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Earth

Large Near-Earth Astroid Will Fly Past Earth On April 19 (phys.org) 44

William Robinson quotes a report from Phys.Org: A relatively large (650 meters) near-Earth asteroid discovered nearly three years ago will fly safely past Earth on April 19 at a distance of about 1.1 million miles (1.8 million kilometers), or about 4.6 times the distance from Earth to the moon. The asteroid will approach Earth from the direction of the sun and will become visible in the night sky after April 19. It is predicted to brighten to about magnitude 11, when it could be visible in small optical telescopes for one or two nights. For comparison, Chelyabinsk meteor was 20m. Small asteroids pass within this distance of Earth several times each week, but this upcoming close approach is the closest by any known asteroid of this size, or larger, since asteroid Toutatis , a 3.1-mile (five-kilometer) asteroid, which approached within about four lunar distances in September 2004. The April 19 encounter provides an outstanding opportunity to study this asteroid, and astronomers plan to observe it with telescopes around the world to learn as much about it as possible.
Earth

There's an Earth-like Planet With an Atmosphere Just 39 Light-years Away (washingtonpost.com) 149

Artem Tashkinov quotes a report from Washington Post: There are a lot of good reasons to be captivated by the exoplanet GJ 1132b. Located in the constellation Vela, it's a mere 39 light-years from Earth -- just a hop, skip and a jump in galactic terms. It's similar to Earth in terms of size and mass, and it dances in a close-in orbit around its star, a dimly burning red dwarf. And, astronomers recently discovered, it has an atmosphere. The finding, published in the Astronomical Journal, is the first detection of an atmosphere around a terrestrial "Earth-like" planet orbiting a red dwarf star -- and it suggests there could be millions more. Although the researchers call the planet "Earth-like," the term is only applicable in its broadest sense. GJ 1132b is so close to its sun that it more likely resembles Venus than Earth. Astronomers estimate its average temperature to be about 700 degrees Fahrenheit, and that's without taking into account the potential greenhouse effect of its atmosphere. It is also probably tidally locked, meaning that gravity keeps one side of the planet constantly facing the star, while the other is cast in permanent shadow. GJ 1132b would not make a cozy home for life -- at least, not life as we know it.
Space

Public Crowd-sourcing Finds New Exoplanets (abc.net.au) 15

brindafella writes: A participant in a TV program "Stargazing Live" on Australia's ABC TV channel has found four planets closely orbiting a star, using an online database. Astrophysicist Dr Chris Lintott, the principal investigator of Zooniverse, reported on Thursday's show that four "Super Earth" planets had been identified in the data. They orbit closer to their star than Mercury does to our Sun. The person responsible for the find, Andrew Grey, is a mechanic by day and amateur astronomer in his spare time, and lives in the city of Darwin, Northern Territory. The data is sourced from NASA's Kepler Space Telescope. "Stargazing Live" host Professor Brian Cox said he could not be more excited about the discovery. "In the seven years I've been making Stargazing Live this is the most significant scientific discovery we've ever made. The results are astonishing."
Earth

We're Creating a Perfect Storm of Unprecedented Global Warming (popsci.com) 620

An anonymous reader shares a report: If we do nothing to reduce our carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions, by the end of this century the Earth will be as hot as it was 50 million years ago in the early Eocene, according to a new study out today in the journal Nature Communications. This period -- roughly 15 million years after dinosaurs went extinct and 49.8 million years before modern humans appeared on the scene -- was 16F to 25F warmer than the modern norm. [...] During the Eocene, it took more atmospheric CO2 to influence temperatures than it does today. In fact, if we don't change our behavior, 2100 will be as hot as the Eocene with much less atmospheric CO2 than was present at the time. A hotter sun means we get more bang for our CO2 buck. "Climate change denialists often mention that CO2 was high in the past, that it was warm in the past, so this means there's nothing to worry about," said lead study author Gavin Foster, a researcher in isotope geochemistry and paleoceanography at the United Kingdom's University of Southampton. "It's certainly true, that the CO2 was high in the past and that it was warm in the past. But because the sun was dimmer, the climate wasn't being forced as much [as it will be] in the future if we carry on as we are."
Oracle

