NASA has revealed the shape of the bubble surrounding our solar system: a deflated croissant.
Scientists at the US space agency have developed a new prediction of the shape of the heliosphere using a model developed with data from NASA missions.
The heliosphere is the vast region around the sun that wraps around all the planets of our solar system.
It acts as a shield, protecting the planets from galactic cosmic radiation.
Traditionally, scientists have thought of the heliosphere as a comet shape, with a rounded leading edge, called the nose, and a long tail trailing behind.
But the new research – which draws on data from the Voyager spacecrafts, the Cassini mission to Jupiter, and the New Horizons mission to Jupiter and Pluto – suggests the heliosphere is more a crescent shape than a comet.
Scientists studied particles flying towards Earth, particles trapped in Saturn’s magnetic field, particles bouncing back towards the inner solar system, and used NASA missions’ data to characterise the behaviour of material in space that fills the bubble of the heliosphere to map its boundary.
The end result was a “deflated croissant” shape.
“The heliosphere’s shape is also part of the puzzle for seeking out life on other worlds,” NASA said.
“The damaging radiation from galactic cosmic rays can render a world uninhabitable, a fate avoided in our solar system because of our strong celestial shield.
“As we learn more about how our heliosphere protects our solar system – and how that protection may have changed throughout the solar system’s history – we can look for other star systems that might have similar protection.
“And part of that is the shape: Are our heliospheric lookalikes long-tailed comet shapes, deflated croissants, or something else entirely?”
The “whiteness” of artificial intelligence (AI) risks a “racially homogenous” workforce as humans create machines skewed by their biases, a study suggests.
The University of Cambridge study examined AI in society, including in films, Google searches, stock images and robot voices.
Researchers suggested machines have distinct racial identities and this perpetuates “real world” racial stereotypes.
Non-abstract AI in internet search engine results usually had either Caucasian features or were the colour white, according to the researchers.
Most virtual voices in devices talked in “standard white middle-class English” as “ideas of adding black dialects have been dismissed as too controversial or outside the target market,” the study concluded.
The experts analysed recent research from a range of fields, including Human-Computer Interaction and Critical Race Theory, to demonstrate that machines can be “racialised”, and that this perpetuates “real world” racial biases.
This includes work on how robots are seen to have distinct racial identities, with black robots receiving more online abuse, and a study showing that people feel closer to virtual agents when they perceive shared racial identity.
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According to the scientists from Cambridge’s Leverhulme Centre for the Future of Intelligence (CFI), like other science fiction tropes, AI has long reflected racial thinking.
They pointed to extraterritorial racial stereotypes such as the “orientalised” alien of Ming the Merciless to the Caribbean caricature of Jar Jar Binks.
However, they suggested AI is portrayed as white, because unlike species from other planets, it has attributes used to “justify colonialism and segregation” in the past.
Co-author, Dr Stephen Cave, said most powerful on-screen robots are white or played by white actors, including Terminator, Blade Runner, Metropolis and Ex Machina.
“Androids of metal or plastic are given white features, such as in I, Robot. Even disembodied AI – from HAL 9000 to Samantha in Her – have white voices,” he said.
“Only very recently have a few TV shows, such as Westworld, used AI characters with a mix of skin tones.”
Lead researcher Dr Kanta Dihal said: “Given that society has, for centuries, promoted the association of intelligence with white Europeans, it is to be expected that when this culture is asked to imagine an intelligent machine, it imagines a white machine.
“People trust AI to make decisions. Cultural depictions foster the idea that AI is less fallible than humans.”
She warned that if AI demographics do not diversify, racial inequality will make it harder for non-white people to advance in the technology field.
“In cases where these systems are racialised as white, that could have dangerous consequences for humans that are not,” she said.
Dr Dihal concluded: “The perceived whiteness of AI will make it more difficult for people of colour to advance in the field.
“If the developer demographic does not diversify, AI stands to exacerbate racial inequality.”
Hydroxychloroquine should not be “ruled out” as prevention for coronavirus, according to researchers studying its effectiveness.
US President Donald Trump has repeatedly suggested the antimalarial drug can fight COVID-19 despite mounting scientific evidence that it can not and may be harmful.
The nation’s top infectious disease expert Dr Anthony Fauci highlighted clinical studies concluding the drug is not effective in treating COVID-19 – including ones commissioned by the World Health Organisation and the US National Institutes of Health (NIH).
While acknowledging the drug has been ruled out as a treatment, a University of Oxford-led study is examining its effectiveness for prevention.
