The James Webb Space Telescope is one of MIT Technology Review’s 10 Breakthrough Technologies of 2023. Explore the rest of the list here.
Natalie Batalha was itching for data from the James Webb Space Telescope. It was a few months after the telescope had reached its final orbit, and her group at the University of California, Santa Cruz, had been granted time to observe a handful of exoplanets—planets that orbit around stars other than our sun.
Among the targets was WASP-39b, a scorching world that orbits a star some 700 light-years from Earth. The planet was discovered years ago. But in mid-July, when Batalha and her team got their hands on the first JWST observations of the distant world, they saw a clear signature of a gas that is common on Earth but had never been spotted before in the atmosphere of an exoplanet: carbon dioxide. On Earth, carbon dioxide is a key indicator of plant and animal life. WASP-39b, which takes just four Earth days to orbit its star, is too hot to be considered habitable. But the discovery could well herald more exciting detections—from more temperate worlds—in the future. And it came just a few days into the lifetime of JWST. “That was a very exciting moment,” says Batalha, whose group had gathered to glimpse the data for the first time. “The minute we looked, the carbon dioxide feature was just beautifully drawn out.”
This was no accident. JWST, a NASA-led collaboration between the US, Canada, and Europe, is the most powerful space telescope in history and can view objects 100 times fainter than what the Hubble Space Telescope can see. Almost immediately after it started full operations in July of 2022, incredible vistas from across the universe poured down, from images of remote galaxies at the dawn of time to amazing landscapes of nebulae, the dust-filled birthplaces of stars. “It’s just as powerful as we had hoped, if not more so,” says Gabriel Brammer, an astronomer at the University of Copenhagen in Denmark.
But the speed at which JWST has made discoveries is due to more than its intrinsic capabilities. Astronomers prepared for years for the observations it would make, developing algorithms that can rapidly turn its data into usable information. Much of the data is open access, allowing the astronomical community to comb through it almost as fast as it comes in. Its operators have also built on lessons learned from the telescope’s predecessor, Hubble, packing its observational schedule as much as possible.
For some, the sheer volume of extraordinary data has been a surprise. “It was more than we expected,” says Heidi Hammel, a NASA interdisciplinary scientist for JWST and vice president for science at the Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy in Washington, DC. “Once we went into operational mode, it was just nonstop. Every hour we were looking at a galaxy or an exoplanet or star formation. It was like a firehose.”
Now, months later, JWST continues to send down reams of data to astonished astronomers on Earth, and it is expected to transform our understanding of the distant universe, exoplanets, planet formation, galactic structure, and much more. Not all have enjoyed the flurry of activity, which at times has reflected an emphasis on speed over the scientific process, but there’s no doubt that JWST is enchanting audiences across the globe at a tremendous pace. The floodgates have opened—and they’re not shutting anytime soon.
Opening the pipe
JWST orbits the sun around a stable point 1.5 million kilometers from Earth. Its giant gold-coated primary mirror, which is as tall as a giraffe, is protected from the sun’s glare by a tennis-court-size sunshield, allowing unprecedented views of the universe in infrared light.
The telescope was a long time coming. First conceived in the 1980s, it was once planned for launch around 2007 at a cost of $1 billion. But its complexity caused extensive delays, devouring money until at one point it was dubbed “the telescope that ate astronomy.” When JWST finally launched, in December 2021, its estimated cost had ballooned to nearly $10 billion.
Even post-launch, there have been anxious moments. The telescope’s journey to its target location beyond the moon’s orbit took a month, and hundreds of moving parts were required to deploy its various components, including its enormous sunshield, which is needed to keep the infrared-sensitive instruments cool.
The aim is to keep the telescope as busy as possible: “The worst thing we could do is have an idle telescope.”
But by now, the delays, the budget overruns, and most of the tensions have been overcome. JWST is hard at work, its activities carefully choreographed by the Space Telescope Science Institute (STScI) in Baltimore. Every week, a team plans out the telescope’s upcoming observations, pulling from a long-term schedule of hundreds of approved
By: Jonathan O’Callaghan
Title: How the James Webb Space Telescope broke the universe
Sourced From: www.technologyreview.com/2023/01/21/1065178/james-webb-space-telescope-universe/
Published Date: Sat, 21 Jan 2023 12:00:00 +0000
These scientists live like astronauts without leaving Earth
This article was originally published on Undark. Read the original article.
In January 2023, Tara Sweeney’s plane landed on Thwaites Glacier, a 74,000-square-mile mass of frozen water in West Antarctica. She arrived with an international research team to study the glacier’s geology and ice fabric, and how its ice melt might contribute to sea level rise. But while near Earth’s southernmost point, Sweeney kept thinking about the moon.
“It felt every bit of what I think it will feel like being a space explorer,” said Sweeney, a former Air Force officer who’s now working on a doctorate in lunar geology at the University of Texas at El Paso. “You have all of these resources, and you get to be the one to go out and do the exploring and do the science. And that was really spectacular.”
