China plans to deflect an asteroid by 2030 to showcase Earth protection skills

China is planning its first mission to impact an asteroid in the name of planetary defense. The mission will serve a dual purpose: One craft will impact the asteroid while its partner observes the space rock to learn more about the solar system and its formation.

The China National Space Administration (CNSA) mission may have already selected its target — the near-Earth object (NEO) 2015 XF261, a nearly 100-foot-wide (30 meters) asteroid.

According to the small-body database managed by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), 2015 XF261 last came relatively close to Earth just this week, on Tuesday (July 9), when it passed within 31 million miles (50 million kilometers) of our planet. The space rock was traveling at around 26,000 mph (42,000 kph), roughly 30 times faster than the speed of sound.

The nonprofit Planetary Society reported that this is the latest development in asteroid impact mission planning for China, a country that has recently become increasingly interested in planetary defense.

Related: 2 asteroids just zipped by Earth, and NASA caught footage of the action

The Planetary Society pointed to a recent paper in the Journal of Deep Space Exploration that discussed the proposed 2015 XF261-targeting mission.

"For China’s first near-Earth asteroid defense on-orbit verification mission, a defensive disposal demonstration will be carried out on the potential risk of near-Earth asteroids impacting the Earth," the study states. 

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"The scientific objectives of the on-orbit verification of asteroid defense and its specific scientific exploration mission will be designed and proposed," it adds. "A scientific payload demand analysis will be carried out, and payload configuration plans and exploration mission requirements will be proposed to provide a decision-making basis for the future implementation of asteroid defense missions."

The position of the asteroid 2015 XF261 on July 9, 2024, as it made a close approach to Earth. (Image credit: NASA JPL small body lookup database)

Following the imapct of DART

The planned mission follows in the footsteps of a groundbreaking NASA planetary defense mission, the Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART), which in September 2022 impacted the smaller body in the Didymos binary asteroid system.

The impact of the 1,260-pound (570 kilograms) DART spacecraft on the moonlet Dimorphos, which orbits a larger 2,560-foot (780 m) asteroid called Didymos, at 14,000 mph (22,500 kph) was deemed a success. The impact shifted the orbit of the two asteroids and demonstrated that, with enough lead time, a kinetic impactor could divert a smaller asteroid from an impending collision with Earth.

In October 2024, the European Space Agency (ESA) will launch the Hera spacecraft to the Didymos system to further assess the impact of the DART mission. Hera is expected to rendezvous with Dimorphos and Didymos in 2026.

An illustration of DART approaching its target asteroid system. (Image credit: NASA/Johns Hopkins APL/Steve Gribben)

China’s two-spacecraft 2015 XF261 mission will combine the work of DART and Hera, impacting the NEO and observing its target for between six months and a year after the collision. 

Asteroids like 2015 XF261 are thought to have been created from material left over after the formation of the planets around 4.6 billion years ago. As such, they offer the opportunity to study "unspoiled" material that was the building blocks of the solar system’s worlds, including Earth.

An artist’s depiction of gas and dust surrounding a young star. The solar system was in a similar situation 4.6 billion years ago. (Image credit: NASA)

The CNSA mission is expected to launch before 2030, and the final choice of its NEO target will depend on its launch schedule. In April 2024, SINA Technology reported that Wu Weiren, director of China’s Deep Space Exploration Laboratory (DSEL), set a more firm date for the mission’s launch, stating it would blast off in or around 2027.

2015 XF261 is set to pass Earth in March and May 2027, but the asteroid will still be 20 million miles (32 million km) from our planet at the time, and the CNSA will need time to reach it. DART hit Dimorphos when its system was just 7 million miles from Earth, and that journey took 10 months to complete.

The CNSA could get another shot at punching 2015 XF261 in April 2028, when the asteroid will be around 13 million miles (21 million km) away. But the best opportunity for such a mission seems to come in April 2029, when the asteroid will come to within 4.2 million miles (6.8 million km) of Earth. Another good chance will come in April 2030, when 2015 XF261 approaches Earth within around 4.4 million miles (7.1 million km).

