Space

NASA Funds Designs for a Nuclear Thermal Propulsion Rocket (space.com) 172

"Dangerous radiation. Overstuffed pantries. Cabin fever. NASA could sidestep many of the impediments to a Mars mission if they could just get there faster," writes Space.com, which reports NASA is now exploring an alternative to chemical rockets. In August, NASA announced an $18.8-million-dollar contract with nuclear company BWXT to design fuel and a reactor suitable for nuclear thermal propulsion (NTP), a rocket technology that could jumpstart a new era of space exploration. "The strengths with NTP are the ability to do the very fast round trip [to Mars], the ability to abort even if you're 2 to 3 months into the missions, the overall architectural robustness, and also the growth potential to even more advanced systems," Michael Houts, principal investigator for the NTP project at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center, told Space.com. NTP rockets would pull all that off by offering about twice the bang for the buck that chemical rockets do... "Nuclear thermal propulsion can enable you to get to Mars faster, on the order of twice as fast," said Vishal Patel, a researcher involved in subcontract work for BWXT at the Ultra Safe Nuclear Corp. in Los Alamos, New Mexico. "We're looking at nice 3- to 4-month transit times."
Space

Is Physical Law an Alien Intelligence? (nautil.us) 264

What if alien life were so advanced that its powers were indistinguishable from physics? It's the one-year anniversary of a startling article which appeared in Nautilus magazine. Long-time Slashdot reader wjcofkc writes: Caleb Scharf, astronomer and the director of the multidisciplinary Columbia Astrobiology Center at Columbia University presents an intriguing thought experiment.

"Perhaps Arthur C. Clarke was being uncharacteristically unambitious. He once pointed out that any sufficiently advanced technology is going to be indistinguishable from magic. If you dropped in on a bunch of Paleolithic farmers with your iPhone and a pair of sneakers, you'd undoubtedly seem pretty magical. But the contrast is only middling: The farmers would still recognize you as basically like them, and before long they'd be taking selfies. But what if life has moved so far on that it doesn't just appear magical, but appears like physics?"

The original submitter included their own counterarguments against the idea, but the astronomer follows his proposal to its ultimate conclusion.

"Perhaps hyper-advanced life isn't just external. Perhaps it's already all around. It is embedded in what we perceive to be physics itself, from the root behavior of particles and fields to the phenomena of complexity and emergence."
Science

Your Visual Skills Are Not Correlated To Your IQ (vanderbilt.edu) 201

Science_afficionado writes: Psychologists at Vanderbilt University have conducted the first study of individual variation in visual ability. They have discovered that there is a broad range of differences in people's capability for recognizing and remembering novel objects and this ability is not associated with individuals' general intelligence, or IQ.
Or, as the article puts it, "Just because someone is smart and well-motivated doesn't mean he or she can learn the visual skills needed to excel at tasks like matching fingerprints, interpreting medical X-rays, keeping track of aircraft on radar displays or forensic face matching."
AI

Study Finds Robot Surgeons Are Actually Slower and More Expensive (theregister.co.uk) 44

"Robot-assisted surgery costs more time and money than traditional methods, but isn't more effective, for certain types of operations," reports the Register, in an article shared by schwit1: In a study of almost 24,000 laparoscopic surgeries just published in The Journal of American Medicine, researchers from Stanford University School of Medicine analyzed data from 416 hospitals around the U.S. from 2003 to 2015. Robotic assistance provides 3D-visualization, a broader range of motion for instruments, and better ergonomics for physicians, according to the study. While it has advantages in scenarios where a high-degree of precision is required or where improved outcomes have been demonstrated (like radical prostatectomy), it appears to be a waste of resources for the two operations examined... But the patient outcomes were more or less the same.

A thematically-related economic study presented by the National Bureau for Economic Research on Monday suggests that while AI and machine learning have received substantial investment over the past five years and have been widely touted as a transformative technologies, "there is little sign that they have yet affected aggregate productivity statistics... The simplest possibility is that the optimism about the potential technologies is misplaced and unfounded," muse Erik Brynjolfsson and Daniel Rock (MIT), Chad Syverson (University of Chicago) in the paper.

But instead the paper's author suggest that fully realizing the benefits of AI "will require effort and entrepreneurship to develop the needed complements, and adaptability at the individual, organizational, and societal levels to undertake the associated restructuring."
Earth

How Two Scientists Accurately Predicted Global Warming in 1967 (medium.com) 218

Slashdot reader Layzej shares an article from this spring marking the 50th anniversary of the first accurate climate model: Astrophysicist Ethan Siegel looks at a climate model (MW67) published in 1967 and finds "50 years after their groundbreaking 1967 paper, the science can be robustly evaluated, and they got almost everything exactly right."

An analysis on the "Climate Graphs" blog shows exactly how close the prediction has proven to be: "The slope of the CO2-vs-temperature regression line in the 50 years of actual observations is 2.57, only slightly higher than MW67's prediction of 2.36" They also note that "This is even more impressive when one considers that at the time MW67 was published, there had been no detectable warming in over two decades. Their predicted warming appeared to mark a radical change with the recent past:"

Security

The Computer Scientist Who Prefers Voting With Paper (theatlantic.com) 219

Geoffrey.landis writes: The Atlantic profiles a computer scientist: Barbara Simons, who has been on the forefront of the pushback against electronic voting as a technology susceptible to fraud and hacking. When she first started writing articles about the dangers of electronic voting with no paper trail, the idea that software could be manipulated to rig elections was considered a fringe preoccupation; but Russia's efforts to influence the 2016 presidential election have reversed Simons's fortunes. According to the Department of Homeland Security, those efforts included attempts to meddle with the electoral process in 21 states; while a series of highly publicized hacks -- at Sony, Equifax, the U.S. Office of Personnel Management -- has driven home the reality that very few computerized systems are truly secure. Simons is a former President of the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM); and the group she helps run, Verified Voting, has been active in educating the public about the dangers of unverified voting since 2003.
NASA

NASA Discovers Mantle Plume That's Melting Antarctica From Below (newsweek.com) 243

schwit1 shares a report from Newsweek: Researchers at NASA have discovered a huge upwelling of hot rock under Marie Byrd Land, which lies between the Ross Ice Shelf and the Ross Sea, is creating vast lakes and rivers under the ice sheet. The presence of a huge mantle plume could explain why the region is so unstable today, and why it collapsed so quickly at the end of the last Ice Age, 11,000 years ago. Mantle plumes are thought to be part of the plumbing systems that brings hot material up from Earth's interior. Once it gets through the mantle, it spreads out under the crust, providing magma for volcanic eruptions. The area above a plume is known as a hotspot.

[I]n a study published in the Journal of Geophysical Research: Solid Earth, Seroussi and colleagues looked at one of the most well studied magma plumes on Earth -- the Yellowstone hotspot. The team developed a mantle plume model to look at how much geothermal heat would be needed to explain what is seen at Marie Byrd Land. They then used the Ice Sheet System Model (ISSM), which shows the physics of ice sheets, to look at the natural sources of heating and heat transport. This model enabled researchers to place "powerful constraint" on how much melt rate was allowable, meaning they could test out different scenarios of how much heat was being produced deep beneath the ice. Their findings showed that generally, the energy being generated by the mantle plume is no more than 150 milliwatts per square meter -- any more would result in too much melting. The heat generated under Yellowstone National Park, on average, is 200 milliwatts per square meter.

