Winter Storm Harper, Now Hammering the West; Will Be a Major Snowstorm Friday in East/Central US

Posted: 18 Jan 2019 10:15 AM PST


Winter Storm Harper is already pummeling parts of the West with heavy snow and will spread its mess of snow, ice and wind into the Plains, Midwest and Northeast into this weekend.

Harper's heaviest snow, so far, is in the Sierra Nevada of California. Early Thursday morning, Lone Pine, California, reported 5 inches of snow had fallen in just 2 hours.

That storm will tap into cold air once it moves through the central and eastern states Friday through the weekend, delivering a widespread swath of significant snow.


Winter storm watches and warnings and winter weather advisories have been posted by the National Weather Service from the northern and central Plains eastward through the southern Great Lakes and into the Northeast.

Cities included in the winter storm watches or warnings include Chicago, Milwaukee, Boston, Hartford, Providence, Pittsburgh, Albany, Buffalo, Cleveland and Des Moines.

In other words, air travel is going to be severely impacted with many delayed or cancelled flights. Even if your flight is not in the storm area, the plane may be delayed in coming from someplace that is. Better leave early on your tropical vacation.

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Animation Shows Rotation of 2014 MU69 (Ultima Thule)

Posted: 18 Jan 2019 08:38 AM PST

New Movie Shows Ultima Thule from an Approaching New Horizons

This movie shows the propeller-like rotation of Ultima Thule in the seven hours between 20:00 UT (3 p.m. ET) on Dec. 31, 2018, and 05:01 UT (12:01 a.m.) on Jan. 1, 2019, as seen by the Long Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI) aboard NASA's New Horizons as the spacecraft sped toward its close encounter with the Kuiper Belt object at 05:33 UT (12:33 a.m. ET) on Jan. 1.

The images, which cover about a half of a rotation, help illustrate the solution to Ultima Thule's apparent lack of brightness variations:

The brief video also shows why New Horizons didn't detect any brightness variations from Ultima Thule during the approach phase, a surprising development that initially puzzled the mission team. The lack of such a "light curve" is expected for spherical objects, which don't shift from a viewer's perspective as they rotate, but early data indicated that the 21-mile-long (34 km) Ultima Thule was highly elongated.

As we can now see, it was all about New Horizons' orientation to Ultima Thule. The object's pole of rotation was pointing directly at the approaching spacecraft, so New Horizons didn't see any appreciable changes in the light bouncing off Ultima Thule.

Previously: New Horizons Survives Flyby, Begins Sending Back Data
New Images Reveal Structure, Color, and Features of 2014 MU69 (Ultima Thule)

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Milky Way to Face a One-two Punch of Galaxy Collisions

Posted: 18 Jan 2019 07:01 AM PST

Submitted via IRC for takyon

Milky Way to face a one-two punch of galaxy collisions

If our knowledge of galaxy structures was limited to the Milky Way, we'd get a lot of things wrong. The Milky Way, it turns out, is unusual. It's got a smaller central black hole than other galaxies its size; its halo is also smaller and contains less of the heavier elements. Fortunately, we've now looked at enough other galaxies to know that ours is a bit of an oddball. What has been less clear is why.

Luckily, a recent study provides a likely answer: compared to most galaxies, the Milky Way has had a very quiet 10 billion years or so. But the new study suggests we're only a few billion years from that quiet period coming to an end. A collision with a nearby dwarf galaxy should turn the Milky Way into something more typical looking—just in time to have Andromeda smack into it.

The researchers behind the new work, from the UK's Durham University, weren't looking to solve the mysteries of why the Milky Way looks so unusual. Instead, they were intrigued by recent estimates that suggest one of its satellite galaxies might be significantly more massive than thought. A variety of analyses have suggested that the Large Magellanic Cloud has more dark matter than the number of stars it contains would suggest. (Its stellar mass is estimated to be only five percent of the stellar mass of the Milky Way.)

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First Green Leaf on Moon Dies as Temperatures Plummet

Posted: 18 Jan 2019 05:30 AM PST

First green leaf on moon dies as temperatures plummet

The appearance of a single green leaf hinted at a future in which astronauts would grow their own food in space, potentially setting up residence at outposts on the moon or other planets. Now, barely after it had sprouted, the cotton plant onboard China's lunar rover has died.

