Space

It's Official: LIGO Scientists Make First-Ever Observation of Gravity Waves (economist.com) 246

A few days ago, we posted reports that a major finding -- the discovery of the long-predicted gravity waves -- was expected to be formally announced today, and reader universe520 is the first to note this coverage in the Economist : It is 1.3 billion years after two black holes merged and sent out gravitational waves. On Earth in September 2015, the faintest slice of those waves was caught. That slice, called GW150914 and announced to the world on February 11th, is the first gravitational wave to be detected directly by human scientists. It is a triumph that has been a century in the making, opening a new window onto the universe and giving researchers a means to peer at hitherto inaccessible happenings, perhaps as far back in time as the Big Bang. Reader DudeTheMath adds: NPR has a nice write-up of the newly-published results: "[R]esearchers say they have detected rumblings from that cataclysmic collision as ripples in the very fabric of space-time itself. The discovery comes a century after Albert Einstein first predicted such ripples should exist. ... The signal in the detector matches well with what's predicted by Einstein's original theory, according to [Saul] Teukolsky [of Cornell], who was briefed on the results." Update: 02/11 18:08 GMT by T : Worth reading: this letter, inspirational and informative, from MIT president L. Rafael Reif, about the discovery. (Hat tip to Brian Kulak.)
Earth

Engineers Devise a Way To Harvest Wind Energy From Trees (vice.com) 73

derekmead writes: Harvesting electrical power from vibrations or other mechanical stress is pretty easy. Turns out all it really takes is a bit of crystal or ceramic material and a couple of wires and, there you go, piezoelectricity. As stress is applied to the material, charge accumulates, which can then be shuttled away to do useful work. The classic example is an electric lighter, in which a spring-loaded hammer smacks a crystal, producing a spark. Another example is described in a new paper in the Journal of Sound and Vibration, courtesy of engineers at Ohio State's Laboratory of Sound and Vibration Research. The basic idea behind the energy harvesting platform: exploit the natural internal resonances of trees within tiny artificial forests capable of generating enough voltage to power sensors and structural monitoring systems.
The Military

North Korea's Satellite Tumbling In Orbit 234

schwit1 writes: U.S. Defense officials stated Tuesday that the satellite that North Korea launched on Sunday is now tumbling in orbit and is useless. Do not take comfort from this failure. North Korea has demonstrated that it can put payloads in orbit. From this achievement it is a very short leap to aiming those payloads to impact any continent on Earth. They might not be able to aim that impact very accurately, but if you want to ignite an atomic bomb somewhere, you don't have to be very accurate.
Australia

Australia Cuts 110 Climate Scientist Jobs: "The Science is Settled." 550

An anonymous reader writes: With an ax rather than a scalpel, Australia's federal science agency last week chopped off its climate research arm in a decision that has stunned scientists and left employees dispirited. Why? Because the science is settled, there is no need for more basic research, the government says. No doubt many will experience a case of schadenfreude as they see those who have long claimed "the science is settled" face the inevitable and logical consequence of that stance.
AI

Wolves Howl In Different 'Dialects,' Machine Learning Finds (vice.com) 50

derekmead writes: Differentiating wolf howls with human ears can prove tricky, so researchers have turned to computer algorithms to suss out if different wolf species howl differently. They think that understanding wolf howls could help improve wolf conservation and management programs. In a study published in the journal Behavioural Processes, a group of international researchers describe using machine learning for the first time to analyze 2,000 wolf howls gathered from both wild and domesticated wolves and their subspecies from around the world.
Earth

Carbon Dioxide From the Air Converted Into Methanol (gizmag.com) 154

Zothecula writes: The danger posed by rising levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide has seen many schemes proposed to remove a proportion it from the air. Rather than simply capture this greenhouse gas and bury it in the ground, though, many experiments have managed to transform CO2 into useful things like carbon nanofibers or even fuels, such as diesel. Unfortunately, the over-arching problem with many of these conversions is the particularly high operating temperatures that require counterproductive amounts of energy to produce relatively low yields of fuel. Now researchers at the University of Southern California (USC) claim to have devised a way to take CO2 directly from the air and convert it into methanol using much lower temperatures and in a correspondingly simpler way.
Earth

