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Satellite Eye on Earth: November 2016 – in pictures

8 December, by Guardian Staff[ —]

Ancient water channels in Morocco, declining Arctic sea ice and the US-Mexico border were among the images captured by European Space Agency and Nasa satellites last month

A bank of clouds covers East Java to the west, with a bright sun overhead casting shadows from the clouds along the ocean surface. Sunglint, an optical effect caused by the reflection of sunlight off the water surface directly back at the satellite sensor, exposes the waves created by the movement of currents in the ocean water. Internal waves are generated when the interface between layers is disturbed, such as when tidal flow passes over rough ocean floors, ridges, or other obstacles. The Lombok Strait, a relatively narrow passageway between Bali (west) and Lombok (east), allows flow of water from the Pacific Ocean into the Indian Ocean. The bottom of the strait is complex and rough, consisting of two main channels, one shallow and one deep. Because of the variation in water movement due to the complexity of the channels and ocean interface, the tides in the strait have a complex rhythm but tend to combine about every 14 days to create an exceptionally strong tidal flow. It is the combination of rough topography, strong tidal currents, and stratified water from the ocean exchange that makes the Lombok Strait famous for the generation of intensive internal waves.

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Bright orange monkey born at Sydney's Taronga zoo is a rare François’ langur

https://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/australia-newsplay episode download
8 December, by Michael Safi and agencies[ —]

Male infant called Nangua, Mandarin for pumpkin, is fourth langur to be born at the zoo, the only one in the region to breed the endangered species

Sydney’s Taronga zoo has announced the birth of a bright orange François’ langur, one of the world’s rarest monkeys.

The male infant, named Nangua – the Mandarin word for pumpkin – was discovered in his mother Meili’s arms by keepers on 7 November.

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Can’t we judge people on their merits, instead of their genes? | Catherine Shoard

8 December, by Catherine Shoard[ —]

The obsession with pedigree as an explanation for success and failure is just a present day form of narcissism

Are the novelist Anthony Powell and the actor Danny Dyer related? The biology has yet to be checked, but the evidence is compelling. Spiritually, at least, these two are blood brothers, intimately linked. Both are entertainers, both are fans of the pithy putdown (Powell: “His mastery of the hard-luck story was of a kind never achieved by persons not wholly concentrated on themselves”; Dyer: “Mate, you look like an earthworm who’s whacked a hoodie on”). And both are raging snobs. For Powell, lineage was of paramount importance, Burke’s Peerage his favourite book. Between writing, he devoted his studies to his own ancestry. The pedigree of others determined his attitude to them, from aristo pals to the postman. For all, he endeavoured to trace their descent back as far – and as posh – as possible.

Related: Who Do You Think You Are? review – arise, King Danny Dyer

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Orangutan stuns zookeepers by becoming pregnant while on the pill

https://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/australia-newsplay episode download
8 December, by Elle Hunt[ —]

Adelaide zoo is hoping to support 34-year-old orangutan Karta through her pregnancy as she has lost six infants in the past

A Sumatran orangutan at Adelaide zoo has fallen pregnant, despite being on contraceptives.

Karta the 34-year-old orangutan is due early in 2017. Jodie Ellen, a senior primate keeper, announced the “exciting but nerve-wracking” news on the zoo’s Facebook page. “It wasn’t a planned pregnancy,” she said. “Mother Nature actually intervened.”

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Strobe lighting provides a flicker of hope in the fight against Alzheimer’s

7 December, by Hannah Devlin Science correspondent[ —]

Exposure to flashing lights stimulates brain’s immune cells to clean up toxic proteins causing the disease, study finds

Strobe lighting has been shown to reduce levels of the toxic proteins seen in Alzheimer’s disease, in findings that raise the tantalising possibility of future non-invasive treatments for the disease.

The study, in mice, found that exposure to flickering light stimulated brain waves, called gamma oscillations, that are known to be disturbed in Alzheimer’s patients. Boosting this synchronous brain activity appeared to act as a cue for the brain’s immune cells, prompting them to absorb the sticky amyloid proteins that are the most visible hallmarks of the disease in the brain’s of people with Alzheimer’s.

