astroengine writes "About 1,200 light-years from Earth, five planets are circling around sun-like star Kepler-62, two of which are fortuitously positioned for water, if any exists, to remain liquid on their surfaces — a condition believed to be necessary for life. The discovery, made by scientists using NASA's planet-hunting Kepler space telescope, is the strongest evidence yet for more than one Earth-sized planet existing in a star's so-called 'habitable' zone. 'We're particularly delighted to find that there are two planets in the habitable zone,' lead Kepler scientist William Borucki, with NASA's Ames Research Center in California, told Discovery News. 'It sort of doubles our chances of finding that Earth we'd all like to find. When you think about Earth and Mars, if Mars had been a bit larger, if Jupiter hadn't been so close, we'd again have two planets in the habitable zone and maybe we'd have a place to go,' he said." There's also a third planet believed to be a good candidate for hosting water.
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Famous for his work in math, astronomy, nuclear engineering, and theoretical physics, Freeman Dyson has left his mark on almost every scientific discipline. He's won countless awards, and written numerous books on a wide range of topics both scientific and philosophical. One of his biggest contributions to science was the unification of the three versions of quantum electrodynamics invented by Feynman, Schwinger and Tomonaga. 10 years after moving to the U.S. he started working on the Orion Project, which sought to create a spacecraft with a nuclear propulsion system. STNG exposed the idea of a Dyson sphere to the masses, and his hypothetical plan for making a comet habitable with the help of genetically-engineered plants is a personal favorite. Mr. Dyson has graciously agreed give us a bit of his time in order to answer your questions. As usual, ask as many as you'd like, but please, one question per post.
astroengine writes "World-renowned physicist Stephen Hawking has announced that he was likely wrong about his view that the Higgs boson doesn't exist — an outcome he doesn't find very exciting — conceding that he lost a $100 wager. Speaking at the Beckman Auditorium in Caltech, Pasadena, Calif., on Tuesday (April 16), the British physicist gave a public lecture on 'The Origins of the Universe,' summarizing new revelations in modern astrophysics and cosmology. After the lecture, Caltech physicist and colleague John Preskill commented on Hawking's fondness for placing bets when faced with conflicts of physics ideas. Hawking lost a famous wager to Preskill in 2004 in a debate over whether or not black holes destroy information (theory suggests they do not, opposing Hawking's argument). 'To love Stephen Hawking is to not always agree with Stephen Hawking,' Preskill quipped. 'He's usually right, but he's not always right. Sometimes we haven't been able to resolve our differences and we've resorted to making bets it's sad to say that although Stephen Hawking is without doubt a great scientist, he's a bad gambler.'"
olsmeister writes "Hydrogen Sulfide is a toxic, flammable, foul-smelling gas that some theorize may have been at least partially responsible for some of Earth's mass extinctions, including the Permian-Triassic event, which killed well over half of the species on the planet. Now, thanks to a fortuitous accident, doctoral student at the University of Washington seems to have discovered that very low doses of the gas seems to greatly enhance plant growth, causing plants to germinate more quickly and grow larger. The finding could have far reaching implications for both food and biofuel production."
An anonymous reader writes "This evening's planned launch of the Orbital Sciences Antares rocket had to be canceled just 12 minutes before liftoff, due to the unexpected separation of the booster's umbilical cable while the vehicle was on the launch pad. This is the first attempt to fly the Antares rocket, which is a commercial craft and direct competitor to the SpaceX Dragon 9. Beyond being the first flight of a brand new commercial rocket, this mission is also notable for carrying three of NASA's PhoneSats; small satellites powered by Android running on Nexus smartphones. With each PhoneSat costing just $3,500, they're designed to test the limits of extremely low cost spacecraft, similar to the European STRaND-1 mission. Since this is simply an orbital test, and the Antares will not be attempting to dock with the International Space Station, the launch window is highly flexible. It's anticipated Orbital Sciences will make another attempt at launching the Antares within 48 hours."
