NASA

The James Webb Space Telescope Has Emerged From the Freezer (arstechnica.com) 19

The James Webb Space Telescope has emerged from a large vacuum chamber that was home to temperatures of just 20 degrees Celsius above absolute zero. Scientists have reviewed the data and given the instrument a clean bill of health. "We now have verified that NASA and its partners have an outstanding telescope and set of science instruments," said Bill Ochs, the Webb telescope project manager at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. "We are marching toward launch." Ars Technica reports: The $10 billion telescope underwent tests inside Chamber A at Johnson Space Center, which was built in 1965 to conduct thermal-vacuum testing on the Apollo command and service modules. Beginning in mid-July, after the telescope was cooled down to a temperature range of 20 to 40 Kelvin, engineers tested the alignment of Webb's 18 primary mirror segments to ensure they would act as a single, 6.5-meter telescope. (They did). Later, they assessed the fine guidance system of the telescope by simulating the light of a distant star. The Webb telescope was able to detect the light, and all of the optical systems were able to process it. Then, the telescope was able to track the "star" and its movement, giving scientists confidence that the Webb instrument will work once in space. Webb still has a ways to go before it launches. Now that project scientists know that the optic portion of the instrument can withstand the vacuum of space, and the low temperatures at the Earth-Sun L2 point it will orbit in deep space, they must perform additional testing before a probable launch next year.
NASA

SpaceX and Boeing Slated For Manned Space Missions By Year's End (fortune.com) 48

schwit1 shares a report from Fortune, covering NASA's announcement last week that it expects SpaceX to conduct a crewed test flight by the end of the year: SpaceX's crewed test flight is slated for December, after an uncrewed flight in August. Boeing will also be demonstrating its CST-100 Starliner capsule, with a crewed flight in November following an uncrewed flight in August. NASA's goal is to launch crews to the ISS from U.S. soil, a task that has fallen to Russia's space program since the retirement of the U.S. Space Shuttle program in 2011. NASA began looking for private launch companies to take over starting in 2010, and contracted both SpaceX and Boeing in 2014 to pursue crewed launches. The push to restore America's crewed spaceflight capacity has been delayed in part, according to a detailed survey by Ars Technica, by Congress redirecting funds in subsequent years. The test flights could determine whether Boeing or SpaceX conducts the first U.S. commercial space launch to the ISS. Whichever company gets that honor may also claim a symbolic U.S. flag stuck to a hatch on the space station. Sources speaking to Ars describe the race between the two companies as too close to call, and say that a push to early 2019 is entirely possible. But in an apparent vote of confidence, NASA has already begun naming astronauts to helm the flights.
Intel

Intel Unveils 'Breakthrough' 49 Qubit Quantum Computer (extremetech.com) 202

Long-time Slashdot reader cold fjord writes: Extremetech reports, "At CES 2018 this week, Intel's CEO Brian Krzanich declared the company's new 49-qubit quantum computer represented a step towards "quantum supremacy." A 49 qubit system is a major advance for Intel, which just demonstrated a 17-qubit system two months ago. Intel's working with the Netherlands-based Qutech on this project, and expanding the number of qubits is key to creating quantum computers that can deliver real-world results... "Qubits are tremendously fragile," Intel wrote in October. "Any noise or unintended observation of them can cause data loss. This fragility requires them to operate at about 20 millikelvin -- 250 times colder than deep space." This is also why we won't be seeing quantum computers in anyone's house at any point."
Krzanich also thanked the industry for "coming together" to address the Meltdown and Spectre vulnerabilities. "The collaboration among so many companies to address this industry-wide issue across several different processor architectures has been truly remarkable."
Mars

Ice Cliffs Spotted On Mars (sciencemag.org) 83

sciencehabit writes from a report via Science Magazine: Scientists have discovered eight cliffs of nearly pure water ice on Mars, some of which stand nearly 100 meters tall. The discovery points to large stores of underground ice buried only a meter or two below the surface at surprisingly low martian latitudes, in regions where ice had not yet been detected. Each cliff seems to be the naked face of a glacier, tantalizing scientists with the promise of a layer-cake record of past martian climates and space enthusiasts with a potential resource for future human bases. Scientists discovered the cliffs with a high-resolution camera on the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, revisiting the sites to show their subsequent retreat as a result of vaporization, and their persistence in the martian summer. The hunt should now be on, scientists say, for similar sites closer to the equator. The findings have been reported in this week's issue of Science.
Space

