Archive for the ‘Space’ Category

One of the biggest fears with AI is that it’ll evolve a mind of its own, capable of reasoning, figuring things out, and then ultimately deciding that it would be better off without us pesky humans around.  And while we are a long way away from that happening we do have some pretty interesting developments happening with AI.  Such as the latest breakthrough involving a Universe simulator that somehow knows things it shouldn’t.

Futurism explains:

“Since we can’t travel billions of years back in time — not yet, anyways — one of the best ways to understand how our universe evolved is to create computer simulations of the process using what we do know about it.

Most of those simulations fall into one of two categories: slow and more accurate, or fast and less accurate. But now, an international team of researchers has built an AI that can quickly generate highly-accurate, three-dimensional simulations of the universe — even when they tweak parameters the system wasn’t trained on.

‘It’s like teaching image recognition software with lots of pictures of cats and dogs, but then it’s able to recognize elephants,’ researcher Shirley Ho said in a press release. “Nobody knows how it does this, and it’s a great mystery to be solved.”

This is more than just a neat party trick though.  It’s actually a very useful ability, one that scientists can use to make inferences about how the Universe works.  For instance, you could run multiple simulations, tweaking the percent of dark matter present in the Universe in each of those simulations, and then look at the results as a means of investigating what a real multiverse might look like.  Creating models in this manner, aided by an artificial intelligence capable of knowing things it shouldn’t, could be exactly what we need in order to crack some of the deepest mysteries of the Universe, answering the eternal questions about where we came from and where we’re going.

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Is an all knowing AI the Greatest Idea Ever?


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We’ve come a long way when it comes to peering into the Universe, going from thinking that everything in our solar system revolved around the Earth to being able to find potentially habitable exo-planets orbiting around stars hundreds of light years away.  We even just imaged a black hole for the first time and inch closer and closer to figuring out what Dark Matter is.  However, we’ve still have a long way to go before we go actually detect life on any of those exo-planets or say with certainty how the Universe began or why it’s continuing to expand.

To help us answer those enduring questions that keep us up at night we need better tools.  Highly sensitive, large-scale instruments that give us a level of clarity multiple factors above today’s standards.  After all, we were only able to image that black hole by literally turning the entire Earth into a giant telescope thanks to a network of inter-connected satellites scattered across the globe.  The new James Webb Telescope, Hubble’s replacement, is supposed to help with that.  It’s supposedly powerful enough to spot a single firefly millions of miles away.  But even that isn’t good enough.

No, what we need.  What we really need is a way to escape Earth all together.  A way to build a massive telescope in space where size limitations won’t matter.  Telescopes so large that they’ll be able to see just about anything.  Even image the surface of distant planets.

And soon we may have a way to do just that.

As Wired puts it:

“If we ever have giant inflatable telescopes in space, you can thank Chris Walker’s mom. Years ago, Walker was making chocolate pudding when he had to interrupt his culinary undertaking to field a phone call from his mother. He took the pudding off the stovetop, covered it with plastic wrap, and placed the pot on the floor by his couch. When the call was finished, he was startled to find an image of a light bulb from a nearby lamp hovering over the end of the couch. When he investigated the cause of this apparition, he found that a pocket of cold air formed as the pudding cooled, and that had caused the center of the plastic wrap to sag toward the pudding. This, in effect, formed a lens that was reflecting the light bulb.

“I thought ‘Hey, this is cool, but I have no use for it now,’” Walker, a professor of astronomy at the University of Arizona, says. But 30 years later, he used it as the basis for a proposal he sent to NASA Innovative Advanced Concepts, a program that funds far-out aerospace ideas.

The subject of that proposal was essentially a way to turn a giant inflatable beach ball into a space telescope. This suborbital balloon reflector wouldn’t contend with as much atmospheric interference as ground-based instruments. Furthermore, it could be easily scaled up, opening vast swaths of the universe to observation without the hefty price tag associated with building large telescopes.”

