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Colin Devroe

Reverse Engineer. Blogger.

August’s kilonova in NGC 4993

Robert Naeye for Astronomy magazine, on the instrumentation that detected a 130M year-old kilonova:

The LIGO and Virgo instruments detected a crescendo of waves for a whopping 100 seconds — much longer than previous detections. The duration, amplitude, and frequency of the waves had all the characteristics that theorists have expected for a binary system consisting of two neutron stars on a death spiral ending with coalescence.

I haven’t written too much about this event yet. Mostly because I’ve been devouring as much information about it as I’ve been able to find time for.

The series of events that led to the construction of LIGO and Virgo are incredible enough on their own. The subsequent series of events leading to the direct observation of a kilonova are downright unbelievable.

Naeye’s piece is great and goes into detail. But it merely scratches the surface. I urge you to pour over this event on your own to see how astounding this observation really was.

A technology predication time capsule

Readers of my blog will know that I occasionally attempt to predict when certain technologies that I write about will hit the mainstream. While I’m very passionate about a few technologies, I try to temper that excitement with the experiences I’ve had, the wisdom that comes with age, and other factors. Usually, things take a little longer to happen than we’d like for the things we want to see most. And sometimes, sometimes, the things we want most never materialize at all.

For the purposes of this post, mainstream doesn’t mean critical mass but rather mass market adoption. With 7B+ people on the planet reaching critical mass is far easier than reaching mass market saturation. In other words, a company, product, or technology can reach sustainability and never truly hit the mass market. Examples: Tesla can succeed, be profitable, and have happy customers without the world moving on from fossil fuels. A company focusing on AI can make great livings, do compelling and challenging work, without every family having their own personal C-3PO.

Here are some stake-in-the-ground predictions on some of the most talked about technologies of our day. We’ll see in the next few decades if I was even close.

  • Legal, fully autonomous driving with no human assistance: Mid-summer 2026 – Even 9 years out there will still only be a few select vehicles that will fit into this category. There will still be humans driving on the road. And, only the most expensive cars will have all of these features. But, it will exist, be available to anyone, and be legal in the US. And I also believe there will be small fleets running in select cities for Lyft, Uber, and I believe Tesla will have a ride-share platform by this point. Also, don’t be surprised if Apple does too.
  • Bitcoin, or some crypto-currency, being widely transacted at small retail stores in the US: 2027 – If Square, or some other platform with high market saturation, turns on crypto for retail SMBs then we can say they accept this form of tender. But, I believe it will be 10 years before we see a decent number of daily transactions by consumers. I know, “decent” is relative so I’ll give it a number: $100,000,000 US dollar equivalent in a single month. This is roughly 25% of US monthly retail revenue as of September 2017. Side note: By this time we’ll see talk of the US dollar being converted to an all digital currency and, perhaps, transacted on its own blockchain.
  • Mixed Reality experiences used in everyday work environments: 2027 – Today we share links to web sites, documents on Google Drive, and flat or animated graphics to design and develop both soft and physical products. By 2025 many of these every day things will be accessible and even better experience within MR. I believe most businesses with digital assets will have multiple pairs of “glasses” or “goggles” that will allow team members to view or collaborate on these types of data. In other words, by 2030 rather than sending a child a link to Wikipedia to learn about our Solar System I believe we’ll be sending them MR experiences that they will consume using an augmented reality experience on a device other than a flat panel display. This happens today. But no where near mass market. And this industry has a long way to go. Even further than I previously thought.
  • Wireless internet takes over all cable based internet: 2029 – Most people in the US will connect to the Internet via wireless across all devices. And there will be no limitation on bandwidth usage.
  • Fully autonomous fleets replace individual car ownership: 2037 – Today US cities are plagued by traffic jams comprised of single occupant vehicles. Mass transit softens this but doesn’t solve the issue due to the convenience of a car. Ride sharing services have softened this even more and car ownership in urban areas is on the decline. By 2037 we’ll see massive reduction in individual car ownership in cities but also in the hinterlands as fleets of fully autonomous vehicles, combined with better mass transit, can care for the majority of transportation needs. I believe, however, families with at least 2 children will still have a single family-owned vehicle of some sort. Again, I’d like to put a number on this. So I’d say 15-25% less car ownership/use for individuals and commuters nationwide.
  • Mixed Reality replacing many conventional meat space locations/activities: 2050 – By 2050 the majority of children in the US will have the option to attend school in VR ala Ready Player One. Virtual classrooms will no longer be limited by federal budgets but will be designed to appear like cathedrals of learning.
  • (Because, why not?) An off-planet human civilization: 2175 – Humans will walk on Mars in the 2020s. And, perhaps, a small moon or Mars base will exist in similar fashion to today’s ISS in the 2030s. But a civilization, where people live, work, play, have children, and die peacefully etc. won’t exist on any other planet or moon (likely the Moon will have an established civilization prior to Mars). The reason I put this far-reaching prediction on this list is because I believe the excitement around a human footprint on Mars will lead to speculation about off-planet civilizations. But, we must all remember, we put a footprint on the Moon many, many decades ago and then just never went back. I do think that we’ll be mining objects near Earth much, much sooner. Even the Moon. But we’ll do that with robots and minimal human intervention.
  • Tweet editing – Never.

