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Airplane

First round-the-world solar flight to begin in February

Solar Impulse 2 aircraft
© Reuters/Denis Balibouse
The dismantled Solar Impulse 2 aircraft is pictured before being loaded into a Cargolux Boeing 747 cargo aircraft at Payerne airport.
A plane powered by the sun will attempt an unprecedented flight around the world next month, the project's founders said, seeking to prove that flying is possible without using fossil fuel.

Solar Impulse 2 is set to take off from Abu Dhabi with stopovers in India, Myanmar and China before crossing the Pacific Ocean and flying across the United States and southern Europe to arrive back in Abu Dhabi.

On its five-month journey of 35,000 km (22,000 miles), the engines will be powered only by solar energy. The two Swiss pilots will take turns at the controls in the tiny cabin for five consecutive days and nights in the air.
Cassiopaea

Supernova mystery found at the bottom of the sea

Ocean
© Discovery News
One of the least likely places you might think astronomers would learn about ancient supernovae is at the bottom of the ocean, but in new research scientists have done just that.

Through the careful analysis of ocean sediment, tiny particles that originated from deep space have settled on the seabed, locking the chemical secrets to supernova processes that would have otherwise remained a mystery.

"Small amounts of debris from these distant explosions fall on the earth as it travels through the galaxy," said lead researcher Anton Wallner, of the Australian National University.

"We've analyzed galactic dust from the last 25 million years that has settled on the ocean and found there is much less of the heavy elements such as plutonium and uranium than we expected."

Supernovae are powerful explosions triggered when massive stars reach the ends of their lives. During these powerful events, many elements are forged, including elements that are essential for life to thrive - such as iron, potassium and iodine.

However, as pointed out by an Australian National University press release, even heavier elements like lead, gold and radioactive elements like uranium and plutonium can be created. But it appears that the formation processes for the heaviest elements are at odds with current astrophysical theory.
Question

Mysterious radio burst seen in real time

Cosmic Radiowave
© The Independent, UK
The mysterious ‘blitzar’ has been heard since 2007, but scientists have caught it live for the first time.
As live performances go, a mysterious pulse of radio waves emanating from deep in the universe has to be up with the greats. And scientists have finally caught it.

The blitzars last only about a millisecond - during which time they give out as much energy as the sun does in a million years, according to the New Scientist - and have only ever been heard on historical data.

The source must be "huge, cataclysmic and up to 5.5 billion light years away," one scientist told the New Scientist.
Cookie

Zombie Cookie: The unkillable tracking cookie

zombie cookies
© David Sleight & Hannah Birch
[Editor's note: This story has been updated. See end of article]

An online ad company called Turn is using tracking cookies that come back to life after Verizon users have deleted them. Turn's services are used by everyone from Google to Facebook.


An online advertising clearinghouse relied on by Google, Yahoo and Facebook is using controversial cookies that come back from the dead to track the web surfing of Verizon customers.

The company, called Turn, is taking advantage of a hidden undeletable number that Verizon uses to monitor customers' habits on their smartphones and tablets. Turn uses the Verizon number to respawn tracking cookies that users have deleted.


Comment: Bad enough the cellphone companies can track users, considering the information is funneled straight to government monitoring agencies. To re-exploit that for commercial gain in a way that consumers have no control over is worse.


"We are trying to use the most persistent identifier that we can in order to do what we do," Max Ochoa, Turn's chief privacy officer, told ProPublica.

Turn's zombie cookie comes amid a controversy about a new form of tracking the telecom industry has deployed to shadow mobile phone users. Last year, Verizon and AT&T users noticed their carriers were inserting a tracking number into all the Web traffic that transmits from a users' phone - even if the user has tried to opt out.

Users complained that the tracking number could be used by any website they visited from their phone to build a dossier about their behavior - what sites they went to, what apps they used.
Black Magic

Google-funded university aims to make DNA a consumer product

DNA
© unknown
Over the past five years we've seen technologies like 3D printing go from making plastic cubes, to making plastic firearms. It's a huge game changer that allows the individual to make tools that once required a factory full of workers to build. It has essentially lowered the barrier to entry for the manufacturing industry, and as this technology progresses, it could fundamentally change the world we live in.

But does 3D printing stand alone in this regard? Are there other emerging technologies that might democratize fields beyond manufacturing, such as medicine or energy production? Surely, we could benefit from devices that allow the every man to diagnose their own ailments, or cheaply produce all their energy needs. But what about genetic engineering? What if everyone could access the tools required to modify DNA, and do so in the comfort of their own home?

Comment: The evil ramifications of this device are too numerous to list. Anyone ever read Margaret Atwood's Oryx & Crake series?

Comet 2

Comet Finlay surprise outburst, visible in binoculars ... again!

