A new astrophysics just began — sparked by 2 stars colliding 130 million years ago


The spiral galaxy NGC 4993

❝ Some 130 million years ago, in a galaxy far away, the smoldering cores of two collapsed stars smashed into each other. The resulting explosion sent a burst of gamma rays streaming through space and rippled the very fabric of the universe.

On Aug. 17, those signals reached Earth — and sparked an astronomy revolution.

❝ The distant collision created a “kilonova,” an astronomical marvel that scientists have never seen before. It was the first cosmic event in history to be witnessed via both traditional telescopes, which can observe electromagnetic radiation like gamma rays, and gravitational wave detectors, which sense the wrinkles in space-time produced by distant cataclysms. The detection, which involved thousands of researchers working at more than 70 laboratories and telescopes on every continent, heralds a new era in space research known as “multimessenger astrophysics.”

This is the breakthrough scientists have been waiting for since the initial detection of gravitational waves two years ago. Now, for the first time, they are able to observe the universe using two fundamental forces: light and gravity. By combining traditional visual astronomy with the Nobel Prize-winning work of gravitational wave researchers, astronomers have new means to probe some of their field’s most enduring mysteries: the unknown force that drives the accelerating growth of the universe, the invisible matter that holds galaxies together, and the origins of Earth’s most precious elements…

One of those times I wish I was 60 or 70 years younger, ready to direct my life’s studies. Amazing stuff happening and it’s only going to get more interesting with the kind of growth in computing horsepower we’re looking at.

China’s First Space Station gets to flame out this year

❝ China’s first space station, Tiangong-1, is expected to fall to Earth sometime in late 2017. We’ve known for several months that the orbital demise of the 8-metric ton space station was only a matter of time. But Chinese space agency officials recently confirmed that they have lost telemetry with the space station and can no longer control its orbit. This means its re-entry through Earth’s atmosphere will be uncontrolled.

Despite sensational headlines…the risk is quite low that people on Earth will be in danger. Any remaining debris that doesn’t burn up in the atmosphere has a high chance of falling into an ocean, since two-thirds of Earth’s surface is covered by water…

❝ …throughout the entire history of the space age, there have been no reports of anybody in the world being injured or struck by any re-entering debris. Something of this size re-enters the atmosphere every few years, and many are uncontrolled entries…

Wu Ping, deputy director of China’s Manned Space Engineering office, said at a press conference before the launch of the Tiangong-2 space station last week that based on their calculations and analysis, most parts of the space lab will burn up during its fall through the atmosphere. She added that China has always highly valued the management of space debris, and will continue to monitor Tiangong-1, and will release a forecast of its falling and report it internationally…

❝ “Although Tiangong-1 is no longer functioning, keeping track of where it is not a problem,” said Chris Peat, who developed and maintains Heavens-Above.com, a site that provides orbital information to help people observe and track satellites orbiting the Earth.

Should curiosity get the best of you – and you have moderately capable optics handy – I’d suggest staying in touch with Chris Peat’s Heavens-Above.com site and keep an eye on the critter yourself.

Thanks, UrsaRodinia

GM Commits to an All-Electric Path


2017 Chevrolet Volt

General Motors has announced how it is executing on a major element of its vision of a world with zero crashes, zero emissions and zero congestion, recently announced by GM Chairman and CEO Mary Barra.

“General Motors believes in an all-electric future,” said Mark Reuss, General Motors executive vice president of Product Development, Purchasing and Supply Chain. “Although that future won’t happen overnight, GM is committed to driving increased usage and acceptance of electric vehicles through no-compromise solutions that meet our customers’ needs.”

In the next 18 months, GM will introduce two new all-electric vehicles based off learnings from the Chevrolet Bolt EV. They will be the first of at least 20 new all-electric vehicles that will launch by 2023…

GM also introduced SURUS — the Silent Utility Rover Universal Superstructure — a fuel cell powered, four-wheel steer concept vehicle on a heavy-duty truck frame that’s driven by two electric motors. With its capability and flexible architecture, SURUS could be used as a delivery vehicle, truck or even an ambulance — all emissions free.

GM ain’t leading the way in the United States or globally — BUT, it’s pretty damned important that they have made the decision to join in on the path to a future of mobility and less pollution together.

Tesla Rolling Out Prototype Semi Truck Look and Test-Ride in October

Tesla’s announcement of an electric semi-truck is a big deal – not only does it have the potential to disrupt one of the nation’s largest industries, but it marks another leap forward in making Tesla’s grand vision a reality. That said, we caution that it will take years for the Tesla Semi to come to market.

❝ Based on Tesla’s history, the most logical go-to-market approach would be staggered: Within about 3 years, Tesla could target short haul trucking (think of UPS or Fedex trucks that return to a depot to be charged at night). Then in about 5 years, Tesla could target long haul trucking, and, in 6-10 years, offer a fleet of trucks as a service. We expect the Oct 26th event will be short on details (we don’t expect details on pricing or delivery date) and long on the opportunity. That opportunity is ripe for Tesla’s taking, considering legacy truck manufacturers’ past struggles with innovation.

Way cool!

Hackers could turn sex-bots into killer cyborgs

Ultra-realistic sex robots could be used by warped hackers to attack humans, according to a chilling warning…The sex robot craze has swept the globe, with punters willing to fork out the cash to have their wicked way with the dolls…And producers have promised punters more realism than ever, with dolls able to mimic human voices and have orgasms set to enter the market.

But tech experts have warned that the more advanced these robots get, the greater the risk they will pose to mankind…

❝ Cyber security lecturer Dr Nick Patterson worryingly said that hacking into a sex robot could even be easier than gaining access to someone’s laptop or phone.

