What the Rise of Sentient Robots Will Mean for Human Beings

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF NBC MACH)

What the Rise of Sentient Robots Will Mean for Human Beings

Science fiction may have us worried about sentient robots, but it’s the mindless ones we need to be cautious of. Conscious machines may actually be our allies.

Jun.19.2017 / 12:45 PM ET

TERMINATOR GENISYS, Series T-800 Robot, 2015. ph: Melinda Sue Gordon/(C)Paramount Pictures/courtesy :: (C)Paramount/Courtesy Everett Collection / (C)Paramount/Courtesy Everett Collection
The series T-800 Robot in the “Terminator” movie franchise is an agent of Skynet, an artificial intelligence system that becomes self-aware. | Paramount/Courtesy Of Everett CollectionZombies and aliens may not be a realistic threat to our species. But there’s one stock movie villain we can’t be so sanguine about: sentient robots. If anything, their arrival is probably just a matter of time. But what will a world of conscious machines be like? Will there be a place in it for us?

Artificial intelligence research has been going through a recent revolution. AI systems can now outperform humans at playing chess and Go, recognizing faces, and driving safely. Even so, most researchers say truly conscious machines — ones that don’t just follow programs but have feelings and are self-aware — are decades away. First, the reasoning goes, researchers have to build a generalized intelligence, a single machine with the above talents and the capacity to learn more. Only then will AI reach the level of sophistication needed for consciousness.

But some think it won’t take nearly that long.

“People expect that self-awareness is going to be this end game of artificial intelligence when really there are no scientific pursuits where you start at the end,” says Justin Hart, a computer scientist at the University of Texas. He and other researchers are already building machines with rudimentary minds. One robot wriggles like a newborn baby to understand its body. Another robot babbles about what it sees and cries when you hit it. Another sets off to explore its world on its own.

No one claims that robots have a rich inner experience — that they have pride in floors they’ve vacuumed or delight in the taste of 120-volt current. But robots can now exhibit some similar qualities to the human mind, including empathy, adaptability, and gumption.

Related: Will Robots Take Over the World?

Beyond it just being cool to create robots, researchers design these cybernetic creatures because they’re trying to fix flaws in machine-learning systems. Though these systems may be powerful, they are simple. They work by relating input to output, like a test where you match items in column ‘A’ with items in column ‘B’. The AI systems basically memorize these associations. There’s no deeper logic behind the answers they give. And that’s a problem.

Humans can also be hard to read. We spend an inordinate amount of time analyzing ourselves and others, and arguably, that’s the main role of our conscious minds. If machines had minds, they might not be so inscrutable. We could simply ask them why they did what they did.

“If we could capture some of the structure of consciousness, it’s a good bet that we’d be producing some interesting capacity,” says Selmer Bringsjord, an AI researcher at the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, N.Y. Although science fiction may have us worried about sentient robots, it’s really the mindless robots we need to be cautious of. Conscious machines may actually be our allies.

Image::Children interact with the programmable humanoid robot "Pepper," developed by French robotics company Aldebaran Robotics, at the Global Robot Expo in Madrid in 2016.|||[object Object]
Children interact with the programmable humanoid robot “Pepper,” developed by French robotics company Aldebaran Robotics, at the Global Robot Expo in Madrid in 2016. AFP-Getty Images

ROBOT, KNOW THYSELF

Self-driving cars have some of the most advanced AI systems today. They decide where to steer and when to brake by taking constant radar and laser readings and feeding them into algorithms. But much of driving is anticipating other drivers’ maneuvers and responding defensively — functions that are associated with consciousness.

“Self-driving cars will have to read the minds of what other self-driving cars want to do,” says Paul Verschure, a neuroscientist at Universitat Pompeu Fabra in Barcelona.

As a demonstration of how that might look, Hod Lipson, an engineering professor at Columbia University and co-author of a recent book on self-driving cars, and Kyung-Joong Kim at Sejong University in Seoul, South Korea built the robotic equivalent of a crazy driver. The small round robot (about the size of a hockey puck) moves on a loopy path according to its own logic. Then a second robot is set with the goal of intercepting the first robot no matter where the first one started, so it couldn’t record a fixed route; it had to divine the moving robot’s logic.

People expect that self-awareness is going to be this end game of AI when really there are no scientific pursuits where you start at the end.

 

Using a procedure that mimicked Darwinian evolution, Lipson and Kim crafted an interception strategy. “It had basically developed a duplicate of the brain of the actor — not perfect, but good enough that it could anticipate what it’s going to do,” Lipson says.

Lipson’s team also built a robot that can develop an understanding of its body. The four-legged spidery machine is about the size of a large tarantula. When switched on, its internal computer has no prior information about itself. “It doesn’t know how its motors are arranged, what its body plan is,” Lipson says

But it has the capacity to learn. It makes all the actions it is capable of to see what happens: how, for example, turning on a motor bends a leg joint. “Very much like a baby, it babbles,” Lipson says. “It moves its motors in a random way.”

After four days of flailing, it realizes it has four legs and figures out how to coordinate and move them so it can slither across the floor. When Lipson unplugs one of the motors, the robot realizes it now has only three legs and that its actions no longer produce the intended effects.

“I would argue this robot is self-aware in a very primitive way,” Lipson says.

Could Robots Create a ‘Jobless Future’ for Humans?

Another humanlike capability that researchers would like to build into AI is initiative. Machines excel at playing the game Go because humans directed the machines to solve it. They can’t define problems on their own, and defining problems is usually the hard part.

In a forthcoming paper for the journal “Trends in Cognitive Science,” Ryota Kanai, a neuroscientist and founder of a Tokyo-based startup Araya discusses how to give machines intrinsic motivation. In a demonstration, he and his colleagues simulated agents driving a car in a virtual landscape that includes a hill too steep for the car to climb unless it gets a running start. If told to climb the hill, the agents figure out how to do so. Until they receive this command, the car sits idle.

Then Kanai’s team endowed these virtual agents with curiosity. They surveyed the landscape, identified the hill as a problem, and figured out how to climb it even without instruction.

“We did not give a goal to the agent,” Kanai says. “The agent just explores the environment to learn what kind of situation it is in by making predictions about the consequence of its own action.”

Related: This Robot Can Compose Its Own Music

The trick is to give robots enough intrinsic motivation to make them better problem solvers, and not so much that they quit and walk out of the lab. Machines can prove as stubborn as humans. Joscha Bach, an AI researcher at Harvard, put virtual robots into a “Minecraft”-like world filled with tasty but poisonous mushrooms. He expected them to learn to avoid them. Instead, they stuffed their mouths.

“They discounted future experiences in the same way as people did, so they didn’t care,” Bach says. “These mushrooms were so nice to eat.” He had to instill an innate aversion into the bots. In a sense, they had to be taught values, not just goals.

PAYING ATTENTION

In addition to self-awareness and self-motivation, a key function of consciousness is the capacity to focus your attention. Selective attention has been an important area in AI research lately, not least by Google DeepMind, which developed the Go-playing computer.

Image::China's 19-year-old Go player Ke Jie prepares to make a move during the second match against Google's artificial intelligence program.|||[object Object]
China’s 19-year-old Go player Ke Jie prepares to make a move during the second match against Google’s artificial intelligence program. AFP – Getty Images / AFP Or Licensors

“Consciousness is an attention filter,” says Stanley Franklin, a computer science professor at the University of Memphis. In a paper published last year in the journal “Biologically Inspired Cognitive Architectures,” Franklin and his colleagues reviewed their progress in building an AI system called LIDA that decides what to concentrate on through a competitive process, as suggested by neuroscientist Bernard Baars in the 1980s. The processes watch for interesting stimuli — loud, bright, exotic — and then vie for dominance. The one that prevails determines where the mental spotlight falls and informs a wide range of brain function, including deliberation and movement. The cycle of perception, attention, and action repeats five to 10 times a second.

