Ice Age Cave Bear Found Exquisitely Preserved in Siberian Permafrost

By George Dvorsky

Reindeer herders working on Bolshoy Lyakhovsky Island in arctic Russia have stumbled upon an incredibly well-preserved cave bear, in what scientists say is a discovery of “world importance.”

When it comes to studying extinct cave bears, paleontologists have traditionally dealt with scattered bones and the odd skull. That’s why this new discovery is so important, as the body of the adult cave bear is “completely preserved” with “all internal organs in place including even its nose,” as scientist Lena Grigorieva explained in a North-Eastern Federal University (NEFU) press release describing the specimen. The finds are of “great importance for the whole world,” she added.

The carcass—now the only known fully intact adult cave bear—was discovered by reindeer herders on the island of Bolshoy Lyakhovsky, which is located in arctic Russia between the Laptev Sea and the East Siberian Sea. Bolshoy Lyakhovsky is the largest of the Lyakhovsky Islands—a part of the New Siberian Islands archipelago.

Cave bears (Ursus spelaeus) went extinct just prior to the end of the last ice age some 15,000 years ago, though possibly as early as 27,800 years ago. Cave bears and modern bears diverged from a common ancestor around 1.2 million to 1.4 million years ago. They were quite large, weighing upwards of 1,540 pounds (700 kg), and were possibly omnivorous.

A preliminary estimate places the age of the newly discovered cave bear at between 22,000 and 39,500 years old. This large window needs to be constrained, and that’ll hopefully be accomplished by a radiocarbon analysis, as senior researcher Maxim Cheprasov from the Mammoth Museum laboratory in Yakutsk explained in the NEFU press release.

The remains will be studied by NEFU researchers in Yakutsk, along with Russian colleagues and international collaborators who will be invited to join the study. Possibilities for research are wide open: isotopic analysis of teeth could point to diet and geographical range; DNA analysis could offer new insights into its evolutionary history and unique genetic traits; and an analysis of its stomach contents could likewise shed light on its diet. It would be good to know, for example, if this beast was an obligate herbivore or an opportunistic omnivore like the modern brown bears it resembles.

In a separate but related discovery, a well-preserved cave bear cub was found on the mainland of Yakutia. Indeed, discoveries from arctic Russia seem to be increasing in frequency as the permafrost melts in Siberia. Recently, ice age lion cubs were found in Yakutsk, and an analysis of their DNA revealed more about the family tree of these extinct creatures.

https://gizmodo.com/ice-age-cave-bear-found-exquisitely-preserved-in-siberi-1845061915

Poor Sleep Linked with Future Amyloid-β Build Up

by Abby Olena

There’s evidence in people and animals that short-term sleep deprivation can change the levels of amyloid-β, a peptide that can accumulate in the aging brain and cause Alzheimer’s disease. Scientists now show long-term consequences may also result from sustained poor sleep. In a study published September 3 in Current Biology, researchers found that healthy individuals with lower-quality sleep were more likely to have amyloid-β accumulation in the brain years later. The study could not say whether poor sleep caused amyloid-β accumulation or vice versa, but the authors say that sleep could be an indicator of present and future amyloid-β levels.

“Traditionally, sleep disruptions have been accepted as a symptom of Alzheimer’s disease,” says Ksenia Kastanenka, a neuroscientist at Massachusetts General Hospital who was not involved in the work. Her group showed in 2017 that improving sleep in a mouse model of Alzheimer’s disease, in which the animals’ slow wave sleep is disrupted as it usually is in people with the disease, halted disease progression.

Collectively, the results from these studies and others raise the possibility that “sleep rhythm disruptions are not an artifact of disease progression, but actually are active contributors, if not a cause,” she says, hinting at the prospect of using these sleep measures as a biomarker for Alzheimer’s disease.

As a graduate student at the University of California, Berkeley, Joseph Winer, who is now a postdoc at Stanford University, and his colleagues were interested in whether or not sleep could predict how the brain changes over time. They collaborated with the team behind the Berkeley Aging Cohort Study, which includes a group of 32 cognitively healthy adults averaging about 75 years of age. They participated in a sleep study, then had periodic cognitive assessments and between two and five positron emission tomography (PET) scans to check for the presence of amyloid-β in their brains for an average of about four years after the sleep study.

The researchers found at their baseline PET scan, which happened within six months of their sleep study, that 20 of the 32 participants already had some amyloid-β accumulation, which was not unexpected based on their average age. They also showed that both slow wave sleep, an indicator of depth of sleep, and sleep efficiency, the amount of time sleeping compared to time in bed, were both predictive of the rate of amyloid change several years later. In other words, people with lower levels of slow wave sleep and sleep efficiency were more likely to have faster amyloid build up.

The subjects all remained cognitively healthy over the duration of the study, says Winer. “We do expect that they’re at higher risk for developing Alzheimer’s in their lifetime because of the amyloid plaque.”

