NASA

Sorry, But Anonymous Has No Evidence That NASA Has Found Alien Life (popsci.com) 50

From a Popular Science article: In a new video, the hacker group known as Anonymous claims that NASA has discovered alien life. But before you freak out, let's talk. Sadly, the group of activists and hacktivists doesn't seem to have found any new evidence to support their extraordinary claim. The video is mainly based on NASA quotes taken out of context, and what appear to be videos and information from conspiracy theory websites. The crux of the argument is based on something Thomas Zurbuchen, NASA's associate administrator for the Science Mission Directorate, said during a hearing in April. These sorts of hearings are organized to educate the House Science Committee on the latest research in a particular field of study. During this one, Zurbuchen said: "Taking into account all of the different activities and missions that are specifically searching for evidence of alien life, we are on the verge of making one of the most profound, unprecedented, discoveries in history." That's the quote Anonymous is pegging their video on. But if you watch his opening statement, he actually explains his reasoning just before he gets to that part. He mentions the Mars 2020 rover, which will look for signs of past life on the red planet. The Europa Clipper mission is slated to search for conditions suitable to life on Jupiter's ocean-filled moon. In a statement, Zurbuchen said, "While we're excited about the latest findings from NASA's Kepler space observatory, there's no pending announcement regarding extraterrestrial life. For years NASA has expressed interest in searching for signs of life beyond Earth. We have a number of science missions that are moving forward with the goal of seeking signs of past and present life on Mars and ocean worlds in the outer solar system. While we do not yet have answers, we will continue to work to address the fundamental question, 'are we alone?'"
Earth

Los Angeles Tests Reflective 'Cool Pavement' On Streets (dailynews.com) 114

mikeebbbd writes: As reported in the Los Angeles Daily News, during the current heatwave various officials swooped down on streets coated with an experimental light-gray sealer that makes the old asphalt into a "cool street" -- and it works, with average temperature differences between coated streets and adjacent old asphalt around 10F. At a large parking lot, the temperature reduction was over 20F. If the material holds up and continues to meet other criteria, LA plans to use it on more pavement rehab projects, which could eventually make a difference in the heat island effect. The "CoolSeal" coating is apparently proprietary to a company named GuardTop LLC, costs $25-40K/mile, and lasts 5-7 years. At that price, it's might not be used a lot, at least at first; typical slurry seals run $15-30K/mile.
Earth

What Happens When Geoengineers 'Hack The Planet'? (thebulletin.org) 190

Dan Drollette shares an article by an Oxford physics professor who's concerned about the popularity of radical new proposals to fight global warming. The Christian Science Monitor wonders if it's time to re-engineer our climate. MIT's Technology Review basically thinks the answer is "yes," having described it earlier as "cheap and easy." The Atlantic seems quite smitten with Economist writer Oliver Morton's vision of remaking the planet, which geoengineering booster Jane Long breathlessly called "geopoetry." The idea received recent coverage (much of it favorable) by New Scientist, NBC, and in TED talks; I myself have recently participated in an NPR panel discussion on the subject... But what has really catapulted the idea into the public eye is Harvard's reckless plan for a privately-funded field trial testing some of the key elements needed... Proceeding to field experimentation crosses a thin red line beyond which lies the slippery slope down to ever-larger field trials and ultimately deployment.
Harvard's experiment -- which is partially funded by Bill Gates -- is "subject to no governance save what Harvard chooses to impose upon itself," according to the article. The experiment involves "putting something in the atmosphere to reflect more sunlight back out into space," which the article warns will create "enduring" effects -- and require humanity to commit to maintaining the same atmospheric conditions forever.
Books

Former Slashdot Contributor Jon Katz Believes He Can Talk To Animals (amazon.com) 169

Long-time Slashdot reader destinyland got a surprise when he visited his local bookstore: Jon Katz turns 70 this August, and he's published a new book called Talking to Animals: How You Can Understand Animals and They Can Understand You. Katz was a former newspaper reporter (and a contributing editor to Rolling Stone) who wrote for HotWired, the first online presence for Wired magazine in the mid-1990s, before becoming a controversial contributor to Slashdot during the site's early days. Katz left Manhattan in the 1990s to live on a farm "surrounded by dogs, cats, sheep, horses, cows, goats, and chickens," according to the book's description, an experience he writes about on his blog. His new book promises that Katz now "marshals his experience to offer us a deeper insight into animals and the tools needed for effectively communicating with them."
Space

