Science & Technology

Using NASA’s Spitzer and Swift missions, as well as the Belgian AstroLAB IRIS observatory, astronomers reveal new details on one of the most mysterious stellar objects.

Called KIC 8462852, also known as Boyajian’s Star, or Tabby’s Star, the object has experienced unusual dips in brightness — NASA’s Kepler space telescope even observed dimming of up to 20 percent over a matter of days. In addition, the star has had much subtler but longer-term enigmatic dimming trends, with one continuing today. None of this behavior is expected for normal stars slightly more massive than the Sun. Speculations have included the idea that the star swallowed a planet that it is unstable, and a more imaginative theory involves a giant contraption or “megastructure” built by an advanced civilization, which could be harvesting energy from the star and causing its brightness to decrease.

A new study using NASA’s Spitzer and Swift missions, as well as the Belgian AstroLAB IRIS observatory, suggests that the cause of the dimming over long periods is likely an uneven dust cloud moving around the star. This flies in the face of the “alien megastructure” idea and the other more exotic speculations.

The smoking gun: Researchers found less dimming in the infrared light from the star than in its ultraviolet light. Any object larger than dust particles would dim all wavelengths of light equally when passing in front of Tabby’s Star.

“This pretty much rules out the alien megastructure theory, as that could not explain the wavelength-dependent dimming,” said Huan Meng, at the University of Arizona, Tucson, who is lead author of the new study published in The Astrophysical Journal. “We suspect, instead, there is a cloud of dust orbiting the star with a roughly 700-day orbital period.”

Why Dust is Likely

We experience the uniform dimming of light often in everyday life: If you go to the beach on a bright, sunny day and sit under an umbrella, the umbrella reduces the amount of sunlight hitting your eyes in all wavelengths. But if you wait for the sunset, the sun looks red because the blue and ultraviolet light is scattered away by tiny particles. The new study suggests the objects causing the long-period dimming of Tabby’s Star can be no more than a few micrometers in diameter (about one ten-thousandth of an inch).

From January to December 2016, the researchers observed Tabby’s Star in ultraviolet using Swift, and in infrared using Spitzer. Supplementing the space telescopes, researchers also observed the star in visible light during the same period using AstroLAB IRIS, a public observatory with a 27-inch-wide (68 centimeter) reflecting telescope located near the Belgian village of Zillebeke.

Based on the strong ultraviolet dip, the researchers determined the blocking particles must be bigger than interstellar dust, small grains that could be located anywhere between Earth and the star. Such small particles could not remain in orbit around the star because pressure from its starlight would drive them farther into space. Dust that orbits a star, called circumstellar dust, is not so small it would fly away, but also not big enough to uniformly block light in all wavelengths. This is currently considered the best explanation, although others are possible.

Collaboration with Amateur Astronomers

Citizen scientists have had an integral part in exploring Tabby’s Star since its discovery. Light from this object was first identified as “bizarre” and “interesting” by participants in the Planet Hunters project, which allows anyone to search for planets in the Kepler data. That led to a 2016 study formally introducing the object, which is nicknamed for Tabetha Boyajian, now at Louisiana State University, Baton Rouge, who was the lead author of the original paper and is a co-author of the new study. The recent work on long-period dimming involves amateur astronomers who provide technical and software support to AstroLAB.

Several AstroLAB team members who volunteer at the observatory have no formal astronomy education. Franky Dubois, who operated the telescope during the Tabby’s Star observations, was the foreman at a seat belt factory until his retirement. Ludwig Logie, who helps with technical issues on the telescope, is a security coordinator in the construction industry. Steve Rau, who processes observations of star brightness, is a trainer at a Belgian railway company.

Siegfried Vanaverbeke, an AstroLAB volunteer who holds a Ph.D. in physics, became interested in Tabby’s Star after reading the 2016 study, and persuaded Dubois, Logie and Rau to use Astrolab to observe it.

“I said to my colleagues: ‘This would be an interesting object to follow,'” Vanaverbeke recalled. “We decided to join in.”

