Earth

73 Percent of Fish In the Northwestern Atlantic Have Microplastics In Their Guts 77

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.
Sci-Fi

Would You Fear Alien Life or Welcome It? (cnet.com) 199

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

AI is Helping Seismologists Detect Earthquakes They'd Otherwise Miss (theverge.com) 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.
Space

SpaceX Hits Two Milestones In Plan For Low-Latency Satellite Broadband (arstechnica.com) 78

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.

Earth

Tesla Roadster Elon Musk Launched Into Space Has 6 Percent Chance of Hitting Earth In the Next Million Years (sciencemag.org) 148

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.

Earth

Germany Considers Free Public Transport in Fight To Banish Air Pollution (theguardian.com) 320

"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.
Space

The Next Falcon Heavy Will Carry the Most Powerful Atomic Clock Ever Launched (space.com) 127

schwit1 shares a report from Space.com: This isn't your average timekeeper. The so-called Deep Space Atomic Clock (DSAC) is far smaller than Earth-bound atomic clocks, far more precise than the handful of other space-bound atomic clocks, and more resilient against the stresses of space travel than any clock ever made. According to a NASA statement, it's expected to lose no more than 2 nanoseconds (2 billionths of a second) over the course of a day. That comes to about 7 millionths of a second over the course of a decade. n an email to Live Science, Andrew Good, a Jet Propulsion Laboratory representative, said the first DSAC will hitch a ride on the second Falcon Heavy launch, scheduled for June.

Every deep-space mission that makes course corrections needs to send signals to ground stations on Earth. Those ground stations rely on atomic clocks to measure just how long those signals took to arrive, which allows them to locate the spacecrafts position down to the meter in the vast vacuum. They then send signals back, telling the craft where they are and where to go next. Thats a cumbersome process, and it means any given ground station can support only one spacecraft at a time. The goal of DSAC, according to a NASA fact sheet, is to allow spacecraft to make precise timing measurements onboard a spacecraft, without waiting for information from Earth. A DSAC-equipped spacecraft, according to NASAs statement, could calculate time without waiting for measurements from Earth -- allowing it to make course adjustments or perform precision science experiments without pausing to turn its antennas earthward and waiting for a reply.

Space

New Horizons Probe Captures Images At Record Distance From Earth (engadget.com) 55

jwhyche writes: The New Horizons probe has captured the farthermost images of Earth. The probe took images of Earth from a distance of over 3.79 billion miles on December 5th, 2017. This beats the image Voyager 1 captured 27 years ago. The Voyager image was taken at a distance of 3.75 billion miles and has become known as the "Pale Blue Dot" photo. Engadget notes that this new record is likely to be broken again within a matter of months. "The [New Horizons spacecraft] is slated to swing by another Kuiper Belt object (2014 MU69) on January 1st, 2019 and record more imagery in the process," reports Engadget. "So long as the mission goes according to plan, New Horizons could hold on to its lead for a long time."
EU

Daylight Saving Time Isn't Worth It, European Parliament Members Say (arstechnica.com) 425

AmiMoJo shares a report from Ars Technica: Earlier this week, the European Parliament voted 384 to 153 to review whether Daylight Saving Time is actually worth it. Although the resolution it voted on was non-binding, the majority reflected a growing dissatisfaction with a system that has been used by the U.S., Canada, most of Europe, and regions in Asia, Africa, and South America for decades. The resolution asked the European Commission to review the costs and benefits of Daylight Saving Time. If the EU were to abolish Daylight Saving Time, it would need approval of the majority of EU member states and EU Parliament members.

"We think that there's no need to change the clocks," Ireland Member of European Parliament (MEP) Sean Kelly said to Deutsche Welle. "It came in during World War One, it was supposed to be for energy savings -- the indications are that there are very few energy savings, if any -- and there are an awful lot of disadvantages to both human beings and animals that make it outdated at this point."

