‘A new era’: NASA strikes asteroid in key test of planetary defense

This file artist's illustration obtained from NASA on November 4, 2021 shows the DART spacecraft from behind prior to impact at the Didymos binary system. (AFP)
This file artist's illustration obtained from NASA on November 4, 2021 shows the DART spacecraft from behind prior to impact at the Didymos binary system. (AFP)
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Updated 27 September 2022

‘A new era’: NASA strikes asteroid in key test of planetary defense

‘A new era’: NASA strikes asteroid in key test of planetary defense
  • DART’s celestial target is an asteroid “moonlet” about 560 feet (170 meters) in diameter that orbits a parent asteroid five times larger called Didymos as part of a binary pair with the same name, the Greek word for twin

CAPE CANAVERAL, Florida: A NASA spaceship on Monday struck an asteroid seven million miles away in order to deflect its orbit, succeeding in a historic test of humanity’s ability to prevent a celestial object from devastating life on Earth.

The Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) impactor hit its target, the space rock Dimorphos, at 7:14 p.m. Eastern Time (2314 GMT), 10 months after blasting off from California on its pioneering mission.

“We’re embarking on a new era, an era in which we potentially have the capability to protect ourselves from something like a dangerous hazardous asteroid impact,” said Lori Glaze, director of NASA’s planetary science division.

Dimorphos — a 530-foot (160-meter) asteroid roughly comparable in size to an Egyptian pyramid — orbits a half-mile long big brother called Didymos. Never seen before, the “moonlet” appeared as a speck of light around an hour before the collision.

Its egg-like shape and craggy, boulder-dotted surface finally came into clear view in the last few minutes, as DART raced toward it at roughly 14,500 miles (23,500 kilometers) per hour.

NASA scientists and engineers erupted in applause as the screen froze on a final image, indicating that signal had been lost and impact had taken place.

To be sure, the pair of asteroids pose no threat to our planet as they loop the Sun every two of our years.

But NASA has deemed the experiment important to carry out before an actual need is discovered.

By striking Dimorphos head on, NASA hopes to push it into a smaller orbit, shaving 10 minutes off the time it takes to encircle Didymos, which is currently 11 hours and 55 minutes.

Ground telescopes — which can’t see the asteroid system directly but can detect a shift in patterns of light coming from it — should provide a definitive orbital period in the coming days and weeks.

The proof-of-concept has made a reality of what has before only been attempted in science fiction — notably in films such as “Armageddon” and “Don’t Look Up.”

Minutes after impact, a toaster-sized satellite called LICIACube, which already separated from DART a few weeks ago, was expected to make a close pass of the site to capture images of the collision and the ejecta — the pulverized rock thrown off by the strike.

LICIACube’s pictures will be sent back in the next weeks and months.

Also watching the event: an array of telescopes, both on Earth and in space — including the recently operational James Webb — which might be able to see a brightening cloud of dust.

The mission has set the global astronomy community abuzz, with more than three dozen ground telescopes participating, including optical, radio and radar.

“There’s a lot of them, and it’s incredibly exciting to have lost count,” said DART mission planetary astronomer Christina Thomas.

Finally, a full picture of what the system looks like will be revealed when a European Space Agency mission four years down the line called Hera arrives to survey Dimorphos’ surface and measure its mass, which scientists can currently only guess at.

Very few of the billions of asteroids and comets in our solar system are considered potentially hazardous to our planet, and none are expected in the next hundred years or so.

But wait long enough, and it will happen.

We know that from the geological record — for example, the six-mile wide Chicxulub asteroid struck Earth 66 million years ago, plunging the world into a long winter that led to the mass extinction of the dinosaurs along with 75 percent of all species.

An asteroid the size of Dimorphos, by contrast, would only cause a regional impact, such as devastating a city, albeit with greater force than any nuclear bomb in history.

How much momentum DART imparts on Dimorphos will depend on whether the asteroid is solid rock, or more like a “rubbish pile” of boulders bound by mutual gravity — a property that’s not yet known.

If it had missed, NASA would have another shot in two years’ time, with the spaceship containing just enough fuel for another pass.

But its success marks the first step toward a world capable of defending itself from a future existential threat.

“I think Earthlings can sleep better, definitely I will,” said DART mission systems engineer Elena Adams.


