Space

New Horizons Returns Best Images of Pluto's Moons Hydra and Nix 33 33

An anonymous reader writes: Over the weekend, the New Horizons probe sent back more data from Pluto, including two of the best images we'll get of its small moons Nix and Hydra. Nix measures about 42km long by 36km wide, and has a large reddish spot on it. The resolution allows us to see features about 3km across. Hydra is slightly bigger, and the pictures were taken with a different instrument, so resolution is a bit better. "Although the overall surface color of Nix is neutral grey in the image, the newfound region has a distinct red tint. Hints of a bull's-eye pattern lead scientists to speculate that the reddish region is a crater. ... Meanwhile, the sharpest image yet received from New Horizons of Pluto's satellite Hydra shows that its irregular shape resembles the state of Michigan. ...Although the overall surface color of Nix is neutral grey in the image, the newfound region has a distinct red tint. Hints of a bull's-eye pattern lead scientists to speculate that the reddish region is a crater." Images have been taken of Styx and Kerberos, the most recently discovered moons of Pluto, but they won't be transmitted back for a while, yet. NASA has also released an image of a mountain range inside Pluto's heart-shaped region.
Biotech

Scientists Arm Cells With Tiny Lasers 35 35

sciencehabit writes: Scientists have implanted tiny lasers within living cells. A team of physicists and biologists have coaxed a cell to envelop a tiny plastic sphere that acts like a resonant cavity—thus placing a whole laser within a cell (abstract). The spheres are seasoned with a fluorescent dye, so that a zap with one color of light makes them radiate at another color. The light then resonates in the sphere, triggering laser action and amplifying itself. So although demonstrated only in cultured cells, the technique might someday be used to track the movement of individual cells, say, within cancerous tumors.
Education

Video CanSat Helps Students Make & Launch Sub-Orbital 'Satellites' (Video) 22 22

The Magnitude (motto: "Powered by Curiosity") "Can-sized satellites" aren't technically satellites because they're launched on rockets that typically can't get much higher than 10,000 feet, or as payloads on weather balloons that can hit 100,000+ feet but (obviously) can't go beyond the Earth's atmosphere. But could they be satellites? Sure. Get a rocket with enough punch to put them in orbit and off you go -- something Magnitude Co-founder and CEO Ted Tagami hopes to see happening in his local school district by 2020. Meanwhile, they'll sell you assembled CanSat packages or help you build your own (or anything in between), depending on your schools resources and aspirations. Have a question or an idea? Talk to Ted. He'd love to hear from you. Use the Magnitude Web form or send email to hello at magnitude dot io. Either way works.
Communications

Comet Lander Falls Silent; Scientists Fear It Has Moved 36 36

vivaoporto writes: European scientists say the Philae comet lander fell silent on Monday, raising fears that it has moved again on its new home millions of miles from Earth. Over the last few weeks, Rosetta has been flying along the terminator plane of the comet in order to find the best location to communicate with Philae. However, over the weekend of 10-11 July, the star trackers struggled to lock on to stars at the closer distances. No contact has been made with Philae since 9 July. The data acquired at that time are being investigated by the lander team to try to better understand Philae's situation.

One possible explanation being discussed at DLR's Lander Control Center is that the position of Philae may have shifted slightly, perhaps by changing its orientation with respect to the surface in its current location. The lander is likely situated on uneven terrain, and even a slight change in its position – perhaps triggered by gas emission from the comet – could mean that its antenna position has also now changed with respect to its surroundings. This could have a knock-on effect as to the best position Rosetta needs to be in to establish a connection with the lander.