This isn’t the first asteroid impact mission proposed by CNSA. In 2023, the Chinese space agency seemed to be planning a planetary defense test to launch in 2025. 

This mission would have set its sights on a different asteroid, known as 2019 VL5. It’s not known why the CNSA seems to have switched from this NEO, which is also about 100 feet (30 m) wide, to 2015 XF261.

via Space

July 11, 2024 at 07:08AM

Gen X Faces Higher Cancer Rates Than Any Previous Generation

A major new study projects that members of Generation X—people born between 1965 and 1980—have a higher rate of developing cancer than their parents and grandparents. And researchers are struggling to identify the reasons why cases are rising. Could it be related to changing diets or exercise habits? Are cancers themselves evolving to be wilier and more pernicious? The new research offers some possible clues.

The model study, published in JAMA Network Open, sifted through cancer surveillance data collected between 1992 and 2018 on 3.8 million people in the U.S. Researchers looked for patterns in invasive cancer cases—those that have spread beyond the original site—within and among Generation X, Baby Boomers (people born in 1946–1964), the Silent Generation (1928–1945) and the Greatest Generation (1908–1927). The findings suggest that medical advances against some cancers—gained by better screening, prevention and treatment—have been overtaken by startling increases in other cancers, including colon, rectal, thyroid, ovarian and prostate cancers. This troubling trend has researchers baffled and scrambling for answers.

“It’s really something that has been observed in multiple studies, and now I think it really is an undeniable fact that we’re seeing cancer rise in younger people,” says Andrew Chan, a gastroenterologist at Massachusetts General Hospital and a professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School, who was not involved in the new research. “The study really reinforced what we already know but also provided us some additional insights into the trends within particular cancer sites and more detail on the rates of increase within individual groups.”

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Social generations, also called “birth cohorts,” are one useful way of grouping people, explains Philip Rosenberg, a co-author of the study and a principal investigator at the National Cancer Institute (NCI). Tracking cancer rates this way can help researchers line up trends over time with certain parallel events, such as a new risk factor or carcinogenic exposure, or population-wide lifestyle or policy changes. This could provide insight into why certain cancers are developing at higher rates among different age groups—and, hopefully, offer ideas for prevention tactics. “We can finally kind of look at these patterns with a higher resolution that gets at different aspects of the story,” Rosenberg says. “One of the things we were able to do that was really novel was to sort of untangle that under-50 group and really assign the trends to birth cohorts.”

Previous studies have reported that people younger than age 50 are experiencing higher rates of certain types of cancers, particularly those of the digestive system. The rate of colorectal cancer, for example, has been steadily increasing in people younger than age 50, despite incidence rates declining overall in the U.S. The new study showed similar growing trends among Generation X, but “the surprise for me was that it wasn’t just colon and rectum cancers,” Rosenberg says. “It was the number of cancers that was a big surprise.”

Rosenberg and his co-author, NCI scientist Adalberto Miranda-Filho, predict in the new study that members of Generation X will experience increases in the rates of several cancers: those of the thyroid, kidney, rectum and colon. Additionally, women will experience higher rates of pancreatic, ovarian and endometrial cancers, and men will see increases in prostate cancers and leukemia. Generation X men are forecasted to have lower rates of liver and gallbladder cancers, while women are expected to see decreases in cervical cancer. All members of Generation X will also see declining lung cancer rates compared with those of previous generations.

Line charts show estimated rates of selected types of cancer at age 60 for members of the Greatest Generation (those born in 1908–1927), Silent Generation (1928–1945), Baby Boomers (1946–1964) and Generation X (1965–1980), with separate values shown for women and men and four racial and ethnic groups.

