Scientific News

A mystery regarding a glitch in neutron stars has been solved

Neutron stars are the densest stars in the universe (if you don’t consider the black holes as stars) and they rotate very fast and regularly. A small percentage of them, however, show a mysterious behavior that scientists have called a “glitch:” some portions of the interior of the star move outwards and this seems to allow the same stars to rotate faster for short periods.

In a new study, published in Nature Astronomy, a group of researchers analyzed just one of these stars, the Pulsar of the Sails, a neutron star about a thousand light-years away from us.

This is one of the most famous neutron stars not only because it is part of that 5% of the pulsar with the “glitch” but also because this “anomaly” occurs every three years, which allows a more detailed study, despite the cause of this feature was never really explained by astronomers.

Analyzing data from observations made by telescopes, the researchers first confirmed the glitch because the star started at some point to spin faster before slowing down again. They also succeeded in indirectly analyzing the inside of the star by discovering a particular superfluid neutron soup in the inner layer of the crust, as reported by Paul Lasky, one of the authors of the study.

This soup moves outwards hitting the outer crust and making it spin faster. This first phase is followed by a second phase which sees another superfluid soup that reaches the first, during which the normal rotation of the star is re-established.

This is not the solution of the enigma but in any case, this study provides important information to inspire future studies on this mysterious glitch that characterizes some neutron stars.

Scientific News

Ancient pigs underwent genetic change after arriving in Europe

A new study seems to solve what is considered as a paradox concerning the evolutionary history of pigs. The latter has in fact been domesticated for the first time in the Near East and therefore today’s pigs should resemble genetically wild boars in this area. However, this is not the case: today’s European pigs resemble, at a genetic level, mostly European boars rather than those of the Near East.

The researchers analyzed the DNA signatures of more than 2,000 ancient pigs, traces collected over the years in the areas of the Near East and Europe and dating back to the last 10,000 years.

The results show that pigs arrived in Europe 8000 years ago and at that time showed genetic correlations with those of the Near East. However, with the passage of time, there has also been a hybridization with the European boar and this has meant that the traces of the DNA changed so much that they could no longer find, or almost today, traces of the wild boars of the East.

This study, therefore, declares that the traces of wild boar originating from the Near East have instead remained in the DNA of today’s European pigs and this would also be explained in some particular characteristics relating to the color of the coat.

The researchers also found that higher levels of similarity with boars from the Near East were found in pigs on Mediterranean islands, which could be explained by the fact that the populations of these places had minor exchanges with other populations of the European mainland, which has also seen in parallel also minor hybridizations between the wild boars of these islands and the European ones.

This research is also important because it shows that with today’s techniques it is now possible to see the history of the entire genome of a species in the “slow motion” and with a large level of detail.

Laurent Frantz, lead author of the study and researcher at Queen Mary University in London states the following: “We have all been taught that the great change was the initial process of domestication, but our data suggest that almost none of the human selection compared to the first 2,500 years of domestication of pigs have been important in the development of modern European commercial pigs.”

Scientific News

Melting ice will allow more scientific expeditions to the Arctic

There seems to be at least one positive aspect, even if it’s very small compared to the harmful consequences, concerning the melting of the Arctic ice.

According to a new study, due to the melting of ice in the Arctic, an increasing number of research ships will be able to cross it to solve the main scientific mysteries of this area of ​​the world. From this point of view, an era of new discoveries will open that will allow us to really know this frozen continent never really beaten.

Already commercial navigation, for example, has increased a lot in recent years. For example, it has been calculated that American ships in the Arctic seas increased by 128% between 2008, when there were 120 boats crossing the Arctic, and 2018, when instead 300 have passed.

According to the most plausible scenario that the researchers calculated, the activity of ships in the Arctic seas will increase at a rate of 2.3% a year, a rate that should see 377 ships navigate these waters in only 2030.

Scientific News

Black hole dating back 850 million years after the big bang found

A group of researchers from the State University of Pennsylvania have announced the discovery of a black hole that they say existed 850 million years after the big bang.

