sighted writes "Today the robotic spacecraft Cassini returned some jaw-dropping images of the odd hexagon in the planet's north polar region. The hexagon has been seen before, but the change of season has more fully revealed the feature in visible light. Cassini also zoomed in on the churning vortex at the north pole itself. The south pole features a similar maelstrom."
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An anonymous reader writes "The first large scientific study of how people respond to poor video quality on the Internet paints a picture of ever rising user expectations and the willingness to abandon ship if those expectations are not met (PDF). Some nuggets: 1) Some users are willing to wait for no more than 2 seconds for a video to start playing, with each additional second adding 6% to the abandonment rate. 2) Users with good broadband connectivity expect faster video load times and are even more impatient than ones on mobile devices. 3) Users who experience video freezing watch fewer minutes of the video than someone who does not experience freezing. If a video freezes for 1% of its total play time, 5% less of its total play time is watched, on average. 4) Users who experience failures when they try to play videos are less likely to return to the same website in the future. Big data was analyzed (260+ million minutes of video) and some cool new data analysis techniques used."
SchrodingerZ writes "Captain Scott Kelly, brother of former commander Mark Kelly, will embark on the United States' longest manned space mission, set for 2015. Kelly and Russian cosmonaut Mikhail Kornienko will spend an entire year on the orbiting International Space Station. The mission will be a first for NASA's space program, but it is far from the world record. The longest recorded time in space was the 438-day mission of Russia's Valery Polyakov, working on the Mir Space Station, 1994-1995. Kelly, a decorated Navy captain, received degrees from State University of New York Maritime College and the University of Tennessee, and was the flight engineer for space station expedition 25, and commander of expedition 26 in 2010. 'Kornienko hails from Russia's Syzran, Kuibyshev, region and has worked in the space industry since 1986.' The yearlong study on humans working in space will launch from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, spring 2015."
Covalent writes "The Large Hadron Collider, the world's largest and most powerful particle accelerator and the 'Big Bang machine' that was used to discover what appears to be the long-sought Higgs boson particle (as announced July 4), may have another surprise up its sleeve this year: The LHC looks to have produced a new type of matter, according to a new analysis of particle collision data by scientists at MIT and Rice University. The new type of matter, which has yet to be verified, is theorized to be one of two possible forms: Either 'color-glass condensate' — a flattened nucleus transformed into a 'wall' of gluons, which are smaller binding subatomic particles, or it could be 'quark-gluon plasma,' a dense, soup or liquid-like collection of individual particles."
astroengine writes "NASA has begun surveying scientists on what they would like to do with two Hubble-class space telescopes donated to the civilian space agency by its secretive sibling, the National Reconnaissance Office — which operates the nation's spy satellites. But the gifts have some formidable strings attached, including costs to develop instruments and launch the observatories. The telescopes, though declassified, also are subject to export regulations. 'We need to retain possession and control,' NASA's astrophysics division director Paul Hertz told Discovery News. 'That doesn't preclude us from partnering (with other countries). It just sets boundaries on the nature of the partnership.' NASA also isn't allowed to use the telescopes for any Earth-observing missions. Topping the list of possible missions for the donor hardware is a remake of NASA's planned Wide-Field Infrared Survey Telescope, known as WFIRST. The mission, estimated to cost between $1.5 billion and $2 billion, is intended to answer questions about dark energy, a relatively recently discovered phenomenon that is believed to be speeding up the universe's rate of expansion."
alphadogg writes "Dr. Joseph E. Murray, the Nobel laureate who conducted the world's first successful organ transplant, died Monday at the Boston hospital where the pioneering surgery was performed. He was 93. On Dec. 23, 1954, in Operating Room 2 of the Peter Bent Brigham Hospital in Boston, Dr. Murray took the healthy kidney of Ronald Herrick and sutured it into the donor's dying identical twin, Richard. With that 5½-hour operation, Dr. Murray and his team saved a life, sparked an ethical debate that still echoes today, and opened medicine to a new frontier. Murray, who focused on plastic and reconstructive surgery for most of his career, was recognized with the Nobel Prize in Medicine in 1990."
ananyo writes "It is permanently covered by a massive cap of ice up to 27 metres thick, is six times saltier than normal sea water, and at 13 C is one of the coldest aquatic environments on Earth — yet Lake Vida in Antarctica teems with life. Scientists drilling into the lake have found abundant and diverse bacteria, including at least one new phylum (full paper (PDF)). The find increases the chances that life may exist (or have once existed) on planets such as Mars and moons such as Jupiter's Europa."
