The largest dinosaur footprint ever has been found in Australia’s ‘Jurassic Park’.

This thing is huge.

On a 25 kilometre (15.5 mile) stretch of coastline in Western Australia, there lies a prehistoric treasure trove.

Thousands of approximately 130-million-year-old dinosaur footprints are embedded in a stretch of land that can only be studied at low tide, when the sea – and the sharks and crocodiles that inhabit the region  – can’t hide them.

 What scientists found there is truly special, according to a study recently published in The Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology.

“Nowhere else in the world has as many dinosaurs represented by track that Walmadany does,” Steve Salisbury, a palaeontologist at the University of Queensland and lead author of the study, says in a video describing the area.

Included among those many dinosaur tracks is the largest dinosaur footprint ever found. At approximately 1.75 metres long (about 5 feet, 9 inches), the track came from some sort of giant sauropod, a long-necked herbivore.

“There’s nothing that comes close” in terms of size, Salisbury tells CNN.

But there’s far more there than one giant footprint.

Dinosaur footprints australia

“We see a unique dinosaur fauna that includes things like stegosaurs and some of the biggest dinosaurs to have ever walked the planet, gigantic sauropods,” Salisbury says in the video.

This was the first evidence of stegosaurs ever found in Australia.

 There are also tracks from meat-eating theropods that walked on two feet and left three-toed prints with shapes similar to those many remember from the film Jurassic Park.

In this case, the three-toed prints have a special significance: in local lore, the tracks belong to Marala, an Emu man who journeyed through the region, giving laws that dictated how people should behave.

Dinosaur footprints

In a press release announcing the findings, Salisbury also describes the various other types of dinosaur tracks discovered.

“There were five different types of predatory dinosaur tracks, at least six types of tracks from long-necked herbivorous sauropods, four types of tracks from two-legged herbivorous ornithopods, and six types of tracks from armoured dinosaurs,” he says.

Dinosaur australia footprints

The University of Queensland researchers were brought in more than five years ago by the aboriginal Goolarabooloo community, who are the traditional custodians of the area and have known about the tracks for many years.

The Western Australian Government had selected the region as a processing site for liquid natural gas, and the local groups wanted experts to help protect the region and show what was at stake.

The area was designated a National Heritage site in 2011, and two years later it was announced that the gas production project wouldn’t happen.

Dinosaur australia footprints

Since no equipment could be left out when the tide came in, the researchers used drones to map the area with digital photography and laser scans.

According to Salisbury, they have spent more than 400 hours out on the reefs.

“It’s such a magical place – Australia’s own Jurassic Park, in a spectacular wilderness setting.

This strange light particle behaviour challenges our understanding of quantum theory.

It’s even spookier than we predicted.

 Scientists investigating how light particles (or photons) experience entanglement on the quantum scale have discovered something entirely unexpected, and it challenges long-held assumptions about the initial moments of what Einstein referred to as “spooky action at a distance”.

When the team created entangled pairs of photons, these particles didn’t originate in the same place and break away as predicted – they emerged from entirely different points in space, which means quantum theory might have to account for a whole lot more randomness than we thought.

 “Until now, it has been assumed that such paired photons come from the same location,” says one of the researchers, David Andrews from the University of East Anglia in the UK.

“Now, the identification of a new delocalised mechanism shows that each photon pair can be emitted from spatially separated points, introducing a new positional uncertainty of a fundamental quantum origin.”

The team figured this out by performing a very simple entanglement experiment called spontaneous parametric down-conversion (SPDC), which involves firing photon beams through a crystal such as barium borate, to generate entangled pairs of light particles.

As Spooky Action at a Distance author, George Musser, explains:

“If you set up the crystal properly, the amplification is so powerful that it turns the noise into a proper light beam. A single incoming beam (typically blue or ultraviolet) can thus conjure up two beams (typically red). This process occurs particle by particle: each blue photon splits into two red ones.”

Here’s a demonstration of the process: URL:

 When the single photons split into two – and this usually only occurs in around one in a billion photons – the pair experience quantum entanglement, a phenomenon where two particles interact in such a way that they become deeply linked, and essentially ‘share’ an existence.

This means that what happens to one particle will directly and instantly affect what happens to the other – even if its partner is many light-years away.

 It was assumed that when the single photons are split into entangled pairs, they emerge from the same point in the crystal, and share properties such as energy, momentum, and polarisation at speeds of at least 10,000 times the speed of light.

But what Andrews and his team found was that these split pairs could actually appear in entirely different parts of the crystal.

“The paired photons can emerge with separations in their origin of hundredths of a micron – despite being entangled,” he told Michael Franco at New Atlas.

“[I]t is as if they were not even born close together in terms of atomic dimensions.”

The question now is, how do we know where those different positions will be?

The researchers suspect that the positions are influenced by individual variations in the photons, and the next step will be to independently confirm this behaviour, and establish a method to predict where the photons could crop up.

There are a lot of questions now up in the air, but one thing’s for sure – photons have a whole lot more mystery to them than we gave them credit for.

As Andrews says in a press statement: “Everything has a certain quantum ‘fuzziness’ to it, and photons are not the hard little bullets of light that are popularly imagined.”

