NASA

No, NASA Did Not Accidentally Invent Warp Drive 98

Posted by samzenpus
from the impulse-power dept.
StartsWithABang writes: As Slashdot has previously reported, NASA Spaceflight has claimed to have vetted the EM Drive in a vacuum, and found there is still an anomalous thrust/acceleration on the order of 50 microNewtons for the device. While some are claiming this means things like warp drive and 70-day-trips-to-Mars are right on the horizon, it's important to view this from a scientist's point of view. Here's what it will take to turn this from a speculative claim into a robust one.
United States

House Panel Holds Hearing On "Politically Driven Science" - Without Scientists 192

Posted by samzenpus
from the you-got-politics-in-my-science dept.
sciencehabit writes: Representative Louie Gohmert (R–TX) is worried that scientists employed by the U.S. government have been running roughshod over the rights of Americans in pursuit of their personal political goals. So this week Gohmert, the chair of the oversight and investigations subpanel of the U.S. House of Representatives' Natural Resources Committee, held a hearing to explore "the consequences of politically driven science." Notably absent, however, were any scientists, including those alleged to have gone astray.
Lord of the Rings

Why Scientists Love 'Lord of the Rings' 142

Posted by Soulskill
from the even-the-very-wise-cannot-see-all-the-ends dept.
HughPickens.com writes: Julie Beck writes in The Atlantic that though science and fantasy seem to be polar opposites, a Venn diagram of "scientists" and "Lord of the Rings fans" have a large overlap which could (lovingly!) be labeled "nerds." Several animal species have been named after characters from the books, including wasps, crocodiles, and even a dinosaur named after Sauron, "Given Tolkien's passion for nomenclature, his coinage, over decades, of enormous numbers of euphonious names—not to mention scientists' fondness for Tolkien—it is perhaps inevitable that Tolkien has been accorded formal taxonomic commemoration like no other author," writes Henry Gee. Other disciplines aren't left out of the fun—there's a geologically interesting region in Australia called the "Mordor Alkaline Igneous Complex," a pair of asteroids named "Tolkien" and "Bilbo," and a crater on Mercury also named "Tolkien."

"It has been documented that Middle-Earth caught the attention of students and practitioners of science from the early days of Tolkien fandom. For example, in the 1960s, the Tolkien Society members were said to mainly consist of 'students, teachers, scientists, or psychologists,'" writes Kristine Larsen, an astronomy professor at Central Connecticut State University, in her paper "SAURON, Mount Doom, and Elvish Moths: The Influence of Tolkien on Modern Science." "When you have scientists who are fans of pop culture, they're going to see the science in it," says Larson. "It's just such an intricate universe. It's so geeky. You can delve into it. There's the languages of it, the geography of it, and the lineages. It's very detail oriented, and scientists in general like things that have depth and detail." Larson has also written papers on using Tolkien as a teaching tool, and discusses with her astronomy students, for example, the likelihood that the heavenly body Borgil, which appears in the first book of the trilogy, can be identified as the star Aldebaran. "I use this as a hook to get students interested in science," says Larson. "I'm also interested in recovering all the science that Tolkien quietly wove into Middle Earth because there's science in there that the casual reader has not recognized."
Space

High School Students Discover Pulsar With Widest-Known Orbit 19

Posted by timothy
from the dancing-light dept.
Science 2.0 reports that A team of high school students analyzed data from the National Science Foundation's (NSF) Robert C. Byrd Green Bank Telescope (GBT) and discovered a never-before-seen pulsar which has the widest orbit of any around a neutron star - one among only a handful of double neutron star systems. ... This pulsar, which received the official designation PSR J1930-1852, was discovered in 2012 by Cecilia McGough, who was a student at Strasburg High School in Virginia at the time, and De'Shang Ray, who was a student at Paul Laurence Dunbar High School in Baltimore, Maryland. These students were participating in a summer Pulsar Search Collaboratory (PSC) workshop, which is an NSF-funded educational outreach program that involves interested high school students in analyzing pulsar survey data collected by the GBT. Students often spend weeks and months poring over data plots, searching for the unique signature that identifies a pulsar. Those who identify strong pulsar candidates are invited to Green Bank to work with astronomers to confirm their discovery.
Earth

Empty Landscape Looms, If Large Herbivores Continue to Die Out 144

Posted by timothy
from the slimming-diet dept.
From the BBC comes this depressing excerpt: Populations of some of the world's largest wild animals are dwindling, raising the threat of an "empty landscape", say scientists. About 60% of giant herbivores - plant-eaters - including rhinos, elephants and gorillas, are at risk of extinction, according to research. Analysis of 74 herbivore species, published in Science Advances, blamed poaching and habitat loss. A previous study of large carnivores showed similar declines. Prof William Ripple, of Oregon State University, led the research looking at herbivores weighing over 100kg, from the reindeer up to the African elephant. "This is the first time anyone has analysed all of these species as a whole," he said. "The process of declining animals is causing an empty landscape in the forest, savannah, grasslands and desert." Here's the study, published in Science Advances, on which the BBC article is based.
Privacy