Some of these trends have clearer explanations than others. For instance, improvements against cervical cancer can be linked to more effective screening, while lower lung cancer rates are attributed to significant reductions in tobacco use since the 1960s. “Smoking was a huge driver of not only lung cancer but many [other] cancers,” Rosenberg says. Cancer-detection measures, such as screenings and genetic profiling, have improved and become more widely available—but many researchers insist this isn’t pushing the new overall rates higher. “People are being diagnosed not because [cancers are] being picked up through better diagnostics but because they’re becoming, unfortunately, clinically and symptomatically apparent, and that is something that is not a feature of improved diagnostics,” Chan says. In other words, more cancers are being detected at advanced, invasive stages. “The pace and the magnitude of how much the incidence has risen couldn’t be explained by simply earlier detection.”

Figuring out what is driving rates up has been a more difficult question to answer. Several research groups, including the American Cancer Society and National Cancer Institute, point to diet, exercise and obesity as well-established risk factors that could partly explain the rising rates. These factors are “undeniable,” says Chan, who co-leads an international collaborative group called PROSPECT, which investigates early-onset cancer. And, he adds, “there’s clearly other factors that are driving this rise that have yet to be identified.”

In the case of early-onset colorectal cancer, gastroenterologists including Chan and Kimmie Ng, director of the Young-Onset Colorectal Cancer Center at Dana-Farber Brigham Cancer Center, have been treating more people who do not have any family history of cancer, hereditary conditions, or underlying health issues or lifestyle choices that would raise their risk. “Many of them are not obese. They live very healthy and active lifestyles and they eat healthily, yet they are still being diagnosed with very advanced stages of colon and rectal cancer,” Ng says. “And we are now also starting to see an uptick in very young people coming in with pancreatic cancer, bile duct cancer, appendix cancer—all of these different [gastrointestinal] cancers.”

Researchers are investigating other leads. Changes in food preparation, such as an increase in processed foods and meals, might be a factor—and so might environmental or chemical exposures, such as those from pollution and plastics, says Otis Brawley, a professor of oncology at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. Brawley also speculates that changes in the gut microbiome, partly from overuse of antibiotics, might influence colon, rectal and other gastrointestinal cancers. “The bacteria that inhabit people’s colons are different today than they were 60, 70 years ago,” Brawley says. “We know that the stool microbiome is related to things like ulcerative colitis and inflammation of the bowel—and we know that those two things are linked to colon cancer.” He notes, however, that research has not definitively linked the microbiome to colon cancer.

Ng and her colleagues at Dana-Farber are also working on identifying mutations and genetic modifications in younger people who develop colorectal cancer; the researchers want to see if the disease itself is biologically different in younger age groups. “Perhaps [the cancers] are a little more aggressive,” she says. “Maybe it could explain why perhaps many more of them are being diagnosed at stage three or four.”

Chan, Ng and Brawley all agree that it’s likely not just one or two factors at play but rather a convergence of new variables. The timing and duration over which a person faces these risks and exposures will also be important to understand; Chan says more research is needed on lifestyle and environmental risks as early as childhood and even during fetal development. “Carcinogenesis doesn’t happen overnight,” Brawley says. “It’s usually a process over decades.”

Age is still a leading determinant of cancer risk. Data are currently too limited to predict cancer rates for Millennials and Generation Z members, Rosenberg says, but the outlook won’t be promising if trends continue on their current trajectory. He adds that there’s still time for this to change—even for members of Generation X, who are the next group to reach their most cancer-prone years. “There’s no reason why the cancer rate has to stay on those trajectories in the next year, three years, five years down the road,” he says. Rosenberg hopes the recent study can help motivate and inform cancer prevention and research.

“It’s very clear to us that cancer is evolving from a disease which has traditionally been considered a disease of aging to one which affects, really, all age groups,” Chan says. “We need to develop more precision prevention approaches where we start to understand better who’s at risk in the general population and to start to target our efforts more directly to those people to make more headway.”

via Scientific American

July 10, 2024 at 01:50PM

OpenAI Partners With Los Alamos Lab to Save Us From AI

OpenAI is partnering with Los Alamos National Laboratory to study how artificial intelligence can be used to fight against biological threats that could be created by non-experts using AI tools, according to announcements Wednesday by both organizations. The Los Alamos lab, first established in New Mexico during World War II to develop the atomic bomb, called the effort a “first of its kind” study on AI biosecurity and the ways that AI can be used in a lab setting.

