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ISS

No One Knows What To Do With the International Space Station (popsci.com) 171

An anonymous reader shares a report: In 2024 the clock will run out on the International Space Station. Maybe. That's the arbitrary deadline that Congress imposed back in 2014, at which point they'll have to decide whether or not to keep funding the ISS. And yeah, that's a whole seven years away. But then again...it's only seven years away. The ISS takes up half of NASA's human exploration budget -- half of the pile of money allotted for things like sending humans to Mars or to an asteroid. And if they want to push further into space exploration, NASA can't keep sinking three to four billion dollars a year into the ISS. Not that it's really their decision. Congress -- specifically the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology -- decides how much money NASA will get. And because politicians aren't experts in space travel, they keep holding hearings to discuss what they could possibly do with the ISS in seven years' time. Let private industry take it over? Let it crash and burn into the South Pacific? Let the program keep running? The latest hearing took place last week. These are hard questions, in part because people have very different opinions on what's valuable about NASA, and therefore about whether the ISS is still useful. Maybe you think that NASA should really be about exploration, about pushing the boundaries of what we know and where we can travel. In that case, the ISS might not be your first priority. That's a huge chunk of the budget that goes toward bringing things back and forth to low Earth orbit instead of venturing to other planets.
Mars

SpaceX Disappointed In Lack of NASA Mars Funding; Starts Looking For Landing Sites For Its Own Mars Missions 103

frank249 writes: Elon Musk says that the new NASA authorization legislation "changes almost nothing about what NASA is doing. Existing programs stay in place and there is no added funding for Mars." From a report via Ars Technica: "Musk is absolutely correct on two counts. First, an 'authorization' bill does not provide funding. That comes from appropriations committees. Secondly, while Congress has been interested in building rockets and spacecraft, it is far less interested in investing in the kinds of technology and research that would actually enable a full-fledged Mars exploration program." In other news, SpaceNews reports that "SpaceX has been working with NASA to identify potential landing sites on Mars for both its Red Dragon spacecraft (starting in 2020) and future human missions." From the report: "Paul Wooster of SpaceX said the company, working with scientists at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory and elsewhere, had identified several potential landing sites, including one that looks particularly promising -- Arcadia Planitia. Those landing sites are of particular interest, he said, for SpaceX's long-term vision of establishing a human settlement on Mars, but he said the company wouldn't rule out sending Red Dragon spacecraft elsewhere on the planet to serve other customers. 'We're quite open to making use of this platform to take various payloads to other locations as well,' he said. 'We're really looking to turn this into a steady cadence, where we're sending Dragons to Mars on basically every opportunity.' The Red Dragon spacecraft, he said, could carry about one ton of useful payload to Mars, with options for those payloads to remain in the capsule after landing or be deployed on the surface. 'SpaceX is a transportation company,' he said. 'We transport cargo to the space station, we deliver payloads to orbit, so we're very happy to deliver payloads to Mars.'" Fans of the book/movie "The Martian" would be happy if SpaceX does select Arcadia Planitia for their first landing site as that was the landing site of the Ares 3.
Mars

Mars Rover Spots Clouds Shaped By Gravity Waves (sciencemag.org) 56

sciencehabit writes from a report via Science Magazine: NASA's Curiosity rover has shot more than 500 movies of the clouds above Mars, including the first ground-based view of martian clouds shaped by gravity waves, researchers reported this week at the Lunar and Planetary Science Conference. The shots are the best record made so far of a mysterious recurring belt of equatorial clouds known to influence the martian climate. Understanding these clouds will help inform estimates of ground ice depth and perhaps recurring slope lineae, potential flows of salty water on the surface, says John Moores, a planetary scientist at York University in Toronto, Canada, who led the study with his graduate student, Jake Kloos. "If we wish to understand the water story of Mars's past," Moores says, "we first need to [separate out] contributions from the present-day water cycle." Using Curiosity's navigation camera, Moores and Kloos recorded eight-frame movies of this wispy cloud belt for two martian years. They've used two angles to capture the clouds: one pointed directly up, to see wind direction and speed, and another that keeps the rover's horizon in the frame, allowing a view into the clouds' depth. Given the limited water vapor, solar energy, and atmosphere, the martian clouds lack the variety of shapes seen on Earth. But during one day of cloud gazing -- Curiosity's 1302th martian day, to be precise -- the team got lucky and saw something unusual. That day, when Curiosity looked to the horizon, it saw a sequence of straight, parallel rows of clouds flowing in the same direction: the first ground-based view of a gravity wave cloud. Similar to the waves that follow a pebble tossed into a pond, gravity waves are created when some unknown feature of the martian landscape causes a ripple in the atmosphere that is then seen in clouds. Such waves are common at the edge of the martian ice caps, but thought to be less frequent over its equator.
Mars

