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ISS

NASA Astronaut Jeff Williams Sets New US Space Endurance Record With 521 Days (cbsnews.com) 2

An anonymous reader quotes a report from CBS News: Space station commander Jeff Williams set a new U.S. space endurance record Wednesday, his 521st day in orbit over four missions, eclipsing the 520-day record set earlier this year by astronaut Scott Kelly at the end of his nearly one-year stay aboard the lab complex. Williams now moves up to 17th on the list of the world's most experienced astronauts and cosmonauts. The overall record is held by cosmonaut Gennady Padalka, who logged 878 days in orbit over five missions. Williams, Soyuz TMA-20M commander Alexey Ovchinin and flight engineer Oleg Skripochka were launched to the space station March 18. They plan to return to Earth Sept. 6 (U.S. time), landing in Kazakhstan to close out a 172-day mission. At landing, Williams will have logged 534 days aloft, moving him up to 14th on the space endurance list. Williams first flew in space in 2000 aboard the shuttle Atlantis, the third shuttle flight devoted to station assembly. He served as a flight engineer aboard the station in 2006 and completed a second long-duration stay in 2010, serving as a flight engineer and then commander of Expedition 22. "I wanted to congratulate you on passing me up here in total number of days in space," Kelly radioed Williams Wednesday. "It's great to see another record broken. [...] But I do have one question for you. And my question is, do you have another 190 days in you?" Kelly was referring to the time Williams' current mission would have to be extended to equal Kelly's U.S. single-flight record. Williams laughed, saying "190 days. That question's not for me, that's for my wife!"
Earth

Global Warming Started 180 Years Ago Near Beginning of Industrial Revolution, Says Study (smh.com.au) 103

New research led by scientists at the Australian National University's Research School of Earth suggests that humans first started to significantly change the climate in the 1830s, near the beginning of the Industrial Revolution. The findings have been published in the journal Nature, and "were based on natural records of climate variation in the world's oceans and continents, including those found in corals, ice cores, tree rings and the changing chemistry of stalagmites in caves." Sydney Morning Herald reports: "Nerilie Abram, another of the lead authors and an associate professor at the Australian National University's Research School of Earth Sciences, said greenhouse gas levels rose from about 280 parts per million in the 1830s to about 295 ppm by the end of that century. They now exceed 400 ppm. Understanding how humans were already altering the composition of the atmosphere through the 19th century means the warming is closer to the 1.5 to 2 degrees target agreed at last year's Paris climate summit than most people realize." "It was one of those moments where science really surprised us," says Abram. "But the results were clear. The climate warming we are witnessing today started about 180 years ago."
Robotics

'Octobot' Is The World's First Soft-Bodied Robot (sciencemag.org) 23

sciencehabit quotes a report from Science Magazine: Researchers have created the first completely soft-bodied robot, dubbed the 'octobot.' The palm-sized machine's exterior is made of silicone. And whereas other soft robots have had at least a few hard parts, such as batteries or wires, the octobot uses a small reservoir of hydrogen peroxide as fuel. The basic design can be scaled up or down, increasing or decreasing fuel capacity depending on the robot's job. As the field of soft robotics advances, the scientists envision these robots being used for marine search and rescue, oceanic temperature sensing, and military surveillance. The report adds: "When the hydrogen peroxide washes over flecks of platinum embedded within the octobot, the resulting chemical reaction produces gas that inflates and flexes the robot's arms. As described online today in Nature, the gas flows through a series of 3D-printed pneumatic chambers that link the octobot's eight arms; their flexing propels it through water."
Transportation

World's Largest Aircraft Crashes Its Second Flight (theverge.com) 102

Not too long after it completed its first test flight, the Airlander 10 -- the world's largest aircraft -- has crashed its second test flight. Since the 300-foot long aircraft contains 38,000 cubic meters of helium inside its hull, the crash was all but sudden. You can see in a video posted to YouTube from witnesses on the ground that the aircraft slowly descended to the ground, nose first. The BBC has published some close-up photos of the cockpit, which sustained damages. There were no injuries in the crash, according to a tweet from Hybrid Air Vehicles. The company did also deny eyewitness reports of the aircraft being damaged in a collision with a telegraph pole.
The Internet

