Tech News

Rocket Lab Reveals Plans For Reusable Rocket With 8 Ton Payload

science - Posted On:2021-03-02 02:14:58 Source: slashdot

Rocket Lab has unveiled plans for a larger rocket that can carry bigger payloads than its current reusable trooper, the Electron. It's called the Neutron and will be capable of carrying 8 metric tons to low-Earth orbit compared to the Electron's 660 lbs capacity. Engadget reports: The Neutron will also have a fully reusable first stage that can land on an ocean platform, in the same vein as SpaceX's Falcon 9 booster. Rocket Lab is looking to fast-track the rocket's first flight to 2024 by using the existing launch pad at Virginia's Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport located at the NASA Wallops Flight Facility. It's also scouting sites across the US to build a new factory where the Neutron will be assembled at scale. The new rocket is designed with an eye to the future of mega-satellite constellations. Its larger payload means it can take multiple small satellites in batches to specific orbital planes, creating a "a more targeted approach to building out" the massive projects, said Peter Beck, Rocket Lab founder and CEO. Demand for the constellations is growing, with the satellite networks enabling better navigation and providing communications in rural areas back here on Earth. The Neutron's lift capacity also means it should be able to transport 98 percent of all satellites forecast to launch through 2029. Read more of this story at Slashdot.

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Blue Origin’s massive New Glenn rocket is delayed for years. What went wrong?

Science - Posted On:2021-03-01 15:00:00 Source: arstechnica

In the fall of 2017, shortly after he became chief executive officer of Blue Origin, Bob Smith received an extensive briefing on the state of the New Glenn rocket program. The projected launch date for the massive, reusable rocket was 2020, he was told.

As Smith assessed the progress on New Glenn to date and drew upon his long experience at Honeywell Aerospace, he soon came to the conclusion that this launch date was unreasonable. "This is not a 2020 launch program," he said at this meeting. "This is a 2022 program, at best."

Blue Origin founder Jeff Bezos was not present for this, but his response afterward was that he would absolutely not accept any revision to the launch date for the large orbital rocket. Blue Origin should be optimistic with its projections, Bezos said. And then they should meet those projections.

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So what really happened with Blue Origin’s New Glenn rocket?

Science - Posted On:2021-03-01 14:44:59 Source: arstechnica

In the fall of 2017, shortly after he became chief executive officer of Blue Origin, Bob Smith received an extensive briefing on the state of the New Glenn rocket program. The projected launch date for the massive, reusable rocket was 2020, he was told.

As Smith assessed the progress on New Glenn to date and drew upon his long experience at Honeywell Aerospace, he soon came to the conclusion that this launch date was unreasonable. "This is not a 2020 launch program," he said at this meeting. "This is a 2022 program, at best."

Blue Origin founder Jeff Bezos was not present for this, but his response afterward was that he would absolutely not accept any revision to the launch date for the large orbital rocket. Blue Origin should be optimistic with its projections, Bezos said. And then they should meet those projections.

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Archaeologists discover “Lamborghini” of chariots near ruins of Pompeii

Science - Posted On:2021-03-01 14:00:00 Source: arstechnica

Archaeologists in Italy have unearthed an elaborately decorated, intact four-wheeled ceremonial chariot near the ruins of the Roman city of Pompeii, famously destroyed when Mt. Vesuvius catastrophically erupted in 79 AD, BBC News reports. The archaeologists believe the chariot was likely used in festivities and parades—possibly even for wedding rituals like transporting the bride to her new home, given the erotic nature of some of the decorative motifs.

The find is extraordinary both for its remarkable preservation and because it is a relatively rare object. "I was astounded," Eric Poehler, a professor at the University of Massachusetts Amherst who is an expert on traffic in Pompeii, told NPR. "Many of the vehicles [previously discovered] are your standard station wagon or vehicle for taking the kids to soccer. This is a Lamborghini. This is an outright fancy, fancy car. This is precisely the kind of find that one wants to find at Pompeii, the really well-articulated, very well-preserved moments in time."

