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From KQED

White House Honors Two Techies for Making Programming Cool

Bay Area residents Carlos Bueno and Kimberly Bryant are helping to prepare kids to use programming concepts in daily life and work.

Tech Titans Join Forces on Internet Surveillance

More than 60 technology firms and other groups are urging the federal government to let companies disclose Patriot Act data requests.

Could Geo-Engineering Cool Our Warming Planet?

In a report released this week, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change said it will take very ambitious efforts -- a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by up to 70 percent by 2050 -- to keep climate change at acceptable levels. The dire predictions have some asking whether it's time to think about geo-engineering: an attempt to use large-scale, high-tech methods to cool the planet. These ideas have included launching giant mirrors into space or fertilizing the oceans with iron to stimulate phytoplankton growth.

Balancing Life and Privacy in the Era of Google Glass

For the first time, Google is opening up the sale of its controversial Google Glass to the general public. The device resembles a pair of eyeglasses, and lets users surf the Internet and take photos and videos. As invasive technologies become more common, critics are raising privacy and safety concerns. How will an increased use of surreptitious technology shape our day-to-day lives and ethics?

PBS NewsHour

Kepler telescope spots a planet that seems a lot like home

Hari Sreenivasan talks to Tom Barclay of NASA Ames Research Center about why this discovery is exciting
         to astronomers.

Watch Video | Listen to the Audio

JUDY WOODRUFF: And now for something out of this world.

NASA scientists think they have discovered the most Earth-like planet yet circling a star that’s about 500 light years away from us. For now, you can just call it Kepler-186f.

Hari Sreenivasan is in our New York studio, and he has a fuller look at why it’s exciting astronomers.

HARI SREENIVASAN: It was discovered by the Kepler space telescope. And as shown in this animation, it’s said to be in a so-called Goldilocks zone, where it’s not too far from its sun, Kepler-186, and its temperatures could be just the right environment to allow liquid water to flow on its surface.

Tom Barclay is part of the NASA team and with the Bay Area Environmental Research Institute. He joins us from Mountain View, California.

So, if — Judy said this is 500 light years away. Why is this discovery so consequential?

TOM BARCLAY, NASA Ames Research Center: So, while we won’t be going there any time soon, this really demonstrates that there are planets the same size as our own within the habitable zone of other stars.

The habitable zone is a region where we think, with the right atmospheric conditions, liquid water could exist on the surface. Now, we don’t know whether this planet does have an atmosphere, but if it did, we could — and it had similar characteristics to our own, had greenhouse gases that heated the planet, it could host liquid water.

HARI SREENIVASAN: So, there’s been a lot of attention today to the size of the planet being so Earth-like.

Why does that matter?

TOM BARCLAY: So, the one planet where we know there’s life is our own. And that’s an Earth-size planet.

In our own solar system, there are two Earth-size planet. There’s Earth and Venus. Both those are rocky. So we deduce by proxy that this planet may well be rocky.

There were a number of other planets discovered, the smallest of which in the habitable zone is about 40 percent bigger than Earth. These are called super Earth-size bodies. And they may be rocky. They may have a significant amount of liquid water around their surface.

But they don’t remind us of home. They’re much more massive. They may be six to eight times as massive as our own planet. The gravity is going to be much higher. They may be much hotter inside, so they don’t have layers like our own planet, with a core, a mantle and a crust.

This planet, while we don’t know for sure what it looks like, probably could well be rocky, could well have similar characteristics to our planet.

HARI SREENIVASAN: So, let’s do a thought experiment for our audience, if you will.

Let’s say we devise sort of vehicle that bends space and time travel 500 light years, and you and I are standing on the surface of this particular planet. What does life look like, what does it feel like while we’re standing there?

TOM BARCLAY: So, this planet orbits a star that is cooler than our own.

It’s slightly oranger, so if you looked in the sky, it wouldn’t appear like the white sun we see. It would slightly more orange. This star also reveals less starlight than we receive from the sun. So, it will be a bit dimmer on the surface. Perhaps at midday on the surface of this planet, you would receive a similar sort of illumination to that what we receive maybe an hour before sunset.

