rename scientists

Scientists rename human genes to stop Microsoft Excel from misreading them as dates – The Verge

There are tens of thousands of genes in the human genome: minuscule twists of DNA and RNA that combine to express all of the traits and characteristics that make each of us unique. Each gene is given a name and alphanumeric code, known as a symbol, which scientists use to coordinate research. But over the past year or so, some 27 human genes have been renamed, all because Microsoft Excel kept misreading their symbols as dates.

The problem isn’t as unexpected as it first sounds. Excel is a behemoth in the spreadsheet world and is regularly used by scientists to track their work and even conduct clinical trials. But its default settings were designed with more mundane applications in mind, so when a user inputs a gene’s alphanumeric symbol into a spreadsheet, like MARCH1 — short for “Membrane Associated Ring-CH-Type Finger 1” — Excel converts that into a date: 1-Mar.

This is extremely frustrating, even dangerous, corrupting data that scientists have to sort through by hand to restore. It’s also surprisingly widespread and affects even peer-reviewed scientific work. One study from 2016 examined genetic data shared alongside 3,597 published papers and found that roughly one-fifth had been affected by Excel errors.

“It’s really, really annoying,” Dezső Módos, a systems biologist at the Quadram Institute in the UK, told The Verge. Módos, whose job involves analyzing freshly sequenced genetic data, says Excel errors happen all the time, simply because the software is often the first thing to hand when scientists process numerical data. “It’s a widespread tool and if you are a bit computationally illiterate you will use it,” he says. “During my PhD studies I did as well!”

Examples of gene symbols being rendered as dates in Microsoft Excel.
GIF: The Verge

There’s no easy fix, either. Excel doesn’t offer the option to turn off this auto-formatting, and the only way to avoid it is to change the data type for individual columns. Even then, a scientist might fix their own data, but as soon as someone else opens the same spreadsheet in Excel without thinking, errors will be introduced all over again.

Help has arrived, though, in the form of the scientific body in charge of standardizing the names of genes, the HUGO Gene Nomenclature Committee, or HGNC. This week, the HGNC published new guidelines for gene naming, including for “symbols that affect data handling and retrieval.” From now on, they say, human genes and the proteins they expressed will be named with one eye on Excel’s auto-formatting. That means the symbol MARCH1 has now become MARCHF1, while SEPT1 has become SEPTIN1, and so on. A record of old symbols and names will be stored by HGNC to avoid confusion in the future.

So far, the names of some 27 genes have been changed like this over the past year, Elspeth Bruford, the coordinator of HGNC, tells The Verge, but the guidelines themselves weren’t formally announced until this week. “We consulted the respective research communities to discuss the proposed updates, and we also notified researchers who had published on these genes specifically when the changes were being put into effect,” says Bruford.

As Bruford makes clear, the art of naming genes is very much driven by consensus. Like the lexicographers charged with updating dictionaries, the Gene Nomenclature Committee has to be sensitive to the needs of those individuals who will be most affected by their work.

This wasn’t always the case, mind. In the early, frontier days of genetics, gene naming was often a playground for creative scientists, leading to notorious genes like “sonic hedgehog” (yes, named for that Sonic) and “Indy” (short for “I’m not dead yet”; a reference to the gene’s function, which can double the life span of fruit flies when mutated).

Now, though, the HGNC has taken matters firmly in hand, and current guidelines don’t cede much ground to whimsy or ego. The focus is on practical concerns: how do we minimize confusion? For that reason, gene symbols should be unique, and gene names should be brief and specific, says the committee. They cannot use subscript or superscript; can only contain Latin letters and Arabic numerals; and should not spell out names or words, particularly offensive ones (a rule that should hold true “ideally in any language”).

And while the decision to rename genes is not taken lightly, it’s not unusual, says Bruford. Many gene symbols that can be read as nouns have been renamed to avoid false positives during searches, for example. In the past, CARS has become CARS1, WARS changed to WARS1, and MARS tweaked to MARS1. Other changes have been made to avoid insult.

“We always have to imagine a clinician having to explain to a parent that their child has a mutation in a particular gene,” says Bruford. “For example, HECA used to have the gene name ‘headcase homolog (Drosophila),’ named after the equivalent gene in fruit fly, but we changed it to ‘hdc homolog, cell cycle regulator’ to avoid potential offense.”

