Tag Archives: US & World

Tourism in Thailand Goes on Despite Martial Law

Thai

Tourists take pictures of Thai soldiers guarding outside Thai police headquarters Tuesday, May 20, 2014 in Bangkok, Thailand.
Image: Sakchai Lalit/Associated Press

Tourism is so important to Thailand that the announcement of martial law in the nation included a concession for travelers.

On Thursday, Thailand’s military chief announced the military had taken control of the government; a curfew has been imposed for the entire nation between 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. each night. While areas in northern and southern Thailand have remained relatively calm, Bangkok has been hit hard by the unrest. The military chief said that security would be provided to foreigners, but travelers are advised to obey the curfew.

Travel and tourism made up $73.8 billion of Thailand’s gross domestic product in 2013, according to the World Travel and Tourism Council. Thailand’s travel industry provided 2,563,000 jobs last year, accounting for 6.6% of the country’s total employment.

A booming tourism industry is an obvious fit for a country with gorgeous beaches, crystal blue water and a warm climate, but military takeovers are not an unfamiliar event in the country. There have been at least a dozen successful or attempted coups in Thailand since 1932. The military’s announcement on May 22 comes after months of unrest, beginning in November of last year.

Even a country with practice operating during political unrest cannot avoid all negative impact on its tourism industry.

Last Friday the U.S. State Department issued a travel alert for Thailand. Although the alert is less serious than a warning — which the State Department has issued recently for countries like North Korea — the U.S. is still making sure travelers are aware of potential risks:

Demonstrations, primarily in the greater Bangkok area and occasionally elsewhere in Thailand, are continuing, and there have been regular incidents of violence. U.S. citizens are advised to avoid all protests, demonstrations, and large gatherings. Protests may occur in Bangkok or in nearby areas with little or no prior notice.

Even in Bangkok, the airports, hotels and tourist attractions are still open. Travelers in the northern and southern areas of the country are still enjoying pristine beaches and tropical flora, and many are still visiting the capital city.

The U.S. Embassy in Bangkok advised U.S. citizens “to stay alert, exercise caution, and monitor media coverage,” in a security message. “You are advised to avoid areas where there are protest events, large gatherings, or security operations and follow the instructions of Thai authorities.”

The Tourism Authority of Thailand is providing updates for travelers on its website.

Obama: If You Trust Your Congress, Trust in the NSA Data Collection

Obamashadow

On Friday afternoon, President Obama responded for the first time to the revelations of various National Security Agency data gathering programs—from recording all call records in and outside of the United States, to the PRISM program, which reportedly taps into the data streams of some of the largest data hosting companies in the country.

Here’s the gist: Although you, the citizens, have not heard of this, we have substantial oversight on these programs involving every branch of government. Legislators have been briefed (in regards to the telephone data, he said all members knew), and “if anybody in government wanted to go further than that top-line data … they would have to go back to a federal judge,” Obama said.

Basically, if you trust the system, you should trust us.

“In the abstract you can complain about Big Brother and how this is a potential program run amok,” the president said. “But if you look at the details … I think we have struck a nice balance.”

The president also reassured that “no one is listening to your telephone calls” and that although he came into office with “a healthy skepticism about these programs,” he is reassured that they don’t overreach. “The modest encroachments on privacy that are involved … it was worth us doing,” he said.

Image via Win McNamee/Getty Images

This article originally published at National Journal
here

Read more: http://mashable.com/2013/06/07/president-obama-nsa-response/

How to Watch Tonight’s Blue Moon Online

How-to-watch-tonight-s-blue-moon-online-cd53ea2b20

Night sky observers around the world will have the chance to see a special full moon — one that has been dubbed a “blue moon” — on Aug. 31. But, even those who are thwarted by less-than-ideal conditions outside will be able to tune in online to see spectacular lunar views.

The web-based Slooh Space Camera, which showcases live views from various telescopes around the world, is hosting a special broadcast of the blue moon on Friday, beginning at 6 p.m. EDT (2200 GMT).

