Author: Trav Mamone

Japanese spacecraft drops box-shaped robot on asteroid’s surface

By Loren Grush

Overnight, Japan’s asteroid-sampling spacecraft Hayabusa2 deployed its third robot onto the surface of an asteroid named Ryugu more than 186 million miles from Earth. This time, the robotic explorer is a tiny, box-shaped lander crafted by Germany and France’s space agencies, dubbed MASCOT. While on the asteroid, the robot will hop around slowly and study the surface in detail, measuring things like temperature and the composition of nearby rocks.

The landing comes less than two weeks after Hayabusa2 also dropped a pair of tiny cylindrical rovers on Ryugu’s surface. That marked the first time that any kind of mobile robot had landed on an asteroid. The two rovers, named Rover-1A and 1B, don’t have wheels; instead, they “hop” around the surface, thanks to internal motors that shift their momentum. These hops are slow, though, taking 15 minutes to complete. That’s because Ryugu is just a little more than half a mile across, and it doesn’t have a very strong gravitational pull. Since their landing, the rovers have been hopping around gathering stunning images of the asteroid’s surface.

MASCOT is also able to move around in a similar way to Rover-1A and Rover-1B. In fact, engineers already opted to move the lander once it had reached the surface last night because they found that it was sitting at a bad angle. The mission team switched on MASCOT’s mobility system, shifting the robot’s position and placing it in a much more favorable orientation. The German space agency DLR says that now all of MASCOT’s instruments are working just fine and are continuing to collect data.

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Atheist group files lawsuit against Sen. Jason Rapert on social media blocking

by KATV

A lawsuit has been filed against an Arkansas state senator for allegedly violating the U.S. Constitution and state law when blocking people from his official social media accounts.

American Atheists filed a federal lawsuit claiming State Senator Jason Rapert violated the First and Fourteenth Amendments when blocking individuals, including four of the plaintiffs, from his official Twitter and Facebook accounts when they expressed differing viewpoints. The complaint also accuses Rapert of blocking plaintiffs due to their atheism.

American Atheists’ Legal and Policy Director Alison Gill says government officials can’t limit participation in public forums due to differing beliefs.

The complaint states plaintiffs were blocked when voicing criticism of his attacks on members of the LGBTQ community, the senator’s support of a bill to require the display of “In God We Trust” in all Arkansas public school classrooms and libraries, his support for a Ten Commandments monument on Capitol grounds and more.

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Trump prophecy and other Christian movements: 3 essential reads

By Kalpana Jain

A new film, “Trump Prophecy,” will be shown in some limited theaters on Oct. 2 and 4. The film is an adaptation of a book, co-authored by Mark Taylor, a retired firefighter, who claimed he received a message from God in 2011 that the Trump presidency is divinely ordained.

Liberty University film students are reported to have participated in the making of the film. At the same time, however, thousands of Liberty University students are also reported to have signed a petition saying they did not support the film.

Media outlets, such as the Religion News Service, commented that the “film is part of a small but influential Trump prophecy movement” that believes Trump’s election was part of God’s plans, and those who condemn him are servants of Satan.

Here are three stories from The Conversation’s archives that further explain a fast-growing Christian movement, and some others from the past, that have left a lasting impact.

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Turkey’s Atheism Association Will Shut Down After Membership Becomes Too Risky

By Hemant Mehta

Since opening an actual office in 2014, the Atheism Association in Turkey has given away soup to the homeless and called for the government to stop automatically designating every newborn child as “Muslim” on their birth certificates. They’ve also suffered setbacks that included their website being blocked by authorities and having to install a “panic button,” directly connected to the Istanbul police, due to death threats.

It’s been an uphill climb for the group in a nation where 99% of the population is Muslim… (though being declared Muslim from birth certainly inflates that number).

And now the group has been forced to shut down for good after outside pressure made the group’s continued existence untenable.

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Black holes ruled out as universe’s missing dark matter

By the University of California – Berkeley

For one brief shining moment after the 2015 detection of gravitational waves from colliding black holes, astronomers held out hope that the universe’s mysterious dark matter might consist of a plenitude of black holes sprinkled throughout the universe.

University of California, Berkeley, physicists have dashed those hopes.

Based on a statistical  of 740 of the brightest supernovas discovered as of 2014, and the fact that none of them appear to be magnified or brightened by hidden black hole “gravitational lenses,” the researchers concluded that primordial  can make up no more than about 40 percent of the  in the universe. Primordial black holes could only have been created within the first milliseconds of the Big Bang as regions of the universe with a concentrated mass tens or hundreds of times that of the sun collapsed into objects a hundred kilometers across.

The results suggest that none of the universe’s dark  consists of heavy black holes, or any similar object, including massive compact halo objects, so-called MACHOs.

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Nobel Prize in Physics is shared by a woman, the first in 55 years

By Eliza Mackintosh

The Nobel Prize in Physics has been awarded to a woman for the first time in 55 years, and for only the third time in its history.