The strengths of the study include the well-characterized participants with detailed sleep assessments, as well as cognitive testing and longitudinal amyloid PET imaging, says Brendan Lucey, a sleep neurologist at Washington University in St. Louis who did not participate in the work.

There are still open questions about the link between sleep and amyloid deposition over time. “Amyloid accumulation on PET increases at different rates in amyloid-negative and amyloid-positive individuals, and even within amyloid-positive individuals,” Lucey explains. “Without adjusting for participants’ starting amyloid [levels], we don’t know if some participants would have been more likely to have increased amyloid compared to others, independent of sleep.”

“It is very hard to untangle this question of baselines,” acknowledges Winer. Because the sleep measures the team identified in the study are related to amyloid levels, to actually tease apart the effect of sleep quality on amyloid deposition and vice versa, it’d be necessary to study people starting as early as their fifties, when they’re much less likely to have amyloid accumulation, he says.

This study is “a great start,” David Holtzman, a neurologist and collaborator of Lucey at Washington University in St. Louis who did not participate in the work, tells The Scientist. In addition to controlling for the amount of amyloid deposition that is present in a subject’s brain at the beginning of the study, it would be important to see if the findings bear out in larger numbers of people and what role genetic factors play.

“The most important question down the road is to test the idea in some sort of a treatment paradigm,” Holtzman adds. “You can do something to improve the quality of sleep or increase slow wave sleep, and then determine if it actually slows down the onset of Alzheimer’s disease clinically.”

J.R. Winer et al., “Sleep disturbance forecasts β-amyloid accumulation across subsequent years,” Current Biology, doi:10.1016/j.cub.2020.08.017, 2020.

https://www.the-scientist.com/news-opinion/poor-sleep-linked-with-future-amyloid-build-up-67923?utm_campaign=TS_OTC_2020&utm_medium=email&_hsmi=95303853&_hsenc=p2ANqtz–8BBfH3OsENS0A5GHEfhRVVh3ox2uWli04iEz1JAIpGp_Zeq9dMKwhb5f5X1AeB01d4d07al4rDaOWz_GzA5Ax6TXrGQ&utm_content=95303853&utm_source=hs_email

For the first time in its 175 year history, Scientific American endorses a presidential candidate

By THE EDITORS | Scientific American

Scientific American has never endorsed a presidential candidate in its 175-year history. This year we are compelled to do so. We do not do this lightly.

The evidence and the science show that Donald Trump has badly damaged the U.S. and its people—because he rejects evidence and science. The most devastating example is his dishonest and inept response to the COVID-19 pandemic, which cost more than 190,000 Americans their lives by the middle of September. He has also attacked environmental protections, medical care, and the researchers and public science agencies that help this country prepare for its greatest challenges. That is why we urge you to vote for Joe Biden, who is offering fact-based plans to protect our health, our economy and the environment. These and other proposals he has put forth can set the country back on course for a safer, more prosperous and more equitable future.

The pandemic would strain any nation and system, but Trump’s rejection of evidence and public health measures have been catastrophic in the U.S. He was warned many times in January and February about the onrushing disease, yet he did not develop a national strategy to provide protective equipment, coronavirus testing or clear health guidelines. Testing people for the virus, and tracing those they may have infected, is how countries in Europe and Asia have gained control over their outbreaks, saved lives, and successfully reopened businesses and schools. But in the U.S., Trump claimed, falsely, that “anybody that wants a test can get a test.” That was untrue in March and remained untrue through the summer. Trump opposed $25 billion for increased testing and tracing that was in a pandemic relief bill as late as July. These lapses accelerated the spread of disease through the country—particularly in highly vulnerable communities that include people of color, where deaths climbed disproportionately to those in the rest of the population.

It wasn’t just a testing problem: if almost everyone in the U.S. wore masks in public, it could save about 66,000 lives by the beginning of December, according to projections from the University of Washington School of Medicine. Such a strategy would hurt no one. It would close no business. It would cost next to nothing. But Trump and his vice president flouted local mask rules, making it a point not to wear masks themselves in public appearances. Trump has openly supported people who ignored governors in Michigan and California and elsewhere as they tried to impose social distancing and restrict public activities to control the virus. He encouraged governors in Florida, Arizona and Texas who resisted these public health measures, saying in April—again, falsely—that “the worst days of the pandemic are behind us” and ignoring infectious disease experts who warned at the time of a dangerous rebound if safety measures were loosened.

And of course, the rebound came, with cases across the nation rising by 46 percent and deaths increasing by 21 percent in June. The states that followed Trump’s misguidance posted new daily highs and higher percentages of positive tests than those that did not. By early July several hospitals in Texas were full of COVID-19 patients. States had to close up again, at tremendous economic cost. About 31 percent of workers were laid off a second time, following the giant wave of unemployment—more than 30 million people and countless shuttered businesses—that had already decimated the country. At every stage, Trump has rejected the unmistakable lesson that controlling the disease, not downplaying it, is the path to economic reopening and recovery.