Personally, I love this idea.  Installing huge telescopes in space is an idea that I’ve long held.  I just didn’t know how to actually plan out the logistics to make it happen.  But thanks to Chris Walker and his mom now we do.  Secrets of the Universe here we come!

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Are giant inflatable telescopes the Greatest Idea Ever?

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We all learned in school that there are three phase of water: solid, liquid, and gas.  However, that may not be entirely true.  As it turns out there be another, more exotic, phase of water and it may be extremely abundant throughout the Universe.

As Wired reports, “The findings, published this week in Nature, confirm the existence of “superionic ice,” a new phase of water with bizarre properties. Unlike the familiar ice found in your freezer or at the north pole, superionic ice is black and hot. A cube of it would weigh four times as much as a normal one. It was first theoretically predicted more than 30 years ago, and although it has never been seen until now, scientists think it might be among the most abundant forms of water in the universe.”

But what if there’s more to it than that? What if superionic ice isn’t a new phase of water at all?

“Depending on whom you ask, superionic ice is either another addition to water’s already cluttered array of avatars or something even stranger. Because its water molecules break apart, said the physicist Livia Bove of France’s National Center for Scientific Research and Pierre and Marie Curie University, it’s not quite a new phase of water. ‘It’s really a new state of matter,’ she said, ‘which is rather spectacular.’”

A new phase of matter? As astonishing as that would be, it’s not the first time that a new state of matter has been discovered.  About a month ago National Geographic reported on another new type of matter.

“Now, a team has used a type of artificial intelligence to confirm the existence of a bizarre new state of matter, one in which potassium atoms exhibit properties of both a solid and a liquid at the same time. If you were somehow able to pull out a chunk of such material, it would probably look like a solid block leaking molten potassium that eventually all dissolved away.”

And these discoveries are likely just the tip of the iceberg.  As our instruments and the tools at our disposal continue to improve we may discover even more exotic forms of matter.  Meaning it won’t be long before we have to rewrite the textbooks once again.

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Is Superionic Ice the Greatest Idea Ever?

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Back on July 15, 2017 Jeff Bezos, Amazon’s founder, was in Cape Canerval, Florida at the Kennedy Space Center to receive the first ever Buzz Aldrin Space Innovation Award.  Afterwards he made several attention grabbing remarks about his future plans.

According to Futurism:

“Amongst his statements was an assertion that humans should terraform the Moon. According to Tech Radar, Bezos claimed, “It’s time for America to go back to the Moon, this time to stay.” He then added, “We should build a permanent settlement on one of the poles of the Moon.” He ended on a positive note: “If we have reusable rockets, we can do it so much more affordably than we have ever done it before. We have the tools. We have the young people with a passion to do it. We can get that done today.’”

Well maybe not today but soon enough and now less than two years later Bezos has finally unveiled those specific plans which involve sending a moon lander known as Blue Moon to our satellite’s south pole, bringing his bold proclamation one step closer to fruition.

As Wired puts it:

“When Robert Heinlein wrote his masterpiece of space age realism, The Man Who Sold the Moon, he had no way of knowing how prescient it would be. Published in 1950, it tells the tale of Delos D. Harriman, the ‘last of the robber barons’, who is hellbent on being the first man on the moon. Harriman drives himself to the brink of bankruptcy and madness chasing his lunar ambitions, which he feels can’t be left to the bumbling government bureaucracy to handle. At the dawn of the new space race, it feels more relevant than ever.

These days, billionaires with their own space program are in abundant supply—Elon Musk, Paul Allen, Richard Branson, Robert Bigelow. But towering above them all is Jeff Bezos. Once the richest man in the world, Bezos is Harriman become flesh. For the last 19 years he has bankrolled his space company, Blue Origin, almost entirely out of pocket and has made his goal of colonizing the moon known. He is also, incidentally, a big fan of Heinlein.

