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Tech News

Facebook hopes to launch an internet satellite in early 2019

July 21, 2018 — by Engadget.com0

3DSculptor via Getty Images

Facebook has cooperated on internet satellite initiatives (with less-than-ideal results), but there’s been precious little word of plans to make its own satellite beyond high-level promises. Now, however, there’s something tangible. Both publicly disclosed FCC emails and a direct confirmation to Wired have revealed that Facebook aims to launch an internally developed satellite, Athena, sometime in early 2019. A spokesperson didn’t share details, but the shell organization Facebook used to keep filings hidden (PointView Tech LLC) talked about offering broadband to “unserved and underserved” areas with a low Earth orbit satellite on a “limited duration” mission.

This is likely just an experiment rather than a full-fledged deployment. Low Earth orbit satellite internet would require a large cloud of satellites to provide significant coverage, similar to SpaceX’s planned Starlink network. However, it shows that the company isn’t done building its own high-altitude hardware now that it has stopped work on its internet drone.

Whatever Athena shapes up to be, Facebook’s motives likely remain the same. As with Alphabet’s Loon internet balloons, there’s a strong commercial incentive to connect underserved regions. Even if Facebook doesn’t charge a thing for access, it could benefit by adding millions of new users who’d view ads and use services (including through Instagram and WhatsApp). It would also look good to investors, as Facebook would keep its audience growing at a time when there’s seemingly no more room to grow.

Tech News

NASA and the UAE will team up for human spaceflight

July 20, 2018 — by Engadget.com0

NASA/George Roberts

The UAE is the latest country to sign a deal with NASA to cooperate on human spaceflight. NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine tweeted about the joint letter of intent today, which was also signed by Dr. Mohammed Al Ahbabi, the director general of the UAE Space Agency. While there are no details about what the agreement entails, presumably UAE astronauts will be eligible for spots on NASA’s crewed missions.

This morning I met with the Director General of the @UAESpaceAgency, HE Dr. Mohammed Al Ahbabi. We signed a joint letter of intent for cooperation in human space flight. I look forward to working with @DrAlahbabi to further humanity’s exploration of space. pic.twitter.com/LJfBoilO6q

— Jim Bridenstine (@JimBridenstine) July 18, 2018

The UAE is currently in the process of selecting its first group of astronauts. It has narrowed the field down to nine candidates who are in training. From this pool, four astronauts will be officially selected. The first UAE astronaut is scheduled to launch to the International Space Station in April 2019. The UAE Space Agency already has a deal with Roscosmos, Russia’s space agency, for that flight.

NASA and the UAE signed an outer space and aeronautics research agreement in June of 2016. However, this new joint letter emphasizes human spaceflight along with other space exploration goals. Considering that NASA has a long way to go before it regains the ability to fly its own astronauts, though, thanks to delays from both SpaceX and Boeing, this is all theoretical for right now.

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Neil Armstrong's collection of space artifacts goes up for auction

July 20, 2018 — by Engadget.com0

Associated Press

The first man to walk on the moon, Neil Armstrong, took several items with him on that historic trip, including a US flag, a United Nations flag, state flags and several medallions that were only available to NASA astronauts. He also apparently kept the original camera that recorded his moonwalk in a closet. Now, Armstrong’s personal collection will be offered for sale in a series of auctions starting November 1st and 2nd in his home state of Ohio. Bids can be offered online, by phone or in person.

There are some other, more personal items in the collection, as well, including a centennial flag from Armstrong’s alma mater, Purdue University, that the astronaut took with him on Apollo 11. He also saved his own Boy Scout cap. According to the Associated Press, Armstrong never told his son Mark what to do with all the items he’d collected. “I don’t think he spent much time thinking about it,” Mark Armstrong told the AP. “He did save all the items, so he obviously felt they were worth saving.”

Armstrong passed away in 2012, and his sons decided it was time to start dealing with all the artifacts. “We felt like the number of people that could help us identify them and give us the historical context was diminishing and that the problem of understanding that context would only get worse over time,” Mark Armstrong said.

Tech News

Breathtaking photos show Saturn's moon in a new light

July 20, 2018 — by Engadget.com0

NASA/JPL-Caltech/University of Nantes/University of Arizona

Photos of Saturn’s largest moon, Titan, have typically captured the muted, apricot tones of its nitrogen-rich atmosphere. But thanks to more than a decade of data gathered by the Cassini spacecraft, new photographs of an atmosphere-free Titan can show us the mesmerizing beauty of its surface.

