Bug

Planting GMOs Kills So Many Bugs That It Helps Non-GMO Crops (arstechnica.com) 282

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Ars Technica: One of the great purported boons of GMOs is that they allow farmers to use fewer pesticides, some of which are known to be harmful to humans or other species. Bt corn, cotton, and soybeans have been engineered to express insect-killing proteins from the bacterium Bacillus thuringiensis, and they have indeed been successful at controlling the crops' respective pests. They even protect the non-Bt versions of the same crop that must be planted in adjacent fields to help limit the evolution of Bt resistance. But new work shows that Bt corn also controls pests in other types of crops planted nearby, specifically vegetables. In doing so, it cuts down on the use of pesticides on these crops, as well.

Entomologists and ecologists compared crop damage and insecticide use in four agricultural mid-Atlantic states: New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland, and Virginia. Their data came from the years before Bt corn was widespread (1976-1996) and continued after it was adopted (1996-2016). They also looked at the levels of the pests themselves: two different species of moths, commonly known as the European corn borer and corn earworm. They were named as scourges of corn, but their larvae eat a number of different crops, including peppers and green beans. After Bt corn was planted in 1996, the number of moths captured for analysis every night in vegetable fields dropped by 75 percent. The drop was a function of the percentage of Bt corn planted in the area and occurred even though moth populations usually go up with temperature. So the Bt corn more than counteracted the effect of the rising temperatures we've experienced over the quarter century covered by the study.

Games

Daily Dose of Violent Video Games Causes 'No Significant Changes' In Behavior, Study Finds (arstechnica.com) 192

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Ars Technica: A new, longer-term study of video game play from the Max Planck Institute for Human Development and Germany's University Clinic Hamburg-Eppendorf recently published in Molecular Psychiatry found that adults showed "no significant changes" on a wide variety of behavioral measures after two straight months of daily violent game play. Most scientific studies on the effects of video game violence measure participants right after the completion of a gameplay session, when the adrenaline prompted by the on-screen action is likely still pumping. Researcher Simone Kuhn and her co-authors argue that "effects observed only for a few minutes after short sessions of video gaming are not representative of what society at large is actually interested in, namely how habitual violent video game play affects behavior on a more long-term basis." To correct for the "priming" effects inherent in these other studies, researchers had 90 adult participants play either Grand Theft Auto V or The Sims 3 for at least 30 minutes every day over eight weeks (a control group played no games during the testing period). The adults chosen, who ranged from 18 to 45 years old, reported little to no video game play in the previous six months and were screened for pre-existing psychological problems before the tests. Over 208 separate comparisons (52 tests; violent vs. non-violent and control groups; pre- vs. post- and two-months-later tests), only three subjects showed a statistically significant effect of the violent gameplay at a 95 percent confidence level. Pure chance would predict more than 10 of the 208 comparisons would be significant at that level, leading the researchers to conclude "that there were no detrimental effects of violent video game play."
Medicine

Scientists Create a Way For People With Amputations To Feel Their Prosthetics (gizmodo.com) 42

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Gizmodo: Prosthetic hands have gotten increasingly sophisticated. Many can recreate the complex shape and detail of joints and fingers, while powered prostheses allow for independent, willful movement. But a new study published Wednesday in Science Translational Medicine offers a potential glimpse into the future of the technology: Artificial hands that actually feel like a living limb as they move. The researchers recruited people with amputations who had been given surgery that reconfigured certain muscle and sensory nerves surrounding the amputated limb, allowing them to control their prosthesis through intuitive brain signals (thoughts) sent to the repurposed nerves. Across a series of experiments involving three of these patients, the researchers attached devices that generated vibrations along specific muscles near the amputation site. When the device was turned on, these vibrations created an illusionary sense of kinesthesia -- an awareness of conscious self-movement -- in the prosthetic hand as the person performed tasks with it, both in a virtual stimulation and in the real world. The volunteers had amputations that extended just past their elbow as well as their whole arm. Not only did the experiment let them "feel" their hand as they opened and closed it, but the restored intuition allowed them to perform tasks without needing to constantly look at their hand. And coupled with vision, it gave them overall better motor control over their prosthesis.
Space

All Disk Galaxies Rotate Once Every Billion Years (astronomy.com) 89

According to a new study published in The Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society, astronomers discovered that all disk galaxies rotate about once every billion years, no matter their size or mass. Astronomy Magazine reports: To carry out the study, the researchers measured the radial velocities of neutral hydrogen in the outer disks of a plethora of galaxies -- ranging from small dwarf irregulars to massive spirals. These galaxies differed in both size and rotational velocity by up to a factor of 30. With these radial velocity measurements, the researchers were able to calculate the rotational period of their sample galaxies, which led them to conclude that the outer rims of all disk galaxies take roughly a billion years to complete one rotation. However, the researchers note that further research is required to confirm the clock-like spin rate is a universal trait of disk galaxies and not just a result of selection bias. Based on theoretical models, the researchers also expected to find only sparse populations of young stars and interstellar gas on the outskirts of these galaxies. But instead, they discovered a significant population of much older stars mingling with the young stars and gas.
Businesses

Air Pollution is Bad For Productivity, Even in Office Jobs (qz.com) 41

It seems reasonable that breathing in pollution would affect worker productivity, but only recently has the damage been documented. From a report: In a series of studies that match readings from air monitors with the results of workers who are paid for daily piece work, researchers demonstrated that breathing polluted air impedes the ability of workers to pick berries, pack fruit, or even make phone calls from office cubicles.

The studies, which were collected in the journal Science (pay wall) in January, were conducted over 10 years by team of researchers at Columbia, the University of Southern California, and the University of California, San Diego. The biggest impact of air pollution was measured in farm workers in California's Central Valley, who were paid by the volume of grapes and blueberries they collected. On days that had higher readings of ground-level ozone -- a harmful gas formed when tailpipe emissions mix with sunlight -- worker productivity slumped.

Over the two years they measured the ozone, readings ranged from 10 to 86 parts per billion, and averaged 48 ppb. For every 10 ppb increase in ozone, worker productivity fell 5.5%. For farm workers paid about $9 or $10 an hour, the lost productivity translates into about 45 cents an hour of lower pay, said Matthew Neidell, an economist at Columbia and an author of the studies.

Microsoft

Microsoft Announces Breakthrough In Chinese-To-English Machine Translation (techcrunch.com) 72

A team of Microsoft researchers announced on Wednesday they've created the first machine translation system that's capable of translating news articles from Chinese to English with the same accuracy as a person. "The company says it's tested the system repeatedly on a sample of around 2,000 sentences from various online newspapers, comparing the result to a person's translation in the process -- and even hiring outside bilingual language consultants to further verify the machine's accuracy," reports TechCrunch. From the report: The sample set, called newstest2017, was released just last fall at the research conference WMT17. Deep neural networks, a method of training A.I. systems, allowed the researchers to create more fluent and natural-sounding translations that take into account broader context that the prior approaches, called statistical machine translation. Microsoft's researchers also added their own training methods to the system to improve its accuracy -- things they equate to how people go over their own work time and again to make sure it's right.

