Earth

Flat Earther Now Wants To Launch His Homemade Rocket From a Balloon (themaineedge.com) 298

A Maine alternative newsweekly just interviewed self-taught rocket scientist "Mad" Mike Hughes, who still believes that the earth is a flat, Frisbee-shaped disc. ("Think about this. Australia -- which is supposedly on the other side of the planet -- is upside down yet they're holding the waters in the ocean. Now how is that happening?") And Mike's got a new way to prove it after his aborted launch attempt in November. An anonymous reader writes: "One thing I want to clarify is that this rocket was never supposed to prove that the Earth is flat," Hughes tells an interviewer. "I was never going to go high enough to do that." But he will prove it's flat -- with an even riskier stunt. "I have a plan to go 62 miles up to the edge of space. It's going to cost $1.8 million and that could happen within 10 months."

"I'm going to have a balloon built at about $250,000 with $100,000 worth of hydrogen in it. It will lift me up about 20 miles... If I'm unconscious, they can use the controls to bring the balloon back." But if he's still conscious? "Then I'll fire a rocket through the balloon that will pull me up by my shoulders through a truss for 42 miles at 1.5 g's."

It's an awesome plan "if I don't burn up coming back through the atmosphere."

The interviewer asks Hughes a reasonable question. "Wouldn't it be cheaper and less deadly to just try to drill through the Earth to the other side to prove your point?"

"You can't," Hughes answers. "That's another fallacy. The deepest hole ever drilled is seven-and-a-half miles and it was done in Russia. It took 12 years. You cannot drill through this planet. It dulls every drill bit. All the stuff that you learned in school -- that the core is molten nickel -- it's all lies. No one knows what's in the center of the Earth or how deep it is. I'm no expert at anything, but I know that's a fact."
United States

Trump Administration Prohibits CDC Policy Analysts From Using the Words 'Science-Based' (washingtonpost.com) 414

Long-time Slashdot reader hey! writes: On Friday the Washington Post reported that the Trump Administration has forbidden the Centers for Disease Control from using seven terms in certain documents: "science-based", "evidence-based", "vulnerable," "entitlement," "diversity," "transgender," and "fetus".

It's important to note that the precise scope and intent of the ban is unknown at present. Scientific and medical personnel as of now have not been affected, only policy analysts preparing budgetary proposals and supporting data that is being sent to Congress. So it is unclear the degree to which the language mandates represent a change in agency priorities vs. a change in how it presents itself to Congress. However banning the scientifically precise term "fetus" will certainly complicate budgeting for things like Zika research and monitoring.

According to the Post's article, "Instead of 'science-based' or 'evidence-based,' the suggested phrase is 'CDC bases its recommendations on science in consideration with community standards and wishes."

The New York Times confirmed the story with several officials, although "a few suggested that the proposal was not so much a ban on words but recommendations to avoid some language to ease the path toward budget approval by Republicans."
The Military

The US Military Admits It Spent $22 Million Investigating UFOs (boston.com) 151

Long-time Slashdot reader Joosy writes, "Until 2012 the Pentagon had a program, the 'Advanced Aerospace Threat Identification Program', that tracked unidentified flying objects." An anonymous reader writes: The Pentagon finally acknowledged the existence of the $22 million program today to the New York Times, while also claiming that they closed the program five years ago. "But its backers say that, while the Pentagon ended funding for the effort at that time, the program remains in existence. For the past five years, they say, officials with the program have continued to investigate episodes brought to them by service members, while also carrying out their other Defense Department duties."

Over the years the program "produced documents that describe sightings of aircraft that seemed to move at very high velocities with no visible signs of propulsion, or that hovered with no apparent means of lift. Officials with the program have also studied videos of encounters between unknown objects and U.S. military aircraft." But ultimately, a Pentagon spokesman said, "It was determined that there were other, higher priority issues that merited funding, and it was in the best interest of the DoD to make a change."

