Science

Time check: Examining the Doomsday Clock’s move to 100 seconds to midnight

Enlarge / The Doomsday Clock reads 100 seconds to midnight, a decision made by The Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, during an announcement at the National Press Club in Washington, DC, on January 23, 2020. (credit: EVA HAMBACH/AFP via Getty Images) Today, the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists released a statement that the group’s Science and Security Board had moved the hands on the symbolic Doomsday Clock forward by 20 seconds to 100 seconds before midnight. Since the advent of the Doomsday Clock—even in the peak years of the Cold War—the clock’s minute hand has never before been advanced past the 11:58 mark. In a statement on the change, Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists President and CEO Rachel Bronson said: As far as the Bulletin and the Doomsday Clock are concerned, the worl...

DirecTV races to decommission broken Boeing satellite before it explodes

Enlarge / Illustration—not the actual Boeing satellite used by DirecTV. (credit: Getty Images | 3DSculptor) DirecTV is scrambling to move a broken Boeing satellite out of its standard orbit in order to limit the risk of “an accidental explosion.” As Space News reported today, DirecTV asked the Federal Communications Commission for a rules waiver so it can “conduct emergency operations to de-orbit the Spaceway-1 satellite,” which is at risk of explosion because of damage to batteries. The 15-year-old Boeing 702HP satellite is in a geostationary orbit. DirecTV, which is owned by AT&T, is coordinating with Intelsat on a plan to move Spaceway-1 into a new orbit. DirecTV already disabled the satellite’s primary function, which is to provide backup Ka-band capac...

This particle accelerator fits on the head of a pin

If you know nothing else about particle accelerators, you probably know that they’re big — sometimes miles long. But a new approach from Stanford researchers has led to an accelerator shorter from end to end than a human hair is wide. The general idea behind particle accelerators is that they’re a long line of radiation emitters that smack the target particle with radiation at the exact right time to propel it forward a little faster than before. The problem is that depending on the radiation you use and the speed and resultant energy you want to produce, these things can get real big, real fast. CERN’s plan for 100-km collider makes the LHC look like a Hula Hoop That also limits their applications; you can’t exactly put a particle accelerator in your lab or clinic ...

Animated, interactive digital books may help kids learn better

Digital books may have a few advantages over ordinary ones when it comes to kids remembering their contents, according to a new study. Animations, especially ones keyed to verbal interactions, can significantly improve recall of story details — but they have to be done right. The research, from psychologist Erik Thiessen at Carnegie Mellon University, evaluated the recall of 30 kids aged 3-5 after being read either an ordinary story book or one with animations for each page. When asked afterwards about what they remembered, the kids who had seen the animated book tended to remember 15-20% more. The best results were seen when the book was animated in response to the child saying or asking something about it (though this had to be done manually by the reading adult) rather than just automat...

Micro-angelo? This 3D-printed ‘David’ is just one millimeter tall

3D printing has proven itself useful in so many industries that it’s no longer necessary to show off, but some people just can’t help themselves. Case in point: this millimeter-tall rendition of Michaelangelo’s famous “David” printed with copper using a newly developed technique. The aptly named “Tiny David” was created by Exaddon, a spin-off company from another spin-off company, Cytosurge, spun off from Swiss research university ETH Zurich. It’s only a fraction of a millimeter wide and weighs two micrograms. It was created using Exaddon’s “CERES” 3D printer, which lays down a stream of ionized liquid copper at a rate of as little as femtoliters per second, forming a rigid structure with features as small as a micrometer ac...

Boeing’s Starliner crew capsule won’t dock with Space Station as planned after missing target orbit

Boeing’s Starliner CST-100 crew spacecraft got off to a great start on its first-ever launch to the International Space Station this morning – but despite the rocket and launch vehicle performing as expected, the Starliner spacecraft itself hit a bit of a snag when it came time for its own post-launch mission to begin. The Starliner capsule successfully separated from the ULA Centaur second stage rocket that brought it to its sub-orbital target in space, but when the Starliner was supposed to light up its own engines and propel itself to its target orbit, the requisite burn didn’t happen. Boeing instead said that the spacecraft achieved a stable position to charge up its solar-powered batteries, and that it was working on the ground with its team to figure out what maneuvers co...