Slooh’s program will feature live shots of the moon from an observatory in the Canary Islands, off the coast of Africa and views of the sun from the Prescott Observatory in Arizona. The dual feeds will treat viewers to simultaneous real-time observations of the moon and sun in true color, Slooh officials said.

The broadcast will also pay tribute to the life of astronaut Neil Armstrong, the first man to walk on the moon. Armstrong died on Aug. 25 at the age of 82, following complications from heart surgery.

Astronomer Bob Berman, Slooh editor and a columnist at Astronomy Magazine will be joined by Duncan Copp, the filmmaker and producer behind the acclaimed documentary In the Shadow of the Moon, to discuss Armstrong’s life and NASA’s Apollo moon program.

(SPACE.com)

“This Blue Moon that Slooh will explore Friday night is somewhat rare, but not as rare as the courage and talent of the late Neil Armstrong, the first human to set foot on our nearest celestial neighbor,” Berman said in a statement. “To honor him, Slooh will explore the Sea of Tranquility with its Canary Island 20-inch telescope, live, and have guests who will reveal some of the lesser-known secrets of that historic 1969 event. I think many of our visitors will be in for quite a surprise.”

The blue moon webcast can be accessed by visiting the Slooh Space Camera’s website. Viewers can also tune in on their IOS or Android mobile devices, according to Slooh officials.

This week’s blue moon will be the last one visible until July 2015, Slooh officials said. Interestingly enough, the term “blue moon” does not refer to the moon’s color, but rather has to do with it being the second of two full moons within the same calendar month.

The definition of a blue moon, as we use it today, was actually the result of a mistake. Long ago, the term “blue moon” was used to describe absurd happenings.

In 1946, amateur astronomer James Pruett misinterpreted the term as it was used in the Maine Farmers’ Almanac. Pruett penned a piece for Sky & Telescope magazine with the incorrect assumption that a blue moon refers to the second full moon of a month with two (rather than the third full moon in a season that has four of them, as was written in the almanac).

The first full moon of this month occurred on Aug. 1. Typically, blue moons occur every 2.7 years, and while they do not differ much from other full moons, the lunar views on Friday should serve as a fitting tribute to the legacy of Armstrong and the Apollo program.

Image courtesy of NASA.

This article originally published at Space.com
here

Read more: http://mashable.com/2012/08/31/watch-blue-moon-online/

Chinese Workers Face Competition From Robots

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One of the defining narratives of modern China has been the migration of young workers — often girls in their late teenage years — from the countryside into sprawling cities for jobs in factories. Many found work at Foxconn, which employs nearly 1 million low-wage workers to hand-assemble electronic gadgets for Apple, Nintendo, Intel, Dell, Nokia, Microsoft, Samsung and Sony.

So it was a surprise when Terry Guo, the hard-charging, 61-year-old billionaire CEO of Foxconn, said last July that the Taiwan-based manufacturing giant would add up to 1 million industrial robots to its assembly lines inside of three years.

The aim: to automate assembly of electronic devices just as companies in Japan, South Korea and the United States previously automated much of the production of automobiles.

Foxconn, one of China’s largest private employers, has long played an outsize role in China’s labor story. It has used cheap labor to attract multinational clients but now faces international scrutiny over low pay and what some see as inhumane working conditions.

“Automation is the beginning of the end of the factory girl, and that’s a good thing,” says David Wolf, a Beijing-based strategic communications and IT analyst. Wolf, who has visited many Chinese factory floors, predicts an eventual labor shift similar to “the decline of seamstresses or the secretarial pool in America.”

Since the announcement, Guo hasn’t offered more details, keeping observers guessing about whether Foxconn’s plans are real. (Through its public-relations firm, Burson-Marsteller, Foxconn declined to describe its progress.) Trade groups also haven’t seen the huge orders for industrial robots that Foxconn would need, although some experts believe the company may be developing its own robots in house.

