Chilean military plane ‘disappears’ with 38 aboard

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE BBC)

 

Chilean military plane ‘disappears’ with 38 aboard

Hercules C-130Image copyright FILE PHOTO
Image caption Chile’s air force operates three C-130 transport planes

A military plane with 38 on board has disappeared en route to Antarctica, Chile’s air force says in a statement.

The C-130 Hercules transport aircraft took off from Punta Arenas at 16:55 local time (19:55 GMT), and operators lost contact soon after 18:00 (21:00).

Among the missing are 17 crew members and 21 passengers, who were travelling to provide logistical support.

Chile’s air force said a search and rescue operation is under way to recover the plane and those missing.

News agency EFE reports that three of those on board are civilians.

Air Force General Eduardo Mosqueira told local media that the plane did not activate any distress signal while flying to Chile’s Presidente Eduardo Frei Montalva base, on Antarctica’s King George Island.

He said the plane, whose pilot had extensive experience, may have been forced to land after running out of fuel.

Chilean President Sebastián Piñera said in a tweet that he was “dismayed” by the disappearance, and was monitoring the situation from the capital, Santiago.

In a subsequent statement, he added that “all national and foreign air and maritime means in the area” were assisting with the search.

4 Most Beautiful Views in South America

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF TRAVEL TRIVIA)

 

4 Most Beautiful Views in South America

There is absolutely no shortage of picturesque vistas among the vast and varied landscapes that make up South America, all 7,000 square miles of them. Many of the most stunning views happen to be in places of wide-ranging biodiversity and high cultural importance, and they are thriving as destinations through eco-tourism and preservation practices. From epic mountain landscapes in Patagonia to paradise-found beach scenes in Colombia and nature’s tallest cascade in Venezuela, South America holds a rich trove of travel-worthy sights to behold.

Tayrona National Park, Colombia

Credit: javarman/Shutterstock

Sitting beneath the shade of a palm tree, enjoy endless views of magical blue lagoons and protected coves ringed by bight white beaches, themselves surrounded by hills carpeted in lush, deep-green tropical rainforest. Bring together those ocean and forest biomes, and you have a recipe for boundless biodiversity. Both the breathtaking scenery and the flora and fauna are on view at Tayrona National Park, in northern Colombia. The large preserve area spreads throughout the foothills of the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta, a mountain range that comes down to recede into the Caribbean coastline. The plant and animal protections within the park provide the perfect ecotourism opportunity, all while allowing trekkers to take in some pretty paradisiacal views. A great overall resource is Colombiatravel.en.

Torres del Paine National Park, Chile

Credit: kavram/Shutterstock

Known by adventurers and thrill seekers as a pristine outdoor playground, Torres del Paine National Park, in Chile’s Patagonia region, features soaring mountains, bright-blue glaciers and golden pampas grasslands that seem endless. With such varied ecology, the views are endless, as well. The various environments shelter rare wildlife species, some found only here, such as the llama-like guanacos. Three prominent, towing spires of granite — called Cuernos del Paine — give the park its name. The epic terrain draws climbers, sea kayakers, mountain bikers and other outdoors adventure types.

Angel Falls, Venezuela

Credit: Alice Nerr/Shutterstock

Plunging over the cliff edge of Auyán-tepui mountain in Canaima National Park and dropping more than 3,200 feet, Angel Falls is the world’s tallest uninterrupted waterfall. The national park is a UNESCO World Heritage Site in the Gran Sabana region of Bolívar State, Venezuela. Some 60 percent of the park is made up of table mountain formations, whose flat tops are a unique geological formation that lends itself to the sheer cliffs and attendant waterfalls that make for such jaw-dropping natural grandeur. Rising from surrounding grassy savannas below, the tops of the towering table mountains are frequently shrouded in misty fog, making for ethereal, otherworldly views.

