(NaturalNews) After witnessing how Reuters just blatantly cooked the presidential election polls this week to favor Clinton and how the mainstream media is so terrifyingly biased in favor of Clinton that the very foundation of democracy is now in crisis, it's time to tell you something that perhaps a lot more people are finally ready to hear:


Every institution in America is sold out, corrupted and politically rigged to favor Big Government and Big Business. "America is a lost country," explains Paul Craig Roberts. "The total corruption of every public and the private institution is complete. Nothing remains but tyranny. And lies. Endless lies."

CNN, Reuters and the Associated Press are all now shameless promoters of every big lie across every sector of society, from vaccines and GMOs to elections and politics. The federal government itself is incapable of doing anything other than lying, and it has totally corrupted the entire realm of science by pulling the strings of funding via the National Institutes of Health and the NSF.

The FDA is entirely corrupt, as is the USDA. Both function now as little more than marketing propaganda pushers for Big Pharma and Big Biotech. Similarly, Google, Facebook and Twitter are all rigged, too, censoring the voices they don't want anyone to hear while highlighting the establishment lies they wish to promote.

Here's what "rigged" really means... the tools of tyranny

When I say "everything is rigged," what does that mean, exactly?

  • All "official sources" are ordered to constantly lie about everything, weaving illusions to push a chosen narrative rooted in fiction (from "there are no Islamic terrorists" to "carbon dioxide is poison to the planet").
  • All voices of reason and sanity are silenced. Only the most insane, irrational voices are allowed to be magnified through any media (including social media). This is also true across the sciences, where real science has been all but snuffed out by political agendas (biosludge, GMOs, glyphosate, mercury in dentistry, etc.).
  • All facts are obliterated by propaganda. Facts have no place in any debate, and those who invoke facts are shamed and silenced (or even fired from their jobs, expelled from their schools or bullied into a state of suicide on social media). Anyone who invokes facts on things like the actual statistics of police shootings is told they are "part of the problem" because they have the "wrong attitude" about social justice.
  • Every branch of government is weaponized against the people and used as an assault tool against political enemies who threaten the status quo. (IRS, FDA, FTC, DEA, EPA, USDA, etc.)
  • All science is distorted into absurd, politically-motivated conclusions about everything the government wants to use to control the masses: Vaccines, climate change, GMOs, fluoride, flu shots, chemical agriculture, carbon dioxide and so on.
  • Every branch of medicine is hijacked by globalist agendas to make sure medicine never makes anyone healthier, more alert or more cognitively capable of thinking for themselves.
  • Every "news item" that's reported from any official source is deliberately distorted to the point of insanity, turning many facts on their heads while attacking anyone who might offer something truly constructive to the world. (Such as reporting that Clinton was "cleared" by the FBI when, in fact, she was indicted by the very facts the FBI presented!)
  • All voices of truth are silenced, then replaced by meaningless, distracting babble (Kardashians) or meaningless, tribal sports competitions (the Rio Olympics). The point is to dumb down the entire population to the point of cultural lunacy.
  • Any true reports that contradict any official narrative are immediately censored. For example, radio host Michael Savage just got blocked by Facebook for posting a true story about an illegal alien who committed murder in America.
  • Emotions are used as weapons to manipulate the masses. For example, when the mom of a Benghazi victim shares her grief with the world, she is ridiculed and shamed. But when a radical Muslim father who's trying to bring Sharia Law to America attacks Trump by expressing his loss of his soldier son, the media turns him into an instant celebrity, praising his "courageous voice" for daring to speak out. The media hypocrisy is enough to make you vomit...

What exactly is rigged?

  • The entire mainstream media
  • Google search engine and Google News
  • Facebook and Twitter
  • The DNC and the RNC (both 100% rigged by globalists)
  • Every federal agency (EPA, FDA, etc.)
  • The entire justice system (makes a total farce of real justice)
  • Interest rates and the value of the money supply (central banksters)
  • Academia (all public universities)
  • EPA's "safe" limits on pesticides (all rigged by Big Biotech)
  • Food and food labeling (all run by corrupt food companies)
  • Public education (rigged into Common Core anti-knowledge idiocy)
  • Banking and finance (all controlled by globalists)
  • Government economics figures and statistics
  • Medicine and pharmaceuticals (rigged to maximize profits)
  • Big Science (totally rigged by government agenda pushers)
  • The music industry (most top singers can't sing at all)
  • Weapons manufacturers and war corporations
  • The illegal drug trade (it's run by the government)
  • Political elections (all 100% rigged at the federal level)
  • Political polls (now rigged by Reuters, too)
  • The health insurance industry (rigged by Obamacare)
  • College admissions (legally discriminates against Whites and Asians)
  • 9/11 and domestic terrorism (all rigged "official stories")
  • Oil and energy industries
  • The rule of law (rigged in favor of the rich and powerful)
  • Infectious disease and the CDC (a constant stream of lies)
  • Hollywood (all run by globalists)
  • Climate change science (all a grand science hoax)
  • Press release services (they only allow official narratives)
  • History (what you are taught is mostly a lie)
  • Government grants (only given out to those who further the agenda)
  • Government bids (only awarded to those who kick back funds to corrupt officials)
  • Consciousness and free will (we are all taught consciousness doesn't exist)
  • Ethnobotany (medicinal and spiritual use of healing plants)
  • Life on other plants (the obvious truth is kept from us all)
  • The origin of the universe (the official narrative is a laughable fairy tale)

As a fantastic example of how everything is rigged, consider these paragraphs from this Breitbart.com news story published today:

Over the weekend and for the past few days since Khan spoke alongside his wife Ghazala Khan about their son, U.S. Army Captain Humayun Khan, who was killed in Iraq in 2004, media-wide reporters, editors, producers, and anchors have tried to lay criticism on Trump over the matter. They thought they had a good one, a specific line of attack that pitted Trump against the military—and supposedly showed him as a big meanie racist in the process.

But, as Breitbart News showed on Monday midday, that clearly was not the case. Khizr Khan has all sorts of financial, legal, and political connections to the Clintons through his old law firm, the mega-D.C. firm Hogan Lovells LLP. That firm did Hillary Clinton’s taxes for years, starting when Khan still worked there involved in, according to his own website, matters “firm wide”—back in 2004. It also has represented, for years, the government of Saudi Arabia in the United States. Saudi Arabia, of course, is a Clinton Foundation donor which—along with the mega-bundlers of thousands upon thousands in political donations to both of Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaigns in 2008 and 2016—plays right into the “Clinton Cash” narrative.

America's transformation into Communist China is nearly complete

If you're pondering where all this is headed, look no further than Communist China, where all independent news has been outlawed by the state. Political prisoners across China have their organs harvested to enrich black market organ traders, and nearly one out of every three urban citizens is a secret spy who snitches on friends for the totalitarian communist government.

Hillary Clinton is the embodiment of Communist Chinese totalitarianism. She's such a perfect fit for their disastrous model of human rights abuses, government corruption and systemic criminality that I'm surprised she doesn't live in Beijing. If Clinton gets elected, America is gone forever, replaced by a criminal regime of totalitarians who violate the RICO Act as a matter of policy.

If this entire rigged system of biased media, Facebook censorship, Google search result manipulations and twisted science ends up putting America's most terrifying political criminal into the White House, it's lights out for the American we once knew. Almost immediately, the nation fractures into near Civil War, with calls for secession growing unstoppable as state after state seeks to escape the political wrath of an insane regime of D.C. criminals and tyrants. #TEXIT

We now live in two Americas: Half the country is tired of everything being rigged, and the other half can't wait to be exploited by yet another crooked leftist LIAR who rigs everything

America is now essentially two nations. On one hand, we have the pro-Trump America, filled with people who are tired of being cheated, censored, punished, stolen from and lied to about everything under the sun. Donald Trump supporters are people who realize everything is rigged... and they're demanding an end to the corruption and criminality of the fascist system under which we all suffer today.

Hillary Clinton supporters are people who are too busy chasing political rainbows to realize everything is rigged. They still believe the lies and the propaganda (the "hope and change" that never came, but is still promised by empty politicians). They're living in fairy tale delusional worlds that have been woven into their gullible minds by the skillful social engineers of the radical left. These people still think the government cares about them... or that CNN only reports truthful news. They can't wait to see another globalist in the White House because they are pathetic, weak-minded empty shells of non-consciousness who are wholly incapable of thinking for themselves.

These two camps of Americans can no longer coexist. They have almost nothing in common when it comes to knowledge, wisdom, ethics, morals or philosophy. One camp believes in the rule of law (Trump); the other camp believes that people in power should be above the law (Clinton). One camp believes in states' rights and individual liberty (Trump) while the other camp believes in the consolidation of totalitarian power in the hands of a centralized, domineering government (Clinton). One camp believes in a level playing field, free market competition and rewarding innovation and hard work (Trump), while the other camp believes in free handouts, government "equality" mandates, and the ludicrous idea that "there should be no winners or losers in society." (Clinton)

In other to try to win this election, the Clinton camp has already rigged EVERYTHING from the very start, including the coronation of Hillary, the scheduling of televised debates to minimize their viewership, the surrender of Bernie Sanders to the DNC machine, the mass organization of illegal voting schemes to make sure illegal aliens vote in November, and so much more. No doubt they're also working extremely hard to rig the black box voting machines all across the country.

If you're tired of everything being rigged, this November vote against the rigged system by voting for Donald Trump. This is truly your last chance to save America from being overthrown by a totalitarian regime of criminals who will crush every last iota of freedom and liberty in America.

Author : Mike Adams

Source : http://www.naturalnews.com/054857_rigged_elections_fake_media_fairy_tales.html

Categorized in Search Engine

We now live in a world where it seems that everything about us is (or soon will be) tracked and recorded: what we eat, what we watch, how we socialize, what we like and dislike, our vital health statistics—and the list goes on.

Such unprecedented access to personal data presents potentially enormous opportunities to, for instance, help government officials make better policy decisions, allow businesses to operate more efficiently and profitably, streamline the use of public resources, support more personalized healthcare and drug design, and otherwise improve the overall quality of life in our society. The key to seizing these opportunities lies in our ability to convert the available data into significant decisions.

Data Science and Statistics: Opportunities and Challenges

An upcoming six-week online MIT Professional Education course, Data Science: Data to Insights, offered in partnership with the MIT Institute for Data, Systems, and Society (IDSS), will focus on analytics. But it will also address such concerns as the latest trends in machine learning: how to extract meaningful insights and preferences from customer data in general and how to ask the right questions to make better business decisions.

