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Rosetta Spacecraft Prepares To Land On Comet, Solve Lingering Mysteries ( 39

sciencehabit writes from a report via Science Magazine: All good things must come to an end, and so it will be tomorrow when the Rosetta spacecraft makes its planned soft landing onto the surface of comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, the culmination of 2 years of close-up studies. Solar power has waned as 67P's orbit takes it and Rosetta farther from the sun, and so the mission team decided to go on a last data-gathering descent before the lights go out. This last data grab is a bonus after a mission that is already changing theorists' views about how comets and planets arose early in the solar system. Several Rosetta observations suggest that comets form not from jolting mergers of larger cometesimals, meters to kilometers across, but rather from the gentle coalescence of clouds of pebbles. And the detection of a single, feather-light, millimeter-sized particle -- preserved since the birth of the solar system -- should further the view of a quiet birth. The report concludes: "A slew of instruments will keep gathering data as Rosetta approaches the surface at the speed of a gentle stroll. For team members whose instruments have already been turned off to conserve power, the ending is bittersweet -- but their work is far from over. Most instrument teams have only examined their own data, and are just now thinking about combining data sets. "We've just started collaborating with other teams," [Holger Sierks of the Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research in Gottingen, Germany, chief of Rosetta's main camera,] says. "This is the beginning of the story, not the end."

NASA: Arctic Sea Ice 2nd-Lowest On Record ( 206

An anonymous reader quotes a report from EarthSky: NASA and the National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC) said on September 15, 2016 that summertime Arctic sea ice appears to have reached its annual minimum on September 10. With fall approaching and temperatures in the Arctic dropping, it's unlikely more ice will melt, and so the 2016 Arctic sea ice minimum extent will likely be tied with 2007 for the second-lowest yearly minimum in the satellite record. Satellite data showed this year's minimum at 1.60 million square miles (4.14 million square km). NASA said in a statement: "Since satellites began monitoring sea ice in 1978, researchers have observed a steep decline in the average extent of Arctic sea ice for every month of the year [...] The sea ice cover of the Arctic Ocean and surrounding seas helps regulate the planet's temperature, influences the circulation of the atmosphere and ocean, and impacts Arctic communities and ecosystems. Arctic sea ice shrinks every year during the spring and summer until it reaches its minimum yearly extent. Sea ice regrows during the frigid fall and winter months, when the sun is below the horizon in the Arctic." The NASA/NSIDC statement explained why the melt of Arctic sea ice surprised scientists in 2016. For one thing, it changed pace several times: "The melt season began with a record low yearly maximum extent in March and a rapid ice loss through May. But in June and July, low atmospheric pressures and cloudy skies slowed down the melt. Then, after two large storms went across the Arctic basin in August, sea ice melt picked up speed through early September." NASA posted an animation on YouTube that "shows the evolution of the Arctic sea ice cover from its wintertime maximum extent, which was reached on Mar. 24, 2016, and was the lowest on record for the second year in a row, to its apparent yearly minimum, which occurred on Sept. 10, 2016, and is the second lowest in the satellite era."

Uber Accused of Cashing In On Bomb Explosion By Jacking Rates ( 428

After a bomb exploded in Manhattan, leaving 29 injured, people leaving the scene discovered Uber had doubled their fares. An anonymous Slashdot reader quotes The Sun: Traumatized families caught up in the New York bomb blast have accused Uber of cashing in on the tragedy by charging almost double to take them home. Furious passengers have taken to social media to slam the taxi firm in the wake of the blast... Uber reportedly charged between 1.4 and 3 times the standard fare with one city worker saying he had to pay twice as much as usual. Mortgage broker Nick Lalli said: "Just trying to get home from the city and Uber f****** doubled the surge price."
"Demand is off the charts!" the app informed its users, adding "Fares have increased to get more Ubers on the road." Uber soon tweeted that they'd deactivated their surge pricing algorithm for the affected area in Chelsea, "but passengers in other areas of Manhattan said they were still being charged higher than normal fares." One of the affected passengers was Michael Cohen, who is Donald Trump's lawyer, who tweeted that Uber was "taking total advantage of chaos and surcharging passengers 1.4 to 1.8 times." And another Uber user tweeted "I'm disgusted. People are trying to get home safe. Shame on you #DeleteApp."

