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Earth

Scientists Propose Plan To Re-Freeze the Arctic (inhabitat.com) 401

Kristine Lofgren writes: In case you've been under a rock for the past 20 years, the Arctic is melting super fast. Certain *ahem* governments are dragging their feet doing anything about it, which means the planet could be in for a spectacular meltdown within the next 20 years. But a clever bunch of scientists have hatched a plan to re-freeze the Arctic using wind-powered pumps that will bring water to the surface, allowing it to freeze. This new layer of ice could last well into the summer, which is vital, because scientists think summer Arctic ice could be gone by 2030 -- and that causes a whole chain of terrible events that will only make our climate change problem much, much worse. The plan has a $500 billion price tag, but that's pocket change compared to the cost of dealing with an ice-free Arctic. The study has been published in The American Geophysical Union's journal Earth's Future. You can read more about the study via The Guardian.
China

Around 2.2 Million Deaths in a Year in India and China From Air Pollution (cnbc.com) 123

India is on the verge of overtaking China as the country with the most deaths caused by air pollution, the world's biggest environmental killer, according to research published on Tuesday. From a report: The State of Global Air 2017 report states that extensive, long-term exposure to fine particulate matter contributed to more than four million premature deaths in 2015. The report is a joint effort between the Health Effects Institute and the Institute for Health Metrics and Evalution's Global Burden of Disease Project. "We are seeing increasing air pollution problems worldwide," Dan Greenbaum, president of the Health Effects Institute, said in a statement. "The trends we report show that we have seen progress in some parts of the world -- but serious challenges remain," Greenbaum went on to add. The report's analysis showed that India -- with extra exposure and its aging population -- now competes with China in terms of air pollution health burdens. Both countries saw around 1.1 million early deaths due to air pollution in 2015.
Earth

Banned Chemicals From 1970's Persist In Deepest Reaches of the Pacific Ocean, Study Shows (bbc.com) 74

walterbyrd quotes a report from BBC: Scientists were surprised by the relatively high concentrations of pollutants like PCBs and PBDEs in deep sea ecosystems. Used widely during much of the 20th Century, these chemicals were later found to be toxic and to build up in the environment. The results are published in the journal Nature Ecology and Evolution. The team led by Dr Alan Jamieson at the University of Newcastle sampled levels of pollutants in the fatty tissue of amphipods (a type of crustacean) from deep below the Pacific Ocean surface. The pollutants found in the amphipods included polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) and polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs), which were commonly used as electrical insulators and flame retardants. PCB production was banned by the U.S. in 1979 and by the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants, a UN treaty signed in 2001. From the 1930s to when PCBs were banned in the 1970s, the total global production of these chemicals is estimated to be in the region of 1.3 million tons. Released into the environment through industrial accidents and discharges from landfills, these pollutants are resistant to being broken down naturally, and so persist in the environment. The authors of the study say that the deep ocean can become a "sink" or repository for pollutants. They argue that the chemicals accumulate through the food chain so that when they reach the deep ocean, concentrations are many times higher than in surface waters.
Earth

188,000 Evacuated As California's Massive Oroville Dam Threatens Catastrophic Floods (washingtonpost.com) 457

Mr D from 63 quotes a report from The Washington Post: About 188,000 residents near Oroville, Calif., were ordered to evacuate Sunday after a hole in an emergency spillway in the Oroville Dam threatened to flood the surrounding area. Thousands clogged highways leading out of the area headed south, north and west, and arteries major and minor remained jammed as midnight approached on the West Coast -- though by early Monday, Lake Oroville's water level had dropped to a point at which water was no longer spilling over. The lake level reached its peak of 902.59 feet at about 3 a.m. Sunday and dropped to 898 feet by 4 a.m. Monday, according to the Sacramento Bee. Water flows over the emergency spillway at 901 feet. "The drop in the lake level was early evidence that the Department of Water Resources' desperate attempt to prevent a catastrophic failure of the dam's emergency spillway appeared to be paying dividends," the Bee reported Monday. Officials doubled the flow of water out of the nearly mile-long primary spillway to 100,000 cubic feet per second. The normal flow is about half as much, but increased flows are common at this time of year, during peak rain season, officials said. But water officials warned that damaged infrastructure could create further dangers as storms approach in the week ahead, and it remained unclear when residents might be able to return to their homes.
Hardware

