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Archive for the ‘Space’ Category

A quick look at everything that tickled my fancy this past week:

Alien Neighbors: With everything going on in the world it’s nice to have a fun distraction every once in a while and what’s more fun than thinking about alien civilizations?! In fact, according to a recent report we may have as many as 36 inter-stellar neighbors in the Milky Way alone.

According to Popular Mechanics:

“A pair of researchers from the University of Nottingham in the U.K.—working under the assumption it takes the same amount of time for life to evolve in the distant reaches of the galaxy as it did right here at home—have narrowed down that estimate to just 36 extraterrestrial civilizations.

“‘There should be at least a few dozen active civilizations in our galaxy under the assumption that it takes 5 billion years for intelligent life to form on other planets, as on Earth,’ astrophysicist Christopher Conselice explained in a press statement. The team dubbed this calculation the “Astrobiological Copernican Limit.”

Hello worlds! Alien planet count passes 1,000 mark

Fastest Internet Speed Ever: There was also exciting news closer to home.  Reports that Australia has recorded the fastest internet speed ever!

According to the BBC:

“A team from Monash, Swinburne and RMIT universities logged a data speed of 44.2 terabits per second (Tbps).

At that speed, users could download more than 1,000 high-definition movies in less than a second.

According to Ofcom, the average UK broadband speed currently is around 64 megabits per second (Mbps) – a fraction of that recorded in the recent study.”

That’s some serious Thunder from Down Under!

The Fastest Internet Speed in the World Will Blow Your Mind

Fixing Blurry Faces: If you thought downloading 1,000 movies in 1 second was impressive wait until you get a load of a new AI trick from Duke University researchers that is capable of turning completely blurred images into high resolution portraits.

According to Newsweek:

“Scientists from Duke University in North Carolina have unveiled research showing how a new algorithm can transform a ‘handful of pixels’ into a realistic-looking face with up to 64 times the resolution—out-performing rival up-scaling techniques.

According to the researchers, image outputs will have differences to real people as the tool ‘imagines’ features like eyelashes, wrinkles or stubble. But from the blurred snaps, the AI produces super sharp results while remaining self-supervised.”

AI makes blurry faces look 64 times sharper

Time Travel: If we’re going to be blowing people’s minds then we might as well talk about time travel too.  And while it’s not actually possible to travel back in time (yet) scientists did imagine to reverse time on the smallest possible scale.

Learn all about it on Science Alert.

Great Scott! 'Back To The Future' cast join forces for lockdown ...

World’s Smallest Motor: And while we’re at it we might as well mention a mind-blowing achievement on the nano scale.

According to New Atlas:

“Researchers at Empa and EPFL have created one of the smallest motors ever made. It’s composed of just 16 atoms, and at that tiny size it seems to function right on the boundary between classical physics and the spooky quantum realm.

Like its macroscopic counterparts, this mini motor is made up of a moving part (the rotor) and a fixed part (the stator). The stator in this case is a cluster of six palladium atoms and six gallium atoms arranged in a rough triangular shape. Meanwhile, the rotor is a four-atom acetylene molecule, which rotates on the surface of the stator. The whole machine measures less than a nanometer wide.

The molecular motor can be powered by either thermal or electrical energy, although the latter was found to be much more useful. At room temperature, for example, the rotor was found to rotate back and forth at random. But when an electric current was applied using an electron scanning microscope, the rotor would spin in one direction with a 99-percent stability.

This, the team says, makes it far more practical than previous molecular motors. Ultimately, it could be used not only for moving tiny machines around, but also for energy harvesting on the nano scale.”

A model of the nano motor – the stator is made up of six palladium atoms (blue) and six gallium atoms (red), with a four-atom rotor made up of a four-atom acetylene molecule (gray)

Are any of these mind-blowing breakthroughs the Greatest Idea Ever?

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Will you remember where you were on May 30th, 2020?  On the day that a private company, not NASA, launched astronauts into space for the very first time.  Chances are you will.  For there were really only two places that you could have been.  Either at home quarantining from the coronavirus pandemic or out in the streets, risking contracting COVID-19, to protest the death of George Floyd and the systemic racial injustice that fueled it.

