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The Truth About Solar Storms

timothy posted 3 hours ago | from the deepen-the-basement dept.

Communications 36

StartsWithABang (3485481) writes On Wednesday, The Washington Post ran a story about a very large solar flare two years ago that missed Earth, but not by too much. From a scientific point of view, what is it that happens when a solar flare interacts with Earth, and what are the potential dangers to both humans and humanities infrastructure? A very good overview, complete with what you can do — as both an individual and a power company — to minimize the risk and the damage when the big one comes. Unlike asteroids, these events happen every few centuries, and in our age of electronics, would now create a legitimate disaster.

Google Looking To Define a Healthy Human

Soulskill posted 7 hours ago | from the bet-this-one's-going-to-get-Godwinned-quick dept.

Medicine 101

rtoz writes: Google's moonshot research division, "Google X," has started "Baseline Study," a project designed to collect anonymous genetic and molecular information from 175 people (and later thousands more) to create a complete picture of what a healthy human being should be. The blueprint will help researchers detect health problems such as heart disease and cancer far earlier, focusing medicine on prevention rather than treatment. According to Google, the information from Baseline will be anonymous, and its use will be limited to medical and health purposes. Data won't be shared with insurance companies.

SLS Project Coming Up $400 Million Short

Soulskill posted 8 hours ago | from the opportunity-for-real-life-iron-man dept.

NASA 113

schwit1 writes: A GAO report finds that the Space Launch System is over budget and NASA will need an additional $400 million to complete its first orbital launch in 2017. From the article: "NASA isn't meeting its own requirements for matching cost and schedule resources with the congressional requirement to launch the first SLS in December 2017. NASA usually uses a calculation it calls the 'joint cost and schedule confidence level' to decide the odds a program will come in on time and on budget. 'NASA policy usually requires a 70 percent confidence level for a program to proceed with final design and fabrication,' the GAO report says, and the SLS is not at that level. The report adds that government programs that can't match requirements to resources 'are at increased risk of cost and schedule growth.'

In other words, the GAO says SLS is at risk of costing more than the current estimate of $12 billion to reach the first launch or taking longer to get there. Similar cost and schedule problems – although of a larger magnitude – led President Obama to cancel SLS's predecessor rocket system called Constellation shortly after taking office." The current $12 billion estimate is for the program's cost to achieve one unmanned launch. That's four times what it is costing NASA to get SpaceX, Boeing, and Sierra Nevada to build their three spaceships, all scheduled for their first manned launches before 2017.

Siberian Discovery Suggests Almost All Dinosaurs Were Feathered

Soulskill posted 9 hours ago | from the tyrannosaurus-big-bird dept.

Science 116

A new study published in Science (abstract) suggests that most dinosaurs were covered with feathers. This conclusion was drawn after the discovery of fossils belonging to a 1.5-meter-long, two-legged dinosaur called Kulindadromeus zabaikalicus. "The fossils, which included six skulls and many more bones, greatly broaden the number of families of dinosaurs sporting feathers—downy, ribboned, and thin ones in this case—indicating that plumes evolved from the scales that covered earlier reptiles, probably as insulation." Its distinctiveness from earlier theropod fossil discoveries suggests that feathered dinosaurs appeared much further back in history than previously thought. Paleontologist Stephen Brusatte said, "This does mean that we can now be very confident that feathers weren't just an invention of birds and their closest relatives, but evolved much deeper in dinosaur history. I think that the common ancestor of dinosaurs probably had feathers, and that all dinosaurs had some type of feather, just like all mammals have some type of hair."

Earth In the Midst of Sixth Mass Extinction: the 'Anthropocene Defaunation'

Soulskill posted 12 hours ago | from the i-blame-the-schools dept.

Earth 242

mspohr writes: A special issue of Science magazine devoted to 'Vanishing Fauna' publishes a series of articles about the man-caused extinction of species and the implications for ecosystems and the climate. Quoting: "During the Pleistocene epoch, only tens of thousands of years ago, our planet supported large, spectacular animals. Mammoths, terror birds, giant tortoises, and saber-toothed cats, as well as many less familiar species such as giant ground sloths (some of which reached 7 meters in height) and glyptodonts (which resembled car-sized armadillos), roamed freely. Since then, however, the number and diversity of animal species on Earth have consistently and steadily declined. Today we are left with a relatively depauperate fauna, and we continue to lose animal species to extinction rapidly. Although some debate persists, most of the evidence suggests that humans were responsible for extinction of this Pleistocene fauna, and we continue to drive animal extinctions today through the destruction of wild lands, consumption of animals as a resource or a luxury, and persecution of species we see as threats or competitors." Unfortunately, most of the detail is behind a paywall, but the summary should be enough to get the point across.

