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Communications

Astronomers Pinpoint Location of Mysterious Cosmic Radio Bursts (bbc.com) 50

New submitter Netdoctor writes: Fast Radio Bursts (FRB) are massively powerful short-lived radio bursts from far-away sources, and so far a number of theories exist on what generates them. Recently several were detected in the same general location, which adds to the mystery, as any of these pulses would be powerful enough to destroy a source. Since this group of FRBs were detected with single radio telescope dishes, the exact location was difficult to pinpoint. BBC reports here with results from the Very Large Array in New Mexico being trained on the source. From the report: "Outlining their work at a major conference, astronomers say they have now traced the source of one of these bursts to a different galaxy. Dr Chatterjee, from Cornell University, New York, and colleagues used a multi-antenna radio telescope called the Very Large Array (VLA), which had sufficient resolution to precisely determine the location of a flash known as FRB 121102. In 83 hours of observing time over six months in 2016, the VLA detected nine bursts from FRB 121102. In addition to detecting the bright bursts from FRB 121102, the team's observations also revealed an ongoing, persistent source of weaker radio emission in the same region. The flashes and the persistent source must be within 100 light-years of each other, and scientists think they are likely to be either the same object or physically associated with one another. He said some features of the radio source resembled those associated with large black holes. But he said these were typically found only in large galaxies."
NASA

NASA Unveils Two New Missions To Study Truly Strange Asteroids (space.com) 86

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Space.com: NASA's next low-cost planetary missions will attempt to unravel the mysteries of some seriously bizarre asteroids. The space agency has selected projects called Lucy and Psyche via its Discovery Program, which funds highly focused space missions to destinations throughout the solar system. The Lucy project will investigate the Trojan asteroids, which share an orbit with Jupiter, while Psyche will journey to the asteroid belt to study a huge, metallic asteroid named 16 Psyche that resides there. Lucy is scheduled to launch in October 2021. If all goes according to plan, the probe will visit an asteroid in the main asteroid belt -- located between Mars and Jupiter -- in 2025, and then go on to study six Trojan asteroids between 2027 and 2033, NASA officials said. There are two streams of Trojan asteroids. One trails Jupiter, and the other leads the giant planet around the sun. Scientists think both streams may be planetary building blocks that formed far from the sun before being captured into their current orbits by Jupiter's powerful gravity. Psyche will explore one of the oddest objects in the solar system -- a 130-mile-wide (210 kilometers) metallic asteroid that may be the core of an ancient, Mars-size planet. Violent collisions billions of years ago might have stripped away the layers of rock that once lay atop this metallic object, scientists say. Psyche is scheduled to launch in October 2023 and arrive at the asteroid in 2030, NASA officials said.
Data Storage

Scientists Turn Memory Chips Into Processors To Speed Up Computing Tasks (sciencedaily.com) 73

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Science Daily: A team of international scientists have found a way to make memory chips perform computing tasks, which is traditionally done by computer processors like those made by Intel and Qualcomm. This means data could now be processed in the same spot where it is stored, leading to much faster and thinner mobile devices and computers. This new computing circuit was developed by Nanyang Technological University, Singapore (NTU Singapore) in collaboration with Germany's RWTH Aachen University and Forschungszentrum Juelich, one of the largest interdisciplinary research centers in Europe. It is built using state-of-the-art memory chips known as Redox-based resistive switching random access memory (ReRAM). Developed by global chipmakers such as SanDisk and Panasonic, this type of chip is one of the fastest memory modules that will soon be available commercially. However, instead of storing information, NTU Assistant Professor Anupam Chattopadhyay in collaboration with Professor Rainer Waser from RWTH Aachen University and Dr Vikas Rana from Forschungszentrum Juelich showed how ReRAM can also be used to process data. This discovery was published recently in Scientific Reports. By making the memory chip perform computing tasks, space can be saved by eliminating the processor, leading to thinner, smaller and lighter electronics. The discovery could also lead to new design possibilities for consumer electronics and wearable technology.
Medicine

