Science X Newsletter Week 50

Dear ymilog,

Here is your customized Science X Newsletter for week 50:

In their closest alignment in 800 years, Jupiter and Saturn will create a wonder: A Christmas Star

The lousiest year in living memory will end with an offering of heavenly wonder: a Christmas Star.

Artificial intelligence finds surprising patterns in Earth's biological mass extinctions

Charles Darwin's landmark opus "On the Origin of the Species" ends with a beautiful summary of his theory of evolution: "There is a grandeur in this view of life, with its several powers, having been originally breathed into a few forms or into one; and that, whilst this planet has gone cycling on according to the fixed law of gravity, from so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being, evolved." In fact, scientists now know that most species that have ever existed are extinct.

Hubble pins down weird exoplanet with far-flung orbit that behaves like the long-sought 'Planet Nine'

A planet in an unlikely orbit around a double star 336 light-years away may offer a clue to a mystery much closer to home: A hypothesized, distant body in our solar system dubbed "Planet Nine."

Charles Darwin was right about why insects are losing the ability to fly

Most insects can fly.

'Electronic amoeba' finds approximate solution to traveling salesman problem in linear time

Researchers at Hokkaido University and Amoeba Energy in Japan have, inspired by the efficient foraging behavior of a single-celled amoeba, developed an analog computer for finding a reliable and swift solution to the traveling salesman problem—a representative combinatorial optimization problem.

Manmade mass now outweighs life on Earth: study

For the first time in history manmade materials now likely outweigh all life on Earth, scientists said Wednesday in research detailing the "crossover point" at which humanity's footprint is heavier than that of the natural world.

Cognitive performance of four-months-old ravens may parallel adult apes

By four months of age the cognitive performance of ravens in experimental tasks testing their understanding of the physical world and how they interact with other ravens may be similar to those of adult great apes, according to a study published in Scientific Reports.

Triple threat: The first observation of three massive gauge bosons produced in proton-proton collisions

The Standard Model, the most exhaustive existing theory outlining fundamental particle interactions, predicts the existence of what are known as triboson interactions. These interactions are processes in which three-gauge bosons are simultaneously produced from one Large Hadron Collider event.

Scientists suggest US embassies were hit with high-power microwaves – here's how the weapons work

The mystery ailment that has afflicted U.S. embassy staff and CIA officers off and on over the last four years in Cuba, China, Russia and other countries appears to have been caused by high-power microwaves, according to a report released by the National Academies. A committee of 19 experts in medicine and other fields concluded that directed, pulsed radiofrequency energy is the "most plausible mechanism" to explain the illness, dubbed Havana syndrome.

What caused the ice ages? Tiny ocean fossils offer key evidence

The last million years of Earth history have been characterized by frequent "glacial-interglacial cycles," large swings in climate that are linked to the growing and shrinking of massive, continent-spanning ice sheets. These cycles are triggered by subtle oscillations in Earth's orbit and rotation, but the orbital oscillations are too subtle to explain the large changes in climate.

The world's first DNA 'tricorder' in your pocket

Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory (CSHL) scientists developed the world's first mobile genome sequence analyzer, a new iPhone app called iGenomics. By pairing an iPhone with a handheld DNA sequencer, users can create a mobile genetics laboratory, reminiscent of the "tricorder" featured in Star Trek. The iGenomics app runs entirely on the iOS device, reducing the need for laptops or large equipment in the field, which is useful for pandemic and ecology workers. Aspyn Palatnick programmed iGenomics in CSHL Adjunct Associate Professor Michael Schatz's laboratory, over a period of eight years, starting when he was a 14-year-old high school intern.

Team develops component for neuromorphic computer

Neural networks are some of the most important tools in artificial intelligence (AI): they mimic the operation of the human brain and can reliably recognize texts, language and images, to name but a few. So far, they run on traditional processors in the form of adaptive software, but experts are working on an alternative concept, the 'neuromorphic computer.' In this case, the brain's switching points—the neurons—are not simulated by software but reconstructed in hardware components. A team of researchers at the Helmholtz-Zentrum Dresden-Rossendorf (HZDR) has now demonstrated a new approach to such hardware—targeted magnetic waves that are generated and divided in micrometer-sized wafers. Looking to the future, this could mean that optimization tasks and pattern recognition could be completed faster and more energy efficiently. The researchers have presented their results in the journal Physical Review Letters.

Mass extinctions of land-dwelling animals occur in 27-million-year cycle

Mass extinctions of land-dwelling animals—including amphibians, reptiles, mammals, and birds—follow a cycle of about 27 million years, coinciding with previously reported mass extinctions of ocean life, according to a new analysis published in the journal Historical Biology.

Newly discovered ancient villages laid out like a clock face are further proof of human impact on the Amazon

Ancient Amazonian villages laid out like a clock face have been discovered by experts, thanks to technology that allows them to see below the rainforest canopy.

A simple rule drives the evolution of useless complexity

A new study at the University of Chicago has shown that elaborate protein structures accumulate over deep time even when they serve no purpose, because a universal biochemical property and the genetic code force natural selection to preserve them. The work was published on Dec. 9, 2020 in Nature.

Elementary particles part ways with their properties

"Spooky action at a distance," Einstein's summation of quantum physics, has been a criticism of quantum mechanics since the field emerged. So far, descriptions of entangled particles to explain their apparently faster-than-light responses, and even explanations for the phase shifts induced by an electromagnetic field in regions where it is zero—the "Aharonov-Bohm" effect—have mostly addressed these concerns. However, recent theoretical and experimental demonstrations of a "counterfactual" quantum communication protocol have proved difficult to explain in terms of physical cause and effect. In this kind of quantum communication, observers on either side of a "transmission channel" exchange information without any particle passing between them—spooky indeed.

Face shields no match for sneeze vortex rings

Do face shields provide enough protection to the wearers against COVID-19 if they don't also wear a mask? Spoiler alert: no. But researchers at Fukuoka University in Japan are working to create face shields safe enough to be worn alone.

Researchers develop unique process for producing light-matter mixture

In groundbreaking new research, an international team of researchers led by the University of Minnesota Twin Cities has developed a unique process for producing a quantum state that is part light and part matter.

Physicists use antiferromagnetic rust to carry information over long distances at room temperature

Be it with smartphones, laptops, or mainframes: The transmission, processing, and storage of information is currently based on a single class of material—as it was in the early days of computer science about 60 years ago. A new class of magnetic materials, however, could raise information technology to a new level. Antiferromagnetic insulators enable computing speeds that are a thousand times faster than conventional electronics, with significantly less heating. Components could be packed closer together and logic modules could thus become smaller, which has so far been limited due to the increased heating of current components.

Asteroid Ryugu dust delivered to Earth; NASA astrobiologists prepare to probe it

On Dec. 6 local time (Dec. 5 in the United States), Japanese spacecraft Hayabusa2 dropped a capsule to the ground of the Australian Outback from about 120 miles (or 200 kilometers) above Earth's surface. Inside that capsule is some of the most precious cargo in the solar system: dust that the spacecraft collected earlier this year from the surface of asteroid Ryugu.

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