March 16, 2013 | 11:18 a.m.

Google Glass in our sci-fi world: Who cares about privacy anyway?

Google Glass — Sergey Brin’s video-recording, personal-computing, augmented-reality baby —  has stirred the Big Brother fears.  It seems the more technology advances, the more we live in a sci-fi world, one where privacy is a quaint horse-and-buggy notion. The ability — and the inclination — to keep information to ourselves seems to be slipping away with each new innovation. The question is: Does it matter? Award-winning sci-fi author Robert J. Sawyer, in a 2002 essay in Maclean’s, seemed prescient about Google Glass.  He wrote of the possibility of an “implant” with a “tiny audiovisual recorder.” The resulting video would be kept at a “centralized facility.” He imagined that such video would bring about a vast reduction in crime.  If everyone’s actions were recorded, “for their eyes only, unless a proper court demanded otherwise,” crime would plummet. After all, he reasoned, […]
March 12, 2013 | 1:13 p.m.

Mars mission accomplished: Ingredients for life? Mars had ’em

The rock at left, seen by Opportunity rover on Mars, is formed from sulfate-rich sandstone, cemented in the presence of water, scientists say, but this environment likely was not habitable -- due to extreme salinity and acidity of the water. But the rock at right, seen by Curiosity, indicates an ancient habitable environment:  neutral pH, chemical gradients that would have created energy for microbes, and a distinctly low salinity, which would have helped metabolism if microorganisms had ever been present. (NASA/JPL-Caltech/Cornell/MSSS)
Ancient Mars was so conducive to life that you might have been able to scoop up the water and drink it. So say NASA scientists, who are thrilled that Curiosity has solved this mystery: Could there have been life on Mars?  Yes. “A fundamental question for this mission is whether Mars could have supported a habitable environment,” said Michael Meyer, lead scientist for NASA’s Mars Exploration Program, in a news release. “From what we know now, the answer is yes.” At a news conference in Washington on Tuesday, mission lead scientist John Grotzinger said signs pointed to an ancient environment “so benign” and “so supportive of life that probably if this water was around and you had been on the planet, you would have been able to drink it.” Curiosity tweeted: I was sent to Mars to find evidence of […]
March 08, 2013 | 7:00 a.m.

Comet Pan-STARRS in the night sky; how to watch the show

Want to see a comet move through the night sky? You’re in luck. Comet Pan-STARRS has just  become visible in the northern hemisphere. And here’s the best part: You won’t even need a telescope to see the show. Scientists say the coma, or gaseous material surrounding the nucleus of the comet, should be as bright as the stars of the big dipper constellation and totally visible to the naked eye. But you will need a pair of regular birding binoculars in order to see the comet’s tail. The comet will only be visible  low in the sky, so you’ll need to find a location that gives you a clear view of the western horizon. Even small hills and buildings will likely obstruct your view. Look in the direction of the sunset, just after the sun has gone down. The star […]
March 07, 2013 | 11:53 a.m.

15,000 sharks riding the waves in Florida; time to watch ‘Jaws’

Thousands of sharks — some of them stealing to within 200 yards of shore — have been causing consternation and probably some sweaty palms in South Florida. On Tuesday, about 50 or 60 of these migrating beasts reportedly were spotted near shore in Palm Beach.  They were enjoying their own version of spring break. The sharks like to leap out of the water, riding the waves on the shore break, lifeguard Eddie Green told the Palm Beach Post. There’s a sentence to make the shark-averse shudder. Annual migration is taking an estimated 15,000 sharks northward, heading from Florida to North Carolina. On Wednesday, three Palm Beach County beaches were closed after near-shore sightings of the sharks, which are mostly blacktips and spinners, local outlets say. The migration takes place “every year like clockwork,” said Christopher Lowe, director of the Cal […]
March 07, 2013 | 6:45 a.m.

Mars rover Curiosity to sleep through solar storm

The Mars rover Curiosity was powered down Wednesday in preparation for a solar-storm pounding. It’s about time there was some real drama in the story of the little rover that could.  If this were a sci-fi movie, we’d all be snoring by now. It’s been celebrations galore with one historic first after another since Curiosity landed in August — which was itself a historic first that had NASA positively verklempt.  Now there’s been an honest-to-goodness glitch and a solar tempest to boot. PHOTOS: Awesome images from space Curiosity’s lively Twitter feed said on March 1: “Don’t flip out: I just flipped over to my B-side computer while the team looks into an A-side memory issue.”  As CNET reported late last month, the rover had powered the backup computer — essentially going into safe mode — after software glitches ‘interrupted the […]
March 05, 2013 | 3:56 p.m.

