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Earth

First Signs of Obesity In Some Arctic Groups Have Been Linked To Instant Noodles (sciencealert.com) 140

schwit1 quotes a report from ScienceAlert: Researchers have noted the first signs of obesity in the native ethnic groups of the Yamalo-Nenets region -- an autonomous district that sits on the coast of the Arctic Ocean in Northwest Siberia. According to local experts, obesity has not previously existed in these indigenous populations, but the first cases are now being reported, and a marked change in diet -- including instant noodles and pasta -- appears to be responsible. The Yamalo-Nenets Autonomous Okrug has a population of just over 522,000 people, whose ancestors have survived the permafrost for millennia. The nomadic Nenets and Khanty peoples have been herding reindeer up and down the Yamal tundra -- a 700-km-long peninsula that stretches deep into the Arctic Ocean -- for 1,000 years, with diets heavily based on venison and fish. But that appears to be changing fast, as researchers note the increasing uptake of chemically processed foods, such as instant noodles and pasta, and the addition of sugar, pastry, and bread to their diets. According to Titovsky, these changes -- which have only been occurring over the past few years -- have seen the intake of venison and river fish cut by half.
Earth

WHO Issues a List of 12 Most Worrying Drug-Resistant Bacteria (medicalxpress.com) 70

Artem Tashkinov quotes a report from Medical Xpress: The World Health Organization has issued a list of the top dozen bacteria most dangerous to humans, warning that doctors are fast running out of treatment options. WHO said the most-needed drugs are for germs that threaten hospitals, nursing homes and among patients who need ventilators or catheters. The agency said the dozen listed resistant bacteria are increasingly untreatable and can cause fatal infections; most typically strike people with weakened immune systems. At the top of WHO's list is Acinetobacter baumannii, a group of bacteria that cause a range of diseases from pneumonia to blood or wound infections. In recent years, health officials have detected a few patients resistant to colistin, the antibiotic of last resort. So far, doctors have been able to treat them with other drugs. But experts worry that the colistin-resistant bacteria will spread their properties to other bacteria already resistant to more commonly used antibiotics, creating germs that can't be killed by any known drugs.
Moon

SpaceX Plans To Send Two People Around the Moon In 2018 (gizmodo.com) 156

Today, SpaceX founder Elon Musk announced that in 2018, the company will fly two private citizens around the Moon in its Dragon 2 spacecraft, carried by its Falcon Heavy rocket. "While the voyagers' names have not been disclosed, according to SpaceX, a 'significant deposit' has already been made," Gizmodo reports. From the report: According to Musk, the mission will last approximately one week. The passengers will travel beyond the moon and loop back to Earth, spanning roughly 300,000 to 400,000 miles. While the passengers will undergo some sort of training beforehand, it's unclear if the two have any experience with piloting, nevermind spaceflight. The mission, although unrelated to NASA's plan to slingshot astronauts around the Moon in several years' time using the SLS rocket and the Orion capsule, was made possible in part by funding SpaceX has received to develop its human spaceflight technology through the commercial crew program. "This is a really thing that's happened," Elon Musk told reporters at a press conference. "We've been approached to do a crewed mission beyond the Moon ... [and these passengers] are very serious about it. We plan to do that probably Dragon 2 spacecraft with the Falcon Heavy rocket." He went on to say the company is "expected to do more than one mission of this nature."
Moon

How To Get Back To the Moon In 4 Years -- This Time To Stay (scientificamerican.com) 332

Scientific American describes "a way to get to the Moon and to stay there permanently...to begin this process immediately and to achieve moon landings in less than four years." It starts by abandoning NASA's expensive Space Launch System and Orion capsule, and spending the money saved on private-industry efforts like Elon Musk's SpaceX and Robert Bigelow's Bigelow Aerospace. schwit1 quotes their report: Musk's rockets -- the Falcon and the soon-to-be-launched Falcon Heavy -- are built to take off and land. So far their landing capabilities have been used to ease them down on earth. But the same technology, with a few tweaks, gives them the ability to land payloads on the surface of the Moon. Including humans. What's more, SpaceX's upcoming seven-passenger Dragon 2 capsule has already demonstrated its ability to gentle itself down to earth's surface. In other words, with a few modifications and equipment additions, Falcon rockets and Dragon capsules could be made Moon-ready...

