Puzzle about nitrogen solved thanks to cometary analogues – Space Daily

Comets and asteroids are objects in our solar system that have not developed much since the planets were formed. As a result, they are in a sense the archives of the solar system, and determining their composition could also contribute to a better understanding of the formation of the planets.

One way to determine the composition of asteroids and comets is to study the sunlight reflected by them, since the materials on their surface absorb sunlight at certain wavelengths. We talk about a comet's spectrum, which has certain absorption features.

VIRTIS (Visible, InfraRed and Thermal Imaging Spectrometer) on board the European Space Agency's (ESA) Rosetta space probe mapped the surface of comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, known as Chury for short, from August 2014 to May 2015.

The data gathered by VIRTIS showed that the cometary surface is uniform almost everywhere in terms of composition: The surface is very dark and slightly red in color, because of a mixture of complex, carbonaceous compounds and opaque minerals. However, the exact nature of the compounds responsible for the measured absorption features on Chury has been difficult to establish until now.

Cometary Analogue Provided the Solution to the PuzzleTo identify which compounds are responsible for the absorption features, researchers led by Olivier Poch from the Institute of Planetology and Astrophysics at the Universite de Grenoble Alpes carried out laboratory experiments in which they created cometary analogues and simulated conditions similar to those in space.

Poch had developed the method together with researchers from Bern when he was still working at the University of Bern Physics Institute. The researchers tested various potential compounds on the cometary analogues and measured their spectra, just as the VIRTIS instrument on board Rosetta had done with Chury's surface. The experiments showed that ammonium salts explain specific features in the spectrum of Chury.

Antoine Pommerol from the University of Bern Physics Institute is one of the co-authors of the study, which is now published in the Science journal. He explains: "While Olivier Poch was working at the University of Bern, we jointly developed methods and procedures to create replicas of the surfaces of cometary nuclei." The surfaces were altered by sublimating the ice on them under simulated space conditions.

"These realistic laboratory simulations allow us to compare laboratory results and data recorded by the instruments on Rosetta or other comet missions. The new study builds on these methods to explain the strongest spectral feature observed by the VIRTIS spectrometer with Chury," Pommerol continues.

Nicolas Thomas, Director of the University of Bern Physics Institute and also co-author of the study, says: "Our laboratory in Bern offers the ideal opportunities to test ideas and theories with experiments that have been formulated on the basis of data gathered by instruments on space missions. This ensures that the interpretations of the data are really plausible."

Vital Building Block "Hides" in Ammonium SaltsThe results are identical to those from the Bern mass spectrometer ROSINA, which had also gathered data on Chury on board Rosetta. A study published in Nature Astronomy in February under the leadership of astrophysicist Kathrin Altwegg was the first to detect nitrogen, one of the basic building blocks of life, in the nebulous covering of comets. It had "hidden" itself in the nebulous covering of Chury in the form of ammonium salts, the occurrence of which could not be measured until now.

Although the exact amount of salt is still difficult to estimate from the available data, it is likely that these ammonium salts contain most of the nitrogen present in the Chury comet. According to the researchers, the results also contribute to a better understanding of the evolution of nitrogen in interstellar space and its role in prebiotic chemistry.

Research Report: "Ammonium Salts Are a Reservoir of Nitrogen on a Cometary Nucleus and Possibly on Some Asteroids"

Related LinksRosetta at ESAAsteroid and Comet Mission News, Science and Technology

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Puzzle about nitrogen solved thanks to cometary analogues - Space Daily

The exploration of the Moon and Mars continues apace – The Economist

Two craft probe beneath these bodies surfaces

Feb 27th 2020

THIS WEEK has seen the publication of results collected by probes to two heavenly bodies: Change 4, a Chinese mission to the Moon, and InSight, an American mission to Mars. Change 4 landed in January 2019; InSight arrived the previous November. The Chinese team, bowing to the realities of scientific publishing, have presented their results in Science Advances, an American journal. The Americans, however, have chosen Nature Geoscience, a British journal owned by German publishers.

Change 4 is Chinas second successful lunar lander, and the first from any country to touch down intact on the Moons far sidethe part never visible from Earth. Its purpose, other than demonstrating Chinas technological prowess, is to investigate the geology of Von Krmn crater in the Moons southern hemisphere. To that end it is fitted with a ground-penetrating radar which can peer many metres down.

This radar shows three distinct layers of rock, the top two each 12 metres thick and the lowest 16 metres thick. Below that, the signal is too fuzzy to see what is going on. The upper layer is composed of regolithcrushed rock that is the product of zillions of small meteorite impacts over the course of several billion years, and which covers most of the Moons surface. The other two, distinguishable by the coarseness of the grains within them, are probably discrete ejecta from separate nearby impacts early in the Moons history that were subsequently covered by the regolith.

InSight (pictured above as an artists impression) is intended to probe deeper than this. It is fitted with instruments designed to measure heat flow from Marss interior, any wobble in the planets axis of rotation (which would probably be caused by an iron core) and Marsquakes. The heat-flow instrument has so far been a washout. The mole, a device intended to dig into Marss surface, pulling this instrument with it, has refused to co-operateto the point where the projects directors are about to take the time-honoured step of hitting it with a hammer (or, rather, with the scoop on the probes robot arm) to persuade it to stay in the hole that it is supposed to be excavating. And the wobble detector, though working correctly, has insufficient data to report. So the release this week is mainly about the quakes.