The first version of LIDA was a job-matching server for the U.S. Navy. It read emails and focused on pertinent information while juggling each job hunter’s interests, the availability of jobs, and the requirements of government bureaucracy.

Since then, Franklin’s team has used the system to model animals’ minds, especially behavioral quirks that result from focusing on one thing at a time. For example, LIDA is just as prone as humans are to a curious psychological phenomenon known as “attentional blink.” When something catches your attention, you become oblivious to anything else for about half a second. This cognitive blind spot depends on many factors and LIDA shows humanlike responses to these same factors.

Pentti Haikonen, a Finnish AI researcher, has built a robot named XCR-1 on similar principles. Whereas other researchers make modest claims — create some quality of consciousness — Haikonen argues that his creation is capable of genuine subjective experience and basic emotions.

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This giant mech, made by a mysterious South Korean robotics company, doesn’t exactly have a purpose yet but one can certainly imagine a few uses and most of them involve war, destruction, or both.

INNOVATION
Giant Robot Is Action Movies Come To Life

The system learns to make associations much like the neurons in our brains do. If Haikonen shows the robot a green ball and speaks the word “green,” the vision and auditory modules respond and become linked. If Haikonen says “green” again, the auditory module will respond and, through the link, so will the vision module. The robot will proceed as if it heard the word and saw the color, even if it’s staring into an empty void. Conversely, if the robot sees green, the auditory module will respond, even if the word wasn’t uttered. In short, the robot develops a kind of synesthesia.

Conversely, if the robot sees green, the auditory module will respond, even if the word wasn’t uttered. In short, the robot develops a kind of synesthesia.

“If we see a ball, we may say so to ourselves, and at that moment our perception is rather similar to the case when we actually hear that word,” Haikonen says. “The situation in the XCR-1 is the same.”

Things get interesting when the modules clash — if, for example, the vision module sees green while the auditory module hears “blue.” If the auditory module prevails, the system as a whole turns its attention to the word it hears while ignoring the color it sees. The robot has a simple stream of consciousness consisting of the perceptions that dominate it moment by moment: “green,” “ball,” “blue,” and so on. When Haikonen wires the auditory module to a speech engine, the robot will keep a running monolog about everything it sees and feels.

Haikonen also gives vibration a special significance as “pain,” which preempts other sensory inputs and consumes the robot’s attention. In one demonstration, Haikonen taps the robot and it blurts, “Me hurt.”

“Some people get emotionally disturbed by this, for some reason,” Haikonen says. (He and others are unsentimental about the creations. “I’m never like, ‘Poor robot,’” Verschure says.)

A NEW SPECIES

Building on these early efforts, researchers will develop more lifelike machines. We could see a continuum of conscious systems, just as there is in nature, from amoebas to dogs to chimps to humans and beyond. The gradual progress of this technology is good because it gives us time adjust to the idea that, one day, we won’t be the only advanced beings on the planet.

Image::A child reaches out to a robotic dog at the World Robot Conference in Beijing in 2016.|||[object Object]
A child reaches out to a robotic dog at the World Robot Conference in Beijing in 2016. AP / Copyright 2016 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.

For a long while, our artificial companions will be vulnerable — more pet than threat. How we treat them will hinge on whether we recognize them as conscious and as capable of suffering.

“The reason that we value non-human animals, to the extent that people do, is that we see, based on our own consciousness, the light of consciousness within them as well,” says Susan Schneider, a philosopher at the University of Connecticut who studies the implications of AI. In fact, she thinks we will deliberately hold back from building conscious machines to avoid the moral dilemmas it poses.

“If you’re building conscious systems and having them work for us, that would be akin to slavery,” Schneider says. By the same token, if we don’t give advanced robots the gift of sentience, it worsens the threat they may eventually pose to humanity because they will see no particular reason to identify with us and value us.

Related: Speedy Delivery Bots May Change Our Buying Habits

Judging by what we’ve seen so far, conscious machines will inherit our human vulnerabilities. If robots have to anticipate what other robots do, they will treat one another as creatures with agency. Like us, they may start attributing agency to inanimate objects: stuffed animals, carved statues, the wind.

Last year, social psychologists Kurt Gray of the University of North Carolina and the late Daniel Wegner suggested in their book “The Mind Club” that this instinct was the origin of religion. “I would like to see a movie where the robots develop a religion because we have engineered them to have an intentionality prior so that they can be social,” Verschure says. ”But their intentionality prior runs away.”

These machines will vastly exceed our problem-solving ability, but not everything is a solvable problem. The only response they could have to conscious experience is to revel in it, and with their expanded ranges of sensory perception, they will see things people wouldn’t believe.

“I don’t think a future robotic species is going to be heartless and cold, as we sometimes imagine robots to be,” Lipson says. “They’ll probably have music and poetry that we’ll never understand.”

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Army Grooms Jammu and Kashmir Kids For IIT, General Rawat Has Message

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF NDTV)

As Army Grooms Jammu and Kashmir Kids For IIT, General Rawat Has Message

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As Army Grooms Jammu and Kashmir Kids For IIT, General Rawat Has Message

General Bipin Rawat met Jammu and Kashmir students coached by the Army under its ‘Super 40’ initiative.

NEW DELHI:  For young men and women picking up stones in Kashmir, Army Chief General Bipin Rawat has a message: Pick up books, not stones.  And he has some inspiring stories to share – that of 35 children from Jammu and Kashmir who prepped for engineering schools under the army’s ‘Super 40’ initiative.
Nine of them have made it to the prestigious Indian Institutes of Technology this year. The rest have qualified for other engineering schools across India. On Tuesday, the Army Chief came face-to-face with the 35-odd students, a sharp contrast to the ones that the army usually deals with in Jammu and Kashmir.This group had quietly enrolled for coaching under the army’s initiative to give children from the state a better chance to join the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) when their friends were out on the streets..

General Rawat hoped there were more like them in Kashmir.

“They (the youth) should either have a laptop or a book. Whatever time they get they should devote to studies,” General Rawat told the young students according to Press Trust of India, his remarks aimed at the youth back home who have been turning up on the streets in Kashmir, often with stones in their hand, to target security forces.

In recent weeks, the Army Chief has come out strongly in support of army officers using innovative measures to fight what he had called was a proxy war, a “dirty war”.

At one point, he had suggested in an interview that it would have been much simpler if it had people firing weapons at them, instead of flinging stones. “Then I would have been happy. Then I could do what I (want to do),” he told Press Trust of India last month in an interview that echoed the predicament of the army officers in dealing with youngsters.

On Tuesday, General Rawat also told the young students born well after militancy peaked in the 1990s that he had served in the state in 1981-82 when the “situation was good”. The situation started deteriorating during his second posting between 1991 and 1993, the Army Chief said, noting that he also had stints in J-K from 2006-2008 and then from 2010-12.

“Generations have been destroyed due to this. The fear that has set in the mind of people of Kashmir and the youth… (that) a militant or the security forces will come… So you have militants on one side and security forces on the other. How long will we stay in this atmosphere? We have to put an end to it. We wish that peace is restored there and we carry out our daily work without any problem,” Gen Rawat told the students who had broken all previous records this year.

