fsterman writes "Without any prompting from the U.S. Metric Association, a We The People petition to standardize the U.S. on the metric system has received 13,000 signatures in six days. That's half the number needed for an official response from the White House. It looks like ending the U.S.'s anti-metric alliance with Liberia and Burma (the only other countries NOT on the metric system) might rank up there with building a death star."
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Janek Kozicki writes "It has been long thought that dwarf galaxies orbiting Andromeda galaxy (M31), or any other galaxy for that matter, are distributed more or less randomly around the host galaxy. It seemed so obvious in fact that nobody took time to check this assumption. Until a 15-year-old student, Neil Ibata, working with his father at the astronomic observatory, wanted to check it out. It turned out that dwarf galaxies tend to be placed on a plane around M31. The finding has been published in Nature. Local press (especially in France) is ecstatic that a finding by a 15-year-old got published in Nature. However, there's another more important point: what other obvious things didn't we really bother to check?"
Hugh Pickens writes writes "Want to buy a 15,000-foot landing strip? How about a place to assemble rocket ships or a parachute-packing plant? Have we got a deal for you. The Orlando Sentinel reports that with the cleanup and wind-down of the shuttle program, NASA is quietly holding a going-out-of-business sale for the its space-shuttle facilities including Launch Pad 39A, where shuttles were launched; space in the Vehicle Assembly Building, the iconic 526-foot-tall structure first used to assemble Saturn V-Apollo rockets; the Orbiter Processing Facilities, essentially huge garages where the shuttles were maintained; Hangar N and its high-tech test equipment; the launch-control center; and various other buildings and chunks of undeveloped property. 'The facilities out here can't be in an abandoned state for long before they become unusable,' says Joyce Riquelme, NASA's director of KSC planning and development. 'So we're in a big push over the next few months to either have agreements for these facilities or not.' The process is mostly secret, because NASA has agreed to let bidders declare their proposals proprietary, keeping them out of the view of competitors and the public. Frank DiBello, thinks the most attractive facilities are those that can support launches that don't use the existing pads at KSC and adjacent Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. 'Anything that still has cleaning capabilities or satellite-processing capabilities, the parachute facility, the tile facility, the OPF, all three of them, they have real value to the next generation of space activity,' says Frank DiBello, President of Space Florida, an Independent Special District of the State of Florida, created to foster the growth and development of a sustainable and world-leading space industry in Florida. 'If the infrastructure helps you reach market, then it has value. If it doesn't, then it's just a building, it's just a launchpad, and nobody wants it.'"
hypnosec writes "CERN has revealed that the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) is going into hibernation and will be shut down for a period of two years for upgrades. The LHC will go through a maintenance and upgrade phase starting in March that will bring the atom smasher up to speed with its maximum energy levels. From the article: 'The machine that last year helped scientists snare the elusive Higgs boson – or a convincing subatomic impostor – faces a two-year shutdown while engineers perform repairs that are needed for the collider to ramp up to its maximum energy in 2015 and beyond. The work will beef up electrical connections in the machine that were identified as weak spots after an incident four years ago that knocked the collider out for more than a year.'"
coondoggie writes "Toyota is going to show off its autonomous car/accident avoidance technology at the 2013 Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas nest week. The 2013 Lexus LS uses what the car company calls its Intelligent Transport System and is fitted with on-board radar, video cameras and sensors to monitor the road, surroundings, and the driver all with the goal of preventing accidents and avoiding problems."
Bruce66423 writes "An article at The Guardian discusses the prospects for food from radically different sources than the ones we're used to. 'Sweet fried crickets' anyone? Quoting: '... artificial steak is still a way off. Pizza toppings are closer. The star of the Dutch research into in-vitro meat, Dr Mark Post, promised that the first artificial hamburger, made from 10bn lab-grown cells, would be ready for "flame-grilling by Heston Blumenthal" by the end of 2012. At the time of writing it is still on the back burner. Post (who previously produced valves for heart surgery) and other Dutch scientists are currently working over the problem of how to turn the "meat" from pieces of jelly into something acceptably structured: an old-fashioned muscle. Electric shocks may be the answer. ... The technological problems of producing the new hi-tech foods are nothing compared to the trouble the industry is having with the consumers – the "yuck factor," as the food technology scientists across the world like to put it. Shoppers' squeamishness has turned the food corporations, from whom the real money for R&D will have to come, very wary, and super-secretive about their work on GM in America.'"
On Friday we discussed news of researchers getting a quantum gas to go below absolute zero. There was confusion about exactly what that meant, and several commenters pointed out that negative temperatures have been achieved before. Now, Rutgers physics grad student Aatish Bhatia has written a comprehensible post for the layman about how negative temperatures work, and why they're not actually "colder" than absolute zero. Quoting: "...you first need to engineer a system that has an upper limit to its energy. This is a very rare thing – normal, everyday stuff that we interact with has kinetic energy of motion, and there is no upper bound to how much kinetic energy it can have. Systems with an upper bound in energy don’t want to be in that highest energy state. ...these systems have low entropy in (i.e. low probability of being in) their high energy state. You have to experimentally ‘trick’ the system into getting here. This was first done in an ingenious experiment by Purcell and Pound in 1951, where they managed to trick the spins of nuclei in a crystal of Lithium Fluoride into entering just such an unlikely high energy state. In that experiment, they maintained a negative temperature for a few minutes. Since then, negative temperatures have been realized in many experiments, and most recently established in a completely different realm, of ultracold atoms of a quantum gas trapped in a laser."
