Australia

Australia Finally Creates Its Own National Space Agency (yahoo.com)

50 years after Australia became the third country to launch a satellite into space, they had another big announcement. An anonymous reader quotes AFP: Australia on Monday committed to creating a national space agency as it looks to cash in on the lucrative and fast-evolving astronautical sector. The announcement came at a week-long Adelaide space conference attended by the world's top scientists and experts including SpaceX chief Elon Musk. It brings Canberra -- which already has significant involvement in national and international space activities -- into line with most other developed nations, which already have dedicated agencies to help coordinate the industry and shape development. "The global space industry is growing rapidly and it's crucial that Australia is part of this growth," acting science minister Michaelia Cash said in statement.
The Australian government estimates that the global space sector now drives $323 billion in revenue each year.
Earth

Can We Reduce Cow Methane Emissions By Breeding Low-Emission Cattle? (popsci.com) 149

An anonymous reader quotes Popular Science: Raising cattle contributes to global warming in a big way. The animals expel large amounts of methane when they burp and fart, a greenhouse gas many times more potent than carbon dioxide. U.S. beef production, in fact, roughly equals the annual emissions of 24 million cars, according to the Union of Concerned Scientists. That's a lot of methane... Researchers think there may be a better way. Rather than ask people to give up beef, they are trying to design more climate-friendly cattle.

The goal is to breed animals with digestive systems that can create less methane. One approach is to tinker with the microbes that live in the rumen, the main organ in the animals' digestive tract... Scientists in the United Kingdom last year found that a cow's genes influence the makeup of these microbial communities, which include bacteria and also Archaea, the primary producers of methane. This discovery means cattle farmers potentially could selectively breed animals that end up with a lower ratio of Archaea-to-bacteria, thus leading to less methane... "The selection to reduce methane emissions would be permanent, cumulative and sustainable over generations as with any other trait, such as growth rate, milk yield, etc. used in animal breeding." This, over time, "would have a substantial impact on methane emissions from livestock," Roehe said.

Breeding low-emission cattle would also make it cheaper to raise cattle -- and improve the quality of meat.
Math

Memorial Set For 'Pi Day' Creator (sfgate.com) 56

"Three-point-one-four was more than a number to museum curator Larry Shaw," writes the San Francisco Chronicle. Long-time Slashdot reader linuxwrangler writes: In 1988 at a retreat for San Francisco Exploratorium staff, Larry Shaw proposed linking the digits of pi, which begins 3.14, with the date March 14. Initially the "holiday" was only celebrated by museum staff but it didn't take long for the idea to spread and Pi Day was born.

For 38 years, Mr. Shaw donned a red cap emblazoned with the magic digits and led a parade of museum goers, each of them holding a sign bearing one of the digits of pi. Shaw died August 19 at age 78 and a memorial is planned for Sunday September 24.

The memorial will be held in Mill Valley, California, the Chronicle reports, adding that "pie will be served."
Medicine

New Antibody Attacks 99% of HIV Strains (bbc.com) 137

An anonymous reader quotes a report from BBC: Scientists have engineered an antibody that attacks 99% of HIV strains and can prevent infection in primates. It is built to attack three critical parts of the virus -- making it harder for HIV to resist its effects. The work is a collaboration between the US National Institutes of Health and the pharmaceutical company Sanofi. Our bodies struggle to fight HIV because of the virus' incredible ability to mutate and change its appearance. These varieties of HIV -- or strains -- in a single patient are comparable to those of influenza during a worldwide flu season. So the immune system finds itself in a fight against an insurmountable number of strains of HIV. But after years of infection, a small number of patients develop powerful weapons called "broadly neutralizing antibodies" that attack something fundamental to HIV and can kill large swathes of HIV strains. Researchers have been trying to use broadly neutralizing antibodies as a way to treat HIV, or prevent infection in the first place. The study, published in the journal Science, combines three such antibodies into an even more powerful "tri-specific antibody." The experiments conducted on 24 monkeys showed none of those given the tri-specific antibody developed an infection when they were later injected with the virus. "We're getting 99% coverage, and getting coverage at very low concentrations of the antibody," said Dr Gary Nabel, the chief scientific officer at Sanofi and one of the report authors.
Space