Astronomers May Be Closing in on Source of Mysterious Fast Radio Bursts (theguardian.com) 57

Astronomers appear to be closing in on the source of enigmatic radio pulses emanating from space that have become the subject of intense scientific speculation. From a new report: Previous candidates for the origin of the fleeting blasts of radiation -- known as fast radio bursts, or FRBs -- have included exploding stars, the reverberations of weird objects called cosmic strings or even distant beacons from interstellar alien spaceships. Now, new observations provide backing for a scenario involving a rapidly rotating neutron star cocooned by an ultra-powerful magnetic field. The explanation is more orthodox than some of the alternatives offered, but could point astronomers towards some of the most extreme magnetic environments in the known universe.

"Our preferred model is that they are coming from a neutron star ... that could be just 10 or 20 years old in an extreme magnetic environment," said Jason Hessels, a co-author of the new paper and astronomer at the Netherlands Institute for Radio Astronomy in the Dutch town of Dwingeloo. Fast radio bursts have perplexed astronomers ever since the signals were discovered in 2007 in earlier observation data from the Parkes radio telescope in Australia.
About 30 of these objects have been discovered deep in space since the first was detected, all but one burping out a cataclysmic radio pulse exactly once and then disappearing into the night. Only one burster, known as FRB121102, after the date it was discovered (Nov. 2, 2012), has repeated itself, hundreds of times now.
Space

Rumors Swirl That Secret Zuma Satellite Launched By SpaceX Was Lost (scientificamerican.com) 171

Many media outlets are reporting that the U.S. government's top-secret Zuma satellite may have run into some serious problems during or shortly after its Sunday launch. Zuma was launched atop a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from Florida's Cape Canaveral Air Force Station Sunday evening -- a launch that also featured a successful landing back on Earth by the booster's first stage. While everything seemed fine at the time, rumors began swirling within the spaceflight community that something had happened to Zuma. "According to one source, the payload fell back to Earth along with the spent upper stage of the Falcon 9 rocket," Ars Technica's Eric Berger wrote. Scientific American reports: To be clear: There is no official word of any bad news, just some rumblings to that effect. And the rocket apparently did its job properly, SpaceX representatives said. "We do not comment on missions of this nature, but as of right now, reviews of the data indicate Falcon 9 performed nominally," company spokesman James Gleeson told Space.com via email. Space.com also reached out to representatives of aerospace company Northrop Grumman, which built Zuma for the U.S. government. "This is a classified mission. We cannot comment on classified missions," Northrop Grumman spokesman Lon Rains said via email. All we know about the satellite itself is that it was destined for a low-Earth orbit and built for the U.S. government. We will update this story if we hear anything else about Zuma's status.
Businesses

SpaceX Completes First Launch of 2018: Secretive 'Zuma' Spacecraft (cnn.com) 103

SpaceX's first launch of 2018 was "a secretive spacecraft commissioned by the U.S. government for an undisclosed mission," reports TechCrunch. An anonymous reader quotes CNN: After more than a month of delays, a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket vaulted toward the skies at 8 p.m. ET Sunday with the secretive payload. It launched from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida... The company [then] executed its signature move: guiding the first-stage rocket booster back to Earth for a safe landing. Just over two minutes after liftoff Sunday, the first-stage booster separated from the second stage and fired up its engines. The blaze allowed the rocket to safely cut back through the Earth's atmosphere and land on a pad at the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station... The company completed a record-setting 18 launches last year, and SpaceX plans to do even more this year, according to spokesman James Gleeson.
Moon

