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  • The Truth About Solar Storms

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

    90 comments | 3 days ago

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

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

    310 comments | 3 days ago

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

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

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

    212 comments | 3 days ago

  • Comet To Make Close Call With Mars

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

    44 comments | 3 days ago

  • Western US States Using Up Ground Water At an Alarming Rate

    sciencehabit (1205606) writes A new study shows that ground water in the Colorado basin is being depleted six times faster than surface water. The groundwater losses, which take thousands of years to be recharged naturally, point to the unsustainability of exploding population centers and water-intensive agriculture in the basin, which includes most of Arizona and parts of Colorado, California, Nevada, Utah, New Mexico, and Wyoming. Because ground water feeds many of the streams and rivers in the area, more of them will run dry.

    369 comments | 4 days ago

  • Finding Life In Space By Looking For Extraterrestrial Pollution

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

    95 comments | 5 days ago

  • Oso Disaster Had Its Roots In Earlier Landslides

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

    64 comments | 5 days ago

  • UEA Research Shows Oceans Vital For Possibility of Alien Life

    An anonymous reader writes New research at the University of East Anglia finds that oceans are vital in the search for alien life. So far, computer simulations of habitable climates on other planets have focused on their atmospheres. But oceans play an equally vital role in moderating climates on planets and bringing stability to the climate, according to the study. From the press release: "The research team from UEA's schools of Mathematics and Environmental Sciences created a computer simulated pattern of ocean circulation on a hypothetical ocean-covered Earth-like planet. They looked at how different planetary rotation rates would impact heat transport with the presence of oceans taken into account. Prof David Stevens from UEA's school of Mathematics said: 'The number of planets being discovered outside our solar system is rapidly increasing. This research will help answer whether or not these planets could sustain alien life. We know that many planets are completely uninhabitable because they are either too close or too far from their sun. A planet's habitable zone is based on its distance from the sun and temperatures at which it is possible for the planet to have liquid water. But until now, most habitability models have neglected the impact of oceans on climate.'"

    97 comments | about a week ago

  • Snowden Seeks To Develop Anti-Surveillance Technologies

    An anonymous reader writes Speaking via a Google Hangout at the Hackers on Planet Earth Conference, Edward Snowden says he plans to work on technology to preserve personal data privacy and called on programmers and the tech industry to join his efforts. "You in this room, right now have both the means and the capability to improve the future by encoding our rights into programs and protocols by which we rely every day," he said. "That is what a lot of my future work is going to be involved in."

    129 comments | about a week ago

  • A Look At NASA's Orion Project

    An anonymous reader writes "People in north Iowa got a first-hand look at NASA's Orion Project. Contractors with NASA were in Forest City to talk about the new project and show off a model of the new spaceship. NASA has big plans to send humans to an asteroid by 2025. The mission, however, will not be possible without several important components that include yet-to-be-developed technologies, as well as the Space Launch System (SLS) and the Orion spacecraft to fly astronauts beyond low-Earth orbit. In fact, Orion's first flight test later this year will provide NASA with vital data that will be used to design future missions."

    108 comments | about a week ago

  • White House Approves Sonic Cannons For Atlantic Energy Exploration

    An anonymous reader writes: The White House on Friday gave final approval to allow the use of sonic cannons in finding energy deposits underneath the ocean floor on the U.S. Atlantic seaboard. The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management says that finding energy resources off the Atlantic seaboard "could generate thousands of jobs, but has also acknowledged that the process will harm sea creatures." Sonic cannons "fire sound waves 100 times louder than a jet engine." Mammals such as whales and dolphins that communicate through sound will most likely be affected, but scientists aren't sure to what extent. They also aren't sure how the cannons will affect fish and other sea creatures or how any physiological effects on them may impact the fishing industries of the U.S. and the other countries who rely on seafood that migrate into and out of the Atlantic Ocean.

    272 comments | about two weeks ago

  • Australia Repeals Carbon Tax

    schwit1 notes that the Australian government has repealed a controversial carbon tax. After almost a decade of heated political debate, Australia has become the world's first developed nation to repeal carbon laws that put a price on greenhouse gas emissions. In a vote that could highlight the difficulty in implementing additional measures to reduce carbon emissions ahead of global climate talks next year in Paris, Australia's Senate on Wednesday voted 39-32 to repeal a politically divisive carbon emissions price that contributed to the fall from power of three Australian leaders since it was first suggested in 2007.

    291 comments | about two weeks ago

  • New Map Fingers Future Hot Spots For U.S. Earthquakes

    sciencehabit writes Earthquake risk assessments can seem pretty abstract at first glance, with their "percent probabilities" and "peak ground accelerations." But the U.S. Geological Survey's (USGS's) national hazard maps, updated periodically, pack a powerful punch: Insurance companies and city planners rely heavily on the maps, which influence billions of dollars in construction every year. Today, USGS scientists released the most recent earthquake hazard assessments for the country. Although the picture hasn't changed much on a national scale since the last report in 2008, the devil is in the details, the report's authors say—and some areas in the country are now considered to be at higher risk for powerful quakes than once thought.

