Cosmography Reveals 3D Map of the Local Universe


The three-dimensional structure of the local universe may one day become as familiar as our local geography, thanks to a new generation of maps that reveal our neighborhood’s rich complexity and our place within it.

Image courtesy of Courteois et al.

The geography of our world is one of the great cultural constants. There is hardly a person on this planet who is unfamiliar with the shape of the continents and the way they dovetail together, or who doesn’t know that Earth is a pale blue sphere orbiting the Sun with seven other planets.

When given a three-dimensional model of the solar system, almost everyone can zoom in from beyond the Oort cloud to Earth and then even further — to the street where they live, for example. It is powerful shared knowledge.

But at greater distances, our geographical knowledge becomes a little blurred. Many people will have seen the extraordinary three-dimensional models of the filamentary structures that galaxies form on the larger scales in our universe.

And yet these structures remain strangely unfamiliar. Given an unlabeled three-dimensional model of this large-scale structure of the universe, who could point to the place we call home?

All that should begin to change in the next few years with the increasingly accurate maps that cosmologists are compiling of the three-dimensional distribution of galaxies within universe.

Today, Helene Courtois at the University of Lyon in France and her research team show off this newfound knowledge in a movie (and accompanying paper) that they’ve created to explore the rich structure of our galactic neighborhood.

You can view the movie here.

One of the key questions that this data can help answer is whether the distribution of visible mass in the universe is an accurate reflection of the distribution of dark matter. Courtois and co so that the data shows that this is indeed the case.

The film does a fine job of showing the three-dimensional structure of this space. It also reveals the limitations of human language in describing this complex tapestry. That’s not so surprising given that our vocabulary has evolved to describe a geography that is essentially two-dimensional.

Just how to describe our position within the three-dimensional filamentary structure of the universe is a challenge that astronomers will have to wrestle with in the coming years.

And since this presents a rather different challenge than ordinary geography, researchers have coined a new term to describe this kind of intergalactic mapping — cosmography.

We can expect to see more of these kinds of 3D maps of the universe as the data becomes better and more easily accessible — and as cosmography grows into a science in its own right. Perhaps one day these depictions will appear as familiar to us as the shapes of continents on this pale blue dot.

Image courtesy of William L. Stefanov, NASA-JSC.

This article originally published at MIT Technology Review

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Cat Sticks Tongue Out Whenever It Hears Tape

Cat Sticks Tongue Out Whenever It Hears Tape

Cat Sticks Tongue Out Whenever It Hears Tape

This ridiculous cat video was posted back in the summer, but has only gone viral this month with over 1.5 million new viewsCesiley Trevino‘s cat has a very strange tick. Whenever the kitty hears the screeching sound of tape being unrolled, it sticks its tongue out. Weird. 


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Saber-Toothed Cat Bone Turned Into A Tool 300,000 Years Ago By Our Ancestors

Saber-Toothed Cat Bone Turned Into A Tool 300,000 Years Ago By Our Ancestors

Ongoing excavations at a 300,000-year-old site in Germany known as the “Spear Horizon” have uncovered five teeth and a humerus (front leg bone) that belonged to saber-toothed cats. The marks on the humerus indicate that it was converted into a tool the first evidence we have of a saber-toothed cat bone utilized this way. The work, published in Journal of Human Evolution last month, also suggests that our Middle Pleistocene ancestors used spears not just to hunt, but also for self-defense.

The Lower Paleolithic site at Schningen has yielded several of the oldest well-preserved and complete wooden spears, as well as thousands of fossil animal remains, from giant beavers to water buffalo. In the fall of 2012, remains of a rare carnivore the European saber-toothed cat, Homotherium latidens were discovered in a layer called Schningen 13 II-4. This tiger-sized cat weighed up to 200 kilograms (440 pounds), and its shoulder was about a meter high (just over 3 feet).

After analyzing the five teeth (pictured below) and the humerus fragment (above), University of Tbingens Jordi Serangeli and colleagues found that they belonged to two individual cats, and at 300,000 to 320,000 years old, theyre some of the youngest Homotherium finds in Europe. The teeth, recovered from the Obere Berme (“upper berm”) area of the Spear Horizon, belonged to a juvenile. Their crowns have a black, shiny patina, and theyre partially serrated. The first upper incisor shows 21 serrations per centimeter.