Education

Unknown Language Discovered in Malaysia (smithsonianmag.com) 55

Researchers have cataloged close to 7,000 distinct human languages on Earth, per Linguistic Society of America's latest count. That may seem like a pretty exhaustive list, but it hasn't stopped anthropologists and linguists from continuing to encounter new languages, like one recently discovered in a village in the northern part of the Malay Peninsula. From a report: According to a press release, researchers from Lund University in Sweden discovered the language during a project called Tongues of the Semang. The documentation effort in villages of the ethnic Semang people was intended to collect data on their languages, which belong to an Austoasiatic language family called Aslian. While researchers were studying a language called Jahai in one village, they came to understand that not everyone there was speaking it. "We realized that a large part of the village spoke a different language. They used words, phonemes and grammatical structures that are not used in Jahai," says Joanne Yager, lead author of the study, which was published in the journal Linguist Typology. "Some of these words suggested a link with other Aslian languages spoken far away in other parts of the Malay Peninsula."
ISS

The Trump Administration is Moving To Privatize the International Space Station: Report (techcrunch.com) 235

The Trump administration is planning to privatize the international space station instead of simply decommissioning the orbiting international experiment in 2024, The Washington Post reports. From a report: According to a document obtained by the Post, the current administration is mulling handing the International Space Station off to private industry instead of de-orbiting it as NASA "will expand international and commercial partnerships over the next seven years in order to ensure continued human access to and presence in low Earth orbit." The Post also reported that the administration was looking to request $150 million in fiscal year 2019 "to enable the development and maturation of commercial entities and capabilities which will ensure that commercial successors to the ISS -- potentially including elements of the ISS -- are operational when they are needed." The U.S. government has already spent roughly $100 billion to build and operate the space station as part of an international coalition that also includes the European Space Agency, the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, and the Russian Space Agency.
Earth

Researchers Discover Efficient Way To Filter Salt, Metal Ions From Water (phys.org) 67

schwit1 shares a report on a new study, published in Sciences Advances, that offers a new solution to providing clean drinking water for billions of people worldwide: It all comes down to metal-organic frameworks (MOFs), an amazing next generation material that have the largest internal surface area of any known substance. The sponge like crystals can be used to capture, store and release chemical compounds. In this case, the salt and ions in sea water. Dr Huacheng Zhang, Professor Huanting Wang and Associate Professor Zhe Liu and their team in the Faculty of Engineering at Monash University in Melbourne, Australia, in collaboration with Dr Anita Hill of CSIRO and Professor Benny Freeman of the McKetta Department of Chemical Engineering at The University of Texas at Austin, have recently discovered that MOF membranes can mimic the filtering function, or "ion selectivity," of organic cell membranes. With further development, these membranes have significant potential to perform the dual functions of removing salts from seawater and separating metal ions in a highly efficient and cost effective manner, offering a revolutionary new technological approach for the water and mining industries. Currently, reverse osmosis membranes are responsible for more than half of the world's desalination capacity, and the last stage of most water treatment processes, yet these membranes have room for improvement by a factor of 2 to 3 in energy consumption. They do not operate on the principles of dehydration of ions, or selective ion transport in biological channels.
Space

Elon Musk Explains Why SpaceX Prefers Clusters of Small Engines (arstechnica.com) 239

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Ars Technica: The company's development of the Falcon 9 rocket, with nine engines, had given Musk confidence that SpaceX could scale up to 27 engines in flight, and he believed this was a better overall solution for the thrust needed to escape Earth's gravity. To explain why, the former computer scientist used a computer metaphor. "It's sort of like the way modern computer systems are set up," Musk said. "With Google or Amazon they have large numbers of small computers, such that if one of the computers goes down it doesn't really affect your use of Google or Amazon. That's different from the old model of the mainframe approach, when you have one big mainframe and if it goes down, the whole system goes down."

