Science & Technology

KOUROU, France: Arianespace’s Ariane 5 rocket with NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope onboard lifts up from the launchpad at the Guiana Space Center yesterday. – AFP
KOUROU, France: The world’s most powerful space telescope yesterday blasted off into orbit, headed to an outpost 1.5 million km from Earth, after several delays caused by technical hitches. The James Webb Space Telescope, some three decades and billions of dollars in the making, left Earth enclosed in its Ariane 5 rocket from Kourou Space Centre in French Guiana.
“What an amazing day. It’s truly Christmas,” said Thomas Zurbuchen, head of scientific missions for NASA, which together with the European and Canadian space agencies, ESA and ACS, built the telescope. ESA chief Josef Aschbacher said he was “very happy to say that we’ve delivered the spacecraft into orbit very precisely… that Ariane 5 performed extremely well”.
This was key, since placing the spacecraft in orbit helps economize on the fuel the telescope will need to reach its final destination and perform well after that. It is expected to take a month to reach its remote destination. It is set to beam back new clues that will help scientists understand more about the origins of the Universe and Earth-like planets beyond our solar system.
Named after a former NASA director, Webb follows in the footsteps of the legendary Hubble – but intends to show humans what the Universe looked like even closer to its birth nearly 14 billion years ago. Speaking on social media, Webb project co-founder John Mather described the telescope’s unprecedented sensitivity. “#JWST can see the heat signature of a bumblebee at the distance of the Moon,” he said. All that power is needed to detect the weak glow emitted billions of years ago by the very first galaxies to exist and the first stars being formed.

The telescope is unequalled in size and complexity. Its mirror measures 6.5 m in diameter – three times the size of the Hubble’s mirror – and is made of 18 hexagonal sections. It is so large that it had to be folded to fit into the rocket. That maneuver was laser-guided with NASA imposing strict isolation measures to limit any contact with the telescope’s mirrors from particles or even human breath.

Once the rockets have carried Webb 120 km, the protective nose of the craft, called a “fairing”, will be shed to lighten the load. To protect the delicate instrument from changes in pressure at that stage, rocket-builder Arianespace installed a custom decompression system. “Exceptional measures for an exceptional client,” said a European Space Agency official in Kourou on Thursday.
Crew on the ground were to know whether the first stage of the flight was successful about 27 minutes after launch. Once it reaches its station, the challenge will be to fully deploy the mirror and a tennis-court-sized sun shield. That intimidatingly complex process will take two weeks and must be flawless if Webb is to function correctly. Its orbit will be much farther than Hubble, which has been 600 km above the Earth since 1990.

The location of Webb’s orbit is called the Lagrange 2 point and was chosen in part because it will keep the Earth, the Sun and the Moon all on the same side of its sun shield. Webb is expected to officially enter service in June. – AFP

Crypto-currency exchange BitMart says hackers have stolen about $150m (£113m) worth of tokens from its "hot wallets".
Those affected, one storing Ethereum and one Binance Smart Chain tokens, "carry a small percentage of assets on BitMart and all of our other wallets are secure and unharmed", it said.
But the first security company to notice the hack estimated the stolen tokens were worth closer to $200m.
Bitmart is suspending customer withdrawals until further notice.
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"At this moment we are still concluding the possible methods used," it said.
"We are now conducting a thorough security review and we will post updates as we progress." And it would try to "maintain transparency" as it dealt with the aftermath of the attack.
Many investors recommend moving large amounts of crypto-currency not needed for day-to-day trading to "cold" storage, disconnected from the wider internet. Mt Gox handled most of the world's Bitcoin transactions - until 850,000 bitcoins went "missing", shuttering the company. And since then, attacks have been a constant problem for crypto-exchanges and investors. And the latest follows the pattern we are becoming used to - huge amounts of stolen crypto-currency and tiny amounts of detail from the victim.

We do not know:
exactly how much money was stolen
whether it came from customers' wallets or a central pot owned by Bitmart
whether the company will repay users
Past hacks have seen a multitude of outcomes.

Sometimes users are refunded, sometimes they are partially refunded, sometimes the company goes bust and on one occasion a hacker even returned all the money. The only certainty is this hack will add further fuel to the fire for people calling for regulation of these increasingly important companies.

Pakistan and Facebook have partnered to fight Covid-19. — AP/File

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan and Facebook have partnered to fight Covid-19 as the world’s prominent social media platform has provided Marketing Partner Support and Ad Credits for campaigns against the deadly virus and helped the government increase its engagement rates with the public on these posts.

As part of these campaigns, Facebook and some ministries focused on creating videos and messages for boosting “vaccine confidence” amongst the public.

The messaging campaigns helped the Ministry of Health increase its total number of page likes to 470,000, increasing the government’s ability to connect with the people and provide information to its stakeholders.

In a statement, Facebook has said it is important to come together as a community to protect each other through credible health information and support vaccine confidence in the community.

