China sends out probe to moon’s far side

Chang'e-4 liftoff

A Chinese Long March 3B rocket lifts off from Xichang Satellite Launch Center, sending the Chang’e-4 probe into space. (CASC via Weibo)

China’s space effort launched its most ambitious robotic lunar mission to date, taking aim at a crater near the south pole on the moon’s far side.

The Chang’e-4 combination lander and rover were sent into space atop a Long March 3B rocket at 2:22 a.m. local time Dec. 8 (10:22 a.m. PT Dec. 7) from the Xichang Satellite Launch Center in China’s Sichuan Province, according to Sina Tech and other Chinese sources.

Chang’e-4’s flight plan calls for the probe to trace a looping series of orbits for 26 days or so, eventually putting it into position for a landing in Von Karman Crater, part of the South Pole-Aitken Basin.

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NASA lander captures first recorded sounds of Mars

InSight lander solar panel

A raw image from NASA’s InSight lander shows the spacecraft’s robotic arm in the foreground, hanging over a solar panel. The terrain of Mars’ Elysium Planitia stretches out in the background. The colors look muted because they haven’t been fully calibrated. (NASA / JPL-Caltech Photo)

NASA’s Mars InSight lander is designed primarily to study the Red Planet’s interior, but it’s already produced a big bonus in the form of the first listenable sounds of the Martian wind.

The low-frequency sounds, plus an audio version that’s been bumped up a couple of octaves to enhance listenability, were released today by the mission team at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

Cornell University’s Don Banfield, who leads the science team for InSight’s Auxiliary Payload Sensor Subsystem, or APSS, said the sound “reminds me of sitting outside on a windy afternoon.”

The Dec. 1 detection took advantage of several components of the car-sized lander, including its solar panels.

“You can think of it rather in the same way as the human ear,” said Imperial College London’s Tom Pike, the science lead for InSight’s Short Period Seismometer.

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Boeing CEO would ‘absolutely’ go to Mars

Innovation panel

CNBC’s Becky Quick, JPMorgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon and AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson look on as Boeing CEO Dennis Muilenburg talks about his Mars ambitions. (CNBC / BRT via YouTube)

Boeing CEO Dennis Muilenburg often says that the first person to set foot on Mars will get there on a Boeing-built rocket, but at today’s Business Roundtable CEO Innovation Summit, he made it personal.

“Would you go?” CNBC anchor Becky Quick, the moderator for today’s panel on trends in American innovation, asked Muilenburg.

“I would,” the CEO answered.

“Really?” Quick said.

“Absolutely,” Muilenburg said.

Muilenburg made repeated reference to spaceflight and Boeing’s plans to participate in missions to the moon and Mars in the context of the company’s farthest-flung frontiers for innovation.

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InSight lander snaps Mars selfies galore

Mars InSight photo

A photo snapped by the camera on the InSight lander’s robotic arm shows instruments on the spacecraft’s deck with Martian terrain in the background. The pointer indicates the location of two chips bearing the microscopic etched names of 2.4 million fans. (NASA / JPL-Caltech Photo)

One week after landing on the Martian plain of Elysium Planitia, NASA’s InSight lander is on a selfie-snapping spree — and the photos could be used as a guide for 2.4 million Earthlings and their descendants to look for their names.

InSight’s selfies aren’t meant to be a vanity project for the lander or its creators. Rather, they signal the start of a picture-taking campaign that’s designed to identify the best spots to plunk down the mission’s seismometer and temperature-measuring “mole.”

Pictures from full-color Instrument Deployment Camera, which is mounted on the spacecraft’s 6-foot-long robotic arm, will help scientist ensure that the spots they pick will be sufficiently level and rock-free to accommodate the first instruments to be lifted up and placed down permanently on the surface of another planet.

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Climate change doom teaches lesson for today

Permian-Triassic extinction

An artist’s conception shows the desolation caused by the Permian-Triassic extinction more than 250 million years ago. (LPI / USRA Illustration)

Scientists say rapidly warming oceans played a key role in the world’s biggest mass extinction, 252 million years ago, and could point to the risks that lie ahead in an era of similarly rapid climate change.

The latest analysis, published in this week’s issue of the journal Science, puts together computer modeling of ancient ocean conditions and a close look at species characteristics to fit new pieces into a longstanding puzzle: What were the factors behind the Permian-Triassic mass extinction, also known as the Great Dying?

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SpaceX booster gets dunked after launch

SpaceX Falcon 9 launch

A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket lifts off from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida, sending a Dragon cargo ship into orbit. (NASA Photo)

SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket sent a robotic Dragon cargo capsule into orbit today from Florida to deliver 5,600 pounds of supplies and experiments to the International Space Station, just two days after a different Falcon 9 launched 64 satellites from a pad across the country.

The primary mission was an undeniable hit, but this time around, SpaceX’s attempt to have the Falcon 9’s first-stage booster touch down on a landing pad was a miss.

Today’s liftoff from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station might have come even sooner if it weren’t for some moldy mouse food.

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AI2 and Microsoft join forces on academic search

Microsoft Academic Graph

A chart generated by Microsoft Academic Graph shows the interconnections between a group of research authors associated with Microsoft, with Nathan Myhrvold and Bill Gates at the center and Satya Nadella, the company’s current CEO, highlighted on the periphery. (Microsoft via YouTube)

The Allen Institute for Artificial Intelligence, also known as AI2, is partnering with Microsoft Research to widen the sphere of scientific search tools by connecting AI2’s Semantic Scholar academic search engine with the Microsoft Academic Graph.

Semantic Scholar is a free online tool makes use of artificial intelligence to maximize the relevance of search results for studies focusing on computer science and biomedicine. Its database takes in more than 40 million academic papers, plus associated blog items, news reports, videos and other resources.

Since its inception in 2015, Semantic Scholar’s user base has grown to more than 2 million monthly users.

Microsoft Academic Graph, meanwhile, charts the networks that knit together more than 200 million academic documents and citations on a wide variety of scientific subjects.

Doug Raymond, Semantic Scholar’s general manager, said the new collaboration is in line with his project’s goal of combating information overload in the scientific community. “This partnership with Microsoft Research relates to our shared interest in this problem,” Raymond told GeekWire.

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