It’s a tumultuous time in American history to say the least.  A dark and unnerving time.  And it makes celebrating (what should be considered a historic moment) all the more difficult.  In fact, it makes it feel almost anti-climatic.  At a moment in time when we should be looking inward, reflecting on all the pain going around the country, reflecting on the difficult reality that minorities have to deal with, is it really the right time to be looking up towards the stars, looking out towards the future?

The answer may be hard to pin down.  For some, today’s events may be a welcomed distraction.  For others, a mere footnote to the greater narrative unfolding before our eyes.  But either way, it’s a moment in time that is worth noting, if for no other reason than what it portends.  For what it really means.  And what it really means is that a whole new era of human space flight is underway.

With a successful launch behind them SpaceX and NASA can now move forward with their rest of their plans, with the rest of their efforts to build an entirely self-sufficient private space industry.  One that will ferry NASA’s astronauts to the International Space Station and lead, ultimately, to space tourism, lunar habitats, manned missions to Mars, asteroid mining, and further exploration of the solar system and beyond.

If we left all that up to NASA, to government oversight and budget constraints, it would likely never get done.  As witnessed by the fact that we’ve never even gone back to the Moon in the last fifty years since Neil Armstrong first took one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.

But now that private industry is involved all that changes.  With multiple out-sized personalities like Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos, and Sir Richard Branson leading the way we could be on the verge of a Cold War style arms race, one that sees the pace of innovation “skyrocket” as companies compete to be in the first in space.  Race to plant their flag so to speak on the true final frontier.  So make no mistake about it.  Today was absolutely a historic day and one worth marking.  Even if we do so solemnly.

SpaceX launch succeeds, sending humans on first privately owned ...

Is Private Space Flight the Greatest Idea Ever?

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It’s important to remember, as the COVID-19 pandemic rages on and a forthcoming mental health crisis looms, to still have some fun every once in a while.  Go for hikes, paint something, complete a puzzle, take up a hobby.  Whatever the case may be.  Whatever tickles your fancy.  Or in my case, at least write about something fun.

That’s where Tom Cruise comes in.  For the legendary movie star with a penchant for filming Sci-Fi themed action movies featuring his own stunt work is about to take things to the next level.  To a place where no one has gone before.  Filming a movie, not just about space, but in space.

As CNET puts it, “Get ready for a film concept that’s out of this world. Actor Tom Cruise and Elon Musk’s SpaceX are working with NASA to shoot an action film in outer space. Representatives for Cruise and SpaceX didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment, but NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine confirmed the news Tuesday in a tweet.

‘NASA is excited to work with Tom Cruise on a film aboard the space station!’ he wrote. ‘We need popular media to inspire a new generation of engineers and scientists to make NASA ambitious plans a reality.’

Those plans may include establishing a lunar base, mining asteroids, colonizing Mars, searching for life on Jupiter’s moon Europa, and even eventually developing technologies capable of getting us to the outer reaches of our solar system and beyond.

Considering how little excitement there currently is around activities in space (SpaceX landing a reusable rocket on a floating platform in the sea barely raises an eyebrow) it makes sense to try and host a publicity stunt (in the form of filming a movie) aboard the International Space Station.  It may not registered the same psychological impact that landing a man on the Moon did but it will at least get people talking about space again.

Something that we desperately need to start doing again as we face relentless turmoil on Earth in the form of global pandemics and irreversible Climate Change.  Perhaps Tom Cruise (like he has dozens of times before in movies like War of the Worlds, Edge of Tomorrow, and the Mission Impossible Series) can save us once more.  After all, he’s certainly no stranger to flying (Top Gun) or being an astronaut (Oblivion).

Tom Cruise set to shoot movie in space » Sirf News

Is filming a movie in space the Greatest Idea Ever?

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#1,627 – Number 137

If you were to encounter an alien species that you couldn’t otherwise communicate with you could at the very least share math among one another to demonstrate that you are advanced civilizations capable of making sense of the world around you.  It’s what makes math the universal language.  Written and spoken languages may be different as well as customs and cultures but in theory, no matter who you are, or where in the cosmos you reside, the math that underpins the laws of physics would be applicable to everyone, everywhere.

It’s why we hold equations in such high regard and insist of making sure that all theories have empirical data to back them up.  Just knowing how something works isn’t enough.  You have to be able to prove it.  To show your work. E = mc2 and all that.