Messages prepared for boosting people’s confidence regarding vaccination

As Covid-19 vaccines are becoming more readily available to larger groups, Facebook launched its new profile frames in partnership with the Ministry of Health that allow users to share their support for getting vaccinated with their family and friends.

Research shows when people see others who they know and trust getting the vaccine, they are encouraged to do the same. A campaign to create awareness about spotting Covid-related misinformation on social media has been launched in Urdu for the Facebook community in Pakistan in partnership with the Digital Media Wing of the Ministry of Information.

This can particularly be effective when it comes to encouraging those who are otherwise unsure about getting themselves vaccinated.

The statement contains a message by Dr Faisal Sultan, Special Assistant to the Prime Minister on Health, who said that 76 per cent of the target population has been reached through social media messaging campaigns.

“The pandemic has brought to the forefront the importance of using digital tools for transmitting critical health information to citizens and keeping them safe and healthy,” Dr Sultan said, adding that Facebook has worked to take aggressive steps to remove harmful misinformation and connect people to resources from health authorities.

This file illustration picture shows Google map application displaying Covid-19 restrictions along your route on a smartphone in Arlington, Virginia.-AFP

Google on Tuesday said it will start showing users of its free Maps navigation service travel routes less damaging to the environment as just one of some 100 coming upgrades. Improvements to Google Maps tap into artificial intelligence for features including figuring out more fuel-efficient ways to get around. “Soon, Google Maps will default to the route with the lowest carbon footprint when it has approximately the same ETA (estimated arrival time) as the fastest route,” vice president of product Dane Glasgow said in a blog post.

“In cases where the eco-friendly route could significantly increase your ETA, we’ll let you compare the relative CO2 impact between routes so you can choose.” Google worked with the US Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Lab to build a routing system that takes into account traffic congestion and steepness of roads to minimize fuel consumption, according to Glasgow. Google is also going to start alerting Maps users when a travel route is heading for a low-emission zone where higher-pollution vehicles such as diesel cars are not allowed.

Those alerts will launch in June on the Maps mobile app in Britain, France, Germany, the Netherlands, and Spain. Maps was also tweaked to provide users more comprehensive views of travel options that may be more eco-friendly than driving. And, air quality information along the way is being added to some routes displayed by Maps, launching firs in Australia, India, and the United States. Google is also working to keep people on course once inside locations such as airports, shopping malls or train stations, according to Glasgow.

A Live View feature that already augments what Maps users see when looking through smartphone camera lenses will display arrows and other tips to guide them outside is getting an inside version. “Live View can help you find the nearest elevator and escalators, your gate, platform, baggage claim, check-in counters, ticket office, restrooms, ATMs and more,” Glasgow said. Inside Live View was added for some shopping malls in a handful of US cities and will roll out in coming months for select airports, malls, and transit stations in Tokyo and Zurich, according to Google. – AFP

Facebook says service has been restored, asks users to report to support team if they continue facing issues.

This NASA handout illustration obtained Monday shows a descent illustration to Mars, of the spacecraft containing NASA’s Perseverance rover slowing down using the drag generated by its motion in the Martian atmosphere.-AFP

WASHINGTON: More than a century after the first powered flight on Earth, NASA intends to prove it’s possible to replicate the feat on another world. Transported aboard the Mars 2020 spacecraft that arrives at the Red Planet on Thursday, the small Ingenuity helicopter will have several challenges to overcome-the biggest being the rarefied Martian atmosphere, which is just one percent the density of Earth’s.

It might be called a helicopter, but in appearance it’s closer to mini-drones we’ve grown accustomed to seeing in recent years. Weighing just four pounds (1.8 kilograms), its blades are much larger and spin about five times faster — 2,400 revolutions per minute-than would be required to generate the same amount of lift back on Earth. It does however get some assistance from Mars, where the gravity is only a third of that on our home planet.

Ingenuity has four feet, a box-like body, and four carbon-fiber blades arranged in two rotors spinning in opposite directions. It comes with two cameras, computers, and navigation sensors. It’s also equipped with solar cells to recharge its batteries, much of the energy being used for staying warm or cold Martian nights, where temperatures fall to minus 130 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 90 degrees Celsius). The helicopter is hitching a ride on the belly of the Perseverance rover, which will drop it to the ground once it has landed then drive away.

90 second flights
Up to five flights of gradual difficulty are planned, over a window of one month, within the first few months of the mission. Ingenuity will fly at altitudes of 10-15 feet (3-5 meters) and travel as far as 160 feet (50 meters) from its starting area and back. Each flight will last up to a minute and half-compared to the 12 seconds the Wright brothers achieved with the first powered, controlled flight in Kitty Hawk, North Carolina in 1903.

Like the Perseverance rover, Ingenuity is too far away from Earth to be operated using a joystick, and is therefore designed to fly autonomously. Its onboard computers will work with its sensors and cameras to keep it on a path programmed by its engineers. But the outcome of these flights will be learned only after they took place.