Trump Adds To NASA Budget, Approves Crewed Mission To Mars (nbcnews.com) 310

An anonymous reader quotes a report from NBC News: President Donald Trump signed a law on Tuesday authorizing funding for a crewed NASA mission to Mars. The new bill (S.442) adds a crewed mission to the red planet as a key NASA objective and authorizes the space agency to direct test human space flight programs that will enable more crewed exploration in deep space. The space agency has $19.5 billion in funding for the 2018 fiscal year, which starts this October. Trump had allocated $19.1 billion for NASA in his budget, which is slightly down from the current year, but still an improvement from the past decade, which saw the end of the space shuttle program. The commander in chief signed the bill surrounded by astronauts and his former Republican rivals, Senator Ted Cruz of Texas and Senator Marco Rubio of Florida, who both sponsored the bill. Getting to Mars, though, isn't expected to happen during the Trump presidency. NASA has its sights set on getting to the red planet in the 2030s. In the near term, NASA plans to test its Orion spacecraft and Space Launch System rocket, in addition to visiting an asteroid and redirecting a chunk of it into orbit around the moon. Astronauts could later visit the boulder and use the mission to test some of the tools needed for a Mars mission.
Mars

Scientists Sent a Rocket To Mars For Less Than It Cost To Make 'The Martian' (backchannel.com) 180

Ipsita Agarwal via Backchannel retells the story of how India's underfunded space organization, ISRO, managed to send a rocket to Mars for less than it cost to make the movie "The Martian," starring Matt Damon as Mark Watney. "While NASA's Mars probe, Maven, cost $651 million, the budget for this mission was $74 million," Agarwal writes. In what appears to be India's version of "Hidden Figures" (a movie that also cost more to make than ISRO's budget for the Mars rocket), the team of scientists behind the rocket launch consisted of Indian women, who not only managed to pull off the mission successfully but did so in only 18 months. Backchannel reports: A few months and several million kilometers later, the orbiter prepared to enter Mars' gravity. This was a critical moment. If the orbiter entered Mars' gravity at the wrong angle, off by so much as one degree, it would either crash onto the surface of Mars or fly right past it, lost in the emptiness of space. Back on Earth, its team of scientists and engineers waited for a signal from the orbiter. Mission designer Ritu Karidhal had worked 48 hours straight, fueled by anticipation. As a child, Minal Rohit had watched space missions on TV. Now, Minal waited for news on the orbiter she and her colleague, Moumita Dutta, had helped engineer. When the signal finally arrived, the mission control room broke into cheers. If you work in such a room, deputy operations director, Nandini Harinath, says, "you no longer need to watch a thriller movie to feel the thrill in life. You feel it in your day-to-day work." This was not the only success of the mission. An image of the scientists celebrating in the mission control room went viral. Girls in India and beyond gained new heroes: the kind that wear sarees and tie flowers in their hair, and send rockets into space. User shas3 notes in a comment on Hacker News' post: "If you are interested in Indian women scientists and engineers, there is a nice compilation (a bit tiresome to read, but worth it, IMO) of biographical essays called 'Lilvati's Daughters.'"
NASA

