NASA

NASA's Hubble Captures Blistering Pitch-Black Planet (scienmag.com) 2

schwit1 writes: NASA's Hubble Space Telescope has observed a planet outside our solar system that looks as black as fresh asphalt because it eats light rather than reflecting it back into space. This light-eating prowess is due to the planet's unique capability to trap at least 94 percent of the visible starlight falling into its atmosphere. The oddball exoplanet, called WASP-12b, is one of a class of so-called "hot Jupiters," gigantic, gaseous planets that orbit very close to their host star and are heated to extreme temperatures. The planet's atmosphere is so hot that most molecules are unable to survive on the blistering day side of the planet, where the temperature is 4,600 degrees Fahrenheit. Therefore, clouds probably cannot form to reflect light back into space. Instead, incoming light penetrates deep into the planet's atmosphere where it is absorbed by hydrogen atoms and converted to heat energy. "We did not expect to find such a dark exoplanet," said Taylor Bell of McGill University and the Institute for Research on Exoplanets in Montreal, Quebec, Canada, lead researcher of the Hubble study. "Most hot Jupiters reflect about 40 percent of starlight."
AI

You Might Use AI, But That Doesn't Mean You're an AI Company, Says a Founder of Google Brain (venturebeat.com) 54

As AI space gets crowded, there are a slew of businesses -- new and old -- looking to market themselves as "AI companies." But according to Andrew Ng, a founder of the Google Brain team and a luminary in the space, there's more to being an AI company than just using a neural net. From a report: In his view, while it's possible to create a website for a shopping mall, that doesn't make it an internet company. In the same way, just implementing basic machine learning does not make a standard technology company (or any other business) an AI company. "You're not an AI company because there are a few people using a few neural networks somewhere," Ng said. "It's much deeper than that." First and foremost, AI companies are strategic about their acquisition of data, which is used as the fuel for machine learning systems. Once an AI company has acquired the data, Ng said that they tend to store it in centralized warehouses for processing. Most enterprises have their information spread across multiple different warehouses, and collating that data for machine learning can prove difficult. AI companies also implement modern development practices, like frequent deployments. That means it's possible to change the product and learn from the changes.
NASA

Cassini's Best Discoveries of Saturn and Its Moons (theverge.com) 25

Loren Grush, writing for The Verge: Early tomorrow morning, NASA scientists will say goodbye to their Cassini spacecraft -- a hardy probe the size of a school bus that has been orbiting the Saturn system for the last 13 years. Launched in 1997, Cassini has spent a whopping 20 years in space, lasting through two mission extensions while going above and beyond what it was designed to do. But tomorrow, the probe will dive into Saturn's atmosphere, where it will break apart and cease operating. It's a sad time for the scientists who have worked on this mission for years, but also a triumphant one: Cassini leaves an impressive legacy of scientific discovery in its wake. Here's a nice video to go with it.
Earth

Why Bats Crash Into Windows (nature.com) 117

According to a new report published in the journal Science, Bats slam into vertical structures such as steel and glass buildings because they appear invisible to bats' echolocation system. Nature reports: Bats rely on echolocation to navigate in the dark. They locate and identify objects by sending out shrill calls and listening to the echoes that bounce back. Greif and his colleagues tested the echolocation of 21 wild-caught greater mouse-eared bats (Myotis myotis) in the lab. The researchers placed a featureless metal plate on a side wall at the end of a flight tunnel. The bats interpreted the smooth surface -- but not the adjacent, felt-covered walls -- as a clear flight path. Over an an average of around 20 trials for each bat, 19 of them crashed into the panel at least once. The researchers also put up smooth, vertical plates near wild bat colonies, and saw similar results. The animals became confused owing to a property of smooth surfaces called "acoustic mirroring." Whereas rough objects bounce some echoes back towards the bat, says Greif, a smooth surface reflects all echolocation calls away from the source. This makes a smooth wall appear as empty space to the bats, until they are directly in front of it. Only once a bat is facing the surface are their perpendicular echoes reflected back, which alerts the bat to its mistake. This explains why some bats attempted to swerve out of harm's way at the last second -- but often too late.
Robotics

