Jennifer Ouellette reports: NASA’s Juno spacecraft has been spinning through space on its way to Jupiter for five years and 445 million miles, and now it’s less than 10 hours away from entering the gas giant’s orbit—the equivalent of a single rotation of Jupiter. If all goes well, scientists will finally be able to learn what lies beneath Jupiter’s turbulent atmosphere, examine its impressive magnetosphere, and possibly determine the composition of its core.
“If Juno gets hit even by a small piece of dust, it can do a great bit of damage,” he said. “We believe probability is incredibly low that Juno will hit dust or debris, but it’s not zero. Even a 10 micron particle could do some damage moving at the speed we’re moving.”
— Juno project manager Scott Bolton
But first, it’s going to have to execute a tricky 35-minute engine burn under the harshest conditions any NASA spacecraft has yet faced. And that has Juno mission scientists on edge today. They’ve modeled every scenario they can think of, and planned for every contingency. But as Juno project manager Scott Bolton said in this morning’s briefing at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, “This is the highest risk phase.”
“We’ve done everything humanly possible to make this mission a success, but it’s still a cliffhanger,” said Jim Green, director of planetary science at NASA headquarters in Washington, DC.
Thus far, the mission has gone off without a hitch, but plenty could still go wrong. For instance, what if the main engine doesn’t fire on cue to start the burn, so far from the sun? “We’ve fired the main engine twice successfully and the third time should be a charm,” said Rick Nybakken, Juno project manager. “But this is the first time we’ve ever fired the main engine at Jupiter. It’s make or break for us.”
Then there’s the intense radiation from Jupiter’s enormous magnetosphere. According to Heidi Becker, lead investigator for Juno’s radiation monitoring, this translates into millions of high energy electrons moving near the speed of light. “They will go right though the spacecraft,” she said. “It’s the equivalent of 100 million x-rays in less than a year for a human being if we had no protection.”
Juno’s polar orbit will avoid the worst of the radiation belts at the planet’s equator, but other high-intensity regions are unavoidable. Read the rest of this entry »
Companies such as Amazon and Apple use Shanghai’s free-trade zone to run some of their value-added services in China, due to the area’s looser rules on foreign capital.
Yang Jie reports: The jury is still out on the business benefits of Shanghai’s free-trade zone— but one notable U.S. tech giant is among the firms that has dipped a toe into the pilot area’s waters.
“The free-trade zone’s rules make it easier for foreign companies to run e-commerce operations, for example. But they have little benefit when it comes to activities such as Internet search and e-mail, which are dependent on the location of the server and the storage of data”
Google, of Mountain View, Calif., set up a company in Shanghai’s pioneer free-trade zone last year, according to online filings reviewed by The Wall Street Journal.
Companies such as Amazon and Apple use Shanghai’s free-trade zone to run some of their value-added services in China, due to the area’s looser rules on foreign capital and greater freedom in terms of industries that foreign businesses can participate in.
The free-trade zone’s rules make it easier for foreign companies to run e-commerce operations, for example. But they have little benefit when it comes to activities such as Internet search and e-mail, which are dependent on the location of the server and the storage of data, according to people familiar with the matter.
Kerry Picket reports: A new Pew Research Center poll shows that 40 percent of American Millennials (ages 18-34) are likely to support government prevention of public statements offensive to minorities.
It should be noted that vastly different numbers resulted for older generations in the Pew poll on the issue of offensive speech and the government’s role.
— Pew Research Center (@pewresearch) November 21, 2015
Around 27 percent of Generation X’ers (ages 35-50) support such an idea, while 24 percent of Baby Boomers (ages 51-69) agree that censoring offensive speech about minorities should be a government issue. Only 12 percent of the Silent Generation (ages 70-87) thinks that government should prevent offensive speech toward minorities.
The poll comes at a time when college activists, such as the group “Black Lives Matter,” are making demands in the name of racial and ethnic equality at over 20 universities across the nation.
Some of the demands include restrictions on offensive Halloween costumes at Yale University to the deletion of U.S. President Woodrow Wilson’s image and name at Princeton University to “anti-oppression training” for employees at Brown University.
“Woodrow Wilson obviously … had a very ill-informed and ignorant view of race,” 1968 Princeton graduate Eric Chase told Reuters. “But he is a big piece of Princeton history and he should stay a big piece,” noting that it’s a push to “erase history and whitewash it and put something else in its place.” Read the rest of this entry »
Nolan’s early take on the ending, however, essentially cuts Cooper off inside the black hole…
Entertainment Weekly‘s Jonathon Dornbush writes: If Interstellar’s ending didn’t quite sit right with you, co-writer Jonathan Nolan may be able to help. As he recently revealed, the film’s original conclusion would have been much simpler—albeit way more depressing as well.
Nolan detailed the screenplay’s first ending at an event ahead of the film’s Blu-ray release in Pasadena, California, alongside scientist Kip Thorne, who served as a producer and science adviser for the film. As Nerdist reports, Nolan told a crowd at the Caltech Jet Propulsion Lab that he originally planned a much different conclusion for Matthew McConaughey’s Cooper.
“Instead of this bleak finish, Interstellar ends on a much more hopeful note—even if many have taken issue with how Nolan sacrifices scientific accuracy for a more emotional conclusion.”
In the final film, Cooper travels through the black hole Gargantua, surviving the trip and ending up in a “tesseract” space where he’s able to see—and in some bizarre ways, interact with—his past. This revelation allows him to send a Morse code message to his daughter Murph, which sets the film’s final events into motion.
Nolan’s early take on the ending, however, essentially cuts Cooper off inside the black hole. His script “had the Einstien-Rosen bridge [wormhole] collapse when Cooper tries to send the data back.”