An anonymous reader writes "The Forbes list of 'least stressful jobs' for 2013 is headlined by... university professors. This comes at a time in which the academic community has been featured on controversies about 100-hour week work journeys, doctors live on food stamps, tenured staff is laid off large science institutions, and the National Science Foundation suffers severe budget cuts, besides the well known (and sometimes publicized) politics of publish or perish. The Forbes reporter has received abundant feedback and published a shy, foot-note 'addendum'; however, the cited source, CareerCast (which does not map to any recognizable career journalist, but rather to a Sports writer), does not seem to have had the same luck. The comments of the Forbes reporter on the existence of a Summer break for graduates ('I am curious whether professors work that hard over the summer') are particularly noteworthy." Here is the CareerCast report the article is based on, and a list of the "stress factors" they considered. The author of the Forbes article passed on a very detailed explanation of how tough a university professor's job can be.
This morning at 08:58 UTC a magnitude 7.5 earthquake struck off the coast of southeastern Alaska. The depth was just shy of 10km. The quake occurred roughly 106km from the city of Craig and about 341km from the capital city of Juneau. A tsunami warning was issued shortly after the quake, but later canceled when it became apparent that sea level changes would be minor, with no widespread destructive wave. The observed tsunami was no more than six inches high. The earthquake was felt on land, shaking houses and tossing objects to the floor, but as yet there are no reports of injuries. The U.S. Geological Survey said, 'At the location of this earthquake, the Pacific plate is moving approximately northwestward with respect to the North America plate at a velocity of 51 mm/yr. This earthquake is likely associated with relative motion across the Queen Charlotte fault system offshore of British Columbia, Canada, which forms the major expression of the Pacific:North America plate boundary in this region. The surrounding area of the plate boundary has hosted 8 earthquakes of magnitude 6 or greater over the past 40 years."
Zothecula writes "To paraphrase an old saying, if the astronaut can't go to the asteroid, then the asteroid must come to the astronaut. In a study released by the Keck Institute for Space Studies, researchers outlined a mission (PDF) to tow an asteroid into lunar orbit by 2025 using ion propulsion and a really big bag. The idea is to bring an asteroid close to Earth for easy study and visits by astronauts without the hazards and expense of a deep space mission. Now, Keck researchers say NASA officials are evaluating the plan to see whether it's something they want to do. The total cost is estimated to be roughly $2.6 billion."
An anonymous reader writes "Scientists have long suspected that big brains come with an evolutionary price — but now they've published the first experimental evidence to support that suspicion, based on their efforts to breed big-brained fish. A Swedish team found it relatively easy to select and interbreed common guppies to produce bigger (or smaller) brains — as much as 9.3 percent bigger, to be precise (abstract). But the bigger-brained fish also tended to have smaller guts and produce fewer babies."
Freddybear writes "Former anti-GMO activist Mark Lynas, who opposed genetically modified food in the 1990s, said recently, at the Oxford Farming Conference: 'I want to start with some apologies. For the record, here and upfront, I apologize for having spent several years ripping up GM crops. I am also sorry that I helped to start the anti-GM movement back in the mid 1990s, and that I thereby assisted in demonizing an important technological option which can be used to benefit the environment. As an environmentalist, and someone who believes that everyone in this world has a right to a healthy and nutritious diet of their choosing, I could not have chosen a more counter-productive path. I now regret it completely. So I guess you'll be wondering — what happened between 1995 and now that made me not only change my mind but come here and admit it? Well, the answer is fairly simple: I discovered science, and in the process I hope I became a better environmentalist.' To vilify GMOs is to be as anti-science as climate-change deniers, he says. To feed a growing world population (with an exploding middle class demanding more and better-quality food), we must take advantage of all the technology available to us, including GMOs. To insist on 'natural' agriculture and livestock is to doom people to starvation, and there’s no logical reason to prefer the old ways, either. Moreover, the reason why big companies dominate the industry is that anti-GMO activists and policymakers have made it too difficult for small startups to enter the field."
RocketAcademy writes "A group of New Mexico legislators is warning that the $200-million Spaceport America 'could become a ghost town, with tumbleweeds crossing the runways' if trial lawyers succeed in blocking critical liability legislation. The warning came in a letter to the Albuquerque Journal [subscription or free trial may be required]. Virgin Galactic has signed a lease to become the spaceport's anchor tenant, but may pull out if New Mexico is unable to provide liability protection for manufacturers and part suppliers, similar to legislation already passed by Texas, Colorado, Florida, and Virginia. The proposed legislation is also similar to liability protection which New Mexico offers to the ski industry. An eclectic group of business and civic interests has formed the Save Our Spaceport Coalition to support passage of the liability reform legislation, which is being fought by the New Mexico Trial Lawyers Association."
