cylonlover writes "Exploring the regions of deep space beyond Mars means sending probes where solar power isn't practical. Since the 1960s, NASA has equipped its Apollo missions and unmanned explorers with Radioisotope Thermal Generators (RTGs). These have worked very well, but they run on plutonium 238, which is currently in short supply. Therefore, the Los Alamos National Laboratory is developing a new small nuclear reactor for spacecraft that uses uranium instead of plutonium to power Stirling engines and generate electricity. At the Nevada National Security Site's Device Assembly Facility near Las Vegas, engineers from Los Alamos, the NASA Glenn Research Center and National Security Technologies LLC conducted a Demonstration Using Flattop Fissions (DUFF) experiment that produced 24 watts of electricity using a pair of free-piston Stirling engines."
Catch up on stories from the past week (and beyond) at the Slashdot story archive
dsinc writes "Last week Curiosity was able to use its SAM (Sample Analysis at Mars) device to confirm the discovery. A robotic arm with a complex system of Spectral Analysis devices was able to vaporize and identify gasses from the sample, concluding that it is in fact plastic. How plastic formed or ended up on the Martian surface is quite an exciting mystery that sparks many questions. The type of plastic sampled as we know so far can only be formed using petrochemicals, meaning not only that there could possibly be a source of oil on the Red Planet, but that somehow it got turned into plastic. Even more interesting is that oil or petrochemicals used to create this type of plastic are only known to come from ancient fossilized organic materials, such as zooplankton and algae, which geochemical processes convert into oil pointing to the earthshaking evidence that there was once life on mars. 'Right now we have multiple working hypotheses, and each hypothesis makes certain predictions about things like what the spherules are made of and how they are distributed,' said Curiosity's principal investigator, Steve Squyres, of Cornell University. 'Our job as we explore Matijevic Hill in the months ahead will be to make the observations that will let us test all the hypotheses carefully, and find the one that best fits the observations.'" Update: Yes, it's a hoax
First time accepted submitter novakom writes "Apparently during the cold war, one fall-back position the U.S. was looking at to ensure mutual assured destruction was to put nukes on the moon. This would ensure that the U.S. could retaliate against even an effective first strike by the Russians. The first step, of course, would be to detonate a nuke on the moon. And yes, Carl Sagan was on the team (and apparently leaked the info!)"
The Bad Astronomer writes "Just in time for the holiday season, the NASA space probe MESSENGER appears to have all but confirmed the existence of ice at Mercury's north pole. Ice has long been suspected to be hiding in permanently shadowed areas in deep craters at the planet's pole, but new data show several converging lines of evidence (thermal and visible light mapping, radar, neutron emission) that as much as a trillion tons of ice may be buried just centimeters deep under the surface. Scientists also see evidence of organic (carbon-based) molecules as well. That's not life, but it's more of an indication that volatile compounds can exist on the solar system's innermost planet." Further, astroengine writes "New results from the MESSENGER spacecraft not only confirm that the planet closest to the sun has ice inside shaded craters near the north pole, but that a thin layer of very dark organic material seems to be covering a good part of the frozen water. Both likely arrived via comets or asteroids millions — or hundreds of millions — of years ago."
cryptoz writes "Cumulonimbus has released a new version of their open source, global barometer network. The network is built around an Android app called pressureNET which uses barometric sensors in new phones (such as the Nexus 4, Galaxy Nexus, Galaxy S3, Note, and others) in order to build the comprehensive network. They plan to use the data to improve short-term weather prediction, and the gives a teaser of the new data visualization tool they are building."
RocketAcademy writes "NASA has canceled funding for the Nano-Satellite Launch Challenge, a $2-million prize competition that was intended to promote development of a low-cost dedicated launch system for CubeSats and other small satellites. The cancellation is a setback for small satellite developers, many of whom have satellites sitting on the shelf waiting for a launch, and the emerging commercial launch industry. The Nano-Satellite Launch Challenge was being run by NASA and Space Florida as part of NASA's troubled Centennial Challenges program. The sudden cancellation of the Launch Challenge, before the competition even began, is calling NASA's commitment to Centennial Challenges into doubt."
