Science

Rumors Are Flying That We Finally Found Gravitational Waves 


Gizmodo / Jennifer Ouellette

Rumors Are Flying That We Finally Found Gravitational Waves 

Excited rumors began circulating on Twitter this morning that a major experiment designed to hunt for gravitational waves—ripples in the fabric of spacetime first predicted by Albert Einstein—has observed them directly for the very first time. If confirmed, this would be one of the most significant physics discoveries of the last century.Move a large mass very suddenly—or have two massive objects suddenly collide, or a supernova explode—and you would create ripples in space-time, much like tossing a stone in a still pond. The more massive the object, the more it will churn the surrounding spacetime, and the stronger the gravitational waves it should produce. Einstein predicted their existence in his general theory of relativity back in 1915, but he thought it would never be possible to test that prediction.LIGO (Laser Interferometer Gravitational Wave Observatory) is one of several experiments designed to hunt for these elusive ripples, and with its latest upgrade to Advanced LIGO, completed last year, it has the best chance of doing so. In fact, it topped our list of physics stories to watch in 2016.There have been excited rumors about a LIGO discovery before, most notably a mere week after the upgraded experiment began operations last fall. Lawrence Krauss, a physicist at Arizona State University, spilled the beans on Twitter, giving it a 10- to 15-percent chance of being true. “The official response is that we’re analyzing the data,” LIGO says Gabriela González (Louisiana State University) told Nature at the time. Now it seems the rumors have resurfaced, and Krauss has been blabbing again:We’re guessing that once again, the official response will be that they’re currently analyzing the data and everyone should just be patient, because you can’t rush this kind of tricky analysis. TL;DR: They will neither confirm nor deny the rumor. UPDATE 3:18 PM: Alan Weinstein, who heads the LIGO group at Caltech, had this to say via email: “My response to you is no more or less than the official one, which is the truth: ‘We are analyzing 01 data and will share news when ready.’ I’d say that it is wisest to just be patient.” That’s good advice in general when rumors of exciting breakthroughs begin circulating. But in this case, it’s quite possible that they are true. Loyola University physicist Robert McNees pointed out on Twitter that he’d only made one prediction for physics breakthroughs in 2016: that Advanced LIGO would directly detect gravitational waves. And he certainly wasn’t the only one to do so. He also had a few things to say about this brave new world we live in, where big physics news inevitably leaks out onto social media:“I guess I’d say that rumors just reflect how excited we all get about the prospect of new discoveries. It’s natural to feel that way! But the last thing we want to do is jump the gun,” McNees told Gizmodo via Twitter DM. “The best way to support these scientists is to let them carry out their experiments and analysis the way they were meant to be done. Let them take the time to do things the right way! And as physicists, I think we need to greet the inevitable rumors with explanations of how science works and why it’s so important to be careful. Even if that means having to wait for exciting news.”Sigh. Fine. We’ll be hanging onto the edge of our seats waiting for official confirmation one way or the other. If true—well, it’s a hell of a way to kick off 2016. And it would probably be a shoo-in for this year’s Nobel Prize in Physics.Image: Visualization of gravity waves. Image Credit: Werner Benger / Wikimedia.