Robotics

Ford Pilots a New Exoskeleton To Lessen Worker Fatigue (futurism.com) 48

Ford is partnering with California-based exoskeleton maker Ekso Bionics to trial a non-powered upper body exoskeletal tool called EksoVest in two of the carmaker's U.S. plants. The goal is to lessen the fatigue factory workers experience in Ford's car manufacturing plants. Futurism reports: Designed to fit workers from five feet to six feet four inches tall, the EksoVest adds some 3 to 6 kilograms (5 to 15 pounds) of adjustable lift assistance to each arm. This exoskeleton is also comfortable enough to wear while providing free arm movement thanks to its lightweight construction. "Collaboratively working with Ford enabled us to test and refine early prototypes of the EksoVest based on insights directly from their production line workers," Ekso Bionics co-founder and CTO Russ Angold said in a Ford press release. "The end result is a wearable tool that reduces the strain on a worker's body, reducing the likelihood of injury, and helping them feel better at the end of the day -- increasing both productivity and morale." The U.S. trial, made possible with the help of the United Automobile Workers, has already demonstrated the wonders that the exoskeleton can offer in reducing fatigue from high-frequency tasks. As such, Ford plans to expand their EksoVest pilot program to other regions, which include Europe and South America.
Space

Exit Interview: Scott Kelly (atlasobscura.com) 62

An excerpt from a new interview of Scott Kelly, now a retired astronaut, who spent 11 months and three days at the International Space Station in one stretch: Q: What does space smell like?
It smells different to different people. Some people say it smells sweet. To me it smells like burnt metal, like if you took a blowtorch to some steel or something.

Q: When you're up there on the ISS, arguably you're the most expensive human being on the planet except the president. The amount of resources being spent to keep you alive are enormous. Did that weigh on you at all?
Never even thought about that. No. Never considered it. I appreciated the effort that people went through to make sure you're safe, and are taken care of and supported while you're there, but I never considered the cost of it.

Question: Did it feel like, 'Man, I gotta work all the time'?
I think some people feel that way. I kind of felt that way on my [first, six-month ISS mission]. But having flown for six months, and then a few years later flying for a year, I realized I couldn't do that. So I definitely had to pace myself throughout the course of the year.

Q: Did you lose anything in the station?
All kinds of stuff! One of the last things I remember losing was this fancy, 3-D printed cover for some experiment. It was for the camera and I turn around and the thing's gone, and they didn't have a spare. I've got to see if they've found that thing yet. Oh, yeah. We lost a bag of screws and washers one time.

Question: When you're on the U.S. side of the ISS and the Russians are on their side, how much interaction is there, day-to-day?
They work predominantly in the Russian segment and have their meals there, so during waking hours, they're generally on their side, we're generally on our side. You interact, you go down there, you chat with them, you come back, you might perform some kind of experiments, they might do a little thing in our space station, but it's what we refer to as "segmented ops."

Question: Does it feel like you're all in it together?
Yes! Absolutely. We actually do some things to help each other that we don't even share with the ground because then it creates like bureaucratic ... issues for them to deal with. I've been asked to help fix some of their hardware, their treadmill one time. We help each other getting trash off the space station without telling the folks in Houston.

Medicine

Human Mini-Brains Growing Inside Rat Bodies Are Starting To Integrate (inverse.com) 193

At the annual meeting of the Society for Neuroscience starting November 11 in Washington D.C., two teams of scientists plan to present previously unpublished research on the unexpected interaction between human mini-brains and their rat and mouse hosts. "In the new papers, according to STAT, scientists will report that the organoids survived for extended periods of time -- two months in one case -- and even connected to lab animals' circulatory and nervous systems, transferring blood and nerve signals between the host animal and the implanted human cells," reports Inverse. "This is an unprecedented advancement for mini-brain research." From the report: That mini-brains can even be grown in the lab is a huge advancement in the first place, as they have many of the same characteristics as living human brains that are in the early stages of development. Though they're not "alive" in the same sense that you and I are, they grow and are organized into different layers like our brains are. They even react in similar ways to stimuli like psychedelic drugs. Organoids are poised to revolutionize research on the human brain since scientists can perform tests on them that would be unethical to attempt on living humans. STAT also reports that a third lab, in addition to the two presenting at the Society for Neuroscience meeting, has successfully connected human brain organoids to blood vessels. This attempt veered into such challenging ethical territory, though, that the lab reportedly paused its efforts.
Science

Cities Are Scolding Countries at UN Climate Conference To Cut Emissions (vice.com) 159

A reader shares a report: An alliance of major cities including New York, Toronto, and London challenged nation states attending the United Nations climate talks in Bonn, Germany this week "to kick dirty carbon to the curb" and immediately "commit and work straightaway towards carbon neutrality, 100 percent renewable energy, zero-waste and zero-carbon." The Carbon Neutral Cities Alliance is a new collaboration of 20 international cities (other members include Washington DC, San Francisco, Oslo, and Sydney). All are striving for carbon neutrality and cutting greenhouse gas emissions by at least 80 percent by 2050. "Dirty fuels and climate disruption are killing and displacing millions of citizens around the world," the Alliance stated in a strongly-worded letter sent to every country's delegation at climate talks, known as COP 23. "Cities are on the frontline of climate impacts. We see the urgency of climate action and need nation-states to be as committed as we are," Johanna Partin, the director of the Alliance and former advisor to the mayor of San Francisco, told Motherboard by phone.
Science

Indian Capital Declares Emergency as Toxic Smog Thickens By the Hour (reuters.com) 129

New Delhi, the Indian capital declared a pollution emergency on Thursday as toxic smog hung over the city for a third day and air quality worsened by the hour. From a report: Illegal crop burning in the farm states surrounding New Delhi, vehicle exhaust emissions in a city with limited public transport and swirling construction dust have caused the crisis, which arises every year. The problem has been compounded this year by still conditions, the weather office said. A U.S. embassy measure of tiny particulate matter PM 2.5 showed a reading of 608 at 10 a.m. when the safe limit is 25. An hour before it was 591.
NASA

NASA: We're Not Building Flying Taxi Software For Uber (theregister.co.uk) 24

News outlets reported on Wednesday that Uber had signed a contract with NASA to develop software for the ride-hailing company's autonomous "flying taxis." A day later, the space agency has clarified its involvement in the project and the specifics of the contract. From the report: Uber's chief product officer Jeff Holden spoke at the Web Summit in Lisbon yesterday where he was promoting the fledgling autonomous taxi project, revealed last year, Uber Elevate. And of course he never claimed that NASA was working on software for his firm, merely explaining that it had inked an agreement to work with the public body on the latter's air traffic control project. Uber told us that while NASA was not "committing funding or anything like that", it said "having their decades of aeronautic experience actively collaborating with our engineers is a huge help for tackling the aviation traffic management hurdles." A NASA spokesperson, meanwhile, told us Uber had indeed signed what it described as a "generic Space Act Agreement" for participation in the programme back in January, joining a "multitude" of others. The project and its members are "researching prototype technologies for a UAS Traffic Management (UTM) system that could develop airspace integration requirements for enabling safe, efficient low-altitude operations," according to NASA's website. So no new news on the software front.
Medicine

Scientists Save Child's Life By Growing Him New Skin (scientificamerican.com) 107

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Scientific American: The German doctors realized they had to do something drastic or their seven-year-old patient would die. The boy had escaped war-ravaged Syria with his parents, and a rare genetic disease had left him with raw, blistering sores over 80 percent of his body. His doctors in a children's burn unit tried everything they could to treat his illness, called junctional epidermolysis bullosa -- even grafting some skin from his father to see if it would heal the child's wounds. But his body rejected this. Finally, they e-mailed Michele De Luca, a researcher in Italy, to ask for help.

