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Space

Kepler-186f: Most 'Earth-Like' Alien World Discovered 239

Posted by timothy
from the fire-up-the-speculation-device dept.
astroengine (1577233) writes "About 500 light-years away in the constellation Cygnus lives a star, which, though smaller and redder than the sun, has a planet that may look awfully familiar. With a diameter just 10 percent bigger than Earth's, the newly found world is the first of its size found basking in the benign temperature region around a parent star where water, if it exists, could pool in liquid form (abstract). Scientists on the hunt for Earth's twin are focused on worlds that could support liquid surface water, which may be necessary to brew the chemistry of life. "Kepler-186f is significant because it is the first exoplanet that is the same temperature and the same size (well, ALMOST!) as the Earth," David Charbonneau, with the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, wrote in an email to Discovery News. "Previously, the exoplanet most like Earth was Kepler-62f, but Kepler-186f is significantly smaller. Now we can point to a star and say, 'There lies an Earth-like planet.'""
Open Source

Apache OpenOffice Reaches 100 Million Downloads. Now What? 285

Posted by timothy
from the hundreds-of-millions-served dept.
We're thankfully long past the days when an emailed Word document was useless without a copy of Microsoft Word, and that's in large part thanks to the success of the OpenOffice family of word processors. "Family," because the OpenOffice name has been attached to several branches of a codebase that's gone through some serious evolution over the years, starting from its roots in closed-source StarOffice, acquired and open-sourced by Sun to become OpenOffice.org. The same software has led (via some hamfisted moves by Oracle after its acquisition of Sun) to the also-excellent LibreOffice. OpenOffice.org's direct descendant is Apache OpenOffice, and an anonymous reader writes with this excellent news from that project: "The Apache Software Foundation (ASF), the all-volunteer developers, stewards, and incubators of more than 170 Open Source projects and initiatives, announced today that Apache OpenOffice has been downloaded 100 million times. Over 100 million downloads, over 750 extensions, over 2,800 templates. But what does the community at Apache need to do to get the next 100 million?" If you want to play along, you can get the latest version of OpenOffice from SourceForge (Slashdot's corporate cousin). I wonder how many government offices -- the U.S. Federal government has long been Microsoft's biggest customer -- couldn't get along just fine with an open source word processor, even considering all the proprietary-format documents they're stuck with for now.
Moon

The Best Way To Watch the "Blood Moon" Tonight 146

Posted by samzenpus
from the good-omens dept.
An anonymous reader writes "People on the West Coast should be able to watch the beginning of the upcoming total lunar eclipse tonight at 10:20 pm. The entirety of the moon surface will be in Earth's shadow and start to glow red a couple hours later, a little after midnight. From the article: 'A lunar eclipse occurs when the sun, moon, and Earth align so that Earth's shadow falls across the moon's surface. Monday night's lunar eclipse is a total eclipse, which means Earth's shadow will cover the moon completely. The moon won't be blacked out by our planet's shadow. Instead, it will take on a reddish hue — anywhere from a bright copper to the brownish red of dried blood.'"
Medicine

Jenny McCarthy: "I Am Not Anti-Vaccine'" 588

Posted by samzenpus
from the won't-somebody-please-think-of-the-children? dept.
Hugh Pickens DOT Com (2995471) writes "Jenny McCarthy is claiming she has been misunderstood and is not anti-vaccine. In an op-ed in the Chicago Sun-Times, McCarthy tries to ignore everything she's been saying about vaccines for years and wipe the record clean. 'People have the misconception that we want to eliminate vaccines,' McCarthy told Time magazine science editor Jeffrey Kluger in 2009. 'Please understand that we are not an anti-vaccine group. We are demanding safe vaccines. We want to reduce the schedule and reduce the toxins.' But Kluger points out that McCarthy left the last line out of that quotation: 'If you ask a parent of an autistic child if they want the measles or the autism, we will stand in line for the f--king measles.' That missing line rather changes the tone of her position considerably, writes Phil Plait and is a difficult stance to square with someone who is not anti-vaccine. As Kluger points out, her entire premise is false; since vaccines don't cause autism, no one has to make the choice between measles (and other preventable, dangerous diseases) and autism. Something else McCarthy omitted from her interview with Kluger: 'I do believe sadly it's going to take some diseases coming back to realize that we need to change and develop vaccines that are safe,' said McCarthy. 'If the vaccine companies are not listening to us, it's their f*cking fault that the diseases are coming back. They're making a product that's sh*t. If you give us a safe vaccine, we'll use it. It shouldn't be polio versus autism.' Kluger finishes with this: 'Jenny, as outbreaks of measles, mumps and whooping cough continue to appear in the U.S.—most the result of parents refusing to vaccinate their children because of the scare stories passed around by anti-vaxxers like you—it's just too late to play cute with the things you've said.' For many years McCarthy has gone on and on and on and on and on and on about vaccines and autism. 'She can claim all she wants that she's not anti-vax,' concludes Plait, 'but her own words show her to be wrong.'"
The Almighty Buck

