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Published: 2017-03-26T09:17:14+00:00

 



Scientists Name 11 New Cloud Types

2017-03-25T10:00:00+00:00

The increased use of technology capable of photographing and sharing images has prompted the World Meteorological Organization to add 11 new cloud classifications to their International Cloud Atlas. "A far cry from simple white puffs, these 11 new cloud types roll, dip, and menace their way across the skies," reports National Geographic. From the report: These 11 additions are the first updates that the atlas has received in 30 years, and much of the change can be attributed to citizen scientists who can share and discuss clouds by uploading photos to the Atlas's site. 2017 is the first year that the renowned atlas will be published entirely online, but a hardbound version will follow later this year. Asperitas, Latin for roughness, is the cloud type that has citizen scientists most excited and has been a special victory for the UK-based Cloud Appreciation Society. This photo, first spotted in 2006, captured their attention for its inability to be described by existing cloud types. Marked by small divot-like features that create chaotic ripples across the sky, asperitas were championed by enthusiasts who noticed they did not accurately fall under existing categories. Other clouds that formerly went by more colloquial names, such as the wave-like Kelvin-Helmoltz cloud, and fallstreak holes, will now be recognized with the Latin names fluctus and cavum, respectively. You can watch a time-lapse of the newly classified asperitas here.

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Supermassive Black Hole Rocketing Out of Distant Galaxy At 5 Million MPH

2017-03-25T07:00:00+00:00

The Bad Astronomer writes: Astronomers have found a supermassive black hole barreling out of its home galaxy at 5 million miles per hour. The 3 billion solar mass behemoth formed from the merger of two slightly smaller black holes after two galaxies collided and themselves merged. The resulting blast of gravitational waves is thought to have been asymmetric, causing a rocket effect which launched the resulting black hole away. It's currently 40,000 light years from the galaxy's core. Source: ESA/Hubble

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'Moore's Law' For Carbon Would Defeat Global Warming

2017-03-25T02:05:00+00:00

An anonymous reader quotes a report from MIT Technology Review: A streamlined set of goals for reducing carbon emissions could simplify the way nations approach the quest to reduce human impact on the planet. A group of European researchers have a refreshingly straightforward solution that they call a carbon law -- or, as the Guardian has coined it, a "Moore's law for carbon." The overarching goal is simple: globally, we must halve carbon dioxide emissions every decade. That's essentially it. The rule would ideally be applied "to all sectors and countries at all scales," and would encourage "bold action in the short term." Dramatic changes would naturally have to occur as a result -- from quick wins like carbon taxes and energy efficiency regulations, to longer-term policies like phasing out combustion-engine cars and carbon-neutral building regulations. If policy makers followed the carbon law, adoption of renewables would continue its current pace of doubling energy production every 5.5 years, and carbon dioxide sequestration technologies would need to ramp up in order for the the planet to reach net-zero emissions by the middle of the century, say the researchers. Along the way, coal use would end as soon as 2030 and oil use by 2040. There are, clearly, issues with the idea, not least being the prospect of convincing every nation to commit to such a vision. The very simplicity that makes the idea compelling can also be used as a point of criticism: Can such a basic rule ever hope to define practical ideas as to how to change the world's energy production and consumption? The study has been published in the journal Science.

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US Scientists Launch World's Biggest Solar Geoengineering Study

2017-03-25T00:45:00+00:00

In what will be the world's biggest solar geoengineering program to date, U.S. scientists part of the $20 million Harvard University project are going to send aerosol injections 20km (~12.4 miles) into the earth's stratosphere "to establish whether the technology can safely simulate the atmospheric cooling effects of a volcanic eruption," The Guardian reports. From the report: Scientists hope to complete two small-scale dispersals of first water and then calcium carbonate particles by 2022. Future tests could involve seeding the sky with aluminum oxide -- or even diamonds. Janos Pasztor, Ban Ki-moon's assistant climate chief at the UN who now leads a geoengineering governance initiative, said that the Harvard scientists would only disperse minimal amounts of compounds in their tests, under strict university controls. Geoengineering advocates stress that any attempt at a solar tech fix is years away and should be viewed as a compliment to -- not a substitute for -- aggressive emissions reductions action. But the Harvard team, in a promotional video for the project, suggest a redirection of one percent of current climate mitigation funds to geoengineering research, and argue that the planet could be covered with a solar shield for as little as $10 billion a year. Some senior UN climate scientists view such developments with alarm, fearing a cash drain from proven mitigation technologies such as wind and solar energy, to ones carrying the potential for unintended disasters. If lab tests are positive, the experiment would then be replicated with a limestone compound which the researchers believe will neither absorb solar or terrestrial radiation, nor deplete the ozone layer.