This tiny, soft robo-bug scoots with smarts and survives swats

Nature is a good source of inspiration for roboticists, but it’s rare that nature’s elegance and genius can be replicated in any real way. Still, we’re getting closer. This tiny insect-like robot is made of soft materials and weighs less than a gram, yet can move quickly and with some intelligence — and is robust enough to survive a pounding from a fly swatter. For the most part tiny robots like this are compromises. For instance, they can move quickly, but only with external power. Or they can navigate intelligently, but only by being controlled remotely. Or they’re power efficient, but unable to move quickly or intelligently.   The DEAnsect, so called for being made of “dielectric elastomer actuators,” is an attempt to create a robot that combines...

A sobering message about the future at AI’s biggest party

Enlarge (credit: EFF) More than 13,000 artificial intelligence mavens flocked to Vancouver this week for the world’s leading academic AI conference, NeurIPS. The venue included a maze of colorful corporate booths aiming to lure recruits for projects like software that plays doctor. Google handed out free luggage scales and socks depicting the colorful bikes employees ride on its campus while IBM offered hats emblazoned with “I ❤️A.” Tuesday night, Google and Uber hosted well-lubricated, over-subscribed parties. At a bleary 8:30 the next morning, one of Google’s top researchers gave a keynote with a sobering message about AI’s future. Blaise Aguera y Arcas praised the revolutionary technique known as deep learning that has seen teams like his get phones to recognize faces and ...

Carbon’s new CEO discusses local manufacturing, funding and a potential IPO

Last month, Carbon announced its first new CEO in the company’s history. With $260 million worth of investments and a $2.5 billion, it’s a big job. But Carbon’s 500-person headcount is small potatoes compared to Ellen Kullman’s last gig. For six years, Kullman headed up DuPont, the culmination of a nearly 30-year career at the chemical giant. After leaving the role in 2016, she joined a number of different boards, including Goldman Sachs and Dell. It was, however, a three-year-old Bay Area-based 3D printing company that ultimately drew her interest. After six years at the helm of the company, co-founder Joe DeSimone stepped aside in November and became Executive Chairman of the Board. His background as a chemist helped birth the startup, while Kullman’s experience leading a Fortune 500 cle...

Kepler to launch two batches of nanosatellites aboard SpaceX’s Falcon 9

Small-satellite startup Kepler Communications is teaming up with SpaceX to make good on its deployment goals for its first nanosatellite constellation. SpaceX will carry two separate batches of nanosatellites from Kepler aboard its Falcon 9 launch vehicles. Kepler Communications, a Toronto-based space startup, will be building out a low-power, direct IoT connectivity satellite-based network, as well as a more high-capacity network powered with the same satellites to provide high-speed data transfer capabilities. In total, Kepler will launch 400 kg (around 880 lbs) of payload with SpaceX, making use of the rideshare program that the Elon Musk-run company announced earlier this year. This launch will put the Kepler spacecraft into Sun-synchronous orbit, which means that they will pass over s...

Blue Origin moves closer to human spaceflight with 12th New Shepard launch

Jeff Bezos -founded Blue Origin has recorded another successful mission for its New Shepard sub-orbital launch vehicle, which is a key step as it readies the spacecraft for human spaceflight. This is also the sixth flight of this re-used booster, which is a record for Blue Origin in terms of relying on and recovering one of its rocket stages. This is the ninth time that Blue Origin has flown commercial payloads aboard New Shepard, and each launch moves it one step closer to demonstrating the system’s readiness for carrying crew on board. This launch carried experimental payloads that will be used for research, including materials used in student studies. It also had thousands of postcards on board written by students from around the world, which were submitted to the Club for the Fut...

Boeing Starliner crew capsule and Atlas V rocket complete dress rehearsal ahead of test flight

Boeing and launch partner United Launch Alliance (ULA) completed a key step today in pursuit of launching U.S. astronauts aboard their commercial spacecraft. The Boeing CST-100 Starliner crew capsule was atop the ULA Atlas V rocket at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station’s Launch Complext 41 in Florida, with the rocket fully fuelled while the combined crew all took part in a dress rehearsal called the “integrated Day of Launch Test – aka IDOLT because space people all love acronyms so much. The rehearsal paves the way for the uncrewed Orbital Flight Test (OFT) that NASA, ULA and Boeing are targeting for December 20 (which just changed today from December 19), which will be exactly what the first crewed mission aboard the Starliner will be, but without the crew on board. Today’...

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