sciencehabit writes "Anyone watching the autumn sky knows that migrating birds fly in a V formation, but scientists have long debated why. A new study of ibises — where researchers took to microlight planes and recorded birds strapped with GPS in-flight — finds that these big-winged birds carefully position their wingtips and sync their flapping, presumably to catch the preceding bird's updraft and save energy during flight."
Want to read Slashdot from your mobile device? Point it at m.slashdot.org and keep reading!
vinces99 writes "A mere glass full of water from Monterey Bay Aquarium's 1.2 million-gallon Open Sea tank is all scientists really needed to identify the Pacific Bluefin tuna, dolphinfish and most of the other 13,000 fish swimming there. Researchers also discerned which of the species were most plentiful in the tank. Being able to determine the relative abundance of fish species in a body of water is the next step in possibly using modern DNA identification techniques to census fish in the open ocean, according to Ryan Kelly, University of Washington assistant professor of marine and environmental affairs, and lead author of a paper in the Jan. 15 issue of PLOS ONE. 'It might be unpleasant to think about when going for a swim in the ocean, but the water is a soup of cells shed by what lives there,' Kelly said. Fish shed cells from their skin, damaged tissues and as body wastes. 'Every one of those cells has DNA and if you have the right tools you can tell what species the cell came from. Now we're working to find the relative abundance of each species present,' he said."
MTorrice writes "To make future displays that roll, bend, and stretch, electronics makers need the circuits that control the pixels to be elastic. In particular, they need flexible transistors. Now researchers have combined a carbon nanotube mesh with a spongy ionic polymer to build super-stretchy transistors. The scientists can pull the devices to lengths 57% greater than their resting length without disrupting performance."
An anonymous reader writes "Statistician and author Nassim Taleb has a suggestion for scientific researchers: stop trying to use standard deviations in your work. He says it's misunderstood more often than not, and also not the best tool for its purpose. Taleb thinks researchers should use mean deviation instead. 'It is all due to a historical accident: in 1893, the great Karl Pearson introduced the term "standard deviation" for what had been known as "root mean square error." The confusion started then: people thought it meant mean deviation. The idea stuck: every time a newspaper has attempted to clarify the concept of market "volatility", it defined it verbally as mean deviation yet produced the numerical measure of the (higher) standard deviation. But it is not just journalists who fall for the mistake: I recall seeing official documents from the department of commerce and the Federal Reserve partaking of the conflation, even regulators in statements on market volatility. What is worse, Goldstein and I found that a high number of data scientists (many with PhDs) also get confused in real life.'"
astroengine writes "Three new exoplanets have been discovered inside a star cluster, which is a rare find as only a handful of such exoplanets are known to exist. However, one of the three new finds is even more remarkable — it orbits a star that appears to be 'an almost perfect solar twin.' The discovery was made by astronomers using the European Southern Observatory's HARPS exoplanet-hunting instrument (PDF) attached to the 3.6-meter telescope at the La Silla Observatory in Chile and was confirmed by other collaborating observatories. The astronomers' attention was focused on the Messier 67 open star cluster, which is located approximately 2,600 light-years away in the constellation Cancer."
sciencehabit writes "The ghost of former President George W. Bush permeates the 2014 budget that Congress released this week. His presence is good news for physical scientists, but less cheery for biomedical researchers, as Congress reserved some of the biggest spending increases for NASA and the Department of Energy. The National Institutes of Health, meanwhile, got a $1 billion increase that is drawing mixed reviews from research advocates."
ananyo writes "Organisms, including humans, are often assumed to be hard-wired by evolution to try to make optimal decisions, to the best of their knowledge. Ranking choices consistently — for example, in selecting food sources — would seem to be one aspect of such rationality. If A is preferred over B, and B over C, then surely A should be selected when the options are just A and C? This seemingly logical ordering of preferences is called transitivity. Furthermore, if A is preferred when both B and C are available, then A should 'rationally' remain the first choice when only A and B are at hand ... But sometimes animals do not display such logic. For example, honeybees and gray jays have been seen to violate the Independence of Irrational Alternatives, and so have hummingbirds ... Researchers have now used a theoretical model to show that, in fact, violations of transitivity can sometimes be the best choice (original paper) for the given situation, and therefore rational. The key is that the various choices might appear or disappear in the future. Then the decision becomes more complicated than a simple, fixed ranking of preferences. So while these choices look irrational, they aren't necessarily."
