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MarkWhittington writes Ever since the House passed a NASA spending bill that allocated $100 million for a probe to Jupiter's moon Europa, the space agency has been attempting to find a way to do such a mission on the cheap. The trick is that the mission has to cost less than $1 billion, a tall order for anything headed to the Outer Planets. According to a Wednesday story in the Atlantic, some researchers at Draper Labs have come up with a cheap way to do a Europa orbiter and land instruments on its icy surface.
The first stage is to orbit a cubesat, a tiny, coffee can sized satellite that would contain two highly accurate accelerometers that would go into orbit around Europa and measure its gravity field. In this way the location of Europa's subsurface oceans would be mapped. Indeed it is possible that the probe might find an opening through the ice crust to the ocean, warmed it is thought by tidal forces.
The second stage is to deploy even smaller probes called chipsats, tiny devices that contain sensors, a microchip, and an antenna. Hundreds of these probes, the size of human fingernails, would float down on Europa's atmosphere to be scattered about its surface. While some might be lost, enough will land over a wide enough area to do an extensive chemical analysis of the surface of Europa, which would then be transmitted to the cubesat mothership and then beamed to Earth.
sciencehabit writes The D-Wave computer, marketed as a groundbreaking quantum machine that runs circles around conventional computers, solves problems no faster than an ordinary rival, a new test shows. Some researchers call the test of the controversial device, described in Science, the fairest comparison yet. "...to test D-Wave’s machine, Matthias Troyer, a physicist at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, Zurich, and colleagues didn't just race it against an ordinary computer. Instead, they measured how the time needed to solve a problem increases with the problem's size. That's key because the whole idea behind quantum computing is that the time will grow much more slowly for a quantum computer than for an ordinary one. In particular, a full-fledged 'universal' quantum computer should be able to factor huge numbers ever faster than an ordinary computer as the size of the numbers grow." D-Wave argues that the computations used in the study were too easy to show what its novel chips can do.
KentuckyFC (1144503) writes "One of the goals of neuroscience is to understand how brains process information and generate appropriate behaviour. A technique that is revolutionising this work is optogenetics--the ability to insert genes into neurons that fluoresce when the neuron is active. That works well on the level of single neurons but the density of neurons in a brain is so high that it has been impossible to tell them apart when they fluoresce. Now researchers have solved this problem and proved it by filming the activity in the entire brain of a nematode worm for the first time and making the video available. Their solution comes in two parts. The first is to ensure that the inserted genes only fluoresce in the nuclei of the neurons. This makes it much easier to tell individual neurons in the brain apart. The second is a new techniques that scans the entire volume of the brain at a rate of 80 frames per second, fast enough to register all the neuronal activity within it. The researchers say their new technique should allow bigger brains to be filmed in the near future, opening up the potential to study how various creatures process information and trigger an appropriate response for the first time."
schwit1 (797399) writes "The competition heats up: SpaceX [Wednesday] released a new video of the most recent Falcon 9R vertical take-off and landing test flight. The flight was to test the deployment and use of fins for controlling the stage during its return to Earth. Watch them unfold and adjust themselves beginning at about 1:15 into the video. In the second half you can see them near the top of the stage. Yet another video from SpaceX of the world's most blase cows. You can imagine new cows to the herd, reacting to the launch as the conditioned cows just yawn, just another 100 foot tall rocket launching and landing nearby. Nothing to see here."
OakDragon (885217) writes A Toronto woman had the presence of mind to record herself, using her smartphone, as she suffered from a bout of semi-paralysis. She had suffered the same symptoms two days earlier, and had gone to the hospital; but by that time the condition had passed, and doctors sent her home. However, using the smartphone video, doctors later diagnosed her with a transient ischemic attack, or mini-stroke. The diagnosis was confirmed with an MRI.
An anonymous reader writes Elon Musk says that he'll put the first human boots on Mars well before the 2020s are over. "I'm hopeful that the first people could be taken to Mars in 10 to 12 years, I think it's certainly possible for that to occur," he said. "But the thing that matters long term is to have a self-sustaining city on Mars, to make life multiplanetary." He acknowledged that the company's plans were too long-term to attract many hedge fund managers, which makes it hard for SpaceX to go public anytime soon. "We need to get where things a steady and predictable," Musk said. "Maybe we're close to developing the Mars vehicle, or ideally we've flown it a few times, then I think going public would make more sense."
