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.

Is Your Smartphone Hurting Your Love Life?

In a new study, 70 percent of women in serious relationships reported that technology encroaches on their love lives, which correlated with increased conflict and lower relationship satisfaction. But other studies have found minimal impact of technology on relationships. Do you look at your smartphone more than you are gazing into the eyes of your sweetheart? Does Siri tag along on date nights?

Crashes Cast Doubt on Future of Commercial Space Industry

Two recent crashes, including a fatal one involving a Virgin Galactic shuttle, raise new questions about the future of the commercial space industry. Twenty people who had purchased seats to fly to the edge of space on Virgin Galactic have reportedly asked for their money back. The second crash, with a company that carries cargo to space for NASA, happened late last month. We'll discuss the state of the $300 billion global space economy.

PBS NewsHour

New fish species discovered in deepest part of Pacific Ocean

A new fish species has been discovered living at the greatest depths ever explored in the Pacific Ocean, researchers announced Friday.  

Biology professor Paul Yancey and students from Washington state’s Whitman College found the translucent fish swimming in the Mariana Trench, the deepest part of the Pacific Ocean and Earth’s deepest location found off the coast of Guam.

A video shows the yet-to-be-named fish gliding slowly and looks almost as if it’s wearing a diaphanous nightgown that rises and falls behind it.

In addition to discovering this new species, researchers also brought back the deepest rock samples ever collected.

These discoveries will help scientists better understand this elusive part of the sea and the creatures that live under its extreme conditions. The research also gives insight into climate change as scientists look at how much carbon the sea absorbs and the effects it has on organisms there.

While past explorations of this cavernous crescent shaped part of the sea focused on reaching its deepest spot, Challenger Deep, Whitman College scientists on research vessel Falkor targeted depths ranging from 16,404 to 34,777 feet with five deep-sea vehicles called landers.

The Mariana Trench is nearly seven miles deep at 36,201 feet. In other words, if Mount Everest were placed at its bottom, the peak would remain 7,000 feet below sea level, according to National Geographic.

Five times longer than the Grand Canyon, the trench has been protected under the Marianas Trench Marine National Monument, which former President George W. Bush put into effect in 2009. The protected area covers roughly  61 million acres of submerged lands and the waters above.

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Kepler keeps going, finds new ‘super-Earth’

Artist’s rendering of NASA's Kepler space telescope in the second phase of its life. Image courtesy of NASA Ames/JPL-Caltech/T

Artist’s rendering of NASA’s Kepler space telescope in the second phase of its life. Image courtesy of NASA Ames/JPL-Caltech/T Pyle

NASA’s Kepler space telescope, once thought “beyond repair,” has found a planet two and a half times the size of Earth elsewhere in the Milky Way, the space agency announced Thursday.

The newly discovered “super-Earth,” dubbed HIP 116454b, is nearly 20,000 miles wide and weighs 12 times as much as our home planet, researchers said in a statement.

Circling a star that’s smaller and cooler than the Sun, the planet orbits its star once every 9.1 days and is 180 light-years from Earth. The planet is either three-fourths water or a gaseous planet like Neptune, researchers added.

“Like a phoenix rising from the ashes, Kepler has been reborn and is continuing to make discoveries,” said lead researcher Andrew Vanderburg of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics. “Even better, the planet it found is ripe for follow-up studies.”

NASA detected the planet after analyzing data Kepler collected over a 9-day period in February, months after the agency said it was investigating a way to fix a mechanical failure that had kept the planet-hunting spacecraft offline since May 2013. Nearly a year later, NASA gave Kepler a new, two-year mission, called “K2,” to continue its search beyond our solar system for potentially habitable planets.

Kepler’s data helps NASA scientists — who called the telescope’s recent discovery a “comeback” — determine the compositions of these far-flung planets.

“The Kepler mission showed us that planets larger in size than Earth and smaller than Neptune are common in the galaxy, yet they are absent in our solar system,” said NASA scientist Steve Howell, in a statement. “K2 is uniquely positioned to dramatically refine our understanding of these alien worlds and further define the boundary between rocky worlds like Earth and ice giants like Neptune.”

Launched in March 2009, the $600 million space craft has confirmed the existence of 996 exoplanets.

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Reinventing the way chemicals are made to make them cheaper and cleaner

Whether its a new drug, a new fertilizer or a new solar panel, chemists have been stuck using the same methods to make their inventions. Now, the Center for Selective C-H Functionalization, run by Emory University organic chemist Huw Davies, is breaking the mold.

“It is an entirely different way of putting molecules together,” Davies said. “And that means it allows you ready access to compounds that have either never been made before, or that were impractical to be made by the conventional methods.”

This international collaboration of scientists is redesigning how organic chemicals are made. Every organic chemical has a basic framework made up of carbon and hydrogen. When chemists make new drugs, for example, they build on those existing frameworks.

But what if you could break open that framework? You could build new chemical structures into the framework, Davies said, opening up new possibilities for drugs and other organic chemicals.

It will also make some chemicals cleaner and cheaper to make, said Daniel Morton, managing director of the Center for Selective C-H Functionalization. By changing how chemicals are made, scientists can eliminate toxic byproducts and waste.

“I think in every field of science one of the biggest drives in the last 20 years has been how to do things in a cleaner, more effective and efficient fashion,” he said. “And that’s what this center is all about.”

Miles O’Brien has more on this story for the National Science Foundation series “Science Nation.”*

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

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Arctic warming twice as fast as rest of the world

Data by NOAA

A new NOAA-led report shows the continuing trend of Arctic temperatures rising at more than twice the rate of the rest of the globe. Data by NOAA

Arctic air temperatures are rising at more than twice the rate of the rest of the world, a new report says.

The Arctic Report Card 2014, a NOAA-led report released Wednesday, features the work and research of 63 authors from 13 countries and breaks down the changing conditions in the Arctic region. One of the main factors the report card tackles is “Arctic amplification,” where the Arctic warms quicker than the rest of the world.

Image by NOAA

October through January Arctic temperature anomalies for the years 2009 to 2014. Image by NOAA

“Arctic warming is setting off changes that affect people and the environment in this fragile region, and has broader effects beyond the Arctic on global security, trade, and climate,” Craig McLean, acting assistant administrator for the NOAA Office of Oceanic and Atmospheric Research, said. “This year’s Arctic Report Card shows the importance of international collaboration on long-term observing programs that can provide vital information to inform decisions by citizens, policymakers and industry.”

In addition to the increasing temperatures of the air and sea surface, the report also highlights several other changes, including the decline of polar bear populations, a browning tundra, a record low for the Greenland ice sheet’s reflectivity and shrinking snow cover.

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