Posts with «science» label

NASA's Swift Observatory may have suffered an attitude control failure

NASA's Neil Gehrels Swift Observatory has run into difficulties after 17 years of largely smooth service. The orbiting explorer has entered safe mode after detecting a "possible failure" in one of the six reaction wheels used to change attitude. While it's not clear exactly what (if anything) went wrong, NASA has halted direction-based scientific observations until it can either give the all-clear or continue operations with five wheels.

This is the first potential reaction wheel problem since the Swift Observatory began operations in February 2005, NASA said. The rest of the vehicle is otherwise working properly.

The Swift Observatory has played an important role in astronomy over the past two decades. It was primarily built to detect gamma-ray bursts and detects roughly 70 per day. However, it has increasingly been used as a catch-all observer across multiple wavelengths, spotting solar flares and hard-to-find stars. NASA won't necessarily run into serious trouble if Swift has a lasting problem, but it would clearly benefit from keeping the spacecraft running as smoothly as possible.

The Swift Observatory’s science instruments went into safe mode after a possible reaction wheel failure. Pointed science observations are temporarily suspended while the team investigates the issue. The instruments and other 5 wheels remain in good health.

— NASA Universe (@NASAUniverse) January 20, 2022

The first movie studio in space could be attached to the ISS in 2024

A module that hosts a film studio and sports arena could be connected to the International Space Station by December 2024. Space Entertainment Enterprise (SEE), which is co-producing a Tom Cruise movie that will partly be shot in space, is behind the project. If and when SEE-1 is up and running, it plans to host TV and film productions, as well as music events and some kind of sports, which can be filmed or livestreamed, according to Variety.

Axiom Space, which two years ago won a NASA contract to construct the first commercial ISS module, will build the station. All going well, SEE-1 will be connected to Axiom's arm of the ISS. Axiom Station is scheduled to split from the ISS in 2028 with SEE-1 still attached.

Whether SEE and Axiom can make good on their plan remains to be seen. SEE hasn't said how much the facility will cost, for one thing. It's currently planning a fundraising round.

Last year, a Russian crew shot a feature-length fiction film in space for the first time, beating Cruise and his director Doug Liman to the punch. That film, The Challenge, is expected to be released this year. Cruise and Liman, meanwhile, are expected to shoot their movie on the ISS later in 2022.

Anemia could make space travel to Mars a challenge, study finds

A new Canadian study has found that "space anemia" caused by weightlessness is not a temporary issue as once thought, the CBC has reported. "As long as you are in space, you are destroying more blood cells than you are making," said the University of Ottawa's Guy Trudel, who led a 14-astronaut study carried out by the Canadian Space Agency (CSA). 

Normally, the body destroys and replaces two million red blood cells per second. However, the new study found that the astronauts' bodies destroyed three million red blood cells per second during six month missions. "We thought we knew about space anemia, and we did not," said Trudel.

A full year after returning to Earth from the ISS, the astronauts' red blood cell levels had not returned to pre-flight levels, according to the study in Nature. "If you are on your way to Mars and... can't keep up" with red blood cell production, "you could be in serious trouble," said Trudel. That wouldn't necessarily cause problems in a zero gravity environment, but could become an issue once astronauts arrive on Mars or when they return to Earth. 

[Anemia] is a primary efffect of going to space.

The researchers said that anemia could even be an issue for space tourism, if the potential travelers are at risk for anemia. The study also noted that "current exercise and nutritional countermeasures of modern space travel did not prevent hemolysis and post-flight anemia" with the astronauts tested. 

The study, first announced in 2016, drew from data gathered during Expedition 10 and 11 missions aboard the International Space Station (ISS) in 2004 and 2005. Anemia is defined as a deficiency of red blood cells or hemoglobin in the blood, a condition that can result in pallor and weariness and affect endurance and strength.

The study didn't say how such issues could be directly resolved, but suggested that doctors focus on anemia-related issues when testing candidates. "Medical screening of future astronauts and space tourists might benefit from a preflight profiling of globin gene and modifiers," according to the study. It also suggested that post-landing monitoring should cover conditions affected by anemia and hemolysis.  