An army statement said a record 26 boys and two girls from the state had cracked the IIT-JEE Mains Exam 2017 including nine cleared the IIT Advanced Exam. This was the first batch in which five girls from Kashmir valley were coached. A PTI report said the ‘Super 40’ students who did not clear the IIT-JEE Mains exam had made it through the state’s entrance test for engineering.

A Calendar Tells Us Our Age: Our Mind And Body Do Not Have To Agree

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF NAUTILUS: SCIENCE AND AUTHOR ANIL ANANTHASWAMY)

In 1979, psychologist Ellen Langer and her students carefully refurbished an old monastery in Peterborough, New Hampshire, to resemble a place that would have existed two decades earlier. They invited a group of elderly men in their late 70s and early 80s to spend a week with them and live as they did in 1959, “a time when an IBM computer filled a whole room and panty hose had just been introduced to U.S. women,” Langer wrote. Her idea was to return the men, at least in their minds, to a time when they were younger and healthier—and to see if it had physiological consequences.

Every day Langer and her students met with the men to discuss “current” events. They talked about the first United States satellite launch, Fidel Castro entering Havana after his march across Cuba, and the Baltimore Colts winning the NFL championship game. They discussed “current” books: Ian Fleming’s Goldfinger and Leon Uris’ Exodus. They watched Ed Sullivan and Jack Benny and Jackie Gleason on a black-and-white TV, listened to Nat King Cole on the radio, and saw Marilyn Monroe in Some Like It Hot. Everything was transporting the men back to 1959.

When Langer studied the men after a week of such sensory and mindful immersion in the past, she found that their memory, vision, hearing, and even physical strength had improved. She compared the traits to those of a control group of men, who had also spent a week in a retreat. The control group, however, had been told the experiment was about reminiscing. They were not told to live as if it were 1959. The first group, in a very objective sense, seemed younger. The team took photographs of the men before and after the experiment, and people who knew nothing about the study said the men looked younger in the after-pictures, says Langer, who today is a professor of psychology at Harvard University.

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IN THE YEAR 1959A psychology experiment that took seniors back to a time when they were young—1959, to be exact, evoked by the images above—revealed that living as they did in 1959 improved their memory, vision, and hearing.
Clockwise: Robert Riger / Getty Images; Wikipedia; Wikipedia; Luis Korda/ Wikipedia; Wikipedia; Wikipedia

Langer’s experiment was a tantalizing demonstration that our chronological age based on our birthdate is a misleading indicator of aging. Langer, of course, was tackling the role of the mind in how old we feel and act. Since her study, others have taken a more objective look at the aging body. The goal is to determine an individual’s “biological age,” a term that aims to capture the body’s physiological development and decline with time, and predict, with reasonable accuracy, the risks of disease and death. As scientists have worked to pinpoint a person’s biological age, they have learned that organs and tissues often age differently, making it difficult to reduce biological age to a single number. They have also made a discovery that echoes Langer’s work. How old we feel—our subjective age—can influence how we age. Where age is concerned, the pages torn off a calendar do not tell the whole story.

While we intuitively know what it means to grow old, precise definitions of aging haven’t been easy to come by. In 1956, British gerontologist and author Alex Comfort (later famous for writing The Joy of Sex) memorably defined senescence as “a decrease in viability and an increase in vulnerability.” Any given individual, he wrote, would die from “randomly distributed causes.” Evolutionary biologists think of aging as something that reduces our ability to survive and reproduce because of “internal physiological deterioration.” Such deterioration, in turn, can be understood in terms of cellular functions: The older the cells in an organ, the more likely they are to stop dividing and die, or develop mutations that lead to cancer. This leads us to the idea that our bodies may have a true biological age.

The road to determining that age, though, has not been a straight one. One approach is to look for so-called biomarkers of aging, something that’s changing in the body and can be used as a predictor of the likelihood of being struck by age-related diseases or of how much longer one has left to live. An obvious set of biomarkers could be attributes like blood pressure or body weight. Both tend to go up as the body ages. But they are unreliable. Blood pressure can be affected by medication and body weight depends on lifestyle and diet, and there are people who certainly don’t gain weight as they age.

Where age is concerned, the pages torn off  calendar do not tell the whole story.

In the 1990s, one promising biomarker stood out: stretches of DNA called telomeres. They appear at the ends of chromosomes, serving as caps that protect the chromosomes from fraying. Telomeres have often been likened to the plastic tips that similarly protect shoelaces. It turns out that telomeres themselves get shorter and shorter each time a cell divides. And when the telomere shortens beyond a point, the cell dies. There’s a strong relationship between telomere length and health and diseases, such as cancer and atherosclerosis.

But despite a range of studies trying to find such a link, it’s been hard to make the case for telomeres as accurate biomarkers of aging. In 2013, Anne Newman, director of the Center for Aging and Population Health at the University of Pittsburgh, and her student Jason Sanders reviewed the existing literature on telomeres and concluded that “if telomere length is a biomarker of human aging, it is a weak biomarker with poor predictive accuracy.”

“Twenty years ago, people had high hopes that telomere length could actually explain aging, as in biological aging. There was a hope that it would be the root cause of aging,” says Steve Horvath, a geneticist and biostatistician at the University of California, Los Angeles. “Now we know that that’s simply not the case. In the last 10 to 15 years, people realized that there must be other mechanisms that play an important role in aging.”

Attention shifted to how fast stem cells are being depleted in the body, or the efficacy of mitochondria (the organelles inside our cells that produce the energy needed for cells to function). Horvath scoured the data for reliable markers, looking at, for example, levels of gene expression for any strong correlations to aging. He found none.

But that didn’t mean there weren’t reliable biomarkers. There was one set of data Horvath had been studiously avoiding. This had to do with DNA methylation, a process cells use to switch off genes. Methylation mainly involves the addition of a so-called methyl group to cytosine, one of the four main bases that make up strands of DNA. Because DNA methylation does not alter the core genetic sequence, but rather modifies gene expression externally, the process is called epigenetics.

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EPIGENETIC CLOCKUCLA geneticist Steve Horvath (above) identified methylation levels on the human genome that serve as remarkable signs of biological aging. “I had never seen anything like it,” he says. “It’s a cliché, but it really was a smoking gun.”
Courtesy of Steve Horvath

Horvath didn’t think that epigenetics would have anything to do with aging. “I had data sitting there and I would not really touch them, because I thought there was no meaning in it anyway,” he says.

But some time in 2009, Horvath gave in and analyzed a dataset of methylation levels at 27,000 locations on the human genome—an analysis “you can do in an hour,” he says. Nothing in his 10 years of analyzing genomic datasets had prepared him for the results. “I had never seen anything like it,” he says. “It’s a cliché, but it really was a smoking gun.”

Because their minds were taken back to a time when they were younger, their bodies went back too.

After a few more years of “labor intensive” work, Horvath identified 353 special sites on the human genome that were present in cells in every tissue and organ. Horvath developed an algorithm that used the methylation levels at these 353 sites—regardless of the cell type—to establish an epigenetic clock. His algorithm took into account that in some of these 353 sites, the methylation levels decreased with age, while in others they increased.

