AbsoluteXyro writes "NASA's Cassini orbiter, which has been dutifully exploring the Saturn system since 2004, has captured images of the first river ever observed on another world — and it's a biggun. 200 miles of flowing hydrocarbons meandering down a valley in the north polar region of Saturn's moon Titan, emptying into the awesomely named Kraken Mare — itself a body of liquid roughly the size of the Mediterranean Sea back on Earth. But don't think of going for an extraterrestrial skinny dip quite yet, temperatures on Titan average a brutally cold 290 degrees below zero (Fahrenheit)."
DEAL: For $25 - Add A Second Phone Number To Your Smartphone for life! Use promo code SLASHDOT25. Check out the new SourceForge HTML5 Internet speed test! ×
Hugh Pickens writes "According to NASA, a pair of asteroids — one just over three miles wide — passed Earth Tuesday and early Wednesday, avoiding a potentially cataclysmic impact with our home planet. 2012 XE5, estimated at 50-165 feet across, was discovered just days earlier, missing our planet by only 139,500 miles, or slightly more than half the distance to the moon. 4179 Toutatis, just over three miles wide, put on an amazing show for astronomers early Wednesday, missing Earth by 18 lunar lengths, while allowing scientists to observe the massive asteroid in detail. Asteroid Toutatis is well known to astronomers. It passes by Earth's orbit every four years and astronomers say its unique orbit means it is unlikely to impact Earth for at least 600 years. It is one of the largest known potentially hazardous asteroids, and its orbit is inclined less than half-a-degree from Earth's. 'We already know that Toutatis will not hit Earth for hundreds of years,' says Lance Benner of NASA's Near Earth Object Program. 'These new observations will allow us to predict the asteroid's trajectory even farther into the future.' Toutatis would inflict devastating damage if it slammed into Earth, perhaps extinguishing human civilization. The asteroid thought to have killed off the dinosaurs 65 million years ago was about 6 miles wide, researchers say. The fact that 2012 XE5 was discovered only a few days before the encounter prompted Minnesota Public Radio to poll its listeners with the following question: If an asteroid were to strike Earth within an hour, would you want to know?"
GNUman writes "Wired has an article about using videogames to get kids into engineering, starting with Kerbal Space Program, a indie physics-driven sandbox where you build your own spaceship and explore space. I have had much fun with this game the past year and I have actually learned a bit of rocket engineering and orbital mechanics while at it. The article also mentions Minecraft, World of Goo, Amazing Alex, Patterns, Banjo Kazooie: Nuts and Bolts, Fantastic Contraption and SpaceChem. I really like the idea of games that are great fun while fostering creativity and even learning in the process. What games would you add to this list?"
The Bad Astronomer writes "Using Hubble Space Telescope, astronomers have spotted seven galaxies that are all over 13 billion light years away... including one that appears to be a record breaker at a staggering 13.3+ billion light years distant. That one is seen as it was only 380 million years after the Big Bang. This observation reaches into the era of the young cosmos when stars were first forming, and allows astronomers to better understand what the Universe was like back then — a time we know very little about."
gbrumfiel writes "For years, physicists have been on the hunt for a material so weird, it might as well be what unicorn horns are made of. Topological insulators are special types of material that conduct electricity, but only on their outermost surface. If they exist, and that's a real IF, then they would play host to all sorts of bizarre phenomenon: virtual particles that are their own anti-particles, strange quantum effects, dogs and cats living together, that sort of thing. Now three independent teams think they've finally found the stuff that the dreams of theoretical physicists are made of: samarium hexaboride."
dstates writes "Retraction Watch reports that fake reviewer information was placed in Elsevier's peer review database allowing unethical authors to review their own or colleagues manuscripts. As a result, 11 scientific publications have been retracted. The hack is particularly embarrassing for Elsevier because the commercial publisher has been arguing that the quality of its review process justifies its restrictive access policies and high costs of the journals it publishes."
