that we’ve seen.”

In a new paper led by Juliette Becker, a graduate student at the University of Michigan, a group of researchers outline the discovery of BP519 through the Dark Energy Survey, an international collaboration that uses visible and near-infrared observations to study the expansion of the universe. It’s not exactly a typical object-hunting tool, but the DES is optimized for observing objects above the planet of the solar system—objects like BP519, which has an orbit tilted 54 degrees with respect to the solar system’s plane.

“The moment we saw its fitted orbit, we knew it was a remarkable object,” says Becker. “If the solar system is thought of as concentric rings sitting flat on a table, BP519’s orbit is another, larger oval tilted more than halfway up toward the ceiling.”

That’s where the influence of Planet Nine comes in. “Planet Nine, if it exists, could take objects that start out closer to the table and cause their orbits to change with time to eventually look like BP519’s orbit,” says Becker.

Besides its unique orbital inclination, we also know the object is perhaps the size of a dwarf planet, and its distance from the sun is about 450 times farther than Earth’s.

While other explanations could explain the asteroid’s strange orbit, such as a rogue star flying by the neighborhood, or a scattering effect created by a giant planet migration, none of those theories seem to fit the bill as well as Planet Nine. “At the moment, Planet Nine seems like the most likely culprit to me,” says Becker.

In addition, “this is the first discovery of a Kuiper belt object drawn from a population that was not already mapped out before our formulation of the Planet Nine hypothesis,” says Konstantin Batygin, a planetary scientist at Caltech who has led the investigation of Planet Nine in partnership with Brown. “Our theoretical models predict the existence of exactly this type of inclined orbit in the distant Kuiper belt, and seeing this prediction materialize into observational reality is extremely satisfying.”

Nevertheless, both Brown and Batygin emphasize the new discovery doesn’t do much in helping astronomers actually find Planet Nine. “We now know of so many objects influenced by Planet Nine, that adding a single extra one doesn’t significantly change our view,” says Brown. “Finding a few dozen more would be very helpful though!”

Nor is it certain BP519 even has anything to do with a new planet. “The only totally convincing evidence,” says Becker, “will be a direct detection of Planet Nine.” Something’s got the Kuiper belt’s rocks off, and there’s a scramble to find it.