But there’s one number out there that physicists hold in especially high regard.  Even assign a religious reverence to it.  At least that is, when they aren’t fearing it.  Good, old number 137.  The fine structure constant of the Universe.  A number so pure that it doesn’t even need units to describe it.  A number that oddly enough pops up in multiple places throughout the Universe.  Surely, this can’t purely be a coincidence?  There’s got to be something to it, right?

As New Scientist puts it:

“The idea that constants of nature – things like the speed of light, strength of forces and the masses of various particles – might not be so constant has an illustrious history. In 1937, physicist Paul Dirac wrote to the journal Nature, questioning astronomer Arthur Eddington’s attempts to calculate the constants from scratch. How could we be sure they haven’t changed over cosmological time?

The fine structure constant, also known as alpha, is a case in point. Alpha lies at the center of a theory Dirac initiated and [Richard] Feynman worked on: quantum electrodynamics, or QED. This is the quantum theory of the electromagnetic force, and describes the interactions between light and matter. Alpha determines their strength. It is itself constructed from the speed of light, the electron’s charge, pi – few physical theories are complete without pi – and a couple of other fundamental constants, carefully arranged so that it is just a pure number, independent of human influence: 0.00729735, just a whisker away from 1/137.

Change this number by a smidgen, and you change the universe. Increase it too much, and protons repel each other so strongly that small atomic nuclei can’t hold together. Go a bit further and nuclear fusion factories within stars grind to a halt and can no longer produce carbon, the element on which life is based. Make alpha much smaller, and molecular bonds fall apart at lower temperatures, altering many processes essential to life.”

In other words our Universe is somehow perfectly fine-tuned to allow for life as we know it and number 137 is the reason why.  Coincidence?  I think not.

Of course, this information lends itself towards a natural line of questioning.  If the Universe is fine-tuned, who fine-tuned it?  Or better yet, is it that we live in a Multiverse comprised of an infinite number of possible universes, almost all of which aren’t conducive to life because their numbers are off by a little bit, and we just so happen to live in the one and only Universe that does contain life? Making our reality more of a self-fulfilling prophecy than divine intervention, the result of trial and error on a cosmic scale, akin to monkeys producing a Shakespearean work if given enough random attempts on a typewriter.

Obviously no one knows the answer to those questions yet.  In fact, we may never know why things are the way they are.  But what we do know is that math in general and number 137 in particular play key roles in our attempts to figure out exactly what’s going on and that there’s got to be something to that.

So much so that if we ever do encounter an alien species we’d likely skip all other forms of math and just share with them the number 137.  If they’re aware of the significance of that number then we’d know that we’re both on the same page.

Why number 137 is one of the greatest mysteries in physics - Big Think

Is number 137 the key to understanding the Universe?

 

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By now we’re all familiar with Charles Darwin’s Theory of Evolution.  The idea that more desirable traits get passed on to offspring while less desirable traits get weeded out over time.  Natural selection beget by survival of the fittest and all that.  And while there are those among us who deny the theory and instead point to Intelligent Design by a higher power the evidence at this point is really indisputable.  Evolution is real.  It occurs across every species we’ve ever encountered and it’s still occurring as we speak.  Even in us.  And as far as we can tell it’ll never stop for the simple fact that evolution is driven by one’s environment and one’s environment is always changing thereby always necessitating the need for constant adaptation.

What’s less understood scientifically are matters rooted in physics.  Unexplained phenomenon that escape our understanding and Universal laws that evade our knowledge.  Try as we might we just can’t figure them out.  Until now that is.  For we may have been looking at them the wrong way.  What we really needed to do was apply principles of evolution to them.  But before we get to all that we first need a little history lesson about what we know so far.

Let’s start with the guy with the crazy hair.  The guy we all know and love, Albert Einstein.  As Space.com puts it:

“In 1905, Albert Einstein determined that the laws of physics are the same for all non-accelerating observers, and that the speed of light in a vacuum was independent of the motion of all observers. This was the theory of special relativity. It introduced a new framework for all of physics and proposed new concepts of space and time.

Einstein then spent 10 years trying to include acceleration in the theory and published his theory of general relativity in 1915. In it, he determined that massive objects cause a distortion in space-time, which is felt as gravity.”

These theories propelled humanity forward and underpinned our understanding of how the Universe worked for years to come.  In fact, his theories still hold up today.  Our recent ability to detect gravitational waves providing further proof that he was right all along.

Relativity - The Special and General Theory Audiobook by Albert ...

