Scientists Find Life In 'Mars-Like' Chilean Desert ( 54

An anonymous reader writes: In 1938, CBS radio aired Orson Welles' dramatization of H.G. Wells' The War of the Worlds ; the broadcast was livened up by periodic "news bulletins" reporting strange activity on Mars and in New Jersey. There may or may have not been men on Mars at the time, and later opinions also differ on whether the broadcast caused widespread panic across the U.S. Eighty years later, scientists are again claiming to have found evidence on earth of Martian life. Well, not exactly Martian life... Washington State University reports: "For the first time, researchers have seen life rebounding in the world's driest desert, demonstrating that it could also be lurking in the soils of Mars. Led by Washington State University planetary scientist Dirk Schulze-Makuch, an international team studied the driest corner of South America's Atacama Desert, where decades pass without any rain. Scientists have long wondered whether microbes in the soil of this hyperarid environment, the most similar place on Earth to the Martian surface, are permanent residents or merely dying vestiges of life, blown in by the weather. Billions of years ago, Mars had small oceans and lakes where early lifeforms may have thrived. As the planet dried up and grew colder, these organisms could have evolved many of the adaptations lifeforms in the Atacama soil use to survive on Earth, Schulze-Makuch said. 'We know there is water frozen in the Martian soil and recent research strongly suggests nightly snowfalls and other increased moisture events near the surface,' he said. 'If life ever evolved on Mars, our research suggests it could have found a subsurface niche beneath today's severely hyper-arid surface.'" The study has been published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Nokia, Vodafone To Bring 4G To the Moon ( 80

According to Reuters, the moon will get its first mobile phone network next year, enabling high-definition streaming from the landscape back to earth. "Vodafone Germany, network equipment maker Nokia and carmaker Audi said on Tuesday they were working together to support the mission, 50 years after the first NASA astronauts walked on the moon." From the report: Vodafone said it had appointed Nokia as its technology partner to develop a space-grade network which would be a small piece of hardware weighing less than a bag of sugar. The companies are working with Berlin-based company PTScientists on the project, with a launch scheduled in 2019 from Cape Canaveral on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket, Vodafone said. One executive involved said the decision to build a 4G network rather than a state-of-the-art 5G network was taken because the next generation networks remain in the testing and trial stage and are not stable enough to ensure they would work from the lunar surface.

Microbes Found in Earth's Deep Ocean Might Grow on Saturn's Moon Enceladus ( 69

Life as we know it needs three things: energy, water and chemistry. Saturn's icy moon Enceladus has them all, as NASA spacecraft Cassini confirmed in the final years of its mission to that planet. From a report: Scientists have successfully cultivated a few of these tiny organisms in the lab under the same conditions that are thought to exist on the distant moon, opening up the possibility that life might be lurking under the world's surface. Enceladus is one of the most intriguing places in the Solar System since it has many crucial ingredients needed for life to thrive. For one, it has lots of water. NASA's Cassini spacecraft -- which explored the Saturn system from 2004 to 2017 -- found that plumes of gas and particles erupt from the south pole of Enceladus, and these geysers stem from a global liquid water ocean underneath the moon's crust. Scientists think that there may be hot vents in this ocean, too -- cracks in the sea floor where heated rock mingles with the frigid waters. This mixing of hot and cold material seems to be creating a soup of chemical compounds that might support life.

German Cities Can Ban Diesel Cars, Court Rules ( 119

A German court has ruled that cities in Germany are allowed to enact bans on diesel vehicles, Reuters reports. It's unlikely that bans will magically appear across the country overnight, but not everyone in the country is happy about this decision. From a report: Environmentalists might be happy about the possibility of banning some of the road's dirtiest cars, but owners and right-leaning groups are not. Reuters reports that some politicians believe this decision could disenfranchise a large swath of car owners across the country, many of whom likely can't afford to immediately replace a vehicle.

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.

Data Storage

Putting Civilization in a Box For Space Means Choosing Our Legacy ( 92

When SpaceX's record-breaking Falcon Heavy rocket made its first test launch in early February , the craft didn't just hurl Elon Musk's shiny red roadster and spacesuit-clad mannequin to space. It had another, smaller payload, which at first glance seems much less impressive: a 1-inch-wide (2.5 centimeters) quartz disc with Isaac Asimov's "Foundation" trilogy encoded in laser-etched gratings . From a report: The famous science fiction series is only the beginning of the discs' planned contents. At a time when traditional hard drives are just breaking into the terabyte range, the quartz medium can hold up to 360 terabytes per disc. It also boasts a life span of 14 billion years. That's longer than the current age of the universe. This disc was symbolic; future devices will contain much more, and more useful, information. But the technology speaks to grander issues that humanity is now pondering: becoming a multiplanetary civilization, storing information for thousands or millions of years, and contacting and communicating with other intelligences (alien and Earthling).

