sciencehabit writes "Astronomers have discovered what may be five planets orbiting Tau Ceti, the closest single star beyond our solar system whose temperature and luminosity nearly match the sun's. If the planets are there, one of them is about the right distance from the star to sport mild temperatures, oceans of liquid water, and even life (paper)."
Catch up on stories from the past week (and beyond) at the Slashdot story archive
astroengine writes "As the Cassini mission continues to orbit the ringed gas giant Saturn, it's hard to imagine what magnificent view the NASA spacecraft will show us next. Today, however, is one for the history books. As a very special Christmas holiday treat, the Cassini Imaging Central Laboratory for Operations (CICLOPS) team have processed a magnificent view of Saturn that is rarely seen — a portrait from the dark side of the planet."
pigrabbitbear writes "Cars, once again, are killing us. They're killing us in crashes and accidents, yes, and they're encouraging us to grow obese and then killing us a little more slowly. But, more than ever before, they're killing us with their pollution. Particulate air pollution, along with obesity, is now the two fastest-growing causes of death in the world, according to a new study published in the Lancet. The study found that in 2010, 3.2 million people died prematurely from the air pollution – particularly the sooty kind that spews from the exhaust pipes of cars and trucks. And of those untimely deaths, 2.1 million were in Asia, where a boom in car use has choked the streets of India and China's fast-expanding cities with smog."
An anonymous reader writes "A 2011 ProPublica series found that the TSA had glossed over the small cancer risk posed by its X-ray body scanners at airports across the country. While countries in Europe have long prohibited the scanners, the TSA is just now getting around to studying the health effects." I'm not worried; the posters and recorded announcements at the airport say these scanners raise no health concerns.
SchrodingerZ writes "After their yearlong mission to map the Moon's gravitational field, twin probes Ebb and Flow crashed into the lunar surface, ending the GRAIL mission. The crashes were controlled events, each impacting 30 seconds apart from each other. The twin spacecraft were running low on maneuvering fuel and NASA, not wanting the craft to fall on historical sites such as the Apollo landing sites, redirected their flight patterns to impart the far (dark) side of the moon. Their impact sites were named after Sally Ride, the first American woman in space. 'During the news conference last week, Maria T. Zuber, the principal investigator, said the probes would be crashing into a "non-sunlit" part of the surface.' When the site becomes sunlit again in several weeks, the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter will attempt to take pictures of the craters the probes undoubtedly made in the lunar soil."
gbrumfiel writes "The world's most powerful particle collider ended an epic proton run yesterday morning, and researchers are already looking to the future. They want to build a 31-kilometer, multi-billion-dollar International Linear Collider (ILC) to study the recently-discovered Higgs boson in more detail and to look for new things as well. Japan has recently emerged as the front-runner to host the new collider. The Liberal Democratic Party, which won this weekend's elections, actually support the ILC in its party platform. But it's not yet clear whether real money will be forthcoming, or whether European and American physicists will back a Japanese bid. What do Slashdotters think? Does particle physics need a new collider? Should it go to Japan?"
An anonymous reader writes with an excerpt from Medical Daily about a new theory for what triggered the "Great Dying: " "Researchers believe that they may finally know why the event occurred, but the theory is not without controversy. There are several theories, including the possibility of a meteorite hitting the planet. Previously, most researchers believed that the Permian mass extinction was a result of a series of volcanic eruptions in what is now Siberia. ... However, Daniel Rothman from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology is floating around a different theory. As he presented in a meeting for the American Geophysical Union, he believes that the mass extinction could have been caused by something much smaller. His theory is that the extinction was caused by a single strain of bacteria."
coondoggie writes "Insidious unknown planets lurking behind the sun ready to slam into Earth, supernova set to engulf the planet and giant, unseen asteroids screaming toward our globe are all theories espoused across the Internet as to how we will meet our demise on 12/21/2012. Do any of these theories even remotely hold out a scintilla of evidence they could happen? Not even remotely if you look at the material NASA has put out which pretty much debunks any and all of the notions being floated in across the cybersphere."
An anonymous reader writes "While fossils have long shown that limbs evolved from fins, scientists have shown live in the laboratory how the transition may have happened. Researchers said that the new study published in the journal Developmental Cell offers evidence revealing that the development of hands and feet occurred through the acquisition of new DNA elements capable of activating specific genes."
Zothecula writes "China has now joined the very select group of countries to have succeeded in carrying out an interplanetary probe mission. According to reports from China's official news agency Xinhua, the Chang'E 2 probe passed a mere 3.2 km (2 miles) from the near-Earth asteroid Toutatis at 8:30:09 GMT on December 13, making it the closest asteroid flyby to date ... and resulting in some remarkable photographs."
carmendrahl writes "In Austria, people can submit their street drugs to a lab-on-a-bus to ensure they got what they paid for. The government is using the bus to track emergence of new variants of bath salts and other drugs. Now, researchers have developed a test they'd like to add to the bus's offerings: it assesses drug action (full paper) instead of just reporting chemical structure."
