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DARPA's 'Phoenix' Program To Bring Satellites Back From the Dead 88

coondoggie writes "Scientists at DARPA say there are some 1,300 satellites worth over $300B sitting out in Earth's geostationary orbit (GEO) that could be retrofitted or harvested for new communications roles and it designed a program called Phoenix which it says would use a squadron 'satlets' and a larger tender craft to grab out-of-commission satellites and retrofit or retrieve them for parts or reuse." This program incorporates a design challenge aspect, in which various teams compete to design systems to effect the actual capture. From the article: "In the Zero Robotics challenge, three finalist teams emerged from a series of four, one-week qualifying rounds: "y0b0tics!" (Montclair, NJ); "The Catcher in the Skye" (Sparta, NJ); and "Nitro" (Eagleville, PA). Then in June the teams gathered at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology to watch via video link as their algorithms were tested on board the ISS, DARPA said. The algorithms were applied across three situations in which the SPHERES satellite simulated an active spacecraft approaching an object tumbling through space. In each scenario, at least one of the teams was able to approach the tumbling target and remain synchronized within the predefined capture region, DARPA said."

Promiscuity Alters DNA and Boosts Immunity In Mice 91

An anonymous reader writes "Scientists from the University of California, Berkeley found that promiscuous mice have significantly stronger immune systems than monogamous mice, suggesting that promiscuous mice may have developed more robust immunity to protect them against the disease-causing bacteria they are exposed to from mating with multiple partners."

Radioactive Decay Apparently Influenced By the Sun 267

quax writes "In school you probably learned that the decay rate of radioactive matter is solely determined by the halftime specific to the element. There is no environmental factor that can somehow tweak this process. At least there shouldn't be. Now a second study confirmed previous findings that the decay rate of some elements seems to be under the subtle and mysterious influence of the sun. As of now there is no theoretical explanation for this strange effect buried in the decay rate data."

Drinking Too Much? Blame Your Glass 115

sciencehabit writes "Before you down that pint, check the shape of your glass—you might be drinking more beer than you realize. According to a new study of British beer drinkers, an optical illusion caused by the shape of a curved glass can dramatically increase the speed at which we swill. The researchers recruited 160 Brits, and asked them to watch a nature documentary while they drank beer from straight or curved glasses. The group drinking a full glass of lager out of curved flute glasses drank significantly faster than the other group--possibly because the curved glasses impaired their ability to pace themselves while drinking."

DNA Analysis Suggests Humans Interbred With Denisovans 157

ananyo writes "Tens of thousands of years ago modern humans crossed paths with the group of hominins known as the Neandertals. Researchers now think they also met another, less-known group called the Denisovans. The only trace that we have found, however, is a single finger bone and two teeth, but those fragments have been enough to cradle wisps of Denisovan DNA across thousands of years inside a Siberian cave. Now a team of scientists has been able to reconstruct their entire genome from these meager fragments. The analysis supports the idea that Neandertals and Denisovans were more closely related to one another than either was to modern humans and also suggests new ways that early humans may have spread across the globe." wombatmobile linked to an article that focuses on the new techniques used to sequence the DNA of the bone fragments in question.

Universal Turing Machine In Penrose Tile Cellular Automata 24

New submitter submeta writes "Katsunobu Imai at Hiroshima University has figured out a way to construct a universal Turing machine using cellular automata in a Penrose tile universe. 'Tiles in the first state act as wires that transmit signals between the logic gates, with the signal itself consisting of either a 'front' or 'back' state. Four other states manage the redirecting of the signal within the logic gates, while the final state is simply an unused background to keep the various states separate.' He was not aware of the recent development of the Penrose glider, so he developed this alternative approach."

Gamma-Ray Photon Observations Indicate Space-Time Is Smooth 81

eldavojohn writes "Seven billion light years away (seven billion years ago), a gamma-ray burst occurred. The observation of four Fermi-detected gamma-ray bursts (GRBs) has led physicists to speculate that space-time is indeed smooth (abstract and a pre-publication PDF both available). A trio of photons were observed to arrive very close together, and the observers believe that these are from the same burst, which means there was nothing diffracting their paths from the gamma-ray burst to Earth. This observation doesn't prove that space-time is infinitesimally smooth like Einstein predicted, but does indicate it's smooth for a range of parameters. Before we can totally discount the theory that space-time is comprised of Planck-scale pixels, we must now establish that the proposed pixels don't disrupt the photons in ways independent of their wavelengths. For example, this observation did not disprove the possibility that the pixels exert a subtler 'quadratic' influence over the photons, nor could it determine the presence of birefringence — an effect that depends on the polarization of the light particles."

The Case Against DNA 166

Hugh Pickens writes "Thanks to fast-paced television crime shows such as CSI, we have come to regard DNA evidence as incontestable. But BBC reports that David Butler has every right to be cynical about the use of DNA evidence by the police. Butler spent eight months in prison, on remand, facing murder charges after his DNA was allegedly found on the victim. 'I think in the current climate [DNA] has made police lazy,' says Butler. 'It doesn't matter how many times someone like me writes to them, imploring they look at the evidence... they put every hope they had in the DNA result.' The police had accused Butler of murdering a woman, Anne Marie Foy, in 2005 — his DNA sample was on record after he had willingly given it to them as part of an investigation into a burglary at his mother's home some years earlier. But Butler has a rare skin condition, which means he sheds flakes of skin, leaving behind much larger traces of DNA than the average person. Butler worked as a taxi driver, and so it was possible for his DNA to be transferred from his taxi via money or another person, onto the murder victim. The case eventually went to trial and Butler was acquitted after CCTV evidence allegedly placing Butler in the area where the murder took place was disproved. Professor Allan Jamieson, head of the Glasgow-based Forensic Institute, has become a familiar thorn in the side of prosecutors seeking to rely on DNA evidence and has appeared as an expert witness for the defense in several important DNA-centered trials, most notably that of Sean Hoey, who was cleared of carrying out the 1998 Omagh bombing, which killed 29 people. Jamieson's main concern about the growing use of DNA in court cases is that a number of important factors — human error, contamination, simple accident — can suggest guilt where there is none. 'Does anyone realize how easy it is to leave a couple of cells of your DNA somewhere?' says Jamieson. 'You could shake my hand and I could put that hand down hundreds of miles away and leave your cells behind. In many cases, the question is not "Is it my DNA?", but 'How did it get there?"'"