Most Powerful Cosmic Rays Come From Galaxies Far, Far Away (space.com) 95

A new study finds the highest-energy cosmic rays to bombard Earth come from galaxies far, far away. Space.com reports: The sun emits relatively low-energy cosmic rays. However, for more than 50 years, scientists have also detected ultra-high-energy cosmic rays, ones far beyond the capability of any particle accelerator on Earth to generate. One way to discover the origins of ultra-high-energy cosmic rays is to study their directions of travel. However, ultra-high-energy cosmic rays only rarely strike Earth's atmosphere, with one hitting any given area about the size of a soccer field about once per century, the researchers said. In order to detect ultra-high-energy cosmic rays, scientists look for the spray of electrons, photons and other particles that result when ultra-high-energy cosmic rays hit the top of Earth's atmosphere. Each of these showers contains more than 10 billion particles, which fly downward in a disk shaped like a giant plate miles wide, according to the statement. Scientists examined the sprays from ultra-high-energy cosmic rays using the largest cosmic-ray observatory yet: the Pierre Auger Observatory built in the western plains of Argentina in 2001. It consists of an array of 1,600 particle detectors deployed in a hexagonal grid over 1,160 square miles (3,000 square kilometers), an area comparable in size to Rhode Island. A connected set of telescopes is also used to see the dim fluorescent light the particles in the sprays emit at night.

The researchers analyzed data collected between 2004 and 2016. During these 12 years, the scientists detected more than 30,000 ultra-high-energy cosmic rays. If ultra-high-energy cosmic rays came from the Milky Way, one might perhaps expect them to come from all across the sky, or perhaps mostly from the direction of the supermassive black hole at the galaxy's center. However, the researchers saw that ultra-high-energy cosmic rays mostly came from a broad area of sky about 90 degrees away from the direction of the Milky Way's core.

Medicine

Fathers Pass On Four Times As Many New Genetic Mutations As Mothers, Says Study (theguardian.com) 178

An anonymous reader quotes a report from The Guardian: Children inherit four times as many new mutations from their fathers than their mothers, according to research that suggests faults in the men's DNA are a driver for rare childhood diseases. Researchers studied 14,000 Icelanders and found that men passed on one new mutation for every eight months of age, compared with women who passed on a new mutation for every three years of age. The figures mean that a child born to 30-year-old parents would, on average, inherit 11 new mutations from the mother, but 45 from the father. Kari Stefansson, a researcher at the Icelandic genetics company, deCODE, which led the study, said that while new mutations led to variation in the human genome, which is necessary for evolution to happen, "they are also believed to be responsible for the majority of cases of rare diseases in childhood." In the study published in Nature, the researchers analyzed the DNA of 1,500 Icelanders and their parents and, for 225 people, at least one of their children. They found that new mutations from mothers increased by 0.37 per year of age, a quarter of the rate found in men. While the vast majority of new mutations are thought to be harmless, occasionally they can disrupt the workings of genes that are important for good health.
EU

EU Paid For Report That Said Piracy Isn't Harmful -- And Tried To Hide Findings (thenextweb.com) 159

According to Julia Reda's blog, the only Pirate in the EU Parliament, the European Commission in 2014 paid the Dutch consulting firm Ecorys 360,000 euros (about $428,000) to research the effect piracy had on sales of copyrighted content. The final report was finished in May 2015, but was never published because the report concluded that piracy isn't harmful. The Next Web reports: The 300-page report seems to suggest that there's no evidence that supports the idea that piracy has a negative effect on sales of copyrighted content (with some exceptions for recently released blockbusters). The report states: "In general, the results do not show robust statistical evidence of displacement of sales by online copyright infringements. That does not necessarily mean that piracy has no effect but only that the statistical analysis does not prove with sufficient reliability that there is an effect. An exception is the displacement of recent top films. The results show a displacement rate of 40 per cent which means that for every ten recent top films watched illegally, four fewer films are consumed legally."

