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AI: It’s already ‘2001’ in space exploration as scientists unravel mysteries of deep space



Artificial intelligence is under a worldwide spotlight amid the proliferation of high-tech chatbots that can mimic human conversations. But long before ChatGPT hit the market, the space exploration industry integrated AI into research to help map the universe and allow scientists to better unravel the secrets of deep space.

More than 50 years ago, the classic movie “2001: A Space Odyssey” featured a sentient AI computer named HAL 9000 and quickly became one of the most iconic sci-fi thrillers in the world. Since Hollywood released the film in 1968, reports show that real-life scientists working with high-tech artificial intelligence has become commonplace in the space exploration industry – and without the terrifying results that played out in the big-screen thriller.

Space agencies across the world, including NASA and the European Space Agency, have been using AI technology to chart galaxies and stars and send robots to other planets. And experts anticipate the technological leaps will continue.

Such agencies often rely on machine learning (ML) technology for the efforts, which allows programs to take in vast amounts of data and train themselves to find patterns and make predictions, according to MIT’s explanation on ML.


“As machine learning advances, its scientific applications will expand to more and more missions. For the future, this may mean that deep space missions – which travel to places where calibration rocket flights aren’t possible – can still be calibrated and continue giving accurate data, even when getting out to greater and greater distances from Earth or any stars,” NASA said in a blog post in 2021 on machine learning tech and how scientists study the sun.


This image released by NASA on July 12, 2022, shows Stephan’s Quintet, a collection of five galaxies, as seen via the James Webb Space Telescope. (Getty Images)

AI has the ability to comb through seemingly endless data on space and prioritize the most important data sets for researchers, thus eliminating human error.

For decades, NASA has sent rovers to faraway celestial bodies, such as the Mars Pathfinder mission that sent a rover to the planet in 1997.

“Our return to Mars today marks the beginning of a new era in the nation’s space exploration program,” then-President Bill Clinton said of the historic 1997 landing of the rover. “The Mars Pathfinder is the first of a series of probes we are sending to Mars over the next decade. The information we gather on our neighbor planet will help us better understand our own world and perhaps provide further clues on the origins of our solar system.”

Nearly 30 years later, the space agency has continued sending various robots to the planet, including the input of machine learning algorithms that allow the technology to autonomously travel without the threat of falling into craters.

The technology has already proved to be fruitful, with NASA’s Curiosity rover this year capturing a photo this year of rippled rock textures, indicating Mars likely once had water.

Billions of years ago, waves on the surface of a shallow lake stirred up sediment at the lake bottom. Over time, the sediment formed into rocks with rippled textures that are the clearest evidence of waves and water that NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover has ever found.

Billions of years ago, waves on the surface of a shallow lake stirred up sediment at the lake bottom. Over time, the sediment formed into rocks with rippled textures that are the clearest evidence of waves and water that NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover has ever found. (NASA / JPL-Caltech / MSSS)

“This is the best evidence of water and waves that we’ve seen in the entire mission,” Ashwin Vasavada, Curiosity’s project scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, said in a NASA post on the discovery in February. “We climbed through thousands of feet of lake deposits and never saw evidence like this – and now we found it in a place we expected to be dry.”

This image made available by NASA shows an illustration of NASA's Perseverance rover landing safely on Mars.

This image made available by NASA shows an illustration of NASA’s Perseverance rover landing safely on Mars. (Getty Images)

AI also helps the industry with the physical mechanics of launching spaceships. Elon Musk’s SpaceX corporation uses an AI autopilot system on its Falcon 9 drone ships, allowing the spacecraft to launch or dock autonomously, Forbes reported.

According to AI Magazine, artificial intelligence is also aiding researchers trying to clean up and avoid space’s trash problem. There are an estimated 330 million pieces of space debris orbiting Earth, including old satellites and parts of ships. Scientists at the European Space Agency, for example, are training AI to avoid crashing into space debris, according to the magazine, while also working on a long-term plan to help get rid of the space junk.

In this handout photo provided by NASA, this is the first image of Sgr A*, the supermassive black hole at the center of our galaxy. It's the first direct visual evidence of the presence of this black hole.

In this handout photo provided by NASA, this is the first image of Sgr A*, the supermassive black hole at the center of our galaxy. It’s the first direct visual evidence of the presence of this black hole. (Getty Images)

Controversy over AI technology gained international attention in March when thousands of tech experts, leaders and others signed an open letter calling for a six-month pause on creating powerful AI systems. Musk and Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak were among the prominent signatories who warned that “human-competitive intelligence can pose profound risks to society and humanity.”

