posted 11 days ago on ars technica
Enlarge / A BE-4 rocket engine powerpack on the test stand in West Texas. Ever since the first successful suborbital flight of its New Shepard spacecraft and rocket, Blue Origin has been leading a charmed life. The company, founded by Amazon's Jeff Bezos, has launched and safely landed its reusable vehicle five times. It has splashily announced a forthcoming orbital rocket, New Glenn. And Bezos himself has racked up a number of aerospace awards for his accomplishments. But on Sunday Blue Origin announced a setback. "We lost a set of powerpack test hardware on one of our BE-4 test stands yesterday," the company tweeted. "Not unusual during development." The company declined to provide more information about the accident to Ars, but most likely the powerpack—that is, the turbines and pumps that provide the fuel-oxidizer mix into the combustion chamber of the rocket engine—exploded. It is not clear whether the test stand itself sustained serious damage (the company has at least two stands at its rocket engine testing facilities near Van Horn, Texas), nor whether the engine hardware was being pushed to some kind of limit, or whether this was part of routine testing as Blue Origin moves toward a full-scale engine test. Also, while no details were released, Blue Origin added that it expects engine testing to resume "soon." Read 5 remaining paragraphs | Comments

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posted 11 days ago on ars technica
Enlarge / Pilot models of the Uber self-driving car, at the Uber Advanced Technologies Center in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (credit: ANGELO MERENDINO/AFP/Getty Images) A US federal judge has ordered Uber to bar its top self-driving car engineer from any work on LiDAR, and return stolen files to Google's self-driving car unit Waymo. Today's order (PDF) by US District Judge William Alsup demands Uber do "whatever it can to ensure that its employees return 14,000-plus pilfered files to their rightful owner." The files must be returned by May 31. The order was granted last week, but just made public in an unsealed document this morning. US District Judge William Alsup found that Uber "likely knew or at least should have known" that the man it hired as its top self-driving car engineer, Anthony Levandowski, took and kept more than 14,000 Waymo files. Those files "likely contain at least some trade secrets," making some "provisional relief" for Waymo appropriate. Read 11 remaining paragraphs | Comments

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posted 11 days ago on ars technica
Google has (finally) formally announced its "Android Automotive" in-car infotainment system. The company has signed a deal with Audi and Volvo to bring a car-focused version of Android to market, with Google building and licensing the OS for car makers just as it does for phone OEMs. Both Audi and Volvo will build Google's version of car Android into "their next generation" of cars. Today Google's only spot in the automotive market is Android Auto, which is not an operating system. Android Auto is a "casted" interface that runs on a smartphone and uses the in-dash car display as an external touchscreen monitor. This new initiative (called "Android Automotive" in Google's Android compatibility documentation) is a full operating system that runs directly on the car's onboard computers. Read 5 remaining paragraphs | Comments

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posted 11 days ago on ars technica
Enlarge / Google's "Project Treble" aims to streamline Android updates, but when it comes to security, Google could still be doing more. (credit: Google) Last Friday, Google announced a major new initiative that promises to solve one of the many problems that keeps Android phones from being promptly udpated. Coming as a part of the forthcoming Android O, Google will soon begin separating the Android operating system from the hardware-specific drivers and firmware on each individual Android phone in a move called "Project Treble." If successful, Project Treble will prevent a repeat of what we saw last year with Android Nougat, when Qualcomm’s unwillingness to support the update on older hardware made it impossible for companies to release the update on older devices even if they wanted to. But as we wrote last week, this is still just a solution for one of Android’s many update problems. Treble can help OEMs support older hardware for longer and with less effort, and that’s unquestionably a good thing. But the core issue remains: wireless carriers and phone makers are still the gatekeepers for updates, and since they all make their money primarily from selling new hardware, they have little incentive to offer continued support for stuff they’ve already sold—especially once it’s no longer on store shelves. There are technical and political reasons why Android updates don’t come directly from Google. On the technical side, carriers need to do their own validation and testing to prevent network problems, and OEMs need to make sure that their skins and other differentiating features work with new Android versions before releasing them. Politically, OEMs and carriers don’t want to become “dumb” conduits for Google’s software and services, since it reduces their ability to differentiate themselves from their competitors, and they don’t want to be subject to Google’s every whim or demand. Read 9 remaining paragraphs | Comments

