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nasa earth terminator

Unique photo taken from space shows the separation of day and night on Earth

A magnificent image of Earth taken from the International Space Station (ISS) gives the glimpse of a daily event which is otherwise ignored by us and not paid much attention to.

NASA astronaut, Christina H. Koch posted a photo on Twitter which shows how it appears from the ISS when one part of our planet is in darkness while bright daylight shines on the other half. This is actually a very rare observation for ISS as it does not normally orbit over the line which shows the transition and differentiation between day and night. It is also known as the terminator zone.

Koch wrote in the accompanying post that the ISS orbit aligns over the day-night shadow line of the Earth, only few times in a year. Otherwise, the Space Station is always in the sunlight zone and it never passes to the zone of Earth’s shadow from the Sun. She also added that the Earth is always in a dawn or dusk mode and is a great time to observe it. The photo was not processed in any way before posting.

Koch was highly enchanted by the event however the reply to the post from former astronaut, Mike Fossum showed that not all astronauts preferred this view of Earth. He commented that this was his least favourite view of the planet as it was not fully clear, being distorted by low light angles. He preferred the clearer days, nights for capturing images of Earth.

Christina Koch will be spending almost a year in space which makes her the American astronaut to have the second longest spaceflight. She will be staying in space with fellow astronauts Nick Hague and Alexey Ovchinin for 328 days, just a few days short of the record of 340 days set by astronaut Scot Kelly. She will be returning back to our home planet in February 2020.

Koch who is a former National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration employee paid her tributes to the organisation which is studying the effects of greenhouse gases, recovery of ozone in the stratosphere of the Earth. Before being an astronaut, she was an employee at the Baseline Observatory of GMD in Alaska and also as a station chief in the American Samoa Observatory.

“From here,” Koch said of her perch in orbit, “we have an amazing view of our home planet, Earth. Looking outside the window of the ISS is a humbling and inspiring experience. It really brings into focus how important it is that we treasure this planet that we have.”

Would you like to go to ISS and enjoy seeing the earth and experience the things Koch is experiencing now? Tell us with a short and quick comment


Neonatal intensive-care unit

Researchers find music beneficial for the development of brains of premature infants

Even before birth, human beings can listen to music. In addition to it, babies in the intensive care unit have a very sensitive ear. This can have a negative effect on their growing brains as the noises of the surroundings can bring unexpected stress.

It has been estimated that almost half of the babies born before the 32nd week in pregnancy will be later diagnosed with brain disorders which can be related to attention or emotional problems. A number of studies have shown that during this critical time, exposure to music can help in stabilizing the heart rate and breathing of a premature baby. It can also improve sleeping and eating patterns.

Music is essentially sound form which is organised in time. A team of scientists in Switzerland have been testing the effects of music to protect the brain and they conducted a double-blind study on the musical effects in the neonatal ICU, whose initial results are quite promising. The study has been published in PNAS.

The premature babies who were born almost four months before their schedule were treated to a daily dose of music which was specially meant for them. Their brain functions showed better development than the ones who were not treated to music. Lara Lordier, a co-author in this study and a researcher at the University of Geneva and University Hospitals of Geneva said that the team arranged the various parts of the day with different types of music. A music to accompany when they wake up, one to interact with them while they are awake and also in their sleeping phase. The study was conducted on 24 full-term babies and 39 premature babies.

Out of 39 premature ones, 20 were treated to the musical intervention. They received approximately eight minutes of very soothing music consisting of bells, harps. The snake charmer’s flute of India was also played during the week five times, which incidentally had the maximum soothing effect on the babies.

With the help of functional MRI on all the three groups of infants, researchers found that neural networks of the children who were exposed to music had higher functional connectivity and the network resembled the full-term babies. The premature babies who listened to music had improved brain salience network and their auditory, sensory, thalamus networks were also improved. While those babies who were not treated to the music had poor functional connectivity.

It is crucial to take care of the babies’ brains in the intensive care unit in a proper strategic way since the brains are still immature. As the age of the participants reaches six, researchers will be able to test whether the cognitive benefits of the music have stuck with them through the years.

wild bees

Scientists find bees using plastic for constructing their nests

Bees have been building their nests in the Argentinian crop fields with the help of strange materials. Scientists have detected bee nests which have been built fully from plastic waste. Plastics come to the farms in a variety of ways such as packaging. In these changing environments, the animals have to adapt to the conditions and it is up for debate whether they can keep up with the human activities.