Hitting the Books: The first man to listen to the birth of stars

If the efforts of the 10,000-plus people who developed and assembled the James Webb Space Telescope are any indication, the age of the independent scientist are well and truly over. Newton, Galileo, Keppler, and Copernicus all fundamentally altered humanity's understanding of our place in the universe, and did so on their own, but with the formalization and professionalization of the field in the Victorian Era, these occurences of an amatuer astronomer using homebrew equipment all the more rare. 

In his new book, The Invisible World: Why There's More to Reality than Meets the Eye, University of Cambridge Public Astronomer, Matthew Bothwell tells the story of how we discovered an entire, previously unseen universe beyond humanity's natural sight. In the excerpt below, Bothwell recounts the exploits of Grote Reber, one of the world's first (and for a while, only) radio astronomers.

Oneworld Publishing

Excerpted with permissionfrom The Invisible Universe by Matthew Bothwell (Oneworld 2021).

The Only Radio Astronomer in the World

It’s a little strange to look back at how the astronomical world reacted to Jansky’s results. With hindsight, we can see that astronomy was about to be turned upside down by a revolution at least as big as the one started by Galileo’s telescope. Detecting radio waves from space marks the first time in history that humanity glimpsed the vast invisible Universe, hiding beyond the narrow window of the visible spectrum. It was a momentous occasion that was all but ignored in academic astronomy circles for one very simple reason: the world of radio engineering was just too far removed from the world of astronomy. When Jansky published his initial results he attempted to bridge the divide, spending half the paper giving his readers a crash-course in astronomy (explaining how to measure the location of things in the sky, and exactly why a signal repeating every twenty-three hours and fifty-six minutes meant something interesting). But, ultimately, the two disciplines suffered from a failure to communicate. The engineers spoke a language of vacuum tubes, amplifiers and antenna voltages: incomprehensible to the scientists more used to speaking of stars, galaxies and planets. As Princeton astronomer Melvin Skellett later put it:

The astronomers said ‘Gee that’s interesting – you mean there’s radio stuff coming from the stars?’ I said, ‘Well, that’s what it looks like’. ‘Very interesting.’ And that’s all they had to say about it. Anything from Bell Labs they had to believe, but they didn’t see any use for it or any reason to investigate further. It was so far from the way they thought of astronomy that there was no real interest.

After Jansky had moved on to other problems, there was only one person who became interested in listening to radio waves from space. For around a decade, from the mid-1930s until the mid-1940s, Grote Reber was the only radio astronomer in the world.

Grote Reber’s story is unique in all of twentieth-century science. He single-handedly developed an entire field of science, taking on the task of building equipment, conducting observations, and exploring the theory behind his discoveries. What makes him unique is that he did all of this as a complete amateur, working alone outside the scientific establishment. His job, designing electric equipment for radio broadcasts, had given him the skills to build his telescope. His fascination with the scientific literature brought him into contact with Jansky’s discovery of cosmic static, and when it became clear that no one else in the world seemed to care very much, he took it upon himself to invent the field of radio astronomy. He built his telescope in his Chicago back garden using equipment and materials available to anyone. His telescope, nearly ten metres across, was the talk of his neighbourhood (for good reason – it looks a bit like a cartoon doomsday device). His mother used it to dry her washing.

He spent years scanning the sky with his homemade machine. He observed with his telescope all night, every night, while still working his day job (apparently he would snatch a few hours of sleep in the evening after work, and again at dawn after he was finished at the telescope). When he realised he didn’t know enough physics and astronomy to understand the things he was seeing, he took courses at the local university. Over the years, his observations painted a beautiful picture of the sky as seen with radio eyes. He detected the sweep of our Milky Way, with bright spots at the galactic centre (where Jansky had picked up his star-static), and again towards the constellations Cygnus and Cassiopeia. By this time he had learned enough physics to make scientific contributions, too. He knew that if the hiss from the Milky Way was caused by thermal emission – heat radiation from stars or hot gas – then it would be stronger at shorter wavelengths. Given that Reber was picking up much shorter wavelengths than Jansky (60 cm, compared to Jansky’s fifteen-metre waves), Reber should have been bombarded with invisible radio waves tens of thousands of times more powerful than anything Jansky saw. But he wasn’t. Reber was confident enough in his equipment to conclude that whatever was making these radio waves, it had to be ‘non-thermal’ – that is, it was something different from the standard ‘hot things glow’ radiation we discussed back in chapter 2. He even proposed the (correct!) solution: that hot interstellar electrons whizzing past an ion – a positively charged atom – will get sling-shotted around like a Formula 1 car taking a tight corner. The cornering electron will emit a radio wave, and the combined effect of billions of these events is what Reber was detecting from his back garden. This only happens in clouds of hot gas. Reber was, it turns out, picking up radio waves being emitted by clouds containing new-born stars scattered throughout our Galaxy. He was, quite literally, listening to stars being born. It was a sound no human had ever heard before. To this day, radio observations are used to trace the formation of stars, from small clouds in our own Milky Way to the birth of galaxies in the most distant corners of the Universe.