Researchers Working on Liquid Battery That Could Last For Over 10 Years (engadget.com) 217

Jon Fingas, writing for Engadget: If Harvard researchers have their way, you may not have to worry about replacing power backs quite so often. They've developed a flow battery (that is, a battery that stores energy in liquid solutions) which should last for over a decade. The trick was to modify the molecules in the electrolytes, ferrocene and viologen, so that they're stable, water-soluble and resistant to degradation. When they're dissolved in neutral water, the resulting solution only loses 1 percent of its capacity every 1,000 cycles. It could be several years before you even notice a slight dropoff in performance. The use of water is also great news for both the environment and your bank account. As it's not corrosive or toxic, you don't have to worry about wrecking your home if the battery leaks -- you might just need a mop.
NASA

US-Born NASA Scientist Detained At The Border Until He Unlocked His Phone (theverge.com) 626

Sidd Bikkannavar works at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory. After racing solar-powered cars in Chile, he had trouble returning to America. mspohr quote The Verge: Bikkannavar says he was detained by U.S. Customs and Border Patrol and pressured to give the Customs and Border Protection agents his phone and access PIN. Since the phone was issued by NASA, it may have contained sensitive material that wasn't supposed to be shared. Bikkannavar's phone was returned to him after it was searched by CBP, but he doesn't know exactly what information officials might have taken from the device...

The officer also presented Bikkannavar with a document titled "Inspection of Electronic Devices" and explained that CBP had authority to search his phone. Bikkannavar did not want to hand over the device, because it was given to him by JPL and is technically NASA property. He even showed the officer the JPL barcode on the back of phone. Nonetheless, CBP asked for the phone and the access PIN. "I was cautiously telling him I wasn't allowed to give it out, because I didn't want to seem like I was not cooperating," says Bikkannavar. "I told him I'm not really allowed to give the passcode; I have to protect access. But he insisted they had the authority to search it."

While border agents have the right to search devices, The Verge reports that travelers aren't legally required to unlock their phones, "although agents can detain them for significant periods of time if they do not." They also report that Bikkannavar "was not allowed to leave until he gave CBP his PIN," adding that the cybersecurity team at JPL "was not happy about the breach."
Space

Gravity-Detecting LIGO Also Found To Be Creating Gravity Waves (sciencemag.org) 82

LIGO is a large-scale physics experiment to detect "ripples in spacetime," as well as gravity waves from outer space. But it turns out that it's also creating gravity waves, according to a team of physicists led by Belinda Pang, a physicist at the California Institute of Technology. sciencehabit quotes Science magazine: Although these waves are far too feeble to detect directly, the researchers say, the radiation in principle could be used to try to detect weird quantum mechanical effects among large objects... Of course, LIGO doesn't generate large gravitational waves -- you could probably make bigger ones yourself by whirling bowling balls around -- but it does so with optimal efficiency [and] the waves could still be used to probe quantum effects among macroscopic objects, Pang says.

Quantum mechanics says that a vanishingly small object such as an electron can literally be in two places in once. Many physicists suspect that it might just be possible to coax a macroscopic object, such as one of LIGO's mirrors, into a similar state of quantum motion. That delicate state wouldn't last long, as interactions with the outside world would make it "decohere" and put it in one place or another. However, one could imagine measuring the rate at which such a state decoheres to see whether it matches the rate expected from the radiation of gravitational waves, Pang says.

