The genetic basis of Peruvians’ ability to live at high altitude

Science - Posted On:2019-11-15 10:44:57 Source: arstechnica

Sherpas are physiologically adapted to breathing, working, and living in the thin air of the Himalayas, enabling them to repeatedly schlep stuff up and down Mount Everest. The Quechua, who have lived in the Andes for about eleven thousand years, are also remarkably capable of functioning in their extremely high homes. New work suggests that these adaptations are the result of natural selection for particular genetic sequences in these populations.

Both populations live above 14,000 feet (4,267m), under chronic hypoxia—lack of oxygen—that can cause headaches, appetite suppression, inability to sleep, and general malaise in those not habituated to altitude. Even way back in the 16th century, the Spaniards noted that the Inca tolerated their thin air amazingly well (and then they killed them).

Metabolic adaptations give these highlanders have a notably high aerobic capacity in hypoxic conditions—they get oxygenated blood to their muscles more efficiently. But the genetic basis for this adaptation has been lacking. Genome Wide Association Studies, which search the entire genome for areas linked to traits, had found tantalizing clues that one particular gene might be a site of natural selection in both Andeans and Tibetans. It encodes an oxygen sensor that help cells regulate their response to hypoxia.

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Physicists Irreversibly Split Photons By Freezing Them In a Bose-Einstein Condensate

science - Posted On:2019-11-15 05:14:57 Source: slashdot

Physicists from the University of Bonn and the University of Cologne have succeeded in cooling photons down to a Bose-Einstein condensate, causing the light to collect in optical "valleys" from which it can no longer return. The findings have been published in the journal Science. Phys.Org reports: A light beam is usually divided by being directed onto a partially reflecting mirror: Part of the light is then reflected back to create the mirror image. The rest passes through the mirror. "However, this process can be turned around if the experimental set-up is reversed," says Prof. Dr. Martin Weitz from the Institute of Applied Physics at the University of Bonn. If the reflected light and the part of the light passing through the mirror are sent in the opposite direction, the original light beam can be reconstructed. The physicist investigates exotic optical quantum states of light. Together with his team and Prof. Dr. Achim Rosch from the Institute for Theoretical Physics at the University of Cologne, Weitz was looking for a new method to generate optical one-way streets by cooling the photons: As a result of the smaller energy of the photons, the light should collect in valleys and thereby be irreversibly divided. The physicists used a Bose-Einstein condensate made of photons for this purpose, which Weitz first achieved in 2010, becoming the first to create such a "super-photon." A beam of light is thrown back and forth between two mirrors. During this process, the photons collide with dye molecules located between the reflecting surfaces. The dye molecules "swallow" the photons and then spit them out again. "The photons acquire the temperature of the dye solution," says Weitz. "In the course of this, they cool down to room temperature without getting lost." By irradiating the dye solution with a laser, the physicists increase the number of photons between the mirrors. The strong concentration of the light particles combined with simultaneous cooling causes the individual photons to fuse to form a "super-photon," also known as Bose-Einstein condensate. "Perhaps quantum computers might one day use this method to communicate with each other and form a kind of quantum Internet," says Weitz. Read more of this story at Slashdot.

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The Black Death Plague Just Reappeared In China

science - Posted On:2019-11-15 02:14:57 Source: slashdot

At least two people in China are under close observation and are receiving treatment for infections of the same plague that devastated Europe in the mid-1300s. The two confirmed cases originated in north China and were confirmed by doctors in Beijing earlier this week. From a report: The pneumonic variant of the plague, which affects the lungs, can easily spread to others through the air. It is one of the three main forms of plague infection, alongside bubonic and septicemic, but it's believed that the pneumonic form was largely responsible for the rapid spread of plague during the Black Death pandemic that wiped out as much as half of Europe's population centuries ago. While it hasn't led to a full-scale pandemic for some time, plague -- a bacterial infection that is treated with antibiotics -- is known to persist in certain animal populations across Asia as well as the Americas and Africa. The pneumonic form, however, is rare and considered to be a more serious threat. It is almost always deadly if not promptly treated. China's Xinhua news agency didn't provide many details on the condition of the two patients or if they had contact with others. The report simply notes that "relevant disease prevention and control measures have been taken." Read more of this story at Slashdot.

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Robert F. Kennedy Jr. is the single leading source of anti-vax ads on Facebook

Science - Posted On:2019-11-14 21:59:58 Source: arstechnica

Just two organizations were responsible for the majority of anti-vaccine advertisements on Facebook before the social media giant restricted such content in March of this year, according to a November 13 study in the journal Vaccine.