The difference between the two statements released Wednesday by OpenAI and the Los Alamos lab is pretty striking. OpenAI’s statement tries to paint the partnership as simply a study on how AI “can be used safely by scientists in laboratory settings to advance bioscientific research.” And yet the Los Alamos lab puts much more emphasis on the fact that previous research “found that ChatGPT-4 provided a mild uplift in providing information that could lead to the creation of biological threats.”

Much of the public discussion around threats posed by AI has centered around the creation of a self-aware entity that could conceivably develop a mind of its own and harm humanity in some way. Some worry that achieving AGI—advanced general intelligence, where the AI can perform advanced reasoning and logic rather than acting as a fancy auto-complete word generator—may lead to a Skynet-style situation. And while many AI boosters like Elon Musk and OpenAI CEO Sam Altman have leaned into this characterization, it appears the more urgent threat to address is making sure people don’t use tools like ChatGPT to create bioweapons.

“AI-enabled biological threats could pose a significant risk, but existing work has not assessed how multimodal, frontier models could lower the barrier of entry for non-experts to create a biological threat,” Los Alamos lab said in a statement published on its website.

The different positioning of messages from the two organizations likely comes down to the fact that OpenAI could be uncomfortable with acknowledging the national security implications of highlighting that its product could be used by terrorists. To put an even finer point on it, the Los Alamos statement uses the terms “threat” or “threats” five times, while the OpenAI statement uses it just once.

“The potential upside to growing AI capabilities is endless,” Erick LeBrun, a research scientist at Los Alamos, said in a statement Wednesday. “However, measuring and understanding any potential dangers or misuse of advanced AI related to biological threats remain largely unexplored. This work with OpenAI is an important step towards establishing a framework for evaluating current and future models, ensuring the responsible development and deployment of AI technologies.”

Reached for comment over email, a spokesperson for OpenAI tried to emphasize the idea that artificial intelligence itself isn’t a threat, suggesting that misuse of AI was the real threat.

“AI technology is exciting because it has become a powerful engine of discovery and progress in science and technology,” the OpenAI spokesperson said. “While this will largely lead to positive benefits to society, it is conceivable that the same models in the hands of a bad actor might use it to synthesize information leading to the possibility of a ‘how-to-guide’ for biological threats. It is important to consider that the AI itself is not a threat, rather it is how it can be misused that is the threat.”

This idea that AI itself isn’t a threat is, of course, at odds with what Altman himself has said in the past.

“Previous evaluations have mostly focused on understanding whether such AI technologies could provide accurate ‘how-to-guides’,” the spokesperson continued. “However, while a bad actor may have access to an accurate guide to do something nefarious, it does not mean that they will be able to. For example, you may know you need to maintain sterility while cultivating cells or use a mass spec but if you do not have experience in doing this before, it may be very difficult to accomplish.”

And that’s where the statement from OpenAI’s spokesperson really tried to pivot back to the original message that this is all about better understanding lab work.

“Zooming out, we are more broadly trying to understand where and how [do] these AI technologies add value to a workflow,” the spokesperson said. “Information access (e.g., generating an accurate protocol) is one area where it can but it is less clear how well these AI technologies can help you learn how to do a protocol in a lab successfully (or other real-world activities such as kicking a soccer ball or painting a picture). Our first pilot technology evaluation will look to understand how AI enables individuals to learn how to do protocols in the real world which will give us a better understanding of not only how it can help enable science but also whether it would enable a bad actor to execute a nefarious activity in the lab.”

Only time will tell whether this idea holds water that you shouldn’t blame AI, but rather the people who misuse AI. It’s a reasonable position for most technological advances right up until you consider the case of nuclear weapons.


via Gizmodo

July 10, 2024 at 12:54PM

Ozempic and Other GLP-1 Drugs May Cut Cancer Risk

Jaap Arriens/NurPhoto via Getty Images.

