Space

ESA Approves Gravitational-Wave Hunting Spacecraft For 2034 (newscientist.com) 45

The European Space Agency has approved the Laser Interferometer Space Antenna mission designed to study gravitational waves in space. The spacecraft is slated for launch in in 2034. New Scientist reports: LISA will be made up of three identical satellites orbiting the sun in a triangle formation, each 2.5 million kilometers from the next. The sides of the triangle will be powerful lasers bounced to and fro between the spacecraft. As large objects like black holes move through space they cause gravitational waves, ripples which stretch and squeeze space-time. The LISA satellites will detect how these waves warp space via tiny changes in the distance the laser beams travel. In order to detect these minuscule changes, on scales less than a trillionth of a meter, LISA will have to shrug off cosmic rays and the particles and light from the sun. The LISA Pathfinder mission, a solo probe launched in December 2015, proved that this sensitivity was possible and galvanized researchers working to realize the full LISA mission.
Mars

Stephen Hawking Says He Is Convinced That Humans Need To Leave Earth (sciencealert.com) 373

Reader dryriver writes: Back in May, renowned physicist Stephen Hawking made yet another doomsday prediction. He said that humanity has 100 years left on Earth, which knocked 900 years off the prediction he made in November 2016, which had given humanity 1,000 years left. With his new estimate, Hawking suggested the only way to prolong humanity's existence is for us to find a new home, on another planet (alternative source). Speaking at the Starmus Festival in Trondheim, Norway on Tuesday, Hawking reiterated his point: "If humanity is to continue for another million years, our future lies in boldly going where no one else has gone before," he explained, according to the BBC. Specifically, Hawking said that we should aim for another Moon landing by 2020, and work to build a lunar base in the next 30 years -- projects that could help prepare us to send human beings to Mars by 2025. "We are running out of space and the only places to go to are other worlds. It is time to explore other solar systems. Spreading out may be the only thing that saves us from ourselves. I am convinced that humans need to leave Earth," Hawking added.
Transportation

It's Too Hot For Some Planes To Fly In Phoenix (npr.org) 284

In Phoenix on Tuesday, temperatures were forecast to climb as high as 120 degrees Fahrenheit, causing more than 40 American Eagle regional flights out of Phoenix's international airport to be canceled. NPR reports: American Airlines said in a statement that the Bombardier CRJ aircraft used on some shorter routes have a maximum operating temperature of 118 degrees. For bigger jets, the threshold is higher. The carrier says that, for example, Airbus aircraft have a maximum operating temperature of 127 degrees and that for Boeing, it is 126 degrees. As USA Today reports: "Extreme heat affects a plane's ability to take off. Hot air is less dense than cold air, and the hotter the temperature, the more speed a plane needs to lift off. A runway might not be long enough to allow a plane to achieve the necessary extra speed." Bianca Hernandez, a meteorologist with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, tells NPR that Phoenix is seeing an unusually strong high-pressure system, which is causing the soaring temperatures.
Earth

A Third Of the Planet's Population Is Exposed To Deadly Heatwaves (motherjones.com) 267

An anonymous reader shares a report: Nearly a third of the world's population is now exposed to climatic conditions that produce deadly heatwaves, as the accumulation of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere makes it "almost inevitable" that vast areas of the planet will face rising fatalities from high temperatures, new research has found. Climate change has escalated the heatwave risk across the globe, the study states, with nearly half of the world's population set to suffer periods of deadly heat by the end of the century even if greenhouse gases are radically cut. "For heatwaves, our options are now between bad or terrible," said Camilo Mora, an academic at the University of Hawaii and lead author of the study. High temperatures are currently baking large swaths of the south-western US, with the National Weather Service (NWS) issuing an excessive heat warning for Phoenix, Arizona, which is set to reach 119F (48.3C) on Monday. The heat warning extends across much of Arizona and up through the heart of California, with Palm Springs forecast a toasty 116F (46.6C) on Monday and Sacramento set to reach 107F (41.6C).
Earth

Cats May Have Been Domesticated Twice (sciencemag.org) 172

sciencehabit writes: Cats may have been domesticated twice, once in Turkey around 10,000 years ago, and again in Egypt, thousands of years later. That's the conclusion of a new genetic analysis of more than 200 ancient cats, including DNA extracted from Egyptian mummies. The scientists found evidence for an exodus of cats into the wider world from both ancient Turkey and ancient Egypt, but that these two waves of cats sported different genetic signatures. Whether or not the ancient Egyptians independently domesticated cats, their massive breeding programs appear to have further tamed the feline, turning cats from territorial and antisocial creatures into the lovable furballs we know today.
Earth