In many ways, Reber’s story seems like an anachronism. The golden age of independent scientists, who could make groundbreaking discoveries working alone with homemade equipment, was hundreds of years ago. With the passing of the Victorian era, science became a complex, expensive, and above all professional business. Grote Reber is, as far as I know, the last of the amateur ‘outsider’ scientists; the last person who had no scientific training, built his own equipment in his garden, and through painstaking and meticulous work managed to change the scientific world.

The Morning After: Connected dumbbells that Amazon's Alexa can adjust

WFH didn’t just mean working from home. For those with the drive, it also stood for workouts from home. Many companies boomed as they adjusted to many of us shifting our training and exercise from gym to living room / spare room / that corner of the bedroom. Now, the pendulum is swinging back as some gyms tentatively reopen, and we return to the squat rack that didn’t quite fit into our tiny studio apartment. But that won’t stop fitness companies from introducing new blends of gear with tech tricks, hoping you’ll be willing to upgrade your gear.

NordicTrack’s Adjustable Dumbbells can connect to any Amazon Alexa-capable third-party device to quickly adjust the weight from 5lbs to 50lbs (in 5lb increments) with just your voice. The voice assistant, sadly, won’t cajole you into a few extra reps.

There’s a subscription training service to go along with the $429 dumbbells — available now — but it’s thankfully not required.

— Mat Smith

'Horizon Forbidden West' may have leaked a month early

Another spoiler minefield.


Horizon Forbidden West is one of the most-anticipated games coming to PS5. But just over a month before the action RPG arrives on February 18th, it appears an unfinished version of the game has leaked. It’s another problem for Sony. Months before The Last of Us Part II was released, a large portion of the game, including cutscenes with major story spoilers, leaked online.

Continue reading.

China's lunar probe finds on-site evidence of water on the Moon's surface

NASA had previously remotely confirmed the presence of the substance.

China Daily CDIC / reuters

China’s Chang’e-5 lunar lander has found water on the surface of the Moon, marking the first-ever time scientists have found on-site evidence of the substance on Earth’s satellite. Chinese researchers claim the lander detected signs of water molecules or hydroxyl, a close chemical cousin of H2O.

Chinese scientists believe most of the molecules came to the Moon through a process called solar wind implantation. Charged particles from the sun drove hydrogen atoms to the lunar surface where they later bonded with oxygen to form water and hydroxyl. The study builds on findings NASA published in 2018 when it found evidence of water on the sunlit surfaces of the Moon using an airborne infrared telescope.

Continue reading.

LAPD fired two officers who ignored robbers to play 'Pokémon Go'

To catch a Snorlax.

The LAPD has fired two police officers for ignoring a robbery on April 15th, 2017, deciding instead to play Pokémon Go. Rather than respond to a radio call demanding backup for a theft at Macy's in the Crenshaw Mall, the officers reportedly spent the next 20 minutes driving around to catch a Snorlax.

Lozano and Mitchell denied playing Pokémon Go and insisted they were only “having a conversation” about the game, but the in-car camera revealed they discussed the robbery call and chose to ignore it. Another officer also witnessed the cruiser leave the area after the call.

Continue reading.

The Associated Press will turn its photojournalism into NFTs

It will launch on January 31st.

