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2016 was an exciting year for science and space exploration.

Scientists reported earlier this year that Albert Einstein was right: there really are such things as gravitational waves that move through space.

The discovery of a nearby planet has many people wondering if conditions there could be just right to hold life.

Two other planets, Jupiter and Mars, also made the news. And, what is the possibility that “planet nine” really does exist far out in our solar system?

Let’s look back on 2016.

Gravitational Waves: Einstein was right!

It took nearly a century, but scientists finally proved Albert Einstein’s theory that gravitational waves exist.

A computer simulation of the collision of two black holes —a tremendously powerful event detected this year for the first time ever by LIGO

A computer simulation of the collision of two black holes —a tremendously powerful event detected this year for the first time ever by LIGO

The waves were predicted as part of Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity. It is the theory of the physical workings of our world and the universe.

 

The idea was that gravitational waves are like ripples in space, caused by some violent and energetic processes, such as two black holes crashing into each other.

A group of scientists, including ones from the California Institute of Technology and Ligo Scientific Collaboration, confirmed the presence of the waves.

These plots show the signals of gravitational waves detected by the twin LIGO observatories at Livingston, Louisiana, and Hanford, Washington. The signals came from two merging black holes, each about 30 times the mass of our sun.

These plots show the signals of gravitational waves detected by the twin LIGO observatories at Livingston, Louisiana, and Hanford, Washington. The signals came from two merging black holes, each about 30 times the mass of our sun.

What exactly are gravitational waves? Well, imagine throwing a stone into a lake. When the stone hits the water, it creates ripples in the lake. Spacetime is like the surface of the water. That means gravitational waves are like the ripples moving out from where the stone lands.

Is There an Earth-like Planet Next-Door?

In August 2016, scientists reported the discovery of an Earth-like planet just 4.2 light years away from us. In space terms, that is like having a next-door neighbor. The planet is an exoplanet, meaning one outside our solar system. It is orbiting the star that is closest to Earth, outside of our solar system.

Artist's impression of the planet orbiting Proxima Centauri. Courtesy of ESO/G. Coleman.

Artist's impression of the planet orbiting Proxima Centauri. Courtesy of ESO/G. Coleman.

This makes it the closest planet ever found outside our solar system that could support life as we know it.

 

An international team of astronomers said the exoplanet is orbiting the star “Proxima Centauri.” Scientists named the planet “Proxima b.” It is a little larger than Earth.

Breakthrough Starshot

Space scientists think an unmanned spacecraft might reach Proxima b before the end of the century — in time for people alive today to see it.

This artist’s impression shows a view of the surface of the planet Proxima b orbiting the red dwarf star Proxima Centauri, the closest star to the solar system. (Credit NASA)

This artist’s impression shows a view of the surface of the planet Proxima b orbiting the red dwarf star Proxima Centauri, the closest star to the solar system. (Credit NASA)

Back in April, before the discovery, an international team launched a project they hope will answer the age-old question of whether or not we are alone in the universe.

The group includes British physicist Stephen Hawking, Russian-born billionaire Yuri Milner and American Mark Zuckerberg, who founded Facebook.

Called Breakthrough Starshot, the project now will work on how to get to Proxima b.

Investor Yuri Milner holds a Starchip, a microelectronic component spacecraft, during an announcement of the Breakthrough Starshot initiative with physicist Stephen Hawking in New York, April 12, 2016.

Investor Yuri Milner holds a Starchip, a microelectronic component spacecraft, during an announcement of the Breakthrough Starshot initiative with physicist Stephen Hawking in New York, April 12, 2016.

The team is proposing deployment of thousands of very small spacecraft, called StarChips. Each one will be about the size of a postage stamp.

Team members say the spacecraft could reach Proxima b in about 20 years. They say the first step will require about 20 years of research.

Juno to Jupiter

Jupiter is the fifth – and largest — planet in our solar system. On July 4, 2016, the American space agency’s Juno spacecraft entered Jupiter’s orbit. Scientists want to find out about the planet’s beginnings, structure, atmosphere and magnetosphere.

Juno is busy taking pictures, and collecting data on Jupiter. Scientists also will study its auroras — the northern and southern lights and the very strong winds on the planet.

Jupiter as seen from NASA's Juno spacecraft as it approaches the giant planet. Taken August 27, 2016.

Jupiter as seen from NASA's Juno spacecraft as it approaches the giant planet. Taken August 27, 2016.

The spacecraft was expected to make a total of 37 orbits, or trips, around Jupiter before the mission ends in 2018.

 

Making the Trip to Mars

Other scientists continue work on getting people to the planet Mars.

In September, American businessman Elon Musk announced plans to build a colony for up to a million people on Mars. He says his company, SpaceX, is building a powerful reusable rocket and spaceship. He wants to get people to the red planet by the early 2020s.

SpaceX founder Elon Musk tells the 67th International Astronautical Congress in Guadalajara, Mexico, that he envisions 1,000 passenger ships flying en masse to Mars and says it could become reality within a century, Sept. 27, 2016.

