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Space

One Astronomer's Quest To Reinstate Pluto As a Planet 148

Posted by Soulskill
from the emotional-investment-in-nouns dept.
sarahnaomi writes: Most of us grew up believing that tiny, distant Pluto was the outermost planet in our solar system. Then, one day, the scientific powers that be decreed that it wasn't. But it seems the matter is far from settled. David Weintraub—who describes Pluto's exile as a stunt organized by a "very small clique of Pluto-haters"—would have the dwarf world rejoin the ranks of our Solar System's fully-fledged planets today. But solid evidence that Pluto deserves the title may come in July, when NASA's New Horizons spacecraft slingshots around the icy rock and sends us back a detailed picture of its composition. Pluto's planethood was revoked by majority vote on the final day of the 2006 IAU conference. Over 2,500 astronomers attended the meeting throughout the week, but only 394 votes ultimately decided Pluto's fate: 237 in favor of demoting the planet and 157 against.
Space

Methane-Based Life Possible On Titan 65

Posted by Soulskill
from the it's-life-jim-but-not-as-we-know dept.
Randym writes: With the simultaneous announcement of a possible nitrogen-based, cell-like structure allowing life outside the "liquid water zone" (but within a methane atmosphere) announced by researchers at Cornell (academic paper) and the mystery of fluctuating methane levels on Mars raising the possibility of methane-respiring life, there now exists the possibility of a whole new branch of the tree of life that does not rely on either carbon or oxygen for respiration. We may find evidence of such life here on Earth down in the mantle where "traditional" life cannot survive, but where bacteria has evolved to live off hydrocarbons like methane and benzene.
Mars

Adjusting To a Martian Day More Difficult Than Expected 131

Posted by Soulskill
from the not-as-bad-as-adjusting-to-a-neptunian-day dept.
schwit1 writes: Research and actual experience have found that adjusting to the slightly longer Martian day is not as easy as you would think. "If you're on Mars, or at least work by a Mars clock, you have to figure out how to put up with the exhausting challenge of those extra 40 minutes. To be exact, the Martian day is 24 hours, 39 minutes, and 35 seconds long, a length of day that doesn't coincide with the human body's natural rhythms. Scientists, Mars rover drivers, and everyone else in the space community call the Martian day a "sol" to differentiate it from an Earth day. While it doesn't seem like a big difference, that extra time adds up pretty quickly. It's like heading west by two time zones every three days. Call it 'rocket lag.'"
Space

12-Billion-Solar-Mass Black Hole Discovered 137

Posted by Soulskill
from the go-big-or-go-home dept.
sciencehabit writes: A team of astronomers has discovered what is, in galactic terms, a monstrous baby: a gigantic black hole of 12 billion solar masses in a barely newborn galaxy, just 875 million years after the big bang. It's roughly 3000 times the size of our Milky Way's central black hole. To have grown to such a size in so short a time, it must have been munching matter at close to the maximum physically possible rate for most of its existence. Its large size and rate of consumption also makes it the brightest object in that distant era, and astronomers can use its bright light to study the composition of the early universe: how much of the original hydrogen and helium from the big bang had been forged into heavier elements in the furnaces of stars.
NASA

Ceres' Mystery Bright Dots May Have Volcanic Origin 28

Posted by samzenpus
from the stay-out-of-the-lava dept.
astroengine writes As NASA's Dawn mission slowly spirals in on its dwarf planet target, Ceres' alien landscape is becoming sharper by the day. And, at a distance of only 29,000 miles (46,000 kilometers), the robotic spacecraft has revealed multiple bright patches on the surface, but one of the brightest spots has revealed a dimmer bright patch right next door. "Ceres' bright spot can now be seen to have a companion of lesser brightness, but apparently in the same basin," said Chris Russell, of the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) and principal investigator for the Dawn mission. "This may be pointing to a volcano-like origin of the spots, but we will have to wait for better resolution before we can make such geologic interpretations."
AI

Artificial Intelligence Bests Humans At Classic Arcade Games 148

Posted by samzenpus
from the king-of-combat! dept.
sciencehabit writes The dream of an artificially intelligent computer that can study a problem and gain expertise all on its own is now reality. A system debuted today by a team of Google researchers is not clever enough to perform surgery or drive a car safely, but it did master several dozen classic arcade games, including Space Invaders and Breakout. In many cases, it surpassed the best human players without ever observing how they play.
Businesses

Amazon Files Patent For Mobile 3D Printing Delivery Trucks 101

Posted by Soulskill
from the get-your-almost-functional-lego-replica-in-30-minutes-or-it's-free dept.
ErnieKey writes: Amazon has been inching its way into the 3D printing space over the past 10 months or so. This week, however, the U.S. Patent office published a filing by Amazon for mobile 3D printing delivery trucks. The trucks would have 3D printers and CNC machines on board and be able to communicate with a central hub. When a product is ordered, the mobile 3D printing truck that's closest to the consumer's home or office would then get the order, print it, and deliver it as soon as possible.
Space

