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mbone (558574) writes Mars One has announced that their first, unmanned, lander, targeted for 2018, needs payloads. Along with their 4 experiments, and a University experiment, they have two payloads for hire: "Mars One offers two payload opportunities for paying mission contributors. Proposals can take the form of scientific experiments, technology demonstrations, marketing and publicity campaigns, or any other suggested payload. 'Previously, the only payloads that have landed on Mars are those which NASA has selected,' said Bas Lansdorp, 'We want to open up the opportunity to the entire world to participate in our mission to Mars by sending a certain payload to the surface of Mars.'" The formal Request for Proposals for all of this is out now as well.
An anonymous reader writes "O3b Networks is aiming to provide internet access through satellite, to the "other three billion" people in under-served equatorial regions (Africa, the Pacific, South America). O3b launched four more satellites [Thursday], to add to the four they already have in orbit. This is a very international effort; a Russian Soyuz rocket went up from South America, carrying satellites built in France. There's a video of the rocket and payloads coming together and a video of the rocket launch. There's also an academic paper describing using the O3b system from the Cook Islands in the Pacific, giving an idea of what it does and those all-important ping times."
schwit1 writes: "The Arecibo radio telescope has confirmed the existence of fast radio pulses. "Fast radio bursts (FRBs) are bright flashes of radio waves that last only a few thousandths of a second. Scientists using the Parkes Observatory in Australia recorded such events for the first time, but the lack of any similar findings by other facilities led to speculation that the Australian instrument might have been picking up signals originating from sources on or near Earth. The discovery at Arecibo is the first detection of a fast radio burst using an instrument other than the Parkes radio telescope. The position of the radio burst is in the direction of the constellation Auriga in the Northern sky.
"Our result is important because it eliminates any doubt that these radio bursts are truly of cosmic origin," continues Victoria Kaspi, an astrophysics professor at McGill University in Montreal and Principal Investigator for the pulsar-survey project that detected this fast radio burst. "The radio waves show every sign of having come from far outside our galaxy – a really exciting prospect." Exactly what may be causing such radio bursts represents a major new enigma for astrophysicists. Possibilities include a range of exotic astrophysical objects, such as evaporating black holes, mergers of neutron stars, or flares from magnetars — a type of neutron star with extremely powerful magnetic fields." Be warned: All of the above theories could also be wrong. These fast radio flashes could just as easily turn out to be something entirely unpredicted.
An anonymous reader writes: The Mississippi child, who was born with HIV passed from her mother, received HIV treatment for 18 months after her birth. In the course of over two years after the treatment, her blood indicated no trace of the virus or of HIV-specific antibodies, leading many to hope that she may have been cured completely. Earlier this month, however, the virus was detected again. Nearly 4 years old, the child is once more being given HIV treatment, and scientists are trying to figure out how she could have gone so long before relapsing.
MarkWhittington writes: "Rep. Bill Posey (R-FL) announced on Thursday that he was introducing a bill along with Rep, Derek Kilmer (D-WA) called the American Space Technology for Exploring Resource Opportunities in Deep Space (ASTEROIDS) Act of 2014 (PDF). The act is designed to protect the private property rights for entities mining asteroids and to otherwise encourage asteroid mining. The bill is in apparent reaction to efforts by companies like Planetary Resources and Deep Space Industries to locate and mine Earth approaching asteroids for their resources.
The crucial part of the short piece of legislation states that the resources mined from an asteroid would be the property of the entity undertaking the operation. This language gets around the provision of the Outer Space Treaty that says states are forbidden to establish national sovereignty over celestial bodies, which would be a prerequisite to the United States allowing a private entity to own an asteroid. It rather grants mineral rights to the asteroid, something the treaty does not mention. There is no enforcement mechanism in the event of a dispute with another country, however."
sciencehabit writes Scientists have found a way to combine Van de Graaff generators with a common laboratory instrument to detect drugs, explosives, and other illicit materials on the human body. In the laboratory, scientists had a volunteer touch a Van de Graaff generator for 2 seconds to charge his body to 400,000 volts. This ionized compounds on the surface of his body. The person then pointed their charged finger toward the inlet of a mass spectrometer, and ions from their body entered the machine. In various tests, the machine correctly identified explosives, flammable solvents, cocaine, and acetaminophen on the skin.
blackbeak (1227080) writes The Washington Post reports that the Journal of Vibration and Control's review system was hijacked by a ring of reviewers. 60 articles have been retracted as a result. "After a 14-month investigation, JVC determined the ring involved “aliases” and fake e-mail addresses of reviewers — up to 130 of them — in an apparently successful effort to get friendly reviews of submissions and as many articles published as possible by Chen and his friends.'On at least one occasion, the author Peter Chen reviewed his own paper under one of the aliases he created,' according to the SAGE announcement."