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Alcohol Is Good for Your Heart -- Most of the Time

2017-03-24T17:20:00+00:00

Alcohol, in moderation, has a reputation for being healthy for the heart. Drinking about a glass of wine for women per day, and two glasses for men, is linked to a lower risk of heart attack, stroke and death from heart disease. From a report on Time: A new study of nearly two million people published in The BMJ adds more evidence that moderate amounts of alcohol appear to be healthy for most heart conditions -- but not all of them. The researchers analyzed the link between alcohol consumption and 12 different heart ailments in a large group of U.K. adults. None of the people in the study had cardiovascular disease when the study started. People who did not drink had an increased risk for eight of the heart ailments, ranging from 12 percent to 56 percent, compared to people who drank in moderation. These eight conditions include the most common heart events, such as heart attack, stroke and sudden heart-related death.

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Sea Ice Extent Sinks To Record Lows At Both Poles

2017-03-24T13:00:00+00:00

According to NASA, Arctic sea ice appears to have reached on March 7 a record low wintertime maximum extent. On the opposite side of the planet, Antartica ice hit its lowest extent ever recorded by satellites (since satellites began measuring sea ice in 1979) on March 3 at the end of summer in the Southern Hemisphere. Science Daily reports: Total polar sea ice covered 6.26 million square miles (16.21 million square kilometers), which is 790,000 square miles (2 million square kilometers) less than the average global minimum extent for 1981-2010 -- the equivalent of having lost a chunk of sea ice larger than Mexico. The ice floating on top of the Arctic Ocean and surrounding seas shrinks in a seasonal cycle from mid-March until mid-September. As the Arctic temperatures drop in the autumn and winter, the ice cover grows again until it reaches its yearly maximum extent, typically in March. The ring of sea ice around the Antarctic continent behaves in a similar manner, with the calendar flipped: it usually reaches its maximum in September and its minimum in February. This winter, a combination of warmer-than-average temperatures, winds unfavorable to ice expansion, and a series of storms halted sea ice growth in the Arctic. This year's maximum extent, reached on March 7 at 5.57 million square miles (14.42 million square kilometers), is 37,000 square miles (97,00 square kilometers) below the previous record low, which occurred in 2015, and 471,000 square miles (1.22 million square kilometers) smaller than the average maximum extent for 1981-2010.

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Molecule Kills Elderly Cells, Reduces Signs of Aging In Mice

2017-03-24T10:00:00+00:00

An anonymous reader shares an excerpt from a Science Magazine report: Even if you aren't elderly, your body is home to agents of senility -- frail and damaged cells that age us and promote disease. Now, researchers have developed a molecule that selectively destroys these so-called senescent cells. The compound makes old mice act and appear more youthful, providing hope that it may do the same for us. As we get older, senescent cells build up in our tissues, where researchers think they contribute to illnesses such as heart disease, arthritis, and diabetes. In the past, scientists have genetically modified mice to dispatch their senescent cells, allowing the rodents to live longer and reducing plaque buildup in their arteries. Such genetic alterations aren't practical for people, but researchers have reported at least seven compounds, known as senolytics, that kill senescent cells. A clinical trial is testing two of the drugs in patients with kidney disease, and other trials are in the works. However, current senolytic compounds, many of which are cancer drugs, come with downsides. They can kill healthy cells or trigger side effects such as a drop in the number of platelets, the cellular chunks that help our blood clot. Cell biologist Peter de Keizer of Erasmus University Medical Center in Rotterdam, the Netherlands, and colleagues were investigating how senescent cells stay alive when they uncovered a different strategy for attacking them. Senescent cells carry the type of DNA damage that should spur a protective protein, called p53, to put them down. Instead, the researchers found that a different protein, FOXO4, latches onto p53 and prevents it from doing its duty. To counteract this effect, De Keizer and colleagues designed a molecule, known as a peptide, that carries a shortened version of the segment of FOXO4 that attaches to p53. In a petri dish, this peptide prevented FOXO4 and p53 from hooking up, prompting senescent cells to commit suicide. But it spared healthy cells. The researchers then injected the molecule into mutant mice that age rapidly. These rodents live about half as long as normal mice, and when they are only a few months old, their fur starts to fall out, their kidneys begin to falter, and they become sluggish. However, the peptide boosted the density of their fur, reversed the kidney damage, and increased the amount of time they could scurry in a running wheel, the scientists report online today in Cell. When the researchers tested the molecule in normal, elderly mice, they saw a similar picture: In addition to helping their kidneys and fur, the molecule also increased their willingness to explore their surroundings. Read more of this story at Slashdot.[...]