“Guo has good reasons for not waving his flag about this too much,” says Wolf. Keeping quiet could give Foxconn a jump on competitors. What’s more, with the Chinese economy slowing down, “it is politically inadvisable to talk too much about replacing people with robots,” he says.

China’s leaders see employment as essential to maintaining a harmonious society. The imperative of creating jobs often trumps that of efficiency. For instance, Wang Mengshu, deputy chief engineer at China Railway Tunnel Group, says that labor-saving equipment isn’t always used even when it’s available. “If all the new tunnels were built with the advanced equipment, that would trim the need for the employment of about six million migrant workers,” he says. “In certain fields we don’t want to have fast development in China, in order to solve the national employment problem.”

About 300,000 Chinese workers currently live in dormitories at Foxconn’s Longhua factory complex, where Apple products are assembled. Most spend their days seated beside a conveyer belt, wearing white gowns, face masks and hairnets so that stray hairs and specks of dust won’t interfere as they perform simple but precise tasks, again and again.

Each worker focuses on a single action, like putting stickers on the front of an iPhone or packing a finished product into a box. As managers told ABC’s Nightline — which aired a rare look inside the factory in February — it takes five days and 325 steps to assemble an iPad.

Such highly structured and predictable tasks are well suited to automation, says Jamie Wang, a Taipei-based analyst for the research firm Gartner. Industrial robots, typically equipped with a movable arm, use lasers or pressure sensors to know when to start and finish a job. A robot can be operated 160 hours a week. Even assuming competition from nimble-fingered humans putting in 12-hour shifts, a single robot might replace two workers, and possibly as many as four.

Wang stresses that Foxconn can’t replace human workers right away because automating assembly lines would require rejiggering its entire manufacturing process. Larger changes in China also won’t occur overnight. Smaller Chinese factories can’t afford to invest in robotics, and factory wages are still relatively low — about $315 to $400 per month in the Pearl River Delta, according to Liu Kaiming, director of a Shenzhen-based labor organization called the Institute of Contemporary Observation.

Despite that, Foxconn isn’t the only Chinese manufacturer betting on robots. The International Federation of Robotics, based in Frankfurt, tracked a 50% jump in purchases of advanced industrial robots by Chinese manufacturers in 2011, to 22,600 units, and now predicts that China will surpass Japan as the world’s largest market in two years. It’s obvious, Wolf says, that industrial robotics “is about to get very hot in China.”

Image courtesy of iStock, loonger

This article originally published at MIT Technology Review
here

Read more: http://mashable.com/2012/07/17/industrial-robots-china-workers/

Why Insiders, Not Hackers, Are Biggest Threat to Cybersecurity

Cybersecurity

The NSA leaks perpetrated by Edward Snowden will easily go down as one of the biggest revelations of the year, if not the decade. But the episode also raises new questions about the risk that insiders pose to government and corporate cybersecurity, in spite of the attention lavished on foreign hackers.

Snowden’s case is unique in that it uncovered a previously unknown surveillance apparatus that’s massive in size and scope. It’s not unique, however, in the way the whistleblower did his deed. Two-thirds of all reported data breaches involve internal actors wittingly or unwittingly bringing sensitive information to outsiders, according to industry analysts.

“It’s not an either-or proposition,” said Mike DuBose, a former Justice Department official who led the agency’s efforts on trade-secret theft. “But amidst all the concern and discussion over foreign hacking, what gets lost is the fact that the vast majority of serious breaches involving trade secrets or other proprietary or classified information are still being committed by insiders.”

DuBose is now the head of the Cyber Investigations unit at the risk-management firm Kroll Advisory Solutions. In February, his team authored a report warning that contractors, information-technology personnel and disgruntled employees—all descriptors that fit Snowden pretty well—pose a greater threat than hackers, “both in frequency and in damage caused.”

Not everyone agrees. Even though insiders generally play an outsized role across all reported data breaches, their role in confirmed data breaches is rather small, according to an annual study by Verizon. In 2012 specifically, internal actors accounted for 14% of confirmed data breaches. Of those, system administrators were responsible for 16%.