NASA

NASA Uses Its First Recycled SpaceX Rocket For a Re-Supply Mission (nypost.com) 92

An anonymous reader quotes the New York Post: SpaceX racked up another first on Friday, launching a recycled rocket with a recycled capsule on a grocery run for NASA. The unmanned Falcon rocket blasted off with a just-in-time-for-Christmas delivery for the International Space Station, taking flight again after a six-month turnaround. On board was a Dragon supply ship, also a second-time flier. It was NASA's first use of a reused Falcon rocket and only the second of a previously flown Dragon.

Within 10 minutes of liftoff, the first-stage booster was back at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, standing upright on the giant X at SpaceX's landing zone. That's where it landed back in June following its first launch. Double sonic booms thundered across the area. At SpaceX headquarters in Hawthorne, California, cheers erupted outside the company's glassed-in Mission Control, where chief executive Elon Musk joined his employees.

The Dragon reaches the space station Sunday. The capsule last visited the 250-mile-high outpost in 2015. This time, the capsule is hauling nearly 5,000 pounds of goods, including 40 mice for a muscle-wasting study, a first-of-its-kind impact sensor for measuring space debris as minuscule as a grain of sand and barley seeds for a germination experiment by Budweiser, already angling to serve the first beer on Mars.

Also onboard were several hundred Star Wars mission patches created by a partnership between Lucasfilm and the Center for the Advancement of Science in Space (the non-profit organization managing the ISS National Lab). Space.com reports that Elon Musk named the Falcon X after the original Millennium Falcon in Star Wars.
Cellphones

Don't Keep Cellphones Next To Your Body, California Health Department Warns (techcrunch.com) 337

The California Department of Public Health (CDPH) issued a warning against the hazards of cellphone radiation this week. They are asking people to decrease their use of these devices and suggest keeping your distance when possible. TechCrunch reports: The warning comes after findings were offered up this week from a 2009 department document, which was published after an order from the Sacramento Superior Court. A year ago, UC Berkeley professor Joel Moskowitz initiated a lawsuit to get the department to release the findings after he started looking into whether mobile phone use increased the risk of tumors. A draft of the document was released in March, but the final release is more extensive.

According to the Federal Communication Commission's website, there is no national standard developed for safety limits. However, the agency requires cell phone manufacturers to ensure all phones comply with "objective limits for safe exposure." The CDPH recommends not keeping your phone in your pocket, not putting it up to your ear for a prolonged amount of time, keeping use low if there are two bars or less, not sleeping near it at night and to be aware that if you are in a fast-moving car, bus or train, your phone will emit more RF energy to maintain the connection.

Science

The Science That's Never Been Cited (nature.com) 90

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Nature: One widely repeated estimate, reported in a controversial article in Science in 1990, suggests that more than half of all academic articles remain uncited five years after their publication. Scientists genuinely fret about this issue, says Jevin West, an information scientist at the University of Washington in Seattle who studies large-scale patterns in research literature. After all, citations are widely recognized as a standard measure of academic influence: a marker that work not only has been read, but also has proved useful to later studies. Researchers worry that high rates of uncitedness point to a heap of useless or irrelevant research. In reality, uncited research isn't always useless. What's more, there isn't really that much of it, says Vincent Lariviere, an information scientist at the University of Montreal in Canada.

To get a better handle on this dark and forgotten corner of published research, Nature dug into the figures to find out how many papers actually do go uncited (explore the full data set and methods). It is impossible to know for sure, because citation databases are incomplete. But it's clear that, at least for the core group of 12,000 or so journals in the Web of Science -- a large database owned by Clarivate Analytics in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania -- zero-citation papers are much less prevalent than is widely believed. Web of Science records suggest that fewer than 10% of scientific articles are likely to remain uncited. But the true figure is probably even lower, because large numbers of papers that the database records as uncited have actually been cited somewhere by someone.
"The new figures [...] suggest that in most disciplines, the proportion of papers attracting zero citations levels off between five and ten year after publication, although the proportion is different in each discipline," the report adds. "Of all biomedical-sciences papers published in 2006, just 4% are uncited today; in chemistry, that number is 8% and in physics, it is closer to 11%. In engineering and technology, the uncitedness rate of the 2006 cohort of Web of Science-indexed papers is 24%, much higher than in the natural sciences."
Medicine

