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Science News Roundup: An Alien World with Two Suns, An Ancient 'In Between' Sea Creature, Visual Memories Made into Video & More! [VIDEOS]

Artist's im­age of a plan­et or moon in a sys­tem with two suns.
Artist's im­age of a plan­et or moon in a sys­tem with two suns. (Courtesy NASA JPL)

It’s been an amazing month for news from the world of Science and technology — and this in a year full of amazing discoveries…Ahh, what a wondrous time to be alive (if only the economy was doing better, but I digress). The following is a brief roundup of some of the more noteworthy news items that planetsave did not cover specifically in this past month:

Sometimes it takes a while for science to catch up with science fiction; what was once thought (by some) to be an unlikely, other-worldly scene — a view of two suns in the sky (ala Luke Skywalker’s home planet, Tatooine) — has now been confirmed (via a powerful telescope).

And news from astronomers just keeps coming, as more an more exoplanets (planets outside our solar system) are discovered (now numbering over 1700) almost daily, it seems. There may in fact be more planets than stars in our galaxy.

Back here on Earth, more evidence is in supporting the theory of evolution (and countering the skeptical claim of a lack of “transitional species” in the fossil record) with the discovery of Laccognathus, a Devonian (pre-Mezozoic, pre-dinosaur) fish with certain traits seemingly more suited to land.

Technological achievements are nearly constant as well, but I point out just two of the most remarkable ones: flying robots that flock like real birds, and, and amazing, computer assisted technique for turning the brain’s visual memories into video (that’s right, video)…The former achievement will no doubt get co-opted for military/surveillance uses, but as to the latter achievement…who knows where this take us…maybe one step closer to immortality (on Youtube anyways)?

Lastly, one in memorium note on a great/courageous human being, Wangari Maathai…read on, dear readers, read on!

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Luke Skywalker phone home – A distant planet orbiting two suns

In the film “Star Wars”, the character of Luke Skywalker is raised on a planet (named ‘Tatooine’) orbiting two suns, making for spectacular visuals, but not a very realistic depiction of an alien world…or so it was thought until this month…Read the full World Science article ‘ First planet with two suns reported found and watch the artist-animated video of the first circumbinary planet ever discovered, courtesy of Space.com

 

‘Super Earth’ found in star’s ‘Goldilocks Zone’

The newest addition to the growing class of exoplanets (or extra solar planets) is termed a “super Earth” by astrophysicists, meaning that it’s several times (0 to 10) the mass of the Earth (we’d have a difficult time adapting to the gravitational pull, assuming we could ever reach it), has the ever-so-sexy name of HD 85512b. The planet, weighing in at 3.6 Earth masses, appear to be within its star’s habitable zone (meaning it could possess liquid water). the planet was one of 55 new planets discovered just in the past few months, nineteen of which are also ‘super earths’.

Read the full Science magazine on-line article ‘Super-Earth’ Found in Habitable Zone’

Move over Tiktalik, there’s a new ‘in-betweener’ in the fossil record!

Laccognathus embryi fossil
A sample of Laccognathus embryi. (Academy of Natural Sciences)

It’s official name is Laccognathus embryi (the genus name means “pitted jaw”, the species name is in honor of a Canadian geologist named Embry) and it lived in the Devonian period some 375 million years ago, when some larger sea creatures were just beginning to transition to life on land. The 6 foot long, large-toothed fish apparently has fins that are more like limbs…such traits are exaptive, or preparatory for adaptation, and helped propel our most ancient ancestors’ transition from shallow water swimming to seashore-walking (or more like crawling).

Read the full Yahoo News story ‘Academy of Natural Sciences Announces Discovery of an ‘In-Between’ Fish’ 

or visit the Academy of Natural Sciences excellent website

Robots that fly and flock like real birds…

Back in the mid 1980’s, computer programmer Craig Reynolds developed a graphic tool algorithm that would realistically recreate the behavior of individuals members of a group, such as school fish or flock of birds. Indeed, the program, based upon three, simple, behavioral rules, would be dubbed ‘Boids’….Now, flying robots are learning to do the same…you’ve come a long way boidy... read the full Wired news article ‘Autonomous Flying Robots Flock Like Birds’  or watch the very cool, ‘flocking flybot’ video (below):

Your visual memories now on DVD…

Have you ever wondered if somehow all your memories could be translated directly into some visual medium for indefinite preservation? A new computer sampling technology, though still rough around the edges, makes this more than a cyber-dream. Brain-mapping of the human subjects’ visual memory cortices (via fMRI),  combined with a “regression model dictionary” and a massive, external data stream of visual images (from Youtube), allows real-time reconstruction of a subject’s recent, visual memory (with remarkable, and rather eerie, results).

Read the full article: Scientists Turn Brain’s Visual Memories into a Mind-Blowing Video or watch the eerie , “brain video” here.

In memorium…Wangari Maathai, crusader for environmental justice and human rights

Wangari Maathai (portrait by Martin )
Wangari Maathai (portrait by Martin )

“You cannot protect the environment unless you empower people, you inform them, and you help them understand that these resources are their own.”  (Wangari Maathai)

[Excerpt from article]

Wangari Maathai, the first African woman to win the Nobel Peace Prize for her campaigns to save Kenyan forests, died in hospital on Sunday (Sept. 25) after a long struggle with ovarian cancer.

Maathai, 71, founded the Green Belt Movement in 1977 to plant trees to prevent environmental and social conditions deteriorating and hurting poor people, especially women, living in rural Kenya.

“It’s a matter of life and death for this country,” Maathai once said. “The Kenyan forests are facing extinction and it is a man-made problem.”

 Read the full article: Kenyan Nobel winner Maathai, savior of trees, dies

 

Limits of Empathy




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