Meteorite Strike Kills Man In India 130

knwny writes: In what is believed to be the first such incident in modern times, a meteorite strike in India killed a man and injured three others. According to police sources, a loud blast was heard at the site of the strike which also left a four-feet deep crater. Preliminary investigation by forensic and bomb experts showed no sign of any explosive substance at the scene. The second link has a picture of the supposed crater which I believe will interest Slashdotters with experience in this area.
Government

MIT Inches Closer To ARC Reactor Despite Losing Federal Funding (computerworld.com) 182

Lucas123 writes: Experimenting with a fusion device over the past 20 years has edged MIT researchers to their final goal, creating a small and relatively inexpensive ARC reactor, three of which would produce enough energy to power a city the size of Boston. The lessons already learned from MIT's even current Alcator C-Mod fusion device — with a plasma radius of just 0.68 meters — have enabled researchers to publish a paper on a prototype ARC that would be the world's smallest fusion reactor but with the greatest magnetic force and energy output for its size. The ARC would require 50MW to run while putting out about 200MW of electricity to the grid. Key to MIT's ARC reactor would be the use of a "high-temperature" rare-earth barium copper oxide (REBCO) superconducting tape for its magnetic coils, which only need to be cooled to 100 Kelvin, which enables the use of abundant liquid nitrogen as a cooling agent. Other fusion reactors' superconducting coils must be cooled to 4 degrees Kelvin. While there remain hurdles to overcome, such as sustaining the fusion reaction long enough to achieve a net power return, building the ARC would only take 4 to 5 years and cost about $5 billion, compared to the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (ITER), the world's largest tokamak fusion reactor due to go online and begin producing energy in 2027.
Moon

China's Chang'e 3 Lander and Yutu Rover Camera Data Released 56

AmiMoJo writes: Detailed high resolution images from the recent Chinese moon mission have been released. Links to the original Chinese sites hosting the images are available, but Emily Lakdawalla of the Planetary Society has kindly organized them in English. Images show the lander, the rover and the surface of the earth. An interactive map is also available, built from data collected by the mission.
Cellphones

ACLU Sues Anaheim Police For Public Records On Cell Phone Surveillance (scpr.org) 29

New submitter Lacey Waymire writes: The ACLU of Northern California is suing for a release of public records regarding Anaheim police's use of cell phone surveillance devices. "We don't think any surveillance devices, particularly these sorts of invasive cell phone surveillance devices, should ever be acquired or used without intense public debate and the adoption of safeguards to ensure they are only used in ways that follow our Constitution and laws," attorney Matt Cagle said. (See this Boing Boing posting with a bit more on "the happiest surveillance state on earth.")
NASA

SpaceX Successfully Tests Crew Dragon Landing Parachutes 91

SpaceX successfully tested out the parachute system it plans to use to land its Crew Dragon spaceship safely back on Earth today. By using a "mass simulator," SpaceX was able to replicate the weight and shape of the spacecraft. According to NASA, "Later tests will grow progressively more realistic to simulate as much of the actual conditions and processes the system will see during an operational mission."

The goal of the test was to evaluate the four main parachutes, but this test did not include the "drogue chutes" the full landing system will utilize. The aim is for the spacecraft to splash safely into the ocean carried down by parachutes to reduce its speed. Eventually, SpaceX intends for the spacecraft to land upright on solid ground by utilizing eight SuperDraco propulsion engines. SpaceX successfully landed its Falcon 9 rocket at Cape Canaveral in December. Earlier this month, a SpaceX Falcon 9 exploded upon landing on a drone ship.
Earth

Flat-Earth Argument Results in Rap Battle (npr.org) 235

New submitter mjjochen writes: A little something to make you smile (or cry). NPR reports on astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson calling out rapper B.o.B. in a Twitter (& rap) argument over the status of the earth (are we round or flat?). Rapper B.o.B. references the usual conspiracy theories to support his case in his throwdown (music). Neil deGrasse Tyson responds (actually, his nephew does), on why B.o.B.'s points are not very well-informed (music). As Tyson puts it, "Duude — to be clear: Being five centuries regressed in your reasoning doesn't mean we all can't still like your music." Shall we start leeching the four humors from the body again to achieve balance? Hrm.
United States

