A comet strike on Pluto hints it may be hiding a giant, habitable ocean

pluto asteroid impact nature james tuttle keane shutterstock business insider

Two new studies of Pluto suggest the enigmatic ice ball was walloped by a giant comet, and that it is hiding a very big secret: liquid water.

If two groups of scientists are correct, Pluto isn’t frozen solid some 3 billion miles away from the sun.

Instead, trapped beneath layers of frozen nitrogen and water ice, it probably has a subsurface ocean blended with alcohol, ammonia, and other antifreeze chemicals.

“Pluto, once a planet, then a dwarf planet, may now soon also adopt the moniker of ‘ocean world’,” Kevin Hand, a planetary scientist at NASA JPL who wasn’t involved in the research, told Business Insider in an email.

Researchers, who describe their findings in two new studies in Nature, came to this conclusion after looking closely at photos beamed back by NASA’s New Horizons mission, a nuclear-powered probe that zoomed past Pluto in July 2015.

Those first-ever images of Pluto revealed a 325,000-square-mile, heart-shaped basin of nitrogen ice, called Sputnik Planitia, that was littered with cracks and fissures.

Computer analysis of the feature and Pluto’s orbit suggested something was off: Given the way Pluto interacted with its moon Charon, there should be a lot more material located at Sputnik Planitia.

pluto subsurface ocean ucsc“It’s a big, elliptical hole in the ground, so the extra weight must be hiding somewhere beneath the surface. And an ocean is a natural way to get that,” said Francis Nimmo, a planetary scientist at University of California Santa Cruz (UCSC), in a UCSC press release.

Back in November 2015, scientists announced their belief that Sputnik Planitia was created by a giant impact of some kind, which blasted away huge chunks of Pluto’s water-ice crust.

“[W]e are almost certainly talking a comment strike out there, rather than a (rocky) asteroid,” Bob Pappalardo, a planetary scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory who wasn’t involved in the new research, told Business Insider in an email.

The new studies add to this idea, noting the catastrophe must have happened within the past 4 billion years and that the impact site was originally more than 4 miles deep.

The giant scar has since sprung back and partly filled in with dense and heavy nitrogen ice, they found. Researchers also figured out with computer models that Pluto’s internal tides with Charon can’t be explained if the world was solid all the way through.

“We tried to think of other ways to get a positive gravity anomaly, and none of them look as likely as a subsurface ocean,” Nimmo said in the release.

Steven Vance, an astrobiologist and geophysicist who’s working on NASA’s mission to Europa — another ocean world, this one orbiting Jupiter — expressed no doubt Pluto indeed has an ocean.

“A subsurface liquid ocean makes sense, given nitrogen’s insulating properties,” Vance told Business Insider in an email.

A different kind of alien life?

nh pluto charon v2 10 1 15

But the probable discovery of Pluto’s ocean leaves open another question: What about alien life?

Vance said he’s “curious about the ocean’s composition,” noting it’s probably kept liquid at very cold temperatures by a lot of ammonia.

“It’s possible the ocean also contains alcohols (methanol, ethanol), hydrocarbons (methane, ethane), and more complex molecules made from [carbon, nitrogen, hydrogen, and oxygen] that are so abundant on Pluto,” he said.

Hand said these chemicals also make Pluto “interesting in the context of habitability.”

“Nitrogen is a critical element for life as we know it and Pluto’s putative ocean could be a source of both liquid water and nitrogen,” Hand said. “When searching for life beyond Earth we have long ‘followed the water’, but we also need to ‘follow the carbon’ and ‘follow the nitrogen’ – Pluto may combine all three.”

Hand wouldn’t go so far as to say the dwarf planet could support life, but it might raise the chances of finding it elsewhere in the solar system or the Milky Way.

“I wouldn’t rule out similar oceans on other dwarf planets,” Vance said. “Considering the prospects for life in such places is similar to stretching our imagination to think of life in Titan’s surface lakes or its subsurface ocean.”

While scientists ponder the chemistry of Pluto’s new watery realm, New Horizons will keep on flying toward its next exotic and icy destination — the Kuiper Belt Object 2014 MU69 — at a blistering pace of 32,000 mph. It should reach the 30-mile-wide object in January 2019.