The doctors took a small sample of skin from one of the few places on the boy's body where it was not flaming red or flaking off, and sent it to De Luca. His team at the center used a virus to insert into the skin cells a correct copy of a gene called LAMB3; the boy's own defective copy had caused his epidermolysis bullosa. De Luca and his colleagues grew the skin cells over scaffolds in their lab to form large sheets, the way doctors often do for burn patients. In two surgeries in October and November 2015, the Italian and German teams covered the boy's limbs, sides and back with these sheets of fresh skin. After being too sick even to get out of bed before his surgeries, "he was standing up already by Christmas," De Luca says. In January 2016 the boy, whose name is not being released to protect his privacy, received a few more skin patches -- and in February he was released from the University Hospitals of the Ruhr University Bochum in Germany.

Space

SpaceX Rocket Engine Explodes During Test (space.com) 115

According to The Washington Post, a SpaceX rocket engine exploded Sunday (Nov. 5) at the company's test facility in McGregor, Texas. The explosion reportedly occurred during a "qualification test" of a Merlin engine, the type that powers SpaceX's workhorse Falcon 9 rocket. Space.com reports: SpaceX has suspended engine testing while it investigates what caused the incident, which didn't injure anyone, the Post added. In a statement provided to the Post, SpaceX representatives said they didn't expect the explosion to affect the company's launch schedule. That schedule has been pretty packed this year. SpaceX has already launched 16 missions, all of them successful, in 2017 -- twice as many as its previous high in a calendar year. And all but three of these missions also involved landings of the Falcon 9 first stage, for eventual refurbishment and reuse.
NASA

NASA Is Working With Uber on Its Flying Taxi Project 51

Ride-hailing service Uber on Wednesday took a step forward in its plan to make autonomous "flying taxis" a reality, signing a contract with NASA to develop the software to manage them. From a report: Uber said at the Web Summit tech conference in Lisbon that it signed a Space Act Agreement with NASA for the development of "unmanned traffic management." This is NASA's push to figure out how unmanned aerial systems (UAS), such as drones that fly at a low altitude, can operate safely. Uber wants to make vertical take-off and landing vehicles. That will allow their flying cars to take off and land vertically. They will fly at a low altitude. This is the start-up's first partnership with a U.S. federal government agency. NASA is also working with other companies to develop traffic management for these low altitude vehicles. "UberAir will be performing far more flights on a daily basis than it has ever been done before. Doing this safely and efficiently is going to require a foundational change in airspace management technologies," Jeff Holden, chief product officer at Uber, said in a statement on Wednesday. "Combining Uber's software engineering expertise with NASA's decades of airspace experience to tackle this is a crucial step forward for Uber Elevate."
NASA

NASA Astronaut Dick Gordon, Pilot of Gemini and Apollo 12, Dies At 88 (astronautscholarship.org) 58

sconeu writes: Dick Gordon, pilot of Gemini 11 and command module pilot of Apollo 12, has died at the age of 88. Gordon was also slated to command the cancelled Apollo 18 mission. "Dick Gordon is an American hero, and a true renaissance man by any measure. He was an American naval officer and aviator, chemist, test pilot, NASA astronaut, professional football executive, oil and gas executive and generous contributor to worthy causes," said Curt Brown, board chairman of the Orlando-based Astronaut Scholarship Foundation and an astronaut and veteran of six space flights. "He was in a category all his own." The Astronaut Scholarship Foundation has a touching write-up that details Gordon's childhood and career successes. You can read the full article here.
Biotech

EPA Approves Release of Bacteria-Carrying Mosquitoes To 20 States (nature.com) 133

schwit1 writes: The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has approved the use of a common bacterium to kill wild mosquitoes that transmit viruses such as dengue, yellow fever and Zika, Nature's news team has learned. On November 3rd, the agency told biotechnology start-up MosquitoMate that it could release the bacterium Wolbachia pipientis into the environment as a tool against the Asian tiger mosquito (Aedes albopictus). Lab-reared mosquitoes will deliver the bacterium to wild mosquito populations. The decision -- which the EPA has not formally announced -- allows the company, which is based in Lexington, Kentucky, to release the bacteria-infected mosquitoes in 20 U.S. states and Washington DC.

MosquitoMate will rear the Wolbachia-infected A. albopictus mosquitoes in its laboratories, and then sort males from females. Then the laboratory males, which don't bite, will be released at treatment sites. When these males mate with wild females, which do not carry the same strain of Wolbachia, the resulting fertilized eggs don't hatch because the paternal chromosomes do not form properly. The company says that over time, as more of the Wolbachia-infected males are released and breed with the wild partners, the pest population of A. albopictus mosquitoes dwindles. Other insects, including other species of mosquito, are not harmed by the practice, says Stephen Dobson, an entomologist at the University of Kentucky in Lexington and founder of MosquitoMate.

Power

'Quark Fusion' Produces Eight Times More Energy Than Nuclear Fusion (futurism.com) 173

walterbyrd shares a report from Futurism: This new source of energy, according to researchers Marek Karliner and Jonathan Rosner, comes from the fusion of subatomic particles known as quarks. These particles are usually produced as a result of colliding atoms that move at high speeds within the Large Hadron Collider (LHC), where these component parts split from their parent atoms. It doesn't stop there, however, as these disassociated quarks also tend to collide with one another and fuse into particles called baryons. It is this fusion of quarks that Karliner and Rosner focused on, as they found that this fusion is capable of producing energy even greater than what's produced in hydrogen fusion. In particular, they studied how fused quarks configure into what's called a doubly-charmed baryon. Fusing quarks require 130 MeV to become doubly-charmed baryons, which, in turn, releases energy that's 12 MeV more energy. Turning their calculations to heavier bottom quarks, which need 230 MeV to fuse, they found that a resulting baryon could produce approximately 138 MeV of net energy -- about eight times more than what hydrogen fusion releases. The new study has been published in the journal Nature.
Earth

New Technology Should Be Neither Feared Nor Trusted (bloomberg.com) 61

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Bloomberg: How should we think about new and future technologies? The two main stances seem to be extreme optimism and extreme pessimism. A better approach would be careful planning and management. Optimists tend to overlook the fact that the technological successes of the past required a lot of social engineering before their benefits became widely shared. Countries like Maoist China and North Korea implemented perverse economic systems that withheld the bounty of modern technology from most of their citizens. And poor countries didn't really begin to beat poverty until decades after colonialism ended. Pessimists, meanwhile, often assume that new technologies can be stopped in their tracks by act of popular will. They probably can't. Even the most impoverished, repressive regimes of the 20th century adopted new technologies, and often suffered their worst consequences. Scientific research and invention, meanwhile, can be forbidden in one country or another, but probably not at the global level: Someone, somewhere, will study even the scariest ideas.

A better approach, then, is technology management. We should be as realistic as we can about each innovation's potential benefits and dangers. And instead of thinking about how to suppress new technologies, we should think about how to regulate them and channel them toward broad social benefit. Emerging technologies like genetic engineering and artificial intelligence are at our doorstep, and there is no putting the genie back in the bottle. But letting them develop haphazardly entails large risks. Instead, government and industry need to be funding proactive efforts to bring them into widespread, well-regulated use. In the end, technology is what we choose to make of it.

