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Earth

Astronomers Discover 60 New Planets Including 'Super Earth' (nypost.com) 38

schwit1 quotes a report from New York Post: An international team of astronomers has found 60 new planets orbiting stars close to Earth's solar system, including a rocky "super Earth." The experts also found evidence of an additional 54 planets, bringing the potential discovery of new worlds to 114. One planet in particular, Gliese 411b, has been generating plenty of attention. Described as a "hot super Earth with a rocky surface," Gliese 411b is located in the fourth-nearest star system to the Sun, making it the third-nearest planetary system to the Sun, according to the U.K.'s University of Hertfordshire, which participated in the research. Gliese 411b (also known as GJ 411b or Lalande 21185) orbits the star Gliese 411 (or GJ 411). Despite the "super Earth" label, Dr. Mikko Tuomi from University of Hertfordshire's Centre for Astrophysics told Fox News that Gliese 411b is too hot for life to exist on its surface. The 60 new planets are found orbiting stars that are mostly some 20 to 300 light years away, according to Tuomi. The discoveries are based on observations taken over 20 years by U.S. astronomers using the Keck-I telescope in Hawaii as part of the Lick-Carnegie Exoplanet Survey. During the course of the research, scientists obtained almost 61,000 observations of 1,600 stars, which are now available to the public.
Spam

Spammer Faces Decades In Prison For Sending More Than 1 Million Spam Emails (suntimes.com) 146

mi quotes a report from Chicago Sun-Times: A man has been indicted on federal fraud charges for allegedly sending more than a million spam emails. The indictment charges 36-year-old Michael Persaud of Scottsdale, Arizona, with 10 counts of wire fraud and seeks the forfeiture of four computers, according to a statement from the U.S. attorney's office. The indictment was returned Dec. 9, 2016, and was unsealed after Persaud was arrested last month in Arizona. Between 2012 and 2015, Persaud used multiple IP addresses and domains to send spam emails over at least nine networks, including several servers in Chicago, according to the indictment. He sent more than a million spam emails to people in the U.S. and abroad, using false names to register domains and creating fraudulent "from address" fields to conceal the fact that he was the one sending the emails. Each count carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison.
mi leaves us with some rather unpleasant imagery, writing: "Personally, I wish [the sentence] carried removal of 1 square millimeter of skin for each message instead."
The Courts

Former CIA Analyst Sues Defense Department To Vindicate NSA Whistleblowers (theintercept.com) 22

An anonymous reader quotes a report from The Intercept: In 2010, Thomas Drake, a former senior employee at the National Security Agency, was charged with espionage for speaking to a reporter from the Baltimore Sun about a bloated, dysfunctional intelligence program he believed would violate Americans' privacy. The case against him eventually fell apart, and he pled guilty to a single misdemeanor, but his career in the NSA was over. Though Drake was largely vindicated, the central question he raised about technology and privacy has never been resolved. Almost seven years have passed now, but Pat Eddington, a former CIA analyst, is still trying to prove that Drake was right. While working for Rep. Rush Holt, D-N.J., Eddington had the unique opportunity to comb through still-classified documents that outline the history of two competing NSA programs known as ThinThread and Trailblazer. He's seen an unredacted version of the Pentagon inspector general's 2004 audit of the NSA's failures during that time, and has filed Freedom of Information Act requests. In January, Eddington decided to take those efforts a step further by suing the Department of Defense to obtain the material, he tells The Intercept. "Those documents completely vindicate" those who advocated for ThinThread at personal risk, says Eddington.
Earth

16 Years of GPS Space Weather Data Made Publicly Available (sciencemag.org) 52

"It's not often that a scientific discipline gains a 23-satellite constellation overnight," reports Science magazine, describing 16 years worth of radiation measurements from GPS satellites finally released by Los Alamos National Lab. "Although billions of people globally use data from GPS satellites, they remain U.S. military assets." Scientists have long sought the data generated by sensors used to monitor the status of the satellites, which operate in the heavy radiation of medium-Earth orbit and can be vulnerable to solar storms. But few have been allowed to tap this resource... That attitude changed in October 2016, when the outgoing Obama administration issued an executive order aimed at preparing the country for extreme space weather. Such bursts in charged particles, originating in a solar flare or coronal mass ejection, could disable the electrical power grid or divert flights away from the Arctic, where radiation exposure is heightened. The GPS data, which dates from December 2000, fill a hole in studies of space weather, the complex interplay of Earth's magnetic field with bombarding radiation from cosmic rays and the sun.
Moon