How a Solar Storm Two Years Ago Nearly Caused a Catastrophe On Earth

Soulskill posted yesterday | from the call-ahead-before-dropping-by dept.

Space 196

schwit1 writes: On July 23, 2012, the sun unleashed two massive clouds of plasma that barely missed a catastrophic encounter with the Earth's atmosphere. These plasma clouds, known as coronal mass ejections (CMEs), comprised a solar storm thought to be the most powerful in at least 150 years. "If it had hit, we would still be picking up the pieces," physicist Daniel Baker of the University of Colorado tells NASA. Fortunately, the blast site of the CMEs was not directed at Earth. Had this event occurred a week earlier when the point of eruption was Earth-facing, a potentially disastrous outcome would have unfolded.

"Analysts believe that a direct hit could cause widespread power blackouts, disabling everything that plugs into a wall socket. Most people wouldn't even be able to flush their toilet because urban water supplies largely rely on electric pumps. ... According to a study by the National Academy of Sciences, the total economic impact could exceed $2 trillion, or 20 times greater than the costs of a Hurricane Katrina. Multi-ton transformers damaged by such a storm might take years to repair." Steve Tracton put it this way in his frightening overview of the risks of a severe solar storm: "The consequences could be devastating for commerce, transportation, agriculture and food stocks, fuel and water supplies, human health and medical facilities, national security, and daily life in general."

Comet To Make Close Call With Mars

samzenpus posted yesterday | from the skin-of-your-teeth dept.

Mars 43

sciencehabit writes In mid-October, a comet sweeping through our inner solar system for the first time will pass near Mars—so close, in fact, that if it were buzzing Earth at the same distance it would fly by well inside our moon's orbit. While material spewing from the icy visitor probably won't trigger the colossal meteor showers on the Red Planet that some scientists predicted, dust and water vapor may still slam into Mars, briefly heating up its atmosphere and threatening orbiting spacecraft. However it affects the planet, the comet should give scientists their closest view yet of a near-pristine visitor from the outer edges of our solar system.

Metamason: Revolutionizing CPAP Masks With 3D Scanning and 3D Printing

samzenpus posted yesterday | from the breathing-easy dept.

Medicine 56

First time accepted submitter Leslie Oliver Karpas writes As millions of Americans with Obstructive Sleep Apnea struggle to get a good night's sleep, one company has harnessed 3D technology to revolutionize CPAP therapy. As 3ders.org reported today, "Metamason is working on custom CPAP masks for sleep apnea patients via 3D scanning, smart geometry, and 3D printing." "We're at the crossroads of 3D technology and personalized medicine," says Metamason's founder and CEO. "There are many medical products that would be infinitely more comfortable and effective with a customized fit. CPAP therapy is the perfect example—it's a very effective treatment with a 50% quit rate, because mass-produced masks are uncomfortable and don't fit properly." CPAP is a respiratory device worn during sleep to treat OSA, which affects 1 in 4 men and 1 in 9 women in the US alone. Metamason's "ScanFitPrint" process for creating their custom Respere masks translates a 3D scan of the patient's face into a 3D printed custom mask that is a perfect individual fit. To print the masks in soft, biocompatible silicone, Metamason invented a proprietary 3D printing process called Investment Molding, which creates wholly integrated products that were previously considered "unmoldable."

Lawrence Krauss: Congress Is Trying To Defund Scientists At Energy Department

samzenpus posted yesterday | from the let-the-science-flow dept.

United States 269

Lasrick writes Physicist Lawrence Krauss blasts Congress for their passage of the 2015 Energy and Water Appropriations bill that cut funding for renewable energy, sustainable transportation, and energy efficiency, and even worse, had amendments that targeted scientists at the Department of Energy: He writes that this action from the US Congress is worse even than the Australian government's move to cancel their carbon tax, because the action of Congress is far more insidious: "Each (amendment) would, in its own way, specifically prohibit scientists at the Energy Department from doing precisely what Congress should mandate them to do—namely perform the best possible scientific research to illuminate, for policymakers, the likelihood and possible consequences of climate change." Although the bill isn't likely to become law, Krauss is fed up with Congress burying its head in the sand: The fact that those amendments "...could pass a house of Congress, should concern everyone interested in the appropriate support of scientific research as a basis for sound public policy."

Laser Eye Surgery, Revisited 10 Years Later

Unknown Lamer posted yesterday | from the waiting-for-the-laser-vision-option dept.

Medicine 520

gunner_von_diamond (3461783) happened upon Ask Slashdot: Experiences with Laser Eye Surgery from ten years ago, and asks: I was just reading a story on /. from 10 years ago about Lasik Eye Surgery. Personally, I've had Lasik done and loved every single part of the surgery. I went from wearing contacts/glasses every day to having 20/15 vision! In the older post, everyone seemed to be cautious about it, waiting for technical advances before having the surgery. Today, the surgery is fairly inexpensive [even for a programmer :) ], takes about 10-15 minutes, and I recovered from the surgery that same day. So my question is: what is holding everyone else back from freeing themselves from contacts and glasses?

