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Space

Implication of Sabotage Adds Intrigue To SpaceX Investigation (washingtonpost.com) 111

An anonymous reader quotes a report from The Washington Post: The long-running feud between Elon Musk's space company and its fierce competitor United Launch Alliance took a bizarre twist this month when a SpaceX employee visited its facilities at Cape Canaveral, Fla., and asked for access to the roof of one of ULA's buildings. About two weeks earlier, one of SpaceX's rockets blew up on a launchpad while it was awaiting an engine test. As part of the investigation, SpaceX officials had come across something suspicious they wanted to check out, according to three industry officials with knowledge of the episode. SpaceX had still images from video that appeared to show an odd shadow, then a white spot on the roof of a nearby building belonging to ULA, a joint venture between Lockheed Martin and Boeing. The SpaceX representative explained to the ULA officials on site that it was trying to run down all possible leads in what was a cordial, not accusatory, encounter, according to the industry sources, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the ongoing investigation. The building, which had been used to refurbish rocket motors known as the SMARF, is just more than a mile away from the launchpad and has a clear line of sight to it. A representative from ULA ultimately denied the SpaceX employee access to the roof and instead called Air Force investigators, who inspected the roof and didn't find anything connecting it to the rocket explosion, the officials said. This week, ten members of Congress sent a four-page letter to several government agencies about the SpaceX explosion, raising the question as to whether or not SpaceX should be leading the investigation. Elon Musk said the investigation into what went wrong is the company's "absolute top priority." He added, "We've eliminated all of the obvious possibilities for what occurred there. So what remains are the less probable answers." SpaceX aims to resume flights in November.
NASA

Rosetta's 12-Year Mission Ends With Landing On Comet (sciencemag.org) 36

sciencehabit writes: It was an unusual grand finale. The crowded European Space Agency (ESA) operations center in Darmstadt, Germany, waited in silence and then the signal from the descending Rosetta mission simply stopped at 1.19 pm local time showing that the spacecraft had, presumably, landed on comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko some 40 minutes earlier, due to the time the signal takes to reach Earth. Mission controllers hugged each other; there was gentle applause from onlookers; and that was it. There were no last minute crises. Seven of Rosetta's instruments kept gathering data until the end. Holger Sierks, principal investigator of the 12-year mission's main camera, showed the gathered staff, officials, and journalists Rosetta's final picture: a rough gravelly surface with a few larger rocks covering an area 10 meters across. Earlier, it had snapped the interior of deep pits on the comet (shown above, from an altitude of 5.8 kilometers) that may show the building blocks it is made of. "It's very crude raw data but this will keep us busy," Sierks said. It is hoped that this last close-up data grab will help to clarify the many scientific questions raised by Rosetta.
Government

Feds Go After Mylan For Scamming Medicaid Out of Millions On EpiPen Pricing (arstechnica.com) 147

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Ars Technica: Over the nine or so years that Mylan, Inc. has been selling -- and hiking the price -- of EpiPens, the drug company has been misclassifying the life-saving device and stiffing Medicaid out of full rebate payments, federal regulators told Ars. Under the Medicaid Drug Rebate Program, drug manufacturers, such as Mylan, can get their products covered by Medicaid if they agree to offer rebates to the government to offset costs. With a brand-name drug such as the EpiPen, which currently has no generic versions and has patent protection, Mylan was supposed to classify the drug as a "single source," or brand name drug. That would mean Mylan is required to offer Medicaid a rebate of 23.1 percent of the costs, plus an "inflation rebate" any time Mylan raises the price of the brand-name drug at a rate higher than inflation. Mylan has opted for such price increases -- a lot. Since Mylan bought the rights to EpiPen in 2007, it has raised the price on 15 separate occasions, bringing the current list price to $608 for a two-pack up from about $50 a pen in 2007. That's an increase of more than 500 percent, which easily beats inflation. But instead of classifying EpiPen as a "single source" drug, Mylan told regulators that it's a "non-innovator multiple source," or generic drug. Under that classification, Mylan is only required to offer a rebate of 13 percent and no inflation rebates. It's unclear how much money Mylan has skipped out on paying in total to state and federal governments. But according to the state health department of Minnesota, as reported by CNBC, the misclassification cost that state $4.3 million this year alone.
Medicine

