Category Archives: Technology

SCREW THE DAMNED CELLPHONE AND TO HELL WITH SOCIAL MEDIA

Brett | July 5, 2018

Podcast

Podcast #420: What Makes Your Phone So Addictive & How to Take Back Your Life

https://art19.com/shows/e5688437-885d-4fe7-964f-d16ba7b541c5/episodes/f82d0e7a-5917-4ac0-9fa6-c568bcb20e42/embed

If you’re like most people, you’ve got a powerful computer in your back pocket that allows you to listen to this podcast, check the score of your favorite team, and learn the population of Mickey Mantle’s hometown of Commerce, OK (answer: 2,473). Our smartphones are a blessing, but for many people they can also feel like a curse. You feel compelled to check your device all the time, leaving you feeling disengaged from life. 

What is it about modern technology that makes it feel so addictive? My guest todayexplores that topic in his book, Irresistible: The Rise of Addictive Technology and the Business of Keeping Us Hooked. His name is Adam Alter and today on the show, we discuss what makes today‘s technology more compelling than the televisions and super Nintendos of old, whether our itch to check our phones can really be classified as an addiction, what soldiers’ use of heroin during the Vietnam War can tell us about why our attachment to our phones is hard to shake, and how the reward we’re looking for on social media isn’t actually the “likes” themselves. Adam then shares what he thinks is the most effective tactic for taking back control of our tech, and how consumers may be able to influence the direction of its future. 

Show Highlights

  • Why do tech companies design their devices/apps to be addictive?
  • Why Steve Jobs never let his own kids use an iPad
  • Is it possible to truly be addicted to our tech?
  • How much time are most people really spending on their phones? (It’s an astounding number.)
  • The deleterious effects of technology on social skills
  • What makes today’s tech so different from the tech of a couple decades ago?
  • What heroine use in the Vietnam War can tell us about the effects of our environment/context on our behaviors
  • Tactics that companies use to get our attention, including hijacking our goals
  • How casinos have influenced the way tech companies design their products
  • How video game companies “on-ramp” players to get them hooked, and how other tech companies have used that template
  • The ways social media amplifies these addictive components
  • How do you get a hold of a behavior you can’t seem to shake?
  • Will recent bad press actually force companies like Facebook to make any changes?

THE ARTICLES

The Most Interesting Science News Articles of the Week

Each week we uncover the most interesting and informative articles from around the world, here are 10 of the coolest stories in science this week.

Thai divers carry supplies as rescue operations continue for 12 boys and their coach trapped at Tham Luang cave on July 5, 2018.

Thai divers carry supplies as rescue operations continue for 12 boys and their coach trapped at Tham Luang cave on July 5, 2018.

Credit: YE AUNG THU/AFP/Getty Images

A massive operation is underway to rescue 12 boys and their 25-year-old soccer coach who have been trapped for nearly two weeks in the Tham Luang cave system, with rain expected Sunday (July 8).

Whether the team could wait out the monsoon season, remaining holed up in the cave for months, is not clear. [Read more about the risks.]

A male and female lion stand over a lion cub in Eastern Cape, South Africa. This is where a pride of lions slaughtered at least three poachers who entered the Sibuya Game Reserve to hunt rhino horns.
A male and female lion stand over a lion cub in Eastern Cape, South Africa. This is where a pride of lions slaughtered at least three poachers who entered the Sibuya Game Reserve to hunt rhino horns.

Credit: iStock/Getty Images Plus

A pride of hungry lions in a South African reserve just saved the day, at least for a herd of rhinos. The poachers, who had illegally entered that reserve with a gun and axe to kill those rhinos, were not so lucky. [Read more about the event.]

Purple or blue? A new optical illusion study finds that your answer will change based on your expectations.
Purple or blue? A new optical illusion study finds that your answer will change based on your expectations.

Credit: Morjachka/iStock/Getty

A new optical-illusion study in the journal Science asks whether a series colorful dots is purple, blue or proof that humans are doomed to a lifetime of sadness and poor decisions. [Read more about the illusion.]

The meteorite fragments were found off the coast of Washington state.
The meteorite fragments were found off the coast of Washington state.

Credit: Mark Fries/NASA

The first mission designed to hunt a meteorite that crashed into the ocean has now discovered what may be tiny fragments of the meteorite’s crust, researchers say.

The details the scientists had regarding the fall suggested the meteorite was unusually strong, Fries said. This knowledge, in combination with the fact the meteorite landed on a soft seafloor as opposed to dry land, suggested this ocean fall might yield large, relatively intact meteorites for scientists to study. [Read more about the meteorite.]

The Dikika foot is one part of a partial skeleton of a 3.32 million-year-old skeleton of an <i>Australopithecus afarensis</i> child.

The Dikika foot is one part of a partial skeleton of a 3.32 million-year-old skeleton of an Australopithecus afarensis child.

Credit: Zeresenay Alemseged

More than 3 million years ago, our adult human ancestors were walking on two feet and didn’t have the option of a fashionable baby sling to carry their kids around in. Instead, Australopithecus afarensis toddlers had a special grasping toe that helped them hold on to their mothers and escape into the trees, reports a study published today (July 4) in Science Advances. [Read more about the digit.]

A small galaxy called NGC1052-DF2 was previously thought to lack dark matter. A new paper suggests it might have dark matter after all.

A small galaxy called NGC1052-DF2 was previously thought to lack dark matter. A new paper suggests it might have dark matter after all.

Credit: NASA, ESA, and P. van Dokkum (Yale University)

A galaxy that is supposedly devoid of all dark matter might actually be full of it.

Scientists have suggested the existence of this bizarre matter to explain a just-as-bizarre phenomenon: Based on the light astronomers can see with their telescopes, the universe acts like there is much more mass, and therefore much more gravitational force, than Albert Einstein’s theories predict based on what we can see. [Read more about the galaxy.]

Because apparently, it needs to be said: Don't put your fingers anywhere near a nurse shark's teeth.
Because apparently, it needs to be said: Don’t put your fingers anywhere near a nurse shark’s teeth.

Credit: Luca Oddone/Wikimedia Commons/CC BY-SA 3.0

A woman who tried to hand-feed a shark is lucky she still has a hand. Yes, it bit her. IT’S A SHARK. [Read more about the dangers.]

Members of the People's Liberation Army perform drills during a demonstration on June 30, 2018, in Hong Kong. China's military may soon have laser guns in its arsenal.
Members of the People’s Liberation Army perform drills during a demonstration on June 30, 2018, in Hong Kong. China’s military may soon have laser guns in its arsenal.

Credit: Anthony Kwan/Getty, file

The laser blasters in “Star Wars” are no longer a thing of science fiction. Chinese researchers have developed an actual laser gun that can ignite a target on fire from a half mile (800 meters) away, the South China Morning Post reported.

Although the gun is classified as a nonlethal weapon, its laser shots can cause “‘instant carbonization’ of human skin and tissues,” according to the South China Morning Post, which means skin would burn and be reduced to carbon like the outside of a charred marshmallow. It can also fire through windows, burn through gas tanks and ignite anything that’s flammable. [Read more about the gun.]

Coffee lovers may not have to feel that familiar pang of guilt when pouring themselves yet another cup of joe for the day.

In the study, published July 2 in the journal JAMA Internal Medicine, Loftfield and her team at the NCI analyzed data from nearly 500,000 people who took part in the U.K. Biobank study. That project gathered health information from more than 9 million people. [Read more about the possibilities.]

An artist's depiction of Cassini flying over Enceladus and collecting samples of the enormous plumes erupting from the surface.
An artist’s depiction of Cassini flying over Enceladus and collecting samples of the enormous plumes erupting from the surface.

Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Large, carbon-rich organic molecules seem to be spewing from cracks on the surface of Saturn’s icy moon, Enceladus, according to a new study of data collected by NASA’s Cassini spacecraft. The discovery means that Enceladus is the only place besides Earth known to satisfy all the requirements for life as we know it, space scientist and study co-author Christopher Glein said in a statement from the Southwest Research Institute (SwRI) in San Antonio. [Read more about life in space.]

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Author Bio


Live Science Staff

Live Science Staff,
For the science geek in everyone, Live Science offers a fascinating window into the natural and technological world, delivering comprehensive and compelling news and analysis on everything from dinosaur discoveries, archaeological finds and amazing animals to health, innovation and wearable technology. We aim to empower and inspire our readers with the tools needed to understand the world and appreciate its everyday awe.

ANIMATED MOCK-UP

TRAPPISM

 

TRAPPIST IN SPACE

Astronomers discover 7 Earth-sized planets orbiting nearby star

Story highlights

  • Seven Earth-sized planets have been found orbiting an ultracool dwarf star 40 light-years away
  • The planets are temperate, meaning they could have liquid water
  • The researchers believe this is the best place outside of our solar system to look for life

(CNN)Astronomers have found at least seven Earth-sized planets orbiting the same star 40 light-years away, according to a study published Wednesday in the journal Nature. The findings were also announced at a news conference at NASA Headquarters in Washington.

This discovery outside of our solar system is rare because the planets have the winning combination of being similar in size to Earth and being all temperate, meaning they could have water on their surfaces and potentially support life.
“This is the first time that so many planets of this kind are found around the same star,” said Michaël Gillon, lead study author and astronomer at the University of Liège in Belgium.
The seven exoplanets were all found in tight formation around an ultracool dwarf star called TRAPPIST-1. Estimates of their mass also indicate that they are rocky planets, rather than being gaseous like Jupiter. Three planets are in the habitable zone of the star, known as TRAPPIST-1e, f and g, and may even have oceans on the surface.
The TRAPPIST-1 star, an ultracool dwarf, has seven Earth-size planets orbiting it.

The researchers believe that TRAPPIST-1f in particular is the best candidate for supporting life. It’s a bit cooler than Earth, but could be suitable with the right atmosphere and enough greenhouse gases.
If TRAPPIST-1 sounds familiar, that’s because these researchers announced the discovery of three initial planets orbiting the same star in May. The new research increased that number to seven planets total.
“I think we’ve made a crucial step towards finding if there is life out there,” said Amaury Triaud, one of the study authors and an astronomer at the University of Cambridge. “I don’t think any time before we had the right planets to discover and find out if there was (life). Here, if life managed to thrive and releases gases similar to what we have on Earth, we will know.”
Life may begin and evolve differently on other planets, so finding the gases that indicate life is key, the researchers added.
“This discovery could be a significant piece in the puzzle of finding habitable environments, places that are conducive to life,” said Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator of NASA’s Science Mission Directorate. “Answering the question ‘are we alone?’ is a top science priority, and finding so many planets like these for the first time in the habitable zone is a remarkable step forward toward that goal.”
And as we’ve learned from studying and discovering exoplanets before, where there is one, there are more, said Sara Seager, professor of planetary science and physics at Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Seager and other researchers are encouraged by the discovery of this system because it improves our chances of finding another habitable planet, like Earth, in the future, by knowing where to look.

