NASA Plans to Save Earth by Knocking Asteroid Off Its Orbit

Aiming to show how to protect Earth from a future killer asteroid strike, NASA plans to crash a refrigerator-sized spacecraft at a speed about nine times faster than a bullet into a space rock, forcing it to change its orbit.

The target for the first-ever mission to demonstrate an asteroid deflection technique for planetary defence – the Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) – is an asteroid that will have a distant approach to Earth in October 2022, and then again in 2024, NASA said.

“DART would be NASA’s first mission to demonstrate what’s known as the kinetic impactor technique — striking the asteroid to shift its orbit – to defend against a potential future asteroid impact,” said Lindley Johnson, planetary defence officer at NASA Headquarters in Washington.

The asteroid is called Didymos – Greek for “twin” – because it is an asteroid binary system that consists of two bodies – Didymos A, about 780 metres in size, and a smaller asteroid orbiting it called Didymos B, about 160 metres in size.

DART, scheduled for launch in 2020, would impact only the smaller of the two bodies, Didymos B.

The Didymos system has been closely studied since 2003. The primary body is a rocky S-type object, with composition similar to that of many asteroids.

The composition of its small companion, Didymos B, is unknown, but the size is typical of asteroids that could potentially create regional effects should they impact Earth.

“A binary asteroid is the perfect natural laboratory for this test,” said Tom Statler, programme scientist for DART at NASA Headquarters.

NASA Plans to Save Earth by Knocking Asteroid Off Its Orbit“The fact that Didymos B is in orbit around Didymos A makes it easier to see the results of the impact, and ensures that the experiment doesn’t change the orbit of the pair around the sun,” Statler added.

After launch, DART would fly to Didymos, and use an on-board autonomous targeting system to aim itself at Didymos B.

Then the spacecraft would strike the smaller body at a speed about nine times faster than a bullet, approximately six kilometres per second.

Earth-based observatories would be able to see the impact and the resulting change in the orbit of Didymos B around Didymos A, allowing scientists to better determine the capabilities of kinetic impact as an asteroid mitigation strategy.

The kinetic impact technique works by changing the speed of a threatening asteroid by a small fraction of its total velocity, but by doing it well before the predicted impact so that this small nudge will add up over time to a big shift of the asteroid’s path away from Earth.

“DART is a critical step in demonstrating we can protect our planet from a future asteroid impact,” saiid Andy Cheng of The Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Maryland, the DART investigation co-lead.

MRI-Scanning Hat Could Allow Mind Reading, Startup Claims

Scientists are developing a next generation hat that could allow people to read other’s minds as well as digitise their own thoughts.

Mary Lou Jepsen, founder of US-based startup Openwater, said that the hat could make telepathy a reality within the next eight years.

Currently magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) technology can already read our brainwaves.

“I figured out how to put basically the functionality of an MRI machine into a wearable in the form of a ski hat,” Jepson said.

MRI-Scanning Hat Could Allow Mind Reading, Startup ClaimsJepsen, a former professor at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in the US and an inventor on over 100 patents, said that the goal of the technology is to be able to both read and to output your own thoughts, as well as read the thoughts of others.

Traditional MRI uses magnetic fields and radio waves to take images of internal organs.

The new technology instead looks at the flow of oxygen in a person’s body illuminated with benign, infrared light, which will make it more compact and cheaper.

“Our bodies are translucent to that light. The light can get into your head,” Jepsen was quoted as saying by ‘CNBC’.

The technology could significantly speed up the process of creating, learning and communicating.

Hyperloop One Completes First Successful Full-Systems Test

US startup Hyperloop One on Wednesday announced the first successful full-systems test of its near-supersonic rail transit system.

The test took place in May at the company’s development track in the Nevada desert near Las Vegas, and involved a vehicle coasting above tracks for slightly more than five seconds using magnetic levitation, according to the startup.

The test vehicle accelerated to a speed of 70 miles (112 kilometers) per hour during the test, and the company’s next goal is to ramp the speed to 250 mph (400 kph), Hyperloop One said in a release.

“Hyperloop One has accomplished what no one has done before by successfully testing the first full scale Hyperloop system,” said startup co-founder and executive chairman Shervin Pishevar.

“By achieving full vacuum, we essentially invented our own sky in a tube, as if you’re flying at 200,000 feet (60,000 meters) in the air.”

Hyperloop One had originally promised a full-scale demonstration by the end of 2016, after a successful test of the propulsion system.

Systems tested in May included the motor, vacuum pumping, magnetic levitation, and electromagnetic braking, according to the company.