The current status of Philae remains uncertain and is a topic of on-going discussion and analysis. But in the meantime, further commands are being prepared and tested to allow Philae to re-commence operations. The lander team wants to try to activate a command block that is still stored in Philae's computer and which was already successfully performed after the lander's unplanned flight across to the surface to its final location. "Although the mission will now focus its scientific priority on the orbiter, Rosetta will continue attempting – up to and past perihelion – to obtain Philae science packets once a stable link has been acquired," adds Patrick Martin, Rosetta mission manager.
NASA

Smithsonian Using Kickstart Campaign To Save Armstrong's Moon Suit 231 231

qpgmr writes: The Smithsonian is appealing for assistance to raise enough money to preserve Neil Armstrong's moon suit. The "Reboot the Suit: Bring Back Neil Armstrong's Spacesuit" campaign launched Monday on Kickstarter, marking 46 years since Armstrong's moonwalk in 1969. Smithsonian reports: "....on the anniversary of that 'small step for a man,' the Smithsonian Institution announced a plan of action that is, in its own way, a giant leap for funding the job with what the Institution’s first federal Kickstarter campaign. With a goal of raising $500,000 in 30 days—by offering incentives such as exclusive updates to 3D printed facsimiles of the space suit gloves—museum officials hope to be able to unveil a restored spacesuit by the time of the 50th anniversary of the moon landing four years from now, in 2019."
NASA

NASA Funded Study States People Could Be On the Moon By 2021 For $10 Billion 248 248

MarkWhittington writes: The Houston Chronicle reported that NextGen Space LLC has released the results of a study that suggests that if the United States were to choose to do space in some new and creative ways, American moon boots could be on the lunar surface by 2021. The cost from the authorization to the first crewed lunar landing would be just $10 billion. The study was partly funded by NASA and was reviewed by the space agency and commercial space experts.
Space

Elon Musk: Faulty Strut May Have Led To Falcon 9 Launch Failure 220 220

garyisabusyguy writes: This Forbes article provides the best analysis of the loss of the last Falcon 9 mission based on information released by Elon Musk to reporters. Highlights include:
  • 1. Sound triangulation led them to identify a strut holding helium tank as root cause where the falling helium tank pinched a line causing overpressure in the LOX tank.
  • 2. The failure occurred at 2,000 pounds of force, and the struts were rated at 10,000 pounds of force. They initially dismissed this as a cause until sounds triangulation pointed back to the strut
  • 3. Further testing of struts in stock found one that failed at 2,000 pounds of force, with further analysis identifying poor grain structure in the metal, which caused weakness
  • 4. It will be months before the next launch while SpaceX goes over procurement and QA processes all struts and bolts, and re-assesses any "near misses" with Air Force and NASA
  • 5. Next launch will include failure mode software, which will allow recovery of the Dragon module during loss of the launch vehicle since they determined that it could have saved the Dragon module in this lost mission

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Space

Stephen Hawking and Russian Billionaire Start $100 Million Search For Aliens 208 208

An anonymous reader writes: Stephen Hawking is joining forces with Russian billionaire Yuri Milner to start a $100 million effort to search the skies for signs of alien life. The initiative is called Breakthrough Listen, which will pay for large amounts of access to the Green Bank Telescope and the Parkes Telescope to scan the skies for signals over the next 10 years. They say the search will be 50 times more sensitive than previous attempts, cover 10 times more of the sky, and scan a greater portion of the radio spectrum 100x faster. They add, "All data will be open to the public. This will likely constitute the largest amount of scientific data ever made available to the public. The Breakthrough Listen team will use and develop the most powerful software for sifting and searching this flood of data. All software will be open source." The project is also supported by Frank Drake, Ann Druyan, and Lord Martin Rees.
Space

Virgin Galactic SpaceShipTwo's Re-entry Tech: the Feather 62 62

Dutch Gun writes: When most people think about rocket science, they think of the challenge of getting a spacecraft into space. However, the problem of safely re-entering the atmosphere is a daunting challenge as well. Virgin Galactic introduces us to the concept of "the feather," their term for the combination of fixed-wing and capsule based solutions both used by spaceships in the past, and explain how they believe this hybrid approach to be a superior solution. SpaceShipTwo folds its wings in the initial decent, acting a bit like a badminton shuttlecock, when a capsule decent has the most advantages. In the latter part of the decent, the wings are extended, giving the vehicle the advantages of a glider-like landing.
Education