Of 145 anti-vaccine Facebook advertisements that ran between May 31, 2017, and February 22, 2019, the World Mercury Project and a group called Stop Mandatory Vaccination together ran 54% of them.

The World Mercury Project, which ran the most ads of any single source, is an organization closely aligned with the anti-vaccine group Children's Health Defense. Both are spearheaded by Robert F. Kennedy Jr., an environmental lawyer turned prolific peddler of dangerous anti-vaccine misinformation. He and his organizations promote conspiracy theories about vaccine safety, including the roundly debunked claim that safe, life-saving immunizations are linked to autism. More recently, Kennedy has become a prominent opponent of laws aimed at increasing vaccination rates among school children.

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SpaceX Successfully Tests Crewed Dragon Launch Abort Engines

science - Posted On:2019-11-14 18:29:59 Source: slashdot

An anonymous reader quotes a report from ExtremeTech: SpaceX has cleared a major hurdle on the way to launching manned missions with its Dragon spacecraft. The company had to push back its launch plans after the stunning explosion of a Crew Dragon capsule during testing earlier this year. Now, SpaceX has successfully tested the engines without incident, paving the way for a test flight next year. The SpaceX Dragon is one of two commercial spacecraft NASA hopes to use to launch manned missions to the International Space Station, the other being Boeing's CST-100 Starliner. SpaceX was on track to beat Boeing to launch before its April testing failure, but picking through the pieces of the demolished capsule pushed back the timetable. After an investigation, SpaceX confirmed the craft's SuperDraco engines themselves were not at fault. These innovative launch abort engines use hydrazine and nitrogen tetroxide propellants, which mix together and ignite, but most launch abort systems use solid propellants. SpaceX went this way because it intends to do propulsive landings with the Dragon in the future, but NASA hasn't authorized that for crewed flights. Unfortunately, a leaky fuel valve in the abort propulsion system allowed nitrogen tetroxide to leak into the helium pressurization system. It was then driven back into the titanium check valve, which caused the explosion. The new and improved Dragon has a burst disk in the fuel lines that keeps propellant from leaking into the high-pressure lines before ignition. This week's test-firing demonstrates that the new system functions as intended, and SpaceX says it can now move forward with launch plans. The next step is to test the SuperDraco engines in-flight later this year. Then, once SpaceX can prove that its spacecraft can handle an in-flight abort, it'll prepare for the first crewed flight in early 2020. Read more of this story at Slashdot.

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New 3D display combines visuals, haptic feedback, and sound

Science - Posted On:2019-11-14 16:30:00 Source: arstechnica

Plenty of technology development comes in areas where we've already settled on an efficient design. Wind turbines are a great example. Several decades ago, some radical ideas were floating around, touted as providing heightened efficiencies. But wind turbines have since stabilized on a standard design, and most research now goes into figuring out how to get the most out of that design. In a lot of ways, it's boring compared to the lingering potential for a complete reinvention.

Right now, 3D displays are back in the much more fun "radical ideas" phase. While various VR technologies are on the market, they're dissatisfying in various ways. A handful of technologies has been demonstrated that provide 3D images without the need for goggles or glasses. But these ideas have their own problems, including slow refresh and complicated hardware, and they lack a standardized mode of user interaction. One company has developed a 3D display that can be manipulated by hand, but without any feedback, this can be tricky.

This week, researchers are describing a new take on a recent 3D display development that mixes in a key ingredient: sound. The use of ultrasound allows the researchers to both run the display and provide haptic feedback for interactions with it. As an added bonus, the new display can allow audible sound to originate from objects within the display itself.

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NASA report finds Boeing seat prices are 60% higher than SpaceX

Science - Posted On:2019-11-14 16:15:00 Source: arstechnica

On Thursday, NASA's inspector general released a report on the space agency's commercial crew program, which seeks to pay Boeing and SpaceX to develop vehicles to transport astronauts to the International Space Station.

Although the report cites the usual technical issues that the companies are having with the development of their respective Starliner and Dragon spacecraft, far more illuminating is its discussion of costs. Notably, the report publishes estimated seat prices for the first time, and it also delves into the extent that Boeing has gone to extract more money from NASA above and beyond its fixed-price award.