Since then we’ve come to rely on The Standard Model of particle physics.  Developed in the early 1970’s this model has formed the bedrock of scientific discovery, providing mathematical proof to abstract concepts and making predictions that have ultimately been proven true as our detection capabilities have improved as the discovery of the Higgs boson in 2012 can attest to. As Science Alert explains:

“The Standard Model is a set of mathematical formulae and measurements describing elementary particles and their interactions. It’s similar to the way the Periodic Table of Elements describes atoms, categorizing them based on their characteristics, but instead the Standard Model categorizes the elementary particles – fermions and bosons.”

Adds Symmetry Magazine:

“The Standard Model is a thing of beauty. It is the most rigorous theory of particle physics, incredibly precise and accurate in its predictions. It mathematically lays out the 17 building blocks of nature: six quarks, six leptons, four force-carrier particles, and the Higgs boson. These are ruled by the electromagnetic, weak and strong forces.”

Introduction to Particle Physics Part 3: Order from chaos – the ...

However, the Standard Model isn’t perfect.  There are a few phenomenon that it can’t explain such as Dark Matter (why there is stuff in the Universe that we can detect but not observe and what it is), Dark Energy (why the Universe is expanding at an accelerated rate), why neutrinos have mass (albeit an infinitesimal amount), why there is so much matter in the Universe to begin with (Dark or otherwise), and whether or not there is a particle underpinning gravity the way a photon is associated with electromagnetism.

These unanswered questions point to two conclusions.  Either the Standard Model needs to be fine-tuned, expanded just a little bit to make everything fit neatly into what is otherwise a very eloquent model that perfectly explains most of what’s happening.  Or it needs to be reworked entirely.  Undone by multiple fatal flaws.

It’s a conundrum that has been perplexing countless physicists for years, sending them on lifelong quests to unite all that is known into an indisputable Theory of Everything.  But the problem with that approach is that everything isn’t on a level playing field.  Scale matters.  Universal laws of physics that hold true across the cosmos on a macro level may not hold true in the quantum realm on a micro level.

These discrepancies are hard to grasp and even harder to explain.  When I pick up a rock it feels like a rock, not like the collection of atoms that it really is.  When I sit down in a chair it feels like I’m really sitting there, not technically hovering over it with 1/100th of 1/1000th of a millimeter’s distance separating me from the chair.  How can reality, or at least what we perceive as reality, be anything other than what we see?  It just doesn’t make sense.

But that may just be because we weren’t looking at it the right way.  Case in point: Schrödinger’s Cat.  The famous thought experiment posited that a cat in a box would be both alive and dead simultaneously.  It’s not until you open the box and observe the cat’s state that you conclusively know the answer.  Up until then both possibilities have to be considered true.  A quantum characteristic that we now refer to as Superposition.

Personally, I’ve always had a hard time of accepting this idea of observation being the catalyst for what resulted.  It just seems so arbitrary.  So humanistic.  A small-minded idea akin to thinking that the Earth is the center of the solar system.  Giving ourselves way too much credit.  There had to be something else going on.  A better explanation.  Something that we’d likely find in the revised or expanded Standard Model once we completed the puzzle.

And as it turns out there actually may be something else at play bringing us back to our friend, the Theory of Evolution.  That’s right.  It may be possible that the Universe is powered by evolution as well.  On a quantum level.

Science Alert explains:

“One of the stranger aspects of the quantum world is superposition, the ability of a quantum system to exist in more than one state at one time. The system seemingly only snaps into one state or the other – moving from the quantum world to the classical – the moment we observe it.

That process is called decoherence, and Quantum Darwinism is an attempt to explain it.

Rather than our observation being the thing that forces the quantum system into one state or another, quantum Darwinism suggests that it’s the system’s interactions with the environment [that cause] decoherence. That, proponents say, would explain why we don’t see macro objects in a quantum state – they’re always subjected to environmental factors.

As for how the environment has this effect, according to [Wojciech] Zurek’s theory, quantum systems have ‘pointer states’. These are specific measurable characteristics, such as a particle’s location or speed.

When a particle interacts with its environment, all the superpositions of those characteristics – alternate locations or speeds – decohere, leaving just the pointer state, which many people can observe because it ‘imprints’ replicas of itself on the environment.

That’s where the idea of Darwinism comes into play: only the ‘fittest’ state – the one best suited for its particular environment – survives the process of decoherence.”