Oxygen From Earth's Atmosphere May Be Traveling To the Moon's Surface (theverge.com) 67

An anonymous reader quotes a report from The Verge: New research shows that oxygen from Earth could be journeying all the way out to the Moon, where it then gets lodged inside the lunar soil. It's a process that's likely been happening for 2.4 billion years, ever since oxygen formed around our planet, meaning the Moon's soil may contain trapped particles from Earth's ancient atmosphere. This oxygen exchange, detailed in a study published today in Nature Astronomy, supposedly occurs for just a few days during the Moon's 27-day orbit. Most of the time, the Moon is constantly being blasted with solar wind -- fast streams of charged particles emanating from the Sun. But for five days of every lunar orbit, the Moon passes into Earth's magnetotail, the portion of the planet's magnetic field that stretches outward away from the Sun. This tail shields the Moon from the solar wind, and allows charged oxygen ions from Earth to travel to the lunar surface, according to the study. That means the Moon -- a dead rock incapable of supporting life -- is being showered with the byproducts of life here on Earth. In fact, the source of most of the oxygen in our atmosphere is biological, created by plants during photosynthesis. It's a process that experts have suspected for a while but haven't been able to confirm until today. Researchers have also suggested that other atmospheric components, such as nitrogen and noble gases, are getting to the Moon this way based on lunar soil samples.
The Courts

How A Professional Poker Player Conned a Casino Out of $9.6 Million (washingtonpost.com) 406

Phil Ivey is a professional poker player who's won ten World Series of Poker bracelets -- but he's also got a new game. An anonymous reader write: In 2012, Ivey requested that the Borgata casino let him play baccarat with an assistant named Cheng Yin Sun while using a specific brand of playing cards -- purple Gemaco Borgata playing cards -- and an automatic shuffler. He then proceeded to win $9.6 million over four visits. The pair would rotate certain cards 180 degrees, which allowed them to recognize those cards the next time they passed through the deck. (They were exploiting a minute lack of a symmetry in the pattern on the backs of the cards...)

But last month a U.S. district judge ruled that Ivey and his partner had a "mutual obligation" to the casino, in which their "primary obligation" was to not use cards whose values would be known to them -- and ordered them to return the $9.6 million [PDF]. "What this ruling says is a player is prohibited from combining his skill and intellect and visual acuity to beat the casino at its own game," Ivey's attorney told the AP, adding that the judge's ruling will be appealed.

The judge also ruled Ivey had to return the money he later won playing craps with his winnings from the baccarat game -- though the judge denied the casino's request for restitution over the additional $250,000 worth of goods and services they'd "comped" Ivey during his stay.
Earth

An Asteroid Passed By Earth At About Half the Distance Between Our Planet and Moon (smithsonianmag.com) 161

On Monday at 7:47 A.M. EST, an asteroid thought to be between 36 and 111 feet wide passed roughly 120,000 miles from Earth -- and astronomers didn't spot it until Saturday. Smithsonian reports: According to astronomer Eric Edelman at the Slooh Observatory, 2017 AG13 is an Aten asteroid, or a space rock with an orbital distance from the sun similar to that of Earth. AG13 also has a particularly elliptical orbit, which means that as it circles the sun it also crosses through the orbits of both Venus and Earth. Lucky for us, 2017 AG13 wasn't a planet killer; according to Wall, the asteroid was in the size range of the space rock that exploded in Earth's atmosphere over Chelyabinsk, Russia, in February, 2013. According to Deborah Byrd at EarthSky, that meteor exploded 12 miles in the atmosphere, releasing 30 times the energy of the Hiroshima nuclear bomb. Not only did it break windows in six cities, it also sent 1,500 people to the hospital. That meteor also came out of the blue, and researchers are still trying to figure out its orbit and track down its origins. While 2017 AG13 would have caused minor damage if it hit Earth, the close call highlights the dangers of asteroids.
Earth