In 2013, Horvath published the results of his analysis of 8,000 samples taken from 51 types of healthy tissue and cells, and the conclusions were striking. When he calculated a single number for the biological age of the person based on the weighted average of the methylation levels at the 353 sites, he found that this number correlated well with the chronological age of the person (it was off by less than 3.6 years in 50 percent of the people—a far better correlation than has been obtained for any other biomarker). He also discovered that for middle-aged people and older, the epigenetic clock starts slowing down or speeding up—providing a way of telling whether someone is aging faster or slower than the calendar suggests.

Despite the correlation, Horvath says that biological age, rather than being for the whole body, is better applied to specific tissues and organs, whether it’s bone, blood, heart, lungs, muscles, or even the brain. The difference between the biological age and chronological age can be negative, zero, or positive. A negative deviation means that the tissue or organ is younger than expected; a zero indicates that the tissue is aging normally; and a positive deviation means the tissue or organ is older. Data show that different tissues can age at different rates.

In general, diseases speed up the epigenetic clock, and this is particularly striking in patients with Down’s syndrome or in those infected with HIV. In both cases, the tissues tend to age faster than normal. For instance, the blood and brain tissue in those infected with HIV show accelerated aging. Obesity causes the liver to age faster. And studies of people who died of Alzheimer’s disease show that the prefrontal cortex undergoes accelerated aging. Horvath also analyzed 6,000 samples of cancerous tissue and found that the epigenetic clock was ticking much faster in such cases, showing that the tissue had aged significantly more than the chronological age.

Despite this wealth of data, there is a gaping hole in our understanding of this striking correlation between methylation markers and biological age. “The biggest weakness of the epigenetic clock is that we just don’t understand the precise molecular mechanism behind it,” says Horvath. His speculation—and he stresses it’s just speculation—is that the epigenetic clock is related to what he calls the “epigenetic maintenance system,” molecular and enzymatic processes that maintain the epigenome and protect it from damage. “I feel that these markers are a footprint of that mechanism,” says Horvath. But “why is it so accurate? What pathway relates to it? That’s the biggest challenge right now,” he adds.

Even without understanding exactly how and why it works, the epigenetic clock gives researchers a tool to test the efficacy of anti-aging interventions that can potentially slow aging. “It’d be very exciting to develop a therapy that allows us to reset the epigenetic clock,” says Horvath.

While Horvath is thinking about hormonal treatments, Langer’s work with elderly men at the monastery in New Hampshire suggests that we can use the power of our mind to influence the body. Langer didn’t publish her results in a scientific journal in 1979. At the time, she didn’t have the resources to do a thorough study for the leading journals. “When you run a retreat over the course of five days, it’s very hard to control for everything,” Langer says. “Also, I didn’t have the funds to have, for instance, a vacationing control group. I could have published it in a second-rate journal, but I didn’t see any point to that. I wanted to get the information out there and I wrote it first in a book for Oxford University Press, so it was reviewed.”

Also, her argument that mind and body are one was potentially a little too path-breaking for the journals. “I think they were unlikely to buy the theoretical part of it,” she says. “The findings, improving vision and hearing in an elderly population, were so unusual that they were not going to rush to publish and stick their necks out.” Since then, Langer has pursued the mind-body connection and its effects on physiology and aging in rigorous studies that have been published in numerous scientific journals and books.

Traditionally, the mind-body problem refers to the difficulty of explaining how our ostensibly non-material mental states can affect the material body (clearly seen in the placebo effect). To Langer, the mind and body are one. “Wherever you put the mind you are necessarily putting the body,” she says.

So Langer began asking if subjective mental states could influence something as objective as the levels of blood sugar in patients with Type 2 diabetes. The 46 subjects in her study, all suffering from Type 2 diabetes, were asked to play computer games for 90 minutes. On their desk was a clock. They were asked to switch games every 15 minutes. The twist in the study was that for one-third of the subjects, the clock was ticking slower than real time, for one-third it was going faster, and for the last third, the clock was keeping real time.

Most of us are slaves to our chronological age.

“The question we were asking was would blood sugar level follow real or perceived time,” says Langer. “And the answer is perceived time.” This was a striking illustration of psychological processes—in this case the subjective perception of time—influencing metabolic processes in the body that control the level of blood sugar.

Although Langer did not explore a connection between the mind and epigenetic changes, other studies suggest such a link. In 2013, Richard Davidson of the University of Wisconsin at Madison and his colleagues reported that even one day of mindfulness meditation can impact the expression of genes. In their study, 19 experienced meditators were studied before and after a full day of intensive meditation. For control, the researchers similarly studied a group of 21 people who engaged in a full day of leisure. At the end of the day, the meditators showed lowered levels of activity of inflammatory genes—exactly the kind of effect seen when one takes anti-inflammatory drugs. The study also showed lowered activity of genes that are involved in epigenetically controlling expressions of other genes. The state of one’s mind, it seems, can have an epigenetic effect.

Such studies taken together provide clues as to why the week-long retreat in New Hampshire reversed some of the age-related attributes in elderly men. Because their minds were taken back to a time when they were younger, their bodies too went back to that earlier time, bringing about some of the physiological changes that resulted in improved hearing or grip strength.

But it’s important to point out that biological aging is an inexorable process—and there comes a time when no amount of thinking positive thoughts can halt aging. If body and mind are one and the same—as Langer suggests—then an aging body and aging mind go hand-in-hand, limiting our ability to influence physiological decline with psychological deftness.

Still, Langer thinks that how we age has a lot to do with our perceptions of what aging means—often reinforced by culture and society. “Whether it’s about aging or anything else, if you are surrounded by people who have certain expectations for you, you tend to meet those expectations, positive or negative,” says Langer.

Most of us are slaves to our chronological age, behaving, as the saying goes, age-appropriately. For example, young people often take steps to recover from a minor injury, whereas someone in their 80s may accept the pain that comes with the injury and be less proactive in addressing the problem. “Many people, because of societal expectations, all too often say, ‘Well, what do you expect, as you get older you fall apart,’ ” says Langer. “So, they don’t do the things to make themselves better, and it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.”

It’s this perception of one’s age, or subjective age, that interests Antonio Terracciano, a psychologist and gerontologist at Florida State University College of Medicine. Horvath’s work shows that biological age is correlated with diseases. Can one say the same thing about subjective age?

People’s perception of their own age can differ markedly from person to person. People between the ages of 40 and 80, for example, tend to think they are younger. People who are 60 may say that they feel like they are 50 or 55, or sometimes even 45. Rarely will they say they feel older. However, people in their 20s often perceive their age to be the same as their chronological age, and may say they feel somewhat older.

Terracciano and colleagues have found that subjective age correlates with certain physiological markers of aging, such as grip strength, walking speed, lung capacity, and even the levels of C-reactive protein in the blood, an indication of inflammation in the body. The younger you feel you are, the better are these indicators of age and health: You walk faster, have better grip strength and lung capacity, and less inflammation.

Subjective age affects cognition and is an indicator of the likelihood of developing dementia. Terracciano and colleagues looked at data collected from 5,748 people aged 65 or older. The subjects’ cognitive abilities were evaluated to establish a baseline and they were then followed for a period of up to four years. The subjects were also asked about how old they felt at each instance. The researchers found that those who had a higher subjective age to start with were more likely to develop cognitive impairments and even dementia.

These correlation studies have limitations, however. For example, it’s possible that physically active people, who have better walking speed and lung capacity, and lower levels of C-reactive protein in their blood, naturally feel younger. How can one establish that our subjective age influences physiology and not the other way around?

