Science News Roundup 10/10/18

Compiled by Carl Slaughter:

An abundance of planets with an abundance of water

If you hope to one day wake up to the news that scientists have discovered a planet with alien life, the scientists working with the Kepler space telescope have some very good news for you. In a presentation at the Goldschmidt Conference in Boston, researchers from Harvard revealed that the data from the Kepler telescope suggests that water-covered planets are actually a lot more common than you might think.

NASA chief wants to populate space

NASA obviously has a huge interest in mankind exploring space, so it would make sense that the administration’s newly-appointed chief shares the same interests. In a recent interview with Space.com, NASA’s newly-appointed boss Jim Bridenstine makes a couple of interesting declarations, but starts by assuring everyone that he wants to get as many humans as possible off of planet Earth.

DARPA invests in AI research

At a symposium in Washington DC on Friday, DARPA announced plans to invest $2 billion in artificial intelligence research over the next five years. In a program called “AI Next,” the agency now has over 20 programs currently in the works and will focus on “enhancing the security and resiliency of machine learning and AI technologies, reducing power, data, performance inefficiencies and [exploring] ‘explainability'” of these systems. “Machines lack contextual reasoning capabilities, and their training must cover every eventuality, which is not only costly, but ultimately impossible,” said director Dr. Steven Walker.

Satellites that have satellite babies that have satellite babies

Mysterious Russian satellite worries experts

 

Ion rocket engines

Rocket Scientist Natalya Bailey owns a space startup called Accion Systems that specializes in making wafer thin engines that require a tiny fraction of energy that conventional rockets use. If successful, these ion thrusters could revolutionize how we will move through the final frontier.

 

Flying scooter

A man in South China claims to have created the world’s first ‘flying scooter,’ although we’d be remiss not to point out its resemblance to a large quadcopter drone.

According to United Press International (UPI), the aerial vehicle can seat one person and travel at a top speed of roughly 70 kilometers per hour. The machine’s maximum load is 99 kilograms.

AI glider learns how to fly

It took mankind untold eons to learn how to fly, but now artificial intelligence is doing something similar and in a fraction of the time. No, there’s no robots constructing planes like the Wright brothers, but some AI-powered gliders are indeed learning how to cruise through the air just like birds, and they’re getting pretty good at it.

14-year-old builds bullet proof wall to protect students during school shootings

Audrey Larson is a 14-year-old inventor.

For past competitions, she’s created glow-in-the-dark pajamas and a device to pet your dog. But this year, after hearing about the school shooting in Parkland, Florida, she felt compelled to focus on a more serious issue….

Mars habitat contest

Yes, we’ve yet to successfully send humans to Mars, but we already need to start thinking how we can stay there for long stretches of time — or even for good. NASA launched the 3D-Printed Habitat Challenge back in 2015 to find a suitable artificial housing for the first wave of Martian residents, and now the agency has narrowed the contestants down to five after seeing the realistic virtual models they created. The agency and its project partner, Illinois’ Bradley University, judged 18 teams’ models created using a specialized software.

The Earth is wobbling, the Earth is wobbling!

…Two of the three factors identified by the scientists are glacial rebound and mantle convection. Glacial rebound happens when thick ice sheets physically push down on land masses, compressing them, but then release that pressure upon melting. The land then balloons back up over time, causing Earth’s spin to wobble as if slightly off-axis. The effects of the last ice age, which would have compressed a huge amount of land across many continents, is still being felt today in the form of glacial rebound…

Hexagons on Saturn

Saturn sure has a thing for peculiar shapes! Astronomers have known for some time that Saturn’s north pole has developed a very odd hexagonal shape. The massive storm swirling there has well-defined sides, and is a near perfect hexagon. It also has a habit of changing color.

Now, using images gathered from the Cassini mission (rest in pieces), a new study reveals that there’s not one, but two massive hexagons swirling on Saturn’s northern half, and the new one is even higher than the other. As LiveScience notes, scientists haven’t figured out if the two are actually connected in any way, but it would be a pretty wild coincidence if they’re not.

Super soldiers now

Ever since Captain America debuted in Marvel Comics, scientists have been getting closer and closer to creating real-life super soldiers. With the help of Professor E. Paul Zehr and his new book ‘Chasing Captain America’, we’ll explore the origin and history of the Star Spangled Man and explain the science of the super soldier serum that turned Steve Rogers into the Sentinel of Liberty!

 

“Starfish, destroy!”

Australia’s Great Barrier Reef has seen better days. The massive natural wonder is dealing with the impacts of ocean warming (thanks to manmade climate change) which have pushed species away and killed off massive sections of coral, but that’s not the only problem the reef has been forced to deal with.

More recently, an influx of starfish have begun to take over the reef. This is thought to be the result of chemicals from human activity running into the ocean. As CNET reports, some of those chemicals can have the unintended effect of promoting breeding due to increases in algae, which is exactly what the starfish look for to keep their offspring alive. But now, researchers have a robotic ally to keep starfish populations in check, and it’s a real killer.