Pluto Is Emitting X-Rays ( 106

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Digital Trends: Scientists have noticed the tiny trans-Neptunium object emitting X-rays, which, if it is confirmed, is both a baffling and exciting discovery. Carey Lisse and Ralph McNutt from Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory and a team of colleagues detected the X-rays by pointing the Chandra X-Ray Obervatory telescope in Pluto's direction four different times between February 2014 and August 2015. Seven photons of X-ray light were detected during these observations, confirming the team's hypothesis that the dwarf planet is detectable on the X-ray spectrum, potentially due to the presence of an atmosphere. Their findings have been published in the scientific journal Icarus. Why is this such a big deal? First of all, it would challenge what scientists have previously believed to be true of Pluto's nature. Until now, the popular description of the dwarf planet is as a tiny ball of frozen rock slowly meandering around the sun some 3.6-billion miles away. One of the possible explanations for why Pluto is emanating X-rays would be that the high energy particles emitted by the sun are stripping away and reacting with Pluto's atmosphere, producing the X-rays that are visible to Chandra. There are other potential explanations, such as haze particles in Pluto's atmosphere scattering the sun's X-rays are possible, though unlikely given the temperature of the X-rays observed. It is also possible that these X-rays are actually bright auroras produced by the atmosphere, but that would require Pluto to have a magnetic field -- something that would have been detected during New Horizon's flyby, yet no evidence of one was found.

The Moon's Gravitational Pull Can Trigger Major Earthquakes, Says Study ( 130

schwit1 writes: A careful statistical analysis of when major earthquakes occur has suggested they are more likely to be more powerful if they occur around the full and new moons when tidal forces are at their peak. reports: "Satoshi Ide, a seismologist at the University of Tokyo, and his colleagues investigated three separate earthquake records covering Japan, California and the entire globe. For the 15 days leading up to each quake, the scientists assigned a number representing the relative tidal stress on that day, with 15 representing the highest. They found that large quakes such as those that hit Chile and Tohoku-Oki occurred near the time of maximum tidal strain -- or during new and full moons when the Sun, Moon and Earth align. For more than 10,000 earthquakes of around magnitude 5.5, the researchers found, an earthquake that began during a time of high tidal stress was more likely to grow to magnitude 8 or above." As these results are based entirely on statistical evidence, not on any direct link between tidal forces and actual quakes, they are quite uncertain and unproven.

New Research Reveals Hundreds of Undiscovered Black Holes ( 75

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Phys.Org: New research by the University of Surrey published in the journal Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society has shone light on a globular cluster of stars that could host several hundred black holes, a phenomenon that until recently was thought impossible. Globular clusters are spherical collections of stars which orbit around a galactic center such as our Milky-way galaxy. Using advanced computer simulations, the team at the University of Surrey were able to see the un-see-able by mapping a globular cluster known as NGC 6101, from which the existence of black holes within the system was deduced. These black holes are a few times larger than the Sun, and form in the gravitational collapse of massive stars at the end of their lives. It was previously thought that these black holes would almost all be expelled from their parent cluster due to the effects of supernova explosion, during the death of a star. It is only as recently as 2013 that astrophysicists found individual black holes in globular clusters via rare phenomena in which a companion star donates material to the black hole. This work, which was supported by the European Research Council (ERC), has shown that in NGC 6101 there could be several hundred black holes, overturning old theories as to how black holes form.

An Asteroid Has Been Named After Freddie Mercury ( 58

An anonymous reader shares a Motherboard report: Freddie Mercury, frontman of Queen and transcendent being of pure performative joy and vitality, would have been 70 years old this Monday, September 5. To celebrate the occasion and honor Mercury's enormous impact on pop culture, the International Astronomical Union (IAU) has officially changed the name of Asteroid 17473, located in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter, to "Freddiemercury." It's a fitting tribute to the man who exuberantly sang that he was "a shooting star leaping through the sky" in the heart-thumping rock rager "Don't Stop Me Now." Queen's lead guitarist Brian May, who also happens to be an astrophysicist with a namesake asteroid of his own, announced the news to the band's fans via YouTube on Sunday. Mercury's asteroid is about three and a half kilometers across, and has an albedo of about 0.3, which means it reflects only about 30 percent of the Sun's light. "It's a dark object, like a cinder in space, as many of these asteroids are," May said. "It's just a dot of light, but it's a very special dot of light."

