Mysterious alignment of black holes in deep space hints at cosmic pattern

Researchers conducting a three-year deep radio imaging survey of a particular region of distant space known as ELAIS-N1 have discovered that the black holes there are doing something very, very peculiar: They’re all tilting with the same alignment and spitting out radio waves in the same direction, a finding that is far too improbable to be attributed to mere coincidence, reports Phys.org.

The discovery, made by South African researchers using the Giant Metrewave Radio Telescope (GMRT), hints at an unexplained cosmic pattern. It might mean that primordial mass fluctuations in the early universe caused this particular volume of space to spin as one, a profound possibility that could allow scientists to map out how the universe structured itself.

“Since these black holes don’t know about each other, or have any way of exchanging information or influencing each other directly over such vast scales, this spin alignment must have occurred during the formation of the galaxies in the early universe,” said professor Andrew Russ Taylor, principal author of the study.

Radio jets such as those measured in the study are produced by supermassive black holes that sit at the heart of ancient galaxies. Scientists are considering a number of different factors that could have forced so many of them into alignment, such as cosmic magnetic fields, or possibly fields associated with exotic, theoretical dark matter particles. Even cosmic “strings” could be the culprit, hypothetical 1-dimensional topological defects which may have formed in the early universe.

There are certainly a number of exciting hypotheticals to sift through. A large-scale alignment like this has never been predicted by current leading theories.

“[The alignments are] not obviously expected based on our current understanding of cosmology. It’s a bizarre finding,” said professor Romeel Dave, who leads a team developing plans for universe simulations.

Bizarre findings are healthy for science, however. They allow scientists to refine their theories to better account for a deeper pool of observations, and ultimately give us a grander and more precise understanding of the cosmos.

“We’re beginning to understand how the large-scale structure of the universe came about, starting from the Big Bang and growing as a result of disturbances in the early universe, to what we have today,” said Taylor, “and that helps us explore what the universe of tomorrow will be like.”

Credit: Bryan Nelson

Astronomers discover gigantic structure one-ninth the size of the observable universe

The sheer size of our universe is just about unfathomable, so you can imagine the surprise that researchers must have experienced when they recently discovered a structure within our universe that measured 5 billion light years across. That’s more than one-ninth the size of the entire observable universe, and by far the largest structure ever discovered.

In fact, this mysterious structure is so colossal that it could shatter our current understanding of the cosmos.

“If we are right, this structure contradicts the current models of the universe,” said Lajos Balazs, lead author on the paper, in a press release by the Royal Astronomical Society. “It was a huge surprise to find something this big – and we still don’t quite understand how it came to exist at all.”
Just what is this massive structure? It’s not a single, physical object, but rather a cluster of nine massive galaxies bound together gravitationally, much like how our Milky Way is part of a cluster of galaxies. It was discovered after researchers identified a ring of nine gamma ray bursts (GRBs) that appeared to be at very similar distances from us, each around 7 billion light years away.

GRBs are the brightest electromagnetic events known to occur in the universe, caused by a supernova. Their detection typically indicates the presence of a galaxy, so all of the GRBs in this ring are believed to each come from a different galaxy. But their close proximity to one another suggests that these galaxies must be linked together. There is only a 1 in 20,000 probability of the GRBs being in this distribution by chance.

A mega-cluster of this size shouldn’t be possible, at least not if you think in terms of our current theories. Those theories predict that the universe ought to be relatively uniform on the largest scales, meaning that the sizes of structures shouldn’t vary by much. In fact, the theoretical limit to structure size has been calculated at around 1.2 billion light years across.

If the Hungarian-American team’s calculations are correct, then this giant new structure– which measures in at over 5 billion light years across — would blow that classic model out of the water. In fact, either the researchers’ calculations are wrong on this, or scientists will need to radically revise their theories on the evolution of the cosmos.

Needless to say, this GRB cluster discovery has the potential to cause a sweeping paradigm shift in astronomy. At the very least, it reminds us just how small our view of the universe really is.

Source:Bryan Nelson

What is your real age?

Your biological age could be a better indicator of your health than your true age.
Forget the candles on your birthday cake; there’s a good chance your biological age could be younger — or older — than your chronological age.

Researchers have defined a signature of 150 RNA genes that indicate healthy aging. Using a “healthy age gene score” derived from that data, they are able to calculate whether people are more at risk of age-related disease, such as Alzheimer’s and osteoporosis. These researchers say biological age can differ substantially from true age, and it’s a better indicator of a person’s health.