Hugh Pickens writes "Charles Q. Choi reports that hairspray could one day serve as the sign that aliens have reshaped distant worlds because one group of gases that might be key to terraforming planets are CFCs. 'Our hypothesis is that evidence of intelligent life might be evident in a planetary atmosphere,' says astrobiologist Mark Claire at the Blue Marble Space Institute of Science. CFCs are entirely artificial, with no known natural process capable of creating them in atmospheres. Detecting signs of these gases on far-off worlds with telescopes might serve as potent evidence that intelligent alien civilizations were the cause, either intentionally as part of terraforming or accidentally via industrial pollution. 'An industrialized civilization will be one that will use its planetary resources for fabrication, the soon-to-be-detectable-from-Earth atmospheric byproducts of which could be a tell-tale sign of their activity,' says astrobiologist Sanjoy Som. CFCs can be easily recognized in planetary atmospheres because their atmospheric 'fingerprint' (i.e. chemical spectra) is very different from natural elements, and are a tell-tale sign that life on the surface has advanced industrial capabilities. Using state-of-the-art computer models of atmospheric chemistry and climate, researchers plan to discover what visible signs CFCs and other artificial byproducts of alien terraforming or industry might have on exoplanet atmospheres. 'We are about a decade away of being able to measure detailed compositions of the atmospheres of extrasolar planets,' says Som."
coondoggie writes "Sandia National Laboratories physicist Willis Whitfield, 92, passed away earlier this month and left a technological legacy that continues to reverberate today: The legendary clean room. The original laminar-flow 10 x 6 clean room developed 50 years ago by Whitfield was more than 1,000 times cleaner than any cleanrooms used at the time and ultimately revolutionized microelectronics, healthcare and manufacturing development. According to Sandia, with slight modifications, it is still the clean room standard today."
An anonymous reader writes "A new experimental flu vaccine made out of messenger RNA that may work for life is now being developed. German researchers said on Sunday that the vaccine, made of the genetic material that controls the production of proteins, protected animals against influenza and, unlike traditional vaccines, it may work for life and can potentially be manufactured quickly enough to stop a pandemic (abstract)."
Hugh Pickens writes "Salvatore Iaconesi, a software engineer at La Sapienza University of Rome, writes that when he was recently diagnosed with brain cancer, his first idea was to seek other opinions. He immediately asked for his clinical records in digital format, converted the data into spreadsheets, databases, and metadata files, and published them on the web site called The Cure. 'The responses have been incredible. More than 200,000 people have visited the site and many have provided videos, poems, medical opinions, suggestions of alternative cures or lifestyles, personal stories of success or, sadly, failures — and simply the statement, "I am here." Among them were more than 90 doctors and researchers who offered information and support.' The geneticist and TED fellow Jimmy Lin has offered to sequence the genome of Iaconesi's tumor after surgery, and within one day Iaconesi heard from two different doctors who recommended similar kinds of 'awake surgery,' where the brain is monitored in real time as different parts are touched. A brain map is produced and used during a second surgery. 'We are creating a cure by uniting the contributions of surgeons, homeopaths, oncologists, Chinese doctors, nutritionists and spiritual healers. The active participation of everyone involved — both experts and ex-patients — is naturally filtering out any damaging suggestion which might be proposed,' writes Iaconesi. 'Send us videos, poems, images, audio or text that you see as relevant to a scenario in which art and creativity can help form a complete and ongoing cure. Or tell us, "I am here!" — alive and connected, ready to support a fellow human being.'"
The tough economic times have had a huge effect on scientific research and development funding. The looming "fiscal cliff" may be the last straw for many programs. "The American science programs that landed the first man on the moon, found cures for deadly diseases and bred crops that feed the world now face the possibility of becoming relics in the story of human progress. American scientific research and development stands to lose thousands of jobs and face a starvation diet of reduced funding if politicians fail to compromise and halt the United States' march towards the fiscal cliff's sequestration of federal funds."
A study has found that a decreased pH level in the antarctic is damaging the shells of native wildlife. "Marine snails in seas around Antarctica are being affected by ocean acidification, scientists have found. An international team of researchers found that the snails' shells are being corroded. Experts says the findings are significant for predicting the future impact of ocean acidification on marine life. The results of the study are published in the journal Nature Geoscience (abstract). The marine snails, called "pteropods", are an important link in the oceanic food chain as well as a good indicator of ecosystem health. 'They are a major grazer of phytoplankton and... a key prey item of a number of higher predators - larger plankton, fish, seabirds, whales,' said Dr Geraint Tarling, Head of Ocean Ecosystems at the British Antarctic Survey and co-author of the report."
