Russian space leader suggests engineers test spacecraft Stalin’s way

Science - Posted On:2018-11-13 10:14:57 Source: arstechnica

During a meeting this weekend at RSC Energia, the prime contractor for Russia's crewed spaceflight program, the discussion turned toward development of the Federation spacecraft. This is the oft-delayed program to develop a new generation of crewed spacecraft for the Russian space industry.

Dmitry Rogozin, the leader of Russia's space program, Roscosmos, was apparently not pleased with ongoing delays to the program. First initiated more than a decade ago, the Federation spacecraft now is unlikely to fly humans before 2023.

Rogozin made the following comments after one of the Federation engineers suggested that, perhaps, time could be saved in the spacecraft's development by reducing the number of tests of its emergency escape system.

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Douglas Rain, Voice of HAL 9000 In '2001: A Space Odyssey,' Dies At 90

science - Posted On:2018-11-13 05:14:57 Source: slashdot

schwit1 shares a report from The Hollywood Reporter: Douglas Rain, the veteran Canadian stage actor who provided the soft and gentle voice of the rogue HAL 9000 computer for Stanley Kubrick's classic 2001: A Space Odyssey and its sequel, has died. He was 90. The first drafts of the 2001 script had HAL being voiced by a woman and was called Athena; afterward, it was decided that the computer should sound more like a man. Nigel Davenport, Martin Balsam and others were tried out -- and ruled out -- before and during filming of the 1968 sci-fi thriller. "Well, we had some difficulty deciding exactly what HAL should sound like, and Marty just sounded a little bit too colloquially American, whereas Rain had the kind of bland mid-Atlantic accent we felt was right for the part,' Kubrick told Newsday film critic Joseph Gelmis in an interview for the 1970 book The Film Director as Superstar. Kubrick told Rain that he had made the computer "too emotional and too human." So, in late 1967, the actor flew to New York City and spent a day and a half -- about 9 1/2 hours in all -- to voice HAL. As reported on the blog 2010: The Year We Make Contact, Rain "did the recordings with his bare feet resting on a pillow, in order to maintain the required relaxed tone." Read more of this story at Slashdot.

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Cats, beetles, other mummified animals found—along with a sealed door

Science - Posted On:2018-11-12 18:44:59 Source: arstechnica

Archaeologists discovered dozens of mummified cats in seven previously undisturbed tombs in a 4,500-year-old pyramid complex near Saqqara, south of Cairo. The cats were found along with a collection of mummified scarab beetles, gilded wood cat statues, painted animal sarcophagi, and other artifacts.

Today, dozens of intact mummies of any species are a relatively rare find for archaeologists, but mummifying cats and other animals was a common practice in Egypt for thousands of years. The Saqqara cats, like millions of others throughout Egyptian history, would have been bred and raised for eventual mass sacrifice to the protective goddess Bastet, who often appears in Egyptian art as a woman with the head of a lioness or, after about 1000 BCE, a domestic cat.

Most of those once-common mummies were lost to rampant looting across the centuries, which peaked between the 1700s and early 1900s. Europeans looted hundreds of thousands of animal mummies, including baboons, cats, crocodiles, and ibises, most of which were destroyed to make fertilizer.

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Dozens of cat mummies discovered in Egyptian tombs

Science - Posted On:2018-11-12 18:29:59 Source: arstechnica

Archaeologists discovered dozens of mummified cats in seven previously undisturbed tombs in a 4,500-year-old pyramid complex near Saqqara, south of Cairo. The cats were found along with a collection of mummified scarab beetles, gilded wood cat statues, painted animal sarcophagi, and other artifacts.

Today, dozens of intact mummies of any species are a relatively rare find for archaeologists, but mummifying cats and other animals was a common practice in Egypt for thousands of years. The Saqqara cats, like millions of others throughout Egyptian history, would have been bred and raised for eventual mass sacrifice to the protective goddess Bastet, who often appears in Egyptian art as a woman with the head of a lioness or, after about 1000 BCE, a domestic cat.

