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Tweets document damage after 7.0 Alaska quake

Tsunami hazard map
The red area on this map indicates the extent of the tsunami warning about an hour and a half after a magnitude-7.0 earthquake struck Alaska. (Tsunami.gov / NOAA Graphic)

Buildings in downtown Anchorage were damaged and roads were ruined when a magnitude-7.0 earthquake hit Alaska’s biggest city today.

The U.S. Geological Survey said the quake occurred at 8:29 a.m. Alaska time (9:29 a.m. PT) and was centered 8 miles north of Anchorage. The main quake was followed by aftershocks in the range of magnitude 4 to 5.8.

“There is major infrastructure damage across Anchorage,” the city’s police department said in an online alert. “Many homes and buildings are damaged. Many roads and bridges are closed. Stay off the roads if you don’t need to drive. Seek a safe shelter. Check on your surroundings and loved ones.”

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Fossil tells a whale of a tale about evolution

Carlos Peredo with fossils
Carlos Mauricio Peredo, a researcher at the National Museum of Natural History, shows off a 33 million-year-old whale fossil that has been newly classified with the name Maiabalaena nesbittae. (Smithsonian Photo)

A whale that lived 33 million years ago when present-day Oregon was part of the ocean floor has been newly named after a curator at the Burke Museum of Natural History and Culture in Seattle.

And Elizabeth Nesbitt’s whale isn’t your typical cetacean: An analysis of the fossil, published in the Nov. 29 issue of Current Biology, suggests that Maiabalaena nesbittae bridged a gap between species of whales that had teeth and species that have a different mouth-feeding mechanism known as baleen.

“For the first time, we can now pin down the origin of filter-feeding, which is one of the major innovations in whale history,” study co-author Nicholas Pyenson, the National Museum of Natural History’s curator of fossil marine mammals and an affiliate curator at the Burke Museum, said in a news release.

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GM shifts its president to CEO spot at Cruise

Cruise Automation executives
Cruise Automation’s newly reshuffled executive team includes chief operating officer Dan Kan,; Kyle Vogt, who will become president and chief technology officer; and GM President Dan Ammann, who will become Cruise’s chief executive officer. (GM Photo / Noah Berger)

General Motors has shuffled its executive team to put its president, Dan Ammann, into the CEO spot at its autonomous-vehicle subsidiary, Cruise Automation.

Cruise co-founder Kyle Vogt will move out of the CEO role and partner with Ammann to set the company’s strategic direction and lead technology development as its president and chief technology officer, GM and Cruise said today in a news release.

The executive shift is effective Jan. 1, 2019.

San Francisco-based Cruise has grown from 40 employees to more than 1,000 during Vogt’s tenure as CEO. Just last week, Cruise announced that it would be setting up a Seattle-area engineering office with plans to add up to 200 employees by the end of next year.

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NASA picks nine teams for moon deliveries

Lockheed Martin lunar lander
Lockheed Martin is offering its McCandless lunar lander, shown here with an onboard rover in an artist’s conception, for future NASA missions to the moon. (Lockheed Martin Illustration)

NASA says it’s partnering on lunar delivery services with nine commercial teams, headed by companies that run the gamut from the space industry’s heavyweights to startups.

The lineup, announced today by NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine at the space agency’s headquarters in Washington, D.C., will take part in a program known as Commercial Lunar Payload Services, or CLPS.

The program is aimed at boosting the development of lunar landing services for NASA and commercial payloads, starting with shipments weighing at least 22 pounds (10 kilograms).

Up to $2.6 billion in delivery contracts will be meted out over the next 10 years, NASA said in a news release.

“Welcome to the competition,” Bridenstine said.

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India launches BlackSky satellite (and 30 others)

PSLV launch
India’s PSLV rocket lifts off to send 31 satellites into orbit. (ISRO Video)

The first Earth observation satellite for Seattle-based BlackSky’s Global constellation has been sent into orbit aboard an Indian rocket.

Global-1 was just one of 30 secondary payloads for the PSLV-C43 mission, launched at 9:57 a.m. local time Nov. 29 (8:27 p.m. PT Nov. 28) from the Indian Space Research Organization’s Satish Dhawan Space Center at Sriharikota. All those satellites went into a sun-synchronous, nearly pole-to-pole orbit at an altitude of 504 kilometers (313 miles).

