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Rosetta Coming Closer to Comet 67P ~ Philae Lander Still Snoozing Away

Rosetta photo of Comet 67P/C-G.
March 9 Rosetta was 45 miles from Comet 67P/C-G when it photographed the comet’s head ringed with a halo of gas and dust. These jets extend from active areas of the comet’s surface and will become much more prominent over the next few months as the comet approaches the sun.

Excerpt from dailytimesgazette.com

Astronomers have been on a mission to tail a slow moving comet in the outer space. Their mission started early last 2014, and they are getting better observations than they thought they would.
The comet, Comet 67P, would take 12.4 hours to complete one rotation in the circular path it’s moving in. Controllers of Rosetta are noticing that the icy ball approximately a second every day before it completes a rotation. The flight director of Rosetta – Andrea Accomazzo, said that, “The gas jets coming out of the comet, are acting like thrusters and are slowing down the comet.”
During the Royal Aeronautical Society in London earlier this week, the European Space Agency officially revealed some juicy details on how their team learned to maneuver Rosetta to fly precisely around the massive astral body. Comet 67P is said to weigh 10-billion tons with 4-km size in width.

The controllers and navigators use the landmark-method on the comet to understand its rotation. The team is moving around the outer space relying only on the information provided by the model. Both the model and information guides them in accurately projecting the trajectory of the satellite in the best position.

As they were trying out the model, the ESA team noticed that the landmarks were not following the usual track at the expected time.
During September 2014, the team were determined and very convinced that comet’s rotation period lengthen by 33 milliseconds per day. At present, the comet is approaching the Sun. As it does, it releases great volumes of gas and dust as a result of the so-called Spin-Down effect; further lengthening the rotation period to a second per day.

Accomazzo clarified that Comet 67P is not going to slow down in a slow motion. But its current speed allows them achieve the great magnitude of accuracy in navigating the spacecraft around the comet.

Rosetta made significant observations of the comet last December and January as it moves like an orbit within 30 km distance from the comet. However, this movement is no longer going to happen because Rosetta has retreated from the comet as the gas and dust are being released.

But it does them well as Accomazzo said that, “The aerodynamic effects are now more and more important. The jets are getting stronger and stronger… To give you an idea, these gases come out of the comet for a few kilometers and are moving at 800 meters per second. We definitely have to take this into account. We are a big spacecraft with 64 square meter s of solar panels. We’re like a big sail.”

The trackers were confused during the recent weeks because they have mistaken the dust particles for stars. It was due to the fact that the dusts in the atmosphere were moving around the comet.

Now, Rosetta is using its propulsion system to move in a hyperbolic orbital rotation around Comet 67P. It approaches the comet no closer than 60 to 70 km. With the slowdown of the comet, the ESA team is planning to fly closer.

They were estimating a flight as close as 20 km to get a better look at the surface of the comet and find their lost landing probe, Philae. They lost contact with the robotic probe since November 12 due to lost battery power only days after it successfully landed on the comet.

The slowdown gives them an opportunity to search for Philae. As it moves closer to the Sun, lighting conditions are definitely better than their previous runs. The controllers are now calling onto Philae using radio shout outs.

Philae is solar powered so the team hopes that enough solar energy falls on the panels awaking the probe. But one problem still persist, “The problem is that even if Philae hears Rosetta, it has to have enough charge to turn on its radio transmitter.”

The flight director is quite doubtful if Philae will be awakening. Andrea suggested, “I put it at 50-50, but I will be the happiest person in the world if it happens,”

Their mission achieved great progress and observation of a comet. The team is wishing for better things as the 67P slow down leaving them with more advantage

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Amazing Images of Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko

Rosetta photo of Comet 67P/C-G.
Comet 67P/C-G is about as large as Central Park of Manhattan Island, New York

Excerpt from nytimes.com


The European Space Agency’s Rosetta spacecraft caught up with Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko last August, then dropped a lander onto the comet in November. Now Rosetta will follow the rubber-duck-shaped comet as it swings closer to the sun.
Scale in miles
Scale in km
Rosetta photo of Comet 67P/C-G.
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March 9 Rosetta was 45 miles from Comet 67P/C-G when it photographed the comet’s head ringed with a halo of gas and dust. These jets extend from active areas of the comet’s surface and will become much more prominent over the next few months as the comet approaches the sun.
Rosetta photo of Comet 67P/C-G.
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March 6 The comet’s head is angled down in this image of crisscrossing sunlit jets taken from 53 miles away.
Comet’s location when Rosetta was launched Rosetta launched in March 2004
with Comet
Orbit of
Rosetta today

Where is Rosetta? The Rosetta spacecraft took 10 years to match speed and direction with Comet 67P/C-G. The chase ended last August, and Rosetta will now follow the comet in its elliptical orbit as it moves closer to the sun. The spacecraft is no longer orbiting the comet because of increasing dust, but it is planning a series of close flybys.
Rosetta photo of Comet 67P/C-G.
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March 6 Rosetta was 52 miles away when it looked up at the comet’s flat underbelly. The smooth plain at center covered with large boulders is named Imhotep.
Rosetta photo of Comet 67P/C-G.
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Feb. 28 Rosetta captured a profile of the comet surrounded by curving jets of gas and dust from active regions. The spacecraft was 64 miles away.

Rosetta photo of Comet 67P/C-G.

Feb. 25–27 One day on Comet 67P/C-G is about 12 hours, the time it takes the comet to spin on its axis. The jets of gas and dust surrounding the comet are thought to curve from a combination of the comet’s rotation and the uneven gravity of its two-lobed structure.
Rosetta photo of Comet 67P/C-G.
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Feb. 20 The comet’s sunlit underbelly casts a shadow obscuring the neck that joins the two lobes. Rosetta took this image from 74 miles away.
Rosetta photo of Comet 67P/C-G.

