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Asteroid-hunting Arecibo telescope damaged by 2nd cable catastrophe – Business Insider – Business Insider



A hole in the 1,000-foot-wide reflector dish of the Arecibo Observatory, torn when a cable fell on August 10, 2020.

Arecibo Observatory

  • The Arecibo Observatory is a radio telescope that hunts for hazardous asteroids and helps scientists search for alien life.
  • It just suffered its second catastrophic cable break in just three months.
  • In August, an auxiliary cable broke and tore a hole into the observatory’s reflector dish.
  • On Friday, a cable associated with the first one snapped and crashed into the dish.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

An important astronomical observatory has suffered its second damaging disaster of the year.

In August, a 3-inch-thick auxiliary cable at the Arecibo Observatory popped out of its socket and tore a 100-foot gash into the reflector dish below. Then on Friday evening, a main cable broke from the same tower and crashed into the dish, further damaging the panels as well as other cables.

Officials are investigating the new failure, though they don’t yet know why the latest cable snapped. A press release from the University of Central Florida, which co-operates the telescope, suggests the break may be related to the extra weight the cable has carried since August.

The extent of the new damage was not immediately clear. No people were injured in either incident. 

“This is not good, but we remain committed to getting the facility back online,” observatory director Francisco Cordova said in the release. “It’s just too important of a tool for the advancement of science.”

Many people may recognize the observatory from the James Bond film “GoldenEye,” but scientists know it for its contributions to planetary safety and the search for alien life. Astronomers use the 20-acre radio telescope to study hazardous asteroids as they fly past Earth, in hopes of identifying space rocks on a collision course early enough to intervene before they strike.

Scientists have also used Arecibo to search for signs of intelligent extraterrestrial life. In 1974, the observatory beamed out the most powerful broadcast Earth has ever sent to communicate with potential aliens. In 2016, it detected the first repeating fast radio bursts — mysterious space signals that scientists now think come from dead stars

“Its sensitivity is so much greater than any other instrument and it’s so much more flexible,” Joanna Rankin, a radio astronomer at the University of Vermont, told Science, adding that Arecibo can see “from the stratosphere to the far reaches of the universe.”

“It would be a tremendous shame if that was lost,” she said.

Repairs could cost tens of millions of dollars

arecibo observatory puerto rico

The Gregorian Dome hangs over the 1,000-foot reflector dish of the Arecibo Observatory in 2012.

Universal Images Group via Getty Images

Engineers had been set to begin repairs from August’s accident this week. But after the new failure, they are instead working to secure and stabilize the observatory’s structure.

“The team hopes to be able to reduce the tension in the existing cables at the tower and install steel reinforcements to temporarily alleviate some of the additional load that is being distributed among the remaining cables,” the UCF statement said. 

Observatory managers also plan to speed up the delivery of two new cables they had already ordered. Experts will reassess what else is needed as they evaluate the structure in the coming days.

The university said there is currently no cost estimate for the necessary repairs.

In October, UCF applied for $10.5 million from the National Science Foundation (NSF), which owns the observatory, for emergency repairs, Science reported. When the observatory was struck by Hurricanes Irma and Maria in 2017, the NSF granted $2 million to repair that damage.

The NSF allotted $12.3 million for four-year repairs and infrastructure improvements in 2019, UCF reported.

“We have been thoughtful in our evaluation and prioritized safety in planning for repairs that were supposed to begin Tuesday. Now this,” Cordova said. “There is much uncertainty until we can stabilize the structure. It has our full attention. We are evaluating the situation with our experts and hope to have more to share soon.”

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Huge meteor lights up night sky in Japan for HUNDREDS of miles – Daily Mail



Huge meteor streaks across Japan lighting up the night sky across HUNDREDS of miles

  • Brightly burning meteor was seen plunging from the sky across Japan Sunday
  • Meteor is believed to be a bolide, an extremely bright fireball which explodes
  • Many people in western Japan reported on social media seeing the rare sight, which lasted for a few seconds.

A brightly burning meteor was seen plunging from the sky in wide areas of Japan, capturing attention on television and social media.

The meteor glowed strongly as it rapidly descended through the Earth’s atmosphere on Sunday.

Many people in western Japan reported on social media seeing the rare sight, which lasted for a few seconds.

Local media said the fireball is believed to be a bolide, an extremely bright meteor that explodes in the atmosphere. 

A bolide is a special type of fireball which explodes in a bright terminal flash at its end, often with visible fragmentation. 

Dash-cam footage captured the meteor piercing the Earth’s atmosphere in Tatsuno, western Japan on November 29

NHK public television said its cameras in the central prefectures of Aichi, Mie and elsewhere captured the fireball in the southern sky.