MarkWhittington writes "It has been a truism among space planners that future space settlers will have to build things on other worlds out of as much local materials as possible, saving the cost of transporting things from Earth to the moon or Mars. Two professors at the School of Mechanical and Materials Engineering at Washington State University have taken a step forward toward developing that technology using laser enabled 3D printing using simulated moon rocks to create simple objects."
concealment writes "Coleman, an anthropologist who teaches at McGill University, spent three years studying the community that builds the Debian GNU/Linux open source operating system and hackers in the Bay Area. More recently, she's been peeling away the onion that is the Anonymous movement, a group that hacks as a means of protest — and mischief. When she moved to San Francisco, she volunteered with the Electronic Frontier Foundation — she believed, correctly, that having an eff.org address would make people more willing to talk to her — and started making the scene. She talked free software over Chinese food at the Bay Area Linux User Group's monthly meetings upstairs at San Francisco's Four Seas Restaurant. She marched with geeks demanding the release of Adobe eBooks hacker Dmitry Sklyarov. She learned the culture inside-out."
MrSeb writes "Engineers at Caltech and the University of Victoria in Canada have smashed their own internet speed records, achieving a memory-to-memory transfer rate of 339 gigabits per second (53GB/s), 187Gbps (29GB/s) over a single duplex 100-gigabit connection, and a max disk-to-disk transfer speed of 96Gbps (15GB/s). At a sustained rate of 339Gbps, such a network could transfer four million gigabytes (4PB) of data per day — or around 200,000 Blu-ray movie rips. These speed records are all very impressive, but what's the point? Put simply, the scientific world deals with vasts amount of data — and that data needs to be moved around the world quickly. The most obvious example of this is CERN's Large Hadron Collider; in the past year, the high-speed academic networks connecting CERN to the outside world have transferred more than 100 petabytes of data. It is because of these networks that we can discover new particles, such as the Higgs boson. In essence, Caltech and the University of Victoria have taken it upon themselves to ride the bleeding edge of high-speed networks so that science can continue to prosper."
Lasrick writes "Fred Guterl is the executive editor of Scientific American, and in this piece he explores various threats posed by the technology that modern civilization relies on. He discusses West African and Indian monsoons, infectious diseases, and computer hacking. Here's a quote: 'Today the technologies that pose some of the biggest problems are not so much military as commercial. They come from biology, energy production, and the information sciences — and are the very technologies that have fueled our prodigious growth as a species. They are far more seductive than nuclear weapons, and more difficult to extricate ourselves from. The technologies we worry about today form the basis of our global civilization and are essential to our survival.'"
An anonymous reader writes "Lamar Smith, a global warming skeptic, will become the new chairman of the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology. Someone who disagrees with the vast majority of scientists will be given partial jurisdiction over NASA, EPA, DOE, NSF, NOAA, and the USGS. When will candidates who are actually qualified to represent science or at a minimum show an interest in it be the representatives of science with regard to political decision-making?"
An anonymous reader writes "The BBC reports that the SABRE hybrid (part air-breathing jet, part rocket) that is intended to power the Skylon single-stage-to-orbit space plane has passed its final technical demonstration test, and is now looking for money (only £250m!) to prepare for manufacturing. If this goes ahead, travel into orbit from local airports (ideally, those close to the equator) will be possible. And quite cheaply. But might it have the same legal difficulties flying from U.S. airports as the Concorde did?"
An anonymous reader writes with this AP report: "Workers have raised the first section of a colossal arch-shaped structure that eventually will cover the exploded nuclear reactor at the Chernobyl power station. Project officials on Tuesday hailed the raising as a significant step in a complex effort to clean up the consequences of the 1986 explosion, the world's worst nuclear accident. Upon completion, the shelter will be moved on tracks over the building containing the destroyed reactor, allowing work to begin on dismantling the reactor and disposing of radioactive waste.'"