US Wins Math Olympiad For First Time In 21 Years 280 280

An anonymous reader writes: The U.S. won the International Mathematical Olympiad for the first time in 21 years. Gender diversity is brought up in this NPR article because the eight team members on the U.S. team were all male, but they made a point to mention that of the top 12 people participating in the U.S. Math Olympiad, 2 are female, which is better than last year when there were no females in the top 12. "I will say that it's not really a super-great spectator sport, in the sense that if you are watching them, it will look like they are thinking," Po-Shen Loh, a professor at Carnegie Mellon University and head coach for Team USA says. "Although I will assure you that inside their heads, if you could spectate, that would be quite a sport."
Space

Company Aims To Launch Spacecraft On Beams of Microwaves 120 120

MarkWhittington writes: The quest for cheap access to space, to make space travel as inexpensive as air travel, has eluded engineers, government policy makers, and business entrepreneurs from before the beginning of the space age. It has become axiomatic, almost to the point of being a cliché, that the true space age will not begin until launch costs come down significantly. Forbes reported about a company called Escape Dynamics that has a unique approach to the problem. The company proposes to launch payloads into low Earth orbit on beams of microwaves.
Medicine

Study: Living Near Fracking Correlates With Increased Hospital Visits 132 132

New submitter Michael Tiemann writes: An article published in PLOS One finds increased hospital admissions significantly correlate with living in the same zip code as active fracking sites. The data comes from three counties in Pennsylvania, whose zip codes mostly had no fracking sites in 2007 and transitioned to a majority of zip codes with at least one fracking site. While the statistical and medical data are compelling, and speak to a significant correlation, the graphical and informational figures flunk every Tufte test, which is unfortunate. Nevertheless, with open data and Creative Commons licensing, the paper could be rewritten to provide a more compelling explanation about the dangers of fracking to people who live within its vicinity, and perhaps motivate more stringent regulations to protect them from both immediate and long-term harm.
ISS

Asteroid Mining Company's First Satellite Launches From Space Station 35 35

An anonymous reader writes: Planetary Resources, the company trying to jumpstart an asteroid-mining industry, has launched its first spacecraft. Its 90-day mission is to boldly... test avionics, control systems, and software. The Arkyd 3 Reflight craft was launched from the International Space Station after being delivered there in April. (They had intended to test earlier, but their first craft was lost in the Antares rocket explosion last October.) "The spacecraft is small, but mighty: At just 12 by 4 by 4 inches (30 by 10 by 10 centimeters), it will test key systems and control schemes that will allow later craft to land on asteroids to extract water and minerals. Eric Anderson, co-founder and co-chairman of Planetary Resources, said in the statement that the mining technologies could also help monitor and manage Earth's valuable resources. Later this year, once the satellite completes its 90-day mission, Planetary Resources will send up another satellite: the Arkyd-6, which will be twice as large and will test even more systems needed for the asteroid-mining process, representatives said."
Government

Antineutrino Detectors Could Be Key To Monitoring Iran's Nuclear Program 79 79

agent elevator writes: Tech that analyzes antineutrinos might be the best way to keep tabs on Iran's nuclear program. The technology, which can tell how much of and what kind of plutonium and uranium are nearby, should be ready to serve as a nuclear safeguard in less than two years, according to IEEE Spectrum. In a simulation of the Arak nuclear plant, which the Iran deal requires be redesigned to make less plutonium, a detector parked outside in a shipping container could do the job.
Science

Researchers Discover Largest Ever Dinosaur With Birdlike Wings and Feathers 47 47

sciencehabit writes: When we see birds winging their way across the sky, we are really looking at living dinosaurs—the only lineage of these mighty beasts that survived mass extinction. Yet before they went extinct, many dinosaurs sprouted wings themselves. Researchers now report finding the largest ever winged dino in China, a sleek, birdlike creature adorned with multiple layers of feathers all over its arms and torso that lived 125 million years ago. The dino was about 1.65 meters long, a little longer than a modern condor, but at an estimated 20 kilograms, it was probably nearly twice as heavy as that bird. It almost certainly could not fly, however—an important confirmation that wings and feathers originally evolved to serve other functions like attracting mates and keeping eggs warm.
Space

The Frozen Plains of Pluto's 'Heart' 42 42

New Horizons has sent back new images of Pluto, including a close-up view of the "Tombaugh Regio," which resembles a giant, pale heart stretching 1,600 km across the dwarf planet's surface. The new images show a broad plain free of any craters, broken into irregular segments by shallow troughs. Scientists don't know how they formed, but here are two leading theories: "The irregular shapes may be the result of the contraction of surface materials, similar to what happens when mud dries. Alternatively, they may be a product of convection, similar to wax rising in a lava lamp." This image comes alongside new data on Pluto's extended atmosphere.

