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NASA Says Asteroid Will Buzz Earth Closer Than Many Satellites 225

coondoggie writes "NASA says an asteroid about half the size of a football field will blow past Earth on Feb 15 closer than many man-made satellites. NASA added that while the asteroid, designated 2012 DA14, has no chance of striking Earth. Since regular sky surveys began in the 1990s, astronomers have never seen an object so big come so close to our planet."

Walk or Run: Are We Built To Be Lazy? 189

sciencehabit writes "A quick visit to Monty Python's Ministry of Silly Walks shows just how many ways humans (or at least British comedians) can think of to travel from point A to point B. So why don't we high kick our way to the bus stop or skip to the grocery store? New research suggests that there may be a deep biomechanical reason governing the gaits we choose in different situations. In short, people consistently choose to walk when they need to travel slower than 2 m/s to reach their goal in the given time; when they needed to move about 3 m/s or faster, they ran. But in between—in 'the twilight zone between walking and running'—people tended to mix the two gaits, minimizing their energy expenditure. The findings could help scientists design better prosthetic limbs and even build more human-like robots"

Will Renewable Energy Ever Meet All Our Energy Needs? 626

Lasrick writes "Dawn Stover has another great piece detailing why renewable energy will never provide us with all our energy needs. She deconstructs the unrealistic World Wildlife Fund report (co-written by several solar companies) that claims renewables will be able to provide 100% of the energy needs of several countries by 2050. From the article: 'When renewable energy experts get together, they tend to rhapsodize about the possibilities, believing that this will somehow inspire others to make their visions come true. But ambitious plans to power entire countries on solar energy (or wind or nuclear power, for that matter) don't have a snowball's chance in Australia. Such schemes are doomed to fail, and not because of the economic "reality" or the political "reality" -- however daunting those may be. They are doomed because of the physical reality: It's simply not physically possible for the world's human population to continue growing in numbers, affluence, and energy consumption without trashing the planet.'"

Oil Detection Methods Miss Important Class of Chemicals 46

MTorrice writes "For decades, scientists studying oil spills have relied on the same analytical methods when tracking the movement of oil and assessing a spill's environmental impact. But these techniques miss an entire class of compounds that could account for about half of the total oil in some samples, according to research presented last week at the Gulf of Mexico Oil Spill & Ecosystem Science Conference, in New Orleans. These chemicals could explain the fate of some of the oil released in the 2010 Deepwater Horizon accident and other spills, the researchers say."

Nearby Star Could Host a Baby Solar System 24

astroengine writes "With the help of Europe's Herschel Space Observatory and the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) in Chile, a team of astronomers have made a lucky discovery about TW Hydrae, the nearest star to the solar system that plays host to a protoplanetary disk. Not only have they gained a more precise estimate of the mass of the material inside the protoplanetary disk, they've also found that it may produce a system of worlds similar to that of the solar system. TW Hydrae may look like the solar system did over 4 billion years ago (abstract). Interestingly, TW Hydrae is also a star that would normally be considered too mature to host a protoplanetary disk. "If there's no chance your project can fail, you're probably not doing very interesting science. TW Hydrae is a good example of how a calculated scientific gamble can pay off," said Thomas Henning, of the Max Planck Institute for Astronomy in Heidelberg."

Interviews: Ask James Randi About Investigating the Truth 386

Better known by his stage name "The Amazing Randi", James Randi has made it his quest to "debunk psychic nonsense, disprove paranormal fakers, and squash claims of pseudoscience in order to bring the truth to the forefront." Randi worked as a popular magician most of his life and earned international fame in 1972 when he accused the famous psychic Uri Geller of being a fraud and challenged him to prove otherwise. In 1996 Randi founded The James Randi Educational Foundation (JREF) a non-profit organization whose mission includes "educating the public and the media on the dangers of accepting unproven claims, and to support research into paranormal claims in controlled scientific experimental conditions." He began offering $1000 in 1964 to anyone who could demonstrate proof of the paranormal. That amount has grown over the years, and the foundation's prize for such proof is now $1M. Around 1000 people have tried to claim the prize so far without success. Randi has agreed to take a break from busting ghostbusters and giving psychic healers a taste of their own medicine in order to answer your questions. As usual, you're invited to ask as many questions as you'd like, but please divide them, one question per post.

Polymer Patches May Enable Effective DNA Vaccines 83

Zothecula writes "Taking a two-month-old in for vaccination shots and watching them get stuck with six needles in rapid succession can be painful for child and parent alike. If the work of an MIT team of researchers pans out, those needles may be thing of the past thanks to a new dissolvable polymer film that allows the vaccination needle to be replaced with a patch. This development will not only make vaccinations less harrowing, but also allow for developing and delivering vaccines for diseases too dangerous for conventional techniques." The patch was designed with delivering DNA-based vaccines in mind. Thus far efforts to use DNA to generate more robust and safe vaccines has failed thanks to the immune system destroying them; the polymer film embeds itself in your skin and slowly dissolves, protecting the DNA in the process.

