ESA Releases Largest Star Map Ever Online ( 24

S810 writes: The European Space Agency (ESA) has released a treasure trove of data from its Gaia Spacecraft; totaling around 1.7 billion stars. This star map is the largest of its kind to date. In addition to the star map, the data also contains motion and color data of 1.3 billion stars relative to the Sun. Furthermore, it includes "radial velocities, amount of dust, and surface temperatures of lots of stars, and a catalogue of over 14,000 Solar System objects, including asteroids," reports Gizmodo. You can view the data here, and view a guide for what the data contains and how to use it here.

FDA Approves First Contact Lenses That Turn Dark In Bright Sunlight ( 104

The first photochromic contact lenses have been approved by the FDA. "A unique additive will automatically darken the lenses when they're exposed to bright light," reports Interesting Engineering, citing a FDA statement. "The lenses will clear up whenever they're back in normal or darker lighting conditions." From the report: "This contact lens is the first of its kind to incorporate the same technology that is used in eyeglasses that automatically darken in the sun," said Malvina Eydelman. Eydelman serves as director of the division of ophthalmic, and ear, nose and throat devices at the FDA's Center for Devices and Radiological Health. The FDA approved the technology after extensive trials and clinical studies. One study had 24 wearers use the contacts while driving in both daytime and nighttime settings. The FDA found that there were no problems with driving performance or issues with vision while wearing those contact lenses. In total, over 1,000 patients were involved in the various studies conducted by the FDA. According to current plans, these photochromic lenses should be available for those needing them by the first half of 2019.

Diamonds in Sudan Meteorite 'Are Remnants of Lost Planet' ( 43

Diamonds found in a meteorite that exploded over the Nubian desert in Sudan a decade ago were formed deep inside a "lost planet" that once circled the sun in the early solar system, scientists say. From a report: Microscopic analyses of the meteorite's tiny diamonds revealed they contain compounds that are produced under intense pressure, suggesting the diamonds formed far beneath the surface of a planet. In this case, the mysterious world was calculated to be somewhere between Mercury and Mars in size. Astronomers have long hypothesised that dozens of fledgling planets, ranging in size from the moon to Mars, formed in the first 10m years of the solar system and were broken apart and repackaged in violent collisions that ultimately created the terrestrial planets that orbit the sun today.

Your Future Home Might Be Powered By Car Batteries ( 319

Increasingly utilities and automakers are wondering if they could use the batteries inside electric cars as storage for the entire public power grid. An anonymous reader shares a report: The idea, known as "vehicle-to-grid," is to someday have millions of drivers become mini electricity traders, charging up when rates are cheap and pumping energy back into the grid during peak hours or when the sun simply isn't shining. If it works -- and it's a big if -- renewable energy could get much cheaper and more widely used. "We really, really need storage in order to make better use of wind and solar power, and electric cars could provide it," said Daniel Brenden, an analyst who studies the electricity market at BMI Research in London. "The potential is so huge." Today, fewer than one percent of the world's vehicles are electric, but by 2040 more than half of all new cars will run on the same juice as televisions, computers and hair dryers, according to estimates by Bloomberg New Energy Finance. Once cars and everything else are fed from the same source, they can share the same plumbing.

An Up-Close Look At the Parker Solar Probe -- the Spacecraft That Will Skim the Sun's Surface ( 121

