Let’s have a sniff. Three exoplanets, similar in size and temperature to our own, are in orbit around an ultra-cool dwarf star. In the future, we could analyse their atmospheres for signs of life.
A team led by Michaël Gillon from the University of Liège, Belgium, found the trio by using the Chilean-based TRAPPIST telescope to monitor the drop in brightness as the planets passed in front of their star. Two of them are at the inner edge of the habitable zone – the region around the star that allows liquid water to exist – and one is in or beyond it.
Although the exact mass of the triplets isn’t known, the team estimate these planets must be between 50 per cent and twice Earth’s mass. They are probably made of rocks and maybe ice, making them similar in composition to the solar system’s terrestrial planets or the icy moons of giant planets.
The dwarf star’s size and brightness make it particularly suitable for “transit spectroscopy”, perhaps with the upcoming James Webb Space Telescope. The scope could examine light absorbed by a planet’s atmosphere and sniff out its gases. The amount of the absorption varies with wavelength and depends directly on the composition and physical conditions of the atmosphere.
We’ve seen potentially habitable worlds in the past, but these three offer the best opportunity for study, says Gillon. “For the first time, we have planets for which the atmospheric composition can be studied in detail with current technology.”
“This has been used successfully in many cases but never for planets as small as the Earth and certainly not for planets in the water-zone,” says David Kipping of Columbia University, New York. “There is a legitimate case to be made that this system could host life and we may be able to infer the presence of that life in the next decade.”
Migrane pain can be as painful as an injury. If these unbearable headaches are taking over your life, then maybe it’s time to make some changes in your lifestyle. Migraine can be triggered by small little things like noise, dust and even light. It is important for a migraine patient to identify the definite triggers to avoid them before it gets bad.
1. Turn off the lights
Most migraine patients are sensitive to light and sound. It is advisable to make your room dark and quiet before you sleep. Even a small creaking sound can trigger the pain if not taken seriously.
2. Drink a caffeinated beverage
Caffine is the key ingredient in many headache medications. So if your headache has just started then may be a cup of coffee might help you to subside it. But it is advisable to not take more then two to three cups a week.
3. Regularise your sleep patterns
Migraine is also triggered by poor sleep. It is important especially for migraine patients to regularise their sleep pattern. A migraine patient should wake up and go to sleep at the same time every day even on weekends.
4. Eat wisely
Not eating at all or fasting can actually trigger the pain. Make sure that you eat withing few hours of getting up and not delay it too much. Also make sure that you drink enough water to keep yourself hydrated.
5. Avoid foods that trigger migraine
There are few foods that can actually trigger the headache and should definitely be avoided. Chocolate and alcohol are the main migraine triggers.
6. Increase intake of supplements
Low level of magnesium has been linked with migraine headaches. A daily supplement of magnesium might help to curb the sudden outburst of migraine pain. But it is always advisable to consult your doctor before taking any such supplement.
7. Keep your bedroom clutter free
Keep your bedroom strictly for relaxing and sleeping. Don’t eat food or watch television in your bedroom because this might hinder your sleep. To cut off the noise in your bedroom you can either use ear plugs or fan to mute the distracting noises.
In the harsh wilderness of the Himalayan Mountains live the Himalayan Cliff Bees; the world’s largest honey bees. They can grow up to three centimeters in length and produce a red colored honey unlike any other. The people of China and Nepal tout the benefits of this honey that not only helps with diabetes, hypertension, and sexual performance but also has power psychoactive properties.
Being high up in the Himalayas, getting to the honey is no easy feat. However, there is a tribe of Gurungun people known as the honey hunters who brave the expedition at least twice a year and are able to make a living off of the powerful nectar.
Watch the fascinating 25-minute documentary below which delves into the medical benefits elusive red honey and the bravery of the Gurungun people who obtain it.
‘Your body is not allowing you to rejuvenate at all so it’s like being awake for the last six months of your life’.
A brother and sister have inherited a disease that will stop them from ever sleeping again – and which will eventually kill them.