Feb. 18 Pale jets of gas and dust surround Comet 67P/C-G, seen from 123 miles away. Bright marks in the background are a mix of stars, camera noise and streaks from small particles ejected from the comet.
Rosetta photo of Comet 67P/C-G.
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Panorama by The New York Times

Feb. 14 On Valentine’s Day, Rosetta made its first close flyby of the comet, passing within four miles of the surface. Here the spacecraft looks down on the large depression at the top of the comet’s head.

Rosetta photo of Comet 67P/C-G.
500 FEET

Feb. 14 An image of the comet’s underbelly taken six miles above the surface during the Valentine’s Day flyby. The smooth plain in the foreground is called Imhotep.

Rosetta photo of Comet 67P/C-G.
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Feb. 9 The comet is upside down in this image from 65 miles away, and a fan-shaped jet of dust streams from the comet’s neck region.

Rosetta photo of Comet 67P/C-G.
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Feb. 6 Jets of gas and dust extend from the comet’s neck and other sunlit areas in this image taken from 77 miles away.

Rosetta photo of Comet 67P/C-G.
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Feb. 3 This close-up image of the comet’s neck was taken from 18 miles away, and was the last image taken from orbit around Comet 67P/C-G. Rosetta will continue to follow the comet, but will leave its gravity-bound orbit because of increasing dust and instead begin a series of flybys.

Rosetta photo of Comet 67P/C-G.
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Jan. 31 The comet’s head, neck and back are sunlit in this image taken from 17 miles away. A prominent jet of gas and dust extends from an active region of the surface near the comet’s neck.

Rosetta photo of Comet 67P/C-G.
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Jan. 16 The tail of the comet’s larger lobe points up, revealing a smooth plain named Imhotep at left. Rosetta was 18 miles away when it took this image.

Rosetta photo of Comet 67P/C-G.
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Jan. 3 The smooth plain named Imhotep, at center right, lies on the comet’s flat underbelly, seen here from a distance of about 18 miles.

Rosetta photo of Comet 67P/C-G.
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Dec. 14, 2014 The large triangular boulder on the flat Imhotep plain is named Cheops, after the Egyptian pyramid. The spacecraft was about 12 miles from the comet when it took this image.

Rosetta photo of Comet 67P/C-G.
1/4 MILE

Dec. 10 Sunlight falls between the body and head of the comet, lighting up a large group of boulders in the smooth Hapi region of the comet’s neck. To the right of the boulders, the cliffs of Hathor form the underside of the comet’s head. Rosetta took this image from a distance of 12 miles.

Rosetta photo of Comet 67P/C-G.
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Dec. 2 The round depression in the middle of the comet’s head is filled with shadow in this image taken 12 miles above the comet.

Rosetta photo of Comet 67P/C-G.
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Nov. 22 An overexposed image of Comet 67P/C-G from 19 miles away shows faint jets of gas and dust extending from the sunlit side of the comet.

Philae photo from the surface of Comet 67P/C-G.

Nov. 12 Rosetta’s washing-machine sized lander Philae successfully touched down on the comet’s head. But anchoring harpoons failed and Philae bounced twice before going missing in the shadow of a cliff or crater (above). Without sunlight Philae quickly lost power, but might revive as the comet gets closer to the sun. On March 12, Rosetta resumed listening for radio signals from the missing lander.

Rosetta photo of Comet 67P/C-G.

Photo illustration by The New York Times

How big is the comet? The body of Comet 67P/C-G is about as long as Central Park. For images of Rosetta’s rendezvous and the Philae landing, see Landing on a Comet, 317 Million Miles From Home.

Sources: European Space Agency and the Rosetta mission. Images by ESA/Rosetta, except where noted. Some images are composite panoramas created by ESA, and most images were processed by ESA to bring out details of the comet’s activity.

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The Weirdest, Coolest Stuff We’ve Learned About Rosetta’s Comet So Far

Various features on a smooth part of the comet's surface in the region named Imhotep.

Excerpt from wired.com

The Rosetta spacecraft has been studying comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko up close since August, collecting data of unprecedented detail and taking pictures of a starkly beautiful comet-scape. While the Philae lander has enjoyed much of the spotlight—partly thanks to its now-famous triple landing—Rosetta has been making plenty of its own discoveries.  

One of the biggest came last month, when scientists found that the chemical signature of the comet’s water is nothing like that on Earth, contradicting the theory that crashing comets supplied our planet with water. Comet 67P belongs to the Jupiter family of comets, and the findings also imply that these kinds of comets were formed at a wider range of distances from the sun than previously thought, says Michael A’Hearn, a planetary scientist at the University of Maryland, College Park, and member of the Rosetta science team.  

Today, scientists have published the first big set of results from Rosetta in a slew of papers in the journal Science. The results include measurements and analyses of the comet’s shape, structure, surface, and the surrounding dust and gas particles. Here are just a few of the amazing things they’ve discovered about Rosetta’s comet so far: 

The surface is fantastically weird  

The comet has quite the textured landscape, covered with steep cliffs, boulders, weird bumps, cracks, pits, and smooth terrain. There are fractures of all sizes, including one that’s several yards wide and stretches for more than half a mile along the comet’s neck. Researchers don’t yet know what caused these cracks.  The pits have steep sides and flat bottoms, ranging in size from a few tens to hundreds of feet wide. Jets of dust shoot out from some of the pits, suggesting that the ejection of material formed these features.  Another strange feature is what scientists are calling goosebumps—weird bumpy patches found particularly on steep slopes.