The researchers, who used the NASA Chandra X-ray Observatory, underscore the importance of the discovery of a “primordial” black hole like this: “It is extraordinarily demanding to find quasars in this cloaked phase because much of their radiation it is absorbed and cannot be detected by current instruments,” says Fabio Vito, a researcher at the Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile who led the study.

Probably the quasar PSO 167-13, discovered for the first time by the telescope in optical light to the Hawaii Pan-STARRS, a very bright supermassive black hole that probably lies at the center of its galaxy directing its gravity. According to the researchers, in fact, the black hole is obscured by the dense cloud of gas that would also have contributed to its growth.

As you may have noticed we are inserting many “probably” also because the authors are not sure if the X-ray emissions they have received, which are in themselves very weak, are really inherent to PSO 167-13 or to another quasar of another galaxy nearby.

If it is PSO 167-13, then we need to explain why it appears “obscured” to X-rays but not in optical light. There may have been a large and rapid, but also unusual, increase in the dimming of the quasar over the three years between the first observation with the Hawaiian telescope in optical light and the second X-ray observation with the space telescope.

However, if it is not PSO 167-13, then it means that we are faced with two very close quasars, the most distant pair of quasars ever detected.

“We suspect that most of the supermassive black holes in the primordial universe are hidden: it is, therefore, essential to identify them and study them to understand how they could grow to reach masses of a billion suns so rapidly,” says Roberto Gilli of INAF, one of the authors of the research published on Astronomy & Astrophysics.

Scientific News

Remains of five ships wrecked 2000 years ago have been found

The remains of five shipwrecks that occurred over 2000 years ago have been found in the slums of marine areas around the Greek island of Levitha. These are finds that the same researchers consider very important and significant, as also reported in a statement issued by the Ministry of Culture of Greece.

Five wrecks have been identified in total; three of them date back to the II and I century BC, while the other two date back to the II century AD. These were ships loaded with goods, many of which represented by vases and amphorae that contained what were then considered as precious liquids, namely wine and oil.

According to the statement from the Greek ministry, the amphorae came from cities such as Rhodes, Phenicia and Carthage as well as Cnidus and Kos. In this period the antigonid dynasty ruled the marine trade of this part of the Mediterranean which during these centuries was very active so that the Aegean Sea was one of the most “trafficked” in the world.

Three various finds have also been identified as a large anchor, a sort of 400 kg granite anchorage pole about 45 meters long. It is thought that this anchor, which dates back to the sixth century BC, served for a very large ship.

The wrecks were discovered during underwater inspections held from June 15th to 29th assisted by archaeologist George Koutsouflakis.

The area around the island of Levitha will be further inspected over the next few years as well as the marine regions around the islands of Mavria, Glaros and Chinaros.

Scientific News

Remains of the largest known parrot which lived 20 million years ago have been discovered

A paper to appear on Biology Letters shows the results relating to the analysis of two-legged fossilized bird found near Saint Bathans, a region of Otago, New Zealand.

The latter belonged to a species of parrot today extinct that could be considered as the largest parrot ever known, with double dimensions of the largest parrot currently existing. The new species was named Eracle inexpectatus and the same scientific name underlines how unexpected the discovery was.

The fossil remains were found near a river in the southern part of New Zealand. These are not complete remains but from what they have been able to analyze the researchers have understood that it was a bird belonging to the order of the Psittaciformes, that is the order that includes all the present species of parrots.

The remains belonged to an animal that lived about 20 million years ago, a parrot that weighed about 5 pounds and was unable to fly. Currently, the largest parrot in existence is the kakapo (Strigops habroptila), which is roughly half the size of the Eracle inexpectatus.

This is an example of insular gigantism, a phenomenon of evolution in which certain animal species living in circumscribed environments such as those of the islands increasingly increase the size of their bodies, usually due to a lack of predators.

It is the first example, according to the researchers themselves, of a psittaciform that shows insular gigantism in the course of its evolution.

Scientific News

Too much coffee can increase the risk of developing headaches according to a new study

Another study, this time published in The American Journal of Medicine, addresses the issue of taking in too much coffee every day. According to the new research, drinking too much coffee every day can prove to be a “potential trigger for migraine on that day or the following day,” as reported in the study.

