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Earth

Floating Solar Device Boils Water Without Mirrors (arstechnica.com) 78

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Ars Technica: Researchers from MIT and the Masdar Institute of Science and Technology, led by George Ni, describe a prototype design that boils water under ambient sunlight. Central to their floating solar device is a "selective absorber" -- a material that both absorbs the solar portion of the electromagnetic spectrum well and emits little back as infrared heat energy. For this, the researchers turn to a blue-black commercial coating commonly used in solar photovoltaic panels. The rest of the puzzle involves further minimizing heat loss from that absorber, either through convection of the air above it or conduction of heat into the water below the floating prototype. The construction of the device is surprisingly simple. At the bottom, there is a thick, 10-centimeter-diameter puck of polystyrene foam. That insulates the heating action from the water and makes the whole thing float. A cotton wick occupies a hole drilled through the foam, which is splayed and pinned down by a square of thin fabric on the top side. This ensures that the collected solar heat is being focused into a minute volume of water. The selective absorber coats a disc of copper that sits on top of the fabric. Slots cut in the copper allow water vapor from the wick to pass through. And the crowning piece of this technological achievement? Bubble wrap. It insulates the top side of the absorber, with slots cut through the plastic to let the water vapor out. Tests in the lab and on the MIT roof showed that, under ambient sunlight, the absorber warmed up to 100 degrees Celsius in about five minutes and started making steam. That's a first. The study has been published in two separate Nature articles: "Steam by thermal concentration" and "Steam generation under one sun enabled by a floating structure with thermal concentration."
Earth

Earth-Like Planet, With Ambitious Life Possibility, Found Orbiting the Star Next Door (nature.com) 218

There's another Earth out there. For real, this time. Astronomers announced on Wednesday that they had detected a planet orbiting Proxima Centauri, the closest neighbor to our solar system. Intriguingly, the planet is in the star's "Goldilocks zone," they said, a place that hints that it may not be too hot nor too cold. Which in turn means that liquid water could exist at the surface, and by extension, it raises the possibility of life. Nature reports:"The search for life starts now," says Guillem Anglada-Escude, an astronomer at Queen Mary University of London and leader of the team that made the discovery. Humanity's first chance to explore this nearby world may come from the recently announced Breakthrough Starshot initiative, which plans to build fleets of tiny laser-propelled interstellar probes in the coming decades. Travelling at 20% of the speed of light, they would take about 20 years to cover the 1.3 parsecs from Earth to Proxima Centauri. Proxima's planet is at least 1.3 times the mass of Earth. The planet orbits its red-dwarf star -- much smaller and dimmer than the Sun -- every 11.2 days. "If you tried to pick the type of planet you'd most want around the type of star you'd most want, it would be this," says David Kipping, an astronomer at Columbia University in New York City. "It's thrilling."Much about the planet is still unknown. Astronomers have some ideas about its size and distance from its parent star. Scientists say they are working off computer models that offer mere hints of what's possible. Also, there's no picture available for this planet as of yet.
Communications

'Only Voice Memos Can Save Us From the Scourge of Email' (qz.com) 290

Emails are great -- so much so that many believe that it's one of the best inventions of all time. But when you get hundreds of emails everyday, things could get harder to handle. Understandably, many have resorted to alternatives such as Slack, Gchat, and other IM services to offload many of the things they previously did exclusively via emails. An article on Quartz today argues that perhaps voice notes is the best alternative to emails. From their article: There's a solution staring us right in the face: a technological tool that preserves the intimacy of the human voice without requiring people to sync up their schedules. As a number of remote workers, diaspora communities and expats have already discovered, voice notes might just be the answer we've been waiting for. Barcelona-based filmmaker Philippa Young, for example, relies on WhatsApp's voice notes to communicate with her nomadic yet tight-knit team of 15. She sends audio notes throughout the day that range from just a few seconds in length to 10 minutes. The system allows her far-flung coworkers to respond whenever the sun rises in their time zone or they manage to find a stable wifi connection. [...] Voice notes also offer an antidote to one of the primary anxieties of the digital era "the fear that emails, texts and instant messaging rob conversation of emotional nuance, leading to endless misunderstandings and social blunders. "The thing that I really value about it for our team spread out across the world is that when I get a voice note from someone, they've spoken to me and I hear their tone of voice," Young adds. "You can hear in someone's voice how they're feeling."
Cellphones

