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Deforestation: geographers find a “point of no return”

There is a kind of point of no return in terms of the level of deforestation that the forest then disappears very quickly. This is what some researchers at the University of Cincinnati theorized according to a statement that appeared on the university’s website.

The study, published in Geophysical Research Letters, is based on the analysis of high-resolution satellite images found by the satellites of the European Space Agency. The geographer Tomasz Stepinski, together with his colleague Jakub Nowosad, analyzed these images, dating back to the period between 1992 and 2015, and found that once you reach about half of them, the forest then begins to disappear very quickly and this applies to different environments, periods and areas, which suggests a sort of “ground rule”.

The two researchers discovered that nature hates “mixed” landscapes, at least on a scale of up to 81 square kilometres. In practice, landscapes made from different environments, such as cultivated fields and forest, tend, with the passage of time, to mix and become homogeneous and this seems a sort of law independent of the type of landscape.

According to the two researchers it is something “very intuitive”: “Planet Earth wants to be homogeneous. The Earth wants to be the same in all these areas. And when they start to change, they don’t stop until they convert everything into another homogeneous block”.

This means that once the deforestation of a certain area has started and if it exceeds a certain point, nature itself will, in a certain sense, strive to ensure that the whole area is not covered by too many trees.

Researchers have not yet understood the reasons why these “blocks”, once the transition has begun and once they have reached a certain point, seem to trigger a sort of process through which the change takes place more quickly, in a long-term vision.

According to Nowosad, it would be useful to carry out new studies to understand if there are “turning points for other landscape transitions”: “This model can be used to help understand how landscapes have evolved and will evolve in the future”.

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Problem of the three bodies perhaps solved according to a team of scientists

The problem of the three bodies can be considered as the unsolved enigma par excellence in physics. The problem has remained almost unsolved, in fact, for almost 350 years, despite the various theoretical attempts of physicists in the field of modern astrophysics: how can one calculate the reciprocal gravitational influence and evolution in the context of the laws of motion of a system consisting of three bodies in space?

Through the laws of motion provided by one of the greatest scientists of all time, Isaac Newton, it is still possible to evaluate the evolution of a two-body system, just as he demonstrated for the Earth orbiting the Sun; it would seem, however, impossible to calculate – except in exceptional cases – that of a three-body system: Newton wondered, in fact, what would have happened if the Moon had been added to the Earth-Sun system.

By inserting a third object in a system with two bodies, where each of them has its own specific dimension and distance from the central point taken into consideration, a sort of “gravitational struggle” between them would begin to develop, throwing chaos in the whole system, and overcoming the theories so far discovered. It is, therefore, complicated to apply a universal law for all cases of three-body systems.

Although it still does not seem to be completely solved, the problem of the three bodies has been addressed and untangled, in part, by a new research conducted by the astrophysicist Nicholas Stone, with his team and Professor Nathan Leigh, at the University of Jerusalem: after long analysis and tests, they proposed their research results, which have been published in Nature.

They discovered that, in a three-body system, one of the three, after a previous instability and struggle of their orbits, will be automatically expelled from the trio: the duo will thus begin to establish a binary relationship which, unlike the previous three-object system, will be stable. Even if this does not lead to a real solution to the problem, the concept is useful to evaluate certain statistical solutions in complicated processes between two bodies.

All this has been ascertained by applying the simple traditional mathematics used to predict the movement of the planets, using a methodology of probability hypothesis called “ergodicity”, since a statistical process is carried out on all the possible working points involved.

As Dr. Stone stated, “Take three black holes that are orbiting each other. Their orbits will necessarily become unstable and even after one of them is expelled, we are still very interested in the relationship between the surviving black holes”.

Even if the basic unknown has not been completely solved, this further study could be considered as the classic “step forward” towards the solution of a problem that Newton, back in 1687, had brought to the fore.