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posted 11 days ago on ars technica
Enlarge / Sam Altman, president of Y Combinator and co-chairman of OpenAI, seen here in July 2016. (credit: Drew Angerer / Getty Images News) Sam Altman, president of storied Silicon Valley startup accelerator Y Combinator, is reportedly considering a run for governor of California in 2018. According to San Francisco Chronicle columnist Willie Brown, Altman recently came to Brown for political advice. Brown served as mayor of San Francisco for eight years, and is a veteran of state politics. Next year, the race for the governorship of the most populous state in America will be wide open for the first time in many years, with Gov. Jerry Brown facing term limits. Read 6 remaining paragraphs | Comments

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posted 11 days ago on ars technica
Enlarge (credit: Mike Coppola/Getty Images for Lyft) On Sunday, the New York Times reported that Lyft and Waymo have agreed to collaborate on self-driving technology. Ride-hailing services are salivating at the prospect of autonomous vehicles, as it will allow them to offer their services without having to deal with human drivers, who need to be paid and also screened for criminal backgrounds. The deal has been struck while Waymo is in the midst of a legal battle with Lyft's deadliest rival, Uber. Waymo, an Alphabet company that was spun out of Google's self-driving car program, has accused Uber of stealing trade secrets in order to get a leg up on its own autonomous driving program. This isn't the first such deal that Lyft has entered into. In 2016, General Motors invested $500 million in the company in order to develop driverless vehicles. And in February of this year we discovered that GM and Lyft plan to deploy thousands of Chevrolet Bolts equipped with self-driving sensor technology. Autonomous vehicles are being enabled by machine learning algorithms, and the more test miles research fleets can cover, the better the cars can drive themselves. Read 1 remaining paragraphs | Comments

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posted 11 days ago on ars technica
I’ve finally found enough time between e-mails and Skype calls to write up the crazy events that occurred over Friday, which was supposed to be part of my week off. You’ve probably read about the Wanna Decryptor (aka WannaCrypt or WCry) fiasco on several news sites, but I figured I’d tell my story. I woke up at around 10am and checked onto the UK cyber threat sharing platform where I had been following the spread of the Emotet banking malware, something that seemed incredibly significant until today. There were a few of your usual posts about various organisations being hit with ransomware, but nothing significant... yet. I ended up going out to lunch with a friend, meanwhile the WannaCrypt ransomware campaign had entered full swing. When I returned home at about 2:30, the threat sharing platform was flooded with posts about various NHS systems all across the country being hit, which was what tipped me off to the fact this was something big. Although ransomware on a public sector system isn’t even newsworthy, systems being hit simultaneously across the country is. (Contrary to popular belief, most NHS employees don’t open phishing e-mails, which suggested that something to be this widespread it would have to be propagated using another method.) Read 29 remaining paragraphs | Comments

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posted 11 days ago on ars technica
Enlarge Nintendo is continuing its push into smartphone gaming with another classic franchise: The Legend of Zelda. The game, which is yet to be officially announced by Nintendo, will be released following a mobile version of Animal Crossing, which was delayed from a planned March 2017 launch until "the next fiscal year." The Wall Street Journal, citing insider sources, claimed Animal Crossing will launch in the "latter half" of 2017, with Zelda likely to follow in 2018. Earlier this year, Nintendo CEO Tatsumi Kimishima noted in an earnings call that the company planned to release up to three new mobile games by March 2018. So far, only Animal Crossing has been made official. Read 4 remaining paragraphs | Comments

