How Cutting-Edge Technology & Science Are Powering The Future TPM Idealab

By SETH BORENSTEIN, AP Science Writer

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Physicists in Italy said Wednesday they are achingly close to concluding that what they found last year was the Higgs boson, the elusive "God particle." They need to eliminate one last remote possibility that it's something else.

The long theorized subatomic particle would explain why matter has mass and has been called a missing cornerstone of physics.

With new analyses, scientists are closer to being certain they found the crucial Higgs boson. But they want to be 99.9 percent positive, said Pauline Gagnon, a physicist with the European Center for Nuclear Research.

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By BARBARA ORTUTAY, AP Technology Writer

NEW YORK (AP) -- Amid chatter of "Facebook fatigue," real or imagined, the world's biggest social networking company is getting ready to unveil a new version of News Feed, the flow of status updates, photos and advertisements its users see on the site.

Facebook Inc. is hosting an event at its Menlo Park, Calif., headquarters on Thursday to show off "a new look for News Feed." The company offered no other details on what the changes will be in an invitation sent to journalists and bloggers. It will be Facebook's second staged event at its headquarters since the company's May initial public offering. The company unveiled a search feature at the first one in January.

If past site changes are any indication, the News Feed tweaks may take some getting used to and will likely lead to user grumbles. Facebook users often complain about changes to the site, whether it's cosmetic tweaks or the overhaul of privacy settings.

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By TOBY STERLING

AMSTERDAM (AP) -- The European Union has fined Microsoft €561 million ($733 million) for breaking a pledge to offer personal computer users a choice of Internet browsers when they install the company's flagship Windows operating system.

The penalty imposed by the EU's executive arm, the Commission, is a first for Brussels: no company has ever failed to keep its end of a bargain with EU authorities before.

In 2009, Microsoft Corp. struck a broad settlement with the Commission to resolve disputes over Microsoft's abuse of the dominance of Windows, which had spanned more than a decade.

The company agreed to pay €860 million and promised to give Windows users the option of choosing another browser rather than having Microsoft's Internet Explorer automatically installed on their machines.

But Microsoft failed to stick to the deal for some 15 million installations of Windows 7 in Europe from May 2011 until July 2012. The company admitted the failure last year, adding that it was an oversight.

The Commission's top regulator, Joaquin Almunia, said at a press conference in Brussels, Belgium, Wednesday that the fine reflected the size of the violation and the length of time it went on. It was also intended to make an example of Microsoft and deter other companies from doing same thing.

"A failure to comply is a very serious infringement that must be sanctioned accordingly," he said.

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OTTAWA (AP) -- Ancient, mummified camel bones dug from the tundra confirm that the animals now synonymous with the arid sands of Arabia actually developed in subfreezing forests in what is now Canada's High Arctic, a scientist said Tuesday.

About 3.5 million years ago, Strathcona Fiord on Ellesmere Island's west-central coast would have looked more like a northern forest than an Arctic landscape, said paleobotanist Natalia Rybczynski of the Canadian Museum of Nature in Ottawa.

"Larch-dominated, lots of wetlands, peat," said Rybczynski, lead author of a study published Tuesday in the journal Nature Communications. Nearby fossil sites have yielded evidence of ancient bears, horses, deer, badgers and frogs. The average yearly temperature would have been about 0 Celsius (32 Fahrenheit).

"If you were standing in it and watching the camel, it would have the feel of a boreal-type forest."

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By MARCIA DUNN, AP Aerospace Writer

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. (AP) -- A recently discovered comet is closer than it's ever been to Earth, and stargazers in the Northern Hemisphere finally get to see it.

Called Pan-STARRS, the comet passed within 100 million miles of Earth on Tuesday, its closest approach in its first-ever cruise through the inner solar system. The ice ball will get even nearer the sun this weekend -- just 28 million miles from the sun and within the orbit of Mercury.

The comet has been visible for weeks from the Southern Hemisphere. Now the top half of the world gets a glimpse as well.

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NASA released images Monday of the planet Venus as seen from the spacecraft Cassini, which is in orbit around Saturn.

In the first image, Venus is the bright object in the V at the top of the image:

venus and saturn

NASA described it:

Dawn on Saturn is greeted across the vastness of interplanetary space by the morning star, Venus, in this image from NASA's Cassini spacecraft. Venus appears just off the edge of the planet, in the upper part of the image, directly above the white streak of Saturn's G ring. Lower down, Saturn's E ring makes an appearance, looking blue thanks to the scattering properties of the dust that comprises the ring. A bright spot near the E ring is a distant star. ...