Putting Biotech Threats In Context 117

Lasrick writes "This article starts with an interesting anecdote: 'In 1998, President Bill Clinton read a novel about biological warfare that deeply disturbed him. In fact, the story reportedly kept him up all night. It’s one of the reasons that Clinton became personally invested in protecting the United States from bioterrorism threats. The book was The Cobra Event (Preston, 1998), a sci-fi thriller by journalist and novelist Richard Preston that told of a mad scientist who brewed a lethal, genetically engineered virus in his New York City apartment. Preston’s tale highlighted the potential ease with which individuals or small groups with access to advanced bioweapons capabilities could launch attacks on major US cities.1 After reading The Cobra Event, Clinton called several advisory meetings and ordered classified assessments and simulation exercises to examine the threat depicted in the story. As a result of these deliberations, by the end of his administration Clinton had increased funding for biodefense preparedness efforts fourfold, to more than $400 million per year.' The article goes on to describe the two trajectories of bioweapons threats, and puts them both in perspective. It may or may not calm everyone who's ever spent a sleepless night after reading one of the many bioterrorism novels"
Open Source

How Open Source Could Benefit Academic Research 84

dp619 writes "Ross Gardler, of Apache Fame, has written a guest post on the Outercurve Foundation blog advocating that universities accelerate the research process through a collaborative sharing and development of research software while examining reasons why many have been reluctant to publish their source code. Quoting: 'These highly specialized software solutions are not rarely engineered for reuse. They are often hacks to answer a specific question quickly. ... What many academic researchers fail to understand is that this specialization problem is not unique to research projects. Most software developers will seek to provide an adequate solution to their specific problem, as quickly as possible. They don't seek to build a perfect, all-purpose, tool set that can be reused in every conceivable circumstance. They simply solve the problem at hand and move on to the next one. The difference is that open source developers will do this incremental problem solving using shared code. They will share that code in incremental steps rather than wait until they've built the complete system they need but is too specific for others to use. Other people will reuse and improve on the initial solution, perhaps generalizing it a little in the process. There is no need to share the details of why one needs a 'green widget' nor is there any reason to prevent someone modifying it so it can be either a 'green widget' or a 'blue widget.'"

Stanford Uses Million-Core Supercomputer To Model Supersonic Jet Noise 66

coondoggie writes "Stanford researchers said this week they had used a supercomputer with 1,572,864 compute cores to predict the noise generated by a supersonic jet engine. 'Computational fluid dynamics simulations test all aspects of a supercomputer. The waves propagating throughout the simulation require a carefully orchestrated balance between computation, memory and communication. Supercomputers like Sequoia divvy up the complex math into smaller parts so they can be computed simultaneously. The more cores you have, the faster and more complex the calculations can be. And yet, despite the additional computing horsepower, the difficulty of the calculations only becomes more challenging with more cores. At the one-million-core level, previously innocuous parts of the computer code can suddenly become bottlenecks.'"

Mutations Helped Humans Survive Siberian Winters 77

sciencehabit writes "Researchers have identified three genetic mutations that appear to have helped humans survive in the frigid climate of Siberia over the last 25,000 years. One helps the body's fat stores directly produce heat rather than producing chemical energy for muscle movements or brain functions, a process called 'nonshivering thermogenesis.' Another is involved in the contraction of smooth muscle, key to shivering and the constriction of blood vessels to avoid heat loss. And the third is implicated in the metabolism of fats, especially those in meat and dairy products—a staple of the fat-laden diets of Arctic peoples."

Microbes Survive, and Maybe Thrive, High In the Atmosphere 37

sciencehabit writes "Each year, hundreds of millions of metric tons of dust, water, and humanmade pollutants make their way into the atmosphere, often traveling between continents on jet streams. Now a new study confirms that some microbes make the trip with them, seeding the skies with billions of bacteria and other organisms—and potentially affecting the weather. What's more, some of these high-flying organisms may actually be able to feed while traveling through the clouds, forming an active ecosystem high above the surface of the Earth."

Google Pledges Pi Million Dollars In Pwnium 3 Prizes 60

chicksdaddy writes "Google cemented its reputation as the squarest company around Monday (pun intended), offering prizes totaling Pi Million Dollars — that's right: $3.14159 million greenbacks — in its third annual Pwnium hacking contest, to be held at the CanSecWest conference on March 7 in Vancouver, British Columbia. Google will pay $110,000 for a browser or system level compromise delivered via a web page to a Chrome user in guest mode or logged in. The company will pay $150,000 for any compromise that delivers 'device persistence' delivered via a web page, the company announced on the chromium blog. 'We believe these larger rewards reflect the additional challenge involved with tackling the security defenses of Chrome OS, compared to traditional operating systems,' wrote Chris Evans of Google's Security Team."

Interviews: Ask Ray Kurzweil About the Future of Mankind and Technology 244

The recipient of nineteen honorary doctorates, and honors from three U.S. presidents, Ray Kurzweil's accolades are almost too many to list. A prolific inventor, Kurzweil created the first CCD flatbed scanner, the first omni-font optical character recognition, the first print-to-speech reading machine for the blind, the first text-to-speech synthesizer, and the first music synthesizer capable of recreating the grand piano and other orchestral instruments. His book, The Singularity Is Near, was a New York Times best seller. and is considered one of the best books about futurism and transhumanism ever written. Mr. Kurzweil was hired by Google in December as Director of Engineering to "work on new projects involving machine learning and language processing." He has agreed to take a short break from creating and predicting the future in order to answer your questions. As usual, you're invited to ask as many questions as you'd like, but please divide them, one question per post.

Asteroid Resources Could Make Science Fiction Dreams and Nightmares a Reality 223

MarkWhittington writes "With two private companies, Planetary Resources and Deep Space Industries, proposing to set up asteroid mining, the prospect of accessing limitless wealth beyond the Earth has caused a bit of media speculation about what that could mean. The question arises, could asteroid resources be used to create the greatest dreams — and perhaps the worst nightmares — of science fiction?"

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