schwit1 shares a report from Ars Technica, offering an up-close look at the Parker Solar Probe: This summer, NASA will launch the Parker Solar Probe, an impressively heat-resistant spacecraft destined to glide closer to the surface of the Sun than any spacecraft before it. It will fly within about 6 million kilometers of the searing surface, more than seven times closer than earlier craft. If all goes to plan, the craft will be hurtling at 724,205 km per hour and have its one-of-a-kind heat shield perfectly facing the surface as it makes those closest approaches. In about seven years, it will complete 24 orbits around the Sun and pass by Venus seven times. All the while, the Parker probe will collect a constellation of data to help answer scientists' burning questions -- and solve some sizzling mysteries -- about the orb of hot plasma that lights up our Solar System. Namely, it will try to help us finally understand why the Sun's atmosphere is 300 times hotter than its surface, which itself is a balmy 5,727C. This fact defies basic physics and to this day is unexplained. One of the leading hypotheses to account for the heat shift comes from famed physicist Eugene Parker, after whom the probe is named. In the mid-1950s, Parker theorized that the Sun's super-heated corona could be explained by a complex system of plasma, magnetic fields, and energetic particles that spark solar explosions called "nanoflares." Scientists are thirsty for close-up data on those potential explosions as well as the cascade of energy called solar wind. With that data, they can put their hypotheses to the test. And in addition to helping us understand coronal heat, data on these sunny phenomena could help clear up poorly understood space weather, which can wreak havoc on satellites and power lines here on Earth.
Data Storage

Wind and Solar Can Power Most of the United States, Says Study ( 417

An anonymous reader writes: The Guardian reports of a recent paper, published in the journal Energy and Environmental Science, that helps explain how wind and solar energy can power most of the United States: "The authors analyzed 36 years of hourly weather data (1980-2015) in the U.S. They calculated the available wind and solar power over this time period and also included the electrical demand in the U.S. and its variation throughout the year. With this information, the researchers considered two scenarios. In scenario 1, they imagined wind and solar installations that would be sufficient to supply 100% of the U.S. electrical needs. In the second scenario, the installations would be over-designed; capable of providing 150% of the total U.S. electrical need. But the authors recognize that just because a solar panel or a wind turbine can provide all our energy, it doesn't mean that will happen in reality. It goes back to the prior discussion that sometimes the wind just doesn't blow, and sometimes the sun isn't shining. With these two scenarios, the authors then considered different mixes of power, from all solar to all wind. They also included the effect of aggregation area, that is, what sized regions are used to generate power. Is your power coming from wind and solar in your neighborhood, your city, your state or your region?

The authors found that with 100% power capacity and no mechanism to store energy, a wind-heavy portfolio is best (about 75% wind, 25% solar) and using large aggregate regions is optimal. It is possible to supply about 75-80% of U.S. electrical needs. If the system were designed with excess capacity (the 150% case), the U.S. could meet about 90% of its needs with wind and solar power. The authors modified their study to allow up to 12 hours of US energy storage. They then found that the 100% capacity system fared even better (about 90% of the country's energy) and the optimal balance was now more solar (approximately 70% solar and 30% wind). For the over-capacity system, the authors found that virtually all the country's power needs could be met with wind, solar, and storage."


A Star Grazed Our Solar System 70,000 Years Ago, Early Humans Likely Saw It ( 164

schwit1 shares a report from Some distant objects in our solar system bear the gravitational imprint of a small star's close flyby 70,000 years ago, when modern humans were already walking the Earth, a new study suggests. In 2015, a team of researchers announced that a red dwarf called Scholzs star apparently grazed the solar system 70,000 years ago, coming closer than 1 light-year to the sun. For perspective, the suns nearest stellar neighbor these days, Proxima Centauri, lies about 4.2 light-years away. The astronomers came to this conclusion by measuring the motion and velocity of Scholzs star -- which zooms through space with a smaller companion, a brown dwarf or "failed star" -- and extrapolating backward in time. Scholz's star passed by the solar system at a time when early humans and Neanderthals shared the Earth. The star likely appeared as a faint reddish light to anyone looking up at the time, researchers with the new study said. The study has been published in the journal Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society: Letters.

US Utilities Have Finally Realized Electric Cars May Save Them ( 297

Pity the utility company. For decades, electricity demand just went up and up, as surely as the sun rose in the east. Power companies could plan ahead with confidence. No longer. From a report: This year, the Tennessee Valley Authority scrapped its 20-year projections through 2035, since it was clear they had drastically underestimated the extent to which renewable energy would depress demand for electricity from the grid. But there is a bright spot for utilities: electric vehicles (EV), which make up 1% of the US car market.

