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Earth

Can Geoengineering Drones Fight Global Warming? (technologyreview.com) 178

MIT Technology Review reports: David Mitchell, a lanky, soft-spoken atmospheric physicist, believes frigid clouds in the upper troposphere may offer one of our best fallback plans for combating climate change... Fleets of large drones would crisscross the upper latitudes of the globe during winter months, sprinkling the skies with tons of extremely fine dust-like materials every year. If Mitchell is right, this would produce larger ice crystals than normal, creating thinner cirrus clouds that dissipate faster. "That would allow more radiation into space, cooling the earth," Mitchell says...

Increasingly grim climate projections have convinced a growing number of scientists it's time to start conducting experiments to find out what might work. In addition, an impressive list of institutions including Harvard University, the Carnegie Council, and the University of California, Los Angeles, have recently established research initiatives... By this time next year, Harvard professors David Keith and Frank Keutsch hope to launch a high-altitude balloon from a site in Tucson, Arizona. This will mark the beginning of a research project to explore the feasibility and risks of an approach known as solar radiation management. The basic idea is that spraying materials into the stratosphere could help reflect more heat back into space, mimicking a natural cooling phenomenon that occurs after volcanoes blast tens of millions of tons of sulfur dioxide into the sky.

"I don't really know what the answer is," says a former associate director at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory. "But I do believe we need to keep saying what the truth is, and the truth is, we might need it."
Space

Light Sail Propulsion Could Reach Sirius Sooner Than Alpha Centauri (arxiv.org) 157

RockDoctor writes: A recent proposition to launch probes to other star systems driven by lasers which remain in the Solar system has garnered considerable attention. But recently published work suggests that there are unexpected complexities to the system. One would think that the closest star systems would be the easiest to reach. But unless you are content with a fly-by examination of the star system, with much reduced science returns, you will need to decelerate the probe at the far end, without any infrastructure to assist with the braking. By combining both light-pressure braking and gravitational slingshots, a team of German, French and Chilean astronomers discover that the brightness of the destination star can significantly increase deceleration, and thus travel time (because higher flight velocities can be used). Slingshotting around a companion star to lengthen deceleration times can help shed flight velocity to allow capture into a stable orbit. The 4.37 light year distant binary stars Alpha Centauri A and B could be reached in 75 years from Earth. Covering the 0.24 light year distance to Proxima Centauri depends on arriving at the correct relative orientations of Alpha Centauri A and B in their mutual 80 year orbit for the sling shot to work. Without a companion star, Proxima Centauri can only absorb a final leg velocity of about 1280km/s, so that leg of the trip would take an additional 46 years. Using the same performance characteristics for the light sail, the corresponding duration for an approach to the Sirius system, almost twice as far away (8.58 lightyears), is a mere 68.9 years, making it (and it's white dwarf companion) possibly a more attractive target. Of course, none of this addresses the question of how to get any data from there to here. Or, indeed, how to manage a project that will last longer than a working lifetime. There are also issues of aiming -- the motion of the Alpha Centauri system isn't well-enough known at the moment to achieve the precise maneuvering needed without course corrections (and so, data transmission from there to here) en route.
The Internet

Apple Hires Top Google Satellite Executives For New Hardware Team (theverge.com) 12

An anonymous reader quotes a report from The Verge: The iPhone maker has recruited a pair of top Google satellite executives for a new hardware team, according to people familiar with the matter. John Fenwick, who led Google's spacecraft operations, and Michael Trela, head of satellite engineering, left Alphabet Inc.'s Google for Apple in recent weeks, the people said. They report to Greg Duffy, co-founder of camera maker Dropcam, who joined Apple earlier this year, the people said. With the recruits, Apple is bringing into its ranks two experts in the demanding, expensive field of satellite design and operation. At the moment, these endeavors typically fall into two fields: satellites for collecting images and those for communications. In a regulatory filing last year, Boeing Co. detailed a plan to provide broadband access through more than 1,000 satellites in low-earth orbit. The aerospace company has talked with Apple about the technology company being an investor-partner in the project, a person familiar with the situation said. It's unclear if those talks will result in a deal. At the annual Satellite 2017 conference in Washington D.C. last month, industry insiders said Boeing's project was being funded by Apple, Tim Farrar, a satellite and telecom consultant at TMF Associates Inc., wrote in a recent blog. A Boeing spokesman declined to comment.
Earth