So how should we record our knowledge and experiences for posterity? How should we ensure that this information is understandable to civilizations that may be quite different from our own? And, most importantly, what should we say? Humans have faced challenges like these before. Ancient civilizations built monuments like the pyramids and left artifacts and writing, sometimes deliberately. Later researchers have used this material to try to piece together ancient worldviews. However, in the modern era, we've set our sights much further: from centuries to millennia, from one planet to interstellar space, and from one species to many.


As Cape Town Runs Out of Water, Here's a Look at Parts of Mexico City That Have Been Without Water For a Year ( 93

In some places, taps have been dry for over a year. People bathe their children with bottled water. A group of women has taken over water distribution from the city authorities. The future feared by millions of people across the world has already arrived in Mexico City , BuzzFeed News reports. From the report: In certain areas, people say taps go dry for months. Angry civilians have blocked off highways and squared off with riot police, wresting control of water distribution from the government. "Crime affects us deeply but if you don't have water, you can't do anything," said Marisol Fierro, part of a group of women in charge of delivering water to neighbors. Across the ocean, authorities in South Africa talk about Day Zero, when Cape Town is set to run out of water and the city is forced to shut off its taps. It has made headlines around the world, as people watch on with bated breath. But here in Iztapalapa, a sprawling, drab Mexico City borough where nearly 2 million people live, that day has already arrived, offering a window into what the future may hold for millions of people when the taps run dry. Police officers are sometimes forced to guard water trucks, popular targets for kidnappers who sell their contents for hefty prices. In other cities, politicians might promise expanded broadband, better health care, or higher wages to win votes, but in Mexico City, mayoral hopefuls have made simple access to water central to their campaigns. Reserved and quiet, Emma Pantaleon seems an unlikely protagonist at the front lines of this daily battle. Pantaleon joins Fierro and other women -- housewives who juggle child-rearing, house chores, and part-time jobs -- gathering water requests from their neighbors, coordinating trucks' routes with local authorities, and riding along to ensure the operation runs smoothly.

On a recent morning, she sat in the passenger seat of a water tanker as it revved its motor up a hill, dwarfing the dilapidated single-room houses along its path. When the driver swerved left and stepped on the brake, Pantaleon leaped out. It was a scene straight out of Mad Max: Fury Road. Pantaleon, 41, walked over to the nearest cinder block house and called out to its owner. As soon as Catalina Cortez opened the door, the driver and a helper marched in, pulling the truck's hose straight up to a plastic water storage tank taking up a third of the patio.


Taiwan To Ban Plastic Straws, Cups and Shopping Bags By 2030 ( 128

An anonymous reader shares a report: Taiwan is planning a blanket ban on single-use plastic items including straws, cups and shopping bags by 2030, officials said Thursday, with restaurants facing new restrictions from next year. It is the latest push by Taiwan to cut waste and pollution after introducing a recycling programme and charges for plastic bags. The island's eco-drive has also extended to limiting the use of incense at temples and festivals to protect public health. Its new plan will force major chain restaurants to stop providing plastic straws for in-store use from 2019, a requirement that will expand to all dining outlets in 2020. Consumers will have to pay extra for all straws, plastic shopping bags, disposable utensils and beverage cups from 2025, ahead of a full ban on the single-use items five years later, according to the road map from the government's Environmental Protection Administration (EPA).

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.

Bigelow Launching New Company To Sell Private Space Stations ( 57

hyperclocker shares a report from Popular Mechanics: The future of spacecraft in lower Earth orbit (LEO) looks to be an increasingly commercial affair. Bigelow Aerospace, a Las Vegas-based company that builds livable space habitats, has now created a spinoff company known as Bigelow Space Operations (BSO). BSO will market and operate any space habitats that Bigelow sells. The creation of BSO signals that Bigelow is preparing for a future of commercial space living. Recently leaked NASA documents show that the Trump Administration wants to convert the International Space Station into a commercial venture, and BSO is betting that businesses including private scientific ventures and hotels will be interested in creating a profit above the Earth. A prototype Bigelow habitat, the Bigelow Expandable Activity Module (BEAM), has been connected to the ISS since 2016. It's proven such a successful addition that last year NASA extended its contract for an additional three years. But Bigelow is thinking past the BEAM. In its press release announcing BSO, it highlights its planned launches of the B330-1 and B330-2, spacecraft with 6-person capacity, in 2021.

