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Search Begins for Alien Signals Near Bizarre Star

SETI’s wide-range telescope is powered up and trained on KIC 8462852—the curious star in the North Hemisphere that’s emitting an odd light pattern. The Allen Telescope Array, located a few hundred miles northeast of San Francisco, is actively hunting for alien signals coming from the star’s general area, Space.com reports, based on theories from some astronomers that the star’s dimming events over the past few years could be from structures built by an extraterrestrial civilization.

Not that chances are stellar that an ET find is right around the corner. “History suggests we’re going to find an explanation for this that doesn’t involve Klingons,“ a senior SETI astronomer tells Space.com. Still, as Anders Sandberg frames it in Gizmodo, it’s a mission worth undertaking. “If there is no intelligent life in space it means either that we are very lucky—or that intelligent species die out fast,“ he writes. “But if there is [or was] another technological civilization, it would be immensely reassuring: We would know intelligent life can survive for at least some sizable time.“


Cops: Teens Hack School to Change Grades, Schedules

Three 17-year-old friends are facing years in prison for allegedly hacking into their New York high school’s computer system to change grades and schedules, CBS News reports. Police say Daniel Soares installed a device on a Commack High School computer to swipe passwords and user names from staff last May, according to Newsday. New York Daily News reports Soares allegedly used the stolen information to boost his grades in physics, history, and economics and to change the schedules of 300 or so students. According to Newsday, he also improved the grades of Erick Vaysman. The school discovered the data breach in July. Soares and Vaysman—plus Alex Mosquera—were charged Tuesday following an investigation.

Soares—the alleged “mastermind”—is facing up to 11 years in prison on five felony charges, including burglary and identity theft, CBS reports. Vaysman and Mosquera face up to four years in prison for felony computer tampering and allegedly asking Soares to hack the school’s computer system. All three pleaded not guilty to the charges. Fellow students have some theories about the motivation behind the alleged hack. “He must have been scared about college and wanted good grades,“ one classmate tells the Daily News. “I guess they did it to be cool,” says another. “I feel bad for them. This is going to hurt their future.”

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Scientists Figure Out Origin of Man’s Best Friend

Your best pal may have come a long way to curl up at your feet: A new DNA study of more than 5,000 dogs from 38 countries finds they probably originated in Central Asia, or Mongolia and Nepal more specifically, at least 15,000 years ago, reports the BBC. Cornell researchers drew blood from 4,676 purebred dogs—making up 161 breeds typically created in the last 200 years—and 549 street dogs with older lineages to study chromosomes inherited from the male and female line, reports New Scientist. The data showed genetic diversity is highest in Central Asia, then in surrounding areas like Afghanistan, Egypt, India, and Vietnam, reports Popular Science. That suggests the most recent common ancestor of “all the dogs alive today” came from that region, says lead author Adam Boyko. “It mirrors what we see in humans and how they spread out of East Africa.“

It’s possible some dogs were domesticated elsewhere but diversified in Central Asia. But “we found no evidence” of multiple domestication events, Boyko says. “It looks like there’s a single origin,“ though there appears to have been “a little bit of gene flow between wolves and dogs post-domestication.“ Boyko’s team suspects higher human population density, better hunting techniques, and climate change pushed gray wolves toward scavenging, which led to domestication. But as similar studies suggest dogs originated in the Middle East, East Asia, and Europe, some scientists are treating the results with caution. One tells the New York Times that only a study of ancient and modern DNA could provide definitive results. Among difficulties researchers faced: “We showed up in Puerto Rico at a fishing village and the dogs turned up their noses at roast beef sandwiches,“ says Boyko. “They were used to eating fish entrails.“


Apple Fans Hunt for Steve Jobs’ Unmarked Grave

Atlantis. The Fountain of Youth. A decent Fantastic 4 movie. Dreamers and adventurers have been searching for the unfindable throughout history. Now we can add another hidden treasure to the list: Steve Jobs’ grave. The San Jose Mercury News reports Apple fans from around the world—China, Indonesia, Brazil, Paris, Russia, and more—have been visiting Silicon Valley’s Alta Mesa Memorial Park to pay respects to the company’s founder, who died four years ago. There’s only one problem: Jobs’ grave is one of many that are unmarked in the 72-acre cemetery. “We had people wandering a lot around the cemetery with the claim they are going to find him,“ cemetery general manager Marilyn Talbot tells the Mercury News. “Good luck.“

