Space

SpaceX Sets Feb. 24th Target Date For Next Launch 6

Rei writes: After some consternation about the pacing of Falcon 9 upgrades, SpaceX has announced that it plans to launch again from Cape Canaveral with a target date of February 24th. While the primary mission will be to place the SES-9 communications satellite in orbit, this will also mark their fourth attempt to land the first stage on an autonomous drone ship, after their last launch touched down softly but fell over when one leg failed to latch. SpaceX is working to significantly accelerate the rate of production and launches — they are reportedly moving the factory from 6-8 cores produced per year to 18 at present, and expect to reach 30 by the end of the year. After the upcoming launch, they expect to launch one rocket every two to three weeks.
Mars

NASA Is Building a Virtual Mars For VR Viewing (unrealengine.com) 28

An anonymous reader writes: NASA will release a free virtual reality program this year that will simulate exploring the surface of Mars. "Players will be able to walk on the Red Planet as well as drive the Mars Rover..." reads the official announcement at UnrealEngine.com. The Mars 2030 Experience will be available on Oculus Rift, Google Cardboard, and Samsung Gear VR, and will also "expand" to Sony PlayStation VR and HTC Vive, with additional versions for Android and iOS devices, and it will even be streamed on Twitch. NASA plans to reveal more details at this year's South by Southwest conference in March.
Space

Thirty Meter Telescope Likely Never Gets Built ... In Hawaii 215

An anonymous reader writes: After years of its backers of doing everything the state of Hawaii demanded in order to get permission to build the Thirty Meter Telescope, a state judge today ordered that the whole process should start over again. Since this order was instigated by the protesters, and that it appears the government favors those protesters, it appears that there is no chance TMT will ever get approval to build in Hawaii. We've been following the back and forth, back and forth story of this telescope for a while.
Space

NASA Announces That Pluto Has Icebergs Floating On Glaciers of Nitrogen Ice (blastingnews.com) 38

MarkWhittington writes: The most recent finding from New Horizons show that icebergs have broken off from the hills surrounding the Sputnik Planum, a glacier of nitrogen ice, and are floating slowly across its surface, eventually to cluster together in places like the Challenger Colles, informally named after the crew of the space shuttle Challenger, which was lost just over 30 years ago. The feature is an especially high concentration of icebergs, measuring 37 by 22 miles. The icebergs float on the nitrogen ice plain because water ice is less dense than nitrogen ice.
Businesses

Startup Uses Sensor Networks To Debug Science Experiments (xconomy.com) 18

gthuang88 writes: Environmental factors like temperature, humidity, or lighting often derail life science experiments. Now Elemental Machines, a startup from the founders of Misfit Wearables, is trying to help scientists debug experiments using distributed sensors and machine-learning software to detect anomalies. The product is in beta testing with academic labs and biotech companies. The goal is to help speed up things like biology research and drug development. Wiring up experiments is part of a broader effort to create "smart labs" that automate some of the scientific process.
Technology

World's Smallest Optical Switch Uses a Single Atom (gizmag.com) 38

Zothecula writes: The rapid and on-going development of micro-miniature optical electronic devices is helping to usher in a new era of photonic computers and light-based memories that promise super-fast processor speeds and ultra-secure communications. However, as these components are shrunk ever further, fundamental limits to their dimensions are dictated by the wavelength of light itself. Now researchers at ETH Zurich claim to have overcome this limitation by creating both the world's smallest optical switch using a single atom, and accompanying circuitry that appears to break the rules by being smaller than the wavelength of the light that passes through it.
Space

Giant Magellan Telescope Set To Revolutionize Ground-Based Astronomy 102

StartsWithABang writes: If you want to see farther, deeper and at higher resolution than ever before into the Universe, you need four things: the largest aperture possible, the best-quality optical systems and cameras/CCDs, the least interference from the atmosphere, and the analytical techniques and power to make the most of every photon. While the last three have improved tremendously over the past 25 years, telescope size hasn't increased at all. That's all about to change over the next decade, as three telescopes — the Giant Magellan Telescope, the Thirty Meter Telescope and the European Extremely Large Telescope — are set to take us from 8-10 meter class astronomy to 25-40 meter class. While the latter two are fighting over funding, construction rights and other political concerns, the Giant Magellan Telescope is already under construction, and is poised to be the first in line to begin the future of ground-based astronomy.
Input Devices

