Monday, February 20, 2017

Amazing bipedal robot could deliver your mail

Via by James Vincent

Bipedal robots have been a tough ask for engineers. Creating a bot that’s steady, self-balancing, and able to adapt to uneven terrain (one of the main advantages of going bipedal in the first place!) is a tough ask. But, as this newly unveiled bot from Agility Robotics proves, we’re getting good at it.

The bot’s name is Cassie, and, as reported by IEEE Spectrum, it comes from a fine lineage of bipedal robots. Agility Robotics is a spinoff company from Oregon State University, and the firm’s researchers previously created the ATRIAS robot. (You may remember ATRIAS from a video of it playing a slightly one-sided game of dodgeball.)

10 Fascinating Cave Finds That Will Blow Your Mind

Photo credit: Michel Soulier/SSAC via The Guardian
Via by Jana Louise Smit

Caves have served as homes, storage sites, and sacred spaces throughout history. This makes them rich and rewarding hunting grounds for archaeologists. Far from yielding just the occasional odd fossil, caves hold tough-to-crack ancient mysteries, reveal unknown behaviors from the hominid clan, and are sometimes home to the rarest and oldest artifacts. Even legends are found in them.

10. The Rhino Cave Ritual

A cave in Botswana has yielded intriguing artifacts that could have been used in the world’s oldest ritual. First examined in the 1990s, Rhino Cave produced over 100 spearheads in bright colors. Also inside was a python carved from rock. The stone reptile measures 6 meters (20 ft) by 2 meters (6.5 ft) and rests on a crushed wall. Some of the cracks in the cavern were stuffed with quartz chips.

The site clearly held great importance for the San people who used it. The weapon points were delivered, often from a great distance away, and then burned during what researchers believe was python worship practiced around 70,000 years ago, smashing the previous oldest-known rites by 30,000 years. Other scientists feel that more research is needed and even argue that there was no ritual. Yet, throughout the Tsodilo Hills, home to Rhino Cave, rock art shows the San engaged in acts resembling the ceremony. The handling of the spearheads and quartz flakes is previously unknown behavior documented for the first time in Rhino Cave.

9. The Liang Bua Teeth

A case of hobbit murder might be afoot. Ever since the diminutive hominid Homo floresiensis was documented in 2003, scientists have pondered why they swirled down the extinction drain. Now, a toothy find could clinch the case. Two human molars turned up in 2010 and 2011, respectively, in the Liang Bua cave on Flores. This is the same cave where the only known hobbit remains were excavated years before. The Homo sapiens snappers slightly postdate the hobbits’ final bow, which experts claim happened 50,000 years ago.

Humans already lived in Southeast Asia by then, making an overlap of the two species possible. They might even have interbred or competed for food—although the 1-meter-tall (3 ft) hobbits hardly qualified as opponents. Most likely, the humans obliterated their smaller cousins. There is additional evidence that the arrival of hunter-gatherers wiped out more than H. floresiensis. Several animal species also disappeared from the island around the same time.

The First Americans? South Carolina’s Controversial Topper Site Yields New Secrets

Via by Micah Hanks

Until fairly recently, the earliest human settlement date in North America was believed to have been around 14,000 years ago, placing early humans on the continent toward the end of the last ice age.

However, in January it was announced that this date for early human arrival in the Americas was pushed back another 10,000 years. With the help of staff with Oxford University’s Radiocarbon Accelerator Unit, professor Ariane Burke of Université de Montréal’s Department of Anthropology, along with doctoral student Lauriane Bourgeon, were able to date artifacts retrieved from the Bluefish Caves site in northern Yukon, Alaska, to around 24,000 years Before Present (BP).

The site at the Bluefish Caves first became an item of interest within the archaeological community in 1977, where the first of several excavations began under the oversight of Jacques Cinq-Mars. Animal bones which appeared to display evidence of human working that were found there, and the subsequent radiocarbon dating of these items, led Cinq-Mars to propose that human settlement in the region might go as far back as 30,000 BP; an astounding estimate, as it would have place human arrival in the region at the height of the last Glacial Maximum.

With the more recent assessments, the Bluefish Caves remain one of several pre-Clovis era archaeological sites in North America (that is, sites which pre-date the Clovis culture, once believed to represent the earliest humans to arrive in North America and settle here, between around 11,500 and 13,300 years BP). Such locations have helped rewrite the history of early migrations onto the continent, and in addition to Bluefish Caves, several similar sites exist, like Cactus Hill in Virgina, Meadowcroft Rockshelter in Pennsylvania, the Paisley Five Mile Point Caves in Oregon, and the Buttermilk Creek site in Texas, to name a few.