Other archaeologists weighed in on Twitter. "My jaw is on the floor just now!" tweeted Jane Draycott of the University of Glasgow. "Still wrapping my head around the latest incredible discovery," Sophie Hay of the University of Cambridge tweeted in an extensive thread about the surprising find. "The details are extraordinary."

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B.1.1.7 variant now 10% of US cases—and cases are once again ticking up

Science - Posted On:2021-03-01 12:15:00 Source: arstechnica

After weeks of dramatic decline, COVID-19 cases in the US have hit a plateau—and in some places are ticking up. Officials are sounding the alarm in hopes of averting a fourth surge in the devastating pandemic.

“We at CDC consider this a very concerning shift in the trajectory,” Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said in a press briefing last week. Though cases are down from their astronomical peak in early to mid January, the overall numbers are still quite high, matching averages seen in late October, at the base of the holiday surge.

“Things are tenuous,” she noted. “Now is not the time to relax restrictions.”

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Pure nonsense: Debunking the latest attack on renewable energy

Science - Posted On:2021-03-01 08:14:57 Source: arstechnica

Our editor-in-chief obviously hates me. That's the only conclusion I could reach after he asked me to watch an abysmal attack video targeting renewable energy—a video produced by a notorious source of right-wing misinformation.

But despite its bizarre mishmash of irrelevancies and misdirection, the video has been widely shared on social media. Perhaps you've seen it, or maybe you just to want to be ready when a family member brings it up in an argument. What, if anything, is true in this farrago of bad faith?

The video is hosted by "Prager University." My only previous exposure to the organization's videos had been this excellent one on the Confederacy by Colonel Ty Seidule, a professor of History at West Point who has since been placed on the Pentagon commission that will examine bases named after Confederate generals. Seemed legit!

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Is there a shift from disbelieving climate change to attacking renewables?

Science - Posted On:2021-03-01 07:59:57 Source: arstechnica

Our editor-in-chief obviously hates me. That's the only conclusion I could reach after he asked me to watch an abysmal attack video targeting renewable energy—a video produced by a notorious source of right-wing misinformation.

But despite its bizarre mishmash of irrelevancies and misdirection, the video has been widely shared on social media. Perhaps you've seen it, or maybe you just to want to be ready when a family member brings it up in an argument. What, if anything, is true in this farrago of bad faith?

The video is hosted by "Prager University." My only previous exposure to the organization's videos had been this excellent one on the Confederacy by Colonel Ty Seidule, a professor of History at West Point who has since been placed on the Pentagon commission that will examine bases named after Confederate generals. Seemed legit!

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Asteroid Dust Found in Crater Closes Case of Dinosaur Extinction

science - Posted On:2021-03-01 07:44:57 Source: slashdot

Phys.org shares an announcement from the University of Texas at Austin: Researchers believe they have closed the case of what killed the dinosaurs, definitively linking their extinction with an asteroid that slammed into Earth 66 million years ago by finding a key piece of evidence: asteroid dust inside the impact crater. Death by asteroid rather than by a series of volcanic eruptions or some other global calamity has been the leading hypothesis since the 1980s, when scientists found asteroid dust in the geologic layer that marks the extinction of the dinosaurs. This discovery painted an apocalyptic picture of dust from the vaporized asteroid and rocks from impact circling the planet, blocking out the sun and bringing about mass death through a dark, sustained global winter — all before drifting back to Earth to form the layer enriched in asteroid material that's visible today. In the 1990s, the connection was strengthened with the discovery of a 125-mile-wide Chicxulub impact crater beneath the Gulf of Mexico that is the same age as the rock layer. The new study seals the deal, researchers said, by finding asteroid dust with a matching chemical fingerprint within that crater at the precise geological location that marks the time of the extinction... The telltale sign of asteroid dust is the element iridium — which is rare in the Earth's crust, but present at elevated levels in certain types of asteroids... In the crater, the sediment layer deposited in the days to years after the strike is so thick that scientists were able to precisely date the dust to a mere two decades after impact. "We are now at the level of coincidence that geologically doesn't happen without causation," said co-author Sean Gulick, a research professor at the UT Jackson School of Geosciences who co-led the 2016 expedition with Joanna Morgan of Imperial College London... The dust is all that remains of the 7-mile-wide asteroid that slammed into the planet millions of years ago, triggering the extinction of 75% of life on Earth, including all nonavian dinosaurs. Read more of this story at Slashdot.