Machu Picchu, Peru

Credit:Anton_Ivanov/Shutterstock

With its verdant green terraces set amidst stark stone walls and surrounding sheer peaks of the Andes Mountains, the ancient Incan citadel of Machu Picchu makes for magical views. Its precarious perch in its mountain fortress makes the site seem surreal, almost defying gravity. The ancient builders not only managed to balance altars and living accommodations on a cliff edge, but did it so well that the structure is still standing much as it was when it was built in the 15th century. American explorer Hiram Bingham was led to the site in 1911, and it has been a bucket-list site for travelers ever since. Due to such heavy use, it has become a prime example of working eco-tourism. Even with so much archaeological attention paid to the discovery over the years, Machu Picchu’s exact original use still isn’t known.

5 Best Places to See Wild Penguins Beyond Antarctica

(THIS ARTICLE IS CUTESY OF TRIP TRIVIA)

 

5 Best Places to See Wild Penguins Beyond Antarctica

Penguins may be rare to see in the wild, but that doesn’t mean you have to go all the way to Antarctica to catch a glimpse of them in their natural habitat. There are between 17 and 19 species of penguin that currently exist on the planet, mostly in the Southern Hemisphere. Unfortunately, the penguin population is declining because of climate change, overfishing, and pollution, all of which have had a drastic impact on the places they call home.

Cape Town, South Africa

Credit: SL_Photography / iStock

South Africa’s southern tip is home to the African penguin, particularly at Boulders Beach just outside of Cape Town. The African penguin is one of the endangered species, having lost 80 percent of its population over the past 50 years. The penguin colony in Africa, which begins in southern Namibia and goes all the way down to Port Elizabeth in South Africa, began not too long ago, in 1983. They migrated from Dyer Island to reach the plentiful food source at Boulders Beach. Thanks to conservation efforts, there are now more than 3,000 African penguins in the Boulders Beach colony, so plenty to see here where penguins are concerned. Boulders Beach is located inside of Table Mountain National Park, and aside from penguin viewing with magnificent views, the area is also great for swimming, hiking, wind sailing, and plenty of other wildlife viewing opportunities.

Tierra del Fuego, Argentina and Chile

Credit: diegograndi / iStock

The Tierra del Fuego archipelago at the southernmost part of South America is separated from the mainland by the Strait of Magellan. Two-thirds of the area is Chilean and one-third is Argentine. The islands of Tierra del Fuego are where Magellanic, Humboldt, Rockhopper, Gentoo, and King penguins can be found in the wild. Penguins can be reached via the southernmost city in the world: Ushuaia, Argentina. From there, you can find day tours to visit the penguins, some even offering the chance to walk among them (in tour groups that never exceed 20 people). Here the penguins, often in crowds of hundreds, waddle adorably along the shore.

Galapagos Islands, Ecuador

Credit: jmmf / iStock

Most penguins don’t live in tropical climates, nor in the Northern Hemisphere; in fact, only the endangered Galapagos penguins do, and they live here year-round. This is unusual for penguins, as they usually migrate with the seasons. The western Galapagos islands have much cooler water, and that is where many of the penguins can be found, namely on Fernandina Island or Isabela Island. No tour of the Galapagos Islands would be complete without visiting the penguins. Likely you will see the penguins from a boat, but if your tour offers swimming, you may very well find yourself in the rare circumstance of being in the water alongside these cute little guys. The Galapagos National Park Service does not allow tourists in certain areas, so before booking a tour, it’s best to determine with them that you will be able to see the penguins from a reasonable distance.

Phillip Island, Australia

Credit: 4FR / iStock

The smallest species of all penguins, called the Little Penguin, live mainly on Phillip Island, about a 90-minute drive from Melbourne (where you can also see koalas, seals, whales, anteaters, and wallabies). The only other place they can be found is in New Zealand. These penguins are about a foot tall and weigh less than 3 pounds. Today, the most typical way to see them is from an elevated viewing platform when they get back from the day’s fishing to feed their young. If you would like to see this grand parade of penguins up-close, there are limited tour options available, allowing people to walk among the penguins on a remote beach.