Most of those once-common mummies were lost to rampant looting across the centuries, which peaked between the 1700s and early 1900s. Europeans looted hundreds of thousands of animal mummies, including baboons, cats, crocodiles, and ibises, most of which were destroyed to make fertilizer.

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Being a morning person might have some health advantages

Science - Posted On:2018-11-12 17:14:59 Source: arstechnica

A paper presented at the National Cancer Research Institute this week has made for some flashy headlines, like this confident declaration from India’s Economic Times: “Ladies, check your alarm: Waking up early may cut breast-cancer risk.” But most headlines have been appropriately measured and wordy, like The Independent’s “Women who prefer to wake up early have lower risk of breast cancer than night owls.”

In amidst the largely cautious coverage is a truckload of confusion over the details. Some reports frame the paper’s findings as being about preference (preferring to wake up early or stay up late) while others frame them as being about behavior (actually waking up earlier, regardless of preference). Some hold questions of cause and effect at arm’s length, while others dive right in with claims about sleep habits causing cancer.

And what’s the data that was used by the National Cancer Research Institute? Health News Review, in its critique of media coverage of the research, reports that researchers examined “self-reported responses” about being a morning person, but genetic data came into the mix, too.

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Making light twist into a bowtie may reveal dark matter

Science - Posted On:2018-11-12 15:30:00 Source: arstechnica

Dark matter is a theory that is excellent for inspiring new theories. It also seems to be an excellent way to generate new and expensive detector hardware. A new paper bucks the trend, though, proposing a dark-matter experiment that seems almost... cheap.

I have a rather dark view of theoretical physics.

Unbeknownst to most, theoretical physicists (there is no other type) increase their stability by splitting into two, which happens during a process known as defending a PhD. During this fission, new dark-matter-particle candidates are emitted, mostly of a variety called axions. Whenever there is a conference of theoretical physicists, critical mass is exceeded, and an explosion of more dark-matter-candidate particles is produced. These events will occasionally emit large and expensive experiments.

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Study Opens Route To Ultra-Low-Power Microchips

science - Posted On:2018-11-12 15:15:00 Source: slashdot

Freshly Exhumed writes: A new approach to controlling magnetism in a microchip could open the doors to memory, computing, and sensing devices that consume drastically less power than existing versions. The approach could also overcome some of the inherent physical limitations that have been slowing progress in this area until now. Researchers at MIT and at Brookhaven National Laboratory have demonstrated that they can control the magnetic properties of a thin-film material simply by applying a small voltage. Changes in magnetic orientation made in this way remain in their new state without the need for any ongoing power, unlike today's standard memory chips, the team has found. The new finding is being reported today in the journal Nature Materials, in a paper by Geoffrey Beach, a professor of materials science and engineering and co-director of the MIT Materials Research Laboratory; graduate student Aik Jun Tan; and eight others at MIT and Brookhaven. As silicon microchips draw closer to fundamental physical limits that could cap their ability to continue increasing their capabilities while decreasing their power consumption, researchers have been exploring a variety of new technologies that might get around these limits. One of the promising alternatives is an approach called spintronics, which makes use of a property of electrons called spin, instead of their electrical charge. Because spintronic devices can retain their magnetic properties without the need for constant power, which silicon memory chips require, they need far less power to operate. They also generate far less heat -- another major limiting factor for today's devices. Read more of this story at Slashdot.

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Behind-the-scenes audio from Apollo 11 mission made public for first time

Science - Posted On:2018-11-12 13:30:00 Source: arstechnica

When Neil Armstrong took his legendary first steps on the Moon on July 20, 1969, it defined a generation. As NASA prepares to mark the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 Moon landing next year, it has released newly unearthed backchannel conversations from the mission to the public, giving us an unprecedented peek at what was happening behind the scenes.