sandbagger writes "Canada's science documents are literally being taken to the dump. The northern nation's scientific community has been up in arms over the holidays as local scientific libraries and records offices were closed and their shelves — some of which contained century old data — emptied into dumpsters. Stephen Harper's Tory government is claiming that the documents have been digitized. The scientists say, 'The people who use this research don’t have any say in what is being saved or tossed aside.'"
malachiorion writes "Cornell, MIT and iRobot have all shown off so-called jamming manipulators: rubbery blobs that grip objects by deforming around them. But with the first commercially available version shipping to industrial and manufacturing customers, Cornell spinoff Empire Robotics has a new market in mind: Prosthetics. While impossibly expensive, neuro-controlled bionic hands continue to be a fantasy for most amputees, jamming manipulators could do the job. This article is about the merits of a low-tech, self-gripping stump, that could be powered by hooking up to an air compressor." This seems like a decent solution while we close in on a method to regrow lost limbs.
Sockatume writes "According to an article published by the BBC, Chinese firm BGI has refined cloning procedures to the point where they can produce 500 pigs per year, performing two embryo implantations per day with a 70-80% success rate. Much of the operation is concerned with producing genetically-engineered animals for research. The biotech firm's other work includes million-individual-scale animal and plant genetic sequencing."
ananyo writes "Physicists have tracked electrons crossing a semiconductor chip one at a time — an experiment that should at last enable a rational definition of the ampere, the unit of electrical current. At present, an ampere is defined as the amount of charge flowing per second through two infinitely long wires one meter apart, such that the wires attract each other with a force of 2×10^-7 newtons per meter of length. That definition, adopted in 1948 and based on a thought experiment that can at best be approximated in the laboratory, is clumsy — almost as much of an embarrassment as the definition of the kilogram, which relies on the fluctuating mass of a 125-year-old platinum-and-iridium cylinder stored at the International Bureau of Weights and Measures in Paris. The new approach, described in a paper posted onto the arXiv server on 19 December, would redefine the amp on the basis of e, a physical constant representing the charge of an electron."
sciencehabit writes "Have you been missing the grim mathematical war games that strategists once used to map out possible nuclear confrontations? Don't worry, the games are back — this time applied to computer security. Researchers have now mathematically formalized the strategy of computer hacking, potentially enabling anyone — governments, activist hackers, cybermafia — to determine the optimal timing of attacks."
Hugh Pickens DOT Com writes "Discovery Magazine reports that the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has granted $100,000 to Boston University School of Medicine (BUSM) and Boston Medical Center (BMC) to develop a nanoparticle coating for condoms that will make them more comfortable and stronger while simultaneously keeping them thin to preserve – and increase – sensation in order to make them more appealing to use. According to the Gates Foundation, in the time that condoms have been in use, not much has changed: '[Condoms] have undergone very little technological improvement in the past 50 years. The primary improvement has been the use of latex as the primary material and quality-control measures, which allow for quality testing of each individual condom. Material science and our understanding of neurobiology has undergone revolutionary transformation in the last decade, yet that knowledge has not been applied to improve the product attributes of one of the most ubiquitous and potentially underutilized products on earth.' The nanotechnology that the Boston doctors intend to use for their improved condoms will be superhydrophillic nanoparticles that coat the condom and trap water to make them more resilient and easier to use. 'We believe that by altering the mechanical forces experienced by the condom, we may ultimately be able to make a thinner condom which reduces friction, thereby reducing discomfort associated with friction increases pleasure, thereby increasing condom use and decreases rates of unwanted pregnancy and infection transmission.'"
carmendrahl writes "Last fall, MIT researchers made news for developing two bioinspired cocktail toppers-- a moving cocktail boat and a floral pipette-- in collaboration with James Beard Award-winning chef José Andrés. Both the boat and floral pipette operate by taking advantage of surface tension-- either to propel the boat forward or to keep small drops of liquid inside the flower's petals. Some of those early garnishes were nominally edible. But to make them worthy of a restaurant debut requires balancing of flavors, temperature, density, and alcohol content, among other factors. Here's a look inside Andrés' company ThinkFoodGroup to see how the project is coming along. The toppers aren't available to the public just yet."