Jason Koebler writes SpaceX just got approval from the Federal Aviation Administration to build a 56.5-acre spaceport along the Gulf of Mexico on the Texas-Mexico border—a huge step toward actually making the spaceport a reality. Wednesday, the FAA, which handles all commercial space launch permitting in the United States, issued what's known as a "Record of Decision" that suggests the agency would allow the company to launch 10 Falcon 9 rockets and two Falcon Heavy rockets per year out of the spaceport, through at least 2025.
An anonymous reader points out this update on the world's largest virus, discovered in March. Chantal Abergel and Jean-Michel Claverie were used to finding strange viruses. The married virologists at Aix-Marseille University had made a career of it. But pithovirus, which they discovered in 2013 in a sample of Siberian dirt that had been frozen for more than 30,000 years, was more bizarre than the pair had ever imagined a virus could be. In the world of microbes, viruses are small — notoriously small. Pithovirus is not. The largest virus ever discovered, pithovirus is more massive than even some bacteria. Most viruses copy themselves by hijacking their host's molecular machinery. But pithovirus is much more independent, possessing some replication machinery of its own. Pithovirus's relatively large number of genes also differentiated it from other viruses, which are often genetically simple — the smallest have a mere four genes. Pithovirus has around 500 genes, and some are used for complex tasks such as making proteins and repairing and replicating DNA. "It was so different from what we were taught about viruses," Abergel said. The stunning find, first revealed in March, isn't just expanding scientists' notions of what a virus can be. It is reframing the debate over the origins of life."
Ars Technica notes (as does Oatmeal creator Matthew Inman) that Elon Musk has agreed to donate $1 million towards the restoration of Nikola Tesla's old lab as a museum, a project that Inman has been pushing for some time now. And if you happen to get there in a Tesla, you're in luck: Musk is also planning to install one of his company's superchargers in the parking lot. (At the other end of the east coast, you can visit a very different kind of Tesla museum.)
KentuckyFC (1144503) writes "In the 1970 World Cup in Mexico, teams used a new kind of ball called the Telstar made from 12 black pentagonal panels and 20 white hexagonal panels. This ball has icosahedral symmetry and its own molecular analogue in the form of C60, the famous soccer ball-shaped fullerene. In 2006, a new ball called the TeamGeist was introduced at the World Cup in Germany. This was made of 14 curved panels that together gave it tetrahedral symmetry. This also had a molecular analogue with tetrahedral symmetry among the fullerenes. Now teams at the current World Cup in Brazil are playing with yet another design: the Brazuca, a ball constructed from six panels each with a four-leaf clover shape that knit together like a jigsaw to form a sphere. This has octahedral symmetry. But here's question that has been puzzling chemists, topologists and..errr...soccer fans: is there a molecular analogue of the Brazuca? Or put another way, can fullerenes have octahedral symmetry? Now a pair of mathematicians have finally solved this problem. They've shown that fullerenes can indeed have octahedral symmetry just like the Brazuca, although in addition to hexagonal and pentagonal carbon rings, the ball-shaped molecules must also have rings of 4 and 8 carbon atoms. The next stage is to actually synthesis one of these fullerenes, perhaps something to keep chemists occupied until the 2018 World Cup in Russia."
StartsWithABang writes 55 years ago, the Soviet probe Luna 3 imaged the side of the Moon that faces away from us for the first time. Surprisingly, there were only two very small maria (dark regions) and large amounts of mountainous terrain, in stark contrast to the side that faces us. This remained a mystery for a very long time, even after we developed the giant impact hypothesis to explain the origin of the Moon. But a new study finally appears to solve the mystery, crediting the heat generated on the near side from a hot, young Earth with creating the differences between the two hemispheres.
