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NASA

Curiosity's Mars Crater Was Once a Vast Lake 42

Posted by samzenpus
from the how's-the-fishing? dept.
astroengine writes The mountain that NASA's Mars rover Curiosity is exploring appears to have once been a lake, scientists said Monday. Mount Sharp, a three-mile-high mound of layered debris rising from the floor of Gale Crater, is believed to have formed billions of years ago, images posted on NASA's website ahead of conference call with reporters show. Sediments to create the mountain likely originated from the crater rim highlands and were transported toward the center of the crater in alluvial fans, deltas, and wind-blown drifts, scientists said. "During wet periods, water pooled in lakes where sediments settled out in the center of crater," NASA said. "Even during dry periods in the crater center, groundwater would have existed beneath the surface. Then, during the next wet period it would resurface to form the next lake. This alternation of lakes, rivers and deserts could have represented a long-lasting habitable environment."
Science

How One Man Changed the Ecology of the Great Lakes With Salmon 118

Posted by samzenpus
from the and-the-gorillas-will-eat-the-snakes dept.
An anonymous reader writes During the sixties the Great Lakes were facing an ecological disaster due to invasive species and over fishing. Biologist Howard Tanner's solution to the problem was to bring in another non-native species, the Pacific salmon. Fishing boomed for many years but with the recent salmon crash in Lake Huron many wonder if the salmon were a band-aid on a ecological wound that's too big to fix. From the article: "Tanner's goal wasn't to just alter the species composition of the lakes; he wanted to change the public's relationship with the lakes themselves. Beyond pier fishing for perch and smallmouth bass, fishing in the lakes primarily had been the domain of relatively few commercial fishing crews using big boats and nets to harvest lake trout, perch, whitefish and chubs for restaurants and stores. But because these commercially fished native species had been so destroyed by overfishing and the lamprey and alewife infestations, Tanner inherited something of a blank slate — almost like a freshly filled reservoir in the West. He had little interest in trying to repaint the same old picture, but wanted instead to turn the waters over to large numbers of sportsmen who fished as much for thrill as fillet."
Twitter

Cultural Fault Lines Determine How New Words Spread On Twitter 46

Posted by samzenpus
from the know-what-I'm-saying? dept.
KentuckyFC writes The global popularity of Twitter allows new words and usages to spread rapidly around the world. And that has raised an interesting question for linguists: is language converging into a global "netspeak" that everyone will end up speaking? Now a new study of linguistic patterns on Twitter gives a definitive answer. By looking at neologisms in geo-located tweets, computational linguists have been able to study exactly how new words spread in time and space. It turns out that some neologisms spread like wildfire while others are used only in areas limited by geography and demography, just like ordinary dialects. For example, the word "ard", a shortened version of "alright" cropped up in Philadelphia several years ago but even now is rarely used elsewhere. The difference in the way new words spread is the result of the geographic and demographic characteristics of the communities in which the words are used. The work shows that the evolution of language on Twitter is governed by the same cultural fault lines as ordinary communication. So we're safe from a global "netspeak" for now.
The Almighty Buck

James Watson's Nobel Medal Sells For $4.1 Million 201

Posted by samzenpus
from the pay-up dept.
An anonymous reader writes Scientist James Watson, who has issues with women, Africans, and the scientific community, has became the only living Nobel laureate to sell his medal after it fetched over $4 million at auction. "Watson told Nature that his motivation for selling the medal is a chance for redemption. He plans to donate some of the proceeds to Cold Spring, where he still draws a $375,000 base salary as chancellor emeritus, and also to University College Cork in Ireland to help establish an institute dedicated to the mathematician George Boole. 'I'm 52% Irish,' Watson said by way of explanation."
NASA

Pluto-Bound Spacecraft Ends Hibernation To Start Mission 77

Posted by samzenpus
from the time-to-get-up dept.
An anonymous reader writes NASA's New Horizons spacecraft awoke from hibernation on Saturday and sent a radio confirmation that it had successfully turned itself back on one and a half hours later. The spacecraft has been traveling for nine years across the solar system towards its destination, Pluto. From the article: "In 2006, with New Horizons already on its way, Pluto was stripped of its title as the ninth planet in the solar system and became a dwarf planet, of which more than 1,000 have since been discovered in the Kuiper Belt. With New Horizons approaching Pluto's doorstep, scientists are eager for their first close-up look at this unexplored domain."
Science

