Three scientists won this year's Nobel Prize in physics Tuesday for advancing our understanding of black holes, the all-consuming monsters that lurk in the darkest parts of the universe. Briton Roger Penrose received half of this year's prize "for the discovery that black hole formation is a robust prediction of the general theory of relativity," the Nobel Committee said. German Reinhard Genzel and American Andrea Ghez received the second half of the prize "for the discovery of a supermassive compact object at the center of our galaxy." The prize celebrates "one of the most exotic objects in the universe," black holes, which have become a staple of science fact and science fiction and where time seems to stand still, according to the committee. Black holes are perhaps the most mysterious and powerful objects in astronomy.
Hypersonic represents a new frontier of missile warfare: fast, stealthy, and unpredictable in flight. The U.S. recently tested a prototype that puts it in a race with China and Russia to claim a capability that adds another layer of uncertainty to geopolitical competition, not least because of the complex computational systems on which hypersonic weapons rely. Put simply, the assumptions of conventional missile warfare – that incoming attacks can be tracked and intercepted, and a proportionate response be weighed – don't transfer easily to hypersonic weapons because they are so fast and stealthy. That means a greater reliance on artificial intelligence to track and respond, raising ethical questions about how such systems are programmed. Even if it's not all dictated by AI, "there is going to be an awful lot of automation and that kind of decision chain to deal with these kinds of systems," says Douglas Barrie, a military aerospace analyst in London.
Canada may have just found a new icon, thanks to a group of enthusiasts pushing to adopt a national lichen. This all may seem a frivolous venture during the coronavirus pandemic. But it's come at a time when people who are weary of being cooped up in their homes are reconnecting with nature like never before. It's also a time when people, confronting a universal vulnerability that calls for global cooperation to beat it, are rethinking complex systems. More than 18,000 Canadians weighed in on a vote organized by the Canadian Museum of Nature in Ottawa.
They're being called the world's first "living robots." But what, exactly, does that mean? Designed by a supercomputer, xenobots can move toward a target, form a group to push pellets to a central location, and self-repair. But they're made entirely from frog stem cells. But for now, these biological blobs are little more than a proof of concept.
Americans prefer a space program that focuses on potential asteroid impacts, scientific research and using robots to explore the cosmos over sending humans back to the moon or on to Mars, a poll shows. The poll by The Associated Press and the NORC Center for Public Affairs Research, released Thursday, one month before the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing, lists asteroid and comet monitoring as the No. 1 desired objective for the United States space program. About two-thirds of Americans call that very or extremely important, and about a combined 9 in 10 say it's at least moderately important. The poll comes as the White House pushes to get astronauts back on the moon, but only about a quarter of Americans said moon or Mars exploration by astronauts should be among the space program's highest priorities. About another third called each of those moderately important.
A NASA spacecraft's six-month journey to Mars neared its dramatic grand finale Nov. 26 in what scientists and engineers hoped would be a soft precision landing on flat red plains. The InSight lander aimed for an afternoon touchdown, as anxiety built among those involved in the $1 billion international effort. InSight's perilous descent through the Martian atmosphere, after a trip of 300 million miles, had stomachs churning and nerves stretched to the max. Although an old pro at this, NASA last attempted a landing at Mars six years ago. The robotic geologist – designed to explore Mars' mysterious insides – must go from 12,300 mile per hour to zero in six minutes flat as it pierces the Martian atmosphere, pops out a parachute, fires its descent engines and, hopefully, lands on three legs.
There were some tense hours at the operation center for the New Horizons mission when the spacecraft briefly lost contact with Earth on July 4, 2015, just days from its long-awaited flyby of Pluto. It's just one of many gripping moments in a book that Alan Stern, the mission leader and a co-author of "Chasing New Horizons" along with astrobiologist David Grinspoon, describes as a "techno-thriller about how the farthest planet was explored." Dr. Stern recently sat down for an interview in his Boulder, Colo., office, surrounded by photos and mementos from the New Horizons mission – a mission that took decades to convince NASA to get off the ground and another decade to travel 3 billion miles to the last unexplored planet in our solar system. The New Horizons spacecraft continues to explore the vast reaches of the Kuiper Belt, at the outer edge of our solar system. His responses have been edited for clarity and brevity.
May 7, 2018 --A streak of rocket fire pierced the foggy predawn skies of southern California Saturday, as NASA sent off its latest Mars mission. The InSight mission is set to rack up a series of "firsts." It will also be the first time CubeSats will deploy in deep space. And, if the mission is successful, it will be the first time that scientists gather direct data on the interior of another planet and detect quakes on another planet. Despite all these firsts, the mission marks the 45th time humans have sent robotic envoys to uncover Mars's secrets (although only about half of those missions are considered a success).
April 12, 2018 --Visit this online directory of the nearly 200 faculty members at Hampshire College and you'll find that, listed between a professor of communications and a visiting professor of video and film, is a petri dish of yellow schmutz. The schmutz is a plasmodial slime mold, Physarum polycephalum, a glob of living cells that exhibits decidedly non-schmutzlike behavior, such as solving mazes and anticipating periodic events – so much so that in 2017 Hampshire, a private liberal arts school in Amherst, Mass., awarded it a position of "visiting non-human scholar." The abilities of non-animals to remember events, recognize patterns, and solve problems are prompting scientists and philosophers to rethink what thinking is. In the 20th century, science demolished the notion that humans are the only animals to exhibit complex thinking; in the 21st, biologists are beginning to see cognition in other biological kingdoms – not just slime molds, but also plants. This shift in thought could not only help scientists better understand cognition's workings and its origins, but it could also help in the search for intelligence beyond Earth.
March 14, 2018 --Stephen Hawking lived a life that stood in defiance of finality. In 1963, as a graduate student at Cambridge University, he was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, also known as Lou Gehrig's disease. His doctors gave him just two years to live. Instead, Dr. Hawking spent the next half century overturning physicists' conceptions of black holes. In 1974, drawing on general relativity, thermodynamics, and quantum physics, he found that black holes actually emit radiation at their edges, gradually evaporating over billions of years until they explode.