Category Archives: By Daniel Sternklar

Nyan Cat VS Grumpy Cat Animeme Rap Battle

Animeme and Official Comedy published the hilarious Forever Alone VS Overly Attached Girlfriend Rap Battle at the start of the month, quickly garnering over 300,000 views

But the same day, they also published a second rap battle, pinning the meme-popular Nyan Cat up against the overly-blue Grumpy Cat. 

The latest feline-meme rap battle is trending more than ever, and now stands with over 750,000 hits


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Enormous Volcano On Pluto Might Be The Biggest In The Outer Solar System

In the inner Solar System, the biggest volcano we know of is Olympus Mons on Mars, 624 kilometers (374 miles) across and 25 kilometers (16 miles) high. But what about in the outer Solar System?

Well, that record might now belong to Pluto. If a feature known as Wright Mons on this dwarf planet is confirmed as a volcano, it will take the title of the biggest such feature beyond Mars.

Named in honor of the Wright brothers, this massive ice structure can be seen circled by the red ring in the new image above. It is 150 kilometers (90 miles) wide and 4 kilometers (2.5 miles) high and appears to have volcano-like features, including a central depression that resembles a volcanic crater.

This image was returned by the New Horizons spaceraft, part of the ongoing data that is being returned after the flyby on July 14, 2015. Taken by the Long Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI) from a distance of 48,000 kilometers (30,000 miles), it shows features as small as 450 meters (1,500 feet) across.

Color data was provided by the Ralph/Multispectral Visible Imaging Camera (MVIC), obtained from a distance of 34,000 kilometers (21,000 miles).

Wright Mons is located near to a large smooth region called Sputnik Planum.NASA/JHUAPL/SwRI

One intriguing unanswered question is why there is only a smattering of red material known as tholins in the region.In addition, a lack of impact craters suggests that this surface is relatively young, meaning it has changed in the last few million years, possibly due to Wright Mons being active in Plutos late history. Wright Mons also has similarities to another theorized cryovolcano (ice volcano)on Pluto, Piccard Mons, which is slightly higher at 6 kilometers (3.5 miles).

Were not yet ready to announce we have found volcanic constructs at Pluto, but these sure look suspicious, and were looking at them very closely, said Jeff Moore, a planetary scientist at NASAs Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, California, who heads the New Horizons geology team, when the structures were first studiedlast year.

If they are confirmed to be volcanoes that were active relatively recently, it would mean that Pluto likely has some sort of internal heat source. The cause of thisis not known, but it could be the radioactive decay of elements that remain from Plutos birth.

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How Footprint Recognition Software Can Revolutionize Zoology


New software can now ID an animal’s gender and age based just on a picture of a footprint.

This is how it works: Key elements uniquely identifying a footprint are marked on an image, as shown above with an Amur tiger print, prior to algorithmic classification.

Studying animal behavior in the wild usually starts with figuring out just where the wild animals are hiding. Field biologists can use a combination of methods for this, such as radio collars, aerial surveys, and camera traps to remotely monitor animal movement. However, to an expert eye, a well-preserved footprint can also reveal a surprising amount about an animal: its species, gender, age, even its individual identity.

The trick is being able to do the identifying accurately and quickly. Over the last decade, WildTrack, an organization founded by zoologist and veterinarian Zoe Jewell and her husband, Sky Alibhai, has been developing image processing software to detect physical footprint characteristics that are hard for an untrained eye to recognize. The organization’s software is being used to track a variety of animals in different habitats, including Amur tigers in Russia, tapirs in South America, and polar bears in the Canadian province of Nunavut.

Jewell and Alibhai call their method footprint identification technique, or FIT. Professional trackers photograph footprints (with a ruler for scale) and add GPS coordinates. The footprints are then loaded into software that allows WildTrack to match them to a large number of known footprints from captive animals of the same species. Algorithms compare elements of the photographed footprint against those in a database of animals whose age and gender are known.

Jewell and Alibhai got the idea for WildTrack while working with black rhinos in Zimbabwe in the late 1990s. It has taken years of tweaking and tinkering to develop algorithms that reliably recognize footprints of a given species.

An ongoing challenge will be FIT’s reliability (it is currently 90 percent accurate at correctly determining the sex, age, and species). Nonetheless the technique is low cost, relatively easy to use, and noninvasive compared to radio collaring, which requires darting an animal. But FIT doesn’t work well with all animals yet, and is still very much in an experimental stage.