What we know

The planets are so close to each other and the star that there are seven of them within a space five times smaller than the distance from Mercury to our sun. This proximity allows the researchers to study the planets in depth as well, gaining insight about planetary systems other than our own.
The seven planets of TRAPPIST-1 compared with Mercury, Venus, Earth and Mars.

Starting closest to the star and moving out, the planets have respective orbits from one and a half to nearly 13 Earth days. The orbit of the farthest planet is still unknown.
Standing on the surface of one of the planets, you would receive 200 times less light than you get from the sun, but you would still receive just as much energy to keep you warm since the star is so close. It would also afford some picturesque views, as the other planets would appear in the sky as big as the moon (or even twice as big).
On TRAPPIST-1f, the star would appear three times as big as the sun in our sky. And because of the red nature of the star, the light would be a salmon hue, the researchers speculate.
The researchers believe the planets formed together further from the star. Then, they moved into their current lineup. This is incredibly similar Jupiter and its Galilean moons.
Like the moon, the researchers believe the planets closest to the star are tidally locked. This means that the planets always face one way to the star. One side of the planet is perpetually night, while the other is always day.
What the TRAPPIST-1 planetary system may look like.

Based on preliminary climate modeling, the researchers believe that the three planets closest to the star may be too warm to support liquid water, while the outermost planet, TRAPPIST-1h, is probably too distant and cold to support water on the surface. But further observation is needed to know for sure.

How the discovery was made

TRAPPIST-1 barely classifies as a star at half the temperature and a tenth the mass of the sun. It is red, dim and just a bit larger than Jupiter. But these tiny ultracool dwarf stars are common in our galaxy.
They were largely overlooked until Gillon decided to study the space around one of these dwarfs.
The researchers used a telescope called TRAPPIST (TRAnsiting Planets and PlanetesImals Small Telescope) to observe its starlight and changes in brightness. The team saw shadows, like little eclipses, periodically interrupting the steady pattern of starlight. This is called transiting. The shadows indicated planets, and further observation confirmed them.
In July, the team was able to determine that two of the closest planets to the stars had atmospheres that were more compact and comparable to those of Earth, Venus and Mars by observing starlight through the planets’ atmosphere.
By using a global network ground-based telescopes like TRAPPIST and space-based telescopes like Spitzer, the researchers continued looking toward the TRAPPIST system and were able to determine the orbital periods, distances from their star, radius and and masses of the planets.

What’s next

Over the next decade, the researchers want to define the atmosphere of each planet, as well as to determine whether they truly do have liquid water on the surface and search for signs of life.
Although 40 light-years away doesn’t sound too far, it would take us millions of years to reach this star system. But from a research perspective, it’s a close opportunity and the best target to search for life beyond our solar system.
“If we learn something now, it can determine if we looked in the right place,” Gillon said.
In 2018, the James Webb Space Telescope will launch and be positioned 1 million miles from Earth with an unprecedented view of the universe. It can observe large exoplanets and detect starlight filtered through their atmosphere.
The researchers are also searching for similar star systems to conduct more atmospheric research. Four telescopes named SPECULOOS (Search for habitable Planets EClipsing ULtra-cOOl Stars) based in Chile will survey the southern sky for this purpose.
This star system will probably outlive us because this type of star evolves so slowly. When our sun dies, TRAPPIST-1 will still be a young star and will live for another trillion years, Gillon said. After we are gone, if there is another part of the universe for life to carry on, it may be in the TRAPPIST-1 system.
“This is the most exciting result I have seen in the 14 years of Spitzer operations,” said Sean Carey, manager of NASA’s Spitzer Science Center at Caltech/IPAC in Pasadena, California. “Spitzer will follow up in the fall to further refine our understanding of these planets so that the James Webb Space Telescope can follow up. More observations of the system are sure to reveal more secrets.”

DEPENDS ON YOUR PRECISE DEFINITIONS

This is not really a new suspicion or discovery, more like a confirmation of suspicions and prior tracking.
 
Nevertheless my wife and I were watching a NASA video today and she asked me something about how far out a probe had went and I told her, in giving my answer, that I suspected our own solar system was much larger than we thought, and that it some ways may even extend to the edge of or even encompass the closest next solar system. That therefore, despite current thinking, that in some ways our solar system may very well share elements with, let’s say, Proxima Centauri. That is to say that we may be or even share stellar matter with Proxima Centauri or even be part of a Solar Cluster including our own and the Centauri systems. Therefore the probe was not really likely to leave our real solar system any time soon.
 
It depends very much on what we have in common (materially, energetically, and gravitationally) with neighboring solar systems, what we share, and precisely how you define a “Solar System.” In addition to how sensitive we are in being able to detect possible connections, correlations, and shared associations.
 
But in any case I’ve always suspected, even as a child, and going back to my earliest studies of astrophysics that our solar system was much larger than thought and that it contained other matter and energy systems than those which we can currently detect.
 
That’s was before I saw this which only further confirms these suspicions that I have had for many, many years now.

Exciting news everyone, a potential new dwarf planet has just been discovered in the Kuiper Belt at the edge of the Solar System. Called 2014 UZ224, it’s located beyond the orbit of Pluto, and may be one of a hundred such objects still undiscovered.

This particular object is thought to be about 530 kilometers (330 miles) across, compared to 2,374 kilometers (1,475 miles) for Pluto, one of the other five confirmed dwarf planets at the moment. The others are Ceres, Eris, Makemake, and Haumea. Another candidate, 2015 RR245, was announced earlier this year.

It was found by a team led by David Gerdes from the University of Michigan, as part of a larger map of galaxies called the Dark Energy Survey (DES). Using specialized computer software, they found the moving object about 13.7 billion kilometers (8.5 billion miles) from the Sun, about twice as far as Pluto. It completes an orbit in about 1,100 years.

According to NPR, it has taken two years to confirm the existence of 2014 UZ224. It is thought to be the third most distant known object in the Solar System.

We don’t know much else about the dwarf planet at the moment, aside from its size and orbital characteristics. But the discovery hints at even more objects in the outer Solar System, most notably Planet Nine, a world thought to be 10 times as massive as Earth. The search for this world continues.

The existence of 2014 UZ224 has been officially verified by the International Astronomical Union (IAU), but like 2015 RR245 before it, it’s not clear if it will be given official dwarf planet status yet. That will depend on a number of factors, including whether it is spherical. If so, though, it would be the smallest dwarf planet found so far.

Dwarf planet or not, our Solar System just got a little bit busier.

TO BOLDLY FORM…

MIGHT I MAKE A SUGGESTION?

MIGHT I MAKE A SUGGESTION?

First thing I noticed this morning upon waking… asked the wife if she understood what this meant? Not sure she did. Not sure many do. Or will. Not at first anyway.

The irony is that I’ve been following events surrounding the Dallas PD for a few weeks now including the supposed mass resignations. A couple of articles said over money, but a few hinted at other things, like failure to issue equipment because of an emphasis on community policing. (Which I’m not against, it’s just some beats are far more dangerous than others and trying to patrol all beats in the same way is ridiculous.)

Now assuming the reports I’ve read are true and some of the resignations are because of an insistence up top that all beats be equipped and patrolled as if they are all waterfront garden districts and certain equipment and tactics were discouraged, then you use a robot to explode a perp (which again I’m not against as a last ditch resort to save lives), then the precedent here could at least conceivably lead down some very dark corridors.

You discourage vest and body armor and possibly trigger mass resignations but then employ robots not to just shoot and overwhelm a suspect but to explode them?

If you can’t see the irony…

But I’d like to make a suggestion in this arena iffin I may. If you’re gonna go down this road then at least properly prepare. Develop police combat robots which can gas, stun, immobilize, track, overwhelm, immobilize, incapacitate, and apprehend suspects rather than just merely shoot and blow them up. Sure, I’m not a great fan of robots replacing people in such situations but at least be ready with real Policing Bots and not just shoot and kill bots.

Because in cases where ya got a guy dead to rights, and he’s already shooting or blowing up the joint, that’s one thing. But in cases involving other suspects who you don’t really know their real disposition just blowing em up will lead to very bad things.

Or worse lead to a third world, Robocop, mere liberal Utopian big-government, big-brother democracy of the best equipped rather than to a thriving Republic of Free Men.

Assuming we have a Republic anymore, which ain’t likely…

 

POLICE USED BOMB DISPOSAL ROBOT TO KILL A DALLAS SHOOTING SUSPECT
POTENTIALLY THE FIRST USE OF A ROBOT TO KILL IN AMERICAN POLICING

By Dave Gershgorn Posted 3 hours ago

Bomb Squad Robot Drives Up Ramp
J.p. Lawrence, via DVIDS
Bomb Squad Robot Drives Up Ramp

A bomb disposal robot drives up a ramp piloted  by New York Army National Guard Staff Sgt. Adam Russ of the New York Army National Guard's 501st Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) Battalion, during training at the New York State Preparedness Training Center in Oriskany New York, May 18.  New York Army National Guardsmen trained for a week alongside domestic and international EOD military and law enforcement personnel during an exercise called Raven's Challenge , May 16-20, sponsored by the New York State Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Services. (U.S. Army National Guard Photo by Sgt. J.p. Lawrence/Released).
A bomb disposal robot drives up a ramp piloted by New York Army National Guard Staff Sgt. Adam Russ of the New York Army National Guard’s 501st Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) Battalion, during training at the New York State Preparedness Training Center in Oriskany New York, May 18. New York Army National Guardsmen trained for a week alongside domestic and international EOD military and law enforcement personnel during an exercise called Raven’s Challenge , May 16-20, sponsored by the New York State Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Services. (U.S. Army National Guard Photo by Sgt. J.p. Lawrence/Released).