Boeing's per-seat price already seemed like it would cost more than SpaceX. The company has received a total of $4.82 billion from NASA over the lifetime of the commercial crew program, compared to $3.14 billion for SpaceX. However, for the first time the government has published a per-seat price: $90 million for Starliner and $55 million for Dragon. Each capsule is expected to carry four astronauts to the space station during a nominal mission.

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China Completes Crucial Landing Test For First Mars Mission in 2020

science - Posted On:2019-11-14 09:59:56 Source: slashdot

China on Thursday successfully completed a crucial landing test in northern Hebei province ahead of a historic unmanned exploration mission to Mars next year. From a report: China is on track to launch its Mars mission, Zhang Kejian, head of the China National Space Administration, said on Thursday, speaking to foreign diplomats and the media before the test. The Mars lander underwent a hovering-and-obstacle avoidance test at a sprawling site in Huailai, northwest of Beijing. The site was littered with small mounds of rocks to simulate the uneven terrain on Mars which the lander would have to navigate on its descent to the planet's surface. "In 2016, China officially began the Mars exploration mission work, and currently all of the different development work is progressing smoothly," Zhang said. Read more of this story at Slashdot.

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Major fish nurseries are awash in microplastics

Science - Posted On:2019-11-14 09:29:57 Source: arstechnica

For a brief moment at the start of their lives, fish from different ocean ecosystems live side by side in gigantic fish nurseries, where surface waters converge and the prey is abundant.

Prey isn’t the only thing that’s abundant here. According to a paper published in PNAS this week, the same currents that make these regions appealing as nurseries mean that they’re awash with plastics. The consequences for commercial fisheries and the ocean's food webs are difficult to discern but could be significant.

Oceanographer Jamison Gove and his colleagues set out to understand more about how the features of the ocean affect the survival of larval fish—crucial information for the world’s fisheries. They didn’t expect to find a soup of microplastics in what looked like clear water.

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Microplastics and baby fish are drawn to the same spots in the ocean

Science - Posted On:2019-11-14 09:14:58 Source: arstechnica

For a brief moment at the start of their lives, fish from different ocean ecosystems live side by side in gigantic fish nurseries, where surface waters converge and the prey is abundant.

Prey isn’t the only thing that’s abundant here. According to a paper published in PNAS this week, the same currents that make these regions appealing as nurseries mean that they’re awash with plastics. The consequences for commercial fisheries and the ocean's food webs are difficult to discern but could be significant.

Oceanographer Jamison Gove and his colleagues set out to understand more about how the features of the ocean affect the survival of larval fish—crucial information for the world’s fisheries. They didn’t expect to find a soup of microplastics in what looked like clear water.

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Hologram-Like Device Animates Objects Using Ultrasound Waves

science - Posted On:2019-11-13 22:44:58 Source: slashdot

An anonymous reader quotes a report from The Guardian: Researchers in Southampton have built a device that displays 3D animated objects that can talk and interact with onlookers. A demonstration of the display showed a butterfly flapping its wings, a countdown spelled out by numbers hanging in the air, and a rotating, multicolored planet Earth. Beyond interactive digital signs and animations, scientists want to use it to visualize and even feel data. While the images are similar, the device is not the sort of holographic projector that allowed a shimmering Princess Leia to enlist Obi-Wan Kenobi's help in Star Wars. Instead, it uses a 3D field of ultrasound waves to levitate a polystyrene bead and whip it around at high speed to trace shapes in the air. The 2mm-wide bead moves so fast, at speeds approaching 20mph, that it traces out the shape of an object in less than one-tenth of a second. At such a speed, the brain doesn't see the moving bead, only the completed shape it creates. The colors are added by LEDs built into the display that shine light on the bead as it zips around. Because the images are created in 3D space, they can be viewed from any angle. And by careful control of the ultrasonic field, the scientists can make objects speak, or add sound effects and musical accompaniments to the animated images. Further manipulation of the sound field enables users to interact with the objects and even feel them in their hands. "The images are created between two horizontal plates that are studded with small ultrasonic transducers," reports The Guardian. "These create an inaudible 3D sound field that contains a tiny pocket of low pressure air that traps the polystyrene bead. Move the pocket around, by tweaking the output of the transducers, and the bead moves with it." In the journal Nature, researchers describe how they've improved the display to produce sounds and tactile responses to people reaching out to the image. Read more of this story at Slashdot.

