SpaceX sets Hyperloop II contest for August

Hyperloop pod racer

The UW Hyperloop team’s sleek pod racer is unveiled at an Eastlake lab building amid the glow of purple spotlights. (GeekWire Photo / Taylor Soper)

SpaceX’s second Hyperloop competition for student-led teams is coming up in August, with the University of Washington’s crew listed among two dozen contestants.

Hyperloop Pod Competition II, set for Aug. 25-27 at SpaceX’s test track in Hawthorne, Calif., follows up on the first round of pod races that took place in January. The mile-long, low-pressure tube is designed to simulate high-speed transit trips on a scaled-down basis.

Elon Musk, the billionaire CEO of SpaceX and Tesla, came up with the Hyperloop concept four years ago as a means of getting from, say, San Francisco to Los Angeles in just a little more than a half-hour.

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Star Wars alert: First trailer for ‘Last Jedi’

Did you feel a disturbance in the Force? As if millions of Star Wars fans suddenly cried out in delight? That upswing in the midichlorian count was caused by the release of the first online trailer for “Star Wars: The Last Jedi,” teasing us with the silhouette and voice of Mark Hamill as Luke Skywalker.

The two-minute clip was released today in conjunction with a weekend-long Star Wars Celebration in Orlando, Fla.

Without getting too spoilery, let’s just say that the trailer picks up the story where the previous installment, “The Force Awakens,” left off. Skellig Michael, an island off the coast of Ireland that served as a monastic redoubt centuries ago, comes in for a lot of screen time.

Daisy Ridley, who was introduced as a swashbuckling rebel named Rey in the previous film, also gets a lot of screen time in the trailer. Skywalker is clearly giving Rey counsel on the Jedi ways, but apparently not the counsel she was hoping for.

“I only know one truth,” we hear Hamill saying in a gravelly voice, worlds away from the boyish tone he had 40 years ago in the very first Star Wars movie. “It’s time for the Jedi … to end.”

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Hubble sees more signs of Europa’s water

Europa plumes

These composite images show a suspected plume of material erupting two years apart from the same location on Jupiter’s icy moon Europa. Both plumes, photographed in ultraviolet light by Hubble, were seen in silhouette as the moon passed in front of Jupiter. (NASA / ESA / STScI / USGS)

Scientists say Europa, a mysterious moon of Jupiter, has shown fresh signs of watery plumes that may hint at a habitable environment beneath the ice.

Last year, the Hubble Space Telescope picked up observations of what appeared to be a plume of watery material, emanating from the same area where a plume was spotted in 2014.

The most recent plume rises about 62 miles (100 kilometers) above Europa’s surface, which is twice as high as the earlier plume.

The source of the activity is an unusually warm region of ice that appears to be crisscrossed by cracks, based on pictures captured in the late 1990s by NASA’s Galileo spacecraft.

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Elon Musk sets timetable for Tesla trucks

Tesla Semi concept

An artist’s conception provides a speculative view of what the Tesla Semi might look like. (Jan Peisert Illustration / Peisert Design)

Getting the Tesla Model 3 electric car on the road clearly isn’t enough to occupy Elon Musk, the billionaire CEO of Tesla and SpaceX: Today he tweeted the time frame for unveiling Tesla’s autonomous, all-electric Semi truck and a smaller pickup truck.

But wait … there’s more: The Tesla Roadster, which was the first vehicle the company put on sale, is coming back. And this time, it’ll be a convertible.

Musk’s timetable for executing the next steps of his “Master Plan, Part Deux” spilled out in a series of tweets.

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Stratospheric protest aimed at Donald Trump

Protest tweet

A protest tweet is suspended from a balloon in the stratosphere. (ASAN via YouTube)

If someone can send a Donald Trump bobblehead tribute up into the stratosphere on a balloon, we suppose it’s only fair that a protest of President Trump’s policies can go up there, too. That’s what the totally unofficial Autonomous Space Agency Network did with its Aphrodite Program balloon launch of a printed-out tweet that’s addressed to Trump. The message? “LOOK AT THAT, YOU SON OF A BITCH,” with our beautiful planet seen in the background from a height of 90,000 feet. The command was inspired by the late Apollo astronaut Edgar Mitchell.

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Boeing’s 737 MAX 9 jet makes first flight

Boeing 737 MAX 9

Boeing’s first 737 MAX 9 jet takes off on its first test flight from the company’s plant in Renton, Wash. (Boeing Photo / Craig Larsen)

The newest sibling in Boeing’s 737 family, the MAX 9, made its first flight today from the company’s assembly plant in Renton, Wash. – 75 years after the Renton plant opened and 50 years after the first 737 took off.

The 737 MAX 9’s maiden flight began at 10:52 a.m. PT and ended a little less than three hours later, after Boeing’s test pilots put the plane through a series of test maneuvers that ranged from Washington’s Olympic Peninsula to the Spokane Indian Reservation. You can find a recap the flight on Boeing’s website.

Today’s takeoff marked the beginning of a flight test schedule that will continue for months. First deliveries of the MAX 9 are scheduled in 2018.

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Enceladus shows signs of hydrothermal vents

Enceladus' plumes

This composite image shows how plumes of water emanate from fissures in the surface ice of Enceladus, one of Saturn’s moons. (NASA / JPL Illustration)

Scientists have detected molecules of hydrogen in plumes of watery material erupting from cracks in the ice of Enceladus, a moon of Saturn – and that suggests an ocean beneath the ice has hydrothermal vents that just might be capable of sustaining life.

The findings, based on an analysis of data from the Cassini orbiter, are the subject of a study published today in Science as well as a NASA news briefing.

“We’ve always wondered, ‘Are we alone in the universe?’” Linda Spilker, project scientist for the Cassini mission at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, told GeekWire. “Now, as we look out from our own planet, we find worlds in our own solar system that might have life.”

The direct evidence is still wanting, however. The research team, headed by the Southwest Research Institute’s Hunter Waite and Christopher Glein, made their conclusions based on a chain of evidence that started with observations from Cassini’s Ion Neutral Mass Spectrometer.

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