The Challenge

Over the past few decades, we have built infrastructure that can store and process massive amounts of data. However, we still lack the critical ability to seamlessly stitch together various pieces of data to make meaningful predictions that lead to high-impact decisions. Given the endless opportunities that can be unlocked by addressing this shortcoming, I believe this is one of the defining challenges of our times.

Educational institutions can play a leading role in addressing this important challenge. At MIT, the IDSS and its new Statistics and Data Science Center (SDSC) will help address the challenge of turning data into real-world decisions with a two-pronged approach:

  1. Educating our students to be able to work with large amounts of data and to use the tools to extract meaningful information from it. Put another way, we must educate students in all disciplines to be both data scientists and statisticians. This requires that institutions design a streamlined, interdisciplinary educational program that includes elements from engineering, mathematical sciences, and the social sciences.
  2. Developing a research program that eventually produces a statistical data-processing system that can be readily used to make all sorts of accurate predictions. Such a system needs to work with heterogeneous data sources, operate at scale, and lead to predictions that can be effectively interpreted. This ambitious program could help mobilize an interdisciplinary and exciting intellectual effort in data science and statistics for the next decade or beyond.

Thinking About Decisions

Let’s consider how decisions are made. In a typical organization, basic operational tasks depend on decisions about how to invest available resources among different competing options, with an eye on one or more objectives.

For example, the U.S. government makes such decisions while developing its budget. A trading firm invests money in different financial instruments to create portfolios with high returns and, potentially, well-understood risks. A retail organization makes decisions about which merchandise purchases will generate high revenues and profits. A household makes decisions about how to get the most out of the family income. A rational individual makes decisions about what to eat (and what not to eat) to get enough energy and stay healthy.

All such decisions, in a nutshell, boil down to making predictions, then undertaking certain optimization activities using those predictions.

How It Works: A Retail Example

Now let’s look at a concrete example involving an apparel retailer. The retailer’s primary operational problem is figuring out which products to showcase for customers, given various operational constraints such as its budget for buying inventory, the limits on its stores’ shelf space, and its suppliers’ schedules. The question of choosing which products to showcase arises at different times for different types of decisions, such as deciding which products to purchase across the chain of stores, which to ship to various locations from distribution centers, which products to discount, which to promote via e-mail, and which to show to customers when they visit stores or e-commerce sites.

All these questions, in essence, require an understanding of what people like and dislike. Some existing systems do provide these insights, and might indicate, for instance, that blue shirts are trending while red shorts have stopped selling. But how do we convert these insights into action?

Data-Driven Decision Making

Conceptually, data-driven decision making requires connecting decision variables and options to data, and then solving an optimization problem with varying objectives. Operationally, this requires building a data-processing system that might be extremely large-scale and that might need to operate in real time with three high-level components: interfaces, infrastructure, and algorithms.

Interfaces. These provide ways to deliver information to end-customers and sensors to collect information. For example, Web-based (browser) interfaces or mobile applications allow the collection of information about online customer activities. Similarly, such interfaces can help a decision maker in a retail organization interact with data and insights, as well as obtain decision support. The standardization of such interfaces has allowed for massive innovation in this domain over the past decade.

Infrastructure. The role of infrastructure is to provide a means for seamlessly storing and processing massive amounts of data. The need for such infrastructure arose naturally in the late 1990s as the Internet era picked up steam. It’s no surprise that Web-search companies have pioneered basic innovations. Interestingly, Web search, a seemingly simple feature, has led to the development of a generic scalable storage and computation infrastructure. That, in turn, has been the primary reason for recent exciting innovations in scalable computation and data processing.

Algorithms. Data-processing algorithms transform the raw data collected into valuable insights and decisions. Appropriate models are used to connect that data to decision variables. For example, when raw data is generated by people, it may make sense to use a behavioral model to connect that observed data to decision variables. The resulting algorithms use the computation and storage infrastructure, based on the data obtained through the interface, and produce end results that can be delivered to the end user through the interface.

Yet a major challenge is enabling the development of data-processing algorithms for everyone. Unlike the availability of standardized interfaces or a generic computation and storage architecture, we are far from having a generic, data-processing, algorithmic architecture.

Let’s revisit the retail example above. Specifically, consider the decision task of which products to show to customers when they are visiting the e-commerce site—that is, how do we personalize each customer’s experience? Naturally, this depends on data about the specific customer, as well as the data collected about others.

That data is collected through a customer’s browsing history and clicks on the e-commerce website, past purchases, and other online activity gleaned through our Web and mobile interfaces. It is likely stored in a storage infrastructure. It is transformed into real-time, personalized decisions via potentially sophisticated data-processing algorithms that use behavioral models from the social sciences, along with methods from mathematical statistics and machine learning. The data-processing algorithms use the computation infrastructure to be able to make such decisions in real time. In this way, personalized decisions are delivered to the customer through the interface.

Key to building this type of personalization or recommendation system is having access to a skilled team of data scientists and statisticians who can identify appropriate statistical methods and behavioral models to develop data-processing algorithms. They can then design human-friendly interfaces that can collect useful data and subsequently deliver decisions. While this is an expensive undertaking, some of the largest retailers have already taken this route.

On the other hand, the personalization/recommendation system has specific functions that take a very similar form across organizations. That similarity has allowed the development of generic recommendation systems. Therefore, many retailers end up purchasing such systems from outside vendors who simply plug in the personalization system through the interfaces.

Closing the Loop

As discussed previously, one major challenge is going from data to decisions. We already have a lot of data—and we have a good infrastructure to store and process it—but we need to figure out how to process it. The discussion of the personalization/recommendation system explains precisely the two approaches that we can use simultaneously to address this challenge.

First, we must enable organizations to build their team of skilled data scientists. Second, we should develop a generic data-processing algorithmic architecture. Specifically, this data-processing architecture needs to focus on developing a generic prediction system. That’s because a decision-making system basically has two components: predicting the unknowns and using the predictions to perform optimization. Over the past few decades, significant progress has been made to develop the theory and practice of optimization. However, we still can’t define what the generic and universal prediction problem is.

IDSS, SDSC, and ‘Data Science’

MIT launched the IDSS to address societal questions emerging over the next century. While many of these issues involve multiple disciplines, they are all connected through one common challenge: data-driven decisions. To develop an education program and enable research in data science and statistics at the IDSS, MIT created the SDSC under the IDSS umbrella.

We will help address the challenge of transforming data into decisions by enabling the two approaches that I have described through both the SDSC and the IDSS. Specifically, the SDSC will educate sophisticated data scientists and statisticians through interdisciplinary educational programs. The IDSS will provide an interdisciplinary research environment that will allow its members to undertake ambitious research programs in statistics and data science.

Meanwhile, our new six-week, online course

, “Data Science: Data to Insights”, which begins October 4, will share the latest information about ways to apply data science techniques to more effectively address your organization’s many challenges. To learn more about how to create your company’s data-analysis future, please visit the course registration page.

Author : Devavrat Shah

Source : https://www.technologyreview.com/s/602300/data-science-and-statistics-opportunities-and-challenges/

Categorized in Science & Tech

A RADICAL new theory claims that humans are the descendants of Martian life which came to Earth billions of years ago.

Scientists believe life might have begin on Mars and then “contaminated” our own planet.

An artist’s illustration of the igloo-style Mars ice home suggested by Elon Musk

It’s believed life had a better chance of getting started on the now arid planet in ancient times because it used to have the right conditions for alien life – like water and a possible atmosphere.

They think that an asteroid collision caused by space rocks in our solar system smashing into each other might have caused a chunk of life from Mars to land on Earth.

Astronomer Caleb Sharf told Business Insider: “We can find pieces of Mars here on Earth and we suspect that there are pieces of Earth on Mars.

“If that material can carry living organisms on it, it’s possible that we are Martian.” 

Nasa reveals incredible formations formed by dry ice on Mars

Our neighbouring planet still harbours plenty of secrets, but we know these 'sightings' probably aren't legit

Our neighbouring planet still harbours plenty of secrets, but we know these 'sightings' probably aren't legit

Artist's impression of the European Space Agency's ExoMars 2016 Trace Gas Orbiter entering orbit

Artist's impression of the European Space Agency's ExoMars 2016 Trace Gas Orbiter entering orbit.


Source : https://www.thesun.co.uk/news/2686621/life-came-from-mars-and-was-carried-to-earth-on-an-asteroid-scientists-claim/

Categorized in Science & Tech

Our tale of two planets begins four billion years ago. One planet was Earth, and the other planet was Mars, and the two had much in common in their infancy. Rivers and lakes etched their surfaces, craters pockmarked their faces, and volcanoes rose from their plains. But something seems to have changed on one and not the other.

In Earth’s burbling warm water, fate and chemistry combined amino acids into complex molecules, and in a process we still don’t understand, these gave rise to single cells that figured out how to make copies of themselves. Tiny mistakes in those copies eventually turned them into oxygen-exhaling organisms we call algae. Endless forms flowed from these humble ancestors, and after eons, there we were: All of human culture and hope and possibility arising within a tiny slice of time.

Mars was not so lucky. Mars dried up. Mars is small, about half Earth’s diameter, so it cooled off faster than Earth did after their birth in the cloud of dust left over from the sun’s creation. Compared to its overall volume, more of Mars’ mass is exposed to the icy blackness of space. As it cooled, its iron-nickel core solidified. When this happened, we think, the Martian magnetic field shut down, robbing Mars of its protective shield, of the sort that still safeguards Earth from solar and cosmic rays. Time and the brightening sun stripped away the Martian atmosphere before the planet’s algae, if it existed, had a chance to make the air thick and warm. Mars turned to rust before any skeletons could adorn its deserts, before any creatures could look up and contemplate their place among the other dots in the night sky. While Earth is fecund and bursting with life, Mars is, and may have always been, barren.

To me, this is why Mars is the best planet. A few simple changes turn its history into our history, and vice versa. That’s the key thing; that could have been us.

Ashwin Vasavada has a similar view. He is the project scientist for the Mars Science Laboratory, the six-wheeled robot car we know and love as Curiosity. He can quote the easy answer for why we go to Mars, the assumption most scientists and science writers make: Mars is close. It’s practically right next door, and you can fling a robot there in half a year.

