Ask AI: How not to kill online conversations

A new artificial intelligence could tell whether your next post to an online forum will engage others or fall flat.

Computer scientist Qiaozhu Mei of the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor and colleagues trained a machine-learning program on about 63,000 Reddit threads to learn what dialog-ending responses look like.

This kind of chat-savvy computer code, described in a paper accepted to the 2018 Web Conference in Lyon, France, could someday notify users before they hit “submit” if a post is likely to shut down discussion. Such feedback could lead to more satisfying and productive online conversations.
AI’s guide to being an online conversationalist
Stay on topic. Posts that repeat words used elsewhere in a thread or use more related terms are less likely to end a conversation.

Share experiences. Comments that include words such as “talked,” “heard” or “seen” are liable to incite further discussion.

Keep it moving. The more time that elapses between a post and a reply, the more likely that reply will go unanswered.

Elaborate. Unlike in-person chats, where long monologs can bore those within earshot, lengthier online posts tend to get more responses.

Be polite. Posts that include words like “Mr.” and “Mrs.” are more likely to encourage a back and forth, compared with responses that address people with insulting or intense language, such as curse words or an all-caps “YOU.”

These disease-fighting bacteria produce echoes detectable by ultrasound

Ultrasound can now track bacteria in the body like sonar detects submarines.

For the first time, researchers have genetically modified microbes to form gas-filled pouches that scatter sound waves to produce ultrasound signals. When these bacteria are placed inside an animal, an ultrasound detector can pick up those signals and reveal the microbes’ location, much like sonar waves bouncing off ships at sea, explains study coauthor Mikhail Shapiro, a chemical engineer at Caltech.

This technique, described in the Jan. 4 Nature, could help researchers more closely monitor microbes used to seek and destroy tumors or treat gut diseases (SN: 11/1/14, p. 18).
Repurposing ultrasound, a common tissue-imaging method, to map microbes creates “a tool that nobody thought was even conceivable,” says Olivier Couture, a medical biophysicist at the French National Center for Scientific Research in Paris, who wasn’t involved in the work.

Until now, researchers have tracked disease-fighting bacteria in the body by genetically engineering them to glow green in ultraviolet images. But that light provides only blurry views of microbes in deeper tissue — if it can be seen at all. With ultrasound, “we can go centimeters deep and still see things with a spatial precision on the order of a hundred micrometers,” Shapiro says.

Story continues below image
Shapiro and his colleagues engineered a strain of E. coli used to treat gut infection to form gas compartments, and injected these bacteria into mice’s bellies. Unlike glowing bacteria — which could only be pinpointed to somewhere in a mouse’s abdomen — ultrasound images located the gas-filled microbes in the colon. The researchers also used their ultrasound technique in mice to image Salmonella bacteria, which could be used to deliver cancer-killing drugs to tumor cells.

Bacteria that produce ultrasound signals can also be designed to help diagnose illnesses, Shapiro says. For instance, a patient could swallow bacteria engineered to create gas pockets wherever the microbes sense inflammation. A doctor could then use ultrasound to search for inflamed tissue, rather than performing a more invasive procedure like a colonoscopy.

Blowflies use drool to keep their cool

SAN FRANCISCO — Blowflies don’t sweat, but they have raised cooling by drooling to a high art.

In hot times, sturdy, big-eyed Chrysomya megacephala flies repeatedly release — and then retract — a droplet of saliva, Denis Andrade reported January 4 at the annual meeting of the Society for Integrative and Comparative Biology. This process isn’t sweating. Blowfly droplets put the cooling power of evaporation to use in a different way, said Andrade, who studies ecology and evolution at the Universidade Estadual Paulista in Rio Claro, Brazil.
As saliva hangs on a fly’s mouthparts, the droplet starts to lose some of its heat to the air around it. When the fly droplet has cooled a bit, the fly then slurps it back in, Andrade and colleagues found. Micro-CT scanning showed the retracted droplet in the fly’s throatlike passage near the animal’s brain. The process eased temperatures in the fly’s body by about four degrees Celsius below ambient temps. That may be preventing dangerous overheating, he proposed. The same droplet seemed to be released, cooled, drawn back in and then released again several times in a row.

