Cow Could Soon Be Largest Land Mammal Left Due To Human Activity, Says Study ( 179

An anonymous reader quotes a report from The Guardian: The cow could be left as the biggest land mammal on Earth in a few centuries, according to a new study that examines the extinction of large mammals as humans spread around the world. The spread of hominims -- early humans and related species such as Neanderthals -- from Africa thousands of years ago coincided with the extinction of megafauna such as the mammoth, the sabre-toothed tiger and the glyptodon, an armadillo-like creature the size of a car. "There is a very clear pattern of size-biased extinction that follows the migration of hominims out of Africa," the study's lead author, Felisa Smith, of the University of New Mexico, said of the study published in the journal Science on Thursday. Humans apparently targeted big species for meat, while smaller creatures such as rodents escaped, according the report, which examined trends over 125,000 years. In North America, for instance, the mean body mass of land-based mammals has shrunk to 7.6kg (17lb) from 98kg after humans arrived. If the trend continues "the largest mammal on Earth in a few hundred years may well be a domestic cow at about 900kg", the researchers wrote. That would mean the loss of elephants, giraffes and hippos. In March, the world's last male northern white rhino died in Kenya.

Was There a Civilization On Earth Before Humans? ( 354

Adam Frank, writing for The Atlantic: We're used to imagining extinct civilizations in terms of the sunken statues and subterranean ruins. These kinds of artifacts of previous societies are fine if you're only interested in timescales of a few thousands of years. But once you roll the clock back to tens of millions or hundreds of millions of years, things get more complicated.

When it comes to direct evidence of an industrial civilization -- things like cities, factories, and roads -- the geologic record doesn't go back past what's called the Quaternary period 2.6 million years ago. For example, the oldest large-scale stretch of ancient surface lies in the Negev Desert. It's "just" 1.8 million years old -- older surfaces are mostly visible in cross section via something like a cliff face or rock cuts. Go back much farther than the Quaternary and everything has been turned over and crushed to dust.

And, if we're going back this far, we're not talking about human civilizations anymore. Homo sapiens didn't make their appearance on the planet until just 300,000 years or so ago. [...] Given that all direct evidence would be long gone after many millions of years, what kinds of evidence might then still exist? The best way to answer this question is to figure out what evidence we'd leave behind if human civilization collapsed at its current stage of development.
Mr. Frank, along with Gavin Schmidt, Director of the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies, have published their research on the subject [PDF].

Hacking a Satellite is Surprisingly Easy ( 176

Caroline Haskins, writing for The Outline: Hundreds of multi-ton liabilities -- soaring faster than the speed of sound, miles above the surface of the earth -- are operating on Windows-95. They're satellites, responsible for everything from GPS positioning, to taking weather measurements, to carrying cell signals, to providing television and internet. For the countries that own these satellites, they're invaluable resources. Even though they're old, it's more expensive to take satellites down than it is to just leave them up. So they stay up. Unfortunately, these outdated systems makes old satellites prime targets for cyber attacks. [...]

A malicious actor could fake their IP address, which gives information about a user's computer and its location. This person could then get access to the satellite's computer system, and manipulate where the satellite goes or what it does. Alternatively, an actor could jam the satellite's radio transmissions with earth, essentially disabling it. The cost of such an attack could be huge. If a satellite doesn't work, life-saving GPS or online information could be withheld to people on earth when they need it most. What's worse, if part of a satellite -- or an entire satellite -- is knocked out of its orbit from an attack, the debris could create a domino effect and cause extreme damage to other satellites.


Lyft Announces It Will Make All Rides Carbon Neutral ( 37

Lyft announced it will spend millions of dollars to make all its rides carbon neutral. An anonymous reader quotes CNN Money: The San Francisco-based ride-hailing company announced Thursday that it will pay for a range of environmentally beneficial projects to compensate for the emissions from the millions of car journeys it provides every week. The tactic, known as carbon offsets, is a way for Lyft to do something about climate change without changing its business model. Lyft will fund initiatives including forestry projects, renewable energy ventures and capturing emissions from landfills.

