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Space

Research Suggests How Alien Life Could Spread Across the Galaxy 103

astroengine writes: As astronomical techniques become more advanced, a team of astrophysicists think they will be able to not only detect the signatures of alien life in exoplanetary atmospheres, but also track its relentless spread throughout the galaxy. The research, headed by Henry Lin of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics (CfA), assumes that this feat may be possible in a generation or so and that the hypothesis of panspermia may act as the delivery system for alien biology to hop from one star system to another.
Security

Most Healthcare Managers Admit Their IT Systems Have Been Compromised 122

Lucas123 writes: Eighty-one percent of healthcare IT managers say their organizations have been compromised by at least one malware, botnet or other kind of cyber attack during the past two years, and only half of those managers feel that they are adequately prepared to prevent future attacks, according to a new survey by KPMG. The KPMG survey polled 223 CIOs, CTOs, chief security officers and chief compliance officers at healthcare providers and health plans, and found 65% indicated malware was most frequently reported line of attack during the past 12 to 24 months. Additionally, those surveyed indicated the areas with the greatest vulnerabilities within their organization include external attackers (65%), sharing data with third parties (48%), employee breaches (35%), wireless computing (35%) and inadequate firewalls (27%). Top among reasons healthcare facilities are facing increased risk, was the adoption of digital patient records and the automation of clinical systems.
NASA

NASA Scientists Paint Stark Picture of Accelerating Sea Level Rise 380

A NASA panel yesterday announced widely reported finding that global sea levels have risen about three inches since 1992, and that these levels are expected to keep rising as much as several more feet over the next century -- on the upper end of model-based predictions that have been made so far. From the Sydney Morning Herald piece linked above: NASA says Greenland has lost an average of 303 gigatons [of ice] yearly for the past decade. Since it takes 360 gigatons to raise sea level by a millimetre, that would suggest Greenland has done this about eight times over just in the last 10 years or so. "People need to be prepared for sea level rise," said Joshua Willis, an oceanographer at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in La Cañada Flintridge. "It's not going to stop."
Biotech

UNC Scientists Open Source Their Genomic Research 10

ectoman writes: The human genome specifies more than 500 "kinases," enzymes that spur protein synthesis. Four hundred of them are still mysteries to us, even though knowledge about them could spark serious medical innovations. But scientists at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, have initiated an open source effort to map them all—research they think could pioneer a new generation of drug discovery. As members of the Structural Genomics Consortium, the chemical biologists are spearheading a worldwide community project. "We need a community to build a map of what kinases do in biology," one said. "It has to be a community-generated map to get the richness and detail we need to be able to move some of these kinases into drug facilities. But we're just doing the source code. Until someone puts the source code out there and makes it available to everybody, people won't have anything to modify."
Moon

You Can Now Be "Buried" On the Moon 72

Dave Knott writes: Space burials are longer the stuff of science fiction (and wealthy science fiction TV show creators.) The cremated remains of more than 450 people have been shot into orbit. Yet, despite the promise of space being a unique "resting place," almost every tiny vial of remains ever sent there has come back down to Earth or burned up upon re-entry. This wouldn't have happened had the ashes landed on Earth's moon — a fact that hasn't been lost on the companies pioneering this futuristic funeral technology. The San Francisco-based company Elysium Space officially launched its 'lunar memorial' service earlier this month, and will soon be sending the remains of a U.S. Army Infantry Soldier's mother upwards as part of its first ever moon burial.