FCC Grants OneWeb Approval To Launch Over 700 Satellites For 'Space Internet' (theverge.com) 89

OneWeb has been granted approval from the FCC to launch a network of internet-beaming satellites into orbit. FCC chairman Ajit Pai said in a statement: "Humans have long sought inspiration from the stars, from the ancient Egyptians orienting the pyramids toward certain stars to the Greeks using constellations to write their mythology. In modern times, we've done the same, with over 1,000 active satellites currently in orbit. Today, the FCC harnesses that inspiration as we seek to make the promise of high-speed internet access a reality for more Americans, partly through the skies..." The Verge reports: OneWeb plans to launch a constellation of 720 low-Earth orbit satellites using non-geostationary satellite orbit (NGSO) technology in order to provide global, high-speed broadband. The company's goal has far-reaching implications, and would provide internet to rural and hard-to-reach areas that currently have little access to internet connectivity. Additionally, OneWeb has a targets of "connecting every unconnected school" by 2022, and "bridging the digital divide" by 2027. According to OneWeb, the company plans to launch an initial 10 production satellites in early 2018, which, pending tests, will then be followed by a full launch as early as 2019.
Space

ESA Approves Gravitational-Wave Hunting Spacecraft For 2034 (newscientist.com) 49

The European Space Agency has approved the Laser Interferometer Space Antenna mission designed to study gravitational waves in space. The spacecraft is slated for launch in in 2034. New Scientist reports: LISA will be made up of three identical satellites orbiting the sun in a triangle formation, each 2.5 million kilometers from the next. The sides of the triangle will be powerful lasers bounced to and fro between the spacecraft. As large objects like black holes move through space they cause gravitational waves, ripples which stretch and squeeze space-time. The LISA satellites will detect how these waves warp space via tiny changes in the distance the laser beams travel. In order to detect these minuscule changes, on scales less than a trillionth of a meter, LISA will have to shrug off cosmic rays and the particles and light from the sun. The LISA Pathfinder mission, a solo probe launched in December 2015, proved that this sensitivity was possible and galvanized researchers working to realize the full LISA mission.
Mars

Stephen Hawking Says He Is Convinced That Humans Need To Leave Earth (sciencealert.com) 384

Reader dryriver writes: Back in May, renowned physicist Stephen Hawking made yet another doomsday prediction. He said that humanity has 100 years left on Earth, which knocked 900 years off the prediction he made in November 2016, which had given humanity 1,000 years left. With his new estimate, Hawking suggested the only way to prolong humanity's existence is for us to find a new home, on another planet (alternative source). Speaking at the Starmus Festival in Trondheim, Norway on Tuesday, Hawking reiterated his point: "If humanity is to continue for another million years, our future lies in boldly going where no one else has gone before," he explained, according to the BBC. Specifically, Hawking said that we should aim for another Moon landing by 2020, and work to build a lunar base in the next 30 years -- projects that could help prepare us to send human beings to Mars by 2025. "We are running out of space and the only places to go to are other worlds. It is time to explore other solar systems. Spreading out may be the only thing that saves us from ourselves. I am convinced that humans need to leave Earth," Hawking added.
Transportation

It's Too Hot For Some Planes To Fly In Phoenix (npr.org) 285

In Phoenix on Tuesday, temperatures were forecast to climb as high as 120 degrees Fahrenheit, causing more than 40 American Eagle regional flights out of Phoenix's international airport to be canceled. NPR reports: American Airlines said in a statement that the Bombardier CRJ aircraft used on some shorter routes have a maximum operating temperature of 118 degrees. For bigger jets, the threshold is higher. The carrier says that, for example, Airbus aircraft have a maximum operating temperature of 127 degrees and that for Boeing, it is 126 degrees. As USA Today reports: "Extreme heat affects a plane's ability to take off. Hot air is less dense than cold air, and the hotter the temperature, the more speed a plane needs to lift off. A runway might not be long enough to allow a plane to achieve the necessary extra speed." Bianca Hernandez, a meteorologist with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, tells NPR that Phoenix is seeing an unusually strong high-pressure system, which is causing the soaring temperatures.
Earth

A Third Of the Planet's Population Is Exposed To Deadly Heatwaves (motherjones.com) 272

