[ futurism.com ] Mercury May Be Even Icier Than We Thought

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Mercury May Be Even Icier Than We Thought

Cold As Ice

The surface of Mercury is typically thought to be too hot for ice to form, but studies over the years have suggested ice can be found on the planet closest to the Sun. Now, a new study carried out by a group of researchers from Brown University pushes the speculation further, claiming Mercury may be far icier than we originally thought.

The idea that Mercury may contain ice first began in 1990 when radar telescopes discovered highly reflective regions inside several craters near the planet’s poles. Since Mercury has very little tilt, these craters receive little-to-no sunlight, resulting in dark, shadowy spots with low temperatures capable of forming ice.

Ariel Deutsch, the study’s lead author and Brown Ph.D candidate, worked with Gregory Neumann from NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center to take a fresh look at data gathered by the NASA MESSENGER probe when it orbited Mercury from 2011 to 2015. The probe was equipped with tools enabling it to map elevation which the team realized it could also be used to detect reflective areas.

After calibrating the device, it detected new readings suggesting the existence of three large craters with sizable ice deposits. Combined, the craters are about 3,400 square kilometers (1,312 square miles) in size — slightly larger than the state of Rhode Island. Alongside the three large craters, four smaller ice deposits were also found, each with diameters of less than about 5 kilometers (3 miles).

“The assumption has been that surface ice on Mercury exists predominantly in large craters, but we show evidence for these smaller-scale deposits as well,” said Deutsch. “Adding these small-scale deposits to the large deposits within craters adds significantly to the surface ice inventory on Mercury.”

More to Find

The discovery of the smaller ice deposits could change the way we look for ice and water in the rest of our solar system. Jim Head, co-author of the research, explains the work “opens our eyes to new places to look for evidence of water, and suggests there’s a whole lot more of it on Mercury than we thought.”

Similar deposits are believed to be on the Moon, which could be the next place we look. If true, it could double the amount of ice speculated to be on our lunar neighbor.

That said, it’s still unclear how ice found its way to Mercury. Current theories speculate water was brought to the planet via comet and asteroid impacts, or perhaps that solar wind introduced hydrogen to the surface, which later mixed with oxygen to form water.

One thing is certain, however: we’re not done with Mercury just yet. Between looking for more ice and plans to discover why it appears to be shrinking, the planet is in for a lot of new attention.

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[ futurism.com ] OSIRIS-REx Will Pass Within 11,000 Miles of Earth on Friday

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OSIRIS-REx Will Pass Within 11,000 Miles of Earth on Friday

NASA’s OSIRIS-REx spacecraft is currently on approach to Earth, having spent the last year circling the sun. It’s set to fly by on Friday (September 21) at 19,000 miles per hour, keeping a distance of around 11,000 miles.

This close encounter is intended to make a modification of about six degrees to its current trajectory, putting it on course to reach its destination: an asteroid dubbed Bennu. “We’re essentially stealing a bit of the earth’s momentum as we go by,” the leader of NASA’s OSIRIS-REx navigation team, Michael Moreau, told the New York Times.

That’s no exaggeration. The Earth’s tilt will change very slightly as a result, but by such a small amount that it’s not even worth calculating.

OSIRIS-REx is heading to Bennu to gather samples researchers hope will further our understanding of the origins of life in this galaxy. The asteroid is thought to be packed with carbon-rich molecules that were formed when the solar system was born some 4.5 billion years ago.

The mission should also give us some useful insight into the asteroid’s physical and chemical properties — which could come in handy, given that there’s a 1 in 2,700 chance that it will collide with the Earth between 2175 and 2196.

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[ futurism.com ] Quantum “Flashes” Could Be Responsible for the Creation of Gravity

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Quantum “Flashes” Could Be Responsible for the Creation of Gravity

Quantum Leap

Since the mid-twentieth century, two theories of physics have offered powerful yet incompatible models of the physical universe. General relativity brings space and time together into the (then) portmanteau space-time, the curvature of which is gravity. It works really well on large scales, such as the interplanetary or interstellar space.

