Tech News

Earth-Size 'Pi Planet' Rocks a 3.14-Day Orbit

science - Posted On:2020-09-21 15:30:00 Source: slashdot

An anonymous reader shares a report: Everyone's favorite mathematical constant has received an inadvertent tribute from the universe. A team led by MIT researchers discovered a distant planet that orbits its star every 3.14 days, mirroring the famous first three digits of pi. MIT described the rocky Earth-sized planet K2-315b as "baking hot" and "likely not habitable" in a statement on Monday. "The planet moves like clockwork," said MIT graduate student Prajwal Niraula, lead author of a paper on the planet published in the Astronomical Journal this week. The team found the exoplanet (a planet located outside our solar system) in data gathered in 2017 by NASA's Kepler Space Telescope K2 mission. The planet-finding telescope was put into a permanent sleep mode in 2018. The researchers confirmed the planet's existence by taking another look with the ground-based Speculoos telescope network. "Speculoos" stands for "Search for habitable Planets EClipsing ULtra-cOOl Stars." It's also a fun reference to a type of spiced cookie. Read more of this story at Slashdot.

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A German rocket startup seeks to disrupt the European launch industry

Science - Posted On:2020-09-21 14:30:00 Source: arstechnica

Some space entrepreneurs in Germany believe that the European launch industry—which principally consists of the state-backed Arianespace corporation—is ripe for disruption.

The industry, they say, mirrors that of the United States more than a decade ago, before SpaceX emerged onto the scene and began to disrupt the near-monopoly held by United Launch Alliance. SpaceX successfully launched its first Falcon 1 rocket in 2008, and the company followed that with the Falcon 9 booster less than two years later. Since then, it has forced competitors to innovate and put downward pressure on launch prices.

"Europe is where the US launch industry was 15 years ago," said Daniel Metzler, co-founder and chief executive of the Munich-based Isar Aerospace rocket company, in an interview.

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Could Open Source Licensing Stop Big Pharma Profiteering On Taxpayer-Funded Covid-19 Vaccines?

science - Posted On:2020-09-20 20:14:59 Source: slashdot

Two professors at the University of Massachusetts have co-authored a new essay explaining how open source licensing "could keep Big Pharma from making huge profits off taxpayer-funded research" in the international, multi-billion-dollar race for a Covid-19 vaccine: The invention of the "General Public License," sometimes referred to as a viral or reciprocal license, meant that should an improvement be made, the new software version automatically inherits the same license as its parent. We believe that in a time of a global pandemic, a safe and effective COVID-19 vaccine should be licensed with General Public License-like properties... Fortunately, some pharmaceutical companies, national governments, nonprofits like the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and international organizations like the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Initiatives — which supports vaccine development — are putting policies in place that embrace openness and sharing rather than intellectual property protection. Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Initiatives officials have stated that all of their funding agreements require that "appropriate vaccines are first available to populations when and where they are needed to end an outbreak or curtail an epidemic, regardless of ability to pay." That's an important start. However, when there is a safe, effective COVID-19 vaccine, the U.S. and other national governments need to create contractual agreements with firms that provide fair and reasonable funding to cover their costs or even some reasonable profit margin while still mandating the open sharing of the processes for vaccine production, quality assurance and rapid global distribution. Read more of this story at Slashdot.

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Here’s how DOE’s first crop of risky energy tech has done

Science - Posted On:2020-09-20 10:44:57 Source: arstechnica

In 2009, the US Department of Energy started funding energy research through the Advanced Research Projects Agency–Energy (or ARPA-E) program. The goal was take more risks than traditional federal efforts and help new renewable energy technologies get off the ground. Private investment had been flagging due to slow returns, but the huge societal benefits of clean energy was deemed to justify government support. The hope was that the funding could accelerate the timeline for new technology to mature to the point that private investors would find the technology more attractive.

At least, that was the idea. A team led by University of Massachusetts Amherst’s Anna Goldstein figured that ARPA-E’s first class is now old enough to check in on. She and her colleagues looked at a limited sample of 25 startups and found some interesting ways in which these companies seem to have beaten out the competition—and some in which they haven’t.

The 25 startups selected in ARPA-E’s first round were compared to several other groups of companies that were born around the same time. The first group consists of the 39 companies that applied for ARPA-E funding and didn’t get it but still received an “encouraged” runner-up rating. In the next group are the 70 companies that received funding from the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE) with related government stimulus spending. And finally, there are almost 1,200 other clean energy startups that found their funding elsewhere.