From New York National Guard: “A bomb disposal robot drives up a ramp piloted by New York Army National Guard Staff Sgt. Adam Russ of the New York Army National Guard’s 501st Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) Battalion, during training at the New York State Preparedness Training Center in Oriskany New York, May 18”
In the wake of post-protest shootings that left five police officers dead and seven others wounded, along with two civilians, police traded gunfire last night with a suspect inside a downtown Dallas parking garage. Eventually, law enforcement sent a “bomb robot” (most likely shorthand for a remotely controlled bomb disposal robot) armed with an explosive, to the suspect’s location, then detonated the explosive, killing the suspect.

“We saw no other option but to use our bomb robot and place a device on its extension for it to detonate where the suspect was…other options would have exposed our officers to great danger,” said Dallas Police Chief David O. Brown. “The suspect is deceased as a result of detonating the bomb.”

Repurposing a robot that was created to prevent death by explosion clearly contrasts with the way these machines are normally used. Bomb disposal robots are routinely used to minimize the potential of harm to officers and civilians when disarming or clearing potential explosives from an area. They are often equipped with their own explosive charges and other tools, not to kill, but detonate other potential bombs in the area.

Dallas police used a bomb disposal robot in another major news story last year, when the Dallas Police headquarters were attacked by a gunman who planted explosives. That assailant was shot by police, not killed by the bomb robot.

Records show that the Dallas County Sheriff Department and neighboring Duncanville Police Department each own a MARCbot, another commonly-used bomb disposal robot.

However, in previous images seen of the Dallas Police department using bomb disposal robots, they appear to actually use a Northrop Grumman Remotec Andros F6A or F6B, a standard model for police and military use. It’s highly customizable, and can look very different depending on which configuration of arm and sensors are configured. The closest known Andros resides in Comal County, Texas, 250 miles away.

The police’s use of this machine to kill raises questions about how robots will be used in the future. This may be the first example of a robot being used by American police to kill a suspect, notes University of California Davis law professor Elizabeth Joh:

Popular Science contributing editor Peter W. Singer tweets that similar tactics have been used before, although in a military situation, when a surveillance robot was used to kill an insurgent with a Claymore explosive.

It’s unclear how police controlled the robot, but wireless protocols can be easily intercepted or altered by skilled hackers. Security researcher Matt Blaze points out that the security of a machine like this becomes more important once it’s shown the capacity to be used as a weapon.

In other images found of Dallas a bomb disposal robot in action, the robot appears to be controlled wirelessly. The Andros robot can be operated wirelessly or with a wired tether, according to the Northrop Grumman website, but it’s unclear which mode Dallas Police used in this incident.
Updated: This post has been updated to reflect new information concerning the potential bomb disposal robot used.

NO MAS – ACCULTURATION

God, that’s pathetic. That’s why I’ll hardly touch the damned things…

http://qz.com/523746

iSIGHT – INTELLIGENT AIMS

Intelligence Start-Up Goes Behind Enemy Lines to Get Ahead of Hackers

By NICOLE PERLROTHSEPT. 13, 2015

One of scores of intelligence analysts working at his computer at the headquarters of the security firm iSight in Chantilly, Va. Credit Gabriella Demczuk for The New York Times

CHANTILLY, Va. — On a recent Wednesday morning, 100 intelligence analysts crammed into a nondescript conference room here and dialed into a group call with 100 counterparts in Argentina, Brazil, Cyprus, India, the Netherlands, Romania, Spain, Taiwan and Ukraine.

As they worked their way around the room, the analysts briefed one another on the latest developments in the “dark web.”

A security firm in Pakistan was doing a little moonlighting, selling its espionage tools for as little as $500. Several American utility companies were under attack. A group of criminals were up to old tricks, infecting victims with a new form of “ransomware,” which encrypts PCs until victims pay a ransom.

The analysts, employees of iSight Partners, a company that provides intelligence about threats to computer security in much the same way military scouts provide intelligence about enemy troops, were careful not to name names or clients, in case someone, somewhere, was listening on the open line.
John Watters, iSight’s chief, evokes military jargon to talk about his company’s focus. Credit Brandon Thibodeaux for The New York Times

For the last eight years, iSight has been quietly assembling what may be the largest private team of experts in a nascent business called threat intelligence. Of the company’s 311 employees, 243 are so-called cyberintelligence professionals, a statistic that executives there say would rank iSight, if it were a government-run cyberintelligence agency, among the 10 largest in the world, though that statistic is impossible to verify given the secretive nature of these operations.

ISight analysts spend their days digging around the underground web, piecing together hackers’ intentions, targets and techniques to provide their clients with information like warnings of imminent attacks and the latest tools and techniques being used to break into computer networks.

The company’s focus is what John P. Watters, iSight’s chief executive, calls “left of boom,” which is military jargon for the moment before an explosive device detonates. Mr. Watters, a tall, 51-year-old Texan whose standard uniform consists of Hawaiian shirts and custom cowboy boots, frequently invokes war analogies when talking about online threats.

“When we went into Iraq, the biggest loss of life wasn’t from snipers,” he said. It was from concealed explosive devices. “We didn’t get ahead of the threat until we started asking ourselves, ‘Who’s making the bombs? How are they getting their materials? How are they detonating them? And how do we get into that cycle before the bombs are ever placed there?’”

“Our business,” Mr. Watters continued, “is tracking the arms merchants and bomb makers so we can be left of boom and avoid the impact altogether.”

ISight’s investors, who have put $60 million into the company so far, believe that its services fill a critical gap in the battle to get ahead of threats. Most security companies, like FireEye, Symantec, Palo Alto Networks and Intel’s security unit, focus on blocking or detecting intrusions as they occur or responding to attacks after the fact.

ISight goes straight to the enemy. Its analysts — many of them fluent in Russian, Mandarin, Portuguese or 21 other languages — infiltrate the underground, where they watch criminals putting their schemes together and selling their tools.

The analysts’ reports help clients — including 280 government agencies, as well as banks and credit-card, health care, retail and oil and gas companies — prioritize the most imminent and possibly destructive threats.

Security experts say the need for such intelligence has never been greater. For the last three years, businesses have been investing in “big data” analytic tools that sound alarms anytime someone does something unusual, like gain access to a server in China, set up a private connection or siphon unusually large amounts of data from a corporate network.

The result is near constant and confusing noise. “Except for the most mature organizations, most businesses are drowning in alerts,” said Jason Clark, the chief security officer at Optiv, a security firm.

The average organization receives 16,937 alerts a week. Only 19 percent of them are deemed “reliable,” and only 4 percent are investigated, according to a study released in January by the Ponemon Institute, which tracks data breaches. By the time criminals make enough noise to merit a full investigation, it can take financial services companies more than three months, on average, to discover them, and retailers more than six months.

“Just generating more alerts is wasting billions of dollars of venture capital,” said David Cowan, an iSight investor and a partner at Bessemer Venture Partners. The last thing an executive in charge of network security needs is more alerts, he said: “They don’t have time. They need human, actionable threat intelligence.”

Mr. Cowan and others point to what happened to Target in 2013, when the retailer ignored an alert that ultimately could have stopped criminals from stealing 40 million customers’ payment details from its network.

A year earlier, iSight warned its clients that criminals were compiling and selling malware that was specifically designed to scrape payment data off cash registers. Had Target received that warning, the blip on its network might not have gone unnoticed.

“Target faced the same problem every retailer does every day,” Mr. Watters said. “They are awash in a sea of critical alerts every day. Without threat intelligence, they had roulette odds of picking the right one.”

Gartner, the research firm, estimates that the market for threat intelligence like iSight’s could grow to $1 billion in two years from $255 million in 2013. Gartner predicts that by 2018, 60 percent of businesses will incorporate threat intelligence into their defensive security strategy.

ISight, which plans to file for an initial public offering of stock next year, hopes to capitalize, as do the dozens of other cyberthreat intelligence outfits now flooding the market, each with a slightly different approach.

That proliferation of start-ups has led to a new complaint from computer security chiefs: overlapping information — sometimes as much as 40 percent — in the reports they receive, none of which is cheap. ISight charges customers based on size, and while it does not disclose pricing, some customers say they pay $500,000 or more annually for the company’s services, as much as five times what low-end services charge.

ISight makes 90 percent of its revenue from subscriptions to its six intelligence streams, each focused on a particular threat, including cyberespionage and cybercrime.

The company’s most recent competition comes from its oldest clients, particularly banks, which have been hiring former intelligence analysts to start internal operations. One former client, which declined to be named because of concerns that doing so could violate a nondisclosure agreement, said it had been able to build its own intelligence program at half the cost of its canceled iSight subscriptions.

But most businesses do not have the same resources as, say, a company like Bank of America, whose chief executive recently said there was no cap on the bank’s cybersecurity budget.

Many of those businesses remain paralyzed by the drumbeat of alarms that expensive security technologies are sounding on their networks.

At iSight’s threat center, the company’s approach is perhaps best summed up by a logo emblazoned on a T-shirt worn by one of its top analysts: “Someone should do something.”

SUCCESS!

Superb! And incredible!

 

VIDEO: SUCCESSFUL TEST FOR SPACEX CREW CAPSULE EMERGENCY ABORT

THE PERFECT ESCAPE FROM AN IMPERFECT LAUNCH

This morning, SpaceX did a test run of its Crew Dragon capsule’s abort system. It’s a significant protocol the company would use if the module were ever in trouble on the launch pad.

In 2017, the Crew Dragon will be tasked with ferrying NASA astronauts to and from the International Space Station, and it’s important these men and women are as safe as possible during their missions. That means SpaceX and NASA will need to be prepared for all sorts of catastrophes that could befall the crew, even if these events are incredibly rare.

One such event could include a botched launch, in which the area around the launch pad becomes dangerous during liftoff (perhaps due to an unintended explosion or errant rocket booster). In this scenario, the Dragon and its astronauts will need to get out of there. Fast. So SpaceX has embedded the walls of its crew module with eight SuperDraco engines, which can rapidly carry the vehicle up and away from the launch pad to safety.

According to SpaceX CEO Elon Musk, who conducted a media teleconference after the test, the capsule went from 0 to 100 miles per hour in 1.2 seconds, reaching a top speed of 345 mph. He noted that if any astronauts had been on board, they would have fared just fine. Now, the next few tests for the Crew Dragon include an in-flight abort test and an unmanned launch to the ISS, with the module ready for its intended astronaut riders in two years.

Check out the company’s first critical test of this exit strategy below, with a dummy astronaut along for the ride.