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posted 11 days ago on ars technica
Welcome to the latest edition of the Google Tracker, an annual series where we chronicle Google's and Alphabet's attempts to take over every aspect of modern life. With Google I/O happening in just a few days (Wednesday, May 17), we wanted to round up everything we know (or everything we think we know) that Google is working on. So the following is a heady mix of past announcements, acquisitions, software teardowns, rumors from reliable sources, and some speculation. We're not claiming everything (or anything) in this list will launch at I/O—timing aside, this is simply everything we've heard Google is working on. Table of Contents Android O Developer Preview 2 and other Android features "Copyless Paste" comes to Gboard Android Pay goes hands free Android One comes to the US What exactly do "Android Extensions" do? Google's two "post-app" projects make progress New Android TV and Android Wear features at I/O Google Hardware, year two The Google Home/Google Wi-Fi combo device Three(!) new Pixel phones A standalone VR headset Things the Google Hardware team should probably make Android in your car The Google Assistant comes to Android Auto Android Automotive—The Android Car OS Google's Other OSes Fuchsia—Google's second smartphone OS dumps Linux Android for PCs—is the "Andromeda" Chrome OS/Android hybrid still happening? Google Allo's futile attempt to become relevant Google takes on Slack with (yet another version of) Hangouts Will Google Play ever arrive in China? Chrome gets an ad blocker?! Material Design on the Web Alphabet's "fiscal discipline era" starts a moonshot massacre Waymo—Building a totally-integrated self-driving vehicle solution Verily—The "Google Healthcare" division is actually doing well Calico—Death still isn't cured DeepMind would like to play a game Will Nest ever ship a new product? Sidewalk Labs wants to build... a smart city?! Is anything left of ATAP? The futuristic Google Campus is finally under construction Tune in May 17 for even more Googleyness! Android O Developer Preview 2 and other Android features The Android O logo. Just like last year, the big Android developer preview release happened before I/O, taking a bit of the excitement out of the event. The first Android O Developer Preview launched in March, so what's left for I/O? Google published a roadmap for future Android O releases and slotted the second developer preview in between "May" and "June." Conveniently, that happens to be when Google I/O is. We'd say it's a lock for the second preview to be introduced at the show. Read 115 remaining paragraphs | Comments

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posted 11 days ago on ars technica
Enlarge (credit: Stephen Brashear / Getty Images News) Two days after a National Security Agency-derived ransomware worm infected 200,000 computers in 150 countries, Microsoft on Sunday criticized the stockpiling of exploits by government spies, warning it results in damage to civilians. The unusually blunt message from Microsoft President and Chief Legal Officer Brad Smith came after a weekend of tense calm, as security professionals assessed damage from Friday's outbreak and braced themselves for the possibility of follow-on attacks that might be harder to stop. It also came 24 hours after Microsoft took the highly unusual step of issuing patches that immunize Windows XP, 8, and Server 2003, operating systems the company stopped supporting as many as three years ago. Sunday's salvo tacitly noted the NSA's key role in Friday's attack, which copied almost verbatim large sections of two highly advanced hacking tools that were stolen from the NSA and leaked to the world at large last month by a mysterious group calling itself Shadow Brokers. In the post, Smith wrote: Read 4 remaining paragraphs | Comments

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posted 12 days ago on ars technica
Enlarge (credit: Getty | BSIP) Bacteria come in two flavors: Gram-positive and Gram-negative. Gram is a violet dye, named for its discoverer, that is more readily taken up by some microbes (the Gram-positive ones) than by others (you guessed it, the Gram-negative ones). Gram-negative bacteria are surrounded by two cell membranes, and the outer one is really tough to get across. In addition to keeping out the Gram dye, this outer membrane also keeps out many commonly used antibiotics. We are desperately in need not only of new antibiotics, but of new types of antibiotics. The last new class of antibiotics effective against Gram-negative bacteria–including bacteria that cause Whooping cough, Legionnaire’s disease, typhoid fever, and bubonic plague-was last introduced in 1968. And this is not for lack of trying. In 2007, GlaxoSmithKline reported screening 500,000 compounds for activity against E. coli and came up with a grand total of none. Now, a team of researchers may have figured out a way of getting antibiotics that normally don't work on Gram-negative bacteria inside those cells. Once inside, the antibiotics seem to be as effective as drugs specific to Gram-negative bacteria. Read 6 remaining paragraphs | Comments

