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Experts are scanning the stars for ‘technosignatures’ from alien civilisations

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The Milky Way rising behind the Radio Telescope Observatory (Getty Images)

Alien hunters are scaling up their efforts in the search for an intelligent civilisation somewhere out in the void of space.

Experts at the SETI Institute, an organisation dedicated to tracking extraterrestrial intelligence, are developing state-of-the-art techniques to detect signatures from space that indicate the possibility of extraterrestrial existence.

These so-called ‘technosignatures’ can range from the chemical composition of a planet’s atmosphere, to laser emissions, to structures orbiting other stars, among others, they said.

Dr Tony Beasley, director of the National Radio Astronomy Observatory (NRAO) telescope based in Virginia, US, said: ‘Determining whether we are alone in the universe as technologically capable life is among the most compelling questions in science.’

SETI scientists plan to develop a system that will ‘piggyback’ on the Very Large Array (VLA) telescope based in Mexico and provide data to their technosignature search system.

Dr Beasley added: ‘As the VLA conducts its usual scientific observations, this new system will allow for an additional and important use for the data we’re already collecting.’

Life forms, whether intelligent or not, can produce detectable indicators such as large amounts of oxygen, smaller amounts of methane, and a variety of other chemicals, the experts said.

Conceptual image of a group of aliens

Aliens may be sending signals through the stars to us (Getty Images/iStockphoto)

MORE: Extraterrestrial life is out there and SETI is busy looking for it

So in addition, scientists are also developing computer models to simulate extraterrestrial environments that can help support future searches for habitable planets and life beyond the solar system.

Victoria Meadows, principal investigator for Nasa’s Virtual Planetary Laboratory at the University of Washington, which studies to detect exoplanetary habitability, said: ‘Upcoming telescopes in space and on the ground will have the capability to observe the atmospheres of Earth-sized planets orbiting nearby cool stars, so it’s important to understand how best to recognise signs of habitability and life on these planets.

‘These computer models will help us determine whether an observed planet is more or less likely to support life.’

Meanwhile, SETI’s Breakthrough Listen Initiative, which launched in 2015 to ‘listen’ for signals of alien life, has released nearly two petabytes of data from the most comprehensive survey yet of radio emissions from the plane of the Milky Way galaxy and the region around its central black hole.

The organisation is now inviting the public to search the data, gathered from various telescopes around the world, and look for signals from intelligent civilisations.

Explorer looking to star on sky at night. Concept astronaut, astronomer, discovery and space study

Are we alone in the universe? (Getty Images/iStockphoto)

MORE: Confirmation of alien life ‘now seems inevitable’ claims researcher

Yuri Milner, an entrepreneur and founder of the Breakthrough initiative, said: ‘For the whole of human history, we had a limited amount of data to search for life beyond Earth.

‘So, all we could do was speculate.

‘Now, as we are getting a lot of data, we can do real science and, with making this data available to general public, so can anyone who wants to know the answer to this deep question.’

The initiatives and strategies in expanding the search for extraterrestrial life were presented at the the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) in Seattle.



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The Essential Tmux Commands Cheat Sheet

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Running commands in the terminal allows you to do many tasks more quickly than you could using a graphical application. But command prompts aren’t all that great for multitasking, at least not without some help. And that’s where tmux comes in.

Tmux or terminal multiplexer is a command line program that enables you to run and view multiple commands in a single terminal window simultaneously. Each command exists in its own window pane as though you were using a full-blown tiling window manager.

To help you get started with tmux, we have compiled key tmux terms and commands in the cheat sheet below.

FREE DOWNLOAD: This cheat sheet is available as a downloadable PDF from our distribution partner, TradePub. You will have to complete a short form to access it for the first time only. Download The Essential Tmux Commands Cheat Sheet.