Second Irregularly Dimming Star Found ( 151

Long-time Slashdot reader RockDoctor writes: Remember the screaming and welcoming of our Dyson-Sphere-Dwelling 1500 LY distant Overlords that accompanied the news that star KIC 8462852 was irregularly dimming on both short and longer timescales? A second star with a similar light curve has been discovered and reported on ARXIV.

With the euphonious names "EPIC 204278916" and "2MASS J16020757-2257467", the star is a young M1 (red) star, traveling as part of a group of stars which haven't had time to disperse from their place of formation. The age is estimated at 5 — 11 million years. Analysis of 70+ days of data from the K2 mission epoch shows a rotation of 3.6 days, but a period of 25 days near the start of the observation epoch showed dips in intensity of up to 60% lasting for up to about a day each. Details are in the Arxiv paper linked to above, particularly figures 1 and 4.

If confirmed, this discovery changes the situation with interpreting the so-called "Tabby's Star". Firstly with a second object in the class, the odds of it representing a class of naturally occurring objects compared to a unique, unusual object is greatly increased. Secondly, the different celestial mechanical situations around the different stars allows a better estimate of plausible formation mechanisms. One potentially important point is that clumps of debris that could produce these dimmings seem to be quite large. "It is also important to note that the resulting size for the transiting and occulting clump would be quite large at with the clump being in the order of 1.5 times the radius of the Sun. Sadly, this appears to be a new class of "dirty young planetary system." no alien Overlords, no screaming in the streets. Just business-like astronomy.


NASA Releases First-Ever Close-Up Images of Jupiter's North Pole ( 54

NASA has released the first close-up images of Jupiter's north pole captured by the Juno spacecraft, taken during the probe's first flyby of the planet with its instruments switched on. "The images show storm systems and weather activity unlike anything previously seen on any of our solar system's gas-giant planets," writes Tony Greicius via NASA. NPR reports: "NASA also released an image of Jupiter's southern aurora, a unique view that could be captured only by a spacecraft close to Jupiter. The aurora occurs when energized particles from the sun interact with Jupiter's atmosphere near the planet's poles. The space agency also released audio of what the aurora sounds like if you convert it to a frequency the human ear can hear. The pictures and data were collected Aug. 27, when June made the first of some three dozen scheduled close encounters with Jupiter. At its closest approach, the spacecraft was a mere 2,500 miles above the planet's cloud tops." The images can be found here. You can also listen to Jupiter's auroras via YouTube. Spoiler: they sound like a dial-up modem.

Microsoft To Add Flux Like Night Mode In Windows 10, Rendering 3rd-Party App's Existence Useless ( 88

An anonymous reader writes: With suggestions that bluish lights disrupt our sleep, software that shifts screen white balance towards the red end of the spectrum in the evening -- cutting back that potentially sleep-disrupting light -- has gained quite a following. f.lux is the big name here with many people enjoying its gradual color temperature shifts. Apple recently built a color shifting feature into iOS, under the name Night Shift, and there are now signs that Microsoft is doing the same in Windows 10. Twitter user tfwboredom has been poking around the latest Windows insider build and found hints that the operating system will soon have a "blue light reduction" mode. Similarly to f.lux, this will automatically reduce the color temperature in the evenings as the sun sets and increase it in the mornings when the sun rises. Signs are that the feature will have a quick access button in the Action Center when it is eventually enabled.The feature is expected to arrive with Redstone, which is Windows 10's next major update expected to arrive next year.

Senate Committee Expected To OK Autonomous Car Bills in Michigan ( 121

Michael Wayland, and Melissa Burden, reporting for The Detroit News: Michigan legislators could vote as early as next week on sweeping autonomous vehicle bills that would allow self-driving cars on any Michigan road without a human driver behind the wheel. The Senate's Economic Development and International Investment Committee is holding a public hearing on the bills at 10 a.m. Wednesday at Nexteer Automotive, 3900 E. Holland, in Buena Vista Township in Saginaw County. The seven-member committee is expected to send the bills to the Senate floor for a vote as early as Tuesday. If approved, the bills would need approval of the House before heading to Gov. Rick Snyder's desk. "We're very, very sure that this is going to move out of committee tomorrow," Sen. Mike Kowall, R-White Lake Township, who introduced the legislation, told The Detroit News on Tuesday. "We've aired out just about everything over the sun."