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posted 13 days ago on ars technica
Enlarge (credit: Des Willie/BBC) This is a post-UK broadcast review of Doctor Who: Oxygen. River Song always warned the Doctor against spoilers, so be sure to watch the episode first. Doctor Who, season 10, airs on Saturdays at 7:15pm UK time on BBC One, and 9pm EDT on BBC America. This week's episode—Oxygen—is the first to show Bill in serious danger, courtesy of a malfunctioning spacesuit that nearly kills her and also, ultimately, saves her from dying: a dichotomy that seems to point to the uneasy relationship some people have with capitalism—a theme that is explored here. And again racism is challenged. I'm reminded of classic Star Trek episodes that score an A-plus for science fiction, while still finding time to scrutinize modern-day prejudices. Not surprising, then, that the Doctor's first line is "space, the final frontier." Although, Oxygen—which too easily slips into on-the-nose dialogue in an otherwise solid Doctor Who episode that expertly knits chunks of knotty science into the plot—probably deserves a B-minus at best. Read 15 remaining paragraphs | Comments

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posted 13 days ago on ars technica
Enlarge / On March 31 SpaceX made the world's first reflight of an orbital class rocket. (credit: SpaceX) About 10 days ago, a founding employee of SpaceX, Tom Mueller, made a Skype call to a group of "fans" of the company with the New York University Astronomy Society. The call was recorded and posted to Twitch.tv. It garnered little attention until Saturday, when a user on the SpaceX subreddit called attention to it. Although the provenance of the 54-minute call is not entirely clear, there is no question it is Mueller speaking, and he is doing so in a rare, unfiltered way. The 15-year employee of SpaceX, who is now the company's Propulsion Chief Technology Officer, says things that many of SpaceX's employees probably feel, but which are nonetheless impolitic. In other words, Mueller throws shade at just about everyone. For example, of the company's most immediate rival, United Launch Alliance, Mueller has this to say: "The cost that the government cost-plus programs charge for their rockets is just ridiculous." During an approximately 30-minute monologue, which was followed by a Q&A, Mueller expands on what it was like to work at a start-up rocket company when the field was populated primarily by large aerospace companies and government entities, and to eventually come out on top. "We really changed the industry," he says. "The other guys are really scrambling. It's pretty funny to watch." The call originates about a month after SpaceX's historic flight of a reused rocket. Read 6 remaining paragraphs | Comments

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posted 13 days ago on ars technica
Enlarge / Home, sweet colony. Saturn's moon Titan. (credit: University of Arizona / LPL ) For a while now, there's been a debate in the US over how to direct NASA's next major human spaceflight initiative. Do we build an outpost on the Moon as a step towards Mars, or do we just head straight for the red planet? Which ever destination we choose, it'll be viewed as the first step toward a permanent human presence outside of the immediate neighborhood of the Earth. All of that indecision, according to a new book called Beyond Earth, is misguided. Either of these destinations presents so many challenges and compromises that attracting and supporting anything more than short-term visitors will be difficult. Instead, Beyond Earth argues, we should set our sights much farther out in the Solar System if we want to create a permanent human presence elsewhere. The authors' destination of choice? Titan, the largest moon of Saturn. The case for Titan Colonizing Titan seems like an outrageous argument, given that the only spacecraft we've put in orbit around Saturn took seven years to get there. Why should anyone take Beyond Earth seriously? Well, its authors aren't crackpots or mindless space fans. Amanda Hendrix is a planetary scientist who's worked at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory and the Planetary Science Institute. For the book, she's partnered with Charles Wohlforth, an environmental journalist who understands some things about establishing a livable environment. And the two of them have conducted extensive interviews, talking to people at NASA and elsewhere about everything from the health complications of space to future propulsion systems. Read 10 remaining paragraphs | Comments

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posted 13 days ago on ars technica
Jonathan Gitlin The heady days of Group B rallying (and racing) will always have a special place in the hearts of most motorsports fans. Introduced by the FIA in 1982, the Group B rules offered a vast amount of technical freedom for manufacturers. Although the OEMs had to produce road-legal versions, they were required to build just 200 to sell to the public in order to homologate their creations. Most of their vehicles (but not all) were based—however loosely—on road cars already in production. What we got was a series of wild and wonderful machines, with massive wings, blistered wheel arches and body kits, all-wheel drive, and lashings and lashings of horsepower and torque. Perhaps too much of the latter, in fact: although Group B was a huge hit with the public, the cars were maybe too fast for the rally stages on which they competed. A string of fatal accidents eventually proved too much for the FIA, which banned Group B cars halfway through 1986. Read 12 remaining paragraphs | Comments