Print-On-Demand Bone Could Quickly Mend Major Injuries (sciencemag.org) 25

sciencehabit quotes a report from Science Magazine: If you shatter a bone in the future, a 3D printer and some special ink could be your best medicine. Researchers have created what they call "hyperelastic bone" that can be manufactured on demand and works almost as well as the real thing, at least in monkeys and rats. Though not ready to be implanted in humans, bioengineers are optimistic that the material could be a much-needed leap forward in quickly mending injuries ranging from bones wracked by cancer to broken skulls. Researchers at Northwestern University, Evanston, in Illinois are working on a hyperelastic bone, which is a type of scaffold made up of hydroxyapatite, a naturally occurring mineral that exists in our bones and teeth, and a biocompatible polymer called polycaprolactone, and a solvent. Hydroxyapatite provides strength and offers chemical cues to stem cells to create bone. The polycaprolactone polymer adds flexibility, and the solvent sticks the 3D-printed layers together as it evaporates during printing. The mixture is blended into an ink that is dispensed by the printer, layer by layer, into exact shapes matching the bone that needs to be replaced. The idea is, a patient would come in with a nasty broken bone -- say, a shattered jaw -- and instead of going through painful autograft surgeries or waiting for a custom scaffold to be manufactured, he or she could be x-rayed and a 3D-printed hyperelastic bone scaffold could be printed that same day.
China

The Smog-Sucking Tower Has Arrived in China (vice.com) 161

Jamie Fullerton, reporting for Motherboard:Daan Roosegaarde reached into the pocket of his suit jacket, pulled out a plastic bag filled with black powder, and waved it around. "This is Beijing smog," Roosegaarde said, before gesturing to the seven-metre tall, gently humming metal tower we are stood next to in the Chinese capital's art district, 798. "We collected it from the tower yesterday. Incredibly disgusting." Dutch designer Roosegaarde's smog souvenir may be disgusting, but it's the byproduct of an invention that he has touted as a potential alleviator of China's pollution problems. His "smog-free tower" sucks air, filters it with ion technology, with Roosegaarde having explained: "By charging the Smog Free Tower with a small positive current, an electrode will send positive ions into the air. These ions will attach themselves to fine dust particles. A negatively charged surface -- the counter electrode -- will then draw the positive ions in, together with the fine dust particles. The fine dust "is collected together with the ions and stored inside of the tower." With the dust collected, the tower then spews out cleaner air through vents, creating a "bubble" in the area surrounding it that contains, according to Roosegaarde, up to 70 percent fewer pollution particles than the pre-cleaned air.
NASA

Rosetta Spacecraft Prepares To Land On Comet, Solve Lingering Mysteries (sciencemag.org) 40

sciencehabit writes from a report via Science Magazine: All good things must come to an end, and so it will be tomorrow when the Rosetta spacecraft makes its planned soft landing onto the surface of comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, the culmination of 2 years of close-up studies. Solar power has waned as 67P's orbit takes it and Rosetta farther from the sun, and so the mission team decided to go on a last data-gathering descent before the lights go out. This last data grab is a bonus after a mission that is already changing theorists' views about how comets and planets arose early in the solar system. Several Rosetta observations suggest that comets form not from jolting mergers of larger cometesimals, meters to kilometers across, but rather from the gentle coalescence of clouds of pebbles. And the detection of a single, feather-light, millimeter-sized particle -- preserved since the birth of the solar system -- should further the view of a quiet birth. The report concludes: "A slew of instruments will keep gathering data as Rosetta approaches the surface at the speed of a gentle stroll. For team members whose instruments have already been turned off to conserve power, the ending is bittersweet -- but their work is far from over. Most instrument teams have only examined their own data, and are just now thinking about combining data sets. "We've just started collaborating with other teams," [Holger Sierks of the Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research in Gottingen, Germany, chief of Rosetta's main camera,] says. "This is the beginning of the story, not the end."
Earth

