Science & Technology

Eye 2

Google mounting defenses to fight biggest wiretap case in U.S. history

google street view
© Getty
Data from two hard drives locked up in the San Francisco federal courthouse may make or break an effort to hold Google Inc. (GOOG) to account for what privacy advocates call an unprecedented corporate wiretapping case.

If 22 people who sued the company can pinpoint their personal data in a massive cache of communications that Google's Street View cars captured from private Wi-Fi networks, their lawyers may be able to seek billions of dollars of damages from the the world's largest search engine owner.

If they come up empty-handed, an outcome the company that pioneered search optimization is betting on, the case will join a stack of failed privacy lawsuits accusing Google, Apple Inc. (AAPL), Facebook Inc. (FB) and other technology companies of tracking, capturing or sharing personal information.

"You have to show that you were the victim," said Susan Freiwald, a law professor at University of San Francisco School of Law. "If they don't, then why should they get money?"

Scientist claims to mathematically prove there are no black holes

An American physicist claims she has mathematically refuted the existence of black holes in our universe. The new theory combines Steve Hawking's radiation theory with quantum theory's fundamental law that no information ever disappears from the universe.
spiral galaxy
© Reuters/NASA
One of the lowest mass supermassive black holes ever observed in the middle of a galaxy located in the middle of the spiral galaxy NGC 4178, is shown in this image from the Sloan Digital Sky Survey
Professor Laura Mersini-Houghton from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill maintains she managed to merge two seemingly contradicting theories, Einstein's theory of gravity and a fundamental law of quantum theory.

While Einstein's theory predicts the formation of black holes, the quantum theory law says that no information from the universe can ever disappear, in an attempt to resolve the so-called 'information law paradox.'

Until now modern science generally believed that a black hole forms from a massive star that collapses under its own gravity into a single spot in space the astronomers call a singularity, surrounded by the event horizon that neither light nor energy could escape from. Three decades ago renowned physicist Stephen Hawking proposed that black holes could emit radiation. Hawking's hypothesis, made in 1974, was based on quantum mechanics.

Mersini-Houghton agrees with Hawking on the radiation being given off by a collapsed star for a certain period of time, yet she also insists that by emitting radiation the star also loses too much of its mass right to the point when formation of a singularity - and a black hole - is impossible.

Brazil releases GM mosquitoes to combat dengue fever

genetically modified mosquitoes
© Alamy
Thousands of British made genetically engineered mosquitoes were released by Brazilian researchers in Rio de Janeiro on Thursday infected with bacteria that suppress dengue fever.

The hope is they will multiply, breed and become the majority of mosquitoes, thus reducing cases of the disease.

The British biotech firm Oxitec has altered the DNA of the Aedes aegypti mosquito to prevent it from spreading the potentially deadly virus.

Oxitec's new factory in the Brazilian city of Campinas, outside Sao Paulo, is the first in the world to launch production of genetically modified (GM) mosquitoes to target dengue.

The mosquitoes, which Oxitec has dubbed OX513A, have been bred to carry a sort of genetic self-destruct mechanism that causes their offspring to die before they reach sexual maturity, preventing them from reproducing.

The Oxford-based biotech firm found the perfect way to cut down on the world's malaria and dengue numbers - create and release genetically engineered mosquitoes which are sterile and unable to reproduce.

Comment: Comment: If the male mosquitoes are sterile and unable to reproduce, how do they pass the self-destruct gene onto their offspring? Illogic aside, only time will tell the results of this idiotic experiment. Don't mess with mother nature.

Solar Flares

Solar explosions inside a computer

solar flare
© Credit: Nasa/SDO
This solar flare was shot with one of the cameras on the NASA SDO satellite on 10 June 2014.
Strong solar flares can bring down communications and power grids on Earth. By demonstrating how these gigantic eruptions are caused, ETH physicists are laying the foundations for future predictions.

