Google News Science & Technology Test post content

Google News Science & Technology Test post content

EBay developers working on possible apps for Google Glass

Developers at eBay Inc are working on potential applications for Google Inc's Glass project, opening up the possibility that shopping and broader commercial activities might be conducted through the wearable technology.

"EBay Inc is participating in the beta of Google Glass and we are exploring the various use-case scenarios," said eBay spokeswoman Amanda Miller.

EBay's Innovation and New Ventures group, run by former eBay mobile executive Steve Yankovich, is taking part in the Google Glass trial program, she added.

EBay's online marketplace has been revitalized in recent years by the success of apps the company developed early for Apple Inc's iPhone, the first mobile computing platform to really take off commercially.

EBay wants to make sure that, if Google Glass becomes the next big mobile platform, its apps will be on there early too.

Some of eBay's existing mobile apps already let shoppers point smart phone cameras at products to check online prices and buy related items. The price-checking capabilities have sparked a new trend in retail known as show-rooming, the practice of looking at items in physical stores and then buying them online.

Google unveiled a half-dozen apps on Thursday designed to work on Glass, a stamp-sized electronic screen mounted on the left side of a pair of eyeglass frames that can record video, access messages and retrieve information from the Web.

Glass apps from social networking services Facebook Inc and Twitter were among those announced on Thursday.

Australia's whaling challenge gets court date

The International Court of Justice (ICJ) has set dates for the hearing of Australia's case against Japan over its whaling program.

Three weeks in late June and early July have been set aside by the court in The Hague in the Netherlands to hear Australia's claim that Japan is in breach of the international convention on whaling.

New Zealand has intervened in the case to lend weight to the Australian argument.

"The International Court of Justice ... will hold public hearings in the case concerning whaling in the Antarctic, Australia versus Japan, from Wednesday 26 June," the ICJ said in a statement on Thursday.

Australia's lawyers will argue the case on the opening day, followed a week later by Japan, on July 2.

A ruling in the matter however, may not be handed down for several months.

In Sydney, Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus welcomed the long-awaited opportunity to end Japan's whaling program.

"Australia will now have its day in court to establish, once and for all, that Japan's whaling hunt is not for scientific purposes and is against international law," Mr Dreyfus said in a statement.

"Australia wants this slaughter to end."

Australia took Japan to court in May 2010 alleging that "Japan's continued pursuit" of a large-scale whaling hunt put the Asian nation in breach of international conventions and its obligation to preserve "marine mammals and the marine environment".

Canberra asked ICJ judges to order Japan to stop its whale research program, called JARPA II, the second phase of its whale hunt in Antarctica under a special permit.

"Australia requests the court to order that Japan cease implementation of JARPA II, revoke any authorisation, permits or licences [allowing whaling under the program]," it said.

Australia also wants the ICJ to obtain guarantees from Tokyo that it will not undertake any further research until it conforms "to its obligations under international law".

Japan's annual whale hunt has long drawn criticism from activists and foreign governments, but Tokyo defends the practice, saying eating whale is a culinary tradition.

Earlier this month, Japan said its whaling fleet caught 103 Antarctic minke whales during this year's Antarctic hunt - the lowest catch since "research whaling" began in 1987.

The Japanese minister in charge of the program blamed what he called "unforgivable sabotage" by the Sea Shepherd group for the outcome.

Australian Environment Minister Tony Burke said last week the tally was "103 whales too many".

The ICJ, established in 1945, is the UN's highest judicial body and settles disputes between states.

Universe ages 80M years; Big Bang gets clearer

New results from looking at the split-second after the Big Bang indicate the universe is 80 million years older than previously thought and provide ancient evidence supporting core concepts about the cosmos — how it began, what it's made of and where it's going.

The findings released Thursday bolster a key theory called inflation, which says the universe burst from subatomic size to its now-observable expanse in a fraction of a second. The new observations from the European Space Agency's $900 million Planck space probe appear to reinforce some predictions made decades ago solely on the basis of mathematical concepts.

"We've uncovered a fundamental truth of the universe," said George Efstathiou, director of the Kavli Institute for Cosmology at the University of Cambridge who announced the Planck satellite mapping result in Paris. "There's less stuff that we don't understand by a tiny amount."

"It's a big pat on the back for our understanding of the universe," California Institute of Technology physicist Sean Carroll, who was not involved in the project, told The Associated Press. "In terms of describing the current universe, I think we have a right to say we're on the right track."

The Big Bang — the most comprehensive theory of the universe's beginning — says the visible portion of the universe was smaller than an atom when, in a split second, it exploded, cooled and expanded faster than the speed of light.

The Planck space probe looked back at the afterglow of the Big Bang, and those results have now added about 80 million years to the universe's age, putting it at 13.81 billion years old.