ananyo writes "Paul Steinhardt, an astrophysicist at Princeton University in New Jersey, and colleagues have posted a controversial paper on ArXiv arguing, based on the latest Higgs data and the cosmic microwave background map from the Planck mission, that the leading theory explaining the first moments of the Big Bang ('inflation') is fatally flawed. In short, Steinhardt says that the models that best fit the Planck data — known as 'plateau models' because their potential-energy profiles level off at relatively low energies — are far less likely to occur naturally than the models that Planck ruled out. Secondly, he says, the news for these plateau models gets dramatically worse when the results are analyzed in conjunction with the latest results about the Higgs field coming from CERN's Large Hadron Collider. Particle physicists working at the LHC have calculated that the Higgs field is likely to have started out in a high-energy, 'metastable' state rather than in a stable, low-energy configuration. Steinhardt likens the odds of the Higgs field initially being perched in the precarious metastable state as to those of dropping out of the sky over the Matterhorn and conveniently landing in a 'dimple near the top,' rather than crashing down to the mountain's base."
sciencehabit writes "Put a fruit fly larva in a spacelike vacuum, and the results aren't pretty. Within a matter of minutes, the animal will collapse into a crinkled, lifeless husk. Now, researchers have found a way to protect the bugs: Bombard them with electrons, which form a 'nano-suit' around their bodies. The advance could help scientists take high-resolution photographs of tiny living organisms. It also suggests a new way that creatures could survive the harsh conditions of outer space and may even lead to new space travel technology for humans." Work is also being done on electron "suits" that protect against radiation.
FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) has robot competitions all over the United States. FIRST was founded by inventor Dean Kamen. According to Wikipedia he has said that the FIRST competition is the invention he is most proud of, and he predicts that the 1 million students who have taken part in the contests so far will be responsible for some significant technological advances in years to come. In any case, Robert Rozeboom (samzenpus) was at the Michigan FIRST championship with camcorder in hand, and brought back some great shots of robots at work -- or maybe play. They fired off volleys of Frisbee-like discs, ran into each other, and climbed metal pyramids, either independently or under the control of their human masters. There was a pretty good crowd in the stands, too, to cheer on the robots. Or more likely, to cheer on the robots' human masters, since we're not yet at the point where robot masters invite their robot friends to competitions where they show off their humans.
DoctorBit writes "MIT Technology Review is running a story about an arXiv paper in which geneticists Alexei A. Sharov and Richard Gordon propose that life as we know it originated 9.7 billion years ago. The researchers estimated the genetic complexity of phyla in the paleontological record by counting the number of non-redundant functional nucleotides in typical genomes of modern day descendants of each phylum. When plotting genetic complexity against time, the researchers found that genetic complexity increases exponentially, just as with Moore's law, but with a doubling rate of about once every 376 million years. Extrapolating backwards, the researchers estimate that life began about 4 billion years after the universe formed and evolved the first bacteria just before the Earth was formed. One might image that the supernova debris that formed the early solar system could have included bacteria-bearing chunks of rock from doomed planets circling supernova progenitor stars. If true, this retro-prediction has some interesting consequences in partly resolving the Fermi Paradox. Another interesting consequence for those attempting to recreate life's origins in a lab: bacteria may have evolved under conditions very different from those on earth."
ananyo writes with this bit about lab grown organs from Nature: "Scientists at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston have fitted rats with kidneys that were grown in a lab from stripped-down kidney scaffolds. When transplanted, these 'bioengineered' organs starting filtering the rodents' blood and making urine. The team, led by organ-regeneration specialist Harald Ott, started with the kidneys of recently deceased rats and used detergent to strip away the cells, leaving behind the underlying scaffold of connective tissues such as the structural components of blood vessels. They then regenerated the organ by seeding this scaffold with two cell types: human umbilical-vein cells to line the blood vessels, and kidney cells from newborn rats to produce the other tissues that make up the organ (paper)."
ananyo writes "Sediment in a deep-sea core may hold radioactive iron spewed by a distant supernova 2.2 million years ago and preserved in the fossilized remains of iron-loving bacteria. If confirmed, the iron traces would be the first biological signature of a specific exploding star. Scientists have found the isotope iron-60, which does not form on Earth, in a sediment core from the eastern equatorial Pacific Ocean, dating to between about 1.7 million and 3.3 million years ago. The iron-60, which appears in layers dated to around 2.2 million years ago, could be the remains of magnetite chains formed by bacteria on the sea floor as radioactive supernova debris showered on them from the atmosphere, after crossing inter-stellar space at nearly the speed of light."