For years, that market barely registered on utilities' radar. As EVs find growing success, utilities are building charging infrastructure and arranging generous rebates. Pacific Gas and Electric, Southern California Edison, San Diego Gas & Electric, and New Jersey's PSE&G have partnered with carmakers to offer thousands of dollars in rebates for BMW, Nissan, and other brands. Now utilities are asking Congress for help as they attempt to keep tapping into EV demand. A collection of 36 of the nation's largest utilities wrote a letter (PDF) to congressional leadership on March 13, asking for a lift on the cap on EV tax credits. The signatories' include California's Pacific Gas & Electric, New York's Consolidated Edison, the southeast's Duke Energy Company, and others covering almost every state. At the moment, Americans who buy electric vehicles receive a $7,500 federal tax credit (along with some state incentives) for each vehicle.


NASA's Planet-Hunting Kepler Space Telescope Is Running Out of Fuel ( 84

Charlie Sobeck, the system engineer for the Kepler space telescope mission, said in a NASA statement that Kepler is running low on gas. According to Sobekc, it only has "several months" before it reaches the end of the its life. Mashable reports: NASA's Kepler spacecraft has been peering deep into the Milky Way galaxy for nearly a decade. It has spotted over 2,500 confirmed planets orbiting distant stars, and over 2,500 more possible worlds are waiting to be confirmed. Thirty of these confirmed planets live inside their host stars' habitable zones, places where liquid water could exist like it does on Earth. NASA placed the Kepler telescope 94 million miles away from Earth, in an orbit around the sun. This way, Earth's gravity and reflected light don't interfere with Kepler's precise measurements of distant planets. Out there, in the void, it's extremely unlikely that Kepler will become a threatening piece of space junk that could pose collision hazards to other satellites. Although Kepler will soon be spent and left to its long, lonely orbit in space, the spacecraft will soon be replaced by another exoplanet-hunting space telescope, NASA's Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS). TESS is set to launch into space on April 16.

Media Reports About a Massive Geomagnetic Storm Hitting Earth on March 18 Are Inaccurate, NOAA Says ( 50

Several news outlets this week are reporting that Earth is expecting a "massive magnetic storm" on March 18. Yeah, so that's not happening, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) told Newsweek and other outlets. From a report: And they would know: Not only does NOAA help people build forecasts for weather here on Earth, they also predict space weather events like geomagnetic storms. "This story is not plausible in any way, shape or form," Bob Rutledge, who leads NOAA's Space Weather Forecast Center, told Newsweek via e-mail. "Things are all quiet for space weather, and the sun is essentially spotless." The magnetic storm's "imminent" arrival was one of Monday morning's top science news stories, according to Google News. But most coverage appeared to be based on a misinterpretation of a chart posted on Russia's Lebedev Institute's website showing a minor uptick in geomagnetic activity on the 18th. That elevated activity is expected to be a minor storm at most.

Sleeping In Rooms With Even a Little Light Can Increase Risk of Depression, Study Finds ( 177

Japanese researchers have found that even the slightest slither of light when trying to sleep could be linked to a heightened risk of depression, according to a new study published in The American Journal of Epidemiology. IFLScience reports: The reason behind this link is unclear, but the researchers believe it might be to do with the human circadian rhythm, the 24-hour cycle that tells us when to sleep and wake up, among other things, that is "programmed" by environmental factors. In the case of humans and many other creatures, light influences how much of the sleep-inducing hormone melatonin is pumped into our bodies, meaning we feel awake when the Sun rises and get sleepy when the Sun sets. This system works like a charm when there's only sunlight, moonlight, and a campfire to think about. However, the modern world is beaming with almost constant exposure to artificial light. Light at night (LAN) in a bedroom -- even a flash of a digital clock or streetlight creeping in from a crack in the curtains -- could screw with our natural sleep/wake cycle. The team behind the recent study assessed the sleep of almost 900 elderly people with no signs of depression. They found that people who slept in a room with 5 lux of light or more at night showed a "significantly higher depression risk" than those who slept in a completely dark room. For perspective, a household room with its lights on is around 80 lux and 10 lux is a single candle from 0.3 meters (1 foot) away.