Oracle Hires Global Specialists To Explore Feasibility of Buying Accenture 63

Paul Kunert writes in an exclusive report via The Register: Oracle has hired global specialists to explore the feasibility of buying multi-billion dollar consultancy Accenture, sources have told us. The database giant has engaged a team of consultants to conduct due diligence to "explore the synergies that could be created if they [Oracle] bought Accenture lock stock and barrel," one source claimed. On top of the financial considerations, the consultants are evaluating the pros and cons including the potential impact on Oracle's wider channel. "While these things have a habit of fizzling out there are some fairly serious players around the table," a contact added. Another claimed the process was at an early stage. "If buying Accenture was a 100 meter race, Oracle is at the 10 to 15 meter stage now." [T]his buy would be an immensely bold, complicated and pricey move: NYSE-listed Accenture has a market cap of $77.5 billion, and shareholders will expect a premium offer. A deal would dwarf Oracle's $10 billion buy of PeopleSoft, its $7.4 billion deal for Sun Microsystems, and more recently, the $9.3 billion splashed on Netsuite. In buying Accenture, Oracle would be taking a leaf out of the mid-noughties handbook - when HP fatefully bought EDS and IBM acquired PWC to carve out a brighter future.
Movies

Hollywood Producer Blames Rotten Tomatoes For Convincing People Not To See His Movie (vanityfair.com) 395

An anonymous reader shares a VanityFair report: These days, it takes less than 60 seconds to know what the general consensus on a new movie is -- thanks to Rotten Tomatoes, the review aggregator site that designates a number score to each film based on critical and user reviews. Although this may be convenient for moviegoers not necessarily interested in burning $15 on a critically subpar film, it is certainly not convenient for those Hollywood directors, producers, backers, and stars who toiled to make said critically subpar film. In fact, the site may be "the worst thing that we have in today's movie culture" -- at least according to Brett Ratner, the Rush Hour director/producer who recently threw the financial weight of his RatPac Entertainment behind Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. Sure, the blockbuster made over $850 million worldwide in spite of negative reviews ... but just think of how much more it could have made had it not had a Rotten Tomatoes score of 27 percent! Last week, while speaking at the Sun Valley Film Festival, Ratner said, "The worst thing that we have in today's movie culture is Rotten Tomatoes. I think it's the destruction of our business."
Earth

Let There Be Light: Germans Switch on 'Largest Artificial Sun' (theguardian.com) 123

German scientists are switching on "the world's largest artificial sun" in the hope that intense light sources can be used to generate climate-friendly fuel. From a report: The Synlight experiment in Julich, about 19 miles west of Cologne, consists 149 souped-up film projector spotlights and produces light about 10,000 times the intensity of natural sunlight on Earth. When all the lamps are swivelled to concentrate light on a single spot, the instrument can generate temperatures of around 3,500C -- around two to three times the temperature of a blast furnace. "If you went in the room when it was switched on, you'd burn directly," said Prof Bernard Hoffschmidt, a research director at the German Aerospace Center, where the experiment is housed in a protective radiation chamber. The aim of the experiment is to come up with the optimal setup for concentrating natural sunlight to power a reaction to produce hydrogen fuel.
United States

Will Montana Become America's Third State To Ditch Daylight Savings Time? (missoulian.com) 228