Promising New Drug May Cure Malaria 190

Diggester writes "Researchers at the University of Cape Town in South Africa have developed a pill that can wipe out malaria with a single dose. It's a development that could save millions of lives in Africa alone, not to mention the rest of the world. But there's a teensy weensy little hurdle that must first be overcome: human testing. According to National Geographic, 'Clinical tests are scheduled for the end of 2013. If this tablet is approved in coming years, this achievement will surely usher in a new age for science in Africa. It will save millions upon millions of lives on the continent, helping avoid at least 24 percent of child deaths in sub-Saharan Africa.'"
The Almighty Buck

US Particle Colliders In Need of Funding 133

DevotedSkeptic writes "When the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) in Switzerland seized the world record for the highest-energy collisions in 2010, it also sealed the fate of the leading US particle collider. The Tevatron, at Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory in Batavia, Illinois, was closed the following year to save money. Now, physicists at another US physics facility, the Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider (RHIC) at Brookhaven National Laboratory in Upton, New York, are trying to avoid a similar end. On 13 August, researchers at the ALICE heavy-ion experiment at the LHC at CERN, Europe's particle-physics lab near Geneva, announced that they had created the hottest-ever man-made plasma of quarks and gluons. This eclipsed the record temperature achieved at RHIC two years earlier by 38%, and raised uncomfortable questions about RHIC's future. Tribble still hopes to avoid having to close any of the three facilities. In 2005, he notes, a similar crisis was averted after an advisory committee laid out the dire consequences of flat funding for the future of US nuclear science. In the end, Congress came through with the budgetary increases required. 'What we want to do here is to spell out what will be lost under different budgets,' he says. His committee is planning to hold a final meeting in November, in time to influence the budget requests from US funding agencies for the next fiscal year."

What The Apollo 11 Crew Did For Life Insurance 168

Back in 1969 insurance companies weren't very optimistic about the odds of an astronaut making it back to earth after being launched in a rocket to the moon. The cost of life insurance for the Apollo 11 crew was astronomically high so they came up with a clever solution. A month before launch, the astronauts signed hundreds of autographs that were to be sold if they didn't make it back. From the article: "About a month before Apollo 11 was set to launch, the three astronauts entered quarantine. And, during free moments in the following weeks, each of the astronauts signed hundreds of covers. They gave them to a friend. And on important days — the day of the launch, the day the astronauts landed on the moon — their friend got them to the post office and got them postmarked, and then distributed them to the astronauts' families. It was life insurance in the form of autographs."

If Extinct Species Can Be Brought Back... Should We? 299

retroworks writes "Rebecca J. Rosen interviews experts in this edition of The Atlantic, to ask about the ethics and wisdom of using cloning, backbreeding, or genome editing. Over 90% of species ever to exist on earth are no more. The article ponders the moral and environmental challenges of humans reintroducing species which humans made extinct."

Biodiesel From Sewage Sludge 88

MTorrice writes "Scientists have developed a way to convert lipids from sewage sludge into biodiesel. The low cost and high yield of the sludge process may make it economically feasible as a source of biofuel, the researchers say. Today, biofuel producers use lipids in vegetable oils to derive biodiesel, a mixture of fatty-acid-like molecules. Biodiesel is compatible with existing diesel engines, burns with less pollution than petroleum-derived diesel does, and comes from renewable resources. But current biodiesel feedstocks are expensive, limiting the fuel's widespread use. The researchers from South Korea found that sewage sludge, the semisolid material left over from wastewater treatment, can yield 2,200 times more lipids than soybeans and costs 96% less to process. To turn the sludge lipids into biodiesel, the researchers heated them with methanol."

Bionic Eye Lets Blind Woman Experience Vision 52

An anonymous reader writes "Australian researchers implanted a bionic eye with 24 electrodes in Ms Dianne Ashworth, a 54-year-old who had limited vision due to a inherited condition called retinitis pigmentosa. The implant has allowed her to see flashes of light and shapes when researchers deliver electrical pulses to the device. From the article: 'This early prototype consists of a retinal implant with 24 electrodes. A small lead wire extends from the back of the eye to a connector behind the ear. An external system is connected to this unit in the laboratory, allowing researchers to stimulate the implant in a controlled manner in order to study the flashes of light. Feedback from Ms Ashworth will allow researchers to develop a vision processor so that images can be built using flashes of light. This early prototype does not incorporate an external camera – yet. This is planned for the next stage of development and testing.'"

Message In Bottle Found After 98 Years Near Shetland 107

An anonymous reader writes "A drift bottle released in June 1914 by Captain CH Brown of the Glasgow School of Navigation has been found. Part of a project to help map currents, 1,890 scientific research bottles were released around Scotland. Only 315 of them were ever recovered. From the article: 'Mr Leaper, 43, who found the bottle east of Shetland, explained: "As we hauled in the nets I spotted the bottle neck sticking out and I quickly grabbed it before it fell back in the sea. It was very exciting to find the bottle and I couldn't wait to open it."'"