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Astronomers Create ‘Supermassive’ Map of the Universe

An international team of astronomers has created one of the largest maps of the universe ever put together, and they did it through the use of bright supermassive black holes known as quasars.

A quasar is a supermassive black hole surrounded by a gaseous accretion disk. Many large celestial bodies have accretion disks, where materials being pulled in by the object’s gravity gain spin and from a ring or bubble around it.

When a supermassive black holes gains an accretion disk, the gas moves so quickly and becomes so hot that it gives off unthinkable amounts of power, making quasars extremely bright and easy to spot.

“Because quasars are so bright, we can see them all the way across the universe. That makes them the ideal objects to use to make the biggest map yet,” said Ashley Ross of the Ohio State University in a statement.

“These quasars are so far away that their light left them when the universe was between three and seven billion years old, long before the Earth even existed,” added Gongbo Zhao from the National Astronomical Observatories of Chinese Academy of Sciences.

The experiment was done through the use of the Sloan Foundation Telescope in New Mexico as part of the Sloan Digital Sky Survey’s (SDSS) Extended Baryon Oscillation Spectroscopic Survey (eBOSS), which mapped the locations of more than 147,000 quasars.

Once they located the quasars, they then dated them through the study of “baryon acoustic oscillations’ (BAOs). BAOs were formed in the early universe: matter moving through the early universe at high speeds that was suddenly slowed and frozen in place by rapid changes in pressure and temperature.

“You have meters for small units of length, kilometers or miles for distances between cities, and we have the BAO for distances between galaxies and quasars in cosmology,” explained Pauline Zarrouk, a PhD student at the University Paris-Saclay who participated in the research, in a press release.

Quasar activity was more extensive in the early universe, and so the team cross-referenced the quasar placement with the BAOs to map distant corners of the stars. “Our results are consistent with Einstein’s theory of general relativity,” said French researcher with Laboratoire de Physique Nucleaire et de hautes Energies and study co-author Hector Gil-Marin. “We now have BAO measurements covering a range of cosmological distances, and they all point to the same thing: the simple model matches the observations very well.”

“Even though we understand how gravity works, we still do not understand everything — there is still the question of what exactly Dark Energy is. We would like to understand Dark Energy further. Not with alternative facts, but with the scientific truth, and surveys such as eBOSS are helping us to build up our understanding of the universe,” said eBOSS head scientist and Professor of Cosmology at the University of Portsmouth Will Percival.

(Source: sputniknews)

Missing Link? Balkan Pre-Human Remains Identified as Older Than Stated

A research team led by German and Bulgarian scientists has claimed that the genealogical split between the great apes and humans happened several hundred thousand years earlier than originally thought, and in an entirely different location.

Not only did the split happen earlier, but an international research team headed by Professor Madelaine Böhme from the University of Tübingen’s Senckenberg Center for Human Evolution and Palaeoenvironment, and Professor Nikolai Spassov of the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences, has suggested that the earliest known human lineage originated in Eastern Europe — not in northern Africa as has been widely asserted.
Using state-of-the-art technology to study the dental root features of two hominin fossils of Graecopithecus freybergi — claimed to be mankind’s earliest known relatives — the research team has come to the conclusion that the creatures debuted hundreds of thousands of years earlier than originally thought.

The findings were published Tuesday.

As modern chimpanzees are considered to be humanity’s closest living relatives, the location of the most common chimp-human ancestor has become a highly debated key issue in modern palaeoanthropology.

It has been assumed in scientific texts that lineages between humans and chimpanzees diverged between five and seven million years ago in northern Africa. Recent theories have suggested that climate change in Eastern Africa was a factor in the genealogical split.

Now, the research team, comprised of scientists from Germany, Bulgaria, Greece, Canada, France and Australia, has suggested a different, and what they claim is a more accurate, scenario for the history of early humanity.

Using modern computer tomography, researchers were able to visualize the internal structure of molars in fossil jawbones, and identified that premolar roots are “widely fused,” a characteristic of modern humans, according to Böhme, cited by Eurekalert.com.

“While great apes typically have two or three separate and diverging roots, the roots of Graecopithecus converge and are partially fused — a feature that is characteristic of modern humans, early humans and several pre-humans including Ardipithecus and Australopithecus,” stated Böhme.

“We were surprised by our results, as pre-humans were previously known only from sub-Saharan Africa,” said Jochen Fuss, a Tübingen PhD student who participated in the study.

University of Toronto paleoanthropologist and co-author of the study Professor David Begun said, “This dating allows us to move the human-chimpanzee split into the Mediterranean area.”

Modern homo sapiens, humanity’s species, is thought to have debuted sometime between 1.8 million and 200,000 thousand years ago.