"Okay...twice every year Slashdot disses Daylight savings time," writes turkeydance, bringing a story from Montana, where lawmakers are proposing that the state should stop setting their clocks forward by one hour every spring. Similar legislation in several past sessions...failed to advance even out of committee. But SB206 passed committee unanimously and once on the floor, more than twice as many senators voted for it as against it. Now the House will take up SB206 during the session's second half, and likely with a renewed focus on the history of daylight saving time and what it would mean for Montana to become only the third state in the country not to observe it.
Daylight savings time has been opposed by a grassroots group of Montana farmers and ranchers, who have to sync their work schedule to the sun rather than the time on the clock, but similar legislation has also been introduced in Texas, California, Iowa, New Mexico, Michigan, Rhode Island, Wisconsin, and Washington. Daylight savings time was originally introduced as an energy-saving measure during World Wars I and II, and returned during the 1970s energy crisis. There's just one problem, reports Live Science. "No one really knows whether daylight saving time saves energy at all. Research is decidedly mixed on the subject, with some studies actually finding that daylight saving time boosts energy consumption."
Earth

Tesla's New Solar Energy Station On Kauai Will Power Hawaii At Night (engadget.com) 142

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Engadget: The Kapaia project is a combination 13MW SolarCity solar farm and 53MWh Tesla Powerpack station on the island of Kauai. In partnership with the KIUC (Kauai Island Utility Cooperative) the project will store the sun's energy during the day and release it at night. The station (along with Kauai's other renewable resource solutions including wind and biomass) won't completely keep the island from using fossil fuels but it will temper the need. In addition to using Tesla's station to battle the island's incredibly high electric bills, it's also part of a long-term Hawaii-state plan to be completely powered by renewable energy sources by 2045. Kauai has its own goal of using 70 percent renewable energy by 2030. With this project the island is getting closer to that goal and can now produce 100 percent of the energy it needs during high usage mid days and low loads via renewables during a brief period of time. The island state doesn't have the benefit of a massive grid like the mainland to pull electricity from sources hundreds of miles away. Instead each island has to take care of its own energy solutions. According to Tesla and the KIUC, the 45 acre Kapaia project will reduce the use of fossil fuels by 1.6 million gallons a year. You can view Tesla's Powerpack and solar farm on Kauai here.
Earth

Professors Claim Passive Cooling Breakthrough Via Plastic Film (sciencemag.org) 203

What if you could cool buildings without using electricity? charlesj68 brings word of "the development of a plastic film by two professors at the University of Colorado in Boulder that provides a passive cooling effect." The film contains embedded glass beads that absorb and emit infrared in a wavelength that is not blocked by the atmosphere. Combining this with half-silvering to keep the sun from being the source of infrared absorption on the part of the beads, and you have a way of pumping heat at a claimed rate of 93 watts per square meter.
The film is cheap to produce -- about 50 cents per square meter -- and could create indoor temperatures of 68 degrees when it's 98.6 outside. "All the work is done by the huge temperature difference, about 290C, between the surface of the Earth and that of outer space," reports The Economist.
Space

Slooh Observatory Is Webcasting Today's Rare 'Ring of Fire' Eclipse (space.com) 24

An anonymous reader quotes Space.com A solar eclipse and its spectacular "ring of fire" will be visible from the Southern Hemisphere this Sunday morning, but no matter what side of the equator you're on, you can watch the spectacular event unfold online in a live broadcast from Slooh's online observatory...beginning at 7 a.m. EST (1200 GMT)... This type of eclipse is called an annular eclipse, meaning that the sun will remain visible as a bright ring around the moon...

Slooh will present the eclipse in live feeds from Chile and other locations. "During the broadcast, Slooh host Gerard Monteux will guide viewers on this journey across multiple continents and thousands of miles," Slooh said in a statement. "He'll be joined by a number of guests who will help viewers explore not only the science of eclipses, but also the fascinating legend, myth, and spiritual and emotional expression associated with these most awe-inspiring celestial events."