White House Releases Strategy To Defend Against Killer Asteroids (vice.com) 135

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Motherboard: On December 30, the White House quietly released its Near-Earth Object Preparedness Strategy, a 25-page document outlining the United States' plans in the event that a giant asteroid is found to be on a collision course with Earth. Among the priorities outlined by the strategy are improving Near-Earth Object (NEO) detection, developing methods for deflecting asteroids, and developing interagency emergency procedures in the event of an NEO impact. Given the stakes, it's clear why NASA and the leading US defense and research agencies came together in January 2016 to form the Detecting and Mitigating the Impact of Earth-bound Near-Earth Objects (DAMIEN) working group to address the issues associated with killer asteroids. The DAMIEN group is behind the White House's new NEO strategy, and will be responsible for hashing out the specifics of the plan to save Earthlings from killer asteroids going forward. To assist in the search, the DAMIEN report calls for a space-based observatory dedicated to finding NEOs, which will work in cooperation with ground-based observatories. Since a telescope in space isn't limited by terrestrial weather conditions, it would greatly enhance Spaceguard's search capacity. The only plans currently underway for a space-based NEO telescope are being carried out by the non-profit B612 foundation whose Sentinel telescope was supposed to launch last December, but has been delayed due to difficulties securing the requisite $450 million in funding required for the project. NASA has also been considering the NEOCam, a space-based telescope that has received provisional funding for "detailed refinement." Unfortunately, during the latest round of budgeting for NASA's Discovery program, two other satellites were greenlit instead of NEOCam, but NASA said it would continue the asteroid-hunter's provisional funding, so there is still hope that NASA may go forward with a space-based NEO observatory in the future, especially in light of the recent White House strategy. In tandem, the report also recommends updating the capabilities of ground-based NEO observatories by endowing them with more powerful planetary radars and improved spectroscopy instruments (this would allow for more accurate determinations of the composition of an asteroid). But detection is only half the battle. In the event that an asteroid is found to be on an impact trajectory with Earth, NASA is also thinking about ways to deflect the killer asteroid. Some pretty far-out ideas have been proposed on this front, ranging from nukes in space to giant sun-powered lasers, but the most likely method is simply ramming into the asteroid to change its course. Finally, should all else fail, the report also considers what to do in an impact scenario.
NASA

NASA Unveils Two New Missions To Study Truly Strange Asteroids (space.com) 86

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Space.com: NASA's next low-cost planetary missions will attempt to unravel the mysteries of some seriously bizarre asteroids. The space agency has selected projects called Lucy and Psyche via its Discovery Program, which funds highly focused space missions to destinations throughout the solar system. The Lucy project will investigate the Trojan asteroids, which share an orbit with Jupiter, while Psyche will journey to the asteroid belt to study a huge, metallic asteroid named 16 Psyche that resides there. Lucy is scheduled to launch in October 2021. If all goes according to plan, the probe will visit an asteroid in the main asteroid belt -- located between Mars and Jupiter -- in 2025, and then go on to study six Trojan asteroids between 2027 and 2033, NASA officials said. There are two streams of Trojan asteroids. One trails Jupiter, and the other leads the giant planet around the sun. Scientists think both streams may be planetary building blocks that formed far from the sun before being captured into their current orbits by Jupiter's powerful gravity. Psyche will explore one of the oddest objects in the solar system -- a 130-mile-wide (210 kilometers) metallic asteroid that may be the core of an ancient, Mars-size planet. Violent collisions billions of years ago might have stripped away the layers of rock that once lay atop this metallic object, scientists say. Psyche is scheduled to launch in October 2023 and arrive at the asteroid in 2030, NASA officials said.
Space

Astronomers Detect Mysterious Radio Signals Coming From Outside Our Galaxy (sciencealert.com) 205

This week the New York Post reported on "powerful radio signals which have been detected repeatedly in the same exact location in space," generating as much energy as the sun does in a whole day, in "the only known instance in which these signals have been found twice in the same location in space." Slashdot reader schwit1 quotes Science Alert: Back in March, scientists detected 10 powerful bursts of radio signals coming from the same location in space. And now researchers have just picked up six more of the signals seemingly emanating from the same region, far beyond our Milky Way... Currently, the leading hypothesis for the source of the Milky Way's FRB is the cataclysmic collision of two neutron stars, which forms a black hole. The idea is that as this collision happens, huge amounts of short-lived radio energy are blasted out into space. But the repeating nature of these distant signals, all coming from the same place, suggest that can't be the case... the most likely hypothesis at the moment for these outer-galactic FRB is that they're coming from an exotic object such as a young neutron star, that's rotating with enough power to regularly emit the extremely bright pulses.
But the New York Post thinks it's aliens.
Earth