Knowledge Ecology International (KEI) director Jamie Love -- formally James Packard Love -- is the brain behind the "$1 a day" HIV drugs that have saved millions of lives in Africa and other poor parts of the world. Basically, he went around asking, "How much would it cost to make this HIV medication if the patent cost was removed?" At first, no one could answer. After a while, the answer came: Less than $1 a day. At that price, the Bush administration set up a massive program to deliver generic anti-HIV drugs to Africa. Jamie also works on copyright issues, boosts free software (he's a Linux user/evangelist and had more than a little to do with the Microsoft antitrust suit), and generally tries to make the international knowledge ecology more accessible and more useful for everyone, especially those who aren't rich. Or necessarily even prosperous. He's a smart guy (read the Wikipedia entry linked above), but more than that he's bullheaded. Jamie has worked on some of his initiatives for years, even decades. In many cases you can't say, "He hasn't succeeded," without adding "yet" on the end. (You'll understand that statement better after you watch the video, which we broke into two parts because it is far longer than our typical video interview.)
massivepanic writes "Unlike most natural disasters, earthquakes strike without warning. Between large quakes and resulting tsunamis, millions of lives have been lost because science has been unable to provide accurate, useful earthquake predictions. Stellar Solutions' QuakeFinder Division hopes it can develop the tools to dramatically reduce this loss of life. Its network of over 100 sophisticated sensor stations has detected patterns of electromagnetic pulses several days before a number of different earthquakes, moving the possibility of earthquake prediction closer to reality."
rwise2112 writes "Lithium-ion batteries have long been thought to be free of the memory effects of other rechargeable batteries. However, this appears to be not the case. Scientists at the Paul Scherrer Institute PSI, together with colleagues from the Toyota Research Laboratories in Japan have now discovered that a widely-used type of lithium-ion battery has a memory effect."
Edgewood_Dirk writes "First spotted in 2011, Giant African Land Snails have migrated to Florida, and are causing massive agricultural and social problems in the state. Hugely destructive to crops, the creatures themselves are dangerous, in that they are able to gnaw through stucco and plastics, will eat almost any organic material, their shells are hard enough to pop tires on the freeway and become shrapnel when run over by lawnmowers. Over a thousand are caught each week in Miami-Dade County and their numbers are only growing as more come out of hibernation. They also carry a form of rat lungworm which can cause meningitis in humans, although no human cases have been reported yet."
An anonymous reader writes "Scientists have discovered a way to convert ordinary skin cells into myelinating cells, or brain cells that have been destroyed in patients with multiple sclerosis, cerebral palsy and other myelin disorders. The research, published in the journal Nature Biotechnology, may now enable 'on demand' production of myelinating cells, which insulate and protect neurons to facilitate the delivery of brain impulses to the rest of the body."
First time accepted submitter Martin S. writes "How NASA Engineers have reverse engineered the F1 engine of a Saturn V launcher, because: 'every scrap of documentation produced during Project Apollo, including the design documents for the Saturn V and the F-1 engines, remains on file. If re-creating the F-1 engine were simply a matter of cribbing from some 1960s blueprints, NASA would have already done so. A typical design document for something like the F-1, though, was produced under intense deadline pressure and lacked even the barest forms of computerized design aids. Such a document simply cannot tell the entire story of the hardware. Each F-1 engine was uniquely built by hand, and each has its own undocumented quirks. In addition, the design process used in the 1960s was necessarily iterative: engineers would design a component, fabricate it, test it, and see how it performed. Then they would modify the design, build the new version, and test it again. This would continue until the design was "good enough."'
CowboyRobot writes "A new study by researchers from the U.C. Berkeley School of Information examined the brainwave signals of individuals performing specific actions to see if they can be consistently matched to the right individual. To measure the subjects' brainwaves, the team utilized the NeuroSky Mindset, a Bluetooth headset that records Electroencephalographic (EEG) activity. In the end, the team was able to match the brainwave signals with 99% accuracy (pdf). 'We are not trying to trace back from a brainwave signal to a specific person,' explains Prof. John Chuang, who led the team. 'That would be a much more difficult problem. Rather, our task is to determine if a presented brainwave signal matches the brainwave signals previously submitted by the user when they were setting up their pass-thought.'"
The University of Hawaii at Hilo has been granted a permit by the Hawaii Board of Land and Natural Resources to begin construction of the $1.3 billion Thirty Meter Telescope (TMT). From the article: "The TMT has been in development for over a decade, but the large amount of land needed for its construction raised concerns over the environmental and cultural impact of such a project. Now, however, the land board has rendered a final decision, saying that the university had satisfied the eight criteria necessary under Hawaiian state law to allow the venture to go forward. The giant TMT will be an optical and infrared telescope with enough coverage area and sharpness to observe light from 13 billion years ago, track extrasolar planets, and observe planets and stars in their early formative years."