InSights seismograph recorded 174 quakes between the crafts landing and the end of September 2019. The strongest were between magnitudes three and fourjust powerful enough, had they happened on Earth, for a human being to notice them. Quakes are a valuable source of information about a planets interior. A network of seismographs, as exists on Earth, allows their points of origin to be triangulated, their speed measured and their reflections from subsurface rock layers observed. From all this can be deduced those layers composition and depth. With but a single instrument, such deductions are trickier. InSights masters do, though, think that two of the quakes originated in Cerberus Fossae, a set of faults 1,600km from the landing site that are suspected of still being seismically active.

This article appeared in the Science and technology section of the print edition under the headline "Beneath the surface"

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The exploration of the Moon and Mars continues apace - The Economist

What I Learned About Politics From Reading Science Fiction – Splice Today

Science fiction is a great source of speculative ideas about technology, planetology, and advanced physics. Science fiction authors predicted the rise of space travel, computer networks, and wireless earbuds decades before these marvels insinuated themselves into our everyday lives. Science fiction predicted the rise of Elon Musk and Donald Trump, including all of their tweets. Science fiction predicted that youd have more to watch, on Netflix, than you can ever actually see. Science fiction predicted the conversations people on subways have, nearly all the time, about their dislike of e-books. Science fiction predicted that Google Maps would give the wrong address for that poetry reading you tried to attend. Science fiction knew (years before you did) that youd become obsolete, replaced by a team of inexpensive robots. It predicted youd learn of your own obsolescence.

But lets consider a different, unexplored dimension of these novels: their political ideologies. A few dry, preachy award-winners have already been brought up for questioningIm thinking, for instance, of those plodding allegories by Octavia Butler and Ursula LeGuin. But in a genre filled with uncomfortable fantasies of absolute power, and caustic observations about democracys weak points, its been hard to convince literary critics to draw up the roadmaps we need. For one thing, Americas critics-in-residence are mostly far left. Theyre embarrassed to learn that Orson Scott Card was a radical Mormon, that Robert Heinlein was an authoritarian, and that Frank Herbert hated Congress. Even Butler, who checks off somanyboxes for edgy academics, only becomes eligible for sainthood if you ignore her enthusiastic passages about privately-owned guns. It must feel, to an adjunct professor in the humanities, as ifThe Handmaids Taleand1984are the sole exemplars of political insight in a genre that otherwise thrives on libertarian hyperbole written by (and for) a lunatic fringe.

But this assessment isnt right; it misses something. Let us praise famous books likeDune,Enders Game,andFoundation. Let us patiently test out the political ideas Heinlein awkwardly smuggles into that groovy Martian lovefest,Stranger in a Strange Land.Its time we acknowledge genre fiction speaking truth to power. Here are just three of the many useful political lessons science fiction has taught me.

Rulers are less cynical than their advisors.Its the privilege of those who govern to translate ideals directly into action; because they spend all their time making abstract ideologies bear fruit, theyremain irreducibly idealistic. It helps, too, that the rulers are generally kept at a distance from the ruled. They hear only nice versions of what their subordinates do. Such cosseted people dont, as a rule, like going to bloody or treacherous extremes. That step requires somebody else: the trusted advisor whos willing to quietly doeverythingnecessary. The difference between respectable governments and reprehensible ones, often boils down to how much the leader doesnt need to know about the power his authorized representatives wield. Remember, inStranger in a Strange Land, when the Feds raid the Martians hideout? The President, busy taking calls in his private office, has no idea a raid is evenhappening. His bureaucrats actautonomously to further his interests. Thats far more dangerous than any public policy agendathe icy realism, the unlimited prerogative, of people who subscribe to all the kings goals and none of his illusions.

The most important constituencies get that way because theyre off the grid, and therefore likely to be underestimated.Drawing onSeven Pillars of Wisdom, T. E. Lawrences account of sand power in colonial Arabia, Frank HerbertsDuneis about a seemingly impossible revolution. The novel is set in a future age when humans have colonized outer space, led by a Roman-like empire that measures its territory in light-years. Yet the Emperor is undone, in a very short time, by a loose alliance of nomadic tribes living on a single planet. Their numbers are great, and hard to account for, since the official census doesnt survey brutal, sparsely-inhabited deserts. Theyre impossible to buy off, or threaten, because theyve lived by their own lights for too long.

They remind me of Earths Bedouins, of course, but they remind me of other populations, too. The evangelicals in our Southern states. The unregistered voters living in epicenters of urban decay. The alt-right, with its underground media empire and weaponized dog whistles. Hackers in Albania. Droves of well-organized, well-informed protestersbringing about the Arab Spring, or, more recently, helping to protect civil liberties in Hong Kong. When a communitys ignored, and forges a common identity under cover of darkness, it thereby acquires more power than anyoneinpower admits. By the time more enfranchised people adjust, and react to the new pieces on the board, its too late.

Predictions are variables; they alter the very same historical arcs they intend to trace.This circular, bewildering, evenparalyzing idea is the focus ofFoundation, Isaac Asimovs heady novel about the life cycle of civilizations. Asimov was merely the first person in his generation to meddle with such paradoxes. Years earlier, George Orwell wrote that he who controls the past, controls the future. He understood how important predictive narratives could be to political parties. A pattern can, in fact, become propaganda if its used to winnow out unwelcome possibilities. Youll hear, in the coming months, about the results of countless polls that show how so-and-so has no chance of being elected president. This is done entirely for the benefit of the other candidatesthe ones who appear to be in the lead, or at least on an upswing, while the competition falters.