Scientists Declare End to Global Coral Reef Bleaching Event (phys.org) 155

Scientists in the U.S. have announced Monday that a mass bleaching of coral reefs worldwide has finally ended after three years. "About three-quarters of the world's delicate coral reefs were damaged or killed by hot water in what scientists say was the largest coral catastrophe," reports Phys.Org. From the report: The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration announced a global bleaching event in May 2014. It was worse than previous global bleaching events in 1998 and 2010. The forecast damage doesn't look widespread in the Indian Ocean, so the event loses its global scope. Bleaching will still be bad in the Caribbean and Pacific, but it'll be less severe than recent years, said NOAA coral reef watch coordinator C. Mark Eakin. Places like Australia's Great Barrier Reef, northwest Hawaii, Guam and parts of the Caribbean have been hit with back-to-back-to-back destruction, Eakin said. University of Victoria, British Columbia, coral reef scientist Julia Baum plans to travel to Christmas Island in the Pacific where the coral reefs have looked like ghost towns in recent years. While conditions are improving, it's too early to celebrate, said Eakin, adding that the world may be at a new normal where reefs are barely able to survive during good conditions.
Earth

Ethiopia's Coffee Is the Latest Victim of Climate Change (theverge.com) 289

According to a study published today in Nature Plants, by the end of this century, increasing temperatures could make it impossible to grow coffee in about half of Ethiopia's coffee-growing regions. "That's because Arabica coffee trees (which are grown in Ethiopia) require pretty mild temperatures to survive, ideally between 59 to 75 degree Fahrenheit," reports The Verge. "Climate projections show that Ethiopia will generally become warmer and drier, and that means that 40 to 60 percent of areas where coffee is currently grown won't be suitable to grow the beans, the study says." From the report: In fact, climate change is already hurting Ethiopia's coffee growers: days and nights are already warmer, and the weather is more unpredictable and extreme. Hot days are hotter and rainy days are rainier. That leads to more unpredictable harvests and it hurts the local economy. Ethiopia is Africa's biggest coffee producer and the world's fifth largest coffee exporter, with 15 million Ethiopians living off coffee farming. Climate change risks disrupting the country's future. But there is a way Ethiopia can brace for its brewing troubles. The study found that rising temperatures will turn swaths of land at higher elevation into just the right places to grow coffee in the future. In fact, coffee farming could increase four fold if plantations are moved uphill, the study says. But to do that, the country needs to prepare: millions of farmers can't just take their crops and move to land they don't own. You need careful planning.
Encryption

Equipment Already In Space Can Be Adapted For Extremely Secure Data Encryption (helpnetsecurity.com) 20

Orome1 quotes a report from Help Net Security: In a new study, researchers from the Max Planck Institute in Erlangen, demonstrate ground-based measurements of quantum states sent by a laser aboard a satellite 38,000 kilometers above Earth. This is the first time that quantum states have been measured so carefully from so far away. A satellite-based quantum-based encryption network would provide an extremely secure way to encrypt data sent over long distances. Developing such a system in just five years is an extremely fast timeline since most satellites require around 10 years of development. For the experiments, the researchers worked closely with satellite telecommunications company Tesat-Spacecom GmbH and the German Space Administration. The German Space Administration previously contracted with Tesat-Spacecom on behalf of the German Ministry of Economics and Energy to develop an optical communications technology for satellites. This technology is now being used commercially in space by laser communication terminals onboard Copernicus -- the European Union's Earth Observation Program -- and by SpaceDataHighway, the European data relay satellite system. It turned out that this satellite optical communications technology works much like the quantum key distribution method developed at the Max Planck Institute. Thus, the researchers decided to see if it was possible to measure quantum states encoded in a laser beam sent from one of the satellites already in space. In 2015 and the beginning of 2016, the team made these measurements from a ground-based station at the Teide Observatory in Tenerife, Spain. They created quantum states in a range where the satellite normally does not operate and were able to make quantum-limited measurements from the ground. The findings have been published in the journal Optica.
Space