A popular class of diabetes and obesity drugs may help keep certain cancers at bay, new research suggests. Scientists have found evidence that GLP-1 medications are associated with a lower risk of 10 different obesity-related cancers in people with type 2 diabetes, compared to only taking insulin. Newer, more potent GLP-1 drugs such as semaglutide and tirzepatide could provide an even greater buffer against cancer, the scientists say.

Glucagon-like peptide-1 receptor agonists (GLP-1RAs) have been used since the early 2000s to treat type 2 diabetes. They mimic the naturally occurring hormone GLP-1, which helps regulate our metabolism by prompting the release of insulin when needed. As it turns out, the hormone also plays a role in regulating our appetite, leading to the approval of GLP-1 drugs as treatments for obesity (the first official medication in the U.S. was liraglutide in 2014). More recent drugs such as semaglutide (the active ingredient in Ozempic and Wegovy) and tirzepatide (Mounjaro/Zepbound) have proven to be substantially more effective at helping people lose weight than diet and exercise alone. In clinical trials, people using these drugs have lost an average of 15% to 20% of their body weight over a year’s time.

This new study was led by researchers from Case Western Reserve University in Ohio. They were interested in studying the health benefits of GLP-1 drugs beyond diabetes and obesity. Because obesity has been tied to a greater risk of 13 cancers, including breast, thyroid, and pancreatic cancer, the team wanted to know if the medications would provide a preventive anti-cancer effect as well. Their earlier work had suggested that GLP-1s are associated with a lower risk of developing colorectal cancer specifically. But as far as they know, this is the first research to systematically look at the link between obesity-related cancers and GLP-1 use.

The scientists analyzed medical record data from 1.6 million patients diagnosed with type 2 diabetes and no pre-existing cancer history. The team studied three subsets of patients who were prescribed different drugs to manage their diabetes sometime between 2005 to 2018: people who were prescribed a GLP-1 drug, people prescribed insulin, or people prescribed metformin, another common diabetes medication. The latter two groups acted as a sort of control comparison.

Overall, the team found that people prescribed GLP-1s had a noticeably lower risk of developing 10 out of the 13 cancers associated with cancer, including gallbladder, pancreatic, liver, and colorectal cancers, when compared to those taking insulin. GLP-1 users may also have had a lower risk of several cancers when compared to metformin users, though the differences were not statistically significant. The team’s findings were published Friday in the journal JAMA Network Open.

This sort of research can only demonstrate a correlation between GLP-1 use and cancer risk, not prove a cause-and-effect relationship. The study can’t also tell us why GLP-1s might protect us from cancer, though the researchers already have some possible explanations in mind.

“The protective effects of GLP-1 RAs against obesity-associated cancers likely stem from multiple mechanisms,” lead author Lindsay Wang, an undergraduate in Case Western Reserve University’s Pre-Professional Scholars Program (a 8-year-long program that combines a Bachelor’s and medical degree), told Gizmodo in an email. “Primarily, these drugs promote substantial weight loss, reducing obesity-related cancer risks. They also enhance insulin sensitivity and lower insulin levels, decreasing cancer cell growth signals.”

Not all the team’s findings were good news. Compared to those on metformin, people on GLP-1s did appear to have a higher risk of kidney cancer. There was also no difference in the risk of thyroid cancer between insulin and GLP-1 users. But since some evidence has found that high insulin levels in the body can raise thyroid cancer risk, that might suggest GLP-1 use can do the same. Notably, some studies in animals have found that GLP-1 drugs can increase the odds of a specific, rarer type of thyroid cancer: medullary thyroid cancer. But the evidence of this added risk in humans has been inconclusive so far.

Even if these negative cancer risks are causally linked to GLP-1 use, though, their anti-cancer benefits elsewhere should likely outweigh them, according to Wang. “The significant risk reductions, particularly for cancers with high mortality rates, indicate a net positive effect,” she explained.

Another important wrinkle is that the study mostly covered the earliest eras of GLP-1 use. The first semaglutide-based drug, Ozempic, was only approved for type 2 diabetes in 2017, for instance, while tirzepatide was first approved in 2022. Given the higher effectiveness in weight loss seen with these newer medications, it’s certainly possible that they will have an even more profound effect in preventing cancer, Wang said.