KentuckyFC writes "Back in 2008, Slashdot reported that researchers were developing ways of turning cellphones into radiation detectors. Since then a few apps have even appeared that claim to do this. However, convincing evidence that they work as advertised is hard to come by. Now government researchers at Idaho National Labs have created their own app that uses an ordinary smartphone as a gamma ray detector, put it through its paces in the lab and published the results. The pixels in smartphone cameras can detect gamma rays in the same way as they pick up visible light. So when the lens is covered, the image should reveal evidence of gamma ray exposure once other noise has been removed, such as that from heat and current leakage. These guys have tested several types of Android smartphone with a variety of gamma ray sources at various different doses. The researchers say the phones give a reasonable measure of radiation dose, can detect the direction of source (by comparing the measurements from the front and back cameras) and can even measure the energy of the gamma rays by measuring the length of the tracks that appear in the image. While the results do not match the quality of bespoke detectors, that may not matter since in many circumstances cellphones are likely to be the only sensors that are available. That could be useful for emergency services, air travelers wanting to monitor their extra radiation dose on routes over the arctic and people who live in areas with a higher than average background radiation level."
An anonymous reader writes "A team of researchers at Johns Hopkins has published results demonstrating that caffeine seems to boost long-term memory. In a double-blind study, participants were shown a series of images soon after taking either a caffeine pill or a placebo; 24 hours later they were tested on a similar, but not identical, series of images. Those who took the caffeine pill were more likely to correctly classify images as being different, identical, or similar to those seen the previous day; researchers refer to this as a 'pattern separation' test. The beneficial effect of caffeine on the long-term memory of honey bees was covered by Slashdot earlier."
An anonymous reader writes in with this story about how people's belief in climate change shifts with the temperature. "Last week's polar vortex weather event wasn't only hard on fingers, toes and heating bills. It also overpowered the ability of most people to make sound judgments about climate change, in the same way that heat waves do, according to a new study published in the Jan. 11 issue of the journal Nature Climate Change. Researchers have known for some time that the acceptance of climate change depends on the day most people are asked. During unusually hot weather, people tend to accept global warming, and they swing against it during cold events."
An anonymous reader writes "NASA's Hubble Space Telescope snapped a series new images inside the Tarantula Nebula, located within the Large Magellanic Cloud (LMC) – the third closest galaxy to the Milky Way. Hubble officials previously released images of the spidery nebula, however, this is the deepest view of the intriguing cosmic region full of star clusters yet."
An anonymous reader writes "It's been three years since the last recorded polio case in India and health officials hope to officially certify India polio free in the next few weeks. 'Hamid Jafari, director of the WHO's polio-eradication campaign, says the agency's ambitious quest to stop all polio transmission by the end of 2014 is now within reach. If that is achieved, and no new cases crop up for three years, polio—like smallpox—will be officially banished from the planet. "India was one of the most important sources" from where the virus spread to other countries, said Dr. Jafari.'"
An anonymous reader writes "Inspired by nature, a London man believes the solution to safer bike helmets is to build them out of paper. '"The animal that stood out was the woodpecker. It pecks at about ten times per second and every time it pecks it sustains the same amount of force as us crashing at 50 miles per hour," says Surabhi. "It's the only bird in the world where the skull and the beak are completely disjointed, and there's a soft corrugated cartilage in the middle that absorbs all the impact and stops it from getting a headache." In order to mimic the woodpecker's crumple zone, Anirudha turned to a cheap and easily accessible source — paper. He engineered it into a double-layer of honeycomb that could then be cut and constructed into a functioning helmet. "What you end up with is with tiny little airbags throughout the helmet," he says.'"
