NASA Successfully Tests First Deep Space Internet

PASADENA, Calif. -- NASA has successfully tested the first deep space communications network modeled on the Internet.

Working as part of a NASA-wide team, engineers from NASA's Jet
Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., used software called
Disruption-Tolerant Networking, or DTN, to transmit dozens of space
images to and from a NASA science spacecraft located about 20 million
miles from Earth.

"This is the first step in creating a
totally new space communications capability, an interplanetary
Internet," said Adrian Hooke, team lead and manager of space-networking
architecture, technology and standards at NASA Headquarters in

NASA and Vint Cerf, a vice president at Google
Inc., in Mountain View, Calif., partnered 10 years ago to develop this
software protocol. The DTN sends information using a method that
differs from the normal Internet's Transmission-Control
Protocol/Internet Protocol, or TCP/IP, communication suite, which Cerf

The Interplanetary Internet must be robust to
withstand delays, disruptions and disconnections in space. Glitches can
happen when a spacecraft moves behind a planet, or when solar storms
and long communication delays occur. The delay in sending or receiving
data from Mars takes between three-and-a-half to 20 minutes at the
speed of light.

Unlike TCP/IP on Earth, the DTN does not
assume a continuous end-to-end connection. In its design, if a
destination path cannot be found, the data packets are not discarded.
Instead, each network node keeps the information as long as necessary
until it can communicate safely with another node. This
store-and-forward method, similar to basketball players safely passing
the ball to the player nearest the basket means information does not
get lost when no immediate path to the destination exists. Eventually,
the information is delivered to the end user.


Water Vapor Confirmed on Alien Planet

The unequivocal signature of water vapor has been found on a
planet beyond our solar system.

Using NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope,
astronomers detected
the steamy signature of water vapor in the light coming from a large
exoplanet circling around a star about 63 light-years from Earth.
Though it's not the first sign of water vapor around this planet, it's
the strongest evidence yet.

The planet, HD 189733b, is what's called a "Hot Jupiter" — a boiling,
gigantic gas planet more akin to our own Jupiter or Saturn than to a
terrestrial planet like Earth. It's not a good candidate itself for alien
life, but the successful detection of water vapor here, in the
location and quantities that theorists predicted, bodes well for further
studies of more promising locales for extraterrestrial life.

"It means we're starting to understand these objects a
little bit better than we did when we first started," astrophysicist Adam
Burrows of Princeton University told Wired.com. "It’s a trial run for the
much more detailed investigations that will be possible in the years to come as
we take this stepping stone from giant planets to terrestrial planets."

Though water vapor is thought to be fairly common on planets — even
our own Jupiter has it — the discovery of its presence on another world
is significant and points the way toward future discoveries, scientists
say. Yesterday scientists announced that the Hubble Space Telescope
had found carbon dioxide, which under the right circumstances could be
connected to life, on the same planet. The presence of methane has also
been detected.



Proposed Laser ignition Fusion/Fission Hybrid Commercial Power by 2030

LIFE, an acronym for Laser Inertial Fusion-Fission Energy, is an advanced energy concept under development at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL).

Conceptual design for a LIFE engine and power plant based on National
Ignition Facility (NIF)-like fusion targets and a NIF-like laser
operating at an energy of 1.4 megajoules (MJ) at a wavelength of 350
nanometers (ultraviolet), with a 2.5-meter-radius target chamber and
with the final optics at a distance of 25 meters from the target. The
National Ignition Campaign will begin during 2009, and ignition and
fusion energy yields of 10 to 15 megajoules (MJ) are anticipated during
fiscal years 2010 or 2011. Fusion yields of 20 to 35 MJ are expected
soon thereafter. Ultimately fusion yields of 100 MJ are expected on
NIF. The LIFE system is designed to operate with fusion energy gains of
about 25 to 30 and fusion yields of about 35 to 50 MJ to provide about
500 megawatts (MW) of fusion power – about 80 percent of which comes in
the form of 14.1 million electron-volt (MeV) neutrons with the rest of
the energy in X-rays and ions. This is an approach which would be as
good as and in some ways superior to liquid flouride thorium reactors.
Improvements in lasers and cost reduction with laser components would
meet the requirements of this project if current trends continue. A
success with aneutronic nuclear fusion such as might occur with Bussard
Inertial electrostatic fusion, dense plasma focus fusion would likely
be superior to this. It would be worthwhile to fund several of these
vastly superior approaches to nuclear fission and fusion for a billion
or few billion each in order to get many multiple trillions of payoff
with a homerun energy success. Even partial success with one of these
approaches could deal with all of the current nuclear waste (unburned
fuel) which would cost tens of billions to store in a place like Yucca

A Computer Program That Taught Itself to Draw the Mona Lisa

These images represent four steps in one computer program's progress
towards recreating the Mona Lisa using only 50 semi-transparent
polygons. Swedish programmer Roger Alsing did this simple weekend
project with genetic programming that resulted in a program that could
generate, on its own, a pretty awesome likeness of the famous painting.
So how did he do it?

He wrote a program that would randomly place shapes on a black
background, and decide whether the abstract pattern looked more or less
like the famous painting. After almost a million tries, the program's
output had evolved to the point where Alsing had the image on the far



No Neanderthal Ancestors for Modern Humans

If ancient homo sapiens got it on with their Neanderthal
cousins, there were no children to show for it. Researchers studying
Neanderthal DNA have sequenced half of the Neanderthal genome, and
shoot down the theory that European humans interbred with the
now-extinct species. And the team says the genome has other things to
teach us about Neanderthal life, including their sexual proclivities.

research team at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthology
presented their findings last week at a human evolution conference. The
researchers have compared the Neanderthal genome to that of modern
humans of European and African descent. Because Neanderthals and modern
humans coexisted in Europe, researchers have theorized that European
genomes would have more similarities with the Neanderthal genome than
would African genomes. However, European and African genomes have a
similar number of differences from the Neanderthal genome, suggesting
that modern humans in Europe outbred rather than assimilated the