Responding to your expression plays a big role in your dog’s behavior

Why are dogs considered man’s best friend? Besides the loyalty and cuteness, perhaps it’s because they read and respond to human emotion just as our friends and acquaintances do.

According to the Utah People’s Post, a recent study at the University of Helsinki in Finland reveals that dogs pay extra attention to our facial expressions, and are able to tell from that alone when we are pleased with them or angry at them. While they tend to focus on the whole face, extra attention is set on the eyes.

Published in PLOS One, the team of researchers observed 31 dogs from 13 different breeds and how they responded to looking at pictures of other dogs and humans with various facial expressions. Each dog would look the subject in the eye first before examining the whole face.

And while results remained consistent a change occurred when a dog was shown a picture of a human with an angry expression. All 31 dogs would avert their eyes, whereas if they were shown a picture of an angry dog they would continue to stare them down.

I4U News reports that dogs developed this keen response to emotional signals as they evolved alongside humans. After being domesticated they honed this ability in order to combat confrontation and conflict.

“The tolerant behavior strategy of dogs towards humans may partially explain the results,” said Sanni Somppi, one of the researchers from Helsinki. “Domestication may have equipped dogs with a sensitivity to detect the threat signals of humans and respond them with pronounced appeasement signals.”



More is needed as bedbugs develop resistance to insecticides

Getting rid of bedbugs is difficult enough already, but it’s about to get worse. It may be easier to throw out the bed altogether after numerous reports of bedbugs surviving and thriving after chemical treatment.

According to the National Daily Press, researchers from New Mexico State University and Virginia Tech concluded that bedbugs have developed a resistance to chemical treatment.

“Unfortunately, the insecticides we were hoping would help solve some of our bed bug problems are no longer as effective as they used to be,” said Troy Anderson, an assistant professor of entomology at Virginia Tech. “We need to reevaluate some of our strategies for fighting them.”

They published their findings in the Journal of Medical Entomology, revealing results from numerous tests on bedbugs collected from a variety of locations, including lab-bred bedbugs that had never been exposed to chemicals.

The samples, which were collected from homes in New Jersey,  Cincinnati, Ohio, and Troy, Michigan, fared much better than the lab-bred bugs, and needed a bigger dose of the insecticides, known as neonicotinoids, or neonics.

In fact, the samples from Cincinnati and Troy were nearly 163-33,333 times more resistant to some of the components of neonics.

“Companies need to be vigilant for hints of declining performance of products that contain neonicotinoids,” said Alvaro Romero, who works as an assistant professor of entomology at the study’s partner school, New Mexico State University.

“For example, bedbugs persisting on previously treated surfaces might be an indication of resistance.”

Romero and Anderson have suggested that perhaps it’s time for another approach to bedbugs.

“If resistance is detected, products with different modes of action need to be considered, along with the use of non-chemical methods,” said Romero.

HEALTH TECH_Social TECH_Technology

New study shows that your Facebook friend count doesn’t really matter

Friends on Facebook. Yes, your friend count could be over 1,000 people, but would all 1,000 of those friends take a bullet for you or be present in a moment of need?

The answer is not likely; in fact, the only reason it is called a “Friend List” is because “Acquaintances You Barely Remember from High School” wouldn’t fit in the box.

According to TechNewsWorld a study at Oxford University shows that the Friend List doesn’t hold a candle to traditional friends. Evolutionary psychology professor Robin Dunbar led the research, which observed two sets of adults ages 18-65 and their social media habits.

“The conclusion is that despite the pressure to befriend all and sundry with some tenuous link to you via someone else, in fact most people just sign up to the friends they have in the offline world — bar the odd few here or there,” said Dunbar.

Dunbar hypothesized that a human can only maintain about 150 stable relationships, and out of those only 5 or so are the ones who will offer a shoulder to cry on when things go bad. Out of the people observed there was an average of 150 friends.

Forbes reports that out of these 150 only 4.1 were considered true friends, though 13.6 would offer condolences during an emotional crisis. Dunbar’s accuracy resulted in the 150 friends being named the “Dunbar Number.”

“The fact that people do not seem to use social media to increase the size of their social circles suggests that social media may function mainly to prevent friendships decaying over time in the absence of opportunities for face to face contact,” concluded Dunbar.


ASPCA seizes animals from no-kill shelter with major violations

A no-kill shelter in North Carolina is under fire after the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) found the shelter to be a bigger threat to our furry friends.

According to the Fayetteville Observer, The Haven-Friends from Life no-kill shelter received a court order to shut down the shelter, with more than 600 cats, dogs, horses, pigs, and birds being moved to an undisclosed location outside of Raleigh.

“This is considerably better than where they were,”said Ehren Melius of the shelter the animals were moved to. He reported that they’ve already put in electricity, running water, and lighting in the short time they’ve been up and running, with more renovations scheduled in order to make sure all animals are safe and secure.

“Our focus is to keep them happy. They’ve been through an ordeal. It was a pretty horrible situation they were in.”

Inadequate water and medical care were some of the problems according to the Sacramento Bee. An investigation revealed makeshift graves for animals who had passed on, with dozens of carcasses yet to be buried scattered  around the 122-acre establishment.