INDEPENDENCE

There is something somewhat ironic about this (how good a shape the carrier still appears to remain in despite repeated attempts to utterly destroy it), but if you ask me, not very…

Our ancestors built extremely well and with great purpose.

We could still learn much from them.

(For slideshow and video see original article link in title.)

Aircraft carrier that survived atomic blasts lies at bottom of Pacific

By Brad Lendon, CNN

Updated 2:15 PM ET, Fri April 17, 2015
Story highlights

USS Independence was sunk in 1951 after weapons tests
Carrier was close-in guinea pig to two atomic bomb tests
Agency: Ship looks remarkably intact 2,600 feet below surface of the Pacific Ocean

(CNN)A former U.S. Navy aircraft carrier that survived a Japanese torpedo strike and was a massive guinea pig for two atomic bomb blasts looks remarkably intact at the bottom of the Pacific, according to federal researchers who surveyed the wreck last month with an underwater drone.

The USS Independence was scuttled in January 1951 during weapons testing near California’s Farallon Islands. Although its location was confirmed by a survey in 2009, researchers from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration went looking for it again in March as part of a project to map about 300 wrecks that lie in and around the Gulf of the Farallones National Marine Sanctuary.

“After 64 years on the seafloor, Independence sits on the bottom as if ready to launch its planes,” mission leader James Delgado, the maritime heritage director for NOAA’s Office of National Marine Sanctuaries, said in a statement.

Indeed, sonar images show what looks to be an airplane on one of the elevators that took planes from the Independence’s hangar deck to its flight deck. The ship sits upright with a slight list to starboard, according to NOAA.

NOAA’s survey of the 623-foot-long, 11,000-ton carrier was conducted by the Echo Ranger, an 18.5-foot-long autonomous underwater vehicle provided by the Boeing Co. The Echo Ranger traveled 30 miles from its base in Half Moon Bay, California, and hovered 150 above the carrier, which lies 2,600 feet below the surface of the Pacific Ocean. The drone used a three-dimensional sonar system provided by Coda Octopus to get images that showed how well the warship has weathered 64 years in the deep.

“This ship fought a long, hard war in the Pacific and after the war was subjected to two atomic blasts that ripped through the ship. It is a reminder of the industrial might and skill of the ‘greatest generation’ that sent not only this ship, but their loved ones to war,” Delgado said in the statement.

In its 20 years in the Navy, the ship played a role in some of the most important events of World War II, earning eight battle stars in the process, and the dawn of the nuclear age.

Independence was seriously damaged by Japanese torpedo planes during the Battle of Tarawa in late 1943. The ship returned to California for repairs and made it back across the Pacific by July 1944 to participate in the Battle of the Sibuyan Sea and the sinking of one of the Japanese Imperial Navy’s biggest warships, the battleship Musashi. Later, in the Battle of Cape Engano, planes from the Independence were involved in the sinking of four Japanese aircraft carriers.

After the war, Independence became part of a fleet used to measure the effects of atomic bomb tests at Bikini Atoll in the Pacific on July 1, 1946. It sat just 560 yards from ground zero in the first test, a 23-kiloton air blast of a fission bomb similar to the one used over Nagasaki, Japan, a year earlier, according to the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organization. Twenty-four days later, Independence was 1,390 yards from the center of a second atomic blast — also a 23-kiloton device but an underwater detonation.

The ship was later brought back to California for nuclear decontamination before being sunk during the weapons training in 1951.

NOAA said no signs of radioactive contamination were noted during the survey of the sunken carrier last month.

The agency has no plans for further missions to the ship, according to the NOAA statement.

GO TO HELL? BEEN THERE, DONE THAT…

Aging space probe records odd emanations on Mercury

Aging space probe records odd emanations on Mercury

NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Carnegie Institution of Washington

Aging space probe records odd emanations on Mercury
Rich oversees Science‘s international coverage.

Staff Writer

WASHINGTON, D.C.—In an unusual press conference here today, NASA released a batch of bizarre sound recordings and video from the Messenger spacecraft moments before it impacted the surface of Mercury. Scientists are struggling to decipher what the data mean, but some contend they sound like human voices crying out in agony.

Messenger had been orbiting Mercury since 2011, but it used up nearly all of its propellant and was drifting closer to the surface of the planet. So last week, NASA officials decided to point the probe nose downward for a controlled crash. “We were hoping it would kick up some soot for spectroscopic analysis,” says Messenger Principal Investigator Angra Mainyu, a planetary scientist at Columbia University. Just what it did find instead is not entirely clear.

At the press conference, Mainyu played grainy recordings of what sounded like anguished voices in various languages. And she showed even grainier images of what appeared to be writhing figures. When asked by a reporter how NASA interpreted the data, Mainyu shrugged her shoulders and said, “How the hell should I know?”

Reactions to the news were swift and, in some cases, decisive. Welcoming what he called “ineluctable evidence of hell,” Father Felix Flammis, a spokesperson for the Vatican Observatory in Italy, said: “This wonderful discovery shows that science and religion can work together to discover the truth.” But Richard Dawkins, the famed evolutionary biologist and atheist, rejected the finding. “This is clearly a bunch of drivel,” he says. “Wind whistling past the spacecraft, electronic noise—there obviously has to be some other explanation.” Even if the evidence holds up, he quips, “proof of the devil ain’t the same as proof of God.”

The findings are somewhat of a surprise, because Venus had long been the leading contender, in our solar system at any rate, for harboring Hades. With a mean surface temperature of 462°C, an oppressive atmosphere, and sulfuric acid rains, it certainly seems to fit biblical descriptions. “Plus, it’s much closer to Earth, so lost souls would be only a hop, skip, and a jump from hell,” says Thor Kölski, an astrophysicist at the University of the Valkyrs in Reykjavik. Kölski has pinpointed the likely epicenter of hell as Venus’s Ganiki Chasma, a rift zone where infrared flashes were first observed last year—phenomena that he asserts are new arrivals to the underworld.

Still others think there may be multiple hells within our solar system. “Everything we know about string theory tells us that the ‘Many Hells theory’ isn’t only plausible, it highly likely,” says Franklyn Stein, a theoretical physicist at University College London.

Luminaries in the scientific community are by and large embracing the notion of hell. Even Stephen Hawking is on board. The cosmologist stirred controversy in 2010, when he wrote in his book The Grand Design that “[i]t is not necessary to invoke God to light the blue touch paper and set the universe going.” Earlier today, Hawking tweeted: “The devil is a different story. All hail Messenger!”

The discovery should provide a major shot in the arm to NASA, whose fortunes in Washington have faded since it retired the space shuttles in 2011. “This is a proud day for the space agency,” says Don Tey, a spokesperson for the Planetary Society in Pasadena, California, who insists that it’s merely a coincidence that the announcement was made on April Fools’ Day. “Congress told NASA to go to hell, and, by Jove, they made it.”

Posted in Space

DRONE DOWN?

Syria claims shooting down of US drone over Latakia

A wheel purportedly from a US drone shot down in Syria Syrian state media carried footage of what they said was debris from drone being taken away

The Syrian military says it has shot down a US drone near the city of Latakia, a stronghold of President Bashar al-Assad in north-west Syria.

US officials have said they lost contact with a drone but that it is unclear if it was shot down.

If confirmed it would be the first time Syrian forces have attacked a US aircraft since the start of coalition strikes against Islamic State (IS).

Syria has not been participating in the raids on IS.

The country’s state-run Sana news agency described the unmanned surveillance plane as “hostile”, without giving further details. The Pentagon said it was looking into the incident.

An MQ-1 Predator unmanned aircraft – it is not clear what model has been shot down The Pentagon said they lost contact with an MQ-1 Predator drone over north-west Syria
In a BBC interview last month, President Assad said “general messages” were provided to the Syrians about the coalition strikes via a third party.

A Jordanian jet involved in the coalition strikes crashed in northern Syria last year. IS captured the pilot and later burned him alive.

Chemical attacks

Meanwhile, Syrian activists have accused government forces of using chlorine in an attack in the north-western province of Idlib late on Monday.

Two groups reported that three children were among six people killed when aircraft dropped barrel bombs filled with the toxic chemical on Sarmin.

The Syrian military has denied the claim, describing it as propaganda.

A Syrian man stands next to the remains of a barrel bomb that activists say was dropped on the town of Sarmin on the night of 16 March 2015 A local activist said barrel bombs were dropped on two locations in Sarmin
Chlorine is a common industrial chemical, but its use as a weapon is banned by the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC).

Syria signed the treaty after the nerve agent sarin was used in an August 2013 attack on several suburbs of Damascus that killed hundreds of people. Western powers said only the government could have carried out the attack, but it blamed the rebels.

In January, international investigators concluded that chlorine gas had been used in air raids on three villages that were blamed on the government.

Earlier this month, the UN Security Council approved a resolution that condemned the use of toxic chemicals such as chlorine in Syria, and threatened military action in case of further violations.

A map showing Latakia and Sarmin in Syria
More on This Story
Syria’s war
War in Syria

TITAN’S COLD CURE

Regardless of whether it harbors life on Titan or not such a compound could provide great benefits and numerous applications for our future use, regardless of whether those applications are biological, chemical, or physical.

Also this would make for a great sci-fi story, mundane or hard sci-fi.

 

Ultracold-Resistant Chemical on Titan Could Allow It to Harbor Life

Computer simulations reveal that a compound found on Saturn’s largest moon may be able to form a freeze-resistant, flexible membrane that could encapsulate cells or organelles

This computational finding could have lasting implications for scientists who study Titan’s geochemistry.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/SSI

Astrobiologists and planetary scientists have a fairly good idea of which chemicals might indicate the presence of oxygen-breathing, water-based life—that is if it is like us. When it comes to worlds such as Saturn’s moon Titan, however, where temperatures are too cold for aqueous biochemistry, it’s much harder to know which chemicals could signal the existence of hydrocarbon-based life.

A Cornell University team may have found a plausible candidate chemical that future missions to Titan could search for. The computer-simulation study, which appeared in the February 27 Science Advances [http://advances.sciencemag.org/content/1/1/e1400067], found that acrylonitrile, a hydrocarbon known to form in Titan’s atmosphere, can organize itself into a structure having the same toughness and flexibility characteristic of the membranes that envelop cells on Earth and form the boundaries of organelles like mitochondria and the nucleus.