An anonymous reader writes "Video game designers and astronomers have been working different ends of the same problem: how to chart a galaxy full of stars. Astronomers start with observation, finding new and better ways to look into the sky and record what they can see. Game devs take the limited data we have as a starting point, and assume that everything else in the galaxy obeys roughly the same rules. They generate the rest of the galaxy procedurally from this data. But the information flow isn't simply one-way. As developers like David Braben improve their galaxy-creation models, astronomers can look at the models and see where they match (or not) with further observations, allowing them to improve their own scientific models in the process. "'The conflicts that show up are generally due to simplifications made in the models, for which new observations can provide improved guidelines. There's a continuously evolving and developing understanding of space, in which both models and observations play important roles.' ... Elite's model has expanded Braben's understanding of planet formation and distribution. Braben boasts that his games predicted extra-solar planets ('These were pretty close to those that have been since discovered, demonstrating that there is some validity in our algorithms'), and that the game's use of current planet-formation theories has shown the sheer number of different systems that can exist according to the rules, everything from nebulous gas giants to theoretically habitable worlds.""
astroengine writes: 'How cosmic dust is created has been a mystery for some time. Although the textbooks tell us that the dusty stuff that builds the planets — and, ultimately, the complex chemistry that forms life (we are, after all, made of 'star stuff') — comes from supernova explosions, astronomers have been puzzled as to how delicate grains of dust condense from stellar material and how they can possibly survive the violent shock waves of the cataclysmic booms. But now, with the help of a powerful ground-based telescope, astronomers have not only watched one of these supernova 'dust factories' in action, they've also discovered how the grains can withstand the violent supernova shock. "When the star explodes, the shockwave hits the dense gas cloud like a brick wall," said lead author Christa Gall, of Aarhus University, Denmark. "It is all in gas form and incredibly hot, but when the eruption hits the 'wall' the gas gets compressed and cools down to about 2,000 degrees. At this temperature and density elements can nucleate and form solid particles. We measured dust grains as large as around one micron (a thousandth of a millimeter), which is large for cosmic dust grains. They are so large that they can survive their onward journey out into the galaxy (PDF)." The surprising size of the measured dust particles means they can better survive the supernova's shockwave. This research has been published in the journal Nature.
mdsolar sends this story from the NY Times: Here's what your future will look like if we are to have a shot at preventing devastating climate change. Within about 15 years every new car sold in the United States will be electric. ... Up to 60 percent of power might come from nuclear sources. And coal's footprint will shrink drastically, perhaps even disappear from the power supply. This course, created by a team of energy experts, was unveiled on Tuesday in a report for the United Nations (PDF) that explores the technological paths available for the world's 15 main economies to both maintain reasonable rates of growth and cut their carbon emissions enough by 2050 to prevent climatic havoc. It offers a sobering conclusion: We might be able to pull it off. But it will take an overhaul of the way we use energy, and a huge investment in the development and deployment of new energy technologies. Significantly, it calls for an entirely different approach to international diplomacy on the issue of how to combat climate change.
the_newsbeagle (2532562) writes "People who have experienced traumatic brain injuries sometimes lose the ability to form new memories or recall old ones. Since many veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan suffered TBIs, the U.S. military is funding research on an implantable device that could do the job of damaged brain cells." Lofty goals: "To start, DARPA will support the development of multi-scale computational models with high spatial and temporal resolution that describe how neurons code declarative memories — those well-defined parcels of knowledge that can be consciously recalled and described in words, such as events, times, and places. Researchers will also explore new methods for analysis and decoding of neural signals to understand how targeted stimulation might be applied to help the brain reestablish an ability to encode new memories following brain injury. ... Building on this foundational work, researchers will attempt to integrate the computational models ... into new, implantable, closed-loop systems able to deliver targeted neural stimulation that may ultimately help restore memory function."
sciencehabit (1205606) writes For decades, physicists have sought the sources of the most energetic subatomic particles in the universe — cosmic rays that strike the atmosphere with as much energy as well-thrown baseballs. Now, a team working with the Telescope Array, a collection of 507 particle detectors covering 700 square kilometers of desert in Utah, has observed a broad 'hotspot' in the sky in which such cosmic rays seem to originate. Although not definitive, the observation suggests the cosmic rays emanate from a distinct source near our galaxy and not from sources spread all over the universe.