The Mercury News reports Jobs’ family requested an unmarked grave. And biographer Walter Isaacson says they had Jobs buried in an area where no future plots were planned near an apricot orchard. A reporter from an Italian blog claimed to have found Jobs’ grave, but it turns out he actually left a half-eaten apple on the eternal resting place of a grandmother who died around the same time. While the cemetery won’t reveal the location of Jobs’ grave, they have left out a book in the lobby where visitors can leave a message for him. They’ve nearly filled two volumes.


Google Has Audio Files of Everything You’ve Asked It

“It’s all there—my dumb voice asking dumb questions that I thought were lost into the ephemerality of Google’s search servers,“ Mike Murphy writes on Quartz. Murphy recently learned that not only does Google store records of all your text searches, it also keeps audio recordings of all your queries. And you can listen to them. The Guardian reports Google’s new history page gives a list of everything users have ever said to Ok Google, the company’s voice control system for Android phones. It’s part of Google’s attempt to be less cagey about what personal data it’s storing. For example, the same page also tells users where Google has tracked their locations.

But rather than being reassuring, this transparency can actually have the opposite effect. “It’s good to be able to see what the company keeps,“ Alex Hern writes in the Guardian. “But it’s also a stark reminder of just how much it has in the first place.“ Murphy calls it “unnerving.“ Quartz reports it’s unclear why Google is holding on to the audio recordings of customers’ voices. According to the Guardian, the stored audio may help improve the voice control feature generally and its recognition of users’ voices personally. Should users find the existence of an audio catalog of all their conversations with Google off-putting, Quartz has instructions on how to delete the files.


Friends Track iPhone to Find Missing College Student

A couple of tenacious women armed with the Find My iPhone app tracked down their severely injured friend Sunday, two days after he disappeared following a sorority party at Georgia Tech, WSB Atlanta reports. According to ABC News, it was extremely fortunate 24-year-old Jimmy Hubert accidentally left the party with his date’s phone in his pocket. His friends Emma Jeffery and Alexandra Vanderlinde used the app installed by his date to track Hubert to a desolate stretch along some train tracks, WSB reports. That’s where they found him face down in a ditch and barely conscious. “[Hubert’s rescue] is all credited to our students not giving up on their friend,” ABC quotes Georgia Tech’s chief of police during a press conference Monday.

ABC reports Hubert was found with broken ribs and vertebrae, a punctured lung, and cerebral hemorrhaging. According to WSB, authorities don’t suspect foul play, but his friends claim Hubert told them he was beaten by a group of homeless men after he left the party. NBC News reports they also admit he said he was hit by a train, but they think he was confused when he said that. According to WSB, Hubert’s mother posted on Facebook that he was mugged. NBC reports Hubert was missing his shoes, wallet, and both phones when he was found. Police have yet to be able to interview Hubert because of the extent of his injuries.


Consumer Reports Yanks Tesla Recommendation

The ultra hip Tesla Model S tests great, but it seems it might not hold up in the long run, according to a new report published Tuesday by Consumer Reports. The publication gave the electric vehicle its best performance rating ever—a seemingly mathematically impossible 103 out of 100—in August. Two months later, and Consumer Reports can’t even recommend the Model S because of a “worse-than-average overall problem rate.“ “We’re seeing all types of issues,“ Consumer Reports‘ director of auto testing tells CNBC. “Some are annoying issues like squeaks in the hatch or rattles and squeaks in the sunroof, but we’re also seeing major issues in terms of the charging systems. We’re even seeing people who have to have the entire electric motor replaced.“

Consumer Reports heard from approximately 1,400 Model S owners for its annual car-reliability survey, and they reported an “array of detailed and complicated maladies,“ reports the Washington Post. Most of the problems—which also involved the drivetrain and touchscreen center console—were fixed for free under warranty. And customers reported still being happy overall with the $100,000-and-change vehicle. But despite Consumer Reports standing by its review of the Model S being the best-performing car ever tested, Tesla stocks quickly dropped nearly 7% in the wake of Tuesday’s report. According to CNBC, Lexus was at the opposite end of Tesla as this year’s most reliable brand.