The plant relied on sunlight at the moon's surface, but as night arrived at the lunar far side and temperatures plunged as low as -170C, its short life came to an end.

Prof Xie Gengxin of Chongqing University, who led the design of the experiment, said its short lifespan had been anticipated. "Life in the canister would not survive the lunar night," Xie said.

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Takeaways From the Ancient DNA Research Story

Posted: 18 Jan 2019 04:03 AM PST

5 Takeaways From the Ancient DNA Research Story

What can genes tell us about who we are? Millions of people around the world have begun using consumer ancestry services like 23andMe in an attempt to peer into their personal origins and understand where they came from.

Meanwhile, though, in a handful of elite genetics labs around the world, scientists have begun analyzing ancient DNA — which can now be extracted from skeletal remains that are thousands or even tens of thousands of years old — to ask, and try to answer, even more fundamental questions about the human past.

In only the past few years, as a new report in The New York Times Magazine describes, this burgeoning science of "paleogenomics" has begun to offer surprising revisions to the story of humanity. But at the same time, this research has generated significant controversy, including among some of the archaeologists, anthropologists and other academics who have collaborated with geneticists on this work.

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Man Drives 6,000 Miles to Prove Uncle Sam's Cellphone Coverage Maps are Wrong

Posted: 18 Jan 2019 02:34 AM PST

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Man drives 6,000 miles to prove Uncle Sam's cellphone coverage maps are wrong – and, boy, did he manage it

A Vermont state employee drove 6,000 miles in six weeks to prove that the cellular coverage maps from the US government suck – and was wildly successful.

In fact not only did he prove conclusively that reports delivered to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) by mobile operators aren't worth the paper they're printed on but also swung a spotlight on just how bad bureaucracy can get when it comes to Washington DC.

Corey Chase, a telecommunications infrastructure specialist who works for the Vermont Department of Public Service (PSD), undertook the monster road trip with some specialized equipment: six phones, each connected to a different mobile nework, and a custom piece of software, G-NetTrack, that carried out constant measurements of download speeds.

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First Artificial Meteor Shower Might Outshine Nature

Posted: 18 Jan 2019 01:12 AM PST

First artificial meteor shower might outshine natural 'shooting stars'

[...] Tokyo-based ALE (for Astro Live Experiences) pitches itself as a pioneer in the "space entertainment sector." It hopes to conduct a groundbreaking artificial meteor event in 2020 using its first satellite over an area near Hiroshima, where it will be observable by up to 6 million people over an area 200 kilometers (124 miles) wide.

[...] "I hope that our man-made meteors will help reveal new discoveries in science, and that it will gather and entertain people under the night sky," CEO Lena Okajima said in a statement.

The satellite creates its sky show by firing off little pellets a centimeter in diameter that are made up of a proprietary mix of non-toxic materials. The "particles," as ALE calls them, are designed to generate a range of bright colors as they heat up and disintegrate during reentry into the atmosphere, all while still over 60 kilometers (37 miles) above our heads.

Related: Now, meteor shower on demand? Here is Japanese firm's controversial plan for the ultra-rich

Previously: Company Will Create an "Artificial Meteor Shower" Over Hiroshima, Japan in 2019

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"Junk DNA" Introns Can Help Yeast Strains Survive

Posted: 17 Jan 2019 11:39 PM PST

'Junk DNA' may help yeast survive stress

Like deleted scenes snipped out of a movie, some sequences in our genes end up on the cutting-room floor, and cells don't use them to make proteins. Now, two studies find that these segments, known as introns, help yeast survive during hard times. The research uncovers another possible function for a type of DNA that scientists once thought was useless.

"They are very strong, very convincing, and very exciting results," says evolutionary molecular biologist Scott Roy of San Francisco State University in California, who wasn't connected to the studies. The research "opens a whole new paradigm of what introns could be doing." It also answers the long-standing question of why yeast has kept what was formerly considered "junk DNA," says yeast microbiologist Guillaume Chanfreau of the University of California, Los Angeles.

