Month: November, 2017

NASA Confirms New Horizons Is Hurtling Towards Some Barren Space Rock Named 2014 MU69

Remember how excited you were last summer?

No, not because you found a booth at the state fair selling deep fried beer. I’m talking about New Horizons, sillies.

Well get ready for another bout of excitement, because NASA has greenlit New Horizons’ next target: a lump of rock out in the Kuiper Belt called 2014 MU69.

And don’t worry if you’re still exhausted from last year’s Pluto-brations (or the Juno mission’s orbital insertion happening this July 4th).

New Horizons isn’t scheduled to rendezvous with 2014 MH69 until January 1st, 2019, so you have plenty of time to get ready.




Because what better way is there to spend your New Years’ hangover than sitting in the dark and waiting for a space probe five and a half billion miles away to send a few squawks home confirming that it passed its target successfully?

But wait, you ask. Doesn’t this 2014 MU69 character sound familiar? It should.

Nineties kids will remember that in season three of Big Bad Beetleborgs, a cyborg monster called 2014 MU69 kidnaps Flabber, leading Drew, Jo, and Roland on a wild chase through the Hillhurst suburbs.

Just kidding, everyone knows that show only had two seasons.

2014 MU69 should really only sound familiar to Pluto-heads who were paying attention last August when NASA first announced the Kuiper Belt object as New Horizons’ next target. So what is new?

Well, this is NASA just doubling down, saying it has allotted funding to the mission. Yay, money!

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According To This Man, A Rocket Launch Will Prove Earth Is Flat

This Saturday you’ll be able to watch live streaming footage of a flat-earther as he tries to prove the Earth is flat.

Mike Hughes and his homemade steam-powered rocket are working till the end, tweaking the rocket that will send him on a 500 mph mile-long flight across the Mojave Desert.

The ultimate goal? To prove astronauts, government agencies, and Elon Musk wrong; that the Earth is indeed a flat disk.

To do this Hughes will climb aboard the rocket he built from scrap metal and launch himself 1,800 feet into the air in order to take photos proving the Earth is flat.




“I don’t believe in science. I know about aerodynamics and fluid dynamics and how things move through the air, about the certain size of rocket nozzles, and thrust. But that’s not science, that’s just a formula. There’s no difference between science and science fiction.” Hughes told The Associated Press.

While this isn’t the first time Hughes has launched himself on a homemade rocket, this will be the highest and farthest by far.

The rocket will launch from a modified mobile home in the middle of the Mojave Desert. Meanwhile, he’s noted that this is just his first phase in his flat-earth space program.

Mike Hughes, a limo-driver in California, has been in the spotlight before for his daredevil stunts. .

From a 2002 Guinness World Record limousine jump to various rocket launches, Hughes has made a name for himself with homemade stunts.

Eventually, Hughes plans to launch himself miles above the Earth and take photos of the flat Earth below.

Hughes has often cited fake NASA and SpaceX launches, noting that NASA is controlled by a group of Freemasons and somehow that means they’re all lying to us.

Thankfully, we have Hughes to debunk the round Earth claims and prove we all live on a disc. His first rocket launch was in 2014 when he rode his homemade rocket on a quarter-mile trek at Winkelman, Arizona.

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NASA’s Space Telescope Faces Cuts To Reduce Costs

Nasa plans to “downscope” one of its flagship missions to keep it within cost estimates. This almost certainly means reducing its scientific capabilities.

The Wide Field Infrared Survey Telescope (WFirst) is designed to study essential astrophysical and cosmological questions.

This ambitious mission began in 2016 when Nasa asked its scientists and engineers to come up with a mission that was as sensitive as the Hubble space telescope, but would have 100 times its field of view.

Initially, WFirst was projected to cost $1.6bn (£1.2bn), but that doubled as Nasa’s ambition grew. Earlier this year, an independent review panel found that the final cost was likely to be closer to $4bn.




This week Nasa decided to look at ways to return the costs to $3.2bn. These include using commercial rather than bespoke components and making cuts to the science instruments.

Although the cost-capping will affect the final science, it may be essential to ensure the mission goes ahead at all. In the past, NASA has cancelled missions that significantly overran their budgets.

WFirst’s primary mission is to determine the behaviour of the mysterious dark energy that is accelerating the expansion of the universe, and to map the distribution of the equally mysterious dark matter across space.

In addition, it will test a technology that will allow us to study the atmosphere of planets around other stars.

This technology is called a coronagraph, and blocks the light from a star, allowing the fainter planets to be seen around it.

Nasa will review the new design in February 2018, and decide whether to proceed to the next stage of the mission.