Black Holes Not Black After All, Theorize Physicists

Unknown Lamer posted yesterday | from the lemon-chiffon-hole dept.

Space 206

KentuckyFC (1144503) writes Black holes are singularities in spacetime formed by stars that have collapsed at the end of their lives. But while black holes are one of the best known ideas in cosmology, physicists have never been entirely comfortable with the idea that regions of the universe can become infinitely dense. Indeed, they only accept this because they can't think of any reason why it shouldn't happen. But in the last few months, just such a reason has emerged as a result of intense debate about one of cosmology's greatest problems — the information paradox. This is the fundamental tenet in quantum mechanics that all the information about a system is encoded in its wave function and this always evolves in a way that conserves information. The paradox arises when this system falls into a black hole causing the information to devolve into a single state. So information must be lost.

Earlier this year, Stephen Hawking proposed a solution. His idea is that gravitational collapse can never continue beyond the so-called event horizon of a black hole beyond which information is lost. Gravitational collapse would approach the boundary but never go beyond it. That solves the information paradox but raises another question instead: if not a black hole, then what? Now one physicist has worked out the answer. His conclusion is that the collapsed star should end up about twice the radius of a conventional black hole but would not be dense enough to trap light forever and therefore would not be black. Indeed, to all intents and purposes, it would look like a large neutron star.

Empathy For Virtual Characters Studied With FMRI Brain Imaging

Unknown Lamer posted yesterday | from the little-billy-loved-hearing-virtual-screams dept.

Science 50

vrml (3027321) writes "A novel brain imaging study published by the prestigious Neuroimage journal sheds light on different reactions that players' brains display when they meet a virtual character in a game world. While their head was inside a fMRI machine, participants played an interactive virtual experience in which they had to survive a serious fire emergency in a building by reaching an exit as soon as possible. However, when they finally arrived at the exit, they also found a virtual character trapped under an heavy cabinet, begging them for help. Some participants chose not to help the character and took the exit, while others stopped to help although the fire became more and more serious and moving away the cabinet required considerable time. Functional brain imaging showed activation of very different brain areas in players when they met the character. When there was an increased functional connectivity of the brain salience network, which suggests an enhanced sensitivity to the threatening situation and potential danger, players ignored the character screams and went for the exit. In those players who helped the character, there was an engagement of the medial prefrontal and temporo-parietal cortices, which in the neuroscience literature are associated with the human ability of taking the perspective of other individuals and making altruistic choices. The paper concludes by emphasizing how virtual worlds can be a salient and ecologically valid stimulus for modern social neuroscience."

Ebola Outbreak Continues To Expand

samzenpus posted 2 days ago | from the mask-and-gloves dept.

Medicine 167

symbolset writes in with the latest about an ebola outbreak spreading across West Africa. The World Health Organization (WHO) continues to monitor the evolution of the Ebola virus disease (EVD) outbreak in Sierra Leone, Liberia, and Guinea. The current epidemic trend of EVD outbreak in Sierra Leone and Liberia remains serious, with 67 new cases and 19 deaths reported July 15-17, 2014. These include suspect, probable, and laboratory-confirmed cases. The EVD outbreak in Guinea continues to show a declining trend, with no new cases reported during this period. Critical analyses and review of the current outbreak response is being undertaken to inform the process of developing prioritized national operational plans. Effective implementation of the prioritized plans will be vital in reversing the current trend of EVD outbreak, especially in Liberia and Sierra Leone.

Finding Life In Space By Looking For Extraterrestrial Pollution

Soulskill posted 2 days ago | from the assuming-the-little-green-men-are-not-too-green dept.

Space 94

coondoggie writes: If what we know as advanced life exists anywhere other than Earth, then perhaps they are dirtying their atmosphere as much as we are. We could use such pollution components to perhaps more easily spot such planets. That's the basis of new research published this week by researchers at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics. They say that if we could spot the fingerprints of certain pollutants under ideal conditions (PDF), it would offer a new approach in the search for extraterrestrial intelligence."

'Optical Fiber' Made Out of Thin Air

Soulskill posted 2 days ago | from the sufficiently-advanced-technology dept.

Communications 115

Dave Knott writes: Scientists from the University of Maryland say they have turned thin air into an "optical fiber" that can transmit and amplify light signals without the need for any cables. As described in the research, this was accomplished by generating a laser with its light split into a ring of multiple beams forming a pipe. Very short and powerful pulses from the laser are used to heat the air molecules along the beam extremely quickly. Such rapid heating produces sound waves that take about a microsecond to converge to the center of the pipe, creating a high-density area surrounded by a low-density area left behind in the wake of the laser beams. The lower density region of air surrounding the center of the air waveguide has a lower refractive index, keeping the light focused, and allowing the higher-density region (with its correspondingly higher index of refraction) to act like an optical fiber. The findings, reported in the journal Optica, have applications in long range laser communications, high-resolution topographic mapping, air pollution and climate change research, and could also be used by the military to make laser weapons.

