Neutrino 'Flip' Discovery Earns Nobel For Japanese, Canadian Researchers 54

Dave Knott writes with news that the 2015 Nobel Prize in physics has been awarded to Takaaki Kajita (of the University of Tokyo in Japan) and Arthur McDonald (of Queens University in Canada), for discovering how neutrinos switch between different "flavours." As the linked BBC article explains: In 1998, Prof Kajita's team reported that neutrinos they had caught, bouncing out of collisions in the Earth's atmosphere, had switched identity: they were a different "flavour" from what those collisions must have released. Then in 2001, the group led by Prof McDonald announced that the neutrinos they were detecting in Ontario, which started out in the Sun, had also "flipped" from their expected identity. This discovery of the particle's wobbly identity had crucial implications. It explained why neutrino detections had not matched the predicted quantities — and it meant that the baffling particles must have a mass. This contradicted the Standard Model of particle physics and changed calculations about the nature of the Universe, including its eternal expansion.

Study Finds Humans Are Worse Than Radiation For Chernobyl Animals 135

derekmead writes: A study published today in Current Biology shows that wildlife in the Chernobyl exclusion zone is actually more abundant than it was before the disaster. According to the authors, led by Portsmouth University professor of environmental science Jim Smith, the recovery is due to the removal of the single biggest pressure on wildlife—humans. "The wildlife at Chernobyl is very likely better than it was before the accident, not because radiation is good for animals, but because human occupation is much worse,” Portsmouth University professor of environmental science Jim Smith says. “We were trying to emphasize that this study is a remarkable illustration of an obvious, but important message,” he said. “It is ordinary human habitation and use (farming, forestry, hunting) of land which does most ecological damage.”

B612 Foundation Loses Partnership With NASA; Asteroids Not a Significant Risk 174

StartsWithABang writes: Yes, asteroids might be humanity's undoing in the worst-case scenario. It's how the dinosaurs went down, and it could happen to us, too. The B612 foundation has been working to protect us by mapping and then learning to deflect potential threats to our planet, but their proposed mission needed $450 million, a goal they've fallen well short of. As a result, NASA has severed their partnership, which is a good thing for humanity: the risk assessment figures show that worrying about killer asteroids is largely a waste.

Michigan Mammoth May Have Been Butchered By Humans 39

Forbes reports that a mammoth recently unearthed in rural Michigan includes evidence that the animal was butchered for food: From the article: A small stone that could potentially be a cutting tool was also found with the mammoth bones. To confirm that this animal was butchered by humans, researchers will examine the bones for cut marks that would indicate people were processing it for meat. A third piece of evidence is the organized way the neck vertebrae of the mammoth were found. "An animal doesn't just come apart naturally leaving a sequence of tightly articulated vertebrae like that," Fisher said, indicating that the animal would have had to have been moved by humans for paleontologists to find the bones laid out in such a fashion.

Cape Verde Boulders Indicate Massive Tsunami 73,000 Years Ago 54

TaleSlinger writes: Researchers from University of Bristol, UK found that boulders strewn 200m above sea level on Cape Verde, off the west coast of Africa, were ripped from cliffs below and washed up there by a tsunami between 170m and 270m (550-850ft). Researchers at Columbia University's Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory dated the tsunami at 73,000 years ago. It's interesting that this is about the same time as the Mt. Toba Eruption and about the same time humans nearly became extinct.

NASA Targets Venus, Asteroids With Potential Missions 47

coondoggie writes: NASA this week picked five possible contenders for a relatively low-cost robotic mission to space. The five candidates from a batch of 27 –include Venus, near-Earth object and asteroid operations – will ultimately be whittled down to one or two that will cost approximately $500 million, not including launch vehicle or post-launch operations, NASA stated. The DAVINCI probe would "study the chemical composition of Venus' atmosphere during a 63-minute descent. It would answer scientific questions that have been considered high priorities for many years, such as whether there are volcanoes active today on the surface of Venus and how the surface interacts with the atmosphere of the planet." A longer-range spacecraft called Lucy would "perform the first reconnaissance of the Jupiter Trojan asteroids, objects thought to hold vital clues to deciphering the history of the solar system."

Foam-Eating Worms May Offer Solution To Mounting Waste 88

ckwu writes: Polystyrene foams—including products like Styrofoam—are rarely recycled, and the materials biodegrade so slowly that they can sit in a landfill for hundreds of years. But a pair of new studies shows that mealworms will dine on polystyrene foam when they can't get a better meal, converting almost half of what they eat into carbon dioxide. In one study, the researchers fed mealworms polystyrene foam and found that the critters converted about 48% of the carbon they ate into carbon dioxide and excreted 49% in their feces. In the second study, the researchers showed that bacteria in the mealworms' guts were responsible for breaking down the polystyrene--suggesting that engineering bacteria might be a strategy for boosting the reported biodegradation.