While other features such as pits and fractures range in sizes, all of the goosebumps are about 10 feet wide. No one knows what kind of process would make the bumps, but whatever it is could have played an important part in the comet’s formation. It may be breezy  Rosetta spotted dune- and ripple-like patterns,wind tails behind rocks, and even moats surrounding rocks, suggesting that a light breeze may blow dust along the surface. Such a gentle wind would have to come from gases leaking from below.

Because of the extremely low gravity on the comet, it wouldn’t take a strong gust to blow things around. It may have formed from two separate pieces  Or not. The most distinct feature of comet 67P is its odd, two-lobed shape, which resembles a duck. Although scientists have seen this lobed structure in other comets before, namely Borrelly and Hartley 2, none are as pronounced as comet 67P’s. Borrelly and Hartley 2 look more like elongated potatoes while 67P has a clearly defined head and body. The strange shape suggests the comet was once two separate pieces called cometesimals—what are now the duck’s head and body—that stuck together. 

The other possibility is that erosion ate away the parts around the neck. Preliminary evidence points to the first hypothesis.

“Probably most of us on the OSIRIS team lean toward thinking it was two cometesimals,” A’Hearn said. (OSIRIS is one of Rosetta’s imaging instruments.) But the scientists won’t have conclusive evidence until they study the comet in more detail. For example, they now see layering along the neck—if erosion carved out the comet’s duck shape, they should find the same same layering pattern continuing onto the other side of the neck. 

Black, with a tinge of red  

Even Rosetta’s color pictures show a grayish comet, but if you were to see it in person, you would see a pitch-black chunk of dust and ice, as it reflects only six percent of incoming light. By comparison, the moon reflects 12 percent of incoming light and Earth reflects 31 percent. But comet 67P’s not completely black, as it has a hint of red. Water, water, nowhere?  The comet’s covered in opaque, organic compounds. Although comet 67P is undoubtedly icy, it hardly shows any water ice on its surface at all. 

Which isn’t too surprising, as comets Tempel 1 and Hartley 2 didn’t have much ice on their surfaces either, A’Hearn says. Rosetta has yet to see sunlight reach every side of the comet yet, so there may still be some icy patches hidden from view.  But, researchers do see the comet spraying water vapor into space, which means water ice likely lies just beneath the surface. The ice doesn’t have to be more than a centimeter deep to be invisible from the infrared instruments that detect the ice. Indeed, the data from Philae’s first bounce suggested that there’s a hard layer of ice beneath 4 to 8 inches of dust. 

This duck floats  

If you could find a big enough pond, that is. Like other known comets, the density of comet 67P is about half that of water ice. Initial measurements reveal that it’s also very porous—as much as 80 percent of it may be empty space. Rosetta has found depressions, which may have formed when the surface collapsed over particularly porous material underneath. 

Different from every angle

As the comet nears the sun, it heats up, and ices and other volatile chemicals sublimate, spraying gases into space. So far, the most prominent gases that have been ejected are water vapor, carbon dioxide, and carbon monoxide. They spew out in different amounts from different parts of the comet. In particular, a lot of the water has been observed gushing out from the neck.

The comet will continue to get more active as it reaches its closest approach to the sun in mid-August. It will burst with stronger jets of gas and dust, and maybe even blast off chunks of itself. If the comet is this interesting now, A’Hearn says, just wait until it gets to its nearest point to the sun, when it’s just 1.29 times farther from the sun than Earth is.

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Rosetta spacecraft raises new questions about comet’s origin

Excerpt from news.asiaone.com CAPE CANAVERAL, US - Scientists using Europe's comet-orbiting Rosetta spacecraft have discovered that the complicated ancient body is coated with surprisingly simple organic molecules and surrounded by a changing clou...

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Philae comet lander eludes discovery

Artist's conceptionExcerpt from bbc.comEfforts to find Europe's lost comet lander, Philae, have come up blank. The most recent imaging search by the overflying Rosetta "mothership" can find no trace of the probe. Philae touched down on 67...

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The Future of Technology in 2015?

Excerpt from

The year gone by brought us more robots, worries about artificial intelligence, and difficult lessons on space travel. The big question: where's it all taking us?

Every year, we capture a little bit more of the future -- and yet the future insists on staying ever out of reach.
Consider space travel. Humans have been traveling beyond the atmosphere for more than 50 years now -- but aside from a few overnights on the moon four decades ago, we have yet to venture beyond low Earth orbit.
Or robots. They help build our cars and clean our kitchen floors, but no one would mistake a Kuka or a Roomba for the replicants in "Blade Runner." Siri, Cortana and Alexa, meanwhile, are bringing some personality to the gadgets in our pockets and our houses. Still, that's a long way from HAL or that lad David from the movie "A.I. Artificial Intelligence."
Self-driving cars? Still in low gear, and carrying some bureaucratic baggage that prevents them from ditching certain technology of yesteryear, like steering wheels.
And even when these sci-fi things arrive, will we embrace them? A Pew study earlier this year found that Americans are decidedly undecided. Among the poll respondents, 48 percent said they would like to take a ride in a driverless car, but 50 percent would not. And only 3 percent said they would like to own one.
"Despite their general optimism about the long-term impact of technological change," Aaron Smith of the Pew Research Center wrote in the report, "Americans express significant reservations about some of these potentially short-term developments" such as US airspace being opened to personal drones, robot caregivers for the elderly or wearable or implantable computing devices that would feed them information.
Let's take a look at how much of the future we grasped in 2014 and what we could gain in 2015.