Ancient Mars Was Wetter and Warmer Than We Ever Realized


Gizmodo / George Dvorsky

Ancient Mars Was Wetter and Warmer Than We Ever Realized

New data collected by the Curiosity rover shows that Mars was once quite Earth-like, featuring river deltas, lakes, and a warm climate. What’s more, the Red Planet may have been able to sustain liquid water at the surface long enough for life to emerge and evolve. Late last month, NASA stunned the science world by announcing the likely presence of liquid water on Mars. The revelation was one in a series of discoveries highlighting the prominent role played by liquid water in the geologic history of the Red Planet, both in the past and today. The latest finding by NASA’s John Grotzinger and his team at the Mars Science Laboratory contributes significantly to this line of thinking. Evidence uncovered by the Curiosity rover shows that ancient Mars once featured river deltas, long-standing lakes, a climate much warmer than it is today, and it could sustain surface water for surprisingly long periods time—long enough for life to have potentially emerged and taken root. The new findings were published today in the journal Science.Stacks of CluesThe notion that Mars was once able to sustain large bodies of liquid water at the surface is nothing new. What is new, however, is evidence supporting the idea that large impact craters were once capable of collecting and storing water for substantial periods of time. Unlike observations from space-based cameras, Grotzinger’s team was able to leverage the power of Curiosity’s on-site presence to discover basin surfaces, or clinoforms. With Curiosity right there, it’s like having an actual geologist on the Martian surface.Clinoform sandstones on Mars (J. P. Grotzinger et al., 2015/Science)Curiosity has been romping around the Gale Crater looking for clues left behind in the sedimentary rocks. These tightly packed layers of rock, which formed from the steady accumulations of tiny sediment grains, provide an historical snapshot of the surface. And as we know from studying sedimentary rocks on Earth, these rocks often include evidence of life, such as fossils and microscopic biosignatures. The researchers analyzed sediments along the clinoforms, observing that—in spite of erosion—the basin surface had risen over time. This indicated to the researchers that the land had gotten higher, likely due to the steady accumulation of sediment deposits, a process known to geologists as aggradation. As Gale Crater’s northern crater wall and rim gradually eroded, gravel and sand were transported southward in shallow streams. Over the course of time, these stream deposits moved progressively closer toward the crater’s interior, where it transformed into finer grains downstream. In other words, the researchers discovered traces of ancient river deltas. These deltas represented the boundary of an ancient Martian lake where fine, mud-sized sediments had once accumulated.Prolonged PeriodsEvidence suggests that these individual lakes, which existed billions of years ago, were stable for 100 to 10,000 years at a time— long enough to spark and sustain life (though astrobiologists aren’t entirely sure of this). Evidence for extraterrestrial life has yet to be discovered on Mars, but this latest finding shows that key ingredients were once available for microbial life to originate and evolve. Map showing the location of Curiosity’s journey and key study areas (J. P. Grotzinger et al., 2015/Science)The area being studied by Curiosity required at least 10,000 to 10,000,000 years to accumulate, which means these transient lakes were likely fueled by a common groundwater table. “This intracrater lake system probably existed intermittently for thousands to millions of years, implying a relatively wet climate that supplied moisture to the crater rim and transported sediment via streams into the lake basin,” write the researchers in their study.To age these transient water bodies, the researchers compared physically similar depositional systems on Earth, for which we have radiometric chronologies.“These estimates are imprecise, order-of-magnitude in their quality,” explained California Institute of Technology geobiologist Woodward W. Fischer to Gizmodo. “But the important thing is that we can, beyond a single snapshot in time, identify a lake on Mars to recognize that these systems were sufficiently long lived that they left a strong fingerprint in the form of a thick package of sedimentary rocks.”A More Temperate Climate?Given that Mars was once able to sustain water for extended periods, it’s reasonable to wonder about the Red Planet’s ancient climate. Unfortunately, it’s difficult to say. “We don’t know exactly what the surface temperature of Mars was during that time,” says University of Utah Geologist Marjorie Chan. “Many people think overall Mars was warmer and wetter.”Chan says that Mars could only likely sustain that climate if the atmosphere was thicker back then.“We can tell that these bodies of water had to last for a while because of how the sediment grains are sorted and laid down in multiple layers showing that the environmental conditions allowed sediment accumulation (thickness) over time,” she told Gizmodo.Fischer says that all our current understandings of Martian climate can’t explain why early Mars was so warm and wet, but the geology has just become much more compelling. “We don’t have a great paleothermometer—so to say—for Mars at this time, but all of our observations of the sedimentary rocks show that there were river systems that moved sediment into deltas and ultimately to lakes in the crater,” noted Fischer. “And that this water-driven sediment transport and deposition system was fed by a hydrologic cycle sufficiently wet that lasted for a rather substantial amount of time.”Fischer likens the problem to the early days of understanding continental drift. Geologists knew that continents were slowly moving, but they didn’t understand why. “It often takes observations of exceptional quality to rule out other possible interpretations, to spur serious efforts to explain a fundamental discordance between data and theory,” Fischer told Gizmodo. “Mars now has that degree of discordance. There is simply something very fundamental about the climate of early Mars—and perhaps even planetary climates more broadly—that is missing from our understanding.”Read the entire study at Science: “Deposition, exhumation, and paleoclimate of an ancient lake deposit, Gale crater, Mars”.Email the author at george@gizmodo.com and follow him at @dvorsky. Top image: Artist’s impression of what Mars may have looked like billions of years ago, by Ittiz/CC BY-SA 3,0