Hugh Pickens DOT Com writes "Lauran Neergaard writes at the Christian Science Monitor that doctors are warning that if Congress cuts food stamps, the federal government could be socked with bigger health bills because over time the poor wind up seeking treatment in doctors' offices or hospitals as a result. 'If you're interested in saving health care costs, the dumbest thing you can do is cut nutrition,' says Dr. Deborah Frank of Boston Medical Center, who founded the Children's HealthWatch pediatric research institute. 'People don't make the hunger-health connection.' Food stamps feed 1 in 7 Americans and cost almost $80 billion a year, twice what it cost five years ago. The doctors' lobbying effort comes as Congress is working on a compromise farm bill that's certain to include food stamp cuts. Republicans want heftier reductions than do Democrats in yet another partisan battle over the government's role in helping poor Americans. Conservatives say the program spiraled out of control as the economy struggled and the costs are not sustainable. However research from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and The Pew Charitable Trusts estimated that a cut of $2 billion a year in food stamps could trigger in an increase of $15 billion in medical costs (PDF) for over the next decade. Other research shows children from food-insecure families are 30 percent more likely to have been hospitalized for a range of illnesses. 'Food is medicine,' says Massachusetts Representative Jim McGovern, who has led the Democrats' defense of the food stamp program. 'Critics focus almost exclusively on how much we spend, and I wish they understood that if we did this better, we could save a lot more money in health care costs.'"
An anonymous reader writes "Orbital Sciences Corp.'s unmanned Cygnus spacecraft delivered 3,000 pounds of equipment, fresh fruit, and Christmas presents from the families of all six ISS spacemen today. 'From the men and women involved in the design, integration and test, to those who launched the Antares (rocket) and operated the Cygnus, our whole team has performed at a very high level for our NASA customer, and I am very proud of their extraordinary efforts,' said David W. Thompson, president and chief executive officer of Orbital, in a written statement from the company."
An anonymous reader writes "Virgin Galactic's SpaceShipTwo reached an altitude of 71,000 feet, beating out its previous record of 69,000 feet. From the article: 'This time around, Virgin Galactic and Mojave-based Scaled Composites, the plane's builder, tested a new reflective coating on the rocket plane's tail booms. The flight also marked the first tryout for a thruster system that's designed to keep the plane on course when it's above the atmosphere. Virgin Galactic said all of the test objectives were met.'"
Philip Ross writes "Fresh analysis of an extinct relative of humans suggests our ancient ancestors dined primarily on tiger nuts, which are edible grass bulbs, settling a discrepancy over what made up prehistoric diets. According to a new study published in the journal PLOS One, the strong-jawed ancient hominin known as Paranthropus boisei, nicknamed 'Nutcracker Man,' which roamed East Africa between 2.4 million and 1.4 million years ago, survived on a diet scientists previously thought implausible."
An anonymous reader writes "It's generally accepted that the Universe's history is best described by the Big Bang model, with General Relativity and Quantum Field Theory as the physical laws governing the underlying framework. It's also accepted that the Universe probably started off with an early period of cosmic inflation prior to that. Well, if you accept those things — as in, the standard picture of the Universe — then a multiverse is an inevitable consequence of the physics of the early Universe, and this article explains why that's the case."
An anonymous reader writes "Getting into space is a difficult prospect. The commercial space industry has been making steady progress over the past decade, and they're finally getting to the point where they can be relied upon to transport people and important cargoes. This article makes the case that 2014 will be a turning point for commercial space travel, the year that a nascent industry comes into its own. 'We should — finally — start to see the first flights into space by Virgin Galactic's SpaceShipTwo, and perhaps the first commercial flights of that vehicle as well, depending on how well their test program proceeds. In addition, we should also see the first test flights, although not necessarily into space, of XCOR's Lynx vehicle in 2014, and possibly even commercial flights by the end of the year if all goes well,' said Jeff Foust, editor of The Space Review. 'If these companies achieve those long-awaited, and sometimes long-delayed, major milestones, it will go far to erase any lingering doubts that suborbital space tourism is a real market, while also enabling opportunities for using those vehicles in other applications, like suborbital research and technology demonstration.'"