FCC Complaint: Baltimore Police Breaking Law With Use of Stingray Phone Trackers (baltimoresun.com) 108

An anonymous reader writes from a report via Baltimore Sun: Civil rights groups have complained to the FCC over the Baltimore Police Department's use of stingray phone tracking devices. They claim that "the way police use it interferes with emergency calls and is racially discriminatory." Baltimore Sun reports: "The complaint argues that the police department doesn't have a proper license to use the devices and is in violation of federal law. It calls on regulators at the Federal Communications Commission to step in and formally remind law enforcement agencies of the rules. 'The public is relying on the Commission to carry out its statutory obligation to do so, to fulfill its public commitment to do so, and to put an end to widespread network interference caused by rampant unlicensed transmissions made by BPD and other departments around the country,' the groups say in the complaint. Police in Baltimore acknowledged in court last year that they had used the devices thousands of times to investigate crimes ranging from violent attacks to the theft of cellphones. Investigators had been concealing the technology from judges and defense lawyers and after the revelations Maryland's second highest court ruled that police should get a warrant before using a Stingray. The groups argue that surveillance using the devices also undermines people's free speech rights and describe the use of Stingrays as an electronic form of the intrusive police practices described in the scathing Justice Department report on the police department's pattern of civil rights violations."
Space

Astronomers To Announce Discovery of a Nearby 'Earth-Like' Planet (seeker.com) 345

astroengine quotes a report from Seeker: Scientists are preparing to unveil a new planet in our galactic neighborhood which is "believed to be Earth-like" and orbits its star at a distance that could favor life, German weekly Der Spiegel reported Friday. The exoplanet orbits a well-investigated star called Proxima Centauri, part of the Alpha Centauri star system, the magazine said, quoting anonymous sources.

"The still nameless planet is believed to be Earth-like and orbits at a distance to Proxima Centauri that could allow it to have liquid water on its surface -- an important requirement for the emergence of life," said the magazine.

It's orbiting our sun's nearest neighboring star -- just 4.25 light years away -- meaning it could someday be considered for the world's first interstellar mission.
Space

Maybe There's No Life in Space Because We're Too Early 250

Long-time Slashdot reader sehlat shares "a highly accessible summary" of a new theory about why we haven't yet find life on other planets -- that "we're not latecomers, but very, very early." From Lab News: The universe is 13.8 billion years old, with Earth forming less than five billion years ago. One school of thought among scientists is that there is life billions of years older than us in space. But this recent study in the Journal of Cosmology and Astroparticle Physics argues otherwise... "We find that the chance of life grows much higher in the distant future..."

Stars larger than approximately three times the Sun's mass will perish before life has a chance to evolve... The smallest stars weigh less than a tenth as much as the sun and will glow for 10 trillion years, meaning life has lot of time to begin on those planets orbiting them in the 'habitable zone'. The probability of life increases over time so the chance of life is many times higher in the distant future than now.

The paper ultimately concludes that life "is most likely to exist near 0.1 solar-mass stars ten trillion years from now."
Space

How a 1967 Solar Storm Nearly Led To Nuclear War (space.com) 66

schwit1 quotes a report from Space.com: A powerful solar storm nearly heated the Cold War up catastrophically a half century ago, a new study suggests. The U.S. Air Force began preparing for war on May 23, 1967, thinking that the Soviet Union had jammed a set of American surveillance radars. But military space-weather forecasters intervened in time, telling top officials that a powerful sun eruption was to blame, according to the study. "Had it not been for the fact that we had invested very early on in solar and geomagnetic storm observations and forecasting, the impact [of the storm] likely would have been much greater," Delores Knipp, a space physicist at the University of Colorado Boulder and the study's lead author, said in a statement. "This was a lesson learned in how important it is to be prepared." Initially, it was assumed that the Soviet Union was to blame. Since radar jamming is considered an act of war, "commanders quickly began preparing nuclear-weapon-equipped aircraft for launch." Spoiler: Solar forecasters at the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) figured out it was a flare that caused the outages, not the Soviets. You can read the abstract of the paper for free here.
NASA