A team of researchers from the National Agricultural Technology Institute in Argentina detected nests built from plastic in their research of chicory pollinators. For the research, the team constructed 63 trap nests in the fields. These nests are similar to the bee hotels which are built in the backyard of homes for solitary bees. It contains long hollow tubes which resemble the honeycombs in which bee larvae grow. These cavities are lined by bees with materials such as stones, leaves, mud. Then they use these materials for building the nests in the cavities that are separated into brood cells each containing one growing bee larvae. The study is published in the journal Apidologie.

The team checked the trap nests over the spring and summer of 2017, 2018 to check the signs of any bee activity there. Only three nests were used by the bees out of which two were built with the help of mud, stones. From the nests, five healthy bees came out. The third nest was built with plastic by the bees, distinctly shaped to oval and oblong structures. It contained three cells, two built from thin, blue plastic and the third made from thicker, white plastic.

Scientists mentioned in their paper that one of the three cells had a dead larva and an adult emerged from another cell, with the third cell left unfinished. This makes the indication that plastic may not be the ideal material for building although it is not the worst either.

The team could not identify the bee to the certainty that built the nest, however, it might be an alfalfa leafcutter bee. It is a European species which the team had previously noticed in the site. It works alone, uses the leaves for lining the nests and has been previously documented by scientists in North America while using plastic to construct bee cells.

Using plastic might have other advantages which are not yet known to us, however, it is difficult to make a single conclusion from only one nest. Although, it is an indication that bees are flexible to the changing environments and can use alternate materials for construction

binary star system

Scientists baffled by strange outburst activity of a distant star system

Space, as we all know, is a big area full of mysteries and unanswered questions. Scientists have observed a star system located 16,000 light years away which is flaring in an unexpected manner and they are unable to explain the reason behind it.

AG Draconis is the star system behind this peculiar activity. It was under observation by the astronomers since the late 19th century. Even though it was being studied and observed they are unable to find the reason for this peculiar activity. It is a binary star which is made of two separate stars orbiting around each other due to its gravitational arrangement. Binary stars have the ability to show some bizarre and breathtaking interactions which depend on the proximity between the two stars.

The binary stars, in this case, consist of a cool giant star and a dwarf white star which exhibit symbiotic flaring activity. Every 9 to 15 years AG Draconis has exhibited stellar outbursts which are an intense phase of brightening which repeats after some number of years at a time. According to a new study led by astrophysicist Rudolf Gális from the Pavol Jozef Šafárik University in Slovakia, there were 36 outbursts events recorded since 1932 in 6 stages of outburst activity. However recently, the outburst events have set to change and stars have decided to discard the current outburst cycle.

In this study, there were ultraviolet and X-Ray observations and from these studies, scientists observed cooler outbursts during the early stages and hot outbursts during the later stages. As the real reason behind the outbursts is not yet known, it is believed to be due to the thermonuclear reactions when accretion rate of material pulled from the giant star into dwarf star exceeds the critical value and luminosity of the hot component increases.

This phenomena, however, seems to be appearing different now. In 2015 AG Draconis marked the initialization of the active stage with a hot outburst and not with a cool outburst as expected from the available historical data. This successive hot outburst continued in the following years till 2018.

Scientists are unable to understand the shift in the outburst patterns. The astronomy community was baffled after seeing this result which is against the 130 years of observation pattern. The future predictions of this star lie in a dark maze of unanswered questions. As per their estimation, the next outburst might have already occurred by now, although researchers did not have the chance to write about it yet. Scientists will continue to observe the star and write observations according to the shift occurring.

crab nebula

Explosion of stars might have motivated early humans to walk on two feet

According to a recent study, ancient supernovas might have been the reason humans shifted from swinging by trees to walking on legs. These immensely powerful explosions created a change in the climate of the planet with its huge energy. It charged the atmosphere of Earth with electrons and caused frequent lightning and storms. The study has been published in the Journal of Geology.