Ugandan president’s son agrees to take over from his father — if he gets enough likes on Twitter

Muhoozi Kainerugaba. (Wikipedia)
Muhoozi Kainerugaba. (Wikipedia)
Updated 07 December 2022

Ugandan president’s son agrees to take over from his father — if he gets enough likes on Twitter

Muhoozi Kainerugaba. (Wikipedia)
  • Muhoozi Kainerugaba said he has no ambition to lead his country but could be convinced to do it if there was good enough response to his offer on the social media platform
  • As of Tuesday evening, a day after the tweet was posted, it had racked up more than 2,100 retweets and 7,400 likes; Uganda has a population of more than 47 million

DUBAI: Muhoozi Kainerugaba, the son of Uganda’s President Yoweri Museveni, said that he will succeed his father — if he gets enough likes on Twitter.

Kainerugaba, a general in his country’s armed forces and a prolific tweeter, wrote on Monday: “Okay, let those who want me to be president after my father retweet and like. If you convince me, I will do it.”

As of Tuesday evening, the tweet had racked up more than 2,100 retweets and 7,400 likes. Uganda has a population of more than 47 million.

Kainerugaba, who is commonly referred to by his first name, which means “avenger,” has a track record of ambitious tweets. For example, he previously offered to give Italian prime minister Giorgia Meloni a gift of 100 cows. “In our culture you give a girl you like a cow,” he wrote. He has also shared musings about the possibility of invading Kenya.

In response to previous criticism of his tweets, and an apparent suggestion by a journalist in Kenya that he be banned from Twitter, Kainerugaba posted a message in October that said: “I am an adult and NO ONE will ban me from anything!”

While Kainerugaba’s latest tweet might seem to be just his latest bizarre and outrageous comment, some observers have suggested that it might very well be part of a carefully considered political strategy, as his 78-year-old father, who has been Uganda’s ruler since 1986, is thought to be grooming him to take the reins of power.

“That family controls Uganda,” said Peter Kagwanja, president and CEO of the Africa Policy Institute. “His mother is in the cabinet and he is the prince, waiting to succeed his father.

“Muhoozi provokes, then his father arranges for him to go and apologize, and in this way he is introduced into the circles of leaders.”

However, Kainerugaba denies any ambition to rule his country. In a message posted immediately before the one saying that he would take over from his father if he got enough retweets and likes, he wrote: “Some people keep saying I want to be president? Frankly speaking that has never been in my mind.”

Time will tell whether he gets enough likes and retweets to convince him to change his mind.

Not everyone in Uganda enjoys as much freedom on Twitter. Kakwenza Rukirabashaija, a prominent Ugandan author and lawyer, has said he was tortured while in detention after sharing a series of tweets that were judged to be insulting to Kainerugaba and his father.

 


NASA’s Orion spaceship slingshots around Moon, heads for home

NASA's Orion spacecraft beamed back close-up photos of the moon and Earth on Monday, Dec. 5, 2022. (AP)
NASA's Orion spacecraft beamed back close-up photos of the moon and Earth on Monday, Dec. 5, 2022. (AP)
Updated 06 December 2022

NASA’s Orion spaceship slingshots around Moon, heads for home

NASA's Orion spacecraft beamed back close-up photos of the moon and Earth on Monday, Dec. 5, 2022. (AP)
  • The European Service Module, which powers the capsule, fired its main engine for over three minutes to put the gumdrop-shaped Orion on course for home

WASHINGTON: NASA’s Orion spaceship made a close pass of the Moon and used a gravity assist to whip itself back toward Earth on Monday, marking the start of the return journey for the Artemis-1 mission.
At its nearest point, the uncrewed capsule flew less than 80 miles (130 kilometers) from the surface, testing maneuvers that will be used during later Artemis missions that return humans to the rocky celestial body.
Communication with the capsule was interrupted for 30 minutes when it was behind the far side of the Moon — an area more cratered than the near side and first seen by humans during the Apollo era, although they didn’t land there.
The European Service Module, which powers the capsule, fired its main engine for over three minutes to put the gumdrop-shaped Orion on course for home.
“We couldn’t be more pleased about how the spacecraft is performing,” Debbie Korth, Orion Program deputy manager, said later.
As spectacular footage flashed on their screens once communication was restored, she told a news conference, “everybody in the room, we just kind of had to stop and pause, and just really look — Wow, we’re saying goodbye to the moon.”
Monday’s was the last major maneuver of the mission, which began when NASA’s mega Moon rocket SLS blasted off from Florida on November 16. From start to finish, the journey should last 25 and a half days.
Orion will now make only slight course corrections until it splashes down in the Pacific Ocean off San Diego on Sunday, December 11 at 9:40 am local time (1740 GMT). It will then be recovered and hoisted aboard a US Navy ship.
Earlier in the mission, Orion spent about six days in “distant retrograde orbit” around the Moon, meaning at high altitude and traveling opposite the direction the Moon revolves around Earth.
A week ago, Orion broke the distance record for a habitable capsule, venturing 280,000 miles (450,000 kilometers) from our planet.
Once it returns to Earth, Orion will have traveled more than 1.4 million miles, said Mike Sarafin, the Artemis mission manager.
Re-entry into Earth’s atmosphere will present a harsh test for the spacecraft’s heat shield, which will need to withstand temperatures of around 5,000 degrees Fahrenheit (2,800degrees Celsius) — or about half the surface of the Sun.
Under the Artemis program — named for the sister of Apollo in Greek mythology — the United States is seeking to build a lasting presence on the Moon in preparation for an onward voyage to Mars.
Artemis 2 will involve a crewed journey to the Moon, once again without landing.
The first woman and next man are to land on the lunar south pole during Artemis 3, which is set for no sooner than 2025, though likely significantly later given timeline delays.