The researchers said they used methods including dual learning for fact-checking translations; deliberation networks, to repeat translations and refine them; and new techniques like joint training, to iteratively boost English-to-Chinese and Chinese-to-English translation systems; and agreement regularization, which can generate translations by reading sentences both left-to-right and right-to-left. Zhou said the techniques used to achieve the milestone won't be limited to machine translations. The researchers caution the system has not yet been tested on real-time news stories, and there are other challenges that still lie ahead before the technology could be commercialized into Microsoft's products.
You can play around with the new translation system here.
Science

A Brief History of Stephen Hawking (newscientist.com) 48

New Scientist: The most recognisable scientist of our age, Hawking holds an iconic status. [...] He was routinely consulted for oracular pronouncements on everything from time travel and alien life to Middle Eastern politics and nefarious robots. He had an endearing sense of humour and a daredevil attitude -- relatable human traits that, combined with his seemingly superhuman mind, made Hawking eminently marketable.

But his cultural status -- amplified by his disability and the media storm it invoked -- often overshadowed his scientific legacy. That's a shame for the man who discovered what might prove to be the key clue to the theory of everything, advanced our understanding of space and time, helped shape the course of physics for the last four decades and whose insight continues to drive progress in fundamental physics today.
The New York Times: 1970 Dr. Hawking shows that the area of a black hole's event horizon -- a spherical surface marking the point of no return -- can only increase, never decrease, as stuff falls into a black hole or it collides and merges with other black holes.
1971 He suggests that mini black holes much smaller than stars created in the Big Bang could be peppering the universe.
1974 He shocks his colleagues and the world by showing that black holes will leak and explode when quantum effects -- the weird laws that describe subatomic behavior -- are taken into account.
1976 Dr. Hawking says exploding black holes add randomness and unpredictability to the universe, forever erasing information about what might have fallen into a black hole.

Quantum physicists object, saying the universe can't forget, initiating a 40-year argument about the fate of information. Dr. Hawking concedes in 2004, but does not say how information is preserved in a black hole, and the argument continues to this day.
1982 Using a mathematical conceit called imaginary time, Dr. Hawking and James Hartle, a theoretical physicist at the University of California, Santa Barbara, propose a model of a self-contained universe that has no boundary in space or time, and thus no place or time when the laws of physics break down. [...]
Further reading: Stephen Hawking is still underrated (The Atlantic); Science mourns Stephen Hawking's death (Nature); and How it all began: a colleague reflects on the remarkable life of Stephen Hawking (Smithsonian).
Crime

SEC Charges Theranos, CEO Elizabeth Holmes With 'Massive Fraud' (engadget.com) 128

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Engadget: The SEC has charged Theranos, Elizabeth Holmes and Ramesh "Sunny" Balwani with fraud relating to the startup's fundraising activities. The company, as well as CEO Holmes and former president Balwani are said to have raised more than $700 million from investors through "an elaborate, years-long fraud." This involved making "false statements about the company's technology, business and financial performance." In a statement, the commission said that the company, and its two executives, misled investors about the capability of its blood testing technology. Theranos' big selling point was that its hardware could scan for a number of diseases with just a small drop of blood. Unfortunately, the company was never able to demonstrate that its system worked as well as its creators claimed.

The company and Elizabeth Holmes have already agreed to settle the charges leveled against them by the SEC. Holmes will have to pay a $500,000 fine and return 18.9 million shares in Theranos that she owned, as well as downgrading her super-majority equity into common stock. The CEO is now barred from serving as the officer or director of a public company for 10 years. In addition, if Theranos is liquidated or acquired, Holmes cannot profit from her remaining shareholding unless $750 million is handed back to defrauded investors. Balwani, on the other hand, is facing a federal court case in the Northern District of California where the SEC will litigate its claims against him.
Worth noting: the court still has to approve the deals between Holmes and Theranos, and neither party has admitted any wrongdoing.
United States

Extreme Winter Weather In the US Linked To a Warming Arctic (theverge.com) 219

A new study shows how global climate change can have ripple effects at the local level. According to the research, extreme winter weather is two to four times more likely in the eastern U.S. when the Arctic is unusually warm. The Verge reports: Researchers analyzed a variety of atmospheric data in the Arctic, as well as how severe winter weather was in 12 cities across the U.S. from 1950 to 2016. Since 1990, as the Arctic has been warming up and losing ice, extreme cold snaps and heavy snow in the winter have been two to four times more frequent in the eastern U.S. and the Midwest, while in the western U.S., their frequency has decreased, according to a study published today in Nature Communications. The study, however, only shows there might be a correlation -- not a direct causal link -- between the warming Arctic and severe winters in the U.S. And it doesn't show how exactly the two are connected, so it doesn't really add much to what scientists already knew, according to several experts.

Today's study focuses on the Arctic as the main culprit for the extreme winter weather. Previous research has suggested that the warming Arctic may disrupt the polar vortex, a ring of swirling cold air circling the North Pole. Think of the polar vortex as a river, says study co-author Judah Cohen, a climatologist and director of seasonal forecasting at Atmospheric and Environmental Research. The fast flow of this river locks up the cold air over the Arctic. But as the Arctic warms -- especially in some areas like the Barents-Kara seas north of Europe and Russia -- a boulder springs up in this river, disrupting the polar vortex and allowing the freezing Arctic air to flow south, Cohen says.

Sci-Fi

UFO Disclosure Group Releases Newest Navy F/A-18 Super Hornet UFO Encounter Video (cnn.com) 242

alaskana98 writes: CNN and other media outlets are reporting that the "To The Stars Academy of Arts and Science" group has released the third in a series of videos purportedly showing an encounter between Navy F/A-18 Super Hornet pilots and an object moving at seemingly impossible speeds off the East Coast of the United States. The video was captured by the Raytheon: Advanced Targeting Forward-Looking Infrared (ATFLIR) pod and includes audio of the pilots excitedly observing this object from far above as it zooms over the ocean surface. The ATFLIR system has trouble getting a lock on the object at first but then gets a lock on it eventually demonstrating that whatever this this was it wasn't a figment of the pilots imaginations. If the video is authentic there are indeed some strange things flying in our skies. The video can be viewed here.
News

Stephen Hawking, Who Examined the Universe and Explained Black Holes, Dies at 76 (nytimes.com) 307

Stephen W. Hawking, the Cambridge University physicist and best-selling author who roamed the cosmos from a wheelchair, pondering the nature of gravity and the origin of the universe and becoming an emblem of human determination and curiosity, has died at his home in Cambridge, England. He was 76. From a report: A family spokesman announced the death in a statement to several news media outlets. "Not since Albert Einstein has a scientist so captured the public imagination and endeared himself to tens of millions of people around the world," Michio Kaku, a professor of theoretical physics at the City University of New York, said in an interview. Dr. Hawking did that largely through his book "A Brief History of Time: From the Big Bang to Black Holes," published in 1988. It has sold more than 10 million copies and inspired a documentary film by Errol Morris.