Venus May Have Been Habitable, Says NASA (sciencedaily.com) 211

EzInKy writes: Science Daily has an article speculating that Venus may have been habitable which is suggested by NASA climate modeling, which proposes that Venus may have had a shallow liquid-water ocean and habitable surface temperatures for up to two billion years of its early history. Talk about global climate change run amok. Venus may represent a near Earth example of what is in store for the future of our world if we don't make it a number one priority to address. Science Daily reports: "Venus today is a hellish world. It has a crushing carbon dioxide atmosphere 90 times as thick as Earth's. There is almost no water vapor. Temperatures reach 864 degrees Fahrenheit (462 degrees Celsius) at its surface. Scientists have long theorized that Venus formed out of ingredients similar to Earth's, but followed a different evolutionary path. Measurements by NASA's Pioneer mission to Venus in the 1980s first suggested Venus originally may have had an ocean. However, Venus is closer to the sun than Earth and receives far more sunlight. As a result, the planet's early ocean evaporated, water-vapor molecules were broken apart by ultraviolet radiation, and hydrogen escaped to space. With no water left on the surface, carbon dioxide built up in the atmosphere, leading to a so-called runaway greenhouse effect that created present conditions."
Mars

NASA Publishes a Thousand Photos of Mars (engadget.com) 62

An anonymous reader writes from a report via Engadget: NASA has released a huge number of high-resolution photos of Mars captured from the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter's HiRise camera, which has been capturing images of the planet since 2005. The latest dump consists of over a thousand images that can familiarize you with the red planet's many craters, impact sites, dunes, mountains, ice caps and other features. You can view every single photo captured on HiRise's official website. Popular Science mentions that every 26 months or so, Mars and the sun are on the opposite sides of the Earth, allowing MRO to transmit a massive amount of photos from the planet's surface.
NASA

Kepler Confirms 100+ New Exoplanets (phys.org) 37

schwit1 writes: Astronomers have confirmed another 100 of Kepler's more than 3,000 candidate exoplanets. Phys.org reports: "One of the most interesting set of planets discovered in this study is a system of four potentially rocky planets, between 20 and 50 percent larger than Earth, orbiting a star less than half the size and with less light output than the Sun. Their orbital periods range from five-and-a-half to 24 days, and two of them may experience radiation levels from their star comparable to those on Earth. Despite their tight orbits -- closer than Mercury's orbit around the sun -- the possibility that life could arise on a planet around such a star cannot be ruled out, according to Crossfield." Because the host star as well as many of these other confirmed exoplanets are red dwarf stars, the possibility of life is reduced because the star and its system is likely to have a less rich mix of elements compared to our yellow G-type Sun. In May, Kepler added a record 1,284 confirmed planets, nine of which orbit in their sun's habitable zone.
NASA

New Dwarf Planet Discovered In Outer Solar System (seeker.com) 119

astroengine quotes a report from Seeker: Astronomers have found another Pluto-like dwarf planet located about 20 times farther away from the sun than Neptune. The small planet, dubbed 2015 RR245, is estimated to be about 435 miles in diameter and flying in an elliptical, 700-year orbit around the sun. At closest approach, RR245 will be about 3.1 billion miles from the sun, a milestone it is expected to next reach in 2096. At its most distant point, the icy world is located about 7.5 billion miles away. It was found by a joint team of astronomers using the Canada-France-Hawaii Telescope (CFHT) on Maunakea, Hawaii, in images taken in September 2015 and analyzed in February. The discovery was announced on Monday in the Minor Planet Electronic Circular.
Television

YouTube Looking To Launch Online TV Service Next Year With ESPN, ABC, and CBS (theverge.com) 24

An anonymous reader writes: Bloomberg reported in May that YouTube is working on a paid subscription service called Unplugged that would offer customers a selection of TV channels streamed via the internet. Now, The Information (Warning: source may be paywalled) is reporting that deals are starting to come together, and ESPN, ABC, and CBS are "firmly expected" to be available through the service. Other major broadcasters are expected to try and get involved with the service, but the report notes that YouTube may purposely choose to pass on smaller networks, like HGTV, to try and market YouTube videos instead. The question remains to be answered as to how YouTube plans to make anyone interested in its service. ESPN, ABC, and CBS are already offered through other online TV services, like Sling TV. CBS has its own standalone subscription service, and ESPN will soon have its own as well. Also, The Information notes that YouTube Red -- YouTube's existing subscription service -- isn't doing so well. Although, it's worth noting that service is completely different than what Unplugged is rumored to feature.
Japan

