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Radar hints at hidden chambers in Tut’s tomb

Image: Tut's tomb scanned
Japanese radar expert Hirokatsu Watanabe scans the walls of King Tutankhamun’s burial chamber. (Credit: National Geographic Channel via YouTube)

Radar scans have turned up fresh evidence of hidden chambers beyond the walls of King Tutankhamun’s burial chamber in Egypt’s Valley of the Kings, Egypt’s Ministry of Antiquities reported today.

The scans were supervised by Japanese radar specialist Hirokatsu Watanabe on Thursday and Friday. They add to the evidence from thermal infrared imaging and a close examination of the chamber’s northern and western walls. Egyptian officials gave the go-ahead for the scans to check out archaeologist Nicholas Reeves’ claimthat the 3,300-year-old tomb was originally meant for Tut’s stepmother, Nefertiti, and retrofitted after the boy-king’s untimely death.

In a Facebook posting, the ministry said the preliminary readings “reveal a vacancy behind the northern wall of the tomb, which strongly indicates the existence of a new burial chamber.” Further analysis will be required over the next month, but the ministry said there was hope that “an enormous archaeological discovery will be declared soon.”

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LHC milestone re-ignites doomsday talk

Image: ALICE collision
This computer graphic shows one of the first collisions recorded between two lead ions at the Large Hadron Collider’s top energy. The energy in the center-of-mass system is approximately a quadrillion electron-volts. (Credit: CERN / ALICE Collaboration)

The Large Hadron Collider set another record for particle-smashing energy levels this week – which set off another round of hyped-up rumblings about the end of the world.

Before the LHC’s startup in 2008, the Internet was set abuzz with worries that high-energy collisions could create globe-gobbling black holes or cosmos-wrecking strangelets. Protests were mounted, lawsuits were filed, and physicists at Europe’s CERN particle physics center had to explain in depth why the nightmare scenarios were nothing more than nightmares. Once the collider went into operation, the lawsuits were dismissed and the hand-wringing settled down.

Now the world’s largest collider is operating at near its design limits, and this week, CERN reported that lead-ion collisions in the LHC’s ALICE detectorreached energies beyond a quadrillion electron-volts – a level also known as 1 peta-electron-volt, or 1 PeV.

“This energy is that of a bumblebee hitting us on the cheek on a summer day. But the energy is concentrated in a volume that is approximately 10 -27 (a billion-billion-billion) times smaller,” Jens Jørgen Gaardhøje, professor at the Niels Bohr Institute at the University of Copenhagen and head of the Danish research group within the ALICE experiment, said in a news release.

At first blush, a quadrillion electron-volts sounds like a huge ramp-up from 13 trillion to 14 trillion electron-volts, or 13 to 14 TeV, the traditionally quoted figures for the high end of the LHC’s collision energy. That’s what set off the doomsayers. In the weeks leading up to the ALICE collisions, there was a drumbeat of postings claiming that “CERN LIED” and warning that 1-PeV smashups would have catastrophic consequences.

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What mobile phone data can reveal about you

Image: Rwandans with phones
The mobile phone penetration rate in Rwanda is more than 70 percent. (Credit: Joshua Blumenstock)

Researchers have analyzed data about mobile phone use in Rwanda to figure out how wealthy a phone’s user is – and they say they might be able to do the same kind of analysis for any other country.

The study, published today in the journal Science, applies big-data models to look at much more than income. The Rwandan data, for example, could be massaged to predict which phone users owned a motorcycle or a TV.

Joshua Blumenstock, the study’s lead author and an information scientist at the University of Washington, is now working on a follow-up project to see how easily the computer models can be applied to places beyond Rwanda.

“In every country, we hypothesize that there’s a relationship between how people use their phone and how wealthy they are,” he said in a Science podcast. “The exact nature of that relationship is going to change from one country to another, and it might even change from one year to the next within a country. But fundamentally, you’d think that there are these relationships that exist.”

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Newly signed law lays out space resource rights

Image: Asteroid mining
Artwork shows a spacecraft mining an asteroid. (Credit: Bryan Versteeg / Deep Space Industries)

President Barack Obama today put his signature on a law supporting the rights of space miners to extract, use and sell resources from asteroids, the moon, Mars and other celestial bodies – giving space-minded entrepreneurs something extra to be thankful for.

“This is the single greatest recognition of property rights in history,” Eric Anderson, co-founder and co-chairman of Redmond-based Planetary Resources, said in a news release. “This legislation establishes the same supportive framework that created the great economies of history, and will encourage the sustained development of space.”

Anderson’s company has said the asteroid mining industry could eventually grow to trillions of dollars a year – but that’s dependent on the establishment of a spacefaring infrastructure that can use the off-earth water and other raw materials from near-Earth asteroids.

It’s also dependent on the establishment a legal infrastructure that lets miners keep what they get. That’s what the newly signed law, known as the U.S. Commercial Space Launch Competitiveness Act (H.R.2262), is expected to start doing.

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Alien megastructure? Nothing to see here

Image: Comets and star
his illustration shows a star behind a shattered comet. Observations of the star KIC 8462852 by NASA’s Kepler and Spitzer space telescopes suggest that its unusual light signals are probably due to dusty comet fragments that blocked the light of the star. (Credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech)

Recent infrared observations of a star that once showed a pattern of weird dimming have turned up no anomalous readings, astronomers say – and that supports the view that a comet blitz rather than the construction of an alien megastructure was behind the earlier observations.