The Essential Tmux Commands Cheat Sheet

Shortcut Action
General
¹Ctrl + b Default prefix key
t Show time (ESC returns to the terminal)
: Enter a command (Example: “:new-session”)
list-commands List all commands that tmux supports
Tmux Terms
Pane An open command prompt (or pseudo-terminal). Panes may appear side by side or vertically stacked inside a window.
Window Your view of open panes
Session A set of open windows
Client The background process that displays your session
Server A single server manages all open sessions (Servers and clients are separate processes that each communicate through a socket in /tmp.)
Creating and Managing Panes
% Split screen or pane in half vertically, creating a new pane on the right
Split screen or pane in half horizontally, creating a new pane at the bottom
Switch to the adjacent pane
o Switch to the next pane
q Show pane numbers (when numbers appear, press number to switch to that pane)
{ Move current pane to the left
} Move current pane to the right
x Close the current pane
Ctrl + Resize pane in steps of one cell
Alt + Resize pane in steps of five cells
Alt + 1 Arrange panes in the even-horizontal preset layout
Alt + 2 Arrange panes in the even-vertical preset layout
Alt + 3 Arrange panes in the main-horizontal preset layout
Alt + 4 Arrange panes in the main-vertical preset layout
Alt + 5 Arrange panes in the tiled preset layout
Creating and Managing Windows
c Create a new window
! Detach pane into a new window
n Switch to the previous window (in order of creation)
p Switch to the next window (in order of creation)
l Switch to the window used most recently
w List all windows and their corresponding numbers
Switch to the corresponding window
, Rename current window
i Display info about the current window
f Search for text in open windows (ESC exits the search)
Creating and Managing Sessions
new-session Create a new session
$ Rename current session
list-sessions List open sessions
attach-session Create a new client and attach it to the specified session (-t target-session)
detach-client -s target-session Detach clients attached to the current session
kill-session Destroy the current or specified session
¹To activate a shortcut, you must first press and release the prefix key, then press the shortcut key.

More Help With the Linux Command Line

The commands above help you work in tmux using multiple panes, windows, and sessions. If you really want to make tmux your own, you can go further by editing the configuration file stored at the following location:

/etc/tmux.conf

You can also try your hand at scripting.

When you’re working exclusively from the terminal, installing tmux is akin to installing a window manager. This gives you more flexibility when working on servers or other devices without an attached screen. Have fun exploring tmux! And if you’re looking for more command line resources, take a look at our Linux commands reference cheat sheet next.

Read the full article: The Essential Tmux Commands Cheat Sheet



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Hackaday Links: April 5, 2020

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Git is powerful, but with great power comes the ability to really bork things up. When you find yourself looking at an inscrutable error message after an ill-advised late-night commit, it can be a maximum pucker-factor moment, and keeping a clear enough head to fix the problem can be challenging. A little proactive social engineering may be in order, which is why Jonathan Bisson wrote git-undo, a simple shell script that displays the most common un-borking commands he’s likely to need. There are other ways to prompt yourself through Git emergencies, like Oh Shit, Git (or for the scatologically sensitive, Dangit Git), but git-undo has the advantage of working without an Internet connection.

Suddenly find yourself with a bunch of time on your hands and nothing to challenge your skills? Why not try to write a program in a single Tweet? The brainchild of Dominic Pajak, the BBC Micro Bot Twitter account accepts tweets and attempts to run them as BASIC programs on a BBC Microcomputer emulator, replying with the results of the program. It would seem that 280 characters would make it difficult to do anything interesting, but check out some of the results. Most are graphic displays, some animated, and with an unsurprising number of nods to 1980s pop culture. Some are truly impressive, though, like Conway’s Game of Life written by none other than Eben Upton.

The COVID-19 pandemic is causing all sorts of cultural shifts, but we didn’t expect to see much change in the culture of a community that’s been notoriously resistant to change for over a century: amateur radio. One of the most basic facts of life in the amateur radio world is that you need a license to participate, with governments regulating the process. But as a response to the pandemic, Spain has temporarily lifted licensing requirements for amateur radio operators. Normally, an unlicensed person is only allowed to operate on amateur bands under the direct supervision of a licensed amateur. The rules change allows unlicensed operators to use a station without supervision and is intended to give schoolchildren trapped at home an educational experience. In another change, some countries are allowing special callsign suffixes, like “STAYHOME,” to raise awareness during the pandemic. And the boom in interest in amateur radio since the pandemic started is remarkable; unfortunately, finding a way to take your test in a socially distant world is quite a trick. Our friend Josh Nass (KI6NAZ) has some thoughts about testing under these conditions that you might find interesting.

