NASA

NASA Looking At Nuclear Thermal Rockets To Explore the Solar System 95

Posted by Soulskill
from the i'll-order-a-dozen dept.
MarkWhittington writes: Officially, NASA has been charged with sending astronauts to Mars sometime in the 2030s. Toward that end, according to a story in Universe Today, space agency engineers at the Marshall Space Flight Center are looking at an old concept for interplanetary travel, nuclear thermal engines. "...according to the report (cached), an NTP rocket could generate 200 kWt of power using a single kilogram of uranium for a period of 13 years – which works out of to a fuel efficiency rating of about 45 grams per 1000 MW-hr. In addition, a nuclear-powered engine could also provide superior thrust relative to the amount of propellant used." However, some doubts have been expressed whether NASA will be granted the budget to develop such engines.
Space

ESA: No Conclusive Evidence of Big Bang Gravitational Waves 78

Posted by Soulskill
from the science-is-self-correcting dept.
hypnosec writes: The European Space Agency has made a joint analysis of data gathered by the ground-based BICEP2 and Keck Array experiments and its own Planck satellite to try to verify previous reports of BICEP2's primordial gravitational wave detection. However, the ESA was unable to find evidence of primordial gravitational waves, and they think the earlier report was simply based on an outdated model that didn't take interstellar dust into account.

"The Milky Way is pervaded by a mixture of gas and dust shining at similar frequencies to those of the CMB, and this foreground emission affects the observation of the most ancient cosmic light. Very careful analysis is needed to separate the foreground emission from the cosmic background. Critically, interstellar dust also emits polarized light, thus affecting the CMB polarization as well. ... The BICEP2 team had chosen a field where they believed dust emission would be low, and thus interpreted the signal as likely to be cosmological. However, as soon as Planck’s maps of the polarized emission from Galactic dust were released (PDF), it was clear that this foreground contribution could be much higher than previously expected."
Books

R.U. Sirius Co-Authors New Book On Transhumanism 47

Posted by timothy
from the r-u-goffman-doesn't-have-the-same-ring dept.
An anonymous reader writes "I've never been able to work up a fear of the robot apocalypse," admits R.U. Sirius, who more than 20 years after Mondo 2000's original guide to geek culture has again collaborated on a new encyclopedia of emerging technologies. As we progress to a world where technology actually becomes invisible, he argues that "everything about how we will define the future is still in play," suggesting that the transhumanist movement is "a good way to take isolated radical tech developments and bundle them together". While his co-author argues transhumanists "like to solve everything," Sirius points out a much bigger concern is a future of technologies dominated by the government or big capital.
Math

There Is No "You" In a Parallel Universe 201

Posted by timothy
from the speak-for-yourself-singleton dept.
StartsWithABang (3485481) writes "Ever since quantum mechanics first came along, we've recognized how tenuous our perception of reality is, and how — in many ways — what we perceive is just a very small subset of what's going on at the quantum level in our Universe. Then, along came cosmic inflation, teaching us that our observable Universe is just a tiny, tiny fraction of the matter-and-radiation filled space out there, with possibilities including Universes with different fundamental laws and constants, differing quantum outcomes existing in disconnected regions of space, and even the fantastic one of parallel Universes and alternate versions of you and me. But is that last one really admissible? The best modern evidence teaches us that even with all the Universes that inflation creates, it's still a finite number, and an insufficiently large number to contain all the possibilities that a 13.8 billion year old Universe with 10^90 particles admits."
Medicine

Scientists Float Soap Bubbles As a More Effective Drug Delivery Method 15

Posted by Soulskill
from the bad-news-if-you-enjoy-getting-stabbed-by-sharp-objects dept.
Zothecula writes: As if soap bubbles don't spread enough happiness on their own, scientists have discovered a way of coating them in biomolecules with a view to treating viruses, cancer and other diseases. The technology has been developed at the University of Maryland, where researchers devised a method of tricking the body into mistaking the bubbles for harmful cells, triggering an immune response and opening up new possibilities in the delivery of drugs and vaccines.
Earth

Most Americans Support Government Action On Climate Change 403

Posted by Soulskill
from the politics-of-science dept.
mdsolar points out this report in the NY Times: An overwhelming majority of the American public, including nearly half of Republicans, support government action to curb global warming, according to a poll conducted by The New York Times, Stanford University and the nonpartisan environmental research group Resources for the Future. In a finding that could have implications for the 2016 presidential campaign, the poll also found that two-thirds of Americans say they are more likely to vote for political candidates who campaign on fighting climate change. They are less likely to vote for candidates who question or deny the science of human-caused global warming.