Hacking the US Prescription System 76

Posted by timothy
from the quite-a-dose-you're-taking dept.
An anonymous reader writes: It appears that most pharmacies in the US are interconnected, and a breach in one leads to access to the other ones. A security advisory released [Friday] shows how a vulnerability in an online pharmacy granted access to prescription history for any US person with just their name and date of birth. From the description linked above: During the signup process, PillPack.com prompts users for their identifying information. In the end of the signup rocess, the user is shown a list of their existing prescriptions in all other pharmacies in order to make the process of transferring them to PillPack.com easier. ... To replicate this issue, an attacker would be directed to the PillPack.com website and choose the signup option. As long as the full name and the date of birth entered during signup match the target, the attacker will gain access to the target's full prescription history.
Space

NASA Gets Its Marching Orders: Look Up! Look Out! 175

Posted by timothy
from the well-those-might-be-more-like-suggestions dept.
TheRealHocusLocus writes: HR 2039: the National Aeronautics and Space Administration Authorization Act for 2016 and 2017 (press release, full text, and as a pretty RGB bitmap) is in the House. In $18B of goodies we see things that actually resemble a space program. The ~20,000 word document is even a good read, especially the parts about decadal cadence. There is more focus on launch systems and manned exploration, also to "expand the Administration's Near-Earth Object Program to include the detection, tracking, cataloguing, and characterization of potentially hazardous near-Earth objects less than 140 meters in diameter." I find it awesome that the fate of the dinosaurs is explicitly mentioned in this bill. If it passes we will have a law with dinosaurs in it. Someone read the T-shirt. There is also a very specific six month review of NASA's "Earth science global datasets for the purpose of identifying those datasets that are useful for understanding regional changes and variability, and for informing applied science research." Could this be an emerging Earth Sciences turf war between NOAA and NASA? Lately it seems more of a National Atmospheric Space Administration. Mission creep, much?
Space

Native Hawaiian Panel Withdraws Support For World's Largest Telescope 269

Posted by timothy
from the not-in-their-backyard dept.
sciencehabit writes: Trustees of the Office of Hawaiian Affairs (OHA) – a state agency established to advocate for native Hawaiins — voted Thursday to withdraw their support for construction of the Thirty-Meter Telescope (TMT) on the summit of the Mauna Kea volcano. The vote follows weeks of protests by Native Hawaiians who say the massive structure would desecrate one of their most holy places. The protests have shut down construction of the telescope, which would be the world's largest optical telescope if completed. The vote, which reverses a 2009 decision to endorse the project, strikes a powerful if symbolic blow against a project that, for many native Hawaiians, has come to symbolize more than a century of assaults against their land, culture and sovereignty.
Communications

The Pioneer Who Invented the Weather Forecast 33

Posted by timothy
from the kept-it-hidden-in-his-conestoga dept.
HughPickens.com writes: Peter Moore has a fascinating article on BBC about how Admiral Robert FitzRoy, the man who invented the weather forecast in the 1860s faced skepticism and even mockery in his time but whose vision of a public forecasting service, funded by government for the benefit of all, is fundamental to our way of life. Chiefly remembered today as Charles Darwin's taciturn captain on HMS Beagle, during the famous circumnavigation in the 1830s, in his lifetime FitzRoy found celebrity from his pioneering daily weather predictions, which he called by a new name of his own invention — "forecasts". There was no such thing as a weather forecast in 1854 when FitzRoy established what would later be called the Met Office. With no forecasts, fishermen, farmers and others who worked in the open had to rely on weather wisdom — the appearance of clouds or the behavior of animals — to tell them what was coming as the belief persisted among many that weather was completely chaotic. But FitzRoy was troubled by the massive loss of life at sea around the coasts of Victorian Britain where from 1855 to 1860, 7,402 ships were wrecked off the coasts with a total of 7,201 lost lives. With the telegraph network expanding quickly, FitzRoy was able to start gathering real-time weather data from the coasts at his London office. If he thought a storm was imminent, he could telegraph a port where a drum was raised in the harbor. It was, he said, "a race to warn the outpost before the gale reaches them".

For FitzRoy the forecasts were a by-product of his storm warnings. As he was analyzing atmospheric data anyway, he reasoned that he might as well forward his conclusions — fine, fair, rainy or stormy — on to the newspapers for publication. "Prophecies and predictions they are not," he wrote, "the term forecast is strictly applicable to such an opinion as is the result of scientific combination and calculation." The forecasts soon became a quirk of this brave new Victorian society. FitzRoy's forecasts had a particular appeal for the horseracing classes who used the predictions to help them pick their outfits or lay their bets.