The Americas Are Now Officially 'Measles-Free' (theverge.com) 239

An anonymous reader quotes a report from The Verge: The Americas are now free of measles and we have vaccines to thank, the Pan American Health Organization said earlier this week. This is the first region in the world to be declared measles-free, despite longtime efforts to eliminate the disease entirely. The condition -- which causes flu-like symptoms and a blotchy rash -- is one of the world's most infectious diseases. It's transmitted by airborne particles or direct contact with someone who has the disease and is highly contagious, especially among small children. To be clear, there are still people with measles in the Americas, but the only cases develop from strains picked up overseas. Still, the numbers are going down: in the U.S. this year, there have been 54 cases, down from 667 two years ago. The last case of measles that developed in the Americas was in 2002. (It took such a long time to declare the region measles-free because of various bureaucratic issues.) Health officials say that credit for this victory goes to efforts to vaccinate against the disease. Though the measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR) vaccine is recommended for all children and required by many states, anti-vaxxers have protested it due to since-discredited claims that vaccines can cause autism. NPR interviewed Dr. Seth Berkley, the CEO of GAVI, a Geneva-based nonprofit organization whose mission is to improve and provide vaccine and immunization coverage to children in the world's poorest countries. She says that 90 to 95 percent of people in a given region need to be vaccinated in order to stop transmission in a region. The rate worldwide is about 80 percent for measles, which means that 20 percent of people around the world are not covered.
Security

The Psychological Reasons Behind Risky Password Practices (helpnetsecurity.com) 198

Orome1 quotes a report from Help Net Security: Despite high-profile, large-scale data breaches dominating the news cycle -- and repeated recommendations from experts to use strong passwords -- consumers have yet to adjust their own behavior when it comes to password reuse. A global Lab42 survey, which polled consumers across the United States, Germany, France, New Zealand, Australia and the United Kingdom, highlights the psychology around why consumers develop poor password habits despite understanding the obvious risk, and suggests that there is a level of cognitive dissonance around our online habits. When it comes to online security, personality type does not inform behavior, but it does reveal how consumers rationalize poor password habits. My personal favorite: password paradox. "The survey revealed that the majority of respondents understand that their digital behavior puts them at risk, but do not make efforts to change it," reports Help Net Security. "Only five percent of respondents didn't know the characteristics of a secure password, with the majority of respondents understanding that passwords should contain uppercase and lowercase letters, numbers and symbols. Furthermore, 91 percent of respondents said that there is inherent risk associated with reusing passwords, yet 61 percent continue to use the same or similar passwords anyway, with more than half (55 percent) doing so while fully understanding the risk." The report also found that when attempting to create secure passwords, "47 percent of respondents included family names or initials," while "42 percent contain significant dates or numbers and 26 percent use the family pet."
Software

The UK's Largest Sperm Bank Is Now An App (technologyreview.com) 65

Sperm bank? There's an app for that. The largest sperm bank in the United Kingdom -- the London Sperm Bank -- has released an official app that aims to "modernize the process of hooking prospective parents up with the biological material they need to make it happen," according to MIT Technology Review: The app is essentially just a mobile version of the filtered search function the London Sperm Bank offers on its website. But in doing something as simple as bringing its desktop services to mobile devices, the bank is making a play to further normalize reproductive technologies. The London Sperm Bank boasts that users will receive push notifications as soon as new donors are available, which could help speed things up for hopeful parents looking for a match. The road to conception can take years for people using reproductive technologies, so expediting any part of the process would be a welcome time-saver. But the bank has over 10,000 vials of sperm, so searching, even using filters, could still be a lengthy process. To combat this, the app also offers a wish list function that lets more focused users predetermine what they're looking for in a donor, and receive a notification when their criteria are met. The way the service works on mobile has been compared to Tinder, but there's actually no swiping involved. Its wish list function means it's more akin to apps like Anthology, which job seekers use to find their next career move. The report notes that, while there are other mobile sperm bank apps out there, the London Sperm Bank is the only one with several medical associations and the U.K. government's Human Fertilization and Embryology Authority on board. Also, the app is free to download, but the cost of ordering sperm is about $1,200 per order, which is the same as if you order through the London Sperm Bank catalogue.
Earth