Russia Covered Up a Nuclear Fallout Worse Than Chernobyl, Confidential Report Reveals

“For many years, this has been a secret.”


The director of Russia’s Institute of Biophysics has uncovered a top secret report on the aftermath of a Soviet nuclear weapons test in Kazakhstan during the 1950s, and has handed it over to US journalists.

While the test itself was no secret, the report reveals that Soviet scientists discovered widespread radioactive contamination and radiation sickness surrounding the Semipalatinsk test site, and kept it secret from both the locals and the outside world for decades.

 “For many years, this has been a secret,” Kazbek Apsalikov, director of the Institute of Biophysics in Moscow, told Fred Pearce New Scientist. 

Apsalikov says he recently uncovered the top secret report in the archive of the Russian Institute of Radiation Medicine and Ecology (IRME) in Semey, Kazakhstan, and passed it on to New Scientist last week.

According to Pearce, the report is marked as “top secret”, and outlines “the results of a radiological study of Semipalatinsk region”, where in 1956, a nuclear disaster four times worse than Chernobyl in terms of the number of cases of acute radiation sickness had occurred.

As one of the few reports that happened to evade Soviet censors during the 1950s, the report shows for the first time just how much government scientists knew about the risks of the aftermath, and the extent to which they kept their research from being disseminated to the public.

The report has yet to be made public, but you can see the title page below:

2nd scan 20170316Institute of Radiation Medicine and Ecology (IRME)

For a bit of background on the Semipalatinsk Nuclear Test Site (SNTS) – also known as the Polygon – it’s now notorious as the world’s worst radiation hotspot, where Soviet officials carried out 456 nuclear detonations between 1949 and 1991.

According to a more recent 2014 report by the Norwegian Institute of International Affairs, and co-authored by Apsalikov, 1 million people have been recognised by the government of Kazakhstan as having suffered, “in a broad sense”, from the SNTS.

 The first nuclear test to be carried out in the 18,300-square-km (7,065-square-mile) territory was the detonation of a plutonium bomb on 29 August 1949, that was “almost an exact copy” of the US bomb dropped on Nagasaki four years earlier.

The first atomic bomb dropped from a plane by the Soviet occurred at the SNTS on 18 October 1951, and in 1953, they tested their first thermonuclear weapon.

Experts have estimated that 111 of the tests carried out at the site were conducted on the surface or in the air, between 1949 and 1962.

The Partial Test Ban Treaty of 1963 banned such “atmospheric” tests on a global scale in 1963 because they caused the most contamination of the environment and radiation exposure to the public.

According to the 2014 report, after 1962, all tests at the SNTS were conducted underground in tunnels and shafts.

“One reason – not at least for secrecy purposes – for the initial choice of Semipalatinsk as nuclear test site was the vastness and relative remoteness of the Kazakh steppes,” Apsalikov and his colleagues report.

“But atomic bombs do not restrict their impact to the location of their detonation, and a large population could potentially be affected.”

Case in point: one test in 1956 at Semipalatinsk blanketed the city of Ust-Kamenogorsk, some 400 km (248 miles) away, in nuclear fallout, and put 638 people in hospital with radiation sickness.

That’s more than four times the 134 radiation sickness cases diagnosed after the Chernobyl disaster.

And as recently as 2014, researchers still didn’t have access to information about what ended up happening to those people.

As Apsalikov and his team explain:

“During Soviet times, nuclear tests and their consequences for human health were surrounded by total secrecy. In fact, until 1956, the government did not even conduct studies about the nuclear testing’s effect on the population living close to the test site.

There are no clear statistics available about the acute effects of the testing.

The immediate impetus for health studies came later, in connection with an emergency situation caused by a surface nuclear detonation on 16 March 1956, the radioactive cloud of which reached the city of Ust-Kamenogorsk, 400 km from the explosion epicentre.

The city’s population was exposed to nuclear fallout with radiation doses so high as to cause acute radiation poisoning. In response, the Soviet leadership established a special medical institution and hospitalised 638 persons suffering from radiation poisoning. No information about the fate of these people is available, however.”

But now, according to the newly uncovered report, Soviet researchers investigated conditions at Ust-Kamenogorsk on three separate occasions, the results of which are only just coming to light.

As Pearce explains, the researchers found that a month after another disastrous 1956 test, radiation rates were still up to 100 times what the report classifies as the “permissible rate”.

The report also revealed that scientists who had conducted expeditions to eastern Kazakhstan had recommended the immediate halt of eating local grain, based on “considerable radioactive contamination of soils, vegetable cover, and food”, but this does not appear to have been acted on.

And perhaps the most damning part of the report was the way in which it deliberately misappropriated blame for alterations in the local people’s nervous system and blood composition at the time of the nuclear tests.

The changes “could not be considered as the changes which arose only due to impact of ionising radiation”, the report concludes, and instead should be put down to put sanitation, a “dreary diet”, and diseases such as tuberculosis.

Hopefully, with the release of this report, and the work of Apsalikov and his colleagues, we’ll get some more clarity about what actually happened to the locals during this time.