NASA has released other new findings from the Pluto region, as well. Pluto is trailed by a region of cold, ionized gas ripped away from its atmosphere by the solar wind. We've also gotten a close look at Charon, Pluto's biggest moon. One unusual feature is a sizable mountain rising from an even larger depression in the moon's surface. On top of that, NASA has released the first look at Nix, a tiny satellite of Pluto roughly 40 km in diameter. The image is highly pixelated, but we should get a better image tomorrow, during New Horizon's Saturday downlink. The NY Times has a gallery of images, which also includes pictures of Hydra (another small moon) and a different shot of the Pluto's plains area.
Earth

2014 Was Earth's Warmest Year On Record 385 385

An anonymous reader writes: A lengthy report compiled by the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration using work from hundreds of scientists across 58 countries has found that 2014 was the hottest year on record. "The warmth was widespread across land areas. Europe experienced its warmest year on record, with more than 20 countries exceeding their previous records. Africa had above-average temperatures across most of the continent throughout 2014, Australia saw its third warmest year on record, Mexico had its warmest year on record, and Argentina and Uruguay each had their second warmest year on record. Eastern North America was the only major region to experience below-average annual temperatures." They've also published a page showing highlights of the major findings. Greenhouse gas concentrations continue to rise, the global sea level reached a record high, and average sea surface temperatures reached a record high.
Education

Interviews: Ask Dr. Temple Grandin About Animals and Autism 131 131

Being listed in the "Time 100" of the most influential people in the world in the "Heroes" category, is just one of the many awards received by Temple Grandin. Diagnosed with autism at the age of two, Temple overcame many obstacles and earned a doctoral degree in animal science from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and is a professor at Colorado State University. Dr, Grandin is recognized as an expert in animal behavior and one of the leading advocates for the rights of autistic persons. She lectures, and has written numerous books on animals and autism, and was the subject of the award-winning, biographical film, Temple Grandin . Dr. Grandin has agreed to take some time out of her schedule to answer any questions you may have. As usual, ask as many as you'd like, but please, one per post.
Science

Scientists Develop Nutritious Seaweed That Tastes Like Bacon 174 174

cold fjord writes: According to a New Zealand Herald report, "Researchers at Oregon State University have patented a new strain of succulent red marine algae that tastes like bacon when it's cooked. The protein-packed algae sea vegetable called dulse grows extraordinarily fast and is wild along the Pacific and Atlantic coastlines. It has been sold for centuries in a dried form around northern Europe, used in cooking and as a nutritional supplement. ... Chris Langdon has created a new strain of the weed which looks like a translucent red lettuce. An excellent source of minerals, vitamins and antioxidants, the "superfood" contains up to 16 per cent protein in dry weight. ... It has twice the nutritional value of kale." Langdon says, "When you fry it, which I have done, it tastes like bacon, not seaweed. And it's a pretty strong bacon flavor."
Australia

Preserving Radio Silence At the Square Kilometer Array 27 27

johnslater writes: The Guardian has a story on the radio silence requirements at the Square Kilometer Array in Australia. The RF requirements for the SKA are far more stringent than at the US National Radio Quiet Zone at Greenbank, to such an extent that the specialized supercomputers to control the array have specially shielded data centers, and the as-yet-unbuilt supercomputer to process the data will be located hundreds of miles away in Perth. To quote Dr John Morgan in the article: "You can guarantee that the thing that SKA will be remembered for ... is going to be the thing you have not thought of. It's the unknown unknown."