Ocean Currents Are Sweeping Billions of Tiny Plastic Bits to the Arctic (smithsonianmag.com) 48

The world's oceans are littered with trillions of pieces of plastic -- bottles, bags, toys, fishing nets and more, mostly in tiny particles -- and now this seaborne junk is making its way into the Arctic. From a report: The plastic was discovered by an international team of researchers who circumnavigated the Arctic on a five-month journey aboard the research vessel Tara in 2013. They sampled the ocean water along the way, looking at plastic pollution. And though the plastic concentrations were overall low, they located a specific region located north of the Greenland and the Barents seas with unusually high concentrations. They published their results in the journal Science Advances this week. It seems that the plastic is riding up to the pole with the Thermohaline Circulation, a "conveyor" belt ocean current that transports water from the lower latitudes of the Atlantic Ocean toward the poles. "[A]nd the Greenland and the Barents Seas act as a dead-end for this poleward conveyor belt," Andres Cozar Cabanas, lead author of the study and researcher at the University of Cadiz, Spain, says in a press release.
Earth

Louisiana's Governor Declares State Of Emergency Over Disappearing Coastline (npr.org) 302

Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards has declared a state of emergency over the state's rapidly eroding coastline. From a report on NPR: It's an effort to bring nationwide attention to the issue and speed up the federal permitting process for coastal restoration projects. "Decades of saltwater intrusion, subsidence and rising sea levels have made the Louisiana coast the nation's most rapidly deteriorating shoreline," WWNO's Travis Lux tells our Newscast unit. "It loses the equivalent of one football field of land every hour." More than half of the state's population lives on the coast, the declaration states. It adds that the pace of erosion is getting faster: "more than 1,800 square miles of land between 1932 and 2010, including 300 square miles of marshland between 2004 and 2008 alone."
Space

Broadband Expansion Could Trigger Dangerous Surge In Space Junk (theguardian.com) 129

A new study from the University of Southampton warns that expanding broadband networks via launching "mega constellations" of thousands of communications satellites could increase catastrophic crashes of dangerous space junk in Earth's orbit. "Dr Hugh Lewis, a senior lecturer in aerospace engineering at the University of Southampton, ran a 200-year simulation to assess the possible consequences of such a rise in orbital traffic," reports The Guardian. "He found it could create a 50% increase in the number of catastrophic collisions between satellites." From the report: Such crashes would probably lead to a further increase in the amount of space junk in orbit, he said, leading to the possibility of further collisions and potential damage to the services the satellites were intended to provide. The European Space Agency, which funded Lewis's research, is calling for the satellites planned for orbital mega-constellations to be able to move to low altitudes once their missions are over so they burn up in Earth's atmosphere. They must also be able discharge all batteries, fuel tanks and pressure tanks to prevent explosions that would scatter debris. Lewis is presenting his research this week at the European conference on space debris at the ESA's center in Darmsadt, Germany. Krag said he expected some of the companies planning launches to attend.
Businesses

How Tilt Went From Hot $375 Million Startup To Fire Sale (fastcompany.com) 167

tedlistens writes: Not long ago, social payments company Tilt seemed to have it all -- a hot idea; cool, young founders with Y Combinator pedigrees; and $67 million in funding -- not to mention a $375 million valuation. But Tilt was more successful at cultivating its user growth and fun, frat-tastic office culture than at nailing down a viable business model. When Tilt finally ran out of cash, the party ended with the company's sale at fire-sale prices to fellow Y Combinator alums Airbnb in an aqui-hire deal. Where did it all go wrong? Here's an excerpt from the report: "Tilt was based on the premise that 'something like PayPal and Facebook would collide,' Tilt founder and CEO James Beshara says. The company aspired to be a social network for money -- instead of sharing photos and videos, users exchanged digital cash for birthday ragers and beer runs. During Tilt's early years, the pitch was simple, and carefully calibrated for Silicon Valley boardrooms: 'Let's prove that we can dominate the globe.' [...] By early 2013, millions in venture dollars were pouring into Tilt's coffers. Investors were lured by the same strong social metrics (viral coefficient, for example, a measure of user growth) that had marked Facebook as a winner. But the hopes embedded in Tilt's $375 million valuation came crashing down to earth last year. Beshara hadn't built a business; instead, he had manufactured a classic Silicon Valley mirage. While investors were throwing millions of dollars at the promise of a glittering business involving 'social' and 'money,' their Mark Zuckerberg-in-the-making was basking in the sunny glow of Bay Area praise and enjoying the ride with his bros. Revenue was not a top priority -- a remarkable oversight for any company, and a particularly galling one for a payments company. Eventually, with cash running low, Tilt went looking for a buyer..."
Earth