On her blog, Julia Reda says that a report like this is fundamental to discussions about copyright policies -- where the general assumption is usually that piracy has a negative effect on rightsholders' revenues. She also criticizes the Commissions reluctance to publish the report and says it probably wouldn't have released it for several more years if it wasn't for the access to documents request she filed in July.
As for why the Commission hadn't published the report earlier, Reda says: "all available evidence suggests that the Commission actively chose to ignore the study except for the part that suited their agenda: In an academic article published in 2016, two European Commission officials reported a link between lost sales for blockbusters and illegal downloads of those films. They failed to disclose, however, that the study this was based on also looked at music, ebooks and games, where it found no such connection. On the contrary, in the case of video games, the study found the opposite link, indicating a positive influence of illegal game downloads on legal sales. That demonstrates that the study wasn't forgotten by the Commission altogether..."
Transportation

How Flying Seriously Messes With Your Mind and Body (bbc.com) 260

dryriver writes: BBC Future has an interesting piece about how traveling in an airliner does strange things to people's minds and bodies, such as far more people starting to cry while watching even mildly emotional movies on airplanes than what is normal, some passengers experiencing decreases in acuity of sight, taste and smell (airline meals are over-seasoned to compensate for this), unusual tiredness or desire to sleep, your skin drying out by up to 37% percent and possibly becoming itchy, and some people breaking wind far more often than they normally would. Here is an excerpt form the report: "There can be no doubt that aircraft cabins are peculiar places for humans to be. They are a weird environment where the air pressure is similar to that atop an 8,000ft-high (2.4km) mountain. The humidity is lower than in some of the world's driest deserts while the air pumped into the cabin is cooled as low as 10C (50F) to whisk away the excess heat generated by all the bodies and electronics onboard. The reduced air pressure on airline flights can reduce the amount of oxygen in passengers' blood between 6 and 25%, a drop that in hospital would lead many doctors to administer supplementary oxygen. There are some studies, however, that show even relatively mild levels of hypoxia (deficiency in oxygen) can alter our ability to think clearly. At oxygen levels equivalent to altitudes above 12,000ft (3.6km), healthy adults can start to show measurable changes in their memory, their ability to perform calculations and make decisions. This is why the aviation regulations insist that pilots must wear supplementary oxygen if the cabin air pressure is greater than 12,500ft. A study in 2007 showed that after about three hours at the altitudes found in airline cabins, people start to complain about feeling uncomfortable."
Robotics

Scientists Create World's First 'Molecular Robot' Capable of Building Molecules (scienmag.com) 83

New submitter re385 shares a report from Science Magazine: Scientists at The University of Manchester have created the world's first "molecular robot" that is capable of performing basic tasks including building other molecules. The tiny robots, which are a millionth of a millimeter in size, can be programmed to move and build molecular cargo, using a tiny robotic arm. Each individual robot is capable of manipulating a single molecule and is made up of just 150 carbon, hydrogen, oxygen and nitrogen atoms. To put that size into context, a billion billion of these robots piled on top of each other would still only be the same size as a single grain of salt. The robots operate by carrying out chemical reactions in special solutions which can then be controlled and programmed by scientists to perform the basic tasks. In the future such robots could be used for medical purposes, advanced manufacturing processes and even building molecular factories and assembly lines. The research will be published in Nature on Thursday 21st September. "All matter is made up of atoms and these are the basic building blocks that form molecules," explains Professor David Leigh, who led the research at University's School of Chemistry. "Our robot is literally a molecular robot constructed of atoms just like you can build a very simple robot out of Lego bricks. The robot then responds to a series of simple commands that are programmed with chemical inputs by a scientist. It is similar to the way robots are used on a car assembly line. Those robots pick up a panel and position it so that it can be riveted in the correct way to build the bodywork of a car. So, just like the robot in the factory, our molecular version can be programmed to position and rivet components in different ways to build different products, just on a much smaller scale at a molecular level."
Medicine

