Earth

The Asteroid That Wiped Out Dinosaurs Plunged Earth Into Catastrophic Winter (bbc.com) 103

The asteroid impact roughly 66 million years ago that wiped out three-quarters of plant and animal species, including the dinosaurs, dropped temperatures globally below freezing for several years. The new assessment, reported in the journal Geographic Research Letters, gives scientists a much clearer picture of the climate catastrophe following the event. BCC reports: The UK geophysicist was the co-lead investigator on the 2016 project to drill into what remains of the impactor's crater under the Gulf of Mexico. She and colleagues spent several weeks retrieving the rock samples that would allow them to reconstruct precisely how the Earth reacted to being punched by a high-velocity space object. Their study suggests the asteroid approached the surface from the north-east, striking what was then a shallow sea at an oblique angle of 60 degrees. Roughly 12km wide and moving at about 18km/s, the stony impactor instantly excavated and vaporized thousands of billions of tonnes of rock. This material included a lot of sulphur-containing minerals such as gypsum and anhydrite, but also carbonates which yielded carbon dioxide. The team's calculations estimate the quantities ejected upwards at high speed into the upper atmosphere included 325 gigatones of sulphur (give or take 130Gt) and perhaps 425Gt of carbon dioxide (plus or minus 160Gt). The CO2 would eventually have a longer-term warming effect, but the release of so much sulphur, combined with soot and dust, would have had an immediate and very severe cooling effect.
Earth

Every Other Summer Will Shatter Heat Records Within a Decade (vice.com) 322

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Motherboard: Think of the stickiest, record-hot summer you've ever experienced, whether you're 30 or 60 years old. In 10 years or less, that miserable summer will happen every second year across most of the U.S. and Canada, the Mediterranean, and much of Asia, according to a study to be published in the open access journal Earth's Future. By the 2030s, every second summer over almost all of the entire Northern hemisphere will be hotter than any record-setting hot summer of the past 40 years, the study found. By 2050, virtually every summer will be hotter than anything we've experienced to date. Record hot summers are now 70 times more likely than they were in the past 40 years over the entire Northern hemisphere, the peer-reviewed study found. What does all this mean? Heat alerts will be increasing, cities will have to employ aggressive cooling strategies most summers, and in places like South Asia, it will be too dangerous to work outside, Francis Zwiers, director of the Pacific Climate Impacts Consortium at Canada's University of Victoria, said.
Japan

Can Japan Burn Flammable Ice For Energy? (cnn.com) 153

dryriver writes: Japan is a country that currently has to import 90% of its fuels for energy generation, having very little in the way of oil, coal or natural gas reserves in the country. Since the Fukushima disaster, its 50-plus nuclear reactors have been mostly idle. This makes Japan one of the least self-sufficient countries in terms of energy generation in the developed world. But there is an untapped energy resource that Japan has in abundance: ice that has large quantities of methane trapped in it. These ice crystals hold a remarkable quantity of natural methane gas. It is estimated that one cubic meter of frozen gas hydrate contains 164 cubic meters of methane. Japan has so far spent over $1 billion on research and development efforts in order to find a way to efficiently extract the methane from the ice. Where is this methane rich ice located? Engineers have so far focused on Nankai Trough, a long, narrow depression 50 kilometers off the coast of central Japan, which had been extensively surveyed over many years. Analysis of extracted core samples and seismic data has revealed that 1.1 trillion cubic meters of methane -- enough to meet Japan's gas needs for more than a decade -- lies below the floor of the trough. Some experts think that if an efficient method is found to extract methane from flammable ice, it could change the energy map of the entire world. Flammable ice has either been found, or is suspected to be present in large quantities, off the coastlines of all 5 continents in the world (the linked article has a map showing the currently known locations). Ten years from now the price of energy around the world may thus not be set by how much oil, coal or natural gas costs at that point in time, but rather by how much methane extraction from flammable ice costs.
Space

Entrepreneurial Space Age Began In 2009, Says Report (arstechnica.com) 67

"In July 2009, SpaceX launched its first commercial payload -- a 50kg Earth observation satellite for Malaysia -- which flew into space aboard a privately developed rocket," reports Ars Technica. "According to a new space investment report that will be published Tuesday by the Space Angels, an angel fund and a venture capital fund focused on space, which marked a key inflection point between the "governmental" space age and the "entrepreneurial" space age." From the report: "With that launch, SpaceX significantly lowered the barriers to entry in the space industry," the fund's chief executive, Chad Anderson, writes in the new report. "By vertically integrating, the company was able to drastically reduce the cost to get to orbit. But what deserves at least as much credit is their decision to publish their pricing, which fundamentally changed the way we do business in space. This transparency enabled would-be space entrepreneurs to develop a business plan and raise equity financing based on those cost assumptions."