It's About Time Astronauts Got Healthcare For Life (mashable.com) 283

Miriam Kramer, reporting for Mashable: NASA astronaut Michael Lopez-Alegria flew to space four times for the space agency between 1995 and 2007. While in space, his eyesight deteriorated, a well-documented medical issue NASA's known about for years, and one that many astronauts have experienced first-hand. For many astronauts, their eyesight readjusts once they get back to Earth. That wasn't the case for Lopez-Alegria, though. His eyesight got significantly worse during his time in orbit, and NASA isn't paying for his contacts or doctor visits today, years after his retirement from the agency. However, he still travels to Houston, Texas once per year to allow the agency to gather data about his health, without any expectation that NASA will offer treatment for any conditions that may have developed because of his time in space. In other words, while Lopez-Alegria's eyesight deteriorates, NASA benefits from the data he provides to the American space program, without medical recompense to him today. The lack of health care for former astronauts has long been a sore spot at NASA, but now it threatens the agency's future. Deep space missions beyond the moon, like a mission to Mars, require a better understanding of how extended spaceflight affects the human body.
Mars

Study Suggests Potatoes Can Grow On Mars (phys.org) 198

The International Potato Center (CIP) has launched a series of experiments to discover if potatoes can grow under Mars' atmospheric conditions, as well as under extreme conditions on Earth. The CIP placed a potato inside a "specially constructed CubeSat contained environment" that simulates Mars temperature, air pressure, oxygen and carbon dioxide levels. They then used sensors and live-streaming cameras to record the soil and monitor the status of the potato. Preliminary results are positive as cameras inside the container show sprouts. Phys.Org reports: "We have been looking at the very dry soils found in the southern Peruvian desert. These are the most Mars-like soils found on Earth." Chris McKay of NASA ARC. "This [research] could have a direct technological benefit on Earth and a direct biological benefit on Earth," says Chris McKay of NASA ARC. From the initial experiment, CIP scientists concluded that future Mars missions that hope to grow potatoes will have to prepare soil with a loose structure and nutrients to allow the tubers to obtain enough air and water to allow it to tuberize. "It was a pleasant surprise to see that potatoes we've bred to tolerate abiotic stress were able to produce tubers in this soil," Amoros said. He added that one of the best performing varieties was very salt-tolerant from the CIP breeding program for adaptation to subtropical lowlands with tolerance to abiotic stress that was also recently released as a variety in Bangladesh for cultivation in coastal areas with high soil salinity. Amoros noted that whatever their implications for Mars missions, the experiments have already provided good news about potato's potential for helping people survive in extreme environments on Earth.
Mars

NASA Proposes a Magnetic Shield To Protect Mars' Atmosphere (phys.org) 211

New submitter Baron_Yam writes: Apparently it is no longer necessarily science fiction to consider terraforming the red planet in a human lifetime. NASA scientists have proposed putting a magnetic shield at the Mars L1 Lagrange Point, diverting sufficient solar wind in hopes that the Martian atmosphere would thicken and heat the planet to the point of melting the ice caps, causing what remains of Martian water to pool on the surface. While not enough of a change to allow walking around without a space suit, this would make human exploration of the planet a much easier task.
Earth

Glass From Nuclear Test Site Shows the Moon Was Born Dry (newscientist.com) 48

An anonymous reader quotes a report from New Scientist: We can't recreate the giant impact that led to the moon's formation in a lab, but humans have made some other big explosions. By examining residue from the first detonation of a nuclear weapon, researchers have cracked a window into the moon's past. On 16 July 1945, the U.S. army detonated a nuclear weapon for the first time in an operation codenamed Trinity (see photo, above). As the bomb exploded with an energy equivalent to 20 kilotons of TNT, the sand underneath it melted, producing a thin sheet of mostly green glass dubbed trinitite. The explosion brought the area around the bomb to temperatures over 8000 C and pressures nearing 80,000 atmospheres. These extreme conditions are similar to those created as the moon formed in a colossal collision between Earth and another rock, probably about the size of Mars. Fortunately for planetary science, scientists meticulously measured and recorded the details of the Trinity detonation, so there is plenty of information to work with. Day and his colleagues took advantage of that past precision to investigate why the moon has surprisingly little water and other volatiles with a relatively low boiling point -- much less than Earth. To do so, they studied the distribution of one volatile element, zinc, in trinitite collected at different distances out from the explosion's center. They found that the closer to the explosion the trinitite formed, the less zinc it had, especially when it came to zinc's lighter isotopes. That's because these evaporated in the intense heat of the explosion, while the heavier isotopes didn't and so remained in the trinitite. The ratios of different forms of zinc left behind in trinitite showed remarkable parallels to what was observed in the moon rocks retrieved in the Apollo missions. This means that zinc and other volatile elements, most notably water, probably evaporated off the moon while it was being formed in a violent collision or soon afterward, while its surface was still incredibly hot. The study has been published in Science Advances.
Businesses

