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AI

MIT's AI Uses Radio Signals To See People Through Walls (inverse.com) 76

Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology have developed a new piece of software that uses wifi signals to monitor the movements, breathing, and heartbeats of humans on the other side of walls. While the researchers say this new tech could be used in areas like remote healthcare, it could in theory be used in more dystopian applications. Inverse reports: "We actually are tracking 14 different joints on the body [...] the head, the neck, the shoulders, the elbows, the wrists, the hips, the knees, and the feet," Dina Katabi, an electrical engineering and computer science teacher at MIT, said. "So you can get the full stick-figure that is dynamically moving with the individuals that are obstructed from you -- and that's something new that was not possible before." The technology works a little bit like radar, but to teach their neural network how to interpret these granular bits of human activity, the team at MIT's Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL) had to create two separate A.I.s: a student and a teacher.

[T]he team developed one A.I. program that monitored human movements with a camera, on one side of a wall, and fed that information to their wifi X-ray A.I., called RF-Pose, as it struggled to make sense of the radio waves passing through that wall on the other side. The research builds off of a longstanding project at CSAIL lead by Katabi, which hopes to use this wifi tracking to help passively monitor the elderly and automate any emergency alerts to EMTs and medical professionals if they were to fall or suffer some other injury.
For more information, a press release and video about the software are available.
Science

Giant African Baobab Trees Die Suddenly After Thousands of Years (theguardian.com) 174

Some of Africa's oldest and biggest baobab trees have abruptly died, wholly or in part, in the past decade, according to researchers. From a report: The trees, aged between 1,100 and 2,500 years and in some cases as wide as a bus is long, may have fallen victim to climate change, the team speculated. "We report that nine of the 13 oldest ... individuals have died, or at least their oldest parts/stems have collapsed and died, over the past 12 years," they wrote in the scientific journal Nature Plants, describing "an event of an unprecedented magnitude." "It is definitely shocking and dramatic to experience during our lifetime the demise of so many trees with millennial ages," said the study's co-author Adrian Patrut of the Babes-Bolyai University in Romania. Among the nine were four of the largest African baobabs. While the cause of the die-off remains unclear, the researchers "suspect that the demise of monumental baobabs may be associated at least in part with significant modifications of climate conditions that affect southern Africa in particular." Further research is needed, said the team from Romania, South Africa and the United States, "to support or refute this supposition."
Math

Honeybees Seem To Understand the Notion of Zero, Study Finds (sci-news.com) 154

A new study published in the journal Science finds honeybees are able to understand the concept of zero numerosity, joining the ranks of dolphins, parrots, and primates. Sci-News.com reports: The study authors set out to test the honeybee on its understanding, marking individual honeybees for easy identification and luring them to a specially-designed testing apparatus. The bees were trained to choose an image with the lowest number of elements in order to receive a reward of sugar solution. For example, the bees learned to choose three elements when presented with three vs. four; or two elements when presented with two vs. three. When the scientists periodically tested the bees with an image that contained no elements versus an image that had one or more, the bees understood that the set of zero was the lower number -- despite never having been exposed to an "empty set."
Communications

Mars Opportunity Rover Is In Danger of Dying From a Dust Storm (engadget.com) 105

According to NASA, the Mars Opportunity rover is currently trying to survive an intensifying dust storm on the red planet. "The storm's atmospheric opacity -- the veil of dust blowing around, which can blot out sunlight -- is now much worse than a 2007 storm that Opportunity weathered," reports NASA. "The previous storm had an opacity level, or tau, somewhere above 5.5; this new storm had an estimated tau of 10.8 as of Sunday morning." Engadget reports: The storm was first detected on Friday June 1st by the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, at which point the rover's team was notified because of the weather event's proximity to Opportunity. The rover uses solar panels, so a dust storm could have an extremely negative impact on Opportunity's power levels and its batteries. By Wednesday June 6th, Opportunity was in minimal operations mode because of sharply decreasing power levels. The brave little rover is continuing to weather the storm; it sent a transmission back to Earth Sunday morning, which is a good sign. It means there's still enough charge left in the batteries to communicate with home, despite the fact that the storm is continuing to worsen.
Medicine

Experimental Spit Test Could Identify Men Most At Risk of Prostate Cancer (gizmodo.com) 58

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Gizmodo: A test developed by scientists in the U.K. and U.S. might someday be able to pinpoint the men most likely to get prostate cancer. A new study published Monday in Nature Genetics suggests the test can detect the one percent of men who are genetically most vulnerable to developing prostate cancer, a leading cause of cancer deaths among American men. The international research team used a new DNA analysis technique to peer into the genes of more than 70,000 people enrolled in previous studies. Some 45,000 of the subjects had already developed prostate cancer, while 25,000 hadn't. So the researchers compared the two groups, singling out any inherited genetic variations that might have contributed to their cancer risk. According to the authors, they managed to find 63 new variants never before associated with prostate cancer.

These results were then integrated with nearly a hundred genetic variants linked to prostate cancer previously found among 60,000 people to create a total genetic risk score. And finally, the researchers devised a test that uses a person's saliva to detect these more than 150 variants. In the U.S., people over the age of 50 are generally screened for prostate cancer via the prostate-specific antigen (PSA) blood test. Those with a certain high level of PSA should be screened annually, while everyone else is advised to be screened every two years. But the saliva test could reveal especially high-risk people who need annual screening regardless of their PSA level, while ruling out low-risk people who don't need annual screening based on their genetic risk and PSA scores. Those people would only need screenings every two, five, and maybe even 10 years.

Medicine

A Serious New Hurdle For CRISPR: Edited Cells Might Cause Cancer, Find Two Studies (statnews.com) 108

Editing cell genomes with CRISPR-Cas9 might increase the risk of developing cancer, two studies published Monday warn. From a report: Editing cells' genomes with CRISPR-Cas9 might increase the risk that the altered cells, intended to treat disease, will trigger cancer, two studies published on Monday warn -- a potential game-changer for the companies developing CRISPR-based therapies. In the studies, published in Nature Medicine, scientists found that cells whose genomes are successfully edited by CRISPR-Cas9 have the potential to seed tumors inside a patient. That could make some CRISPR'd cells ticking time bombs, according to researchers from Sweden's Karolinska Institute and, separately, Novartis. CRISPR has already dodged two potentially fatal bullets -- a 2017 claim that it causes sky-high numbers of off-target effects was retracted in March, and a report of human immunity to Cas9 was largely shrugged off as solvable. But experts are taking the cancer-risk finding seriously.
Math

Canada's 'Random' Immigration Lottery Uses Microsoft Excel, Which Isn't Actually Random (gizmodo.com) 224

An anonymous reader writes: Last year, Canada introduced a new lottery system used to extend permanent-resident status to the parents and grandparents of Canadian citizens. The process was designed to randomly select applicants in order to make the process fairer than the old first-come, first-served system. There's just one problem: the software used to run the lottery isn't actually random. The Globe and Mail reported the Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) uses Microsoft Excel to run the immigration lottery to select 10,000 people for permanent resident status from a field of about 100,000 applications received each year. Experts warned that the random number generating function in Excel isn't actually random and may put some applicants at a disadvantage.