“That’s the NASA answer. It’s the most accessible place for life other than on Earth. But I have my own answer,” he says. “It’s a place that you can go today that’s like going to early Earth. You remove that dusty exterior of Mars, and you have this planet that is just so reminiscent of Earth. It’s like finding a dusty Earth in your attic. Shake off the dust a little bit, and it’s this amazing place that you can recognize. That’s why I like it.”

Mars would seem familiar to anyone who has seen the national parks of the American West, especially the ones full of wind-whipped rock formations and surprising color. The terrain at Gale Crater’s Mount Sharp, where Curiosity has been trundling along since 2012, might as well be Utah or Colorado. The rocks are reddish brown, sun-baked, and partly blanketed in sand dunes. Their carved-away hillsides are jagged, however — no rivers or softening rains have given them Earth’s gentle countenance.

Of course, Mars was familiar to us long before we sent robots there. With Mercury, Venus, Jupiter, and Saturn, Mars is one of the night sky’s unblinking wanderers, visible with eyes alone. The planets have accompanied human culture since we started writing stories. The next planet over has been a fixture in myths dating to the Babylonians, who called it Nergal, after the god of destruction. In Roman mythology, Mars was the god of war and destabilization. This figure also appears in various forms in Greek, Norse, and Hindu mythologies. To ancient Chinese, it was Ying-huo, the Shimmering Planet.

Even now, we acknowledge Mars on the third day of every week. In romance languages, the name comes from the Latin day of Mars, or “Dies Martis” — that became martes in Spanish, mardi in French. In Norse mythology, Mars is associated with the god Tyr, so our Tuesday comes from the Old English word Tiwesdæg. We also honor Mars on the third month of every year. Bellicose Mars was also a protector of the Roman people and a patron of agriculture, so the month named for this god marked the beginning of the growing season.

Mars has always stood out from the other wanderers, in part because it is so obviously red, a ruddy, unblinking dot hanging with an air of menace. Its hue — which comes from oxidized iron, in the same chemical reaction that turns blood red — linked Mars to war, and to death, long before we knew it was dead in a literal sense. What’s more, it moves backward, or seems to. The sun, moon and stars rise in the east and fall in the west because of Earth’s rotation. But the planets orbit the sun at different rates, and so sometimes, Earth will lap one of them, like a runner on an inside track lane. From our perspective on Earth, the other planet seems to be moving west to east. This aberrant behavior has long been associated with omens or astrological predictions.

Its omnipresence in our sky made Mars a prime target as soon as we figured out how to use glass to make the night sky’s features appear larger. By the 17th century, astronomers resolved its polar ice caps through telescopes — perhaps one of the earliest discoveries that the fourth planet shared something in common with ours. And the more we looked, the more we found these similarities. Mars is the best planet because Mars and Earth have more in common than any other worlds in the solar system. It cowers next to humongous Jupiter, but unlike that gas giant, its hard surface beckons visitors. Mars lacks our dewy, oxygen-rich atmosphere, but neither is it shrouded in a poisonous, bone-crushingly dense one like Venus. Its day (called a sol) is just 40 minutes longer than our own. Its axis is tilted slightly more than ours, at 25 degrees, unlike weirdly slanted Uranus. And anyone who argues it is ugly, especially compared to the art deco elegance of Saturn, is simply mistaken. Mars is lovely to behold. Mars has snow. It has mountains, and lake beds, and recognizable landscapes. Earth and Mars are the same in so many ways. And yet. The biggest difference is the only one that really matters. The only life on Mars is the kind we imagine.

Martian fantasies grew in complexity alongside Martian observations. Astronomers frequently turned to the red planet when Mars was opposed to the sun and close to Earth, making it appear larger and brighter. The most famous of these was the opposition of 1877, in which the Italian astronomer Giovanni Schiaparelli observed networks of lines on Mars, which later turned out to be optical illusions (though Mars does have streaks of water lining its slopes today). He called them canali, which was translated into English as “canals.”

This momentous finding brought Mars closer to Earth than ever. It became even easier to imagine Mars as a place just like Earth, positively crawling with life. “The present inhabitation of Mars by a race superior to ours is very probable,” the French astronomer Camille Flammarion wrote in 1892. Around the same time, the American astronomer Percival Lowell scrutinized Mars extensively. He believed he saw “non-natural features,” including canals, which he imagined were devised to transport water from the drying planet’s ice caps. Mars soon loomed even larger in science fiction and pop culture. By 1897, H.G. Wells’ “War of the Worlds” imagined Mars as a slowly drying planet full of desperate beings who launch rockets to Earth, where they feast on human blood.

If Mars was arguably the first place storytellers imagined we would find aliens, it was indeed the first place we went looking for them. Project Ozma, in which astronomer Frank Drake pointed a radio telescope at the stars Tau Ceti and Epsilon Eridani, is the traditional SETI origin story. But we listened to Mars first. In Aug. 22, 1924, the head of the U.S. Navy, Edward Eberle, instructed all naval stations to turn their receivers toward Mars. The red planet was at its closest approach to Earth in 120 years, and some astronomers thought Martians might use the opportunity to make contact over the airwaves. Onshore stations were advised to listen to as many frequencies as possible, and to “report any electrical phenomenon [of] unusual character,” according to a telegram from Eberle. If someone wanted to talk, the Navy was ready to listen.

No Martians made contact that day, because there are no Martians, as far as any of our satellites and robots can tell. But this has not stopped our storytellers, and it certainly has not stopped our scientists. We have been attempting to land spacecraft on Mars for nearly 50 years, and almost all of them have been looking for life, in one way or another.

The history of Mars landings has shown that the planet is anything but hospitable now, however. And that goes for machines just as much as microbes. More than half of the robots sent to Mars have been destroyed in the process, most recently last fall. The European Space Agency’s Schiaparelli lander plummeted through the atmosphere Oct. 19, but crashed after it cut its parachute too soon and its hovercraft-like retrorockets didn’t fire long enough.

Still, those lucky few that have made it, most notably Curiosity, have shown us Mars was habitable in its past. The fleet of orbiters looping around the planet have sent back data that suggests there is some water there today, mostly at the poles. But we are still not sure if Mars had lasting oceans, or just big lakes and rivers, says Ray Arvidson, a renowned planetary scientist who has directed or taken part in every NASA Mars mission since Viking. And we certainly don’t know whether it had life.

“It’s not a given. It’s not a shoo-in, by any means, that Mars developed life, and if it did, that the evidence is still there,” Arvidson says. “Whether or not you get organic molecules that move to prebiotic compounds, that then move to replicating systems, that’s a big leap.”

Even assuming that leap happened, Vasavada and others say we are more likely to find evidence of ancient life than modern life. Extant or extinct Martians would probably be bacteria or some other simple cells, definitely not limbed beings that communicate using light or language. In this way, Mars may seem disappointing to some. But it is the best planet precisely because a null result, as scientists would call it, would raise an even bigger question: Why here? Why us?

“I think it just becomes a real scientific mystery if we don’t find life. That tells us we don’t quite understand how unique life is on Earth,” Vasavada says. “If you don’t find it, that almost becomes more interesting, and makes you get more existential about life on Earth. That’s where I am now.”

For those who take an even longer existential view, Mars is important — vital, even. When Elon Musk unveiled his plans for giant rockets and spaceships to transport human settlers to Mars, he invoked not only exploration, but our shared future. Mars is an opportunity for humans to carry forward the light of consciousness, letting it propagate alongside us, and to survive after we are gone, much like the first cells on Earth found a way to send copies of themselves into the future. If Musk and other dreamers have their way, the first life forms on Mars might be us.

But make no mistake: It will be a horrible, destructive journey. Unlike the territories of colonial history — the West Indies, the American West and other frontiers — Mars does not tickle the mind with dreams of untold riches. Mars is no El Dorado. Its atmosphere does not hold any heat. It has no pressure to prevent your blood from vaporizing. Without a spacesuit, you would literally boil and freeze to death, simultaneously. Mars travelers would be consigned forever to pressurized domes or, more likely, radiation-shielding caves. They would never again see waves lapping at a shoreline. They would never again hear the wind singing through pine trees. They would never again be surprised by the sight of a silvery crescent moon.

Why go, then?

I was at JPL when Curiosity landed in August 2012, and I couldn’t help clapping along with the NASA engineers and scientists who whooped and hollered at the news. The dust had barely settled after Curiosity’s audacious sky crane landing when the rover sent back its first postcard, the grainy image you see here.

“It’s the wheel! It’s the wheel!” someone in the control room shouted. Squinting at the black-and-white image of a wheel on a rocky plain, I felt a rush of emotion. The rover’s belly cast a shadow in the afternoon sun. The scene looked so familiar, but felt so wrong. It could have been the mountain West where I grew up, only it was empty, lifeless but for the robot now perched on the sand.

If Saturn is a spur to the scientific imagination, letting us glimpse how far our minds must go to meet what the cosmos has in store, Mars does the opposite. It is a sign of how unlikely we are. It makes us confront how fragile the Earth is. It’s a reminder of how lonely we remain on our pale blue dot, the only home we have ever known. Mars is the best planet because Mars is a mirror. We look to it and we see ourselves — our past and possibility, and, with some imagination, our future.

Source: https://www.theatlantic.com/science/archive/2017/01/mars-is-the-best-planet/512654

Categorized in Science & Tech

What scientific discoveries will 2017 bring? What technological innovations? Probably not time travel — or time-shares on Mars. But no one really knows for sure, and when we asked some of the biggest names in in science and technology to share their predictions for the coming year, there was a bit of pushback.

"I normally don't make predictions for anything less than two trillion years in the future," Arizona State University cosmologist Lawrence Krauss told NBC MACH. It's easier to make predictions that far out, he added jokingly, when "no one will be around to check them."

Ultimately, Krauss came through with some fascinating forecasts. Read on to see them, along with predictions from legendary astronaut Buzz Aldrin and nine more thought leaders in science and tech (the submissions have been lightly edited).

Buzz Aldrin Christina Korp / Christina Korp

Buzz Aldrin:

A New "Race for Space"

Dr. Buzz Aldrin, the second human to walk on the moon, is a leading advocate of space science and planetary exploration. He is the co-author of several books, including "Mission to Mars: My Vision for Space Exploration" and "No Dream Is Too High: Life Lessons From a Man Who Walked on the Moon." He lives in Satellite Beach, Florida.

