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sciencehabit (1205606) writes news that the EyeWire project from MIT has yielded some exciting results. "You open the overstuffed kitchen cabinet and a drinking glass tumbles out. With a ninjalike reflex, you snatch it before it shatters on the floor, as if the movement of the object were being tracked before the information even reached your brain. According to one idea of how the circuitry of the eye processes visual data, that is literally what happens. Now, a deep anatomical study of a mouse retina — carried out by 120,000 members of the public — is bringing scientists a step closer to confirming the hypothesis." The paper (paywalled), and a gallery of screenshots of the game.
sciencehabit (1205606) writes "Seen from above, the jagged rocks strewn about the Chincha Valley desert in Peru seem inconspicuous. But stand in the desert itself and these rocks form lines that stretch toward the horizon. Researchers have found that these lines were probably ancient signposts for the Paracas culture more than 2000 years ago, guiding people across the desert to gathering places for the winter solstice."
samzenpus (5) writes "Stewart Brand trained as a biologist at Stanford, was associated with Ken Kesey and the "Merry Pranksters", and served as an Infantry officer in the U.S. Army. His books include Whole Earth Discipline: The Rise of Ecopragmatism, The Clock of the Long Now, How Buildings Learn, and The Media Lab. He is the founder/editor of the Whole Earth Catalog, the co-founder of The Long Now Foundation, The WELL, and the Global Business Network. His latest project, Revive & Restore, may be his most ambitious yet. Revive and Restore aims to bring back extinct species and provide genetic rescue for endangered species that are spiraling down with inbreeding problems. Mr. Brand has agreed to answer any questions you may have but please limit yourself to one question per post."
sciencehabit (1205606) writes "Near the beginning, the universe was without form and void, and darkness was upon the face of the deep. That's because until about a billion years after the big bang, there were no galaxies or stars to illuminate the heavens, which were then filled primarily with neutral hydrogen gas. But a rare ultra–high-energy stellar explosion called a gamma ray burst has offered a new glimpse into this obscure period—the so-called cosmic dark ages—and may help nail down precisely when it ended. A new study of the explosion's afterglow suggests that such neutral hydrogen abounded a billion years after the big bang, so the dark ages weren't quite over then."
Hugh Pickens DOT Com (2995471) writes "Evan Halper writes in the LA Times that with efforts to reduce carbon emissions lagging, researchers, backed by millions of dollars from the federal government, are looking for ways to protect key industries from the impact of climate change by racing to develop new breeds of farm animals that can stand up to the hazards of global warming. ""We are dealing with the challenge of difficult weather conditions at the same time we have to massively increase food production" to accommodate larger populations and a growing demand for meat, says Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. For example a team of researchers is trying to map the genetic code of bizarre-looking African naked-neck chickens to see if their ability to withstand heat can be bred into flocks of US broilers. "The game is changing since the climate is changing," says Carl Schmidt. "We have to start now to anticipate what changes we have to make in order to feed 9 billion people," citing global-population estimates for 2050." (More below.)
Some exciting news, as reported by the Wall Street Journal, might make you glad that human blood is a renewable resource: "Giving old mice blood from young ones makes them smarter and improves such functions as exercise capacity, according to reports from two research teams that point to new ways to study and potentially treat diseases of aging. In one study, researchers at Stanford University and the University of California, San Francisco found that blood transfusions from young mice reversed cognitive effects of aging, improving the old mice's memory and learning ability. The report was published Sunday in the journal Nature Medicine. Two other reports appearing in Science from researchers at Harvard University found that exposing old mice to a protein present at high levels in the blood of young mice and people improved both brain and exercise capability. An earlier report by some of the same researchers linked injections of the protein to reversal of the effects of aging on the heart. ... What isn't known from all this research, said Buck Institute's Dr. [Brian] Kennedy, is whether young blood might also increase the life span of mice and, if so, what such implications for humans might be."
As reported by Tech Times, research conducted aboard the ISS has shown that Earth bacteria could survive the rigors of travel to Mars better than might be expected. "Research into bacterial colonization on the red planet was not part of the plan to terraform the alien world ahead of human occupation. Instead, three teams investigated how to prevent microbes from Earth from hitching a ride to the red planet aboard spacecraft. It is nearly impossible to remove all biological contaminants from equipment headed to other planets. By better understanding what organisms can survive in space or on the surfaces of other worlds, mission planners can learn which forms of microscopic life to concentrate on during the sanitation process. 'If you are able to reduce the numbers to acceptable levels, a proxy for cleanliness, the assumption is that the life forms will not survive under harsh space conditions,' Kasthuri Venkateswaran of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory and co-author of all three papers, said."