First, it's best to understand just how the lottery system works. An Access to Information request filed by The Globe and Mail shows that IRCC inputs the application number for every person entering the lottery into Excel, then assigns them a random number to each using a variation of the program's RAND command. They then sort the list from smallest to largest based on the random number assigned and take the first 10,000 applications with the lowest numbers. The system puts a lot of faith in Excel's random function, which it might not deserve. According to Universite de Montreal computer science professor Pierre L'Ecuyer, Excel is "very bad" at generating random numbers because it relies on an old generator that is out of date. He also warned that Excel doesn't pass statistical tests and is less random than it appears, which means some people in the lottery may actually have a lower chance of being selected than others.

Earth

NASA Makes Two Decades of Satellite Images of Earth Available To the Public (discovermagazine.com) 43

The longest continuous daily satellite observation record of Earth ever compiled is now available for all of us to peruse. Tom Yulsman, writing for Discover Magazine: Multiple instruments aboard NASA's Terra and Aqua satellites, launched in 1999 and 2002, respectively, have kept close watch on the virtually the entire planet for nearly 20 years. Now, for the first time, the entire treasure trove of imagery and scientific information is available for exploration in Worldview, an engaging, interactive web-based application. I've been using Worldview regularly to find imagery for use here at ImaGeo since I launched the blog in 2013. But until now, there was a significant limitation: The data available went back only to 2012. Now, after more than five years of work, NASA has extended what's available on Worldview back to the year 2000, when the Terra satellite first became operational. Terra was lofted into polar orbit with a suite of five remote sensors. The most comprehensive is an instrument called the Moderate-resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer, or MODIS.
Government

In the Trump Administration, Science Is Unwelcome. So Is Advice. (nytimes.com) 708

Anonymous readers share a report: As President Trump prepares to meet Kim Jong-un of North Korea to negotiate denuclearization, a challenge that has bedeviled the world for years, he is doing so without the help of a White House science adviser or senior counselor trained in nuclear physics. Mr. Trump is the first president since 1941 not to name a science adviser, a position created during World War II to guide the Oval Office on technical matters ranging from nuclear warfare to global pandemics. As a businessman and president, Mr. Trump has proudly been guided by his instincts. Nevertheless, people who have participated in past nuclear negotiations say the absence of such high-level expertise could put him at a tactical disadvantage in one of the weightiest diplomatic matters of his presidency.

"You need to have an empowered senior science adviser at the table," said R. Nicholas Burns, who led negotiations with India over a civilian nuclear deal during the George W. Bush administration. "You can be sure the other side will have that." The lack of traditional scientific advisory leadership in the White House is one example of a significant change in the Trump administration: the marginalization of science in shaping United States policy. There is no chief scientist at the State Department, where science is central to foreign policy matters such as cybersecurity and global warming. Nor is there a chief scientist at the Department of Agriculture: Mr. Trump last year nominated Sam Clovis, a former talk-show host with no scientific background, to the position, but he withdrew his name and no new nomination has been made.

Medicine

University Seeks Volunteers For 'Hotel Influenza' (fortune.com) 51

The National Institutes of Health is paying a St. Louis university to study the effectiveness of flu vaccines. An anonymous reader quotes Fortune: The university wants volunteers to live in "hotel influenza," where they'd be either given a vaccine or a placebo, be exposed to the flu, and be quarantined for 10 days in the Extended Stay Research Unit. Compensation for such an experiment is around $3,500 (for time and travel), according to a SLU release... "In a traditional flu study, we vaccinate people and see if their immune systems respond by creating antibodies that fight flu," Dr. Hoff said in a release. "In a human challenge study, we vaccinate people, then deliberately challenge their bodies by exposing them to flu to see if they get sick"...

The 24 volunteers living in the "hotel influenza" would have private rooms and bathrooms, common areas with with chairs and TVs, along with exercise equipment, and catered meals in a dining room. They will be observed, "have blood and lung tests and nose swabs to see if they are infected with flu and shedding the virus." If they come down with the flu, they won't be able to leave until they've tested negative for the virus for two days. Nurses would be available around the clock.

One St. Louis newspaper jokes that it will either be a "sickathon" -- or "an indoor vacation complete with catered meals, TV, internet, a gym and views of the Arch".
Medicine

Theranos Founder Elizabeth Holmes Seeks Investors For New Company (vanityfair.com) 108

There's a new surprise from the Wall Street Journal's John Carreyrou (author of the Theranos expose Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup). An anonymous reader shares Vanity Fair's summary of their newest podcast interview: According to Carreyrou, Holmes is currently waltzing around Silicon Valley, meeting with investors, hoping to raise money for an entirely new start-up idea. (My mouth dropped when I heard that, too....) I'm sure she will somehow succeed in convincing someone to hand over millions of dollars, especially if venture capitalists like Tim Draper (an early Theranos investor) are still out there saying the stories by Carreyrou were wrong (they weren't), and that Holmes was on the precipice of saving the world (she wasn't) before the media came after her.

You would think that seeing Holmes's duplicity wrapped up in a neat bow in Carreyrou's book, and in the S.E.C. settlement -- which, incidentally, mentions the term "fraud" seven times -- would force Silicon Valley to perform its own due diligence, and question whether the way C.E.O.s, investors, and the media interact should be re-evaluated. But alas, the tech world doesn't see Theranos as a tech company, but rather a biotech outlier... Of course, there is still a major criminal investigation underway by the F.B.I., one that could end with Holmes behind bars.

Carreyou tells another interviewer that Theranos "is a cautionary tale about the hubris in the Valley... there's certainly a lot of innovation there, but there's also an unbelievable amount of arrogance and pretending."
Space

New Horizons Spacecraft Wakes Up To Prepare For Historic Flyby of Distant Object (space.com) 36

jwhyche writes: The New Horizons space probe has been in hibernation mode since Dec. 21. On June 5th, the spacecraft exited hibernation mode and began preparing for its next encounter. The spacecraft is currently 3.7 billion miles from Earth and will be spending the next few months preparing for its flyby of a small Kuiper Belt object nicknamed Ultima Thule (officially 2014 MU69). The craft is expected to pass by Ultima Thule during the New Year's holiday.
United States

Suicide Rates Are Up 30 Percent Since 1999, CDC Says (nbcnews.com) 477

New submitter Austerity Empowers writes: Amidst all the name calling and straw man arguments about the overall health of America, sometimes it helps to look at data from people who sacrificed everything based on their perception of reality. Whatever politics you subscribe to, the feeling of hopelessness is evidently real, and frightening. NBC News: "Suicide rates are up by 30 percent across the nation since 1999, federal health officials reported Thursday. And only about half the people who died by suicide had a known mental health condition, even though depression had been thought to be the major cause of suicide, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said. While many cases of mental illness may have been diagnosed, the CDC also noted that relationship stress, financial troubles and substance abuse were contributing to the trends."
Earth