The 2014 film about his life, "The Theory of Everything," was nominated for several Academy Awards and Eddie Redmayne, who played Dr. Hawking, won the best-actor Oscar. Scientifically, Dr. Hawking will be best remembered for a discovery so strange that it might be expressed in the form of a Zen koan: When is a black hole not black? When it explodes.
A brief history of Stephen Hawking: A legacy of paradox.
China

China's Anti-Pollution Initiative Produces Stellar Results (popularmechanics.com) 84

hackingbear writes: China has declared war on its pollution -- one of the worst on the planet -- and now appears to be winning. Popular Mechanics reports: "Over the past four years, pollution in China's major cities has decreased by an average of 32 percent, with some cities seeing an even bigger drop, according to professor Michael Greenstone of the Energy Policy Institute. This decline comes after several aggressive policies implemented by the Chinese government, including prohibiting the building of new coal plants, forcing existing plants to reduce their emissions, lowering the amount of automobile traffic, and closing down some steel mills and coal mines. Some cities, like Beijing, have achieved even greater reductions in air pollution. Beijing has seen a 35 percent drop in particulates, while the city of Shijiazhuang saw a 39 percent drop. China has prioritized pollution reduction in these cities, with the government spending over $120 billion in Beijing alone."
Earth

Media Reports About a Massive Geomagnetic Storm Hitting Earth on March 18 Are Inaccurate, NOAA Says (newsweek.com) 50

Several news outlets this week are reporting that Earth is expecting a "massive magnetic storm" on March 18. Yeah, so that's not happening, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) told Newsweek and other outlets. From a report: And they would know: Not only does NOAA help people build forecasts for weather here on Earth, they also predict space weather events like geomagnetic storms. "This story is not plausible in any way, shape or form," Bob Rutledge, who leads NOAA's Space Weather Forecast Center, told Newsweek via e-mail. "Things are all quiet for space weather, and the sun is essentially spotless." The magnetic storm's "imminent" arrival was one of Monday morning's top science news stories, according to Google News. But most coverage appeared to be based on a misinterpretation of a chart posted on Russia's Lebedev Institute's website showing a minor uptick in geomagnetic activity on the 18th. That elevated activity is expected to be a minor storm at most.
Science

Sleeping In Rooms With Even a Little Light Can Increase Risk of Depression, Study Finds (iflscience.com) 177

Japanese researchers have found that even the slightest slither of light when trying to sleep could be linked to a heightened risk of depression, according to a new study published in The American Journal of Epidemiology. IFLScience reports: The reason behind this link is unclear, but the researchers believe it might be to do with the human circadian rhythm, the 24-hour cycle that tells us when to sleep and wake up, among other things, that is "programmed" by environmental factors. In the case of humans and many other creatures, light influences how much of the sleep-inducing hormone melatonin is pumped into our bodies, meaning we feel awake when the Sun rises and get sleepy when the Sun sets. This system works like a charm when there's only sunlight, moonlight, and a campfire to think about. However, the modern world is beaming with almost constant exposure to artificial light. Light at night (LAN) in a bedroom -- even a flash of a digital clock or streetlight creeping in from a crack in the curtains -- could screw with our natural sleep/wake cycle. The team behind the recent study assessed the sleep of almost 900 elderly people with no signs of depression. They found that people who slept in a room with 5 lux of light or more at night showed a "significantly higher depression risk" than those who slept in a completely dark room. For perspective, a household room with its lights on is around 80 lux and 10 lux is a single candle from 0.3 meters (1 foot) away.
Mars

Elon Musk: SpaceX's Mars Rocket Could Fly Short Flights By Next Year 144

On stage at SXSW, Elon Musk issued yet another incredibly ambitious timeline. During a Q&A session on Sunday, Musk said SpaceX will be ready to fly its Mars rocket in 2019. He said: We are building the first ship, or interplanetary ship, right now, and we'll probably be able to do short flights, short up and down flights, during the first half of next year. Further reading: Fortune.
AI

Elon Musk: The Danger of AI is Much Greater Than Nuclear Warheads. We Need Regulatory Oversight Of AI Development. (youtube.com) 322

Elon Musk has been vocal about the need for regulation for AI in the past. At SXSW on Sunday, Musk, 46, elaborated his thoughts. We're very close to seeing cutting edge technologies in AI, Musk said. "It scares the hell out of me," the Tesla and SpaceX showrunner said. He cited the example of AlphaGo and AlphaZero, and the rate of advancements they have shown to illustrate his point. He said: Alpha Zero can read the rules of any game and beat the human. For any game. Nobody expected that rate of improvement. If you ask those same experts who think AI is not progressing at the rate that I'm saying, I think you will find their betting average for things like Go and other AI advancements, is very weak. It's not good.

We will also see this with self driving. Probably by next year, self driving will encompass all forms of driving. By the end of next year, it will be at least 100 percent safer than humans. [...] The rate of improvements is really dramatic and we have to figure out some way to ensure that the advent of digital super intelligence is symbiotic with humanity. I think that's the single biggest existential crisis we face, and the most pressing one. I'm not generally an advocate of regulation -- I'm actually usually on the side of minimizing those things. But this is a case, where you have a very serious danger to the public. There needs to be a public body that has insight and oversight to ensure that everyone is developing AI safely. This is extremely important. The danger of AI is much greater than danger of nuclear warheads. By a lot.

Government

EPA's Science Advisory Board Has Not Met in 6 Months (scientificamerican.com) 212

The U.S. EPA Science Advisory Board has not met in at least six months, and some of its members say it's being sidelined to avoid getting in the way of agency Administrator Scott Pruitt's anti-regulatory agenda, Scientific American reported this week. From the report: Agency officials say the lapse isn't intentional and that it's just the result of delayed paperwork. That has prevented the group from meeting because there weren't enough members to make a quorum. The board, which typically has about 45 members, is tasked by Congress to evaluate the science used by EPA to craft policy. The full board has not met since August, nor has it had any conference calls or votes. In the past, members would have had multiple interactions during that time period, said William Schlesinger, a board member who is an emeritus professor of biogeochemistry at Duke University. "I guess the Science Advisory Board still exists; I guess I'm still on it," he said. "I think the answer is maybe they're giving it what we used to call the 'pocket veto': If you don't meet, then the scientists are not a pain, because they don't have a forum."
Science

Could This Bold New Technique Boost Gravitational-Wave Detection? (space.com) 32

Slashdot reader astroengine writes: One of the most expensive, complex and problematic components in gravitational wave detectors like the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-wave Observatory (LIGO) — which made the first, historic detection of these ripples in space-time in September 2015 — is the 4-kilometer-long vacuum chambers that house all the interferometer optics. But what if this requirement for ground-based gravitational wave detectors isn't required? This suggestion has been made by a pair of physicists at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County (UMBC) who are developing a method that could allow extremely sensitive interferometers to operate in the "open air."

Their work, published in the journal Physical Review Letters, uses the weird quantum properties of light to counteract interference from turbulence in the air to allow interferometer measurements to be made. Their method, which is a variation on the classic Young's double-slit experiment, has been demonstrated in a tabletop experiment — but gravitational wave scientists are skeptical that it could be scaled up to remove sophisticated vacuums from their detectors.

Space

Can Electricity Travel Through Space on Astrophysical Jets? (mdpi.com) 313

Slashdot reader Chris Reeve writes: An October 2017 paper titled Electric Currents along Astrophysical Jets reports that "Several researchers have reported direct evidence for large scale electric currents along astrophysical jets." A review of the citations at the end of that paper and others (here and here, for instance) would seem to suggest that one of the great Internet science debates has finally been settled: Electricity does indeed travel through space over vast cosmic distances.

What has been interesting to watch about this unexpected development is that science journalists have so far not explicitly reported this as a shift in theory, and commenters on sites like phys.org appear to deny that any change has even occurred: "The jets have been shown not to be electric currents, the energy and the physics involved are certainly not electromagnetic." This comment completely rejecting these new findings was highly rated by other phys.org readers, suggesting that the failure to explicitly report this as a change in theory has left this controversial topic in a highly confused state.

