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There is such a drastic increase in lighting during the holidays that NASA has picked up on it, according to a press release published by the U.S. space agency. Specifically, the NOAA/NASA Suomi National Polar-orbiting Partnership satellite found that metropolitan areas increased 20 to 50 percent brighter during the Christmas holiday season and New Year's.
"It's a near ubiquitous signal. Despite being ethnically and religiously diverse, we found that the U.S. experiences a holiday increase that is present across most urban communities," noted Miguel Roman, NASA Goddard research physical scientist. "These lighting patterns are tracking a national shared tradition."
A new Associated Press-GfK poll discovered 41 percent Americans opposed drones for commercial use, with just 21 percent favoring commercial drone use, and 35 percent still sitting on the fence. Only three percent of those surveyed have flown small drones, but that number is expected to increase in the coming years.
Congress will likely push the FAA to help move things along faster, as the drone industry is expected to create 100,000 jobs and provide $82 billion for the economy in the first 10 years.
The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) will continue to move forward with private and commercial drone use - and companies continue to push forward with drone use for deliveries, filming in Hollywood, agriculture, engineering, and other verticals.
It wasn't too long ago when the Kepler planet-hunting spacecraft was considered a lost cause, due to problems with its reaction wheels. Instead, the spacecraft proved its worth yet again, as it found the HIP 116454b exoplanet, larger than Earth and smaller than Neptune, orbiting around a star in just nine days. The planet is too hot for life, and is more than 180 light-years away from Earth, located in the Pisces constellation.
Planets such as HIP 116454b are good prospects for future follow-up ground studies, as researchers try to gain mass measurements.
"Today, thanks to an innovative idea and lots of hard work by the NASA and Ball Aerospace team, Kepler may well deliver the first candidates for follow-up study by the James Webb Space Telescope to characterize the atmospheres of distance world's and search for signatures of life," said Paul Hertz, NASA astrophysics division director.
The University of Wisconsin-Madison is fully embracing the looming storm connected devices, with students creating dozens of connected devices in its custom Internet of Things Lab. Students have created a smart kitchen inventory, smart tech football helmet able to detect injuries, and other cutting-edge products - all part of a unique effort that isn't for a class, so students set aside their own time to learn more.
Sandra Bradley, the lab's research director for consumer and retailer applications, broke down IoT: "Imagine everything you touch could have an Internet connection with sensing and data, and it could do more. Your refrigerator keeps things cold. What if it could give you shopping lists or monitor spoilage of food? This is about things people touch every day, and say, 'What if?'"
Preparing students for IoT research, engineering and programming is an important effort - analysts believe there will be 50 billion connected devices in our lives by 2020. The job market should boom around connected technology, so this is an innovative program at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
The Curiosity rover traveling across the surface of Mars has stumbled across organic matter, with scientists saying they saw a tenfold spike in methane. The discovery means there must be a "relatively localized source," with many potential sources, both biological and non-biological, as Curiosity continues to drill into the Martian surface.
"This first confirmation of organic carbon in a rock on Mars holds much promise," said Roger Summons, MIT scientist and Curiosity participating researcher, in a press statement. "Organics are important because they can tell us about the chemical pathways by which they were formed and preserved. In turn, this is informative about Earth-Mars differences and whether or not particular environments represented by Gale Crater sedimentary rocks were more or less favorable for accumulation of organic materials."
Researchers are using unmanned drones to fly into Western and Midwestern storms, as they try to better learn how tornadoes form. Using drones is a realistic and more affordable way to reach storms that most scientific instruments simply can't reach.
The Unmanned Aircraft System and Severe Storms Research Group was created by the University of Colorado and University of Nebraska, with both universities creating a custom research consortium. Both universities will strengthen their relationship with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to receive approval for flying drones in extreme weather.
"For most of the past decade, CU-Boulder's UAS research group has collaborated closely with Dr. [Adam] Houston and his UNL severe-storm research group," said Brian Argrow, CU-Boulder aerospace engineers. "Our creation of the new consortium establishes a forum to productively engage current and future collaborations with whom we will work to use UAS to better understand the origins and evolution of severe storms, and to potentially revolutionize severe-storm forecasting and warning systems."
Northern California is enjoying a rather wet December, and the rainfall has helped increase the state's largest water reservoir from 26 percent to 31 percent capacity, but still needs as much rain as possible. The state still needs 11 trillion gallons of water to recover from three years of relatively mild winters, according to NASA satellite data.
Mandatory water restrictions occurred throughout the state over the summer, with low water levels in reservoirs and lakes, while also hurting agriculture. Since 2011, there has been a decreased volume of four trillion gallons of water per year at the Sacramento and San Joaquin river basins.
"We will need two or three winters of above average precipitation," said Jay Famiglietti from the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory, in a statement made to CBS News during the American Geophysical Union (AGU) conference in San Francisco. "Every rain storm is like a deposit in a bank account by the size of the deficit is so big. We are going to need a lot of rain to accumulate that storage."
There should be plenty of new drone fliers in the new year, as drone sales are reportedly soaring ahead of Christmas. Amazon is selling more than 10,000 drones per month alone, according to industry officials, as interest increases while prices continue to fall.
"It's out of control," said Patric Egan, editor at UASNEWS.com. "I was at the grocery store and you can buy a drone. Everybody's selling them now. It's going to get weird."
However, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) said there have been more than 40 drone safety incidents per month, and that number will only increase as novice operators take their shiny new toys to the sky. The FAA instructs hobbyists to fly drones only by line of sight, and not to use video image tools, but it's not difficult to find video equipment available for sale online. Drone owners can also purchase long-range radio links, another feature that should only be utilized by experienced drone operators.
iRobot has announced the Create 2, a preassembled robot platform that is based off the company's successful Roomba robot. This new platform will allow educators to boost interest in STEM research among students, with a robot unit, 3D printable files, faceplate drilling template, and educational instructions and projects lined up for students.
The platform is now available for $199.99, and has everything necessary for students to immediately begin developing their own robotics platform.
"As a global leader in robotics technology, iRobot believes its greatest social responsibility is to ignite students' passion for STEM-related careers through the excitement of robots," said Colin Angle, iRobot chairman and CEO, in a press statement. "Robots have a cool factor unlike any other learning tool. Create 2, with its online resources, reliable hardware born of the award winning Roomba, and ease of customization simply delivers more robot than anything available to students an educators at or near its price. We are so excited to be able to make this available to the educational community."
The US Navy and Boston Engineering created a new underwater drone called the GhostSwimmer, a reconnaissance drone that looks just like a shark. GhostSwimmer measures five feet in length, weighs around 100 pounds, and can "swim" in water from 10 inches to 300 feet in depth. The UUV can operate while tethered or swim independently, with personnel controlling it using joysticks.
"GhostSwimmer will allow the Navy to have success during more types of missions while keeping divers and sailors safe," said Michael Rufo, Boston Engineering Advanced System Group director, in a press statement.
The US Navy has boosted efforts to create a fleet of unmanned underwater vehicles (UUVs) it can use or reconnaissance, security - and one day help launch stealth attacks - against select targets. There is increased research into robotics and drone development based on natural movement of wild animals.