92% of the World's Population Exposed To Unsafe Levels of Air Pollution: WHO (sciencedaily.com) 115

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Science Daily: A new World Health Organization (WHO) air quality model confirms that 92% of the world's population lives in places where air quality levels exceed WHO limits. "The new WHO model shows countries where the air pollution danger spots are, and provides a baseline for monitoring progress in combatting it," says Dr Flavia Bustreo, Assistant Director General at WHO. It also represents the most detailed outdoor (or ambient) air pollution-related health data, by country, ever reported by WHO. The model is based on data derived from satellite measurements, air transport models and ground station monitors for more than 3000 locations, both rural and urban. It was developed by WHO in collaboration with the University of Bath, United Kingdom. Some 3 million deaths a year are linked to exposure to outdoor air pollution. Indoor air pollution can be just as deadly. In 2012, an estimated 6.5 million deaths (11.6% of all global deaths) were associated with indoor and outdoor air pollution together. Nearly 90% of air-pollution-related deaths occur in low- and middle-income countries, with nearly 2 out of 3 occurring in WHO's South-East Asia and Western Pacific regions. Ninety-four per cent are due to noncommunicable diseases -- notably cardiovascular diseases, stroke, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and lung cancer. Air pollution also increases the risks for acute respiratory infections. Major sources of air pollution include inefficient modes of transport, household fuel and waste burning, coal-fired power plants, and industrial activities. However, not all air pollution originates from human activity. For example, air quality can also be influenced by dust storms, particularly in regions close to deserts. The model has carefully calibrated data from satellite and ground stations to maximize reliability. National air pollution exposures were analyzed against population and air pollution levels at a grid resolution of about 10 km x 10 km. The interactive maps provide information on population-weighted exposure to particulate matter of an aerodynamic diameter of less than 2.5 micrometers (PM2.5) for all countries. The map also indicates data on monitoring stations for PM10 and PM2.5 values for about 3000 cities and towns. Quartz's report features a table that highlights the countries with the world's worst air pollution. The table "shows all the median levels of particulate matter in each country where the WHO collected data."
Businesses

D-Wave's 2,000-Qubit Quantum Annealing Computer Now 1,000x Faster Than Previous Generation (tomshardware.com) 116

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Tom's Hardware: D-Wave, a Canadian company developing the first commercial "quantum computer," announced its next-generation quantum annealing computer with 2,000 qubits, which is twice as many as its previous generation had. One highly exciting aspect of quantum computers of all types is that beyond the seemingly Moore's Law-like increase in number of qubits every two years, their performance increases much more than just 2x, unlike with regular microprocessors. This is because qubits can hold a value of 0, 1, or a superposition of the two, making quantum systems able to deal with much more complex information. If D-Wave's 2,000-qubit computer is now 1,000 faster than the previous 1,000-qubit generation (D-Wave 2X), that would mean that, for the things Google tested last year, it should now be 100 billion times faster than a single-core CPU. The new generation also comes with control features, which allows users to modify how D-Wave's quantum system works to better optimize their solutions. These control features include the following capabilities: The ability to tune the rate of annealing of individual qubits to enhance application performance; The ability to sample the state of the quantum computer during the quantum annealing process to power hybrid quantum-classical machine learning algorithms that were not previously possible; The ability to combine quantum processing with classical processing to improve the quality of both optimization and sampling results returned from the system. D-Wave's CEO, Vern Brownell, also said that D-Wave's quantum computers could also be used for machine learning task in ways that wouldn't be possible on classical computers. The company is also training the first generation of programmers to develop applications for D-Wave quantum systems. Last year, Google said that D-Wave's 1,000 qubit computer proved to be 100 million times faster than a classical computer with a single core: "We found that for problem instances involving nearly 1,000 binary variables, quantum annealing significantly outperforms its classical counterpart, simulated annealing. It is more than 10^8 times faster than simulated annealing running on a single core," said Hartmut Neven, Google's Director of Engineering.
Space