Among Republicans, 48 percent said they are more likely to vote for a candidate who supports fighting climate change, a result that Jon A. Krosnick, a professor of political science at Stanford University and an author of the survey, called "the most powerful finding" in the poll. Many Republican candidates either question the science of climate change or do not publicly address the issue.
Math

Mathematicians Uncomfortable With Ties To NSA, But Not Pulling Back 177

Posted by Soulskill
from the goose-that-lays-the-golden-ovoid dept.
An anonymous reader writes: When we talk about how the NSA operates, it's typically about the policymakers and what the agency should or should not do. It's worth remembering that the NSA is built upon the backs of world-class mathematicians, whom they aggressively recruit to make all their underlying surveillance technology work. A new piece in Science discusses how the relationship between mathematicians and the NSA has changed following the Snowden leaks (PDF). But as Peter Woit points out, these ethical conundrums are not actually spurring any change. This is perhaps due to the NSA's generous funding of mathematics-related research.

The article talks about the American Mathematical Society, which until recently was led by David Vogan: "...after all was said and done, no action was taken. Vogan describes a meeting about the matter last year with an AMS governing committee as 'terrible,' revealing little interest among the rest of the society's leadership in making a public statement about NSA's ethics, let alone cutting ties. Ordinary AMS members, by and large, feel the same way, adds Vogan, who this week is handing over the presidency to Robert Bryant, a mathematician at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina. For now, U.S. mathematicians aren't willing to disown their shadowy but steadfast benefactor."
Space

How Gaseous, Neptune-Like Planets Can Become Habitable 58

Posted by Soulskill
from the how-to-terraform-your-neighbor-in-six-easy-steps dept.
An anonymous reader writes: Life as we know it requires small, rocky planets. The gas giants of our solar system aren't habitable (to our knowledge), but a research team has discovered that smaller, Neptune-like planets can be transformed into gas-free, potentially habitable worlds with a little help from red dwarf stars. Such planets are usually formed far out in a planetary system, but tidal forces can cause them to migrate inward. When they reach the habitable zone of their host star, they absorb far larger amounts of x-ray and ultraviolet radiation. This can eventually boil off most of the the gas atmosphere, leaving behind the core: a small, rocky world capable of supporting life.
Biotech

New Study Says Governments Should Ditch Reliance On Biofuels 211

Posted by samzenpus
from the won't-somebody-please-think-of-the-switchgrass? dept.
HughPickens.com writes The NYT reports on a new study from a prominent environmental think tank that concludes turning plant matter into liquid fuel or electricity is so inefficient that the approach is unlikely ever to supply a substantial fraction of global energy demand. They add that continuing to pursue this strategy is likely to use up vast tracts of fertile land that could be devoted to helping feed the world's growing population. "I would say that many of the claims for biofuels have been dramatically exaggerated," says Andrew Steer, president of the World Resources Institute, a global research organization based in Washington that is publishing the report. "There are other, more effective routes to get to a low-carbon world." The report follows several years of rising concern among scientists about biofuel policies in the United States and Europe, and is the strongest call yet by the World Resources Institute, known for nonpartisan analysis of environmental issues, to urge governments to reconsider those policies.