MIT Scientists Develop New Wi-Fi That's 330% Faster (msn.com) 59

An anonymous reader quotes a report from MSN: Scientists at MIT claim to have created a new wireless technology that can triple Wi-Fi data speeds while also doubling the range of the signal. Dubbed MegaMIMO 2.0, the system will shortly enter commercialization and could ease the strain on our increasingly crowded wireless networks. Multiple-input-multiple-output technology, or MIMO, helps networked devices perform better by combining multiple transmitters and receivers that work simultaneously, allowing then to send and receive more than one data signal at the same time. MIT's MegaMIMO 2.0 works by allowing several routers to work in harmony, transmitting data over the same piece of spectrum. MIT claimed that during tests, MegaMIMO 2.0 was able to increase data transfer speed of four laptops connected to the same Wi-Fi network by 330 percent. Paper co-author Rahul said the technology could also be applied to mobile phone networks to solve similar congestion issues. "In today's wireless world, you can't solve spectrum crunch by throwing more transmitters at the problem, because they will all still be interfering with one another," Ezzeldin Hamed, lead author on a paper on the topic, told MIT News. "The answer is to have all those access points work with each other simultaneously to efficiently use the available spectrum."
Science

Bill Nye Explains That the Flooding In Louisiana Is the Result of Climate Change (qz.com) 276

Reader mspohr writes: Our favorite science guy has an interview (and video) in Quartz where he explains how Louisiana flooding is due to climate change:
"As the ocean gets warmer, which it is getting, it expands," Nye explained. "Molecules spread apart, and then as the sea surface is warmer, more water evaporates, and so it's very reasonable that these storms are connected to these big effects."
The article also notes that a National Academy of Sciences issued a report with the same findings: "Scientists from around the world have concurred with Nye that this is exactly what the effects of climate change look like, and that disasters like the Louisiana floods are going to happen more and more. According to a National Academy of Sciences report published earlier this year, extreme flooding can be traced directly to human-induced global warming. As the atmosphere warms, it retains more moisture, leading to bouts of sustained, heavy precipitation that can cause floods."

Earth

Earth-Like Planet, With Ambitious Life Possibility, Found Orbiting the Star Next Door (nature.com) 174

There's another Earth out there. For real, this time. Astronomers announced on Wednesday that they had detected a planet orbiting Proxima Centauri, the closest neighbor to our solar system. Intriguingly, the planet is in the star's "Goldilocks zone," they said, a place that hints that it may not be too hot nor too cold. Which in turn means that liquid water could exist at the surface, and by extension, it raises the possibility of life. Nature reports:"The search for life starts now," says Guillem Anglada-Escude, an astronomer at Queen Mary University of London and leader of the team that made the discovery. Humanity's first chance to explore this nearby world may come from the recently announced Breakthrough Starshot initiative, which plans to build fleets of tiny laser-propelled interstellar probes in the coming decades. Travelling at 20% of the speed of light, they would take about 20 years to cover the 1.3 parsecs from Earth to Proxima Centauri. Proxima's planet is at least 1.3 times the mass of Earth. The planet orbits its red-dwarf star -- much smaller and dimmer than the Sun -- every 11.2 days. "If you tried to pick the type of planet you'd most want around the type of star you'd most want, it would be this," says David Kipping, an astronomer at Columbia University in New York City. "It's thrilling."Much about the planet is still unknown. Astronomers have some ideas about its size and distance from its parent star. Scientists say they are working off computer models that offer mere hints of what's possible. Also, there's no picture available for this planet as of yet.
HP

NASA's Outsourced Computer People Are Even Worse Than You Might Expect (arstechnica.com) 225

