Mysterious Swarm Of UAVs Bomb Russian Military Base In World-First Unidentified Drone Attack

In today’s episode of “Is this real life or viral marketing for Black Mirror?” Russian military bases have been assaulted by a swarm of unidentified, unmanned drones. It’s believed to be the first instance that a drone swarm attacking military has been officially documented.

The Russian Ministry of Defence released a statement claiming their naval base in the Syrian town of Tartus and the Khmeimim Air Base were attacked by a 13-strong swarm of armed drones on the night of January 5, 2018. No one’s quite sure who sent the unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV), especially as they appear to contain foreign-made parts; however, the Russians described the event in the vague terms of “a terrorist attack.” 

“As evening fell, the Russia air defense forces detected 13 unidentified small-size air targets at a significant distance approaching the Russian military bases,” said the Ministry of Defence of the Russian Federation.

“Six small-size air targets were intercepted and taken under control by the Russian EW units. Three of them were landed on the controlled area outside the base, and another three UAVs exploded as they touched the ground,” it added. “The Russian bases did not suffer any casualties or damages.”

Ministry of Defence of the Russian Federation.

In true cyberpunk style, the drones look a bit like a mash-up of advanced technology juxtaposed with cheap and improvised materials. While they are equipped with a GPS-guided navigation system, they are also armed with improvised explosives and appear to be pieced together with wood. The Daily Beast even speculated that the UAVs, or at least parts of them, were bought via social media. Russian authorities now have military experts examining the captured drones to work out who supplied the assailants with the technology. 

Ministry of Defence of the Russian Federation.

The increasing use of drones in modern warfare is part of a trend that is only likely to continue as the technology because more accessible, cheaper, and advanced. That’s something Russia and other governments are becoming very aware of. In September 2017, Vladimir Putin said that he believes all future wars will be fought by drones, explaining “when one party’s drones are destroyed by drones of another, it will have no other choice but to surrender,” according to the Associated Press.

Obscure Syrian militia groups aren’t the only military forces who want to bring drone swarms to the battlefield. Over the past year, China and the US have been busy developing their own drone technology.

Whether you like it or think it’s downright terrifying, the era of swarm drones is upon us.

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A Sinkhole Has Appeared On The White House Lawn And The Internet Is Responding Appropriately

When Trump announced plans to “drain the swamp” even we didn’t think he meant it literally. That is, until a sinkhole appeared on the White House’s North Lawn this week.

Seriously, you can’t make this stuff up.

Voice of America reporter Steve Herman tweeted photos of the sinkhole on Tuesday. Cordoned off with caution tape and two measly cones in the most comical way, the hole appears to be just outside the office of press secretary Hogan Gidley.

“This week I’ve been observing a sinkhole on the White House North Lawn, just outside the press briefing room, growing larger by the day,” tweeted Herman, who later told Quartz it had become “noticeably” bigger.

The National Park Service (NPS), which oversees the grounds, told USA Today it is monitoring the situation and plans to bring in experts.

“Sinkholes, like this one, are common occurrences in the Washington area following heavy rain like the DC metro area has experienced in the last week,” NPS spokeswoman Jenny Anzelmo-Sarles told the publication in an email. “We do not believe it poses any risk to the White House or is representative of a larger problem.”

We’ll get to the science side of things in a minute. First, can we all please take a moment to applaud the Twittersphere for one of its wittiest campaigns yet? even joined the ranks of sinkhole trollers. 

Let’s also not forget that a sinkhole formed just outside Trump’s private estate Mar-a-Lago in Florida last year, issuing a travel alert in the town of Palm Beach. All jokes aside, the sinkhole saga does not illustrate a vortex offering entry into a parallel universe where America’s presidential cabinet has been turned into a reality television show. 