ChatGPT-4 is displayed on a smartphone with the OpenAI logo.

ChatGPT-4 is displayed on a smartphone with the OpenAI logo. (Jonathan Raa / NurPhoto via Getty Images)

One of the world’s leading AI labs, OpenAI, released a chatbot last November called ChatGPT, which broke records as the fastest-growing user base with 100 million monthly active users in January. OpenAI released its latest iteration, GPT-4, last month. The bot is able to simulate human-like conversations with users based on prompts it is given.

Proponents of the AI tech argue that human life could be enhanced as the tech grows more powerful, with studies finding AI-led automation could cause productivity and economic booms that increase a country’s GDP, aiding financial industries with quick fraud detection, and even spotting a cancer diagnosis.

OpenAI CEO Sam Altman said earlier this year that he understands concerns about the tech but hopes “that we successively develop more and more powerful systems that we can all use in different ways that integrate it into our daily lives, into the economy, and become an amplifier of human will.”



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NASA's Parker Solar Probe Plunges Into Fast Solar Wind and Discovers Its Mysterious Source – SciTechDaily



NASA’s Parker Solar Probe (PSP) has detected the origin and structure of the solar wind close to the sun’s surface, observing high-energy particles aligned with flows in coronal holes. This discovery, indicating magnetic reconnection within these regions, improves our understanding and forecasting of solar storms impacting Earth. Credit: NASA GSFC/CIL/Brian Monroe

NASA’s Parker Solar Probe probe got close enough to sun’s surface to see hidden granular features.

NASA’s Parker Solar Probe (PSP) has flown close enough to the sun to detect the fine structure of the solar wind close to where it is generated at the sun’s surface, revealing details that are lost as the wind exits the corona as a uniform blast of charged particles.


It’s like seeing jets of water emanating from a showerhead through the blast of water hitting you in the face.

In a paper published on June 7 in the journal Nature, a team of scientists led by Stuart D. Bale, a professor of physics at the University of California, Berkeley, and James Drake of the University of Maryland-College Park, report that PSP has detected streams of high-energy particles that match the supergranulation flows within coronal holes, which suggests that these are the regions where the so-called “fast” solar wind originates.

Coronal holes are areas where magnetic field lines emerge from the surface without looping back inward, thus forming open field lines that expand outward and fill most of space around the sun. These holes are usually at the poles during the sun’s quiet periods, so the fast solar wind they generate doesn’t hit Earth. But when the sun becomes active every 11 years as its magnetic field flips, these holes appear all over the surface, generating bursts of solar wind aimed directly at Earth.

Parker Solar Probe Spacecraft Approaching Sun

Artist’s concept of the Parker Solar Probe spacecraft approaching the sun. Launched in 2018, the probe is increasing our ability to forecast major space-weather events that impact life on Earth. Credit: NASA/Johns Hopkins APL/Steve Gribben

Understanding how and where the solar wind originates will help predict solar storms that, while producing beautiful auroras on Earth, can also wreak havoc with satellites and the electrical grid.

“Winds carry lots of information from the sun to Earth, so understanding the mechanism behind the sun’s wind is important for practical reasons on Earth,” Drake said. “That’s going to affect our ability to understand how the sun releases energy and drives geomagnetic storms, which are a threat to our communication networks.”

Based on the team’s analysis, the coronal holes are like showerheads, with roughly evenly spaced jets emerging from bright spots where magnetic field lines funnel into and out of the surface of the sun. The scientists argue that when oppositely directed magnetic fields pass one another in these funnels, which can be 18,000 miles across, the fields often break and reconnect, slinging charged particles out of the sun.

“The photosphere is covered by convection cells, like in a boiling pot of water, and the larger scale convection flow is called supergranulation,” Bale said. “Where these supergranulation cells meet and go downward, they drag the magnetic field in their path into this downward kind of funnel. The magnetic field becomes very intensified there because it’s just jammed. It’s kind of a scoop of magnetic field going down into a drain. And the spatial separation of those little drains, those funnels, is what we’re seeing now with solar probe data.”

Based on the presence of some extremely high-energy particles that PSP has detected — particles traveling 10 to 100 times faster than the solar wind average — the researchers conclude that the wind could only be made by this process, which is called magnetic reconnection. The PSP was launched in 2018 primarily to resolve two conflicting explanations for the origin of the high-energy particles that comprise the solar wind: magnetic reconnection or acceleration by <span class="glossaryLink" aria-describedby="tt" data-cmtooltip="

Plasma is one of the four fundamental states of matter, along with solid, liquid, and gas. It is an ionized gas consisting of positive ions and free electrons. It was first described by chemist Irving Langmuir in the 1920s.

