Astronomers Detect 15 Atypical Signals From Distant Galaxy ( 46

Freshly Exhumed writes: Researchers using the Green Bank Telescope in West Virginia have announced in the Astronomers Telegram that they have detected 15 fast radio bursts -- poorly understood phenomena that are milliseconds-long pulses of radio emission believed to be coming from rapidly spinning neutron stars or black holes in distant galaxies. Of note is their frequency range, seen to be well above typical phenomena. In particular, fast radio burst (FRB) 121102, discovered by a McGill University researcher in 2016, is the only known one to be repeating, an observation that is quite challenging for theorists and dreamers alike.

Germany Unveils World's Most Powerful X-Ray Laser ( 49

An anonymous reader quotes a report from The Guardian: The world's most powerful X-ray laser has begun operating at a facility where scientists will attempt to recreate the conditions deep inside the sun and produce film-like sequences of viruses and cells. The machine, called the European X-ray Free Electron Laser (XFEL), acts as a high-speed camera that can capture images of individual atoms in a few millionths of a billionth of a second. Unlike a conventional camera, though, everything imaged by the X-ray laser is obliterated -- its beam is 100 times more intense than if all the sunlight hitting the Earth's surface were focused onto a single thumbnail. The facility near Hamburg, housed in a series of tunnels up to 38 meters underground, will allow scientists to explore the architecture of viruses and cells, create jittery films of chemical reactions as they unfold and replicate conditions deep within stars and planets.

XFEL is the world's third major X-ray laser facility -- projects in Japan and the U.S. have already spawned major advances in structural biology and materials science. The European beam is more powerful, but most significantly has a far higher pulse rate than either of its predecessors. "They can send 100 pulses out per second, we can send 27,000," said Robert Feidenhan'l, chairman of the European XFEL management board. This matters because to study chemical reactions or biological processes, the X-ray strobe is used to capture flickering snapshots of the same system at different time-points that can be stitched together into a film sequence.


Researchers Discover Enzyme That Harnesses Light To Make Hydrocarbons ( 55

Researchers from the Biosciences and Biotechnologies Institute of the French Alternative Energies and Atomic Energy Commission have discovered a new light-driven enzyme, christened fatty acid photodecarboxylase (FAP), that uses blue light to drive the removal of carboxyl groups from fatty acids to form alkanes or alkenes. Such an enzyme could be used as fuel with no further modification. The Biological SCENE reports: FAP joins a select group of so-called photoenzymes, including DNA-repair enzymes called photolyases, that use light for catalysis on their own rather than functioning as part of a larger complex such as photosystems I or II, which are used by plants and algae for photosynthesis. FAP contains flavin adenine dinucleotide (FAD), which commonly serves as a redox cofactor in biological reactions. In the case of FAP, however, FAD absorbs blue light to reach an excited state that abstracts an electron from the carboxylate group of a C12 to C18 fatty acid, which then decarboxylates to yield an alkane or alkene. The study has been published in the journal Science. Further reading: Ars Technica

The Oldest Known Human Remains In the Americas Have Been Found In a Mexican Cave ( 138

schwit1 shares a report from Seeker: An ice-free corridor between the Americas and Asia opened up about 12,500 years ago, allowing humans to cross over the Bering land bridge to settle what is now the United States and places beyond to the south. History books have conveyed that information for years to explain how the Americas were supposedly first settled by people, such as those from the Clovis culture. At least one part of the Americas was already occupied by humans before that time, however, says new research on the skeleton of a male youth found in Chan Hol cave near Tulum, Mexico. Dubbed the Young Man of Chan Hol, the remains date to 13,000 years ago, according to a paper published in the journal PLOS ONE. How he arrived at the location remains a great mystery given the timing and the fact that Mexico is well over 4,000 miles away from the Bering land crossing. For the new study, Gonzalez, Stinnesbeck, and their colleagues dated the Young Man of Chan Hol's remains by analyzing the bones' uranium, carbon, and oxygen isotopes, which were also found in stalagmite that had grown through the pelvic bone. The scientists believe that the resulting age of 13,000 years could apply to at least two other skeletons found in caves around Tulum: a teenage female named Naia and a 25-30-year-old female named Eve of Naharon. Gonzalez said that the shape of the skulls suggests that Eve and the others "have more of an affinity with people from Southeast Asia." He and his team further speculated that the individuals could have originated in Indonesia.