That similarity is why space scientists study the physiology and psychology of people living in Antarctic and other remote outposts: For around 25 years, people have played out what existence might be like on, or en route to, another world. Polar explorers are, in a way, analogous to astronauts who land on alien planets. And while Sweeney wasn’t technically on an “analog astronaut” mission — her primary objective being the geological exploration of Earth — her days played out much the same as a space explorer’s might.
For 16 days, Sweeney and her colleagues lived in tents on the ice, spending half their time trapped inside as storms blew snow against their tents. When the weather permitted, Sweeney snowmobiled to and from seismometer sites, once getting caught in a whiteout that, she said, felt like zooming inside a ping-pong ball.
On the glacier, Sweeney was always cold, sometimes bored, often frustrated. But she was also alive, elated. And she felt a form of focus that eluded her on her home continent. “I had three objectives: to be a good crewmate, to do good science, and to stay alive,” she said. “That’s all I had to do.”
None of that was easy, of course. But it may have been easier than landing back on the earth of El Paso. “My mission ended, and it’s over,” she said. “And how do I process through all these things that I’m feeling?”
Then, in May, she attended the 2023 Analog Astronaut Conference, a gathering of people who simulate long-term space travel from the relative safety and comfort of Earth. Sweeney had learned about the event when she visited an analog facility in the country of Jordan. There, she’d met one of the conference’s founders, Jas Purewal, who invited her to the gathering.
The meeting was held, appropriately, at Biosphere 2, a glass-paneled, self-contained habitat in the Arizona desert that resembles a 1980s sci-fi vision of a space settlement — one of the first facilities built, in part, to understand whether humans could create a habitable environment on a hostile planet.
The 40-acre Biosphere 2 campus in Oracle, Arizona. It was one of the first facilities built for analog astronaut missions. UNIVERSITY OF ARIZONA
A speaker at the conference had spent eight months locked inside a simulated space habitat in Moscow, Russia, and she talked about how the post-mission period had been hard for her. The psychological toll of reintegration became a chattering theme throughout the whole meeting. Sweeney, it turned out, wasn’t alone.
Across the world, around 20 analog space facilities host people who volunteer to be study subjects, isolating themselves for weeks or months in polar stations, desert outposts, or even sealed habitats inside NASA centers. These places are intended to mimic how people might fare on Mars or the moon, or on long-term orbital stations. Such research, scientists say, can help test out medical and software tools, enhance indoor agriculture, and address the difficulties analog astronauts face, including, like Sweeney’s, those that come when their “missions” are over.
Lately, a community of researchers has started to make the field more formalized: laying out standards so that results are comparable; gathering research papers into a single database so investigators can
By: Sarah Scoles
Title: These scientists live like astronauts without leaving Earth
Sourced From: www.technologyreview.com/2023/09/22/1080035/scientists-live-like-astronauts-without-leaving-earth/
Published Date: Fri, 22 Sep 2023 15:38:48 +0000
Did you miss our previous article…
Making sense of sensor data
Consider a supply chain where delivery vehicles, shipping containers, and individual products are sensor-equipped. Real-time insights enable workers to optimize routes, reduce delays, and efficiently manage inventory. This smart orchestration boosts efficiency, minimizes waste, and lowers costs.
Many industries are rapidly integrating sensors, creating vast data streams that can be leveraged to open profound business possibilities. In energy management, growing use of sensors and drone footage promises to enable efficient energy distribution, lower costs, and reduced environmental impact. In smart cities, sensor networks can enhance urban life by monitoring traffic flow, energy consumption, safety concerns, and waste management.
These aren’t glimpses of a distant future, but realities made possible today by the increasingly digitally instrumented world. Internet of Things (IoT) sensors have been rapidly integrated across industries, and now constantly track and measure properties like temperature, pressure, humidity, motion, light levels, signal strength, speed, weather events, inventory, heart rate and traffic.
The information these devices collect—sensor and machine data—provides insight into the real-time status and trends of these physical parameters. This data can then be used to make informed decisions and take action—capabilities that unlock transformative business opportunities, from streamlined supply chains to futuristic smart cities.
John Rydning, research vice president at IDC, projects that sensor and machine data volumes will soar over the next five years, achieving a greater than 40% compound annual growth rate through 2027. He attributes that not primarily to an increasing number of devices, as IoT devices are already quite prevalent, but rather due to more data being generated by each one as businesses learn to make use of their ability to produce real-time streaming data.
Meanwhile, sensors are growing more interconnected and sophisticated, while the data they generate increasingly includes a location in addition to a timestamp. These spatial and temporal features not only capture data changes over time, but also create intricate maps of how these shifts unfold across locations—facilitating more comprehensive insights and predictions.