This view looks toward the unilluminated side of the rings from about 21 degrees below the ring plane.

Images taken using red, green and blue spectral filters were combined to create this natural color view. The images were obtained with the Cassini spacecraft wide-angle camera on Jan. 4, 2013, at a distance of approximately 371,000 miles (597,000 kilometers) from Saturn. Image scale is 20 miles (32 kilometers) per pixel.


A second image shows Venus from a different vantage point:

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By MARCIA DUNN, AP Aerospace Writer

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. (AP) -- A private Earth-to-orbit delivery service made good on its latest shipment to the International Space Station on Sunday, overcoming mechanical difficulty and delivering a ton of supplies with high-flying finesse.

To NASA's relief, the SpaceX company's Dragon capsule pulled up to the orbiting lab with all of its systems in perfect order. Station astronauts used a hefty robot arm to snare the unmanned Dragon, and three hours later, it was bolted into place.

The Dragon's arrival couldn't have been sweeter -- and not because of the fresh fruit on board for the six-man station crew. Coming a full day late, the 250-mile-high linkup above Ukraine culminated a two-day chase that got off to a shaky, almost dead-ending start.

Moments after the Dragon reached orbit Friday, a clogged pressure line or stuck valve prevented the timely release of the solar panels and the crucial firing of small maneuvering rockets. SpaceX flight controllers struggled for several hours before gaining control of the capsule and salvaging the mission.

"As they say, it's not where you start, but where you finish that counts," space station commander Kevin Ford said after capturing the Dragon, "and you guys really finished this one on the mark."

He added: "We've got lots of science on there to bring aboard and get done. So congratulations to all of you."

Among the items on board: 640 seeds of a flowering weed used for research, mouse stem cells, food and clothes for the six men on board the space station, trash bags, computer equipment, air purifiers, spacewalking tools and batteries. The company also tucked away apples and other fresh treats from an employee's family orchard.

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By PAUL ELIAS

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) -- The two biggest -- and bitterest -- rivals in the smartphone market will have to endure another bruising trial after a federal judge ruled that jurors miscalculated nearly half the $1 billion in damages it found Samsung Electronics owed Apple Inc. for patent infringement.

U.S. District Judge Lucy Koh wiped out $450 million from the verdict and ordered a new trial to reconsider damages related to 14 Samsung products including some products in its hot-selling Galaxy lineup jurors in August found were using Apple's technology without permission. Koh said jurors in three-week trial had not properly followed her instruction in calculating some of the damages.

She also concluded that mistakes had been made in determining when Apple had first notified Samsung about the alleged violations of patents for its trend-setting iPhone and IPad.

"We are pleased that the court decided to strike $450,514,650 from the jury's award," Samsung spokeswoman Lauren Restuccia said.

Koh didn't toss out the jurors underlying finding that two dozen Samsung products infringed patents Apple used to develop its iPad and iPhone products. The new jury will be tasked with only determining what Samsung owes Apple.

Apple declined to comment on the Koh's ruling, which still did leave Samsung with a bill to just under $599 million. The judge said the tab will probably increase after the appeals of both companies are resolved.

Apple is seeking more damages and Samsung a complete dismissal of the case in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit, the Washington, D.C.-based court that handles all patent appeals. The new trial to recalculate the damages could also increase the award.

Still, the ruling was the second significant setback in Koh's courtroom since the headline grabbing verdict was announced.

In December, Koh refused to order a sales ban on the products the jury found infringed Apple's patents. She said Apple failed to prove the purloined technology is what drove consumers to buy a Samsung product instead of an Apple iPhone or iPad. Samsung says that it is continues to sell only three of the two dozen products found to have infringed Apple's patents.

After a three-week trial closely followed in Silicon Valley, the jury decided that Samsung ripped off the trailblazing technology and sleek designs used by Apple to create its revolutionary iPhone and iPad. Jurors ordered Samsung to pay Apple $1.05 billion.

Apple filed another lawsuit last year accusing Samsung's newer line of products of continuing to use technology controlled by Apple. Koh has scheduled trial in that case for early next year. She has implored both companies on several occasions to settle their difference with little success.

Apple filed its patent infringement lawsuit in April 2011 and engaged legions of the country's highest-paid patent lawyers to demand $2.5 billion from its top smartphone competitor. Samsung Electronics Co. fired back with its own lawsuit seeking $399 million.

The jury found that several Samsung products illegally used such Apple creations as the "bounce-back" feature when a user scrolls to an end image, and the ability to zoom text with a tap of a finger.