All that makes sense but also leaves plenty for further consideration as well.  For instance, how is that “fittest” state being determined?  Is it the environment itself that’s acting as the “predator”, killing off the less desirable states that it doesn’t want to interact with at that moment?  How exactly is that happening?  And how does the process of a particle imprinting a replica of itself on the environment work?

Like most scientific endeavors the answers that we seek often lead to new questions.  Elusive knowledge lying just beyond our reach.  Riddles wrapped in mysteries inside enigmas.  It’s a long and arduous journey but we’ll get there.  Eventually.  But before we can delve further into these new topics we first have to make sure that we are on the right track.  And to do that we have to figure out a way to test our strange new theory.  A process which is just beginning.

Explains Quanta Magazine:

“Only recently, however, has quantum Darwinism been put to the experimental test. Three research groups, working independently in Italy, China and Germany, have looked for the telltale signature of the natural selection process by which information about a quantum system gets repeatedly imprinted on various controlled environments. These tests are rudimentary, and experts say there’s still much more to be done before we can feel sure that [Quantum Darwinism] provides the right picture of how our concrete reality condenses from the multiple options that quantum mechanics offers. Yet so far, the theory checks out.”

Now, I’m no scientist and I didn’t stay in a Holiday Inn Express last night.  I failed high school physics and I barely even understand what I just wrote. And yet I’m also fairly certain that the Theory of Quantum Darwinism is real.  It just makes sense intuitively, just feels right.  But beyond that it also makes sense logically.

Evolution is no accident.  The fact that it happens over and over again, everywhere we look, across every species, throughout the course of time, proves that it is a fundamental law of the Universe.  If life ever arises on another planet in another solar system evolution will be responsible.  It makes sense then that evolution, that the process of natural selection, would apply in a quantum setting as well, powering the way that quantum matter interacts with its environment the same way that evolution as we know it guides how life moves through its environment.

And it makes sense because there has to be an explanation for everything.  Things just don’t happen.  The Big Bang.  The subsequent creation and dissemination of matter.  The ongoing and accelerating expansion of the Universe.  Gravity.  Quantum phenomenon.  Evolution.  The inevitable emergence of ecosystems, solar systems, galaxies, and galaxy clusters.  The rise of consciousness. Exponential growth.  General and Special Relativity.  Particle Physics.  Entropy.  Thermodynamics.  Nuclear fusion.  The list goes on and on.  Everything that is happening, has happened, or ever will happen, has all been powered by something, some guiding principle, some Universal law, some form of math, some process that perfectly explains why it is happening that way that it is happening.

Quantum Darwinism is just the latest example and I’m confident that the experimental tests being conducted will bear this out.  Bringing us one step closer to fully understanding the true nature of our reality.  At least that is, until we discover new questions to ask.

 

Biography of Charles Darwin, 19th Century Naturalist

Is Quantum Darwinism the Greatest Idea Ever?

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An action packed week.  Even more so than usual.

1. The most habitable exoplanet yet.

Scientists have found water vapor in the atmosphere of an exoplanet making it the most habitable place we’ve yet found!

As Wired puts it, “On Wednesday, a team of astronomers from University College London announced that they detected water vapor in the atmosphere of a ‘super-Earth’ planet outside our own solar system. This is the first time water has been detected in the atmosphere of an exoplanet that is not a gas giant, which the researchers say makes it the most habitable exoplanet currently known. The planet, known by the catchy name K2-18b, is 110 light years away and orbits a red dwarf star about half the size of the sun. The planet is twice the size of Earth, eight times as massive, and orbits its host star once every 33 days.”

Image result for water in atmosphere of exoplanet

2. New lens works better than human eye.

A revolutionary new lens could transform every optical instrument from cameras and eyeglasses to telescopes.

According to Endgadget, “A new breakthrough could soon revolutionize the design of almost every optical instrument in use today, including cameras, eyeglasses and telescopes. Combining recent developments in artificial muscle and flat lens technologies, a team of researchers at the Harvard John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS) have created a new lens that functions a lot like the human eye. Not only is the instrument capable of focusing in real-time thanks to an elastomer muscle, it features none of the bulk of a traditional spherical lens. It can even do some things the human eye can’t, including adjusting for astigmatism and image shift, two variables that lead to blurry vision.”