 


England fan shouts ‘free Palestine’ during live Israeli TV broadcast from World Cup in Qatar

England fan shouts ‘free Palestine’ during live Israeli TV broadcast from World Cup in Qatar
Updated 06 December 2022

England fan shouts ‘free Palestine’ during live Israeli TV broadcast from World Cup in Qatar

England fan shouts ‘free Palestine’ during live Israeli TV broadcast from World Cup in Qatar
  • He grabbed the microphone while the reporter was interviewing a group of supporters following England’s 3-0 victory over Senegal on Sunday
  • A video clip of the incident spread rapidly on social media, with many people commending the fan for his support for the Palestinian people

LONDON: An England football fan shouted “Free Palestine” during a live Israeli TV broadcast from the World Cup in Qatar, shocking the journalist who was interviewing him after England’s 3-0 victory over Senegal on Sunday.

The Israeli reporter had asked a group of England fans whether they thought football was coming home, a reference to the chant popular among the country’s supporters during World Cup campaigns.

“Of course, it is,” they replied before, according to the Daily Mail, Harry Hatton, 23, grabbed the microphone and yelled: “But more importantly, free Palestine.”

Many Twitter users retweeted the video clip and commended Hatton for his support for the Palestinian people.

Several videos have gone viral on social media showing football fans refusing to speak with the Israeli media during the World Cup in Qatar.


Stars at Red Sea Film Festival praise Saudi’s ‘history and beauty’

Stars at Red Sea Film Festival praise Saudi’s ‘history and beauty’
Updated 05 December 2022

Stars at Red Sea Film Festival praise Saudi’s ‘history and beauty’

Stars at Red Sea Film Festival praise Saudi’s ‘history and beauty’
  • Actress Jessica Alba found people in Saudi to be "warm and lovely."
  • Filmmaker Oliver Stone highlighted the importance of open-mindedness in the industry.

JEDDAH: Celebrities in Jeddah for the Red Sea Film Festival, held from Dec. 1 to 10, expressed their delight to be exploring Saudi Arabia’s heritage and beauty.

American actress and entrepreneur Jessica Alba, who donned an Elie Saab design, described Saudi Arabia as “a really, really beautiful country,” and said: “The history here is insane, and the people are just warm and lovely.

“I’ve had a great time, and I hope to come back,” added the “Fantastic Four” star.

Actress Sharon Stone, who gave an impassioned speech about women’s empowerment during one of the festival’s talks, said that it’s “really great and smart” that Netflix was making a deal in Saudi Arabia.

“We need to see every aspect of the world — all of the world,” she explained, “so that other people do not get to tell us how the world is in their opinion, (so) that we actually get to see how the world is.”

In an interview on Sunday, filmmaker and screenwriter Oliver Stone, who said during the event’s opening ceremony that Saudi Arabia was misrepresented by Western media, emphasized the importance of keeping an open mind.

“If I close my mind, I would become as ignorant as many of our politicians are,” he said.

The three-time Oscar winner added: “The problem in the United States is that we have two oceans, and we are huge; we have everything we think we need, and we do not have much interest in going to other countries and living what they are living.

“I think, as a result, we become arrogant and aloof, and we tend to dictate orders. Because of the power that we think we have, we tend to tell other countries what to do, or lecture them on human rights and stuff like that, whereas, meanwhile, we are (punishing) people like Julian Assange…for revealing war crimes.”