But Bruford says this is the first time that the guidelines have been rewritten specifically to counter the problems caused by software. So far, the reactions seem to be extremely positive — some would even say joyous.

After geneticist Janna Hutz shared the relevant section of HGNC’s new guidelines on Twitter, the response from the community was jubilant. “THRILLED by this announcement by the Human Gene Nomenclature Committee,” tweeted Hutz herself. “Finally!!!” responded Mudra Hegde, a computational biologist at the Broad Institute in Massachusetts. “Greatest news of the day!” said a pseudonymous Twitter user.

Bruford notes that there has been some dissent about the decision, but it mostly seems to be focused on a single question: why was it easier to rename human genes than it was to change how Excel works? Why, exactly, in a fight between Microsoft and the entire genetics community, was it the scientists who had to back down?

Microsoft did not respond to a request for comment, but Bruford’s theory is that it’s simply not worth the trouble to change. “This is quite a limited use case of the Excel software,” she says. “There is very little incentive for Microsoft to make a significant change to features that are used extremely widely by the rest of the massive community of Excel users.”

Bruford doesn’t seem bitter about the situation, though. After all, she says, it wouldn’t do to wait on a hypothetical Excel update to fix these problems when a long-term solution can be introduced by scientists themselves. Microsoft Excel may be fleeting, but human genes will be around for as long as we are. It’s best to give them names that work.

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celebrate scientists

Scientists celebrate ‘breakthrough’ blood test for Alzheimer’s – New York Post

July 28, 2020 | 2:04pm

An experimental blood test was highly accurate in detecting Alzheimer’s disease, scientists reported Tuesday — a promising breakthrough that could make diagnosis simple, affordable and widely available.

The test was able to determine whether people with dementia had Alzheimer’s instead of another condition, the New York Times reported. It also identified signs of Alzheimer’s 20 years before memory and thinking problems were expected in people with a genetic mutation that causes the degenerative, deadly disease, the outlet said.

“This blood test very, very accurately predicts who’s got Alzheimer’s disease in their brain, including people who seem to be normal,” Dr. Michael Weiner, an Alzheimer’s disease researcher at the University of California, San Francisco, told The Times.

The research was published in JAMA Network Open and presented at the Alzheimer’s Association International Conference.

The blood test — which performed as accurately as more invasive methods such as MRI brain scans, PET scans and spinal taps — provides a much simpler and more affordable way to diagnose whether people with cognitive problems were experiencing Alzheimer’s, as opposed to another type of dementia.

Such a blood test also may eventually be used to predict whether someone without symptoms would develop the disease, according to The Times.

“It’s not a cure, it’s not a treatment, but you can’t treat the disease without being able to diagnose it. And accurate, low-cost diagnosis is really exciting, so it’s a breakthrough,” said Weiner, who was not involved in the study.

The test could be available for clinical use in as little as two to three years, experts said.

Almost six million people in the US and about 30 million around the world have Alzheimer’s. The numbers are expected to more than double by 2050 as the population ages, according to the report.

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scientists unlocked

Scientists unlocked the secret of how these ultra-black fish absorb light – Ars Technica

Back in black —

The fish skin absorbs more than 99.5% of light thanks to pigment-packed granules

One specimen of the ultrablack fish species <em>Anoplogaster cornuta</em>. A unique arrangement of pigment-packed granules enables some fish to absorb nearly all of the light that hits their skin, so that as little as 0.05 percent of that light is reflected back.” src=”×533.jpg”></img><figcaption>
<p><a data-height=Enlarge / One specimen of the ultrablack fish species Anoplogaster cornuta. A unique arrangement of pigment-packed granules enables some fish to absorb nearly all of the light that hits their skin, so that as little as 0.05 percent of that light is reflected back.

In the darkest depths of the ocean, where little to no light from the surface penetrates, unusual creatures thrives, many of whom create their own light via bioluminescence to hunt for prey, among other uses. But several species of fish have evolved the opposite survival strategy: they are ultrablack, absorbing nearly all light that strikes their skin, according to a new paper in Current Biology.

Karen Osborn of the Smithsonian’s Museum of Natural History became intrigued by the creatures upon finding she was unable to capture these ultrablack fish on camera while working in the field. She was trying to photograph specimens caught in the team’s deep-sea trawl nets. “Two specimens, the Anoplogaster cornuta and the Idiacanthus antrostomus, were the only two fish over the course of six years of field work that I was able to get decent photographs of,” Osborn told Ars.