University of Arizona astronomer George Rieke, a co-author on the new study, contacted the AstroLAB group when he saw their data on Tabby’s Star posted in a public astronomy archive. The U.S. and Belgium groups teamed up to combine and analyze their results.

Future Exploration

While study authors have a good idea why Tabby’s Star dims on a long-term basis, they did not address the shorter-term dimming events that happened in three-day spurts in 2017. They also did not confront the mystery of the major 20-percent dips in brightness that Kepler observed while studying the Cygnus field of its primary mission. Previous research with Spitzer and NASA’s Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer suggested a swarm of comets may be to blame for the short-period dimming. Comets are also one of the most common sources of dust that orbits stars, and so could also be related to the long-period dimming studied by Meng and colleagues.

Now that Kepler is exploring other patches of sky in its current mission, called K2, it can no longer follow up on Tabby’s Star, but future telescopes may help unveil more secrets of this mysterious object.

“Tabby’s Star could have something like a solar activity cycle. This is something that needs further investigation and will continue to interest scientists for many years to come,” Vanaverbeke said.

PDF Copy of the Study: Extinction and the Dimming of KIC 8462852

Source: Elizabeth Landau, Jet Propulsion Laboratory

A fellow parent tagged me on a great Facebook thread the other day. Her query echoed a question parents frequently ask me: What do you do when other people’s rules for their kids are different, especially when your kids and their kids are playing on the same digital playground?

“I am getting tired of my sixth-grader (11-year-old) asking for a Snapchat account. She claims all her friends have had one for at least a year or more, and feels embarrassed to tell them she isn’t allowed to when they ask. According to her, and based on the number of her friends with multiple social media accounts, it is the norm in this community to allow middle-school age kids to have Snapchat and other social accounts despite that it is supposed to be restricted from those under the age of 13. Am I being overprotective? Is my daughter really the only one without Snapchat? How do other parents feel about this?”

When it comes to technology and kids, other parents can complicate things. Even if you feel like you’re in control of what happens in your home, the parents of your child’s peers will undoubtedly come into play.

What do you do when other parents have different technology rules for their children?

How many times have you heard, “But all my friends have iPhones!” Or, “Gabe’s mom lets him use Snapchat — why can’t I?” We may have perceived our own parents to be strict or lenient relative to others. What time was your curfew? Were you allowed to have friends over — or to visit their houses unsupervised?

The difference now is that there’s more of a range of opinions and values when it comes to the issues that technology adds to the traditional challenges of parenting. Much of kids’ digital world is about social connections, so the perception of being left out can be heightened in relation to participating in group texting, online games and social media.

What do we do when the parents of our kids’ friends have different rules? How do we manage this in a practical, unemotional way?

Remove judgment: I work with families, and I see how hard it is for parents to talk to other parents about their experiences. There is a lot of judgment and negativity — both internal and external. Doubt creeps in: “Am I doing the right thing?” We are also quick to condemn: “I would never allow that for my kids.” Everyone wants to do right by their kids, and everyone has different values. Start with a little empathy. Try to see it from another parent’s perspective — maybe you will change your view. Regardless, it will help you to understand their choices and to manage the effect it has on your kids.

Communicate openly: If everyone strives for open communication about parenting and technology, and takes a community-oriented approach when we are concerned about children’s behaviour, we’ll all benefit. Most parents are happy to share their experiences. Parenting is difficult, and it’s good to find someone who can relate. It can be reassuring to talk to other parents who have handled a similar situation in a similar way. Take it as your responsibility to start the conversation.

Ditch the guilt: Learn from what other parents are doing, but don’t let the comparison make you feel guilty. I’ve seen shame surface in parents because they think that everyone’s ahead of, or doing better than, them. We each have our own parenting styles. It helps to see what others are doing to establish a frame of reference. But make sure that you are not succumbing to the negative side of comparison. Yes, we all make parenting mistakes — but guilt rarely helps.