“Lionfish, destroy!”

Lionfish are incredibly eye-catching creatures, and they’re a favorite of salt water aquarium enthusiasts because they just plain look cool. They’re also an incredibly troublesome species when they are introduced in areas where they don’t belong, and coral reefs in the Caribbean are under serious threat from an invasion.

Now, researchers from the Worcester Polytechnic Institute have developed an autonomous robot that is capable of hunting down lionfish all on its own. But the bot doesn’t just identify and kill the invasive fish — using sharp spears to snag the fish and bring it down — it also allows for the dead fish to be fetched by fishermen who can harvest and sell it.

Is humanity about to accidentally declare war on an alien civilization?

…So let’s say we get it right. We develop the right material to reflect enough of the laser light that it doesn’t incinerate the sail. We collimate the lasers well-enough and build a large-enough array to accelerate these starchip spacecrafts to their designed speeds of 20% the speed of light: ~60,000 km/s. And then we aim them at a planet around a potentially habitable star, such as Alpha Centauri A or Tau Ceti.

Perhaps we’ll send an array of starchips to the same system, hoping to probe these systems and gain more information. After all, the main science goal, as it’s been proposed, is to simply take data during arrival and transmit it back. But there are three huge problems with this plan, and combined, they could be tantamount to a declaration of interstellar war….

Butler, Clarke, Kubrick Honored in First Official Feature Names for Pluto’s Largest Moon

Octavia Butler, Arthur C. Clarke, and Stanley Kubrick are among the real and fictitious sff figures honored in the first dozen names for surface features on Pluto’s largest moon, Charon, that were proposed by NASA’S New Horizons mission team and now have been made official by the IAU. 

The International Astronomical Union (IAU), the internationally recognized authority for naming celestial bodies and their surface features, recently approved some of the names the New Horizons science team had been using informally to describe the valleys, crevices and craters discovered during that first close-up look at Charon’s surface.

Many of the feature names in the Pluto system pay homage to the spirit of human exploration, honoring travelers, explorers and scientists, pioneering journeys, and mysterious destinations. The approved Charon names focus on the literature and mythology of exploration. They are listed here:

Argo Chasma is named for the ship sailed by Jason and the Argonauts, in the epic Latin poem Argonautica, during their quest for the Golden Fleece.

Butler Mons honors Octavia E. Butler, the first science fiction writer to win a MacArthur fellowship, and whose Xenogenesis trilogy describes humankind’s departure from Earth and subsequent return.

Caleuche Chasma is named for the mythological ghost ship that travels the seas around the small island of Chiloé, off the coast of Chile; according to legend the Caleuche explores the coastline collecting the dead, who then live aboard it forever.

Clarke Montes honors Sir Arthur C. Clarke, the prolific science fiction writer and futurist whose novels and short stories (including “2001: A Space Odyssey”) were imaginative depictions of space exploration.

Dorothy Crater recognizes the protagonist in the series of children’s novels, by L. Frank Baum, that follows Dorothy Gale’s travels to and adventures in the magical world of Oz.

Kubrick Mons honors film director Stanley Kubrick, whose iconic “2001: A Space Odyssey” tells the story of humanity’s evolution from tool-using hominids to space explorers and beyond.

Mandjet Chasma is named for one of the boats in Egyptian mythology that carried the sun god Ra (Re) across the sky each day – making it one of the earliest mythological examples of a vessel of space travel.

Nasreddin Crater is named for the protagonist in thousands of humorous folktales told throughout the Middle East, southern Europe and parts of Asia.

Nemo Crater is named for the captain of the Nautilus, the submarine in Jules Verne’s novels Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea (1870) and The Mysterious Island (1874).

Pirx Crater is named for the main character in a series of short stories by Stanislaw Lem, who travels between the Earth, Moon and Mars.

Revati Crater is named for the main character in the Hindu epic narrative Mahabharata — widely regarded as the first in history (circa 400 BC) to include the concept of time travel.

Sadko Crater recognizes the adventurer who traveled to the bottom of the sea in the medieval Russian epic Bylina.

“Charon is among the 10 largest bodies in the Kuiper Belt, a world unto itself, with a fascinating geological history and many kinds of geological features beyond the craters seen on most moons,” said Alan Stern, New Horizons principal investigator from Southwest Research Institute, Boulder, Colorado. “Now those features, and some of Charon’s most important craters, have official names.”

In moving the names through approval, Stern lauded the work of the New Horizons Nomenclature Working Group, which along with Stern included science team members Mark Showalter – the group’s chairman and liaison to the IAU – Ross Beyer, Will Grundy, William McKinnon, Jeff Moore, Cathy Olkin, Paul Schenk and Amanda Zangari. The team gathered most of their ideas during the ”Our Pluto” online public naming campaign in 2015.

“The names reflect the diversity of recommendations we received during the Our Pluto campaign,” noted Showalter, a senior research scientist at the SETI Institute in Mountain View, California. “We are delighted that so many people from all over the world have contributed to the new names on the map of Charon.”