The efforts will put Lyft among the 10 largest voluntary offset programs in the world, according to 3Degrees, the renewable energy company Lyft is partnering with to find suitable projects... Lyft will track how many miles its drivers cover -- and the make and model of their vehicles -- to calculate exactly how many emissions it must offset. The company will not limit itself just to the carbon footprint from when passengers are in Lyft vehicles, but will also include the mileage its drivers rack up on their way to pick people up.

Lyft co-founder John Zimmer believes that within their first year they'll offset over a million metric tons of carbon -- "equivalent to planting tens of millions of trees or taking hundreds of thousands of cars off the road."

Zimmer told CNN that "With great scale comes great responsibility."

North Korean Leader Says He Will Suspend Arms Tests, Shut Nuclear Test Site ( 247

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un announced early Saturday morning that the regime no longer needs nuclear tests or intercontinental ballistic missile tests. Kim said Saturday that "under the proven condition of complete nuclear weapons, we no longer need any nuclear tests, mid-range and intercontinental ballistic rocket tests, and that the nuclear test site in northern area has also completed its mission," state-run KCNA reported Saturday. CNN reports: A North Korea source told CNN that Kim has finally decided to open up a new chapter for his nation. Kim has committed himself to the path of denuclearization and will now focus solely on economic growth and improving the national economy, the source said. The North Korean leader has realized the best path forward is to normalize relations with other countries, the source added. He is finally being recognized by the international community, and this is a historic, timely opportunity, the source said. The decision to halt nuclear and missile testing comes just one week before the leaders of South and North Korea are due to meet at the demilitarized zone between the two countries. U.S. President Donald Trump welcomed the news, tweeting: "North Korea has agreed to suspend all Nuclear Tests and close up a major test site. This is very good news for North Korea and the World - big progress! Look forward to our Summit."

Since 2016, Half of All Coral In the Great Barrier Reef Has Died ( 222

A new paper, published Wednesday in the journal Nature, reports that the Great Barrier Reef has lost more than half of its corals since 2016. The authors inspected every one of its reefs, surveying them on an almost species-by-species basis, and found the damage to be widespread across the entire ecosystem. "Two of its most recognizable creatures -- the amber-colored staghorn corals, and the flat, fanlike tabular corals -- suffered the worst casualties," reports The Atlantic. From the report: "On average, across the Great Barrier Reef, one in three corals died in nine months," said Terry Hughes, an author of the paper and the director of the ARC Center of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies, the Australian government's federal research program devoted to corals. "You could say [the ecosystem] has collapsed. You could say it has degraded. I wouldn't say that's wrong," Hughes said. "A more neutral way of putting it is that it has transformed into a completely new system that looks differently, and behaves differently, and functions differently, than how it was three years ago."

In the summer months of 2017, warm waters again struck the reef and triggered another bleaching event. This time, the heat hit the reef's middle third. Hughes and his team have not published a peer-reviewed paper on that event, but he shared early survey results with me. Combined, he said, the back-to-back bleaching events killed one in every two corals in the Great Barrier Reef. It is a fact almost beyond comprehension: In the summer of 2015, more than 2 billion corals lived in the Great Barrier Reef. Half of them are now dead. What caused the devastation? Hughes was clear: human-caused global warming. The accumulation of heat-trapping pollution in the atmosphere has raised the world's average temperature, making the oceans hotter and less hospitable to fragile tropical corals.


SpaceX Launches NASA's Planet-Hunting Satellite, Successfully Lands Its Falcon 9 Rocket ( 37

SpaceX launched NASA's TESS spacecraft Wednesday evening from Cape Canaveral, Florida, and successfully landed its Falcon 9 rocket on a drone ship following takeoff. This marks 24 successful landings for SpaceX now, notes The Verge. We will update this post once TESS is deployed into orbit. From the report: TESS is NASA's newest exoplanet hunter. The probe is tasked with staring at stars tens to hundreds of light-years from Earth, watching to see if they blink. When a planet passes in front of a distant star, it dims the star's light ever so slightly. TESS will measure these twinkles from a 13.7-day orbit that extends as far out as the distance of the Moon. The satellite won't get to its final orbit on this launch. Instead, the Falcon 9 will put TESS into a highly elliptical path around Earth first. From there, TESS will slowly adjust its orbit over the next couple of months by igniting its onboard engine multiple times. The spacecraft will even do a flyby of the Moon next month, getting a gravitational boost that will help get the vehicle to its final path around Earth. Overall, it will take about 60 days after launch for TESS to get to its intended orbit; science observations are scheduled to begin in June.

