SpaceJibe

December 26, 2015

China Just Flew This Gigantic Airship To the Edge Of Space

Filed under: Gadgets, Life, Military, Space Ships — bferrari @ 6:54 pm

The technology could have communications and military advantages for China.

China just flew a 250-foot airship to near the top of the Earth’s atmosphere. The solar-powered behemoth can stay airborne for half a year and requires no fuel to get it more than 12 miles into the air—just fill it with helium and let it go; the sun powers it once it reaches its cruising altitude.

Airships predate airplanes, but have been largely supplanted by them. However, they remain superior for pretty much anything that doesn’t require the speed of a jet engine. They can hang around for months, they can carry large payloads, and they can fly way higher than most planes, because an airplane’s wing runs out of air to support it at such high altitudes.

This last property might be the reason China is testing the Yuanmeng airship. During its estimated two-day trial, the airship launched from Xilinhot, Inner Mongolia, bristling with communications gear—”data relays, high-definition observation and spatial imaging” equipment—says the Chinese People’s Daily. The sedentary nature of the airship allows it to sit up at the edge of space and watch. It can surveil the ground, and it can also act as a base station to command fleets of military planes. In a pinch, the Yuanmeng airship could act as a stand-in for communications satellites.

Popular Science speculates on China’s plans for the technology:

Operating higher in near space means that the Yuanmeng would have constant line of sight over a hundred thousand square miles—an important requirement for radar and imaging. Increased sensor coverage means increased warning time against stealthy threats such as cruise missiles, giving Chinese forces a greater opportunity to detect and shoot down such threats. It would also be harder for fighters and surface-to-air missiles to attack near space objects.

They’re not perfect though. The People’s Daily spoke to Yu Quan of the Chinese Academy of Engineering, who told them that “The biggest challenge for the near-space airship is the big temperature difference in the day and night.” Because the airship is so close to space, it experiences space-like extremes of weather as it is baked by the sun and then frozen by the night.

Airships can solve many problems. In much the same way that regular oceangoing ships carry huge loads of goods from continent to continent, airships are also good for transporting goods. Even smaller airships can carry loads of 50 tons. And perhaps they could even replace passenger airplanes as providers of low-cost air travel. They might not be as fast, but they could be a lot more comfortable.

Advertisements

December 18, 2015

Wolf 1061 exoplanet: ‘Super-Earth’ discovered only 14 light-years away

Filed under: Cool, Exoplanets, Extraterrestrial Life, Planets — bferrari @ 10:54 am

Alien life could be closer to us than previously thought. Scientists have just discovered the nearest habitable planet to Earth.

The new world is one of three surrounding a red dwarf star called Wolf 1061, which is just 14 light years away. It was detected by scientists at the University of New South Wales (UNSW) in Australia.

All three planets have the potential to be solid and rocky, but only Wolf 1061c exists within the “Goldilocks zone” — a distance from the star (much smaller and cooler than our sun) that is not too hot and not too cold for liquid water.

“This rare discovery is incredibly exciting,” UNSW’s Duncan Wright, who led the study, told CNN.

“Other planets found that are habitable are not nearly this close to Earth. Because of the close proximity of this planet to us, there is good opportunity to find out more about it.”

“The close proximity of the planets around Wolf 1061 means there is a good chance these planets may pass across the face of the star,” UNSW team member Rob Wittenmyer said in an earlier statement.

“If they do, then it may be possible to study the atmospheres of these planets in future to see whether they would be conducive to life.”

151217121358-wolf-1061-space-super-169

NASA has confirmed more than 1,870 exoplanets — worlds outside our solar system. But this discovery is particularly important because Wolf 1061c is both habitable and close to our solar system.

December 11, 2015

Google and NASA Hope Lightning-Fast Computers Will Unlock the Secrets of Nature

Filed under: Cool, Gadgets, Life, Military — bferrari @ 12:34 pm

Quantum computers can perform about 100 million times faster than today’s machines.

d-wave011

Google has a lot of computers. By many accounts, it has more computers than any other company in the world. Yet, even with so much horsepower at their disposal, Google’s researchers keep running into barriers when trying to solve certain complex problems, particularly those tied to artificial intelligence. Google, in effect, has been stumped.

“We have already encountered problems we would like to solve that are unfeasible with conventional computers,” John Giannandrea, a vice president for engineering at Google, said during a press conference on Tuesday. “We want to understand the future that may lie ahead of us in non-conventional computing.”

One type of machine Google has increasingly turned to for help is called a quantum computer. Such systems tap into the seemingly magical properties of quantum mechanics, the field of science that deals with how atoms and other tiny particles work. They can be used to solve problems that traditional computers simply can’t handle.

On Tuesday, Google issued its most optimistic statements to date around the technology, declaring that the still-primitive quantum machines will probably evolve into revolutionary systems for the computing industry and perhaps, for mankind. The event was held on the NASA Ames campus in Mountain View, Calif., where Google is teaming with NASA and D-Wave Systems, a maker of quantum computers, to build a computing lab. Their work has been underway for a couple of years, but only recently—thanks to a larger, upgraded D-Wave machine—have the researchers seen truly promising results from experiments.

Google revealed on Tuesday that recent test calculations show that a D-Wave computer can obliterate the work of a standard computer chip in performing some tasks. In one test, the D-Wave machine needed just a single second to process calculations that would have taken a standard machine 10,000 years to solve. Overall, Google said the quantum machines appeared to perform 100 million times faster on certain problems. Such a speedup would be a true rarity in the history of computing.

Some serious caveats surround these accomplishments, however. D-Wave’s computer is far from a general-purpose machine. It can perform only a limited set of quantum calculations, and just a few people know how to shape problems suitably for the computer. As a result, Google has been relegated to running what amount to test operations on the D-Wave system, rather than the code used in the company’s day-to-day operations. “We need to make it easier to take a practical optimization problem as it occurs on some engineer’s desk,” Hartmut Neven, a director of engineering at Google, said at the event. “We need to make the input into the machine easier. That is not there yet.”

Google is using the tough optimization calculations in some of its advanced AI technology that everyday people touch. (Its photo-search tools and voice-recognition technology are among the most obvious examples.) But those calculations are done on thousands of interlinked traditional computers. The hope is that Google could someday turn to quantum computers to complement its standard systems and come up with more breakthroughs on as-of-yet unsolvable problems. “It may be several years before this kind of work makes a difference to Google products,” said Giannandrea.

The D-Wave machine, which is also being used by NASA with hopes of improving its simulation and encryption technology, relies on what are known as quantum bits, or qubits. Unlike a typical binary digit that must be either a 1 or a zero, a qubit can be a 1, zero, or a state somewhere in between at any moment. It helps to have a degree or two in physics to fully understand how quantum computers work, but the upshot of the technology is that the machines can simultaneously consider an incredible number of possible solutions to a problem. This makes quantum computers well-suited for optimization problems, in which, for example, someone might be trying to find out the best way to route the traffic of thousands of planes going into and out of an airport. It so happens that much of today’s cutting-edge AI software relies on crunching similar sets of these tricky optimization problems.

Neven has spent the most time of any Google employee working with D-Wave machines, and he sees promise for them in areas such as improving battery technology, desalinization machines, and solar cells. The unique qualities of qubits may lend them to uncovering properties about materials, which could result in much more efficient industrial machines. “Because the operating system of nature, as far as we understand it, is quantum physics, you need a process that acts on quantum physics to describe parts of the universe,” Neven said. “Sooner or later, quantum computers will be the tool of choice to solve these problems.”

Quantum-Computer

Source

Blog at WordPress.com.