The World’s Rarest and Most Ancient Dog Has Just Been Re-Discovered in the Wild

The first sighting in more than half a century.

After decades of fearing that the New Guinea highland wild dog had gone extinct in its native habitat, researchers have finally confirmed the existence of a healthy, viable population, hidden in one of the most remote and inhospitable regions on Earth.

According to DNA analysis, these are the most ancient and primitive canids in existence, and a recent expedition to New Guinea’s remote central mountain spine has resulted in more than 100 photographs of at least 15 wild individuals, including males, females, and pups, thriving in isolation and far from human contact.

 “The discovery and confirmation of the highland wild dog for the first time in over half a century is not only exciting, but an incredible opportunity for science,” says the group behind the discovery, the New Guinea Highland Wild Dog Foundation (NGHWDF).

“The 2016 Expedition was able to locate, observe, gather documentation and biological samples, and confirm through DNA testing that at least some specimens still exist and thrive in the highlands of New Guinea.”

If you’re not familiar with these handsome creatures, until now, New Guinea highland wild dogs were only known from two promising but unconfirmed photographs in recent years – one taken in 2005, and the other in 2012.

They had not been documented with certainty in their native range in over half a century, and experts feared that what was left of the ancient dogs had dwindled to extinction.

But maybe they were just really good at hiding?

Last year, a NGHWDF expedition made it to the Papua province of western New Guinea, which is bordered by Papua New Guinea to the east and the West Papua province to the west.

 Led by zoologist James K McIntyre, the expedition ran into local researchers from the University of Papua, who were also on the trail of the elusive dogs.

A muddy paw print in September 2016 finally gave them what they were looking for – recent signs that something distinctly dog-like was wandering the dense forests of the New Guinea highlands, some 3,460 to 4,400 metres (11,351 to 14,435 feet) above sea level.

Trail cameras were immediately deployed throughout the area, so they could monitor bait sites around the clock. The cameras captured more than 140 images of wild Highland Wild Dog in just two days on Puncak Jaya – the highest summit of Mount Carstensz, and the tallest island peak in the world.

dogPregnant female.

new-guinea-pupsHighland wild dog pups.

The team was also able to observe and document dogs in the area first-hand, and DNA analysis of faecal samples have confirmed their relationship to Australian dingos and New Guinea singing dogs – the captive-bred variants of the New Guinea highland wild dog.

Due to the lack of evidence of the species, it’s been unclear exactly how dingoes, singing dogs, and highland wild dogs actually relate to one another, but that’s a question that will hopefully soon be answered, because these animals truly are our best bet for getting a better understanding of canid evolution.

As the NGHWD explains:

“The fossil record indicates the species established itself on the island at least 6,000 years ago, believed to have arrived with human migrants. However, new evidence suggests they may have migrated independently of humans.

While the taxonomy and phylogenetic relationships with related breeds and Australian dingoes is currently controversial and under review for both New Guinea singing dogs and highland wild dogs, the scientific and historical importance of the highland wild dog remains critical to understanding canid evolution, canid and human co-evolution and migrations, and human ecology and settlement derived from the study of canids and canid evolution.”

As far as dogs go, you’d be hard-pressed to find a more attractive one – their coats are most commonly golden, but there are also black and tan, and cream variants. Their tails are carried high over their backsides in a fish hook shape, like a Shiba Inu.

In all of the dogs observed so far, their ears sit erect and triangular on the top of the head.

dog-variantsSome of the wild dog sightings. 

running-dogA wary observer. 

Though it’s yet to be confirmed, the highland wild dogs could make the same unique vocalisations of their captive-bred counterparts – the New Guinea singing dogs.

According to the NGHWDF, there are roughly 300 New Guinea singing dogs remaining in the world, living in zoos, private facilities, and private homes, and they’re known for their high-pitched howls, which they will perform in chorus with one another, and sometimes for several minutes at a time:

 The research into these amazing dogs is ongoing, and a scientific paper on the discovery is expected to be released in the coming months.

And the good news is the researchers are optimistic of the highland wild dogs’ chances of survival.

Local mining companies have been tasked with taking special environmental stewardship measures to protect the remote area and ecosystem surrounding their facilities, which means they have “inadvertently created a sanctuary in which the HWD could thrive”, says the NGHWDF.

Scientists think they have another reason humans became smarter than our ancestors blood.

It’s not just about brain size.

Anthropologists have been curious about the evolution of human intelligence for many decades. The main lines of research have involved archaeological finds concerning the use of fire, tools and so on. The Conversation

But what about looking for evidence in fossil skulls, the place where the brain resided?

The volume of the human brain increased to be about three and a half times larger than our Australopithecus ancestors 3 million years ago.

It is generally assumed that intelligence is correlated with brain size, and the reason for this is that the number of nerve cells in mammalian brains seems to be directly related to brain size.

Our research focused on the rate of blood flow to the brain, which relates closely to metabolic rate because the blood supplies the essential oxygen. If blood flow to your brain is stopped, you will pass out within seconds.

Normally you have about 7 millilitres of blood flowing to your brain each second. Remarkably, this rate changes little, regardless of whether you are awake, asleep or solving mathematical problems.