‘Spooky’ Asteroid Will Be Very Close on Halloween

In what sounds like the setup to a sci-fi horror movie, an asteroid deemed “extremely eccentric” by NASA and “strikingly spooky” by Discovery will be very close to Earth on Halloween. NASA says the asteroid, 2015 TB145, is up to 1,542 feet in diameter and will be moving “unusually fast” when it comes within 310,000 miles of our planet, which is around 1.3 times the distance to the moon, the Christian Science Monitor reports. It will be at its closest just before sunrise in North America on October 31, NASA says, but the waning moon will make it hard to see with small telescopes.

“The flyby presents a truly outstanding scientific opportunity to study the physical properties of this object,“ NASA says. The last time an asteroid this size came this close to Earth was 2006, NASA says, and there isn’t another one expected until 2027—but since this one wasn’t detected until October 10 this year, there could be more surprises in store. NASA says the asteroid will zip by safely, and the strangeness of its orbit may explain why it was spotted so late, Gizmodo reports.

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Freakonomics Author Busts Cheating Kids via Algorithm

When a professor at an anonymous “top American university” recently suspected cheating in a class, no student would admit to it, so he called in a big gun: Freakonomics author and University of Chicago economist Steven Levitt. Levitt and Ming-Jen Lin, of National Taiwan University, devised an algorithm to try to catch the miscreants. Using only the test answers from the class’s 242 students, along with seating arrangements used during those tests, the duo report in the National Bureau of Economic Research that in fact more than 10% of the students were cheating “in a manner blatant enough to be detected by our approaches.“

They looked at rates of shared incorrect answers, reports Business Insider, and singled out students sitting next to one another who had roughly twice as many shared incorrect answers as the rate that’s expected due to sheer chance. They then devised a “clever trick” for the final exam, reports CBS News: allowing students to seat themselves and then rearranging them randomly. The dean was given the names of the 12 most suspicious students, four of whom confessed before the dean closed the investigation “due to pressure from parents. While this precluded any further admissions of guilt, the professor withheld grades of the presumptive guilty pairs until the first day of the next semester, which resulted in scholarship disqualification,“ they write.


Promising New HIV Vaccine Heads to Human Trials

The man who first proved that AIDS was triggered by the HIV virus more than 30 years ago is back with a potential vaccine that starts human testing this month, Science Alert reports. In the three decades since Dr. Robert Gallo made his breakthrough, more than 100 AIDS vaccines have been tested with limited success. According to the Baltimore Sun, only one study—in 2009 in Thailand—came close to being effective enough for widespread use, and that only protected one-third of patients. But the 78-year-old Gallo and his team at the Institute of Human Virology believe they’ve come up with a unique approach that could work using their “full-length single chain” vaccine. (“It’s a terrible name,” Gallo admits to Science.)

Science Alert reports AIDS is notoriously difficult to fight because the HIV virus hides in the body’s T-cells and turns the immune system against the body. With his vaccine, Gallo hopes to trigger antibodies to attack the HIV virus when it reveals itself just as it attaches to a T-cell but before it completely invades it. Gallo has been working on the vaccine for 15 years. He tells Science it took so long to get to human trials because researchers extensively tested it on monkeys—where it showed promise—and needed to secure new funding. This first round of human testing will involve 60 volunteers and only look at the safety and immune responses of the patients. Testing for effectiveness will come later, and Gallo is already tempering expectations. “Can I promise absolute success? No,“ he tells the Sun. “Do I hope it leads to a series of advances in the fields? Yes.“


NASA: Here’s How We’ll Get Humans on Mars by 2030s

NASA doesn’t just have a vague vision of putting humans on Mars by the 2030s: It now has a detailed plan to make it happen. In a report released last week, called “NASA’s Journey to Mars,“ the space agency reveals a three-step plan, which includes more research on the International Space Station, reports NBC News. In the first “Earth Reliant” phase already underway, NASA plans to continue to study the effects of living in space for long periods and develop its Space Launch System, which will become the successor to the space shuttle and the agency’s most powerful rocket yet, reports Smithsonian. It should eventually be able to carry astronauts and 130 metric tons of cargo toward Mars, together with the Orion capsule, reports Popular Science. NASA will also work on a laser communication system that will allow astronauts to quickly send and receive data from the Red Planet.