E-Cigarettes With Nicotine Increase Your Risk of Heart Disease, Says Study (theverge.com) 168

An anonymous reader quotes a report from The Verge: Even after puffing on just one electronic cigarette with nicotine, healthy non-smokers were found to have a biological marker known to increase the risk of heart disease in tobacco users, according to a new study. The research, published in Journal of the American Heart Association, shows that nicotine is not harmless, as many people believe. It can affect a smoker's health in more than one way, and not just by triggering addiction. Another study, conducted by Middlekauff that was published earlier this year, showed that people who use e-cigs almost every day have biological markers known to increase the risk of heart disease in tobacco users. These included an increase in adrenaline levels in the heart, which can predispose smokers to bad heart rhythms, heart attacks, and sudden death, as well as increased oxidative stress, an imbalance in the body's ability to defend itself against the damaging action of free radicals. Oxidative stress can lead to changes in blood fats and lead to arteriosclerosis.

That study, however, didn't show what exactly was causing those changes. E-cigarettes can have different flavoring and solvents, as well as nicotine. So to identify the culprit, Middlekauff brought 33 healthy non-smokers and non-vapers into the lab. On three different days, one month apart, the participants were asked to puff on three different kinds of e-cigarettes for 30 minutes: one with nicotine, one without nicotine, and a sham e-cig that was empty. The researchers did blood tests and measured the subjects' heart rhythms, and found that the participants had high levels of adrenaline in their hearts after they smoked the e-cig with nicotine, but not after they puffed on the e-cigarette without nicotine or the empty e-cig.

Education

Computer Science Degrees Aren't Returning On Investment For Coders, Research Finds (theregister.co.uk) 389

According to a new survey, coders with a bachelor's degree in computer science only earn 3,000 British Pounds (BP) more a year than those who don't have one. The survey of 4,700 developers in the UK was conducted by Stack Overflow, a community site frequented by developers for answers to technical questions. The Register reports the findings: This is despite the average degree now costing 9,000 BP a year in tuition fees alone. Average student debt is now more than 50,000 BP, according the Institute of Fiscal Studies. The research found that the median salary of those who did not have higher education was 35,000 BP per year, while those who gained a bachelor's degree earned 38,000 BP and postgraduates took home 42,000 BP. It found that 48 per cent of developers with less than four years of professional experience currently hold a Computer Science-related undergraduate degree, while 49 per cent had completed an online course instead. The research also found that JavaScript developers were most in demand, with almost 27 per cent of jobs advertised on Stack Overflow now requiring this skill, followed by Java (22 per cent), Python (16 per cent), C# (15 per cent) and ReactJS (9 per cent).
Earth

Seismologist Explains Mexico's Back-To-Back Earthquakes (theverge.com) 50

An anonymous reader quotes a report from The Verge: The second major earthquake to strike Mexico in less than two weeks has caused catastrophic damage in the country's capital. The magnitude 7.1 temblor started at around 1:15PM -- cracking highways, collapsing buildings, and, so far, killing more than 200 people. Less than two weeks ago on September 7th (local time), a magnitude 8.1 quake struck roughly 400 miles southeast from today's. It's not common to hear of such strong earthquakes happening back-to-back so close to one another, says John Bellini, a geophysicist with the U.S. Geological Survey. "Usually you don't have large ones in the same general region right away," Bellini says. "But in highly [seismically] active regions of the world, it can happen."