That’s exactly what Yannick Stephan of the University of Grenoble in France and colleagues tried to find out. They recruited 49 adults, aged between 52 and 91, and divided them into an experimental and control group. Both groups were first asked their subjective age—how old they felt as opposed to their chronological age—and tested for grip strength to establish a baseline. The experimental group was told they had done better than 80 percent of people their age. The control group received no feedback. After this experimental manipulation, both groups were tested again for grip strength and asked about how old they felt. The experimental group reported feeling, on average, younger than their baseline subjective age. No such change was seen in the control group. Also, the experimental group showed an increase in grip strength, while the grip strength of the control decreased somewhat.

These correlations do not necessarily mean that feeling young causes better health. Terracciano’s next step is to correlate subjective age with quantitative biological markers of age. While no study has yet been done to find associations between the newly developed epigenetic markers and subjective age, Terracciano is keen to see if there are strong correlations.

Still, the message seems to be that our chronological age really is just a number. “If people think that because they are getting older they cannot do things, or cut their social ties, or incorporate this negative view which limits their life, that can be really detrimental,” says Terracciano. “Fighting those negative attitudes, challenging yourself, keeping an open mind, being engaged socially, can absolutely have a positive impact.”

World leaders for Silk Road talks

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE SHANGHAI DAILY NEWS)

World leaders for Silk Road talks

The Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation will be held from May 14 to 15 in Beijing and President Xi Jinping will attend the opening ceremony and host the round table summit of the leaders, Foreign Minister Wang Yi said yesterday.

Xi has championed the “One Belt, One Road” initiative to build a new Silk Road linking Asia, Africa and Europe, a landmark program to invest billions of dollars in infrastructure projects.

China has dedicated US$40 billion to a Silk Road Fund and the idea was the driving force behind the establishment of the US$50 billion Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank.

Among those attending will be Russian President Vladimir Putin, Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen.

Myanmar’s Aung San Suu Kyi, Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev, Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak and Indonesian President Joko Widodo will also be attending the forum.

British finance minister Philip Hammond will come as Prime Minister Theresa May’s representative, while Germany and France will send high-level representatives.

Wang confirmed Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte as one of the leaders coming, along with the Spanish, Greek, Hungarian, Serb and Polish prime ministers and Swiss and Czech presidents.

“This is an economic cooperation forum, an international cooperation platform that everyone is paying attention to, supports and hopes to participate in,” Wang said.

“One Belt, One Road is to date the most important public good China has given to the world, first proposed by China but for all countries to enjoy,” said.

“The culture and historical genes of One Belt, One Road come from the old Silk Road, so it takes Eurasia as its main region,” he said, adding that representatives of 110 countries would attend the forum.

A section of the New Silk Road is in Pakistan, where some projects run through the disputed Kashmir region.

Wang dismissed concerns, saying the Pakistan project had no direct connection to the dispute and India was welcome to participate in the New Silk Road.

“Indian friends have said to us that One Belt, One Road is a very good suggestion,” he said.

During the forum, China is expected to sign cooperative documents with nearly 20 countries and more than 20 international organizations, Wang told reporters.

China will work with countries along the route on action plans concerning infrastructure, energy and resources, production capacity, trade and investment, which will help to turn the grand blueprint into a clear roadmap, he said.

Another task of the forum will be to push forward delivery of cooperative projects, Wang said.

During the forum, parties will identify major cooperative projects, set up working groups and establish an investment cooperation center.

China will also work with all parties on a set of measures that will include improved financial cooperation, a cooperation platform for science, technology and environmental protection, and enhanced exchanges and training of talent.

Participants will sign financing agreements to support their cooperative projects, Wang said.

China will use the forum to build a more open and efficient international cooperation platform; a closer, stronger partnership network; and to push for a more just, reasonable and balanced international governance system, Wang said.

The Army’s New Glasses Can Switch From Light To Dark Tint In Under A Second

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF TASK AND PURPOSE’S WEBSITE)

The Army’s New Glasses Can Switch From Light To Dark Tint In Under A Second

on April 17, 2017

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The Army is pulling out all the stops in its race to make soldiers look as futuristic as possible — and be as safe as possible. Part of the Soldier Protection System, there’s new armor in the works, as well as a new helmet, which looks it was pulled from science fiction, or Airsoft. But the service isn’t forgetting the little things, like the importance of seeing what you’re shooting at, which is why it’s creating new glasses and goggles.

Because the new helmet’s visor isn’t tinted, the new eyewear, officially called Transition Combat Eye Protection, automatically switches from a clear setting to a dark tint, and then back again, depending on the amount of light, according to PEO Soldier.

 

In less than a second, soldiers operating in sunny arid environments will be able to adjust quickly and easily, without carrying around multiple expensive glasses that are just going to get lost.

RELATED: THE ARMY JUST STARTED PRODUCING ITS BRAND NEW BALLISTICS HELMET_ »

At $200 a piece, soldiers will have just one expensive piece of gear to lose. What could go wrong? The eyewear won’t be on the list of items soldiers are required to carry, according to Army Times, but they’re authorized to use and commanders can purchase them for their troops if they want to, because that’s sure to happen.

Full body armor Soldier Protection System poster

Looking at the glasses and goggles, then back to the helmet, it does make you wonder: If the idea is to help soldiers operate more easily in varying light conditions, it would be a bit of a pain to get to the button on the eyewear to turn it on, especially while wearing a helmet which encases your head. Fortunately, once the glasses or goggles are on, the transition is automatic. Just don’t forget to activate them before heading out.

The article has been updated to clarify that the TCEP system transitions from light to dark automatically once turned on, according to a statement received from PEO Soldier after publication.  (Updated 4/17/17, 3:18 pm EST).

The Army’s New Modified Stryker Has A Special Laser Surprise For ISIS

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF TASK AND PURPOSE WEBSITE)

The Army’s New Modified Stryker Has A Special Laser Surprise For ISIS

on April 17, 2017

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In their fight against ISIS, American troops face a dangerous and unpredictable new threat on foreign battlefields: weaponized drones specially designed for suicide missions. And while all branches of the military are exploring advanced gear for combat troops that will counter the new threat of “flying IEDs,” the Army has already whipped up a special armored vehicle to keep soldiers out of harm’s way.

Last week, the Army unveiled a specially modified Stryker Infantry Carrier Vehicle (ICV) prototype outfitted with a special surprise for ISIS militants: an experimental laser weapon that can shoot down enemy drones without firing a single round — or making a sound.

Dubbed the Mobile High Energy Laser (MEHEL), the Army showed off the Stryker at the Maneuver Fires Integrated Experiment (MFIX) at Fort Sill, Oklahoma, blasting more than 50 remote-controlled test targets out of the sky with its 5 kilowatt laser cannon. Here’s the Army account of the test:

On a television screen in a nearby tent off Thompson Hill — a range used during the 10-day Maneuver Fires Integrated Experiment here — observers watched the black and white output of those sensors on two flat-screen televisions, April 12. A crosshair was centered on the screen. When what appeared to be a drone entered the frame, the crosshairs locked on to it and followed it.

After a few attempts to destroy the drone with the laser, the drone fell from the sky, crashing to the ground. Not a bullet was fired, and no sounds were made by the system that accomplished the kill.

“We were skeptical at first, when we were first briefed we’d be shooting down drones with lasers,” the MEHEL commander, Army Capt. Theo Kleinsorge, said of the demonstration. “We achieved a success rate well beyond what we expected we’d have and we are excited to see this go to the next step of the experiment, shooting beyond the horizon, and showing this technology can solve the problem.”