The brain’s plumbing

The blood flow to the cognitive part of the brain, the cerebrum, comes through two internal carotid arteries, one on the right and one on the left. The size of these arteries is related to the rate of blood flow through them.

 Just as a plumber would install larger water pipes to accommodate a higher flow rate to a larger building, the blood circulatory system continually adjusts the sizes of blood vessels to match the rate of blood flow inside them.

This in turn is related to the oxygen demand of the organ.

If we can measure the size of the large arteries that supply an organ such as the brain, we can calculate the average rate of blood flow with some accuracy.

This principle has been known for a century and its beauty lies in its simplicity.

Size matters

My eureka moment occurred when I realised that the size of an artery can be gauged by the size of the hole in a bone that it passes through.

This meant that the rate of blood flow to the brain could be measured by the sizes of the carotid canals in fossil skulls from human evolution.

It was a nice idea, but it took the enthusiasm of my student Vanya Bosiocic to turn it into a piece of research.

She travelled to museums in Australia and in South Africa, gaining access to priceless fossil hominin skulls to make the measurements.

We found that the size of the carotid canals increased much faster than expected from brain size in 12 species of our human ancestors over a period of 3 million years.

While brain size was increasing 3.5 times, blood flow rate surprisingly increased sixfold, from about 1.2 millilitre per second to 7 millilitre per second.

This indicates that our brains are six times as hungry for oxygen as those of our ancestors, presumably because our cognitive ability is greater and therefore more energy-intensive.

Because the number of nerve cells (neurons) in human brains seems to be roughly as expected for a larger primate brain, our discovery implies that the brain’s substance is more active, probably because there are more connections between the neurons.

Each connection, called a synapse, operates to transmit electrical impulses from one cell to another, usually by the release of a chemical substance from one cell that stimulates or inhibits the production of impulses in another cell.

The cycling of the substances between impulses costs a tiny amount of energy. But considering that the brain contains 80 billion nerve cells and each one has thousands of synapses with other cells, the energy cost mounts up.

The human computer

The human body allocates 20-25 percent of its total resting metabolic rate to the brain, compared with 8-10 percent in other primates and a mere 3-5 percent in other mammals.

Thus we view the brain as a rather energy-hungry supercomputer.

This analogy with an electrical computer is a good one. The greater a computer’s capacity, the more electrical power is required to keep it running, and the larger the electrical supply cables need to be.

It is the same with the brain. The higher the cognitive function, the higher the metabolic rate, the greater the blood flow and the larger the arteries.

The evolution of the human brain is unique among animals. We have looked at the size of the carotid arteries in 34 species of living primates that represent evolution toward the great apes and hominins.

Among these representatives of primate evolution, both body size and brain size increased, but body size increased faster. The blood flow to primate brains increased roughly in proportion to brain size.

Only in the hominins do we see that blood flow increased faster than brain size, which indicates that the brain was not only developing in size, but in usage as well. And that shows our ancestors were getting smarter.

Vitamin D has been linked to autism prevention in animal studies.

The evidence is mounting.

Researchers have found that vitamin D treatments during pregnancy appear to prevent the development of autism in mice, and are now planning to investigate if similar effects can be achieved in humans using vitamin D supplements.

The research is still in its very early stages, but it’s thought that vitamin D plays a big role in early brain development, and previous studies have suggested that vitamin D deficiency could influence the increased size and unique shape observed in the brains of people with autism spectrum disorder (ASD).

 “Our study used the most widely accepted developmental model of autism, in which affected mice behave abnormally and show deficits in social interaction, basic learning, and stereotyped behaviours,” says one of the team, Darryl Eyles from the University of Queensland in Australia.

“We found that pregnant females treated with active vitamin D (a different form than in supplements) in the equivalent of the first trimester of pregnancy produced offspring that did not develop these deficits.”

For some background into the extensive research that’s been done on vitamin D and autism in the past, for more than a decade, scientists have been trying to figure out the significance of animal studies that have linked severe vitamin D deficiency to increased brain size and enlarged ventricles – characteristics similar to those found in children with ASD.

With ASD being such a complex condition, and thought to be affected by a range of risk factors, including genetics and perhaps even environmental conditionssuch as air pollutants and viral infections, this has been particularly difficult to study in humans.

But we have seen hints that there could be something to this hypothesis, not least of which is the fact that vitamin D deficiency during pregnancy has been linked to an array of physical and psychological conditions including schizophrenia, asthma, and reduced bone density.

Then there was that 2008 study by Swedish researchers that found the prevalence of autism and related disorders was three to four times higher among Somali immigrants in Stockholm than non-Somalis.

 The trend seemed to be occurring in Minnesota too, with a separate group of researchers finding that the rate of ASD in the 60,000 Somali immigrants living in the state was comparable to those who had migrated to Sweden.

And it wasn’t because Somalis are genetically pre-disposed to the condition – in fact, it appeared to the opposite.

“It has shocked the community. We never saw such a disease in Somalia. We do not even have a word for it,” Huda Farah, a Somali-born molecular biologist, told Gabrielle Glaser at Scientific American at the time.

The researchers suspected that in both cases, the unusually high rate of ASD in Somali immigrants was down to the fact that they were getting less sun in their new homes than they were in their native country, which would have lowered their vitamin D levels.