Earth

The US Is Now the Only Country In the World To Reject the Paris Climate Deal 719

An anonymous reader quotes a report from The Verge: Today, Syria announced that it would sign the Paris climate agreement -- a landmark deal that commits almost 200 countries to reducing greenhouse gas emissions to fight global warming. With Nicaragua also joining the deal last month, the United States is now the only country in the world that opposes it. In June, President Donald Trump announced that the U.S. will withdraw from the Paris climate accord, unless it is renegotiated to be "fair" to the United States. But other countries in the deal, such as France, Germany, and Italy, said that's not possible. The Trump administration is also taking steps to roll back regulations passed under former President Barack Obama to achieve the emissions reduction goals set under the Paris deal. The U.S. is the second largest emitter of heat-trapping greenhouse gases in the world after China. "With Syria's decision, the relentless commitment of the global community to deliver on Paris is more evident than ever," Paula Caballero, director of the climate change program at the World Resources Institute, told the Times. "The U.S.'s stark isolation should give Trump reason to reconsider his ill-advised announcement and join the rest of the world in tackling climate change."
Earth

Florida Attempts the Largest Hydraulic Restoration Project In the World To Save the Everglades (vice.com) 98

New submitter ar2286 shares a report from Motherboard: Florida is defined by its water -- the water flowing around it, through it, increasingly over it. But throughout the twentieth century, its major arteries of fresh water, which flowed from the Kissimmee River south of Orlando to Lake Okeechobee and down to the swampy Everglades, were permanently rerouted by the federal government and landowners to stop flooding, and make room for agriculture and housing in the southern part of the state. Now the state is working with the Army Corps of Engineers -- the government agency partly responsible for rerouting and draining water to begin with -- and the South Florida Water Management District to attempt the largest hydraulic restoration project in the world. And while some say the effort has turned Florida into a battleground, pitting sugar farmers against legislators and environmentalists, others are hoping this will finally right certain man-made wrongs and restore some balance to the state. If the government is able to fully fund the plan, and should dozens of contractors and state forces successfully carry it out, it could permanently change Florida. And set a precedent for inevitable restoration projects around the world, which are becoming increasingly crucial as climate change manifests in stronger storms and sea level rise. The state is embarking on such a massive restoration project because the aging levees and control gates surrounding Lake Okeechobee are at risk of failing during large storms and/or heavy rainfall. "The more rainwater that increases in Lake Okeechobee, the more pressure is on the lake, and that pressure can continue to build up and build up and build up and one day the levee can go," said Tammy Jackson-Moore, a Belle Glade resident who co-founded Guardians of the Glades, a nonprofit focused on community advocacy. "And we're talking about wiping out entire communities here." The rerouting has allowed for bursts of economic growth, but it does have its consequences. "The Everglades, the largest swath of subtropical wilderness in the country, is now half of its size circa 1920, and the ecosystem has deteriorated, losing wildlife and native flora," reports Motherboard. "Without a natural place to flow, stagnant water pushes toxic algae blooms into the rivers, and turns pristine ocean into sludgy waste."
Communications

Sleep Deprivation Disrupts Brain-Cell Communication, Study Finds (npr.org) 87

A new study published in the journal Nature Medicine found that sleep deprivation causes the bursts of electrical activity that brain cells use to communicate to become slower and weaker. "The finding could help explain why a lack of sleep impairs a range of mental functions, says Dr. Itzhak Fried, an author of the study and a professor of neurosurgery at the University of California, Los Angeles," reports NPR. From the report: The finding comes from an unusual study of patients being evaluated for surgery to correct severe epilepsy. As part of the evaluation, doctors place wires in the brain to find out where a patient's seizures are starting. That allows Fried and a team of scientists to monitor hundreds of individual brain cells, often for days. And because patients with epilepsy are frequently kept awake in order to provoke a seizure, the scientists had an ideal way to study the effects of sleep deprivation. In the study, all the patients agreed to categorize images of faces, places and animals. Each image caused cells in areas of the brain involved in perception to produce distinctive patterns of electrical activity. Then, four of the patients stayed up all night before looking at more images. And in these patients, "the neurons are responding slower," Fried says. "The responses are diminished, and they are smeared over longer periods of time." These changes impair the cells' ability to communicate, Fried says. And that leads to mental lapses that can affect not only perception but memory.
Piracy

US Court Grants ISPs and Search Engine Blockade of Sci-Hub (torrentfreak.com) 165

Sci-Hub, a scientific research piracy site home to thousands of research papers, has suffered another blow in a U.S. federal court. According to TorrentFreak, "The American Chemical Society has won a default judgment of $4.8 million for alleged copyright infringement against the site. In addition, the publisher was granted an unprecedented injunction which requires search engines and ISPs to block the platform." This comes after a $15 million fine was imposed on Sci-Hub by a New York federal judge earlier this year. From the report: Just before the weekend, U.S. District Judge Leonie Brinkema issued a final decision which is a clear win for ACS. The publisher was awarded the maximum statutory damages of $4.8 million for 32 infringing works, as well as a permanent injunction. The injunction is not limited to domain name registrars and hosting companies, but expands to search engines, ISPs and hosting companies too, who can be ordered to stop linking to or offering services to Sci-Hub. The injunction means that Internet providers, such as Comcast, can be requested to block users from accessing Sci-Hub. That's a big deal since pirate site blockades are not common in the United States. The same is true for search engine blocking of copyright-infringing sites.

"Ordered that any person or entity in active concert or participation with Defendant Sci-Hub and with notice of the injunction, including any Internet search engines, web hosting and Internet service providers, domain name registrars, and domain name registries, cease facilitating access to any or all domain names and websites through which Sci-Hub engages in unlawful access to, use, reproduction, and distribution of ACS's trademarks or copyrighted works," the injunction reads.

United States

The Disappearing American Grad Student (nytimes.com) 268

There are two very different pictures of the students roaming the hallways and labs at New York University's Tandon School of Engineering. At the undergraduate level, 80 percent of the students are United States residents. But that number, The New York Times reports, falls below the 20 percent mark when you move to the graduate level (Editor's note: the link could be paywalled). From the report: The Tandon School -- a consolidation of N.Y.U.'s science, technology, engineering and math programs on its Brooklyn campus -- is an extreme example of how scarce Americans are in graduate programs in STEM. Overall, these programs have the highest percentage of international students of any broad academic field. In the fall of 2015, about 55 percent of all graduate students in mathematics, computer sciences and engineering were from abroad, according to a survey by the Council of Graduate Schools and the Graduate Record Examinations Board. In arts and humanities, the figure was about 16 percent; in business, a little more than 18 percent. The dearth of Americans is even more pronounced in hot STEM fields like computer science, which serve as talent pipelines for the likes of Google, Amazon, Facebook and Microsoft: About 64 percent of doctoral candidates and almost 68 percent in master's programs last year were international students, according to an annual survey of American and Canadian universities by the Computing Research Association. In comparison, only about 9 percent of undergraduates in computer science were international students (perhaps, deans posit, because families are nervous about sending offspring who are barely adults across the ocean to study).
Space