Given President-Elect Trump's interest in putting in place a space council, I envision a more unified approach to shaping and overhauling aspects of America's civil, military, and industrial space sectors. And get ready for intense competition in the development of human spaceflight systems, not only for use in low Earth orbit but also outward from our home planet. This commercial "race for space" will lead to technical and business innovations we don't yet appreciate or understand.

I think the year ahead will see Jeff Bezos's Blue Origin group wring out its New Shepard reusable suborbital launch vehicle and press forward on its New Glenn booster. Similarly, Richard Branson's Virgin Galactic SpaceShipTwo will hasten the pace of testing to create suborbital passenger service. And keep an eye on the maiden flights of the Boeing CST-100 Starliner and the SpaceX Dragon 2 capsules — stepping stones to restore our nation's capabilities for human spaceflight.

I expect Elon Musk and his SpaceX rocketeers will fly their Falcon Heavy launcher from the refurbished Launch Complex 39 pad A at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. That's the same site that I rocketed from with my Apollo 11 colleagues, Neil Armstrong and Michael Collins, to achieve the first human landing on the Moon in July 1969!

China is headed for several milestone achievements. For one, they will use their new Long March 5 and Long March 7 boosters to advance their goal of building their own space station. In addition, look for China to fly to the moon the robotic Chang'e 5 spacecraft and attempt the first lunar sample return to Earth in more than 40 years.

Lastly, look for surprises from mysterious Mars! Now orbiting the Red Planet is the European Space Agency's ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter that in 2017 will "sniff out" whether methane detected on that world is a product of Martian microbes.

Personally, I'll be working as hard as ever to rally public and political willpower to hasten the day when those first footfalls on the Red Planet lead to permanent inhabitation of Mars.

Julie Brefcyznski-Lewis Richard Nolan / Richard Nolan

Julie Brefcynski-Lewis:

Virtual Reality Reset

Dr. Julie Brefcynski-Lewis is assistant professor of physiology and pharmacology in the Blanchette Rockefeller Neurosciences Institute at West Virginia University in Morgantown. She has studied higher order brain functions such as attention, emotions, social interactions, and meditation.

The scientific method is rooted in objectivity and has relied on government and public confidence that scientists are well trained and dedicated to accurate results. I think the big question of 2017 will be how science will adapt to a changing cultural landscape in terms of public attitudes, funding, global participation, and more.

In my field of neuroscience, we are a little lucky that many lawmakers making political and funding decisions have direct experiences with neurological and mental health needs of loved ones. In terms of disruptive technology, I predict virtual reality will have a major influence on how science is performed and communicated. In my research, for example, we are adapting novel PET (positron emission tomography) brain imager technology so that it is wearable and allows imaging of someone moving and responding in a virtual environment, such as an addict in a cue-laden setting. Other laboratories are using VR to explore the shapes and functions of neurons and molecules, and it's likely to become a haven for social interactions such that exciting new studies on human behavior will emerge.

George Church Courtesy of George Church / George Church

George Church:

Gee-Whiz Gene Editing

Dr. George Church is professor of genetics at Harvard Medical School in Boston and director of personalgenomes.org. He is the author of "Regenesis: How Synthetic Biology Will Reinvent Nature and Ourselves."

Next year will see great strides in reading and writing genomes, organs, and ecosystems. We'll move beyond small genome "edits" to large-scale "writing," with huge practical consequences, including resistance to all viruses. For organs, new microscopy methods will enable molecular atlases of whole bodies during normal development from eggs to adults and pathological states like cancer. Leveraging such body atlases will be recipes for constructing any tissue type and transplanting it successfully between species. For ecosystems, we will see growing numbers of tests of safety and effectiveness of genetic strategies for controlling agents (mosquitoes, worms, mice) of deadly diseases like malaria, filariasis, and Lyme disease.

We will also see great progress in the use of genetic engineering to reverse processes that had seemed irreversible: aging and extinction. And super-compact encoding of data into DNA-storage will transform our ability to record video and interface with brains.

Kate Darling Flavia Schaub / Flavia Schaub

Kate Darling:

Artificial Intelligence Heads Home

Dr. Kate Darling, a researcher at the MIT Media Lab in Cambridge, Massachusetts, investigates social robotics and conducts experimental studies on human-robot interaction. Her work explores the emotional connection between people and life-like machines.

I'm excited about the rise of personal assistant robots. We won't be seeing Rosie from the Jetsons anytime soon, but we will see more and more cloud-based artificial intelligence (AI) products in the home — in particular, voice-activated speaker systems that sit on tables and countertops.

These robots are at a primitive stage, have few capabilities, and are full of flaws. But there's a lot of demand for them. That's because they can perform some useful tasks (turning on music and lights, reading out loud, answering trivia) and because people enjoy interacting with a digital "other." In some ways the flaws and limitations are part of these assistants' charm, and 2017 will definitely see more of these in people's lives.

Katherine Freese Evan Cohen / Evan Cohen

Katherine Freese:

Dark Matter Answer?

Dr. Katherine Freese is professor of physics at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor and a noted expert on dark matter. She is the author of "The Cosmic Cocktail: Three Parts Dark Matter."

My work seeks to understand what the universe is made of. Ordinary atomic material makes up only five percent of the universe. Most of the mass in the universe is made of dark matter, and we want to know what it is.

Right now, only one experiment has detected a hint of dark matter: the Italian Dark Matter Experiment (DAMA). The technique the DAMA scientists use is based on a paper I wrote, and so I am dying to know if their results are right. In 2017 three other experiments will be in a position to show once and for all whether or not DAMA has actually discovered dark matter. It is possible that the 80-year-old dark matter puzzle will finally be solved.

Lawrence Krauss Tessa Etzione / Tessa Etzione

Lawrence Krauss:

Quantum Computing Breakthroughs

Dr. Lawrence Krauss is professor of earth and space exploration and director of the Origins Project at Arizona State University in Tempe. He is the author of nine books, including "A Universe from Nothing" and "The Physics of Star Trek." His latest book, "The Greatest Story Ever Told," is scheduled for publication in 2017.

It seems to me that quantum computing is evolving very fast. I expect that some breakthroughs this this area, or in the related areas of quantum teleportation or encryption, may occur in 2017.

Also in 2017, we may have new, definitive data from the South Pole on the possibility that gravitational waves from earliest moments of the Big Bang might be detectable. If so, this would have utterly profound implications for our understanding of our own universe, and maybe the existence of other universes.

I don't hold out much hope for any definitive developments at CERN's Large Hadron Collider in 2017 (maybe in 2018). But then I never expected them to discover the Higgs boson when they did. If they observe new particles, it will completely determine the future of particle physics. If not, will another accelerator be built to help us continue to push the frontiers of knowledge?

Jennifer Kuzma Richard Nolan / Richard Nolan

Jennifer Kuzma:

"Gene Drives" Get Real

Dr. Jennifer Kuzma is professor of social sciences at the School of Public and International Affairs and co-founder and co-director of the Genetic Engineering and Society Center at North Carolina State University in Raleigh.

Natural scientists have discovered new biology-based tools that can precisely edit existing genes in living organisms, or insert new genes at particular locations in the genome. These "gene editing" tools (e.g. "CRISPR") are being used to change multiple genes in plants, animals, and microorganisms for industrial production of medicines or chemicals, agricultural productivity, or environmental goals such as pollution remediation. Based on gene editing, biologists have discovered ways to engineer wild populations in the environment using "gene drives." With gene drives, it is theoretically possible to release just a few individuals of a species and an engineered gene can then spread throughout the wild population. Gene drives could be used to protect endangered species against disease or to reduce populations of unwanted species, such as invasive pests.

Gene-edited products are already in the marketplace. Genetically engineered insects with population-reduction genes have been cleared by government agencies for environmental release in certain areas. Although gene drives have only been tested in the laboratory, we will see the first releases of organisms with gene drives in the near future, possibly 2017. The ability to engineer populations in the wild necessitates a broader public discussion about whether we want to pursue this as a society. I would like to predict this dialogue will happen, but the political will to engage the public on these topics is currently lacking.

Janet Hering R. Schaffner / R. Schaffner

Janet Hering:

The Circular Economy Expands

Dr. Janet Hering is director of the Swiss Federal Institute of Aquatic Science and Technology in Dubendorf and professor of environmental biogeochemistry at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich.

Industry developed the concept of the circular economy to "extract the maximum value and use from all raw materials, products and waste, fostering energy savings and reducing Green House Gas emissions." This concept is increasingly being taken up by cities around the world as they recover heat from domestic sewage (Paris), reclaim water from wastewater to recharge aquifers (Orange County, California) and produce water for industrial wafer fabrication (Singapore), produce agricultural fertilizers from source-separated urine (Durban, South Africa), and produce fuel pellets from fecal sludge (Kampala, Uganda).

Since 2010, over half of the world's population has been living in cities, expanding both the opportunity and the need to redefine municipal wastewater and waste as a resource. Establishing the circular economy in cities holds great promise for increasing urban sustainability. The number of cities pursuing this approach will grow rapidly in 2017.

Tracey Holloway Paul Schilling / Paul Schilling

Tracey Holloway:

Better Weather Prediction

Dr. Tracey Holloway is professor of atmospheric and oceanic sciences in Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies at the University of Wisconsin in Madison and leader of NASA's Health and Air Quality Applied Sciences Team.

This coming year will bring a huge advance in the monitoring of Earth from space. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and NASA worked together on a new geostationary satellite, called GOES-16, that launched in November 2016. Starting in 2017, GOES-16 will provide data almost continuously, improving weather predictions and environmental management.

Satellites are already able to "see" our life-supporting atmosphere in a way that has transformed weather prediction, emergency response and public health. But for measurements of smoke, dust, lightning and other features, GOES-16 will be the first time we have nearly minute-by-minute data. For example, the new satellite will allow us to track forest fire smoke so that people can take measures to protect their health. This near-real-time data will be a huge step forward from current satellites that provide snapshots of these important features only once or twice a day.

Each new satellite offers a treasure trove of data, publicly available to support decision-making of communities and businesses. I'm working with scientists across the country to help ensure that cities, health professionals, weather forecasters — even kids for the science fair — get the maximum benefit from these amazing eyes in the sky.

Ainissa Ramirez Bruce Fizzell / Bruce Fizzell

Ainissa Ramirez:

One Amazing Eclipse

Dr. Ainissa Ramirez is a materials scientist and author in New Haven, Connecticut. She hosts the podcast Science Underground and is writing a book on the impact of materials on history and culture.