More Than 95% of World's Population Breathing Unhealthy Air, Says New Report ( 93

More than 95% of the world's population is breathing unhealthy air and the poorest nations are the hardest hit, a new report has found. From the report: According to the annual State of Global Air Report, published Tuesday by the Health Effects Institute (HEI), long-term exposure to air pollution contributed to an estimated 6.1 million deaths across the globe in 2016. The report says exposure to air pollution led to strokes, heart attacks, lung cancer and chronic lung disease, causing many of those premature deaths. It also says that air pollution is the fourth-highest cause of death among all health risks globally, coming in below high blood pressure, diet and smoking.

NASA Planet-Hunter Set For Launch ( 34

The US space agency is about to launch a telescope that should find thousands of planets beyond our Solar System. From a report: The Tess mission will go up on a SpaceX's Falcon rocket from Cape Canaveral in Florida and survey nearly the entire sky over the course of the next two years. It will stare at stars, hoping to catch the dip in brightness as their faces are traversed by orbiting worlds. Tess will build a catalogue of nearby, bright stars and their planets that other telescopes can then follow up. Key among these will be the successor to Hubble -- the James Webb space observatory, due in orbit from 2020. Its powerful vision will have the capability to analyse the atmospheres of some of Tess's new worlds, to look for gases that might hint at the presence of life.

James Webb will "tease out the chemical compositions of those atmospheres and look for whatever's there," said Paul Hertz, the astrophysics director at Nasa. "People are very interested in looking for, what on Earth, are bio-signatures, such as methane, carbon dioxide, water vapour and oxygen." Tess follows in the footsteps of Kepler, a groundbreaking space telescope launched in 2009. It also used the "transit technique" to confirm more than 2,000 so-called exoplanets. But Kepler, for its primary mission at least, only looked at a very small patch of sky, and many of its discoveries were simply too far away or too dim for other telescopes to pursue with further analysis.
The launch of TESS was scheduled to Monday evening, but it has been postponed until Wednesday. SpaceX tweeted Monday afternoon that it is "standing down today to conduct additional GNC [guidance navigation control] analysis, and teams are now working towards a targeted launch of @NASA_TESS on Wednesday, April 18."

NASA's Got a Plan For a 'Galactic Positioning System' To Save Astronauts Lost in Space ( 102

From a report: Outer space glows with a bright fog of X-ray light, coming from everywhere at once. But peer carefully into that fog, and faint, regular blips become visible. These are millisecond pulsars, city-sized neutron stars rotating incredibly quickly, and firing X-rays into the universe with more regularity than even the most precise atomic clocks. And NASA wants to use them to navigate probes and crewed ships through deep space. A telescope mounted on the International Space Station (ISS), the Neutron Star Interior Composition Explorer (NICER), has been used to develop a brand new technology with near-term, practical applications: a galactic positioning system, NASA scientist Zaven Arzoumanian told physicists Sunday (April 15) at the April meeting of the American Physical Society.

With this technology, "You could thread a needle to get into orbit around the moon of a disant planet instead of doing a flyby," Arzoumian told Live Science. A galactic positioning system could also provide "a fallback, so that if a crewed mission loses contact with the Earth, they'd still have navigation systems on board that are autonomous." Right now, the kind of maneuvers that navigators would need to put a probe in orbit around distant moons are borderline impossible.