Eric berger, writing for ArsTechnica: As part of a plan to help NASA "modernize" its desktop and laptop computers, the space agency signed a $2.5 billion services contract with HP Enterprise Services in 2011. According to HP (now HPE), part of the Agency Consolidated End-User Service (ACES) program the computing company would "modernize NASA's entire end-user infrastructure by delivering a full range of personal computing services and devices to more than 60,000 users." HPE also said the program would "allow (NASA) employees to more easily collaborate in a secure computing environment." The services contract, alas, hasn't gone quite as well as one might have hoped. This week Federal News Radio reported that HPE is doing such a poor job that NASA's chief information officer, Renee Wynn, could no longer accept the security risks associated with the contract. Wynn, therefore, did not sign off on the authority to operate (ATO) for systems and tools.A spokesperson for NASA said: "NASA continues to work with HPE to remediate vulnerabilities. As required by NASA policy, system owners must accomplish this remediation within a specified period of time. For those vulnerabilities that cannot be fully remediated within the established time frame, a Plan of Actions and Milestones (POAM) must be developed, approved, and tracked to closure."
Space

NASA Reconnects With 'Lost' STEREO-B Satellite (businessinsider.com) 93

NASA lost contact with its STEREO-B spacecraft twenty-two months ago during a routine 72-hour test. On Sunday, the spacecraft reconnected with NASA roughly 189 million miles away from Earth. While that would seem like a cause for celebration, "the very hard and scary work is just the beginning, says Stereo project scientist Joe Gurman, as the agency has to turn on the computer to learn more about the current state of the spacecraft -- a process that may make the craft lose contact with them again. Slashdot user bongey writes: NASA may have only two minutes or less to fix a STEREO-B satellite before the computer causes it to lose contact again. NASA lost contact with their STEREO-B satellite nearly twenty-two months ago when performing a routine test. NASA scientists are afraid to turn on the computer at this point because it may cause them to lose contact again. A more detailed technical summary can be found here. "We have something like two minutes between when STEREO-B receives the command to boot up one of its computers and when it starts doing what we don't want it to do," Gurman said. Business Insider writes, "Making matters worse, it takes about 20 seconds to send commands to the spacecraft -- a data rate that makes a dial-up modem seem lightning fast."
Programming

20% of Scientific Papers On Genes Contain Conversion Errors Caused By Excel, Says Report (winbeta.org) 319

An anonymous reader writes from a report via WinBeta: A new report from scientists Mark Ziemann, Yotam Eren, and Assam El-Osta says that 20% of scientific papers on genes contain gene name conversion errors caused by Excel. In the scientific article, titled "Gene name errors are widespread in the scientific literature," article's abstract section, the scientists explain: "The spreadsheet software Microsoft Excel, when used with default settings, is known to convert gene names to dates and floating-point numbers. A programmatic scan of leading genomics journals reveals that approximately one-fifth of papers with supplementary Excel gene lists contain erroneous gene name conversions."

It's easy to see why Excel might have problems with certain gene names when you see the "gene symbols" that the scientists use as examples: "For example, gene symbols such as SEPT2 (Septin 2) and MARCH1 [Membrane-Associated Ring Finger (C3HC4) 1, E3 Ubiquitin Protein Ligase] are converted by default to '2-Sep' and '1-Mar', respectively. Furthermore, RIKEN identifiers were described to be automatically converted to floating point numbers (i.e. from accession '2310009E13' to '2.31E+13'). Since that report, we have uncovered further instances where gene symbols were converted to dates in supplementary data of recently published papers (e.g. 'SEPT2' converted to '2006/09/02'). This suggests that gene name errors continue to be a problem in supplementary files accompanying articles. Inadvertent gene symbol conversion is problematic because these supplementary files are an important resource in the genomics community that are frequently reused. Our aim here is to raise awareness of the problem."
You can view the scientific paper in its entirety here.
Microsoft

Microsoft Details Its 24-Core 'Holographic Processor' Used In HoloLens (pcworld.com) 108