“Our findings consistently show,” the report read, “that external actors rule.”

However common they are, cases like Snowden’s show how devastating one insider can be. The extent of the damage depends on what’s being exfiltrated, and from where, and there aren’t many standards for calculating losses. Most companies estimate the value of their trade secrets based on how much money they sank into the research and development of that knowledge. But for the government, it’s the potential impact on security that takes precedence—and that turns the question into a matter of subjective debate.

Last month, The Washington Post reported that Chinese spies compromised the designs for some of the Pentagon’s most sensitive weapons systems, including the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, the V-22 Osprey tiltrotor aircraft and the Navy’s new Littoral Combat Ship.

If true, the report could have major consequences for national security. But Snowden’s case is equally consequential, if for different reasons, and it bolsters DuBose’s point about the relevance of insiders. Snowden may have rightfully uncovered evidence of government overreach, but if a midlevel contractor can steal top-secret information about the NSA and give it to the public in a gesture of self-sacrifice, someone else could do the same and hand the intelligence to more nefarious actors.

Image via iStockphoto, kynny

This article originally published at National Journal
here

Read more: http://mashable.com/2013/06/10/insiders-hackers-cybersecurity/

Genetically Modified Mice May Be Landmine-Sniffing Heroes

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Scientists are engineering a real-life Mighty Mouse that will scurry through fields sniffing out hidden landmines thanks to olfactory superpowers.

The researchers, at Hunter College of the City University of New York, have genetically engineered the animals to be 500 times better equipped than their normal counterparts to sniff out landmine explosives. They hope that these “hero mice” could warn of buried bombs.

Hidden landmines are a deadly reality in nearly 70 countries globally, and detection and removal are expensive and dangerous. Currently, metal detectors, radar, magnetometers and sniffer dogs are used to search for them.

A Belgian organization called APOPO already uses giant African pouched rats as a cheaper way to sniff out landmines. The rats are not genetically modified, but their sense of smell is sharp enough to detect TNT. The bomb-sniffing rats are taught to scratch the ground when they detect a hidden mine (fortunately, they are small enough not to set off the explosives). While the furry minesweepers are effective (with two handlers, they can cover a field in one hour that would take two full days for metal detectors), they need nine months of training to become reliable, a process that costs around 6,000 euros per rat.

The genetically engineered mice, however, are so sensitive to TNT that encountering the molecule is likely to change their behavior involuntarily, so they would need little to no training. Charlotte D’Hulst, a molecular neurobiologist at Hunter College who presented her work at a meeting of the Society for Neuroscience, used genetic modification to ensure that the mice have 10,000 to 1,000,000 odor-sensing neurons with a TNT-detecting receptor compared with only 4,000 in a normal animal, “possibly amplifying the detection limit for this odor 500-fold,” she says.

Each odor-sensing neuron in a mouse’s nose is spotted with one kind of odor receptor. Usually, each specific receptor is found in one out of every thousand odor-sensing neurons, but about half the scent-detecting neurons in D’Hulst’s mice have the TNT-detecting receptor.

This particular odorant receptor was originally identified by Danny Dhanasekaran, a molecular biologist at the University of Oklahoma College of Medicine. Dhanasekaran says that a given odor is usually detected by a handful of different kinds of odorant receptors, which helps natural noses more easily and accurately discern smells. However, by engineering a great abundance of one receptor that detects TNT, D’Hulst and colleagues “could enhance the sensitivity of the system so it can be easily used in operations to detect landmines,” says Dhanasekaran, who is continuing to look for other TNT-type receptors.

D’Hulst hopes this overwhelming dedication to just one odor will provide an easy way to know whether or not the engineered mice have encountered TNT. Recent research suggests that sudden and intense stimulation of the olfactory system will trigger seizures, she says. “We can only hope that our mice will show a seizure behavior … upon detecting landmines. We won’t have to work with food rewards; we will probably use some radio signaling system. A chip implant may track, report, and record their behaviors.” The researchers still need to test the mice in behavioral studies.

