Mars

Curiosity Rover Decides, By Itself, What To Investigate On Mars (sciencemag.org) 54

sciencehabit writes: NASA's Curiosity rover landed on Mars in 2012, in part to analyze rocks to see whether the Red Planet was ever habitable (or inhabited). But now the robot has gone off script, picking out its own targets for analysis -- precisely as planned. Last year, NASA scientists uploaded a piece of software called Autonomous Exploration for Gathering Increased Science (AEGIS) adapted from the older Opportunity rover. Curiosity can now scan each new location and use artificial intelligence to find promising targets for its ChemCam. Compared with the estimated 24% success rate of random aiming at picking out outcrops -- a prime target for investigation -- the current version of AEGIS lets the rover find them 94% of the time, researchers report.
Encryption

Equipment Already In Space Can Be Adapted For Extremely Secure Data Encryption (helpnetsecurity.com) 20

Orome1 quotes a report from Help Net Security: In a new study, researchers from the Max Planck Institute in Erlangen, demonstrate ground-based measurements of quantum states sent by a laser aboard a satellite 38,000 kilometers above Earth. This is the first time that quantum states have been measured so carefully from so far away. A satellite-based quantum-based encryption network would provide an extremely secure way to encrypt data sent over long distances. Developing such a system in just five years is an extremely fast timeline since most satellites require around 10 years of development. For the experiments, the researchers worked closely with satellite telecommunications company Tesat-Spacecom GmbH and the German Space Administration. The German Space Administration previously contracted with Tesat-Spacecom on behalf of the German Ministry of Economics and Energy to develop an optical communications technology for satellites. This technology is now being used commercially in space by laser communication terminals onboard Copernicus -- the European Union's Earth Observation Program -- and by SpaceDataHighway, the European data relay satellite system. It turned out that this satellite optical communications technology works much like the quantum key distribution method developed at the Max Planck Institute. Thus, the researchers decided to see if it was possible to measure quantum states encoded in a laser beam sent from one of the satellites already in space. In 2015 and the beginning of 2016, the team made these measurements from a ground-based station at the Teide Observatory in Tenerife, Spain. They created quantum states in a range where the satellite normally does not operate and were able to make quantum-limited measurements from the ground. The findings have been published in the journal Optica.
Space

NASA Finds Evidence Of 10 New Earth-sized Planets (usatoday.com) 63

NASA said Monday it has found new evidence of 219 planets outside our Solar System. Ten of those exoplanets appear to be similar to the size of the Earth and orbit their stars in the habitable zone. From a report: The new planets' existence must still be double-checked. But Kepler's latest haul -- which includes a planet that is only slightly larger than Earth and receives the same amount of energy from its sun as Earth -- is the latest triumph for Kepler, which has spotted roughly 80 percent of the planets orbiting stars other than our sun. Because of their potential for hosting life, the 10 Earth-size planets are the most glamorous of the newly announced planets from Kepler. But those 10 were joined by an additional 209 more garden-variety planets that are unlikely to be hospitable to life because they are too gassy, too hot, too cold or otherwise unlike the only known planet to host life: Earth.
The Almighty Buck

Air Force Budget Reveals How Much SpaceX Undercuts Launch Prices (arstechnica.com) 95

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Ars Technica: In 2014, the U.S. Government Accountability Office issued a report on cost estimates for the U.S. Air Force's program to launch national security payloads, which at the time consisted of a fleet of rockets maintained and flown entirely by United Launch Alliance (ULA). The report was critical of the non-transparent nature of ULA's launch prices and noted that the government "lacked sufficient knowledge to negotiate fair and reasonable launch prices" with the monopoly. At around the same time, the new space rocket company SpaceX began to aggressively pursue the opportunity to launch national security payloads for the government. SpaceX claimed to offer a substantially lower price for delivering satellites into various orbits around Earth. But because of the lack of transparency, comparing prices was difficult. The Air Force recently released budget estimates for fiscal year 2018, and these include a run out into the early 2020s. For these years, the budget combines the fixed price rocket and ELC contract costs into a single budget line. (See page 109 of this document). They are strikingly high. According to the Air Force estimate, the "unit cost" of a single rocket launch in fiscal year 2020 is $422 million, and $424 million for a year later. SpaceX sells basic commercial launches of its Falcon 9 rocket for about $65 million. But, for military launches, there are additional range costs and service contracts that add tens of millions of dollars to the total price. It therefore seems possible that SpaceX is taking a loss or launching at little or no profit to undercut its rival and gain market share in the high-volume military launch market. Elon Musk retweeted the article, adding "$300M cost diff between SpaceX and Boeing/Lockheed exceeds avg value of satellite, so flying with SpaceX means satellite is basically free."
China