” data-gt-translate-attributes=”["attribute":"data-cmtooltip", "format":"html"]”>plasma or Alfvén waves.

“The big conclusion is that it’s magnetic reconnection within these funnel structures that’s providing the energy source of the fast solar wind,” Bale said. “It doesn’t just come from everywhere in a coronal hole, it’s substructured within coronal holes to these supergranulation cells. It comes from these little bundles of magnetic energy that are associated with the convection flows. Our results, we think, are strong evidence that it’s reconnection that’s doing that.”

The funnel structures likely correspond to the bright jetlets that can be seen from Earth within coronal holes, as reported recently by Nour Raouafi, a co-author of the study and the Parker Solar Probe project scientist at the Applied Physics Laboratory at Johns Hopkins University. APL designed, built, manages, and operates the spacecraft.

Plunging into the sun

By the time the solar wind reaches Earth, 93 million miles from the sun, it has evolved into a homogeneous, turbulent flow of roiling magnetic fields intertwined with charged particles that interact with Earth’s own magnetic field and dump electrical energy into the upper atmosphere. This excites atoms, producing colorful auroras at the poles, but has effects that trickle down into Earth’s atmosphere. Predicting the most intense winds, called solar storms, and their near-Earth consequences is one mission of <span class="glossaryLink" aria-describedby="tt" data-cmtooltip="

Established in 1958, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) is an independent agency of the United States Federal Government that succeeded the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA). It is responsible for the civilian space program, as well as aeronautics and aerospace research. Its vision is &quot;To discover and expand knowledge for the benefit of humanity.&quot; Its core values are &quot;safety, integrity, teamwork, excellence, and inclusion.&quot; NASA conducts research, develops technology and launches missions to explore and study Earth, the solar system, and the universe beyond. It also works to advance the state of knowledge in a wide range of scientific fields, including Earth and space science, planetary science, astrophysics, and heliophysics, and it collaborates with private companies and international partners to achieve its goals.

” data-gt-translate-attributes=”["attribute":"data-cmtooltip", "format":"html"]”>NASA’s Living With a Star program, which funded PSP.

The probe was designed to determine what this turbulent wind looks like where it’s generated near the sun’s surface, or photosphere, and how the wind’s charged particles — protons, electrons, and heavier ions, primarily helium nuclei — are accelerated to escape the sun’s gravity.

To do this, PSP had to get closer than 25 to 30 solar radii, that is, closer than about 13 million miles.

“Once you get below that altitude, 25 or 30 solar radii or so, there’s a lot less evolution of the solar wind, and it’s more structured — you see more of the imprints of what was on the sun,” Bale said.

In 2021, PSP’s instruments recorded magnetic field switchbacks in the Alfvén waves that seemed to be associated with the regions where the solar wind is generated. By the time the probe reached about 12 solar radii from the surface of the sun — 5.2 million miles — the data were clear that the probe was passing through jets of material, rather than mere turbulence. Bale, Drake, and their colleagues traced these jets back to the supergranulation cells in the photosphere, where magnetic fields bunch up and funnel into the sun.

But were the charged particles being accelerated in these funnels by magnetic reconnection, which would slingshot particles outward, or by waves of hot plasma — ionized particles and magnetic field — streaming out of the sun, as if they’re surfing a wave?

The fact that PSP detected extremely high-energy particles in these jets — tens to hundreds of kiloelectron volts (keV), versus a few keV for most solar wind particles — told Bale that it has to be magnetic reconnection that accelerates the particles and generates the Alfvén waves, which likely give the particles an extra boost.

“Our interpretation is that these jets of reconnection outflow excite Alfvén waves as they propagate out,” Bale said. “That’s an observation that’s well known from Earth’s magnetotail, as well, where you have similar kinds of processes. I don’t understand how wave damping can produce these hot particles up to hundreds of keV, whereas it comes naturally out of the reconnection process. And we see it in our simulations, too. ”

The PSP won’t be able to get any closer to the sun than about 8.8 solar radii above the surface — about 4 million miles — without frying its instruments. Bale expects to solidify the team’s conclusions with data from that altitude, though the sun is now entering solar maximum, when activity becomes much more chaotic and may obscure the processes the scientists are trying to view.

“There was some consternation at the beginning of the solar probe mission that we’re going to launch this thing right into the quietest, most dull part of the solar cycle,” Bale said. “But I think without that, we would never have understood this. It would have been just too messy. I think we’re lucky that we launched it in the solar minimum.”