SternisheFan writes "The structure of the universe and the laws that govern its growth may be more similar than previously thought to the structure and growth of the human brain and other complex networks, such as the Internet or a social network of trust relationships between people, according to a new study. 'By no means do we claim that the universe is a global brain or a computer,' said Dmitri Krioukov, co-author of the paper, published by the Cooperative Association for Internet Data Analysis (CAIDA), based at the San Diego Supercomputer Center (SDSC) at the University of California, San Diego.'But the discovered equivalence between the growth of the universe and complex networks strongly suggests that unexpectedly similar laws govern the dynamics of these very different complex systems,' Krioukov noted."
An anonymous reader writes "Vaccines, contrary to opinions from the anti-science crowd, are some of the most effective tools in modern medicine. For some diseases, a single shot is all it takes for lifetime immunity. Others, though, require booster shots, to remind your immune system exactly what it should prepare to fight. Failure to get these shots threatens an individual's health, and the herd immunity concept as well. Scientists are now looking into 'self-boosting' vaccines in order to fix that problem. Some viruses are capable of remaining in the body for a person's entire lifetime. If researchers can figure out a way to safely harness these, it may be possible to add genes that would create proteins to train the immune system against not just one, but multiple other viruses (abstract). This is a difficult problem to solve; changing the way we do vaccinations will itself have consequences for herd immunity. It also hinges on finding a virus that can survive the immune system without having uncomfortable flare-ups from time to time."
An anonymous reader sends this excerpt from the NY Times: "Advances in an artificial intelligence technology that can recognize patterns offer the possibility of machines that perform human activities like seeing, listening and thinking. ... But what is new in recent months is the growing speed and accuracy of deep-learning programs, often called artificial neural networks or just 'neural nets' for their resemblance to the neural connections in the brain. 'There has been a number of stunning new results with deep-learning methods,' said Yann LeCun, a computer scientist at New York University who did pioneering research in handwriting recognition at Bell Laboratories. 'The kind of jump we are seeing in the accuracy of these systems is very rare indeed.' Artificial intelligence researchers are acutely aware of the dangers of being overly optimistic. ... But recent achievements have impressed a wide spectrum of computer experts. In October, for example, a team of graduate students studying with the University of Toronto computer scientist Geoffrey E. Hinton won the top prize in a contest sponsored by Merck to design software to help find molecules that might lead to new drugs. From a data set describing the chemical structure of 15 different molecules, they used deep-learning software to determine which molecule was most likely to be an effective drug agent."
Frosty P. writes "Scientists have discovered a new smell, but you may have to go to a laboratory to experience it yourself. The smell is dubbed 'olfactory white,' because it is the nasal equivalent of white noise, researchers report in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Just as white noise is a mixture of many different sound frequencies and white light is a mixture of many different wavelengths, olfactory white is a mixture of many different smells. In a series of experiments, they exposed participants to dozens of equally mixed smells, and what they discovered is that our brains treat smells as a single unit, not as a mixture of compounds to break down, analyze and put back together again."
An anonymous reader writes "For the first time, blind people could read street signs with a device that translates letters into Braille and beams the results directly onto a person's eye." According to the article, "In a trial conducted on a single patient who already used the [predecessor] device, the person was able to correctly read Braille letters up to 89 percent of the time, and most of the inaccuracy appeared when the participant misread a single letter. The user was able to read one word a second."
mbstone writes "The Namib Desert Beetle generates water from water vapor via its shell, which has alternating hydrophilic and hydrophobic bumps which channel water droplets into its mouth. Scientists at MIT developed a self-filling water bottle using this technology, and have announced a contest for the best design of a countertop water-from-air generator."
Freshly Exhumed writes "Dr. Clive Boddy believes that increasingly fluid corporate career paths have helped psychopaths conceal their disruptive workplace behavior and ascend to previously unattainable levels of authority. Boddy points out psychopaths are primarily attracted to money, status and power, currently found in unparalleled abundance in the global banking sector. As if to prove the point, many of the world's money traders self identify as the "masters of the universe." Solution? Screening with psychological tests. Who would pay for it? The insurance industry." The tech world has plenty of company heads who've been called psychopaths, too — but would you want to actually change that?