    49 comments | about two weeks ago

  • NIF Compresses Diamonds With 50 Million Atmospheres of Pressure

    sciencehabit (1205606) writes The world's largest laser [the National Ignition Facility], a machine that appeared as the warp core in 'Star Trek into Darkness', has attained a powerful result: It's squeezed diamond, the least compressible substance known, 50 million times harder than Earth's atmosphere presses down on us. ... As the researchers report online today in Nature, the x-ray assault nearly quadrupled the diamond's density. "That's a record," Smith [one of the researchers] says. "No one's compressed diamond to that extent before." The blast pulverized the diamond into dust, but before the mineral's destruction the scientists successfully measured its density ... For a billionth of a second, the diamond, which is normally 3.25 times denser than water, became ... 12.03 times denser than water. ... Scientists have speculated that diamond worlds may exist elsewhere. If a solar system arises with more carbon than oxygen, then carbon should soak up the oxygen by forming carbon monoxide, leaving excess carbon to create carbon planets—which, under pressure, become diamond worlds. Thus, Smith says, the new experiment will probe the nature of such planets. They are performing similar experiments with iron in an attempt to understand the properties of super-Earth cores.

    81 comments | about two weeks ago

  • Fossils of Cambrian Predator Preserved With Brain Impressions

    An anonymous reader writes "Researchers on Wednesday described fossilized remains unearthed in China showing in fine detail the brain structures of a bizarre group of sea creatures that were the top predators more than half a billion years ago. The 520-million-year-old creature, one of the first predators of its day, sported compound eyes, body armor and two spiky claws for grabbing prey. "The animals of the Cambrian are noted for being a collection of oddballs that are sometimes difficult to match up with anything currently living on Earth. But even among these oddities, Anomalocarids stand out (as their name implies). The creatures propelled themselves with a series of oar-like paddles arranged on their flanks, spotted prey with enormous compound eyes, and shoveled them into a disk-like mouth with large arms that resided at the very front of their bodies—although some of them ended up as filter feeders."

    45 comments | about two weeks ago

  • Giant Crater Appears In Northern Siberia

    New submitter DavidMZ writes: The Siberian Times reports on a large crater of unknown origin that has appeared in the Yamal Peninsula in northern Siberia. The Russian government has dispatched a group of scientists to investigate the 80-meter-wide crater. Anna Kurchatova from Siberia's Sub-Arctic Scientific Research Center believes the crater was a result of an explosion when a mixture of water, salt, and natural gas exploded underground. The Yamai Peninsula is known to hold Russia's biggest natural gas reserve."

    122 comments | about two weeks ago

  • The Last Three Months Were the Hottest Quarter On Record

    New submitter NatasRevol (731260) writes The last three months were collectively the warmest ever experienced since record-keeping began in the late 1800s. From the article: "Taken as a whole, the just-finished three-month period was about 0.68 degrees Celsius (1.22 degrees Fahrenheit) above the 20th-century average. That may not sound like much, but the added warmth has been enough to provide a nudge to a litany of weather and climate events worldwide. Arctic sea ice is trending near record lows for this time of year, abnormally warm ocean water helped spawn the earliest hurricane ever recorded to make landfall in North Carolina, and a rash of heat waves have plagued cities from India to California to the Middle East." Also, it puts to bed the supposed 'fact' that there's been a pause in temperature increase the last 17 years. Raw data shows it's still increasing. bizwriter also wrote in with some climate related news: A new report from libertarian think tank Heartland Institute claims that new government data debunks the concept of global climate change. However, an examination of the full data and some critical consideration shows that the organization, whether unintentionally or deliberately, has inaccurately characterized and misrepresented the information and what it shows. The Heartland Institute skews the data by taking two points and ignoring all of the data in between, kind of like grabbing two zero points from sin(x) and claiming you're looking at a steady state function.

    552 comments | about two weeks ago

  • People Who Claim To Worry About Climate Change Don't Cut Energy Use

    schwit1 (797399) writes with news that a UK study has found that folks concerned about climate change don't do much to conserve power at home. From the article: Those who say they are concerned about the prospect of climate change consume more energy than those who say it is "too far into the future to worry about," the study commissioned by the Department for Energy and climate change found. That is in part due to age, as people over 65 are more frugal with electricity but much less concerned about global warming. However, even when pensioners are discounted, there is only a "weak trend" to show that people who profess to care about climate change do much to cut their energy use. The findings were based on the Household Electricity Survey, which closely monitored the electricity use and views of 250 families over a year. The report (PDF), by experts from Loughborough University and Cambridge Architectural Research, was commissioned and published by DECC. High power use doesn't have to be dirty: Replace coal, methane, and petroleum with nuclear, wind, solar, etc.

    710 comments | about two weeks ago

  • Walter Munk's Astonishing Wave-Tracking Experiment

    An anonymous reader writes in with a look at a scientist's interesting wave-tracking experiment and the incredible journeys that waves make. His name is Walter Munk, now in his 90s and a professor emeritus at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography in La Jolla, California. About 60 years ago, he was anchored off Guadalupe Island, on Mexico's west coast, watching swells come in, and using an equation that he and others had devised to plot a wave's trajectory backward in time, he plotted the probable origins of those swells. But the answer he got was so startling, so over-the-top improbable, that he thought, "No, there must be something wrong." His equations said that the swells hitting beaches In Mexico began some 9,000 miles away — somewhere in the southern reaches of the Indian Ocean, near Antarctica. "Could it be?" he wrote in an autobiographical sketch. Could a storm half way across the world produce a patch of moving water that traveled from near the South Pole, up past Australia, then past New Zealand, then across the vast expanse of the Pacific, arriving still intact – at a beach off Mexico? He decided to find out for himself. That is why, in 1957, Walter Munk designed a global, real life, wave-watching experiment.

    55 comments | about two weeks ago

  • Arecibo Radio Telescope Confirms Extra-galactic Fast Radio Pulses

    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.

    95 comments | about two weeks ago

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