45-Year Physics Mystery Shows a Path To Quantum Transistors 56

Posted by Soulskill
from the hiding-under-heisenberg dept.
New submitter cyberspittle sends this research report from the University of Michigan: An odd, iridescent material that's puzzled physicists for decades turns out to be an exotic state of matter that could open a new path to quantum computers and other next-generation electronics. ... The researchers provide the first direct evidence that samarium hexaboride, abbreviated SmB6, is a topological insulator (abstract). Topological insulators are, to physicists, an exciting class of solids that conduct electricity like a metal across their surface, but block the flow of current like rubber through their interior. They behave in this two-faced way despite that their chemical composition is the same throughout. ... This deeper understanding of samarium hexaboride raises the possibility that engineers might one day route the flow of electric current in quantum computers like they do on silicon in conventional electronics.
AI

A Common Logic To Seeing Cats and the Cosmos 45

Posted by Soulskill
from the learning-to-teach-to-learn dept.
An anonymous reader sends this excerpt from Quanta Magazine: "Using the latest deep-learning protocols, computer models consisting of networks of artificial neurons are becoming increasingly adept at image, speech and pattern recognition — core technologies in robotic personal assistants, complex data analysis and self-driving cars. But for all their progress training computers to pick out salient features from other, irrelevant bits of data, researchers have never fully understood why the algorithms or biological learning work.

Now, two physicists have shown that one form of deep learning works exactly like one of the most important and ubiquitous mathematical techniques in physics, a procedure for calculating the large-scale behavior of physical systems such as elementary particles, fluids and the cosmos. The new work, completed by Pankaj Mehta of Boston University and David Schwab of Northwestern University, demonstrates that a statistical technique called "renormalization," which allows physicists to accurately describe systems without knowing the exact state of all their component parts, also enables the artificial neural networks to categorize data as, say, "a cat" regardless of its color, size or posture in a given video.

"They actually wrote down on paper, with exact proofs, something that people only dreamed existed," said Ilya Nemenman, a biophysicist at Emory University.
Government

NSF Accused of Misuse of Funds In Giant Ecological Project 116

Posted by Soulskill
from the $15000-for-porpoise-sweaters dept.
An anonymous reader writes: The National Science Foundation (NSF) and a contractor have been accused by both an audit and by Congress of a significant misuse of funds in a major ecological monitoring project costing almost a half a billion dollars. From the article: "With a construction budget of $433.7 million, NEON is planned to consist of 106 sites across the United States. Arrays of sensors at each site will monitor climate change and human impacts for 30 years, building an unprecedented continental-scale data set. Although some initially doubted its merits, the allure of big-data ecology eventually won over most scientists.

But a 2011 audit of the project's proposed construction budget stalled three times when, according to the independent Defense Contract Audit Agency, NEON's accounting proved so poor that the review could not be completed. Eventually, DCAA issued an adverse ruling, concluding that nearly 36% of NEON's budget proposal was questionable or undocumented.

When the NSF green-lit the project, the agency's inspector-general ordered the audit released on 24 November, which found unallowable expenses including a $25,000 winter holiday party, $11,000 to provide coffee for employees, $3,000 for board-of-directors dinners that included alcohol, $3,000 for t-shirts and other clothes, $83,000 for "business development" and $112,000 for lobbying."
Space

Comet Dust Found In Antarctica 17

Posted by Soulskill
from the maybe-someday-we'll-discover-philae-dust dept.
sciencehabit writes: Researchers have discovered comet dust preserved in the ice and snow of Antarctica, the first time such particles have been found on Earth's surface (abstract). The discovery unlocks a promising new source of this material. The oldest astronomical particles available for study, comet dust can offer clues about how our solar system formed.
Mars