Sucking CO2 From Air Is Cheaper Than Scientists Thought (technologyreview.com) 383

An anonymous reader quotes a report from MIT Technology Review: While avoiding the worst dangers of climate change will likely require sucking carbon dioxide out of the sky, prominent scientists have long dismissed such technologies as far too expensive. But a detailed new analysis published today in the journal Joule finds that direct air capture may be practical after all. The study concludes it would cost between $94 and $232 per ton of captured carbon dioxide, if existing technologies were implemented on a commercial scale. One earlier estimate, published in Proceedings of the National Academies, put that figure at more than $1,000 (though the calculations were made on what's known as an avoided-cost basis, which would add about 10 percent to the new study's figures). Crucially, the lowest-cost design, optimized to produce and sell alternative fuels made from the captured carbon dioxide, could already be profitable with existing public policies in certain markets. The higher cost estimates are for plants that would deliver compressed carbon dioxide for permanent underground storage. David Keith, a Harvard physics professor and lead author of the paper, is also the founder of Carbon Engineering, "a Calgary-based startup that has spent the last nine years designing, refining, and testing a direct air capture pilot plant in Squamish, B.C.," reports MIT. "Carbon Engineering plans to combine the carbon captured at its plants with hydrogen to produce carbon-neutral synthetic fuels, a process the pilot facility has already been performing." The company has secured $30 million, but is seeking additional funds to build a larger facility that will begin selling fuels. CNBC notes that Carbon Engineering is owned by several private investors, including Bill Gates.
Mars

NASA Mars Rover Finds Organic Matter in Ancient Lake Bed (theguardian.com) 148

NASA's veteran Curiosity rover has found complex organic matter buried and preserved in ancient sediments that formed a vast lake bed on Mars more than 3bn years ago. From a report: The discovery is the most compelling evidence yet that long before the planet became the parched world it is today, Martian lakes were a rich soup of carbon-based compounds that are necessary for life, at least as we know it. Researchers cannot tell how the organic material formed and so leave open the crucial question: are the compounds remnants of past organisms; the product of chemical reactions with rocks; or were they brought to Mars in comets or other falling debris that slammed into the surface? All look the same in the tests performed. But whatever the ultimate source of the material, if microbial life did find a foothold on Mars, the presence of organics meant it would not have gone hungry. "We know that on Earth microorganisms eat all sorts of organics. It's a valuable food source for them," said Jennifer Eigenbrode, a biogeochemist at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland. The Curiosity rover also discovered that methane on the red planet changes with the seasons. The Verge: Where the methane is coming from is still a mystery, but scientists have some ideas, including that microbes may be the source of the gas. Researchers at NASA and other US universities analyzed five years' worth of methane measurements Curiosity took at Gale Crater, where the rover landed in 2012. Curiosity detected background levels of methane of about 0.4 parts per billion, which is a tiny amount. (In comparison, Earth's atmosphere has about 1,800 parts per billion of methane.) Those levels of methane, however, were found to range from 0.2 to about 0.7 parts per billion, with concentrations peaking near the end of the summer in the northern hemisphere, according to a study published today in Science. This seasonal cycle repeated through time and could come from an underground reservoir of methane, the study says. Whether that reservoir is a sign that there is or was life on Mars, however, is impossible to say for now.
Science

Why a Group of Physicists Watched a Clock Tick For 14 Years Straight (wired.com) 106

An anonymous reader writes: If you drop your phone today and it falls to the ground, you can be fairly certain that if it slips from your grip again tomorrow (butterfingers!), it won't suddenly soar into the sky. That's thanks to one of the basic ideas in Einstein's theory of general relativity, which posits that the laws of physics don't change over space and time. But to actually know that for a fact, you'd have to perform the same task over and over again, in as many locations as possible, and watch closely for any change in outcome. That's why, as Sophia Chen reports, a group of physicists has spent the past 14 years -- or 450 million seconds -- watching clocks tick.

Their results would have made Einstein heave a sigh of relief. The physicists were observing the 12 atomic clocks to see whether their subatomic particles' behavior changed over those 14 years -- but it was completely consistent, even as the clocks moved with the Earth around the sun. Now, these findings don't necessarily mean that the laws of physics are absolutely not changing across time and space. They only definitively show that the laws of physics stayed constant over the 14 years of the experiment. "Still, they can now say this with five times more certainty than they could a decade ago," Chen writes. "And if it holds true for Earth's location in the universe, it's not too much of a leap to imagine it's true elsewhere."

Space

Majority of Americans Believe It Is Essential That the US Remain a Global Leader in Space (pewinternet.org) 286

Pew Research: Sixty years after the founding of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), most Americans believe the United States should be at the forefront of global leadership in space exploration. Majorities say the International Space Station has been a good investment for the country and that, on balance, NASA is still vital to the future of U.S. space exploration even as private space companies emerge as increasingly important players. Roughly seven-in-ten Americans (72%) say it is essential for the U.S. to continue to be a world leader in space exploration, and eight-in-ten (80%) say the space station has been a good investment for the country, according to a new Pew Research Center survey conducted March 27-April 9, 2018. These survey results come at a time when NASA finds itself in a much different world from the one that existed when the Apollo astronauts first set foot on the moon nearly half a century ago. The Cold War space race has receded into history, but other countries (including China, Japan and India) have emerged as significant international players in space exploration. Another finding in the report: Most Americans would like NASA to focus on Earth, instead of Mars.
Science

Hurricanes Are Moving More Slowly, Which Means More Damage (npr.org) 96

An anonymous reader shares a report: Hurricanes are moving more slowly over both land and water, and that's bad news for communities in their path. In the past 70 years, tropical cyclones around the world have slowed down 10 percent, and in some regions of the world, the change has been even more significant, according to a study published Wednesday in the journal Nature. That means storms are spending more time hanging out, battering buildings with wind and dropping more rain. "The slowdown over land is what's really going to effect people," says James Kossin, the author of the study and a tropical cyclone specialist at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. He points to Hurricane Harvey's effect on Houston as an example of what slower storms can mean for cities. "Hurricane Harvey last year was a real outlier in terms of the amount of rain it dropped," he explains. "And the amount of rain it dropped was due, almost entirely, to the fact that it moved so slowly."
Science

Judge Orders EPA To Produce Science Behind Pruitt's Climate Claims (scientificamerican.com) 428

EPA must produce the opposing body of science Administrator Scott Pruitt has relied upon to claim that humans are not the primary drivers of global warming, a federal judge has ruled. From a report: The EPA boss has so far resisted attempts to show the science backing up his claims. His critics say such evidence doesn't exist, even as Pruitt has called for greater science transparency at the agency. Now, a court case may compel him to produce research that attempts to contradict the mountain of peer-reviewed studies collected by the world's top science agencies over decades that show humans are warming the planet at an unprecedented pace through the burning of fossil fuels. Not long after he took over as EPA administrator, Pruitt appeared on CNBC's "Squawk Box," where he was asked about carbon dioxide and climate change. He said, "I would not agree that it's a primary contributor to the global warming that we see." The next day, Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, or PEER, filed a Freedom of Information Act request seeking the studies Pruitt used to make his claims. Specifically, the group requested "EPA documents that support the conclusion that human activity is not the largest factor driving global climate change." On Friday, the chief judge of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, Beryl Howell, ordered the agency to comply.
Earth