Make confident decisions: Your values are your values. Just as you try not to judge other parents, you should also feel free from incoming judgment. You are a savvy parent with lots of life experiences, and you do what’s right for your family. So feel confident about your choices, and don’t let them be driven by others. As much as you can, don’t let others take these important decisions out of your hands. You are strong and in control — even if it doesn’t seem that way sometimes!

Set “trust milestones”: If your child is claiming to be the last among her peers not to have a cell phone or another device, you can strategise with her about other ways to maintain contact with her friends. Make it clear when you expect her to get a phone and under what conditions. For instance, maybe there’s a “trust milestone” for her to achieve before you’ll grant permission, such as contributing financially to the monthly plan, or adhering to certain rules about its use.

Create a community: Part of being a tech-positive parent is reaching out to others who are thoughtfully engaging in these questions. Find the parents who see themselves as tech-mentors. Is there a mom or dad who knows a lot about Minecraft who can help you set up your personal server? Is there someone at work who feels confident about social media and can coach you on privacy settings so you feel more confident about what your children are sharing (or not sharing) with the world?

How to build your “village”

Dealing with the decisions of other parents can be difficult. We can try to find a more compatible social circle, but our kids choose their friends and we don’t have much control over it. With each new friend come new parents, and new rules that are sure to influence your family.

I look at everything through the lens of mentorship. We are better parents, teachers and community leaders when we mentor our kids. When we teach them to make good decisions, we are empowering them. We need to be good mentors to each other, as well. Take this on. Make the first move. Be the mentor in your community.

Start with one subject that you know really well. Raise a question around the issue. Listen to the comments. Respond thoughtfully. Opening a discussion is the first step.

Use email, a Google group, or a Facebook group, all of which are easy to set up and free. They also allow people to meet virtually and asynchronously, without the hassle of scheduling in-person meetings. Talking face-to-face is valuable, but it can feel like a luxury in our action-packed lives.

There are times when you will wish you could move your kids to another community (or that the parents whose rules you like the least would move far away). Establishing an intentional community can help you feel more empowered around what happens with you and your kids in their digital world, even when the “village” is not making things simple.

Devorah Heitner is the founder of Raising Digital Natives and the author of “Screenwise: Helping Kids Thrive (and Survive) in Their Digital World,” a guide for mentoring digital kids. Her curriculum for grades four to eight is called Connecting Wisely in the Digital Age. She is delighted to be raising her own digital native.

By arrangement with The Washington Post

KUWAIT: Where is the Pokemon? Where is it hiding? How can I catch it? These are questions that are raised by users of the newly-launched Pokemon Go game which has taken the world by storm. The wildly popular mobile app, which is based on a 1990s Nintendo game, has created a global frenzy as players roam the real world looking for virtual cartoon monsters.

The smartphone game, which lets the user hunt virtual creatures called Pokemon in real life via an augmented reality platform, has already dominated download charts in the US and Australia and, drove a lot of young people crazy trying to hunt down these pocket monsters.

Pokemon are spotted in the wild, and are generated based on their geographical habitat. For example, if the Pokemon is a water type, it would be found by the sea. If its type was rock or ground, it would be found near deserts, while grass-type Pokemon are often common in parks or green areas.

People capture the Pokemon and gain experience points to reach higher levels. They have an option of joining one of three teams in the game, which allow the player to conquer gyms that are placed randomly in the environment and compete with other teams.

Pokemon Go is a free-to-play location-based augmented reality mobile game which is developed by Niantic and was released in July 2016 for iOS and Android devices. There are about 9.55 million active users in the US only. Thus it has overcome the active users of twitter and is expected to outgrow every social media.

And if you insist on playing the game, there are many guidelines that you may need to consider while playing including making sure you are wearing appropriate footwear, sneakers or walking shoes that are ideal, ditch the cotton socks as cotton absorbs moisture and get sun protection.

Among the most important tips while using the smart game is to use sunglasses to protect your eyes from UV rays. While the Pokemon players are out hunting for the creatures, they are advised to keep drinking water, particularly during summer, as it is easy to get dehydrated, doing blister patrol, reapplying sunscreen and remaining aware of the surroundings.

