Discovery of slow waves on the sun could shed light on magnetic field mystery

For the first time, scientists have observed giant slow-moving waves of plasma on the surface of the sun that could help to explain the mystery behind the star’s magnetic field.

Looking at ten years worth of data by NASA’s Solar Dynamic Observatory (SDO), researchers from the Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research (MPS) and the University of Göttingen, both in Germany, detected plasma swirls spreading through the solar surface at the slow speed of just 3 mph (5km/h), about as fast as a human walks.

As part of a new study, the scientists used computer models to recreate those waves and gain insight into their origin. They found that their motion is likely driven by the fact that different areas of the sun rotate at different velocities, a phenomenon known as the differential rotation of the sun. For example, while polar regions complete one rotation every 34.4 days, the sun’s equator spins around the axes within 25 days. 

Related: Weird country-size ‘campfires’ on the sun revealed in closest-ever photos

The recently observed waves cover large portions of the star’s surface and are much bigger than the previously known largest solar plasma waves described in 2013.

The team hopes that, by modeling how these waves look underneath the sun’s surface, they will be able to deepen their understanding of some of the processes that drive the behaviour of our host star. 

One of these processes is the so-called solar dynamo, the motion of the plasma inside the sun which generates its magnetic field. The sun’s magnetic field, in turn, drives the solar cycle, the periodical ebb and flow of the star’s activity that is reflected in the number of sunspots and solar eruptions.

“The models allow us to look inside the Sun’s interior and determine the full three-dimensional structure of the oscillations,” Yuto Bekki, a graduate student at MPS and a co-author of the paper describing the findings, said in a statement. 

The team observed several types of waves of various sizes oscillating with various frequencies. While some of the waves showed maximum speeds around the poles, others were at their fastest at mid-latitudes or around the equator. 

“All of these new oscillations we observe on the sun are strongly affected by the sun’s differential rotation,” MPS heliophysicist and co-author Damien Fournier said in the statement. 

“The oscillations are also sensitive to the properties of the sun’s interior: in particular to the strength of the turbulent motions and the related viscosity of the solar medium, as well as to the strength of the convective driving,” His colleague and co-author Robert Cameron added.

Convective driving is the rising of the hot material from inside the sun towards its surface. The waves observed by SDO and reproduced in the models could rise from depths up to 125,000 miles (200,000 km), the edge of the sun’s so-called “convection zone.”

Scientists have known about short (about 5-minute) waves on the sun’s surface since the 1960s. They have successfully used these waves to learn about many processes inside the star in a similar manner that geologists study seismic waves rippling through Earth’s crust to learn about what’s going on in the planet’s interior. In fact, it was thanks to these waves that researchers were able in the past to reconstruct how the rotation of the sun’s material depends on depth and latitude. Over the past 40 years or so, some researchers have even speculated that longer period waves must exist.

“The discovery of a new type of solar oscillation is very exciting because it allows us to infer properties, such as the strength of the convective driving, which ultimately controls the solar dynamo, ” Laurent Gizon, lead author of the new paper said in the statement. 

The team was able to confirm the results from SDO in data from the Global Oscillation Network Group (GONG), a network of six solar observatories in the USA, Australia, India, Spain, and Chile.

The study was published in the journal Astronomy & Astrophysics on Tuesday, July 20.

Follow Tereza Pultarova on Twitter @TerezaPultarova. Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom and on Facebook. 


July 29, 2021 at 08:22AM

Machine Learning Breakthrough: Robot Runs a 5k on a Single Battery Charge

The OSU Dynamic Robotics Laboratory’s research team, led by Agility Robotics’ Jonathan Hurst, combined expertise from biomechanics and robot controls with new machine learning tools to accomplish something new: train a bipedal robot to run a full 5K on a single battery charge! This industry-first invention will unleash new levels of robot performance. Today, some of these same researchers are Agility Robotics employees busily applying their know-how to Digit, so just wait to see what we have in store.

[Agility Robotics]

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via [Geeks Are Sexy] Technology News

July 30, 2021 at 08:21AM

Zuck Confirms Facebook’s Smart Glasses Will Be Its Next Stab at Hardware

Photo: Manjunath Kiran/AFP (Getty Images)

It’s been a while since we’ve heard about Facebook’s collaboration with Ray-Ban on a pair of augmented reality glasses. But in comments during an earnings call, CEO Mark Zuckerberg confirmed that no, he hasn’t forgotten about the device. It’ll actually be the company’s next hardware release.