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Dwarf Galaxies Loom Large in Quest for Dark Matter

In its inaugural year of observations, the Dark Energy Survey has already turned up at least eight objects that look to be new satellite dwarf galaxies of the Milky Way.

These miniature galaxies — the first discovered in a decade — shine with a mere billionth of our galaxy’s brightness and each contain a million times less mass.

Astronomers believe the vast majority of material in dwarf galaxies is dark matter, a mysterious substance composing 80 percent of all matter in the universe.

Dwarf galaxies have therefore emerged as prime targets for gathering potential clues about dark matter’s composition.




Some theories suggest dark matter particles and antiparticles should produce telltale gamma rays when they collide with each other.

Accordingly, scientists used the Fermi Gamma-Ray Space Telescope to study the newfound dwarf galaxy candidates, as well as a group of dwarf galaxies already on the books.

The telescope detected no significant gamma-ray signals from either set of dwarf galaxies, however, leaving scientists still in the hunt for dark matter.

On May 15, 2015, The Kavli Foundation spoke with three astrophysicists about the continuing search for dark matter data in space and how dwarf galaxies can help us understand the evolution of our universe.

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Superflare From Crab Nebula Has Astronomers Mystified

The Crab Nebula, the dusty remains of an exploded star, has unleashed a surprisingly massive flare that is five times more powerful than any eruption previously seen from the celestial object, leaving scientists struggling to explain the event, NASA says.

The so-called “superflare” was detected on April 12 by NASA’s Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope, which is continuously mapping the sky in gamma ray wavelengths in search of gamma-ray bursts, the brightest explosions in the universe.

The Crab Nebula’s strong outburst lasted six days, and its exact cause has scientists scratching their heads, especially since the superflare followed an earlier gamma-ray flare from the nebula in January.

The outburst observed by Fermi was likely triggered by electrons with energies 100 times greater than can be achieved in any particle accelerator on Earth, scientists said.

This makes them the highest-energy electrons known to be associated with any galactic source.

Based on the rise and fall of gamma rays during the April outbursts, scientists estimate that the size of the emitting region must be comparable to our entire solar system.

The Crab Nebula’s legacy

The spectacular and colorful Crab Nebula is the wreckage of a dying star that emitted an explosion of light that reached Earth in the year 1054.

The former star was located 6,500 light-years away from Earth in the constellation Taurus when it erupted in a brilliant supernova explosion.

At the heart of an expanding gas cloud lies what is left of the original star’s core, a super-dense neutron star that spins 30 times a second.

With each rotation, the star swings intense beams of radiation toward Earth, creating the pulsed emission characteristic of spinning neutron stars, which are also known as pulsars.

Apart from these pulses, astrophysicists thought the Crab Nebula was a virtually constant source of high-energy radiation.

But, in January, scientists representing a variety of space-based observatories, including NASA’s Fermi, Swift and Rossi X-ray Timing Explorer, reported long-term changes in brightness at X-ray energies.

The Crab Nebula hosts high-energy variability that we’re only now fully appreciating,” said Rolf Buehler, a member of the Fermi Large Area Telescope (LAT) team at the Kavli Institute for Particle Astrophysics and Cosmology, a facility jointly located at the Department of Energy’s SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory and Stanford University in California.

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This Behemoth Of A Scientific Instrument Was Launched Into Orbit So It Could Look Down On Earth To Monitor Its Climate

NCEI’s Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite (VIIRS) Climate Raw Data Record (C-RDR) is an intermediary product between the Raw Data Record (RDR) product and the many Sensor Data Record (SDR) products for the VIIRS instrument.

The VIIRS instrument is a key element of the Suomi National Polar-orbiting Partnership (Suomi NPP) satellite, which was launched in October 2011.

VIIRS collects data in 22 spectral channels, from visible to longwave infrared, at two different spatial resolutions: 375 m and 750 m at nadir.

The VIIRS C-RDR contains all the raw measurements from the VIIRS RDR collected into time series variables. This simplifies access to the data for reprocessing using alternative calibration and geolocation methods.

The VIIRS C-RDR also provides the coefficients and tables used by the NESDIS Interface Data Processing Segment (IDPS) to convert the raw measurements to science units and calibrate them.




These data are all written to files using the Network Common Data Form 4 (netCDF-4) format, which is platform-independent, binary, hierarchical, and self-describing.

Each variable within a VIIRS C-RDR file is annotated with a description of the measurement, information about the source, and specifications of valid limits and fill values.

Each VIIRS C-RDR file also contains file-level metadata conforming to the Climate and Forecast (CF) metadata conventions, the Attribute Convention for Dataset Discovery (ACDD), and the Joint Polar Satellite System (JPSS) standards for Suomi NPP data products.