An anonymous reader writes "Monday, the Supreme Court will hear a case on the validity of breast cancer gene patents. The court has a chance to end human gene patents after three decades. From the article: 'Since the 1980s, patent lawyers have been claiming pieces of humanity's genetic code. The United States Patent and Trademark Office has granted thousands of gene patents. The Federal Circuit, the court that hears all patent appeals, has consistently ruled such patents are legal. But the judicial winds have been shifting. The Supreme Court has never ruled on the legality of gene patents. And recently, the Supreme Court has grown increasingly skeptical of the Federal Circuit's patent-friendly jurisprudence. Meanwhile, a growing number of researchers, health care providers, and public interest groups have raised concerns about the harms of gene patents. The American Civil Liberties Union estimates that more than 40 percent of genes are now patented. Those patents have created "patent thickets" that make it difficult for scientists to do genetic research and commercialize their results. Monopolies on genetic testing have raised prices and reduced patient options.'"
An anonymous reader writes "Australia's premiere government research organization, the CSIRO, has been rocked by allegations of corruption including: dishonesty with 60 top-class scientists bullied or fired, fraud against drug giant Novartis, and illegally using intellectual property, faking documents and unreliable testimony to judicial officers. CSIRO boss Megan Clark has refused to discipline the staff responsible and the federal police don't want to get involved. Victims are unimpressed and former CSIRO scientists are calling for an inquiry."
coondoggie writes "In the process of detailing its $17.7 billion 2014 budget this week, NASA highlighted a mission to snag a 500-ton asteroid, bring it back, stash it near the moon and study it. It also took the time to put in a plug for an ongoing research project called Solar Electric Propulsion, which NASA says could be the key technology it needs to pull off the asteroid plan."
New submitter chromaexcursion writes "Several news source are reporting the likelihood of an impressive show of the Aurora Borealis visible as far south as Washington D.C. this evening. Accuweather explains: 'On the Kp index, the flare has been categorized at 6 to 8. This is a scale for measuring the intensity of a a geomagnetic storm. The 6 to 8 rating means that the effects of the radiation will have a greater reach. ... The radiation from such a flare may cause radio wave disturbances to electronics such as cell phones, GPS and radios, causing services to occasionally cut in and out. While traveling slower than was originally anticipated, the flare effects are moving towards Earth at 1000 km per second. ... The lights are currently estimated for 8 p.m. EDT Saturday arrival, with a possible deviation of up to seven hours.' Check the map; if you're in a fair-to-good zone, head out after sunset to see the show."
derekmead writes "Scientists have had a basic understanding of how life first popped up on Earth for a while. The so-called 'primordial soup' was sitting around, stagnant but containing the basic building blocks of life. Then something happened and we ended up with life. It's that 'something' that has been the sticking point for scientists, but new research from a team of scientists at the University of Leeds has started to shed light on the mystery, explaining just how objects from space might have kindled the reaction that sparked life on Earth. It's generally accepted that space rocks played an important role in life's genesis on Earth. Meteorites bombarding the planet early in its history delivered some of the necessary materials for life but none brought life as we know it. How inanimate rocks transformed into the building blocks of life has been a mystery. But this latest research suggests an answer. If meteorites containing phosphorus landed in the hot, acidic pools that surrounded young volcanoes on the early Earth, there could have been a reaction that produced a chemical similar one that's found in all living cells and is vital in producing the energy that makes something alive."
Scientists from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration have published research into the shrinking levels of sea ice in the Arctic. They wanted to figure out how long it would take before summer sea ice disappeared entirely. Since there's no perfect model for predicting ice levels, they used three different methods. All three predicted the Arctic would be nearly free of summer sea ice by the middle of the century, and one indicated it could happen as early as 2020. Two of the methods were based on observed sea ice trends. If ice loss proceeds as it has in the past decade, we get the 2020 timeframe. If ice loss events are large, like the 2007 and 2012 events, but happen at random some years, the estimate is pushed back to 2030. The third method uses global climate models to 'predict atmosphere, ocean, land, and sea ice conditions over time.' This model pushes the timeframe back to 2040 at the earliest, and around 2060 as the median (abstract). One of the study's authors, James Overland, said, "Rapid Arctic sea ice loss is probably the most visible indicator of global climate change; it leads to shifts in ecosystems and economic access, and potentially impacts weather throughout the northern hemisphere. Increased physical understanding of rapid Arctic climate shifts and improved models are needed that give a more detailed picture and timing of what to expect so we can better prepare and adapt to such changes. Early loss of Arctic sea ice gives immediacy to the issue of climate change."