An anonymous reader shares a report: Nearly a third of the world's population is now exposed to climatic conditions that produce deadly heatwaves, as the accumulation of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere makes it "almost inevitable" that vast areas of the planet will face rising fatalities from high temperatures, new research has found. Climate change has escalated the heatwave risk across the globe, the study states, with nearly half of the world's population set to suffer periods of deadly heat by the end of the century even if greenhouse gases are radically cut. "For heatwaves, our options are now between bad or terrible," said Camilo Mora, an academic at the University of Hawaii and lead author of the study. High temperatures are currently baking large swaths of the south-western US, with the National Weather Service (NWS) issuing an excessive heat warning for Phoenix, Arizona, which is set to reach 119F (48.3C) on Monday. The heat warning extends across much of Arizona and up through the heart of California, with Palm Springs forecast a toasty 116F (46.6C) on Monday and Sacramento set to reach 107F (41.6C).
Earth

Cats May Have Been Domesticated Twice (sciencemag.org) 172

sciencehabit writes: Cats may have been domesticated twice, once in Turkey around 10,000 years ago, and again in Egypt, thousands of years later. That's the conclusion of a new genetic analysis of more than 200 ancient cats, including DNA extracted from Egyptian mummies. The scientists found evidence for an exodus of cats into the wider world from both ancient Turkey and ancient Egypt, but that these two waves of cats sported different genetic signatures. Whether or not the ancient Egyptians independently domesticated cats, their massive breeding programs appear to have further tamed the feline, turning cats from territorial and antisocial creatures into the lovable furballs we know today.
Earth

Scientists Declare End to Global Coral Reef Bleaching Event (phys.org) 155

Scientists in the U.S. have announced Monday that a mass bleaching of coral reefs worldwide has finally ended after three years. "About three-quarters of the world's delicate coral reefs were damaged or killed by hot water in what scientists say was the largest coral catastrophe," reports Phys.Org. From the report: The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration announced a global bleaching event in May 2014. It was worse than previous global bleaching events in 1998 and 2010. The forecast damage doesn't look widespread in the Indian Ocean, so the event loses its global scope. Bleaching will still be bad in the Caribbean and Pacific, but it'll be less severe than recent years, said NOAA coral reef watch coordinator C. Mark Eakin. Places like Australia's Great Barrier Reef, northwest Hawaii, Guam and parts of the Caribbean have been hit with back-to-back-to-back destruction, Eakin said. University of Victoria, British Columbia, coral reef scientist Julia Baum plans to travel to Christmas Island in the Pacific where the coral reefs have looked like ghost towns in recent years. While conditions are improving, it's too early to celebrate, said Eakin, adding that the world may be at a new normal where reefs are barely able to survive during good conditions.
Earth

Ethiopia's Coffee Is the Latest Victim of Climate Change (theverge.com) 289

According to a study published today in Nature Plants, by the end of this century, increasing temperatures could make it impossible to grow coffee in about half of Ethiopia's coffee-growing regions. "That's because Arabica coffee trees (which are grown in Ethiopia) require pretty mild temperatures to survive, ideally between 59 to 75 degree Fahrenheit," reports The Verge. "Climate projections show that Ethiopia will generally become warmer and drier, and that means that 40 to 60 percent of areas where coffee is currently grown won't be suitable to grow the beans, the study says." From the report: In fact, climate change is already hurting Ethiopia's coffee growers: days and nights are already warmer, and the weather is more unpredictable and extreme. Hot days are hotter and rainy days are rainier. That leads to more unpredictable harvests and it hurts the local economy. Ethiopia is Africa's biggest coffee producer and the world's fifth largest coffee exporter, with 15 million Ethiopians living off coffee farming. Climate change risks disrupting the country's future. But there is a way Ethiopia can brace for its brewing troubles. The study found that rising temperatures will turn swaths of land at higher elevation into just the right places to grow coffee in the future. In fact, coffee farming could increase four fold if plantations are moved uphill, the study says. But to do that, the country needs to prepare: millions of farmers can't just take their crops and move to land they don't own. You need careful planning.
Encryption

Equipment Already In Space Can Be Adapted For Extremely Secure Data Encryption (helpnetsecurity.com) 20

