vikingpower writes "A team of international experts has drawn up the Soil Atlas of Africa — the first such book mapping this key natural resource — to help farmers, land managers and policymakers understand the diversity and importance of soil and the need to manage it through sustainable use. A joint commission of the African Union and the European Union has produced a complete atlas of African soils, downloadable as 3 hefty PDFs ( Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3. ) The initiative was announced four years ago, and is intended 'to help farmers, land managers and policymakers understand the diversity and importance of soil and the need to manage it through sustainable use.' A digital, interactive series of maps is (still) in the making."
First time accepted submitter Rebecka writes with bad news, quoting an IB Times report: "Just as the 2013 hurricane season is about to begin, one of the U.S.' main weather satellites failed this week. The Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite, also known as GOES-13, reportedly ceased to operate as of Tuesday, making it impossible to predict weather patterns on the East Coast." A note at NOAA's page for the GOES family of satellites says "GOES-13 imaging and sounding operations suspended. Recovery efforts for GOES-13 continue and the spacecraft health and safety are nominal. GOES-14 is being activated." You can follow the progress on the agency's page of General Satellite Messages.
astroengine writes "In a recent batch of images beamed back to Earth from Mars rover Curiosity's MAHLI camera, obvious signs of wear and tear could be seen in the 'skin' of the robot's wheels. Considering Curiosity is only 281 sols (Mars days) into its mission and roved less than a kilometer after landing, surely this doesn't bode well? Fortunately, there's good news. 'The wear in the wheels is expected,' Matt Heverly, lead rover driver for the MSL mission at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., told Discovery News. 'We will continue to characterize the wheels both on Mars and in the Marsyard, but we don't expect the wear to impact our ability to get to Mt. Sharp.'"
Wired reports on a cluster of mini-satellites that will soon be launched into orbit that will assist U.S. special forces personnel during manhunts. "SOCOM is putting eight miniature communications satellites, each about the size of a water jug, on top of the Minotaur rocket that's getting ready to launch from Wallops Island, Virginia. They’ll sit more than 300 miles above the earth and provide a new way for the beacons to call back to their masters." When special forces are able to tag their target, the target can be tracked and located through the use of satellites and cell towers, but coverage is poor in many areas of the world. The satellites going up in September will help to fill in some gaps. "This array of configurable 'cubesats' is designed to stay aloft for three years or more. Yes, it will serve as further research project. But 'operators are going to use it,' Richardson promised an industry conference in Tampa last week."
cervesaebraciator writes "According to Quartz, '[Anjan Contractor's] Systems & Materials Research Corporation just got a six month, $125,000 grant from NASA to create a prototype of his universal food synthesizer. But Contractor, a mechanical engineer with a background in 3-D printing, envisions a much more mundane — and ultimately more important — use for the technology. He sees a day when every kitchen has a 3-D printer, and the earth's 12 billion people feed themselves customized, nutritionally-appropriate meals synthesized one layer at a time, from cartridges of powder and oils they buy at the corner grocery store. Contractor's vision would mean the end of food waste, because the powder his system will use is shelf-stable for up to 30 years, so that each cartridge, whether it contains sugars, complex carbohydrates, protein or some other basic building block, would be fully exhausted before being returned to the store.' No word yet on whether anyone other than the guy trying to sell the technology thinks it'll make palatable food."
The Associated Press (as carried by the Washington Post) reports that a living payload of newts and mice has been retrieved after a month orbiting earth in a Russian space capsule at an altitude of 345 miles, far higher than the ISS's orbital distance of 205 miles. Says the story: "Fewer than half of the 53 mice and other rodents who blasted off on April 19 from the Baikonur Cosmodrome survived the flight, Russian news agencies reported, quoting Vladimir Sychov, deputy director of the Institute of Medical and Biological Problems and the lead researcher. Sychov said this was to be expected and the surviving mice were sufficient to complete the study, which was designed to show the effects of weightlessness and other factors of space flight on cell structure. All 15 of the lizards survived, he said. The capsule also carried small crayfish and fish."
From an article at the Houston Chronicle (not The Onion) comes a report of concern to anyone in a warm climate with, well, electronics. From the article: "According to researchers at The University of Texas at Austin, invasive 'crazy ants' are slowly displacing fire ants in the southeastern United States. These 'Tawny Crazy Ants' have a peculiar predilection toward electronics as well. 'They nest in electronics and create short circuits, as they create a contact bridge between two points when they get electrocuted they release an alarm pheromone,' says UT research assistant Edward LeBrun. 'The other ants are attracted to the chemicals that other ants give off,' he adds. At this point, more ants arrive and create a larger nest." The L.A. Times also has a report, which says "Thus far, the crazy ants are not falling for the traditional poisons used to eliminate fire ant mounds. And when local mounds are destroyed manually, they are quickly regenerated. 'They don't sting like fire ants do, but aside from that they are much bigger pests,' LeBrun said. 'There are videos on YouTube of people sweeping out dustpans full of these ants from their bathroom. You have to call pest control operators every three or four months just to keep the infestation under control. It's very expensive.'"