The company's website further explains how the lunar burials will work: "You receive a kit containing a custom ash capsule to collect a cremated remains sample. After we receive the ash capsule back from you, we place your capsule in the Elysium memorial spacecraft. The latter is eventually integrated to the Astrobotic lander during the designated integration event. From here, the lander is integrated onto the launch vehicle. On launch day, the remains are carried to the moon where the lander will be deployed to its dedicated location, preserving our memorial spacecraft for eternity." Because Elysium can only send a small portion of cremated remains to the moon (less than a gram), participants aren't actually paying to have their loved ones literally buried on the moon. However, this has not deterred the company from launching the service, charging $11,950 per "burial".
Government

More Cities Use DNA To Catch Dog Owners Who Don't Pick Up Waste 175

dkatana writes: For many cities one of the biggest cleaning expenses is dealing with dog poop. While it is impossible to ask the birds to refrain from splattering the city, dogs have owners and those owners are responsible for disposing of their companion's waste. The few who shirk their duty create serious problems for the rest. Poop is not just a smelly inconvenience. It's unsanitary, extra work for cleaning crews, and in the words of one Spanish mayor, on a par with vandalism. Cities have tried everything from awareness campaigns with motorized poo videos, to publishing offenders names to mailing the waste back to the dog owner. In one case, after a 147 deliveries, dog waste incidents in the town dropped 70 percent. Those campaigns have had limited effect and after an initial decline in incidents, people go back to their old ways. Which has left many cities resorting to science and DNA identification of waste. Several European cities, including Naples and one borough in London, are building DNA registries of pets. Offending waste will then be tested and the cost of the analysis charged to the dog owner, along with a fine.
Space

NASA Mulls Missions To Neptune and Uranus, Using the Space Launch System 77

MarkWhittington writes: According to a story in Astronomy Magazine, NASA is contemplating sending flagship sized space probes to the so-called "ice giants" of Uranus and Neptune. These probes would orbit the two outer planets, similar to how Galileo orbited Jupiter and how Cassini currently orbits Saturn. The only time NASA has previously had a close encounter with either of these worlds was when Voyager 2 flew by Uranus in 1986 and then Neptune in 1989. Each of these missions would happen after the Europa Clipper, a flagship-class mission scheduled for the mid-2020s.
Medicine

US Scientists Successfully 'Switch Off' Cancer Cells 52

iONiUM sends news that Mayo Clinic cancer researchers have developed a technique to reprogram cancer cells in a lab, essentially "turning off" their excessive cell growth. That code was unraveled by the discovery that adhesion proteins — the glue that keeps cells together — interact with the microprocessor, a key player in the production of molecules called microRNAs (miRNAs). The miRNAs orchestrate whole cellular programs by simultaneously regulating expression of a group of genes (abstract). The investigators found that when normal cells come in contact with each other, a specific subset of miRNAs suppresses genes that promote cell growth. However, when adhesion is disrupted in cancer cells, these miRNAs are misregulated and cells grow out of control. The investigators showed, in laboratory experiments, that restoring the normal miRNA levels in cancer cells can reverse that aberrant cell growth.
Stats

Scientific Papers With Shorter Titles Get More Citations 87

sciencehabit writes: Articles with shorter titles tend to get cited more often than those with longer headers, concludes a study published today, which examined 140,000 papers published between 2007 and 2013. It appears in the journal Royal Society Open Science. Citations are a key currency in the academic world. The number of times other researchers cite a scientist’s work is often an important metric in hiring and workplace evaluations. Citations also play a role in determining a journal’s place in the scholarly pecking order, with journals that publish more highly cited papers earning a higher “impact factor” (although many critics challenge that measure).
NASA

Dawn Drops To 1470km Orbit, Snaps Sharper Pictures of Ceres 45

An anonymous reader writes: NASA's Dawn spacecraft, after an extensive series of high orbits around Ceres, has now dropped to just 1,470 kilometers over the dwarf planet's surface. It has begun an 11-day process to map the entirety of Ceres, which it will repeat several times over the next couple months. Its lower orbit now allows photo resolution of ~140 meters per pixel, and it has sent back some great images. "Engineers and scientists will also refine their measurements of Ceres' gravity field, which will help mission planners in designing Dawn's next orbit — its lowest — as well as the journey to get there. In late October, Dawn will begin spiraling toward this final orbit, which will be at an altitude of 230 miles (375 kilometers)."
Science