How Amazon's Robots Move Everything Around 176

dkatana writes: Amazon's drones have a long way to become reality, but the real magic of the Internet of Things (IoT) is already happening at Amazon's vast fulfillment warehouses in the US. Amazon runs a fleet of thousands of small robots moving storage pods around so orders can be fulfilled in record time. They are so efficient that they can move an entire warehouse and have ready to operate again during the weekend. All together the small robots have traveled over 93 million miles — almost the distance from Earth to the Sun.

Scientists Have Spotted the Signs of Flowing Water On Mars 260

New submitter universe520 writes: Using neat imaging technology that allows them to determine the chemical compound of a substance by looking at the light reflected from it, scientists have spotted the traces of flowing water on Mars. By looking at the dark streaks on some photos of Mars, Lujendra Ojha from Georgia Tech has found compounds that are made in liquid water—meaning that water may be trickling down those streaks when the climate is just right. From the linked Economist piece: Details remain to be worked out, including where the water in question originates. Possibly, it derives from subsurface ice. Or it might condense out of Mars’s thin, dry atmosphere. Wherever it does come from, though, the amounts in question are modest in the extreme. But even modest amounts of water are intriguing to biologists. If Martians evolved during their planet’s earlier, wetter phase, the continued presence of water means it is just about possible that a few especially hardy types have survived until the present day—clinging on in dwindling pockets of dampness in the way that some “extremophile” bacteria on Earth are able to live in cold, salty and arid environments.

Tonight's Dazzling 'Supermoon' Lunar Eclipse: What You'll See 95

An anonymous reader writes: Astronomers are gearing up to spot a rare phenomenon, as a lunar eclipse coincides with a so-called "supermoon". Whether you think it marks the beginning of the apocalypse or is just a neat thing to look at tonight, Live Science has some tips and a timetable for best viewing in your area. The moon enters Earth's full shadow, called the umbra, starting at 9:07 p.m. EDT (6:07 p.m. PDT). The total eclipse begins at 10:11 p.m. EDT (7:11 p.m. PDT). Totality lasts an hour and 12 minutes, at which point a bright sliver of the moon will emerge and grow.

Study: Man-Made Global Warming First Became Evident In the Mid 20th Century 403

TapeCutter writes: In 1958 the US National Academies of Science (NAS) warned the US government that they had detected a robust Anthropogenic Global Warming (AGW) signal, they have not changed their mind on that claim for 57 years. Like the modern day Al Gore, Frank Capra publicized the possible effects in a popular documentary (video). Today we have news of a study from Melbourne University claiming the effects of AGW first became evident in the mid 20th century. In other words, the NAS could not have picked up the signal much earlier than they actually did. The fact that the last serious scientific objection to AGW (as a theory) was overcome in the mid 20th century by improving spectrometers in heat seeking missile was a remarkable coincidence, NAS took full advantage of that opportunity.
United States

Nuclear Energy: The Good News and the Bad News In the EPA Clean Energy Plan 121

Lasrick writes: Peter Bradford explains what the EPA's new Clean Power Plan has in store for nuclear energy. He provides an excellent explanation of the details of the plan, and how the nuclear industry benefits (or doesn't). "The competitive position of all new low-carbon electricity sources will improve relative to fossil fuels. New reactors (including the five under construction) and expansions of existing plants will count toward state compliance with the plan's requirements as new sources of low-carbon energy. Existing reactors, however, must sink or swim on their own prospective economic performance—the final plan includes no special carbon-reduction credits to help them."

An AI Hunts the Wild Animals Carrying Ebola 45

the_newsbeagle writes: Outbreaks of infectious diseases like Ebola follow a depressing pattern: People start to get sick, public health authorities get wind of the situation, and an all-out scramble begins to determine where the disease started and how it's spreading. Barbara Han, a code-writing ecologist, hopes her algorithms will put an end to that reactive model. She wants to predict outbreaks and enable authorities to prevent the next pandemic. Han takes a big-data approach, using a machine-learning AI to identify the wild animal species that carry zoonotic diseases and transmit them to humans.

ESA-JAXA Team Wins 'America's Cup of Rocket Science' 20

An anonymous reader writes: NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory just announced the winners of the 8th edition of the Global Trajectory Optimization Competition, aka the America's Cup of Rocket Science. For the first time, a joint team from ESA and JAXA won the prestigious award. They had to design a nearly impossible mission to perform space-based Very-Long-Baseline Interferometry using the formation flight of three spacecraft around the Earth. Their incredibly complex trajectory can be seen here on the YouTube channel of the winning team. The full final ranking can be also downloaded here.