In the second phase, called “Proving Ground,“ NASA says it will test deep-space habitats and conduct experiments around the moon, or in cislunar space. The plan is to send a solar-electric robotic probe to steal a boulder-sized piece of an asteroid and bring it into cislunar orbit. Then NASA hopes to send astronauts to study the sample by 2025, which will force them to work beyond the space station. If that goes well, the third phase, dubbed “Earth Independent,“ will involve sending astronauts to orbit Mars and maybe land on one of its moons. The next leap would be to land humans on the Red Planet with equipment necessary for a safe return to Earth. “Like the Apollo program, we embark on this journey for all humanity. Unlike Apollo, we will be going to stay,“ NASA writes. Until a budget and schedule are set, however, the House science committee chair says NASA’s plan “is actually a journey to nowhere,“ per BuzzFeed.


It’s Scientifically Better to Be Born in Summer

There’s more reason to be jealous of summer babies than all those birthday parties by the pool: They may be healthier adults, according to a new study. University of Cambridge scientists surveyed roughly 500,000 Britons aged 40 to 69 for their birth dates, height, weight, and the age at which females had their first period, reports the Times, per the Australian. People born in June, July, and August were heavier at birth and about 1/8 of an inch taller in adulthood than those born in December, January, and February, while women born in summer had their first menstrual cycle weeks after those born in winter; like heavier birth weight, later puberty tends to positively impact health in later life, per a press release.

Why the discrepancies? Scientists suspect it has to do with the amount of sun exposure mothers received, and thus the amount of vitamin D passed to the fetus, during pregnancy. “Vitamin D is important for bone development and may act as a rate-limiting factor for growth,“ the authors write in the journal Heliyon. And while earlier studies have shown a link between birth date and height, “this is the first time puberty timing has been robustly linked to seasonality,“ says a researcher. Total sunlight exposure led to stronger effects in the later six months of pregnancy, and not in the first three months after birth, which supports the idea of “fetal programming”: that the environment in the womb can affect a person’s health later, per Medical News Today. Researchers note the study participants were conceived before pregnant women were advised to take vitamin D supplements.


Meet the Most Prolific of All 125K Wikipedia Editors

Wikipedia boasts 26 million registered users, though less than 0.5% (125,000) are active editors—and only 12,000 of them have made more than 50 edits in the past six months. Who’s the guy at the head of that pack? Justin Anthony Knapp, who in 10 years has made nearly 1.5 million edits, reports Priceonomics. That’s about 385 edits a day, though at his busiest he says he’d make as many as 1,000 in a day. And in the meantime, he also earned bachelor’s degrees in philosophy and political science and now works 65 hours a week at a restaurant and volunteers. So why invest so much time in an already packed schedule? “I believe that when you have free time, you shouldn’t spend it idling,“ says Knapp, whose user name is koavf.

“I’m able bodied; globally speaking (though not at all locally speaking), I’m rich. I have a lot of resources other people don’t have—an internet connection, free time, the ability to speak English—and it’s incumbent upon me to use them to make the world a better place.“ Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales seems to agree, having written on Quora a few years ago: “People who equate wealth in any serious way with ‘amount of money that you have’ are missing a lot of richness in how humans value things.“ Still, Knapp, for whom April 20 was declared Justin Knapp day on Wikipedia when he surpassed 1 million edits on that day in 2012, likes to keep his contributions in perspective. “A lot of the work I do is useful, but not really that critical. Besides, the reward is in the activity itself. It is a labor of love.“


LSD Inventor’s Archive Is Being Ignored

The man who invented LSD hoped his archive would inspire future generations of researchers, but just about the only person using it is a Swiss dairy farmer who’s writing about hallucinogens in his spare time, the Wall Street Journal reports in a look at the “long, strange trip” of Albert Hofmann’s papers. In the years before the famous chemist died at the age of 102, the archive spent years with the now-defunct Albert Hofmann Foundation in California. After his death, it was returned to Switzerland, where his family couldn’t find funding to have it placed in a new research center and were alarmed by some of the LSD enthusiasts who had started making pilgrimages to his home, the Journal reports.