An Average Earth Day Used To Be Less Than 19 Hours Long (theguardian.com) 113

Scientists have determined that some 1.4 billion years ago, an Earth day -- that is, a full rotation around its axis -- took 18 hours and 41 minutes, rather than the familiar 24 hours. The Guardian reports: According to fresh calculations, a day on Earth was a full five hours and fifteen minutes shorter a billion or so years ago, well before complex life spread around the planet. Scientists used a combination of astronomical theory and geochemical signatures buried in ancient rocks to show that 1.4bn years ago the Earth turned a full revolution on its axis every 18 hours and 41 minutes. The number means that, on average, the length of the day on Earth has grown by approximately one 74 thousandth of a second per year since Precambrian times, a trend that is expected to continue for millions, if not billions, of years more.
Science

Scientists May Have Discovered a New Fundamental Particle: Sterile Neutrino (theregister.co.uk) 94

Artem Tashkinov writes: It needs more sigmas, but Fermilab boffins in America are carefully speculating that they may have seen evidence of a new fundamental particle: the sterile neutrino. The suggestion follows tests conducted by the MiniBooNE (Mini Booster Neutrino Experiment) instrument, located near Chicago. Its mission is to detect neutrino mass through their oscillations. In the Standard Model of physics, neutrinos, like all particles, are initially assumed to be massless, but some observations, like neutrino oscillation, suggest there's mass there. The experiment that possibly detected sterile neutrinos collected 15 years of data from its commissioning in 2002, and the results have only now reached pre-press outlet arXiv.

Over 15 years, MiniBooNE detected a few hundred more electron neutrinos than were predicted in Standard Model theory. The extra particles suggests there is a fourth, heavier flavor. The findings bring the MiniBooNE team tantalizingly close to a "result" -- it's a 4.8 sigma result, when "discovery" demands 5 sigma.

NASA

NASA Extends Juno Jupiter Mission By Three Years (gizmodo.com) 21

The Juno spacecraft currently orbiting Jupiter was supposed to end its mission by crashing into the gas giant next month. Not anymore! From a report: It turns out the scientific mission will be extended through at least 2021 so it can meet its goals, as Business Insider first reported yesterday. This will delay the probe's dramatic demise for at least a few years. "NASA has approved Juno to continue through 2022 to finish all of our originally planned science," Scott Bolton, Juno's principle investigator from the Southwest Research Institute, told Gizmodo in an email. "The orbits are longer than planned, and that is why Juno needs more time to gather our planned scientific measurements." Juno departed Earth for Jupiter in 2011 and arrived at the gas giant on July 4, 2016. Since then, it's sent back a host of valuable data that has revealed new insights into Jupiter, like the depth of the red spot, three-dimensional views of the gas below its surface, and how its auroras work.
Moon

SpaceX Delays Plans To Send Space Tourists To Circle Moon (cnet.com) 124

SpaceX will reportedly no longer be sending a pair of space tourists to circle the moon this year. The flight was scheduled for late 2018, but has been delayed, according to The Wall Street Journal. The reason for the delay is unclear. CNET reports: The flight was announced in February 2017, with SpaceX saying that two unidentified private citizens had put down a "significant deposit" for the trip and that other flight teams had expressed interest in taking a similar journey. The plan was for the tourists to fly on a Dragon Crew spacecraft launched from Earth by a Falcon Heavy rocket.

"SpaceX is still planning to fly private individuals on a trip around the moon and there is growing interest from many customers," company spokesman James Gleeson wrote in a statement. "Private spaceflight missions, including a trip around the moon, present an opportunity for humans to return to deep space and to travel faster and farther into the solar system than any before them, which is of course an important milestone as we work toward our ultimate goal to help make humanity multi-planetary."

Medicine

Doctors Hail World First as Woman's Advanced Breast Cancer is Eradicated (theguardian.com) 162

A woman with advanced breast cancer which had spread around her body has been completely cleared of the disease by a groundbreaking therapy that harnessed the power of her immune system to fight the tumours. From a report: It is the first time that a patient with late-stage breast cancer has been successfully treated by a form of immunotherapy that uses the patient's own immune cells to find and destroy cancer cells that have formed in the body. Judy Perkins, an engineer from Florida, was 49 when she was selected for the radical new therapy after several rounds of routine chemotherapy failed to stop a tumour in her right breast from growing and spreading to her liver and other areas. At the time, she was given three years to live. Doctors who cared for the woman at the US National Cancer Institute in Maryland said Perkins's response had been "remarkable": the therapy wiped out cancer cells so effectively that she has now been free of the disease for two years. "My condition deteriorated a lot towards the end, and I had a tumour pressing on a nerve, which meant I spent my time trying not to move at all to avoid pain shooting down my arm. I had given up fighting," Perkins said. "After the treatment dissolved most of my tumours, I was able to go for a 40-mile hike."
Power

Russian Scientists Upgrade Nuclear Battery Design To Increase Power Output (sciencealert.com) 150

schwit1 shares a report from ScienceAlert: A team of Russian researchers have put a new spin on technology that uses the beta decay of a radioactive element to create differences in voltage. The devices are made of stacks of isotope of nickel-63 sandwiched between a pair of special semiconducting diodes called a Schottky barrier. This barrier keeps a current headed one way, a feature often used to turn alternating currents into direct ones. Finding that the optimal thickness of each layer was just 2 micrometers, the researchers were able to maximize the voltage produced by every gram of isotope.

Nickel-63 has a half-life of just over 100 years, which in an optimized system like this adds up to 3,300 milliwatt-hours of energy per gram: ten times the specific energy of your typical electrochemical cell. It's a significant step up from previous nickel-63 betavoltaic devices, and while it isn't quite enough to power your smart phone, it does bring it into a realm of being useful for a wide variety of tasks.

