The Snapchat social revolution began without us knowing

The parent company of the popular photo-messaging and storytelling app Snapchat, Snap, is having a productive autumn. A couple of weeks ago, Snap filed confidential documents for a coming stock offering that could value the firm at $30bn, which would make it one of the largest initial public offerings in recent years. Around the same time, it began selling Spectacles, sunglasses that can record video clips, which have become one…


First signs of weird quantum property of empty space?

To observe the neutron star RX J1856.5-3754, about 400 light-years from Earth, a team led by Roberto Mignani from INAF Milan (Italy) and from the University of Zielona Gora (Poland), used ESO’s Very Large Telescope (VLT) at the Paranal Observatory in Chile. Despite being amongst the closest neutron stars, its extreme dimness meant the astronomers could only observe the star with visible light using the FORS2 instrument on the VLT, at…


Turning renewable energy into natural gas

For wider adoption of wind and solar power, one of the biggest challenges is how to store the excess energy they often produce. A technology developed at the University of Chicago, and now being commercialized by a University startup, is addressing the intermittent nature of these renewable sources. It uses a selectively evolved, unicellular microorganism that helps convert electricity into methane gas. That gas can be stored, transported and used…


Machine-learning and neurology for face recognition

A new computational model of the human brain’s face-recognition mechanism that seems to capture aspects of human neurology that previous models have missed, has been developed by MIT researchers. The researchers designed a machine-learning system that implemented their model, and they trained it to recognize particular faces by feeding it a battery of sample images. They found that the trained system included an intermediate processing step that represented a face’s…


Hacking a credit card in six seconds

It can take as little as six seconds to work out the card number, expiry date and security code of any Visa credit or debit cardand uses nothing more than guesswork, new research has shown. Research published in the academic journal IEEE Security & Privacy, shows how the so-called Distributed Guessing Attack is able to circumvent all the security features put in place to protect online payments from fraud. Exposing…


X-A10: The camera for the selfie-taker

The X-A10, an X-series camera, has been announced by Fujifilm and hits the lowest price point yet for the company’s well-received range of mirrorless models. It’s $499.95 with a 16-50mm f/3.5-5.6 lens, and will be available in January. The X-A10 design is similar to the X-A3 from earlier this year, employing a 180° tilting LCD and self-timing features for convenient selfie use, but it uses a lower-resolution 16-megapixel sensor rather than…


55 trillion kilograms of carbon to fill the atmosphere

55 trillion kilograms: that’s how much carbon could be released into the atmosphere from the soil by mid-century if climate change isn’t stopped. And all in the form of greenhouse gases such as CO2 and methane. Tom Crowther (NIOO-KNAW) and his team are publishing the results of a worldwide study into the effects of climate change on the soil in the issue of Nature that comes out on 1st December….


Pluto’s ocean points towards novel life forms

Pluto is thought to possess a subsurface ocean, which is not so much a sign of water as it is a tremendous clue that other dwarf planets in deep space also may contain similarly exotic oceans, naturally leading to the question of life, said one co-investigator with NASA’s New Horizon mission to Pluto and the Kuiper Belt. William McKinnon, professor of earth and planetary sciences in Arts & Sciences at…


The smallest ever asteroid is also the brightest

Observations of the smallest asteroid ever characterized in detail, has been obtained by astronomers. At 2m (6ft.) in diameter, the tiny space rock is small enough to be straddled by a person in a hypothetical space-themed sequel to the iconic bomb-riding scene in the movie ‘Dr. Strangelove’. Interestingly, the asteroid, named 2015 TC25, is also one of the brightest near-Earth asteroids ever discovered. Using data from four different telescopes, a…


Computer learns to recognize sounds through video

Think of the dictation software on most cellphones, or the algorithms that automatically identify people in photos posted to Facebook: Computers have become remarkably good at recognizing speech and images. But recognition of natural sounds — such as crowds cheering or waves crashing — has lagged behind. That’s because most automated recognition systems, whether they process audio or visual information, are the result of machine learning, in which computers search for…