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Submission + - Even Einstein doubted his gravitational waves (

Flash Modin writes: In 1936, twenty years after Albert Einstein introduced the concept, the great physicist took another look at his math and came to a surprising conclusion. “Together with a young collaborator, I arrived at the interesting result that gravitational waves do not exist, though they had been assumed a certainty to the first approximation,” he wrote in a letter to friend Max Born. Interestingly, his research denouncing gravitational waves was rejected by Physical Review Letters, the journal that just published proof of their existence. The story shows that even when Einstein's wrong, it's because he was already right the first time.

Submission + - Astronomers may have found a super-Earth in our solar system (

Flash Modin writes: Two groups of astronomers quietly submitted papers this week claiming they've discovered a large planet on the far fringes of our solar system. The researchers posted their findings online Thursday to arXiv, an open access science research site, but they are still awaiting peer review. While examining the Alpha Centauri star system, the nearest to Earth, they noticed a fast-moving object crossing their field of view on the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array. The object's speed and brightness allowed them to rule out another star as the culprit, and based on wavelength readings obtained from ALMA, they believe it could be a Trans-Neptunian Object (TNO) orbiting the sun somewhere between 10 billion and 2 trillion miles from our home star. For comparison, Pluto is less than 4 billion miles away from the sun. Although the finding is intriguing, the news has been met with a healthy dose of skepticism from the scientific community.

Submission + - Can The Martian give NASA's #JourneyToMars a Hollywood bump? (

Flash Modin writes: NASA has poured considerable time and resources into Ridley Scott's The Martian — perhaps more than any other movie in history — going so far as to time a Mars human landing site selection workshop to coincide with the film. Jim Green, NASA's head of planetary sciences, was one of the consultants, with other astronomers fact checking every aspect of the set and script. The rockets, modules, and space suits were built — and 3-D printed — with heavy guidance from NASA. The filmmakers even hired Rudi Schmidt, former project manager of the European Space Agency’s Mars Express spacecraft, to test the experiments done in the movie, including turning water into rocket fuel — which works. And, on the eve of The Martian's premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival this weekend, some of those scientists believe that this obsessive adherence to science fact will be enough to make NASA's Journey to Mars real for Americans. The space agency needs a Hail Mary because, in truth, the real program is nowhere near ready for prime time.

Submission + - Britain shuts off 750,000 streetlights with no impact on crime or crashes (

Flash Modin writes: English cities are hard up for cash as the national government dolls out cuts. And in response, the country's councils — local governing bodies — have slashed costs by turning off an estimated 750,000 streetlights. Fans of the night sky and reduced energy usage are happy, but the move has also sparked a national debate. The Automobile Association claims six people have died as a direct result of dimming the lights. But a new study released Wednesday looked at 14 years of data from 63 local authorities across England and Wales and found that residents' chances of being attacked, robbed, or struck by a car were no worse on the darker streets.

Submission + - A 29-cent stamp pissed off scientists so much they tacked it to New Horizons (

Flash Modin writes: When Voyager finished its final flyby at Neptune in 1989, the U.S. government commissioned space artist Ron Miller for 10 stamp illustrations — one for each planet, as well as the Moon. For every world, the artist included an image of a spacecraft that visited it. But for the ninth planet, the text simply read, “Pluto: Not yet explored.” Those stamps upset some engineers when they were unveiled in a ceremony at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, and some decided they had to do something about the “travesty.” Their work eventually merged with others to spawn the Pluto 350 project. New Horizons Principal Investigator Alan Stern told Astronomy magazine he wanted to flaunt the juxtaposition as NASA reconnoitered the last unexplored planet. “It was my idea to send it. For many years, people had waved that stamp around as sort of a call to arms — as a motivating graphic — ‘Not yet explored,'” Stern said.

Submission + - Why didn't Voyager visit Pluto? (

Flash Modin writes: NASA built the twin Voyager spacecraft for a rare planetary alignment that put Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune within reach at once. Originally, Voyager 1 was programmed to see Pluto in 1986, but managers targeted Saturn's planet-like moon Titan instead. That choice made Pluto impossible by vaulting Voyager 1 from the orbital plane. Interestingly, Voyager 2, which couldn't reach Pluto, made the case for New Horizons by revealing Neptune's moon Triton as a kidnapped Pluto. “I’m very glad that they chose not to go to Pluto in 1986,” says New Horizons head Alan Stern. “We’ll do a better job at Pluto with modern instruments than they would have, and they did a much better job at Saturn...”