This Mobile High-Energy Laser-equipped Stryker was evaluated, April 12, during the 2017 Maneuver Fires Integrated Experiment at Fort Sill, Oklahoma.

The Army’s Stryker Brigade Combat Teams, already a favorite combat support platform for decades, were slated for upgrades as of 2016, including a medium-caliber cannon and Javelin anti-tank missiles. But given the emerging threats posed by ISIS UAVs, the MEHEL seems like an appropriate pivot for the Pentagon. The War Zone has a great breakdown of the MEHEL’s specs:

A basic Stryker ICV weighs in at nearly 16.5 tons, has a top speed of over 60 miles per hour on improved roads, and usually carries a .50 caliber M2 machine gun or a 40mm Mk 19 automatic grenade launcher. The MEHEL still has a machine gun, but its main weapon is a five kilowatt laser. On top of the laser, the vehicle had has powerful cameras to detect and track targets, as well as electronic warfare equipment. The latter system can try and crash an unmanned aircraft by jamming the signal from its control station, as well as try and pinpoint the location of those sites.

This isn’t the first time the Army has experimented with direct-energy weapons to counter enemy drones. In 2016, the Army’s Space and Missile Defense Command demonstrated the High Energy Laser Mobile Test Truck (HELMTT), outfitted with a 10 kilowatt laser director, during last year’s MFIX.

“Our team did a great job,” SMDC Technical Center HELMTT demonstrator program manager Adam Aberle said at the time. “We absolutely blew lots of stuff up.”

Despite the spectacular test at the 2017 MFIX, it’s unclear when the MEHEL will actually deploy downrange to Afghanistan and Iraq. But based on the excitement of program managers and observers on hand to watch the MEHEL in action, lasers can’t hit the battlefield soon enough.

“It’s mind-blowing stuff to think you are shooting a laser at something,” Spc. Brandon Sallaway said of the MEHEL test at Fort Sill. “Sometimes it’s hard to fathom.”

Earth-Sized Telescope Just Took The First-Ever Photo Of A Black Hole: How It Will Test Theory Of Relativity

  • (THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF TECH TIMES)

Earth-Sized Telescope Just Took The First-Ever Photo Of A Black Hole: How It Will Test Theory Of Relativity

15 April 2017, 10:37 pm EDT By Katrina Pascual Tech Times
  

New images captured by the Event Horizon Telescope will help test basic predictions of Einstein’s general theory of relativity in the extreme-physics environment of black holes.

( ESO/O. Furtak )

Ten nights of staunch observation may have led astronomers to successfully peer inside a black hole and take an image of its event horizon, or its point of no return.

The mass of data collected is now on its way to two supercomputers in the United States and Germany to confirm in early 2018 if it is indeed the very first capture of the renowned gravitational sinkhole.

Black Hole Information Paradox

The ultimate goal for researchers was getting a picture of a region surrounding the black hole. This is the event horizon, or the boundary beyond which not even light can escape the object’s massive grasp.

Albert Einstein’s general theory of relativity, born in 1915 and which details how gravity affects the cosmos, has the existence of extremely massive black holes as one of its first predictions.

“They are the ultimate endpoint of space and time, and may represent the ultimate limit of our knowledge,” said radio astronomer Heino Falcke of Radboud University in the Netherlands, adding that the first images will turn black holes from mythical things to concrete evidence that scientists can actually study.

Einstein’s theory notes that all the information crossing a black hole’s event horizon gets lost forever. Yet according to quantum mechanics, information can never be lost.

Back in the 1970s, astrophysicist Stephen Hawking found that black holes can disappear, and so information can be lost forever. The theoretical structure that quantum mechanics puts forward is therefore compromised if the particles’ information could indeed be lost in the black hole.

Event Horizon Telescope

All the scientific inquiry and ambition has led to the widely ambitious Event Horizon Telescope, an international collaboration linking eight observatories to create a virtual telescope dish as wide as Earth. While the method is nothing new, it is the first time that a project is done on a large scale.

The radio-dish network went to work on a 10-day window starting April 4, peering at two supermassive black holes: Sagittarius A*, lying at the core of the Milky Way and 4 million times as huge as our sun; and the Messier 87, a black hole in a neighboring galaxy some 53 million light-years away.

The telescope has investigated the vicinity of each of the monster black holes before, but this marks the first time the network comprised the South Pole telescope as well as the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) telescope located in Chile.

ALMA, for one, increases the Event Horizon Telescope’s acuity 10 times, allowing it to find something as tiny as a golf-sized object on the moon — and potentially the small event horizons of the black holes.

Hurdling The Weather And Months Of Waiting

The image returned is hoped to demonstrate the flow of material moving in and out of the black hole.

“What we expect to see is an asymmetric image where you have a circular dark region. That’s the black hole shadow,” MIT research scientist Vincent Fish told Newsweek, adding the presence of the photon ring or a spherical area of space where gravity is so potent that photons are forced to travel in orbits.

The weather proved to be a crucial factor in the mission as astronomers observe black holes in millimeter radio waves, which water absorbs as well as emits. This means precipitation could cloud the observations.

Mitigating this issue involves placing radio telescopes at high altitudes, although rain, clouds, or snow could still take the observatory offline. Even high-altitude winds could shut down a given telescope.

Thus Fish and his fellow scientists met every day to decide on when to activate the large network and assess weather conditions at every site. Constant weather monitoring and communication among astronomers were done.

The researchers have collected about one petabyte of data, which equates to MP3 songs playing continuously for more than 2,000 years without any repeats. Two research institutes, the MIT Haystack and the Max Planck Institute for Radio Astronomy in Germany, are receiving the said data.

The telescopes’ recorded information is stored on 1,024 drives, which will be mailed to the research institutes’ processing centers. Hard drives coming from the South Pole telescope, too, cannot be sent out until the end of winter in the region, or by the end of October.

Despite the long wait and other external factors, the team remains optimistic. Falcke said that even if the images emerge as “crappy and washed out,” they can help test basic predictions of Einstein’s theory in the extreme-physics environment of a black hole.

Knowing the black hole’s mass and distance, explained Fish, means one should see the shadow and ring, and that the latter will have a specific diameter and will be quite circular.

“If the shape isn’t circular or the wrong size, then relativity has made a prediction that has failed,” he said.

Researchers Find a New Way to Make Water From Thin Air

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF KQED NEWS SITE)

Researchers Find a New Way to Make Water From Thin Air

A prototype MOF-based water-collection device is set up for testing on the roof of a building on the MIT campus.
A prototype MOF-based water-collection device is set up for testing on the roof of a building on the MIT campus. (Courtesy Evelyn Yang, MIT)

Researchers have come up with a new way to extract water from thin air. Literally.

This isn’t the first technology that can turn water vapor in the atmosphere into liquid water that people can drink, but researchers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and UC Berkeley say their approach uses less power and works in drier environments.

The new approach makes use of a substance called a MOF, a metal-organic framework. As the name suggests, these are materials made of metals mixed with organic compounds. Powders made from MOFs are very porous, so researchers have proposed using them to store hydrogen or methane fuels or to capture carbon dioxide.

MIT’s Evelyn Wang and her Berkeley colleague Omar Yaghi decided to try using MOFs to capture water. MOF powders can not only suck up liquid water, they can also absorb water vapor.

And there’s plenty of water vapor in the atmosphere. Even in the driest place on the planet there are tons of water molecules floating overhead.