As Glaser explained:

“At northern latitudes in the summertime, light-skinned people produce about 1,000 international units (IUs) of vitamin D per minute, but those with darker skin synthesise it more slowly, says Adit Ginde, an assistant professor at the University of Colorado Denver School of Medicine. Ginde recommends between 1,000 to 2,000 IUs per day.”

Fast-forward to 2016, when an international team of researchers published a paper that also highlighted a link between vitamin d deficiency during pregnancy and autism.

Looking at blood samples from 4,229 pregnant women and their children, the researchers found that those with lower than average vitamin D levels at 20 weeks’ gestation were more likely to have a child with autistic traits by the age of six.

The team reported that pregnant women who were deficient in vitamin D had “significantly higher” scores on established autism scales than those with average vitamin D levels.

“Just as taking folate in pregnancy has reduced the incidence of spina bifida, the results of this study suggest that prenatal vitamin D supplements may reduce the incidence of autism,” lead researcher John McGrath told ABC at the time.

Now, the University of Queensland team has similar results, this time based on mouse models.

They treated pregnant mice in the equivalent of their first trimester with the active hormonal form of vitamin D, and tested the behaviour of their offspring as they developed.

Behavioural studies, maze tests, social interactions, fear conditioning, and marble burying activities were all administered to assess the mouse pups’ anxiety, sociability, stereotyped behaviour (repetitive movements like pacing and rocking) and emotional learning and memory.

They found no signs of behaviours that would be linked to ASD in any of the mice.

“The present study tested the hypothesis that maternal administration of the active vitamin D hormone … would prevent autism-relevant behavioural abnormalities,” the team reports in their paper.

“Our data support this hypothesis by showing that maternal vitamin D co-administration blocked the emergence of the ASD-relevant deficits in social interaction, stereotyped behaviour, and emotional learning and memory.”

The team also disproved a promising hypothesis for why lower vitamin D levels appear to be linked to higher autism risk – they found no evidence that the vitamin had a protective anti-inflammatory effect during brain development in the womb.

Of course, attempting to replicate the results in humans is going to be complicated. For one thing, the active vitamin D hormone used by the team cannot be given to pregnant women, because it could risk the skeletal development of the foetus.

But they suggest that cholecalciferol – the vitamin D supplement form that is safe for pregnant women to take – could have similar preventative effects.

“Recent funding will now allow us to determine how much cholecalciferol … is needed to achieve the same levels of active hormonal vitamin D in the bloodstream,” says one of the team, Wei Luan.

“This new information will allow us to further investigate the ideal dose and timing of vitamin D supplementation for pregnant women.”

To be clear, we’re still way too early on in the research process for anyone to be changing their behaviour during pregnancy based on these results – if you’re worried about your vitamin D levels, go see your doctor for personalised medical advice.

But the study is yet another piece of the puzzle that could help us understand at least one of the potential risk factors for a very complicated condition, and that could make all the difference in the future.

As autism expert Andrew Whitehouse from the Telethon Kids Institute, who was not involved in the 2016 study, told The Guardian:

“There are likely dozens, if not hundreds, of different mechanisms that can lead to autism. Now this study gives us an inkling of one possible mechanism, but before we think about anything, we need to see a replication of this finding.

What we know is that vitamin D during pregnancy is very important for how the baby develops.”

Stephen Hawking Just Announced He’s Going to Space

“I said yes immediately.”

 Stephen Hawking, the world’s most renowned physicist and cosmologist, stated today that he is, in fact, heading to space – and it’s happening all thanks to the Virgin group (and a bit of modern technology).

In a statement back in 2015, Sir Richard Branson, founder of the Virgin group, said that, one day, he hoped to be able to carry Hawking to the stars.

 In the statement, Branson noted that this offer came as a result of the great respect and admiration that he has for Hawking:

“Professor Stephen Hawking is one of the people I admire most in the world, an undisputed genius who has opened our eyes to the wonders of the universe, while also happening to be a kind and delightful man. He is the only person I have given a free ticket with Virgin Galactic, and he is signed up to fly as a Future Astronaut with us if his health permits it.”

At 75 years of age, Hawking won’t be the oldest astronaut ever (that designation belongs to John Glenn, who went to space at the age of 77), but he will be the first person to go to space with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) – also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease.

ALS is a motor-neuron disease that generally leads to death within five years of the initial diagnosis. Hawking’s condition was first diagnosed when he was 21, and he was not expected to see his 25th birthday.

Fast-forward 50 years, and here we are.

Traveling to space, of course, is risky business, even more so when health concerns come into play. Now, it seems that Hawking is set to go.

 Hawking’s voyage to space will also give scientists an opportunity to study the effects of ALS in new ways, such as how it operates in zero-gravity.

When discussing the anticipated event, Hawking told Good Morning Britain that he never dreamed he’d have such an opportunity, and that he “said yes immediately”.

Hawking continued by noting that he looks forward to the voyage with great anticipation, comparing flying into space to the same joy that his three children have brought him.

During the discussion, he stated, “My three children have brought me great joy – and I can tell you what will make me happy, to travel in space.”

