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NASA Scientists Propose New Definition of Planets, and Pluto Could Soon Be Back ( 86

Rei writes: After several years of publicly complaining about the "bullshit" decision at the IAU redefining what comprises a planet, New Horizons program head Alan Stern and fellow planetary geologists have put forth a new definition which they seek to make official, basing planethood on hydrostatic equilibrium. Under this definition, in addition to Ceres, Pluto and other Kuiper Belt objects, large moons like Titan and Europa, as well as our own moon, would also become planets; "planet" would be a physical term, while "moon" would be an orbital term, and hence one can have a planetary moon, as well as planets that orbit other stars or no star at all (both prohibited under the current definition). The paper points out that planetary geologists already refer to such bodies as planets, citing examples such as a paper about Titan: "A planet-wide detached haze layer occurs between 300-350 km above the surface; the visible limb of the planet, where the vertical haze optical depth is 0.1, is about 220 km above the surface."

Apple's New Spaceship Campus Gets a Name, Lifts Off In April ( 85

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Ars Technica: Apple has been building its giant new "spaceship" campus in the company's hometown of Cupertino, California, since December of 2013, and since then fans have paid obsessive attention to the structure. It gets buzzed by drones constantly, and the most popular YouTube videos of the building in progress have amassed well over half-a-million views apiece. The company announced today that the campus will be open to employees starting in April and that the building and environs now have a name: Apple Park. Apple says that moving the 12,000 employees who will work at the campus will take more than six months, and landscaping and construction on some buildings won't be done until the summer. The new campus mostly replaces the university-style Infinite Loop campus Apple has used since 1993, though Apple has said that it will also be keeping the older buildings. The new campus' cost has been estimated at around $5 billion. Apple will also be naming one space on the new campus after its founder and former CEO -- the Steve Jobs Theater will replace the current Town Hall event space that Apple sometimes uses for company meetings and product announcements, and it will open "later this year." The new space will be much larger (it will seat 1,000, compared to roughly 300 for the Town Hall), and the larger space will presumably allow Apple to launch more of its products on its campus rather than having to rent expensive event space in downtown San Francisco. The company is also moving its Worldwide Developers Conference closer to home this year -- it will return to San Jose after many years at the Moscone Center in San Francisco.

Thrilling Discovery of Seven Earth-Sized Planets Orbiting Nearby Star ( 229

At a press conference on Wednesday, NASA scientists announced that they have spotted seven Earth-sized planets orbiting closely around a small, ultra-cool star. The star is 39 light years away. From a report on The Guardian: It is the first time that so many Earth-sized planets have been found in orbit around the same star, an unexpected haul that suggests the Milky Way may be teeming with worlds that, in size and firmness underfoot at least, resemble our own rocky home. The planets closely circle a dwarf star named Trappist-1, which at 39 light years away makes the system a prime candidate to search for signs of life. Only marginally larger than Jupiter, the star shines with a feeble light about 2,000 times fainter than our sun. "The star is so small and cold that the seven planets are temperate, which means that they could have some liquid water and maybe life, by extension, on the surface," said Michael Gillon, an astrophysicist at the University of Liege in Belgium. [...] While the planets have Earth-like dimensions, their sizes ranging from 25 percent smaller to 10 percent larger, they could not be more different in other features. Most striking is how compact the planet's orbits are. Mercury, the innermost planet in the solar system, is six times farther from the sun than the outermost seventh planet is from Trappist-1.

Why Astronauts Are Banned From Getting Drunk in Space ( 154

Bryan Lufkin, writing for BBC: "Alcohol is not permitted onboard the International Space Station for consumption," says Daniel G Huot, spokesperson for Nasa's Johnson Space Center. "Use of alcohol and other volatile compounds are controlled on ISS due to impacts their compounds can have on the station's water recovery system." For this reason, astronauts on the space station are not even provided with products that contain alcohol, like mouthwash, perfume, or aftershave. Spilling beer during some drunken orbital hijinks could also risk damaging equipment. [...] There could be another reason to avoid frothy drinks like beer -- without the assistance of gravity, liquid and gases can tumble around in an astronaut's stomach, causing them to produce rather soggy burps.