Stephen Hawking Presents Theory On Getting Information Out of a Black Hole 168

An anonymous reader writes: Physicist Stephen Hawking claims to have figured out a way for information to leave a black hole. He presented his theory today at the KTH Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm. Scientists have struggled with the black hole information paradox for years, and Hawking thinks this new theory could be a solution. He said, "I propose that the information is stored not in the interior of the black hole as one might expect, but in its boundary, the event horizon." Put in layman's terms, "this jumbled return of information was like burning an encyclopedia: You wouldn't technically lose any information if you kept all of the ashes in one place, but you'd have a hard time looking up the capital of Minnesota." Information can leave the black hole via Hawking radiation, though it will be functionally useless. Hawking worked with Cambridge's Malcolm Perry and Harvard's Andrew Stromberg on this theory.
Hardware Hacking

'Gynepunks' DIY Gynecology For Underserved Women 59

New submitter Alien7 sends an article about a group of bio-hackers who are out to bring DIY gynecological medicine to women who don't have easy access to it. Under the name GynePunks, they're assembling an arsenal of open-source tools for DIY diagnosis and first-aid care—centrifuges made from old hard drive motors; microscopes from deconstructed webcams; homemade incubators; and 3D printable speculums. ... So far the work is largely focused on diagnosis, and members of the collective are quick to note that what they’re creating is far from a comprehensive solution. It’s limited by some obvious factors—access to materials, a place to put them together, and the time to do it. But where the infrastructure does exist, and people are motivated to do so, it is very possible to establish some useful alternatives for self-care. As an example, Klau pointed to a pilot vinegar test program that’s lowered cervical cancer deaths by some 31 percent among poor women in Mumbai’s slums.
Power

Fusion Progress: Superheated Gas Kept Stable For 5 Milliseconds 96

An anonymous reader writes: A company called Tri Alpha has successfully kept a ball of superheated gas stable for a record time, 5 milliseconds, putting them closer to producing fusion power. "'They've succeeded finally in achieving a lifetime limited only by the power available to the system,' says particle physicist Burton Richter of Stanford University in Palo Alto, California, who sits on a board of advisers to Tri Alpha. If the company's scientists can scale the technique up to longer times and higher temperatures, they will reach a stage at which atomic nuclei in the gas collide forcefully enough to fuse together, releasing energy.

Importantly, the Tri Alpha machine may be able to operate with a different fuel than most other fusion reactors. This fuel-a mix of hydrogen and boron-is harder to react, but Tri Alpha researchers say it avoids many of the problems likely to confront conventional fusion power plants." The article does not say how much this success cost the privately-funded Tri Alpha, but it certainly wasn't in the billions of dollars.
Education

The Case For Teaching Ignorance 236

HughPickens.com writes: In the mid-1980s, a University of Arizona surgery professor, Marlys H. Witte, proposed teaching a class entitled "Introduction to Medical and Other Ignorance." Far too often, she believed, teachers fail to emphasize how much about a given topic is unknown. "Textbooks spend 8 to 10 pages on pancreatic cancer," said Witte, "without ever telling the student that we just don't know very much about it." Now Jamie Holmes writes in the NY Times that many scientific facts simply aren't solid and immutable, but are instead destined to be vigorously challenged and revised by successive generations. According to Homes, presenting ignorance as less extensive than it is, knowledge as more solid and more stable, and discovery as neater also leads students to misunderstand the interplay between answers and questions.

In 2006, a Columbia University neuroscientist named Stuart J. Firestein, began teaching a course on scientific ignorance after realizing, to his horror, that many of his students might have believed that we understand nearly everything about the brain. "This crucial element in science was being left out for the students," says Firestein."The undone part of science that gets us into the lab early and keeps us there late, the thing that "turns your crank," the very driving force of science, the exhilaration of the unknown, all this is missing from our classrooms. In short, we are failing to teach the ignorance, the most critical part of the whole operation." The time has come to "view ignorance as 'regular' rather than deviant," argue sociologists Matthias Gross and Linsey McGoey. Our students will be more curious — and more intelligently so — if, in addition to facts, they were equipped with theories of ignorance as well as theories of knowledge.
United Kingdom