Contact Lens Startup Hubble Sold Lenses With a Fake Prescription From a Made-up Doctor (qz.com) 320

Alison Griswold, reporting for Quartz: The Hubble contacts sitting in front of me are everything the ads promised: two weeks' worth of soft, daily lenses in robin's-egg-blue packaging. They arrived promptly, one week after I placed an order on Hubble's website, and three days after the company notified me the contacts had shipped. The lenses were packed in cream-colored boxes and came with a five-step guide, illustrated in different shades of pastel. There's only one problem: I don't wear contacts, and I ordered these using a fake prescription from a made-up doctor. Hubble was founded in May 2016 as a direct-to-consumer contact lens brand -- the Warby Parker of contacts, if you will. The company aims to make buying contact lenses as cheap and easy as shopping on Amazon. It has fast become a star of New York's startup scene, raising more than $30 million from investors that include Founders Fund and Greycroft Partners. Its valuation tops $200 million. Since the service officially launched in November 2016, Hubble claims to have sold $20 million worth of lens subscriptions, and says it's growing 20% month over month. Hubble expanded to Canada in August and plans to be in the UK as early as January. Quick service, cheap contacts, and whimsical branding have made Hubble a speedy success. But in its rush to disrupt the consumer experience, Hubble also appears to be playing fast and loose with some basic consumer protections.
Space

Astronomers Have Come Up With a Better Way To Weigh Millions of Solitary Stars (vanderbilt.edu) 43

Science_afficionado writes: By measuring the flicker pattern of light from distant stars, astronomers have developed a new and improved method for measuring the masses of millions of solitary stars, especially those hosting exoplanets. Stevenson Professor of Physics and Astronomy Keivan Stassun says, "First, we use the total light from the star and its parallax to infer its diameter. Next, we analyze the way in which the light from the star flickers, which provides us with a measure of its surface gravity. Then we combine the two to get the star's total mass." Stassun and his colleagues describe the method and demonstrate its accuracy using 675 stars of known mass in an article titled "Empirical, accurate masses and radii of single stars with TESS and GAIA" accepted for publication in the Astronomical Journal.

David Salisbury via Vanderbilt University explains the other methods of determining the mass of distant stars, and why they aren't always the most accurate: "Traditionally, the most accurate method for determining the mass of distant stars is to measure the orbits of double star systems, called binaries. Newton's laws of motion allow astronomers to calculate the masses of both stars by measuring their orbits with considerable accuracy. However, fewer than half of the star systems in the galaxy are binaries, and binaries make up only about one-fifth of red dwarf stars that have become prized hunting grounds for exoplanets, so astronomers have come up with a variety of other methods for estimating the masses of solitary stars. The photometric method that classifies stars by color and brightness is the most general, but it isn't very accurate. Asteroseismology, which measures light fluctuations caused by sound pulses that travel through a star's interior, is highly accurate but only works on several thousand of the closest, brightest stars." Stassun says his method "can measure the mass of a large number of stars with an accuracy of 10 to 25 percent," which is "far more accurate than is possible with other available methods, and importantly it can be applied to solitary stars so we aren't limited to binaries."
Medicine

Noninvasive Radiation Therapy Halts Deadly Heart Rhythm (nytimes.com) 28

schwit1 shares a report from The New York Times (Warning: source may be paywalled; alternative source): The patients were gravely ill, their hearts scarred by infections or heart attacks. In each, the electrical system that maintains a regular heartbeat had been short-circuited. They suffered frequent bursts of rapid heartbeats, which can end in sudden death. The condition kills an estimated 325,000 Americans each year, the most common cause of death in this country. And these people had exhausted all conventional treatments. So researchers at Washington University in St. Louis offered the patients something experimental: short bursts of radiation aimed at their hearts in an effort to obliterate the cells that were causing the electrical malfunctions. Results in the first five patients were published on Thursday in the New England Journal of Medicine, and the experiment seems to have worked -- offering hope to similar patients everywhere who have had no alternatives except a heart transplant. The treatment requires weeks to take full effect, so it cannot be used for cardiac patients who need immediate help. And the method must be studied in larger groups of patients over longer times, an effort that has already begun.
Google