Scientists Identify New Organ In Humans (livescience.com) 112

Scientists have classified a new organ called the mesentery, which connects a person's small and large intestines to the abdominal wall and anchors them in place, according to the Mayo Clinic. Until recently, it was thought of a number of distinct membranes by most scientists. It was none other than Leonardo da Vinci who identified the membranes as a single structure, according to a recent review. Live Science reports: In the review, lead author Dr. Calvin Coffey, a professor of surgery at the University of Limerick's Graduate Entry Medical School in Ireland, and colleagues looked at past studies and literature on the mesentery. Coffey noted that throughout the 20th century, anatomy books have described the mesentery as a series of fragmented membranes; in other words, different mesenteries were associated with different parts of the intestines. More recent studies looking at the mesentery in patients undergoing colorectal surgery and in cadavers led Coffey's team to conclude that the membrane is its own, continuous organ, according to the review, which was published in November in the journal The Lancet Gastroenterology and Hepatology. The reclassification of the mesentery as an organ "is relevant universally as it affects all of us," Coffey said in a statement. By recognizing the anatomy and the structure of the mesentery, scientists can now focus on learning more about how the organ functions, Coffey said. In addition, they can also learn about diseases associated with the mesentery, he added.
Power

Solar Could Beat Coal to Become the Cheapest Power on Earth In Less Than a Decade (bloomberg.com) 504

Solar power is now cheaper than coal in some parts of the world. In less than a decade, it's likely to be the lowest-cost option almost everywhere, reports Bloomberg. From the article: In 2016, countries from Chile to the United Arab Emirates broke records with deals to generate electricity from sunshine for less than 3 cents a kilowatt-hour, half the average global cost of coal power. Now, Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Mexico are planning auctions and tenders for this year, aiming to drop prices even further. Taking advantage: Companies such as Italy's Enel SpA and Dublin's Mainstream Renewable Power, who gained experienced in Europe and now seek new markets abroad as subsidies dry up at home. Since 2009, solar prices are down 62 percent, with every part of the supply chain trimming costs. That's help cut risk premiums on bank loans, and pushed manufacturing capacity to record levels. By 2025, solar may be cheaper than using coal on average globally, according to Bloomberg New Energy Finance. The solar supply chain is experiencing "a Wal-Mart effect" from higher volumes and lower margins, according to Sami Khoreibi, founder and chief executive officer of Enviromena Power Systems. The speed at which the price of solar will drop below coal varies in each country. Places that import coal or tax polluters with a carbon price, such as Europe and Brazil, will see a crossover in the 2020s, if not before. Countries with large domestic coal reserves such as India and China will probably take longer.
Medicine

France Begins Opt-Out Organ Donation (theoutline.com) 445

Laura June, reporting for The Outline: France began to use a new opt-out system of organ donation on Jan. 1, making it one of a large number of European nations that now use a "presumed consent" system. This means that any adult who dies will now donate their organs by default, regardless of their survivors' wishes, unless they have signed a refusal registry in advance. The new law gets around what has historically been a stumbling block for organ donation: the surviving families of the deceased. A survey in France previously showed that while up to 80 percent of the population was in favor of donating their own organs, about 40 percent of families refuse when pressed to make the choice.
Space

SpaceX Moves Past Explosion With New Launch Plans (cnn.com) 75

SpaceX plans to resume launching rockets as soon as next week, after completing an investigation into a spectacular launch pad explosion that destroyed a rocket and a satellite in September. From a report on CNN: The news comes following an in-depth investigation into the explosion of a rocket from SpaceX's September mission. The company said in a statement Monday the botched launch was due to a failed pressure vessel in a liquid oxygen tank. The vessel buckled, causing liquid oxygen to accumulate. It believes this led to friction, sparks and the explosion. SpaceX conducted the investigation along with officials from NASA, the Federal Aviation Authority, the U.S. Air Force and the National Transportation Safety Board. The Federal Aviation Administration will have to sign off on the report and issue SpaceX a license to launch. SpaceX appears optimistic it will be launching rockets again soon.
Medicine