Orome1 quotes a report from Help Net Security: In a new study, researchers from the Max Planck Institute in Erlangen, demonstrate ground-based measurements of quantum states sent by a laser aboard a satellite 38,000 kilometers above Earth. This is the first time that quantum states have been measured so carefully from so far away. A satellite-based quantum-based encryption network would provide an extremely secure way to encrypt data sent over long distances. Developing such a system in just five years is an extremely fast timeline since most satellites require around 10 years of development. For the experiments, the researchers worked closely with satellite telecommunications company Tesat-Spacecom GmbH and the German Space Administration. The German Space Administration previously contracted with Tesat-Spacecom on behalf of the German Ministry of Economics and Energy to develop an optical communications technology for satellites. This technology is now being used commercially in space by laser communication terminals onboard Copernicus -- the European Union's Earth Observation Program -- and by SpaceDataHighway, the European data relay satellite system. It turned out that this satellite optical communications technology works much like the quantum key distribution method developed at the Max Planck Institute. Thus, the researchers decided to see if it was possible to measure quantum states encoded in a laser beam sent from one of the satellites already in space. In 2015 and the beginning of 2016, the team made these measurements from a ground-based station at the Teide Observatory in Tenerife, Spain. They created quantum states in a range where the satellite normally does not operate and were able to make quantum-limited measurements from the ground. The findings have been published in the journal Optica.
Space

NASA Finds Evidence Of 10 New Earth-sized Planets (usatoday.com) 63

NASA said Monday it has found new evidence of 219 planets outside our Solar System. Ten of those exoplanets appear to be similar to the size of the Earth and orbit their stars in the habitable zone. From a report: The new planets' existence must still be double-checked. But Kepler's latest haul -- which includes a planet that is only slightly larger than Earth and receives the same amount of energy from its sun as Earth -- is the latest triumph for Kepler, which has spotted roughly 80 percent of the planets orbiting stars other than our sun. Because of their potential for hosting life, the 10 Earth-size planets are the most glamorous of the newly announced planets from Kepler. But those 10 were joined by an additional 209 more garden-variety planets that are unlikely to be hospitable to life because they are too gassy, too hot, too cold or otherwise unlike the only known planet to host life: Earth.
The Almighty Buck

Air Force Budget Reveals How Much SpaceX Undercuts Launch Prices (arstechnica.com) 97

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Ars Technica: In 2014, the U.S. Government Accountability Office issued a report on cost estimates for the U.S. Air Force's program to launch national security payloads, which at the time consisted of a fleet of rockets maintained and flown entirely by United Launch Alliance (ULA). The report was critical of the non-transparent nature of ULA's launch prices and noted that the government "lacked sufficient knowledge to negotiate fair and reasonable launch prices" with the monopoly. At around the same time, the new space rocket company SpaceX began to aggressively pursue the opportunity to launch national security payloads for the government. SpaceX claimed to offer a substantially lower price for delivering satellites into various orbits around Earth. But because of the lack of transparency, comparing prices was difficult. The Air Force recently released budget estimates for fiscal year 2018, and these include a run out into the early 2020s. For these years, the budget combines the fixed price rocket and ELC contract costs into a single budget line. (See page 109 of this document). They are strikingly high. According to the Air Force estimate, the "unit cost" of a single rocket launch in fiscal year 2020 is $422 million, and $424 million for a year later. SpaceX sells basic commercial launches of its Falcon 9 rocket for about $65 million. But, for military launches, there are additional range costs and service contracts that add tens of millions of dollars to the total price. It therefore seems possible that SpaceX is taking a loss or launching at little or no profit to undercut its rival and gain market share in the high-volume military launch market. Elon Musk retweeted the article, adding "$300M cost diff between SpaceX and Boeing/Lockheed exceeds avg value of satellite, so flying with SpaceX means satellite is basically free."
Earth

Coal Market Set To Collapse Worldwide By 2040 As Solar, Wind Dominate (bloomberg.com) 375

Jess Shankleman reports via Bloomberg: Solar power, once so costly it only made economic sense in spaceships, is becoming cheap enough that it will push coal and even natural-gas plants out of business faster than previously forecast. That's the conclusion of a Bloomberg New Energy Finance outlook for how fuel and electricity markets will evolve by 2040. The research group estimated solar already rivals the cost of new coal power plants in Germany and the U.S. and by 2021 will do so in quick-growing markets such as China and India. The scenario suggests green energy is taking root more quickly than most experts anticipate. It would mean that global carbon dioxide pollution from fossil fuels may decline after 2026, a contrast with the International Energy Agency's central forecast, which sees emissions rising steadily for decades to come.