Sub-Antarctic New Zealand

Credit: Darren Creighton / iStock

While 13 species of penguin have been spotted in New Zealand, only nine breed there, and only three on the mainland. Those three, which people can visit, are the Little Penguin, the Hoiho Penguin, and the Fiordland Crested Penguin. You can see the Little Penguin in the evening or at night when they are on shore in Oamaru, Akoaroa Harbour, Marlborough Sounds, Dunedin, and Stewart Island. At Otago Peninsula, not too far south from Dunedin, you’ll be able to visit the rare, yellow-eyed Hoiho Penguins up-close in their natural habitat. The Fiordland Crested Penguin is one of the rarest of them all, and they live on New Zealand’s South Island in the rainforests of Lake Moeraki, Stewart Island, Fiordland, and Haast. Because these wild penguins are on the decline, many tour operators offer sustainable ecotourism.

Some penguin species are endangered and some aren’t (yet). The best time to pay wild penguins a visit, outside of Antarctica, is during the Southern Hemisphere summer season. During this time these charming tuxedoed creatures spend more time breeding and nesting onshore.

4 Most Beautiful Views in South America

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF TRAVEL TRIVIA)

 

More from

4 Most Beautiful Views in South America

There is absolutely no shortage of picturesque vistas among the vast and varied landscapes that make up South America, nearly 7,000 square miles of them. Many of the most stunning views happen to be in places of wide-ranging biodiversity and high cultural importance, and they are thriving as destinations through eco-tourism and preservation practices. From epic mountain landscapes in Patagonia to paradise-found beach scenes in Columbia and nature’s tallest cascade in Venezuela, South America holds a rich trove of travel-worthy sights to behold.

Tayrona National Park, Colombia

Credit: javarman/Shutterstock

Sitting beneath the shade of a palm tree, enjoy endless views of magical blue lagoons and protected coves ringed by bight white beaches, themselves surrounded by hills carpeted in lush, deep-green tropical rainforest. Bring together those ocean and forest biomes, and you have a recipe for boundless biodiversity. Both the breathtaking scenery and the flora and fauna are on view at Tayrona National Park, in northern Colombia. The large preserve area spreads throughout the foothills of the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta, a mountain range that comes down to recede into the Caribbean coastline. The plant and animal protections within the park provide the perfect ecotourism opportunity, all while allowing trekkers to take in some pretty paradisiacal views. A great overall resource is Columbiatravel.en.

Torres del Paine National Park, Chile

Credit: kavram/Shutterstock

Known by adventurers and thrill seekers as a pristine Patagonia outdoor playground, Torres del Paine National Park, in Chile’s Patagonia region, features soaring mountains, bright-blue glaciers, and golden pampas grasslands that seem endless. With such varied ecology, the views are endless as well. The various environments shelter rare wildlife species, some found only here, such as the llama-like guanacos. Three prominent, towing spires of granite — called Cuernos del Paine — give the park its name. The epic terrain draws climbers, sea kayakers, mountain bikers, and other outdoors adventure types.

Angel Falls, Venezuela

Credit: Alice Nerr/Shutterstock

Plunging over the cliff edge of Auyán-tepui mountain in Canaima National Park and dropping more than 3,200 feet, Angel Falls is the world’s tallest uninterrupted waterfall. The national park is a UNESCO World Heritage site in the Gran Sabana region of Bolívar State, Venezuela. Some 60 percent of the park is made up of table mountain formations, whose flat tops are a unique geological formation that lends itself to the sheer cliffs and attendant waterfalls that make for such jaw-dropping natural grandeur. Rising from surrounding grassy savannas below, the tops of the towering table mountains are frequently shrouded in misty fog, making for ethereal, otherworldly views.

Machu Picchu, Peru

Credit: Anton_Ivanov/Shutterstock

With its verdant green terraces set amidst stark stone walls and surrounding sheer peaks of the Andes Mountains, the ancient Incan citadel of Machu Picchu makes for magical views. Its precarious perch in its mountain fortress makes the site seem surreal, almost defying gravity. The ancient builders not only managed to balance altars and living accommodations on a cliff edge, but did it so well that the structure is still standing much as it was when it was built in the 15th century. American explorer Hiram Bingham was led to the site in 1911, and it has been a bucket-list site for travelers ever since. Due to such heavy use, it has become a prime example of working eco-tourism. Even with so much archaeological attention paid to the discovery over the years, Machu Picchu’s exact original use still isn’t known.