NASA, Google Spot Eighth Planet in Solar System Rivaling Ours (cnet.com) 68

An anonymous reader shares a report: Google isn't just good for finding cat videos on the internet. The search giant's machine learning technology is also helping search the universe for planets outside our solar system. NASA on Thursday revealed the discovery of blazing-hot exoplanet Kepler-90i thanks to the use of a Google neural network trained to identify planets from the NASA Kepler space telescope's data. It's the eighth planet discovered in the Kepler-90 system, which ties it with our own solar system for the most known planets around a single star. Kepler-90 is a sun-like star located around 2,545 light-years from us.
Space

Space Is Not a Void (slate.com) 282

An anonymous reader shares an article: When President Kennedy announced the Apollo Program, he famously argued that we should go to the moon because it is hard. Solving the technical challenges of space travel is a kind of civilizational achievement on its own, like resolving an interplanetary Rubik's Cube. The argument worked, perhaps all too well. As soon as we landed on the moon, humanity's expansion into the cosmos slowed and then stopped (not counting robots). If you were to draw a graph charting the farthest distance a human being has ever been from the surface of Earth, the peak was in 1970 with Apollo 13. With the successful moon landings, we solved all of the fundamental challenges involved in launching humans into orbit and bringing them back safely. The people watching those early feats of exploration imagined we would soon be sending astronauts to Mars and beyond, but something has held us back. Not know-how, or even money, but a certain lack of imagination. Getting to space isn't the hard part -- the hard part is figuring out why we're there. Sure, we can celebrate the human spirit and the first person to do this or that, but that kind of achievement never moves beyond the symbolic. It doesn't build industries, establish settlements and scientific research stations, or scale up solutions from expensive one-offs to mass production. Furthermore, as five decades of failing to go farther than our own moon have demonstrated, that kind of symbolism can't even sustain itself, much less energize new activity.
Power

Solar Power and Batteries Are Encroaching On Natural Gas In Energy Production (electrek.co) 177

Socguy writes: The relentless downward march in cost of both solar and battery storage is poised to displace 10GW worth of natural gas peaker plant electricity production in the U.S. by 2027. Already we are seeing the net cost of combined solar and batteries cheaper than the equivalent natural gas peaker plant. Some particularly aggressive estimates from major energy companies predict that we may not see another natural gas peaker plant built in the U.S. after 2020. GE has already responded to the weakness in the gas turbine market by laying off 12,000 workers. Further reading available via Greentech Media.
Science

The Environmental Cost of Internet Porn (theatlantic.com) 299

An anonymous reader shares a report (condensed for space): Online streaming is a win for the environment. Streaming music eliminates all that physical material -- CDs, jewel cases, cellophane, shipping boxes, fuel -- and can reduce carbon-dioxide emissions by 40 percent or more. Scientists who analyze the environmental impact of the internet tout the benefits of this "dematerialization," observing that energy use and carbon-dioxide emissions will drop as media increasingly can be delivered over the internet. But this theory might have a major exception: porn. Since the turn of the century, the pornography industry has experienced two intense hikes in popularity. In the early 2000s, broadband enabled higher download speeds. Then, in 2008, the advent of so-called tube sites allowed users to watch clips for free, like people watch videos on YouTube. Adam Grayson, the chief financial officer of the adult company Evil Angel, calls the latter hike "the great mushroom-cloud porn explosion of 2008." Precise numbers don't exist to quantify specifics, but the impression across the industry is that viewership is way, way up. Pornhub, the world's most popular porn site, provides some of the only accessible data on its yearly web-traffic report. The first Year In Review post in 2013 tabulated that 14.7 billion people visited the site. By 2016, the number of visitors had almost doubled, to 23 billion, and those visitors watched more than 4.59 billion hours of porn. And Pornhub is just one site. Using a formula that Netflix published on its blog in 2015, Nathan Ensmenger, a professor at Indiana University who is writing a book about the environmental history of the computer, calculates that if Pornhub streams video as efficiently as Netflix (0.0013 kWh per streaming hour), it used 5.967 million kWh in 2016. For comparison, that's about the same amount of energy 11,000 light bulbs would use if left on for a year. And operating with Netflix's efficiency would be a best-case scenario for the porn site, Ensmenger believes.
Education

Universities Spend Millions on Accessing Results of Publicly Funded Research (theconversation.com) 76

Mark C. Wilson, a senior lecturer at Department of Computer Science, University of Auckland, writing for The Conversation: University research is generally funded from the public purse. The results, however, are published in peer-reviewed academic journals, many of which charge subscription fees. I had to use freedom of information laws to determine how much universities in New Zealand spend on journal subscriptions to give researchers and students access to the latest research -- and I found they paid almost US$15 million last year to just four publishers. There are additional costs, too. Paywalls on research hold up scientific progress and limit the publicâ(TM)s access to the latest information.
Space

Why Meteoroids Explode Before Hitting the Earth (qz.com) 58

According to a new study from Purdue University, scientists have figured out why meteoroids explode before hitting the Earth. "The research, published in the December issue of the journal Meteoritics & Planetary Science, shows that as meteoroids plunge, the high-pressure air they push against find its way into the objects' pores and cracks, forcing their bodies apart from the inside," reports Quartz. "The result is a kind of detonation that looks like an explosion." From the report: To explain the astrophysics, researchers focused their work on a widely viewed February 2013 meteoroid explosion place over Chelyabinsk, Russia, a city of 1.1 million north of the Kazakhstan border. Researchers ran a computer program that allowed for them to simulate what happened to the meteoroid in the atmosphere. "Our simulations reveal a previously unrecognized process in which the penetration of high-pressure air into the body of the meteoroid greatly enhances the deformation and facilitates the breakup of meteoroids similar to the size of Chelyabinsk," the study states. The researchers added that while the air pressure is effective at breaking apart small meteoroids, larger ones would likely withstand the force as they come to Earth.
Politics

Paris Summit Finds New Money, Tech To Fight Climate Change (apnews.com) 203

An anonymous reader shares an Associated Press report: World leaders, investment funds and energy magnates promised Tuesday to devote new money and technology to slow global warming at a summit in Paris that President Emmanuel Macron hopes will rev up the Paris climate accord that U.S. President Donald Trump has rejected. Trump wasn't invited to the event but his name was everywhere. One by one, top world diplomats, former California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, business leaders like Michael Bloomberg and even former U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry insisted that the world will shift to cleaner fuels and reduce emissions regardless of whether the Trump administration pitches in or not. Central to Tuesday's summit was countering Trump's main argument that the 2015 Paris accord on reducing global emissions would hurt U.S. business. Macron, a 39-year-old former investment banker, argues that the big businesses and successful economies of the future will be making and using renewable energy instead of pumping oil. Macron's office announced a dozen international projects emerging from the summit that will inject hundreds of millions of dollars in efforts to curb climate change. "The United States did not drop out of the Paris agreement. Donald Trump got Donald Trump out of the Paris agreement," Schwarzenegger said. The projects also aim to speed up the end of the combustion engine to reduce the emissions that contribute to global warming. With that aim, World Bank President Jim Yong Kim announced that his agency would stop financing oil and gas projects in two years, except in special circumstances for very poor nations.
Sci-Fi

Ask Slashdot: What Is Your View On UFO Sightings? 384

dryriver writes: UFOs sightings have been reported in the tens of thousands over the last decades. In the past, some have seen flying cigar-shaped craft (blimps?), some flying triangles, some more rounded-looking flying saucers. Often the apparent spacecraft does something improbable like standing completely still in the sky and then shooting off to somewhere at an incredible speed. Some sightings are just lights or light formations flying around or dancing around in the night sky -- which could be military aircraft like helicopters and F16s training at night. There seem to be people who genuinely see stuff that is hard to explain, people who fake UFO sightings, photos and videos for profit to keep the "UFO industry" of websites, radio shows and magazines afloat, and yet others that think a regular airplane flying at night with its lights on is a UFO. What is your view on all this? Are we being visited from outer space? Is it prototype aircraft that look like UFOs to the untrained eye? Was some 190 IQ inventor-prankster having fun with quadcopter drones with colored lights four decades before quadcopters became a thing (hey, tons of people have created fake crop-circles in the past)? Where do all these supposed UFO sightings and reports come from? Did events like the famous "Battle Of Los Angeles" actually happen? And do you find any UFO reports credible at all?
Medicine

Synthetic DNA-Based Drug Is First To Slow Progress of Huntington's Disease (theguardian.com) 35

John.Banister writes: The Guardian reports of early success in the trial of a synthetic DNA based drug, Ionis-HTTRx, at University College London's Huntington's Disease Center. Bionews explains that this gene silencing drug binds to the RNA transcript of the faulty huntingtin gene, triggering its destruction before it can go on to make the huntingtin protein. There's much excited speculation that the same technique could be used for Alzheimer's and Parkinson's disease, once people know which genes to target. "The trial involved 46 men and women with early stage Huntington's disease in the UK, Germany and Canada," reports The Guardian. "The patients were given four spinal injections one month apart and the drug dose was increased at each session; roughly a quarter of participants had a placebo injection. After being given the drug, the concentration of harmful protein in the spinal cord fluid dropped significantly and in proportion with the strength of the dose. This kind of closely matched relationship normally indicates a drug is having a powerful effect."
NASA

President Trump Is Sending NASA Back To The Moon (npr.org) 307

President Trump has formally told NASA to send U.S. astronauts back to the moon. From a report: "The directive I'm signing today will refocus America's space program on human exploration and discovery," he said. Standing at the president's side as he signed "Space Policy Directive 1" on Monday was Apollo 17 astronaut Harrison Schmitt, one of the last two humans to ever walk on the moon, in a mission that took place 45 years ago this week. Since that time, no human has ventured out beyond low-Earth orbit. NASA doesn't even have its own space vehicle, having retired the space shuttles in 2011. Americans currently ride up to the international space station in Russian capsules, though private space taxis are expected to start ferrying them up as soon as next year.
NASA

Google's Machine Learning Is Analyzing Data From NASA's Kepler Space Telescope (nasa.gov) 27

NASA writes: NASA will host a media teleconference at 1 p.m. EST Thursday, Dec. 14, to announce the latest discovery made by its planet-hunting Kepler space telescope. The discovery was made by researchers using machine learning from Google. Machine learning is an approach to artificial intelligence, and demonstrates new ways of analyzing Kepler data... When Kepler launched in March 2009, scientists didn't know how common planets were beyond our solar system. Thanks to Kepler's treasure trove of discoveries, astronomers now believe there may be at least one planet orbiting every star in the sky.
Space.com adds: Kepler spots alien worlds by noticing the tiny brightness dips they cause when they cross the face of their host star from the spacecraft's perspective. Kepler is the most accomplished planet hunter in history. It has found more than 2,500 confirmed alien worlds -- about 70 percent of all known exoplanets -- along with a roughly equal number of "candidates" that await confirmation by follow-up observations or analyses. The vast majority of these discoveries have come via observations that Kepler made during its original mission, which ran from 2009 to 2013. Study of these data sets is ongoing; over the past few years, researchers have used improved analysis techniques to spot many exoplanets in data that Kepler gathered a half-decade ago or more.
Space.com describes Thursday's announcement as an exoplanet discovery. (Earlier they reported on the discovery of "a possibly habitable alien world" about 2.2 times the size of earth orbiting a dwarf star "within the range of distances where liquid water could exist on a world's surface".)

Slashdot reader schwit1 points out that other less-credible sites speculate NASA's announcement will be "a major discovery about life beyond earth."

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