The paper summarizes what it calls "observational evidence for the existence of large scale electric currents and their associated grand design helical magnetic fields in kpc-scale astrophysical jets." And the original submitter details the history of the question in a follow-up comment arguing that at our current moment in time, "a mistaken bias against electricity in space continues to dominate conversations."
Earth

Scientists Unsure Where Chinese Space Station Will Crash To Earth 78

In 2016, the Chinese space agency lost control of its Tiangong-1, or Heavenly Palace, spacecraft, five years after it blasted into orbit. Scientists have determined that it will come crashing down to Earth in the coming weeks, be they do not know exactly where on Earth it will hit. The Guardian reports: The defunct module is now at an altitude of 150 miles and being tracked by space agencies around the world, with the European Space Agency's center in Darmstadt predicting a fiery descent for it between March 27 and April 8. Hurtling around the Earth at about 18,000mph, the module ranks as one of the larger objects to re-enter the atmosphere without being steered towards the ocean, as is standard for big and broken spacecraft, and cargo vessels that are jettisoned from the International Space Station (ISS), to reduce the risk to life below. The spacecraft's orbit ranges from 43 degrees north to 43 degrees south, which rules out a descent over the UK but includes vast stretches of North and South America, China, the Middle East, Africa, Australia, parts of Europe -- and great swaths of the Pacific and Atlantic oceans. Western analysts cannot be sure how much of the spacecraft will survive re-entry, because China has not released details of the design and materials used to make Tiangong-1. But the spacecraft may have well-protected titanium fuel tanks containing toxic hydrazine that could pose a danger if they land in populated areas.
Communications

FCC Accuses Stealthy Startup of Launching Rogue Satellites 128

Back in January, the FCC pulled permission from Silicon Valley startup Swarm Technologies to launch four satellites into space after what it says was an "apparent unauthorized launch." IEEE Spectrum reports that the unauthorized launch consisted of four experimental satellites that the FCC had decided were too small to be noticed in space -- and hence pose an unacceptable risk of collision -- but which the company may have launched anyway, using a rocket based in India. The federal regulator has since issued a letter to Swarm revoking its authorization for a follow-up mission to launch four new, larger versions of its "SpaceBee" satellites. From the report: Swarm was founded in 2016 by one engineer who developed a spacecraft concept for Google and another who sold his previous company to Apple. The SpaceBees were built as technology demonstrators for a new space-based Internet of Things communications network. Swarm believes its network could enable satellite communications for orders of magnitude less cost than existing options. It envisages the worldwide tracking of ships and cars, new agricultural technologies, and low cost connectivity for humanitarian efforts anywhere in the world. The four SpaceBees would be the first practical demonstration of Swarm's prototype hardware and cutting-edge algorithms, swapping data with ground stations for up to eight years.
[...]
The FCC told the startup that the agency would assess "the impact of the applicant's apparent unauthorized launch and operation of four satellites... on its qualifications to be a Commission licensee." If Swarm cannot convince the FCC otherwise, the startup could lose permission to build its revolutionary network before the wider world even knows the company exists. An unauthorized launch would also call into question the ability of secondary satellite "ride-share" companies and foreign launch providers to comply with U.S. space regulations.
Medicine

Researchers Discover Colistin-Heteroresistant Germs In the US (arstechnica.com) 75

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Ars Technica: For the first time, researchers have discovered strains of a deadly, multidrug-resistant bacterium that uses a cryptic method to also evade colistin, an antibiotic used as a last-resort treatment. That's according to a study of U.S. patients published this week by Emory University researchers in the open-access microbiology journal mBio. The wily and dangerous bacteria involved are carbapenem-resistant Klebsiella pneumoniae or CRKP, which are already known to resist almost all antibiotics available, including other last-line antibiotics called carbapenems. The germs tend to lurk in clinical settings and can invade the urinary tract, bloodstream, and soft tissues. They're members of a notorious family of multidrug-resistant pathogens, called carbapenem-resistant Enterobacteriaceae (CRE), which collectively have mortality rates as high as 50 percent and have spread rapidly around the globe in recent years. A 2013 report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimated that there were more than 9,300 CRE infections in the U.S. each year, leading to 600 deaths. Both the CDC and the World Health Organization have listed CRE as one of the critical drug-resistant threats to public health, in need of "urgent and aggressive action."

In the new study, the Emory researchers discovered two strains of CRKP -- isolated from the urine of patients in Atlanta, Georgia -- that can also resist colistin. But they do so in a poorly understood, surreptitious way. At first, they appear vulnerable to the potent antibiotic in standard clinical tests, but with more advanced testing and exposure to the drug, they reveal that they can indeed survive it. In mice, the strains caused infections that couldn't be cured by colistin and the mice died of the infections. Mice infected with typical CRKP were all saved with colistin. So far, there's no evidence of CRKP infections surprisingly turning up resistant to colistin during treatment in patients. But the authors, led by microbiologist David Weiss, say that may be because the evidence is difficult to gather, and the data so far is cause for concern. The researchers concluded that the findings "serve to sound the alarm about a worrisome and under-appreciated phenomenon in CRKP infections and highlight the need for more sensitive and accurate diagnostics."

Power

MIT Plans To Build Nuclear Fusion Plant By 2033 170

Mallory Locklear reports via Engadget: MIT announced yesterday that it and Commonwealth Fusion Systems -- an MIT spinoff -- are working on a project that aims to make harvesting energy from nuclear fusion a reality within the next 15 years. The ultimate goal is to develop a 200-megawatt power plant. MIT also announced that Italian energy firm ENI has invested $50 million towards the project, $30 million of which will be applied to research and development at MIT over the next three years. MIT and CFS plan to use newly available superconducting materials to develop large electromagnets that can produce fields four-times stronger than any being used now. The stronger magnetic fields will allow for more power to be generated resulting in, importantly, positive net energy. The method will hopefully allow for cheaper and smaller reactors. The research team aims to develop a prototype reactor within the next 10 years, followed by a 200-megawatt pilot power plant.
Earth

Pockets of Water May Lay Deep Below Earth's Surface (sciencemag.org) 68

sciencehabit writes: Small pockets of water exist deep beneath Earth's surface, according to an analysis of diamonds belched from hundreds of kilometers within our planet. The work, which also identifies a weird form of crystallized water known as ice VII, suggests that material may circulate more freely at some depths within Earth than previously thought. Geophysical models of that flow, which ultimately influences the frequency of earthquakes driven by the scraping of tectonic plates at Earth's surface, may need to be substantially tweaked, scientists say. Such models also help scientists estimate the long-term rates of heat flow through Earth's surface and into space.
Science

Sea Level Rise in the SF Bay Area Just Got a Lot More Dire (wired.com) 291

An anonymous reader writes: San Francisco Bay Area residents have long been aware of the threat that sea level rise poses to their coastal existence -- but things suddenly look a lot more serious. A new study examines the simultaneous phenomena of rising sea levels and subsiding coastal land, and as Wired reports, the situation is pretty dire. Models that factor in just sea level rise predict that at least 20 square miles could be underwater by 2100. Once you add in subsiding land, that jumps to nearly 50 square miles, and could get as bad as 165 square miles. Or, put another way, by the end of the century, half of the runways and taxiways at San Francisco Airport could be submerged.

The study found that most of the Bay's coastline is sinking at a rate of less than 2 millimeters a year -- and while that may not sound like a lot, the millimeters can add up fast. "You talk to someone about, 'Oh the land is going down a millimeter a year,' and that can be kind of unimpressive," says William Hammond, a researcher at the University of Nevada Reno who studies subsidence (but was not involved in this particular project). "But we know as scientists that these motions, especially if they come from plate tectonics, that they are relentless and they will never stop, at least as long as we're alive on this planet."