MarkWhittington writes: While he has initiated the social media campaign, #Apollo45, to commemorate the 45th anniversary of the first moon landing, Apollo 11 astronaut Buzz Aldrin is also using the occasion to campaign for an expansion of American space exploration. According to a Tuesday story in the Washington Post, Aldrin has expressed the wish that President Obama make some sort of announcement along those lines this July 20. The idea has a certain aspect of deja vu. Aldrin believes that the American civil space program is adrift and that some new space exploration, he prefers to Mars, would be just the thing to set it back on course. There is only one problem, however. President Obama has already made the big space exploration announcement. Aldrin knows this because he was there. President Obama flew to the Kennedy Space Center on April 15, 2010, with Aldrin accompanying as a photo op prop, and made the announcement that America would no longer be headed back to the moon, as was the plan under his predecessor George W. Bush. Instead American astronauts would visit an Earth approaching asteroid and then, decades hence, would land on Mars.
An anonymous reader writes Dr. James Simons received his doctorate at the age of 23. He was breaking codes for the NSA at 26, and was put in charge of Stony Brook University's math department at 30. He received the Veblen Prize in Geometry in 1976. Today, he's a multi-billionaire, using his fortune to set up educational foundations for math and science. "His passion, however, is basic research — the risky, freewheeling type. He recently financed new telescopes in the Chilean Andes that will look for faint ripples of light from the Big Bang, the theorized birth of the universe. The afternoon of the interview, he planned to speak to Stanford physicists eager to detect the axion, a ghostly particle thought to permeate the cosmos but long stuck in theoretical limbo. Their endeavor 'could be very exciting,' he said, his mood palpable, like that of a kid in a candy store." Dr. Simons is quick to say this his persistence, more than his intelligence, is key to his success: "I wasn't the fastest guy in the world. I wouldn't have done well in an Olympiad or a math contest. But I like to ponder. And pondering things, just sort of thinking about it and thinking about it, turns out to be a pretty good approach."
Jason Koebler writes: The last remaining strains of smallpox are kept in highly protected government laboratories in Russia and at the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta. And, apparently, in a dusty cardboard box in an old storage room in Maryland. The CDC said today that government workers had found six freeze-dried vials of the Variola virus, which causes smallpox, in a storage room at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Maryland last week. Each test tube had a label on it that said "variola," which was a tip-off, but the agency did genetic testing to confirm that the viruses were, in fact, smallpox.
An anonymous reader writes: Many prominent news organizations, including the BBC, are reporting on a study (PDF) that claims a new blood test is 87% accurate in predicting which patients will develop cognitive impairment. It's hailed as a major step forward in efforts to fight dementia and Alzheimer's disease. Unfortunately, reality isn't quite so impressive. An article at MedPage Today explains all of the statistical facts that the mainstream press glosses over: "Only about 10% of patients of patients with MCI convert to clinical dementia per year. With nearly 30% of positive results false (remember, the specificity was 71%) as well as 15% of negative results false, most of the positive results in such a group will be false. Yes, it's time once again for a tutorial in positive predictive values. If we have 100 MCI patients and a 10% conversion rate, then 10 of them will develop dementia. These are the true positives. There will be 90 true negatives — the ones who don't convert. But with a specificity of 71%, the test will falsely identify 29% of the 90 true negatives, or 26, as positive. Meanwhile, with a false negative rate of 15%, only nine (rounding up from 8.5) of the 10 true positives will be correctly identified. ... It's easy to get a high negative predictive value when the annual event rate is 10%. If I simply predict that no one will convert, I'll be right 90% of the time."