Trump repeatedly lied to the public about the deadly threat of the disease, saying it was not a serious concern and “this is like a flu​” when he knew it was more lethal and highly transmissible, according to his taped statements to journalist Bob Woodward. His lies encouraged people to engage in risky behavior, spreading the virus further, and have driven wedges between Americans who take the threat seriously and those who believe Trump’s falsehoods. The White House even produced a memo attacking the expertise of the nation’s leading infectious disease physician, Anthony Fauci, in a despicable attempt to sow further distrust.

Trump’s reaction to America’s worst public health crisis in a century has been to say “I don’t take responsibility at all.” Instead he blamed other countries and his White House predecessor, who left office three years before the pandemic began.

But Trump’s refusal to look at the evidence and act accordingly extends beyond the virus. He has repeatedly tried to get rid of the Affordable Care Act while offering no alternative; comprehensive medical insurance is essential to reduce illness. Trump has proposed billion-dollar cuts to the National Institutes of Health, the National Science Foundation, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, agencies that increase our scientific knowledge and strengthen us for future challenges. Congress has countermanded his reductions. Yet he keeps trying, slashing programs that would ready us for future pandemics and withdrawing from the World Health Organization. These and other actions increase the risk that new diseases will surprise and devastate us again.

Trump also keeps pushing to eliminate health rules from the Environmental Protection Agency, putting people at more risk for heart and lung disease caused by pollution. He has replaced scientists on agency advisory boards with industry representatives. In his ongoing denial of reality, Trump has hobbled U.S. preparations for climate change, falsely claiming that it does not exist and pulling out of international agreements to mitigate it. The changing climate is already causing a rise in heat-related deaths and an increase in severe storms, wildfires and extreme flooding.

Joe Biden, in contrast, comes prepared with plans to control COVID-19, improve health care, reduce carbon emissions and restore the role of legitimate science in policy making. He solicits expertise and has turned that knowledge into solid policy proposals.

On COVID-19, he states correctly that “it is wrong to talk about ‘choosing’ between our public health and our economy…. If we don’t beat the virus, we will never get back to full economic strength.” Biden plans to ramp up a national testing board, a body that would have the authority to command both public and private resources to supply more tests and get them to all communities. He also wants to establish a Public Health Job Corps of 100,000 people, many of whom have been laid off during the pandemic crisis, to serve as contact tracers and in other health jobs. He will direct the Occupational Health and Safety Administration to enforce workplace safety standards to avoid the kind of deadly outbreaks that have occurred at meat-processing plants and nursing homes. While Trump threatened to withhold money from school districts that did not reopen, regardless of the danger from the virus, Biden wants to spend $34 billion to help schools conduct safe in-person instruction as well as remote learning.

Biden is getting advice on these public health issues from a group that includes David Kessler, epidemiologist, pediatrician and former U.S. Food and Drug Administration chief; Rebecca Katz, immunologist and global health security specialist at Georgetown University; and Ezekiel Emanuel, bioethicist at the University of Pennsylvania. It does not include physicians who believe in aliens and debunked virus therapies, one of whom Trump has called “very respected” and “spectacular.”

Biden has a family and caregiving initiative, recognizing this as key to a sustained public health and economic recovery. His plans include increased salaries for child care workers and construction of new facilities for children because the inability to afford quality care keeps workers out of the economy and places enormous strains on families.

On the environment and climate change, Biden wants to spend $2 trillion on an emissions-free power sector by 2035, build energy-efficient structures and vehicles, push solar and wind power, establish research agencies to develop safe nuclear power and carbon capture technologies, and more. The investment will produce two million jobs for U.S. workers, his campaign claims, and the climate plan will be partly paid by eliminating Trump’s corporate tax cuts. Historically disadvantaged communities in the U.S. will receive 40 percent of these energy and infrastructure benefits.

It is not certain how many of these and his other ambitions Biden will be able to accomplish; much depends on laws to be written and passed by Congress. But he is acutely aware that we must heed the abundant research showing ways to recover from our present crises and successfully cope with future challenges.

Although Trump and his allies have tried to create obstacles that prevent people from casting ballots safely in November, either by mail or in person, it is crucial that we surmount them and vote. It’s time to move Trump out and elect Biden, who has a record of following the data and being guided by science.

https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/scientific-american-endorses-joe-biden/

Astronomers Spot Possible Signs Of Extraterrestrial Life In Venus’s Clouds


There may be bizarre microbes living in the sulfuric acid-laden clouds of the hothouse planet, scientists said.

By Seth Borenstein

Astronomers have found a potential sign of life high in the atmosphere of neighboring Venus: hints there may be bizarre microbes living in the sulfuric acid-laden clouds of the hothouse planet.

Two telescopes in Hawaii and Chile spotted in the thick Venutian clouds the chemical signature of phosphine, a noxious gas that on Earth is only associated with life, according to a study in Monday’s journal Nature Astronomy.