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New Reality Show's Prize? 10 Days on the International Space Station

science - Posted On:2020-09-19 21:44:59 Source: slashdot

CNN reports: A planned reality show will seek to give the winner of its on-air competition "the greatest prize ever given out on Earth" — a 10-day stay on the International Space Station... The production company's press release said that the team is "now looking for global brand and primary distribution partners." Space Hero is planning to open the application process for the show in the first half of 2021 before broadcasting begins in 2022, a spokesperson said via email Friday... Space Hero, which is headed by a former News Corp executive named Marty Pompadur, said it is working with Texas-based startup Axiom Space to coordinate the trip into orbit. Axiom was co-founded and led by Michael Suffredini, who led NASA's International Space Station Program from 2005 to 2015. The company plans to serve as a go-between for NASA, launch providers such as SpaceX and Boeing, and any private-sector individuals interested in booking rides to space for tourism, entertainment or other business purposes. Axiom has also said it can provide all the training necessary to prepare individuals for a trip to the ISS... Private citizens have visited the space station before: A company called Space Adventures previously organized eight trips to the International Space Station for ultra-wealthy travelers between 2001 and 2009 using Russian Soyuz spacecraft. Allowing tourists and other private citizens to make use of the space station — via SpaceX's or Boeing's new spacecraft — is part of NASA's goal of commercializing outer space. CNN notes that Axiom is also handling the training and coordination for that Tom Cruise movie that's going to be filmed in space. Read more of this story at Slashdot.

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European Spacecraft Flying Past Venus Will Now Look for Signs of Life

science - Posted On:2020-09-19 15:44:59 Source: slashdot

"Earlier this week, scientists announced the discovery of phosphine on Venus, a potential signature of life. Now, in an amazing coincidence, a European and Japanese spacecraft is about to fly past the planet — and could confirm the discovery," writes Forbes. Slashdot reader Iwastheone shares their report: BepiColombo, launched in 2018, is on its way to enter orbit around Mercury, the innermost planet of the Solar System. But to achieve that it plans to use two flybys of Venus to slow itself down, one on October 15, 2020, and another on August 10, 2021. The teams running the spacecraft already had plans to observe Venus during the flyby. But now, based on this detection of phosphine from telescopes on Earth, they are now planning to use both of these flybys to look for phosphine using an instrument on the spacecraft... As this first flyby is only weeks away, however, the observation campaign of the spacecraft is already set in stone, making the chance of a discovery slim. More promising is the second flyby next year, which will not only give the team more time to prepare, but also approach just 550 kilometers from Venus... If a detection can be made, it would provide independent verification of the presence of phosphine in the atmosphere of Venus. And for future missions planning to visit the planet, which alongside Rocket Lab's mission includes potential spacecraft from NASA, India, Russia, and Europe, that could be vital information. Read more of this story at Slashdot.

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Russian Announces Plan to Independently Explore Venus

science - Posted On:2020-09-19 12:15:00 Source: slashdot

"Russia has announced an intention to independently explore Venus a day after scientists said there was a gas that could be present in the planet's clouds due to single-cell microbes," reports Euronews: The head of Russia's space corporation Roscosmos, Dmitry Rogozin, told reporters that they would initiate a national project as "we believe that Venus is a Russian planet," according to the TASS news agency. In a statement, Roscosmos noted that the first missions to explore Venus were carried out by the Soviet Union. "The enormous gap between the Soviet Union and its competitors in the investigation of Venus contributed to the fact that the United States called Venus a Soviet planet," Roscosmos said. The Russians claim to have extensive material that suggests that some objects on the Venusian surface have changed places or could be alive, although these are hypotheses that have yet to be confirmed. The national project would be in addition to the "Venera-D" project that the Russians are working on with the US' National Aeronautics and Space Administration... Roscosmos said they would study the soil and atmosphere of the planet as well as the "evolutionary processes of Venus, which allegedly suffered a climatic catastrophe associated with the greenhouse effect." Read more of this story at Slashdot.

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When building an embryo, timing is everything

Science - Posted On:2020-09-19 08:44:57 Source: arstechnica

There's a bit of a problem in biology that's so obvious that most biologists don't end up thinking of it as a problem. Humans and mice (and most other mammals) all make pretty much the same collection of stuff as they develop from a fertilized egg. And they do that using a near-identical set of genes. But mice do it all in 21 days; it takes humans over 10 times longer to do it.

