Science & Technology


First color photo of Pluto and its moon Charon: Taken by NASA's New Horizons spacecraft

© NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Southwest Research Institute
This image of Pluto and its largest moon, Charon, was taken by the Ralph color imager aboard New Horizons on April 9, 2015, from a distance of about 71 million miles (115 million kilometers). It is the first color image ever made of the Pluto system by a spacecraft on approach.
Pluto, Charon and a growing number of smaller moons will offer an unprecedented scientific opportunity as our first robotic explorer to the Kuiper belt makes its historic flyby. But the mission will be far from over after July 14.
© ZME Science
The International Astronomical Union (IAU) is announcing that the names Kerberos and Styx have officially been recognised for the fourth and fifth moons of Pluto, which were discovered in 2011 and 2012.
NASA's New Horizons spacecraft is expected to make a historic flyby only 7,750 miles (12,500 kilometers) from the dwarf planet's surface. In the meantime, we've been gradually getting a sharper and sharper view of the dwarf planet and its system of moons. New Horizons - a compact, lightweight, powerfully equipped probe, packing the most advanced suite of cameras and spectrometers ever sent on a first reconnaissance mission.
© NASA, ZME Science
New Horizon launched from Earth on January 19, 2006 and now is back online after 9 year journey to Pluto.

Comment: See also:


Color of light may be more important than brightness in its impact on body's internal clock

© tuelekza / Fotolia
Research by scientists at The University of Manchester has revealed that the colour of light has a major impact on how the brain clock measures time of day and on how the animals' physiology and behavior adjust accordingly. The study, for the first time, provides a neuronal mechanism for how our internal clock can measure changes in light colour that accompany dawn and dusk.

In research publishing on April 17th in the Open Access journal PLOS Biology, the researchers looked at the change in light around dawn and dusk to analyze whether colour could be used to determine time of day. Besides the well-known changes in light intensity that occur as the sun rises and sets, the scientists found that during twilight light is reliably bluer than during the day.

The researchers next recorded electrical activity from the brain clock while mice were shown different visual stimuli. They found that many of the neurons were more sensitive to changes in colour between blue and yellow than to changes in brightness.

Comment: Keeping the body clock working optimally has important health consequences as disruptions can affect the immune system.

Eye 1

Smart meters vulnerable to hacking and tampering

There have been a lot of theories about what could happen when Smart Meters (SMs) are tampered with and customers receive "false-reading, tampered-with" utility bills—water, gas, or electric—when hackers access the porous microwave networks that transmit in-the-house information that electric SMs constantly collect, then radio-transmit via microwaves back to utilities home offices.

That's not some "pie-in-the-sky" theory; it's of great concern to security experts!

According to Sally Ward-Foxton of Crosstalk (Oct. 2012)
But this increasing 'digitalisation' also adds a lot more opportunities for tampering with the meters in some way, resulting in security vulnerabilities. These vulnerabilities obviously need to be considered before introduction of the smart meters to make sure everyone is paying their way when it comes to electricity.

Comment: In addition to the vulnerability to hacking and price gouging involved with smart meter technology there is also the very real risk of health problems associated with these meters.


Have you heard 'the hum'? Mystery of Earth's low droning noise could now be solved

© The Independent, UK
It was often blamed on phone masts, submarine communications and pipes.
Scientists have confirmed the cause of a strange humming noise that emanates from the Earth and has baffled people for more than forty years - and was even a factor in one reported suicide.

The noise has been talked about worldwide and also made local newspaper headlines in the UK. It is often referred to as a "phenomenon" and "the hum", usually prefixed with the location of where it is heard.

In Britain, the most famous example was the "Bristol hum" that made the news in the late 1970s. One newspaper asked readers in the city: "Have you heard the Hum?" and at least 800 people said they had - according to the BBC - and some had suffered headaches and nosebleeds from it.