[...] [Researchers] typically haven't looked at yeast under conditions it would face in the wild, where it could endure periods of food scarcity that don't occur in the lab. To determine what happens during deprivation, RNA biologist Sherif Abou Elela of the University of Sherbrooke in Canada and colleagues systematically deleted introns from yeast, producing hundreds of strains, each of which was missing all of the introns from one gene. The researchers then grew combinations of these modified strains alongside normal fungi.

When food was scarce, most of the intron-lacking strains rapidly died out [DOI: 10.1038/s41586-018-0859-7], the team reports today in Nature. They couldn't compete with normal yeast. However, in cultures with more nutrients, the altered yeast had the advantage. "If you are in good times, it's a burden" to have introns, Abou Elela says. "In bad times, it's beneficial."

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Facebook Pledges $300 Million to "Support Journalism"

Posted: 17 Jan 2019 10:02 PM PST

Facebook made a $300 million pledge to help journalists — just like Google did last year

Facebook says it is going to spend $300 million over the next three years to support journalism.

Does that sound familiar?

Here's why: Ten months ago, Google said it was going to spend $300 million over three years to support journalism.

Facebook says it's just a coincidence that it landed on the same dollar amount that its primary competitor landed on last year. But I'm not complaining. In part because I want Google and Facebook to spend money supporting journalism. And also because it means I don't have to rewrite this piece, from March 2018: "Google and Facebook can't help publishers because they're built to defeat publishers."

Previously: Google Pledges $300 Million for "Google News Initiative" to Fight Fake News

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Majority of Wild Coffee Species at Risk of Extinction

Posted: 17 Jan 2019 08:25 PM PST


More than half of the world's 124 wild coffee plant species meet the criteria for inclusion on the International Union for Conservation of Nature's Red List of Threatened Species, according to reports published today (January 16) in Science Advances and Global Change Biology. The authors say extinctions among the species would limit plant breeders' options in developing new types of coffee in the future.

The study, carried out at Britain's Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, found that 60 percent of wild coffee species are at risk, a figure that "is extremely high, especially when you compare this to a global estimate of 22% for plants," says coauthor Eimear Nic Lughadha in a statement. "Some of the coffee species assessed have not been seen in the wild for more than 100 years, and it is possible that some may already be extinct."


A second study, in Global Change Biology, found that wild Arabica coffee can be classed as threatened under official (IUCN Red List) rankings, when climate change projections are taken into account.

Its natural population is likely to shrink by up to 50% or more by 2088 because of climate change alone, according to the research.

Wild Arabica is used to supply seeds for coffee farming and also as a harvested crop in its own right.

Ethiopia is the home of Arabica coffee, where it grows naturally in upland rainforests.

"Given the importance of Arabica coffee to Ethiopia, and to the world, we need to do our utmost to understand the risks facing its survival in the wild," said Dr Tadesse Woldemariam Gole, of the Environment and Coffee Forest Forum in Addis Ababa.

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German Institutions Reach Open Access Deal with Scientific Publisher Wiley

Posted: 17 Jan 2019 06:48 PM PST

Groundbreaking deal makes large number of German studies free to public

Three years ago, a group of German libraries, universities, and research institutes teamed up to force the three largest scientific publishers to offer an entirely new type of contract. In exchange for an annual lump sum, they wanted a nationwide agreement making papers by German authors free to read around the world, while giving researchers in Germany access to all of the publishers' online content.

Today, after almost 3 years of negotiations, the consortium, named Project DEAL, can finally claim a success: This morning, it signed a deal with Wiley, an academic publisher headquartered in Hoboken, New Jersey.

Under the 3-year contract, scientists at more than 700 academic institutions will be able to access all of Wiley's academic journals back to 1997 and to publish open access in all of Wiley's journals. The annual fee will be based on the number of papers they publish in Wiley journals—about 10,000 in previous years, says one of the negotiators, physicist Gerard Meijer of the Fritz Haber Institute, a Max Planck Society institute here.

A precise formula for the fee has been agreed on but at Wiley's request will only be made public, along with other details in the contract, in 30 days, Meijer says. However, the total payment should be roughly what German institutes have been paying Wiley in subscription fees so far, Meijer says.

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BitPay Sees Record Year for Revenue in 2018, with $1 Billion in Transactions

Posted: 17 Jan 2019 05:11 PM PST

BitPay, the largest global blockchain payments provider, today announced another record year along with key accomplishments and expansion of the payment processing platform for 2018 after more than seven years in business.