The Evolution of Human Understanding of the Universe [INFOGRAPHIC]
Click to View Full Infographic

But zoom into the subatomic, and things get weird. The mere act of observing interactions changes the behavior of what is (presumably) totally independent of observation. In those situations, we need quantum theory to help us make sense of it all.

Though scientists have made some remarkable attempts to bring these estranged theories together, viz., string theory, the math behind the theories remains incompatible. However, new research from Antoine Tilloy of the Max Planck Institute of Quantum Optics in Garching, Germany, suggests that gravity might be an attribute of random fluctuations on the quantum level, which would supplant gravity as the more fundamental theory and put us on the path to a unified theory of the physical universe.

Tilloy’s Model

In quantum theory, a particle’s state is described by its wave function. This function allows theorists to predict the probability that a particle will be in this or that place. However, before the act of verification is made via measurement, no one knows for sure where the particle will be or if it even exists. In scientific terms, the act of observation “collapses” the wave function.

Here’s the thing about quantum mechanics: it doesn’t define what a measurement is. Who — or what — is an observer? A conscious human? Bracketing all explanations to observed phenomena, we’re stuck with paradoxes like Schrödinger’s cat, which invites us to consider the equal possibilities that a previously boxed cat is, as far as we know, simultaneously dead and alive in the box and will remain as such until we lift the lid.

One attempt to solve the paradox is the Ghirardi–Rimini–Weber (GRW) model from the late eighties. It incorporates random “flashes” that can cause the wave functions in quantum systems to spontaneously collapse. This purports to leave the outcome unbesmirched by meddling human observation.

Tilloy meddled with this model to extend quantum theory to encompass gravity. When a flash collapses a wave function, and the particle reaches its final position, a gravitational field pops into existence at that precise moment in space-time. On a large enough scale, quantum systems have many particles going through innumerable flashes.

According to Tilloy’s theory, this creates a fluctuating gravitational field, and the gravitational field produced by the average of these fluctuations is compatible with Newton’s theory of gravity. If gravity comes from quantum processes, but nevertheless behaves in a classical (or Newtonian) way, what we have is a “semiclassical” theory.

However, Klaus Hornberger of the University of Duisberg-Essen in Germany cautions the scientific world that other problems must be tackled before Tilloy’s semiclassical solution can warrant serious consideration as a unifying theory of fundamental forces underlying all modern physical laws. It fits Newton’s theory of gravity, but Tilloy’s yet to work out the math to show that the quantum theory also describes gravity under Einstein’s theory of general relativity.

With the greatest explanatory power, physics is one of the most exciting scientific disciplines. But the key to unified theories in physics is patience. As with Schrödinger’s cat, the will-to-know alone cannot fill in the gaps of what we simply don’t yet know.

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[ futurism.com ] Watch Live as Experts Tackle Our Planet’s Most Critical Issues

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Watch Live as Experts Tackle Our Planet’s Most Critical Issues

Toward Sustainable Development

Every year, the United Nations (U.N.) holds a week-long event as part of its General Assembly. This event, which runs from September 19-25 at the U.N.’s headquarters in New York, brings together academics, innovators, and world leaders to discuss the world’s most pressing issues.

One of the many issues covered is the U.N.’s 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. Described as “a plan of action for people, planet, and prosperity,” the U.N.’s sustainable development goals (SDGs) focus on areas that are deemed critical for the survival of humanity and the continued well-being of the planet.

Condensed into 17 fine points, the SDGs include things like the eradication of poverty, securing a quality education for all, obtaining universal gender equality, transitioning to affordable clean energy, and taking immediate climate action.

Of course, most of us probably have a thing or two to say about these issues and how they can be solved. Moreover, any conversation about how to solve the world’s problems that excludes basically all of the people in the world is a little shortsighted. To this end, ideally, everyday people would be able to participate in the discussion.

And now they can, thanks to an innovative program called the Global People’s Summit + Social Good.

Working in tandem with the U.N., it is the “first-ever global virtual summit exploring social innovation, disruptive technology, film and media, and the power of mobilizing networks to address some of the most challenging issues of our time.”