Today Bezos unveiled a mock-up of Blue Origin’s lunar lander at a small invite-only event in Washington, DC. As detailed by Bezos, the plan is to send the lunar lander, called Blue Moon, to Shackleton Crater at the moon’s south pole. Last month, the company hinted at its plans with an enigmatic tweet depicting Endurance, the ship that carried British explorer Ernest Shackleton on a disastrous mission to Antarctica in the early twentieth century.”

The idea here is that Blue Moon will drop off important supplies at Shackleton Crater, paving the way for future manned missions by 2024 that will lay the groundwork towards establishing a permanent human colony on the moon.  A colony that could then pave the way for future space exploration missions including the eventual terraforming and colonization of Mars.

Bezos has taken a lot of flack lately for his sexual transgressions which have lead to him getting divorced and losing half of his wealth and rightfully so.  But maybe Bezos’ self-inflicted walk of shame should have been met with more sympathy.  Considering that Bezos was funding Blue Origin himself, that loss of wealth also means that there’s now less money pouring into Blue Origin.  For now, it doesn’t seem to be affecting his plans but perhaps it one day will.  Turning Bezos into a real-life version of Harriman, going bankrupt to fulfill his dreams.  For our sake and the sake of humanity’s space-faring future, let’s hope that’s not the case. Especially when you consider that Bezos has far-ranging ambitions when it comes to space, aside from just wanting to colonize the Moon.

According to Fast Company:

“Bezos announced a massive vision for the future in which “Earth is zoned residential and light industry,” with heavy industry and mining moving to space.

But even a gentrified Earth won’t be enough to support the ballooning human population. So Bezos is also proposing a constellation of space stations modeled after ideas from his former Princeton professor, Gerard O’Neill. The physicist’s namesake O’Neill cylinders would be miles-long, mile’s wide structures that rotate–using centrifugal force to produce artificial gravity–and harvest sunlight to grow crops.”

The cylinder space station idea is one that is firmly rooted in science fiction so to me the idea that is the most revolutionary here is the idea that Earth would be “zoned residential” with all industry moving to space.  Considering how expensive it is to get things into orbit relocating all industry into space would seem to be a daunting task.  But it makes sense.  Earth is the only place in the known Universe that can support life.  Shouldn’t it therefore be 100% committed to that one and only task?  Everything else that can take place somewhere else should do just that!

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Is Blue Moon the Greatest Idea Ever?

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#1,495 – Archs

Just when you thought that Elon Musk couldn’t get any cooler this news comes courtesy of Science Alert:

“Last year, Elon Musk’s personal Tesla might have gotten all the headlines during SpaceX’s historic rocket launch back in February, but the Falcon Heavy also carried a second, secret payload almost nobody knew about.

Stashed inside the midnight-cherry Roadster was a mysterious, small object designed to last for millions (perhaps billions) of years – even in extreme environments like space, or on the distant surfaces of far-flung planetary bodies.

Called an Arch (pronounced ‘Ark’), this tiny storage device is built for long-term data archiving, holding libraries of information encoded on a small disc of quartz crystal, not much larger than a coin…

The technology, developed by physicist Peter Kazansky from the University of Southampton in the UK, can theoretically hold up to 360 terabytes of data, about the same amount as 7,000 Blu-Ray discs.

But even more impressive than the data capacity is the physical longevity of the medium – the first two discs, called Arch 1.1 and Arch 1.2, are said to be two of the longest-lasting storage objects ever created by humans, theoretically stable for up to 14 billion years, thanks to ‘5D data storage’ inscribed by laser nanostructuring in quartz silica glass.”

Similar to the Lunar Library project that I wrote about the other day these Archs could help humanity preserve their knowledge should anything happen to us here on Earth. A fate that is becoming increasingly likely thanks to the perils of Climate Change.

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Are Archs the Greatest Idea Ever?

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#1,492 – Dark Fluid

When you think of physics or cosmology you’re likely to think about intellectual heavyweights like Albert Einstein or Stephen Hawking.  And rightfully so.  But future generations may be paying homage to someone else.  The previously unheralded James Farnes, an astrophysicist from the University of Oxford, who was the one to ultimately figure out how everything in the Universe really works.