[Click for larger image]

[Thanks to Steven H Silver for the story. Post is based on the NASA press release.]

Submitted for Your Consideration

By John Hertz:  Those words always remind me of Rod Serling and The Twilight Zone. Now in Electronicland it may be easier to find than when originally broadcast.

Rod Serling was an Antioch boy, as am I.  So was Rusty Hevelin who knew him there and dated Coretta Scott. I never knew any of them in college; they were far ahead of me.  Lots of folks are far ahead of me.

I submit for your consideration Scott Kelly and André Ceolin’s book My Journey to the Stars. I’m nominating it in the Hugos for Related Work.

This is the aimed-at-children version of Kelly’s near-year on the International Space Station (we have a Space Station!), illustrated with both photographs and Ceolin’s pictures.  Kelly’s aimed-at-adults version Endurance is good too, but Journey’s my nominee.

Scott Kelly and his identical-twin brother Mark joined the U.S. Nat’l Aeronautics & Space Adm’n in the same year, the only twins in NASA history.  One on Earth, one in Space, was part of this mission.

Telling a story is an art.  Telling a story to children is an art.  What do you put in?

At the end of last month – the very end, January 31st – while I was a third of the way through Endurance, I reported in Vanamonde 1286 (Van is only on paper, links added here):

Today is National Gorilla Suit Day (Don Martin Bounces Back, 1963).  I’ve just come to the passage in Scott Kelly’s Endurance (2017) where his twin brother Mark announces sending a gorilla suit to Scott at the International Space Station.

“Of course you need a gorilla suit,” Mark says (p. 219, in the large-print edition, which is what I could get).

Its launching rocket explodes, but – this is ahead of where I am in the book – another is sent, upon arrival captured with a robot arm (p. 498) by Kjell (pronounced “chell”) Lindgren, who also while at the Station 22 Jul – 11 Dec 15 was a long-distance Guest of Honor of Sasquan the 73rd World Science Fiction Convention, presenting the Hugo Award for Best Novel by video.

Indeed Scott gorillas up, as he puts it (p. 529), of which a video got onto the Internet 23 Feb 16.

Endurance doesn’t mention the Hugo (to which Our Gracious Host commented “the noive!”, presumably not to express an opinion about the NERVA), but since it does include the gorilla suit a case could be made that it shows a sense of proportion.  Neither book mentions Heinlein’s Time for the Stars.

Endurance has six hundred pages.  Journey has seventeen hundred words.

Endurance had the help of Margaret Lazarus Dean; Journey, Emily Easton.  Scott says he came home from the Station with 500,000 photographs.  Journey has forty, with a dozen photo credits beside his.

Scott calls Mark his perfect copy – on the 5th page of Journey (the pages aren’t numbered), under four photos of them at various ages dressed and acting – almost – identically.  By the fourth photo they’re both adults; they both have shaved heads; Mark has a mustache; their insignia – and faces – are different.

Some of the photos in Journey match Ceolin’s pictures.  On the 12th page is a photo of the twins with their Grandma, an inset to Ceolin’s picture on the 12th and 13th of the twins with Grandma and Pop Pop.  The twins are wearing almost the same shirts as in the photo.  You can see how Ceolin shows Grandma and how the photo does.

By the 16th page Mom has decided to become a police officer; the 17th shows Scott pretending to be hurt so she can practice dragging him to safety.  On the 19th they’re doing that in a photo.

Ceolin is very sparing in detail.  I was about to say “like cartoons” but some cartoons spare almost nothing.  What is realism?

Journey starts at the end.

It’s been 340 days since I set foot on Earth.  I’ve spent almost a full year living and working on the International Space Station (ISS).  It’s the hardest thing I’ve ever done.

I miss fresh air and the feel of rain on my face.  I miss hugging my daughters and my girlfriend, Amiko.

At last, it’s time to get into the spaceship that will take me home.

Before this text is a photo of Scott in NASA uniform between his two daughters.  Under the text is a photo of Scott in Navy uniform with Amiko.  Maybe you can tell whether they’re in front of Sleeping Beauty Castle, Cinderella Castle, Enchanted Storybook Castle, or Le Château de la Belle au Bois Dormant.

We see these photos because a spacesuited hand is holding them.  Why a suit?  He wears it, not on the Station, but to and from.  He’s on his way home.

In another story the King of Hearts tells the White Rabbit “Begin at the beginning, and go on till you come to the end: then stop.” Almost nothing happens there that isn’t some kind of joke.  The author probably knew the Roman poet Horace said in praise of Homer “He snatches the reader into the midst of the action”; maybe also knew the Greek historian Polybius said  “The cause or purpose is the first origin of all, the beginning coming last.”

One-quarter of Journey has Scott on the Station.

The four-twins-photos page takes us to their childhood.  In one of the photos each boy is holding a fish; on the next page Ceolin shows them fishing.  The water runs under the photos, and behind the text, on the previous page.