The United Nations Will Launch Its First Space Mission In 2021 (vice.com) 58

The United Nations will send its first ever mission to space in 2021. It said it intends to send Sierra Nevada's Dream Chaser spacecraft into a two-week, low-Earth orbit flight in 2021. Sierra Nevada had signed the UN as a partner in June. Motherboard adds:As detailed for a small crowd at the International Astronautical Congress yesterday, the goal of the 2021 UN mission is to make space accessible to developing member states that lack the resources to develop a standalone, national space program. "One of UNOOSA's core responsibilities is to promote cooperation and the peaceful uses of outer space, but our work is about more than that," said Simonetta Di Pippo, the director of UNOOSA. "We have the vision of bringing the benefits of space to humankind, and that means helping developing countries access space technologies and their benefits."
Mars

Elon Musk: First Humans Who Journey To Mars Must 'Be Prepared To Die' (theverge.com) 471

At a conference yesterday, Elon Musk outlined his company SpaceX's plan to send humans to Mars. The vehicle is called the Interplanetary Transport System and it is capable of carrying 100 tons of cargo (people and supplies). Musk added that this rocket ship could take people to Mars in just 80 days. But he also reminded that the first batch of people who are brave enough to go to Mars should be well aware that they are almost certainly going to die. The Verge adds:During the Q&A session that followed, the question inevitably came up: what sort of person does Musk think will volunteer to get strapped to that big rocket and fired toward the Red Planet? "Who should these people be, carrying the light of humanity to Mars for all of us?" an audience member asked. "I think the first journeys to Mars will be really very dangerous," answered Musk. "The risk of fatality will be high. There's just no way around it." The journey itself would take around 80 days, according to the plan and ideas that Musk put forward. "Are you prepared to die? If that's okay, then you're a candidate for going," he added. But Musk didn't want to get stuck talking about the risks and immense danger. "This is less about who goes there first... the thing that really matters is making a self-sustaining civilization on Mars as fast as possible. This is different than Apollo. This is really about minimizing existential risk and having a tremendous sense of adventure," he said.
Mars

Elon Musk Proposes Spaceship That Can Send 100 People To Mars In 80 Days (theverge.com) 491

An anonymous reader quotes a report from The Verge: Today, SpaceX CEO Elon Musk unveiled the Mars vehicle -- the spaceship his company plans to build to transport the first colonists to Mars. It will have a diameter of 17 meters. The plan is to send about 100 people per trip, though Musk wants to ultimately take 200 or more per flight to make the cost cheaper per person. The trip can take as little as 80 days or as many as 150 depending on the year. The hope is that the transport time will be only 30 days "in the more distant future." The rocket booster will have a diameter of 12 meters and the stack height will be 122 meters. The spaceship should hold a cargo of up to 450 tons depending on how many refills can be done with the tanker. As rumored, the Mars vehicle will be reusable and the spaceship will refuel in orbit. The trip will work like this: First, the spaceship will launch out of Pad 39A, which is under development right now at the Kennedy Space Center at Cape Canaveral, Florida. At liftoff, the booster will have 127,800 kilonewtons of thrust, or 28,730,000 pounds of thrust. Then, the spaceship and booster separate. The spaceship heads to orbit, while the booster heads back to Earth, coming back within about 20 minutes. Back on Earth, the booster lands on a launch mount and a propellant tanker is loaded onto the booster. The entire unit -- now filled with fuel -- lifts off again. It joins with the spaceship, which is then refueled in orbit. The propellant tankers will go up anywhere from three to five times to fill the tanks of the spaceship. The spaceship finally departs for Mars. To make the trip more attractive for its crew members, Musk promises that it'll be "really fun" with zero-G games, movies, cabins, games, a restaurant. Once it reaches Mars, the vehicle will land on the surface, using its rocket engines to lower itself gently down to the ground. The spaceship's passengers will use the vehicle, as well as cargo and hardware that's already been shipped over to Mars, to set up a long-term colony. At the rate of 20 to 50 total Mars trips, it will take anywhere from 40 to 100 years to achieve a fully self-sustaining civilization with one million people on Mars, says Musk.
Businesses