Several outside experts — and the study authors themselves — agreed this is tantalizing but said it is far from the first proof of life on another planet. They said it doesn’t satisfy the “extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence” standard established by the late Carl Sagan, who speculated about the possibility of life in the clouds of Venus in 1967.

“It’s not a smoking gun,” said study co-author David Clements, an Imperial College of London astrophysicist. “It’s not even gunshot residue on the hands of your prime suspect, but there is a distinct whiff of cordite in the air which may be suggesting something.”

As astronomers plan for searches for life on planets outside our solar system, a major method is to look for chemical signatures that can only be made by biological processes, called biosignatures. After three astronomers met in a bar in Hawaii, they decided to look that way at the closest planet to Earth: Venus. They searched for phosphine, which is three hydrogen atoms and a phosphorous atom.

On Earth, there are only two ways phosphine can be formed, study authors said. One is in an industrial process. (The gas was produced for use as chemical warfare agent in World War I.) The other way is as part of some kind of poorly understood function in animals and microbes. Some scientists consider it a waste product, others don’t.

Phosphine is found in “ooze at the bottom of ponds, the guts of some creatures like badgers and perhaps most unpleasantly associated with piles of penguin guano,” Clements said.

Study co-author Sara Seager, an MIT planetary scientist, said researchers “exhaustively went through every possibility and ruled all of them out: volcanoes, lightning strikes, small meteorites falling into the atmosphere. … Not a single process we looked at could produce phosphine in high enough quantities to explain our team’s findings.”

That leaves life.

The astronomers hypothesize a scenario for how life could exist on the inhospitable planet where temperatures on the surface are around 800 degrees (425 degrees Celsius) with no water.

“Venus is hell. Venus is kind of Earth’s evil twin,” Clements said. “Clearly something has gone wrong, very wrong, with Venus. It’s the victim of a runaway greenhouse effect.”

But that’s on the surface.

Seager said all the action may be 30 miles above ground in the thick carbon-dioxide layer cloud deck, where it’s about room temperature or slightly warmer. It contains droplets with tiny amounts of water but mostly sulfuric acid that is a billion times more acidic than what’s found on Earth.

The phosphine could be coming from some kind of microbes, probably single-cell ones, inside those sulfuric acid droplets, living their entire lives in the 10-mile-deep clouds, Seager and Clements said. When the droplets fall, the potential life probably dries out and could then get picked up in another drop and reanimate, they said.

Life is definitely a possibility, but more proof is needed, several outside scientists said.

Cornell University astronomer Lisa Kaltenegger said the idea of this being the signature of biology at work is exciting, but she said we don’t know enough about Venus to say life is the only explanation for the phosphine.

“I’m not skeptical, I’m hesitant,” said Justin Filiberto, a planetary geochemist at the Lunar and Planetary Institute in Houston who specializes in Venus and Mars and isn’t part of the study team.

Filiberto said the levels of phosphine found might be explained away by volcanoes. He said recent studies that were not taken into account in this latest research suggest that Venus may have far more active volcanoes than originally thought. But Clements said that explanation would make sense only if Venus were at least 200 times as volcanically active as Earth.

David Grinspoon, a Washington-based astrobiologist at the Planetary Science Institute who wrote a 1997 book suggesting Venus could harbor life, said the finding “almost seems too good to be true.”

“I’m excited, but I’m also cautious,” Grinspoon said. “We found an encouraging sign that demands we follow up.”

NASA hasn’t sent anything to Venus since 1989, though Russia, Europe and Japan have dispatched probes. The U.S. space agency is considering two possible Venus missions. One of them, called DAVINCI+, would go into the Venutian atmosphere as early as 2026.

Clements said his head tells him “it’s probably a 10% chance that it’s life,” but his heart “obviously wants it to be much bigger because it would be so exciting.”

https://www.huffpost.com/entry/venus-possible-life_n_5f5f878ac5b68d1b09c5ab9b

There is now a name for the terrible sleep you are getting right now

By Kyle Schnitzer

Forget insomnia. Call it “coronasomnia.”

The anxiety and stress brought on by the coronavirus pandemic has made changes to our once-almost perfect lives and created a medical mystery for more.

There’s been “shock hair loss” popping up around the US due to people experiencing extreme stress, only for their hair to rapidly fall from their head. Stress levels are at a decade-high causing people to have toxic dreams and shortened sleep.

In short: The COVID-19 pandemic has been a nightmare on our well-being.

A recent study found that 70% of Americans said their sleeping patterns have become inconsistent due to the ongoing medical crisis. Sixty-three percent of respondents even went lengths to say that they fear they will never be able to return to pre-pandemic sleep patterns because their current night’s sleep is so damaged.

So, now we’re left with coronasomnia. Heightened stress levels and strains interrupting our once tidy schedules have made medical experts question what the long term effects of the pandemic will have on sleep, with some calling it an “epidemic of sleep problems,” according to The Washington Post.

“Patients who used to have insomnia, patients who used to have difficulty falling asleep because of anxiety, are having more problems. Patients who were having nightmares have more nightmares,” one neurologist told the paper. “With covid-19, we recognize that there is now an epidemic of sleep problems.”

