Archive for Alan

Massive U.S. Machines That Hunt For Ripples In Space-Time Just Got An Upgrade

Scientists are about to restart the two giant facilities in the United States that register gravitational waves, the ripples in the very fabric of the universe that were predicted by Albert Einstein more than a century ago.

Einstein realized that when massive objects such as black holes collide, the impact sends shock waves through space-time that are like the ripples in water created by tossing a pebble in a pond.

In 2015, researchers made history by detecting gravitational waves from colliding black holes for the first time — and this was such a milestone that three U.S. physicists almost immediately won the Nobel Prize for their work on the project.

Since then, physicists have detected gravitational waves from other exotic smashups. The grand total is10 pairs of black holes colliding and a pair of neutron stars crashing together.

Now they’re getting ready to discover more of these cosmic events. On April 1, the twin facilities in Louisiana and Washington state that make up the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory will start doing science again after being shut down for more than a year so that workers could install hardware upgrades.

The project is funded by the National Science Foundation and the improvements should dramatically increase the detector’s ability to sense some of the most mysterious and powerful events in the universe.

“So far, we’ve seen 11 things. Maybe we’ll see twice that many this year,” says Joseph Giaime, head of the LIGO Observatory in Livingston, La.

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NASA Aims to Alter an Asteroid’s Course

Can NASA’s Dart spacecraft, a potential defensive weapon against incoming asteroids, hit one and change its course or speed? We should find out in 2022.

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After a reset, Curiosity is operating normally

Curiosity encountered a hurdle last Friday, when a hiccup during boot-up interrupted its planned activities and triggered a protective safe mode. The rover was brought out of this mode on Tuesday, Feb. 19, and is otherwise operating normally, having successfully booted up over 30 times without further issues.

Throughout the weekend, Curiosity was sending and receiving technical data, communicating with the team in order to help them pinpoint the cause of the issue.

“We’re still not sure of its exact cause and are gathering the relevant data for analysis,” said Steven Lee, Curiosity’s deputy project manager at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. JPL leads the Curiosity mission. “The rover experienced a one-time computer reset but has operated normally ever since, which is a good sign,” he added. “We’re currently working to take a snapshot of its memory to better understand what might have happened.”

Out of an abundance of caution, Lee said, science operations will remain on hold until the issue is better understood.

“In the short term, we are limiting commands to the vehicle to minimize changes to its memory,” Lee said. “We don’t want to destroy any evidence of what might have caused the computer reset. As a result, we expect science operations will be suspended for a short period of time.”

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NASA’s Space Shuttle Rises From the Dead to Power New Vehicles

Modified left-over Shuttle engines will power NASA’s delayed Space Launch System (SLS), a giant launch vehicle intended for lunar missions and, eventually, Mars. An experimental autonomous DARPA spaceplane, called the Phantom Express, will also rely on a Shuttle engine. This vehicle is designed to offer swift, aircraft-like access to space. Both projects are being built by Boeing.

Now yet more Shuttle hardware is getting ready to fly again, also within Boeing’s empire. A Space Act Agreement signed in 2018 shows that the aerospace company wants to include a handful of the Shuttle’s smaller orbital maneuvering engines in a secret Department of Defense project. Known as the R40b, the engine was originally developed to allow Shuttles to adjust their speed and direction while in orbit, helping the iconic spacecraft to deploy the Hubble Telescope and parts of the International Space Station.

Under the $818,000 agreement, NASA will select eight engines that are currently mothballed at its White Sands Test Facility, in New Mexico. The agency will clean up, inspect, and test-fire them to identify the best four, before handing them over to Boeing for “return to service” in an unnamed DoD program.

The NASA agreement was signed in September by an engineer at Boeing’s facility in El Segundo, California. According to the LA Times, development work for DARPA’s Phantom Express spaceplane is being carried out there. Phantom Express is an uncrewed, reusable spaceplane that will take off vertically to deploy small satellites or other spacecraft, and then glide back down to land horizontally, like the Shuttle.