Sinkholes are most common in “karst terrain” where rock underneath the land – such as limestone, gypsum, and salt beds – is easily and naturally dissolved by groundwater. When it rains, this rock is dissolved and water is held in the open space until there is not enough support for the land above to stay intact. The result is a sudden collapse of land that can be small or massive – some sinkholes cover hundreds of acres and are more than 30 meters (100 feet) deep. They can even swallow entire neighborhoods

Washington, DC received more than 15 centimeters (6 inches) of rain over eight consecutive days, about 5 centimeters (2 inches) more than the average rainfall for the entire month of May.

Or maybe Melania had something to do with it. 

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Northeast Blizzard Of 2013 Timelapse

Geoff Fox lives in a small town in Connecticut, just north of New Haven, and like millions of other Americans living in the Northeast, was hit by the big blizzard. But Fox had the premonition to set up his GoPro camera on the backyard decade in timelapse made to capture the action.

The only reason the video ends so early, he claims, is because the snow rose so quickly, it covered the lens. Now, his video is going viral, and has already garnered over 40,000 views in one day. 


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Action! 15 Jaw-Dropping Videos Shot on a GoPro


DARPA’s Neural Interface Will Let Brains And Computers “Communicate”

The U.S. militarys scientific and technological wing, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), is tasked with predicting and constructing the future. Robotic soldiers, artificial intelligence (AI), and vampire drones that disappear in sunlight have all been in development for some time. Now, DARPA has announced that it is seeking to develop an electrical interface between the brain and a computer system, allowing the two to talk to each other.

This isnt DARPAs first foray into brain implants. Only just last year, a project designed to use electrodes within the brain to stimulate memory formation in those suffering from neurological damage was green-lit. This new program, Neural Engineering System Design (NESD), aims to turn a science fiction concept into reality.

The brain operates using electrical signals, which are initiated by the transmission of specific chemicals called neurotransmitters between brain cells. These electrical signals are not too dissimilar to those used by computers, with the key difference being that a computers communication language conventionally uses binary signals, which represents information as a series of ones and zeros.

The brain, on the other hand, is far more complex, with billions of electrochemical transmissions per second translating into thoughts and actions. DARPA recognizes that these electrical signals could be isolated and translated into information that an artificial interface may be able to understand. After all, if they can develop thought-controlled prosthetics, where an artificial limb is in direct communication with the brain, why cant a computer be directly connected to the brain in the same way?

DARPAs Revolutionizing Prosthetics program has managed to develop fairly precise thought-controlled limbs. DARPA

These types of neural interfaces already exist, produced as part of DARPAs Reliable Neural-Interface Technology (RE-NET)program, but they are fairly primitive. Up to 100 implants or channels, each connected to tens of thousands of neurons, are able to record and encode information that a computer can recognize as representing specific neurological activity. However, this data is full of noise, and is frequently inaccurate.

The new project hopes to drastically up the ante: DARPA is hoping to be able to translate and encode information from more than one million neurons simultaneously. Not only that, but they hope to develop a feedback system, wherein the computer interface is able to send electrical signals back to the brain, and stimulate at least 100,000 neurons particularly those associated with audio, visual and somatosensory (touch, pain, pressure, movement) functions.

As with many DARPA projects, the specific aims, goals and technologies involved in NESD are not made explicit. It does admit, however, that enormous advances in many scientific fields are required, including those in synthetic biology, electronics and neuroscience. The issue of making the implants safe to use in humans, and finding willing subjects, also looms large over the project.

In addition, although connecting a computer and allowing it to communicate with up to a million neurons does sound impressive, its worth noting that the average adult brain contains around 86 billion of them so theres a lot of ground left to cover.

This announcement, then, is really about letting the world know that NESD is up and running. Regardless, the ambition is clear to see: DARPA hope to have a working demonstration of the system within the next four years.

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Why X-Ray Astronomers Are Anxious For Good News From Troubled Hitomi Satellite

On February 16, the Japanese Space Agency (JAXA) successfully launched the ASTRO-H satellite from Tanegashima Space Center in Japan. The space telescope named Hitomi pupil in Japanese carried with it the hopes and dreams of astrophysicists from around the world.