(Source: sputniknews)

Movie Subtitle Tracks Let Cyber Attackers Take Complete Control of Devices

Researchers have uncovered a new digital vulnerability that threatens millions of internet users worldwide – attack via subtitles. By crafting malicious subtitle files, which are then downloaded by an unsuspecting victim’s media player, attackers can take complete control over any type of device.

The discovery was made by Israeli cybersecurity firm Check Point. The researchers estimate there are around 200 million video players and streamers currently susceptible to the technique, making it one of the most widespread, easily accessed and tough to resist computer weaknesses yet identified. VLC, Kodi, Popcorn Time and Stremio, the world’s most popular media players, were all found to be susceptible to the shakedown.

New attack vector affects subtitles in major media platforms 📽️. Don’t get hacked in translation. https://t.co/b7vn0J0cIn pic.twitter.com/tyzBK3lyda

— Check Point Software (@CheckPointSW) May 23, 2017
​Cyberattackers typically strike using one of two methods — they either persuade individuals to visit a malicious website, or trick them into running a malicious file on their computer. However, this cyberattack method is entirely novel, and doesn’t rely on human gullibility or error to thump users — instead, the attack is delivered when a film’s subtitles are loaded by the user’s media player.

As the tactic requires little or no direct, deliberate action on the part of users, it’s a dangerous con indeed. Moreover, unlike traditional cyberattack methods, of which security firms and users alike are widely cognisant, movie subtitles are perceived as nothing more than benign text files.

As a result, anti-virus software and other security solutions are blind to a malicious subtitle file’s true nature.

Video subtitles can take over your system via @VideoLAN (#VLC), @KodiTV (#XBMC), or @PopcornTimeTV. Windows-only? https://t.co/JYmQ9yeVem pic.twitter.com/o5ANfSQY4Z

— Adam Katz (@adamhotep) May 23, 2017
​Making cyberattackers’ work all the easier is the proliferation of online subtitle repositories — many media players download subtitles from these resources automatically, meaning cyberattackers need only upload malicious subtitle tracks to take complete control over an entire subtitle supply chain, and in turn, a user’s computer.

These repositories are viewed as a trusted source by media players. Check Point found these sites can also be manipulated and be made to award the attacker’s malicious subtitles a high rating, resulting in those specific subtitles being automatically downloaded by media players.

Given the popularity of third party media players, the scale of the potential problem is almost unimaginably vast — the latest version of VLC alone has been downloaded over 170 million times, while Kodi attracts over 10 million unique users daily.

Cyberattackers can take complete control of any device running malicious subtitles — whether it is a PC, smart TV or mobile device — and inflict illimitable damage, stealing sensitive information, installing ransomware, conducting mass denial-of-service attacks (DoS), and much more.

For Matthew Hickey, cofounder of My Hacker House, the good news is the vulnerability has only just been identified.

In other words, while cybersecurity experts have only just gotten wise to the issue, it’s likely too that cyberattackers have only recently become cognisant themselves — if at all.

“Vulnerabilities are identified almost daily — often weaknesses go unnoticed as they do not cause the computer to crash or malfunction. It’s only once somebody looks for the problem that it is identified. Client-side attacks, like those present with subtitles can be exploited through opening other kinds of documents — the subtitles vulnerability is more prominent as it impacts more than one software package and can be exploited through poisoned subtitle sharing sites,” Mr. Hickey told Sputnik.

Nonetheless, he warns that users should be careful when opening movies from third parties — especially content downloaded from torrent sites.

He urges the public to ensure they apply security updates for all third party media software promptly.

The researchers believe the same Achilles heel is present in almost every media player on the market.

The firm reported their findings to the media player’s developers, and some of the issues have already been fixed, while others are under investigation.

Fixed versions of the media player quartet can be downloaded on their respective official sites.

(Source: sputniknews)

China has huge potential for combustible ice resources: experts

China has for the first time succeeded in mining flammable ice at sea, after nearly two decades of research and exploration, the country’s Ministry of Land and Resources announced on May 18. Experts also pointed out that these are only a small portion of China’s huge reserves.

Trial mining of combustible ice in the Shenhu Sea, about 320 kilometers southeast of Zhuhai, Guangdong province, began on March 28. Experts first tapped the natural hydrate at a depth of 1,266 meters underwater last Wednesday. After that, an average of 16,000 cubic meters of gas with high purity were extracted each day.

Ore bodies of 11 combustible ice types have been found, and the estimated reserves are equal to 150 billion cubic meters. Chinese scientists also estimate that there is an area of 5,242 square kilometers of combustible ice in the Xisha Trough. In other waters of the South China Sea, experts predict the existence of more natural gas hydrate.