SpaceX Releases Video of Falcon Rocket's Splashdown

Unknown Lamer posted 2 days ago | from the future-actually-happening dept.

Space 49

First time accepted submitter cowdung (702933) writes In spite of Elon Musk's characterization of the landing as a KABOOM event. Judging by this video SpaceX has managed to land the first stage rocket booster nicely on the ocean after their Orbcomm launch on July 14th. It seems we're one step closer to a landing on dry land. Both this and the previous landing seem to have gone well. Hopefully the next landing test camera has something to deice the camera lens.

China Plans Particle Colliders That Would Dwarf CERN's LHC

Unknown Lamer posted 2 days ago | from the embracing-destiny-as-a-type-13-planet dept.

China 216

ananyo (2519492) writes Scientists at the Institute of High Energy Physics (IHEP) in Beijing, working with international collaborators, are planning to build a "Higgs factory" by 2028 — a 52-kilometer underground ring that would smash together electrons and positrons. Collisions of these fundamental particles would allow the Higgs boson to be studied with greater precision than at the much smaller (27 km) Large Hadron Collider at CERN, Europe's particle-physics laboratory near Geneva, Switzerland. Physicists say that the proposed US$3-billion machine is within technological grasp and is considered conservative in scope and cost. But China hopes that it would also be a stepping stone to a next-generation collider — a super proton-proton collider — in the same tunnel. The machine would be a big leap for China. The country's biggest current collider is just 240 meters in circumference.

Oso Disaster Had Its Roots In Earlier Landslides

Soulskill posted 2 days ago | from the learning-lessons dept.

Earth 63

vinces99 writes: The disastrous March 22 landslide that killed 43 people in the rural Washington state community of Oso involved the "remobilization" of a 2006 landslide on the same hillside, a new federally sponsored geological study concludes. The research indicates the landslide, the deadliest in U.S. history, happened in two major stages. The first stage remobilized the 2006 slide, including part of an adjacent forested slope from an ancient slide, and was made up largely or entirely of deposits from previous landslides. The first stage ultimately moved more than six-tenths of a mile across the north fork of the Stillaguamish River and caused nearly all the destruction in the Steelhead Haven neighborhood. The second stage started several minutes later and consisted of ancient landslide and glacial deposits. That material moved into the space vacated by the first stage and moved rapidly until it reached the trailing edge of the first stage, the study found. "Perhaps the most striking finding is that, while the Oso landslide was a rare geologic occurrence, it was not extraordinary," said Joseph Wartman, a University of Washington associate professor of civil and environmental engineering and a team leader for the study.

Researchers Successfully Cut HIV DNA Out of Human Cells

Soulskill posted 3 days ago | from the uses-for-your-trusty-nanoknife dept.

Medicine 63

mrspoonsi sends word that researchers from Temple University have managed to eliminate the HIV-1 virus from human cells for the first time. "When deployed, a combination of a DNA-snipping enzyme called a nuclease and a targeting strand of RNA called a guide RNA (gRNA) hunt down the viral genome and excise the HIV-1 DNA (abstract). From there, the cell's gene repair machinery takes over, soldering the loose ends of the genome back together – resulting in virus-free cells." While antiretroviral therapy can treat people who are infected with HIV, the immune system is incapable of actually removing the virus, so this is an important step in fighting it. The researchers still have to overcome the problem of delivering the the genetic "toolkit" to each affected cell in a patient's body, and also HIV's high mutation rate.

Why Are the World's Scientists Continuing To Take Chances With Smallpox?

Soulskill posted 3 days ago | from the what-could-possibly-go-wrong dept.

Medicine 189

Lasrick writes: MIT's Jeanne Guillemin looks at the recent blunders with smallpox and H5N1 at the Centers for Disease Control and the National Institutes of Health to chronicle the fascinating history of smallpox eradication efforts and the attempts (thwarted by Western scientists) to destroy lab collections of the virus in order to make it truly extinct. "In 1986, with no new smallpox cases reported, the World Health Assembly, the decision-making body of the WHO, resolved to destroy the strain collections and make the virus extinct. But there was resistance to this; American scientists in particular wanted to continue their research." Within a few years, secret biological warfare programs were discovered in Moscow and in Iraq, and a new flurry of defensive research was funded. Nevertheless, Guillemin and others believe that changes in research methods, which no longer require the use of live viruses, mean that stocks of the live smallpox virus can and should finally be destroyed.

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