Space travel: 'Space flight is hard'

In 2014, earthlings scored an unprecedented achievement in space exploration when the European Space Agency landed a spacecraft on a speeding comet, with the potential to learn more about the origins of life. No, Bruce Willis wasn't aboard. Nobody was. But when the 220-pound Philae lander, carried to its destination by the Rosetta orbiter, touched down on comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko on November 12, some 300 million miles from Earth, the celebration was well-earned.
A shadow quickly fell on the jubilation, however. Philae could not stick its first landing, bouncing into a darker corner of the comet where its solar panels would not receive enough sunlight to charge the lander's batteries. After two days and just a handful of initial readings sent home, it shut down. For good? Backers have allowed for a ray of hope as the comet passes closer to the sun in 2015. "I think within the team there is no doubt that [Philae] will wake up," lead lander scientist Jean-Pierre Bibring said in December. "And the question is OK, in what shape? My suspicion is we'll be in good shape."
The trip for NASA's New Horizons spacecraft has been much longer: 3 billion miles, all the way to Pluto and the edge of the solar system. Almost nine years after it left Earth, New Horizons in early December came out of hibernation to begin its mission: to explore "a new class of planets we've never seen, in a place we've never been before," said project scientist Hal Weaver. In January, it will begin taking photos and readings of Pluto, and by mid-July, when it swoops closest to Pluto, it will have sent back detailed information about the dwarf planet and its moon, en route to even deeper space.

Also in December, NASA made a first test spaceflight of its Orion capsule on a quick morning jaunt out and back, to just over 3,600 miles above Earth (or approximately 15 times higher than the International Space Station). The distance was trivial compared to those those traveled by Rosetta and New Horizons, and crewed missions won't begin till 2021, but the ambitions are great -- in the 2030s, Orion is expected to carry humans to Mars.
In late March 2015, two humans will head to the ISS to take up residence for a full year, in what would be a record sleepover in orbit. "If a mission to Mars is going to take a three-year round trip," said NASA astronaut Scott Kelly, who will be joined in the effort by Russia's Mikhail Kornienko, "we need to know better how our body and our physiology performs over durations longer than what we've previously on the space station investigated, which is six months."
There were more sobering moments, too, in 2014. In October, Virgin Galactic's sleek, experimental SpaceShipTwo, designed to carry deep-pocketed tourists into space, crashed in the Mojave Desert during a test flight, killing one test pilot and injuring the other. Virgin founder Richard Branson had hoped his vessel would make its first commercial flight by the end of this year or in early 2015, and what comes next remains to be seen. Branson, though, expressed optimism: "Space flight is hard -- but worth it," he said in a blog post shortly after the crash, and in a press conference, he vowed "We'll learn from this, and move forward together." Virgin Galactic could begin testing its next spaceship as soon as early 2015.
The crash of SpaceShipTwo came just a few days after the explosion of an Orbital Sciences rocket lofting an unmanned spacecraft with supplies bound for the International Space Station. And in July, Elon Musk's SpaceX had suffered the loss of one of its Falcon 9 rockets during a test flight. Musk intoned, via Twitter, that "rockets are tricky..."
Still, it was on the whole a good year for SpaceX. In May, it unveiled its first manned spacecraft, the Dragon V2, intended for trips to and from the space station, and in September, it won a $2.6 billion contract from NASA to become one of the first private companies (the other being Boeing) to ferry astronauts to the ISS, beginning as early as 2017. Oh, and SpaceX also has plans to launch microsatellites to establish low-cost Internet service around the globe, saying in November to expect an announcement about that in two to three months -- that is, early in 2015.
One more thing to watch for next year: another launch of the super-secret X-37B space place to do whatever it does during its marathon trips into orbit. The third spaceflight of an X-37B -- a robotic vehicle that, at 29 feet in length, looks like a miniature space shuttle -- ended in October after an astonishing 22 months circling the Earth, conducting "on-orbit experiments."

Self-driving cars: Asleep at what wheel?

Spacecraft aren't the only vehicles capable of autonomous travel -- increasingly, cars are, too. Automakers are toiling toward self-driving cars, and Elon Musk -- whose name comes up again and again when we talk about the near horizon for sci-fi tech -- says we're less than a decade away from capturing that aspect of the future. In October, speaking in his guise as founder of Tesla Motors, Musk said: "Like maybe five or six years from now I think we'll be able to achieve true autonomous driving where you could literally get in the car, go to sleep and wake up at your destination." (He also allowed that we should tack on a few years after that before government regulators give that technology their blessing.)
Prototype, unbound: Google's ride of the future, as it looks today Google
That comment came as Musk unveiled a new autopilot feature -- characterizing it as a sort of super cruise control, rather than actual autonomy -- for Tesla's existing line of electric cars. Every Model S manufactured since late September includes new sensor hardware to enable those autopilot capabilities (such as adaptive cruise control, lane-keeping assistance and automated parking), to be followed by an over-the-air software update to enable those features.
Google has long been working on its own robo-cars, and until this year, that meant taking existing models -- a Prius here, a Lexus there -- and buckling on extraneous gear. Then in May, the tech titan took the wraps off a completely new prototype that it had built from scratch. (In December, it showed off the first fully functional prototype.) It looked rather like a cartoon car, but the real news was that there was no steering wheel, gas pedal or brake pedal -- no need for human controls when software and sensors are there to do the work.
Or not so fast. In August, California's Department of Motor Vehicles declared that Google's test vehicles will need those manual controls after all -- for safety's sake. The company agreed to comply with the state's rules, which went into effect in September, when it began testing the cars on private roads in October.
Regardless of who's making your future robo-car, the vehicle is going to have to be not just smart, but actually thoughtful. It's not enough for the car to know how far it is from nearby cars or what the road conditions are. The machine may well have to make no-win decisions, just as human drivers sometimes do in instantaneous, life-and-death emergencies. "The car is calculating a lot of consequences of its actions," Chris Gerdes, an associate professor of mechanical engineering, said at the Web Summit conference in Dublin, Ireland, in November. "Should it hit the person without a helmet? The larger car or the smaller car?"