The wormhole falling apart would have prevented Cooper from returning home or interacting with the tesseract, which, according to Nerdist, was director Christopher Nolan’s idea. Instead, his journey would have ended there, with Cooper sacrificing himself in the name of his cause. This also would have prevented much of the finished film’s concluding events—Cooper’s return trip, rediscovering his daughter, and stealing a ship to search for Anne Hathaway’s Amelia Brand would never have happened. Nolan does not mention, however, whether in that original ending, the data Cooper is collecting to send back to Earth would have made it out before the collapse. Read the rest of this entry »
One of the biggest mysteries in astronomy, how stars blow up in supernova explosions, is unraveling thanks to new data from NASA’s Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array, or NuSTAR. In this image of Cassiopeia A, NuSTAR data, which show high-energy X-rays from radioactive material, are colored blue. Lower-energy X-rays from non-radioactive material are shown in red, yellow and green. Cassiopeia A is the remains of a star that blew up in a supernova event whose light reached Earth about 350 years ago, when it could have appeared to observers as a star that suddenly brightened. The remnant is located 11,000 light-years away from Earth.
PASADENA, Calif. – NASA’s Mars rover Curiosity has used autonomous navigation for the first time, a capability that lets the rover decide for itself how to drive safely on Mars.
This latest addition to Curiosity’s array of capabilities will help the rover cover the remaining ground en route to Mount Sharp, where geological layers hold information about environmental changes on ancient Mars. The capability uses software that engineers adapted to this larger and more complex vehicle from a similar capability used by NASA’s Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity, which is also currently active on Mars.
By Steve Sailer, for the UPI
The Massachusetts Institute of Technology [now Harvard] cognitive scientist Steven Pinker’s bestseller “The Blank Slate: The Modern Denial of Human Nature” is one of the more intellectually ambitious books to hit the best-seller lists in recent years. Here, he answers my questions about free will, God vs. Darwin, what went wrong with 20th Century high culture, Nazis vs. Communists, and his hairstyle. United Press International caught up with him just before a lecture at the California Institute of Technology, and then followed up with e-mail questions:
UPI: A widespread criticism among hostile reviewers has been: “You say that genes affect how people behave. Doesn’t everybody know this already? Why write a book about it?”
Pinker: In their hearts, most people know it, especially people with more than one child. But many people deny it when they switch into intellectualizing mode. For example, many parenting studies measure a correlation between parenting practices and children’s outcomes and conclude that parenting made the difference — jabbering at your kids advances their language skills, spanking them makes them more violent and so forth. They ignore the fact that parents provide their children with genes, not just an environment, so talkative parents may pass on genes for talkativeness to their children. Another example: every few years, many academics and activists sign pious petitions declaring that “violence is learned behavior.” A third example: statistics showing that women are underrepresented in professions like mechanical engineering are interpreted as evidence of hidden barriers; no one asks whether women are less likely to choose people-free professions like mechanical engineering. All three of these blank-slate fallacies, by the way, are commonly made by scientists.
Q: A common fear seems to be: “But if genetic determinism is actually true, doesn’t that mean the Nazis were right?”
A: Genetic determinism is not true. Except for a few neurological disorders, no behavioral trait is determined with 100 percent probability by the genome, or anything else (we know this because identical twins are only similar, not indistinguishable, in their personality and intellect). Of course, even a statistical influence of the genes does not mean that the Nazis were right. Factually, they were wrong in believing that races and ethnic groups are qualitatively distinct in their biology, that they occupy different rungs on an evolutionary ladder, that they differ in morally worthy traits like courage and honesty, and that “superior” groups were endangered by interbreeding with “inferior” ones. Morally, they were wrong in causing the deaths of some 35 million innocent people and horrific suffering to countless others.
Your question, of course, alludes to a conventional wisdom among left-leaning academics that genes imply genocide. But the 20th century suffered twoideologies that led to genocides. The other one, Marxism, had no use for race, didn’t believe in genes and denied that human nature was a meaningful concept. Clearly, it’s not an emphasis on genes or evolution that is dangerous. It’s the desire to remake humanity by coercive means (eugenics or social engineering) and the belief that humanity advances through a struggle in which superior groups (race or classes) triumph over inferior ones.
Q: Aren’t we all better off if people believe that we are not constrained by our biology and so can achieve any future we choose?
A: People are surely better off with the truth. Oddly enough, everyone agrees with this when it comes to the arts. Sophisticated people sneer at feel-good comedies and saccharine romances in which everyone lives happily ever after. But when it comes to science, these same people say, “Give us schmaltz!” They expect the science of human beings to be a source of emotional uplift and inspirational sermonizing.
Q: What is the Tragic Vision vs. the Utopian Vision?
A: They are the different visions of human nature that underlie left-wing and right-wing ideologies. The distinction comes from the economist Thomas Sowell in his wonderful book “A Conflict of Visions.” According to the Tragic Vision, humans are inherently limited in virtue, wisdom, and knowledge, and social arrangements must acknowledge those limits. According to the Utopian vision, these limits are â€œproductsâ€ of our social arrangements, and we should strive to overcome them in a better society of the future. Out of this distinction come many right-left contrasts that would otherwise have no common denominator. Rightists tend to like tradition (because human nature does not change), small government (because no leader is wise enough to plan society), a strong police and military (because people will always be tempted by crime and conquest), and free markets (because they convert individual selfishness into collective wealth). Leftists believe that these positions are defeatist and cynical, because if we change parenting, education, the media, and social expectations, people could become wiser, nicer, and more peaceable and generous.