Hyperloop One also announced on Wednesday that it has built a prototype pod designed to carry people or cargo through the systems low-pressure tubes.

Hyperloop One early this year disclosed a list of locations around the world vying to put near-supersonic rail transit system to the test.

Viable submissions had to be condoned by government agencies that would likely be involved in regulating and, ideally, funding the futuristic rail.

Hyperloop One Completes First Successful Full-Systems TestHyperloop One wants to get three systems underway, chief executive Rob Lloyd told AFP at the time.

Hyperloop One, which has raised more than $160 million, was set on an idea laid out by billionaire Elon Musk, the entrepreneur behind electric car company Tesla and private space exploration endeavor SpaceX.

Pods would rocket along rails through reduced-pressure tubes at speeds of 1,200 kilometers (750 miles) per hour.

Hyperloop One says the system offers better safety than passenger jets, lower build and maintenance costs than high-speed trains, and energy usage, per person, that is similar to a bicycle.

Port colossus DP World Group of Dubai last year invested in the concept, joining backers including French national rail company SNCF, US industrial conglomerate General Electric and Russian state fund RDIF.

Moon Express Set to Launch Robotic Lunar Spacecraft by Year-End

A privately owned company plans to use robotic spacecraft to launch a series of commercial missions to the moon, some 45 years after NASA’s last lunar landing, officials said on Wednesday.

Cape Canaveral, Florida-based Moon Express is developing a fleet of low-cost robotic spacecraft that can be assembled like Legos to handle increasingly complex missions, founder and Chief Executive Officer Bob Richards said in an interview.

The initial spacecraft, known as MX-1E, is slated to fly before the end of the year aboard a Rocket Lab Electron booster, which launches from New Zealand. Moon Express hopes the endeavor will clinch a $20 million prize from Google, but Richards said the win was not essential.

Moon Express has raised more than $45 million from private investors to build its first spacecraft and buy launch services.

“The Google Lunar X Prize … is icing on the cake,” Richards said.

Google is offering a top prize of $20 million (roughly Rs. 128 crores) for the first privately funded team to land a spacecraft on the moon; have it fly, drive or hop at least 1,640 feet (500 meters) and relay pictures and video back to Earth. The second prize is $5 million.

Contenders have until Dec. 31 to launch their spaceships.

Google also is offering bonus money for other milestones, such as traveling 5 km (3.1 miles), touching down near an Apollo landing site or finding evidence of water.

Richards presented the spacecraft design in Washington on Wednesday.

moon express mx 1e ascending moon express

Besides vying for the X Prize, Moon Express will fly science equipment and payloads for at least three paying customers, including Houston-based Celestis, which offers memorial spaceflights for cremated remains.

Richards said the company would pay for the initial mission, with customers funding subsequent ones.

The company plans to set up a permanent robot-operated base on the moon’s south pole to prospect for water and other materials. By 2020, Moon Express expects to return lunar samples to Earth for research and commercial sale.

The MX series of spacecraft also can be scaled up for travel to other destinations, such as the moons of Mars. The company expects to complete the first spacecraft in September.

Indian Astronomers Discover Supercluster of Galaxies, Name It ‘Saraswati’

A team of Indian astronomers has discovered an extremely large supercluster of galaxies – as big as 20 million billion suns – which they have named Saraswati, Pune-based Inter University Centre for Astronomy and Astrophysics (IUCAA) has said.

This is one of the largest known structures in the neighbourhood of the universe, 4,000 million light-years away from Earth and roughly more than 10 billion years old, IUCAA said.

Its mass extends over the scale of 600 million light years, it said.

Scientists of this institute were also involved in the path-breaking discovery of gravitational waves last year.

The supercluster was discovered by Joydeep Bagchi, a faculty member from IUCCA; Shishir Sankhyayan, a PhD student at the Indian Institute of Science Education and Research (IISER), Pune; Prakash Sarkar of the National Institute of Technology, Jamshedpur; Somak Raychaudhury, Director IUCAA; Joe Jacob of the Newman College, Kerala and Pratik Dabhade, IUCAA research fellow.

Their findings were published in the latest issue of The Astrophysical Journal, the premier research journal of the American Astronomical Society.

“Superclusters are the largest coherent structures in the cosmic web. They are a chain of galaxies and galaxy clusters, bound by gravity, often stretching to several hundred times the size of clusters of galaxies, consisting of tens of thousands of galaxies,” the IUCAA said in a statement.

Sankhyayan said this “newly-discovered Saraswati supercluster” extends over a scale of 600 million light-years and may contain the mass equivalent of over 20 million billion suns.