The lightning, storms could have caused wildfires which damaged entire landscapes in Africa. The study suggests that as the forests were replaced by savanna, early humans who resided may have been forced to walk on two legs. However, it would not be wise to draw quick conclusions. Several factors have contributed to bipedalism, which began several million years before the stellar explosions occurred.

Traces of iron-60 found in the Earth’s crust contained clues to the supernova. This radioactive isotope of iron is found in the stars which are approaching their end. Previous studies show that the trace of iron-60 on Earth came from the explosion of stars approximately 8 million years before. The explosions peaked with the supernova that took place 123 light years away from Earth, 2.6 million years ago.

Adrian Melott, principal author of the study and Professor of Astronomy at the University of Kansas commented that the very high energy emissions of the supernova could have penetrated the troposphere thus ionizing the atmosphere of Earth. This caused drastic changes in the Earth’s climate.

Scientists estimated that the infusion of energy from supernova increased the atmospheric ionization by 50, which highly increased the cloud-to-ground lightning leading to more violent wildfires. Although they could not precisely calculate the exact increase in the lightning events from the 50 fold boost of atmospheric ionization, the potential for increase is very high.

Most wildfires today are a result of human actions, but previously the principal factor of wildfires was lightning. Scorching of forests by wildfires led to grasslands, and the open savannas meant more walking which would create more pressure on humans to spend increased time on legs.

William Harcourt-Smith, professor of paleoanthropology at Lehman College said that long before the peak of supernovas, hominins were becoming upright walkers. The very first proof of bipedalism in human beings was seen almost 7 million years ago, and the switch to full bipedalism happened almost 4.4 million years ago.

Bipedalism is energy efficient, as a result of which hands can be used for carrying necessary items. Grassland habitats support for full upright walking however it is not fully certain that the wildfires are the main reason behind these changes.

Hope Diamonds

Ocean floor sediments recycle to form salty diamonds

As per the reports of a new study by a team of geoscientists from Macquarie University, Sydney, salt traces trapped in many diamonds reveal on analysis that the stones are produced from the seabeds which have been trapped inside the Earth’s crust for countless years.

A majority of the diamonds which are found on the surface of the Earth are formed in this manner while the others are formed due to the melt crystallisation quite deep in Earth’s mantle. In the experiments, researchers from Goethe Universität and Johannes Gutenberg Universität of Germany simulated the high pressures and temperatures which exist 200 kilometres deep inside the Earth. They found that the seawater which is present in the sediment at the ocean’s bottom reacts in the right way to form the salts which are present in the diamonds.

The study has been published in the journal Science Advances and it clears a major confusion about the way diamonds are formed. It was earlier thought that the salts within diamonds originated from the marine seawater. However, the research cleared that they originated from the marine sediment.

Diamonds are classified into gem diamonds and fibrous diamonds. Gem diamonds are fully composed of carbon in its purest form while fibrous diamonds contain the traces of elements such as sodium, potassium which can disclose a lot of information about the conditions in which their formation took place. Fibrous diamonds normally grow faster than gem diamonds which indicates that small samples of fluids are trapped during formation.

Samples of marine sediment were placed inside a vessel containing a rock called peridotite. It is the most common type of rock which is present in the mantle where diamonds are formed. Pressure and heat were increased and the adequate time to react with one another was given matching the conditions of the mantle.

At values of pressure lying between four and six gigapascals and temperatures in the range of 800 degrees to 1100 degree Celsius, which is equivalent to the depth of 120-180 kilometres inside Earth, salts were produced having the balance of sodium and potassium. It matched with the traces that are obtained inside diamonds.

Dr Michael Förster, lead author of the paper remarked that they have successfully demonstrated the sequence of steps which lead to the growth of diamonds and confirmed that the recycling of sediments in the ocean is responsible for it.


5CB Liquid Crystal

Scientists manufacture on demand designer atoms

In the near future, scientists may be able to create customised atoms as per one’s requirements with only a button’s click. It may sound like science fiction now but a team of researchers at the University of Colorado Boulder reported that they are slowly approaching the possibility of controlling and assembling particles known as “big atoms”.

