NASA

How NASA Glimpsed The Mysterious Object 'New Horizons' Will Reach In 2019 (popsci.com) 6

necro81 writes: After its successful flyby of Pluto in July 2015, the New Horizons probe received a mission extension to fly past a Kuiper Belt object -- named 2014 MU69 -- in January 2019. However, we know few details about the object -- its size, shape, albedo, whether it has any companions -- which are crucial for planning the flyby. Based on observations from Hubble, the New Horizons team knew that the object would pass in front of a star -- an occultation -- on July 17th, which could provide some of this data. But the occultation would last for less than a second, would only be visible in Patagonia, and the star itself is quite dim.

NASA set up 24 telescopes near one community to capture the event, and received lots of cooperation from locals: turning off streetlights, shutting down a nearby highway, and setting up trucks as windbreaks. At least five of those telescopes captured the occultation. This was the latest in a series of observations ahead of the flyby.

"We had to go up to farmers' doors and say 'Hi, we're here from NASA, we're wondering if we can set up telescopes in your back pasture?'" one astronomer told Popular Science. "More often than not people were like 'that sounds awesome, sure, we'll help out!'"
Science

Quantum Particles In Motion Can Still Travel Backwards (phys.org) 49

Quantum particles have a unique ability to travel in the opposite direction from their momentum. Or, as slew (Slashdot reader #2,918) puts it, "When pushed, quantum particles can fight back." slew writes: Who knew quantum particles were passive aggressive? It's subtle, but researchers "have shown that 'backflow' can always occur, even if a force is acting on the quantum particle while it travels. The backflow effect is the result of wave-particle duality and the probabilistic nature of quantum mechanics..."

Dr Daniela Cadamuro, Researcher at the Technical University of Munich, said "The backflow effect in quantum mechanics has been known for quite a while, but it has always been discussed in regards to 'free' quantum particles, i.e., no external forces are acting on the particle."

NASA

Kickstarter Campaign Launched To Save NASA's Mission Control (kickstarter.com) 37

Long-time Slashdot reader yzf750 shares sad news about the facility where NASA conducted the Apollo moon landing in 1969: Mission Control at Johnson Space Center is a wreck and this Kickstarter project is trying to save it. The nearby city of Webster, Texas has promised to match Kickstarter funding up to $400,000. The goal is to raise $250,000 to add to the $3.5 million already budgeted by the city of Webster to restore Mission Control.
Contributors on Kickstarter can receive rewards including models of the Apollo 11 command module, lunch with Apollo flight controllers, VIP tours, or a free download of the documentary Mission Control: the Unsung Heroes of Apollo. The Kickstarter campaign was launched by Space Center Houston, which is also contributing $5 million to preserve what's been called a "cathedral of engineering."

In December the Houston Chronicle noted that though Mission Control is listed in America's National Register of Historic Places, "plans to restore it have been discussed for more than 20 years. But its restoration and preservation remain in limbo, with no set date for work to begin."
Math

A New Sampling Algorithm Could Eliminate Sensor Saturation (scitechdaily.com) 110

Baron_Yam shared an article from Science Daily: Researchers from MIT and the Technical University of Munich have developed a new technique that could lead to cameras that can handle light of any intensity, and audio that doesn't skip or pop. Virtually any modern information-capture device -- such as a camera, audio recorder, or telephone -- has an analog-to-digital converter in it, a circuit that converts the fluctuating voltages of analog signals into strings of ones and zeroes. Almost all commercial analog-to-digital converters (ADCs), however, have voltage limits. If an incoming signal exceeds that limit, the ADC either cuts it off or flatlines at the maximum voltage. This phenomenon is familiar as the pops and skips of a "clipped" audio signal or as "saturation" in digital images -- when, for instance, a sky that looks blue to the naked eye shows up on-camera as a sheet of white.