NASA

Thrilling Discovery of Seven Earth-Sized Planets Orbiting Nearby Star (theguardian.com) 273

At a press conference on Wednesday, NASA scientists announced that they have spotted seven Earth-sized planets orbiting closely around a small, ultra-cool star. The star is 39 light years away. From a report on The Guardian: It is the first time that so many Earth-sized planets have been found in orbit around the same star, an unexpected haul that suggests the Milky Way may be teeming with worlds that, in size and firmness underfoot at least, resemble our own rocky home. The planets closely circle a dwarf star named Trappist-1, which at 39 light years away makes the system a prime candidate to search for signs of life. Only marginally larger than Jupiter, the star shines with a feeble light about 2,000 times fainter than our sun. "The star is so small and cold that the seven planets are temperate, which means that they could have some liquid water and maybe life, by extension, on the surface," said Michael Gillon, an astrophysicist at the University of Liege in Belgium. [...] While the planets have Earth-like dimensions, their sizes ranging from 25 percent smaller to 10 percent larger, they could not be more different in other features. Most striking is how compact the planet's orbits are. Mercury, the innermost planet in the solar system, is six times farther from the sun than the outermost seventh planet is from Trappist-1.
Earth

Astronomers Discover 60 New Planets Including 'Super Earth' (nypost.com) 38

schwit1 quotes a report from New York Post: An international team of astronomers has found 60 new planets orbiting stars close to Earth's solar system, including a rocky "super Earth." The experts also found evidence of an additional 54 planets, bringing the potential discovery of new worlds to 114. One planet in particular, Gliese 411b, has been generating plenty of attention. Described as a "hot super Earth with a rocky surface," Gliese 411b is located in the fourth-nearest star system to the Sun, making it the third-nearest planetary system to the Sun, according to the U.K.'s University of Hertfordshire, which participated in the research. Gliese 411b (also known as GJ 411b or Lalande 21185) orbits the star Gliese 411 (or GJ 411). Despite the "super Earth" label, Dr. Mikko Tuomi from University of Hertfordshire's Centre for Astrophysics told Fox News that Gliese 411b is too hot for life to exist on its surface. The 60 new planets are found orbiting stars that are mostly some 20 to 300 light years away, according to Tuomi. The discoveries are based on observations taken over 20 years by U.S. astronomers using the Keck-I telescope in Hawaii as part of the Lick-Carnegie Exoplanet Survey. During the course of the research, scientists obtained almost 61,000 observations of 1,600 stars, which are now available to the public.
Spam

Spammer Faces Decades In Prison For Sending More Than 1 Million Spam Emails (suntimes.com) 146

mi quotes a report from Chicago Sun-Times: A man has been indicted on federal fraud charges for allegedly sending more than a million spam emails. The indictment charges 36-year-old Michael Persaud of Scottsdale, Arizona, with 10 counts of wire fraud and seeks the forfeiture of four computers, according to a statement from the U.S. attorney's office. The indictment was returned Dec. 9, 2016, and was unsealed after Persaud was arrested last month in Arizona. Between 2012 and 2015, Persaud used multiple IP addresses and domains to send spam emails over at least nine networks, including several servers in Chicago, according to the indictment. He sent more than a million spam emails to people in the U.S. and abroad, using false names to register domains and creating fraudulent "from address" fields to conceal the fact that he was the one sending the emails. Each count carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison.
mi leaves us with some rather unpleasant imagery, writing: "Personally, I wish [the sentence] carried removal of 1 square millimeter of skin for each message instead."
The Courts

Former CIA Analyst Sues Defense Department To Vindicate NSA Whistleblowers (theintercept.com) 22