Major segments of the space community want every future landing to add to a permanent infrastructure in the sky. And that's within our grasp thanks to Robert Bigelow... Since the spring of 2016, Bigelow, a real estate developer and founder of the Budget Suites of America hotel chain, has had an inflatable habitat acting as a spare room at the International Space Station 220 miles above your head and mine. And Bigelow's been developing something far more ambitious -- an inflatable Moon Base, that would use three of his 330-cubic-meter B330 modules.

The article calls Jeff Bezos's Blue Origin rockets "a wild car" which could also land passengers and cargo on the moon and suggests NASA would be better off funding things like lunar-surface refueling stations, lunar construction equipment, and "devices to turn lunar ice into rocket fuel, drinkable water, and breathable oxygen."
Earth

Professors Claim Passive Cooling Breakthrough Via Plastic Film (sciencemag.org) 202

What if you could cool buildings without using electricity? charlesj68 brings word of "the development of a plastic film by two professors at the University of Colorado in Boulder that provides a passive cooling effect." The film contains embedded glass beads that absorb and emit infrared in a wavelength that is not blocked by the atmosphere. Combining this with half-silvering to keep the sun from being the source of infrared absorption on the part of the beads, and you have a way of pumping heat at a claimed rate of 93 watts per square meter.
The film is cheap to produce -- about 50 cents per square meter -- and could create indoor temperatures of 68 degrees when it's 98.6 outside. "All the work is done by the huge temperature difference, about 290C, between the surface of the Earth and that of outer space," reports The Economist.
Earth

Scientists Teach Bees How To Play Soccer (smithsonianmag.com) 74

Clint Perry, a biologist who studies the evolution of cognition in insects at Queen Mary University of London, and his colleagues have released the results of a creative new experiment in which they essentially taught bumblebees how to play "bee soccer." "The insects' ability to grasp this novel task is a big score for insect intelligence, demonstrating that they're even more complex thinkers than we thought," reports Smithsonian. From the report: For the study, published in the February 23 issue of Science, researchers gave a group of bees a novel goal (literally): to move a ball about half their size into a designated target area. The idea was to present them with a task that they would never have encountered in nature. Not only did the bees succeed at this challenge -- earning them a sugary treat -- but they astonished researchers by figuring out how to meet their new goal in several different ways. Some bees succeeded at getting their ball into the goal with no demonstration at all, or by first watching the ball move on its own. But the ones that watched other bees successfully complete the game learned to play more quickly and easily. Most impressively, the insects didn't simply copy each other -- they watched their companions do it, then figured out on their own how to accomplish the task even more efficiently using their own techniques. The results show that bees can master complex, social behaviors without any prior experience -- which could be a boon in a world where they face vast ecological changes and pressures.
Earth

Life Expectancy Set To Hit 90 In South Korea, Study Predicts (nature.com) 108

According to a study published in the journal The Lancet, researchers have predicted that South Korea will likely become the first country where the average life expectancy will exceed 90 years. The researchers led by public-health researcher Majid Ezzati at Imperial College London used data from the World Health Organization and a suite of 21 statistical models they developed to figure out how life expectancy will change in 35 developed countries by 2030. Nature reports: Life expectancy is expected to increase in all 35 countries, in keeping with steady progress in recent decades, the team found. But it is South Korean women who will be living longest by 2030: there is a nearly 60% chance that their life expectancy at birth will exceed 90 years by that time, the team calculates. Girls born in the country that year can expect to live, on average, to nearly 91, and boys to 84, the highest in the world for both sexes. The nation's rapid improvement in life expectancy -- the country was ranked twenty-ninth for women in 1985 -- is probably down to overall improvements in economic status and child nutrition, the study notes, among other factors. South Koreans also have relatively equal access to health care, lower blood pressure than people in Western countries and low rates of smoking among women. As for the United States, the life expectancy is "predicted to be among the lowest of these countries by 2030; 80 for men (similar to the Czech Republic) and 83 for women (similar to Mexico)."
Earth