Robots: Legging it out

So when do the robots finally become our overlords? Probably not in 2015, but there's sure to be more hand-wringing about both the machines and the artificial intelligence that could -- someday -- make them a match for homo sapiens. At the moment, the threat seems more mundane: when do we lose our jobs to a robot?
The inquisitive folks at Pew took that very topic to nearly 1,900 experts, including Vint Cerf, vice president at Google; Web guru Tim Bray; Justin Reich of Harvard University's Berkman Center for Internet & Society; and Jonathan Grudin, principal researcher at Microsoft. According to the resulting report, published in August, the group was almost evenly split -- 48 percent thought it likely that, by 2025, robots and digital agents will have displaced significant numbers of blue- and white-collar workers, perhaps even to the point of breakdowns in the social order, while 52 percent "have faith that human ingenuity will create new jobs, industries, and ways to make a living, just as it has been doing since the dawn of the Industrial Revolution."

Still, for all of the startling skills that robots have acquired so far, they're often not all there yet. Here's some of what we saw from the robot world in 2014:
Teamwork: Researchers at the École Polytechnique Fédérale De Lausanne in May showed off their "Roombots," cog-like robotic balls that can join forces to, say, help a table move across a room or change its height.
A sense of balance: We don't know if Boston Dynamics' humanoid Atlas is ready to trim bonsai trees, but it has learned this much from "The Karate Kid" (the original from the 1980s) -- it can stand on cinder blocks and hold its balance in a crane stance while moving its arms up and down.
Catlike jumps: MIT's cheetah-bot gets higher marks for locomotion. Fed a new algorithm, it can run across a lawn and bound like a cat. And quietly, too. "Our robot can be silent and as efficient as animals. The only things you hear are the feet hitting the ground," MIT's Sangbae Kim, a professor of mechanical engineering, told MIT News. "This is kind of a new paradigm where we're controlling force in a highly dynamic situation. Any legged robot should be able to do this in the future."
Sign language: Toshiba's humanoid Aiko Chihira communicated in Japanese sign language at the CEATEC show in October. Her rudimentary skills, limited for the moment to simple messages such as signed greetings, are expected to blossom by 2020 into areas such as speech synthesis and speech recognition.
Dance skills: Robotic pole dancers? Tobit Software brought a pair, controllable by an Android smartphone, to the Cebit trade show in Germany in March. More lifelike was the animatronic sculpture at a gallery in New York that same month -- but what was up with that witch mask?
Emotional ambition: Eventually, we'll all have humanoid companions -- at least, that's always been one school of thought on our robotic future. One early candidate for that honor could be Pepper, from Softbank and Aldebaran Robotics, which say the 4-foot-tall Pepper is the first robot to read emotions. This emo-bot is expected to go on sale in Japan in February.

Ray guns: Ship shape

Damn the photon torpedoes, and full speed ahead. That could be the motto for the US Navy, which in 2014 deployed a prototype laser weapon -- just one -- aboard a vessel in the Persian Gulf. Through some three months of testing, the device "locked on and destroyed the targets we designated with near-instantaneous lethality," Rear Adm. Matthew L. Klunder, chief of naval research, said in a statement. Those targets were rather modest -- small objects mounted aboard a speeding small boat, a diminutive Scan Eagle unmanned aerial vehicle, and so on -- but the point was made: the laser weapon, operated by a controller like those used for video games, held up well, even in adverse conditions.

Artificial intelligence: Danger, Will Robinson?

What happens when robots and other smart machines can not only do, but also think? Will they appreciate us for all our quirky human high and low points, and learn to live with us? Or do they take a hard look at a species that's run its course and either turn us into natural resources, "Matrix"-style, or rain down destruction?
When the machines take over, will they be packing laser weapons like this one the US Navy just tried out? John F. Williams/US Navy
As we look ahead to the reboot of the "Terminator" film franchise in 2015, we can't help but recall some of the dire thoughts about artificial intelligence from two people high in the tech pantheon, the very busy Musk and the theoretically inclined Stephen Hawking.
Musk himself more than once in 2014 invoked the likes of the "Terminator" movies and the "scary outcomes" that make them such thrilling popcorn fare. Except that he sees a potentially scary reality evolving. In an interview with CNBC in June, he spoke of his investment in AI-minded companies like Vicarious and Deep Mind, saying: "I like to just keep an eye on what's going on with artificial intelligence. I think there is potentially a dangerous outcome."
He has put his anxieties into some particularly colorful phrases. In August, for instance, Musk tweeted that AI is "potentially more dangerous than nukes." And in October, he said this at a symposium at MIT: "With artificial intelligence, we are summoning the demon. ... You know all those stories where there's the guy with the pentagram and the holy water and he's like... yeah, he's sure he can control the demon, [but] it doesn't work out."
Musk has a kindred spirit in Stephen Hawking. The physicist allowed in May that AI could be the "biggest event in human history," and not necessarily in a good way. A month later, he was telling John Oliver, on HBO's "Last Week Tonight," that "artificial intelligence could be a real danger in the not too distant future." How so? "It could design improvements to itself and outsmart us all."
But Google's Eric Schmidt, is having none of that pessimism. At a summit on innovation in December, the executive chairman of the far-thinking tech titan -- which in October teamed up with Oxford University to speed up research on artificial intelligence -- said that while our worries may be natural, "they're also misguided."

