New NASA Animations Show How Slowly Light Travels Through Space

Posted: 18 Jan 2019 09:31 AM PST

A NASA scientist just made animations showing how slow the speed of light is compared to the scale of the cosmos to explain why we haven't traveled far.


The speed of light, just shy of 300 million meters per second, is the theoretical speed limit of the universe. Compared to anything we encounter on a daily basis, light travels so fast that it appears to be instantaneous.

But a new series of animations by NASA scientist James O’Donoghue shows how dismally slow the speed of light is compared to the scale of our solar system Business Insider reports.

The videos, the first of which shows a beam of light orbiting the Earth 7.5 times per second, demonstrate why it takes so long to communicate with Mars rovers and why scientists have no feasible means of reaching or even communicating with hypothetical inhabitants of distant exoplanets.

Zooming Out

Looking only at our own planet, light still seemspretty fast. For comparison, the world’s fastest plane, an X-15, reached a top speed of 2,000 meters per second. At that speed, it would take the plane 5.5 hours to circle the planet.

But once you start to zoom out, it becomes just how slow the speed of light is compared to any sort of cosmic scale. O’Donoghue’s second animation shows how long it takes for light to travel between Earth and the moon. It’s about a 2.5 second round-trip journey — still dizzyingly quick.

Are We There Yet?

But then O’Donoghue zooms out to show the distance between Earth and Mars. Now, watching the light travel between planets is like watching your microwave count down.

In case you don’t feel like sticking around for the whole six-minute video, we reveal the ending below. Don't read on unless you’re comfortable risking having the video spoiled!

In the animation, the beam of light takes just over three minutes to travel from Earth to Mars, then takes just as long to make it back home. That’s why many Mars rovers have pre-programmed behaviors, like how NASA’s InSight automatically deployed its own landing procedure — remote controls from scientists on Earth would take too long to arrive.

READ MORE: The speed of light is torturously slow, and these 3 simple animations by a scientist at NASA prove it [Business Insider]

More on space: Physicist: Black Holes Could be Portals for Hyperspace Travel

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Top Economists: U.S. Should Tax Carbon and Give Citizens the Money

Posted: 18 Jan 2019 09:27 AM PST

A group of 45 economic experts believes the U.S. should create a carbon tax and give the revenue to Americans via a yearly rebate.

Take and Give

On Wednesday, The Wall Street Journal published a letter penned by a group of 45 economic experts from both sides of the political aisle.

In it, they detail an idea for how the U.S. should address global climate change: tax carbon emitters and give the money to American citizens.

“There are few panaceas in life,” signatory Greg Mankiw is quoted as saying on the group’s website, “but the closest thing I know to a panacea in the climate change debate is putting a price on carbon and rebating the revenue to citizens.”

Unpopular Opinion

A carbon tax is a fee placed on any good or service that produces carbon dioxide emissions. The idea is that the added cost associated with burning fossil fuels would serve as an incentive for emitters to transition away from them.

According to the group’s letter, “A carbon tax offers the most cost-effective lever to reduce carbon emissions at the scale and speed that is necessary.” However, the idea has yet to earn much support from legislators or voters.

“Among economists, this is not controversial,” Mankiw told The Washington Post. “The politics is complicated, the international relations is complicated, but the economics is really simple.”

New Incentive

Giving the revenue from a carbon tax directly to citizens in equal lump-sum rebates could change those dynamics. The government wouldn’t give the impression that it’s trying to get more revenue for itself, and voters might be more inclined to support carbon tax legislation if they knew they’d benefit financially from its passage.

“It's estimated that if we were to start with something like a $40 a ton carbon tax that would amount to $2,000 per family, so it is a very substantial rebate," signatory Janet L. Yellen told WaPo.

The rebate could even encourage families to cut down on their own carbon usage — after all, if they pay less in taxes than they receive through the rebate, they’ll actually be making money.

On paper, it looks like this plan could be a win for Americans and the environment. But only time will tell whether it gains traction in Washington.