The smart glasses came up while Zuckerberg was describing his vision for “building the next computing platform” aka mixed reality. In particular, he emphasized that VR is moving beyond gaming and that mixed reality is already morphing into a social platform.

“But we’re also seeing compelling use cases and other forms of entertainment as well, as well as work, creativity, and fitness. Looking ahead here, the next product release will be the launch of our first smart glasses from Ray-Ban in partnership with EssilorLuxottica,” Zuckerberg said on the call. “The glasses have their iconic form factor and they let you do some pretty neat things.” He went on to say that he was excited for “full augmented reality glasses in the future.”

Details were light, and Zuckerberg didn’t comment on any timelines, but you can still read between the lines. When its partnership with Ray-Ban was announced back in 2019, Facebook had already been working on this “Orion” glasses project for a number of years. At the time, it was thought the glasses wouldn’t launch until 2023. Then, last year Zuckerberg said its first consumer smart glasses would arrive in 2021 under the Ray-Ban brand.

So, most likely, the AR glasses Zuckerberg was talking about are less like Google Glass and more like Amazon’s Echo Frames. Last year, the company told the Verge that these first glasses wouldn’t be considered AR glasses, and they wouldn’t have any sort of integrated display. The more lofty ideas Facebook’s been spitting lately—soft wristbands, haptic gloves, facial recognition—seem to refer to either Project Aria or another future version of consumer smart glasses down the road.

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As for the “neat things” these first-gen glasses will enable, it’s anyone’s guess. Similar products, like the Echo Frames, the Bose Frames, and Razer’s Anzu glasses are more like glorified headphones for hyper-specific situations. Without a display, the most likely scenario is that they allow you to take calls, listen to music, or access a digital assistant. Or, it could be something like the first iteration of the Bose Frames, which tried and failed to create an ecosystem of audio-only apps.

More nauseating was Zuckerberg’s pitch that these glasses would be part of a larger “metaverse”—the latest buzzword tech CEOs have been bandying about lately. For Facebook, it apparently refers to a virtual environment for people to work, socialize, and waste their money in. A more three-dimensional internet that you can interact with. If that’s the end goal, then affordable and accessible smart glasses would be a clever gateway into its virtual ecosystem. It’s already done that with Oculus to an extent, but smart glasses would arguably be more appealing to the average person as they’re more discreet, mobile, and don’t scream “gamer nerd.”

This is a lot of ifs and Facebook will undoubtedly face stiff competition. Apple is also rumored to be working on its own mixed reality headset and smart glasses. Other tech companies, like Oppo and Samsung, have also been rumored to be working on smart glasses. Meanwhile, Microsoft and Google have been making AR glasses and headsets for years and have already carved out a pretty strong niche in the enterprise space.

Facebook would also have to overcome people’s perception that it’s a privacy nightmare for all this to work—and needless to say, that’s a tall order. Even so, it seems determined to barrel ahead with its wearable plans. On top of smart glasses, the company is also rumored to be working on a smartwatch.

via Gizmodo

July 29, 2021 at 09:48AM

Russian Module Unexpectedly Fires Thrusters After Docking to ISS

The Nauka module moments before rendezvousing with the ISS.
Image: NASA/Roscosmos

Serious drama unfolded in low Earth orbit today when the newly arrived Nauka module, for reasons unknown, began to fire its thrusters after docking to the ISS. Mission controllers are now working to control what appears to be an ongoing situation.

Nothing appears to be damaged, and NASA says the crew is safe, but things got really weird about three hours after Russia’s Nauka module reached the International Space Station at 9:29 a.m. EDT this morning.

After the rendezvous and docking, ISS crew members went to work, checking for leaks at the interface point, opening the hatch, and integrating computers on the newly arrived Nauka module, also known as the Russian Multipurpose Laboratory.

Suddenly and without warning, at around 12:45 p.m. EDT, Nauka’s thrusters unexpectedly and inadvertently began to fire. This caused the ISS to lose attitude control to the tune of 45 degrees, according to NASA. It is not yet known what caused the situation to happen. One possibility is that Nauka’s computers thought it was still docking, resulting in the thrusters being fired, but that’s not confirmed.

Flight controllers re-oriented the space station by performing a counterbalancing “roll control” procedure. They did this by firing thrusters on the Russian Zvezda module and a Progress cargo ship currently docked to the ISS. This recovery effort worked, and the ISS has returned to its normal orientation. The station is now back in full attitude control, and no damage or injuries to crew members have been reported. NASA went on to say that crew members were never in any danger during the incident.

