Possible tectonic activity detected on the moon | Science & Tech News

The moon

Possible tectonic activity detected on the moon | Science & Tech News

Tectonic activity has been detected on the moon by researchers who have discovered a system of moving ridges topped with boulders on its near side.

“There’s this assumption that the moon is long dead, but we keep finding that that’s not the case,” said Professor Peter Schultz at Rhode Island’s Brown University.

“It appears that the moon may still be creaking and cracking – potentially in the present day – and we can see the evidence on these ridges,” explained Professor Schultz who co-authored a study published in the journal Geology.

Infrared (upper left) and other images from NASA's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter revealed strange bare spots where the Moon's ubiquitous dust is missing. The spots suggest an active tectonic process. Pic: NASA
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The strange bare spots suggest an active tectonic process. Pic: NASA

The majority of the moon’s surface is covered by something called regolith, the powdery dust of rocks created by constant meteorite impacts.

Because the moon has no atmosphere to speak of, rocks and orbiting debris crash right into its surface and blow apart.

There are very few spaces on the lunar surface which aren’t covered by regolith – but some seemingly new spots have recently been discovered.

The first footprint on the Moon', Apollo 11 mission, July 1969. Boot-print of US astronaut Neil Armstrong, first man to set foot on the Moon, clearly visible in the lunar soil. The Apollo 11 Lunar Module, code named Eagle, with Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin on board, landed in the Sea of Tranquillity on 20 July 1969. Apollo 11 was the fifth manned Apollo mission, and was the first to land on the Moon. Artist NASA. (Photo by Heritage Space/Heritage Images/Getty Images)
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Regolith is powdery dust covering the moon’s surface

Adomas Valantinas, a graduate student at the University of Bern who was a visiting scholar at Brown, used data gathered by NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) to spot these strange bare spots.

“Exposed blocks on the surface have a relatively short lifetime because the regolith buildup is happening constantly,” Mr Schultz said.

“So when we see them, there needs to be some explanation for how and why they were exposed in certain locations.”

“Just as concrete-covered cities on Earth retain more heat than the countryside, exposed bedrock and blocky surfaces on the moon stays warmer through the lunar night than regolith-covered surfaces,” the researchers said.

So using a tool on the LRO to measure the surface’s temperature, Mr Valantinas was able to discover more than 500 patches of exposed bedrock on narrow ridges following a pattern across the nearside of the moon.

Such ridges had been discovered before, but they were on the edges of very ancient lava-filled impact basins and could be explained by continued sagging in response to weight caused by the lava fill.

The new study found that these ridges are actually related to a mysterious system of tectonic features – ridges and faults – unrelated to the lava-filled basins.

“The distribution that we found here begs for a different explanation,” Professor Schultz said.

Mapping out all of these exposed ridges, Mr Valantinas and Prof Schultz discovered an interesting correlation between them and a previous NASA mission.

Back in 2014, NASA’s GRAIL mission discovered a network of ancient cracks in the moon’s crust, which became channels for magma from the moon’s core to flow to the surface.

This network lined up almost perfectly with the blocky ridges.

“It’s almost a one-to-one correlation,” Prof Schultz said. “That makes us think that what we’re seeing is an ongoing process driven by things happening in the moon’s interior.”

So the ridges, according to these scientists, are ancient magma flows which are still heaving upwards – breaking the surface and draining the regolith into cracks and voids, leaving the blocks exposed.

“Because bare spots on the moon get covered over fairly quickly, this cracking must be quite recent, possibly even ongoing today,” they say.

But what is causing this? According to the scientists, the tectonic movements may actually have begun billions of years ago with a giant impact on the far side of the moon.

Professor Schultz had previously proposed such an impact had formed the 1500-mile South Pole Aitken Basin, and shattered the interior on the opposite side of the moon – the side facing the Earth.

Magma from the core then filled these cracks and controlled the pattern detected in the GRAIL mission. The blocky ridges comprising this network now trace the continuing adjustments along these ancient weaknesses.

“This looks like the ridges responded to something that happened 4.3 billion years ago,” Prof Schultz said. “Giant impacts have long lasting effects.

“The moon has a long memory. What we’re seeing on the surface today is testimony to its long memory and secrets it still holds.”

Google executive took part in Sage meeting, tech firm confirms | World news

Google has confirmed that one of its senior executives participated in the UK government’s scientific advisory group on Covid-19, raising further questions about the composition of the secretive committee.