“We use birth year, or chronological age, to judge everything from insurance premiums to whether you get a medical procedure or not,” said lead author James Timmons from King’s College London in a statement. “Most people accept that all 60 year olds are not the same, but there has been no reliable test for underlying ‘biological age’.”

In the new study, published in the journal Genome Biology, researchers analyzed genetic material from healthy 65-year-olds to discover the genes that showed signs of healthy aging.

The researchers then used this healthy age gene score to follow a group of 70-year-old subjects. Their theory tested out. Those with higher scores had better overall health, including two key indicators of longevity, cognitive function and kidney function.

Specifically, they found that people with Alzheimer’s disease had lower gene scores.

“This is the first blood test of its kind that has shown that the same set of molecules are regulated in both the blood and the brain regions associated with dementia, and it can help contribute to a dementia diagnosis,” said Timmons. “This also provides strong evidence that dementia in humans could be called a type of ‘accelerated ageing’ or ‘failure to activate the healthy ageing program’.”

Because early intervention is so critical with Alzheimer’s, researchers say this healthy age gene score can be used to help decide which patients are entered into preventive clinical trials long before clinical symptoms appear.

Assuming the study results hold up, having a diagnostic tool to determine Alzheimer’s risk would be tremendously useful, said Eric Topol, a cardiologist/geneticist at Scripps Health, in an interview with The San Diego Union-Tribune.

“They took a pretty systematic approach, but it’s going to require considerably more work,” Topol said. “It’s more in the discovery phase and they have to validate it … What they’re hunting for is a worthy hunt; whether they have it, it’s still very preliminary.”

By: Mary Jo DiLonardo

 

Solar Sunflower harnesses power of many suns

The latest in solar power comes to us from Swiss inventors working for Airlight Energy, Dsolar (a subsidiary of Airlight), and IBM Research in Zurich, reports Ars Technica. It’s called the Solar Sunflower, and like its namesake, it tracks the sun and cools itself by pumping water through its veins like a plant.

Aside from its aesthetically-pleasing design, the Solar Sunflower also makes use of some innovative technology. It uses something called HCPVT (Highly Efficient Concentrated PhotoVoltaic/Thermal) to generate electricity and hot water from solar power. Basically, this method entails using reflectors to concentrate the sun, as well as highly efficient photovoltaic cells (known as gallium-arsenide photovoltaic cells) to convert that concentrated solar energy into electricity.

Though concentrated solar thermal power and PVs are nothing new to the solar power industry, the Solar Sunflower incorporates these technologies in a novel way that represents a few ingenious engineering breakthroughs.

According to Gianluca Ambrosetti, Airlight’s head of research, the Solar Sunflower’s reflectors concentrate the sun “to about 5,000 suns.” In other words, the difference between this technology being classified as a death ray as opposed to a solar array is merely a matter of how the reflectors are angled. For instance, during one test, Airlight used the reflectors to melt a hole in a lump of iron. It gets extremely hot, and dealing with those high temperatures is how the Solar Sunflower really sets itself apart.

Photovoltaic cells used by the Sunflower have a max operating temperature of around 105 degrees Celsius, which is significantly less than the melting temperature of iron, let alone the heat of 5,000 suns. To counteract this, the Sunflower makes use of a hot water cooling system invented by the project’s IBM collaborators. Basically, this consists of pieces of silicon packed with microfluidic channels that are stuck to the backside of the PV cells. Water pumps through these highly efficient microfluidic channels to absorb all that heat.

Here’s where things get really efficient and innovative, though: rather than piping all that scorching-hot water through a radiator to dissipate the heat (and thus waste it), the team instead uses that hot water as a power source itself, to heat homes or drive industrial processes. The end result is a device that produces about 12kW of electricity, along with 21kW of thermal energy.

Even though that doesn’t amount to a huge amount of energy (the 12kW of electricity is only enough to power a few homes, for instance), it is nonetheless highly efficient. The real obstacle to the implementation of the Solar Sunflower is its cost. Its gallium-arsenide photovoltaic cells, though more efficient than standard PV cells, are not cheap. Add up construction costs and the costs of the fancy cooling system, and the design isn’t going to be able to financially compete with less innovative but sure-fire solar energy harvesters already on the market.

It does have an aesthetic appeal, however. And the innovation at the heart of the design could lead to future advances that might eventually lower the costs. At the very least, the Solar Sunflower adds to the list of highly-efficient alternatives to non-renewables now available to consumers.

credit: Bryan Nelson

which meditation technique is best for you?