Reference: “Interchange reconnection as the source of the fast solar wind within coronal holes” by S. D. Bale, J. F. Drake, M. D. McManus, M. I. Desai, S. T. Badman, D. E. Larson, M. Swisdak, T. S. Horbury, N. E. Raouafi, T. Phan, M. Velli, D. J. McComas, C. M. S. Cohen, D. Mitchell, O. Panasenco and J. C. Kasper, 7 June 2023, Nature.
DOI: 10.1038/s41586-023-05955-3

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ESA – Cheops explores mysterious warm mini-Neptunes – European Space Agency



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Brightest gamma-ray burst ever seen, the largest known explosion since Big Bang, has a unique jet structure unlike any other –



Scientists may finally know what made the largest explosion in the universe ever seen by humankind so powerful.

Astronomers have discovered that the brightest gamma-ray burst (GRB) ever seen had a unique jet structure and was dragging an unusually large amount of stellar material along with it.

This might explain the extreme properties of the burst, believed to have been launched when a massive star located around 2.4 billion light-years from Earth in the direction of the constellation Sagitta underwent total gravitational collapse to birth a black hole, as well as why its afterglow persisted for so long.


The GRB officially designated GRB 221009A but nicknamed the BOAT, or the brightest of all time, was spotted on October 9, 2022, and stood out from other GRBs due to its extreme nature. It was seen as an immensely bright flash of high-energy gamma-rays, followed by a low-fading afterglow across many wavelengths of light.

Related: A tiny Eastern European cubesat measured a monster gamma-ray burst better than NASA. Here’s how

“GRB 221009A represents a massive step forward in our understanding of gamma-ray bursts and demonstrates that the most extreme explosions do not obey the standard physics assumed for garden variety gamma-ray bursts,” George Washington University researcher and study lead author Brendan O’Connor said in a statement. O’Connor led a team that continued to monitor the BOAT GRB with the Gemini South Telescope in Chile following its initial discovery in Oct 2023.

Northwestern University doctoral candidate Jillian Rastinejad, who was also part of a team that observed the BOAT on Oct. 14 after its initial discovery,told Live Science that GRB 221009A is thought to be brighter than other highly energetic GRBs by a factor of at least 10. 

“Photons have been detected from this GRB that has more energy than theLarge Hadron Collider (LHC) produces,” she said. 

Even before the BOAT was spotted, GRBs were already considered the most powerful, violent, and energetic explosions in the universe, capable of blasting out as much energy in a matter of seconds as the sun will produce over its entire around ten billion-year lifetime. There are two types of these blasts, long-duration, and short-duration, which might have different launch mechanisms, both resulting in the creation of a black hole. 

Further examination of the powerful GRB has revealed that it is unique for its structure as well as its brightness. The GRB was surprisingly wide. So wide, in fact, that astronomers were initially unable to see its edges. 

“Our work clearly shows that the GRB had a unique structure, with observations gradually revealing a narrow jet embedded within a wider gas outflow where an isolated jet would normally be expected,”  co-author and Department of Physics at the University of Bath scientist  Hendrik Van Eerten said in a statement. 

Thus, the jet of GRB 221009A appears to possess both wide and narrow “wings” that differentiate it from the jets of other GRBs. This could explain why the afterglow of the BOAT continued to be seen by astronomers in multiple wavelengths for months after its initial discovery. 

Van Eerten and the team have a theory as to what gives the jet of the BOAT its unique structure.

“GRB jets need to go through the collapsing star in which they are formed,” he said. “What we think made the difference in this case was the amount of mixing that happened between the stellar material and the jet, such that shock-heated gas kept appearing in our line of sight all the way up to the point that any characteristic jet signature would have been lost in the overall emission from the afterglow.”

Van Eerten also points out the findings could help understand not just the BOAT but also other incredibly bright GRBs. 

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“GRB 221009A might be the equivalent of the Rosetta stone of long GRBs, forcing us to revise our standard theories of how relativistic outflows are formed in collapsing massive stars,” O’Connor added. 

The discovery will potentially lay the foundation for future research into GRBs as scientists attempt to unlock the mysteries still surrounding these powerful bursts of energy. The findings could also help physicists better model the structure of GRB jets.

“For a long time, we have thought about jets as being shaped like ice cream cones,” study co-author and George Washington University associate professor of physics Alexander van der Horst said. “However, some gamma-ray bursts in recent years, and in particular the work presented here, show that we need more complex models and detailed computer simulations of gamma-ray burst jets.”

The team’s research is detailed in a paper published in the journal Science Advances.

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