India's Workhorse Rocket Fails For the First Time In Decades ( 78

India's premier rocket, known as the Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle, failed to put a navigation satellite into orbit earlier this morning, after some unknown malfunction prevented the satellite from leaving the vehicle. The Verge reports: The rocket successfully took off from the Satish Dhawan Space Centre in southeastern India at 9:30AM ET. About a little over 10 minutes into the flight, however, the rocket seemed to be in a lower altitude than it need to be. A host during the live broadcast of the launch noted that there was a "variation" in the rocket's performance. Later, an official with the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) confirmed that the payload fairing -- the cone-like structure that surrounds the satellite on the top of the rocket -- failed to separate and expose the satellite to space. So the satellite was effectively trapped inside the fairing and could not be deployed into orbit. It seems possible that the rocket's low trajectory had to do with the fact that the fairing didn't separate, making the vehicle heavier than it was supposed to be.

It's an unexpected failure for a fairly reliable rocket. Over the last 24 years, the PSLV has flown 41 times and has only suffered two failures in its launch history -- the most recent mishap occurring during a mission in 1997. However, that mission was not a total loss as the satellite it carried was still able to make it to orbit. This was the first total failure of the rocket to happen since the PSLV's very first failure in 1993.

United States

Stanford Study Finds New Dads In US Are Older Than Ever ( 191

An anonymous reader quotes a report from The Mercury News: American fathers keep getting older, raising the prospect of increased birth defects but also greater economic and emotional security for U.S. families, according to new research from Stanford University's School of Medicine. The average age of the fathers of newborns in the United States has climbed by 3.5 years over the past four decades, growing from 27.4 years in 1972 to 30.9 years in 2015, said the study -- the nation's most detailed analysis ever of paternal age. The number of newborns whose fathers were over age 40 has more than doubled over the past four decades. Those births now make up nearly 9 percent of births in the U.S., Dr. Michael Eisenberg and Yash Khandwala reported in the journal Human Reproduction. The share of fathers who were over age 50 rose from 0.5 percent to 0.9 percent. Asian-American fathers -- men of Japanese and Vietnamese descent, in particular -- are the oldest, becoming fathers at the average age of 36 years, the study said. Black and Hispanic men are the youngest fathers -- age 30.4 and 30, respectively. White men, on average, have children at age 31. Paternal age rose with educational attainment. The typical newborn's father with a college degree is 33.3 years old -- compared with 29.8 years for high school graduates.
The Courts

Amazon Sold Eclipse Glasses That Cause 'Permanent Blindness,' Alleges Lawsuit ( 229

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Ars Technica: A South Carolina couple claims in a proposed federal class-action lawsuit (PDF) that Amazon sold defective eclipse-watching glasses that partially blinded them during the historic coast-to-coast solar eclipse on August 21. Corey Payne and fiance Kayla Harris say in their lawsuit that because of the eyewear Payne purchased from Amazon, the couple is now suffering from "blurriness, a central blind spot, increased sensitivity, changes in perception of color, and distorted vision." Amazon issued a recall of defective and perhaps counterfeit eclipse eyewear in an e-mail sent out to customers before the event. Payne said he did not receive the message. His suit seeks to represent others who were injured or may be injured from the eyewear purchased on Amazon. The alleged Tennessee-based maker of the glasses, American Paper Optics, is not named in the suit. The suit seeks funds "for medical monitoring" because "Plaintiffs and members of the proposed class have or will experience varying degrees of eye injury ranging from temporary discomfort to permanent blindness." The suit also demands unspecified monetary damages, punitive damages, and legal fees and costs.