To capture the photos, The Cassini team used a Visible Infrared Mapping Spectrometer (VIMS) which was able to peek through Titan’s haze. The generated images — which come from several observations under different lighting and viewing conditions throughout Cassini’s $3.2 billion mission — show a near-seamless depiction of the moon’s icy exterior. Its slimy methane seas and windswept dunes are on full display in what NASA says is the “best representation” of Titan we’ll see for a long while.

The Cassini spacecraft was born to die from the beginning — operators crashed it into Saturn’s center to ensure stray debris wouldn’t litter the planet’s assembly of moons, but not before learning some valuable information. For us, the most pertinent was the discovery that Titans’ liquid methane lakes contained something that could potentially sustain life — vinyl cyanide. Scientists believe it would be a good alternative to the phospholipids that form cell membranes, but NASA’s current pictures still aren’t enough to inspect the biochemistry further, or determine whether Titan’s 290 °F climate is hiding living organisms. However, if NASA’s Dragonfly mission gets the greenlight, that could change.

Gaming News

Which Is Scarier, Space Or The Ocean? The Great Debate

July 20, 2018 — by Kotaku.com0

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A few months ago, the Deadspin staff got into one of our dumber and more protracted debates (a true feat) about whether the ocean or space was scarier. Like every other drawn-out yelling match, it lasted for a long time and went nowhere, though this one surfaced again yesterday. Both sides refused to budge from their positions, and because we’d wasted plenty of time just typing the words “ASTEROIDS” and “DEVIL FISH FROM HELL,” Patrick Redford and Albert Burneko had to air this one out in a public forum.

The Case For The Ocean

You will never go to space. I will never go to space. Nobody you have ever met will go to space. The aspects of space that are scary—the emptiness, the inhospitability to life as we know it, the Unknown Void—are either purely theoretical or more acutely felt here on Planet Earth. Space is big and stupid and empty. I say this as an former Extreme Space Dumbass from college.

The ocean, on the other hand, will fuck you up. Not to do math on this here harrowingly stupid blog, but the infinite no-atmosphere-having, can’t-breathe-ass-feeling-ass climate of space is more or less canceled out by the vastness of our friend the ocean. Space is bigger, but on a human scale, the difference is essentially meaningless. It’s not as if you or I will ever see anything more than a tiny fraction of the ocean, and, hell, the human species has yet to explore more than like five percent of the global ocean.

Mechanically speaking, there’s no substantive difference between asphyxiating immediately once you pop into space and drowning after treading water for a few hours, except that if you were plopped in the middle of the ocean or even like 10 miles off shore, you’d have more time to contemplate your rapidly approaching death. Not to sound like some uncreative movie villain, but the essence of fear is anticipation.

And that’s before you even consider the very real monsters that swim among us. You know, of course, about sharks and giant squids, which, please imagine yourself in the ocean looking down and seeing this dark shape of indeterminate size moving below you somewhere. Those are fine and scary enough, though they’re not even what’s really scary about the ocean. It’s all the spectral sci-fi looking “fish” creatures that occasionally pop up to the surface. Look at these Lovecraftian horror mutants.

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Photo: Awashima Marine Park (Getty)

Photo: @rfedortsov (Twitter)

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These nightmare fish are real, unlike the Crushing And Infinite Void Of Space That Freaks Me Out Because It’s So Crushing And Infinite. Much like Mars, neither of us will likely encounter the worst that the ocean has to offer, but it’s there, along with all manner of even more insidious shit that we’ll never see, right below us and right near us. The ocean is their turf, not ours, and to feel any comfort from this instead of fear about how little we actually know about how our world works, then you’d have to, I dunno, make some wheezy argument about how we descended from fish eons ago. Bitch, you don’t have gills.

I suppose you could fear space because, I dunno, “Space is what comes after everything, the dismal and most-known thing, the only permanent fact, that all of this was an accident with its own correction and cleanup and erasure written into the fabric of its physical being” or some shit, but I am perhaps not washed enough or high enough to talk myself into fearing entropy more than a hellshark with a serrated tail for a dick. A fear of space is a fear of existence itself, which is no way to live.

