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“Below 1%”: The Monarch Butterfly Is Approaching Total and Irreversible Extinction

Elias Marat

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The monarch butterfly, the majestic black-and-orange pollinator that once covered winter trees like leaves from the Baja California Peninsula up to California’s Central Coast, is facing a sharp population decline that could spell its irreversible doom.

According to a new survey conducted by the Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation, the iconic North American butterfly, which migrates thousands of miles across the continent on an annual basis, is now hovering inches away from extinction.

In 1980, the monarch butterfly population reached about 4.5 million. By the mid-2000s, the count dropped to barely 100,000 and last year, the number of western monarchs fell to a staggering 28,429a 99.4 percent decline that Xerces Society conservation biologist Emma Pelton described to the San Francisco Chronicle as “this other order of magnitude drop.”

“It’s mind-boggling. We’re now down below 1 percent of the historic population,” Pelton explained to the Chronicle.

Continuing, the biologist explained that the death of the monarch species could have a knock-on effect on other insects such as bees and insectivorous bird species:

“It is very apt to say this is a canary in a coal mine for a lot of our native pollinators … There’s a tight link in a loss of insects and our songbirds, which rely on insects. We have declines in songbirds, and I think that links directly to declines in insects.”

By now, the process of extinction could prove inexorable, plunging the monarch into an “extinction vortex” wherein the species will be unable to replenish its numbers through its natural reproductive process.

The cause of the monarch’s steep and rapid decline has forced biologists to look for answers as to why the die-off has occurred. A variety of factors could be involved, all of which are tied to human economic activities ranging from logging and sprawling urbanization to pesticide and herbicide use on industrial corn and soybean crops as well as the plowing of the monarch’s milkweed habitat along the route by which it migrates.

The Xerces Society conducted the survey on Thanksgiving Day with the aid of hundreds of volunteers who counted butterflies in about 300 locations across California, a method by which the conservationist group has maintained a record of the monarch populations over the course of decades.

Scientists have suggested that since the mid-20th century, when radioactive fallout from above-ground nuclear weapons tests began to spread across the globe and human impacts on the environment began to rapidly accelerate, the earth entered a new epoch whereby human society became the primary geological force whose actions determine the future of the entire Earth system.

Dubbed the Anthropocene – a combination of the Greek word anthropos (“human”) and kainos (“new”) – the modern epoch is the first truly man-made geological period in the Earth’s history. It has also entailed mass extinctions of plants and animals alike.

Whether humankind still maintains the ability to shape our ecological environment for the better remains an open question, but the mass demise of the monarch butterfly and innumerable other species suggests that the precious time within which we can steer the Earth in a radically different direction on a system-wide level is fast running out.

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Consciousness

Physicists Suggest All Matter Could Be Made Up of Energy ‘Fragments’

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Matter is what makes up the Universe, but what makes up matter? This question has long been tricky for those who think about it – especially for the physicists.

Reflecting recent trends in physics, my colleague Jeffrey Eischen and I have described an updated way to think about matter. We propose that matter is not made of particles or waves, as was long thought, but – more fundamentally – that matter is made of fragments of energy.

From Five to One

The ancient Greeks conceived of five building blocks of matter – from bottom to top: earth, water, air, fire and aether. Aether was the matter that filled the heavens and explained the rotation of the stars, as observed from the Earth vantage point.

These were the first most basic elements from which one could build up a world. Their conceptions of the physical elements did not change dramatically for nearly 2,000 years.

Then, about 300 years ago, Sir Isaac Newton introduced the idea that all matter exists at points called particles. One hundred fifty years after that, James Clerk Maxwell introduced the electromagnetic wave – the underlying and often invisible form of magnetism, electricity and light.

The particle served as the building block for mechanics and the wave for electromagnetism – and the public settled on the particle and the wave as the two building blocks of matter. Together, the particles and waves became the building blocks of all kinds of matter.

This was a vast improvement over the ancient Greeks’ five elements but was still flawed. In a famous series of experiments, known as the double-slit experiments, light sometimes acts like a particle and at other times acts like a wave. And while the theories and math of waves and particles allow scientists to make incredibly accurate predictions about the Universe, the rules break down at the largest and tiniest scales.

Einstein proposed a remedy in his theory of general relativity. Using the mathematical tools available to him at the time, Einstein was able to better explain certain physical phenomena and also resolve a longstanding paradox relating to inertia and gravity.

But instead of improving on particles or waves, he eliminated them as he proposed the warping of space and time.

Using newer mathematical tools, my colleague and I have demonstrated a new theory that may accurately describe the Universe. Instead of basing the theory on the warping of space and time, we considered that there could be a building block that is more fundamental than the particle and the wave.

Scientists understand that particles and waves are existential opposites: A particle is a source of matter that exists at a single point, and waves exist everywhere except at the points that create them.

My colleague and I thought it made logical sense for there to be an underlying connection between them.

Flow and Fragments of Energy

Our theory begins with a new fundamental idea – that energy always “flows” through regions of space and time.

Think of energy as made up of lines that fill up a region of space and time, flowing into and out of that region, never beginning, never ending and never crossing one another.

