NASA closely measured shockwave from Sun for first time
Gigantic interplanetary shockwaves reverberate across our Solar System, originating from the Sun and the bursts of charged particles or solar winds escaping it.
But measuring such a shock in detail takes some very finely tuned instruments — and scientists just managed it for the first time, sciencealert.com reported.
These shocks are made up of particles transferring energy through electromagnetic waves, rather than bouncing directly into each other — what’s known as a collisionless shock.
Understanding how these shocks happen in Earth’s vicinity could prove useful on a greater scale, since these types of shockwaves are also spewed forth by things like supernova and even black holes.
The solar winds that give rise to interplanetary shocks come in two types: Fast and slow (as you can probably guess, one of the key differences between them is their speed of travel). As a fast stream overtakes a slow stream, a wave is created, causing ripples that spread out across the Solar System.
It’s thanks to NASA’s Magnetospheric Multiscale Satellites (MMS) that we’ve now been able to catch a shockwave as it propagates through space — because the four satellites that make up the MMS were only around 20 kilometers or 12 miles apart at the time, they were close enough to detect interplanetary shockwaves as they flashed by in just half a second.
“The [MMS] spacecraft obtained unprecedented high-time resolution multipoint particle and field measurements of an interplanetary shock event,” the researchers write in their paper.
In particular, the Fast Plasma Investigation instruments on board the MMS were responsible for taking the all-important readings — a suite of devices able to measure ions and electrons in space at up to six times per second.
The instrument detected two clumps of ions: One from the solar wind shockwave itself, and one pushed out of the way as the wave passed.
The team says this helps to explain how energy and acceleration gets passed on as these shocks travel; due to the
relatively small scale of the area covered by the MMS, it was also able to pick up small scale irregularities within the shock.
More shockwave measurements should be within the capabilities of the MMS, the team behind the latest research says — not just strong interplanetary shocks, but also weaker and rarer ones, which scientists know less about.
And this is just the latest feather in the cap of the MMS: It’s already been responsible for analyzing how energy is dispersed when solar storms strike Earth’s atmosphere, and for logging other key changes in our magnetosphere.
Ultimately these interplanetary shockwaves contribute to the space weather that can have dramatic effects on our own planet — which is why scientists are so keen to learn more about them, not just to make new discoveries but to refine existing hypotheses. With the MMS readings, they now have their first close-up look.
“Studying [interplanetary] shocks at kinetic scales thus offers new test beds for our current understanding,” say the researchers.
Robotic neck brace improves | functions of ALS patients
A novel neck brace, which supports the neck during its natural motion, was designed by Columbia University engineers.
This is the first device to dramatically assist patients suffering from Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) in holding their heads and actively supporting them during range of motion, eurekalert.org reported.
This advance would result in improved quality of life for patients, not only in improving eye contact during conversation, but also in facilitating the use of eyes as a joystick to control movements on a computer, much as scientist Stephen Hawkins famously did.
A team of engineers and neurologists led by Sunil Agrawal, professor of mechanical engineering and of rehabilitation and regenerative medicine, designed a comfortable and wearable robotic neck brace that incorporates both sensors and actuators to adjust the head posture, restoring roughly 70 percent of the active range of motion of the human head. Using simultaneous measurement of the motion with sensors on the neck brace and surface electromyography (EMG) of the neck muscles, it also becomes a new diagnostic tool for impaired motion of the head-neck. Their pilot study was published in the Annals of Clinical and Translational Neurology.
The brace also shows promise for clinical use beyond ALS, according to Agrawal, who directs the Robotics and Rehabilitation (RoAR) Laboratory in Columbia University.
“The brace would also be useful to modulate
rehabilitation for those who have suffered whiplash neck injuries from car accidents or have from poor neck control because of neurological diseases such as cerebral palsy,” he said.
“To the best of my knowledge, Professor Agrawal and his team have investigated, for the first time, the muscle mechanisms in the neck muscles of patients with ALS. Their neck brace is such an important step in helping patients with ALS, a devastating and rapidly progressive terminal disease,” said Hiroshi Mitsumoto, Wesley J. Howe Professor of neurology at the Eleanor and Lou Gehrig ALS Center at Columbia University Irving Medical Center who, along with Jinsy Andrews, assistant professor of neurology, co-led the study with Agrawal.
“We have two medications that have been approved, but they only modestly slow down disease progression. Although we cannot cure the disease at this time, we can improve the patient’s quality of life by easing the difficult symptoms with the robotic neck brace.”
Commonly known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, ALS is a neurodegenerative disease characterized by progressive loss of muscle functions, leading to paralysis of the limbs and respiratory failure. Dropped head, due to declining neck muscle strength, is a defining feature of the disease. Over the course of their illness, which can range from several months to more than 10 years, patients completely lose mobility of the head, settling in to a chin-on-chest posture that impairs speech, breathing, and swallowing. Current static neck braces become increasingly uncomfortable and ineffective as the disease progresses.
To test this new robotic device, the team recruited 11 ALS patients along with 10 healthy, age-matched subjects. The participants in the study were asked to perform single-plane motions of the head-neck that included flexion-extension, lateral bending, and axial rotation. The experiments showed that patients with ALS, even in the very early stages of the disease, use a different strategy of head-neck coordination compared to age-matched healthy subjects. These features are well correlated with clinical ALS scores routinely used by clinicians. The measurements collected by the device can be used clinically to better assess head drop and the ALS disease progression.