China Plans to Also Launch Reusable Spaceplanes by 2020 (arstechnica.com) 92

Slashdot reader hackingbear writes: According to a statement from China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation, China's reusable spaceplane will launch in 2020. The spaceplane will be launched vertically by a winged rocket to orbit and each of them will be returned to the ground horizontally, according to Chinese media reports. The system is designed to be reusable in 24 hours and for at least 20 times, cutting launch costs to 1/10 of the current price... "Currently China is developing its own reusable earth-to-orbit space vehicles that can take off and land horizontally," Liu Shiquan, vice director of the China Aerospace Science & Industry Corporation, said. "We have already finished several crucial ground tests for engines and [other key components], yielding remarkable achievements."
Earth

Hole In The Ozone Layer Smallest In 29 Years (weather.com) 181

An anonymous reader quotes the Weather Channel: The hole in the ozone layer over Antarctica is the smallest it's been since 1988, NASA said. According to a press release, the hole in the Earth's ozone layer is 1.3 million square miles smaller than last year and 3.3 million square miles smaller than 2015... This year, the hole grew to 7.6 million square miles. NASA and NOAA scientists said warmer temperatures and a stormier upper atmosphere helped keep damaging chemicals chlorine and bromine from eating ozone from the layer that protects the Earth's surface from harmful ultraviolet rays... The hole that hovers over Antarctica has been slowly recovering, scientists say, due to an international ban on harmful chemicals that were previously used in refrigerants and aerosols.

The hole was its largest in 2000 and measured 11.5 million square miles. Although recovery is underway, the size of the hole remains large compared to the 1980s, when the hole was first detected, NASA noted. And while there has been significant healing of the ozone layer in recent years, some scientists say full healing is a slow process and will not occur until sometime in the 22nd century, Yale Environment 360 reports. Others expect the Antarctic ozone hole to recover back to 1980 levels around 2070, NASA said.

Businesses

Jeff Bezos Just Sold $1.1 Billion in Amazon Stock (cnn.com) 69

An anonymous reader quotes CNN Money: Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, the newly minted richest person in the world, just sold more than $1 billion worth of his stock. The sale was made public in a filing posted Friday. In total, Bezos let go of one million shares for $1,097,803,365. Exactly how Bezos plans to spend those Benjamins wasn't clear. But it isn't unprecedented for him to sell such a large chunk. In May, he sold more than a million shares. A similar sale was executed in August 2016.

Even after his most recent sell off, Bezos still personally owns about a 16% of Amazon, which he founded in 1994. Bezos's large ownership stake helped vault him past Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates as the richest person in the world, according to the Bloomberg Billionaire's Index... One possible destination for the cash Bezos just freed up is his commercial space company, Blue Origin. Earlier this year, Bezos told reporters at a space symposium that he sells about $1 billion per year worth of Amazon stock to fund the company, according to Reuters... Last month, Blue Origin Chief Executive Officer Bob Smith said he expects the first manned flight to take place by April 2019.

One Silicon Valley newspaper calls it the biggest stock sale ever.
Printer

3D Printing Doubles the Strength of Stainless Steel (sciencemag.org) 96

sciencehabit writes: Researchers have come up with a way to 3D print tough and flexible stainless steel, an advance that could lead to faster and cheaper ways to make everything from rocket engines to parts for nuclear reactors and oil rigs. The team designed a computer-controlled process to not only create dense stainless steel layers, but to more tightly control the structure of their material from the nanoscale to micron scale. That allows the printer to build in tiny cell wall-like structures on each scale that prevent fractures and other common problems. Tests showed that under certain conditions the final 3D printed stainless steels were up to three times stronger than steels made by conventional techniques and yet still ductile.
The work was done using a commercially-available 3D printer, according to Science magazine. "That makes it likely that other groups will be able to quickly follow their lead to make a wide array of high-strength stainless steel parts for everything from fuel tanks in airplanes to pressure tubes in nuclear power plants."
Space

Laika, the Pioneering Space Dog, Was Launched 60 Years Ago Today (space.com) 74

sqorbit writes: Sixty years ago, the space race was in full swing. Russia had sent Sputnik into space with much success. In an effort to push farther, they rushed sending a dog into space in a re-purposed Sputnik rocket. The mission launched with no clear solution to a safe re-entry. Within a few hours of launch, temperature controls failed, killing the female dog named Laika. Launched on November 3, 1957, it did not re-enter the earth's atmosphere until April 14, 1958. Laika was the first living creature to fly into orbit, Space.com reports. While Soviet publications at the time claimed that Laika died, painlessly, after a week in Earth's orbit, Anatoly Zak of RussianSpaceWeb.com writes that several Russian sources revealed decades later that the dog actually survived in orbit for four days and then died when the cabin overheated. "According to other sources, severe overheating and the death of the dog occurred only five or six hours into the mission," he writes. "With all systems dead, the spacecraft continued circling the Earth until April 14, 1958, when it re-entered the atmosphere after 2,570 orbits (2,370 orbits according to other sources) or 162 days in space. Many people reportedly saw a fiery trail of Sputnik 2 as it flew over New York and reached the Amazon region in just 10 minutes during its re-entry."
Space

Five New Asteroids Surprise Astronomers In Hubble Images (sciencemag.org) 33

sciencehabit shares a report from Science Magazine: Five previously unknown asteroids in our solar system have photobombed new Hubble Space Telescope images. Astronomers spotted the space rocks -- plus another two that had been previously catalogued in images collected as part of the Frontier Fields project, which observed six clusters of galaxies billions of light-years away. When multiple exposures obtained at different times were stacked together to produce the image above, the asteroids showed up as trails because they had moved between exposures, and some of the asteroids were spotted more than once. The five new asteroids orbit within the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter. Previous studies missed them because they're extremely faint
Earth

Massive Government Report Says Climate Is Warming and Humans Are the Cause (npr.org) 415

An anonymous reader quotes a report from NPR: It is "extremely likely" that human activities are the "dominant cause" of global warming, according to the the most comprehensive study ever of climate science by U.S. government researchers. The climate report, obtained by NPR, notes that the past 115 years are "the warmest in the history of modern civilization." The global average temperature has increased by about 1.8 degree Fahrenheit over that period. Greenhouse gases from industry and agriculture are by far the biggest contributor to warming. The findings contradict statements by President Trump and many of his Cabinet members, who have openly questioned the role humans play in changing the climate. The report states that the global climate will continue to warm. How much, it says, "will depend primarily on the amount of greenhouse gases (especially carbon dioxide) emitted globally." Without major reductions in emissions, it says, the increase in annual average global temperature could reach 9 degrees Fahrenheit relative to pre-industrial times. Efforts to reduce emissions, it says, would slow the rate of warming.
Science

'Discovery of the Century': Mysterious Void Discovered In Egypt's Great Pyramid (nationalgeographic.com) 299

New submitter klgds writes: The cavity is the first major inner structure discovered in the pyramid since the 1800s. Egypt's Great Pyramid of Giza -- one of the wonders of the ancient world, and a dazzling feat of architectural genius -- contains a hidden void at least a hundred feet long, scientists said. The space's dimensions resemble those of the pyramid's Grand Gallery, the 153-foot-long, 26-foot-tall corridor that leads to the burial chamber of Khufu, the pharaoh for whom the pyramid was built. However, it remains unclear what lies within the space, what purpose it served, or if it's one or multiple spaces. The void is the first large inner structure discovered within the 4,500-year-old pyramid since the 1800s -- a find made possible by recent advances in high-energy particle physics. The results were published in the journal Nature. "This is definitely the discovery of the century," says archaeologist and Egyptologist Yukinori Kawae, a National Geographic Emerging Explorer. "There have been many hypotheses about the pyramid, but no one even imagined that such a big void is located above the Grand Gallery."
ISS

The International Space Station Is Getting Its First Printer Upgrade in 17 Years (mashable.com) 174

Lance Ulanoff, writing for Mashable: Somewhere, 254 miles above us, an astronaut is probably printing something. Ever since the International Space Station (ISS) welcomed its first residents in November of 2000, there have been printers on board. Astronauts use them to print out critical mission information, emergency evacuation procedures and, sometimes, photos from home. According to NASA, they print roughly 1,000 pages a month on two printers; one is installed on the U.S. side of the ISS, the other in the Russian segment. ISS residents do all this on 20-year-old technology. "When the printer was new, it was like 2000-era tech and we had 2000-era laptop computers. Everything worked pretty good," recalled NASA Astronaut Don Pettit, who brought the first printer up to the ISS. But "the printer's been problematic for the last five or six years," said Pettit who's spent a total of one year on the station. It's not that the Space Station has been orbiting with the same printer since Justin Timberlake was still N'Sync. NASA had dozens of this printer and, as one failed, they'd send up another identical model. But now it's time for something truly new. In 2018, NASA will send two brand new, specialized printers up to the station. However, figuring out the right kind of printer to send was a lot more complicated than you'd probably expect. NASA has turned to HP for its IT supply and needs. The agency requires the following things in its printer: print and handle paper management in zero gravity, handle ink waste during printing, be flame retardant, and be power efficient. HP, Mashable reports, has recommended the HP Envy 5600, its all-in-one (printer, scanner, copier, fax) device that retails for $129.99. The model has been modified, according to the report.
Math

Scientists Have Mathematical Proof That It's Impossible To Stop Aging (sciencealert.com) 177

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Science Alert: Mathematically speaking, multicellular organisms like us will always have to deal with a cellular competition where only one side will win. And ultimately, that means our vitality will always come out as the loser. We have a pair of researchers from the University of Arizona to blame for this depressing conclusion, who crunched the numbers on a hypothesis involving the weeding out of unfit cells and found it amounted to a catch-22 situation. Aging -- and all of the biological changes that come with it -- is more or less the result of cells slowing down and losing their functions. But what if there was a way to encourage the more active cells to stick around at the expense of their sluggish siblings? Surely if we knocked off those old cells we could keep making pigments and collagen a little longer. Researchers have pinned hopes on reversing the inevitable decay of biochemistry by repairing DNA or extending the shrinking bits of chromosome called telomeres, for example. While it's good in theory, there is a catch. Another feature of aging is a number of cells start to populate like there's no tomorrow, reproducing in uncontrolled ways that look too close to cancer for comfort. According to the researchers, this means we're damned either way.

The way we grow old poses something of a mystery. If replicating biology is good enough to continue for generations, why do our own cells wind down after just a few decades? A simple answer is evolution isn't strong enough to weed out genes that only cause us grief after we've popped out a few offspring. But this model of aging adds a new element to the existing hypothesis -- even if evolution did select for eternal youth, competition inside our own bodies would see us to an inevitable grave. In other words, since multicellular organisms are the cumulative effect of bunches of cooperating cells, we logically can't have it both ways -- if you clear the way for 'younger' cells to keep your skin baby-smooth, you're just asking for the big C.
The findings have been published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Earth

The Asteroid That Wiped Out Dinosaurs Plunged Earth Into Catastrophic Winter (bbc.com) 103

The asteroid impact roughly 66 million years ago that wiped out three-quarters of plant and animal species, including the dinosaurs, dropped temperatures globally below freezing for several years. The new assessment, reported in the journal Geographic Research Letters, gives scientists a much clearer picture of the climate catastrophe following the event. BCC reports: The UK geophysicist was the co-lead investigator on the 2016 project to drill into what remains of the impactor's crater under the Gulf of Mexico. She and colleagues spent several weeks retrieving the rock samples that would allow them to reconstruct precisely how the Earth reacted to being punched by a high-velocity space object. Their study suggests the asteroid approached the surface from the north-east, striking what was then a shallow sea at an oblique angle of 60 degrees. Roughly 12km wide and moving at about 18km/s, the stony impactor instantly excavated and vaporized thousands of billions of tonnes of rock. This material included a lot of sulphur-containing minerals such as gypsum and anhydrite, but also carbonates which yielded carbon dioxide. The team's calculations estimate the quantities ejected upwards at high speed into the upper atmosphere included 325 gigatones of sulphur (give or take 130Gt) and perhaps 425Gt of carbon dioxide (plus or minus 160Gt). The CO2 would eventually have a longer-term warming effect, but the release of so much sulphur, combined with soot and dust, would have had an immediate and very severe cooling effect.
NASA

NASA Wants Private Company To Take Over Spitzer Space Telescope (spacenews.com) 37

schwit1 writes: NASA has issued a request for proposals from private companies or organizations to take over the operation of the Spitzer Space Telescope after 2019. SpaceNews reports: "NASA's current plans call for operating Spitzer through March of 2019 to perform preparatory observations for the James Webb Space Telescope. That schedule was based on plans for a fall 2018 launch of JWST, which has since been delayed to the spring of 2019. Under that plan, NASA would close out the Spitzer mission by fiscal year 2020. That plan was intended to save NASA the cost of running Spitzer, which is currently $14 million a year. The spacecraft itself, though, remains in good condition and could operating well beyond NASA's current plan. 'The observatory and the IRAC instrument are in excellent health. We don't have really any issues with the hardware,' said Lisa Storrie-Lombardi, Spitzer project manager, in a presentation to the committee Oct. 18. IRAC is the Infrared Array Camera, an instrument that continues operations at its two shortest wavelengths long after the spacecraft exhausted the supply of liquid helium coolant. The spacecraft's only consumable is nitrogen gas used for the spacecraft's thrusters, and Storrie-Lombardi said the spacecraft still had half its supply of nitrogen 14 years after launch." The way a private organization could make money on this is to charge astronomers and research projects for observation time. This could work, since there is usually a greater demand for research time than available observatories.
Earth

Every Other Summer Will Shatter Heat Records Within a Decade (vice.com) 322

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Motherboard: Think of the stickiest, record-hot summer you've ever experienced, whether you're 30 or 60 years old. In 10 years or less, that miserable summer will happen every second year across most of the U.S. and Canada, the Mediterranean, and much of Asia, according to a study to be published in the open access journal Earth's Future. By the 2030s, every second summer over almost all of the entire Northern hemisphere will be hotter than any record-setting hot summer of the past 40 years, the study found. By 2050, virtually every summer will be hotter than anything we've experienced to date. Record hot summers are now 70 times more likely than they were in the past 40 years over the entire Northern hemisphere, the peer-reviewed study found. What does all this mean? Heat alerts will be increasing, cities will have to employ aggressive cooling strategies most summers, and in places like South Asia, it will be too dangerous to work outside, Francis Zwiers, director of the Pacific Climate Impacts Consortium at Canada's University of Victoria, said.
Japan