World's Only Sample of Metallic Hydrogen Has Been Lost (ibtimes.co.uk) 276

New submitter drunkdrone quotes a report from International Business Times: A piece of rare meta poised to revolutionize modern technology and take humans into deep space has been lost in a laboratory mishap. The first and only sample of metallic hydrogen ever created on earth was the rarest material on the planet when it was developed by Harvard scientists in January this year, and had been dubbed "the holy grail of high pressure physics." The metal was created by subjecting liquid hydrogen to pressures greater that those at the center of the Earth. At this point, the molecular hydrogen breaks down and becomes an atomic solid. Scientists theorized that metallic hydrogen -- when used as a superconductor -- could have a transformative effect on modern electronics and revolutionize medicine, energy and transportation, as well as herald in a new age of consumer gadgets. Sadly, an attempt to study the properties of metallic hydrogen appears to have ended in catastrophe after one of the two diamonds being used like a vice to hold the tiny sample was obliterated. The metal was being held between two diamonds at a pressure of around 71.7 million pounds per square inch -- more than a third greater than at the Earth's core. According to The Independent, one of these diamonds shattered while the sample was being measured with a laser, and the metal was lost in the process.
NASA

Thrilling Discovery of Seven Earth-Sized Planets Orbiting Nearby Star (theguardian.com) 273

At a press conference on Wednesday, NASA scientists announced that they have spotted seven Earth-sized planets orbiting closely around a small, ultra-cool star. The star is 39 light years away. From a report on The Guardian: It is the first time that so many Earth-sized planets have been found in orbit around the same star, an unexpected haul that suggests the Milky Way may be teeming with worlds that, in size and firmness underfoot at least, resemble our own rocky home. The planets closely circle a dwarf star named Trappist-1, which at 39 light years away makes the system a prime candidate to search for signs of life. Only marginally larger than Jupiter, the star shines with a feeble light about 2,000 times fainter than our sun. "The star is so small and cold that the seven planets are temperate, which means that they could have some liquid water and maybe life, by extension, on the surface," said Michael Gillon, an astrophysicist at the University of Liege in Belgium. [...] While the planets have Earth-like dimensions, their sizes ranging from 25 percent smaller to 10 percent larger, they could not be more different in other features. Most striking is how compact the planet's orbits are. Mercury, the innermost planet in the solar system, is six times farther from the sun than the outermost seventh planet is from Trappist-1.
NASA

NASA Is Studying A Manned Trip Around The Moon On A $23 Billion Rocket (buzzfeed.com) 311

An anonymous reader shares a report on NASA's ongoing work on a manned trip to the moon. From the report: Without a new administrator even nominated yet, NASA's acting head Robert Lightfoot on Wednesday requested a study of whether next year's first flight of the Space Launch System rocket, billed as the most powerful NASA has built, could have a crew of astronauts. "I know the challenges associated with such a proposition," Lightfoot said in a letter to his agency, citing costs, extra work, and "a different launch date" for the planned 2018 Exploration Mission-1 (EM-1). The mission would be launched by the massive SLS, which is still in development, then boosted by a European service module to put three astronauts inside the new Orion space capsule on a three-week trip around the moon. NASA first sent three astronauts around the moon in 1968 in the Apollo 8 mission. The last astronaut to stand on the moon, the late Gene Cernan returned to Earth in 1972. The new talk of a repeat moon-circling mission, aboard an untested spacecraft, has space policy experts variously thrilled, dismissive, and puzzled. "I frankly don't quite know what to say about it," space policy expert John Logsdon of George Washington University said. Writing on NASAWatch, Keith Cowing called the study request a "Hail Mary" pass to save the life of the SLS ahead of Trump installing a budget cutter to head the space agency. The Government Accountability Office estimates the costs of SLS and its two planned launches (a second, crewed mission is planned for 2023) at $23 billion.
Displays

