Rei writes: After several years of publicly complaining about the "bullshit" decision at the IAU redefining what comprises a planet, New Horizons programme head Alan Stern and fellow planetary geologists have put forth a new definition which they seek to make official, basing planethood on hydrostatic equilibrium. Under this definition, in addition to Ceres, Pluto and other Kuiper Belt objects, large moons like Titan and Europa, as well as our own moon, would also become planets; "planet" would be a physical term, while "moon" would be an orbital term, and hence one can have a planetary moon, as well as planets that orbit other stars or no star at all (both prohibited under the current definition).
The paper points out that planetary geologists already refer to such bodies as planets, citing examples such as a paper about Titan: “A planet-wide detached haze layer occurs between 300-350 km above the surface; the visible limb of the planet, where the vertical haze optical depth is 0.1, is about 220 km above the surface”
Rei writes: The F-35 Lightning II, the most expensive weapons project in history, has often received criticism in the media, includingextensivelyonSlashdot, for being overbudget, behind schedule and underperforming. But is this coverage justifiable? Writing today in Forbes, defense analyst and industry consultant Loren Thompson takes the media to task for only reporting negatives on the F-35 program. With the program now having delivered 200 planes and each batch being cheaper than the last, Lockheed has now further cut their estimated cost per plane to just 30% more than upgraded legacy aircraft like the F/A-18 Super Hornet. He also cites the preference of pilots for the F-35 over legacy systems, quoting officers and pilots finding it demoralizing trying to engage the F-35 with legacy aircraft. "We turned hot, drove for about 30 seconds and we were dead, just like that. We never even saw [the F-35].. It can feel like you are out there with a blindfold on."
Without being able to acquire a high-frequency radar lock, detection methods can be limited to low frequency radar, which is large and yields a noisy return poorly suited for targeting; and IRST, which can clearly see and target the F-35, but only through a very narrow aperture. Potential adversaries such as Russia have been working to upgrade their air defenses specifically against these emerging threats, such as the Sunflower radar and the S-500 missile defense system; however, their effectiveness in being able to provide a capable kill chain against targets like the F-22 and F-35 is in dispute.
Rei writes: We know now that in the early years of the twenty-first century this world was being watched closely by intelligences granted by man and yet as mortal as his own — intellects vast, cool and unsympathetic, regarded this earth with envious eyes and slowly and surely drew their plans against us. Or at least one can assume that's what's happening on Mars these days, as NASA — having already populated the Red Planet with robots and armed a car-sized nuclear juggernaut with a laser — have now decided to grant fire control of that laser over to a new AI system operating on the rover itself. Intended to increase the scientific data-gathering throughput on the sometimes glitching rover's journey, the improved AEGIS system eliminates the need for a series of back-and-forth communication sessions to select targets and aim the laser.
As a side note, may I be the first to add that I think Curiosity is a lovely name, I love what you've done with the planet, but I have a medical condition that renders me unfit to toil in any hypothetical subterranean lithium mines...
Rei writes: After some consternation about the pacing of Falcon 9 upgrades, SpaceX has announced that it plans to launch again from Cape Canaveral with a target date of February 24th. While the primary mission will be to place the SES-9 communications satellite in orbit, this will also mark their fourth attempt to land the first stage on an autonomous drone ship, after their last launch touched down softly but fell over when one leg failed to latch. SpaceX is working to significantly accelerate the rate of production and launches — they are reportedly moving the factory from 6-8 cores produced per year to 18 at present, and expect to reach 30 by the end of the year. After the upcoming launch, they expect to launch one rocket every two to three weeks.
Rei writes: Dmitry Rogozin, Russia's deputy prime minister in charge of the national space agency Roscosmos, gave an interview today where he said that SpaceX is "stepping on our toes" by offering launches cheaper than they can provide. He added however that he congratulates Musk and that he believes that Russia can ultimately compete. "We are looking for a solution that will allow making spacecraft launches cheaper. Of course, such solutions will be found."
Rei writes: At 8:40 PM today, SpaceX successfully launched and relanded the first stage of its Falcon 9 rocket at Cape Canaveral, as well as delivering to orbit the last portion of ORBCOMM's communication satellite constellation. This also marks SpaceX's return to flight and the first launch of the "Full Thrust" Falcon 9 v1.1 with densified (extremely chilled) propellants. The company will now shift its efforts toward catching up on its backlog, investigating and refurbishing its landed first stage, and preparing for the maiden flight of the Falcon Heavy rocket this spring. Congratulations to everyone at SpaceX!
Rei writes: After being grounded for six months after a strut failure doomed the launch vehicle, Elon Musk has confirmed rumors that SpaceX plans to try for launch again on December 19th, with a static test firing on December 16th. SpaceX will also attempt a landing of their first stage — not at sea, but on land. Lastly, this will be the first launch of a Falcon 9 "Full Thrust" variant, where the propellants are supercooled (with the oxygen just above its freezing point) to increase their density and thus fuel flow and thrust.
Rei writes: It's that time of year again — the results of the 2014 Underhanded C Contest have been announced. Techniques used for secretly alerting a user to a NSA request include (among others) misleadingly long loop execution, replacing user #defines with system ones, K&R style function declarations to avoid type checking, and using system #includes to covertly change structure packing. The winning entry exploits a system-provided function that is implemented as a poorly protected macro, tricking it into executing a piece of code given as an argument multiple times.
Rei writes: Slashdot recently linked an article in the LA Times complaining about how Elon Musk has built his corporate empires — Solar City, Tesla Motors and SpaceX — on the back of government largess. However, how does it compare in context to its competitors? USC professor Greg Autry breaks it down, noting among other things that SpaceX's competitors have benefited from decades of tremendous government money and a launch monopoly, while the Volt receives — on a percentage basis — 2 1/2 times greater subsidy than a Model S, and was developed on the government's dime.
Rei writes: In 2013, during Edward Snowden's brief and chaotic search for asylum that ultimately landed him in Russia, the US faced criticism for handing information to various European nations that Bolivian president Evo Morales was smuggling him out of Russia, leading to the grounding of his flight. In a new twist, in the documentary Terminal F about this time period, Wikileaks founder Julian Assange admitted that he was the one who deliberately leaked the fake information to the US government. Bolivia is been none too pleased with this news and is now demanding that Assange apologize for putting their president's life at risk.
Rei writes: Julian Assange, from his refuge in the Ecuadorian embassy, has recently taken to Twitter to try to raise nearly $200000 for a life-size bronze statue of himself. The statue would have him standing front and center between Edward Snowden and Chelsea Manning (with Manning pictured as male); the art piece would be then shipped around the world on tour. Assange recently appealed again against his arrest warrant for probable cause of unlawful sexual coersion, molestation, and rape against two Swedish Wikileaks supporters, but was once more rebuffed by the courts system.
Rei writes: As was previously reported here, the Russian government has accused the US Secret Service of kidnapping the son of ultranationalist LDPR MP Valery Seleznev in the Maldives. The son, Roman Seleznev, stands accused of running one of the world's largest carding operations, with others charged in the affair having already been convicted; however, Roman had until recently been considered out of reach in Russia. Now the Maldives has struck back against these claims, insisting that they arrested him on an Interpol Red Notice and transferred him to the US, as they are legally required as an Interpol member state to do. “No outsider came here to conduct an operation,” president Abdulla Yameen stated. “No officials from another country can come here to arrest anyone. The government has the necessary documentation to prove it.”
Rei writes: The latest in realism in Flash-based driving simulators, Allen Hartwig introduced the Toyota Simulator on March 9th. If you want to see what it's like to take a new Prius for a spin on the highway from the comfort of your PC, look no further.