Satellite Spots Massive Object Hidden Under the Frozen Wastes of Antarctica (thesun.co.uk) 296

schwit1 quotes a report from The Sun: Scientists believe a massive object which could change our understanding of history is hidden beneath the Antarctic ice. The huge and mysterious "anomaly" is thought to be lurking beneath the frozen wastes of an area called Wilkes Land. It stretches for a distance of 151 miles across and has a maximum depth of about 848 meters. Some researchers believe it is the remains of a truly massive asteroid which was more than twice the size of the Chicxulub space rock which wiped out the dinosaurs. If this explanation is true, it could mean this killer asteroid caused the Permian-Triassic extinction event which killed 96 percent of Earth's sea creatures and up to 70 percent of the vertebrate organisms living on land.This "Wilkes Land gravity anomaly" was first uncovered in 2006, when NASA satellites spotted gravitational changes which indicated the presence of a huge object sitting in the middle of a 300 mile wide impact crater.
Patents

Amazon Patents System To Defend Drones Against Hackers, Jammers and Arrows (geekwire.com) 122

As Amazon prepares its drone-based delivery service Prime Air for the United States, the company has been looking for ways to keep its drones safe while they're flying to and from their destinations. According to the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, the company has patented a plan that lays out countermeasures for potential threats ranging from computer hacking to lightning flashes to bows and arrows. GeekWire reports: The "compromise system" that Amazon's engineers propose relies on an array of sensors to orient the drone based on the sun's position in the sky, if need be. That's in case the drone gets confused by, say, lightning or a muzzle flash. The system also provides for a mesh network, in which drones would check with each other and other data sources -- including satellite signals -- to verify the readings they're following. If there's a discrepancy in the data, the drone would tally up the verdicts from all of the sources available, then go with the majority opinion. The onboard compromise system would be designed to keep the drone on track even if someone tried jamming its communication system. And if the drone became completely disoriented, it would be programmed to land safely and broadcast its location to its handlers. Now, about those arrows: Amazon lays out a scenario in which an attacker shoots an arrow at a drone in the air. "The malicious person may be attempting to cause the UAV to fall to ground, so that that malicious person may steal or destroy the UAV," the application reads. This is what Amazon suggests would happen: "The compromise module detects the presence of the arrow and generates the UAV compromise data indicating that a threat exists that may compromise the UAV. The fail-safe module terminates the navigation to the first computing device, and the fail-safe module directs the UAV towards the ground. In some implementations, the fail-safe module may be configured to direct the UAV to take evasive maneuvers, navigate to a safe landing or parking zone for inspect, and so forth."
Earth

Prepare For Even More Volatile Weather in 2017 (engadget.com) 364

An anonymous shares a report on Engadget: Ice isn't just great for keeping your drinks cool at parties, it also helps keep our planet cool by reflecting some of the sun's heat away. But thanks to our steadfast refusal to address climate change, there's going to be a lot less ice in the Arctic next year. Scientists are observing record high temperatures in the Arctic circle that's likely to lead to record low levels of ice coverage in 2017. Long story short, we're currently melting the wall that's helped stop the seas boiling for all of these years. Normally, by November, the global temperature has dropped sufficiently that ice can form again in the Arctic ready for the following summer. This year, however, climate scientists saw a spike to -7 celsius (19f) -- 15 degrees celsius (27f) warmer than usual. While the readings have fluctuated since November 11, they're expected to rocket up again in the next few days.
Java

Oracle Begins Aggressively Pursuing Java Licensing Fees (theregister.co.uk) 295

Java SE is free, but Java SE Suite and various flavors of Java SE Advanced are not, and now Oracle "is massively ramping up audits of Java customers it claims are in breach of its licenses," reports the Register. Oracle bought Java with Sun Microsystems in 2010 but only now is its License Management Services division chasing down people for payment, we are told by people familiar with the matter. The database giant is understood to have hired 20 individuals globally this year, whose sole job is the pursuit of businesses in breach of their Java licenses... Huge sums of money are at stake, with customers on the hook for multiple tens and hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Slashdot reader rsilvergun writes, "Oracle had previously sued Google for the use of Java in Android but had lost that case. While that case is being appealed, it remains to be seen if the latest push to monetize Java is a response to that loss or part of a broader strategy on Oracle's part." The Register interviewed the head of an independent license management service who says Oracle's even targeting its own partners now.