The shaft and an end of a right humerus was recovered from Speersockel (“area with the spears”). It belonged to a strong, mature male, and it shows evidence of impact by hominins (thats us and our extinct ancestors). Several clusters of pits, scores, and scratch marks indicate that it was used in the percussion process as a knapping tool to curate flint artifacts by repeatedly striking a piece of stone. Additionally, there were underlying long, parallel, and shallow scraping marks that crossed weathered, exfoliated surfaces of the bone. That means a hominin likely found the bone, and then cleaned it, removing the remnants of desiccated soft tissue.

Percussors made of horse or deer bones were common at Schningen. However, Serangeli tells IFLScience that this is the only bone of a saber-toothed cat thats been used as a tool, as far as he knows.

The remains of saber-toothed cats have been recovered throughout Europe where hominin remains and artifacts were also found. However, their co-occurrence isnt proof that they overlapped. A humerus with several modifications, on the other hand, unambiguously shows that our ancestors (likely Homo heidelbergensis) and Homotherium were both present in central Europe at the same time.

Furthermore, based on the remains of young mammoths, we know that European saber-toothed cats hunted or scavenged large-bodied mammals. Because of the potential overlap in prey between early hominins and saber-toothed cats, its possible there were conflicts between them. Saber-toothed cats see, smell, and hear much better than hominins, and they move very fast and silently, Serangeli explained to IFLScience. “But the hominins had spears.” Not only were they hunting tools, they were also weapons of self-defense against carnivore competitors.

Photo Gallery

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Rising Number of Drones Dangerous for U.S.

Rising Number of Drones Dangerous for U.S.


Who watches the watchers circling overhead in U.S. skies? A congressional hearing on the possible risks of domestic drones lamented the absence of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and its failure to step up to take responsibility.

Homeland Security officials told Congress that their duties don’t cover the domestic use of drones in the U.S., according to U.S. Rep. Michael McCaul, a Republican from Texas and chairman of the subcommittee hearing of the U.S. House Committee on Homeland Security. But McCaul worried that the agency was “reverting back to a pre-9/11 mindset” with a “lack of imagination in identifying threats.”

“It should not take a 9/11 style attack by a terrorist organization such as Hezbollah or a lone wolf- inspired event to cause DHS (Department of Homeland Security) to develop guidance addressing the security implications of domestic drones,” McCaul said in his opening remarks on July 19.

Today’s usage of drones in the U.S. remains limited to the law enforcement, border patrol, firefighting and weather or scientific research. But the Federal Aviation Administration plans to allow non-government drones to fly nationwide by 2015, starting with the selection of six test sites this year.

Taking Control of Drones

News headlines have highlighted several drone-related threats and security issues. Last week, a man plead guilty to plotting an attack on the U.S. Capitol and Pentagon with remote-controlled aircraft. Hacked drones pose a different danger, as U.S. researchers showed how they could take control of a remote-controlled helicopter during a GPS “spoofing” test in June.

Non-recreational drones more than 18 pounds should require “spoof-resistant” GPS or other navigation systems to foil hackers, said Todd Humphreys, engineer at the University of Texas at Austin. He testified during the congressional hearing as one of the researchers who carried out the June hacking demonstration.

To counter hacking threats, Humphreys recommended that the Department of Homeland Security fund creation of an authentication signature for civilian GPS signals.

The Government Accountability Office previously suggested that the Transportation Security Administration look at the security risks of future civilian drones. Nobody has followed up on that recommendation, said Gerald L. Dillingham, director of physical infrastructure issues for the GAO.

Protecting Your Privacy

A different but equally important issue comes from ensuring people’s privacy in the midst of domestic drone swarms. But no federal agency currently has specific responsibility over such drone-related privacy matters, Dillingham said.

Drones present a new threat to the privacy of U.S. citizens because they can provide cheaper, more extensive surveillance over longer periods, said Amie Stepanovich, association litigation counsel for the Electronic Privacy Information Center, during her testimony about privacy risks. [Laser Could Keep Military Drone Flying Forever]

“Drones could be deployed to monitor individuals in a way that was not possible previously,” Stepanovich said.

Stepanovich advised the Department of Homeland Security to make more information publicly available about its own large drone fleet. She also recommended that Congress pass new laws regulating domestic drone use.

Even William McDaniel, chief deputy of the Montgomery County Sheriff’s Office in Conroe, Texas, suggested that the Department of Homeland Security step up to coordinate federal oversight of drone activities and local law enforcement’s use of drones.