READ MORE: 'This Is Not Controversial': Bipartisan Group of Economists Calls for Carbon Tax [The Washington Post]

More on carbon taxes: Carbon Tax Should Be Sky-High to Avoid Climate Disaster, Experts Say

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The U.S. Secretly Funded Research on UFOs, Wormholes, and Warp Drives

Posted: 18 Jan 2019 09:17 AM PST

New documents show that the U.S. secretly funded research ranging from UFOs to a "warp drive," "extra dimensions," and "traversable wormholes."

Secretly Funded Research

We already knew that the U.S. Department of Defense had secretly funded research on unidentified flying objects — yes, UFOs — thanks to 2017 reporting by the New York Times and the Washington Post.

Now, new documents released by the Defense Intelligence Agency reveal that the program also studied a laundry list of topics that sound like plot devices from “The X-Files,” including UFOs, “warp drive,” “extra dimensions,” and “traversable wormholes.”

Dark Money

The newly released documents come thanks to Steven Aftergood, the director of an organization called the Federation of American Scientists' Project on Government Secrecy. He obtained the files via a Freedom of Information Act request.

“I think anyone who looks at these titles will scratch their heads and wonder what on earth the Defense Intelligence Agency was thinking,” Aftergood told technology site Motherboard. “These are the kinds of topics you pursue when you have more money than you know what to do with.”

Hazy Details

Some of the projects described in the document cache contain almost no details, but mainstream research projects corroborate others.

A German scientist whose work on theoretical cloaking technologies was cited by the journal Nature led a project on “invisibility cloaking,” Motherboard pointed out. Richard Obousy, a theoretical physicist whom Futurism has reported on previously, headed a project on “warp drives” and “the manipulation of extra dimensions.”

But the full scope of the Defense Department’s research into fringe technologies won’t be clear until more documentation becomes publicly available.

READ MORE: The Government's Secret UFO Program Funded Research on Wormholes and Extra Dimensions [Motherboard]

More on UFOs: Yes, a NASA Scientist Said Aliens May Have Visited Earth. But There's Some Nuance

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Elon Musk: Tesla Is Laying off 7 Percent of Its Staff

Posted: 18 Jan 2019 08:09 AM PST

Newly announced Tesla layoffs will see 7 percent of the company's full-time staff losing their jobs — yet another sign that 2019 is all about streamlining.

Black Friday

Last Friday, aerospace company SpaceX announced plans to lay off 10 percent of its workers. This Friday, employees at energy and automotive company Tesla — another venture led by serial entrepreneur Elon Musk — found out that many of them are also losing their jobs.

“[W]e unfortunately have no choice but to reduce full-time employee headcount by approximately 7% (we grew by 30% last year, which is more than we can support) and retain only the most critical temps and contractors,” Musk wrote in an email shared companywide.

All things considered, it seems likely that employees of Musk’s other venture, the Boring Company, might be dreading next Friday.

Money Matters

According to Musk, the Tesla layoffs have everything to do with numbers — the CEO dedicated two paragraphs of his email to addressing quarterly financial reports, upcoming delivery deadlines, and product costs for consumers.

This focus on the bottom line isn’t surprising, though, given Tesla’s other recent efforts to streamline finances.

The Road Ahead

As for the employees who survive the Tesla layoffs, the road ahead will be “very difficult,” according to Musk.

The company needs to increase the production rate of its Model 3, improve its manufacturing engineering, and drop the cost of its products for consumers — all over the next six months and all with 7 percent fewer employees.

Still, Musk appears optimistic about Tesla’s future.

“For those remaining, although there are many challenges ahead, I believe we have the most exciting product roadmap of any consumer product company in the world,” he wrote in the end of the email. “Full self-driving, Model Y, Semi, Truck and Roadster on the vehicle side and Powerwall/pack and Solar Roof on the energy side are only the start. I am honored to work alongside you.”