Hitomi carried a number of scientific instruments, but the most revolutionary was a device called an X-ray microcalorimeter. Astrophysicists around the world were waiting with excitement for the first observations with this instrument, which was designed to see things like the million-degree gas sloshing around galaxy clusters stirred by relativistic jets from supermassive black holes.

But before anyone could see those first data from Hitomi, a possibly fatal misfortune struck. On March 26, while the spacecraft was executing its first test observations in orbit, JAXA lost contact. The U.S. Joint Space Operation Center detected five pieces of debris in the area and Hitomis orbit suddenly changed.

What happened? We dont know. Its possible that a piece of space junk, or perhaps a micrometeorite, hit the spacecraft. Or maybe an onboard piece of equipment a battery, a piece of scientific payload failed and exploded. Signs point to the latter, since the spacecraft appears to be rapidly spinning. If an explosion caused a leak allowing, say, coolant to escape, this would spin up the spacecraft.

Astronomers use all sorts of electromagnetic radiation to learn about the universe but X-ray spectra remain elusive. Philip Ronan, CC BY-SA

X-ray astronomy dreams

Astronomers use the electromagnetic spectrum including visible or infrared light to study stars, planets, galaxies and the universe as a whole. They have long used prisms and grisms to split the light into its components. Rather than just taking images, this spectroscopy allows astrophysicists to study the composition of objects in space and the conditions of the material that is emitting the light, including whether and how it moves around. Optical spectroscopy, for example, lets astronomers see how the stars in a galaxy move around and how old they are.

X-rays are near the far end of the eletromagnetic spectrum beyond the farthest ultraviolet, but not as far as Gamma rays.

Thanks to our atmosphere, X-rays from space dont reach us at the Earths surface. Thats actually good news, since wed all be in trouble: being constantly bombarded by X-rays leads to DNA damage, cancer and worse. But this also means we need to go to space to see X-rays from the cosmos. Astrophysicists have long wanted to put an X-ray high-resolution spectrograph into space but the goal has so far remained elusive.

Perseus cluster of galaxies as seen by the Chandra X-ray Observatory. The X-rays come from million-degree gases around the galaxy cluster. Giant bubbles and cavities show where the supermassive black hole blasted energy into the gas. NASA/CXC/IoA/A.Fabian et al., CC BY

X-ray astronomy got its start in the 1950s and 60s with the first X-ray telescopes being launched on sounding rockets and balloons. Space telescopes followed, and with these, astronomers could take X-ray images or low-resolution spectra and made amazing discovery after discovery: the first black hole in our Milky Way galaxy; clusters of galaxies bathed in the glow of million-degree gas; all the way to a mysterious X-ray background. Soon after its launch in 1999, the Chandra X-ray Observatory finally resolved that X-ray background into a multitude of growing supermassive black holes in the early universe.

But the history of X-ray spectroscopic measurements in space is somewhat star-crossed. Before Hitomi was ASTRO-EII, known as Suzaku. Suzaku carried an X-ray microcalorimeter, but just a few weeks after launch, the instruments cooling system suffered a series of failures and lost all its coolant. Before that came ASTRO-E, which was lost during launch in 2000 when its M-V-4 rocket failed. And before that, NASA planned to fly an X-ray microcalorimeter on a mission called AXAF-S, which got canceled.

Visions of the hot and energetic universe

With a true high-resolution X-ray spectrograph in space we could finally see so much: we could see the motion, the ebb and flow, of million-degree gas sloshing around galaxy clusters as the supermassive black hole in the galaxy at the center of the cluster shoots unimaginable amounts of energy into it with its relativistic jets. We could watch the final gasps of matter as it falls into a feeding quasar, and see the distortion of spacetime itself due to Einsteins general relativity. We could search for the missing matter which we believe must lurk in the vicinity of galaxies.

Artists conception of the ATHENA X-ray observatory. ATHENA/ESA

The next chance to fly such an instrument isnt for a while. Astronomers can next pin their hopes on the ATHENA satellite, which the European Space Agency has selected as a flagship large-class mission. ATHENA will carry two X-ray instruments, a Wide Field Imager for taking large X-ray images of the sky, and a true X-ray calorimeter which will let us do high-resolution X-ray spectroscopy.