Aetna To Provide Apple Watch To 50,000 Employees, Subsidize Cost For Customers (macrumors.com) 149

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Mac Rumors: Insurance company Aetna today announced a major health initiative centered on the iPhone, iPad, and Apple Watch, which will see Aetna subsidizing the cost of the Apple Watch for both large employers and individual customers. Starting this fall during open enrollment season, Aetna will subsidize "a significant portion" of the Apple Watch cost and will offer monthly payroll deductions to cover the remaining cost. Aetna also plans to provide Apple Watches at no cost to all of its nearly 50,000 employees as part of a wellness reimbursement program to encourage them to live healthier lives. Aetna plans to develop several iOS health initiatives with "support" from Apple, debuting "deeply integrated" health apps for the iPhone, iPad, and Apple Watch that will be available to all Aetna customers. According to Aetna, these apps will "simplify the healthcare process" with features like care management to guide customers through a new diagnosis or a medication, medication reminders and tools for easy refills, quick contact with doctors, integration with Apple Wallet for paying bills and checking deductibles, and tools to help Aetna members get the most out of their insurance benefits. Aetna's health-related apps will be available starting in early 2017, but the Apple Watch initiative will begin in 2016. Aetna has not detailed how much of the cost will be subsidized or which Apple Watch models will be available to subscribers.
AI

Google's New Translation Software Powered By Brainlike Artificial Intelligence (sciencemag.org) 87

sciencehabit quotes a report from Science Magazine: Today, Google rolled out a new translation system that uses massive amounts of data and increased processing power to build more accurate translations. The new system, a deep learning model known as neural machine translation, effectively trains itself -- and reduces translation errors by up to 87%. When compared with Google's previous system, the neural machine translation system scores well with human reviewers. It was 58% more accurate at translating English into Chinese, and 87% more accurate at translating English into Spanish. As a result, the company is planning to slowly replace the system underlying all of its translation work -- one language at a time. The report adds: "The new method, reported today on the preprint server arXiv, uses a total of 16 processors to first transform words into a value known as a vector. What is a vector? 'We don't know exactly,' [Quoc Le, a Google research scientist in Mountain View, California, says.] But it represents how related one word is to every other word in the vast dictionary of training materials (2.5 billion sentence pairs for English and French; 500 million for English and Chinese). For example, 'dog' is more closely related to 'cat' than 'car,' and the name 'Barack Obama' is more closely related to 'Hillary Clinton' than the name for the country 'Vietnam.' The system uses vectors from the input language to come up with a list of possible translations that are ranked based on their probability of occurrence. Other features include a system of cross-checks that further increases accuracy and a special set of computations that speeds up processing time."
Space

SpaceX Shows Off Its Interplanetary Transport System in New Video (techcrunch.com) 201

Elon Musk's SpaceX plans to send humans to Mars with a ship called the Interplanetary Transport System, the company announced today in a video, revealing how the ITS will actually work. The ITS will be capable of carrying up to 100 tons of cargo -- people and supplies -- and it will utilize a slew of different power sources en route to Mars. From a report on TechCrunch: SpaceX has released a new video showing a CG concept of its Interplanetary Transport System, the rocket and spacecraft combo it plans to use to colonize Mars. The video depicts a reusable rocket that can get the interplanetary spacecraft beyond Earth's orbit, and a craft that uses solar sails to coast on its way to a Mars entry. The booster returns to Earth after separating from the shuttlecraft to pick up a booster tank full of fuel, which it then returns to orbit to fuel up the waiting spaceship. The booster craft then also returns to Earth under its own power, presumably also for re-use. The solar arrays that the spacecraft employs provide 200 kW of power, according to captions in the video.The Verge is live blogging SpaceX's conference, and has details on specs.
Science