Lachlan and Hayley Webb from Queensland, Australia, suffer from a rare hereditary disease called Fatal Familial Insomnia (FFI). They do not know when it will strike.
Affecting less than 10 million people worldwide, there it no known treatment or cure for the illness.
It prevents sufferers from achieving deep sleep, leading to speedy mental and physical deterioration.
Lachlan, 28, and Hayley, 30, first became aware of the genetic disorder when their grandmother became ill when they were teenagers, Nine News reports.
Their mother died from FFI aged 61, while their aunt died at the age of 42. The siblings’ uncle, their mother’s brother, also died from FFI aged only 20.
FFI damages nerve cells which leads to sponge-like holes in the part of the brain that regulates sleep – the thalamus.
This then prevents the body from rejuvenating and makes it feel like the sufferer is awake for the last six months of their life.
Ms Webb, a Nine News reporter, said: “In my early teens I remember becoming aware of it, aware we had this family curse.
“My grandma started getting sick and dying. Her eyesight went, she had signs of dementia, she was hallucinating and couldn’t talk.
“Eventually she was diagnosed with FFI, that was the first time the family even knew that FFI existed.”
Lachlan Webb, 28, participating in a study at the University of California looking for a cure (Nine News)
Ms Webb added: “I remember leaving for work to my new post on the Sunshine Coast and mum saying ‘have a great day, I’m so proud of you’ and then later that week coming back and she was calling me Jillian and she thought I was the housekeeper.
“It was incredibly aggressive.
“Your body is not allowing you to rejuvenate at all so it’s like being awake for the last six months of your life.”
The pair have been participating in a pioneering study at the University of California led by Eric Minikel and Sonia Vallabah, who are trying to find a cure.
An international team of scientists said today they had discovered a trio of Earth-like planets that are the best bet so far for finding life outside our solar system.
The three orbit an ultracool dwarf star a mere 39 light years away, and are likely comparable in size and temperature to Earth and Venus, they reported in a study, published in Nature.
“This is the first opportunity to find chemical traces of life outside our solar system,” said lead author Michael Gillon, an astrophysicist at the University of Liege in Belgium.
All three planets had the “winning combination” of being similar in size to Earth, “potentially habitable” and close enough so their atmospheres can be analysed with current technology, he told AFP.
The find opens up a whole new “hunting ground” for habitable planets, he added.
Gillon and colleagues calibrated a 60-centimetre telescope in Chile, known as TRAPPIST, to track several dozen dwarf stars neither big nor hot enough to be visible with optical telescopes.
They zeroed in on a particularly promising one – now known as TRAPPIST-1 – about one eighth the size of the Sun, and significantly cooler.
Observing it for months, the astronomers noticed that its infrared signal faded slightly at regular intervals, evidence of objects in orbit.
Further analysis confirmed they were exoplanets – planets revolving around stars outside our solar system.
The innermost two circle their dwarf star every 1.5 and 2.4 days, though they are hit with only four and two times the amount of heat-generating radiation that Earth receives from the Sun.
The more distant orbit of the third planet takes between four and 73 days, according to the study.
“So far, the existence of such ‘red worlds’ orbiting ultra-cool dwarf stars was purely theoretical, but now we have not just one lonely planet but three,” said co-author Emmanuel Jehin, also from the University of Liege.
He called the discovery a “paradigm shift” in the search for life elsewhere in the universe.
Given their size and proximity to their low-intensity star, all three planets may have regions at temperatures within a range suitable for sustaining liquid water and life, the study concluded.
Their proximity to Earth means scientists will be able to find out a lot more.
“These planets are so close, and their star so small, we can study their atmosphere and composition,” said co-author Julien de Wit, a postdoc at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT.)
“This is a jackpot for the field,” he said in a statement, adding that it should be possible to determine if they harbour life “within our generation.”
The life of a woman is impacted nearly every moment on EmpowHER. And today, we’ve made a difference in 10,000 lives, measured by our HER Health Meter. It’s a big deal – not just for us, but also for our readers and the women we serve.