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The Dream of Sending a Submarine Through the Methane Seas of Saturn's Moon Titan

science - Posted On:2021-02-28 13:45:03 Source: slashdot

"Mars, Shmars; this voyager is looking forward to a submarine ride under the icebergs on Saturn's strange moon," says the New York Times, introducing a piece by cosmic affairs correspondent Dennis Overbye: What could be more exciting than flying a helicopter over the deserts of Mars? How about playing Captain Nemo on Saturn's large, foggy moon Titan — plumbing the depths of a methane ocean, dodging hydrocarbon icebergs and exploring an ancient, frigid shoreline of organic goo a billion miles from the sun? Those are the visions that danced through my head recently...diverted to the farther reaches of the solar system by the news that Kraken Mare, an ocean of methane on Titan, had recently been gauged for depth and probably went at least 1,000 feet down. That is as deep as nuclear submarines will admit to going. The news rekindled my dreams of what I think would be the most romantic of space missions: a voyage on, and ultimately even under, the oceans of Titan... NASA recently announced that it would launch a drone called Dragonfly to the Saturnian moon in 2026. Proposals have also circulated for an orbiter, a floating probe that could splash down in a lake, even a robotic submarine. "The Titan submarine is still going," said Dr. Valerio Poggiali, research associate at the Cornell Center for Astrophysics and Planetary Science, in an email — although it is unlikely to happen before Titan's next summer, around 2047. By then, he said, there will be more ambient light and the submarine conceivably could communicate on a direct line to Earth with no need of an orbiting radio relay. Titan is the weirdest place in the solar system, in some regards, and also the world most like our own. Like Earth, it has a thick atmosphere of mostly nitrogen (the only moon that has much of an atmosphere at all), and like Earth, it has weather, rain, rivers and seas. But on this world, when it rains, it rains gasoline. Hydrocarbon material drifts down like snow and is shaped into dunes by nitrogen winds. Rivers have carved canyons through mountains of frozen soot, and layers of ice float on subsurface oceans of ammonia. The prevailing surface temperature is minus 290 degrees Fahrenheit. A chemical sludge that optimistic astronomers call "prebiotic" creeps along under an oppressive brown sky. Besides Earth, Titan is the only world in the universe that is known to harbor liquid on its surface — with everything that could imply. Read more of this story at Slashdot.

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America Authorizes Johnson & Johnson's COVID-19 Vaccine For Emergency Use

science - Posted On:2021-02-28 07:44:57 Source: slashdot

America's Food and Drug Administration just authorized Johnson & Johnson's COVID-19 vaccine for emergency use, according to CBS News. "The vaccine is the third to be approved for use in the United States, and the first that requires only one shot..." Among people who got the vaccine in clinical trials, there were no COVID-related deaths. Phase 3 clinical trials also showed protection against multiple emerging virus variants, including a more contagious strain that was first discovered in South Africa and has since been detected in the U.S. The vaccine can be stored at standard refrigerator temperatures for up to three months. More from the BBC: The company has agreed to provide the U.S. with 100 million doses by the end of June. The first doses could be available to the US public as early as next week. The U.K., EU and Canada have also ordered doses, and 500 million doses have also been ordered through the Covax scheme to supply poorer nations. Read more of this story at Slashdot.

