Archive for December, 2013

Scientists Successfully Forecasted the Size and Location of an Earthquake

Posted in SCIENCE, GEOLOGY,HEALTH, INVIRONMENT, TECHNOLOGY,ANTHROPOLOGY, ARCHAEOLOGY, with tags on December 30, 2013 by 2eyeswatching

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Post 2768

December 23, 2013

Scientists Successfully Forecasted the Size and Location of an Earthquake

Read more: http://blogs.smithsonianmag.com/science/2013/12/scientists-successfully-forecasted-the-size-and-location-of-an-earthquake/#ixzz2ouwSeOWW
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File:2012eartquakeincostarica.jpg

A magnitude 7.6 earthquake struck Costa Rica on September 5, 2012, producing a strong shaking through much of the country. Image via USGS/Wikimedia

On September 5, 2012, a magnitude 7.6 earthquake struck the Nicoya Peninsula on the northwest coast of Costa Rica. “It started out pretty mild, but then it really got going,” Bill Root, owner of a hotel in Samara, near the epicenter, told CNN. “It was a very strong earthquake. Everything was falling off the shelves and the ground was rolling.”

Despite the quake’s size, damage wasn’t too bad. Some homes and schools were destroyed, but no one died. The destruction was limited, in part, because the earthquake had been anticipated, which allowed for efforts to increase quake awareness on the peninsula and to develop and enforce building codes. Well before the earth started shaking, geoscientists had forcasted that a magnitude 7.7 to 7.8 quake should occur around the year 2000, plus or minus 20 years.

“This is the first place where we’ve been able to map out the likely extent of an earthquake rupture along the subduction megathrust beforehand,” Andrew Newman, a geophysicist at the Georgia Institute of Technology, said in a statement. Newman and his team report their findings December 22 in Nature Geoscience.

The Nicoya Peninsula is prone to earthquakes because it’s an area of subduction, where the Cocos Plate is pushing underneath the Caribbean Plate, moving at a rate of about 8.5 centimeters per year. When regions such as this suddenly slip, they produce a megathrust earthquake. Most of the world’s largest earthquakes—including the magnitude 9.0 Tohoku-Oki quake in Japan in 2011 and the magnitude 9.15 Sumatra-Andaman earthquake in 2004, both of which produced devastating tsunamis—fall into this category.

Prior to the 2012 earthquake, geoscientists set up many GPS units across the Nicoya Peninsula. Photo by Lujia Feng

On the Nicoya Peninsula, large earthquakes–greater than magnitude 7–hit every 50 years or so. Such quakes struck in 1853, 1900, 1950 and, most recently, 2012. In addition to that fairly regular pattern of large quakes, the region is special because it’s a subduction zone that sits on land; most others occur beneath the ocean, making them difficult to study. So in the late 1990s, scientists began to study the region heavily, setting up a dense network of GPS stations that let them monitor the earth’s movements.

The close study of this region allowed scientists to calculate how much strain was building in the fault and in May 2012 they published a study in which they identified two locked spots capable of producing an earthquake similar to the one in 1950. In September of that year, the landward patch ruptured and produced the earthquake. The offshore one is still locked and capable of producing a substantial but smaller earthquake, an aftershock with a magnitude as high as 6.9, the researchers say.

Forecasts for similar subduction environments are possible, but they would require substantial measurements made on the seafloor. “Nicoya is the only place on Earth where we’ve actually been able to get a very accurate image of the locked patch because it occurs directly under land,” Newman said. “If we want to understand the potential for large earthquakes, then we really need to start doing more seafloor observations.”

But better forecasts don’t equal earthquake predictions. Forecasts let regions prepare for the inevitable. Cities and towns can change their codes and build earthquake-resistant structures. They can educate their people for what to do when the quake finally strikes. When the quake happens, some destruction may occur, but it hopefully will be limited, as happened in Costa Rica.

Prediction, on the other hand, is a tricky business–pinpointing the exact day shaking will occur is impossible. Even if it could be done, all it takes is one bad prediction the whole system to go haywire. Imagine an entire city evacuated and then the promised quake didn’t come. A lot of money would be lost. Citizens would lose confidence in scientists. And they’d get angry if a quake happened that wasn’t predicted. They might not take action the next time an earthquake was predicted, and that could lead to many deaths. And because earthquakes are such complicated events, even if a magnitude and location and date were correct, the effects on the surface wouldn’t be clear.