J.J. Abrams’ 2009 reboot of Star Trek was wildly successful. It raked in hundreds of millions at the box office, and revitalized the Star Trek franchise, which had languished for 7 years without a new film and 4 years without a TV presence (after 18 consecutive years of new shows). It also did something no Trek movie had done before; it made Star Trek ‘cool’ in the public consciousness. Combined, those factors ensured Abrams would get another turn at the helm of a Trek movie, and sooner rather than later. With today's release of Star Trek: Into Darkness, that trend is very likely to continue. It's a movie with all the same strengths and weaknesses of its predecessor, and if it worked before, it'll work again. Read on for our review.
garymortimer writes "Geologists have long used seismology on the bottom of the ocean or have been throwing dynamite from snowmobiles when they look for oil. But now researchers at Centre for Integrated Petroleum Research, a joint venture between the University of Bergen and Uni Research, have found a new preferred method – using drones to map new oil reserves from the air. ... The group’s main task is to create digital maps in 3D of potential oil fields. Using laser scanners, infrared sensors and digital cameras, the researchers create realistic, virtual models. ... Pictures shot with the help of a drone complement the images from low-level terrain that the researchers already have in hand. The end result is more precise and complete 3D models."
An anonymous reader writes "A meta-study published yesterday looked at over 12,000 peer-reviewed papers on climate science that appeared in journals between 1991 and 2011. The papers were evaluated and categorized by how they implicitly or explicitly endorsed humans as a contributing cause of global warming. The meta-study found that an overwhelming 97.1% of the papers that took a stance endorsed human-cause global warming. They also asked the 1,200 of the scientists involved in the research to self-evaluate their own studies, with nearly identical results. In the interest of transparency, the meta-study results were published in an open access journal, and the researchers set up a website so that anybody can check their results. From the article: '... a memo from communications strategist Frank Luntz leaked in 2002 advised Republicans, "Should the public come to believe that the scientific issues are settled, their views about global warming will change accordingly. Therefore, you need to continue to make the lack of scientific certainty a primary issue in the debate." This campaign has been successful. A 2012 poll from U.S. Pew Research Center found less than half of Americans thought scientists agreed humans were causing global warming. The media has assisted in this public misconception, with most climate stories "balanced" with a "skeptic" perspective. However, this results in making the 2–3% seem like 50%. In trying to achieve "balance," the media has actually created a very unbalanced perception of reality. As a result, people believe scientists are still split about what's causing global warming, and therefore there is not nearly enough public support or motivation to solve the problem.'"
ananyo writes "Scientists working 2.4 kilometers below Earth's surface in a Canadian mine have tapped a source of water that has remained isolated for at least a billion years. The researchers say they do not yet know whether anything has been living in it all this time, but the water contains high levels of methane and hydrogen — the right stuff to support life. Micrometer-scale pockets in minerals billions of years old can hold water that was trapped during the minerals' formation. But no source of free-flowing water passing through interconnected cracks or pores in Earth's crust has previously been shown to have stayed isolated for more than tens of millions of years (paper abstract)."
HyperbolicParabaloid writes "According to the New York Times, an equipment failure on the Kepler spacecraft may mean the end of its planet-hunting mission. One of the reaction wheels that maintains the craft's orientation — critical to long-exposure imaging — has failed. 'In January engineers noticed that one of the reaction wheels that keep the spacecraft pointed was experiencing too much friction. They shut the spacecraft down for a couple of weeks to give it a rest, in the hopes that the wheel’s lubricant would spread out and solve the problem. But when they turned it back on, the friction was still there. Until now, the problem had not interfered with observations, which are scheduled to go on until at least 2016. Kepler was launched with four reaction wheels, but one failed last year after showing signs of erratic friction. Three wheels are required to keep Kepler properly and precisely aimed. Loss of the wheel has robbed it of the ability to detect Earth-size planets, although project managers hope to remedy the situation. The odds, astronomers said, are less than 50-50.'"