But as sensor data grows more complex and voluminous, legacy data infrastructure struggles to keep pace. Continuous readings over time and space captured by sensor devices now require a new set of design patterns to unlock maximum value. While businesses have capitalized on spatial and time-series data independently for over a decade, its true potential is only realized when considered in tandem, in context, and with the capacity for real-time insights.
Download the report.
This content was produced by Insights, the custom content arm of MIT Technology Review. It was not written by MIT Technology Review’s editorial staff.
By: MIT Technology Review Insights
Title: Making sense of sensor data
Sourced From: www.technologyreview.com/2023/09/21/1079924/making-sense-of-sensor-data/
Published Date: Thu, 21 Sep 2023 17:00:00 +0000
The Download: inverse vaccines, and Microsoft’s big deal
This is today’s edition of The Download our weekday newsletter that provides a daily dose of what’s going on in the world of technology.
How inverse vaccines might tackle diseases like multiple sclerosis
On the whole, typical vaccines prime the immune system to respond. But scientists are also working on “inverse vaccines” that teach the immune system to stand down.
Last week Jeffrey Hubbell and his colleagues at the University of Chicago reported that an inverse vaccine they developed had successfully reversed a disease similar to multiple sclerosis in mice. Hubbell has tested this approach before, but only as a way of preventing the disease—not curing it.
These immune-dampening shots could lead to a whole host of therapies to treat autoimmune diseases. And in fact, Anokion, a company Hubbell cofounded, has already launched clinical trials to test whether this type of inverse vaccine might help people with multiple sclerosis and celiac disease. Read the full story.
This story is from The Checkup, our weekly biotech and health newsletter. Sign up to receive it in your inbox every Thursday.
To learn more about vaccines, why not check out:
+ What to know about this autumn’s covid vaccines. New variants will pose a challenge, but early signs suggest the shots will still boost antibody responses. Read the full story.
+ Who benefits most from the new covid vaccines? Data show that older adults and people with underlying illnesses need the vaccine most. Read the full story.
+ What’s next for mRNA vaccines. mRNA vaccines helped us through the covid-19 pandemic—but they could also help defend against many other infectious diseases, offer universal protection against flu, and even treat cancer. Read the full story.
I’ve combed the internet to find you today’s most fun/important/scary/fascinating stories about technology.
1 The UK is revisiting Microsoft’s offer to acquire Activision
But it’s not a done deal yet. (WSJ $)
UK regulators have accepted Microsoft’s tweaks to the deal, in principle. (FT $)
2 The US has granted Ukraine a lot more military hardware
But long-range missiles, which Ukraine covets, won’t be included in the package. (ABC News)
The US equipment will plug the gap now Poland has ceased sending weapons. (Economist $)+ Decoy weapons are successfully fooling Russian troops. (FT $)
Inside the messy ethics of making war with machines. (MIT Technology Review)
3 The blockchain’s future looks surprisingly crypto-free
Startups have more modest goals now, ideally without legal complications. (Rest of World)+ Crypto parties are still raging if you know where to look, though. (Bloomberg $)
4 These law geeks are taking us inside Google’s antitrust trial
Google may have stopped the trial from being live streamed, but it can’t prevent members of the public from sitting in. (Wired $)
5 People are still queuing to buy the new iPhone
Lines of eager customers in China, the UK, Dubai and Australia suggest Apple’s appeal is as strong as ever. (Bloomberg $)
6 A man-made organism defies the rules of biology
In theory, using unnatural amino acids could make organisms less prone to viral infections. (Proto.Life)
7 Your intimate health information is just data to Big Tech
Data that can generally be sold onto willing advertisers. (The Atlantic $)
How your brain data could be used against you. (MIT Technology Review)
8 Gen Z isn’t immune to online scams
In fact, in many cases, they fall for them more than boomers. (Vox)
9 Absolutely nobody loves PowerPoint
Nonetheless, it persists. (FT $)
Next slide, please: A brief history of the corporate presentation. (MIT Technology Review)
10 Don’t throw out your used coffee grounds
They can become the foundation for all sorts of 3D-printing projects instead. (Ars Technica)
Watch this team of drones 3D-print a tower. (MIT Technology Review)
Quote of the day
“It feels bad, you feel hurt. Then you give yourself time to grieve, you find someone else and you get excited again.”
—Rowan Rosenthal, a former principal product designer for Grindr, likens the decision to leave the company because of its strict return-to-office mandate to the end of a relationship, they tell the Washington Post.
The big story
California’s coming offshore wind boom faces big engineering hurdles
Last December, dozens of companies fought for the right to lease the first commercial wind power sites off the coast of California in an auction
By: Rhiannon Williams
Title: The Download: inverse vaccines, and Microsoft’s big deal
Sourced From: www.technologyreview.com/2023/09/22/1080043/the-download-inverse-vaccines-and-microsofts-big-deal/
Published Date: Fri, 22 Sep 2023 12:10:00 +0000
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