Science

Science

Queen Marie Antoinette’s jewels surface, up for auction

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Limiting social media use reduced loneliness and depression in new experiment

The idea that social media can be harmful to our mental and emotional well-being is not a new one, but little has been done by researchers to directly measure the effect; surveys and correlative studies are at best suggestive. A new experimental study out of Penn State, however, directly links more social media use to worse emotional states, and less use to better. To be clear on the terminology here, a simple survey might ask people to self-report that using Instagram makes them feel bad. A correlative study would, for example, find that people who report more social media use are more likely to also experience depression. An experimental study compares the results from an experimental group with their behavior systematically modified, and a control group that’s allowed to do whatever the...

Reef-rejuvenating LarvalBot spreads coral babies by the millions

The continuing die-off of the world’s coral reefs is a depressing reminder of the reality of climate change, but it’s also something we can actively push back on. Conservationists have a new tool to do so with LarvalBot, an underwater robot platform that may greatly accelerate efforts to re-seed old corals with healthy new polyps. The robot has a history going back to 2015, when a prototype known as COTSbot was introduced, capable of autonomously finding and destroying the destructive crown of thorns starfish (hence the name). It has since been upgraded and revised by the team at the Queensland University of Technology, and in its hunter-killer form is known as the RangerBot. But the same systems that let it safely navigate and monitor corals for invasive fauna also make it capable of help...

Inspired by spiders and wasps, these tiny drones pull 40x their own weight

If we want drones to do our dirty work for us, they’re going to need to get pretty good at hauling stuff around. But due to the pesky yet unavoidable restraints of physics, it’s hard for them to muster the forces necessary to do so while airborne — so these drones brace themselves against the ground to get the requisite torque. The drones, created by engineers at Stanford and Switzerland’s EPFL, were inspired by wasps and spiders that need to drag prey from place to place but can’t actually lift it, so they drag it instead. Grippy feet and strong threads or jaws let them pull objects many times their weight along the ground, just as you might slide a dresser along rather than pick it up and put it down again. So I guess it could have also just been inspired by that. Whatever the inspiratio...

China is funding the future of American biotech

Silicon Valley is in the midst of a health craze, and it is being driven by “Eastern” medicine. It’s been a record year for US medical investing, but investors in Beijing and Shanghai are now increasingly leading the largest deals for US life science and biotech companies. In fact, Chinese venture firms have invested more this year into life science and biotech in the US than they have back home, providing financing for over 300 US-based companies, per Pitchbook. That’s the story at Viela Bio, a Maryland-based company exploring treatments for inflammation and autoimmune diseases, which raised a $250 million Series A led by three Chinese firms. Chinese capital’s newfound appetite also flows into the mainland. Business is booming for Chinese medical startups, who are also seeing the stronges...

Watch BepiColombo’s twin spacecraft launch tonight on a mission to Mercury

Humanity is about to return to the hottest planet in the solar system. BepiColombo is a mission to Mercury conducted jointly by the European and Japanese space agencies, due to launch from French Guiana at 6:45 PM Pacific time tonight aboard an Ariane 5 rocket. But while there’s just the one launch, there are two spacecraft. The broadcast starts at 6:15; you can watch the launch at this link or the bottom of this post. The last time we visited Mercury wasn’t actually that long ago. NASA’s Messenger mission arrived there in 2011 and spent four years orbiting the planet and collecting data before impacting the surface at nearly 9,000 MPH (don’t worry, they planned that). BepiColombo is a follow-up to Messenger in a way, but it’s very much its own thing. To start with, there’s the fact that i...

Venomous puss caterpillars have poison control on alert

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Police dashcam catches two deer fighting

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NASA plans ‘on schedule’ Soyuz launch despite failure of Russian rocket

The high-profile failure of a normally reliable Soyuz rocket during a crewed mission to the International Space Station earlier this week spooked the space community in more ways than one, but NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine said he expects to launch a new crew in December via Soyuz anyway. Speaking to reporters at the US embassy in Moscow (as reported by the AFP), Bridenstine observed that “not every mission that fails ends up so successful.” and indeed the malfunctioning rocket very fortunately did not cause any loss of life, as the escape system built into the launch hardware functioned as designed. Astronaut Nick Hague and cosmonaut Aleksey Ovchinin landed safely some 250 miles away from the launch site after the capsule detached about 90 seconds into launch and deployed its parachu...

Stephen Hawking’s final paper about black holes is now online

Stephen Hawking href=”https://techcrunch.com/2018/03/13/stephen-hawking-has-died-at-76/”> passed away earlier this year at the age of 76, but his incredible intellect isn’t yet done contributing to the scientific community. The acclaimed physicist’s final paper is now online for anyone to read and it revisits some mysteries of the physical world that came to define his illustrious career. Titled “Black Hole Entropy and Soft Hair,” the paper was co-authored by Hawking collaborators Sasha Haco, Malcolm Perry and Andrew Strominger. The paper is available free on pre-publication repository ArXiv and includes a touching tribute to Hawking. “We are deeply saddened to lose our much-loved friend and collaborator Stephen Hawking whose contributions to black hole physics remained vita...

DARPA wants to teach and test ‘common sense’ for AI

It’s a funny thing, AI. It can identify objects in a fraction of a second, imitate the human voice, and recommend new music, but most machine “intelligence” lacks the most basic understanding of everyday objects and actions — in other words, common sense. DARPA is teaming up with the Seattle-based Allen Institute for Artificial Intelligence to see about changing that. The Machine Common Sense program aims to both define the problem and engender progress on it, though no one is expecting this to be “solved” in a year or two. But if AI is to escape the prison of the hyper-specific niches where it works well, it’s going to need to grow a brain that does more than execute a classification task at great speed. “The absence of common sense prevents an intelligent system from understanding its wo...

How aerial lidar illuminated a Mayan megalopolis

Archaeology may not be the most likely place to find the latest in technology — AI and robots are of dubious utility in the painstaking fieldwork involved — but lidar has proven transformative. The latest accomplishment using laser-based imaging maps thousands of square kilometers of an ancient Mayan city once millions strong, but the researchers make it clear that there’s no technological substitute for experience and a good eye. The Pacunam Lidar Initiative began two years ago, bringing together a group of scholars and local authorities to undertake the largest yet survey of a protected and long-studied region in Guatemala. Some 2,144 square kilometers of the Maya Biosphere Reserve in Petén were scanned, inclusive of and around areas known to be settled, developed, or otherwise of import...