Diamonds in Sudan Meteorite 'Are Remnants of Lost Planet' ( 43

Diamonds found in a meteorite that exploded over the Nubian desert in Sudan a decade ago were formed deep inside a "lost planet" that once circled the sun in the early solar system, scientists say. From a report: Microscopic analyses of the meteorite's tiny diamonds revealed they contain compounds that are produced under intense pressure, suggesting the diamonds formed far beneath the surface of a planet. In this case, the mysterious world was calculated to be somewhere between Mercury and Mars in size. Astronomers have long hypothesised that dozens of fledgling planets, ranging in size from the moon to Mars, formed in the first 10m years of the solar system and were broken apart and repackaged in violent collisions that ultimately created the terrestrial planets that orbit the sun today.

Scientists Accidentally Create Mutant Enzyme That Eats Plastic Bottles ( 219

Scientists have created a mutant enzyme that breaks down plastic drinks bottles -- by accident. The breakthrough could help solve the global plastic pollution crisis by enabling for the first time the full recycling of bottles. From a report: The new research was spurred by the discovery in 2016 of the first bacterium that had naturally evolved to eat plastic, at a waste dump in Japan. Scientists have now revealed the detailed structure of the crucial enzyme produced by the bug. The international team then tweaked the enzyme to see how it had evolved, but tests showed they had inadvertently made the molecule even better at breaking down the PET (polyethylene terephthalate) plastic used for soft drink bottles. "What actually turned out was we improved the enzyme, which was a bit of a shock," said Prof John McGeehan, at the University of Portsmouth, UK, who led the research. "It's great and a real finding." The mutant enzyme takes a few days to start breaking down the plastic -- far faster than the centuries it takes in the oceans. But the researchers are optimistic this can be speeded up even further and become a viable large-scale process.

Carbon Dioxide From Ships at Sea To Be Regulated For First Time ( 136

Carbon dioxide from ships at sea will be regulated for the first time following a historic agreement reached after two weeks of detailed talks in London. From a report: Shipping companies will halve their greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 under the plan, brokered by the International Maritime Organization and binding across its 170 member states. The agreement will require a revolution among ships, which are overwhelmingly fuelled by heavy oils at present. In future, they will have to not only be more energy-efficient, but also make use of cleaner energy, in the form of batteries supplying electricity, solar and wind electricity generation, and perhaps even a return to sail in some cases, or more controversially to nuclear power, as some warships already use.

Environmental campaigners said the plan was not enough given the urgency of tackling climate change, though they welcomed the deal, which has taken decades of work. Greenhouse gas emissions from shipping and aviation were omitted from the 1997 Kyoto protocol and have been excluded from regulations on carbon ever since, even though shipping is used for 80% of global trade. Although shipping accounts for only about 2% of global carbon emissions, it has been a cause of particular concern, both because of the increased need for transport under the globalising economy and because many ships use dirty, carbon-rich fuels such as heavy diesel, which would be banned in many countries from onshore transport.


ULA Is Livestreaming An Atlas V Rocket Launch ( 59

United Launch Alliance -- a joint venture of Lockheed Martin Space Systems and Boeing -- is livestreaming tonight's launch of an Atlas V rocket. UPI reports: The rocket is set to blast-off at 7:13 p.m. ET from Space Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida... The primary payload is the Continuous Broadcast Augmenting SATCOM, or CBAS, a geostationary communications satellite... Behind the CBAS payload is EAGLE, a platform capable of releasing several secondary payloads into space. According to Gunter's Space Page, EAGLE is carrying five additional payloads, all experimental satellites.
Here's a good overview of the mission: Saturday's mission will begin with ignition of the Atlas Common Core Booster's RD-180 engine, 2.7 seconds before the countdown reaches zero... Five Aerojet Rocketdyne AJ-60A solid rocket motors will augment the CCB at liftoff, igniting about T+1.1 seconds as the rocket lifts off. Climbing away from Cape Canaveral, AV-079 will begin a series of pitch and yaw maneuvers 3.9 seconds into its mission, placing the rocket onto an 89.9-degree azimuth -- almost due East -- for the journey into orbit. Atlas will reach Mach 1, the speed of sound, 34.4 seconds after liftoff, passing through the area of maximum dynamic pressure -- Max-Q -- eleven-and-a-half seconds later.
Long-time Slashdot reader Zorro also shares an interesting remark by the CEO of Boeing when asked if Boeing's cancelled Sonic Cruiser might be making a comeback. "'Something better,' teased the Boeing boss, promising point-to-point connectivity anywhere on Earth in a matter of hours."