Kittenman writes: The BBC is carrying information on a type of contraception (funded in part by Bill Gates) that takes the form of a microchip, inserted under the skin. The chip releases contraceptive hormones to the body until wirelessly advised not to do so. This device has several interesting applications and issues associated with it. The researchers are already working on making the device secure against unauthorized transmissions. There's also the issue of making it easier for governments to control population levels. The chip will be available from 2018. This correspondent will watch the issues with interest.
bmahersciwriter (2955569) writes In one of the biggest-ever seismology deployments at an active volcano, researchers are peppering Mount St Helens in Washington state with equipment to study the intricate system of chambers and pipes that fed the most devastating eruption in U.S. history. This month, they plan to set off 24 explosions — each equivalent to a magnitude-2 earthquake — around around the slumbering beast in an effort to map the its interior with unprecedented depth and clarity.
itwbennett (1594911) writes "The Social Security numbers of roughly 18,000 California physicians and health-care providers were inadvertently made public after a slip-up at health insurance provider Blue Shield of California, the organization said Monday. The numbers were included in monthly filings on medical providers that Blue Shield is required to make to the state's Department of Managed Health Care (DMHC). The provider rosters for February, March and April 2013 included the SSNs and other sensitive information and were available under the state's public records law." Ten copies were requested under the public records law.
coondoggie writes Taking a page from NASA's rocket powered landing craft from its most recent Mars landing mission, the European Space Agency is showing off a quadcopter that the organization says can steer itself to smoothly lower a rover onto a safe patch of the rocky Martian surface. The ESA said its dropship, known as the StarTiger's Dropter is indeed a customized quadcopter drone that uses a GPS, camera and inertial systems to fly into position, where it then switches to vision-based navigation supplemented by a laser range-finder and barometer to lower and land a rover autonomously.
sciencehabit writes Fossils unearthed at a construction project in South Carolina belong to a bird with the largest wingspan ever known, according to a new study. The animal measured 6.4 meters from wingtip to wingtip, about the length of a 10-passenger limousine and approaching twice the size of the wandering albatross, today's wingspan record-holder. Like modern-day albatrosses, the newly described species would have been a soaring champ.
KentuckyFC writes The idea that light waves can push a physical object is far from new. But a much more recent idea is that a laser beam can also pull objects like a tractor beam. Now a team of Australian physicists has used a similar idea to create a tractor beam with water waves that pulls floating objects rather than pushes them. Their technique is to use an elongated block vibrating on the surface of water to create a train of regular plane waves. When the amplitude of these waves is small, they gradually push the surface of the water along, creating a flow that pushes floating objects with it. However, when the amplitude increases, the waves become non-linear and begin to interact with each other in a complex way. This sets up a flow of water on the surface in the opposite direction to the movement of the waves. The result is that floating objects--ping pong balls in the experiment--are pulled towards the vibrating block, like a tractor beam.
samzenpus writes We recently had a chance to sit down with Edward Stone, Former Director of JPL, and ask him about his time as a project scientist for the Voyager program and the future of space exploration. In addition to our questions, we asked him a number of yours. Read below to see what professor Stone had to say.
chicksdaddy writes Mobile health and wellness is one of the fastest growing categories of mobile apps. Already, apps exist that measure your blood pressure and take your pulse, jobs traditionally done by tried and true instruments like blood pressure cuffs and stethoscopes. If that sounds to you like the kind of thing the FDA should be vetting, don't hold your breath. A senior advisor to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has warned that the current process for approving medical devices couldn't possibly meet the challenge of policing mobile health and wellness apps and that, in most cases, the agency won't even try. Bakul Patel, and advisor to the FDA, said the Agency couldn't scale to police hundreds of new health and wellness apps released each month to online marketplaces like the iTunes AppStore and Google Play.
An anonymous reader writes in with this look at the amazingly successful Cassini mission and the discoveries it has made. Scientists says Cassini is helping them understand how our solar system developed. Of the astronomically profound discoveries it's made over a decade of circling, the startling hint this April of a new moon being formed in the rings of Saturn is merely the latest. Indeed, the spacecraft Cassini — which inserted itself into orbit around the giant gas planet in July, 2004 — has transmitted imagery and sensory data back to Earth that has given us a new understanding of our bejewelled neighbour three doors down. "It's one of the most successful (space) missions probably ever," says University of Toronto astrophysicist Hanno Rein, whose own work has been significantly informed by the tiny craft's output.