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Rosetta’s Comet Lander Will Revive After Bumpy Touchdown, Scientists Say

Mosaic of four images taken by Rosetta's navigation camera (NAVCAM) on 10 December 2014 at 20.1 km from the centre of comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko.
The ESA comet lander Philae came to rest between two shadowed cliffs, limiting the sunlight hitting the lander's solar panels, but scientists hope the lander can be revived by February as more light arrives. This image of the comet's surface is a mosaic of four taken by Rosetta's navigation camera on December 10.

Hopes rise for reviving the hibernating lander's solar power as comet receives more sunlight.

Excerpt from news.nationalgeographic.com

SAN FRANCISCO—Fear not for Philae: The little lost lander could reawaken as soon as February, the Rosetta mission team said Wednesday. Increasing sunlight almost guarantees an end to the probe's current hibernation on a comet racing toward the sun.

The European Space Agency's $1.75-billion mission sent the lander to comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko on November 12 in an audacious, if bumpy, touchdown on the double-lobed comet. It was the first soft landing attempt on a comet.

The lander bounced after an anchoring harpoon failed to fire, turning initial elation to disappointment. After a two-hour bounce, Philae came to rest with one of its three feet planted on the comet and the others angled between two shadowed cliffs.

Those cliffs allow, for now, only 4 hours and 33 minutes of uninterrupted sunlight per day to the probe's solar panels, not enough to restart it. But the mission team announced at the American Geophysical Union meeting that more sunshine is on the way.

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How will the world end? From ‘demonic’ AI to nuclear war — seven scenarios that could end human race


Humanity may have already created its own nemesis, Professor Stephen Hawking warned last week. The Cambridge University physicist claimed that new developments in the field of artificial intelligence (AI) mean that within a few decades, computers thousands of times more powerful than in existence today may decide to usurp their creators and effectively end humanity’s 100,000-year dominance of Earth.
This Terminator scenario is taken seriously by many scientists and technologists. Before Prof. Hawking made his remarks, Elon Musk, the genius behind the Tesla electric car and PayPal, had stated that “with artificial intelligence, we are summoning the demon,” comparing it unfavourably with nuclear war as the most potent threat to humanity’s existence.
Aside from the rise of the machines, many potential threats have been identified to our species, our civilization, even our planet. To keep you awake at night, here are seven of the most plausible.
Getty Images / ThinkStock
Getty Images / ThinkStockAn artist's depiction of an asteroid approaching Earth.
Our solar system is littered with billions of pieces of debris, from the size of large boulders to objects hundreds of kilometres across. We know that, from time to time, these hit the Earth. Sixty-five-million years ago, an object – possibly a comet a few times larger than the one on which the Philae probe landed last month – hit the Mexican coast and triggered a global winter that wiped out the dinosaurs. In 1908, a smaller object hit a remote part of Siberia and devastated hundreds of square kilometres of forest. Last week, 100 scientists, including Lord Rees of Ludlow, the Astronomer Royal, called for the creation of a global warning system to alert us if a killer rock is on the way.
Probability: remote in our lifetime, but one day we will be hit.
Result: there has been no strike big enough to wipe out all life on Earth – an “extinction-level event” – for at least three billion years. But a dino-killer would certainly be the end of our civilization and possibly our species.
Warner Bros.
Warner Bros.When artificial intelligence becomes self-aware, there is a chance it will look something like this scene from Terminator 3.
Prof. Hawking is not worried about armies of autonomous drones taking over the world, but something more subtle – and more sinister. Some technologists believe that an event they call the Singularity is only a few decades away. This is a point at which the combined networked computing power of the world’s AI systems begins a massive, runaway increase in capability – an explosion in machine intelligence. By then, we will probably have handed over control to most of our vital systems, from food distribution networks to power plants, sewage and water treatment works, and the global banking system. The machines could bring us to our knees without a shot being fired. And we cannot simply pull the plug, because they control the power supplies.