Chinese Satellite Breaks Distance Record For Quantum-Key Exchange (sciencemag.org) 42

slew writes: Science Magazine reports a team of physicists using the Chinese Micius satellite (launched back in August 2016) have sent quantum-entangled photons from a satellite to ground stations separated by 1200 kilometers, smashing the previous world record. Sending entangled photons through space instead of optical fiber networks with repeaters has long been the dream of those promoting quantum-key exchange for modern cryptography. Don't hold your breath yet, as this is only an experiment. They were only able to recover about 1000 photons out of about 6 billion sent and the two receiving stations were on Tibetan mountains to reduce the amount of air that needed to be traversed. Also the experiment was done at night to minimize interference from the sun. Still, baby steps... Next steps for the program: a bigger satellite for more power and moving to quantum teleportation instead of simple key exchange. The results of the experiment were published in the journal Science.
Earth

Life On Mars: Elon Musk Reveals Details of His Colonisation Vision 229

Elon Musk has put his Mars-colonization vision to paper, and you can read it for free. SpaceX's billionaire founder and CEO published the plan, which he unveiled at a conference in Mexico in September 2016, in the journal New Space. From a report: The paper outlines early designs of the gigantic spacecraft, designed to carry 100 passengers, that he hopes to construct. "The thrust level is enormous," the paper states. "We are talking about a lift-off thrust of 13,000 tons, so it will be quite tectonic when it takes off." Creating a fully self-sustained civilisation of around one million people -- the ultimate goal -- would take 40-100 years according to the plans. Before full colonisation takes place, though, Musk needs to entice the first pioneers to pave the way.
Iphone

The Size of iPhone's Top Apps Has Increased by 1,000% in Four Years (sensortower.com) 128

Research firm Sensor Tower shares an analysis: As the minimum storage capacity of iPhone continues to increase -- it sits at 32 GB today on the iPhone 7, double the the iPhone 5S's 16 GB circa 2013 -- it's not surprising that the size of apps themselves is getting larger. In fact, Apple raised the app size cap from 2 GB to 4 GB in early 2015. What's surprising is how much faster they're increasing in size compared to device storage itself. According to Sensor Tower's analysis of App Intelligence, the total space required by the top 10 most installed U.S. iPhone apps has grown from 164 MB in May 2013 to about 1.8 GB last month, an 11x or approximately 1,000 percent increase in just four years. [...] Of the top 10 most popular U.S. iPhone apps, the minimum growth we saw in app size since May 2013 was 6x for both Spotify and Facebook's Messenger. As the chart above shows, other apps, especially Snapchat, have grown considerably more. In fact, Snapchat is more than 50 times larger than it was four years ago, clocking in at 203 MB versus just 4 MB at the start of the period we looked at. It's not the largest app among the top 10, however. That distinction goes to Facebook, which, at 388 MB, is 12 times larger than it was in May 2013 when it occupied 32 MB. It grew by about 100 MB in one update during September of last year.
Businesses

Amazon To Buy Whole Foods Market For $13.7 Billion (usatoday.com) 197

Amazon said Friday it would buy Whole Foods Market for $13.7 billion as the giant internet retailer makes a deeper push into the grocery space. From a report: Amazon has dabbled in brick-and-mortar operations, experimenting with a bookstore that opened in New York last month and plans to open "no-checkout" convenience stores. But the Whole Foods acquisition represents a dramatic departure from its early business model founded on online retailing and related technology. Grocery retail is a notoriously thin-profit-margin business. And Whole Foods -- often derided as "Whole Paycheck" -- has struggled in recent years to keep up with emerging competitors that are expanding nationwide with cheaper items. Traditional grocery stores have also widened their organic food selections in hopes of retaining customers who are increasingly looking to eat healthily.
Space