Donna Strickland, a Canadian physicist, was awarded the 2018 prize jointly with Gérard Mourou, from France, for their work on generating high-intensity, ultra-short optical pulses. They share the award with an American, Arthur Ashkin, who at 96 becomes the oldest Nobel Laureate, for developing “optical tweezers.”

Both inventions had “revolutionized laser physics,” the Royal Swedish Academy said.

The announcement comes a day after a senior scientist at CERN, the Geneva-based nuclear research center that is home to a number of Nobel winners, was suspended for saying that physics was invented and built by men.

Strickland said the achievements of women scientists deserved recognition. “We need to celebrate women physicists because we’re out there. I’m honored to be one of those women,” Strickland said by video link at a news conference following the announcement in Stockholm.

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The Search For Planet X Gets A Boost With The Discovery Of A Super Distant Object

By Loren Grush

A new discovery is strengthening the idea that a large, mysterious planet — known as Planet 9 or Planet X — may be lurking unseen at the Solar System’s edge. Astronomers say they have found a tiny object orbiting far out from the Sun that fits with the Planet X theory. In fact, the object may have even been pushed onto the path it takes now by this hidden planet’s gravity.

The tiny rock — eloquently named TG387 and nicknamed “The Goblin” — was spotted by astronomers at the Carnegie Institution of Science using a giant Japanese observatory in Hawaii called Subaru. The Carnegie team first spotted the object in 2015 and then followed it on its journey around the Sun for the last four years. Those observations revealed an incredibly distant target. TG387 takes a whopping 40,000 years to complete just one orbit around the Sun. And it’s on a very elliptical path far from the inner Solar System; the closest it ever gets to the Sun is 65 Astronomical Units (AU), or 65 times the distance between the Sun and the Earth. For reference, Pluto only gets as far as 49 AUs from the Sun.

This orbit is particularly enticing since it puts TG387 in a select group of distant Solar System objects that all point to the possible existence of Planet X. Right now, there are 14 far-out space rocks that all share similar orbit patterns, suggesting that this planet is out there. Their paths are all super elongated, and they all cluster together in the same area when they approach the Sun. Plus, their orbits are all tilted alike, and they point in the same general direction, as if something big has pushed them into similar places. These objects are the strongest lines of evidence astronomers have for Planet X, and finding a new one that matches this pattern reinforces that idea that this planet is more than just a theory.

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The Campaign to Overturn Ireland’s Blasphemy Law on Oct. 26 Has Begun

By Hemant Mehta

On October 26, Irish citizens will have the opportunity to vote in a referendum and overturn their nation’s blasphemy laws once and for all.

It’s a long time coming. Article 40.6.1 of the Irish Constitution prohibits “publication or utterance” of blasphemous content, which is obviously in the eye of the beholder. It’s not just a remnant of older law, either. It’s been evoked in recent years to punish comedians who called a Catholic communion wafer “haunted bread” and questioned why a benevolent God would ever create something as awful as bone cancer in children. While they could have been fined up to €25,000 for their statements, both cases were dropped after international bad press.

But the looming threat remains a problem and that’s why, yesterday, Atheist Ireland launched their campaign to overturn the blasphemy law.

They’re pushing five main reasons citizens should vote “Yes” on the ballot.

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Grinning-Skull Asteroid Set to Whiz by Earth

By Stephanie Pappas

Better late to the Halloween party than never: An asteroid shaped like a grinning skull is set to pass by Earth on Nov. 11.

Asteroid 2015 TB145 was first discovered in 2015, when it zipped within 301,986 miles (486,000 kilometers) of Earth right on Halloween. According to NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory small-body object database, the asteroid’s next flyby will not be nearly so close; it will pass about 24 million miles (38 million km) from our planet. That’s about a quarter of the distance from the Earth to the sun.

The next time 2015 TB 145 approaches Earth won’t be until 2082, when it will pass at about a third of the distance between the Earth and the sun. Its orbit will take it closer to Venus and Mercury in 2024, 2028 and 2037.

Scientists had the opportunity to snap some spooky images of 2015 TB 145 when it first passed the planet, in 2015. The pictures showed a mostly spherical rock with indentations that resembled gaping eye sockets and a nose hole, at least from some angles. 

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E.P.A. to Eliminate Office That Advises Agency Chief on Science

By Coral Davenport

WASHINGTON — The Environmental Protection Agency plans to dissolve its Office of the Science Advisor, a senior post that was created to counsel the E.P.A. administrator on the scientific research underpinning health and environmental regulations, according to a person familiar with the agency’s plans. The person spoke anonymously because the decision had not yet been made public.

The science adviser works across the agency to ensure that the highest quality science is integrated into the agency’s policies and decisions, according to the E.P.A.’s website. The move is the latest among several steps taken by the Trump administration that appear to have diminished the role of scientific research in policymaking while the administration pursues an agenda of rolling back regulations.

Asked about the E.P.A.’s plans, John Konkus, a spokesman for the agency, emailed a prepared statement from the science adviser, Jennifer Orme-Zavaleta, in which she described the decision to dissolve the office as one that would “combine offices with similar functions” and “eliminate redundancies.”

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