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Earth

Big-Data Animal Tracking As an Eye On Life and Planet 28 28

New submitter Thoe writes: As published in Science Magazine and covered by The Washington Post, the continued evolution of animal tracking through various technologies combined with Big Data analytical techniques is driving a push into the "Golden Age" of remote tracking of animals and the environment.

From the abstract: "The unique perspective offered by big-data animal tracking enables a new view of animals as naturally evolved sensors of environment, which we think has the potential to help us monitor the planet in completely new ways. A massive multi-individual monitoring program would allow a quorum sensing of our planet, using a variety of species to tap into the diversity of senses that have evolved across animal groups, providing new insight on our world through the sixth sense of the global animal collective." (Full disclosure, yes, my brother is one of the publishers.)
Programming

Ask Slashdot: What's the Harm In a Default Setting For Div By Zero? 1067 1067

New submitter CodeInspired writes: After 20 years of programming, I've decided I'm tired of checking for div by zero. Would there be any serious harm in allowing a system wide setting that said div by zero simply equals zero? Maybe it exists already, not sure. But I run into it all the time in every language I've worked with. Does anyone want their div by zero errors to result in anything other than zero?
Moon

Russian Official Calls For "International Investigation" of the Apollo Program 307 307

MarkWhittington writes: According to a Tuesday article in the Moscow Times, a spokesman for Russia's Investigative Committee named Vladimir Markin suggested that an international investigation be mounted into some of the "various murky details surrounding the U.S. moon landings between 1969 and 1972." Markin would particularly like to know where some of the missing moon rocks went to and why the original footage of the Apollo 11 moon landing was erased. Markin hastened to add that he is, of course, not suggesting that NASA faked the moon landings and just filmed the events in a studio.
Space

Should Nuclear Devices Be Kept On Hand To Protect Against Near Earth Objects? 272 272

Lasrick writes: Seth Baum ponders whether nuclear devices should be kept on hand for the purpose of destroying near-Earth objects (NEOs) that pose a threat to the planet. Baum acknowledges that "The risk posed by NEOs is not zero, but it is small relative to the risk posed by nuclear weapons." Even so, Baum writes, since the consequences of an NEO hitting the earth would be catastrophic, keeping 10 or 20 nuclear devices available might be a good idea, and would be "insignificant compared to the thousands now held in military arsenals."
Power

Energy Harnessed From Humidity Can Power Small Devices 41 41

sciencehabit writes: Scientists have built small devices that generate electricity by harnessing changes in the ambient humidity. This is done through the use of dormant bacterial spores which expand when they absorb moisture from the air. To prove the concept, researchers attached the spores to one side of a curved polymer sheet, and when the spores absorbed humidity from the air, the sheet straightened out. Coupling this movement with an electromagnetic generator allowed them to harvest enough energy to power small devices like an LED and a 100-gram toy car.
United States

FDA Bans Trans Fat 851 851

An anonymous reader writes: The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has finally come to a conclusion about artificial trans fat: it must be removed from the U.S. food supply over the next three years. According to their final determination (PDF), there's no longer a scientific consensus that partially hydrogenated oils are safe to consume. Trans fat must be gone from food in the U.S. by June, 2018, unless a petitioner is granted specific approval by the FDA to continue using it. "Many baked goods such as pie crusts and biscuits as well as canned frosting still use partially hydrogenated oils because they help baked goods maintain their flakiness and frostings be spreadable. As for frying, palm oil is expected to be a go-to alternative, while modified soybean oil may catch on as well." The food industry is expected to spend $6.2 billion over the next two decades to formulate replacements, but the money saved from health benefits is expected to be more than 20 times higher.
Stats

CDC: Americans Getting Heavier, Average Woman Weighs As Much As 1960s Man 409 409

schwit1 writes: New statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show that the average American has packed on the pounds in the past 50 years. Both men and women have gained a considerable amount of weight since 1960, with the average American woman now weighing 166.2 pounds — nearly identical to what American men weighed in the 1960s. U.S. men have been getting bigger too, gaining nearly 30 pounds from the 1960s to 2010 — 166.3 pounds to 195.5 pounds today. The good news is that both sexes have gained almost an inch in height since then, so that accounts for some of the overall weight gain.
Communications

Philae's Lost Seven Months Were Completely Unnecessary 419 419

StartsWithABang writes: This past weekend, the Philae lander reawakened after seven dormant months, the best outcome that mission scientists could've hoped for with the way the mission unfolded. But the first probe to softly land on a comet ever would never have needed to hibernate at all if we had simply built it with the nuclear power capabilities it should've had. The seven months of lost data were completely unnecessary, and resulted solely from the world's nuclear fears.
Space

'Warm Neptune' Exoplanets May Have Lots of Helium 20 20

An anonymous reader writes: Phil Plait reports on new research into exoplanets that came to an unexpected and non-obvious conclusion. Throughout the galaxy, astronomers have been finding exoplanets they call "warm Neptunes" — bodies about the size of Neptune, but which orbit their parent star more closely than Mercury orbits the Sun. When astronomers looked at spectra for these planets, they found something surprising: no methane signature (PDF). Methane is made of carbon and hydrogen, and it's generally assumed that most large, gaseous planets will have a lot of hydrogen. But this class of exoplanet, being significantly smaller than, say, Jupiter, may not have the mass (and thus the gravity) to hold on to its hydrogen when it's heated by the close proximity to the star. The result is that the atmosphere may be largely made up of helium instead. If so, the planet would look oddly colorless to our eyes, very unlike the planets in our solar system.
Medicine

Monitoring Brain Activity With Mesh Electronics 31 31

An anonymous reader writes: Medical researchers have long known that bioelectronics could substantially improve patient diagnosis and treatment, but the difficulty in putting that circuitry into place kept more traditional options at the forefront. Now, a team of scientists has found a clever way to deliver flexible electronic meshes via syringe, which could make it easier to monitor complex brain activity without dangerous surgery. "The scientists demonstrated they could inject a 2mm wide sample of the mesh through a glass needle with an inner diameter of only 95m. During injection, the mesh structure continuously unfolds as it exits the needle. Injection of the mesh through a needle with a 600m inner diameter produced similar results." The team has already tested the technique on rodents, and found minimal response from astrocytes, cells involved in repairing damaged brain tissue. They were able to record the rodents's brain activity as well.
Mars

A First: CubeSat-Style Probes To Accompany InSight Mars Lander 22 22

Hundreds of CubeSats have been launched to Earth orbit since 2003. Now, though, two of the small-form-factor craft are set for a deeper space mission. According to Spaceflight Now, The twin CubeSat mission, known as Mars Cube One, will launch on an Atlas 5 rocket in March 2016 with NASA’s InSight lander. The CubeSats will relay status signals from InSight as the landing probe descends through the atmosphere, eliminating potential delays in verifying the success of the mission. ... Each Mars Cube One, or MarCO, CubeSat spacecraft measures 14.4 inches (36.6 centimeters) by 9.5 inches (24.3 centimeters) by 4.6 inches (11.8 centimeters) when closed up for launch, according to the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, which announced details of the mission Friday. The standardized and small CubeSat has made satellite design and launching accessible to schools and others; going to Mars costs a lot more (in this case it's a "$13 million secondary mission"), but it could conceivably put interplanetary probes possible for deep-pocketed universities or corporations.
Handhelds

UW Researchers Prototype Sonar-Based Contactless Sleep Monitoring 40 40

n01 writes: Researchers of the University of Washington are testing the prototype of their ApneaApp to diagnose sleep apnea, a health problem that can become life-threatening. To monitor a person's sleep, the app transforms the user's smartphone into an active sonar system that tracks tiny changes in a person's movements. The phone's speaker sends out inaudible sound waves, which bounce off a sleeping person's body and are picked back up by the phone's microphone. "It's similar to the way bats navigate," said Rajalakshmi Nandakumar, lead author and a doctoral candidate in the UW's department of computer science and engineering. "They send out sound signals that hit a target, and when those signals bounce back they know something is there." In technical terms, the app continuously analyzes changes in the acoustic room-transfer-function (sampled at ultrasonic frequencies) to detect motion. This is very similar to what the iPhone app Sleep Cycle Sonalarm Clock does, except that the UW researchers have improved the sensitivity of the method so it can precisely track the person's breathing movements which allows it to not only detect different sleep phases but also sleep apnea events. The advantage in both use cases is that the sleep monitoring is contact-less (there's nothing in the user's bed that could disturb their sleep) and doesn't require any additional hardware besides the user's smart phone.
Communications

Online At Last: Comet Lander Philae Wakes Up 62 62

techtech writes with this news from the BBC: The European Space Agency (ESA) says its comet lander, Philae, has woken up and contacted Earth. Philae, the first spacecraft to land on a comet, was dropped on to the surface of Comet 67P by its mothership, Rosetta, last November. It worked for 60 hours before its solar-powered battery ran flat. The comet has since moved nearer to the sun and Philae has enough power to work again, says the BBC's science correspondent Jonathan Amos. An account linked to the probe tweeted the message, "Hello Earth! Can you hear me?" Watch this space for some more links to follow. Update: 06/14 13:39 GMT by T : From the ESA's Rosetta blog: When analysing the status data it became clear that Philae also must have been awake earlier: "We have also received historical data - so far, however, the lander had not been able to contact us earlier," [according to project manager Dr. Stephan Ulamec.] Now the scientists are waiting for the next contact. There are still more than 8000 data packets in Philae’s mass memory which will give the DLR team information on what happened to the lander in the past few days on Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko.
Space

ESA Still Searching For Philae; May Have Zeroed In On a Possible Location 21 21

hypnosec writes with the news that the European Space Agency may have located the agency's Philae lander. The official Rosetta blog says Fortunately, it was possible to narrow down the lander’s final location by using the radio signals sent between Philae and Rosetta as part of the CONSERT experiment after the final touchdown. Combining data on the signal travel time between the two spacecraft with the known trajectory of Rosetta and the current best shape model for the comet, the CONSERT team have been able to establish the location of Philae to within an ellipse roughly 16 x 160 metres in size, just outside the rim of the Hatmehit depression. That means just a few candidates for Philae's current location, based on imaging performed by Rosetta's OSIRIS camera.
Space