Researchers Discover New Species of Giant Spider (mentalfloss.com) 51

adeelarshad82 writes: Califorctenus cacachilensis, recently named by researchers at the San Diego Natural History Museum, was first located in 2013 in a mountain range in Baja California Sur, Mexico. The eye pattern led researchers to believe it was potentially part of a group of wandering spiders from the Ctenidae family. Knowing Ctenidae are nocturnal, the researchers returned to the cave at night, where they spotted a living specimen. Their research further led them to confirm that it was a previously unidentified species related to the Brazilian wandering spider. The findings have been published in Zootaxa.
Google

Google Earth Gets a New Home On the Web (arstechnica.com) 46

To celebrate the Earth Day, Google says it is rolling out what was a two-year in the making major update to Google Earth. From a report: V9 is designed to run in a Web browser (just Chrome for now), but there's now a standalone home for Google Earth. The Android app has been updated, too (iOS is coming soon). Version 9 puts a big focus on guided tours via the "Voyager" section, which serves as a jumping off point for YouTube videos, 360-degree content, Street View, and Google Earth landmarks. The tours are led by scientists and documentarians, with some content produced by well-known groups like the BBC's Planet Earth team. For kids, there's a Sesame Street muppet section.
Earth

Dingo Wins The World's Most Interesting Genome Competition (smithsonianmag.com) 14

An anonymous reader shares a report: It sounds like an argument scientists might have during a night of drinking: Which creature has the most interesting genome in the world? But the question is more than a passing musing. San Francisco biotech company Pacific Biosciences held a public competition to determine which critter should receive the honor. The winner: Sandy Maliki, an Australian desert dingo. The company will now sequence the dingo's genome to help researchers study animal domestication. Sandy beat out four other interesting finalists in the competition, receiving 41 percent of the public votes, which were cast from around the world. This is the fourth year the company has sponsored the competition. The company invites researchers to send in grant proposals explaining why the interesting plants and animals they study should be sequenced. Then a committee of scientists whittles the entries down to five finalists for the final public vote.
Earth

For the First Time On Record, Human-Caused Climate Change Has Rerouted an Entire River (washingtonpost.com) 240

A team of scientists on Monday documented what they're describing as the first case of large-scale river reorganization as a result of human-caused climate change (Editor's note: could be paywalled; alternative source). From a report: They found that in mid-2016, the retreat of a very large glacier in Canada's Yukon territory led to the rerouting of its vast stream of meltwater from one river system to another -- cutting down flow to the Yukon's largest lake, and channeling freshwater to the Pacific Ocean south of Alaska, rather than to the Bering Sea. The researchers dubbed the reorganization an act of "rapid river piracy," saying that such events had often occurred in the Earth's geologic past, but never before, to their knowledge, as a sudden present-day event. They also called it "geologically instantaneous." "The river wasn't what we had seen a few years ago. It was a faded version of its former self," lead study author Daniel Shugar of the University of Washington at Tacoma said of the Slims River, which lost much of its flow because of the glacial change. "It was barely flowing at all. Literally, every day, we could see the water level dropping, we could see sandbars popping out in the river."
Science

Supercomputers Help Researchers Find Two New Kinds Of Magnets (phys.org) 79

"Predicting magnets is a heck of a job, and their discovery is very rare," said a mechanical engineering professor at Duke University. But after years of work synthesizing various predictions, material scientists "predicted and built two new magnetic materials, atom-by-atom, using high-throughput computational models." An anonymous reader quotes Phys.org: The success marks a new era for the large-scale design of new magnetic materials at unprecedented speed. Although magnets abound in everyday life, they are actually rarities -- only about 5% of known inorganic compounds show even a hint of magnetism. And of those, just a few dozen are useful in real-world applications because of variability in properties such as effective temperature range and magnetic permanence...

In a new study, materials scientists from Duke University provide a shortcut in this process. They show the capability to predict magnetism in new materials through computer models that can screen hundreds of thousands of candidates in short order. And, to prove it works, they've created two magnetic materials that have never been seen before.