Can Japan Burn Flammable Ice For Energy? (cnn.com) 153

dryriver writes: Japan is a country that currently has to import 90% of its fuels for energy generation, having very little in the way of oil, coal or natural gas reserves in the country. Since the Fukushima disaster, its 50-plus nuclear reactors have been mostly idle. This makes Japan one of the least self-sufficient countries in terms of energy generation in the developed world. But there is an untapped energy resource that Japan has in abundance: ice that has large quantities of methane trapped in it. These ice crystals hold a remarkable quantity of natural methane gas. It is estimated that one cubic meter of frozen gas hydrate contains 164 cubic meters of methane. Japan has so far spent over $1 billion on research and development efforts in order to find a way to efficiently extract the methane from the ice. Where is this methane rich ice located? Engineers have so far focused on Nankai Trough, a long, narrow depression 50 kilometers off the coast of central Japan, which had been extensively surveyed over many years. Analysis of extracted core samples and seismic data has revealed that 1.1 trillion cubic meters of methane -- enough to meet Japan's gas needs for more than a decade -- lies below the floor of the trough. Some experts think that if an efficient method is found to extract methane from flammable ice, it could change the energy map of the entire world. Flammable ice has either been found, or is suspected to be present in large quantities, off the coastlines of all 5 continents in the world (the linked article has a map showing the currently known locations). Ten years from now the price of energy around the world may thus not be set by how much oil, coal or natural gas costs at that point in time, but rather by how much methane extraction from flammable ice costs.
Communications

Scientists Prove Emoticons Are Not Universally Understood (qz.com) 122

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Quartz: The most recent such study, published Oct. 24 in the Journal of Cross-Cultural Psychology, examined how emotions expressed in symbols and pictures are understood in three nations with varying degrees of internet connectivity and access: Japan, Cameroon, and Tanzania. Psychologists from the University of Tokyo tested subjects on how well they recognized emotions in emoticons and photographs. Participants across cultures could read emotion accurately in images of real people regardless of race -- but symbolic tech expression was not universally comprehensible. The study subjects were shown photographs of happy, neutral, and sad Caucasians, Asians, and Africans and told to describe the emotions expressed in the images. Generally, participants accurately assessed the feelings expressed across the board. The researchers noted one difference: African participants tended to confuse Asian neutral and sad faces, "perhaps due to lack of exposure to the out-group [Asian] faces," they suggest.

When it came to symbols, however, the scientists found clear cultural differences in emotion recognition. Subjects from all three countries were given a tablet, on which they were asked to scroll through a series of emoticons. They were shown emoticons in the Japanese style, with happiness, sadness, and neutrality expressed in the eyes; in a western style with emotion expressed in the mouth; and "smiley face" emoticons (pictured above). The Japanese subjects fluently read emotion in emoticons, whereas subjects from Cameroon and Tanzania found emoticons utterly mystifying at similar rates. This was true both for urban and rural dwellers in both African nations. The researchers believe this is due to the varying levels of internet exposure in the three countries.

Space

Entrepreneurial Space Age Began In 2009, Says Report (arstechnica.com) 67

"In July 2009, SpaceX launched its first commercial payload -- a 50kg Earth observation satellite for Malaysia -- which flew into space aboard a privately developed rocket," reports Ars Technica. "According to a new space investment report that will be published Tuesday by the Space Angels, an angel fund and a venture capital fund focused on space, which marked a key inflection point between the "governmental" space age and the "entrepreneurial" space age." From the report: "With that launch, SpaceX significantly lowered the barriers to entry in the space industry," the fund's chief executive, Chad Anderson, writes in the new report. "By vertically integrating, the company was able to drastically reduce the cost to get to orbit. But what deserves at least as much credit is their decision to publish their pricing, which fundamentally changed the way we do business in space. This transparency enabled would-be space entrepreneurs to develop a business plan and raise equity financing based on those cost assumptions."

From 2009 through September 2017, the report finds that $12 billion in equity investments have been made in space, with annual amounts increasing significantly in 2015 and beyond to more than $2 billion per year. At $10 billion, launch services, landers, and satellites have accounted for the bulk of this investment since 2009. Aside from the SpaceX launch that year, other data supports the year 2009 as the beginning of an entrepreneurial space age in which the private sector began making investments to return profits from space-based activities. About 250 space ventures have received non-government equity funding, the report states, and, of those, 88 percent have been funded since 2009.

AI

MIT Researchers Trained AI To Write Horror Stories Based On 140,000 Reddit Posts (qz.com) 37

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Quartz: Shelley is an AI program that generates the beginnings of horror stories, and it's trained by original horror fiction posted to Reddit. Designed by researchers from MIT Media Lab, Shelley launched on Twitter on Oct. 21. Shelley, named after Frankenstein author Mary Shelley, is interactive. After the program tweets a few opening lines, it asks people on Twitter to continue the story, and if the story is popular, it responds to those responses. Using information from 140,000 stories from Reddit's r/nosleep, Shelley produces story beginnings that range in creepiness, and in quality. There's some classic "scary stuff," like a narrator who thinks she's alone and then sees eyes in the dark, but also premises one can only imagine are Reddit-user-inspired, like family porn.
Security

New VibWrite System Uses Finger Vibrations To Authenticate Users (bleepingcomputer.com) 44

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Bleeping Computer: Rutgers engineers have created a new authentication system called VibWrite. The system relies on placing an inexpensive vibration motor and receiver on a solid surface, such as wood, metal, plastic, glass, etc.. The motor sends vibrations to the receiver. When the user touches the surface with one of his fingers, the vibration waves are modified to create a unique signature per user and per finger. Rutgers researchers say that VibWrite is more secure when users are asked to draw a pattern or enter a code on a PIN pad drawn on the solid surface. This also generates a unique fingerprint, but far more complex than just touching the surface with one finger. During two tests, VibWrite verified users with a 95% accuracy and a 3% false positive rate. The only problem researchers encountered in the live trials was that some users had to draw the pattern or enter the PIN number several times before they passed the VibWrite authentication test. Besides improvements to the accuracy with which VibWrite can detect finger vibrations, researchers also plan to look into how VibWrite will behave in outdoor environments to account for varying temperatures, humidity, winds, wetness, dust, dirt, and other conditions. This new novel user authentication system is described in full in a research paper entitled "VibWrite: Towards Finger-input Authentication on Ubiquitous Surfaces via Physical Vibration."
Communications

Algorithm Can Identify Suicidal People Using Brain Scans (wired.com) 87

An anonymous reader quotes a report from WIRED: In a study published today in Nature Human Behavior, researchers at Carnegie Mellon and the University of Pittsburgh analyzed how suicidal individuals think and feel differently about life and death, by looking at patterns of how their brains light up in an fMRI machine. Then they trained a machine learning algorithm to isolate those signals -- a frontal lobe flare at the mention of the word "death," for example. The computational classifier was able to pick out the suicidal ideators with more than 90 percent accuracy (Warning: source may be paywalled; alternative source). Furthermore, it was able to distinguish people who had actually attempted self-harm from those who had only thought about it. In today's study, the researchers started with 17 young adults between the ages of 18 and 30 who had recently reported suicidal ideation to their therapists. Then they recruited 17 neurotypical control participants and put them each inside an fMRI scanner. While inside the tube, subjects saw a random series of 30 words. Ten were generally positive, 10 were generally negative, and 10 were specifically associated with death and suicide. Then researchers asked the subjects to think about each word for three seconds as it showed up on a screen in front of them. "What does 'trouble' mean for you?" "What about 'carefree,' what's the key concept there?" For each word, the researchers recorded the subjects' cerebral blood flow to find out which parts of their brains seemed to be at work.
Space