The Shuttle, which cost around $450 million per mission, was supposed to fly once a month but never got close to its goal. DARPA hopes the Phantom Express will be faster on its feet, able to launch, land, and launch again in as little as a day, with a price tag of just $5 million per flight. That would be a fraction of the cost of today’s SpaceX launches, though that company is also aiming to turn around its reusable rockets in about a day, which is expected to then shrink its price tag.

Unlike their larger brethren, though, the latest Shuttle engines to be resurrected may not be destined for the Phantom Express. El Segundo is also where Boeing builds most of its satellites, and the small engines could be used to boost large military satellites into geostationary orbits. NASA and Boeing both declined to comment on this story.

Full article here

NASA: Voyager 2 spacecraft reaches interstellar space after four decades exploring solar system

NASA’s Voyager 2 probe, launched in 1977, is now more than 11 billion miles from Earth and has reached interstellar space, the agency said Monday. This is the second time a human-made object has reached this part of space. And it’s an incredible feat for a spacecraft designed to last five years.

Voyager 2 is now NASA’s longest-running mission, with 41 years under its belt. This boundary is where hot solar wind meets cold interstellar space, and it’s called the heliopause. Mission scientists compared data from instruments on Voyager 2 to determine that the actual date of the crossing was November 5, when the solar wind particles around the probe dipped greatly, meaning it left the heliosphere.
“There is still a lot to learn about the region of interstellar space immediately beyond the heliopause,” Voyager project scientist Ed Stone said in a statement.
Voyager 1, launched just a few weeks after Voyager 2, crossed the same boundary in 2012 and exited the heliosphere, a bubble of magnetic fields and particles created by the sun.
However, just because the probes have left the heliosphere doesn’t mean they have left our solar system. Its boundary is the outermost edge of the Oort Cloud, a group of small objects influenced by the gravity of our sun.
The mission scientists believe that it would take Voyager 2,300 years to reach the inner edge of the cloud and 30,000 years to fly past it completely.

Full article: https://www.cnn.com/2018/12/10/us/nasa-voyager-2-update/index.html

Pentagon looks to exoskeletons to build ‘super-soldiers’

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. Army is investing millions of dollars in experimental exoskeleton technology to make soldiers stronger and more resilient, in what experts say is part of a broader push into advanced gear to equip a new generation of “super-soldiers.”

The technology is being developed by Lockheed Martin Corp (LMT.N) with a license from Canada-based B-TEMIA, which first developed the exoskeletons to help people with mobility difficulties stemming from medical ailments like multiple sclerosis and severe osteoarthritis.

Worn over a pair of pants, the battery-operated exoskeleton uses a suite of sensors, artificial intelligence and other technology to aid natural movements.

For the U.S. military, the appeal of such technology is clear: Soldiers now deploy into war zones bogged down by heavy but critical gear like body armor, night-vision goggles and advanced radios. Altogether, that can weigh anywhere from 90 to 140 pounds (40-64 kg), when the recommended limit is just 50 pounds (23 kg).

“That means when people do show up to the fight, they’re fatigued,” said Paul Scharre at the Center for a New American Security (CNAS), who helped lead a series of studies on exoskeletons and other advanced gear.

“The fundamental challenge we’re facing with infantry troops is they’re carrying too much weight.”

Lockheed Martin said on Thursday it won a $6.9 million award from the U.S. Army Natick Soldier Research, Development and Engineering Center to research and develop the exoskeleton, called ONYX, under a two-year, sole-source agreement.

Keith Maxwell, the exoskeleton technologies manager at Lockheed Martin Missiles and Fire Control, said people in his company’s trials who wore the exoskeletons showed far more endurance.

“You get to the fight fresh. You’re not worn out,” Maxwell said.

Maxwell, who demonstrated a prototype, said each exoskeleton was expected to cost in the tens of thousands of dollars.