The 6 Longest Shared Borders in the World

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF TRAVEL TRIVIA)

 

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6 Longest Shared Borders in the World

Borders are the geographical limits between countries, federal states, sovereign states and subnational entities. Some have stayed the same for centuries while others are the subject of constant negotiation among politicians and state officials. Borders come in a whole host of forms. Around the world there’s unscalable fencespainted cobblestones and even a public library separating two countries. Here we’ll take a look at the longest shared borders on our planet.

Bangladesh–India (2,582 miles)

Credit: Abhijeet Khedgikar/Shutterstock

India borders seven different countries; one of them, Bangladesh, is surrounded almost entirely by Indian territory. The dividing line is a crazy zigzagging marker that separates Bangladesh from the Indian states of West Bengal, Meghalaya, Assam, Tripura and Mizoram. It was drawn up during the 1947 Partition of British India, when the province of Bengal became the Indian state of West Bengal and the Pakistani province of East Bengal. East Bengal became Bangladesh in 1971. Some suggest that the China-India border is longer, but India’s Ministry of Home Affairs says otherwise.

China–Russia (2,615 miles)

Credit: James Jiao/Shutterstock

Russia and China are the largest and third largest counties in the world, respectively. Incredibly China shares borders with 14 countries and Russia has borders in both Asia and Europe. No surprise, then, that these two giant land masses make our list. The border has two non-contiguous sections. The eastern section travels for 2,500 miles from a China–Mongolia–Russia triple border to the Tumen River. The 115-mile-long western section starts atop Tavan Bogd mountain and ends where the two counties converge with Kazakhstan.

China–Mongolia (2,906 miles)

Credit: Daniel Andis/Shutterstock

Of all of its 14 bordering countries, the one that China touches most is Mongolia. Curiously, the east and west points of the border are both triple borders between China, Mongolia and Russia. The westernmost point is by far the most impressive as it stands close to the summit of the 14,350-feet-tall mountain massif Tavan Bogd. It also runs through the heart of the dunes and mountains of the Gobi Desert.

Argentina–Chile (3,293 miles)

Credit: Oomka/Shutterstock

Argentina is about four times as large as Chile; however, the enormous lengths of both countries mean that they have the third-longest border. It begins at a triple frontier between Argentina, Bolivia and Chile and then travels south across the snowy peaks of the Southern Andes before weaving through the Tierra del Fuego archipelago. The southernmost section, called the Southern Patagonian Ice Field, is under constant political debate. The Beagle Channel and the 22,615-feet-tall Ojos del Salado, which is the world’s highest stratovolcano, are some major natural landmarks found on the border.

Kazakhstan–Russia (4,254 miles)

Credit: Fuping/Shutterstock

Russia gets its second entry in the list with its huge border with Kazakhstan, itself the world’s ninth largest country. At its southernmost point, the border sits on a peninsula that stretches out into the Caspian Sea. It then meanders through the remote north of Kazakhstan and south of Russia, areas characterized by green pastures, hundreds of lakes and isolated villages. In 2018 Kazakhstan launched a tourism development program to improve bilateral tourism and make border crossings smoother.

U.S.–Canada (5,525 miles)

Credit: Roman Babkin/Shutterstock

At number one on our list, and the clear winner by over a thousand miles, is the border shared between the world’s second and fourth largest countries. It passes through 13 U.S. states and eight Canadian provinces and is broken up into two segments. There’s the east to west border of continental U.S. and a north to south section that incorporates Alaska, the Yukon Territory and part of British Columbia. Four of the Great Lakes straddle the border, as does Niagara Falls and the Thousand Islands.

New Earth Found?

New Earth Found?

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF SPACE.COM)

Habitable planet found outside solar system

SCIENTISTS on Wednesday announced the discovery of an Earth-sized planet orbiting the star nearest our Sun, opening up the glittering prospect of a habitable world that may one day be explored by robots.

Named Proxima b, the planet is in a “temperate” zone compatible with the presence of liquid water — a key ingredient for life.

The findings, based on data collected over 16 years, were reported in the peer-reviewed journal Nature.