"The first alloy is particularly interesting," reports the International Business Times, "because it contains no rare-earth materials, which are both expensive and difficult to acquire." But a Duke mechanical engineering professor points out that "It doesn't really matter if either of these new magnets proves useful in the future. The ability to rapidly predict their existence is a major coup and will be invaluable to materials scientists moving forward."
Sci-Fi

Steve Wozniak Predicts The Future (usatoday.com) 198

USA Today asked Steve Wozniak to predict what the world will look like in 2075 -- one hundred years after the founding of Apple. An anonymous reader writes: "He's convinced Apple, Google and Facebook will be bigger in 2075," according to the article -- just like IBM, which endured long past its founding in 1911. Pointing to Apple's $246.1 billion in cash and marketable securities, Wozniak says Apple "can invest in anything. It would be ridiculous to not expect them to be around... The same goes for Google and Facebook."

Woz predicted portable laptops back in 1982, and now says that by 2075, we could also see new cities built from scratch in the deserts, with people wearing special suits to protect them from the heat. AI will be ubiquitous in all cities, as consumers interact with smart walls to communicate -- and to shop -- while home medical devices will allow self-diagnosis and doctor-free prescriptions. And according to the article, Woz "is convinced a colony will exist on the Red Planet. Echoing the sentiments of Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, whose Blue Origin start-up has designs on traveling to Mars, Wozniak envisions Earth zoned for residential use and Mars for heavy industry." (Though he doesn't have high hopes that we'll ever meet aliens.)

Woz is promoting the Silicon Valley Comic Con next weekend. (Not coincidentally, its theme is "The Future of Humanity: Where Will We Be in 2075?") During the interview, Woz pointed at a colleague's iPhone, smiled broadly and said it "shows you how exciting the future can be."
Earth

New Solar-Powered Device Can Pull Water Straight From the Desert Air (sciencemag.org) 202

sciencehabit quotes a report from Science Magazine: You can't squeeze blood from a stone, but wringing water from the desert sky is now possible, thanks to a new spongelike device that uses sunlight to suck water vapor from air, even in low humidity. The device can produce nearly 3 liters of water per day, and researchers say future versions will be even better. That means homes in the driest parts of the world could soon have a solar-powered appliance capable of delivering all the water they need, offering relief to billions of people. To find an all-purpose solution, researchers led by Omar Yaghi, a chemist at the University of California, Berkeley, turned to a family of crystalline powders called metal organic frameworks, or MOFs. Yaghi developed the first MOFs -- porous crystals that form continuous 3D networks -- more than 20 years ago. The networks assemble in a Tinkertoy-like fashion from metal atoms that act as the hubs and sticklike organic compounds that link the hubs together. By choosing different metals and organics, chemists can dial in the properties of each MOF, controlling what gases bind to them, and how strongly they hold on. The system Wang and her students designed consists of a kilogram of dust-sized MOF crystals pressed into a thin sheet of porous copper metal. That sheet is placed between a solar absorber and a condenser plate and positioned inside a chamber. At night the chamber is opened, allowing ambient air to diffuse through the porous MOF and water molecules to stick to its interior surfaces, gathering in groups of eight to form tiny cubic droplets. In the morning, the chamber is closed, and sunlight entering through a window on top of the device then heats up the MOF, which liberates the water droplets and drives them -- as vapor -- toward the cooler condenser. The temperature difference, as well as the high humidity inside the chamber, causes the vapor to condense as liquid water, which drips into a collector. The findings were published in the journal Science.
NASA

Nearby Ocean Worlds Could Be Best Bet For Life Beyond Earth, Says NASA (cnn.com) 59

NASA has new evidence that the most likely places to find life beyond Earth are Jupiter's moon Europa or Saturn's moon Enceladus. In terms of potential habitability, Enceladus particularly has almost all of the key ingredients for life as we know it, researchers said. From a report: New observations of these active ocean worlds in our solar system have been captured by two NASA missions and were presented in two separate studies in an announcement at NASA HQ in Washington today. Using a mass spectrometer, the Cassini spacecraft detected an abundance of hydrogen molecules in water plumes rising from the "tiger stripe" fractures in Enceladus' icy surface. Saturn's sixth-largest moon is an ice-encased world with an ocean beneath. The researchers believe that the hydrogen originated from a hydrothermal reaction between the moon's ocean and its rocky core. If that is the case, the crucial chemical methane could be forming in the ocean as well.
Space