A cluster could roughly have galaxies ranging from 1000 to 10,000. A supercluster could have clusters ranging from 40 to 43, he added.

Indian Astronomers Discover Supercluster of Galaxies, Name It 'Saraswati'“Our own galaxy is part of a supercluster called the Laniakea supercluster,” the IUCAA said.

Bagchi from IUCAA, the lead author of the paper in the journal, and co-author Sankhyayan said they were “astonished to spot this giant wall-like supercluster of galaxies”, visible in a large spectroscopic survey of distant galaxies, known as the Sloan Digital Sky Survey.

Sankhyayan said the data was then analysed, following which the discovery was made.

“This supercluster is clearly embedded in a large network of cosmic filaments traced by clusters and large voids,” Bagchi said.

He said previously “only a few comparatively large superclusters” had been reported, such as the Shapley Concentration or the Sloan Great Wall in the nearby universe.

“The Saraswati supercluster is far more distant,” Bagchi said.

The two hoped that the work would help shed light on “perplexing questions” like how such matter-density clusters had been formed billions of years ago.

After Visa Delays, Afghan Girls Robotics Team Reaches US for Competition

With two words – “Team Afghanistan” – the crowd assembled in the stands at DAR Constitution Hall erupted into a deafening roar Sunday as the teen-aged girls made their way onto a sprawling stage, waving their country’s flag and donning head scarves in matching colors.Their triumphant entrance on the stage Sunday at the FIRST Global Robotics Challenge marked the end of a long and uncertain journey to the US. As of last week, their dream of traveling to what has been billed as the “Olympics of Robotics” had been shot down when their visas were denied, despite two grueling trips from their home in Herat to Kabul for interviews with the US State Department.

But after their plight made international headlines, President Trump intervened at the last minute to grant the girls passage to the US, and they arrived Saturday.

Standing in the busy hallway of Constitution Hall, while her teammates tinkered with the robot nearby, Fatemah Qaderyu said she was elated to finally make it here from her hometown in Herat, in western Afghanistan. The 14-year-old wants to study computer science when she gets older.”We feel really good that we can show our talents here,” said Fatemah. She said she hopes to show the world what girls like her are capable of: “Afghanistan is not just a place of war. Afghan girls can build robots and compete in global competitions.”

The three-day competition draws teams from 157 countries – and some multinational teams representing continents. One group – Team Hope – is composed of refugees. FIRST has long hosted competitions in the US, but this is the first year it is hosting an international competition. The team representing the US is composed of three girls, who marched into the auditorium for the parade of nations to the Woody Guthrie song “This Land is Your Land.”

[These girls have built robots since they were toddlers. Now they’re competing on a world stage.]

After Visa Delays, Afghan Girls Robotics Team Reaches US for CompetitionThe international nature of the competition came with complications. Besides the girls from Afghanistan, the team from Gambia also had issues with their visas, according to the Associated Press, before their applications were also ultimately approved. Because of sanctions, Global FIRST was unable to ship a robotics kit to Iran, where a group of teenagers was awaiting the parts to build a robot.

That might have spelled the end of the team’s shot of going to the world championships. But the organization introduced them to a group of teen-aged robotics enthusiasts at Marshall High in Fairfax County, Va. calling themselves Team Gryphon. The team in Iran sketched out blueprints on the computer and sent the designs to their counterparts across the ocean, and then corresponded over Skype.

Sunday, the team flew the Iranian flag at their station next to the flag of Team Gryphon – a black flag with a purple silhouette of the gryhpon – as a sign of their unlikely partnership. For Mohammadreza Karami, the team’s mentor, it was an inspiring example of cooperation.

“It’s possible to solve all of the world’s problems if we put aside our politics and focus on peace,” Karami said.

Kirsten Singer, a 16-year-old rising junior at Marshall High, said she wanted to didn’t want the team to be locked out of the competition just because of the sanctions.

“Everybody should be able to compete . . . and to learn and to use that experience for other aspects of their life,” Singer said.

Google Quantum Computing Services Said to Be Available to Researchers

For years, Google has poured time and money into one of the most ambitious dreams of modern technology: building a working quantum computer. Now the company is thinking of ways to turn the project into a business.

Alphabet Inc.’s Google has offered science labs and artificial intelligence researchers early access to its quantum machines over the internet in recent months. The goal is to spur development of tools and applications for the technology, and ultimately turn it into a faster, more powerful cloud-computing service, according to people pitched on the plan.