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At one point, Drew Morgan from NASA mission control asked the astronauts to look outside to see if they could spot any debris floating around, or if they could see any damage to the station. NASA says the ISS is currently in a stable configuration, and recovery operations are ongoing. This work, it should be pointed out, is being done with a partially fueled Nauka module docked to the station.

Regular activities for the day have been canceled at the ISS as the crew and mission controllers on the surface continue to monitor the situation. Again, it’s not known why Nauka’s thrusters began to fire, and an investigation is now pending. This is unfolding incident, and we will update this article as we learn more.

More: Russia’s Nauka module docks at the International Space Station.

via Gizmodo

July 29, 2021 at 01:54PM

This robot made a 100,000-domino ‘Super Mario Bros.’ mural in 24 hours

A new robot known as the Dominator has set a Guinness World Record for placing 100,000 dominos in just over 24 hours. Created by YouTuber and former NASA engineer Mark Rober, the Dominator is the result of more than five years of work. Rober had help from two freshmen from Stanford University and a Bay Area software engineer in creating the googly-eyed robot. The group programmed more than 14,000 lines of code, and outfitted it with components like omnidirectional wheels and 3D-printed funnels to create what Rober says is a “friendly robot that’s super good at only one thing: setting up a butt-ton of dominos really, really fast.”

Up against professional domino artist Lily Hevesh, the Dominator used its ability to lay down 300 tiles all at once to work about 10 times faster than a human. It took the robot about two hours to put down over 9,000 dominos.

While the Dominator is the face of the project, a lot of its efficiency comes from a separate sorting mechanism that consists of a Kuka robotic arm and almost three miles of Hot Wheels tracks. A series of conveyor belts ferry the dominions by color before the Kuka arm deposits them in the appropriate chute. When the Dominator visits the station for a refill, the lower platform slides away, instantly loading its 3D-printed funnels with all the dominos it needs to lay down 300 at once. In this way, downtime is kept at a minimum.

To put its final achievement in context, it would take a team of seven skilled domino builders about a full week to make the Super Mario Bros.-like mural the Dominator needed a little more than a day to complete.

via Engadget

July 28, 2021 at 04:27PM

You Don’t Need To Download All Of Microsoft Flight Sim On Xbox Series X/S

Nearly a year after its PC release, Microsoft Flight Simulator hits cruising altitude on Xbox Series X/S today, where it’s also available via Game Pass. It’s a staggeringly large game, clocking in at nearly 100GB—and that’s not counting any of the optional “world updates,” which can cause its file size to balloon well beyond that. But you needn’t download the whole thing to get it working on a next-gen Xbox.

Microsoft Flight Simulator comes in two files on Xbox Series X/S, one that includes the game (42.4GB), and one that allows you to play in an offline mode (59.7GB). You can play the game just fine without that second file, provided you A) have a solid, reliable internet connection and B) don’t have a data cap. When you first download the game, you’ll get the chance to select, piecemeal, which files you want to put on your console. Or, if you automatically downloaded both and need to remove the latter, just…

  1. Go to the “my games and apps” menu.
  2. Hover over the Microsoft Flight Simulator icon and press the menu button.
  3. Scroll down to “Manage game and add-ons.”
  4. Click on the first option that pops up, which should be a line item listing the game’s name, the version you’ve downloaded, and the total number of “game items” you’ve installed.
  5. You should see two options: one for the game itself, and one for “World – offline mode.” Deselect the latter, then hit “save changes.”

Since Microsoft Flight Sim is a next-gen game, you have to store it internally or on the $200 expansion card. If you’re rocking an Xbox Series S, which sports just 364GB of internal storage capacity (after you account for space earmarked by the operating system and other system-essential files), Flight Sim takes up about a third of your usable disc space. On Xbox Series X, it takes up an eighth. In either case, that’s not much room for other kaiju-sized games like Destiny 2 and Halo: The Master Chief Collection. Trimming Flight Sim’s file size in half is nothing to sneeze at.

Read More: How To Make The Most Of Your Xbox Series X’s Internal Storage

In my experience, Flight Sim has worked flawlessly without the online mode. Tokyo, Naples, Athens, Reykjavik—wherever I flew, I didn’t experience any framerate drops or notable performance issues. Honestly, after culling the offline mode file, I didn’t notice a difference in how the game performs.