You might try to ascribe that to the different number of cells, but as you move across the diversity of mammals, none of that really lines up. Things get even more confusing when you try to account for things like birds and reptiles, which also use the same genes to make many of the same things. The math just doesn't work out. How do developing organisms manage to consistently balance cell number, development time, and a static network of genes?

Biologists are just starting to figure that out, and two papers published this week mark some major progress in the field.

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What’s in wildfire smoke, and how dangerous is it?

Science - Posted On:2020-09-19 08:14:57 Source: arstechnica

The West Coast’s wildfire crisis is no longer just the West Coast’s wildfire crisis: As massive blazes continue to burn across California, Oregon, and Washington, they’re spewing smoke high into the atmosphere. Winds pick the haze up and transport it clear across the country, tainting the skies above the East Coast.

But what are you breathing, exactly, when these forests combust and waft smoke near and far? Charred trees and shrubs, of course, but also the synthetic materials from homes and other structures lost in the blazes. Along with a variety of gases, these give off tiny particles, known as PM 2.5 (particulate matter 2.5 microns or smaller), that weasel their way deep into human lungs. All told, the mixture of solids and gases actually transforms chemically as it crosses the country, creating different consequences for the health of humans thousands of miles apart. In other words, what you breathe in, and how hazardous it remains, may depend on how far you live from the Pacific coast.

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NASA To Film an Estee Lauder Ad In Space As the ISS Opens For Business

science - Posted On:2020-09-19 03:14:58 Source: slashdot

NASA is preparing to oversee the largest push of business activity aboard the ISS. "Later this month, up to 10 bottles of a new Estee Lauder (EL) skincare serum will launch to the space station," reports CNN. "NASA astronauts are expected to film the items in the microgravity environment of the ISS and the company will be able to use that footage in ad campaigns or other promotional material." The details of those plans were first reported by New Scientist magazine. From the report: The Estee Lauder partnership will continue NASA's years-long push to encourage private-sector spending on space projects as the space agency looks to stretch its budget beyond the ISS and focus on taking astronauts back into deep space. Those efforts include allowing the space station to be used for marketing and entertainment purposes. The Estee Lauder products, a new formula of the company's "Advanced Night Repair" skin serum, are expected to launch aboard a Northrop Grumman Cygnus spacecraft, tucked alongside 8,000 pounds of other cargo, experiments and supplies. NASA astronauts will be tasked with capturing "imagery and video" of the product. The astronauts themselves, however, won't be appearing in any cosmetics ads: The space agency's ethics policies strictly bar astronauts from appearing in marketing campaigns. Read more of this story at Slashdot.

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Bacterial Outbreak Infects Thousands After Factory Leak In China

science - Posted On:2020-09-18 17:15:00 Source: slashdot

schwit1 shares a report from CNN: Several thousand people in northwest China have tested positive for a bacterial disease, authorities said on Tuesday, in an outbreak caused by a leak at a biopharmaceutical company last year. The Health Commission of Lanzhou, the capital city of Gansu province, confirmed that 3,245 people had contracted the disease brucellosis, which is often caused by contact with livestock carrying the bacteria brucella. Another 1,401 people have tested as preliminarily positive, though there have been no fatalities reported, the city's Health Commission said. In total, authorities have tested 21,847 people out of the city's 2.9 million population. Brucellosis had been much more common in China in the 1980s, though it has since declined with the emergence of vaccines and better disease prevention and control. Still, there have been a smattering of brucellosis outbreaks around the world in the past few decades; an outbreak in Bosnia infected about 1,000 people in 2008, prompting the culling of sheep and other infected livestock. In the US, brucellosis has cost the federal government and livestock industry billions of dollars. About 60% of female bison at Yellowstone National Park carry the bacteria, according to national park authorities. Read more of this story at Slashdot.

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CDC dramatically restores COVID-19 testing advice marred by political meddling

Science - Posted On:2020-09-18 14:45:00 Source: arstechnica

In a dramatic move, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Friday restored its recommendation to test people who have been exposed to COVID-19 but don’t have symptoms—erasing politically motivated changes made by members of the Trump administration without the support or input from CDC scientists.

The CDC had—until August 24—always recommended testing for all people who have had close contact (within 6 feet for 15 minutes or more) with someone infected with the pandemic coronavirus, SARS-CoV-2, regardless of symptoms. The CDC stated clearly that this is “important” and should be done quickly “because of the potential for asymptomatic and pre-symptomatic transmission,” which is largely thought to drive the pandemic.

But the guidance was abruptly and quietly changed August 24 to say that exposed people who do not have symptoms “do not necessarily need a test.”

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After billion-dollar disasters, here’s what the US’s fall weather has in store

Science - Posted On:2020-09-18 14:15:00 Source: arstechnica

We’re reaching the end of summer in the Northern Hemisphere, and the weather in the US has been about as eventful as one expects for the year 2020. A highly active Atlantic hurricane season has lived up to expectations so far, while record-setting wildfires have blanketed the drought-beset West Coast, creating smoke that has drifted clear across the country.

NOAA’s latest monthly summary shows how all this developed in August and what we have to look forward to in the next three months. Critically, La Niña conditions in the Pacific seem to have settled in, which has implications for winter patterns across North America and beyond.

Globally, this was the second warmest August on record (going back to 1880) and the third warmest June-August stretch. Looking at the entire year through August, 2020 is the second warmest on record just behind 2016. With so little of the year left, it’s very unlikely to drop in the rankings, and it still has a chance at the top spot. NOAA currently puts the odds of a new record at about 40 percent, while other estimates continue to be a bit higher. La Niña conditions will hold down the global average, so topping 2016 and its warm El Niño would be remarkable.

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Humans reached Saudi Arabia at least 120,000 years ago

Science - Posted On:2020-09-18 12:15:00 Source: arstechnica

About 120,000 years ago, two or three people walked along the shore of a shallow lake in what is now northern Saudi Arabia. They left behind at least seven footprints in the mud, and today those tracks are the oldest known evidence of our species’ presence in Arabia.

Imagine that you’re a hunter-gatherer about 120,000 years ago, and you’re walking out of eastern Africa into Eurasia. Paleoanthropologists are still debating exactly why you’ve decided to do such a thing, and you almost certainly don’t have a destination in mind, but for now we’ll take it for granted that you just want to take a really, really long walk. Almost inevitably, you’ll come to the Levant, on the eastern end of the Mediterranean. From that important geographical crossroads, you’ve got some options: you could head north through Syria and Turkey then veer east into Asia or west into Europe. You could also strike out east, across the northern end of the Arabian Peninsula.

That was a better option then than it sounds now. Off and on during the Pleistocene, the Arabian Peninsula had a wetter climate than it does today. Evidence from ancient sediments, pollen, and animal fossils all suggest that today’s deserts were once grasslands and woods, crossed by rivers and dotted with lakes like the one at Alathar in the western Nefud Desert.

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After billion-dollar disasters, here’s what the US’ fall weather has in store

Science - Posted On:2020-09-18 11:45:00 Source: arstechnica

We’re reaching the end of summer in the Northern Hemisphere, and the weather in the US has been about as eventful as one expects for the year 2020. A highly active Atlantic hurricane season has lived up to expectations so far, while record-setting wildfires have blanketed the drought-beset West Coast, creating smoke that has drifted clear across the country.

NOAA’s latest monthly summary shows how all this developed in August and what we have to look forward to in the next three months. Critically, La Niña conditions in the Pacific seem to have settled in, which has implications for winter patterns across North America and beyond.

Globally, this was the second warmest August on record (going back to 1880) and the third warmest June-August stretch. Looking at the entire year through August, 2020 is the second warmest on record just behind 2016. With so little of the year left, it’s very unlikely to drop in the rankings, and it still has a chance at the top spot. NOAA currently puts the odds of a new record at about 40 percent, while other estimates continue to be a bit higher. La Niña conditions will hold down the global average, so topping 2016 and its warm El Niño would be remarkable.

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Weather outlook: Drought improving in north, worsening in south

Science - Posted On:2020-09-18 11:30:00 Source: arstechnica

We’re reaching the end of summer in the Northern Hemisphere, and the weather in the US has been about as eventful as one expects for the year 2020. A highly active Atlantic hurricane season has lived up to expectations so far, while record-setting wildfires have blanketed the drought-beset West Coast, creating smoke that has drifted clear across the country.

NOAA’s latest monthly summary shows how all this developed in August and what we have to look forward to in the next three months. Critically, La Niña conditions in the Pacific seem to have settled in, which has implications for winter patterns across North America and beyond.

Globally, this was the second warmest August on record (going back to 1880) and the third warmest June-August stretch. Looking at the entire year through August, 2020 is the second warmest on record just behind 2016. With so little of the year left, it’s very unlikely to drop in the rankings, and it still has a chance at the top spot. NOAA currently puts the odds of a new record at about 40 percent, while other estimates continue to be a bit higher. La Niña conditions will hold down the global average, so topping 2016 and its warm El Niño would be remarkable.