Roger Hess, director of field operations for Golden West Humanitarian Foundation, a charity that develops technologies to aid landmine removal, says that while this mine-sniffing method could show promise, it would still depend on detection of trace vapors from the mine. The release of the odor from the ground can depend on soil and water conditions, and the trace of an explosive could be several meters away from where the mine is actually buried, he says. The technique will also not work for mines that have no gaps for the scent of explosives to escape.

“Due to the risk of missing an item, a secondary method would need to be employed,” he says.

Image courtesy of Flickr, jessdamen

This article originally published at MIT Technology Review
here

Read more: http://mashable.com/2012/10/19/mice-landmine-sniffing/

New Methane Detection Tool Could Boost Search for Alien Life

Exoplanets

An artist’s concept of a small planetary system. Astronomers using data from NASA’s Kepler mission and ground-based telescopes recently confirmed that the system, called KOI-961, hosts the three smallest exoplanets known so far to orbit a star other than our sun.
Image: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Astronomers now have a powerful new tool to sniff out methane on alien planets. The organic molecule, considered one of the building blocks of life, could be key to finding organisms beyond Earth.

Using supercomputers, a team of scientists developed a new absorption spectrum for methane that’s 2,000 times more comprehensive than previous models and can detect the molecule at temperatures up to 2,228 degrees Fahrenheit, higher than ever before.

“We’ve probably been waiting for this paper for 10 or 20 years,” said MIT astrophysicist and exoplanet hunter Sara Seager, who was not involved in the study.

Different molecules absorb light in different, telltale ways. When astronomers look at how the atmospheres of exoplanets absorb starlight, they can compare it to a spectrum to identify which molecules these alien worlds are made of. But previous methane spectra left out a range of absorption lines, especially for high temperatures, because no one had undertaken the immense task of calculating how the molecules would absorb light in higher energy states, Seager told Space.com.

The new calculations, led by Sergei Yurchenko, a professor physics and astronomy at University College London, resulted in a list of nearly 10 billion spectroscopic lines, each representing a distinct color at which methane can absorb light. Their findings were detailed June 16 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

To complete the task, they used some of the most advanced supercomputers in the United Kingdom, provided by the University of Cambridge’s Distributed Research utilizing Advanced Computing (DiRAC) project.

“We had to use a lot of computer power,” Yurchenko told Space.com. “It requires millions and millions of CPU [central processing unit] hours.”

The team believes their model could give scientists a more complete picture of the methane abundance on failed stars known as brown dwarfs and alien worlds.

For example, Yurchenko and colleagues found that the so-called “hot Jupiter” HD 189733b — a well-studied, blue-colored exoplanet 63 light-years away from Earth — might have 20 times more methane than previously believed. But methane is just one component of this alien planet’s hellish atmosphere, so the finding doesn’t necessarily change the current picture of HD 189733b, where temperatures climb as high as 1,700 degrees Fahrenheit (930 degrees Celsius) during the day and rain comes in the form of molten glass.

A boost in the search for alien life

While methane can be produced by geologic sources, the organic compound also could be a sign of biologic activity. That means finding methane in a planet’s atmosphere could be a potential sign of life.

Astronomers don’t think they’ll find life on a hostile planet like HD 189733b, but with current technology, scientists are often stuck looking at these hot worlds, Yurchenko said. Hot Jupiters are relatively easy to detect because they are huge planets with tight orbits and they block a large portion of light when they pass in front of their parent star. HD189733b, for example, causes a three percent drop in starlight.

Yurchenko said astronomers likely need better detection methods before they can analyze the atmosphere of alien planets in the habitable zone, where water and life could possible exist.

“But if we learn something now about these hot objects that we can observe, then we could get a better idea of the objects that are still to come,” Yurchenko added.

Yurchenko said he is looking forward to the launch of future missions, such as the European Space Agency’s Exoplanet Characterization Observatory, or EChO, and NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope, which might produce better data about a wider variety of alien worlds.