Orion Capsule Safely Recovered, Complete With 12-Year-Old Computer Guts 197

Posted by timothy
from the why-that's-barely-a-dozen dept.
Lucas123 writes While NASA's Orion spacecraft, which blasted off on a successful test flight today, may be preparing for a first-of-its-kind mission to carry astronauts to Mars and other deep-space missions, the technology inside of it is no where near leading edge. In fact, its computers and its processors are 12 years old — making them ancient in tech years. The spacecraft, according to one NASA engineer, is built to be rugged and reliable in the face of G forces, massive amounts of radiation and the other rigors of space."Compared to the [Intel] Core i5 in your laptop, it's much slower — much less powerful. It's probably not any faster than your smartphone," Matt Lemke, NASA's deputy manager for Orion's avionics, power and software team, told Computerworld. Lemke said the spacecraft was built to be rugged and reliable — not necessarily smart. That's why there are two flight computers. Orion's main computer was built by Honeywell as a flight computer originally for Boeing's 787 jet airliner. Not only was the launch itself successful, but the sensor-laden craft's splashdown was smooth ("bulls-eye," as NASA puts it), and NASA has now recovered the capsule. ABC News has some good photos, too.
Biotech

Nanotube Film Could Replace Defective Retinas 24

Posted by Soulskill
from the but-what-if-I-like-the-idea-of-lasers-in-my-eyes dept.
Zothecula writes: A promising new study (abstract) suggests that a wireless, light-sensitive, and flexible film could potentially form part of a prosthetic device to replace damaged or defective retinas. The film both absorbs light and stimulates neurons without being connected to any wires or external power sources, setting it apart from silicon-based devices used for the same purpose. It has so far been tested only on light-insensitive retinas from embryonic chicks, but the researchers hope to see the pioneering work soon reach real-world human application.
Biotech

Researchers Design DNA With New Shapes and Structures 47

Posted by Soulskill
from the nanoscale-body-mods dept.
Jason Koebler writes: The shape of DNA is a double helix, right? That's what we are taught. Well, now the answer is "not always." Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology have discovered how to program DNA to be shaped like a bowl, or a spiral, or a ring, or other shapes that aren't found in nature.

It's the latest in a string of discoveries about the underlying structure of life and the building blocks by which it's made. Recently, scientists created new nucleotides that do not exist in nature and inserted them into a living organism. And now, this: DNA can look like just about anything and can be assembled into many shapes.
NASA

NASA's Orion Capsule Reaches Orbit 140

Posted by Soulskill
from the well-done-folks dept.
PaisteUser sends word that NASA's Orion capsule successfully reached orbit this morning after a flawless launch atop a Delta IV Heavy rocket. Video of the launch is available on YouTube, and the Orion Mission blog has frequent updates as mission milestones are reached. Mission managers said the rocket and capsule performed perfectly during the initial phases of the test. "It was just a blast to see how well the rocket did," said Mark Geyer, NASA's Orion program manager. After Orion makes its first circuit around the planet, the rocket's upper stage will kick it into a second, highly eccentric orbit that loops as far as 3,600 miles from Earth. Then Orion will come screaming back into Earth's atmosphere at a speed of 20,000 mph — 80 percent of the velocity that a spacecraft returning from the moon would experience. This particular Orion is missing a lot of the components that would be needed for a crewed flight, and it won't be carrying humans. Instead, it's outfitted with more than 1,200 sensors to monitor how its communication and control systems deal with heightened radiation levels, how its heat shield handles re-entry temperatures that are expected to rise as high as 4,000 degrees Fahrenheit, and how its parachutes slow the craft down for a splashdown in the Pacific Ocean.
Medicine

New Virus Means Deadlier Flu Season Is Possible 163

Posted by samzenpus
from the bad-flu-rising dept.
HughPickens.com writes Donald McNeil writes in the NYT that this year's flu season may be deadlier than usual because this year's flu vaccine is a relatively poor match to a new virus that is now circulating. "Flu is unpredictable, but what we've seen thus far is concerning," says Dr. Thomas R. Frieden. According to the CDC, five U.S. children have died from flu-related complications so far this season. Four of them were infected with influenza A viruses, including three cases of H3N2 infections. The new H3 subtype first appeared overseas in March but because it was not found in many samples in the United States until September, it is now too late to change the vaccine. Because of the increased danger from the H3 strain — and because B influenza strains can also cause serious illness — the CDC recommends that patients with asthma, diabetes or lung or heart problems see a doctor at the first sign of a possible flu, and that doctors quickly prescribe antivirals like Tamiflu or Relenza. "H3N2 viruses tend to be associated with more severe seasons," says Frieden. "The rate of hospitalization and death can be twice as high or more in flu seasons when H3 doesn't predominate."
Space