And finally, life goes on during all this societal disruption, and every new life deserves to be celebrated. And when Lauren Devinck made her appearance last month, her proud parents decided to send out unique birth announcement cards with a printed circuit board feature. The board is decorative, not functional, but adds a distinctive look to the card. The process of getting the boards printed was non-trivial; it turns out that free-form script won’t pass most design rule tests, and that panelizing them required making some compromises. We think the finished product is classy, but can’t help but think that a functional board would have really made a statement. Regardless, we welcome Lauren and congratulate her proud parents.



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Iceland’s early coronavirus testing model shows 50% of cases have no symptoms

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  • Iceland’s coronavirus testing campaign stands out as the country started aggressive COVID-19 screening months ago.
  • Iceland is testing all patients who are at risk or show symptoms, and anyone else who wants to get tested.
  • Current data shows that around 50% of those tested didn’t have symptoms indicative of infection with the novel coronavirus.
  • Visit BGR’s homepage for more stories.

A small island nation of 360,000 inhabitants, Iceland may prove to be a beacon of hope in fighting the novel coronavirus, as well as future viral outbreaks before they reach pandemic levels. The country has made the news a few times in the past few days for its COVID-19 work. Iceland is home to scientists that are at the forefront of genetic innovation, as they’ve been tracing the few mutations of the SARS-CoV-2 pathogen. That data will be useful for bringing the COVID-19 vaccines that are currently in development around the world to market.

Studying the genetics of the virus wouldn’t be possible without an extensive COVID-19 testing campaign, and that’s where Iceland’s approach stands out. The country started testing well before the disease overwhelmed its medical system, and it discovered that around 50% of cases had no symptoms. The early testing campaign also had another side effect on the community, as Iceland didn’t have to impose as strict lockdown measures as other countries.

With 1,364 cases so far, including four deaths, Iceland has an average of 3,745 COVID-19 patients per million. Comparatively, America’s 256,000 cases account for an average of 784 cases per million at the time of this writing. The difference between Iceland and other countries is that testing started much earlier.

Testing started in early February, weeks before its first coronavirus death, deCODE founder Dr. Kári Stefánsson told CNN. Additionally, officials have conducted an aggressive contact-tracing campaign aiming to quarantine all suspected COVID-19 cases.

“The only reason that we are doing better is that we were even more vigilant,” Stefánsson said. “We took seriously the news of an epidemic starting in China. We didn’t shrug our shoulders and say, ‘this is not going to be anything remarkable.’”

Iceland’s COVID-19 statistics show that some 1,024 people are in isolation, 45 are hospitalized, and 12 people are in the ICU. More than 10,200 suspected contacts have completed the quarantine, while 6,300 more are in quarantine as of this writing. In total, Iceland tested more than 22,000 people and aims to test 50,000 more. The National University Hospital examines people who are high-risk or have shown symptoms, CNN explains. But nearly half of testing has been done by deCODE, and anyone who wants to get tested can be.

While fewer than 1% of the tests the biotech company performed came back positive, around 50% of those who tested positive were asymptomatic. This finding supports other studies that say presymptomatic, asymptomatic, and those that are mildly symptomatic are active carriers of the virus, helping it spread.

“What it means in my mind, is that because we are screening the general population, we are catching people early in the infection before they start showing symptoms,” Stefánsson said.

The data also indicates that the more than 1,050,000 confirmed cases globally do not paint a complete picture. There may be hundreds of thousands of infected people who can’t be tested because there aren’t enough tests or because they don’t qualify.

Some might find Iceland’s success easy to dismiss, given the size of the country. But the protocols the country put in place can apply to any community. Early testing and contact-tracing could flatten the curve before social distancing measures need to be deployed. Iceland has limited gatherings over 20 people, but the country isn’t under lockdown.

“It’s nothing to do with the size of the population, this has to do with how well prepared it was,” Stefánsson said, adding that many developed countries could have mounted similar efforts, but “behaved like nothing was happening.”

Iceland isn’t the only country using testing to attempt to stay ahead of the illness. South Korea has been able to drastically flatten the curve by COVID-19 screening and drastic contact tracing campaigns. Germany’s aggressive testing allowed it to register 85,000 cases, or around 1,033 cases per million. But Germany caught these cases early on, which helped it reduce the mortality rate significantly compared to other EU states.



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