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'Antivirus is dead' says maker of Norton software suite

Symantec, maker of the widely used Norton Antivirus software suite, has declared that antivirus technology “is dead”.

The company’s senior vice president of information security Brian Dye told the Wall Street Journal that hackers were not only finding new ways to break into computers but that antivirus wasn’t “a moneymaker in any way."

Mr. Dye said that the company’s antivirus software catches just 45 per cent of cyberattacks – an admission that sounds surprising but that reflects a broader shift in the cybersecurity industry as experts are forced to adapt to new methods employed by hackers.

When Symantec’s antivirus software was first introduced in the late 1980s it worked as an immune system for computers, with experts maintaining a database of malicious code and blocking any attacks on a given system.

Categories of cyberattacks have since multiplied and now include everything from malware (Trojan-horse like programs that open backdoors in systems) and spyware (software that monitors a users’ keyboard to record passwords) to more sophisticated breaches aimed at large businesses.

Symantec has said that it was now looking to move from a "protect" model to one of "detect and respond,” offering businesses bespoke packages that track hacks and leaks to prevent any damages beyond the initial infiltration.

Mr Dye also stressed that despite the growing redundancy of antivirus products, security packages for consumers still offer a range of useful services including blocking spam, managing passwords, and even scanning users' Facebook feeds for malicious links.

Symantec, which has an 8 per cent global market share of the antivirus market and forecast a quarterly revenue of $1.62-1.66 billion in the months through March, will be following the lead of a number of smaller cybersecurity companies who are finding innovative methods to deal with new types of threats.

One company, Juniper Networks, has launched products that place “ghost armies” of fake data on systems in order to distract and misdirect hackers from important information like customer data and intellectual property.

Another firm called Mandiant, which was founded by an ex-US Air Force officer and purchased in December 2013 by FireEye for $1 billion, offers its own ‘emergency response’ services with the strapline “Security breaches are inevitable – being a headline is not."

source independent

This is a media stunt, nothing more. Symantec is promoting its move to a new counter threat model. Since 2005, the AV technology is basically dead, new attack vectors are not visible anymore. With the return and rise of Hardware hacking as well as Internet of Things, Symantec will be a spectator. The security market is splitting into tiny pieces.


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This Scientific Breakthrough May Have Laid The Groundwork For Human Teleportation

Dutch scientists have unlocked the secret to the sci-fi phenomenon of teleportation, successfully causing an atom to vanish and reappear nearly 10 feet away.

The Irish Times reports that a team led by Professor Ronald Hanson of Delft University conducted a demonstration in which information encoded into sub-atomic particles was teleported between two points with 100 percent accuracy for the very first time.

Hanson says that, if a particle can be teleported, there’s no reason to believe the same cannot be done for a human being.

He explained,

If you believe we are nothing more than a collection of atoms strung together in a particular way, then in principle it should be possible to teleport ourselves from one place to another. In practice it’s extremely unlikely, but to say it can never work is very dangerous. I would not rule it out because there’s no fundamental law of physics preventing it.

The technology used will be put towards creating a system of quantum computers that can process information at lightning speed compared even to today’s most advanced computers.

He said,

The main application of quantum teleportation is a quantum version of the internet, extending a global network that we can use to send quantum information. We have shown that it’s possible to do this, and it works every time that you try.

Hanson’s team entangled three particles — a nitrogen atom and two electrons — and used them to transmit quantum information between pieces of diamond three meters apart.

This information is stored on “qubits,” the quantum equivalent of the digital bit. The teleportation was really just the two points linking together, with the second point filling a void the other had left.

The professor explained that the goal is to use teleportation to create a communication system impervious to hacks.

He said,

The information is teleported to the other side, and there’s no way anyone can intercept that information. In principle it’s 100 percent secure.

The next experiment will attempt to teleport information from one building to another over 4,000 feet away.

Hanson said,

I believe it will work, but it’s a huge technical challenge — there’s a reason why nobody has done it yet.

Hanson’s findings were published in the journal Science.

The last attempt to teleport quantum information, conducted in Maryland in 2009, did have a success rate but only once every 100 million tries.

source elitedaily


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Speaking two languages 'slows brain ageing'

Learning a second language slows the speed at which brains age, a study has found, even if it learned in adulthood.

Researchers from the University of Edinburgh found people who spoke two or more languages had significantly better cognitive skills later in life compared with what would be predicted from their IQ results in childhood.

The team, led by Dr Thomas Bak, from the Centre for Cognitive Ageing and Cognitive Epidemiology at the University of Edinburgh, looked at data taken from intelligence tests on 262 English people at 11-years-old who could all speak at least two languages.

The tests were then repeated when they were in their seventies.

From that group, 195 learned a second language before turning 18 and 65 had acquired a second language after that age.

Researchers found that reading, verbal fluency and intelligence were better than what was expected from their test in childhood, particularly with reading and intelligence.

This was the case even if the second language was acquired in adulthood.

Dr Bak said: “Millions of people around the world acquire their second language in later life. Our study shows that bilingualism, even when acquired in adulthood, may provide a small benefit to the ageing brain.”

Caroline Abrahams, the Charity Director at Age UK, described the findings as "another stride forward in finding out how thinking skills can be preserved in later life".

"Over one million people in the UK aged 65 and over are estimated to have some degree of cognitive impairment. We urgently need to understand what influences cognitive ageing so that we can give people better advice about protecting their cognitive health."

The study was published in the journal Annals of Neurology on Monday.

source independent


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American scientists controversially recreate deadly Spanish Flu virus

The extinct influenza virus that caused the worst flu pandemic in history has been recreated from fragments of avian flu found in wild ducks in a controversial experiment to show how easy it would be for the deadly flu strain to reemerge today.

Scientists said the study involved infecting laboratory ferrets with close copies of the 1918 virus – which was responsible for the Spanish Flu pandemic that killed an estimated 50 million people – to see how easy it can be transmitted in the best animal model of the human disease.

But other researchers have denounced the research as foolhardy and dangerous. Critics said that any benefits of the attempts to recreate 1918-like flu viruses from existing avian flu strains do not justify the catastrophic risks if such a genetically engineered virus were to escape either deliberately or accidentally from the laboratory and cause a deadly influenza pandemic.

