Chimpanzees’ grief caught on camera in Cameroon

More than a dozen chimps stand in silence watching from behind their wire enclosure as Dorothy, a chimp in her late 40s who died of heart failure, is wheeled past them.

The chimps are from the Sanaga-Yong Chimpanzee Rescue Center in Cameroon. Locals from the village work as “care-givers” for the orphaned animals whose mothers were all killed for the illegal bushmeat trade.

The photo was taken by Monica Szczupider, who was working at the centre.

Speaking about Dorothy, Miss Szczupider, 30, said the chimp was a “prominent figure” within a group of about 25 chimps.

“Chimps are not silent. They are gregarious, loud, vocal creatures, usually with relatively short attention spans”, she said.

“But they could not take their eyes off Dorothy, and their silence, more than anything, spoke volumes.”

The scene, which can be seen in November’s issue of National Geographic, is reminiscent of the gorilla Gana, who grieved of the loss of her baby in her compound at Muenster zoo in northern Germany. Gana fiercely held on to the corpse of her three-month-old baby Claudio until zoo keepers were eventually able to retrieve his body.

Scientists have previously discounted opinions of those who claim animals feel emotions as overly anthropomorphic. But a number of have also recognised that we must be anthropomorphic when discussing animal emotions.

Dr Marc Bekoff, of the University of Colorado, previously wrote for The Telegraph: “That animals and humans share many traits including emotions is merely an extension of Charles Darwin’s accepted ideas about evolutionary continuity, that the differences between species are differences in degree rather than differences in kind. The seemingly natural human urge to impart emotions on to animals, far from obscuring the “true” nature of animals, may actually reflect a very accurate way of knowing.”

via Chimpanzees’ grief caught on camera in Cameroon – Telegraph.

The Recent Future / October 28, 2009 / Nature / 0 Comments

How Plagiarism Software Found a New Shakespeare Play

Plagiarism-detection software was created with lazy, sneaky college students in mind – not the likes of William Shakespeare. Yet the software may have settled a centuries-old mystery over the authorship of an unattributed play from the late 1500s called The Reign of Edward III. Literature scholars have long debated whether the play was written by Shakespeare – some bits are incredibly Bard-like, but others don’t resemble his style at all. The verdict, according to one expert: the play is likely a collaboration between Shakespeare and Thomas Kyd, another popular playwright of his time. (See TIME’s photo-essay “The Royal Shakespeare Company’s Complete Histories.”)

Sir Brian Vickers, a literature professor at the University of London, came to his conclusion after using plagiarism-detection software – as well as his own expertise – to compare writing patterns between Edward III and Shakespeare’s body of work. Plagiarism software isn’t new; college professors have been using it to catch cheats for more than a decade. It is, however, growing increasingly sophisticated, enabling a scholar like Vickers to investigate the provenance of unattributed works of literature. With a program called Pl@giarism, Vickers detected 200 strings of three or more words in Edward III that matched phrases in Shakespeare’s other works. Usually, works by two different authors will only have about 20 matching strings. “With this method we see the way authors use and reuse the same phrases and metaphors, like chunks of fabric in a weave,” says Vickers. “If you have enough of them, you can identify one fabric as Scottish tweed and another as plain gray cloth.” (No insult intended to Kyd.)

Among Shakespeare’s recycled bits of phrases: “come in person hither,” “pale queene of night,” “thou art thy selfe,” “author of my blood” and even the whole phrase “lilies that fester smell far worse than weeds.” Other matching strings are less compelling, but are nevertheless an essential part of distinguishing the author’s linguistic fingerprint, says Vickers. The professor also matched more than 200 strings of words between Edward III and Kyd’s earlier works – at this point in his career, he had only three plays to his name. According to Vickers, Kyd should get top billing on the play – about 60% of Edward III was likely written by him; the remaining 40% by Shakespeare. Using the plagiarism software, Vickers has also attributed four more anonymous plays to Kyd.

via How Plagiarism Software Found a New Shakespeare Play – Yahoo! News.

The Recent Future / October 21, 2009 / History / 0 Comments

Jupiter’s Moon Europa Has Enough Oxygen For Life

New research suggests that there is plenty of oxygen available in the subsurface ocean of Europa to support oxygen-based metabolic processes for life similar to that on Earth. In fact, there may be enough oxygen to support complex, animal-like organisms with greater oxygen demands than microorganisms.