The shorter the interval between two explosions in the solar atmosphere, the more likely it is that the second flare will be stronger than the first one. ETH Professor Hans Jürgen Herrmann and his team have been able to demonstrate this, using model calculations. The amount of energy released in solar flares is truly enormous - in fact, it is millions of times greater than the energy produced in volcanic eruptions. Strong explosions cause a discharge of mass from the outer part of the solar atmosphere, the corona. If a coronal mass ejection hits the earth, it can cause a geomagnetic storm. Heavy storms can disrupt satellites, radio traffic and electrical plants. When in autumn 2003 one of the strongest solar eruptions in history was registered, there was a power failure in southern Sweden and air traffic had to be redirected as communications above the Polar Regions broke down.

ETH scientists have examined the processes that take place when explosions occur on the Sun's surface. They were able to accurately reconstruct the statistical size distribution and temporal succession of the solar flares with a computer model. "The agreement with measurements from satellites is striking", state the researchers in the scientific journal Nature Communications. Hans Herrmann, Professor at the Institute for Building Materials, reveals that the Sun was not actually his subject of focus at all. The theoretical physicist and expert in computer physics has developed a method to examine phenomena from a range of diverse fields. Similar patterns to those in solar flares can also be found in earthquakes, avalanches or the stock market.

India's maiden Mars mission successful

A Panoramic View of the Mars Orbiter Spacecraft Control Centre at ISRO during the Trans Mars Injection Manoeuvre
India's maiden mission to Mars, the Mangalyaan, or Mars Orbiter Mission successfully entered the red planet's orbit on Wednesday morning.

Scientists from the Indian Space and Research Organisation fired the spacecraft's main liquid engine to align it to Mars' orbit. India's space agency, ISRO has an annual budget of $1.1 billion, one-seventeenth of its US counterpart NASA's.

"We congratulate ISRO for its Mars arrival! @MarsOrbiter joins the missions studying the Red Planet," tweeted NASA on Wednesday. NASA's latest Mars mission cost $671 million.

India has now become the first country to succeed on its first Mars mission, with a record-low budget of $74 million, and also the first in Asia to reach Mars. Mangalyaan aims to explore Mars surface features, morphology, mineralogy and search for methane in the Martian atmosphere using indigenous scientific instruments.

Strange new type of brain cell discovered

New Type of Brain Cell
© Alexei V. Egorov, 2014
A neuron with an axon protruding directly from a dendrite rather than from the cell body. Signals to this dendrite are forwarded more effectively than signals to other dendrites on the cell.
The discovery of a new shape of brain cell has neuroscientists scratching their heads over what the function of these neurons might be.

Though neurons come in different shapes and sizes, the basic blueprint consists of a cell body, from which protrudes spindly appendages called dendrites and axons. Dendrites are branchlike structures that receive signals from other nerve cells and deliver them to the cell body. The neuron then processes the signals and zaps along information to the next cell via a long projection called the axon.

At least, that's how it normally works. The newly discovered cells have a different, and until now, unknown process. In these cells, the signals skip the cell body altogether, instead traveling along an axon that projects directly from one of the dendrites.

"We found that in more than half of the cells, the axon does not emerge from the cell body, but arises from a lower dendrite," study researcher Christian Thome, a neuroscientist at Heidelberg University and the Bernstein Center Heidelberg-Mannheim, said in a statement.

Dust cloud explains mystery of rare five-hour space explosion

gamma-ray burst
© Credit: Phil Evans/ University of Leicester
The X-ray image from the Swift X-ray Telescope of the gamma-ray burst GRB 130925. The white object in the center is the gamma-ray burst. The large diffuse region to the right is a cluster of galaxies. The other objects are X-ray-emitting celestial objects, most likely supermassive black holes at the centers of distant galaxies. The full image is approximately the size of the full moon.
Next week in St. Petersburg, Russia, scientists on an international team that includes Penn State University astronomers will present a paper that provides a simple explanation for mysterious ultra-long gamma-ray bursts - a very rare form of the most powerful explosions in the universe.

"The recent discovery of ultra-long gamma-ray bursts raised questions about whether some new physics is required to explain them, but our work suggests a much simpler explanation," said David Burrows, a Penn State professor of astronomy and astrophysics. "Our analysis reveals that these rare gamma-ray bursts, which can last for hours, can be explained as standard explosions occurring in a region with a low density of matter that is located behind a cloud of dust when viewed from Earth."