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But I say this fully acknowledging that my household has fairly good internet. A speed test this afternoon indicates download speeds of 370 megabits per second with a latency of 4 ms. We don’t have a data cap. According to Digital Foundry testing, Microsoft Flight Sim uses anywhere from 500mb to 700mb of data per hour, so, if you have such a cap, you might want to limit how much Flight Sim can use. You can set customized restrictions in the game’s “Data” tab, under the “General Options” menu.


via Kotaku

July 27, 2021 at 02:46PM

Virtual Reality Is the Rich White Kid of Technology

It has been seven years since Palmer Luckey appeared on the cover of WIRED magazine. The June 2014 issue declared, “This kid is about to change gaming, movies, TV, music, design, medicine, sex, sports, art, travel, social network, education—and reality.” In 2016, Facebook acquired his virtual reality company, Oculus, for $2 billion. It now invests $18.5 billion annually into research and development, and Facebook Reality Labs, the company’s Augmented Reality/Virtual Reality division, accounts for as much as 20 percent of its entire workforce, with no sign of slowing down. But despite the many years, billions of dollars, and year-long pandemic requiring at-home entertainment, the results thus far have been pretty lackluster. The headsets are spiffier and the games are more lucrative, but our minds nevertheless remain collectively un-blown.

It’s not just Facebook and Oculus. In May 2016, WIRED’s cover story introduced readers to Magic Leap, “A mysterious startup, a mountain of money, and the quest to create a new kind of reality.” Magic Leap was developing a set of semitransparent “Mixed Reality” goggles that could integrate virtual objects into the user’s physical environment. The company raised more than $2 billion in funding from A-list Silicon Valley investors. It looked like the biggest leap forward in hardware since the iPhone. But the actual product never lived up to the breathtaking demo. The company laid off 1,000 employees in 2020, hired a new CEO, and pivoted to focus on narrower enterprise applications. The Mixed Reality future is still, well, the future.

Somehow, none of these less-than-ideal outcomes have affected confidence in VR. In fact, Facebook doubled down on Monday, announcing a new group within the company dedicated to developing its Horizons VR world. Mark Zuckerberg recently told Facebook employees that over the next five years he expects to transition “from people seeing us as primarily being a social media company to being a metaverse company.” Silicon Valley billionaires and venture capitalists, it seems, are incapable of saying no to a fancy headset with a big dream. And this dates back 35 years—Jaron Lanier was the Palmer Luckey of the 1980s and early 1990s!

The technology is always about to turn a corner, about to be more than just a gaming device, about to revolutionize fields like architecture, defense, and medicine. The future of work, entertainment, travel, and society is always on the verge of a huge virtual upgrade. VR is a bit like a rich white kid with famous parents: It never stops failing upward, forever graded on a generous curve, always judged based on its “potential” rather than its results.

One reason that VR has been offered such an endless string of second chances (VR’s proverbial lineage, if you will) is that it has played an outsized role in the popular science fiction that our collective image of the future is built around. William Gibson coined the term “cyberspace” in his 1984 book Neuromancer. The term later became synonymous with the World Wide Web, but Gibson’s initial rendering was of a virtual realm that “console cowboys” could enter and exit. Gibson and his cyberpunk peers heavily shaped the culture of 1980s tech—before the dotcom boom, before the tech bros.

When Lanier unveiled his bulky head-mounted display and dataglove in 1987, he was inviting tech hobbyists to be the first inhabitants of the virtual future they had glimpsed in cyberpunk novels. Neal Stephenson’s 1992 Snow Crash and Ernest Cline’s 2011 Ready Player One later were massive science fiction hits whose stories unfolded in a future where VR is a fixture.

When Zuckerberg says that he has been “thinking about some of this stuff since [he] was in middle school and just starting to code,” it isn’t hard to guess what books he was reading at the time. For the Gen X and Millennial tech entrepreneurs who dominate Silicon Valley today, the science fiction stories of their youth have always treated VR as an ambient part of the future technological landscape.

Just as the current billionaire space race is, at least in part, evidence that inside every tech billionaire is an inner child who dreamed of flying his own rocket ship, the VR arms race is premised on an assumption that mass adoption is inevitable—the only question is when that future will arrive, and which company will get phenomenally wealthy when it does.

via Wired Top Stories

July 27, 2021 at 08:12AM