Space

LIGO Will Make Gravitational Waves Announcement on Thursday 51

StartsWithABang writes: When we look out into the Universe, we normally gain information about it by gathering light of various wavelengths. However, there are other possibilities for astronomy, including by looking for the neutrinos emitted by astrophysical sources - first detected in the supernova explosion of 1987 - and in the gravitational waves emitted by accelerating masses. These ripples in the fabric of space were theorized back in the early days of Einstein's General Relativity, and experiments to detect them have been ongoing since the 1960s. However, in September of 2015, Advanced LIGO came online, and it was the first gravitational wave observatory that was expected to detect a real gravitational wave signal. The press conference on Thursday is where the collaboration will make their official announcement, and in the meantime, here's an explainer of what gravitational waves are, what Advanced LIGO can teach us, and how.
Australia

Australia Cuts 110 Climate Scientist Jobs: "The Science is Settled." 265

An anonymous reader writes: With an ax rather than a scalpel, Australia's federal science agency last week chopped off its climate research arm in a decision that has stunned scientists and left employees dispirited. Why? Because the science is settled, there is no need for more basic research, the government says. No doubt many will experience a case of schadenfreude as they see those who have long claimed "the science is settled" face the inevitable and logical consequence of that stance.
Education

An Advanced Math Education Revolution Is Underway In the U.S. (theatlantic.com) 179

AthanasiusKircher writes: The Atlantic has an >extended article on the recent surge in advanced math education at the primary and secondary levels in the U.S., arguing that last year's victory for the U.S. in the Math Olympiad was not a random anomaly. Participation in math camps, after-school or weekend math "academies," and math competitions has surged in recent years, with many programs having long wait lists. Inessa Rifkin, co-founder of one of these math academies, argues that the problems with math education begin in the 2nd and 3rd grades: ""The youngest ones, very naturally, their minds see math differently.... It is common that they can ask simple questions and then, in the next minute, a very complicated one. But if the teacher doesn't know enough mathematics, she will answer the simple question and shut down the other, more difficult one." These alternative math programs put a greater focus on problem-solving: "Unlike most math classes, where teachers struggle to impart knowledge to students—who must passively absorb it and then regurgitate it on a test—problem-solving classes demand that the pupils execute the cognitive bench press: investigating, conjecturing, predicting, analyzing, and finally verifying their own mathematical strategy. The point is not to accurately execute algorithms, although there is, of course, a right answer... Truly thinking the problem through—creatively applying what you know about math and puzzling out possible solutions—is more important."

The article concludes by noting that programs like No Child Left Behind have focused on minimal standards, rather than enrichment activities for advanced students. The result is a disparity in economic backgrounds for students in pricey math activities; many middle-class Americans investigate summer camps or sports programs for younger kids, but they don't realize how important a math program could be for a curious child. As Daniel Zaharopol, founder of a related non-profit initiative, noted in his searches to recruit low-income students: "Actually doing math should bring them joy."

China

China Just Made a Major Breakthrough In Nuclear Fusion Research (techienews.co.uk) 287

New submitter TechnoidNash writes: China announced last week a major breakthrough in the realm of nuclear fusion research. The Chinese Experimental Advanced Superconducting Tokamak (EAST), was able to heat hydrogen gas to a temperature of near 50 million degrees Celsius for an unprecedented 102 seconds. While this is nowhere near the hottest temperature that has ever been achieved in nuclear fusion research (that distinction belongs to the Large Hadron Collider which reached 4 trillion degrees Celsius), it is the longest amount of time one has been maintained.
AI

Wolves Howl In Different 'Dialects,' Machine Learning Finds (vice.com) 48

derekmead writes: Differentiating wolf howls with human ears can prove tricky, so researchers have turned to computer algorithms to suss out if different wolf species howl differently. They think that understanding wolf howls could help improve wolf conservation and management programs. In a study published in the journal Behavioural Processes, a group of international researchers describe using machine learning for the first time to analyze 2,000 wolf howls gathered from both wild and domesticated wolves and their subspecies from around the world.
Earth

Carbon Dioxide From the Air Converted Into Methanol (gizmag.com) 133

Zothecula writes: The danger posed by rising levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide has seen many schemes proposed to remove a proportion it from the air. Rather than simply capture this greenhouse gas and bury it in the ground, though, many experiments have managed to transform CO2 into useful things like carbon nanofibers or even fuels, such as diesel. Unfortunately, the over-arching problem with many of these conversions is the particularly high operating temperatures that require counterproductive amounts of energy to produce relatively low yields of fuel. Now researchers at the University of Southern California (USC) claim to have devised a way to take CO2 directly from the air and convert it into methanol using much lower temperatures and in a correspondingly simpler way.
Earth

Meteorite Strike Kills Man In India 125

knwny writes: In what is believed to be the first such incident in modern times, a meteorite strike in India killed a man and injured three others. According to police sources, a loud blast was heard at the site of the strike which also left a four-feet deep crater. Preliminary investigation by forensic and bomb experts showed no sign of any explosive substance at the scene. The second link has a picture of the supposed crater which I believe will interest Slashdotters with experience in this area.
Space

SpaceX Sets Feb. 24th Target Date For Next Launch 42

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.
Mars

NASA Is Building a Virtual Mars For VR Viewing (unrealengine.com) 37

An anonymous reader writes: NASA will release a free virtual reality program this year that will simulate exploring the surface of Mars. "Players will be able to walk on the Red Planet as well as drive the Mars Rover..." reads the official announcement at UnrealEngine.com. The Mars 2030 Experience will be available on Oculus Rift, Google Cardboard, and Samsung Gear VR, and will also "expand" to Sony PlayStation VR and HTC Vive, with additional versions for Android and iOS devices, and it will even be streamed on Twitch. NASA plans to reveal more details at this year's South by Southwest conference in March.
Space