The violations were mainly due to overpopulation, as Linden and Stephen Spear, operators of the closed shelter, found it difficult to say no to incoming animals. They started in 1996, and found it difficult to accumulate funds for the daily influx of animals that came in.

“They needed funds,” said Diana Barton, a volunteer for the shelter since 2010. “[Linden] begged, and she tried to get more volunteers. Sometimes, they could never get their heads above water.”

The owners did everything they could, using their own money and even lowering adoption fees. But the inability to say no when it came to taking in pets resulted in overpopulation and animal cruelty in the long run.

Only one dog out of the hundreds of animals that have come in has had to be euthanized. Plagued with severe kidney failure, Kelly Krause of the ASPCA said, “We had to end his suffering.”

And there’s an important lesson to be learned from this seizure. Even with good intentions, those who want to start shelters need to be wary and know what they are getting into.

“Know your limitations. It’s about quality, and not quantity,” said Melius. “Don’t get overwhelmed.”


How will Star Wars do in China? No one knows

The world’s second largest movie market is a big question mark for the Star Wars franchise.

While there’s no doubt that Star Wars: The Force Awakens will be a blockbuster hit here in the States, the leaders of the largest cinema chains in China have no idea how the film is going to perform, according to a Hollywood Reporter report.

In North America, ticket sales cracked the $50 million mark a solid month before it was even set to open, and some are projecting it to score $2.7 billion at the box office worldwide. But a lot of that is dependent on how the movie performs in China, and how it does will be critical for shareholders.

The film doesn’t open there until Jan. 16.

Although Star Wars is a globally famous franchise, it’s actually not terribly well known in China. The original three films were never got wide theatrical release, meaning that China just doesn’t have the Star Wars nostalgia that everywhere else has.

If anything, the Chinese know the Star Wars prequels a good bit better. The original trilogy came smack dab during the Cultural Revolution in China in 1977, whereas the prequels came when China had emerged as the global economic power that it is today.


Star clusters may gather stray gases for stellar formation

Globular star clusters might collect galactic gas with which to form new stars.

According to ABC News, observations of two of the Milky Way’s galactic neighbors, namely the Large and Small Magellanic Clouds, have shown that star clusters within those galaxies appear to be pulling in stray gas to supply their stellar nurseries.

“Globular star clusters have turned out to be much more complex than we previously thought them to be,” study author Richard de Grijs of Peking University said.  “This work suggests star clusters can form new stars by adopting gas from their surroundings and that’s quite a novel idea.”

It had been thought that all the constituents of any given star cluster formed around the same time, but recent scrutiny has revealed that ancient globular clusters can contain both old and new stars.  The cluster called Globular Star Cluster NGC 1783 in the Large Magellanic Cloud has been found to contain an early generation of 1.4-billion-year-old stars alongside groups of stars aged 890 million and 450 million years.

However, dying stars tend to explode, driving away any gas that could be used for new star formation. 

“High mass stars die young and when they die they go bang and become supernovae,” de Grijsn said.  “The supernova expels their outer layers and if you have enough of them they can expel all the gas in the cluster so after several tens of millions of years, star clusters don’t have any fuel left to form new stars.”

To solve the mystery of how new stars could be formed in clusters devoid of gas, de Grijsn’s team studied data from the Hubble telescope featuring three-star clusters in the Magellanic Clouds and found populations of both old and young stars in each cluster.

The team concluded that the globular clusters must have pulled in gases from their galaxies’ gas disks between the clusters’ first formation and the later generations of stars.

The study was reported in the journal Nature.


Astronomers spot exoplanet with widest known orbit

An exoplanet that seemed to be alone in space may have a very far-off stellar companion after all.

According to Discovery News, the planet known as 2MASS J2126 lies 100 light-years from Earth and, when first spotted, appeared to be an orphan without a star to orbit.

2MASS J2126 is a huge planet, about 11 to 15 times larger than Jupiter.  Astronomers now believe it might have an extremely wide orbit around a star dubbed TYC 9486-927-1, which the exoplanet would be orbiting at a distance about 7,000 times greater than the distance between Earth and the Sun.

This would be the widest orbit yet discovered.  The star and its planet would be over 621 billion miles apart, and light from the star would take a month to reach the planet.

Both star and planet were first spotted over eight years ago, but the two were not thought to be connected until a recent study showed that there might be a huge solar system at work.

“Nobody had made the link between the objects before. The planet is not quite as lonely as we first thought,” Niall Deacon of the University of Hertfordshire said.  “This is the widest planet system found so far.”

How such a wide orbit could have been established remains a mystery.  The exoplanet is almost large enough to be a type of brown dwarf star, which would join the two objects in more of a binary system than a solar system per se. 

