Hamnet Report 16th May 2021

As if India is not currently suffering the worst wave of Covid infections in its history, it is also being threatened by Tropical Cyclone Tauktae-21, which is sliding up India’s western coastline. It was first identified on Friday afternoon as being potentially dangerous, and, at present, GDACS reports 4.1 million people as being in its 120 km/h path, and another 44.5 million people as being affected by its surrounding tropical depression.

Projections call for it to proceed in a generally northerly direction, parallel to India’s coastline, and finally coming ashore just south-east of India’s border with Pakistan on Tuesday morning their time. Wind-speeds are forecast to increase to 200km/h between now and Tuesday. We must hope that the storm remains offshore for as long as possible. India does not need, or deserve, to be battered by another disaster, as it reels from the effects of 300 to 400 000 new Covid-19 cases a day.

Writing on the Express.co.uk website, Oliver Pritchard-Jones says there is new hope for the discovery of the missing Malaysian Airlines flight MH370 after an expert claimed amateur radio sleuths could solve the mystery.

The Boeing 777 plane vanished with 238 passengers and crew on board on March 8, 2014, after setting off from Kuala Lumpur International Airport for Beijing, China. Aerospace engineer Richard Godfrey recently published a study on how to interpret data about the plane’s final movements.

Using a process called Weak Signal Propagation Reporter (WSPR), it works by reconstructing its flightpath by analysing disturbances to radio reception at the time it went missing. Mr Godfrey explained radio signals acted like invisible “tripwires” in the sky. He said his theory that the pilot of the doomed flight deliberately tried to avoid detection was now a “working hypothesis” thanks to the technique.

The data revealed the plane turned multiple times as though to shake off aircraft tracking technology before plummeting into the southern Indian Ocean, he said.

Mr Godfrey, who is investigating the crash with the so-called Independent Group of Scientists, indicated the plane’s flight path was “significantly different” from earlier theories based on satellite data.

He claimed pilot Zaharie Ahmad Shah took a series of turns and alternated the speed of the MH370 to leave “false trails” on unofficial routes while avoiding commercial flight routes.

Airlineratings.com quoted Mr Godfrey saying: “I would no longer characterise the track in the new paper as speculative but a working hypothesis.

“The MH370 flight path I have proposed is a hypothesis supported by a body of evidence in the form of a large number of position and progress indicators.

“The working hypothesis will remain valid until someone proves it wrong by presenting evidence that this flight path was not followed.

“One possibility would be the publication of raw radar data for example.”

Mr Godfrey previously said: “WSPR is like a bunch of tripwires or laser beams, but they work in every direction over the horizon to the other side of the globe.

“The pilot of MH370 generally avoided official flight routes from 18:00 UTC onwards but used waypoints to navigate on unofficial flight paths in the Malacca Strait, around Sumatra and across the Southern Indian Ocean.”

He added: “The flight path follows the coast of Sumatra and flies close to Banda Aceh Airport.” Close quote.

Whatever plans the pilot of the doomed aircraft seems to have had, appear to have been doomed, possibly by the aircraft running out of fuel, and having to ditch at sea, probably breaking up on impact, and sinking without leaving any local trace.

You may remember that pieces of aircraft wing identified as belonging to the aircraft, washed up on beaches on the East side of the Indian ocean several months later, but of course did nothing to prove exactly where the aircraft’s final resting place is.

However, WSPR technology may provide sufficient proof to allow an accurate search in the correct area to be made, and finally discover the truth regarding the flight.

In research made possible when COVID-19 side-lined other research projects, scientists at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine meticulously counted brain cells in fruit flies and three species of mosquitos, revealing a number that would surprise many people outside the science world.

The insects’ tiny brains, on average, have about 200,000 neurons and other cells, they say. By comparison, a human brain has 86 billion neurons, and a rodent brain contains about 12 billion. The figure probably represents a “floor” for the number needed to perform the bugs’ complex behaviours.

“Even though these brains are simple [in contrast to mammalian brains], they can do a lot of processing, even more than a supercomputer,” says Christopher Potter, Ph.D., associate professor of neuroscience at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. “They enable the insects to navigate, find food and perform other complicated tasks at the same time, and our study offers one answer to the question of how many brain cells come together to conduct these behaviours,” Potter adds.

Results of the research are summarized on May 14 in PLOS ONE.

Those who study insect behaviour and brain function have long suspected these insects must have hundreds of thousands of brain cells, says Potter, but when he and postdoctoral fellow Joshua Raji, Ph.D., followed chains of scientific papers that referenced the count, they did not find proof for it.

In response, they report, they set out to find proof using a relatively simple counting method called an isotropic fractionator, a technique familiar to pathologists when they tally the number of any type of cell in a tissue.

Potter says that researchers have determined the number of brain cells in only a few species of insects, including wasps and ants. “It would be interesting to apply this approach to social insects like bees, and see if there are differences between queens and drones,” he says.

The most challenging part of the technique, says Potter, was the microdissection of a brain that is smaller than the tip of a pencil. “It takes a really steady hand and lots of practice,” he says.

What he didn’t say was whether the brain of the average radio amateur has as many brain cells as the average fruit fly, and I suppose we may never know..

Thanks to Phys.org for this enlightening item of news.

This is Dave Reece ZS1DFR reporting for HAMNET in South Africa.