Space

How Microbes Survive Clean Rooms and Contaminate Spacecraft (phys.org) 24

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Phys.Org: Rakesh Mogul, a Cal Poly Pomona professor of biological chemistry, was the lead author of an article in the journal Astrobiology that offers the first biochemical evidence explaining the reason the contamination persists. To figure out how the spacecraft microbiome survives in the cleanroom facilities, the research team analyzed several Acinetobacter strains that were originally isolated from the Mars Odyssey and Phoenix spacecraft facilities. They found that under very nutrient-restricted conditions, most of the tested strains grew on and biodegraded the cleaning agents used during spacecraft assembly. The work showed that cultures grew on ethyl alcohol as a sole carbon source while displaying reasonable tolerances towards oxidative stress. This is important since oxidative stress is associated with desiccating and high radiation environments similar to Mars. The tested strains were also able to biodegrade isopropyl alcohol and Kleenol 30, two other cleaning agents commonly used, with these products potentially serving as energy sources for the microbiome.
NASA

NASA Wants 40 Social Media Users To Attend SpaceX's Next Launch (nasa.gov) 23

An anonymous reader quotes NASA.gov: Social media users are invited to register to attend the launch of the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket carrying the Dragon spacecraft from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. This launch, currently targeted for late June, will be the next commercial cargo resupply services mission to the International Space Station... A maximum of 40 social media users will be selected to attend this two-day event, and will be given access similar to news media.
Besides viewing and photographing the launch, the 40 selected participants will also:
  • Tour NASA facilities at Kennedy Space Center
  • Speak with representatives from NASA and SpaceX
  • Speak with researchers about investigations heading to the orbiting microgravity laboratory
  • Meet fellow space enthusiasts who are active on social media

Applications must be received by Wednesday at noon EDT.


Space

Is Pluto Actually a Mash-Up of a Billion Comets? (smithsonianmag.com) 74

Scientists from the Southwest Research Institute suggest Pluto may be a comet, as opposed to a planet or dwarf planet. According to a study published in the journal Icarus, Pluto could be made up of billions of comets all mashed together. Smithsonian reports: Scientists had long believed the dwarf planet Pluto was formed the way planets come to be: they start as swirling dust that's gradually pulled together by gravity. But with the realization that Pluto was a Kuiper belt dwarf planet, researchers began speculating about the origins of the icy world. The researchers turned to Sputnik Planitia -- the western lobe of the massive heart-shaped icy expanse stamped on Pluto's side -- for the task. As Christopher Glein, lead author of the paper and researcher at the Southwest Research Institute, explains to [Popular Science editor Neel V. Patel], the researchers used the data from New Horizons on this icy expanse to estimate the amount of nitrogen on Pluto and the amount that's escaped from its atmosphere.

Glein explains the conclusions in a statement: "We found an intriguing consistency between the estimated amount of nitrogen inside the [Sputnik Planitia] glacier and the amount that would be expected if Pluto was formed by the agglomeration of roughly a billion comets or other Kuiper Belt objects similar in chemical composition to 67P, the comet explored by Rosetta."
The report goes on to mention a few caveats. "For one, researchers aren't sure that comet 67P has an average comet composition," reports Smithsonian. "For another, New Horizons only captured information about Pluto at a specific point in time, which means nitrogen rates could have changed over the last billions of years. [T]here's also still the possibility Pluto formed from cold ices with a chemical composition to that of the sun."
Earth

Scientists Race To Find Who is Pumping a Dangerous Gas Into the Atmosphere (theoutline.com) 355

An anonymous reader shares a report: When the research was published in Nature on May 16, it was like a bomb dropped. A greenhouse gas is billowing into the atmosphere from a source somewhere in East Asia that no one can identify at a rate scientists have never before seen, and it's ignited a scientific dash to get to the bottom of it. All countries are supposed to comply with the rules laid out in the 1987 Montreal Protocol, which banned the production of CFCs -- chlorofluorocarbons, which deplete the ozone layer and contribute to global warming -- with only temporary exception of a few economically developing countries. If everyone fulfills their end of the deal, the amount of CFCs in the atmosphere should gradually wane over the course of several decades. CFC levels plummeted through the 1990s, and then stagnated between 2002 and 2005. But in in 2014, mysterious toxic plumes of CFC-11 -- a type of CFC -- began to drift across the Pacific Ocean. Stephen Montzaka, a chemist who studies and monitors CFCs for The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association (NOAA), was shocked.
NASA

NASA Spacecraft Finds Methane Ice Dunes On Pluto (bbc.com) 32

Scientists say they have found evidence of dunes of frozen methane on Pluto, suggesting that the distant world is more dynamic than previously thought. The research has been published in the journal Science. BBC reports: The findings come from analysis of the startling images sent back by Nasa's New Horizons mission, which flew close to Pluto in July 2015. In their study, the researchers explain how they studied pictures of a plain known as Sputnik Planitia, parts of which are covered with what look like fields of dunes. They are lying close to a range of mountains of water ice 5km high. The scientists conclude that the dunes are 0.4-1km apart and that they are made up of particles of methane ice between 200-300 micrometers in diameter -- roughly the size of grains of sand. "The methane grains could have been lofted into the atmosphere by the melting of surrounding nitrogen ice or blown down from nearby mountains," the researchers write in the journal Science. "Understanding how dunes form under Pluto conditions will help with interpreting similar features found elsewhere in the solar system."
Medicine

FDA Halts One of the First Human CRISPR Studies Before it Begins (technologyreview.com) 109

A trial planning to use the gene-editing tool CRISPR on sickle cell patients has been put on hold due to unspecified questions from US regulators. From a report: CRISPR Therapeutics, which is developing the therapy, sought approval from the US Food and Drug Administration in April to begin the study. The therapy involves extracting stem cells from a patient's bone marrow and editing them with CRISPR in the lab. Once infused back into the patient, the idea is that the edited cells would give rise to healthy red blood cells. But according to a statement on Wednesday from CRISPR Therapeutics, the FDA ordered the company not to proceed with its study until it answers questions about its CRISPR treatment.
Medicine

China Overtakes US For Healthy Lifespan, WHO Data Finds (reuters.com) 286

According to World Health Organization data, China has overtaken the United States in healthy life expectancy at birth for the first time. The data from 2016 finds Chinese newborns can look forward to 68.7 years of healthy life ahead of them, compared with 68.5 years for American babies. "American newborns can still expect to live longer overall -- 78.5 years compared to China's 76.4 -- but the last 10 years of American lives are not expected to be healthy," reports Reuters. From the report: The United States was one of only five countries, along with Somalia, Afghanistan, Georgia and Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, where healthy life expectancy at birth fell in 2016, according to a Reuters analysis of the WHO data, which was published without year-on-year comparisons in mid-May. The best outlook was for Singaporean babies, who can count on 76.2 years of health on average, followed by those in Japan, Spain and Switzerland. The United States came 40th in the global rankings, while China was 37th. In terms of overall life expectancy China is also catching up with the United States, which Reuters calculations suggest it is on course to overtake around 2027. Meanwhile U.S. life expectancy is falling, having peaked at 79 years in 2014, the first such reversal for many years.
AI

AI Better Than Dermatologists At Detecting Skin Cancer, Study Finds (cbsnews.com) 60

An anonymous reader quotes a report from CBS News: For the first time, new research suggests artificial intelligence may be better than highly-trained humans at detecting skin cancer. A study conducted by an international team of researchers pitted experienced dermatologists against a machine learning system, known as a deep learning convolutional neural network, or CNN, to see which was more effective at detecting malignant melanomas. The results? 'Most dermatologists were outperformed by the CNN,' the researchers wrote in their report, published in the journal Annals of Oncology. Fifty-eight dermatologists from 17 countries around the world participated in the study. More than half of the doctors were considered expert level with more than five years' experience. Nineteen percent said they had between two to five years' experience, and 29 percent had less than two years' experience. At first look, dermatologists correctly detected an average of 87 percent of melanomas, and accurately identified an average of 73 percent of lesions that were not malignant. Conversely, the CNN correctly detected 95 percent of melanomas. The study has been published in the journal Annals of Oncology.
Earth

Great Barrier Reef Has Died Five Times In Last 30,000 Years, Study Says (newsweek.com) 97

schwit1 quotes a report from Newsweek: You may well have heard that Australia's iconic Great Barrier Reef is dying as warmer and more acidic waters bleach the system's vibrant coral reefs. In fact, a heat wave killed nearly a third of the system's corals in 2016. Now, scientists writing in the journal Nature Geoscience have discovered the reef has bounced back from near-extinction five times in the last 30,000 years. The current stresses, however, are probably far more intense than those felt in the past.

