Octopolis: Octopus species observed vying for living space in underwater city of their own making

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Octopuses are a fascinating species that ranks amongst the most mysterious and intelligent of all invertebrates.

They are also loners, preferring to spend their usually short lives in isolation.

There is an exception to this rule, it seems, as fifty feet below the surface in Jervis Bay, Australia, marine biologists have observed what appears to be an underwater city built by octopuses.

The area in question is barely a few square meters wide, and has been dubbed Octopolis due to the unusual octopus activity observed there.

Groups of local gloomy octopus (Octopus tetricus) are regularly seen congregating in Octopolis, sometimes fighting for control of a small patch of seabed, and other times mating around their little plot of underwater real state.

This rather gregarious behavior is highly unusual for a species that prefers solitude, so it has piqued the curiosity of the scientific community.

Octopolis seemingly started life as a man-made object stuck at the bottom of the bay. It soon became covered in clams and other debris apparently brought by the animals themselves, forming a town center of sorts for the gloomy octopus. Soon, Octopolis became a hub of social activity.

The cephalopods have even been observed hurling objects at each other using water jets blasted from a siphon-like organ in their bodies, in an apparent effort to protect their own turf. Few species outside apes are able to intentionally use items as missiles.

And it appears that Octopolis is not the only underwater city built by gloomy octopuses. A nearby site has also been erected using scallop shells and other maritime debris, in an apparent effort to form a defensive structure against sharks and other predators.

Whatever the purpose may be, this is yet another fascinating facet of a highly intelligent and always surprising creature.

 

 

Cassini’s 20-year-long journey across the Solar System came to a fiery end today as the probe burned in Saturn’s atmosphere

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The Cassini craft no longer exists, after taking a final dive into Saturn’s atmosphere.

Its instruments maintained contact with Earth until the last seconds of the probe’s remarkable journey across the Solar System, sending data back to Earth in almost real time.

The craft travelled nearly 5 million miles since its launch from Cape Canaveral in Florida back in 1997. During this time, Cassini beamed home over 250 million images, uncovering amazing facts about Saturn, its moons, and other celestial bodies in the Solar System.

The nuclear-propelled craft had almost exhausted its fuel, a point after which it would have become uncontrollable. To avoid a random collision with one of Saturn’s moons or Saturn itself (which could have led to contamination of the soil by Earth bacteria), engineers decided to put Cassini in a terminal dive through Saturn’s atmosphere, to ensure it burned completely.

Cassini’s grand finale took place earlier today. Ground control confirmed it lost contact with the probe at exactly 11.55am GMT.

Cassini probe will vanish in a blaze of glory on September 15, after a two-decades long journey through space

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The Cassini mission will make its last transmission ever in less than 48 hours, after a journey of nearly 5 billion miles across space.

Cassini’s grand finale will come on September 15, when the craft plunges down Saturn’s atmosphere, destroying itself in the process.

The probe was launched on October 15, 1997, and completed a series of flybys of Venus and Jupiter before setting course to Saturn, the planet where it spent most of its mission time.

In April this year, Cassini was set on a collision course with Saturn. The probe’s final destination saw it fly 22 times between the planet and its rings, sending never-before-seen close-up images of such enigmatic celestial body.

Cassini’s swan song will be the transmission of scientifically valuable data during its terminal dive into Saturn, for as long as the craft’s thrusters can keep its antenna pointed towards Earth.

Charles Manson follower Leslie Van Houten has been granted parole after almost 50 years behind bars, but State Governor Jerry Brown may still deny her freedom

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Leslie Van Houten, the youngest member of the so-called ‘Charles Manson Family’, has been granted parole after spending nearly five decades in custody.

A two-person parole board ruled that Van Houten, now aged 68, is no longer a threat to society. Her release now hinges on the decision of California Governor Jerry Brown.

Van Houten was raised in a privileged but troubled family. Her parents’s divorce when she was just 14 triggered a pattern of erratic behavior. She began using drugs at a young age, became a hippie, and joined a commune. Van Houten then followed another of Manson’s disciples, Catherine Share, into Charles Manson’s own commune.

On August 9, 1969, Van Houten and several others headed into Los Feliz, a wealthy hillside district of Los Angeles, under Charles Manson’s orders. There, they committed murder when they savagely killed Leno and Rosemary LaBianca.

