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Quantum study sparks questions about time

Annalen der Physik
More than a century ago, Annalen der Physik published Albert Einstein’s work on special and general relativity. October’s issue features a study focusing on why the “arrow of time” points just one way.

Why do we remember the past, but not the future? It seems like a silly question, but for some scientists, it’s a deep mystery wrapped up in physics and perception.

The mystery takes another twist in a study appearing in the same journal that published Albert Einstein’s theories of relativity more than a century ago.

In October’s issue of Annalen der Physik (Annals of Physics), two researchers say the phenomenon known as the arrow of time depends on observers like us as well as the clocks and other things we observe.

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Pluto’s ocean may go deeper than Earth’s

Sputnik Planum
The left side of Pluto’s bright “heart” is known informally as Sputnik Planum. (Credit: NASA / JHUAPL / SwRI)

Scientists have been saying for months that Pluto could have a salty, sloshing ocean beneath its icy surface, but now they’ve worked out just how deep it could go. The answer? As deep as 60 miles, or nine times the depth of Earth’s deepest seas.

The estimate, based on computer modeling of the impact dynamics behind a heart-shaped region of Pluto, was published this month in Geophysical Research Letters.

The bright-colored “heart,” first seen last year by NASA’s New Horizons probe, is arguably Pluto’s best-known surface feature. But it’s actually two features. Scientists say the left lobe of the heart, known informally as Sputnik Planum, was created in the aftermath of an ancient impact. The object that made that impact is thought to have been about 120 miles (200 kilometers) wide.

In June, researchers reported that the geological features mapped on Pluto’s surface would be consistent with the presence of a liquid water ocean far below, perhaps heated by the decay of radioactive materials in Pluto’s rocky core. But they didn’t estimate the size of the ocean.

This month’s findings address that question.

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SpaceX says tank breach may have caused blast

Image: SpaceX blast
A video stream from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida shows smoke rising from a SpaceX launch pad blast on Sept. 1. (Credit: NASA)

SpaceX says an investigation into the launch pad explosion that destroyed a Falcon 9 rocket and its satellite payload has turned up evidence of a “large breach” in the supercooled helium system for the oxygen tank on the rocket’s second stage.

Today’s update made clear that the root cause of the Sept. 1 blast at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida has not yet been identified. Nevertheless, SpaceX said it anticipated to return to flight as early as November, “pending the results of the investigation.”

SpaceX is leading the investigation, just as it did last year when a Falcon 9 broke apart shortly after liftoff. That mishap involved a component inside the second-stage oxygen tank, but today the company said it’s ruled out a connection between the two blasts.

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Balloons rise up on the strato-frontier

Project Loon
Project Loon’s balloons are getting better at staying in one place. (Credit: Project Loon via YouTube)

Drones, satellites and rocket planes are all well and good for high-flying missions, but sometimes the best craft for the job is a balloon.

Google’s Project Loon, for example, is enlisting machine learning to pilot its experimental data-beaming balloons through the stratosphere. And other ventures are using high-altitude balloon platforms to conduct missions traditionally associated with suborbital rocket launches.

Get a quick rundown on three ventures that are pushing the envelope.

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Paul Allen’s top space exec leaves Vulcan

Chuck Beames
Vulcan Aerospace’s Chuck Beames talks about spaceflight during a 2014 panel discussion in Mojave, Calif., marking the 10th anniversary of SpaceShipOne’s flights. (XPRIZE via YouTube)

Aerospace veteran Chuck Beames is leaving his post as president of Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen’s spaceflight company, Vulcan Aerospace.

Word of Beames’ departure came from Allen in an internal email that was sent to Vulcan employees and obtained by GeekWire today. Allen said Jean Floyd, the CEO of Vulcan’s Stratolaunch Systems, will expand his role to become Vulcan Aerospace’s interim executive director as well.

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Stephen Hawking tours 5 favorite cosmic places

Stephen Hawking
A scene from “Stephen Hawking’s Favorite Places” shows the good doctor and his heads-up display in a CGI-created spaceship called the S.S. Hawking. (Credit: CuriosityStream)

You’d think that physicist Stephen Hawking’s favorite place on Earth would be his native England, but it’s actually someplace completely different – as he explains in a new 25-minute documentary from CuriosityStream.