The primary payload aboard the four-stage Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle was India’s Hyper Spectral Imaging Satellite, or HySIS, which is designed to capture Earth imagery in visible, near infrared and shortwave infrared wavelengths from a height of 636 kilometers (395 miles). Potential applications range from weather and climate research to agriculture monitoring and water management.

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Human gene-editing experiment put on hold

He Jiankui
Chinese researcher He Jiankui addresses the Second International Summit on Human Genome Editing in Hong Kong. (National Academies via Twitter)

The Chinese researcher behind a controversial experiment to produce gene-edited children took the stage at a Hong Kong conference to explain his work, and acknowledged that the international outcry has brought a halt to the experiment.

“The clinical trial was paused due to the current situation,” He Jiankui, a biomedical researcher at the Southern University of Science and Technology in Shenzhen, said today at the Second International Summit on Human Genome Editing.

The university says He (pronounced “Heh”) has been on unpaid leave since January, and today Chinese news outlets reported that his lab on campus has been shut down and sealed off for investigation.

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Lion Air 737 crash probe focuses on faulty sensor

Lion Air 737 MAX jet
An artist’s conception shows the Boeing 737 MAX 8 jet. (Boeing Illustration)

Right from the start of last month’s fatal flight of a Lion Air 737 MAX jet from Indonesia, pilots were struggling with an automatic flight control system that had caused problems during a flight the day before, according to a preliminary investigative report.

The report — based on an analysis of readings from the jet’s flight data recorder, or “black box” — says the pilots on the Oct. 29 flight fought for 10 minutes to keep the Boeing jet’s nose from being pushed downward. But they lost the struggle against the automatic system, known as the Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System or MCAS. The 737 MAX 8 crashed into the Java Sea, killing all 189 people aboard.

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Audi and Airbus show off mini-me flying car

Pop.Up Next prototype
Audi, Airbus and Italdesign are showing off a quarter-scale prototype of their “Pop.Up Next” drone-car hybrid at the Amsterdam Drone Week conference. (Audi AG Photo)

A flying car developed by Airbus, Audi and Italdesign took a high-profile test flight today at the Amsterdam Drone Week conference, but its size was low-profile.

The modular vehicle was a quarter-scale demonstration model of the “Pop.Up Next” transportation system that the three companies are developing.

The idea is to have a passenger compartment that can sit on top of a four-wheeled electric vehicle to travel the roads, or attach to the bottom of a quadcopter to fly through the air. At the Amsterdam show, the three companies displayed impressive full-scale mockups of the flying car, but the gizmo that actually flew was basically a drone with brackets attached.

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InSight lander gets to Mars and sends pictures

Mars picture
At NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., InSight project manager Tom Hoffman reacts to the first image from the Mars InSight lander after its touchdown. (NASA Photo / Bill Ingalls)

REDMOND, Wash. — NASA’s Mars InSight lander touched down on a heavenly Martian plain Monday, marking the first successful landing on the Red Planet in more than six years.

“Touchdown confirmed! InSight is on the surface of Mars,” mission commentator Christine Szalai declared just before noon PT at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif.

Minutes later, the lander sent back its first image, showing a wide expanse of flat terrain as seen through a dirt-flecked lens cover.

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Reports of gene-edited babies spawn investigations

CRISPR mechanism
CRISPR-Cas9 technology uses “molecular scissors” to cut and splice DNA. (UC-Berkeley Graphic)

Multiple investigations are being sought in the wake of reports that a Chinese laboratory facilitated the birth of twin girls whose genes had been edited to protect them against the HIV virus that causes AIDS.

The first-of-its-kind experiment, which took advantage of the CRISPR gene-editing technique, came to light in reports published late Sunday by MIT Technology Review and The Associated Press. The researcher in charge of the project, He Jiankui of the Southern University of Science and Technology in Shenzhen, also published a series of videos explaining the gene-editing project.

There has been no outside confirmation of He’s claims, but geneticists and health policymakers say such claims raise grave ethical issues — including the prospect of creating designer babies, enhancing traits and even introducing exotic new traits.

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