Full article: https://www.reuters.tv/v/Prqw/2018/11/30/pentagon-invests-in-super-soldier-exoskeletons

How NASA beams Pluto images 3 billion miles to Earth

Spanning three continents, the Deep Space Network hears all. And thank goodness, or you wouldn’t be seeing any photos of Pluto.

NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft is delivering amazing images of Pluto, but receiving them from 3 billion miles (4.8 billion kilometers) away is no easy feat.

The strength of the radio signals, the time it takes the signal to travel back and forth and the speed of the data flow all present challenges, but it’s all in a day’s work for NASA’s Deep Space Network. Think of it as the long-distance phone company for the solar system and beyond.

The DSN consists of a network of huge satellite dishes spread across three sites—near Barstow in California; near Madrid in Spain; and near Canberra in Australia. Those locations are about 120 degrees in longitude apart to give wide coverage of the skies, so before a spacecraft is lost by one antenna, another one can pick it up.

The sensitive antennas work alone or in groups and communicate with about 30 space probes each month, said Jeff Osman, contact technical manager for the Deep Space Network, in an interview.

For New Horizons, the first images of its closest Pluto fly-by will be received by 70-meter antennas at the Madrid and Barstow sites, he said.

Data is coming down at a speed of approximately 1,200 bits per second—about as fast as a dial-up Internet modem in the early Nineties—and it takes 4.5 hours for the signal to travel the distance from New Horizons to Earth.

The Deep Space Network isn’t confined to NASA craft. Because of its sensitivity, it also plays a supporting role to international missions, such as those launched by the European Space Agency and Japan’s space agency.

At any one time, the DSN is talking to between 12 and 15 craft. A real-time view of this setup can be found on the Web at DSN Now. The page details which antenna is talking to which space probe, and even the data rate and frequency in use.

Most spacecraft use a portion of the X-band at 8.4-8.5GHz, which is set aside globally for deep space communications. Because the signals coming back to Earth are so weak, agencies like NASA need a dedicated frequency band to avoid interference from terrestrial sources. Noise is also part of the reason space agencies are now eyeing even higher frequencies, around 32GHz, for future generations of craft.

Full article: https://www.pcworld.com/article/2948432/consumer-tech-science/how-nasa-beams-pluto-images-3-billion-miles-to-earth.html

DSN: https://eyes.nasa.gov/dsn/dsn.html

Scientists Have Found Rare Giant Viruses Lurking in The Soil of a US Forest

There’s a forest in Massachusetts that for nearly 30 years has hosted the world’s longest running soil-warming experiment, measuring how hotter temperatures impact the tiny life-forms that live in the dirt.

With the way climate change is going, you could say the future itself is buried in that heated dirt. But our unknown tomorrows aren’t all that’s hiding there.

In this oversized outdoor research laboratory, scientists have made an unexpected discovery, finding 16 rare ‘giant’ viruses that are completely new to science.

“We were not looking for giant viruses,” says biologist Jeff Blanchard from the University of Massachusetts Amherst (UMass).

“Our goal was to isolate bacteria directly from the environment to understand how microbial communities are changing in response to soil warming.”

Full article: https://www.sciencealert.com/scientists-discovered-rare-giant-viruses-lurking-in-harvard-forest-soil-under-massachusetts

The Hidden Underworld of Giza

A vast network of underground chambers and water tunnels have been discovered beneath several of the world’s most well-known pyramids, including the Great Pyramid on Egypt’s Giza Plateau.

For centuries these ancient tunnels have remained hidden and off-limits to everyone but a select few. But now they are coming into the Light and what is being found raises even deeper questions.

See full article by Kathy J. Forti (with pictures)

“God Mode” Backdoor

Some x86 CPUs have hidden backdoors that let you seize root by sending a command to an undocumented RISC core that manages the main CPU, security researcher Christopher Domas told the Black Hat conference here Thursday (Aug. 9).

The command — “.byte 0x0f, 0x3f” in Linux — “isn’t supposed to exist, doesn’t have a name, and gives you root right away,” Domas said, adding that he calls it “God Mode.”