“Stephen Hawking’s Favorite Places” is an exclusive offering from the online video-on-demand channel, founded last year by John Hendricks, who was the mastermind behind the Discovery Channel. It’s the first episode in what’s expected to be a series of original “Favorite Places” features, supplementing CuriosityStream’s library of science documentaries from the BBC and other providers.

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U.S. and Boeing hail WTO ruling against Airbus

Airbus A350 XWB
In today’s report, a compliance panel of the World Trade Organization found that Airbus’ A350 XWB superjumbo jet benefited from European subsidies. (Credit: Airbus)

The World Trade Organization turned up the heat on Europe’s aerospace industry today by ruling that Airbus was continuing to benefit from what’s now estimated at $22 billion in subsidies from the European Union and its member countries.

U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman hailed the decision as a “sweeping victory” in a dispute that has been simmering for more than a decade, with the Boeing Co. cast as the principal victim of Airbus’ subsidies.

“This long-awaited decision is a victory for fair trade worldwide, and for U.S. aerospace workers in particular,” Dennis Muilenburg, Boeing’s chairman, president and CEO, said in a statement.

Both of Washington state’s U.S. senators and several House members praised the development as well.

The WTO’s latest action marks one more step toward imposing retaliatory trade sanctions that could amount to as much as $10 billion a year.

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Microsoft moonshots aim to debug cancer

Cancer moonshot
Microsoft’s “cancer moonshot” effort aims to program cells like computers. (Credit: Microsoft)

Microsoft researchers are doing a bug bash on cancer, complete with software code names like “Project Hanover.”

Some of them are actually drilling down into our genetic code, looking for ways to reprogram the immune system to combat cancer cells more effectively.

“If you can do computing with biological systems, then you can transfer what we’ve learned in traditional computing into medical or biotechnology applications,” Microsoft’s Neil Dalchau says in the company’s in-depth report about its cancer moonshots.

Others are enlisting the power of cloud computing to identify which treatment would work best for a particular cancer patient, based on his or her personalized medical profile.

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Boeing awards $6M in grants for STEM education

UW Spring Break program
University of Washington junior Kat Schaffer works with sixth-graders at Brewster Elementary School through UW’s Alternative Spring Break program, one of the beneficiaries of newly announced Boeing grants. (Credit: Dennis Wise / UW)

Three universities and scores of other educational programs stand to benefit from $6 million in grants from the Boeing Co. – a bonanza that’s designed to boost the company’s future workforce in Washington state.

Grants totaling $1 million are going to the University of Washington, Washington State University and Seattle University. The other $5 million will be divvied up among about 50 nonprofit groups and educational institutions across the state.

Boeing said some of the largest grants will support Thrive Washington, which focuses on early learning; Washington STEM and its K-12 learning initiative; and SkillUp Washington, which partners with community and technical colleges on training for manufacturing jobs.

The grants focus on STEM education – science, technology, engineering and math – as well as workforce training, particularly for student populations who tend to be underrepresented when it comes to STEM.

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How Neil deGrasse Tyson got out-geeked

Neil deGrasse Tyson
Astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson hosts “StarTalk” from the American Museum of Natural History in New York. (Credit: National Geographic Channel)

Few people can geek out to a movie harder than astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson, but he met his match when it came to Thor’s hammer.

Tyson, who’s the director of New York’s Hayden Planetarium as well as the host of such TV shows as “StarTalk” and “Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey,” is likely to tell the tale during his sold-out lectures at Seattle’s Paramount Theater on Sept. 21 and 22.

He may also touch on the other Hollywood reality checks he’s conducted over the years – like the time he went on a Twitter rant over the scientific inaccuracies in “Gravity,” or complained about a screwed-up sky in “Titanic” (which led director James Cameron to correct the scene for the film’s re-release in 3-D).

After all, the title of his talk is “An Astrophysicist Goes to the Movies.”

The tempest over Mjolnir, the hammer wielded by Thor (played by Chris Hemsworth in the Marvel movies), marks one of the rare times when Tyson admits he was out-geeked at the movies.

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