The global ocean on ’s moon Europa contains about twice the of all the Earth’s oceans combined. New research suggests that there may be plenty of available in that ocean to support life, a hundred times more oxygen than previously estimated.

The chances for life there have been uncertain, because Europa’s ocean lies beneath several miles of ice, which separates it from the production of oxygen at the surface by energetic charged particles (similar to ). Without oxygen, life could conceivably exist at hot springs in the ocean floor using exotic metabolic chemistries, based on sulfur or the production of methane. However, it is not certain whether the ocean floor actually would provide the conditions for such life.

Therefore a key question has been whether enough oxygen reaches the ocean to support the oxygen-based that is most familiar to us. An answer comes from considering the young age of Europa’s surface. Its geology and the paucity of impact craters suggests that the top of the ice is continually reformed such that the current surface is only about 50 million years old, roughly 1% of the age of the solar system.

Richard Greenberg of the University of Arizona has considered three generic resurfacing processes: gradually laying fresh material on the surface; opening cracks which fill with fresh ice from below; and disrupting patches of surface in place and replacing them with fresh material. Using estimates for the production of oxidizers at the surface, he finds that the delivery rate into the ocean is so fast that the oxygen concentration could exceed that of the Earth’s oceans in only a few million years. Greenberg presented his findings at the 41st meeting of the American Astronomical Society’s Division for Planetary Sciences now under way in Fajardo, Puerto Rico.

Greenberg says that the concentrations of oxygen would be great enough to support not only microorganisms, but also “macrofauna”, that is, more complex animal-like organisms which have greater oxygen demands. The continual supply of oxygen could support roughly 3 billion kilograms of macrofauna, assuming similar oxygen demands to terrestrial fish.

The good news for the question of the origin of life is that there would be a delay of a couple of billion years before the first surface oxygen reached the ocean. Without that delay, the first pre-biotic chemistry and the first primitive organic structures would be disrupted by oxidation. Oxidation is a hazard unless organisms have evolved protection from its damaging effects. A similar delay in the production of oxygen on Earth was probably essential for allowing life to get started here.

Richard Greenberg is the author of the recent book “Unmasking Europa: The Search for Life on Jupiter’s Moon”, which offers a comprehensive picture of Europa for the general reader.

Source: American Astronomical Society, via Astrobio.

via Jupiter’s Moon Europa Has Enough Oxygen For Life.

The Recent Future / October 18, 2009 / Nature, SciFi / 0 Comments

First black hole for light created on Earth

An electromagnetic “black holeMovie Camera” that sucks in surrounding light has been built for the first time.

The device, which works at microwave frequencies, may soon be extended to trap visible light, leading to an entirely new way of harvesting solar energy to generate electricity.

A theoretical design for a table-top black hole to trap light was proposed in a paper published earlier this year by Evgenii Narimanov and Alexander Kildishev of Purdue University in West Lafayette, Indiana. Their idea was to mimic the properties of a cosmological black hole, whose intense gravity bends the surrounding space-time, causing any nearby matter or radiation to follow the warped space-time and spiral inwards.

Narimanov and Kildishev reasoned that it should be possible to build a device that makes light curve inwards towards its centre in a similar way. They calculated that this could be done by a cylindrical structure consisting of a central core surrounded by a shell of concentric rings.

There’s no escape

The key to making light curve inwards is to make the shell’s permittivity – which affects the electric component of an electromagnetic wave – increase smoothly from the outer to the inner surface. This is analogous to the curvature of space-time near a black hole. At the point where the shell meets the core, the permittivity of the ring must match that of the core, so that light is absorbed rather than reflected.

Now Tie Jun Cui and Qiang Cheng at the Southeast University in Nanjing, China, have turned Narimanov and Kildishev’s theory into practice, and built a “black hole” for microwave frequencies. It is made of 60 annular strips of so-called “meta-materials”, which have previously been used to make invisibility cloaks.

Each strip takes the form of a circuit board etched with intricate structures whose characteristics change progressively from one strip to the next, so that the permittivity varies smoothly. The outer 40 strips make up the shell and the inner 20 strips make up the absorber.