Image result for camera lens

3. Miracle Sheets.

A new brand of bedding could revolutionize home hygiene.

As Futurism puts it, “Miracle brand products are woven with anti-microbial silver that kills 99 percent of bacteria, meaning they stay cleaner and healthier much longer than a typical pillowcase or washcloth. To put it in more precise terms, Miracle’s products can be washed three times less often than other silver-free products because they’re essentially self-cleaning. How does silver accomplish all this? It all comes down to the precious metal’s ions, which naturally carry a positive charge that draws in bacteria and other microbes like a magnet before destroying them before they reproduce.”

Having to clean and do laundry less often? It’s a miracle!

Image result for miracle sheets

4. Liquid Magnets.

The list of amazing accidental discoveries just got a little bit longer.

According to Futurism, “Scientists created a metallic liquid capable of maintaining a magnetic field for the first time in history — and they did it entirely by accident.

University of Massachusetts Amherst engineers were working on 3D-printing liquids when they discovered that the droplets of iron, oil, and water were able to maintain a magnetic field, the researchers told Live Science, a first for any liquid.”

The discovery could lead to the invention of programmable tools.

Image result for liquid magnet

Are any of these the Greatest Idea Ever?

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We can harness the power of electricity and magnetism but there’s still one underlying fundamental force that we can’t yet control: gravity.  Which is a shame because as it turns out gravity may be the key to curing cancer.

According to Futurism:

“A team of doctors has a new idea in the fight against cancer: ship tumors up into space.

That’s based on a recent finding that most cancer cells subjected to microgravity in a lab died off without any other treatment, according to ABC News. Now the team of doctors from Australia’s University of Technology Sydney wants to send samples up to the International Space Station to further test the bizarre idea.

The team suspects that the cancer cells died off because microgravity disrupts their ability to communicate among each other or detect their surroundings.

‘When we’re in space, what happens to the body is that your cells start to feel this condition which we call mechanical unloading,’ Joshua Chou, the lead doctor behind the project, told ABC. ‘It means that there’s a lack of force because there’s no gravity. This actually affects how the cells move, how they function and also dictate their survivability.’”

To date we’ve tried everything we can think of to combat cancer from bombarding cells with radiation to forcefully removing tumors from the body.  We’ve even tried reprogramming cells. There has yet to be a miracle cure that destroys all cancerous cells.  But all that may be about to change thanks to a new approach that is literally out of this world.

Image result for space

Is curing cancer in space the Greatest Idea Ever?

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#1,542 – Terrascope

The Amazon rain forest is on fire.  The Arctic is burning.  Global temperatures are reaching new all-time highs on a daily and monthly basis.  It’s no longer enough to rail about impending Climate Change.  The change is already happening.  We are in a Climate Emergency.  At this rate our best hope for the survival of our species is to search for other habitable exoplanets that we could one day migrate to.  An exercise that’s challenging enough as it is yet alone when paired with the sense of urgency that a dying planet dictates.  To that end we may have some good news for future planet hunters: the idea of turning our own planet into a giant terrascope.

As Scientific American puts it, “Astronomers and Earth’s atmosphere are natural enemies. Stargazers want crisp, clear images of their celestial targets, whereas winds and clouds scatter and block starlight in ways that can scuttle even the most careful measurements. Minus the mild inconvenience of lacking air to breathe, many researchers might otherwise prefer our planet had no atmosphere at all—at least during their coveted observing nights at world-class telescopes. The Hubble Space Telescope and other giant off-world observatories can rise above the atmosphere’s complications but at costs that are, for lack of a better word, astronomical.

Now a new preprint study suggests that far from being a bane, Earth’s atmosphere could become astronomy’s boon, serving to amplify starlight in ways that reduce the need for enormous (and enormously expensive) telescopes on the ground and in space. Astronomers badly need such money-saving, performance-boosting approaches as the cost of building new state-of-the-art observatories soars to unsustainable levels.”

Futurism puts it more succinctly, “There’s a lot to it, but the basic idea behind the terrascope is that Earth’s atmosphere naturally refracts incoming starlight, just like the lens of a telescope, and with some effort, we could take advantage of this refraction.”

It’s an effort that we would be wise to invest in.  The survival of humanity may very well depend on it.

Image result for earth telescope

Is the Terrascope the Greatest Idea Ever?

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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.

Image result for universe ai

 

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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