The main air-to-ground recordings and on-board recordings from the historic mission have been publicly available online for decades. But that was just a fraction of the recorded communications for the mission. Thousands of hours of supplementary conversations ("backroom loops") between flight controllers and other support teams languished in storage at the National Archives and Records Administration building in Maryland—until now.

Thanks to a year-long project to locate, digitize, and process all that extra audio (completed in July), diehard space fans can now access a fresh treasure trove of minutiae from the Apollo 11 mission. And those records are now preserved for future generations.

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Now you can listen to behind-the-scenes audio from the Apollo 11 mission

Science - Posted On:2018-11-12 13:15:00 Source: arstechnica

When Neil Armstrong took his legendary first steps on the Moon on July 20, 1969, it defined a generation. As NASA prepares to mark the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 Moon landing next year, it has released newly unearthed backchannel conversations from the mission to the public, giving us an unprecedented peek at what was happening behind the scenes.

The main air-to-ground recordings and on-board recordings from the historic mission have been publicly available online for decades. But that was just a fraction of the recorded communications for the mission. Thousands of hours of supplementary conversations ("backroom loops") between flight controllers and other support teams languished in storage at the National Archives and Records Administration building in Maryland—until now.

Thanks to a year-long project to locate, digitize, and process all that extra audio (completed in July), diehard space fans can now access a fresh treasure trove of minutiae from the Apollo 11 mission. And those records are now preserved for future generations.

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Rocket Lab now has a fully operational small satellite launcher

Science - Posted On:2018-11-12 12:30:00 Source: arstechnica

Rocket Lab succeeded this weekend in moving from a company testing its rocket to one that has truly begun commercial operations. With the third flight of its Electron booster, the company delivered seven different satellites into orbit as part of its first fully commercial spaceflight.

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Better 'Nowcasting' Can Reveal What Weather is About To Hit Within 500 Meters

science - Posted On:2018-11-12 11:30:00 Source: slashdot

Weather forecasting is impressively accurate given how changeable and chaotic Earth's climate can be. It's not unusual to get 10-day forecasts with a reasonable level of accuracy. But there is still much to be done. One challenge for meteorologists is to improve their "nowcasting," the ability to forecast weather in the next six hours or so at a spatial resolution of a square kilometer or less. From a report: In areas where the weather can change rapidly, that is difficult. And there is much at stake. Agricultural activity is increasingly dependent on nowcasting, and the safety of many sporting events depends on it too. Then there is the risk that sudden rainfall could lead to flash flooding, a growing problem in many areas because of climate change and urbanization. That has implications for infrastructure, such as sewage management, and for safety, since this kind of flooding can kill. So meteorologists would dearly love to have a better way to make their nowcasts. Enter Blandine Bianchi from EPFL in Lausanne, Switzerland, and a few colleagues, who have developed a method for combining meteorological data from several sources to produce nowcasts with improved accuracy. Their work has the potential to change the utility of this kind of forecasting for everyone from farmers and gardeners to emergency services and sewage engineers. Current forecasting is limited by the data and the scale on which it is gathered and processed. For example, satellite data has a spatial resolution of 50 to 100 km and allows the tracking and forecasting of large cloud cells over a time scale of six to nine hours. By contrast, radar data is updated every five minutes, with a spatial resolution of about a kilometer, and leads to predictions on the time scale of one to three hours. Another source of data is the microwave links used by telecommunications companies, which are degraded by rainfall. Read more of this story at Slashdot.