Google's I/O annual conference is ramping up at San Francisco's Moscone Center. Last year, in the conference keynote, the company took its biggest-yet dive into hardware when it introduced the Nexus 7 tablet, Google Glass, and the ill-fated Nexus Q. The secret is out on Glass, of course: this year, there's a pavilion inside the conference center where I'm sure they'll be showing off applications for it. (Quite a few of the people in the endless lines here are wearing their own, too.) Anticipating the announcements at I/O is practically its own industry, but it's easy to guess that there will be announcements from all the major pots in which Google has its many thousands of (tapping) fingers. Android, search, Chrome, mapping, and all the other ways in which the behemoth of Mountain View is watching what you do. You can watch the keynote talk (talks, really) streamed online from the main conference link above, but this story will be updated with highlights of the announcements, as well with stories that readers contribute. Update: 05/15 16:22 GMT by T : Updates below. Update: 05/15 19:02 GMT by T :Update details: Notes (ongoing) added below on maps, gaming, the Play store, Google+, and more. And, notable, Larry Page is (at this writing) on stage, with an unannounced Q & A session.
ananyo writes "Global warming is changing the location of Earth's geographic poles, according to a study published this week. Researchers at the University of Texas, Austin, report that increased melting of the Greenland ice sheet — and to a lesser degree, ice loss in other parts of the globe — helped to shift the North Pole several centimeters east each year since 2005. From 1982 to 2005, the pole drifted southeast towards northern Labrador, Canada, at a rate of about 2 milliarcseconds — or roughly 6 centimetres — per year. But in 2005, the pole changed course and began galloping east towards Greenland at a rate of more than 7 milliarcseconds per year (abstract). The results suggest that tracking polar shifts can serve as a check on current estimates of ice loss. Scientists can locate the north and south poles to within 0.03 milliarcseconds by using Global Positioning System measurements to determine the angle of Earth's spin. When mass is lost in one part of a spinning sphere, its spin axis will tilt directly towards the position of the loss — exactly as the team observed for Greenland."
ananyo writes "Volcanologists detonated explosive charges buried in a meadow in Ashford, New York, blowing 12 small craters in the ground and throwing debris 80 meters in the air. The aim was to recreate, in true-to-life detail, what happens when a volcanic eruption punches through Earth's crust. The work could guide the way that active volcanoes are monitored, and could help safety officials to decide where to restrict public access at volcanoes such as Italy's Stromboli, where dozens of tourists arrive every night to watch spectacular fire fountain displays."
sciencehabit writes "The carnivorous humped bladderwort, found on all continents except Antarctica, is a model of ruthless genetic efficiency. Only 3% of this aquatic plant's DNA is not part of a known gene, new research shows. In contrast, only 2% of human DNA is part of a gene. The bladderwort, named for its water-filled bladders that suck in unsuspecting prey, is a relative of the tomato. The finding overturns the notion that this repetitive, non-coding DNA, popularly called 'junk' DNA, is necessary for life."
A while ago you had the chance to ask mathematician and theoretical physicist Freeman Dyson about his work in quantum electrodynamics, nuclear propulsion, and his thoughts on the past, present, and future of science. Below you'll find his answers to your questions.
An anonymous reader writes "Worldwide levels of the chief greenhouse gas that causes global warming have hit a milestone, reaching an amount never before encountered by humans, federal scientists said. Carbon dioxide was measured at 400 parts per million at the oldest monitoring station in Hawaii, which sets the global benchmark. More than half of plants and a third of animal species are likely to see their living space halved by 2080 if current trends continue."
Titus Andronicus writes "Today, NOAA reported, 'On May 9, the daily mean concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere of Mauna Loa, Hawaii, surpassed 400 parts per million for the first time since measurements began in 1958.' For comparison, over the last 800,000 years, CO2 has ranged from roughly 180 ppm to 280 ppm. 'For the entire period of human civilization, roughly 8,000 years, the carbon dioxide level was relatively stable near that upper bound. But the burning of fossil fuels has caused a 41 percent increase in the heat-trapping gas since the Industrial Revolution, a mere geological instant, and scientists say the climate is beginning to react, though they expect far larger changes in the future.' The last time Earth had 400 ppm was probably more than 3 megayears ago."
astroengine writes "After the discovery of an ammonia coolant leak supplying one of the solar arrays on Thursday (video), International Space Station managers have decided to plan for an unscheduled spacewalk on Saturday to repair the problem. The final decision about whether to go ahead with the extravehicular activity will be made late on Friday. 'Good Morning, Earth! Big change in plans, spacewalk tomorrow, Chris Cassidy and Tom Marshburn are getting suits and airlock ready. Cool!', tweeted the Space Station's Expedition 35 Commander, Chris Hadfield, on hearing the news an emergency EVA may be required of his crew. 'The whole team is ticking like clockwork, readying for tomorrow. I am so proud to be Commander of this crew. Such great, capable, fun people.'"