Can You Buy a License To Speed In California? 325

Posted by Soulskill
from the downside-is-that-you-have-to-be-in-california dept.
Hugh Pickens DOT Com writes: "Alex Mayyasi reports that in the parking lots of Silicon Valley's venture capital firms, expensive cars gleam in the California sun and a closer look reveals that the cars share a mysterious detail: they nearly all have a custom license plate frame that reads, 'Member. 11-99 Foundation.' Are the Bay Area's wealthy all part of some sort of illuminati group that identifies each other by license plate instead of secret handshakes? The answer is the state highway patrol — the men and women that most people interact with only when getting ticketed for speeding. A number of the frames read 'CHP 11-99 Foundation,' which is the full name of a charitable organization that supports California Highway Patrol officers and their families in times of crisis. Donors receive one license plate as part of a $2,500 'Classic' level donation, or two as part of a bronze, silver, or gold level donation of $5,000, $10,000, or $25,000. Rumor has it, according to Mayyasi, that the license plate frames come with a lucrative return on investment. As one member of a Mercedes-Benz owners community wrote online back in 2002: 'I have the ultimate speeding ticket solution. I paid $1800 for a lifetime membership into the 11-99 foundation. My only goal was to get the infamous 'get out of jail' free license plate frame.'

The 11-99 Foundation has sold license plate frames for most of its 32 year existence, and drivers have been aware of the potential benefits since at least the late 1990s. But attention to the issue in 2006-2008 led the foundation to stop giving out the frames. An article in the LA Times asked 'Can Drivers Buy CHP Leniency?' and began by describing a young man zipping around traffic — including a police cruiser — and telling the Times that he believed his 11-99 frames kept him from receiving a ticket. But the decision was almost irrelevant to another thriving market: the production and sale of fake 11-99 license plate frames. But wait — the CHP 11-99 Foundation also gives out membership cards to big donors. 'Unless you have the I.D. in hand when (not if) I stop you,' says one cop, 'no love will be shown.'"
Movies

Scientists/Actress Say They Were 'Tricked' Into Geocentric Universe Movie 642

Posted by samzenpus
from the I-never-heard-of-such-a-thing-and-even-if-I-did-I-don't-remember-when dept.
EwanPalmer (2536690) writes "Three scientists and Star Trek actress Kate Mulgrew say they were duped into appearing in a controversial documentary which claims the Earth is the center of the Universe. The Principle, a film which describes itself as 'destined to become one of the most controversial films of our time', argues the long-debunked theory of geocentrism – where the earth is the center of the Universe and the Sun resolves around it – is true and Nasa has tried to cover it up. The film features the narration of actress Mulgrew, who played the part of captain Kathryn Janeway in Star Trek Voyager, as well as three prominent scientists."
Space

Last Month's "Planet X" Announcement Was Probably Wrong 44

Posted by Unknown Lamer
from the science-ruins-everything dept.
KentuckyFC (1144503) writes "Last month, astronomers announced the discovery of the most distant body in the Solar System, a dwarf planet called 2012VP113. They also said this body's orbit was strangely aligned with several other dwarf planets in the Kuiper Belt and that this could be the result of these bodies being herded by a much larger Planet X even further from the Sun. They calculated that this hidden planet could be between 2 and 15 times the mass of the Earth and orbiting at a distance of between 200 AU and 300 AU, an announcement that triggered excited headlines around the world. Now it looks as though these predictions were wildly optimistic. It turns out that the position of Planet X can be constrained more tightly using orbital measurements of other planets. And when this data is added into the mix, Planet X can only only orbit at much greater distances, if it exists at all. The new calculations suggest that a planet twice the mass of Earth cannot orbit any closer than about 500 AU. And a planet 15 times the mass of Earth must be at least 1000 AU distant. What's more, the New Horizons mission currently on its way to Pluto, should constrain the distance to beyond 4700 AU. So any Planet X hunters out there are likely to be disappointed."
Space