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FDA authorizes J&J COVID vaccine after unanimous vote [Updated]

Science - Posted On:2021-02-27 19:29:59 Source: arstechnica

Update 2/27/2021 7:20pm EST: The US Food and Drug Administration on Saturday evening granted emergency use authorization for Johnson & Johnson's COVID-19 vaccine. The vaccine is the third authorized in the US and the first to require only a single shot, which can be shipped at refrigerator temperatures.

“The authorization of this vaccine expands the availability of vaccines, the best medical prevention method for COVID-19, to help us in the fight against this pandemic, which has claimed over half a million lives in the United States,” Acting FDA Commissioner Janet Woodcock said in an announcement.

The vaccine uses a non-replicating adenovirus (Ad26)—a type of virus that causes common colds—to deliver the genetic blueprints of the SARS-CoV-2 spike protein to cells. The FDA authorized it for use in people aged 18 and older.

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The Perseverance Rover CPU Has Similar Specs To a Clamshell Ibook From 2001

science - Posted On:2021-02-27 15:15:00 Source: slashdot

An anonymous reader writes: NASA's Perseverence rover, which is currently exploring Mars, has as it's CPU a BAE Systems RAD 750 running at a 200 Mhz and featuring 256 Megabytes of RAM with 2 Gigabytes of storage. This is a radiation hardened version of the PowerPC G3, with specs roughly equivalent to the Clamshell Ibook that Reese Witherspoon used in Legally Blond back in 2001. This follows a tradition of old tech on space rovers — the Sojourner rover which explored Mars in 1997 used an Intel 80C85 running at 2 Mhz, similar to what could have been found in the classic Radio Shack TRS-80 model 100 portable from 1983. In a comment on the original submission, long-time Slashdot reader Mal-2 argues "There's not as much distance between the actual capabilities of a CPU now and twenty years ago as there would be if you made the same comparison a decade ago." In the last 12 years or so, the CPUs have gotten more efficient and cooler-running (thus suitable for portable devices) to a much greater degree than they've actually gained new functionality. Retro computing is either going to stay stuck in the 1990s, or it's not going to be very interesting in the future. Read more of this story at Slashdot.

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The Mars Perseverance Rover's Parachute Contained a Secret Message

science - Posted On:2021-02-27 14:45:00 Source: slashdot

"The huge parachute used by NASA's Perseverance rover to land on Mars contained a secret message," reports the Associated Press — thanks to the rover's puzzle-loving systems engineer Ian Clark. "During a live stream discussing the landing, one Nasa commentator said: 'Sometimes we leave messages in our work for others to find. So we invite you all to give it a shot and show your work,'" reports the Guardian. One Reddit user actually deciphered the message using Python code. Long-time Slashdot reader rufey writes that "Decoded the slogan is 'Dare Mighty Things' — a line from President Theodore Roosevelt — which is a mantra at JPL and adorns many of the center's walls." The orange sections of the 70-foot (21-meter) parachute represented ones in binary code, while the yellow sections represented zeroes. (So the letter "A" becomes yellow-yellow-yellow-yellow-yellow-yellow-orange...) The Associated Press reports: Clark also included the GPS coordinates for the mission's headquarters at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. Clark, a crossword hobbyist, came up with the idea two years ago. Engineers wanted an unusual pattern in the nylon fabric to know how the parachute was oriented during descent. Turning it into a secret message was "super fun," he said Tuesday. Only about six people knew about the encoded message before Thursday's landing, according to Clark. They waited until the parachute images came back before putting out a teaser during a televised news conference Monday... Another added touch not widely known until touchdown: Perseverance bears a plaque depicting all five of NASA's Mars rovers in increasing size over the years — similar to the family car decals seen on Earth. Deputy project manager Matt Wallace promises more so-called hidden Easter eggs... The official Twitter feed for the rover has already revealed that it's carrying another message hidden in a plaque with a logo of the sun — "Explore as One," written in Morse code. Some other interesting facts about the rover: NASA points out that Perseverance carried a special placard with 10,932,295 names, "stenciled by electron beam onto three fingernail-sized silicon chips." Space.com notes that it also carried a small aluminum plate honoring the healthcare workers of the world. NASA is encouraging children to code their own version of the helicopter using the visual programming language Scratch. Read more of this story at Slashdot.