China’s successful operation is groundbreaking. Other countries like the U.S., Canada and Japan are conducting research to arrive at the same results, but China’s achievement means its technology in this area is among the best, according to Xie Wenwei, deputy director of the command office at the exploration site.

Combustible ice usually exists in seabeds or tundra areas, which have the strong pressure and low temperatures necessary for the ice’s stability. One cubic meter of combustible ice is equal to 164 cubic meters of regular natural gas.

The mining of combustible ice started in the 1960s, but China began its research in 1998. The country first found flammable ice in the South China Sea in 2007.

China to build global navigation satellite system by 2020

China plans to build a global navigation satellite system, which is expected to provideservice to users around the world, by the year 2020.

The country will send six to eight satellites to space later this year, and it will have 18satellites in space by 2018 to provide basic services to countries along the “Belt and Road”route, disclosed Wang Li, China Satellite Navigation System Committee chairman, at the8th China Satellite Navigation Conference on May 23.

The BDS-1 and BDS-2 systems, also known as BeiDou Navigation Satellite DemonstrationSystem, were built in 2000 and 2012 respectively, providing communication services toChinese and other Asian users, said Ran Chengqi, director of China’s Satellite NavigationSystem Management Office. The BDS-3 system will broadcast additional navigation signalsand enhance compatibility with other navigation satellite systems so as to provide betterservice for global users, Ran added.

Clinical tests to be launched for therapeutic leukemia vaccine

Clinical tests for a therapeutic leukemia vaccine will be carried out this year, according toinformation released at the 2017 International Forum on Precision Medicine andTranslational Medicine. The vaccine is expected to raise the five-year survival rate ofleukemia patients by as much as 20 percent.

Leukemia, also known as blood cancer, is a vicious disease originating from stem cells. Thedisease occurs in about four in 100,000 people, with approximately 40,000 new patientsevery year in China.

According to Li Yuhua, director of the hematology department at Zhujiang Hospitalaffiliated with Southern Medical University, the therapeutic vaccine is for patients whopossess tumors. Chemotherapy helps most leukemia patients, but the best method toprevent relapse is transplantation. However, transplant surgeries are very expensive, andchemotherapy is the only choice for patients who have relapsed after receiving atransplant.

The vaccine was mainly developed for low to mid-risk leukemia patients, such as thosewho can’t withstand chemotherapy and those still in need of relief after receivingchemotherapy. Compared with transplants, which can cost hundreds of thousands of RMBfor one treatment course, the vaccine offers a cost-effective choice.

Though the vaccine can reduce the length of chemotherapy, Li emphasized thatchemotherapy is still the primary treatment for leukemia. Li told the Southern Daily thatclinical tests of the vaccine will be carried out simultaneously in seven hospitals this year. Itis expected to improve the five-year survival rate of leukemia patients by 10 to 20percent, which means that 10 to 20 percent more patients will be able to fully recover.

China rolls out measures to regulate drone market

Unmanned aerial vehicles weighing more than 250 grams will have to go through aregistration process, according to the civil drone registration system instituted by the CivilAviation Administration of China (CAAC).

The system officially began operation on May 18, and it will come into force on June 1.CAAC also announced protective zones around 155 airports, so as to prevent flights frombeing affected by drones.

Unmanned aerial vehicles have caused flight interferences at multiple airports in the past.On May 12, flights leaving southwestern China’s Chongqing Municipality were disruptedwhen several unregistered drones suddenly appeared on airstrips, affecting over 100planes.

Experts warned that drones can cause injuries when they fall from the sky, andunregulated drones can cause private information to be leaked. They therefore suggest anintegrated rule to regulate the production and operation of drones.

Domestic demand for drones is growing by 50 percent annually, set to yield a total marketvalue of 75 billion RMB ($11 billion) by 2025.

China, Russia develop superjet C929, to compete with Boeing’s 787 Dreamliner

A joint project between China and Russia to build a C929 superjet is currently progressingsmoothly through research and development, according to Jin Zhuanglong, chairman of theCommercial Aircraft Corporation of China (COMAC).

The fuel-efficient plane will reportedly compete with Boeing’s 787 Dreamliner. Though notthe biggest passenger jet in terms of size, both the C929 and the Dreamliner are capable ofa wide range of use, and both are relatively economical, according to data.

China’s civilian aircraft industry is pressing ahead as planned, allowing a next-generationjet to benefit from earlier research and manufacturing know-how. The new aircraft willalso obtain an airworthiness certificate from its predecessor, industry insiders pointed out.