Met Office Loses BBC Weather Forecasting Contract 119

An anonymous reader writes: UK weather forecasts could be run on computers in New Zealand, as the BBC announced that the UK Met Office lost a forecasting contract it held for almost 100 years. The Guardian reports: "The Met Office has lost the contract it has held for close to a century to provide weather forecasts to the BBC, bringing to an end one of the longest relationships in British media. The broadcaster said it was legally required to open up the contract to outside competition in order to secure the best value for licence fee payers. The meteorological service said it was disappointed by the BBC’s decision to put out to tender the contract, which has been in place since the corporation’s first radio weather bulletin on 14 November 1922. Steve Noyes, operations and customer services director at the Met Office, said: 'Nobody knows Britain’s weather better and, during our long relationship with the BBC, we’ve revolutionised weather communication to make it an integral part of British daily life.'"
NASA

Calls For Funding NASA Commercial Crew Grow 71

MarkWhittington writes: As summer starts to give way to fall and the end of the current fiscal year draws nigh, demands that NASA's commercial crew program be fully funded are being heard with greater frequency and urgency. Astronaut Scott Kelly took time off from his year-long sojourn on the International Space Station to entreat Congress to pony up. IO9 was a little more caustic, stating "Dammit, Congress: Just Buy NASA its Own Space Taxi, Already." Monday, Slate became the latest media outlet to take up the cause

The situation is depressingly familiar to those who have followed the fortunes of the space program since the Apollo moon landings. When President Obama started the commercial crew program in 2010, NASA estimated that it would take a certain amount of money to get government funded and commercially operated spacecraft running by 2015. Then the space agency would no longer be dependent on Russia for rides to the International Space Station.

Congress has decided to allocate less money than NASA feels it needed for commercial crew. This situation is not unusual, as Congress often does this to space projects. However, the politics surrounding the creation of the commercial crew program, which featured the abrupt cancellation of the Constellation space exploration program, has exacerbated the conflict between NASA's will and Congress' won't. President Obama did not consult Congress when he cancelled President Bush's return to the moon program. Congress has displeased ever since.
Medicine

Is a Universal Flu Vaccine On the Horizon? 96

sciencehabit writes: Two groups of researchers have created vaccines that may lead to a universal flu shot that could protect against every type of flu. Every year millions get a flu shot but with thousands of strains that mutate and evolve across seasons, no one shot can protect against them all. Sciencemag reports on the research: "When the teams vaccinated mice, both groups saw full protection against H5N1, a lethal influenza strain distantly related to H1N1. In both studies, mice that did not receive the stem-derived vaccine died, but vaccinated mice all survived. In further experiments, the nanoparticle-anchoring vaccine showed partial protection in ferrets, whereas the other vaccine showed partial protection in monkeys. Two of the six vaccinated ferrets fell ill and died, compared with a 100% mortality rate for the unvaccinated ferrets. None of the monkeys died, but those that were vaccinated had significantly lower fevers than their nonvaccinated companions."
Earth

Group Seeks Test For Geoengineering Tool To Fight Climate Change 127

An anonymous reader writes: A group of retired engineers and scientists has been meeting for several years to develop techniques to fight climate change. They've now reached the point where they want to actively test a machine that shoots water droplets into the sky in order to supplement existing clouds and increase the planet's albedo. The group is not aiming for full deployment — in fact, it's not even unanimous in support for prevailing theories in climate science. But they all agree that it's important to learn about such technologies before the situation becomes a crisis. "We need to understand whether this approach is even possible and what the risks are, in the event that we find ourselves looking for ways to extend time and mitigate warming damage."

If we're eventually forced to deploy large-scale geoengineering projects to combat climate change, it's not a good idea to grab whatever technology is cheapest or most readily available without knowing how well it works. The group is aware of the ethical concerns surrounding such research, but its director notes, "The fact is humanity is already engaged in unplanned climate engineering. We're doing it through coal plant and shipping emissions every day without understanding it very well."