NASA Is Studying A Manned Trip Around The Moon On A $23 Billion Rocket ( 302

An anonymous reader shares a report on NASA's ongoing work on a manned trip to the moon. From the report: Without a new administrator even nominated yet, NASA's acting head Robert Lightfoot on Wednesday requested a study of whether next year's first flight of the Space Launch System rocket, billed as the most powerful NASA has built, could have a crew of astronauts. "I know the challenges associated with such a proposition," Lightfoot said in a letter to his agency, citing costs, extra work, and "a different launch date" for the planned 2018 Exploration Mission-1 (EM-1). The mission would be launched by the massive SLS, which is still in development, then boosted by a European service module to put three astronauts inside the new Orion space capsule on a three-week trip around the moon. NASA first sent three astronauts around the moon in 1968 in the Apollo 8 mission. The last astronaut to stand on the moon, the late Gene Cernan returned to Earth in 1972. The new talk of a repeat moon-circling mission, aboard an untested spacecraft, has space policy experts variously thrilled, dismissive, and puzzled. "I frankly don't quite know what to say about it," space policy expert John Logsdon of George Washington University said. Writing on NASAWatch, Keith Cowing called the study request a "Hail Mary" pass to save the life of the SLS ahead of Trump installing a budget cutter to head the space agency. The Government Accountability Office estimates the costs of SLS and its two planned launches (a second, crewed mission is planned for 2023) at $23 billion.

NASA Scientist Revive 10,000-Year-Old Microorganisms ( 109

"Scientists have extracted long-dormant microbes from inside the famous giant crystals of the Naica mountain caves in Mexico -- and revived them," reports the BBC. An anonymous reader writes: "The organisms were likely to have been encased in the striking shafts of gypsum at least 10,000 years ago, and possibly up to 50,000 years ago," according to the BBC, which calls the strange lifeforms "another demonstration of the ability of life to adapt and cope in the most hostile of environments." With no light, extremophile species must "chemosynthesise," deriving all their energy by extracting minerals from rocks. These ancient microbes "are not very closely related to anything in the known genetic databases," according to the new director of NASA's Astrobiology Institute, who helped conduct the research, and believes that the microbes could help suggest what life might look like on other planets. The BBC adds that many other scientists "suspect that if life does exist elsewhere in the Solar System, it is most likely to be underground, chemosynthesising like the microbes of Naica."

Serious Computer Glitches Can Be Caused By Cosmic Rays ( 263

The Los Alamos National Lab wrote in 2012 that "For over 20 years the military, the commercial aerospace industry, and the computer industry have known that high-energy neutrons streaming through our atmosphere can cause computer errors." Now an anonymous reader quotes Computerworld: When your computer crashes or phone freezes, don't be so quick to blame the manufacturer. Cosmic rays -- or rather the electrically charged particles they generate -- may be your real foe. While harmless to living organisms, a small number of these particles have enough energy to interfere with the operation of the microelectronic circuitry in our personal devices... particles alter an individual bit of data stored in a chip's memory. Consequences can be as trivial as altering a single pixel in a photograph or as serious as bringing down a passenger jet.

A "single-event upset" was also blamed for an electronic voting error in Schaerbeekm, Belgium, back in 2003. A bit flip in the electronic voting machine added 4,096 extra votes to one candidate. The issue was noticed only because the machine gave the candidate more votes than were possible. "This is a really big problem, but it is mostly invisible to the public," said Bharat Bhuva. Bhuva is a member of Vanderbilt University's Radiation Effects Research Group, established in 1987 to study the effects of radiation on electronic systems.

Cisco has been researching cosmic radiation since 2001, and in September briefly cited cosmic rays as a possible explanation for partial data losses that customer's were experiencing with their ASR 9000 routers.