“When the incident electromagnetic wave hits the device, the wave will be trapped and guided in the shell region towards the core of the black hole, and will then be absorbed by the core,” says Cui. “The wave will not come out from the black hole.” In their device, the core converts the absorbed light into heat.

via First black hole for light created on Earth – physics-math – 14 October 2009 – New Scientist.

The Recent Future / October 15, 2009 / SciFi, Tech / 0 Comments

‘Magnetic electricity’ discovered

Researchers have discovered a magnetic equivalent to electricity: single magnetic charges that can behave and interact like electrical ones.

The work is the first to make use of the magnetic monopoles that exist in special crystals known as spin ice.Writing in Nature journal, a team showed that monopoles gather to form a “magnetic current” like electricity.

The phenomenon, dubbed “magnetricity”, could be used in magnetic storage or in computing.

Magnetic monopoles were first predicted to exist over a century ago, as a perfect analogue to electric charges.

Although there are protons and electrons with net positive and negative electric charges, there were no particles in existence which carry magnetic charges. Rather, every magnet has a “north” and “south” pole.

via BBC NEWS | Technology | ‘Magnetic electricity’ discovered.

The Recent Future / October 14, 2009 / Nature / 0 Comments

Plasma Rocket Could Travel to Mars in 39 Days

Last Wednesday, the Ad Astra Rocket Company tested what is currently the most powerful plasma rocket in the world. As the Webster, Texas, company announced, the VASIMR VX-200 engine ran at 201 kilowatts in a vacuum chamber, passing the 200-kilowatt mark for the first time. The test also marks the first time that a small-scale prototype of the company’s VASIMR Variable Specific Impulse Magnetoplasma Rocket rocket engine has been demonstrated at full power.

“It’s the most powerful plasma rocket in the world right now,” says Franklin Chang-Diaz, former NASA astronaut and CEO of Ad Astra. The company has signed an agreement with NASA to test a 200-kilowatt VASIMR engine on the (ISS) in 2013. The engine could provide periodic boosts to the ISS, which gradually drops in altitude due to atmospheric drag. ISS boosts are currently provided by spacecraft with conventional , which consume about 7.5 tonnes of propellant per year. By cutting this amount down to 0.3 tonnes, Chang-Diaz estimates that VASIMR could save NASA millions of dollars per year.

But Ad Astra has bigger plans for VASIMR, such as high-speed missions to Mars. A 10- to 20-megawatt VASIMR engine could propel human missions to Mars in just 39 days, whereas conventional rockets would take six months or more. The shorter the trip, the less time astronauts would be exposed to space radiation, which is a significant hurdle for Mars missions. VASIMR could also be adapted to handle the high payloads of robotic missions, though at slower speeds than lighter human missions.

Chang-Diaz has been working on the development of the VASIMR concept since 1979, before founding Ad Astra in 2005 to further develop the project. The technology uses radio waves to heat gases such as hydrogen, argon, and neon, creating hot plasma. Magnetic fields force the charged plasma out the back of the engine, producing thrust in the opposite direction. Due to the high velocity that this method achieves, less fuel is required than in conventional engines. In addition, VASIMR has no physical electrodes in contact with the , prolonging the engine’s lifetime and enabling a higher power density than in other designs.

via Plasma Rocket Could Travel to Mars in 39 Days.

The Recent Future / October 7, 2009 / SciFi, Tech / 0 Comments

Study prompts provinces to rethink flu plan

A “perplexing” Canadian study linking H1N1 to seasonal flu shots is throwing national influenza plans into disarray and testing public faith in the government agencies responsible for protecting the nation’s health.

Distributed for peer review last week, the study confounded infectious-disease experts in suggesting that people vaccinated against seasonal flu are twice as likely to catch swine flu.

The paper is under peer review, and lead researchers Danuta Skowronski of the British Columbia Centre for Disease Control and Gaston De Serres of Laval University must stay mum until it’s published.

Met with intense early skepticism both in Canada and abroad, the paper has since convinced several provincial health agencies to announce hasty suspensions of seasonal flu vaccinations, long-held fixtures of public-health planning.“It has confused things very badly,” said Dr. Ethan Rubinstein, head of adult infectious diseases at the University of Manitoba. “And it has certainly cost us credibility from the public because of conflicting recommendations. Until last week, there had always been much encouragement to get the seasonal flu vaccine.”