An anonymous reader quotes a report from The Intercept: In 2010, Thomas Drake, a former senior employee at the National Security Agency, was charged with espionage for speaking to a reporter from the Baltimore Sun about a bloated, dysfunctional intelligence program he believed would violate Americans' privacy. The case against him eventually fell apart, and he pled guilty to a single misdemeanor, but his career in the NSA was over. Though Drake was largely vindicated, the central question he raised about technology and privacy has never been resolved. Almost seven years have passed now, but Pat Eddington, a former CIA analyst, is still trying to prove that Drake was right. While working for Rep. Rush Holt, D-N.J., Eddington had the unique opportunity to comb through still-classified documents that outline the history of two competing NSA programs known as ThinThread and Trailblazer. He's seen an unredacted version of the Pentagon inspector general's 2004 audit of the NSA's failures during that time, and has filed Freedom of Information Act requests. In January, Eddington decided to take those efforts a step further by suing the Department of Defense to obtain the material, he tells The Intercept. "Those documents completely vindicate" those who advocated for ThinThread at personal risk, says Eddington.
Earth

16 Years of GPS Space Weather Data Made Publicly Available (sciencemag.org) 52

"It's not often that a scientific discipline gains a 23-satellite constellation overnight," reports Science magazine, describing 16 years worth of radiation measurements from GPS satellites finally released by Los Alamos National Lab. "Although billions of people globally use data from GPS satellites, they remain U.S. military assets." Scientists have long sought the data generated by sensors used to monitor the status of the satellites, which operate in the heavy radiation of medium-Earth orbit and can be vulnerable to solar storms. But few have been allowed to tap this resource... That attitude changed in October 2016, when the outgoing Obama administration issued an executive order aimed at preparing the country for extreme space weather. Such bursts in charged particles, originating in a solar flare or coronal mass ejection, could disable the electrical power grid or divert flights away from the Arctic, where radiation exposure is heightened. The GPS data, which dates from December 2000, fill a hole in studies of space weather, the complex interplay of Earth's magnetic field with bombarding radiation from cosmic rays and the sun.
Moon

Oxygen From Earth's Atmosphere May Be Traveling To the Moon's Surface (theverge.com) 67

An anonymous reader quotes a report from The Verge: New research shows that oxygen from Earth could be journeying all the way out to the Moon, where it then gets lodged inside the lunar soil. It's a process that's likely been happening for 2.4 billion years, ever since oxygen formed around our planet, meaning the Moon's soil may contain trapped particles from Earth's ancient atmosphere. This oxygen exchange, detailed in a study published today in Nature Astronomy, supposedly occurs for just a few days during the Moon's 27-day orbit. Most of the time, the Moon is constantly being blasted with solar wind -- fast streams of charged particles emanating from the Sun. But for five days of every lunar orbit, the Moon passes into Earth's magnetotail, the portion of the planet's magnetic field that stretches outward away from the Sun. This tail shields the Moon from the solar wind, and allows charged oxygen ions from Earth to travel to the lunar surface, according to the study. That means the Moon -- a dead rock incapable of supporting life -- is being showered with the byproducts of life here on Earth. In fact, the source of most of the oxygen in our atmosphere is biological, created by plants during photosynthesis. It's a process that experts have suspected for a while but haven't been able to confirm until today. Researchers have also suggested that other atmospheric components, such as nitrogen and noble gases, are getting to the Moon this way based on lunar soil samples.
The Courts

How A Professional Poker Player Conned a Casino Out of $9.6 Million (washingtonpost.com) 406

Phil Ivey is a professional poker player who's won ten World Series of Poker bracelets -- but he's also got a new game. An anonymous reader write: In 2012, Ivey requested that the Borgata casino let him play baccarat with an assistant named Cheng Yin Sun while using a specific brand of playing cards -- purple Gemaco Borgata playing cards -- and an automatic shuffler. He then proceeded to win $9.6 million over four visits. The pair would rotate certain cards 180 degrees, which allowed them to recognize those cards the next time they passed through the deck. (They were exploiting a minute lack of a symmetry in the pattern on the backs of the cards...)

But last month a U.S. district judge ruled that Ivey and his partner had a "mutual obligation" to the casino, in which their "primary obligation" was to not use cards whose values would be known to them -- and ordered them to return the $9.6 million [PDF]. "What this ruling says is a player is prohibited from combining his skill and intellect and visual acuity to beat the casino at its own game," Ivey's attorney told the AP, adding that the judge's ruling will be appealed.