An anonymous reader writes with a snippet from ExtremeTech: "After being continuously inhabited for more than 13 years, it is finally possible to log into Ustream and watch the Earth spinning on its axis in glorious HD. This video feed [embedded at ExtremeTech] comes from from four high-definition cameras, delivered by last month's SpaceX CRS-3 resupply mission, that are attached to the outside of the International Space Station. You can open up the Ustream page at any time, and as long as it isn't night time aboard the ISS, you'll be treated to a beautiful view of the Earth from around 250 miles (400 km) up."
sciencehabit (1205606) writes "First there was 'global warming.' Then many researchers suggested 'climate change' was a better term. Now, White House science adviser John Holdren is renewing his call for a new nomenclature to describe the end result of dumping vast quantities of carbon dioxide and other heat-trapping gases into Earth's atmosphere: 'global climate disruption.'"
From Motherboard comes this description of what may turn out to be the newest entry on the periodic table, newly synthesized element 117, created by researchers at the GSI Helmholtz Centre for Heavy Ion Research of Darmstadt, Germany, and described in results published this week in Physical Review Letters. From the article: "Element 117 has been temporarily given the very literal name ununseptium (one-one-seven in Latin), and will only honored with a real name once the the International Union of Pure and Applied Physics and Chemistry (IUPAPC) confirms its synthesis at the GSI accelerator. Ununseptium is 40 percent heavier than lead, making it on par with the heaviest atoms ever observed. ... Its properties seem to confirm that the existence of the so-called “island of stability”—a theory suggesting that the half-lives of superheavy isotopes will lengthen as their atomic numbers increase further away from uranium. Any element with an atomic number greater than 103 is considered superheavy (or in the 'transactinide class,' if you prefer the scientific jargon). Transactinides can only be observed artificially in a laboratory, and synthesizing them is no easy task." Note: that "real name" process isn't a mere formality; just a few years ago, another attempt to synthesize a 117th element looked promising enough to be declared done, but could not be confirmed with the IUPAPC's tests.
StartsWithABang (3485481) writes "For normal matter — things like protons, neutrons and electrons — there's a fundamental limit to the number of particles you can fit into a given region of space thanks to the Pauli exclusion principle. But photons aren't subject to that limit; in theory, you could cram an infinite number of them into the same exact state. In principle, then, couldn't you create a laser (or lasing cavity) with an infinite amount of energy inside? Perhaps, but there are some big challenges to be overcome!"
StartsWithABang (3485481) writes "For those of us living in or around large cities — and that's most of us — we're completely divorced from dark, clear night skies as part of our routine experience. But even though our skies may typically rate a seven or higher on the Bortle Dark Sky Scale, that doesn't mean that significantly darker skies aren't accessible. Here's how to install an interactive light pollution map for yourself, and find the darkest skies near you no matter where you are! (North American-centric, but resources are provided for those elsewhere in the world.)"
sciencehabit (1205606) writes "Science sat down with Breaking Bad science consultant Donna Nelson, an organic chemist at the University of Oklahoma. Nelson was one of several expert advisers for the show who began consulting several episodes in on multiple topics, including how to make Walt a realistic chemist. She discusses the accuracy of the show, whether making meth is as straightforward as it seems on the series, and her favorite scene."
Zothecula (1870348) writes "An international team of scientists has developed a process that allows them to pinpoint a person's geographical origin going back 1,000 years. Known as the Geographic Population Structure (GPS) tool, the method is accurate enough to locate the village from which the subject's ancestors came, and has significant implications for personalized medical treatment."