One of the biggest science events of 2017 will be a total solar eclipse. On August 21, a diagonal swath of the U.S. from Oregon to Kansas to South Carolina will go dark. More than 300 million Americans live within a two-day drive from seeing this heavenly event.

How the sky blackens in the middle of the day is a bit like getting a bad seat at the movies. If a tall person seated in front of you blocks your view of the screen, then you are experiencing what happens to the Earth on a cosmic scale. In this movie drama, you are the Earth, the tall person is the moon, and the movie screen is the sun.

During an eclipse, the darkness lasts only a few minutes. But it is a reminder that we are all part of something big. Eclipses also connect us to history. In ancient times, eclipses stopped wars. In 1919, an eclipse helped prove Einstein's theory of relativity. Even Thomas Edison got inspiration for his light bulb in 1878 while on a trip to Wyoming to see an eclipse.

This August, all of us get a chance to be connected to nature, to science, and to each other. Perhaps we'll find other ways to connect when the darkness passes.

Carlo Ratti Lars Kruger / Lars Kruger

Carlo Ratti:

Self-Driving Vehicles Come of Age

Dr. Carlo Ratti is a professor at MIT, where he directs the Senseable City Lab. He is co-author of "The City of Tomorrow: Sensors, Networks, Hackers, and the Future of Urban Life."

Forget about the difficulties we saw with Uber's fleet of self-driving vehicles in San Francisco. This is soooo 2016! 2017 will be the year of self-driving, and of the exploration of its impact on our cities.

Self-driving vehicles promise to blur the distinction between private and public modes of transportation. "Your" car could give you a lift to work in the morning and then, rather than sitting idle in a parking lot, give a lift to someone else in your family — or, for that matter, to anyone else in your neighborhood, social-media community, or city.

This implies a city in which we could travel on demand with just a fraction of the number of cars in use today. Such reductions in car numbers are just theoretical. However, they could potentially lower the cost of our mobility infrastructure and the embodied energy associated with building and maintaining it.

Furthermore, driverless cars could have a big impact on our lifestyle and daily activities: They could be transformed into extensions of our homes. While travelling, we might be able to do lot of activities we use to do at home — read a book, take a nap, eat, text, or make love (more than what already happens today).


Source : http://www.nbcnews.com/storyline/2016-year-in-review/11-surprising-predictions-2017-some-biggest-names-science-n701136

Categorized in Science & Tech

In 2011, the Finnish Tourist Board ran a campaign that used silence as a marketing ‘product’. They sought to entice people to visit Finland and experience the beauty of this silent land. They released a series of photographs of single figures in the nature and used the slogan “Silence, Please”. A tag line was added by Simon Anholt, an international country branding consultant, “No talking, but action.”

Eva Kiviranta the manager of the social media for VisitFinland.com said: “We decided, instead of saying that it’s really empty and really quiet and nobody is talking about anything here, let’s embrace it and make it a good thing”.

Finland may be on to something very big. You could be seeing the very beginnings of using silence as a selling point as silence may be becoming more and more attractive. As the world around becomes increasingly loud and cluttered you may find yourself seeking out the reprieve that silent places and silence have to offer. This may be a wise move as studies are showing that silence is much more important to your brains than you might think.

Regenerated brain cells may be just a matter of silence.


 A 2013 study on mice published in the journal Brain, Structure and Function used differed types of noise and silence and monitored the effect the sound and silence had on the brains of the mice. The silence was intended to be the control in the study but what they found was surprising. The scientists discovered that when the mice were exposed to two hours of silence per day they developed new cells in the hippocampus. The hippocampus is a region of the brain associated with memory, emotion and learning.

The growth of new cells in the brain does not necessarily translate to tangible health benefits. However, in this instance, researcher Imke Kirste says that the cells appeared to become functioning neurons.

“We saw that silence is really helping the new generated cells to differentiate into neurons, and integrate into the system.”

In this sense silence can quite literally grow your brain.


The brain is actively internalizing and evaluating information during silence


A 2001 study defined a “default mode” of brain function that showed that even when the brain was “resting” it was perpetually active internalizing and evaluating information.

Follow-up research found that the default mode is also used during the process of self-reflection. In 2013, in Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, Joseph Moran et al. wrote, the brain’s default mode network “is observed most closely during the psychological task of reflecting on one’s personalities and characteristics (self-reflection), rather than during self-recognition, thinking of the self-concept, or thinking about self-esteem, for example.”

When the brain rests it is able to integrate internal and external information into “a conscious workspace,” said Moran and colleagues.

When you are not distracted by noise or goal-orientated tasks, there appears to be a quiet time that allows your conscious workspace to process things. During these periods of silence, your brain has the freedom it needs to discover its place in your internal and external world.

The default mode helps you think about profound things in an imaginative way.

As Herman Melville once wrote, “All profound things and emotions of things are preceded and attended by silence.”

Silence relieves stress and tension.


It has been found that noise can have a pronounced physical effect on our brains resulting in elevated levels of stress hormones. The sound waves reach the brain as electrical signals via the ear. The body reacts to these signals even if it is sleeping. It is thought that the amygdalae (located in the temporal lobes of the brain) which is associated with memory formation and emotion is activated and this causes a release of stress hormones. If you live in a consistently noisy environment that you are likely to experience chronically elevated levels of stress hormones.

A study that was published in 2002 in Psychological Science (Vol. 13, No. 9) examined the effects that the relocation of Munich’s airport had on children’s health and cognition. Gary W. Evans, a professor of human ecology at Cornell University notes that children who are exposed to noise develop a stress response that causes them to ignore the noise. What is of interest is that these children not only ignored harmful stimuli they also ignored stimuli that they should be paying attention to such as speech.

“This study is among the strongest, probably the most definitive proof that noise – even at levels that do not produce any hearing damage – causes stress and is harmful to humans,” Evans says.

Silence seems to have the opposite effect of the brain to noise. While noise may cause stress and tension silence releases tension in the brain and body. A study published in the journal Heart discovered that two minutes of silence can prove to be even more relaxing than listening to “relaxing” music. They based these findings of changes they noticed in blood pressure and blood circulation in the brain.

Silence replenishes our cognitive resources.


The effect that noise pollution can have on cognitive task performance has been extensively studied. It has been found that noise harms task performance at work and school. It can also be the cause of decreased motivation and an increase in error making.  The cognitive functions most strongly affected by noise are reading attention, memory and problem solving.

Studies have also concluded that children exposed to households or classrooms near airplane flight paths, railways or highways have lower reading scores and are slower in their development of cognitive and language skills.

But it is not all bad news. It is possible for the brain to restore its finite cognitive resources. According to the attention restoration theory when you are in an environment with lower levels of sensory input the brain can ‘recover’ some of its cognitive abilities. In silence the brain is able to let down its sensory guard and restore some of what has been ‘lost’ through excess noise. 


Traveling to Finland may just well be on your list of things to do. There you may find the silence you need to help your brain. Or, if Finland is a bit out of reach for now, you could simply take a quiet walk in a peaceful place in your neighborhood. This might prove to do you and your brain a world of good.

Author : Rebecca Beris

Source : http://www.lifehack.org/377243/science-says-silence-much-more-important-our-brains-than-thought

Categorized in Science & Tech

Over the holidays it's best to avoid any arguments, whenever possible. But if you can't, you may want to bring some scientific ammunition for your side of the discussion.

It turns out that if you want to convince someone that your explanation for something is the best way to explain it, you might want to tack on some useless (though accurate) information from a tangentially related scientific field.

It turns out that when you tack on additional information from a respected field of study, people think that makes an explanation more credible.

That strategy can be devised from the findings of a recent study conducted by University of Pennsylvania researchers that was published in the journal Cognition.

And while this is a new finding, it's just one of several cognitive biases we have in favor of certain types of explanations. We think longer explanations are better than short ones and we prefer explanations that point to a goal or a reason for things happening, even if these things don't actually help us understand a phenomenon.

As the authors behind this most recent paper note, previous research has also shown that we prefer explanations of psychology when they contain "logically irrelevant neuroscience information," something known as the "seductive lure effect."

As former Tech Insider correspondent Drake Baer put it covering an earlier study on the same topic, "if you're trying to explain why someone did something, you can count on neurobabble to make you sound more convincing." All those references to the brain sound like they can really explain the ways our minds work, even if neuroscience is still a field we know little about.

human brain connectome

Explanations that refer to what's going in in the brain are super appealing. Human Connectome Project, Science, March 2012.

But until now, researchers haven't known if this argument-winning strategy was limited to using neuroscience to "explain" psychology or if it could be used to explain other areas of science as well. The UPenn team theorized people might in general prefer arguments that refer to more fundamental science, even if those references don't contribute to the explanation. They call this type of argument a reductive explanation (reducing one science to more fundamental parts).

To test this theory, the researchers created a hierarchy of sciences, going from least to most fundamental: social science, psychology, neuroscience, biology, chemistry, and finally physics. They recruited undergraduate students and people from Amazon's Mechanical Turk work marketplace and presented them with a survey designed to figure out whether useless reductive information made them consider explanations "better."

In each case, the researchers offered four possible explanations for a scientific concept: a good explanation, a good explanation that included the additional reductive information, a bad explanation, and a bad explanation that included reductive information.

marco rubio donald trump debate

Should we add "used useless reductive information to support an argument" to debate bingo? REUTERS/Mike Stone

As a general rule, their hypothesis panned out — people think explanations that have useless information containing details about a more "fundamental" science are usually better.

But there are some interesting exceptions and additional takeaways here.

  • Good explanations matter, and were rated better than bad explanations (even if the bad explanations had reductive information).
  • Adding useless reductive information made the biggest difference when researchers added neuroscience to an explanation of psychological science.
  • Participants trusted psychology the least and — in the one exception to the general rule — didn't think adding psychological explanations to social science made those explanations more credible (though these particular findings weren't statistically significant).
  • Study participants actually considered neuroscience more rigorous and prestigious than the sciences considered more fundamental by researchers (biology, chemistry, and physics). This could explain the big effect that neuroscience explanation has when added to explanations of psychological science.
  • Mechanical Turk respondents thought the explanations with reductive information were better than undergraduates thought they were. That information made a big significant difference for them, but it was less of a big deal for undergraduates. Different groups of people are going to evaluate information in different ways, and neither of these groups of people can accurately represent the way the entire population evaluates information.
  • People who were better at logical reasoning were better at evaluating explanation accurately (they gave less credence to reductive information). The researchers think this could mean that philosophers who have studied logic are less susceptible to this cognitive bias.
  • People who knew more about science were also better at telling good explanations from bad explanations.