We created our Health Meter to see how we were directly affecting readers’ lives. It shows up on every piece of content across the site, and readers are able to share if a piece of content has improved their health, changed or saved their life.
The meter can serve as a trusted curation tool for women’s health, and it also allows us to constantly adapt to what women are looking for, based on data around impacted lives. Take a look at our top 10 life-changing articles on EmpowHER, measured by the HER Health Meter.
So far, Puerto Rico has had more than 600 Zika cases, including 73 involving pregnant women. All 14 women who have given birth so far have had healthy babies, the Associated Pressreported. Zika can cause severe birth defects.
Sixteen of the Zika patients in Puerto Rico have been hospitalized and four are believed to have developed temporary paralysis due to the mosquito-borne virus, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The CDC is urging all residents of and travelers to Puerto Rico to continue to protect themselves from mosquito bites, take precautions to reduce the risk of sexual transmission of the virus, and seek medical care for any acute illness with rash or fever.
While the Zika virus poses little health risk to most people, it poses a significant threat to pregnant women because it can cause a birth defect called microcephaly, which results in babies born with abnormally small heads and brains.
To control the threat posed by Zika, officials in Puerto Rico are pursuing “vector control activities” that include indoor and outdoor spraying of insecticides and reducing mosquito breeding grounds, especially around pregnant women’s homes, the CDC said.
As of April 27, there were 1,025 confirmed cases of Zika in U.S. states and territories, according to the CDC. Nearly all of these infections were acquired by people who had traveled outside the United States.
As mosquito season approaches, U.S. health experts expect to see more infections in Gulf Coast states such as Florida and Texas, as well as Hawaii.
Meanwhile, new research suggests the Zika virus was circulating in Haiti months before the first cases in Brazil — the epicenter of the outbreak — were reported last spring.
“We know that the virus was present in Haiti in December of 2014,” said Dr. Glenn Morris, director of University of Florida’s Emerging Pathogens Institute. “And, based on molecular studies, it may have been present in Haiti even before that date.”
What remains unclear is exactly why there was such a widespread outbreak in Brazil, the study authors said, and more research is needed to reveal why the same did not happen in Haiti.
In Brazil, Zika infections have been linked to more than 5,000 cases of the birth defect microcephaly.
To uncover Zika’s presence in Haiti, the team of researchers analyzed three “mystery” infections reported in that country in 2014.
The cases involved school-aged children in Haiti’s Gressier/Leogane region who developed a fever. The students were taken to a free clinic where samples of their blood were screened for dengue, chikungunya and malaria.
The blood tests ruled out these three well-known viruses but little thought was given to the Zika virus, which was not known to be present in the region at the time.
Using an advanced testing method, the University of Florida researchers went back and analyzed the children’s blood samples. They found the samples tested positive for the Zika virus.
Their findings, published April 26 in the journal PLOS Neglected Tropical Diseases, suggest the virus was circulating in the Americas long before it swept through Brazil.
The earliest known outbreak of the Zika virus occurred in 2007 in a small group of islands in French Polynesia, known as the Yap Islands. That outbreak affected an estimated 73 percent of people aged 3 and older, the researchers said.
After comparing the viruses, the researchers found the genetic sequences of the slightly older Haitian strains of the virus were more similar to the French Polynesian strains than many of the Brazilian strains.
“There is a possibility that this virus had been moving around the Caribbean before it hit the right combination of conditions in Brazil and took off,” Morris said in a university news release.
“By using the sophisticated culturing and sequencing capabilities that we have here at the Emerging Pathogens Institute, we were able to begin to fill in some of the unknown areas in the history of the Zika virus, leading us toward a better understanding of what caused this outbreak to suddenly occur at the magnitude that it did in Brazil,” Morris said.
On April 30, heads of state from all over Africa will gather at a public ceremony in Nairobi to watch Kenya torch its entire stockpile of elephant tusks.
Convened by President Uhuru Kenyatta as a dramatic finale to the Giants Club Summit, a gathering of leaders committed to anti-poaching measures, the burning comes at a critical time for Africa’s elephants. Conservationists are predicting their virtual extinction within 10 years.