Eighteen pages later they’re test pilots in the Navy.  After that, and joining NASA, they each fly into Space four times.

Scott’s long term on the Station is part of NASA planning for Mars.  That trip will call for longer in Space than human beings have ever been.  Scott tests his brain, blood, eyes, muscles, and bones.  Mark on Earth does the same tests.

Scott and his crew run four hundred experiments.  Some are on the crew.  Some are on mice.  Some are flowers and lettuce.  This is the first crew to eat fresh vegetables grown on the Station.

When he does finally get home he walks straight to his swimming pool and jumps in with all his clothes on.

I could have put in how he was a terrible student until he read The Right Stuff, how his parents fought but his Dad helped his Mom train for the police, and how Mark got hit by a car but when he came back from the hospital Scott thought Mark had the better deal.

I could have put in a love poem from Amiko to Scott which is in Endurance along with chocolate and horse milk.

In another story Polynesia the parrot asks Tommy Stubbins “Are you a good noticer?”  I think Journey, by design or instinct or both, an immensely – can’t measure it –  subtle book.  Its parts complement, correspond, connect.

Journey is amazing.  That’s its second-to-last word.

                             

P.S.  I have two more recommendations: Greg Benford’s novel The Berlin Project which I think extraordinary, and Larry Niven’s short story “By the Red Giant’s Light” (Nov-Dec Fantasy & Science Fiction)  which I think a masterwork.  Niven is a pointillist.  He paints dots of bright color and leaves us to see the whole.

Science Roundup

Compiled by Carl Slaughter: (1) Black hole pairs: “Scientist Find Treasure Trove of Giant Black Hole Pairs”.

For decades, astronomers have known that Supermassive Black Holes (SMBHs) reside at the center of most massive galaxies. These black holes, which range from being hundreds of thousands to billions of Solar masses, exert a powerful influence on surrounding matter and are believed to be the cause of Active Galactic Nuclei (AGN). For as long as astronomers have known about them, they have sought to understand how SMBHs form and evolve.

In two recently published studies, two international teams of researchers report on the discovery of five newly-discovered black hole pairs at the centers of distant galaxies. This discovery could help astronomers shed new light on how SMBHs form and grow over time, not to mention how black hole mergers produce the strongest gravitational waves in the Universe.

(2) It’s for you: “Scientists made the first ‘unhackable’ quantum video call”.

Traditional methods of digital communication rely on certain mathematical functions, which can be hacked with the right tools and know-how. Quantum communications, however, send information embedded in entangled particles of light, in this instance by a satellite named Micius, in a process which is said to be completely unhackable. It’s so secure that anyone even attempting to infiltrate the communication without authorization will be uncovered. As Johannes Handsteiner from the Austrian Academy of Sciences explained, “If somebody attempts to intercept the photons exchanged between the satellite and the ground station and to measure their polarization, the quantum state of the photons will be changed by this measurement attempt, immediately exposing the hackers.”

(3) NASA / Russia moon station: “NASA and Russia agree to work together on Moon space station”.

This is part of NASA’s expressed desire to explore and develop its so-called “deep space gateway” concept, which it intends to be a strategic base from which to expand the range and capabilities of human space exploration. NASA wants to get humans out into space beyond the Moon, in other words, and the gateway concept would establish an orbital space station in the vicinity of the Moon to help make this a more practical possibility.

(4) I like ?. Pi, the Golden Number, impossible engineering, and the Egyptian pyramids..

Vale, Cassini

NASA photo shows where Cassini entered Saturn’s atmosphere.

NASA’s 20-year Cassini mission ended today when the probe was intentionally sent into the atmosphere of Saturn, destroyed to prevent any risk of contamination of the planet’s moons which will be studied in years to come.

Telemetry received during the plunge indicates that, as expected, Cassini entered Saturn’s atmosphere with its thrusters firing to maintain stability, as it sent back a unique final set of science observations. Loss of contact with the Cassini spacecraft occurred at 4:55 a.m. PDT (7:55 a.m. EDT), with the signal received by NASA’s Deep Space Network antenna complex in Canberra, Australia.

 

And Bobak Ferdowsi imagines Cassini’s last moments in a touching set of anthropomorphic tweets which begins here:

[Thanks to JJ for the story.]

Quick Science Roundup

By Carl Slaughter: (1) E.T.’s stand-ins. US military preparing for alien attack and Cold War in space. Reader reaction: “Build a dome around the Earth and make the aliens pay for it.” — “US military training space warriors for ‘extraterrestrial conflict'”.

A real life Independence Day may not be far away. Only this time there is no defined threat the military is working against, although it is about “extraterrestrial combat”.

Space Aggressors is what the US military is calling them, a team of soldiers training at a warehouse near Colorado’s Rocky Mountains. Their job is to act like the enemy during mock space battles to help US units prepare for a conflict that may one day extend to outer space.