Are The Alternatives Even Worse Than Daylight Saving Time? ( 322

The New York Times notes an important caveat to Florida's recently-approved law observing daylight savings time year-round: it specifies that their change will only go into effect if "the United States Congress amends 15 U.S.C. s. 260a to authorize states to observe daylight saving time year-round."

"In other words: Even if the governor signs the bill, nothing will happen now... States can choose to exempt themselves from daylight saving time -- Arizona and Hawaii do -- but nothing in federal law allows them to exempt themselves from standard time." Meanwhile one California legislator exploring the idea of year-round standard time discovered that "youth sports leagues and families worried that a year-round early sunset would shut down their kids' after-school games." But the Times also acknowledges problems in the current system. "In parts of Maine, for example, between Thanksgiving and Christmas, the sun sets before 4 p.m. -- more than an hour earlier than it does in Detroit, at the other end of the Eastern time zone." So is there a better alternative?

An anonymous reader quotes Business Insider: has a unique suggestion. Their proposal has only two time zones in the continental U.S. that are two hours apart, which The Atlantic calls "a simple plan to fix [DST]"... Johns Hopkins University professors Richard Henry and Steven Hanke have come up with yet another possible fix: worldwide adoption of a single time zone. They argue that the internet has eliminated the need for discrete time zones across the globe, so we might as well just do away with them...

No plan will satisfy everyone. But that doesn't mean daylight-saving time is good. The absence of major energy-saving benefits from DST -- along with its death toll, health impacts, and economic ramifications -- are reason enough to get rid of the ritual altogether.

The article associates Daylight Saving Time with "a spike in heart attacks, increased numbers of work injuries, automobile accidents, suicides, and more." And in addition, it also blames DST for an increased use of gasoline and air conditioners -- adding that it will also "rob humanity of billions of hours of sleep like an evil spacetime vampire."

Israel-Based Vendor Cellebrite Can Unlock Every iPhone, including the Current-Gen iPhone X, That's On the Market: Forbes ( 146

Cellebrite, an Israel-based company, knows of ways to unlock every iPhone that's on the market, right up to the iPhone X, Forbes reported on Monday, citing sources. From the report: Cellebrite, a Petah Tikva, Israel-based vendor that's become the U.S. government's company of choice when it comes to unlocking mobile devices, is this month telling customers its engineers currently have the ability to get around the security of devices running iOS 11 . That includes the iPhone X, a model that Forbes has learned was successfully raided for data by the Department for Homeland Security back in November 2017, most likely with Cellebrite technology.

The Israeli firm, a subsidiary of Japan's Sun Corporation, hasn't made any major public announcement about its new iOS capabilities. But Forbes was told by sources (who asked to remain anonymous as they weren't authorized to talk on the matter) that in the last few months the company has developed undisclosed techniques to get into iOS 11 and is advertising them to law enforcement and private forensics folk across the globe. Indeed, the company's literature for its Advanced Unlocking and Extraction Services offering now notes the company can break the security of "Apple iOS devices and operating systems, including iPhone, iPad, iPad mini, iPad Pro and iPod touch, running iOS 5 to iOS 11." Separately, a source in the police forensics community told Forbes he'd been told by Cellebrite it could unlock the iPhone 8. He believed the same was most probably true for the iPhone X, as security across both of Apple's newest devices worked in much the same way.


Scientists Say Space Aliens Could Hack Our Planet ( 293

Scientists are worried that space aliens might send messages that worm their way into human society -- not to steal our passwords but to bring down our culture. "Astrophysicists Michael Hippke and John Learned argue in a recent paper that our telescopes might pick up hazardous messages sent our way -- a virus that shuts down our computers, for example, or something a bit like cosmic blackmail: 'Do this for us, or we'll make your sun go supernova and destroy Earth,'" reports NBC News. "Or perhaps the cosmic hackers could trick us into building self-replicating nanobots, and then arrange for them to be let loose to chew up our planet or its inhabitants." From the report: The astrophysicists also suggest that the extraterrestrials could show their displeasure (what did we do?) by launching a cyberattack. Maybe you've seen the 1996 film "Independence Day," in which odious aliens are vanquished by a computer virus uploaded into their machinery. That's about as realistic as sabotaging your neighbor's new laptop by feeding it programs written for the Commodore 64. In other words, aliens that could muster the transmitter power (not to mention the budget) to try wiping us out with code are going to have a real compatibility problem.