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posted 13 days ago on ars technica
Enlarge / The Shai-Hulud greets its Fremen pals on the front cover of the first edition of the game. (credit: Tom Mendelsohn) Welcome to Ars Cardboard, our weekend look at tabletop games! Check out our complete board gaming coverage at cardboard.arstechnica.com—and let us know what you think. “Do a friend a favor,” says a promotional card included in the legendary 1979 board game Dune. “If you know someone who has the basic brain power to comprehend Avalon Hill games, then get him to send us this postcard.” At the bottom of the card, that friend literally has to sign a sort of affidavit: “I swear that I have the necessary grey matter to enjoy your games.” Read 39 remaining paragraphs | Comments

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posted 13 days ago on ars technica
Beddit Fitness trackers didn't always monitor sleep, but the feature is now a sought-after staple in most devices, as sleep is just as important as exercise to a healthy lifestyle. Most wristbands monitor sleep now, and there are even specialized devices that go on your head or bedside table that can also keep track of how long and how well you sleep each night. But sleep tracking isn't as simple as step tracking, and you need more than a simple accelerometer to measure it accurately. While motion is an indicator, it's not the only metric you should track to get a full picture of how well you slept. Read 18 remaining paragraphs | Comments

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posted 13 days ago on ars technica
Enlarge (credit: Health Service Journal) A day after a ransomware worm infected 75,000 machines in 100 countries, Microsoft is taking the highly unusual step of issuing patches that immunize Windows XP, 8, and Server 2003, operating systems the company stopped supporting as many as three years ago. The company also rolled out a signature that allows its Windows Defender antivirus engine to provide "defese-in-depth" protection. The moves came after attackers on Friday used a recently leaked attack tool developed by the National Security Agency to virally spread ransomware known as WCry. Within hours, computer systems around the world were crippled, prompting hospitals to turn away patients and telecoms, banks and companies such as FedEx to turn off computers for the weekend. The chaos surprised many security watchers because Microsoft issued an update in March that patched the underlying vulnerability in Windows 7 and most other supported versions of Windows. (Windows 10 was never vulnerable.) Friday's events made it clear that enough unpatched systems exist to cause significant outbreaks that could happen again in the coming days or months. In a blog post published late Friday night, Microsoft officials wrote: Read 9 remaining paragraphs | Comments

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posted 14 days ago on ars technica
NASA After Donald Trump moved into the White House in January, his advisers asked NASA to consider the possibility of a splashy achievement during the president's first term. Shortly following that, the space agency announced that it had begun to study the possibility of adding crew members to the maiden launch of the Space Launch System (SLS) rocket. This seemed an ambitious ask for 2019. Not only was the agency already scrambling to meet a November 2018 deadline for an uncrewed test flight of the SLS rocket and Orion spacecraft, but few of the life support systems needed to keep crew members alive during a spaceflight were planned to be ready before 2021. Also, it's rare to launch crew on the first flight of any rocket, as engineers like to have confidence in their launch system before adding humans. Read 14 remaining paragraphs | Comments

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posted 14 days ago on ars technica
(credit: Robbin Gheesling) When plastic garbage makes its way to the sea, it eventually breaks down into tiny fragments that return to us in salty seasonings, Malaysian researchers report in Scientific Reports. In a survey of 16 sea salts from eight countries, researchers found microplastic particles lurking in all but one. In total, the researchers collected 72 particles from the salts and used micro-Raman spectroscopy to identify their components, which were mainly plastic polymers and pigments. The amount of microplastics in the salts was so low that they pose no health risk—even if the only salt you ever eat is sea salt and you eat a lot of it. However, the flavored pollution is still worth keeping an eye on, the researchers argue. Read 7 remaining paragraphs | Comments

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posted 14 days ago on ars technica
Since time immemorial, the Android ecosystem has made quickly updating an operating system across devices seem like an impossible task. Google releases a new version of Android, and while Nexus and Pixel devices get updated, other Android OEMs mostly shrug their shoulders and go about their business. If users are lucky, they might get an OS update six months down the line, at which point Google has already moved on to an even newer version of Android. Ahead of Google I/O, Google has just dropped a bombshell of a blog post that promises, for real this time, that it is finally doing something about Android's update problems. "Project Treble" is a plan to modularize the Android OS, separating the OS framework code from "vendor specific" hardware code. In theory, this change would allow for a new Android update to be flashed on a device without any involvement from the silicon vendor. Google calls it "the biggest change to the low-level system architecture of Android to date," and it's already live on the Google Pixel's Android O Developer Preview. Read 7 remaining paragraphs | Comments