A century ago Africa had as many as five million elephants, but decades of poaching fuelled by an insatiable demand for ivory has reduced their numbers to no more than 500,000 today. In the past three years alone, poachers have killed more than 100,000 and the species has now reached a tipping point with more being killed than are being born.
When the burning ceremony takes place in Nairobi National Park, more than 120 tons of ivory representing well over 4,000 dead elephants will go up in smoke, confirming Kenya’s zero tolerance towards poaching and sending a message to the world that the Kenyan state will never profit from the illegal trade and that it believes elephants are worth far more alive as a major tourist attraction.
Nowhere is this truer than at Elephant Watch Camp in Samburu National Reserve. The Maasai Mara may be Kenya’s top tourist destination but the country’s soul lies in the north, where the green highlands fall away into an arid wilderness the size of Britain and the proud Samburu people, a desert tribe of warrior nomads, still follow their herds across the surrounding rangelands.
Sharing their land are the beautiful dry-country animals that make Samburu special: reticulated giraffe, beisa oryx and Grévy’s zebra. There are predators, too: wild dog, lion, leopard and cheetah. But above all, Samburu is elephant country – hence the presence of Iain Douglas-Hamilton, the world authority on elephant behaviour, and the headquarters of Save the Elephants, the organisation he founded in 1993.
Elephant Watch Camp itself is set on the banks of the Ewaso Nyiro just a few miles upstream from Iain’s office and was created by Oria, his Kenyan-born Italian wife.
There is an etiquette. You never encroach on their space. Saba Douglas-Hamilton
“It all started in 2001,” she told me. “I built it with dead trees the elephants had knocked down, and the spot I chose was the place our bulls [male elephants] loved to frequent. Gorbachev, Mungu, Kenyatta and Roosevelt were always there. No one ever chased them away.”
Shaded by giant river acacias, the camp is exquisitely beautiful, a fusion of luxury bush-living and Bedouin bohemia, and is entirely open to the comings and goings of the animal world. At breakfast time Verreaux’s eagle owls mutter to each other from the treetops. At night, shy spotted genets, catlike mammals with long slender tails, wander among the dining tables, and in a park overendowed with big, noisy lodges it is by far the nicest place to stay.
Today it is Saba, Oria’s eldest daughter, who has taken over as the glamorous chatelaine of Elephant Watch Camp and it is hard to think of anyone more suited to the task. When she was just six weeks old her mother decided she should meet her first wild elephant, a matriarch called Virgo, one of the 400 animals her father was studying in Tanzania’s Lake Manyara National Park. “Although far too young to remember it, I was told that when Virgo saw me she stretched out her trunk and took a good, long sniff to get my scent,” Saba says. “Then she brought her own calf forward as if to introduce it to my mother.”
One year later Saba’s sister Dudu was born and the pair of them ran wild in Manyara, learning bush-lore from the Tanzanian rangers and bathing near the elephants in the Ndala River.
“Everything in our lives from the very beginning was about elephants,” says Saba. “All my toys were elephants, all my books and my earliest memories – especially the scary ones, like the time when, at the age of maybe three or four, I was charged by a big bull called Casimir.”
After university she worked with the Save the Rhino Trust in Namibia before eventually joining Save the Elephants as her father’s chief executive in 1997, and it was then, while working for STE, that she was talent-spotted by the BBC natural history unit and embarked on a career as a wildlife film-maker.
In 2006 she married Frank Pope, a former Times correspondent and marine archaeologist, and the couple now live at Elephant Watch Campwith their three girls: Selkie, aged six, and the twins, Luna and Mayian.
“Unusual names seem to run in our family,” she says. “My name, Saba, means ‘seven’ in Swahili because I was born on June 7 at seven o’clock in the evening and happened to be the seventh grandchild.”