Stephen Hawking’s New Theory on Black Holes is Fantastically Insane


Gizmodo / Maddie Stone

Stephen Hawking’s New Theory on Black Holes is Fantastically Insane

Black holes have a rap for being hopeless vortexes of destruction, but what would really happen if you fell into one? According to Stephen Hawking, you might end up in another universe.That’s the celebrated physicist’s latest answer to the so-called “information paradox” — the conundrum that black holes appear to swallow matter, which, according to the laws of quantum mechanics, is totally batshit insane and not possible. At a public lecture in Stockholm this week, Hawking offered these comforting words to any would-be deep space travelers: “If you feel you are in a black hole, don’t give up. There’s a way out.” According to Hawking’s new theory, described in a blog post by the KTH Royal Institute of Technology, there are two ways this terrible situation could end: One, you become permanently stuck in a 2 dimensional hologram on the black hole’s edge (shitty, brah). Two, you bust right through into another universe.“The existence of alternative histories with black holes suggests this might be possible,” Hawking said. “The hole would need to be large and if it was rotating it might have a passage to another universe. But you couldn’t come back to our universe.”Personally, I’m pretty okay with this turn of events. Sure, winding up in some other universe where the laws of physics are different and all the bonds between all the atoms in your body suddenly break would really suck, but I’ll still take that over getting compressed into an infinitesimally small spec of mass for the rest of eternity.[KTH via The Guardian]Contact the author at maddie.stone@gizmodo.com or follow her on Twitter.Top image: Artist’s concept of a black hole, via Wikimedia

FDA Officially Approves ‘Female Viagra’ 


Gizmodo / Joanna Rothkopf on Jezebel, shared by Annalee Newitz to Gizmodo

FDA Officially Approves ‘Female Viagra’ 

The Food and Drug Administration officially approved a drug called flibanserin designed to treat women with hypoactive sexual desire disorder. The drug will be manufactured by Sprout Pharmaceuticals and will officially be sold under the name ‘Addyi.’Politico reports: But the agency’s decision… comes with a requirement that the company take steps to ensure doctors prescribe flibanserin carefully and make women aware of its health risks. The drug will only be available through certified health care professionals and certified pharmacies. It will come with a black boxed warning to highlight the risk of severe blood pressure drops and fainting in patients who drink alcohol or use certain other drugs during treatment.The FDA has also requested three more studies focused on the interaction between the drug and alcohol consumption. The drug was up for approval two times before (first in 2010), but it was rejected both times.Flibanserin works by gradually increasing the amount of neurotransmitters noradrenaline and dopamine into the cerebral cortex — essentially bumping up the motivation factor and making the prospect of sex more exciting.“Today’s approval provides women distressed by their low sexual desire with an approved treatment option,” said Dr. Janet Woodcock, director of the FDA’s Center for Drug Evaluation and Research. “The FDA strives to protect and advance the health of women, and we are committed to supporting the development of safe and effective treatments for female sexual dysfunction.”Contact the author at joanna.rothkopf@jezebel.com.Image via AP.

Apollo Astronaut Says UFOs Came to Prevent Nuclear War


Gizmodo / Kiona Smith-Strickland

Apollo Astronaut Says UFOs Came to Prevent Nuclear War

The sixth man to walk on the Moon says that pacifist alien visitors tried to create world peace by disabling missiles during Cold War weapons tests. Edgar Mitchell, who walked on the Moon during the Apollo 14 mission in 1971, told Mirror Online in a recent interview that he believes the UFOs reported around military bases during the Cold War were on a mission to prevent a nuclear war between the U.S. and the Soviet Union.“My own experience talking to people has made it clear the ETs had been attempting to keep us from going to war and help create peace on Earth,” he told Mirror Online in a recent interview. He added, “I have spoken to many Air Force officers who worked at these silos during the Cold War. They told me UFOs were frequently seen overhead and often disabled their missiles. Other officers from bases on the Pacific coast told me their [test]missiles were frequently shot down by alien spacecraft. There was a lot of activity in those days.” Mitchell has been an outspoken believer in extraterrestrial visitors to Earth since his return from the Moon in 1971. He grew up in New Mexico, not far from Roswell or the White Sands Missile Range, where the first nuclear bombs were tested. “White Sands was a testing ground for atomic weapons – and that’s what the extraterrestrials were interested in. They wanted to know about our military capabilities,” said Mitchell.[Mirror Online]Contact the author at k.smithstrickland@gmail.com.