The data is in, and meditation works; not only does it help us live happier, less stressful lives, but it has measurable effects on physical health too. But if you’ve tried and (feel like you’ve) failed at meditating, it might be because you haven’t found the right meditation type for you. Below, you’ll find seven different ways “in” to a meditation practice; the benefits of each type are similar once you are practicing regularly — whether you find your way into meditation via walking and chanting, taking a class from a Transcendental Meditation teacher, or via meditation paired with your existing faith.

The most important part of meditation is not doing it a certain way, wearing particular clothes while doing it, or being in a specific place — or whatever your preconception of the “right” way to meditate is. It’s about finding what works with your life. Unlike a spin class, there are no rules you have to follow (though it’s useful to get a grounding in how other people meditate). There is only the regular practice and sticking with it, day-by-day. Think of meditation more like making a positive, life-long shift to a healthy eating, rather than a specific diet program (with celebrity endorsement and a thick book) that you follow for a month and then abandon. A truly beneficial meditation practice will take time and persistence.

So check out the styles of meditation below, and try them out — play with what works for you, and what doesn’t. Don’t be rigid about what meditation is, or looks like, or what you think it’s going to feel like. Ask yourself questions: Do you like to move, or does stillness work better for you? How about vocalizations? Do you want to focus on something or nothing? Your particular way into meditation may be different, but the stress relief, reduced anger, feelings of well-being, lowered blood pressure, and other benefits are available to everyone

Focused meditation is an umbrella term for any kind of meditation that includes focus on some aspect of the five senses, though visualizations are the most popular. Focusing on an image of a flower, a flame, or moving water are all ways to keep the mind gently focused so you are less likely to become distracted. You can also try concentrating on the feel of something — your fingers against each other, the way your breath feels moving in and out of your body, or the alignment of your spine. Focusing on a simple sound (a gentle gong, a bell, or music) or sounds from nature are another option.

Guided meditation is a focused meditation that is led by someone other than yourself and usually includes one or more of the techniques in focus meditation, above. You will get led through breathing instructions and some kind of visualization, body scan, or sound, or perhaps a mantra (see below).

Spiritual meditation is interchangeable with what most of us understand as prayer. If you are already part of a spiritual tradition, this may be an easier way into meditation, because you have already been practicing some elements of it. You can try it as an extension of what you already do in your place of worship if being in the church, sanctuary, mosque, hall or synagogue helps you dive into a quieter, more reflective state, or you can conjure up that feeling at home or in another place. Start with the words you have heard or said yourself, but instead of stopping at the end of a prayer or song, keep sitting quietly. You can ask a question and listen for an answer — sometimes people feel that an answer comes from outside of them; or you can enumerate what you are grateful for. Use your experience of prayer to access that quiet, meditative mind space.

Mantra meditation is when you use a sound or a set of sounds, repetitively, to enter and stay within the meditative state. It may seem like a contradiction to make noise when meditating, because many people have the idea that meditation equals silence, but that’s not the case at all, and mantras have a long history within the tradition. Of course, you can chant quietly, or even whisper your set of words, draw them out, make them more sing-songy, or even quite loud. You can say them in your head and maintain outer silence. You can choose a word or words in any language: (Peace and love and happiness, for example), or a sound like “Ohm.” You can make up sounds or words if you like or take them from another language; the sound or words you choose are really up to you and are simply a way to prevent distracting thoughts.

Transcendental Meditation (often abbreviated as TM by practitioners) is the type that’s most likely been studied by scientists when you hear about the various physical and mental benefits to meditation. With over 5 million practitioners worldwide, it is considered the most popular form of meditation, with the bonus being that it is usually easy to find free or low-cost classes in most places. It is a little more formalized than some of the other meditation types mentioned here, but it useful for beginning or exploring meditation if you are new to it. According to their site, TM is: “… a simple, natural, effortless procedure practiced 20 minutes twice each day while sitting comfortably with the eyes closed. It’s not a religion, philosophy, or lifestyle.”

Movement meditations are exactly what they sound like; instead of sitting quietly, you get to move around the room, the house, a woodsy path, or the garden (or wherever) — usually in a relatively simple and calming way. Walking meditation, most types of yoga, gardening, and even basic housecleaning tasks can be moving meditations. This meditation type is great for people who already sit all day at work and want to move and meditate when not at a desk, and for those people who find sitting still to be a distraction from being able to meditate at all.

