Space

Rocket Lab Successfully Reaches Orbit and Deploys Its First Satellites (geekwire.com) 59

Long-time Slashdot reader ClarkMills writes: Rocket Lab has successfully launched its second Electron rocket from New Zealand's Mahia Peninsula, with the rocket reaching orbit for the first time... This follows the company's first launch last May, in which the rocket got to space but did not make it to orbit after range safety officials had to kill the flight.
Just 60 seconds before lift-off yesterday, a "rogue ship" entered their launch-range area, prompting them to postpone the launch until today. GeekWire reports: This mission was nicknamed "Still Testing," but unlike the first mission, the objective was not merely to test Rocket Lab's hardware. The rocket had the additional task of putting three nanosatellites in orbit: an Earth-imaging Dove satellite for Planet, and two Lemur-2 satellites that the Spire space venture would use for tracking ships and monitoring weather... The price tag for a mission is as low as $5 million, thanks to streamlined hardware production techniques. The Electron makes use of carbon composite materials for its rocket core, and 3-D printing techniques for its Rutherford rocket engines.
90 minutes ago Spire tweeted that they'd experienced a "good clean deployment" of their satellites, adding that they were already receiving images and calling it "a huge win" for commercial space, small satellites, the Electron rocket, and New Zealand.

UPDATE: Long-time Slashdot reader Hairy1 shares Rocket Lab's video of their launch.
Space

Flat Earther Plans New Rocket Launch, Predicts Super Bowl-Sized Ratings (phillyvoice.com) 201

Self-taught rocket scientist/daredevil "Mad" Mike Hughes will finally launch his homemade rocket in two weeks -- despite "anonymous online haters questioning his every move." An anonymous reader quotes PhillyVoice: He's found some private land in the "ghost town" of Amboy, California -- complete with a brand-spanking-new road that'll enable him to get his motor home and rocket gear to the site... "It'll be a vertical launch, me strapped into the rocket with 6,000 pounds of thrust, going up about three-eighths of a mile," he said, noting it's a prologue to a major launch this Fourth of July weekend. "It's the ultimate Wile E. Coyote move."

As with the scrubbed mission, this is in part an event which he hopes will get people to investigate the ideology which holds the earth is flat -- despite quite a bit of evidence to the contrary. He said it would've happened back in November if international publicity hadn't prompted government bureaucrats to "cover their asses" by pointing out that his launch site crept 150 feet into federal land. "I could've been arrested so at that point, I just went home and got back to work," he said... "But guess what? It's about to happen again... I should get more viewers than the Super Bowl," said Hughes, adding the launch will be aired on Noize TV [a video-on-demand service].

Noize TV has already posted video of a new interview with Hughes, touting his upcoming launch at 3 p.m. on Saturday, February 3, the day before the Super Bowl (which Hughes calls "nothing but bullshit.")

Hughes says he's also filing to run for Governor of California.
Earth

Australian Birds of Prey Are Deliberately Setting Forests On Fire (cosmosmagazine.com) 88

An anonymous reader writes: If you've been counting the ways the Australian environment is trying to kill you, you can now add "arson" to the list. According to a six-year study published in The Journal of Ethnobiology, observers have confirmed what Aboriginal rangers have been observing for years: birds of prey routinely carry burning or smouldering sticks into dry grassy areas to scare small mammals into fleeing so they can be pack-hunted more effectively. This has implications for environmental management, since the best firebreak will not protect your controlled burn from a "firehawk" determined to breach it.
Communications

Ask Slashdot: How Would You Explain Einstein's Theories To a Nine-Year-Old? 286

SiggyRadiation writes: A few days ago, my 9-year-old son asked me why Albert Einstein was so famous. I decided not just to start with the famous formula E=mc^2, because that just seemed to be the easy way out. So I tried to explain what mass and energy are. Then I asked him to try to explain gravity to me. The earth pulls at you because it has a lot of mass. But how can the earth influence your body, pull your feet to the ground, without actually touching you? Why is it that one thing (the earth) can influence something else (you) without actually being connected? Isn't that weird? Einstein figured out how energy, mass and gravity work and are related to each other. This is where our conversation ended.