How Astronomers Will Take the "Image of the Century": a Black Hole 129

Posted by samzenpus
from the use-your-flash dept.
An anonymous reader writes with news that scientists may be close to getting the first image of a black hole. "Researchers studying the universe are ramping up to take the image of the century — the first ever image of a supermassive black hole. While the evidence for the existence of black holes is compelling, Scientists will continue to argue the contrary until physical, observational evidence is provided. Now, a dedicated team of astrophysicists armed with a global fleet of powerful telescopes is out to change that. If they succeed, they will snap the first ever picture of the monstrously massive black hole thought to live at the center of our home galaxy, the Milky Way. This ambitious project, called the Event Horizon Telescope (EHT), is incredibly tricky, but recent advances in their research are encouraging the team to push forward, now. The reason EHT needs to be so complex is because black holes, by nature, do not emit light and are, therefore, invisible. In fact, black holes survive by gobbling up light and any other matter — nearby dust, gas, and stars — that fall into their powerful clutches. The EHT team is going to zoom in on a miniscule spot on the sky toward the center of the Milky Way where they believe to be the event horizon of a supermassive black hole weighing in at 4 million times more massive than our sun. We can still see the material, however, right before it falls into eternal darkness. The EHT team is going to try and glimpse this ring of radiation that outlines the event horizon. Experts call this outline the "shadow" of a black hole, and it's this shadow that the EHT team is ultimately after to prove the existence of black holes."
Earth

The Ancestor of Humans Was an "Artist" 500,000 Years Ago 59

Posted by samzenpus
from the original-doodler dept.
brindafella writes Our ancient ancestor, Homo erectus, around 500,000 years ago, has been shown to make doodles or patterns. So, it seems that we Homo sapiens have come from a thoughtful lineage. The zig-zag markings cut into the covering of a fossil freshwater shell were from a deposit in the main bone layer of Trinil (Java, Indonesia), the place where Homo erectus was discovered by Eugène Dubois in 1891, says Dr Stephen Munro, a palaeoanthropologist with the Australian National University. The team's testing shows the erectus doodling was from 0.54 million years to a minimum of 0.43 million years ago. This pushes back the thoughtful making of marks by hundreds of thousands of years. The thoughtful gathering of shellfish and their nutrients also points to possible explanations for the evolving of bigger brains.
Government

FTC: Online Billing Service Deceptively Collected Medical Records 25

Posted by samzenpus
from the tell-us-everything dept.
itwbennett writes The FTC has reached a proposed settlement with PaymentsMD, an Atlanta health billing company that used the sign-up process for its billing service to surreptitiously seek customers' consent to obtain detailed medical information. The medical information PaymentsMD requested included customers' prescriptions, procedures, medical diagnoses, lab tests performed and their results, and other information, the FTC said. The bright spot in all this: In all but one case, the health care providers contacted for data refused to comply with PaymentsMD's requests.
Science

Electric Eel Shocks Like a Taser 29

Posted by samzenpus
from the reach-out-and-zap-you dept.
Science_afficionado writes After a nine month study, a Vanderbilt biologist has determined that the electric eel emits series of millisecond, high-voltage pulses to paralyze its prey just before it attacks. The high-voltage pulses cause the motor neurons in its target to violently contract, leaving it temporarily immobilized in the same fashion as the high-voltage pulses produced by a Taser. He documented this effect using high-speed video. The eel, which is nocturnal and has very poor eyesight, also uses closely spaced pairs of high-voltage pulses when hunting for hidden prey. He determined that the pulses cause the prey's body to twitch which produces water movements that the eel uses to locate its position even when it's hidden from view.
Earth

Ocean-Going Robot Fleet Completes Fish Tracking Mission 10

Posted by samzenpus
from the follow-that-fich dept.
Hallie Siegel writes The second phase of an ambitious project to gather valuable information on ocean processes and marine life using a fleet of innovative marine robots has just reached its conclusion. Co-ordinated by the National Oceanography Centre (NOC), the Exploring Ocean Fronts project took place off southwest England and saw the largest deployment of robotic vehicles ever attempted in UK water. The marine robot patrols successfully located tagged fish and tracked the movements of individual fish over several days by re-locating them.

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