New Evidence That All Stars Are Born In Pairs (phys.org) 90

InfiniteZero shares a report from Phys.Org: Did our sun have a twin when it was born 4.5 billion years ago? Almost certainly yes -- though not an identical twin. And so did every other sun-like star in the universe, according to a new analysis by a theoretical physicist from UC Berkeley and a radio astronomer from the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory at Harvard University. The new assertion is based on a radio survey of a giant molecular cloud filled with recently formed stars in the constellation Perseus, and a mathematical model that can explain the Perseus observations only if all sunlike stars are born with a companion. "We ran a series of statistical models to see if we could account for the relative populations of young single stars and binaries of all separations in the Perseus molecular cloud, and the only model that could reproduce the data was one in which all stars form initially as wide (more than 500 astronomical units) binaries," said co-author Steven Stahler, a UC Berkeley research astronomer. "These systems then either shrink or break apart within a million years." The study has been published in April on the arXiv server.
ISS

US Spy Satellite Buzzes ISS (arstechnica.com) 121

The spy satellite that SpaceX launched about six weeks ago appears to have buzzed the International Space Station in early June. The fly-by was made by a dedicated group of ground-based observers who continued to track the satellite after it reach outer space. Ars Technica reports: One of the amateur satellite watchers, Ted Molczan, estimated the pass on June 3 to be 4.4km directly above the station. Another, Marco Langbroek, pegged the distance at 6.4km. "I am inclined to believe that the close conjunctions between USA 276 and ISS are intentional, but this remains unproven and far from certain," Molczan later wrote. One expert in satellite launches and tracking, Jonathan McDowell, said of the satellite's close approach to the station, "It is not normal." While it remains possible that the near-miss was a coincidence due to the satellite being launched into similar orbit, that would represent "gross incompetence" on the part of the National Reconnaissance Office, he said. Like the astronaut, McDowell downplayed the likelihood of a coincidence. Another option is that of a deliberate close flyby, perhaps to test or calibrate an onboard sensor to observe something or some kind of activity on the International Space Station. "The deliberate explanation seems more likely, except that I would have expected the satellite to maneuver after the encounter," McDowell said. "But it seems to have stayed in the same orbit."
AI

Cook Says Apple Is Focusing on Making an Autonomous Car System (bloomberg.com) 146

An anonymous reader shares a Bloomberg report: After years toiling away in secret on its car project, Apple Chief Executive Officer Tim Cook has for the first time laid out exactly what the company is up to in the automotive market: It's concentrating on self-driving technology. "We're focusing on autonomous systems," Cook said in an interview on Bloomberg Television. "It's a core technology that we view as very important. We sort of see it as the mother of all AI projects," Cook said in his most detailed comments to date on Apple's plans in the car space. "It's probably one of the most difficult A.I. projects actually to work on." [...] "There is a major disruption looming there," Cook said on Bloomberg Television, citing self-driving technology, electric vehicles and ride-hailing. "You've got kind of three vectors of change happening generally in the same time frame." Cook was also bullish about the prospects for electric vehicles, a market which last week helped Tesla become the world's fourth-biggest carmaker by market capitalization, even as it ranks well outside the top 10 by unit sales."It's a marvelous experience not to stop at the filling station or the gas station," Cook said.
Businesses

Wordpress Parent Automattic Is Closing Its San Francisco Office Because Its Employees Never Show Up (qz.com) 92

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Quartz: Automattic, the technology company that owns WordPress.com, has a beautiful office in a converted San Francisco warehouse, with soaring ceilings, a library, and a custom-made barn door. If you like the space, you're free to move in. The office at 140 Hawthorne went on the market after CEO Matt Mullenweg came to the realization not enough employees used it. As he explained on the Stack Overflow podcast earlier this year: "We got an office there about six or seven years ago, pretty good lease, but nobody goes in it. Five people go in it and it's 15,000 square feet. They get like 3,000 square feet each. There are as many gaming tables as there are people." Automattic has always given its 550 employees the choice of working remotely; the San Francisco space was an optional co-working space, spokesman Mark Armstrong said. The company maintains similar offices in Cape Town, South Africa, and outside Portland, Maine, and gives employees a $250-a-month stipend if they want to use commercial co-working offices elsewhere. And if they'd rather work at Starbucks, Automattic will pay for their coffee.
Space

