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Earth

Scottish Government Targets 66% Emissions Cut By 2032 (bbc.com) 60

An anonymous reader quotes a report from BBC: The Scottish government has outlined a new target of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 66% by 2032. Climate Change Secretary Roseanna Cunningham set out the government's draft climate change plan for the next 15 years at Holyrood. She also targeted a fully-decarbonized electricity sector and 80% of domestic heat coming from low-carbon sources. Ministers committed last year to cut harmful CO2 emissions by 80% by 2050, with a new interim target of 50% by 2020. The previous interim target of 42% was met in 2014 -- six years early. However, the independent Committee on Climate Change said the decrease was largely down to a warmer than average winter reducing the demand for heating. Ms Cunningham said the new targets demonstrated "a new level of ambition" to build a low-carbon economy and a healthier Scotland. Goals to be achieved by 2032 include: Cutting greenhouse emissions by 66%; A fully-decarbonized electricity sector; 80% of domestic heat to come from low-carbon heat technologies; Proportion of ultra-low emission new cars and vans registered in Scotland annually to hit 40%; 250,000 hectares of degraded peatlands restored; Annual woodland creation target increased to at least 15,000 hectares per year. The 172-page document sets a road map for decarbonizing Scotland. The aim -- although not new -- is to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by two thirds by 2032. Among the policies are making half of Scotland's buses low-carbon, full-decarbonizing the electricity sector and making 80% of homes heated by low-carbon technologies.
Earth

How the Human Brain Decides What Is Important and What's Not (neurosciencenews.com) 62

New submitter baalcat writes: A new study reported by Neuroscience News sheds light on how we learn to pay attention in order to make the most of our life experiences. From the report: "The Wizard of Oz told Dorothy to 'pay no attention to that man behind the curtain' in an effort to distract her, but a new Princeton University study sheds light on how people learn and make decisions in real-world situations. The findings could eventually contribute to improved teaching and learning and the treatment of mental and addiction disorders in which people's perspectives are dysfunctional or fractured. Participants in the study performed a multidimensional trial-and-error learning task, while researchers scanned their brains using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI). The researchers found that selective attention is used to determine the value of different options. The results also showed that selective attention shapes what we learn when something unexpected happens. For example, if your pizza is better or worse than expected, you attribute the learning to whatever your attention was focused on and not to features you decided to ignore. Finally, the researchers found that what we learn through this process teaches us what to pay attention to, creating a feedback cycle -- we learn about what we attend to, and we attend to what we learned high values for. 'If we want to understand learning, we can't ignore the fact that learning is almost always done in a multidimensional 'cluttered' environment,' says senior author Yael Niv, an associate professor in psychology and the Princeton Neuroscience Institute. 'We want kids to listen to the teacher, but a lot is going on in the classroom -- there is so much to look at inside it and out the window. So, it's important to understand how exactly attention and learning interact and how they shape each other.'" The study has been published in the journal Neuron.
Earth

Female Shark Learns To Reproduce Without Males After Years Alone (newscientist.com) 156

An anonymous reader quotes a report from New Scientist: A female shark separated from her long-term mate has developed the ability to have babies on her own. Leonie the zebra shark (Stegostoma fasciatum) met her male partner at an aquarium in Townsville, Australia, in 1999. They had more than two dozen offspring together before he was moved to another tank in 2012. From then on, Leonie did not have any male contact. But in early 2016, she had three baby sharks. Intrigued, Christine Dudgeon at the University of Queensland in Brisbane, Australia, and her colleagues began fishing for answers. One possibility was that Leonie had been storing sperm from her ex and using it to fertilize her eggs. But genetic testing showed that the babies only carried DNA from their mum, indicating they had been conceived via asexual reproduction. Some vertebrate species have the ability to reproduce asexually even though they normally reproduce sexually. These include certain sharks, turkeys, Komodo dragons, snakes and rays. However, most reports have been in females who have never had male partners. In sharks, asexual reproduction can occur when a female's egg is fertilized by an adjacent cell known as a polar body, Dudgeon says. This also contains the female's genetic material, leading to "extreme inbreeding", she says. "It's not a strategy for surviving many generations because it reduces genetic diversity and adaptability." Nevertheless, it may be necessary at times when males are scarce. "It might be a holding-on mechanism," Dudgeon says. "Mum's genes get passed down from female to female until there are males available to mate with." It's possible that the switch from sexual to asexual reproduction is not that unusual; we just haven't known to look for it, Dudgeon says.
NASA