“We play the bad guys,” Captain Christopher Barnes, chief of training for the 26th Space Aggressor Squadron told the Seeker. “We study threats to the space realm, either coming from space or based on land. If we can’t directly replicate them with hardware, then we figure out if there’s a software solution or some way we can train people to the point where they can fight through them, if they have to, in a conflict,” he says.

(2) Eclipse safety glasses. The peeps look up. “Solar Eclipse Glasses: Where to Buy the Best, High-Quality Eyewear”

If you’re one of the tens of millions of Americans who will experience the Great American Total Solar Eclipse on Aug. 21, hopefully you’ve heard by now that you’re going to need eye protection for the big event.

But not all solar viewers are created equal. Using the wrong gear (or using it incorrectly) can burn your retinas, causing irreparable damage to your eyes

(3) Holograms. “Five surprising ways holograms are revolutionising the world”

Technically, all of these are misrepresentations of holography — either special cinematic effects, video projections onto water and smoke, or a hi-tech version of an old Victorian stage trick called Pepper’s Ghost. But holograms are big business. It is suggested that by 2020 the market for genuine, display holograms will be worth US$5.5 billion — so how are they impacting society? Here are five of the most incredible ways they are being used.

1. Military mapping

Geographic intelligence is an essential part of military strategy and fully dimensional holographic images are being used to improve reconnaissance. One American company has delivered over 13,000 3D holographic maps of “battle-spaces” for the US army. This allows soldiers to view three-dimensional terrain, look “around” corners and helps with mission training.

The company does this by taking complex computerised image data, which they make into a holographic sheet. Not only can users “look into” the high quality 3D image of the terrain stored in the hologram sheet, but the technology is simple to use and can be rolled up for easy storage and transportation. It all sounds very Star Wars, but the maps are also useful in disaster evacuation and rescue scenarios.

(4) Drones. Court strikes down FCC regulation requiring drone registration. “The FAA was just forced to lift its drone registration requirements”.

Being a drone owner requires a few things. You need decent amount of cash if you want the high-end hardware, along with the patience and willingness to learn how to actually fly the thing. As of 2015, you also needed to register the aircraft (if weighs a half pound or more) with the Federal Aviation Administration. Now, a federal court in Washington, D.C. has ruled against that requirement, deeming the FAA’s mandatory registration “unlawful.

Around the World of Science

By Carl Slaughter: (1) Chinese cowboy astronauts. “China considering mission to ‘capture’ asteroid and fire it into moon’s orbit”.

China plans to ‘capture’ an asteroid by landing and anchoring a spacecraft on its surface, fire up multiple rocket boosters and project it into the orbit of the moon.

The excavation of mineral ores and its transportation back to Earth will be undertaken by robots, Ye was quoted as saying.

He estimated that it could take another four decades before China will have the necessary technology and infrastructure in place to mine the asteroid.

(2) Welcome to the Moon, Chinese astronaut.  Now park it. “China simulates extended moon stays amid space drive”.

China is testing the ability for future astronauts to stay on the moon for extended periods, as Beijing accelerates its space program and looks to put people on the surface of the moon within the next two decades.

The official Xinhua news agency said volunteers would live in a “simulated space cabin” for between 60-200 days over the next year helping scientists understand what will be needed for humans to “remain on the moon in the medium and long terms”.

Chinese President Xi Jinping has called for China to become a global power in space exploration, with plans to send a probe to the dark side of the moon by 2018, the first ever such trip, and to put astronauts on the moon by 2036.

(3) Latest Silicon Valley perk:  freeze your (dead) body. “Cryonic freezing is the coolest employee perk in Silicon Valley — literally”.

The good news? Numerai‘s new employee benefit is — quite literally — the coolest one we have heard about. The bad news? You won’t be able to enjoy it until you’re dead.

“We are allowing employees cryonic body preservation as a benefit,” Richard Craib, founder of Numerai, told Digital Trends. “Employees sign up through a life insurance policy and upon legal death, the life insurance claim is handed over to cryonics provider Alcor.”

(4) Bioprint  –  body parts from 3-D printers. “Ability to ‘print off’ new body parts within next 10 years as 3D bioprinting continues to grow”.

Most promising is its potential applications within healthcare, where 3D printing is poised to open up a new age of regenerative medicine allowing doctors to print off human cells.

3D bioprinting is the process by which 3D printing technology is used to create artificial tissue. Recent advancements in the field have enabled researchers to 3D print living human skin, blood vessels and even a human ear.

(5) Trump consults Gore  –  twice. “Trump has been talking to Al Gore about the Paris Climate Agreement. Seriously.”

President Donald Trump can’t seem to make up his mind about whether to keep the U.S. in the landmark Paris Climate Agreement or pull out of the pact altogether, but there are signs he is getting advice from across the ideological spectrum.

(6) Robots are getting closer to fully imitating human motion. “This bipedal running robot is the last thing you’ll see before robots claim the Earth”.