"It's unbelievably difficult," Pang says. "But if you want to do it, what we're saying is that LIGO is the best place to do it."
Earth

Can We Pollinate Flowers With Tiny Flying Drones? (economist.com) 130

An anonymous reader writes: An engineer in Japan has built a 1.6-inch "pollinator-bot" and successfully tested it in his lab. The drone's creator "has armed it with paintbrush hairs that are covered in a special gel sticky enough to pick pollen up, but not so sticky that it holds on to that pollen when it brushes up against something else," reports The Economist. They write that his experiments with the tiny drone "show that the drone can indeed carry pollen from flower to flower in the way an insect would -- though he has yet to confirm that seeds result from this pollination." While flown by a human pilot, next he hopes to equip the drones with their own flower-recognizing technology.

The Christian Science Monitor followed up with four experts, asking "Could a fleet of robo-pollinators replace, or at least supplement, the bees?" One said "There is no substitute for bees." Another pointed out that even if robo-bees are developed, some flowers will prove harder to pollinate than others. A third expert thought the technology could scale, though it would need to be mass-produced, and the engineers would need to develop a reusable pollen-collecting gel. But a fourth expert remained worried that it just couldn't scale without becoming too expensive. "I'm not sure that's going to be cheap enough to not make blueberries hundreds of dollars a pint."

Three of those experts also agreed that the best solution is just wild bees, because domesticated or not, "All they have to do is make sure to set aside enough land conducive to the bees' habitat."
Space

Space Junk-Fighting Cable Fails To Deploy (newscientist.com) 55

New Scientist reports: It's a rubbish start for the world's first space clean-up experiment. A cable designed to drag space junk out of orbit has failed to deploy from a Japanese spacecraft... A 700-metre-long metal cable was fitted to an unmanned spacecraft called Kounotori 6, which was on its way back to Earth after delivering supplies to the International Space Station. The cable was meant to unfurl from the spacecraft, at which point an electric current would pass along its length. The idea was that the current would interact with the Earth's magnetic field, creating a drag that pulled the spacecraft out of orbit. The spacecraft would then tumble into our atmosphere and become incinerated... However, Kounotori 6 was unable to release the cable to test its junk-removing potential, and JAXA could not fix the glitch before the spacecraft returned to Earth's atmosphere this morning... "Releasing a cable may seem simple, but nothing in space is simple," says Sean Tuttle at the University of New South Wales in Australia... The test's failure should be seen as a setback rather than a nail in the coffin for junk-removing cables, Tuttle says.
rickyslashdot writes: Because of the simplicity of this system, it is bound to be tested again -- hopefully sooner than later... This process is inherently safer than using rocket engines (to be attached to the junk), and is much less of a 'mass-to-orbit' cost, since it only requires a grappling system, and a spool of wire/cable. Hopefully, there will be a follow-up / re-try in the near future for this orbital debris clean-up process.
Earth

Four of Iceland's Main Volcanoes Are All Preparing For Eruption (icelandmonitor.mbl.is) 136

Vulcanologists always watch Iceland carefully -- it's the one exposed place on the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, with 130 different volcanoes -- and something big may be brewing. Applehu Akbar writes: Now that four of Iceland's largest volcanoes are showing signs of impending eruption, the world may be in for another summer of ash. Katla, Hecla, Bárðarbunga and Grímsvötn have all had major activity in the past, including vast floods from melting glaciers, enough ash to ground aircraft over all of Europe, volumes of sulfur that have induced global nuclear winter for a decade at a time, and clouds of poisonous fluoride gas. When the mountains of Iceland speak, the whole world listens.
Eruptions are already overdue for both Hekla and Katla -- Hekla's magma chamber has filled up, and Katla last erupted in 1918. "The Katla eruption would lead to the melting of the Mýrdalsjökull glacier, resulting in a glacial flood," reports Tech Times, "likely to hit areas where large crowds are found at any given point of time, especially the black sand beaches of Sólheimasandur and the village of Vik in Southern Iceland."
Displays