Earth Hit Record Hot Year in 2016: NASA (news.com.au) 261

Earth sizzled to a third-straight record hot year in 2016, government scientists have said. They mostly blame man-made global warming with help from a natural El Nino, which has since disappeared. From a report: Measuring global temperatures in slightly different ways, NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration announced that last year passed 2015 as the hottest year on record. NOAA calculated that the average 2016 global temperature was 14.84 degrees Celsius (58.69 degrees Fahrenheit) -- beating the previous year by 0.04 Celsius (0.07 degrees F). NASA's figures, which include more of the Arctic, are higher at 0.22 degrees (0.12 Celsius) warmer than 2015. The Arctic "was enormously warm, like totally off the charts compared to everything else," said Gavin Schmidt, director of NASA's Goddard Institute of Space Studies in New York, where the space agency monitors global temperatures. Records go back to 1880. This is the fifth time in a dozen years that the globe has set a new annual heat record. Records have been set in 2016, 2015, 2014, 2010 and 2005.
NASA

NASA Is Making New Robots That Can Control Themselves (vice.com) 45

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Motherboard: NASA wants humans and robots to work together as teams. To ensure that, the space agency's autonomous robotics group is currently developing new technology to improve how humans explore the solar system, and how robots can help. When NASA began working with remotely operated robots several years ago, Fong said the scientists needed a piece of software that would allow them to look at terrain and sensor data coming from autonomous robots. That led to the creation of VERVE, a "3D robot user interface," which allows scientists to see and grasp the three-dimensional world of remotely operated robots. VERVE has been used with NASA's K10 planetary rovers (a prototype mobile robot that can travel bumpy terrain), with its K-Rex planetary rovers (robot to determine soil moisture), with SPHERES (Synchronized Position Hold, Engage, Reorient, Experimental Satellites) on the International Space Station (ISS), and with the new robot Astrobee (a robot that can fly around the ISS). In 2013, NASA carried out a series of tests with astronauts on the ISS, during which astronauts who were flying 200 miles above Earth remotely operated the K10 planetary rover in California. Because of time delay, astronauts can't just "joystick a robot," said Maria Bualat, deputy lead of intelligent robotics group at the NASA Ames Research Center. "You need a robot that can operate on its own, complete tasks on its own," she said. "On the other hand, you still want the human in the loop, because the human brings a lot of experience and very powerful cognitive ability that can deal with issues that the autonomy's not quite ready to handle." That's why, according to NASA, human capabilities and robotic capabilities comprise a powerful combination.
Moon

NASA Astronaut Gene Cernan, Last Man To Walk On the Moon, Dies At 82 (engadget.com) 99

NASA astronaut and retired U.S. Navy captain Gene Cernan was the second American to walk in space and the last to set foot on the moon during that mission. Unfortunately, today Cernan passed away at age 82. Engadget reports: During his time as an astronaut, Cernan logged over 500 hours in space and he spent more than 73 of those on the surface of the moon. Captain Cernan's NASA career began in 1963 and he made his first trip to space as part of the three-day Gemini IX mission in 1966. He went on to serve as the lunar module pilot for the Apollo 10 mission in 1969 before taking the role of spacecraft commander for Apollo 17 in December 1972. Apollo 17 was the last manned mission to the moon for the United States. Cernan retired from the U.S. Navy after a 20-year career in 1976 and left NASA at the same time. Watch Apollo 17 astronauts Gene Cernan and Jack Schmitt sing "I Was Strolling on the Moon One Day" on YouTube.
Earth

Moon Express Raises $20 Million In Series B-1, Fully Funds Trip To The Moon (techcrunch.com) 63