In short, it’s an opportunity for all people to have a voice in matters that are important for the future of the world. William Kennedy, Acting Head of the United Nations Office for Partnerships, spoke of this partnership in a press release:

The United Nations was created to bring nations together to find common ground and build sustainable peace and prosperity. Our partnership with the Global People’s Summit allows us to leverage innovative technology to invite the world, not just the leaders, to join these conversations. In a digital media age, we need to adopt innovative ways to empower global voices and put them at the heart of the work of the United Nations.

Online Conversations for the Greater Good

Technology has made engagement and participation possible on an unprecedented global scale. The summit, convened by The Barmada Group in collaboration with a handful of international development organizations, seeks to anchor on the U.N.’s 17 sustainable development goals. The summit’s more than 55 speakers cover topics like pollution and recycling, social activism, the future of automation and artificial intelligence (AI), the ongoing refugee crisis, and more.

To bring the discussion to the attention of global leaders and influencers inside the U.N., an interactive digital wall has been installed for the duration of the Global Goals Week that’s running parallel to the U.N. General Assembly. This digital wall will feature tweets and social media posts with the #GlobalPeopleSummit hashtag.

“The objective of the summit is to inspire social change. We aim to ignite global engagement and build communities to fight inequality, climate change, and address critical global challenges,” the Global People’s Summit founder and global curator, Hazami Barmada, said in a press statement. “The summit aims to take conversations out of exclusive conference rooms and put them in the public sphere. Transforming the world is only possible if we begin to more effectively engage global networks and unlock capacity for action.”

So, whether you want to actively participate in the discussion or just to be a witness to this historic summit, you can take your seat at the table by signing up at the website of Global People’s Summit. As U.N. SDG Action Campaign director Mitchell Toomey said, efforts like this are needed “to bring together governments, technology leaders, and relevant partners to share key knowledge and tools while inspiring collective action.”

The post Watch Live as Experts Tackle Our Planet’s Most Critical Issues appeared first on Futurism.


[ futurism.com ] Amazon Is Working on Alexa-Powered Smart Glasses Plus a Home Security System

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Amazon Is Working on Alexa-Powered Smart Glasses Plus a Home Security System

Alexa-Powered Glasses

The Financial Times reports Amazon is currently working on two new products powered by Alexa — the company’s virtual assistant.

Citing people familiar with the Seattle-based company’s plans, the Financial Times writes the first product will be a pair of smart glasses that provide wearers access to Alexa from anywhere in the world. To ensure it can be worn comfortably, and to avoid drawing attention in public, the device will resemble a typical pair of glasses; they would also feature a bone conduction audio system, allowing the wearer to hear Alexa without inserting headphones.

The second product will be part of Amazon’s line-up of smart home accessories; specifically, a home security camera system. The camera would have internet capabilities and would support various Echo products. Among other things, users would be able to view the camera’s video feed on the Amazon Echo Show’s screen, or track the progress of an Amazon order.

Comparing the Best AI Assistants on the Market
Click to View Full Infographic

Expanding Alexa and Echo

CNET writes that Alexa and Amazon Echo have performed well since their respective launches, presumably a significant reason behind Amazon’s decision to expand to smart glasses and new security hardware. According to eMarketer, Amazon controls 70 percent of the voice-enabled smart speaker market as of May 2017, putting it far ahead of Google Home’s 24 percent.

It’s unknown when either product will launch, but it’ll be interesting to see how people react to a new pair of smart glasses. Google Glass, Google’s own attempt at smart glasses, wasn’t exactly a big hit with consumers. It was rebooted in 2015 and renamed Project Aura before becoming a product used almost exclusively by Google employees.

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[ futurism.com ] This Could Be The West’s Worst Fire Season Ever

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This Could Be The West’s Worst Fire Season Ever

Cruel Summer

During a summer characterized by extreme wet weather, it might have been easy to miss the cloud of smoke over western North America. But residents of the western US and British Columbia haven’t been able to ignore the truth literally hanging over them: this summer was one of the worst wildfire seasons on record, and these blazes only seem to be growing worse.