And when asked whether Boeing might launch a car into space, he replied instead that "We might pick up the one that's out there and bring it back."

Can We Build Indoor 'Vertical Farms' Near The World's Major Cities? ( 255

Vox reports on the hot new "vertical farming" startup Plenty: The company's goal is to build an indoor farm outside of every city in the world of more than 1 million residents -- around 500 in all. It claims it can build a farm in 30 days and pay investors back in three to five years (versus 20 to 40 for traditional farms). With scale, it says, it can get costs down to competitive with traditional produce (for a presumably more desirable product that could command a price premium)... It has enormous expansion plans and a bank account full of fresh investor funding, but most excitingly, it is building a 100,000 square foot vertical-farming warehouse in Kent, Washington, just outside of Seattle... It recently got a huge round of funding ($200 million in July, the largest ag-tech investment in history), including some through Jeff Bezos's investment firm, so it has the capital to scale...; heck, it even lured away the director of battery technology at Tesla, Kurt Kelty, to be executive of operations and development...

The plants receive no sunlight, just light from hanging LED lamps. There are thousands of infrared cameras and sensors covering everything, taking fine measurements of temperature, moisture, and plant growth; the data is used by agronomists and artificial intelligence nerds to fine-tune the system... There are virtually no pests in a controlled indoor environment, so Plenty doesn't have to use any pesticides or herbicides; it gets by with a few ladybugs... Relative to conventional agriculture, Plenty says that it can get as much as 350 times the produce out of a given acre of land, using 1 percent as much water.

Though it may use less water and power, to be competitive with traditional farms companies like Plenty will also have to be "even better at reducing the need for human planters and harvesters," the article warns.

"In other words, to compete, it's going to have to create as few jobs as possible."

Ocean Current That Keeps Europe Warm Is Weakening Because of Climate Change ( 187

The Washington Post: The Atlantic Ocean circulation that carries warmth into the Northern Hemisphere's high latitudes is slowing down because of climate change, a team of scientists asserted Wednesday, suggesting one of the most feared consequences is already coming to pass (Editor's note: the link may be paywalled; alternative source). The Atlantic meridional overturning circulation has declined in strength by 15 percent since the mid-20th century to a "new record low," the scientists conclude in a peer-reviewed study published in the journal Nature. That's a decrease of 3 million cubic meters of water per second, the equivalent of nearly 15 Amazon rivers.

The AMOC brings warm water from the equator up toward the Atlantic's northern reaches and cold water back down through the deep ocean. The current is partly why Western Europe enjoys temperate weather, and meteorologists are linking changes in North Atlantic Ocean temperatures to recent summer heat waves. The circulation is also critical for fisheries off the U.S. Atlantic coast, a key part of New England's economy that have seen changes in recent years, with the cod fishery collapsing as lobster populations have boomed off the Maine coast.


Hubble Telescope Discovers a Light-Bending 'Einstein Ring' In Space ( 71 reports of the Hubble Space Telescope's discovery of a light-bending "Einstein Ring" in space: The perfect circle surrounding a galaxy cluster in a new Hubble Space Telescope image is a visual indicator of the huge masses that are bending time and space in that region. The galaxy cluster, called SDSS J0146-0929, features hundreds of individual galaxies all bound together by gravity. There's so much mass in this region that the cluster is distorting light from objects behind it. This phenomenon is called an Einstein ring. The ring is created as the light that comes from distant objects, like galaxies, passes by "an extremely large mass, like this galaxy cluster," NASA said in a statement. "In this image, the light from a background galaxy is diverted and distorted around the massive intervening cluster and forced to travel along many different light paths toward Earth, making it seem as though the galaxy is in several places at once." The ring is named after Albert Einstein, who wrote his theory of general relativity in the early 1900s. In it, he suggested that a massive object would warp space and time. This process is known today as a gravitational lens. When the most massive galaxies and galaxy clusters get in line with a more distant object, they produce an Einstein ring -- a type of gravitational lens.