Dire predictions lead to fearful, reactionary behavior; people who are afraid for their jobs or their lives can become xenophobic and isolationist overnight. Similarly, predicting the return of some previously attained Golden Age alwayssoundslike a credible form of optimism, whether or not those glory days were idyllic in realitywhether or not they ever even happened. The political world is a battlefield where scientific descriptions, and objective inferences about whatwillcome to pass, collide with all sorts of motivated visions of whatshouldand (by extension)mustbe true. Even facts cease to be objective in this context, since any one interpretation of a fact tends to foreclose the other interpretive chains, other patterns, that mightve explained it. Furthermore,anything (factual or not) that disrupts established patterns of human behavior createsnewsocial realitiesi.e., newfacts.

Any prediction, even if its deliberately seeded, also tends tobecome true if people start believing in it, using it to make decisions, and defending it against threats. Its admirable, and nearly impossible, to cleave to uncertainty instead, like the heroes of these books do. Certainty and confidence go over better with other people. Theyre also much easier to bear. But the best science, applied to human behavior, always acknowledges a wide range of equally probable outcomes. The hypothetical futures we inhabit, when we make predictions, are moralexercises, not moral imperatives. What values are indispensable to us? What will it take to realize those values, if things go very well or very badly, and our circumstances change?

It makes sense that sci-fi novelists would understand the ambiguities of prediction. As intellectuals, theyre largely defined by their hypotheses about the future. An authors predictions become synecdoches that count as her achievements, and pretty much sum her up, for every non-reader (and even for many of her fans). A small number of readers, though, identify completely with the storys moral assumptions. They turn from the authors mere speculations to the way the storyfeelsabout the future it describes. To a real fan, it doesnt matter whether the work is prophetic in visible, measurable ways.

Instead of anticipating the future, the novel (or story, or movie) re-defines whats possible now. Then facts become symbols of possibility, symbols of transformation. Facts and patterns, taken in hand by the imagination, become signifiers of something greater than themselves. They give rise to an awareness that once, the world was not as it has since become, to quote fantasist John Crowley. Our world could be differentagain. Thus science fictions, those laborious predictions, transcend what they predict. They reveal, to each attentive reader, that it must somehow be possible to slip precedents noose.

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What I Learned About Politics From Reading Science Fiction - Splice Today

Exploring the Solar System Anew at the Hayden Planetarium – The New York Times

Worlds Beyond Earth is the first new space show at the American Museum of Natural History in more than six years, and if you havent been to a planetarium in a while, the experience is a bit like being thrown out of your own orbit.

Surrounded by brilliant colors, the viewer glides through space in all directions, unbound by conventional rules of orientation or vantage point. Dizzying spirals show the orbits of Mercury, Venus, Earth and Mars. At one point, museumgoers are taken along a journey from the perspective of a comet.

In illustrating the far reaches of our solar system, the show draws on data from seven sets of space missions from NASA, Europe and Japan, including the Apollo 15 mission in 1971, which was the fourth to deliver astronauts to the moon, and still-active ones like Voyager. Museum members will get an early look at the show, which runs about 25 minutes and is narrated by the actress Lupita Nyongo, during previews this weekend. It opens to the public on Tuesday. (The museums current planetarium show, Dark Universe, ends its run on Jan. 16.)

Vivian Trakinski, a producer on the show, said that the idea for Worlds Beyond Earth came from the abundance of data collected on the solar system. If the raw information is not necessarily new, the show brings together separate sources in an engaging, accessible way that should appeal to adults and to children hearing about other planets for the first time (although very young children might be overwhelmed).

Advances in visualization have allowed photographic data from space to be mosaicked to create an immersive simulation of celestial bodies across the solar system and across time. The imagery is not pure photography but a form of visual effects. Trakinski likens the process to making a climate model.

Story-wise, the movie, drawing on the field of comparative planetology, is constructed as a voyage to the far reaches of the system to Titan, Saturns almost Earth-like moon, courtesy of the Cassini spacecraft; to the environs of Jupiter and back. And in those travels, past debris and moonlets, the movie illustrates the fragility of Earth, which is positioned on a razors edge of habitability.

We have all these processes that are similar, we have magnetic fields, we have volcanoes, we have atmospheres, we have gravity, said Denton Ebel, the geologist who curated the show. And these processes lead to this huge diversity of outcomes. Ebel, who runs the Hall of Meteorites at the museum and is the chairman of the museums division of physical sciences, is the first non-physicist to curate a space show there.

Planetary science, particularly for places like the moon and Mars, is no longer done with telescopes, Ebel said. We have rovers that are analyzing rocks the same way wed do it in a laboratory here. So its geology.

The presentation shows the frightening fortunes that might have befallen Earth. Mars is held up as a frozen desert a failed Earth. Venus, scorched by solar wind, with a surface that could melt lead, is seen as an object lesson in global warming taken to the extreme.

With a sense of movement and scale that only a visual presentation could convey, Worlds Beyond Earth makes an unforced point about the dangers of climate change. Another celestial body might have an alien sea that contains more liquid water than all the oceans on Earth, as Nyongo narrates. But Earth itself, she adds later, is the only place with the right size, the right location and the right ingredients an easy balance to upset.

The director, Carter Emmart, a specialist in astro-visualization who worked at NASA Ames Research Center before joining the museum in 1998, said that a planetarium show is a natural format to browse and really see these places in a relaxed environment. This is the fruit of the missions, during which astronauts are often occupied with mechanical and safety issues.

But when I saw Worlds Beyond Earth in a not-quite-complete version last week, I was also struck by how it harnessed cutting-edge moviemaking techniques. It uses a high frame rate that is, the number of images shown per second, which here is 60 instead of the cinematic 24 to create a smooth sense of motion, and it has an almost bewildering complexity of angles and viewpoints. Emmart said that much time was spent selecting what he called the flight paths that viewers will be sent on.