A camera at Nagoya port showed the meteor shining as brightly as a full moon as it neared the Earth, the Asahi newspaper reported.

Some experts said small fragments of the meteorite might have reached the ground.  

‘The sky went bright for a moment and I felt strange because it couldn’t be lightning,’ said one Twitter user who saw the fireball. ‘I felt the power of the universe!’

‘Was that a fireball? I thought it was the end of the world…’ said another, tweeting a video of the meteor captured while driving.

Dashcam footage showed the bright meteor (centre top), believed to be a bolide, in the Tokushima prefecture

Dashcam footage showed the bright meteor (centre top), believed to be a bolide, in the Tokushima prefecture

Dashcam footage in the Tokushima prefecture showed the bright meteor (centre top) plunge from the night's sky

Dashcam footage in the Tokushima prefecture showed the bright meteor (centre top) plunge from the night’s sky

A similarly bright shooting star was spotted over Tokyo in July and later identified as a meteor, fragments of which were found in neighbouring Chiba prefecture.

Meteors are bits of rocks and ice ejected from comets as they move in their orbits about the sun.  

When a meteoroid enters the Earth’s upper atmosphere, it heats up due to friction from the air. The heat causes the gases around the meteoroid to glow brightly, and a meteor appears.

Witnessing a fireball is a rare event – the vast majority of these meteors occur over oceans and uninhabited regions. 

Those fireballs that happen at night also stand a small chance of being detected because few people are out to notice them.

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DeepMind's latest AI breakthrough can accurately predict the way proteins fold – Engadget



Alphabet-owned DeepMind may be best known for building the AI that beat a world-class Go player, but the company announced another, perhaps more vital breakthrough this morning. As part of its work for the 14th Critical Assessment of Protein Structure Prediction, or CASP, DeepMind’s AlphaFold 2 AI has shown it can guess how certain proteins will fold themselves with surprising accuracy. In some cases, the results were perceived to be “competitive” with actual, experimental data.

“We have been stuck on this one problem – how do proteins fold up – for nearly 50 years,” said Professor John Moult, CASP chair and co-founder, in a DeepMind blog post. “To see DeepMind produce a solution for this, having worked personally on this problem for so long and after so many stops and starts, wondering if we’d ever get there, is a very special moment.”

Researchers and enthusiasts across the internet have met the news enthusiastically, with some proclaiming that AlphaFold has solved the “protein solving problem.” But what does that mean, exactly? And how do we stand to benefit from it?

To start answering these questions, we need to take a closer look at the proteins themselves. As your biology teacher might have said, proteins are the building blocks of life, responsible for countless functions inside and outside the human body. Each one starts as a series of amino acids strung together into a chain, but it doesn’t take long — sometimes just milliseconds  — before things start to get complicated. Some parts of the amino acid chain twist into helixes. Others fold back onto themselves as “sheets”. Before long, these helixes and sheets coalesce and contort into a protein’s final structure, and that’s what gives a protein the ability to perform specific tasks, like ferrying oxygen through your body or strengthening the structure of your bones. 

In other words, shape is everything, and researchers have spent decades trying to find a way to determine a protein’s final, folded structure based solely on the amino acids that make up its backbone. That’s where CASP comes in — since 1994, the program has served as a focal point of sorts for teams around the world working to crack the protein solving problem with computational ingenuity. The rules are fairly simple: Every other year, organizers select a series of target proteins from a bevy of submissions whose structures have been determined experimentally, but haven’t been published yet. Researchers then get a few months to tune their systems and make their predictions, which are then judged by experts in the field for about a month after submissions are closed. 

While CASP has been running for 26 years, it’s been in the past few that the scientific community has been able to bring quantum leaps in compute power and machine learning to bear on the challenge. In DeepMind’s case, that involved training AlphaFold 2’s prediction model on about 170,000 known protein structures, along with a vast number of protein sequences whose 3D structures haven’t yet been determined. This testing data, the team admits, is fairly similar to what it used in 2018, when the original AlphaFold system achieved top marks during CASP 13. (At the time, organizers hailed DeepMind’s “unprecedented progress in the ability of computational methods to predict protein structure.”) 

That said, the team made some notable changes to its machine learning approach — they haven’t published a full paper yet, but the CASP 14 abstract book highlights some of their modifications. And beyond that, DeepMind also relied on about 128 of Google’s cloud-based TPUv3 cores, which ultimately gave AlphaFold 2 the ability to accurately determine a protein’s structure within just days, if not sooner — the New York Times notes that, in some cases, predictions can be generated in a matter of hours. 