As Robots Move Into Amazon's Warehouses, What's Happening To Its Human Workers? (brisbanetimes.com.au) 237

An anonymous reader writes: A 21-year-old Amazon warehouse worker has been replaced by "a giant, bright yellow mechanical arm" that stacks 25-pound bins. "Her new job at Amazon is to baby-sit several robots at a time," reports the New York Times, "troubleshooting them when necessary and making sure they have bins to load... [T]he company's eye-popping growth has turned it into a hiring machine, with an unquenchable need for entry-level warehouse workers to satisfy customer orders." Even though Amazon now has over 100,000 robots, they still plan to create 50,000 new jobs when they open their second headquarters. "It's certainly true that Amazon would not be able to operate at the costs they have and the costs they provide customers without this automation," said Martin Ford, author of the futurist book Rise of the Robots. "Maybe we wouldn't be getting two-day shipping."

Amazon's top operations executive says they're saving less-tedious jobs for the humans who work as "pickers" and "stowers" for the robots. "It's a new item each time," Mr. Clark said. "You're finding something, you're inspecting things, you're engaging your mind in a way that I think is important." The Times reports that the robots "also cut down on the walking required of workers, making Amazon pickers more efficient and less tired. The robots also allow Amazon to pack shelves together like cars in rush-hour traffic, because they no longer need aisle space for humans, [meaning] more inventory under one roof, which means better selection for customers."

"When Amazon installed the robots, some people who had stacked bins before took courses at the company to become robot operators. Many others moved to receiving stations, where they manually sort big boxes of merchandise into bins. No people were laid off when the robots were installed, and Amazon found new roles for the displaced workers, Clark said... The question going forward is: What happens when the future generations of robots arrive?"

Space

SpaceX Rocket Launches X-37B Space Plane On Secret Mission, Aces Landing (space.com) 93

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Space.com: The fifth mystery mission of the U.S. Air Force's X-37B space plane is now underway. A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket carrying the robotic X-37B lifted off today (Sept. 7) at 10 a.m. EDT (1400 GMT) from historic Launch Complex 39A at NASA's Kennedy Space Center (KSC) in Florida. About 2.5 minutes into the flight, the Falcon 9's two stages separated. While the second stage continued hauling the X-37B to orbit, the first stage maneuvered its way back to Earth, eventually pulling off a vertical touchdown at Landing Zone 1, a SpaceX facility at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, which is next door to KSC. The Air Force is known to possess two X-37Bs, both of which were built by Boeing. The uncrewed vehicles look like NASA's now-retired space shuttle orbiters, but are much smaller; each X-37B is 29 feet (8.8 meters) long and 9.6 feet (2.9 m) tall, with a payload bay the size of a pickup truck bed. For comparison, the space shuttles were 122 feet (37 m) long, with 78-foot (24 m) wingspans. Like the space shuttle, the X-37B launches vertically and comes to back to Earth horizontally, in a runway landing. Together, the two X-37Bs have completed four space missions, each of which has set a new duration standard for the program. Exactly what the X-37B did during those four missions, or what it will do during the newly launched OTV-5, is a mystery; most X-37B payloads and activities are classified.
Bug

Bug In Windows Kernel Could Prevent Security Software From Identifying Malware (bleepingcomputer.com) 75

An anonymous reader writes: "Malware developers can abuse a programming error in the Windows kernel to prevent security software from identifying if, and when, malicious modules have been loaded at runtime," reports Bleeping Computer. "The bug affects PsSetLoadImageNotifyRoutine, one of the low-level mechanisms some security solutions use to identify when code has been loaded into the kernel or user space. The problem is that an attacker can exploit this bug in a way that PsSetLoadImageNotifyRoutine returns an invalid module name, allowing an attacker to disguise malware as a legitimate operation. The issue came to light earlier this year when enSilo researchers were analyzing the Windows kernel code. Omri Misgav, Security Researcher at enSilo and the one who discovered the issue, says the bug affects all Windows versions released since Windows 2000. Misgav's tests showed that the programming error has survived up to the most recent Windows 10 releases." In an interview, the researcher said Microsoft did not consider this a security issue. Bug technical details are available here.
Desktops (Apple)