READ MORE: Tesla Cuts 7% of Its Workforce, and Elon Musk Sees a ‘Very Difficult’ Road Ahead [CNBC]

More on Tesla: Elon Musk: Tesla Is Dropping Its Customer Referral Program

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A Wearable Was Better Than Parents at Detecting Anxiety in Kids

Posted: 18 Jan 2019 04:50 AM PST

A system combining motion-tracking sensors and AI was able to detect anxiety and depression in children with 81 percent accuracy.

Hidden Danger

Anxiety and depression aren’t just problems for adults — children can experience both, which researchers call “internalizing disorders,” by the time they’re old enough for preschool. But given the inward-facing nature of both disorders, it can be difficult for adults to realize a child is suffering.

Now, researchers from the University of Vermont have developed a system that they say uses sensors and artificial intelligence to detect signs of internalizing disorders in children — and they claim it’s faster than experts and more accurate than a child’s own parents.

Scary Snake

The UVM team describes its disorder-detecting system in a study published on Wednesday in the journal PLOS ONE.

For the study, the team asked 63 children, some with known internalizing disorders and some without, to each wear a commercial motion-tracking sensor while completing a “mood induction task,” a common research technique designed to prompt certain actions or feelings. In this case, that feeling was anxiety.

A researcher would lead each child into a room with low lighting, while making ominous statements such as “I have something to show you” and “Let's be quiet so it doesn't wake up.” Once the pair reached a covered terrarium at the back of the room, the researcher would quickly remove the cover and pull out a fake snake.

The researcher would then assure the child that everything was fine and let them play with the fake snake, presumably to avoid any permanent trauma.

Quick Response

Normally, researchers would watch a recording of the snake exercise and manually score a child’s actions and speech to diagnose an internalizing disorder.

But an algorithm trained to process the data collected by the sensor was able to identify the children with disorders with 81 percent accuracy — a higher level than provided by the standard parent questionnaire — and it only needed to analyze 20 seconds of data to make its decision.

“Something that we usually do with weeks of training and months of coding can be done in a few minutes of processing with these instruments,” researcher Ellen McGinnis said in a press release.

Risky Business

Children with untreated internalizing disorders have a higher risk of substance abuse and suicide as adults, so the team is hopeful that its research could help more of these children get the help they need while they’re still young.

Next, the researchers plan to refine their algorithm and see if they can train it to tell the difference between anxiety and depression. Eventually, they hope to see the system used in schools or doctor’s offices, screening children for the potentially life-threatening disorders that could be lurking beneath the surface.

READ MORE: UVM Study: Wearable Sensor Could Detect Hidden Anxiety, Depression in Young Children [UVM]

More on anxiety: This Startup Says Its App Can Detect Signs of Depression and Anxiety. Experts Aren't Sure.

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Amazon AI Conference Is Meant to Inspire — and Boost Its Reputation

Posted: 17 Jan 2019 01:17 PM PST

A newly announced Amazon conference, the AI-focused re:MARS, could help the company shake a reputation sullied by Rekognition.


For the past three years, industry luminaries have rubbed elbows at Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos's annual invite-only Machine learning, Automation, Robotics, and Space (MARS) conference.

Now, Amazon is launching a similar event for the rest of us: re:MARS, an AI-focused public conference featuring speakers, workshops, demonstrations, and roundtables.

But while Bezos told attendees at MARS that the event’s success depended on whether they left feeling inspired, the success of this new Amazon conference could hinge on something else — whether it can help the retail giant counter the backlash it’s faced for its own AI efforts.

Mark Your Calendar

According to an Amazon blog post, re:MARS will take place from June 4-7 at the ARIA Resort and Casino in Las Vegas, Nevada. Registration for the new Amazon conference opens in March, at which point the company will reveal updates on speakers, logistics, and other details.

That’s also when Amazon plans to share the cost of tickets for everyone who isn’t an astronaut — spacefaring folks get to attend free of charge, according to the post.

The Golden Age

To hear Bezos tell it, Amazon’s intentions behind re:MARS are altruistic — the company just wants to help the world reap the potential benefits of AI.