“The zebra hoof is a big challenge because it’s hard to mark different shapes. On the other hand, a cheetah or lion footprint, where you have four toes and a heel pad, there’s lots of complexity there, making it easier to identify individuals,” Jewell says.

Image: Jiayin Gu; Jennifer C.

This article originally published at MIT Technology Review

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You Can Now Access All Of NASA’s Research Online For Free

Geeks and wannabe astronauts rejoiceNASA has announced theyre making all their research publicly available on a new online portal.

The new site PubSpace will put up any research or data thatNASA has funded within one year of publication. That also includes any peer-reviewed scholarly journals and papers, which are often barred by paywalls.

At NASA, we are celebrating this opportunity to extend access to our extensive portfolio of scientific and technical publications, NASA Deputy Administrator Dava Newman said in a press release. Through open access and innovation we invite the global community to join us in exploring Earth, air and space.

The pledge is in light of the government’s request to make science agencies more transparent and accessible. NASA hopesthis increased public access accelerates the spreadof information, fostersinterest, and ultimately advances scientific knowledge.

The European Union recently said they also hopeto make all of their scientific researchfree and accessible by 2020.

Making our research data easier to access will greatly magnify the impact of our research, said NASA Chief Scientist Ellen Stofan. As scientists and engineers, we work by building upon a foundation laid by others.

You can check it all out here:

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Hilarious Photo Of Mike Pence Ignoring NASA’s Warning Sign Gets Brilliant Internet Response

Mike Pence doesnt accept evolution. Mike Pence doesnt eat alone with women. And Mike Pence doesnt give a damn what your sign says.

In what is probably our favorite photo of anything ever, VP Pence was snapped at NASAs Kennedy Space Center touching a piece of hardware that he wasnt supposed to be touching.

Pence, standing in front of a piece of Critical Space Flight Hardware that quite clearly stated Do Not Touch, stretched out his left hand and, yes, touched it. The gloriously weird moment was captured by photographer Red Huber.

We dont yet know what this part of hardware is. And, truth be told, we also dont know if someone said he was allowed to do it. Weve asked NASA to clarify both points. However, this image is really just a great, great metaphor for everything. And the Internet went wild with it.

Pence was visiting NASA as head of the newly resurrected National Space Council, which will kind of like support NASA or something its not super clear. Its also not 100 percent clear why Pence needed to visit KSC in the first place, aside from break a few rules, but he did give a wishy-washy speech about the future of NASA.

Our nation will return to the moon, and we will put American boots on the face of Mars, he said, without giving any actual policy on how theyd do this. Were also still waiting for the Trump administration to announce who will run NASA as Administrator, a position vacated by Charlie Bolden backin January.

Pence made his speech surrounded by various hardware being developed by NASA and private companies to explore space. This includes the Space Launch System (SLS) rocketand the Orion spacecraft.

The American spirit is as limitless as space itself, Pence said in his Trump-rivalling word salad.

And so we will bring that spirit fully to bear on the trials that lie ahead. If we can dream it, we can do it.And under President Trump, we will achieve more in space than we ever thought possible. No, we have no idea what hes talking about either.

In the Bolden days, NASAs overall goal was the often lambasted Journey to Mars, aiming to get humans there by the 2030s. We dont yet know what Trumps plan will be, but itd be good to find out soon, eh? In the meantime, remember to read signs.

Just to prove it’s not photoshopped, you can see the sign in the background of this image. NASA

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How Exploring Mars Could Help Us Fight Climate Change On Earth

The surface of Mars is a cold desert. Scars in the landscape point to a history of flowing rivers, standing lakes and possibly even planetary oceans. Yet the current Martian atmosphere has a density thats around 0.6% of Earths, making it far too thin to support liquid water or life on the barren surface.

At some point in the planets history, however, there must have been a thicker, denser atmosphere, probably dominated by carbon dioxide (CO2). And working out what happened to all that CO2 could help us deal with the increasing amount of the gas in our own atmosphere, which is pushing us towards dangerous climate change.

So where did the Martian atmosphere go? A large amount was lost to space, stripped away by the solar wind. Some has been stored as CO2 ice at the poles, where it remains today. But part of the atmosphere was transformed into carbonate minerals and preserved through the millennia. Using a combination of satellites and rovers, as well as evidence from meteorites that have been ejected from Mars and landed on Earth, we are beginning to understand how this process of mineral carbonation can change an entire planets atmosphere.

