For the first time ever, NASA has captured images of a comet flying into the sun.

The occurrence is not that unusual. It even has a name; sungrazer. What makes this sighting unique is that, up to this point, no one has actually seen the end of a comet’s journey.

NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO) spacecraft recorded a 20-minute movie of the comet flying directly in front of the sun on July 5.

Scientists are excited, not only because it’s a first, but also because they’re looking forward to analyzing the data to learn more about the fate of the comet.

Since the sun cranks out such incredible heat and radiation, it’s likely the comet simply evaporated completely away.

>>> Read more…

Drug Addiction Related to Primal Desire for Salt

Scientists in the U.S. and Australia have found evidence that drug addiction may be related to our powerful primal appetite for salt.

A study conducted by Duke University in Durham, NC and Melbourne University in Melbourne, Australia finds that addictive drugs affect the same nerve cells and connections in the brain that tap an ancient instinctual desire for salt, a much-needed element in our diets.

The minerals found in salt help maintain a number of body functions and are necessary not only for staying healthy, but also for simply staying alive.

The scientists found that the gene patterns activated by stimulating an instinctive behavior such as our hunger for salt were the same as those regulated by cocaine or opiate addiction.

The study’s co-lead author Wolfgang Liedtke, an assistant professor of Medicine and Neurobiology at Duke University, says the group’s findings have profound and far-reaching medical implications – from providing a basis of understanding drug addictions to the detrimental consequences when obesity-generating foods are overloaded with sodium.

The study was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences early edition online on July 11.

>>> Read more…

Chain of Underwater Volcanoes Discovered Near Antarctica

British scientists have found 12 previously unknown volcanoes under the ocean waters around the South Sandwich Islands, which are located about half-way between South America and Antarctica.

Using ship-borne sea-floor mapping technology, researchers from the British Antarctic Survey (BAS) found that some of the volcanoes are up to three kilometers high.

They also found craters with a diameter of five-kilometers, left by collapsing volcanoes. Seven active volcanoes are visible above the sea as a chain of islands.

The research reveals that the sub-sea landscape surrounding the underwater volcanoes, with waters warmed by volcanic activity, has become a rich habitat for many species of wildlife, which could lead to valuable new insights about life on Earth.

The researchers say their findings will help us understand what happens when volcanoes erupt or collapse underwater, as well as their potential for creating dangerous phenomena such as tsunamis.

>>> Read more…

Real Life Computer War Games

This may sound like the plot to the 1980’s movie “War Games,” in which a young computer whiz hacks into a military computer which learns to launch weapons of mass destruction by playing games.

What if a computer could not only read, but also actually understand the meaning of a sentence written in virtually any language?

Researchers at MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Lab are in the process of designing machine-learning systems that could do just that.

They’re trying to get a computer to analyze and follow a set of instructions for an unfamiliar task and, so far, they say they’ve had success with it.

As part of their experimentation in developing this technology, the research team is teaching a computer to play “Civilization,” a complex computer game in which the player guides the development of a city into an empire across centuries of human history.

When the researchers programmed the computer system to use a player’s manual to help it develop game-playing strategy, its rate of victory jumped from 46 percent to 79 percent.

“Games are used as a test bed for artificial-intelligence techniques simply because of their complexity,” says S. R. K. Branavan, a graduate student at MIT and a member of this research team. “Every action that you take in the game doesn’t have a predetermined outcome, because the game or the opponent can randomly react to what you do. So you need a technique that can handle very complex scenarios that react in potentially random ways.”

The researchers hope to demonstrate that computer systems that learn the meanings of words through exploratory interaction with their environments are a promising subject for further research.

Work is also under way to use the algorithms they’ve already developed with robotic systems, too.

>>>Read more…