Afterwards I thought: this might be a nice question to ask on Slashdot; how would I continue this discussion to explain it to him further? Of course, with the goal of further feeding his interest in physics.
NASA

2017 Among Warmest Years On Record (npr.org) 186

2017 was among the warmest years on record, according to new data released by NASA and the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration. From a report: The planet's global surface temperature last year was second warmest since 1880, NASA says. NOAA calls it the third warmest year on record, due to slight variation in the ways that they analyze temperatures. Both put 2017 behind 2016's record temperatures. And "both analyses show that the five warmest years on record have all taken place since 2010," NASA said in a press release. The trend is seen most dramatically in the Arctic, NASA says, as sea ice continues to melt.
Space

Meteor Lights Up Southern Michigan (arstechnica.com) 38

New submitter Foundryman writes: Amidst fake missile reports in Hawaii and Japan, Michigan gets hit by something real. From a report via Ars Technica: "Early last night local time, a meteor rocketed through the skies of southern Michigan, giving local residents a dramatic (if brief) light show. It also generated an imperceptible thump, as the U.S. Geological Survey confirmed that there was a coincident magnitude 2.0 earthquake. The American Meteor Society has collected more than 350 eyewitness accounts, which ranged from western Pennsylvania out to Illinois and Wisconsin. They were heavily concentrated over southern Michigan, notably around the Detroit area. A number of people have also posted videos of the fireball online. The American Meteor Society estimates that the rock was relatively slow-moving at a sedate 45,000km an hour. Combined with its production of a large fireball, the researchers conclude it was probably a big rock. NASA's meteorwatch Facebook page largely agrees and suggests that this probably means that pieces of the rock made it to Earth. If you were on the flight path, you might want to check your yard.
Earth

Salmonella Probably Killed the Aztecs (theguardian.com) 131

An anonymous reader quotes a report from The Guardian: In 1545 disaster struck Mexico's Aztec nation when people started coming down with high fevers, headaches and bleeding from the eyes, mouth and nose. Death generally followed in three or four days. Within five years as many as 15 million people -- an estimated 80% of the population -- were wiped out in an epidemic the locals named "cocoliztli." The word means pestilence in the Aztec Nahuatl language. Its cause, however, has been questioned for nearly 500 years. On Monday scientists swept aside smallpox, measles, mumps, and influenza as likely suspects, identifying a typhoid-like "enteric fever" for which they found DNA evidence on the teeth of long-dead victims.

Scientists now say they have probably unmasked the culprit. Analysing DNA extracted from 29 skeletons buried in a cocoliztli cemetery, they found traces of the salmonella enterica bacterium, of the Paratyphi C variety. It is known to cause enteric fever, of which typhoid is an example. The Mexican subtype rarely causes human infection today. Many salmonella strains spread via infected food or water, and may have travelled to Mexico with domesticated animals brought by the Spanish, the research team said.
The study has been published in the journal Nature Ecology and Evolution.
China

China Builds 'World's Biggest Air Purifier' That Actually Works (scmp.com) 138

The South China Morning Post shares an update on the status of an experimental tower in northern China, dubbed the world's biggest air purifier by its operators. According to the scientist leading the project, the tower -- which stands over 328 feet (100 meters) tall -- has brought a noticeable improvement in air quality. From the report: The head of the research, Cao Junji, said improvements in air quality had been observed over an area of 10 square kilometers (3.86 square miles) in the city over the past few months and the tower has managed to produce more than 10 million cubic meters (353 million cubic feet) of clean air a day since its launch. Cao added that on severely polluted days the tower was able to reduce smog close to moderate levels. The system works through greenhouses covering about half the size of a soccer field around the base of the tower. Polluted air is sucked into the glasshouses and heated up by solar energy. The hot air then rises through the tower and passes through multiple layers of cleaning filters. The average reduction in PM2.5 -- the fine particles in smog deemed most harmful to health -- fell 15 per cent during heavy pollution. Cao said the results were preliminary because the experiment is still ongoing. The team plans to release more detailed data in March with a full scientific assessment of the facility's overall performance.
NASA

The James Webb Space Telescope Has Emerged From the Freezer (arstechnica.com) 72

The James Webb Space Telescope has emerged from a large vacuum chamber that was home to temperatures of just 20 degrees Celsius above absolute zero. Scientists have reviewed the data and given the instrument a clean bill of health. "We now have verified that NASA and its partners have an outstanding telescope and set of science instruments," said Bill Ochs, the Webb telescope project manager at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. "We are marching toward launch." Ars Technica reports: The $10 billion telescope underwent tests inside Chamber A at Johnson Space Center, which was built in 1965 to conduct thermal-vacuum testing on the Apollo command and service modules. Beginning in mid-July, after the telescope was cooled down to a temperature range of 20 to 40 Kelvin, engineers tested the alignment of Webb's 18 primary mirror segments to ensure they would act as a single, 6.5-meter telescope. (They did). Later, they assessed the fine guidance system of the telescope by simulating the light of a distant star. The Webb telescope was able to detect the light, and all of the optical systems were able to process it. Then, the telescope was able to track the "star" and its movement, giving scientists confidence that the Webb instrument will work once in space. Webb still has a ways to go before it launches. Now that project scientists know that the optic portion of the instrument can withstand the vacuum of space, and the low temperatures at the Earth-Sun L2 point it will orbit in deep space, they must perform additional testing before a probable launch next year.
Earth