Working from the idea of a universe of flowing energy lines, we looked for a single building block for the flowing energy. If we could find and define such a thing, we hoped we could use it to accurately make predictions about the Universe at the largest and tiniest scales.

There were many building blocks to choose from mathematically, but we sought one that had the features of both the particle and wave – concentrated like the particle but also spread out over space and time like the wave.

The answer was a building block that looks like a concentration of energy – kind of like a star – having energy that is highest at the center, and that gets smaller farther away from the center.

Much to our surprise, we discovered that there were only a limited number of ways to describe a concentration of energy that flows. Of those, we found just one that works in accordance with our mathematical definition of flow.

We named it a fragment of energy. For the math and physics aficionados, it is defined as A = -⍺/r where ⍺ is intensity and r is the distance function.

Using the fragment of energy as a building block of matter, we then constructed the math necessary to solve physics problems. The final step was to test it out.

Back to Einstein, Adding Universality

More than 100 ago, Einstein had turned to two legendary problems in physics to validate general relativity: the ever-so-slight yearly shift – or precession – in Mercury’s orbit, and the tiny bending of light as it passes the Sun.

These problems were at the two extremes of the size spectrum. Neither wave nor particle theories of matter could solve them, but general relativity did.

The theory of general relativity warped space and time in such way as to cause the trajectory of Mercury to shift and light to bend in precisely the amounts seen in astronomical observations.

If our new theory was to have a chance at replacing the particle and the wave with the presumably more fundamental fragment, we would have to be able to solve these problems with our theory, too.

For the precession-of-Mercury problem, we modeled the Sun as an enormous stationary fragment of energy and Mercury as a smaller but still enormous slow-moving fragment of energy. For the bending-of-light problem, the Sun was modeled the same way, but the photon was modeled as a minuscule fragment of energy moving at the speed of light.

In both problems, we calculated the trajectories of the moving fragments and got the same answers as those predicted by the theory of general relativity. We were stunned.

Our initial work demonstrated how a new building block is capable of accurately modeling bodies from the enormous to the minuscule. Where particles and waves break down, the fragment of energy building block held strong.

The fragment could be a single potentially universal building block from which to model reality mathematically – and update the way people think about the building blocks of the Universe.

Republished from TheConversation.com under Creative Commons

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News

Exotic “Blue Jet” Lightning Shooting From Electrical Storm Captured by Space Station

Elias Marat

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State-of-the-art equipment on the International Space Station (ISS) has captured a brilliant view of a thunderstorm from above, including a clear view of a strange type of lightning known as a blue jet.

The footage could help us better understand how lighting originates and even how storms distribute greenhouse gases in the Earth’s atmosphere, offering important pointers on weather systems in general.

However, the footage also offers a damned cool perspective of electrical storms that we’ve never enjoyed until now.

In video released by the European Space Agency that was captured in February 2019, blue-colored lightning bolts can be seen shooting upwards from storm clouds over the Pacific island of Nauru into the highest reaches of the stratosphere.

Blue jets are types of lightning that shoot upwards from thunderclouds into the stratosphere, striking altitudes exceeding 30 miles (50 km) in under a second. While our typical lightning interacts with a mixture of gases in the lower atmosphere to create glowing white bolts, blue jets excite stratospheric nitrogen to create a luminous blue hue.

While the phenomenon has long been observed from aircraft and ground-level vantage points, the European Space Agency’s Atmosphere-Space Interactions Monitor (ASIM) at the ISS, which is about 250 miles (400 km) above the Earth, have enabled researchers to get the best glimpse yet of a blue jet arising from a sudden burst of electricity emanating from the top of a thundercloud, according to research published Wednesday in the scientific journal Nature.

“Elves,” or rapidly-expanding rings of optical and UV emissions, were also generated by the flash. The emissions, which took place at the bottom of the ionosphere, were a result of the interaction between electrons, radio waves, and the atmosphere.

Blue jets and elves, like other upper-atmospheric phenomena such as mythological-sounding sprites, are important to our understanding of how radio waves travel through the air, with potential ramifications on our communications technologies as well as the more fundamental questions of how lightning is initiated in our clouds and how greenhouse gases are concentrated in the atmosphere.

However, spotting these brilliant light shows has been difficult for earthbound observers. Yet the highly sensitive tools installed on the Space Station in 2018 – including photometers, optical cameras, and an X- and gamma-ray detector –were able to capture the elusive phenomena.

The knowledge gleaned from the footage could prove crucial to researchers finally making sense of the processes unfolding in the upper atmosphere.

“This paper is an impressive highlight of the many new phenomena ASIM is observing above thunderstorms and shows that we still have so much to discover and learn about our Universe,” said Astrid Orr, the Physical Sciences Coordinator for human and robotic spaceflight at the European Space Agency.

“Congratulations to all the scientists and university teams that made this happen as well as the engineers that built the observatory and the support teams on ground operating ASIM—a true international collaboration that has led to amazing discoveries,” Orr added.