alancronin writes with this excerpt from CNet: "Stephen Hawking, one of the world's greatest physicists and cosmologists, is once again warning his fellow humans that our extinction is on the horizon unless we figure out a way to live in space. Not known for conspiracy theories, Hawking's rationale is that the Earth is far too delicate a planet to continue to withstand the barrage of human battering. 'We must continue to go into space for humanity,' Hawking said today, according to the Los Angeles Times. 'We won't survive another 1,000 years without escaping our fragile planet.'"
A story at Slashgear says that the remains of a Soviet mission to Mars may have been spotted — on Mars — by enthusiasts poring over old photos taken by a NASA orbiter. The article points out that the find must be confirmed by further imaging, but matches the seekers' expectations. From the article: "The community at VK.com/Curiosity_Live crowdsourced a mission to find the Soviet Union’s long-lost Mars 3 spacecraft, with the site’s leader, Vitali Egorov of St. Petersburg, Russia, creating models of what hardware from the spacecraft should look like. With this reference, the community combed through a large image taken five years ago by NASA’s MRO, identifying what is believed to be the craft’s parachute, lander, terminal retrorocket, and heat shield."
ananyo writes "Francis Crick's Nobel medal fetched US$2.27 million at an auction in New York yesterday. The proud new owner is Jack Wang, chief executive of 'Biomobie' a company that intends to sell walnut-sized, flying-saucer-shaped electromagnetic devices that it claims have medically regenerative powers. The closely-watched sale featured a range of Crick memorabilia that the family had kept in storage for many years. Up for auction along with the medal — awarded for Crick's role in the 1953 discovery of the structure of DNA — were his lab coat, sailing logbooks and garden journals. Expectations were high because the day before, auctioneer Christie's had brokered the sale of a letter from Crick (PDF) to his 12-year-old son for $6 million, more than triple the pre-sale estimate. The letter went to an anonymous bidder. The new owner of the Crick medal is a Chinese-born American who says his motivation for purchasing the medal was to stimulate research into the 'mystery of Bioboosti,' which, he says, produces electromagnetic stimulation that can 'control and enable the regeneration of damaged organs.' Those benefits are, needless to say, so far unproven. Crick's family has said it will donate at least 20% of the proceeds from the sale of the medal and other items to the Francis Crick Institute, a biomedical research centre scheduled to open in London in 2015."
astroengine writes "The International Astronomical Union (IAU) — the official body that governs the designations of all celestial bodies — in their capacity of purveyors of all things 'official' has deemed attempts at crowdsourcing names for exoplanets illegitimate. 'In the light of recent events, where the possibility of buying the rights to name exoplanets has been advertised, the International Astronomical Union wishes to inform the public that such schemes have no bearing on the official naming process,' writes Thierry Montmerle, General Secretary of the IAU in Paris, France. Although the 'schemes' are not specifically named, the most popular U.S.-based "exoplanet naming" group Uwingu appears to be the target of today's IAU statement. Set up by Alan Stern, planetary scientist and principal investigator for NASA's Pluto New Horizons mission, Uwingu encourages the public to nominate and vote (for a fee) on names for the slew of exoplanets steadily being discovered."
gbrumfiel writes "A strange green meteorite found in Morocco caused a stir in the press earlier this month, when scientists reported that it might be the first chunk of Mercury ever found here on earth. But scientists who've been puzzling over the stone since then say the accumulating evidence may point in a different direction. The 4.56-billion-year-old rock might have come from the asteroid belt located between Mars and Jupiter. If true, then it would provide clues about the origin of the solar system as a whole instead of the origin of the innermost planet."
ananyo writes "Toxic chemicals are accumulating in the ecosystems of the Himalayas and the Tibetan plateau, researchers warn in the first comprehensive study to assess levels of organic pollutants in that part of the world. Persistent organic pollutants (POPs) are carbon-based compounds that are resistant to break-down. Some originate from the burning of fuel or the processing of electronic waste, and others are widely used as pesticides or herbicides or in the manufacture of solvents, plastics and pharmaceuticals. Some POPs, such as the pesticide dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane (DDT) and the herbicide Agent Orange, can cause diseases such as cancers, neurological disorders, reproductive dysfunction and birth defects. The researchers found large amounts of POPs (including DDT) in various components of the ecosystems such as soil, grass, trees and fish in the Himalayas and in the Tibetan plateau, especially at the highest elevations."