He also said that it is the first new space show to take advantage of the high dynamic range essentially the spectrum between the brightest whites and the deepest blacks of the planetariums latest projection system.

That means that the loneliness of Earth amid a vast sea of darkness will be on full display.

Worlds Beyond Earth

Opens Jan. 21 (member previews are Jan. 18-20) at the American Museum of Natural Historys Hayden Planetarium, Central Park West, Manhattan; 212-769-5100, amnh.org.


Exploring the Solar System Anew at the Hayden Planetarium - The New York Times

UH researcher earns international recognition for innovation in geophysics – UH System Current News

Niels Grobbe

A University of Hawaii at Mnoa researcher was honored as the first-place recipient of the Innovation Award, presented at the Fifth International Conference on Engineering Geophysics held in United Arab Emirates.

Niels Grobbe is an assistant researcher with the Hawaii Institute of Geophysics and Planetology (HIGP) and Water Resources Research Center (WRRC). As the first-place winner, Grobbe was awarded $10,000.

This is a very prestigious award, and WRRC is very proud of Niels accomplishment, said WRRC Director Tom Giambelluca. To finish first in the Innovation Award for Geophysics competition is a great achievement and reinforces the high expectations we have for Niels as he continues to excel in this cutting-edge field. We look forward to all the innovative work that Niels will bring to bear on critical problems affecting Hawaii and the Pacific region.

Grobbes submission, Seismoelectric Surface Wave Analysis for Characterization of Formation Properties, using Dispersive Relative Spectral Amplitudes, was selected as the winning contribution after a highly competitive evaluation procedure. He submitted a four-page extended conference abstract, a white paper and letters of recommendation. The award-winning researcher also gave a 45-minute presentation and sustained an extended question and answer session.

We were delighted to be able to hire Niels onto our faculty, and this award illustrates why, said Interim HIGP Director Rob Wright. He and his co-authors have developed a new method for exploring the movement of fluids in Earths crust, a method which will allow people to use existing approaches to answer a fundamentally different set of science questions.

Grobbe thanked his colleague, Sjoerd de Ridder from the University of Leeds, United Kingdom, for collaborating with him on what he describes as an exciting innovation.

I am truly honored and humbled by receiving this competitive and prestigious award, and by the international recognition for our innovation on Seismoelectric Surface Wave Analysis for Characterization of Formation Properties, using Dispersive Relative Spectral Amplitudes, said Grobbe. I believe the innovation has the potential to revolutionize the way we think about seismoelectric signals, its data acquisition, and its applications for studying porous media, groundwater, and other subsurface fluid processes at a variety of spatial scales.

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UH researcher earns international recognition for innovation in geophysics - UH System Current News

We Asked an AI to Finish Real Elon Musk Tweets

We thought it would be fun to run some Elon Musk tweets through a neural network designed by OpenAI, the company he founded and quit.


We’ve written previously about Talk to Transformer, a site by OpenAI that uses a sophisticated artificial intelligence to complete passages of text with surprisingly deft context.

Close news watchers will recall that Elon Musk, CEO of Tesla and SpaceX, co-founded OpenAI, but decided to part ways with the company earlier this year, pointing to disagreements with its direction — which is why we thought it would be fun to run some of the eccentric billionaire’s most iconic tweets through Talk to Transformer.

Neural Musk

Musk announced some exciting news about the Boring Company today — but Neural Musk had different ideas for the tunnel-digging venture:

Remember when Musk suggested adding dragon wings to SpaceX’s Starship? The AI has another plan:

Musk’s riff on a dirty Tesla video was also no match for Neural Musk:

This was the tweet that led to the Boring Company — until Neural Musk put a Trumpian spin on it:

Musk recently joked about changing the Tesla horn sound. But his vision was no match for Neural Musk’s galaxy-brain concept:

Recall that beautiful render of Starship on the Moon? Neural Musk has bad news for its passengers:

More on Elon Musk: Elon Musk’s New Goal: “Reach the Moon as Fast as Possible”

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We Asked an AI to Finish Real Elon Musk Tweets

Watch a Super-Strong Robot Dog Pull a Three-Ton Airplane

Researchers at Istituto Italiano di Tecnologia announced a new hydraulic, quadrupedal robot dog, and showed the bot pulling a three-ton airplane.

Go Fetch

Man’s best friend may be great at pulling a sled, but a manmade best friend can pull an entire airplane.

A little over a month has passed since we witnessed a pack of Boston Dynamics robot dogs pulling a truck. Now, researchers at Istituto Italiano di Tecnologia (IIT) have announced a new version of their hydraulic, quadrupedal robot, HyQReal — and what better way to show off the bot’s capabilities than by pulling a three-ton airplane.

Have a look! The new quadruped robot #HyQReal tested by pulling 3 tons airplane. Realized by Dynamic Legged Systems Lab @IITalk @Moog_Industrial @GenovAeroporto @PiaggioOfficial. #ICRA2019 #robot #robotics #technology #TechnologyNews #Engineering #futuretech #HighTech pic.twitter.com/QrF1JnlUWZ

— IIT (@IITalk) May 23, 2019

Big Boy

Though the same height as SpotMini, HyQReal is three times heavier than its nimble cousin. The former stands at 84cm and weighs 30kg (approx. 2.75ft and 66lbs) while HyQReal is 90 cm tall, and weighs 130kg (approx. 2.95ft and 286lbs.)

That’s because the beefy bot is being developed by IIT to aid in disaster scenarios like fires.

“We are not targeting the first response yet,” Claudio Semini, project leader at IIT’s Dynamic Legged Systems lab said in an email to CNET, “but support in the aftermath of a disaster. Bringing sensors into unsafe areas, manipulating and moving objects, opening doors, etc.”