Of course, space is one thing, but this isn’t the first time Hawking experienced Zero-G…

A New Age in Flight

Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo is a reusable, winged spacecraft designed to carry up to eight people (including two pilots) into space, and the link between Hawking and Virgin Galactic isn’t exactly new.

Just last year, Hawking unveiled the name of the SpaceShipTwo craft, the VSS Unity.

During a 4-minute recorded video, Hawking explained that the Unity:

“Will help bring new meaning to our place on Earth and to our responsibilities as its stewards, and it will help us to recognize our place and our future in the cosmos – which is where I believe our ultimate destiny lies.”

Ultimately, Hawking has long been an advocate of commercial spaceflight, and to this end, he notes that he greatly admires Virgin Galactic’s role in democratising space, specifically, he clarified his “respect for enabling more of humanity to experience the true wonder of space”.

I have said in the past ‘Look up at the stars and not down at your feet’, but I believe that ‘looking up’ will no longer be a requirement to see the universe in all its glory.

In Hawking’s interview with Good Morning Britain, he focused on the importance of the unifying power of space exploration, especially in terms of bringing together governments from across the globe and inspiring future generations.

As Alan Stern, head of the New Horizons mission to Pluto, famously stated, enterprises like this are worthy for a number of reasons, but that, for him, two stick out in particular:

“Beyond the obvious – that we’re creating new knowledge – we create a greater society. We do something which is, in the case of great exploration, historic. It’s something people read about, not just days and weeks later, but decades and centuries later.

It makes a mark for our time of what we aspire to be, which is a greater society.”

In short, the things that we invest in (whether that is sports, or war, or science) are a direct reflection of both the values that we hold and the society that we are currently building.

And as is clear from this revelation, Hawking truly believes in going where no one’s gone before – or at least, only very few people.

WAtch the video. URL:

We’ll Probably Have to Genetically Augment Our Bodies to Survive Mars

The real cost of a one-way ticket to the Red Planet.


When it comes to space travel, there’s no shortage of enthusiasm to get humans to Mars, with Space X’s Elon Musk saying his company could take passengers to the Red Planet by 2025, and NASA being asked by Congress to achieve the mission by 2033.

But while making the trip could be technologically feasible in the next decade or two, are humans really physically and psychologically ready to abandon Earth and begin colonising the Red Planet?

 Nope, not a chance, according to a recent paper by cognitive scientist Konrad Szocik from the University of Information Technology and Management in Poland.

Szocik argues that no amount of year-long Martian simulations on Earth or long-duration stays aboard the International Space Station (ISS) could prepare human astronauts for the challenges that Mars colonisation would provide.

“We cannot simulate the same physical and environmental conditions to reconstruct the Martian environment, I mean such traits like Martian microgravitation or radiation exposure,” Szocik told Elizabeth Howell at Seeker.

“Consequently, we cannot predict [the] physical and biological effects of humans living on Mars.”

In a recent article, Szocik and his co-authors discussed some of the political, cultural, and personal challenges Mars colonists would face, and in a nutshell, the team doesn’t think human beings could cut it on the Red Planet – not without making changes to our bodies to help us more easily adapt to the Martian environment.

“My idea is that [the] human body and mind is adapted to live in the terrestrial environment,” Szocik told Rae Paoletta at Gizmodo.

 “Consequently, some particular physiological and psychological challenges during [the] journey and then during living on Mars probably will be too difficult for human beings to survive.”

While NASA astronaut Scott Kelly and Russian cosmonaut Mikhail Kornienko famously spent a year on the ISS – the ordeal was not without significant physiological effects and pains resulting from so much time living in space.

But those hardships would be much less than what travellers to Mars would experience, who would be making much longer journeys – and not knowing when or if they could ever return to Earth.

“These first astronauts will be aware that after the almost one-year journey, they will have to live on Mars for at least several years or probably their entire lives due to the fact that their return will most likely be technologically impossible,” the authors explain.

“Perhaps these first colonisers will know that their mission is a ‘one way ticket’.”

The researchers acknowledge that inducing travellers into a coma-like state might make the voyage itself more bearable, but once they’ve arrived, colonists will be faced with an environment where artificial life support is a constant requirement – that is, until some far-off, future terraforming technology can make Mars’ arid and freezing environment hospitable.

Until that happens, the researchers think that humanity’s best prospects for living on Mars would involve some kind of body or genetic altering that might give us a fighting chance of survival on a planet we’ve never had to evolve on.

“We claim that human beings are not evolutionally adapted to colonise cosmic environments,” the authors explain.

“We suggest that the best solution could be the artificial acceleration of the biological evolution of the astronauts before they start their space deep mission.”

While the team doesn’t provide details of what that would entail in their paper, Szocik told Gizmodo that “permanent solutions like genetical and/or surgical modifications” could make colonists capable of surviving on Mars in ways that unaltered humans can’t.

According to NASA’s former chief scientist for human research, Mark J. Shelhamer, while these ideas may be interesting and help further the discussion about what it will take for humans to adapt to Mars’ environment, once talk turns to genetics, you run into a minefield of other potential issues.