Submission + - QVC hosts debate whether the Moon is a planet or a star ( 1

Flash Modin writes: A couple QVC hosts demonstrate that while shopping at home might be easy, science is hard. During the show, a shirt that looks like the Earth seen from space sparks a heated debate about the nature of our celestial companion, the Moon. One host is certain it's a star. The other argues it must be a planet because, you know, things live on it.

Submission + - Lowell Observatory pushes to name an asteroid "Travyon" (

Flash Modin writes: The observatory where Pluto was discovered is pushing to name an asteroid after a black teenager killed in a controversial confrontation in Florida last year.

William Lowell Putnam III says his family is identified with the cause of African American rights, and thus an asteroid named after Trayvon Martin is perfectly appropriate. Putnam is the sole trustee of the observatory, which was founded by Percival Lowell during his search for canals on Mars.

Astronomers at the observatory discovered the asteroid in 2000, but it has not been formally named.

Putnam has already asked the Minor Planet Center once to designate the asteroid "Trayvon," but they told him the designation was "premature." Now that there's been a verdict, the observatory is reapplying in hopes the naming body will see things different.

Submission + - BASE jumper dies in 1,000 foot Grand Canyon fall (

Flash Modin writes: A Norwegian BASE jumper plummeted to his death Tuesday afternoon after a 1,000-foot fall near the confluence with Grand Canyon National Park. Authorities say the victim was 37-year-old Eiliv Ruud, a highly-experienced wingsuit BASE jumper and alpine climber. Two other BASE jumpers, a Norwegian man and woman, watched Ruud leap off the cliff and fall about halfway into the gorge, officials said. About 500 feet from canyon bottom, the pair said they saw a gust of wind catch Ruud and slam him into the cliff face. His main parachute didn't deploy afterward and he spiraled to his death. Ruud is often featured in pro BASE jumping videos wearing a wingsuit as he skims above rivers, treetops and cliff faces. While hundreds jump illegally in Yosemite each year, the park service has banned the practice and the Grand Canyon typically doesn't have to deal with BASE jumpers.

Submission + - Breaking into the Supercollider (

BuzzSkyline writes: "A group of physicists went AWOL from the American Physical Society conference in Dallas this week to explore the ruins of the nearby Superconducting Super Collider. The SSC was to be the world's largest and most ambitious physics experiment. It would have been bigger than the LHC and run at triple the energy. But the budget ran out of control and the project was scrapped in 1993."

Submission + - MESSENGER Mission Set to Arrive at Mercury (

Flash Modin writes: In one month, NASA's MESSENGER spacecraft will become the first to orbit the planet Mercury. After it's seven year journey across the solar system, the spacecraft will park in orbit and begin a one year mission to study the innermost planet. Until MESSENGER, nearly half of the planet had never been imaged and large blank spots still exist on its maps. Sean Solomon, the mission's head, says NASA hopes to solve long-standing mysteries about Mercury's formation, composition and its dynamic atmosphere.

Submission + - New ice volcanoes on Saturn's moon Titan (w/video) 1

Flash Modin writes: Astronomers have announced the discovery of a potential new ice volcano on Saturn's moon Titan. Named Sotra, the volcano is more than 3,000 feet tall and has a one mile deep pit along-side it. Surrounded by giant sand dunes, it is thought to be the largest in a string of several volcanoes that once spewed molten ice from deep beneath the moon's surface. The team can't be certain if the chain is active, but described the find as the best evidence found so far for a cryovolcano — the scientific term for an ice volcano. Previously, bright spots seen in low-resolution satellite images have been interpreted as volcanic flows and craters. However, once those areas were mapped in 3-D, it became obvious they weren't volcanoes. "Ice at outer solar system temperatures is very rigid," said Randy Kirk, a geophysicist with the USGS. "oeIce at close to its melting point is soft. What would be a glacier on Earth would be a volcano on a body that's made of that same material. It's the difference between the cake and the frosting." NASA has released a video of a simulated aerial flyover of the volcano.

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"When people are least sure, they are often most dogmatic." -- John Kenneth Galbraith