One thing experts have seen is how bedtimes and wake times are delayed. Per The Post:

Sleep physicians are seeing increasing delays of bedtimes and wake times. Avidan, of UCLA, said some of his patients are “living in L.A., but they’re on Honolulu time zone.” That disrupts the circadian rhythms that regulate sleep cycles, particularly by depriving people of exposure to natural light early in the morning, Avidan said. And it is exacerbated by the artificial light of screens — drivers of pre-pandemic sleep disorders and the way many now connect to work meetings, happy hours, entertainment and news.

Circadian rhythms are also affected by daily routines — and lack thereof, nowadays — such as meal times, riding the subway or hitting yoga class.

“Social cues are also circadian cues,” Singh said. And they have been ripped away.

ABC News 5 Cleveland spoke to experts who said circadian rhythm has hurt the way our lives have mostly gone as “unstructured and unscheduled.”

“Our bodies are designed to wake up with the sun and go to bed as the sun goes down, so that’s what we want to do. We want to simulate it, we want to live that,” said Dr. Sam Friedlander of the University Hospitals Cleveland Medical Center told the outlet.

Friedlander said turning off smartphones, tablets, and even TVs can help due to reducing blue light but that means turning them off hours before bed, not just as you’re about to try to snooze.

He also said exercising in the morning or afternoon can be beneficial in the battle against insomnia.

“It’s really important to get light in the morning,” he said. “Get a walk or get some exercise, if possible, because the light is the strongest thing that resets our circadian rhythm, so if you get light, you want to get it in the morning and then avoid it at night.”

https://www.theladders.com/career-advice/there-is-now-a-name-for-the-terrible-sleep-you-are-getting-right-now

Methane drives sudden creation of monstrous crater in Russia


by Jennifer Leman

A 164-foot crater appeared along the Yamal Peninsula in Russia.
A team of journalists from Vesti Yamal spotted the crater—caused by an explosive pocket of methane—and alerted scientists.
Russia’s northern latitudes have seen record temperatures this year, a harbinger of doom for thawing permafrost in the region.

A 164-foot crater burst open in a desolate region of the Siberian tundra, according to the Russian news agency Vesti Yamal. Journalists from the publication spotted the crater during an assignment on the Yamal Peninsula in July and released their footage this week.

This is the 17th such feature, called a hydrolaccolith, that scientists have found across the thawing Siberian tundra, according to The Siberian Times. Researchers discovered the first one in 2014. They believe pockets of methane gases trapped beneath Earth’s surface bulge and eventually explode as carbon-rich permafrost in the region begins to melt, releasing trapped gases.

“Warming and thawing of surface soil weakens the frozen ‘cap,’ resulting in the blowout that causes the craters,” Sue Natali, Arctic program director at Woodwell Climate Research Center, told Gizmodo.

It’s been a hot, hot summer in Siberia. The small town of Verkhoyansk, Russia, which lies north of the Arctic Circle, recorded its highest-ever temperature, 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit, on June 20, according to National Geographic.

Scientists suspect thawing permafrost caused a Siberian diesel storage tank to collapse and dump over 20,000 tons of fuel into local river. As permafrost continues to melt, it could destabilize infrastructure—buildings, roads and, critically, oil pipelines—across the Arctic.

But residents who live along the Arctic tundra aren’t the only ones who should be concerned. Methane’s release into the atmosphere can have global impacts.

The colorless, odorless and highly flammable gas is one of the most potent greenhouse gases emitted into the atmosphere. (Try 30 times stronger than carbon dioxide.) So as more of the gas is released into the atmosphere, its effects could serve to accelerate warming and may even spur a perilous feedback loop.

There’s more work to be done to understand exactly what is happening at blast sites like the one discovered in July by Vesti Yamal’s journalists. Vasily Bogoyavlensky, a researcher with the Russian Oil and Gas Research Institute in Moscow, told Vesti Yamal his team plans to investigate the structure and submit its findings to an academic journal.

https://www.popularmechanics.com/science/environment/a33864835/crater-methane-eruption-russia/

There’s a Theory Beyond Relativity That Would Allow You to Fly Through a Wormhole

By Matt Williams

Wormholes are a popular feature in science fiction, the means through which spacecraft can achieve faster-than-light (FTL) travel and instantaneously move from one point in spacetime to another.

And while the General Theory of Relativity forbids the existence of “traversable wormholes”, recent research has shown that they are actually possible within the domain of quantum physics.

The only downsides are that they would actually take longer to traverse than normal space and/or likely be microscopic.

In a new study performed by a pair of Ivy League scientists, the existence of physics beyond the Standard Model could mean that there are wormholes out there that are not only large enough to be traversable, but entirely safe for human travelers looking to get from point A to point B.