“Already, people have suggested selecting astronauts for genetic predisposition for such things as radiation resistance,” says Shelhamer.

“Of course, this idea is fraught with problems. For one, it’s illegal to make employment decisions based on genetic information. For another, there are usually unintended consequences when making manipulations like this, and who knows what might get worse if we pick and choose what we think needs to be made better.”

Those sound like pretty fair points – especially considering Szocik goes as far as to suggest that “human cloning or other similar methods” might ultimately be necessary to sustain colony populations over generations without running the risk of in-breeding between too few colonists.

Clearly, there’s a lot to work out here, and while some of the researchers’ ideas are definitely a bit out there, we’re going to need to think outside the box if we want to inhabit a planet that at its closest is about 56 million km (33.9 million miles) away.

For his part, Shelhamer is confident that the right kind of training will equip human travellers for the ordeals of their Mars journey – and if current estimateson when we can expect to see this happen are correct, we won’t have too long to wait to see if he’s right.

“I think we can give astronauts the tools – physical, mental, operational – so that they are, individually and as a group, resilient in the face of the unknown,” he told Gizmodo.

“What kind of person thrives in an extreme environment? What types of mission structures are in place to help that person? This needs to be examined systematically.”

This Gigantic Ring of Galaxies Could Bring Einstein’s Gravity Into Question

Moving way too fast for current physics to explain.


Scientists have discovered that a gigantic ring of galaxies stretching 10 million light-years wide is speeding away from our own galaxy so fast, our current physics models can’t explain it.

Describing the structure as expanding rapidly like a “mini Big Bang”, the team thinks it was formed by a near-miss between the Milky Way and our neighbouring galaxy, Andromeda, which created a ‘sling-shot’ of several smaller galaxies. The only problem is the result is at odds with the conditions predicted by Einstein’s theory of relativity.

 “If Einstein’s gravity were correct, our galaxy would never come close enough to Andromeda to scatter anything that fast,” says one of the team, Hongsheng Zhao from the University of St Andrews in Scotland.

Zhao and his team have been investigating the movements of a ring of small galaxies in the Local Group region of the Universe – a group of at least 54 galaxies, which has its two largest galaxies, the Milky Way and the Andromeda Galaxy, roughly at its centre.

The Milky Way is currently about 2.5 million light-years away from Andromeda, but our neighbouring galaxy is careening towards us at speeds of roughly 402,336 km/h (250,000 mph).

Based on Einstein’s theory of relativity, astronomers estimate that 3.75 billion years from now, the Milky Way and Andromeda will collide, and in the billions of years that follow, the two will be ripped apart to form a brand new galaxy.

But have these two galaxies already experienced a near-miss?

Back in 2013, Zhao and his colleagues suggested that 7 to 11 billion years ago, the Milky Way and the Andromeda Galaxy came scarily close to each other, resulting a “tsunami-like wake” in space that would have flung smaller galaxies out into their current positions.

 You can see a more recent example of this in the image at the top of the page, showing a near-miss of two spiral galaxies, NGC 5426 and NGC 5427.

Having investigated this hypothesis further, the team now says the current velocities of these galaxies agree with this scenario – they appear to be speeding away from us so fast, our current physics models can’t explain it.

“The high galactocentric radial velocities (GRVs) of some Local Group galaxies must have been caused by forces acting on them that our model does not account for,” they conclude in their paper.

Not only that, but these galaxies exist on the exact same plane of the Universe as the Milky Way and the Andromeda Galaxy, which is unlikely to be a coincidence, they argue.

“The ring-like distribution is very peculiar. These small galaxies are like a string of raindrops flung out from a spinning umbrella,” says one of the researchers, Indranil Banik.

“I found there is barely a 1 in 640 chance for randomly distributed galaxies to line up in the observed way. I traced their origin to a dynamical event when the Universe was only half its present age.”

The problem with this scenario is that not only does Einstein’s theory of relativity fail to explain the velocities of these galaxies, it also states that this near-miss should have resulted in the merge of the Milky Way and the Andromeda Galaxy billions of years ago – which obviously never happened.

The reason our current models of gravity require this to have happened is because of one of the most controversial parts of Einstein’s theory – dark matter.

Einstein’s theory of relativity is about as robust as theories get in terms of predicting the behaviour of our Universe, but several major gravitational effects cannot be explained unless we shoehorn this strange and frustratingly elusiveform of matter into the mix.

Thought to make up more than 80 percent of the mass of the entire Universe, dark matter has yet to be directly observed, and it’s not for a lack of effort – a recent US$10 million experiment to find traces of dark matter particles failed to find anything after an exhaustive 20-month search.

But the way that light bends as it travels through the cosmos, and the peculiar way galaxies rotate, cannot be explained without the influence of dark matter in the Universe.

According to Zhao and his team, we could be looking at two possibilities here – either Einstein’s theory of relativity is fine, and there’s some other explanation for why this galaxy ring is speeding so fast (and why we haven’t been able to detect dark matter), or our current model of gravity needs to be revised.

“Several aspects of the spatial distribution of these galaxies would be expected to occur if there was a past close MW-M31 flyby,” the team concludes in a second study released on their latest findings.