For computers, Musk said, using large numbers of small computers ends up being a more efficient, smarter, and faster approach than using a few larger, more powerful computers. So it was with rocket engines. "It's better to use a large number of small engines," Musk said. With the Falcon Heavy rocket, he added, up to half a dozen engines could fail and the rocket would still make it to orbit. The flight of the Falcon Heavy likely bodes well for SpaceX's next rocket, the much larger Big Falcon Rocket (or BFR), now being designed at the company's Hawthorne, California-based headquarters. This booster will use 31 engines, four more than the Falcon Heavy. But it will also use larger, more powerful engines. The proposed Raptor engine has 380,000 pounds of thrust at sea level, compared to 190,000 pounds of thrust for the Merlin 1-D engine.

AI

AIs Have Replaced Aliens As Our Greatest World Destroying Fear (qz.com) 227

An anonymous reader shares an excerpt from a report via Quartz: As we've turned our gaze away from the stars and toward our screens, our anxiety about humanity's ultimate fate has shifted along with it. No longer are we afraid of aliens taking our freedom: It's the technology we're building on our own turf we should be worried about. The advent of artificial intelligence is increasingly bringing about the kinds of disturbing scenarios the old alien blockbusters warned us about. In 2016, Microsoft's first attempt at a functioning AI bot, Tay, became a Hitler-loving mess an hour after it launched. Tesla CEO Elon Musk urged the United Nations to ban the use of AI in weapons before it becomes "the third revolution in warfare." And in China, AI surveillance cameras are being rolled out by the government to track 1.3 billion people at a level Big Brother could only dream of. As AI's presence in film and TV has evolved, space creatures blowing us up now seems almost quaint compared to the frightening uncertainties of an computer-centric world. Will Smith went from saving Earth from alien destruction to saving it from robot servants run amok. More recently, Ex Machina, Chappie, and Transcendence have all explored the complexities that arise when the lines between human and robot blur.

However, sentient machines aren't a new anxiety. It arguably all started with Ridley Scott's 1982 cult classic, Blade Runner. It's a stunning depiction of a sprawling, smog-choked future, filled with bounty hunters muttering "enhance" at grainy pictures on computer screens. ("Alexa, enlarge image.") The neo-noir epic popularized the concept of intelligent machines being virtually indistinguishable from humans and asked the audience where our humanity ends and theirs begin. Even alien sci-fi now acknowledges that we've got worse things to worry about than extra-terrestrials: ourselves.

Earth

Scientists Create a New Form of Matter: Superionic Water Ice (sciencemag.org) 62

According to The New York Times, scientists created a new form of water that simultaneously acts like a solid and liquid. "The substance, which consists of a fluid of hydrogen ions running through a lattice of oxygen, was formed by compressing water between two diamonds and then zapping it with a laser," reports Science Magazine. "That caused pressures to spike to more than a million times those of Earth's atmosphere and temperatures to rise to thousands of degrees, conditions scientists had predicted may lead to the formation of superionic ice. This kind of water doesn't exist naturally on Earth, the scientists report in Nature Physics, but it may be present in the mantles of icy planets like Neptune and Uranus."
Earth

The Arctic is Full of Toxic Mercury, and Climate Change is Going To Release it (washingtonpost.com) 195

We already knew that thawing Arctic permafrost would release powerful greenhouse gases. On Monday, scientists revealed it could also release massive amounts of mercury -- a potent neurotoxin and serious threat to human health. From a report: Permafrost, the Arctic's frozen soil, acts as a massive ice trap that keeps carbon stuck in the ground and out of the atmosphere -- where, if released as carbon dioxide, the greenhouse gas would drive global warming. But as humans warm the climate, they risk thawing that permafrost and releasing that carbon, with microbial organisms becoming more active and breaking down the ancient plant life that had previously been preserved in the frozen earth. That would further worsen global warming, further thawing the Arctic -- and so on. That cycle would be scary enough, but U.S. government scientists on Monday revealed that the permafrost also contains large volumes of mercury, a toxic element humans have already been pumping into the air by burning coal. There are 32 million gallons worth of mercury, or the equivalent of 50 Olympic swimming pools, trapped in the permafrost, the scientists wrote in a study published in the journal Geophysical Research Letters. For context, that's "twice as much mercury as the rest of all soils, the atmosphere, and ocean combined," they wrote.
Space

Scientists May Have Discovered the First Planets Outside the Milky Way (washingtonpost.com) 74