“We have finally succeeded in showing that a small-mass planet, most likely rocky, is orbiting the star closest to our solar system,” said co-author Julien Morin, an astrophysicist at the University of Montpellier in southern France.

“Proxima b would probably be the first exoplanet visited by a probe made by humans,” he said.

An exoplanet is any planet outside our Solar System.

Lead author Guillem Anglada-Escude, an astronomer at Queen Mary University London, described the find as the “experience of a lifetime.”

Working with European Southern Observatory telescopes in the north Chilean desert, his team used the so-called Doppler method to detect Proxima b and describe its properties.

The professional star-gazers spent 60 consecutive days earlier this year looking for signs of gravitational pull on its host star, Proxima Centauri.

Regular shifts in the star’s light spectrum — repeating every 11.2 days — gave a tantalising clue.

They revealed that the star alternately moved towards and away from our Solar System at the pace of a leisurely stroll, about five kilometers per hour.

Goldilocks zone

After cross-checking an inconclusive 2000-2014 dataset and eliminating other possible causes, the researchers determined that the tug of an orbiting planet was responsible for this tiny to-and-fro.

“Statistically, there is no doubt,” Anglada-Escude told journalists in a briefing.

“We have found a planet around Proxima Centauri.”

Proxima b is a mere four light years from the Solar System, meaning that it is essentially in our back yard on the scale of our galaxy, the Milky Way.

It has a mass around 1.3 times that of Earth, and orbits about seven million kilometers from its star.

A planet so near to our Sun — 21 times closer than Earth — would be an unlivable white-hot ball of fire.

But Proxima Centauri is a so-called red dwarf, meaning a star that burns at a lower temperature.

As a result, the newly discovered planet is in a “Goldilocks” sweet spot: neither so hot that water evaporates, nor so cold that it freezes solid.

But liquid water is not the only essential ingredient for the emergence of life.

An atmosphere is also required, and on that score the researchers are still in the dark. It all depends, they say, on how Proxima b evolved as a planet.

“You can come up with formation scenarios that end up with and Earth-like atmosphere, a Venus-like atmosphere” — 96 percent carbon dioxide — “or no atmosphere at all,” said co-author Ansgar Reiners, an expert on “cold” stars at the University of Goettingen’s Institute of Astrophysics in Germany.

Computer models suggest the planet’s temperature, with an atmosphere, could be “in the range of minus 30 Celsius on the dark side, and 30C on the light side,” Reiners said.

Like the Moon in relation to Earth, Proxima b is “tidally locked,” with one face always exposed to its star and the other perpetually in shadow.

Emerging life forms would also have to cope with ultraviolet and X-rays bombarding Proxima b 100 times more intensely than on Earth.

Search for life

An atmosphere would help deflect these rays, as would a strong magnetic field.

But even high doses of radiation do not preclude life, especially if we think outside the box, scientists say.

“We have to be very open-minded as to what we call ‘life’,” Jean Schneider, an expert on exoplanets at the Observatoire de Paris, said.

Last year, NASA unveiled Kepler 452b, a planet about 60 percent larger than Earth that could have active volcanoes, oceans, sunshine like ours, and a year lasting 385 days.

But at a distance of 1,400 light-years, humankind would have little hope of reaching this Earth-twin any time soon.

By comparison, Proxima b is a stone’s throw away, though still too far away for humans to visit with present-generation chemical rockets.

“This is a dream for astronomers if we think about follow up observations,” said Reiners.

Researchers finally solve mystery of ‘alien’ skeleton

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF CNN)

 

Researchers finally solve mystery of ‘alien’ skeleton

The mummified specimen from Atacama region of Chile.

Story highlights

  • An unusual skeleton found in Chile has perplexed people for more than a decade
  • Whole genome sequencing revealed what caused its abnormalities

(CNN)A mummified skeleton discovered in Chile’s Atacama Desert 15 years ago doesn’t look like anyone you’ve ever met. In fact, some would say it looks, well, alien.