New submitter zenyu writes "IPCC's 2mm per year estimate for sea level rise at current CO2 levels has proven too optimistic. Sea levels have been rising 3.2mm per year in the last two decades. The IPCC's 50 cm — 100 cm projection for the next century may prove equally optimistic."
sighted writes "Today the robotic spacecraft Cassini returned some jaw-dropping images of the odd hexagon in the planet's north polar region. The hexagon has been seen before, but the change of season has more fully revealed the feature in visible light. Cassini also zoomed in on the churning vortex at the north pole itself. The south pole features a similar maelstrom."
An anonymous reader writes "The first large scientific study of how people respond to poor video quality on the Internet paints a picture of ever rising user expectations and the willingness to abandon ship if those expectations are not met (PDF). Some nuggets: 1) Some users are willing to wait for no more than 2 seconds for a video to start playing, with each additional second adding 6% to the abandonment rate. 2) Users with good broadband connectivity expect faster video load times and are even more impatient than ones on mobile devices. 3) Users who experience video freezing watch fewer minutes of the video than someone who does not experience freezing. If a video freezes for 1% of its total play time, 5% less of its total play time is watched, on average. 4) Users who experience failures when they try to play videos are less likely to return to the same website in the future. Big data was analyzed (260+ million minutes of video) and some cool new data analysis techniques used."
SchrodingerZ writes "Captain Scott Kelly, brother of former commander Mark Kelly, will embark on the United States' longest manned space mission, set for 2015. Kelly and Russian cosmonaut Mikhail Kornienko will spend an entire year on the orbiting International Space Station. The mission will be a first for NASA's space program, but it is far from the world record. The longest recorded time in space was the 438-day mission of Russia's Valery Polyakov, working on the Mir Space Station, 1994-1995. Kelly, a decorated Navy captain, received degrees from State University of New York Maritime College and the University of Tennessee, and was the flight engineer for space station expedition 25, and commander of expedition 26 in 2010. 'Kornienko hails from Russia's Syzran, Kuibyshev, region and has worked in the space industry since 1986.' The yearlong study on humans working in space will launch from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, spring 2015."
Covalent writes "The Large Hadron Collider, the world's largest and most powerful particle accelerator and the 'Big Bang machine' that was used to discover what appears to be the long-sought Higgs boson particle (as announced July 4), may have another surprise up its sleeve this year: The LHC looks to have produced a new type of matter, according to a new analysis of particle collision data by scientists at MIT and Rice University. The new type of matter, which has yet to be verified, is theorized to be one of two possible forms: Either 'color-glass condensate' — a flattened nucleus transformed into a 'wall' of gluons, which are smaller binding subatomic particles, or it could be 'quark-gluon plasma,' a dense, soup or liquid-like collection of individual particles."
astroengine writes "NASA has begun surveying scientists on what they would like to do with two Hubble-class space telescopes donated to the civilian space agency by its secretive sibling, the National Reconnaissance Office — which operates the nation's spy satellites. But the gifts have some formidable strings attached, including costs to develop instruments and launch the observatories. The telescopes, though declassified, also are subject to export regulations. 'We need to retain possession and control,' NASA's astrophysics division director Paul Hertz told Discovery News. 'That doesn't preclude us from partnering (with other countries). It just sets boundaries on the nature of the partnership.' NASA also isn't allowed to use the telescopes for any Earth-observing missions. Topping the list of possible missions for the donor hardware is a remake of NASA's planned Wide-Field Infrared Survey Telescope, known as WFIRST. The mission, estimated to cost between $1.5 billion and $2 billion, is intended to answer questions about dark energy, a relatively recently discovered phenomenon that is believed to be speeding up the universe's rate of expansion."
alphadogg writes "Dr. Joseph E. Murray, the Nobel laureate who conducted the world's first successful organ transplant, died Monday at the Boston hospital where the pioneering surgery was performed. He was 93. On Dec. 23, 1954, in Operating Room 2 of the Peter Bent Brigham Hospital in Boston, Dr. Murray took the healthy kidney of Ronald Herrick and sutured it into the donor's dying identical twin, Richard. With that 5½-hour operation, Dr. Murray and his team saved a life, sparked an ethical debate that still echoes today, and opened medicine to a new frontier. Murray, who focused on plastic and reconstructive surgery for most of his career, was recognized with the Nobel Prize in Medicine in 1990."