Citing what he referred to as the “hypocrisy” of the US position internationally, he continued:

“The rest of the world…(doesn’t) buy the American ‘We are better than you; we are telling you how to live your lives.’ They don’t buy it, and a lot of people do not like America for that reason.”

In his speech during the Red Sea Film Festival opening ceremony on Thursday night, the director and producer pointed out that Saudi Arabia was “misunderstood in the present world” and said: “You see the changes that are coming here, the reforms. I think people who judge too harshly should come and visit this place and see for themselves.”


As chatbot sophistication grows, AI debate intensifies

Twitter (@OpenAI)
Twitter (@OpenAI)
Updated 05 December 2022

As chatbot sophistication grows, AI debate intensifies

Twitter (@OpenAI)
  • OpenAI, cofounded in 2015 in San Francisco by billionaire tech mogul Elon Musk, who left the business in 2018, received $1 billion from Microsoft in 2019

SAN FRANCISCO: California start-up OpenAI has released a chatbot capable of answering a variety of questions, but its impressive performance has reopened the debate on the risks linked to artificial intelligence (AI) technologies.
The conversations with ChatGPT, posted on Twitter by fascinated users, show a kind of omniscient machine, capable of explaining scientific concepts and writing scenes for a play, university dissertations or even functional lines of computer code.
“Its answer to the question ‘what to do if someone has a heart attack’ was incredibly clear and relevant,” Claude de Loupy, head of Syllabs, a French company specialized in automatic text generation, told AFP.
“When you start asking very specific questions, ChatGPT’s response can be off the mark,” but its overall performance remains “really impressive,” with a “high linguistic level,” he said.
OpenAI, cofounded in 2015 in San Francisco by billionaire tech mogul Elon Musk, who left the business in 2018, received $1 billion from Microsoft in 2019.
The start-up is best known for its automated creation software: GPT-3 for text generation and DALL- E for image generation.
ChatGPT is able to ask its interlocutor for details, and has fewer strange responses than GPT-3, which, in spite of its prowess, sometimes spits out absurd results, said De Loupy.

“A few years ago chatbots had the vocabulary of a dictionary and the memory of a goldfish,” said Sean McGregor, a researcher who runs a database of AI-related incidents.
“Chatbots are getting much better at the ‘history problem’ where they act in a manner consistent with the history of queries and responses. The chatbots have graduated from goldfish status.”
Like other programs relying on deep learning, mimicking neural activity, ChatGPT has one major weakness: “it does not have access to meaning,” says De Loupy.
The software cannot justify its choices, such as explain why its picked the words that make up its responses.
AI technologies able to communicate are, nevertheless, increasingly able to give an impression of thought.
Researchers at Facebook-parent Meta recently developed a computer program dubbed Cicero, after the Roman statesman.
The software has proven proficient at the board game Diplomacy, which requires negotiation skills.
“If it doesn’t talk like a real person — showing empathy, building relationships, and speaking knowledgeably about the game — it won’t find other players willing to work with it,” Meta said in research findings.
In October, Character.ai, a start-up founded by former Google engineers, put an experimental chatbot online that can adopt any personality.
Users create characters based on a brief description and can then “chat” with a fake Sherlock Holmes, Socrates or Donald Trump.

This level of sophistication both fascinates and worries some observers, who voice concern these technologies could be misused to trick people, by spreading false information or by creating increasingly credible scams.
What does ChatGPT think of these hazards?
“There are potential dangers in building highly sophisticated chatbots, particularly if they are designed to be indistinguishable from humans in their language and behavior,” the chatbot told AFP.
Some businesses are putting safeguards in place to avoid abuse of their technologies.
On its welcome page, OpenAI lays out disclaimers, saying the chatbot “may occasionally generate incorrect information” or “produce harmful instructions or biased content.”
And ChatGPT refuses to take sides.
“OpenAI made it incredibly difficult to get the model to express opinions on things,” McGregor said.
Once, McGregor asked the chatbot to write a poem about an ethical issue.
“I am just a machine, A tool for you to use, I do not have the power to choose, or to refuse. I cannot weigh the options, I cannot judge what’s right, I cannot make a decision On this fateful night,” it replied.
On Saturday, OpenAI cofounder and CEO Sam Altman took to Twitter, musing on the debates surrounding AI.
“Interesting watching people start to debate whether powerful AI systems should behave in the way users want or their creators intend,” he wrote.
“The question of whose values we align these systems to will be one of the most important debates society ever has.”