On my first night in camp I was awoken in the small hours by the cracking of branches. An elephant was feeding just outside my tent, the first of many I would encounter during my stay. Nowhere else in the world, I discovered, can you be on first-name terms with so many wild elephants. In the course of her father’s research it was necessary to get to know Samburu’s elephants as individuals, since when 900 have been named and separated into families. Early the next day, we drive out to meet them. I ask Saba if she has any favourites. “I’m very fond of Yeager,” she says. “He’s the bull who came into camp and woke you up last night. It’s an incredible privilege to have a wild African elephant feeling so secure in our presence. And then there is Babylon, one of our oldest surviving matriarchs. She is very canny and exquisitely beautiful, a grand old dame who guides her family wisely and proves by her sheer longevity what an exceptional creature she is.
“There is an etiquette to approaching elephants,” says Saba. “You never encroach on their space. Instead you let them make the decisions and allow them to feel confident enough to ignore you. It’s something I acquired from my father, learning how to read the nuances of animal behaviour and then reacting appropriately.”
I hope she is right, because standing right in the path of our vehicle is a large bull elephant. “That’s Edison,” she says, and it is all too apparent that Edison is in musth, the season when, stoked up with testosterone and eager to mate, elephant bulls can be unpredictable. And I’ve seen what they can do.
In the visitor centre at Save the Elephants’ headquarters is the trashed Land Cruiser in which two researchers nearly lost their lives. It happened in 2002 when they witnessed a battle between two bull elephants known as Abe Lincoln and Rommel. When Lincoln gained the upper hand, Rommel took out his frustration on the vehicle and flipped it over with his tusks.
Now, as Saba switches off the ignition, Edison strides towards us, extending the tip of his trunk until it is hovering only inches from my forearm. Slowly he follows the outline of my body until I can feel his warm breath on the side of my face. Then, inexplicably, he brushes past and stands behind us with tusks and trunk laid out full-length on our canvas roof.
Time stops, and in the silence I can hear wood doves calling all around us. Then he is gone, a dark shadow drifting away under the trees. “Well done,” said Saba afterwards. “You passed the flinch test with flying colours.”
It was an unforgettable meeting involving total trust between all three individuals involved – two humans and one elephant – and only if you stay at Elephant Watch Camp are such close encounters possible. This is due to the years of dedicated work put in by Saba and her family, the STE researchers and the camp’s Samburu guides – all of whom featured in last summer’s BBC TV documentary This Wild Life.
At midday we stop for a picnic lunch under the doum palms by the riverside, and in moments we are surrounded by Jericho, Jerusalem and Babylon, Saba’s beloved matriarch, all members of the Biblical Towns Family, sharing the same patch of shade as us.
“I’m not frightened of elephants,” she declares as Babylon wanders past, close enough to touch, but she tells me about her scariest moment, which happened when filming in Namibia. She was sleeping out in a dry riverbed, on her own, on a mattress on the sand, and woke up in the small hours to find a huge bull elephant literally looming over her. “I really did think my last moment had come,” she says. “But in his grace he allowed me to live.”
Our picnic spot is incredibly peaceful. There are no sounds but the soft lament of green spotted doves, the sigh of the dry-weather wind in the palm fronds and the occasional flap of an elephant’s ear, and as we watch more elephants appear, emerging from the forest on the opposite bank to wade across the river towards us.
Family after family make the crossing, some with babies. It occurs to me that being among the elephants of Samburu is as close as one can get to our prehistoric past – a Jurassic Park moment – as they climb up the banks and spread out across the salt bush flats at the foot of Koitogor Mountain.
Afterwards, back in camp, I talk to Frank over dinner as the velvet night closes around us and bats swoop in and out of the lamplight. “The ocean is where I first discovered my passion for conservation,” he says. “But after Saba introduced me to northern Kenya I decided it was time to move ashore and help run Save the Elephants.”
His long-term objective is to help elephants thrive in a modern, developing Africa, but the biggest threat to their survival at present is ivory poaching. Following the Seventies and Eighties when more than half the continent’s elephant population was killed, an international ivory trade ban in 1989 brought a 20-year ceasefire that allowed many populations to recover. Now the poachers are back with a vengeance.