Farnes’ theory is a wild one on the surface but it also makes a lot of sense when you drill down into it, with lots of empirical evidence to support his assertions.  The basic gist of the theory is that while Dark Matter and Dark Energy get all our attention they really pale in comparison to a Dark Fluid that its ultimately responsible for holding galaxies together and explaining how quickly the Universe is expanding.

As he writes on The Conversation, “Dark matter may be an invisible material, but it exerts a gravitational force on surrounding matter that we can measure. Dark energy is a repulsive force that makes the universe expand at an accelerating rate. The two have always been treated as separate phenomena. But my new study, published in Astronomy and Astrophysics, suggests they may both be part of the same strange concept – a single, unified ‘dark fluid’ of negative masses.”

In fact, it’s negative mass that’s the key to everything.

“Whether physically real or not, negative masses already have a theoretical role in a vast number of areas. Air bubbles in water can be modelled as having a negative mass. Recent laboratory research has also generated particles that behave exactly as they would if they had negative mass.

And physicists are already comfortable with the concept of negative energy density. According to quantum mechanics, empty space is made up of a field of fluctuating background energy that can be negative in places – giving rise to waves and virtual particles that pop into and out of existence. This can even create a tiny force that can be measured in the lab.

The new study could help solve many problems in modern physics. String theory, which is our best hope for unifying the physics of the quantum world with Einstein’s theory of the cosmos, is currently seen as being incompatible with observational evidence. However, string theory does suggest that the energy in empty space must be negative, which corroborates the theoretical expectations for a negative mass dark fluid.

Moreover, the team behind the groundbreaking discovery of an accelerating universe surprisingly detected evidence for a negative mass cosmology, but took the reasonable precaution of interpreting these controversial findings as ‘unphysical’.

The theory could also solve the problem of measuring the universe’s expansion. This is explained by the Hubble-Lemaître Law, the observation that more distant galaxies are moving away at a faster rate. The relationship between the speed and the distance of a galaxy is set by the ‘Hubble constant’, but measurements of it have continued to vary. This has led to a crisis in cosmology. Fortunately, a negative mass cosmology mathematically predicts that the Hubble ‘constant’ should vary over time. Clearly, there is evidence that this weird and unconventional new theory deserves our scientific attention.”

Not only deserves it but demands it. To the point where Farnes may one day join Einstein and Hawking on a Mount Rushmore of physicists.

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Is Dark Fluid the Greatest Idea Ever?

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You can’t spend a whole week talking about space and not mention Sci-fi.  The two go hand in hand as generations of NASA scientists grow up watching Star Wars, Star Trek and a host of other fare that gets them excited about going where no man has gone before and exploring galaxies that are far, far away.  Discovering non-mainstream Sci-Fi that appeals to you, that appeals to a particular niche interest that you may have, isn’t always easy though.  Thankfully, there’s a new book recommendation engine that can help with that: the Science Fiction Concept Corpus.

As Wired explains, “AI Researcher Bethanie Maples has been reading science fiction since she was given a copy of Dune at 10 years old. Still, two decades and nearly 1,000 books later, the self-described sci-fi fanatic struggles to find books that delve into her most niche interests, like the link between AI and transhumanism. So last year, while working at Stanford’s Human Computer Interaction lab, she teamed up with data scientists Eric Berlow and Srini Kadamati to create a book recommendation tool based on more than 100 salient sci-fi themes, from hyperspace to magical feminism.”

Compiled from plot descriptions, book reviews, and user generated meta data tags the Corpus is capable of scanning a collection of over 2,600 hundred books written since 1900 to make relevant recommendations. But I can do you one better with a recommendation of my own: check out James Corey’s Hugo award winning Expanse series of novels and then check out the show, one of the greatest of all-time, on Amazon Prime!

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Is the Science Fiction Concept Corpus the Greatest Idea Ever?

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