An anonymous reader writes In what appears to be the first study of its kind, computer scientists report that an algorithm discovered more than 50 years ago in game theory and now widely used in machine learning is mathematically identical to the equations used to describe the distribution of genes within a population of organisms. Researchers may be able to use the algorithm, which is surprisingly simple and powerful, to better understand how natural selection works and how populations maintain their genetic diversity.
sciencehabit (1205606) writes "Lying in wait at the water's edge, four legs on a leaf and four legs feeling the water for vibrations, the Dolomedes triton spider can catch a fish twice its size in an instant. Holding on tight, it injects its aquatic prey with a deadly dose of venom and drags it to dry land, where it spends hours pumping it full of digestive enzymes and slurping up the fish's liquefied flesh. Fish-eating spiders sound like something out of a nightmare, but until recently, scientists were pretty sure only a few kinds of arachnids could do it. Now, a new survey shows that at least 26 species of spiders know how to fish—and they live on every continent except for Antarctica."
sandbagger sends this news from io9: In what's being heralded as a secular triumph, the U.K. government has banned the teaching of creationism as science in all existing and future academies and free schools. The new clauses, which arrived with very little fanfare last week, state that the "requirement for every academy and free school to provide a broad and balanced curriculum in any case prevents the teaching of creationism as evidence based theory in any academy or free school." So, if an academy or free school teaches creationism as scientifically valid, it's breaking the funding agreement to provide a "broad and balanced curriculum." ... In addition to the new clauses, the UK government clarified the meaning of creationism, reminding everyone that it's a minority view even within the Church of England and the Catholic Church.
sciencehabit writes: A single dose of a century-old drug has eliminated autism symptoms in adult mice with an experimental form of the disorder. Originally developed to treat African sleeping sickness, the compound, called suramin, quells a heightened stress response in neurons that researchers believe may underlie some traits of autism. The finding raises the hope that some hallmarks of the disorder may not be permanent, but could be correctable even in adulthood.
sciencehabit (1205606) writes When the last passenger pigeon died at a zoo in 1914, the species became a cautionary tale of the dramatic impact humans can have on the world. But a new study finds that the bird experienced multiple population booms and crashes over the million years before its final demise. The sensitivity of the population to natural fluctuations, the authors argue, could have been what made it so vulnerable to extinction.
An anonymous reader writes A cure for Type 1 diabetes is still far from sight, but new research suggests an artificial "bionic pancreas" holds promise for making it much more easily manageable. From the article: "Currently about one-third of people with Type 1 diabetes rely on insulin pumps to regulate blood sugar. They eliminate the need for injections and can be programmed to mimic the natural release of insulin by dispensing small doses regularly. But these pumps do not automatically adjust to the patient's variable insulin needs, and they do not dispense glucagon. The new device, described in a report in The New England Journal of Medicine, dispenses both hormones, and it does so with little intervention from the patient."
Zothecula (1870348) writes According to the CDC, around 48 million people in the US get sick, 128,000 are hospitalized, and 3,000 die as a result of foodborne illnesses every year. One of the main culprits is listeriosis (or listeria), which is responsible for approximately 1,600 illnesses and 260 deaths. Now researchers at the University of Southampton are using a device designed to detect the most common cause of listeriosis directly on food preparation surfaces, without the need to send samples away for laboratory testing.
schwit1 (797399) writes "A super-enriched genetically engineered banana will soon go through its first human trial, which will test its effect on vitamin A levels, Australian researchers said Monday. The project plans to have the special banana varieties — enriched with alpha and beta carotene which the body converts to vitamin A — growing in Uganda by 2020. The bananas are now being sent to the United States, and it is expected that the six-week trial measuring how well they lift vitamin A levels in humans will begin soon."
An anonymous reader writes NASA's New Horizons spacecraft is moving towards Pluto to explore Charon, one of Pluto's moons. The aim of the mission is to search of evidence of an ancient underground ocean on the moon. "Our model predicts different fracture patterns on the surface of Charon depending on the thickness of its surface ice, the structure of the moon's interior and how easily it deforms, and how its orbit evolved," said Alyssa Rhoden of NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center. "By comparing the actual New Horizons observations of Charon to the various predictions, we can see what fits best and discover if Charon could have had a subsurface ocean in its past, driven by high eccentricity."