This computational finding could have lasting implications for scientists who study Titan’s geochemistry. For many planetary scientists, it’s their favorite moon. Like Earth, Titan has a dense atmosphere complete with clouds, mountains, riverbeds and liquid seas on its surface. In fact, Titan would probably be the most promising place, rather than Europa, to look for extraterrestrial life in the solar system if not for its frigidity.

Titan is way too cold for life as we know it. At Titanian surface temperatures (–179 Celsius) phospholipids—the chemical compounds that comprise cell membranes—and the water-based solutions that fill cells would be frozen solid. Any life that evolved on Titan’s surface would have to be made of a very different set of chemicals.

In the team’s computer model acrylonitriles formed hollow balls (called azotosomes) that behave, even in the cold, in much the way hollow balls made of Earthly phospholipids (called liposomes) that form membranes in our cells and organelles. Like liposomes, azotosomes can bend into many different shapes and could act as a barrier between the inside and the outside of the bubbles they form, keeping the ethane–methane mix of Titan’s seas from penetrating the encapsulation. (Because this study is the first of its kind, we don’t know much about which hydrocarbons would be inside the azotosome.)

The degree of similarity between the hypothetical azotosomes and Earth-based liposomes was a surprise to the researchers. “I’m not a biochemist, so I didn’t really know what I was looking for [at first],” says James Stevenson, the chemical engineering grad student who ran the computer simulations. “And when I did the calculations—lo and behold!” The simulated azotosomes at Titanian temperature were just as stretchable as liposomes at Earth temperatures. Because flexibility and the ability to withstand poking and twisting are crucial for evolving complex cellular behavior, azotosomes could potentially be a very useful structure for hypothetical alien life in ethane–methane seas and lakes such as those on Titan.

This study demonstrates that “at least in a computer simulation, one can build structures of a size and geometry [roughly] equivalent to the containers that were on the Earth when life began,” says planetary physicist and study co-author Jonathan Lunine. “You can do it with materials that we know are present on Titan…So we’ve presented potentially one step toward the evolution of life under Titan conditions.”

Chemical engineer and co-author Paulette Clancy compares figuring out how life might form on Titan in the absence of liquid water to “trying to make an omelet without any eggs. It sort of redefines how you think about an omelet,” she says.

Scientists will not know whether the acrylonitrile on Titan’s surface actually forms the azotosome structures, let alone whether those structures are components of life, unless a new we send another probe and investigate the hydrocarbon seas’ chemistry in more detail. “Titan is literally awash with organics—but it’s impossible to disentangle them remotely,” Ralph Lorenz, a NASA scientist who designs and builds planetary exploration probes and who was not involved in this study, wrote in an e-mail. “You need to land, sample the material and use sophisticated chemistry instruments (like those on the Mars rover Curiosity) to see how complex the compounds have become and whether they can execute any of the functions of life.”

Lorenz and others have proposed a few designs for automated submarines or torpedo-shaped probes that could remotely explore Titan’s seas, but those missions are several decades away. Furthermore, even if the space agencies began building a craft for a mission to Titan right away, it would be impossible to get it there before Saturn’s seasonal revolution renders the moon’s northern hemisphere inaccessible for direct-to-Earth communications. The hydrocarbons seas are clustered on Titan’s northern hemisphere, and because that hemisphere will be facing away from the Earth, any missions to Titan during the 2020s will require an orbiter companion that can relay signals back to Earth. Orbiters are expensive, so we probably won’t be able to probe Titan’s hydrocarbon seas until the 2030s.

So for the time being Titanian azotosomes will remain a hypothetical. But on the bright side, when the next mission does reach Titan, it will have a much more precise idea of which chemicals it should try to find.

 

 

YOUR BLACK MOON AT WORK

New supermoon – and Black Moon – on February 18, 2015

 

Tonight for February 18, 2015
Moon Phase Courtesy U.S. Naval Observatory

The new moon comes on February 18, 2015, and then reaches perigee less than one-third day later. It’s the closest new moon of the year, which qualifies it as a new moon supermoon. It’s also a seasonal Black Moon; that is, the third of four new moons in the current season (December solstice to March equinox). The moon reaches lunar perigee – the moon’s closest point to Earth for the month – some 7.6 hours after the moon turns new at 23:47 UTC (6:47 p.m. CDT) on February 18. Don’t expect to see anything special, not even a little crescent like that in the photo above. A full moon supermoon is out all night – brighter than your average full moon. But a new moon supermoon is only out during the daytime hours, hidden in the sun’s glare. Follow the links below to learn more about the supermoon/ Black Moon of February 18, 2015.

Can new moons be supermoons?

Spring tides accompany February 2015’s supermoon.

February 2015 new moon also a seasonal Black Moon

Seasonal Black Moon and monthly Blue Moon in 2015

Monthly Black Moon and seasonal Blue Moon in 2016
View larger. | Youngest possible lunar crescent, with the moon’s age being exactly zero when this photo was taken — at the precise moment of the new moon – at 07:14 UTC on July 8, 2013. Image by Thierry Legault. Visit his website. Used with permission.

View larger. | Youngest possible lunar crescent, with the moon’s age being exactly zero when this photo was taken — at the precise moment of the new moon – at 07:14 UTC on July 8, 2013. Image by Thierry Legault. Visit his website. Used with permission.

Can new moons be supermoons? Yes, the February 18 new moon qualifies as a supermoon, if you accept the definition by Richard Nolle that started the whole supermoon craze a few years ago. Nolle, who is credited for coining the term, defines a supermoon as:

… a new or full moon which occurs with the moon at or near (within 90% of) its closest approach to Earth in a given orbit.

Given that definition, the new moon of February 18, 2015 definitely makes the grade.

Some people dislike the term supermoon, maybe because some supermoons – like the February 18 supermoon – don’t look all that super. But we like the term. We like it better than perigee new moons, which is what we used to call a new moon closest to Earth.

Taking it further, some object to a new moon being called a supermoon because a new moon isn’t visible (unless there’s a solar eclipse).

Nonetheless, the February 2015 new moon enjoys supermoon status, according to Nolle’s definition. We’ve already seen other media talking about it. Hate to say it, y’all, but the term supermoon – which is so simple and clear – will likely outlive the objectors!

By the way, the next supermoon will arrive with the new moon of March 20, 2015. The March new moon will actually pass in front of the sun, to stage a total solar eclipse at far-northern Arctic latitudes. From Greenland, Iceland, Europe, northern Africa and northeastern Asia, varying degrees of a partial eclipse will be visible. In other words, if you’re on the right spot on Earth, the March 20 new moon will be seen in silhouette against the bright solar disk (remember to use eye protection).

Read more: Supermoon causes total eclipse of equinox sun on March 20

Live by the moon with your 2015 EarthSky lunar calendar!
You won’t see today’s new moon at perigee – the

You won’t see today’s new moon at perigee – the “supermoon” – but Earth’s oceans will feel it. Expect higher-than-usual tides in the days following a supermoon.

Spring tides accompany February 2015’s supermoon. Will the tides be larger than usual at the February new moon? Yes, all new moons (and full moons) combine with the sun to create larger-than-usual tides, but perigee new moons (or perigee full moons) elevate the tides even more.

Each month, on the day of the new moon, the Earth, moon and sun are aligned, with the moon in between. This line-up creates wide-ranging tides, known as spring tides. High spring tides climb up especially high, and on the same day low tides plunge especially low.

The February 18 extra-close new moon will accentuate the spring tide, giving rise to what’s called a perigean spring tide. If you live along an ocean coastline, watch for high tides caused by the February 2015 perigean new moon – or supermoon. It’s likely to follow the date of new moon by a day or so.

Will these high tides cause flooding? Probably not, unless a strong weather system accompanies the perigean spring tide. Still, keep an eye on the weather, because storms do have a large potential to accentuate perigean spring tides.

Learn more: Tides and the pull of the moon and sun
Total solar eclipse photo by Ben Cooper/Launch Photography. Visit Launch Photography online.

There’s no such thing as a black-colored moon seen in Earth’s sky, unless you mean the moon’s silhouette in front of the sun during a total solar eclipse. Read more: Supermoon causes total eclipse of equinox sun on March 20 This total solar eclipse photo is by Ben Cooper/Launch Photography.

February 2015 new moon also a seasonal Black Moon Some people may also call this February 2015 new moon a Black Moon. We’d never heard the term Black Moon until about a year ago, but here’s our best understanding of it. Usually, there are only three new moons in one season, the period of time between a solstice and an equinox – or vice versa. However, there are four new moons in between the December 2014 solstice and the March 2015 equinox. Some people call the third of these four new moons a seasonal Black Moon.

December solstice: December 21, 2014

New moon: December 22, 2014
New moon: January 20, 2015
New moon: February 18, 2015
New moon: March 20, 2015 (9:36 Universal Time)

March equinox: March 20, 2015 (22:45 Universal Time)

There is also a monthly definition for Black Moon. It’s the second of two new moons to occur in one calendar month. A Black Moon by this definition last happened on March 30, 2014, and will next happen on October 30, 2016.

Seasonal Black Moon and monthly Blue Moon in 2015 It may be of interest to know that in the year 2015, a seasonal Black Moon (February 18, 2015) and a monthly Blue Moon (July 31, 2015) occur in the same calendar year. A Blue Moon by the monthly definition of the term refers to the second of two full moons in one calendar month.

Monthly Black Moon and seasonal Blue Moon in 2016 And next year, in 2016, we find that a monthly Black Moon (October 30, 2016) and a seasonal Blue Moon (May 22, 2016) happen in the same calendar year. A Blue Moon by the seasonal definition of the term refers to the third of four full moons in one season.

Bottom line: The new moon on February 18, 2015, is both a supermoon and a seasonal Black Moon. Will you see it? No. The moon will be hidden in the sun’s glare throughout the day. However, those along coastlines might expect higher than usual tides in the days following this close new moon.

YEAH BUDDY!

YES!!!

I’ve been advocating for exploring the oceans of other worlds for years. And I’ve written fictional stories about it. Very, very good to see them preparing.

 

In a sneak peek of a possible future mission to Saturn’s moon Titan, NASA has showcased their vision of a robotic submersible that could explore the moon’s vast lakes of liquid methane and ethane.

VIDEO: Can a Moon be Older Than its Planet?

Studying Titan is thought to be looking back in time at an embryonic Earth, only a lot colder. Titan is the only moon in the solar system to have a significant atmosphere and this atmosphere is known to possess its own methane cycle, like Earth’s water cycle. Methane exists in a liquid state, raining down on a landscape laced with hydrocarbons, forming rivers, valleys and seas.