Robotics engineers with companies like Boston Dynamics have been hard at work on complex computer systems paired with motion sensors and gyroscopes to give their bipedal robots the stability they need to, well, be useful. But what if such robots didn’t need computers to help them remain upright? A new robot design called the Planar Elliptical Runner, engineered and built by the Institute for Human and Machine Cognition in Florida, can not only run via two legs, it can do without any added stability technology.

Science Snapshots

By Carl Slaughter: (1) Trump bring space council out of retirement. “Executive Order Creating National Space Council Expected Soon”.

An executive order by President Trump reestablishing the National Space Council is already written and is likely to be formally issued in the near future, a key advisor said May 1.

The recreation of the council, which last operated during the administration of President George H.W. Bush a quarter-century ago, could play a key role fostering the development of so-called Ultra Low-Cost Access to Space (ULCATS) systems, said attendees of a symposium here on the subject.

“The recommendation coming out of the Trump campaign to create the National Space Council is going to happen,” said Robert Walker, the former chairman of the House Science Committee who served as a space policy advisor to the campaign last fall. “It’s a way of ensuring that the nation’s resources are all directed towards national goals.”

(2) Planet cloaking technology, and why we should use it. “Why And How Aliens May Know Humans Exist”.

What would it take to hide an entire planet? It sounds more like a question posed in an episode of “Star Trek” than in academic discourse, but sometimes the bleeding edge of science blurs with themes found in science fiction.

Of course we’ve been leaking our own position to distant stars via radio and television signals for six decades now, largely ignorant of the cosmic implications. But several notable scientists, such as Stephen Hawking, have publicly voiced concerns about revealing our presence to other civilizations. These concerns largely draw from the darker chapters of our own history, when a more advanced civilization would subjugate and displace a less advanced one.

It might be too late for us to withdraw back into invisibility, but maybe not for other intelligent alien civilizations out there. A far-off planet’s inhabitants might prefer to hide from the likes of us. Recently, my graduate student Alex Teachey and I published a paper that proposes a way to cloak planets, as well as a way to broadcast a civilization’s existence. Even if we’re not manipulating our own signal in this way, it doesn’t mean other planets out there aren’t. It’s possible what we see as we scan the universe for other habitable planets has been engineered to disguise or highlight the existence of other civilizations.

(3) Battlin’ bots. “Chinese inventors show off the gladiator robot they want to use to challenge the US’ ‘Megabot'”. (Video)

Chinese inventors have created a $14 million fighting robot called “The Monkey King”. This is the third “gladiator” robot to be revealed, after the US and Japan unveiled their models.

The team has officially challenged the US’ “MK III Megabot” to a duel, but will have to wait until after an announced fight between the US and Japan’s Kuratas. Both creators are touting the duel as “the world’s first public giant robot fight” and hope to make it a worldwide phenomenon

(4) Space exploration summit in Washington, DC, May 16th. “Senator Ted Cruz, NASA’s Acting Administrator Robert Lightfoot, Space and Mars Experts to Join The Atlantic’s Summit on the Future of American Space Exploration”.

Space discovery has been an enduring source of national pride, since Project Mercury and the Vostok Program first competed to put men into orbit in the 1950s and ‘60s. In recent years, new players have taken prominent roles in ambitious missions, including space tourism and missions to Mars. At this junction in space exploration, The Atlantic will convene “On the Launchpad: Return to Deep Space,” a summit gathering policymakers, key players from NASA, and space industry experts to explore the future of extraterrestrial travel on Tuesday, May 16, at the Newseum in Washington, D.C.

Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX), chairman of the Senate Subcommittee on Space, Science, and Competitiveness, will be interviewed at the event. Discussions will also include acting NASA administrator Robert Lightfoot on the future of NASA, and former NASA chief scientist Ellen Stofan on what it would take for the U.S. to launch a mission to Mars. Chris Carberry, the CEO and co-founder of Explore Mars, Inc and Dr. Robert Zubrin, founder of Mars Society, will discuss the science of getting to the red planet.

(5) “Scientists should just be political.”  –  The Atlantic. “The Case for the Politicization of Science”.

“… It is a miserable time for science. America has an almost non-existent climate policy, its support for basic research is flagging, and its congressmen harass individual scientists in the name of ideology …”

“… Now, that remarkable and fictional woman—the discovery-obsessed doyenne whose face is in every public library in America—was here, on a sign, in the rain, near the White House, protesting a president who brags about grabbing women’s vaginas. I felt bad about the shabbiness of the whole scene, and I felt bad specifically for Ms. Frizzle, who, after a lifetime of teaching third graders, has to spend her twilight years doing … this …”

“… The problem of our political system isn’t an insufficient love of science. Sixty-seven percent of U.S. adults think scientists “should have a major role in policy decisions,” as do nearly half of self-identified conservative Republicans. When you set aside the issue of climate change, Americans of both parties do equally well on tests of basic scientific literacy …”

“…  So if scientists want to do politics, they should do it all out. They shouldn’t worry about the stain of asserting their self-interest. They should take chances—they should get messy.”

(6) They fought the law. “Canada fought the war on science. Here’s how scientists won.”