Andrade had never seen a report of this saliva droplet in-and-out before he and a colleague noticed it while observing blowfly temperatures for other reasons. But in 2012, Chloé Lahondère and a colleague described how Anopheles stephensi mosquitoes that exude a liquid droplet that dangles and cools, but at the other end of the animals.

Mosquitoes, which let their body temperatures float with that of their environment, can get a heat rush when drinking from warm-blooded mammals. While drinking, the insects release a blood-tinged urine droplet, which dissipates some of the heat. There’s some fluid movement within the droplet, says Lahondère, now at Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, but whether any of the liquid gets recaptured by the body the way fly drool is, she can’t say.

Tiny scales in ancient lagoon may be the first fossil evidence of the moth-butterfly line

Newly described little scaly bits could push back the fossil record of the moth-and-butterfly branch on the tree of life by some 70 million years. That raises the question of whether the drinking-straw mouthparts evolved long before the flower nectar many drink today.

The microscopic ridged scales date from roughly 200 million years ago, around the time of one of Earth’s less famous mass extinctions, says fossil-pollen specialist Bas van de Schootbrugge of Utrecht University in the Netherlands. During an unrelated study of ocean oxygen during this dire time, he and his colleagues pulled up cores of sediment in northern Germany near Braunschweig from what had once been a huge lagoon. In the sediment lay mere dots of insect scales.
Comparing the ridges and inner structure of the scales with those from modern insects suggests the fossils came from the evolutionary branch of insects that today gives us moths and butterflies with nectar-sipping mouthparts. No recognizable mouthparts appeared in the sediment. Yet the early existence of distinctive scales might mean this moth-butterfly drinking organ, a proboscis, evolved before the explosion of the classic flowering plants that offer nectar for pollination, van de Schootbrugge and colleagues propose January 10 in Science Advances.
The land already had plants: ferns, mosses and their relatives growing under trees that formed just-about naked seeds, without cushy protective ovaries and other floral coddling. Naked-seeded plants, many of them wind-pollinated such as pines and other conifers, thrive today. But the great evolutionary burst of true flowers—magnolias, roses, legumes, asters and the whole multicolored rainbow — that many moths and butterflies pollinate had yet to arise.These fossils date from a turbulent time when the great land mass called Pangea was cracking into continents. As the Triassic Period ended and the Jurassic dawned, volcanic eruptions on the straining land spewed greenhouse gases and toxins that changed the atmosphere and climate.
The previous record-holder for earliest moth-butterfly fossils came from about 130 million years ago, a bit after a major expansion of flowering plants. But when coauthor Timo van Eldijk, also at Utrecht, compared the newly found insect scales with those from silverfish, beetles and other scaly insects, modern scales of a big branch of the moth-butterfly lineage proved the best match.
In the times of the ancient scales, generally hot and dry conditions might have favored mouthparts specialized for drinking whatever liquids were to be found, the researchers propose.

Other work on how this proboscis evolved proposes that early moths started with chewing mouthparts and ate spores and pollen, says Harald W. Krenn of the University of Vienna. He and colleagues have proposed an intermediate phase of a short, tubelike structure good for slurping up droplets such as “honeydew” copiously excreted by sap-feeding aphids. A big question, though, is when early moths might have evolved such a drinking convenience.

The notion that the moth mouthparts arose before a big floral takeover sounds plausible to paleoecologist Conrad Labandeira of the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C. Drinking-straw mouthparts had evolved in at least three other big insect groups (dipteran flies, lacewings and scorpionflies) somewhat before the full floral evolutionary extravaganza. Even some of the ancient naked-seeded plant groups, such as cycads, secrete nutritious droplets from reproductive structures that modern insects visit.

Interpreting the scales as a sign of an early moth proboscis is “possible,” says taxonomist Erik van Nieukerken of the Naturalis Biodiversity Center in Leiden, the Netherlands, whose specialties include early moths. There are other possibilities, too, for imagining ancient moth mouthparts, he cautions. Saying definitely that the newfound scales reveal the dawn of the proboscis might be “a bit too quick.”

