Archive for December 2006

Scientists Predict Big Solar Cycle

PhysOrg : Scientists Predict Big Solar Cycle

Evidence is mounting: the next solar cycle is going to be a big one. Solar cycle 24, due to peak in 2010 or 2011 “looks like its going to be one of the most intense cycles since record-keeping began almost 400 years ago,” says solar physicist David Hathaway of the Marshall Space Flight Center. He and colleague Robert Wilson presented this conclusion last week at the American Geophysical Union meeting in San Francisco.

Their forecast is based on historical records of geomagnetic storms.

Hathaway explains: “When a gust of solar wind hits Earth’s magnetic field, the impact causes the magnetic field to shake. If it shakes hard enough, we call it a geomagnetic storm.” In the extreme, these storms cause power outages and make compass needles swing in the wrong direction. Auroras are a beautiful side-effect.

Hathaway and Wilson looked at records of geomagnetic activity stretching back almost 150 years and noticed something useful:. “The amount of geomagnetic activity now tells us what the solar cycle is going to be like 6 to 8 years in the future,” says Hathaway. [Read on]

Vista Exploit Surfaces on Russian Hacker Site

eWeek: Vista Exploit Surfaces on Russian Hacker Site

Proof-of-concept exploit code for a privilege escalation vulnerability affecting all versions of Windows—including Vista—has been posted on a Russian hacker forum, forcing Microsoft to activate its emergency response process.

Mike Reavey, operations manager of the Microsoft Security Response Center, confirmed that the company is “closely monitoring” the public posting, which first appeared on a Russian language forum on Dec. 15. It affects “csrss.exe,” which is the main executable for the Microsoft Client/Server Runtime Server.

According to an alert cross-posted to security mailing lists, the vulnerability is caused by a memory corruption when certain strings are sent through the MessageBox API.

“The PoC reportedly allows for local elevation of privilege on Windows 2000 SP4, Windows Server 2003 SP1, Windows XP SP1, Windows XP SP2 and Windows Vista operating systems,” Reavey said in an entry posted late Dec. 21 on the MSRC blog.

“Initial indications are that in order for the attack to be successful, the attacker must already have authenticated access to the target system. Of course these are preliminary findings and we have activated our emergency response process involving a multitude of folks who are investigating the issue in depth to determine the full scope and potential impact to Microsoft’s customers,” Reavey added. [Read on]

NASA Plans Base on the Moon

eWeek: NASA Plans Base on the Moon

The lunar outpost would be a staging point for a journey to Mars and enable NASA to conduct a wide range of scientific investigations, officials said.

Missions to the moon for the project are expected to begin by 2020, NASA Spokesman Michael J. Braukus said on Dec. 5. As of now, he added, there are no firm figures on costs or how long the base will take to build.

Plans for the base were born from discussions of the Global Exploration Strategy, a congressionally-mandated effort to establish goals for the agency’s return to the moon that has teamed more than 1,000 individuals from the private and public sector, including experts from NASA and 13 other space agencies other nations. Special Report: Politics Meets IT

“This strategy will enable interested nations to leverage their capabilities and financial and technical contributions, making optimum use of globally available knowledge and resources to help energize a coordinated effort that will propel us into this new age of discovery and exploration,” said NASA Deputy Administrator Shana Dale in a prepared statement.

NASA’s Lunar Architecture Team, created in May to discuss ways scientists can best accomplish the exploration of the moon, concluded that the most advantageous approach is to develop a solar-powered base and locate it near one of the poles of the moon. [Read on]

AMD Rolls Out New Athlon Processors

eWeek: AMD Rolls Out New Athlon Processors

The Sunnyvale, Calif., chip maker announced Dec. 12 that it would begin shipping the Athlon 64 X2 5400 and the 5600 to OEMs, which AMD said will include Dell. The Round Rock, Texas, PC maker already uses Athlon processors in its line of Dimension desktops.

Since dual-core chips were first introduced by Intel, with the Pentium Extreme Edition 840 processor in 2005, and later by AMD, OEMs, such as Dell, Hewlett-Packard, Lenovo and Gateway, have all begun offering numerous high-end desktops and notebooks that feature the technology, which offers two processing cores on a single piece of silicon.