The Associated Press (AP) will start selling its "award-winning contemporary and historic photojournalism" as non-fungible tokens on January 31st. The news agency teamed up with blockchain technology provider Xooa to develop a marketplace for its NFTs, which will debut with an initial collection it will release after opening.

AP's initial collection includes digitally enhanced Pulitzer Prize-winning images across categories such as space, climate and war. Each one will include the image's original metadata that shows its location, the time and date it was taken and the equipment and settings the photographer used for the shot.

Continue reading.

The biggest news stories you might have missed

A Nintendo Switch Online and microSD bundle is half off on Amazon

Signal founder Moxie Marlinspike steps down as CEO

Roku offers easy access to live TV with a new hub

Uber no longer supports ride-hailing via the Apple Watch

'Wordle' clones are taking over the App Store

Rapid COVID tests will soon be fully covered by insurance in the US

GM recognizes California's authority to set its own vehicle emissions standards

'Attack on Titan' gear is coming to 'Call of Duty'

'Assassin's Creed: The Ezio Collection' heads to Nintendo Switch on February 17th

China's Chang'e-5 probe finds on-site evidence of water on the Moon's surface

China’s Chang’e-5 lunar lander has found water on the surface of the Moon, marking the first-ever time scientists have found on-site evidence of the substance on Earth’s satellite. In a study published in Science Advances, Chinese researchers claim the lander detected signs of water molecules or hydroxyl, a close chemical cousin of H2O. Chang’e-5 used a spectrometer to analyze the composition of regolith in close proximity to its landing site. It found that most of the soil had a water concentration of less than 120 parts per million, making the surface of Luna much drier than that of the Earth.

Honglei Lin et al.

Chinese scientists believe most of the molecules came to the Moon through a process called solar wind implantation. Charged particles from the sun drove hydrogen atoms to the lunar surface where they later bonded with oxygen to form water and hydroxyl. The study builds on findings NASA published in 2018 when it found evidence of water on the sunlit surfaces of the Moon using an airborne infrared telescope. For decades, scientists had believed the Moon was completely dry due to its almost nonexistent atmosphere. With no atmosphere, the thought was there was nothing there to protect water molecules from the sun’s harsh radiation.

Scientists observe a red supergiant going supernova for the first time

Despite the massive number of stars in the sky, spotting one in the throes of a supernova is still an incredibly rare event. Now, astronomers have captured a red supergiant before, during and after a supernova explosion for the first time, gathering crucial new information about these dramatic events.

"This is a breakthrough in our understanding of what massive stars do moments before they die," said lead author Wynn Jacobson-Galán (UC Berkeley). "Direct detection of pre-supernova activity in a red supergiant star has never been observed before in an ordinary Type II supernova. For the first time, we watched a red supergiant star explode!"

Using the Pan-STARRS telescope in Maui, Hawai'i, scientists detected the doomed red supergiant star in the summer of 2020 thanks to the huge amount of light it was emitting. Later in the fall when it went supernova, the team captured the powerful flash using the Hawai'i-based Keck Observatory's Low Resolution Imaging Spectrometer (LRIS). They also captured the very first spectrum of the supernova, known as SN 2020tlf.

The observations showed that the star likely ejected massive amounts of dense circumstellar material just ahead of the explosion. Previous observations showed that red giants were relatively calm before going supernova, so the new data suggests that some may change their internal structure significantly before exploding. That could then result in tumultuous gas ejections moments before collapse. 

SN 2020tlf is located in the NGC 5731 galaxy about 120 million light-years from Earth and was about 10 times more massive than the Sun. Stars go supernova when they run out of fuel and collapse on their own gravity, fueling a massive carbon fusion explosion. For that to happen, they must be large enough (8 to 15 solar masses) or they'll simply collapse into white dwarf star like our Sun eventually will. Any larger than that and they could collapse into a black hole

The discovery will now allow scientists to survey red supergiant stars looking for similar types of luminous radiation that could signal another supernova. "Detecting more events like SN 2020tlf will dramatically impact how we define the final months of stellar evolution... in the quest to solve the mystery on how massive stars spend the final moments of their lives," said Jacobson-Galán.