No go
In Kuwait, the country has said ‘no’ to Pokemon Go in certain places. The Interior Ministry issued a statement warning users of the smash mobile phone application from taking pictures of any vital government, military or security location. It also warned users not to chase pocket monsters at mosques, shopping centers, malls and oil installations. Interior Ministry’s Undersecretary Lt Gen Suleiman Al-Fahad has warned that there will be no excuses for anyone claiming ignorance of the law.

Kuwait’s Ministry of Communications has also warned smartphone users against downloading popular smartphone game Pokemon Go. Assistant Undersecretary Hamad Al-Qattan said the ministry was discussing ‘means of protection’ from such games with the Communications and Information Technology Authority.

He added that games like Pokemon Go may cause harm to its users in particular and society in general. He pointed out that users of the app might be in danger of potential road accidents if they use the app while driving or crossing roads.

Media Professor at Kuwait University Dr Khaled Al-Qahs said while commenting on the new trend from a media perspective that this game resembles other games that emerge every now and then, expecting the heavy demand on it would diminish with time.

He added that the game has been exploited for a commercial reason and has also conquered the virtual world, saying that the game would have never been given such popularity if the social media outlets did not constitute as an incubator for it.

From a social perspective, Kuwait University’s Sociology Professor Dr Saud Abdulaziz Al-Ghanem argued that once the Pokemon game user starts playing the game, he or she separates from his or her real world and indulges into the virtual world. “He starts running after a picture that only appears on his or her mobile screen, thus, becoming unable to take decisive decisions or actions because of his or her indulgence into the virtual world of the Pokemon,” he said.

Social isolation
Asked about the social dangers that may arise as a result of the game, Dr Saud pointed out that the game users may suffer social isolation for being attached to the game rather than the real world and for searching for virtual creatures which vary in shape and colors, thus, forcing the game users to escape the real world and indulge into the virtual world instead.

However, with the temperature in Kuwait exceeding 50 C degrees in the shade, will the game still be attractive and fascinating to its fans? Young people are seen roaming the streets, mosques, malls and at the sea searching for the little creatures, a matter that can cause unwanted harms.

Though Pokemon Go has not officially come to nations in the Arabian Gulf, many have downloaded the app. Authorities in the United Arab Emirates also have warned users to be careful while chasing digital critters in the augmented reality game.

The game requires the phone to transmit its location via GPS and uses its camera, a matter that prompted the UAE’s Telecommunications Regulatory Authority to warn that the game violates privacy and could lead ‘criminals’ to spread viruses.

Lastly, the Pokemon Go game has really turned the virtual world upside down with millions of people around the world becoming addicted to this game, whereas there are thousands of virtual games which have not got this popularity. – KUNA

So I may have run inside the men's restroom today. No, it wasn't like the ladies' room was full and I had an emergency. But I had to go in there... to catch a Pokemon. Because I wanna be the very best, like no one ever was.

Such is the dilemma faced by Pokémon Go players around the world, and now, in Pakistan.

For those who don't know about Pokémon (because you've been sleeping under a rock for the past two decades), Pokémon, short for Pocket Monsters, is a Nintendo franchise that started out as a video game in 1996 and became a popular TV series that shows a world where these creatures live. The players act as 'trainers'; they have to catch the Pokémon and train them for battles against other trainers.

With the launch of Pokémon GO, old and new Pokémon fans like myself are happy because to catch them is my real test, to train them is my cause. We get to finally travel across the land, searching far and wide (okay okay, I'll stop! But admit it, you were singing it too) - and that too literally!


The free-to-play augmented reality game actually has you getting off your seats and running around finding Pokémon. The game transforms your current environment into a fantastical world inhabited by Pokémon. How? It accesses your camera and GPS to place its animated figures in your space.

You're the trainer and your phone is like the glasses that lets you see nearby Pokemon.