Hugh Pickens writes writes "A suspected terrorist has been taped planning a deadly attack and the police want to use this evidence in court, or someone has been captured on CCTV threatening an assault. Increasingly, recordings like these are playing a role in criminal investigations, but how can the police be sure that the audio evidence is genuine and has not been cleverly edited? Now Rebecca Morelle writes on BBC that a technique known as Electric Network Frequency (ENF) analysis is helping forensic scientists separate genuine, unedited recordings from those that have been tampered with and the technique has already been used in court. Any digital recording made near an electrical power source will pick up noise from the grid that will be embedded throughout the audio. This buzz is an annoyance for sound engineers trying to make the highest quality recordings, but for forensic experts, it has turned out to be an invaluable tool in the fight against crime. Due to unbalances in production and consumption of electrical energy, the ENF is known to fluctuate slightly over time rather than being stuck to its exact set point so if you look at the frequency over time, you can see minute fluctuations and the pattern of these random changes in frequency is unique over time providing a digital watermark on every recording. Forensic Scientist Philip Harrison has been logging the hum on the national grid in the UK for several years. 'Even if [the hum] is picked up at a very low level that you cannot hear, we can extract this information,' says Dr. Harrison. 'If we have we can extract [the hum] and compare it with the database, if it is a continuous recording, it will all match up nicely.'"
pigrabbitbear writes "Farming, logging, and strip mining has long altered much of the Amazon rainforest, with slash-and-burn land-clearing techniques turning large portions of the forest into patchworks of pastures, second-growth forest, and degraded land. Now, rural people are increasingly moving to booming Amazonian cities; paradoxically, the land they're leaving behind is being ravaged by wildfires. A new paper published in PNAS shows that in the Peruvian Amazon, land use changes and depopulation have let large wildfires fly through converted land. It puts a damper on those optimistic that the urbanization of the Amazon may allow parts of the forest to recover, by centralizing populated areas and leaving old converted land to be slowly gobbled up by the encroaching forest."
sciencehabit writes "A SARS-like virus discovered this summer in the Middle East may infect more than just humans. The pathogen, a close cousin to the one that caused the 2002 to 2003 SARS outbreak, may also be able to infect cells from pigs and a wide range of bat species, researchers report today (abstract). The findings may help public health officials track the source of the outbreak and identify the role of wild animals and livestock in spreading the virus, researchers say."
gbrumfiel writes "Those hoping to laser their way out of the energy crisis will have to wait a little longer. The U.S. government has unveiled its new plan for laser fusion, and it's not going to happen anytime soon. It all comes down to problems at the National Ignition Facility (NIF), the world's most powerful laser at Lawrence Livermore Lab in California. For the past six years researchers at NIF have been trying to use the laser to spark a fusion reaction in a tiny pellet of hydrogen fuel. Like all fusion, it's tougher than it looks, and their campaign came up short. That left Congress a little bit miffed, so they asked for a new plan. The new plan calls for a more methodical study of fusion, along with a broader approach to achieving it with the NIF. In three years or so, they should know whether the NIF will ever work."
dsinc sends this quote from an AP report about the U.S. Air Force's X-37B spaceplane: "The Air Force launched the unmanned spacecraft Tuesday hidden on top of an Atlas V rocket. It's the second flight for this original X-37B spaceplane. It circled the planet for seven months in 2010. A second X-37B spacecraft spent more than a year in orbit. These high-tech mystery machines — 29 feet long — are about one-quarter the size of NASA's old space shuttles and can land automatically on a runway. The two previous touchdowns occurred in Southern California; this one might end on NASA's three-mile-long runway once reserved for the space agency's shuttles. The military isn't saying much, if anything, about this new secret mission. In fact, launch commentary ended 17 minutes into the flight. But one scientific observer, Harvard University's Jonathan McDowell of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, speculates the spaceplane is carrying sensors designed for spying and likely is serving as a testbed for future satellites."
Hugh Pickens writes writes "RIA Novosti reports that Kazakhstan and Russia are in talks over returning the city of Baikonur to Kazakhstan — the site of the first Soviet rocket launches and Russia's most important space launch center. Baikonur, built in Kazakhstan in the 1950s, is the main launch facility for the current generation of Russian rockets and was leased by Russia from Kazakhstan under an agreement signed in 1994 after the collapse of the Soviet Union. 'Today both nations' governments have decided to set up a new intergovernmental commission for the Baikonur complex to be headed up by first or other deputy prime ministers,' said Talgat Musabayev, head of Kazakhstan's space agency. At issue is control over Baikonur and the rent Russia pays Kazakhstan to use the facility, a subject of ongoing dispute between the two nations ever since Kazakhstan gained independence from the USSR. Earlier this year, Kazakhstan blocked Russia from launching several rockets from Baikonur in a dispute over a drop zone for debris and Kazakhstan insisted this must be covered by a supplement to the main rental agreement signed in Astana in 2004, extending Russia's use of the space center's facilities until 2050. Russia pays an annual fee of approximately $115 million to use the space center, which currently has the world's busiest launch schedule, as well as $50 million annually for maintenance. Russia and Kazakhstan are working to build a new space launch facility at Baikonur, called Baiterek, to launch Angara carrier rockets capable of delivering 26 metric tons of payload to low-Earth orbits but Russia intends to eventually withdraw from Baikonur and conduct launches from the Plesetsk Cosmodrome, an operating spaceport about 500 miles north of Moscow — and the unfinished Vostochny Cosmodrome in the Russian Far East."
