New Scientist

New Scientist 12-oct-19

New Scientist covers the latest developments in science and technology that will impact your world. New Scientist employs and commissions the best writers in their fields from all over the world. Our editorial team provide cutting-edge news, award-winning features and reports, written in concise and clear language that puts discoveries and advances in the context of everyday life today and in the future.

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51 Issues

in this issue

2 min.
the minds of others

AS A primate with sophisticated cognitive abilities, you may remember a recent story we ran about experiments on macaques. It showed that these monkeys can understand the logical process of transitive inference. In other words, if a macaque learns that A comes before B, and B comes before C, it can then deduce that A must come before C. To get the animals to take part in the tests, they were put on what the paper in Science Advances called a “fluidrestricted” diet. Water became a reward for doing the puzzles. The study’s findings are interesting – but are they interesting enough to justify the method? The debate about the merits of experiments on animals usually centres on those done for medical purposes. Many people are willing to accept drug testing on…

1 min.
the nobel prize goes to…

NOBEL prizes in medicine and in physics were announced this week for advances in our understanding of how cells sense oxygen and the first discovery of an exoplanet around a sun-like star. On Monday, the Nobel prize in physiology or medicine was announced (pictured). It went to William Kaelin at Harvard, Gregg Semenza at Johns Hopkins, Maryland, and Peter Ratcliffe at the University of Oxford. Semenza identified a protein that appears in the blood when oxygen levels are low, and Ratcliffe and Kaelin identified a protein that destroys it when oxygen levels are high. Together, these proteins form a molecular switch that controls how cells respond to varying levels of oxygen. This not only helps explain how the body responds to change, but has implications for treating a range of disorders, from…

1 min.
vote hinders action on airline emissions

THE UN agency tasked with limiting aviation emissions has effectively voted to block meaningful action. Although the vote has no legal force itself, it could make it harder to cap emissions from flights. Few effective measures are in place to stop aviation emissions rising. Jet fuel on international flights isn’t taxed. And there are doubts over the international CORSIA scheme, which requires nations to offset growth in aviation emissions after 2020 – for instance, by paying for tree planting. This is widely seen as ineffective, as we can’t be sure the trees wouldn’t have been planted anyway or will still be growing and absorbing CO2 for decades. Delegates at the UN’s International Civil Aviation Organization discussed a range of issues related to reducing emissions. They also voted that CORSIA “should be the…

4 min.
we can visit comet from alien star

RUMOURS began to circulate in early September that an object from another solar system had been spotted. Now its status as only the second interstellar visitor ever seen has been confirmed. With this, the race is on to find out as much about the comet as we can. We know it would be possible to send a spacecraft to visit – and there is plenty more excitement on the way. The object, officially known as 2I/Borisov, was first spotted by Gennady Borisov, an astronomer from Crimea, using a homemade 0.65-metre telescope. At first, its trajectory left some doubt as to whether it really came from outside the solar system. “It wasn’t quite as obvious as being hyperbolic as the first one was, so there was some caution,” says Robert Weryk at the University…

2 min.
the key to a long life may be genes that protect against stress

GREY whales are one of the longest-lived mammals in existence. The secret to their long lives? A resilience to stress, according to the first genetic sequencing of the animals. The genes for stress resistance are also shared by other long-lived animals, like naked mole rats, which can outlive mice by 25 years, give or take, and humans. It is this stress resistance that protects most long-lived animals from cancer, says Dmitri Toren, now at the Romanian Academy in Bucharest. Toren and his colleagues are investigating ageing and why some animals are able to live long lives. The team decided to study the grey whale because it can live into its 70s, and is considered to be the eighth longest-lived mammal. In order to study cells taken from grey whales, a member of the…

2 min.
supercomputer simulates key brain centre in real time

A BRAIN-inspired computer can now simulate part of the sensory cortex in real time, using tens of thousands of virtual neurons. It is the first time such a complex simulation has run this fast and could be used to help build better brains for robots. The SpiNNaker supercomputer at the University of Manchester, UK, features 57,000 specialised chips with a total of 1 million processing units, known as cores. It is designed to run programs that simulate how biological neurons behave. The computer shuttles information around in a similar way to the brain, says Oliver Rhodes, who led the research. Standard supercomputers send big blocks of data at set times, but SpiNNaker’s cores can transmit small blocks to hundreds of other cores simultaneously whenever required. Now Rhodes’s team has shown that SpiNNaker can…