I had to have this. I just had to. I grew up on Pokemon! I've played most of the Pokémon games out there, from cards to video games, but this one's different. The draw of Pokémon Go is that it gets me up and moving around, not just sitting in one place with a joypad. Who'd have thought that all you needed to be a Pokemon trainer was a good internet connection and GPS.

Twenty minutes in, I was hooked


The game is simple in terms of gameplay; your phone shows you if there is a Pokemon nearby and you have to go to that location, and your trainer character moves as you do. Once you locate a Pokémon, you try to catch it by throwing a Poké ball with the flick of your finger. The more Pokémon you catch, the larger your collection and the more you level up as a trainer. You can train your Pokémon, have them battle for you and even trade it with other trainers.

Pokémon Go has not officially been launched in Pakistan, but that's only the first of the challenges of playing the game here.

Here's a little news flash. This is Karachi. Not really the most walking-with-your-phone-out friendly place in the world. And since it is augmented reality, your GPS uses landmarks and turns them into Pokestops (where you replenish your weapons, i.e., Poké balls) and gyms (where you train).

Can you guess these locations?


Do you know where the nearest pokestop to my place is? A masjid. Yeap. So far, it's either mosques or roundabouts. Considering the security issue, I highly doubt people will be roaming around chowrangis in order to replenish their stock... because... there will be people with guns looking forward to replenish their stock... I did find a way though, just drive by pokestops very slowly.

Another frustration of playing the game in Pakistan? People don't understand why the heck you want to dart into their personal spaces with your phone out. I had a friend begging the manager of a restaurant to let him in the kitchen because there was a Snorlax in there. Another almost went inside Imam Barah because it was showing as a pokestop.

The app also tracks how far you've walked for some tasks, like hatching an egg. That seems rather problematic. A number of female players are annoyed as they have no place to walk around or go out to. I had found a Machamp within my apartments and asked Dad if he wanted to walk with me. He was amused but raised a good question, "What about those kids who don't live in apartment complexes?"

Well, they did warn us...


Even for guys, let's be honest, no roundabout is secure enough to have your phone out. A number of things can go wrong from mobile snatchers to security at a VIP movement thinking you're up to something. When a friend joked 'good thing jaywalking isn't an issue here,' it genuinely made me concerned about the risk of kids running across the street carelessly. No Charmander is worth running around Boat Basin, people!

But Pokemon Go also has its own charm of playing it in Pakistan. I have friends traveling to Seaview to find water-based Pokemon (GPS does that too, the Pokemon you find will vary with your location) and a park near a cousin's place is a 'gym' so he has been very social with his friends and family because we all need to train there.

I made a trip to the mall and noticed many kids running around staring at their phones and, knowing what they were up to, I asked them why they came there. More than half said they decided to accompany their family's shopping trip. Good job Pokemon, you're bonding families together!

Once the app officially launches here, I'm sure there will be better locations selected. There is also the issue of proper internet connection because sometimes you'll be on a Pokemon's heels and the glitch will have it get away.

The game needs some work in terms of glitches and more gameplay, but it is an amazing experience. My colleagues definitely got a kick out of me running around the office chasing after a Growleth. I don't mind... I know it's my destiny! Yes... I had to...

Overall, I think it's fun and definitely a unique experience. Nintendo definitely found a way to get some exercise into our routines and I can't wait for the official launch 'cause I gotta catch 'em all!

SAN FRANCISCO: Microsoft’s new Windows 10 operating system debuts today, as the longtime leader in PC software struggles to carve out a new role in a world where people increasingly rely on smartphones, tablets and information stored online. No one’s expected to line up overnight for Windows 10, the way people did 20 years ago for Windows 95. But Microsoft is counting on tens or even hundreds of millions of people to download its latest release for free in the coming months. The launch will be accompanied by a global marketing campaign for an event the company hopes will be pivotal – both for its own future and for a vast audience of computer users around the world. Windows 10 is coming to PCs and tablets first, but it’s also designed to run phones, game consoles and even holographic headsets. It has new features, a streamlined Web browser called Edge and a desktop version of Cortana, the online assistant that is Microsoft’s answer to Google Now and Apple’s Siri. Still, the company insists Windows 10 will seem familiar to users of Windows 7, the sixyear- old operating system still running on most PCs. Microsoft and PC makers want to erase the memory of the last big update, 2012’s Windows 8, which alienated many with its jarring, unwieldy design. Microsoft skipped the name Windows 9, as if to distance itself further from the last release. While many analysts believe Windows 8 made sagging PC sales even worse, it’s unclear if Windows 10 will spur the industry back to growth. Here is a look at the launch and why it matters.