NASA Finds Evidence Of 10 New Earth-sized Planets (usatoday.com) 63

NASA said Monday it has found new evidence of 219 planets outside our Solar System. Ten of those exoplanets appear to be similar to the size of the Earth and orbit their stars in the habitable zone. From a report: The new planets' existence must still be double-checked. But Kepler's latest haul -- which includes a planet that is only slightly larger than Earth and receives the same amount of energy from its sun as Earth -- is the latest triumph for Kepler, which has spotted roughly 80 percent of the planets orbiting stars other than our sun. Because of their potential for hosting life, the 10 Earth-size planets are the most glamorous of the newly announced planets from Kepler. But those 10 were joined by an additional 209 more garden-variety planets that are unlikely to be hospitable to life because they are too gassy, too hot, too cold or otherwise unlike the only known planet to host life: Earth.
The Almighty Buck

Air Force Budget Reveals How Much SpaceX Undercuts Launch Prices (arstechnica.com) 95

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Ars Technica: In 2014, the U.S. Government Accountability Office issued a report on cost estimates for the U.S. Air Force's program to launch national security payloads, which at the time consisted of a fleet of rockets maintained and flown entirely by United Launch Alliance (ULA). The report was critical of the non-transparent nature of ULA's launch prices and noted that the government "lacked sufficient knowledge to negotiate fair and reasonable launch prices" with the monopoly. At around the same time, the new space rocket company SpaceX began to aggressively pursue the opportunity to launch national security payloads for the government. SpaceX claimed to offer a substantially lower price for delivering satellites into various orbits around Earth. But because of the lack of transparency, comparing prices was difficult. The Air Force recently released budget estimates for fiscal year 2018, and these include a run out into the early 2020s. For these years, the budget combines the fixed price rocket and ELC contract costs into a single budget line. (See page 109 of this document). They are strikingly high. According to the Air Force estimate, the "unit cost" of a single rocket launch in fiscal year 2020 is $422 million, and $424 million for a year later. SpaceX sells basic commercial launches of its Falcon 9 rocket for about $65 million. But, for military launches, there are additional range costs and service contracts that add tens of millions of dollars to the total price. It therefore seems possible that SpaceX is taking a loss or launching at little or no profit to undercut its rival and gain market share in the high-volume military launch market. Elon Musk retweeted the article, adding "$300M cost diff between SpaceX and Boeing/Lockheed exceeds avg value of satellite, so flying with SpaceX means satellite is basically free."
Earth

Coal Market Set To Collapse Worldwide By 2040 As Solar, Wind Dominate (bloomberg.com) 375

Jess Shankleman reports via Bloomberg: Solar power, once so costly it only made economic sense in spaceships, is becoming cheap enough that it will push coal and even natural-gas plants out of business faster than previously forecast. That's the conclusion of a Bloomberg New Energy Finance outlook for how fuel and electricity markets will evolve by 2040. The research group estimated solar already rivals the cost of new coal power plants in Germany and the U.S. and by 2021 will do so in quick-growing markets such as China and India. The scenario suggests green energy is taking root more quickly than most experts anticipate. It would mean that global carbon dioxide pollution from fossil fuels may decline after 2026, a contrast with the International Energy Agency's central forecast, which sees emissions rising steadily for decades to come.

The report also found that through 2040:
-China and India represent the biggest markets for new power generation, drawing $4 trillion, or about 39 percent all investment in the industry.
-The cost of offshore wind farms, until recently the most expensive mainstream renewable technology, will slide 71 percent, making turbines based at sea another competitive form of generation.
-At least $239 billion will be invested in lithium-ion batteries, making energy storage devices a practical way to keep homes and power grids supplied efficiently and spreading the use of electric cars.
-Natural gas will reap $804 billion, bringing 16 percent more generation capacity and making the fuel central to balancing a grid that's increasingly dependent on power flowing from intermittent sources, like wind and solar.

Earth

Life On Mars: Elon Musk Reveals Details of His Colonisation Vision 229

Elon Musk has put his Mars-colonization vision to paper, and you can read it for free. SpaceX's billionaire founder and CEO published the plan, which he unveiled at a conference in Mexico in September 2016, in the journal New Space. From a report: The paper outlines early designs of the gigantic spacecraft, designed to carry 100 passengers, that he hopes to construct. "The thrust level is enormous," the paper states. "We are talking about a lift-off thrust of 13,000 tons, so it will be quite tectonic when it takes off." Creating a fully self-sustained civilisation of around one million people -- the ultimate goal -- would take 40-100 years according to the plans. Before full colonisation takes place, though, Musk needs to entice the first pioneers to pave the way.
Businesses