Alphabet Wants To Start Breeding Experimental GMO Mosquitoes


Gizmodo / Darren Orf

Alphabet Wants To Start Breeding Experimental GMO Mosquitoes

Google, soon-to-be Alphabet, is in the business of thinking up weird futures. Internet delivered by giant condom-looking balloons? Yep. Phones you can rip apart and piece back together? You betcha. Creating genetically-modified mosquitoes to fight malaria? Of cour—wait, what?Technology is filled with all kinds of rumors and speculation — real and fabricated. BitStream collects all those whispers into one place to deliver your morning buzz.According to a report by The Information, Linus Upson, an exec within Google who helped create Chrome, wants to start a project looking at GMO mosquitoes as a way to fight malaria and Dengue fever all around the world. The idea is an interesting one if not exactly 100 percent original. Companies like the British-based Oxitec have conducted controlled experiments with modified mosquitoes for years, starting with the Cayman Islands in 2010. Earlier this year, Oxitec submitted for approval from the FDA to send GMO mosquitoes in the Florida Keys to help combat the spread of Dengue fever. However, the FDA has some concerns and local residents saw themselves as “guinea pigs” for some Jurassic Park-esque experiment, according to The Washington Post. However, the experiment was carried out in Brazil with huge success, seeing a 95 percent drop of disease carrying insects. If there’s one thing that Google can land to the GMO mosquito conversation, it’s funding and a sense of legitimacy. The project is still in the early planning phases so we may not hear about any official news or study results for some time, but it would be one of the first projects that would fall squarely inside Alphabet’s more experimental wheelhouse rather than Google’s own. [The Information via Business Insider]iPad Mini Gets More Tricks: Despite its, well, miniature size, Apple will be bringing splitscreen app support to the upcoming Mini 4, according to 9to5Mac. Aside from some new software tricks, it’ll be coming with a faster processor, too—at the very least, we can expect the Air 2’s A8 processor. Seems like a better update that just gold.PastC More Like It: CurrentC, the mobile payments app backed by Wal-Mart and CVS, may not launch in 2015 at all, making it a solid two years behind Apple pay and lots of other mobile payment options. Previous partners Rite Aid and Best Buy have seemingly given up on CurrentC’s mobile payment promise. It’s ship-jumping time. [Recode]Facebook’s Twitter: Facebook is already becoming a formidable force in how news is delivered in the digital age. Business Insider has reportedly seen internal screenshots of an upcoming app that will allow publishing partners to blast out breaking news to users smartphones. Potentially useful? Yes. Annoying? Most likely. But the service is supposedly in the earlier stages, so it might be awhile before we see exactly what form Facebook’s new app will take. [Business Insider]PS4, Now With YouTube Livestreaming: It’s no longer just a games thing. Livestreaming is everywhere, and a leaked firmware update for the PlayStation 4 suggests that YouTube livestreaming will be coming to the PS4. You can also upload clips to YouTube, albeit only 10 seconds, which seems pretty limited. Still, the idea of easily streaming your gaming sessions to the largest online video website seems like a good one. [Gematsu]What You Might Have Missed on GizmodoDropbox Refuses to Explain Its Mysterious Child Porn Detection Software9 Animals That Masturbate (Other Than Humans)Could You Charge an iPhone With the Electricity in Your Brain?The World’s First Reversible Micro-USB Cable Rivals the Invention of the WheelWatch the Increditble Force of a Typhoon Move a Skyscraper’s 720-Ton Mass DamperParanoia Made Me a Better Computer UserImage via FEMA/Getty Images

Is Having A Baby More Depressing Than A Death In the Family?


Gizmodo / Kaila Hale-Stern

Is Having A Baby More Depressing Than A Death In the Family?

