Science & Technology


'Hot Jupiter' measurements do not follow models

© NASA/JPL-Caltech
The exoplanet 209458b, located 150 light-years from Earth. [Artist's concept]
Dry atmospheres of three exoplanets challenge ideas of how planets form.

Scientists searching for worlds outside of the Solar System say that three such planets - distant gas giants that resemble Jupiter - are surprisingly dry.

The atmospheres of these exoplanets, known as 'hot Jupiters', contain between one-tenth and one-thousandth water vapour than predicted, measurements from the Hubble Space Telescope show. The findings, published 24 July in Astrophysical Journal Letters, are at odds with theories of how planets form.

The study re-analyses observations of the exoplanets HD 189733b, HD 209458b and WASP-12b, which are 20 - 270 parsecs (60 - 870 light years) away from Earth. As each exoplanet crossed in front of its host star, Hubble observed the spectrum of infrared light filtering through the planet's atmosphere. A team led by Nikku Madhusudhan, an astronomer at the University of Cambridge, UK, then used atmospheric models to determine the combination of elements that produced each planet's spectrum.

Comment: A preprint of the paper can be found here

Eye 1

Google wants to get inside your body: Baseline Study aims to find the picture of perfect human health

Google Inc. has embarked on what may be its most ambitious and difficult science project ever: a quest inside the human body.
human skeleton
© Getty Images
The project will collect anonymous genetic and molecular information from 175 people.
Called Baseline Study, the project will collect anonymous genetic and molecular information from 175 people - and later thousands more - to create what the company hopes will be the fullest picture of what a healthy human being should be.

The early-stage project is run by Andrew Conrad, a 50-year-old molecular biologist who pioneered cheap, high-volume tests for HIV in blood-plasma donations.

Dr. Conrad joined Google X - the company's research arm - in March 2013, and he has built a team of about 70-to-100 experts from fields including physiology, biochemistry, optics, imaging and molecular biology.

Other mass medical and genomics studies exist. But Baseline will amass a much larger and broader set of new data. The hope is that this will help researchers detect killers such as heart disease and cancer far earlier, pushing medicine more toward prevention rather than the treatment of illness.

Comment: Quest for the picture of perfect health or the corporatocracy's quest for total information awareness down to the DNA level? You be the judge.


Information Paradox: Mysterious black holes may be exploding into 'white holes'

© Reuters /NASA
A new scientific theory suggests that when black holes reach the end of their lifespan, they explode into "white holes" and release all of their matter into space.

If true, the theory could help put to rest the debate over whether or not black holes actually destroy the matter they end up devouring.

As noted by Albert Einstein's theory of relativity, when a dying star ends up collapsing under its own weight, at some point the collapse becomes irreversible, resulting in a black hole that consumes light and anything else within its surrounding area. Although Vice noted that black holes do slowly leak radiation over time - ultimately draining the black hole completely - this doesn't account for all the other matter that the dying star has consumed.

US responsible for more spam sent than any other country

computer spam
© AFP Photo / Mike Clarke
The United States sends more spam by volume than any other country in the world, while Bulgaria emails the most per capita, according to a new tally by security company Sophos. The report covers the second quarter of 2014.

The US has placed first in Sophos' dubious "Dirty Dozen Spampionship," which looks at the top spam-producing countries in the world, for the last four quarters. The US sent 24.2 percent of the world's spam in the past three months, with France sending just 6.7 percent, China 6.2 percent and Italy 5.2 percent, according to the company's data.

Playing off the popularity of the 2014 World Cup and the upcoming Commonwealth Games, SophosLabs created two league tables to show off the results of its study. "Just as the soccer World Cup reminds us that football is the 'World Game', because it's played so keenly in so many countries, we hope the Spampionship Tables are a reminder that spam is a global problem that affects us all," the company wrote on its Naked Security blog.

Edward Snowden announces plans to work on anti-surveillance tech

Edward Snowden
© ZDnet
The former NSA contractor, still hidden within Russia, plans to develop anti-surveillance technology following the US government spying scandal.
Edward Snowden says he plans to develop and promote anti-surveillance technology to hamper government spying across the globe.

The former US National Security Agency (NSA) contractor, who leaked confidential documents detailing the extensive surveillance activities of the NSA and the UK's GCHQ, called for support at the Hackers On Planet Earth (HOPE) conference via a video link from Moscow, Russia.

Snowden addressed the conference on Saturday, requesting that the hacking community channel its resources into developing anti-surveillance technologies which will make government spying more difficult - and said that he planned to spend much of his future time doing the same.

The former NSA contractor said:
We the people - you the people, you in this room right now - have both the means and the capability to improve the future by encoding our rights into programs and protocols by which we rely every day. [..] and that's what a lot of my future work is going to be involved in, and I hope you'll join me in making that a reality.