A Google presentation slide, obtained by Bloomberg News, details the company’s quantum hardware, including a new lab it calls an “Embryonic quantum data center.” Another slide on the software displays information about ProjectQ, an open-source effort to get developers to write code for quantum computers.

“They’re pretty open that they’re building quantum hardware and they would, at some point in the future, make it a cloud service,” said Peter McMahon, a quantum computing researcher at Stanford University.

These systems push the boundaries of how atoms and other tiny particles work to solve problems that traditional computers can’t handle. The technology is still emerging from a long research phase, and its capabilities are hotly debated. Still, Google’s nascent efforts to commercialize it, and similar steps by International Business Machines, are opening a new phase of competition in the fast-growing cloud market.

Jonathan DuBois, a scientist at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, said Google staffers have been clear about plans to open up the quantum machinery through its cloud service and have pledged that government and academic researchers would get free access. A Google spokesman declined to comment.

Providing early and free access to specialized hardware to ignite interest fits with Google’s long-term strategy to expand its cloud business. In May, the company introduced a chip, called Cloud TPU, that it will rent out to cloud customers as a paid service. In addition, a select number of academic researchers are getting access to the chips at no cost.

While traditional computers process bits of information as 1s or zeros, quantum machines rely on “qubits” that can be a 1, a zero, or a state somewhere in between at any moment. It’s still unclear whether this works better than existing supercomputers. And the technology doesn’t support commercial activity yet.

Still, Google and a growing number of other companies think it will transform computing by processing some important tasks millions of times faster. SoftBank Group’s giant new Vision fund is scouting for investments in this area, and IBM and Microsoft have been working on it for years, along with startup D-Wave Systems.

In 2014, Google unveiled an effort to develop its own quantum computers. Earlier this year, it said the system would prove its “supremacy” – a theoretical test to perform on par, or better than, existing supercomputers – by the end of 2017. One of the presentation slides viewed by Bloomberg repeated this prediction.

Quantum computers are bulky beasts that require special care, such as deep refrigeration, so they’re more likely to be rented over the internet than bought and put in companies’ own data centers. If the machines end up being considerably faster, that would be a major competitive advantage for a cloud service. Google rents storage by the minute. In theory, quantum machines would trim computing times drastically, giving a cloud service a huge effective price cut. Google’s cloud offerings currently trail those of Amazon and Microsoft.

Earlier this year, IBM’s cloud business began offering access to quantum computers. In May, it added a 17 qubit prototype quantum processor to the still-experimental service. Google has said it is producing a machine with 49 qubits, although it’s unclear whether this is the computer being offered over the internet to outside users.

Experts see that benchmark as more theoretical than practical. “You could do some reasonably-sized damage with that — if it fell over and landed on your foot,” said Seth Lloyd, a professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Useful applications, he argued, will arrive when a system has more than 100 qubits.

Google Quantum Computing Services Said to Be Available to ResearchersYet Lloyd credits Google for stirring broader interest. Now, there are quantum startups “popping up like mushrooms,” he said.

One is Rigetti Computing, which has netted more than $69 million from investors to create the equipment and software for a quantum computer. That includes a “Forest” cloud service, released in June, that lets companies experiment with its nascent machinery.

Founder Chad Rigetti sees the technology becoming as hot as AI is now, but he won’t put a timeline on that. “This industry is very much in its infancy,” he said. “No one has built a quantum computer that works.”

The hope in the field is that functioning quantum computers, if they arrive, will have a variety of uses such as improving solar panels, drug discovery or even fertilizer development. Right now, the only algorithms that run on them are good for chemistry simulations, according to Robin Blume-Kohout, a technical staffer at Sandia National Laboratories, which evaluates quantum hardware.

A separate branch of theoretical quantum computing involves cryptography – ways of transferring data with much better security than current machines. MIT’s Lloyd discussed these theories with Google founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin more than a decade ago at a conference. The pair were fascinated and the professor recalls detailing a way to apply quantum cryptography so people could do a Google search without revealing the query to the company.

A few years later, when Lloyd ran into Page and Brin again, he said he pitched them on the idea. After checking with the business side of Google, the founders said they weren’t interested because the company’s ad-serving systems relied on knowing what searches people do, Lloyd said. “Now, seven or eight years down the line, maybe they’d be a bit more receptive,” he added.

NASA’s Langley Research Center Turns 100 Years Old

NASA’s Langley Research Center – a facility that changed the way how aeroplanes fly today and space is explored – has completed 100 years, the space agency said in a statement on Monday.

