It’s hard to watch anything in the sky explode and not think: holy shit, what a disaster! But when a SpaceX Falcon 9 Reusable (F9R) test rocket exploded over Texas yesterday, it wasn’t really a disaster. For starters, no one was inside, and secondly, self-detonation is what such crafts do when they realize there’s been some kind of technical glitch or error. So on the one hand, the safety measure worked; on the other, it’s never really an awesome thing for a test rocket to have an error that prompts it to self-detonate.
I’ve never been much of a fan of Discovery Channel’s popular series Mythbusters. While I appreciate the scientific aspect of it, the look-how-wacky-we-are delivery always rubbed me the wrong way. Still, there are a great number of fans out there—just watch prime time TV some night to see the hosts in all manner of advertisements if you need a hint a how popular the show is—and it is light years better than the vast majority of reality TV out there (I’ve seriously been unfollowing people who tweet about Big Brother). And no matter how you feel about it, Mythbusters is about to undergo significant changes.
Hosts Adam Savage (the red-headed guy) and Jamie Hyneman (the guy who looks like a grumpy walrus) are the main faces of the show, but they’ve also have a trio of supporting players—Kari Byron, Tory Belleci, and Grant Imahara—as back up. Or at least had, because according to reports, the three members of the “Build Team,” who have grown quite popular in their own right, are leaving the show. It actually sounds very much like they’ve been fired, but since we’re not privy to that kind of insider information, we can only speculate.
In “Blues for a Red Planet,” the fifth episode of the original Cosmos, Carl Sagan focuses on Mars and the possibility of finding life there (at the time of filming, water had not yet been found on the planet’s surface). Sagan believed that life once existed on the Red Planet, and that it probably still did, at least in microbial form. He supported this claim by talking about a colleague and friend of his who spent time (and eventually lost his life) exploring the Antarctic, proving that such life existed even there. It’s hard to imagine how anything could survive in that climate, often devoid of sunlight and piled endlessly with ice, but as always, life finds a way.
A group of researchers from the WISSARD (Whillans Ice Stream Subglacial Access Research Drilling) expedition team have been exploring the Western Antarctic Ice Sheet, which contains roughly 10% of the continent’s ice. The team found a flourishing ecosystem roughly half a mile below the ice sheet’s surface in a frozen lake that hasn’t been touched by sunlight or air for millions of years. In a paper recently published in Nature, they were able to, “prove unequivocally to the world that Antarctica is not a dead continent,” said the project’s chief scientist John Priscu.
The Meteorite of Serooskerken fell to Earth in 1925, landing in the southwest Netherlands province of Zeeland (an apt name for a space rock, no?) It’s one of five meteorites that have ever landed in the country—I guess they don’t like going Dutch?—so it’s been prized ever since, safely stored in a museum. Or so they thought.
Given how susceptible smartphones are to hacking, if the military switches from radio to those devices, it will need to take measures to become more secure, among other things, and load them with apps and utilities that soldiers can use on the battlefield. The Institute for Software Integration Systems (ISIS—not to be confused with the other ISIS you’ve been reading about on the news these days) is working on just that as part of DARPA’s Transformative Apps program, which seeks to “develop a diverse array of militarily-relevant software applications using an innovative new development and acquisition process.” The problem is that TransApp funding is about to run out, which means DARPA and ISIS are looking for other projects that might help them fulfill the military’s app needs. Right now, the frontrunner seems to be Google’s (formerly Motorola’s) Project Ara.
The concept behind Project Ara is that of a modular smartphone with an open hardware platform that will cost somewhere around $50. It began with Motorola’s ATAP (Advanced Technologies and Products) program, which Google retained after it sold the company. At the helm of ATAP is a former DARPA director, who has helped with the cohesion between ATAP, ISIS, and DARPA to create a modular phone that can be assembled and changed on the fly as determined by the military’s needs.
We all know that any smart device or computer system can be hacked these days, but if you start actually enumerating all of the vulnerable gadgets, it gets a bit overwhelming. Phones, smart appliances, fitness trackers all connect to an app that stores your personal information. But that’s not all. Researchers at the University of Michigan recently published a paper in which they show how easy it is to hack traffic lights. Wonderful.
With the help of a Michigan road agency, the team hacked actual stoplights in a city in Michigan. They demonstrated that the current system of IP-based networked traffic lights that send and receive information from a central point might save money, but that its use of wireless radios is a vulnerability that’s troublingly easy to exploit.