DNA solves the mystery of how these mummies were related

A pair of ancient Egyptian mummies, known for more than a century as the Two Brothers, were actually half brothers, a new study of their DNA finds.

These two, high-ranking men shared a mother, but had different fathers, say archaeogeneticist Konstantina Drosou of the University of Manchester in England and her colleagues. That muted family tie came to light thanks to the successful retrieval of two types of DNA from the mummies’ teeth, the scientists report in the February Journal of Archaeological Science: Reports. The finding highlights the importance ancient Egyptians placed on maternal lines of descent, Drosou’s group contends.
Questions have swirled about the biological backgrounds of the mummified men ever since they were found together in a tomb near the village of Rifeh in 1907. The tomb dates to ancient Egypt’s 12th Dynasty, between 1985 B.C. and 1773 B.C. Coffin inscriptions mention a female, Khnum-Aa, as the mother of both men. And both mummies are described as sons of an unnamed local governor. It has always been unclear if those inscriptions refer to the same man, but discoverers decided the mummies were full brothers, because the two were buried next to each other and had the same mother.

Over time, differences discovered in the men’s skull shapes and other skeletal features raised suspicions that the Two Brothers were not biologically related at all. And some researchers argued that the inscriptions indicating the men had the same mother were misleading.

Adding to those doubts, a 2014 paper reported differences between the two mummies’ mitochondrial DNA, suggesting one or both had no biological link to Khnum-Aa. Mitochondrial DNA typically gets inherited from the mother.

But that study extracted ancient DNA from liver and intestinal samples using a method susceptible to contamination with modern human and bacterial DNA, Drosou’s team argues. In the new work, researchers isolated and assembled short pieces of mitochondrial and Y-chromosome DNA from both mummies’ teeth using the latest methods. The Y chromosome determines male sex and gets passed from father to son. This approach minimizes potential contamination from modern sources (SN Online: 5/31/17).
That new DNA evidence “proves the hieroglyphic text [on the mummies’ coffins] to be accurate,” at least in saying the mummified men had the same mother, says Egyptologist and study coauthor Campbell Price, curator of the Egypt and Sudan collections at the Manchester Museum in England.

Unlike the deference given to Khnum-Aa as a named parent of both interred individuals, he says, the coffin inscriptions must refer to different fathers who were considered peripheral family members and thus left unnamed. “Power may have been transferred down the female line rather than simply by a son inheriting [high rank] from his father,” Price suggests. Khnum-Aa’s background, social standing and genetic makeup, however, remain a mystery.

Genetic evidence that two half brothers were buried in the same tomb and placed in coffins that name only their mother makes sense, says Egyptologist Joann Fletcher at the University of York in England. Many written sources from ancient Egypt show precedence to the maternal line, “from the official lists of Egypt’s early kings whose names are accompanied by those of their mothers to nonroyal individuals, who likewise cite only their mother’s name,” Fletcher explains.

Dates of death on the mummies’ linen wrappings suggest that Khnum-Nakht died first, at around age 40, Price says. A few months later, Nakht-Ankh died at about age 60. The causes of their deaths are unknown.

Speed of universe’s expansion remains elusive

Unless you are a recent arrival from another universe, you’ve no doubt heard that this one is expanding. It’s getting bigger all the time. What’s more, its growth rate is accelerating. Every day, the universe expands a little bit faster than it did the day before.