Humanity has actually become very good at capturing CO2 from the atmosphere through a wide variety of techniques. Once captured, the CO2 is usually compressed into a dense liquid. The problem comes in storing this liquid safely and stably, over millions of years. One exciting new development is called mineral carbon sequestration. This is the process of transforming CO2 gas into a stable mineral called carbonate.

Filling the cracks. Author provided

Turning CO2 into rock

How does CO2 gas become solid rock? If CO2 gas dissolves in water it produces a weak acid, called carbonic acid. When this acidic fluid comes into contact with rocks known as basalts and peridotites, which contain lots of the minerals olivine and pyroxene, they release charged particles of elements such as magnesium, iron and calcium into the fluid.

More chemical reactions between the rocks and carbonic fluid produce the solid, carbon-rich mineral carbonate, which fills cracks and pore spaces in the rocks. The carbon goes from being an atmospheric gas to a mineral deposit. During this process of alteration, the original rock minerals absorb huge amounts of water into their structure. This hydration causes the rocks to expand and crack, exposing fresh rocks that can also react with the water.

This process of mineral carbon sequestration happens naturally on Earth, particularly in ophiolites, pieces of oceanic crust that have been transported and pushed up onto continental plates. The natural reaction proceeds very slowly, over hundreds of thousands of years, and the carbon extracted from the atmosphere is an important sink for carbon ejected by volcanic eruptions.

Iceland is experimenting with carbon mineralisation. PROThinkGeoEnergy/Flickr, CC BY

But if we can artificially recreate this process, making it proceed at a faster rate, we can more safely store the CO2 we remove from the atmosphere. This kind of mineral carbon storage geoengineering is now being experimented with at a number of pilot projects including Iceland, Norway and the United States.

Researchers in these countries have discovered that the reaction happens much more quickly if the fluid temperature is raised to around 185C. This heated fluid is injected down a borehole to the desired rock formation, where it stays hot because of the natural warmth below the Earths surface and because the reaction itself produces heat.

However, many questions need answering before the technique can be carried out on a large enough scale to be useful against global climate change. Ideally, we will need many hundreds of carbon injection sites, such as the CarbFix facility, dotted across Earths vast basalt wilderness regions. The challenges include fully understanding the chemical reactions between the rock and water, learning how to deploy these reactions fast enough, and more accurately estimating how quickly the CO2 will mineralise and the space it will take up.

Fighting climate change on another planet. NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

Marss loss, Earths gain

This is where we can learn from Mars. There is a near-endless variety of ways that unpicking the chemical evolution of one planet might better inform geoengineering actions on our own. For example, understanding the long-term fate of Martian carbonates and how they interact with the atmosphere and hydrosphere, will teach us how effective this form of carbon storage might be on Earth.

Analysing the carbonates found on Mars, the way reactions have taken place, and how carbon concentrations have changed across the planet, may help us to better understand the process of mineral carbon sequestration. New carbonate types might be discovered that provide clues about carbon-based minerals we think exist but havent yet been found on Earth.

The problem is there this is surprisingly little communication between Mars scientists and Earth climate change specialists. By combining the knowledge of these two groups, we may be able to control our global climate problems by using the planets rocky crust. Mars atmosphere loss may eventually become Earths climate change saviour.

Adrienne Macartney, PhD researcher, School of Geographical and Earth Sciences, University of Glasgow

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Black Holes Burp Might Help In Forming New Stars

Black holes are thought to be world destroyers, but some new evidence suggests that in some cases, they can actually help in the formation of stars.

In the findings, made by the Chandra X-ray Observatory andpresented yesterday at the 227thMeeting of the American Astronomical Society, researchers highlighted the dramatic feedback mechanisms between a galaxy and its supermassive black hole. Thisblack hole has been observed producing outbursts of material, which are compressing gas, and astronomers believe it will induce new star formation.

The galaxy, called M51b, is the small companion of the more famous Whirlpool galaxy. Its a small elliptical galaxy that is slowly being assimilated by its larger spiral companion. When galaxies merge, the strong forces produce intense episodes of star formation and as the gas moves around, the supermassive black holes at their center wake up and start gorging on whatever is around them.

The more material around a black hole, the more energy the black hole releases. This energy creates galactic winds thatthen snuff out potential new stars. This feedback between galaxies, stars, and black holes regulates how a galaxy evolves during a merger.