On Sunday Quebec joined Alberta, Saskatchewan, Ontario and Nova Scotia in suspending seasonal flu shots for anyone under 65 years of age. Quebec’s Health Ministry announced it would postpone vaccinations until January, clearing the autumn months for health professionals to focus on vaccinating against H1N1, which is expected to the more severe influenza strain this season.

via Study prompts provinces to rethink flu plan – The Globe and Mail.

The Recent Future / October 5, 2009 / Health / 0 Comments

It’s Official: Water Found on the Moon!

Since man first touched the moon and brought pieces of it back to Earth, scientists have thought that the lunar surface was bone dry. But new observations from three different spacecraft have put this notion to rest with what has been called “unambiguous evidence” of water across the surface of the moon.

The new findings, detailed in the Sept. 25 issue of the journal Science, come in the wake of further evidence of lunar polar water ice by NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter and just weeks before the planned lunar impact of NASA’s LCROSS satellite, which will hit one of the permanently shadowed craters at the moon’s south pole in hope of churning up evidence of water ice deposits in the debris field.

The moon remains drier than any desert on Earth, but the water is said to exist on the moon in very small quantities. One ton of the top layer of the lunar surface would hold about 32 ounces of water, researchers said. “If the water molecules are as mobile as we think they are — even a fraction of them — they provide a mechanism for getting water to those permanently shadowed craters,” said planetary geologist Carle Pieters of Brown University in Rhode Island, who led one of the three studies in Science on the lunar find, in a statement. “This opens a whole new avenue [of lunar research], but we have to understand the physics of it to utilize it.

“Finding water on the moon would be a boon to possible future lunar bases, acting as a potential source of drinking water and fuel.

via SPACE.com — It’s Official: Water Found on the Moon.

The Recent Future / September 23, 2009 / Nature, SciFi / 0 Comments

Immortality only 20 years away says scientist Ray Kurzweil

Scientist Ray Kurzweil claims humans could become immortal in as little as 20 years’ time through nanotechnology and an increased understanding of how the body works.

The 61-year-old American, who has predicted new technologies arriving before, says our understanding of genes and computer technology is accelerating at an incredible rate.He says theoretically, at the rate our understanding is increasing, nanotechnologies capable of replacing many of our vital organs could be available in 20 years time.Mr Kurzweil adds that although his claims may seem far-fetched, artificial pancreases and neural implants are already available.Mr Kurzweil calls his theory the Law of Accelerating Returns. Writing in The Sun, Mr Kurzweil said: “I and many other scientists now believe that in around 20 years we will have the means to reprogramme our bodies’ stone-age software so we can halt, then reverse, ageing. Then nanotechnology will let us live for ever.”Ultimately, nanobots will replace blood cells and do their work thousands of times more effectively.”Within 25 years we will be able to do an Olympic sprint for 15 minutes without taking a breath, or go scuba-diving for four hours without oxygen.”Heart-attack victims – who haven’t taken advantage of widely available bionic hearts – will calmly drive to the doctors for a minor operation as their blood bots keep them alive.”Nanotechnology will extend our mental capacities to such an extent we will be able to write books within minutes.”If we want to go into virtual-reality mode, nanobots will shut down brain signals and take us wherever we want to go. Virtual sex will become commonplace. And in our daily lives, hologram like figures will pop in our brain to explain what is happening.”So we can look forward to a world where humans become cyborgs, with artificial limbs and organs.”

via Immortality only 20 years away says scientist – Telegraph.

The Recent Future / September 23, 2009 / Health, SciFi / 0 Comments

Revolutionary discovery means world may not run out of crude

A team of scientists based at the Royal Institute of Technology in Sweden have made a “revolutionary” discovery about how hydrocarbon is formed, learning that animal and plant fossils are not necessary to form crude oil.

The discovery, the scientists say, means that the world will never run out of crude oil. Currently, theory states that crude oil is formed very slowly – over millions of years – from the remains of dead plants and animals. Buried under rock, over time the pressure and temperature of natural earth processes results in the creation of crude oil. But that theory is now old news, as the scientists, led by Vladimir Kutcherov, say they have proven that fossilized plants and animals are not needed to create hydrocarbons.

“Using our research we can even say where oil could be found in Sweden,”

Kutcherov told Science Daily.

via Revolutionary discovery means world may not run out of crude.

The Recent Future / September 16, 2009 / Nature, Tech / 0 Comments