Nanorods Emit and Detect Light, Could Lead To Displays That Communicate Via Li-Fi (ieee.org) 33

schwit1 quotes a report from IEEE Spectrum: Ever since 2015 Consumer Electronics Show, quantum dots have been in a market struggle to displace light-emitting diodes (LEDs) as a backlight source for liquid crystal displays (LCDs). Now an advance by a team of researchers from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, the Electronics and Telecommunications Research Institute in South Korea and Dow Chemical may turn the display market on its head by eliminating the need for backlights in LCD devices. They have produced a LED pixel out of nanorods capable of both emitting and detecting light. In research described in the journal Science, the international team of researchers mixed three types of semiconductors to produce engineered nanorods. "The nanorods contain three different semiconductor materials," explains Shim. "The first semiconductor, which is attached at the tips of the nanorod, is the quantum dot that emits and absorbs visible light." The other two semiconductors are the main body of the rod and the shell around the quantum dot. These components facilitate and control the flow of electrons (negative charges) and holes (positive charges) to and from the quantum dot. The semiconductor materials in the rod and the shell each have a band gap in which no electron states can exist as well as band alignment. With these two semiconductors in contact with the quantum dot, the nanorods are extremely efficient at both emitting and detecting light.
Earth

First Gene Drive In Mammals Could Aid Vast New Zealand Eradication Plan (technologyreview.com) 299

wisebabo writes: Say goodbye to our little whiskered friends! There is an effort to wipe out not just any species, (there's been discussions to wipe out the mosquitos that carry Malaria), but a mammal. Specifically the house mouse which, along with other invasive species introduced by Westerners, have ravaged New Zealand's ecosystem. (Amongst other things they've rendered extinct many of the flightless birds there). They'll try using the "gene drive" in mammals, which is a new genetic weapon made possible by the editing system CRISPR-Cas9. Basically, it'll make all of the children of the genetically engineered mice male and then all of their children male and so on. This'll continue until there are no females left and the population will crash. If this is successful, they want to use this technique on other species until all of the predators on New Zealand are wiped out.
Japan

Excessive Radiation Inside Fukushima Fries Clean-Up Robot (gizmodo.com) 307

"A remotely-controlled robot sent to inspect and clean a damaged reactor at Japan's Fukushima nuclear plant had to be pulled early when its onboard camera went dark, the result of excess radiation," reports Gizmodo. "The abbreviated mission suggests that radiation levels inside the reactor are even higher than was reported last week -- and that robots are going to have a hell of a time cleaning this mess up." From the report: Last week, Gizmodo reported that radiation levels inside the containment vessel of reactor No. 2 at Fukushima reached a jaw-dropping 530 sieverts per hour, a level high enough to kill a human within seconds. Some Japanese government officials questioned the reading because Tokyo Electric Power Company Holding (TEPCO) calculated it by looking at camera interference on the robot sent in to investigate, rather than measuring it directly with a geiger counter or dosimeter. It now appears that this initial estimate may have been too low. Either that, or TEPCO's robot is getting closer to the melted fuel -- which is very likely. High radiation readings near any of the used fuel are to be expected. Yesterday, that same remotely operated robot had to be pulled when its camera began to fail after just two hours of exposure to the radiation inside the damaged reactor. Accordingly, TEPCO has revised its estimate to about 650 sieverts per hour, which is 120 more sieverts than what was calculated late last month (although the new estimate comes with a 30 percent margin of error). The robot is designed to withstand about 1,000 accumulated sieverts, which given the failure after two hours, jibes well with the camera interference. This likely means that the melted fuel burned through its pressure vessel during the meltdown in March of 2011, and is sitting somewhere nearby.
Medicine

Amputees Control Virtual Prosthetic Arm Using Nerve Signals (newscientist.com) 8

CanadianRealist writes: Current prosthetic arms are usually controlled by detecting signals from the user twitching muscles in the shoulder or arm. This allows only a limited number of possible movements, such as grasp and release. Researchers have developed a new technique that interprets signals from motor neurons in the spinal cord, allowing for a greater range of control of an arm. Signals from nerves associated with hand and arm movements were mapped to the corresponding movements. Test subjects were able to move a virtual prosthetic arm with greater freedom than has been achieved with muscle-controlled prosthetics. (Note: A virtual prosthetic arm was used rather than a real one as this work is still in the early stages.) The study has been published in the journal Nature Biomedical Engineering.
Businesses