Mindfulness is a type of meditation that is an ongoing part of life, rather than a separate activity. A great way to address stress in the moment it is happening, and over time becomes more like a mental skill than a time separate from the rest of life. It can be easier to get into a mindful state of mind if one has already been practicing meditation separately.

Credit:Starr Vartan

What is energy medicine

The term energy medicine usually refers to putative energy fields (energy that is presumed to exist). Although it can’t be measured in conventional ways, therapists or energy healers say they can see it, sense it or feel it.

Energy healing or energy medicine is based on the fundamental premise that everyone’s thoughts, emotions, beliefs and attitudes are made of energy. Therefore, if we are all infused with this life force often referred to as qi (pronounced chee), we can channel or use its power for healing.

In Chinese medicine energy is called qi; in Ayurvedic medicine it is doshas; in traditional Hindu metaphysics the word is chakras (illustrated in the photo at bottom). Therapies such as acupuncture and acupressure, reconnective healing and reiki work on these energies to restore health and well-being.

“In Chinese medicine the theory is that energy flows through 12 channels that cover your body. When you are healthy, this energy flows smoothly and your body remains in a state of balance. When you experience a physical, emotional or spiritual trauma, the energy gets disrupted, depleted or stuck,” says Tom Ingegno, a licensed acupuncturist with a masters of science in Oriental medicine and a certified animal acupuncturist in Baltimore.

Acupuncture is a form of energy medicineIf left in this state too long or if the trauma is severe enough, disease or pain manifests. “By placing needles in points along these pathways we can help restore proper flow of energy and allow the body, mind and spirit to heal itself,” says Ingegno.

“What reiki does is actually use the universal life-force in association with the qi of our own body, so it’s a combination of those two,” says Dr. Kathy Gruver, a massage therapist, reiki master and author of “Conquer your Stress with Mind/Body Techniques.”

“The great thing about reiki is I’m not using my energy, so when I put my hands on somebody, they’re not getting my bad morning, my illness, my karma; I’m a conduit. I’m a total empty vessel for the energy to flow through.”

How reiki works

To do reiki, practitioners have an attunement, which consists of a reiki master giving you reiki energy. They teach you the symbols and the hand positions and perform a ritual, which awakens your hands and allows you to perform energy healing on someone else. Gruver advises people to receive an attunement in person, never over the Internet.

“I think it’s a complete misconception that there are these special gifted people that can do it. Certainly people have gifts that are unexplainable, but reiki is not one of them; anyone can do it,” says Gruver.

During a session Gruver lays her hands on or hovers them above the part of the body she wants to heal or send energy. She also does it unconsciously when she rests her hand on her husband’s leg during a movie, for example. If he has any pain or something going on emotionally, the energy goes to where it’s needed.

The majority of people seek reiki for emotional issues, physical problems or because they are terminally ill. Reiki provides peace, comfort, healing and relaxation. Cancer patients often say it’s the only thing that helps their pain. There are some preliminary studies that suggest reiki can knit bone back together more quickly and heal wounds faster. The American Hospital Association says 15 percent of hospitals (more than 800) offer reiki in the U.S.

After a session people are relaxed. They may fall asleep, giggle or cry; it opens up many emotions. Some find it completely energizing, while others want to curl up and sleep. It’s also a powerful treatment for grief, loss and sadness.

Chakra energy centersA massage for the soul

Shani Enns, spiritual coach, energy healer and founder of www.embraceyourhumanity.com in Kansas City, grew up around energy healing. She has certificates from many modalities but says she’s practiced her own brand of energy medicine for the past 10 years.

Enns performs energy healing along with spiritual coaching and says whatever problem someone comes in with, she works to shift their beliefs, patterns and habits with both coaching and energy healing.

Some people come in with cancer, some with health problems, others with depression; many come for emotional issues. It usually goes in tandem. “People who don’t feel good physically also don’t feel good emotionally,” says Enns.

Someone once described her work as a massage for the soul.

Similar to reiki, Enns lays her hands on various parts of someone’s body such as their head, heart or belly and sends energy inward. She frequently works with entrepreneurs who are looking to manifest wealth and success in business.

During or after a session people feel buzzing, tingling, dizziness, a sense of heaviness, and may see colors, Enns says. Many feel a state of peace or nothingness. Occasionally people say they don’t feel anything other than well rested. Enns says one of the most gifted energy healers she knows doesn’t feel anything giving — or even receiving energy work. He goes on faith because his clients experience amazing effects.

Results are very individual for any type of energy work. Enns says she had a client in kidney failure who was cured and didn’t need further dialysis. She also had a client with advanced breast cancer who was comforted and benefited from pain relief. “Sometimes healing means being OK with dying,” says Enns.