Probability: unknown, although computing power is doubling every 18 months. We do not know if machines can be conscious or “want” to do anything, and sceptics point out that the cleverest computers in existence are currently no brighter than cockroaches.
Result: if the web wakes up and wants to sweep us aside, we may have a fight on our hands (perhaps even something similar to the man vs. machines battle in the Terminator films). But it is unlikely that the machines will want to destroy the planet – they “live” here, too.
Handout/AFP/Getty Images
Handout/AFP/Getty ImagesLaboratory technicians and physicians work on samples during research on the evolving Ebola disease in bats, at the Center for Emerging and Zoonotic Diseases research Laboratory of the National Institute for Communicable Diseases in Pretoria on Nov. 21, 2011.
This is possibly the most terrifying short-term threat because it is so plausible. The reason Ebola has not become a worldwide plague – and will not do so – is because it is so hard to transmit, and because it incapacitates and kills its victims so quickly. However, a modified version of the disease that can be transmitted through the air, or which allows its host to travel around for weeks, symptom-free, could kill many millions. It is unknown whether any terror group has the knowledge or facilities to do something like this, but it is chilling to realize that the main reason we understand Ebola so well is that its potential to be weaponized was quickly realized by defence experts.
Probability: someone will probably try it one day.
Result: potentially catastrophic. “Ordinary” infectious diseases such as avian-flu strains have the capability to wipe out hundreds of millions of people.
AP Photo/U.S. Army via Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum
AP Photo/U.S. Army via Hiroshima Peace Memorial MuseumA mushroom cloud billows about one hour after a nuclear bomb was detonated above Hiroshima, Japan Aug. 6, 1945.
This is still the most plausible “doomsday” scenario. Despite arms-limitations treaties, there are more than 15,000 nuclear warheads and bombs in existence – many more, in theory, than would be required to kill every human on Earth. Even a small nuclear war has the potential to cause widespread devastation. In 2011, a study by NASA scientists concluded that a limited atomic war between India and Pakistan involving just 100 Hiroshima-sized detonations would throw enough dust into the air to cause temperatures to drop more than 1.2C globally for a decade.
Probability: high. Nine states have nuclear weapons, and more want to join the club. The nuclear wannabes are not paragons of democracy.
Result: it is unlikely that even a global nuclear war between Russia and NATO would wipe us all out, but it would kill billions and wreck the world economy for a century. A regional war, we now know, could have effects far beyond the borders of the conflict.
CERN)/MCTThis is one of the huge particle detectors in the Large Hadron Collider, a 17 mile-long tunnel under the French-Swiss border. Scientists are searching for evidence of what happened right after- and perhaps before- the Big Bang.
Before the Large Hadron Collider (LHC), the massive machine at CERN in Switzerland that detected the Higgs boson a couple of years ago, was switched on, there was a legal challenge from a German scientist called Otto Rossler, who claimed the atom-smasher could theoretically create a small black hole by mistake – which would then go on to eat the Earth.
The claim was absurd: the collisions in the LHC are far less energetic than those caused naturally by cosmic rays hitting the planet. But it is possible that, one day, a souped-up version of the LHC could create something that destroys the Earth – or even the universe – at the speed of light.
Probability: very low indeed.
Result: potentially devastating, but don’t bother cancelling the house insurance just yet.
AP Photo/Oculus Rift/Fox
AP Photo/Oculus Rift/FoxThis photo shows a scene fromX-Men: Days of Future Past virtual reality experience. Oxford University philosopher Nick Bostrom has speculated that our universe may be one of countless "simulations" running in some alien computer, much like a computer game.
Many scientists have pointed out that there is something fishy about our universe. The physical constants – the numbers governing the fundamental forces and masses of nature – seem fine-tuned to allow life of some form to exist. The great physicist Sir Fred Hoyle once wondered if the universe might be a “put-up job”.
More recently, the Oxford University philosopher Nick Bostrom has speculated that our universe may be one of countless “simulations” running in some alien computer, much like a computer game. If so, we have to hope that the beings behind our fake universe are benign – and do not reach for the off-button should we start misbehaving.
Probability: according to Professor Bostrom’s calculations, if certain assumptions are made, there is a greater than 50% chance that our universe is not real. And the increasingly puzzling absence of any evidence of alien life may be indirect evidence that the universe is not what it seems.
Result: catastrophic, if the gamers turn against us. The only consolation is the knowledge that there is absolutely nothing we can do about it.
AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast
AP Photo/Charles Rex ArbogastFloodwaters from the Souris River surround homes near Minot State University in Minot, N.D. on June 27, 2011. Global warming is rapidly turning America the beautiful into America the stormy and dangerous, according to the National Climate Assessment report released Tuesday, May 6, 2014.
Almost no serious scientists now doubt that human carbon emissions are having an effect on the planet’s climate. The latest report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change suggested that containing temperature rises to below 2C above the pre-industrial average is now unlikely, and that we face a future three or four degrees warmer than today.
This will not literally be the end of the world – but humanity will need all the resources at its disposal to cope with such a dramatic shift. Unfortunately, the effects of climate change will really start to kick in just at the point when the human population is expected to peak – at about nine billion by the middle of this century. Millions of people, mostly poor, face losing their homes to sea-level rises (by up to a metre or more by 2100) and shifting weather patterns may disrupt agriculture dramatically.
Probability: it is now almost certain that CO2 levels will keep rising to 600 parts per billion and beyond. It is equally certain that the climate will respond accordingly.
Result: catastrophic in some places, less so in others (including northern Europe, where temperature rises will be moderated by the Atlantic). The good news is that, unlike with most of the disasters here, we have a chance to do something about climate change now.

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Is this what Rosetta’s comet really looks like in color?

This image depicts a more colorful view of 67PExcerpt from cnet.comA color image of Rosetta's comet buddy has emerged online and may shine some brightness on a comet that has become famous in black and white. Move over, Halley: 67P/Churyumov-Gerasime...

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The Audio of Philae Lander Touching Down on Comet

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Asteroid Mining: Not as Crazy as it Sounds

Concept model of the FireFly Design (Image credit: Deep Space Industries / Bryan Versteeg.

Excerpt from geologyforinvestors.com

At first glance it sounds ridiculous. Why would anyone consider mining in space when even the largest Earth-based mining operations seem to have trouble managing costs? After all, mid-grade and marginal deposits seem to have trouble finding any money and the process of moving a project from prospect to mine can take decades and cost hundreds of million of dollars. I’ll be the first to admit that the whole idea of asteroid mining was initially right up there with Star Trek-style transporters and desktop cold fusion, but a few recent events have piqued my curiosity on the subject. Allow me to elaborate.

First, one of the many items that was lost back in October, 2014 when the Antares rocket was destroyed was the Arkyd 3 satellite. Arkyd 3 is a testing platform designed by Planetary Resources, otherwise known as “the asteroid mining company”. Apparently these guys aren’t just doing interviews: There is actual work going on here. A re-built Arkyd 3 is scheduled for launch in about 9 months.
Second, the recent landing of the Philae spacecraft on comet 67P stirred all of our imaginations in a way that was reminiscent of the moon landing, first shuttle launch or first Mars rover. If we can effectively land a bullet on a bullet 500 million miles away from Earth, then the idea of grabbing a near-earth asteroid doesn’t sound nearly as crazy. The economics might still seem crazy, but the technology – not so much.