An anonymous reader writes "One moment you're conscious, the next you're not. For the first time, researchers have switched off consciousness by electrically stimulating a single brain area. Although only tested in one person, the discovery suggests that a single area – the claustrum – might be integral to combining disparate brain activity into a seamless package of thoughts, sensations and emotions. It takes us a step closer to answering a problem that has confounded scientists and philosophers for millennia – namely how our conscious awareness arises. When the team zapped the area with high frequency electrical impulses, the woman lost consciousness. She stopped reading and stared blankly into space, she didn't respond to auditory or visual commands and her breathing slowed. As soon as the stimulation stopped, she immediately regained consciousness with no memory of the event. The same thing happened every time the area was stimulated during two days of experiments.
An anonymous reader writes Having completed his 31-day stretch underwater, Fabien Cousteau, grandson of famed oceanographer Jacques Cousteau, shows off his underwater laboratory to PBS in this video. When asked about his observations' Fabien said' "It's just amazing, we've seen so much new behavior that I've never seen before. Fish sleeping in sponges, a goliath grouper attacking a barracuda, never seen that before, I don't think anyone has ever caught it on film before. Christmas tree worms, spawning and giving off this milky smoke like stuff off. I mean it's just science fiction, it's really amazing down here. And that's why we're down here, my grandfather used to say, in order to film a fish you must become a fish. So we're trying to get as close as we can to becoming fish."
An anonymous reader writes Researchers had previously thought that, being excessively uncommon and migrant, whales didn't have much of an effect on the more extensive marine environment. However, a new study distributed in the journal Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment gives whales a role as "engineers" of the oceans. In the study, scientists from the University of Vermont suggest that the 13 types of extraordinary whale have an essential and positive impact on the capacity of seas, on carbon storage, and on the state of fisheries around the globe. "The decline in great whale numbers, estimated to be at least 66% and perhaps as high as 90%, has likely altered the structure and function of the oceans, but recovery is possible and in many cases is already underway," researchers wrote in an article announcing their investigation.
An anonymous reader writes A newly discovered planet in a binary, or twin, star system located 3,000 light-years from Earth is expanding astronomers' notions of where Earth-like planets can form. At twice the mass of Earth, the planet orbits one of the stars in the binary system at almost exactly the same distance at which Earth orbits the sun. However, because the planet's host star is much dimmer than the sun, the planet is much colder than Earth. "This greatly expands the potential locations to discover habitable planets in the future," said Scott Gaudi, professor of astronomy at Ohio State. "Half the stars in the galaxy are in binary systems. We had no idea if Earth-like planets in Earth-like orbits could even form in these systems."
schnell writes A New York Times article discusses a recent Yale study that shows that contrary to popular belief, increased scientific literacy does not correspond to increased belief in accepted scientific findings when it contradicts their religious or political views. The article notes that this is true across the political/religious spectrum and "factual and scientific evidence is often ineffective at reducing misperceptions and can even backfire on issues like weapons of mass destruction, health care reform and vaccines." So what is to be done? The article suggests that "we need to try to break the association between identity and factual beliefs on high-profile issues – for instance, by making clear that you can believe in human-induced climate change and still be a conservative Republican."
Two suspected exoplanets, Gliese 581g and 581d, have been shown to not exist, and are instead misinterpretations of data from starspot activity. From the article: "Gliese 581g doesn't exist," said lead author Paul Robertson of Penn State University in State College, Pennsylvania. Neither, he said, does another planet in the same solar system, known as Gliese 581d, announced in 2009—less clearly hospitable to life, but still once seen by some astronomers as a possible place to find aliens. ... What's happening, they say, is that magnetic disturbances on Gliese 581's surface — starspots — are altering the star's spectrum in such a way that it mimics the motion induced by a planet. The star itself rotates once every 130 days, carrying the starspots with it; the disputed planets appeared to have periods of almost exactly one half and one fourth of the 130-day period. When the scientists corrected for the starspot signal, both planets disappeared.
An anonymous reader writes Oklahoma has already experienced about 240 minor earthquakes this year, roughly double the rate at which California has had them. A recent study (abstract) has now tied those earthquakes to fracking. From the article: "Fracking itself doesn't seem to be causing many earthquakes at all. However, after the well is fracked, all that wastewater needs to be pumped back out and disposed of somewhere. Since it's often laced with chemicals and difficult to treat, companies will often pump the wastewater back underground into separate disposal wells. Wastewater injection comes with a catch, however: The process both pushes the crust in the region downward and increases pressure in cracks along the faults. That makes the faults more prone to slippages and earthquakes. ... More specifically, the researchers concluded that 89 wells were likely responsible for most of the seismic activity. And just four wells located southeast of Oklahoma City were likely responsible for about one-fifth of seismic activity in the state between 2008 and 2013."