'New' Clouds Earn Atlas Recognition

2017-03-23T19:20:00+00:00

Twelve "new" types of cloud -- including the rare, wave-like asperitas cloud -- have been recognized for the first time by the International Cloud Atlas. From a report: The atlas, which dates back to the 19th Century, is the global reference book for observing and identifying clouds. Last revised in 1987, its new fully-digital edition includes the asperitas after campaigns by citizen scientists. Other new entries include the roll-like volutus, and contrails, clouds formed from the vapour trail of aeroplanes. Since its first publication in 1896, the International Cloud Atlas has become an important reference tool for people working in meteorological services, aviation and shipping. The first edition contained 28 coloured photographs and set out detailed standards for classifying clouds. The last full edition was published in 1975 with a revision in 1987, which quickly became a collector's item. Now, embracing the digital era, the new atlas will initially be available as a web portal, and accessible to the public for the first time.

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Let There Be Light: Germans Switch on 'Largest Artificial Sun'

2017-03-23T15:20:00+00:00

German scientists are switching on "the world's largest artificial sun" in the hope that intense light sources can be used to generate climate-friendly fuel. From a report: The Synlight experiment in Julich, about 19 miles west of Cologne, consists 149 souped-up film projector spotlights and produces light about 10,000 times the intensity of natural sunlight on Earth. When all the lamps are swivelled to concentrate light on a single spot, the instrument can generate temperatures of around 3,500C -- around two to three times the temperature of a blast furnace. "If you went in the room when it was switched on, you'd burn directly," said Prof Bernard Hoffschmidt, a research director at the German Aerospace Center, where the experiment is housed in a protective radiation chamber. The aim of the experiment is to come up with the optimal setup for concentrating natural sunlight to power a reaction to produce hydrogen fuel.

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Researchers Develop App That Accurately Determines Sperm Quality

2017-03-23T13:00:00+00:00

New submitter omaha393 writes: A team of researchers at Harvard Medical School have developed a point-of-care microfluidic detector capable of determining sperm quality using the simple device and a standard smartphone. Typical male fertility screens require a team of trained laboratory professionals and a screening process taking days to weeks and incurring high costs. The alternative home sperm measuring kits rely on chemical probes and only give measurements of quantity, not quality.The new method offers an easier, cheaper approach, with processing time taking about 5 seconds with no sample processing or wash steps required. The team found their device meets WHO guidelines with 98% accuracy of sperm quality measurements and is comparable to clinical results. The new device uses 35 microliters of sample to accurately measure both concentration and motility at a manufacturing cost of less than $5 per device. The device must still undergo FDA evaluations before being available to consumers, and the technology has yet to be named. The results of the study were published in the journal Science Translational Medicine. Further reading: NPR, Ars Technica, Scientific American

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SpaceX Disappointed In Lack of NASA Mars Funding; Starts Looking For Landing Sites For Its Own Mars Missions

2017-03-23T10:00:00+00:00

frank249 writes: Elon Musk says that the new NASA authorization legislation "changes almost nothing about what NASA is doing. Existing programs stay in place and there is no added funding for Mars." From a report via Ars Technica: "Musk is absolutely correct on two counts. First, an 'authorization' bill does not provide funding. That comes from appropriations committees. Secondly, while Congress has been interested in building rockets and spacecraft, it is far less interested in investing in the kinds of technology and research that would actually enable a full-fledged Mars exploration program." In other news, SpaceNews reports that "SpaceX has been working with NASA to identify potential landing sites on Mars for both its Red Dragon spacecraft (starting in 2020) and future human missions." From the report: "Paul Wooster of SpaceX said the company, working with scientists at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory and elsewhere, had identified several potential landing sites, including one that looks particularly promising -- Arcadia Planitia. Those landing sites are of particular interest, he said, for SpaceX's long-term vision of establishing a human settlement on Mars, but he said the company wouldn't rule out sending Red Dragon spacecraft elsewhere on the planet to serve other customers. 'We're quite open to making use of this platform to take various payloads to other locations as well,' he said. 'We're really looking to turn this into a steady cadence, where we're sending Dragons to Mars on basically every opportunity.' The Red Dragon spacecraft, he said, could carry about one ton of useful payload to Mars, with options for those payloads to remain in the capsule after landing or be deployed on the surface. 'SpaceX is a transportation company,' he said. 'We transport cargo to the space station, we deliver payloads to orbit, so we're very happy to deliver payloads to Mars.'" Fans of the book/movie "The Martian" would be happy if SpaceX does select Arcadia Planitia for their first landing site as that was the landing site of the Ares 3.