Some Recyclers Give Up On Recycling Old Monitors And TVs (vice.com) 274

An anonymous reader writes: "In many cases, your old TV isn't recycled at all and is instead abandoned in a warehouse somewhere, left for society to deal with sometime in the future," reports Motherboard, describing the problem of old cathode-ray televisions and computer monitors with "a net negative recycling value" (since their component parts don't cover the cost of dismantling them). An estimated 705 million CRT TVs were sold in the U.S. since 1980, and many now sit in television graveyards, "an environmental and economic disaster with no clear solution." As much as 100,000 tons of potentially hazardous waste are stockpiled in two Ohio warehouses of the now-insolvent recycler Closed Loop, plus "at least 25,000 tons of glass and unprocessed CRTs in Arizona...much of it is sitting in a mountainous pile outside one of the warehouses."
One EPA report found 23,000 tons of lead-containing CRT glass abandoned in four different states just in 2013.
Biotech

SpaceX's Next Launch Carries Colonies Of A Drug-Resistant Superbug (businessinsider.com.au) 56

An anonymous reader quotes Business Insider: SpaceX is preparing to launch a lethal, antibiotic-resistant superbug into orbit...to live its days in the microgravity environment of the International Space Station. The idea is not to weaponize space with MRSA -- a bacterium that kills more Americans every year than HIV/AIDS, Parkinson's disease, emphysema, and homicide combined -- but to send its mutation rates into hyperdrive, allowing scientists to see the pathogen's next moves well before they appear on Earth. The NASA-funded study will see SpaceX's Falcon 9 rocket launch colonies of MRSA into space, to be cultivated in the US National Laboratory on the International Space Station.

"We will leverage the microgravity environment on the ISS to accelerate the Precision Medicine revolution here on Earth," lead researcher Anita Goel, CEO of biotech company Nanobiosym, told Yahoo News... "Our ability to anticipate drug-resistant mutations with Gene-RADAR will lead to next generation antibiotics that are more precisely tailored to stop the spread of the world's most dangerous pathogens," says Goel.

That launch was scheduled for today, but SpaceX postponed it to "take a closer look at positioning of the second stage engine nozzle." [UPDATE: The launch was completed successfully on Sunday.] Two more externally-mounted payloads will conduct other experiments, with one monitoring lightning strikes on earth and the other measuring chemicals in the earth's atmosphere. In addition, there's also 21 science experiments that were submitted by high school students

Meanwhile, Slashdot reader tomhath brings news that researchers have discovered the red berries of a U.S. weed can help fight superbugs. The researchers found "extracts from the Brazilian peppertree, which traditional healers in the Amazon have used for hundreds of years to treat skin and soft-tissue infections, have the power to stop methicillin-resistant MRSA infections in mice." One of the researchers said the extract "weakens the bacteria so the mouse's own defenses work better."
NASA

Juno Jupiter Probe Won't Move Into Shorter Orbit After All (space.com) 58

NASA announced today that their Juno spacecraft will not move into a closer orbit around Jupiter as originally planned. "Juno slipped into a highly elliptical, 53-Earth-day-long orbit around Jupiter when it arrived at the giant planet on July 4, 2016," reports Space.com. From their report: The probe was supposed to perform an engine burn in October to reduce its orbital period to 14 days, but an issue with two helium valves postponed that maneuver. The engine burn has now been canceled, meaning Juno will stay where it is through the end of its mission. "During a thorough review, we looked at multiple scenarios that would place Juno in a shorter-period orbit, but there was concern that another main engine burn could result in a less-than-desirable orbit," Rick Nybakken, Juno project manager at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California, said in a statement. "The bottom line is, a burn represented a risk to completion of Juno's science objectives." But Juno should still be able to accomplish its mission goals in the longer orbit, NASA officials said. In fact, the 53-day path will allow the probe to perform some "bonus science" in the outer regions of Jupiter's magnetosphere, they added.
Earth

