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How Your Mind Affects Your Body

Excerpt from huffingtonpost.comWe are at last beginning to show that there is an intimate and dynamic relationship between what is going on with our feelings and thoughts and what happens in the body. A Time magazine special showed that happiness, h...

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13 Things Anyone Who Loves A Highly Sensitive Person Should Know

Excerpt from huffingtonpost.com When I was in kindergarten, a boy in my class tossed my favorite book over our elementary school fence. I remember crying profusely, not because I was sad to see it go, but because I was so furious that he was s...

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Best friends: 22 photos of babies meeting pets for the first time

From today.com  After a long week, there's nothing better than a healthy dose of cuteness.  Inspired by the sweet moment when TODAY anchor Savannah Guthrie's baby,...

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IBM advances bring quantum computing closer to reality

ibm research jerry chow
Research scientist Jerry Chow performs a quantum computing experiment at IBM's Thomas J. Watson Research Center in Yorktown Heights, N.Y. Jon Simon/IBM

Excerpt from computerworld.com
By Sharon Gaudin

IBM scientists say they have made two critical advances in an industrywide effort to build a practical quantum computer, shaving years off the time expected to have a working system.

"This is critical," said Jay Gambetta, IBM's manager of theory of quantum computing. "The field has got a lot more competitive. You could say the [quantum computing] race is just starting to begin… This is a small step on the journey but it's an important one."

Gambetta told Computerworld that IBM's scientists have created a square quantum bit circuit design, which could be scaled to much larger dimensions. This new two-dimensional design also helped the researchers figure out a way to detect and measure errors.
Quantum computing is a fragile process and can be easily thrown off by vibrations, light and temperature variations. Computer scientists doubt they'll ever get the error rate down to that in a classical computer.

Because of the complexity and sensitivity of quantum computing, scientists need to be able to detect errors, figure out where and why they're happening and prevent them from recurring.

IBM says its advancement takes the first step in that process.
"It tells us what errors are happening," Gambetta said. "As you make the square [circuit design] bigger, you'll get more information so you can see where the error was and you can correct for it. We're showing now that we have the ability to detect, and we're working toward the next step, which would allow you to see where and why the problem is happening so you can stop it from happening."

Quantum computing is widely thought to be the next great step in the field of computing, potentially surpassing classical supercomputers in large-scale, complex calculations. 

Quantum computing would be used to cull big data, searching for patterns. It's hoped that these computers will take on questions that would lead to finding cures for cancer or discovering distant planets – jobs that might take today's supercomputers hundreds of years to calculate.

IBM's announcement is significant in the worlds of both computing and physics, where quantum theory first found a foothold.

Quantum computing, still a rather mysterious technology, combines both computing and quantum mechanics, which is one of the most complex, and baffling, areas of physics. This branch of physics evolved out of an effort to explain things that traditional physics is unable to.

With quantum mechanics, something can be in two states at the same time. It can be simultaneously positive and negative, which isn't possible in the world as we commonly know it. 

For instance, each bit, also known as a qubit, in a quantum machine can be a one and a zero at the same time. When a qubit is built, it can't be predicted whether it will be a one or a zero. A qubit has the possibility of being positive in one calculation and negative in another. Each qubit changes based on its interaction with other qubits.

Because of all of these possibilities, quantum computers don't work like classical computers, which are linear in their calculations. A classical computer performs one step and then another. A quantum machine can calculate all of the possibilities at one time, dramatically speeding up the calculation.

However, that speed will be irrelevant if users can't be sure that the calculations are accurate.

That's where IBM's advances come into play.

"This is absolutely key," said Jim Tully, an analyst with Gartner. "You do the computation but then you need to read the results and know they're accurate. If you can't do that, it's kind of meaningless. Without being able to detect errors, they have no way of knowing if the calculations have any validity."

If scientists can first detect and then correct these errors, it's a major step in the right direction to building a working quantum computing system capable of doing enormous calculations. 

"Quantum computing is a hard concept for most to understand, but it holds great promise," said Dan Olds, an analyst with The Gabriel Consulting Group. "If we can tame it, it can compute certain problems orders of magnitude more quickly than existing computers. The more organizations that are working on unlocking the potential of quantum computing, the better. It means that we'll see something real that much sooner."
However, there's still debate over whether a quantum computer already exists.

A year ago, D-Wave Systems Inc. announced that it had built a quantum system, and that NASA, Google and Lockheed Martin had been testing them.

Many in the computer and physics communities doubt that D-Wave has built a real quantum computer. Vern Brownell, CEO of the company, avows that they have.