Mars Perseverance halts rock sample storage due to debris

The Mars Perseverance rover's sample collection has run into a snag. NASA reports the rover stopped caching samples after debris partly blocked the bit carousel (the device that stores drill bits and passes sample tubes for internal processing). The rover encountered the anomaly on December 29th, but the mission team had to wait until January 6th to send a command to extract the drill bit, undock the robot arm from the carousel and take images to verify what happened.

The obstacles are believed to be pebbles that fell out of the sample tube when dropping off the coring bit, preventing that bit from sitting neatly in the carousel. The storage is crucial for NASA's plans to eventually return the samples to Earth.

This isn't the end to sample gathering. NASA/JPL's chief sampling engineer, Louise Jandura, noted the carousel was designed to run with debris. It's the first time the team has had to clear debris, however, and Jandura said operators would take as much time as they needed to get rid of the pebbles in a "controlled and orderly fashion."

This isn't the first time Perseverance has run into trouble. The rover failed to collect samples during its first attempt, while the Ingenuity helicopter suffered a processing error during its sixth flight. All the same, this illustrates the challenges of the mission — even a seemingly pedestrian task as storing a sample can go awry in the wrong conditions. And when Mars is so distant, fixes aren't necessarily easy or certain.

I recently captured my sixth rock core and have encountered a new challenge. Seems some pebble-sized debris is obstructing my robotic arm from handing off the tube for sealing/storage. More images and data to come. #SamplingMars takes perseverance.


— NASA's Perseverance Mars Rover (@NASAPersevere) January 8, 2022

NASA finishes deploying the James Webb Space Telescope

NASA is one large step closer to putting the James Webb Space Telescope into service. The agency has successfully deployed the JWST's signature gold-coated primary mirror, completing all major deployments for the instrument. The mission crew still has to align the telescope's optics by moving the primary mirror's segments (a months-long process), but it's a strong sign the $10 billion device is in good shape.

The JWST also requires a third course correction burn as it heads toward the L2 Lagrange point between the Earth and the Sun. Astronomers will use the point to study infrared light without interference, potentially offering insights into the early Universe that aren't possible with Hubble and other equipment.

First images from the telescope won't be available until the summer, and it could take much longer before those images translate to meaningful discoveries. Even so, the deployment is an achievement. JWST represents the first time NASA has unpacked a complex observatory in space — it shows projects like this are viable, even if they're unlikely to be commonplace in the near future.

#NASAWebb is fully deployed! 🎉

With the successful deployment & latching of our last mirror wing, that's:
50 major deployments, complete.
178 pins, released.
20+ years of work, realized.

Next to #UnfoldTheUniverse: traveling out to our orbital destination of Lagrange point 2!

— NASA Webb Telescope (@NASAWebb) January 8, 2022

Google Doodle pays tribute to Stephen Hawking

Stephen Hawking would've turned 80 on January 8th, 2022 had he still been alive. While he's no longer with us, his contribution to our understanding of the universe remains immense and shouldn't be forgotten. To pay tribute to the celebrated physicist and cosmologist on what would've been his 80th birthday, Google worked with his family to create a video Doodle that gives us a condensed version of his life. Moreover, the tech giant used Hawking's famous computer-generated voice to narrate his work and experiences from the time he graduated. 

Hawking was born in 1942 in Oxford, England and has always been fascinated with the universe. He was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), a neurodegenerative disease, when he was 21. In the years after that, he lost his mobility and his ability to speak, but he was able to communicate through a computer using a voice created in the 1980s by MIT engineer Dennis Klatt. In the Doodle, you'll hear Hawking's voice talk about his work on black holes — one of the scientific works he's most known for is the Hawking radiation, which is the theory that black holes emit radiation. 

You'll also hear his voice say how he's free in his mind even though he cannot move. "I have spent my life traveling across the universe inside my mind," his voice narrates.

In a statement, his daughter Lucy and sons, Robert and Tim Hawking, said:

"We also believe he would have found it important to show that he never allowed the challenges of his physical condition to limit his power of expression nor his determination to make an impact on the world in which he lived. We hope that his example offers inspiration and hope globally to all who face great challenges at this difficult time. Our father would have been 80 years old today and we thank everyone who has joined in the celebration of his extraordinary life and the legacy he gave to us all."

You can watch the whole Doodle below.