Those day-to-day differences are negligible, though, for astronomers trying to measure the universe’s expansion rate. They want to know how fast it is expanding “today,” meaning the current epoch of cosmic history. That rate is important for understanding how the universe works, knowing what its ultimate fate will be and even what it is made of. After all, the prime mission of the Hubble Space Telescope when it was launched in 1990 was to help determine that expansion rate (known, not coincidentally, as the Hubble constant, named for the astronomer Edwin Hubble).
Since then evidence from Hubble (the telescope) and other research projects has established a reasonably precise answer for the Hubble constant: 73, in the units commonly used for this purpose. (It means that two independent astronomical bodies separated by 3.26 million light-years will appear to be moving away from each other at 73 kilometers per second.) Sure, there’s a margin of error, but not much. The latest analysis from one team, led by Nobel laureate Adam Riess, puts the Hubble constant in the range of 72–75, as reported in a paper posted online January 3. Considering that as late as the 1980s astronomers argued about whether the Hubble constant was closer to 40 or 90, that’s quite an improvement in precision.

But there’s a snag in this success. Current knowledge of the universe suggests a way to predict what the Hubble constant ought to be. And that prediction gives a probable range of only 66–68. The two methods don’t match.

“This is very surprising, I think, and very interesting,” Riess, of the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore, said in a talk January 9 at a meeting of the American Astronomical Society.

It’s surprising because astrophysicists and cosmologists thought they had pretty much figured the universe out. It’s made up of a little bit of ordinary matter, a lot of some exotic “dark matter” of unknown identity, and even more of a mysterious energy permeating the vacuum of space, exerting gravitational repulsion. Remember that acceleration of the expansion rate? It implies the existence of such energy. Because nobody knows what it is, people call it “dark energy,” while suspecting that its real name is lambda, the Greek letter that stands for “cosmological constant.” (It’s called a constant because any part of space should possess the same amount of vacuum energy.) Dark energy contributes something like 70 percent of the total mass-energy content of the universe, various lines of evidence indicate.
If all that’s right, then it’s not all that hard to infer how fast the universe should be expanding today. You just take the recipe of matter, dark matter and dark energy and add some ghostly subatomic particles known as neutrinos. Then you carefully measure the temperature of deep space, where the only heat is the faint glow remaining from the Big Bang. That glow, the cosmic microwave background radiation, varies slightly in temperature from point to point. From the size of those variations, you can calculate how far the radiation from the Big Bang has been traveling to reach our telescopes. Combine that with the universe’s mass-energy recipe, and you can calculate how fast the universe is expanding. (You can, in fact, do this calculation at home with the proper mathematical utensils.)

An international team’s project using cosmic microwave background data inferred a Hubble constant of 67, substantially less than the 73 or 74 based on actually measuring the expansion (by analyzing how the light from distant supernova explosions has dimmed over time).

When this discrepancy first showed up a few years ago, many experts believed it was just a mirage that would fade with more precise measurement. But it hasn’t.

“This starts to get pretty serious,” Riess said at the astronomy meeting. “In both cases these are very mature measurements. This is not the first time around for either of these projects.”

One commonly proposed explanation contends that the supernova studies are measuring the local value of the Hubble constant. Perhaps we live in a bubble, with much less matter than average, skewing expansion measurements. In that case, the cosmic microwave background data might provide a better picture of the “global” expansion rate for the whole universe. But supernovas observed by the Hubble telescope extend far enough out to refute that possibility, Riess said.

“Even if you thought we lived in a void…, you still are basically stuck with the same problem.”

Consequently it seems most likely that something is wrong with the matter-energy recipe for the universe (technically, the cosmological standard model) used in making the expansion rate prediction. Maybe the vacuum energy driving cosmic acceleration is not a cosmological constant after all, but some other sort of field filling space. Such a field could vary in strength over time and throw off the calculations based on a constant vacuum energy. But Riess pointed out that the evidence is growing stronger and stronger that the vacuum energy is just the cosmological constant. “I would say there we have less and less wiggle room.”

Another possibility, appealing to many theorists, is the existence of a new particle, perhaps a fourth neutrino or some other relativistic (moving very rapidly) particle zipping around in the early universe.

“Relativistic particles — theorists have no trouble inventing new ones, ones that don’t violate anything else,” Riess said. “Many of them are quite giddy about the prospect of some evidence for that. So that would not be a long reach.”