Jeremiah Cornelius (137) writes " Did you enjoy your flight, Dr Heywood Floyd?" Boeing unveiled a new concept for the cabin of a future commercial spaceliner, based on the blue-lit Boeing "Sky" interior of the company's modern airliners, as well as work on the company's CST-100 space capsule. "Provided there is a destination for them out there, how will that passenger want to go back and forth?'" said Chris Ferguson, a former astronaut who commanded NASA's final space shuttle mission in 2011 and now serves as Boeing's director of crew and mission operations for the commercial crew program. Boeing developed the CST-100 capsule to compete for NASA's space station crew launch business after the agency retired its space shuttle fleet. The capsule is designed to launch on an expendable Atlas 5 rocket. NASA will be selecting one or more companies in August of this year, with the aim of reaching flight operations in 2017."
Lasrick writes: "Lucien Crowder is fed up with the notion that solutions for climate change would be easier to enact if only the public (especially the American public) understood the science better. Crowder looks to nuclear disarmament advocates as a model, as the move to reduce nuclear weapons has seen comparatively greater success even without public awareness and understanding: 'Indeed, in the nuclear and climate realms, desirable policy often seems to flow less from public engagement than from public obliviousness. Disarmament advocates, no matter how they try, cannot tempt most ordinary people into caring about nuclear weapons—yet stockpiles of weapons steadily, if still too slowly, decrease. Climate advocacy provokes greater passion, but passion often manifests itself as outraged opposition to climate action, and atmospheric carbon has reached levels unseen since before human beings evolved.'"
phyr writes: "ESA Summer of Code in Space (SOCIS) is a program run by the European Space Agency. It aims at offering student developers stipends to write code for various space-related open source software projects. Through SOCIS, accepted student applicants are paired with a mentor or mentors from the participating projects, thus gaining exposure to real-world software development scenarios. In turn, the participating projects are able to more easily identify and bring in new developers. Applicants must be attending a European or Canadian university and will receive 4000 Euros for supporting one of the accepted open source projects. Applicants have until May 15th to submit their proposals and resumes. I'm particularly interested to have exceptional proposals for the NEST project."
KentuckyFC writes: "One of the main goals of the space program is to spot an Earth-like planet orbiting another star. And by Earth-like, astronomers mean a planet with liquid water, gaseous oxygen and even chlorophyll, or a light-harvesting molecule like it. The biosignatures of these molecules were all observed during the first Earth fly-by in 1990 when the Galileo spacecraft measured the light reflected off Earth as it flew past on its way to Jupiter. But if these biosignatures exist on more distant exoplanets, could we spot them today? Now astronomers have calculated how good the next generation of space telescopes will have to be to pick up these biosignatures of life. They say that gaseous water should be relatively straightforward to pick out and that oxygen will be more challenging. But the spectral signature of chlorophyll-like molecules will be much harder to spot, requiring significantly more sensitivity than is possible today (either that or a great deal of luck). That suggests a plan, they say. The next generation of space telescopes should look for water and oxygen on exoplanets orbiting nearby stars and only then begin the time-consuming and expensive task of looking for chlorophyll on the most promising targets. One spacecraft that might do this is the Advanced Technology Large-Aperture Space Telescope or ATLAST that is currently scheduled for launch in the 2025-2035 time frame."
William Robinson writes: "According to a new report, a globular cluster of several thousand stars (compressed into a space just a few dozen light-years apart) is being thrown out of galaxy M87. The cluster, named HVGC-1, is traveling at a rate of 2 million miles per hour. The discovery was made by Nelson Caldwell of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics and his team while studying the space around the supergiant elliptical galaxy M87. Caldwell and colleagues think M87 might have two supermassive black holes at its center. The star cluster wandered too close to the pair, which picked off many of the cluster's outer stars while the inner core remained intact. The black holes then acted like a slingshot, flinging the cluster away at a tremendous speed."
mpicpp (3454017) writes in with good news for everyone worrying about the strength of their shields. "If you have often imagined yourself piloting your X-Wing fighter on an attack run on the Death Star, you'll be reassured that University of Leicester students have demonstrated that your shields could take whatever the Imperial fleet can throw at you. The only drawback is that you won't be able to see a thing outside of your starfighter. In anticipation of Star Wars Day on 4 May, three fourth-year Physics students at the University have proven that shields, such as those seen protecting spaceships in the Star Wars film series, would not only be scientifically feasible, they have also shown that the science behind the principle is already used here on Earth."