“We're at the beginning of a golden age of AI,” the blog post quotes Bezos as saying. “Recent advancements have already led to invention that previously lived in the realm of science fiction — and we've only scratched the surface of what's possible.”

“AI is an enabling technology that can improve products and services across all industries,” he continued. “We're excited to create re:MARS, bringing together leaders and builders from diverse areas to share learnings and spark new ideas for future innovation.”

Take Two

What Bezos fails to mention is the backlash Amazon has faced for its own efforts in the field of AI — the company has been on the receiving end of criticism from civil rights groups, politicians, and even its own employees and shareholders for selling its AI-powered facial recognition technology to law enforcement agencies.

Amazon’s blog post does note, however, the company’s plan to demo at re:MARS the “practical applications” of seemingly everything it’s involved in featuring even a whiff of AI, including Alexa, Amazon Go, and Prime Air.

Perhaps the hope is that this new Amazon conference will help the company clean-up its AI reputation by showing the world it’s doing far more with the tech than just helping police possibly breach citizens’ civil rights — after all, if you’re going to help usher in a sci-fi future, you probably want it to look more like The Jetsons than Nineteen Eighty-Four.

READ MORE: Re:MARS, a New AI Event for Machine Learning, Automation, Robotics, and Space [Amazon]

More on Amazon: Employees, ACLU Demand Amazon Stop Facilitating Government Surveillance

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Ford Is Planning an All-Electric F-150 Pickup Truck

Posted: 17 Jan 2019 12:54 PM PST

Ford revealed today it will release all-electric, and hybrid versions of its best-selling F-series, and Super Duty pickup truck lineup.

Electric F-150

U.S.-based automaker startup Rivian made headlines when it revealed its electric pickup truck back in November. But it’s about to face some storied competition from iconic Ford trucks including the classic F-150.

Ford revealed today it that will release all-electric and hybrid versions of its best-selling F-series and Super Duty pickup truck lineup. Ford president Jim Farley told analysts in Detroit that the move was intended to “future-proof that global juggernaut of commercial vehicles,” according to The Detroit News.

And that’s a pretty big deal: for decades, Ford’s F-Series have been some of the best-selling pickup trucks in the United States. Ford sold almost 900,000 F-Series trucks in 2017 alone.

Going Electric

It’s part of Ford’s greater move to electrify its fleet — according to Reuters, it’s planning to spend $11 billion by 2022 on EV investments and add 40 hybrid and electric vehicles to its lineup. The company also announced it will partner with German automaker VW to release future EVs, and other autonomous vehicles yesterday.

It may have massive reach in the auto industry, but Ford isn’t alone in wanting to release an electric truck. For one, there’s Elon Musk’s passion project: Tesla’s “straight out of Blade Runner” pickup truck. We have yet to see any final designs or a release timeline for it, but if Musk has his way, its specs will be groundbreaking.

But then again, Ford doesn’t know when their battery-powered F-150 will hit the road either — officials didn’t offer a timeline today. The hybrid version, though, will launch in 2020.

So Long, ICE-ers

What will people who decide to “ICE” — or block — electric car charging ports think, now that even the most mainstream of trucks is going electric?

They’ll have to decide that for themselves — maybe they’ll be taking advantage of those chargers themselves in the future.

READ MORE: Ford planning battery-electric F-150 [The Detroit News]

More on electric pickup trucks: Tesla Found a Clever Way to Prevent Supercharger ICEing

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A Startup Is About to Launch a Satellite Full of Fake Shooting Stars

Posted: 17 Jan 2019 12:21 PM PST

Tokyo-based company Astro Live Experiences just launched its experimental prototype satellite that it will use to create a fake meteor shower.

Star Light, Star Bright

A Japanese company called Astro Live Experiences is about to launch a satellite that it will use to generate the first-ever artificial meteor shower.