“We think that feedback keeps galaxies from becoming too large,” said Marie Machacek, a coauthor of the study from the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics (CfA), in a statement.”But at the same time, it can be responsible for how some stars form. This shows that black holes can create, not just destroy.”

The team has detected two enormous arcs of material glowing in X-rays, which were emitted by the black holes several million years ago. Observing the region outside the arcs, they saw cool hydrogen, which is the necessary component for stars to form. The arcs have been plowing material from the center of the galaxy to the outskirts, and now the material is dense enough and cool enough to trigger star formation.

M51b, seen top left, is a companion of the larger Whirlpool Galaxy.NASA/CXC/Univ of Texas/STScI/E.Schlegel et al

Due to their position in the galaxy, the researchers think this is a rare view of the intermediate stage of the feedback process.

“For an analogy, astronomers often refer to black holes as ‘eating’ stars and gas.Apparently, black holes can also burp after their meal,” said Eric Schlegel of The University of Texas in San Antonio, who led the study.

“Our observation is important because this behavior would likely happen very often in the early universe, altering the evolution of galaxies. It is common for big black holes to expel gas outward, but rare to have such a close, resolved view of these events.”

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Particles From Outside Our Solar System Found

NASA launched the Stardust spacecraft in 1999, with a mission to collect cosmic dust as well as dust from the comet Wild 2. It returned to Earth in 2006, and scientists and volunteers have been systematically analyzing images in an effort to identify the materials collected ever since. They have now identified seven particles that could be interstellar dust. A paper about the research has been published in Science, and 30,000 citizen scientists are listed as coauthors. An additional twelve papers will appear in the journal Meteoritics & Planetary Science.

Stars forge elements in their cores through nuclear fusion over the course of their lives, and certain stars shed these elements as interstellar dust. When a star explodes and goes into a supernova, immense quantities of elements are scattered throughout the Universe. This “stardust” provides the basis for elements essential to life, like carbon, oxygen, and nitrogen. Studying the dust particles themselves could provide critical information about how interstellar dust is formed and how it changes over time. 

During its mission, Stardust used aerogel and aluminum foil collectors about the size of a tennis racket to obtain the dust samples. Upon its return, an automated scanning microscope took images of all of the collectors inside of a clean room in order to ensure the samples had not been contaminated. 

In order to analyze the incredible amount of images and locate the particles for study, the Stardust@home project called for volunteers known as “Dusters.” Once a potential particle is spotted by a number of volunteers, a team from University of California, Berkeley verify its existence and can begin testing the dust. These particles are extremely small, ranging from about 0.2-2 microns in width, so finding and testing them is no small task.

“These are the most challenging objects we will ever have in the lab for study, and it is a triumph that we have made as much progress in their analysis as we have,” Science paper co-author Michael Zolensky told NASA

Three of the seven particles that are candidates for interstellar origin have traces of sulfur, which could be problematic. There is some debate about whether or not those compounds could really be found in interstellar dust. However, the researchers have found an astounding amount of diversity between these dust particles in terms of composition, size, and crystal structure. The researchers need to study more particles before any of them can be definitively claimed to be of interstellar origin or not. 

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Can Children Really Be Raised By Animals Like In “The Jungle Book”?

The new Jungle Book movie is now in cinemas, and once again it features the century-old tale of Mowgli, an orphaned boy raised by the inhabitants of the jungle. Apart from the astoundingly awesome fact that Bill Murray is voicing Baloo, the soft-hearted bear, the movies story will never fail to win viewers over thanks to its fantastical take on a human living among a menagerie of exotic animals in the wild.

Although such a complex collection of animals makes for a piece of visually resplendent fiction, you may be wondering if theres any truth behind a boy being raised by wolves. There are various mythological or literary whisperings about babies being reared in this way, including Tarzan looked after by great apes and Romulus and Remus, the supposed founders of Rome, who were also tended to by wolves.

So is there any evidence or science at all behind the tales of the so-called feral children, or is it all just the stuff of legends? Lets take a look.

Once Upon A Time In Ukraine

Oxana Malayas story. Animal Planet via YouTube

Oxana Malaya, as the story goes, was abandoned by her parents in the village of Novaya Blagoveschenka as a 3-year-old child. She was left outside in the cold, so she moved to where there was warmth and food, which in this case was a hovel sheltering dogs eating raw meat. She supposedly joined them and spent five years gradually losing human linguistic and behavioral traits and adopting far more canine ones.