There wouldn’t be the rich blues you see from our orange. It would be a much duller color. And that’s because there’s not as much blue light coming from its star because it more orangey, more red. There’s less blue light, less blue light to scatter, so the ocean’s duller.

The clouds and the ice on this planet would be a similar color to their star, rather than the white clouds and ice we see. So they may all be an orangey color as well.

HARI SREENIVASAN: Let’s say, just on the basic physics that we understand about Earth, if this is slightly larger, does that change the gravity and, for example, how we feel we weigh?

TOM BARCLAY: Yes, so this one is very comparable to Earth.

If it was exactly 10 percent larger than Earth, you would feel a little — and it was made of the same thing as Earth — you would feel slightly more gravity, maybe 40 percent more. It wouldn’t be vastly different.

You know, people go at 40 percent more g force fairly regularly without feeling significantly different. So, you wouldn’t — it wouldn’t be that unusual for us.

HARI SREENIVASAN: And we’re spinning around that star how fast? Not 365 days for a whole year?

TOM BARCLAY: No, their year would be much shorter.

Because the star is cooler, the region where liquid water could exist, the habitable zone, is located much closer in.

So, while we go around our star once every 365 days, they go around their star once every 130 days. So, the star — so the year — you would have many more birthdays.

(LAUGHTER)

HARI SREENIVASAN: That’s not so bad news.

OK, so let’s talk about next steps. This was from data that you had from the Kepler telescope. What’s the next telescope and what is it going to look for?

TOM BARCLAY: So, as mentioned, you mentioned at the start, this start is about 500 light years away. This is not an especially bright star. We couldn’t see it with our own eyes.

The next step is to try and find planets orbiting much brighter stars, much closer-by stars. So, NASA is launching a mission called the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite, or TESS, in a couple of years, specifically to find planets similar to this one, but orbiting our nearest neighbors in our cosmic backyard.

Once we have found those, spacecraft like the James Webb Space Telescope will try and study their atmospheres to tell whether there is a similar atmosphere to our own. Is there oxygen? Is there carbon dioxide? Is there water vapor and nitrogen, the right things to — that are conducive to life?

HARI SREENIVASAN: All right, Tom Barclay, thanks so much for joining us.

TOM BARCLAY: Thank you.

The post Kepler telescope spots a planet that seems a lot like home appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

Kepler finds new Earth-like planet 500 light-years away

Artist's rendering of Kepler-186f, an Earth-sized exoplanet that could theoretically maintain liquid water on its
         surface. The planet was discovered by the Kepler Space Telescope, and it marks another step in finding other habitable planets
         in the Milky Way Galaxy. Image courtesy NASA Ames/SETI Institute/JPL-CalTech

Artist’s rendering of Kepler-186f, an Earth-sized exoplanet that could theoretically maintain liquid water on its surface. The planet was discovered by the Kepler Space Telescope, and it marks another step in finding other habitable planets in the Milky Way Galaxy. Image courtesy NASA Ames/SETI Institute/JPL-CalTech

NASA explanatory scientists announced Thursday that the Kepler Space Telescope has found an Earth-like planet in our galaxy.

Elisa Quintana, exoplanet research scientist for the SETI Institute at NASA’s Ames Research Center, says the planet is in the “Goldilocks zone,” just the right distance from its star that liquid water could exist on the planet.

While the Kepler mission has found 69 exoplanets that orbit in the habitable zone, Kepler-186f is the closest to Earth’s size. The planet’s composition, whether it is a rocky planet like Earth or a gas planet like Neptune, is still unknown. Less than 10 percent larger than Earth, its size and distance from its star make it a milestone on the mission to find potentially habitable planets outside our solar system.

The Kepler Space Telescope, launched in March 2009, has been constantly surveying a strip of 150,000 stars in our galaxy, looking for exoplanets — planets outside our solar system. Its primary mission is to find potentially habitable planets. To date, the mission has confirmed the existence of 961 exoplanets, and 3,845 planet candidates awaiting further study.

In May 2013, NASA announced that a wheel inside the telescope malfunctioned beyond any possible repair. Even though the telescope has been offline since then, scientists have continued to comb through four years of data.