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Quantum Computer Solves Decades-Old Problem Three Million Times Faster Than a Classical Computer

science - Posted On:2021-02-27 13:45:00 Source: slashdot

ZDNet reports: Scientists from quantum computing company D-Wave have demonstrated that, using a method called quantum annealing, they could simulate some materials up to three million times faster than it would take with corresponding classical methods. Together with researchers from Google, the scientists set out to measure the speed of simulation in one of D-Wave's quantum annealing processors, and found that performance increased with both simulation size and problem difficulty, to reach a million-fold speedup over what could be achieved with a classical CPU... The calculation that D-Wave and Google's teams tackled is a real-world problem; in fact, it has already been resolved by the 2016 winners of the Nobel Prize in Physics, Vadim Berezinskii, J. Michael Kosterlitz and David Thouless, who studied the behavior of so-called "exotic magnetism", which occurs in quantum magnetic systems.... Instead of proving quantum supremacy, which happens when a quantum computer runs a calculation that is impossible to resolve with classical means, D-Wave's latest research demonstrates that the company's quantum annealing processors can lead to a computational performance advantage... "What we see is a huge benefit in absolute terms," said Andrew King, director of performance research at D-Wave. "This simulation is a real problem that scientists have already attacked using the algorithms we compared against, marking a significant milestone and an important foundation for future development. This wouldn't have been possible today without D-Wave's lower noise processor." Equally as significant as the performance milestone, said D-Wave's team, is the fact that the quantum annealing processors were used to run a practical application, instead of a proof-of-concept or an engineered, synthetic problem with little real-world relevance. Until now, quantum methods have mostly been leveraged to prove that the technology has the potential to solve practical problems, and is yet to make tangible marks in the real world. Looking ahead to the future, long-time Slashdot reader schwit1 asks, "Is this is bad news for encryption that depends on brute-force calculations being prohibitively difficult?" Read more of this story at Slashdot.

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Atlantic currents seem to have started fading last century

Science - Posted On:2021-02-27 09:29:57 Source: arstechnica

The major currents in the Atlantic Ocean help control the climate by moving warm surface waters north and south from the equator, with colder deep water pushing back toward the equator from the poles. The presence of that warm surface water plays a key role in moderating the climate in the North Atlantic, giving places like the UK a far more moderate climate than its location—the equivalent of northern Ontario—would otherwise dictate.

But the temperature differences that drive that flow are expected to fade as our climate continues to warm. A bit over a decade ago, measurements of the currents seemed to be indicating that temperatures were dropping, suggesting that we might be seeing these predictions come to pass. But a few years later, it became clear that there was just too much year-to-year variation for us to tell.

Over time, however, researchers have figured out ways of getting indirect measures of the currents, using material that is influenced by the strengths of the water's flow. These measures have now let us look back on the current's behavior over the past several centuries. And the results confirm that the strength of the currents has dropped dramatically over the last century.

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Perseverance’s eyes see a different Mars

Science - Posted On:2021-02-27 07:29:57 Source: arstechnica

The seven minutes of terror are over. The parachute deployed; the skycrane rockets fired. Robot truck goes ping! Perseverance, a rover built by humans to do science 128 million miles away, is wheels-down on Mars. Phew.

Percy has now opened its many eyes and taken a look around.

The rover is studded with a couple dozen cameras—25, if you count the two on the drone helicopter. Most of them help the vehicle drive safely. A few peer closely and intensely at ancient Martian rocks and sands, hunting for signs that something once lived there. Some of the cameras see colors and textures almost exactly the way the people who built them do. But they also see more. And less. The rover’s cameras imagine colors beyond the ones that human eyes and brains can come up with. And yet human brains still have to make sense of the pictures they send home.