Let Your Pupils Do the Typing 48

New submitter s.mathot writes: Researchers from France and the Netherlands have developed a way to—literally—write text by thinking of letters. (Academic paper [open access], non-technical blog, YouTube video.) This technique relies on small changes in pupil size that occur when you covertly (from the corner of your eye; without moving your eyes or body) attend to bright or dark objects. By presenting a virtual keyboard on which the 'keys' alternate in brightness, and simultaneously measuring the size of the eye's pupil, the technique automatically determines which letter you want to write; as a result, you can write letters by merely attending to them, without moving any part of your body, including the eyes.
Moon

Apollo Astronaut Edgar Mitchell, Sixth Man On the Moon, Dies At 85 (examiner.com) 110

MarkWhittington writes: According to a story in the Palm Beach Post, Edgar Mitchell, the sixth man to walk on the moon, has died at the age of 85. He flew as lunar module pilot on board Apollo 14, which flew to and from the moon between January 31, 1971 and February 9, 1971. His crewmates were Alan Shepard and Stuart Roosa. Apollo 14 was the return to flight for the moon landing program after the near disaster of Apollo 13 in April 1970, and explored the Fra Mauro highlands on the lunar surface. NASA marks Mitchell's passing as well.
Science

Wendelstein 7-X Fusion Reactor Produces Its First Flash of Hydrogen Plasma (gizmag.com) 98

Zothecula writes: Experimentation with Germany's newest fusion reactor is beginning to heat up, to temperatures of around 80 million degrees Celsius, to be precise. Having fired up the Wendelstein 7-X to produce helium plasma late last year, researchers have built on their early success to generate its first hydrogen plasma, an event they say begins the true scientific operation of the world's largest fusion stellarator.
Biotech

DNA Makes Lifeless Materials Shapeshift (sciencemag.org) 26

sciencehabit writes: Researchers have engineered tiny gold particles that can assemble into a variety of crystalline structures simply by adding a bit of DNA to the solution that surrounds them. Down the road, such reprogrammable particles could be used to make materials that reshape themselves in response to light, or to create novel catalysts that reshape themselves as reactions proceed.
Medicine

Researchers Uncover the Genetic Roots Behind Rare Vibration Allergy (vice.com) 82

derekmead writes: A team of National Health Institute researchers has for the first time uncovered the genetic roots of one of the strangest allergies: vibrations. The vibration allergy, which is just as it sounds, may be quite rare, but understanding it more completely may yield important insights into the fundamental malfunctioning of immune cells in the presence of allergens. The group's findings are published in the New England Journal of Medicine. In addition to being uncommon, the vibration allergy is not very dangerous. In most cases, the allergic response is limited to hives—the pale, prickly rash most often associated with allergic and autoimmune reactions. Other less-common symptoms include headaches, blurry vision, fatigue, and flushing. The triggering vibrations are everyday things: jogging, jackhammering, riding a motorcycle, towel drying. Symptoms appear within a few minutes of exposure and are gone usually within an hour.
Science

Don't Hate Perky Morning People: It Might Be Their DNA's Fault. (arstechnica.com) 109

New submitter Striek writes: Aggregated genome data from 23andme.com was analyzed and published in Nature magazine, and now further evidence has been added to the belief that being a morning person or a night owl is wired in our DNA. It's not the first time such research has been published, either. So those of us who work late into the night and prefer to rise at noon, much to the chagrin of our partners, can point to our DNA as the reason, not our lazy habits.
Medicine

To Respond To a Disease Outbreak, Bring In the Portable Genome Sequencers (ieee.org) 33

the_newsbeagle writes: Epidemiologists working on Zika virus could benefit from portable genome sequencers, like these used during the Ebola outbreak. In spring 2015, researchers conducted the first experiment in real-time genetic surveillance during an infectious disease epidemic. The researchers packed all their equipment in a couple of suitcases and set up a mobile lab in Guinea, where they used palm-sized sequencing devices to analyze viral RNA from 142 patients. Genomic data can illuminate the chains of transmission in an outbreak, and can help scientists develop diagnostics and vaccines.
Mars