But ATHENA is currently not slated to launch until 2028, and no spacecraft has ever launched on time.

In space, no one can hear you ping

There is still hope for Hitomi: it may be only mostly dead, On March 30, JAXA received two pings from the damaged satellite. This means that at least some onboard systems were still running. Perhaps over a few months, Hitomi can be recovered and still do science.

JAXA has an incredible record in saving troubled spacecraft: they lost and reestablished contact with Hayabusa as it was trying to land on an asteroid, and when Akatsuki failed to enter its planned orbit around Venus, JAXA spent five years flying it through the solar system for a second, successful attempt.

The good news is that before its troubles, Hitomi did take some observations and sent them back to Earth enough to amaze astrophysicists, but far too little to answer all the questions we have.

Kevin Schawinski, Assistant Professor of Galaxy & Black Hole Astrophysics, Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Zurich

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5 Digital Highlights From New York Fashion Week

5-digital-highlights-from-new-york-fashion-week-61fea41d28A model wearing Google Glass backstage at Diane von Furstenberg’s show in Lincoln Center.

Designers didn’t just bring new clothes to Lincoln Center during New York Fashion Week — several introduced new uses for digital technology as well.

Diane von Furstenberg led the pack, surprising in-person and online attendees by showcasing Google Glass — the futuristic eyewear device Google is building — down the runway. Photos were taken backstage using the device, and shared to DVF’s Google+ Page ahead of and during the show.

A short film compiled from video taken with glasses worn by models, Furstenberg and members of her team was released three days later. Tweets about the DVF show were up 160% from last season, making her the third most talked-about designer on Twitter during Fashion Week, according to third-party data from social media agency, Whispr Group.

Beyond DVF’s show, New York Fashion Week, which ended last Thursday, witnessed the appearance of stylish gadgets from the likes of HTC and Rebecca Minkoff. Reporters used short-form mobile video for new kinds of coverage, and several emerging designers teamed up with startup CutOnYourBias to let fans shape their collections. Live streams continued to grow in popularity, with new twists from Marc Jacobs and Oscar de la Renta. For a full roundup, check out the gallery below.

See Inside A Tiger Shark’s Mouth As It Gobbles A GoPro

It’s a pretty exhilarating feeling diving with sharks. As they curiously and elegantly glide by you, there’s that overwhelming sense of both fear and respect. Until they decide that a piece of your equipment is worth a nibble. And by nibble I mean envelop the whole darn thing in its whopping great, razor-sharp teeth lined mouth. But this diver’s GoPro camera survived to tell us the tale, and it’s pretty awesome to see inside the tiger shark’s mouth, even if it is only for a fleeting moment. You can even see the shark’s eyes roll back as it goes for the camera.



What’s particularly interesting is that the shark at first seems very disinterested in the equipment, but last minute he/she suddenly changes direction and ambushes the camera. While they may be highly evolved predators, behavioral observations have suggested that tiger sharks can be pretty lazy. Unlike some more swift and agile species, such as the mako shark, tiger sharks aren’t that maneuverable, and often have to “rely on surprise to catch things” according to marine biologist Mike Heithaus.

It may have come as an initial surprise to the unsuspecting diver, but the curious being gave up the camera pretty swiftly and carried on with his/her day, leaving the diver unscathed (as far as we’re aware) but probably with a racing heart.

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Extremely Tiny “Artificial Synapse” Mimics The Behavior Of Neurons

As we stand on the shoulders of giants, we’ve often looked to technological innovations to take us away from our biological beginnings. Nowadays, though, biology is often inspiring new artificial designs, and a new study led by engineers at MIT have taken this a step further than many others.

According to a new study published in Nature Materials, they’ve been tinkering around in the world of “neuromorphic computing”, which describes technological systems that replicate, to some degree, the human brain. Rather boldly, an accompanying MIT report on the paper explains that the team have created a new “artificial synapse”.