Using data from a NASA X-ray laboratory in space, Xinyu Dai, an astrophysicist and professor at the University of Oklahoma, detected a population of planets beyond the Milky Way galaxy (Warning: source may be paywalled; alternative source). The planets range in size from Earth's moon to the massive Jupiter. From the report: There are few methods to determine the existence of distant planets. They are so far away that no telescope can observe them, Dai told The Washington Post. So Dai and postdoctoral researcher Eduardo Guerras relied on a scientific principle to make the discovery: Albert Einstein's theory of relativity. Einstein's theory suggests light bends when tugged by the force of gravity. In this case, the light is coming from a quasar -- the nucleus of a galaxy with a swirling black hole -- that emits powerful radiation in the distance. Between that quasar and the space-based laboratory is the galaxy of newly discovered planets. The gravitational force of the galaxy bends the light heading toward the Milky Way, illuminating the galaxy in an effect called microlensing. In that way, the galaxy acts as a magnifying glass of sorts, bringing a previously unseen celestial body into X-ray view. In a university news release, Guerras had a less formal way to describe the complicated process: "This is very cool science."
Idle

Flat Earther Fails To Launch His Homemade Rocket -- Yet Again (facebook.com) 162

An anonymous reader writes: Flat earther "Mad" Mike Hughes, who also bills himself as "the last great daredevil," promised Super Bowl-sized ratings for an event Saturday where he'd blast himself nearly half a mile into the sky on a homemade rocket. "We had 20 cameras on site today, ready for a full segment," explained the video-on-demand site Noize TV on their Facebook page. One newspaper described it as also being "an event which he hopes will get people to investigate the ideology which holds the earth is flat." But judging from online reactions, the event was just another disappointment.

Noize TV's Facebook post titled "The Launch!!! Finally" shows a picture of Mike standing beside his rocket -- but it's followed by a commenters saying things like "There was no launch. I doubt there will be," and the official Noize TV account saying "We thought he would press that button... He did not. And won't be doing so we are pretty certain." And this morning Noize TV posted that "we will no longer cover non launches, only launches... It turns out non launches are not as funny as we anticipated."

One woman even posted that "I was there for awhile...police were there. Ambulance was there. 100 people that weren't supposed to be there was there..." And while there's rumors Mike might still try again another day, her ultimate verdict about the limo-driver-turned-daredevil was cynical. "He's all about getting seen rather than getting launched... My husband gave him $100 cash the last time he was going to launch...live and learn."

Earth

Laser Scans Reveal Maya 'Megalopolis' Below Guatemalan Jungle (nationalgeographic.com) 64

Laser-toting archaeologists have discovered an entire new city in the Central American jungle, the National Geographic reported this week. From the report: In what's being hailed as a "major breakthrough" in Maya archaeology, researchers have identified the ruins of more than 60,000 houses, palaces, elevated highways, and other human-made features that have been hidden for centuries under the jungles of northern Guatemala. Using a revolutionary technology known as LiDAR (short for "Light Detection And Ranging"), scholars digitally removed the tree canopy from aerial images of the now-unpopulated landscape, revealing the ruins of a sprawling pre-Columbian civilization that was far more complex and interconnected than most Maya specialists had supposed. "The LiDAR images make it clear that this entire region was a settlement system whose scale and population density had been grossly underestimated," said Thomas Garrison, an Ithaca College archaeologist and National Geographic Explorer who specializes in using digital technology for archaeological research.
Earth

Insect Die-off: Even Common Species Are Becoming Rare (sciencedaily.com) 127

Scientists at Senckenberg Nature Research Society and Technical University of Munich (TUM) have been able to show that currently widespread insects are threatened with a serious decline in species diversity in the near future. From the report: The research team lists the fragmentation of habitats and the intensification of agriculture as reasons for the decline of these "generalists." According to the study, published today in the scientific journal Biological Conservation, the genetic diversity among the examined butterfly species is also expected to decline sharply in the future -- as a result, the insects will become more sensitive to environmental changes.

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