Low sea levels 30,000 and 22,000 years ago killed coral by air exposure. The remaining reef shifted seaward and eventually bounced back. Rising sea levels -- like those we see today -- killed off the coral twice between 13,000 and 17,000 years ago. This time, coral inched close to land to survive. The reef system, the scientists think, migrated up to 60 inches a year in the face of a changing environment. The last of the five great die-offs occurred about 10,000 years ago, and was likely caused by a huge influx of sediment, a reduction in water quality and a general sea level rise. The reef system may be due for another die-off sometime in the next few thousand years "if it follows its past geological pattern," study author Jody Webster told AFP. "But whether human-induced climate change will hasten that death remains to be seen."

Operating Systems

Sonic and Ultrasonic Attacks Damage Hard Drives and Crash OSes (arstechnica.com) 102

Dan Goodin reports via Ars Technica: Attackers can cause potentially harmful hard drive and operating system crashes by playing sounds over low-cost speakers embedded in computers or sold in stores, a team of researchers demonstrated last week. The attacks use sonic and ultrasonic sounds to disrupt magnetic HDDs as they read or write data. The researchers showed how the technique could stop some video-surveillance systems from recording live streams. Just 12 seconds of specially designed acoustic interference was all it took to cause video loss in a 720p system made by Ezviz. Sounds that lasted for 105 seconds or more caused the stock Western Digital 3.5 HDD in the device to stop recording altogether until it was rebooted. The device uses flash storage to house its firmware, but by default it uses a magnetic HDD to store the large quantities of video it records. The attack used a speaker hanging from a ceiling that rested about four inches above the surveillance system's HDD. The researchers didn't remove the casing or otherwise tamper with the surveillance system. The technique was also able to disrupt HDDs in desktop and laptop computers running both Windows and Linux. In some cases, it even required a reboot before the PCs worked properly. The paper titled "Blue Note: How Intentional Acoustic Interference Damages Availability and Integrity in Hard Disk Drives and Operating Systems" can be found here (PDF).
The Almighty Buck

De Beers To Sell Diamonds Made In a Lab (bloomberg.com) 415

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Bloomberg: De Beers, which almost single-handedly created the allure of diamonds as rare, expensive and the symbol of eternal love, now wants to sell you some party jewelry that is anything but. The company announced today that it will start selling man-made diamond jewelry at a fraction of the price of mined gems, marking a historic shift for the world's biggest diamond miner, which vowed for years that it wouldn't sell stones created in laboratories. The strategy is designed to undercut rival lab-diamond makers, who having been trying to make inroads into the $80 billion gem industry. De Beers will target younger spenders with its new diamond brand and try to capture customers that have been resistant to splurging on expensive jewelry. The company is betting that it can split the market -- with mined gems in luxury settings and engagement rings at the top, and lab-made fashion jewelry aimed at millennials at the bottom. "Lab grown are not special, they're not real, they're not unique. You can make exactly the same one again and again," Bruce Cleaver, chief executive officer of De Beers, said in an interview Tuesday. De Beers says the man-made diamonds will not compete with mined stones. It's so adamant about this that it will not grade them in the traditional way. "We're not grading our lab-grown diamonds because we don't think they deserve to be graded," Cleaver said. "They're all the same."

As for pricing, "The lab diamonds from De Beers will sell for about $800 a carat," reports Bloomberg. "A 1-carat man-made diamond sells for about $4,000 and a similar natural diamond fetches roughly $8,000."
Microsoft

HoloLens Can Act As Eyes For Blind Users and Guide Them With Audio Prompts, New Research Shows (techcrunch.com) 25

New research shows that Microsoft's HoloLens augmented-reality headset works well as a visual prosthesis for the vision impaired, not relaying actual visual data but guiding them in real time with audio cues and instructions. TechCrunch reports: The researchers, from Caltech and University of Southern California, first argue that restoring vision is at present simply not a realistic goal, but that replacing the perception portion of vision isn't necessary to replicate the practical portion. After all, if you can tell where a chair is, you don't need to see it to avoid it, right? Crunching visual data and producing a map of high-level features like walls, obstacles and doors is one of the core capabilities of the HoloLens, so the team decided to let it do its thing and recreate the environment for the user from these extracted features. They designed the system around sound, naturally. Every major object and feature can tell the user where it is, either via voice or sound. Walls, for instance, hiss (presumably a white noise, not a snake hiss) as the user approaches them. And the user can scan the scene, with objects announcing themselves from left to right from the direction in which they are located. A single object can be selected and will repeat its callout to help the user find it. That's all well for stationary tasks like finding your cane or the couch in a friend's house. But the system also works in motion.

The team recruited seven blind people to test it out. They were given a brief intro but no training, and then asked to accomplish a variety of tasks. The users could reliably locate and point to objects from audio cues, and were able to find a chair in a room in a fraction of the time they normally would, and avoid obstacles easily as well. Then they were tasked with navigating from the entrance of a building to a room on the second floor by following the headset's instructions. A "virtual guide" repeatedly says "follow me" from an apparent distance of a few feet ahead, while also warning when stairs were coming, where handrails were and when the user had gone off course. All seven users got to their destinations on the first try, and much more quickly than if they had had to proceed normally with no navigation.

AI

Why Thousands of AI Researchers Are Boycotting the New Nature Journal (theguardian.com) 62

An anonymous reader shares an excerpt from a report via The Guardian, written by Neil Lawrence, the founding editor of the freely available journal Proceedings of Machine Learning Research: Machine learning has demonstrated that an academic field can not only survive, but thrive, without the involvement of commercial publishers. But this has not stopped traditional publishers from entering the market. Our success has caught their attention. Most recently, the publishing conglomerate Springer Nature announced a new journal targeted at the community called Nature Machine Intelligence. The publisher now has 53 journals that bear the Nature name. Should we be concerned? What would drive authors and readers towards a for-profit subscription journal when we already have an open model for sharing our ideas? Academic publishers have one card left to play: their brand. The diversity and quantity of academic research means that it is difficult for a researcher in one field to rate the work in another. Sometimes a journal's brand is used as a proxy for quality. When academics look for promotion, having papers in a "brand-name journal" can be a big help. Nature is the Rolex of academic publishing. But in contrast to Rolex, whose staff are responsible for the innovation in its watches, Nature relies on academics to provide its content. We are the watchmakers, they are merely the distributors.