Check back in a few decades to see if I was even close.

ESO observes kilonovae

European Southern Observatory:

ESO’s fleet of telescopes in Chile have detected the first visible counterpart to a gravitational wave source. These historic observations suggest that this unique object is the result of the merger of two neutron stars. The cataclysmic aftermaths of this kind of merger — long-predicted events called kilonovae — disperse heavy elements such as gold and platinum throughout the Universe. This discovery, published in several papers in the journal Nature and elsewhere, also provides the strongest evidence yet that short-duration gamma-ray bursts are caused by mergers of neutron stars.

Just two neutron stars makin’ it rain.

What an incredible observation. Well done ESO.

Update: Here is the timelapse.

Kip Thorne wins the Nobel

Nobel Media AB:

On 14 September 2015, the universe’s gravitational waves were observed for the very first time. The waves, which were predicted by Albert Einstein a hundred years ago, came from a collision between two black holes. It took 1.3 billion years for the waves to arrive at the LIGO detector in the USA.

A prize 1.3 billion (the gravitational waves), and over 100 years (Einstein’s theory), and 40 years (LIGO) in the making.

Rainer Weiss is the primary prize winner while Kip and Barry C. Barish jointly share the other half. Congratulations to all.

Cassini dies tomorrow

Lee Billings for Scientific American:

All good things must come to an end.

For NASA’s Cassini orbiter—its fuel dwindling after 13 years exploring Saturn, along with the planet’s sprawling rings and dozens of icy moons—the end will come Friday at 7:55 A.M. Eastern time. That’s when mission planners project radio communications will be lost with the two-ton, bus-size spacecraft as it plunges into the giant planet’s turbulent atmosphere at more than 122,000 kilometers per hour.

What a legacy.

Repost: Emily Lakdawalla on Voyager’s 40th Anniversary

👉 Emily Lakdawalla on The Planetary Society blog:

The fact that both Voyager spacecraft are still functioning and doing science, 40 years after their launches, is reason for optimism. We can build robust, adaptable machines capable of surviving unpredicted storms and responding to new discoveries. We can build them, launch them, and stably operate them for four decades, and more. Can we now turn those skills homeward, to building an adaptable and sustainable society? Who knew that rocket science would be the easy part?

 

Florence’s two moons

Center for NEO Studies PR on Astronomy Now:

Radar images of asteroid 3122 Florence obtained at the 70-metre antenna at NASA’s Goldstone Deep Space Communications Complex between August 29 and September 1 have revealed that the asteroid has two small moons, and also confirmed that main asteroid Florence is about 4.5 km (2.8 miles) in size. Florence is only the third triple asteroid known in the near-Earth population out of more than 16,400 that have been discovered to date. All three near-Earth asteroid triples have been discovered with radar observations and Florence is the first seen since two moons were discovered around asteroid 1994 CC in June 2009.

Imagine being able to spot two gnats zipping around a common housefly at 100 yards. We can do this routinely now in inner-space.