“Such an event only makes sense in the context of certain modified gravity theories, where galaxies lack massive dark matter halos and their associated dynamical friction in close encounters, which would otherwise cause a merger.”

The hypothesis recalls another recent paper that argued our current understanding of gravity is wrong.

Last year, physicist Erik Verlinde from the University of Amsterdam suggested that gravity isn’t a fundamental force of nature at all, but is instead an ’emergent phenomenon’ of something we’ve yet to define – just as temperature is an emergent phenomenon of the movement of particles.

As Fiona MacDonald reported for us at the time, Verlinde argues that if we only proposed dark matter to make up for an inconsistency with gravity, then maybe the issue isn’t dark matter at all – maybe the problem is that we don’t really understand how gravity works.

To be clear, both Zhao’s team and Verlinde’s conclusions are just hypotheses right now, and we have a long way to go before we start tearing apart the foundations of modern physics.

But no one can deny that there are some serious holes in our current understanding of the Universe, not least of which is the fact that gravity and other aspects of general relativity don’t gel with quantum mechanics, which has led researchers to seek out a new ‘theory of everything’ that bridges the gap between the two.

When they were investigating the hypothesised ‘near-miss’ of Andromeda and the Milky Way back in 2013, Zhao and his team found that a different model of gravitational behaviour – known as Milgrom’s Modified Newtonian Dynamics(MOND) – explained the movements of nearby galaxies better than the standard model of physics did.

We’ll have to wait and see where all this leads, but it’s pretty cool to think that we’re likely to see some big things happen in theoretical physics in the decades to come – whether Einstein was right or not.

Millions of Smartphones Could Be Vulnerable to Hacking via Sound Waves

Scientists have found a new vulnerability in a common tech component, uncovering a security flaw that could expose potentially millions of smartphones, fitness wearables, and even cars to hacking.

By using sound waves, researchers have figured out how to trick accelerometers – the tiny sensors in gadgets that detect movement – into registering a fake motion signal, which hackers could exploit to take control of our devices.


“It’s like the opera singer who hits the note to break a wine glass, only in our case, we can spell out words,” computer scientist Kevin Fu from the University of Michigan told The New York Times.

“You can think of it as a musical virus.”

The sensors that Fu’s team investigated are called capacitive MEMS accelerometers, which register the rate of change in an object’s speed in three dimensions.

It’s these sensors that can tell which way you’re holding or tilting your smartphone or tablet, and count the steps you take using an activity tracker.

But they’re not just used in consumer gadgets – they’re also embedded in the circuits of things like medical devices, vehicles, and even satellites – and we’re becoming more reliant on them all the time.

“Thousands of everyday devices already contain tiny MEMS accelerometers,” Fu explains in a press release.

“Tomorrow’s devices will aggressively rely on sensors to make automated decisions with kinetic consequences.”

But accelerometers have an Achilles heel: sound. By precisely tuning acoustic tones to the right frequency, Fu’s team was able to deceive 15 out of 20 different models of accelerometers from five different manufacturers, and control output from the devices in 65 percent of cases.

Accelerometers may enable some high-tech functionalities, but the principle is fundamentally simple – using a mass suspended on springs to detect changes in speed or direction. But those measurements can effectively be forged if you use the right sonic frequency to fool the tech.

“The fundamental physics of the hardware allowed us to trick sensors into delivering a false reality to the microprocessor,” Fu explains.

Once they figured out what the frequencies were to manipulate the sensors, they were able to trick a Fitbit into counting thousands of steps that were never taken; pilot a toy car by taking control of a smartphone app; and even use a music file to make a Samsung Galaxy S5 crudely write out a word (“Walnut”) in a graph of its accelerometer readings.

The tech used to hijack these devices wasn’t high-end audio gear either. In one case, the researchers used a US$5 external speaker; in another, a smartphone played a sound file on its own internal speaker and effectively hacked itself.

While all these proofs-of-concept were fairly harmless demonstrations of the technique, the researchers warn that it could easily be used for malicious and potentially very dangerous purposes.

“If a phone app used the accelerometer to start your car when you physically shake your phone, then you could intentionally spoof the accelerometer’s output data to make the phone app think the phone is being shaken,” one of the team, Timothy Trippel, told Gizmodo.

“The phone app would then send the car a signal to start.”

The research is due to be presented at the IEEE European Symposium on Security and Privacy in Paris in April, and while the study hasn’t yet been peer-reviewed, the findings are being treated seriously.

As John Markoff at The New York Times reports, the US Department of Homeland Security is expected to issue a security alert in relation to the specific sensors documented in the paper.

The manufacturers involved were separately forewarned of the vulnerability before the researchers went public with their findings this week.

Now that we know about the security flaw, hopefully researchers and technology companies will be able to work together and find a means of patching up the weak spot.

As technological devices get ever more powerful and independent, it’s crucial that they can’t be puppeteered by something as rudimentary as sound waves overriding their fundamental components.

“Humans have sensors, like eyes, ears, and a nose,” says Trippel.

“We trust our senses and we use them to make decisions. If autonomous systems can’t trust their senses, then the security and reliability of those systems will fail.”

Watch the video discussion.URL: