May 27, 2018


A controversial study has a new spin on the otherworldliness of the octopus

Octopuses are strange, smart creatures that certainly seem alien—what with the tentacles, camouflage, and shape-shifting skills. Still, the idea that they actually came from outer space would seem to fall strictly into the realm of sci-fi; an update of HP Lovecraft’s Cthulhu, say.

But in these interesting times, real life reads like fiction. Recently, a group of 33 scientists worldwide—including molecular immunologist Edward Steele and astrobiologist Chandra Wickramasinghe—published a paper suggesting, in all seriousness, that octopuses may indeed be aliens.

The paper, published in the March issue of the the journal Progress in Biophysics and Molecular Biology, is controversial, obviously, and the vast majority of scientists would disagree. But the paper is still worthy of discussion—for one, as a thought exercise, because outlandish ideas are often initially rejected. And in provoking us with seemingly bizarre theories, it forces us to acknowledge that there are aspects of life on Earth for which classic evolutionary theory as yet has no explanation.

. . .

The transformative genes leading from the consensus ancestral nautilus to the common cuttlefish to squid to the common octopus can’t be found in any pre-existing life form, the authors say.

These were the only birds that survived the dinosaur-killing asteroid

When the asteroid that struck the Earth in Chicxulub, Mexico, slammed into the surface some 66 million years ago it made life incredibly difficult for just about every living creature on the planet. It caused massive swings in temperature, and shrouded the Earth in a cloud of darkness which killed off plant life on a massive scale. Now, a new study into the effect the asteroid impact had on bird life is suggesting that the only birds to survive the ordeal were actually ground-dwelling species, but why was that the case?

According to the study, which was published in Current Biology, the diversity of the bird species that survived the impact and immediate aftermath was quite narrow. By studying bird fossils from the period prior to the impact and contrasting that with post-impact fossils, the researchers determined that ground-dwelling birds were the only ones who managed to tough it out, and they think they know why.

Thanks to foliage fossils from the time, scientists know that the asteroid sparked massive fires that wiped out huge sections of forest. The deforestation was so dramatic that it prevented birds from nesting as they normally would. In the centuries following the impact, ferns dominated North America, and tree-dwelling bird species simply couldn’t adjust in time. Ground-dwelling, quail-like birds on the other hand were better equipped to deal with this new landscape.

An Incredible Fossil Just Changed What We Know About The Split of Pangaea

A 130-million-year-old fossil has revealed that the ancient super-continent Pangaea may have broken apart more slowly than scientists previously thought.

The fossilised skull, which was found in eastern Utah, has revealed an entirely new group of reptile-like mammals that existed in North America.

"Based on the unlikely discovery of this near-complete fossil cranium, we now recognize a new, cosmopolitan group of early mammal relatives," said lead author Adam Huttenlocker from the University of Southern California.

The newly-found species has been named Cifelliodon wahkarmoosuch in honour of the famed palaeontologist Richard Cifelli and the local Ute tribe's word for "yellow cat".

. . .

According to the continental drift hypothesis, Pangaea began breaking up about 225-200 million years ago. The new study suggests the divide of Pangea took about 15 million years longer than previously thought.

Aboriginal settlement in Australia was 'no accident'

Aboriginal settlement in Australia was no accident but the result of large-scale migration by skilled maritime explorers, research shows.

Experts have made the finding using wind and ocean current modelling, similar to that deployed in the search for missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370.

The process was designed to simulate likely routes between the islands of Timor and Roti and more than 100 now-submerged islands off the Kimberley coast.

"There's always been a lot of speculation about how Aboriginal people made it to Australia and a lot of people have argued that people might have made it here by accident," study co-author and James Cook University archaeology Professor Sean Ulm told AAP.

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The Quaternary Science Reviews-published study estimated migration to the bridge of islands off northwest Australia occurred between about 50,000 and 65,000 years ago.

Earth's Magnetic Field Is Drifting Westward, and Nobody Knows Why

The rotation of magnetic iron in Earth's core gives rise to the planet's geomagnetic field. The geomagnetic field, in turn, protects the planet from solar radiation, making it important for life on Earth. Without it, the planet's surface would be bombarded by charged particles streaming from the sun that would ultimately rip away Earth's atmosphere.