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FDA panel votes unanimously in favor of authorizing J&J vaccine

Science - Posted On:2021-02-26 18:59:59 Source: arstechnica

After a day-long meeting Friday, an advisory panel for the US Food and Drug Administration voted 22 to 0 to recommend issuing an Emergency Use Authorization for Johnson & Johnson’s single-shot, refrigerator-stable COVID-19 vaccine.

If the FDA accepts the panel’s recommendation and grants the EUA—which it likely will—the country will have a third COVID-19 vaccine authorized for use. Earlier this week, FDA scientists released their review of the vaccine, endorsing authorization. Today’s panel, the FDA’s Vaccines and Related Biological Products Advisory Committee (VRBPAC) went through the data further.

“It’s a relatively easy call,” Eric Rubin, a Harvard researcher and voting member of the VRBPAC said after the vote. “[The vaccine] clearly gets way over the bar and it’s nice to have a single-dose vaccine… the demand is so large [for vaccines], it clearly has a place.”

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We’ll likely have a 3rd COVID vaccine soon; J&J vaccine clears last hurdle

Science - Posted On:2021-02-26 17:29:59 Source: arstechnica

After a day-long meeting Friday, an advisory panel for the US Food and Drug Administration voted 22 to 0 to recommend issuing an Emergency Use Authorization for Johnson & Johnson’s single-shot, refrigerator-stable COVID-19 vaccine.

If the FDA accepts the panel’s recommendation and grants the EUA—which it likely will—the country will have a third COVID-19 vaccine authorized for use. Earlier this week, FDA scientists released their review of the vaccine, endorsing authorization.

Agency watchers expect the FDA to move quickly on the decision, possibly granting the EUA as early as tomorrow, February 27. The FDA moved that fast in granting EUAs for the two previously authorized vaccines, the Moderna and Pfizer/BioNTech mRNA vaccines.

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Stanford Researchers Identify Four Causes For 'Zoom Fatigue' and Their Simple Fixes

science - Posted On:2021-02-26 16:15:00 Source: slashdot

In the first peer-reviewed article that systematically deconstructs Zoom fatigue from a psychological perspective, published in the journal Technology, Mind and Behavior on Feb. 23, Professor Jeremy Bailenson, founding director of the Stanford Virtual Human Interaction Lab (VHIL), has taken the medium apart and assessed Zoom on its individual technical aspects. He has identified four consequences of prolonged video chats that he says contribute to the feeling commonly known as "Zoom fatigue." Below are four primary reasons why video chats fatigue humans, according to the study: 1. Excessive amounts of close-up eye contact is highly intense. 2. Seeing yourself during video chats constantly in real-time is fatiguing. 3. Video chats dramatically reduce our usual mobility. 4. The cognitive load is much higher in video chats. The article also offers solutions to alleviate the fatigues. Read more of this story at Slashdot.

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A 3rd shot? A new booster? Vaccine makers race to trials to beat variants

Science - Posted On:2021-02-26 13:15:00 Source: arstechnica

With worrisome coronavirus variants seemingly emerging and spreading everywhere, lead vaccine makers are wasting no time in trying to get ahead of the growing threat.

This week, Moderna and partners Pfizer and BioNTech announced they have kicked off new vaccine clinical trials aimed at boosting the effectiveness of their authorized vaccines against new, concerning SARS-CoV-2 variants—primarily B.1.351, a variant first identified in South Africa.

In a set of studies published last week in the New England Journal of Medicine, both the Moderna mRNA vaccine and Pfizer/BioNTech mRNA vaccine spurred antibodies in vaccinated people that could neutralize the B.1.351 variant. But the levels of those neutralizing antibodies were significantly lower than what was seen against past versions of the virus. (Both vaccines performed well against the B.1.1.7 variant, first identified in the UK, which is expected to become the dominant strain in the US next month.)

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