Chris Turner is the author of The War on Science: Muzzled Scientists and Wilful Blindness in Stephen Harper’s Canada

For Canadians like me, the March for Science, in particular, brought not just encouragement but a sense of déjà vu, tinged with relief. For President Trump is not the first chief executive of a major Western nation to wage a war on science. Until Stephen Harper’s Conservative government was voted out of power in 2015, it spent nearly a decade as the free world’s chief aggressor on this front. Under Harper, the Canadian government waged a steady attack on science and data the administration deemed unnecessary or unhelpful to its agenda. Harper cancelled the long-form census — the government’s most important data-gathering tool — and slashed budgets for climate science programs. He mothballed vital environmental research labs and rewrote environmental protection legislation in the fine print of budget bills.

… In the summer of 2012, in the wake of the introduction of Harper’s most aggressively anti-science budget, a few hundred protesters marched from an Ottawa conference center hosting a biology symposium to Parliament Hill, in a protest styled as a mock funeral for the Death of Evidence. As in the March for Science last weekend, many of the Ottawa marchers were working scientists who’d never before participated in a protest. Many wore white lab coats to signal their allegiance to a set of principles long assumed to be above the partisan fray.

Five years later, the Canadian government and its institutions are back in the hands of leaders who respect the scientific method and value the expertise of scientists on their payrolls (and beyond)….

Eight Pieces of Science

By Carl Slaughter:

(1) 3-D printer robot constructs building. “MIT researchers create a robot that can 3-D-print a building in hours”.

The future of construction just got a little bit more real. Researchers at MIT have created a mobile robot that can 3-D-print an entire building in a matter of hours — a technology that could be used in disaster zones, on inhospitable planets or even in our proverbial backyards.

Though the platform described in the journal Science Robotics is still in early stages, it could offer a revolutionary tool for the construction industry and inspire more architects to rethink the relationship of buildings to people and the environment.

(2) Time travel is “mathematically possible.”  It’s all in the curve. “Building a real-life TARDIS is mathematically possible, say physicists”.

Tippett and colleague David Tsang from the University of Maryland have used Einstein’s theory of general relativity to come up with their mathematical model for time travel. They claim that the division of space into three dimensions, with time in a separate dimension by itself, is incorrect. Their model instead conceptualizes space-time as a continuum, whereby different directions are connected within the curved fabric of the universe.

Tippett reminds us that time is curved in the same way that space is: “The time direction of the space-time surface also shows curvature. There is evidence showing the closer to a black hole we get, time moves slower. My model of a time machine uses the curved space-time — to bend time into a circle for the passengers, not in a straight line. That circle takes us back in time.”

(3) NASA is running out of spacesuits.  (This better be a hoax.) “NASA Is Running Out of Space Suits”.

NASA seems to be running out of space suits for astronauts, according to a new report by the space agency‘s auditor, NASA’s Office of Inspector General (OIG)…..

(4) Mystery excuse. Elon Musk we know, but what’s the National Reconnaissance Office? “SpaceX delays launch of secretive satellite for U.S. Intelligence agency”.

Elon Musk’s SpaceX has pushed back its launch of a mysterious satellite for the U.S. intelligence community because of a sensor issue.

(5) “Our laser beam is better than your laser beam.” “Straight Out of ‘Star Wars’: This ‘Death Star’ Laser Actually Works”.

 If it has a beam and if it can destroy an enemy spaceship, it’s a laser.  And a laser is a laser is a laser.  But it seems there’s always one more laser that operates differently than the others.  “Yes, but our laser uses energy transmission.”  “Yes, but our laser uses directed energy.”  “Yes, but our laser uses X-rays.”  “Yes, but our laser is more destructive than your laser.”  “Yes, but out laser is portable.”  And now, “Yes, but out laser uses convergence.”  If your laser can destroy a terrorist bomb without detonating the bomb, then you’ve got something.  Me, I’ll settle for a laser in a doctor’s office if it can eliminate the mole on my face so I don’t cut it open when I shave.

(6) Why Living On The Starship Enterprise Would Actually Be Awful.

(7) Scientist celebrities. “‘Genius’ director Ron Howard reveals why he’s on a mission to turn scientists into celebrities”.

Ron Howard’s new television series “Genius” continues the filmmaker’s decades-long love affair with science.

“Look at what Silicon Valley has meant to our economy and our ongoing influence around the world. … What we don’t want to do is cede that position to other countries, other nations, other cultures,” Howard told Business Insider.

Howard was born in 1954, was around for the first moon landings, the rise of personal computing, and the advent of the internet — but he’s also seen the missed opportunities.

“We could have had the [Large] Hadron Collider. But 15 years ago we decided not to fund that. So I’ve always lamented the fact that we didn’t stay in that pole position on that front of exploration,” he said.

(8) Fortune magazine interviews Bill Nye. “‘Science Guy’ Bill Nye’s New Mission”.