New species of insect discovered in China with an 8 inch wingspan

No thanks: This photo from the Insect Museum of West China shows the largest aquatic insect ever found, discovered recently in a mountain of Chengdu. When they are larvae they spend a lot of time out of sight in the water, only leaving when they pupate and they become adults. They can be found in or near lakes and ponds
* The largest aquatic insect in the world has been found in Chengdu, China

* It is of the order Megaloptera and has a wingspan of 8.3 inches (21 cm)

* This is larger than the previous record, which stood at 7.5 inches (19 cm)

* The giant insect has huge mandibles that it uses during mating

* Can be found near wet environments such as lakes but lives just a few days

A newly discovered member of the Megaloptera family has been found that could be the largest aquatic insect in the world.

It was found on a mountain in Chengdu, Sichuan province in China.

The mysterious specimen of which little is known has a wingspan of 8.3 inches (21 centimetres).

Solar storm two years ago narrowly missed Earth

Solar coronal mass ejection, July 23 2012
On July 23, 2012, the sun unleashed two massive clouds of plasma that barely missed a catastrophic encounter with the Earth's atmosphere. These plasma clouds, known ascoronal mass ejections (CMEs), comprised a solar storm thought to be the most powerful in at least 150 years.

"If it had hit, we would still be picking up the pieces," physicist Daniel Baker of the University of Colorado tells NASA.

Fortunately, the blast site of the CMEs was not directed at Earth. Had this event occurred a week earlier when the point of eruption was Earth-facing, a potentially disastrous outcome would have unfolded.

Baker tells NASA:
"I have come away from our recent studies more convinced than ever that Earth and its inhabitants were incredibly fortunate that the 2012 eruption happened when it did."
"If the eruption had occurred only one week earlier, Earth would have been in the line of fire."

UK decriminalizes online file sharing of video games, music and films

file sharing
© Reuters / Carlos Barria
The British government has decriminalized the act of online video game, music and film piracy, after branding harsher punishment plans as "unworkable."

Beginning in 2015, internet users who persistently file-share will be sent a series of warning letters explaining that their actions are illegal. However, authorities will take no further action if the user continues downloading the material.

The aim of the letters is to boost consumer awareness of the array of legitimate online media outlets such as Netflix, and deter people from using file-sharing software.

The new scheme, named the 'Voluntary Copyright Alert Programme (VCAP),' came after years of talks between internet service providers (ISPs), politicians, and the music and film industries.

Major ISPs, including BT, Virgin, and Sky, have already signed up to VCAP. Other ISPs are expected to follow suit.

Geoff Taylor, chief executive of UK music trade body BPI, said VCAP was about "persuading the persuadable, such as parents who do not know what is going on with their net connection."

Comment: Not only is criminalizing online piracy unworkable, it seems the effect on the industry is minimal at any rate.

Online file sharing, pirating has minimal impact on motion picture industry
Study finds file-sharers buy ten times more music

Eye 2

Google faces lawsuit for offering data-mined consumer data to advertisers

Google te espia
© Desconocido
A federal judge has denied Google Inc's attempt to dismiss a privacy lawsuit brought against the technology giant for commingling user data across its different products and offering that data to advertisers without permission.

US District Judge Paul Grewal ruled Monday evening that Google has to face the breach of contract and fraud claims brought by users of Android devices who downloaded at least one Android application through Google Play.

"Like Rocky rising from Apollo's uppercut in the 14th round, plaintiffs' complaint has sustained much damage but just manages to stand," Grewal wrote in a 28-page decision, referring to the 'Rocky' film series while alluding to how close his decision ultimately was. Two earlier versions of the lawsuit were previously dismissed by Grewal.

Grewal did dismiss on Monday other aspects of the current lawsuit, including claims brought by users who say they were compelled to switch away from Android devices to non-Android devices after Google altered its privacy policy in 2012 that allowed the data commingling.

Scientists cut HIV out of human genome using enzymes

© Reuters/Suzanne Plunkett
US scientists have physically cut the HIV virus out of infected cells by using enzymes. The method could, in theory, lead to a permanent cure for AIDS, though researchers warn there is still a long way to go.

Scientists from Temple University School of Medicine in Philadelphia have pioneered a technique which uses a targeting strand of RNA (called guide RNA, or gRNA) that locates the virus. A "DNA snipping" enzyme (called a nuclease) then removes it from the infected cell. The cell, now free of the HIV virus, then repairs itself.

Cells armed with the nuclease-RNA combination proved impervious to HIV infection, the research states.

"This is an important step on the path toward a permanent cure for AIDS. It's an exciting discovery, but it's not yet ready to go into the clinic. It's a proof of concept that we're moving in the right direction," said Dr. Khalili, director of the Comprehensive NeuroAIDS Center at Temple and lead author of the study.

The editing process was successful in several cell types that can harbor HIV-1, including microglia and macrophages, as well as T-lymphocytes. "T-cells and monocytic cells are the main cell types infected by HIV-1, so they are the most important targets for this technology," Khalili said.