Rolling Thunder

While pulling the immense weight of a three-ton plane is impressive, the capability depends more on the rolling resistance of the aircraft’s tires than its overall weight.

Still, it’s a testament to the capability of HyQReal to take on heavy-duty tasks. At the end of the day, if it takes a pack of robot dogs to pull a truck and one robot dog to pull an airplane, perhaps it’s time we started treating robots and AI more nicely before we end up regretting it.

READ MORE: The new quadruped robot HyQReal tested by pulling 3 tons airplane [EurekAlert]

More on Robot Dogs: Watch a Pack of Boston Dynamics’ Creepy Robot Dogs Pull a Truck

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Watch a Super-Strong Robot Dog Pull a Three-Ton Airplane

New Law Could End Robocalling Once and For All

The Senate just voted in favor of a bipartisan bill that could put an end to spam and unsolicited marketing calls once and for all.

Robocall Bill

In response to the almost 50 billion robocalls that were made last year in the U.S., the Senate just voted in favor of a bipartisan bill that could put an end to unsolicited marketing calls once and for all.

The Telephone Robocall Abuse Criminal Enforcement and Deterrence (TRACED) Act overwhelmingly passed with just one vote against and 97 in favor — clearly an issue that both sides can agree on.


The bill will increase fines and criminalize illegal unsolicited robocalls — and, more importantly, require providers to come up with a way to authenticate calls going forward.

“This bipartisan, common-sense bill puts a bullseye on the scam artists and criminals who are making it difficult for many Americans to answer the phone with any bit of confidence about who’s on the other end of the line,” said John Thune (R-SD), who co-introduced the bill.

Shaken, Stirred

The technology to authenticate calls already exists and has been lauded by the Federal Communications Commission chairman Ajit Pai as a “a significant step towards ending the scourge of spoofed robocalls.” In short, the STIR/SHAKEN framework ensures that both sides of a call would have their caller ID “signed” and validated by carriers.

“I commend the US Senate for passing the TRACED Act… [It] would help strengthen the FCC’s ability to combat illegal robocalls,” said Pai in a statement today. “And we would welcome these additional tools to fight this scourge.”

READ MORE: Senate passes bill to curb robocalls [CNET]

More on robocalls: Rise of the Robocallers: Here’s How We’ll Avoid a Future of Scammers

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New Law Could End Robocalling Once and For All

Scientists Set New Temperature Record for Superconductivity

Scientists discover a superconductor that works at temperatures nearly 50 Celsius degrees (84.6 Fahrenheit degrees) hotter than the previous record high.

Hot Damn

An international team of scientists has built a superconductor that functions at 250 Kelvin, or -23 degrees Celsius — or just-9 degrees Fahrenheit.

That’s a few degrees colder than the chilliest winter day in Florida history, but it’s nearly 50 Celsius degrees (84.6 Fahrenheit degrees) hotter than the previous record high for superconductivity — and it puts the “holy grail” of energy transmission almost within our reach.

Wasted Energy

First discovered in 1911, superconductors are devices that can conduct electricity with zero resistance.

Because none of the energy is lost during the transmission process, superconductors could allow us to generate electricity in one place — a solar farm in a sunny region of the U.S., for example — and send it all over the place without wasting any.

The problem is that scientists have yet to create a practical superconductor — the devices all require extreme conditions, such as freezing cold temperatures and incredibly high pressures, which limits their usefulness.

Super Discovery

That’s why scientists across the globe are on the hunt for a superconductor that works at room temperature — and this new study, published on Wednesday in the journal Nature, represents a giant leap forward in that effort.

In it, the scientists describe how they created a type of material called a lanthanum superhydride. By placing enormous pressure on a bit of the material, they were able to coax it to act as a superconductor at the record-high temperature.

“Our next goal is to reduce the pressure needed to synthesize samples, to bring the critical temperature closer to ambient, and perhaps even create samples that could be synthesized at high pressures, but still superconduct at normal pressures,” researcher Vitali Prakapenka from the University of Chicago said in a news release.

READ MORE: Scientists break record for highest-temperature superconductor [University of Chicago]

More on superconductors: US Military Files Patent for Room-Temperature Superconductor

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Scientists Set New Temperature Record for Superconductivity

Can You Tell Which of These Models Is CGI?

Imma, a CGI fashion model, just scored a make-up modeling gig for a Japanese cosmetics brand.

Imma Real

Spoiler: it’s only the one in the middle.

The model in question is Instagram influencer Imma, who has racked up over 50,000 followers.

Imma may be rendered entirely by a computer, but that hasn’t stopped her from picking up her first gig: modeling Japanese makeup brand Kate Cosmetics for the Vice owned site i-D. In the photos, she’s posing alongside real human models, adding to the effect.

Virtual Models

Surprisingly, Imma isn’t the only virtual Instagram model around. For instance, Lil Miquela has garnered a lot of attention for her posts on Instagram with 1.5 million followers, but is arguably less photorealistic and easier to spot.

Imma even took part in an advertorial interview with i-D. She had some insightful comments to offer up when asked about how beauty needs to change in the future:

“The idea that the pursuit of an ideal and something that is like one can coexist,” she said, as interpreted by Google Translate. “There is no need to choose one or the other.”

READ MORE: One of these models doesn’t exist [Engadget]

More on virtual people: Watch a Real Pastor Baptize an Anime Girl in Virtual Reality

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Can You Tell Which of These Models Is CGI?

Asteroid Flying by Earth Is so Big It Has Its Own Moon

Saturday night, a mile-wide asteroid called 1999 KW4 will fly by the Earth, and when it does, it'll bring with it its very own moon.