US Probes Panasonic Unit For Alleged Bribery Violations (bloomberg.com) 28

A Panasonic inflight entertainment and communications systems subsidiary is under investigation by U.S. authorities for allegedly breaking bribery and securities laws. From a report: Panasonic Avionics Corp. is being probed by the U.S. Department of Justice and Securities and Securities Exchange Commission for violating the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, the Osaka-based company said in a statement Thursday. Panasonic said it's cooperating with the agencies, and evaluating the potential financial impact of the probe. The announcement of the probe mars an otherwise positive earnings release for Panasonic, which raised its full-year profit and revenue forecasts. The subsidiary is part of a corporate division that also makes mobile phones, projectors and surveillance cameras with a total of 33,000 employees. The segment had $6.7 billion in sales in the nine months ended Dec. 31, or 14 percent of total revenue.
Mars

Scientists Enter Hawaii Dome In Eight-Month Mars Space Mission Study (reuters.com) 94

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Reuters: Six scientists have entered a dome perched atop a remote volcano in Hawaii where they will spend the next eight months in isolation to simulate life for astronauts traveling to Mars, the University of Hawaii said. The study is designed to help NASA better understand human behavior and performance during long space missions as the U.S. space agency explores plans for a manned mission to the Red Planet. The crew will perform geological field work and basic daily tasks in the 1,200-square-foot (365 m) dome, located in an abandoned quarry 8,000 feet (2.5 km) above sea level on the Mauna Loa volcano on Hawaii's Big Island. There is little vegetation and the scientists will have no contact with the outside world, said the university, which operates the dome. Communications with a mission control team will be time-delayed to match the 20-minute travel time of radio waves passing between Earth and Mars. "Daily routines include food preparation from only shelf-stable ingredients, exercise, research and fieldwork aligned with NASA's planetary exploration expectations," the university said. The project is intended to create guidelines for future missions to Mars, some 35 million miles (56 million km) away, a long-term goal of the U.S. human space program. The NASA-funded study, known as the Hawaii Space Exploration Analog and Simulation (Hi-SEAS), is the fifth of its kind.
NASA

NASA Is Planning Mission To An Asteroid Worth $10 Quintillion (usatoday.com) 308

New submitter kugo2006 writes: NASA announced a plan to research 16 Psyche, an asteroid potentially as large as Mars and primarily composed of Iron and Nickel. The rock is unique in that it has an exposed core, likely a result of a series of collisions, according to Lindy Elkins-Tanton, Psyche's principal investigator. The mission's spacecraft would launch in 2023 and arrive in 2030. According to Global News, Elkins-Tanton calculates that the iron in 16 Psyche would be worth $10,000 quadrillion ($10 quintillion).
NASA

NASA Unveils Two New Missions To Study Truly Strange Asteroids (space.com) 86

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Space.com: NASA's next low-cost planetary missions will attempt to unravel the mysteries of some seriously bizarre asteroids. The space agency has selected projects called Lucy and Psyche via its Discovery Program, which funds highly focused space missions to destinations throughout the solar system. The Lucy project will investigate the Trojan asteroids, which share an orbit with Jupiter, while Psyche will journey to the asteroid belt to study a huge, metallic asteroid named 16 Psyche that resides there. Lucy is scheduled to launch in October 2021. If all goes according to plan, the probe will visit an asteroid in the main asteroid belt -- located between Mars and Jupiter -- in 2025, and then go on to study six Trojan asteroids between 2027 and 2033, NASA officials said. There are two streams of Trojan asteroids. One trails Jupiter, and the other leads the giant planet around the sun. Scientists think both streams may be planetary building blocks that formed far from the sun before being captured into their current orbits by Jupiter's powerful gravity. Psyche will explore one of the oddest objects in the solar system -- a 130-mile-wide (210 kilometers) metallic asteroid that may be the core of an ancient, Mars-size planet. Violent collisions billions of years ago might have stripped away the layers of rock that once lay atop this metallic object, scientists say. Psyche is scheduled to launch in October 2023 and arrive at the asteroid in 2030, NASA officials said.
Mars

