BBC: For the first time, an entire satellite may be run through a piece of everyday consumer electronics—a Google Nexus smartphone. The CubeSat Strand-1, being developed by the Surrey Space Centre and Surrey Satellite Technology in the UK, is set to launch from India later this month. Although the phone on board won’t take over operation of the satellite right away, it will eventually run a number of apps, for such purposes as sensing the magnetic environment in space. Smartphones aren’t likely to ever run larger, more costly satellites, but some of their technologies might be used.
New York Review of Books: For decades, New York University education professor Diane Ravitch has written about, spoken about, and served US education, including as an official in the administration of President George H. W. Bush. In her NYRB commentary she bluntly condemns teacher-performance metrics based on scores from standardized tests. Framing her national argument in terms of current education politics in New York, she asserts that such tests “are not yardsticks” or “scientific instruments,” but instead “are social constructions, and quite apart from how contingent their results are on the social and economic background of the students being tested, they are also subject to human error, sampling error, random error, and other errors.” She also condemns common analogies: “It is true that the cleanliness of restaurants can be given a letter grade,” that “agribusiness can be measured by crop yields,” and that “corporations can be measured by their profits,” she writes. But “to apply a letter grade or a numerical ranking to a professional is to radically misunderstand the complex set of qualities that make someone good at what they do. It is an effort by economists and statisticians to quantify activities that are at heart matters of judgment, not productivity.”
Nature: A massive star, about 500 million light-years from Earth, blew off a parcel of gas just 40 days before the star went supernova. The discovery was made by astronomers studying images captured by the Palomar Transient Factory (PTF), an astronomical wide-field survey based at the Palomar Observatory in California. The fully automated PTF constantly sweeps the sky, looking for supernovae, transiting planets, and other transient events. After discovering supernova SN 2010mc, Eran Ofek of the Weizmann Institute of Science in Rehovot, Israel, and his colleagues searched earlier images to see whether they could detect the ejection of material that many believe occurs years or decades before such type II supernovae explode. It is thought that in the late stages of a massive star’s evolution, energy generated by the core burning is carried by oscillations from the interior to the exterior and expelled. Whether such a blast triggers a star to go supernova, however, needs to be investigated further.
Science News: Yesterday a magnitude 8.0 earthquake struck 81 km west of Santa Cruz Island, part of the Solomon Islands, in the southwest Pacific Ocean. The quake triggered a tsunami and multiple aftershocks, three with magnitudes greater than 6.0. At least five people were killed and several villages damaged. The region is prone to earthquakes and subsequent tsunamis because it is located near a thrust fault at the boundary of the Pacific and Australian tectonic plates. An earthquake of similar magnitude struck in 2007, and dozens were reported in the month leading up to yesterday’s quake.