Mathematician Who Claimed 'P Is Not Equal To NP' Says His Proof Is Wrong ( 234

Earlier this month, Norbert Blum, a German mathematician, had published a research paper in which he implied that P is not equal to NP. The abstract of the post read: Berg and Ulfberg and Amano and Maruoka have used CNF-DNF-approximators to prove exponential lower bounds for the monotone network complexity of the clique function and of Andreev's function. We show that these approximators can be used to prove the same lower bound for their non-monotone network complexity. This implies P not equal NP. Since the publication of that paper, several mathematicians have raised concerns with Blum's methodology, with some saying that there are flaws in it. Blum has now updated the research paper to add: The proof is wrong. I shall elaborate precisely what the mistake is. For doing this, I need some time.

How NASA Kept the ISS Flying While Harvey Hit Mission Control ( 128

An anonymous reader shares a report: In the days before Harvey hit Texas, flight controllers at NASA's Johnson Space Center outside of Houston had a decision to make: should they evacuate or ride out the storm at the agency's Mission Control Center? The dilemma wasn't just about the safety of the flight controllers. These personnel are tasked with flying the International Space Station -- a round-the-clock job that can't be done just anywhere. If there's a gap in ground communication, it could put the astronauts in danger. [...] On August 22nd, three days before the storm hit, the mission team was briefed by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and decided the best plan was to stay put. They realized that whatever hit Texas would likely hit Round Rock, too, which is located outside of Austin. Plus, Harvey's real danger looked to be the water rather than the winds. The building containing the Mission Control Center is designed to withstand flooding incredibly well. But the team also knew they had to prepare. "Where you don't want to find yourself is just a single flight controller in any position who can't leave because there's no one to replace them," says Scoville. So the flight controllers were told to come into work early and to make sure they had a way to both enter and leave the center safely. Many showed up Friday night with "big, monstrous climbing backpacks," says Scoville. Meanwhile, cots were set up in a nearby room and in a building that serves as an astronaut quarantine facility, where astronauts quarantine before launch to avoid getting sick in space. "We have training rooms that are a mere copy of the flight control room," says Scoville. "They have the same consoles and same screens, but we turned off the lights and put some cots in there. It was interesting to see these rooms usually lit up with all these screens blacked out for people to sleep." Throughout the weekend, Mission Control operated with the bare minimum essential personnel needed to keep the ISS working safely. Normally, flight controller teams work in nine-hour shifts, swapping out three times a day. During the storm, only about six flight controllers worked each shift, and some stretched their shifts to 12 hours. Because the flooding made the roads impassable, everyone had to spend a couple of nights at NASA.

Astronomers Have Found the Stars Responsible For an Explosion Recorded By Korean Astronomers in 1437 AD ( 39

An anonymous reader shares a report: On the night of March 11, 1437 A.D., in what is now modern-day Seoul, a new star appeared in the sky, seemingly out of nowhere. The newcomer shone for 14 days before fading into the darkness. Korean astronomers noted the mysterious star and its brief stint in the sky in their records. Centuries later, modern astronomers studying these records determined that what the Koreans had seen was a cosmic explosion called a nova. Novae occur in two-star systems, when a dead star, known as a white dwarf, starts eating away at its companion, a star like our sun. The white dwarf slowly builds a layer of hydrogen stolen from the other star over tens of thousands of years, and then ejects it all at once, producing an eruption of light 300,000 times brighter than the sun that can last for weeks. Michael Shara and his researcher colleagues have spent the last nearly 30 years looking for the star responsible for this nova. In a new paper published Wednesday in Nature, they say they've finally found it. "It's been like searching for a needle in a billion haystacks," Shara said. For most of their search, Shara, a curator in the American Museum of Natural History's department of astrophysics; Richard Stephenson, a historian of ancient astronomical records at Durham University; and Mike Bode, an astrophysicist at Liverpool John Moores University, focused on a part of the sky where they suspected the mystery star must lurk. The investigation was an on-again, off-again effort of "failure after failure after failure," one that they returned to when they had the time or a lead. Last year, Shara found some relevant files in his office that he hadn't looked at in nearly a decade, and decided to expand the search area in the sky. He started combing through digital databases of stars, looking for any interesting targets. In one astronomical catalog, he saw a well-known planetary nebula, a glowing shell of gas and dust. In a different catalog, he found an image of a binary star taken in 2016 in the same area. Then it hit him: That wasn't a planetary nebula. It was the leftover shell of a nova explosion, floating near the star system that produced it.

