Cash prizes await "citizen scientists" who can improve algorithms that help NASA find and identify asteroids in our solar system, the agency says. A contest to find more asteroids begins next week, in what NASA calls an attempt to crowdsource innovation.
"NASA already is working to find asteroids that might be a threat to our planet, and while we have found 95 percent of the large asteroids near the Earth's orbit, we need to find all those that might be a threat to Earth," NASA Deputy Administrator Lori Garver says.
Contestants can win money in several phases of the Asteroid Data Challenge, which runs through August. To do so, they must register at TopCoder and submit work that meets several criteria.
"The winning solution must increase the detection sensitivity, minimize the number of false positives, ignore imperfections in the data, and run effectively on all computers," NASA says.
The contest series is being run with Planetary Resources, a company that hopes to mine asteroids. It's part of the Asteroid Grand Challenge, which NASA first announced last summer.
"Our solar system has millions of asteroids," NASA says in a video announcing the program. "We've discovered many of them. But our challenge is to find the rest, and know what to do about them."
Concerns about fast-moving objects coming from space to cause calamities on Earth rose to new heights last year, after a meteor about 22 yards in diameter unexpectedly broke through the atmosphere and exploded over Russia, injuring more than 1,000 people.
"The dinosaurs would have cared if they'd known about this problem," the NASA video says. "Let's be smarter than them."
People who got off to a rough start with Obamacare or haven't picked a plan still have options. But they better hop to it. The open enrollment period ends March 31.
Those who were unable to sign up for a marketplace plan because of the glitches with federal or state websites can receive coverage retroactive to the date they originally applied. There are also retroactive premium tax credits and subsidies, the federal government said in late February.
In addition, some people who gave up on enrolling through their state's balky marketplace and instead bought a plan outside the exchange may be able to switch to a marketplace plan and qualify for retroactive subsidies.
The federal guidance leaves it up to individual states to decide whether they want to offer these options. The federal marketplace has its own process in place to bump back the effective coverage date for people who encountered those problems, says an official at the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services.
"This [guidance] raises more questions than it answers," says Sabrina Corlette, project director at Georgetown University's Center on Health Insurance Reforms. "From a consumer perspective, it says nothing about what difficulties you have to have had to qualify or what documentation you have to show."
In addition to difficulties enrolling, some consumers have been tripped up by inaccurate or incomplete information posted online about the benefits or providers available in a particular plan. They, too, may get some relief.
According to the federal guidance, if enrollees encounter "benefit display errors," such as inaccurate information about deductibles or coverage, insurers are encouraged to honor the information they displayed.
If the insurer fails to do so, and the misinformation might have affected a consumer's choice of plan, that person will generally be allowed to pick another plan at the same coverage level, offered by the same insurer. If consumers can't find a good substitute with that insurer, they'll have 60 days to select a new marketplace plan, the guidance says.
Similarly, if people have enrolled in a marketplace plan and then discovered that it doesn't include doctors, hospitals or other providers they need, they may switch to another plan at the same level offered by the same insurer, according to the federal rules. However, changes due to provider network issues must be made by March 31.
By the end of February, roughly 4 million people had signed up for a marketplace plan on the federal or state-based exchanges.
Picking a plan is only part of the process of getting coverage. Benefits only take effect when you pay your premium, says Sarah Lueck, a senior policy analyst at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. "If you've never paid your premium, your insurer doesn't consider you're covered," she says.
People who haven't enrolled by Mar. 31 may owe a penalty for not having health insurance in 2014.
In the past, people buying coverage directly from an insurer could generally sign up any time during the year as long as they got through the medical underwriting process that insurers used to evaluate applicants.
Not anymore. Consumers who don't sign up during the open enrollment period will generally have to wait until enrollment begins again next fall to sign up or change plans — unless their circumstances change, for instance, if they move, marry, or lose a job, among some of the more common examples.
There are a number of circumstances that may exempt people from penalties for not having insurance. The long list of exemptions covers things like affordability, incarceration and hardships such as being evicted or filing for bankruptcy.