Yurchenko said more research could be done to expand the model to include absorption lines for methane that’s at even higher temperatures. His team is also working on expanding astronomers’ spectral range for about 30 other molecules.

This article originally published at Space.com
here

Read more: http://mashable.com/2014/06/17/methane-tool-search-for-alien-life/

Biggest Threat to the Economy Could Come From Outer Space

Spaceweather

Imagine waking up just after midnight to a sky so bright you swear it must be early morning. Imagine seeing the Northern Lights as far south as Cuba or Hawaii. Imagine that the same phenomena behind both has also generated electric fields in the ground strong enough to power small electronics. That’s what happened in 1859, when the earth was struck by the most severe geomagnetic storm ever recorded.

Forget asset bubbles, recessions, or hurricanes—space weather could prove far more economically harmful. A severe geomagnetic storm—a sudden, violent eruption of gas and magnetic fields from the sun’s surface—could prove particularly devastating. If the 1859 storm, known as the “Carrington event,” were to recur today it could cause trillions of dollars in economic damage and take years to recover from, according to estimates.

The sun would sneeze and the economy could shatter.

That’s a worst-case scenario, of course. NASA Administrator Charles Bolden was less dramatic at a space-weather conference hosted by the agency last week, though he did say such events can be “just as punishing as a tornado” and are “a problem that crosses all borders.” Magnetic storms can force Earth’s magnetic fields to go temporarily haywire, overwhelming power grids.

The 1859 event didn’t cause as much damage as it would today—electrical engineering was in its infancy—but it was globally felt. Here’s how a 2008 space-weather report from the National Academy of Sciences described that year’s storm:

From Aug. 28 through Sept. 4, auroral displays of extraordinary brilliance were observed throughout North and South America, Europe, Asia and Australia, and were seen as far south as Hawaii, the Caribbean and Central America in the Northern Hemisphere and in the Southern Hemisphere as far north as Santiago, Chile.

Even after daybreak, when the aurora was no longer visible, its presence continued to be felt through the effect of the auroral currents. Magnetic observatories recorded disturbances in Earth’s field so extreme that magnetometer traces were driven off scale, and telegraph networks around the world—the “Victorian Internet”—experienced major disruptions and outages…. In several locations, operators disconnected their systems from the batteries and sent messages using only the current induced by the aurora.

In other words, they literally ran the telegraphs from the electrical fields generated by the storm.

The 1859 event may be an extreme case, but there are more-recent examples of such space weather: In March 1989 a geomagnetic storm took down northeastern Canada’s Hydro-Quebec power grid in just 90 seconds, leaving millions without power in the cold for up to nine hours. And a set of “Halloween” solar storms between October and November of 2003 sparked a National Academy of Sciences-led meeting on the societal and economic impact of space weather, which served as the basis of the report.

But it’s not just scientists who are concerned about space weather. Lloyd’s of London, the giant insurer, issued a report on the issue in 2010. In the foreword to the report, Lloyd’s Tom Bolt warned of a scientist-predicted spike between 2012 and 2015. “In terms of cycles, we are in late autumn and heading into winter,” he wrote then. A severe space-weather event could prove devastating, according to the Lloyd’s report.

In the worst case it can permanently damage transformers. In most cases, systems protecting power grids will detect problems and switch off before serious damage occurs. However, this may lead to a cascade effect in which more and more systems are switched off, leading to complete grid shutdown. In these situations it will take many hours to restore grid operation, causing disruption to operations and services, and potential loss of income.

The 1989 storm permanently damaged a $12 million New Jersey transformer. In 1921, a storm 10 times as bad struck. Today, that storm would permanently damage roughly 350 transformers, causing blackouts that would affect as many as 130 million people, according to a Metatech estimate.

An outside analysis conducted by Metatech for the Electromagnetic Pulse Commission and the Federal Emergency Management Agency found that the effects of a severe geomagnetic storm would not only be widespread, but long-lived. Such an event has “not only the potential for large-scale blackouts but, more troubling … the potential for permanent damage that could lead to extraordinarily long restoration times,” Metatech’s John Kappenman told the NAS report’s authors.