The Mahidol Oxford Tropical Medicine Research Unit (MORU) has enrolled 40,000 frontline workers in Europe, Africa, Asia and South America who will receive either chloroquine, hydroxychloroquine or a placebo.
It’s hoped the double-blind, randomised study will reveal if hydroxychloroquine can prevent the virus from developing or greatly reduce chances of hospitalisation if taken soonafter infection.
One of the lead researchers of the ‘Copcov’ trial, Dr Will Schilling, said the question on whether hydroxychloroquine “works or not in prevention or very early treatment… remains unanswered”.
“The benefits found in small post-exposure treatment trials, although modest, could be very valuable if they were confirmed.”
Professor Nick Day from the Mahidol Oxford Tropical Medicine Research Unit, also guiding the study, was confident the study “will find out if these drugs can prevent COVID-19 or not.”
“Prevention is much easier than cure,” he said.
“By the time patients are admitted to hospital, virus multiplication is well past its peak and inflammation in the lungs and other complications may prove lethal.”
“At this stage, the steroid dexamethasone, which reduces inflammation, saves lives but the antivirals hydroxychloroquine and chloroquine do not. However, that does not rule out that they could be effective much earlier in the illness.”
There have been no results yet from the Oxford-led research or many ongoing studies around the world on the drug as a preventative treatment.
The Oxford-led study was recently paused following controversy over a study from The Lancet, which claimed the drug caused higher death rates and heart problems.
The WHO halted its research due to these fundings but resumed it after errors were found in the Lancet study.
President Trump has routinely defended the use of hydroxychloroquine as a treatment for COVID-19, recently saying unproven medication was only rejected as treatment because it was “politically toxic” as he had recommended its use.
In May, he revealed he was taking the medication daily to ward off coronavirus after consulting the White House doctor.
Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro has also praised the drug and credited it for his recovery from coronavirus.
A global review of dozens of studies also said children’s role in transmission was unclear but that “it seems likely they do not play a significant role”.
“COVID-19 appears to affect children less often, and with less severity, including frequent asymptomatic or subclinical infection,” concluded the study – done in partnership with the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health.
Twitter previously decided a tweet in March by Tesla boss Elon Musk – in which he said “kids are essentially immune” from the virus – did not break its rules and left it up.
Mr Trump later repeated his opinion at a White House briefing on Wednesday – but in slightly less robust terms.
“Children handle it very well,” he told reporters.
“If you look at the numbers, in terms of mortality, fatalities … for children under a certain age … their immune systems are very very strong and very powerful.
“They seem to be able to handle it very well and that’s according to every statistical claim.”
Facebook said it had removed a post by Donald Trump before, but that it was the first time it had done so due to coronavirus misinformation specifically.
In March, the company removed adverts from his election campaign for breaking misinformation rules over a national census.
It also took down campaign ads in June that featured a red inverted triangle, a Nazi symbol to identify political prisoners, for violating its hate policy.
Samsung has revealed its new premium flagship smartphone, the Note 20, alongside the new S7 tablet, Galaxy Watch 3, a new foldable handset, and its redesigned Galaxy Buds.
During a virtual Unpacked event on Wednesday, streamed live from South Korea, the company confirmed it was committed to focusing on the Note series for its gaming capabilities, and announced a range of tie-ins with Microsoft products.
The company’s range of devices have escaped the production issues resulting from the coronavirus pandemic, which struck rivals with manufacturing bases in China, as the majority of Samsung‘s production takes place in Vietnam – a country that never instituted a national lockdown.
Following on from the Note 10, which was launched last year, the Note 20’s upper-tier version – the Note 20 Ultra – is a 5G-compatible phone looking to take advantage of the next generation of connectivity for its gaming features.
As part of the focus on gaming, Samsung has partnered with Microsoft, aiming to offer an “Xbox gaming experience in the palm of your hands” according to Conor Pierce, Samsung’s head of mobile for the UK and Ireland, who spoke to Sky News.
Game Pass Ultimate offers users access to a curated PC and console games library, including more than 100 popular titles such as Minecraft Dungeons, Forza Horizon 4, and Gears 5: Ultimate Edition.
Similar to Google‘s cloud gaming platform Stadia, the Note 20 will allow users to play games using cloud computing – having the games run on hardware the phones are connecting to remotely, giving gamers the ability to play higher-quality games on their mobile devices.
The 5G connection speed is also hoped to allow gamers to avoid the latency issues often experienced when playing games online, and the phones use the Wi-Fi 6 standard to keep connections at home strong even if multiple devices are asking for bandwidth from the router.