But FitzRoy soon faced serious difficulties. Some politicians complained about the cost of the telegraphing back and forth. The response to FitzRoy's work was the beginning of an attitude that we reserve for our weather forecasters today. The papers enjoyed nothing more than conflating the role of the forecaster with that of God and the scientific community were skeptical of his methods. While the majority of fishermen were supportive, others begrudged a day's lost catch to a mistaken signal. FitzRoy retired from his west London home to Norwood, south of the capital, for a period of rest but he struggled to recover and on 30 April 1865 FitzRoy cut his throat at his residence, Lyndhurst-house, Norwood, on Sunday morning. "In time, the revolutionary nature of FitzRoy's work would be recognised," says Moore. "FitzRoy's vision of a weather-prediction service funded by government for the benefit of its citizens would not die. In 1871, the United States would start issuing its own weather "probabilities", and by the end of the decade what was now being called the Met Office would resume its own forecasts in Britain."
Earth

Seafloor Sensors Record Possible Eruption of Underwater Volcano 19

Posted by timothy
from the good-time-to-be-shoreside dept.
vinces99 writes: Thanks to high-tech instruments installed last summer by the University of Washington to bring the deep sea online, what appears to be an eruption of Axial Volcano on April 23 was observed in real time by scientists on shore. "It was an astonishing experience to see the changes taking place 300 miles away with no one anywhere nearby, and the data flowed back to land at the speed of light through the fiber-optic cable ... in milliseconds," said John Delaney, a UW professor of oceanography who led the installation of the instruments as part of a larger effort sponsored by the National Science Foundation. Delaney organized a workshop on campus in mid-April at which marine scientists discussed how this high-tech observatory would support their science. Then, just before midnight on April 23 until about noon the next day, the seismic activity went off the charts. The gradually increasing rumblings of the mountain were documented over recent weeks by William Wilcock, a UW marine geophysicist who studies such systems. During last week's event, the earthquakes increased from hundreds per day to thousands, and the center of the volcanic crater dropped by about 6 feet in 12 hours. "The only way that could have happened was to have the magma move from beneath the caldera to some other location," Delaney said.
Medicine

Space Radiation May Alter Astronauts' Neurons 72

Posted by Soulskill
from the i-saw-that-episode-of-star-trek dept.
sciencehabit writes: NASA hopes to send the first round-trip, manned spaceflight to Mars by the 2030s. If the mission succeeds, astronauts could spend several years potentially being bombarded with cosmic rays—high-energy particles launched across space by supernovae and other galactic explosions. Now, a study in mice suggests these particles could alter the shape of neurons, impairing astronauts' memories and other cognitive abilities. In the prefrontal cortex, a brain region associated with executive function, a range of high-level cognitive tasks such as reasoning, short-term memory, and problem-solving, neurons had 30% to 40% fewer branches, called dendrites, which receive electrical input from other cells.
Science

Scientists Have Paper On Gender Bias Rejected Because They're Both Women 299

Posted by Soulskill
from the social-media-sites-surrender dept.
ferrisoxide.com writes: A paper co-authored by researcher fellow Dr. Fiona Ingleby and evolutionary biologist Dr. Megan Head — on how gender differences affect the experiences that PhD students have when moving into post-doctoral work — was rejected by peer-reviewed PLoS Onebecause they didn't ask a man for help.

A (male) peer reviewer for the journal suggested that the scientists find male co-authors, to prevent "ideologically biased assumptions." The same reviewer also provided his own ironically biased advice, when explaining that women may have fewer articles published because men's papers "are indeed of a better quality, on average," "just as, on average, male doctoral students can probably run a mile race a bit faster."
PLoS One has apologized, saying, "We have formally removed the review from the record, and have sent the manuscript out to a new editor for re-review. We have also asked the Academic Editor who handled the manuscript to step down from the Editorial Board and we have removed the referee from our reviewer database."
NASA

New Test Supports NASA's Controversial EM Drive 450

Posted by Soulskill
from the time-to-argue dept.
An anonymous reader writes: Last year, NASA's advanced propulsion research wing made headlines by announcing the successful test of a physics-defying electromagnetic drive, or EM drive. Now, this futuristic engine, which could in theory propel objects to near-relativistic speeds, has been shown to work inside a space-like vacuum. NASA Eagleworks made the announcement quite unassumingly via NASASpaceFlight.com. The EM drive is controversial in that it appears to violate conventional physics and the law of conservation of momentum; the engine, invented by British scientist Roger Sawyer, converts electric power to thrust without the need for any propellant by bouncing microwaves within a closed container. So, with no expulsion of propellant, there’s nothing to balance the change in the spacecraft’s momentum during acceleration.
Earth