United States

Researchers Provide Likely Explanation For the 'Sonic Weapon' Used At the US Embassy In Cuba (ieee.org) 112

An anonymous reader quotes a report from IEEE Spectrum: Last August, reports emerged that U.S. and Canadian diplomats in Cuba had suffered a host of mysterious ailments. Speculation soon arose that a high-frequency sonic weapon was to blame. Acoustics experts, however, were quick to point out the unlikeliness of such an attack. Among other things, ultrasonic frequencies -- from 20 to 200 kilohertz -- don't propagate well in air and don't cause the ear pain, headache, dizziness, and other symptoms reported in Cuba. Also, some victims recalled hearing high-pitched sounds, whereas ultrasound is inaudible to humans. The mystery deepened in October, when the Associated Press (AP) released a 6-second audio clip, reportedly a recording of what U.S. embassy staff heard. The chirping tones, centered around 7 kHz, were indeed audible, but they didn't suggest any kind of weapon. Looking at a spectral plot of the clip on YouTube, Kevin Fu, a computer scientist at the University of Michigan, noted some unusual ripples. He thought he might know what they meant.

Fu's lab specializes in analyzing the cybersecurity of devices connected to the Internet of Things, such as sensors, pacemakers, RFIDs, and autonomous vehicles. To Fu, the ripples in the spectral readout suggested some kind of interference. He discussed the AP clip with his frequent collaborator, Wenyuan Xu, a professor at Zhejiang University, in Hangzhou, China, and her Ph.D. student Chen Yan. Yan and Xu started with a fast Fourier transform of the AP audio, which revealed the signal's exact frequencies and amplitudes. Then, through a series of simulations, Yan showed that an effect known as intermodulation distortion could have produced the AP sound. Intermodulation distortion occurs when two signals having different frequencies combine to produce synthetic signals at the difference, sum, or multiples of the original frequencies. Having reverse engineered the AP audio, Fu, Xu, and Yan then considered what combination of things might have caused the sound at the U.S. embassy in Cuba. "If ultrasound is to blame, then a likely cause was two ultrasonic signals that accidentally interfered with each other, creating an audible side effect," Fu says. "Maybe there was also an ultrasonic jammer in the room and an ultrasonic transmitter," he suggests. "Each device might have been placed there by a different party, completely unaware of the other."

Australia

132-Year-Old Science Experiment Washes Ashore In Australia (npr.org) 55

An anonymous reader quotes a report from The New York Times (Warning: source may be paywalled; alternative source): A message in a bottle was tossed off the side of a German ship on June 12, 1886, as it sailed through the Indian Ocean, the date and location penned carefully in script on the scroll inside. In January, more than 131 years after the bottle was set adrift, an Australian woman walking on the beach noticed the thick, discolored glass of an old bottle poking through the sand. The bottle -- and the message -- had been found. It is believed to be the oldest known message in a bottle ever recovered. The woman, Tonya Illman, discovered the tokens from another era while walking on a beach near Wedge Island, in Western Australia.

The Illmans took their discovery to the Western Australian Museum, which verified that the bottle and the note date back to the 19th century. The museum contacted experts in the Netherlands and Germany for more information, and confirmed that the bottle had been dropped from a German vessel called the Paula. A search of German archives uncovered the Paula's original Meteorological Journal, and in a captain's entry from June 12, 1886, researchers discovered a reference to the bottle, thrown overboard as the ship was sailing from Cardiff, Wales, to Makassar, Indonesia. The date and the coordinates matched. The bottle had been tossed into the Indian Ocean from the ship as part of a decades-long experiment by the German Naval Observatory to understand ocean currents. Thousands of bottles were thrown into the ocean around the world from German ships between the 1860s and the 1930s, each with a form bearing the date and location where it had been tossed into the sea, the name of the ship, its home port and the travel route, the Western Australian Museum said.

Medicine

Amazon Launches a Low-Cost Version of Prime For Medicaid Recipients (techcrunch.com) 88

An anonymous reader quotes a report from TechCrunch: Amazon announced this morning it will offer a low-cost version of its Prime membership program to qualifying recipients of Medicaid. The program will bring the cost of Prime down from the usual $12.99 per month to about half that, at $5.99 per month, while still offering the full range of Prime perks, including free, two-day shipping on millions of products, Prime Video, Prime Music, Prime Photos, Prime Reading, Prime Now, Audible Channels, and more. The new program is an expansion on Amazon's discounted Prime service for customers on government assistance, launched in June 2017. For the same price of $5.99 per month, Amazon offers Prime memberships to any U.S. customer with a valid EBT card -- the card that's used to disburse funds for assistance programs like Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), and Women, Infants, and Children Nutrition Program (WIC). Now that same benefit is arriving for recipients of Medicaid, the public assistance program providing medical coverage to low-income Americans. To qualify for the discount, customers must have a valid EBT or Medicaid card, the retailer says.
Medicine

Adult Human Brains Do Not Produce New Neurons, Study Suggests (newatlas.com) 76

Rich Haridy reports via New Atlas: New research from scientists at UC San Francisco is challenging half a century of conventional wisdom by suggesting the human brain may cease producing new neurons beyond childhood. While the divisive study may prove a blow to some research aimed at birthing new neurons to battle neurodegenerative disorders, it offers a new perspective on how the human brain can adapt in later life without such a capability. The team generated its data by studying brain specimens of 59 subjects, from babies to the elderly. The strategy was to look for the presence of young neurons or dividing cells by using certain antibodies that bind to those cells of interest. The focus was on the hippocampus region of the brain, known to be crucial for memory, and a comprehensively studied area previously suggested to be a key location for neurogenesis. The results were fairly comprehensive. Young or immature neurons were identified in plentiful volumes in prenatal and newborn samples but the rate consistently declined over childhood. The oldest sample that immature neurons were found in was 13 years of age, and adult samples displayed no evidence of new neurons. The study has been published in the journal Nature.
Space

NASA Spacecraft Reveals Jupiter's Interior In Unprecedented Detail (theguardian.com) 52

NASA's Juno spacecraft has revealed that Jupiter's iconic striped bands, caused by immensely powerful winds, extend to a depth of about 3,000km below the surface. The findings also provide a partial answer to the question of whether the planet has a core, "showing that the inner 96% of the planet rotates 'as a solid body,' even though technically it is composed of an extraordinarily dense mixture of hydrogen and helium gas," reports The Guardian. From the report: The findings are published in four separate papers in the journal Nature, describing the planet's gravitational field (surprisingly asymmetrical), atmospheric flows, interior composition and polar cyclones. A crucial question was whether the bands on Jupiter, caused by air currents that are five times as strong as the most powerful hurricanes on Earth, were a "weather" phenomenon comparable to the Earth's jet streams or part of a deep-seated convection system. Juno's latest observations point to the latter, showing the jets continued to around 3,000km beneath the surface -- deep enough to cause ripples and asymmetries in the planet's gravitational field that were perceptible to detectors on the spacecraft. On Earth, the atmosphere represents about a millionth of the mass of the whole planet. The latest work suggests that on Jupiter the figure is closer to 1%. The new findings, based on extremely sensitive gravitational measurements, also begin to paint a picture of the internal structure of the planet.
Math

Researcher Admits Study That Claimed Uber Drivers Earn $3.37 An Hour Was Not Correct (fortune.com) 101

Last week, an MIT study using data from more than 1,100 Uber and Lyft drivers concluded they're earning a median pretax profit of just $3.37 per hour. Uber was less than pleased by their findings and used a blog post to highlight problems with the researchers' methodology. "Now the lead researcher behind the draft paper has admitted that Uber's criticism was actually pretty valid -- while also asking Uber and Lyft to make more data available, in order to improve his analysis," reports Fortune. From the report: The issue with the draft paper from MIT's Center for Energy and Environmental Policy Research (CEEPR), Uber's chief economist Jonathan Hall said, was this: The researchers asked drivers how much money they made on average each week from such services, but then asked "How much of your total monthly income comes from driving" -- without specifying that such income must relate to on-demand services. Of course, many people driving for Uber and Lyft also earn money from regular jobs and other income sources. And this, Hall alleged, skewed the researchers' results.

