Caught Red-handed: Charon Is Stealing Pluto’s Atmosphere

By Shannon Stirone | September 14, 2016 12:00 pm
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Charon’s great red spot, courtesy of New Horizons. (Credit: Credit: NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Southwest Research Institute)

When NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft sent back the first high-resolution images of Pluto and its moon Charon, scientists quickly realized the outer solar system was more active than they’d previously thought.

The first images of Charon revealed a crimson north pole, covered in tholins — chemically complex, tar-like hydrocarbons that are produced when nitrogen and methane ices are exposed to radiation from the sun. Scientists nicknamed the dark area “Mordor” — the seat of evil in “Lord of the Rings”. But where did Charon’s tholin-producing materials come from? Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Space & Physics, top posts
MORE ABOUT: solar system

Nose, Nase, Nez: Shared Sounds and Meaning Link World Languages

By Nathaniel Scharping | September 13, 2016 4:59 pm
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(Credit: Petr Vaclavek/Shutterstock)

In English we say “nose”, the French say “nez” and Germans pronounce it “nase.” The words that different cultures use to describe the same objects or concepts might be more similar than we realize.

That’s the conclusion of a statistical analysis of thousands of languages, which concluded that some of the most basic words in our vocabularies share important characteristics, no matter the language being spoken.

The findings contradict a basic assumption in linguistics: that the origin of our words is largely arbitrary. There are exceptions to this rule of course, but by and large, it is commonly held that the meaning of a word has no bearing on the sounds which form it.

By proving otherwise, the researchers raise intriguing questions about the ontological roots of language, and suggest that some shared features of our brains had a hand in shaping the development of language. Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Mind & Brain, top posts

Rethinking the Moon’s Violent Origin

By Mika McKinnon | September 13, 2016 4:15 pm
moon-formation

(Credit: Wikimedia Commons)

Our moon has a violent past that just got a little more fearsome.

Planetary formation is not for the weak of heart. Building a planet from countless grains of dust and tendrils of gas is a violent process of colliding, coalescing, and melting into bigger and bigger rocks. Our Earth was a decently-sized world when it took one final hit: a Mars-sized object smashed into our home planet. Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Space & Physics, top posts
MORE ABOUT: solar system

Self-driving Shopping Carts Could Greet You at Walmart

By Carl Engelking | September 13, 2016 11:53 am
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The Roomba-like device, seen under the cart, would slide into position and pull the cart. (Credit: U.S. Patent Office)

If it has wheels, there’s a good chance someone, somewhere is going figuring out how to make it roll on its own.

Last week, for example, the United States government granted Walmart’s patent request (thank you, Patent Yogi) for a system of self-driving shopping carts. Forget yanking carts from a train of clanking metal, or wheeling the things back to their corrals after your car is loaded.

The carts themselves won’t change; instead, a fleet of Roomba-like transport units would slide under carts and ferry them through the store. Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Technology, top posts
MORE ABOUT: computers, robots

Can the Moon Make an Earthquake Worse?

By Nathaniel Scharping | September 12, 2016 4:13 pm
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(Credit: Danshutter/Shutterstock)

When an earthquake occurs, it represents the release of years, sometimes decades or centuries, of pent-up stress. Somewhere along the fault line, a section of rock can take the strain no longer and gives way, allowing a tectonic plate to jerk into motion in a series of spasmodic shudders.

The factors that determine when, where and why earthquakes happen are numerous, and we’re still a long way from figuring out how to reliably predict them. But, it turns out that one of the many small stresses leading up to an earthquake may be extraterrestrial. Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Environment, top posts

Why This 12-Dot Illusion Is Giving People Fits

By Carl Engelking | September 12, 2016 2:40 pm
ninio-extinction

(Credit: Jacques Ninio)

With one Facebook post, Japanese psychology professor Akiyoshi Kitaoka has sent the internet into fits.

Look at the image above, and try to see all 12 black dots at once. Good luck. Honest, we aren’t playing tricks on you. Your eyes are literally deceiving you.

Kitaoka posted this image on Sunday, which has since been shared over 10,000 times, and got a further viral boost when video game developer Will Kerslake shared the image on his Twitter page, and it quickly appeared on Reddit. Now, we’re all hopelessly chasing black dots. Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Mind & Brain, top posts

Jeff Bezos’s Bigger, Badder Rocket Named After John Glenn

By Nathaniel Scharping | September 12, 2016 11:39 am
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(Credit: Blue Origin)

Blue Origin on Monday announced it’s adding a bigger, badder addition to its future stable of reusable rocket boosters.

The spacecraft, dubbed the New Glenn, is designed to provide the lift for missions into low Earth orbit and beyond, and comes in both two- and three-stage variants — the largest of the two will stand 313 feet tall. The first launch planned for the end of this decade, according to an email sent out Monday by Blue Origin CEO and Amazon.com founder Jeff Bezos.

The rocket builds on the success of the company’s New Shepard booster, which has now completed four trips to the edge of space and back, showcasing the upright landings that have become a staple of the modern-day space race. Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Space & Physics, Technology, top posts
MORE ABOUT: space exploration

How to Read a Closed Book

By Carl Engelking | September 9, 2016 4:27 pm
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A researcher tests out the new terahertz imaging system. (Credit: Courtesy Barmak Heshmat)

You still can’t judge a book by its cover, but it’s possible to read one without ever opening it.

That certainly adds a new wrinkle to an age-old idiom.

But it’s true; researchers at MIT and Georgia Tech built a prototype — key word prototype — imaging system that can read individual pages in a stack of papers. It’s an early demonstration, so we’re talking a stack of only nine pages, but it’s a start.

And as the technology improves, it could someday give, say, museum curators, another tool to study ancient, fragile books they wouldn’t dare open. Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Technology, top posts
MORE ABOUT: computers, physics

OSIRIS-REx Is Headed for an Asteroid Encounter, Following ‘Perfect’ Launch

By Nola Taylor Redd | September 9, 2016 2:52 pm
Liftoff! (Credit: NASA)

Liftoff! (Credit: NASA)

Smoke and fire covered the ground as the NASA’s OSIRIS-REx mission launched into space. Blasting out of Earth’s orbit on Thursday, the mission begins its two-year journey to sample an asteroid. It will be seven long years before the spacecraft returns home, dropping its bounty into the Utah desert. Along the way, it will map an asteroid in depth and help scientists better understand the secrets of the early universe. Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Space & Physics, top posts
MORE ABOUT: space exploration

Google DeepMind’s WaveNet AI Sounds Human, Rocks the Piano

By Carl Engelking | September 9, 2016 2:34 pm
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(Credit: Shutterstock)

Google’s DeepMind brought us artificial intelligence systems that can play Atari classics and the complex game of Go as well as — no, better than — humans.

Now, the artificial intelligence research firm is at it again. This time, its machines are getting really good at sounding like humans.

In a blog post Thursday, DeepMind unveiled WaveNet, an artificial intelligence system that the company says outperforms existing text-to-speech technologies by 50 percent. WaveNet learns from raw audio files and then produces digital sound waves that resemble those produced by the human voice, which is an entirely different approach. Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Technology, top posts
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