SpaceX founder Elon Musk tells the 67th International Astronautical Congress in Guadalajara, Mexico, that he envisions 1,000 passenger ships flying en masse to Mars and says it could become reality within a century, Sept. 27, 2016.

NASA, the American space agency, has its own program for sending astronauts to Mars. It plans to use its own equipment, some of which is still being developed.

NASA officials are hoping to send humans to Mars, the fourth planet from the Sun, in the 2030s.

Is there a Planet Nine?

Scientists say they have found evidence of a ninth planet in the outer edges of our solar system.

Researchers at the California Institute of Technology said this planet travels in a strange “highly elongated orbit in the distant solar system.”

So far, there have not been any direct observations of the mysterious object.

The scientists said it would take this planet 10,000 to 20,000 years just to make one full orbit around the sun. The new planet, called “Planet Nine,” has a mass about 10 times the size of Earth.

Actual confirmation of a ninth planet would be very big news. Maybe that will be one story making science news in 2017.

Author : Anne Ball

Source : http://learningenglish.voanews.com/a/the-year-in-space-yearender-for-science/3653145.html

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.

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 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

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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.

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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.

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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. 

Summation

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

The world will be a very different place in 2045, experts working at the Pentagon’s research agency may be the best people to ask.

According to a study published on World Economic Forum,  the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) experts predicted what they imagined would be a reality in 30 years.

Dr. Justin Sanchez, a neurosscientist and director of Darpa’s Biological Technologies Office, believes we’ll be at a point where we can control things simply by using our mind.

“Imagine a world where you could just use your thoughts to control your environment,” Sanchez said.

“Think about controlling different aspects of your home just using your brain signals, or maybe communicating with your friends and your family just using neural activity from your brain.”

 

According to Sanchez, Darpa is working on neurotechnologies that can enable this to happen. There are already some examples of these kinds of futuristic breakthroughs in action, like brain implants controlling prosthetic arms.

Just last week Darpa demonstrated this amazing tech for the first time and gave a paralyzed man back the sense of touch — with brain implants that provided the feeling “as if his own hand were being touched,” he reported.

The future has more than just brain implants. Many other exciting things could change the buildings and other objects around us, says Stefanie Tompkins, a geologist and director of Darpa’s Defense Sciences Office.

She thinks we’ll be able to build things that are incredibly strong but also very lightweight. Think of a skyscraper using materials that are strong as steel but light as carbon fiber. That’s a simple explanation for what Tompkins envisions, which gets a little bit more complicated down at the molecular level.

Here’s how she explains it: “In 30 years, I imagine a world where we don’t even recognize the materials that surround us.”

“I think in 2045 we’re going to find that we have a very different relationship with the machines around us,” says Pam Melroy, an aerospace engineer and a former astronaut who is now a deputy director at Darpa’s Tactical Technologies Office.

“I think that we will begin to see a time when we’re able to simply just talk or even press a button” to interact with a machine to get things done more intelligently, instead of using keyboards or rudimentary voice-recognition systems.She continued: “For example, right now to prepare for landing in an aircraft there’s multiple steps that have to be taken to prepare yourself, from navigation, get out of the cruise mode, begin to set up the throttles … put the gear down. All of these steps have to happen in the right sequence.”

 

Instead, Melroy envisions an aircraft landing in the future being as simple as what an airline pilot tells the flight attendants: “Prepare for landing.” In 2045, a pilot may just say those three words and the computer knows the series of complex steps it needs to do to make that happen.

Or perhaps, with artificial intelligence, a pilot won’t even be necessary.

“Our world will be full of those kinds of examples where we can communicate directly our intent and have very complex outcomes by working together,” she said.

Author:  Web Desk

Source:  http://arynews.tv/

Categorized in Science & Tech

 

The tech titan wants to change the future of healthcare. But first, it needs to come up with a useful product.

 

Glucose-monitoring contact lenses for diabetics, wrist computers that read diagnostic nanoparticles injected in the blood stream, implantable devices that modify electrical signals that pass along nerves, medication robots, human augmentation, human brain simulation -- the list goes on.

That's not an inventory of improbable CGI effects from the latest sci-fi movie, it's a list of initiatives being tackled by Alphabet's (NASDAQ:GOOG)(NASDAQ:GOOGL) Google Life Sciences research unit, recently rebranded Verily.

For those who appreciate The Motley Fool's affection for William Shakespeare, "verily" is Shakespearean-era word that means "truly," or "confidently." As in: "I verily believe that sweater is the ugliest one I have ever seen."

Confidence certainly exemplifies Google. Verily was hatched from Google X, the company's secretive lab for oft-nutty projects, such as space elevators, teleportation, and hoverboards. Google X also launched Google Glass, which was undoubtedly a super-cool device, but wasn't received well by its intended market, to put it mildly.

With that kind of background, what are the chances Verily will unleash something that will change healthcare? Are good things about to flow? Or -- courtesy of the Bard of Avon -- is Verily merely a tale full of sound and fury, signifying nothing? Let's look at Verily's current financial situation and then check out the prospect of a marketable product that could move Google's needle.