The judge also ruled Ivey had to return the money he later won playing craps with his winnings from the baccarat game -- though the judge denied the casino's request for restitution over the additional $250,000 worth of goods and services they'd "comped" Ivey during his stay.
Earth

An Asteroid Passed By Earth At About Half the Distance Between Our Planet and Moon (smithsonianmag.com) 161

On Monday at 7:47 A.M. EST, an asteroid thought to be between 36 and 111 feet wide passed roughly 120,000 miles from Earth -- and astronomers didn't spot it until Saturday. Smithsonian reports: According to astronomer Eric Edelman at the Slooh Observatory, 2017 AG13 is an Aten asteroid, or a space rock with an orbital distance from the sun similar to that of Earth. AG13 also has a particularly elliptical orbit, which means that as it circles the sun it also crosses through the orbits of both Venus and Earth. Lucky for us, 2017 AG13 wasn't a planet killer; according to Wall, the asteroid was in the size range of the space rock that exploded in Earth's atmosphere over Chelyabinsk, Russia, in February, 2013. According to Deborah Byrd at EarthSky, that meteor exploded 12 miles in the atmosphere, releasing 30 times the energy of the Hiroshima nuclear bomb. Not only did it break windows in six cities, it also sent 1,500 people to the hospital. That meteor also came out of the blue, and researchers are still trying to figure out its orbit and track down its origins. While 2017 AG13 would have caused minor damage if it hit Earth, the close call highlights the dangers of asteroids.
Earth

White House Releases Strategy To Defend Against Killer Asteroids (vice.com) 135

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Motherboard: On December 30, the White House quietly released its Near-Earth Object Preparedness Strategy, a 25-page document outlining the United States' plans in the event that a giant asteroid is found to be on a collision course with Earth. Among the priorities outlined by the strategy are improving Near-Earth Object (NEO) detection, developing methods for deflecting asteroids, and developing interagency emergency procedures in the event of an NEO impact. Given the stakes, it's clear why NASA and the leading US defense and research agencies came together in January 2016 to form the Detecting and Mitigating the Impact of Earth-bound Near-Earth Objects (DAMIEN) working group to address the issues associated with killer asteroids. The DAMIEN group is behind the White House's new NEO strategy, and will be responsible for hashing out the specifics of the plan to save Earthlings from killer asteroids going forward. To assist in the search, the DAMIEN report calls for a space-based observatory dedicated to finding NEOs, which will work in cooperation with ground-based observatories. Since a telescope in space isn't limited by terrestrial weather conditions, it would greatly enhance Spaceguard's search capacity. The only plans currently underway for a space-based NEO telescope are being carried out by the non-profit B612 foundation whose Sentinel telescope was supposed to launch last December, but has been delayed due to difficulties securing the requisite $450 million in funding required for the project. NASA has also been considering the NEOCam, a space-based telescope that has received provisional funding for "detailed refinement." Unfortunately, during the latest round of budgeting for NASA's Discovery program, two other satellites were greenlit instead of NEOCam, but NASA said it would continue the asteroid-hunter's provisional funding, so there is still hope that NASA may go forward with a space-based NEO observatory in the future, especially in light of the recent White House strategy. In tandem, the report also recommends updating the capabilities of ground-based NEO observatories by endowing them with more powerful planetary radars and improved spectroscopy instruments (this would allow for more accurate determinations of the composition of an asteroid). But detection is only half the battle. In the event that an asteroid is found to be on an impact trajectory with Earth, NASA is also thinking about ways to deflect the killer asteroid. Some pretty far-out ideas have been proposed on this front, ranging from nukes in space to giant sun-powered lasers, but the most likely method is simply ramming into the asteroid to change its course. Finally, should all else fail, the report also considers what to do in an impact scenario.

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