Science & Technology

Cloud Lightning

A new map shows lightning strikes around the world in real time

A small German group called Blitzortung has developed a crowd-sourced map that shows real-time lightning strikes around the world.

The maps are driven by a network of volunteers who have set up a $275 detection kit consisting of an antenna system, amplifier, and controller. Each station can detect radio signals from a lightning strike and transmit the exact time and location to the Blitzortung servers. Remarkably, the detection stations don't have to be close to the lightning strike; a receiving station, say in New York, can still pick up lightning strikes in the Caribbean (low frequency RF waves can travel thousands of miles).

The realtime maps display five main global regions (Europe, Oceania, North America, Asia, and South America), and six local regions (Texas, Florida, New York, Minnesota, California, and the Dominican Republic).

The aim of the project is to establish a low budget lightning location network with a high number of stations. Go here if you're interested in covering your area.

Check it out here.

Equation that changed the world: Without Shannon's information theory there would have been no internet

information theory
© The Guardian
Shannon’s information theory
It showed how to make communications faster and take up less space on a hard disk, making the internet possible

This equation was published in the 1949 book The Mathematical Theory of Communication, co-written by Claude Shannon and Warren Weaver. An elegant way to work out how efficient a code could be, it turned "information" from a vague word related to how much someone knew about something into a precise mathematical unit that could be measured, manipulated and transmitted. It was the start of the science of "information theory", a set of ideas that has allowed us to build the internet, digital computers and telecommunications systems. When anyone talks about the information revolution of the last few decades, it is Shannon's idea of information that they are talking about.

Claude Shannon was a mathematician and electronic engineer working at Bell Labs in the US in the middle of the 20th century. His workplace was the celebrated research and development arm of the Bell Telephone Company, the US's main provider of telephone services until the 1980s when it was broken up because of its monopolistic position. During the second world war, Shannon worked on codes and methods of sending messages efficiently and securely over long distances, ideas that became the seeds for his information theory.

Before information theory, remote communication was done using analogue signals. Sending a message involved turning it into varying pulses of voltage along a wire, which could be measured at the other end and interpreted back into words. This is generally fine for short distances but, if you want to send something across an ocean, it becomes unusable. Every metre that an analogue electrical signal travels along a wire, it gets weaker and suffers more from random fluctuations, known as noise, in the materials around it. You could boost the signal at the outset, of course, but this will have the unwanted effect of also boosting the noise.

Information theory helped to get over this problem. In it, Shannon defined the units of information, the smallest possible chunks that cannot be divided any further, into what he called "bits" (short for binary digit), strings of which can be used to encode any message. The most widely used digital code in modern electronics is based around bits that can each have only one of two values: 0 or 1.
Cell Phone

Double standard: Apple implements the same anti-tracking technique used by Aaron Swartz, for which he was criminally prosecuted

© Reuters / Noah Berger
Computer genius and online activist Aaron Swartz
Apple is going to implement random MAC addresses technology in its iOS8 devices, an anonymity-granting technique which late computer prodigy Aaron Swartz was accused of using to carry out his infamous MIT hack.

Swartz, who faced criminal prosecution on charges of mass downloading academic documents and articles, was also accused of using MAC (Media Access Control) spoofing address technology to gain access to MIT's subscription database.

At the time of his suicide at the age 26, Swartz was facing up to 35 years in prison, the confiscation of assets and a $1 million fine on various charges.

Now computer giant Apple is installing a MAC address randomizing system into its products. The company announced that in its new iOS 8, Wi-Fi scanning behavior will be "changed to use random, locally administered MAC addresses."

'Magic island' appears out of nowhere on Titan, Saturn's biggest moon, then quickly disappears

© The Independent, UK
Scientist are baffled by images of planet-like Titan’s second largest sea, which appear to show an island materialise then disappear.
A "magic island" has mysteriously appeared out of nowhere in one of the hydrocarbon seas on Saturn's giant planet-like moon, Titan, only to later disappear.

Described as a bright "transient feature" by scientists, it is not clear what the object is, or how it appeared there. Theories include that it could be the result of waves or bubbles, or even buoyant solid matter.