NASA Laying Foundation For Jupiter Moon Space Mission 100

Posted by samzenpus
from the here-we-go dept.
coondoggie (973519) writes "NASA recently began laying out the groundwork for the technology it will need to fly an unmanned mission to Jupiter's intriguing moon Europa. Scientists say Europa — which orbits the planet Jupiter about 778 million km (484 million miles) from the Sun — could support life because it might have an ocean of liquid water under its miles-thick frozen crust. NASA said in December the Hubble Space Telescope observed water vapor above the frigid south polar region of Jupiter's moon Europa, providing the first strong evidence of water plumes erupting off the moon's surface."
Editorial

Algorithm Challenge: Burning Man Vehicle Exodus 273

Posted by Soulskill
from the in-the-name-of-efficiency dept.
Slashdot contributor Bennett Haselton writes: "A year ago, getting ready for Burning Man, I read that the cars in the exit line sometimes have to wait in the sun for hours to get out. I came up with an algorithm that I thought would alleviate the problem. Do you think it would work? If not, why not? Or can you think of a better one?" Read on for the rest of Bennett's thoughts.
Space

Small World Discovered Far Beyond Pluto 63

Posted by Soulskill
from the NSA-surveillance-probe-already-dispatched dept.
astroengine writes: "After a decade of searching, astronomers have found a second dwarf-like planet far beyond Pluto and its Kuiper Belt cousins, a presumed no-man's land that may turn out to be anything but. How Sedna, which was discovered in 2003, and its newly found neighbor, designated 2012 VP 2113 by the Minor Planet Center, came to settle in orbits so far from the sun is a mystery. Sedna comes no closer than about 76 times as far from the sun as Earth, or 76 astronomical units. The most distant leg of its 11,400-year orbit is about 1,000 astronomical units. Newly found VP 2113's closest approach to the sun is about 80 astronomical units and its greatest distance is 452 astronomical units (abstract). The small world is roughly 280 miles (450 kilometers) wide, less than half the estimated diameter of Sedna."
Space

Pluto Regains Its Title As Largest Object In Its Neighborhood 138

Posted by samzenpus
from the back-on-top dept.
sciencehabit writes "In 2005 astronomers discovered Pluto's biggest neighborhood rival: Eris, which they claimed definitely surpassed Pluto in size. Now, as astronomers report an analysis of methane gas in Pluto's atmosphere suggests that Pluto is about 2368 kilometers across, in which case it's larger than Eris and thus the champ of the Edgeworth-Kuiper belt, which boasts more than a thousand known objects revolving around the sun beyond Neptune's orbit."
Earth

Solar-Powered Toilet Torches Waste For Public Health 126

Posted by Soulskill
from the not-just-for-something-and-grins dept.
Daniel_Stuckey writes "With funding from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation's Reinvent the Toilet challenge, [a] team has developed a toilet that uses concentrated solar power to scorch and disinfect human waste, turning feces into a useful byproduct called biochar ... a sanitary charcoal material that is good for soils and agriculture. By converting solid waste to biochar (liquid waste is diverted elsewhere, as it's easier to deal with), the toilet thus allows for sanitary waste disposal without huge infrastructure investments. The toilet itself, called the Sol-Char, is a fascinating bit of engineering. In order to sanitize waste without the help of massive treatment facilities, Linden's team instead designed the toilet to scorch waste in a chamber heated by fiber optic cables that pipe in heat from solar collectors on the toilet's roof. 'A solar concentrator has all this light focused in on one centimeter. It'd be fine if we could bring everyone's fecal waste up to that one point, like burning it with a magnifying glass,' Linden said. 'But that's not practical, so we were thinking of other ways to concentrate that light.'"
Space

