Maybe it’s an alien-planted monolith!

A survey of the gravitational field on the surface of the moon to determine its makeup underneath has discovered the existence of a mass underneath one of the craters.

Publishing in Geophysical Research Letters, the Baylor scientists have two theories for the origin of the huge subterranean blob. It could be the leftovers of dense oxides created in the last years when the moon’s surface was an ocean of magma — a theory that relies on the giant-impact hypothesis, when an impactor the size of Mars may have collided into a magma-covered Earth, ejecting magma into orbit that became the surface of the moon. But speaking with National Geographic, the Baylor team appears to prefer the idea that the mass is the remainder of the iron-nickel core of an ancient impactor that created the South Pole-Aitken basin.

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It’s about time: New York state bans religious exemptions for vaccinations

In the wake of a resurgence of diseases once thought eliminated, the state of New York has passed legislation that bans religious exemptions for vaccinations, joining California, Mississippi, West Virginia and Maine in eliminating that loophole. Naturally those who have fallen for the anti-vaccination misinformation put out by some people and used the religious exemption to avoid getting their children vaccination are not happy.
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The secret life of checked airline baggage

On a recent flight, I had an interesting discussion with the man next to me. It turns out his job is to work with airports and airlines to streamline the process of baggage handling to reduce delays and misplaced bags and he told me how the system works. Apparently, there are miles of conveyor belts behind the scenes at airports that begin at the check-in counter and they have multiple sensors all along the way that use lasers to periodically check the barcode on the baggage tags to make sure that the bag gets transferred to the correct belt for the final destination. The sensors also check the times at each checkpoint and predict when it should reach the next checkpoint so that if a bag does not reach it at the expected time, an alert goes off and someone physically goes to see if the bag has mistakenly switched to the wrong belt, fallen off the belt, or has got jammed somewhere. He said that the goal is to have bags spend no more than 20 minutes in transit from one plane to another though they can often do it in 10 minutes.
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Dark matter anomaly resolved

One of the features of science is that there is always a tension going on. We have standard paradigms that most scientists work within but on occasion a new result will turn up that seems to be violate the boundaries of that paradigm. What does one do then? Reject the paradigm and its associated underlying theory? Seasoned scientists know not to do that because throwing out a paradigm is not something to be undertaken lightly since good theories are hard to come by. What they do is treat the discrepant event as an anomaly meriting further study.
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The impact of 2001: Space Odyssey on AI

Last month I posted about the fascinating Studio 360 public radio show on the making and impact of the film 2001: A Space Odyssey that led me to read a detailed book on the subject Space Odyssey: Stanley Kubrick, Arthur C. Clarke, And The Making Of A Masterpiece by Michael Benson. Today, Studio 360 had the second part of the show, this one focusing on how the film’s computer HAL portrayed Artificial Intelligence and technology, how its predictions compare with the reality now, and the impact the film had on subsequent science fiction films.
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Rich people really do act like jerks

I have written about how rich people often behave like jerks, such as ignoring the major role that luck played in getting them to where they are now and also drive arrogantly, as if they own the roads. These were largely impressionistic views, based on either my personal experience or reading about the behavior of others. So it was nice to come across this article that summarizes some studies that suggest that my impressions had some correspondence with reality.
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Meet the new kilogram and other new standards

On May 20th, the 26th General Conference on Weights and Measures instituted a new standard for the kilogram mass. A metal block kept in a hermetically sealed vault in Paris had been the mass standard for 130 years. New standards were also introduced for the unit of current (Ampere), temperature (Kelvin), and the mole.

It used to be the case that standards for the basic units used in science had been defined in terms of macroscopic objects like this and thus could be easily understood. But the need for increasingly precise and unvarying standards meant that these were no longer suitable and standards have increasingly shifted to using the fundamental constants of nature and getting from those to the familiar quantities involves quite a long chain of reasoning. The kilogram is the last remaining physical object to be so displaced.
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