Scientists win $3 million for detecting Einstein's waves

NEW YORK Researchers who helped detect gravitational waves for the first time, confirming part of Albert Einstein's theory in a landmark moment in scientific history, will share a $3 million Special Breakthrough Prize, according to the prize's selection committee.The Breakthrough Prizes for scientific achievements were created by Russian billionaire Yuri Milner along with several technology pioneers, including Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and Google co-founder Sergey Brin.In February, a team from the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO) announced a pair of giant laser detectors had measured the tiny ripples in space and time first theorized by Einstein a century ago, capping a decades-long quest.Einstein predicted gravitational waves as part of his seminal theory of general relativity, which explained gravity as distortions in both space and time caused by bodies of matter.LIGO's three founders - Rainer Weiss, Kip Thorne and Ronald Drever, who dedicated much of their careers to gravitational wave detection - will share $1 million. More than 1,000 contributors to the project will also split $2 million equally. "That's much more modern and much more the way that physics gets done," said Weiss, a professor emeritus at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, of the decision to honor the entire team. "You can't credit just the three of us for this."Researchers said the gravitational waves came from the collision of two black holes, the extraordinarily dense objects that Einstein's theory also predicted. The black holes, both many times the mass of the sun, were located 1.3 billion light years from Earth. The waves should unlock new ways to understand the cosmos, including black holes, neutron stars and the mysteries of the early universe."For us to spend basically a half-century since the three of us started working in this field, to have it actually be pulled off successfully in the manner we dreamed – it was really remarkable and wonderful," said Thorne, who is retired from the California Institute of Technology. "I'm forever grateful to the team that got it done."The winners will be honored at a December ceremony, when the regular annual awards for physics, life sciences and mathematics will also be announced. The Special Breakthrough Prize can be conferred at any time to mark "an extraordinary scientific achievement." Edward Witten, a prominent physicist who heads the physics prize selection committee, said the discovery's magnitude warranted immediate recognition."There are a lot of basic things about Einstein's theory of relativity that seemed like science fiction when I was a student," Witten said. "This is the first time we've seen the full force of Einstein's theory of gravity at work." (Reporting by Joseph Ax; Editing by Andrew Hay) Read more

Twitter lawsuit partly dismissed over U.S. information requests

SAN FRANCISCO A U.S. judge on Monday partly dismissed a lawsuit filed by Twitter Inc (TWTR.N) in which the social media company argued it should be allowed to publicly disclose more details about requests for information it receives from the U.S. government.U.S. District Judge Yvonne Gonzalez Rogers in Oakland, California also gave Twitter the opportunity to re-file its lawsuit to include more details about government decision-making, in order to try to move its claims forward. (Reporting by Dan Levine; Editing by Bill Rigby) Read more