John Young, Legendary Astronaut, Dies at Age 87 (cbsnews.com) 41

Legendary astronaut John Young -- who walked on the moon and piloted the first space shuttle -- died Friday at the age of 87. schwit1 shares a nice profile from CBS News: A naval aviator and test pilot, Young logged more than 15,275 hours flying time in a variety of aircraft, including 9,200 hours in T-38 jets. He spent 835 hours in space across his six NASA flights, serving as co-pilot of the first Gemini mission in 1965, commander of a second Gemini flight in 1966, lunar module pilot for Apollo 10 in 1969, commander of Apollo 16 in 1972 and commander of the first shuttle flight in 1981... Young was the first man to fly in space six times and the only astronaut to fly aboard Gemini and Apollo capsules and the space shuttle... He also brought a legendary cool nerve to an inherently dangerous job that amazed his compatriots. "I found out from the flight surgeon later on that my heartbeat was 144 at liftoff," Charlie Duke, one of Young's crewmates on the Apollo 16 moon landing mission, said of his reaction to launch atop a Saturn 5 rocket. "John's (heartbeat) was 70".
On one space shuttle flight, two of the ship's three auxiliary power units actually caught on fire, and exploded just minutes after touchdown. But Young always kept his cool. In 2010 Slashdot remembered the first manned Gemini mission in 1965. When it reached orbit, Young surprised his fellow astronaut Gus Grissom by pulling a fresh corned beef sandwich out of his pocket.

An anonymous Slashdot reader writes:
Andrew Chaikin, author of "A Man on the Moon: The Voyages of the Apollo Astronauts", remembers that Young "used to talk about how if we stay on this planet for too long, something's going to get us, whether it was a super volcano or whatever. He really was a true believer." NASA Administrator Robert Lightfoot added that Young's career "spanned three generations of spaceflight; we will stand on his shoulders as we look toward the next human frontier."

In 2012 -- when he was in his 80s -- Young published a memoir titled Forever Young: A Life of Adventure in Air and Space. "My life has been long, and it has been interesting. It's also been a lot of fun, and a lot of hard, challenging work. If I could do it over, I would do it over the very same way.

Space

NASA Tests a Drone To Explore Jupiter's Moon in Antarctica (popularmechanics.com) 65

Three months of research in Antarctica is just the beginning for one Georgia Tech researcher, according to an article shared by schwit1: The waters beneath our planet's ice sheet are fascinating, turning up species few people have ever laid eyes on. But they are not the final target of this chase. Icefin [a 10-foot-long subsea drone] is meant to search for alien life -- a "bug hunt," as some scientists cheerfully call it. It is bound for the icy waters of Jupiter's moon, Europa, possibly as soon as 2030...

The new equipment includes sensors to monitor for organics and measure environmental factors like the presence of dissolved oxygen and levels of acidity, all to see if Europa could (in theory) support life in its subterranean seas... The subsea drone is also smarter than its prototype predecessor, and that high-IQ autonomy would be needed on Europa. The probe must not only operate 400 million miles from Earth but also navigate all by itself under alien ice.

Intel

Linus Torvalds Says Intel Needs To Admit It Has Issues With CPUs (itwire.com) 271

troublemaker_23 shares an article from ITWire: Linux creator Linus Torvalds has had some harsh words for Intel in the course of a discussion about patches for two bugs that were found to affect most of the company's processors... Torvalds was clearly unimpressed by Intel's bid to play down the crisis through its media statements, saying: "I think somebody inside of Intel needs to really take a long hard look at their CPUs, and actually admit that they have issues instead of writing PR blurbs that say that everything works as designed... Or is Intel basically saying 'we are committed to selling you shit forever and ever, and never fixing anything'?" he asked. "Because if that's the case, maybe we should start looking towards the ARM64 people more."
Elsewhere Linus told ZDNet that "there's no one number" for the performance drop users will experience after patches. "It will depend on your hardware and on your load. I think 5 percent for a load with a noticeable kernel component (e.g. a database) is roughly in the right ballpark. But if you do micro-benchmarks that really try to stress it, you might see double-digit performance degradation. A number of loads will spend almost all their time in user space, and not see much of an impact at all."
Bitcoin

A Cryptocurrency Based On a Dog Meme Is Now Worth Over $1 Billion (vice.com) 141

Earlier today, the market capitlization of dogecoin, a cryptocurrency based on a meme about a Shiba Inu dog, passed the $1 billion mark for the first time. VICE News reports: Dogecoin was created back in the early days of the cryptocurrency craze. Launched in December 2013 as somewhat of a joke, the meme-inspired coin was dubbed "the internet currency" and designed to promote a sense of community and generosity rather than simply looking to make money. It gained fame during 2014 when it was used to send the Jamaican bobsled team to the Winter Olympics in Sochi and it even sponsored a Nascar team. The currency has been in relative stasis since, and despite no software updates being released in over two years, the cryptocurrency has risen more than 400 percent in the last month -- though one dogecoin is still worth just over 1 cent.