The study, titled “Humanly traversable wormholes,” was conducted by Juan Maldacena (the Carl P. Feinberg Professor of theoretical physics from the Institute of Advanced Study) and Alexey Milekhin, a graduate of astrophysics student at Princeton University. The pair have written extensively on the subject of wormholes in the past and how they could be a means for traveling safely through space.

The theory regarding wormholes emerged in the early 20th century in response to Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity. The first to postulate their existence was Karl Schwarzschild, a German physicist and astronomer whose solutions to Einstein’s field equation (the Schwarzschild metric) resulted in the first theoretical basis for the existence of black holes.

A consequence of the Schwarzschild metric was what he referred to as “eternal black holes,” which were essentially connections between different points in spacetime. However, these Schwarzschild wormholes (aka. Einstein–Rosen bridges) were not stable as they would collapse too quickly for anything to cross from one end to the other.

As Maldacena and Milekhin explained to Universe Today via email, traversable wormholes require special circumstances in order to exist. This includes the existence of negative energy, which is not permissible in classic physics – but is possible within the realm of quantum physics.

A good example of this, they claim, is the Casimir Effect, where quantum fields produce negative energy while propagating along a closed circle:

“However, this effect is typically small because it is quantum. In our previous paper [“Traversable wormholes in four dimensions”] we realized that this effect can become considerable for black holes with large magnetic charge. The new idea was to use special properties of charged massless fermions (particles like the electron but with zero mass). For a magnetically charged black hole these travel along the magnetic field lines (In a way similar to how the charged particles of the solar wind create the auroras near the polar regions of the Earth).”

The fact that these particles can travel in a circle by entering one spot and emerging where they started in ambient flat space, implies that the “vacuum energy” is modified and can be negative.

The presence of this negative energy can support the existence of a stable wormhole, a bridge between points in spacetime that won’t collapse before something has a chance to traverse it.

Such wormholes are possible based on matter that is part of the Standard Model of particle physics. The only problem is, these wormholes would have to be microscopic in size and would only exist over very small distances.

For human travel, the wormholes would have to be large, which requires that physics beyond the Standard Model be employed.

For Maldacena and Milekhin, this is where the Randall-Sundrum II model (aka. 5-dimensional warped geometry theory) comes into play. Named after theoretical physicists Lisa Randall and Raman Sundrum, this model describes the Universe in terms of five-dimensions and was originally proposed to solve a hierarchy problem in particle physics.

“The Randall-Sundrom II model was based on the realization that this five-dimensional spacetime could also be describing physics at lower energies than the ones we usually explore, but that it would have escaped detection because it couples with our matter only through gravity. In fact, its physics is similar to adding many strongly interacting massless fields to the known physics. And for this reason it can give rise to the required negative energy.”

From the outside, Maldacena and Milekhin concluded that these wormholes would resemble intermediately-sized, charged black holes that would generate similarly-powerful tidal forces that spacecraft would need to be wary of. To do that, they claim, a potential traveler would need a very large boost factor as they pass through the center of the wormhole.

Assuming that can be done, the question remains of whether or not these wormholes could act as a shortcut between two points in spacetime? As noted, previous research by Daniel Jafferis of Harvard University (which also considered the work of Einstein and Nathan Rosen) showed that while possible, stable wormholes would actually take longer to traverse than normal space.

According to Maldacena and Milekhin’s work, however, their wormholes would take almost no time to traverse from the perspective of the traveler. From the perspective of an outsider, the travel time would be much longer, which is consistent with General Relativity – where people traveling close to the speed of light will experience time dilation (i.e. time slows down). As Maldacena and Milekhin put it:

“]F]or astronauts going through the wormhole it would take only 1 second of their time to travel 10,000 light-year distance (approximately 5000 billion miles or 1/10 of Milky Way size). An observer who does not go through the wormhole and stays outside sees them taking more than 10,000 years. And all this with no use of fuel, since the gravity accelerates and decelerates the spaceship.”

Another bonus is that traversing these wormholes could be done without the use of fuel since the gravitational force of the wormhole itself would accelerate and decelerates the spaceship. In a space exploration scenario, a pilot would need to navigate the tidal forces of the wormhole to position their spacecraft just right, and then let nature do the rest.

A second later, they would emerge on the other side of the galaxy!

While this might sound encouraging to those who think wormholes could be a means of space travel someday, Maldacena and Milekhin’s work presents some significant drawbacks as well.

For starters, they emphasize that traversable wormholes would have to be engineered using negative mass since no plausible mechanism exists for natural formation.

While this is possible (at least in theory), the necessary spacetime configurations would need to be present beforehand. Even so, the mass and size involved are so great that the task would be beyond any practical technology we can foresee. Second, these wormholes would only be safe if space were cold and flat, which is not the case beyond the Randall Sundrum II model.

On top of all that, any object that enters the wormhole would be accelerated and even the presence of pervasive cosmic background radiation would be a significant hazard.

However, Maldacena and Milekhin emphasize that their study was conducted for the purpose of showing that traversable wormholes can exist as a result of the “subtle interplay between general relativity and quantum physics.”