The company competing in the Google Lunar X-Prize, Moon Express, has raised $20 million in funding and announced that they have now fully financed their mission to the moon. The company made history last year as it became the first private company to receive permission to travel to the moon. Moon Express plans to launch their MX-1E spacecraft to the moon at the end of 2017 with the goal of winning the $20 million grand prize in the X-Prize competition. TechCrunch reports: If successful, Moon Express would become the first private company and the fourth entity in history to soft-land on the moon. The first three entities were all government-funded superpowers from the U.S., USSR and China. Of course to win that title, Moon Express will need to beat the other X-Prize competitors including SpaceIL from Israel, Team Indus from India (carrying the Japanese team HAKUTO as a payload), and the international team Synergy Moon. Each company has had launch contracts confirmed by X-Prize, a requirement to remain in the competition. The first company to soft-land on the Moon, travel 500 meters across its surface, and transmit high-definition video and images back to Earth will win the grand prize of $20 million. There's also $5 million up for grabs for the company that comes in second. Perhaps the most challenging of the X-Prize requirements is the deadline. To win the prizes, competitors must complete all tasks by the end of 2017. Although the X-Prize Foundation has pushed the deadline back before. What makes the Google Lunar X-Prize competition especially unique is that it required participants to obtain 90% of their funding from private sources. In theory, this would encourage profit-driven business plans, kick-starting a wave of lunar-based commercialization.
Security

Security Experts Rebut The Guardian's Report That Claimed WhatsApp Has a Backdoor (gizmodo.com) 113

William Turton, writing for Gizmodo: This morning, the Guardian published a story with an alarming headline: "WhatsApp backdoor allows snooping on encrypted messages." If true, this would have massive implications for the security and privacy of WhatsApp's one-billion-plus users. Fortunately, there's no backdoor in WhatsApp, and according to Alec Muffett, an experienced security researcher who spoke to Gizmodo, the Guardian's story is a "major league fuckwittage." [...] Fredric Jacobs, who was the iOS developer at Open Whisper Systems, the collective that designed and maintains the Signal encryption protocol, and who most recently worked at Apple, said, "Nothing new. Of course, if you don't verify keys Signal/WhatsApp/... can man-in-the-middle your communications." "I characterize the threat posed by such reportage as being fear and uncertainty and doubt on an 'anti-vaccination' scale," Muffett, who previously worked on Facebook's engineering security infrastructure team, told Gizmodo. "It is not a bug, it is working as designed and someone is saying it's a 'flaw' and pretending it is earth shattering when in fact it is ignorable." The supposed "backdoor" the Guardian is describing is actually a feature working as intended, and it would require significant collaboration with Facebook to be able to snoop on and intercept someone's encrypted messages, something the company is extremely unlikely to do. "There's a feature in WhatsApp that -- when you swap phones, get a new phone, factory reset, whatever -- when you install WhatsApp freshly on the new phone and continue a conversation, the encryption keys get re-negotiated to accommodate the new phone," Muffett told Gizmodo. Other security experts and journalists have also criticized The Guardian's story.
Medicine

Study Shows Wearable Sensors Can Tell When You Are Getting Sick (phys.org) 55

skids quotes a report from Phys.Org: Wearable sensors that monitor heart rate, activity, skin temperature and other variables can reveal a lot about what is going on inside a person, including the onset of infection, inflammation and even insulin resistance, according to a study by researchers at the Stanford University School of Medicine. Altogether, the team collected nearly 2 billion measurements from 60 people, including continuous data from each participant's wearable biosensor devices and periodic data from laboratory tests of their blood chemistry, gene expression and other measures. Participants wore between one and eight commercially available activity monitors and other monitors that collected more than 250,000 measurements a day. The team collected data on weight; heart rate; oxygen in the blood; skin temperature; activity, including sleep, steps, walking, biking and running; calories expended; acceleration; and even exposure to gamma rays and X-rays. "We want to study people at an individual level," said Michael Snyder, PhD, professor and chair of genetics. "We have more sensors on our cars than we have on human beings," said Snyder. In the future, he said, he expects the situation will be reversed and people will have more sensors than cars do.

Slashdot reader skids adds: "IT security being in the state it is, will we face the same decision about our actual lives that we already face about our social lives/identities: either risk very real hazards of misuse of your personal data, or get left behind?