What Happens When Betelgeuse Explodes? 202

Posted by Soulskill
from the anticipating-giant-space-booms dept.
StartsWithABang writes: One of the great, catastrophic truths of the Universe is that everything has an expiration date. And this includes every single point of light in the entire sky. The most massive stars will die in a spectacular supernova explosion when their final stage of core fuel runs out. At only an estimated 600 light years distant, Betelgeuse is one (along with Antares) of the closest red supergiants to us, and it's estimated to have only perhaps 100,000 years until it reaches the end of its life. Here's the story on what we can expect to see (and feel) on Earth when Betelgeuse explodes.
Space

Rocket Flown Through Northern Lights To Help Unlock Space Weather Mysteries 33

Posted by timothy
from the david-bowie-enjoyed-the-trip dept.
Zothecula writes The northern lights are more than one of nature's most awe inspiring sights, they are an electromagnetic phenomena that can adversely affect power grids and communications and navigation systems. Researchers from the University of Oslo have flown a rocket through the phenomena to take a closer look with the aim of gathering data that will help in predicting space weather.
Cellphones

How Walking With Smartphones May Have Changed Pedestrian Etiquette 290

Posted by timothy
from the outta-the-way-bub dept.
An anonymous reader writes The phenomenon of 'distracted walking' — pedestrians who walk while using smartphones — has raised civic attention in the last few years, with Utah issuing fines and cities in China creating dedicated 'smartphone lanes' for walkers who need to keep up with Whatsapp on the move. This article argues that smartphone users have become so accustomed to other people getting out of their way that they will no longer negotiate for sidewalk space even when not using their phones.
ISS

ISS Crew Install Cables For 2017 Arrival of Commercial Capsules 100

Posted by timothy
from the in-meters-they're-even-longer dept.
The Associated Press, as carried by the San Francisco Chronicle, reports that NASA astronauts Butch Wilmore and Terry Virts have attached more than 300 feet of cable to the exterior of the International Space Station in a series of three planned spacewalks; in total, the wiring job they're undertaking will involve 764 feet of power and data cables. The extensive rewiring is needed to prepare for NASA’s next phase 260 miles up: the 2017 arrival of the first commercial spacecraft capable of transporting astronauts to the orbiting lab. NASA is paying Boeing and SpaceX to build the capsules and fly them from Cape Canaveral, which hasn’t seen a manned launch since the shuttles retired in 2011. Instead, Russia is doing all the taxi work — for a steep price. The first of two docking ports for the Boeing and SpaceX vessels — still under development — is due to arrive in June. Even more spacewalks will be needed to set everything up. Mission Control left two cables — or about 24 feet worth — for the next spacewalk coming up Wednesday. Four hundred feet of additional cable will be installed next Sunday on spacewalk No. 3.
Movies

Why Hollywood Fudged the Relativity-Based Wormhole Scenes In Interstellar 133

Posted by Soulskill
from the that's-what-they-do dept.
KentuckyFC writes: When Christopher Nolan teamed up with physicist Kip Thorne of Caltech to discuss the science behind his movie Interstellar, the idea was that Thorne would bring some much-needed scientific gravitas to the all-important scenes involving travel through a wormhole. Indeed, Thorne used the equations of general relativity to calculate the various possible shapes of wormhole and how they would distort the view through it. A London-based special effects team then created footage of a far away galaxy as seen through such a wormhole. It showed the galaxy fantastically distorted as a result, just as relativity predicts. But when it came to travelling through a wormhole, Nolan was disappointed with the footage.

The problem was that the view of the other side when travelling through a wormhole turns out to be visually indistinguishable from a conventional camera zoom and utterly unlike the impression Nolan wanted to portray, which was the sense of travelling through a shortcut from one part of the universe to another. So for the final cut, special effects artists had to add various animations to convey that impression. "The end result was a sequence of shots that told a story comprehensible by a general audience while resembling the wormhole's interior," admit Thorne and colleagues in a paper they have published about wormhole science in the film. In other words, they had to fudge it. Nevertheless, Thorne is adamant that the visualisations should help to inspire a new generation of students of film-making and of relativity.
ISS

In Space, a Laptop Doubles As a VR Headset 26

Posted by Soulskill
from the elegant-hardware-solutions dept.
Nerval's Lobster writes: On Earth, the engineers and developers in charge of building the Oculus Rift and other virtual-reality headsets are concerned about weight: Who wants to strap on something so heavy it cricks their neck? But in space, weight isn't an issue, which is why an astronaut can strap a laptop to his head via a heavy and complicated-looking rig and use it as a virtual-reality device. NASA astronaut Terry Virts recently did just that to train himself in the use of SAFER (Simplified Aid for EVA Rescue), a jetpack worn during spacewalks. (In the movie Gravity, George Clooney's character uses a highly unrealistic version of SAFER to maneuver around a space shuttle.)
Moon