Van Houten was convicted and sentenced to death for first degree murder. Her sentence was later commuted to life imprisonment with the possibility of parole.

During her 14th parole hearing, Van Houten spoke about the events, saying that “I feel absolutely horrible about it, and I have spent most of my life trying to find ways to live with it“.

According to the parole board, the decision to grant Van Houten’s request for freedom was supported by her exemplary behaviour and accomplishments while incarcerated. She has reportedly earned a bachelor’s degree in counselling, and has spearheaded a large number of related programmes for inmates.

Governor Brown will issue a final ruling on Van Houten’s bid for freedom in the near future. Nobody involved in the Tate-LaBianca’s murders has ever been released from prison.

 

LEGO announces its latest addition to the Ultimate Collectors Series, a revamped Millenium Falcon clocking up over 7,000 pieces

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LEGO has just announced its latest addition to the Ultimate Collectors Series (UCS), and it’s the largest and most expensive set ever released.

Ahead of the arrival of Star Wars: The Last Jedi, the new chapter in the long-running sci-fi saga, LEGO has created a new Millenium Falcon set.

Clocking up at over 7,000 pieces, the legendary craft includes massive amounts of detail and moving parts, along with a number of classic minifigures like Han Solo and Princess Leia.

The bad news is that this magnificent set will cost somewhere in the region of $800, so it will be one for hardcore builders with very deep pockets indeed.

The UCS Millenium Falcon (set number 75192) will go on sale on October 1.

Scientists confirm the presence of a supermassive black hole near the center of the Milky Way

Astronomers now have strong evidence about the presence of a supermassive black hole near the very center of the Milky Way.

The invisible monster is a superdense area of space with a mass equivalent to about 100,000 suns. It is hiding inside a cloud of toxic gases drifting near the center of our galaxy.

A black hole is an anomaly created when a celestial body, usually a star, runs out of fuel and collapses unto itself under the force of gravity. Over time, gargantuan amounts of matter are compressed into a relatively small area of space, creating a super-dense region with such colossal gravitational pull that not even light can escape. It is because of this trait that black holes are only revealed through special equipment and by observing the behavior of nearby space bodies.

In this case, the presence of the black hole was given away by the unusually fast-moving gases surrounding it. Astronomers in Japan observed that the elements wafting around this particular cloud formation, which is a gigantic gas behemoth 150 trillion kms. wide and is located about 200 light years from the heart of the Milky Way, were moving way quicker and at totally different speeds that those in similar clouds elsewhere in space. The researchers ran computer models based on the data gathered, and the most likely result was that the gases were being subjected to enormous gravitational forces exerted by an unseen object.

Further proof of the presence of a black hole was obtained when radio waves that typically originate inside these galactic anomalies were picked up.

This is the second largest known black hole present in the Milky Way, after Sagittarius A, a cosmic monster lurking at the very heart of the galaxy, 26,000 light years away from us.

 

 

Tensions rise further in the Korean Peninsula, as South Korea conducts live-fire drills simulating an attack on a North Korean missile launch site

North Korea’s latest nuclear test, which the Government-run official news site KCNA deemed ‘a complete success’, has sparked a new wave of retaliatory military moves in the region.

In response to the test, South Korea conducted a live-fire exercise on Monday, simulating a full-scale attack on one of North Korea’s main nuclear test sites.

The drill took place after North Korea reportedly set off a nuclear device on Sunday last, an act carried out in blatant defiance of UN-imposed sanctions.

The event, which was independently verified, involved a “two-stage thermonuclear weapon” with a yield of about 100 kilotons. North Korea claims that the warhead was small enough to be transported inside an Intercontinenal Ballistic Missile (ICBM). The two-stage weapons signifies a major advancement in North Korea’s nuclear ambitions.

In the immediate aftermath of the test -the first since Donald Trump took office-, South Korea has authorized the deployment of four additional THAAD launchers at a site some 300 kilometers south of Seoul. THAAD batteries are mobile weapon platforms that target incoming missiles in their terminal approach. THAAD rockets have no warhead, relying on sheer kinetic energy instead to destroy an incoming missile before it reaches its intended target. A kinetic impact minimizes the chances of detonating conventional weaponry, and a nuclear warhead will not explode after a kinetic strike.