A pound of flesh, but no blood


Like the moneylender in the Merchant of Venice, Verily demands a pound of flesh from its parent each quarter. Alphabet, Google's newfangled conglomerate, doesn't break out the performance of subsidiaries, but last quarter's earnings report offered a view into costs and output.

 

Verily is a subsidiary lumped under Other Bets with Google's broadband business and smart home company. Revenue from Other Bets doubled to $185 million from $74 million in the year-earlier period, and rose 11% sequentially. Costs also increased: Operating losses widened to $859 million from $660 million a year ago and moved up 7% from the previous quarter.

Despite the costs incurred, it's certainly not bleeding its parent dry. After all, Google has an almost endless supporting budget, and if any of Verily's projects pan out, what's being expended now will look like pocket change.

In addition, while some Verily ventures may seem frankly nuts, they might have actual potential. A recent joint venture with U.K. drugmaker GlaxoSmithKline (NYSE:GSK) will use implants that create electrical pulses to help the body heal itself. The collaborators have agreed to spend up to $716 million over seven years, with GSK holding 55% of the joint venture and Verily 45%. It's a new field, called bioelectronic medicine. Despite the quasi-scientific sound of this endeavor, early studies reported in peer-reviewed journals have shown positive results in treating rheumatoid arthritis.

SanofiAbbVie, and Biogen have also teamed up with Verily over the past few years. Big pharma hopes to tap into Google's data analysis tools, as well as license Verily's miniaturized medical devices (after they are developed), to tackle various disease targets. In a slightly different kind of venture, Johnson & Johnson has inked a deal with Verily to develop medical robots.

The less you speak of your greatness, the more shall I think of it

None of these ventures have led to a useful product yet. Meanwhile, Verily has been skewered by multiple scientists for not critically assessing the actual potential behind its various moonshots. "One needs to balance how much these toys are used mostly for marketing and giving a sense of a company really working on something impressive -- the brave new world -- or if we're talking about something that will have clear and immediate clinical impact. The latter is very hard to imagine," said Dr. John Ioannidis, a professor of disease prevention at Stanford University, commenting on Verily's projects.

 

In the blink of an eye

In light of that, what about one of Verily's oldest initiatives? Looking back to 2012, the life sciences unit was originally developed to create "smart" contact lenses whose super-cool images were appearing all over the internet a scant two years ago. Designed to measure blood glucose levels, the lenses featured sensors and chips the size of flecks of glitter and a wireless antenna thinner than a human hair.

On the face of it, a continuous glucose monitoring (CGM) lens seems to meet Ioannidis' criteria of having a "clear clinical impact." Better yet: it has an investable thesis. Verily and its big pharma partner Novartis (NYSE:NVS) are aiming straight at the $10 billion diabetes monitoring market. With this kind of market, the project was clearly capable of becoming a needle-moving revenue generator.

Look a little deeper, though, and the view is cloudier.

DexCom(NASDAQ:DXCM) Executive VP Steve Pacelli pointed out, "Lots of companies have tried and failed noninvasively to sense glucose in tears. You can measure glucose in tears, but the concentration is a lot lower, there's going to be huge time lag issues; the consistency of measurement is going to be a challenge."

There's a bigger problem. Both Dexcom and Medtronic(NYSE:MDT) have continuous glucose monitors on the market, but both face a major hurdle. The FDA does not consider continuous glucose monitoring -- from any device -- accurate enough to prescribe insulin dosing by itself. While CGM devices are being used, their market is very limited, since they are only allowed to be used as supplemental devices.

Google's CGM lens will face the same FDA hurdle -- assuming this product comes out of the lab.

The long and short of it

Apple, Microsoft, Intel -- virtually all the tech titans, in fact -- are now pursuing major initiatives in healthcare. A confluence of factors, such as digitization of records, machine intelligence, genetic engineering, and rapid advances in medical equipment, have made the field ripe for disruption from data-enabled, mobile-based, and miniaturized devices.

 

Even more enticing are the opportunities to massively grow revenue. The tech giants are billion-dollar companies, but healthcare spending is approaching $3 trillion annually in the U.S. alone. Looking globally, the World Health Organization estimates the annual expenditure at $6.5 trillion.

Bottom line: Despite the big carrot enticing it, Google has yet to come up with anything that can lay claim to changing healthcare. Although Alphabet could be a potentially interesting addition to your healthcare portfolio, it should be added with the understanding that there are many other pure-play companies with a much clearer path and investing thesis than Verily.

Still, let's allow Shakespeare to have the final word. While the bard makes an unlikely investment guru, he had plenty of useful things to say that have lasted through centuries, including: "Though this be madness, yet there is method to it."

In other words, it may be that hidden within Google's craziness lies the seed of something that could still astonish us. And no matter what, we can be sure of one thing: The ultimate search engine will keep grabbing headlines with its latest moonshots. After all, we're talking about Google.

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Source : http://www.fool.com/investing/2016/09/03/how-google-plans-to-reinvent-healthcare.aspx

 

Categorized in Search Engine

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