Daniel_Stuckey (2647775) writes You're likely familiar with the theory of how the Moon formed: a stray body smashed into our young Earth, heating the planet and flinging debris into its orbit. That debris coalesced and formed the Moon. The impact theory still holds, but a team of geochemists from the University of Lorraine in Nancy, France has refined the date, finding that the Moon is about 60 million years older than we thought. As it turns out, that also means the Earth is 60 million years older than previously thought, which is a particularly cool finding considering just how hard it is to estimate the age of our planet.
An anonymous reader writes Ars Technica reports that for the first time in Bitcoin's five-year history, a single entity has repeatedly provided more than half of the total computational power required to mine new digital coins, in some cases for sustained periods of time. It's an event that, if it persists, signals the end of crypto currency's decentralized structure."
In a story that's sure to bring to the surface the long-debunked myth of an over-elaborate NASA quest to create a pen to operate in space, Wired reports that the coffee situation aboard the International Space Station is about to improve: the station will be getting a 20kg, custom designed Lavazza espresso machine, to be delivered along with Italian astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti. Among other differences from terrestrial espresso machines: the resulting beverage must be pumped into a straw-friendly bag rather than a demitasse. I wonder if there could be some way to adapt a (much lighter) Aeropress for space purposes, as a backup.
A New York Times piece (as carried by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette) outlines a fascinating project operating in unlikely circumstances for a quixotic goal. They want to control, and return to earth, the International Sun-Earth Explorer-3, launched in 1978 but which "appears to be in good working order." Engineer Dennis Wingo, along with like minded folks (of whom he says "We call ourselves techno-archaeologists") has established a business called Skycorp that "has its offices in the McDonald's that used to serve the Navy's Moffett air station, 15 minutes northwest of San Jose, Calif. After the base closed, NASA converted it to a research campus for small technology companies, academia and nonprofits. ... The race to revive the craft, ISEE-3, began in earnest in April. At the end of May, using the Arecibo Observatory radio telescope in Puerto Rico, the team succeeded in talking to the spacecraft, a moment Mr. Wingo described as "way cool." This made Skycorp the first private organization to command a spacecraft outside Earth orbit, he said. The most disheartening part: "No one has the full operating manual anymore, and the fragments are sometimes contradictory." The most exciting? "Despite the obstacles, progress has been steady, and Mr. Wingo said the team should be ready to fire the engines within weeks."
MarkWhittington (1084047) writes According to a Saturday story in the Los Angeles Times, the recent revival of tensions between the United States and Russia, not seen since the end of the Cold War, may provide a shot in the arm for the American rocket engine industry. Due in part in retaliation for economic sanctions that were enacted in response to Russian aggression in the Ukraine, Russia announced that it would no longer sell its own RD-180 rocket engines for American military launches. This has had American aerospace experts scrambling to find a replacement. The stakes for weaning American rockets off of dependency on Russian engines could not be starker, according to Space News. If the United States actually loses the RD-180, the Atlas V would be temporarily grounded, as many as 31 missions could be delayed, costing the United States as much as $5 billion. However SpaceX, whose Falcon family of launch vehicles has a made in the USA rocket engine, could benefit tremendously if the U.S. military switches its business from ULA while it refurbishes its own launch vehicles with new American made engines.
As reported by the San Jose Mercury News, the state of California is "in the throes of a whooping cough epidemic, state health department officials announced Friday. Dr. Ron Chapman, director of the California Department of Public Health, said 3,458 cases of whooping cough have been reported since Jan. 1 -- including 800 in the past two weeks. That total is more than all the cases reported in 2013." Public broadcaster KPBS notes that of the 621 people known to have come down with whooping cough in San Diego county, the vast majority (85 percent) were up to date on their immunizations.
On June 8th, with a radio source beamed at the asteroid designated 2014 HQ124 (less formally, "the beast") while two other telescopes tracked that beam's reflections, NASA was able to gather high-quality images of the object as it zipped by a mere 776,000 miles from Earth. (Some asteroids are closer, and a vast number of them could soon be better known, but none have allowed as good an opportunity for radar obvservation.) Astronomy Magazine's account adds a bit more detail: To obtain the new views, researchers paired the 230-foot (70m) Deep Space Network antenna at Goldstone, California, with two other radio telescopes, one at a time. Using this technique, the Goldstone antenna beams a radar signal at an asteroid and the other antenna receives the reflections. The technique dramatically improves the amount of detail that can be seen in radar images. To image 2014 HQ124, the researchers first paired the large Goldstone antenna with the 1,000-foot (305m) Arecibo radio telescope in Puerto Rico. They later paired the large Goldstone dish with a smaller companion, a 112-foot (34m) antenna, located about 20 miles (32km) away. ... The first five images in the new sequence — the top row in the collage — represent the data collected by Arecibo and are 30 times brighter than what Goldstone can produce observing on its own.
