Category: technology

How Do Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles Work?

By Laura Geggel

How do intercontinental ballistic missiles — including the one North Korea launched Tuesday (Nov. 28) that flew more than 10 times higher than the International Space Station — work?

The answer depends on the type of intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM), but most of these rockets launch from a device on the ground, travel into outer space and finally re-enter Earth’s atmosphere, plummeting rapidly until they hit their target.

As of now, no country has fired an ICBM as an act of war against another country, although some countries have tested these missiles in practice exercises, said Philip Coyle, a senior science adviser with The Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation, a nonprofit headquartered in Washington, D.C. But even though North Korea’s tests are also exercises, the provocative nature of these tests has many world leaders on edge, according to news reports.

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How an underwater sensor network is tracking Argentina’s lost submarine

By Davide Castelvecchi

On 15 November, Argentina’s Navy lost contact with the ARA San Juan, a small diesel-powered submarine that had been involved in exercises off the east coast of Patagonia.

About a week later, on 23 November, the Vienna-based Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organization (CTBTO) announced that its International Monitoring System — a network of sensors designed to detect nuclear explosions wherever they happen around the globe — had picked up a sound consistent with that of an explosion near the vessel’s last-known location. The submarine is carrying 44 crew members.

The CTBTO’s system has numerous scientific applications and this is not the first time that it has been put to use in the aftermath of a possible disaster. In 2000, for example, researchers searched its data for signs of the lost Russian submarine Kursk, and in 2014 they used it to try to determine the fate of Malaysian Airlines flight MH370Nature spoke to CTBTO hydroacoustic engineer Mario Zampolli about the latest search.

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First Digital Pill Approved to Worries About Biomedical ‘Big Brother’

By Pam Belluck

For the first time, the Food and Drug Administration has approved a digital pill — a medication embedded with a sensor that can tell doctors whether, and when, patients take their medicine.

The approval, announced late on Monday, marks a significant advance in the growing field of digital devices designed to monitor medicine-taking and to address the expensive, longstanding problem that millions of patients do not take drugs as prescribed.

Experts estimate that so-called nonadherence or noncompliance to medication costs about $100 billion a year, much of it because patients get sicker and need additional treatment or hospitalization.

“When patients don’t adhere to lifestyle or medications that are prescribed for them, there are really substantive consequences that are bad for the patient and very costly,” said Dr. William Shrank, chief medical officer of the health plan division at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center.

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Physicists shrink plans for next major collider

By Edwin Cartlidge

Limited funding and a dearth of newly discovered particles are forcing physicists to cut back plans for their next major accelerator project: a multibillion-dollar facility known as the International Linear Collider (ILC) in Japan.

On 7 November, the International Committee for Future Accelerators (ICFA), which oversees work on the ILC, endorsed halving the machine’s planned energy from 500 to 250 gigaelectronvolts (GeV), and shortening its proposed 33.5-kilometre-long tunnel by as much as 13 kilometres. The scaled-down version would have to forego some of its planned research such as studies of the ‘top’ flavour of quark, which is produced only at higher energies.

Instead, the collider would focus on studying the particle that endows all others with mass — the Higgs boson, which was detected in 2012 by the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) at CERN, Europe’s particle-physics lab near Geneva, Switzerland.

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Uber Teams with NASA on ‘Flying Car’ Project

By Mike Wall

Uber’s planned “flying cars” will navigate crowded city skies with some help from NASA, if everything goes according to plan.

The space agency has signed an agreement with Uber to help develop an air-traffic-control system for the flying-car project, which goes by the name Uber Elevate or UberAir, according to USA Today.

“UberAir will be performing far more flights over cities on a daily basis than has ever been done before,” Uber Chief Product Officer Jeff Holden said in a statement provided to USA Today. “Doing this safely and efficiently is going to require a foundational change in airspace-management technologies.”

NASA has already been working to develop such technologies and help make “urban air mobility” (UAM) a reality, agency officials have said. In 2011, the agency’s Aeronautics Research Mission Directorate (ARMD) started a project called Unmanned Aircraft Systems Integration in the National Airspace System (UAS in the NAS), which focused on relatively large, uncrewed vehicles flying above 500 feet (150 meters).

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The New Religions Obsessed with A.I.

By Brandon Withrow

What has improved American lives most in the last 50 years? According to a Pew Research study reported this month, it’s not civil rights (10 percent) or politics (2 percent): it’s technology (42 percent).

And yet, according to other studies, most Americans are wary of technology, especially in areas of automation (72 percent), or robotic caregivers (59 percent), or riding in driverless vehicles (56 percent), and even in using brain chip implants to augment the capabilities of healthy people (69 percent).

Science fiction, however, is quickly becoming science fact—the future is the machine. This is leading many to argue that we need to anticipate the ethical questions now, rather than when it is too late. And increasingly, those taking up these challenges are religious and spiritual.

How far should we integrate human physiology with technology? What do we do with self-aware androids—like Blade Runner’s replicants—and self-aware supercomputers? Or the merging of our brains with them? If Ray Kurzweil’s famous singularity—a future in which the exponential growth of technology turns into a runaway train—becomes a reality, does religion have something to offer in response?

On the one hand, new religions can emerge from technology.

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Cosmic rays have revealed a new chamber in Egypt’s Great Pyramid

By Mika McKinnon

Cosmic rays may have just unveiled a hidden chamber within Egypt’s most famous pyramid.

An international team led by Kunihiro Morishima at Nagoya University in Japan used muons, the high-energy particles generated when cosmic rays collide with our atmosphere, to explore inside Egypt’s Great Pyramid without moving a stone.

Muons can penetrate deep into rock, and get absorbed at different rates depending on the density of the rock they encounter. By placing muon detectors within and around the pyramid, the team could see how much material the particles passed through.

“If there is more mass, fewer muons get to that detector,” says Christopher Morris at Los Alamos National Laboratory, who uses similar techniques to image the internal structure of nuclear reactors. “When there is less mass, more muons get to the detector.”

By looking at the number of muons that arrived at different locations within the pyramid and the angle at which they were travelling, Morishima and his team mapped out cavities within the ancient structure.

This type of exploration – muon radiography – is perfect for sensitive historical sites as it uses naturally occurring radiation and causes no damage to the structure.

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“A god who is capable of sending intelligible signals to millions of people simultaneously, and of…”

“A god who is capable of sending intelligible signals to millions of people simultaneously, and of receiving messages from all of them simultaneously, cannot be, whatever else he might be, simple. Such bandwidth!”

Richard Dawkins, co-inventor of the internet