From 2009 through September 2017, the report finds that $12 billion in equity investments have been made in space, with annual amounts increasing significantly in 2015 and beyond to more than $2 billion per year. At $10 billion, launch services, landers, and satellites have accounted for the bulk of this investment since 2009. Aside from the SpaceX launch that year, other data supports the year 2009 as the beginning of an entrepreneurial space age in which the private sector began making investments to return profits from space-based activities. About 250 space ventures have received non-government equity funding, the report states, and, of those, 88 percent have been funded since 2009.

Space

SpaceX Lands the 13th Falcon 9 Rocket of the Year In Flames (theverge.com) 106

SpaceX launched a Falcon 9 rocket from Florida this afternoon and, while the rocket successfully delivered the Koreasat-5A to its designated orbit, it managed to catch fire after landing on one of SpaceX's autonomous barges. The Verge reports: That rocket's mission [was] to send a satellite known as Koreasat-5A into space, where it will hang above Earth for 15 years while providing communications bandwidth for Korea and Southern Asia. SpaceX's Falcon 9 rocket successfully delivered Koreasat-5A to its designated orbit, marking the the company's 16th successful mission of the year -- twice the number of successful missions in 2016. Shortly after liftoff, the first stage of the rocket returned to Earth and landed (flamboyantly) in the Atlantic Ocean on one of SpaceX's autonomous barges. (The fires eventually went out.) It was the 13th successful landing of a Falcon 9 rocket this year, the 15th in a row, and the 19th overall.
Earth

Carbon Pollution Touched 800,000 Year Record in 2016, WMO Says (bloomberg.com) 354

Carbon dioxide levels surged to their highest level in at least 800,000 years because of pollution caused by humans and a strong El Nino event, according to the World Meteorological Organization. From a report: Concentrations of the greenhouse gas increased at a record speed in 2016 to reach an average of 403.3 parts per million, up from 400 parts per million a year earlier, the WMO said in a statement on Monday warning of "severe ecological and economic disruptions." The WMO said the last time the Earth had a comparable concentration of CO2s, the temperature of the planet was 2 degrees to 3 degrees Celsius warmer and sea levels were 10 meters to 20 meters higher than now.
Star Wars Prequels

John Mollo, Oscar-Winning 'Star Wars' Costume Designer, Dies At 86 (hollywoodreporter.com) 13

schwit1 quotes the Hollywood Reporter: John Mollo, the costume designer who brought to life Ralph McQuarrie and George Lucas' conceptual vision for Star Wars, has died. He was 86... "We discussed a few concepts when I joined the team, and George Lucas had a clear vision of what he was looking for. He liked the idea of the baddies having a fascist look about them, with the heroes reflecting the look of heroes of the American Wild West," he told www.starwarshelmets.com.

With McQuarrie's sketches and a meager budget of $1,173 for one costume, the London-born Mollo began shaping and fine-tuning Darth Vader's image through his knowledge of World War 1 trench armour and Nazi helmets, ultimately creating the look of one cinema's most memorable villains. His military influence is also visible in the regalia worn by the crew of the Death Star.

Working on Ridley Scott's Alien, " Molloâ(TM)s focus was to create used and well-worn clothing for the crew of the Nostromo on their long return trip to Earth as well as designing the patches and emblems emblazoned across their suits."
Earth

Study Links Rapid Ice Sheet Melting With Distant Volcanic Eruptions (upi.com) 117

schwit1 quotes UPI: New research suggests volcanic eruptions can trigger periods of rapid ice sheet melting... "Over a time span of 1,000 years, we found that volcanic eruptions generally correspond with enhanced ice sheet melting within a year or so," Francesco Muschitiello, a postdoctoral researcher at Columbia University's Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, said in a news release. The volcanoes of note weren't situated next-door, but thousands of miles from the ice sheet, a reminder of the unexpected global impacts of volcanic activity.

The new research -- detailed this week in the journal Nature Communications -- suggests ash ejected into the atmosphere by erupting volcanoes can be deposited thousands of miles away. When it's deposited on ice sheets, the dark particles cause the ice to absorb more thermal energy and accelerate melting... Some scientists have even suggested melting encouraged by volcanic eruptions could trigger even more eruptions, a positive feedback loop. As glaciers and ice sheets melt, pressure is relieved from the planet's crust, allowing magma to rise to the surface.