"Hall's specific criticism is valid," wrote Stephen Zoepf, the executive director of Stanford's Center for Automotive Research, who led the MIT study, on Monday. "In re-reading the wording of the two questions, I can see how respondents could have interpreted the two questions in the manner Hall describes." Zoepf said he would be updating the CEEPR paper, but in the meantime he recalculated the figures using a methodology suggested by Hall, and found that the median profit was $8.55 per hour, rather than $3.37, and only 8% of drivers lose money on on-demand platforms. Using another methodology, he added, the median rises to $10 per hour and only 4% of drivers lose money.

Medicine

Diabetes Is Actually Five Separate Diseases, Research Suggests (bbc.com) 114

An anonymous reader quotes a report from the BBC: Scientists say diabetes is five separate diseases, and treatment could be tailored to each form. Diabetes, or uncontrolled blood sugar levels, is normally split into type 1 and type 2. But researchers in Sweden and Finland think the more complicated picture they have uncovered will usher in an era of personalized medicine for diabetes. The study, by Lund University Diabetes Centre in Sweden and the Institute for Molecular Medicine Finland, looked at 14,775 patients including a detailed analysis of their blood. The results, published in The Lancet Diabetes and Endocrinology, showed the patients could be separated into five distinct clusters:

Cluster 1 - severe autoimmune diabetes is broadly the same as the classical type 1 -- it hit people when they were young, seemingly healthy and an immune disease left them unable to produce insulin
Cluster 2 - severe insulin-deficient diabetes patients initially looked very similar to those in cluster 1 -- they were young, had a healthy weight and struggled to make insulin, but the immune system was not at fault
Cluster 3 - severe insulin-resistant diabetes patients were generally overweight and making insulin but their body was no longer responding to it
Cluster 4 - mild obesity-related diabetes was mainly seen in people who were very overweight but metabolically much closer to normal than those in cluster 3
Cluster 5 - mild age-related diabetes patients developed symptoms when they were significantly older than in other groups and their disease tended to be milder

Medicine

Videogame Lobbyists Join Scientists To Fight 'Gaming Disorder' Classification (vice.com) 72

Remember when the World Health Organization moved to define a new disease called "gaming disorder"? An anonymous reader quotes Motherboard: Multiple video game lobbying groups from around the world have banded together to push back against the classification, and 36 academics, scientists, doctors, and researchers have drafted a paper that called the WHO's methodology and motives into question. The professionals will publish the paper, titled "Weak Basis for Gaming Disorder," in an upcoming issue of Journal of Behavioral Addictions. The article is a collection of well reasoned arguments against classifying "gaming disorder" as a disease, complete with references to extant research...

"We agree that there are some people whose play of video games is related to life problems," said the article's abstract. "However, moving from research construct to formal disorder requires a much stronger evidence base than we currently have"... To be clear, the article doesn't argue that something isn't going on and that gaming addiction isn't real and isn't a problem. It just thinks that rushing to define it and put it in the the ICD is a bad idea.

Space

Stars Billions Of Years Old Drop Big Clue To Early Universe (cnet.com) 20

Astronomers have picked up a radio signal from the moment the lights went on in the universe billions of years ago, and they've discovered some surprises embedded in it. No, not aliens, but potential evidence of something just as mysterious and elusive. From a report: Using a sensitive antenna only about the size of a table in the Australian desert, scientists managed to isolate the very faint signal of primordial hydrogen, part of the cosmic afterglow from the Big Bang. But the ancient signal from this basic building block of the universe also carries the imprint of some of the first light from the very first stars ever. "This is the first real signal that stars are starting to form, and starting to affect the medium around them," Alan Rogers, a scientist at MIT's Haystack Observatory, said in a statement. "What's happening in this period is that some of the radiation from the very first stars is starting to allow hydrogen to be seen. It's causing hydrogen to start absorbing the background radiation, so you start seeing it in silhouette, at particular radio frequencies." Rogers is a co-author of a paper on the work published Wednesday in the journal Nature.
IBM

IBM's Watson Is Going To Space (thenextweb.com) 59

Yesterday, IBM announced it would be providing the AI brain for a robot being built by Airbus to accompany astronauts aboard the International Space Station (ISS). "The robot, which looks like a flying volleyball with a low-resolution face, is being deployed with Germany astronaut Alexander Gerst in June for a six month mission," reports The Next Web. "It's called CIMON, an acronym for Crew Interactive Mobile Companion, and it's headed to space to do science stuff." From the report: It'll help crew members conduct medical experiments, study crystals, and play with a Rubix cube. Best of all, just like "Wilson," the other volleyball with a face and Tom Hanks' costar in the movie Castaway, CIMON can be the astronauts' friend. According to an IBM blog post: "CIMON's digital face, voice and use of artificial intelligence make it a 'colleague' to the crew members. This collegial 'working relationship' facilitates how astronauts work through their prescribed checklists of experiments, now entering into a genuine dialogue with their interactive assistant."
Mars

Scientists Find Life In 'Mars-Like' Chilean Desert (wsu.edu) 54

An anonymous reader writes: In 1938, CBS radio aired Orson Welles' dramatization of H.G. Wells' The War of the Worlds ; the broadcast was livened up by periodic "news bulletins" reporting strange activity on Mars and in New Jersey. There may or may have not been men on Mars at the time, and later opinions also differ on whether the broadcast caused widespread panic across the U.S. Eighty years later, scientists are again claiming to have found evidence on earth of Martian life. Well, not exactly Martian life... Washington State University reports: "For the first time, researchers have seen life rebounding in the world's driest desert, demonstrating that it could also be lurking in the soils of Mars. Led by Washington State University planetary scientist Dirk Schulze-Makuch, an international team studied the driest corner of South America's Atacama Desert, where decades pass without any rain. Scientists have long wondered whether microbes in the soil of this hyperarid environment, the most similar place on Earth to the Martian surface, are permanent residents or merely dying vestiges of life, blown in by the weather. Billions of years ago, Mars had small oceans and lakes where early lifeforms may have thrived. As the planet dried up and grew colder, these organisms could have evolved many of the adaptations lifeforms in the Atacama soil use to survive on Earth, Schulze-Makuch said. 'We know there is water frozen in the Martian soil and recent research strongly suggests nightly snowfalls and other increased moisture events near the surface,' he said. 'If life ever evolved on Mars, our research suggests it could have found a subsurface niche beneath today's severely hyper-arid surface.'" The study has been published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Moon

Nokia, Vodafone To Bring 4G To the Moon (reuters.com) 80

According to Reuters, the moon will get its first mobile phone network next year, enabling high-definition streaming from the landscape back to earth. "Vodafone Germany, network equipment maker Nokia and carmaker Audi said on Tuesday they were working together to support the mission, 50 years after the first NASA astronauts walked on the moon." From the report: Vodafone said it had appointed Nokia as its technology partner to develop a space-grade network which would be a small piece of hardware weighing less than a bag of sugar. The companies are working with Berlin-based company PTScientists on the project, with a launch scheduled in 2019 from Cape Canaveral on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket, Vodafone said. One executive involved said the decision to build a 4G network rather than a state-of-the-art 5G network was taken because the next generation networks remain in the testing and trial stage and are not stable enough to ensure they would work from the lunar surface.
Space

