Space

Scientists Discover That Uranus Smells Like Rotten Eggs (space.com) 65

An anonymous reader writes: According to a study published in Nature Astronomy, scientists have determined that the atmosphere of Uranus smells like rotten eggs. The smell of Uranus was determined by the use of an Near-Infrared Integral Field Spectrometer (NIFS), an instrument that allows scientists to determine what an atmosphere is composed of based upon the reflections of sunlight that bounce off of it. Specifically, the clouds in Uranus' upper atmosphere consist of hydrogen sulfide, the molecule that makes rotten eggs so stinky. "If an unfortunate human were ever to descend through Uranus' clouds, they would be met with very unpleasant and odiferous conditions," study lead author Patrick Irwin, of Oxford University in England, said in a statement. But that wayward pioneer would have bigger problems, he added: "Suffocation and exposure in the negative 200 degrees Celsius [minus 328 degrees Fahrenheit] atmosphere, made of mostly hydrogen, helium, and methane, would take its toll long before the smell."
Space

Incredible New Gif Shows Cosmic 'Snow' On the Surface of a Comet (gizmodo.com) 80

Press2ToContinue shares a report from Gizmodo: What you're looking at is the surface of the comet 67p/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, which is orbited by the European Space Agency's Rosetta probe. The photo comes from Rosetta's OSIRIS, or Optical, Spectroscopic, and Infrared Remote Imaging System. The raw data was collected on June 1, 2016, and posted publicly on March 22 of this year. Twitter user landru79 processed the gif from this data release and shared it yesterday. In the foreground is the comet's surface (still several kilometers away from the probe), and three kinds of specks. The stars in the background belong to the constellation Canis Major, according to ESA senior advisor Mark McCaughrean. Some of the foreground stuff could be streaks from high-energy particles striking the cameraâ"it's a charge-coupled device (CCD), so even invisible particles can leave streaks in the results. And some could be dust from the comet itself.
Businesses

EPA Proposes Limits To Science Used In Rulemaking (reuters.com) 291

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Reuters: The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency proposed a rule on Tuesday that would limit the kinds of scientific research it can use in crafting regulations, an apparent concession to big business that has long requested such restrictions. Under the new proposals, the EPA will no longer be able to rely on scientific research that is underpinned by confidential medical and industry data. The measure was billed by EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt as a way to boost transparency for the benefit of the industries his agency regulates. But scientists and former EPA officials worry it will hamstring the agency's ability to protect public health by putting key data off limits.

The EPA has for decades relied on scientific research that is rooted in confidential medical and industry data as a basis for its air, water and chemicals rules. While it publishes enormous amounts of research and data to the public, the confidential material is held back. Business interests have argued the practice is tantamount to writing laws behind closed doors and unfairly prevents them from vetting the research underpinning the EPA's often costly regulatory requirements. They argue that if the data cannot be published, the rules should not be adopted. But ex-EPA officials say the practice is vital.

AI

Scientists Plan Huge European AI Hub To Compete With US (theguardian.com) 68

Leading scientists have drawn up plans for a vast multinational European institute devoted to world-class artificial intelligence (AI) research in a desperate bid to nurture and retain top talent in Europe. From a report: The new institute would be set up for similar reasons as Cern, the particle physics lab near Geneva, which was created after the second world war to rebuild European physics and reverse the brain drain of the brightest and best scientists to the US. Named the European Lab for Learning and Intelligent Systems, or Ellis, the proposed AI institute would have major centres in a handful of countries, the UK included, with each employing hundreds of computer engineers, mathematicians and other scientists with the express aim of keeping Europe at the forefront of AI research. In an open letter that urges governments to act, the scientists describe how Europe has not kept up with the US and China, where the vast majority of leading AI firms and universities are based. The letter adds that while a few "research hotspots" still exist in Europe, "virtually all of the top people in those places are continuously being pursued for recruitment by US companies."
Earth

Cow Could Soon Be Largest Land Mammal Left Due To Human Activity, Says Study (theguardian.com) 241

An anonymous reader quotes a report from The Guardian: The cow could be left as the biggest land mammal on Earth in a few centuries, according to a new study that examines the extinction of large mammals as humans spread around the world. The spread of hominims -- early humans and related species such as Neanderthals -- from Africa thousands of years ago coincided with the extinction of megafauna such as the mammoth, the sabre-toothed tiger and the glyptodon, an armadillo-like creature the size of a car. "There is a very clear pattern of size-biased extinction that follows the migration of hominims out of Africa," the study's lead author, Felisa Smith, of the University of New Mexico, said of the study published in the journal Science on Thursday. Humans apparently targeted big species for meat, while smaller creatures such as rodents escaped, according the report, which examined trends over 125,000 years. In North America, for instance, the mean body mass of land-based mammals has shrunk to 7.6kg (17lb) from 98kg after humans arrived. If the trend continues "the largest mammal on Earth in a few hundred years may well be a domestic cow at about 900kg", the researchers wrote. That would mean the loss of elephants, giraffes and hippos. In March, the world's last male northern white rhino died in Kenya.
AI