It’s a skeletal conundrum made up of perplexing features. It’s only 6 inches tall — but initial estimates of the age of the bones were consistent with a child aged 6 to 8 years.
The long, angular skull, slanted eye sockets and fewer than normal ribs — 10 pairs rather than the normal 12 — only deepened the mystery.
Questions surrounding the discovery led to speculation that it was a previously unidentified primate or even an extraterrestrial life form.
The skeleton, dubbed Ata, was featured in TV shows and a documentary, “Sirius,” in which a UFO researcher attempts to figure out Ata’s origins.
Now, the authors of a study based on five years of genomic analysis want to set the record straight: Ata is human, albeit one with multiple bone disease-associated mutations. And they believe that their findings, published Thursday in the journal Genome Research, could help diagnose genetic mutation-based cases for living patients.

Investigating Ata

In 2003, Ata was found in a deserted mining town called La Noria, in Chile’s Atacama region. It was thought to be ancient at first, but initial analysis conducted in 2012 proved that the skeleton was only about 40 years old. This meant DNA would still be intact and could be retrieved for study.
The widespread speculation surrounding Ata brought the case to the attention of Gary Nolan, senior author of the new study and professor of microbiology and immunology at Stanford University.
“I learned about this through a friend who was interested in the entire area of extraterrestrial life,” Nolan wrote in an email. “He told me about a documentary coming out (‘Sirius’ … you can find it on Netflix now) which was to feature the ‘Atacama Humanoid.’
It was claimed that this was possibly the mummy of an alien.
“That was a significant claim in and of itself. More shocking though was the picture I was provided that was part of the online publicity. I decided to contact the movie directors (basically on a dare …) to tell them it was possible to do a sequencing of the specimen (if it had earthly DNA …) to determine its origin.”
Nolan and his colleagues signed a confidentiality agreement, and the directors agreed to report Nolan’s findings, even if the results indicated that Ata’s DNA was human.
Nolan wanted to study Ata for several reasons. The extraordinary specimen could have been a previously unrecognized primate species, some sort of human deformity or something else entirely. Nolan said he and his colleagues never believed it could be an alien.
They wanted an answer to the basic question: “What is it?”
DNA analysis would tell the true story. A sample extracted from the bone marrow of Ata’s ribs was used to conduct a whole-genome sequence analysis.
It was compared with human and primate genomes and determined to be a human female, probably a fetus, with Chilean ancestry. Although dating initially estimated the bone age of the skeleton at between 6 and 8 years, the researchers found that the remains had a rare bone-aging disorder that made them seem older than the person they belonged to.
At first, 8% of the DNA didn’t match with human DNA. Researchers determined that this was because of a degraded sample. An improved analysis matched up to 98%, Nolan said. Given the exposure and age of the skeleton, this wasn’t surprising. Then, they moved on to diagnosing the abnormalities.

It’s all in the genes

The researchers were looking for what might explain the skeleton’s small stature, as well as the abnormal rib count and other bone and skull oddities.
Dr. Atul Butte, another senior author of the study, was brought in to assist with evaluating the genome. Butte, the Priscilla Chan and Mark Zuckerberg distinguished professor and director of the Institute for Computational Health Sciences at the University of California, San Francisco, treated the analysis as though it were for a patient.
It revealed a number of mutations within seven genes. Together, these created bone and musculoskeletal deformities, like scoliosis, and skeletal dysplasia, known as dwarfism.
“There are mutations in many genes, including genes involved with the production of collagen (in our bones and hair), joints, ribs, and arteries,” Butte wrote in an email. “We know these genes are involved with these processes in human development, but we are still learning what all the other genes in the DNA do.”
Although the mutations found within the genes are known to cause bone disease, some of them had not been previously connected to growth or developmental disorders. The combination of genetic mutations explains Ata’s appearance, but it’s the number of mutations all present in the same specimen that surprised the scientists.
“It’s rare,” Butte said. “To our knowledge, no one has ever explained all of these symptoms in a patient before, and the changes in the DNA, or mutations, reflects this.”
But what could have caused this number of mutations?
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“Many times, genetic diseases are passed on from parents that are carriers,” Butte said. “In this case, these mutations are so rare that we haven’t actually ever seen some of these before, so it’s hard to imagine there are carriers out there. We do speculate that the environment where this child was developing might have played a role. The specimen was found in a town with abandoned nitrate mines, and exposure to nitrates might have caused the mutations. But it’s only speculation.”
No other researchers have seen the remains.
The way Nolan, Butte and their colleagues used their analytical tools to understand the mysteries presented by Ata’s skeleton may provide a pathway for analysis of multiple genes to discover the roots of mutations.
Butte said he hopes that the technology and tools used in this study can help patients and their families receive diagnoses quicker, as well as helping to develop treatments for conditions that can be traced to genetic mutations.
“Many children’s hospitals now see patients or children with unusual syndromes, including those never described before,” Butte said.
“DNA sequencing is now more commonly used to help us solve these ‘undiagnosed diseases.’ But many times, we tend to search for a single gene mutation that might explain what we see in the patient.
“What this case taught me we that sometimes there might actually be more than one major DNA difference involved in explaining a particularly hard-to-explain patient. We shouldn’t stop a search when we’ve found the first relevant mutation; indeed there might be many others also involved.”

Chile rocked by 7.1-magnitude quake; no major damage reported

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF REUTERS)

Chile rocked by 7.1-magnitude quake; no major damage reported

People look out towards the ocean on Cerro Castillo hill, after a mass evacuation of the entire coastline during a tsunami alert after a magnitude 7.1 earthquake hit off the coast in Vina del Mar, Chile April 24, 2017 REUTERS/Rodrigo Garrido
By Rosalba O’Brien | SANTIAGO

A major earthquake of magnitude 7.1 struck off the west coast of Chile on Monday, rocking the capital Santiago and briefly causing alarm along the Pacific Coast but not producing any serious damage.

The quake was centered 22 miles (35 km) west of the coastal city of Valparaiso at a shallow depth of 6.2 miles (10 km) below the sea, and about 85 miles (137 km) from Santiago, the U.S. Geological Survey said.

“It was short but very powerful,” said Paloma Salamo, a 26-year-old nurse, who was in a clinic in Viña del Mar, just north of Valparaiso, when the quake struck.

People ran out of the facility carrying children and some headed for the hills when the tsunami alarm sounded, she said, but calm was soon restored.

Officials canceled a tsunami warning that had been issued in Valparaiso after the Chilean Navy and the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center said the quake was not expected to produce a dangerous seismic sea wave. The center reported small tsunami waves of half a foot (15 cm).

There were no reports of structural damage in Valparaiso, but cellphone networks were down in some places, a spokesman with the local government in Valparaiso said.

“We have no reports of victims or significant damage. There have been some landslides in some places, without major complications,” said Interior Minister Mario Fernandez.

“In general the situation is pretty normal bearing in mind the quake’s intensity.”

Chile’s state-run Codelco, one of the largest copper mining companies in the world, said its operations were unaffected.

Anglo American, which has copper operations in central Chile, also said operations were normal.

A magnitude 7.1 quake is considered major and is capable of causing widespread and heavy damage, but the effects of this one would have been tempered because it was offshore.

Several aftershocks including two of magnitudes 5.0 and 5.4 were recorded in the same spot and could be felt in Santiago, part of a cluster of tremors from that area in recent days.

Chile, located on the so-called “Pacific Ring of Fire,” has a long history of deadly quakes, including a 8.8 magnitude quake in 2010 off the south-central coast, which also triggered a tsunami that devastated coastal towns. More than 500 people died.

That was the sixth-largest earthquake ever recorded, according to the USGS. The largest recorded temblor in history was also in Chile, a 9.5-magnitude quake in 1960.

A major 7.6 magnitude earthquake jolted southern Chile on Christmas Day 2016, prompting thousands to evacuate coastal areas, but no fatalities or major damage were reported in the tourism and salmon farming region.

The long, slender country runs along the border of two tectonic plates, with the Nazca Plate beneath the South Pacific Ocean pushing into the South America Plate, a phenomenon that also formed the Andes Mountains.