“In the next phase of our research, we will characterize how active assistance from the neck brace will impact ALS subjects with severe head drop to perform activities of daily life,” said Agrawal, who is also a member of Columbia University’s Data Science Institute.
“For example, they can use their eyes as a joystick to move the head-neck to look at loved ones or objects around them.”
ESA encounters parachute trouble as it readies ExoMars 2020 for launch
A joint venture between the European Space Agency (ESA) and Russian space agency Roscosmos to place a rover and science platform on Mars has hit a stumbling block, with the parachutes needed to safely lower the ExoMars 2020 module to the surface receiving damage during the latest round of testing.
This follows another less-than-successful test earlier in the year, with the team now searching for answers less than year out from the scheduled launch, newatlas.com reported.
The ExoMars 2020 mission involves the ESA-built rover that will roam the surface for organic material and the Russian-built stationary surface platform, which will spend a year investigating the soil at the landing site. Both will lift off atop a Proton rocket and travel to the Red Planet inside a carrier module over a nine-month journey, before entering the atmosphere, deploying parachutes and firing braking engines in an attempt to reduce their velocity for a safe touchdown.
This process actually involves a set of two parachutes, each with their own pilot chutes, deploying in a sequence during the six hours between atmospheric entry and landing. The first-stage parachute has a 15-meter diameter and a larger, second-stage parachute has a 35-meter diameter, which will actually be the largest to ever descend to Mars.
Back in May, mission scientists tried out all four parachutes for the first time, releasing them from a stratospheric helium balloon at an altitude of 29 km. All of the chutes deployed correctly, but the team found both of the main parachutes suffered damage on the way down.
So the team made some alterations to the design and then conducted another run, this time focusing their attention on the larger main parachute. But the second test brought damage to the canopy in a similar fashion to the first one, with an attached mock carrier module left to fall to Earth with only the pilot chute to slow it down.
“It is disappointing that the precautionary design adaptations introduced following the anomalies of the last test have not helped us to pass the second test successfully, but as always we remain focused and are working to understand and correct the flaw in order to launch next year,” said Francois Spoto, ESA’s ExoMars team leader.
The team is now working through videos and hardware data recorded throughout the test to determine its next moves. Another high-altitude test is planned for the main parachute later in the year, and another for early 2020.
“Getting to Mars and in particular landing on Mars is very difficult,” said Spoto.
“We are committed to flying a system that will safely deliver our payload to the surface of the Mars in order to conduct its unique science mission.”
London developer defends use of facial recognition
The developer behind a 67-acre site in the King’s Cross area of central London defended its use of facial recognition technology.
Under UK’s data protection laws, firms must provide clear evidence that there is a need to record and use people’s images, BBC News reported.
A spokeswoman said the tool was used to “ensure public safety” and was one of “a number of detection and tracking methods.”
The local council said it was unaware that the system was in place.
It was first reported by the Financial Times.
In a statement, developer Argent said it used cameras “in the interest of public safety” and likened the area to other public spaces.
“These cameras use a number of detection and tracking methods, including facial recognition, but also have sophisticated systems in place to protect the privacy of the general public,” it said.
A spokeswoman declined to say what those systems were, how long the facial recognition had been in operation or what the legal basis was for its use, as is required under European data protection law.
Potential for inappropriate use
In addition to the National Rail, London Underground and Eurostar stations, King’s Cross is home to a number of restaurants, shops and cafes, as well as offices occupied by Google and Central Saint Martins College.
The college told the BBC it had “not been made specifically aware” that the tech was in use in the area and added that it does not use it inside its own buildings.
According to the King’s Cross website, planning permission for new additions to the site, granted in 2006, included 50 buildings, 1,900 homes, 20 streets and 10 public parks.
The BBC confirmed that London’s Building complex, Canary Wharf, is also seeking to trial facial recognition tools, as reported in the
The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) said it had general concerns about the potential for inappropriate use of the technology.
“Organizations wishing to automatically capture and use images of individuals going about their business in public spaces need to provide clear evidence to demonstrate it is strictly necessary and proportionate for the circumstances, and that there is a legal basis for that use,” it said in a statement.
“The ICO is currently looking at the use of facial recognition technology by law enforcement in public spaces and by private sector organizations, including where they are partnering with police forces.
“We’ll consider taking action where we find non-compliance with the law.”
South Wales Police faced a legal challenge to its use of facial recognition in 2018.
Despite this it is currently undergoing a three-month trial of a new app.
Chancellor Sajid Javid gave his backing to the police in their trials of facial recognition cameras last month, while he was home secretary.
However, privacy groups have also voiced concerns about the implications of facial recognition on privacy rights.
“Facial recognition is nothing like CCTV — it’s not an accurate comparison,” said Stephanie Hare, an independent researcher and tech commentator.
“It allows us to be identified and tracked in real time, without our knowledge or our informed consent.
“We recognize the power of DNA and fingerprints as biometrics and their use is governed very strictly under UK law. We do not apply the same protections and restrictions to face, yet it is arguably even more powerful precisely because it can be taken without our knowledge.”
European blockchain company The Bitfury Group, valued recently at more than $1 billion (£828.5 million), launched its artificial intelligence (AI) division, Reuters reported.