Other assumptions built into the current cosmological standard model might also need to be revised. Dark matter, for example, is presumed to be very aloof from other forms of matter and energy. But if it interacted with radiation in the early universe, it could have an effect similar to that of relativistic particles, changing how the energy in the early universe is divided up among its components. Such a change in energy balance would alter how much the universe expands at early times, corrupting the calibrations needed to infer the current expansion rate.

It’s not the first time that determining the Hubble constant has provoked controversy. Edwin Hubble himself initially (in the 1930s) vastly overestimated the expansion rate. Using his rate, calculations indicated that the universe was much younger than the Earth, an obvious contradiction. Even by the 1990s, some Hubble constant estimates suggested an age for the universe of under 10 billion years, whereas many stars appeared to be several billion years older than that.

Hubble’s original error could be traced to lack of astronomical knowledge. His early overestimates turned out to be signals of a previously unknown distinction between different generations of stars, some younger and some older, Riess pointed out. That threw off distance estimates to some stars that Hubble used to estimate the expansion rate. Similarly, in the 1990s the expansion rate implied too young a universe because dark energy was not then known to exist and therefore was not taken into account when calculating the universe’s age.

So the current discrepancy, Riess suggested, might also be a signal of some astronomical unknown, whether a new particle, new interactions of matter and radiation, or a phenomenon even more surprising — something that would really astound a visitor from another universe.

Lakers vs. Warriors final score, results: Golden State forces Game 6 as Anthony Davis suffers head injury

Faced with a do-or-die situation in Game 5, the Warriors came up big.

A 121-106 win at Chase Center kept Golden State's season alive as they successfully avoided elimination at the hands of the Lakers. The series will now head back down to Los Angeles for Game 6, where LeBron James and Co. will have another chance to punch their ticket to the Western Conference Finals.

Stephen Curry led the way for the Warriors with 27 points and eight assists. Andrew Wiggins finished with 25 points and seven rebounds, while Draymond Green had one of his best games of the postseason with 20 points and 10 rebounds.

A bad night got even worse for LA when Anthony Davis was forced to leave the game late in the fourth quarter. He appeared to take a shot to the face from Golden State's Kevon Looney, and TNT's Chris Haynes reported that he was taken down the tunnel in a wheelchair. The Lakers now face an anxious wait to see whether he'll be good to go for a massive Game 6.

The Sporting News was tracking all the key moments as the Warriors defeated the Lakers in Game 5 of the Western Conference semifinals:

Lakers vs. Warriors score
Team Q1 Q2 Q3 Q4 Final
Lakers 28 31 23 24 106
Warriors 32 38 23 28 121
Lakers vs. Warriors live score, updates, highlights from Game 5
12:31 a.m. FINAL — The final buzzer rings out, and we're headed to a Game 6. Curry finishes with 27 points, Wiggins with 25 and Draymond Green with 20.

12:27 a.m. — Darvin Ham has raised the white flag and sent in his reserves. Golden State is going to get the win, and their season is going to continue. An excellent performance by the Warriors tonight with their backs against the wall.

12:24 a.m. — Both teams continue to trade blows, but with time ticking down, the Warriors look like they're going to cruise to a win here. Davis still hasn't returned to the court, and it sounds like he may be dealing with some dizziness and vision difficulties. He'll probably be sidelined for the rest of the game.

12:19 a.m. — Steph with a big shot! A triple from the corner extends the lead back to 14 points! It's Warriors 109, Lakers 95 as we enter the final minutes.

12:16 a.m. — Draymond gets the crowd on its feet with a nice jumper, but Austin Reaves answers at the other end with a three from way downtown! The Lakers have chipped away and the lead is now down to just nine points with 5:25 left.
12:14 a.m. — Davis is having to head down the tunnel and towards the locker room after that injury. TNT's Chris Haynes reported he looked a little shaky on his feet and needed some help to stay upright. Let's hope he's OK.

12:09 a.m. — Gary Payton II finishes with the hoop and harm over LeBron, and the crowd is loving it. To add insult to injury for the Lakers, Anthony Davis appeared to take an elbow to the face on the other end. He appears to be in significant discomfort, and he is forced to head to the bench.