NASA Designs 'Ice Dome' For Astronauts On Mars (phys.org) 126

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Phys.Org: The "Mars Ice Home" is a large inflatable dome that is surrounded by a shell of water ice. NASA said the design is just one of many potential concepts for creating a sustainable home for future Martian explorers. The idea came from a team at NASA's Langley Research Center that started with the concept of using resources on Mars to help build a habitat that could effectively protect humans from the elements on the Red Planet's surface, including high-energy radiation. The advantages of the Mars Ice Home is that the shell is lightweight and can be transported and deployed with simple robotics, then filled with water before the crew arrives. The ice will protect astronauts from radiation and will provide a safe place to call home, NASA says. But the structure also serves as a storage tank for water, to be used either by the explorers or it could potentially be converted to rocket fuel for the proposed Mars Ascent Vehicle. Then the structure could be refilled for the next crew. Other concepts had astronauts living in caves, or underground, or in dark, heavily shielded habitats. The team said the Ice Home concept balances the need to provide protection from radiation, without the drawbacks of an underground habitat. The design maximizes the thickness of ice above the crew quarters to reduce radiation exposure while also still allowing light to pass through ice and surrounding materials.
China

China Plans To Land Probes On Far Side of Moon, Mars By 2020 (phys.org) 115

China has revealed some ambitious plans for space domination in the 2020s. On Tuesday, China set out its plans to become the first country to land a probe on the far side of the moon, in around 2018, and launch its first Mars probe by 2020. Phys.Org reports: "To explore the vast cosmos, develop the space industry and build China into a space power is a dream we pursue unremittingly," read a white paper setting out the country's space strategy for the next five years. It says China aims to use space for peaceful purposes and to guarantee national security, and to carry out cutting edge scientific research. The white paper released by the information office of China's Cabinet points to the growing ambitions of China's already rapidly advancing space program. Although the white paper doesn't mention it, China's eventual goal is the symbolic feat of landing an astronaut on the moon. The white paper reiterated China's plans to launch its first Mars probe by 2020, saying this would explore and bring back samples from the red planet, explore the Jupiter system and "conduct research into major scientific questions such as the origin and evolution of the solar system, and search for extraterrestrial life." The paper says the Chang'e-4 lunar probe will help shed light on the formation and evolution of the moon.
Mars

SpaceX Delays First Crewed Flight Of Its Dragon Capsule For NASA (theverge.com) 39

NASA says the first crewed test flight of SpaceX's Dragon vehicle has been delayed until May 2018. From a report on The Verge: In the wake of its September 1st rocket explosion, SpaceX has officially delayed the first crewed flight of its Crew Dragon vehicle -- the capsule that the company is building to take NASA astronauts to and from the International Space Station. Originally planned for late 2017, the first flight of the Crew Dragon with people on board is now slated to take place in May of 2018, according to a NASA blog post. Prior to that flight, SpaceX will perform a demonstration mission of Crew Dragon in November 2017 -- a flight that won't include any astronauts. There had been heavy speculation that the flight would be delayed following the accident, in which a Falcon 9 rocket exploded as it was being fueled on a Florida launch pad. And SpaceX says the move was made as the company finalizes its investigation into the accident. "As this investigation has been conducted, our Commercial Crew team has continued to work closely with NASA and is completing all planned milestones for this period," SpaceX said in a statement to The Verge. "We are carefully assessing our designs, systems, and processes taking into account the lessons learned and corrective actions identified. Our schedule reflects the additional time needed for this assessment and implementation."
Mars

Mars One Delayed Its Mars Mission -- Again (time.com) 99

Mars One says its project to start a human colony on the Red Planet will be delayed by five years. The Dutch company says it will send its first crews to Mars in 2031 instead of its previous target date of 2026. From a report on Time: The venture is delaying its missions so it can raise more money, according to CEO Bas Lansdorp. "Of course the whole Mars One team would have preferred to be able to stick to the original schedule, but this new timeline significantly improves our odds of successfully achieving this mission roadmap," he said in a statement. This is far from the first time Mars One has delayed its project. Despite Lansdorp's confidence, other scientists have expressed significant doubts about the mission's feasibility.
Businesses