Renewable Energy Set To Be Cheaper Than Fossil Fuels By 2020, Says Report (independent.co.uk) 260

An anonymous reader quotes a report from The Independent: Continuous technological improvements have led to a rapid fall in the cost of renewable energy in recent years, meaning some forms can already comfortably compete with fossil fuels. The report suggests this trend will continue, and that by 2020 "all the renewable power generation technologies that are now in commercial use are expected to fall within the fossil fuel-fired cost range." Of those technologies, most will either be at the lower end of the cost range or actually undercutting fossil fuels. "This new dynamic signals a significant shift in the energy paradigm," said Adnan Amin, director-general of the International Renewable Energy Agency (IREA), which published the report. "Turning to renewables for new power generation is not simply an environmentally conscious decision, it is now -- overwhelmingly -- a smart economic one." The report looked specifically at the relative cost of new energy projects being commissioned. As renewable energy becomes cheaper, consumers will benefit from investment in green infrastructure. The current cost for fossil fuel power generation ranges from around 4p to 12p per kilowatt hour across G20 countries. By 2020, IREA predicted renewables will cost between 2p and 7p, with the best onshore wind and solar photovoltaic projects expected to deliver electricity by 2p or less next year.
Moon

Scientists Think They've Discovered Lava Tubes Leading To the Moon's Polar Ice (sciencealert.com) 59

schwit1 quotes ScienceAlert: Small pits in a large crater on the Moon's North Pole could be "skylights" leading down to an underground network of lava tubes -- tubes holding hidden water on Earth's nearest neighbour, according to new research. There's no lava in them now of course, though that's originally how the tubes formed in the Moon's fiery past. But they could indicate easy access to a water source if we ever decide to develop a Moon base sometime in the future.

Despite the Moon's dry and dusty appearance, scientists think it contains a lot of water trapped as frozen ice. What these new observations carried out by NASA's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) show is that it might be much more accessible than we thought... Scientists have long been thinking about how to extract the ice reserves we think are up there -- solar power was originally out of the question, as it's the freezing shadowed areas of the Moon that have preserved the ice in the first place. Not only would natural skylights like these provide easier access to the underground ice, it would also mean solar power would be back on the table as an idea.

Earth

Will Cape Town be the First City To Run Out of Water? (bbc.com) 341

Cape Town, home to Table Mountain, African penguins, sunshine and sea, is a world-renowned tourist destination. But soon it could also become famous for being the first major city in the world to run out of water. From a report: Most recent projections suggest that its water could run out as early as March. The crisis has been caused by three years of very low rainfall, coupled with increasing consumption by a growing population. The local government is racing to address the situation, with desalination plants to make sea water drinkable, groundwater collection projects, and water recycling programmes. Meanwhile Cape Town's four million residents are being urged to conserve water and use no more than 87 litres (19 gallons) a day. Car washing and filling up swimming pools has been banned.
Earth

Sea Turtles Under Threat As Climate Change Turns Most Babies Female (futurism.com) 177

A new study published in the journal Current Biology found that as much as 99 percent of baby green sea turtles in warm equatorial regions are being born female. "The study took a look at turtle populations at nesting sites at Raine Island and Moulter Cay in the northern Great Barrier Reef, an area plagued with unprecedented levels of coral bleaching from high temperatures," reports Futurism. "The researchers compared these populations with sea turtles living at sites in the cooler south." From the report: Using a new, non-invasive hormone test, the researchers from the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Fisheries Department and the Queensland Department of Environment and Heritage Protection found that while 65 -69 percent of the turtles from the southern region were female, between 86.8 and 99.8 of turtles tested in the northern region were female, depending on age. The sex of green sea turtles, along with some other species of turtles, crocodiles, and alligators, is not regulated by the introduction of sex chromosomes at key points during early development, as seen in humans and other mammals. Their sex is actually influenced by the temperature at which the eggs are incubated, with warmer temperatures more likely to lead to females. The difference between predominately male and predominately female hatchlings is only a few degrees, such as that formerly found between the cool, damp bottom of a sandy sea turtle nest and the sun-warmed top. The ages of the female turtles in the north suggest that this population has experienced temperatures that cause this imbalance since at least the 1990s. Given that the warmer temperatures seen in northern Australia have been distributed around the globe, experts predict that other sea turtle populations in warm regions are also following the same trend.
Space