The research has been published in the Nature journal. It is centred around the colloidal particles which after mixing with liquid crystals behave similar to the elements in the periodic table. These particles give researchers the ability to study the interaction of atoms like hydrogen, helium without having to zoom down to the level of atoms. Scientists demonstrated that for big atoms they could alter their charges with the help of only a switch. It means that particles which were earlier attracted to each other will now repel each other.

Ivan Smalyukh, a physics professor remarked that by having a vast amount of control, scientists can decide on how the particles assemble and which properties they possess. Essentially, it acts like a designer’s toolkit. This toolkit is initiated with a simple material, liquid crystals.

These elements are the ones responsible for brilliant images on our mobile, television screens and are composed of molecules such as rods which all point in one direction. However, in the past decade, researchers observed that if particles like microscopic silica grains are dropped in the liquid crystals, the ordered particles will get altered to make space for the newly added particles.

The remarkable thing is that the bending of the liquid crystals is analogous to the structures possessed by the electron shells in the atoms. The way the liquid crystals bend around the newly added element is very important as when an existent order is disturbed, additional energy is needed to make new arrangements. The problem which scientists faced till now is that they had very less control on the interactions of the big atoms.

Smalyukh’s team used silica in the shape of a hexagon, coated them with a dye which rotates on being exposed to various light types and then added to the liquid crystals. On exposing the mixture to blue light, the molecules would bend in a specific pattern, while it would behave differently on using a different light. The best thing is that no sophisticated laser is needed for these interactions. A normal lamp with a filter is sufficient for it. Which means a bright sunny day is enough for observing the various interactions.

Researchers are quite excited to manipulate these particles by tweaking them in new ways for creating structures not existing in nature and dissolving them similarly.


Researchers a step closer in creating successor to shrinking transistors

Over the decades, computers and other electronic devices have shrunk in size and also been significantly faster. This has been possible as the makers have understood and implemented the techniques to decrease the size of individual transistors, small electrical switches which work in transmitting information.

Researchers have relentlessly worked on decreasing the size of the transistor so as to pack more in each chip. However, it seems that pursuit is almost over as scientists are rapidly approaching the minimum physical limit for the size of the transistor, with the current models measuring 10 nanometres which is equivalent to the width of 30 atoms.

Dr. Kyeongjae Cho, professor of Materials science at the University of Texas, Dallas remarked that the power of processing of electronic equipment is derived from the millions and billions of transistors which are interconnected on one chip. He also pointed out that we are very rapidly nearing the minimum scale of size.

For further making improvement on the processing speed, the industry of microelectronics is currently looking at alternative possibilities. Professor Cho’s research work has been published in the Nature Communications journal.

Normal transistors can only transmit two types of information. Being a switch, the transistor is either in the on state or off state which in binary language translates to 1 or 0.

A technique to increase the processing power without putting in additional transistors would be to ramp up the information that can be conveyed by a single transistor with the help of intermediate stages between 1 and 0. The multi-valued transistor based on this principle would make for more operations and a greater amount of information which can be processed in one device.

Cho said that the concept of multi-valued logic transistors is not very new and there have been past attempts to create similar devices.  

Cho and his research group used a unique configuration of two types of zinc oxide to make a composite layer which is incorporated with other materials inside a superlattice. They found out that the physics for multi-valued logic can be achieved by embedding crystals of zinc oxide called quantum dots in amorphous zinc oxide. The order of atoms in amorphous solid is not rigid as in crystals. Cho has applied for patenting his work as he found that it is possible to create an electronic structure for the multi-level logic structure.

The significance of this research is that it can bridge the gap between current computing and quantum computers. Cho added that quantum computing is not yet commercialized and his work is in the direction to merge the gap between binary and large degrees of freedom.


most dangerous malwares, an illustration of viruses

Laptop with six most dangerous malwares sold for 1.3 million dollars

No one wants to use a laptop infected with computer viruses, right? What about a laptop with the six most dangerous computer malware ever, installed in it? Well, it just sold for 1.3 million USD at an online auction.