The backdoor completely breaks the protection-ring model of operating-system security, in which the OS kernel runs in ring 0, device drivers run in rings 1 and 2, and user applications and interfaces (“userland”) run in ring 3, furthest from the kernel and with the least privileges. To put it simply, Domas’ God Mode takes you from the outermost to the innermost ring in four bytes.

“We have direct ring 3 to ring 0 hardware privilege escalation,” Domas said. “This has never been done.”

That’s because of the hidden RISC chip, which lives so far down on the bare metal that Domas half-joked that it ought to be thought of as a new, deeper ring of privilege, following the theory that hypervisors and chip-management systems can be considered ring -1 or ring -2.

“This is really ring -4,” he said. “It’s a secret, co-located core buried alongside the x86 chip. It has unrestricted access to the x86.”

The good news is that, as far as Domas knows, this backdoor exists only on VIA C3 Nehemiah chips made in 2003 and used in embedded systems and thin clients. The bad news is that it’s entirely possible that such hidden backdoors exist on many other chipsets.

Full read here.

https://github.com/xoreaxeaxeax/rosenbridge

More fuzzing:

https://github.com/xoreaxeaxeax/sandsifter

Breaking the x86 ISA

Fuzzing on Edison

Notes on Intel microcode

Drones, drones, drones. Our new overlords?

NASA is pursuing a program that integrates unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) into the National Airspace System, or UAS-NAS. This involves identifying, developing, and testing the technologies and procedures that will make it possible for UAS to have routine access to airspace occupied by human-piloted aircraft.

Four NASA centers support the UAS-NAS project: NASA’s Ames Research Center and Armstrong Flight Research Center in California, Langley Research Center in Virginia, and Glenn Research Center in Ohio.

The UAS-NAS project is within the Integrated Aviation Systems Research Program, managed by NASA’s Aeronautics Research Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters in Washington, D.C.

The project uses modeling, simulations, and flight tests to develop and test technologies that provide safe, effective, secure capabilities including detect and avoid (DAA) and command and control (C2).

Read further here.

ADELPHI, Md. – U.S. Army unmanned weapons experts are negotiating with Lockheed Martin Corp. to develop high-power microwave (HPM) weapons payloads to enable new generations of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) to destroy or disable enemy drones.

Officials of the Adelphi contracting division of the Army Contracting Command at Aberdeen Proving Ground, Md., announced plans Friday to negotiate sole-source with the Lockheed Martin Missiles and Fire Control division in Grand Prairie, Texas, on an HPM UAV weapons project.

Lockheed Martin engineers will develop high-powered-microwave airborne counter unmanned aircraft systems (CUAS), including the necessary development, integration, and support necessary to field HPM weapons-equipped UAVs.

Specifically, Army leaders want Lockheed Martin to develop HPM weapons and other kinds of UAV payloads able to disable or destroy adversary UAVs. Weapons payloads for UAVs that are under consideration include explosives, nets, entanglers, streamers, and high-powered-microwave systems.

High-power microwaves represent a class of non-lethal weapons designed to destroy or disable enemy electronic systems with jolts of powerful electrical energy. It can fry electronics in much the same way as the electromagnetic pulse (EMP) from a nuclear detonation can disrupt electronics.

Full article here.

WASHINGTON – Some of the most iconic weapons of the past 17 years of war are quickly becoming a relic of the past, top Air Force officials say. Breaking Defense reports. Continue reading original article

The Military & Aerospace Electronics take:

6 Aug. 2018 — The Air Force is rushing toward a mix of almost-ready and yet-to-be-developed technologies, including artificial intelligence (AI), cloud computing, hypersonics, drone swarms, and clouds of tiny cubesats capable of sucking up data and beaming it back down to operators the ground in real time.

After running red team exercises looking at what some of the biggest future challenges might be for the Air Force, leaders concluded that the Predator and Global Hawk unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) of today are not far away from becoming mere museum pieces.