In June 2016, Russia’s United Aircraft Corporation (UAC) and COMAC signed amemorandum of understanding on the manufacturing of a wide-body long-range aircraft.According to the agreement, UAC will supply its most advanced avionics technology and acutting-edge composite wing. China will handle the C929 fuselage construction, withShanghai-based COMAC set to assemble the jets.

UPDATE:

On May 22, the China-Russia Commercial Aircraft International Corporation Ltd. (CRCAIC) was established in Shanghai, a joint venture between Commercial AircraftCorporation of China (COMAC) and Russia’s United Aircraft Corporation (UAC). The jointventure will be principally engaged in the development of the next generation of long-distance wide-body aircraft.

The two sides have confirmed a series of development programs for the long distancewide-body aircraft, completed the preliminary definition of level indicators for the aircraft,and defined the range (12,000 km) and number of seats (280). The project is now in itsinitial design stage, and system and equipment suppliers will be inquired.

A Robot Just Landed a Simulated Boeing 737, So What Next for Air Travel?

Aviation has not had the best PR over recent months, and with disasters such as that of United Airlines vs. 69-year-old grandfather, passengers are starting to doubt whether flying is worth it all.

The following news may, however, lift the spirits of — or further terrify — frequent flyers around the world: a robot has successfully landed a Boeing 737.

Aurora Flight Sciences, which developed the robot, are bursting with pride according to sources, as the bot was able to sit in the co-pilots seat and land the simulated plane.

This has lead the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), part of the US Department of Defense team responsible for the development of emerging technologies for use by the military, to advocate the use of robots in their planes.

With DARPA’s Aircrew Labor In-Cockpit Automation System (ALIAS) program, the military have evolved to incorporate automated capabilities, improving mission safety and success rates.

However according to DARPA, operators of the most automated aircraft must still manage daunting and complex interfaces and be prepared to respond effectively in emergencies and other unexpected situations that no amount of training can prepare them for.

The military will often find themselves in stressful situations and are keen to use systems that have the potential to interact with the crew; it is for this reason that the use of robots in the cockpit is becoming a highly likely option.

This is where Aurora’s newly developed bot comes in, the machine is able to control the advanced tablet-based user interface and works off speech recognition.

Aurora’s done this before in an actual flight, but for light aircraft. Simulating a 737 landing gets it closer to ALIAS’ goal of adding a helping hand to crews of large military aircraft and potentially even using robots in passenger planes.

The technology still has come way to go, but Aurora Flight Sciences and DARPA hope that it could be beneficial for military flights and sources claim that the future for passenger planes could also be in robots’ hands.

(Source: sputniknews)

Could Humans Live on the Closest Planet Outside Our Solar System?

A new study of Proxima b, the closest planet outside our solar system ever discovered, suggests that the planet may actually be able to support life of its own.

After decades of searching, astronomers finally discovered a planet in Alpha Centauri, our neighboring star system, in August 2016. Proxima b is a bit larger than the Earth but orbits much closer to its star, the red dwarf Proxima Centauri. Since red dwarfs give off much less heat than yellow stars like our sun, planets can be very close to them and still be within their star’s “habitable zone.”

Proxima b is in its star’s habitable zone, meaning it could support liquid water. That, combined with its closeness to Earth, makes it an object of inspiration for human astronomers dreaming of the future.

But some have doubted Proxima b’s habitability. Many factors are involved: for instance, Proxima b’s closeness to its star may have stripped it of its atmosphere.

A new study from the University of Exeter in the United Kingdom, which was published in the journal Astronomy & Astrophysics, applied a new model previously used to study Earth’s climate patterns to Proxima b. This model, the Met Office Unified Model, was adapted to model the climate history of Proxima b.

Since we don’t yet know what Proxima b’s atmosphere is made of, the Exeter team ran the simulation twice: once with a Proxima b that has an Earth-like atmosphere (mostly nitrogen and oxygen, with some argon and carbon dioxide and traces of other gases), and again with a Proxima b with a simple atmosphere (just nitrogen and some carbon dioxide).

Because Proxima b is so close to its star, it’s likely hit by massive quantities of radiation. This can have adverse effects on a planet’s atmosphere, such as breaking it down entirely. It can also act as a food source for primitive life.

“Overall, our results are in agreement with previous studies in suggesting Proxima Centauri b may well have surface temperatures conducive to the presence of liquid water,” the team wrote. There’s an excellent chance that the planet is “likely to be habitable for a range of orbital states and atmospheric compositions.”

Of course, the simulation is just that: a model. Human observation of Proxima b has been done from trillions of miles away, and we know far less about it than we can know about a planet we can observe directly with orbiting instruments.

“There are obviously several ingredients missing from our analysis,” the Exeter team wrote. “We have neglected the presence of any land-surface, as we have no information what this may look like.”

(Source: sputniknews)