Even Jackson Palmer, one of the founders of the coin, expressed concern about the hyperinflation of dogecoin. "It says a lot about the state of the cryptocurrency space in general that a currency with a dog on it which hasn't released a software update in over 2 years has a $1 billion+ market cap," Jackson told Coindesk.

Operating Systems

Eben Upton Explains Why Raspberry Pi Isn't Vulnerable To Spectre Or Meltdown (raspberrypi.org) 116

Raspberry Pi founder and CEO Eben Upton says the Raspberry Pi isn't susceptible to the "Spectre" or "Meltdown" vulnerabilities because of the particular ARM cores they use. "Spectre allows an attacker to bypass software checks to read data from arbitrary locations in the current address space; Meltdown allows an attacker to read data from arbitrary locations in the operating system kernel's address space (which should normally be inaccessible to user programs)," Upton writes. He goes on to provide a "primer on some concepts in modern processor design" and "illustrate these concepts using simple programs in Python syntax..."

In conclusion: "Modern processors go to great lengths to preserve the abstraction that they are in-order scalar machines that access memory directly, while in fact using a host of techniques including caching, instruction reordering, and speculation to deliver much higher performance than a simple processor could hope to achieve," writes Upton. "Meltdown and Spectre are examples of what happens when we reason about security in the context of that abstraction, and then encounter minor discrepancies between the abstraction and reality. The lack of speculation in the ARM1176, Cortex-A7, and Cortex-A53 cores used in Raspberry Pi render us immune to attacks of the sort."
Earth

NASA Launches a Mission To Study the Border of Earth and Space (arstechnica.com) 45

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Ars Technica: A new NASA mission, the first to hitch a ride on a commercial communications satellite, will examine Earth's upper atmosphere to see how the boundary between Earth and space changes over time. GOLD stands for Global-scale Observations of the Limb and Disk, and the mission will focus on the temperature and makeup of Earth's highest atmospheric layers. Along with another upcoming satellite, called ICON, GOLD will examine how weather on Earth -- and space weather caused by the sun -- affects those uppermost layers. GOLD, which will inspect the ultraviolet radiation that the upper atmosphere releases, will also be the first to take comprehensive records of that atmospheric layer's temperature. The satellite carrying GOLD will orbit 22,000 miles (35,400 kilometers) above Earth in a geostationary orbit, which means GOLD will stay fixed with respect to Earth's surface as the satellite orbits and the world turns. GOLD will pay particularly close attention to Earth's thermosphere, which is the gas that surrounds the Earth higher than 60 miles (97 km) up, and the layer called the ionosphere, which forms as radiation from the sun strips away electrons from particles to create charged ions. And although solar flares and other interactions on the sun do have a strong impact on those layers, scientists are learning that Earth's own weather has an impact on the layers, too.
Space

The Alien Megastructure Around Mysterious 'Tabby's Star' Is Probably Just Dust, Analysis Shows (theguardian.com) 75

An analysis by more than 200 astronomers has been published that shows the mysterious dimming of star KIC 8462852 -- nicknamed Tabby's star -- is not being produced by an alien megastructure. "The evidence points most strongly to a giant cloud of dust occasionally obscuring the star," reports The Guardian. From the report: KIC 8462852 is approximately 1,500 light years away from the Earth and hit the headlines in October 2015 when data from Nasa's Kepler space telescope showed that it was dimming by unexplainably large amounts. The star's light dropped by 20% first and then 15% making it unique. Even a large planet passing in front of the star would have blocked only about 1% of the light. For an object to block 15-20%, it would have to be approaching half the diameter of the star itself. With this realization, a few astronomers began whispering that such a signal would be the kind expected from a gigantic extraterrestrial construction orbiting in front of the star -- and the idea of the alien megastructure was born.