Survey Says: Elon Musk Is Most Admired Tech Leader, Topping Bezos and Zuckerberg (teslarati.com) 119

First Round Capital conducted a poll of 700 tech company founders and found Elon Musk to be the most admired leader in the technology industry. Elon Musk received 23 percent of the votes; 10 percent said Amazon's Jeff Bezos, 6 percent said Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg and 5 percent wrote in Steve Jobs. First Round writes: "We launched State of Startups to capture what it means to be an entrepreneur. We asked the leaders of venture-backed companies about everything from the fundraising environment to their working relationships with their co-founders to their office's price per square foot. [...] Once again, we asked founders to write in which current tech leader they admire the most and we tallied 125 names. The Tesla and SpaceX leader held firm at the top spot (23%)..." Teslarati reports: While the survey did not ask respondents to explain their choice, it is safe to assume that Elon's propensity for setting lofty and visionary goals, and then being able to execute on them, is one trait admired most by tech founders. Most recently, Musk moved the scheduled start of production for the upcoming Model 3 midsize sedan forward by a full two years. Tesla also recently celebrated a record-setting third quarter and has been moving aggressively to close the second half of this year with 50,000 cars delivered. The company has announced a series of sweeteners to motivate people to order and take delivery of new vehicles before the end of the year. Unlimited Supercharger access for long distance travel and a, then, upcoming price hike on its entry level Model S 60, announced by the Palo Alto-based electric car maker and energy company, were incentives to stimulate sales. With plans to increase annual vehicle production by a factor of ten to twenty-fold by the end of the decade, send humans to mars and transform the energy sector, Musk's innovative solutions to rewrite humanity as we know it joins an elite rank held by few genius inventors and industrialists who have gone on to change the world.
News

Astronaut Buzz Aldrin is Being Emergency Evacuated From the South Pole (businessinsider.com) 192

The National Science Foundation (NSF) announced Thursday morning that it will provide a "humanitarian medical evacuation flight" from the South Pole for an "ailing" Buzz Aldrin. BusinessInsider adds: Aldrin was the second man to walk on the moon, joining Neil Armstrong in the Apollo 11 Lunar Module in July 1969. He has since become an author and advocate for crewed missions to Mars. He is 86, and no further information is available as to his condition. The NSF's statement said that an NSF plane will fly Aldrin from the Amundsen-Scott research station at the South Pole to McMurdo Station on the Antarctic coast. At that point ski-equipped LC-130 cargo planes flown by the 109th Airlift Wing of the New York Air National Guard will haul him to New Zealand "as soon as possible."
ISS

Spinal Fluid Changes In Space May Impair Astronauts' Vision, Study Finds (sciencealert.com) 77

A condition called visual impairment inter cranial pressure syndrome (VIIP) that has been impairing astronauts' vision on the International Space Station is believed to be caused by a build up of cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) in their brains. The long-duration astronauts had significantly more CSF in their brains than the short-trip astronauts. Previously, NASA suspected that the condition was caused by the lack of gravity in space. Science Alert reports: The researchers compared before and after brain scans from seven astronauts who had spent many months in the ISS, and compared them to nine astronauts who had just made short trips to and from the U.S. space shuttle, which was decommissioned in 2011. The one big difference between the two was that the long-duration astronauts had significantly more cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) in their brains than the short-trip astronauts, and the researchers say this - not vascular fluid - is the cause of the vision loss. Under normal circumstances, CSF is important for cushioning the brain and spinal cord, while also distributing nutrients around the body and helping to remove waste. It can easily adjust to changes in pressure that our bodies experience when transitioning from lying down to sitting or standing, but in the constant microgravity of space, it starts to falter. "On earth, the CSF system is built to accommodate these pressure changes, but in space the system is confused by the lack of the posture-related pressure changes," says one of the team, Noam Alperin. Based on the high-resolution orbit and brain MRI scans taken of their 16 astronauts, the team found that the long-duration astronauts had far higher orbital CSF volume - CSF pooling around the optic nerves in the part of the skull that holds the eye. They also had significantly higher ventricular CSF volume, which means they had more CSF accumulating in the cavities of the brain where the fluid is produced.

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