Moon

Scientists Calculate the Moon To Be 4.51 Billion Years Old (go.com) 140

Scientists used rocks and soil collected by the Apollo 14 moonwalkers in 1971 to calculate the age of the moon. It turns out that it is much older than scientists suspected, coming in at 4.51 billion years old. ABC News reports: A research team reported Wednesday that the moon formed within 60 million years of the birth of the solar system. Previous estimates ranged within 100 million years, all the way out to 200 million years after the solar system's creation, not quite 4.6 billion years ago. The scientists conducted uranium-lead dating on fragments of the mineral zircon extracted from Apollo 14 lunar samples. The pieces of zircon were minuscule -- no bigger than a grain of sand. The moon was created from debris knocked off from Earth, which itself is thought to be roughly 4.54 billion years old. Some of the eight zircon samples were used in a previous study, also conducted at UCLA, that utilized more limited techniques. Melanie Barboni, lead author of the study from the University of California, Los Angeles, said she is studying more zircons from Apollo 14 samples, but doesn't expect it to change her estimate of 4.51 billion years for the moon's age, possibly 4.52 billion years at the most. The study was published today in the journal Science.
Google

Google is Killing Its Solar-Powered Internet Drone Program (businessinsider.com) 62

An anonymous reader writes: Google's "moonshot" X division is ending its Titan drone program, which planned to use solar-powered drones to beam internet down to earth. Google bought Titan Aerospace in 2014. The company was developing solar-powered drones that could fly for several days at a time and take images of earth or beam down internet. When Google reorganized into Alphabet in 2015, Titan was folded into X, the Alphabet division that focuses on wild tech projects in hopes of stumbling on the next big thing.
Earth

Amazon Still Lags Behind Apple, Google in Greenpeace Renewable Energy Report (greenpeace.org) 84

Amazon's cloud-computing unit says that one day it will rely solely on renewable power. But Greenpeace reports that a ramp-up in data-center construction in Virginia, where electricity comes mostly from coal and nuclear plants, makes that goal elusive. From the report: Apple, Google, Facebook, and newcomer Switch are taking some of the greatest strides towards 100% renewable energy, while companies such as Netflix, Amazon Web Services, and Samsung are lagging. The findings in Greenpeace USA's report outlines the energy footprints of large data center operators and nearly 70 of the most popular websites and applications. "Amazon continues to talk a good game on renewables but is keeping its customers in the dark on its energy decisions. This is concerning, particularly as Amazon expands into markets served by dirty energy," said Greenpeace USA Senior IT Analyst, Gary Cook. "Like Apple, Facebook, and Google, Netflix is one of the biggest drivers of the online world and has a critical say in how it is powered. Netflix must embrace the responsibility to make sure its growth is powered by renewables, not fossil fuels and it must show its leadership here," continued Cook.
Earth

Alcohol Switches the Brain Into Starvation Mode In Mice, Increasing Hunger and Appetite, Study Finds (bbc.com) 130

An anonymous reader quotes a report from BBC: In tests on mice, alcohol activated the brain signals that tell the body to eat more food. The UK researchers, who report their findings in the journal Nature Communications, believe the same is probably true in humans. The mice were given generous doses of alcohol for three days -- a dose being equivalent to around 18 units or a bottle-and-a-half of wine for a person. The alcohol caused increased activity in neurons called AGRP. These are the neurons that are fired when the body experiences starvation. The mice ate more than normal too. When the researchers repeated the experiment but blocked the neurons with a drug, the mice did not eat as much which, the researchers say, suggests that AGRP neurons are responsible for the alcohol-induced eating. The study authors, Denis Burdakov and colleagues, say understanding how alcohol changes the body and our behavior could help with managing obesity. Around two-thirds of adults in the UK are overweight or obese.
Earth

An Asteroid Passed By Earth At About Half the Distance Between Our Planet and Moon (smithsonianmag.com) 158

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

MIT Unveils New Material That's Strongest and Lightest On Earth (futurism.com) 148

A team of MIT researchers have created the world's strongest and lightest material known to man using graphene. Futurism reports: Graphene, which was heretofore, the strongest material known to man, is made from an extremely thin sheet of carbon atoms arranged in two dimensions. But there's one drawback: while notable for its thinness and unique electrical properties, it's very difficult to create useful, three-dimensional materials out of graphene. Now, a team of MIT researchers discovered that taking small flakes of graphene and fusing them following a mesh-like structure not only retains the material's strength, but the graphene also remains porous. Based on experiments conducted on 3D printed models, researchers have determined that this new material, with its distinct geometry, is actually stronger than graphene -- making it 10 times stronger than steel, with only five percent of its density. The discovery of a material that is extremely strong but exceptionally lightweight will have numerous applications. As MIT reports: "The new findings show that the crucial aspect of the new 3-D forms has more to do with their unusual geometrical configuration than with the material itself, which suggests that similar strong, lightweight materials could be made from a variety of materials by creating similar geometric features."
Moon