An anonymous reader writes "Australia announced Saturday a new project to drill a deep ice core in Antarctica, which may shed light on past climatic conditions in the continent. The project, Aurora Basin North project, will involve researchers drilling a 2,000-year-old ice core, in order to search for the scientific 'holy grail' of the ice core."
An anonymous reader writes "Do you still think your online writing is, basically, anonymous? Think again! Research has it people put much of their personal traits into their writing, and computers may just be able to pick them up. That's at least what a recently announced competition on author identification (Given a document, who wrote it?) and author profiling (Given a document, what are its author's age and gender?) wants to find out. Alas, re-using other people's writing is no solution either; there's also a competition on plagiarism detection (Given a document, is it an original?). Wanna revisit your recent rants?"
When Chinese probe Chang'e buzzed the asteroid Toutatis, it wasn't the only one watching. NASA's observatory in Goldstone, CA was taking radar images, which have now been assembled into a short (40-second) animation. The craft was recording the encounter, too, as reported by Sky & Telescope, which also gives a good summary of the history behind Chang'e's mission.
SternisheFan writes with an excerpt from Bad Astronomer Phil Plait, writing at Slate: "Before she came back to Earth in a ball of fire surrounding her Russian re-entry capsule, astronaut Sunita Williams took time out of her packing for the trip home to give a nickel tour of the International Space Station. ... I know the video's long, but if you have the time I do suggest watching the whole thing. I have very mixed feelings about the space station; it cost a lot of money, and in my opinion it hasn't lived up to the scientific potential NASA promised when it was being designed. But watching this video reminded me of the good that's come out of it: There is science being done there; we're learning how to design and build hardware for long-term space travel; we're learning just how to live in space (and NASA just announced it will be sending humans into space for an entire year, an unprecedented experiment); and we're finding new ways for nations and individuals to cooperate in space."
An anonymous reader writes "For the first time, researchers have found that a chemical in the brain called glutamate is linked to suicidal behavior. While previous research and drugs have targeted serotonin to fight severe depression, this study shows that more attention should be paid to this chemical."
hackingbear writes "Chinese moon probe Chang'e-2 made a flyby of the near-earth asteroid Toutatis on December 13 at 16:30:09 Beijing Time (08:30:09 GMT), the State Administration of Science, Technology and Industry for National Defense (SASTIND) announced today. The flyby was the first time an unmanned spacecraft launched from Earth has taken such a close viewing of the asteroid, named after a Celtic god, making China the fourth country after the U.S., the EU and Japan to be able to examine an asteroid by spacecraft. Chang'e-2 came as close as 3.2 km from Toutatis, which is about 7 million km away from the Earth, and took pictures of the asteroid at a relative velocity of 10.73 km per second, the SASTIND said in a statement. Chang'e-2, originally designated as the backup of Chang'e-1, left its lunar orbit for an extended mission to the Earth-Sun L2 Lagrangian point on June 9, 2011, after finishing its lunar objectives, and then again began its mission to Toutatis this year. 'The success of the extended missions also embodies that China now possesses spacecraft capable of interplanetary flight,' said Wu Weiren, chief designer of China's lunar probe program."
TaeKwonDood writes with news from CERN about more results in the search for the Higgs Boson, this time from the ATLAS experiment. Researchers report peaks in the data in accordance with what they'd expect from the Higgs. The curiosity is that the peaks are a couple GeV away from each other. "The ATLAS analyses in these channels return the best fit Higgs masses that differ by more than 3 GeV: 123.5 GeV for ZZ and 126.6 GeV for gamma-gamma, which is much more than the estimated resolution of about 1 GeV. The tension between these 2 results is estimated to be 2.7sigma. Apparently, ATLAS used this last month to search for the systematic errors that might be responsible for the discrepancy but, having found nothing, they decided to go public." Scientific American has a more layman-friendly explanation available. As this work undergoes review, physicists hope more eyes and more data will shed some light on this incongruity. Tommaso Dorigo, a particle physicist working at the CMS experiment at CERN, writes, "Another idea is that the gamma-gamma signal contains some unexpected background which somehow shifts the best-fit mass to higher values, also contributing to the anomalously high signal rate. However, this also does not hold much water — if you look at the various mass histograms produced by ATLAS (there is a bunch here) you do not see anything striking as suspicious in the background distributions. Then there is the possibility of a statistical fluctuation. I think this is the most likely explanation." Matt Strassler provides a broader update to the work proceeding on nailing down the Higgs boson.
skade88 writes "Worldwide, people are living longer. Their lives are starting to look more like the lives of Americans: too much food is a problem, death in childhood is becoming less common, and so on. Yet with a population that lives through what would once have killed us, disabilities are starting to become the norm. A research report from the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation has a good glimpse into the new emerging world we find ourselves in." The Guardian has a nice visualization of the mortality data (but take note of shifting scales on the Y-axis).