Rumors Swirl That Secret Zuma Satellite Launched By SpaceX Was Lost (scientificamerican.com) 171

Many media outlets are reporting that the U.S. government's top-secret Zuma satellite may have run into some serious problems during or shortly after its Sunday launch. Zuma was launched atop a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from Florida's Cape Canaveral Air Force Station Sunday evening -- a launch that also featured a successful landing back on Earth by the booster's first stage. While everything seemed fine at the time, rumors began swirling within the spaceflight community that something had happened to Zuma. "According to one source, the payload fell back to Earth along with the spent upper stage of the Falcon 9 rocket," Ars Technica's Eric Berger wrote. Scientific American reports: To be clear: There is no official word of any bad news, just some rumblings to that effect. And the rocket apparently did its job properly, SpaceX representatives said. "We do not comment on missions of this nature, but as of right now, reviews of the data indicate Falcon 9 performed nominally," company spokesman James Gleeson told Space.com via email. Space.com also reached out to representatives of aerospace company Northrop Grumman, which built Zuma for the U.S. government. "This is a classified mission. We cannot comment on classified missions," Northrop Grumman spokesman Lon Rains said via email. All we know about the satellite itself is that it was destined for a low-Earth orbit and built for the U.S. government. We will update this story if we hear anything else about Zuma's status.
Businesses

SpaceX Completes First Launch of 2018: Secretive 'Zuma' Spacecraft (cnn.com) 103

SpaceX's first launch of 2018 was "a secretive spacecraft commissioned by the U.S. government for an undisclosed mission," reports TechCrunch. An anonymous reader quotes CNN: After more than a month of delays, a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket vaulted toward the skies at 8 p.m. ET Sunday with the secretive payload. It launched from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida... The company [then] executed its signature move: guiding the first-stage rocket booster back to Earth for a safe landing. Just over two minutes after liftoff Sunday, the first-stage booster separated from the second stage and fired up its engines. The blaze allowed the rocket to safely cut back through the Earth's atmosphere and land on a pad at the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station... The company completed a record-setting 18 launches last year, and SpaceX plans to do even more this year, according to spokesman James Gleeson.
Space

NASA Tests a Drone To Explore Jupiter's Moon in Antarctica (popularmechanics.com) 65

Three months of research in Antarctica is just the beginning for one Georgia Tech researcher, according to an article shared by schwit1: The waters beneath our planet's ice sheet are fascinating, turning up species few people have ever laid eyes on. But they are not the final target of this chase. Icefin [a 10-foot-long subsea drone] is meant to search for alien life -- a "bug hunt," as some scientists cheerfully call it. It is bound for the icy waters of Jupiter's moon, Europa, possibly as soon as 2030...

The new equipment includes sensors to monitor for organics and measure environmental factors like the presence of dissolved oxygen and levels of acidity, all to see if Europa could (in theory) support life in its subterranean seas... The subsea drone is also smarter than its prototype predecessor, and that high-IQ autonomy would be needed on Europa. The probe must not only operate 400 million miles from Earth but also navigate all by itself under alien ice.

Transportation

Google Loses Up to 250 Bikes a Week (siliconbeat.com) 208

What's happening to Google's 1,100 Gbikes? The Mercury News reports: Last summer, it emerged that some of the company's bikes -- intended to help Googlers move quickly and in environmentally friendly fashion around the company's sprawling campus and surrounding areas -- were sleeping with the fishes in Stevens Creek. And now, a new report has revealed that 100 to 250 Google bikes go missing every week, on average. "The disappearances often aren't the work of ordinary thieves, however. Many residents of Mountain View, a city of 80,000 that has effectively become Google's company town, see the employee perk as a community service," the Wall Street Journal reported.

And for the company, here's one Google bike use case that's got to burn a little: 68-year-old Sharon Veach told the newspaper that she sometimes uses one of the bicycles as part of her commute: to the offices of Google's arch foe, Oracle... Mountain View Mayor Ken Rosenberg even admitted to helping himself to a Google bike to go to a movie after a meeting at the company's campus, according to the WSJ.