StartsWithABang (3485481) writes "From a true dark-sky site, the kind that was available to all of humanity for the first 200,000 years or so of our species' existence, the human eye can discern tens of thousands of stars, detailed features of the Milky Way and a handful of deep-sky nebulae. With the advent of the telescope, our reach into the Universe was greatly enhanced, as the increase in light-gathering power opened up orders of magnitude more stars and nebulae, and even allowed us to see a spiral structure to some nebulae beginning in the 1840s. But in all the time since then, the largest telescope ever developed is not even six times bigger than the largest from nearly 200 years ago. Yet the details we can observe in the Universe today aren't limited by what our eyes can perceive looking through our telescopes at all. The combination of astronomy and photography has changed our understanding of the Universe forever, and we owe the greatest advances to an 'amateur' you've probably never heard of: Isaac Roberts."
coondoggie (973519) writes "Refueling aging satellites that were never meant to be refueled is the goal with a emerging NASA system that could save millions. NASA this week said since April 2011, engineers have been working to build robotic satellite servicing technologies necessary to bring in-orbit inspection, repair, refueling, component replacement and assembly capabilities to spacecraft needing aid."
AthanasiusKircher (1333179) writes "Deborah Fitzgerald, a historian of science and dean of MIT's School of the Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences, speaks out in a Boston Globe column about the importance of the humanities, even as STEM fields increasingly dominate public discussion surrounding higher education. '[T]he world's problems are never tidily confined to the laboratory or spreadsheet. From climate change to poverty to disease, the challenges of our age are unwaveringly human in nature and scale, and engineering and science issues are always embedded in broader human realities, from deeply felt cultural traditions to building codes to political tensions. So our students also need an in-depth understanding of human complexities — the political, cultural, and economic realities that shape our existence — as well as fluency in the powerful forms of thinking and creativity cultivated by the humanities, arts, and social sciences.' Fitzgerald goes on to quote a variety of STEM MIT graduates who have described the essential role the humanities played in their education, and she concludes with a striking juxtaposition of important skills perhaps reminscent of Robert Heinlein's famous description of an ideal human being: 'Whatever our calling, whether we are scientists, engineers, poets, public servants, or parents, we all live in a complex, and ever-changing world, and all of us deserve what's in this toolbox: critical thinking skills; knowledge of the past and other cultures; an ability to work with and interpret numbers and statistics; access to the insights of great writers and artists; a willingness to experiment, to open up to change; and the ability to navigate ambiguity.' What other essential knowledge or skills should we add to this imaginary 'toolbox'?"
Hugh Pickens DOT Com (2995471) writes "The Washington Post reports that Russia's Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin has lashed out again, this time at newly announced US ban on high-tech exports to Russia suggesting that 'after analyzing the sanctions against our space industry, I propose the US delivers its astronauts to the ISS with a trampoline.' Rogozin does actually have a point, although his threats carry much less weight than he may hope. Russia is due to get a $457.9 million payment for its services soon and few believe that Russia would actually give it up. Plus, as Jeffrey Kluger noted at Time Magazine, Russia may not want to push the United States into the hands of SpaceX and Orbital Sciences, two private American companies that hope to be able to send passengers to the station soon. SpaceX and Orbital Sciences have already made successful unmanned resupply runs to the ISS and both are also working on upgrading their cargo vehicles to carry people. SpaceX is currently in the lead and expects to launch US astronauts, employed by SpaceX itself, into orbit by 2016. NASA is building its own heavy-lift rocket for carrying astronauts beyond low-Earth orbit, but it won't be ready for anything but test flights until after 2020. 'That schedule, of course, could be accelerated considerably if Washington gave NASA the green light and the cash,' says Kluger. 'America's manned space program went from a standing start in 1961 to the surface of the moon in 1969—eight years from Al Shepard to Tranquility Base. The Soviet Union got us moving then. Perhaps Russia will do the same now.'"
Zothecula (1870348) writes "It's easy to get carried away when you start talking about graphene. Its properties hold the promise of outright technological revolution in so many fields that it has been called a wonder material. Two recent studies, however, give us a less than rosy angle. In the first, a team of biologists, engineers and material scientists at Brown University examined graphene's potential toxicity in human cells. Another study by a team from University of California, Riverside's Bourns College of Engineering examined how graphene oxide nanoparticles might interact with the environment if they found their way into surface or ground water sources."
