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Skeptical reporter @ 2013-08-16

Skeptical Reporter for August 16th, 2013

A surge of electrical activity in the brain could be responsible for the vivid experiences described by near-death survivors. A study carried out on dying rats found high levels of brainwaves at the point of the animals' demise. US researchers said that in humans this could give rise to a heightened state of consciousness. The lead author of the study, Dr Jimo Borjigin, of the University of Michigan, said: "A lot of people thought that the brain after clinical death was inactive or hypo-active, with less activity than the waking state, and we show that is definitely not the case. If anything, it is much more active during the dying process than even the waking state". From bright white lights to out-of-body sensations and feelings of life flashing before their eyes, the experiences reported by people who have come close to death but survived are common the world over. Even though they are currently little understood, this kind of new research could help to shed some light on near-death experiences.

In California, believers have discovered a tree that they think delivers the tears of God. The small but growing group attribute the liquid dripping from a Crape Myrtle tree to a miracle. Parishioner Maria Ybarra says: "When you say ‘glory be to God in Jesus name’ the tree starts throwing out more water." On close inspection, arborist Jon Reelhorn agrees, something is falling from the tree in front of St. Johns Cathedral. But it isn't water: "The aphids will suck the sap, the sap goes through the aphid and then it is a honey dew excrement from the aphid and it gets so heavy in the summertime that it will drip down".  He calls it a natural process. He also found another tree dripping across the street. And like the honey dew rolling off its leaves, clinical therapist Mark McOmber says the way people choose to interpret it can also be attributed to nature: "Human beings inherently need to hope for things, things that they can't understand, things they can't see".

Warren Jeffs, the president of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints,  is a self-proclaimed “prophet of God”. He was convinced of sexual assault on minors and now, from behind bars, he is sharing his prophecies with one of Arizona’s top leaders -- Attorney General Tom Horne. From behind bars in Palestine, Texas, Jeffs telephones his followers who transcribe his words and often send copies of them to public officials. The “revelations” are a mixture of orders, visions and demands. Horne said he’s concerned because the revelations show that Jeffs still has control over the FLDS community in Colorado City. “It’s the worst injustice happening in Arizona right now,” he said. Jeffs is the leader of the polygamist FLDS church. But he’s currently serving more than 100 years in prison for child molestation. Former members of the FLDS community said that Jeffs writes the revelations on a regular basis to be studied and carried out by his followers.

And another UFO sighting has been explained by more ”earthly” means. On October 16, 2012, the sighting of a shiny object in the sky above Kentucky gained considerable media attention. Plenty of people saw the object: The Kentucky State Police received multiple reports of sightings. A couple of days later, the Appalachian News-Express ran a story headlined “Mystery Object in Sky Captivates Locals.” Regional television stations reported that government agencies professed ignorance. The story was picked up by CNN. And the UFO-loving website Ashtar Command Crew linked to the news as ostensible proof of continuing visits from the Galactic Federation fleet. Rich DeVaul has recently explained the sighting. The shiny object in the sky was the work of his Google team. The people who saw the „UFO” in Pike County were witnessing a test of Project Loon, a breathtakingly ambitious plan to bring the Internet to a huge swath of as-yet-unconnected humanity—via thousands of solar-powered, high-pressure balloons floating some 60,000 feet above Earth.

And now let’s look at some news in science.

A strange, pulsing star has revealed a powerful magnetic field around the giant black hole at the heart of Earth’s Milky Way galaxy. The finding may help shed light on how the galaxy's supermassive black hole devours matter around it and spits out powerful jets of superhot matter. The center of virtually every large galaxy is suspected to host a supermassive black hole with a mass that can range from millions to billions of times the mass of the sun. Astronomers think the Milky Way's core is home to the monster black hole called Sagittarius A* — pronounced "Sagittarius A-star" — that is about 4 million times the mass of Earth's sun. One way to see how black holes warp space and time is by looking at clocks near them. Cosmic versions of clocks are known as pulsars — rapidly spinning neutron stars that regularly give off pulses of radio waves. Astronomers have been searching for pulsars near Sagittarius A* for the past 20 years. And earlier this year, NASA's NuSTAR telescope helped confirm the existence of such a pulsar apparently less than half a light-year away from the black hole. So far, the researchers have been able to detect a magnetic field surrounding Sagittarius A* and more research could lead to new revelations about the most difficult to observe objects in the Universe.

An engineered window coating can be tweaked to respond to changing weather conditions. Small voltages applied to the material trigger it to block heat and, independently, light. Selective control over the amount of heat and light passing through windows could help to keep buildings cool during the summer and warm during the winter. Around 4% of all energy consumed in the United States is used to cool or warm buildings to compensate for heat transfer through windows, according to the US Department of Energy. “The ability to perform well in hot and cold climates could mean big energy savings,” says Delia Milliron, a materials chemist at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in Berkeley, California, who led the team that developed the material. The recipe calls for nanoscale crystals of indium tin oxide, a conductive material used to coat flat-panel displays. When indium tin oxide is jolted with electricity, the extra electrons help it to absorb as much as 35% of heat-producing near-infrared radiation passed through the crystals. The researchers embedded the nanoscale heat sponges into glass made from niobium oxide, which darkens when exposed to current. Together, the two materials allow control of both heat and visible light passing through the window.

Scientists are reporting a significant milestone for cancer research after charting 21 major mutations behind the vast majority of tumours. The disruptive changes to the genetic code accounted for 97% of the 30 most common cancers. Finding out what causes the mutations could lead to new treatments. Some causes, such as smoking are known, but more than half are still a mystery. A tumour starts when one of the building blocks of bodies, a cell, goes wrong. Over the course of a lifetime cells pick up an array of mutations which can eventually transform them into deadly tumours which grow uncontrollably. The international team of researchers was looking for the causes of those mutations as part of the largest-ever analysis of cancer genomes. Professor Mike Stratton, the director of the Sanger Institute declared: "I'm very excited. Hidden within the cancer genome are these patterns, these signatures, which tell us what is actually causing cancer in the first place - that's a major insight to have. It is quite a significant achievement for cancer research, this is quite profound. It's taking us into areas of unknown that we didn't know existed before”.

Scientists in the US have discovered a new animal living in the cloud forests of Colombia and Ecuador. It has been named olinguito and is the first new species of carnivore to be identified in the Western hemisphere in 35 years. It has taken more than a decade to identify the mammal, a discovery that scientists say is incredibly rare in the 21st Century. The credit goes to a team from the Smithsonian Institution for the addition of the 35cm-long olinguito to the animal family that includes racoons.

And, now, in local news from Romania, we learn that

Eight Romanians have added their names to a list of people who hope to go to Mars and remain there for the rest of their lives. 100.000 candidates have already signed up to the project initiated by Mars One, that hopes to colonize Mars beginning with 2022. The eight Romanians have posted small descriptions of themselves and seem to be keen to go on the adventure of their lives that would take place on Mars.

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