Many in our research community see the Nature brand as a poor proxy for academic quality. We resist the intrusion of for-profit publishing into our field. As a result, at the time of writing, more than 3,000 researchers, including many leading names in the field from both industry and academia, have signed a statement refusing to submit, review or edit for this new journal. We see no role for closed access or author-fee publication in the future of machine-learning research. We believe the adoption of this new journal as an outlet of record for the machine-learning community would be a retrograde step.

Science

Invisible Scum on Sea Cuts CO2 Exchange With Air 'By Up To 50%' (theguardian.com) 94

An invisible layer of scum on the sea surface can reduce carbon dioxide exchange between the atmosphere and the oceans by up to 50%, scientists have discovered. From a report: Researchers from Heriot-Watt, Newcastle and Exeter universities say the findings, published in the journal Nature Geoscience on Monday, have major implications for predicting our future climate. The world's oceans absorb around a quarter of all man-made carbon dioxide emissions, making them the largest long-term sink of carbon on Earth. Greater sea turbulence increases gas exchange between the atmosphere and oceans and until now it was difficult to calculate the effect of "biological surfactants." Teams from the Natural Environment Research Council, the Leverhulme Trust and the European Space Agency developed a system that compares "the surfactant effect" between different seawaters in real time. They found surfactants can reduce carbon dioxide exchange by up to 50%.
The Courts

Ask Slashdot: Can a City Really Sue an Oil Company For Climate Change? (wired.com) 301

An anonymous reader writes: The city of Richmond, California, is suing Chevron, its largest employer and its largest public-safety scourge. But while industrial accidents like refinery fires are commonplace in the low-lying industrial town, that's not what this lawsuit is about. Richmond and six other California cities are suing oil companies for contributing to the changing climate, which threatens to inundate their shorelines. "In an era of federal deregulation and rising seas, these lawsuits feel increasingly urgent," writes deputy editor Adam Rogers. "The question is whether the courts will even see them as plausible."

The lawsuits face two big legal hurdles: getting scientific proof that climate change (and specific companies causing climate change) are to blame for the cities' woes, along with overcoming oil companies' contention that cities can't sue them at all, since at the federal level, they're beholden to the Clean Air Act. But the urban plaintiffs have a plan for that. They are not asking for new regulations or bans; they're asking for reparations for a problem they say oil companies willfully hid from them. "Oil and gas, like cigarettes, are products. The companies that sell them are liable for the damages they cause," says Sharon Eubanks, an attorney at Bordas & Bordas who was lead counsel in the Justice Department's RICO case against the Philip Morris tobacco company. "They have misled the public about the product's dangers."

Medicine

U.S. Passes 'Right to Try' Law Allowing Experimental Medical Treatments (chicagotribune.com) 169

schwit1 shared this article from the Washington Post: The House on Tuesday passed "right to try" legislation that would allow people with life-threatening illnesses to bypass the Food and Drug Administration to obtain experimental medications, ending a drawn-out battle over access to unapproved therapies. President Trump is expected to quickly sign the measure, which was praised by supporters as a lifeline for desperate patients but denounced by scores of medical and consumer groups as unnecessary and dangerous...

The FDA would be largely left out of the equation under the new legislation and would not oversee the right-to-try process. Drug manufacturers would have to report "adverse events" -- safety problems, including premature deaths -- only once a year. The agency also would be restricted in how it used such information when considering the experimental treatments for approval. Patients would be eligible for right-to-try if they had a "life-threatening illness" and had exhausted all available treatment options. The medication itself must have completed early-stage safety testing, called Phase 1 trials, and be in active development with the goal of FDA approval.

One Congressman opposing the bill argued that eliminating FDA oversight would "provide fly-by-night physicians and clinics the opportunity to peddle false hope and ineffective drugs to desperate patients," noting that the bill is opposed by over 100 patient advocacy and consumer groups.
Canada

How Canada Ended Up As An AI Superpower 64

pacopico writes: Neural nets and deep learning are all the rage these days, but their rise was anything but sudden. A handful of determined researchers scattered around the globe spent decades developing neural nets while most of their peers thought they were mad. An unusually large number of these academics -- including Geoff Hinton, Yoshua Bengio, Yann LeCun and Richard Sutton -- were working at universities in Canada. Bloomberg Businessweek has put together an oral history of how Canada brought them all together, why they kept chasing neural nets in the face of so much failure, and why their ideas suddenly started to take off. There's also a documentary featuring the researchers and Prime Minster Justin Trudeau that tells more of the story and looks at where AI technology is heading -- both the good and the bad. Overall, it's a solid primer for people wanting to know about AI and the weird story of where the technology came from, but might be kinda basic for hardcore AI folks.
Earth

Birds Had To Relearn Flight After Meteor Wiped Out Dinosaurs, Fossil Records Suggest (theguardian.com) 60

An anonymous reader quotes a report from The Guardian: Birds had to rediscover flight after the meteor strike that killed off the dinosaurs, scientists say. The cataclysm 66 million years ago not only wiped out Tyrannosaurus rex and ground-dwelling dinosaur species, but also flying birds, a detailed survey of the fossil record suggests. As forests burned around the world, the only birds to survive were flightless emu-like species that lived on the ground. The six to nine-mile-wide meteor struck the Earth off the coast of Mexico, releasing a million times more energy than the largest atomic bomb. Hot debris raining from the sky is thought to have triggered global wildfires immediately after the impact. It took hundreds or even thousands of years for the world's forests of palms and pines to recover. Fossil records from New Zealand, Japan, Europe and North America, all show evidence of mass deforestation. They also reveal that birds surviving the end of the Cretaceous period had long sturdy legs made for living on the ground. They resembled emus and kiwis, said the researchers whose findings are reported in the journal Current Biology.
Medicine

Gut Sensor Could Monitor Health -- and Beam Results to a Smartphone (scientificamerican.com) 27

Doctors are now one step closer to deploying sensors that can travel to parts of a patient's body to diagnose hard-to-detect conditions. From a report: Researchers have devised a new way to get a sneak peek into what's going on deep in your digestive system, creating a swallowable sensor that, with the help of engineered bacteria and a tiny electrical circuit, can detect the presence of molecules that might be signs of disease and then beam the results to a smartphone app. The device, which scientists validated in pigs, remains a prototype and needs to be refined before it could be used in people. But the researchers, who reported their work Thursday in the journal Science, combined innovations in synthetic biology and microelectronics to create a modular platform that could be adapted to identify a wide range of molecules. "We want to try to illuminate and provide understanding into areas that are not easily accessible," said Dr. Timothy Lu, a bioengineer at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and senior author of the paper.
Earth