The laptop named “The Persistence of Chaos” has been created by Chinese artist Guo O Dong. The buyer is anonymous but there is a lot of information about the laptop. Dong collaborated with a cybersecurity company, Deep Instinct to load the laptop with the dangerous viruses. Deep Instinct is the first company to use deep learning technology for cybersecurity and it can detect even unknown malware across all range of devices.

The laptop is an ordinary 10.2 inch Samsung NC10-14GB running Windows XP. It is airgapped which means that it cannot be used for connecting to other networks. The 6 pieces of malware running in it have caused financial damages totalling 95 billion USD in the past.

The 6 malware are ILOVEYOU, MyDoom, SoBig, WannaCry, DarkTequila and BlackEnergy.

Guo commented that these softwares may seem abstract with their funny names, but it emphasizes the fact that web and real life are not separate spaces. Malware is a significant way to demonstrate how the apparently fun and harmless Internet can create a huge mess in your real life.

ILOVEYOU is a virus that was distributed through e-mail and virtual file sharing, affecting almost 500,000 machines and causing damage of 15 billion USD. It came with the email subject header “ILOVEYOU” and deleted the local files in the machine when executed.

MyDoom was created by Russian spammers and it remains the fastest spreading worm till date. It targeted specific servers and the damage caused by it is projected to be 38 billion USD.

SoBig remains the second fastest computer worm only surpassed by MyDoom. It is not only a computer worm, spreading by self-replication but also a Trojan Horse pretending to be some other application.

WannaCry is a ransomware cryptoworm which targeted machines running Windows operating system. It encrypted files and asked for ransom payments to be made through Bitcoins.

DarkTequila is a complex malware running mainly in Latin American countries intended to steal financial information as well as login credentials of popular websites. And finally, there is BlackEnergy which is a web toolkit designed to execute DDoS attacks. In December 2015, it caused a huge blackout in Ukraine.

The laptop has been live-streamed online to make sure no sudden moves are performed. It may seem absurd that an old laptop is fetching so much money but according to Guo, he thinks of the artwork as a catalogue of historical threats.

After listening to this news, I think that many of you would be interested in getting malware into your laptops and then selling them. Tell us what do you think, with a short and quick comment.

Megaraptor namunhuaiquii

Relation with T Rex found in fossils discovered 30 years ago

Humans of all age groups from children to great archaeologists have always been curious about the origin and existence of dinosaurs. Scientists at the University of Bonn and the Sirindhorn Museum have identified two new species of dinosaur which were based upon analyzing fossils discovered 30 years ago in Thailand.

The new species are distant relatives of the T.Rex dinosaur species but have a more primitive structure. Their work has been published in the journal Acta Palaeontologica Polonica. These fossils were discovered during excavation and were handed over to the Sirindhorn Museum.  Adun Samathi who is pursuing the research came over these fossils five years ago. He is currently pursuing a doctorate at Steinmann Institute of Geology, Mineralogy and Paleontology at the University of Bonn. He bought these fossils here to use the state of the art facilities at the University.

These group of dinosaurs are called megaraptors which is a group of carnivores predatory dinosaurs including the Tyrannosaurus-rex(T.Rex). They run on hind legs and their arms are strong and armed with long claws. They have a more delicate head which has a long snout ending. Samathi has said that these fossils can be assigned to the bones of a megaraptor named as Phuwiangvenator. Phuwiangvenator was believed to be the fastest runner with a length of about six meters and shorter than T.Rex who is 12 meters.

The main group of megaraptors are found in South America and Australia however they are believed to be originated in Southeast Asia and spread across the globe from there. Various characters of the Phuwiangvenator group indicate that they originated from Southeast Asia. Further unidentified fossils were discovered by a group of researchers which are of a predatory dinosaur species of length close to 4.5 meters, however, the species could not be identified. Scientists assume that this second species is a smaller variant in the dinosaur species called the Vayuraptor nongbualamphuenisis is also related to Phuwiangvenator and T. rex. Samathi compares this condition with that of the African black cats where the Phuwiangvenator is a lion and the Vayuraptor is a cheetah.

The recent findings and all the hard work of the archaeologists in finding the two new predatory species will be made public and presented on the tenth anniversary of the Sirindhorn Museum. Thai Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn will open the event. In the field of archaeology, there is no end as new fossils will lead to discovering of new species and theories.