More useful, at least for now, are earthquake early warning systems, such as the one in Japan. The Japanese system detects a quake just as it begins to shake and sends alerts to cellphones, televisions, schools, buildings and mass transit systems before destructive waves reach a population center. If the effectiveness of such a system is maximized, it would allow trains to stop, elevators to come to a halt and people to get to safety before the worst of the shaking.

Read more: http://blogs.smithsonianmag.com/science/2013/12/scientists-successfully-forecasted-the-size-and-location-of-an-earthquake/#ixzz2ouxPpsE8
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Can You Fry Things in Space?

Posted in THE UNIVERSE & SPACE SCIENCE with tags on December 30, 2013 by 2eyeswatching

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Post 2767

December 26, 2013 11:57 am

Can You Fry Things in Space?

Read more: http://blogs.smithsonianmag.com/smartnews/2013/12/can-you-fry-things-in-space/#ixzz2ouz52SOv
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Image: Alpha

Space is a hostile place. You cannot breathe, or scream, or really do much of anything without a spaceship to keep you safe. And even inside the spaceship, things don’t follow the same rules they do on Earth. Crying, washing your hair and boiling water are all totally different in space. But what about frying? Can the good old American tradition of caking foods in grease continue in the vast recesses of space?

Thankfully, scientists are on top of this. In a recent paper published in Food Research International, two researchers investigated the “effect of increased gravitational acceleration in potato deep-fat frying.” Philip Ball at BBC Future explains why frying might be different on a space ship:

For frying and boiling, convection is an essential part of the process. The rate at which foods heat up in water or oil is affected by the way hot liquid circulates. On Earth, the hot liquid at the base of a pan rises because it’s less dense than the cooler liquid above. Yet this convection won’t happen in zero gravity. Conversely, in increased gravity convective effects should be more pronounced.

In order to study these variations, the researchers stuck a deep-fryer onto a giant centrifuge at the European Space Research and Technology Center in the Netherlands. The centrifuge can create up to 9gs of force on the poor french fries, but as they watched the deep-fryer spin they noticed that it was at 3g that the frying began to change. You see, as the centrifuge spins and the g-forces rise, the bubbles in the oil get smaller and smaller. This actually makes for a nicer fry, since tiny bubbles make a nice thick crust. But when you get to 3g, the force on the bubbles is so small that they actually get stuck to the potato. Go above 3g, and the crust separates from the potato all together.

So what does that mean for astronauts? Well, the convection part is problematic. In fact, the researchers realized that at zero g, there would be no convective force, and thus soggy fries without a crust. So for now, no french fries for astronauts.

Read more: http://blogs.smithsonianmag.com/smartnews/2013/12/can-you-fry-things-in-space/#ixzz2ouzTgO4w
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Spend hours clicking through this animated 1930s atlas of America

Posted in SCIENCE, GEOLOGY,HEALTH, INVIRONMENT, TECHNOLOGY,ANTHROPOLOGY, ARCHAEOLOGY, with tags on December 30, 2013 by 2eyeswatching

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Spend hours clicking through this animated 1930s atlas of America

KATHARINE TRENDACOSTA on IO9

Spend hours clicking through this animated 1930s atlas of America

After Charles O. Paullin’s Atlas of the Historical Geography of the United States was published, its editor John K. Wright bemoaned their inability to create “motion-picture” maps. Over 80 years later, the University of Richmond has made that a reality.

If you head over to the University of Richmond’s Digital Scholarship Lab, you can see it’s recently released Internet version of the Atlas of the Historical Geography of the United States. The original atlas, published in 1932, contained nearly 700 hundred maps covering all sorts of subjects. Almost all of these maps have been georectified – warped so that they can lay consistently over the single digital map – and georeferenced – points of the map linked to geographic coordinates. A number of the maps are also clickable, giving you instant access to the data for a specific place.

The result is Paullin’s work coming to life before your eyes. Compare “Persons Per Motor Vehicle” in 1913 versus 1930. Or see the rates of travel between New York and the rest of the country shrink between 1800 and 1930. The table of contents divides the atlas into 18 “chapters” covering everything from “The Natural Environment” to “Military History, 1689-1919.” But it’s almost more fun to just start at the beginning and let the whole thing unfold, one map at a time.