SEE ALSO: These ocean worlds reveal just how little water we have on Earth

DON’T MISS: Pluto just got even weirder with this unprecedented photo of its north pole

Join the conversation about this story »

NOW WATCH: NASA just released a video of what it would be like to land on Pluto, and it’s breathtaking

REVIEW: Snapchat’s Spectacles live up to the hype, but have a ways to go

Snapchat Spectacles 14

Regardless of how you feel about Snapchat’s new camera-equipped glasses, one thing is certain: Snapchat’s marketing team is genius.

The glasses, called Spectacles, are exclusive, hard to come by, and one of the most innovative products of the year. So of course, we all have to have them.

But since Snapchat — which recently renamed itself to Snap Inc. — has only been selling them in obscure locations, Business Insider is just now getting our hands on a pair, thanks to our good friends at Cheddar, who kindly lent us theirs.

My first reaction? Wow.

From the first moment of opening the lid to pairing the Spectacles with my phone, they were everything I hoped they’d be: well-designed, stylish, fun, and easy to use. Walking around New York City with them, I felt like part of an exclusive club, and was simultaneously worried someone would snatch them off my face.

For the company’s first hardware product, the glasses, which cost $130 and are only sold out of vending machines, can certifiably be called a hit.

But there’s one problem with the Spectacles: the novelty wears off quickly.

Subtle and stylish

Arguably the best part about the Spectacles is that they’re subtle. We tested out a black pair and they look just like regular sunglasses at first glance. Walking down the street in them, I didn’t feel like I was wearing a nerdy tech product on my face.

The only ways you can tell that there’s something different about the glasses are the yellow circles around the lens and the light on either side of the frame, and the fact that the hinges are quite thick — that’s where the charging port is and where all the technology is housed.

While the teal and coral versions of the Spectacles look more like toys or gadgets, the black pair is by far the most subtle of the three shades.

Snapchat Spectacles 8

And although some people — men especially — complained about the fit of the Spectacles, they fit comfortably on the bridge of my nose. There are two rubber pads on either side of the nose bridge that help them fit snugly, and the shape of the frames complemented most face shapes. In fact, they looked good on nearly everyone who tried them on. Clearly, Snap paid close attention to trends in glasses and sunglasses and chose a shape that probably won’t go out of style anytime soon, but still looks modern.

Oddly, Snap doesn’t say anywhere on the Spectacles website whether the glasses offer 100% UVA and UVB protection, as most sunglasses do.

Video capture made easy — some of the time

Spectacles come in a plastic tube that houses the case, the glasses, and the other accessories, including a ghost-shaped cleaning cloth and a charging cable. While the case is a bit bulky — it’s prism-shaped, so it doesn’t fit in pockets or small purses — it’s a clever design that charges the glasses when they’re snapped into place.

Snapchat Spectacles 12

Setting up the glasses to work with your phone is easy and straightforward, and Snapchat includes step-by-step instructions inside the package (for more on how to set them up, click here). Once they’re paired with your phone, you can begin shooting videos that will upload directly to your phone and are housed inside the Memories folders.

It took me a little while to adjust to shooting video with the glasses. I spent years shooting video on DSLRs and I now constantly shoot video on my iPhone, but this is a totally new and mostly incomparable experience — the glasses are literally seeing what you’re seeing.

The most challenging part of recording video was how easily the lens could be obstructed. Being outside on a windy day caused strands of my hair to fly in front of the lens, ruining a perfectly nice video of the Flatiron Building. And since you can only guess at whether the glasses are still recording — you can kind of see the light flashing out of the corner of your eye — I often would take them off too soon and accidentally cover the lens with my hand. 

This is all part of a larger problem with the Spectacles: You can’t see what you’re recording in real time.

With basically any other camera, you can watch the video as you’re recording it, ensuring that you’re capturing what you intend to. But with Spectacles, it’s basically a guess. Because the lens has a fish-eye effect, it was hard to tell what would be in the frame and what would get cut off. While it might somewhat defeat the purpose of the Spectacles, I would have loved if I could watch my videos in real-time on my phone screen. 

And if you were hoping to record video with the Spectacles at nighttime, good luck: While Snap hasn’t released the specs of the camera, the lens does not perform well in low-light scenarios. 

A clunky app experience

There’s one other major problem with Spectacles: It’s actually a hassle to view the videos after they’re done recording. While the shooting part is easy, the entire experience after the fact is clunky and time-consuming.

The videos are buried in your Memories folder, which most people likely never even open but was clearly created to house Spectacles videos. You have to watch through every single video in order, so you can’t just select your most recent video and look at it — all the videos you’ve created play back much like a Snap story.

You can speed things along by clicking the button that says “Edit & Send,” which shifts the videos into a carousel view that you can scroll though, but it still puts them in chronological order. Anyone trying to view a specific shot will quickly be frustrated by how long it takes to get to your most recent video.

But there’s one feature of Spectacles that arguably makes it one of the coolest products I’ve used in a while: When you play back the video, it shifts around when you move your phone, much like 360 video. You can look around the entire image of what the Spectacles just by turning your phone. When you add a caption and upload the video to you Snapstory, the caption moves along with the video. That feature alone makes filming videos with the Spectacles incredibly fun to use.

My first instinct was to use the Spectacles to shoot beautiful, first-person videos, but it was clear very quickly that this product is not designed to do that. In trying to shoot a nice video walking up to the Chrysler Building at night, I realized after playing it back that it pretty much just looked like I had shot it with my phone. 

The Spectacles seem designed for experiences where there’s a lot of movement and a lot to look at — an experience that’s best represented POV-style. When I started really testing out the glasses, I felt like they were wasted on my jaunts around New York City. The glasses would be better put to use in situations like concerts, big parties, sporting events, or anything outdoors — which means that if you’re buying them for everyday use, you might be disappointed. 

The other downside is the videos don’t upload to your phone in HD. Instead, you get a somewhat blurry SD version first, and can opt to upload the HD videos after. But that requires connecting to the WiFi inside the Spectacles, which again is a clunky and time-consuming process, and it’s difficult to select an individual video to upload in HD. 


For Snap’s first iteration of the glasses, they’re a total success — as long as you’re not looking at them as a tech product. 

If you think about the Spectacles as a fashion product that happens to be tech-enabled, they’re fantastic: They look good, it’s easy to record video, and they’re fun to use. Owning them puts you in an exclusive club, but not in the same vein as the Silicon Valley techies who flocked around Google Glass. 

Instead, the Spectacles are aimed at a different crowd: Snapchat users who want to take their game to the next level; people who travel and explore and don’t want to do so with a GoPro strapped to their heads; and millennials who are eager to be inspired by a tech product again and want to be the first to own the next big thing — in essence, Snap CEO Evan Spiegel himself. 

Snapchat Spectacles 13

Are the glasses perfect? Not even close. The app’s capabilities haven’t caught up to what the Spectacles are trying to accomplish, the camera is below-average, and after only a few hours of using them, the novelty completely wore off. Right now, their allure mostly lies in how difficult they are to obtain, evidenced by the fact that everyone at Business Insider and all of my friends who tried them on immediately uploaded a selfie while wearing them, but didn’t actually record any video with them. 

For $130, the product seems worth the money, and would be fun to have on-hand for the few days a year you’re at a music festival or taking a road trip with friends. But don’t be surprised if, after a few selfies and a couple fun POV videos, your Spectacles start to gather dust.

SEE ALSO: Here’s how to pair Snapchat Spectacles with your phone

Join the conversation about this story »

NOW WATCH: We got our hands on Snapchat’s Spectacles — here’s what they’re like

Alphabet’s Eric Schmidt says Russia is the biggest cyber attack threat to the US (GOOG, GOOGL)

Eric Schmidt

Eric Schmidt, the executive chairman of Google’s parent company Alphabet, says he’s worried about Russian cyber attacks against the US more than any other country.

“The [country] I worry about the most right now is actually Russia,” Schmidt said in an interview with David Rubenstein on Bloomberg.

“If you look at their actions over the last few months, they’ve done a number of very publicized invasions, attacks, and alterations, which can only be understood as cyber activity and they’re not shy about it.”

Schmidt’s comments alluded to allegations by the US and others that Russia was responsible for hacking into and releasing emails from the Hillary Clinton presidential campaign and the Democratic National Committee in an attempt to influence the election.

It’s interesting that Schmidt cites the Russians as cyber enemy number 1 given Google’s history battling Chinese hackers. Google suffered a series of cyber attacks from China several years ago that caused the company to pull out of mainland China in 2010. The attackers targeted humans rights activists that used Google services, according to Google. Several other major tech companies were victims of the same cyber attack.

You can watch the full interview with Schmidt here:

SEE ALSO: Google’s streaming music service can predict what you want to listen to next

Join the conversation about this story »

NOW WATCH: Here’s how Facebook and Google’s new 8,000-mile deep sea data cable will work

The CRISPR gene-editing tool has been tested on a human for the first time— here’s how it works

A team in China has injected a person with cells containing genes edited with CRISPR technology. This is the first time this technology has been tested on a human patient. 