In 2018, BitPay processed over a $1 Billion again in payments and set a new record for transaction fee revenue by adding new customers like Dish Networks, HackerOne, and the State of Ohio. BitPay's B2B business also had a record year as it grew almost 255% from the previous year as many law firms, data center providers, and IT vendors signed up to accept Bitcoin. BitPay also hired Rolf Haag, Former Western Union and PayPal executive as Head of Industry Solutions responsible for the B2B business.

"BitPay's B2B business continues to grow rapidly as our solution is cheaper and quicker than a bank wire from most regions of the world," said Stephen Pair, Co-founder and CEO of BitPay. "To process over a $1 Billion for a second year in a row despite Bitcoin's large price drop shows that Bitcoin is being used to solve real pain points around the world."

Last year, BitPay also set a record for reducing payment error rates. The dollar volume lost to cryptocurrency payment errors dropped dramatically from over 8% (in December 2017) to well under 1% of BitPay's total dollar volume processed.


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'We're Going to Electrify the F-series,' Ford Exec Says

Posted: 17 Jan 2019 03:34 PM PST

Detroit Free Press:

Ford Motor Co. confirmed plans to build a fully electric F-Series pickup, which industry observers called an unexpected move that protects the truck franchise against Tesla and other competitors.

"We're going to be electrifying the F-Series — battery electric and hybrid," Jim Farley, Ford president of global markets, said Wednesday during a presentation at the Deutsche Bank Global Automotive Conference in the MGM Grand in Detroit.

In framing the company's redesign, Farley said a move toward all-electric and hybrid would "futureproof" the billion-dollar F-Series franchise, which he called a "global juggernaut."

[...] Creating an alternative to the combustion engine is crucial if Ford plans to protect its pickup franchise.

"Tesla is talking about coming out with an electric pickup. And look what Tesla has done in the luxury segment. They've clobbered just about everybody," McElroy said. "You can't pooh-pooh that people won't be interested in an electric pickup. Rivian Automotive is coming out with an all-electric pickup. These are the crown jewels for Ford Motor Co., the F-Series. Ford has got to react to competitive threats."

Ford recently announced it would exit the market for cars to focus on its pickups. This announcement is another sign of the shockwaves Tesla has sent throughout the automotive industry.

[Ford is likely also keeping a watchful eye on Workhorse. --Ed.]

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Stem Cell Therapy for Age-Related Macular Degeneration Ready for Clinical Trials

Posted: 17 Jan 2019 01:57 PM PST

Macular degeneration trial will be first human test of Nobel-winning stem cell technique

Curing [...] age-related macular degeneration [(AMD)], a major cause of blindness [...] was supposed to be low-hanging fruit.

The cause of AMD is well-known, the recipe for turning stem cells into retinal cells works like a charm, and the eye is "immunoprivileged," meaning immune cells don't attack foreigners such as, say, lab-made retinal cells. Yet more than a decade after animal studies showed promise, and nearly eight years since retinal cells created from embryonic stem cells were safely transplanted into nine patients in a clinical trial, no one outside of a research setting (or a rogue clinic) is getting stem cell therapy for macular degeneration.

That may change soon. Researchers in California expect to launch a Phase 2 clinical trial of stem cell therapy for age-related macular degeneration this year, while a team from the National Institutes of Health is not far behind: It is planning the first study in humans using what are called induced pluripotent stem cells, which were discovered 12 years ago and won a 2012 Nobel Prize. These cells (iPSCs, for short) are made by sending plain old adult cells back in time, biologically, until they're like embryonic stem cells — but without the ethical baggage those cells carry.

"This will be the first such study for iPSCs for any disease indication worldwide," said Kapil Bharti of the NIH's National Eye Institute. "When iPSCs were discovered in 2007, there was a lot of hype that we could easily turn them into therapies. But there were many unanswered questions" about how to safely make transplantable cells, questions that are only now being answered. "I hope this reignites the field," Bharti said.

He and NEI [National Eye Institute] colleagues reported in Science Translational Medicine [DOI: 10.1126/scitranslmed.aat5580] [DX] on Wednesday that they had used retinal cells created from human iPSCs to treat a form of macular degeneration in rats and pigs, with results promising enough that they hope to start recruiting macular degeneration patients for a clinical trial in the next few weeks. That sets up a face-off between two forms of stem cells. In their trial, scientists at the University of Southern California are starting with stem cells derived from human embryos.