Sunday, February 19, 2017

T. rex fails to shovel snow in Massachusetts

Via by David Moye

Maybe it wasn’t an asteroid that killed off the dinosaurs. Maybe it was shoveling snow.

Reports of an alien abduction and UFO sightings made to police

Via by Jon Robinson

Police received eight reports of UFOs and aliens by people who believe ‘the truth is out there’ in recent years, it has been revealed.

According to data obtained through a Freedom of Information request, officers responded to two of the reports after a sighting of two ‘crafts’ over Pendle Hill in 2015 and another in Lytham St Annes the year before.

The service said on both occasions no evidence of UFOs was found by officers.

In March last year the police were contacted over a suspected alien abduction in Accrington and another report was received the next month over a UFO ‘landing’ in Marsden Park, Nelson.

A report of a ‘beam of light from a UFO was sent to officers from a person in Burnley in 2015 with another sighting submitted the previous year in Buckshaw Village.

Two UFOs were said to be seen in the sky over Fleetwood in 2015 and a reported red craft and another white one was said to have been spotted over Bottle last year.

10 Incredible Mysteries Of Ancient Ireland

Photo credit: Wikimedia
Via by Geordie McElroy

Hidden away on Europe’s Atlantic fringe, Ireland has long been thought to be a “fly in amber”—a backwater frozen in time. However, the island not just a window into Europe’s pre-Roman past. This cosmopolitan land has witnessed waves of immigration from around the ancient world and enjoyed cultural contact with civilizations as far away as India. From the hidden tombs to magical tree-based alphabets, there are countless mysteries to explore in the Emerald Isle’s mist.

10. Indian Musical Connection

In 2016, a student of Iron Age Irish music was shocked to discover the tradition alive in southern India. Long thought to be extinct, this ancient Irish music and its modern Indian analog revealed a 2,000-year link between the cultures.

The breakthrough came when Australia National University’s Billy O’Foghlu discovered that modern Indian horns in Kerala were nearly identical to prehistoric European versions. O’Foghlu reveals: “The musical traditions of south India, with horns such as Kompu, are a great insight into music cultures in Europe’s prehistory.”

Horns similar to Kompu have been discovered in Europe for decades. Oftentimes, they were sacrificed. Initially, musicologists thought their discordant nature reflected poor craftsmanship. However, O’Foghlu points out that this dissonance is considered “deliberate and beautiful” in Indian music. Traditionally, Indian horns are used as a rhythm instrument—rather than playing melodies. Experts have long suspected interconnectivity between European and Indian musical cultures.

9. Irish Tree Alphabet

Ogham (pronounced “owam”) is an ancient Irish tree alphabet. The markings emanate from a central line known as the “stem.” Crosses—or “twigs”—emerge from the reference line to differentiate letters. There are 20 letters in ogham, most of which are named after trees. To date, 400 ogham inscriptions have been found—360 of them are in Ireland. The oldest dates to the fourth century. However, linguists believe it was used on perishable items like wood as early as the first century.

Most ogham inscriptions are names and places and likely served as property boundaries. Why ogham emerged remains a mystery. Latin and Greek script were both in common usage on the island at the time. Some theorize it was invented to prevent the British from deciphering the Irish messages. Others insist early Christian missionaries developed ogham due to Latin’s inefficiency in capturing the Celtic tongue.

Evidence of 7,500-Year-Old Solar Anomaly Found in Tree Rings

Via by Brett Tingley

An international team of researchers led by Nagoya University have discovered evidence of an unexplained solar anomaly which occurred in the year the year 5480 BC. They came to this conclusion after studying the levels of a specific radiation-indicating carbon isotope in the rings of ancient petrified trees. This chemical evidence has revealed that some type of unprecedented event occurred that year which caused strong fluctuations in the amount of cosmic radiation absorbed by the trees.

Nagoya University researcher Fusa Miyake stated in a university press release that some combination of events in the Sun’s magnetic field and corona could have likely caused the radiation spikes:

We think that a change in the magnetic activity of the sun along with a series of strong solar bursts, or a very weak sun, may have caused the unusual tree ring data.

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Japan goes fishing for space junk but 700-metre 'tether' fails


An experimental Japanese mission to clear space junk from the Earth’s orbit has ended in failure, officials said on Monday, in an embarrassment for Tokyo.