Last week, at the International Conference on Sampling Theory and Applications, researchers from MIT and the Technical University of Munich presented a technique that they call unlimited sampling, which can accurately digitize signals whose voltage peaks are far beyond an ADC's voltage limit. The consequence could be cameras that capture all the gradations of color visible to the human eye, audio that doesn't skip, and medical and environmental sensors that can handle both long periods of low activity and the sudden signal spikes that are often the events of interest.

One of the paper's author's explains that "The idea is very simple. If you have a number that is too big to store in your computer memory, you can take the modulo of the number."
NASA

NASA Uploads Hundreds of Rare Aircraft Films to YouTube (gizmodo.com) 59

An anonymous reader shares an article: NASA's Armstrong Flight Research Center is currently in the process of uploading hundreds of extremely rare films to YouTube. And I'd advise you to stop reading if you want to get any work done today. The center has uploaded roughly 300 of the planned 500 films that it will continue to put up over the coming months. And as you can see from the well-populated YouTube channel, they have everything from 1950s experimental aircraft like the X-3 Stiletto to 1960s Lunar Landing Research Vehicle tests (seen in the GIF above) to videos of the time that they intentionally crashed a Boeing 720 in 1984.
AI

IBM's AI Can Predict Schizophrenia With 74 Percent Accuracy By Looking at the Brain's Blood Flow (engadget.com) 91

Andrew Tarantola reports via Engadget: Schizophrenia is not a particularly common mental health disorder in America, affecting just 1.2 percent of the population or around 3.2 million people, but its effects can be debilitating. However, pioneering research conducted by IBM and the University of Alberta could soon help doctors diagnose the onset of the disease and the severity of its symptoms using a simple MRI scan and a neural network built to look at blood flow within the brain. The research team first trained its neural network on a 95-member dataset of anonymized fMRI images from the Function Biomedical Informatics Research Network which included scans of both patients with schizophrenia and a healthy control group. These images illustrated the flow of blood through various parts of the brain as the patients completed a simple audio-based exercise. From this data, the neural network cobbled together a predictive model of the likelihood that a patient suffered from schizophrenia based on the blood flow. It was able to accurately discern between the control group and those with schizophrenia 74 percent of the time. What's more, the model managed to also predict the severity of symptoms once they set in. The study has been published in the journal Nature.
Science

The Proton Is Lighter Than We Thought (sciencemag.org) 136

sciencehabit writes from a report via Science Magazine: You can't weigh the universe's smallest particles on a bathroom scale. But in a clever new experiment, physicists have found one such particle -- the proton -- is lighter than previously thought. The researchers found the mass to be 1.007276466583 atomic mass units. That's roughly 30 billionths of a percent lower than the average value from past experiments -- a seemingly tiny difference that is actually significant by three standard deviations. The result both creates and clears up mysteries, and could help explain the universe as we know it. The findings have been published in the journal Physical Review Letters.
Medicine

World's First Double Hand Transplant Involving a Child Declared a Success (ctvnews.ca) 50

randomErr shares a report from CTV News: The first child in the world to undergo a double hand transplant is now able to write, feed and dress himself, doctors said Tuesday, declaring the ground-breaking operation a success after 18 months. The report in The Lancet Child & Adolescent Health provides the first official medical update on 10-year old Zion Harvey, who underwent surgery to replace both hands in July 2015. Harvey had his hands and feet amputated at the age of two, following a sepsis infection. He also had a kidney transplant. Harvey was already receiving drugs to suppress any immune reaction to his kidney, which was a key factor in his selection for the 10-plus hour hand transplant surgery.
Mars

SpaceX Pulls the Plug On Its Red Dragon Plans (arstechnica.com) 158

SpaceX has largely confirmed the rumors that the company is no longer planning to send an uncrewed version of its Dragon spacecraft to Mars in 2020, or later. Ars Technica reports: The company had planned to use the propulsive landing capabilities on the Dragon 2 spacecraft -- originally developed for the commercial crew variant to land on Earth -- for Mars landings in 2018 or 2020. Previously, it had signed an agreement with NASA to use some of its expertise for such a mission and access its deep-space communications network. On Tuesday, however, during a House science subcommittee hearing concerning future NASA planetary science missions, Florida Representative Bill Posey asked what the agency was doing to support privately developed planetary science programs. Jim Green, who directs NASA's planetary science division, mentioned several plans about the Moon and asteroids, but he conspicuously did not mention Red Dragon. After this hearing, SpaceX spokesman John Taylor didn't return a response to questions from Ars about the future of Red Dragon. Then, during a speech Wednesday at the International Space Station Research and Development Conference, Musk confirmed that the company is no longer working to land Dragon propulsively for commercial crew.