An anonymous reader writes "Reuters reports, 'In a study of adults who experienced psychosis for the first time, having smoked marijuana daily was linked to an earlier age of onset of the disorder.' ..."This is not a study about the association between cannabis and psychosis, but about the association between specific patterns of cannabis use ... and an earlier onset of psychotic disorders,' Dr. Marta Di Forti, who led the research at the Institute of Psychiatry at Kings College, said in an email. Among more than 400 people in South London admitted to hospitals with a diagnosed psychotic episode, the study team found the heaviest smokers of high-potency cannabis averaged about six years younger than patients who had not been smoking pot. Psychosis is a general term for a loss of reality, and is associated with several psychiatric diseases, including schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. ... "The thorny question is whether they might otherwise have developed the disease or would have not had mental illness. It's a distinction we haven't figured out yet," Compton said. ... It is still unclear whether there are safe levels of use for cannabis, she added. '"
An anonymous reader writes "Kazakh news site BNews.kz reports that Mukhtarbay Otelbaev, Director of the Eurasian Mathematical Institute of the Eurasian National University, is claiming to have found the solution to another Millennium Prize Problems. His paper, which is called 'Existence of a strong solution of the Navier-Stokes equations' and is freely available online (PDF in Russian), may present a solution to the fundamental partial differentials equations that describe the flow of incompressible fluids for which, until now, only a subset of specific solutions have been found. So far, only one of the seven Millennium problems was solved — the Poincaré conjecture, by Grigori Perelman in 2003. If Otelbaev's solution is confirmed, not only it might be the first time that the $1 million offered by the Clay Millennium Prize will find a home (Perelman refused the prize in 2010), but also engineering libraries will soon have to update their Fluid Mechanic books."
sciencehabit writes "Hidden ruins are customary in the wild jungles of South America or on the white shores of the Mediterranean Sea. Now, researchers have uncovered a long-lost culture closer to Western civilization — in New England. Using aerial surveys created by LiDAR, a laser-guided mapping technique, the team detected the barely perceptible remnants of a former 'agropolis' around three rural New England towns (abstract). Near Ashford, Connecticut, a vast network of roads offset by stone walls came to light underneath a canopy of oak and spruce trees. More than half of the town has become reforested since 1870, according to historical documents, exemplifying the extent of the rural flight that marked the late 1800s. Some structures were less than 2 feet high and buried in inaccessible portions of the forest, making them essentially invisible to on-the-ground cartography."
robert2cane points out a promising study from Cornell University about controlling the spread of cancer. There are many treatments for an isolated tumor, but once cancer cells reach the bloodstream and start spreading through the body, it's much more difficult to control. The new research (PDF), led by Michael King, developed a compound that is able to target and eliminate cancer cells in the blood of mice. "When attempting to develop a treatment for metastases, King faced two problems: targeting moving cancer cells and ensuring cell death could be activated once they were located. To handle both issues, he built fat-based nanoparticles that were one thousand times smaller than a human hair and attached two proteins to them. One is E-selectin, which selectively binds to white blood cells, and the other is TRAIL. He chose to stick the nanoparticles to white blood cells because it would keep the body from excreting them easily. This means the nanoparticles, made from fat molecules, remain in the blood longer and thus have a greater chance of bumping into freely moving cancer cells. There is an added advantage. Red blood cells tend to travel in the center of a blood vessel, and white blood cells stick to the edges. This is because red blood cells are lower density and can be easily deformed to slide around obstacles. Cancer cells have a similar density to white blood cells and remain close to the walls, too. As a result, these nanoparticles are more likely to bump into cancer cells and bind their TRAIL receptors."
braindrainbahrain writes "Mars One, the low-credibility effort to colonize Mars, is at least funding some interesting concept studies for their alleged plan to colonize the red planet. One of the most interesting is the effort to maintain uninterrupted communications with Mars. This is not as trivial as it may sound, as any satellite in Martian orbit will still have to deal with occultations between Mars and Earth due to the Sun. Surrey Satellite Technology will be performing the study."
KentuckyFC writes "Last year, a group of theoretical physicists suggested a bizarre experiment based on a quantum phenomenon known as weak measurement. Unlike ordinary measurements that always change the state of a quantum object, a weak measurement extracts such a small amount of information that it leaves the quantum state intact. For example, a weak measurement can detect the presence of a photon by the deflection it causes when it bounces off a mirror. However, this does not change the photon's quantum state. The new idea was to make two weak measurements on a quantum system that is in a superposition of states, the goal being to separate the location of this quantum system from its properties, like a Cheshire cat. Now a group of experimentalists say they've observed a quantum Cheshire cat for the first time in an experiment involving neutrons. They passed a beam of neutrons through a magnetic field to align their spins and then sent them through an interferometer in which the neutrons pass down both arms of the experiment at the same time. They then used weak measurements to locate the neutrons in one arm while measuring their magnetic properties in the other. Voila! A quantum Cheshire cat."