What happens this week? Microsoft plans promotional events in several cities today, tied to a global ad campaign and a series of charitable donations. About 5 million people who enrolled in an earlier test program will be able to download Windows 10 right away. The company is also offering Windows 10 as a free download, any time over the next year, to anyone who has the Home or Pro versions of Windows 7 or 8 (but not the Enterprise versions used by big organizations). Some may not get it the first day; Microsoft says it will deliver downloads in waves, to ensure things go smoothly, but it hasn’t said how long that will take. Retailers such as Best Buy, Staples and Wal-Mart will have some desktops and laptops with Windows 10 already installed. More models are coming.

Why is Microsoft giving Windows 10 for free? The company wants to get the new software on as many devices as possible. Microsoft needs a large pool of users to convince independent programmers that it’s worth their time to build useful or entertaining apps for Windows 10 devices. Executives also believe that if people are exposed to the latest and best Windows, they’re more likely to try other Microsoft products on PCs and mobile devices. CEO Satya Nadella says he wants to have 1 billion devices running Windows 10 in three years. Microsoft estimates there are 1.5 billion people who currently use some kind of Windows. Rather than charging them to upgrade, as Microsoft used to do, it’s embracing the free download model pioneered by Apple and Google.

How will Microsoft make money? Microsoft will still collect licensing fees from PC makers that install Windows 10 on new machines. In recent years, most consumers have waited until they bought a new computer to get the latest Windows. Microsoft also makes money from selling Windows and other software to large businesses and organizations. In addition, Microsoft is counting on Windows 10 to spur more use of other services. Microsoft makes money from selling advertising for its Bing search engine, and Windows 10 comes with many apps that steer people to Bing. The company also collects fees from people who use premium versions of its Office software, OneDrive cloud storage and Skype.

Why does this matter to consumers? Microsoft says Windows 10 is designed for the way people use computers today – with a faster Web browser and features that make it easier to start tasks on a PC and then switch to a hand-held device. (Apple and Google tout similar features in their software.) Windows 10 also lets users log in with their face, iris or thumbprint, instead of remembering passwords, though this works only with computers equipped with the right hardware. Most PC users are still working with Windows 7, thanks to Windows 8’s unpopularity. But Microsoft plans to phase out maintenance and security support for Windows 7 over the next five years, and for Windows 8 by 2023, as it did with the older Windows XP. Still, there’s no need to panic about upgrading right away.

Why is it important to the tech industry? The growth in mobile devices has caused PC sales to decline for more than three years, hurting manufacturers like Hewlett-Packard and companies like Microsoft and Intel, whose products are used with PCs. Windows 10 won’t make people give up their hand-held gadgets, but it’s part of Nadella’s strategy to reposition Microsoft for a world where people use multiple devices. PC makers are hoping he succeeds. Jeff Barney, who runs Toshiba’s consumer PC business, said the new software is easier to use than Windows 8 and will complement hardware advances in Toshiba’s newest machines. Although Barney isn’t expecting a big rush to stores today, “over time, I think we’re going to see a positive trend in sales.” — AP

Facebook has scrapped its previously unknown plans to build a satellite, according to a report by Amir Efrati in The Information.

The satellite, had it been built, could have cost an estimated $500 million. The plan was to use it to help provide cheap internet access in the developing world. But this pricetag was apparently prohibitive, and the scheme has since been abandoned — before it was ever even announced.