The researchers built a small prototype water collector that contains a thin layer of MOF powder. The powder absorbs water vapor until it is saturated.

“Once you achieve that maximum amount,” Wang says, “you apply some type of heat to the system to release that water.”

And when the water is released, it collects in the bottom of the prototype.

There are other compounds that can suck water from the air, zeolites for example, but Wang says it takes a significant amount of energy to get these materials to release the water. Not so with a MOF device. “The amount of energy required is very low,” she says.

In the prototype, the heat needed to drive the water out of the MOF comes from ambient sunlight — no external power supply is needed.

Even in Chile's Atacama Desert, the driest place on Earth, there are water molecules floating overhead.
Even in Chile’s Atacama Desert, the driest place on Earth, there are water molecules floating overhead. (MARTIN BERNETTI/AFP/Getty Images)

As they report in the journal Science, Wang and her colleagues tested the prototype of their MOF-based device on the roof of a building at MIT, and it worked great.

But it’s just a prototype. It used only a fraction of an ounce of the MOF powder. “So the amount of water that we’ve shown is also pretty small,” says Wang.

According to Wang’s calculations, a full-size system using about 2 pounds of MOF powder could deliver close to three quarts of water per day.

And she expects scaling up the prototype won’t be all that expensive. Although MOFs are a relatively new material, “there are companies that already make various MOFS at very large bulk scales,” she says.

There are many steps before a mass-produced MOF-based water collector becomes a reality. It hasn’t been shown, for example, that the water released by the MOF powder is free of contaminants.

But it’s conceivable that someday if you’re visiting Death Valley, one of the driest places in the United States, you’ll be able to wet your whistle with a device based on Wang and Yaghi’s concept.

Copyright 2017 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

The U.S. Just Dropped The ‘Mother Of All Bombs’ In Afghanistan. But What Is That?

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF TIME)

The U.S. Just Dropped the ‘Mother of All Bombs’ in Afghanistan. But What Is That?

Apr 13, 2017

The United States on Thursday dropped “the mother of all bombs,” the largest non-nuclear bomb it has ever used in combat, on an ISIS tunnel and cave complex in eastern Afghanistan.

The bomb, officially called the GBU-43/B Massive Ordnance Air Blast (MOAB), was dropped from a MC-130 aircraft in the Achin district of Nangarhar province, Pentagon spokesman Adam Stump said, according to the Associated Press. The target was near Afghanistan’s border with Pakistan.

President Donald Trump said Thursday the bombing was a “very successful mission,” according to Reuters, and he touted the mission as evidence of a stronger foreign policy under his administration. It was not immediately clear how much damage the bomb did, how many militants were killed, or whether any civilians were killed.

Here’s what you need to know:

What is the bomb?

The GBU-43 is a GPS-guided weapon that weighs an enormous 21,600 pounds, according to an article from the Eglin Air Force Base. Each one costs $16 million, according to military information website Deagel.

During testing in the early 2000s, it created a mushroom cloud that could be seen from 20 miles away, according to the Air Force story.

Why was it developed?

The MOAB was designed in 2002 as a replacement for the BLU-82 Daisy Cutter, according to the Air Force article. Its purpose was initially to put pressure on former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein.

“The goal is to have the pressure be so great that Saddam Hussein cooperates,” said then-Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld in a 2003 interview, according to the Air Force article. “Short of that — an unwillingness to cooperate — the goal is to have the capabilities of the coalition so clear and so obvious that there is an enormous disincentive for the Iraqi military to fight against the coalition.”

Has it been used before?

The bomb was sent to the Middle East in 2003, but it had never been used before this week.

How many does the U.S. have?

The U.S. military says it has 20 MOAB bombs and has spent about $314 million producing them, according to CNBC.

What kind of destruction does it cause?

While not all details from Thursday’s blast have been made public, the bomb is very powerful. “What it does is basically suck out all of the oxygen and lights the air on fire,” Bill Roggio, of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, told Air Force Times. “It’s a way to get into areas where conventional bombs can’t reach.”

While it was initially intended to deter U.S. opponents, this week’s strike marks a change to using the weapon as an active tool in fighting ISIS. The use of the MOAB in the Nangarhar province indicates the U.S. still considers ISIS a threat in the area.

NASA: 2 Near By ‘Ocean Planets’ Most Likely Places To Find Life, Maybe Humans Can Survive There?

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF CNN)

(CNN) NASA has new evidence that the most likely places to find life beyond Earth are Jupiter’s moon Europa or Saturn’s moon Enceladus. In terms of potential habitability, Enceladus particularly has almost all of the key ingredients for life as we know it, researchers said.

New observations of these active ocean worlds in our solar system have been captured by two NASA missions and were presented in two separate studies in an announcement at NASA HQ in Washington today.
Using a mass spectrometer, the Cassini spacecraft detected an abundance of hydrogen molecules in water plumes rising from the “tiger stripe” fractures in Enceladus’ icy surface. Saturn’s sixth-largest moon is an ice-encased world with an ocean beneath. The researchers believe that the hydrogen originated from a hydrothermal reaction between the moon’s ocean and its rocky core. If that is the case, the crucial chemical methane could be forming in the ocean as well.
“Now, Enceladus is high on the list in the solar system for showing habitable conditions,” said Hunter Waite, leader of the Cassini Ion and Neutral Mass Spectrometer team at the Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio and lead author of the Enceladus study.

This illustration shows Cassini diving through the Enceladus plume in 2015.

“The presence of hydrogen established another reference point saying there is hydrothermal activity inside this body, and that’s interesting because we know in our own oceans, those are very important places that are teeming with life, and they are probably one of the earliest places where life happened on Earth.”
Additionally, the Hubble Space Telescope showed a water plume erupting on the warmest part of the surface of Europa, one of Jupiter’s moons with an icy crust over a salty liquid water ocean containing twice as much water as Earth’s seas. This is the second time a plume has been observed in this exact spot, which has researchers excited that it could prove to be a feature on the surface.

The green oval highlights the plumes Hubble observed on Europa. The area also corresponds to a warm region on Europa's surface.

“This is significant, because the rest of the planet isn’t easy to predict or understand, and it’s happening for the second time in the warmest spot,” said Britney Schmidt, second author on the Europa study.

Why is this exciting?

“This is the closest we’ve come, so far, to identifying a place with some of the ingredients needed for a habitable environment,” said Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate. “These results demonstrate the interconnected nature of NASA’s science missions that are getting us closer to answering whether we are indeed alone or not.”
The necessary ingredients for life as we know it include liquid water, energy sources and chemicals such as carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, nitrogen, sulfur and phosphorus.
But we’ve also learned that life finds a way in the harshest of Earth’s environments, like vents in the deepest parts of the ocean floor. There, microbes don’t receive energy from sunlight, but use methanogenesis, a process that reduces carbon dioxide with hydrogen, to form methane.
Europa and Enceladus are showcasing some of these key ingredients for life in their oceans, which is why researchers believe they are the best chance for finding life beyond Earth in our own solar system.

These composite images show a suspected plume of material erupting two years apart from the same location on Jupiter's icy moon Europa.