AI Trained on Images from Cosmological Simulations Surprisingly Successful at Classifying Real Galaxies in Hubble Images (ucsc.edu) 20

A machine learning method which has been widely used in face recognition and other image- and speech-recognition applications, has shown promise in helping astronomers analyze images of galaxies and understand how they form and evolve. From a report: In a new study, accepted for publication in Astrophysical Journal and available online [PDF], researchers used computer simulations of galaxy formation to train a deep learning algorithm, which then proved surprisingly good at analyzing images of galaxies from the Hubble Space Telescope. The researchers used output from the simulations to generate mock images of simulated galaxies as they would look in observations by the Hubble Space Telescope. The mock images were used to train the deep learning system to recognize three key phases of galaxy evolution previously identified in the simulations. The researchers then gave the system a large set of actual Hubble images to classify.

The results showed a remarkable level of consistency in the neural network's classifications of simulated and real galaxies. "We were not expecting it to be all that successful. I'm amazed at how powerful this is," said coauthor Joel Primack, professor emeritus of physics and a member of the Santa Cruz Institute for Particle Physics (SCIPP) at UC Santa Cruz. "We know the simulations have limitations, so we don't want to make too strong a claim. But we don't think this is just a lucky fluke."

Earth

Was There a Civilization On Earth Before Humans? (theatlantic.com) 450

Adam Frank, writing for The Atlantic: We're used to imagining extinct civilizations in terms of the sunken statues and subterranean ruins. These kinds of artifacts of previous societies are fine if you're only interested in timescales of a few thousands of years. But once you roll the clock back to tens of millions or hundreds of millions of years, things get more complicated.

When it comes to direct evidence of an industrial civilization -- things like cities, factories, and roads -- the geologic record doesn't go back past what's called the Quaternary period 2.6 million years ago. For example, the oldest large-scale stretch of ancient surface lies in the Negev Desert. It's "just" 1.8 million years old -- older surfaces are mostly visible in cross section via something like a cliff face or rock cuts. Go back much farther than the Quaternary and everything has been turned over and crushed to dust.

And, if we're going back this far, we're not talking about human civilizations anymore. Homo sapiens didn't make their appearance on the planet until just 300,000 years or so ago. [...] Given that all direct evidence would be long gone after many millions of years, what kinds of evidence might then still exist? The best way to answer this question is to figure out what evidence we'd leave behind if human civilization collapsed at its current stage of development.
Mr. Frank, along with Gavin Schmidt, Director of the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies, have published their research on the subject [PDF].
Science

MIT Researchers Developed a 'System For Dream Control' (vice.com) 53

dmoberhaus writes: Researchers at MIT Media Lab have adapted a centuries' old technique for inducing hypnagogia for the 21st century. Known as Dormio, this system is able to extend and manipulate the period users spend in a transitional state of consciousness between wakefulness and sleep known as hypnagogia. This state is characterized by vivid hallucinations and microdreams, and as the MIT researchers demonstrated, the contents of these microdreams can be manipulated with the system and subsequently result in heightened creativity when the user awakes. Motherboard got the exclusive details on the system.
Google

Google's AR Microscope Quickly Highlights Cancer Cells (uploadvr.com) 40

An anonymous reader quotes a report from UploadVR: Google Research this week revealed an AR microscope (ARM) capable of detecting cancerous cells in real-time with the help of machine learning. Locating cancer with a standard microscope is a difficult and time-consuming process, with a raft of information for doctors to study and investigate. With this new solution, though, the microscope is able to quickly locate cancerous cells and then highlight them as a doctor peers inside. The platform uses a modified light microscope integrated with image analysis and machine learning algorithms into its field of view. An AR display sits above a camera that communicates with the algorithm to display data as soon as it locates an issue. In order words, the microscope immediately begins looking for cancerous cells as soon as you place a sample beneath it. It's effectively doing the same job as a doctor just, according to Google, a lot faster. Google posted a video about the AR microscope on YouTube.
Medicine

Doctors Tried To Lower $148K Cancer Drug Cost; Makers Tripled Its Price (arstechnica.com) 377

Slashdot reader Applehu Akbar writes: Imbruvica, a compound that treats white blood cell cancers, has until now been a bargain at $148,000 per year. Until now, doctors have been able to optimize dosage for each patient by prescribing up to four small-dose pills of it per day.

But after results from a recent small pilot trial indicated that smaller doses would for most patients work as well as the large ones, its manufacturer, Janssen and Pharmacyclics, has decided on the basis of the doctors' interest in smaller dosages to reprice all sizes of the drug to the price of the largest size. This has the effect of tripling the price for patients, and doctors have now put off any plans for further testing of lower dosages.