In a globalized world, all kinds of sectors would be impacted by a power failure. Fuel, food, water, sanitation, communications, medical/health, finance, and transportation would all feel cascading effects. Many businesses rely solely on satellite navigation for transportation on land and sea, and cell phones would be vulnerable to interference.

“Impacts would be felt on interdependent infrastructures, with, for example, potable water distribution affected within several hours; perishable foods and medications lost in about 12-24 hours; and immediate or eventual loss of heating/air conditioning, sewage disposal, phone service, transportation, fuel resupply, and so on,” the NAS report found.

Hurricane Katrina caused roughly $80 billion to $125 billion in damage, according to the report. A future geomagnetic storm like the 1859 event could cost 10 to 20 times as much and take up to a decade to fully recover from, according to Metatech’s estimates.

Image courtesy of NASA

This article originally published at National Journal
here

Read more: http://mashable.com/2013/06/13/threat-economy-outer-space/

Look Up: Milky Way Galaxy at its Best in July

Look-up-milky-way-galaxy-at-its-best-in-july-a161920c35

It’s possible that most people on Earth have never seen the Milky Way, the galaxy in which we live. The Milky Way used to be a part of every human’s life experience, but now that the majority of mankind lives in cities, with their light pollution, the Milky Way is rarely seen.

Our Milky Way galaxy is at its best for the next couple of weeks, but most of you will need to make a special effort to see it. It will probably require a drive of an hour or more to reach a dark enough location, where the Milky Way will be visible. Then it will require another 20 minutes for your eyes to become adjusted to the dark.

What will you see? Not the brilliant array of stars you see in photographs made with long exposures. The real Milky Way looks like a faint band of moonlit cloud arcing across the sky. Your eyes cannot resolve it into individual stars.

No one knew it was made up of stars until Galileo first turned his telescope on it in 1609 — this was one of his major discoveries. It wasn’t until a couple of centuries later that astronomers began to realize that this band of stars was in fact the local version of the “spiral nebulae” that astronomers were discovering all over the sky. [Our Milky Way Galaxy Explained (Infographic)]

The final clue to the puzzle was the realization that stars were all grouped into huge islands called galaxies, each containing many billions of stars. The Milky Way is our local galaxy.

Even today, beginners in astronomy often get confused by the two meanings of “Milky Way.” It can be used in its original sense to refer to the faint band of glow arching across the sky, or in its modern sense referring to the galaxy in which the sun resides.

Seeing the Milky Way

When amateur astronomers refer to the Milky Way, they usually refer to the faint band in the sky, although any time you look anywhere in the sky, all the stars you see are part of the Milky Way because we are in the Milky Way.

To see what the ancients called the Milky Way, you must first find a truly dark location. The maps on this web site show the areas in the world with the brightest and darkest sky. If like most people on Earth you live in a city, you can probably identify it as one of the white splotches. Use the maps to identify a green, blue, or black location near you — that’s where you must go if you want to find the Milky Way. [Best Telescopes for Night Sky Beginners (Reviews)]

But wait! Don’t try to spot the Milky Way tonight, because there is still an almost full moon in the sky. Wait a few nights until the moon has moved on in its monthly trip around the Earth.

When you get to your dark night sky, you may still need to block any nearby lights from your view. Then you will need to wait about 20 minutes for your eyes to adapt to the dark. Then, look towards the south in the sky.

If you live in the Northern Hemisphere, the center of the Milky Way will be low in the southern sky, and the band of the Milky Way will sweep upwards in an arch across the eastern sky to the northern horizon. If you live in the Southern Hemisphere, the center of the Milky Way will be almost overhead, and the band will sweep from your sothwestern horizon to your northeastern horizon.

Look for a faint silvery or milky cloud. Some parts will be brighter than others, giving a faintly mottled effect. These are star clouds, concentrations of millions of stars too faint to see as individual stars. You may also see some “holes” in the Milky Way: clouds of interstellar dust blocking our view of the stars beyond.