Japan Says Yes To Mirrorless Cars (carscoops.com) 290

An anonymous reader writes: Last month, Japan became one of the first countries to allow vehicles to use cameras instead of mirrors. "Video mirrors" will no longer be reserved for concept cars. They will likely turn into a huge marketplace for tech businesses and suppliers now that the "Land of the Rising Sun" gave Japanese companies the green light by allowing mirrorless vehicles. While many would argue that glass mirrors work just fine, video mirrors do have some real-world advantages. They can reduce drag and improve fuel efficiency (Warning: source may be paywalled) while improving the looks of a vehicle in the process. In addition, they can capture a wide-angle view that can see blind spots, and they can improve visibility by digitally compensating for glare, darkness or even rainy weather. The first company to supply digital mirrors will be Ichikoh. Their first product will be an interior rear-view mirror named the Smart Rear View Mirror that will enter production on June 28th.
Government

American Cities Are Installing DHS-Funded Audio Surveillance (csoonline.com) 160

"Audio surveillance is increasingly being used on parts of urban mass transit systems," reports the Christian Science Monitor. Slashdot reader itwbennett writes "It was first reported in April that New Jersey had been using audio surveillance on some of its light rail lines, raising questions of privacy. This week, New Jersey Transit ended the program following revelations that the agency 'didn't have policies governing storage and who had access to data.'" From the article: New Jersey isn't the only state where you now have even more reason to want to ride in the quiet car. The Baltimore Sun reported in March that the Maryland Transit Administration has used audio recording on some of its mass transit vehicles since 2012. It is now used on 65 percent of buses, and 82 percent of subway trains have audio recording capability, but don't use it yet, according to the Sun. And cities in New Hampshire, Connecticut, Michigan, Ohio, Nevada, Oregon and California have either installed systems or moved to procure them, in many cases with funding from the federal Department of Homeland Security.
Java

Oracle May Have Stopped Funding and Developing Java EE (arstechnica.com) 115

While anticipating new features in Java 9, developers also have other concerns, according to an anonymous Slashdot reader: ArsTechnica is reporting that Oracle has quietly pulled funding and development efforts away from Java EE, the server-side Java technology that is part of hundreds of thousands of Internet and business applications. Java EE even plays an integral role for many apps that aren't otherwise based on Java, and customers and partners have invested time and code. It wouldn't be the first time this has happened, but the implications are huge for Java as a platform.
"It's a dangerous game they're playing..." says one member of the Java Community Process Executive Committee. "It's amazing -- there's a company here that's making us miss Sun." Oracle's former Java evangelist even left the company in March and became a spokesman for the "Java EE Guardians," who have now created an online petition asking Oracle to "clarify" its intent and resume development or "transfer ownership of Java EE 8".
Oracle

Oracle Ordered To Pay $3B Damages To HP (bbc.com) 47

Oracle has been ordered to pay HP $3 billion in damages by a California jury over HP's claim that Oracle reneged on a deal to support HP computer servers running on Itanium chips from Intel. Oracle said it will appeal. BBC reports:The court battle over the contract was settled in 2012 but the damages HPE was due have only now been agreed. HP was split into two in 2015 with HPE taking over the running of its servers and services business. In court, HPE argued that although the 2012 legal judgement meant Oracle had resumed making software for the powerful chips, its business had suffered harm. It argued that Oracle took the decision in 2011 to stop supporting Itanium in a bid to get customers to move to hardware made by Sun -- a hardware firm owned by Oracle. Oracle said that its decision in 2011 was driven by a realisation that Itanium was coming to the end of its life. It also argued that the contract it signed never obliged it to keep producing software in perpetuity. Intel stopped making Itanium chips in late 2012 and many companies that used servers built around them have now moved to more powerful processors.
Space

Computer Simulations Point To the Source of Gravitational Waves (theverge.com) 126