Several seas have been extensively studied by NASA’s Cassini spacecraft during multiple flybys, some of which average a few meters deep, whereas others have depths of over 200 meters (660 feet) — the maximum depth at which Cassini’s radar instrument can penetrate.

So, if scientists are to properly explore Titan, they must find a way to dive into these seas to reveal their secrets.

ANALYSIS: Cassini Watches Clouds Blow Over Titan’s Sea

At this year’s Innovative Advanced Concepts (NIAC) Symposium, a Titan submarine concept was showcased by NASA Glenn’s COMPASS Team and researchers from Applied Research Lab.

Envisaged as a possible mission to Titan’s largest sea, Kracken Mare, the autonomous submersible would be designed to make a 90 day, 2,000 kilometer (1,250 mile) voyage exploring the depths of this vast and very alien marine environment. As it would spend long periods under the methane sea’s surface, it would have to be powered by a radioisotope generator; a source that converts the heat produced by radioactive pellets into electricity, much like missions that are currently exploring space, like Cassini and Mars rover Curiosity.

Communicating with Earth would not be possible when the vehicle is submerged, so it would need to make regular ascents to the surface to transmit science data.

ANALYSIS: Cassini Spies Wind-Rippled Sea on Titan

But Kracken Mare is not a tranquil lake fit for gentle sailing — it is known to have choppy waves and there is evidence of tides, all contributing to the challenge. Many of the engineering challenges have already been encountered when designing terrestrial submarines — robotic and crewed — but as these seas will be extremely cold (estimated to be close to the freezing point of methane, 90 Kelvin or -298 degrees Fahrenheit), a special piston-driven propulsion system will need to be developed and a nitrogen will be needed as ballast, for example.

This study is just that, a study, but the possibility of sending a submersible robot to another world would be as unprecedented as it is awesome.

Although it’s not clear at this early stage what the mission science would focus on, it would be interesting to sample the chemicals at different depths of Kracken Mare.

ANALYSIS: Titan’s ‘Magic Island’ Appeared Mysteriously From the Depths

“Measurement of the trace organic components of the sea, which perhaps may exhibit prebiotic chemical evolution, will be an important objective, and a benthic sampler (a robotic grabber to sample sediment) would acquire and analyze sediment from the seabed,” the authors write (PDF). “These measurements, and seafloor morphology via sidescan sonar, may shed light on the historical cycles of filling and drying of Titan’s seas. Models suggest Titan’s active hydrological cycle may cause the north part of Kraken to be ‘fresher’ (more methane-rich) than the south, and the submarine’s long traverse will explore these composition variations.”

A decade after the European Huygens probe landed on the surface of Titan imaging the moon’s eerily foggy atmosphere, there have been few plans to go back to this tantalizing world. It would be incredible if, in the next few decades, we could send a mission back to Titan to directly sample what is at the bottom of its seas, exploring a region where the molecules for life’s chemistry may be found in abundance.

KICKING THE DOG

Odd that they designed the legs to move opposite those of a real dog (animal). Maybe that is the only way they could make the early designs function/move properly.

Boston Dynamics shows off new robot dog, dooms us all by kicking it

Google-owned Boston Dynamics has been making incredible robots long before it was purchased by Google.

Today it showed off its latest amazing robot, Spot – a smaller, more agile version of its WildCat robot.

Then, a BD team member decided to kick it, therefore dooming us all when robots become sentient.

Seriously, doesn’t this guy know that robots will be able to search YouTube in the future? Maybe the robots will just go after this guy and leave the rest of us robot-loving humans alone.

While I’m concerned about a robot uprising, Spot is incredibly impressive and maybe a little bit terrifying. The 160-pound, electrically-powered and hydraulically-actuated robot can walk and trot, so don’t bother try running away. It can also climb up stairs and walk up and down hills.

A sensor on the robot’s head helps it navigate over rough terrain.

While the thought of an army of these approaching you on the street might keep you awake at night, robots like Spot could be used to enter areas too dangerous for humans to occupy, or bring important supplies to destinations too treacherous for regular robots and too wooded for drones.

Plus, robots are cool. Just don’t go around kicking them.

➤ Introducing Spot [Boston Dynamics]

 

IS HEAVEN PROGRESSIVE?

Is Heaven static (is everything to be done or enjoyed predetermined or fixed by God), or is it progressive (is it open to being added to and improved upon, etc.)?

(I am not speaking of progressive in the political sense of course, but in the sense of actual and real progress.)

For instance as more and more human souls are added to Heaven (and God only knows what other kinds of creatures and beings) does Heaven expand, and does God allow or even encourage those dwelling there to explore, to discover, to conduct scientific experiments, to create, to do art, to invent and design things, and so forth given the parameters under which Heaven operates? (Which I assume will involve different technologies and physics and biological and operating principles, if those are even the proper terms, than in our world.)

I cannot say for certain but it seems to me, and this is something I have long pondered, that if this world, as imperfect as it is, is open to invention and creation (or at least sub-creation) and experimentation and discovery and exploration and expansion and progress then I can only imagine how open to good and noble progress Heaven will and ought to be.

QUANTUM CAT

I guess when the Cheshire Cat grins there really is nothing there… or, maybe, there’s everything all at once.

Scientists tame Schrodinger’s cat for a new type of quantum computer

1 hour ago
Scientists tame Schrӧdinger’s cat for a new type of quantum computer
Postdoctoral Fellow Dr Seb Weidt, PhD students Kim Lake and Joe Randall at work on the experiment creating ‘entanglement’ using microwave radiation.
Physicists at the University of Sussex have tamed one of the most counterintuitive phenomena of modern science in their quest to develop a new generation of machines capable of revolutionizing the way we can solve many problems in modern science.

The strange and mysterious nature of is often illustrated by a thought experiment, known as Schrӧdinger’s Cat, in which a cat is theoretically both dead and alive simultaneously.

According to a new study published this week in Physical Review A, Sussex physicists have now managed to create a special type of “Schrӧdinger’s” cat using new technology based on trapped ions (charged atoms) and radiation.

Like the cat, the researchers made these ions exist in two states simultaneously by creating ‘entanglement’, an effect that challenges the very fabric of reality itself.

Trapped ions are leading the race towards constructing a new type of computer able to solve certain problems with unprecedented speeds by taking its power from a theory called ‘‘.

Traditionally, lasers have been used to drive such quantum processes. But millions of stable beams would have to be carefully aligned in order to be able to work with the very large number of required to encode a useful amount of data.

It would be much easier to build a quantum computer that uses microwave radiation instead of lasers for all quantum operations because, just like in a standard kitchen microwave, the radiation is easily broadcast over a large area using well-developed and inherently stable technology.

The Sussex researchers’ ability to create and fully control a Schrӧdinger’s cat ion using instead of lasers constitutes a significant step towards the realisation of a large scale microwave quantum computer.

Dr Winfried Hensinger, who leads the Sussex team, says: “While constructing a large scale quantum computer is still a significant challenge, this achievement demonstrates that we are moving beyond basic science towards realizing new step-changing technologies that have the potential to change our lives.”

Dr Hensinger’s team, consisting of postdoctoral fellows Dr Seb Weidt and Dr Simon Webster, along with PhD students Kim Lake, Joe Randall and Eamon Standing, worked for over two years to develop this microwave based technology that is capable of significantly simplifying the engineering required to build an actual quantum computer.

Dr Seb Weidt says: “This achievement opens up a whole range of opportunities to realize new quantum technologies.”

Explore further: Physicists create lightning in the race to develop quantum technology microchip

More information: ‘Generation of spin-motion entanglement in a trapped ion using long-wavelength radiation ‘, by K. Lake, S. Weidt, J. Randall, E. D. Standing, S. C. Webster, and W. K. Hensinger, is published  in Physical Review A [Phys. Rev. A 91, 012319 (2015)]. journals.aps.org/pra/abstract/… 3/PhysRevA.91.01

STRIPPING AWAY COMPLEXITY IN DESIGN

Being an inventor myself I completely agree with the concept of “stripping away complexity” in order to produce light, flexible designs for most commercial and market applications.

Of course once  the hoverbike becomes numerous in models and well-received or popular in usage additional complexities will be added back in, covering everything from entertainment, to pilot protections and security, to sensoring capabilities, to GPS navigation systems, to flight control automation and computerization, to running and warning lights, to communications . Just has occurred with cars and motorcycles. But for now, in the developmental and popularization phase, simplicity is the key to superior development.

By the way, back when I was in CAP this was already a Squadron and even a Wing project and I’ve seen several Air Force designs for basically the same kind of craft.

But I like this commercial/private model.

PLANETS X AND Y

“Planet X” might actually exist — and so might “Planet Y.”

At least two planets larger than Earth likely lurk in the dark depths of space far beyond Pluto, just waiting to be discovered, a new analysis of the orbits of “extreme trans-Neptunian objects” (ETNOs) suggests.

Researchers studied 13 ETNOs — frigid bodies such as the dwarf planet Sedna that cruise around the sun at great distances in elliptical paths. [Meet Our Solar System’s Dwarf Planets]

Image: Planet NASA/JPL-Caltech
Two or more unknown planets could exist beyond the orbit of Pluto in our solar system, new research suggests.

Theory predicts a certain set of details for ETNO orbits, study team members said. For example, they should have a semi-major axis, or average distance from the sun, of about 150 astronomical units (AU). (1 AU is the distance from Earth to the sun — roughly 93 million miles, or 150 million kilometers.) These orbits should also have an inclination, relative to the plane of the solar system, of almost 0 degrees, among other characteristics.

But the actual orbits of the 13 ETNOs are quite different, with semi-major axes ranging from 150 to 525 AU and average inclinations of about 20 degrees.Nightly News

“This excess of objects with unexpected orbital parameters makes us believe that some invisible forces are altering the distribution of the orbital elements of the ETNOs, and we consider that the most probable explanation is that other unknown planets exist beyond Neptune and Pluto,” lead author Carlos de la Fuente Marcos, of the Complutense University of Madrid, said in a statement.

“The exact number is uncertain, given that the data that we have is limited, but our calculations suggest that there are at least two planets, and probably more, within the confines of our solar system,” he added.

The potential undiscovered worlds would be more massive than Earth, researchers said, and would lie about 200 AU or more from the sun — so far away that they’d be very difficult, if not impossible, to spot with current instruments.

The new results are detailed in two papers in the journal Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society Letters.