But any responses from the Department of Homeland Security would have to wait another day.

“We are disappointed DHS declined to testify today,” McCaul said. “This is simply another example of how DHS leadership is failing to get ahead of the curve on an issue which directly impacts the security of the United States.”

Images courtesy of Flickr, Defence Images

This article originally published at InnovationNewsDaily

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Essex Lion Shows Up on Twitter, Gets More Than 36,000 Followers

Essex Lion Shows Up on Twitter, Gets More Than 36,000 Followers


A lion may be on the loose in Essex, England, if you believe several reports from citizens who claim they’ve spotted the big cat strolling around the city.

The police took the reports seriously, and were looking for the lion using heat-seeking equipment and helicopters, but they haven’t been able to find it yet. They have since called off the search.

The story took on a new dimension in the realm of social media. Someone opened a Twitter account for the lion at @EssexLion, amassing tens of thousands of followers within hours, before the account was suspended.


This image is also making the rounds on the internet, but the Colchester Zoo experts said it’s not possible to identify the animal due to the photo’s poor quality.

Image credit: Leszek.Leszczynski, Flickr

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NASA Satellite Falls On Car Prank

NASA Satellite Falls On Car Prank

This video from May has recently become popular again now. After a woman asks a kind stranger to watch her car, a man oncrutches fall distracting the kind Samaritan. While the prank victim tends to the fallen man on crutches, pranksters quickly put a fake broken hood on the car with a huge fake satellite on top along with fake smoke. When the stranger turns around they are shocked by what they see, and even more speechless when a black van with men in suits come to take away the evidence. 


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Finalists Exhibit Tech for $465 Million Virtual Border Fence

Finalists Exhibit Tech for $465 Million Virtual Border Fence


After holding demonstrations with select vendors, the Obama Administration is expected to pick a contractor by year’s end for a $465 million high-tech border barrier — a key component of any immigration reform deal.

The eight-and-a-half year Customs and Border Protection project aims to dot Arizona with video surveillance turrets that can spot illegal crossings. The “integrated fixed towers” will supersede an earlier attempt at a virtual fence costing more than $1 billion, the Secure Border Initiative network, that relied on many one-size-fits-all interconnected towers. SBInet, conceived in 2005 and cancelled in 2011, was plagued by malfunctioning cameras, delays and cost-overruns.

“One of the unique and innovative approaches of this acquisition strategy is requiring demonstrations during source selection,” CBP spokeswoman Jenny Burke said. “The program has successfully completed the demonstration phase of the source selection process and is preparing for final proposal evaluation.”

A solicitation for bids in April 2012 attracted more proposals than anticipated so CBP pushed the scheduled award date from September to December, agency officials said this week.

Acquisition policies bar CBP from disclosing the number of submissions and the names of the finalists that presented their technologies. According to federal databases, interested vendors included EADS North America and Rapiscan.

The new tech strategy involves deploying “remote sensors on fixed towers, with communications bringing the sensor information back to a geographic display in a command center,” Burke said.

The system must able to generate maps depicting multiple, simultaneous incidents, according to last year’s solicitation. It should automatically flag any humans traveling on foot, being carried by animals or moving in vehicles. Video must be transmitted in near-real-time to CBP personnel at remote workstations so they can dispatch authorities.

The Senate passed an immigration overhaul late last month that would demand a lot more of this type of technology at a high price point, including 50 integrated fixed towers in Arizona; 33 in Texas and three in San Diego. Other reinforcements would include additional drones, thermal imaging systems and night vision goggles. Combined with law enforcement and physical fencing costs, the total border security tab would be $46 billion.

Odds that the Republican-dominated House will approve the same bill are reportedly low because the majority party opposes provisions granting legal status to almost 11 million foreigners here illegally. But the installation of more surveillance towers has drawn rare bipartisan, cross-chamber support.

Some former U.S. immigration officials say the Senate plan overlooks CBP’s accomplishments in high-tech surveillance during the past five years — accomplishments taxpayers have already paid for.

“There is such a great deal of investment that has already taken place along the border, with a tremendous amount of support, bipartisan support, through the appropriations process,” said Doris Meissner, former commissioner of the then U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service during the Clinton administration. “SBInet really failed and it was a very large expenditure of money, most of which didn’t pay off, but they did learn from it, and they have since been employing these technologies that are available on the market.”