KentuckyFC (1144503) writes "In June 1972, nuclear scientists at the Pierrelatte uranium enrichment plant in south-east France noticed a strange deficit in the amount of uranium-235 they were processing. That's a serious problem in a uranium enrichment plant where every gram of fissionable material has to be carefully accounted for. The ensuing investigation found that the anomaly originated in the ore from the Oklo uranium mine in Gabon, which contained only 0.600% uranium-235 compared to 0.7202% for all other ore on the planet. It turned out that this ore was depleted because it had gone critical some 2 billion years earlier, creating a self-sustaining nuclear reaction that lasted for 300,000 years and using up the missing uranium-235 in the process. Since then, scientists have studied this natural reactor to better understand how buried nuclear waste spreads through the environment and also to discover whether the laws of physics that govern nuclear reactions may have changed in the 1.5 billion years since the reactor switched off. Now a review of the science that has come out of Oklo shows how important this work has become but also reveals that there is limited potential to gather more data. After an initial flurry of interest in Oklo, mining continued and the natural reactors--surely among the most extraordinary natural phenomena on the planet-- have all been mined out."
sciencehabit (1205606) writes "Science sits down with David Saltzberg, who's been The Big Bang Theory's one and only science consultant since it premiered. Saltzberg is an astrophysicist at the University of California, Los Angeles. He chats about how the portrayal of science on the show has changed over the years, whether it turns kids away from science, and how you can get your own job as a scientific consultant in Hollywood."
Maddog Batty (112434) writes "SpaceX recently made the news by managing to soft land at sea the first stage of rocket used to launch its third supply mission to the International Space Station. Telemetry reported that it was able to hover for eight seconds above the sea before running out of fuel and falling horizontal. Unfortunately, due to stormy weather at the time, their support ship wasn't able to get to the "landing" spot at the time and the first stage wasn't recovered and is likely now on the sea bed. Video of the landing was produced and transmitted to an aeroplane but unfortunately it is rather corrupted. SpaceX have attempted to improve it but it isn't much better. They are now looking for help to improve it further."
ananyo writes: "Robert Grosseteste, an English scholar who lived from about 1175 to 1253, was the first thinker in northern Europe to try to develop unified physical laws to explain the origin and form of the geocentric medieval universe of heavens and Earth. Tom McLeish, professor of physics and pro-vice-chancellor for research at Britain's Durham University, and a multinational team of researchers found that Grosseteste's physical laws were so rigorously defined that they could be re-expressed using modern mathematical and computing techniques — as the medieval scholar might have done if he had been able to use such methods. The thinking went that the translated equations could then be solved and the solutions explored. The 'Ordered Universe Project' started six years ago and has now reported some of its findings. Only a small set of Grosseteste's parameters resulted in the "ordered" medieval universe he sought to explain, the researchers found; most resulted either in no spheres being created or a 'disordered' cosmos of numerous spheres. Grosseteste, then, had created a medieval 'multiverse.' De Luce suggests that the scholar realized his theories could result in universes with all manner of spheres, although he did not appear to realize the significance of this. A century later, philosophers Albert of Saxony and Nicole Oresme both considered the idea of multiple worlds and how they might exist simultaneously or in sequence."
The Bad Astronomer writes: "Astronomers have just announced that the exoplanet Beta Pic b — a 10-Jupiter-mass world 60 light years away — rotates in about 8 hours. Using a high-resolution spectrometer and exploiting the Doppler shift of light seen as the planet spins, they measured its rotation velocity as 28,000 mph. Making reasonable assumptions about the planet's size, that gives the length of its day. This is the first time such a measurement has been achieved for an exoplanet."
Daniel_Stuckey (2647775) writes "The state of Oklahoma had scheduled two executions for Tuesday, April 29th. This in spite of myriad objections that the drugs being used for both lethal injections had not been tested, and thus could violate the constitutional right to the courts, as well as the 8th Amendment: protection from cruel and unusual punishment. After much legal and political wrangling, the state proceeded with the executions anyway. It soon became clear that the critics' worst case scenarios were coming true — Oklahoma violently botched the first execution. The inmate "blew" a vein and had a heart attack. The state quickly postponed the second one. 'After weeks of Oklahoma refusing to disclose basic information about the drugs for tonight's lethal injection procedures, tonight, Clayton Lockett was tortured to death,' Madeline Cohen, the attorney of Charles Warner, the second man scheduled for execution, said in a statement. Katie Fretland at The Guardian reported from the scene of the botched attempt to execute Lockett using the untested, unvetted, and therefore potentially unconstitutional lethal injection drugs." sciencehabit also points out a study indicating that around 4% of death row inmates in the U.S. are likely innocent.