What’s the goal?
NASA describes Ingenuity’s mission as a “technology demonstration”: a project that seeks to test a new capability together with the astrobiology mission of Perseverance. If it’s successful, however, it “basically opens up a whole new dimension of exploring Mars,” said Bob Balaram, Ingenuity’s chief engineer.

Future models could offer better vantage points not seen by current orbiters or by slow-moving rovers on the ground, allowing the helicopters to scope out terrain for land-based robots or humans. They could even help carry light payloads from one site to another-such as the rock and soil samples Perseverance will be collecting in the next phase of the Mars 2020 mission.

Rover to touch down
After a seven-month journey, NASA’s Perseverance rover prepares to touch down on Mars tomorrow after first negotiating a risky landing procedure that will mark the start of its multi-year search for signs of ancient microbial life. The Mars 2020 mission, which set off late from Florida in late July, includes the largest ever vehicle to be dispatched to the Red Planet.

Built at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, it weighs a ton, has a robotic arm that’s seven feet (two meters) long, has 19 cameras, and two microphones to record the Martian soundscape. Should it arrive intact, Perseverance will be only the fifth rover to successfully complete the journey since Pathfinder in 1997. All have been American and the last, Curiosity, is still active.

China last week placed its Tianwen-1 spacecraft in orbit around Mars carrying both a lander and a rover, which it is hoped to land in May. At around 3:55pm EST Thursday (2055 GMT), Perseverance will place its six wheels on a landing site described as “spectacular” by Ken Farley, a NASA scientist.

Jezero Crater, a 28-mile-wide (45-kilometer-wide) basin located in the Martian northern hemisphere, had been considered for previous missions, but was considered too difficult to land in until now. Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the mission control room will have fewer people than normal.

“But assuming we do have confirmation of landing, I don’t think COVID is gonna be able to stop us from jumping up and down and fist pumping,” said Matt Wallace, the mission’s deputy project manager. The first low resolution photos of the surface will arrive quickly. Video footage, including entry into the atmosphere, is expected later.

Lakes and rivers
Scientists believe that around 3.5 billion years ago, the crater was home to a river that flowed into a lake, depositing sediment in a fan-shaped delta. During this period, “Mars was very similar to Earth in several important ways,” said Farley. “It had a substantial atmosphere, it had lakes and rivers on its surface, and it had habitable environments, places where organisms that we know about on earth today could have thrived.”

Producing oxygen
What would these long awaited signs of life look like? “We should not be looking for fossil teeth or fossil bones or fossil leaves,” he said. Rather, it’s hunting for organic molecules and other signs of past microbial life, a discovery that would be “fabulous.” The first months of the mission won’t however be devoted to this primary objective.

Parallel experiments are also planned. NASA notably wants to fly, for the first time, a powered aircraft on another planet. The helicopter, dubbed Ingenuity, must be able to ascend in an atmosphere just one percent the density of Earth’s. – AFP

This photo released by NASA shows the Perseverance rover being lowered by the Sky Crane to the surface of Mars on Feb 18, 2021. – AFP photos

NASA on Friday released stunning new photographs from Perseverance, including one of the rover being gently lowered to the surface of Mars by a set of cables, the first time such a view has been captured. The high-resolution still was extracted from a video taken by the descent stage of the spacecraft that had transported the rover from Earth.

At that moment, the descent stage was using its six-engined jetpack to slow to a speed of about 1.7 miles (2.7 kilometers) per hour as part of the “skycrane maneuver,” the final phase of landing. “You can see the dust kicked up by the rover’s engines,” said Adam Steltzner, Perseverance’s chief engineer, who estimated the shot was taken about two meters (six feet) or so above the ground.

The three straight lines are mechanical bridles holding the rover underneath the descent stage, while the curly cable was used to transmit the data from the cameras to Perseverance. When the rover touched down, it cut the 6.5-m-long cables, allowing the descent stage to fly away for its own safe landing.

A second color image shows one of the rover’s six wheels, with several honeycombed rocks thought to be more than 3.6 billion years old lying next to it. “One of the questions we’ll ask first is whether these rocks represent a volcanic or sedimentary origin,” said NASA deputy project scientist Katie Stack Morgan.

Volcanic rocks in particular can be dated with very high precision once the samples are brought back to Earth on a future return mission – an exciting development from a planetary science perspective. As the first images came in, “it was exhilarating, the team went wild,” said mission operations system manager Pauline Hwang. “The science team immediately started looking at all those rocks and zooming in and going, ‘What is that!’ – it couldn’t have been better.”

The first two images were released on Thursday shortly after the rover landed, but they were lower resolution and in black-and-white because of the limited data rate available. NASA hopes to have more high resolution photos and videos in the coming days, but doesn’t know yet if it has successfully recorded sound on Mars for the first time using microphones. That might be known later this weekend or early next week, said Steltzner. – AFP

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