Neither of us will live long enough to deserve some grandiose fear like space. Get over it, man. – Patrick Redford

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The Case For Space

With all due respect to my very smart colleague, he is a very large middle-Californian carrot and can go to hell, along with anyone else who thinks the ocean is more frightening than space. Not only is the ocean less frightening than space, it isn’t frightening at all. It’s the most reassuring thing. It’s not scary, because space is.

The mistake, I think, is looking at the very ugly, stupid, theretofore-unknown hell-fish that the ocean occasionally barfs into some fisherman’s net and feeling fear, rather than a warm, familial reassurance. Well no, okay, that is one of the mistakes. The bigger mistake was when our ancient forebears slopped forth from the brine themselves in the first place, grew legs and lungs, and forgot that the ocean is not some unknowable terror but actually the most familiar and constant thing: the place life comes from, the safe shelter where otherwise dead cosmic crud, shielded from space, could alchemize into existence sloppy and needless processes the indifferent universe otherwise would do without. The ocean is the cradle of everyone and everything for which you feel any affinity. It’s where you come from.

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For this reason Freud had it right, more or less: Fear of the ocean is fear of yourself, fear that your unexplored depths contain uncontrollable horrors—fear that what you don’t know about yourself is, and can only be, bad. Oh no, that stupid fish has human teeth! Bitch, you’re a fish with human teeth. The deep-sea angler is your cousin; it has more in common with you than you do with 99.999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999 percent of what humanity would ever find if it survived long enough to explore all the space we presently can detect with the cameras we keep lobbing up into orbit. Because it’s alive. Behold the gulper eel, ya dingus! And recognize your pal.

You can die in the ocean! Were you thinking you’d get a reprieve from that someplace else? If you are plopped into the middle of the ocean you’ll tread water for a little while and then die. Spoiler alert: If you are plopped into the middle of Nebraska, you will do no different. If you were looking for an experience that will save you from the futile and doomed effort to fend off death for a little while, and then despite all your flailing a last slide into the silent dark, buddy, you picked the wrong fucking universe.

A look up in the night sky should serve to remind you that the cosmos is—not mostly, but uniformly—a barren and frozen place, already pretty much entirely a post-entropic desert long before any living things evolved the ability to think or say or type something as insanely wrong as “The ocean is scarier than space”; all its processes, stood back from and observed over their timelines and not ours, favor and produce permanent irreversible cold and emptiness and—not quite death, a thing that can only happen where there ever was life—but un-life. Nothingness. At literally all times, in literally all directions, you spend every moment of your life surrounded by the blank and incontrovertible yawning nothingness of, well, pretty much everything. Nothing bucks this or subverts it. But sometimes your friend the ocean—the only friend shared by every single living thing anyone ever has so much as detected anywhere in the entire universe—brews up some ugly new life you didn’t know about. A tubeworm the size of a chimney. An octopus that can disassemble machinery. A crab that looks like an angry pile of gemstones. An absurdity in a cosmos in which absolutely anything that moves around and makes babies and likes this more than that and holds itself together rather than instantly blowing apart into scattering subatomic dust is an absurdity.

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The ocean is what’s unknown. Thank God. What’s reassuring is that there remain unknown things, down there at least, where people haven’t yet found them and parsed them apart into nonsense, where the void can’t unspool them into nothing just yet; that against all sense and in the face of an indifference so large it’s essentially the only thing there is or ever has been, somewhere down in that big puddle are new irrational absurdities living, reproducing, making their dumb, doomed, fleeting rebellion against how it is around here.

Space is what comes after everything, the dismal and most-known thing, the only permanent fact, that all of this was an accident with its own correction and cleanup and erasure written into the fabric of its physical being. Space is the only scary thing.

I think I’m probably not supposed to have read my puke colleague’s entry in this before writing mine, but: “The essence of fear is anticipation,” he writes. He is righter than he knows. Space is what’s to come, whether humanity ever become an interstellar species or not. (Spoiler alert: Not.) It’s the end of every story and the only thing to anticipate. Blank and dim and devoid of mystery, in all directions and dimensions, forever. The nightmare fish will be gone in less than a billionth of a moment and memorialized nowhere. Which one of them is “real,” again? – Albert Burneko

Tech News

Scientists discover structure within the Sun's atmosphere

July 20, 2018 — by Engadget.com0

john finney photography via Getty Images

While scientists have been learning more and more about our solar system and the way things work, many of our Sun’s mechanics still remain a mystery. In advance of the launch of the Parker Solar Probe, which will make contact with the Sun’s outer atmosphere, however, scientists are foreshadowing what the spacecraft might see with new discoveries. In a paper published this week in The Astrophysical Journal, scientists detected structures within the Sun’s corona, thanks to advanced image processing techniques and algorithms.