Earth

Italy Proposes Phasing Out Coal Power Plants By 2025 (reuters.com) 123

Italy is the next country to phase out coal. According to Reuters, the country has set its sights on phasing out coal power plants by 2025. From the report: Italy's biggest utility Enel has said it will not invest in new coal-fired power plants. The new energy strategy, still under discussion, aims to reach the goal of 27 percent of gross overall energy consumption from renewable sources by 2030, the document showed. The strategy, which should be approved by the government at the beginning of November, is also looking to speed up the introduction of vehicles powered by alternative fuels. It aims to raise the number of electric charging stations to 19,000 by 2020.
NASA

Astronaut Paul Weitz Dies At 85; Veteran of Skylab and Shuttle Missions 15

NPR reports the death of NASA astronaut Paul Weitz, who spent nearly a month in orbit on the first manned Skylab mission in 1973 and flew a decade later as mission commander on the maiden voyage of the Space Shuttle Challenger. He was 85. From the report: Weitz died in Flagstaff, Ariz., on Monday; he had been diagnosed with myelodysplastic syndrome, a type of blood cancer. Weitz was born in Erie, Pa., and graduated from Penn State. He joined the Navy and became an aviator and test pilot, eventually rising to the rank of captain. He was chosen in NASA's fifth round of astronaut selection in 1966, as the agency was ramping up for the Apollo moon program. On his first space flight, he served as pilot on Skylab-2 (SL-2), along with Apollo 12 veteran Charles "Pete" Conrad, Jr., and Joseph Kerwin, also a rookie on SL-2. The mission to fix Skylab, which had suffered significant damage during the space station's launch, is still considered one of the most difficult and dangerous in the annals of spaceflight. The three astronauts had to conduct multiple space walks to repair the damaged craft, deploying a giant reflective parasol to act as a sunshade in place of a damaged thermal shield. Weitz logged two hours and 11 minutes in space walks and the crew of the mission established a new world record for time in space -- 672 hours, 49 minutes.
China

Hong Kong Has No Space Left for the Dead (vice.com) 165

Justin Heifetz, writing for Motherboard: When Fung Wai-tsun's family carried their grandfather's ashes across the Hong Kong border to Mainland China in 2013, they worried Customs officers, thinking the urn was full of drugs, would stop them. Fung, like many others in Hong Kong, could not find a space to lay his loved one to rest in his own city and would have to settle for a site across the border and hours away. It's an increasingly common story as demand for spaces to house the dead outpaces supply here in the semi-autonomous Chinese territory of some 7.4 million people. Hong Kong's public, government-run spaces to store ashes -- which are affordable to the public, starting at $360 -- have waiting lists that can last years. But many Chinese, like Fung, strongly believe the ashes must be put in a resting place immediately as to not disrespect their ancestor's spirit. Meanwhile, a private space -- one that is not run by the government -- tends to start at more than $6,000 and can go for as high as $130,000. This is simply not an option for many families like the Fung's. In Hong Kong, most people cremate their loved ones and house the urns in columbariums, or spaces where people can then go to pay their respects. While burying a body is possible, the option is prohibitively expensive -- and besides, Hong Kong has a law that the body must be exhumed after six years, at which point one must be cremated.
Space

The Oceanic Pole of Inaccessibility: Where Spacecraft Go To Die (bbc.com) 100

dryriver writes: Whether you launch a satellite into space or an entire space station like the Russian Mir, the Chinese Tiangong-1 or the International Space Station, what goes up must eventually come down -- re-enter earth's atmosphere. The greater the mass of what is in space -- Mir weighed 120 tons, the ISS weighs 450 tons and will be decommissioned in a decade -- the greater the likelihood that larger parts will not burn up completely during re-entry and crash to earth at high velocity. So there is a need for a place on earth where things falling back from space are least likely to cause damage or human casualties. The Oceanic Pole Of Inaccessibility is one of two such places.

The place furthest away from land -- it lies in the South Pacific some 2,700km (1,680 miles) south of the Pitcairn Islands -- somewhere in the no-man's land, or rather no-man's-sea, between Australia, New Zealand and South America, has become a favorite crash site for returning space equipment. "Scattered over an area of approximately 1,500 sq km (580 sq miles) on the ocean floor of this region is a graveyard of satellites. At last count there were more than 260 of them, mostly Russian," reports the BBC. "The wreckage of the Space Station Mir also lies there... Many times a year the supply module that goes to the International Space Station burns up in this region incinerating the station's waste." The International Space Station will also be carefully brought down in this region when its mission ends. No one is in any danger because of this controlled re-entry into our atmosphere. The region is not fished because oceanic currents avoid the area and do not bring nutrients to it, making marine life scarce.