Facebook has been exploring ways expanding internet access — and along with it, access to its products — in emerging markets. One of the key ways is, a Facebook-led initiative involving multiple companies to subsidise data costs in certain countries.

But not all of Facebook's efforts in the area are related to For example, it announced Facebook Lite last week, an ultra-lightweight Android app designed to make the social network easier to access on low bandwidth connections. That had nothing to do

Similarly, while Mark Zuckerberg had openly discussed using satellites to help with, this new, cancelled scheme was apparently unrelated.

The Information's report, based on "a person with direct knowledge of the project and a person briefed about it," says it would have been a geostationary satellite that could have helped provide internet access to dozens of countries. Instead, it may now lease a satellite off another provider, if it does decide to push ahead with its plans.

Facebook's plans to bring internet access to the emerging markets have the potential to positively transform the countries targeted — but there's also a direct financial incentive for the social networking giant. By providing the tools required to access the web, it can ensure it has first access to previously untapped markets of billions of people.

BEIJING: A pilot said yesterday that he is anxious but excited about flying a solar plane solo from China to Hawaii on the longest leg of the first attempt to fly around the world without a drop of fuel. AndrÈ Borschberg, 62, is due to fly over the Pacific Ocean for five days and five nights in the plane that has more than 17,000 solar cells on its wings to power its motors and recharge its batteries for nighttime flying.

The Solar Impulse 2 set off from Abu Dhabi in March and has stopped in Oman, India and Myanmar. Borschberg and another Swiss pilot, Bertrand Piccard, are taking turns flying the single- seater Swiss plane during a five-month journey to promote renewable energy use. The 8,175-kilometer flight from Nanjing in eastern China to Hawaii - which may take off Thursday, depending on weather - is the seventh of 12 flights. None of the previous legs were more than 20 hours - compared with an estimated flight time of 120 hours to Hawaii. “It’s the most challenging, yes, in the sense that we never flew over the oceans,” Borschberg said in a phone interview from Nanjing. “There are of course also question marks with the type of airplane we have, is it capable to fly solo with this type of energy, and of course the challenge is on the pilot side as well ... can I stay alert for this leg and be able to pilot this airplane, can I keep my energy at the right level, can I keep my spirits, my mindset to get this airplane to Hawaii.”

Cockpit’s changing seasons
The aircraft will climb to the altitude of Mount Everest, almost 9,000 meters during the day to get more sunlight, recharge the batteries and store more energy. At nighttime, the plane will fly lower, at a minimum of 1,000 meters The pilot will experience temperatures ranging from 35 degrees Celsius (in the morning to minus 20 degrees Celsius early in the evening while the plane is still high up. “It’s winter and summer every day in the cockpit,” said Borschberg, who flew military jets for 25 years as a reserve pilot in the Swiss army and is an entrepreneur by profession. He plans to take periods of rest of 20 minutes up to eight times a day, but said he doesn’t know if the weather or turbulence will let him. Borschberg said the plane has a “virtual co-pilot” that is a stabilization tool.

It will sound an alarm to wake him if the aircraft does something unplanned. The cockpit is too small to stand in, although the seat can recline into a horizontal position to allow him to lie down and practice yoga. He also plans to use breathing techniques and meditation to help him through the long journey. He said that when flying, he focuses on how he feels as well as the situation in the air, so that the journey wasn’t just about exploring how to cross the Pacific using solar energy. “You don’t have the pressure of time so with this airplane you can really live the present moment,” he said. “It’s almost an inner voyage, at the end it’s not so much exploring the Pacific ... it’s also exploring myself.” The Si2 aircraft has a wingspan of 72 meters, spanning larger than a Boeing 747 jumbo jet. At about 2,300 kilograms, the Si2 weighs about as much as a minivan or mid-sized truck. After Hawaii, the plane is slated to stop in Phoenix and New York before flying over the Atlantic Ocean. It will then stop either in southern Europe or North Africa, depending on weather conditions. —AP

Go to top