12:03 a.m. — Any momentum the Lakers may have had has quickly vanished early in the fourth quarter. Curry drains a pull-up jumper with the shot clock winding down, then Wiggins converts on a running floater in the lane to stretch the lead back to 15 points. LA is running out of time here.
11:55 p.m. END OF THIRD QUARTER — The Lakers use a mini-run to cut into the lead slightly. LeBron converts on a layup with time winding down in the quarter, and we enter the final frame with Golden State up 93-82. James appeared to land on the foot of Wiggins on that last shot, and he was grimacing a little bit as he walked away. Something to keep an eye on.

11:49 p.m. — With the third quarter winding down, the Warriors are showing no signs of letting up. Curry just blew right by three defenders for an easy layup, and once again Darvin Ham has used a timeout to try and spark something from his team.

11:41 p.m. — How about Draymond Green in this game? He's been sensational so far, racking up 18 points on 6 of 10 shooting from the field. He just converted on another layup to make it 85-70, Warriors.

11:32 p.m. — The Lakers are off to a terrible start in this half, and in the blink of an eye the Warriors have stretched their lead to 18 points! Wiggins caps off a 9-2 Golden State flurry with a one-handed putback slam and Darvin Ham takes a timeout to stop the bleeding. That could be a huge momentum swing in this game.
11:27 p.m. START OF SECOND HALF — And away we go in the third quarter. Can the Warriors hold off the Lakers to stay alive?

11:20 p.m. — Davis leads all scorers with 18 points at the half while Wiggins leads Golden State with 16. James has 17 and Curry has 12, including that buzzer-beater to make it an eleven-point game.

11:11 p.m. END OF FIRST HALF — Stephen Curry lights up Chase Center with a three to beat the buzzer! That's just his second trey of the night, but it sends the Warriors into the locker room with a 70-59 lead! They ended the half on a 16-5 run to take control of Game 5.
11:03 p.m. — We knew a run was coming from one of these teams, and this time it has come from the Warriors! Poole connects from deep, then Wiggins follows it up with a triple of his own. After a Lakers timeout, the home team leads 64-56 with less than two minutes left in the half.

10:56 p.m. — LeBron isn't cooling off, and he drives for a layup then knocks down a three moments later to tie things up at 50 apiece. Back and forth we go.

10:51 p.m. — Andrew Wiggins gets a bucket and a foul, then does it again less than 40 seconds later! That pair of three-point plays puts the Warriors back in the lead by five with seven minutes remaining in the first half.

10:45 p.m. — Now LeBron is starting to get going! He buries a pair of three-pointers to take his tally to 12 points on the night and give the Lakers the lead. After he sinks a pair of free throws, it's 41-40, LA.
10:37 p.m. END OF FIRST QUARTER — Whew, time to catch your breath! A Jordan Poole floater with six seconds left on the clock has made it 32-28 Warriors at the end of the first quarter. They could really use a good performance from him tonight. If the game continues like this, we're in for a treat.

10:35 p.m. — This game has been fast-paced and a lot of fun so far. Davis continues to fill it up and he's up to 13 points as we near the end of the first quarter. But 20-year-old Moses Moody has knocked down a pair of threes to keep Golden State's lead intact. They're up 30-26 with just over a minute left in the period.

10:27 p.m. — But here come the Lakers! Anthony Davis is getting himself involved, and his putback dunk cuts the Warriors' lead to just five points. He has nine points already in the early going.

10:20 p.m. — This has been one heck of a start by the Warriors. Gary Payton II drains a three, Draymond converts on another layup and then Stephen Curry opens his account for the night with a three from way downtown. The home team is out to a 17-5 lead less than five minutes into the game.
10:17 p.m. — Draymond Green is off to a fast start! He buries a three to get the Warriors on the board, and his layup through contact draws a foul and leads to a three-point play. Golden State leads 9-3 early.

10:12 p.m. — And there's the opening tip. We are underway in San Francisco.