The probe, named for the German physicist Max Planck, the originator of quantum physics, also found that the cosmos is expanding a bit slower than originally thought, has a little less of that mysterious dark energy than astronomers had figured and has a tad more normal matter. But scientists say those are small changes in calculations about the universe, whose numbers are so massive.

Officials at NASA, which also was part of the experiment, said the Planck probe has provided a deeper understanding of the intricate history of the universe and its complex composition.

Krzysztof Gorski, a Planck scientist at NASA's Jet Propulsion Lab, said in a statement that the new results "are giving astronomers a treasure trove of spectacular data, and bringing forth a deeper understanding of the properties and history of the universe."

The Planck space telescope, launched in 2009, has spent 15 1/2 months mapping the sky, examining so-called "light" fossils and sound echoes from the Big Bang by looking at background radiation in the cosmos. The spacecraft is expected to keep transmitting data until late 2013, when it runs out of cooling fluid.

Scientists not involved in the project said the results were comparable on a universal scale to the announcement earlier this month by a different European physics group on a subatomic level — with the finding of the Higgs boson particle that explains mass in the universe.

"What a wonderful triumph of the mathematical approach to describing nature," said Brian Greene, a Columbia University physicist who was not part of the new Planck research. "It's an amazing story of discovery."

"The precision is breathtaking," Greene said in an email Thursday after the announcement. "The satellite is measuring temperature variations in space — which arose from processes that took place almost 14 billion years ago — to one part in a million. Amazing."

Efstathiou marveled at how the Planck data was such "an extremely good match" to the theory of rapid inflation in the split-second after the Big Bang.

Inflation tries to explain some nagging problems left over from the Big Bang, which formed the universe in a sudden burst. Other space probes have shown that the geometry of the universe is predominantly flat, but the Big Bang said it should curve with time. Another problem was that opposite ends of space are so far apart that they could never have been near each other under the normal laws of physics, but early cosmic microwave background measurements show they must have been in contact.

So a few physicists more than 30 years ago came up with a theory to explain this: Inflation. That says the universe swelled tremendously, going "from subatomic size to something as large as the observable universe in a fraction of a second," Greene said.

Planck shows that inflation is proving to be the best explanation for what happened just after the Big Bang, but that doesn't mean it is the right theory or that it even comes close to resolving all the outstanding problems in the theory, Efstathiou said.

There was an odd spike in some of the Planck temperature data that hinted at a preferred direction or axis that seemed to fit nicely with the angle of our solar system, which shouldn't be, he said.

But overall, Planck's results touched on mysteries of the universe that have already garnered scientists three different Nobel prizes. Twice before scientists studying cosmic background radiation have won a Nobel Prize — in 1978 and 2006 — and other work on dark energy won the Nobel in 2011.

At the press conference, Efstathiou said the pioneers of inflation theory should start thinking about their own Nobel prizes. Two of those theorists — Paul Steinhardt of Princeton and Andreas Albrecht of University of California Davis — said before the announcement that they were sort of hoping that their inflation theory would not be bolstered.

That's because taking inflation a step further leads to a sticky situation: An infinite number of universes.

To make inflation work, that split-second of expansion may not stop elsewhere like it does in the observable universe, Albrecht and Steinhardt said. That means there are places where expansion is zooming fast, with an infinite number of universes that stretch to infinity, they said.

Steinhardt dismissed any talk of a Nobel.

"This is about how humans figure out how the universe works and where it's going," Steinhardt said Thursday. "And it's kind of a raucous time at the moment."

Efstathiou said the Planck results ultimately could give rise to entirely new fields of physics — and some unresolvable oddities in explaining the cosmos.

"You can get very, very strange answers to problems when you start thinking about what different observers might see in different universes," he said.

Scientists sense breakthroughs in dark-matter mystery

Today, though, scientists believe that with the help of multi-billion-dollar tools, they are closer than ever to piercing the mystery – and the first clues may be unveiled just weeks from now.

"We are so excited because we believe we are on the threshold of a major discovery," said Michael Turner, director of the Kavli Institute for Cosmological Physics at the University of Chicago, at an annual conference of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

Dark matter throws down the gauntlet to the so-called Standard Model of physics.

Elegant and useful for identifying the stable of particles and forces that regulate our daily life, the Standard Model only tells part of the cosmic story.

For one thing, it does not explain gravity, although we know how to measure gravity and exploit it for our needs.

And the Standard Model has been found to account for only around 4 or 5 per cent of the stuff in the universe.

The rest is dark matter, making up 23 per cent, and dark energy, an enigmatic force that appears to drive the expansion of the universe, which accounts for around 72 or 73 per cent.

"On the cosmology side we now understand that this mysterious dark matter holds together our galaxy and the rest of the universe," said Turner.

"And the tantalising thing on the cosmology side is that we have an airtight case that the dark matter is made of something new ... there is no particle in the Standard Model that can account for dark matter."

The dark matter theory was born 80 years ago when Swiss astrophysicist Fritz Zwicky discovered there was not enough mass in observable stars or galaxies to allow the force of gravity to hold them together.