Businesses

Tesla Hit With Another Lawsuit, This Time Alleging Anti-LGBT Harassment (theverge.com) 160

Earlier this week, Tesla was hit with a lawsuit for racial harassment in its factories. Now, a newer lawsuit has been filed against the company alleging anti-LGBT harassment. An anonymous reader shares a report from The Verge: A former employee at Tesla's Fremont factory filed a wrongful termination lawsuit against the electric carmaker, alleging he was fired in retaliation after seeking protection from anti-gay harassment, The Guardian reported today. The defendant, an assembly line worker named Jorge Ferro, claims he was taunted for being gay and threatened with violence. "Watch your back," one supervisor told him after mocking his "gay tight" clothing, the paper said. After complaining to an HR representative, Ferro was repeatedly moved to different assembly lines, but the harassment didn't stop. Ultimately, HR told him there was "no place for handicapped people at Tesla" after noticing an old scar on his wrist, according to The Guardian. He was sent home, and eventually terminated. In a strongly worded statement to the paper, Tesla denied the allegations and defended itself against the charges. "There is no company on earth with a better track record than Tesla," a spokesperson said.
DRM

Denuvo's DRM Now Being Cracked Within Hours of Release (arstechnica.com) 113

Denuvo, an anti-tamper technology and digital rights management scheme, isn't doing a very good job preventing PC games from being copied. According to Ars Technica, Denuvo releases are being publicly cracked within a day of their launch. From the report: This week's release of South Park: The Fractured but Whole is the latest to see its protections broken less than 24 hours after its release, but it's not alone. Middle Earth: Shadow of War was broken within a day last week, and last month saw cracks for Total War: Warhammer 2 and FIFA 18 the very same day as their public release. Then there's The Evil Within 2, which reportedly used Denuvo in prerelease review copies but then launched without that protection last week, effectively ceding the game to immediate potential piracy. Those nearly instant Denuvo cracks follow summer releases like Sonic Mania, Tekken 7, and Prey, all of which saw DRM protection cracked within four to nine days of release. But even that small difference in the "uncracked" protection window can be important for game publishers, who usually see a large proportion of their legitimate sales in those first few days of availability. The presence of an easy-to-find cracked version in that launch window (or lack thereof) could have a significant effect on the initial sales momentum for a big release. If Denuvo can no longer provide even a single full day of protection from cracks, though, that protection is going to look a lot less valuable to publishers.
Moon

Discovery of 50km Cave Raises Hopes For Human Colonisation of Moon (theguardian.com) 140

New submitter Zorro shares a report: Scientists have fantasised for centuries about humans colonising the moon. That day may have drawn a little closer after Japan's space agency said it had discovered an enormous cave beneath the lunar surface that could be turned into an exploration base for astronauts. The discovery, by Japan's Selenological and Engineering Explorer (Selene) probe, comes as several countries vie to follow the US in sending manned missions to the moon. Using a radar sounder system that can examine underground structures, the orbiter initially found an opening 50 metres wide and 50 metres deep, prompting speculation that there could be a larger hollow. This week scientists at the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (Jaxa) confirmed the presence of a cave after examining the hole using radio waves. The chasm, 50km (31 miles) long and 100 metres wide, appears to be structurally sound and its rocks may contain ice or water deposits that could be turned into fuel, according to data sent back by the orbiter, nicknamed Kaguya after the moon princess in a Japanese fairytale. Jaxa believes the cave, located from a few dozen metres to 200 metres beneath an area of volcanic domes known as the Marius Hills on the moon's near side, is a lava tube created during volcanic activity about 3.5bn years ago.
Earth

Turning the Optical Fiber Network Into a Giant Earthquake Sensor (ieee.org) 15

Tekla Perry writes: Researchers at Stanford have demonstrated that they can use ordinary, underground fiber optic cables to monitor for earthquakes, by using innate impurities in the fiber as virtual sensors. "People didn't believe this would work," said one of the researchers. "They always assumed that an uncoupled optical fiber would generate too much signal noise to be useful." They plan a larger test installation in 2018. Their biggest challenge, they say, will not be perfecting the algorithms but rather convincing telcos to allow the technology to piggyback on existing telecommunications lines. Meanwhile, the same data is being used for an art project that visualizes the activity of pedestrians, bicycles, cars, and fountains on the surface above the cables.
Earth