Business Insider interviewed New York Times columnist and science writer Carl Zimmer in November 2015. In this video he explains how the revolutionary genome-editing tool CRISPR works.

Follow BI Video: On Twitter

Join the conversation about this story »

The tallest modular apartment building in the world just opened in New York City — take a look inside


Some architects believe that most homes, hotels, and schools in the future should be constructed using modular design.

When a building is modular, the majority of its construction happens offsite. The finished parts (rooms, hallways, terraces) are then pre-assembled and delivered to the site, allowing for a quicker construction. Modular design also helps developers save money, since factory workers generally make lower wages than those on construction sites.

461 Dean, a 32-story apartment complex in Brooklyn, is the newest residential tower in New York City to feature modular construction. It’s now considered the tallest modular tower in the world. The apartments’ pre-fabricated rooms fit and lock together like a puzzle pieces. The modules were placed by cranes to create the building.

Its developer, Forest City Ratner Companies, built 90% of 461 Dean in its factory at the Brooklyn Navy Yard. That allowed them to save 20% on construction costs, Forest City’s VP of residential development, Adam Greene, tells Business Insider.

The complex’s construction process has been rocky, however. Due to disagreements and subsequent lawsuits between Forest City and construction partner Skanska, construction (which started in late 2013) was delayed for months. According to Curbed, reports of water leaks at 461 Dean have also persisted. However, the building nevertheless topped out in May and is expected to be complete by the end of the year.

461 Dean started leasing on November 15, and the first tenants will move in by the beginning of December. Studios start at $2,450 per month, with one-bedrooms from $3,125 and two-bedrooms from $4,750.

Take a look inside. 

SEE ALSO: This $86,000 solar-powered tiny house rotates to face the sun

Designed by the NYC-based firm Shop Architects, 461 Dean is located in downtown Brooklyn, near many subway lines that make for an easy commute to Manhattan.

In the one-bedroom apartment pictured below, there’s an open kitchen …

… that connects to a living room space.

See the rest of the story at Business Insider

NSA CHIEF: A nation-state made a ‘conscious effort’ to sway the US presidential election

NSA Director Adm. Michael Rogers

The leader of the National Security Agency says there shouldn’t be “any doubt in anybody’s mind” that there was “a conscious effort by a nation-state” to sway the result of the 2016 presidential election.

Adm. Michael Rogers, who leads both the NSA and US Cyber Command, made the comments during a conference presented by The Wall Street Journal in response to a question about WikiLeaks’ release of nearly 20,000 internal emails from the Democratic National Committee.

“There shouldn’t be any doubt in anybody’s minds,” Rogers said. “This was not something that was done casually. This was not something that was done by chance. This was not a target that was selected purely arbitrarily. This was a conscious effort by a nation-state to attempt to achieve a specific effect.”

Rogers did not specify the nation-state or the specific effect, though US intelligence officials say they suspect Russia provided the emails to WikiLeaks after hackers stole them from DNC servers and the personal email account of Hillary Clinton’s campaign manager, John Podesta.

At least two different hacker groups associated with the Russian government were found inside the networks of the DNC over the past year reading emails, chats, and downloading private documents. Many of those files were later released by WikiLeaks.

The hack, which was investigated by the FBI and the cybersecurity firm Crowdstrike, was linked to Russia through a lengthy technical analysis, which was detailed on the firm’s blog. Former NSA research scientist Dave Aitel, who now leads another cybersecurity firm, has called the analysis “pretty dead on.”

The hack of Podesta’s private Gmail address was traced by cybersecurity researchers to hackers with Russia’s foreign intelligence service, the GRU, because the group made an error during its campaign of “spear phishing” targets, tricking them into clicking on malicious links or give up their passwords. The researchers found that the group had targeted more than 100 email addresses that were associated with the Clinton campaign, according to The New York Times.

The Obama administration in October publicly accused Russia of being behind the hacks.

“The US intelligence community is confident that the Russian Government directed the recent compromises of emails,” reads a statement from the Department of Homeland Security. “These thefts and disclosures are intended to interfere with the US election process.”

Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina said on Tuesday that he wants the Senate to open an investigation into whether the Russian government meddled in the US election. Russian President Vladimir Putin has repeatedly denied his country was behind the hacks.

SEE ALSO: Defense Secretary Carter pushes back on Trump’s call for ‘sneak attack’ on ISIS

Join the conversation about this story »

NOW WATCH: GREEN BERET: This is how we’re different from US Navy SEALs