sciencehabit writes: All good things must come to an end, and so it will be tomorrow when the Rosetta spacecraft makes its planned soft landing onto the surface of comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, the culmination of 2 years of close-up studies. Solar power has waned as 67P’s orbit takes it and Rosetta farther from the sun, and so the mission team decided to go on a last data-gathering descent before the lights go out. This last data grab is a bonus after a mission that is already changing theorists’ views about how comets and planets arose early in the solar system. Several Rosetta observations suggest that comets form not from jolting mergers of larger cometesimals, meters to kilometers across, but rather from the gentle coalescence of clouds of pebbles. And the detection of a single, feather-light, millimeter-sized particle—preserved since the birth of the solar system—should further the view of a gentle birth.
sciencehabit writes: Earlier this year, the Cassini spacecraft screwed up an orbital maneuver at Saturn because of a problem with its radio connection to Earth. The incident was one of several recent glitches in the Deep Space Network (DSN), NASA’s complex of large radio antennas in California, Spain, and Australia. For more than 50 years, the DSN has been the lifeline for nearly every spacecraft beyond Earth’s orbit, relaying commands from mission control and receiving data from the distant probe. On 30 September, in a meeting at NASA headquarters, officials will brief planetary scientists on the network’s status. Many are worried, based on anecdotal reports, that budget cuts and age have taken a toll that could endanger the complex maneuvers that Cassini and Juno, a spacecraft now at Jupiter, will require over the next year.
sciencehabit writes: If you shatter a bone in the future, a 3D printer and some special ink could be your best medicine. Researchers have created what they call “hyperelastic bone” that can be manufactured on demand and works almost as well as the real thing, at least in monkeys and rats. Though not ready to be implanted in humans, bioengineers are optimistic that the material could be a much-needed leap forward in quickly mending injuries ranging from bones wracked by cancer to broken skulls.
sciencehabit writes: Human bloodlust—from war to murder—traces back millions of years to our primate ancestors. That’s the conclusion of a controversial new study, which reaches far back into our family tree to uncover the evolutionary roots of lethal violence among more than 1000 mammalian species. ased on the rates of lethal violence seen in our close relatives. Based on their research, the team predicted that 2% of human deaths would be caused by another human. And indeed, from 50,000 years ago to 10,000 years ago, when humans lived in small groups of hunter-gatherers, the rate of killing was “statistically indistinguishable” from the predicted rate of 2%, based on archaeological evidence
sciencehabit writes: Some 56 million years ago, carbon surged into Earth's atmosphere, raising temperatures by 5C to 8C and causing huge wildlife migrations—a scenario that might mirror the world's future, thanks to global warming. But what triggered this so-called Paleocene-Eocene thermal maximum (PETM) has remained a mystery. Now, in new work presented on 27 September here at the annual meeting of the Geological Society of America, a group of scientists bolsters its claim that a small comet impact kicked off the PETM, stirring up the carbon just 10 million years after a similar event decimated the dinosaurs. The group announced the discovery of glassy, dark beads, set in eight sediment cores tied to the PETM's start—spheres that are often associated with extraterrestrial strikes.
sciencehabit writes: Many police departmentss, both in the U.S and abroad, have adopted or are interested in predictive policing, an approach that seeks to predict where and when crime is likely to occur or identifies people most at risk of becoming a perperator or a victim. Supporters say predictive policing—which uses large data sets and algorithms borrowed from fields as diverse as seismology and epidemiology--can help bring down crime rates while also reducing bias in policing. But civil liberties groups and racial justice organizations argue that the algorhitms perpetuate racial prejudice and they worry about privacy issues. To what degree predictive policing actually prevents crime, meanwhile, is still up for debate.
sciencehabit writes: lon Musk is whetting the appetites of Mars scientists. The SpaceX CEO has unveiled a vision for the colonization of Mars that he says will involve hundreds of reusable craft, each carrying somewhere between 100 and 250 colonists or so. Fueled in Earth's orbit with methane and oxygen, they could depart to the Red Planet in armadas during launch windows that naturally occur about once every 26 months, Musk told an audience today at the International Astronautical Congress in Guadalajara, Mexico. By using reusable rockets, spacecraft, and tankers; refueling the Mars landers in orbit; and also producing fuel from available resources on Mars for the return trips, a colonist’s cost for a ticket to Mars could be as little as $100,000, Musk says.
sciencehabit writes: Next week, the 2016 Nobel Prize in Physics will be announced, and many scientists expect it to honor the detection of ripples in space called gravitational waves, reported in February. If other prizes are a guide, the Nobel will go to the troika of physicists who 32 years ago conceived of LIGO, the duo of giant detectors responsible for the discovery: Rainer Weiss of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in Cambridge, and Ronald Drever and Kip Thorne of the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) in Pasadena. But some influential physicists, including previous Nobel laureates, say the prize, which can be split three ways at most, should include somebody else: Barry Barish.