Baby's Skull Rebuilt With Help From A 3D Printer (newsday.com) 41

schwit1 writes: A team at Stony Brook Children's Hospital was able to use a 3-D printer to produce a replica of baby Vincent's skull, which, in turn, allowed the medical team to fully rehearse the surgery long before they stepped into the operating room. Through a collaboration with Medical Modeling in Colorado, known now as 3D Systems, Egnor and Duboys were able to virtually plan the entire surgery in advance. Duboys said images from a CT scan of baby Vincent's head were sent to the company, which then manufactured a model skull using the CT information as a template. The company also created a model of what Vincent's skull should look like after surgery.
Science

Let's Raise A Glass To The Many Tech Pioneers Who Died In 2016 (slashdot.org) 64

In technology, you're always "standing on the shoulders" of those who came before you -- and together, each individual's contribution becomes part of a larger ongoing story. So as this year finally winds to a close, click through to see our list of some of the pioneers who left us in 2016. And feel free to share any memories and reflections of your own in the comments.
Space

Astronomers Detect Mysterious Radio Signals Coming From Outside Our Galaxy (sciencealert.com) 205

This week the New York Post reported on "powerful radio signals which have been detected repeatedly in the same exact location in space," generating as much energy as the sun does in a whole day, in "the only known instance in which these signals have been found twice in the same location in space." Slashdot reader schwit1 quotes Science Alert: Back in March, scientists detected 10 powerful bursts of radio signals coming from the same location in space. And now researchers have just picked up six more of the signals seemingly emanating from the same region, far beyond our Milky Way... Currently, the leading hypothesis for the source of the Milky Way's FRB is the cataclysmic collision of two neutron stars, which forms a black hole. The idea is that as this collision happens, huge amounts of short-lived radio energy are blasted out into space. But the repeating nature of these distant signals, all coming from the same place, suggest that can't be the case... the most likely hypothesis at the moment for these outer-galactic FRB is that they're coming from an exotic object such as a young neutron star, that's rotating with enough power to regularly emit the extremely bright pulses.
But the New York Post thinks it's aliens.
Mars

NASA Designs 'Ice Dome' For Astronauts On Mars (phys.org) 126

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Phys.Org: The "Mars Ice Home" is a large inflatable dome that is surrounded by a shell of water ice. NASA said the design is just one of many potential concepts for creating a sustainable home for future Martian explorers. The idea came from a team at NASA's Langley Research Center that started with the concept of using resources on Mars to help build a habitat that could effectively protect humans from the elements on the Red Planet's surface, including high-energy radiation. The advantages of the Mars Ice Home is that the shell is lightweight and can be transported and deployed with simple robotics, then filled with water before the crew arrives. The ice will protect astronauts from radiation and will provide a safe place to call home, NASA says. But the structure also serves as a storage tank for water, to be used either by the explorers or it could potentially be converted to rocket fuel for the proposed Mars Ascent Vehicle. Then the structure could be refilled for the next crew. Other concepts had astronauts living in caves, or underground, or in dark, heavily shielded habitats. The team said the Ice Home concept balances the need to provide protection from radiation, without the drawbacks of an underground habitat. The design maximizes the thickness of ice above the crew quarters to reduce radiation exposure while also still allowing light to pass through ice and surrounding materials.
China