Could Fossils of Ancient Life From Earth Reside On the Moon? 88

Posted by samzenpus
from the how'd-this-get-here dept.
MarkWhittington writes Does the moon contain fossils of billions of years old organisms from Earth? That theory has been laid out in recent research at the Imperial College of London, reported in a story in Air and Space Magazine by Dr. Paul Spudis, a lunar and planetary geologist. The implications for science and future lunar exploration are profound. Scientists have known for decades that planets and moons in the Solar System exchange material due to impacts. A large meteor smashes into a planet, Mars for example, and blasts material into space. That material eventually finds itself landing on another planet, Earth in this case. Mars rocks have been discovered on Earth since the 1980s. Other rocks from the moon and, it is surmised, Mercury have also been found, blasted into space billions of years ago to eventually find themselves on Earth.
Sci-Fi

Ask Slashdot: How Could We Actually Detect an Alien Invasion From Outer Space? 576

Posted by samzenpus
from the blowing-up-the-mothership dept.
First time accepted submitter defiant.challenged writes As I was watching another sci-fi blockbuster about aliens wanting to harvest the life stock population on earth for their energy since we are such a robust species, I was wondering how likely and easy/difficult it would be currently to actually detect an outer space invasion (fleet). I am a firm believer that if we would be invaded, we would not stand a chance and would probably not even hit a single ship when it comes to fighting them. The aliens in the movie had the capability to space-jump right into our solar system and even very close to earth. My question is how good are we at the moment in detecting an alien ship/fleet that jumps into our solar system. Do we have radio dishes around the globe such that we can detect objects in space in all longitude and latitude degrees? I know we have dishes pointing to the skies but how far can they reach? Do we have blindspots perhaps on the poles? I also wonder if our current means, ie radio signals, are relatively easy to be compromised with our current stealth technology? To formulate it in more sci-fi terms, how large is our outer space detection grid, and what kind of time window can they give us?
Space

Supermassive Diet: Black Holes Bulk-Up On Dark Matter 102

Posted by samzenpus
from the power-up dept.
astroengine writes It has long been assumed that the size of a supermassive black hole in a galaxy's core is intimately related to the number of stars that galaxy contains — but it might not be that simple after all. According to new research, it may in fact be a galaxy's extensive dark matter halo that controls the evolution of the central supermassive black hole and not the total number of stars that galaxy contains. "There seems to be a mysterious link between the amount of dark matter a galaxy holds and the size of its central black hole, even though the two operate on vastly different scales," said lead author Akos Bogdan of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics (CfA), Cambridge, Mass.
Space

Theory of Information Could Resolve One of the Great Paradoxes of Cosmology 183

Posted by Soulskill
from the bits-of-energy dept.
KentuckyFC writes: When physicists attempt to calculate the energy density of the universe from first principles, the number they come up using quantum mechanics is 10^94 g/cm^3 . And yet the observed energy density is about 10^-27 g/cm^3. In other words, our best theory of reality misses the mark by 120 orders of magnitude. Now one researcher says the paradox can be resolved by considering the information content of the universe. Specifying the location of the 10^25 stars in the visible universe to an accuracy of 10 cubic kilometers requires some 10^93 bits. And using Landauer's principle to calculate the energy associated with all these bits gives an energy density of about 10^-30 g/cm^3. That's not a bad first principles result. But if the location has to be specified to the Planck length, then the energy density is about 117 orders of magnitude larger. In other words, the nature of information should lie at the heart of our best theory of reality, not quantum mechanics.
Government

Oregon Residents Riled Over Virtually Staff-free Data Centers Getting Tax-breaks 158

Posted by Soulskill
from the all-about-the-benjamins dept.
An anonymous reader writes: The population of Hillsboro, Oregon is becoming vocal about the state's enterprise zone program offering enormous tax concessions to companies setting up data centers in the region — even though the five-year deals on offer only require data center operators to employ one person. That's exactly as many people as one DC plant, Infomart Portland, employs full-time, yet it gets more tax relief than highly-staffed enterprise zone neighbor Solarworld. The current influx of data centers to Hillsboro have only generated seven jobs to date. More installations are coming, and all Hillsboro residents are seeing is space taken up that might have gone to businesses that give something of benefit to the community.
Space

Another Star Passed Through Our Oort Cloud 70,000 Years Ago 117

Posted by Soulskill
from the thanks-for-not-hitting-us dept.
New submitter mrthoughtful writes: According to researchers at the University of Rochester, a recently discovered dim star (Scholz's star) passed through our Oort cloud 70,000 years ago. At its closest, it was about 52,000 AU distant from Sol, or about 0.8 light-years. This is still quite a distance — Voyager 1 is about 125 AU away right now — but it's far closer than Proxima Centauri's current 266,000 AU. Still, maybe the best way to engage in interstellar travel is just to wait until the time is right.
Mars

Mysterious Martian Plumes Discovered By Amateur Astronomers 62

Posted by samzenpus
from the mars-needs-bbq dept.
An anonymous reader writes Amateur astronomers have spotted two clouds coming from the surface of Mars that are a mystery to the professionals. From Discovery: "The plumes extended over 500- to 1,000 kilometers (311- to 621 miles) in both north-south and east-west directions and changed in appearance daily. They were detected as the sun breached Mars' horizon in the morning, but not when it set in the evening. 'Remarkably ... the features changed rapidly, their shapes going from double blob protrusions to pillars or finger-plume-like morphologies,' scientists investigating the sightings wrote in a paper published in this week's Nature."