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NASA On Full Court Press To Deflate Doomsday Prophecies 286

coondoggie writes "Insidious unknown planets lurking behind the sun ready to slam into Earth, supernova set to engulf the planet and giant, unseen asteroids screaming toward our globe are all theories espoused across the Internet as to how we will meet our demise on 12/21/2012. Do any of these theories even remotely hold out a scintilla of evidence they could happen? Not even remotely if you look at the material NASA has put out which pretty much debunks any and all of the notions being floated in across the cybersphere."

Scientists Make Fish Grow "Hands" In Experiment Revealing How Fins Became Limbs 110

An anonymous reader writes "While fossils have long shown that limbs evolved from fins, scientists have shown live in the laboratory how the transition may have happened. Researchers said that the new study published in the journal Developmental Cell offers evidence revealing that the development of hands and feet occurred through the acquisition of new DNA elements capable of activating specific genes."

China's Chang'E 2 Succeeds In Thrilling Asteroid Flyby 88

Zothecula writes "China has now joined the very select group of countries to have succeeded in carrying out an interplanetary probe mission. According to reports from China's official news agency Xinhua, the Chang'E 2 probe passed a mere 3.2 km (2 miles) from the near-Earth asteroid Toutatis at 8:30:09 GMT on December 13, making it the closest asteroid flyby to date ... and resulting in some remarkable photographs."

Austria's Mobile Drug Lab Could Test Street-Drug Effects, Too 34

carmendrahl writes "In Austria, people can submit their street drugs to a lab-on-a-bus to ensure they got what they paid for. The government is using the bus to track emergence of new variants of bath salts and other drugs. Now, researchers have developed a test they'd like to add to the bus's offerings: it assesses drug action (full paper) instead of just reporting chemical structure."

Australia Plans To Drill 2,000-Year-Old Ice Core In Antarctica 62

An anonymous reader writes "Australia announced Saturday a new project to drill a deep ice core in Antarctica, which may shed light on past climatic conditions in the continent. The project, Aurora Basin North project, will involve researchers drilling a 2,000-year-old ice core, in order to search for the scientific 'holy grail' of the ice core."

When Writing, How Anonymous Can You Be, Really? 184

An anonymous reader writes "Do you still think your online writing is, basically, anonymous? Think again! Research has it people put much of their personal traits into their writing, and computers may just be able to pick them up. That's at least what a recently announced competition on author identification (Given a document, who wrote it?) and author profiling (Given a document, what are its author's age and gender?) wants to find out. Alas, re-using other people's writing is no solution either; there's also a competition on plagiarism detection (Given a document, is it an original?). Wanna revisit your recent rants?"

Views of the Asteroid Toutatis, From Earth As Well As Close-Up 23

When Chinese probe Chang'e buzzed the asteroid Toutatis, it wasn't the only one watching. NASA's observatory in Goldstone, CA was taking radar images, which have now been assembled into a short (40-second) animation. The craft was recording the encounter, too, as reported by Sky & Telescope, which also gives a good summary of the history behind Chang'e's mission.

Video Tour of the International Space Station 71

SternisheFan writes with an excerpt from Bad Astronomer Phil Plait, writing at Slate: "Before she came back to Earth in a ball of fire surrounding her Russian re-entry capsule, astronaut Sunita Williams took time out of her packing for the trip home to give a nickel tour of the International Space Station. ... I know the video's long, but if you have the time I do suggest watching the whole thing. I have very mixed feelings about the space station; it cost a lot of money, and in my opinion it hasn't lived up to the scientific potential NASA promised when it was being designed. But watching this video reminded me of the good that's come out of it: There is science being done there; we're learning how to design and build hardware for long-term space travel; we're learning just how to live in space (and NASA just announced it will be sending humans into space for an entire year, an unprecedented experiment); and we're finding new ways for nations and individuals to cooperate in space."