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posted 14 days ago on ars technica
It all sounded so good on paper. Director Guy Ritchie, who reimagined Sherlock Holmes as a smart scrapper starring Robert Downey Jr., wanted to do a fresh take on the King Arthur legend. He cast Sons of Anarchy star Charlie Hunnam as the born king, raised in a brothel on the mean streets of medieval Londinium. Then Ritchie got Jude Law to play the self-hating evil mage king Vortigern. Plus there would be Iron Age street fights, giant monsters, and swords! How could it go wrong? Yeah, about that... The frustrating thing about watching King Arthur Legend of the Sword is that you can almost reconstruct the perfectly decent movies it could have been. Ritchie has a great visual style, Hunnam is fun as this new version of Arthur who grew up as a city rat instead of a farm boy, and Law can chew scenery like nobody's business. But in almost every scene, the action is undermined by weird edits that turn the whole affair into the narrative equivalent of four-year-old holiday fruitcake. Read 7 remaining paragraphs | Comments

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posted 14 days ago on ars technica
(credit: Microsoft) SEATTLE—When Microsoft first introduced the Windows Subsystem for Linux (WSL) at last year's Build developer conference, it said that it was doing so to make developers who were familiar with the Linux command line feel comfortable on Windows. The immediate and inevitable question was "Well, what about Windows Server?" Development is one thing, but what if organizations wanted to occasionally deploy their Linux software on Windows? Although Windows Server 2016 and Windows 10 share many components, the Server operating system hasn't thus far included WSL, consistent with the "developer only" rationale. But that's going to change: at Build this week, Microsoft announced that WSL will be included in Server later this year. Microsoft still isn't positioning this as a way of running Linux server in production on Windows; rather, the company says the addition will be useful for administrative tasks. With WSL, Windows can run scripts written for Linux. But we're hard-pressed to see things stopping there; it seems inevitable that at some point, Windows will offer the ability to run Linux server software as one of its features. Read 3 remaining paragraphs | Comments

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posted 14 days ago on ars technica
Enlarge / Loki Patera, in the lower-center, has a central island that divides two waves of molten material. (credit: NASA/JPL/USGS) Volcanic activity appears to be a common feature in our Solar System; we have evidence of it on three planets and two moons and hints of it elsewhere. But that doesn't mean all volcanic activity is the same. Venus' activity is driven by a simple version of plate tectonics. On the Moon, massive lava flows were released by large impacts, and Mars just seems to have vented heat left over from its formation. There are also hints of cryovolcanoes, which belch up ice rather than lava, on some of the bodies of the outer Solar System. But when it comes to sheer volume of activity, all of this takes a back seat to Jupiter's moon Io. Io is partially molten due to gravitational stress from its proximity to three large moons and a massive planet. The results are active volcanoes and vast pools of molten material on the Moon's surface. And we just got a good look inside the biggest of them. Slicing up Loki Loki Patera is the most powerful active volcano in the Solar System. It's an enormous crater with a central island; around that island is a sea of hot material that covers more than 20,000 square kilometers. By all appearances, that hot material isn't stable, since the entire surface seems to be reworked every few years, temporarily replaced by new hot material. Read 10 remaining paragraphs | Comments

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posted 14 days ago on ars technica
Enlarge / If you're looking to buy a downloadable copy of Alan Wake after this weekend, a flashlight won't help your search. If you missed out on 2010's Alan Wake—a game our reviewer called "a wonderful exercise in video game storytelling"—this weekend will be your last chance to purchase the downloadable version of the game before it's gone for good. Developer Remedy Entertainment announced on Twitter this morning that the game will be "removed from stores after 5/15 due to expiring music licenses." That removal includes the Xbox 360 marketplace, according to a follow-up tweet. "We are looking into relicensing the music for Alan Wake but have no timeframe for this," Remedy said in a FAQ on its forums. Read 4 remaining paragraphs | Comments

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