I, for one, am fascinated by the expansion of colleges and universities between 1775 and 1890. Anyone else have a favorite map from this collection?

[via The New York Times]

 

Why you can scratch one spot on your body and feel it somewhere else

Posted in SCIENCE, GEOLOGY,HEALTH, INVIRONMENT, TECHNOLOGY,ANTHROPOLOGY, ARCHAEOLOGY, with tags on December 30, 2013 by 2eyeswatching

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Why you can scratch one spot on your body and feel it somewhere else

ESTHER INGLIS-ARKELL on IO9

Why you can scratch one spot on your body and feel it somewhere else

Ever scratched your arm and felt a scratch over your ribs? How about pinching your leg and feeling a phantom twinge in your back? That sensation is called referred itch or mitempfindung. And here’s why scientists think it happens.

Top image: Shutterstock.com

Mitempfindung got its name from Johannes Muller, a German physiology professor who did a lot of work in the mid-1800s, finding out about the anatomy of everything from humans to frogs. It has been recorded all the back in the 1700s, and was probably wondered about well before then. In English, it goes by the name “referred itch,” which is less challenging for the tongue. Considering how many people it affects, it’s kept a low profile. You’ve probably heard it spoken of as, “that weird thing where you scratch one place, but feel a scratch in a totally other place.”

Referred itch is mostly a subtle thing. If I pinch a spot on my right arm, I feel a twinge on the right side of my rib cage. Some people notice that, when they scratch their back or stomach, they feel something scratching their legs.

Occasionally it gets more dramatic. One man, who had undergone a heart transplant, noticed that when people touched his right ear, he had violent coughing spells. He felt the “tickle” in his throat. For the most part, referred itch does no damage, and so it hasn’t been particularly well-studied. One study noted that people who have synesthesia had four times the base level of referred itch, but that study also indicated that only ten percent of the rest of the population had encountered it. Other studies have found that between fifty and ninety percent of people have experienced the phenomenon.

There are quite a few theories on what cause the itch. One is simply that, when people develop as embryos, certain nerves branch out more expansively than others. That would explain why the connected spots on the body are different from person to person. Generally the connected spots are on the arms, legs, and torso, but there are cases of connection between the ear and the throat, or the thumb and the tongue. There’s also a theory that damage to the spinocervical pathway, a fast route between the nerves and the brain, might result in hyperactivity of the pathway’s neurons. That, though, would probably produce a body-wide sensation, instead of sensation at discrete sites.

Why you can scratch one spot on your body and feel it somewhere else

In the end, the twin twinges might be the result of the fact that the brain has to pack all the sensations of a large body into a small amount of space. In the cerebral cortex and the thalamus, both brain areas that deal with touch, regions in charge of the torso and the limbs overlap. A jangled nerve may excite a nearby nerve in the brain – but those two neighboring nerves deal with very different regions of the body.

Have you experienced mitempfindung? If so, try this experiment. Scratch one of your twin sites for a good long while. The brain doesn’t just play tricks with space, but with time as well. Often you’ll feel a scratching sensation in a spot (any spot) well after you stopped. But do you feel a scratching in both? Let us know your mitempfindung stories!

Image: Brain Maps

[Via CortexBrainEuropean NeurologyBMJ.]

 

Google wants you to live forever

Posted in SCIENCE, GEOLOGY,HEALTH, INVIRONMENT, TECHNOLOGY,ANTHROPOLOGY, ARCHAEOLOGY, with tags on December 30, 2013 by 2eyeswatching

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Post 2764

Google wants you to live forever

GEORGE DVORSKY on IO9

Google wants you to live forever

Google has announced Calico, a new company that will focus on health and well-being. But its ultimate purpose is to radically extend the human lifespan. As TIME put it, “That would be crazy — if it weren’t Google.”

By launching Calico, Google CEO Larry Page hopes to tackle some of health care’s most pressing problems. And by virtue of doing so, the company hopes to be a major player — if notthe major player — in the burgeoning efforts to slow down, or even halt, the aging process in humans.

As many readers of io9 are well aware, theradical life extension movement is in full swing. A good example is Aubrey de Grey’sSENS initiative. Investor Peter Thiel has put millions into rejuvenation biotechnology research. And of course, there are myriad studies looking to extend the lifespans of mice and other organisms.

And now Google is on board. Which is unbelieveable. Not only will this boost R&D into life extension research, it also legitimizes it.