— Mike Wall, Space.com

This is a condensed version of a report from Space.com. Read the full report. Follow Mike Wall on Twitter @michaeldwall and Google+. Follow Space.com @Spacedotcom, Facebook or Google+.

More from Space.com:

GROWING MUSCLES

First contracting human muscle grown in laboratory

21 hours ago by Ken Kingery
First contracting human muscle grown in laboratory
A microscopic view of lab-grown human muscle bundles stained to show patterns made by basic muscle units and their associated proteins (red), which are a hallmark of human muscle. Credit: Nenad Bursac, Duke University
In a laboratory first, Duke researchers have grown human skeletal muscle that contracts and responds just like native tissue to external stimuli such as electrical pulses, biochemical signals and pharmaceuticals.

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The lab-grown tissue should soon allow researchers to test new drugs and study diseases in functioning outside of the .

The study was led by Nenad Bursac, associate professor of biomedical engineering at Duke University, and Lauran Madden, a postdoctoral researcher in Bursac’s laboratory. It appears January 13 in the open-access journal eLife

“The beauty of this work is that it can serve as a test bed for clinical trials in a dish,” said Bursac. “We are working to test drugs’ efficacy and safety without jeopardizing a patient’s health and also to reproduce the functional and of diseases—especially rare ones and those that make taking difficult.”

Bursac and Madden started with a small sample of human cells that had already progressed beyond stem cells but hadn’t yet become . They expanded these “myogenic precursors” by more than a 1000-fold, and then put them into a supportive, 3D scaffolding filled with a nourishing gel that allowed them to form aligned and functioning .

“We have a lot of experience making bioartifical muscles from animal cells in the laboratory, and it still took us a year of adjusting variables like cell and gel density and optimizing the culture matrix and media to make this work with human muscle cells,” said Madden.

 

Madden subjected the new muscle to a barrage of tests to determine how closely it resembled native tissue inside a human body. She found that the muscles robustly contracted in response to electrical stimuli—a first for human muscle grown in a laboratory. She also showed that the signaling pathways allowing nerves to activate the muscle were intact and functional.

To see if the muscle could be used as a proxy for medical tests, Bursac and Madden studied its response to a variety of drugs, including statins used to lower cholesterol and clenbuterol, a drug known to be used off-label as a performance enhancer for athletes.

The effects of the drugs matched those seen in human patients. The statins had a dose-dependent response, causing abnormal fat accumulation at high concentrations. Clenbuterol showed a narrow beneficial window for increased contraction. Both of these effects have been documented in humans. Clenbuterol does not harm muscle tissue in rodents at those doses, showing the lab-grown muscle was giving a truly human response.

“One of our goals is to use this method to provide personalized medicine to patients,” said Bursac. “We can take a biopsy from each patient, grow many new muscles to use as test samples and experiment to see which drugs would work best for each person.”

First contracting human muscle grown in laboratory
Two lab-grown human muscle bundles stretched in a rectangular frame submerged in media. Credit: Nenad Bursac, Duke University

This goal may not be far away; Bursac is already working on a study with clinicians at Duke Medicine—including Dwight Koeberl, associate professor of pediatrics—to try to correlate efficacy of drugs in patients with the effects on lab-grown muscles. Bursac’s group is also trying to grow contracting human muscles using induced pluripotent instead of biopsied cells.

“There are a some diseases, like Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy for example, that make taking biopsies difficult,” said Bursac. “If we could grow working, testable muscles from induced , we could take one skin or blood sample and never have to bother the patient again.”

Other investigators involved in this study include George Truskey, the R. Eugene and Susie E. Goodson Professor of Biomedical Engineering and senior associate dean for research for the Pratt School of Engineering, and William Krauss, professor of , medicine and nursing at Duke University.

The research was supported by NIH Grants R01AR055226 and R01AR065873 from the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Disease and UH2TR000505 from the NIH Common Fund for the Microphysiological Systems Initiative.

Explore further: Self-healing engineered muscle grown in the laboratory

More information: “Bioengineered human myobundles mimic clinical responses of skeletal muscle to drugs,” Lauran Madden, Mark Juhas, William E Kraus, George A Truskey, Nenad Bursac. eLife, Jan. 13, 2015. DOI: 10.7554/eLife.04885

ISS SCARE

Good if it is a faulty sensor or relay.

Gas leak scare triggers International Space Station evacuation

Nasa says there is ‘no hard data’ to suggest a leak, and that the most likely culprit is a ‘faulty sensor or computer relay’

Astronauts onboard the International Space Station (ISS) have been evacuated to the Russian segment of the station after alarms were triggered that can “sometimes be indicative of an apparent ammonia leak.” Although an earlier report from Russia’s Federal Space Agency claimed that there were “harmful emissions,” Nasa has since clarified that “there is no hard data to suggest that there was a real ammonia leak” and that the problem is likely “a faulty sensor or computer relay.”

Nasa reports that onboard crew — comprising two American astronauts, one Italian astronaut, and three Russian cosmonauts — followed normal safety procedures and donned gas masks, moving to the Russian half of the ISS and sealing the American segment behind them. The flight control team in Houston reports that crew members are in “excellent shape” and that all other systems onboard the ISS are functioning perfectly.

Canadian astronaut and former ISS crew member Chris Hadfield tweeted that a leaking coolant system was one of the “big three” emergencies that astronauts train for on the station. “Ammonia is used for cooling through pipes & heat exchangers on the outside of Station,” said Hadfield. “We train for it & the crew and MCC [mission control center] have responded well.” He added that the other big emergencies were “fire/smoke” and “contaminated atmosphere/medical.”

NASA is currently updating the situation and says that the most likely cause at this point in time is “a faulty sensor or computer relay.”

Update January 4th, 8:23AM ET: This article was amended to reflect the latest reports from NASA suggesting that the alarm was falsely triggered.

FIH, GEORGE WASHINGTON CARVER, HOMESCHOOLING, AND AGENT CARTER

There is a show I very much enjoy watching when I can. It’s called Faith in History. Yes, the guy who conducts the show has a very pronounced sort of stumbling delivery when he speaks, but despite that, which often makes it difficult to follow him, I very much like the guy and the show is superb.

Today at lunch my youngest daughter and I sat down to watch the latest recorded episode because it was about George Washington Carver (and lately she had requested that she be allowed to study African history, which I’ll get back to in a moment) and although Carver is as American as peanut butter he was black and he was in my opinion the second greatest native inventor this nation ever produced (shy of Edison), and the very greatest bio-chemist (bar none) and one of the very greatest scientists this nation ever produced.

(Being particularly partial and interested in the biological, chemical, and genetic sciences myself I really like Carver and his work. He was brilliant, and well ahead of his time.)

Plus, I very much agree with his approach to invention, which I’ll recount later, as it is the closest parallel to my own method of invention that I have ever encountered in history.

Anyway it was an extremely good episode on Carver, dwelling upon both his scientific achievements and his personal life and faith.

My daughter seemed to enjoy the episode quite a bit, and as we watched it we would stop the show at various points and discuss science, God, technology, history, invention, writing, politics, and so forth. As is our wont when watching or discussing anything educational.

As for Carver’s methods of discovery, experimentation, inspiration, and invention they closely parallel my own, as he described in numerous letters, and in this speech:

“God is going to reveal to us things He never revealed before if we put our hands in His. No books ever go into my laboratory. The thing I am to do and the way of doing it are revealed to me. I never have to grope for methods. The method is revealed to me the moment I am inspired to create something new. Without God to draw aside the curtain I would be helpless.

Locking the door to his laboratory, Dr. Carver confided:

Only alone can I draw close enough to God to discover His secrets.”

The closest other two parallels I can name are found in the methods of Newton and Archimedes, both of whom I also seek to emulate when it comes to scientific discovery and invention. Archimedes in particular, and perhaps one day soon I will discuss the Agapoloid techniques I employ, which are derived to a large extent from Archimedes’ internal and mental mathematical and geometric laboratory.

After that and as we were cleaning up from lunch my daughter asked me if she could begin two independent courses of study.

My oldest child began her independent courses of study (that is to say she would choose two out of six curriculum areas to study in a self-directed fashion) at the age of 17 but my youngest wants to start now, at age 15.

Knowing now what I do about how advanced my children are and having loosened up a good deal over time with my second child I agreed and asked her to make me a list of what she most wanted to study.

Independent Areas of study are, of course, courses of study she chooses for herself, based upon her own interests, and in which she will do detailed research and work at the college level. Of course she’s been at college level in all her subject areas for a while now, but I mean detailed enough to write a collegiate term paper.

Her list was as follows:
1. Germany (pre-Nazi war era – my oldest daughter is a WWII history nut, as I was at her age, but my younger daughter seems to prefer much earlier time periods. Ancient, Classical, and Medieval.)
2. Africa (I am going to suggest to her that she begins her in-depth studies of Africa with either Egypt, or with Cush or Nubia or Ethiopia, as I have already done my own in detailed archaeological and historical studies of these ancient areas and kingdoms/realms as research for my novels. So I am already familiar with some excellent research materials. Plus those kingdoms were either advanced or relatively advanced. I’m also going to suggest she make an entirely separate study of ancient Alexandria. But in the end it will be up to her, those are just my suggestions.)
3. African Wildlife, Biology, and Geography
4. English Grammar (yes, being a writer this pleases me, but the girl actually loves grammar, English and Latin – I love language and primarily vocabulary and philology, but she loves grammar)
5. Italy (I’ve yet to ask her if she means ancient Italy, such as Etruscan/Roman eras, of if she means Medieval or Modern Italy, prior to World War II. If it’s ancient Rome that’s good though she just finished the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire and if Medieval Italy I’ll suggest studying Florence and Naples and Venice as city-states, and as commerce hubs. As a matter of fact just last year I finished a superb set of lectures on Florence, her naval power, and her trade that she should really enjoy.)

Lastly now that my older daughter is working and preparing for college my youngest daughter and I spend much more time together. The other night we were watching Agent Carter together and I was commenting on how much more clever the general level of conversation, formal or colloquial, was back then (in the Forties to early Fifties – language started declining in the mid-Fifties). That the language was snappier and more ironic than it is today, the level of conversation was far more clever, plus it was filled with universal cultural references and idioms.

“But,” I said, “I don’t care much for the décor or architecture of that time period. And I could have never walked around all day in a monkey suit.”

