Tag Archives: Ars Technica

Opportunity did not answer NASA’s final call, and it’s now lost to us

The Opportunity rover leaves its landing site in Eagle Crater on Mars back in 2004.

Enlarge / The Opportunity rover leaves its landing site in Eagle Crater on Mars back in 2004. (credit: NASA)

Late Tuesday night, scientists at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory sent their final data uplink to the Opportunity rover on Mars. Over this connection, via the Deep Space Network, the American jazz singer Billie Holiday crooned “I’ll Be Seeing You,” a song which closes with the lines:

I’ll find you in the morning sun
And when the night is new
I’ll be looking at the moon
But I’ll be seeing you

The scientists waited to hear some response from their long-silent rover, which had been engulfed in a global dust storm last June, likely coating its solar panels in a fatal layer of dust. Since then, the

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Danish haunted-house studies seek to reveal the seductive appeal of horror

Visitors to a haunted house in Vejle, Denmark, respond differently to being confronted by "scare actors" depending on whether they are "adrenaline junkies" or "white-knucklers."

Enlarge / Visitors to a haunted house in Vejle, Denmark, respond differently to being confronted by “scare actors” depending on whether they are “adrenaline junkies” or “white-knucklers.” (credit: Andrés Baldursson, Baldursson Photography)

It’s no secret that many of us here at Ars are genuine fans of horror. As a child, I would compulsively devour horror short stories and watch classic movies on late-night TV, like Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho (1960) or I Was a Teenage Werewolf (1957). Then I’d lie awake at night in terror, convinced a werewolf was lurking just outside my bedroom window. (In reality, it was a trick of light and shadow against the curtains.) That’s the central paradox of horror: we both fear the experience of watching a scary movie, or reading

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Military to audit decision to certify the Falcon Heavy rocket

A view of the Falcon Heavy rocket on Monday, from one-quarter of a mile away.

Enlarge / A view of the Falcon Heavy rocket on Monday, from one-quarter of a mile away. (credit: Trevor Mahlmann for Ars Technica)

In a memorandum released Monday night, the US Department of Defense Office of the Inspector General informed Air Force leadership that it will evaluate the military’s certification of SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy for national security missions.

“We plan to begin the subject evaluation in February 2019,” the memorandum states. “Our objective is to determine whether the US Air Force complied with the Launch Services New Entrant Certification Guide when certifying the launch system design for the Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle-class SpaceX Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy launch vehicles.”

The memorandum does not explain why the inspector general believes such an evaluation is necessary. Signed

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Electric car batteries might be worth recycling, but bus batteries aren’t yet

A used electric vehicle battery.

Enlarge / A used lithium-ion electric vehicle battery sits at the 4R Energy Corporation Namie factory in Namie Town, Fukushima Prefecture, Japan, on Monday, Mar. 26, 2018. (credit: Akio Kon/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

Bloomberg New Energy Finance predicts that there will be 559 million electric vehicles on the road by 2040. But electric vehicles don’t last forever. And their batteries are not always filled with the kinds of materials you would want leaching into the environment if they’re disposed of haphazardly. Policy makers and researchers have started considering how to deal with end-of-life on electric batteries, and recycling is often considered as an option.

Researchers from Carnegie Mellon University published a paper in Nature Sustainability this week that looks at the emissions and economic costs

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To almost no one’s surprise, Mars One is done [Updated]

Hand-drawn schematics of a Martian base.

Enlarge / Mars One had some drawings. But that is about it. (credit: Mars One)

To the surprise of almost no one, Mars One appears to be dead. This project, founded in 2013, said it would raise funds from fees and marketing rights in order to send humans on a one-way mission to settle the Red Planet.

Now, thanks to a user on Reddit, we know that the effort has come to an apparent end. Mars One consists of two entities: the Dutch not-for-profit Mars One Foundation and the publicly traded, Swiss-based Mars One Ventures. A civil court based in Basel, Switzerland, opened bankruptcy proceedings on the latter company in mid-January. Efforts on Monday to contact officials with Mars One were not successful. (See

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Anti-vaxxers plan to subvert changes to vaccination laws

Lawmakers in Oregon and Washington state are scrambling to pass new vaccination laws as a swiftly spreading measles outbreak rages in Washington’s Clark County, a hotbed of anti-vaccine sentiment just north of Portland, Oregon.