While I’m not anxious to see many large NEOs like Florence coming within only a few AUs of Earth, I do love the observations we get to see. Some of the images are pretty crisp.

Voyager’s 40th Anniversary

East coasters keep your lunchtime open on Tuesday as NASA is celebrating Voyager’s 40th Anniversary. Check out this description from APOD:

Launched in 1977 on a tour of the outer planets of the Solar System, Voyager 1 and 2 have become the longest operating and most distant spacecraft from Earth. Nearly 16 light-hours from the Sun, Voyager 2 has reached the edge of the heliosphere, the realm defined by the influence of the solar wind and the Sun’s magnetic field. Now humanity’s first ambassador to the Milky Way, Voyager 1 is over 19 light-hours away, beyond the heliosphere in interstellar space. Celebrate the Voyagers’ 40 year journey toward the stars with NASA on September 5.

Interstellar space. So cool.

I look at this achievement a number of ways. I laud the fact that this spacecraft was built over 40 years ago (as was its software) and it is out there still humming along. I’m awed at the distance it has traveled and how far out it currently is. However, I also think that 19-light hours is less “time” than it took me yesterday to get back from the Pacific coast in Mexico via bus, airplanes, and car.

In the future 19-light hours may very well seem like next door. I really hope so.

You know where I’ll be on Tuesday during lunch. Chewing on a sandwich and watching NASA TV.

Slingshot around the moon, for two

SpaceX:

We are excited to announce that SpaceX has been approached to fly two private citizens on a trip around the moon late next year.

That sentence makes me immeasurably happy.

For most of my life I’ve been very disappointed in the human race’s collective efforts to explore space. I wasn’t even alive when the last manned mission to another object in space happened.

However, over the last several years we’ve seen a barrage of successful missions by every country’s space programs and also by private companies. We’ve been exploring distant objects like Pluto, nearer objects like comets, and in-between enormous objects like Jupiter. Oh, and we’ve been driving on Mars every day for years. To top it off we’re now routinely sending objects into orbit around the earth and landing back on the ground. It is a very, very exciting time.

It isn’t too late. We can catch up from the last few decades in a hurry and I’m really happy that two brave and obviously wealthy human beings are willing to push us all forward. All the best to them. Have a great trip.

TRAPPIST-1

The following two sentences encapsulate an incredible feat in the advancement of human discovery:

TRAPPIST-1 is a planetary system, located 12 parsecs away from the Solar system (39 light years), near the ecliptic, within the constellation of Aquarius. Around a star which is 12 times less massive than the Sun and only slightly larger than Jupiter, there are at least seven planets in orbit.

This system has its own domain name; trappist.one — see also, the New York Times, and the paper in Nature.

We live in amazing times.

Information water torture

Emily Lakdawalla, on taking a writing sabbatical:

I feel less and less satisfied doing rushed news-update-style reporting, and am more interested in spending more time to explain science or engineering in depth, in articles that will be useful over time, not just this week. (I am really enjoying writing the book, when I can find time to do it!) I also want to do more work to develop resources to help people get into the art and science of space image processing, building resources that will have value for people for years to come.

Social media is beginning to feel like information water torture. I find it both useful and draining. And it has certainly gotten worse in the last few months with every thing I see being thin, fluff, possibly fake, or hate. I’m wearing out.

It is an important time in this information age. Tools need to become better. But, more importantly, we need to become better curators of our own information intake.

I applaud Emily for stepping back, focusing on her book, and also taking that time to reflect on how she can bring even greater value when she returns. (By the way, she has already brought immense value to the community. I am really looking forward to her book and return.)

Blue Origin’s New Shepard lands again

This video is absolutely mind-blowing. Everything about this was science fiction a few years ago. In fact, the video looks fake while you watch it because you can’t believe this is happening on Earth. And now with some regularity.

Watching this video makes me think that I’ll be alive when people (perhaps even with their kids) will take off, orbit the Earth a few times, and land as a recreational pastime. Decades after that, who knows? Dinner on a restaurant in orbit? Miners working for weeks or months at a time on the moon? Vacations to Mons Huygens?

/via Jeff Bezos on Twitter.