An anonymous reader sends news that Russian President Vladimir Putin unveiled today a new $50 billion effort to maintain and extend the country's space capabilities. Part of this initiative is a new spaceport located in Russia, which will lead to the first manned launches from Russian soil in 2018. Manned launches currently originate from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. "The Russian space programme has been hurt in recent years by a string of launch failures of unmanned probes and satellites, but Putin vowed Moscow would continue to ramp up spending. He said that from 2013-2020, Russia would be spending 1.6 trillion rubles ($51.8 billion, 38 million euros) on its space sector, a growth far greater than any other space power. 'Developing our potential in space will be one of the priorities of state policy,' Putin said at a meeting in the regional capital Blagoveshchensk. ... speaking to Canadian spaceman Chris Hadfield, currently commander of the ISS, Putin hailed cooperation in space which meant world powers could forget about the problems of international relations and think 'about the future of mankind.'"
anderzole writes "The FDA recently gave clearance to Vital Art and Science Inc. (VAS) to market software which enables people with degenerative eye conditions such as macular degeneration and diabetic retinopathy to monitor their vision at home with their iPhone. The software, which is called myVisionTrack, isn't a replacement for regular visits to the doctor, but rather allows patients to keep tabs on their vision in between visits with eye care professionals. VAS notes that retinal diseases affect approximately 40 million individuals worldwide and 13 million in the United States. While treatments have been developed to deal with degenerative eye conditions, early diagnosis is of paramount importance — which is why the software is so important."
ananyo writes "When U.S. presidential candidate Mitt Romney said last year that he was not even going to try to reach 47% of the US electorate, and that he would focus on the 5–10% thought to be floating voters, he was articulating a commonly held opinion: that most voters are locked in to their ideological party loyalty. But Lars Hall, a cognitive scientist at Lund University in Sweden, knew better. When Hall and his colleagues tested the rigidity of people's political attitudes and voting intentions during Sweden's 2010 general election, they discovered that loyalty was malleable: nearly half of all voters were open to changing their minds. Hall's group polled 162 voters during the final weeks of the election campaign, asking them which of two opposing political coalitions — conservative or social democrat/green — they intended to vote for. The researchers also asked voters to rate where they stood on 12 key political issues, including tax rates and nuclear power. The person conducting the experiment secretly filled in an identical survey with the reverse of the voter's answers, and used sleight-of-hand to exchange the answer sheets, placing the voter in the opposite political camp. The researcher invited the voter to give reasons for their manipulated opinions, then summarized their score to give a probable political affiliation and asked again who they intended to vote for. On the basis of the manipulated score, 10% of the subjects switched their voting intentions, from right to left wing or vice versa. Another 19% changed from firm support of their preferred coalition to undecided. A further 18% had been undecided before the survey, indicating that as many as 47% of the electorate were open to changing their minds, in sharp contrast to the 10% of voters identified as undecided in Swedish polls at the time (research paper). Hall has used a similar sleight of hand before to show that our moral compass can often be easily reversed."
coondoggie writes "There has been much chatter about the threat of an asteroid or significant meteor strike on Earth — mostly caused by the untracked meteor that blasted its way to international attention when it exploded in the sky above Russia injuring nearly 1,200 people in February. It was one of those amazing coincidences that on that same day an asteroid NASA had been tracking for months — asteroid 2012 DA14 — was to harmlessly cross Earth's path. Those events and the topic of mitigating asteroid and meteor or Near Earth Object threats to Earth prompted a couple congressional hearings by the Committee on Science, Space, and Technology, the latest of which was held this week. None of the NEOs found to date have more than a tiny chance of hitting Earth in the next century. Thus the near-term risk of an unwarned impact from large asteroids, and hence the majority of the risk from all NEOs, has been reduced by more than 90%. Assuming none are found to be an impact threat, discovering 90% of the 140 meter sized objects will further reduce the total risk to the 99% level. By finding these objects early enough and tracking their motions over the next 100 years, even those rare objects that might be found threatening could be deflected using existing technologies."