In short, wormholes are not likely to become a practical way to travel through space – at least, not in any way that’s foreseeable. Perhaps they would not be beyond a Kardashev Type II or Type III civilization, but that’s just speculation. Even so, knowing that a major element in science fiction is not beyond the realm of possibility is certainly encouraging!

https://www.sciencealert.com/there-s-a-theory-of-relativity-that-could-allow-you-to-fly-through-a-wormhole

A Strange Form of Life Could Flourish Deep Inside of Stars, Physicists Say

by Michelle Starr

When searching for signs of life in the Universe, we tend to look for very specific things, based on what we know: a planet like Earth, in orbit around a star, and at a distance that allows liquid surface water. But there could, conceivably, be other forms of life out there that look like nothing that we have ever imagined before.

Just as we have extremophiles here on Earth – organisms that live in the most extreme and seemingly inhospitable environments the planet has to offer – so too could there be extremophiles out there in the wider Universe.

For instance, species that can form, evolve, and thrive in the interiors of stars. According to new research by physicists Luis Anchordoqui and Eugene Chudnovsky of The City University of New York, such a thing is indeed – hypothetically, at least – possible.

It all depends on how you define life. If the key criteria are the ability to encode information, and the ability for those information carriers to self-replicate faster than they disintegrate, then hypothetical monopole particles threaded on cosmic strings – cosmic necklaces – could form the basis of life inside stars, much like DNA and RNA form the basis of life on Earth.

“Information stored in the RNA (or DNA) encodes the mechanism of self-replication,” Chudnovsky told ScienceAlert.

“Its emergence must have been preceded by the massive formation of random RNA sequences until a sequence was formed capable of self-replication. We believe that a similar process would occur with necklaces in a star, leading to a stationary process of self-replication.”

Strings and monopoles are thought to have emerged in the early Universe, as it cooled down from the Big Bang, and the particle soup of quark-gluon plasma that filled it underwent a symmetry-breaking phase transition and condensed into matter – like vapour condensing into liquid.

Although we have yet to detect cosmic strings (one-dimensional linear objects) or monopoles (elementary particles with only one magnetic pole), a lot of thought has gone into how they might behave.

In 1988, Chudnovsky and his colleague, theoretical physicist Alexander Vilenkin of Tufts University, predicted that cosmic strings could be captured by stars. There, the turbulence would stretch the string until it formed a network of strings.

According to the new study, cosmic necklaces could form in a sequence of symmetry-breaking phase transitions. In the first stage, monopoles emerge. In the second, strings.

This can produce a stable configuration of one monopole bead and two strings, which in turn could connect to form one-, two-, and even three-dimensional structures – much like atoms joined by chemical bonds, the researchers say.

A one-dimensional necklace would be unlikely to carry information. But more complex structures potentially could – and they could survive long enough to replicate, feeding off the fusion energy generated by the star.

“Compared to the lifetime of a star, its lifetime is an instantaneous spark of light in the dark. What is important is that such a spark manages to produce more sparks before it fades away, thus providing a long lifespan of the species,” the researchers write.

“The complexity evolving through mutations and natural selection increases with the number of generations passed. Consequently, if lifetimes of self-replicating nuclear species are as short as lifetimes of many unstable composite nuclear objects are, they can quickly evolve toward enormous complexity.”

Hypothetically speaking, it’s perhaps possible that such a life-form could develop intelligence, and maybe even serious smarts, Chudnovsky says.

What such a species would look like is a feast for the imagination. But we don’t have to know what they look like to search for signs of their presence. Because such organisms would use some of the energy of their host star to survive and propagate, stars that seem to cool faster than stellar models can account for could be hosts for what the researchers call “nuclear life”.

Several such stars have been observed, and their slightly accelerated cooling is still a mystery. Stars that dim erratically without explanation could be a good place to look, too – like EPIC 249706694. The researchers are careful to note that to link these stars to nuclear life would be an extremely long bow to draw. But there are interesting anomalies out there. And interesting possibilities too.

“Since they would be evolving very fast, they could find a way to explore the cosmos beyond their star, as we have done,” Chudnovsky told ScienceAlert. “They could establish communication and travel between stars. Maybe we should look for their presence in space.”

It’s all extremely theoretical, but wild ideas can be a good way to make new discoveries. The researchers plan to continue their line of inquiry by developing simulations of cosmic necklaces in stars. It may not lead us to glittering star aliens – but even if it doesn’t, it could give us a better understanding of cosmic strings and monopoles.

“It is a fascinating thought that the Universe may be packed with intelligent life that is so different from ours that we failed to recognise its existence,” Chudnovsky said.

The research has been published in Letters in High Energy Physics.

https://www.sciencealert.com/physicists-argue-that-life-based-on-cosmic-strings-may-be-possible-inside-stars

Study finds evidence of fecal aerosol COVID-19 transmission

An outbreak of COVID-19 in an apartment building in China may have been caused by fecal aerosol transmission through bathrooms connected by drainage pipes, according to research published in the Annals of Internal Medicine.