SpaceX Releases Ultra-HD 4K Footage Of Falcon 9 Landing (4k.com) 68

An anonymous reader quotes 4K.com: On June 3, SpaceX's Falcon 9 rocket was placed into low-orbit for the sake of launching its Dragon spacecraft into their eleventh Commercial Resupply Services mission (CRS-11) to the International Space Station... Last week SpaceX shared on their Youtube channel the remarkable 4K UHD footage of the landing, and since many of us are not used to watching this kind of footage except for Sci-Fi movies or video games, the landing seems almost Hollywood-level surreal, especially since it happens so quickly and accurately. You can watch the video at 4k and 60 fps here if you happen to own a 4K TV or UHD PC monitor with the right hardware specs... The footage above isn't SpaceX's first 4K video of one of its launches. The company has also previously released other videos of even more impressive landings directly onto the surfaces of drone ships.
The article also reminds readers that "If you are by any chance looking to send something or someone out of space, Elon Musk's company offers reasonable prices for their launching services, starting at $62 million for its Falcon 9 and $90 million for the Falcon Heavy."
Space

Has the 40-year Old Mystery of the 'Wow!' Signal Been Solved? (newatlas.com) 83

"Astronomers have confirmed that the Wow! signal, thought to be the most promising detection by SETI of alien life, was actually caused by a comet," writes schwit1. New Atlas reports: Last year, a group of researchers from the Center of Planetary Science proposed a new hypothesis that argued a comet might be the culprit. The frequency could be caused by the hydrogen cloud they carry, and the fact that they move accounts for why it seemingly disappeared. Two comets, named 266/P Christensen and P/2008 Y2 (Gibbs), happened to be transiting through that region of space when the Wow! signal was detected, but they weren't discovered until after 2006. To test the hypothesis, the team made 200 radio spectrum observations between November 2016 and February 2017. Sure enough, 266/P Christensen was found to emit radio waves at a frequency of 1,420 MHz, and to double check, the researchers moved their radio telescope by one degree. As expected, the signal vanished, and only returned when the telescope was trained back on the comet.
Data Storage

Why Does Microsoft Still Offer a 32-bit OS? (backblaze.com) 367

Brian Wilson, a founder of cloud storage service BackBlaze, writes in a blog post: Moving over to a 64-bit OS allows your laptop to run BOTH the old compatible 32-bit processes and also the new 64-bit processes. In other words, there is zero downside (and there are gigantic upsides). Because there is zero downside, the first time it could, Apple shipped with 64-bit OS support. Apple did not give customers the option of "turning off all 64-bit programs." Apple first shipped 64-bit support in OS X 10.6 Snow Leopard in 2009. This was so successful that Apple shipped all future Operating Systems configured to support both 64-bit and 32-bit processes. All of them. But let's contrast the Apple approach with that of Microsoft. Microsoft offers a 64-bit OS in Windows 10 that runs all 64-bit and all 32-bit programs. This is a valid choice of an Operating System. The problem is Microsoft ALSO gives customers the option to install 32-bit Windows 10 which will not run 64-bit programs. That's crazy. Another advantage of the 64-bit version of Windows is security. There are a variety of security features such as ASLR (Address Space Layout Randomization) that work best in 64-bits. The 32-bit version is inherently less secure. By choosing 32-bit Windows 10 a customer is literally choosing a lower performance, LOWER SECURITY, Operating System that is artificially hobbled to not run all software. My problem is this: Backblaze, like any good technology vendor, wants to be easy to use and friendly. In this case, that means we need to quietly, invisibly, continue to support BOTH the 32-bit and the 64-bit versions of every Microsoft OS they release. And we'll probably need to do this for at least 5 years AFTER Microsoft officially retires the 32-bit only version of their operating system.
Space

SpaceX Will Launch Secretive X-37B Spaceplane's Next Mission (latimes.com) 83

schwit1 quotes a report from Los Angeles Times: SpaceX will launch the Air Force's X-37B experimental spaceplane later this year, in the military's latest vote of confidence in the Elon Musk-led space company. This will be the first time SpaceX has launched the uncrewed robotic vehicle. United Launch Alliance, a joint venture between Boeing Co. and Lockheed Martin Corp., has launched the spaceplane's previous four missions atop one of its Atlas V rockets. The Air Force Rapid Capabilities Office, which is responsible for the X-37B's experimental operations, said it was "very excited" for the fifth flight, which will test how special electronics and heat pipes will fare during a long-duration space mission. The Air Force has two of the spaceplanes, which look like miniature versions of the space shuttle and are known officially as X-37B Orbital Test Vehicles. The first X-37B was launched in 2010.
Space