FullBandwidth writes: "Two Virginia aerospace players, Arlington-based Alliant Techsystems (ATK) and Dulles-based Orbital Sciences, are merging to create a $5 billion venture. The companies announced the merger in a joint announcement Tuesday. ATK is also spinning off its lucrative hunting gear segment into a separate company. 'The move is mutually beneficial, company executives said, as ATK looks to bolster its aerospace business and Orbital Sciences hopes to boost the scale of its existing operations as well as gain a foothold in the defense sector. ... Another beneficiary of the merger is NASA, a client of both companies. Last year, Orbital successfully completed a supply run to the international space station using its Antares rocket and Cygnus spacecraft. Orbital’s expansion after the merger will make it a bigger player in the commercial space sector as it competes with the likes of SpaceX, billionaire entrepreneur Elon Musk’s company, said Howard Rubel, an equity research analyst at Jefferies.'"
Rambo Tribble (1273454) writes "Two prominent nutrition experts have put forth the theory that the current obesity epidemic is, in large part, the result of processed foods tricking our appetite control mechanisms. They argue that evolution has given humans a delicately balanced system that balances appetite with metabolic needs, and that processed foods trick that system by making foods high in fats and carbohydrates have the gustatory qualities of proteins. As the researchers put it, 'Many people eat far too much fat and carbohydrate in their attempt to consume enough protein.'"
sciencehabit (1205606) writes with bad news for anyone hoping to use the spectral signatures of exoplanets to determine if their atmospheres have life-enabling compositions. "Call it the cosmic version of fool's gold. What was once considered a sure-fire sign of life on distant planets may not be so sure-fire after all, a new study suggests. The signal—a strong chemical imbalance in the planet's atmosphere that could only be generated by thriving ecosystems—could instead be the combined light from a lifeless exoplanet and its equally barren moon."
Hugh Pickens DOT Com (2995471) writes "Red Orbit reports that after nearly 50 years of warping across galaxies and saving the universe from a variety of alien threats and celestial disasters, Star Trek's William Shatner was honored with NASA's Distinguished Public Service medal, the highest award bestowed by the agency to non-government personnel. 'William Shatner has been so generous with his time and energy in encouraging students to study science and math, and for inspiring generations of explorers, including many of the astronauts and engineers who are a part of NASA today,' said David Weaver, NASA's associate administrator for the Office of Communications at NASA Headquarters in Washington. 'He's most deserving of this prestigious award.' Past recipients of the NASA Distinguished Public Service Medal include astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson, former NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory director and Voyager project scientist Edward Stone, theoretical physicist and astronomer Lyman Spitzer, and science fiction writer Robert Heinlein. The award is presented to those who 'have personally made a contribution representing substantial progress to the NASA mission. The contribution must be so extraordinary that other forms of recognition would be inadequate.'"
sciencehabit (1205606) writes "Scientists have found that mice feel 36% less pain when a male researcher is in the room, versus a female researcher. The rodents are also less stressed out. The effect appears to be due to scent molecules that male mammals (including humans, dogs, and cats) have been emitting for eons. The finding could help explain why some labs have trouble replicating the results of others, and it could cause a reevaluation of decades of animal experiments: everything from the effectiveness of experimental drugs to the ability of monkeys to do math. Male odor could even influence human clinical trials."
An anonymous reader writes "SupplyFrame is launching The Hackaday Prize, a challenge to create open connected devices judged by Andrew 'Bunnie' Huang, and Limor 'Ladyada' Fried, among others. The grand prize is an all-expense-paid trip to space on a carrier of your choice or $196,418 if going into space isn't your thing. 'We launched The Hackaday Prize because we want to see the next evolution of hardware happen right now, and we want it to be open,' said Mike Szczys, managing editor of Hackaday.com."