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Hominids of the early Paleolithic age were already capable of making complex quartzite instruments

A “never-before-seen” level of complexity has been deduced by a team of researchers at the University of Kent regarding the construction and use of complex stone tools found in the Olduvai Gorge in Tanzania and dating back between 1.2 and 1.8 million years. During the early Palaeolithic period, therefore, hominids were already capable, according to the study that later appeared in the Journal of Royal Society Interface, of making various stone instruments that could boast unexpected characteristics for the time.

There is talk of a level of sharpness, durability and efficiency as well as a level of complexity that had never before been noticed in groups of hominids of this period. The studies of the objects found in the Olduvai Gorge, Tanzania, one of the most important sites in terms of paleoanthropological research, were carried out by the researcher Alastair Key , from the School of Anthropology and Conservation of Kent in collaboration with two of his colleagues, Tomos Proffitt, from the Institute of Archaeology of the UCL, and Ignacio from the Centro de Ciencias Humanas y Sociales in Madrid.

Research has shown that these groups of hominids chose quartzite to make their instruments. Quartzite is a very sharp type of stone that requires appropriate and more complex cutting technologies to be worked. Previous studies had already shown that populations of the early Stone Age in Kenya were able to select very durable stone types to make tools but these results show for life with a certain level of sharpness the mastery achieved by the early hominids in making relatively complex stone tools.

Just the choice of a more suitable material than another means that these groups of hominids optimised the performance of their tools according to the material used, and possibly depending on the eventuality, and ensured almost maximised levels of efficiency and ease of use.

“What we were able to demonstrate is that our ancestors were making rather complex decisions about which raw materials to use, and were doing so in such a way as to produce instruments optimised for specific circumstances. Although we knew that later hominin species, including our own, were able to make such decisions, it is surprising to think that populations 1.8-1.2 million years ago did too,” Key explains in the press release published on the University of Kent’s website.

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Fetuses of pregnant women exposed to smaller persistent organic pollutants

Pregnant women exposed to persistent organic pollutants (POPs) may be at greater risk of giving birth to slightly smaller fetuses according to a study by researchers at the US National Institutes of Health. This is the most comprehensive study of these compounds in relation to pregnancy ever conducted in recent years.

According to these results, these chemicals, which were once used in agriculture but have persisted for years in the environment, even at low levels of exposure can have lasting effects. These substances have been used in agriculture and are still used in some industrial processes. Among the products containing them are DDT and dioxin.

The particularity of these chemicals lies in their slow degradation. This means that they can persist in water and air for many years and can also enter the food chain and thus our bodies. In the past, these compounds had already been linked to certain reproductive disorders and increased risks of birth defects.

This study investigated fetal growth measures in pregnant women exposed to these substances unlike other studies that had mostly taken into account the size at birth, as explained by Pauline Mendola, researcher at the National Institute of Child Health Human Development Eunice Kennedy Shriver and author of the study published in JAMA Pediatrics. The researcher analyzed blood test data from 2284 pregnant women for weeks of pregnancy from the 16th to the 40th.

These data were then compared with measurements of the growth of the head circumference, abdomen and length of the fetal femur. The researcher found that compared to fetuses of mothers with lower exposure to organochlorine pesticides, those with higher exposure showed more widespread growth reductions and a reduction in head circumference of 4.7 mm on average as well as abdominal circumference (3.5 mm) and femur length (0.6 mm).

The researcher also found similar data regarding exposure to polychlorinated biphenyls (dioxin-like substances) with an average reduction in head circumference of 6.4 mm and abdomen circumference of 2.4 mm. On the other hand, as regards exposure to polybrominated diphenyl ethers (flame retardants used in various consumer products), the latter were associated with an average abdominal circumference reduction of 2.4 mm and an average femur length reduction of 0.5 mm.