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Authorities Using Facial Recognition, Social Media, GPS Tracking to Locate Rioters

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After rioters flooded the U.S. Capitol building on Jan. 6, there was an immediate call for those who overran officers on the scene and swarmed the House and Senate floors, as well as congressional members’ personal offices, to be identified, arrested and prosecuted. The coordinated law enforcement response to this incident is massive.

As researchers who study criminal justice, we see that law enforcement agencies are accessing large amounts of information via technological sources to investigate the attack on the U.S. Capitol building. High-definition security cameras, facial recognition technology, location services acquired from cellphones and third-party apps, and accessing archival evidence on social media are all used to identify perpetrators of crimes and tie them to specific places and times.

While watchdog groups have raised legitimate concerns about the use of government and private-sector surveillance technology to identify people who might commit violent acts at some future point, there is much less concern raised about the use of technology to identify, arrest and prosecute individuals once these crimes have occurred.

Facial Recognition Technology

In the days since the breaching of the Capitol, information has flowed continuously to law enforcement with names and/or images of suspected participants in the unrest. Facial recognition technology can be used to compare images obtained by law enforcement – particularly those images taken from the network of security cameras within and outside the Capitol complex – to positively identify persons of interest.

Facial recognition systems work by matching a face in a video or photo with a face in a database that is associated with a person’s name and other identifying information. Beyond using public records, law enforcement agencies have been turning to private companies to access large databases of identified faces. A growing body of evidence shows the large amount of data some companies have been collecting from social media and other publicly available sources, as well as from CCTV systems in public spaces around the globe. Law enforcement agencies can simply purchase the services of these companies.

The technology exists to identify individuals participating in violent encounters in public spaces in real time using the soon-to-be-completed national ID database. This could result in some extremist groups going off the grid to avoid identification.

Sourcing Information From Social Media

Investigators are being aided by many of the participants in the events of Jan. 6 themselves who posted accounts of their activities on social networks. In addition to the participants who breached the barricades of the Capitol, many bystanders documented the happenings. Social media companies are assisting law enforcement in accessing content that may be useful to locate and prosecute specific individuals.

Some of the earliest subjects who were arrested after the events of Jan. 6 were previously known to law enforcement agencies around the nation, their involvement confirmed by social media postings. Reports have emerged that individuals and groups already under surveillance by law enforcement agencies nationwide via their activity on social media, including suspected white supremacists on the FBI’s terrorist watchlist, were contacted by officers before the individuals traveled to Washington to attend the “Stop the Steal” rally.

Information from social media is also assisting authorities in determining the extent of planning among individuals and groups that were involved.

There is some disagreement within the law enforcement community about the pros and cons of restricting the ability of extremists to communicate on platforms such as Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, TikTok and Parler. The benefit of restricting extremists’ access is hindering communication in the hopes of preventing similar attacks. There is emerging evidence that extremist groups are moving their social media conversations to password-protected sites and to the darknet, where an individual’s anonymity is protected. This migration might hinder extremist groups in recruiting and propaganda efforts, but it’s not clear if it has an effect on the groups’ organizing.

The downside of driving extremists to less-visible online platforms is that it makes it difficult for law enforcement to gather information needed to bring cases against those who participate in criminal incidents. Their virtual footprints become harder to follow.

Identifying a person – particularly someone not previously known to law enforcement – is just one piece of evidence needed to issue an arrest warrant. Empirical information that puts the suspect at the location of a crime when that crime occurred often provides the corroboration courts need to issue a warrant.

Location Tracking

The vast majority of participants in the Capitol unrest carried mobile devices with them and had them powered on, which makes it possible for law enforcement agencies to determine the movements of the cellphone’s owner. Even if users have location services, cellular data and Wi-Fi disabled, law enforcement has access to technology that can determine the location of a device at a specified time.

But location data is useful only when coupled with other evidence of a subject’s involvement in a criminal incident, such as photos and video. For instance, it is doubtful whether simply being in the vicinity of the Capitol during the unrest is sufficient. Location data may not be precise enough to discern whether a device was on someone’s person behind previously established barricades outside the Capitol building or if that device was inside House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s private office, particularly with thousands of mobile devices clustered in one small geographic space inside structures that can obscure signals.

Tips From the Public

One aspect of criminal investigations that has not changed with the rise of technological surveillance is the value of information provided by eyewitnesses and associates of individuals suspected of perpetrating crimes. In the days since the storming of the Capitol, many tips have come into law enforcement from friends, relatives, ex-spouses, neighbors, co-workers and others who indicated they either saw images of someone they knew participating in the unrest on television or on social media, heard them boast of their exploits or heard from a third-party that they had participated.

The FBI, especially, took advantage of the constant media attention on the unrest at the Capitol to ask the public for tips and information, and had established a hotline to gather this information within hours of the incident. It certainly helps criminal investigations when perpetrators are willing to be recorded and photographed, and when they provide their names, ages and hometowns to reporters.

Technology expands the reach of law enforcement investigations, and, combined with tips from the public, makes it more difficult for participants in mob actions to become lost in the crowd. However, these technologies raise the question of whether they can and should be used in the future to prevent these types of large-scale violent incidents from occurring in the first place.

Republished from TheConversation.com under Creative Commons

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