To do so, she used a Canon Mark II DSLR body and a 65mm macro lens with four strobes, then tested various lighting setups by taking lots and lots of photographs. Finally, she adjusted contrast and applied a high-pass filter uniformly across the images, the better to bring out the details. It still wasn’t sufficient to capture most of the specimens caught in the trawl net. “Over the years I deleted thousands of failed shots of other fish as useless because I couldn’t bring out the details in the photos,” she added. “It didn’t matter how you set up the camera or lighting—they just sucked up all the light. I wish I had a few of them now to illustrate this.”

To discover why this was the case, Osborn teamed up with Duke University biologist Sönke Johnsen, among others, and laboratory measurements showed that, indeed, these ultrablack fish absorbed more than 99.5 percent of any light that hit their skin. That is a handy adaptation for survival in the dark depths of the sea, where even a few photons of light—say, from hungry nearby bioluminescent organisms—can give away a fish’s position to a predator.

  • Another angle on the ultrablack fish species Anoplogaster cornuta.

  • This Anoplogaster cornuta fish was so lively after being sampled and documented that the research team released it back to the deep via submarine the day after being caught in a trawl net.

  • The ultrablack Pacific blackdragon (Idiacanthus antrostomus), the second-blackest fish studied by the research team.

  • The Pacific black dragon has a bioluminescent lure that they use to attract prey, and if not for their ultrablack skin and transparent, anti-reflective teeth, the reflection of their lure would scare prey away.

  • The Pacific blackdragon also has light-producing organs below their eyes that scientists expect might be used as a searchlight to spot prey.

  • The ultrablack ridgehead (Poromitra crassiceps). These fish are also commonly known as bigscales because of the few giant scales they possess. Their ultrablack skin covers their scales, but the skin and scales detach easily when a predator tries to grab them.

The researchers also discovered the secret to this highly efficient light absorption: melanin, a pigment also found in human skin that protects us from damage from sunlight. The melanin is stuffed into granules known as melanosomes, which in turn are contained within cells known as melanophores. They form a continuous layer in the dermis (the deeper layers of skin), according to Osborn. “This arrangement provides a continuous and unbroken layer of pigment-containing cells and ensures that this layer is the first thing encountered by light hitting the fish,” she said. “The pigment effectively absorbs most of the light that strikes the granule.”

The size and shape of those granules also matters, since they scatter any light that isn’t immediately absorbed sideways into the pigment layer so it can be absorbed by neighboring pigment-containing cells. It’s essentially a very thin, highly efficient light trap. “The blackest fish was as black as VantaBlack,” said Osborn—that is, as black as one of the darkest substances yet known. “VantaBlack traps light in tightly packed carbon microtubules while these fish absorb the light with the pigment and do it extremely efficiently by optimizing the size and shape and packing of the pigment granules themselves.”

“In pretty much all ultra-black materials you need both scattering and absorption,” said co-author Alexander Davis, a graduate student at Duke. “In all other animals that we know of, the scattering in ultra-black coloration comes from either a chitin or keratin matrix, like a bird feather or butterfly scale, and the absorption comes from melanin embedded within those matrices. In these fishes, the scattering and absorption are both coming from the melanosomes themselves. This makes the mechanism a bit simpler because there is no structural scaffold necessary.”

Several ultrablack species seem to have independently evolved the exact same adaptation; Osborn and her colleagues found these pigment patterns in 16 distantly related species. The eventual goal of the research is to adopt a similarly efficient design to make ultrab

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colors scientists

True colors: Scientists discuss evolution of white coloration of velvet ants –

True colors: Scientists discuss evolution of white coloration of velvet ants
The Thistle-down velvet ant (Dasymutilla gloriosa), a type of wasp, is a rare example of a white-colored creature in a hot desert climate. Utah State University researchers investigated varied explanations for the insect’s pale coloration. Credit: Joseph S. Wilson

Driving across the arid American Southwest, one views miles upon miles of scrubby creosote bushes. Well-adapted to the hot, thirsty landscape, the evergreen shrub, also known as greasewood, chaparral and gobernadora, produces tufts of fluffy, white fruit capsules. Living among the plants are similarly fluffy white insects, difficult to distinguish from the fruit, that are, in fact, a species of wasps known as Thistle-down velvet ants.