It has been described like "a diesel car idling in the distance" by a BBC interviewee and the maddening sound has driven people stir-crazy in trying to figure it out. Especially when they can only hear it at home and during the night.

People living on the south coast have complained this week of a constant and low-pitched sound for which they have found no cause - as reported by Plymouth Herald.

It has been mistaken for leaking pipes, phone masts, wind farms, low-frequency submarine communications and even mating fish.

"For the first few years I lost sleep, couldn't concentrate and was unable to do anything. I was constantly in tears, which put a great strain on my husband. It has changed me from an active, creative person to a stifled, angry pessimist," a woman told The Independent back in 1994.

Doctors blamed patients' abilities to hear it on tinnitus, until Addenbrooke's Hospital in Cambridge had confirmed sometime in the 1990s that the cause is external.


Hackers could commandeer new planes through passenger wi-fi

© Remy Gabalda/AFP/Getty
An Airbus A350 on an assembly line, in Toulouse, France, April 11, 2015.
Seven years after the Federal Aviation Administration first warned Boeing that its new Dreamliner aircraft had a Wi-Fi design that made it vulnerable to hacking, a new government report suggests the passenger jets might still be vulnerable.

Boeing 787 Dreamliner jets, as well as Airbus A350 and A380 aircraft, have Wi-Fi passenger networks that use the same network as the avionics systems of the planes, raising the possibility that a hacker could hijack the navigation system or commandeer the plane through the in-plane network, according to the US Government Accountability Office, which released a report about the planes today.

A hacker would have to first bypass a firewall that separates the Wi-Fi system from the avionics system. But firewalls are not impenetrable, particularly if they are misconfigured.

A better design, security experts have warned for years, is to air gap critical systems from non-critical ones—that is, physically separate the networks so that a hacker on the plane can't bridge from one to the other, nor can a remote hacker pass malware through the internet connection to the plane's avionics system. As the report notes, because the Wi-Fi systems in these planes connect to the world outside the plane, it opens the door for malicious actors to also remotely harm the plane's system.

"A virus or malware planted in websites visited by passengers could provide an opportunity for a malicious attacker to access the IP-connected onboard information system through their infected machines," according to the report.


Space experts gather to save the world from the threat of asteroids (again)

© www.salzburg24.
Didymoon and Earth
International space experts have been hard at work since Monday trying to save the planet from being hit by a giant, hypothetical asteroid.

Many of the world's leading space researchers and academics are currently assembled in Italy at the International Academy of Astronautics (IAA) Planetary Defense Conference. The conference, held every other year since 2009, features "exercises" to prepare for a potential asteroid catastrophe. At the 2013 conference in Flagstaff, Arizona, the experts failed to save the French Riviera city of Nice from a hypothetical asteroid impact.

This year, in addition to presenting the latest research on "developing deflection and civil defense responses" to asteroids, the experts are discussing a practical experiment that they aim to launch in 2020.
This week's experiment involves a hypothetical asteroid collision that could create a crater up to four miles wide and 1,600 feet deep, generating a 6.8-magnitude earthquake. The scenario would affect an area of about 27,000 square miles — roughly the size of Ireland.

Comment: The asteroid was a 17 meter meteoroid/bolide that exploded in the atmosphere above Chelyabinsk, whose impact was not, per se, a direct hit by the incoming object. Below is a 10 minute archive of this event and shows the impact of its 500 kilotons of TNT energy. (Note: put speakers on low for the first couple minutes.)

As we know, incoming meteors, meteoroids and bolides are now a daily occurrence. If these experts are going to "alter the course of history," they should probably hurry! The test-run on Didymos and Didymoon won't take place until 2022. And then of course, there are the comets...


'Dwarf planet' Ceres' bright spots puzzle scientists

Ceres is puzzling astronomers with giant bright-white spots behaving very differently from each other in infrared light. As the enigma around the anomaly grows, NASA now says their origins and properties are very different.