As reported by the Sydney Morning Herald, NASA has given a green light to the production of a new motor, dubbed the Space Launch System, intended to enable deep space exploration. Boeing, prime contractor on the rocket, announced on Wednesday that it had completed a critical design review and finalized a $US2.8-billion contract with NASA. The last time the space agency made such an assessment of a deep-space rocket was the mighty Saturn V, which took astronauts to the moon. ... Space Launch System's design called for the integration of existing hardware, spurring criticism that it's a "Frankenstein rocket," with much of it assembled from already developed technology. For instance, its two rocket boosters are advanced versions of the Space Shuttle boosters, and a cryogenic propulsion stage is based on the motor of a rocket often used by the Air Force. The Space Frontier Foundation, an advocacy group and frequent NASA critic, said Space Launch System was "built from rotting remnants of left over congressional pork. And its budgetary footprints will stamp out all the missions it is supposed to carry, kill our astronaut program and destroy science and technology projects throughout NASA."
StartsWithABang (3485481) writes "It was one of the most hotly contested questions for decades: we first expected and then found supermassive black holes at the centers of practically all large galaxies. But how did they get there? In particular, you could imagine it happening either way: either there was this top-down scenario, where large-scale structures formed first and fragmented into galaxies, forming black holes at their centers afterwards, or a bottom-up scenario, where small-scale structures dominate at the beginning, and larger ones only form later from the merger of these earlier, little ones. As it turns out, both of these play a role in our Universe, but as far as the question of what came first, black holes or galaxies, only one answer is right."
Zothecula writes: For all the attention graphene gets thanks to its impressive list of properties, how many of us have actually encountered it in anything other than its raw graphite form? Show of hands. No-one? That's because it is still difficult to mass-produce without introducing defects. Now a team at the Korea Institute of Science and Technology has developed a graphene substitute from plastic that offers the benefits of graphene for use in solar cells and semiconductor chips, but is easy to mass-produce (abstract).
sciencehabit writes "How much do we hate being alone with our own thoughts? Enough to give ourselves an electric shock. In a new study, researchers recruited hundreds of people and made them sit in an empty room and just think for about 15 minutes. About half of the volunteers hated the experience. In a separate experiment, 67% of men and 25% of women chose to push a button and shock themselves rather than just sit there quietly and think. One of the study authors suggests that the results may be due to boredom and the trouble that we have controlling our thoughts. "I think [our] mind is built to engage in the world," he says. "So when we don't give it anything to focus on, it's kind of hard to know what to do."
Zothecula writes If you're going to deploy robots in biological settings – for example, inside the body – it makes a lot of sense to build those robots out of actual biological body parts. Muscle, for example, is a very effective, biodegradable replacement for an electric actuator that can run in a nutrient-rich fluid without the need for any other power source. Bio-robotics experts in Illinois have demonstrated a bio-bot built from 3-D printed hydrogel and spinal muscle tissue that can "walk" in response to an electrical signal. Their next step will be trying to incorporate neurons that can get the bot walking in different directions when faced with different stimuli.
bmahersciwriter writes The news team at the scientific journal Nature turns its investigative power on the journal itself. The goal: to try and understand how two papers that made extraordinary claims about a new way to create stem cells managed to get published despite some obvious errors and a paucity of solid evidence. The saga behind these so-called STAP cells is engaging, but sadly reminiscent of so many other scientific controversies.
KentuckyFC writes Stars form when clouds of gas and dust collapse under their own gravity, generating enough heat and pressure to fuse the atoms inside them together. When this cloud of dust and gas is the remnants of a supernova, it can contain all kinds of heavy elements in addition to primordial hydrogen, helium and lithium. Now one astrophysicist has calculated that a recently discovered phenomenon of turbulence, called preferential concentration, can profoundly alter star formation. He points out that turbulence is essentially vortices rotating on many scales of time and space. On certain scales, the inertial forces these eddies create can push heavy particles into the calmer space between the vortices, thereby increasing their concentration. In giant clouds of interstellar gas, this concentrates heavy elements, increasing their gravitational field, attracting more mass and so on. The result is the formation of a star that is made entirely of heavy elements rather than primordial ones. Astrophysicists call the amount of heavy elements in a star its "metallicity". Including preferential concentration in the standard model of star formation leads to the prediction that 1 in 10,000 stars should be totally metal. Now the race is on to find the first of this new class of entirely metal stars.