Yet there is a way that messages from space might be disruptive. Extraterrestrials could simply give us some advanced knowledge -- not as a trade, but as a gift. How could that possibly be a downer? Imagine: You're a physicist who has dedicated your career to understanding the fundamental structure of matter. You have a stack of reprints, a decent position, and a modicum of admiration from the three other specialists who have read your papers. Suddenly, aliens weigh in with knowledge that's a thousand years ahead of yours. So much for your job and your sense of purpose. If humanity is deprived of the opportunity to learn things on its own, much of its impetus for novelty might evaporate. In a society where invention and discovery are written out of the script, progress and improvement would suffer.


SpaceX Successfully Launches Falcon 9 Carrying Starlink Demo Satellites ( 51

SpaceX has successfully launched a Falcon 9 from SLC-4 at Vandenberg Air Force Base today, its first launch since its successful Falcon Heavy test earlier this month. The launch took off early Wednesday morning, after being rescheduled a couple of times from an initial target of this past weekend. From a report: The launch was primarily designed to bring the PAZ satellite to orbit (which was deployed as planned into a low Earth, sun-synchronous polar orbit), a satellite for a Spanish customer that's designed to provide geocommunications and radar imaging for both government and private commercial customers. This launch had a secondary purpose, however, and one that might ultimately be more important to SpaceX's long-term goals. SpaceX packed two demonstration micro satellites for its planned internet broadband service (which Elon Musk confided via tweet it will call 'Starlink'). These will perform tests required before it's certified to operate the service, which it hopes to use to generate revenue by signing up subscribers to its internet service, which will hopefully be globe-spanning once complete.

Researchers Warn of Extraterrestrial Hacks ( 16

dmoberhaus writes: An astronomer and astrophysicist have published a new paper to arXiv examining possible scenarios where an extraterrestrial message received on Earth is malicious. This ranges from unsubstantiated threats ('We'll supernova your sun!') to super advanced AI that promises the cure for cancer but takes over the world with microbots. The ideas are pretty far out there, but serve to underscore the inherent risk with SETI efforts. Nevertheless, the researchers argue that the benefits of establishing contact with ET far outweigh the risks .

Tesla Roadster Elon Musk Launched Into Space Has 6 Percent Chance of Hitting Earth In the Next Million Years ( 150

sciencehabit shares a report from Science Magazine: SpaceX CEO Elon Musk grabbed the world's attention last week after launching his Tesla Roadster into space. But his publicity stunt has a half-life way beyond even what he could imagine -- the Roadster should continue to orbit through the solar system, perhaps slightly battered by micrometeorites, for a few tens of millions of years. Now, a group of researchers specializing in orbital dynamics has analyzed the car's orbit for the next few million years. And although it's impossible to map it out precisely, there is a small chance that one day it could return and crash into Earth. But don't panic: That chance is just 6% over a million years, and it would likely burn up as it entered the atmosphere.

Hanno Rein of the University of Toronto in Canada and his colleagues regularly model the motions of planets and exoplanets. "We have all the software ready, and when we saw the launch last week we thought, 'Let's see what happens.' So we ran the [Tesla's] orbit forward for several million years," he says. The Falcon Heavy rocket from SpaceX propelled the car out toward Mars, but the sun's gravity will bring it swinging in again some months from now in an elliptical orbit, so it will repeatedly cross the orbits of Mars, Earth, and Venus until it sustains a fatal accident. The Roadster's first close encounter with Earth will be in 2091 -- the first of many in the millennia to come.


