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NASA announces new 8-year voyage to Titan to look for evidence of life
by Paul Hill
NASA has announced that it plans to launch a new robotic lander, dubbed Dragonfly, to Titan, one of Saturn’s moons, in 2026. The lander will be quite different from rovers that have been sent to Mars in that it’s a multi-rotor vehicle meaning that it will take off and land at various sites around the moon world.
After the mission arrives at Titan in 2034 the rotorcraft will go to dozens of sites, carrying its entire science payload, to find out several things. It’ll teach us more about the atmosphere, surface, and subsurface levels of the moon, it’ll investigate how far prebiotic chemistry may have developed, and it’ll search for chemical evidence of past or existing life - if there is any.
Discussing the mission, NASA Administrator, Jim Bridenstine, said:
Scientists believe that Titan is an interesting place to look for life in the universe because of its similarity to the very early Earth. It’s atmosphere is nitrogen-based similar to Earth, but unlike Earth, Titan has clouds and rain of methane. That rain, coupled with the wind that’s present on the satellite helps to create surfaces that are similar to those found on Earth such as dunes, rivers, lakes, seas, and deltas - there are even seasonal weather patterns.
Dragonfly is the fourth mission in the New Frontiers program. Mission #1 was the New Horizons mission which snapped the first pictures of Pluto in 2015, the second mission saw Juno travel to Jupiter making it the first solar-powered spacecraft to explore an outer planet, and the third mission was OSIRIS-REx which is set to return an asteroid sample back to Earth in September 2023.
By Usama Jawad96
European Union gives Apple the green light for Shazam acquisition
by Usama Jawad
Back in December 2017, a report claimed that Apple was in the process of acquiring the music discovery app, Shazam. A couple of days after these rumors began, the Cupertino tech giant confirmed the report itself, saying that the deal was worth $400 million, substantially less than the last valuation of Shazam, which put it at $1 billion.
In February 2018, the European Commission announced that it would probe the deal, a process which it has now completed, giving Apple the go-ahead for the acquisition.
As reported by Reuters, the transaction has been approved by the European Union. EU competition commissioner, Margrethe Vestager, had the following to say regarding the acquisition:
One of the primary reasons for the purchase was that it would improve Apple’s streaming service and make it more, and perhaps unfairly, competitive against services like Spotify, the industry leader in the music streaming sector. It previously suggested that Apple could change the service to stop giving referrals to rivals of Apple Music, which could damage their businesses. There's no word yet on when Apple will finalize the deal, but it will probably happen soon, considering that the EU probe was the last major obstacle in the transaction.
By Hamza Jawad
Uber executive resigns in the wake of racial discrimination investigation
by Hamza Jawad
In an email to staff yesterday, Uber's Chief People Officer, Liane Hornsey announced her resignation from the company. This resignation comes shortly after an investigation regarding allegations against Hornsey that claim she systematically dismissed complaints of racial discrimination within the firm.
Hornsey has been the head of the company's HR department for the past 18 months, and has spoken many times on diversity and discrimination issues. An email sent by Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi to the staff regarding this matter, obtained by TechCrunch, interestingly does not mention any specific reason for her resignation. Commenting on her departure, Khosrowshahi notes:
Although Hornsey herself acknowledged in a separate email to the staff that her decision "comes a little out of the blue", she insists it had been on her mind for a while.
An anonymous group of employees that claims to be of color alleged that Hornsey made discriminatory remarks against Bernard Coleman, Global Head of Diversity and Inclusion at Uber. They further went on to say that the company's former Chief Brand Officer, Bozoma Saint John, was threatened by her and ultimately became the reason she left last month. Regarding the latest investigation, the group claimed that filed complaints - especially ones that dealt with racial issues - were often dismissed or left unresolved. It also accused the company of ignoring a board-approved recommendation that required the Chief Diversity Officer to report directly to the CEO or COO.
It is important to note that some of the allegations made in the past months were substantiated by law firm Gibson Dunn in May, although it is not clear which. In an email written to Khosrowshahi, obtained by Reuters, the investigators mentioned "several options to address concerns regarding Ms. Hornsey".