Metadata elements, such as granule IDs, which are found in Suomi NPP data product files, are also present in C-RDR files as an aid to understanding the provenance and processing history of the VIIRS C-RDR files.

A number of existing software applications (IDL, MATLAB, etc.) can easily read the variables contained within VIIRS C-RDR files.

Users can also easily access the file contents in their own applications by employing netCDF libraries that are available for FORTRAN, C, C++, Java, or Python.

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A New Study Claims That Married Couples Are Less Likely To Get Dementia

Levels of social interaction could explain to the finding, experts have said, after the research showed that people who are single or widowed are more likely to develop the disease.

Experts conducted an analysis of 15 studies which held data on dementia and marital status involving more than 800,000 people from Europe, North and South America, and Asia.

Their study, published in the Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery, and Psychiatry, concluded that lifelong singletons have a 42% elevated risk of dementia compared with married couples.

Those who have been widowed had a 20% increased risk compared with married people, they found. But no elevated risk was found among divorcees compared with those who were still married.




The researchers, led by experts from University College London, said that previous research has shown that married people may adopt healthier lifestyles.

They may also be more likely to be socially engaged than singletons.

Meanwhile, the effect observed in people who have been widowed could be due to stress that comes with bereavement, they added.

Another explanation could be that developing dementia could be related to other underlying cognitive or personality traits.

Commenting on the study, Dr Laura Phipps of Alzheimer’s Research UK, said: “There is compelling research showing married people generally live longer and enjoy better health, with many different factors likely to be contributing to that link.

The study was published as Alzheimer’s Research UK launched its Christmas campaign calling for more funds for dementia research.

The Santa Forgot campaign, backed by presenter Stephen Fry, aims to raise awareness of the condition as well as funds for studies examining the brain.

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North Korea Fires Missile Towards Japan – Possibly Its Most Powerful Yet

North Korea has conducted a night test of a long-range ballistic missile that landed off the coast of Japan, triggering a South Korea test-launch in response and bringing a return to high tension to the region after a lull of more than two months.

The Pentagon issued a statement saying that the weapon tested was an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM).

Initial reports from Seoul suggested that it came from a mobile launcher and was fired at about 3am local time.

The missile was reported to have flown for 50 minutes on a very high trajectory, reaching 4,500 km above the earth before coming down nearly 1,000 km from the launch site off the west coast of Japan.

This would make it the most powerful of the three ICBMs North Korea has tested so far.




Japan’s prime minister, Shinzo Abe, condemned the missile launch as a “violent act” that “can never be tolerated” and called for an emergency meeting of the UN security council.

David Wright, a physicist and missile expert at the Union of Concerned Scientists, calculated that on a normal trajectory, rather than a high lofted one, the missile would have a range of 13,000 km, enough to reach Washington, the rest of the US west coast, Europe or Australia.

Furthermore, the mobile night launch appeared aimed at testing new capabilities and demonstrating that Pyongyang would be able to strike back after any attempt at a preventative strike against the regime.

It went higher, frankly, than any previous shot they’ve taken,” James Mattis, the US defence secretary, told reporters.

It’s a research and development effort on their part to continue building ballistic missiles that can threaten anywhere in the world.

Mattis added the North Korean missile programme “threatens world peace, regional peace and certainly the United States”.

President Trump, who had insisted that North Korean development of an ICBM would not happen during his presidency, said: “We will take care of it … it is a situation that we will handle.

The missile was launched from Sain Ni, North Korea, and travelled about 1,000 km before splashing down in the Sea of Japan, within Japan’s economic exclusion zone.

“We are working with our interagency partners on a more detailed assessment of the launch,” Pentagon spokesman Col Robert Manning said.

Within minutes of the launch, the South Korean joint chiefs of staff announced Seoul had carried out an exercise involving the launch of a “precision strike” missile, signalling that it was primed to respond immediately to any attack from the North.

It was the first North Korean ballistic missile test since 15 September and followed a warning earlier this month from Donald Trump that North Korean threats to strike the US and its allies would be a “fatal miscalculation”.

The launch also marked a rebuff to Russia, which had claimed the previous day that the pause in missile launches suggested that Pyongyang was ready to defuse tensions in line with a proposal from Moscow and Beijing that North Korea could freeze missile and nuclear tests in exchange for a scaling down of US and allied military exercises.

Mira Rapp-Hooper, an expert on Asia-Pacific security at Yale Law School and the Centre for a New American Security, said that the night launch “matters because that’s when they’d launch under operational conditions.