Slashdot Asks: What Do People Misunderstand or Underappreciate About Apple? ( 487

In an interview with Fast Company, Apple CEO Tim Cook says people who have not used his company's products miss "how different Apple is versus other technology companies." A person who is just looking at the company's revenues and profits, says Cook, might think that Apple "is good at making money." But he says "that's not who we are. In Cook's view, Apple is: We're a group of people who are trying to change the world for the better, that's who we are. For us, technology is a background thing.

We don't want people to have to focus on bits and bytes and feeds and speeds. We don't want people to have to go to multiple [systems] or live with a device that's not integrated. We do the hardware and the software, and some of the key services as well, to provide a whole system. We do that in such a way that we infuse humanity into it. We take our values very seriously, and we want to make sure all of our products reflect those values. There are things like making sure that we're running our [U.S.] operations on 100% renewable energy, because we don't want to leave the earth worse than we found it. We make sure that we treat well all the people who are in our supply chain. We have incredible diversity, not as good as we want, but great diversity, and it's that diversity that yields products like this.
What do you think?

Ocean-wide Sensor Array Provides New Look at Global Ocean Current ( 73

An anonymous reader shares a Nature article: The North Atlantic Ocean is a major driver of the global currents that regulate Earth's climate, mix the oceans and sequester carbon from the atmosphere -- but researchers haven't been able to get a good look at its inner workings until now. The first results from an array of sensors strung across this region reveal that things are much more complicated than scientists previously believed. Researchers with the Overturning in the Subpolar North Atlantic Program (OSNAP) presented their findings this week at an ocean science meeting in Portland, Oregon. With nearly two years of data from late 2014 to 2016, the team found that the strength of the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation -- which pumps warm surface water north and returns colder water at depth -- varies with the winds and the seasons, transporting an average of roughly 15.3 million cubic metres of water per second. The measurements are similar in magnitude to those from another array called RAPID, which has been operating between Florida and the Canary Islands since 2004. But scientists say they were surprised by how much the currents measured by the OSNAP array varied over the course of two years.

Humanity's Biggest Machines Will Be Built in Space ( 147

When rockets can no longer hold oversize payloads, building in space might be the best way to go. Popular Mechanics: Headquartered in Mountain View, California, Made In Space is working to make that dream a reality. For the past few years, they've operated the Additive Manufacturing Facility, one of the only 3D printers in space. While the AMF sits comfortably aboard the International Space Station, Made In Space has plans to launch a new printer that would operate exclusively in the vacuum of space. Their prototype, called Archinaut, is scheduled to launch later this year. Future machines like Archinaut will be able to print nearly everything in orbit -- where there's no limit on size. "We can manufacture a structure that couldn't support its own mass if it were on Earth," says Made In Space CEO Andrew Rush. "The only practical limitation you have is how much material you're providing to the system." The first Archinaut prototype is mostly just a proof-of-concept and won't be constructing mile-wide satellites anytime soon. "First you crawl, then you walk, then you run," says Rush. "We'll start out with manufacturing space-optimized trusses and booms and reflectors to provide a supply capability that we can't currently achieve." But once this tech gets off the ground, it can be used to build structures as big as their owners want them.

73 Percent of Fish In the Northwestern Atlantic Have Microplastics In Their Guts 88

According to a new study published today in the journal Frontiers in Marine Science, microplastics have been found in the stomachs of nearly three out of every four mesopelagic fish caught in the Northwest Atlantic. "These findings are worrying, as the affected fish could spread microplastics throughout the ocean," reports Phys.Org. "The fish are also prey for fish eaten by humans, meaning that microplastics could indirectly contaminate our food supply through the transfer of associated microplastic toxins." From the report: Microplastics are small plastic fragments that have accumulated in the marine environment following decades of pollution. These fragments can cause significant issues for marine organisms that ingest them, including inflammation, reduced feeding and weight-loss. Microplastic contamination may also spread from organism to organism when prey is eaten by predators. Since the fragments can bind to chemical pollutants, these associated toxins could accumulate in predator species. Mesopelagic fish serve as a food source for a large variety of marine animals, including tuna, swordfish, dolphins, seals and sea birds. Typically living at depths of 200-1,000 meters, these fish swim to the surface at night to feed then return to deeper waters during the day.