Flying Insects Have Been Disappearing Over the Past Few Decades, Study Shows (theguardian.com) 178

An anonymous reader quotes a report from The Guardian: The abundance of flying insects has plunged by three-quarters over the past 25 years, according to a new study that has shocked scientists. Insects are an integral part of life on Earth as both pollinators and prey for other wildlife and it was known that some species such as butterflies were declining. But the newly revealed scale of the losses to all insects has prompted warnings that the world is "on course for ecological Armageddon," with profound impacts on human society. The new data was gathered in nature reserves across Germany but has implications for all landscapes dominated by agriculture, the researchers said. The cause of the huge decline is as yet unclear, although the destruction of wild areas and widespread use of pesticides are the most likely factors and climate change may play a role. The scientists were able to rule out weather and changes to landscape in the reserves as causes, but data on pesticide levels has not been collected. The research, published in the journal Plos One, is based on the work of dozens of amateur entomologists across Germany who began using strictly standardized ways of collecting insects in 1989.
Earth

Ophelia Became a Major Hurricane Where No Storm Had Before (arstechnica.com) 180

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Ars Technica: The system formerly known as Hurricane Ophelia is moving into Ireland on Monday, bringing "status red" weather throughout the day to the island. The Irish National Meteorological Service, Met Eireann, has warned that, "Violent and destructive gusts of 120 to 150km/h are forecast countrywide, and in excess of these values in some very exposed and hilly areas. There is a danger to life and property." Ophelia transitioned from a hurricane to an extra-tropical system on Sunday, but that only marginally diminished its threat to Ireland and the United Kingdom on Monday, before it likely dissipates near Norway on Tuesday. The primary threat from the system was high winds, with heavy rains. Forecasters marveled at the intensification of Ophelia on Saturday, as it reached Category 3 status on the Saffir-Simpson scale and became a major hurricane. For a storm in the Atlantic basin, this is the farthest east that a major hurricane has been recorded during the satellite era of observations. Additionally, it was the farthest north, at 35.9 degrees north, that an Atlantic major hurricane has existed this late in the year since 1939.
Earth

Nobel Prize Winner Argues Tech Companies Should Be Changing The World (qz.com) 154

An anonymous reader writes: Tech companies are competing to serve the wealthy, argues the winner of the 2006 Nobel Peace Prize, complaining there's no "global vision," with big innovations instead "designed and dedicated mostly for commercial successes... while trillions of dollars are invested in developing robotics and artificial intelligence for military and commercial purposes, there is little interest in applying technology to overcome the massive human problems of the world." A genius in the tech industry "can dedicate his work to creating a medical breakthrough that will save thousands of lives -- or he can develop an app that will let people amuse themselves."

As an exception, he cites the low-cost Endless computer, which runs Linux and has 50,000 Wikipedia articles pre-installed to enable offline research -- plus more than 100 applications -- for a price of just $79. "One part of Endless's business is operated like a conventional, profit-seeking company, while the other part is a social business that provides underserved populations with educational, health, and creative services they were once denied. Endless is already being shipped around the globe by four of the five largest computer manufacturers. It has become the leading PC platform in Indonesia and much of Southeast Asia. It has also been selected as the standard operating system for the Brazilian Ministry of Education, and in coming months it will be adopted as the primary platform by a number of other Latin American countries."

The article is by Muhammad Yunus, who pioneered the concepts of microcredit and microfinance, and is taken from his new book, A World of Three Zeros: The New Economics of Zero Poverty, Zero Unemployment, and Zero Net Carbon Emissions.
China

8.5-Ton Chinese Space Station Will Crash To Earth In a Few Months (cnbc.com) 104

dryriver writes: China launched a space laboratory named Tiangong 1 into orbit in 2011. The space laboratory was supposed to become a symbol of China's ambitious bid to become a space superpower. After two years in space, Tiangong 1 started experiencing technical failure. Last year Chinese officials confirmed that the space laboratory had to be scrapped. The 8.5 ton heavy space laboratory has begun its descent towards Earth and is expected to crash back to Earth within the next few months.

Most of the laboratory is expected to burn up in earth's atmosphere, but experts believe that pieces as heavy as 100 kilograms (220 pounds) may survive re-entry and impact earth's surface. Nobody will be able to predict with any precision where those chunks of space laboratory will land on Earth until a few hours before re-entry occurs. The chance that anyone would be harmed by Tiangong-1's debris is considered unlikely.


When NASA's SkyLab fell to earth in 1979, an Australian town fined them $400 -- for littering.

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