"Yeah, that was a tough decision," Musk acknowledged Wednesday with a sigh. "The reason we decided not to pursue that heavily is that it would have taken a tremendous amount of effort to qualify that for safety for crew transport," Musk explained Wednesday. "There was a time when I thought the Dragon approach to landing on Mars, where you've got a base heat shield and side mounted thrusters, would be the right way to land on Mars. But now I'm pretty confident that is not the right way." Musk added that his company has come up with a "far better" approach to landing on Mars that will be incorporated into the next iteration of the company's proposed Mars transportation hardware.

AI

Dadbot: How a Son Made a Chatbot of His Dying Dad (www.cbc.ca) 113

theodp writes: In A Son's Race to Give His Dying Father Artificial Immortality (Warning: may be paywalled; alternate source), James Vlahos recounts his efforts to turn the story of his father's life -- as told by his 80-year-old Dad in his final months after being diagnosed with stage IV lung cancer -- into what Vlahos calls "a Dadbot -- a chatbot that emulates not a children's toy but the very real man who is my father." Given the limits of tech at the time (2016) and his own inexperience as a programmer, Vlahos recognized that the bot would never be more than a shadow of his real dad, but hoped to get the bot to communicate in his father's distinctive manner and convey at least some sense of his personality. Of the first time he demoed the bot for his parents, Vlahos writes: "Emboldened, I bring up something that has preoccupied me for months. 'This is a leading question, but answer it honestly,' I say, fumbling for words. 'Does it give you any comfort, or perhaps none -- the idea that whenever it is that you shed this mortal coil, that there is something that can help tell your stories and knows your history?' My dad looks off. When he answers, he sounds wearier than he did moments before. 'I know all of this shit,' he says, dismissing the compendium of facts stored in the Dadbot with a little wave. But he does take comfort in knowing that the Dadbot will share them with others. 'My family, particularly. And the grandkids, who won't know any of this stuff.' He's got seven of them, including my sons, Jonah and Zeke, all of whom call him Papou, the Greek term for grandfather. 'So this is great,' my dad says. 'I very much appreciate it.'"
AI

Researchers Have Figured Out How To Fake News Video With AI (qz.com) 85

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Quartz: A team of computer scientists at the University of Washington have used artificial intelligence to render visually convincing videos of Barack Obama saying things he's said before, but in a totally new context. In a paper published this month, the researchers explained their methodology: Using a neural network trained on 17 hours of footage of the former U.S. president's weekly addresses, they were able to generate mouth shapes from arbitrary audio clips of Obama's voice. The shapes were then textured to photorealistic quality and overlaid onto Obama's face in a different "target" video. Finally, the researchers retimed the target video to move Obama's body naturally to the rhythm of the new audio track. In their paper, the researchers pointed to several practical applications of being able to generate high quality video from audio, including helping hearing-impaired people lip-read audio during a phone call or creating realistic digital characters in the film and gaming industries. But the more disturbing consequence of such a technology is its potential to proliferate video-based fake news. Though the researchers used only real audio for the study, they were able to skip and reorder Obama's sentences seamlessly and even use audio from an Obama impersonator to achieve near-perfect results. The rapid advancement of voice-synthesis software also provides easy, off-the-shelf solutions for compelling, falsified audio. You can view the demo here: "Synthesizing Obama: Learning Lib Sync from Audio"
Earth