Thirty Meter Telescope Likely Never Gets Built ... In Hawaii 270

An anonymous reader writes: After years of its backers of doing everything the state of Hawaii demanded in order to get permission to build the Thirty Meter Telescope, a state judge today ordered that the whole process should start over again. Since this order was instigated by the protesters, and that it appears the government favors those protesters, it appears that there is no chance TMT will ever get approval to build in Hawaii. We've been following the back and forth, back and forth story of this telescope for a while.
Space

NASA Announces That Pluto Has Icebergs Floating On Glaciers of Nitrogen Ice (blastingnews.com) 50

MarkWhittington writes: The most recent finding from New Horizons show that icebergs have broken off from the hills surrounding the Sputnik Planum, a glacier of nitrogen ice, and are floating slowly across its surface, eventually to cluster together in places like the Challenger Colles, informally named after the crew of the space shuttle Challenger, which was lost just over 30 years ago. The feature is an especially high concentration of icebergs, measuring 37 by 22 miles. The icebergs float on the nitrogen ice plain because water ice is less dense than nitrogen ice.
Businesses

Startup Uses Sensor Networks To Debug Science Experiments (xconomy.com) 22

gthuang88 writes: Environmental factors like temperature, humidity, or lighting often derail life science experiments. Now Elemental Machines, a startup from the founders of Misfit Wearables, is trying to help scientists debug experiments using distributed sensors and machine-learning software to detect anomalies. The product is in beta testing with academic labs and biotech companies. The goal is to help speed up things like biology research and drug development. Wiring up experiments is part of a broader effort to create "smart labs" that automate some of the scientific process.
Technology

World's Smallest Optical Switch Uses a Single Atom (gizmag.com) 38

Zothecula writes: The rapid and on-going development of micro-miniature optical electronic devices is helping to usher in a new era of photonic computers and light-based memories that promise super-fast processor speeds and ultra-secure communications. However, as these components are shrunk ever further, fundamental limits to their dimensions are dictated by the wavelength of light itself. Now researchers at ETH Zurich claim to have overcome this limitation by creating both the world's smallest optical switch using a single atom, and accompanying circuitry that appears to break the rules by being smaller than the wavelength of the light that passes through it.
Space

Giant Magellan Telescope Set To Revolutionize Ground-Based Astronomy 105

StartsWithABang writes: If you want to see farther, deeper and at higher resolution than ever before into the Universe, you need four things: the largest aperture possible, the best-quality optical systems and cameras/CCDs, the least interference from the atmosphere, and the analytical techniques and power to make the most of every photon. While the last three have improved tremendously over the past 25 years, telescope size hasn't increased at all. That's all about to change over the next decade, as three telescopes — the Giant Magellan Telescope, the Thirty Meter Telescope and the European Extremely Large Telescope — are set to take us from 8-10 meter class astronomy to 25-40 meter class. While the latter two are fighting over funding, construction rights and other political concerns, the Giant Magellan Telescope is already under construction, and is poised to be the first in line to begin the future of ground-based astronomy.
Input Devices

Let Your Pupils Do the Typing 49

New submitter s.mathot writes: Researchers from France and the Netherlands have developed a way to—literally—write text by thinking of letters. (Academic paper [open access], non-technical blog, YouTube video.) This technique relies on small changes in pupil size that occur when you covertly (from the corner of your eye; without moving your eyes or body) attend to bright or dark objects. By presenting a virtual keyboard on which the 'keys' alternate in brightness, and simultaneously measuring the size of the eye's pupil, the technique automatically determines which letter you want to write; as a result, you can write letters by merely attending to them, without moving any part of your body, including the eyes.
Moon

Apollo Astronaut Edgar Mitchell, Sixth Man On the Moon, Dies At 85 (examiner.com) 110

MarkWhittington writes: According to a story in the Palm Beach Post, Edgar Mitchell, the sixth man to walk on the moon, has died at the age of 85. He flew as lunar module pilot on board Apollo 14, which flew to and from the moon between January 31, 1971 and February 9, 1971. His crewmates were Alan Shepard and Stuart Roosa. Apollo 14 was the return to flight for the moon landing program after the near disaster of Apollo 13 in April 1970, and explored the Fra Mauro highlands on the lunar surface. NASA marks Mitchell's passing as well.
Science

Wendelstein 7-X Fusion Reactor Produces Its First Flash of Hydrogen Plasma (gizmag.com) 98

Zothecula writes: Experimentation with Germany's newest fusion reactor is beginning to heat up, to temperatures of around 80 million degrees Celsius, to be precise. Having fired up the Wendelstein 7-X to produce helium plasma late last year, researchers have built on their early success to generate its first hydrogen plasma, an event they say begins the true scientific operation of the world's largest fusion stellarator.
Biotech

DNA Makes Lifeless Materials Shapeshift (sciencemag.org) 26

sciencehabit writes: Researchers have engineered tiny gold particles that can assemble into a variety of crystalline structures simply by adding a bit of DNA to the solution that surrounds them. Down the road, such reprogrammable particles could be used to make materials that reshape themselves in response to light, or to create novel catalysts that reshape themselves as reactions proceed.

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