China Says It Will Shut Down Ivory Trade By End of 2017 (go.com) 67

An anonymous reader quotes a report from ABC News: China says it plans to shut down its ivory trade by the end of 2017 in a move designed to curb the mass slaughter of African elephants. The Chinese government will end the processing and selling of ivory and ivory products by the end of March as it phases out the legal trade, according to a statement released on Friday. China had previously announced it planned to shut down the commercial trade, which conservationists described as significant because China's vast, increasingly affluent consumer market drives much of the elephant poaching across Africa. China, which has supported an ivory-carving industry as part of its cultural heritage, said carvers will be encouraged to change their activities and work, for example, in the restoration of artifacts for museums. More efforts will be made to stop the illegal trade, the statement said. China has allowed trade in ivory acquired before a 1989 ban on the ivory trade by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, which seeks to regulate the multi-billion-dollar trade in wild animals and plants. The number of Africa's savannah elephants dropped by about 30 percent from 2007 to 2014, to 352,000, because of poaching, according to a study published this year. Forest elephants, which are more difficult to count, are also under severe threat.
Transportation

Self-Driving Cars Will Make Organ Shortages Even Worse (slate.com) 295

One of the many ways self-driving cars will impact the world is with organ shortages. It's a morbid thought, but the most reliable sources for healthy organs and tissues are the more than 35,000 people killed each year on American roads. According to the book "Driverless: Intelligent Cars and the Road Ahead," 1 in 5 organ donations comes from the victim of a vehicular accident. Since an estimated 94 percent of motor-vehicle accidents involve some kind of a driver error, it's easy to see how autonomous vehicles could make the streets and highways safer, while simultaneously making organ shortages even worse. Slate reports: As the number of vehicles with human operators falls, so too will the preventable fatalities. In June, Christopher A. Hart, the chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board, said, "Driverless cars could save many if not most of the 32,000 lives that are lost every year on our streets and highways." Even if self-driving cars only realize a fraction of their projected safety benefits, a decline in the number of available organs could begin as soon as the first wave of autonomous and semiautonomous vehicles hits the road -- threatening to compound our nation's already serious shortages. We're all for saving lives -- we aren't saying that we should stop self-driving cars so we can preserve a source of organ donation. But we also need to start thinking now about how to address this coming problem. The most straightforward fix would be to amend a federal law that prohibits the sale of most organs, which could allow for development of a limited organ market. Organ sales have been banned in the United States since 1984, when Congress passed the National Organ Transplant Act after a spike in demand (thanks to the introduction of the immunosuppressant cyclosporine, which improved transplant survival rates from 20-30 percent to 60-70 percent) raised concerns that people's vital appendages might be "treated like fenders in an auto junkyard." Others feared an organ market would exploit minorities and those living in poverty. But the ban hasn't completely protected those populations, either. The current system hasn't stopped organ harvesting -- the illegal removal of organs from the recently deceased without the consent of the person or family -- either in the United States or abroad. It is estimated that, worldwide, as many as 10,000 black market medical operations are performed each year that involve illegally purchased organs. So what would an ethical fix to our organ transplant shortage look like? To start, while there's certainly a place for organ donation markets in the United States, implementation will be understandably slow. There are, however, small steps that can get us closer to a just system. For one, the country could consider introducing a "presumed consent" rule. This would change state organ donation registries from affirmative opt-in systems (checking that box at the DMV that yes, you do want to be an organ donor) to an affirmative opt-out system where, unless you state otherwise, you're presumed to consent to be on the list.
Earth

Satellite Spots Massive Object Hidden Under the Frozen Wastes of Antarctica (thesun.co.uk) 296

schwit1 quotes a report from The Sun: Scientists believe a massive object which could change our understanding of history is hidden beneath the Antarctic ice. The huge and mysterious "anomaly" is thought to be lurking beneath the frozen wastes of an area called Wilkes Land. It stretches for a distance of 151 miles across and has a maximum depth of about 848 meters. Some researchers believe it is the remains of a truly massive asteroid which was more than twice the size of the Chicxulub space rock which wiped out the dinosaurs. If this explanation is true, it could mean this killer asteroid caused the Permian-Triassic extinction event which killed 96 percent of Earth's sea creatures and up to 70 percent of the vertebrate organisms living on land.This "Wilkes Land gravity anomaly" was first uncovered in 2006, when NASA satellites spotted gravitational changes which indicated the presence of a huge object sitting in the middle of a 300 mile wide impact crater.
Medicine