Chinese Moon Probe Flies By Asteroid Toutatis 59

hackingbear writes "Chinese moon probe Chang'e-2 made a flyby of the near-earth asteroid Toutatis on December 13 at 16:30:09 Beijing Time (08:30:09 GMT), the State Administration of Science, Technology and Industry for National Defense (SASTIND) announced today. The flyby was the first time an unmanned spacecraft launched from Earth has taken such a close viewing of the asteroid, named after a Celtic god, making China the fourth country after the U.S., the EU and Japan to be able to examine an asteroid by spacecraft. Chang'e-2 came as close as 3.2 km from Toutatis, which is about 7 million km away from the Earth, and took pictures of the asteroid at a relative velocity of 10.73 km per second, the SASTIND said in a statement. Chang'e-2, originally designated as the backup of Chang'e-1, left its lunar orbit for an extended mission to the Earth-Sun L2 Lagrangian point on June 9, 2011, after finishing its lunar objectives, and then again began its mission to Toutatis this year. 'The success of the extended missions also embodies that China now possesses spacecraft capable of interplanetary flight,' said Wu Weiren, chief designer of China's lunar probe program."

ATLAS Results: One Higgs Or Two? 73

TaeKwonDood writes with news from CERN about more results in the search for the Higgs Boson, this time from the ATLAS experiment. Researchers report peaks in the data in accordance with what they'd expect from the Higgs. The curiosity is that the peaks are a couple GeV away from each other. "The ATLAS analyses in these channels return the best fit Higgs masses that differ by more than 3 GeV: 123.5 GeV for ZZ and 126.6 GeV for gamma-gamma, which is much more than the estimated resolution of about 1 GeV. The tension between these 2 results is estimated to be 2.7sigma. Apparently, ATLAS used this last month to search for the systematic errors that might be responsible for the discrepancy but, having found nothing, they decided to go public." Scientific American has a more layman-friendly explanation available. As this work undergoes review, physicists hope more eyes and more data will shed some light on this incongruity. Tommaso Dorigo, a particle physicist working at the CMS experiment at CERN, writes, "Another idea is that the gamma-gamma signal contains some unexpected background which somehow shifts the best-fit mass to higher values, also contributing to the anomalously high signal rate. However, this also does not hold much water — if you look at the various mass histograms produced by ATLAS (there is a bunch here) you do not see anything striking as suspicious in the background distributions. Then there is the possibility of a statistical fluctuation. I think this is the most likely explanation." Matt Strassler provides a broader update to the work proceeding on nailing down the Higgs boson.

People Are Living Longer, With More Disabilities Than Ever 129

skade88 writes "Worldwide, people are living longer. Their lives are starting to look more like the lives of Americans: too much food is a problem, death in childhood is becoming less common, and so on. Yet with a population that lives through what would once have killed us, disabilities are starting to become the norm. A research report from the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation has a good glimpse into the new emerging world we find ourselves in." The Guardian has a nice visualization of the mortality data (but take note of shifting scales on the Y-axis).

Ask Slashdot: Replacing a TI-84 With Software On a Linux Box? 254

yanom writes "I'm currently a high school student using my TI-84 for mathematics courses. It has all the functionality I need (except CAS), but saying that the hardware is dated is putting it nicely. Waiting 4-5 seconds for a simple function to be graphed on its 96x64 screen just makes me want to hurl it at the wall. Recently, I've begun to notice the absurdity of doing my math homework on a 70's era microchip when I have an i7 machine with Linux within arm's reach. I've begun looking for software packages that could potentially replace the graphing calculator's functionality, including Xcas and Maxima, but both lack what I consider basic calculator functionality — xcas can't create a table of values for a function, and maxima can't use degrees, only radians. So, does anyone know of a good software package to replace my graphing calculator (and maybe provide CAS to boot)?"

Fast DNA Origami Opens Way For Nanoscale Machines 21

ananyo writes "DNA strands can be coaxed to fold up into shapes in a matter of minutes, reveals a study published in Science (abstract). The finding could radically speed up progress in the field of DNA origami. DNA origami involves using short DNA strands to hold a longer, folded strand in place at certain points, like sticky tape. Until now, assembling the shape has involved heating the DNA and allowing it to cool slowly for up to a week. But researchers at the Technical University of Munich in Germany have worked out that for most of the cooling period, nothing happens. But when a crucial temperature is reached, the whole structure forms suddenly. The researchers now aim to design nanostructures with optimal folding temperatures close to 37 C, the temperature at which mammalian cell cultures are grown, so that DNA machines could one day be used in biological settings."

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