Australian tells BBC he created bitcoin, but some skeptical

SYDNEY/SINGAPORE Australian tech entrepreneur Craig Wright told the BBC that he was the creator of controversial digital currency bitcoin, but some scepticism remained about the identity of a person who until now has gone by the name of Satoshi Nakamoto.The BBC reported on Monday that Wright gave some technical proof demonstrating that he had access to blocks of bitcoins known to have been created by bitcoin's creator. Unmasking Nakamoto could be significant for the future of bitcoin, a computer-generated, digital alternative to other currencies that has attracted the interest of banks, speculators, criminals and regulators. Researchers believe Nakamoto may be holding up to one million bitcoins, which is worth about $440 million, and the price of the cryptocurrency could plunge if that was to be unloaded.Wright declined requests from The Economist to provide further proof that he was Nakamoto."Our conclusion is that Mr Wright could well be Mr Nakamoto, but that important questions remain," The Economist said. "Indeed, it may never be possible to establish beyond reasonable doubt who really created bitcoin."The BBC said prominent members of the bitcoin community had confirmed Wright's claim. "I was the main part of it, but other people helped me," the BBC quoted Wright as saying.Hopes that bitcoin would become broadly used helped buoy its price to more than $1,000 in December 2013, when its market capitalization was $13 billion.But the market cap has retreated since then, to about $7 billion currently. Bitcoin fell more than 3 percent after news of Wright's claims, from $454.89 to below $440, before recovering slightly. Wright told The Economist he would exchange bitcoin slowly to avoid pushing down its price. "If Mr Wright is in possession of Satoshi's original nearly one million bitcoins, he will be for sure closely watched by investors trying to guess his future moves," Tomas Forgac, who runs bitcoin startup Coin of Sale, told Reuters.HOME RAIDED In December, police raided Wright's Sydney home and office after Wired magazine named him as the probable creator of bitcoin and holder of hundreds of millions of dollars worth of the cryptocurrency, which has attracted the interest of banks, speculators, criminals and regulators.The treatment of bitcoins for tax purposes in Australia has been the subject of considerable debate. The Australian Tax Office (ATO) ruled in December 2014 that cryptocurrency should be considered an asset, rather than a currency, for capital gains tax purposes.On Monday, the ATO said it had no comment while police were not immediately available for comment.In a blog post dated Monday, Wright appeared to out himself as bitcoin founder by posting a technical explanation, including examples of code, of the process by which he created the currency. He thanked all those who had supported the project from its inception."This incredible community’s passion and intellect and perseverance have taken my small contribution and nurtured it, enhanced it, breathed life into it," he wrote. "You have given the world a great gift. Thank you." However Wright did not make a clear admission that he was Nakamoto. "Satoshi is dead," he said. "But this is only the beginning." Unlike traditional currency, bitcoins are not distributed by a central bank or backed by physical assets like gold, but are "mined" by users who use computers to calculate increasingly complex algorithmic formulas.If Wright is Nakamoto he "is now the leader of a movement", said Roberto Capodieci, a Singapore-based entrepreneur working on the blockchain, the technology underlying the currency.That movement ranges from libertarian enthusiasts to banks experimenting with cryptocurrencies, all of which pay homage in some way to Nakamoto's writings.Top of the list of outstanding issues is the future of bitcoin itself, where two groups are debating over changes to the size of the blocks in the blockchain, the digital ledger that stores transactions."He may help to settle the issues internal to the bitcoin community: block size and new node protocols," Capodieci told Reuters. (Additional reporting by Matt Siegel in Sydney; Editing by Nick Macfie and Raju Gopalakrishnan) Read more

Would We Still Criticize Checked Exceptions, If Java Had a Better Try-Catch Syntax?