This all sounds impressive — and it is, certainly — but there’s still plenty of work to be done. On the whole, AlphaFold’s results represented a dramatic improvement in accuracy compared to past years, and as mentioned, some of DeepMind’s predictions were accurate enough to rival experimental results at an atomic level. Others, however, fell short of that threshold. The company notes that “for the very hardest protein targets, those in the most challenging free-modelling category, AlphaFold achieves a median score of 87.0 GDT” — that’s just shy of the 90 GDT metric CASP co-founder Moult uses as the barrier for calling results “competitive” with real data. Put another way, DeepMind hasn’t fully solved the protein solving problem, but it’s getting closer than many had thought possible. 

As DeepMind’s work continues, we’ll start to see the full extent of accurate protein prediction take shape — for now, the jury still seems out on what practical benefits we could expect to see in the short term. The company points to potential advances in sustainability and drug design as a result of its protein folding research, though it didn’t elaborate on specifics. Meanwhile, Janet Thornton, a structural biologist at the European Molecular Biology Laboratory-European Bioinformatics Institute, told Nature that she hopes this leap in accuracy could shed light on the functions of “thousands” of unsolved proteins at work in the human body. If nothing else, though, researchers could be looking at a glut of new protein structure data to investigate, test against, and work backward from — that’s worth celebrating, even if we don’t know how it’ll be used yet.

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How iron hydroxide forms on quartz – Futurity: Research News





New research reveals the full details of how iron hydroxides form on a quartz substrate.

From the red hues in the Grand Canyon to the mundane rust attacking a neglected bicycle, iron hydroxides are all around us. They are even as common as quartz, the most widely distributed mineral on the planet.

Scientists know that iron hydroxides can capture heavy metals and other toxic materials, and that iron oxides also can be natural semiconductors. While these properties suggest many applications, the full details of how iron hydroxides form on a quartz substrate have been hidden in a “black box” of sorts—until now.

Young-Shin Jun, a professor of energy, environmental, and chemical engineering in the McKelvey School of Engineering at Washington University in St. Louis, has devised a way to open that box and observe the moment iron hydroxide forms on quartz. Her research appears in the journal Environmental Science & Technology.

Iron hydroxide formation

“This is telling the story of the birth of iron hydroxide,” Jun says.

When people speak of “formation,” typically they are talking about a substance growing. Before growth, however, there needs to be something to grow. Where does that first bit of iron hydroxide come from?

First, sufficient precursor elements need to be in place. Then the components can come together to form a stable nucleus that will go on to become a tiny solid particle of iron hydroxide, called a nanoscale particulate. The process is called solid nucleation.

Science has a firm grip on the sum of these two processes—nucleation and growth, together known as “precipitation”—and their sum has been used to predict iron hydroxide’s formation behavior. But these predictions have largely omitted separate consideration of nucleation. The results “weren’t accurate enough,” Jun says. “Our work provides an empirical, quantitative description of nucleation, not a computation, so we can provide scientific evidence about this missing link.”

This contribution opens many important possibilities. We can better understand water quality at acid mine drainage sites, reduce membrane fouling and pipeline scale formation, and develop more environmentally friendly superconductor materials.

X-rays and nucleation

Jun was able to look inside of the black box of precipitation by using X-rays and a novel experimental cell she developed to study environmentally relevant complex systems with plenty of water, ions, and substrate material, observing nucleation in real time.

Working at the Advanced Photon Source at Argonne National Laboratory in Lemont, Illinois, Jun employed an X-ray scattering technique called “grazing incidence small angle X-ray scattering.” By shining X-rays onto a substrate with a very shallow angle, close to the critical angle that allows total reflection of light, this technique can detect the first appearance of nanometer size particles on a surface.

The approach is so novel, Jun says, that when she discusses her lab’s work on nucleation, “People think we are doing computer modeling. But no, we are experimentally examining it at the moment it happens,” she says. “We are experimental observers. I can measure the initial point of nucleation.”

Her empirical method reveals that the general estimates scientists have been using overstate the amount of energy needed for nucleation.

“Iron hydroxide forms much more easily on mineral surfaces than scientists thought, because less energy is needed for nucleation of highly hydrated solids on surfaces,” Jun says.

Furthermore, having a precise value will also help improve reactive transport models—the study of the movement of materials through an environment. For instance, certain materials can sequester toxic metals, keeping them from entering waterways. An updated reactive transport model with more accurate nucleation information will have significant implications for water quality researchers working to better predict and control sources of pollution.

“Iron hydroxide is the main sequestration repository for these contaminants,” Jun says, “and knowing their origin is critical to predicting their fate.”

For high-tech manufacturing facilities, having a more precise understanding of how iron oxides or hydroxides form will allow for the more efficient—less wasteful—production of iron-based superconductors.

Source: Washington University in St. Louis

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