“Their scientific name is Dasymutilla gloriosa and they’re one of my favorites,” says Utah State University biologist Joseph Wilson.

Looking at the velvet ant and fruit side-by-side, it’s easy to imagine the fuzzy wasp’s white coloration evolved as camouflage.

Not so fast, Wilson says.

“In the , there are relatively few examples of white being an adaptive color outside of arctic environments,” he says. “White coloration can be aposematic, meaning coloring meant to warn or repel predators, but it can also play a role in thermoregulation.”

Wilson and USU colleagues Jeni Sidwell and James Pitts, along with Matthew Forister of the University of Nevada and Kevin Williams of the California Department of Food and Agriculture, discuss new findings about Thistle-down evolution in the July 15, 2020 issue of Biology Letters.

In 2015, the USU biologists identified North American velvet ants as one of the world’s largest known Müllerian mimicry complexes. Mimicry, a form of defense in which one animals copies another of a different species in appearance, actions or sound, is an evolutionary phenomenon scientists identified in the late 19th century.

Video of a Thistle-down velvet ant (Dasymutilla gloriosa). The wasp species is a rare example of a white-colored creature in a hot desert climate. Utah State University researchers investigated varied explanations for the insect’s pale coloration. Filmed near St. George, Utah, USA. Credit: Joseph S. Wilson

“It’s logical to assume Thistle-down velvet ants evolved their appearance to hide from predators among fallen creosote fruits,” says Wilson, associate professor in the Department of Biology at USU’s Tooele campus. “But the wasps preceded the arrival of the creosote bush to the American Southwest by millions of years. So we investigated other explanations for their white coloration.”

The team surmised the wasps’ pale coloring could provide thermoecological benefits in their sizzling hot environment. The researchers investigated genetic data. They used reflectance spectrometry to compare spectral reflectance of the wasps and the creosote fruit. With a and other probes, the scientists measured the organisms’ external and internal temperatures.

True colors: Scientists discuss evolution of white coloration of velvet ants
A Thistle-down velvet ant (Dasymutilla gloriosa), left, and a fallen fruit from a creosote bush (Larrea tridentata), right. Utah State University scientists investigated the idea the wasp’s appearance evolved as camouflage. Credit: Joseph S. Wilson

Sampling extensive data and following varied analyses, the team concluded the velvet ants’ white coloration is an adaptation to the hot desert environment, rather than predation pressure.

“We learned not to judge a book by its cover,” Wilson says. “We each looked outside of our narrow specializations to apply varied disciplines to the questions we were asking. When considering coloration, never assume non-humans view colors as humans do. Thistle-down velvet ants are white to us and look like creosote fruit, but we don’t know exactly how they appear to the wasps’ predators.”

More information:
Wilson, Joseph, et al. “Thistle-down velvet ants in the Desert Mimicry Ring and the evolution of white coloration: Müllerian mimicry, camouflage, and thermal ecology. Biology Letters. 15 July 2020. … .1098/rsbl.2020.0242

True colors: Scientists discuss evolution of white coloration of velvet ants (2020, July 14)
retrieved 15 July 2020

This document is subject to copyright. Apart from any fair dealing for the purpose of private study or research, no
part may be reproduced without the written permission. The content is provided for information purposes only.

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forces scientists

Scientists join forces to investigate airborne risk of coronavirus – The Guardian

A major research effort is under way to understand whether Covid-19 can spread through tiny airborne particles that are released by infected people and remain suspended in the air for hours.

Scientists are working alongside sanitary engineers at the World Health Organization to investigate how tiny aerosols bearing the virus may be released into the environment; whether they are spread around rooms by air-conditioning units; and how infectious the particles may be.

Among the studies being conducted are experiments with caged hamsters to assess whether viruses wafting through the air in hospitals and other high-risk settings are sufficiently potent to spread infections.

In an open letter published on Monday, the scientists implied that the WHO was underplaying the risk of airborne transmission, prompting the organisation to concede that the possibility could not be ruled out, particularly in crowded, enclosed and poorly vented spaces.

But Prof David Heymann, who advises the WHO on infectious hazards, said the organisation needed to see results from well-designed studies before it could consider advice on new strategies for containing the virus.