In the context of a previous blog post about JUnit 5, Maaartinus, one of our readers, has brought up a very interesting idea:The only problem with try-catch is its verbosity, which is something I can live with (IMHO a lone catch would do better, the implicit try would apply to all preceding code in the block; just syntactic sugar)Huh!Imagine a world where the following is valid Java code:{ something(); } catch (Exception e) { /* All exceptions from the above block */ } Likewise:{ something(); } finally { /* Clean up after the previous block */ } In other languages, this is implemented exactly as such. Take PL/SQL, for instance. An ordinary block looks like this:BEGIN SOMETHING(); END; Replace curly braces by BEGIN and END keywords, and you have exactly the same thing. Now, if SOMETHING raises an exception, in PL/SQL, we can append an EXCEPTION block, which does exactly the same thing as catch in Java:BEGIN SOMETHING(); EXCEPTION WHEN OTHERS THEN NULL; END; Indeed, in these very trivial cases, the try keyword seems optional just like there is no such keyword in PL/SQL, and we don’t really need it as the scope of the catch and/or finally blocks is very well defined (at first sight, there might be caveats, of course).So What? We’ve Saved Three Characters…In these trivial cases, we’re not gaining a lot from the “improved” syntax. But what about many other cases where the notoriously verbose try { ... } catch { ... } syntax might be getting on our nerves…? Again, in PL/SQL, whenever you’re using a block using BEGIN .. END, you can automatically profit from optionally adding an EXCEPTION block.Without thinking this through thoroughly though (whew, some English language usage!), this could add immense syntactic value to Java. For instance:Lambdas// Better: Consumer consumer = string -> { something(); } catch (Exception e) { /* still part of the consumer */ } // Instead of: Consumer consumer = string -> { try { something(); } catch (Exception e) { /* still part of the consumer */ } } Would that have prevented long discussions about checked exceptions in lambdas and in the Stream APILoops// Better: for (String string : strings) { something(); } catch (Exception e) { /* still part of the loop's iteration */ } // Instead of: for (String string : strings) { try { something(); } catch (Exception e) { /* still part of the loop's iteration */ } } Again, tons of syntactic value here!If / ElseFor consistency reasons, although this might appear a bit esoteric to people used to Java code. But let’s think out of the box, and admit the following!// Better: if (check) { something(); } catch (Exception e) { /* still part of the if branch */ } else { somethingElse(); } catch (Exception e) { /* still part of the else branch */ } // Instead of: if (check) { try { something(); } catch (Exception e) { /* still part of the if branch */ } } else { try { something(); } catch (Exception e) { /* still part of the else branch */ } } Huh!Method BodiesLast but not least, method bodies would be the ultimate entities profiting from this additional syntax sugar. If you’re admitting that the curly braces in methods are nothing but mandatory blocks (or mandatory BEGIN .. END constructs), then you could have:// Better: public void method() { something(); } catch (Exception e) { /* still part of the method body */ } // Instead of: public void method() { try { something(); } catch (Exception e) { /* still part of the method body */ } } This is particularly useful for (static) initialisers, where exception handling is always a pain, as there is no way to specify a throws clause in a (static) initialiser (might be a good opportunity to fix that!)class Something { // Better: static { something(); } catch (Exception e) { /* still part of the initialiser body */ } // Instead of: static { try { something(); } catch (Exception e) { /* still part of the initialiser body */ } } } Of course, the “old” syntax would still be possible. For instance, when using the try-with-resources statement, it is inevitable. But the big advantage of such syntax sugar is that in cases when we have to handle exceptions (namely checked exceptions), the pain would be lessened a bit, as we could do so without nesting blocks several levels deep. Perhaps, with this syntax, we would no longer criticise checked exceptions at all?Very interesting ideas, thanks again, Maaartinus, for sharing.What are your thoughts? Read more

Astronomers find a tailless comet, first of its kind

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. Astronomers have found a first-of-its-kind tailless comet whose composition may offer clues into long-standing questions about the solar system's formation and evolution, according to research published on Friday in the journal Science Advances.The so-called "Manx" comet, named after a breed of cats without tails, was made of rocky materials that are normally found near Earth. Most comets are made of ice and other frozen compounds and were formed in solar system's frigid far reaches.Researchers believe the newly found comet was formed in the same region as Earth, then booted to the solar system’s backyard like a gravitational slingshot as planets jostled for position.Scientists involved in the discovery now seek to learn how many more Manx comets exist, which could help to resolve debate over exactly how and when the solar system settled into its current configuration. "Depending how many we find, we will know whether the giant planets danced across the solar system when they were young, or if they grew up quietly without moving much," paper co-author Olivier Hainaut, an astronomer with the European Southern Observatory in Germany, said in a statement.The new comet, known as C/2014 S3, was discovered in 2014 by the Panoramic Survey Telescope and Rapid Response System, or Pan-STARRS. This network of telescopes scours the night-time skies for fast-moving comets, asteroids and other celestial bodies.Typically comets coming in from the same region as the Manx grow bright tails as they approach the sun, the result of ice vaporizing off their bodies and gleaming in reflected sunlight. But C/2014 S3 was dark and virtually tailless when it was spotted about twice as far away from the sun as Earth. Later analysis showed that instead of ices typically found on comets, the Manx comet contained materials similar to the rocky asteroids located in a belt between Mars and Jupiter. And C/2014 S3 appeared pristine, an indication that it had been in the solar system's deep freeze for a long time, said University of Hawaii astronomer Karen Meech, the lead author. The discovery of additional Manx comets could help scientists to refine computer models used to simulate the solar system's formation, Meech said. (Reporting by Irene Klotz; editing by Letitia Stein and Diane Craft) Read more

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