On a sadder note, study author and cancer researcher Nathan Berger passed away just this past June at the age of 83. Berger was the founding director of the Case Comprehensive Cancer Center and more recently the director of the university’s Scientific Enrichment Opportunity (SEO) & Youth Engaged in Science (YES) programs that encourage high school students to get involved in scientific research. Berger was also one of Wang’s mentors.

“I would like to attribute this study to Dr. Nathan Berger, who conceptualized and supervised this study as the senior author.” Wang said.

As exciting as the idea that these increasingly popular drugs can also help prevent cancer might be, this research is only the beginning, according to Wang. We need studies that can directly examine this possibility as well as studies that can try to figure out exactly how these drugs fend off cancer.

“Moving forward, prospective randomized clinical trials are essential to confirm these associations and establish causality. Preclinical studies are needed to elucidate the underlying mechanisms,” she said. “Additionally, research to examine the newer and more potent weight loss GLP-1RAs (semaglutide and tirzepatide) would be particularly important.”

via Gizmodo

July 5, 2024 at 10:33AM

You can now get AI Judy Garland or James Dean to read you the news

I love an account on X (formerly Twitter) called @LizaMinnelliOutlives (shockingly not run by the icon herself) that lists things like famous deaths or agreements. Well, in a twist, the real Liza Minnelli no longer outlives new words from her deceased mother, Judy Garland. The actress and singer has given ElevenLabs, an AI startup with cloning services, permission to recreate her mother’s voice for their new Reader App. Garland joins James Dean, Burt Reynolds and Sir Laurence Olivier as deceased stars whose AI voices are in the "Iconic voice collection," thanks to deals with their estates for undisclosed sums. 

The voices will exist solely on the Reader App and people can use them for things like narrating an e-book. "It’s exciting to see our mother’s voice available to the countless millions of people who love her," Minnelli, the representative of the Garland Estate, said. "Through the spectacular new technology offered by ElevenLabs, our family believes that this will bring new fans to Mama, and be exciting to those who already cherish the unparalleled legacy that Mama gave and continues to give to the world." A sample of Garland reading The Wizard of Oz appears in ElevenLab’s promotional video on YouTube — personally, I find it a little bit eerie, but I can see the appeal. 

ElevenLabs released its Reader App in late June to allow users to hear any text on their phone, including messages, PDFs and news articles. It’s currently only available in English for iOS users in the United States, United Kingdom and Canada. However, ElevenLabs has a waitlist for Android users and claims it will launch in the Google Play store in the "coming weeks." The company also says it’s working on making the app available in every language its Multilingual model supports (29 as of now) and will, subsequently, launch it globally.

This article originally appeared on Engadget at

via Engadget

July 4, 2024 at 11:07AM

YouTube upgrades its ‘erase song’ tool to remove copyrighted music only

YouTube is trying to make it easy for its creators to remove songs from their videos and resolve copyright claims. In a new Creator Insider video, the website has announced that it has released an upgraded "erase song" tool that has the capability to remove music from video segments without deleting other audio, such as conversations, as well. 

When creators get a copyright claim for music, YouTube gives them the option to trim out the affected segment or to replace the song with an approved one in its audio library. Creators can’t monetize that particular video until they resolve the claim. The website has been testing its "erase song" tool for a while, but in the video, the company says it hasn’t been as accurate as it would like. To solve that problem, it redesigned the tool so that it now uses an AI-powered algorithm to accurately detect and remove copyrighted music from videos. 

Still, YouTube admits that the tool might not always work. If a song is particularly hard to remove, presumably due to audio quality or the presence of other sounds while it’s playing, creators may have to resort to other options. In addition to being able to trim out the offending segment or to replace its song, creators will also be able to mute that part of their video through the new erase tool. 

The website’s upgraded erase song tool will be available in YouTube Studio in the coming weeks. 

This article originally appeared on Engadget at

via Engadget

July 5, 2024 at 09:08AM