False color infrared image of the star TYC 9486-927-1 and the planet 2MASS J2126; arrows show their projected movement over 1,000 years. The scale indicates a distance of 4,000 astronomical units (AU), where 1 AU is the average distance between the Earth and the sun (about 93 million miles, or 150 million kilometers). Credit: 2MASS/S. Murphy/ANU
False-color infrared image of the star TYC 9486-927-1 and the planet 2MASS J2126; arrows show their projected movement over 1,000 years. The scale indicates a distance of 4,000 astronomical units (AU), where 1 AU is the average distance between the Earth and the sun (about 93 million miles, or 150 million kilometers).
Credit: 2MASS/S. Murphy/ANU

“Pinning down the formation of this system is difficult and lends intrigue to this odd pair,” Josh S‎chlieder of NASA said.  “It is easier to infer how the system likely did not form. Since the mass ratio is relatively high and the separation so extreme, it is unlikely that 2MASS J2126 formed near its current location from a disk of material orbiting the primary star, similar to the gas giants in our solar system.”

While it is possible that the two bodies formed from the same initial gas cloud, it is also possible that 2MASS J2126 is, in fact, a planet spiraling outward under the influence of additional planets in its system.

“Another option is that 2MJ2126 formed around a different star and was ejected, became free-floating, and was later captured into the current very wide system by the gravity of the primary,” S‎chlieder said.

The study was published in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.


James Webb Space Telescope nears completion

The final assembly of the James Webb Space Telescope’s (JWST) 6.6-meter (21 ft.) mirror will be completed in the next few days in Maryland. All four primary instruments have also completed testing in Maryland. They have passed low-temperature tests and will be combined with the mirror, then transported to the Johnson Space Center in Houston. Two years of final testing will follow.

A special device known as the cryocooler is being built and tested at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in California. It is designed to take the MIRI experiment to a lower temperature than its three siblings. It will not be assembled into the JWST until just before launch. The JWST has eight months of “wiggle room” built into its schedule, and the cryocooler risks eating into that. So far JPL reports everything is on schedule.

The JWST is considered the successor to the Hubble telescope in unlocking the secrets of the universe. It will be launched in Oct. 2018 from So. America to the L2 Lagrangian point, 1.5 million kilometers (930,000 miles) from Earth where its four primary instruments will scan the universe shielded from sunshine and Earthshine. The JWST will scan in the infrared (unlike Hubble which is visible and ultraviolet), and hopefully will reveal a host of new discoveries. Among them: imaging the first stars and galaxies; the formation and evolution of galaxies; exoplanets and ring systems around stars; the solar system planets and the possible origins of life.

The JWST originated in 1996 and it was originally budgeted to cost $ 1.6 billion and launch in 2011. That figure has since ballooned to its current $8.35 billion. At one point in 2011 when the budget stood at $5 billion the U.S. House of Representatives threatened to cut off funding completely. A special Congressional investigation ensued and backed by the American Astronomical Society’s  recommendation the project remained on track. The mission is a joint venture between NASA and its European and Canadian counterparts, the European Space Agency and the Canadian Space Agency.


White giraffe spotted in East Africa

Ecologists have taken an astonishing photograph of a rare white giraffe in East Africa, which they worry could be targeted by poachers.

The calf, first observed in Jan. 2015, still has its very faded markings, but is mostly pale and certainly stands out at Tanzania’s Tarangire National Park, according to a report.

The calf is believed to be a year old now, which means it has a good change to survive to adulthood.

It’s not actually an albino giraffe, as albino means it has no melanin anywhere, whereas this giraffe clearly has some. Instead, it is consider leucistic.

The giraffe was named Omo after a brand of laundry detergent, although they are open to suggestions.

Scientists first discovered Omo through its normal documentation efforts, which include taking photographs of individuals. Each individual giraffe has its own unique pattern, allowing them to be identified. They have documented the movements of more than 2,100 individual giraffes in a 4,000-square-kilometer area.

This is the only the second time they have spotted a white giraffe in Tarangire over the past 20 years, so it is certainly a rare condition.

Although poachers are a concern, Omo’s presence inside the national park gives it some protection from them.

Leucism is a condition where there is a partial but not total loss of pigmentation in an animal. They usually appear white or pale, with some patchy skin, hair, scales, or feathers coloration. Albinism is characterized by a reduction in just melanin, but leucism includes the reduction of multiple types of pigmentation.


Floating bonsai trees? ‘Air Bonsai’ the latest Kickstarter sensation

Forget floating hoverboards — how about floating bonsai trees?

A bizarre new Kickstarter project called Air Bonsai hopes to create Japanese-style bonsai trees that can essentially float via the power of magnetism, according to a CNET report.

It would use the same technology that has been used for other floating projects — a pretty simple strategy of using repelling magnets causing the planet to float above its base.

And the technology would probably work with other types of plants. They would float just a little bit in the air and spin gently, a truly amazing sight in any home.

The Kickstarter effort had only sought to raise $80,000, but it has pulled in $185,000 in funding with still more than a month left to run, showing a wide amount of interest in what is sure to be a great conversation piece at home.

The logistics would be a little tricky, as it’s not easy to ship live plants, so Air Bonsai would probably seek to use locally soured plants, or have customers use their own bonsai.

The Air Bonsai set would have a growing container, an energy base, a cushion, an AC adapter, and a box, and would cost about $200. Of course, that can all change as with any crowdfunded project — some are amazingly successful and efficient, while others crumble when faced with such a huge volume of money or simply not having a good business plan.