Samsung has mounted an aggressive post-trial attack on the verdict, raising a number of legal issues that allege the South Korean company was treated unfairly in a federal courtroom a dozen miles from Apple's Cupertino headquarters. Samsung alleges that some of Apple's patents shouldn't have been awarded in the first place and that the jury made mistakes in calculating the damage award.

Samsung has emerged as one of Apple's biggest rivals and has overtaken it as the leading smartphone maker. Samsung's Galaxy line of phones run on Android, a mobile operating system that Google Inc. has given out for free to Samsung and other phone makers.

Apple and Samsung have filed similar lawsuits in eight other countries, including South Korea, Germany, Japan, Italy, the Netherlands, Britain, France and Australia.

Copyright 2013 The Associated Press.

By MARCIA DUNN, AP Aerospace Writer CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. (AP) -- A commercial vessel carrying a ton of supplies for the International Space Station ran into trouble shortly after liftoff Friday.

SpaceX's billionaire founder Elon Musk reported a problem with the thrusters on the unmanned spacecraft, named Dragon. Three of the four sets of thrusters did not kick in, he said via Twitter, and flight controllers for the company were trying to override the system.

Musk said from SpaceX Mission Control in Hawthorne, Calif., that he wants at least two thruster pods active before the twin solar panels that provide power are deployed.

NASA flight controllers in Houston offered help as they monitored space station operations.

The problem cropped up immediately following Dragon's separation from the rocket upper stage, nine minutes into the flight. The launch itself appeared to go flawlessly.

More than 1 ton of space station supplies is aboard the Dragon, including some much-needed equipment for air purifiers. The capsule is supposed to arrive at the space station Saturday morning after an unusually short chase.

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By MARCIA DUNN, AP Aerospace Writer

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. (AP) -- A commercial cargo ship rocketed toward the International Space Station on Friday under a billion-dollar contract with NASA that could lead to astronaut rides in just a few years.

SpaceX, a private California company run by the billionaire who helped create PayPal, launched its unmanned Falcon rocket into clouds right on time. It is the third supply run by a Dragon capsule, an unparalleled accomplishment all under a year.

Launch controllers applauded and gave high-fives to one another, once the spacecraft safely reached orbit. The successful separation of the Dragon from the rocket was broadcast live on NASA TV; on-board cameras provided the unique views nine minutes into the flight.

The space station and its six-man crew were orbiting 250 miles above the Atlantic, just off the New England coast, when the Falcon soared. The Dragon spacecraft is due to arrive Saturday morning after an unusually short chase; astronauts will use a hefty robot arm to draw the Dragon in and dock it to the station.

SpaceX tucked fresh fruit into the Dragon for the station residents; the apples and other treats are straight from the orchard of an employee's family. There wasn't room in the research freezers for the usual ice cream cups.

Also on board: 640 seeds of a flowering weed used for research, mouse stems cells, protein crystals, astronaut meals and clothing, trash bags, air-purifying devices, computer parts and other gear.

SpaceX -- formally Space Exploration Technologies Corp. -- has a $1.6 billion contract with NASA for space station shipments. Its founder, Elon Musk, monitored the launch from the company's Mission Control and home office in Hawthorne.

NASA's deputy administrator, Lori Garver, said using commercial providers is more efficient for the space agency. It's part of a long-term program, she noted, that has NASA spending less money on low-Earth orbit and investing more in deep-space missions. That's one reason why the space shuttles were retired in 2011 after the station was completed.

The goal is to have SpaceX and other private firms take over the job of ferrying astronauts to and from the space station in the next few years.

SpaceX -- so far the leader of the pack -- is aiming for a manned Dragon flight by 2015.

"Go Falcon 9, go Dragon," Garver urged before the launch.

This is the second in a planned series of 12 SpaceX deliveries under the contract with NASA; the first was last October. A company-sponsored demo mission kicked everything off last May.

Competitor Orbital Sciences Corp. has yet to get off its Virginia launch pad. The company plans to launch a free-flying test of its Antares rocket and Cygnus supply ship in April, followed by a demo run to the space station in early summer. Then the so-called operational supply runs can begin.

Russia, Japan and Europe regularly make station deliveries as well, and Russia is the only option for astronaut rides. But only the Dragon is designed to bring back substantial amounts of research and used merchandise.

This Dragon will spend more than three weeks at the space station before being cut loose by the crew on March 25. It will parachute into the Pacific with more than a ton of medical samples, plant and cell specimens, Japanese fish and old machinery, and used spacewalking gloves and other items.

SpaceX plans to launch its next Dragon to the station in late fall.

More than 2,000 guests jammed the Cape Canaveral launch site Friday morning to watch the Falcon take flight.

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