Lockheed Martin Screwup Delays Delivery of Air Force GPS Satellites (bloomberg.com) 68

schwit1 writes: Incompetence by a Lockheed Martin subcontractor will delay the delivery of 32 new Air Force GPS satellites and will likely cost the government millions. Bloomberg reports: "Lockheed has a contract to build the first 10 of the satellites designed to provide a more accurate version of the Global Positioning System used for everything from the military's targeting of terrorists to turn-by-turn directions for civilians' smartphones. The program's latest setback may affect a pending Air Force decision on whether to open the final 22 satellites to competition from Lockheed rivals Boeing Co. and Northrop Grumman Corp. 'This was an avoidable situation and raised significant concerns with Lockheed Martin subcontractor management/oversight and Harris program management,' Teague said in a Dec. 21 message to congressional staff obtained by Bloomberg News. The parts in question are ceramic capacitors that have bedeviled the satellite project. They take higher-voltage power from the satellite's power system and reduce it to a voltage required for a particular subsystem. Last year, the Air Force and contractors discovered that Harris hadn't conducted tests on the components, including how long they would operate without failing, that should have been completed in 2010. Now, the Air Force says it found that Harris spent June to October of last year doing follow-up testing on the wrong parts instead of samples of the suspect capacitors installed on the first three satellites. Harris 'immediately notified Lockheed and the government' after a post-test inspection, Teague said in his message." So, the subcontractor first failed to do the required tests, then they did the tests on the wrong parts. Sounds like the kind of quality control problems we have seen recently in Russia and Japan. The worst part? The contract is a cost-plus contract, which means the U.S. tax payer has to absorb the additional costs for fixing the screw-up, not Lockheed Martin or its subcontractor.
Moon

A Guide To Friday's Comet-Eclipse-Full-Moon Triple Feature (cnet.com) 28

SonicSpike quotes a report from CNET: Even if you aren't a space nerd whose idea of a good time is craning your neck to stare into the vast nothingness of space on a frigid evening, this Friday the heavens will put on a show worth heading outdoors for. A penumbral lunar eclipse, a full "snow moon" and a comet will be spicing up the night sky February 10 in a rare convergence of such celestial happenings. We'll start with our nearest neighbor. February brings the full moon known as the "snow moon" because this month in North America tends to see a lot of the white fluffy stuff. This snow moon will be special though because, well... we'll all get in its way in a sense when the penumbral lunar eclipse takes place Friday. The eclipse will be at least partly visible from most but not all places on Earth (sorry Australia and Japan). The moment of greatest eclipse is at 4:43 p.m. PT and the eclipse will then dissipate until it completes a little over two hours later, according to the U.S. Naval Observatory. Next up, Comet 45P/Honda-Mrkos-Pajdusakova has actually been visible with binoculars and telescopes for several weeks already, but it will be at its closest approach to Earth on the morning of February 11 as it passes by at a distance of 7.4 million miles (11.9 million kilometers) or 30 times further away than the moon.
Medicine

Genetically Modified Salmonella Destroys Cancer By Provoking An Immune Response, Study Finds (sandiegouniontribune.com) 78

schwit1 quotes a report from San Diego Union-Tribune: A genetically modified bacterium destroys tumors by provoking an immune response, according to a study published Wednesday. Using mice and cultures of human cancer cells, a South Korean-led scientific team demonstrated that Salmonella typhimurium engineered to make a foreign protein caused immune cells called macrophages and neutralizes to mobilize against the cancer. The bacterium came from an attenuated strain that has little infectious potential. Such strains have been tested as vaccines. The protein, called FlaB, is made by a gene in the estuarine bacterium Vibrio vulnificus, a close relative of the cholera bacterium, Vibrio cholerae. Tumors shrank below detectable levels in 11 out of 20 mice injected with the modified Salmonella, said the study, published in Science Translational Medicine. The engineered Salmonella provoke a sustained immune response, in addition to preventing the spread of a human colon cancer implanted in a mouse. The bacterium also were found to be nontoxic, multiplying almost exclusively inside tumors.
Earth