Buddy System

Earth will be getting not one but two visitors from space this weekend.

Astronomers expect an asteroid known as 1999 KW4 to swing by the Earth at around 7:05 p.m. ET on Saturday — and when it does, it’ll bring along its very own moon.

“It’s one of the closest binary flybys probably in recent history,” planetary scientist Vishnu Reddy told NBC News. “That’s what makes it a very interesting target.”

Dynamic Duo

Asteroid 1999 KW4 is 1.5 kilometers (.93 miles) wide. That’s about three times the size of its moon, which clocks in at a width of about 0.5 kilometers (.3 miles).

Even at their closest, the space rocks will still be more than 3 million miles away, so don’t worry about them smashing into the Earth. In fact, they won’t even come close enough to see with the naked eye.

Still, the pair won’t be this close to Earth again until 2036, so if you want to catch a glimpse of the dynamic duo, be sure to have your telescope ready Saturday night.

READ MORE: Mile-wide asteroid and its tiny moon to zoom past Earth this weekend [NBC News]

More on asteroids: NASA Asks SpaceX to Help It Save Earth From Incoming Asteroids

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Asteroid Flying by Earth Is so Big It Has Its Own Moon

United Nations: Siri and Alexa Are Encouraging Misogyny

Programmers are creating sexist AI voice assistants, which are then encouraging users to be sexist, according to a new UN report.

Two-Way Street

We already knew humans could make biased AIs — but the United Nations says the reverse is true as well.

Millions of people talk to AI voice assistants, such as Apple’s Siri and Amazon’s Alexa. When those assistants talk back, they do so in female-sounding voices, and a new UN report argues that those voices and the words they’re programmed to say amplify gender biases and encourage users to be sexist — but it’s not too late to change course.

Gender Abuse

The report is the work of the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), and its title — “I’d blush if I could” — is the response Siri was programmed in 2011 to give if a user called her a “bitch.”

According to UNESCO, that programming exemplifies the problems with today’s AI assistants.

“Siri’s submissiveness in the face of gender abuse — and the servility expressed by so many other digital assistants projected as young women — provides a powerful illustration of gender biases coded into technology products,” the report’s authors wrote.

It was only after UNESCO shared a draft of its report with Apple in April 2019 that the company changed Siri’s response to “I don’t know how to respond to that.”

“Me Too” Moment

The fact that Apple was willing to make the change is encouraging, but that’s just one phrase uttered by one assistant. According to UNESCO’s report, to truly make a difference, the tech industry will need to enact much more comprehensive changes.

A good starting place, according to the authors, would be for tech companies to hire more female programmers and stop making their assistants female by default, instead opting for gender-neutral voices.

“It is a ‘Me Too’ moment,” Saniye Gülser Corat, Director of UNESCO’s Division for Gender Equality, told CBS News. “We have to make sure that the AI we produce and that we use does pay attention to gender equality.”

READ MORE: Is it time for Alexa and Siri to have a “MeToo moment”? [CBS News]

More on biased AI: A New Algorithm Trains AI to Erase Its Biases

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United Nations: Siri and Alexa Are Encouraging Misogyny

SpaceX Just Unleashed 60 Starlink Satellites Into Orbit

Starlink Express

SpaceX just successfully let loose 60 of its tiny Starlink satellites, intended to bring internet broadband connectivity to people across the globe. While it’s a good start, the Elon Musk-led space company still has its work cut out to truly bring internet to all.

“In a year and a half, maybe two years, if things go well, SpaceX will probably have more satellites in orbit than all other satellites combined — a majority of the satellites in orbit will be SpaceX,” Musk said during a conference call last week, as quoted by Space.com.

Successful deployment of 60 Starlink satellites confirmed! pic.twitter.com/eYrLocCiws

— SpaceX (@SpaceX) May 24, 2019

The satellites launched on top of a Falcon 9 rocket from Cape Canaveral in Florida last night, but they aren’t the last SpaceX intends to launch. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) approved SpaceX’s request in November to launch an additional 7,518, bringing up the total of approved satellites to almost 12,000.

In a May 11 tweet, Musk admitted that “much will likely go wrong on first mission,” adding that at least six more launches of 60 satellites (360 in total) are “needed for minor coverage, 12 for moderate.”

Starlink's flat-panel design allows for a dense launch stack to take full advantage of Falcon 9’s launch capabilities pic.twitter.com/ntnJInEfno

— SpaceX (@SpaceX) May 24, 2019

Satellite Clutter

The satellites aren’t orbiting at the altitude of most other satellites currently in orbit.

They are cruising at an operational altitude of just 340 miles (550 km) to avoid adding to the growing space debris problem. Worst case, according to Musk: they de-orbit themselves and burn up in Earth’s atmosphere.

READ MORE: SpaceX’s 60-Satellite Launch Is Just the Beginning for Ambitious Starlink Project [Space.com]

More on SpaceX: SpaceX Component Engineer Charged With Faking Inspection Reports

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SpaceX Just Unleashed 60 Starlink Satellites Into Orbit

NASA’s Moon Mission Leader Just Quit After Only Six Weeks

A NASA executive who was appointed only six weeks ago to lead the strategy for future missions to the Moon has resigned.


A NASA executive who was appointed just six weeks ago to lead the strategy for future missions to the Moon has resigned, The Hill reports.

Mark Sirangelo was hired in April as special assistant to NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine. It’s a sudden departure that looks especially odd considering the White House’s focus on getting Americans back to the Moon — but Congress’s refusal to grant extra funds is forcing NASA to re-evaluate the ambitious plans.

Moon 2024?