The question that this group of scientists, led by Craig DeForest from the Southwest Research Institute’s branch in Boulder, Colorado, was trying to answer was in regard to the source of solar wind. “In deep space, the solar wind is turbulent and gusty,” said DeForest in a release. “But how did it get that way? Did it leave the Sun smooth, and become turbulent as it crossed the solar system, or are the gusts telling us about the Sun itself?”

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The answer lies in the outer corona of the Sun, where the solar wind originates. If the Sun causes the turbulence, then the outer corona itself should have some structure. Up until now, when scientists studied the outer corona, it appeared smooth and homogenous. The team used long-exposure images from the spacecraft STEREO-A that blocked out the star itself to look at this area. The problem was increasing the resolution of cameras that were already flying in space and couldn’t be serviced.

The answer: Use algorithms in order to process the images in various ways to enhance the clarity. By filtering out the noise from background stars, correcting for how long the shutter was open during image capture and normalizing brightness, the team was able to reduce the signal-to-noise ratio and produce clearer and crisper images. Additionally, the team ran an algorithm to reduce motion blur in real-time. They accomplished this by actually shifting their images to take the motion of the solar wind into account. “We smoothed, not just in space, not just in time, but in a moving coordinate system,” DeForest said. “That allowed us to create motion blur that was determined not by the speed of the wind, but by how rapidly the features changed in the wind.”

By taking these advanced steps, the team was able to determine that the Sun’s outer corona does indeed have a physical structure. “When we removed as much noise as possible, we realized that the corona is structured, all the way down to the optical resolution of the instrument,” DeForest said. Additionally, they also discovered that the Alfvén zone, or the area where material has traveled too far and too fast from the Sun to be recaptured, is less of clean boundary than scientists thought — it’s more of a “no man’s land” zone than a

Tech News

NASA images show Martian dust storms engulfing the entire planet

July 20, 2018 — by Engadget.com0

NASA

Martian dust storms can make nasty sand devils look cute, and every six to eight years, they can grow large enough to engulf the whole planet. Global-scale storms happen when several smaller ones kick up enough dust to envelope the planet’s surface. But since they only occur every once in a while, scientists still don’t know much about them, including why they form and how exactly they evolve. They’ll soon have a treasure trove of data to work with, though, now that NASA’S Martian probes have trained their eyes on a massive storm that’s currently covering the planet with cloud and haze.

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[The images used for this video were taken by Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter’s Mars Color Imager.]

The smaller storm scientists spotted on May 30th turned into a planet-wide event by June 20th. It forced the solar-powered Opportunity rover to go on standby and conserve its energy, but the younger nuclear-powered Curiosity rover and NASA’s orbiters are unaffected and can continue collecting data as the storm rages on. The Mars Color Imager aboard the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) has been mapping the planet every afternoon to track the storm’s evolution. MRO’s Mars Climate Sounder instrument has also been measuring the atmosphere’s temperature changes.

Mars Odyssey spacecraft’s THEMIS instrument has been tracking the planet’s surface and atmospheric temperature, as well as the amount of dust in the atmosphere. The data it’s gathering will help show scientists how the storm grew, changed and dissipated over time. NASA’s MAVEN probe is also studying how the storm is affecting Mars’ upper atmosphere, while Curiosity is keeping an eye on things from the ground, monitoring winds and measuring dust particles.

It might take some time before we find out if Curiosity and the probes unravel any Martian secret, though. Scientists believe the storm could last for months, and that the haze might only clear up enough for Opportunity to start working again in September.

Tech News

Artificial meteor shower displays are coming

July 19, 2018 — by Engadget.com0

Pixabay

Fireworks. So passé, right? That could well be the thinking of one Japanese start-up, which is developing shooting stars on demand, and plans to put on the world’s first artificial meteor shower in early 2020.