Uber has been involved in sexual harassment and gender discrimination investigations in the past as well. Notably, the company decided to pay $10 million last year to settle a class-action law suit involving over 400 women and minorities. According to the firm's first diversity report under Khosrowshahi, black representation has gone down a bit, although the percentage of women in employment has increased by about two percent.
In a statement issued regarding the matter, Uber has expressed its confidence in the latest complaints having been thoroughly investigated and addressed accordingly.
This week in science: Gravitational anomaly on Earth, flyover of Pluto and Charon, and more
by Gabriel Nunes
This week in science is a review of the most interesting scientific news of the past week.
A gravitational anomaly on Earth
Symmetries are important tools for Physicists, particularly since Emmy Noether proved it is always related to a conservation law. For example, the conservation of energy can be considered a consequence of time symmetry, or the invariance of a system under time translations. But sometimes Nature breaks some of its symmetries, a phenomenon physicists call an anomaly.
One example is when the laws of quantum mechanics break a symmetry existent in classical, or Newtonian, mechanics. Until now, such anomalies were seen only in the world of elementary particles, for example in the experiments made at the Large Hadron Collider (LHC). But an international team of physicists, material scientists, and string theoreticians has observed a gravitational anomaly in addition to a quantum anomaly in a new type of materials called Weyl semimetals, which look like 3D graphene.
Electrons in a Weyl semimetal behave in the same way as the elementary particles in accelerators such as the LHC - they cannot be at rest and must always move with a constant speed. Also, they have a property called spin that can point towards or in the opposite direction of the motion. Therefore, an electron would exist in one of two possible states, but because of the quantum anomaly it can be interchanged between those two, which is increased by the gravitational anomaly.
Such a gravitational anomaly was thought to be triggered only by the curvature of space-time, something we don’t deal with in our daily lives on Earth. As stated by Dr. Johannes Gooth, an IBM Research scientist and lead author of the paper published in the scientific journal Nature:
Furthermore, some calculations have shown this gravitational anomaly can be triggered by heat and a simultaneously applied magnetic field. That is why scientists believe this discovery will open new possibilities for the development of sensors, switches, and energy-harvesting devices.
Source: Nature via Phys.org
Flyover of Pluto and its largest moon, Charon
Using NASA's 'New Horizons' spacecraft imagery data from July 2015 and digital elevation models of Pluto and its largest moon, Charon, scientists have created flyover movies from a point of view even closer than that of the spacecraft itself. As detailed in the Pluto flyover video description:
Here is the Charon flyover that takes the following path:
Sources: NASA, JHUAPL, SwRI, Paul Schenk and John Blackwell, Lunar and Planetary Institute via Phys.org
Another great opportunity to get out of Earth without leaving your couch was made available this week through Google Street View. As already covered here at Neowin, users can now join the team of astronauts in the International Space Station and explore all of the 15 rather cramped modules that make up the orbiter.
Credit: Massachusetts Institute of Technology Finally, rounding off our weekly coverage is an inexpensive robotic device that can find water leaks before they become catastrophic was announced after nine years of development and testing by researchers from MIT. As covered here at Neowin, the robot was able to find a leak that was about one gallon per minute, or one-tenth the minimum size that other detection methods can find on average.
Apple probe dropped by Canada's Competition Bureau
by Gabriel Nunes
After two years of investigation, Canada's competition watchdog has decided to close its probe on Apple last Friday. According to the Competition Bureau statement:
The probe was opened in December 2014 to investigate allegations that Apple had enforced anti-competitive clauses on the contracts closed with local carriers. Those clauses would have determined that competitor's devices should be sold at higher prices than they would otherwise be sold.
Potentially, such anti-competitive actions by Apple could have been initiated in order to favor the introduction of Apple's iPhone in the Canada market back in 2008. At the time, the Canadian telecommunications company Rogers arranged a temporary exclusivity deal with Apple to sell the iPhone. However, Canada's Competition Bureau stopped short of specifying specific dates as to when it believed that any alleged anti-competitive conduct took place.
Source: Reuters via Phys.org