“It’s ironic that many of the people who signed the letter are contributing to many of the different WHO groups investigating this,” he said during a video conference on Wednesday held by the thinktank Chatham House, where he is head of the Centre on Global Health Security.

The key control measures in place for coronavirus, such as physical distancing, regular hand-washing and mask-wearing, are rooted in the assumption that the infection is largely spread by larger droplets ejected from people’s mouths and noses when they cough, sneeze, shout or sing. These droplets can infect people directly if they contaminate the eyes, nose or mouth, but are thought to fall to the ground within the space of one or two metres. The droplets are also thought to be infectious if they are picked up from doorknobs and other surfaces.

Coronavirus UK: should I be wearing a face mask? – video explainer

The authors of the open letter believe that a number of outbreaks, including several in meat processing plants, suggest that airborne transmission is important in settings where the virus can build up in the air, or where air is circulated by unfiltered air-conditioning units. If that is the case, further protection is likely to be needed to prevent infections spreading.

“There is a possibility that there’s airborne transmission in closed spaces,” said Heymann. “An air-conditioning unit, especially one on the wall, might be able to pick up an aerosol and put it back out, if it’s not filtered, and circulate it through the room.”

The hypothesis has been put forward to explain a cluster of infections at a Chinese restaurant where people became infected despite being some distance from one another, but there is as yet no hard proof.

Other evidence, however, suggests that airborne transmission is not a major issue. In some countries, such as Switzerland, where lockdown restrictions have been eased and people have returned to restaurants and bars, there has been no increase in transmission.

“There’s evidence in what’s happening that this virus doesn’t act as a virus that would be airborne,” Heymann said. “There are studies going on now and the WHO is waiting to see the results. If there is airborne transmission, we need to better understand it before we can put interventions in place.”

Adding to other scientific studies, the WHO has convened a group of sanitary engineers to investigate what mechanisms may propel virus-carrying aerosols into the air. “That will give us information as to whether or not this virus is spreading in airborne transmission further than closed spaces, which is where we believe airborne transmission can occur now,” Heymann said.

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discover scientists

Scientists discover diminutive dinosaur ancestor: a 4-inch ‘tiny bug slayer’ – Fox News

Researchers have discovered an ancient relative of dinosaurs, a 4-inch reptile that lived 237 million years ago.

Known as Kongonaphon kely, the ancient reptile was a “tiny bug slayer” and lived in modern-day Madagascar, according to a study published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The fossil was first discovered in 1998 by a team of researchers from all over the world, including from the American Museum of Natural History.

“There’s a general perception of dinosaurs as being giants,” said the study’s lead author, Christian Kammerer, in a statement. “But this new animal is very close to the divergence of dinosaurs and pterosaurs, and it’s shockingly small.”

Life restoration of Kongonaphon kely, a newly described reptile near the ancestry of dinosaurs and pterosaurs, shown to scale with human hands. The fossils of Kongonaphon were found in Triassic (~237 million years ago) rocks in southwestern Madagascar and demonstrate the existence of remarkably small animals along the dinosaurian stem. (Credit: Frank Ippolito, American Museum of Natural History)

Life restoration of Kongonaphon kely, a newly described reptile near the ancestry of dinosaurs and pterosaurs, shown to scale with human hands. The fossils of Kongonaphon were found in Triassic (~237 million years ago) rocks in southwestern Madagascar and demonstrate the existence of remarkably small animals along the dinosaurian stem. (Credit: Frank Ippolito, American Museum of Natural History)


With the pointy, albeit worn, teeth, it’s likely that Kongonaphon fed on a diet of insects, the researchers stated. They also looked at a part of the reptile’s thigh bone to conclude that it was a full-grown creature and not a baby.

John Flynn, who helped discover the fossil in the late 1990s, said he was surprised at the diminutive size of Kongonaphon, but also how unique the discovery was.

“This fossil site in southwestern Madagascar from a poorly known time interval globally has produced some amazing fossils, and this tiny specimen was jumbled in among the hundreds we’ve collected from the site over the years,” Flynn added in the statement.

“It took some time before we could focus on these bones, but once we did, it was clear we had something unique and worth a closer look,” Flynn continued. “This is a great case for why field discoveries – combined with modern technology to analyze the fossils recovered – is still so important.”