The satellite is an experimental prototype that the company hopes will help it prepare for its first full “Sky Canvas” show near Hiroshima in 2020. It’s loaded with thousands of tiny pellets that will catch fire as they descend through the atmosphere, leaving long, glowing trails that resemble shooting stars, according to CNET.

First Star I See Tonight

According to the company, each centimeter-wide pellet will combust as it re-enters the atmosphere. From the ground, the plan is that it’ll look like a shooting star that burns brighter and lasts longer than the real thing. Astro Live Experiences claims that the pellets will totally disintegrate, though scientists told BuzzFeed News early last year that there would be some risk of the pellets colliding with other satellites.

Risks aside, this prototype and next year’s Sky Canvas show demonstrate that performance art has breached the final frontier. Whether you’re a kid wishing on a star or a young lover enjoying a romantic evening, is there anything more beautiful and awe-inspiring than seeing a tech startup’s space garbage illuminating the night sky?

I Wish I May, I Wish I Might

“I hope that our man-made meteors will help reveal new discoveries in science, and that it will gather and entertain people under the night sky,” Astro Live Experiences CEO Lena Okajima said in a recent press release.

It’s unclear exactly how a Sky Canvas show will contribute to science, but we decided to fathom a guess.

Hypothesis: If a tech startup fills the sky with flammable garbage, a bunch of tech blogs will groan in unison.

Those results are good enough to publish.

READ MORE: First artificial meteor shower might outshine natural ‘shooting stars’ [CNET]

More on Astro Live Experiences: Guess What, Rich People: Meteor Showers on Demand Are a Terrible Idea

Editor's Note 1/17 at 5:37 PM ET: This article has been updated to when the satellite will launch.

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We Can Now Grow Perfect Human Blood Vessels in a Lab

Posted: 17 Jan 2019 12:15 PM PST

The world's first lab-grown blood vessels have already yielded one new lead in the hunt for better diabetes treatments and more could be on the way.

Valuable Vessels

The latest game changer in diabetes research might not be a new drug or a therapy. Instead, it could be a system of human blood vessels virtually identical to the ones currently transporting blood throughout your body.

What makes these blood vessels special is that they are the first ones grown in a lab — and they’ve already generated a new lead in diabetes treatment.

Organoid Employed

When a person has diabetes, their blood vessels often exhibit an abnormal thickening of what’s known as the “basement membrane.” This thickening impairs the transfer of oxygen and nutrients to cells and tissues, which can cause a plethora of health problems ranging from kidney failure and blindness to heart attacks and strokes.

In a study published in the journal Nature on Wednesday, researchers from the University of British Columbia detail how they were able to coax stem cells into growing into human blood vessel “organoids,” the term used for three-dimensional, lab-grown cellular systems that mimic the characteristics of organs or tissues.

They then placed the lab-grown blood vessels in a petri dish designed to mimic a “diabetic environment.” They found that the basement membrane thickened in a way that was “strikingly similar” to the thickening seen in patients with diabetes, according to researcher Reiner Wimmer.

The researchers then went on the hunt for a chemical compound that could prevent this thickening in their lab-grown blood vessels and found one: an inhibitor of the enzyme γ-secretase.

Beyond Diabetes

The team’s study suggests that inhibiting γ-secretase in patients could be a helpful diabetes treatment, but according to researcher Josef Penninger, there are potential uses for lab-grown blood vessels far beyond diabetes research.

“Being able to build human blood vessels as organoids from stem cells is a game changer,” Penninger said in a press release. “Every single organ in our body is linked with the circulatory system.”

“This could potentially allow researchers to unravel the causes and treatments for a variety of vascular diseases,” he continued, “from Alzheimer's disease, cardiovascular diseases, wound healing problems, stroke, cancer and, of course, diabetes.”

READ MORE: Scientists Grow Perfect Human Blood Vessels in a Petri Dish [The University of British Columbia]

More on organoids: Robots Can Grow Humanoid Mini-Organs From Stem Cells Faster and Better Than People

The post We Can Now Grow Perfect Human Blood Vessels in a Lab appeared first on Futurism.