Abe told reporters: “We will never give in to provocative acts [by North Korea],” adding that the international community would put “maximum pressure” on North Korea to abandon its ballistic missile and nuclear weapons programme.

Abe said Japan had lodged a “strong protest” with the regime in Pyongyang, which he accused of ignoring other countries’ “united, strong will for a peaceful solution”.

He added: “The international community needs to work in unison to fully implement sanctions.

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Have You Ever Wonder Why Jupiter’s Great Red Spot Isn’t White?

The giant cyclonic storm that swallowed Alaska last week has nothing on Jupiter’s Great Red Spot. The GRS is a cyclone, too, but one so immense it could gulp down the Earth in one shot and still have room for Mars.

It’s been swirling for centuries, at the very least, and while it’s smaller than it used to be, nobody thinks it’s going away.

All of this is pretty well known to planetary scientists. What they don’t know is the answer to a very simple question: Why is the Red Spot, well, red?

There are some other places on Jupiter that are reddish,” says Kevin Baines of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), “although they’re more of a reddish-brown.

The spot’s color, however, is pretty much unique and thus pretty mysterious.




In fact, Baines adds, “back in the 1970’s, when we were trying to sell the Galileo mission to Congress, it really resonated that we were going to try and answer that question.”

Now Baines and two JPL colleagues may have finally done it — not with data from Galileo, which orbited Jupiter and its moons from 1995 to 2003, but from the Cassini probe, which took a few snapshots en route to Saturn.

Those images, supplemented by laboratory experiments, suggest that the red color is just a thin dusting on the very top of swirling clouds that are otherwise white.

I call it the creme brulee model,” Baines says, “or the strawberry frosting model.”

Cassini was essential to solving the mystery because its instruments were sensitive to a broader range of light wavelengths than Galileo’s, and could thus show that the very center of the Red Spot is redder than the rest.

The center is also at the highest altitude of what’s already an unusually high-altitude feature. “It reaches something like 50,000 feet higher than the surrounding clouds,” says Baines.

That exposes the swirling clouds to more intense ultraviolet light from the sun than most of Jupiter’s clouds.

And when the JPL scientists did lab experiments to test the effects of ultraviolet rays on chemicals such as ammonia, acetylene and various hydrocarbons, which are abundant in Jupiter’s atmosphere, they got the same red colors seen on the giant planet itself.

This isn’t the only evidence that the Spot’s red is created from above rather than coming from reddish gases upwelling from below, which is the leading alternate theory: There actually are some other tiny spots of red dotted around Jupiter, and they also coincide with clouds of unusually high altitude.

The Red Spot, in short, as a JPL press release cutely puts it, represents “a sunburn, not a blush,” on the face of the Solar System’s largest planet.

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Newly Developed Artificial Muscles Can Lift 1,000 Times Their Own Weight

Call it one step closer to Terminator becoming a reality if you want, but researchers at Columbia Engineering have developed self-contained soft robotic muscles that are three times stronger than those made of natural tissue.

The 3D-printed synthetic soft muscles boast a strain density that’s 15 times that of natural muscles, can lift a whopping 1,000 times their own weight, and best of all for the cost-conscious cost just three cents per gram to create.

The muscle-like material consists of a silicone rubber matrix and ethanol, which is distributed throughout the structure in micro-scale pockets.

It doesn’t require any external pumps, pressure-regulating equipment, or high voltage converters in order to work.

Instead, it requires only a low voltage to heat it enough that the ethanol in the micro-pockets boils — thereby prompting the material to expand due to the compliant nature of the silicone matrix.




Electrically driven actuation at low voltage, along with low cost and user friendliness, may potentially revolutionize the way that soft and soft-hard robots are designed and engineered today,” Aslan Miriyev, a postdoctoral researcher in Columbia’s Creative Machines lab, told Digital Trends.

This may lead to development of low cost, nature-like soft and soft-hard robots, capable of assisting in the fields of healthcare, disasters management, elderly care, and almost any imaginable kind of assistance that people may need in their routine life, at home, on their way [to work], or at work, when robots are working side by side with humans.

This isn’t the only example we’ve covered of soft robotic muscles. Recently, researchers in Switzerland developed a vacuum-powered robotic soft artificial muscle, capable of executing a wide range of tasks.

Next up, Aslan Miriyev said the plan for the Columbia project is to add sensing capabilities to the artificial muscle, as well as to work with computer scientists to create AI that’s able to learn how to control the soft muscles.

After that? Presumably it’s just a matter of synthesizing a convincing Austrian accent, finding a leather jacket that fits, and then working out the whole time-travel thing to complete the Terminator project in style.

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