Rare 'Annular Solar Eclipse' Tonight 116

New submitter Trubacca writes "The Northern-Pacific "Ring of Fire" has an opportunity tonight to observe an entirely different "ring of fire": an annular solar eclipse where the moon, owing to its distance from the Earth, seems smaller than the apparent diameter of the sun. This results in the fiery ring for which the phenomenon takes its name. Space.com has a decent write-up on the path of the eclipse, times, and tips for safe-viewing."

Turning Soap Film Into a Projector Screen 37

An anonymous reader writes "3 graduate students from University of Tokyo, Carnegie Mellon University, and the University of Tsukuba have developed a colloidal display — a clear projector screen that can control its transparency. Normally soap film will allow light to pass through, but the colloidal display does not. It mixes colloid into the solution and uses ultra sonic speakers to vibrate the surface of the soap film to achieve this. They have created several prototypes, such as 3D planar screen, to show how this technology can be useful."

Quantifying the Risk of Texting Drivers 217

An anonymous reader writes "More than 5000 people die each year as a result of being distracted while driving, and a new study indicates that teens and cell phones make for the most volatile combination. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates that of all drivers under 20 involved in fatal crashes, 16 percent were distracted — the highest proportion of any age group. 'Shockingly, texting drivers took their eyes off the road for each text an average of 4.6 seconds — which at 55 mph, means they were driving the length of a football field without looking,' said David Hosansky."

California Considers DNA Privacy Law 119

ananyo writes "California lawmakers are weighing a bill aimed at protecting their state's citizens from surreptitious genetic testing but scientists are voicing their growing concerns that, if passed, such a law would have a costly and damaging effect on research. The bill, dubbed the Genetic Information Privacy Act, would require an individual's written consent for the collection, analysis, retention, and sharing of his or her genetic information—including DNA, genetic test results, and even family disease history. The University of California has submitted a formal letter objecting to the bill, estimating that the measure could increase administrative costs by up to $594,000 annually — money which would come out of the cash-strapped state's General Fund. The university has also expressed concern that its researchers would suffer competitive losses in obtaining research grants."

Video On Hand for the SpaceX Launch That Almost Was (Video) 100

This morning's nixed launch of SpaceX's Dragon capsule to the ISS with the company's Falcon booster was an exciting thing to be on hand for, despite the (literally) last-second halt. Shuttle launches used to cause miles of traffic backups extending well outside the gates of NASA's Cape Canaveral launch facilities; for all the buzz around the first private launch to the ISS, today's launch attempt was much more sparsely attended. In a small set of bleachers set up near the massive countdown clock, there were a few dozen enthusiasts and reporters aiming their cameras and binoculars at the launch site on the horizon. They counted down in time with the clock, and — just like NASA's own announcer — reached all the way to "liftoff." There was a brief flash as the engines ignited, but it died as fast as it appeared. It took only a few seconds for the crowd to realize that it was all over for today's shot. While the company's representatives remain upbeat, pointing out that the software worked as intended to stop a launch before anomalies turn into catastrophes, most of those on hand to see what they'd hoped to be a historic launch were a bit glum as they walked back to the parking lot and the press area — especially the ones who can't stay until the next try. I'm sticking around the area until the next scheduled launch window; hopefully next time the fates (and engines) will align.
Input Devices

Kinect In the Operating Room 54

colinneagle writes with an excerpt from Network World: "Guy's and St Thomas' Hospital in London began trials of a Kinect-driven camera last week that would sense body position, and by waving his or her hands, the surgeon can sift through medical images, such as CT scans or real-time X-rays, while in the middle of an operation. During surgery, a surgeon will stop and consult medical images anywhere from once an hour to every few minutes. So the surgeon doesn't have to leave the table, the doctor will work with assistants, but sometimes, if you want things done to your satisfaction, you have to do it yourself. Dr. Tom Carrell, a consultant vascular surgeon at Guy's and St Thomas', described an operation on a patient's aorta earlier this month to New Scientist. 'Up until now, I'd been calling out across the room to one of our technical assistants, asking them to manipulate the image, rotate one way, rotate the other, pan up, pan down, zoom in, zoom out.' With the Kinect, he says, 'I had very intuitive control.'"

Falcon 9 Launch Aborted At Last Minute 149

ClockEndGooner writes "Sadly, SpaceX had to abort its launch of the Falcon 9 to the International Space Station this morning due to higher than expected pressure levels in one of its engine chambers. NASA and SpaceX have another launch window scheduled for early next week." Probably better than an engine failing during launch; hopefully everything is worked out for Tuesday.

Supervolcano Drilling Plan Gets Go-Ahead 109

sciencehabit writes "A project to drill deep into the heart of a 'supervolcano' in southern Italy has finally received the green light, despite claims that the drilling would put the population of Naples at risk of small earthquakes or an explosion. Yesterday, Italian news agency ANSA quoted project coordinator Giuseppe De Natale of Italy's National Institute of Geophysics and Volcanology as saying that the office of Naples mayor Luigi de Magistris has approved the drilling of a pilot hole 500 meters deep. The project’s organizers originally intended to bore a 4-kilometer-deep well in the area of the caldera late in 2009, but the plan was put on hold by then-mayor Rosa Russo Iervolino after scientists expressed concerns about the risks."