Alaska Gets 'Artificial Aurora' As HAARP Antenna Array Listens Again ( 69

Freshly Exhumed quotes Hackaday: The famous HAARP antenna array is to be brought back into service for experiments by the University of Alaska. Built in the 1990s for the US Air Force's High Frequency Active Auroral Research Program, the array is a 40-acre site containing a phased array of 180 high-frequency antennas and their associated high-power transmitters. Its purpose is to conduct research on charged particles in the upper atmosphere, but that hasn't stopped an array of bizarre conspiracy theories.
A university space physics researcher will actually create an artificial aurora starting Sunday (and continuing through Wednesday) to study how yjr atmosphere affects satellite-to-ground communications, and "observers throughout Alaska will have an opportunity to photograph the phenomenon," according to the University. "Under the right conditions, people can also listen to HAARP radio transmissions from virtually anywhere in the world using an inexpensive shortwave radio."

SpaceX's Next Launch Carries Colonies Of A Drug-Resistant Superbug ( 56

An anonymous reader quotes Business Insider: SpaceX is preparing to launch a lethal, antibiotic-resistant superbug into live its days in the microgravity environment of the International Space Station. The idea is not to weaponize space with MRSA -- a bacterium that kills more Americans every year than HIV/AIDS, Parkinson's disease, emphysema, and homicide combined -- but to send its mutation rates into hyperdrive, allowing scientists to see the pathogen's next moves well before they appear on Earth. The NASA-funded study will see SpaceX's Falcon 9 rocket launch colonies of MRSA into space, to be cultivated in the US National Laboratory on the International Space Station.

"We will leverage the microgravity environment on the ISS to accelerate the Precision Medicine revolution here on Earth," lead researcher Anita Goel, CEO of biotech company Nanobiosym, told Yahoo News... "Our ability to anticipate drug-resistant mutations with Gene-RADAR will lead to next generation antibiotics that are more precisely tailored to stop the spread of the world's most dangerous pathogens," says Goel.

That launch was scheduled for today, but SpaceX postponed it to "take a closer look at positioning of the second stage engine nozzle." [UPDATE: The launch was completed successfully on Sunday.] Two more externally-mounted payloads will conduct other experiments, with one monitoring lightning strikes on earth and the other measuring chemicals in the earth's atmosphere. In addition, there's also 21 science experiments that were submitted by high school students

Meanwhile, Slashdot reader tomhath brings news that researchers have discovered the red berries of a U.S. weed can help fight superbugs. The researchers found "extracts from the Brazilian peppertree, which traditional healers in the Amazon have used for hundreds of years to treat skin and soft-tissue infections, have the power to stop methicillin-resistant MRSA infections in mice." One of the researchers said the extract "weakens the bacteria so the mouse's own defenses work better."

Juno Jupiter Probe Won't Move Into Shorter Orbit After All ( 56

NASA announced today that their Juno spacecraft will not move into a closer orbit around Jupiter as originally planned. "Juno slipped into a highly elliptical, 53-Earth-day-long orbit around Jupiter when it arrived at the giant planet on July 4, 2016," reports From their report: The probe was supposed to perform an engine burn in October to reduce its orbital period to 14 days, but an issue with two helium valves postponed that maneuver. The engine burn has now been canceled, meaning Juno will stay where it is through the end of its mission. "During a thorough review, we looked at multiple scenarios that would place Juno in a shorter-period orbit, but there was concern that another main engine burn could result in a less-than-desirable orbit," Rick Nybakken, Juno project manager at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California, said in a statement. "The bottom line is, a burn represented a risk to completion of Juno's science objectives." But Juno should still be able to accomplish its mission goals in the longer orbit, NASA officials said. In fact, the 53-day path will allow the probe to perform some "bonus science" in the outer regions of Jupiter's magnetosphere, they added.