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Mars Rover Spots Clouds Shaped By Gravity Waves

2017-03-23T07:00:00+00:00

sciencehabit writes from a report via Science Magazine: NASA's Curiosity rover has shot more than 500 movies of the clouds above Mars, including the first ground-based view of martian clouds shaped by gravity waves, researchers reported this week at the Lunar and Planetary Science Conference. The shots are the best record made so far of a mysterious recurring belt of equatorial clouds known to influence the martian climate. Understanding these clouds will help inform estimates of ground ice depth and perhaps recurring slope lineae, potential flows of salty water on the surface, says John Moores, a planetary scientist at York University in Toronto, Canada, who led the study with his graduate student, Jake Kloos. "If we wish to understand the water story of Mars's past," Moores says, "we first need to [separate out] contributions from the present-day water cycle." Using Curiosity's navigation camera, Moores and Kloos recorded eight-frame movies of this wispy cloud belt for two martian years. They've used two angles to capture the clouds: one pointed directly up, to see wind direction and speed, and another that keeps the rover's horizon in the frame, allowing a view into the clouds' depth. Given the limited water vapor, solar energy, and atmosphere, the martian clouds lack the variety of shapes seen on Earth. But during one day of cloud gazing -- Curiosity's 1302th martian day, to be precise -- the team got lucky and saw something unusual. That day, when Curiosity looked to the horizon, it saw a sequence of straight, parallel rows of clouds flowing in the same direction: the first ground-based view of a gravity wave cloud. Similar to the waves that follow a pebble tossed into a pond, gravity waves are created when some unknown feature of the martian landscape causes a ripple in the atmosphere that is then seen in clouds. Such waves are common at the edge of the martian ice caps, but thought to be less frequent over its equator.

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Japanese Company Develops a Solar Cell With Record-Breaking 26%+ Efficiency

2017-03-23T01:25:00+00:00

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Ars Technica: The silicon-based cells that make up a solar panel have a theoretical efficiency limit of 29 percent, but so far that number has proven elusive. Practical efficiency rates in the low-20-percent range have been considered very good for commercial solar panels. But researchers with Japanese chemical manufacturer Kaneka Corporation have built a solar cell with a photo conversion rate of 26.3 percent, breaking the previous record of 25.6 percent. Although it's just a 2.7 percent increase in efficiency, improvements in commercially viable solar cell technology are increasingly hard-won. Not only that, but the researchers noted in their paper that after they submitted their article to Nature Energy, they were able to further optimize their solar cell to achieve 26.6 percent efficiency. That result has been recognized by the National Renewable Energy Lab (NREL). In the Nature Energy paper, the researchers described building a 180.4 cm2 cell using high-quality thin-film heterojunction (HJ) -- that is, layering silicon within the cell to minimize band gaps where electron states can't exist. Controlling heterojunctions is a known technique among solar cell builders -- Panasonic uses it and will likely incorporate it into cells built for Tesla at the Solar City plant in Buffalo, and Kaneka has its own proprietary heterojunction techniques. For this record-breaking solar cell, the Kaneka researchers also placed low-resistance electrodes toward the rear of the cell, which maximized the number of photons that collected inside the cell from the front. And, as is common on many solar cells, they coated the front of the cell with a layer of amorphous silicon and an anti-reflective layer to protect the cell's components and collect photons more efficiently.

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'Extreme and Unusual' Climate Trends Continue After Record 2016

2017-03-22T18:40:00+00:00

From a report on BBC: In the atmosphere, the seas and around the poles, climate change is reaching disturbing new levels across the Earth. That's according to a detailed global analysis from the World Meteorological Organization (WMO). It says that 2016 was not only the warmest year on record, but it saw atmospheric CO2 rise to a new high, while Arctic sea ice recorded a new winter low. The "extreme and unusual" conditions have continued in 2017, it says. Reports earlier this year from major scientific bodies - including the UK's Met Office, Nasa and NOAA -- indicated that 2016 was the warmest year on record. The WMO's State of the Global Climate 2016 report builds on this research with information from 80 national weather services to provide a deeper and more complete picture of the year's climate data.

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No, We Probably Don't Live in a Computer Simulation, Says Physicist

2017-03-22T15:20:00+00:00

Science doesn't have all the answers. There are plenty of things it may never prove, like whether there's a God. Or whether we're living in a computer simulation, something proposed by Swedish philosopher Nick Bostrom. From an article on Gizmodo: This kind of thinking made at least one person angry, theoretical physicist and science writer Sabine Hossenfelder from the Frankfurt Institute for Advanced Studies in Germany. Last week, she took to her blog Backreactions to vent. It's not the statement "we're living in a simulation" that upsets Hossenfelder. It's the fact that philosophers are making assertions that, if true, should most certainly manifest themselves in our laws of physics. "I'm not saying it's impossible," Hossenfelder told Gizmodo. "But I want to see some backup for this claim." Backup to prove such a claim would require a lot of work and a lot of math, enough to solve some of the most complex problems in theoretical physics.

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