“Illness and aging affect all our families,” noted Page through an official release. “With some longer term, moonshot thinking around healthcare and biotechnology, I believe we can improve millions of lives.”

Arthur D. Levinson, Chairman and former CEO of Genentech and Chairman of Apple, has been named Chief Executive Officer and a founding investor of Calico.

“I’ve devoted much of my life to science and technology, with the goal of improving human health,” noted Levinson. “Larry’s focus on outsized improvements has inspired me, and I’m tremendously excited about what’s next.”

Outsized improvements is right; Google encourages employees to engage in what it calls “10x thinking” — a way of motivating them to create inventions which are better than anything that already exists by at least an order of magnitude.

The September 30 issue of TIME will profile Page and his decision to launch Calico. From the magazine’s preview article:

Based in the Bay Area, not far from Google’s headquarters, Calico will be making longer-term bets than most health care firms. “In some industries, it takes ten or 20 years to go from an idea to something being real. Healthcare is certainly one of those areas,” said Page. “Maybe we should shoot for the things that are really, really important so ten or 20 years from now we have those things done.”

[…]

Google is keeping its exact plans close to the vest. But it is likely to use its data-processing might to shed new light on age-related maladies. Sources close to the project suggest Calico will start with a small number of employees and focus initially on researching new technology.

That approach may yield unlikely conclusions. “Are people really focused on the right things? One of the things I thought was amazing is that if you solve cancer, you’d add about three years to people’s average life expectancy,” Page said. “We think of solving cancer as this huge thing that’ll totally change the world. But when you really take a step back and look at it, yeah, there are many, many tragic cases of cancer, and it’s very, very sad, but in the aggregate, it’s not as big an advance as you might think.”

More at TIME.

The X-47B Drone Has Landed on a Carrier, And War May Never Be the Same

Posted in MILITARY CORNER with tags , on December 30, 2013 by 2eyeswatching

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The X-47B Drone Has Landed on a Carrier, And War May Never Be the Same

ADAM CLARK ESTES on GIZMODO

http://gizmodo.com/the-x-47b-drone-has-landed-on-a-carrier-and-war-may-ne-733010880

The X-47B Drone Has Landed on a Carrier, And War May Never Be the Same

It’s not often that we get to witness aviation history being made, but when we do, it’s often awesome. Such is the case with the U.S. Navy’s X-47B which just became the first unmanned aircraft to land on an aircraft carrier.

Landing a drone on an aircraft carrier was not a cheap or easy task. The so-called “Salty Dog 502″ has been in training to accomplish such a feat for years now, and the program has cost the government over $1.4 billion. It won’t spend anymore, because the Navy is retiring its two X-47B’s and sending them to Navy museums in Florida and Maryland. The aircraft deserve nothing less than being enshrined. “Your grandchildren and great grandchildren, and mine, will be reading about this historic event in their history books,” Rear Admiral Mat Winter told the press ahead of the landing. “This is not trivial.”

How untrivial is it? Some of the top brass say that Wednesday’s accomplishment is second only to the introduction of naval aircraft way back in 1911. And the thought of robot planes zipping on and off of floating runways is probably just as scary to the people of 2013 as the idea of planes on boats was to the people of 1911.

The X-47B Drone Has Landed on a Carrier, And War May Never Be the Same

Nevertheless, Wednesday’s landing was just one of many milestones the X-47B has hit in recent years. The Northrop Grumman drone is a big drone with a 62-foot wingspan, though it can fold its wings into a more compact shape. The two aircraft have more or less been in nonstop testing since their first flights in 2011 and made its first “catapult takeoff” from land six months ago. The operation moved to the aircraft carrier earlier this year, and in May, the X-47B made its first catapult takeoff from the deck and made nine touch-and-go landings.

The X-47B was never armed, but the two drones will change warfare as we know it. Just imagine: now the Navy can launch unmanned aerial vehicles that can fly for dozens of hours without refueling from anywhere in the world. Although the test planes will gather dust in a museum, the technology that made the carrier takeoffs and landings possible will be applied to the rest of the drone fleet. The Navy will start accepting proposals for a new carrier-ready drone next month and hope the aircraft will be in service in three to six years.