The researchers are retaliating by urging clinical investigators to test whether the expensive pill could be safely given every other day -- and by calling on America's public health regulators to investigate the drug's pricing.
Government

Senate Confirms Climate Denier With No Scientific Credentials To Head NASA (nytimes.com) 525

On Thursday, the Senate confirmed Trump's NASA nominee Jim Bridenstine, seven and a half months after being nominated to lead the agency. "The Senate confirmed Mr. Bridenstine, an Oklahoma congressman, as the new NASA administrator in a stark partisan vote: 50 Republicans voting for him and 47 Democrats plus two independents against," reports The New York Times. "The vote lasted more than 45 minutes as Republicans waited for Senator Jeff Flake of Arizona to cast his lot." Slashdot reader PeopleAquarium writes about some of Bridenstine's anti-LGBT and non-scientific views: Bridenstine ran a planetarium once, and peddled a debunked argument made by climate change skeptics, claiming that global temperatures "stopped rising 10 years ago." He said "the people of Oklahoma are ready to accept" an apology from then-President Barack Obama for what Bridenstine called a "gross misallocation" of funds for climate change research instead of weather forecasting. In further news, our rockets will now be coal powered, and gay people aren't allowed in space.
Earth

'Sea Nomads' Are First Known Humans Genetically Adapted To Diving (nationalgeographic.com) 111

schwit1 shares a report from National Geographic: Most people can hold their breath underwater for a few seconds, some for a few minutes. But a group of people called the Bajau takes free diving to the extreme, staying underwater for as long as 13 minutes at depths of around 200 feet. These nomadic people live in waters winding through the Philippines, Malaysia, and Indonesia, where they dive to hunt for fish or search for natural elements that can be used in crafts. Now, a study in the journal Cell offers the first clues that a DNA mutation for larger spleens gives the Bajau a genetic advantage for life in the deep.
United States

No One Knows How Long the US Coastline Is (discovermagazine.com) 187

How long is the U.S. coastline? It's a straightforward question, and one that's important for scientists and government agencies alike. From a report: The U.S. Geological Survey could give you an answer, too, but I'm going to tell you right now that it's wrong. In fact, no one could give you the right answer, and if you look around, you'll find a number of estimations that differ by seemingly improbable amounts. One government report lists the number as 12,383 miles. The same report admits that a different government agency says the figure is actually 88,612 miles. That's an almost eight-fold disparity for a fact that seems simple to obtain. We all know how to use a ruler, right?

Well, we all know how to measure a straight line, but what about a curve? And what if that curve has curves? The crux of the problem comes down to geometry, and the fundamentally uneven nature of coastlines. Though the border between land and sea may look fairly straight when seen from far away, they're anything but. Coastlines jut and dip, curve and cut, and each deviation from a straight line adds distance. Some of these features are massive, like bays, while others are miniscule.

AI

AI Helps Grow 6 Billion Roaches at China's Largest Breeding Site (cnet.com) 105

With the help of AI, folks at a Chinese pharmaceutical company are breeding cockroaches by the billions every year, South China Morning Post reports. From a report: Their purpose: To make a "healing potion" that can cure respiratory, gastric and other diseases. The "potion," consumed by over 40 million people in China, is made by crushing the cockroaches once they reach a desired weight and size, according to the publication. There is a "slightly fishy smell" to the potion, which tastes "slightly sweet" and looks like tea, it added. Some insects are known to have potential health benefits. Besides China's cockroach potion, scientists are also exploring how milk-like protein crystals in roaches could be an excellent source of calories and nutrition. Chewing down on bugs like crickets and mealworms can also give us more protein, according to studies.
Earth

Since 2016, Half of All Coral In the Great Barrier Reef Has Died (theatlantic.com) 222

A new paper, published Wednesday in the journal Nature, reports that the Great Barrier Reef has lost more than half of its corals since 2016. The authors inspected every one of its reefs, surveying them on an almost species-by-species basis, and found the damage to be widespread across the entire ecosystem. "Two of its most recognizable creatures -- the amber-colored staghorn corals, and the flat, fanlike tabular corals -- suffered the worst casualties," reports The Atlantic. From the report: "On average, across the Great Barrier Reef, one in three corals died in nine months," said Terry Hughes, an author of the paper and the director of the ARC Center of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies, the Australian government's federal research program devoted to corals. "You could say [the ecosystem] has collapsed. You could say it has degraded. I wouldn't say that's wrong," Hughes said. "A more neutral way of putting it is that it has transformed into a completely new system that looks differently, and behaves differently, and functions differently, than how it was three years ago."

In the summer months of 2017, warm waters again struck the reef and triggered another bleaching event. This time, the heat hit the reef's middle third. Hughes and his team have not published a peer-reviewed paper on that event, but he shared early survey results with me. Combined, he said, the back-to-back bleaching events killed one in every two corals in the Great Barrier Reef. It is a fact almost beyond comprehension: In the summer of 2015, more than 2 billion corals lived in the Great Barrier Reef. Half of them are now dead. What caused the devastation? Hughes was clear: human-caused global warming. The accumulation of heat-trapping pollution in the atmosphere has raised the world's average temperature, making the oceans hotter and less hospitable to fragile tropical corals.

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