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The Curiosity Rover Detects Oxygen Behaving Strangely on Mars

science - Posted On:2019-11-13 14:45:00 Source: slashdot

NASA's Curiosity rover sniffed out an unexpected seasonal variation to the oxygen on Mars, according to new research. From a report: Since it landed in Gale Crater in 2012, the Curiosity rover has been studying the Martian surface beneath its wheels to learn more about the planet's history. But Curiosity also stuck its nose in the air for a big sniff to understand the Martian atmosphere. So far, this sniffing has resulted in some findings that scientists are still trying to understand. Earlier this year, the rover's tunable laser spectrometer, called SAM, which stands for Sample Analysis at Mars, detected the largest amount of methane ever measured during its mission. SAM has also found that over time, oxygen behaves in a way that can't be explained by any chemical process scientists currently understand. SAM has had plenty of time -- about six years -- to sniff and analyze the atmospheric composition on Mars. The data revealed that at the surface, 95% of the atmosphere is carbon dioxide, followed by 2.6% molecular nitrogen, 1.9% argon, 0.16% oxygen and 0.06% carbon monoxide. Like Earth, Mars goes through its seasons; over the course of a year, the air pressure changes. This happens when the carbon dioxide gas freezes in winter at the poles, causing the air pressure to lower. It rises again in the spring and summer, redistributing across Mars as the carbon dioxide evaporates. In relation to the carbon monoxide, nitrogen and argon also follow similar dips and peaks. But oxygen didn't. Surprisingly, the oxygen actually rose by a peak increase of 30% in the spring and summer before dropping back to normal in the fall. Read more of this story at Slashdot.

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Scandal of kids posing as researchers continues to grow in South Korea

Science - Posted On:2019-11-13 12:45:00 Source: arstechnica

More South Korean researchers are accused of fraudulently adding the names of children and teens to their published scientific manuscripts as part of an ongoing college admissions scandal, according to a report by Nature.

The kids—middle and high school students—are listed as co-authors on scientific findings that they allegedly had no hand in. Many of these claimed science-wizzes are researchers’ own children or children of their friends. The authorships, in some cases, are thought to give the children a leg-up in the country’s fiercely competitive college admissions.

As in the US, there is currently intense scrutiny in South Korea over how the country’s elite get their children into colleges.

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How to spot the SpaceX Starlink satellite train overhead this week

Science - Posted On:2019-11-13 09:29:56 Source: arstechnica

At the start of the week, SpaceX launched its first 60 operational Starlink satellites—the company's 50th consecutive successful launch. And as innovative as this communication network's entire concept might be, many onlookers are curious for a much simpler reason.

You want to view—maybe even photograph—these things in the pre-dawn, post-sunset, or night sky, right? Well, you've come to the right place.

First, you'll want to be quick. Since separating from the upper stage on November 11 at about 11am Eastern Standard Time (Nov. 11, 16:00 UTC) and with each hour that passes, the satellites have been spreading out by individually raising their orbits to the correct height. And after a while, they will be on their own instead of appearing in this initially clustered formation.

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A “mouse-deer,” seen once in the last century, has now been caught on film

Science - Posted On:2019-11-13 07:14:57 Source: arstechnica

Every time field biologist An Nguyen finds a mammal in the wild that he's never seen before, he adds a line to the tally count tattoo on his left wrist.

The silver-backed chevrotain, a tiny "mouse-deer" native to Vietnam, is a sighting significant for more than just Nguyen's personal tally. There has been only one confirmed record of the elusive mammal since 1910—a specimen obtained from a hunter in 1990—until Nguyen and his team set camera traps that recorded 280 sightings within nine months.

The news, reported this week in Nature Ecology & Evolution, is more than just confirmation that the silver-backed chevrotain is not yet extinct. It means that researchers can start studying it more comprehensively, trying to get a sense of how many are left and what kinds of protections it needs. And protecting the chevrotain also means protecting the less cute, but equally essential, species that share its habitat.

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One of the world’s “most wanted” mammals has been rediscovered

Science - Posted On:2019-11-13 06:59:57 Source: arstechnica

Every time field biologist An Nguyen finds a mammal in the wild that he's never seen before, he adds a line to the tally count tattoo on his left wrist.

The silver-backed chevrotain, a tiny "mouse-deer" native to Vietnam, is a sighting significant for more than just Nguyen's personal tally. There has been only one confirmed record of the elusive mammal since 1910—a specimen obtained from a hunter in 1990—until Nguyen and his team set camera traps that recorded 280 sightings within nine months.