angry tapir writes "Researchers in the U.S. have developed integrated circuits that can stick to the skin like a child's tattoo and in some cases dissolve in water when they're no longer needed. The 'bio chips' can be worn comfortably on the body to help diagnose and treat illnesses. The circuits are so thin that when they're peeled away from the body they hang like a sliver of dead skin, with a tangle of fine wires visible under a microscope. Similar circuits could one day be wrapped around the heart like 'an electronic pericardium' to correct irregularities such as arrhythmia."
An anonymous reader writes "Coffee may help lower the risk of developing oral and pharyngeal cancer and of dying from the disease. The study, published in the American Journal of Epidemiology, was conducted using the Cancer Prevention Study II. The large cohort study began in 1982 by the American Cancer Society. Researchers were able to examine 968,432 men and women, none of whom had cancer at the time of their enrollment in the study." Four or more cups a day lowered the risk of getting oral cancers by a whopping 49%.
sciencehabit writes "It's textbook physics: An electric charge near the surface of a material gets pulled toward the surface. However, if the charge is spread out into the right shape and moves fast enough, that attraction becomes a repulsion, one physicist calculates. The odd finding could help physicists avoid unexpected effects when guiding beams of particles such as electrons."
An anonymous reader writes "For decades, one of cancer's most powerful weapons has been to corrupt the human immune system. Finally, researchers in Philadelphia have developed a way to turn that weapon against certain cancers, and potentially open the door to a whole new generation of therapies for all manner of cancers. From the article: 'It is hard to believe, but last spring Emma, then 6, was near death from leukemia. She had relapsed twice after chemotherapy, and doctors had run out of options. Desperate to save her, her parents sought an experimental treatment at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, one that had never before been tried in a child, or in anyone with the type of leukemia Emma had. The experiment, in April, used a disabled form of the virus that causes AIDS to reprogram Emma’s immune system genetically to kill cancer cells.'"
An anonymous reader writes "A new study looks at the behavior of birds and found the hatching order of birds influences how they behave in adulthood. The study was conducted by Dr. Ian Hartley and Dr. Mark Mainwaring (LEC), researchers at the University of Lancaster Environment Center. The researchers noticed that the youngest members of the zebra finch broods were more adventurous than their older siblings in later life."
Press2ToContinue writes "Scientists have found a relatively straightforward way to persuade the cells discarded in human urine to turn into valuable neurons. The technique, described online in a study in Nature Methods this week (abstract), does not involve embryonic stem cells. These come with serious drawbacks when transplanted, such as the risk of developing tumors. Instead, the method uses ordinary cells present in urine, and transforms them into neural progenitor cells — the precursors of brain cells. Researchers routinely reprogram cultured skin and blood cells into induced pluripotent stem cells, which can go on to form any cell in the body. But urine is a much more accessible source."
Press2ToContinue writes "Dubbed the Python Challenge, the month-long contest will award $1,000 for the longest python and $1,500 for the most pythons caught between Jan. 12 and Feb. 10 in any of four hunting areas north of Everglades National Park and at the Big Cypress National Preserve. Pythons have been spreading through the Everglades for years, posing a threat to the sensitive ecosystem by preying on native species. Some estimates put their number in the tens of thousands. Last year, 272 pythons were removed from the wild, state figures show."
SternisheFan writes "In Southwestern France, a group of fish have learned how to kill birds. As the River Tarn winds through the city of Albi, it contains a small gravel island where pigeons gather to clean and bathe. And patrolling the island are European catfish—1 to 1.5 meters long, and the largest freshwater fish on the continent. These particular catfish have taken to lunging out of the water, grabbing a pigeon, and then wriggling back into the water to swallow their prey. In the process, they temporarily strand themselves on land for a few seconds. Other aquatic hunters strand themselves in a similar way, including bottlenose dolphins from South Carolina, which drive small fish onto beaches, and Argentinian killer whales, which swim onto beaches to snag resting sealions. The behavior of the Tarn catfishes is so similar that Julien Cucherousset from Paul Sabatier University in Toulouse describes them as 'freshwater killer whales.'"