Related: Stem Cell Therapy for Macular Degeneration: Conflicting Reports
Congenital Blindness Reversed in Mice

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Soil Bacteria Found to Produce Mosquito Repelling Chemical Stronger than DEET

Posted: 17 Jan 2019 12:20 PM PST


A trio of researchers at the University of Wisconsin has discovered that a common soil bacterium produces a chemical that is more effective in repelling mosquitoes than DEET[*].

[...] The researchers report that their study began with Xenorhabdus budapestensis, a type of bacteria that takes up residence in soil-dwelling nematodes. The nematodes actually use the bacteria to help them parasitize insects. The researchers wanted to learn more about how the bacteria help kill insects and, in the process, found that mosquitoes were quite averse to its presence.

[...] Further testing showed that the chemical was up to three times more repellent than DEET. The team also found that high concentrations of the chemical served well as a repellent, while small concentrations worked well as a deterrent from drinking the blood from a treated surface. The researchers note that their work is purely preliminary, they have no idea if the chemical would be safe for human use, or if it could be made in mass quantities.

[...] More information: Mayur K. Kajla et al. Bacteria: A novel source for potent mosquito feeding-deterrents, Science Advances (2019). DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.aau6141

[*] From Wikipedia, DEET: "N,N-Diethyl-meta-toluamide, also called DEET (/diːt/) or diethyltoluamide, is the most common active ingredient in insect repellents."

Let's hope they can get it to market before summer.

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Quinoa and Other Grains Used in Whiskey

Posted: 17 Jan 2019 10:43 AM PST

Quinoa Whiskey? Modified Crop List Spurs Distilleries To Try Alternative Grains

By definition, whiskey is a grain spirit. And until now, that "grain" has been limited by federal law to four specific crops: corn, wheat, rye and barley. So when Darek Bell, founder of Corsair Distillery in Nashville, Tenn., wanted to start experimenting with alternatives, there wasn't really a playbook to follow. "We started looking at a whole lot of grains that were coming out of sort of the health food movement, the green movement," Bell said. "We're thinking, 'What would it taste like to distill this?'"

Bell and Corsair settled on quinoa — partly, Bell said, because of its distinct flavor and partly because of the perceived health benefits (none of which, unfortunately, can really withstand the distillation process). The distillery has been producing and distributing quinoa whiskey since 2011. Other spirits and liquor companies have been using quinoa in their products; FAIR, a French distillery, launched quinoa vodka in 2012, while several craft breweries, like Altiplano and Aqotango, use quinoa in their beers.

With a grain profile of 20 percent quinoa and 80 percent malted barley, Corsair's product is a spirit with a distinctly earthy and nutty flavor that may not immediately register on the palate as "whiskey." And until recently, the federal government didn't recognize it as whiskey either, due to its limited definition of "grains."

At first, the Treasury Department's Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau, also known as the TTB, wanted Corsair to classify the product as a quinoa rum (despite the fact that it contained no fermented cane product). Then, they suggested it be labeled as a "neutral spirit" — a clear liquid distilled from a grain-based mash that holds a high content of ethanol — which didn't really describe the crafted and aged spirit in Corsair's barrels. "Supposedly [a representative from the TTB] called the USDA, [which] said 'Yes, these are in fact grains' and gave us the go-ahead," Bell said.

Then, in early December, the TTB took a step to officially include quinoa as a whiskey grain. On Dec. 3, the TTB outlined a new definition for what crops count as grains as part of a 132-page list of updated recommendations for the labeling of wine, beer and spirits. Per the new TTB proposal, the list of whiskey grains now includes "cereal grains and the seeds of the pseudocereals amaranth, buckwheat and quinoa." And this is a big deal for craft distillers like Bell.

Related: Is Quinoa California's Next Niche Crop?
So Tell Me Again, How Do You Pronounce "Quinoa"?
Why Whisky Tastes Better When Diluted With Water
Canadian Whisky's Long-Awaited Comeback
Endless West Wants to Make Artificial Whiskey — But Who Will Drink It?

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