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A quick word on updates to insidertradings.org

Hi all! I’ve been a bit busy lately with all the stuff on the Coronavirus going around. Yikes! Still busy reading the news and getting myself educated on more scientific areas. I’ve also picked up a new hobby of exploring cutting machines and making my own custom items to hang around my home. About two weeks ago, I tried a Cricut machine and have been playing with it ever since, though it’s not really the best product (there are other cutting machines that are better IMO). I first got curious about trying it after having a read of this article here. Anyways, enough about that — I’ll be posting new news and cool science stuff before too long. Thanks for reading!

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Women prefer men without beards out of disgust at ectoparasites

Women who find men with beards less attractive are discouraged by the potential risk that a beard could be a bearer of ticks, lice or harmful insects – this is the result of a team of researchers from the School of Psychology at the University of Queensland.

It was Barnaby Dixson, the senior author of the study, who explained in the press release that women who have to judge men for short-term and long-term relationships can be discouraged by facial hair.

“We have found women’s disgust with ectoparasites – such as fleas that live on the skin – adversely affect men’s preferences for men with beards,” notes Dixson who conducted the study with Tessa Clarkson.

According to the researcher, this is also partly due to new cultural trends that want women but also more and more men to shave virtually every part of the body.

To arrive at these conclusions, the researchers carried out questionnaires addressed to 919 women who could be single, engaged or married (some of them had chosen not to respond to the report during the period in which the questionnaire was carried out).

In particular, the questions focused on the attractiveness of males with beards or well-shaved males. The researchers found that women (both single and married) who wanted to have children preferred the faces of well-shaved males.

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Any drone must be traceable and identifiable by radio in the U.S.

All civilian drones except the smaller ones (basically toy drones for a few euros) should transmit their location data by radio to ensure that the identity of the drone and of the owner/operator is always available, a sort of “air” plate as well as vehicle plates.

This is the purpose of the US Federal Aviation Administration which wants to create in the United States what is already seen as a huge new tracking network for anything that can take flight and is equipped with a moped. The measure, which has not yet entered into force, has already sparked numerous comments from the American public, so much so that it is thought that it will still be subject to change.

The American institutions themselves, however, believe that this measure is essential not only for security but also to advance the drone-driven trade that is becoming increasingly widespread, particularly in the delivery of consumer goods. That of the recognition in flight will prove to be “a fundamental element in the ecosystem of unmanned traffic management”, report the top management of the agency according to which all drones weighing more than 0.25 kg will be required to transmit their position and the identity of the operator at any time by radio, a bit like air traffic with traditional aircraft.

Data transmission will have to take place on a specific radio frequency which can be monitored 24 hours a day. The same data could then also be transmitted via the Internet. In this way, any police force, naturally equipped with the necessary tracking devices, will be able to identify the drone and the operator flying it at any time.

The main obstacle is, of course, the fact that all existing drones will have to install a new tracking device or else they will be banned from flying something that would inevitably increase the costs of new drones entering the market.

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A new viable embryo from a northern white rhino has been created

Another embryo of northern white rhino, an almost extinct animal, was created by a team of researchers. The animal is in fact very close to extinction as only two female specimens remain. The embryo was created with eggs taken from the females and inseminated with semen that had previously been frozen by male specimens then dead.

These embryos, preserved in liquid nitrogen, can then be inserted into the body of a surrogate mother and this is what the researchers are going to do over the next few months.

This was noted in a statement by the Associated Press with an intervention by Kenya’s wildlife minister, Najib Balala, who reveals that the long-term goal of the project is to give birth to at least five more specimens of the northern white rhinoceros so that they can be inserted into their natural African habitat. Of course, this is a project that could take many years, perhaps decades.

At the moment only two females, called Najin and Fatu, are still alive in a park in Kenya. The embryos were taken from Fatu himself.

Now all that remains is to select females of southern white rhinos that can act as surrogate mothers, another not easy thing because even the latter are not very easy to find because of poaching (the animals are killed for their precious horns used to make carving objects but also for practices not better identified in traditional Chinese medicine).