Microbes Found in Earth's Deep Ocean Might Grow on Saturn's Moon Enceladus (theverge.com) 69

Life as we know it needs three things: energy, water and chemistry. Saturn's icy moon Enceladus has them all, as NASA spacecraft Cassini confirmed in the final years of its mission to that planet. From a report: Scientists have successfully cultivated a few of these tiny organisms in the lab under the same conditions that are thought to exist on the distant moon, opening up the possibility that life might be lurking under the world's surface. Enceladus is one of the most intriguing places in the Solar System since it has many crucial ingredients needed for life to thrive. For one, it has lots of water. NASA's Cassini spacecraft -- which explored the Saturn system from 2004 to 2017 -- found that plumes of gas and particles erupt from the south pole of Enceladus, and these geysers stem from a global liquid water ocean underneath the moon's crust. Scientists think that there may be hot vents in this ocean, too -- cracks in the sea floor where heated rock mingles with the frigid waters. This mixing of hot and cold material seems to be creating a soup of chemical compounds that might support life.
Businesses

Relying on Renewables Alone Significantly Inflates the Cost of Overhauling Energy (technologyreview.com) 248

A growing number of US cities and states have proposed or even passed legislation that would require producing all electricity from renewable energy sources like solar and wind within a few decades. That might sound like a great idea. But a growing body of evidence shows it's not. From a report: It increasingly appears that insisting on 100 percent renewable sources -- and disdaining others that don't produce greenhouse gases, such as nuclear power and fossil-fuel plants with carbon-capture technology -- is wastefully expensive and needlessly difficult. In the latest piece of evidence, a study published in Energy & Environmental Science determined that solar and wind energy alone could reliably meet about 80 percent of recent US annual electricity demand, but massive investments in energy storage and transmission would be needed to avoid major blackouts. Pushing to meet 100 percent of demand with these resources would require building a huge number of additional wind and solar farms -- or expanding electricity storage to an extent that would be prohibitively expensive at current prices. Or some of both.
Education

Children Struggle To Hold Pencils Due To Too Much Tech, Doctors Say (theguardian.com) 314

An anonymous reader quotes a report from The Guardian: Children are increasingly finding it hard to hold pens and pencils because of an excessive use of technology, senior pediatric doctors have warned. An overuse of touchscreen phones and tablets is preventing children's finger muscles from developing sufficiently to enable them to hold a pencil correctly, they say. "Children are not coming into school with the hand strength and dexterity they had 10 years ago," said Sally Payne, the head pediatric occupational therapist at the Heart of England foundation NHS Trust. "Children coming into school are being given a pencil but are increasingly not be able to hold it because they don't have the fundamental movement skills. "To be able to grip a pencil and move it, you need strong control of the fine muscles in your fingers,. Children need lots of opportunity to develop those skills." Payne said the nature of play had changed. "It's easier to give a child an iPad than encouraging them to do muscle-building play such as building blocks, cutting and sticking, or pulling toys and ropes. Because of this, they're not developing the underlying foundation skills they need to grip and hold a pencil."
Space

Math Shows Some Black Holes Erase Your Past and Give You Unlimited Futures (vice.com) 190

dmoberhaus writes: An international team of mathematicians has found that there are theoretical black holes that would allow an observer to survive passage through the event horizon. This would result in the breakdown of determinism, a fundamental feature of the universe that allows physics to have predictive power, and result in the destruction of the observer's past and present them with an infinite number of futures. The findings were detailed in a report published last week in Physical Review Letters.
Space

Jupiter's Great Red Spot May Soon Disappear (nationalgeographic.com) 80

The Great Red Spot has been a fixture of Jupiter 's cloudy visage for centuries and is among the most recognizable features in the solar system. But it won't always be there. In fact, the Great Red Spot is shrinking, and recently, news stories reported that it could vanish within the next 10 or 20 years . From a report: Older observations, from the late 1800s, suggest the storm once spanned more than 30 degrees in longitude and was more of a "Great Red Sausage," says Glenn Orton of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory. But the storm's shape is changing, most significantly in width, and as time marches on it's becoming less oval and more circular. Way back when, the storm stretched more than 25,000 miles across. When the Voyager spacecraft flew by in the 1970s, scientists estimated that the Spot was just 14,500 miles wide. In 2014, a Hubble Space Telescope observation put the Spot at just 10,250 miles across, and by last spring, it spanned just 10,140 miles. So when will it disappear entirely? Truth is, scientists have no idea. But if you measure the rate at which the Great Red Spot has been shrinking, and extrapolate linearly from that, it looks like the spot will vanish completely in about 70 years, says Amy Simon of NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center. Problem is, "we know for certain it doesn't work like that at all," she says.
Space

Scientists Say Space Aliens Could Hack Our Planet (nbcnews.com) 293

Scientists are worried that space aliens might send messages that worm their way into human society -- not to steal our passwords but to bring down our culture. "Astrophysicists Michael Hippke and John Learned argue in a recent paper that our telescopes might pick up hazardous messages sent our way -- a virus that shuts down our computers, for example, or something a bit like cosmic blackmail: 'Do this for us, or we'll make your sun go supernova and destroy Earth,'" reports NBC News. "Or perhaps the cosmic hackers could trick us into building self-replicating nanobots, and then arrange for them to be let loose to chew up our planet or its inhabitants." From the report: The astrophysicists also suggest that the extraterrestrials could show their displeasure (what did we do?) by launching a cyberattack. Maybe you've seen the 1996 film "Independence Day," in which odious aliens are vanquished by a computer virus uploaded into their machinery. That's about as realistic as sabotaging your neighbor's new laptop by feeding it programs written for the Commodore 64. In other words, aliens that could muster the transmitter power (not to mention the budget) to try wiping us out with code are going to have a real compatibility problem.

Yet there is a way that messages from space might be disruptive. Extraterrestrials could simply give us some advanced knowledge -- not as a trade, but as a gift. How could that possibly be a downer? Imagine: You're a physicist who has dedicated your career to understanding the fundamental structure of matter. You have a stack of reprints, a decent position, and a modicum of admiration from the three other specialists who have read your papers. Suddenly, aliens weigh in with knowledge that's a thousand years ahead of yours. So much for your job and your sense of purpose. If humanity is deprived of the opportunity to learn things on its own, much of its impetus for novelty might evaporate. In a society where invention and discovery are written out of the script, progress and improvement would suffer.

Data Storage

Putting Civilization in a Box For Space Means Choosing Our Legacy (space.com) 92

When SpaceX's record-breaking Falcon Heavy rocket made its first test launch in early February , the craft didn't just hurl Elon Musk's shiny red roadster and spacesuit-clad mannequin to space. It had another, smaller payload, which at first glance seems much less impressive: a 1-inch-wide (2.5 centimeters) quartz disc with Isaac Asimov's "Foundation" trilogy encoded in laser-etched gratings . From a report: The famous science fiction series is only the beginning of the discs' planned contents. At a time when traditional hard drives are just breaking into the terabyte range, the quartz medium can hold up to 360 terabytes per disc. It also boasts a life span of 14 billion years. That's longer than the current age of the universe. This disc was symbolic; future devices will contain much more, and more useful, information. But the technology speaks to grander issues that humanity is now pondering: becoming a multiplanetary civilization, storing information for thousands or millions of years, and contacting and communicating with other intelligences (alien and Earthling).