Astronomers Prove To Einstein That Stars Can Warp Light (theverge.com) 96

Astronomers have observed for the first time ever a distant star warp the light of another star, "making it seem as though the object changed its position in the sky," reports The Verge. The discovery is especially noteworthy as Albert Einstein didn't think such an observation would be possible. From the report: These events require stars that are very far apart to line up perfectly. That's why Einstein once wrote that "there is no hope of observing this phenomenon directly." Our telescope technology has become far more sophisticated than in Einstein's day -- which is what allowed us to observe something he thought we'd never see. In 2014, a group of astronomers using NASA's Hubble Space Telescope spotted a rare type of microlensing, when a dense white dwarf star passed in front of another star thousands of light-years away. The stars weren't exactly aligned, but they were close enough that the white dwarf made it seem like the background star performed a small loop in the sky. "It looks like the white dwarf pushed it out of the way," Terry Oswalt, an astronomer at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University who was not involved in this discovery but wrote a perspective piece in Science, tells The Verge. "That's not what happened, of course. It just looks like that." The astronomers also used the apparent movement of the background star to measure the mass of the passing white dwarf, a novel technique detailed in a paper published today in Science. And they say this isn't the last time they'll make measurements like this either. Now that they've figured out how to spot these kinds of lensing events, they're hoping to find even more with new ground- and space-based telescopes that are coming online soon.
Government

Edward Snowden On Trump Administration's Recent Arrest of an Alleged Journalistic Source (freedom.press) 342

Snowden writes: Winner is accused of serving as a journalistic source for a leading American news outlet about a matter of critical public importance. For this act, she has been charged with violating the Espionage Act -- a World War I era law meant for spies -- which explicitly forbids the jury from hearing why the defendant acted, and bars them from deciding whether the outcome was to the public's benefit. This often-condemned law provides no space to distinguish the extraordinary disclosure of inappropriately classified information in the public interest -- whistleblowing -- from the malicious disclosure of secrets to foreign governments by those motivated by a specific intent to harm to their countrymen. The prosecution of any journalistic source without due consideration by the jury as to the harm or benefit of the journalistic activity is a fundamental threat to the free press. As long as a law like this remains on the books in a country that values fair trials, it must be resisted. No matter one's opinions on the propriety of the charges against her, we should all agree Winner should be released on bail pending trial. Even if you take all the government allegations as true, it's clear she is neither a threat to public safety nor a flight risk. To hold a citizen incommunicado and indefinitely while awaiting trial for the alleged crime of serving as a journalistic source should outrage us all.
Space

Astronomers Discover Alien World Hotter Than Most Stars (vanderbilt.edu) 59

Science_afficionado writes: An international team of astronomers has discovered a planet like Jupiter zipping around its host star every day and a half, boiling at temperatures hotter than most stars and sporting a giant, glowing gas tail like a comet. From a report via Vanderbilt University: "With a day-side temperature peaking at 4,600 Kelvin (more than 7,800 degrees Fahrenheit), the newly discovered exoplanet, designated KELT-9b, is hotter than most stars and only 1,200 Kelvin (about 2,000 degrees Fahrenheit) cooler than our own sun. In fact, the ultraviolet radiation from the star it orbits is so brutal that the planet may be literally evaporating away under the intense glare, producing a glowing gas tail. The super-heated planet has other unusual features as well. For instance, it's a gas giant 2.8 times more massive than Jupiter but only half as dense, because the extreme radiation from its host star has caused its atmosphere to puff up like a balloon. Because it is tidally locked to its star -- as the moon is to Earth -- the day side of the planet is perpetually bombarded by stellar radiation and, as a result, it is so hot that molecules such as water, carbon dioxide and methane can't form there." The findings have been published in the journal Nature.
Data Storage

Apple Announces Native HEVC Support In MacOS High Sierra and iOS 11 (cnet.com) 136

New submitter StreamingEagle writes: Apple massively improves the quality of photo and video experiences, including High Dynamic Range. High Efficiency Video Coding (HEVC) can double photo and video storage capacity, and cut the time to upload or share by half. HEVC video compression and HEIF photo compression are coming to iOS 11 and MacOS High Sierra. Sean Hollister adds via CNET: "Having used HEVC quite a bit myself, I can vouch that it takes up less space. I recently transcoded roughly a terabyte of video to HEVC on my Windows PC, and saw hundreds of gigabytes of savings."

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