Comet Finlay
© Michael Mattiazzo
Comet Finlay’s up to its old shenanigans again. Here we see it in outburst with a bright, compact head and a half-degree-long tail pointing northeast on Friday, January 16th.
Lost sleep at night, fingers tapping on the keyboard by day. Darn comets are keeping me busy! But of course that's a good problem. Comet 15P/Finlay, which had been languishing in the western sky at dusk at magnitude +10, has suddenly come to life ... for a second time.

Two nights ago, Australian comet observer Michael Mattiazzo took a routine picture of Finlay and discovered it at magnitude +8. Today it's a magnitude brighter and now joins Comet Lovejoy as the second binocular comet of 2015. Comet-wise, we've gone from zero to 60 and the new year's fewer than 3 weeks old!
Fish

Scientists warn ocean life on massive verge of extinction caused by humans

© Marco De Swart/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images
A dead whale in Rotterdam, the Netherlands, in 2011. As container ships multiply, more whales are being harmed, a study said.
A team of scientists, in a groundbreaking analysis of data from hundreds of sources, has concluded that humans are on the verge of causing unprecedented damage to the oceans and the animals living in them.

"We may be sitting on a precipice of a major extinction event," said Douglas J. McCauley, an ecologist at the University of California, Santa Barbara, and an author of the new research, which was published on Thursday in the journal Science.

But there is still time to avert catastrophe, Dr. McCauley and his colleagues also found. Compared with the continents, the oceans are mostly intact, still wild enough to bounce back to ecological health.

"We're lucky in many ways," said Malin L. Pinsky, a marine biologist at Rutgers University and another author of the new report. "The impacts are accelerating, but they're not so bad we can't reverse them."

Scientific assessments of the oceans' health are dogged by uncertainty: It's much harder for researchers to judge the well-being of a species living underwater, over thousands of miles, than to track the health of a species on land. And changes that scientists observe in particular ocean ecosystems may not reflect trends across the planet.

Comment: This is another sign that humans are expanding far beyond what the Earth can handle. One way or another, Mother Nature is going to balance out, and unfortunately right now that is happening through the loss of flora and fauna. How long before humanity becomes a victim of its own excess? Based on how the world's weather has been lately, it might not be long before earth changes intervene to halt the sprawl of humanity.

Evil Rays

Infrasound: "There is geometry in the humming of the strings, there is music in the spacing of the spheres"

As thunderous tones deepen, their power seemingly intensifies over frail barriers such as glass windows. Certain abrupt thunder peals often shatter windows into tiny fragments. In the apparent absence of thunderous tones we may observe the strong and continuous vibration of glass window panes during storms. A sudden eerie silence, and the window is shattered before our eyes.

Natural phenomena are prodigious generators of infrasound. The potent distal effects produced when natural explosions occur produce legendary effects. When Krakatoa exploded, windows were shattered hundreds of miles away by the infrasonic wave. Wind was not the causative agent of these occurrences, as no wind was felt or detected. Seismographic stations registered the blast, and barometers measured the shockwaves. The "ringing" of both earth and atmosphere continued for hours. It is believed that infrasound actually formed the upper pitch of this natural volcanic explosion, tones unmeasurably deep forming the actual "central harmonic" of the event. The island of Krakatoa was literally lifted into orbit in the fatal blast. Brilliant sunsets followed for many years thereafter, the sad memorial of all the souls who perished.

The power of explosives, in shattering and devastating property, lies in two zones. The first zone is that with which we are principally familiar; the actual blast site, where chemically released gases and metal fragments push back everything in their perimeter. The second less familiar zone extends very much further from the blast site than can be imagined. It is in the powerful sonic wave which expands outward that an equally destructive danger lies. Thick pressure walls of incredible momentum, interspaced with equally thick walls of reduced air pressure, travel far away from the blast site. The blast site is the small destructive zone by comparison. Few objects can survive this destructive tide.
Info

Sea turtles utilise Earth's magnetic field to find home

© J. Roger Brothers
A loggerhead sea turtle nests at the Archie Carr National Wildlife Refuge in Melbourne Beach, Florida.
Female sea turtles, known to swim thousands of miles before returning to their birthplace to lay eggs, find their way home by relying on unique magnetic signatures along the coast, a new study finds.

For more than 50 years, scientists have been mystified by how sea turtles do this, said the study's lead researcher, J. Roger Brothers, a graduate student of biology at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

"Our results provide evidence that turtles imprint on the unique magnetic field of their natal beach as hatchlings, and then use this information to return as adults," Brothers said in a statement.

Comment: See also: Seals may use 'natural GPS'

Info

New species of sulphate breathing bug discovered deep under ocean crust

© USC Dornsife
Researchers lowered this robolab complete with drill through two miles of ocean and bored through several hundred feet of ocean sediment and into the rock where the aquifer flows.
Two miles below the surface of the ocean, researchers have discovered new microbes that 'breathe' sulfate.

The microbes, which have yet to be classified and named, exist in massive undersea aquifers - networks of channels in porous rock beneath the ocean where water continually churns, researchers say.

About one-third of the Earth's biomass is thought to exist in this largely uncharted environment.
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