So the next time you read an explanation of something, check to see if the author is adding useless information to support an argument, making you more inclined to believe them for all the wrong reasons.

And if you want to convince someone of something, you can see if adding some background scientific details helps sway the argument your way. Just try to rely on a science other than psychology.


Author: Kevin Loria
Source: http://www.businessinsider.com/how-to-convince-people-of-something-2016-12

Categorized in Science & Tech

In 2016, NASA drove advances in technology, science, aeronautics and space exploration that enhanced the world’s knowledge, innovation, and stewardship of Earth.

“This past year marked record-breaking progress in our exploration objectives,” said NASA Administrator Charles Bolden. “We advanced the capabilities we’ll need to travel farther into the solar system while increasing observations of our home and the universe, learning more about how to continuously live and work in space, and, of course, inspiring the next generation of leaders to take up our Journey to Mars and make their own discoveries.”

Solar System and Beyond

This illustration depicts NASA's Juno spacecraft at Jupiter

After an almost five-year journey to the solar system’s largest planet, NASA's Juno spacecraft successfully entered Jupiter’s orbit July 4. Juno will probe beneath the obscuring cloud cover of Jupiter and study its auroras to learn more about the planet's origins, structure, atmosphere and magnetosphere. Returning data and images to Earth gathered by NASA’s Space Network will keep scientists busy for years to come.

The Sept. 8 launch of NASA's first asteroid sampling mission began a journey that could revolutionize our understanding of the early solar system. Called the Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, Security-Regolith Explorer (OSIRIS-REx), the spacecraft is designed to rendezvous with and study the asteroid Bennu, and then return a sample of it to Earth in 2023.

NASA Administrator Bolden with agency scientists and engineers discussed the next steps for NASA’s next great observatory, the James Webb Space Telescope, while also providing a rare glimpse of the telescope’s mirrors following completion of the final primary mirror segment in February. The biggest and most powerful space telescope ever designed now is being prepared for transport to NASA’s Johnson Space Center in 2017 for testing prior to final assembly and launch in 2018.

After years of preparatory studies, NASA in 2016 formally started an astrophysics mission designed to help unlock the secrets of the universe. Called the Wide Field Infrared Survey Telescope (WFIRST), it will aid researchers in their efforts to unravel the secrets of dark energy and dark matter, and explore the evolution of the cosmos. It also will discover new worlds outside our solar system -- known as exoplanets -- and advance the search for worlds that could be suitable for life.

This artist's concept depicts select planetary discoveries made to date by NASA's Kepler space telescope.

NASA's Kepler mission in May verified 1,284 new planets – the single largest finding of exoplanets to date -- more than doubling the number of confirmed planets from Kepler. This gave scientists hope that somewhere out there, around a star much like ours, we can eventually discover another Earth. Analysis was performed on the Kepler space telescope’s July planet candidate catalog, which identified 4,302 potential planets.

Astronomers using NASA's Hubble Space Telescope imaged what may be water vapor plumes erupting off the surface of Jupiter's moon Europa. Europa has a huge global ocean containing twice as much water as Earth’s oceans, and the moon is considered to be one of the most promising places that could potentially harbor life in the solar system.

New research in May indicated solar explosions may have been the key to seeding life on Earth as we know it some 4 billion years ago.

Like sending sensors up into a hurricane, NASA announced in May it had successfully flown for the first time the four Magnetospheric Multiscale, or MMS, spacecraft through an invisible maelstrom in space, called magnetic reconnection. MMS now also holds the Guinness World Record for highest altitude fix of a GPS signal at 43,500 miles above the surface.

NASA's Cassini spacecraft now is entering the final year of its epic voyage. While this historic science odyssey will conclude in September 2017, the spacecraft will first complete a daring two-part endgame. On Nov. 30, Cassini began a series of 20 weekly F-ring orbits, just past the outer edge of the main rings. Cassini's final phase -- called the grand finale -- begins in April 2017.

NASA’s New Horizons mission reached a major milestone in October when the last bits of science data from the Pluto flyby – stored on the spacecraft’s digital recorders since July 2015 – arrived safely on Earth.

In June, the mission received the green light to fly onward to a 2019 rendezvous with an object deeper in the Kuiper Belt, known as 2014 MU69. In January, NASA announced it was formalizing its ongoing program for detecting and tracking near-Earth objects (NEOs) as the Planetary Defense Coordination Office (PDCO). The office supervises all NASA-funded projects to find and characterize asteroids and comets that pass near Earth’s orbit. It also takes a leading role in coordinating interagency and intergovernmental efforts in response to any potential impact threats. In October, a major milestone was reached with the number of discovered near-Earth asteroids (NEAs) crossing the 15,000 threshold, with an average of 30 new discoveries added each week.

International Space Station

One-year mission crew members Scott Kelly of NASA (left) and Mikhail Kornienko of Roscosmos (right)

NASA astronaut and Expedition 46 Commander Scott Kelly and his Russian counterpart Mikhail Kornienko returned to Earth March 1 after an historic 340-day mission aboard the International Space Station. The unprecedented mission continues as scientists continue to assess and apply the data to advance NASA’s understanding and preparations for long-duration human spaceflight on the Journey to Mars.

The International Space Station continues to be the world’s premier orbiting laboratory, where humans have been continuously conducting critical research for more than 16 years to demonstrate new technologies and provide benefits to Earth. Most recently, astronaut Peggy Whitson joined the space station crew; in February she will become the first woman to command the orbiting outpost twice. By the conclusion of her mission she is set to become the U.S. astronaut with the most cumulative time in space, surpassing Jeff Williams’ 2016 record of 534 days.

During four missions in 2016, NASA’s commercial cargo partners Orbital ATK and SpaceX launched more than 24,000 pounds of critical supplies to the International Space Station, including crew supplies and equipment to support hundreds of crucial science experiments and technology demonstrations aboard the space station.

Experiments included Saffire-I and Saffire-II, which provided a new way to study fire on an uncrewed exploration craft, and research included the sequencing of more than one billion base pairs of DNA in space for the first time.

The agency’s first test of an expandable module began with the delivery to the station of the Bigelow Expandable Activity Module (BEAM) in April and its full expansion in May. During the two-year test mission of BEAM to determine whether astronauts could use such structures for deep space missions, astronauts will enter the module for a few hours several times each year to retrieve sensor data and assess conditions.

Throughout 2016, hundreds of engineers and technicians with NASA, Boeing, and SpaceX worked to complete the final designs, manufacturing, and testing of commercial space transportation systems to return crewed spacecraft launches to American soil. While Commercial Crew Program development continues on Earth, important preparations are underway on the space station, including the delivery and installation of the first International Docking Adapter, which will enable future crews to arrive via Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner and SpaceX’s Crew Dragon spacecraft.

NASA also awarded future cargo resupply contracts to ensure the critical science, research and technology demonstrations that are informing the agency’s Journey to Mars are delivered to the International Space Station from 2019 through 2024

Journey to Mars

Astronaut candidates who will join future deep space missions will arrive at NASA in the summer of 2017 to begin their training. Their selection follows the agency’s largest astronaut recruitment ever, in which more than 18,300 people applied to join NASA’s astronaut class. That’s more than double the previous record.  

Artist Concept: Space Launch System in Flight

NASA’s Journey to Mars is moving forward with plans to send new robotic explorers to the Red Planet, while ticking off key milestones for the first flight of the Space Launch System (SLS) rocket and Orion spacecraft into the proving ground of deep space, set to launch in late 2018 from an upgraded 21st century spaceport at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida.  

Workers at NASA’s Michoud Assembly Facility have completed welding on the fuel tank for the SLS core stage, while we’ve successfully tested both the solid rocket booster and the RS-25 engines which will power the rocket’s journeys to space.  The Orion spacecraft has been put through its paces, with multiple splashdown testsparachute tests, and a recovery test in the Pacific Ocean. In September, the heat shield which will protect Orion on that 2018 test flight arrived at Kennedy

In March, the agency wrapped up a comprehensive and successful review of modernization at the Kennedy Space Center. Workers upgraded a variety of systems on the launch pad and erected new platforms in the famed Vehicle Assembly Building this year in order to prepare SLS and Orion for flight. 

Image of two smallsats in orbit

The first flight of SLS also will launch 13 CubeSats, small satellite secondary payloads which will carry science and technology investigations to help pave the way for future human exploration of deep space. NASA currently is seeking ideas for additional payloads for the second flight and partnership opportunities for the future Asteroid Redirect Mission. These efforts build on NASA’s success demonstrating the demand and use of such small satellites deployed via the space station and other launches for commercial, educational, technology, and science activities.

In August, NASA selected six companies to develop ground prototypes and new concepts for the deep space habitats that will be needed on long-duration journeys where humans will live and work for months or years at a time without cargo deliveries from Earth.

Also in August, NASA approved the Asteroid Redirect Mission to proceed to the next phase of design and development for its robotic segment. NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, sought proposals for the robotic spacecraft design, and plans to award a contract for its development in 2017. 

The next two robotic missions to Mars passed key milestones in 2016, with the InSight lander getting the green light for a 2018 launch, and the Mars 2020 rover approved for the final design and construction phase.

In July, NASA selected five companies to study concepts for a potential future Mars orbiter, which would provide telecommunications and global high-resolution imaging.

In November, researchers using data from the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) determined an ice deposit beneath the cracked and pitted plains of the planet’s Utopia Planitia region contains about as much water as that in Lake Superior, the largest of the Great Lakes. MRO also is using its hi-res camera to examine potential landing sites for future robotic and human missions. Meanwhile, Mars scientists continue to investigate the seasonal dark streaks known as recurring slope lineae, looking for what they can tell us about the presence of water on the Red Planet.

The Curiosity rover found chemicals in Martian rocks that suggest the Red Planet once had more oxygen in its atmosphere than it does now. Curiosity also made the first in-place study of active sand dunes on another planet and found a distinctive ripple pattern not seen on Earth. The rover continued to send back amazing imagery, including a close-up view of an odd looking iron meteorite and stunning photos of the Murray Buttes, which evoke the National Parks of the American West. Curiosity can now choose its own rock targets for its laser spectrometer, a first for an instrument of this kind on a planetary mission.