sciencehabit writes "Researchers have developed a camera system that shoots untouched flakes 'in the wild' as they fall from the sky. By grabbing a series of images of the tumbling crystals—its exposure time is one-40,000th of a second, compared with about one-200th in normal photography—the camera is revealing the true shape diversity of snowflakes. Besides providing beautiful real-time 3D snowflake photographs from a ski resort in Utah, the goal is to improve weather modeling. More accurate data on how fast snowflakes fall and how their shapes interacts with radar will improve predictions of when and where storms will dump snow and how much."
sciencehabit writes "Europe's best-known mummy wasn't just a medical mess; he also had terrible teeth, according to a new study. Ötzi, a Stone Age man who died atop a glacier about 5300 years ago, suffered from severe gum disease and cavities. When Ötzi was discovered atop a glacier on the Austro-Italian border, his frozen corpse was intensively studied. But no one took a close look at his teeth until now. Using 3D computer tomography (a CAT scan), the hunter's mouth could be examined for clues as to the life he led. A fall or other accident killed one of his front teeth, still discolored millennia later. And he may have had a small stone, gone unnoticed in his whole-grain bread or gruel, to thank for a broken molar. That gruel may be the culprit behind Ötzi's cavities and gum disease, too. The uptick in starches, the researchers suggest, could explain the increasing frequency of cavities in teeth from the time—a problem that's been with us ever since."
David Gallo is an oceanographer and Director of Special Projects at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution. He has participated in expeditions to all of the world’s oceans and was one of the first scientists to use a combination of robots and submarines to explore the deep seafloor. As a member of James Cameron’s Deep Ocean Task Force and the XPrize Ocean Advisory Board, David actively encourages the development of new technologies for ocean exploration. With more than 8 million views, his TED presentation entitled Underwater Astonishments is the 4th most viewed TED Talk to date. David has agreed to come up for air and answer any questions you may have. As usual, ask as many as you'd like, but please, one question per post.
sciencehabit writes "Lufengosaurus, a long-necked, plant-eating dinosaur that lived in China during the Jurassic period, were the biggest animals of their age, measuring 30 feet long. Now, fossilized embryos reveal that they were also the fastest growing animals on record — 'faster than anything we have ever seen,' according to one researcher. What's more, researchers have found traces of organic matter in their bones, which may belong to the oldest fossil proteins ever found."
First time accepted submitter jds91md writes "Scientists at Stanford have developed a technique to see the structural detail of actual brains with resolution down to the cellular and axonal/dendritic level. The process called CLARITY allows a 'transparent' view of the brain without having to slice or section it in any way. From the article: 'Even more important, experts say, is that unlike earlier methods for making the tissue of brains and other organs transparent, the new process, called Clarity by its inventors, preserves the biochemistry of the brain so well that researchers can test it over and over again with chemicals that highlight specific structures within a brain and provide clues to its past activity. The researchers say this process may help uncover the physical underpinnings of devastating mental disorders like schizophrenia, autism, post-traumatic stress disorder and others.'"
coondoggie writes "In the 1966 science fiction classic Fantastic Voyage, a tiny submarine with a crew of five is miniaturized and injected into a comatose man to surgically laser a blood clot in his brain and save his life. At this week's American Chemical Society Nanoengineering expert Joseph Wang detailed his latest work in developing micromotors and microrockets that are so small that thousands would fit inside this 'o'. Such machines could someday perform microsurgery, clean clogged arteries or transport drugs to the right place in the body. But there are also possible uses in cleaning up oil spills, monitoring industrial processes and in national security."
astroengine writes "Saturn's rings rain charged water particles down onto the gas giant's atmosphere, causing measurable changes in the planet's ionosphere. This intriguing conclusion comes from astronomers using the W. M. Keck Observatory atop Mauna Kea in Hawaii that observed dark bands forming in Saturn's ionosphere. 'Saturn is the first planet to show significant interaction between its atmosphere and ring system,' said James O'Donoghue, postgraduate researcher at the University of Leicester and lead author of a paper to appear this week in the journal Nature. 'The main effect of ring rain is that it acts to 'quench' the ionosphere of Saturn, severely reducing the electron densities in regions in which it falls.'"