FDA Approves First Cell-Based Therapy For Cancer ( 63

An anonymous reader quotes a report from NPR: The Food and Drug Administration on Wednesday announced what the agency calls a "historic action" -- the first approval of a cell-based gene therapy in the United States. The FDA approved Kymriah, which scientists refer to as a "living drug" because it involves using genetically modified immune cells from patients to attack their cancer. The drug was approved to treat children and young adults suffering from acute lymphoblastic leukemia, a cancer of blood and bone marrow that is the most common childhood cancer in the United States. About 3,100 patients who are 20 and younger are diagnosed with ALL each year. The treatment involves removing immune system cells known as T cells from each patient and genetically modifying the cells in the laboratory to attack and kill leukemia cells. The genetically modified cells are then infused back into patients. It's also known as CAR-T cell therapy.

The treatment, which is also called CTL109, produced remission within three months in 83 percent of 63 pediatric and young adult patients. The patients had failed to respond to standard treatments or had suffered relapses. Based on those results, an FDA advisory panel recommended the approval in July. The treatment does carry risks, however, including a dangerous overreaction by the immune system known as cytokine-release syndrome. As a result, the FDA is requiring strong warnings.


Mathematicians Race To Debunk German Man Who Claimed To Solve The 'P Versus NP' Problem ( 156

A German man -- Norbert Blum -- who claimed that P is not equal to NP is seeing several challenges to his solution. From a report: Numerous mathematicians have begun to raise questions about whether the German mathematician solved it at all. Since Blum's paper was published, mathematicians and computer scientists worldwide have been racking their brains as to whether the Bonn-based researcher has, in fact, solved this Millennium Prize Problem. After an initially positive reaction, such as the one from Stanford mathematician Reza Zadeh, doubts are beginning to arise about whether Blum's reasoning is correct. In a forum for theoretical mathematics, a user named Mikhail reached out to Alexander Razborov -- the author of the paper on which Blum's proof is based -- to ask him about Blum's paper. Razborov purports to have discovered an error in Blum's paper: Blum's main argument contradicts one of Razborov's key assumptions. And mathematician Scott Aaronson, who is something of an authority in the math community when it comes to P vs. NP, said he would be willing to bet $200,000 that Blum's mathematical proof won't endure. "Please stop asking," Aaronson writes. If the proof hasn't been refuted, "you can come back and tell me I was a closed-minded fool." In the week since Aaronson's initial blog post, other mathematicians have begun trying to poke holes in Blum's proof. Dick Lipton, a computer science professor at Georgia Tech, wrote in a blog post that Blum's proof "passes many filters of seriousness," but suggested there may be some problems with it. A commenter on that blog post, known only as "vloodin," noted that there was a "single error on a subtle point" in the proof; other mathematicians have since chimed in and confirmed vloodin's initial analysis, and so the emerging consensus among many mathematicians is that a solve for P vs. NP remains elusive.

FDA Issues Recall of 465,000 St. Jude Pacemakers To Patch Security Holes ( 73

In what may be a first, patients with heart conditions that are using particular pacemaker brands will have to visit their doctors for firmware updates to keep their embedded devices safe from tampering. From a report: It seems such an odd concept at first, but with many kinds of pacemakers now "smarter," with connections to mobile devices and diagnostic systems, the avenue has been carved for these medical devices to potentially be tampered with, should a threat actor choose. In particular, Abbott's pacemakers, formerly of St. Jude Medical, have been "recalled" by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) on a voluntary basis. The devices must be given a firmware update to protect them against a set of critical vulnerabilities, first reported by MedSec, which could drain pacemaker battery life, allow attackers to change programmed settings, or even change the beats and rhythm of the device. On Tuesday, the FDA issued a security advisory, warning that the pacemakers must be recalled -- and as they are embedded within the chests of their users, this requires a home visit or trip to the hospital to have the software patch applied.