Body size comparison between the newly discovered Kongonaphon kely (left) and one of the earliest dinosaurs, Herrerasaurus. (Credit: by Scott Hartman (CC BY 3.src) Frank Ippolito, AMNH)

Body size comparison between the newly discovered Kongonaphon kely (left) and one of the earliest dinosaurs, Herrerasaurus. (Credit: by Scott Hartman (CC BY 3.0) Frank Ippolito, AMNH)


Project co-leader and study co-author Lovasoa Ranivoharimanana said the find shows how increasingly important Madagascar has become to archaeologists over the years, given the number of ancient fossils found on the African island.

“Discovery of this tiny relative of dinosaurs and pterosaurs emphasizes the importance of Madagascar’s fossil record for improving knowledge of vertebrate history during times that are poorly known in other places,” said Ranivoharimanana, professor and director of the vertebrate paleontology laboratory at the University of Antananarivo in Madagascar.

It’s believed that Kongonaphon may have belonged to Ornithodira, a group that includes dinosaurs and birds, but more research is needed to get a better understanding on their evolution.

“Recent discoveries like Kongonaphon have given us a much better understanding of the early evolution of ornithodirans,” Kammerer explained. “Analyzing changes in body size throughout archosaur evolution, we found compelling evidence that it decreased sharply early in the history of the dinosaur-pterosaur lineage.”

Experts continue to learn more about the early days of the dinosaurs. A study published last month found that some dinosaurs who faced scarce resources resorted to scavenging and possibly cannibalism.

A study published in March suggested dinosaurs traveled significantly shorter distances and had drastically different migration behavior than initially believed.


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scientists sneak

Scientists get sneak peek at the core of a gas giant – BGR

  • The remains of a gas giant were spotted orbiting a nearby star, astronomers reveal.
  • The core of the planet is all that remains, but researchers think it was once a massive gaseous planet.
  • What lies deep within gas giant planets has long been a mystery for astronomers.

Gas giant planets like Jupiter are incredibly interesting objects. They’re also quite mysterious, as nobody really knows what is lurking deep within the miles of gas that makes up their thick atmospheres. For example, it’s thought that there’s some kind of a rocky core within Jupiter, but beyond that, researchers can’t say what features it has, how large it is, or even begin to guess what it looks like.

Our best shot at seeing the core of a gas giant may be to spot a planet’s core that has already been burned off by a nearby star. That’s exactly what researchers from the University of Warwick have done, and the planet — called TOI 849 b — is a burned-up husk of what may have once been a mighty hot Jupiter.

Hot Jupiter planets are gas giants that orbit particularly close to their host stars. They’ve been spotted by exoplanet survey projects, but nobody really knows what the future holds for them. Do they move outward to more comfortable distances, as some scientiss believe was the case with Jupiter, or remain close to their star and slowly burn away, which is what appears to have happened to TOI 849 b?

In their paper published in the journal Nature, the researchers explain how the rocky planet core — which is roughly the size of Neptune — may have once been a gas giant. One of the other possibilities, the scientists suggest, is that the planet is a failed gas giant which couldn’t muster enough gas to form the characteristic huge balloon that hot Jupiters are known for.

The last possibility that the researchers suggest is that the core is what remains of a gas giant planets that collided with another huge object. Such an impact would have greatly disrupted the planet and potentially sent its wealth of gas flying elsewhere.

“The planet could have been a gas giant before undergoing extreme mass loss via thermal self-disruption or giant planet collisions, or it could have avoided substantial gas accretion, perhaps through gap opening or late formation,” the researchers write. “Although photoevaporation rates cannot account for the mass loss required to reduce a Jupiter-like gas giant, they can remove a small (a few Earth masses) hydrogen and helium envelope on timescales of several billion years, implying that any remaining atmosphere on TOI-849b is likely to be enriched by water or other volatiles from the planetary interior. We conclude that TOI-849b is the remnant core of a giant planet.”

It’s pretty exciting, but there’s a bit of a downside. The planet — or what’s left of it — sits 730 light-years from Earth. That’s not a huge distance, cosmically speaking, but it’s far enough that researchers can’t really get a good look at it. They can estimate its size and mass, but that’s about it.

