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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Virtual reality can counteract pain according to a new study

More and more research underlines how the technology linked to virtual reality can be useful in the therapeutic field and in general of medicine so much so that we already talk about “virtual therapeutic reality.” A new study, published in PLOS ONE, describes how virtual reality can be used to treat acute pain.

Researchers tested virtual reality on more than 60 patients admitted to Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles between November 2016 and July 2017. Patients were immersed in 21 different virtual reality experiences such as simulated flights or games.

A control group was also used whose members were instead placed in front of televisions that broadcast special videos for guided relaxation, such as poetry reading.
Researchers noted a significantly greater decrease in pain scores in people using virtual reality than in the control group.

The positive effects of virtual reality on pain also remained significant both at the beginning of the trial and after 48-72 hours of use. In general, patients reported greater satisfaction with the virtual reality experience than television viewing.

Brennan Spiegel, a researcher at Cedars-Sinai and one of the authors of the research together with other colleagues, states in relation to these results: “The evidence reveals that virtual reality therapy can reduce pain signals through a variety of mechanisms. In this study, the largest of its kind to date, hospitalized patients with pain were randomized between VR or a TV relaxation program. Virtual reality has outperformed the control conditions and demonstrated benefits for several days of use.”

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Scientists reverse aging brain cells in rats

A group of researchers from the Wellcome-MRC Cambridge Stem Cell Institute of the University of Cambridge declares, through a study published in Nature, to have reversed the aging process in brain stem cells of rats.

These are results that, according to the same press release concerning the new research, could have enormous implications for the human aging process and the therapies we put in place to combat it. The researchers analyzed, in particular, the oligodendrocyte progenitor (OPC) cells of rats, a type of brain stem cells whose function decreases with age, which also happens in humans.

The researchers were able to make the loss of function of these cells reversible in elderly rats by transplanting new ones, naturally of the same type, from the brains of younger rats.

To the surprise of the researchers themselves, after the transplantation of these brain cells, the old ones seemed to become younger, behaving like young transplanted cells that were naturally more vigorous.

At this point the researchers removed a protein (called Piezo1) on the surface of old brain stem cells, inducing the latter to perceive the softer and more spongy surrounding environment, which is more like the brain of a young mouse.

This led to the same effect as with the transplant: the older cells “rejuvenated” and returned to their normal regenerative function.