SpaceX Successfully Lands Two Falcon Heavy Boosters Simultaneously After Rocket Launch [Update] ( 446

After nearly a decade of development, SpaceX's Falcon Heavy rocket has successfully launched from pad 39A at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida today. After reaching orbit, the two side boosters simultaneously landed at Landing Zone One. We do not know the status of the central core of the rocket, which was destined to land on the "Of Course I Still Love You" drone ship roughly 8:19 minutes into the flight.

According to, the Falcon Heavy is the most powerful rocket to launch since NASA's Saturn V -- the iconic vessel that, with 7.5 million pounds of thrust, accomplished the definitive Apollo-era feat of putting astronauts on the moon. Elon Musk says that Falcon Heavy is "twice as powerful as any other booster operating today." As for the payload, it includes a Tesla Roadster electric car. "The Falcon Heavy will send the vehicle around the sun in an elliptical orbit that will extend farther than Mars' orbit," reports

UPDATE: SpaceX has confirmed The Verge's reporting that the middle core of SpaceX's Heavy Rocket missed the drone ship where it was supposed to land. "The center core was only able to relight one of the three engines necessary to land, and so it hit the water at 300 miles per hour," reports The Verge. "Two engines on the drone ship were taken out when it crashed, SpaceX CEO Elon Musk said in a press call after the rocket launch. It's a small hiccup in an otherwise successful first flight."

Rocket Lab Criticized For Launching Their Own Private 'Star' Into Orbit ( 265

Newsweek reports: A private satellite company launched a three-foot-wide, carbon-fiber orb called the Humanity Star into the sky last week. Rocket Lab has promised the Humanity Star will be "the brightest thing in the sky," presumably other than the sun. The orb will reflect light from the sun back to Earth to achieve this effect. It's expected to orbit the Earth once every 90 minutes for the next nine months before it falls out of the sky and burns up in the atmosphere. The reaction on social media has been largely swift and scornful...

The stated goal of the project, at least, seems admirable: "No matter where you are in the world, rich or in poverty, in conflict or at peace, everyone will be able to see the bright, blinking Humanity Star orbiting Earth in the night sky," Rocket Lab CEO Peter Beck said in a statement on the project's website. "Wait for when the Humanity Star is overhead, and take your loved ones outside to look up and reflect. You may just feel a connection to the more than 7 billion other people on this planet we share this ride with."

Slashdot reader dmoberhaus writes that "astronomers are annoyed by what they perceive as just another piece of space junk getting in the way."

"Wow. Intentionally bright long-term space graffiti. Thanks a lot Rocket Lab," complained an astronomer at the California Institute of Technology. And one New Zealand journalist accused Rocket Lab of "vandalising the night sky with shiny space rubbish."

Has the Decades-Old Floating Point Error Problem Been Solved? ( 174

overheardinpdx quotes HPCwire: Wednesday a company called Bounded Floating Point announced a "breakthrough patent in processor design, which allows representation of real numbers accurate to the last digit for the first time in computer history. This bounded floating point system is a game changer for the computing industry, particularly for computationally intensive functions such as weather prediction, GPS, and autonomous vehicles," said the inventor, Alan Jorgensen, PhD. "By using this system, it is possible to guarantee that the display of floating point values is accurate to plus or minus one in the last digit..."

The innovative bounded floating point system computes two limits (or bounds) that contain the represented real number. These bounds are carried through successive calculations. When the calculated result is no longer sufficiently accurate the result is so marked, as are all further calculations made using that value. It is fail-safe and performs in real time.

Jorgensen is described as a cyber bounty hunter and part time instructor at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas teaching computer science to non-computer science students. In November he received US Patent number 9,817,662 -- "Apparatus for calculating and retaining a bound on error during floating point operations and methods thereof." But in a followup, HPCwire reports: After this article was published, a number of readers raised concerns about the originality of Jorgensen's techniques, noting the existence of prior art going back years. Specifically, there is precedent in John Gustafson's work on unums and interval arithmetic both at Sun and in his 2015 book, The End of Error, which was published 19 months before Jorgensen's patent application was filed. We regret the omission of this information from the original article.

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