Today’s lawmakers have no real grasp of the ongoing efforts, she said.

The integrated fixed towers project is “an incredible example of the unreality of the debate that’s going on in the Congress as compared to the results and the return on investment,” said Meissner, now a senior fellow at the nonpartisan Migration Policy Institute. “I think that what the Senate has done on border technology is overkill” and largely fueled by politics.

However, government auditors and critics have expressed skepticism that the new plan will outperform SBInet because both initiatives have banked on equipment withstanding harsh terrains.

CBP officials say the second try will use only proven, ready-to-go technologies that can hold up in Arizona’s extreme environmental conditions and that are positioned where cameras have clear visibility.

The recent demonstrations were intended to evaluate each system’s “maturity,” or how prepared the technology is for manufacture and use, according to contracting materials. The trials were conducted to ensure the technology is stable and lives up to what each company proposed.

Image courtesy of United States Customs and Border Protection

This article originally published at Nextgov

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When the News Breaks: 15 On-Air Flubs


An Immense Spiral Arm Could Encircle The Entire Milky Way

An Immense Spiral Arm Could Encircle The Entire Milky Way

Although we’ve known our galaxy is spiral-shaped for almost a century and a half, our idea of what it looks like as a whole often changes thanks to new discoveries made possible by advances in observational techniques.

It was believed for some time that the Milky Way consisted of four arms, packed with clouds of dust, gas and stars, which emanate outwards in an elegant twist from a central region. But back in 2008, Spitzer data suggested that our galaxy actually only has two arms, extending from a large central bar. Now, it seems that our portrait of the Milky Way has changed once again with the discovery of a new segment of a spiral arm. And, tantalizingly, it could be an extension of a distant arm discovered a couple of years ago, which would mean that one of the arms may wrap around our entire galaxy.

This mighty arm, Scutum-Centaurus, winds outward in a counter-clockwise direction from one end of the Milky Way’s bar, passes between us and the galactic center, and extends all the way to the other side of the galaxy. In 2011, two astronomers from the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, Thomas Dame and Patrick Thaddeus, spotted an extension of this arm, which placed it outside of our solar system. But now, new data from the Purple Mountain Observatory, China, could suggest that the incredible arm is even longer than that.

For the study, astronomer Yan Sun and colleagues used radio telescope data to look for interstellar gas clouds that mark spiral arms. Rather than looking for the most common ingredient, hydrogen, which is difficult to detect, they hunted radio waves emitted by the second most abundant molecule in interstellar space—carbon monoxide gas.

The researchers focused on clouds located between 46,000 and 67,000 light-years from the galactic center; for some context, our sun is around 27,000 light-years out. As described in The Astrophysical Journal Letters, the scientists found a total of 72 clouds, including 42 that were previously unknown, which line up along a 30,000-light-year-long spiral arm segment. But that’s not the most interesting part. If it turns out to be an extension of the distant segment discovered back in 2011, Scutum-Centaurus may actually make a full 360o turn around the Milky Way. Considering something like that has never been observed in nearby spiral galaxies, it would be pretty incredible if the proposal holds up.

Illustration of the Milky Way, showing the possible extension of Scutum-Centaurus. Credit: Yan Sun/The Astrophysical Journal Letters/NASA/JPL-Caltech/SSC

“It’s rare,” said Dame. “I bet that you would have to look through dozens of face-on spiral galaxy images to find out where you could convince yourself you could track one arm 360 degrees round.”

While the prospect is certainly exciting, there is still the possibility that this arm is not actually part of Scutum-Centaurus at all, but instead a newly discovered lone segment. There exists a problematic 40,000-light-year-long gap between the start of the new arm and the tail of the 2011 extension. However, it shouldn’t take long for scientists to work out whether the arms do indeed join up, as they can start looking for the existence of molecular clouds within this region. If the segments do indeed connect, then we reside in one truly magnificent and unusual galaxy.

[Via Universe Today, Smithsonian, io9 and The Astrophysical Journal Letters]

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Athletic Cat Is Better At Parkour Than You

Athletic Cat Is Better At Parkour Than You

Athletic Cat Is Better At Parkour Than You

Didga the kitty isn’t your average cat. He’s a nature born athlete. He’s gone viral in the past after demonstrating his impressive skateboarding skills, and stands with over 2.6 million hits! Now, Didga and his owner Catmantoo have teamed up to show off his awesome parkour moves and tricks. Ninja kitty!


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