As The Planet Warms, We'll Be Having Rice With A Side Of CO2 (npr.org) 275

Grains are the bedrock of civilization. They led humans from hunting and gathering to city-building. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization, the fruits of three grasses provide the world with 60 percent of its total food: corn, wheat and rice. Aside from energy-rich carbohydrates, grains feed us protein, zinc, iron and essential B vitamins. But rice as we know it is at risk. An anonymous reader shares a report: As humans expel billions of metric tons of carbon into the atmosphere and raze vast swaths of forests, the concentration of carbon dioxide in our air hurries ever higher. That has the potential to severely diminish the nutritional value of rice, according to a new study published this week in Science Advances. For people who depend heavily on rice as a staple in their diets, such a nutritional loss would be devastating, says Kristie Ebi, a professor at the University of Washington and an author on the study.
Bug

Is Cockroach Milk the Ultimate Superfood? (globalnews.ca) 254

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Global News: It may not be everyone's cup of milk, but for years now, some researchers believe insect milk, like cockroach milk, could be the next big dairy alternative. A report in 2016 found Pacific Beetle cockroaches specifically created nutrient-filled milk crystals that could also benefit humans, the Hindustan Times reports. Others report producing cockroach milk isn't easy, either -- it takes 1,000 cockroaches to make 100 grams of milk, Inverse reports, and other options could include a cockroach milk pill. And although it has been two years since the study, some people are still hopeful. Insect milk, or entomilk, is already being used and consumed by Cape Town-based company Gourmet Grubb, IOL reports.

Jarrod Goldin, [president of Entomo Farms which launched in 2014], got interested in the insect market after the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nation in 2013 announced people around the world were consuming more than 1,900 insects. As his brothers were already farming insects for fishing and reptile use, Goldin thought it would be a smart business opportunity to focus on food. Goldin adds studies have shown cricket powder can be a high source of protein and B12. The PC version his company produces has 13 grams of protein per every 2 1/2 tbsps. Toronto-based registered dietitian Andy De Santis says for protein alternatives, insects are definitely in the playing field.
According to ScienceAlert, Diploptera punctate is the only known cockroach to give birth to live young and has been shown to pump out a type of "milk" containing protein crystals to feed its babies. "The fact that an insect produces milk is pretty fascinating -- but what fascinated researchers is the fact that a single one of these protein crystals contains more than three times the amount of energy found in an equivalent amount of buffalo milk (which is also higher in calories than regular cow's milk)."

Researchers are now working to replicate the crystals in the lab. They are working with yeast to produce the crystal in much larger quantities -- "making it slightly more efficient than extracting crystals from cockroach's guts," reports ScienceAlert.
Communications

Newest NOAA Weather Satellite Suffers Critical Malfunction (arstechnica.com) 53

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Ars Technica: The U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration released some bad news yesterday: the GOES-17 weather satellite that launched almost two months ago has a cooling problem that could endanger the majority of the satellite's value. GOES-17 is the second of a new generation of weather satellite to join NOAA's orbital fleet. Its predecessor is covering the U.S. East Coast, with GOES-17 meant to become "GOES-West." While providing higher-resolution images of atmospheric conditions, it also tracks fires, lightning strikes, and solar behavior. It's important that NOAA stays ahead of the loss of dying satellites by launching new satellites that ensure no gap in global coverage ever occurs.

Several weeks ago, it became clear that the most important instrument -- the Advanced Baseline Imager -- had a cooling problem. This instrument images the Earth at a number of different wavelengths, including the visible portion of the spectrum as well as infrared wavelengths that help detect clouds and water vapor content. The infrared wavelengths are currently offline. The satellite has to be actively cooled for these precision instruments to function, and the infrared wavelengths only work if the sensor stays below 60K -- that's about a cool -350F. The cooling system is only reaching that temperature 12 hours a day. The satellite can still produce visible spectrum images, as well as the solar and lightning monitoring, but it's not a glorious next-gen weather satellite without that infrared data.

Earth

Missing Climate Goals Could Cost the World $20 Trillion (technologyreview.com) 219

An anonymous reader shares a report: There are trillions of reasons for the world to prevent temperatures from rising more than 1.5C, the aspirational target laid out in the Paris climate agreement, according to a new study. If nations took the necessary actions to meet that goal, rather than the increasingly discussed 2C objective, there's a 60 percent chance it would save the world more than $20 trillion, according to new work published this week in Nature by scientists at Stanford. That figure is far higher than what most experts think it will cost to cut emissions enough to achieve the 1.5C target. Indeed, one study put the price tag in the hundreds of billions of dollars. If temperatures rise by 3C, it will knock out an additional 5 percent of GDP. That's the entire planet's GDP.
Space

Ariane Chief Seems Frustrated With SpaceX For Driving Down Launch Costs (arstechnica.com) 165

schwit1 shares a report from Ars Technica: Like United Launch Alliance, the [France-based] Ariane Group faces pricing pressure from SpaceX, which offers launch prices as low as $62 million for its Falcon 9 rocket. It has specifically developed the Ariane 6 rocket to compete with the Falcon 9 booster. But there are a couple of problems with this. Despite efforts to cut costs, the two variants of the Ariane 6 will still cost at least 25 percent more than SpaceX's present-day prices. Moreover, the Ariane 6 will not fly until 2020 at the earliest, by which time Falcon 9 could offer significantly cheaper prices on used Falcon 9 boosters if it needed to. (The Ariane 6 rocket is entirely expendable). With this background in mind, the chief executive of Ariane Group, Alain Charmeau, gave an interview to the German publication Der Spiegel. The interview was published in German, but a credible translation can be found here. During the interview, Charmeau expressed frustration with SpaceX and attributed its success to subsidized launches for the U.S. government.

When pressed on the price pressure that SpaceX has introduced into the launch market, Charmeau's central argument is that this has only been possible because, "SpaceX is charging the U.S. government 100 million dollar per launch, but launches for European customers are much cheaper." Essentially, he says, launches for the U.S. military and NASA are subsidizing SpaceX's commercial launch business. However, the pay-for-service prices that SpaceX offers to the U.S. Department of Defense for spy satellites and cargo and crew launches for NASA are below those of what other launch companies charge. And while $100 million or more for a military launch is significantly higher than a $62 million commercial launch, government contracts come with extra restrictions, reviews, and requirements that drive up this price.

Medicine

Money's Better Than E-Cigs Or Nicotine Gum At Helping Smokers Quit, Says Study (reuters.com) 132

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Reuters: Providing free electronic cigarettes or other stop-smoking products to employees to get them to give up real cigarettes is less effective than the threat of taking away a cash reward for quitting, according to a new study that weighs the effectiveness of a variety of workplace incentive programs. The findings, published in The New England Journal of Medicine, call into question the claims by e-cigarette enthusiasts that the devices may be better than traditional quit aids at helping smokers to stop. The study is also significant because it may be the first to look at programs to get all smoking employees to quit, whether or not they've decided they want to do so. The results show that if the motivation isn't there, neither are the positive results. 9.5 percent of participants who got the free smoking cessation products plus a cash reward ($100 for the first month, an additional $200 at the three-month mark and $300 if they stayed smoke-free for six months) for staying away from tobacco quit.

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