Scientists Found a New Way to Make Fusion Reactors More Efficient

Posted: 17 Jan 2019 11:04 AM PST

Experimental nuclear fusion reactors tend to leak out high-energy particles. New computer simulations may help scientists prevent that loss of energy.

Leaky Plasma

For a technology that stands to revolutionize how we generate clean energy, nuclear fusion is remarkably leaky — high energy particles can sometimes escape experimental reactors, making the process much less efficient.

But new research may have found a way to keep those particles where they belong, according to U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) research published in the journal Physics of Plasmas in October. The new work could boost the efficiency of experimental fusion reactors such as ITER, a groundbreaking facility currently under construction in France.

Ride the Wave

Right now, the plasma in experimental fusion reactors can generate waves that push around high-energy particles. Those waves can grow so big that the particles are actually driven outside of the reactor altogether, taking with them some of the energy needed for the fusion reaction.

The new DOE research describes complex computer simulations that can track and predict these waves, giving physicists new avenues to prevent them and keep these particles right where they belong.

Proactive Engineering

The researchers hope their work will help build ITER, a multinational experimental fusion reactor that’s expected to first go online in 2025 — though doing so will require scaling up the simulation substantially.

“A conservative projection for ITER is that simulations will require approximately 1 million times more calculations than are needed for current tokamaks,” said Nikolai Gorelenkov, a principal research physicist at the Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory and a co-author of the new paper, in a press release. “It's an unprecedented amount of computation, so we have to find ways to make the simulation easier to finish.”

READ MORE: Found: A precise method for determining how waves and particles affect fusion reactions [Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory]


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Here’s What’s up With Antibiotics, Superbugs, and Your Food

Posted: 17 Jan 2019 10:17 AM PST

Antibiotics are making their way into food, but is that a good thing or a bad thing?

Antibiotics help livestock stay health but overusing them can cause major problems. How can farmers and the government make sure they're being used and not abused?

The post Here’s What’s up With Antibiotics, Superbugs, and Your Food appeared first on Futurism.

U.S. Air Force Approves Launch Site for 3D Printed Rocket

Posted: 17 Jan 2019 10:04 AM PST

Relativity Space — a 3D-rocket-printing company founded by SpaceX, and Blue Origin alumni — got permission from the Air Force to launch from Cape Canaveral.

3D Printed Rocket

A three-year-old startup is trying to launch rockets into space that are almost entirely 3D printed. And it just got permission from the U.S. Air Force to launch from the historic Launch Complex 16 at Cape Canaveral in Florida.

Relativity Space — a rocket-building company founded by SpaceX and Blue Origin alumni — revealed a new contract with the U.S. Air Force this week that would allow it to launch from a site that has been unused since 1988, according to Quartz. If the company manages to regularly launch rockets from the site, it could be able to extend the contract into a 20-year exclusive agreement with the Air Force.

Giant Rocket Printers

Relativity Space has ambitious plans: it wants to 3D print an entire rocket with its groundbreaking, building-sized Stargate metal 3D printer, then launch it into orbit. Its long term plans are also enormous — the company wants to eventually 3D print rockets on Mars, according to its official website.

3D printing a rocket would be simpler and allow for more efficient designs, fewer moving parts, and faster construction. The company’s first planned launch vehicle called Terran 1 would only take 60 days to print, and would have a max payload of 1,250 kg (2756 lbs) to low-Earth orbit — at least if everything works out as planned.

Growth Spurt

Relativity Space is going through a growth spurt right now. Its number of employees rose from 14 to 60, co-founder Tim Ellis told Ars Technica. It’s also planning a test launch of the Terran 1 rocket in 2020, with commercial missions starting in 2021.

Using 3D printing technology to blast off into space is an exciting idea, and could make building rockets faster and cheaper. But the proof is in the pudding — or rocket fuel.

READ MORE: Relativity Space to launch from historic Florida site [Ars Technica]

More on Relativity Space: A Fully 3D Printed Rocket Is Not as Crazy as it Seems

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