US Could Lower Carbon Emissions 78% With New National Transmission Network (smithsonianmag.com) 346

mdsolar writes with this story from Smithsonian magazine about how building a national transmission network could lead to a gigantic reduction in carbon emissions. From the story: "The United States could lower carbon emissions from electricity generation by as much as 78 percent without having to develop any new technologies or use costly batteries, a new study suggests. There's a catch, though. The country would have to build a new national transmission network so that states could share energy. 'Our idea was if we had a national 'interstate highway for electrons' we could move the power around as it was needed, and we could put the wind and solar plants in the very best places,' says study co-author Alexander MacDonald, who recently retired as director of NOAA's Earth System Research Laboratory in Boulder, Colorado."
China

China Likely Cut GHG Emissions In 2015 (greenpeace.org) 143

mdsolar writes: Economic and industrial data released [Thursday] by the Chinese government's statistical agency indicates the country's carbon emissions likely fell by around 3% — with the contraction of key heavy industry sectors and the continued expansion of renewable energies driving a wedge between total energy demand and coal use. According to the data, China's coal output fell by 3.5% in 2015, thermal power generation by 3%, coal imports by 30%, pig iron output by 4%, coking coal output by 7%, and cement by 5%. All this suggests that both power sector coal consumption and total coal consumption probably fell by more than 4%. Total oil consumption grew only 1.1% in the first eleven months, gas consumption by 3.7% while cement production (which releases CO2 directly) fell by 4.9%. This indicates a fall of 3-4% in China's fossil CO2 emissions, roughly equal to Poland's total emissions.
Earth

Mainstream Scientists Cashing In On Climate Wagers (reuters.com) 252

Layzej writes: Climate contrarians have long predicted imminent global cooling. A few have been willing to place wagers that mainstream scientists have been quick to accept. Often acceptance of the bet is followed by immediate retraction, as was the case when "Bastardi's Wager" was accepted by Joseph Romm or when Maurice Newman's $10,000 bet was accepted by physicist Brian Schmidt. In some cases, bets have been formalized and the terms of many of those wagers are coming to a close. It may not be surprising to learn that those who put their money on the side of mainstream science are the ones who are cashing in.

Reuters reports that British climate expert Chris Hope just won a 2,000 pound sterling ($2,830) wager made five years ago against two members of the Global Warming Policy Foundation, who had bet Hope that the Earth would be cooling by now. They also highlight a $10,000 bet made in 2005 between British climate modeler James Annan and two Russian solar physicists. The solar physicists had counted on waning solar output to halt warming. Annan will win if average global temperatures from 2013-17 are warmer than 2003-07. "Things are looking good for my bet," Annan said.

Keith Pickering reports on a series of three bets between Brian Schmidt and climate contrarian David Evans, who also believed that diminishing solar output would dominate the temperatures of the last decade and beyond. The wagers pay out in 2019, 2024, and 2029. Pickering concludes, "What Evans apparently doesn't realize is that because of the thermal inertia of the oceans, within narrow bounds we can already predict what global temperatures will be in 2019, 2024, and 2029. And David Evans is going to lose his shirt."