Amazon Says It Won't Replace Whole Foods Cashiers With Computers... Yet (cnbc.com) 109

An anonymous reader shares a report: Amazon said it has no current plans to automate the jobs of cashiers in Whole Foods stores after it finishes acquiring the grocery chain. It also isn't planning any layoffs, according to a spokesperson. There is some speculation, however, that Amazon may change its plans and use new technology inside of Whole Foods locations. Commenting on Amazon's announcement from earlier today, LinkedIn CEO Jeff Weiner said, "Only one company on earth can buy grocery chain, be rumored to buy enterprise software company & in both cases be lauded for strategic vision."
Space

New Evidence That All Stars Are Born In Pairs (phys.org) 90

InfiniteZero shares a report from Phys.Org: Did our sun have a twin when it was born 4.5 billion years ago? Almost certainly yes -- though not an identical twin. And so did every other sun-like star in the universe, according to a new analysis by a theoretical physicist from UC Berkeley and a radio astronomer from the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory at Harvard University. The new assertion is based on a radio survey of a giant molecular cloud filled with recently formed stars in the constellation Perseus, and a mathematical model that can explain the Perseus observations only if all sunlike stars are born with a companion. "We ran a series of statistical models to see if we could account for the relative populations of young single stars and binaries of all separations in the Perseus molecular cloud, and the only model that could reproduce the data was one in which all stars form initially as wide (more than 500 astronomical units) binaries," said co-author Steven Stahler, a UC Berkeley research astronomer. "These systems then either shrink or break apart within a million years." The study has been published in April on the arXiv server.
Earth

Multi-Million Dollar Upgrade Planned To Secure 'Failsafe' Arctic Seed Vault (theguardian.com) 53

An anonymous reader quotes a report from The Guardian: The Global Seed Vault, built in the Arctic as an impregnable deep freeze for the world's most precious food seeds, is to undergo a multi-million dollar upgrade after water from melting permafrost flooded its access tunnel. No seeds were damaged but the incident undermined the original belief that the vault would be a "failsafe" facility, securing the world's food supply forever. Now the Norwegian government, which owns the vault, has committed $4.4 million to improvements. [T]he vault's planners had not anticipated the extreme warm weather seen recently at the end of the world's hottest ever recorded year. "The background to the technical improvements is that the permafrost has not established itself as planned," said a government statement. "A group will investigate potential solutions to counter the increased water volumes resulting from a wetter and warmer climate on Svalbard." One option could be to replace the access tunnel, which slopes down towards the vault's main door, carrying water towards the seeds. A new upward sloping tunnel would take water away from the vault. An initial $1.6 million will be spent on investigating ways to improve the access tunnel, with the group's conclusions delivered in spring 2018. "They are going in with an open mind to find a good solution," said Aschim. "$4.4 million is for all the improvements we are doing now." The vault cost $9 million to build.
Earth

Entrepreneurs Fight Air Pollution With CO2-Reducing 'CityTrees' (cnn.com) 190

CNN is reporting on "CityTree", a unique 10-foot tall mobile installation which removes pollutants from the air." An anonymous reader quotes their report: Berlin-based Green City Solutions claims its invention has the environmental benefit of up to 275 actual trees. But the CityTree isn't, in fact, a tree at all -- it's a moss culture. "Moss cultures have a much larger leaf surface area than any other plant. That means we can capture more pollutants," said Zhengliang Wu, co-founder of Green City Solutions.

The huge surfaces of moss installed in each tree can remove dust, nitrogen dioxide and ozone gases from the air. The installation is autonomous and requires very little maintenance: solar panels provide electricity, while rainwater is collected into a reservoir and then pumped into the soil... "We also have pollution sensors inside the installation, which help monitor the local air quality and tell us how efficient the tree is." Wu said. Its creators say that each CityTree is able to absorb around 250 grams of particulate matter a day and contributes to the capture of greenhouse gases by removing 240 metric tons of CO2 a year... Wu also argued that the CityTree is just one piece of a larger puzzle. "Our ultimate goal is to incorporate technology from the CityTree into existing buildings," he said.