Monster Hypergiant Star Discovered 94

Posted by Soulskill
from the go-big-or-go-home dept.
astroengine writes "A gargantuan star, measuring 1,300 times the size of our sun, has been uncovered 12,000 light-years from Earth — it is one of the ten biggest stars known to exist in our galaxy. The yellow hypergiant even dwarfs the famous stellar heavyweight Betelgeuse by 50 percent. While its hulking mass may be impressive, astronomers have also realized that HR 5171 is a double star with a smaller stellar sibling physically touching the surface of the larger star as they orbit one another. 'The new observations also showed that this star has a very close binary partner, which was a real surprise,' said Olivier Chesneau, of the Observatoire de la Côte d'Azur in Nice, France. 'The two stars are so close that they touch and the whole system resembles a gigantic peanut.'"
NASA

NASA Offers Bounty For Improved Asteroid Detection Algorithms 38

Posted by Unknown Lamer
from the all-power-to-sensors dept.
Hugh Pickens DOT Com writes "Dara Kerr reports at CNET that NASA is launching an 'Asteroid Data Hunter' contest to inspire the creation of algorithms that identify asteroids in images captured by ground-based telescopes. ... The winning solution must increase the detection sensitivity, minimize the number of false positives, ignore imperfections in the data, and run effectively on all computer systems. 'Current asteroid detection initiatives are only tracking one percent of the estimated objects that orbit the Sun,' says Chris Lewicki. 'We are excited to partner with NASA in this contest to help increase the quantity and knowledge about asteroids that are potential threats, human destinations, or resource rich.' NASA's goal is to discover those unknown asteroids and then track and characterize them. For the contest, citizen scientists will be allowed to study images taken from ground-based telescopes to see if they can develop improved algorithms for identifying asteroids. If dangerous asteroids are found, NASA could determine if they'd be viable for a re-direction into a lunar orbit. 'For the past three years, NASA has been learning and advancing the ability to leverage distributed algorithm and coding skills through the NASA Tournament Lab to solve tough problems,' said Jason Crusan, NASA Tournament Lab director. 'We are now applying our experience with algorithm contests to helping protect the planet from asteroid threats through image analysis.'"
Transportation

Drones Used To Smuggle Drugs Into Prison 137

Posted by Unknown Lamer
from the prisons-upgraded-with-anti-drone-missles dept.
Daniel_Stuckey writes "Over the weekend, a 28-year-old man was arrested on suspicion of using a small quadcopter drone to smuggle an unknown quantity of illegal drugs into a prison in Melbourne, Australia. While it's certainly not the first time small-fry UAV technology has been used by a mid-level mule to airmail drugs into the clink, it does suggest a growing trend in the highest-tech of prison highs. Here, then, is a brief history of drone-assisted prison drug smuggling In November 2013, guards at Hull jail in Gatineau, Canada, spotted a small drone flying over the prison's walls [beware the autoplaying videos]. An exhaustive search of both Hull's grounds and the immediate vicinity turned up nothing by way of whatever contraband the drone might have been toting around.

Nevertheless, it didn't appear to be one-off incident 'This sort of thing happens often in prisons all across Quebec,' Stephane Lemaire, president of Quebec's correctional officers' union, told the Ottawa Sun. 'Usually the drones are carrying small packages of drugs or other illicit substances.' The problem, Lemaire added, is that 'the drone can be controlled from more than a kilometer away, and the [Hull] prison is surrounded by forest.'"
Power

How Engineers Are Building a Power Station At the South Pole 108

Posted by samzenpus
from the cold-work dept.
KentuckyFC writes "One of the more ambitious projects at the South Pole is the Askaryan Radio Array, a set of radio antennas under the ice that will listen for the tell tale signals of high energy neutrinos passing by. This array will eventually be over a thousand times bigger than the current largest neutrino detector: Icecube, which monitors a cubic kilometer of ice next door to the planned new observatory. But there's a problem. How do you supply 24/7 power to dozens of detectors spread over such a vast area in the middle of the Antarctic? The answer is renewable energy power stations that exploit the sun during the summer and the wind all year round. The first of these stations is now up and running at the South Pole and producing power. It is also helping to uncover and iron out the various problems that these stations are likely to encounter. For example; where to put the batteries needed to supply continuous power when all else fails. The team's current approach is to bury the battery to protect it from temperature extremes. That works well but makes maintenance so difficult that scaling this approach to dozens of power stations doesn't seem feasible. That's a problem for the future but for the moment, green power has finally come to the white continent."
Science