Kepler-186f is in the Cygnus constellation, 500 light years from Earth. Its star is half the mass and size of the Sun. It is the outermost of five planets circling the star Kepler-186. The planet orbits its star once every 130 days, and it receives about a third of the solar radiation that Earth does, putting it on the edge of the habitable zone.

That doesn’t mean that the planet can support life, said Sara Seager, professor of planetary science at MIT. According to Seager, it is unlikely that we will find out if its atmosphere could be habitable or not. The planet and its star are so far away and so faint that it’s difficult to observe its atmosphere at the moment.

“It’s a celebration of an announcement, kind of like when a baby is born,” she said.

Quintana and her colleagues’ findings appear in the journal Science. Watch NASA’s announcement about the discovery:

Live streaming video by Ustream

The post Kepler finds new Earth-like planet 500 light-years away appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

Engineers recreate ‘fishy’ locomotion

How can fish hover in the water, slowly swimming in place, but turn on a dime and dart away from predator? Aerospace engineer Michael Philen and his team at Virginia Tech are studying how a fish’s muscles, nerves and the shape and flexibility of their tails contribute to their fishy locomotion.

“Fish basically have a two-gear system. They have these red muscle fibers that allow them to swim efficiently slow, and then they need to get away fast or an escape maneuver they can use their white muscles,” Philen said.

Philen and his colleagues hope to make smart materials that can adapt to underwater conditions, so submarines and other submersible vehicles can move more efficiently. NewsHour science correspondent Miles O’Brien takes a look at their lab for the National Science Foundation series Science Nation.*

*For the record, the National Science Foundation is an underwriter of the NewsHour.

The post Engineers recreate ‘fishy’ locomotion appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

Americans predict what the future looks like for technology

A hobbyist drone flies over an open field. Photo by Michael MK Khor

A hobbyist drone flies over an open field. Photo by Michael MK Khor

Over the past 50 years, Americans have witnessed the first man walk on the moon, the birth of the Internet and cellphones, large and small and large again. What will the future of technology and science hold in the next 50 years? Controlled weather? Space colonization? Personal drone use?

Pew Research Center recently asked the American public about their predictions and hopes for the future of technology. The “U.S. Views of Technology and the Future” report, released Thursday, found that a majority of the more than 1,000 Americans surveyed believe that the next five decades will see the custom creation of transplantable organs, and computer-developed art, music and novels rivaling human talent. And while most don’t believe the United States will see teleportation, space colonization or controlled weather, more people found those first two ideas more likely scenarios than the ability to choose which way the wind blows.

Most Americans don't think humans will be able to control the weather in the 50-year future.

Most Americans don’t think humans will be able to control the weather in the 50-year future.

“Clearly nature holds a place in the popular imagination that even some of the most challenging engineering projects can’t match,” said senior researcher of Pew Research Center’s Internet Project Aaron Smith.

When it comes to short-term changes regarding some controversial technological advancements, the majority is wary:

  • Fifty-three percent believe it would be a change for the worse if “most people wear implants or other devices that constantly show them information about the world around them.” Think: Google Glass.
  • Only 22 percent are in favor of drone use.
  • “Countries such as Japan are already experimenting with the use of robot caregivers,” but 65 percent of Americans surveyed thought it would be a negative change if robots became primary caregivers.
  • While 66 percent thought it would a change for the worse if parents could alter their future babies’ DNA, lower-income Americans had slightly more positive views on the matter than those of higher-income levels.

Pew notes it’s not that everyone is completely opposed to trying new technology. They’re just “inclined to let others take the first step.”

Getting brain implants to improve memory or eating lab-grown meat, on the other hand, might not have many takers at all. Just twenty-six percent would (literally) change their minds, and only 20 percent were willing to try Franken-meat. But the opinion was nearly split on riding driverless cars, with 48 percent up for the challenge and 50 percent uninterested.

We’re asking: What technological advancements are you looking forward to in the future? Tell us in the comments below.

The post Americans predict what the future looks like for technology appeared first on PBS NewsHour.