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Cross Section: Neil deGrasse Tyson – Science Weekly podcast

7 December, by Presented by Nicola Davis and Produced by Max Sanderson[ —]

What first attracted one of the world’s foremost astrophysicists to the night sky? Are we alone in the universe? And how can scientific thinking benefit us all?

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Visiting the Hayden Planetarium as a young boy, Dr Neil DeGrasse Tyson immediately fell in love with the world of astronomy. Fast forward a couple of decades, and Neil continues to inspire people from all generations. Through his role as the director at the very planetarium that first sparked his interest, and as an author, presenter, and communicator, Neil’s enthusiasm for the subject he loves is truly unrivalled.

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Archaeology sheds light on Mongolia’s uncertain nomadic future

7 December, by William Taylor[ —]

As a herding lifestyle practiced for millennia is threatened by contemporary climate change, archaeology offers a long-term perspective

Around the world, traditional subsistence practices provide a resilient source of ecological knowledge that improves humanity’s ability to respond to environmental crises. In Central Asia, a herding lifestyle practiced for millennia is increasingly threatened by the speed and magnitude of climate change.

Although the global mean temperature is predicted to rise by 2C over the coming century, this trend will likely be more severe in high altitude and high latitude environments. In the subarctic steppes of Mongolia, nearly one-third of the population makes their living through migratory herding of livestock – sheep, goat, horse, cattle, camel, and yak. For these herders, the effects of climate change have been immediate and dramatic. Mongolia has experienced summer droughts, extreme winter weather, pasture degradation, a shrinking water supply, and desertification, leading to seasonal herd die-offs. These processes have a cascading effect, reinforcing other issues caused by human activity and globalisation.

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Heads in the Cloud: Are Westworld’s Robots Poorly Designed?

7 December, by Martin Robbins[ —]

The park engineers in HBO’s Westworld should probably be fired for some of the bad choices they made

HBO’s new Westworld series has spawned countless gigabytes of online discussion and speculation as its intricate plot has unfolded. The design of the robots, and of the intelligence that guides them, has attracted less comment. That’s a shame; when you dive into the construction of the park there are some very odd choices that are worth pulling apart.

(Warning: spoilers ahead.)

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Science Museum's maths gallery soars with stunning Zaha Hadid design

7 December, by Alex Bellos[ —]

New gallery tells stories of how maths underpins the world

In 1818, the Foreign Secretary Lord Castlereagh sent a letter to all British consuls across the world, asking them to obtain examples of their local standard weights. At that time the UK had no universal conversion table between the many different systems of weights and measures used by foreign cities.

It took two years for all 71 sets of weights to arrive in London, where they were put in two cabinets installed in the Royal Mint. When the measurements were compared with each other, the Mint discovered that almost every previous conversion table was wrong – and that for the previous century these errors had been costing UK traders dosh.

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Turkey: your delicious Christmas dinner dinosaur

7 December, by Dr Dave Hone[ —]

The evolutionary history of birds as dinosaurs is quite apparent, even in a turkey on your dining table

The fact that birds are the direct descendants of dinosaurs is now and overwhelmingly supported theory in palaeontology, though most will not know much beyond the recent plethora of discoveries of feathered dinosaurs. While these are obviously a wonderful example, the ancestry of birds is more than skin (or feather) deep and since mostly palaeontologists work from bones it may not be a surprise to learn that you can see plenty of dinosaurian traits in your Christmas dinner.

A typical roasting turkey is already missing the head, probably the neck and the feet, all of which contain some key traits to identify them as dinosaurs. Still, as you carve your way through your dinosaurian dinner there are plenty of features remaining that can point you to the evolutionary history of the main course. Although birds have the best part of 140 million years of adaptation to flight behind them (and then quite a lot of change wrought by domestic breeders) there are multiple features that can easily be traced between them and their predecessors. Let’s start with one that should be familiar to everyone – the wishbone.

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