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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."
China

Chinese Scientists Discover Structural Basis of Pre-mRNA Splicing 48

hackingbear writes: On August 21st, the research team led by Prof. Yigong Shi from School of Life Sciences, Tsinghua University in China published two side-by-side research articles in Science, reporting the long-sought-after structure of a yeast spliceosome at 3.6 angstrom resolution determined by single particle cryo-electron microscopy (cryo-EM), and the molecular mechanism of pre-messenger RNA splicing. Until now, decades of genetic and biochemical experiments have identified almost all proteins in spliceosome and uncovered some functions. Yet, the structure remained a mystery for a long time. The works, primarily performed by Dr. Chuangye Yan, and Ph.D students Jing Hang and Ruixue Wan under Prof. Yigong Shi's supervision, settled this Holy Grail question and established the structural basis for the related area. This work was supported by funds from the Ministry of Science and Technology and the National Natural Science Foundation of China.
Earth

In Germany, a Message-in-a-Bottle Found 108 Years After Its Release 57

schwit1 writes with a report that an early 20th century experiment has generated a belated data point. One of many floating bottles released 108 years ago to study currents was recently found by a German couple; it washed up on a beach in Amrum, Germany. From The Independent: When the couple unfurled the note inside, they found a message in English, German and Dutch. It asked the finder to fill in some information on where and when they had found the bottle, before returning it to the Marine Biological Association in Plymouth. It said whoever did so would be rewarded with one shilling. Communications director of the Marine Biological Association, Guy Baker, told The Daily Telegraph: "It was quite a stir when we opened that envelope, as you can imagine." Once at the association, staff recognised the bottle was one of 1,020 released into the North Sea between 1904 and 1906 as part of a project to test the strength of currents. Mr Baker told the paper: "It was a time when they were inventing ways to investigate what currents and fish did. Many of the bottles were found by fishermen trawling with deep sea nets. Others washed up on the shore, and some were never recovered. Most of the bottles were found within a relatively short time. We're talking months rather than decades."
Space

Some Observers Perceive the Universe To Be Much Younger Than We Do 139

StartsWithABang writes: It's been 13.8 billion years since the Big Bang for us, and when we look out at a distant object in the Universe, we're seeing it as it was in the past. Its age — as it appears — is determined only by how long the light took for it to travel from that object to our eyes, but to someone living there, it will also appear that the Universe is 13.8 billion years old. But it is actually possible for an observer living on another planet, star or galaxy to perceive that significantly less time has passed since the Big Bang, so long as they were moving close to the speed of light relative to the CMB. Paradoxically, if they slowed their speed, they'd find that they themselves were very young, but living in a 13.8 billion year-old Universe.
Space

Re-Examined IceCube Data Firms Up Case For Extra-Galactic Neutrinos 27

In 2013, the IceCube neutrino telescope detected dozens of high-energy neutrinos. Now, reports Astronomy magazine, researchers "have sorted through the billions of subatomic particles that zip through its frozen cubic-kilometer-sized detector each year to gather powerful new evidence in support of [those] 2013 observations confirming the existence of cosmic neutrinos." According to the report, Albrecht Karle from UW-Madison notes that while the neutrino-induced tracks recorded by the IceCube detector have a good pointing resolution, within less than a degree, the IceCube team has not observed a significant number of neutrinos emanating from any single source. ... “The plane of the galaxy is where the stars are. It is where cosmic rays are accelerated, so you would expect to see more sources there. But the highest-energy neutrinos we’ve observed come from random directions,” said Karle. “It is sound confirmation that the discovery of cosmic neutrinos from beyond our galaxy is real.”
Cellphones

Mobile Phone Data Can Track the Spread of Infectious Diseases 21

jan_jes writes: Researchers have used anonymous mobile phone records for more than 15 million people to track the spread of rubella disease in Kenya and were able to quantitatively show that mobile phone data can predict seasonal disease patterns. The researchers compared the cellphone analysis with a highly detailed dataset on rubella incidence in Kenya. They matched; the cellphone movement patterns lined up with the rubella incidence figures. In both of their analyses, rubella spiked three times a year. This showed the researchers that cellphone movement can be a predictor of infectious-disease spread.