Physics Today Daily Edition
Nature: CubeSats, 10-cm-sided spacecraft often built with off-the-shelf parts, are widely used in low Earth orbit (LEO) for a variety of tasks. Although several CubeSats have been designed for interplanetary missions, however, they are still sitting on Earth, waiting for a ride into space. Generally, the spacecraft piggyback on rockets as secondary or even tertiary payloads. Whereas LEO launches are relatively common, launches into higher orbits or out of Earth orbit are far less frequent. Now NASA and the European Space Agency are planning to include CubeSats on several long-range missions, including technology tests and small probes to the Moon, Mars, asteroids, and Jupiter's moon Europa.
Ars Technica: From July to November 2015, the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) produced just over 4 inverse femtobarns of data. In its current run, which began in May, the LHC has already produced 10 fb-1. With several more months to go, LHC scientists expect to receive three times as much data this year as last year. The increase in data should help researchers to verify whether the hint of a new particle in last year's data was an actual signal or just noise. The 2016 data haul could also help researchers to statistically rule out a variety of theorized particles and show major flaws in the models that predict them. On a more concrete level, the data should provide significantly more information about already discovered particles that we still don't know much about, such as the Higgs boson.
New Scientist: A coin-sized robot created from rat tissue has been shown to swim through an obstacle course when exposed to light. The bioengineered stingray, designed by Kevin Kit Parker of Harvard University and coworkers, comprises a tiny gold skeleton covered with a flexible polymer that is layered with about 200 000 rat heart cells. The researchers tweaked the cells to make them light sensitive. By shining different frequencies of light on different sides of the robot, they were able to affect its speed and direction. The ultimate goal, according to Parker, is to better understand how the heart works and one day be able to build one.
BBC: The UK's Committee on Climate Change (CCC) has said fracking in the country can go ahead if three conditions are met: Emissions must be strictly limited at all stages of construction, operation, and decommissioning; total UK gas consumption must not increase, which means shale gas must displace imported gas; and shale gas emissions must be included in the UK's already established carbon budgets. The UK government says it already intends to abide by the restrictions, but environmentalists argue that shale gas production will overwhelm the country's attempts to meet its climate change goals. The CCC predicated its decision on a range of projections for gas production, with the most extreme production model predicting 11 million tons of CO2 emissions per year by 2030. That amount is just one-fourth of the country's emissions from agriculture and land-use change. The government will make its final decision on whether to allow fracking—at two sites in Lancashire—by 6 October.
New Scientist: In March, just over a month after it launched, the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency's Hitomi x-ray telescope suffered a failure that rendered it inoperable. Now the satellite team has released a paper showing that Hitomi was able to collect useful information before it died. Andrew Fabian of the University of Cambridge and his colleagues used Hitomi data to map the flow of plasma away from the Perseus cluster of galaxies and out into intergalactic space. Hitomi's images reveal that the flow is massive, with gusts of plasma larger than the Milky Way. The galactic wind is driven by a supermassive black hole located at the center of the cluster's central galaxy. The black hole creates jets of particles that travel near the speed of light and blow cooler gas out of the cluster.
Associated Press: Jordan's nuclear energy program is more than a decade old, but the country still relies on fossil fuel imports to provide 98% of its electricity. Khaled Toukan, chairman of the Jordan Atomic Energy Commission, says his country is negotiating an agreement with the US for access to nuclear technology such as small modular reactors. Currently, Jordan has a $10 billion deal with Russia for the construction of two large reactors to be built by 2025, but the financing isn't settled. If that deal falls through, Toukan still wants the country to go forward with a deal for smaller reactors, which he says could be used for powering desalination plants. The discussions with the US had previously stalled when Jordan refused to rule out uranium enrichment, which can be used for not only generating electricity but also building nuclear weapons.
Science: The Wellcome Trust, a London-based charity that is one of the largest nongovernmental sources of funding for biomedical research, is launching an open-access online journal this fall. Wellcome Open Research will feature the work of researchers who are funded by Wellcome Trust grants, and the charity will also cover publishing costs for the authors. This will be the second time the company has been involved in an open-access journal: In 2012 it partnered with the Howard Hughes Medical Institute in Chevy Chase, Maryland, and Germany's Max Planck Society to launch eLife. Wellcome Open Research will function more like the preprint server arXiv than a traditional journal, with authors encouraged to post anything from a full paper to just a data set. Following publication, a publicly selected group of peer reviewers will evaluate and comment on the work. The site will be managed by Science Navigation Group's F1000 publishing service.
Washington Post: Even though the area of sea ice surrounding Antarctica has been increasing since 2000 and reached an all-time high in 2014, Earth is still undergoing climate change, according to a recent study in Nature Geoscience. The reason for the increasing Antarctic sea ice is natural climate variability, say Gerald Meehl of the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colorado, and his colleagues. Antarctic sea ice is affected by the interaction of several meteorological phenomena, such as the Interdecadal Pacific Oscillation (IPO) and the Amundsen Sea Low, a climatological low-pressure system off the Antarctic coast. Because the IPO has been in its negative phase, it has been causing the Pacific’s surface to cool, the Amundsen Sea Low to deepen, and local winds to increase; those forces together have resulted in sea ice being pushed away from the Antarctic continent and new ice forming in the gaps. Now, however, the IPO has shifted, and Meehl says Antarctic sea ice will probably “stop growing, maybe start shrinking a little bit.”
New York Times: On 1 July, NASA announced mission extensions for nine current spacecraft that have already completed their primary missions. The New Horizons probe, which flew past Pluto, will continue on to study the Kuiper belt object 2014 MU69. The other funded missions are Dawn, which is orbiting Ceres; the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter; the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter; the Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution orbiter; the Opportunity and Curiosity rovers on Mars; the Mars Odyssey orbiter; and the European Space Agency's Mars Express, for which NASA is providing support. Extensions for most of the missions were expected, but the inclusion of Dawn surprised the team that is managing the mission. The craft is low on fuel because of its reliance on thrusters after the failure of two reaction wheels. Now Dawn will remain in place around Ceres, where it will continue to make observations as the dwarf planet approaches perihelion.
IEEE Spectrum: Many facial recognition algorithms have a success rate above 95% when tested against databases of just a few thousand faces. A new test called the MegaFace Challenge evaluates the performance of algorithms when they are presented with a database of 1 million images of 690 000 people. The challenge is for the algorithms to evaluate whether two different pictures are of the same person and to determine if a given person is in the database. The success rates for all the tested facial recognition programs dropped significantly when faced with so much data. Google's FaceNet, the top-scoring algorithm tested, dropped from near 100% accuracy on the widely used Labeled Faces in the Wild (LFW) test to just 75% on the MegaFace Challenge. Several algorithms that scored above 90% on LFW dropped to below 60% accuracy. Ira Kemelmacher-Shlizerman of the University of Washington in Seattle and his colleagues organized the MegaFace Challenge to evaluate the effectiveness of facial recognition software in more realistic situations.