Tag Archives: Ars Technica

A solar panel on every roof in the US? Here are the numbers

Enlarge (credit: Jon Callas)

When you’re scoping out possible futures, it’s useful to ask a lot of “what if?” questions. For example, what if we could install solar panels on every suitable roof in the United States? How much electricity would they generate?

Plenty of research has followed this line of thought, though much of it has necessarily focused on working out the details for individual cities or regions. But now with enough of these studies in the bank, a group of researchers from the US National Renewable Energy Laboratory decided to take another whack at a national estimate.

There are a lot of things you need to know to do this: number of buildings, size of roofs, direction the roofs are facing, strength of

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Oxygen ions may be an easy-to-track sign of life on exoplanets

Enlarge (credit: ESO/M. Kornmesser)

The search for extraterrestrial life is fairly synonymous with the search for life as we know it. We’re just not that imaginative—when looking for other planets that could host life, we don’t know what to look for, exactly, if not Earth-like conditions. Everything we know about life comes from life on Earth.

But conditions that clearly favor life here—liquid water, surface oxygen, ozone in the stratosphere, possibly a magnetic field—may not necessarily be prerequisites for its development elsewhere. Conversely, their presence does not guarantee life, either. So what can we look for that’s an indication of life?

Skip the dwarfs

Most (about seventy percent) of the stars in our Galaxy are M dwarf stars, and many of them have associated planets.

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As satellite threat looms, Air Force moves to buy small rocket services

Enlarge / A dedicated 747-400 aircraft will carry Virgin Orbit’s LauncherOne to an altitude of approximately 35,000 feet before release for its rocket-powered flight to orbit. (credit: Virgin Orbit)

The U.S. military apparently wants to get into the business of launching smaller satellites on smaller rockets. In the administration’s proposed budget for fiscal year 2019, the Air Force budget contains a new “Rocket Systems Launch Program” item for the purpose of buying “small launch services” for the timely delivery of smaller payloads into low-Earth and geostationary transfer orbit.

The new program, which must be approved by Congress, provides $47.6 million in fiscal year 2019 and a total of $192.5 million over the next five years. It deals with the delivery into space of payloads weighing up

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Drug maker hikes price of 2-in-1 painkiller >2,000%—$36 drugs now $3,000

Enlarge (credit: Getty | Mario Tama)

Irish drug company Horizon Pharma has hiked the price of a two-in-one painkiller by more than 2,000 percent in the past five years, according to a report in Financial Times

A 60-pill bottle of the drug combo, Vimovo, cost $138 in 2013 when AstraZeneca sold it to Horizon. The bottle now costs $2,979 after Horizon raised the price on 11 occasions.

Vimovo is a combination of the common painkiller naproxen and esomeprazole. Naproxen is the active ingredient in Bayer’s over-the-counter painkiller Aleve. A side effect of naproxen is gastrointestinal issues, including stomach pain and heartburns. As such, Vimovo combines it with esomeprazole, a proton-pump inhibitor that treats heartburn. Esomeprazole is sold over the counter by AstraZeneca as Nexium.

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DNA from the poop of extinct four-meter-tall birds reveals lost ecosystem

Enlarge (credit: York Museums Trust staff)

A thousand years ago, gigantic 12-foot-tall flightless birds roamed New Zealand, snacking peacefully on plants and fungi. Then humans came along. Within two hundred years, the giant moa—along with a host of their close cousins—were dead at our species’ hands.

What did the world of the moa look like? Even though New Zealand has lots of well-preserved wilderness, studying that won’t give us an answer. When a species disappears, it takes a chunk of its ecosystem with it, so understanding the ramifications of the moa extinction can help us better understand the environment that many surviving species—some of them critically endangered—evolved in.

Some important answers lie in something the moa left behind: ancient bird poop. It tells us that

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Imaging at 1,000fps with a single pixel

Enlarge / No, not those ghosts. (credit: Eli Christman)

For the longest time, imaging was probably the most boring subject imaginable. Unless you were excited about comparing various mass-produced, brand-name lenses, there wasn’t much to talk about. That changed briefly with the invention of the laser, but the actual imaging technology was still… yeah, boring.

In the last decade or so, though, things really have changed, in part because of new ways of thinking about what an image actually is. Among the many fascinating variations on traditional imaging is something called ghost imaging. The idea of ghost imaging was to use the quantum nature of light to image an object by detecting photons that had never actually encountered the object. This is a mind-blowing idea

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“Injury to widespread brain networks” in victims of mystery attacks in Cuba

Enlarge / A general view of the Embassy of the United States of America in Cuba, Havana on September 18, 2017. (credit: Getty | Anadolu Agency)

A preliminary case report on the victims of mysterious “health attacks” in Havana, Cuba details the results of extensive clinical evaluations, concluding that the individuals appear to have sustained “injury to widespread brain networks without an associated history of head trauma.”

The report offers the first medical glimpse of the victims—US government personnel and their families who were serving on diplomatic assignment in Havana. From late 2016 to August 2017, they reported experiencing bizarre and inexplicable sonic and sensory episodes. The episodes tended to include directional, irritating sounds, such as buzzing and piercing squeals, as well as pressure and

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As we age, cancer rates go up as immune system winds down

Enlarge / T cells are central to the immune system’s response to cancer. (credit: NIAID)

The dominant idea about how cancer gets started is called the “two-hit hypothesis.” First proposed by Alfred Knudson in 1971, it holds that a cancer starts when one cell gets a mutation in both of its copies of a gene that normally blocks cancer formation (two hits). These two mutations disable the tumor-suppressing function in that cell, which then becomes cancerous. Eventually, the idea was expanded to include two hits not necessarily in the same gene but, rather, in genes controlling the same tumor-suppressing pathway.

But a new idea is challenging the two-hit hypothesis, shifting the focus to the role of the immune system in suppressing cancers. It’s an idea

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Audit reveals Office of Fossil Energy approved millions for lobbying, spas

Enlarge (credit: Getty Images)

The internal watchdog at the Department of Energy released an audit report (PDF) this month detailing profligate spending, approved by the Office of Fossil Energy, on a clean coal initiative that was supposed to result in a 400MW carbon capture-enabled plant.

The Office of Fossil Energy had partnered with a private company called Summit Texas Clean Energy LLC (owned by the Seattle-based Summit Power) to complete the project. Fossil Energy committed to funding $450 million of the $1.8 billion project, which would have been built outside of Odessa, Texas. Summit claimed that its plant would have captured 90 percent of the carbon it created.

Instead, Fossil Energy broke off the partnership in June 2016 when the same DOE internal watchdog (known

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More nightmare fuel: Bedbugs create cesspool of poop and histamine in your bed

Enlarge / A typical bed bug aggregation showing blood-fed and unfed bed bugs and fecal spots that contain histamine (photo credit: Matt Bertone) (credit: DeVries et al.)

It’s official: pooping the bed is not the worst thing you can do. Letting bedbugs do it is worse.

As the creepy critters bite you while you slumber, they also squeeze out poops loaded with histamine, a chemical that our own bodies push out during an inflammatory response to allergens. Histamine can trigger itchiness, watery eyes, sneezing, trouble breathing, headaches, and asthma attacks, among other problems. Homes with bedbug infestations can become histamine Dutch ovens, according to a new study led by entomologists and health experts at North Carolina State University. The researchers found that histamine levels

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