An anonymous reader writes from a report via The Verge: On February 11th, scientists at the LIGO observatory made history when they announced the detection of the first gravitational waves. A new study says the gravitational waves likely came from two massive suns that formed about 12 billion years ago, or two billion years after the Big Bang. The researcher's calculations have been published today in the journal Nature, and were determined by running a complex simulation called the Synthetic Universe: a computer model that simulates how the Universe may have evolved since the start of the Big Bang. The simulation even includes a synthetic LIGO detector to determine the types of objects that the observatory would detect over time. The Synthetic Universe can also make predictions as it includes a mock-LIGO to chronologically sync when we detected the waves. If the model is correct, we should see LIGO pick up to 60 detections when it begins its next observation run this fall. It could hear up to 1,000 detections annually at its peak sensitivity. The lead study author Chris Belczynski speculates specifically the size of black hole mergers that the LIGO should be able to detect from gravitational waves, a combined mass between 20 and 80 times the mass of our sun, indicating that they're likely from soon after the Big Bang when stars had lower metal content and formed proportionately larger black holes. His model suggests that the ones that collided to make these gravitational waves were stars that formed 12 billion years ago, became black holes 5 million years later, and then merged 10.3 billion years after that.
Earth

India Launches Record 20 Satellites In Space Using A Single Rocket (indiatimes.com) 110

William Robinson writes from a report via Times of India: The Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) used its workhorse PSLV-C34 to inject 20 satellites which includes 17 satellites from various countries like US, Canada, Germany and Indonesia, into orbit in a single mission and set a new record on Wednesday. In the final stages of the mission, ISRO also demonstrated the vehicle's capability to place satellites in different orbits. In the demonstration, the vehicle reignited twice after its fourth and final stage and moved further a few kilometers into another orbit. Also included are a couple of satellites from academic institutions, Sathyabamasat from Sathyabhama University, Chennai and Swayam from College of Engineering, Pune. From the report: "The 320 ton Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV-C34) took off on its 36th flight at 9:26 a.m. from the Satish Dhawan Space Center with 20 satellites including its primary payload Cartosat-2 series, which provides remote sensing services, and earth observation and imaging satellites from U.S., Canada, Germany and Indonesia. It was also the 14th flight of PSLV in 'XL' configuration with the use of solid strap-on motors. ISRO scientists said, the vehicle had been pre-programmed for today's launch to perform tiny maneuvering to place the 20 satellites into polar sun-synchronous orbits with different inclinations and velocities. It ensured that the satellites were placed with enough distance to prevent collision."
Businesses

Elon Musk's Tesla Plans To Acquire Elon Musk's SolarCity For $2.7B In Stock (techcrunch.com) 55

An anonymous reader writes from a report via TechCrunch: Today, Elon Musk's electric car and battery company Tesla has announced its offer to buy solar panel installation company SolarCity. Now is a better time than ever to acquire SolarCity, as it recently had its value downgraded. If Tesla does acquire SolarCity, the companies could allow you to outfit your home with solar panels that power a giant battery for your various appliances, such as an electric vehicle. The deal, which has yet to be approved by SolarCity and its board, involves SolarCity's stock being exchanged for Tesla stock. TechCrunch reports that "the deal would pay a premium of 21% to 30% on top of SolarCity's value of $2.14 billion, so Tesla would be buying SolarCity for between $2.59 billion and $2.78 billion worth of its stock." The Tesla team writes, "It's now time to complete the picture. Tesla customers can drive clean cars and they can use our battery packs to help consume energy more efficiently, but they still need access to the most sustainable energy source that's available: the sun." Elon Musk has also been in the news today through OpenAI, the artificial-intelligence non-profit backed by Elon Musk, Amazon Web Services and others. OpenAI announced it is working on creating a physical robot that performs household chores.
Space

Astronomers Say There Could Be At Least Two More Mystery Planets In Our Solar System (sciencealert.com) 84

schwit1 quotes a report from ScienceAlert: A team of astronomers has performed new calculations on the data that originally gave rise to the Planet Nine hypothesis, and these new numbers suggest that the hypothetical extra planet might not be alone -- there could be multiple planets hiding at the edge of our Solar System that we've yet to discover. If the researchers are correct -- which nobody knows for sure right now -- it could really mean a do-over for the high school textbooks. The scientists estimate that Planet Nine is 10 times more massive than Earth, and think it performs an extremely elongated orbit of the Sun, that takes between 10,000 and 20,000 years to complete. The Caltech researchers based their hypothesis for the existence of Planet Nine on the unusual movement of six large objects floating in the Kuiper belt, suggesting that their orbits are being shaped by a hidden planet.

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