Climatologist Speaks On the Effects of Geoengineering 105

Posted by Soulskill
from the make-it-rain-bad-coffee-in-seattle dept.
Lasrick writes: In this interview with Rutgers University climatologist Alan Robock, he discusses geoengineering and nuclear winter. Robock believes that geoengineering is not the solution to global warming because of its many risks and unknowns. He notes that some of the technology that would be required to implement geoengineering has not been developed and that many socio-political questions would have to be resolved before it could be put into practice. To start with, the world would have to reach agreement on a target temperature and on what entity should do the implementing. Robock's biggest fear with regard to geoengineering is that disputes over these questions could escalate into nuclear war which in turn could cause nuclear winter, producing global famine among other effects. Fascinating, wide-ranging interview with one of the world's top climatologists.
Government

American Psychological Association Hit With New Torture Allegations 81

Posted by Soulskill
from the protip-don't-torture-people dept.
sciencehabit writes: Did the American Psychological Association (APA) collude with the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) to enable the torture of detainees in the War on Terror? The answer won't be known until June, when an independent investigation is due to conclude. But at least one thing was made clear in a report from an independent group of psychologists based on e-mail exchanges between APA and CIA officials from 2003 to 2006: The world's largest professional organization for psychologists has maintained a surprisingly cozy relationship with the defense and intelligence community.
Space

Jeff Bezos' Blue Origin Launches Its First Rocket 76

Posted by Soulskill
from the delivering-books-via-rocketry dept.
Zothecula writes: Billionaires who made their cash in dot-coms from the 1990s successfully launching commercial rockets is officially a trend, now that Jeff Bezos has followed in the footsteps of Elon Musk with Wednesday's successful test flight of Blue Origin's New Shepard space vehicle. "Our 110,000-lbf thrust liquid hydrogen, liquid oxygen BE-3 engine worked flawlessly, powering New Shepard through Mach 3 to its planned test altitude of 307,000 feet. Guidance, navigation and control was nominal throughout max Q and all of ascent. The in-space separation of the crew capsule from the propulsion module was perfect. Any astronauts on board would have had a very nice journey into space and a smooth return." Here are the images and video.
Medicine

Results Are In From Psychology's Largest Reproducibility Test: 39/100 Reproduced 173

Posted by samzenpus
from the different-directions dept.
An anonymous reader writes: A crowd-sourced effort to replicate 100 psychology studies has successfully reproduced findings from 39 of them. Some psychologists say this shows the field has a replicability problem. Others say the results are "not bad at all". The results are nuanced: 24 non-replications had findings at least "moderately similar" to the original paper but which didn't quite reach statistical significance. From the article: "The results should convince everyone that psychology has a replicability problem, says Hal Pashler, a cognitive psychologist at the University of California, San Diego, and an author of one of the papers whose findings were successfully repeated. 'A lot of working scientists assume that if it’s published, it’s right,' he says. 'This makes it hard to dismiss that there are still a lot of false positives in the literature.'”
Space

New Solar Telescope Unveils the Complex Dynamics of Sunspots' Dark Cores 17

Posted by samzenpus
from the a-picture-is-worth-a-thousand-words dept.
An anonymous reader writes: The high-resolution images, taken by the New Solar Telescope (NST), show the atmosphere above the umbrae (the dark patches in the center of sunspots) to be finely structured, consisting of hot plasma intermixed with cool plasma jets as wide as 100 kilometers. These ground breaking images are being captured by scientists at NJIT's Big Bear Solar Observatory (BBSO). Sunspots are formed when strong magnetic fields rise up from the convection zone, a region beneath the photosphere that transfers energy from the interior of the Sun to its surface. At the surface, the magnetic fields concentrate into bundles, which prevent the hot rising plasma from reaching the surface. This energy deficit causes the magnetic bundles to cool down to temperatures about 1,000 degrees lower than their surroundings. The NST takes snapshots of the Sun every 10 seconds, which are then strung together as a video to reveal fast-evolving small explosions, plasma flows and the movement of magnetic fields.
Shark

Second Ever Super-rare Pocket Shark Discovered 27

Posted by timothy
from the can-the-jaguar-shark-be-far-behind? dept.
The Grim Reefer writes: Scientists working off the coast of the US have found something pretty incredible — the second pocket shark ever discovered, some 36 years after the first one was spotted off the coast of Peru. The team, from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), say the tiny creature — which measures just 13 cm (5.5 inches) long — was caught off the coast of Louisiana, where they were observing the feeding habits of sperm whales. It belongs to the genus Mollisquama, which has earned itself the nickname 'pocket shark', not because of its pocked-sized dimensions, but because of the unique and rather mysterious orifice it has above its pectoral fin.