astroengine writes "In research presented at the Meeting of the Royal Astronomical Society in London on Friday, astronomers discussed the dusty, stormy atmospheres of exoplanets and brown dwarfs and how they could be hothouses for the formation of prebiotic molecules. These are organic molecules that are known to form the building blocks for life as we know it. 'The atmospheres around exoplanets and brown dwarfs form exotic clouds that, instead of being composed of water droplets, are made of dust particles made of minerals,' said astronomer Craig Stark, of the University of St. Andrews, Scotland. The idea is that lightning storms generate copious amounts of highly charged ions and electrons, which then get stuck to dust particles, using them as miniature prebiotic chemistry factories. Of particular interest is the formation of formaldehyde, ammonia, hydrogen cyanide and the amino acid glycine, all of which underpin Earth's biosphere."
ananyo writes "The waters of the African lake seem calm and peaceful. A few migrant swallows flit near the surface. Suddenly, leaping from the water, a fish grabs one of the famously speedy birds straight out of the air. 'The whole action of jumping and catching the swallow in flight happens so incredibly quickly that after we first saw it, it took all of us a while to really fully comprehend what we had just seen,' says Nico Smit, director of the Unit for Environmental Sciences and Management at North-West University in Potchefstroom, South Africa. After the images did sink in, he adds, 'the first reaction was one of pure joy, because we realized that we were spectators to something really incredible and unique.' Rumours of such behaviour by the African tigerfish (Hydrocynus vittatus), which has been reported as reaching one metre in length, have circulated since the 1940s. But this is the first confirmed record of a freshwater fish preying on birds in flight, the team reports in the Journal of Fish Biology (PDF)."
Hugh Pickens DOT Com writes "These days, it seems just about every imaginable thing is 'connected.' There's connected thermostats, locks, refrigerators, forks, and so many more. Now we can add toothbrushes to the list. Brandon Griggs reports at CNN that the Kolibree toothbrush syncs wirelessly with an iPhone or an Android device to track brushing habits, announce whether you have brushed thoroughly enough and reward you for good oral hygiene. 'It works just like a regular toothbrush,' says Renee Blodgett. 'The only difference is that all the data is stored on your phone so you can see how you're brushing.' Users download a mobile app and connect via Bluetooth, and the Kolibree documents every brushing via three sensors that record 1) how long you brush, 2) whether you brush all four quadrants of your mouth, and 3) whether you brush up and down (good) instead of just side to side (bad). 'Before Kolibree, the issue is that there has been no easy and quick way to monitor whether you're doing an A+ job or a C- one when you brush, so how can you improve on a habit you don't have any data about?.' There's a bit of gameplay built in, which challenges users to do better next time, and the company has created an API, hoping that third-party developers will come up with additional apps that will inspire users to brush more and more effectively writes Daniel Terdiman. 'With individual health getting more attention than ever, it's certainly possible people will see the benefit of something that keeps a close eye on how well they're treating their teeth, and which challenges them to do better.'"
An anonymous reader writes "3D printers are transforming the business, medical, and consumer landscapes by creating objects like airplane parts, lamps, jewellery, and even artificial human bones. Now astronomers are experimenting with the technology to transform astronomy education, turning images from the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope into tactile 3D pictures for people who cannot explore celestial wonders visually."
Science_afficionado writes "Astronomers have discovered a surprising new class of 'hypervelocity stars' that are moving at more than a million miles per hour, fast enough to escape the gravitational grasp of the Milky Way galaxy. The 20 hyper stars are about the same size as the sun and, other than their extreme speed, have the same composition as the stars in the galactic disk. The big surprise is that they don't seem to come from the galaxy's center. The generally accepted mechanism for producing hypervelocity stars relies on the extreme gravitational field of the supermassive black hole that resides in the galaxy's core."
sciencehabit writes "A molecule nearly identical to one in rhubarb may hold the key to the future of renewable energy. Researchers have used the compound to create a high-performance 'flow' battery, a leading contender for storing renewable power in the electric utility grid. If the battery prototype can be scaled up, it could help utilities deliver renewable energy when the wind is calm and the sun isn't shining." Abstract.