Founded in 1917, Langley Memorial Aeronautical Laboratory was established as the US’s first civilian facility focused on aeronautical research, with the an aim to “solve the fundamental problems of flight”.

In the beginning, Langley engineers devised technologies for safer, higher, farther and faster air travel.

Better propellers, engine cowlings, all-metal airplanes, new kinds of rotorcraft and helicopters, faster-than-sound flight – these were among Langley’s many groundbreaking aeronautical advances.

By 1958, Langley’s governing organisation, the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics, or NACA, that later became NASA, and Langley’s accomplishments would soar from air into space.

During World War II, Langley engineers partnered with the military on the Bell X-1, an experimental aircraft that would fly faster than the speed of sound.

By 1959, the X-15 rocketed to hypersonic speeds, travelling five times faster than sound, paving the way for manned spaceflight.

Concerns over potential Soviet domination of space transformed the NACA into the National Aeronautics and Space Administration or NASA.

NASA's Langley Research Center Turns 100 Years OldLangley then stepped up to train astronauts, including Neil Armstrong – the first human to set foot on the lunar surface, for their moon landing mission.

In 1976, Langley led the first successful US mission to the surface of Mars with the Viking 1, setting the stage for subsequent Red Planet exploration.

In August 2012, Langley achieved another milestone with the successful landing of the Mars Curiosity rover, whose heat shield included a suite of advanced sensors developed by and at Langley.

Farther ahead, “Langley stands to play a major role if a proposed 10-year NASA plan known as New Aviation Horizons – an ambitious undertaking to design, build and fly a variety of flight demonstration vehicles, or “X-planes” – is approved and funded,” the statement read.

On the occasion of the centenary of Langley’s birth, NASA released a 45-minute documentary that looks back at the 100 years at the legendary facility as well as giving a peek into the future.

Twitter May Aid Response in Real Time, Study Claims

Twitter and other social media platforms can help track natural disasters in real time and alert first responders of the areas that need urgent aid, scientists say.

With over 500 million tweets sent every single day, new research is investigating innovative ways to use that data to help communities respond during unexpected catastrophes.

While local governments and relief organisations can measure a community’s ability to respond to a disaster or measuring its impacts after, they can not monitor the effects in real time.

Researchers from the Pennsylvania State University in the US demonstrated the ability of social media to alert first responders.

They compared tweets sent out during Hurricane Sandy, one of the deadliest hurricanes to ever hit the US, and the corresponding power outage information provided after the incident by utility companies in New York, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania.

By comparing the information drawn from the power grid and the human chatter from over 10 million relevant posts on Twitter, the team was able to create a system for event detection.

Twitter May Aid Response in Real Time, Study ClaimsThen, by isolating tweets with the terms ‘power,’ ‘outage,’ ‘electri,’ and ‘utility,’ the posts were organised by hour and compared to the outage reports in the same timeframe.

The two data sets were found to have a moderate-to-strong correlation, and the team believes it is possible that Twitter was able to report power outages more quickly.

Previous academic research in the domain has primarily been before and after disastrous events.

“We were able to show these two data points actually relate to one another,” said Nick Lalone, doctoral student and the principal investigator of the study published in the journal Sustainable and Resilient Infrastructure.

“The goal of this research is to demonstrate that if the data stream changes, you can see what just happened. It would result in a real-time monitoring system,” said Lalone.

Elon Musk, Other AI Experts Warn the UN About Killer Robots

More than 100 robotics and artificial intelligence leaders including billionaire Elon Musk are urging the United Nations to take action against the dangers of autonomous weapons, known as “killer robots.”

“Lethal autonomous weapons threaten to become the third revolution in warfare,” warned the letter signed by 116 tech luminaries, including Musk, the chief of Tesla, and Mustafa Suleyman, cofounder of Google’s DeepMind.

“Once developed, they will permit armed conflict to be fought at a scale greater than ever, and at times scales faster than humans can comprehend,” the letter read.

“These can be weapons of terror, weapons that despots and terrorists use against innocent populations, and weapons hacked to behave in undesirable ways.”

Elon Musk, Other AI Experts Warn the UN About Killer RobotsThey added: “We do not have long to act. Once this Pandora’s box is opened, it will be hard to close.”

A UN group focused on these types of weapons was set to meet Monday, but it was canceled and postponed until November, according to the international body’s website.

In 2015, thousands of researchers and personalities launched an appeal to ban “autonomous weapons.”

Both Musk and well-known British astrophysicist Stephen Hawking regularly warn of the “dangers” of artificial intelligence, citing in particular “robot killers.”