Earth

An Ancient, Brutal Massacre May Be the Earliest Evidence of War 151

HughPickens.com writes: Violence has always been part of human behavior, but the origins of war are hotly debated. Some experts see it as deeply rooted in evolution, pointing to violent confrontations among groups of chimpanzees as clues to an ancestral predilection while others emphasize the influence of complex and hierarchical human societies, and agricultural surpluses to be raided. Now James Gorman writes in the NY Times that scientists have discovered a site in Africa dated about 10,000 years ago where a group of hunter-gatherers attacked and slaughtered another, leaving the dead with crushed skulls, embedded arrow or spear points, and other devastating wound. It's not clear that anyone was spared at the Nataruk massacre. Of the 27 individuals found, eight were male and eight female, with five adults of unknown gender. The site also contained the partial remains of six children. Twelve of the skeletons were in a relatively complete state, and ten of those showed very clear evidence that they had met a violent end. In the paper, the researchers describe "extreme blunt-force trauma to crania and cheekbones, broken hands, knees and ribs, arrow lesions to the neck, and stone projectile tips lodged in the skull and thorax of two men." Four of them, including a late-term pregnant woman, appear to have had their hands bound. "These human remains record the intentional killing of a small band of foragers with no deliberate burial, and provide unique evidence that warfare was part of the repertoire of inter-group relations among some prehistoric hunter-gatherers," says Dr Marta Mirazon.

The killers carried weapons they wouldn't have used for hunting and fishing, including clubs of various sizes and a combination of close-proximity weapons like knives and distance weapons, including the arrow projectiles she calls a hallmark of inter-group conflict. " This suggests premeditation and planning," says Mirazon Lahr. Other, isolated examples of period violence have previously been found in the area, and those featured projectiles crafted of obsidian, which is rare in the area but also seen in the Nataruk wounds. This suggests that the attackers may have been from another area, and that multiple attacks were likely a feature of life at the time. "This implies that the resources the people of Nataruk had at the time were valuable and worth fighting for, whether it was water, dried meat or fish, gathered nuts or indeed women and children. This shows that two of the conditions associated with warfare among settled societies—control of territory and resources—were probably the same for these hunter-gatherers, and that we have underestimated their role in prehistory."
Space

Theoretical Evidence For a Ninth Planet Beyond Pluto May Be Premature (forbes.com) 176

An anonymous reader writes: Earlier today, the team of Pluto-killer Mike Brown and Konstantin Batygin announced that they had found evidence of a ninth planet in our Solar System beyond the orbit of Pluto, larger and more massive than even Earth. However, a closer inspection of the work shows that they predict a few things that haven't been observed, including a population of Kuiper belt objects with large inclinations and retrograde orbits, long-period Kuiper belt objects with opposite ecliptic latitudes and longitudes, and infrared data showing the emission from such an outer world. There are many good reasons to be skeptical, and not conclude that there's a ninth planet without more (and better) evidence.
United States

The Story Behind National Reconnaissance Office's Octopus Logo (muckrock.com) 133

v3rgEz writes: When the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) announced the upcoming launch of their NROL-39 mission back in December 2013, they didn't get quite the response they hoped. That might have had something to do with the mission logo being a gigantic octopus devouring the Earth. Researcher Runa Sandvik wanted to know who approved this and why, so she filed a Freedom of Information Act with the NRO for the development materials that went into the logo. A few months later, the NRO delivered.
Science

NASA, NOAA Analyses Reveal Record-Shattering Global Warm Temperatures In 2015 (nasa.gov) 507

vikingpower writes: Earth's 2015 surface temperatures were the warmest since modern record keeping began in 1880, according to independent analyses by NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). Globally-averaged temperatures in 2015 shattered the previous mark set in 2014 by 0.23 degrees Fahrenheit (0.13 Celsius). Only once before, in 1998, has the new record been greater than the old record by this much. The British Met office also reports on the same phenomenon, even forecasting that global temperatures are very soon going to reach the one-degree-Celsius marker. According to Stephen Belcher, Director of the Met Office Hadley Centre, "We've had similar natural events in the past, yet this is the first time we're set to reach the 1 C marker and it's clear that it is human influence driving our modern climate into uncharted territory."
Space

The Russian Plan To Use Space Mirrors To Turn Night Into Day (vice.com) 126

merbs writes: Throughout the early 90s, a team of Russian astronomers and engineers were hellbent on literally turning night into day. By shining a giant mirror onto the earth from space, they figured they could bring sunlight to the depths of night, extending the workday, cutting back on lighting costs and allowing laborers to toil longer. If this sounds a bit like the plot of a Bond film, well, it's that too. The difference is that for a second there, the scientists, led by Vladimir Sergeevich Syromyatnikov, one of the most important astronautical engineers in history, actually pulled it off.

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