10:07 p.m. — Knicks-Heat just wrapped up. meaning Warriors-Lakers is up next on TNT. Can Golden State do what New York did and stave off elimination at home in Game 5?

9:59 p.m. — Steph was doing Steph things in pregame warmups.
9:52 p.m. — No surprises from the Lakers with their starting lineup.
9:46 p.m. — For the second game in a row, Gary Payton II gets the start for Golden State.
What channel is Lakers vs. Warriors on?
Date: Wednesday, May 10
TV channel: TNT
Live streaming: Sling TV
Lakers vs. Warriors will air on TNT. Viewers can also stream the game on Sling TV.

Fans in the U.S. can watch the NBA Playoffs on Sling TV, which is now offering HALF OFF your first month! Stream Sling Orange for $20 in your first month to catch all the games on TNT, ESPN & ABC. For games on NBA TV, subscribe to Sling Orange & Sports Extra for $27.50 in your first month. Local regional blackout restrictions apply.

SIGN UP FOR SLING: English | Spanish

What time is Lakers vs. Warriors tonight?
Date: Wednesday, May 10
Time: 10 p.m. ET | 7 p.m. PT
Lakers vs. Warriors will tip off around 10 p.m. ET (7 p.m. local time) on Wednesday, May 10. The game will be played at the Chase Center in San Francisco.

Lakers vs. Warriors odds
Golden State is a 7.5-point favorite heading into Game 5.

 Warriors    Lakers

Spread -7.5 +7.5
Moneyline -350 +260
For the full market, check out BetMGM.

Lakers vs. Warriors schedule
Here is the complete schedule for the second-round series between Los Angeles and Golden State:

Date Game Time (ET) TV channel
May 2 Lakers 117, Warriors 112 10 p.m. TNT
May 4 Warriors 127, Lakers 100 9 p.m. ESPN
May 6 Lakers 127, Warriors 97 8:30 p.m. ABC
May 8 Lakers 104, Warriors 101 10 p.m. TNT
May 10 Game 5 10 p.m. TNT
May 12 Game 6* TBD ESPN
May 14 Game 7* TBD ABC

Mysterious high-energy particles could come from black hole jets

It’s three for the price of one. A trio of mysterious high-energy particles could all have the same source: active black holes embedded in galaxy clusters, researchers suggest January 22 in Nature Physics.

Scientists have been unable to figure out the origins of the three types of particles — gamma rays that give a background glow to the universe, cosmic neutrinos and ultrahigh energy cosmic rays. Each carries a huge amount of energy, from about a billion electron volts for a gamma ray to 100 billion billion electron volts for some cosmic rays.
Strangely, each particle type seems to contribute the same total amount of energy to the universe as the other two. That’s a clue that all three may be powered by the same engine, says physicist Kohta Murase of Penn State.

“We can explain the data of these three messengers with one single picture,” Murase says.

First, a black hole accelerates charged particles to extreme energies in a powerful jet (SN: 9/16/17, p. 16). These jets “are one of the most promising candidate sources of ultrahigh energy cosmic rays,” Murase says. The most energetic cosmic rays escape the jet and immediately plow through a sea of magnetized gas within the galaxy cluster.

Some rays escape the gas as well and zip towards Earth. But less energetic rays are trapped in the cluster for up to a billion years. There, they interact with the gas and create high-energy neutrinos that then escape the cluster.
Meanwhile, the cosmic rays that escaped travel through intergalactic space and interact with photons to produce the glow of gamma rays.

Murase and astrophysicist Ke Fang of the University of Maryland in College Park found that computer simulations of this scenario lined up with observations of how many cosmic rays, neutrinos and gamma rays reached Earth.

“It’s a nice piece of unification of many ideas,” says physicist Francis Halzen of the IceCube Neutrino Observatory in Antarctica, where the highest energy neutrinos have been observed.

There are other possible sources for the particles — for one, IceCube has already traced an especially high-energy neutrino to a single active black hole that may not be in a cluster (SN Online: 4/7/16). The observatory could eventually trace neutrinos back to galaxy clusters. “That’s the ultimate test,” Halzen says. “This could be tomorrow, could be God knows when.”