New bills aim to eliminate personal and philosophical exemptions for standard life-saving vaccines in schoolchildren—exemptions that have fueled such outbreaks and allowed once-bygone infectious diseases to come roaring back in the United States. But as the lawmakers work to craft their new bills, they may do well to keep a close eye

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Shipwreck reveals ancient market for knock-off consumer goods

Photo of portable x-ray fluorescence detector

Enlarge / Archaeologists use a portable X-ray fluorescence detector to analyze 900-year-old artifacts. (credit: Xu et al. 2019)

Sometime in the late 12th century CE, a merchant ship laden with trade goods sank off the coast of Java. The 100,000 ceramic vessels, 200 tons of iron, and smaller amounts of ivory, resin, and tin ingots offer a narrow window onto a much broader world of global trade and political change. The merchant vessel that sank in the Java Sea was the pointy tip of a very long spear, and a new study sheds some light on the trade networks and manufacturing industry hidden behind its cargo—all thanks to a little help from a cool X-ray gun.

Sailing ancient trade routes

There was a network of

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After a remarkable resurrection, Firefly may reach space in 2019

Testing a turbopump as the Sun sets in central Texas.

Enlarge / Testing a turbopump as the Sun sets in central Texas. (credit: Firefly)

CEDAR PARK, Texas—Some four centuries ago, the sultan of the Ottoman Empire wearied of his bothersome neighbors in Eastern Europe. So Mehmed the Hunter, an Islamic holy warrior who reigned for four decades, wrote to the piratical Cossacks living in what is modern Ukraine and demanded their surrender. The cretins must bow to the cultured.

Today, a large painting that dominates one wall of Tom Markusic’s office depicts the Cossack response to Mehmed. On the canvas, a dozen rough-looking, hard-drinking men have gathered around a scribe, pointing, smoking, and laughing uproariously. The scribe is writing a ribald, disparaging response. It is a copy of the famed Reply of the Zaporozhian Cossacks to

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New images of the distant Ultima Thule object have surprised scientists

New Horizons took this image of the Kuiper Belt object 2014 MU69 (nicknamed Ultima Thule) on Jan. 1, 2019, when the NASA spacecraft was 8,862km beyond it. The image to the left is an "average" of ten images.

Enlarge / New Horizons took this image of the Kuiper Belt object 2014 MU69 (nicknamed Ultima Thule) on Jan. 1, 2019, when the NASA spacecraft was 8,862km beyond it. The image to the left is an “average” of ten images. (credit: NASA/JHUAPL/SWRI)

Back in early January, when scientists pulled down their first batch of data from the New Horizons spacecraft, they celebrated an odd snowman-shaped object in the outer Solar System. From this first look, it appeared as though Ultima Thule, formally named 2014 MU69, consisted of two spheres in contact with one another—a contact binary.

Now that scientists have downloaded more data from the distant spacecraft, however, our view of Ultima Thule has changed. A sequence of images captured as New Horizons moved away from

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Two sea level studies have some good news, bad news

The Stange Ice Shelf in Antarctica.

Enlarge / The Stange Ice Shelf in Antarctica. (credit: Mark Brandon)

One of the most shocking climate science studies in recent years came in 2016. That study, from David Pollard at Penn State and Rob DeConto at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, showed that adding a couple physical processes to their model of the Antarctic ice sheets caused it to produce significantly more sea level rise this century. In their simulation, shrinking Antarctic glaciers raised sea level by a full meter by 2100—and things only picked up from there.

These simulations were much closer to hypotheses than to iron-clad predictions. The model showed these processes—the collapse of ice cliffs above a certain height and pressure-driven wedging apart of ice crevasses by meltwater—could make a huge difference.

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