The archive has ended up at the Institute of Medical History in Bern, where local farmer Beat Bäche has become both curator and user. He says only one other scholar has arrived since the collection came to Bern in 2013. Hofmann’s friends and family say they hope that when Bäche finishes reorganizing the archive next year, it will get some publicity—though the drug company Hofmann worked for doesn’t plan to get involved. Hofmann’s 100th birthday celebration in 2006 “seemed to be the closing event, LSD-wise, for Novartis,“ Hofmann’s grandson, chemistry professor Simon Duttwyler, tells the Journal. “They don’t want to be mentioned together with hippies.“


Using Siri, Google Now, Hackers Can Nab Your Data

Using radio waves, hackers at the French government agency ANSSI say they’ve been able to silently trigger voice commands on any smartphone thanks to access via Google Now and Siri. Reporting in the journal IEEE, they say it’s possible to operate the voice-activated command tools to do things like open malware sites, send texts or phishing emails, and even call specific phone numbers that generate cash for the hacker. But as “clever” as Wired reports this trick to be—the headphone cord is used as an antenna—it has several limitations, including that headphones with a microphone must be plugged into the jack; the hacker must be within 16 feet of the phone; and Google Now or Siri must be enabled.

“Additional functionality, especially concerning user convenience, has often come at the cost of some security,“ Gavin Reid, VP of threat intelligence for Lancope, tells Forbes. “In this case the hack needs proximity to work and is a proof of concept needing specialized hardware.“ And while it’s possible for people with this hardware to position themselves in crowded places such as airports and trigger some kind of attack on any qualifying phones within range, he adds that the odds are low. “This attack is less likely to be leveraged by the criminal underground, especially with other methods much easier to implement.“ Even so, Vincent Strubel at ANSSI says, “The sky is the limit here. Everything you can do through the voice interface you can do remotely and discreetly through electromagnetic waves.“


Scientist Tackles ‘Last Major Disease We Don’t Know Anything About’

Whitney Dafoe packed a lot in his first quarter-century of life. The son of renowned scientist Ronald Davis, the head of the Genome Technology Center at Stanford University, was an award-winning photographer who traveled the world and worked on Obama’s 2008 campaign. Now 31 and diagnosed with systemic exertion intolerance disease, aka chronic fatigue syndrome, he no longer walks, talks, or eats—instead sustained by a feeding tube, reports the Washington Post. Davis, who is 74, hopes to tap Stanford’s technology to study the disease, which some still don’t take seriously, in unprecedented detail. Denied funding by the NIH, he’s recruited three Nobel laureates and raised more than $1 million for his project, while patients themselves are running crowdfunding campaigns to help this and other studies, reports the Atlantic.

“It’s probably the last major disease that we don’t know anything about,“ says Davis, whose plan “is to collect more data on a group of patients than has ever been collected on a human being before, by orders of magnitude.“ Starting with home visits to a few dozen very ill patients to take blood, fecal, sweat, and saliva samples, he’ll run a litany of tests using mass spectrometry and DNA and RNA sequencing and then conduct the same tests on those less affected by the disease as well as those with other fatigue illnesses such as lupus to look for anomalies—biomarkers to show that something is “uniquely wrong,“ Davis says. As for what’s wrong, Dafoe described it a couple of years ago on WhitneyDafoe.com: “It’s like “staying up for two nights in a row while fasting, then getting drunk. The state you would be in on the third day—hung over, not having slept or eaten in 3 days—is close, but still better than many CFS patients feel every day.“ Read his full story at the Post.

China’s Giant Telescope

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Take a look at the giant telescope that China’s building to talk to aliens.

The Aperture Spherical Telescope (or FAST) is a 500 meter, $200 million construction project, but when it’s finished it will be the world’s largest and most sensitive radio telescope, able to detect signals from planets a billion miles away.

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