More than 100m pieces of rubbish are thought to be whizzing around the planet, including cast-off equipment from old satellites and bits of rocket, which experts say could pose risks for future space exploration.

Scientists at the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (Jaxa) were trying to test an electrodynamic “tether” – created with the help of a fishing net company – to slow the orbiting rubbish and bring it into a lower orbit.

The hope was that the clutter – built up after more than five decades of human space exploration – would eventually enter the Earth’s atmosphere and burn up harmlessly before it had a chance to crash into the planet.

160-Million-Year-Old Pterosaur Ate Like a Flamingo

Via by Laura Geggel

During the dinosaur era, pterosaurs would swoop down and snap up wriggly fish and buzzing insects with their spiky teeth, with the exception of one odd group — pterosaurs that ate their meals like modern-day flamingos do: by filter feeding.

Now, researchers have found the earliest filter-feeding pterosaur on record. The specimen, which was discovered in northeast China's Liaoning province, is 160 million years old, and dates to the Jurassic period (199.6 million to 145.5 million years ago), according to a new study.

"The fossil specimen represents a medium-sized pterosaur with a large number of fine teeth indicative of filter-feeding adaptation," said the study's co-researcher Ke-Qin Gao, a professor at the School of Earth and Space Sciences at Peking University in China.

Researchers named the newly identified pterosaur Liaodactylus primus — honoring the Liaoning province by combining it with the suffix "dactylos," the Greek word for "finger," or "winged finger," which is commonly used for pterosaur names. The species name "primus" is Latin for "first," an indication of the pterosaur's early age in the pterodactyloid group, the researchers said.

Scientists unveil revolutionary 'Bat Bot'

Via by Megan Charles

Mechanical masterminds have spawned the Bat Bot, a soaring, sweeping and diving robot that may eventually fly circles around other drones.

Because it mimics the unique and more flexible way bats fly, this 3-ounce prototype could do a better and safer job getting into disaster sites and scoping out construction zones than bulky drones with spinning rotors, said the three authors of a study released Wednesday in the journal Science Robotics. For example, it would have been ideal for going inside the damaged Fukushima nuclear plant in Japan, said study co-author Seth Hutchinson, an engineering professor at the University of Illinois.

The bat robot flaps its wings for better aerial manoeuvres, glides to save energy and dive bombs when needed. Eventually, the researchers hope to have it perch upside down like the real thing, but that will have to wait for the robot's sequel.

Like the fictional crime fighter Batman, the researchers turned to the flying mammal for inspiration.

Hundreds of ancient earthworks built in the Amazon

Geoglyph photo. Credit: Jenny Watling

The Amazonian rainforest was transformed over two thousand years ago by ancient people who built hundreds of large, mysterious earthworks.

Findings by Brazilian and UK experts provide new evidence for how indigenous people lived in the Amazon before European people arrived in the region.

The ditched enclosures, in Acre state in the western Brazilian Amazon, were concealed for centuries by trees. Modern deforestation has allowed the discovery of more than 450 of these large geometrical geoglyphs.

The function of these mysterious sites is still little understood - they are unlikely to be villages, since archaeologists recover very few artefacts during excavation. The layout doesn't suggest they were built for defensive reasons. It is thought they were used only sporadically, perhaps as ritual gathering places.

The structures are ditched enclosures that occupy roughly 13,000 km2. Their discovery challenges assumptions that the rainforest ecosystem has been untouched by humans.

Friday, February 17, 2017

The Purpose of Sleep? To Forget, Scientists Say

Via by Carl Zimmer

Over the years, scientists have come up with a lot of ideas about why we sleep.

Some have argued that it’s a way to save energy. Others have suggested that slumber provides an opportunity to clear away the brain’s cellular waste. Still others have proposed that sleep simply forces animals to lie still, letting them hide from predators.

A pair of papers published on Thursday in the journal Science offer evidence for another notion: We sleep to forget some of the things we learn each day.

In order to learn, we have to grow connections, or synapses, between the neurons in our brains. These connections enable neurons to send signals to one another quickly and efficiently. We store new memories in these networks.

In 2003, Giulio Tononi and Chiara Cirelli, biologists at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, proposed that synapses grew so exuberantly during the day that our brain circuits got “noisy.” When we sleep, the scientists argued, our brains pare back the connections to lift the signal over the noise.

In the years since, Dr. Tononi and Dr. Cirelli, along with other researchers, have found a great deal of indirect evidence to support the so-called synaptic homeostasis hypothesis.