The sea had appeared flat and completely devoid of features, including waves prior to 2013. But then the object, dubbed "magic island" by scientists, suddenly materialised before vanishing in later images.

The object was spotted in Ligeia Mare, Titan's second-largest sea, by radar images. The Cassini space probe which captured it has been exploring the Saturnian system since 2004.

Russian 'Satan' rocket blasts into orbit and successfully releases 33 satellites from 17 countries, including the U.S.

© RIA Novosti / Oleg Urusov
Dnepr rocket
Dnepr rocket also dubbed 'Satan' has blast off into earth's orbit carrying over 30 satellites from 17 countries, including the US. The rocket itself is of Russia-Ukraine make

Russia's Dombarovsky military air base saw the launch at 19:11 GMT Thursday, the 20th such rocket whizzing off into space.

Twenty-six minutes later, "all of the 33 satellites have separated from the rocket at the pre-set time and were put into their respective orbits," Kosmotras, the launch operator, said.
Comet 2

New Comet: P/2014 L3 (Hill)

Discovery Date: June 10, 2014

Magnitude: 18.0 mag

Discoverer: R. E. Hill (Catalina Sky Survey)
P/2014 L3
© Aerith Net
Magnitudes Graph
The orbital elements are published on M.P.E.C. 2014-L62.

The odd, tiny near-earth asteroid 2011 MD

small asteroid rubble
© NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory
An artist's conception of two possible views of asteroid 2011 MD
What seemed to be rock-solid assumptions about the nature of small asteroids may end in collections of rubble or even a cloud of dust, but in such findings lies the lure of the unexpected.

Northern Arizona University researchers David Trilling and Michael Mommert, while playing a well-defined role in the NASA Asteroid Initiative, are beginning to wonder if they have found a separate path of investigation.

The two researchers presented their findings about asteroid 2011 MD on Thursday during a NASA event updating progress on the path to capturing a small asteroid and relocating it for a closer look by astronauts in the 2020s.
Bizarro Earth

What happens if the Earth stopped spinning?

Sometimes it's easy to forget that the Earth and everything on it are rotating. But it's a good thing that our planet keeps spinning, because if it suddenly stopped it would unleash a torrent of catastrophes.

Just listen to what Michael Stevens has to say in this new installment of his Vsauce YouTube series.

"First of all, you would gain weight," Stevens says, a reference to the fact the Earth's rotation slightly offsets the effect of gravity. "But that would be the least of your worries."


There are reports showing earth is not the only planet that is slowing down, other planets are too.

Earth's rotation slowing? A leap second

Scientists baffled to discover that Venus' spin is slowing down

Saturn's Rotation Observed to Slow Down, Instrumental Error Ruled Out

What is happening in the solar system that is contributing to this?. Readers may be interested to read the following article.

The Cs Hit List 07: Sun Star Companion, Singing Stones and Smoking Visions


Hubble's 4-year exploding star time lapse video

NASA's Hubble telescope captured the Monocerotis star's explosion and aftermath.

Comet 2

Are comets a bigger danger than asteroids?

Impact Event
© NASA/Don Davis
An artist's illustration depicts a massive asteroid impact on earth.
Discussions about "death from above" scenarios usually center on asteroids, but a comet impact could be far more devastating than a space rock strike.

Near-Earth asteroids (NEAs) have Earth-like orbits, so their collisions with Earth tend to be glancing blows from behind or from the side. But comets travel around the sun in more random paths and can thus slam into the planet head-on, with potentially catastrophic results, researchers say.

"It would be a much bigger explosion, a much bigger crater, much more damage," impact expert Mark Boslough, of Sandia National Laboratories in New Mexico, said on June 5. He made the comment during a webcast produced by the online Slooh community observatory, which previewed the June 8 Earth flyby of the asteroid 2014 HQ124.

In fact, comets can be traveling up to three times faster than NEAs relative to Earth at the time of impact, Boslough added. The energy released by a cosmic collision increases as the square of the incoming object's speed, so a comet could pack nine times more destructive power than an asteroid of the same mass.

The speed of comets also means that a dangerous one could be nearly upon Earth by the time scientists detect it.