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Rocket Lab's Modest Launch Is Giant Leap For Small Rocket Business

science - Posted On:2018-11-12 10:59:57 Source: slashdot

Reader Iwastheone shares a report: A small rocket from a little-known company lifted off Sunday from the east coast of New Zealand, carrying a clutch of tiny satellites. That modest event -- the first commercial launch by a U.S.-New Zealand company known as Rocket Lab -- could mark the beginning of a new era in the space business, where countless small rockets pop off from spaceports around the world. This miniaturization of rockets and spacecraft places outer space within reach of a broader swath of the economy. The rocket, called the Electron, is a mere sliver compared to the giant rockets that Elon Musk, of SpaceX, and Jeffrey P. Bezos, of Blue Origin, envisage using to send people into the solar system. It is just 56 feet tall and can carry only 500 pounds into space. But Rocket Lab is aiming for markets closer to home. "We're FedEx," said Peter Beck, the New Zealand-born founder and chief executive of Rocket Lab. "We're a little man that delivers a parcel to your door." Behind Rocket Lab, a host of start-up companies are also jockeying to provide transportation to space for a growing number of small satellites. The payloads include constellations of telecommunications satellites that would provide the world with ubiquitous internet access. The payload of this mission, which Rocket Lab whimsically named "It's Business Time," offered a glimpse of this future: two ship-tracking satellites for Spire Global; a small climate- and environment-monitoring satellite for GeoOptics; a small probe built by high school students in Irvine, Calif., and a demonstration version of a drag sail that would pull defunct satellites out of orbit. Read more of this story at Slashdot.

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How Nature Defies Math in Keeping Ecosystems Stable

science - Posted On:2018-11-11 15:15:00 Source: slashdot

Paradoxically, the abundance of tight interactions among living species usually leads to disasters in ecological models. New analyses hint at how nature seemingly defies the math. Veronique Greenwood, writing for Quantamagazine: Behind the beautiful facade of a rainforest, a savanna or a placid lake is a world teeming with contests and partnerships. Species are competing for space, consuming one another for resources, taking advantage of one another's talents, and brokering trades of nutrients. But there's something funny about this picture. When ecologists try to model ecosystems using math, they tend to find that the more interactions there are among species, the more unstable the system. For a simple ecosystem model to be stable, all the interactions among its species must be in perfect harmony. Maintaining that balancing act gets much harder, however, as the number of coupled species and the strengths of their interactions rise: Any disturbance or imbalance for one couple ripples outward and sows chaos throughout the network. Bring in mutualisms, relationships in which species contribute directly to each other's survival, and things can really fly off the handle. Pairs of organisms that live off each other sometimes do so well in the mathematical simulations -- thriving exponentially in extreme cases, in what Robert May, the theoretical ecology pioneer, once called "an orgy of mutual benefaction" -- that everything else can go extinct. It seems unlikely that real ecosystems are quite this flimsy. In a new paper in Nature Communications, a pair of theoretical ecologists at the University of Illinois explored more precisely how the give-and-take in mutualism affects ecosystem stability and how, under the right conditions, it might contribute to it. Their result joins previous work in suggesting how real-world communities manage to be more resilient than the models imply. Read more of this story at Slashdot.

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The sounds of a Martian sunrise inspire short musical composition

Science - Posted On:2018-11-11 13:15:00 Source: arstechnica

NASA's Mars rover, Opportunity, fell silent earlier this year, but even if it never regains full function, it had one last gift to give. Scientists have transformed Opportunity's image of its 5000th sunrise on Mars into music using a process called data sonification.

“Image sonification is a really flexible technique to explore science and it can be used in several domains, from studying certain characteristics of planet surfaces and atmospheres, to analyzing weather changes or detecting volcanic eruptions," says Domenico Vicinanza, director of the Sound and Game Engineering research group at Anglia Ruskin University. “In health science, it can provide scientists with new methods to analyze the occurrence of certain shapes and colors, which is particularly useful in image diagnostics.”

He and his co-creator, the University of Exeter's Genevieve Williams, will debut their two-minute composition ("Mars Soundscapes") at NASA's booth at the Supercomputing SC18 conference this week in Dallas, Texas.

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Three high-flying birds soar together for the first time since the 1970s

Science - Posted On:2018-11-11 12:30:00 Source: arstechnica

Update: This week, Ars staffers from across the country gather together in real life for our annual meeting, Technicon. We're supposed to be talking more than typing, so we're resurfacing a few classic Ars stories just in case the front page gets lonely. This one, which originally ran on November 22, 2015, centers on a few aviation/space pioneers and feels particularly apt for Veterans Day weekend. It appears unchanged below.

The last three flightworthy WB-57 airplanes in existence arrayed themselves on a runway near Johnson Space Center in Houston this past week, as if they were dinosaurs brought to life. The long-winged aircraft look something like prehistoric creatures, too, measuring just a stubby 21 meters long compared to an overly broad 37.5-meter wingspan. It had been four decades since as many as three of the great, superannuated birds soared together.

But then they did. One by one, the WB-57s slowly rolled down the runway at Ellington Airport and then began a slow climb upward into resplendent clear, blue skies. They flew again, thanks to a restoration program by NASA to bring a third WB-57 back from its boneyard. “It’s quite a day,” Charlie Mallini, who manages the WB-57 program for NASA, told Ars.

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Some good came out of 2018: Astronomy photos

Science - Posted On:2018-11-11 10:14:56 Source: arstechnica

While we're big fans of images of the very small, as brought to us by the Nikon Microscopy Competition, we also admire the really big. And each year, that comes courtesy of the Insight Astronomy Photographer of the Year competition. This year's winners were recently announced and have gone on display a the Royal Observatory in Greenwich, UK. But if you can't make it to London, you can get a taste for what you're missing below.

Astronomy images span a phenomenal range scale, from things that would fit neatly on Earth (like comets or features on local bodies) to the mind-bogglingly large (like stellar nurseries or entire galaxies). And we frequently observe these objects by using wavelengths the human eye can't see. So there's a lot of room for artistic choices about how to make these things both understandable and beautiful. In many cases, this year's winners have also humanized things by placing the night sky in context, framed by other figures admiring it, or nestled among familiar-looking landscapes.

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A trip through the peer-review sausage grinder

Science - Posted On:2018-11-10 17:30:00 Source: arstechnica

Update: This week, Ars staffers from across the country gather together in real life for our annual meeting, Technicon. We're supposed to be talking more than typing, so we're resurfacing a few classic Ars stories just in case the front page gets lonely. This one, which originally ran on November 3, 2010, centers on our peers (the scientific ones, not the Arsians) and the two basic functions of the much-discussed "peer review."

It is often said that peer review is one of the pillars of scientific research. It is also well known that peer review doesn't actually do its job very well, and, every few years, people like me start writing articles about alternatives to peer review. This isn't one of those rants. Instead, I'm going to focus on something that is probably less well known: peer review actually has two jobs. It's used to provide minimal scrutiny for new scientific results, and to act as a gatekeeper for funding agencies.

What I would like to do here is outline some of the differences between peer review in these two jobs and the strengths and weaknesses of peer review in each case. This is not a rant against peer review, nor should it be—I have been pretty successful in both publications and grant applications over the last couple of years. But I think it's worth exploring the idea that peer review functions much better in the case of deciding the value of scientific research than it does when acting as a gatekeeper for scientific funding.

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Did We Miss an Interstellar Comet Four Years Ago?

science - Posted On:2018-11-10 16:44:59 Source: slashdot

Long-time Slashdot reader RockDoctor writes: A paper published on Arxiv last week reports on a project to redetermine the "orbits of long period comets... We recently attempted to check, whether the assumption of a parabolic orbit for hundreds of comets discovered after 1950 is fully justified in all cases." The full work by Krlikowska & Dybczynski remains in preparation (which is perfectly normal), but this intriguing result deserved early attention. During this research we found an interesting case of the comet C/2014 W10 PANSTARRS. (that's the 10th reported comet in fortnight W of year 2014, source : the PANSTARRS team) After discovery on 2014-11-25, fourteen observations were made over three days, giving a first-estimate orbit with an eccentricity of 0.6039453. So far, so boring — as the temporary designation suggests, these get found on most days. But that orbit is subject to uncertainty so some more measurements were made on 2014-12-22 from a different observatory. When all of the data is considered, it becomes impossible to clearly assign an orbit to this object (this is possible if, for example, there is a fragmentation of the object between observations), but many of the solutions which can be obtained have a hyperbolic orbit — that is, the object is extra-solar. If correct, this "post-covery" would double the size of the catalogue of interstellar objects known. Unfortunately, the quality of the original data remains poor — estimates of the orbital eccentricity vary between 1.22 and 1.65 — which is in contrast to the prompt recognition and intense observation campaign for 'Oumuamua. The report's main conclusion is that Our main purpose is to show that similar cases should be treated in future with greater care by more reliable preliminary orbit determination and alerting observers about the importance of the object to initiate more follow-up observations. Which is exactly what happened with 'Oumuamua. Read more of this story at Slashdot.

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AI Researchers Predict Alzheimer's Years Before Diagnosis

science - Posted On:2018-11-10 13:45:00 Source: slashdot

Slashdot reader pgmrdlm quotes Science Daily: Timely diagnosis of Alzheimer's disease is extremely important, as treatments and interventions are more effective early in the course of the disease. However, early diagnosis has proven to be challenging. Research has linked the disease process to changes in metabolism, as shown by glucose uptake in certain regions of the brain, but these changes can be difficult to recognize... Researchers trained [a] deep learning algorithm on a special imaging technology known as 18-F-fluorodeoxyglucose positron emission tomography (FDG-PET). In an FDG-PET scan, FDG, a radioactive glucose compound, is injected into the blood. PET scans can then measure the uptake of FDG in brain cells, an indicator of metabolic activity. The researchers had access to data from the Alzheimer's Disease Neuroimaging Initiative (ADNI), a major multi-site study focused on clinical trials to improve prevention and treatment of this disease. The ADNI dataset included more than 2,100 FDG-PET brain images from 1,002 patients. Researchers trained the deep learning algorithm on 90 percent of the dataset and then tested it on the remaining 10 percent of the dataset. Through deep learning, the algorithm was able to teach itself metabolic patterns that corresponded to Alzheimer's disease. Finally, the researchers tested the algorithm on an independent set of 40 imaging exams from 40 patients that it had never studied. The algorithm achieved 100 percent sensitivity at detecting the disease an average of more than six years prior to the final diagnosis. "We were very pleased with the algorithm's performance," Dr. Sohn said. "It was able to predict every single case that advanced to Alzheimer's disease Read more of this story at Slashdot.

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Understanding the Brain is a catalog of all we don’t know about the brain

Science - Posted On:2018-11-10 10:14:57 Source: arstechnica

Twenty years ago, the neuroscientist John E. Dowling wrote a book about the brain called Creating Mind. Since then, our understanding of cellular neurobiology and even systems neuroscience has exploded. So Dowling decided to update his book. Yet our understanding of the mind has not exploded apace with our understanding of the brain—scientists and philosophers can’t even agree on a definition of what “mind” is. This updated book, called Understanding the Brain: From Cells to Behavior to Cognition, is not going to settle that debate.

Most chapters of this new version begin with an anecdote describing some poor soul who is suffering from a neurological disorder the chapter explains: Bob lost his memory as he aged; Tess had depression; Helen Keller was Helen Keller; etc. It worked for Oliver Sacks, and it works here. Professor Dowling starts off with the basics by outlining the structure and organization of the brain, the cells that compose it, and how chemical and electrical signals are transmitted through those cells. He uses the visual system, which he spent his career studying, as a synecdoche to represent how sensory data from the outside world gets perceived and processed.

This background information is the bulk of the book; we don’t get to higher brain functions like language, rationality, and emotions until the last third. The pinnacle—consciousness—is not broached until the last (and shortest) chapter.

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