Woolly Mammoth On Verge of Resurrection, Scientists Reveal (theguardian.com) 168

An anonymous reader quotes a report from The Guardian: The woolly mammoth vanished from the Earth 4,000 years ago, but now scientists say they are on the brink of resurrecting the ancient beast in a revised form, through an ambitious feat of genetic engineering. Speaking ahead of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) annual meeting in Boston this week, the scientist leading the "de-extinction" effort said the Harvard team is just two years away from creating a hybrid embryo, in which mammoth traits would be programmed into an Asian elephant. "Our aim is to produce a hybrid elephant-mammoth embryo," said Prof George Church. "Actually, it would be more like an elephant with a number of mammoth traits. We're not there yet, but it could happen in a couple of years." The creature, sometimes referred to as a "mammophant," would be partly elephant, but with features such as small ears, subcutaneous fat, long shaggy hair and cold-adapted blood. The mammoth genes for these traits are spliced into the elephant DNA using the powerful gene-editing tool, Crispr. Until now, the team have stopped at the cell stage, but are now moving towards creating embryos -- although, they said that it would be many years before any serious attempt at producing a living creature.
Earth

Astronomers Discover 60 New Planets Including 'Super Earth' (nypost.com) 38

schwit1 quotes a report from New York Post: An international team of astronomers has found 60 new planets orbiting stars close to Earth's solar system, including a rocky "super Earth." The experts also found evidence of an additional 54 planets, bringing the potential discovery of new worlds to 114. One planet in particular, Gliese 411b, has been generating plenty of attention. Described as a "hot super Earth with a rocky surface," Gliese 411b is located in the fourth-nearest star system to the Sun, making it the third-nearest planetary system to the Sun, according to the U.K.'s University of Hertfordshire, which participated in the research. Gliese 411b (also known as GJ 411b or Lalande 21185) orbits the star Gliese 411 (or GJ 411). Despite the "super Earth" label, Dr. Mikko Tuomi from University of Hertfordshire's Centre for Astrophysics told Fox News that Gliese 411b is too hot for life to exist on its surface. The 60 new planets are found orbiting stars that are mostly some 20 to 300 light years away, according to Tuomi. The discoveries are based on observations taken over 20 years by U.S. astronomers using the Keck-I telescope in Hawaii as part of the Lick-Carnegie Exoplanet Survey. During the course of the research, scientists obtained almost 61,000 observations of 1,600 stars, which are now available to the public.
Sci-Fi

Lost Winston Churchill Essay Reveals His Thoughts On Alien Life (theverge.com) 187

"A newly discovered essay by Winston Churchill shows that the British statesman gave a lot of thought to the existential question that has inspired years of scientific research and blockbuster movies: are we alone in the University?" reports The Verge. "The essay was drafted in the 1930s, but unearthed in a museum in Missouri last year." Astrophysicist Mario Livio was the first scientist to analyze the article and has published his comments in the journal Nature. The Verge reports: Livio was "stunned" when he first saw the unpublished, 11-page essay on the existence of alien life, he tells The Verge. The astrophysicist was visiting Westminster College in Fulton, Missouri, for a talk last year, when he was approached by Timothy Riley, the director of Fulton's US National Churchill Museum. Riley showed him the essay, titled "Are We Alone in the Universe?" In the essay, Churchill reasons that we can't possibly be alone in the Universe -- and that many other Suns will likely have many other planets that could harbor life. Because of how enormously distant these extrasolar planets are, we may never know if they "house living creatures, or even plants," Churchill concludes. He wrote this decades before exoplanets were discovered in the 1990s; hundreds have since been detected. What's impressive about the essay is the way Churchill approaches the existential and scientific question of whether life exists on other planets, Livio says. Churchill's reasoning mirrors extremely well the way scientists think about this problem today. The British leader also talks about several theories that still guide the search for alien life, Livio says. For example, he notes that water is the key ingredient for life on Earth, and so finding water on other planets could mean finding life there. Churchill also notes that life can only survive in regions "between a few degrees of frost and the boiling point of water" -- what today we call the habitable zone, the region around a star that is neither too hot or too cold, so that liquid water may exist on the planet's surface.
Earth

Iron Age Potters Accidentally Recorded the Strength of Earth's Magnetic Field (npr.org) 118

Solandri writes: We've only been able to measure the Earth's magnetic field strength for about two centuries. During this time, there has been a gradual decline in the field strength. In recent years, the rate of decline seems to be accelerating, leading to some speculation that the Earth may be losing its magnetic field -- a catastrophic possibility since the magnetic field is what protects life on Earth from dangerous solar radiation. Ferromagnetic particles in rocks provide a long-term history which tells us the poles have flipped numerous times. But uncertainties in dating the rocks prevents their use in understanding decade-scale magnetic field fluctuations.