Here’s the key ingredient that lets a centipede’s bite take down prey

Knocking out an animal 15 times your size — no problem. A newly identified toxin in the venom of a tropical centipede helps the arthropod to overpower giant prey in about 30 seconds.

Insight into how this venom overwhelms lab mice could lead to an antidote for people who suffer excruciatingly painful, reportedly even fatal, centipede bites, an international research team reports the week of January 22 in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

In Hawaii, centipede bites account for about 400 emergency room visits a year, according to data from 2004 to 2008. The main threat there is Scolopendra subspinipes, an agile species almost as long as a human hand.
The subspecies S. subspinipes mutilans starred in studies at the Kunming Institute of Zoology in China and collaborating labs. Researchers there found a small peptide, now named “spooky toxin,” largely responsible for venom misery.

This toxin blocks a molecular channel that normally lets potassium flow through cell membranes. A huge amount of the biochemistry of staying alive involves potassium, so clogging some of what are called KCNQ channels caused mayhem in mice: slow and gasping breath, high blood pressure, frizzling nerve dysfunctions and so on. Administering the epilepsy drug retigabine opened the potassium channels and counteracted much of the toxin’s effects, raising hopes of a treatment for these bites.

New technique could help spot snooping drones

Now there’s a way to tell if a drone is spying on someone.

Researchers have devised a method to tell what a drone is recording — without having to decrypt the video data that the device streams to the pilot’s smartphone. This technique, described January 9 at, could help military bases detect unwanted surveillance and civilians protect their privacy as more commercial drones take to the skies.

“People have already worked on detecting [the presence of] drones, but no one had solved the problem of, ‘Is the drone actually recording something in my direction?’” says Ahmad Javaid, a cybersecurity researcher at the University of Toledo in Ohio, who was not involved in the work.
Ben Nassi, a software engineer at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev in Israel, and colleagues realized that changing the appearance of objects in a drone’s field of view influences the stream of encrypted data the drone sends to its smartphone controller. That’s because the more pixels that change from one video frame to the next, the more data bits the drone sends per second. So rapidly switching the appearance of a person or house and seeing whether those alterations correspond to higher drone-to-phone Wi-Fi traffic can reveal whether a drone is snooping.

Nassi’s team tested this idea by covering a house window with a smart film that could switch between transparent and nearly opaque, and aiming a drone with a video camera at the window from 40 meters away. Every two seconds, the researchers either flickered the smart film back and forth or left it transparent. They pointed a radio frequency scanner at the drone to intercept its outgoing Wi-Fi signals and found that its traffic spiked whenever the smart film flickered.

Story continues after graph
For people without such radio equipment, it’s also possible to intercept Wi-Fi signals with a laptop or computer with a wireless card, says Simon Birnbach, a computer scientist at the University of Oxford not involved in the work.

In another test, a drone recorded someone wearing a strand of LED lights from about 20 meters’ distance. At five-second intervals, the person either flipped the LED lights on and off, or left them off. The drone camera’s data stream peaked whenever the LED lights flickered.

This strategy to discern a drone camera’s target is “a very cool idea,” says Thomas Ristenpart, a computer scientist at Cornell University not involved in the work. But the researchers need to test whether the method works in a wider range of settings and find ways to alter a drone’s view without cumbersome equipment, he says. “I don’t think anyone is going to want to wear a [light-up] shirt on the off chance a drone may fly by.”

Javaid agrees that this prototype system must be made more user-friendly to achieve widespread use. For home security, he imagines a small device stuck to a window that flashes a light and intercepts a drone’s Wi-Fi signals whenever it detects one nearby. The device could alert the homeowner if a drone is found scoping out the house.

Still, identifying a nosy drone may not always be enough to know who’s flying it. “It’s sort of the equivalent of knowing that an unmarked van pulled up and waited outside of your house,” says Drew Davidson, a computer scientist at Tala Security, Inc. in Dallas, who was not involved in the study. “Better to know than not, but not exactly enough for the police to find a suspect.”