The latest evidence, laid out in a paper published in the Astrophysical Journal Letters, isn’t exactly surprising. The passing of a shattered comet was seen as the leading orthodox explanation for the star KIC 8462852’s strange behavior.

But there was also the unorthodox explanation. The readings from the star, gathered by NASA’s Kepler space telescope and analyzed by a citizen-science project known as the Planet Hunters, created a stir because of a potential alien connection.

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Jeff Bezos spaces out: ‘I can’t wait to go!’

Image: Jeff Bezos and champagne
Jeff Bezos, the founder of Amazon and Blue Origin, sprays champagne from a bottle after the successful landing of the New Shepard rocket booster on Monday. (Credit: Blue Origin via YouTube)

Amazon’s billionaire founder, Jeff Bezos, says watching his Blue Origin rocket make a safe landing after flying into space rates as one of the greatest moments of his life, and he can’t wait to take a ride himself.

In an exclusive GeekWire interview, conducted on the morning after the New Shepard test mission, Bezos answered questions about what the flight means for Blue Origin, the space venture he founded … why he waited so long to start tweeting … and when the rest of us will get a suborbital space ride. He also stirred the pot in his rivalry with that other billionaire space geek, SpaceX founder Elon Musk.

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Amazon’s Jeff Bezos tweets for the first time

The flight of Blue Origin’s New Shepard rocket ship on an uncrewed trip to space and back may be history-making, but here’s a first that’s almost as big for social media: Jeff Bezos’ maiden tweet.

One of Bezos’ biggest rivals in the space game is SpaceX’s billionaire founder, Elon Musk, who weighed in with an artful series of tweets that started out praising Blue Origin’s test flight but ended up downplaying it.

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Blue Origin sends rocket to space, gets it back

Image: New Shepard launch
Blue Origin’s New Shepard rocket ship rises from its launch pad. (Credit: Blue Origin)

Blue Origin, the space venture founded by Amazon billionaire Jeff Bezos, successfully sent its New Shepard rocket ship to outer space for the first time on Monday – and even more amazingly, brought every piece back down to Earth for a soft landing.

“Now safely tucked away at our launch site in West Texas is the rarest of beasts, a used rocket,” Bezos wrote in a blog posting that spread the news and shared a video.

Bezos makes a couple of cameo appearances in the video – including a shot showing him taking a seat in the control room before launch, and a post-landing scene in which he pops open a champagne bottle. (He’s the guy wearing the hat and sunglasses.)

The achievement arguably qualifies New Shepard as the “first fully reusable rocket” to go into space, said Jessica Pieczonka, a spokeswoman for Blue Origin. The flight comes after more than a decade of effort and several test flights at Blue Origin’s launch facility near Van Horn, Texas. The company is headquartered in Kent, Wash., and recently struck a deal for a $200 million launch and manufacturing complex in Florida.

Blue Origin’s aim is to reduce the cost of sending people and payloads to the final frontier – first, on suborbital up-and-down trajectories, and eventually into orbit and back. The venture follows through on Bezos’ childhood dream of spaceflight.

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FAA shares drone registration recommendations

A task force says recreational drones larger than 9 ounces should be registered. (Credit: FAA)
A task force says recreational drones larger than 9 ounces should be registered. (Credit: FAA)

The Federal Aviation Administration has released a task force’s recommendations for setting up a registration system for recreational drones – and the full report includes fresh details about how the system would work.

The main recommendations filtered out two weeks ago, soon after the task force wrapped up its meeting in Washington, D.C.: The registration procedure should apply to unmanned airborne systems that weigh 9 ounces or more, it should be free and easy to register online, and one registration number could be used on multiple drones operated by the same person.

Here are more of the details from the report:

Drone operators would be required to enter their name and street address into a Web-based or app-based registry, but other contact details – such as email and phone number – would be optional. The system would be powered by an API that multiple websites can feed into. That means manufacturers could set up their own registration sites.

New drone owners wouldn’t be required to register at the point of sale. That’s because it wouldn’t be illegal to own an unregistered drone. It’d only be illegal tooperate a registered drone outdoors. (Indoor drone flying would be unregulated.)

In return for signing up, operators would get a certificate of registration that they’d have to carry with them (in printed or electronic form) whenever they’re flying their drone.

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General relativity gets a 100th birthday party

Image: Albert Einstein
Albert Einstein works at the blackboard during a lecture in Vienna in 1921. (F. Schmutzer via Wikipedia)

This week’s 100th anniversary of Albert Einstein’s general theory of relativity is a geeky cause for celebration, but what’s arguably the concept’s toughest test has just gotten under way.

General relativity was a follow-up to special relativity, Einstein’s big idea from a decade earlier. Back in 1905, he worked out a way to explain why the speed of light is constant, regardless of an observer’s point of view: It’s because space and time are not inflexible metrics, but interrelated dimensions that are measured differently depending on your perspective.

Special relativity explained a lot of the weirdness that physicists were puzzling over at the time, but the theory applied only to “special” conditions that didn’t involve acceleration – for example, how things fall in a gravitational field. On Nov. 25, 1915, Einstein laid out how the interplay of space and time gives rise to gravity and the fabric of the cosmos.

The theory passed its first big test in 1919, when observations during a total solar eclipse were found to be more consistent with Einstein’s view of gravity than with Isaac Newton’s. General relativity has been passing tests ever since. For example, if we didn’t take relativistic effects into account, our GPS readings would seem out of whack.

This week is prime time for centennial retrospectives on the theory and its implications. Here are a few to keep you entertained.

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