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5 Coolest Things On Earth This Week

This week, a short novel written by an AI program did well in a Japanese literary contest, scientists spotted traces of a possible new particle that could shake the foundations of physics and a team of researchers discovered in the human genome a “nearly intact” genetic blueprint for a 700,000-year-old stowaway virus.

 

A Novel Written by AI Makes the Cut for a Literary Prize

Android Robot standing with flag of Japan

A short novel written by a Japanese artificial intelligence software program passed the first screening round for the Nikkei Hoshi Shinichi Literary Award. “The day a computer wrote a novel,” the program wrote near the end of the piece, “the computer, placing priority on the pursuit of its own joy, stopped working for humans.”

Nearly Intact Ancient Virus Found “Lurking” in Human Genome

Bacteriophage attacking bacteria.

Top and above: An illustration of a virus. Image credit: Getty Images

A team of scientists from Tufts University and the University of Michigan Health System has found a “nearly intact” genetic copy of an ancient virus that spliced itself into our DNA. The team doesn’t rule out the possibility that it could come alive again. “This one looks like it is capable of making infectious virus, which would be very exciting if true, as it would allow us to study a viral epidemic that took place long ago,” senior author and virologist John Coffin, Ph.D., of Tufts University School of Medicine, said about the sequence. The human genome carries many fragments of viruses our bodies have encountered during evolution — as much as 8 percent. Most of them don’t do anything. But some may cause disease and others help us, “such as one that helps pregnant women’s bodies build a cell layer around a developing fetus to protect it from toxins in the mother’s blood,” the team said in a press release. “This research provides important information necessary for understanding how retroviruses and humans have evolved together in relatively recent times,” Coffin said.

Saharan Dust Storms Could Cause More Powerful Hurricanes

November 14, 2004 - Satellite view of dust plumes off Libya.

Satellite view of dust plumes off Libya. Image Credit: Getty Images

A team of French and American researchers has created a model that shows how dust storms in the Sahara desert affect the weather over the Atlantic and in the Americas and could lead to more powerful hurricanes. “Such a dust feedback, which is not represented in climate models, may be of benefit to human and ecosystem health in West Africa via improved air quality and increased rainfall,” they wrote in the journal Nature. “This feedback may also enhance warming of the tropical North Atlantic, which would make the basin more suitable for hurricane formation and growth.”

Hints of a New Particle Could Rock the Foundations of Physics

Higgs Boson and collision of particles

Particle collision illustration. Image credit: Getty Images

Scientists working at the Large Hadron Collider in Switzerland are getting excited about “brief flashes of light spotted inside the LHC [that] might be the first glimpse of a new era of physics,” The Guardian newspaper reported. They believe the flashes could be clues left behind by a new type of subatomic particle so fundamental it could wreck the standard model of particle physics, the theory that explains how quarks, electrons, neutrons and other particles that are the building blocks of matter interact. “If this thing turns out to be real, it’s a ten on the Richter scale of particle physics,” John Ellis, professor of physics at King’s College London, and the former head of theory at CERN, told The Guardian.

World’s Largest Aircraft Set to Take Off

Airlander 10, the world’s largest aircraft, will reportedly fly again soon from Cardington Airfield, near Bedford, England. The company that built it, the U.K.’s Hybrid Air Vehicles, is preparing “an extensive flight test program consisting of 200 hours of test flights over a number of months, then a series of trials and demonstrations with prospective customers.” The Airlander 10 is 302 feet long, 143 feet wide and 85 feet high. It uses four 350-horsepower diesel engines for propulsion. The aircraft could have cargo, tourism and other applications. A U.S. military version of the dirigible-like vehicle first took off in 2012. But the flights of that prototype were kept largely secret.

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