SETI's 'Strong Signal' Came From Earth ( 146

Yesterday, it was reported that Russia has detected a strong signal around 11 GHz coming from HD164595, a star nearly identical in mass to the Sun and located about 95 light years away from Earth. Well, long story short the signal came Earth. Ars Technica reports: "First, astronomers with the search for extraterrestrial intelligence downplayed the possibility of an alien civilization. 'There are many other plausible explanations for this claimed transmission, including terrestrial interference,' Seth Shostak, a senior astronomer with SETI, wrote. Now the Special Astrophysical Observatory of the Russian Academy of Sciences has concurred, releasing a statement on the detection of a radio signal at the RATAN-600 radio astronomy observatory in southern Russia. 'Subsequent processing and analysis of the signal revealed its most probable terrestrial origin,' the Russian scientists said."

Hunt For Ninth Planet Reveals Distant Solar System Objects ( 154

schwit1 writes: Astronomers have discovered several new objects orbiting the Sun at extremely great distances beyond the orbit of Neptune. The most interesting new discovery is 2014 FE72: "2014 FE72 is the first distant Oort Cloud object found with an orbit entirely beyond Neptune," reports Carnegie Institution for Science. "It has an orbit that takes the object so far away from the Sun (some 3000 times farther than Earth) that it is likely being influenced by forces of gravity from beyond our Solar System such as other stars and the galactic tide. It is the first object observed at such a large distance." This research is being done as part of an effort to discover a very large planet, possibly as much as 15 times the mass of Earth, that the scientists have proposed that exists out there.

SETI Has Observed a 'Strong' Signal That May Originate From a Sun-like Star ( 282

An anonymous reader writes: The RATAN-600 radio telescope in Zelenchukskaya, Russia has detected a strong signal around 11 GHz (which is very unlikely to be naturally-caused) coming from HD164595, a star nearly identical in mass to the Sun and located about 95 light years from Earth. The system is known to have at least one planet. If the signal were isotropic, it would seem to indicate a Kardashev Type II civilization. While it is too early to draw any conclusions, the discovery will be discussed at an upcoming SETI committee meeting on September 27th. According to Paul Gilster, author of the Centauri Dreams website, "No one is claiming that this is the work of an extraterrestrial civilization, but it is certainly worth further study. Working out the strength of the signal, the researchers say that if it came from an isotropic beacon, it would be of a power possible only for a Kardashev Type II civilization. If it were a narrow beam signal focused on our Solar System, it would be of a power available to a Kardashev Type I civilization. The possibility of noise of one form or another cannot be ruled out, and researchers in Paris led by Jean Schneider are considering the possible microlensing of a background source by HD164595. But the signal is provocative enough that the RATAN-600 researchers are calling for permanent monitoring of this target."

Floating Solar Device Boils Water Without Mirrors ( 80

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Ars Technica: Researchers from MIT and the Masdar Institute of Science and Technology, led by George Ni, describe a prototype design that boils water under ambient sunlight. Central to their floating solar device is a "selective absorber" -- a material that both absorbs the solar portion of the electromagnetic spectrum well and emits little back as infrared heat energy. For this, the researchers turn to a blue-black commercial coating commonly used in solar photovoltaic panels. The rest of the puzzle involves further minimizing heat loss from that absorber, either through convection of the air above it or conduction of heat into the water below the floating prototype. The construction of the device is surprisingly simple. At the bottom, there is a thick, 10-centimeter-diameter puck of polystyrene foam. That insulates the heating action from the water and makes the whole thing float. A cotton wick occupies a hole drilled through the foam, which is splayed and pinned down by a square of thin fabric on the top side. This ensures that the collected solar heat is being focused into a minute volume of water. The selective absorber coats a disc of copper that sits on top of the fabric. Slots cut in the copper allow water vapor from the wick to pass through. And the crowning piece of this technological achievement? Bubble wrap. It insulates the top side of the absorber, with slots cut through the plastic to let the water vapor out. Tests in the lab and on the MIT roof showed that, under ambient sunlight, the absorber warmed up to 100 degrees Celsius in about five minutes and started making steam. That's a first. The study has been published in two separate Nature articles: "Steam by thermal concentration" and "Steam generation under one sun enabled by a floating structure with thermal concentration."

Earth-Like Planet, With Ambitious Life Possibility, Found Orbiting the Star Next Door ( 218

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.

