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NASA’s latest low-cost space ventures will visit the Trojan asteroids that flank Jupiter and the large metallic asteroid, 16 Psyche. Both targets will reveal secrets of the early solar system.
Giant iceberg threat A massive iceberg, known as Larsen C, seems set to break away from Antarctica, after a long-running rift grew by 18 kilometres in just two weeks during December. The remaining strip of ice holding the iceberg to the ice shelf is just 20 kilometres long. The iceberg is expected to detach in a few months’ time, leaving the shelf behind it vulnerable to future break-up.
“Missions will visit Trojan asteroids and 16 Psyche. Both will reveal secrets of the early solar system”
Nick Ansell/PA Images
The two missions, called Lucy and Psyche, were chosen from five finalists for NASA’s Discovery programme, which caps mission costs at $450 million. Previous missions have visited Mercury Flu still killing birds and the asteroids Vesta and Ceres, THERE’S no end in sight to the and the next launch will be to bird flu epidemic, which has Mars in 2018. struck poultry farms across Lucy will launch in October Europe and the Middle East. Some 2021 and arrive at Jupiter in 2027. It will explore six Trojan asteroids, 800,000 exposed, free-range ducks and geese are set to be which orbit at the same distance from the sun as Jupiter, in gravity slaughtered in south-west France this month to stop the H5N8 virus wells on either side of the gas spreading further. giant. The Trojans are thought to Meanwhile, nine mute swans be remnants from the early solar carrying the virus have died at a system, so may hold clues as to major colony at Abbotsbury in how the planets formed. Devon, UK, and 40 more swans Psyche will launch to explore its namesake asteroid in October 2023 and arrive in 2030. 16 Psyche “Given the pattern of appears to be made mostly of iron spread, the virus is and nickel rather than rock, which probably being carried by migrating ducks” suggests it might be the core of a small rocky world, left over may also have died from it. from a collision with another This flu strain has also been planet or asteroid. killing other bird species, including endangered ones, says the European Food Safety Authority. Infected white-tailed eagles, as well as peregrine falcons, crows and gulls, have been found dead in Europe. These birds may have caught the virus after eating birds killed by flu. “Given the pattern of spread, and the weather we have seen, I think it is being carried by mallard ducks on the short migrations they make during winter,” says Ab Osterhaus at the Research Centre for Emerging Infections and –Choked in just 5 days– Zoonoses in Hannover, Germany.
Mini-moon mayhem –Flu may have killed 49 swans–
H5N8 doesn’t seem to be a threat to humans. It is similar to H5N1, a bird flu strain that has killed hundreds of people, but is thought to be less likely to jump to people. The winter flu season is just getting started in Europe, but fortunately H5N8 is believed to be unlikely to hybridise with human flu viruses – an occurrence that would pose a severe threat.
AlphaGo is Master DEEPMIND’s AI has done it again. AlphaGo, which beat top Go player Lee Sedol at the ancient Chinese game in 2016, has been secretly taking on more of the world’s best players – and winning. In December, the mysterious “Master” began thrashing other online players. Master beat world number one Ke Jie twice, and won 50 out of 51 games – drawing on the remaining one due to an internet time-out. Master’s identity was a secret until DeepMind founder Demis Hassabis revealed it in a tweet. “We’ve been working hard at improving AlphaGo, and over the past few days we’ve played some unofficial online games,” he said. DeepMind has not yet disclosed the nature of the tweaks made to AlphaGo, but says it will play some official games later this year.
We used to think a single collision between Earth and a Mars-sized body was responsible for creating the moon. But new simulations show that about 20 smaller impacts over 100 million years could have spawned moonlets, which later merged into a single moon (Nature Geoscience, doi.org/bwzx).
Boozy binge-eaters This explains the kebabs. The bountiful calories in alcohol should sate our hunger. But mouse research suggests that booze activates brain cells involved in starvation, which seems to be responsible for alcoholinduced overeating (Nature Communications, DOI:10.1038/ ncomms14014).
Uber sharing Taxi app Uber has launched a new service to share travel data with city planners. Uber Movement will give officials and researchers access to anonymised and aggregated data from more than 2 billion trips taken by Uber passengers. It could help with infrastructure planning.
Pacemaker hack On Monday, St Jude Medical, now owned by Abbott, was the first biomedical implant company forced to issue a security patch for its pacemakers. The US Food and Drug Administration ruled that people could hack the device, depleting the battery, changing the pacing or administering shocks. The company will soon roll out a software update.
14 January 2017 | NewScientist | 7