First time accepted submitter vrml writes "Critical situations in which participant's actions lead to the death of (virtual) humans have been employed in a study of moral dilemmas which just appeared in the Social Neuroscience journal. The experiment shows that participants' behavior becomes more utilitarian (that is, they tend to minimize the number of persons killed) when they have to take a decision in Virtual Reality rather than the more traditional settings used in Moral Psychology which ask participants to read text descriptions of the critical situations. A video with some of the VR moral dilemmas is available, as is the paper."
ananyo writes "A swarm of small satellites set to deliver close to real-time imagery of swathes of the planet is launching today. San Francisco-based Planet Labs, founded in 2010 by three former NASA scientists, is scheduled to launch 28 of its 'Doves' on 9 January. Each toaster-sized device weighs about 5 kilograms and can take images at a resolution of 3–5 metres. Meanwhile Skybox Imaging plans to launch a swarm of 24 satellites, each weighing about 100 kilograms, which will take images of 1 meter resolution or better. Skybox launched its first satellite on 21 November (and captured the first HD video of the world from space) and plans to launch another this year, followed by the remainder between 2015 and 2017. In a first — at least for civilian satellites — Skybox's devices will also stream short segments of near-live high-resolution video footage of the planet. So, too, will UrtheCast, a start-up based in Vancouver, Canada, whose cameras will hitch a ride on the International Space Station. Because the swarms are still to be launched, scientists have yet to fully assess the quality of the imagery. But the satellites' spatial resolutions of 1–5 metres are much higher than those of most scientific satellites. Landsat, NASA's Earth-observation workhorse, for example, has a resolution of 15–100 metres depending on the spectral frequency, with 30 metres in the visible-light range."
Taco Cowboy writes "Japanese researchers are planning an experiment to better understand what transpires during a nuclear meltdown by attempting to create a controlled nuclear meltdown. Using a scaled down version of a nuclear reactor — essentially a meter long stainless steel container — the experiment will involve the insertion of a foot long (30 cm) nuclear fuel rod, starting the fission process, and then draining the coolant. The experiment is scheduled to take place later this year."
An anonymous reader writes with news that funding has been secured for the ISS through at least 2024. From NASA: "'...We are pleased to announce that the Obama Administration has approved an extension of the International Space Station until at least 2024. We are hopeful and optimistic that our ISS partners will join this extension effort and thus enable continuation of the groundbreaking research being conducted in this unique orbiting laboratory for at least another decade. ... A further benefit of ISS extension is it will give NASA and its private-sector partners time to more fully transition to the commercial space industry the transportation of cargo and crew to low-Earth-orbit, allowing NASA to continue to increase its focus on developing the next-generation heavy-lift rocket and crew capsule necessary for deep-space exploration."
sciencehabit writes "Looking a bit like a dolphin, but with a long slim snout filled with pointy teeth, one species of ichthyosaur was practically invisible in the murky depths of Jurassic seas, thanks to dark pigmentation that covered its entire body. That's one conclusion of a new study that provides an unprecedented peek at the coloration of sea creatures alive during or soon after the dinosaur era. The approach involves bombarding fossils with charged particles and then analyzing the particles that are knocked from the surface, which reveals remnants of ancient pigments. Dark pigmentation may have helped ichthyosaurs and other predators camouflage themselves in the murky depths while they hunted prey."
benonemusic writes "Three computer scientists at Stony Brook University in New York believe they have found some rules through a computer program that might predict which fiction books will be successful. Their algorithm had as much as an 84 percent accuracy rate when applied to already published manuscripts in Project Gutenberg and other sources. Among their findings was that more successful books relied on verbs describing thought processes rather than actions and emotions. However, some disagree with the findings. Author Ron Hansen said style is not the key, but instead readers' interest in the topics in the book." There has been work done already on finding the formula for a hit song, and using analytics to craft a blockbuster movie.