Past a Certain Critical Temperature, the Universe Will Be Destroyed 143 143

StartsWithABang writes: If you take all the kinetic motion out of a system, and have all the particles that make it up perfectly at rest, somehow even overcoming intrinsic quantum effects, you'd reach absolute zero, the theoretically lowest temperature of all. But what about the other direction? Is there a limit to how hot something can theoretically get? You might think not, that while things like molecules, atoms, protons and even matter will break down at high enough temperatures, you can always push your system hotter and hotter. But it turns out that the Universe limits what's actually possible, as any physical system will self-destruct beyond a certain point.
Space

75% of Russia's Satellite Electronics Come From US 127 127

schwit1 writes: One Russian aerospace industry expert noted today that three-quarters of all their satellite electronics comes from the United States: "According to [Nikolay Testoyedov], up to 75 percent of the electronic components for Russian satellites come from the US. Consequently, if it retaliates should Moscow refuse to sell RD-180 rocket motors to Washington — which Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin has threatened — Russia's satellite program would be frozen for at least two years. "The imported electronic components in our satellites represent 25 to 75 percent of the total in communications; in military ones, somewhat less; in commercial ones, more," Testoyedov says. Of these imported components, approximately 83-87 percent come from the United States thus giving Washington the whip hand." If we stop providing these electronics he estimates that after their present stock runs out in about a year it would take at least two years before Russia could replace these American-made parts. As the above linked article at The Interpreter mentions, this is relevant in part because of recent talks about U.S. sanctions which could affect this kind of commerce.
Space

Congress Decides To Delay US-Launched Astronauts, Keep Using Russian Services 173 173

New submitter surfdaddy writes: In order to protect the entrenched big aerospace companies, the Congress has increased NASA's budget for FY2016 but has cut funding for "commercial crew." Commercial crew is the funding used by SpaceX for the planned initial manned launches in the first half of 2017. With this cut, the launch of U.S. astronauts from U.S. soil using U.S. rockets will be delayed two years, and we will continue to send millions of dollars to Russia for launch services. "Senate appropriators suggested that NASA’s plans announced earlier this year to procure Soyuz seats for missions in 2018 indicated that the agency was not confident at even this early stage that the two companies with commercial crew contracts, Boeing and SpaceX, could remain on schedule to begin flights in 2017. ...
Math

Turning a Nail Polish Disaster Into a Teachable Math Moment 126 126

theodp writes: In The Spiral of Splatter, SAS's Rick Wicklin writes that his daughter's nail polish spill may have created quite a mess, but at least it presented a teachable math moment: "'Daddy, help! Help me! Come quick!' I heard my daughter's screams from the upstairs bathroom and bounded up the stairs two at a time. Was she hurt? Bleeding? Was the toilet overflowing? When I arrived in the doorway, she pointed at the wall and at the floor. The wall was splattered with black nail polish. On the floor laid a broken bottle in an expanding pool of black ooze. 'It slipped,' she sobbed. As a parent, I know that there are times when I should not raise my voice. I knew intellectually that this was one of those times. But staring at that wall, seeing what I was seeing, I could not prevent myself from yelling. 'Oh my goodness!' I exclaimed. 'Is that a logarithmic spiral?'" So, got any memorable teachable math moments you've experienced either as a kid or adult? Yes, Cheerios Math counts!
NASA

NASA Building Air Traffic Control System For Drones 38 38

An anonymous reader writes: Last week, The Guardian got its hands on documents indicating NASA would be working with Verizon to monitor civilian and commercial drones around the U.S. using phone network towers. Now, NASA has confirmed its plans for a drone traffic control system, saying that it wants to help "define" this new generation of aviation. They are testing ways of communicating with drones in flight, both for providing helpful information to drones and collecting information about them. For example, the ATC system could send real-time weather updates to the drones, and inform them of no-fly zones. It could also monitor a drone's battery life and compare its flight path to surrounding terrain. NASA has gathered over 100 organizations to contribute to this project, and they're looking for more. "One of the biggest challenges to integrating UAS into the national airspace beyond line of sight is developing a system that enables the aircraft to see and be seen by other aircraft." This is where the involvement of Verizon and other telecoms is important. NASA is holding a convention next month to develop the idea further.
Space

NASA Probe Reveals More Detail In Pluto's Complex Surface 66 66

astroengine writes: As NASA's New Horizons spacecraft careens through the solar system with Pluto in its cross-hairs, new detail in the dwarf planet's surface is popping into view at an ever increasing rate. Any images acquired from here on in are the most detailed images humanity has ever seen of Pluto and, a little over a month from its historic flyby, New Horizons is already giving us tantalizing glimpses of what appears to be a rich and complex little world. Take, for example, this most recent series of observations captured by the mission's Long Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI), which were taken from May 29 to June 2. There appears to be large variations in surface albedo (reflectiveness), possibly indicating there are huge regions of varying composition.