The processor powering Microsoft's HoloLens augmented reality headset has been a mystery -- until now. During the annual Hot Chips conference in Cupertino, California, Microsoft revealed some juicy details about the secretive chip. PCWorld reports: "The HoloLens' HPU is a custom 28nm coprocessor designed by TSMC, The Register reports. The chip packs 24 Tensilica digital signal processor (DSP) cores. As opposed to more general-purpose CPU cores, DSPs are a specialized technology designed for rapidly processing data flowing in from the world -- a no doubt invaluable asset while rendering augmented reality environments in real time. Microsoft's HPU also contains roughly 65 million logic gates, 8MB of SDRAM, and 1GB of traditional DDR3 RAM. It draws less than 10W of power, and features PCIe and standard serial interfaces. The HPU's dedicated hardware is up to 200 times faster than performing the same calculations via software on the less-specialized 14nm Intel Cherry Trail CPU. Microsoft added custom instructions to the DSP cores that allow the HPU to churn through HoloLens-specific tasks even faster, The Register reports. The HPU can perform roughly 1 trillion calculations per second, and the data it passes to the CPU requires little additional processing."
Mars

NanoRacks Plans To Turn Used Rocket Fuel Tanks Into Space Habitats (ieee.org) 116

An anonymous reader writes from a report via IEEE Spectrum: A couple of weeks ago NASA announced it has committed $65 million to six companies over the course of two years for the purpose of developing and testing deep-space habitats that could be used for future missions to Mars. One of the six companies, called NanoRacks, is attempting to take empty fuel tanks from the upper stages of rockets and turn them into space habitats on-orbit. IEEE Spectrum reports: "A rocket like the the Atlas V, which can deliver payloads of nearly 19,000 kg to low Earth orbit, consists of three primary pieces: on the bottom, you've got the first stage booster, which consists of a huge engine and some big tanks holding kerosene fuel and oxidizer. Above that, there's the second stage, which consists of one or two smaller engines, a big tank for storing liquid hydrogen fuel, and a smaller tank for oxidizer. The payload, which is what all of the fuss is about, sits on top. The first stage launches the rocket off of the pad and continues firing for about four minutes. Meanwhile, the second stage fires up its own engine (or engines) to boost the payload the rest of the way into orbit. On the Atlas V, the second stage is called Centaur. Once Centaur gets its payload where it needs to go, it separates, and then suicides down into Earth's atmosphere. Getting a payload into space is so expensive because you have to build up this huge and complicated rocket, with engines and guidance systems and fuel tanks and stuff, and then you basically use it for like 15 minutes and throw it all away. But what about the second stage? You've got a whole bunch of hardware that made it to orbit, and when getting stuff to orbit costs something like $2,500 per kilogram, you then tell it to go it burn itself up in the atmosphere, because otherwise it's just useless space junk." NanoRacks thinks this is wasteful, so they want to turn these tanks into deep space habitats. IEEE notes that the hydrogen fuel tank on a Centaur upper stage has a diameter of over 4 meters, and an interior volume of 54 cubic meters, while the inflatable BEAM module that arrived at the ISS earlier this year has an interior volume of 16 cubic meters. For more details, IEEE Spectrum spoke with Jeff Manber, CEO of NanoRacks, and Mike Johnson, NanoRacks' Chief Designer. You can read their responses here.
Power

New Mexico Nuclear Accident Ranks Among the Costliest In US History (latimes.com) 309

mdsolar quotes a report from Los Angeles Times: When a drum containing radioactive waste blew up in an underground nuclear dump in New Mexico two years ago, the Energy Department rushed to quell concerns in the Carlsbad desert community and quickly reported progress on resuming operations. The early federal statements gave no hint that the blast had caused massive long-term damage to the dump, a facility crucial to the nuclear weapons cleanup program that spans the nation, or that it would jeopardize the Energy Department's credibility in dealing with the tricky problem of radioactive waste. But the explosion ranks among the costliest nuclear accidents in U.S. history, according to a Times analysis. The long-term cost of the mishap could top $2 billion, an amount roughly in the range of the cleanup after the 1979 partial meltdown at the Three Mile Island nuclear power plant in Pennsylvania. The Feb. 14, 2014, accident is also complicating cleanup programs at about a dozen current and former nuclear weapons sites across the U.S. Thousands of tons of radioactive waste that were headed for the dump are backed up in Idaho, Washington, New Mexico and elsewhere, state officials said in interviews. "The direct cost of the cleanup is now $640 million, based on a contract modification made last month with Nuclear Waste Partnership that increased the cost from $1.3 billion to nearly $2 billion," reports Los Angeles Times. "The cost-plus contract leaves open the possibility of even higher costs as repairs continue. And it does not include the complete replacement of the contaminated ventilation system or any future costs of operating the mine longer than originally planned."
Robotics