“To prevent such transmission, bioaerosols can be controlled at the source by avoiding any potential gas leaks from the drainage system to indoor spaces,” Min Kang, MSc, of the Guangdong Provincial Center for Disease Control and Prevention in China, and colleagues wrote.

Kang and colleagues conducted an epidemiologic survey and a quantitative reverse transcriptase polymerase chain reaction analysis on throat swabs obtained from study participants to evaluate the temporal and spatial distributions of infected families living in a high-rise apartment building in Guangzhou, China. They also sought to identify environmental variables that may confirm the role of fecal aerosols in these transmissions.

The researchers collected the dates of symptom onset in nine residents from three families in vertically aligned apartments who were infected from January 26 to February 13. They also collected data on travel and exposure history, demographic information and any symptoms experienced by infected residents. Additionally, they examined floor plans, site plans, drainage system information, weather data and CCTV records from elevators in the building.

Later, Kang and colleagues performed airflow and dispersion tests using a tracer gas to mimic SARS-CoV-2 droplets in gas in the drainage systems.

They found that one of the three families with infected persons had traveled to the COVID-19 epicenter in Wuhan, while the other two families did not have a history of travel and developed symptoms later than the first family. The families did not know each other, and CCTV records showed that they did not use the elevator at the same time when they were potentially infectious.

None of the other 217 residents and staff who participated tested positive for COVID-19, according to the researchers.

All but one SARS-CoV-2-positive environmental samples were taken from master bathrooms in the apartments, suggesting that exposure likely occurred there. All three apartments with residents who had COVID-19 were connected through drainage stacks and vents.

Kang and colleagues did not identify evidence of transmission in the elevator or in other locations in the building.

After releasing the tracer gas into the drainage stack through a pipe in a toilet, the researchers determined that bioaerosols could travel to other apartments through the drainage pipes.

Kang and colleagues concluded that the identified infections and locations where SARS-CoV-2-positive samples were taken were consistent with vertical spread of aerosols with the virus through vents. They added that the fecal aerosols containing the virus were likely produced in the vertical stack connecting the apartments when a toilet was flushed after being used by an infected patient.

In an editorial accompanying the study, Michael Gormley, PhD, CEng, director of the Institute for Sustainable Building Design at Heriot-Watt University in the United Kingdom, said, “Kang and colleagues describe a situation in which infectious aerosols may have been formed as the result of turbulent flows within a wastewater plumbing system containing virus-laden feces.”

Gormley said the research adds “to the growing body of evidence that wastewater plumbing systems, particularly those in high-rise buildings, deserve closer investigation, both immediately in the context of SARS-CoV-2 and in the long term, because they may be a reservoir for other harmful pathogens.”

References:
Kang M, et al. Ann Intern Med. 2020;doi:10.7326/M20-0928.
Gormley M. Ann Intern Med. 2020;doi: 10.7326/M20-6134.

https://www.healio.com/news/primary-care/20200903/study-finds-evidence-of-fecal-aerosol-covid19-transmission?utm_source=selligent&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=news&m_bt=1162769038120

Watch a toy boat float upside down in levitating liquid

Shaking a liquid fast enough allows it to levitate, and a toy boat can float on top of the levitating fluid – or upside down beneath it.

When a viscous fluid like silicone oil is shaken up and down around 100 times a second, resulting pressure waves can cause air bubbles in the fluid to pulsate, wobble and sink. If the bubbles are big enough, this can lead to a layer of air beneath the fluid, making a sort of strange floating pond.

When Emmanuel Fort at the Langevin Institute in Paris and his colleagues poured beads into one of these floating ponds, they found that rather than falling straight through the liquid and the air below it to the bottom of the vibrating container, some beads seemed to “float” at the bottom of the liquid.

“We were playing with the experiment,” says Fort. “We had this liquid layer and some beads, and we were surprised to see the beads floating on the lower interface. At first, it was not meant to be applied to anything practical, we were just amazed by the system and how counter-intuitive it was.”

They found that the shaking of the container stabilises the bottom of the liquid, vibrating any droplets that might start to form back into the bulk of the puddle. This also creates a stable point for floating objects at the bottom of the liquid: the researchers floated small toy boats on both the top and the bottom.

Their container levitated about half a litre of silicone oil or glycerol, but a bigger shaker could in theory make just about any amount of liquid levitate, says Fort. “There is no size limit as long as the liquid is viscous enough, so if you wanted to swim on the bottom of a levitating liquid layer you would be swimming through something more viscous like honey, which would be entertaining to watch,” he says.

More practically, he says that this method of levitating liquid and floating objects beneath it could be used for processes that involve sorting and transporting solid objects in fluids, like some kinds of mining or waste-water treatment.

Journal reference: Nature, DOI: 10.1038/s41586-020-2643-8

Read more: https://www.newscientist.com/article/2253283-watch-a-toy-boat-float-upside-down-in-a-levitating-puddle/#ixzz6X4iWwCLK