Paintings Reveal Signs of Alzheimer's and Parkinson's In Famous Artists (gizmodo.com) 24

Researchers from the University of Liverpool believe it is possible to detect cognitive decline in the paintings of famous artists by analyzing subtle changes in their brush strokes over time. The technique may one day be used to flag Alzheimer's and Parkinson's in artists before they're diagnosed. Gizmodo reports: A new study published in Neuropsychology shows that a mathematical technique known as "fractal analysis" can be used to detect signs of neurodegeneration in an artist's work. A research team led by Alex Forsythe from the University of Liverpool's School of Psychology made the discovery by examining 2,092 paintings from the careers of seven famous artists who experienced either normal aging or neurodegenerative disorders. Using fractal analysis, the researchers were able to identify complex geometric patterns in the brushstrokes of each artist. Fractals can reveal hidden and often self-repeating patterns in everyday objects and phenomena. These distinctive geometrical shapes are like fingerprints, allowing scientists to match an artist with his or her work. With this in mind, Forsythe's team sought to learn if variations in an artist's fractal fingerprint over time are a function of increasing age, or if neurological decline has something to do with it. For the study, the researchers examined paintings from four artists known to have suffered from either Parkinson's or Alzheimer's, namely Salvadore Dali, Norval Morrisseau, James Brooks, and Willem De Kooning. The researchers also studied the works of three artists who had no known neurodegenerative problems: Marc Chagall, Pablo Picasso, and Claude Monet. Fractal analysis demonstrated clear patterns of change among the artists who suffered neurological deterioration compared to those who aged normally. In all cases, the fractal fingerprints changed, but the fractal dimensions produced by the Parkinson's and Alzheimer's artists showed consistent patterns that were distinguishable from the healthy group.
Government

Wisconsin's Department of Natural Resources Site No Longer Says Humans Cause Climate Change (theverge.com) 371

The website of Wisconsin's Department of Natural Resources has been updated with new language and no longer says that humans and greenhouse emissions cause climate change. Instead, the site says that the causes of global warming "are being debated and researched by academic entities." The problem is that almost all climate scientists agree that human-made greenhouse gases are responsible for climate change, and that global warming is a big issue that needs to be addressed. Prior to the revision, the site said "human activities that increase heat-trapping ("green house") gases are the main cause." The Verge reports: DNR spokesperson Jim Dick told the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel in an email that the "updated page reflects our position on this topic that we have communicated for years, that our agency regularly must respond to a variety of environmental and human stressors from drought, flooding, wind events to changing demographics." This does not address the question of why the new language implies that we do not know what causes climate change. This is the latest anti-environment move from Wisconsin's government, which has de-emphasized global warming since Republican Gov. Scott Walker took office in 2011. So far, Wisconsin is the only state that appears to be revising its website, but more states could follow suit now that it's clear climate science will be attacked under President-elect Donald Trump.
China

Chinese Rocket Fails To Put Two Satellites Into Correct Orbits (spaceflightnow.com) 113

schwit1 writes: Tracking data suggests that two Earth-observation satellites launched today by China's Long March 2D rocket were placed in the wrong orbits. Spaceflight Now reports: "The two SuperView 1, or Gaojing 1, satellites are flying in egg-shaped orbits ranging from 133 miles (214 kilometers) to 325 miles (524 kilometers) in altitude at an inclination of 97.6 degrees. The satellites would likely re-enter Earth's atmosphere within months in such a low orbit, and it was unclear late Wednesday whether the craft had enough propellant to raise their altitudes. The high-resolution Earth-observing platforms were supposed to go into a near-circular orbit around 300 miles (500 kilometers) above the planet to begin their eight-year missions collecting imagery for Siwei Star Co. Ltd., a subsidiary of China Aerospace Science and Technology Corp., a government-owned entity."
Medicine