samzenpus (5) writes "Last week we told you about a group that was trying to recover the 36-year-old ISEE-3 spacecraft from deep space. Led by CEO and founder of Skycorp, Dennis Wingo, and astrobiologist and editor of NASA Watch, Keith Cowing, the crowdfunded project plans to steer ISEE-3 back into an Earth orbit and return it to scientific operations. Once in orbit, they hope to turn the spacecraft and its instruments over to the public by creating an app that allows anyone access to its data. The team has agreed to take some time from lassoing spacecraft from deep space in order to answer your questions. As usual, ask as many as you'd like, but please, one question per post. Hopefully the plan goes better than xkcd predicts."
concertina226 (2447056) writes "The real reason behind the downfall of the Roman Empire might not have been lead contaminating in the water, which is the most popular theory, but the use of concrete as a building material. Dr Penelope Davies, a historian with the University of Texas believes that the rise of concrete as a building material may have weakened ancient Rome's entire political system as Pompey and Julius Caesar began 'thinking like kings'. Concrete was used to build many of Rome's finest monuments, such as the Pantheon, the Colosseum and the Tabularium, which have lasted the test of time and are still standing today."
Hugh Pickens DOT Com (2995471) writes "The NYT writes in an editorial that for the last few months, the Koch brothers and their conservative allies in state government have been spending heavily to fight incentives for renewable energy, by pushing legislatures to impose a surtax on this increasingly popular practice, hoping to make installing solar panels on houses less attractive. 'The coal producers' motivation is clear: They see solar and wind energy as a long-term threat to their businesses. That might seem distant at the moment, when nearly 40 percent of the nation's electricity is still generated by coal, and when less than 1 percent of power customers have solar arrays. But given new regulations on power-plant emissions of mercury and other pollutants, and the urgent need to reduce global warming emissions, the future clearly lies with renewable energy.' For example, the Arizona Public Service Company, the state's largest utility, funneled large sums through a Koch operative to a nonprofit group that ran an ad claiming net metering would hurt older people on fixed incomes (video) by raising electric rates. The ad tried to link the requirement to President Obama. Another Koch ad likens the renewable-energy requirement to health care reform, the ultimate insult in that world. 'Like Obamacare, it's another government mandate we can't afford,' the narrator says. 'That line might appeal to Tea Partiers, but it's deliberately misleading,' concludes the editorial. 'This campaign is really about the profits of Koch Carbon and the utilities, which to its organizers is much more important than clean air and the consequences of climate change.'"
An anonymous reader writes in with this bit of news about the Mars rover Curiosity. "NASA's Curiosity Mars rover is using several tools this weekend to take a closer look at a sandstone slab being assessed as a possible drilling target. If it fits the bill, the target could become Curiosity's third drilled rock. 'Windjana,' named after a gorge in Western Australia, would be the mission's first drilled rock that is not mudstone. To determine whether Curiosity should drill at Windjana, engineers have asked the rover to perform a number of tasks, including observations with the camera and X-ray spectrometer located at the end of the its arm and interpretations of composition at different points on the rock with a device that fires laser shots from the rover's mast."
An anonymous reader writes "The Brazilian government have decided to try battling the spread of dengue fever with GM mosquitoes. 'Now, with dengue endemic in three of the host cities for this summer's World Cup , Brazilian health officials are trying a radical new approach — biotechnology. They've begun a two-year trial release of Aedes aegypti mosquitoes that have been genetically modified. "We need to provide the government alternatives because the system we are using now in Brazil doesn't work," says Aldo Malavasi, president of Moscamed, the Brazilian company that's running the trial from a lab just outside of Jacobina. The new breed of Aedes aegypti has been given a lethal gene. The deadly flaw is kept in check in the lab, but the mosquitoes soon die in the wild.'"
StartsWithABang (3485481) writes "Just a second after the Big Bang, the Universe was a hot bath of radiation, with a small fraction of protons and neutrons in about equal numbers left over. By time it was four minutes old, it was 92% hydrogen (by number of atoms) and 8% helium. Yet the Universe has aged nearly 14 billion years since then, and have formed many generations of stars, all of which burn hydrogen into heavier elements. So how much hydrogen is left, and how much will be left far into the future? A lot more than you might think."
An anonymous reader writes "Scientists at Newcastle University are outfitting praying mantises with tiny 3D glasses in order to study how their vision works. From the article: 'Praying mantises have stereoscopic vision, unlike most invertebrates. This makes them sophisticated hunters, and ideal subjects for a team from Newcastle University led by vision scientist Jenny Read. By putting 3-D glasses on the mantises and faking them out, Reid and her colleagues want to learn how the insect's vision differs from ours.""