Glass From Nuclear Test Site Shows the Moon Was Born Dry (newscientist.com) 48

An anonymous reader quotes a report from New Scientist: We can't recreate the giant impact that led to the moon's formation in a lab, but humans have made some other big explosions. By examining residue from the first detonation of a nuclear weapon, researchers have cracked a window into the moon's past. On 16 July 1945, the U.S. army detonated a nuclear weapon for the first time in an operation codenamed Trinity (see photo, above). As the bomb exploded with an energy equivalent to 20 kilotons of TNT, the sand underneath it melted, producing a thin sheet of mostly green glass dubbed trinitite. The explosion brought the area around the bomb to temperatures over 8000 C and pressures nearing 80,000 atmospheres. These extreme conditions are similar to those created as the moon formed in a colossal collision between Earth and another rock, probably about the size of Mars. Fortunately for planetary science, scientists meticulously measured and recorded the details of the Trinity detonation, so there is plenty of information to work with. Day and his colleagues took advantage of that past precision to investigate why the moon has surprisingly little water and other volatiles with a relatively low boiling point -- much less than Earth. To do so, they studied the distribution of one volatile element, zinc, in trinitite collected at different distances out from the explosion's center. They found that the closer to the explosion the trinitite formed, the less zinc it had, especially when it came to zinc's lighter isotopes. That's because these evaporated in the intense heat of the explosion, while the heavier isotopes didn't and so remained in the trinitite. The ratios of different forms of zinc left behind in trinitite showed remarkable parallels to what was observed in the moon rocks retrieved in the Apollo missions. This means that zinc and other volatile elements, most notably water, probably evaporated off the moon while it was being formed in a violent collision or soon afterward, while its surface was still incredibly hot. The study has been published in Science Advances.
Earth

Scientists Successfully Decode the Genome of Quinoa (bbc.com) 291

Gr8Apes writes: Scientists have successfully decoded the genome of quinoa, a hugely popular "super-food" because it is well balanced and gluten-free. They have pinpointed one of the genes that they believe control the production of saponins (bitter toxic compounds that protect the plant from predators) which can facilitate the breeding of plants without saponins, resulting in sweeter seeds without having to process them. The scientists also believe that the genetic understanding now gained will allow them to breed shorter, stockier plants that don't fall over as easily, and that these benefits could be gained without the use of genetic modification. Furthermore, the researchers believe the genetic code will rapidly lead to more productive varieties that will push down costs. "We need the price of quinoa to go down by a factor of five," said project leader Professor Mark Tester, from King Abdullah University of Science and Technology. "If we get to a similar price to wheat it can be used in processing and in bread making and in many other foods and products. It has the chance to truly add to current world food production." The study has been published in the journal Nature.
Education

Pioneering Data Genius Hans Rosling Passes Away At Age 68 (bbc.com) 53

An anonymous reader writes: On Tuesday, Sweden's prime minister tweeted that Hans Rosling "made human progress across our world come alive for millions," and the public educator will probably best be remembered as the man who could condense 200 years of global history into four minutes. He was a geek's geek, a former professor of global health who "dropped out" because he wanted to help start a nonprofit about data. Specifically, it urged data-based decisions for global development policy, and the Gapminder foundation created the massive Trendalyzer tool which let users build their own data visualizations. Eventually they handed off the tool to Google who used it with open-source scientific datasets. The BBC describes Rosling as a "public educator" with a belief that facts "could correct 'global ignorance' about the reality of the world, which 'has never been less bad.'" Rosling's TED talks include "The Best Data You've Never Seen" and "How Not To Be Ignorant About The World," and in 2015 he also gave a talk titled "How to Beat Ebola." Hans Rosling died Tuesday at age 68.

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