Large-Scale Dietary Study: Fats Good, Carbs Bad ( 477

An anonymous reader quotes CBS: New research suggests that it's not the fat in your diet that's raising your risk of premature death, it's too many carbohydrates -- especially the refined, processed kinds of carbs -- that may be the real killer... People with a high fat intake -- about 35 percent of their daily diet -- had a 23 percent lower risk of early death and 18 percent lower risk of stroke compared to people who ate less fat, said lead author Mahshid Dehghan. She's an investigator with the Population Health Research Institute at McMaster University in Ontario... At the same time, high-carb diets -- containing an average 77 percent carbohydrates -- were associated with a 28 percent increased risk of death versus low-carb diets, Dehghan said...

For this study, Dehghan and her colleagues tracked the diet and health of more than 135,000 people, aged 35 to 70, from 18 countries around the world, to gain a global perspective on the health effects of diet. Participants provided detailed information on their social and economic status, lifestyle, medical history and current health. They also completed a questionnaire on their regular diet, which researchers used to calculate their average daily calories from fats, carbohydrates and proteins. The research team then tracked the participants' health for about seven years on average, with follow-up visits at least every three years.


NASA's Plan To Stop A Supervolcano from Destroying The Earth's Climate ( 153

Long-time walterbyrd shared a new article about NASA's contingency plan for "vast quantities of searing magma and clouds of fumes" erupting from a Wyoming supervolcano and slowly "burying much of the United States under a thick coat of ash and lava...enough to change the climate of the world for several centuries." NASA believes the Yellowstone supervolcano is a greater threat to life on Earth than any asteroid. So it's come up with a plan to defuse its explosive potential... NASA scientists propose, a 10km [6.2 miles] deep hole into the hydrothermal water below and to the sides of the magma chamber. These fluids, which form Yellowstone's famous heat pools and geysers, already drain some 60-70 per cent of the heat from the magma chamber below. NASA proposes that, in an emergency, this enormous body of heated water can be injected with cooler water, extracting yet more heat. This could prevent the super volcano's magma from reaching the temperature at which it would erupt.
A member of NASA's Advisory Council on Planetary Defense told the BBC he'd concluded "the super volcano threat is substantially greater than the asteroid or comet threat."

FDA Designates MDMA As 'Breakthrough Therapy' For PTSD ( 266

In what could lead to a faster path to pharmaceutical approval, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has designated methylenedioxymethamphetamine (MDMA) as a "breakthrough therapy" in the treatment of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Futurism reports: The Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS) announced the FDA's ruling last week, revealing that they can now move forward on two of their upcoming "Phase 3" trials. The goal of these trials is to determine how effectively the drug can be used to treat those suffering from PTSD. The trials will include 200 to 300 participants, and the first trial will begin to accept subjects in 2018. The trials will be held in the U.S., Canada, and Israel, and MAPS plans to open talks with the European Medicines Agency in the hopes of expanding testing to include Europe. For now, the focus is on securing the funding they require. According to Science, the organization is still in the process of raising money for the trials, and thus far, they've only managed to secure $13 million, about half of their goal.

Previous MAPS trials exploring how well MDMA could treat PTSD have yielded favorable results, contributing to the FDA's aforementioned decision. In the association's Phase 2 trails, 107 people who had PTSD for an average of 17.8 years were treated using MDMA-assisted psychotherapy. After two months, 61 percent of the participants no longer suffered from PTSD. After a year, that number increased to 68 percent, according to the MAPS press release.


Lost Turing Letters Give Unique Insight Into His Academic Life Prior To Death ( 142

bellwould shares a report from The University of Manchester. From the report: A lost and unique collection of letters and correspondence from the late Alan Turing has been found in an old filing cabinet in a storeroom at the University of Manchester. The file's content, which potentially hasn't seen the light of day for at least 30 years, dates from early 1949 until Turing's death in June 1954. Altogether there are 148 documents, including a letter from GCHQ, a handwritten draft BBC radio program about Artificial Intelligence (AI) and offers to lecture from some of America's most famous universities, such as Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).