If you have a small binocular with you, say a 7×50 or 10×50, you can recreate Galileo’s discovery that stars make up the “glow” of the Milky Way. Even that small amount of magnification will be enough to resolve the Milky Way into thousands of stars.

What to See in the Milky Way Galaxy

Start your tour of the Milky Way by looking for the constellations Scorpius and Sagittarius. Unlike many constellations, these form clearly recognizable patterns.

Scorpius looks like the scorpion it’s named for, complete with long curving tail with stinger at the end. Its heart is marked by the red giant star Antares. Sagittarius looks nothing like a centaur archer, but rather like a prosaic teapot, complete with handle, spout, and lid. If you live in the north, you will find these low in the southern sky. If you live in the south, they will be almost overhead.

Because the center of the Milky Way is the richest part of the sky, it is crammed with nebulas and open star clusters. To give you some idea of this richness, the chart shows the names of some of these objects. The brightness of the name indicates the brightness of the nebula or cluster.

The brightest objects are gathered around the center of our galaxy, right on the border between Scorpius and Sagittarius, between the scorpion’s stinger and the teapot’s spout.

But for now, don’t worry about the names. Just take in the rich clouds of light as you sweep upward from Scorpius and Sagittatius (in the Northern Hemisphere) or either left or right from overhead (in the Southern Hemisphere). You don’t need to put a name to sheer beauty.

Image courtesy of Starry Night Software

This article originally published at Space.com
here

Read more: http://mashable.com/2012/07/05/milky-way-galaxy-best-in-july/

The Underwater Drone Helping Search for Flight MH370

Bluefin21-1

Bluefin-21 is in the water after being craned over the side of Australian Defense Vessel Ocean Shield to begin using its side-scan sonar in the search for the missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 on April 14.

If wreckage from Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 is ever discovered, an underwater drone could very well be the first thing to spot it.

The Bluefin-21 was contracted by the U.S. Navy to dive into the southern Indian Ocean off the west coast of Australia and scan the ocean floor for pieces of the plane that went missing on March 8 with 239 people onboard.

The drone was forced to resurface on April 16 due to a technical issue, according to a press release provided to Mashable by the Joint Agency Coordination Center, a search organization the Australian government created to help find the missing Malaysia airliner. Officials downloaded the drone’s memory once it was above water but, so far, Bluefin-21 has turned up nothing significant.

Built by Bluefin Robotics but owned and operated by Phoenix International, this autonomous underwater vehicle takes instructions from a ship’s radio before diving up to around 2.8 miles underwater. The remains of flight MH370 might be much farther down, but at that depth Bluefin-21 can blast the ocean floor with a sonar beam.

Data picked up from the sonar will be delivered once the drone resurfaces. Jim Gibson, General Manager of Phoenix International, told Mashable that if Bluefin-21 finds what might be a debris field, someone will switch out the vehicle’s sonar instruments with photo-taking equipment and send it back down to see if the clutter comes from the Malaysia Airlines plane. Bluefin-21 scans from side-to-side, and can spend about 16 hours at the bottom before coming up to re-juice.

The ability to swap equipment is key to why this particular drone wound up searching for flight MH370.

“It’s easily transported, unlike a lot of the other AUVs that are one piece,” Gibson said. “You can’t disassemble them, you need a special launch and recovery system to get them in and out of the water and everything else, and they’re quite heavy.”

The ’21’ refers to the drone’s 21-inch diameter, according to the Bluefin Robotics website. It’s a little over 16 feet long and weighs around 1,650 pounds when it’s not in the water. Once it hits its lowest depth, the vehicle travels about three nautical miles per hour and can scan about 15 square miles of ocean floor per day. It stores all that information into its four gigabytes of memory.

Despite the technical hiccup early on April 16, Bluefin-21 was redeployed later that day.

Read more: http://mashable.com/2014/04/16/underwater-drone-mh370/