In the case of Tabby's star, the new observations show that it dims more at blue wavelengths than red. Thus, its light is passing through a dust cloud, not being blocked by an alien megastructure in orbit around the star. The new analysis of KIC 8462852 showing these results is to be published in The Astrophysical Journal Letters. It reinforces the conclusions reached by Huan Meng, University of Arizona, Tucson, and collaborators in October 2017. They monitored the star at multiple wavelengths using Nasa's Spitzer and Swift missions, and the Belgian AstroLAB IRIS observatory. These results were published in The Astrophysical Journal.

Space

SpaceX's Latest Advantage? Blowing Up Its Own Rocket, Automatically (qz.com) 126

SpaceX has reportedly worked with the Air Force to develop a GPS-equipped on-board computer, called the "Automatic Flight Safety System," that will safely and automatically detonate a Falcon 9 rocket in the sky if the launch threatens to go awry. Previously, an Air Force range-safety officer was required to be in place, ready to transmit a signal to detonate the rocket. Quartz reports: No other U.S. rocket has this capability yet, and it could open up new advantages for SpaceX: The U.S. Air Force is considering launches to polar orbits from Cape Canaveral, but the flight path is only viable if the rockets don't need to be tracked for range-safety reasons. That means SpaceX is the only company that could take advantage of the new corridor to space. Rockets at the Cape normally launch satellites eastward over the Atlantic into orbits roughly parallel to the equator. Launches from Florida into orbits traveling from pole to pole generally sent rockets too close to populated areas for the Air Force's liking. The new rules allow them to thread a safe path southward, past Miami and over Cuba.

SpaceX pushed for the new automated system for several reasons. One was efficacy: The on-board computer can react more quickly than human beings relying on radar data and radio transmissions to signal across miles of airspace, which gives the rocket more time to correct its course before blowing up in the event of an error. As important, the automated system means the company doesn't need to pay for the full use of the Air Force radar installations on launch day, which means SpaceX doesn't need to pay for some 160 U.S. Air Force staff to be on duty for their launches, saving the company and its customers money. Most impressively, the automated system will make it possible for SpaceX to fly multiple boosters at once in a single launch.

Power

Energy Department Permanently Closes Damaged Hanford Nuclear Reservation Tank (tri-cityherald.com) 69

The Department of Energy has decided to close the oldest double-shell tank at the Hanford Nuclear Reservation. The department says that Tank AY-102 has widespread damage and should not be repaired. The Tri-City Herald reports: DOE was required by Ecology, a regulator for Hanford's tanks storing radioactive and chemical waste, to empty enough waste from the tank to determine the cause of the leak by spring 2017. DOE confirmed in 2012 that waste from the inner shell of the tank was slowly leaking into the space between its inner and outer shells. No waste is known to have breached the outer shell to contaminate the soil beneath the tank. One of the goals of the inspection was to decide whether the tank could be repaired and returned to service, a scenario that appeared unlikely. Hanford has just 27 double-shell tanks, excluding Tank AY-102, to hold waste emptied from 149 leak-prone single shell tanks until the waste can be treated for disposal. Plans call for glassifying much of the waste at the vitrification plant under construction at Hanford. The waste is left from World War II and Cold War production of plutonium for the nation's nuclear weapons program.
Space

First Blue Moon Total Lunar Eclipse in 150 Years Coming This Month (space.com) 59

An anonymous reader writes, citing a report: The first eclipse of 2018 will be a lunar one that comes at the very end of the month, on Jan. 31. It will be a total eclipse that involves the second full moon of the month, popularly referred to as a Blue Moon. Such a skywatching event hasn't happened for more than 150 years. The eclipse will take place during the middle of the night, and the Pacific Ocean will be turned toward the moon at the time. Central and eastern Asia, Indonesia, New Zealand and most of Australia will get a fine view of this moon show in the evening sky. Heading farther west into western Asia, the Indian subcontinent, the Middle East and Eastern Europe, the eclipse will already be underway as the moon rises.
Medicine

