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Pluto probe sees evidence of ice volcanoes

Image: Piccard Mons
A color-coded topographical map, based on New Horizons data, shows Piccard Mons on the surface of Pluto. The mountain’s structure suggests that it’s an ice volcano. (Credit: NASA / JHUAPL / SwRI)

Scientists with NASA’s New Horizons mission say that at least a couple of the miles-high mountains on Pluto look as if they’re ice-belching volcanoes, providing further evidence that the dwarf planet is geologically active.

Although the case for cryovolcanoes isn’t yet rock-solid, it’s the “least weird explanation” for the observations of 2-mile-high Wright Mons and 3-5-mile-high Piccard Mons, said Oliver White of NASA’s Ames Research Center, a member of the mission’s geology team.

If the mountains’ status is confirmed, “that would be one of the most phenomenal discoveries of New Horizons,” White told reporters. “Whatever they are, they’re definitely weird.”

Image: Wright Mons
Like Piccard Mons, Wright Mons has a summit depression that suggests it’s an ice volcano on Pluto. (Credit: NASA / JHUAPL / SwRI)

Pluto’s potential status as a volcanic world was just one of the revelations that came to light on Monday during a review of New Horizons’ latest discoveries at the annual meeting of the American Astronomical Society’s Division for Planetary Sciences in National Harbor, Md.

“The New Horizons mission has taken what we thought we knew about Pluto and turned it upside down,” Jim Green, director of planetary science at NASA Headquarters, said in a news release about the findings.

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Drone signup will be simple, and wide-ranging

Image: Drone
The Blade 200 QX drone weighs in at about 200 grams, which would be just light enough to be flown without registration, based on reported recommendations. (Credit: Andreas Schneiter via YouTube)

Recreational drones as small as 9 ounces will have to be registered, but users should be able to go through the process online, with no fees, and the same registration number can be used for multiple drones: Those are among the reported recommendations emerging from last week’s meeting of a task force charged with proposing a registration system by Nov. 20.

The task force, which includes representatives from Amazon, Walmart, Alphabet(Google’s parent company) and other industry types as well as hobbyists, met in Washington under the auspices of the Federal Aviation Administration. It hasn’t yet issued any formal findings, but reports from The Associated Press, The Washington Post and The Wall Street Journal provide a consistent account of what was decided.

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Missile launch sparks UFO freakout in L.A.

Image: Light in sky
A missile launch lit up the skies at around 6 p.m. PT Saturday. (Credit: Julien Solomita via YouTube)

An unannounced Trident missile launch lit up the skies over Los Angeles on Saturday night, setting off a hail of UFO reports, tense tweets and YouTube videos.

After the flare-up, the U.S. Navy confirmed that the USS Kentucky, an Ohio-class ballistic missile submarine that’s homeported at the Bangor submarine base on the Kitsap Peninsula, conducted a “scheduled, on-going system evaluation test” in the Navy’s Pacific Test Range off the coast of Southern California. The missile was not armed, the Navy said in its statement.

It’s typical for the Navy to refrain from announcing Trident test launches in advance, but it’s definitely not typical for the launch to be witnessed by millions of people in one of the nation’s most populous regions.

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Scan hints at hidden chamber in Tut’s tomb

Infrared imaging conducted inside King Tutankhamun’s tomb in Egypt has raised hopes that it has a hidden chamber, which would be in line with archaeologist Nicholas Reeves’ recently published suggestions that another royal burial chamber could be discovered there. And there’s more to come.

Image: Eldamaty with camera
Egyptian Antiquities Minister Mamdouh Eldamaty holds an infrared camera that can scan the walls of King Tutakhamun’s tomb for temperature differences. (Credit: MInistry of Antiquities via Facebook)

Could the chamber have been built for Queen Nefertiti, thought to be Tut’s mother? Or for Kiya, a lesser wife of Tut’s father, Akhenaten? Could there be intact remains and 3,300-year-old treasures inside, as there were when Tutakhamun was discovered almost exactly 93 years ago in 1922?

Let’s not get ahead of ourselves: So far, the Egyptian Ministry of Antiquities has said only that a preliminary analysis of the infrared scans “indicates the presence of an area different in its temperature than the other parts of the northern wall.”

Further scans will be needed to confirm the results and pinpoint the area of temperature difference, the ministry said. But if the effect is confirmed, it could be caused by an open space behind the wall, which wouldn’t hold heat as well as the solid rock or soil surrounding other parts of the tomb.

That would be consistent with Reeves’ claim that there’s a continuation of Tut’s tomb lying beyond the boy-king’s burial chamber as it’s seen today, a space “containing the undisturbed burial of the tomb’s original owner – Nefertiti.” He said another hidden storeroom may lie beyond the western wail.

Reeves, who’s director of the Amarna Royal Tombs Project and senior archaeologist with the University of Arizona Egyptian Expedition, made his claims on the basis ofFactum Arte’s recent high-resolution images of the chamber’s walls. He said the images appeared to show the “ghosts” of hitherto-unrecognized doorways that had been covered over. When he published his paper on the subject this summer, it sounded like the stuff of an Indiana Jones movie. But the infrared scanning project’s initial results add weight to Reeves’ hypothesis.