Timothy D. Searchinger says recent science has challenged some of the assumptions underpinning many of the pro-biofuel policies that have often failed to consider the opportunity cost of using land to produce plants for biofuel. According to Searchinger, if forests or grasses were grown instead of biofuels, that would pull carbon dioxide out of the air, storing it in tree trunks and soils and offsetting emissions more effectively than biofuels would do. What is more, as costs for wind and solar power have plummeted over the past decade, and the new report points out that for a given amount of land, solar panels are at least 50 times more efficient than biofuels at capturing the energy of sunlight in a useful form. "It's true that our first-generation biofuels have not lived up to their promise," says Jason Hill said. "We've found they do not offer the environmental benefits they were purported to have, and they have a substantial negative impact on the food system."
Science

The Gap Between What The Public Thinks And What Scientists Know 485

Posted by samzenpus
from the what-do-you-know? dept.
First time accepted submitter burtosis writes Despite similar views about the overall place of science in America, the general public and scientists often see science-related issues through a different lens, according to a new pair of surveys by the Pew Research Center in collaboration with the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS). From FiveThirtyEight: "The surveys found broad support for government to spend money on science, but that doesn't mean the public supports the conclusions that scientists draw. The biggest gap between scientists and the public came on issues that may elicit fear: the safety of genetically modified (or GMO) foods (37 percent of the public said GMOs were safe, compared to 88 percent of scientists) and the use of pesticides in agriculture (28 percent of the public said foods grown with pesticides were safe to eat, versus 68 percent of scientists). There was also disagreement over the cause of climate change (50 percent of the public said it is mostly due to human activity, compared to 87 percent of scientists). Here’s a full list, via Pew Research Center, of the scientific issues the survey asked about."
Biotech

FDA Wants To Release Millions of Genetically Modified Mosquitoes In Florida 259

Posted by samzenpus
from the I've-seen-this-movie dept.
MikeChino writes In an attempt to curb outbreaks of two devastating tropical diseases in the Florida Keys, the FDA is proposing the release of millions of genetically modified mosquitoes into the area. Scientists have bred male mosquitoes with virus gene fragments, so when they mate with the females that bite and spread illness, their offspring will die. This can reduce the mosquito population dramatically, halting the spread of diseases like dengue fever.
Science

Spire Plans To Use Tiny Satellites For More Accurate Weather Forecasts 24

Posted by timothy
from the up-in-the-air dept.
Zothecula writes Weather forecasting is a notoriously inexact science. According to San Francisco-based tech startup Spire, this is partially because there are currently less than 20 satellites responsible for gathering all of the world's weather data – what's more, some of the older ones are using outdated technology. Spire's solution? Establish a linked network of over 100 shoebox-sized CubeSats, that will use GPS technology to gather 100 times the amount of weather data than is currently possible. The first 20 of those satellites are scheduled to launch later this year.
Australia

The Quantum Experiment That Simulates a Time Machine 138

Posted by timothy
from the already-been-done dept.
KentuckyFC writes One of the extraordinary features of quantum mechanics is that one quantum system can simulate the behaviour of another that might otherwise be difficult to create. That's exactly what a group of physicists in Australia have done in creating a quantum system that simulates a quantum time machine. Back in the early 90s, physicists showed that a quantum particle could enter a region of spacetime that loops back on itself, known as a closed timelike curve, without creating grandfather-type paradoxes in which time travellers kill their grandfathers thereby ensuring they could never have existed to travel back in time in the first place. Nobody has ever built a quantum closed time-like curve but now they don't have to. The Australian team have simulated its behaviour by allowing two entangled photons to interfere with each other in a way that recreates the behaviour of a single photon interacting with an older version of itself. The results are in perfect agreement with predictions from the 1990s--there are no grandfather-type paradoxes. Interestingly, the results are entirely compatible with relativity, suggesting that this type of experiment might be an interesting way of reconciling it with quantum mechanics.
Space

The Big Bang By Balloon 23

Posted by samzenpus
from the in-the-beginning dept.
StartsWithABang writes If you want to map the entire sky — whether you're looking in the visible, ultraviolet, infrared or microwave, your best bet is to go to space. Only high above the Earth's atmosphere can you map out the entire sky, with your vision unobscured by anything terrestrial. But that costs millions of dollars for the launch alone! What if you've got new technology you want to test? What if you still want to defeat most of the atmosphere? (Which you need to do, for most wavelengths of light.) And what if you want to make observations on large angular scales, something by-and-large impossible from the ground in microwave wavelengths? You launch a balloon! The Spider telescope has just completed its data-taking operations, and is poised to take the next step — beyond Planck and BICEP2 — in understanding the polarization of the cosmic microwave background.
Medicine