Also, the US has entered talks with South Korea about deploying ‘strategic assets’ to the region, in the form of aircraft carriers, long-range bombers, and special ops personnel.

It is also suspected that North Korea may be preparing to conduct yet another missile test on Saturday, which marks one of the country’s major holidays. Pyongyang favors displays of military might during marked ocassions.

Meanwhile, the war of words between the US and North Korea, after US President Donald Trump branded the country a ‘rogue nation and a threat.’

Tensions might reach boiling point in the Korean Peninsula, after North Korea conducts sixth nuclear test despite international condemnation

The situation in the Korean Peninsula may soon reach the point of no return, as North Korea has conducted yet another nuclear test, its sixth.

The device detonated is understood to be a hydrogen warhead, small enough to be fitted into an Intercontinental Ballistic Missile (ICBM). The explosion caused a 6.3-magnitude quake in the country’s north-eastern region.

KCNA, North Korea’s official mouthpiece, has deemed the test ‘a complete success’.

This latest test marks a rapid escalation in the region, making an already tense situation that much more unstable.

International reaction has been swift, with Japan, South Korea -countries within reach of North Korea’s military reach- issuing strong statements calling for the ‘complete isolation’ of North Korea.

The US Administration has not yet issued any response to the event.

FDA approves new treatment that uses engineered genes to treat aggressive leukemia, adding a ‘superweapon’ to the existing armamentarium against cancer

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The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) agency has recently approved a revolutionary new treatment for one of the most aggressive forms of leukemia, effectively implementing the first ever gene-therapy to treat cancer in the United States.

The brand new treatment is a Chimeric Antigen Receptor (CAR) T-cell therapy created by Swiss pharma company Novartis and commercialized as Kymriah. The therapy has been approved to treat pediatric acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) in patients up to the age of 25 with B-cell precursor ALL that is refractory or in second or later relapse.

ALL is a type of aggressive cancer of the white blood cells and bone marrow. The disease progresses rapidly, causing overproduction of immature white blood cells (lymphocytes), which inhibits the production of mature cells. Death will occur without quick treatment, but complete remission in children is also a typical outcome.

Kymriah uses genetically-modified cells to target a specific cancer cells in the receptor.

The process involves retrieving cells from the patient and sending them to a facility where they are genetically altered to include a new protein (CAR). The modified cells are then sent back and injected into the patient. The new cells stimulate the receptor’s immune system to target specific leukemia cells that contain the CD19 antigen.
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Each single treatment is effectively ‘customized’ to every patient. Kymriah has shown astonishingly positive results in clinical trials, where 83 percent of patients treated with it achieved remission within three months.

Kymriah is not without its downsides. Its cost is rather high at present, for example. A single treatment costs $475,000, which may seem incredibly high, but it’s actually well below market expectations of around $700,000 per vial. And that price tag is for the treatment alone, it does not include hospitalization costs, or any other associated monetary outlays. On this regard, Novartis is working with health centres that provide Medicaid and Medicare facilities to iron out financial arrangements for those patients who undergo this treatment.

The new therapy may also cause severe neurological side effects in some cohorts, and the activation of CAR cells in the receptor may trigger a cytokine release syndrome (CRS). Both side effects may be fatal, but are treatable.

Despite these issues, Kymriah has been hailed as a quantum leap forward in the fight against cancer, particularly in the treatment of ALL. Scientists are now open to new avenues of research, and may consider applying similar therapies for the treatment of other types of leukemias and solid tumours.

Well known character actor Richard Anderson, who featured in the famous Six Million Dollar Man TV series, dies aged 91

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Richard Anderson, the character actor who was perhaps best known for his roles in the TV series The Six Million Dollar Man and its spinoff The Bionic Woman, has passed away aged 91.

Anderson, a World War 2 veteran, became a prolific actor who would star in almost 200 screen roles throughout his career, including parts in well known series such as The A-Team and Charlie’s Angels.

He is perhaps best remembered for his part as Oscar Goldman in The Six Million Dollar Man and spin-off The Bionic Woman. Notably, he narrated the opening credits for Million…: “Gentlemen, we can rebuild him. We have the technology. We have the capability to make the world’s first bionic man. Steve Austin will be that man. Better than he was before. Better … stronger … faster.””

Anderson passed away from natural causes, aged 91. He is survived by his three daughters, Ashley, Brooke, and Deva.