Scientists Develop a Breathalyzer That Detects 17 Diseases With One Breath From a Patient (qz.com) 99

randomErr quotes a report from Quartz: In the last 10 years, researchers have developed specific sniff tests for diagnosing tuberculosis, hypertension, cystic fibrosis, and even certain types of cancer. A group of global researchers led by Hossam Haick at the Israel Institute of Technology have taken the idea a step further. They've built a device -- a kind of breathalyzer -- that is compact and can diagnose up to 17 diseases from a single breath of a patient. The breathalyzer has an array of specially created gold nanoparticles, which are sized at billionths of a meter, and mixed with similar-sized tubes of carbon. These together create a network that is able to interact differently with each of the nearly 100 volatile compounds that each person breaths out (apart from gases like nitrogen, oxygen, and carbon dioxide). Haick's team collected 2,800 breaths from more than 1,400 patients who were each suffering from at least one of 17 diseases (in three classes: cancer, inflammation, and neurological disorders). Each sample of the disease was then passed through the special breathalyzer, which then produced a dataset of the types of chemicals it could detect and in roughly what quantities. The team then applied artificial intelligence to the dataset to search for patterns in the types of compounds detected and the concentrations they were detected at. As they report in the journal ACS Nano, the data from the breathalyzer could be used to accurately detect that a person is suffering from a unique disease nearly nine out of ten times.
Bug

Nevada Website Bug Leaks Thousands of Medical Marijuana Dispensary Applications (zdnet.com) 55

An anonymous reader quotes a report from ZDNet: Nevada's state government website has leaked the personal data on over 11,700 applicants for dispensing medical marijuana in the state. Each application, eight pages in length, includes the person's full name, home address, citizenship, and even their weight and height, race, and eye and hair color. The applications also include the applicant's citizenship, their driving license number (where applicable), and social security number. Security researcher Justin Shafer found the bug in the state's website portal, allowing anyone with the right web address to access and enumerate the thousands of applications. Though the medical marijuana portal can be found with a crafted Google search query, we're not publishing the web address out of caution until the bug is fixed. A spokesperson for the Nevada Dept. Health and Human Services, which runs the medical marijuana application program, told ZDNet that the website has been pulled offline to limit the vulnerability. The spokesperson added that the leaked data was a "portion" of one of several databases.
Government

FDA Releases New Cybersecurity Guidelines For Medical Devices (theverge.com) 40

An anonymous reader quotes a report from The Verge: The U.S. Food and Drug Administration released its recommendations for how medical device manufacturers should maintain the security of internet-connected devices, even after they've entered hospitals, patient homes, or patient bodies. Unsecured devices can allow hackers to tamper with how much medication is delivered by the device -- with potentially deadly results. First issued in draft form last January, this guidance is more than a year in the making. The 30-page document (PDF) encourages manufacturers to monitor their medical devices and associated software for bugs, and patch any problems that occur. But the recommendations are not legally enforceable -- so they're largely without teeth. The FDA issued an earlier set of recommendations in October 2014 (PDF), which recommended ways for manufacturers to build cybersecurity protections into medical devices as they're being designed and developed. Today's guidance focuses on how to maintain medical device cybersecurity after devices have left the factory. The guidelines lay out steps for recognizing and addressing ongoing vulnerabilities. And they recommend that manufacturers join together in an Information Sharing and Analysis Organization (ISAO) to share details about security risks and responses as they occur. Most patches and updates intended to address security vulnerabilities will be considered routine enhancements, which means manufacturers don't have to alert the FDA every time they issue one. That is, unless someone dies or is seriously harmed because of a bug -- then the manufacturer needs to report it. Dangerous bugs identified before they harm or kill anyone won't have to be reported to the FDA as long as the manufacturer tells customers and device users about the bug within 30 days, fixes it within 60 days, and shares information about the vulnerability with an ISAO.

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