When she was found in 1991, the eight-year-old Oxana was more dog than human, and nowadays she is assigned to a foster home for the mentally-disabled, where she helps out on the farm. Multiple documentaries have been made about her, and although she used to frequently bark, ran around on all fours, slept on the floor, and ate like a dog, she is now able to suppress such behaviors.

The problem is that theres no documented proof of any kind that she lived with dogs in this way. Although her behaviors seem real, this could all be the result of her being mentally impaired, and there would be no way to tell the difference.

Raised By Wolves

A captive Indian wolf (Canis lupus pallipes). Pavan Kunder/Wikimedia Commons; CC BY 2.0

Of the other feral children stories drifting around, one of the most intriguing is that of a boy named Ramuwho, just like Mowgli, was raised by Indian wolves or so it seems.

In 1976, he was said to have been found by wolf cubs, behaving as they did; he even had claw-like nails. The missionaries that adopted him noted that he learned how to bathe and dress, but never to speak. At night, hed raid the nearby chicken coops. He died in 1985, and his obituary made the front page of the Times of India.

An investigation by the Los Angeles Times found that the story began to unravel with weird parallels to the Rudyard Kipling collection of stories the Jungle Book first written in 1894. People at the missionarys retreat, including an elderly lawyer, spoke about another wolf boy called Bhaloo who was found running alongside aggressive wolf cubs, who was adopted by another person in a nearby village.

Ultimately, the tales of Bhaloo and Ramu could not be confirmed. It seems that there are plenty of legends of feral children out there for anyone to peruse, but few of them have documented evidence of their occurrence.

Adoption In The Wild

Chimpanzees are like us in many ways so would they adopt a baby that isnt theirs? Gudkov Andrey/Shutterstock

In any case, the crux of the matter here is not that children can be abandoned and survive in the wild because this does happen but whether animals of completely different species would want to share their resources and even protect someone who isnt one of their own in any way.

Chimpanzees, with their remarkable genetic, social, intellectual and behavioral traits, are seen as the closest living evolutionary cousins to humans, but this doesnt mean theyd adopt a human child. They certainly show empathy and kindness, but theyre also documented as engaging in both murder and warfare, either to displace another male rising up the social hierarchy or to defend their territory, respectively.

Theyre also known to engage in infanticide, as are types of monkeys, bears, penguins, and a whole host of animals. Nevertheless, chimpanzees have been known to adopt other orphaned chimps, both in captivity and in the wild.

Speaking less horrifically, even though they may not kill you, if you dont serve a use to some animals like cats, who see humans as inessential landlords they may simply discard you entirely, leaving you to fend for yourself. These things considered, it seems pretty unlikely that animals would be willing to adopt an alien-looking, resource-swilling human child.

However, there are plenty of cases of animals actually adopting or at least befriending members of other species. Captive dogs have nursed baby squirrels and owls, and one particular captive gorilla has a penchant for adopting kittens, for example. Even the wild has its share of adoptions, including a pod of sperm whales that took care of a deformed bottlenose dolphin.

Researchers have noted that one of the main forms of animal adoption is when a creature adopts a member of its own species, something known as instinctive adoption. Looking after your own is a way to ensure DNA that is at least somewhat similar to yours is passed on to the next generation.

Mutual benefit also helps; in the case of the deformed bottlenose dolphin, it was likely adopted because it made the group stronger overall. As long as you arent taking up too many resources, youd likely be fine, it seems. In many cases, adoption of an individual occurs when a new mother takes on a young orphan, perhaps due to their temporarily higher levels of oxytocin, a hormone known to promote social bonding.

Youre Either With Us Or Against Us

In the wild, mutual benefit may be the answer to this tantalizing question. Peter Batarseh/Shutterstock

With respect to mutual benefit, one tale of feral children stands out: Between the ages of 4 and 6, Ivan Mishukov befriended some wild dogs on the streets of Moscow. He eventually gained their trust completely and became their pack leader; they protected him like he was one of their own, and they all shared food together.

Although its still difficult to verify the truth of this story, theres less skepticism floating around the Internet than usual when it comes to tales like these. So perhaps a young human could be adopted by a wild animal, as long as they pulled their weight in their new society we just havent seen verifiable, convincing, documented evidence of it just yet.

In Mowglis case, it could just possibly be true: wolves have been observed adopting other pups. Tiny humans, though, may be seen as little more than a tasty amuse-bouche.

Main image: The Jungle Book, Disney via YouTube

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