“Dad,” she said, “you must be crazy! I love the décor, the architecture, the clothes, and especially the cars and airplanes from that time period. I love almost everything about the Forties and I’d love to go back and live in that time period, minus, you know, the whole segregation and suppression of women things.”

“Yeah, I guess there is always that,” I said.

“But otherwise the Forties are for me!”

She’s a throwback to my Old Man. He grew up in that time period and always loved it too.

BEST OF SCIENCE

Best of Last Week – New explanation for dark matter, a simulation of the universe and the randomness of cancer

21 hours ago by Bob Yirka report
Dawn spacecraft begins approach to dwarf planet Ceres
This artist’s concept shows NASA’s Dawn spacecraft heading toward the dwarf planet Ceres. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech
(Phys.org)—Despite the celebrations leading up to the New Year last week, progress in science marched on—a paper by molecular geneticist Edward Kipreos, with the University of Georgia, for example, describing a study that found a possible alternative explanation for dark energy made news. He suggested that changing the way people think about time dilation might offer an alternative explanation of the mysterious force that drives the expansion of the universe. Also, a team of physicists at City College of New York published a paper describing their work which involved unveiling new half-light, half-matter quantum particles in very thin semiconductors—which could help pave the way to computing technology based on quantum properties of light. And in an interview with Phys.org, Professor David Pines of the University of California and the Santa Fe Institute described a paper he had published with Dr. Yi-feng Yang of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, regarding how a novel experiment-based expression can explain the behavior of unconventional superconductors.

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In other news, NASA announced that the Dawn spacecraft began its approach to the dwarf planet Ceres—which is situated between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter in the asteroid belt and holds many secrets which will very soon be revealed. An international team of researchers published a paper in Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society, describing a simulation of the universe with realistic galaxies they have created—it is called the EAGLE project and they have also released an iPhone app based on one of the simulations.

In an interesting development, a team of researchers at the University of Cape Town Medical School in South Africa, announced that they believe they have found the cause of death of the enigmatic Mrs. Oscar Wilde—complications from surgery meant to cure her of multiple sclerosis. Also interesting were the findings by a pair of researchers who found that those who take part in violent conflict have more wives and children—at least those in an East African herding tribe who engage in violent raids on neighboring groups.

And finally, if you are one of the millions of people who wonder why they or a loved one have been afflicted, a new study suggests that the “bad luck” of random mutations plays a predominant role in cancer. A team at Johns Hopkins Kimmel Cancer Center found that roughly two thirds of cancers come about due to mutations that occur in genes that drive cancer that are not due to inherited genes or the environment—it is just the luck of the draw.

Special Note: You may also be interested in checking out ten of the biggest science and technology stories of 2014 on Phys.org or ten of the top medical research discoveries of 2014 on Medical Xpress.

ADAPTIVE ASSEMBLY?

Very, very interesting. Adaptive assembly without prior instructional encoding. Is it then possible that many amino acids may have a molecularly adaptive equivalency function similar to undifferentiated stem cells (at a higher level) which allows disparate proteins to guide assembly in emergency situations in an almost ad hoc fashion – yet still produce biologically viable proteins?

If so that would mean far more than mere instructional assembly in biological construction and replication, it would mean adaptive biological construction at near the very base level of Life (animate matter).

That could not possibly be accidental for it would mean that base construction rates did not lose adaptive function as they advanced and differentiated but retained such functions (at least as a potential that can be later restimulated) throughout all stages of development.

It would also mean a near plethora of medicinal applications.

This definitely goes into my research files.

Defying Textbook Science, Study Finds New Role for Proteins

Published: January 1, 2015.
Released by University of Utah Health Sciences

Open any introductory biology textbook and one of the first things you’ll learn is that our DNA spells out the instructions for making proteins, tiny machines that do much of the work in our body’s cells. Results from a study published on Jan. 2 in Science defy textbook science, showing for the first time that the building blocks of a protein, called amino acids, can be assembled without blueprints – DNA and an intermediate template called messenger RNA (mRNA). A team of researchers has observed a case in which another protein specifies which amino acids are added.

2015010121590017l2

“This surprising discovery reflects how incomplete our understanding of biology is,” says first author Peter Shen, Ph.D., a postdoctoral fellow in biochemistry at the University of Utah. “Nature is capable of more than we realize.”

To put the new finding into perspective, it might help to think of the cell as a well-run factory. Ribosomes are machines on a protein assembly line, linking together amino acids in an order specified by the genetic code. When something goes wrong, the ribosome can stall, and a quality control crew is summoned to the site. To clean up the mess, the ribosome is disassembled, the blueprint is discarded, and the partly made protein is recycled.

Yet this study reveals a surprising role for one member of the quality control team, a protein conserved from yeast to man named Rqc2. Before the incomplete protein is recycled, Rqc2 prompts the ribosomes to add just two amino acids (of a total of 20) – alanine and threonine – over and over, and in any order. Think of an auto assembly line that keeps going despite having lost its instructions. It picks up what it can and slaps it on: horn-wheel-wheel-horn-wheel-wheel-wheel-wheel-horn.

“In this case, we have a protein playing a role normally filled by mRNA,” says Adam Frost, M.D., Ph.D., assistant professor at University of California, San Francisco (UCSF) and adjunct professor of biochemistry at the University of Utah. He shares senior authorship with Jonathan Weissman, Ph.D., a Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator at UCSF, and Onn Brandman, Ph.D., at Stanford University. “I love this story because it blurs the lines of what we thought proteins could do.”

Like a half-made car with extra horns and wheels tacked to one end, a truncated protein with an apparently random sequence of alanines and threonines looks strange, and probably doesn’t work normally. But the nonsensical sequence likely serves specific purposes. The code could signal that the partial protein must be destroyed, or it could be part of a test to see whether the ribosome is working properly. Evidence suggests that either or both of these processes could be faulty in neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s, Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), or Huntington’s.

“There are many interesting implications of this work and none of them would have been possible if we didn’t follow our curiosity,” says Brandman. “The primary driver of discovery has been exploring what you see, and that’s what we did. There will never be a substitute for that.”

The scientists first considered the unusual phenomenon when they saw evidence of it with their own eyes. They fine-tuned a technique called cryo-electron microscopy to flash freeze, and then visualize, the quality control machinery in action. “We caught Rqc2 in the act,” says Frost. “But the idea was so far-fetched. The onus was on us to prove it.”

It took extensive biochemical analysis to validate their hypothesis. New RNA sequencing techniques showed that the Rqc2/ribosome complex had the potential to add amino acids to stalled proteins because it also bound tRNAs, structures that bring amino acids to the protein assembly line. The specific tRNAs they saw only carry the amino acids alanine and threonine. The clincher came when they determined that the stalled proteins had extensive chains of alanines and threonines added to them.

“Our job now is to determine when and where this process happens, and what happens when it fails,” says Frost.

THE FALCON IS LANDING

BOO-YAH!

I’ll be hoping and praying for their success!

For The First Time, SpaceX Will Land A Rocket After Launch

New year, new reusable spacecraft

65

SpaceX’s Falcon 9 Rocket

SpaceX

Elon Musk is starting off 2015 with a bang – or hopefully, a soft landing.

On January 6, Musk’s company SpaceX will launch a Falcon 9 rocket to the International Space Station. The launch itself is fairly unremarkable; SpaceX has had a contract with NASA for some time now to transport cargo to the ISS via unmanned rockets, as part of the Commercial Resupply Services program. What SpaceX will attempt to do after the launch is what makes the mission so exciting. The company will try to land the first stage of its Falcon rocket on a platform in the ocean — a feat that has never been done before.

If successful, the landing will be the first major step toward one of the holy grails of the space industry: reusable rockets. Up until now, all rocket launches have been something of a one-and-done stunt. After a rocket blasts off, the first stage of the vehicle – which comprises the bulk of the rocket and contains most of the engines and fuel – burns up and falls away into the ocean, never to be used again. This rocket design is known as a disposable launch system, and it makes launching rockets extremely expensive. The only exception has been the Space Shuttle, which was considered a partially reusable launch system; although the shuttle itself and its solid rocket boosters were recovered after each launch, its large external tank, which carried most of the shuttle’s fuel, broke apart and was never re-used. This made launching shuttles quite costly, as well, since a new external tank had to be built for each flight.

Here’s to 2015: The year that space flight could become affordable.

Imagine if this type of design were applied to air travel, and every time you flew in an airplane, the plane had to be discarded and then rebuilt for its next trip; a ticket from New York to Los Angeles would require a lifetime of savings. Disposable launch systems are why space tourism is currently reserved for the nerdy 1 percent (and British pop singers) – but reusable rockets could change all that, by bringing down the cost of space flight and revolutionizing the space industry.

X-Wing Configuration

SpaceX

The hypersonic grid wings attached to the Falcon 9 rocket

To ensure the safe landing of its Falcon 9, SpaceX has equipped the rocket with four “hypersonic grid fins” (placed on the vehicle in an “X-wing” configuration). The fins will be closed during ascent, but when the first stage falls to Earth, the fins will extend perpendicular from the rocket’s body. They can then move independently of one another, to help control the vehicle’s descent and guarantee a precise landing on the rocket’s target.

That target is an autonomous spaceport drone ship, meant to catch the landing rocket in the Atlantic Ocean. The ship’s landing platform is 300 by 100 feet, but it also comes with wings that can extend its width to 170 feet. The seaport itself isn’t anchored, but boasts powerful thrusters that will help it stay in place.

Autonomous Spaceport Drone Ship

SpaceX

Yet landing on such a small platform that isn’t completely stationary won’t be easy, and Musk estimates a 50 percent chance of success on January 6. Plus, the landing will occur after the first stage separates from the second stage — the part of the rocket that will take the cargo capsule the rest of the way to the ISS. That means not all of the rocket will be saved, as the second stage will never be recovered. (However, Musk plans to recover the second stage in future launches.)

Still, the fact that SpaceX is attempting such an endeavor instills hope for a cheaper commercial spaceflight industry. According to Quartz, the cost to build a Falcon 9 rocket is $54 million, but the cost of its fuel is only $200,000. If launching a rocket in the future only required refueling and other servicing costs on the ground, that could bring down the price of going to space by millions of dollars.

So here’s to 2015: The year that space flight could become affordable.

Correction (01/02/2015, 2:50 pm ET): The original story misstated where the rocket will attempt to land; it’s the Atlantic Ocean, not the Pacific, and it has been corrected. We regret the error.

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