Dinosaurs Done In By... Dark Matter? 135

Posted by Unknown Lamer
from the mysterious-forces dept.
bmahersciwriter writes "Theoretical physicists propose that the Sun periodically crosses into a dense layer of dark matter sandwiching the Milky Way. The gravitational push and pull that this creates disturbs debris in the Oort cloud sending deadly comets and asteroids ricocheting around the solar system. This passage happens, their admittedly speculative model suggests, every 35 million years, which jibes somewhat with evidence on impact craters. Take it with a dino-sized grain of salt."
Space

Type Ia Supernovae As Not-Quite-So-Standard Cosmological Candles 33

Posted by Soulskill
from the exploding-suns dept.
Shag writes "Type Ia supernovae are used as cosmological 'standard candles' to measure distance because of their strong similarity to one another. This has made possible, for example, the research into universal expansion that led to the Nobel-winning discovery of 'dark energy.' For years, astrophysicists believed white dwarves exploded when they accreted enough mass from companion stars to reach a limit of 1.38 times the mass of our Sun. A decade ago, the 'Champagne supernova' (SN 2003fg) was so bright astrophysicists concluded the limit had been exceeded by two white dwarves colliding. Now a new paper (PDF) from the Nearby Supernova Factory collaboration suggests that type Ia supernovae occur at a wider range of stellar masses. Fortunately, there appears to be a calculable correlation between mass and light-curve width, so they can still fill the 'standard candle' role, and research based on them is probably still valid. (I took data for the paper, but am not an author.)"
Space

NASA Forgets How To Talk To ICE/ISEE-3 Spacecraft 166

Posted by Unknown Lamer
from the hackers-in-space-was-a-better-movie dept.
Hugh Pickens DOT Com writes "Randall Munroe's XKCD cartoon on the ICE/ISEE-3 spacecraft inspired me to do a little research on why Nasa can no long communicate with the International Cometary Explorer. Launched in 1978 ISEE-3 was the first spacecraft to be placed in a halo orbit at one of Earth-Sun Lagrangian points (L1). It was later (as ICE) sent to visit Comet Giacobini-Zinner and became the first spacecraft to do so by flying through a comet's tail passing the nucleus at a distance of approximately 7800 km. ICE has been in a heliocentric orbit since then, traveling just slightly faster than Earth and it's finally catching up to us from behind, and will return to Earth in August. According to Emily Lakdawalla, it's still functioning, broadcasting a carrier signal that the Deep Space Network successfully detected in 2008 and twelve of its 13 instruments were working when we last checked on its condition, sometime prior to 1999.

Can we tell the spacecraft to turn back on its thrusters and science instruments after decades of silence and perform the intricate ballet needed to send it back to where it can again monitor the Sun? Unfortunately the answer to that question appears to be no. 'The transmitters of the Deep Space Network, the hardware to send signals out to the fleet of NASA spacecraft in deep space, no longer includes the equipment needed to talk to ISEE-3. These old-fashioned transmitters were removed in 1999.' Could new transmitters be built? Yes, but it would be at a price no one is willing to spend. 'So ISEE-3 will pass by us, ready to talk with us, but in the 30 years since it departed Earth we've lost the ability to speak its language,' concludes Lakdawalla. 'I wonder if ham radio operators will be able to pick up its carrier signal — it's meaningless, I guess, but it feels like an honorable thing to do, a kind of salute to the venerable ship as it passes by.'"
Space

India Plans Mission To Probe Sun By 2020 146

Posted by samzenpus
from the getting-hot dept.
An anonymous reader writes "India is planning a mission to probe the Sun before 2020. The nation launched a Moon mission a few years ago and sent a Mars mission late last year. From the article: 'Indian Space Research Organization has lined up over a dozen missions, including its first probe on the Sun, Isro chairman K Radhakrishnan said on Friday. Though, the mission to probe the Sun was already on the cards, the agency now has a clear picture of its plan and had put a timeframe within which it hoped to undertake it, Radhakrishnan said, while addressing students at a private University here. He said the "Aditya" mission to the Sun had been planned between 2017 and 2020.'"

"The medium is the message." -- Marshall McLuhan

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