How NASA and SpaceX Get Along Together 110

mblase writes "SpaceX and NASA have been working hard to make this weekend's launch happen — and that has meant navigating the cultural differences between this small, young startup and the huge veteran space agency. The relationship involves daily calls and emails between people who live in two different worlds: age versus youth, bureaucracy versus a flat startup-like structure, and a sense of caution versus a desire to move forward quickly. But they both have an almost religious belief in the need for humans to venture forth into space, a geeky love for rockets, and technical know-how — plus, they both need each other to succeed." The launch is scheduled for 4:55AM EDT (08:55 GMT) tomorrow morning. NASA TV will begin coverage at 3:30AM EDT, and there will be a press conference at 8:30AM. SpaceX's press kit (PDF) has mission details. The rendezvous with the ISS is scheduled for day 4 of the mission after a series of maneuvering tests to ensure the Dragon capsule can approach safely. It carries 1,200 pounds of supplies for the people aboard the ISS, and it carries 11 science experiments designed by students.

The Nearest Supernova Candidate To Earth: IK Pegasi 55

The Bad Astronomer writes "What's the nearest star to Earth that can explode as a supernova? Spica, at 260 light years away, is the nearest massive star that can explode, but IK Pegasi — a Sirius-like binary composed of a normal star and a white dwarf — will also one day blow. At a distance of 150 light years, it's truly the closest supernova candidate. Happily, that's too far away to damage the Earth when it goes off — and it won't explode for millions of years at least, by which time it'll be even farther away. Either way, we're safe... for now."

Slo-mo Microbes Extend the Frontiers of Life 40

ananyo writes "A newly-discovered microbial community living tens of meters beneath the Pacific Ocean floor uses so little oxygen that researchers believe they may be living at the absolute minimum energy requirement needed to subsist. For years, scientists thought that the ascetic conditions of the deep sub-seabed — high pressure, minimal oxygen and a low supply of nutrients and energy — made such environments uninhabitable to any form of life. The discovery extends the lower bound for life (abstract). The surface of Mars, for instance, may be inhospitable, but there may be conditions below the surface that are reminiscent of the deep subsurface on Earth. As microbiologist Bo Jørgensen comments in the Nature piece, while the discovery does not mean there is life on Mars, 'it's now really challenging to show where there is no life.'"

Geeks In the Public Forum? 326

cedarhillbilly writes "In his new book The Geek Manifesto, Mark Henderson 'pleads for citizens who value science to force it onto the mainstream political agenda and other main walks of life.' There are some important questions that need answers: 'Do you have to give up your tech practice to undertake a public role?' Also, 'Is political life (compromise, working by consensus, irrationality) antithetical to the "geek" values?'" The Guardian's coverage sums up the idea nicely: "What I desperately want is a move toward an evidence-based culture in politics. Politicians are free to say: 'I think people on drugs should be punished because drugs are immoral.' That's a moral call, albeit a rather stupid one in my opinion. What they shouldn't do is say: 'I want to reduce drug use, and sending all users to prison is the most cost-effective way to achieve that.' That's not a moral call, it's a factual statement; as such it should be evidence-based, or else the person making it should shut the hell up."

'Inexact' Chips Save Power By Fudging the Math 325

Barence writes "Computer scientists have unveiled a computer chip that turns traditional thinking about mathematical accuracy on its head by fudging calculations. The concept works by allowing processing components — such as hardware for adding and multiplying numbers — to make a few mistakes, which means they are not working as hard, and so use less power and get through tasks more quickly. The Rice University researchers say prototypes are 15 times more efficient and could be used in some applications without having a negative effect."

Researchers Use Google's Search Algorithms To Fight Cancer 52

MatthewVD writes "German scientists have modified Google's PageRank algorithm to scan tumors and learn more about how cancers progress. PageRank orders results based on how other web pages are connected to them via hyperlinks; the modified algorithm, NetRank, scans how genes and proteins in a cell are similarly connected through a network of interactions with their neighbors. This approach could also yield new therapies to help combat tumors."

Paralyzed Woman Uses Mind-Controlled Robot Arm 43

MrSeb writes "Using BrainGate, the world's most advanced brain-computer interface, a woman with quadriplegia has used a mind-controlled robot arm to serve herself coffee — an act she hasn't been able to perform for 15 years. BrainGate, which is being developed by a team of American neuroscientists from Brown and Stanford universities, and is currently undergoing clinical trial, requires a computer chip to be implanted in the motor cortex of the patient, which it then transmits to a computer for processing. Like all brain-computer interfaces, the user must train the software — but once this is done, you simply think of a movement, and the software moves the robot accordingly. Moving forward, the researchers would like to miniaturize the system and make it wireless — at the moment, BrainGate users have a box attached to their head, and they're tethered to a computer — which is OK for robot arm use at home, but obviously doesn't grant much mobility. The work was partly funded by DARPA, with the hope of creating more advanced prosthetics for wounded war veterans." This comes on the heels of a 71-year-old man regaining motor function in his fingers after doctors rewired his nerves to bypass the damaged ones.

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