According to some theorists, dark matter is fleetingly formed by exotic particles called WIMPs (Weakly Interacting Massive Particles) that, as their name implies, have only weak interactions with the visible matter identified under the Standard Model.

But, again, this could only be part of the picture.

"The real question is why dark matter has six times the energy that is in ordinary matter," said Lisa Randall of Harvard University.

"It could be 10 trillions times bigger ... this is an intriguing sign that there is maybe some other interaction we can detect."

High-powered instruments track cosmic particles

To track these phantom particles, physicists rely on several methods and tools.

One is the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer aboard the International Space Station, which captures gamma rays coming from collisions of dark matter particles.

The first results will be published in two to three weeks, according to Samuel Ting, a Nobel laureate and professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology who is the mastermind of the two-billion-dollar project.

Ting declined to give details, only suggesting these highly anticipated results would give humans a better idea about the nature of dark matter.

Another tool used by the scientists is the South Pole Neutrino Observatory, which tracks subatomic particles known as neutrinos, which, according to physicists, are created when dark matter passes through the sun and interacts with protons.

Another big weapon is the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) near Geneva, the biggest particle smasher in the world.

Its power, they insist, could allow them to break-up electrons, quarks or neutrinos to uncover dark matter.

Last July, LHC physicists announced they had discovered a particle believed to be the Higgs boson, which confers mass. The Higgs was the key missing piece in the Standard Model.

"The dark matter particles are very heavy. It is one of the reasons we have made the LHC, not only to look for the Higgs boson," said Maria Spiropulu, professor of physics at the California Institute of Technology.

Hackers take over sentencing commission website

The hacker-activist group Anonymous says it hijacked the website of the U.S. Sentencing Commission to avenge the death of Aaron Swartz, an Internet activist who committed suicide. The FBI is investigating.

The website of the commission, an independent agency of the judicial branch, was taken over early Saturday and replaced with a message warning that when Swartz killed himself two weeks ago "a line was crossed."

The hackers say they've infiltrated several government computer systems and copied secret information that they now threaten to make public.

Family and friends of Swartz, who helped create Reddit and RSS, say he killed himself after he was hounded by federal prosecutors. Officials say he helped post millions of court documents for free online and that he illegally downloaded millions of academic articles from an online clearinghouse.

The FBI's Richard McFeely, executive assistant director of the Criminal, Cyber, Response, and Services Branch, said in a statement that "we were aware as soon as it happened and are handling it as a criminal investigation. We are always concerned when someone illegally accesses another person's or government agency's network."

Light, noise and bubble curtains to deter sharks

Strobe lights and a bubble machine, it sounds like the recipe for a bad 90's disco but it could be the key to helping to protect beachgoers from shark attacks. 

The State Government has awarded $900,000 worth of research grants as part of its shark mitigation strategy. 

It follows an unprecedented number of attacks off the WA coast over the past few years. 

One of the successful applicants is Associate Professor Nathan Hart from the University of Western Australia's Ocean Institute, who is looking at lights, sound waves and so-called 'bubble curtains' as a way of deterring the animals from popular beaches. 

"Just like us, we're afraid of certain things which are unpleasant to our senses, so if you think of a bright strobe light going off unexpectedly, you'll often recoil from that," he says. 

"The bubble curtain is a similar sort of process, a lot of animals are very wary of going somewhere they can't see or sense.

"So imagine a long pipe running along the bottom of the ocean putting out a field of bubbles... The idea is to develop something robust that could be turned on and off to protect a defined area."

Another team of researchers is taking a slightly more technical approach - developing computer algorithms to try to improve shark detection. 

"It's quite similar to face recognition technology," says Dr Ferdous Sohel from UWA. 

"First of all we'll capture images and then we'll filter them to find out if there are any mammals or any big objects.

"We'll have our shark models built in so if we get a match we'll be able to alert patrols." 

Funding has also been granted to test and improve shark shield technology and develop sonar imaging systems. 

WA's Chief Scientist Lyn Beazley is the chair of the Shark Hazard Advisory Research Committee and helped to assess the applications. 

Professor Beazley says the research will strengthen WA's position as a leading centre on shark research.
"I think this will make a material difference and allow science to play a real part in making our beaches safer," she says. 

"We have attracted the best teams in the world here. The world is now looking to us for the very best answers and I think we will provide them."

The Science and Innovation Minister John Day agrees WA is attracting world class research.

"Unless we try these things we will never know but we are certainly using the expertise of excellent scientists here in Western Australia," he says.

"The research will take either two or three years, these sort of things do need to be done thoroughly and carefully."

Mr Day says the government would share any intellectual property with the other partners. 

"Given there is tax payer funding being invested in this, the state would have some continuing interest but it's a partnership with the universities and also with industry," he said. 

Another $1 million worth of grants will be made available mid next year.