The Google Drive App For PC, Mac Is Being Shut Down In March (theverge.com) 92

Google announced in a blog post today that the Google Drive app for desktop will be shut down. The Verge reports: Support will be cut off on December 11th and the app will shut down completely on March 12th, 2018. Users who are still running the Drive app will start seeing notifications in October that it's "going away," and the company will steer customers towards one of two replacements depending on whether they're a consumer or business user. Google Drive the service isn't going anywhere. You can still access it from the web, smartphone apps, and either of the software options mentioned below. Google now has two fairly new software tools for backing up your data and/or accessing files in the cloud. There's Backup and Sync, the all-encompassing consumer app that replaces both the standalone Google Drive and Google Photos Uploader apps. It offers essentially the same functionality as Drive and works much the same way. And on the enterprise side, Google has rolled out Drive File Streamer, which saves space on your local drive while providing access to "all of your Google Drive files on demand, directly from your computer."
Earth

A Powerful Solar Storm Is Bringing Hazards and Rare Auroras Our Way (fastcompany.com) 72

tedlistens shares a report from Fast Company: The Space Weather Prediction Center has upgraded a geomagnetic storm watch for September 6 and 7 to a level only occasionally seen, but scientists say it's nothing to be too alarmed about. They do recommend looking for an unusual display of the aurora -- the northern lights caused by a disturbance of the magnetosphere -- in areas of the U.S. not used to seeing them: "really in the upper tier of the United States," says Robert Rutledge, lead of operations at the center, which is part of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. The storm could pose an "elevated radiation risk to passengers and crew in high-flying aircraft at far north or south latitudes," a NOAA warning says, and intermittently impact high frequency RF communications, which may require some transpolar flight routes to divert to lower geomagnetic latitudes (a shift that would cost the airlines more). There's a slim chance of isolated interfere with high-precision GPS readings, but those issues usually only tend to arise with stronger storms.

The so-called G3 level storm is the result of what's called a coronal mass ejection, where magnetic interactions on the sun launch part of its outer atmosphere of superheated plasma into space. When that burst of radiation gets near earth -- barreling toward us at a million miles per hour, it takes about two days to make the journey -- its magnetic field interacts with Earth's, Rutledge says. Northern U.S. and Canadian residents hoping to catch a glimpse of the aurora will get their best shot on Wednesday night and early Thursday, and the Space Weather Prediction Center posts 30-minute forecasts of the colorful sky phenomenon's intensity.

Space

Near Earth Asteroid 'Florence' Makes a Close Pass (space.com) 105

kbahey writes: A big, bright, near-Earth asteroid, known as 3122 Florence, made a safe fly by Friday night. Florence is classified as a Potentially Hazardous Object. At its closest, it was about 7 million km (4.4 million miles) away from earth. It is still visible in amateur telescopes over the next few days where it would be seen to move over several minutes against the background stars. It can be located using this map. According to NASA officials, the asteroid hasn't been this close to Earth since 1890, and it won't be this close again until 2500. "Asteroid 3122 Florence was discovered in 1981 by astronomer Schelte 'Bobby' Bus at the Siding Spring Observatory in Australia," reports Space.com. "The asteroid is named in honor of Florence Nightingale (1820-1910), who pioneered modern nursing, NASA officials said in a separate statement."
Facebook

Facebook Has Mapped the Entire Human Population of Earth (cnbc.com) 160

Facebook doesn't only know what its 2 billion users "Like." It now knows where 7.5 billion humans live, everywhere on earth, to within 15 feet. From a report: The company has created a data map of the planet's entire human population by combining government census numbers with information it's obtained from space satellites, according to Janna Lewis, Facebook's head of strategic innovation partnerships and sourcing. The mapping technology, which Facebook says it developed itself, can pinpoint any man-made structures in any country on earth to a resolution of five meters. Facebook is using the data to understand the precise distribution of humans around the planet.
Space