Brain Implants Get Brainier 49

Posted by samzenpus
from the thinking-better dept.
the_newsbeagle writes "Did my head just beep?" wonders a woman who just received a brain implant to treat her intractable epilepsy. We're entering a cyborg age of medicine, with implanted stimulators that send pulses of electricity into the brain or nervous system to prevent seizures or block pain. The first generation of devices sent out pulses in a constant and invariable rhythm, but device-makers are now inventing smart stimulators that monitor the body for signs of trouble and fire when necessary.
Science

Spider Spins Electrically Charged Silk 42

Posted by samzenpus
from the will-you-walk-into-my-electric-parlour? dept.
sciencehabit writes In their quest to make ultrastrong yet ultrasmall fibers, the polymer industry may soon take a lesson from Uloborus spiders. Uloborids are cribellate spiders, meaning that instead of spinning wet, sticky webs to catch their prey, they produce a fluffy, charged, wool-like silk. A paper published online today in Biology Letters details the process for the first time. It all starts with the silk-producing cribellar gland. In contrast with other spiders, whose silk comes out of the gland intact, scientists were surprised to discover that uloborids' silk is in a liquid state when it surfaces. As the spider yanks the silk from the duct, it solidifies into nanoscale filaments. This "violent hackling" has the effect of stretching and freezing the fibers into shape. It may even be responsible for increasing their strength, because filaments on the nanoscale become stronger as they are stretched. In order to endow the fibers with an electrostatic charge, the spider pulls them over a comblike plate located on its hind legs. The technique is not unlike the so-called hackling of flax stems over a metal brush in order to soften and prepare them for thread-spinning, but in the spider's case it also gives them a charge. The electrostatic fibers are thought to attract prey to the web in the same way a towel pulled from the dryer is able to attract stray socks.
Medicine

Scientists Discover How To Track Natural Errors In DNA Replication 19

Posted by samzenpus
from the points-of-failure dept.
BarbaraHudson writes Researchers figured out how to label and keep track of new pieces of DNA, and learned to follow the enzyme responsible for copying those pieces. Their research focused on enzymes called polymerases. These enzymes create small regions in DNA that act as scaffolds for the copied DNA. Scientists assumed that the body deletes the scaffolds containing errors, or mutations, and the standard computer models supported this theory. However, the actual research showed that about 1.5 percent of those erroneous scaffolds are left over, trapped within the DNA. After running models, scientists now believe they can track how DNA replicates and find the most likely areas where these scaffolds with errors turn up. The erroneous scaffolds usually appear close to genetic switches, those regions that turn on when genes activate. The mutations damage the switch, which results in genetic disease, as well as increasing the likelihood of cancer.
Medicine

Scientists 3D-Printing Cartilage For Medical Implants 23

Posted by samzenpus
from the body-printing dept.
Molly McHugh writes Scientists and physicians at The Feinstein Institute for Medical Research have discovered a way to use MakerBot's 3D-printing technologies to create cartilage and repair tissue damage in the trachea. From the article: "Researchers found that it’s possible to use the MakerBot Replicator 2X Experimental 3D Printer to print what’s called 'scaffolding,' made up of PLA, a bioplastic commonly used in in surgical implant devices. The team customized the printer so that living cells could be printed onto the scaffolding. The 3D-printed mixture of healthy cells found in cartilage, and collagen, eventually grew into the shape of a trachea that could be implanted into a patient."
Programming

Anonymous No More: Your Coding Style Can Give You Away 218

Posted by samzenpus
from the leaving-your-mark dept.
itwbennett writes Researchers from Drexel University, the University of Maryland, the University of Goettingen, and Princeton have developed a "code stylometry" that uses natural language processing and machine learning to determine the authors of source code based on coding style. To test how well their code stylometry works, the researchers gathered publicly available data from Google's Code Jam, an annual programming competition that attracts a wide range of programmers, from students to professionals to hobbyists. Looking at data from 250 coders over multiple years, averaging 630 lines of code per author their code stylometry achieved 95% accuracy in identifying the author of anonymous code (PDF). Using a dataset with fewer programmers (30) but more lines of code per person (1,900), the identification accuracy rate reached 97%.