But after acquiring Sun in 2010, why did Oracle's License Management Services wait a full six years? "It is believed to have taken that long for LMS to devise audit methodologies and to build a detailed knowledge of customers' Java estates on which to proceed."
Power

'Star In a Jar' Fusion Reactor Works, Promises Infinite Energy (space.com) 431

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Space.com: For several decades now, scientists from around the world have been pursuing a ridiculously ambitious goal: They hope to develop a nuclear fusion reactor that would generate energy in the same manner as the sun and other stars, but down here on Earth. Incorporated into terrestrial power plants, this "star in a jar" technology would essentially provide Earth with limitless clean energy, forever. And according to new reports out of Europe this week, we just took another big step toward making it happen. In a study published in the latest edition of the journal Nature Communications, researchers confirmed that Germany's Wendelstein 7-X (W7-X) fusion energy device is on track and working as planned. The space-age system, known as a stellerator, generated its first batch of hydrogen plasma when it was first fired up earlier this year. The new tests basically give scientists the green light to proceed to the next stage of the process. It works like this: Unlike a traditional fission reactor, which splits atoms of heavy elements to generate energy, a fusion reactor works by fusing the nuclei of lighter atoms into heavier atoms. The process releases massive amounts of energy and produces no radioactive waste. The "fuel" used in a fusion reactor is simple hydrogen, which can be extracted from water. The W7-X device confines the plasma within magnetic fields generated by superconducting coils cooled down to near absolute zero. The plasma -- at temperatures upwards of 80 million degrees Celsius -- never comes into contact with the walls of the containment chamber. Neat trick, that. David Gates, principal research physicist for the advanced projects division of PPPL, leads the agency's collaborative efforts in regard to the W7-X project. In an email exchange from his offices at Princeton, Gates said the latest tests verify that the W7-X magnetic "cage" is working as planned. "This lays the groundwork for the exciting high-performance plasma operations expected in the near future," Gates said.
EU

CO2 Researchers Are Now Hacking Photosynthesis (chicagotribune.com) 119

Remember that story about the "artificial leaf" solar cells? Long-time Slashdot reader managerialslime quotes the Chicago Tribune: University of Illinois at Chicago researchers have developed a way to mimic plants' ability to convert carbon dioxide into fuel, a way to decrease the amounts of harmful gas in the atmosphere and produce clean energy. The artificial leaf essentially recycles carbon dioxide. And it's powered entirely by the sun, mimicking the real photosynthesis process.
But meanwhile, in Germany: Biochemists led by Tobias Erb at the Max Planck Institute for Terrestrial Microbiology...have developed a new, super-efficient method for living organisms to suck CO2 out of the atmosphere. Plants, algae, and other organisms turn CO2 into fuel. Erb and his colleagues reengineered this process, making it about 25 percent more energy efficient and potentially up to two or three times faster... Erb hopes that one day the CETCH cycle could be genetically engineered into living organisms, helping them more rapidly reduce atmospheric CO2 while producing useful materials.
The researchers created their new CO2-transforming cycle using 11 carefully chosen enzymes.
The Almighty Buck

Elon Musk: Tesla's Solar Roof Will Cost Less Than a Traditional Roof (bloomberg.com) 428