The first landing:

 

 

 

http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=cPaH8CCtRVU

 

 

 

The first launch:

 

 

 

http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=_FMvNrkwmi0

 

 

 

 

Breakthrough: The World’s First Carbon Nanotube Computer

Posted in SCIENCE, GEOLOGY,HEALTH, INVIRONMENT, TECHNOLOGY,ANTHROPOLOGY, ARCHAEOLOGY, with tags on December 30, 2013 by 2eyeswatching

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Breakthrough: The World’s First Carbon Nanotube Computer

GEORGE DVORSKY on IO9

Breakthrough: The World’s First Carbon Nanotube Computer

It’s only got 178 transistors, but it’s an important proof-of-concept that’s poised to keep Moore’s Law right on track. The breakthrough, in which a basic computer was powered by microscopic chains of carbon atoms, means we may have finally found a viable alternative to silicon chips.

Back in 1965, Intel Corp. co-founder Gordon Moore famously predicted that the density of transistors would double about every two years, resulting in smaller, faster, and cheaper electronic devices. Trouble is, smaller and faster has resulted in whole lot of on/off transistor switching in increasingly smaller spaces, leading to intense heat dissipation.

No doubt. Today’s silicon-based laptops can get absolutely scorching at times, often making them impossible to use in the way they were literally intended. Eventually, these transistors could start to melt or burn electronic components. What’s more, it’s a tremendous waste of power. It’s a concern that’s plagued designers for years, leading them to worry that Moore’s Law may eventually come to an end.

Long Chains of Carbon Atoms

A ray of hope in all this, however, has been the potential for carbon nanotubes (CNT) — long chains of carbon atoms that are exceptionally efficient at conducting and controlling electricity. But they can also be fashioned into transistors within semiconductors.

And in fact, CNTs were first used as transistors 15 years ago — but engineers faced terrible issues when trying to make them work in the exact way needed. Specifically, the CNTs didn’t grow in accordance to the strict parallel lines required by engineers. In addition, depending on how they grew, some CNTs ended up behaving like metallic wires that perpetually conducted electricity instead of acting like proper semiconductors which can be switched off. This intermittent problem made the prospect of mass production a nightmare.

But scientists did not want to give up on CNTs. They’re amazing conductors. And because they’re so thin — thousands of chains can fit side-by-side in a human hair — they require a ridiculously small amount of energy to switch them off. Think of it as a garden hose; the thinner the hose, the less effort is needed to shut off the flow. Should CNTs be made to work, they could operate an order of magnitude in performance beyond silicon-based chips.

An Imperfection-immune Design

To address these problems, a Stanford team came up with a novel solution — a two-pronged approach they’re calling an “imperfection-immune design.”

Breakthrough: The World’s First Carbon Nanotube Computer

To get rid of the wire-like nanotubes, the researchers switched off all the good CNTs. They then shot a burst of electricity into the semiconductor, which was collected in the metallic nanotubes. This caused them to grow so hot that they burned up and vaporized into tiny puffs of carbon dioxide. First part of the problem solved.

Then, to bypass the misaligned tubes, the researchers developed a sophisticated computer program capable of mapping out a circuit layout guaranteed to work no matter whether or where CNTs might be misaligned.

Faster, Energy Efficient, Cooler

With these problems solved, the research team, which was led by by Stanford professors Subhasish Mitra and H.S. Philip Wong, was able to fashion a basic computer with 178 transistors. The machine can perform tasks like counting and number sorting. It also supports a basic operating system that allows it to switch between these two tasks. It can also run MIPS, a commercial instruction set designed back in the 1980s, allowing it to run over 20 different instructions.

Breakthrough: The World’s First Carbon Nanotube Computer

Though people have long considered CNTs a viable alternative to silicon transistors, this is the first proof that actually works — and it’s the most complex carbon-based electronic system yet realized. It’s one of several recent and remarkable breakthroughs, including the ‘teleportation’ of information across an electronic circuit and the first quantum hub-and-spoke digital communications network.

Once perfected and scaled-up to industrial-scale levels, the Stanford approach could revolutionize the way electronics are designed and produced. It may even represent the next-generation of chip design. As a result, the ongoing miniaturization revolution will be allowed to continue, as will Moore’s Law. Future devices will continue to run at increasingly faster rates, require significantly less energy than silicon chips, and remain cool.

Read the entire study at Nature: “Carbon Nanotube Computer.”

Related: 8 Incredible Nanotechnologies that Actually Exist Today and Carbon Nanotubes Will Rewire Your Brain, Make You Smarter.