Dick Willingale, an astronomer at the University of Leicester and a co-author of the study, said, "Not only is this result significant scientifically, but it shows the importance of international collaborations to build observatories, and of sharing information between those observatories."
Comet 2

New Comet: C/2014 R4 (Gibbs)

Discovery Date: September 14, 2014

Magnitude: 16.5 mag

Discoverer: A. R. Gibbs (Catalina Sky Survey)
C/2014 R4 (Gibbs)
© Aerith Net
Magnitudes Graph
The orbital elements are published on M.P.E.C. 2014-S09.

NASA locates 'monster' black hole in tiny galaxy

black hole M60-UCD1
Gigantic black hole spotted by Hubble
The M60-UCD1, discovered by NASA's Hubble Space Telescope in 2013, is one of the smallest known galaxies. But now the space agency has discovered that the dwarf galaxy is harboring a "monster" black hole.

The diameter of M60-UCD1 is about 300 light years - just 1/500th of our galaxy's width. However, it is packed with 140 million stars, which also makes it one of the densest galaxies.

For comparison, NASA explains, the nighttime sky we see from Earth's surface shows 4,000 stars. If we lived inside the newly-discovered M60-UCD1, our nighttime sky would be covered with at least one million stars "visible to the naked eye."

But what really surprised astronomers is the supermassive black hole they found inside M60-UCD1.

black hole galaxy
Dwarf Galaxy's 'giant black heart' has a mass equivalent to 21 million suns.
Lurking in the smallest galaxy, the black hole is five times the mass of the one at the center of our Milky Way galaxy. It has a mass equal to 21 million suns, and is 15 percent of the small galaxy's total mass - but less than 0.01 percent of the Milky Way's total mass.

"That is pretty amazing, given that the Milky Way is 500 times larger and more than 1,000 times heavier than the dwarf galaxy M60-UCD1," University of Utah astronomer Anil Seth, lead author of an international study on the dwarf galaxy, said in Nature's Thursday publication.

The finding has prompted astronomers to consider rethinking dwarf galaxy theories.

Comment: The astronomers used adaptive optics technology to study the galaxy and its massive black hole. Using data from NASA's Hubble Space Telescope along with the Gemini North 8-meter optical and infrared telescope on Hawaii's Mauna Kea, they captured the dwarf galaxy and the black hole's mass. Normally, images from telescopes on the ground are blurred out by the 'twinkling' of the stars caused by the refraction of light in the atmosphere. With adaptive optics, a flexible mirror is used to undo the affects of the atmosphere and get a sharper image. Since there were no bright stars next to M60-UCD1, the team used a laser to create their own "fake" stars in the upper atmosphere to use for the adaptive optics process. This allowed them to study the motions of the stars at many points within the very small object. By observing the motions of the stars at the center of the ultra-compact dwarf compared to in its outskirts, they were able to separately weigh the stars in the galaxy and the black hole.


US Military and Boeing develop 'Hel MD', a high powered laser to shoot down drones

© HEL / MD
Boeing's High Energy Laser Mobile Demonstrator
The U.S. military is now one step closer to having a laser gun that can shoot down enemy drones in the blink of an eye.

Boeing recently announced that its mobile laser weapon, dubbed the High Energy Laser Mobile Demonstrator (HEL MD), successfully shot down more than 150 drones, rockets and other mock enemy targets in a third round of tests. The trials prove that the laser weapon is reliable and capable of consistently "acquiring, tracking and engaging a variety of targets in different environments," according to Boeing.

The most recent demonstration of the 10-kilowatt, high-energy laser took place at Eglin Air Force Base in Florida. The laser was installed on a military vehicle, making it the first mobile, high-energy laser built and demonstrated by the U.S. Army, according to Boeing.

Comment: The technology is fascinating, but the ends for which it's used are insane. But for those fans of laser technology out there here are some articles to check out: