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US lab reports it is on the cusp of major nuclear fusion breakthrough

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An experiment conducted earlier this month saw a small pellet of hydrogen isotopes heated to produce “more than 10 quadrillion watts of fusion power for 100 trillionths of a second”, according to the US National Ignition Facility.

A laboratory in the US is on the cusp of a breakthrough in nuclear fusion research which would see the fuel it generates release more energy than is needed to ignite it.

The US National Ignition Facility (NIF) confirmed that a successful experiment on 8 August “made a significant step” toward this goal, which is known as ignition

It saw light focused from the facility’s enormous laser systems – the size of three American football fields – on to a target smaller than a BB pellet made of deuterium and tritium, two isotopes of hydrogen with different numbers of neutrons.

This laser beam produced a hot spot on the pellet the diameter of a human hair, which generated “more than 10 quadrillion watts of fusion power for 100 trillionths of a second”.

As the pellet heated, it yielded 1.35 megajoules (MJ) of energy, approximately 70% of the laser energy beamed at it, and closer than ever before to the ignition point of an energy yield exceeding the 1.9 MJ from the laser.

The National Ignition Facility announced the experiment took place on 8 August
Image:The National Ignition Facility announced the experiment took place on 8 August. Pic: NIF

Nuclear fusion – the same process that occurs inside the hearts of stars – is a potentially completely green source of energy.

Unlike nuclear fission, the only type of nuclear power currently in use, which splits apart atoms such as uranium to capture the energy released, fusion merges two nuclei together to form a heavier element.

As the heavier element has less mass than the two nuclei which formed it, the excess mass is turned into energy, as explained by Einstein’s famous formula E = mc².

E = MC²

This formula means energy (E) equals mass (m) times the speed of light (c) squared (²).

It shows that energy and mass are equivalent, and allows scientists to calculate the energy produced by the loss of mass in nuclear experiments such as fusion reactions.

The speed of light is a universal constant and is the speed at which energy, such as electromagnetic radiation, always moves.

It is squared to reconcile the different measurements we use for space and time, although these are part of the same continuum in physics.

The enormous amounts of energy thus contained in even the smallest amounts of matter are key to why nuclear fusion is such a potentially powerful energy source.

Although the full scientific results of the research will be published in a peer-reviewed journal, the NIF’s initial analysis shows an eightfold improvement over experiments conducted in spring of this year, and a increase 25 times over the NIF’s record yield in 2018.

This result is a historic step forward for inertial confinement fusion research, opening a fundamentally new regime for exploration and the advancement of our critical national security missions,” said Kim Budil, the director of the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory which houses the NIF.

“It is also a testament to the innovation, ingenuity, commitment and grit of this team and the many researchers in this field over the decades who have steadfastly pursued this goal.”

Ms Budil added: “For me it demonstrates one of the most important roles of the national labs – our relentless commitment to tackling the biggest and most important scientific grand challenges and finding solutions where others might be dissuaded by the obstacles.”

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Mars was doomed to become a barren lifeless planet from the beginning, says new study

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Evidence that water was once present on Mars has been mounting for decades, and this month NASA’s Perseverance rover collected rock samples which have all but confirmed groundwater flowed on the red planet.

Mars was born with a fatal flaw that doomed it to become a barren lifeless place, according to new research: it was always too small to retain large amounts of water.

Evidence that water was once present on Mars has been mounting for decades and this month NASA’s Perseverance rover collected rock samples which have all but confirmed groundwater flowed on the red planet.

But the space agency’s scientists weren’t sure whether that water was present for tens of thousands of years or for millions of years. Now, more scientists believe they can contribute to the understanding of why that water disappeared.

Billions of years ago there was an abundance of water on Mars
Image:Billions of years ago there is believed to have been an abundance of water on Mars

Mars is ostensibly located within the “habitable zone”, a distance from the sun which is neither too hot nor too cold to support liquid surface water and thus life – but it appears to support neither at the moment.

The most popular hypothesis for why Mars is barren today is based on its lack of a magnetosphere.Advertisement

Unlike the Earth, where molten iron in the core of the planet created a protective magnetic shield around us, Mars’ magnetic field is too weak to protect its atmosphere from being stripped away by cosmic forces.

Now a study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science suggests Mars was created with a fatal flaw that meant it was never going to be able to protect that atmosphere and its liquid water.

“Mars’ fate was decided from the beginning,” explained Kun Wang, an assistant professor at Washington University and senior author of the study.

“There is likely a threshold on the size requirements of rocky planets to retain enough water to enable habitability and plate tectonics, with mass exceeding that of Mars,” he explained.

Wang’s team analysed potassium isotopes on Mars, something which can be used to trace volatile elements such as water, and compared them to Earth, the moon and an asteroid called 4-Vesta.

They found there was a clear correlation between the size of the cosmic body and the presence of potassium isotopes.

As the only Martian samples available on Earth are those from meteorites, they also often function a little like capsules showing what the planet was like at different stages in its history.

“This study emphasises that there is a very limited size range for planets to have just enough but not too much water to develop a habitable surface environment,” said co-author Klaus Mezger of the Centre for Space and Habitability at the University of Bern. “These results will guide astronomers in their search for habitable exoplanets in other solar systems.”

Wang now thinks that, for planets that are within habitable zones, planetary size probably should be more emphasised and routinely considered when thinking about whether an exoplanet could support life.

“The size of an exoplanet is one of the parameters that is easiest to determine,” Wang added. “Based on size and mass, we now know whether an exoplanet is a candidate for life, because a first-order determining factor for volatile retention is size.”

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New mobile phone museum to launch online next month

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The platform will chart the evolution of the mobile phone from 1984 to the present day, containing more than 2,000 unique handsets from 200 different manufacturers.

A new museum dedicated to the history of the mobile phone will launch online next month.

The Mobile Phone Museum will chart the evolution of the technology from 1984 to the present day, showcasing more than 2,000 handsets from 200 different manufacturers.

Ben Wood, who is chief analyst at technology research firm CCS Insight, has created the project alongside fellow mobile phone industry veteran Matt Chatterly.

The pair are also aiming to build pop-up physical exhibitions in the future in order to bring the handset collection to as many people as possible.

The Mobile Phone Museum, which will chart the evolution of the mobile phone from 1984 to the present day, has also been backed by mobile operator Vodafone through a five-year sponsorship deal.Advertisement

It will feature some of the earliest mobile phones – often large, heavy devices which were barely portable.

They will be included alongside the latest foldable smartphones, which house screens that can be folded in half as well as high-end cameras for photos and video.

Mr Wood, who has been collecting phones for more than 25 years, said: “Over the last three decades the mobile phone has become part of the fabric of society and the design diversity, from early transportable phones to the latest smartphones with flexible displays, is something to behold.

“When the online museum launches later this year, we want it to be a rich learning resource and a way to inspire young people to go on to create incredible mobile innovations of their own in the future.”

He added that the pair are “delighted” to welcome Vodafone as the first major sponsor who are helping to “bring the museum to a wider audience”.

Max Taylor, UK consumer director at Vodafone, said: “More than 35 years ago, Vodafone made the UK’s first mobile phone call on the Vodafone Transportable VT1, a handset which was the size of a car battery and weighed even more.

“Looking back at those early devices and everything which came later tells a fascinating story, not only of the technology itself and how it has evolved, but also of how we communicate.

Mr Taylor added: “We hope that by supporting Ben and Matt’s unique museum collection, the most comprehensive collection anywhere in the world, we’ll be able to help people reminisce about the devices they’ve had over the years, and get excited about what devices might be able to do for them in the future.”

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SpaceX Inspiration4 mission: All-civilian crew touch down on Earth after historic three days in orbit

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Commander Jared Isaacman, pilot Sian Proctor, medical officer Hayley Arceneaux and mission specialist Chris Sembrosk took part in the Inspiration4 mission, making them the first to circle the world without a professional astronaut.

A SpaceX capsule carrying the first all-civilian crew into space has touched back down on Earth after three days in orbit.

The four amateur astronauts orbited the planet every 90 minutes at a speed of more than 17,000mph and an altitude of up to 363 miles – higher than the International Space Station and Hubble Telescope – during their time in space.

The Dragon capsule safely parachuted into the ocean just before sunset on Saturday, off the Florida coast where the private flight began three days ago. Upon re-entry through the Earth’s atmosphere, Dragon’s surface reached temperatures 3,500F (1,926C).

Commander Jared Isaacman, pilot Sian Proctor, medical officer Hayley Arceneaux and mission specialist Chris Sembrosk took part in the Inspiration4 mission, making them the first to circle the world without a professional astronaut.

The all-amateur crew was the first to circle the world without a professional astronaut. Pic: Inspiration4 via AP
Image:The capsule returns to Earth with a splash. Pic: Inspiration4 via AP
inspiration4x  Twitter pictures
Source: https://twitter.com/inspiration4x/status/1438716982564696065/photo/4
Image:(L-R) Jared Isaacman, Hayley Arceneaux, Chris Sembroski, and Dr Sian Proctor seemed in good spirits after their first day in space. Pic Twitter/Inspiration4x

“Your mission has shown the world that space is for all of us,” SpaceX Mission Control radioed as the capsule landed.Advertisement

“It was a heck of a ride for us… just getting started,” replied trip sponsor Mr Isaacman, hinting at more private flights in the future.

Mr Isaacman, a billionaire, paid undisclosed millions for the trip for himself and his three guests – all of whom were strangers to him beforehand.

The passengers aboard a SpaceX capsule react as the capsule parachutes into the Atlantic. Pic: Inspiration4 via AP
Image:The passengers aboard the SpaceX capsule react as it parachutes into the Atlantic. Pic: Inspiration4 via AP

The group wanted to show that ordinary people could blast into orbit by themselves, and SpaceX founder Elon Musk took them on as the company’s first rocket-riding tourists.

Following the landing Mr Musk, who is worth an estimated $196.3bn, tweeted, “congratulations!”

Mr Isaacman, a 38-year-old entrepreneur and experienced pilot, aimed to raise $200m (£145m) for St Jude Children’s Research Hospital through the trip.

Donating $100m himself (£72.5m), he held a lottery for one of the four seats. He also held a competition for clients of his Allentown, Pennsylvania payment-processing business, Shift4 Payments, for another of the spots.

These were won by Mr Sembroski, 42, a data engineer in Everett, Washington, and Ms Proctor, 51, a community college educator, scientist and artist from Tempe, Arizona.

Ms Arceneaux, 29, a St Jude physician assistant who was treated at the Memphis, Tennessee hospital nearly two decades ago for bone cancer, took the last seat.

Ms Arceneaux, 29, a St Jude physician assistant who was treated at the Memphis, Tennessee hospital nearly two decades ago for bone cancer, took the last seat.

Together they spent six months training and preparing for potential emergencies during the flight but did not have to undergo the rigorous preparations that astronauts go through.

During the trip, the group was treated to unparalleled views of Earth through a large bubble-shaped window added to the top of the capsule.

They spent the time chatting with St Jude patients, conducted medical tests on themselves, rang the closing bell for the New York Stock Exchange, and complete some drawing and ukulele playing.

inspiration4x  Twitter pictures
Source: https://twitter.com/inspiration4x/status/1438716982564696065/photo/4
Image:The amateur astronauts orbited the Earth every 90 minutes. Pic Twitter/Inspiration4x
Chris Sembroski shows off his ukulele before his performance among the stars
Image:Chris Sembroski shows off his ukulele before his performance among the stars

Ms Arceneaux, the youngest American in space and the first with a prosthesis, told her patients: “I was a little girl going through cancer treatment just like a lot of you, and if I can do this, you can do this.”

The four also took calls from Tom Cruise, interested in his own SpaceX flight to the space station for filming, and the rock band U2’s Bono.

They ate untypical space food: Cold pizza and sandwiches, pasta Bolognese and Mediterranean lamb.

Nearly 600 people have reached space – a scorecard that began 60 years ago and is expected to soon skyrocket as space tourism heats up.

The group is the first to end their flight in the Atlantic since Apollo 9 in 1969. SpaceX’s two previous crew splashdowns – carrying astronauts for NASA – were in the Gulf of Mexico.

NASA had little to do with the mission, only lending the use of its Kennedy Space Centre launchpad.

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