World's First Baby Born With New '3 Parent' Technique (newscientist.com) 198

A five-month-old baby boy has been revealed as the first kid in the world with three biological parents, reports New Scientist. The baby boy was apparently conceived by a technique that has been legally approved in the UK, and lets parents with genetic disorders have healthy babies. Though, the method used in this particular cases was slightly different from one legalized in the UK. From the report: Zhang (a doctor) took a different approach, called spindle nuclear transfer. He removed the nucleus from one of the mother's eggs and inserted it into a donor egg that had had its own nucleus removed. The resulting egg -- with nuclear DNA from the mother and mitochondrial DNA from a donor -- was then fertilised with the father's sperm. Zhang's team used this approach to create five embryos, only one of which developed normally. This embryo was implanted in the mother and the child was born nine months later. "It's exciting news," says Bert Smeets at Maastricht University in the Netherlands. The team will describe the findings at the American Society for Reproductive Medicine's Scientific Congress in Salt Lake City in October.
NASA

Jupiter's Moon Europa May Have Water Plumes That Rise Up About 125 Miles (npr.org) 96

NASA's Hubble Space Telescope released new images Monday, which will be published in The Astrophysicial Journal later this week, that show what appears to be plumes of water vapor erupting out of the icy surface of Jupiter's moon Europa. The discovery is especially intriguing as it means that the ocean below Europa's surface could be probed without having to drill through miles of ice. NPR reports: Europa is one of the most intriguing places in the solar system because it's thought to have a vast subterranean ocean with twice as much water as Earth's oceans. This saltwater ocean is a tempting target for astrobiologists who want to find places beyond Earth that could support life. The trouble with exploring this ocean is that the water is hidden beneath an icy crust that's miles thick. But if plumes are indeed erupting from Europa, a spacecraft could potentially fly through them and analyze their chemistry -- much like NASA's Cassini probe did recently when it sped close to Enceladus, a moon of Saturn that has small geysers. Scientists used Hubble to watch Europa's silhouette as the moon moved across Jupiter's bright background. They looked, in ultraviolet light, for signs of plumes coming from the moon's surface. They did this 10 separate times over a period of 15 months, and saw what could be plumes on three occasions. NASA says the plumes are estimated to rise up about 125 miles, and presumably material then rains back down onto Europa's surface. Using Hubble in a different way, scientists previously saw hints that salty water occasionally travels up to the moon's surface. In 2012, the telescope detected evidence of water vapor above Europa's south polar region, suggesting the existence of plumes that shoot out into space. The agency's Juno spacecraft is currently in orbit around Jupiter, but it isn't slated to take any observations of Europa.
Space

SpaceX Tests Its Raptor Engine For Future Mars Flights (techcrunch.com) 113

Thelasko writes: Elon Musk is preparing to unveil his plans to colonize Mars at the 67th annual International Astronautical Congress tomorrow. As a tease to his lecture, he has released some details about the Raptor engine on Twitter, including pictures. Mr. Musk states that, "Production Raptor coal is specific impulse of 382 seconds and thrust of 3 MN (~310 metric tons) at 300 bar." He goes on to note that the specific impulse spec is at Mars ambient pressure. The Raptor interplanetary engine is designed for use with Space X's Mars Colonial Transporter craft. Musk notes that the "chamber pressure runs three times what's present in the Merlin engine currently used to power Falcon 9," according to TechCrunch. "Merlin has specific impulse of 282 seconds (311 seconds in the vacuum of space), and a relatively paltry 654 kilonewton (0.6 MN) at sea level, or 716 kN (0.7 MN) in a vacuum. You can view a picture of the "Mach diamonds" here, which are visible in the engine's exhaust.

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