Dimetrodon (2714071) writes British consultancy Plextek has just announced the world's first immersive medical training system for the military using the Oculus Rift. The virtual reality technology will be used to simulate pre-hospital care on the battlefield, requiring trainees to "negotiate and prioritise" clinical needs while under virtual fire.
jones_supa (887896) writes Monthly Prescribing Reference reports that the "Eskimo diet" hypothesis, suggested as a factor in the alleged low incidence of coronary artery disease (CAD) in Greenland Eskimos, seems not to be supported in the literature, according to a metastudy published in the Canadian Journal of Cardiology (abstract). Researchers found that only one study directly assessed the prevalence of CAD or CAD risk factors, and that study showed that CAD morbidity was similar among Inuit and American and European populations. In most studies, the prevalence of CAD was similar for Greenland Eskimos and Canadian and Alaskan Inuit and for non-Eskimo populations. The original studies from the 1970s that formed the basis of the supposed cardioprotective effect of the Eskimo diet did not examine the prevalence of CAD. "The totality of reviewed evidence leads us to the conclusion that Eskimos have a similar prevalence of CAD as non-Eskimo populations," the authors write. "To date, more than 5,000 papers have been published studying the alleged beneficial properties of omega-3 fatty acids not to mention the billion dollar industry producing and selling fish oil capsules based on a hypothesis that was questionable from the beginning."
think_nix (1467471) writes The EU Parliament is paving the way for EU Nation States to decide on banning or allowing GMO foods within their respective territories. An further article at Der Spiegel (German) (Google translation) quotes the German Health Minister's claim that if countries cannot specifically, scientifically argue for a ban, this would allow GMO companies to initiate legal actions against the banning ruling states. Furthermore it was noted, given EU Parliaments current stance on not reintroducing border and customs controls between member states, this will make checks and controls of GMO foods between member states even more difficult.
Rambo Tribble (1273454) writes Adding to the well-known fish-killing effects deforestation has in increasing turbidity and temperature in streams, a study published in Nature Communications, (abstract, PDF access), demonstrates deforestation causes a depletion of nutrients in associated lake aquatic ecosystems and, as a consequence, impacted fish stocks. Lead author Andrew Tanentzap is quoted as saying, 'We found fish that had almost 70% of their biomass made from carbon that came from trees and leaves instead of aquatic food chain sources.' This has troubling implications, as 'It's estimated that freshwater fishes make up more than 6% of the world's annual animal protein supplies for humans ...' Additionally, this may have significance in regard to anadromous species, such as salmon, which help power ocean ecosystems. The BBC offers more approachable coverage.
mpicpp (3454017) writes "Google is planning to release a new product called Google Fit that will aggregate health data from various devices and apps, according to a report Thursday from Forbes. Fit will use available APIs to pull biometric information together into one place, but it's unclear whether it will be a standalone app or part of the Android OS. Reports of Fit come on the heels of Apple's announcement of HealthKit in iOS 8, a system that also interacts with apps and APIs to curate and present health data like steps walked, calories consumed, and heart rates logged. Fit also follows the announcement of Sami, Samsung's health platform for culling health-related info."
New submitter meghan elizabeth (3689911) writes Why stop at just mimicking biology when you can biomanufacture technologically improved humans? 3D-printed enhanced "superorgans"—or artificial ones that don't exist in nature—could be engineered to perform specific functions beyond what exists in nature, like treating disease. Already, a bioprinted artificial pancreas that can regulate glucose levels in diabetes patients is being developed. Bioprinting could also be used to create an enhanced organ that can generate electricity to power electronic implants, like pacemakers.