Dallas Seavey was the first musher to slip under the famed burled arch finish line in Nome, Alaska, winning his second Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race after a 1,000-mile slog from Willow.
Seavey, 27, "ran a blistering pace the last 77 miles" with his seven-dog team to win the iconic race Tuesday, according to The Associated Press. He swept past four-time champion Jeff King, who was derailed by bad weather, and rival Aliy Zirkle, who finished in second 2 minutes and 22 seconds after Seavey, Alaska Public Media reports.
Seavey was the youngest-ever champion when he won the race for the first time in 2012. On Tuesday, his father, two-time champion Dan Seavey, was a few places behind him.
Emily Schwing of NPR member station KUAC reports from Nome: "This year's race has been dominated by rough trail, dramatic injuries and tough weather. There are still more than 50 dog teams spread out along the West coast of Alaska."
"King cited severe winds near Safety, the last checkpoint along the nearly 1,000-mile trail, and told officials he had trouble navigating the trail.
"On Monday, he left the checkpoint in White Mountain with an hour's lead over Zirkle. But the Iditarod website said a gust of wind blew King and his dog team into driftwood. He was able to untangle the team but couldn't get them moving again.
"Winds were gusting about 40 mph and there was blowing snow near Safety. ...
"A warmer-than-average winter in Nome has left a shortage of snow. As a result, crews have been stockpiling snow and dumped it on the dry ground near the finish line during the final preparations for the race's end."
In approaching the finish line, the Anchorage Daily News reports that Seavey "jogged beside his sled down Nome's Front Street to help his dogs, one hand on the sled and the other on a ski pole."
The newspaper adds:
"After crossing the finish line he sat down on the back of his sled and leaned his head on his handlebar, exhausted.
" 'How did you do it?' an Iditarod Insider videographer asked.
" 'What'd I do?'
" 'You just won the Iditarod.'
" 'What? I thought that was my dad behind me. Where's Jeff and Aliy?'
"Seavey and his team broke the race speed record, finishing ... in 8 days, 13 hours, 4 minutes, 19 seconds. He shaved more than five hours off John Baker's 2011 record of 8 days, 18 hours, 46 minutes, 39 seconds."
Already heartbreaking images of grieving family and friends only become more poignant when you hear this:
Some family members and friends of the 239 people who haven't been heard from since Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 disappeared Saturday say they've been calling their loved ones' cellphones and hearing rings — though no one picked up the calls.
Could those rings be a sign, they wonder, that the phones are still working — which in turn could mean that the people they belong to are safe?
Sadly, the rings are not evidence that the worst hasn't happened.
Technology industry analyst Jeff Kagan talked to us this morning about what happens when cellphone calls are made.
"When a customer calls another number," he said, "the carrier has to decide what to do next."
Basically, it starts searching for the phone that's being called.
While the phone company's doing that, it sends a ring — or two, or three, or more — to the person who initiated the call. The phone company does that, Kagan said, "so that the customer doesn't hang up" while the search for that other phone is underway.
This happens to him quite frequently, Kagan told us. "My wife will call me and say she heard it ring two or three times. But I picked it up on the first ring [that he heard]." She was hearing the "rings" that the cellphone carrier sent while it was searching for his phone.
How long it takes to either find the other phone or determine that it can't be reached depends on many factors. They include whether the person making the call is trying to reach someone whose phone is part of a different network and whether the person being called is in a different country. Such variables can add to the time it takes to either complete the call or disconnect.
When a carrier can't find the phone that's being called, any one of several things may happen:
— The call might be dropped.
— The call might go to the person's voicemail.
— The call might go to a recorded message saying it couldn't be completed.
"There's not a standard way" that such uncompleted calls are handled, Kagan said.
Flight 370 was on its way from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, to Beijing when it disappeared. The airline says 154 of those on board were from mainland China or Taiwan. "According to Chinese media," the Mirror writes, "19 [Chinese] families have signed a joint statement confirming they made calls which connected to the missing passengers but without an answer."
Kagan says he understands why grieving families might get some comfort from or be confused by the "rings" they've heard. But he wishes their expectations weren't apparently raised needlessly.
"I hate that they have hope" because of this bit of technology, he said.