An anonymous reader writes "A new study explains why girls do better at school, even when their scores on standardized tests remain low. Researchers from University of Georgia and Columbia University say the variation in school grades between boys and girls may be because girls have a better attitude toward learning than boys. One of the study's lead authors, Christopher Cornwell, said, 'The skill that matters the most in regards to how teachers graded their students is what we refer to as "approaches toward learning." You can think of "approaches to learning" as a rough measure of what a child's attitude toward school is: It includes six items that rate the child's attentiveness, task persistence, eagerness to learn, learning independence, flexibility and organization. I think that anybody who's a parent of boys and girls can tell you that girls are more of all of that.' Cornwell went on about what effect this has had now that education has become more pervasive: 'We seem to have gotten to a point in the popular consciousness where people are recognizing the story in these data: Men are falling behind relative to women. Economists have looked at this from a number of different angles, but it's in educational assessments that you make your mark for the labor market. Men's rate of college going has slowed in recent years whereas women's has not, but if you roll the story back far enough, to the 60s and 70s, women were going to college in much fewer numbers. It's at a point now where you've got women earning upward of 60 percent of the bachelors' degrees awarded every year.'"
Saké, and you're back home in Austin, Texas. Since Texas, like Japan, grows lots of rice, you obviously need to start the Texas Saké Company to produce Rising Star and Whooping Crane Sakés, which you sell online and through a number of Texas restaurants and retailers. But whatever we can say in print pales beside a two-part brewery tour conducted by Toji Yoed himself, accompanied by Timothy Lord and his trusty camcorder. Yes, there's a transcription. But the video tour itself is better, even though it regretfully does not include the delightful aroma of Saké being made. (Someday, perhaps, Slashdot Studios will be equipped for Smell-O-Vision, but that's at least a few years off.)
SchrodingerZ writes "Seen from the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) in Chile; scientists have detected a gas giant planet focusing material from a gas cloud toward a main star. The star, HD 142527, is a young 2 million years old, and is 450 light-years from Earth. The system has 'A disk of spinning dust and gas left over from its formation... and from this material, planets are being created.' The planetesimals are drawing material from the dust cloud inward, effectively fueling the expansion of the parent star, currently twice the size of our own Sun. 'Theoretical simulations have predicted such bridges between outer and inner portions of disks surrounding stars, but none have been directly observed until now.' Simon Casassus, lead scientist at the University of Chile, said, 'Currently, the only mechanism known to produce such gap-crossing dense molecular flows, with residual carbon monoxide gas more diffusely spread out inside the gap, is planetary formation.' While the planets currently are not visible, their presence is very noticeable. More examination of the dust cloud is needed to precisely pinpoint the planet(s)."
First time accepted submitter mromanuk writes in with a story about scientists at Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich who have created an atomic gas that goes below absolute zero. "It may sound less likely than hell freezing over, but physicists have created an atomic gas with a sub-absolute-zero temperature for the first time. Their technique opens the door to generating negative-Kelvin materials and new quantum devices, and it could even help to solve a cosmological mystery."
astroengine writes "Using elevation data from NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, software engineer Kevin Gill was inspired to create a virtual version of the red planet with a difference. 'I had been doing similar models of Earth and have seen attempts by others of showing life on Mars, so I figured I'd give it a go,' Gill told Discovery News. 'It was a good way to learn about the planet, be creative and improve the software I was rendering it in.' He included oceans, lakes, clouds and a biosphere — a view of a hypothetical ancient Mars that looks wonderfully like home."
iComp points out an interesting project in Derbyshire, northern England. "Bioboffins at the Health and Safety Laboratory in Derbyshire, UK, have developed a robot that can projectile vomit on command as a tool for studying the spread of the highly infectious norovirus. Reuters reports that the hyperemetic droid has been dubbed 'Vomiting Larry' by its creator, researcher Catherine Makison, who describes it as a 'humanoid simulated vomiting system.' The goal of said vomiting system is to study the reach and dispersion of human vomitus, which is one of the primary ways that diseases such as norovirus can spread. Norovirus is a fairly common viral infection that is sometimes known as the 'winter vomiting bug' due to its increased prevalence in the colder months. Outbreaks are generally triggered when humans ingest contaminated food or water, but can continue when subsequent people come in contact with surfaces that have been contaminated by the initial patient's effluvium."
astroengine writes "A rare Martian meteorite recently found in Morocco contains minerals with 10 times more water than previously discovered Mars meteorites, a finding that raises new questions about when and how long the planet most like Earth in the solar system had conditions suitable for life. The meteorite, known as Northwest Africa (NWA) 7034, is the second-oldest of 110 named stones originating from Mars that have been retrieved on Earth. Purchased from a Moroccan meteorite dealer in 2011, the black, baseball-sized stone, which weighs less than 1 pound, is 2.1 billion years old, meaning it formed during what is known as the early Amazonian era in Mars' geologic history. 'It's from a time on Mars that we actually don't know much about,' geologist Carl Agee, with the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque, told Discovery News."