Zothecula writes Rising atmospheric CO2 levels can generally be tackled in three ways: developing alternative energy sources with lower emissions; carbon capture and storage (CCS); and capturing carbon and repurposing it. Researchers at Princeton University are claiming to have developed a technique that ticks two of these three boxes by using solar power to convert CO2 into formic acid. With power from a commercially available solar panel provided by utility company Public Service Electric and Gas (PSE&G), researchers in the laboratory of Princeton professor of chemistry Andrew Bocarsly, working with researchers at New Jersey-based start-up Liquid Light Inc., converted CO2 and water to formic acid (HCOOH) in an electrochemical cell.
sciencehabit writes A "superathlete" gene that helps Sherpas and other Tibetans breathe easy at high altitudes was inherited from an ancient species of human. That's the conclusion of a new study, which finds that the gene variant came from people known as Denisovans, who went extinct soon after they mated with the ancestors of Europeans and Asians about 40,000 years ago. This is the first time a version of a gene acquired from interbreeding with another type of human has been shown to help modern humans adapt to their environment.
rtoz (2530056) writes Whenever there is a major spill of oil into water, the two tend to mix into a suspension of tiny droplets, called an "emulsion." It is extremely hard to separate them, and they can cause severe damage to ecosystems. Now, MIT researchers have discovered a new, inexpensive way of getting the two fluids apart again. This new approach uses membranes with hierarchical pore structures. The membranes combine a very thin layer of nanopores with a thicker layer of micropores to limit the passage of unwanted material while providing strength sufficient to withstand high pressure and throughput.
An anonymous reader writes: Traffic engineers had a problem to solve: too many pedestrians were getting hit by cars while using the crosswalks at intersections because they didn't know when the 'WALK' sign would change. Their solution was simple: implement a countdown timer. Countless cities have now adopted these timers, but it turns out to have an undesired consequence: motor vehicle crashes are actually increasing at intersections where the countdown timer is used. Researchers think this is because pedestrians aren't the only ones who see the timers. Drivers see them too, and it provides them with information on when the light will change. Then they anticipate the change by either speeding up to beat a change to red light, or anticipating a green light in order to get through before the pedestrians can move into the road. The researchers suggest finding some way to hide the countdown from the drivers, perhaps through the use of an audio countdown that would be difficult to hear from inside a car.
sciencehabit writes: In North America, they're called Bigfoot or Sasquatch. In the Himalayan foothills, they're known as yeti or abominable snowmen. And Russians call them Almasty. But in the scientific laboratory, these elusive, hairy, humanoid creatures are nothing more than bears, horses, and dogs. That's the conclusion of a new study—the first peer-reviewed, genetic survey of biological samples claimed to be from the shadowy beasts. To identify the evolutionary source of each sample, the team determined the sequence of a gene—found inside the mitochondria of cells—that encodes the 12S RNA, which is often used for species identification. Unlike standard DNA, mitochondrial genes are passed only from mother to offspring.
Seven of the samples didn’t yield enough DNA for identification. Of the 30 that were sequenced, all matched the exact 12S RNA sequences for known species, the team reports online today in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B. Ten hairs belonged to various bear species; four were from horses; four were from wolves or dogs; one was a perfect match to a human hair; and the others came from cows, raccoons, deer, and even a porcupine. Two samples, from India and Bhutan, matched polar bear 12S RNA—a surprising finding that Sykes is following up on to determine whether some Himalayan bears are hybrid species with polar bears.
vasanth writes: "India has put into orbit five foreign satellites, including one built by France two from Canada and one each from Singapore and Germany. The PSLV (Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle) has so far successfully launched 67 satellites, including 40 foreign ones, into space. The PSLV costs about 17 million USD and the cost is seen as a major advantage India has over other countries in terms of commercial launches. When talking about the cost of the project, the Prime Minister of India noted that the launch was cheaper than Hollywood film Gravity.