How big a danger is fake science and science denial?
Science denial is a big concern right now. Carl Sagan wrote about this 40 years ago—that if you had a society that is increasingly dependent on technology and you have fewer and fewer people who know how it all works, that’s a formula for a disaster. If we have people who refuse to get vaccinated, they become petri dishes for mutating germs. Soon we are going to have 9 or 10 billion people in the world, and those people are going to have to eat, they are going to have to get along, and they all are going to want clean water. And that depends on science—depends on technology that’s derived from science. So if you have people who don’t accept the process by which we create all this wonderful stuff, you’re going to have trouble.

Science Six-Pack

By Carl Slaughter:  (1) Google’s super secret anti-aging research. “Google is super secretive about its anti-aging research. No one knows why.”.

We should pause for a moment to note how strange this is. One of the biggest and most profitable companies in the world has taken an interest in aging research, with about as much funding as NIH’s entire budget for aging research, yet it’s remarkably opaque.

Google also prides itself for being a leader on transparency and for its open culture. And we’re living in a time when the norms in science, particularly biomedical science, are centered around openness and data sharing. But these values have somehow eluded Calico.

For now, I think it’s safe to say Google has not solved aging. Or if it did, they haven’t told anybody.

(2) Inside DARPA. “Inside DARPA, The Pentagon Agency Whose Technology Has ‘Changed the World'”.

Welcome back to FRESH AIR. What are some of the most impressive successes of DARPA?

SHARON WEINBERGER: Well, let’s start with the first success that has really cemented DARPA’s reputation today. And that would be ARPANET, which was the precursor and laid the foundation for the modern Internet. That is undoubtedly the agency’s biggest success. And because of the name itself, ARPANET is sort of synonymous with DARPA today. But there are many other innovations that they get less credit for but in fact go back directly to the agency’s work. The driverless cars, autonomous self-driving cars that are now coming to fruition date back to a series of robotic car races that DARPA sponsored beginning in 2004, 2005.

Some of DARPA’s other biggest, quote, unquote, “successes” are stealth aircraft. They sponsored the development of the first stealth prototype aircraft in the 1970s. Precision weapons is another DARPA innovation. Drones, particularly the Predator drone that we now associate with the wars in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere date back to DARPA sponsorship.

(3) Scientists versus politicians. “A Cold War theory for why scientists and the government have become so estranged”.

Indeed, a big reason why tens of thousands of scientists rallied in cities around the country last weekend was to counter what they see as “anti-science” attitudes taking hold in the United States — particularly in the US government. The March for Science, according to organizer Jonathan Berman, a biology postdoc at the University of Texas Health Science Center, sent “the message that we need to have decisions being made based on a thoughtful evaluation of evidence.”

But this raises the obvious question: Was the United States ever pro-science? Was there a golden age? And if so, why were things so different then? What’s changed?

(4) Space firms warn Congress. “US space firms tell Washington: China will take over the moon if you’re not careful”.

Robert Bigelow, a real-estate mogul who now operates an eponymous company dedicated to creating space habitats and building facilities on the moon, warned the Senate hearing that without a global legal framework, the US could be left behind.

“China is very pre-disposed to ownership, whether its creating the islands in South China Sea, properties in massive quantities that they’ve purchased in South America or Africa, whether you open a [foreign subsidiary in China] and can only own 49% of it,” he said. “China could exercise an effort to start to lay claim to certain lunar territories. I don’t think it’s a joke, I don’t think it’s something to be cavalier about. Such an ownership consequence would have an amazing impact on the image of China vis-a-vis the United States and the rest of the world, if they should own large amounts of territory on that body, if we stood back and we were not prepared.”

Chinese astronauts Jing Haipeng (R), Chen Dong wave before the launch of Shenzhou-11 manned spacecraft, in Jiuquan, China, October 17, 2016.

(5) Ted Cruz:  Unleash the commercial spaceships. “To infinity and beyond: Ted Cruz looks to encourage commercial space exploration”.

The Texas Republican convened a panel of top executives at private space exploration companies to solicit suggestions for reducing regulatory barriers to encourage further innovation.

By opening more commercial options for space exploration, Cruz said, they could be creating “the real possibility that in the not-too-distant future, American private citizens will be able to reach space from a launch pad or a runway in Texas.”

(6) Water covered planets. “Most Habitable Alien Planets May Be Totally Covered in Water”.

 Earth may be special because of its water, but not in the way you may think. A new study published in The Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society suggests that we may actually have less of it than average.

Astronomer Fergus Simpson of the University of Barcelona ran a series of computer simulations to determine what planets orbiting in their star’s habitable zones would look like. Habitable zone planets like Earth are the perfect distance from their host stars for liquid water to form on the surface and are prime candidates in the search for extraterrestrial life.

Simpson simulated what would happen to a wide range of habitable zone planets given a variety of starting conditions. The results were that planets tend to be either mostly water or mostly land, with very few in the middle. Most planets with any significant amount of water are likely to be dominated by it, and most planets in the habitable zone are almost completely waterworlds.