Tokyo-based ALE has created micro-satellites that release tiny orbs that glow brightly when they enter the atmosphere, simulating the dazzling spectacle of a meteor shower. The chemicals involved are apparently a closely-guarded secret, but each satellite is able to carry 400 balls — enough for 20-30 meteor events — which can be tinkered with to produce multi-colored “stars”. Each star will burn for several seconds before being completely burned up, long before they’re close enough to Earth to pose any danger.

The first satellite will hitch a ride into space via a rocket launched by Japan’s space agency in March 2019, while the second will be launched in mid-2019 on a private sector rocket. The company is also looking at the possibility of using existing non-operational satellites to create “giant” shooting stars.

The first show is scheduled to take place over Hiroshima, although the company says their meteor showers could easily be deployed anywhere on the planet, since the stockpile of “stars” is being kept in space. It’s not clear how much a faux meteor shower will cost, but with the company spending $20 million on the development and production of just two satellites, it probably won’t be cheap.

Tech News

Blue Origin will perform a high-altitude abort test at 11AM ET (updated)

July 18, 2018 — by Engadget.com0

Blue Origin

Today, Blue Origin, the space company founded by Amazon’s Jeff Bezos, will perform another test on the sub-orbital New Shepard spacecraft and launch vehicle. This time, the company is looking at pushing the engines to their maximum limits with a high-altitude escape motor test. This will be the ninth test for the system. You can watch the live stream over at Blue Origin’s website. The test is scheduled for 11AM ET / 10AM CT, and the webcast will begin around 20 minutes beforehand.

The high-altitude escape motor test is designed to simulate what would happen if there was a problem with the launch vehicle during ascent. The spacecraft (which is designed for six passengers) will ignite its small, but powerful, onboard engine to speed away from the rocket in case the launch vehicle explodes while in flight. The team will then attempt to safely land the booster, as it did during a similar test back in 2016.

Despite the fact that this is a test, there are payloads aboard New Shepard. In addition to Mannequin Skywalker, Blue Origin’s in-cabin dummy, there will be scientific experiments, spacesuit material tests, WiFi access testing and more throughout the flight.

New Shepard was built with tourists in mind, and the company is moving closer to that goal. The system has not yet had an operational (or crewed) flight, but once tickets are on sale, they may be priced as high as $200,000 to $300,000. Tickets will reportedly be available for purchase sometime in 2019.

Update: According to Blue Origin’s Twitter account, the test has been pushed back an hour to 11AM ET.

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Researchers discover a dozen new moons of Jupiter

July 17, 2018 — by Engadget.com0

NASA/JPL-Caltech/SwRI/MSSS/Gabriel Fiset

Today, researchers from the Carnegie Institution for Science announced that they have discovered twelve more moons of our solar system’s resident monster planet, Jupiter. This brings the official total of identified Jovian moons to 79. That’s the highest number of moons for any planet in the solar system, which is fitting for such a weird and giant planet.

The moons were first discovered during the search for Planet X, the hunt for a massive planet beyond Pluto. “Jupiter just happened to be in the sky near the search fields where we were looking for extremely distant Solar System objects, so we were serendipitously able to look for new moons around Jupiter while at the same time looking for planets at the fringes of our Solar System,” said Scott S. Sheppard, the team leader, in a release.

Because of how many observations it takes to determine an object in space is actually in orbit around Jupiter, it took about a year to confirm that these were, indeed, new Jovian moons. Nine objects, which are in three different groups, are likely the remnants of larger moons that broke apart during collisions. These all travel in retrograde, or the opposite of Jupiter’s rotation, while two more, also though to be moon remnants, travel in prograde.

The last moon is fittingly weird, considering how bizarre Jupiter is. It’s just 1 kilometer wide, which makes it Jupiter’s smallest moon, and takes a year and a half to orbit the planet. Its orbit actually crosses that of the retrograde moons, which means that at some point, they may collide. “This is an unstable situation,” continued Sheppard. “Head-on collisions would quickly break apart and grind the objects down to dust.”

This isn’t just a fun discovery (though it certainly does emphasize how odd the largest planet in our solar system is). It also provides evidence that these moons formed after the planets in the solar system developed, and that collisions were occurring long after planetary formation. Otherwise, the small size of these natural satellites means they probably would have been swallowed by Jupiter or one of its larger moons.