India's Workhorse Rocket Fails For the First Time In Decades (theverge.com) 78

India's premier rocket, known as the Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle, failed to put a navigation satellite into orbit earlier this morning, after some unknown malfunction prevented the satellite from leaving the vehicle. The Verge reports: The rocket successfully took off from the Satish Dhawan Space Centre in southeastern India at 9:30AM ET. About a little over 10 minutes into the flight, however, the rocket seemed to be in a lower altitude than it need to be. A host during the live broadcast of the launch noted that there was a "variation" in the rocket's performance. Later, an official with the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) confirmed that the payload fairing -- the cone-like structure that surrounds the satellite on the top of the rocket -- failed to separate and expose the satellite to space. So the satellite was effectively trapped inside the fairing and could not be deployed into orbit. It seems possible that the rocket's low trajectory had to do with the fact that the fairing didn't separate, making the vehicle heavier than it was supposed to be.

It's an unexpected failure for a fairly reliable rocket. Over the last 24 years, the PSLV has flown 41 times and has only suffered two failures in its launch history -- the most recent mishap occurring during a mission in 1997. However, that mission was not a total loss as the satellite it carried was still able to make it to orbit. This was the first total failure of the rocket to happen since the PSLV's very first failure in 1993.

NASA

How NASA Kept the ISS Flying While Harvey Hit Mission Control (theverge.com) 128

An anonymous reader shares a report: In the days before Harvey hit Texas, flight controllers at NASA's Johnson Space Center outside of Houston had a decision to make: should they evacuate or ride out the storm at the agency's Mission Control Center? The dilemma wasn't just about the safety of the flight controllers. These personnel are tasked with flying the International Space Station -- a round-the-clock job that can't be done just anywhere. If there's a gap in ground communication, it could put the astronauts in danger. [...] On August 22nd, three days before the storm hit, the mission team was briefed by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and decided the best plan was to stay put. They realized that whatever hit Texas would likely hit Round Rock, too, which is located outside of Austin. Plus, Harvey's real danger looked to be the water rather than the winds. The building containing the Mission Control Center is designed to withstand flooding incredibly well. But the team also knew they had to prepare. "Where you don't want to find yourself is just a single flight controller in any position who can't leave because there's no one to replace them," says Scoville. So the flight controllers were told to come into work early and to make sure they had a way to both enter and leave the center safely. Many showed up Friday night with "big, monstrous climbing backpacks," says Scoville. Meanwhile, cots were set up in a nearby room and in a building that serves as an astronaut quarantine facility, where astronauts quarantine before launch to avoid getting sick in space. "We have training rooms that are a mere copy of the flight control room," says Scoville. "They have the same consoles and same screens, but we turned off the lights and put some cots in there. It was interesting to see these rooms usually lit up with all these screens blacked out for people to sleep." Throughout the weekend, Mission Control operated with the bare minimum essential personnel needed to keep the ISS working safely. Normally, flight controller teams work in nine-hour shifts, swapping out three times a day. During the storm, only about six flight controllers worked each shift, and some stretched their shifts to 12 hours. Because the flooding made the roads impassable, everyone had to spend a couple of nights at NASA.
China

China Plans 600 MPH Train To Rival Elon Musk's Hyperloop (shanghaiist.com) 159

In addition to relaunching the world's fastest bullet train, China is working on developing technology similar to Elon Musk's Hyperloop, which will allow passengers to travel at speeds up to 4,000 km/h (~2,500 mph). The first stage of the company's plan, however, will be to create a network of these "flying trains" operating at 1,000 km/h (~600 mph). Shanghaiist reports: Earlier today, the China Aerospace Science and Industry Corporation (CASIC), one of the nation's major space contractors, announced that it had begun research and development into a new, futuristic type of transport which would operate via supersonic "near ground flight." The system would presumably be similar to that of the Hyperloop, proposed earlier this decade by Elon Musk, in which capsules would fly at ultrafast speeds down reduced-pressure tubes, dramatically reducing travel times. Of course, the CASIC isn't looking to reach speeds of 4,000 km/h right away. The first stage of the company's plan will be to create an intercity network of these "flying trains" operating at 1,000 km/h. In the second phase, this network would be extended and the max speed of the pods increased to 2,000 km/h. Finally, in the third stage, the speed would be boosted all the way up to 4,000 km/h -- five times the speed of civil aviation aircraft today.
Facebook