In a statement, AMD officials said the two new dual-core processors would offer better graphics performance, while reducing power costs. The two chips will also support Microsoft’s Windows Vista operating system, which requires a much more powerful processor in order for users to access all its features.

The 5400 and the 5600 each offer speeds of 2.8GHz, an AM2 socket and an 89-watt thermal design. With the 5400 , AMD is offering 512KB per core of L2 cache memory, while the 5600 offers 1MB per core of L2 cache memory. [Read on]

Water flows on Mars

Gear Factor – Water Flowing on Mars: NASA

“We’ve found it,” said Michael Meyer, NASA’s lead scientist on their Mars Exploration Program. “Water seems to have flowed on the surface of today’s Mars.” Philip Christensen, a professor from Arizona State University in Tempe, added that the discovery would change NASA’s plans for Mars exploration, not to mention our understanding of the desert world itself.

Mars Global Surveyor, whose extended mission came to an end last month following a power failure, captured the images while tracking changes in geography over a period of years. Dry gulleys, previously through to have held water no more recently than millions of years ago, were found to have filled between observations.

Certain tasks remain, according to the panelists. For example, a spectrographic analysis of the “white stuff,” to prove that it is definitely water. These might be carried out by the Mars Reconnaissance orbiter, recently arrived in order to replace the aging Global Surveyor. [read on]

Physicists find axion

Long the fixation of physicists worldwide, a tiny particle is found

After decades of intensive effort by both experimental and theoretical physicists worldwide, a tiny particle with no charge, a very low mass and a lifetime much shorter than a nanosecond, dubbed the “axion,” has now been detected by the University at Buffalo physicist who first suggested its existence in a little-read paper as early as 1974.

The finding caps nearly three decades of research both by Piyare Jain, Ph.D., UB professor emeritus in the Department of Physics and lead investigator on the research, who works independently — an anomaly in the field — and by large groups of well-funded physicists who have, for three decades, unsuccessfully sought the recreation and detection of axions in the laboratory, using high-energy particle accelerators. [read on]

Solar probe films plasma loops in action

Solar probe films plasma loops in action – 30 November 2006 – New Scientist

This is several days old but is cool enough to be worth mentioning Hinode, the Sun probe, which captured some up close and personal plasma loop action… oh those clever Japanese. cool

Flickering loops of plasma above the Sun’s churning surface have been captured in movies made by Japan’s Hinode spacecraft, providing a preview of what the probe will do once it begins its main phase of scientific observations.

The spacecraft, formerly called Solar-B, was launched by the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency on 22 September 2006 (see Spacecraft launches to study Sun’s magnetic field). JAXA is collaborating with NASA, ESA, and other organisations for the mission.

Hinode’s three telescopes will make simultaneous observations in visible light, ultraviolet, and X-rays to help scientists understand the Sun’s ever-changing magnetic field. It is hoped that its observations will shed light on what triggers solar eruptions – called coronal mass ejections (CMEs). These ejections spew out radiation that poses a health risk for astronauts and they can also knock out satellites.

One video, made with Hinode’s optical telescope, shows the development of loops of hot plasma above the Sun’s surface (mpeg format). The loops form when especially hot plasma rises from the surface and moves along the Sun’s curved magnetic field lines. In some cases the gas quickly cools again and falls back down to the surface. [Read on]

Plasma loops (mpeg)

Cracking the BlackBerry with a $100 Key

Security Watch – Exploits and Attacks – Cracking the BlackBerry with a $100 Key

The security model of that BlackBerry on your hip isn’t holding up very well to third-party scrutiny.

According to a white paper by John O’Connor, a researcher on Symantec’s security response team, hackers can pay $100 for an API developer key that can open doors to the theft of data from Research in Motion’s BlackBerry devices.

O’Connor’s paper was briefly posted — and quickly yanked — from a blog entry discussing the future of the BlackBerry device. It is not yet clear why Symantec pulled the paper (the rumor mill says it’s being saved for a conference presentation) but a quick peek at the findings suggests there might have been some external pressure involved.

Some highlights from O’Connor’s paper, which was seen by eWEEK Security Watch:

*** The BlackBerry’s “modest” security framework it is still susceptible to multiple attacks, including being used as a backdoor, allowing confidential data to be exported.

*** The BlackBerry can be used as a proxy for attackers. Some of these attacks require applications to be digitally signed, while others can be conducted without such a signature. [Read on for more]