An anonymous reader writes An article published in Science (abstract) points to the possibility that dinosaurs were mesotherms more akin to modern Tuna. Their internal temperature would have been warmer than their surrounding environment, conferring on them the ability to move more quickly than any ectotherm ("cold blooded" animal), but wouldn't have been constant or as warm as any endoderm ("warm blooded" animal). Their energy use and thus their necessary food intake would have been greater than an ectotherm, but much less than an endotherm. In order to arrive at this possibility, bone growth rings in fossilized bone were used to establish growth rates and then compared to modern ectotherms and endotherms.
the_newsbeagle (2532562) writes "The equipment that neuroscientists use to record brain signals is plenty expensive, with a single system costing upward of $60,000. But it turns out that it's not too complicated to build your own, for the cost of about $3000. Two MIT grad students figured out how to do just that, and are distributing both manufactured systems and their designs through their website, Open Ephys. Their goal is to launch an open-source hardware movement in neuroscience, so researchers can spend less time worrying about the gear they need and more time doing experiments."
mrspoonsi (2955715) writes The EU's top court is considering a test case which could oblige employers to treat obesity as a disability. Denmark has asked the European Court of Justice to rule on the case of a male childminder who says he was sacked for being too fat. The court's final ruling will be binding across the EU. It is seen as especially significant because of rising obesity levels in Europe and elsewhere, including the US. If the judges decide it is a disability then employers could face new obligations. Employers might in future have a duty to create reserved car parking spaces for obese staff, or adjust the office furniture for them, she said.
techtech (2016646) writes Researchers from Northwestern University and the University of New Mexico report evidence for potentially oceans worth of water deep beneath the United States. Though not in the familiar liquid form—the ingredients for water are bound up in rock deep in the Earth's mantle—the discovery may represent the planet's largest water reservoir. This research was published in Science.
coondoggie (973519) writes NASA took the next step in forming a large-scale, $3 million competition to build advanced propulsion and communications technologies for small, inexpensive satellite systems known as cubesats. The Cubesat Lunar Challenge will be broken up into two areas: propulsion and communication while in orbit around the moon. In Request For Information published this week, NASA said the two challenges would provide competitive opportunities for a variety of competition teams to deploy cubesats on a NASA or third-party provided launch.
sciencehabit (1205606) writes Shutting down the research center at the heart of an unfolding scientific scandal may be necessary to prevent a recurrence of research misconduct, according to a report released at a press conference in Tokyo today. A committee reviewing conduct at the RIKEN Center for Developmental Biology (CDB) in Kobe, Japan, found lax oversight and a failure on the part of senior authors of two papers in Nature outlining a surprisingly simple way of reprogramming mature cells into stem cells. The committee surmised that a drive to produce groundbreaking results led to publishing results prematurely. "It seems that RIKEN CDB had a strong desire to produce major breakthrough results that would surpass iPS cell research," the report concludes, referring to another type of pluripotent stem cell. "One of our conclusions is that the CDB organization is part of the problem," said committee chair Teruo Kishi Kishi. He recommends a complete overhaul of CDB, including perhaps restructuring it into a new institute. "This has to be more than just changing the nameplate."
Zothecula (1870348) writes According to the World Health Organization, over 107 million blood donations are collected around the globe every year, most of which goes on to help save lives. However, while the need for blood is global, much of that which is donated is not accessible to many who need it, such as those in developing countries. And of the blood donated in industrialized countries, the amount often falls short of requirements. To help address this imbalance, scientists at the University of Essex are developing an artificial blood substitute. It would be able to be stored at room temperatures for up to two years, which would allow it to be distributed worldwide without the need for refrigeration and make it immediately accessible at the site of natural disasters.
First time accepted submitter sayhem (1842674) writes Various explanations for why we don't see aliens have been proposed—perhaps interstellar travel is impossible or maybe civilizations are always self-destructive. But with every new discovery of a potentially habitable planet, the Fermi Paradox becomes increasingly mysterious. There could be hundreds of millions of potentially habitable worlds in the Milky Way alone. This impression is only reinforced by the recent discovery of a "Mega-Earth," a rocky planet 17 times more massive than the Earth but with only a thin atmosphere. Previously, it was thought that worlds this large would hold onto an atmosphere so thick that their surfaces would experience uninhabitable temperatures and pressures. But if this isn't true, there is a whole new category of potentially habitable real estate in the cosmos.