Barish, a particle physicist at Caltech, didn’t invent LIGO, the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory. But he made it happen. The hardware at LIGO’s two observatories in Hanford, Washington, and Livingston, Louisiana; the structure of the collaboration; even the big-science character of gravitational wave research—all were molded by Barish, who is now 80. “Without him there would have been no discovery,” says Sheldon Glashow, a Nobel Prize–winning theorist at Boston University, who has written to some members of the Nobel Committee arguing the case for Barish. “It would be an enormous injustice” if he didn’t share in the Nobel, Glashow says.
sciencehabit writes: Today, Google rolled out a new translation system that uses massive amounts of data and increased processing power to build more accurate translations. The new system, a deep learning model known as neural machine translation, effectively trains itself—and reduces translation errors by up to 87%. When compared with Google’s previous system, the neural machine translation system scores well with human reviewers. It was 58% more accurate at translating English into Chinese, and 87% more accurate at translating English into Spanish. As a result, the company is planning to slowly replace the system underlying all of its translation work—one language at a time.
sciencehabit writes: In a stunning landscape of jagged limestone hills in southwestern China, engineers are putting the finishing touches on a grand astronomy facility: a half-kilometer-wide dish nestled in a natural depression that will gather radio signals from the cosmos. The world’s largest radio telescope will catalog pulsars; probe gravitational waves, dark matter, and fast radio bursts; and listen for transmissions from alien civilizations. The Five-hundred-meter Aperture Spherical radio Telescope (FAST) project is also breaking new ground in radio astronomy with a design that pulls a section of the spherical dish into a gradually moving paraboloid to aim at and track cosmic objects as Earth rotates, bringing the benefits of a tilting, turning antenna to a fixed dish. This innovation “is absolutely unique, nobody has ever done this before,” says one expert.
sciencehabit writes: For decades the notion of “de-extinction” hovered on the scientific fringes, but new advances in genetic engineering, especially the CRISPR-Cas9 revolution, have researchers believing that it’s time to start thinking seriously about which animals we might be able to bring back, and which ones would do the most good for the ecosystems they left behind. Science Magazine explores why and how we might do this, which animals might be first, and the big risks involved.
sciencehabit writes: On the edge of the Dead Sea, the ground is caving in. Trucks and small buildings in Israel and Jordan have fallen into pits, beaches and plantations have closed, and roads been rerouted to avoid the more than 5500 sinkholes that pockmark the region. Now, by building a physical model of the Dead Sea in a laboratory, scientists have figured out what's causing the sinkholes in the first place, and whether a proposed controversial canal can stop them.
sciencehabit writes: This marks the 26th year of the Ig Nobel Prizes, the contest that celebrates scientific studies that "make you laugh, and then think." Among this year's winners: A study on the effects of wearing polyester, cotton, or wool trousers on the sex life of rats, work on whether rocks have personalities, and a chemistry award to Volkswagen for "for solving the problem of excessive automobile pollution emissions by automatically, electromechanically producing fewer emissions whenever the cars are being tested."
sciencehabit writes: During the past decade or so the oil and gas industry has injected wastewater into deep rocks in eastern Texas, causing Earth’s surface to bulge ever so slightly—and likely triggering a series of tremors there in 2012, a new study suggests. Scientists say the work offers hope that similar analyses of the landscape in other oil- and gas-producing regions could help identify areas at risk of human-caused earthquakes.
sciencehabit writes: Scientists and architects across the globe are trying to adapt wood, one of the oldest building materials, for the demands of the modern city. Spurred by new ways to work with wood and concerns about the environmental toll of urban construction, they are trying to push the limits of height for wood construction and win wider acceptance for its use. Engineers have conceived designs for soaring wooden skyscrapers that, at up to 80 stories, would rival their steel-framed cousins. But wood’s true potential for 21st century cities is likely to emerge in the lab, where scientists are conducting myriad torture tests on new designs for wooden walls, beams, ceilings, and floors. Their goal: to see whether wood can overcome concerns about fire safety and strength that, in the past, have consigned wood to low-rises and single family houses.