New kalalau_kane writes with this tidbit from Extreme Tech: "A group of European researchers has proposed the largest quantum network yet: Between Earth and the International Space Station. Such a network would see entangled photons transmitted over a distance of 250 miles — two or three times greater than previous quantum communication experiments. Not only will this be the first quantum experiment in space, but it will allow the scientists to see if entanglement really is instantaneous over long distances, and whether it's affected by gravity." The proposal (licensed CC BY).
sciencehabit writes "Get used to a bumpy ride. The strength and frequency of atmospheric turbulence affecting transatlantic flights will increase by midcentury, a new study suggests. During winter months, 16 of the 21 often-used ways in which scientists measure turbulence suggest that the average intensity of the plane-rattling phenomenon will be between 10% and 40% stronger when CO2 concentrations are double their preindustrial value. Accordingly, the frequency of moderate-or-greater turbulence—intensities at which passengers will experience accelerations of 0.5 g or more, which are strong enough to toss items about the cabin—will rise by between 40% and 170%. As a result of pilots needing to dodge strong turbulence, flight paths will become longer, and fuel consumption and carbon dioxide emissions will increase—possibly leading to even more turbulence."
mbstone writes "Lightning researcher Joseph Dwyer of the Florida Institute of Technology claims that thunderstorms unleash sprays of X-rays and even intense bursts of gamma rays which could cause airline passengers to receive in an instant the maximum safe lifetime dose of ionizing radiation — the kind that wreaks the most havoc on the human body. Dwyer hopes his sensor aboard the Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope, will provide more data."
First time accepted submitter alexgieg writes "Academic reference manager Mendeley has announced they're joining Elsevier. They say this won't change anything for Mendeley users and that they're still committed to their Open API efforts, all the while acknowledging that Elsevier's reputation hasn't been the best as of late. If you're currently a Mendeley user will you continue using it from now on? Or will this move prompt you to start evaluating alternatives such as the Open Source, Firefox-based Zotero?"
derekmead writes "Because its become so easy to start a new publication in this new pixel-driven information economy, a new genre of predatory journals is emerging at an alarming rate. The New York Times just published an exposée of sorts on the topic. Its only an exposée of sorts because the scientific community knows about the problem. There are blogs set up to shame the fake journals into halting publishing. There are tutorials online for spotting a fake journal. There's even a list created and maintained by academic librarian Jeffrey Beall that keeps an eye on all the new fake journals coming out. When Beall started the list in 2010, it had only 20 entries. Now it has over 4,000. The journal Nature even published an entire issue on the problem a couple of weeks ago. So again, scientists know this is a problem. They just don't know how to stop it."
astroengine writes "Almost every month we see news dispatches from the Mars where the nuclear-powered rover Curiosity finds water-bearing minerals in rocks and other circumstantial clues that the Red Planet could have once supported life. But in terms of finding direct evidence of past or present Martians, the rover barely scratches the surface, says geochemist Jan Amend of the University of Southern California. Using Earth life as an example, some species of microbes live miles below the surface, without sunlight or oxygen, metabolizing chemicals that are the result of radioactive decay. Most intriguing of all is the microbe Desulforudis Audaxviator that dwells nearly two miles down, a life form that would feel right at home inside Mars' crust. 'This organism has had to figure out everything on its own,' says Amend, 'it splits water into hydrogen and oxygen for metabolism.' Amend hopes to drop probes deep underground in some of the world's most inhospitable locations over the next few years, creating a possible analog for future Mars subsurface studies."
waderoush writes "At a time of sequesters and shrinking R&D spending, critics are attacking President Obama's proposed Brain Research Through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies (BRAIN) initiative, which would have a $100 million budget starting in 2014. But in fact, the project 'runs the risk of becoming a casualty of small-bore thinking in science business, and politics,' argues Xconomy national life sciences editor Luke Timmerman. The goal of the BRAIN initiative is to develop technologies for exploring the trillions of synapses between neurons in the human brain. If the $3 billion Human Genome Project and its even more productive sequel, the $300-million-per-year Advanced Sequencing Technologies program, are any guide, the initiative could lead to huge advances in our understanding of Alzheimer's disease, epilepsy, and consciousness itself. Only government can afford to think this big, argues Timmerman. 'Even though $100 million a year is small change by federal government standards,' Timmerman writes, 'it is enough to create a small market that gives for-profit companies assurance that if they build such tools, someone will buy them. We ought to be talking about how we can free up more money to achieve our neuroscience goals faster, rather than talking about whether we can afford this puny appropriation at all.'"