At the season’s peak in early September, over 137 large wildfires were burning simultaneously in the American West, covering an area of around 7.8 million acres. Thirty-eight large fires continue to smolder on, according to the National Interagency Fire Center, burning over 1.5 million acres. Across the border, British Columbia still has over 100 wildfires burning at the tail end of the worst fire season ever seen in the province. Thousands of people have been evacuated and hundreds of homes have been destroyed, and both Yosemite and Glacier National Parks were threatened by the flames throughout this season.

wildfires climate change

The dramatic conflagrations were caused by record heat and drought in western North America. On September 1, San Francisco reached 106 degrees, the hottest temperature ever recorded in the city. Vancouver, Seattle, and Montana all saw their hottest, driest summers ever.

These extraordinarily high temperatures completely negated any possible relief provided by a snowy winter in the northwest; high grasses that grew lush in the wet months dried out during summer’s rapid onset, joining the 66 million trees already dead from the west’s 6-year drought. The result was a landscape full of wildfire fuel.

Fire and Fury (and Climate Change)

Warmer temperatures and earlier snowmelt, seen all over the world, are driving this trend—and both have been linked to human-induced climate change. Though the number of wildfires each year has remained about the same, their size and duration have ballooned with warming temperatures. Fire season is now about 78 days longer than it was in 1970, according to the US Forest Service, and one study found that the areas burned by such fires has doubled since 1984.

I shot these photos Monday night of the Eagle Creek Fire from the Washington side of the Columbia River. I've seen a lot of fires. I grew up in Southern California, but I've never seen a fire move with such speed and ferocity. The Eagle Creek Fire was started by teens playing with fireworks, about a mile from the Eagle Creek Trailhead, one of the most popular trails in the Gorge. The fire has now charred more than 10,000 acres of incredible forest. An ember carried by strong winds jumped the Columbia River and is now burning 25+ acres in Washington. Thousands of homes, historic landmarks and businesses are now in the fire's path. Keep firefighters and those in the path in your thoughts, donate where you can, practice Leave No Trace principles and pray for rain. I never thought I'd be saying those words in the Pacific Northwest. Here we are. Heartbroken. Photo 2 is just above the town of Dodson Photo 3 is of Oneonta Gorge • • • #oregon #pnw #eaglecreek #eaglecreekfire #oregonexplored #jj_oregon #punchbowlfalls #elowahfalls #latourellfalls #vistahouse #pnwonderland #cascadiaexplored #hiking #upperleftusa #wildfire #firefighting #fire

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That study also found that humans may have contributed to the growing size of wildfires in another way: by putting them out. Fires are a natural part of the cycle of life and death within a forest, serving to eliminate dead and dry plants and recycle nutrients into the soil.

“Most of these ecosystems that are burning have evolved with fire,” University of Montana fire ecologist Philip Higuera told CityLab. “We expect them to burn. We need them to burn if we want them to continue to exist.”

He noted that it’s too simplistic to suggest that we just let dry areas burn, given that humans share this environment; instead, it was suggested, humans need to be more aware of the way this ecosystem works, and how we influence it. “We need to develop in a way that is cognizant of these processes—that is not ignorant of the way the planet, and the environment you live in, works.”

Higuera also noted that while it’s difficult to say that an individual fire was exactly caused by climate change, the connection can be understood by an analogy to a baseball player using steroids.

“If a baseball player is using steroids and hits a home run, can you attribute that home run to steroids? You can’t—but you know that at some point some component of that was brought to you by this artificial input to the system.”

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[ futurism.com ] These Are the Clearest Microscopic Videos Ever Recorded.

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These Are the Clearest Microscopic Videos Ever Recorded.

Every year Nikon holds their Small World in Motion competition for microscopic video. 2017’s winners will be announced soon. Here are some of the most amazing winners from past years.


The post These Are the Clearest Microscopic Videos Ever Recorded. appeared first on Futurism.