New Research Shows Humans Could Outrun T. Rex 255

bongey writes: T-Rex would have a hard time even catching an average human running, much less Usain Bolt or Jeeps, without shattering their legs into pieces. New research based on simulations that include the load on the bones show that T-Rex would have a hard time running faster than 12 miles per hour (5.4 meters per second) without bones breaking. The new research correlates to speeds calculated from adolescence sized T-Rex dinosaur footprints in 2016, which showed walking speeds to be only 2-5mph, and estimated running speeds 11-18 mph. Gizmodo notes that while T. rex was unable to pursue its prey at high speeds, high speed is a relative term. "For reference, typical humans can sprint anywhere between eight to 15 miles per hour (elite athletes can exceed 20 mph). So to outrun a T. rex, many animals -- or fictional humans -- would still have to run like hell."
Medicine

The Myth of Drug Expiration Dates (propublica.org) 316

schwit1 shares a report from ProPublica: Hospitals and pharmacies are required to toss expired drugs, no matter how expensive or vital. Meanwhile the FDA has long known that many remain safe and potent for years longer. The box of prescription drugs had been forgotten in a back closet of a retail pharmacy for so long that some of the pills predated the 1969 moon landing. Most were 30 to 40 years past their expiration dates -- possibly toxic, probably worthless. But to Lee Cantrell, who helps run the California Poison Control System, the cache was an opportunity to answer an enduring question about the actual shelf life of drugs: Could these drugs from the bell-bottom era still be potent?

Gerona and Cantrell, a pharmacist and toxicologist, knew that the term "expiration date" was a misnomer. The dates on drug labels are simply the point up to which the Food and Drug Administration and pharmaceutical companies guarantee their effectiveness, typically at two or three years. But the dates don't necessarily mean they're ineffective immediately after they "expire" -- just that there's no incentive for drugmakers to study whether they could still be usable.

Tests on the decades-old drugs including antihistamines, pain relievers and stimulants. All the drugs tested were in their original sealed containers. The findings surprised both researchers: A dozen of the 14 compounds were still as potent as they were when they were manufactured, some at almost 100 percent of their labeled concentrations. Experts say the United States might be squandering a quarter of the money spent on health care. That's an estimated $765 billion a year.

Medicine

Long Working Days Can Cause Heart Problems, Study Says (theguardian.com) 75

According to a major new study, long days at the office can be bad for your heart. While the risk of stroke is increased from working too many hours in the office, it seems that working more than 55 hours a week means a 40% higher chance of developing an irregular heartbeat (atrial fibrillation), when compared to those with a better work-life balance. The Guardian reports: The research team, led by Professor Mika Kivimaki from the department of epidemiology at University College, London, analysed data on the working patterns of 85,494 mainly middle-aged men and women drawn from the UK, Denmark, Sweden and Finland. Participants were put into groups according to their work pattern, with 35-40 hours a week regarded as the control group. No one had AF at the start of the study, published in the European Heart Journal. After 10 years of follow-up, an average of 12.4 per 1,000 people had developed AF, but among those working 55 hours or more, this figure was higher at 17.6 per 1,000 people. Those working the longest hours were more overweight, had higher blood pressure, smoked more and and consumed more alcohol. But the team's conclusions about longer working hours and AF still remained after taking these factors into account.
Medicine

Artificial Sweeteners Associated With Weight Gain, Heart Problems In Analysis of Data From 37 Studies (npr.org) 372

An anonymous reader quotes a report from NPR: The theory behind artificial sweeteners is simple: If you use them instead of sugar, you get the joy of sweet-tasting beverages and foods without the downer of extra calories, potential weight gain and related health issues. In practice, it's not so simple, as a review of the scientific evidence on non-nutritive sweeteners published Monday shows. After looking at two types of scientific research, the authors conclude that there is no solid evidence that sweeteners like aspartame and sucralose help people manage their weight. And observational data suggest that the people who regularly consume these sweeteners are also more likely to develop future health problems, though those studies can't say those problems are caused by the sweeteners.

The review, published Monday in the Canadian Medical Association Journal, looked at 37 studies. Seven of them were randomized trials, covering about 1,000 people, and the rest were observational studies that tracked the health and habits of almost 406,000 people over time.

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