Congressional Testimony Says NASA Has No Plan For the Journey To Mars (blastingnews.com) 310

MarkWhittington writes: Testimony at a hearing before the House Science Committee's Subcommittee on Space suggested that NASA's Journey to Mars lacks a plan to achieve the first human landing on the Red Planet, almost six years after President Obama announced the goal on April 15, 2010. Moreover, two of the three witnesses argued that a more realistic near term goal for the space agency would be a return to the moon. The moon is not only a scientifically interesting and potentially commercially profitable place to go but access to lunar water, which can be refined into rocket fuel, would make the Journey to Mars easier and cheaper.
Medicine

Cheap At $40,000: Phoenix Exoskeleton Gives Paraplegics Legs to Walk With 37

Fast Company highlights the cheap-for-the-price Phoenix exoskeleton, created by University of California Berkeley professor (and Berkeley Robotics and Human Engineering Laboratory director) Homayoon Kazerooni and a team of his former grad students at SuitX, a company Kazerooni founded in 2013. Set to sell for $40,000 when it goes on sale next month, the Phoenix sounds expensive -- except compared to the alternatives. For paraplegic patients, there are a handful of other powered exoskeletons, but they cost much more, and are engineered for more than the modest goals of the Phoenix, which allows only one thing: slow walking on level ground. That limited objective means that the rig is light (27 pounds), and relatively unobtrusive. Kazerooni says that he'd like the price to go down much further, too, noting that all the technology in a modern motorcyle can be had for the quarter of the price. A slice: [The] only driving motors in Phoenix are at the hip joints. When the user hits a forward button on their crutches, their left hip swings forward. At this moment, the onboard computer signals the knee to become loose, flex, and clear the ground. As the foot hits, the knee joint stiffens again to support the leg. This computer-choreographed process repeats for the right leg. As it happens, this hinged knee joint has another benefit. If the wearer hits something midstep, like a rock or a curb, a powered knee would blindly drive the leg forward anyway, likely leading to a fall. The hinge naturally absorbs such resistance and allows the wearer a chance to compensate.
Moon

Russia Begins Work On a Lunar Lander (examiner.com) 91

MarkWhittington writes: Whether and when Russia will try to send cosmonauts to the moon is an open question. The Putin government has heavily slashed spending on the Russian space program, a measure brought on by declining oil and gas revenues. But, as Popular Mechanics reports, Russian engineers have gone ahead and have started to design a lunar lander for the eventual Russian lunar surface effort. When money is going to be forthcoming for such a vehicle is unknown, though Russia could partner with another country with lunar ambitions, such as China or the European Union.
Biotech

Ethics Panel Endorses Mitochondrial Therapy, But Says Start With Male Embryos (sciencemag.org) 125

sciencehabit writes: An experimental assisted reproduction technique that could allow some families to avoid having children with certain types of heritable disease should be allowed to go forward in the United States, provided it proceeds slowly and cautiously. That is the conclusion of a report released today from a panel organized by the U.S. National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine (NAS), which assesses the ethics questions surrounding the controversial technique called mitochondrial DNA replacement therapy. More controversially, however, the panel recommended that only altered male embryos should be used to attempt a pregnancy, to limit the possible risks to future generations. (Males can't pass along the mitochondrial DNA that is altered in the procedure.)
Communications

Receiving Real-Time Imagery From Russia's Meteor-M N2 Satellite 26

An anonymous reader writes: The Meteor-M N2 is a low orbit Russian weather satellite which broadcasts live weather satellite images, similar to the APT images produced by the NOAA satellites. But Meteor digital images are however much better as they are transmitted as a digital signal with an image resolution 12x greater than the aging analog NOAA APT signals. Radio enthusiasts are receiving images with hacked cheap digital TV dongles. There is even the AMIGOS project which stands for Amateur Meteor Images Global Observation System: users around the world can contribute Meteor images through the internet to create worldwide real-time coverage.

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