The latest infrared mapping of Ceres shows a diverse mix of climatic and geological phenomena, which can only be explained once the current NASA probe, Dawn, gets closer to its target. Now, the month-old infrared photographs of bright spots, released April 13 in Vienna at a meeting of the European Geosciences Union, are leading to further speculation as to the rock's history and the presence of water on it.

On visible light images taken beforehand, the two anomalous spots appear bright white, leading to speculations about so-called cryovolcanoes. But the newly-released infrared photos show that the spots have completely differing thermal properties.

"This dwarf planet was not just an inert rock throughout its history. It was active, with processes that resulted in different materials in different regions. We are beginning to capture that diversity in our color images," Chris Russell, principal investigator for the Dawn mission, says.

And NASA's Dawn probe, which is currently about 28,000 miles (45,000km) away, proves there's more to Ceres than meets the eye.

Eye 1

Your Facebook chats are being read by CIA-backed company

© Flickr/ Robert S. Donovan
While sending a web link over Facebook Chat, a group of app developers noticed a curious amount of activity. Pulling at the thread, they discovered a mysterious company known as Recorded Future, and a potential CIA conspiracy.

Facebook Chat seems innocuous enough. So thought Bosnadev, a group of coders and bloggers, when they used the communication program to send a link. But something seemed amiss.

"During the testing of an application we've set up in a non-published area we have noticed some unusual activity," the blog reads. "The link for the app was sent via Facebook chat and afterwards comes the interesting part."

After checking the IP activity, they noticed 16 internet protocol ID tags, "lots of IPv6 for a single Facebook check."

With their interest piqued, Bosnadev ran another test, creating a fresh URL and sending it through a Facebook Chat window. Despite the fact that this new web link only existed in a single chat screen - nowhere else on the Internet - they noticed a similar amount of activity. Two IP addresses were their own, but Bosnadev had no explanation for the other 10 which appeared.

Comment: Big Brother never sleeps, and your social media accounts are never safe from the prying eyes of the CIA and NSA.


SpaceX launch successful: Dragon en route to ISS, but reusable rocket landing fails

A SpaceX Dragon capsule carrying more than two tons of supplies is on its way to the International Space Station after a successful launch from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station atop a Falcon 9 rocket.

After its 4:10 p.m. blastoff, the Falcon 9 booster flew itself from space back down to a ship stationed in the Atlantic Ocean, but hit it too hard and broke apart.

"Ascent successful," SpaceX CEO Elon Musk reported on Twitter. "Dragon enroute to Space Station. Rocket landed on droneship, but too hard for survival."

The experimental attempt to land the 14-story rocket stage on the unpiloted "drone ship," the company's second try since January, is part of SpaceX's efforts to develop reusable rockets that could lower launch costs.

Musk later added that the rocket stage appeared to have landed on the ship but then tipped over because of too much sideways motion, indicating that SpaceX came closer to success.

© Terence Horan/Marketwatch, SpaceX,
SpaceX is also continuing the attempts to achieve a controlled landing of the Falcon9 booster. All attempts so far have failed, with the booster either sinking into the ocean or undergoing what SpaceX CEO Elon Musk described as “rapid unscheduled disassembly” upon striking the landing pad.

Comment: See also:

2 + 2 = 4

How "clean" was sold to America with fake science


Listerine advertisement from 1928. The Household Magazine.
The average American's daily hygiene ritual would seem unusual—nay, obsessive—to our forebears a hundred years ago. From mouthwash to deodorant, most of our hygiene products were invented in the past century. To sell them, the advertising industry had to create pseudoscientific maladies like "bad breath" and "body odor."

Americans had to be convinced their breath was rotten and theirs armpits stank. It did not happen by accident. "Advertising and toilet soap grew up together," says Katherine Ashenburg, author of The Dirt on Clean. As advertising exploded in the early 20th century, so did our obsession with personal hygiene.

Comment: While hygiene is certainly important to body and mind as well as a show of consideration towards others, it's interesting how the ad industry preys on people's fears in order to drive consumerism.