SciTech Briefs

Scientists identify Proxima b, an Earth-like planet

Years of research have led an international team of scientists to the discovery of Proxima b, a rocky exoplanet close to Earth. With instruments at the European Southern Observatory in Chile, the scientists studied the emission of light from Proxima Centauri, the closest star to the sun and the center of orbit for Proxima b.

According to Guillem Anglada-Escudé, a co-author from Queen Mary University of London, observation of the changes in color in Proxima Centauri led to deductions about the distance of Proxima b from the star as well as the mass of the planet.

Located within the habitable zone of the star, Proxima b exhibits characteristics that would make it hospitable for life, although no evidence exists to confirm that the planet possesses an atmosphere or water. Although the planet is far from human reach, scientists are eager to study more about it and possibly unlock details about alien life along the way. The findings on the planet were published in Nature.

Source: The Guardian

Ultrasound may help the brain recover after coma

As reported in the journal Brain Stimulations, researchers led by Martin Monti at University of California, Los Angeles found that a 25-year-old man demonstrated significant recovery from a coma after they treated him with a low-intensity focused ultrasound pulsation.

This is the first time this technique has been used to treat severe brain injury. The noninvasive technique involves sonic stimulation of the neurons located in the thalamus, the part of the brain that processes information and is often impaired after a coma.

During the procedure a device that emitted energy was placed next to the patient’s head. After the treatment, the man showed improvements in his consciousness and speech. If replicated in future studies, the results of this technique could prove to be effective in helping patients recover from comas. The device could be made into a helmet that is both portable and low-cost.

Source: ScienceDaily

Large storm sends elusive S waves across the Earth

In the Chugoku region of southern Japan seismologists have detected an S wave, a faint deep-Earth tremor, which was triggered by a severe distant storm in the Atlantic Ocean. Involved in the study was Kiwamu Nishida and Ryota Takagi, from the University of Tokyo and Tohoku University respectively.

The researchers employed a network of seismic sensors to detect and sum the multiple faint signals collected, allowing them to trace the S wave to its origin for the first time. Peter Bromirski of the University of California San Diego, who wrote commentary in the issue of Science in which the research was published, stated that the ability to detect S waves, in addition to the less elusive P waves, would allow for the location of new seismic sources in the middle of the Pacific.

In turn, geologists could use the waves to learn more about the innermost layers of the Earth, including its structure and composition.

Source: ScienceNews

Pokémon GO app dwindles recently in number of users

More than a month after its release by Niantic, Pokémon GO appears to be declining in popularity. Axiom Capital Management estimates that the number of daily active users of the game went from 45 million to 30 million between mid-July and mid-August.

According to Craig Chapple, editor of mobile games trade publication PocketGamer.Biz, the decline is to be expected in the aftermath of the initial hype over the game. Part of the decline may also be attributed to Niantic’s controversial removal of the “nearby” feature in the application. With less users, concern exists about the impacts on the social aspect of the game.

Regardless of whether users will stick to playing the game in the long run, Pokémon GO still remains a top-grossing application in most countries. In addition, the future release of the game in many more countries, including parts of Asia and Africa, may improve the usage statistics for the game.

Source: BBC News

Engineers create first autonomous, entirely soft robot

Researchers at Harvard University led by Robert Wood and Jennifer A. Lewis have developed the first fully autonomous, soft-bodied robot. It is called the octobot, as it carries the shape of an octopus, a creature that moves powerfully without an internal skeleton and, hence, has been an inspiration for the soft robotics field. The research findings were published in the journal Nature.

Unlike previous soft-bodied robots, the octobot contains no rigid parts, such as batteries, wires, or circuit boards. Instead, the movement of the octobot is fueled by liquid hydrogen peroxide, which reacts with a platinum catalyst to produce gas. The gas then goes into the arms of the octobot and inflates them. A microfluidic logic circuit is used to control the amount of hydrogen peroxide that is turned into gas.

The simplicity, yet novelty, of the researcher’s approach has laid the foundation for more complex designs in the future.

Source: ScienceDaily

Washington State permits killing of roaming wolf pack

After feeding on local livestock, an entire pack of endangered gray wolves are now authorized to be exterminated, according to a recent statement issued by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW). At least 11 of the wolves had been roaming in Profanity Peak in Ferry County, including six adults and five pups.

Earlier this month, two female wolves were shot after wildlife biologists found that they caused the death and injuries of five cows in a grazing area. As a result, the cow attacks temporarily ceased. Since then, three more attacks by wolves has been reported, prompting the WDFW’s decision to take further action.

Despite protest from local conservation groups, the agency stated that in addition to its efforts to maintain the wolf population, it also had a responsibility to protect livestock from repeated attacks from the wolves

Source: U.S. News