The First Manned Space Flight Was the Rocket Designer's Victory as Much as Yuri Gagarin's (smithsonianmag.com) 78

From an article on the Smithsonian magazine: On this day in 1961, Yuri Gagarin became the first person in space. And given the risks inherent to early spaceflight, he certainly deserves his place in history. But what about the man who designed the rocket that got Gagarin there? His name was Sergei Korolev, and his influence on the Soviet space program stretched much farther than Gagarin's 108 minutes of fame -- the time it took to make a single orbit of Earth. The flight of Vostok 1, Gagarin's craft, "was a defining moment of the 20th century and opened up the prospect of interplanetary travel for our species," writes Robin McKie for The Guardian. For Gagarin, it was the moment that made him a famous figurehead for the Soviet Union. As Gagarin toured the globe, the space program's chief designer remained at home and unknown. That Sergei Korolev ran the Soviet Union's rocket program wasn't revealed until after his death. "Gagarin became the face of Soviet space supremacy," McKie writes, "while Korolev was the brains. The pair made a potent team and their success brought fame to one and immense power to the other. Neither lived long enough to enjoy those rewards, however."
Google

How Google Book Search Got Lost (backchannel.com) 46

Google Books was the company's first moonshot. But 15 years later, the project is stuck in low-Earth orbit, argues an article on Backchannel. From the article: When Google Books started almost 15 years ago, it also seemed impossibly ambitious: An upstart tech company that had just tamed and organized the vast informational jungle of the web would now extend the reach of its search box into the offline world. By scanning millions of printed books from the libraries with which it partnered, it would import the entire body of pre-internet writing into its database. [...] Two things happened to Google Books on the way from moonshot vision to mundane reality. Soon after launch, it quickly fell from the idealistic ether into a legal bog, as authors fought Google's right to index copyrighted works and publishers maneuvered to protect their industry from being Napsterized. A decade-long legal battle followed -- one that finally ended last year, when the US Supreme Court turned down an appeal by the Authors Guild and definitively lifted the legal cloud that had so long hovered over Google's book-related ambitions. But in that time, another change had come over Google Books, one that's not all that unusual for institutions and people who get caught up in decade-long legal battles: It lost its drive and ambition. Google stopped updating Books blog in 2012, and folded it into the main Google Search blog. The author reports that Google still has people working on Book Search, and they are adding new books, but the pace is rather slower.
Earth

Large Near-Earth Astroid Will Fly Past Earth On April 19 (phys.org) 44

William Robinson quotes a report from Phys.Org: A relatively large (650 meters) near-Earth asteroid discovered nearly three years ago will fly safely past Earth on April 19 at a distance of about 1.1 million miles (1.8 million kilometers), or about 4.6 times the distance from Earth to the moon. The asteroid will approach Earth from the direction of the sun and will become visible in the night sky after April 19. It is predicted to brighten to about magnitude 11, when it could be visible in small optical telescopes for one or two nights. For comparison, Chelyabinsk meteor was 20m. Small asteroids pass within this distance of Earth several times each week, but this upcoming close approach is the closest by any known asteroid of this size, or larger, since asteroid Toutatis , a 3.1-mile (five-kilometer) asteroid, which approached within about four lunar distances in September 2004. The April 19 encounter provides an outstanding opportunity to study this asteroid, and astronomers plan to observe it with telescopes around the world to learn as much about it as possible.
Earth

NASA Puts the Earth Up For Adoption (cnn.com) 60

An anonymous reader shares a report: Wondering how to show that special planet some affection this Earth Day? Adopt it. NASA has sectioned off 64,000 individual pieces of Earth to be "adopted" by supporters on their website. The pieces are about 55 miles wide and assigned randomly. Similar to adopting a highway or naming a star, participants do not get legal or property rights to their section. So whether you get the 55-mile section that contains the Taj Mahal or the one that is square in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, you benefit the same.
Earth

'Unprecedented' Bleaching Damages Two-Thirds Of Australia's Great Barrier Reef (bbc.com) 130

An anonymous reader writes: Unprecedented coral bleaching in consecutive years has damaged two-thirds of Australia's Great Barrier Reef, aerial surveys have shown. The bleaching — or loss of algae — affects a 1,500km (900 miles) area of the reef, according to scientists. The latest damage is concentrated in the middle section, whereas last year's bleaching hit mainly the north. Experts fear the proximity of the two events will give damaged coral little chance to recover.

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