So how should we record our knowledge and experiences for posterity? How should we ensure that this information is understandable to civilizations that may be quite different from our own? And, most importantly, what should we say? Humans have faced challenges like these before. Ancient civilizations built monuments like the pyramids and left artifacts and writing, sometimes deliberately. Later researchers have used this material to try to piece together ancient worldviews. However, in the modern era, we've set our sights much further: from centuries to millennia, from one planet to interstellar space, and from one species to many.

Japan

Japanese Scientists Invent Floating 'Firefly' Light (reuters.com) 28

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Reuters: Japanese engineering researchers say they have created a tiny electronic light the size of a firefly which rides waves of ultrasound, and could eventually figure in applications ranging from moving displays to projection mapping. Named Luciola for its resemblance to the firefly, the featherweight levitating particle weighs 16.2 mg, has a diameter of 3.5 mm (0.14 inch), and emits a red glimmer that can just about illuminate text. But its minuscule size belies the power of the 285 microspeakers emitting ultrasonic waves that hold up the light, and have a frequency inaudible to the human ear, allowing Luciola to operate in apparent total silence. It took two years for Luciola to get this far, said circuit design specialist Makoto Takamiya, a member of the Kawahara Universal Information Network Project that developed the device. The developers expect Luciola to find applications in the so-called Internet of Things, in which regular objects, such as cars, or domestic appliances such as air-conditioners, are connected to networks to send and receive data. Equipped with movement or temperature sensors, Luciola could fly to such objects to deliver a message or help to make moving displays with multiple lights that can detect the presence of humans, or participate in futuristic projection mapping events.
Education

The College Board Pushes To Make Computer Science a High School Graduation Requirement 132

theodp writes: Education Week reports that the College Board wants high schools to make it mandatory for students to take computer science before they graduate. The call came as the College Board touted the astonishing growth in its Advanced Placement (AP) computer science courses, which was attributed to the success of its new AP Computer Science Principles (AP CSP) class, a "lite" alternative to the Java-based AP CS A course. "The College Board is willing to invest serious resources in making this viable -- much more so than is in our economic interest to do so," said College Board President David Coleman. "To governors, legislators, to others -- if you will help us make this part of the life of schools, we will help fund it."

Just two days before Coleman's funds-for-compulsory-CS offer, Education Week cast a skeptical eye at the tech sector's role in creating a tremendous surge of enthusiasm for K-12 CS education. Last spring, The College Board struck a partnership with the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative with a goal of making AP CSP available in every U.S. school district. Also contributing to the success of the College Board's high school AP CS programs over the years has been tech-bankrolled Code.org, as well as tech giants Microsoft and Google. The idea of a national computer programming language requirement for high school students was prominently floated in a Google-curated Q&A session with President Obama (video) following the 2013 State of the Union address.
Science

The 'Loudness' of Our Thoughts Affects How We Judge External Sounds (sciencedaily.com) 35

The "loudness" of our thoughts -- or how we imagine saying something -- influences how we judge the loudness of real, external sounds, a team of researchers from NYU Shanghai and NYU has found. From a report: Its study, titled "Imagined Speech Influences Perceived Loudness of Sound" and published in the journal Nature Human Behaviour, offers new insights into the nature of brain activity. The research project was conducted by Tian Xing and Bai Fan from NYU Shanghai with, David Poeppel and Teng Xiangbin from NYU, and Ding Nai from Zhejiang University. "Our 'thoughts' are silent to others -- but not to ourselves, in our own heads -- so the loudness in our thoughts influences the loudness of what we hear," says Poeppel, a professor of psychology and neural science. Using an imagery-perception repetition paradigm, the team found that auditory imagery will decrease the sensitivity of actual loudness perception, with support from both behavioural loudness ratings and human electrophysiological (EEG and MEG) results.
Medicine

Major New Study Confirms Antidepressants Really Do Work (theguardian.com) 234

According to authors of a groundbreaking study, antidepressants really do work in treating depression, though some are more effective than others. "Millions more people around the world should be prescribed pills or offered talking therapies, which work equally well for moderate to severe depression, say the doctors, noting that just one in six people receive proper treatment in the rich world -- and one in 27 in the developing world," reports The Guardian. From the report: "Antidepressants are an effective tool for depression. Untreated depression is a huge problem because of the burden to society," said Andrea Cipriani of the NIHR Oxford Health Biomedical Research Centre, who led the study. The debate over antidepressants has unfortunately often been ideological, said Cipriani. Some doctors and patients have doubts over whether they work at all and point to the big placebo effect -- in trials, those given dummy pills also improve to some degree. Some people suspect drug companies of fiddling trial results. Some patients simply do not want to take pills for a mental health condition. The study published in the Lancet took six years, Cipriani said, and included all the published and unpublished data that the scientists could find. It was carried out by a team of international experts. They looked at results after eight weeks of more than 500 trials involving either a drug versus placebo or comparing two different medicines. The most famous antidepressant of them all, Prozac -- now out of patent and known by its generic name, fluoxetine -- was one of the least effective but best tolerated, measured by a low drop-out rate in the trials or fewer side-effects reported. The most effective of the drugs was amitriptyline, which was the sixth best tolerated.
Space

Amateur Astronomer Spots Supernova Right As It Begins (gizmodo.com) 52

New submitter Rotten shares a report from Gizmodo: Amateur astronomer Victor Buso was testing his camera-telescope setup in Argentina back in September 2016, pointing his Newtonian telescope at a spiral galaxy called NGC613. He collected light from the galaxy for the next hour and a half, taking short exposures to keep out the Santa Fe city lights. When he looked at his images, he realized he'd captured a potential supernova -- an enormous flash of light an energy bursting off of a distant star. Buso took more data and informed Argentine observatories, who announced the outcome of their follow-up observations today: "the serendipitous discovery of a newly born, normal type IIb supernova," according to the paper published in Nature. Not only did this demonstrate the importance of amateur astronomy, but Buso's images also provided evidence of the brief initial shockwave from the supernova, a phenomenon that telescopes rarely capture, since they'd have to be looking at the exact right place in the sky at the right time. Buso didn't just discover a supernova, though. He also presented evidence for the "long-sought shock-breakout phase," as the scientists write, an explosion of energy theorized to emanate from a shock wave at the supernova's source. The researchers point out that it's hard to generalize from a single supernova.
Earth

Antarctica Is Losing Ice Faster Every Year (qz.com) 268

A survey of satellite data published in the journal Cryosphere confirms what scientists have suspected for a while now: ice loss from the critical region of Antarctica is happening at an increasingly fast pace. Quartz reports: In total, researchers found that Antarctica lost roughly 1,929 gigatons of ice in 2015, which amounts to an increase of roughly 36 gigatons per year every year since 2008. (A gigaton is one billion tons.) Nearly 90% of that increase in loss occurred in West Antarctica, "probably in response to ocean warming," according to NASA. The new data analysis mostly confirms other recent research, but does so with a higher degree of precision by using a new technique that can process a larger amount of satellite data than was possible before.

West Antarctica has been losing a lot of ice in recent years, and at an ever-growing pace, while East Antarctica is losing ice more steadily. The West Antarctic ice sheet is of particular concern because, like a building that stands on an uneven foundation, it is inherently unstable, making it especially vulnerable to the warming climate. If the entire ice sheet were destabilized and melted into the sea, researchers estimate it would lead to 3 meters (9 feet) of sea level rise globally. Models suggest that under a low-emissions scenario, where the world commits to "peaking" and then steadily reducing emissions in the near future, complete destabilization of the West Antarctic ice sheet is possible to avoid. But under medium- or high-emissions scenarios, the loss of the ice sheet becomes inevitable.

Slashdot Top Deals