Samsung says the Note 20 Ultra in particular has the brightest and most responsive screen it has ever developed, offering what it describes as “the vivid and bright” Dynamic AMOLED 2X display with a 120Hz adaptive refresh rate.
“I think people will be incredibly impressed with the gaming experience on the Note 20,” Mr Pierce said.
The Note 20 will cost consumers £849, while the Note 20 Ultra 5G will set them back £1,179.
Samsung has 77% of the market for premium devices in the UK, considered to be smartphones costing £600 or more – and the UK is one of the most premium markets for smartphones in Europe.
Samsung performs even better in the ultra-premium segment of the market (devices above £900), where it has more than 50% of the market share.
Despite their different names, both the Galaxy Tab S7 and the S7+ 5G are compatible with 5G, and both offer 120Hz refresh rates on 11-inch and 12.4-inch screens respectively.
Both the Note 20 and the Tab S7 releases come with an upgraded S Pen, Samsung’s stylus for which the company has introduced a range of new dynamic controls, including shaking the pen in the air to rearrange objects on the screen.
The products also tie-in with Windows 10 computers as part of Samsung’s ongoing collaboration with Microsoft.
The company also announced the next generation of its smartwatch, Galaxy Watch 3, and its wireless earbuds, Galaxy Buds, which have been redesigned and include active noise cancellation and a voice pickup unit.
Also announced was the Galaxy Z Fold 2, which Samsung said came “after releasing two foldable devices and listening to user feedback on the most requested upgrades and new features”.
The launch of its first foldable phone, the Galaxy Fold, had to be pushed back from its original April 2019 launch date after reviewers experienced breakages within a few days, while there were also problems with the display.
If, as seems to be the case, the Beirut explosion was caused by thousands of tonnes of ammonium nitrate stored in a warehouse, the blast demonstrates the deadly potential of this common agricultural chemical.
What is ammonium nitrate?
With the chemical formula NH4NO3, ammonium nitrate is a naturally occurring, highly soluble white crystalline solid, more commonly know as saltpetre.
The largest deposits are found in the Atacama Desert in Chile, from where it was mined. These days almost 100% of the chemical now used is synthetic, produced by reacting ammonia with nitric acid.
What is it used for?
Ammonium nitrate is predominantly used in agriculture as a high-nitrogen fertiliser. It’s relatively stable under most conditions and is inexpensive to manufacture, making the chemical a popular alternative to other, more expensive nitrogen sources.
It is also a key component ofANFO, (ammonium nitrate/fuel oil), an industrial explosive used in mining, quarrying, and civil construction and accounting for 80% of all the industrial explosives used in US.
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By itself, ammonium nitrate is not regarded as particularly volatile or dangerous, but under certain conditions it can be deadly.
Most countries have regulations controlling its storage to make sure it is safe.
What makes ammonium nitrate explode?
Particular sets of circumstances are needed to turn ammonium nitrate from a stable compound into an explosive, without any fuel or external catalyst.
It is classified as an ‘energetic material’, one that produces heat as it decomposes, similar to the way heat is generated by rotting material in a compost heap.
If there is sufficient quantity of ammonium nitrate, it can generate enough heat to catch fire and keep the fire going, without the need for an external catalyst such as a flame.
As it burns, ammonium nitrate goes through chemical changes that lead to the production of oxygen, precisely what a fire needs to keep going and get bigger. As it heats up the chemical can fuse together, creating a seal or plug.
The space behind the plug keeps on being heated and gases form.
Hot gas expands, but, behind the plug, it has nowhere to go. Eventually, the gas will break through the seal and the force of that will trigger an explosion.
Fertiliser bombs, the terrorist’s weapon of choice
Because of its low cost and ready availability, fertiliser has been used to make bombs. The ammonium nitrate is like the engine behind the explosion, but it also requires a detonator and fuel.
The first thing that happens during a fertiliser bomb blast is the explosion of the detonator.
The energy of the detonation wave causes the ammonium nitrate to vaporise – becoming a gas in an instant. The ammonium and nitrate molecules break down, and a large amount of oxygen gas is suddenly formed.
The gas released from the decomposing fertiliser is what drives the explosion. The rapid release of oxygen, along with the energy from the detonation wave, ignites the fuel.
When the liquid fuel ignites, it rapidly combusts, and even more gas is released.