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How many martinis? Bond Index tracks 007

Image: SPECTRE stars
Daniel Craig and Lea Seydoux star in “SPECTRE,” the latest 007 movie. (MGM / Columbia Pictures)

Here’s a different kind of Bond index: In honor of the latest 007 movie, “SPECTRE,” Bloomberg Business tracked eight metrics across all 3,053 minutes and 33 seconds of the 24 James Bond films released over the past 53 years.

Among the highlights:

  • Bond is wearing a suit or a tuxedo for nearly 18 hours out of the total 51 hours.
  • He introduces himself as “Bond. James Bond” 26 times over the course of the 24 films.
  • He spends more than 5 percent of his on-screen time flirting, seducing or being “otherwise intimate.”
  • Pierce Brosnan’s Bond set the record for most gadgets used in a film. (16, in “Die Another Day”).
  • Bond or another character orders a total of 16 martinis for him in 24 films. That counts the controversial dirty vodka martini that Bond quaffs in “SPECTRE.”

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Boeing and Lockheed protest bomber snub

Image: Northrop Grumman ad
Northrop Grumman has been given an Air Force contract to build the Long Range Strike Bomber – a concept that was touted in a Super Bowl ad. (Northrop Grumman photo)

Boeing and Lockheed Martin say they’ve filed a formal protest of last month’s Pentagon decision to award a bomber contract worth as much as $80 billion to a competitor, Northrop Grumman.

The stealthy Long Range Strike Bomber is scheduled for deployment in the 2020s as a replacement for the Air Force’s decades-old B-1 and B-52 bombers. The Boeing-Lockheed team and Northrop Grumman both put in proposals, and both teams saw the contract as crucial for their long-term military business.

The Air Force made its selection using a mostly classified process, and announced the award to Northrop Grumman on Oct. 27. In today’s statement, Boeing and Lockheed Martin said the process was “fundamentally flawed.”

“The cost evaluation performed by the government did not properly reward the contractors’ proposals to break the upward-spiraling historical cost curves of defense acquisitions, or properly evaluate the relative or comparative risk of the competitors’ ability to perform, as required by the solicitation,” the companies said.

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No alien signals heard from anomalous star

Image: Allen Telescope Array
The Allen Telescope Array looks for alien radio signals. (Credit: Seth Shostak / SETI Institute)

The SETI Institute says it hasn’t detected any alien radio signals coming from a star whose light seems to be dimming in a weird way, but it’s too early to determine what kind of phenomenon is behind the pattern.

The star, which is known as KIC 8462852 and lies about 1,500 light-years from Earth in the constellation Cygnus, has been the focus of otherworldly buzz for the past month due to anomalous observations gathered by NASA’s Kepler Space Telescope. Kepler’s data suggested that the star goes dramatically dim on an irregular schedule, at intervals ranging from five to 80 days.

Astronomers said the best natural explanation for the effect appeared to be a swarm of comets that just happened to be passing across the star’s disk when Kepler was looking. But one research team, led by Penn State astronomer Jason Wright, speculated that the effect could be caused by an alien megastructure that was being built around the star.

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Boeing misses out on NASA cargo contract

Image: Starliner
An artist’s conception shows Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner space taxi in orbit. (Credit: Boeing)

Boeing says it’s out of the running for NASA’s next contract to deliver cargo to the International Space Station, but it’ll still be sending up cargo as well as astronauts on its CST-100 Starliner spaceship under the terms of different deal.

The update came as NASA said that its selection of contractors for the second round of commercial resupply services for the space station, previously scheduled to be announced today, would have to wait.

“CRS2 is a complex procurement,” NASA said in an emailed statement. “The anticipated award date has been revised to no later than January 30, 2016, to allow time to complete a thorough proposal evaluation and selection. Since the agency is in the process of evaluating proposals, we are in a procurement communications blackout. For that reason, NASA cannot answer questions about this procurement at this time.”

The CRS2 contracts are likely to be worth billions of dollars, and would cover a period running from 2018 to 2024.

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How solar storms blasted Mars’ atmosphere

Image: Mars transition
Atmospheric readings from NASA’s MAVEN orbiter, shown in this artist’s conception, are helping scientists figure out how Mars’ climate changed from warm to cold. (Credit: LASP / NASA)

Scientists studying Mars’ atmosphere say solar storms probably played a big role in transforming the Red Planet from the warm, hospitable place it was billions of years ago to the cold world it is today.

That’s just one of the many findings about Mars found in four dozen research papers published today by Science and Geophysical Research Letters. The source of the scientific cornucopia is NASA’s $671 million MAVEN mission, which put a bus-sized spacecraft into Martian orbit last year.

The mission’s name is an acronym that stands for Mars Atmosphere and VolatileEvolutioN. Its aim is to measure the current dynamics of the Martian atmosphere – and then factor those measurements into models to figure out how Mars lost much of its air billions of years ago.

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James Bond’s SPECTRE tech: 7 gadgets for 007

Image: SPECTRE
James Bond (played by Daniel Craig) checks out an Aston Martin DB10 sports car as geekmaster Q (Ben Whishaw) looks on. (Credit: MGM Pictures / Columbia Pictures / Eon Productions)

What’s a James Bond movie without gadgets? “SPECTRE,” the latest film in the decades-long series, delivers way-out innovations that aren’t yet ready for real life, tributes to classic gee-whiz-ware and a couple of high-tech twists that are ripped from the headlines.

Here are seven technological tropes to watch for when Bond goes after the shadowy crime organization known as SPECTRE.

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