Astronomers Discover 60 New Planets Including 'Super Earth' ( 38

schwit1 quotes a report from New York Post: An international team of astronomers has found 60 new planets orbiting stars close to Earth's solar system, including a rocky "super Earth." The experts also found evidence of an additional 54 planets, bringing the potential discovery of new worlds to 114. One planet in particular, Gliese 411b, has been generating plenty of attention. Described as a "hot super Earth with a rocky surface," Gliese 411b is located in the fourth-nearest star system to the Sun, making it the third-nearest planetary system to the Sun, according to the U.K.'s University of Hertfordshire, which participated in the research. Gliese 411b (also known as GJ 411b or Lalande 21185) orbits the star Gliese 411 (or GJ 411). Despite the "super Earth" label, Dr. Mikko Tuomi from University of Hertfordshire's Centre for Astrophysics told Fox News that Gliese 411b is too hot for life to exist on its surface. The 60 new planets are found orbiting stars that are mostly some 20 to 300 light years away, according to Tuomi. The discoveries are based on observations taken over 20 years by U.S. astronomers using the Keck-I telescope in Hawaii as part of the Lick-Carnegie Exoplanet Survey. During the course of the research, scientists obtained almost 61,000 observations of 1,600 stars, which are now available to the public.

Lost Winston Churchill Essay Reveals His Thoughts On Alien Life ( 187

"A newly discovered essay by Winston Churchill shows that the British statesman gave a lot of thought to the existential question that has inspired years of scientific research and blockbuster movies: are we alone in the University?" reports The Verge. "The essay was drafted in the 1930s, but unearthed in a museum in Missouri last year." Astrophysicist Mario Livio was the first scientist to analyze the article and has published his comments in the journal Nature. The Verge reports: Livio was "stunned" when he first saw the unpublished, 11-page essay on the existence of alien life, he tells The Verge. The astrophysicist was visiting Westminster College in Fulton, Missouri, for a talk last year, when he was approached by Timothy Riley, the director of Fulton's US National Churchill Museum. Riley showed him the essay, titled "Are We Alone in the Universe?" In the essay, Churchill reasons that we can't possibly be alone in the Universe -- and that many other Suns will likely have many other planets that could harbor life. Because of how enormously distant these extrasolar planets are, we may never know if they "house living creatures, or even plants," Churchill concludes. He wrote this decades before exoplanets were discovered in the 1990s; hundreds have since been detected. What's impressive about the essay is the way Churchill approaches the existential and scientific question of whether life exists on other planets, Livio says. Churchill's reasoning mirrors extremely well the way scientists think about this problem today. The British leader also talks about several theories that still guide the search for alien life, Livio says. For example, he notes that water is the key ingredient for life on Earth, and so finding water on other planets could mean finding life there. Churchill also notes that life can only survive in regions "between a few degrees of frost and the boiling point of water" -- what today we call the habitable zone, the region around a star that is neither too hot or too cold, so that liquid water may exist on the planet's surface.

JavaScript Attack Breaks ASLR On 22 CPU Architectures ( 157

An anonymous reader quotes a report from BleepingComputer: Five researchers from the Vrije University in the Netherlands have put together an attack that can be carried out via JavaScript code and break ASLR protection on at least 22 microprocessor architectures from vendors such as Intel, AMD, ARM, Allwinner, Nvidia, and others. The attack, christened ASLRCache, or AnC, focuses on the memory management unit (MMU), a lesser known component of many CPU architectures, which is tasked with improving performance for cache management operations. What researchers discovered was that this component shares some of its cache with untrusted applications, including browsers. This meant that researchers could send malicious JavaScript that specifically targeted this shared memory space and attempted to read its content. In layman's terms, this means an AnC attack can break ASLR and allow the attacker to read portions of the computer's memory, which he could then use to launch more complex exploits and escalate access to the entire OS. Researchers have published two papers [1, 2] detailing the AnC attack, along with two videos[1, 2] showing the attack in action.

ISRO Makes History, Launches 104 Satellites With Single Rocket ( 157

neo12 writes: Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) made history by launching 104 satellites in a single launch. The lift-off of PSLVC 37 at 9.28 am from Sriharikota was a perfect one. In 28 minutes, all 104 satellites were successfully placed into the Earth's orbit. 101 of the 104 satellites belong to six foreign countries, including 96 from the U.S. and one each from Israel, the UAE, the Netherlands, Switzerland and Kazakhstan. According to Times of India, "Russian Space Agency held a record of launching 37 satellites in one go during its mission in June 2014. India previously launched 23 satellites in a single mission in June 2015."