Previous results from the Cassini mission’s flybys of Enceladus already had researchers intrigued. First, they could see plume material linked to interior water. They determined that the moon had a global ocean, and then a cosmic dust analyzer revealed silicon dioxide grains, indicating warm hydrothermal activity.
“This (molecular hydrogen) is just like the icing on the cake,” Waite said. “Now, you see the chemical energy source that microbes could use. The only thing we haven’t seen is phosphorus and sulfur, and that’s probably because they were in small enough quantities that we didn’t see them. We have to go back and look and search for signs of life as well.”
Earth is considered an ocean world because those bodies of water cover the majority of the planet’s surface. Other ocean worlds in our solar system, besides Europa and Enceladus, potentially include Jupiter’s moons Ganymede and Callisto; Saturn’s moons Mimas and Titan; Neptune’s moon Triton; and the dwarf planet Pluto.
It is believed that Venus and Mars were once ocean worlds, but the greenhouse gas effect and a vulnerable atmosphere, respectively, caused those planets to lose their oceans.

What’s next?

Although the Cassini mission, which began in 2004, comes to an end this year, Waite is eager for NASA to return to Enceladus and search for life, because he believes it is the best candidate for habitability.
Researchers want to confirm a very solid case for habitability by finding sulfur and phosphorus on Enceladus, as well as narrowing down the pH (potential of hydrogen) and reinforcing previous measurements. The second step would be looking for signs of life by flying a spectrometer through the plume, searching for rations of amino and fatty acids, certain isotopic ratios indicative of life and other relationships in molecules that indicate energy for microbial life, Waite said.

This graphic illustrates how Cassini scientists think water interacts with rock at the bottom of the ocean of Saturn's icy moon Enceladus, producing hydrogen gas.

But first, we’re going to investigate Europa’s habitability.
NASA plans to further explore ocean worlds in our solar system, including through the recently named Europa Clipper mission, the first to explore an alien ocean. Waite believes that Europa is currently at a disadvantage because a mass spectrometer hasn’t flown through its plume to collect data, and it’s Europa’s turn to have that experience.
“If there are plumes on Europa, as we now strongly suspect, with the Europa Clipper, we will be ready for them,” said Jim Green, NASA’s director of planetary science.

NASA's Europa Clipper will study Jupiter's moon Europa and whether it could harbor conditions suitable for life.

Although Waite favors Enceladus of the two ocean worlds, Schmidt believes that Europa could be the best case for life in our solar system beyond Earth.
Schmidt, an assistant professor at the Georgia Institute of Technology’s School of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences, is also one of the architects of the project that became the Europa Clipper mission. She and two other researchers came up with the name while sitting in a hotel room during a conference.
The Europa Clipper, named for the innovative, streamlined ships of the 1800s, will launch in the 2020s and arrive at Europa after a few years.
“The reason we chose it is because the clipper ships were fast, American boats at the time that they were first used, when most shipping was achieved with large, slow vessels,” Schmidt said. “We liked clipper for that reason, an ingenious way to solve the Europa mission problem: How do you get a long-lived mission at Europa with global coverage but not be in the radiation environment?”
Because that region of the solar system traps atomic particles from the sun, the radiation of the area around Jupiter is dangerous to spacecraft.
Schmidt will be an investigator for the ice-penetrating radar instrument that will be housed on the Europa Clipper. It will act like an X-ray, peering through the unknown thickness of Europa’s icy crust the same way scientists use earthquakes to assess the interior of the Earth.
Other instruments will produce high-resolution images of the surface and measure the moon’s magnetic field, temperature, atmospheric particles and even the depth and salinity of the ocean.
Waite is using his knowledge from the Cassini mission to work on an improved mass spectrometer for the Europa Clipper mission.
“Cassini and Enceladus really allowed us to see the kind of things we could do with mass spectrometers and, more importantly, with material that’s coming up straight out of the ocean,” Waite said. “It’s a way of viewing the ocean without drilling into it. We didn’t necessarily have to land; we could sit there and and sample to study quite a bit about these ocean worlds just from flying through the material that comes out of the interior. That’s what the plumes are about on Europa as well. It’s that connection to the interior ocean.”

Europa or Enceladus?

Research suggesting the possibility of an ocean on Europa was published as early as 1977, after the Voyager mission saw long lines and dark spots, as opposed to a cratered surface similar to other moons. Then the Galileo mission reached Europa in 1996 and revealed for the first time that there was an ocean on another planet.
But because neighboring Mars has fueled imaginations and the possibility of exploring another planet for years, the general public hasn’t been as captivated by Jupiter’s moon. There are arguments that life could exist on Mars, but it was most likely habitable in the past, when it supported bodies of water and had a more hospitable climate and an atmosphere.
“The question is, do you want to study something that might have been habitable at one time, or do you want to study something that could be habitable right now?” Schmidt asked. “Europa has been pretty much Europa for 4.5 billion years, as long as the Earth has. So as far as what could have started and evolved there, that’s a compelling question.
Regardless of which of the two ocean worlds is the better candidate for hosting life, both researchers believe that exploring ocean worlds is one of the best things we can do.
“Understanding the diversity of our solar system is pretty important and the possibility ofapplying what we know here to exoplanets, it just opens up the range of possibilities for life beyond our previous expectations,” Waite said.
“These ocean worlds all over the outer solar system that are a little bit alien,” Schmidt said, “they’re the most compelling things that we have in the solar system.”

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Unlimbited Tree Service was started with one goal in mind: To enhance the beauty and value of residential and commercial properties while ensuring the safety of their occupants. With Unlimbited, you know that you're getting the very best.

মুক্তি মুন্না

4 out of 5 dentists recommend this WordPress.com site

Love is a name

Love starts right now

Universul astral

"Dubito, ergo cogito, cogito ergo sum."_ René Descartes

Jurnalul Canapelei Rosii

rateuri literare

fictionandpoetry2016

Be where your heart belongs...

Amras888

One voice amongst many. Observing and participating in the great transformation of humanity from a positive perspective.

Cadmus38

looking for the adventure in life

headintheclouds746

Beauty is all around you

prieteni virtuali

Pastreaza in sufletul tau , doar momentele frumoase si langa tine doar oamenii, care te pretuiesc cu adevarat!

doar, o viaţă

eu trăiesc, când să fiu supărat

Following Him Beside Still Waters

He restores my soul: He leads me in the paths of righteousness for His name's sake.

PoemasemFotoswordpress.com

Just another WordPress.com site

Shezza Speak!

because life in NYC is too noteworthy to be silent!

MERMAID IN A MUDSLIDE

Musings on this crazy, wonderful life...

Piggie's Place

Random Oinks in the Dark

Cryptosmith

Cybersecurity education and service

Smatters

Matters of the Smith-Atwood family

Neurodivergent Rebel

Rebelling against a culture that values assimilation over individuality.

The Platinum Dragon

Political Commentary, Short Stories, & Poetry

Try to get it!

A blog about Qoran and Islam

Cathedral made of people

What is the Church?

Daily Inspiration

Follow your dreams

Energy Management

Trending Technology Renewables

LA PAGINA DI NONNATUTTUA

La strada giusta è quel sentiero che parte dal Cuore e arriva ovunque

Poems, Melodies, and Me

A Sentimental Journey

UrbanaRoman

ASOCIATIA PENTRU ANTROPOLOGIE URBANA DIN ROMAN

territori del '900

identità luoghi scritture del '900 toscano

brushes and papers

my learning journey

American Saga

My family of original and early settlers from the Old World to the New World to Oklahoma

nerd on the bridge

A Literary Paradox

:: Jarcy Tania ::

Projetos artísticos, pessoais, idéias, opiniões e reflexões sobre arte, cultura, educação, filosofia, livros e ciência.

beetleypete

The musings of a Londoner, now living in Norfolk

Parental Alienation

Meeting reality

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