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Rocket Report: Chinese rocket fails, Starship may make a leap in October

Science - Posted On:2020-09-18 07:14:56 Source: arstechnica

Welcome to Edition 3.16 of the Rocket Report! This week, we have a couple of small-launch failures to discuss, as well as schedule slippages for the debut of European and Japanese rockets. Finally, Europe's next heavy-lift rocket, the Ariane 6, has been showing signs of progress.

As always, we welcome reader submissions, and if you don't want to miss an issue, please subscribe using the box below (the form will not appear on AMP-enabled versions of the site). Each report will include information on small-, medium-, and heavy-lift rockets as well as a quick look ahead at the next three launches on the calendar.

Astra launches its first orbital rocket. Following months of technical and weather delays, Astra launched its first orbital rocket, Ars reports. The vehicle launched on September 11 from a spaceport in southern Alaska. The small rocket's five main engines lit several seconds before liftoff, and Rocket 3.1 appeared to climb straight and true for about 15 seconds before it began to sway back and forth a little bit. Later, the company's co-founder and chief technology officer, Adam London, explained that a problem with the rocket's computerized guidance system introduced a slight roll oscillation. Local video of the launch and explosion can be seen here.

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Hubble Captures Crisp New Image of Jupiter and Europa

science - Posted On:2020-09-18 03:14:58 Source: slashdot

A unique and exciting detail of Hubble's new snapshot appears at mid-northern latitudes as a bright, white, stretched-out storm moving at 560 kilometres per hour. This single plume erupted on 18 August 2020 and another has since appeared. From a report: While it's common for storms to pop up in this region, often several at once, this particular disturbance appears to have more structure behind it than observed in previous storms. Trailing behind the plume are small, counterclockwise dark clumps also not witnessed in the past. Researchers speculate this may be the beginning of a longer-lasting northern hemisphere spot, perhaps to rival the legendary Great Red Spot that dominates the southern hemisphere. Hubble shows that the Great Red Spot, rolling counterclockwise in the planet's southern hemisphere, is ploughing into the clouds ahead of it, forming a cascade of white and beige ribbons. The Great Red Spot is currently an exceptionally rich red colour, with its core and outermost band appearing deeper red. Researchers say the Great Red Spot now measures about 15 800 kilometres across, big enough to swallow the Earth. The super-storm is still shrinking, as noted in telescopic observations dating back to 1930, but its rate of shrinkage appears to have slowed. The reason for its dwindling size is a complete mystery. Read more of this story at Slashdot.

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Why Passenger Jets Could Soon Be Flying In Formation

science - Posted On:2020-09-17 19:29:59 Source: slashdot

New submitter ragnar_ianal writes: Looking at the V-shaped formations of migrating ducks, scientists have long surmised that there are aeronautical efficiencies at play. Airbus is examining this in a practical manner to see if fuel efficiency can be enhanced. "Building on test flights in 2016 with an Airbus A380 megajet and A350-900 wide-body jetliner, [the Airbus fello'fly] hopes to demonstrate and quantify the aerodynamic efficiencies while developing in-flight operational procedures," reports CNN. "Initial flight testing with two A350s began in March 2020. The program will be expanded next year to include the involvement of Frenchbee and SAS airlines, along with air traffic control and air navigation service providers from France, the UK, and Europe." "It's very, very different from what the military would call formation flight. It's really nothing to do with close formation," explained Dr. Sandra Bour Schaeffer, CEO of Airbus UpNext, in an interview with CNN Travel. Read more of this story at Slashdot.

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Hoverboarding dentist gets 12 years in prison for fraud, unlawful dental acts

Science - Posted On:2020-09-17 18:59:59 Source: arstechnica

The infamous hoverboarding dentist of Alaska has been found guilty of fraud and unlawful dental acts and was sentenced to 12 years in prison this week, according to the Anchorage Daily News.

Dentist Seth Lookhart was charged with 42 counts in 2017. Most of the charges related to a scheme to unnecessarily sedate patients or keep them sedated for extended periods of time so that Lookhart could inflate Medicaid billing. Prosecutors found that Lookhart extensively detailed the scheme himself in text messages and raked in nearly $2 million from the unjustified sedation.

But, despite his lucrative sedations, Lookhart is likely best known for being the dentist who, in 2016, pulled a tooth from a sedated patient while wobbling on a wheeled “hoverboard” scooter. The evidence for this transgression again came from Lookhart himself, who had the hoverboard procedure captured on video. Lookhart then shared the video with several people.

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