Mike Wehner has reported on technology and video games for the past decade, covering breaking news and trends in VR, wearables, smartphones, and future tech.

Most recently, Mike served as Tech Editor at The Daily Dot, and has been featured in USA Today,, and countless other web and print outlets. His love of
reporting is second only to his gaming addiction.

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scientists There

Scientists Say There Are at Least 36 Intelligent Civilizations in Our Milky Way Galaxy – HYPEBEAST

According to a group of scientists at the University of Nottingham, there could be intelligent life beyond earth within our galaxy as reported by Forbes. They point out that it’s possible that at least 36 ongoing intelligent civilizations exist in the Milky Way, all based on a “cosmic evlolution” calculation/estimation.

The claim and studies have just been published in The Astrophysical Journal where it outlines that Extra-Terrestrial communications are happening and that life can begin on other planets similar to what has happened here on earth. There are, however, a lot of assumptions in the report. One being that it takes about five billion years for intelligent life to form on other planets. To put in perspective, it took 4.5 billion years of evolution before a technological civilization happened on Earth. The assumptions also state that a technical civilization will last at least 100 years.

The calculation of existing civilizations really depends on how long and how active they are trying to communicate by way of sending out signals to space. Think of radio transmissions from satellites and TV. This calculation has been coined as the “Astrobiological Copernican Limit” and it relies on information such as star formation histories, how common metal-rich stars are (like the Sun) and the likelihood of stars hosting Earth-like planets in their habitable zones to come to the number 36. Consequently, there is a wide margin of error still and with so many assumptions it could be that there are much more than 36 or it could also be possible that it’s zero. Also, detection and communication is pretty much impossible as the average distance to one of these civilizations is about 17,000 light-years.

“Searches for extraterrestrial intelligent civilizations not only reveals the existence of how life itself forms, but also gives us clues about how long our own civilization will last,” said Christopher Conselice, Professor of Astrophysics at the University of Nottingham. “If we find that intelligent life is common then this would reveal that our civilization could exist for much longer than a few hundred years.”

In related news, Elon Musk has gone on to say that SpaceX is now his main priority.

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discover scientists

Scientists Discover Huge Unknown Structures near Earth’s Core – Interesting Engineering

By combing through 30 years of earthquake data, the scientists discovered these new structures deep inside the Earth.

June 12, 2020

Scientists Discover Huge Unknown Structures near Earth's Core

In wonderful, unexpected ways, Earth still manages to surprise scientists. A team of researchers from the University of Maryland in the U.S. has discovered a large structure made up of thick material near the Earth’s core. 

That’s roughly 3,000 kilometers (1,864 miles) beneath your feet. The team used a machine-learning algorithm to probe this mysterious phenomenon occurring deep within our Earth. 

Their findings were published in Science on Friday.


New discovery

One of these big anomalies is located far below the Marquesas Islands in the Pacific Ocean, and has never been detected before. Another one of them is far beneath the Hawaiian Islands, also in the Pacific, and this one is much larger than was previously believed. 

The team, led by Doyeon Kim, a seismologist and postdoctoral fellow at the University of Maryland, used seismograms from hundreds of different earthquakes between 1990 and 2018 and put them into a machine learning algorithm called Sequencer. 

“This study is very special because, for the first time, we get to systematically look at such a large dataset that actually covers more or less the entire Pacific basin,” Kim said in a call to Vice.

After running thousands of seismograms through Sequencer, Kim and his team discovered that the strongest post cursor signals were found beneath the Marquesas and Hawai’i’s islands. This proves that there exist two “mega-ULVZs” zones that span around 1,000 kilometers (621 miles) or more.  

Mega-ULVZs are huge structures that are made up of exotic materials that date back to the times before Earth had a Moon. “This is very interesting because this might indicate that mega-ULVZs are special and may host primitive geochemical signatures that have been relatively unmixed since early Earth history,” Kim explained.

Scientists Discover Huge Unknown Structures near Earth's Core
The ultralow-velocity zone, Source: Doyeon Kim/University of Maryland

The team plans on continuing its research deep beneath the Earth’s surface to develop a method of peering into Earth and find out what else is down there. The hope is to also look at what lies beneath the Atlantic Ocean. 