ananyo writes "Astronomers say that they have discovered the first example of a long-sought cosmic oddity: a bloated, dying star with a surprise in its core — an ultradense neutron star. Such entities, known as Thorne-Zytkow objects, are theoretically possible but would alter scientists' understanding of how stars can be powered. Since Thorne-Zytkow objects were first proposed in 1975, researchers have occasionally offered up candidates, but none have been confirmed."
the_newsbeagle writes "When surgeons set out to repair holes in the walls of the heart's chambers or in blood vessels, they often do invasive open-heart surgery and use sutures, staples, and glue to keep a patch in place. But the sutures and staples are a rough fix, and many of the glues on the market today don't work well on wet tissue that's continually flexed by the heart's contractions and the movement of pumping blood. Today biomaterial researchers announced a new light-activated glue that could make surgery less invasive, quicker, and easier. The adhesive was inspired by slugs' and sandcastle worms' sticky secretions, which work underwater, and it can be applied with slender tools during minimally invasive surgery. A flash of UV light then sets the glue, which bends and flexes with the tissue."
ClockEndGooner writes "A giant coronal mass ejection from the Sun yesterday has resulted in a higher than normal level of radioactivity, and in turn, forced Orbital Sciences to postpone their first mission launch of the Cygnus space truck to the International Space Station. Citing concerns of the effect increased levels of space radiation may have on the Antares launcher and Cygnus avionics, the NASA and Orbital launch team is now evaluating if conditions will improve for a launch on Thursday, which would have Cygnus arriving at the ISS on Sunday morning." In other ISS news, the Orlando Sentinel is reporting that NASA has gotten approval from the White House to extend the ISS's mission for another four years, pushing the end date back to 2024. An official announcement is expected later this week.
KentuckyFC writes "In 2012, Richard Branson, Larry Page, and Eric Schmidt announced the launch of Planetary Resources, an ambitious start up with the goal of mining nearby asteroids for natural resources. Now an academic survey of ore-bearing asteroids estimates that only about 10 are likely to have resources worth mining. The new approach is to create a Drake-like equation that starts with the total number of asteroids and determines the percentage that are close enough to Earth, the percentage of these that contain valuable resources, the percentage of these large enough to pay for a space mining mission and so on. Each of these factors is filled with uncertainty but the bottom line is that when it comes to platinum group metals such as platinum, palladium, and iridium there are likely to be very few worth exploiting. That has significant implications for the future of space exploration. With so few commercially-viable space rocks out there, knowing which ones to pursue will be hugely valuable information, concludes the study. And that means the prospecting of asteroids is likely to become a highly secretive commercial endeavor in the not-too-distant future."
ananyo writes "By pouring cash into science and technology faster than its economy has expanded, China has for the first time overtaken Europe on a key measure of innovation: the share of its economy devoted to research and development. In 2012, China invested 1.98% of its gross domestic product (GDP) into R&D — just edging out the 28 member states of the European Union, which together managed 1.96%, according to the latest estimates of research intensity, to be released this month by the OECD. The figures show that China's research intensity has tripled since 1998, whereas Europe's has barely increased (see graph). The numbers are dominated by business spending, reflecting China's push in the manufacturing and information- and communication-technology industries."
theodp writes "Writing in the NY Times, Dr. Haider Javed Warraich shares a dirty little medical secret: doctors do 'Google' their patients, and the practice is likely to only become more common. And while he personally feels the practice should be restricted to situations where there's a genuine safety issue, an anecdote Warraich shares illustrates how patient search could provide insight into what otherwise might be unsolved mysteries — or lead to a snap misdiagnosis: 'I was once taking care of a frail, older patient who came to the hospital feeling very short of breath. It wasn't immediately clear why, but her breathing was getting worse. To look for accidental ingestions, I sent for a drug screen and, to my great surprise, it came back positive for cocaine. It didn't make sense to me, given her age and the person lying before me, and I was concerned she had been the victim of some sort of abuse. She told me she had no idea why there was cocaine in her system. When I walked out of the room, a nurse called me over to her computer. There, on MugShots.com, was a younger version of my patient's face, with details about how she had been detained for cocaine possession more than three decades earlier. I looked away from the screen, feeling like I had violated my patient's privacy. I resumed our medical exam, without bringing up the finding on the Internet, and her subsequent hospital course was uneventful.'"