Facebook To Open New Office in Kendall Square, Adding Hundreds of Jobs (bostonglobe.com) 37

Facebook has a status update: The social network will open a new office in Cambridge next year and plans to hire more than 500 employees, bringing the Boston-based staff to 650. From a report: The company, which founder Mark Zuckerberg launched at Harvard before decamping for the West Coast, established its first Boston-based team nearly four years ago with a small group of employees sharing a workspace. Today, that team has grown to more than 100 people in a Kendall Square office, and space is getting tight, said Ryan Mack, who leads the Facebook Boston office. "We serve 2 billion people on Facebook," he said, "and we need to continue to scale." The new offices will occupy the top three floors of 100 Binney St., a new building designed by Elkus Manfredi that is scheduled to open early next year. Facebook will share the space with 300 Bristol-Myers Squibb employees.
Google

Google Unveils ARCore, Its Answer To Apple's ARKit (fastcompany.com) 40

Google has taken the wraps off its answer to Apple's ARKit -- a new augmented reality development platform called "ARCore." In a blog post, the company said it's releasing a "preview" software development kit for ARCore to Android developers today. From a report: Google released its Tango AR platform in 2014, but AR experiences built on that platform could run only on a few phones sporting advanced sensors and cameras. With ARCore, Google says, developers can create AR apps and games that run on virtually any Android smartphone -- existing and forthcoming. "We've been developing the fundamental technologies that power mobile AR over the last three years with Tango, and ARCore is built on that work," says Android Engineering VP Dave Burke in today's blog post. Developers who have already developed on the Tango platform, Burke says, can use that experience to help them create on the ARCore platform. ARCore games and apps will use an Android phone's camera to determine the position and movement of the phone itself within a real-world environment. The camera will determine the location of horizontal surfaces on which to place digital objects. The camera will also measure the ambient light in a given space, so that digital objects will appear to reflect light in convincing ways.
Businesses

Publishers Are Making More Video -- Whether You Want It or Not (bloomberg.com) 167

An anonymous reader shares a report: Mic, a website aimed at millennials, used to employ 40 writers and editors producing articles on topics like "celebrating beauty" and "strong women." Ten were let go this month, with most in the revamped newsroom of 63 now focused on making videos for places like Facebook. Critics have called such moves "100 percent cynical" and out of sync with audience demand. Yet Americans are watching more video snippets online, either because they secretly like them or because they're getting harder to avoid. The growing audience for video, more valuable to advertisers than the space next to words, is causing websites to shift resources in what's become known across the industry as the pivot to video. Americans are expected to spend 81 minutes a day watching digital video in 2019, up from 61 minutes in 2015, according to projections by research firm eMarketer. Time spent reading a newspaper is expected to drop to 13 minutes a day from 16 minutes during that time. The question is whether those trends will sustain the growing number of outlets flooding social networks with video clips. Mic, a New York-based news site founded in 2011, was just the latest to fire writers when it announced its pivot to video this month. Dozens of writers and editors have also been laid off this summer at news outlets like Vocativ, Fox Sports, Vice and MTV News. All of the moves were tied in part to focusing more resources on making videos. Publishers are heading in this direction even though polls show consumers find video ads more irritating than TV commercials. Google and Apple are testing features that let you mute websites with auto-play videos or block them entirely. More young Americans prefer reading the news than watching it, according to a survey last year by the Pew Research Center. But many publishers have little choice.
Bitcoin

