Science

Science

NASA’s new planet hunter just found its first alien world

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NASA’s climate-monitoring space laser is the last to ride to space on a Delta II rocket

This weekend, NASA is launching a new high-tech satellite to monitor the planet’s glacier and sea ice levels — with space lasers, naturally. ICESat-2 will be a huge boon for climatologists, and it’s also a bittersweet occasion: it will be the final launch aboard the trusty Delta II rocket, which has been putting birds in the air for nearly 30 years. Takeoff is set for 5:46 AM Pacific Time Saturday morning, so you’ll have to get up early if you want to catch it. You can watch the launch live here, with NASA coverage starting about half an hour before. Keeping track of the Earth’s ice levels is more important than ever; with climate change causing widespread havoc, precise monitoring of major features like the Antarctic ice sheet could help climatologists predict and understand global weathe...

This insect-inspired robot can fly a kilometer on a charge with its flappy wings

The incredible agility of the common house or fruit fly puts every drone and robot to shame, but devices inspired by them are beginning to catch up. A new four-winged flapping robot not only successfully imitates the fruit fly’s hyper-agile flying method, but can travel for up to a kilometer before running out of juice. Robotics researchers at the Delft University of Technology wanted to create a flying platform that could imitate and test theories on how insects fly the way they do, but without tethers or non-animal propulsion like propellers. It’s not just that they want a cool robot: The way insects respond to things like gusts of wind or an imminent slapping hand demonstrate incredible reaction times and control feedback, things that could inform autonomous craft like drones or even sm...

Massive gold ‘mother lode’ discovered in Australia

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23andMe might soon offer a more comprehensive $749 DNA service

23andMe is testing a $749 “premium” service for deeper health insights, according to several customers who saw a test page for the new product and posted about it on Reddit. First spotted by CNBC, the company served up a test web page to several customers telling them about a service that would allow them to look at their “whole genome data.” However, when they clicked on the link provided, nothing happened. A few Redditors even posited the notification may have been a mistake as the link led nowhere. But, according to the company, there’s no error here. 23andMe later confirmed to TechCrunch it sent out a test page to some customers to “gauge interest” in such a product. However, there’s “nothing planned” at this time for such a service, according to a 23andMe spokesperson. The consumer DN...

These two CRISPR experts are coming to Disrupt SF 2018

CRISPR, the gene-editing system that could one day change the course of humanity still has a long way to go before we seriously alter anything but it’s not too far-fetched to say it could happen. What’s real and what’s not and just how close are we to radically changing our food supply, medicine and life as we know it as human beings? We’re going to get into all that with Trevor Martin, the co-founder of Mammoth Biosciences and Rachel Haurwitz, the co-founder of Caribou bioscience this week at Disrupt SF 2018. Trevor Martin is building what he refers to as the biological search engine for CRISPR through his company Mammoth Biosciences. That means using a guide RNA to direct a CRISPR protein to search for any specific DNA or RNA sequence and it could be used to shape the future of bio resea...

Political anonymity may help us see both sides of a divisive issue online

Some topics are so politically charged that even to attempt a discussion online is to invite toxicity and rigid disagreement among participants. But a new study finds that exposure to the views of others, minus their political affiliation, could help us overcome our own biases. Researchers from the University of Pennsylvania, led by sociologist Damon Centola, examined how people’s interpretations of some commonly misunderstood climate change data changed after seeing those of people in opposing political parties. The theory is that by exposing people to information sans partisan affiliation, we might be able to break the “motivated reasoning” that leads us to interpret data in a preconceived way. The data in this case was a NASA study indicating that sea ice levels will decrease but freque...

Study ties Facebook engagement to attacks on refugees

A study of circumstances and demographics attendant on attacks against refugees and immigrants in Germany has shown that Facebook use appears to be deeply linked with the frequency of violent acts. Far from being mere trolling or isolated expressions of controversial political opinions, spikes in anti-refugee posts were predictive of violent crimes against those groups. The study was conducted by Karsten Müller and Carlo Schwarz of the University of Warwick. Their theory was that if country-wide waves of “right wing anti-refugee sentiment” result in subsequent waves of actual crime; these waves would travel the way any others do, via TV, word of mouth, radio, and of course social media. Now, if the anti-refugee rhetoric spreads via social media, then we can expect more crimes to occur in a...

NASA’s Parker Solar Probe launches tonight to ‘touch the sun’

NASA’s ambitious mission to go closer to the Sun than ever before is set to launch in the small hours between Friday and Saturday — at 3:33 AM Eastern from Kennedy Space Center in Florida, to be precise. The Parker Solar Probe, after a handful of gravity assists and preliminary orbits, will enter a stable orbit around the enormous nuclear fireball that gives us all life and sample its radiation from less than 4 million miles away. Believe me, you don’t want to get much closer than that. If you’re up late tonight (technically tomorrow morning), you can watch the launch live on NASA’s stream. This is the first mission named after a living researcher, in this case Eugene Parker, who in the ’50s made a number of proposals and theories about the way that stars give off energy. He’s the guy who ...

BioBus brings science to the ‘Fox & Friends’ Plaza

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This 3D-printed camp stove is extra-efficient and wind-resistant

I love camping, but there’s always an awkward period when you’ve left the tent but haven’t yet created coffee that I hate camping. It’s hard not to watch the pot not boil and not want to just go back to bed, but since the warm air escaped when I opened the tent it’s pointless! Anyway, the Swiss figured out a great way to boil water faster, and I want one of these sweet stoves now. The PeakBoil stove comes from design students at ETH Zurich, who have clearly faced the same problems as myself. But since they actually camp in inclement weather, they also have to deal with wind blowing out the feeble flame of an ordinary gas burner. Their attempt to improve on the design takes the controversial step of essentially installing a stovepipe inside the vessel and heating it from the inside out rath...

NASA’s Open Source Rover lets you build your own planetary exploration platform

Got some spare time this weekend? Why not build yourself a working rover from plans provided by NASA? The spaceniks at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory have all the plans, code, and materials for you to peruse and use — just make sure you’ve got $2,500 and a bit of engineering know-how. This thing isn’t made out of Lincoln Logs. The story is this: after Curiosity landed on Mars, JPL wanted to create something a little smaller and less complex that it could use for educational purposes. ROV-E, as they called this new rover, traveled with JPL staff throughout the country. Unsurprisingly, among the many questions asked was often whether a class or group could build one of their own. The answer, unfortunately, was no: though far less expensive and complex than a real Mars rover, ROV-E was still t...