The news comes after lawmakers rejected NASA’s proposal to establish a team dedicated to devising a sustainable lunar mission and future Mars missions — a rejection, according to Bridenstine, that was partly responsible for Sirangelo’s departure.

“We are exploring what organizational changes within HEO [Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate] are necessary to ensure we maximize efficiencies and achieve the end state of landing the first woman and next man on the Moon by 2024,” Bridenstine said in a statement. “Given NASA is no longer pursuing the new mission directorate, Mark has opted to pursue other opportunities.”

READ MORE: NASA exec leading moon mission quits weeks after appointment [The Hill]

More on NASA’s budget troublesCongress Denies NASA Request for More Moon Mission Money

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NASA’s Moon Mission Leader Just Quit After Only Six Weeks

Watch a Tesla in an Underground Tunnel Race One on the Street

Two Tesla Model 3s race in a new Boring Company video, with one taking the surface streets and the other opting for the company's underground tunnel.

A Tale of Two Teslas

On Friday, the Boring Company tweeted a video of two Tesla Model 3s racing — and though they had the same destination, they took two very different routes.

While one of the cars used surface streets, the other opted for the Boring Company’s underground test tunnel. Taking the low road allowed it to absolutely destroy the time of its opponent, making the trek in just 1 minute and 36 seconds as opposed to the other car’s 4 minutes and 44 seconds — but it wasn’t exactly a fair fight.

Auto Advantage

The Tesla in the tunnel had so many advantages going into the race, it’s hard to even imagine what kind of odds a bookie would’ve given. The car didn’t have to deal with other vehicles, traffic lights, or speed limits — at one point, it was zipping along at 127 miles per hour.

Still, the cheeky video does hammer home a point Elon Musk has been trying to make ever since he first proposed starting the Boring Company way back in 2016: traffic sucks.

Once they’re filled with commuters, though, will tunnels suck any less?

READ MORE: Elon Musk’s Boring Company staged a race between a Tesla in a tunnel and on the road — and the winner was clear [Business Insider]

More on the Boring Company: Las Vegas Approves $48.6 Million Boring Company Tunnel

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Watch a Tesla in an Underground Tunnel Race One on the Street

Elon Musk Ridicules Jeff Bezos’ Plan For Space Colonies

SpaceX CEO Elon Musk said on Twitter that Amazon founder Jeff Bezos' idea for giant off-world space colonies

Space Feud

Amazon founder Jeff Bezos has become increasingly vocal about the idea that humans will eventually live in “giant space colonies” — an idea that’s been widely mocked by critics who’ve pointed out that humans are doing a pretty bad job taking care of their first space habitat, the Earth.

Now, another outsize personality in the space research scene is roasting Bezos: SpaceX CEO Elon Musk.

Makes no sense. In order to grow the colony, you’d have to transport vast amounts of mass from planets/moons/asteroids. Would be like trying to build the USA in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean!

— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) May 23, 2019

Mass Effect

On Thursday, Musk took to Twitter to opine that Bezos’ idea “makes no sense.” The gist of his critique is that space colonies — Bezos favors a design called an “O’Neill cylinder,” which rotates in order to produce artificial gravity — would require extraordinary quantities of materials.

In theory, the fixings for a giant space habitat could be dragged up the gravity well of a planet, like the Earth, but with today’s launch technology, that would be incredibly inefficient.

More likely is an idea Musk alluded to in his tweet: sourcing materials for a space colony from asteroids that have far less gravitational pull than planets — or even building a space station inside an asteroid.

READ MORE: Elon Musk mocks Jeff Bezos’ space colony vision in snarky tweet [Fox Business]

More on space habitats: The Benefits of Colonizing Space: Space Habitats and The O’Neill Cylinder

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Elon Musk Ridicules Jeff Bezos’ Plan For Space Colonies

See China’s Newly Unveiled Maglev Train

China has unveiled a prototype for a new high-speed maglev train that it believes could dramatically cut travel times in the nation.

Fast Track

A new high-speed transportation system is taking shape in China.

On Thursday, state-owned China Railway Rolling Stock Corporation (CRRC) unveiled a prototype for a new high-speed magnetic-levitation — better known as “maglev” — train that could dramatically cut travel times in the nation.

“The prototype has already achieved static levitation and is in ideal condition,” CRCC Qingdao’s deputy chief engineer Ding Sansan said at a news conference, according to a report by China Daily. “We are building an experimental center and a trial production center for high-speed maglev trains and expect to put them into operation in the second half of the year.”

Quick Trip

Instead of using wheels and a track, a maglev train floats on a magnetically powered cushion of air. This reduces friction and allows the craft to reach incredibly fast speeds, like the 430 kilometers per hour (267 miles per hour) top speed of a maglev already in operation in Shanghai.

This new design would be able to far exceed the speed of that maglev, reaching a top speed of 600 kilometers per hour (372 miles per hour). Ding used a theoretical journey between Beijing and Shanghai to show how this could dramatically decrease travel times.

“It takes about four-and-a-half hours by plane including preparation time for the journey; about five-and-a-half hours by high-speed rail, and [would] only [take] about three-and-a-half hours by maglev,” he said, according to a South China Morning Post report.

READ MORE: Prototype maglev train can reach 600 km/h [China Daily]

More on maglev: China Is Set to Start Work on the World’s Fastest Maglev Train

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See China’s Newly Unveiled Maglev Train

Here’s How NASA Prepares Its Spacecraft for Mars

NASA's Mars 2020 spacecraft just underwent a series of extreme tests to prepare it for the intense conditions on the Red Planet's surface. 

Mars 2020

The unmanned spacecraft that NASA wants to send to Mars in the year 2020 — if things go according to plan — just underwent a series of extreme tests to prepare it for the extreme journey.