He added that once the robot has been breached, the hacker then has full control…

❝ Dr Patterson, of Deakin University, Australia, predicted that we will soon see robots replacing human workers and mimicking humans…But as long as the robots are connected to an interface, they can always be hacked.

RTFA if you feel like wandering through the crap that passes for the popular press in the UK.

The idea is interesting. Must be a few enterprising low-budget or not-so-low-budget examples on film. But, this analysis is lower than low budget.

iOS 11 drops tomorrow, the 19th


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Statement at Apple website: iOS 11 sets a new standard for what is already the world’s most advanced mobile operating system. It makes iPhone better than before. It makes iPad more capable than ever. And now it opens up both to amazing possibilities for augmented reality in games and apps. With iOS 11, iPhone and iPad are the most powerful, personal, and intelligent devices they’ve ever been.

Here in MDT, typically will drop at 11AM. The tvOS update should be rolling out, as well…though I’m still waiting for my fave reseller to get the 4K Gen 5 Apple TV.

Solar = 6¢ per kilowatt-hour, beating Obama’s goal by 3 years


Formerly the largest piggery in Massachusetts

❝ The Department of Energy has announced that utility-grade solar panels have hit cost targets set for 2020, three years ahead of schedule. Those targets reflect around $1 per watt and 6¢ per kilowatt-hour in Kansas City, the department’s mid-range yardstick for solar panel cost per unit of energy produced (New York is considered the high-cost end, and Phoenix, Arizona, which has much more sunlight than most other major cities in the country, reflects the low-cost end).

Those prices don’t include an Investment Tax Credit which makes solar panels even cheaper. The Energy Department said that the cost per watt was assessed in terms of total installed system costs for developers. That means the number is based on “the sales price paid to the installer; therefore, it includes profit in the cost of the hardware,”…

❝ The National Renewable Energy Laboratory, a DOE-funded lab that assesses solar panel cost, wrote that, compared to the first quarter in 2016, the first quarter in 2017 saw a 29-percent decline in installed cost for utility-scale solar, which was attributed to lower photovoltaic module and inverter prices, better panel efficiency, and reduced labor costs. Despite the plummeting costs for utility-scale solar, costs for commercial and residential solar panels have not fallen quite as quickly — just 15 percent and 6 percent, respectively…

❝ Now that utility-grade solar panels have crossed the finish line almost three years early, the DOE says that it’s setting a new goal line for 2030…Through the DOE’s Solar Energy Technologies Office, the federal department says it will start funding early stage projects focusing on “grid reliability, resilience, and storage.”

Too bad – for the moment – we’re saddled with an administration, White House, Congress and all – wholly committed to pimping for fossil fuel extraction and energy industries. Hopefully, the American electorate will learn to skip over idjits who prefer pimps to progress and elect some useful folks in 2018 and 2020.

Cassini Spacecraft Crashes into Saturn This Morning — Watch it live! Or Re-runs!


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❝ Friday, Sept. 15, NASA’s Cassini spacecraft will wrap up 20 historic years in space, collecting data as it crashes into Saturn’s atmosphere and burns up like a meteor…Today’s stories on Cassini’s demise…

NASA will air a series of webcasts leading up Cassini’s final suicide plunge, which you will be able to watch here at Space.com, courtesy of NASA TV…

❝ Friday, Sept. 15

❝ 7:00 a.m. to 8:30 a.m. EDT (1100 to 1230 GMT): Live commentary about end-of-mission activities. An uninterrupted camera feed from JPL Mission Control, with mission audio only, will also be available during the commentary…

❝ About 8 a.m. EDT (1200 GMT): Cassini’s last science data, and final signal, should come down to Earth.

❝ 9:30 a.m. EDT (1330 GMT): Post-mission news conference from JPL…

❝ The $3.2 billion Cassini-Huygens mission — a joint effort of NASA, the European Space Agency and the Italian Space Agency — launched in October 1997 and arrived in the Saturn system on June 30, 2004 (PDT)…

But nothing lasts forever. Cassini is nearly out of fuel; if it runs out completely, the probe’s handlers won’t be able to control it anymore. So they want to dispose of Cassini before things get to that point, which is why they’re sending the spacecraft on a death dive into Saturn on Sept. 15…

RTFA and wend your way through recent history of this space adventure. Hours of nothing but interesting articles, photos and video from serious science – as enjoyable as anything your intellect ever encounters.

There’s an Obvious Way to Hack Your Voice-Controlled Buddy

❝ Siri and Alexa can hear more than you can—and that’s a problem.

You may have thought that you’d be able to hear any rogue attempts to control your increasingly powerful voice assistant. But it turns out that the hardware and algorithms used to control devices like Amazon’s Echo speaker or Apple’s Siri can actually hear commands issued via ultrasound, which is above the range of human hearing.

❝ Researchers at Zhejiang University in China have shown that they can encode commands in high frequency sound that are still recognized by voice assistants. They take a regular human voice and use it to modulate an ultrasound signal—much like the way music can be encoded onto radio waves. Turns out, the mic on devices like an iPhone or Amazon Echo speaker can still detect the sound, and their signal-processing software also picks up the voice signals encoded on the wave.

❝ The researchers say that they have been able to activate Siri to initiate a FaceTime call on an iPhone, command Google Now to switch a phone to airplane mode, and even control the navigation system of an Audi. The same trick also works on Cortana and Alexa, too.

So, erm, those of us who have decided to cover the camera on our computing devices whenever we’re doing something we want kept private had better find easy and portable methods of keeping our devices from eavesdropping on us as well. Something simpler than carrying around a pillow.

Thanks, @SmartAlix