One Silicon Valley resident reportedly told a neighbor that "I've got a whole garage full of them," while Veach describes the bikes as "a reward for having to deal with the buses" that carry Google employees. Google has already hired 30 contractors to prowl the city in five vans looking for lost or stolen bikes -- only a third of which have GPS trackers -- and they eventually recover about two-thirds of the missing bikes.

They've discovered them as far away as Mexico, Alaska, and the Burning Man festival in Nevada.
Earth

Ancient DNA Reveals a Completely Unknown Population of Native Americans (sciencealert.com) 111

schwit1 shares the findings of a new study of 11,500-year-old bones: Sunrise girl-child ("Xach'itee'aanenh T'eede Gaay") lived some 11,500 years ago in what is now called Alaska, and her ancient DNA reveals not only the origins of Native American society, but reminds the world of a whole population of people forgotten by history millennia ago. "We didn't know this population existed," says anthropologist Ben Potter from the University of Alaska Fairbanks. "It would be difficult to overstate the importance of this newly revealed people to our understanding of how ancient populations came to inhabit the Americas." In a new study published this week, the team reports that a genetic analysis of sunrise girl-child's DNA shows she belonged to a forgotten people called the Ancient Beringians, unknown to science until now. Before now, there were only two recognized branches of early Native Americans (referred to as Northern and Southern). But when the researchers sequenced sunrise girl-child's genome -- the earliest complete genetic profile of a New World human to date -- to their surprise it matched neither.

Given the nature of this field of research -- and the scope of the new findings -- it's unlikely the new hypotheses will remain uncontested for long. But in the light of all the new evidence researchers are uncovering, it's clear the first settlers of America carried a more diverse lineage than we ever realized. "[This is] the first direct evidence of the initial founding Native American population," Potter says. "It is markedly more complex than we thought." The findings are reported in the journal Nature.

Earth

NASA Launches a Mission To Study the Border of Earth and Space (arstechnica.com) 45

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Ars Technica: A new NASA mission, the first to hitch a ride on a commercial communications satellite, will examine Earth's upper atmosphere to see how the boundary between Earth and space changes over time. GOLD stands for Global-scale Observations of the Limb and Disk, and the mission will focus on the temperature and makeup of Earth's highest atmospheric layers. Along with another upcoming satellite, called ICON, GOLD will examine how weather on Earth -- and space weather caused by the sun -- affects those uppermost layers. GOLD, which will inspect the ultraviolet radiation that the upper atmosphere releases, will also be the first to take comprehensive records of that atmospheric layer's temperature. The satellite carrying GOLD will orbit 22,000 miles (35,400 kilometers) above Earth in a geostationary orbit, which means GOLD will stay fixed with respect to Earth's surface as the satellite orbits and the world turns. GOLD will pay particularly close attention to Earth's thermosphere, which is the gas that surrounds the Earth higher than 60 miles (97 km) up, and the layer called the ionosphere, which forms as radiation from the sun strips away electrons from particles to create charged ions. And although solar flares and other interactions on the sun do have a strong impact on those layers, scientists are learning that Earth's own weather has an impact on the layers, too.
Space

The Alien Megastructure Around Mysterious 'Tabby's Star' Is Probably Just Dust, Analysis Shows (theguardian.com) 75

An analysis by more than 200 astronomers has been published that shows the mysterious dimming of star KIC 8462852 -- nicknamed Tabby's star -- is not being produced by an alien megastructure. "The evidence points most strongly to a giant cloud of dust occasionally obscuring the star," reports The Guardian. From the report: KIC 8462852 is approximately 1,500 light years away from the Earth and hit the headlines in October 2015 when data from Nasa's Kepler space telescope showed that it was dimming by unexplainably large amounts. The star's light dropped by 20% first and then 15% making it unique. Even a large planet passing in front of the star would have blocked only about 1% of the light. For an object to block 15-20%, it would have to be approaching half the diameter of the star itself. With this realization, a few astronomers began whispering that such a signal would be the kind expected from a gigantic extraterrestrial construction orbiting in front of the star -- and the idea of the alien megastructure was born.

In the case of Tabby's star, the new observations show that it dims more at blue wavelengths than red. Thus, its light is passing through a dust cloud, not being blocked by an alien megastructure in orbit around the star. The new analysis of KIC 8462852 showing these results is to be published in The Astrophysical Journal Letters. It reinforces the conclusions reached by Huan Meng, University of Arizona, Tucson, and collaborators in October 2017. They monitored the star at multiple wavelengths using Nasa's Spitzer and Swift missions, and the Belgian AstroLAB IRIS observatory. These results were published in The Astrophysical Journal.

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