"I think that quantum computing shows promise, but it's going to be quite a while before we see systems for sale," said Olds.
IBM's Gambetta declined to speculate on whether D-Wave has built a quantum computing but said the industry is still years away from building a viable quantum system.

"Quantum computing could be potentially transformative, enabling us to solve problems that are impossible or impractical to solve today," said Arvind Krishna, senior vice president and director of IBM Research, in a statement.

IBM's research was published in Wednesday's issue of the journal Nature Communications.

quantum computing infographics ibm

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This revolutionary discovery could help scientists see black holes for the first time

supermassive black hole
Artist's concept of the black hole.

Excerpt from finance.yahoo.com
Of all the bizarre quirks of nature, supermassive black holes are some of the most mysterious because they're completely invisible.
But that could soon change.
Black holes are deep wells in the fabric of space-time that eternally trap anything that dares too close, and supermassive black holes have the deepest wells of all. These hollows are generated by extremely dense objects thousands to billions of times more massive than our sun.
Not even light can escape black holes, which means they're invisible to any of the instruments astrophysicists currently use. Although they don't emit light, black holes will, under the right conditions, emit large amounts of gravitational waves — ripples in spacetime that propagate through the universe like ripples across a pond's surface.
And although no one has ever detected a gravitational wave, there are a handful of instruments around the world waiting to catch one.

Game-changing gravitational waves

black hole
This illustration shows two spiral galaxies - each with supermassive black holes at their center - as they are about to collide. 

Albert Einstein first predicted the existence of gravitational waves in 1916. According to his theory of general relativity, black holes will emit these waves when they accelerate to high speeds, which happens when two black holes encounter one another in the universe.  

As two galaxies collide, for example, the supermassive black holes at their centers will also collide. But first, they enter into a deadly cosmic dance where the smaller black hole spirals into the larger black hole, moving increasingly faster as it inches toward it's inevitable doom. As it accelerates, it emits gravitational waves.
Astrophysicists are out to observe these waves generated by two merging black holes with instruments like the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory.
"The detection of gravitational waves would be a game changer for astronomers in the field," Clifford Will, a distinguished profess of physics at the University of Florida who studied under famed astrophysicist Kip Thorne told Business Insider. "We would be able to test aspects of general relativity that have not been tested."
Because these waves have never been detected, astrophysicists are still trying to figure out how to find them. To do this, they build computer simulations to predict what kinds of gravitational waves a black hole merger will produce. 

Learn by listening

In the simulation below, made by Steve Drasco at California Polytechnic State University (also known as Cal Poly), a black hole gets consumed by a supermassive black hole about 30,000 times as heavy.
You'll want to turn up the volume.
What you're seeing and hearing are two different things.
The black lines you're seeing are the orbits of the tiny black hole traced out as it falls into the supermassive black hole. What you're hearing are gravitational waves.
"The motion makes gravitational waves, and you are hearing the waves," Drasco wrote in a blog post describing his work.
Of course, there is no real sound in space, so if you somehow managed to encounter this rare cataclysmic event, you would not likely hear anything. However, what Drasco has done will help astrophysicists track down these illusive waves.

Just a little fine tuning 

Gravitational waves are similar to radio waves in that both have specific frequencies. On the radio, for example, the number corresponding to the station you're listening to represents the frequency at which that station transmits.

3D visualization of gravitational waves produced by 2 orbiting black holes. Right now, astrophysicists only have an idea of what frequencies two merging black holes transmit because they’re rare and hard to find. In fact, the first ever detection of an event of this kind was only announced this month. 

Therefore, astrophysicists are basically toying with their instruments like you sometimes toy with your radio to find the right station, except they don’t know what station will give them the signal they’re looking for.
What Drasco has done in his simulation is estimate the frequency at which an event like this would produce and then see how that frequency changes, so astrophysicists have a better idea of how to fine tune their instruments to search for these waves.
Detecting gravitational waves would revolutionize the field of astronomy because it would give observers an entirely new way to see the universe. Armed with this new tool, they will be able to test general relativity in ways never before made possible.

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8 Myths About Emotions That Are Holding Us Back

Excerpt from huffingtonpost.comAs a society, we don't talk much about emotions. Conversations tend to focus more on what we're doing or what we're thinking. In fact, most people find it easier to start sentences with, "I think..." instead of "I feel...

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Guiding Our Search for Life on Other Earths

The James Webb Telescope

Excerpt from space.com

A telescope will soon allow astronomers to probe the atmosphere of Earthlike exoplanets for signs of life. To prepare, astronomer Lisa Kaltenegger and her team are modeling the atmospheric fingerprints for hundreds of potential alien worlds. Here's how:
The James Webb Space Telescope, set to launch in 2018, will usher a new era in our search for life beyond Earth. With its 6.5-meter mirror, the long-awaited successor to Hubble will be large enough to detect potential biosignatures in the atmosphere of Earthlike planets orbiting nearby stars.
And we may soon find a treasure-trove of such worlds. The forthcoming exoplanet hunter TESS (Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite), set to launch in 2017, will scout the entire sky for planetary systems close to ours. (The current Kepler mission focuses on more distant stars, between 600 and 3,000 light-years from Earth.) 