XPRIZE Projects Aim To Convert CO2 Emissions, But Skepticism Remains ( 83

The XPRIZE foundation exists to encourage particular innovations that might be useful but from which conventional financial backers are likely to shy away. Previous X Prizes have been awarded for feats such as flying a reusable spacecraft to the edge of space, and designing cheap sensors to measure oceanic acidity. This week, the foundation announced a new prize. From a report: One pioneering team hopes to use carbon dioxide to make a stronger form of cement. Another wants to use carbon to make bioplastic. Still another is planning to transform CO2 into solid carbonates that can be used as building materials. The XPRIZE Foundation unveiled 10 teams yesterday as finalists in its $20 million contest to find a solution to carbon emissions.

Its carbon competition is meant to find an economic use for planet-warming emissions. The basic idea: If emissions can be turned into a product, power companies will have an incentive to capture and sell carbon instead of releasing it into the atmosphere. A group of 47 teams from across the world initially submitted proposals. The remaining 10 teams will compete in two groups. One will test their technologies at a coal-fired power plant in Gillette, Wyo. The other will compete at a natural gas plant in Calgary, Alberta. Winners will be announced in 2020. They will split the $20 million purse.

[...] Significant skepticism over carbon utilization's effectiveness persists, however. The chief concern is that global carbon emissions outweigh the market for carbon products. "There is no question you can do it. The question is whether it can be a meaningful contribution to climate mitigation," said Edward Rubin, a professor of environmental engineering at Carnegie Mellon University.


Japan Team Maps 'Semi-Infinite' Trove of Rare Earth Elements ( 162

schwit1 quotes a report from The Japan Times: Japanese researchers have mapped vast reserves of rare earth elements in deep-sea mud, enough to feed global demand on a "semi-infinite basis," according to a new study. The deposit, found within Japan's exclusive economic zone waters, contains more than 16 million tons of the elements needed to build high-tech products ranging from mobile phones to electric vehicles, according to the study, released Tuesday in the journal Scientific Reports. The team, comprised of several universities, businesses and government institutions, surveyed the western Pacific Ocean near Minamitori Island. In a sample area of the mineral-rich region, the team's survey estimated 1.2 million tons of "rare earth oxide" is deposited there, said the study, conducted jointly by Waseda University's Yutaro Takaya and the University of Tokyo's Yasuhiro Kato, among others. The finding extrapolates that a 2,500-sq. km region off the southern Japanese island should contain 16 million tons of the valuable elements, and "has the potential to supply these metals on a semi-infinite basis to the world," the study said.

All Apple Operations Now Run Off 100 Percent Renewable Energy ( 116

According to a recently-shared press release, Apple has finally hit its goal of running its own operations off 100% renewable energy. "All Apple facilities, from Apple Park to its data centers to worldwide fleet of Apple retail stores, are now solely powered by green energy," reports 9to5Mac. From the report: This figure does not include Apple's third-party suppliers or manufacturers, although the company is convincing many of those to switch to 100% renewable sources too. Apple's environment VP Lisa Jackson discussed the news in an interview with Fast Company. Jackson highlights how Apple has not only focused on reducing emissions but also contributed to the availability of green energy on the grid. Apple has gone from 16% renewable energy to 100% in eight years, with CO2 emissions falling by 58%. The company has built numerous wind and solar farms in cooperation with local institutions, as well as intense focus on environmental sustainability during development of its new buildings like Apple Park. Its data centers are flanked by fields of solar panels. Filling out the last 4% required Apple to find renewable energy sources in some of its more remote retail stores and offices. It has signed power purchase agreements in Brazil, India, Israel, Mexico and Turkey.

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