A study of new parents out of Germany makes the claim that having a baby is more hazardous to mental well-being than divorce or the death of a partner. Researchers followed 2,016 previously childless German couples from the birth of their first baby until about two years after. Repeatedly asked the question “How satisfied are you with your life, all things considered?”, the participants rated their wellbeing from 0 (completely dissatisfied) to 10 (completely satisfied). The question was phrased broadly rather than child-specific “because it is considered taboo for new parents to say negative things about a new child.”The main goal of the study was to explore why the birthrate in many developed countries has dropped and remained low, and why there is often a disparity between how many children people say they want and how many they have. The couples were generally satisfied prior to the birth of their baby, with happiness growing in anticipation. But following the child’s birth, only 30% of parents reported the same or greater levels of satisfaction. The rest—70%—said that their happiness had decreased. A lot.Of those new mothers and fathers whose happiness went down, 37 percent (742) reported a one-unit drop, 19 percent (383) a two-unit drop and 17 percent (341) a three-unit drop.On average, new parenthood led to a 1.4 unit drop in happiness. That’s considered very severe.Talking about both parenthood and childfree lifestyles is in vogue these days, and it’s hardly surprising that new parents reported states of disgruntlement. Having a newborn or a young baby is difficult, fraught with sleepless nights and previously unknown challenges (so says my Facebook feed). The results from the study give pause because the severity of the “happiness drop” is extreme by comparison to other studies that have used the same measurements. Divorce has figured in as a 0.6 drop and the death of a spouse or partner at 1.0. Babies averaged a 1.4 drop, and parents who had previously stated a desire for more children stopped after one. The association of negativity was particularly high for older parents and those with higher levels of education.In the study, the challenges of parenthood were divided into three categories that affected the urge to reproduce again. First considered were health problems of pregnancy (as it was felt by both genders), and secondly complications during birth. Third and most pressing was the ongoing gauntlet of childrearing:Parents reported exhaustion due to trouble breast-feeding, sleep deprivation, depression, domestic isolation and relationship breakdown.The Post adds that the study is likely to factor into arguments that parents need more support in countries where declining birthrates have become a cause for concern. For couples considering the life-changing move, the study may give pause—or at least alert them to somewhat more realistic expectations for their first bouncing bundle of joy. [Washington Post]Top Image: Washington Post

Ancient Humans Had More DNA Than We Have Now


Gizmodo / Maddie Stone

Ancient Humans Had More DNA Than We Have Now

Our ancestors weren’t blessed with smartphones, WiFi and Amazon Prime, but for what it’s worth they did have a little extra DNA. According to a study published today in Science, Homo sapiens have shed about 40.7 million base pairs of DNA since migrating out of Africa nearly two million years ago.The human genome’s 3 billion base pairs—chemicals represented by the letters A,T,G, and C—are often likened to a set of blueprints, or an instruction book. But this analogy doesn’t quite do justice to the fact that evolution has made a crazy mess of our autobiography. Pieces of the human genome are constantly being rewritten, duplicated, and crossed out for no good reason. You’d be better off imagining a book that a four-year-old with scissors and a copy machine got his hands on. Nevertheless, brave scientists are trying to make sense of the human genome to reconstruct our evolutionary history. By comparing copies of the genome between populations, we can start to piece together how human populations have evolved and diverged over time.DNA deletions were used to trace common relationships among groups of humans. Longer lines indicate groups with more deletions. Image credit: P. Sudmandt et al 2015, via Science NewsThat’s exactly what the authors of the new study did, by sequencing the genomes of 236 individuals from 125 distinct populations. Their results showed that our ancestors shed about 15.8 million base pairs of DNA before leaving Africa. As populations spread across Earth’s continents, they jettisoned additional chunks of DNA here and there. But certain populations have also been gaining DNA, mostly through duplication events where portions of the genetic code were accidentally copied and passed on.Does the net loss of DNA over time really matter? After all, despite what you may have learned on Star Trek, we’re not about to de-evolve into a clan of eyeless fish. Maybe evolution is just trimming the fat? Could be! This is the first time scientists have comprehensively documented the loss (and gain) of large chunks of DNA, and we’ve got a long ways to go before we can say what it all means.But scientists suspect that DNA loss and duplication events could be important evolutionary driving forces. For instance, some groups of people have up to six copies of CLPS genes, which encode pancreatic enzymes that may reduce blood sugar levels. And certain populations in Africa carry gene duplications that may protect against sleeping sickness caused by trypanosome parasites. Scientists are now flagging these interesting duplications for further study. If there’s one takeaway, it’s that despite all the information at our fingertips, the very foundations of our biology are still a utter mystery.[read the full scientific paper here H/T Science News]Contact the author at maddie.stone@gizmodo.com or follow her on Twitter.Top image: Geographic location of populations sampled in the study, via Peter H. Sudmant