“First we blast it with sound to make sure nothing vibrates loose,” said David Gruel, launch operations manager at JPL, in a press release. “Then, after a thorough examination, we ‘put it in space’ by placing the spacecraft in this huge vacuum chamber we have here at JPL.”

Hot ‘n Cold

The spacecraft underwent acoustic and thermal vacuum testing at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California.

Things got intense inside that vacuum chamber. After the facility’s 16-ton door closes, temperatures drop to -200 Fahrenheit (-129 Celsius). Then, powerful xenon lamps are turned on to simulate the sun’s harsh rays in outer space.

“This is the most comprehensive stress test you can put a spacecraft through here on Earth,” said Gruel. “We flew in our simulated space environment for a week and a day, checking and rechecking the performance of every onboard system and subsystem. And everything looked great — which is a good thing, because next time this spacecraft stack hits a vacuum, it will be on its way to Mars for real.”

READ MORE: Mars 2020 spacecraft subjected to brutal tests as it prepares for launch [CNET]

More on Mars 2020: You Can Now Send a Souvenir With Your Name on it to Mars

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Here’s How NASA Prepares Its Spacecraft for Mars

Elevate Your Leadership and Grow Your Business at Your Clouds Can 2019

Elevate your leadership potential with Futurism + IBM at this unique, one-day-only traveling experience in New York City. Your Clouds Can 2019 is an immersive journey behind closed doors at some of NYC’s most innovative companies working with data-driven cloud technologies.

This is not your typical conference. Your Clouds Can 2019 will deliver the tools and frameworks that drives impact for leaders and decision makers. This isn’t about what you could do, but what you can do. After our full day of visits, discussions, and design thinking workshop, attendees will not only be inspired, but equipped with new tools they can utilize the very next day.

If you’re working in retail, travel, CPG, or B2C products, your takeaways from Your Clouds Can 2019 will be immediately actionable, both in business and leadership. Though every industry can benefit from this daylong conference.

At Your Couds Can 2019, attendees will be guided through experiences at four trailblazing companies actively changing the landscape in their industries. After meeting for breakfast, we’ll first visit CAMP, a new toy store operating at the intersection of commerce, media, and play. Then, we’ll move to LivePerson, and learn how their an AI-powered conversational platform is changing the way consumers and brands communicate. Following lunch, we’ll explore the culture and data-driven decision making at BuzzFeed, and then conclude the conference at Betaworks, a startup platform designing community at their new membership club for builders.

We understand that leadership schedules are hectic. This is why we’ve hand-selected these companies and built no-frills agenda, packed with discussions and real life case studies. Attendees will meet with the CEOs, CMOs, and CTOs of these frontier businesses. Together, we’ll discuss not only the future for tech in business but also how these executives are employing these technologies today, right now. And how you can too.

Attendees will also experience and participate in the IBM Garage method, a unique design-thinking, prototyping, hands-on experience. In this method, clients and participants sit side by side with IBM industry experts, designers, and developers to incorporate user feedback in real time to build solutions in days or hours—and scale them in weeks. This is where the magic happens.

The Garage is about co-creating, co-developing new processes, technologies, and organizations, in real time, with specialized experts.

This is why it’s also important that we are hand-selecting not only our innovation leaders, but also our attendees. Tickets are free but space is limited. When you’re ready, please complete the application here.

After attending Your Clouds Can 2019, you will walk away with the knowledge and real-life case studies that will directly empower your business decisions and give your leadership and edge among your organization and markets.

This is not just an inspirational experience. This is hands-on learning behind closed doors. Level-up with some of today’s most innovative leaders and decision-makers at Your Clouds Can 2019, in NYC on June 5th, 2019.

Futurism fans: To create this content, a non-editorial team worked with IBM, who sponsored this post. They help us keep the lights on. This post does not reflect the views or the endorsement of the Futurism.com editorial staff.

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Elevate Your Leadership and Grow Your Business at Your Clouds Can 2019

This Robot Scans Preschoolers’ Faces Daily for Signs of Sickness

Thousands of preschools are using a robot named Walklake that looks for signs of illness by scanning the faces and hands of students.

Dr. Robot

Every morning, children at more than 2,000 preschools in China start their days by facing off with a robot named Walklake.

The bot looks for signs of illness and alerts a teacher or school nurse if it notices that a child might be under the weather, according to a recent New Scientist story. It’s then up to the human to decide whether or not to send the student home for the day — and experts are divided on whether Walklake is a boon for schools or a potential privacy nightmare.

Open Wide

Walklake uses an array of cameras and sensors to check each student’s face and hands for signs of common ailments, such as a fever or irritated throat. The idea is that catching an illness early could prevent it from spreading throughout a school’s population, and it only takes the robot about three seconds to check each student.

“It’s allowing for better health monitoring, especially in places that have large populations but not enough skilled health professionals,” Karen Panetta, an engineering professor at Tufts University, told New Scientist.

Healthy Suspicion

The boxy, brightly colored Walklake looks innocuous enough. However, Joanna Bryson, a computer science professor at the University of Bath, told New Scientist there’s always the possibility that hackers could access the data collected by the healthcare robot.

Still, even she sees the benefits of Walklake in a school environment.

“The robots can be very appealing to kids,” she told New Scientist, “and may make them willing to have their health checked every day.”

READ MORE: Robots conduct daily health inspections of schoolchildren in China [New Scientist]

More on robot healthcare: Bill Gates Funds Tiny Robot Surgeons That Operate Inside the Body

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This Robot Scans Preschoolers’ Faces Daily for Signs of Sickness