Scientists Discover Huge Unknown Structures near Earth's Core
What the team discovered, Source: Doyeon Kim/University of Maryland

“We’re hoping that Sequencer will be able to basically let us use all of these diverse datasets and bring them together to look for these lower mantle structures systematically,” Kim concluded. “That is our vision going forward, to answer more questions about the lower mantle in general.”

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discover scientists

Scientists discover new star and planet that are ‘mirror image’ of Earth and Sun –

The similarities between this distant planet – named KOI-456.04 – and Earth are numerous, and researchers hope it could mean that the conditions there might be right for life. The observation was made by the Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research in Göttingen, Germany.

The Max Planck Society describes the star and its planet as a “mirror image” of the Earth and the Sun. They’re around 3,000 light-years away from Earth; roughly 17,636,000,000,000,000 miles away.

So far, scientists around the world have managed to spot over 4,000 exoplanets – that is, planets that exist outside of the solar system – the Max Planck Society said.

Scientists are usually interested to find planets that are similar to Earth, because this gives rise to the possibility that life might exist there.

To start with, KOI-456.04 orbits a star that is similar to the Sun. For one thing, this star – called Kepler-160 – actually emits plenty of visible light, which is something that most exoplanets’ stars don’t do.


Scientists noted many similarities between the planet and star and the Earth and the Sun. (Image: vjanes / Getty)

Kepler-160 is also very close to the Sun’s size – its radius is just 10 percent larger – and its surface temperature just 300 degrees cooler; next to nothing in astrophysical terms.

This is significant because most stars of exoplanets tend to be small and dim and mostly emit infrared radiation – belonging to the ‘red dwarf’ classification of stars.

This is a problem as far as life is concerned. Many red dwarfs are thought to emit radiation that fries any planets that get too close.

But since red dwarfs are cool and dim compared to the Sun, planets need to be relatively close in order to receive the amount of warmth that scientists think could lead to life.

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Scientists are able to detect exoplanets by looking at repeated dimming of stars. (Image: Rain Ungert / Getty)

This also leads to other issues; the closer a planet is to its host star, the more likely it is to be badly affected by its gravity, resulting in rampant volcanism that would be fatal to any emerging life.

In short, an Earth-like exoplanet that is a candidate for life needs to orbit a star that’s of the right type at a very specific distance – close enough to get light and warmth and some volcanic activity, but far enough that it doesn’t get frazzled or torn apart by gravity.

Astrophysicists refer to this as the “habitable zone”, because it could mean that conditions are right for liquid water to exist, which is crucial for life as we know it to emerge.

This is why KOI-456.04 is so interesting. It fulfils these requirements, and the planet itself is rocky and relatively similar to Earth in terms of size.


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Researchers think the exoplanet could recieve similar amounts of light to Earth. (Image: Universal History Archive / Getty)

Another similarity between KOI-456.04 and Earth is its orbital period – or how long its year is. Researchers put this at 378 days – just a little longer than Earth’s.

This means it’s likely that KOI-456.04 gets a similar amount of light as Earth – 93 percent similar, according to the researchers.

What’s more, KOI-456.04 is under twice the size of the Earth. For researchers this seems to be a key point, because almost all exoplanets less than twice the size of Earth that tend to have the potential for Earth-like surface temperatures usually orbit red dwarfs, rather than sun-lime stars such as Kepler-160.

Dr René Heller, led author of the new study, explained: “KOI-456.91 is relatively large compared to many other planets that are considered potentially habitable.

Space news: A new star and planet have been discovered

Space news: A new star and planet have been discovered (Image: EXPRESS)

“But it’s the combination of this less-than-double the size of the Earth planet and its solar type host star that make it so special and familiar.”

The research was conducted by a team of scientists from the Max Planck Society, the Sonneberg Observatory, the University of Göttingen, the University of California, and NASA.

Exoplanets can vary considerably in nature. Some might be small and rocky, like our own Mercury, or large gas giants, like Jupiter.

red dwarf

Most exoplanets tend to orbit red dwarf stars. (Image: Mark Garlick / Science Photo Library / Getty)

Incidentally, most exoplanets that are detected tend to be gas giants, according to the Max Planck Society. Typically they are like our own Neptune – large, gassy, and around four times the size of Earth.

In other words – probably not ideal conditions for life as we know it to emerge.

Scientists are able to detect planets around distant stars by looking at whether the star repeatedly dims in brightness – caused by a planet passing in front of it.

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