The report also found that through 2040:
-China and India represent the biggest markets for new power generation, drawing $4 trillion, or about 39 percent all investment in the industry.
-The cost of offshore wind farms, until recently the most expensive mainstream renewable technology, will slide 71 percent, making turbines based at sea another competitive form of generation.
-At least $239 billion will be invested in lithium-ion batteries, making energy storage devices a practical way to keep homes and power grids supplied efficiently and spreading the use of electric cars.
-Natural gas will reap $804 billion, bringing 16 percent more generation capacity and making the fuel central to balancing a grid that's increasingly dependent on power flowing from intermittent sources, like wind and solar.

Earth

Life On Mars: Elon Musk Reveals Details of His Colonisation Vision 229

Elon Musk has put his Mars-colonization vision to paper, and you can read it for free. SpaceX's billionaire founder and CEO published the plan, which he unveiled at a conference in Mexico in September 2016, in the journal New Space. From a report: The paper outlines early designs of the gigantic spacecraft, designed to carry 100 passengers, that he hopes to construct. "The thrust level is enormous," the paper states. "We are talking about a lift-off thrust of 13,000 tons, so it will be quite tectonic when it takes off." Creating a fully self-sustained civilisation of around one million people -- the ultimate goal -- would take 40-100 years according to the plans. Before full colonisation takes place, though, Musk needs to entice the first pioneers to pave the way.
Businesses

Amazon Says It Won't Replace Whole Foods Cashiers With Computers... Yet (cnbc.com) 109

An anonymous reader shares a report: Amazon said it has no current plans to automate the jobs of cashiers in Whole Foods stores after it finishes acquiring the grocery chain. It also isn't planning any layoffs, according to a spokesperson. There is some speculation, however, that Amazon may change its plans and use new technology inside of Whole Foods locations. Commenting on Amazon's announcement from earlier today, LinkedIn CEO Jeff Weiner said, "Only one company on earth can buy grocery chain, be rumored to buy enterprise software company & in both cases be lauded for strategic vision."
Space

New Evidence That All Stars Are Born In Pairs (phys.org) 90

InfiniteZero shares a report from Phys.Org: Did our sun have a twin when it was born 4.5 billion years ago? Almost certainly yes -- though not an identical twin. And so did every other sun-like star in the universe, according to a new analysis by a theoretical physicist from UC Berkeley and a radio astronomer from the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory at Harvard University. The new assertion is based on a radio survey of a giant molecular cloud filled with recently formed stars in the constellation Perseus, and a mathematical model that can explain the Perseus observations only if all sunlike stars are born with a companion. "We ran a series of statistical models to see if we could account for the relative populations of young single stars and binaries of all separations in the Perseus molecular cloud, and the only model that could reproduce the data was one in which all stars form initially as wide (more than 500 astronomical units) binaries," said co-author Steven Stahler, a UC Berkeley research astronomer. "These systems then either shrink or break apart within a million years." The study has been published in April on the arXiv server.
Earth

Multi-Million Dollar Upgrade Planned To Secure 'Failsafe' Arctic Seed Vault (theguardian.com) 53

An anonymous reader quotes a report from The Guardian: The Global Seed Vault, built in the Arctic as an impregnable deep freeze for the world's most precious food seeds, is to undergo a multi-million dollar upgrade after water from melting permafrost flooded its access tunnel. No seeds were damaged but the incident undermined the original belief that the vault would be a "failsafe" facility, securing the world's food supply forever. Now the Norwegian government, which owns the vault, has committed $4.4 million to improvements. [T]he vault's planners had not anticipated the extreme warm weather seen recently at the end of the world's hottest ever recorded year. "The background to the technical improvements is that the permafrost has not established itself as planned," said a government statement. "A group will investigate potential solutions to counter the increased water volumes resulting from a wetter and warmer climate on Svalbard." One option could be to replace the access tunnel, which slopes down towards the vault's main door, carrying water towards the seeds. A new upward sloping tunnel would take water away from the vault. An initial $1.6 million will be spent on investigating ways to improve the access tunnel, with the group's conclusions delivered in spring 2018. "They are going in with an open mind to find a good solution," said Aschim. "$4.4 million is for all the improvements we are doing now." The vault cost $9 million to build.

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