Elizabeth Mostofsky, a researcher at the Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health and lead author of the study, explains the results: “According to our study, drinking one or two caffeinated drinks in one day does not seem to be linked to the development of a headache, however, three or more portions may be associated with a greater probability of developing a headache.”

The researchers used results obtained with 98 adults who suffered from episodic migraine. The same participants had to report various information including daily intake of coffee or caffeinated beverages as well as other information regarding their lifestyles and migraine episodes.

On average, five people had headaches a month. 66% of them consumed one or two servings of beverages that contained caffeine every day while 12% consumed three or more servings. During the study period examined (six weeks 2016-2017), participants reported having on average 8.4 headaches and all reported having caffeinated beverages in at least one day during the study with an average of 7.9 portions each week.

The results, according to the researchers, showed that the impact of caffeinated beverages on the risk of headaches on a given day was only evident when taking three or more portions of caffeinated beverages that day.

Scientific News

Mice to recognize fake videos? Research team believes it is possible

Mice to recognize deep fakes: it’s the bizarre idea that came to a team from the Oregon Institute of Neuroscience.

The researchers believe they can train mice so that they can recognize or otherwise have particular reactions to some irregularities in the speeches that are recorded to make these fake videos that so much fear are unleashing even in world governments as well as in public opinion.

Following a training phase, the mice would, in fact, be able to discern any errors in human speech with an accuracy of 80% as stated by Jonathan Saunders, one of the researchers is participating in the project.

The final goal is obviously not to use hordes of mice to analyze the audio of the thousands or millions of deepfake videos that are already running on the net but to understand the ways in which they can recognize these errors to understand if they can be profitably implemented then in computers. At the moment they have already taught rats to recognize differences between various similar words such as “buh” and “guh.”

“Because they can learn this problem very complex to categorize the different sounds of speech, we think it should be possible to train the rats to detect a fake and real speech,” Saunders says.

Scientific News

New species of medicinal leech identified in the USA

A new species of medicinal leech has been discovered in freshwater wetlands in southern Maryland. Called Macrobdella mimicus, the new leech has been classified by an international team of museum scientists led by Anna Phillips, one of the curators of the US National Museum of Natural History.

Phillips herself explains the discovery as follows: “We found a new species of medicinal leech less than 50 miles from the National Museum of Natural History – one of the world’s largest biodiversity libraries. A discovery like this clarifies how much diversity is still to be discovered and documented, even right under the nose of scientists.”

The leeches are parasitic worms that until 1800 were used in medicine to treat various ailments because it was believed, a belief later revealed to be wrong, that it could eliminate the infected or in any case bad blood from the patient’s body. The so-called “medicinal leech” is that which is able to feed even with human blood.

The researcher had collected this specimen of leech from a Maryland swamp. After Ricardo Salas-Montiel, a student at the National Autonomous University of Mexico, carried out DNA sequencing, the researchers realized that it did not belong to known species, in particular it did not belong to the Macrobdella decorates species, as the researchers themselves thought when they had discovered it.

In addition to genetic differences, there is a visible physical difference between the two species: the new one, the mimicus, boasts reproductive pores along the body (organs also known as gonopores) in a different position.

Scientific News

New superconducting material could be used in quantum computers

A group of researchers from the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) has discovered that a particular superconducting material, the compound uranium ditelluride, or UTe2, could prove very useful in quantum computers to support the so-called quantum coherence.

The latter fails when, precisely in quantum computers, when the qubits cannot function for the time necessary to terminate the calculation. Quantum coherence, in quantum computers, is difficult to maintain due to various environmental disturbances, even the weakest.

According to researchers at the US institute, this new superconducting material could finally make it possible to build effective quantum logic circuits thanks to its resistance to magnetic fields, a rare thing among superconducting materials.

“This is potentially the silicon of the quantum information era,” reports Nick Butch, one of the designers on the research team who made the discovery.

The tiny qubits built with this material could be easily shielded and protected from the surrounding environment, especially from the rest of the computer components.

The results of the study were published in Science.