Not only does the Air Force want to get its people away from staring at computer screens to recognize, interpret, and identify what they’re seeing, but also seeks to develop processing and exploitation at the sensor. [from M&AE]

Caves, drugs, and art

 

pattern

An abstract pattern engraved in a piece of ochre found at Blombos Cave in South Africa. Image: Chris S. Henshilwood.

 

Abstract art goes back a long way. The earliest examples are around 73,000 old and consist of abstract patterns engraved into pieces of ochre by natives of what is now South Africa. During the last ice age, around 40,000 year ago, European artists also left abstract designs, this time on the walls of caves.

What is striking about these early manifestations of abstract expression is that the patterns drawn were the same across cultures and locations: there are dots, cross-hatchings, circles, wavy lines and, in particular, spirals. These geometric patterns resemble what people report seeing when they are in altered states of consciousness, causing researchers to suggest that much of early abstract art was inspired by drugs.

Apart from scandalising the Daily Mail this idea also poses a question: why would people across continents and ages all favour patterns seen during drug induced hallucinations over the many others they could have chosen to paint? What makes drug induced visions so compelling? A recent paper by computer scientists from Japan suggests that the answer might hinge on an interesting interplay between the mathematics of pattern formation and a mechanism that generates a sense of value and meaning.

The geometric patterns seen in visual hallucinations were first studied scientifically in the 1920s by the German-American psychologist Heinrich Klüver. Klüver experimented with peyote, a cactus whose psychoactive ingredient mescaline played an important role in the shamanistic rituals of many central American tribes. Popping peyote buttons in the lab Klüver noticed the repeating geometric shapes and classified them into four types, which he called form constants: tunnels and funnels, spirals, lattices including honeycombs and triangles, and cobwebs.

vis-hallu

Computer generated representations of Klüver’s form constants. The top two images represent a funnel and a spiral as seen after taking LSD, the bottom left image is a honeycomb generated by marijuana, and the bottom right image is a cobweb. Image from What Geometric Visual Hallucinations Tell Us about the Visual Cortex by Paul C. Bressloff.

When it comes to understanding pattern formation in nature scientists often look to the work of Alan Turing, better known as WWII code-breaker and father of modern computer science. To explain the formation of the stripes and spots we see on animal coats Turing considered a system of two chemical agents (loosely speaking, one for each colour in a two-coloured animal coat) which diffuse through a medium (the cells making up an animal embryo) but also interact with each other in a specific way. Writing down the equations describing this process Turing found that once the system is nudged out of equilibrium it polarises. Rather than forming a uniform mixture the agents arrange themselves in a variety of possible patterns (see How the leopard got its spots for more detail).

 

Read further: https://plus.maths.org/content/caves-drugs-and-art

The illusion of time

According to theoretical physicist Carlo Rovelli, time is an illusion: our naive perception of its flow doesn’t correspond to physical reality. Indeed, as Rovelli argues in The Order of Time, much more is illusory, including Isaac Newton’s picture of a universally ticking clock. Even Albert Einstein’s relativistic space-time — an elastic manifold that contorts so that local times differ depending on one’s relative speed or proximity to a mass — is just an effective simplification.

So what does Rovelli think is really going on? He posits that reality is just a complex network of events onto which we project sequences of past, present and future. The whole Universe obeys the laws of quantum mechanics and thermodynamics, out of which time emerges.

Rovelli is one of the creators and champions of loop quantum gravity theory, one of several ongoing attempts to marry quantum mechanics with general relativity. In contrast to the better-known string theory, loop quantum gravity does not attempt to be a ‘theory of everything’ out of which we can generate all of particle physics and gravitation. Nevertheless, its agenda of joining up these two fundamentally differing laws is incredibly ambitious.

Alongside and inspired by his work in quantum gravity, Rovelli puts forward the idea of ‘physics without time’. This stems from the fact that some equations of quantum gravity (such as the Wheeler–DeWitt equation, which assigns quantum states to the Universe) can be written without any reference to time at all.

Continue reading: https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-018-04558-7