Both Curiosity and the Opportunity rover, which has been operating since 2004, successfully tested a radio relay in November, using NASA-provided radios on the newly-arrived European Trace Gas Orbiter to send a signal to Earth, strengthening the international telecommunications network supporting Mars exploration.


NASA’s rich aeronautical research heritage added to its history of technical innovation in 2016 with advancements that will help make airplanes use less fuel, release fewer emissions and fly more quietly – and that includes working to return supersonic flight to the commercial marketplace. A preliminary design for a supersonic flight demonstrator called QueSST – short for Quiet Supersonic Technology – began in 2016 with the goal of showcasing new ways to shape an aircraft so that when it’s flying faster than the speed of sound it won’t generate an annoying sonic boom.


On a related note, having established a long-range research plan that’s in line with the aviation industry, NASA took steps in 2016 to resume designing, building and flying several experimental aircraft – or X-planes – as a means to demonstrate key green technologies and help accelerate their use by industry. It’s all part of New Aviation Horizons, a 10-year initiative included in President Obama’s budget request for the 2017 fiscal year that began Oct. 1.

The first NASA X-plane to receive an official number designation in a decade was unveiled this year. The X-57 Maxwell is a general aviation-sized aircraft equipped with 14 propellers, each turned by their own electric motor that is integrated into a uniquely-designed wing. The X-57 is scheduled for its first flight in March 2018.

NASA’s aeronautical innovators joined government and industry partners to unveil a new research laboratory at Charlotte Douglas International Airport. The airspace technology demonstration (ATD-2) lab is part of a five-year test project aimed at streamlining the arrival and departure of aircraft and improving surface operations to increase safety and efficiency, and reduce fuel use in our nation’s aviation system.

Inroads were made on technologies that could be part of a system to safely operate Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS), commonly called “drones,” in uncontrolled and controlled airspace. A complex flight campaign using NASA’s Ikhana UAS, along with virtual and real “intruder” aircraft, took place this summer to test sophisticated “detect and avoid” technologies in regulated national airspace.

April saw the first and largest demonstration of its kind when NASA engineers and operators from the Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA’s) six UAS test sites across the country flew 22 drones simultaneously to assess rural operations of NASA’s UAS traffic management (UTM) research platform.

With an eye to considering revolutionary solutions to tomorrow’s challenges, NASA selected five green technology concepts for study that include research in alternative fuel cells, using 3-D printing to increase electric motor output, the use of lithium-air batteries for energy storage, new mechanisms for changing the shape of an aircraft wing in flight, and the use of a lightweight material called aerogel in the design and development of aircraft antenna.


The SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket that will loft the Jason-3 oceanography satellite into orbit

This year, new Earth science missions got underway to enable studies that will unravel the complexities of our planet from the highest reaches of Earth’s atmosphere to its core. NASA joined with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and European partners in January to launch an oceanography satellite mission that will continue a nearly quarter-century record of tracking global sea level rise. Data from the Jason-3 mission will improve weather, climate and ocean forecasts, including helping NOAA’s National Weather Service and other global weather and environmental forecast agencies more accurately forecast the strength of tropical cyclones.

In November, NASA successfully launched for NOAA the first in a new series of highly advanced geostationary weather satellites called Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite-R. GOES-R will boost the nation’s weather observation capabilities, leading to more accurate and timely forecasts, watches and warnings.

NASA also is pushing the envelope on a new technology to advance our understanding of hurricanes worldwide. The Cyclone Global Navigation Satellite System (CYGNSS) mission launched Dec. 15. It’s a unique small satellite constellation that will help improve hurricane intensity, track, and storm surge forecasts.

In 2017, NASA will launch two Earth-observing instruments to the International Space Station as part of the agency’s ongoing use of the orbiting space laboratory to study our changing planet. The Stratospheric Aerosol and Gas Experiment III (SAGE III) from NASA’s Langley Research Center will give NASA a new way to monitor Earth’s protective ozone layer and document its ongoing recovery. The Lightning Imaging Sensor (LIS) from Marshall Space Flight Center will measure both in-cloud and cloud-to-ground lightning over much of the planet, data that will help improve our understanding of lightning’s connections to weather and related phenomena. Both instruments will continue important long-term data records of how our planet works.

NASA’s Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment (GRACE) twin satellites, launched in 2002, have since provided the first tool capable of quantifying land liquid water storage trends. New measurements announced in February from the mission allowed researchers for the first time to determine how much water is being stored on land that would otherwise have added to sea level rise as the result of climate change.

NASA and the U.S. Agency for International Development expanded the SERVIR network of environmental monitoring centers they support this year in developing countries to West Africa. 


NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate selected three companies for in-space robotic manufacturing and assembly projects. The projects will mature systems concepts and technologies that could revolutionize the way we design and deploy spacecraft and large space structures in low-Earth orbit and beyond, such as additive manufacturing, robotics, and autonomy to enable manufacturing and assembling spacecraft structural systems in-orbit.

Solar Electric Propulsion

NASA’s Solar Electric Propulsion project is developing critical technologies to enable safer and more cost-effective space travel to destinations, such as Mars and asteroids. In April 2016, a commercial vendor, Aerojet Rocketdyne, was selected for a three-year contract to develop major components for a flight propulsion system, including delivering four units to be employed in an upcoming flight demonstration mission.

In July, NASA’s Game Changing Development program successfully launched a self-contained, wax-based heat exchanger to the International Space Station. This new exchanger could help offset heat and better regulate temperatures experienced by spacecraft, such as Orion. The goal is to provide in-space performance data on this flight-proven phase change material heat exchanger in order to be considered for use on NASA’s Exploration Mission-2, the first crewed mission on Orion and the Space Launch System rocket.

NASA’s Technology Transfer program continued in 2016 to share the agency’s technology with industry, academia and other government agencies at an unprecedented rate, making it simpler and faster for users to access the benefits of NASA’s investments in aerospace research. NASA’s patent gift initiative in May released dozens of patented agency technologies into the public domain, making its government-developed technologies freely available for unrestricted commercial use. And a searchable database now is online that catalogues thousands of formerly patented NASA technologies freely available for anyone to use.

Public Engagement

By engaging in public events, including South by Southwest; the USA Science and Engineering Festival; Essence Festival; Chicago Air and Water Show; Star Trek 50th Anniversary: Mission New York; and nationwide Earth Day activities, more than two million people this year had the chance to interact with representatives of America’s space agency. More than 400 million people were reached through NASA’s use of social media during these events.

NASA’s globally popular website, NASA.gov, was honored again in 2016 with the People’s Voice award for best government website at the Webby Awards. The popular vote was the eighth People’s Voice award for the site, and after 2015’s redesign, it was the fourth different design for which NASA has won. Traffic to the site continued to increase steadily, rising 20 percent over 2015 numbers to just more than 300,000 visits per day. The site also continues to receive customer satisfaction ratings that put it near the top of all government websites.

NASA’s social media presence continued to grow in 2016. The agency’s flagship Twitter account now has more than 20 million followers, the most in the federal government and top 100 overall on the platform. NASA also has the most followers in government on Facebook with about 18 million likes. In addition to NASA TV, the agency also broadcasted its first rocket launch on Facebook Live, reaching more than 800,000 people. While in orbit aboard the International Space Station, #YearInSpace astronaut Scott Kelly hosted NASA’s first Tweetchat, Reddit AMA, Tumblr Answer Time, and Facebook Q&A from space. After his return, he hosted a Facebook Live and the agency kicked off its official presence on Snapchat. This month, NASA officially launched Pinterest and GIPHY accounts. The agency also hosted 15 NASA Socials, bringing together more than 1,000 followers who engage with NASA via social media for unique in-person experiences of exploration and discovery.

Citizen Science, Prizes and Challenges

In 2016, NASA launched 28 challenges with almost 122,000 participants, received over 5,000 submissions, and provided a total of $1.2 million in cash awards. Eight NASA citizen scientists also were recognized as co-authors on a peer-reviewed paper. The agency launched a new GLOBE Observer app for citizen scientists to track changes in their local environment, and a way for the public to participate in the exploration of our solar system’s largest planet, Jupiter. 

NASA’s partnership with the American Society of Mechanical Engineers ran two successful Future Engineers 3-D printed design competitions for students, the Star Trek Replicator and the Think Outside the Box challenges. This summer, the winner of the 2014 Space Tool Design Future Engineers challenge saw his multipurpose tool design printed onboard the space station. NASA’s Center of Excellence for Collaborative Innovation (CoECI) successfully conducted seven NASA Tournament Lab challenges and finally saw the crowd-developed ISS Food Intake Tracker successfully deployed on the space station iPads for use by astronauts.

NASA's Centennial Challenges program launched two new competitions: the Vascular Tissue challenge uses regenerative medicine to help humans survive long-term space travel, and the Space Robotics challenge is working to build robots that could help humans during the journey to Mars. NASA also awarded $750,000 to West Virginia University for winning the Sample Robot Return challenge, and the Cube Quest challenge awarded a total of $300,000 to the highest-scoring teams in two ground tournaments.

STEM Education Collaboration

NASA continued its work with other federal agencies, industry partners and academia to provide to students and teachers throughout the United States unique and compelling opportunities in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) education. This year, NASA awarded approximately $13 million to 12 informal education organizations to help inspire the next generation of scientists and engineers. The agency also continued its support of students through programs like NASA’s Minority University Research and Education Project, and awarded scholarships and fellowships to 111 students, including over $800,000 for 14 students through the Aeronautics Scholarships and Advanced STEM Training and Research Fellowships program. NASA also offered opportunities for 1734 students to intern at NASA facilities across the country. 

As part of NASA’s effort to inspire and educate the next generation of scientists, mathematicians and explorers, and to honor the story of African-American women who broke barriers at NASA and in 1960s society, the Office of Education created a Modern Figures toolkit for educators teaching grades K-12, and hosted a Digital Learning Network event Dec. 1 at NASA’s Langley Research Center to tell the story behind the story of the upcoming movie Hidden Figures

Author:  Bob Jacobs

Source:  https://www.nasa.gov/press-release/nasa-reveals-the-unknown-in-2016

Categorized in Science & Tech

From the first direct evidence for black holes, to a rocky planet circling a neighbouring star, 2016 was packed with amazing science stories. Here's a selection.