SpaceX Lands the 13th Falcon 9 Rocket of the Year In Flames (theverge.com) 106

SpaceX launched a Falcon 9 rocket from Florida this afternoon and, while the rocket successfully delivered the Koreasat-5A to its designated orbit, it managed to catch fire after landing on one of SpaceX's autonomous barges. The Verge reports: That rocket's mission [was] to send a satellite known as Koreasat-5A into space, where it will hang above Earth for 15 years while providing communications bandwidth for Korea and Southern Asia. SpaceX's Falcon 9 rocket successfully delivered Koreasat-5A to its designated orbit, marking the the company's 16th successful mission of the year -- twice the number of successful missions in 2016. Shortly after liftoff, the first stage of the rocket returned to Earth and landed (flamboyantly) in the Atlantic Ocean on one of SpaceX's autonomous barges. (The fires eventually went out.) It was the 13th successful landing of a Falcon 9 rocket this year, the 15th in a row, and the 19th overall.
Earth

Carbon Pollution Touched 800,000 Year Record in 2016, WMO Says (bloomberg.com) 354

Carbon dioxide levels surged to their highest level in at least 800,000 years because of pollution caused by humans and a strong El Nino event, according to the World Meteorological Organization. From a report: Concentrations of the greenhouse gas increased at a record speed in 2016 to reach an average of 403.3 parts per million, up from 400 parts per million a year earlier, the WMO said in a statement on Monday warning of "severe ecological and economic disruptions." The WMO said the last time the Earth had a comparable concentration of CO2s, the temperature of the planet was 2 degrees to 3 degrees Celsius warmer and sea levels were 10 meters to 20 meters higher than now.
Math

How Data Science Powered the Search for MH370 (hpe.com) 133

"In the absence of physical evidence, scientists are employing powerful computational tools to attempt to solve the greatest aviation mystery of our time: the disappearance of flight MH370." Slashdot reader Esther Schindler shared this article from HPE Insights: Satellite communications provider Inmarsat announced it had found recorded signals in its archives that MH370 had sent for another six hours after it disappeared. The plane had been aloft and flying for that whole time -- but where had it gone? As Inmarsat scientists examined the signals, they saw that what they had was not data such as text messages or location information. Rather, the signals contained metadata: information about the signal itself. This was recorded as the satellite automatically contacted the plane's communications system every hour to see if it was still logged on. Bafflingly, whoever had taken the plane hadn't used the satcom system to communicate with the outside world, but had switched it off and then on again, leaving it able to exchange hourly "pings" with the satellite. Some of the metadata related to extremely subtle variations in the frequency of the signal. "We're talking about changes as big as one part in a billion," says Inmarsat scientist Chris Ashton.

Nobody had tried to use this kind of data to try to locate an airplane before. At first, Ashton's team didn't know if the attempt would work. But painstakingly, over the course of weeks, the team figured out how the movement of the plane, the orbital wobble of the satellite, and the electronics within the satcom system all interacted to create the data values that had been received. "We had to create the model from scratch," Ashton says. Their work revealed that the plane had flown into the remote southern Indian Ocean. They didn't know where exactly. But since there are no islands in that part of the world, it was impossible that anyone could have survived. For the first time in history, hundreds of people were declared legally dead based on mathematics alone.

Then mathematician Dr. Neil Gordon led a team from the Defense Science and Technology Group "to extract a path from a subset of the Inmarsat data called the Burst Timing Offset. This measured how quickly the aircraft responded each time the satellite pinged it, and was used to determine the distance between the satellite and the plane." They ultimately generate "a probabilistic 'heat map' of the plane's most likely resting places using a technique called Bayesian analysis. These calculations allowed the DSTG team to draw a box 400 miles long and 70 miles across, which contained about 90 percent of the total probability distribution.
Power

SLAC Uses Nobel Prize-Winning Technique To Investigate Battery Fires (stanford.edu) 17

An anonymous reader quotes an announcement from SLAC: Scientists from Stanford University and the Department of Energy's SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory have captured the first atomic-level images of finger-like growths called dendrites that can pierce the barrier between battery compartments and trigger short circuits or fires... This is the first study to examine the inner lives of batteries with cryo-electron microscopy, or cryo-EM, a technique whose ability to image delicate, flash-frozen proteins and other "biological machines" in atomic detail was honored with the 2017 Nobel Prize in chemistry... The ability to see this level of detail for the first time with cryo-EM will give scientists a powerful tool for understanding how batteries and their components work at the most fundamental level and for investigating why high-energy batteries used in laptops, cell phones, airplanes and electric cars sometimes fail, the researchers said...

In cryo-EM, samples are flash-frozen by dipping them into liquid nitrogen, then sliced for examination under the microscope. You can freeze a whole coin-cell battery at a particular point in its charge-discharge cycle, remove the component you're interested in and see what is happening inside that component at an atom-by-atom scale. You could even create a stop-action movie of battery activity by stringing together images made at different points in the cycle... Zooming in, they used a different technique to look at the way electrons bounced off the atoms in the dendrite, revealing the locations of individual atoms in both the crystal and its solid electrolyte interphase (SEI) coating. When they added a chemical commonly used to improve battery performance, the atomic structure of the SEI coating became more orderly, and they think this may help explain why the additive works.

Biotech

Can Science Make Alcohol Safer? (scientificamerican.com) 107

Long-time Slashdot reader Zorro was the first to spot this story. Scientific American reports: Could there be a "liver-friendly" vodka? One company claims its proprietary blend of additives reduces stress on the body... The researchers concluded that consuming the alcohol with the additives -- glycyrrhizin, derived from licorice; D-mannitol, a sugar alcohol; and potassium sorbate, a preservative -- may support improved liver health compared with drinking alcohol alone. Marsha Bates, a distinguished research professor and director of the Center of Alcohol Studies at Rutgers University, said the study design "seemed appropriate." But, she added, study itself was small, with only 12 healthy men and women, and "doesn't really provide any information of what the long-term effects of consuming alcohol with this additive would be. It's a positive preliminary study but certainly does not provide a firm basis for speculating about long-term impact."

Functional or not, Harsha Chigurupati needs approval from federal regulators before he can tout curative powers on a label... Specifically, Chigurupati is seeking approval to make the claim that his blend, known as NTX for "No Tox," provides "antioxidant and inflammatory support" and "reduces the risk of alcohol-induced liver diseases," among other claims... Chigurupati said his goal is not to enable people to drink more, but to drink with less physical harm.

The claim "leaves some experts deeply skeptical," adds the article, while 33-year-old Chigurupati admits that an earlier formula "tasted terrible and it actually burned my mouth." But his company later developed a formula which he says tasted good and is easier on the liver. "I don't believe in abstinence," Chigurupati told the Wall Street Journal. "What I do believe in is using technology to make life better. I'm not going to stop drinking, so why not make it safer?"
Moon

India, China, and Japan Are All Planning Moon Missions (upi.com) 114

schwit1 shares an article from UPI: India will make its second mission to the moon in 2018, the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) announced this week. The Chandrayaan 2 spacecraft consists of an orbiter, lander and rover configuration "to perform mineralogical and elemental studies of the lunar surface," the ISRO said... Several other countries, including China and Japan, are planning lunar expeditions in the coming years -- partly to better understand the moon's environmental conditions for the potential of human settlements...

According to Popular Mechanics, the ISRO is attempting to make the lunar landing on a budget of $93 million, which is about the same cost of SpaceX's Falcon Heavy rocket that's scheduled for launch by the end of this year. The Falcon rocket, though, is only going into orbit -- and a $93 million price tag for a lunar landing could have impact on other countries' space plans.

India landed a spacecraft on the moon in 2008, and plans to complete this second lunar landing by March.

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