Sinister ‘Space Invaders’ galaxy found; can we trust our eyes?

“Space Invaders” fans, NASA and ESA have a gift for you: On Tuesday the agencies released images taken by the Hubble telescope of a galaxy that looks like one of the evil little aliens in the classic arcade game. The likeness is uncanny: wide, oblong head, small little legs spread wide, symmetrical crab-like body. This galaxy looks like it could have been pulled directly from the lineup of invaders in the late-’70s game created by Tomohiro Nishikado. The video game gained new popularity in 1980, when it was released for the Atari 2600. The first game to be officially licensed from its arcade version, “Space Invaders” was an unqualified success, becoming the first title to sell more than a million copies and providing a huge boost to sales of the console. It also became the cultural shorthand for all video […]
Feb. 28, 2013 | 7:00 a.m.

Creature feature: Who’s scarier — shark with buzz-saw bite or lamprey?

If you thought the Creature from the Black Lagoon was terrifying, check out the new artist renderings of the Helicoprion–a giant shark-like animal that swam the seas roughly 270 million years ago. What sets the Helicoprion apart from any other animal known to swim, walk or fly on Earth, is its terrifying teeth: Fossils show that the Helicoprion had up to 150 thin, sharp, serrated teeth that spiraled around each other. The smallest teeth are in the middle of the spiral, which looks a bit like a buzz saw. For more than a century, Helicoprion fossils have baffled scientists who were unclear where on the animal the crazy tooth spiral belonged. Was it on the tip of its nose? Or part of a sharp dorsal fin? Or did the animal wield it like a weapon on its tail? Paleontologist Leif […]
Feb. 25, 2013 | 4:01 p.m.

When Captain Kirk is not at the Oscars, he’s naming Pluto moons

William Shatner, moon-namer? That’s right. The actor, who appeared opposite Seth MacFarlane at the Oscars on Sunday night in the guise of “Star Trek’s” Captain Kirk, has spent the last week and a half waging a Twitter campaign to name one of Pluto’s two recently discovered moons “Vulcan.” And as of Monday, it appears he will be successful. More than 450,000 ballots were cast in an online vote at the website, and the name Vulcan, which was originally suggested by Shatner,  has emerged as the clear winner. “174,062 votes and Vulcan came out on top of the voting for the naming of Pluto’s moons. Thank you to all who voted! MBB” Shatner wrote on his Twitter feed.  (“MBB” stands for “My best, Bill”) The dwarf planet already has three named moons — Hydra, Nix and Charon. Like the name Pluto, they […]
Feb. 24, 2013 | 2:47 p.m.

Oscars 2013: Sci-fi, fantasy fail to capture academy’s imagination

It’s a rough time for science fiction and fantasy films at the 2013 Academy Awards. “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey” and “Prometheus,” two high-profile films with Oscar pedigrees, fell comparatively flat with critics. They made their share at the box office, but came up short come during the awards season. The closest either genre has to a place at the top of the Oscar honorees this year is through the more fantastical elements of best-picture nominees “Life of Pi” and “Beasts of the Southern Wild,” though both films spin narratives that are far from sci-fi/fantasy conventions. Both directors, Ang Lee and Benh Zeitlin are also nominated. Oscars 2013: Full coverage And in other categories, there’s barely a film in either genre. There’s “Snow White and the Huntsman,” up for best costume design, “The Hobbit’s” three nominations in technical categories, and […]
Feb. 21, 2013 | 4:56 p.m.

Incredible NASA video of hot plasma raining down on the sun

Talk about real-world special effects: NASA has just released stunning video of a “coronal rain,”  a solar phenomenon in which hot plasma appears to rain down in great arches onto the surface of the sun. What you see in the video is actually three types of eruptive events: A solar flare — a sudden eruption that causes a flash of electromagnetic radiation and light; a coronal mass ejection (CME), which is when the sun sends some of its matter shooting out into space; and finally, the dazzling coronal rain that occurs when the super hot plasma that rose  into the sun’s atmosphere begins to cool and trace strong magnetic fields back to the surface of the sun. Solar flares, CMEs and even coronal rains are not so unusual, said Alex Young, a solar astrophysicist at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center.  But it […]
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