Astronomer Lisa Kaltenegger

While TESS will allow for the brief detection of new planets, the larger James Webb will follow up on select candidates and provide clues about their atmospheric composition. But the work will be difficult and require a lot of telescope time.
"We're expecting to find thousands of new planets with TESS, so we'll need to select our best targets for follow-up study with the Webb telescope," says Lisa Kaltenegger, an astronomer at Cornell University and co-investigator on the TESS team.
To prepare, Kaltenegger and her team at Cornell's Institute for Pale Blue Dots are building a database of atmospheric fingerprints for hundreds of potential alien worlds. The models will then be used as "ID cards" to guide the study of exoplanet atmospheres with the Webb and other future large telescopes.
Kaltenegger described her approach in a talk for the NASA Astrobiology Institute's Director Seminar Series last December.
"For the first time in human history, we have the technology to find and characterize other worlds," she says. "And there's a lot to learn."

Detecting life from space  

In its 1990 flyby of Earth, the Galileo spacecraft took a spectrum of sunlight filtered through our planet's atmosphere. In a 1993 paper in the journal Nature, astronomer Carl Sagan analyzed that data and found a large amount of oxygen together with methane — a telltale sign of life on Earth. These observations established a control experiment for the search of extraterrestrial life by modern spacecraft.
"The spectrum of a planet is like a chemical fingerprint," Kaltenegger says. "This gives us the key to explore alien worlds light years away."
Current telescopes have picked up the spectra of giant, Jupiter-like exoplanets. But the telescopes are not large enough to do so for smaller, Earth-like worlds. The James Webb telescope will be our first shot at studying the atmospheres of these potentially habitable worlds.
Some forthcoming ground-based telescopes — including the Giant Magellan Telescope (GMT), planned for completion in 2020, and the European Extremely Large Telescope (E-ELT), scheduled for first light in 2024 — may also be able to contribute to that task. [The Largest Telescopes on Earth: How They Compare]
And with the expected discovery by TESS of thousands of nearby exoplanets, the James Webb and other large telescopes will have plenty of potential targets to study. Another forthcoming planet hunter, the Planetary Transits and Oscillations of stars (PLATO), a planned European Space Agency mission scheduled for launch around 2022-2024, will contribute even more candidates.
However, observation time for follow-up studies will be costly and limited.
"It will take hundreds of hours of observation to see atmospheric signatures with the Webb telescope," Kaltenegger says. "So we'll have to pick our targets carefully."

Giant Magellan Telescope
Set to see its first light in 2021, The Giant Magellan Telescope will be the world’s largest telescope.

Getting a head start

To guide that process, Kaltenegger and her team are putting together a database of atmospheric fingerprints of potential alien worlds. "The models are tools that can teach us how to observe and help us prioritize targets," she says.
To start, they have modeled the chemical fingerprint of Earth over geological time. Our planet's atmosphere has evolved over time, with different life forms producing and consuming various gases. These models may give astronomers some insight into a planet's evolutionary stage.
Other models take into consideration the effects of a host of factors on the chemical signatures — including water, clouds, atmospheric thickness, geological cycles, brightness of the parent star, and even the presence of different extremophiles.
"It's important to do this wide range of modeling right now," Kaltenegger said, "so we're not too startled if we detect something unexpected. A wide parameter space can allow us to figure out if we might have a combination of these environments."
She added: "It can also help us refine our modeling as fast as possible, and decide if more measurements are needed while the telescope is still in space. It's basically a stepping-stone, so we don't have to wait until we get our first measurements to understand what we are seeing. Still, we'll likely find things we never thought about in the first place."

A new research center

The spectral database is one of the main projects undertaken at the Institute for Pale Blue Dots, a new interdisciplinary research center founded in 2014 by Kaltenegger. The official inauguration will be held on May 9, 2015.
"The crux of the institute is the characterization of rocky, Earth-like planets in the habitable zone of nearby stars," Kaltenergger said. "It's a very interdisciplinary effort with people from astronomy, geology, atmospheric modeling, and hopefully biology."
She added: "One of the goal is to better understand what makes a planet a life-friendly habitat, and how we can detect that from light years away. We're on the verge of discovering other pale blue dots. And with Sagan's legacy, Cornell University is a really great home for an institute like that."

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