“Since 2006,” Frank says, “we have lost around 90 per cent of the mature bulls we identified in the first eight years of our Samburu study.”
As the poaching gangs become increasingly professional, using silencers and night-vision goggles, STE has also had to raise its game, employing state-of-the-art tracking technology to follow the herds. Radio-collaring an elephant is an expensive operation, costing up to $10,000 (£7,000) if a helicopter is required.
But at last the hard work is beginning to pay off – at least in this very special place of sanctuary. “We now have a new generation of bulls coming through,” says Frank, “and in our core area of Samburu, elephant births are starting to outnumber deaths for the first time since the poaching crisis began in 2008.”
The charismatic creatures vocalize more during cooperative problem solving, a new study suggests.
It’s known dolphins use acoustic signals to maintain contact with one another and find food. Now, a new study shows that they also use them when solving complicated problems together.
While scientists can’t say for certain that dolphins have what humans call a language, the findings suggest vocalizations may play a much larger role in efforts that require cooperation than previously thought, lead author Holli Eskelinen, an assistant director of research at Dolphins Plus in Florida, told The Huffington Post.
“This is the first time that we can say conclusively that vocalizations were used to solve a cooperative task/problem,” she wrote in an email.
In an initial study last year, Eskelinen and other researchers set out to answer the question of whether bottlenose dolphins could cooperate to solve a task, as chimpanzees and elephants have been documented to do. To do so, they presented six captive dolphins at the Dolphins Plus facility in Key Largo with a plastic pipe container full of fish, squid and other treats. The container, with a rope at each end, was designed so that opening it is easiest if two animals work together by pulling from either end.
Four of the six dolphins were unsuccessful in getting to the food. Two dominant males, however, proved victorious time and time again.
It was during further analysis of the original data, Eskelinen said, that the team noticed the increase in dolphin chatter, specifically burst pulse signals, which are most commonly affiliated with social interactions.
“All we can say at this point is that we observed a significant increase in vocalizations during the two animals interacting condition,” she said. “We can’t say with certainty what the vocalizations mean, but we were able to discern that the increase in vocalizations was identified when they were interacting with the apparatus simultaneously.”
Andrew Dewald, a professor of cognitive psychology at the University of Hawaii, however, urged caution when comparing the cognitive abilities of humans to that of a non-human species. While the animals demonstrated a behavior that points to a capacity for cooperation and problem solving, he said, “caution is required here in taking the behavior of sound production being ultimately an indication of comprehension.”
Still, Dewald said it is a “neat paper” and a “really clever paradigm” to get to the question of whether two or more dolphins can communicate in order to solve a problem that benefits all parties.
Eskelinen told HuffPost many people are anxious to show parallels between animals and humans, but using the word “language” when describing the communication observed in dolphins is “very premature.”
“Often times people ask me ‘How smart are dolphins?’ when we should be asking ourselves, ‘How are dolphins smart?’” she said. “The same holds true for their communicative abilities, instead of trying to see if they communicate like humans, our focus has shifted to a more baseline approach of how they communicate.”
Eskelinen added that scientists are “just scratching the surface in understanding the components of each different sound type and what they are used for.”
Dolphins Plus consists of two separate facilities on the island of Key Largo, Florida. In addition to offering several programs to swim with captive dolphins, experiences that start at $150 per person, Eskelinen said the facilities host some 20,000 students a year and are currently involved in more than 50 research projects related to acoustics, behavior and cognition.
Swim-with-dolphins establishments, including Dolphins Plus and SeaWorld, havelong been scrutinized by conservationists and animal welfare groups who say dolphins are dangerous and that it is unethical to keep the animals in a captive environment.
Eskelinen said that while she understands many believe captivity is a double-edged sword, the research being conducted is helping conserve the species and contributing to a greater understanding of these animals and their wild counterparts. In the end, she said, it may help humans better manage our own activities and help protect the species.
“As long as we’re being a part of the solution and not the problem, then this kind of research is important,” she said.