Jason Koebler writes: For those of us without a green thumb, growing even the most hardy plants in perfect conditions can seem impossible. How about trying to grow plants on a meteorite? Well, at least one scientist is doing it, with moderate levels of success. "People have been talking about terraforming, but what I'm trying to do is give some concrete evidence that it's possible to do this, that it's possible to grow in extraterrestrial materials," Michael Mautner, one of the world's only "astroecologists" said. "What I've found is that a range of microorganisms—bacteria, fungi, and even asparagus and potato plants—can survive with the nutrients that are in extraterrestrial materials."
sciencehabit writes: Even though daytime temperatures in the tropics of Mars can be about –20C, a summer afternoon there might feel about the same as an average winter day in southern England or Minneapolis. That's because there's virtually no wind chill on the Red Planet, according to a new study — the first to give an accurate sense of what it might feel like to spend a day walking about on our celestial neighbor. "I hadn't really thought about this before, but I'm not surprised," says Maurice Bluestein, a biomedical engineer and wind chill expert recently retired from Indiana University–Purdue University Indianapolis. The new findings, he says, "will be useful, as people planning to colonize Mars need to know what they're getting themselves into."
bricko sends this news from The University of Texas at Austin: Thwaites Glacier, the large, rapidly changing outlet of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet, is not only being eroded by the ocean, it's being melted from below by geothermal heat, researchers at the Institute for Geophysics at The University of Texas at Austin (UTIG) report in the current edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The findings significantly change the understanding of conditions beneath the West Antarctic Ice Sheet, where accurate information has previously been unobtainable. The Thwaites Glacier has been the focus of considerable attention in recent weeks as other groups of researchers found the glacier is on the way to collapse, but more data and computer modeling are needed to determine when the collapse will begin in earnest and at what rate the sea level will increase as it proceeds. The new observations by UTIG will greatly inform these ice sheet modeling efforts.
Zothecula writes "A team of researchers working at Stockholm's KTH Royal Institute of Technology claim to have developed a way to make cellulose fibers stronger than steel on a strength-to-weight basis. In what is touted as a world first, the team from the institute's Wallenberg Wood Science Center claim that the new fiber could be used as a biodegradable replacement for many filament materials made today from imperishable substances such as fiberglass, plastic, and metal. And all this from a substance that requires only water, wood cellulose, and common table salt to create it. The full academic paper is available from Nature Communications."
bmahersciwriter writes: NASA administrators are strategizing a push to do more science on the International Space Station in the coming years. The pressure is on, given the rapidly cooling relations between the U.S. and Russia, whose deputy prime minister recently suggested that U.S. astronauts use a trampoline if they want to get into orbit. Aiding in the push for more research is the development of two-way cargo ships by SpaceX, which should allow for return of research materials (formerly a hurdle to doing useful experiments). NASA soon aims to send new earth-monitoring equipment to the station and expanded rodent facilities. And geneLAB will send a range of model organisms like fruit flies and nematodes into space for months at a time.
KentuckyFC (1144503) writes 'One curious feature on the Moon's surface are "lunar swirls", wisp-like regions that are whiter than surrounding areas and that, until recently, astronomers could not explain. But one team of physicists recently showed that these areas are protected by weak magnetic fields that deflect high energy particles from the Sun and so prevent the darkening effect this radiation has. The problem they had to solve was how a weak field could offer so much protection, when numerous studies of long duration spaceflight have shown that only very powerful fields can act like radiation shields. The team now says that these previous studies have failed to take into account an important factor: the low density plasma that exists in space. It turns out that this plasma is swept up by a weak magnetic field moving through space, creating a layer of higher density plasma. That's important because the separation of charge within this layer creates an electric field. And it is this field that deflects the high energy particles from the Sun. That explains the lunar swirls but it also suggests that the same effect could be exploited to protect astronauts on long duration missions to the moon, to nearby asteroids and beyond. This team has now produced the first study of such a shield and how it might work. Their shield would use superconducting coils to create a relatively weak field only when it is needed, during solar storms, for example. And it would create a plasma by pumping xenon into the vacuum around the vehicle, where it would be ionised by UV light. The entire device would weigh around 1.5 tonnes and use about 20 KW of power. That's probably more than mission planners could currently accommodate but it is significantly less than the science fiction-type power requirements of previous designs. And who knows what other tricks of plasma physics engineers might be able to exploit to refine this design. All of a sudden, long duration space flight looks a little more feasible.'