'Only Voice Memos Can Save Us From the Scourge of Email' ( 290

Emails are great -- so much so that many believe that it's one of the best inventions of all time. But when you get hundreds of emails everyday, things could get harder to handle. Understandably, many have resorted to alternatives such as Slack, Gchat, and other IM services to offload many of the things they previously did exclusively via emails. An article on Quartz today argues that perhaps voice notes is the best alternative to emails. From their article: There's a solution staring us right in the face: a technological tool that preserves the intimacy of the human voice without requiring people to sync up their schedules. As a number of remote workers, diaspora communities and expats have already discovered, voice notes might just be the answer we've been waiting for. Barcelona-based filmmaker Philippa Young, for example, relies on WhatsApp's voice notes to communicate with her nomadic yet tight-knit team of 15. She sends audio notes throughout the day that range from just a few seconds in length to 10 minutes. The system allows her far-flung coworkers to respond whenever the sun rises in their time zone or they manage to find a stable wifi connection. [...] Voice notes also offer an antidote to one of the primary anxieties of the digital era "the fear that emails, texts and instant messaging rob conversation of emotional nuance, leading to endless misunderstandings and social blunders. "The thing that I really value about it for our team spread out across the world is that when I get a voice note from someone, they've spoken to me and I hear their tone of voice," Young adds. "You can hear in someone's voice how they're feeling."

FCC Complaint: Baltimore Police Breaking Law With Use of Stingray Phone Trackers ( 108

An anonymous reader writes from a report via Baltimore Sun: Civil rights groups have complained to the FCC over the Baltimore Police Department's use of stingray phone tracking devices. They claim that "the way police use it interferes with emergency calls and is racially discriminatory." Baltimore Sun reports: "The complaint argues that the police department doesn't have a proper license to use the devices and is in violation of federal law. It calls on regulators at the Federal Communications Commission to step in and formally remind law enforcement agencies of the rules. 'The public is relying on the Commission to carry out its statutory obligation to do so, to fulfill its public commitment to do so, and to put an end to widespread network interference caused by rampant unlicensed transmissions made by BPD and other departments around the country,' the groups say in the complaint. Police in Baltimore acknowledged in court last year that they had used the devices thousands of times to investigate crimes ranging from violent attacks to the theft of cellphones. Investigators had been concealing the technology from judges and defense lawyers and after the revelations Maryland's second highest court ruled that police should get a warrant before using a Stingray. The groups argue that surveillance using the devices also undermines people's free speech rights and describe the use of Stingrays as an electronic form of the intrusive police practices described in the scathing Justice Department report on the police department's pattern of civil rights violations."

Astronomers To Announce Discovery of a Nearby 'Earth-Like' Planet ( 347

astroengine quotes a report from Seeker: Scientists are preparing to unveil a new planet in our galactic neighborhood which is "believed to be Earth-like" and orbits its star at a distance that could favor life, German weekly Der Spiegel reported Friday. The exoplanet orbits a well-investigated star called Proxima Centauri, part of the Alpha Centauri star system, the magazine said, quoting anonymous sources.

"The still nameless planet is believed to be Earth-like and orbits at a distance to Proxima Centauri that could allow it to have liquid water on its surface -- an important requirement for the emergence of life," said the magazine.

It's orbiting our sun's nearest neighboring star -- just 4.25 light years away -- meaning it could someday be considered for the world's first interstellar mission.

Maybe There's No Life in Space Because We're Too Early 250

Long-time Slashdot reader sehlat shares "a highly accessible summary" of a new theory about why we haven't yet find life on other planets -- that "we're not latecomers, but very, very early." From Lab News: The universe is 13.8 billion years old, with Earth forming less than five billion years ago. One school of thought among scientists is that there is life billions of years older than us in space. But this recent study in the Journal of Cosmology and Astroparticle Physics argues otherwise... "We find that the chance of life grows much higher in the distant future..."

Stars larger than approximately three times the Sun's mass will perish before life has a chance to evolve... The smallest stars weigh less than a tenth as much as the sun and will glow for 10 trillion years, meaning life has lot of time to begin on those planets orbiting them in the 'habitable zone'. The probability of life increases over time so the chance of life is many times higher in the distant future than now.

The paper ultimately concludes that life "is most likely to exist near 0.1 solar-mass stars ten trillion years from now."

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