However, Professor Yoshihiro Kawaoka of the University of Wisconsin-Madison dismissed the criticisms of his research saying that it is necessary for the development of influenza vaccines and other countermeasures designed to minimise the risks of a future flu pandemic.

“These critics fail to appreciate the precautions and safeguards built into our work, the regulation, review and oversight these studies receive….The risks of conducting this research are not ignored, but they can be effectively managed and mitigated,” Professor Kawaoka said.

“We know studies like ours advance the field and help those responsible for making decisions about surveillance and pandemic preparedness [to] base decisions on scientific fact, rather than conjecture. Therefore our research provides important benefits that cannot be achieved by other means,” he said in an email to The Independent.

The study, which was carried out in a secure laboratory with the second highest biosafety level, showed that all the necessary ingredients exist in the wild population of bird flu viruses for the emergence of a virus similar to the deadly 1918 flu strain.

“Because avian influenza viruses in nature require only a few changes to adapt to humans and cause a pandemic, it is important to understand the mechanisms involved in adaptation and identify the key mutations so we can be better prepared,” Professor Kawaoka said.

“The point of the study was to assess the risk of avian viruses currently circulating in nature. We found genes in avian influenza viruses quite closely related to the 1918 virus and, to evaluate the pandemic potential should such a 1918-like virus emerge, identified changes that enabled it to transmit in ferrets,” he said.

The 1918 virus was recreated from eight genes found in avian flu viruses isolated from populations of wild ducks. Using a technique known as “reverse genetics” the scientists rebuilt the entire virus so that it was 97 per cent identical to the 1918 strain, known from viruses recovered from frozen corpses, according to the study published in the journal Cell Host and Microbe.

Tests on ferrets showed that the virus was still able to cause flu-like symptoms. When it was further mutated at just seven points, the virus spread easily from one animal to another – indicating that it could cause a pandemic in the human population.

Professor Kawaoka has already come under fire for carrying out previous studies to enhance the transmissibility of the deadly H5N1 strain of avian flu – which is highly lethal to humans but does not pass easily from one person to another – by repeatedly exposing ferrets to the engineered virus.

“Like many of the recent ‘gain-of-function’ studies, this one created a novel virus that is likely both transmissible and virulent in humans,” said Marc Lipsitch, professor of epidemiology at Harvard University.

“This is a risky activity, even in the safest labs. Scientists should not take such risks without strong evidence that the work could save lives, which this [study] does not provide,” Professor Lipsitch said.

Robert Kolter, professor of microbiology at Harvard Medical School, said: “The scientists doing this work are so immersed in their own self-aggrandisement, they have become completely blind to the irresponsibility of their acts. Their arguments in favour of such work, i.e. increase ability for surveillance, remain as weak as ever.”

Simon Wain-Hobson, a virologist at the Pasteur Institute in Paris, said: “The work doesn’t offer us much. The risk of escape is small but non-zero. I do not see such benefits, so on balance we are worse off.”

source independent


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Neanderthal faces emerge from the gloom of a Spanish cave

Bones and skulls found in the cave show Neanderthal facial features appearing for the first time 430,000 years ago

Ancient skulls recovered from a deep cave in northern Spain are the oldest known remains to show clear signs of Neanderthal facial features, researchers claim.

Scientists reconstructed 17 skulls from pieces of bone found in the mud at Sima de los Huesos, or the "Pit of Bones", in the Atapuerca mountains. The skulls had some Neanderthal-like features, but their appearance was otherwise far more primitive.

Juan Luis Arsuaga, professor of palaeontology at the Complutense University of Madrid, said the remains belonged to a "missing link" population that fell somewhere between the Neanderthals and a more archaic group of human forerunners.

The term "missing link" has fallen out of favour with many researchers, in part because it implies a simple, step-wise progression from one species to another. But the phrase is still used at times to describe species that bridge a divide between distinct ancestors and descendants.

The skulls come from a haul of bones that belong to at least 28 individuals who came to rest in a chamber at the bottom of a 14-metre-deep cave shaft. The bodies are thought to have been washed into the pit after they died elsewhere in the cave system.

Measurements of the bones, which are around 430,000 years old, suggest that trademark features of Neanderthals did not emerge at the same rate, but that some evolved much earlier than others.

The skulls at Sima de los Huesos have Neanderthal-like teeth and jaw structures, and other similarities in the brow ridges and nasal apertures, or channels. But their braincases are small, unlike the elongated crania of the big-brained Neanderthals. Of the 17 skulls reported in Science, seven have not been studied before.

The Sima population, as they are known, probably developed Neanderthal-like jaws and teeth from chewing and the heavy use of their front teeth and incisors for other tasks. "We think it's related to the use of their mouths as a 'third hand', or as part of their behaviour to grasp and to pull things with the front teeth," Arsuaga told the Guardian.

"We can't say they are the direct ancestors of Neanderthals. All we can say is that the population are members of the Neanderthal lineage. They are a 'missing link' between the Neanderthals and a population that was much more primitive," he added.

The Spanish team believe the more primitive population could be an ancient human species called Homo antecessor, which lived in Europe around one million years ago. "They could be the stem group before the split between Neanderthals and modern humans," Arsuaga said.

Neanderthals emerged around 400,000 years ago, and lived in Europe and Asia until around 35,000 years ago. They were replaced – though not before some interbreeding – by modern humans that evolved in Africa and colonised Eurasia 50,000 years ago.

In previous reports, the Spanish researchers had claimed the Sima de los Huesos remains were much older, around 600,000 years old, and that they belonged to an ancient group called Homo heidelbergensis. The latest study changes both of those interpretations.

"They now agree that the fossils belong to the Neanderthal lineage but not to the species Homo heidelbergensis. And they have revised the dating of the fossils to about 430,000 years, giving much more substantial agreement between our views," said Chris Stringer, head of human origins at the Natural History Museum in London.

"The rich Sima de los Huesos material, with every part of the skeleton beautifully preserved, will continue to inform us about human evolution 400,000 years ago as research continues on this astonishing, and even beautiful, collection of human fossils," Stringer said.

source guardian


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Autism Rain mouse

Recent experiments give a glimmer of hope for a treatment for autism

WHAT causes autism is a mystery. One theory is that a phenomenon called the cellular-danger response lies at the root of it. The CDR makes cells put their ordinary activities on hold and instead switch on their defence systems, in reaction to high levels in the bloodstream of chemicals called purines. These are important and widespread substances: ATP, a molecule that shuttles energy around cells, is a purine; so are half the “genetic letters” in DNA. Cells under viral attack tend to shed them. Too many of them in the blood can thus be a signal of viral infection. In that case activating the CDR makes perfect sense. But studies have shown that people with autism (and also those with some other brain conditions, such as schizophrenia) often seem to have chronic CDR. The purine signal has somehow got stuck in the “on” position.

Why this happens is obscure. But it has occurred to Robert Naviaux of the University of California, San Diego, that once the signal is stuck in this way, chronic CDR might, by subverting the function of crucial brain cells, be the immediate cause of the symptoms of autism. In a series of experiments, the latest of which has just been published in Translational Psychiatry, he makes a plausible case that this is exactly what is happening—and he also illuminates a route to a possible treatment.

Dr Naviaux’s experiments start by injecting pregnant mice with viral genes. This stimulates the CDR in both mother and fetus. The offspring of such pregnancies often show behaviours, such as fear of strangers, fear of novelty and poor co-ordination, that would be interpreted as autistic in people, and this procedure is thus used as a model of autism.

Dr Naviaux reasoned that, if chronic CDR is the cause of autism’s symptoms, abolishing it should abolish the symptoms. He further reasoned that one way this might be done is with a drug that binds to a cell’s purine receptors, so that they cannot react when purines come along. One such drug exists. It is called suramin, and is used to treat sleeping sickness. Dr Naviaux has therefore been trying it out on the model mice.

Once they are weaned, he puts these mice through a series of behavioural tests and compares the results with those of similar mice whose mothers were injected with saline rather than viral genes. One test measures whether they have trouble interacting with a stranger mouse. A second studies how physically co-ordinated they are. A third runs them through mazes to see if they have a preference for “sameness”, as many autistic people do. At the age of six months, he then gives them either an injection of suramin or an injection of saline solution, and tests them again. Finally, five weeks after the injection, when the level of suramin in their bodies has fallen back to zero, he tests them once more.

The upshot, he has found, is that suramin treatment abolishes some of the animals’ autistic symptoms. Mice which once showed an aversion to novelty, and considerable anxiety when forced to meet a stranger, show neither of these after treatment with the drug—though their co-ordination is not improved. In his latest series of experiments he has also looked at the drug’s metabolic effects. He finds that suramin treatment returns to normal 17 of the 18 metabolic pathways that are noticeably different in autistic and non-autistic mice.

The effect is not permanent. The experimental mice’s autistic behaviours come back once the suramin has disappeared from their bodies. But these are interesting results. They suggest CDR really is an important part of autism, and that it may be a tractable one. Dr Naviaux is not suggesting using suramin itself to treat people with autism. Though appropriate for an acute, life-threatening illness, which sleeping sickness is, its side effects (the most serious of which is damage to the adrenal cortex) make it unsuitable for chronic prescription to someone whose life is not in danger. But if his work stands up to the scrutiny of others, then looking for another purine-receptor blocker would surely be a worthwhile endeavour.

source economist


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Breakthrough in solar panel manufacture promises cheap energy within a decade

A breakthrough in the production of solar cells will make the next generation of solar panels cheaper and safer, and promises to accelerate the development of solar energy over the next decade, scientists said.

A technical advance based on an edible salt used in the manufacture of tofu could revolutionise the production of future solar panels to make them less expensive, more flexible and easier to use than the current models seen on millions of roofs across Britain.

Researchers believe they have found a way of overcoming one of the most serious limitations of the next generation of solar panels, which are based on toxic cadmium chloride, by simply adding magnesium chloride, an abundant salt found in seawater.

A study has shown that the solar cells produced with magnesium chloride – which is also found in bath salts as well as used to coagulate soya milk into tofu – work just as efficiently as conventional cadmium cells but at a fraction of the cost and with much lower toxicity.

“We certainly believe it’s going to make a big change to the costs of these devices. The cost of solar is going to match fossil fuels eventually but this is going to get us there quicker,” said Jon Major of the University of Liverpool, who led the research.

“Magnesium chloride is incredibly low-cost and it’s simply recovered from seawater. It’s used to de-ice roads in winter and it’s completely harmless and non-toxic. We’ve managed to replace a highly expensive, toxic material with one that’s completely benign and low cost,” Dr Major said.

About 90 per cent of the solar panels currently in use are made of photovoltaic cells composed of silicon semiconductors, which convert sunlight directly into electricity. However, silicon is not good at absorbing sunlight which is why the next generation of PV cells will be based on a thin coating of cadmium telluride, which absorbs sunlight so well that it only needs to be about one hundredth of the thickness of silicon.

However, although cadmium telluride is seen as the future for solar energy, it is potentially dangerous after it is “activated” with cadmium chloride, a critical step in the manufacturing process that raises the efficiency of converting sunlight to electricity from about two per cent to 15 per cent or more.

The Liverpool team attempted to find an alternative to cadmium chloride in the activation step and discovered that it could be done just as well with magnesium chloride, which they sprayed onto a test sample of cadmium telluride with a model aircraft spray gun they bought for £49.99, Dr Major said.

In a study published in the journal Nature, the researchers demonstrated that the efficiency of the resulting photovoltaic cells made from cadmium telluride and magnesium chloride were on a par with commercial cadmium telluride cells that had been activated with toxic cadmium chloride.

“We have to apply cadmium chloride in a fume cupboard in the lab, but we created solar cells using the new method on a bench with a spray gun bought from a model shop,” Dr Major said.

“Cadmium chloride is toxic and expensive, and we no longer need to use it. Replacing it with a naturally occurring substance could save the industry a vast amount of money and reduce the overall cost for generating power from solar,” he said.

It is not possible to estimate how much cheaper the new solar cells will be, Dr Major said, but magnesium chloride is about one per cent of the cost of cadmium chloride. In addition, waste disposal will be far easier and cheaper with a product based on a non-toxic salt, he said.

Asked why the solar power industry had not thought of using magnesium chloride before, Dr Major said: “We genuinely don’t know. The only reason we can suggest is that cadmium chloride works well so it may be a case of ‘if it’s not broke, why is there a need to fix it?’”

Jeremy Leggett, chairman of the renewable energy firm Solarcentury, said that the development is exciting because it promises to make an already competitive industry even more competitive with conventional sources of energy, such as fossil fuels.

“Their costs are coming down so fast that they are already knocking the business models of utilities into what some analysts call a ‘death spiral’. Imagine, then, what will happen if developments such as the one described in the new research come to market,” Dr Leggett said.

source independent


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550m-year-old coral reef discovered on the plains of Namibia, formed by the first animals with skeletons

An ancient coral-like reef that formed in a primeval shallow sea nearly 550 million years ago has been discovered on what is now the dry scrubland of Namibia in southern Africa, scientists said.

The fossilised reef was formed by the first known animals with skeletons and may mark a critical moment in the evolution of life when marine organisms had to defend themselves against rapacious predators with a taste for soft flesh.

Scientists said that the reef was built over many years by long-extinct marine creatures which gradually formed a reef similar to the way coral reefs are made today.

It is the oldest known fossilised reef in the world, according to the journal Science. Dating techniques show that the reef was alive before the famous “Cambrian Explosion” about 542 million years ago, when multicellular life evolved dramatically into many diverse types, some of which are the ancestors of today’s main groups of animals, said Professor Rachel Wood of Edinburgh University, who led the study.

“It is possible to date the reef from a layer of volcanic ash found just above it. Our best guess is that the reef was alive about 548 million years ago, which makes it the oldest to date, although something may still come out that is even older,” Professor Wood said.

The reef was made of filter-feeding marine animals called Cloudina which grew to about 15cm long and about 8mm wide. They secreted successive cone-like external skeletons in formations that look like stacked-up ice-cream cones, with each Cloudina living in the top “cone” furthest from the reef, she said.

It was thought that life on earth remained relatively simple until the Cambrian Explosion. But the discovery of complex, multicellular animals with external skeletons living on a reef made of their dead skeletons suggests that life before the Cambrian was already in an intense struggle for existence.

“The critical thing is that the Cambrian Explosion was a pretty critical event. It established that animals were responding to complicated ecological pressures and yet here we have a reef system that shows this was going on much earlier than we thought,” Professor Wood said.

“Modern reefs are major centres of biodiversity with sophisticated ecosystems. Animals like corals build reefs to defend against predators and competitors. We have found that animals were building reefs even before the evolution of complex animal life, suggesting that there must have been selective pressures in the Precambrian Period that we have get to understand,” she said.

An analysis of the reef shows that the skeletal structures were cemented together and pointing in the same direction, which was probably towards the ocean currents carrying the floating items of food that the filter feeders lived on.

“This animal was clearly responding to some ecological pressure in the environment such as competition for space or predators. It possibly pushes the roots of the Cambrian Explosion even further back in time,” Professor Wood said.

source independent


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China stakes its claims on Mars with rover bound for Red Planet in 2020

Sovereignty in outer space is always a tricky subject, but out of all the lifeless rocks in the solar system it’s safe to say that Mars is more American than most. It may not have a US flag crumpled in mid-wave on the surface, but every robot that’s ever crawled successfully on the planet’s surface has been made in the US. Not for much longer.

Last week China announced that it was planning send a rover to Mars by 2020 and bring back samples from the Red Planet just 10 years later. Ouyang Ziyuan, the Chinese scientist who oversaw the country’s successful Moon rover mission in December last year, said that this would be just the first step in the country’s plans to explore the solar system – with further plans involving sending probes to the Sun.

The US aerospace industry may be having something of a minor boom at the moment as private companies such as Elon Musk’s SpaceX celebrate engineering successes, but America still can’t match China’s budget nor its concentration of political will.

Scott Pace, a former Nasa administrator and director of the Space Policy Insitute at George Washington University, told The Independent that China’s plans were “ambitious but not impossible,” adding that despite their success on the Moon, Mars is “much, much more difficult to reach and operate on than the Moon”.

Of the seven rovers that have been sent to Mars only the four US missions have been successful. A pair of Soviet rovers sent in 1971 failed to stay in touch with Earth for longer than 20 seconds and in 2003 the Beagle 2’s ‘Planetary Undersurface Tool’ (only a ‘rover’ in the most generous of terms) failed to even make it to the surface.

Even Yutu, China’s Moon rover, named after the pet rabbit of Chang’e, the goddess of the Moon in Chinese mythology, has experienced “abnormalities” after failing to enter into the hibernation state necessary to survive the freezing temperatures of the lunar night. It shut down most of its functionality after just three months on the surface, with a fan-operated and state media-approved Weibo account sending out a last goodbye to its Chinese fans: “Good night, planet Earth. Good night, humanity.”

Ouyang, the chief scientist of the Chinese Lunar Exploration Programme and an advocate for the country’s exploration of Mars, says that the goal of a mission to the Red Planet would be to search for signs of life, past or present – a long-standing scientific trophy that Nasa’s Curiosity rover has been slowly trundling towards since it landed on the planet in August 2012.

The Chinese government had previously thought to head to Mars with the help of Russia, but abandoned the partnership following the 2012 crash of the Fobos-Grunt, a Russian spacecraft carrying a Chinese probe bound for Phobos – the larger of Mars’s two satellites. This severing of ties has looked increasingly wise this week as Russia cancelled the first flight of its Angara mission on Friday – the first orbit-capable rocket designed by the country since the dissolution of the Soviet Union.

Underlying all these announcements however is one of the greatest lures of space exploration: a manned mission to Mars. Nasa has currently pledged to land an astronaut on the red planet by 2035, while China’s last announcements set a date of between 2040 and 2060. However, a recent 286-page study by the US National Research Council warned that Nasa’s goals were impossible without the help of new international partners. China was suggested.

For the moment this looks more than unlikely, with Mr Pace commenting that from a US perspective, China’s “civil activities have not been a particular spur,” adding that he did not see “any prospects for human spaceflight cooperation until there is change in the political relationship.” Perhaps once the US and China have learned to share the red planet by robotic proxy they’ll both begin to take the prospect of joint manned mission more seriously.

Only today the US was due to attempt to launch a 'flying saucer' into Earth's atmosphere to test technology that could be used to land on Mars.

After several delays due to weather, the attempt off the coast of the Hawaiian island of Kauai was due to test the disc-shaped vehicle and a giant parachute, using the Earth's atmosphere due to its similarity to that of Mars.

Since the 1970s, NASA has used the same parachute design to slow landers and rovers as they streak through the thin Martian atmosphere.

With plans to send heavier spacecraft and eventually astronauts, the space agency needs a much stronger parachute.

source independent


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Blackest is the new black: Scientists develop a material so dark that you can't see it...

Puritans, Goths, avant-garde artists, hell-raising poets and fashion icon Coco Chanel all saw something special in it. Now black, that most enigmatic of colours, has become even darker and more mysterious.

A British company has produced a "strange, alien" material so black that it absorbs all but 0.035 per cent of visual light, setting a new world record. To stare at the "super black" coating made of carbon nanotubes – each 10,000 times thinner than a human hair – is an odd experience. It is so dark that the human eye cannot understand what it is seeing. Shapes and contours are lost, leaving nothing but an apparent abyss.

If it was used to make one of Chanel's little black dresses, the wearer's head and limbs might appear to float incorporeally around a dress-shaped hole.

Actual applications are more serious, enabling astronomical cameras, telescopes and infrared scanning systems to function more effectively. Then there are the military uses that the material's maker, Surrey NanoSystems, is not allowed to discuss.

The nanotube material, named Vantablack, has been grown on sheets of aluminium foil by the Newhaven-based company. While the sheets may be crumpled into miniature hills and valleys, this landscape disappears on areas covered by it.

"You expect to see the hills and all you can see … it's like black, like a hole, like there's nothing there. It just looks so strange," said Ben Jensen, the firm's chief technical officer.

Asked about the prospect of a little black dress, he said it would be "very expensive" – the cost of the material is one of the things he was unable to reveal.

"You would lose all features of the dress. It would just be something black passing through," he said.

Vantablack, which was described in the journal Optics Express and will be launched at the Farnborough International Airshow this week, works by packing together a field of nanotubes, like incredibly thin drinking straws. These are so tiny that light particles cannot get into them, although they can pass into the gaps between. Once there, however, all but a tiny remnant of the light bounces around until it is absorbed.

Vantablack's practical uses include calibrating cameras used to take photographs of the oldest objects in the universe. This has to be done by pointing the camera at something as black as possible.

It also has "virtually undetectable levels of outgassing and particle fallout", which can contaminate the most sensitive imaging systems. The material conducts heat seven and a half times more effectively than copper and has 10 times the tensile strength of steel.

Stephen Westland, professor of colour science and technology at Leeds University, said traditional black was actually a colour of light and scientists were now pushing it to something out of this world.

"Many people think black is the absence of light. I totally disagree with that. Unless you are looking at a black hole, nobody has actually seen something which has no light," he said. "These new materials, they are pretty much as black as we can get, almost as close to a black hole as we could imagine."

source independent


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'Four-winged' dinosaur discovery suggests prehistoric beasts could fly before birds

Archaeologists have unearthed the fossil of a “four-winged” dinosaur bird – indicating that feathered dinosaurs may have been able to fly before the evolution of birds.

The long tail feathers of Changyuraptor, from north-east China, would have provided the stability and speed control required for a safe landing.

At four feet long and weighing 90 pounds, the creature, which lived 125 million years ago, is the biggest dinosaur of its type yet discovered.

The well-preserved fossil shows that its body was cloaked by a full set of feathers and, in comparison with its body size, the foot-long tail feathers were unusually long.

“Four-winged” dinosaurs, known as microraptorines, are so-called because the long feathers attached to their legs have the appearance of a second set of wings.

And the well-developed feathers on both legs and arms have led scientists to wonder if the creatures were capable of flight.

Dr Alan Turner, from Stony Brook University, New York, one of the authors of the new research published in the journal Nature Communications, said: "Numerous features that we have long associated with birds in fact evolved in dinosaurs long before the first birds arrived on the scene.

"This includes things such as hollow bones, nesting behaviour, feathers, and possibly flight."

The Changyuraptor discovery further blurs the lines between dinosaurs and the first early birds.

Earlier this month, it was revealed that the Earth’s oldest-known bird was a paleontological rock star that sported “feather trousers” on its legs.

Scientists said the best-preserved fossil of Archaeopteryx ever found showed that the ancient creature’s plumage was very similar to that of modern-day birds – and that it was capable of flying.

Speaking of the latest discovery, study leader Dr Luis Chiappe, from the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County, said: "The new fossil documents that dinosaur flight was not limited to very small animals but to dinosaurs of more substantial size.

"Clearly far more evidence is needed to understand the nuances of dinosaur flight, but Changyuraptor is a major leap in the right direction."

source independent

Danny Z

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'Four-winged' dinosaur discovery suggests prehistoric beasts could fly before birds

Archaeologists have unearthed the fossil of a “four-winged” dinosaur bird – indicating that feathered dinosaurs may have been able to fly before the evolution of birds.

The long tail feathers of Changyuraptor, from north-east China, would have provided the stability and speed control required for a safe landing.

At four feet long and weighing 90 pounds, the creature, which lived 125 million years ago, is the biggest dinosaur of its type yet discovered.

The well-preserved fossil shows that its body was cloaked by a full set of feathers and, in comparison with its body size, the foot-long tail feathers were unusually long.

“Four-winged” dinosaurs, known as microraptorines, are so-called because the long feathers attached to their legs have the appearance of a second set of wings.

And the well-developed feathers on both legs and arms have led scientists to wonder if the creatures were capable of flight.

Dr Alan Turner, from Stony Brook University, New York, one of the authors of the new research published in the journal Nature Communications, said: "Numerous features that we have long associated with birds in fact evolved in dinosaurs long before the first birds arrived on the scene.

"This includes things such as hollow bones, nesting behaviour, feathers, and possibly flight."

The Changyuraptor discovery further blurs the lines between dinosaurs and the first early birds.

Earlier this month, it was revealed that the Earth’s oldest-known bird was a paleontological rock star that sported “feather trousers” on its legs.

Scientists said the best-preserved fossil of Archaeopteryx ever found showed that the ancient creature’s plumage was very similar to that of modern-day birds – and that it was capable of flying.

Speaking of the latest discovery, study leader Dr Luis Chiappe, from the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County, said: "The new fossil documents that dinosaur flight was not limited to very small animals but to dinosaurs of more substantial size.

"Clearly far more evidence is needed to understand the nuances of dinosaur flight, but Changyuraptor is a major leap in the right direction."

source independent

So he was flying then hit this concrete wall?


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Giant hole appears at 'the end of the world' in Siberia

A mysterious crater has appeared at the “end of the world” in Siberia, leaving a pit 80m wide and so deep it has not yet been measured.

Researchers are being dispatched to investigate the hole, which has confounded scientists with its dramatic appearance.

Some have speculated it could have been made by a meteorite striking earth, an underground explosion, or is a sinkhole caused by collapsing rock, the Siberian Times reported.

One imaginative online commenter claimed it could even be evidence “of the arrival of a UFO craft” to the planet.

The area’s name, Yamal, translates as the “end of the world” and the remote peninsula reaches into the Arctic Ocean.

It holds some of Russia’s largest gas reserves and the crater appeared less than 20 miles from the biggest gas field, Bovanenkovo.

The dark colour of the crater’s sides was said in a Zvezda TV report to indicate “temperature processes” or burning.

Whatever caused it, it is large enough to comfortably fit several military helicopters in the entrance.

Experts from the Centre for the Study of the Arctic and the Cryosphere Institute of the Russian Academy of Sciences will take samples of soil, air and water.

A spokesman for the Russian Emergencies Ministry’s Yamal branch ruled out a meteorite but said it was too early to say what cause the crater.

Initial reports about the phenomenon were dismissed as fakes but evidence has proved its existence for the last two years.

Anna Kurchatova, from the Sub-Arctic Scientific Research Centre, told the Siberian Times global warming could be a cause.

She believes the hole was formed by a mixture of water, salt and gas, igniting an underground explosion.

The gas had accumulated in ice mixed with sand beneath the surface of what was a sea 10,000 years ago, and ignited when the permafrost melted “like popping a champagne bottle”, she claimed.

If her analysis is correct, another explosion could have worrying implications for the many underground gas pipelines running through the region.

The nearby Bovanenkovo field is of central importance to gas supplies from Siberia to the world.

Yamal is also known for its huge reindeer herds, which are managed by the indigenous Nenets.

source independent
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Scientists Have Finally Figured Out Why The Amazon River Runs Backward

The Amazon once flowed in the opposite direction, from east to west. Reversing the direction of the Earth's largest river is no trivial thing, and geologists have pondered the cause for some time. In Earth and Planetary Science Letters The University of Sao Paulo's Dr Victor Sacek has demonstrated that nothing more than erosion is needed to explain this enormous shift.

With the mighty Andes at the western end of the continent it seems logical that South America's rivers flow east. While the Amazon discharges five times as much water as any other river on the planet, The Orinoco and the Rio de la Plata run the same way, each dwarfing any river in North America or Europe in the process.

However, until 10 million years ago, most of what is now the Amazon basin was drained by a river that flowed west into a giant lake that lay at the feet of the northern Andes. From there the water flowed north to the Caribbean Sea. Since the Isthmus of Panama had yet to form, this water was then swept west into the Pacific.

To tilt an entire continent seems such a vast endeavor that geologists had speculated changes in convection within the Earth's mantle, perhaps resulting from the break-up of Africa and South America, must have driven this.

Sacek, on the other hand, shows that the rise of the Andes as the South American plate rode over the Nazca Plate can explain the process on the appropriate timescale. Sacek included in his model the fact that as the mountains rose they intercepted more rain-bearing clouds, which in turn triggered more erosion.

At first the Andes rise produced a trough to the east, which became the paleolake into which the westward-flowing Amazon emptied. With time, however, this sinking slowed and erosion accelerated, replacing the lake with a series of wetlands known as the Pebas. The vast Pebas marshlands would have been an ecosystem like nothing we see today, but eventually sediment accumulation raised the region to the point where the rainfall in the area was pushed back the other way.

The model successfully matches the observation that sediment deposited at the Amazon's mouth has increased over the period of its eastward flow. At first, when the Amazon's sources were relatively flat, much of the sediment was dumped part way to its mouth, only being remobilized eons later.

Sacek admits however, that his model "Fails to fully reproduce the spacial and temporal evolution of the Pebas system as observed in geological data" and says further work is needed.

source businessinsider


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Giant hole appears at 'the end of the world' in Siberia

Scientists Finally Got A Close-Up View Of That Mysterious Siberian Crater — Here's What They Found

When a helicopter discovered a mysterious giant crater on the Yamal Peninsula of Siberia, a place referred to as "the end of the world," speculation was rampant. People suggested it could have been caused by a meteorite, an underground explosion related to nearby natural gas fields, or even something more ominous or extra-terrestrial.

The crater looks almost too incredible to be real, but researchers finally made their way there on July 16 and it most certainly is the real thing. But even though the expedition revealed more information, the exact cause of the crater is still being determined.

Some think the crater might have been formed by a "pingo" — a geological feature found in areas with permafrost like the Yamal Peninsula.

A pingo is a hill or dome that forms in the permafrost because of an underground ice formation, caused by groundwater forcing its way up towards the surface. There it encounters colder temperatures and freezes. If it melted, due to warming temperatures, it could have left a crater behind.

Another possibility is that as the ground warms, an underground ice formation may have released gas that had been trapped there for thousands of years, which could have forced its way through the surface, bursting out and leaving a giant hole.

"For now we can say for sure that under the influence of internal processes there was an ejection in the permafrost," Andrey Plekhanov, senior researcher at the State Scientific Centre of Arctic Research, told The Siberian Times. In other words, whatever happened caused pressure to build up underground, forcing the above layer of earth — permafrost — to break apart and fly outward from the center of the hole.

Anna Kurchatova from the Sub-Arctic Scientific Research Centre described the process to The Siberian Times as one where frozen gas, salt, and sand underground may have warmed enough to cause "an effect like the popping of a Champagne bottle cork."

Plekhanov and other researchers have said that the crater was most likely caused by changing temperatures in the region — potentially related to global warming — though more research is needed to be certain. The Yamal Peninsula has experienced particularly warm summers recently, which could have caused the melting.

The investigation revealed that the hole at the top of the crater has a diameter of approximately 100 feet, smaller than initial estimates of more than 600 feet., though it is tough to measure due to a somewhat oval shape. The crater is deep though — approximately 300 feet, and an icy lake sits at the bottom.

The research team said that ice in the sides of the crater is melting as it's exposed to the sun, causing water to flow down into the lake. This may eventually fill the crater.

Although researchers thought that at first they'd seen evidence of burning visible on the edges of the crater, the closer examination revealed no traces of a fiery explosion, which rules out a meteorite. Plekhanov also said that the crater isn't quite close enough to the gas fields, about 19 miles away, to have been caused by a gas pumping accident.

The Russian researchers are using satellite footage to see if they can determine when the crater appeared, though they imagine it happened in the past year or two.

Plekhanov said that the phenomenon seems natural, though still incredibly strange. He told The Siberian Times, "I've never seen anything like this, even though I have been to Yamal many times."

Here's the original video footage that revealed the crater to the world.

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Scientists cut HIV directly out of infected human genome using molecular tools

Scientists have taken an “important step” towards a permanent cure for AIDS by using specially designed enzymes to physically cut the HIV virus out of an infected human genome.

The breakthrough research by a team of scientists from Temple University School of Medicine uses a pair of molecular tools to achieve its goal: a “targeting strand” of RNA which locates the virus and a “DNA snipping” enzyme that removes it. The virus-free cell then repairs itself.

“Current therapies have transformed Aids into a chronic illness, but the root of the problem – the virus – hasn’t been eliminated, only suppressed,” says Dr Kamel Khalili, chair of the department of Neuroscience at Temple and a lead author of the study. “Our goal is based on a simple concept: if you want to eliminate a virus-based illness, kill the virus.”

Dr Khalili and his team have successfully removed the HIV virus from various human cell cultures in the lab, but warn that they are “still years removed from the clinical setting” and that the research is simply “a proof of concept that we're moving in the right direction.”

More than 35 million people worldwide are currently infected by HIV, with highly active antiretroviral therapy (HAART) used to control the disease in the developed world. However, this treatment does not completely eradicate HIV from the body and the virus is likely to become active again if treatment is ever stopped.

Scientists have been working to produce a cure for HIV for more than three decades, but the genetic diversity of the virus and its ability, in the words of virologist Ron Desrosiers, to “replicate unrelentingly despite everything the immune system can throw at it” have made it a formidable foe.

Although Dr Khalili’s gene-editing approach could provide a permanent cure for AIDS, the research is still in its infancy. The scientists have yet to find a way to deliver the ‘snipping’ enzymes to every infected cell (it’s one thing targeting a virus in a test tube but quite another to hunt one throughout the body) and there are also worries that treatment of this kind could have unexpected side-effects such as cell mutations

Similarly, the genetic diversity of the virus may mean that each treatment has to be tailored to the specific virus - a costly barrier to a 'universal' cure.

Despite this, Dr Kahlili is optimistic: “We are working on a number of strategies so we can take the construct into preclinical studies," he said. "We want to eradicate every single copy of HIV-1 from the patient. That will cure AIDS. I think this technology is the way we can do it."

source independent


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Scientists create transparent mouse complete with see-through organs

Technique could be used to detect viruses and analyse human biopsy samples

Scientists have created see-through mice complete with transparent organs, in a new technique that could pave the way to a new generation of therapies for conditions ranging from autism to chronic pain.

Mice are frequently used in biomedical research because much of their basic biology is similar to humans, meaning they can be altered in ways that simulate human diseases.

The transparent mice are not alive however, and are currently being used for scientists researching fine details of anatomy.

Vivian Gradinaru, a senior author of the study at the California Institute of Technology, said the research could pave the way for a better understanding of brain-body interactions, more accurate clinical diagnoses and disease monitoring.

Before being treated with chemicals, the mice were euthanised and their skin removed. The team then pumped a series of chemicals through blood vessels, as well as other passages in the brain and spinal cord.

Some of the chemicals form a mesh to hold tissue in place, while others wash out fats that make tissue block light.

The results appear like a rodent-shaped block of gelatin with the organs held in place by connective tissue and a gel used in the procedure.

Researchers made their inner organs transparent, but not their bones. The process of making an entire mouse see-through takes up to two weeks.

Although scientists have been attempting to make organs transparent for decades, they have struggled to do this without damaging tissue.

The new work is the first to make an entire mouse transparent without extracting and then clearing organs outside the body, Ms Gradinaru explained.

Researchers had previously developed a method for making brains and embryos transparent and the team adapted this to use on the whole mouse body. The team say this new technique could be used to projects like mapping the details of the nervous system, the spread of cancer and to see where viruses hide in tissues.

Ms Gradinaru said: "Our methodology has the potential to accelerate any scientific endeavor that would benefit from whole-organism mapping, including the study of how peripheral nerves and organs can profoundly affect cognition and mental processing, and vice versa.

"Our easy-to-use tissue clearing protocols, which employ readily available and cost-effective reagents and equipment, will make the subcellular interrogation of large tissue samples an accessible undertaking within the broader research and clinical communities."

The study Single-Cell Phenotyping within Transparent Intact Tissue through Whole-Body Clearing has been published in the journal Cell.

source independent


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400 Years Ago, A Famous Mathematician Couldn't Confirm His Theory — Computers Did It Two Days Ago

Seventeenth century mathematician Johannes Kepler defined some basic rules for the how the planets move, and given his predilections for contemplating spheres, he suggested in 1611 that the most efficient way to stack spheres was in a pyramid formation.

But he was unable to prove it in a mathematically satisfactory way, and the idea remained unproven for 400 years.

New Scientist reports that a scientist named Thomas Hales successfully confirmed Kepler's hypothesis to be true this past Sunday with help from a computer.

Hales first proved it himself by hand in a 300-page paper in 1998, but his solution was only deemed 99% certain to be correct. Seeking that last 1% of certainty, he enlisted help from computers under what he called "The Flyspeck Project."

Two computer programs, Isabelle and HOL Light, went to work formally validating each of the steps in logic required to arrive at the conclusion that spheres are most efficiently arranged in a pyramid shape.

Sure, Hales is glad at having his hard work confirmed to be totally correct, but the real significance of the Flyspeck Project is that computers can do the tedious work of double-checking logical proofs while mathematicians are left to ponder their next great problems.

"This technology cuts the mathematical referees out of the verification process," Hales told New Scientist. "Their opinion about the correctness of the proof no longer matters."

Grocers around the world rejoice as they continue stacking oranges the way they always have.

source businessinsider

Dynamite Joe

Well-Known Member

Published: Aug. 19, 2014
A team of researchers at Michigan State University has developed a new type of solar concentrator that when placed over a window creates solar energy while allowing people to actually see through the window.

It is called a transparent luminescent solar concentrator and can be used on buildings, cell phones and any other device that has a clear surface.

And, according to Richard Lunt of MSU’s College of Engineering, the key word is “transparent.”

Research in the production of energy from solar cells placed around luminescent plastic-like materials is not new. These past efforts, however, have yielded poor results – the energy production was inefficient and the materials were highly colored.

“No one wants to sit behind colored glass,” said Lunt, an assistant professor of chemical engineering and materials science. “It makes for a very colorful environment, like working in a disco. We take an approach where we actually make the luminescent active layer itself transparent.”

The solar harvesting system uses small organic molecules developed by Lunt and his team to absorb specific nonvisible wavelengths of sunlight.

“We can tune these materials to pick up just the ultraviolet and the near infrared wavelengths that then ‘glow’ at another wavelength in the infrared,” he said.

The “glowing” infrared light is guided to the edge of the plastic where it is converted to electricity by thin strips of photovoltaic solar cells.

“Because the materials do not absorb or emit light in the visible spectrum, they look exceptionally transparent to the human eye,” Lunt said.

One of the benefits of this new development is its flexibility. While the technology is at an early stage, it has the potential to be scaled to commercial or industrial applications with an affordable cost.

“It opens a lot of area to deploy solar energy in a non-intrusive way,” Lunt said. “It can be used on tall buildings with lots of windows or any kind of mobile device that demands high aesthetic quality like a phone or e-reader. Ultimately we want to make solar harvesting surfaces that you do not even know are there.”

Lunt said more work is needed in order to improve its energy-producing efficiency. Currently it is able to produce a solar conversion efficiency close to 1 percent, but noted they aim to reach efficiencies beyond 5 percent when fully optimized. The best colored LSC has an efficiency of around 7 percent.

The research was featured on the cover of a recent issue of the journal Advanced Optical Materials.

Other members of the research team include Yimu Zhao, an MSU doctoral student in chemical engineering and materials science; Benjamin Levine, assistant professor of chemistry; and Garrett Meek, doctoral student in chemistry.

Solar energy that doesn't block the view | MSUToday | Michigan State University


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Neanderthals lived alongside humans for centuries, latest study shows

Belgium holds the secret to producing some of the finest chocolate, waffles and beer in the world but it turns out the country may also have the answer to where the last Neanderthals died out.

The latest and most precise date for when Neanderthals finally disappeared shows that the last time they walked the earth was 40,000 years ago, and they probably went extinct in Western Europe.

This means that they would have lived alongside anatomically modern humans, Homo sapiens, for as long as 20,000 years, giving ample time for the exchange of culture and genes, scientists said.

How and when the Neanderthals – close cousins of H. sapiens – died out have been two of the great mysteries of evolution, but a new set of radiocarbon dates of Neanderthal bones and artefacts has finally solved the latter.

Scientists have analysed 196 samples of bone, charcoal and shell from 40 key Neanderthal sites from Spain to Russia and concluded that this species of thick-set humans who adapted to cold climates disappeared throughout this entire region before 39,000 years ago.

This means that the overlap in Europe with the newly arrived Homo sapiens, with their more gracile anatomy and more complex stone and bone tools, must have lasted at least 4,000 years.

It could have been as long as 20,000 years in Asia, which anatomically modern humans had colonised long before reaching Europe.

Previous studies have suggested that Neanderthals, which first emerged in Eurasia about 250,000 years ago, quickly died out when H. sapiens appeared, suggesting intense competition for resources and even violent conflict, culminating in a “last-stand” in southern Spain.

However, more recent studies have found that there was a degree of genetic mixing and interbreeding between the two strands of humanity, especially in Asia, although this did not extend to a compete assimilation of the two.

The latest study produced the first accurate dates for the final decline of the Neanderthals with the help of sophisticated developments in radio-carbon dating. It found a clear overlap within Europe that spanned some 25 to 250 generations – between 470 and 4,900 years depending on the region.

The overlap also fits with archaeological data on the kind of tools that each used, suggesting a period when Neanderthals began to copy the more sophisticated tool-making of the new migrants.

“We believe we now have the first robust timeline that sheds new light on some of the key questions around the possible interactions between Neanderthals and modern humans,” said Professor Tom Higham of Oxford University, lead author of the study published in the journal Nature.

“The chronology also pinpoints the timing of the Neanderthals’ disappearance, and suggests they may have survived in dwindling populations in pockets of Europe before they became extinct,” Professor Higham said.

A cave system near Spy in Belgium, rather than caves in Spain, may be one of the last sites in Europe for Neanderthals to have lived, although it is still too early to say this for sure, he said.

However, Professor Chris Stringer, head of human origins at the Natural History Museum in London, said that the new analysis did not extend to eastern Neanderthal sites in Uzbekistan and Siberia – meaning it is possible that the species still survived in these enclaves for longer than in Europe.

“But the overall pattern seems clear. The Neanderthals had largely, and perhaps entirely, vanished from their known range by 39,000 years ago,” Professor Stringer said.

The demise coincided with a change in the climate to colder, drier conditions, he added. “It remains to be seen whether that event delivered the coup de grace to a Neanderthal population that was already low in numbers and genetic diversity, and trying to cope with the economic competition from incoming groups of H. sapiens,” he said.

Making history: carbon dating

The new dating technique eliminates the problem of contaminating carbon in archaeological artefacts. It uses a filtration system that eliminates particles from earlier periods in history that may have settled within the samples being analysed.

This has shown that some previous radiocarbon dates have been inaccurate, suggesting a long overlap between Neanderthals and Homo sapiens that did not actually occur, Professor Tom Higham said.

For instance, previous dates of Neanderthal fossils found at Zafarraya in southern Spain suggested they were 33,000 years old, which would mean several thousand years of overlap with modern humans – who were known to have appeared here about 40,000 years ago.

However, the actual dates of the Neanderthal fossils at Zafarraya are more than 47,000 years old, calling into question whether there was any overlap at all with modern humans at this site.

“Previous radiocarbon dates have often underestimated the age of samples because the organic matter was contaminated with modern particles,” Professor Higham said. “We used ultrafiltration methods which purify the extracted collagen from bone, to avoid the risk of modern contamination.”

source independent