... [T]he letters do give a unique glimpse into his every day working life at the time of these events. Plus, some documents also give a brief insight into some of his more forthright personal opinions. For example, his response to a conference invitation to the U.S. in April 1953 is simply, "I would not like the journey, and I detest America."
The collection of papers has been sorted, catalogued and stored at the University's Library by Archivist, James Peters. The documents themselves were found by Professor Jim Miles of the School of Computer Science.

Converted Missile Launches Military Satellite to Track Spacecraft ( 39

schwit1 was the first to share the news about Saturday's successful launch from Cape Canaveral: A satellite designed to help the U.S. military keep tabs on the ever-growing population of orbiting objects took to the skies atop a converted missile early Saturday morning. The Air Force's Operationally Responsive Space-5 (ORS-5) satellite lifted off from Florida's Cape Canaveral Air Force Station at 2:04 a.m. EDT (0604 GMT) atop an Orbital ATK Minotaur IV rocket, which carved a fiery orange arc into the sky as it rose... The first three stages of the Minotaur IV rocket are derived from decommissioned Peacekeeper intercontinental ballistic missiles... This morning's launch was the sixth for the Minotaur IV and the 26th overall for the Minotaur rocket family, which also includes the flight-proven Minotaur I, II and V vehicles.
The Orlando Sentinel notes it took place on "a long-dormant launch pad on the Space Coast...Launch Complex 46, which last hosted a rocket launch in 1999..."
Input Devices

A Game You Control With Your Mind ( 56

A startup recently demoed their prototype for a VR headset using sensors that read brain waves. An anonymous reader quotes the New York Times: There is no joystick or game pad. You must use your thoughts. You turn toward a ball on the floor, and your brain sends a command to pick it up. With another thought, you send the ball crashing into a mirror, breaking the glass and revealing a few numbers scribbled on a wall. You mentally type those numbers into a large keypad by the door. And you are out. Designed by Neurable, a small start-up founded by Ramses Alcaide, an electrical engineer and neuroscientist, the game offers what you might call a computer mouse for the mind, a way of selecting items in a virtual world with your thoughts...

The prototype is among the earliest fruits of a widespread effort to embrace technology that was once science fiction -- and in some ways still is. Driven by recent investments from the United States government and by the herd mentality that so often characterizes the tech world, a number of a start-ups and bigger companies like Facebook are working on ways to mentally control machines... Although sensors can read electrical brain activity from outside the skull, it is very difficult to separate the signal from the noise. Using computer algorithms based on research that Mr. Alcaide originally published as a doctoral student at the University of Michigan, Neurable works to read activity with a speed and accuracy that is not typically possible.


SLAC Experiment Proves It Rains Diamonds On Uranus and Neptune ( 114

The Washington Post reports: On Uranus and Neptune, scientists forecast rain storms of solid diamonds. The gems form in the hydrocarbon-rich oceans of slush that swath the gas giants' sold cores. Scientists have long speculated that the extreme pressures in this region might split those molecules into atoms of hydrogen and carbon, the latter of which then crystallize to form diamonds. These diamonds were thought to sink like rain through the ocean until they hit the solid core. But no one could prove that this would really work -- until now.
Cosmos reports: The Matter in Extreme Conditions instrument at SLAC gives scientists the tools to investigate the extremely hot, dense matter at the centers of stars and giant planets... A team led by Dominik Kraus from the Helmholtz Zentrum Dresden-Rossendorf research centre in Germany subjected plastic to shockwaves by exposing it to the intense energy produced by SLAC's X-ray free-electron laser, known as the Linac Coherent Light Source. The experiment caused almost all the carbon atoms in the plastic to combine into diamond-like structures a few nanometers wide... Astronomers think that the forces at work deep in the frozen mantles of Uranus and Neptune are likely so powerful that each of the diamonds formed could weigh millions of carats. It is also possible that the solid cores of both planets are coated with a thick diamond outer layer.
The experiment also suggests an easier (and cleaner) way to produce diamonds in a lab, which can then be used for semiconductors, drill bits and solar panels.

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