Our Moon May Have Formed From Multiple Small Ones, Says Report (go.com) 90

An anonymous reader quotes a report from ABC News: A series of cosmic collisions may have spawned multiple moonlets that morphed into the one big moon we know today. Rather than one giant impact that knocked off part of early Earth and created the moon, a number of smaller collisions may have produced lots of mini-moons, Israeli scientists reported Monday. And those mini-moons, over millions of years, may have clumped together to make one large one. The researchers conducted nearly 1,000 computer simulations and estimate about 20 impacts could do the job. They say that would explain why the moon seems to be composed of material from Earth, rather than some other planet, too. It's actually an old theory revitalized now by the Weizmann Institute of Science's Raluca Rufu in Rehovot, Israel, and his team. Their findings were published in Nature Geoscience.
Businesses

'OLED TVs Will Finally Take Off in 2017' (engadget.com) 238

From a feature article on Engadget: After years of taunting consumers with incredible picture quality, but insanely high prices, OLED TVs are finally coming down to Earth. Prices are falling, there will be even more models to choose from and, at least based on what we've seen from CES this year, LCD TVs aren't getting many upgrades. If you've been holding out on a 4K TV upgrade, but haven't had the budget to consider OLED up until now, expect things to change this year. Even before CES began, it was clear the OLED market was beginning to change. Throughout 2016, LG steadily lowered the prices of its lineup -- its cheapest model, the B6, launched at $4,000, but eventually made its way down to $2,000 by October. Come Black Friday, LG also offered another $200 discount to sweeten the pot. A 55-inch 4K OLED for $1,800! It was such a compelling deal I ended up buying one myself. Since then, the B6's price has jumped back up to $2,500, but I wouldn't be surprised to see its price come back down again. So why the big discounts? LG reportedly increased the production of its large OLED panels by 70 percent last year, likely in anticipation of more demand. That could have led to a slight oversupply, which retailers wanted to clear out before this year's sets.
China

Choked By Smog, Beijing Creates A New Environmental Police Force (csmonitor.com) 95

An anonymous reader quotes the Christian Science Monitor: A new police force will crack down on environmental offenders in Beijing, city officials announced Saturday, marking the Chinese government's latest attempt to reduce smog... Other measures included cutting coal use by 30 percent in 2017, shutting down 500 higher-polluting factories and upgrading 2,500 others, phasing out 300,000 higher-polluting older vehicles, and supplying cleaner gas and diesel at fuel stations starting February 15. The announcement came one day after municipal authorities in Beijing announced they would install air purifiers in the city's schools and kindergartens.
Beijing's mayor said that smoke from trash burning and open-air barbecues and even dust from roads "are actually the result of lax supervision and weak law enforcement."
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.
Earth

A Coal-Fired Power Plant In India Is Turning Carbon Dioxide Into Baking Soda (technologyreview.com) 197

schwit1 quotes a report from MIT Technology Review: In the southern Indian city of Tuticorin, locals are unlikely to suffer from a poorly risen cake. That's because a coal-fired thermal power station in the area captures carbon dioxide and turns it into baking soda. Carbon capture schemes are nothing new. Typically, they use a solvent, such as amine, to catch carbon dioxide and prevent it from escaping into the atmosphere. From there, the CO2 can either be stored away or used. But the Guardian reports that a system installed in the Tuticorin plant uses a new proprietary solvent developed by the company Carbon Clean Solutions. The solvent is reportedly just slightly more efficient than those used conventionally, requiring a little less energy and smaller apparatus to run. The collected CO2 is used to create baking soda, and it claims that as much as 66,000 tons of the gas could be captured at the plant each year. Its operators say that the marginal gain in efficiency is just enough to make it feasible to run the plant without a subsidy. In fact, it's claimed to be the first example of an unsubsidized industrial plant capturing CO2 for use. schwit1 notes: "A 'climate change' project that doesn't involve taxpayer dollars? Is that even allowed?"

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