Fertiliser bomb attacks
:: The Baltic Exchange building in the City of London was hit by a one-tonne fertiliser bomb planted by the IRA in April 1992. The blast in St Mary Axe killed three people, including a 15-year-old girl.
:: Bishopsgate in the City of London was hit with a one-tonne fertiliser bomb by the Provisional IRA in April 1993. One person died and 40 were injured. The bomb – hidden in a tipper truck – left a crater 40ft wide and 20ft deep.
:: Oklahoma City – a bombtargeted the Alfred P Murrah Federal Building in April 1995 and killed 168, although an unmatched body part suggests the toll was actually 169. Bomber Timothy McVeigh was executed by lethal injection in 2001. Co-conspirator Terry Nichols was jailed for life.
:: Docklands – A massive car bomb detonated beneath South Quay station in London’s Docklands in February 1996. The 1,000lb device killed two men, ended a 17-month IRA ceasefire and caused £85m of damage.
:: Manchester – The IRA struck Manchester city centre with a 3,300lb bomb, injuring more than 200 people. No one was killed due to a coded warning phoned in more than an hour before the blast, at 11am on a Saturday morning in June 1996.
It was the largest bomb to explode in Britain since the Second World War.
Twitter could be facing a fine of up to $250m (£190m) for misusing users’ personal information.
The social media giant confirmed it was under investigation by the US Federal Trade Commission (FTC) for “inadvertently” misusing people’s data.
The company said last year that phone numbers and email addresses provided for security were actually used for advertising purposes between 2013 and 2019.
According to a draft complaint from the FTC, Twitter violated a promise not to mislead users about the security of their data by allowing it to be used by advertisers for targeted marketing.
In a filing to the Securities and Exchange Commission in the US, Twitter says the issue could cost the company between $150m (£115m) and $250m (£190m) to resolve, and it has set aside $150m (£115m) ahead of the potential penalty.
The large fine is a result of the FTC believing the social media company breached a previous agreement over past data breaches.
Twitter had agreed it would not “mislead consumers about the extent to which it protects the security, privacy, and confidentiality” of their data.
It follows a security incident at the company two weeks ago in which accounts belonging to celebrities including Barack Obama, Jeff Bezos and Kim Kardashian were hijacked by Bitcoin scammers.
Google has unveiled its new low-cost Pixel 4a smartphone and announced future devices including the Pixel 5.
Priced at $349 (with an expected UK price of £349), the Pixel 4a is aimed at consumers turned off by more expensive devices.
It is cheaper than the starting price of the Pixel 3a which was released last year at a cost of £399.
Google has also announced the Pixel 5, which will be 5G compatible and available later this year, as well as the Pixel 4a 5G, which will also be available before Christmas.
Many phone releases are expected to be delayed until shortly before Christmas this year due to the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on production lines in the Far East.
With non-standalone 5G networks (using 5G radio antennas on 4G core infrastructure) getting up and running, many mobile network companies are keen to sell devices which can take advantage of this capability.
Despite this, the Pixel 4a will initially arrive without a chip capable of processing 5G communications, although a later model will introduce this.
It is similar in design to the 3a, although the screen now takes up the whole of the front of the device, with the fingerprint sensor being moved to the back.
Google sells more expensive devices – its main Pixel 4 and 4 XL range, both of which have two rear cameras, retail at $799 (£669) for the 64GB version and $899 (£829) for the larger XL.
TikTok has become a further source of heightened tensions between the US and China.
An editorial in state-backed English-language newspaper China Daily has warned Beijing will not accept the “theft” of a Chinese technology company.
It accused the US of “bullying” its country’s tech companies and said China had “plenty of ways to respond if the administration carries out its planned smash and grab”.
Mr Trump said any sale of TikTok would have to include a “substantial amount of money” coming to the US Treasury.
He told reporters: “Whether it’s Microsoft or somebody else, or if it’s the Chinese – what the price is, the United States could – should get a very large percentage of that price. Because we’re making it possible.”
The negotiations between Microsoft and TikTok’s parent company ByteDance will be overseen by the US committee on foreign investment, a government panel that has the right to block any agreement, according to sources.
Under the proposed deal, Microsoft said it would take over TikTok’s operations in the United States, Canada, Australia and New Zealand.
The company said it would “ensure that all private data of TikTok’s American users is transferred to and remains in the United States”.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has previously described Chinese state-backed tech companies as “Trojan horses for Chinese intelligence”.
American military personnel have also been discouraged from using Chinese technology because of security fears, while Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden reportedly told staff not to use TikTok.