The researchers caught mesopelagic fish at varying depths, then examined their stomachs for microplastics back in the lab. They used a specialized air filter so as not to introduce airborne plastic fibers from the lab environment. The team found a wide array of microplastics in the fish stomachs -- with a whopping 73% of the fish having ingested the pollutants.

Would You Fear Alien Life or Welcome It? ( 226

If you've ever watched a science fiction movie about aliens, you'll know that humans tend to freak out and destroy everything when faced with incontrovertible proof of the existence of alien life. But a new analysis from Arizona State University psychology professor Michael Varnum and his colleagues suggests that humans might actually remain pretty calm and collected when that big news breaks. CNET reports: Varnum makes this conclusion based on an analysis of newspaper articles covering past potential discoveries of extraterrestrial life. Specifically, he and his colleagues looked at articles about the weird dimming of so-called "Tabby's Star," Earth-like planets around the star Trappist-1, and the potential discovery of Martian microbe fossils from 1996. They found language in the stories demonstrated much more positive emotion than fear or other negative emotions. In a second study, the team also surveyed over 500 people, asking them to guess how they and humanity would react to an announcement that alien microbial life had been discovered. In the case of both their own reaction and everyone else's, the participants hypothesized responses that were more positive than negative. The research was published last month in Frontiers in Psychology.

AI is Helping Seismologists Detect Earthquakes They'd Otherwise Miss ( 32

Using the same tools we use for voice detection, scientists are uncovering tiny earthquakes hidden in the data. From The Verge: Oklahoma never used to be known for its earthquakes. Before 2009, the state had roughly two quakes of magnitude three and above each year. In 2015, this tally rocketed to more than 900, though it's calmed since, falling to 304 last year. This sudden increase is thought to be caused by the disposal of wastewater by the state's booming fracking industry, and it's caught seismologists off-guard. As a historically quake-free area, Oklahoma doesn't have enough equipment to detect and locate all of these quakes, making it hard to investigate their root cause. The solution proposed by Perol and his colleagues from Harvard University's engineering and earth sciences departments is to use artificial intelligence to amplify the sensitivity of the state's earthquake detectors, otherwise known as seismographs. In a paper published today in the journal Science Advances, they show how effective this technique is -- capable of detecting 17 times more earthquakes than older methods in a fraction of the time. The method is similar to the voice detection software used by digital assistants like Alexa and Siri.

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 .

SpaceX Hits Two Milestones In Plan For Low-Latency Satellite Broadband ( 82

SpaceX is about to launch two demonstration satellites, and it is on track to get the Federal Communications Commission's permission to offer satellite internet service in the U.S. "Neither development is surprising, but they're both necessary steps for SpaceX to enter the satellite broadband market," reports Ars Technica. "SpaceX is one of several companies planning low-Earth orbit satellite broadband networks that could offer much higher speeds and much lower latency than existing satellite internet services." From the report: Today, FCC Chairman Ajit Pai proposed approving SpaceX's application "to provide broadband services using satellite technologies in the United States and on a global basis," a commission announcement said. SpaceX would be the fourth company to receive such an approval from the FCC, after OneWeb, Space Norway, and Telesat. "These approvals are the first of their kind for a new generation of large, non-geostationary satellite orbit, fixed-satellite service systems, and the Commission continues to process other, similar requests," the FCC said today. SpaceX's application has undergone "careful review" by the FCC's satellite engineering experts, according to Pai. "If adopted, it would be the first approval given to an American-based company to provide broadband services using a new generation of low-Earth orbit satellite technologies," Pai said.

Separately, CNET reported yesterday that SpaceX's Falcon 9 launch on Saturday will include "[t]he first pair of demonstration satellites for the company's 'Starlink' service." The demonstration launch is confirmed in SpaceX's FCC filings. One SpaceX filing this month mentions that a secondary payload on Saturday's Falcon 9 launch will include "two experimental non-geostationary orbit satellites, Microsat-2a and -2b." Those are the two satellites that SpaceX previously said would be used in its first phase of broadband testing.


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.


Germany Considers Free Public Transport in Fight To Banish Air Pollution ( 321

"Car nation" Germany has surprised neighbours with a radical proposal to reduce road traffic by making public transport free, as Berlin scrambles to meet EU air pollution targets and avoid big fines. From a report: The move comes just over two years after Volkswagen's devastating "dieselgate" emissions cheating scandal unleashed a wave of anger at the auto industry, a keystone of German prosperity. "We are considering public transport free of charge in order to reduce the number of private cars," three ministers including Environment Minister Barbara Hendricks wrote to EU Environment Commissioner Karmenu Vella in the letter seen by AFP Tuesday.

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