Intel Demos A New Robotics Controller Running Ubuntu (hackerboards.com) 20

Intel demoed their new robotics compute module this week. Scheduled for release in 2017, it's equipped with various sensors, including a depth-sensing camera, and it runs Ubuntu on a quad-core Atom. Slashdot reader DeviceGuru writes: Designed for researchers, makers, and robotics developers, the device is a self contained, candy-bar sized compute module ready to pop into a robot. It's augmented with a WiFi hotspot, Bluetooth, GPS, and IR, as well as proximity, motion, barometric pressure sensors. There's also a snap-on battery.

The device is preinstalled with Ubuntu 14.04 with Robot Operating System (ROS) Indigo, and can act as a supervisory processor to, say, an Arduino subsystem that controls a robot's low-level functions. Intel demoed a Euclid driven robot running an obstacle avoidance and follow-me tasks, including during CEO Brian Krzanich's keynote (YouTube video).

Intel says they'll also release instructions on how to create an accompanying robot with a 3D printer. This plug-and-play robotics module is a proof-of-concept device -- the article includes some nice pictures -- but it already supports programming in Node.js (and other high-level languages), and has a web UI that lets you monitor performance in real-time and watch the raw camera feeds.
Earth

Every Month This Year Has Been the Hottest In Recorded History (vice.com) 407

Slashdot reader iONiUM quotes an article from Vice that calls attention to the fact that record-setting temperatures in July are just part of the story: On Wednesday, the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration announced that July was the hottest month ever recorded on our planet, since modern record-keeping began in 1880. NASA has reached the same conclusion. July smashed all previous records... "We should be absolutely concerned," [NOAA climatologist] Sanchez-Lugo said. "We need to look at ways to adapt and mitigate. If we don't, temperatures will continue to increase"...

But the truth is that record-breaking temperatures, month after month, year after year, are starting to look less like an exception, more like the norm.

In fact, CityLab reports that the earth has now experienced 14 consecutive months of unprecedented hotness. Although July stands out, Vice notes that "each consecutive month in 2016 has broken its own previous record (May was the hottest May, April the hottest April, etc.)..."
Biotech

Can Cow Backpacks Reduce Global Methane Emissions? (bloomberg.com) 189

Slashdot reader schwit1 shares an article from Bloomberg which argues "It's time to have a conversation about flatulent cows." "Enteric fermentation," or livestock's digestive process, accounts for 22 percent of all U.S. methane emissions, and the manure they produce makes up eight percent more, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency... Methane, like carbon, is a greenhouse gas, but methane's global warming impact per molecule is 25 times greater than carbon's, according to the EPA.
Cargill has tried capturing some of the methane released from cow manure by using domed lagoons, while researchers at Danone yogurt discovered they could reduce methane emissions up to 30% by feeding cows a diet rich in Omega-3 fatty acids (mostly from flax seed). But now Argentina researchers are testing plastic "methane backpacks" which they strap on to the back of cows, and according to the article "have been able to extract 300 liters of methane a day, enough to power a car or refrigerator."
ISS

Astronauts Successfully Install Parking Spot At ISS (phys.org) 45

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Phys.Org: With more private spaceship traffic expected at the International Space Station in the coming years, two U.S. astronauts embarked on a spacewalk Friday to install a special parking spot for them. Americans Jeff Williams and Kate Rubins switched their spacesuits to internal battery power at 8:04 (1204 GMT) and floated outside the orbiting laboratory to begin the work of attaching the first of two international docking adaptors. The spacewalkers finished the task in just over two hours. "With that, we have a new port of call," said NASA commentator Rob Navias, as the space station flew over Singapore at 10:40 am (1440 GMT). NASA describes the docking adaptor as a "metaphorical gateway to a future" that will allow a new generation of U.S. spacecraft -- the first since the space shuttle program ended in 2011 -- to carry astronauts to the space station. The second docking adaptor is expected to be installed in 2018. Built by Boeing, the circular adaptor measures around 42 inches (one meter) tall and about 63 inches wide. The adaptors will work with Boeing's CST-100 Starliner and SpaceX's Crew Dragon, two spaceships under construction that are planned to ferry astronauts to the space station. The docking adaptor is more sophisticated than past equipment because it will allow automatic parking instead of the current grapple and berthing process, which is managed by astronauts.
Medicine