Crest of a wave

Gravitational waves

Image copyrightLIGO/T. PYLE/SCIENCE PHOTO LIBRARYImage captionArtist's impression: The existence of gravitational waves was first proposed by Albert Einstein

About a century ago, Albert Einstein proposed the existence of ripples in the fabric of space-time - as an outcome of his Theory of General Relativity. It took until February this year, however, for scientists to finally detect them, using an approach known as laser interferometry.

Quite apart from this spectacular confirmation of Einstein's ideas, the discovery also provided the first direct confirmation for the existence of black holes. It opens up a completely new branch of astronomy, offering a way to probe cosmic phenomena that are off limits to other forms of astronomical inquiry.

The hope is that this will all lead to a more complete understanding of the Universe and even shine a light on what got it all started - the Big Bang.

Shake your tail feather

Media captionProf Mike Benton explains the origins of the newly discovered dinosaur tail to Radio 4's Today

Humans have been turning amber into jewellery and trinkets since prehistoric times. And it's not uncommon to find ancient beetles, ants and other insects trapped in the fossilised tree sap. But it's unusual to find the remains of larger animals.

In June, researchers Lida Xing, Ryan McKellar and others published details of wings from baby birds trapped in 99-million-year-old amber from north-eastern Myanmar.

The finds preserved spectacular detail of the feathers and traces of colour, but the best was yet to come. In December, the same team unveiled a dinosaur tail captured in amber from the same region - a world-first discovery.

Scientists think the juvenile animal - small enough to have fitted in the palm of a hand - got trapped in sticky sap from the tropical forest that once existed there and could not wrestle free.

Peake performance

At the end of 2015, Tim Peake became the first "official" UK astronaut to launch into space since Helen Sharman visited the Soviet Mir Space Station in 1991.

His mission certainly got off to an eventful start. A few hours after launch, the flight's Russian commander Yuri Malenchenko had to manually dock the Soyuz spacecraft with the space station following the failure of its "Kurs" radar system.

Tim Peake

Image copyright NASA

Then, in January, Nasa announced that Peake would step outside the space station to help repair a failed voltage regulator. He became the first ever person to wear the Union Flag on a spacewalk.

Soyuz Capsule

Image copyrightNASA/BILL INGALLSImage captionFor sale: one Soyuz capsule, three careful owners. Slightly singed

But while the walk achieved its primary objective, it had to be called off earlywhen water began leaking into the helmet of colleague Tim Kopra's spacesuit.

Major Tim also became the first person to "run" the London Marathon from space, attached to the ISS's special microgravity treadmill, before returning to Earth in June.

Media captionSpacewalks, auroras, space invaders and a gorilla chase! Watch key moments from Esa astronaut Tim Peake's mission

The world next door

This year, astronomers confirmed the existence of a rocky exoplanet orbiting the nearest star to our Solar System - Proxima Centauri. This rocky world in a next-door system - named Proxima b - also sits within the so-called habitable zone around its star.

Artwork of Proxima b

Image copyrightESO/M.KORNMESSERImage captionArtwork: The planet's mass would suggest it is a rocky world like Earth

However, Proxima Centauri belongs to a class of small, cool stars known as M dwarfs. They are quite different to the mid-sized yellow category that our Sun belongs to. Because they are cooler, the habitable zones around M dwarfs are located further in. But this also exposes planets to the harsh radiation by these stars.

Just how suitable for life the habitable zones of these M dwarf stars are remains a matter for debate. In September, a team of researchers estimated that Proxima b could be blasted by deadly "superflares" from the host star about eight times a year.

'Game-changing' lens

structure of the lens seen under microscope

Image copyrightFEDERICO CAPASSOImage captionThis electron microscope image shows the structure of the lens (white line is 0.002mm long)

The search for a compact, thin lens that performs as well, or better, than the bulky, curved types used in cameras and telescopes got a major boost during 2016.

A flat lens made of paint whitener on a sliver of glass could be "game-changing", according to one of its US inventors.

"The quality of our images is actually better than with a state-of-the-art objective lens. I think it is no exaggeration to say that this is potentially revolutionary," said Prof Federico Capasso of Harvard University.

These "metalenses" work in the visible spectrum but avoid the shortfalls - known as aberrations - inherent in traditional glass optics. In fact, the focal spot of the flat lens was typically 30% sharper than its competition.

But just as importantly, because the lenses are flat, they could be manufactured in the same foundries that produce computer chips. This means they could be made on a large scale at a fraction of the cost of conventional lenses.

Space bonanza


Image copyrightESA/ROSETTA/MPS FOR OSIRIS TEAMImage captionAt 15.5km from the surface - the head of the duck is in full view

One of the most important robotic spacecraft missions of recent times came to an end in 2016, as the European Space Agency crashed its Rosetta spacecraft into the comet it had been orbiting for two years.

Just before that happened, mission scientists announced that they had found Philae, the little lander that had detached from Rosetta and descended to the surface of Comet 67P in 2014.

Philae had relayed pictures and science data to Earth, but bounced off the surface and fell silent 60 hours later when its battery went flat. Its resting place had been a mystery, but Rosetta's Osiris cameras spotted the probe wedged in an overhang, explaining why it couldn't get enough sunlight to power its batteries.

Europe's other big mission of the year also crashed on its target, albeit unintentionally. Schiaparelli, which was intended to test the technology for landing on Mars, suffered a glitch that caused its parachute to jettison too early.

Officials at the agency were concerned that the next stage in the Mars programme - the ExoMars rover - might not receive sufficient funding at a meeting of ministers in December. But delegates eventually decided to stump up the money.

AI comes of age?

Lee Se-dol

Image copyrightGOOGLEImage captionMr Lee won one of the five matches

Google's Deep Mind wowed observers yet again this year, with more powerful demonstrations of artificial intelligence.

In March, the lab's AlphaGo programme beat one of the world's top players of Go - the strategy board game. In fact, Le Se-dol won only one of the five matches against his silicon-based opponent, missing out on a $1m prize.

And in a study published in the journal Neuron, researchers from DeepMind collaborated with scientists from Oxford and UCL to probe how the human brain navigates underground train maps. First author Jan Balaguer said the work could help scientists "design more clever algorithms".

AI expert Prof Noel Sharkey said we shouldn't be too worried about rogue AI taking over the world. But he suggested we might do well to keep an eye on our jobs.

Source: This article was published on bbc.com by Paul Rincon

Categorized in Science & Tech

Impossibly dense, deep, and powerful, black holes reveal the limits of physics. Nothing can escape one, not even light.

But even though black holes excite the imagination like few other concepts in science, the truth is that no astronomer has actually seen one.

"There’s really strong evidence for them, and by now every astronomer believes confidently there are black holes," Peter Edmonds, a NASA astrophysicist, told me. "But there’s no direct image."

Any photo you've seen of a dark mass warping spacetime … well, that's just an illustration:

Why no astronomer has ever seen a black hole directly

The biggest problem with trying to detect a black hole is that even the supermassive ones are relatively tiny.

"The largest one in the sky [is] the black hole in the center of the Milky Way," Dimitrios Psaltis, an astrophysicist at the University of Arizona, writes me in an email. "And taking a picture of it would be equivalent to taking a picture of a DVD on the surface of the moon."

What's more, because of their strong gravity, black holes tend to be surrounded by other bright matter that makes it hard to see the object itself.

That's why, when hunting for black holes, astronomers don't usually try for direct observation. Instead, they look for evidence of the effects of a black hole's gravity and radiation.

"We typically measure the orbits of stars and gas that seem to circle around very dark 'spots' in the sky and measure how much mass is there in that dark spot," Psaltis says. "If we know of no other astrophysical object that can be so massive and so dark as what we just measured, we consider this as very strong evidence that a black hole lies there."

We do have indirect images of black holes, however

Some of the best indirect images of black holes come from the Chandra X-ray Observatory, where Edmonds works. "The friction and the high velocities of material forming out of a black hole naturally produces X-rays," he says. And Chandra is a space telescope specially designed to see those X-rays.

For example, the Chandra observatory documented these X-ray "burps" emanating from the merger of two galaxies around 26 million light-years away. The astrophysicists suspect that these burps came from a massive black hole:

Similarly, the fuchsia blobs on this image are regions of intense X-ray radiation, thought to be black holes that formed when two galaxies (the blue and pink rings) collided:

Similarly, here are X-rays and sound waves emanating from the central region of the Perseus galaxy cluster — more indirect evidence of a black hole:

And in this GIF, the Chandra telescope saw the largest X-ray flare coming from the black hole suspected to lie at the center of the Milky Way galaxy.

Chandra telescope

And here's a zoomed-out image of that X-ray flare.

We can see black holes spew massive jets of matter into the universe

This composite image (combining data from Hubble and a radio telescope) shows jets of energy and matter being thrown out of the center of the Hercules A galaxy. These jets shoot out at nearly the speed of light, demonstrating the awesome destructive power of the objects.

This next image* shows massive jets that are thought to be propelling away from the black hole at the center of Centaurus A, a galaxy 13 million light-years away. The jets are longer than the galaxy itself.

Astronomers have observed stars orbiting mysterious dark objects, which are most likely black holes

This 16-year time lapse of the stars moving near the center of the Milky Way galaxy is evidence of a black hole there.

Very soon we may see an actual black hole

A true image of a black hole would reveal its event horizon. That's the perimeter beyond which nothing can escape. Scientists speculate the event horizon would look like what you see in illustrations: a sudden boundary between bright lights in space and a void.

A true image might also show an accretion disk — a bright ring of matter that swirls around it. (The black hole in the movie Interstellar shows an accretion disk.)

What's exciting is that in the next few years, scientists hope to be able to confirm the existence of the black hole in the center of the Milky Way — and determine what it looks like.

That's because of the Event Horizon Telescope — a global network of sensors that, in effect, forms a telescope as large as the Earth. It's on track to take a snapshot of the black hole by the end of 2017, and is expected to produce the first image of an event horizon. "What they’re hoping to see is the actual shadow, the actual dark region," Edmonds says. "That will be a big deal."

With a direct image of a black hole, scientists will be able to learn more about the effects of extreme gravity, and can further test Einstein's theory of general relativity.

Author:  Brian Resnick

Source:  http://www.vox.com/2016/2/23/11095624/what-does-a-black-hole-actually-look-like?yptr=yahoo

Categorized in Science & Tech
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