As it turns out, there are three groups currently working on a long term strategy to gather resources from space. Two are private companies and the third is NASA. All have different approaches, but their end games are largely the same.

What Asteroids? What Resources?

Asteroid miners are seeking out near-earth asteroids. There are over 11,000 known near-earth asteroids which are considered to be left-overs from the formation of the solar system. These bodies can be composed of ice, silicate minerals, carbonaceous minerals and metals.

Ice or water on these bodies is one of the most significant potential resources. Solar panels on spacecraft can provide the power to simply convert water to hydrogen and oxygen for fuel. Considering that it costs from $5,000-25,000+ per kg to ferry items into space, the idea of harvesting resources needed in space doesn’t sound like such a bad idea. In fact, the groups involved are primarily focused on gathering the resources needed for space exploration and development. Gathering resources to send back to earth is a much longer term goal and arguably may never be economic.

Groups Involved

Currently there are two private companies pursuing asteroid mining; Planetary Resources and Deep Space Industries. NASA is also involved on several levels and has awarded contracts to several companies including both Planetary Resources and Deep Space Industries for studies relating to relating to asteroid redirection.

Deep Space Industries – Fire Fly/DragonFly/Harvestor

Deep Space Industries’ approach includes a series of compact spacecraft known as FireFlies (not to be confused with NASA’s FireFly Cubesat). The company plans to send them on one-way missions to gather information such as size, shape, density and composition of asteroids of interest. Their longer term plan includes the development of a spacecraft known as the “Dragonfly” which will capture asteroids to return for analysis and to test processing methods and the “Harvestors” which will collect material for return to Earth’s orbit. The Harvestor class is meant for full-scale production for initial customers in space from collecting propellant for future space missions, manufacturing materials using extracted metals and radiation shielding. If costs begin to decrease over time they hope to be able to return these extracted commodities back to earth. DSI recently made the news when it partnered with another firm to build Bitcoin satellites as part of a proposed Bitcoin orbital satellite network.


NASA has commissioned a number of studies on the potential for asteroid mining and interactions as part of it’s Early Stage Innovation and Innovative Advanced Concepts (NIAC) directives. The Robotic Asteroid Prospector study determined that water and possibly Platinum Group Metals had the most economic potential for asteroid mining operations and presented some preliminary designed for water extraction.

NASA’s OSIRIS REx spacecraft is designed study the the near-Earth “Bennu” asteroid for more than a year with the primary goal of landing on the asteroid and retrieving a sample for return to Earth. OSIRIS-REx is scheduled for launch in September 2016.
NASA has been also been studying robotic mining for several years and holds annual competition where university students can build a mining robot.

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Comet Lander Update: Sleeping Philae, Finally Spotted, Could Still Wake Up ~ New images of comet

Selfie of Philae lander with comet in background

Excerpt from 

After finally spotting the refrigerator-sized probe on comet 67P Churyumov-Gerasminko on Monday, the European Space Agency said there is still a chance that the sleeping robot could continue its epic journey across four billion miles of space.

This will happen if it reawakens in the coming weeks or months as the comet flies closer to the Sun. More sunlight means more energy to recharge the lander's batteries, said Dr. Stephan Ulamec, the Rosetta mission's Philae Lander Manager at the DLR German Aerospace Center in Darmstadt, Germany.

The comet – and Philae, together with its mother ship Rosetta – will reach their closest point to the Sun on Aug.13 next year at a distance of about 115 million miles, roughly between the orbits of Earth and Mars.

Mission control lost contact with Philae on Saturday when Rosetta flew below the comet's horizon.

In the meantime, focus is now on the mother ship, which is maneuvering back into the comet's orbit after dropping off Philae.
Next year, as the comet becomes more active as it approaches the Sun, ESA officials said Rosetta will fly unbound "orbits," making brief fly-bys to within five miles of the comet's surface.

On Monday, ESA scientists announced that they have finally spotted Philae on comet 67P Churyumov-Gerasminko based on the images taken and relayed by Rosetta.

Although the robot is barely visible in the pictures, a faint glint and shadow can be seen indicating the spot where it landed after it bounced off from its original landing site. Two harpoons that were supposed to anchor the probe to the ground failed to deploy, causing Philae to bounce half a mile back into space after its initial touchdown.

The latest images confirmed that the probe finally settled in the shadow of a crater wall where its solar panels could not absorb enough energy from sunlight.

Meanwhile, ESA has released mind-blowing close-up images of comet 67P taken by Rosetta and Philae before and after the comet landing. The images have been given Creative Commons license which means the public is free to share and use them. 

ESA image
This montage was captured about 10 km away from the comet's center.
ESA image
A "beauty shot" taken from 10 km away from the comet.
ESA image
This is one of the images that have been brightened to reveal the comet's surface since 67P has been described as "blacker than coal."
ESA image
This is a composite of the first two photographs ever taken from the surface of a comet.
ESA image
Philae’s intended landing site on the comet can be seen at the top of this image.
ESA image
The comet seen from 28.5 km away. How those craters got there is still debated.

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Comet landing: Organic extraterrestrial molecules detected by Philae lander

The Philae lander has detected organic molecules on the surface of its comet, scientists have confirmed.Excerpt from bbc.com By Paul Rincon Science editor, BBC News website Carbon-containing "organics" are the basis of life on Earth and may ...

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