Mexico qualifies as highly active. The country sits at the boundary of three pieces of the Earth's crust that fit together like a jigsaw puzzle -- called tectonic plates. Today's quake originated on a fault within the Cocos plate, which is on Mexico's western edge. "Whether or not faults rupture depends on the kind of stress that builds up," Bellini says. The Cocos plate scoots rapidly under the continental crust of the North American plate, which "builds up the stress and strain at a faster rate," Bellini says. "So you're liable to have more frequent earthquakes because of that." Mexico City is especially prone to severe damage because of the ground it sits on -- an ancient lakebed that quivers like jello, Bellini says. When earthquake waves pass through it, it jiggles, magnifying the vibrations. "So the reason that Mexico City seems susceptible to more damage is because of this amplification effect of the lake bed," Bellini says.

Earth

Mathematical Formula Predicts Global Mass Extinction Event in 2100 (vice.com) 394

Kate Lunau, writing for Motherboard: A new paper in Science Advances finds that a mass extinction period mirroring ones from our planet's ancient past could be triggered when humanity adds a certain amount of carbon to the oceans, which are home to the majority of all plants and animals on our planet. The paper pegs that amount at 310 gigatons. According to lead author Daniel Rothman of MIT, based on projections from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, we're on course to hit that number by 2100. After that, we enter "unknown territory." [...] Previous mass extinctions have happened over the course of thousands or millions of years, but the period of change we're in right now has lasted centuries at best, making it hard to compare them. Although plenty of experts say Earth is already experiencing a sixth mass extinction, that remains "a scientific question," Rothman, who is professor of geophysics in the MIT Department of Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences, told me. Once our planet hits the threshold he identified in this paper, he explained, it will kickstart changes that will "amplify" everything that came before. These same changes, to reiterate, have been associated with all previous mass extinctions on Earth.
Science

Consciousness Goes Deeper Than You Think (scientificamerican.com) 288

An anonymous reader shares a post from Scientific American, written by Bernardo Kastrup: An article on the neuroscience of infant consciousness, which attracted some interest a few years ago, asked: "When does your baby become conscious?" The premise, of course, was that babies aren't born conscious but, instead, develop consciousness at some point. Yet, it is hard to think that there is nothing it feels like to be a newborn. Newborns clearly seem to experience their own bodies, environment, the presence of their parents, etcetera -- albeit in an unreflective, present-oriented manner. And if it always feels like something to be a baby, then babies don't become conscious. Instead, they are conscious from the get-go. The problem is that, somewhat alarmingly, the word "consciousness" is often used in the literature as if it entailed or implied more than just the qualities of experience. Dijksterhuis and Nordgren, for instance, insisted that "it is very important to realize that attention is the key to distinguish between unconscious thought and conscious thought. Conscious thought is thought with attention." This implies that if a thought escapes attention, then it is unconscious.

Indeed, Jonathan Schooler has established a clear distinction between conscious and meta-conscious processes. Whereas both types entail the qualities of experience, meta-conscious processes also entail what he called re-representation. "Periodically attention is directed towards explicitly assessing the contents of experience. The resulting meta-consciousness involves an explicit re-representation of consciousness in which one interprets, describes or otherwise characterizes the state of one's mind.

NASA

NASA's Hubble Captures Blistering Pitch-Black Planet (scienmag.com) 104

schwit1 writes: NASA's Hubble Space Telescope has observed a planet outside our solar system that looks as black as fresh asphalt because it eats light rather than reflecting it back into space. This light-eating prowess is due to the planet's unique capability to trap at least 94 percent of the visible starlight falling into its atmosphere. The oddball exoplanet, called WASP-12b, is one of a class of so-called "hot Jupiters," gigantic, gaseous planets that orbit very close to their host star and are heated to extreme temperatures. The planet's atmosphere is so hot that most molecules are unable to survive on the blistering day side of the planet, where the temperature is 4,600 degrees Fahrenheit. Therefore, clouds probably cannot form to reflect light back into space. Instead, incoming light penetrates deep into the planet's atmosphere where it is absorbed by hydrogen atoms and converted to heat energy. "We did not expect to find such a dark exoplanet," said Taylor Bell of McGill University and the Institute for Research on Exoplanets in Montreal, Quebec, Canada, lead researcher of the Hubble study. "Most hot Jupiters reflect about 40 percent of starlight."

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