Marijuana Provides More Pain Relief For Men Than Woman, Says Study (psypost.org) 144

An anonymous reader quotes a report from PsyPost: Researchers from Columbia University Medical Center (CUMC) found that men had greater pain relief than women after smoking marijuana. In this study, the researchers analyzed data from two double-blinded, placebo-controlled studies looking at the analgesic effects of cannabis in 42 recreational marijuana smokers. After smoking the same amount of either an active or placebo form of cannabis, the participants immersed one hand in a a cold-water bath until the pain could no longer be tolerated. Following the immersion, the participants answered a short pain questionnaire. After smoking active cannabis, men reported a significant decrease in pain sensitivity and an increase in pain tolerance. Women did not experience a significant decrease in pain sensitivity, although they reported a small increase in pain tolerance shortly after smoking. "These findings come at a time when more people, including women, are turning to the use of medical cannabis for pain relief," said Ziva Cooper, PhD, associate professor of clinical neurobiology (in psychiatry) at CUMC. "Preclinical evidence has suggested that the experience of pain relief from cannabis-related products may vary between sexes, but no studies have been done to see if this is true in humans." You can view the results of the study online in Drug and Alcohol Dependence.
Businesses

SolarCity Plans To Release New 'Solar Roof' Product Next Year (computerworld.com) 160

An anonymous reader writes: SolarCity, the American provider of energy services recently purchased by Tesla Motors for $2.6 billion, is planning to produce a new "solar roof" product next year. Computerworld reports: "Five million roofs are replaced each year in the U.S., so instead of simply swapping out old shingles with new ones, why not turn the whole roof into a solar power generator that's integrated with your home's electrical utility? That is SolarCity's plan for a new product it expects to begin producing next year, according to statements made during the company's second-quarter earnings call last week. During the call, SolarCity Chief Technology Officer Peter Rive alluded to a new product that would be produced at the soon to open Buffalo, N.Y., solar panel manufacturing facility. Then SolarCity co-founder and Chairman Elon Musk interjected and said the product would be a solar roof, 'as opposed to a [solar] module on a roof.' The solar roof also has the advantage that it doesn't 'cannibalize' any existing SolarCity product, such as solar panels installed atop roofs, Musk said." "If your roof is nearing end of life, you definitely don't want to put solar panels on it because you're going to have to replace the roof," Musk said. "So there's a huge market segment that's kind of inaccessible to SolarCity. So, why not have a solar roof that's better in many other ways as well," he continued. "We don't want to turn over all our cards right now, but I think people are going to be really excited about what they'll see."
Communications

US Air Force Wants To Plasma Bomb The Sky To Improve Radio Communication (newscientist.com) 159

An anonymous reader quotes a report from New Scientist: [The U.S. Air Force has plans to improve radio communication over long distances by detonating plasma bombs in the upper atmosphere using a fleet of micro satellites. It's not the first time we've tried to improve radio communication by tinkering with the ionosphere. HAARP, the High Frequency Active Auroral Research Program in Alaska, stimulates the ionosphere with radiation from ground-based antennas to produce radio-reflecting plasma.] Now the USAF wants to do this more efficiently, with tiny satellites -- such as CubeSats -- carrying large volumes of ionized gas directly into the ionosphere. As well as increasing the range of radio signals, the USAF says it wants to smooth out the effects of solar winds, which can knock out GPS, and also investigate the possibility of blocking communication from enemy satellites. [There are at least two major challenges. One is building a plasma generator small enough to fit on a CubeSat -- roughly 10 centimeters cubed. Then there's the problem of controlling exactly how the plasma will disperse once it is released. The USAF has awarded three contracts to teams who are sketching out ways to tackle the approach. The best proposal will be selected for a second phase in which plasma generators will be tested in vacuum chambers and exploratory space flights.]

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