There are many ways practitioners provide reiki. Some use crystals and gemstones; others play music; some chant. “If it’s too weird for you or too mainstream for you, find another practitioner,” says Gruver. Enns offers her first session free for just this reason.

Many practitioners provide distance energy work via phone or Skype, and many offer animal healing. Enns explains that practitioners of energy medicine draw energy from the endless source that the universe provides. She always comes out of energy work feeling better than before she gave it. “I feel joy, peace and bliss giving it.” People who receive energy healing often feel the same way.

credit:JenniferNelson  sources:mnn.com

Meditation helps alleviate gut symptoms by altering genetic signals

If you thought meditation was only good for your emotional well-being, think again. A new study shows that meditation may actually alleviate the symptoms of two gut disorders by altering certain genetic signals.

The study looked at people who had either irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) or irritable bowel disease (IBD). It found that doing yoga and meditating regularly for two months eased the symptoms associated with the two gut disorders, the researchers said.

This mind-and-body intervention seemed to work by inducing genetic changes in the body, the study authors said. The findings suggest that stress-relieving meditation can suppress the activities of certain genes responsible for causing inflammation and other immune system problems in patients suffering from IBS or IBD, the study stated.

Previous research has shown that meditation can change people’s gene expression in some ways, but the new study is among the first to show an impact on gene expression in patients with a specific disease, said lead researcher Dr. Braden Kuo, a gastroenterologist at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston. The study used a mind-body technique called Relaxation Response, which a Harvard University doctor developed in the 1970s.

The new findings are especially interesting given that researchers have established a relationship between stress and digestive problems. Research has shown that psychological trauma can contribute to IBS, a disorder that leads to abdominal pain, constipation and diarrhea.

The condition is fairly common in the United States, affecting about 1 in every 10 people at some point in their lives, according to the International Foundation for Functional Gastrointestinal Disorders. Yet scientists do not exactly know what causes the disorder. [7 Biggest Mysteries of the Human Body]

Although IBS and IBD can be mistaken as the same condition, they are actually very different, and IBD is much less common. Unlike IBS, IBD involves chronic inflammation of the digestive tract. The two main types of IBD are ulcerative colitis, which affects the colon, and Crohn’s disease, which mostly affects the intestines, but can also occur anywhere in the digestive system.

However, IBS and IBD also share some common factors: Both can be triggered by stress, and neither one has real treatment options. The drugs currently available can only lessen the severity of symptoms and bring some temporary relief.

In the new study, researchers enrolled 19 patients with IBS and 29 patients with IBD. They all underwent a nine-week program that included breathing exercises, meditation and yoga. The patients met for a 1.5-hour group session every week, and practiced the activities at home for 15 to 20 minutes every day. The researchers assessed the patients’ symptoms before, after and midway during the study, and took blood samples for genetic analyses. However, the study design did not incorporate a separate control group of patients who did not practice meditation.

At the end of the study, the patients reported a reduction in their symptoms compared with what they experienced at the study’s start. A genetic analysis of their blood provided evidence of changes in genetic pathways related to the two disorders.

Significantly, more genetic changes were observed in IBD patients than in patients with IBS, said Manoj Bhasin, who co-authored the study and is the director of bioinformatics at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston. Researchers found that more than 1,000 genes were altered in IBD patients over the study period, whereas only 119 genes changed in the people with IBS.

There was one inflammation-related gene, called NF-kB, whose activities were suppressed in both groups, according to the study. This indicates that meditation and similar practices can offset stress and inflammation, the researchers said.

“In both IBS and IBD, the pathway controlled by a protein called NF-kB emerged as one of those most significantly affected by the relaxation response,” Dr. Towia Libermann, a senior researcher in the study and an assistant professor at Harvard Medical School in Boston, said in a statement. It’s possible that relaxation techniques could help both people with IBS and those with IBD, he said.

The researchers noted two important limitations in their study: First, two tests that measured certain markers of inflammation in the blood showed no changes over the study period. Second, previous research has shown that even a placebo can sometimes produce adequate relief of IBS symptoms.

More studies, such as randomized trials that include a control group, are needed before a program of meditation and yoga could be suggested as a treatment for patients with these disorders, the researchers said.

The study was published on April 30 in the journal PLOS ONE.

Read more: http://www.mnn.com/health/fitness-well-being/stories/at-one-with-the-belly-meditation-may-ease-gut-ailments#ixzz3fA79EBoi