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Bloomberg: After Tesla shareholders approved the acquisition of SolarCity, the new company is now an unequivocal sun-to-vehicle energy firm. And Chief Executive Officer Elon Musk didn't take long to make his first big announcement as head of this new enterprise. Minutes after shareholders approved the deal -- about 85 percent of them voted yes -- Musk told the crowd that he had just returned from a meeting with his new solar engineering team. Tesla's new solar roof product, he proclaimed, will actually cost less to manufacture and install than a traditional roof -- even before savings from the power bill. "Electricity," Musk said, "is just a bonus." If Musk's claims prove true, this could be a real turning point in the evolution of solar power. The rooftop shingles he unveiled just a few weeks ago are something to behold: They're made of textured glass and are virtually indistinguishable from high-end roofing products. They also transform light into power for your home and your electric car. "So the basic proposition will be: Would you like a roof that looks better than a normal roof, lasts twice as long, costs less and -- by the way -- generates electricity?" Musk said. "Why would you get anything else?" Much of the cost savings Musk is anticipating comes from shipping the materials. Traditional roofing materials are brittle, heavy, and bulky. Shipping costs are high, as is the quantity lost to breakage. The new tempered-glass roof tiles, engineered in Tesla's new automotive and solar glass division, weigh as little as a fifth of current products and are considerably easier to ship, Musk said.
The Military

Royal Navy Giving Up Anti-Ship Missiles, Will Rely On Cannons For Naval Combat (telegraph.co.uk) 432

cold fjord writes: It will soon be a bit more difficult for Britain's Royal Navy to rule the waves as it gives up anti-ship missiles as a result of budget cuts. That will force the Royal Navy to go "old school" and rely upon naval gunfire for ship-to-ship combat. Cannon fire as the primary means of ship-to-ship combat has been largely obsolete since the 1950s following the invention of guided missiles in World War 2. Prior to that, cannon fire had been the primary means of naval combat for hundreds of years. Although the Royal Navy ranged up to 16" guns on battleships, the largest gun currently in active service is a 4.5" gun. That will leave the Royal Navy unable to engage targets beyond approximately 17 miles / 27 km, whereas Harpoon missiles provide an 80 mile / 130 m range. The loss of anti-ship missile capability will begin in 2018 and may last for 10 years for warships, and 2 years for helicopters. The Sun quotes a naval insider who said: "It's like Nelson saying, 'don't worry, I don't need canons, we've got muskets.'" The loss of missile capability heaps more misfortune upon a naval force that recently has seen its available frontline combat force drop to an unprecedented 24 warships.
Power

Las Vegas Gets "Kinetic Tiles" That Power Lights With Foot Traffic (arstechnica.com) 86

An anonymous reader quotes Ars Technica: A New York-based startup called EnGoPlanet has installed four streetlights in a plaza off the Las Vegas Strip that are powered exclusively by solar and kinetic energy. The installations aren't mere streetlights though -- they also power a variety of environmental monitors, support video surveillance, and, for the masses, offer USB ports for device charging.

The streetlights are topped by a solar panel crest, and have "kinetic tiles" on the ground below them. These panels reportedly can generate 4 to 8 watts from people walking on them, depending on the pressure of the step. The renewable energy is then collected by a battery for use at night. The solar-plus-kinetic energy design is useful on those rare Vegas days without too much sun -- as long as there is still plenty of foot traffic.

Java

Java's Open Sourcing Still Controversial Ten Years Later (infoworld.com) 89

An anonymous reader quotes InfoWorld: Sun Microsystems officially open-sourced Java on November 13, 2006... "The source code for Java was available to all from the first day it was released in 1995," says [Java creator James] Gosling, who is now chief architect at Liquid Robotics. "What we wanted out of that was for the community to help with security analysis, bug reporting, performance enhancement, understanding corner cases, and a whole lot more. It was very successful." Java's original license, Gosling says, allowed people to use the source code internally but not redistribute. "It wasn't 'open' enough for the 'open source' crowd," he says... While Gosling has taken Oracle to task for its handling of Java at times, he sees the [2006] open-sourcing as beneficial. "It's one of the most heavily scrutinized and solid bodies of software you'll find. Community participation was vitally important..."

A former Oracle Java evangelist, however, sees the open source move as watered down. "Sun didn't open-source Java per se," says Reza Rahman, who has led a recent protest against Oracle's handling of enterprise Java. "What they did was to open-source the JDK under a modified GPL license. In particular, the Java SE and Java EE TCKs [Technology Compatibility Kits] remain closed source."

Rahman adds that "Without open-sourcing the JDK, I don't think Java would be where it is today."

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