The news, reported this week in Nature Ecology & Evolution, is more than just confirmation that the silver-backed chevrotain is not yet extinct. It means that researchers can start studying it more comprehensively, trying to get a sense of how many are left and what kinds of protections it needs. And protecting the chevrotain also means protecting the less cute, but equally essential, species that share its habitat.

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Physics Experiment With Ultrafast Laser Pulses Produces a Previously Unseen Phase of Matter

science - Posted On:2019-11-12 22:44:58 Source: slashdot

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Phys.Org: Adding energy to any material, such as by heating it, almost always makes its structure less orderly. Ice, for example, with its crystalline structure, melts to become liquid water, with no order at all. But in new experiments by physicists at MIT and elsewhere, the opposite happens: When a pattern called a charge density wave in a certain material is hit with a fast laser pulse, a whole new charge density wave is created -- a highly ordered state, instead of the expected disorder. The surprising finding could help to reveal unseen properties in materials of all kinds. The experiments made use of a material called lanthanum tritelluride, which naturally forms itself into a layered structure. In this material, a wavelike pattern of electrons in high- and low-density regions forms spontaneously but is confined to a single direction within the material. But when hit with an ultrafast burst of laser light -- less than a picosecond long, or under one trillionth of a second -- that pattern, called a charge density wave or CDW, is obliterated, and a new CDW, at right angles to the original, pops into existence. This new, perpendicular CDW is something that has never been observed before in this material. It exists for only a flash, disappearing within a few more picoseconds. As it disappears, the original one comes back into view, suggesting that its presence had been somehow suppressed by the new one. The study has been published in the journal Nature Physics. Read more of this story at Slashdot.

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UCLA Now Has the First Zero-Emission, All-Electric Mobile Surgical Instrument Lab

science - Posted On:2019-11-12 20:59:59 Source: slashdot

UCLA's new mobile surgical lab is a zero-emission, all-electric vehicle that will move back and forth between two UCLA campuses, collecting, sterilizing and repairing surgical instruments for the medical staff there. TechCrunch reports: Why is that even needed? The usual process is sending out surgical instruments for this kind of service by a third-party, and it's handled in a dedicated facility at a significant annual cost. UCLA Health Center estimates that it can save as much as $750,000 per year using the EV lab from Winnebago instead. The traveling lab can operate for around eight hours, including round-trips between the two hospital campuses, or for a total distance traveled of between 85 and 125 miles on a single charge of its battery, depending on usage. It also offers "the same level of performance, productivity and compliance" as a lab in a fixed-location building, according to Winnebago. Read more of this story at Slashdot.

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The world finally has an approved vaccine against Ebola

Science - Posted On:2019-11-12 19:29:59 Source: arstechnica

Regulators in Europe have granted the world's first approval of a vaccine against Ebola—and health officials are wasting no time in rolling it out.

The European Commission announced at the start of the week that it had granted a landmark marketing authorization of Merck's Ebola vaccine Ervebo. The vaccine has been in the works since the 2014 West African Ebola outbreak. It is now being used in the ongoing outbreak in the Democratic Republic of Congo based on a "compassionate use" protocol.

The current outbreak in the DRC has killed nearly 2,200 since August 2018, causing nearly 3,300 cases. The outbreak is the second-largest recorded, surpassed only by the 2014 West African outbreak that caused more than 11,000 deaths and 28,000 cases.

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Partisan differences show up in reasons why Americans support NASA

Science - Posted On:2019-11-12 08:44:57 Source: arstechnica

Almost two-thirds of Americans agree that the space program's costs are justified. And fewer think that NASA's budget should be reduced or abolished than at any time since 1986. Those were two of the results from polling conducted by Gallup for the 50th anniversary of the Moon landing. The poll found a clear upward trend for support for space exploration, starting at 41% in 1979 and rising to 64% by 2019.

But much less is known about why different Americans are in favor of space exploration. That would be useful information for policymakers—of all stripes—who hope to convince the public to open their wallets. It's a question that David Burbach, a political scientist at the US Naval War College in Rhode Island, has sought to answer in a new study published in the journal Space Policy.

Previous work has identified demographic or social differences in public support for the space program. Being young, white, male, or more highly educated all correlate with greater support for NASA than being older, non white, female, or having a lower educational attainment. Evangelical Christians are more lukewarm on the idea than the rest of the nation, but as it turns out there's not much of a split between Republican and Democratic voters on the topic.

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