Lasrick (2629253) writes "As part of a roundtable on the risks of developing nuclear power in developing countries, Harvard's Yun Zhou explores the reprocessing of spent fuel. Zhou points out that no country in the world has come up with a permanent solution to nuclear waste in either of its two forms: the spent fuel that emerges directly from reactor cores and the high-level radioactive waste that results when spent fuel is reprocessed. Zhou points out that China and France have just announced a joint effort to establish a reprocessing plant, but that option isn't really practical for the developing world."
First time accepted submitter Parseval (3632761) writes "The NSA and GCHQ need mathematicians in order to function — they are some of the biggest employers of mathematicians in the world. This New Scientist article by a mathematician describes some of the math behind mass surveillance, and calls on other mathematicians to refuse to cooperate with the NSA/GCHQ while they continue to surveil the entire population. From the article: 'Mathematicians seldom face ethical questions. We enjoy the feeling that what we do is separate from the everyday world. As the number theorist G. H. Hardy wrote in 1940: "I have never done anything 'useful'. No discovery of mine has made, or is likely to make, directly or indirectly, for good or ill, the least difference to the amenity of the world." That idea is now untenable. Mathematics clearly has practical applications that are highly relevant to the modern world, not least internet encryption.'"
assertation (1255714) writes "Bill Gates and the founders of Twitter are betting millions that meat lovers will embrace a new plant-based product that mimics the taste of chicken and beef. Meat substitutes have had a hard time making it to the dinner tables of Americans over the years, but the tech giants believe these newest products will pass the "tastes like chicken" test. Gates has met several times with Ethan Brown, whose product, Beyond Meat, is a mash-up of proteins from peas and plants."
sciencehabit writes "When you are dealing with a deadly poison that can be found in food and is a potential terrorist weapon, you want the best detection tools you can get. Now, researchers in France have demonstrated an improved method to detect the most deadly variant of the botulinum neurotoxin, which causes botulism. Their test — essentially, a lab on a tiny chip (abstract) — provides results faster than the standard method and accurately detects even low concentrations of the toxin."
An anonymous reader writes "Astronomer Kevin Luhman just found the 7th closest star to the sun. It's a mere 7.2 light-years away, discovered using NASA's Spitzer and WISE telescopes. How could it exist so close for so long without us knowing? It's a brown dwarf — barely a star at all. 'Brown dwarfs are star-like objects that are more massive than planets, but not quite massive enough to ignite sustained fusion in their cores. Hydrogen fusion is what powers the Sun, and makes it hot; it's the mighty pressure of the Sun's core that makes that happen. Brown dwarfs don't have the oomph needed to keep that going.' This small almost-star is downright chilly at around 225-260 Kelvin. That's -48 to -13 C (or -54 to 9 F). As Phil Plait points out, that's not much different from the temperature in the freezer in your kitchen. He adds, 'It implies this object is very old, too, because it would've been a few thousands degrees when it formed, and would take at least a billion years to cool down to its current chilly temperature. It's hard to determine how old it actually is, but it's most likely 1-10 billion years old. It has a very low mass, too, probably between 3 and 10 times the mass of Jupiter. That's pretty lightweight even for a brown dwarf. And here's another amazing thing about it: It might be a planet. What I mean is, it may have formed around a star like a planet does, then got ejected by gravitational interactions with other planets.'"
aarondubrow writes: "Graphene, a one-atom-thick form of the carbon material graphite, is strong, light, nearly transparent and an excellent conductor of electricity and heat, but a number of practical challenges must be overcome before it can emerge as a replacement for silicon in electronics or energy devices. One particular challenge concerns the question of how graphene diffuses heat, in the form of phonons. Thermal conductivity is critical in electronics, especially as components shrink to the nanoscale. Using the Stampede supercomputer at the Texas Advanced Computing Center, Professor Li Shi simulated how phonons (heat-carrying vibrations in solids) scatter as a function of the thickness of the graphene layers. He also investigated how graphene interacts with substrate materials and how phonon scattering can be controlled. The results were published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Applied Physical Letters and Energy and Environmental Science."