New Office Sensors Know When You Leave Your Desk ( 158

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Bloomberg: About a year ago, in a widely reported story, journalists at British newspaper the Telegraph found little black boxes installed under their desks. The devices, which had "OccupEye" emblazoned on them, detected if employees were at their workstations. Not shockingly, writers and editors were suspicious, worried that bosses were monitoring their moves, even their bathroom breaks. The National Union of Journalists complained to management about Big Brother-style surveillance. The company insisted the boxes were intended to reduce energy costs, ensuring that empty cubicles weren't overheated or over-air-conditioned, but the damage was done, and the devices were removed. Sensors that keep tabs on more than temperature are already all over offices -- they're just less conspicuous and don't have names that suggest Bond villains. "Most people, when they walk into buildings, don't even notice them," says Joe Costello, chief executive officer of Enlighted, whose sensors, he says, are collecting data at more than 350 companies, including 15 percent of the Fortune 500. They're hidden in lights, ID badges, and elsewhere, tracking things such as conference room usage, employee whereabouts, and "latency" -- how long someone goes without speaking to another co-worker. Proponents claim the goal is efficiency: Some sensors generate heat maps that show how people move through an office, to help maximize space; others, such as OccupEye, tap into HVAC systems.

Gravity-Detecting LIGO Also Found To Be Creating Gravity Waves ( 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."

Space Junk-Fighting Cable Fails To Deploy ( 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.

Magic Leap CEO Defends His AR Company After Leaked Photo ( 62

Saturday Business Insider claimed that augmented reality company Magic Leap was "scrambling to finish a working prototype before an important board meeting next week," publishing a photo described by their source as an early January prototype. An anonymous reader quotes Mashable: The image depicts a man with a kit on his back that looks as if it's in the early stages of development, but [CEO Rony] Abovitz's tweet suggested it was not intended as consumer technology. "The photo you are all excited about is NOT what you think it is," he wrote. "The photo shows an @magicleap R&D test rig where we collect room/space data for our machine vision/machine learning work. We do this in order to understand lighting, texture, various surfaces." As Mashable noted earlier, the leaked photo has done little to assuage fears the company's technology has been overhyped... A December report in The Information raised questions about whether Magic Leap was ready for primetime amid concerns that much of its work could not be commercialised or miniaturised. Two former employees also reportedly told the outlet a promotional video showing the technology in action was in fact created by the special effects company, Weta Workshop.
Magic Leap raised $1.39 billion from investors (including Google), and Abovitz's last tweet Saturday reassured fans that "We will not let you down." Mashable even suggested that "this might just be a bit of clever marketing spin by Magic Leap to greatly lower expectations before unveiling a polished product in the coming months... The worst case scenario is that this does represent the latest version of the company's prototype meant for consumers, in which case there's very little chance we will see a Magic Leap device available to consumers any time in 2017."

A Guide To Friday's Comet-Eclipse-Full-Moon Triple Feature ( 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.

Jeff Bezos Talks About Music Streaming, and His Political Ambitions ( 70

In a wide-ranging interview with Billboard, Jeff Bezos, founder and CEO of Amazon, Blue Origin, and owner of The Washington Post, talked about music streaming business. He also talked about whether he desires to become the president of the United States. Excerpts from the interview: On music streaming business, being one of the late ones to join the party:Well, here's what I would say: We've been in the music category since 1998. It was the second category we launched after books. Our customers listen to a lot of music and we have a couple of freight trains kind of pulling the business along. One is Prime, and the other is Echo and Alexa.

On the prospect of seeing President Bezos and other political interests: Oh, no. I don't think so. No. I love my life. I love being an inventor. I love Blue Origin, my space company. I love The Washington Post. They are very good, but the Internet transition was difficult for them -- so I've been able to help them on that. But basically... I have a very full life. And I really like it.

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