While trying to understand the waves that propagate throughout Earth's core, Bardsley realized that some of these waves might explain one of the mysteries of the planet's magnetic field. Over the past four centuries, scientists have made measurements of magnetic declination — the difference between true north and the point where a compass needle points. (Because the magnetic field is chock-full of little local anomalies, the compass needle moves around a little compared to true north depending on where you're standing.)

Throughout those four centuries, the anomalies revealed by these declination measurements have shown a tendency to move westward, Bardsley reported in the new research, which was published today (May 15) in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society A.

"The westward drift manifests itself primarily as a series of blobs over the Atlantic near the equator," Bardsley told Live Science, and they drift at around 10.5 miles (17 kilometers) per year.

Transgender brain scans promised as study shows structural differences in people with gender dysphoria

People questioning their gender identity could be offered brain scans to determine whether they are transgender, according to a new study.

Breakthrough research has revealed for the first time evidence that the brain activity of people who feel they inhabit the wrong body closely resembles that of the gender they want to embrace.

Analysis of around 160 participants showed that biological males with gender dysphoria - the experience of discomfort or distress due to their biological sex - had a brain structure and neurological patterns similar to biological females, and vice versa.

The analysis revealed that the distinct neurological differences are detectable during childhood.

John Travolta’s Former Scientology Pals Speak Out: He’s ‘Got a Dark Side and He’s Reckless’

Karen de la Carriere, once one of Scientology’s most powerful executives and one of the last to be personally trained by L. Ron Hubbard, met Travolta when he joined Scientology around 1975 and later met Kelly.

De la Carriere says Travolta is “a bad boy who likes risky sexual adventures.” Preston is “either deluded or more likely just deaf to the whole thing.”

“The church has a very intense indoctrination to prepare you for anything you might hear,” De la Carriere said. “It’s like a pre-emptive strike in case something uncomfortable comes up. Kelly’s been trained to not believe what she hears in the media. She’s been trained to think that these are evil people making things up.”

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“John loves aviation more than Hollywood, but because of Kelly he’d never leave Scientology,” [Jeffrey] Augustine said. “He loves his family. He’s just got a dark side and he’s reckless. But he really has no reason to want to leave the church. People at his level never see the ugly side of the church. Plus, he’s got OSA [Scientology’s Office of Special Affairs] as his own private Mafia if he gets into trouble.”

Cults increasingly gain followers on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube

Historically, the leaders of cults and cultlike groups built their bases in small chunks. Their reach was limited: A guru could speak to only so many people at once. They started with retreats and seminars, or clandestine meetings out of the public eye. Often, as a guru grew more extreme in behavior and belief, they also grew more secretive.

Not anymore.

“What I’m learning is just how completely indoctrinated people can get from just watching YouTube and being on their computer at home,” said Steven Hassan, a former member of the Unification Church, better known as the “Moonies,” who became a leading expert on cults and mind control. “They don’t need to go to isolated locations and have a lot of the stuff that I experienced when I was in a cult 40 years ago.”

. . .

Teal Swan, a self-described “spiritual catalyst” often compared to [Bentinho] Massaro — and who has been publicly accused of leading a cult — has more than 450,000 YouTube subscribers.

The Facebook page of disgraced “Evolutionary Enlightenment” guru Andrew Cohen, who has been battered with a barrage of cult accusations, has more than 18,000 followers.

Bentinho Massaro's Sedona Experiment: How the search for enlightenment led to a digital cult

“I want to go back to your words,” [Detective] Stevens said, facing the guru again. He read from his notebook. “‘Wake up and do something important. Otherwise, just kill yourself.’”

“Right,” Massaro said.

“He’s confused, right?” Stevens asked. His voice hardened. “He’s trying to figure out his life?”

Massaro murmured his agreement.

“And he’s not doing anything? What do you think might be the outcome?”

“Um, not that. But I understand. I understand.”

Stevens didn’t hesitate.

“Well, yesterday, he did kill himself.”


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