So far they've installed 20 CityTrees -- each of which costs about $25,000.
Earth

The US Can't Leave The Paris Climate Deal Until 2020 (nytimes.com) 403

An anonymous reader quotes the New York Times: Last week, President Trump announced that the United States would withdraw from the Paris climate agreement. But it will take more than one speech to pull out: Under the rules of the deal, which the White House says it will follow, the earliest any country can leave is November 4, 2020. That means the United States will remain a party to the accord for nearly all of Mr. Trump's current term... Nov. 4, 2019 is the earliest date that the United States can submit a written notice to the United Nations that it is withdrawing from the Paris deal -- exactly three years after it came into force. As soon as that happens, the United States can leave the accord in exactly one year... If a new president enters the White House on Jan. 20, 2021, he or she could easily submit a written notice to the United Nations that the United States would like to rejoin the Paris accord. Within 30 days, the United States could re-enter the agreement and submit a new pledge for how the country plans to tackle climate change.
The article also acknowledges "a growing coalition of states, cities and companies that are pledging to do as much as they can to meet the United States' climate goals on their own."
Transportation

Hyperloop One Reveals Its Plans For Connecting Europe (engadget.com) 213

Hyperloop One has revealed its plans for connecting Europe via its Hyperloop transportation system that can move passengers/cargo at airlines speeds for a fraction of the cost of air travel. The company is currently considering nine potential routes in Europe, "running from a 90km hop to connect Estonia and Finland, through to a 1,991km pan-German route," reports Engadget. "The UK [...] gets three proposes routes: one to connect its Northern Cities, one to connect the North and South, and one to connect Scotland with Wales." From the report: Several of the routes, including ones between Estonia and Finland, Corsica to Sardinia and Spain -- Morocco, all cross bodies of water. The company has, on several occasions, spoke of its love of tunnels, and plans to use them extensively in construction. Although rather than using tunneling machines, which can be slow, submerged box tunnels or archimedes bridges may be cheaper and faster to build. CNBC notes that the proposals for Europe connect more than 75 million people in 44 cities, spanning 5,000 kilometers (3,100 miles).
Space

Astronomers Discover Alien World Hotter Than Most Stars (vanderbilt.edu) 59

Science_afficionado writes: An international team of astronomers has discovered a planet like Jupiter zipping around its host star every day and a half, boiling at temperatures hotter than most stars and sporting a giant, glowing gas tail like a comet. From a report via Vanderbilt University: "With a day-side temperature peaking at 4,600 Kelvin (more than 7,800 degrees Fahrenheit), the newly discovered exoplanet, designated KELT-9b, is hotter than most stars and only 1,200 Kelvin (about 2,000 degrees Fahrenheit) cooler than our own sun. In fact, the ultraviolet radiation from the star it orbits is so brutal that the planet may be literally evaporating away under the intense glare, producing a glowing gas tail. The super-heated planet has other unusual features as well. For instance, it's a gas giant 2.8 times more massive than Jupiter but only half as dense, because the extreme radiation from its host star has caused its atmosphere to puff up like a balloon. Because it is tidally locked to its star -- as the moon is to Earth -- the day side of the planet is perpetually bombarded by stellar radiation and, as a result, it is so hot that molecules such as water, carbon dioxide and methane can't form there." The findings have been published in the journal Nature.
NASA

NASA Will Create Fake Red And Green Clouds Near Virginia (cnn.com) 83

"We have scrubbed today, June 4, due to clouds," NASA tweeted hours before sunrise on Sunday, adding later that "The next launch attempt for the Terrier-Improved Malemute is no earlier than June 11 pending range availability." So they're still waiting for the right weather to launch a very unique experiment. An anonymous reader quotes CNET: The early morning hours on the U.S. East Coast might be unusually colorful as NASA plans to produce artificial blue-green and red clouds that may be visible from New York to North Carolina... It's a test of a new system that helps scientists study the auroras and ionosphere. A NASA sounding rocket (a small, sub-orbital rocket often used in research) will launch from Wallops Flight Facility off the coast of Virginia and release several soda-sized canisters of vapor tracers in the upper atmosphere that may appear as colorful clouds. The tracers use vapors made up of lithium, barium and tri-methyl aluminum that react with other elements in the atmosphere to glow, letting researchers visually track the flows of ionized and neutral particles. It's a bit like being able to dye the wind or ocean currents to be able to get a visual picture.
When NASA does perform its launch, CNN adds that "If you're near the eastern U.S. coast, look toward the eastern horizon. The farther you are from the launch location, the lower the clouds will appear on the horizon." Basically, try to adjust your gaze towards Virginia's eastern shore -- and if you're not on the east coast, NASA will be livestreaming the launch and posting updates on Facebook and Twitter.

Updated to reflect new mission status.

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