How the NSA Identified Satoshi Nakamoto (medium.com) 427

An anonymous reader shares a report: The 'creator' of Bitcoin, Satoshi Nakamoto, is the world's most elusive billionaire. Very few people outside of the Department of Homeland Security know Satoshi's real name. In fact, DHS will not publicly confirm that even THEY know the billionaire's identity. Satoshi has taken great care to keep his identity secret employing the latest encryption and obfuscation methods in his communications. Despite these efforts (according to my source at the DHS) Satoshi Nakamoto gave investigators the only tool they needed to find him -- his own words. Using stylometry one is able to compare texts to determine authorship of a particular work. Throughout the years Satoshi wrote thousands of posts and emails and most of which are publicly available. According to my source, the NSA was able to the use the 'writer invariant' method of stylometry to compare Satoshi's 'known' writings with trillions of writing samples from people across the globe. By taking Satoshi's texts and finding the 50 most common words, the NSA was able to break down his text into 5,000 word chunks and analyse each to find the frequency of those 50 words. This would result in a unique 50-number identifier for each chunk. The NSA then placed each of these numbers into a 50-dimensional space and flatten them into a plane using principal components analysis. The result is a 'fingerprint' for anything written by Satoshi that could easily be compared to any other writing. The NSA then took bulk emails and texts collected from their mass surveillance efforts. First through PRISM and then through MUSCULAR, the NSA was able to place trillions of writings from more than a billion people in the same plane as Satoshi's writings to find his true identity. The effort took less than a month and resulted in positive match.
Space

Converted Missile Launches Military Satellite to Track Spacecraft (space.com) 39

schwit1 was the first to share the news about Saturday's successful launch from Cape Canaveral: A satellite designed to help the U.S. military keep tabs on the ever-growing population of orbiting objects took to the skies atop a converted missile early Saturday morning. The Air Force's Operationally Responsive Space-5 (ORS-5) satellite lifted off from Florida's Cape Canaveral Air Force Station at 2:04 a.m. EDT (0604 GMT) atop an Orbital ATK Minotaur IV rocket, which carved a fiery orange arc into the sky as it rose... The first three stages of the Minotaur IV rocket are derived from decommissioned Peacekeeper intercontinental ballistic missiles... This morning's launch was the sixth for the Minotaur IV and the 26th overall for the Minotaur rocket family, which also includes the flight-proven Minotaur I, II and V vehicles.
The Orlando Sentinel notes it took place on "a long-dormant launch pad on the Space Coast...Launch Complex 46, which last hosted a rocket launch in 1999..."
Space

SLAC Experiment Proves It Rains Diamonds On Uranus and Neptune (cosmosmagazine.com) 114

The Washington Post reports: On Uranus and Neptune, scientists forecast rain storms of solid diamonds. The gems form in the hydrocarbon-rich oceans of slush that swath the gas giants' sold cores. Scientists have long speculated that the extreme pressures in this region might split those molecules into atoms of hydrogen and carbon, the latter of which then crystallize to form diamonds. These diamonds were thought to sink like rain through the ocean until they hit the solid core. But no one could prove that this would really work -- until now.
Cosmos reports: The Matter in Extreme Conditions instrument at SLAC gives scientists the tools to investigate the extremely hot, dense matter at the centers of stars and giant planets... A team led by Dominik Kraus from the Helmholtz Zentrum Dresden-Rossendorf research centre in Germany subjected plastic to shockwaves by exposing it to the intense energy produced by SLAC's X-ray free-electron laser, known as the Linac Coherent Light Source. The experiment caused almost all the carbon atoms in the plastic to combine into diamond-like structures a few nanometers wide... Astronomers think that the forces at work deep in the frozen mantles of Uranus and Neptune are likely so powerful that each of the diamonds formed could weigh millions of carats. It is also possible that the solid cores of both planets are coated with a thick diamond outer layer.
The experiment also suggests an easier (and cleaner) way to produce diamonds in a lab, which can then be used for semiconductors, drill bits and solar panels.

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