(Reporting by Rosalba O’Brien, Fabian Cambero, Gram Slattery, Felipe Iturrieta and Jorge Otaola; additional reporting by Sandra Maler in Washington; Writing by Daniel Trotta; Editing by G Crosse and Mary Milliken)

New Earth Found?

New Earth Found?

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF SPACE.COM)

Habitable planet found outside solar system

SCIENTISTS on Wednesday announced the discovery of an Earth-sized planet orbiting the star nearest our Sun, opening up the glittering prospect of a habitable world that may one day be explored by robots.

Named Proxima b, the planet is in a “temperate” zone compatible with the presence of liquid water — a key ingredient for life.

The findings, based on data collected over 16 years, were reported in the peer-reviewed journal Nature.

“We have finally succeeded in showing that a small-mass planet, most likely rocky, is orbiting the star closest to our solar system,” said co-author Julien Morin, an astrophysicist at the University of Montpellier in southern France.

“Proxima b would probably be the first exoplanet visited by a probe made by humans,” he said.

An exoplanet is any planet outside our Solar System.

Lead author Guillem Anglada-Escude, an astronomer at Queen Mary University London, described the find as the “experience of a lifetime.”

Working with European Southern Observatory telescopes in the north Chilean desert, his team used the so-called Doppler method to detect Proxima b and describe its properties.

The professional star-gazers spent 60 consecutive days earlier this year looking for signs of gravitational pull on its host star, Proxima Centauri.

Regular shifts in the star’s light spectrum — repeating every 11.2 days — gave a tantalising clue.

They revealed that the star alternately moved towards and away from our Solar System at the pace of a leisurely stroll, about five kilometers per hour.

Goldilocks zone

After cross-checking an inconclusive 2000-2014 dataset and eliminating other possible causes, the researchers determined that the tug of an orbiting planet was responsible for this tiny to-and-fro.

“Statistically, there is no doubt,” Anglada-Escude told journalists in a briefing.

“We have found a planet around Proxima Centauri.”

Proxima b is a mere four light years from the Solar System, meaning that it is essentially in our back yard on the scale of our galaxy, the Milky Way.

It has a mass around 1.3 times that of Earth, and orbits about seven million kilometers from its star.

A planet so near to our Sun — 21 times closer than Earth — would be an unlivable white-hot ball of fire.

But Proxima Centauri is a so-called red dwarf, meaning a star that burns at a lower temperature.

As a result, the newly discovered planet is in a “Goldilocks” sweet spot: neither so hot that water evaporates, nor so cold that it freezes solid.

But liquid water is not the only essential ingredient for the emergence of life.

An atmosphere is also required, and on that score the researchers are still in the dark. It all depends, they say, on how Proxima b evolved as a planet.

“You can come up with formation scenarios that end up with and Earth-like atmosphere, a Venus-like atmosphere” — 96 percent carbon dioxide — “or no atmosphere at all,” said co-author Ansgar Reiners, an expert on “cold” stars at the University of Goettingen’s Institute of Astrophysics in Germany.

Computer models suggest the planet’s temperature, with an atmosphere, could be “in the range of minus 30 Celsius on the dark side, and 30C on the light side,” Reiners said.

Like the Moon in relation to Earth, Proxima b is “tidally locked,” with one face always exposed to its star and the other perpetually in shadow.

Emerging life forms would also have to cope with ultraviolet and X-rays bombarding Proxima b 100 times more intensely than on Earth.

Search for life

An atmosphere would help deflect these rays, as would a strong magnetic field.

But even high doses of radiation do not preclude life, especially if we think outside the box, scientists say.

“We have to be very open-minded as to what we call ‘life’,” Jean Schneider, an expert on exoplanets at the Observatoire de Paris, said.

Last year, NASA unveiled Kepler 452b, a planet about 60 percent larger than Earth that could have active volcanoes, oceans, sunshine like ours, and a year lasting 385 days.

But at a distance of 1,400 light-years, humankind would have little hope of reaching this Earth-twin any time soon.

By comparison, Proxima b is a stone’s throw away, though still too far away for humans to visit with present-generation chemical rockets.

“This is a dream for astronomers if we think about follow up observations,” said Reiners.