Some Hopeful Predictions for 2018 (nbcnews.com) 75

NBC asked 15 "top science and tech leaders" for their predictions for 2018. Despite arguments that technology has "created a monster," one anonymous reader sees their answers as a reason for hope: NBC notes the detection of gravitational waves in 2017 (predicted almost a century ago by Einstein) and the creation of genetically modified human embryos. And a professor of molecular medicine at The Scripps Research Institute points out that in 2018, more than 10 different medical conditions are now also moving forward in gene-editing clinical trials, including rare eye diseases, hemophilia, and sickle cell anemia. He predicts that in 2018, deep machine learning "will start to take hold in the clinic, first in ways to improve diagnostic accuracy and efficiency of doctors' workflow."

Former ICANN head Esther Dyson predicts we'll also begin using big data not only to reduce healthcare costs, but also social problems like unemployment, depression, and crime. "With big data, and more data available through everything from health records and fitness apps to public data such as high school graduation rates and population demographics, we are increasingly able to compare what happens with what would have happened without a particular intervention...with luck, some communities will lead by example, and policy-makers will take note."

The head of the atmospheric science program at the University of Georgia notes that already, "We now have technology in place to provide significant lead time for landfalling hurricanes, potentially tornadic storms, and multi-day flood events." And Dr. Seth Shostak, the senior astronomer at the SETI Institute, predicts that in 2018 "it's possible that a replacement for Pluto will be found," while an astrophysicist at the American Museum of Natural History adds that in 2018 the European Space Agency's Gaia Mission will determine "distances to over a billion stars and velocities for several million," creating "an exquisitely detailed 3D map of our home galaxy."

Cloud

Can Docker Survive Google? (bloomberg.com) 98

Though Docker has 400 corporate customers -- and plans to double its sales staff -- "here's what happens to a startup when Google gets all up in its business," reads a recent headline at Bloomberg: Docker Inc. helped establish a type of software tool known as containers...and they've made the company rich. Venture capitalists have poured about $240 million into the startup, according to research firm CB Insights. Then along came Google, with its own free container system called Kubernetes. Google has successfully inserted Kubernetes into the coder toolbox. While Docker and Kubernetes serve slightly different purposes, customers who choose Google's tool can avoid paying Docker.

The startup gives away its most popular product while trying to convince developers to pay for extras, notably a program that does the same thing as Google's. "Kubernetes basically has ruled the industry, and it is the de facto standard," said Gary Chen, an analyst at IDC. "Docker has to figure out how do they differentiate themselves." It's up to [Docker CEO] Steve Singh to escape a situation that's trapped many startups battling cash-rich tech giants like Google, dangling free alternatives... "They invented this great tech, but they are not the ones profiting from it," said Gary Chen, an analyst at IDC.

Though Docker's CEO is hoping to take the company public someday, Slashdot reader oaf357 predicts a different future: To say that Docker had a very rough 2017 is an understatement. Aside from Uber, I can't think of a more utilized, hyped, and well funded Silicon Valley startup (still in operation) fumbling as bad as Docker did in 2017. People will look back on 2017 as the year Docker, a great piece of software, was completely ruined by bad business practices leading to its end in 2018.
His article criticizes things like the new Moby upstream for the Docker project, along with "Docker's late and awkward embrace of Kubernetes... It's almost as if Docker is conceding itself to being a marginal consulting firm in the container space." And he suggests that ultimately Docker could be acquired by "a large organization like Oracle or Microsoft."
Space

The Biggest Rocket Launches and Space Missions We're Looking Forward To in 2018 (theverge.com) 112

Loren Grush, writing for The Verge: Next year is already overflowing with exciting missions to space. NASA is launching a new lander to Mars, as well as a spacecraft that will get closer to the Sun than ever before. And two of NASA's vehicles already in space will finally arrive at their intended targets: one will rendezvous with a nearby asteroid, while another will pass by a distant space rock billions of miles from Earth. But it's not just NASA that has a busy year ahead; the commercial space industry has a number of significant test flights planned, and the launch of one of the world's most anticipated rockets, the Falcon Heavy, is slated for early 2018. And if all goes well, people may finally ride to space on private vehicles. Here's the complete list.

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