New submitter turning in circles (2882659) writes 'Carbon based fuel cells require carbon doped with other elements, normally platinum, for oxygen reduction reactions. Urine contains carbon with an exciting splash of nitrogen, sulfur, potassium, silicon, and so on, and you don't have to manufacture it: the stuff just comes out by itself. In an article published this week in an open journal, researchers from Korea reported a new nanomaterial for fuel cells, which they dub "Urine Carbon." Upon drying, and then heating at 1000C, and rinsing of salts, the resulting Urine Carbon porous nanostructures outperformed Carbon/platinum in electrodes.'
First time accepted submitter LordFlower (606949) writes "In a study, published today in Neuropsycopharmacology, exposure to general anesthesia in both human and rat infants was associated with long-term episodic memory deficits. Children aged 6 to 11 years exposed to general anesthesia during infancy had poorer episodic memory than age/gender matched controls. This deficit was replicated in rats using an analogous paradigm with full experimental control of pre-existing conditions could be exercised, suggesting a causal relation rather than correlational one. Prior research in rats suggests a mechanism of disrupted developmental synaptogenesis and apoptosis.
While a growing literature has demonstrated the presence of memory deficits and neurodegeneration in rats after general anesthesia exposure in infancy, this is the first to demonstrate a long-term deficit after exposure during human infancy. Given that each year 1.5 million infants undergo a surgery requiring general anesthesia, these findings are particularly alarming."
sciencehabit (1205606) writes "When hunter-gatherers in the Middle East began to settle down and cultivate crops about 10,500 years ago, they became the world's first farmers. But two new papers suggest that they were at home on both the land and the sea: Studies of ancient and modern human DNA, including the first reported ancient DNA from early Middle Eastern farmers, indicate that agriculture spread to Europe via a coastal route, probably by farmers using boats to island hop across the Aegean and Mediterranean seas."
Last month, at Maker Faire Bay Area 2014, Timothy Lord spotted a guy wearing a very large piece of headgear that included two crossed wrenches. The guy turned out to be Mike Szczys, Managing Editor of hackaday.com, which says, "The Hackaday Prize will send one person into space for building the next evolution of hardware." That's certainly of interest to the hardware hacker/maker crowd. How they're going to arrange the space flight (probably one of those "just above the atmosphere" hops) isn't specified, but even so the contest is an interesting idea, and the Hack A Day site seems to have some interest hacks and tutorials on it. So go ahead and enter the contest -- and don't forget to take your camera with you on your flight into space, because we'll want to see pictures! (Alternate Video Link)
First time accepted submitter Graculus (3653645) writes "NASA has named Gavin A. Schmidt to head the agency's Goddard Institute for Space Studies (GISS) in New York, a leading Earth climate research laboratory. Currently deputy director of the institute, Schmidt steps into the position left vacant after the retirement of long-time director James E. Hansen and becomes only the third person to hold the post."
First time accepted submitter Joe_NoOne (48818) writes "A new theory suggests that our male ancestors evolved beefy facial features as a defense against fist fights. The bones most commonly broken in human punch-ups also gained the most strength in early hominin evolution. They are also the bones that show most divergence between males and females. From the article: 'Fossil records show that the australopiths, immediate predecessors of the human genus Homo, had strikingly robust facial structures. For many years, this extra strength was seen as an adaptation to a tough diet including nuts, seeds and grasses. But more recent findings, examining the wear pattern and carbon isotopes in australopith teeth, have cast some doubt on this "feeding hypothesis". "In fact, [the australopith] boisei, the 'nutcracker man', was probably eating fruit," said Prof David Carrier, the new theory's lead author and an evolutionary biologist at the University of Utah. Instead of diet, Prof Carrier and his co-author, physician Dr Michael Morgan, propose that violent competition demanded the development of these facial fortifications: what they call the "protective buttressing hypothesis".'"
A while ago you had the chance to ask amateur scientist, and author of the Getting Started in Electronics and the Engineer's Mini-Notebook series, Forrest Mims, a number of questions about science, engineering, and a lifetime of educating and experimenting. Below you'll find his detailed answers to those questions.
sciencehabit (1205606) writes "Greenland's white snow is getting darker. Scientists have generally attributed that darkening to larger, slightly less white snow grains caused by warmer temperatures. But researchers have found a new source of darkening taking hold: impurities in the snow. The new darkening effect could easily add 2 centimeters to the projections of 20 cm sea level rise by 2100—and perhaps more if impurity levels grow with time."