Now a group of archeologists and geophysicists have come up with a novel way to produce decade-scale temporal measurements of the Earth's magnetic field strength from before the invention of the magnetometer. When iron-age potters fired their pottery in a kiln to harden it, it loosened tiny ferromagnetic particles in the clay. As the pottery cooled and these particles hardened, it captured a snapshot of the Earth's magnetic field. Crucially, the governments of that time required pottery used to collect taxed goods (e.g. a portion of olive oil sold) to be stamped with a royal seal. These seals changed over time as new kings ascended, or governments were completely replaced after invasion. Thus by cross-referencing the magnetic particles in the pottery with the seals, researchers were able to piece together a history of the Earth's magnetic field strength spanning from the 8th century BCE to the 2nd century BCE. Their findings show that large fluctuations in the strength of the magnetic field over a span of decades are normal.
The study has been published in the journal PNAS.
Space

ISRO Makes History, Launches 104 Satellites With Single Rocket (indiatimes.com) 158

neo12 writes: Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) made history by launching 104 satellites in a single launch. The lift-off of PSLVC 37 at 9.28 am from Sriharikota was a perfect one. In 28 minutes, all 104 satellites were successfully placed into the Earth's orbit. 101 of the 104 satellites belong to six foreign countries, including 96 from the U.S. and one each from Israel, the UAE, the Netherlands, Switzerland and Kazakhstan. According to Times of India, "Russian Space Agency held a record of launching 37 satellites in one go during its mission in June 2014. India previously launched 23 satellites in a single mission in June 2015."
Earth

Scientists Propose Plan To Re-Freeze the Arctic (inhabitat.com) 401

Kristine Lofgren writes: In case you've been under a rock for the past 20 years, the Arctic is melting super fast. Certain *ahem* governments are dragging their feet doing anything about it, which means the planet could be in for a spectacular meltdown within the next 20 years. But a clever bunch of scientists have hatched a plan to re-freeze the Arctic using wind-powered pumps that will bring water to the surface, allowing it to freeze. This new layer of ice could last well into the summer, which is vital, because scientists think summer Arctic ice could be gone by 2030 -- and that causes a whole chain of terrible events that will only make our climate change problem much, much worse. The plan has a $500 billion price tag, but that's pocket change compared to the cost of dealing with an ice-free Arctic. The study has been published in The American Geophysical Union's journal Earth's Future. You can read more about the study via The Guardian.
Earth

Banned Chemicals From 1970's Persist In Deepest Reaches of the Pacific Ocean, Study Shows (bbc.com) 74

walterbyrd quotes a report from BBC: Scientists were surprised by the relatively high concentrations of pollutants like PCBs and PBDEs in deep sea ecosystems. Used widely during much of the 20th Century, these chemicals were later found to be toxic and to build up in the environment. The results are published in the journal Nature Ecology and Evolution. The team led by Dr Alan Jamieson at the University of Newcastle sampled levels of pollutants in the fatty tissue of amphipods (a type of crustacean) from deep below the Pacific Ocean surface. The pollutants found in the amphipods included polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) and polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs), which were commonly used as electrical insulators and flame retardants. PCB production was banned by the U.S. in 1979 and by the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants, a UN treaty signed in 2001. From the 1930s to when PCBs were banned in the 1970s, the total global production of these chemicals is estimated to be in the region of 1.3 million tons. Released into the environment through industrial accidents and discharges from landfills, these pollutants are resistant to being broken down naturally, and so persist in the environment. The authors of the study say that the deep ocean can become a "sink" or repository for pollutants. They argue that the chemicals accumulate through the food chain so that when they reach the deep ocean, concentrations are many times higher than in surface waters.

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