Who Will Pay For a Commercial Space Station After the End of the ISS? 211

MarkWhittington writes: While NASA is planning its road to Mars, a number of commercial interests and place policy experts are discussing what happens after the International Space Station ends its operational life. Currently, the international partners have committed to operating ISS through 2024. Some have suggested that the space station, conceived by President Ronald Reagan in 1984, could last as long as 2028. But, after that, there will still be a need for a space station of some sort, either in low Earth orbit, or at one of the Lagrange points where the gravity of the moon and Earth cancel one another out.

Let's Not Go To Mars 684 writes: Ed Regis write in the NYT that today we an witnessing an outburst of enthusiasm over the literally outlandish notion that in the relatively near future, some of us are going to be living, working, thriving and dying on Mars. But unfortunately Mars mania reflects an excessively optimistic view of what it actually takes to travel to and live on Mars, papering over many of the harsh realities and bitter truths that underlie the dream. "First, there is the tedious business of getting there. Using current technology and conventional chemical rockets, a trip to Mars would be a grueling, eight- to nine-month-long nightmare for the crew," writes Regis. "Tears, sweat, urine and perhaps even solid waste will be recycled, your personal space is reduced to the size of an SUV., and you and your crewmates are floating around sideways, upside down and at other nauseating angles." According to Regis every source of interpersonal conflict, and emotional and psychological stress that we experience in ordinary, day-to-day life on Earth will be magnified exponentially by restriction to a tiny, hermetically sealed, pressure-cooker capsule hurtling through deep space and to top it off, despite these constraints, the crew must operate within an exceptionally slim margin of error with continuous threats of equipment failures, computer malfunctions, power interruptions and software glitches.

But getting there is the easy part says Regis. "Mars is a dead, cold, barren planet on which no living thing is known to have evolved, and which harbors no breathable air or oxygen, no liquid water and no sources of food, nor conditions favorable for producing any. For these and other reasons it would be accurate to call Mars a veritable hell for living things, were it not for the fact that the planet's average surface temperature is minus 81 degrees Fahrenheit." These are only a few of the many serious challenges that must be overcome before anyone can put human beings on Mars and expect them to live for more than five minutes says Regis. "The notion that we can start colonizing Mars within the next 10 years or so is an overoptimistic, delusory idea that falls just short of being a joke."

NASA Funded Project Could Mine Asteroids For Water With Sunlight 37

MarkWhittington writes: One of the more precious resources that asteroid miners are going after is water, something that is in abundance on Earth and, oddly enough, in space as well but not as easily be acquired. Iron, nickel and platinum group metals will certainly be valuable, but future space travelers will need water, not only for drinking, bathing, and agriculture but for rocket fuel. A story in reports on a new asteroid mining technique being funded by NASA that would use sunlight, concentrated by mirrors, to extract water out of excavated asteroids. The process is called "optical mining."

Volkswagen CEO Issues Apology Over Emission-Cheating Software 301

cartechboy writes: Last Friday we learned that Volkswagen got caught cheating on emissions testing via software programming. The punishment? It could get slapped with up to $18 billion in fines. While the company has yet to admit to any wrong doing, the CEO has now issued a formal apology and said the automaker will cooperate fully with any and all investigations. It's issued a stop-sale on all new and used TDI vehicles until further notice. VW's currently in talks with the EPA and the California Air Resources Board in regards to these allegations. It's also ordered an external investigation of its own into the matter. Whether criminal charges will be filed is yet to be seen.

A Call To RICO Climate Change Science Deniers 737

GregLaden writes: The argument could be made that the organized effort to disrupt climate change science and the development of effective policies to address climate change is criminal, costing life and property. The effort is known to be generally funded by various actors and there are people and organizations that certainly make money on this seemingly nefarious activity. A group of prominent scientists have written a letter to President Obama, Attorney General Lynch, and OSTP Director Holdren asking for this to be investigated under RICO laws, which were originally designed to address organized crime.

Former NASA Mission Controller James Oberg Lauds 'The Martian' 55

At IEEE Spectrum, James Oberg gives high praise to the upcoming film The Martian (release date: October 2). Oberg doesn't have much to say about the acting; he concentrates on the physics and plausibility of the plot and the technology portrayed, which beat those of most Hollywood space epics, and notes in particular "There’s no cheating on even highly-technical spaceflight topics, as shown in the treatment of the so-called “Rich Purnell maneuver,” wherein the Hermes slingshots past Earth back to Mars for a desperate pickup attempt. ... The basic strategy of the Rich Purnell maneuver is not fictional—a crippled Japanese Mars probe named Nozomi actually used a similar Earth-flyby scheme to set up a second chance for its own faltering unmanned Mars mission a dozen years ago." Oberg's background gives his appraisal some weight -- he's a former NASA mission controller who specialized in orbital rendezvous maneuvers. He has some quibbles, too, with the way mission personnel are depicted, and notes one excursion into "fantasy mode" near the fim's close, but concludes that it's a fair trade for the overwhelming sense of realism.