No, the researchers haven’t developed a fully operation human brain using nothing but mechanical and digital components, but they have taken a significant step toward such a lofty goal. Before we dive into what this study has actually accomplished, though, we need to get a few things straight.

First, neuromorphic computing. Conventional computer chips transfer information to and fro at regular intervals. This works fine for the most part, but if we wanted to transfer information whenever we felt like it, rather than at a tick-tock constant pace, we need something else.

Enter, neuromorphic chips. These chips aren’t new, and in fact versions have been around since the 1980s. Instead of using logic gates – which express information using a binary (0 or 1) output, depending on the voltage level – these chips use neuron-inspired blocks.

These allow information to be transmitted in pulses and patterns, independent of any set pace. Information is transmitted on a spectrum, or a gradient, rather than through a binary yes/no system, much like real neurons.

These chips use a lot less energy overall than their conventional equivalents, which makes them more efficient at processing information. Intel have recently made headlines for using these chips to make computing components that “resemble the brain”, but they only resemble one aspect of the brain, to be fair.

So what have the team at MIT done that’s new? Well that all comes down to the aforementioned “artificial synapse.”

Within your brain, and the rest of your central nervous system, you have electrically conductive cells known as neurons. These send information to and from each other via neurotransmitters – biochemical signaling molecules. The junction that allows this connection to happen is called a synapse.

Synapses control the strength of the electrical connection – the flow of ions – between neurons. An artificial synapse would do much the same, and they do exist at present. Right now, though, the material in which they travel across aren’t that good at controlling the current, which leads to inaccurate information transference across neuromorphic chips.

MIT thought they could do one better. They designed an artificial neuron made of single-crystalline silicon, whose atoms are arranged in a particularly ordered way. They found that this allowed for a much more precise flow of ions, and in simulations using handwriting samples, the correct information was transferred accurately 95.1 percent of the time.

Making these synapses wasn’t easy. At just 25 billionths of a meter across, they’re smaller than the Ebola virus is wide.

As you may have noticed, neuromorphic chips aren’t widespread in computing right now. Despite existing for almost 40 years, their true potential hasn’t been realized, and until they can be scaled up, they’ve yet to replace conventional logic gate chips for the most part.

Research like this, however, may change that. Combining the tiny dimensions of these artificial synapses with the efficiency of neuromorphic chips may allow us to design portable neural networks: advanced artificial intelligences we can fit in our pockets.

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A Blob And A Bubble Tell Us The History Of A Supermassive Black Hole

Some astrophysical processes are so slow that we only see a snapshot of whats happing and it is up to astronomers to work out the full movie from it.

In the case of galaxy IC 2497, to help with its reconstruction the researchers had the help of a bubble of gas and a large green blob. The study, published in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society, used a new X-ray view of the galaxy to uncover the active past of its supermassive black hole.

IC 2497 became famous in the astronomy world for sporting a curious little green blob, discovered by Dutch school teacher Hanny van Arkel thanks to a citizen science project,Galaxy Zoo. The blob is called Hannys Voorwerp (Dutch for Hannys object) and the international team believes its the delayed response from a powerful emission from the supermassive black hole.

If the black hole at the center of IC 2497 was growing at a faster rate until 200,000 years ago, it might explain the glow in the distant blob. The voorwerp is like an after image of a cosmic flash.

The latest observationshows that the supermassive black hole is not dormant yet and probably just got quieter. The clue for this is in the bubble of gas that surrounds the center of the galaxy.

The astronomers were able to estimate the temperature of the gas and it is remarkably cool. When materials fallinto supermassive black holes, the gravitational forces heat it up and it begins to emit a lot of light. The light is powerful enough to push gas and dust into intergalactic space forming large spectacular jets.

The team believes the supermassive black hole was in a quasar phase and it was emitting so much energy that it pushed most of the hot gas out, and is now left with the cool gas. Without the hot gas, the supermassive black hole has lost its food source and is slowly going back to sleep.

Understanding all this from a snapshot is definitely not bad.

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