Demis Hassabis, a co–founder of Google’s artificial intelligence division, DeepMind, attended a meeting of the scientific advisory group for emergencies (Sage) on 18 March, when the group was considering whether the UK should go into lockdown.

Google said Hassabis was invited by the chief scientific adviser, Sir Patrick Vallance, who chairs Sage, which provides top-level guidance to the Cabinet Office during emergencies.

While Hassabis is considered a world-leading AI researcher, the presence on Sage of an executive from a Silicon Valley company that has been exploring ways to profit from using big data in the health industry is likely to deepen controversy about the group.

DeepMind previously processed millions of healthcare records from an NHS hospital trust as part of a scheme to design a diagnostic app, in an arrangement subsequently found to have contravened data protection law. DeepMind’s health unit was transferred to the parent company’s health division last year.

Also last year, Google struck a deal with the US hospital chain Ascension giving it access to the health data of millions of Americans.

A spokesperson for Google’s DeepMind said: “Demis was one of several scientists asked to contribute his thoughts on the government’s response to Covid-19.”

The spokesperson said Hassabis was a full participant in the meeting and was not required to sign a non-disclosure agreement. The spokesperson said they did not know whether the request to involve Hassabis in Sage came from the prime minister’s chief adviser, Dominic Cummings, as has been reported.

The Guardian revealed last week that Cummings and Ben Warner, a Downing Street data scientist with whom Cummings worked on the Vote Leave campaign for Brexit, have been attending meetings of the group.

Warner is a former principal at Faculty, an artificial intelligence startup run by his brother Marc Warner, which is currently working on an “unprecedented” health data-mining operation that is part of the government’s response to the coronavirus outbreak.

Downing Street is not denying this is the first time No 10 political advisers have attended Sage, which is supposed to be an independent and impartial body. However, the prime minister’s spokespeople insist it is “entirely right” that the pair should attend, insisting they have largely been silent observers in meetings.

A Downing Street spokesperson said it was “factually wrong and damaging to sensible public debate” to imply Sage’s advice to the committee had been “affected by government advisers listening to discussions”.

However, several Sage attendees have told the Guardian that Cummings and Warner have been active participants in meetings. On Tuesday Bloomberg News reported that at the same 18 March meeting, Cummings pressured Sage to recommend that the UK adopt lockdown measures to halt the transmission of the virus.

Citing people familiar with the meeting, the report said the prime minister’s chief adviser “swayed the discussion toward faster action, and made clear he thought pubs and restaurants should be closed within two days”.

It is not known what if anything Cummings or Warner were advocating in Sage earlier in that month, a period when the UK government was talking about building “herd immunity” in the population and delaying physical distancing measures.

The Guardian’s publication last week of a leaked list of Sage attendees at a 23 March meeting raised questions about lack of diversity on the group. Anthony Costello, a former director at the World Health Organization and a critic of the government’s handling of Covid-19, has complained the group lacks diversity of expertise.

The Guardian is investigating how the UK government prepared for – and is responding to – the coronavirus pandemic. We want to learn more about recent decisions taken at the heart of government. If you’re a whistleblower or source and with new information, you can email investigations@theguardian.com, or (using a non-work phone) use Signal or WhatsApp to message (UK) +44 7584 640566.

On Wednesday the government dispatched invitations to academics looking for additional participants in the Sage meetings, amid concerns about a lack of expertise in areas such as nursing and public health. A note from the Government Office for Science said the group was “now looking for additional expert support”.

Vallance has reversed his decision to keep secret the names of participants in meetings of Sage and its three advisory subcommittees. On Monday he said membership of the advisory groups would be published shortly, although individual members could ask to remain anonymous.

Pic: @AreciboRadar

Mile-wide asteroid skims past Earth at 19,000mph | Science & Tech News

A mile-wide asteroid officially classed as a “potentially hazardous object” has just skimmed past Earth.

Known as (52768) 1998 OR2, the asteroid zoomed past at around 19,000mph, making its closest approach at approximately 10.56am this morning.

During this flypast it was just under four million miles away – 16 times the distance between the Earth and the moon.

Despite its official classification, scientists said the asteroid wouldn’t actually put the planet at risk.

They explained that any asteroid larger than 500ft and within five million miles of the Earth’s orbit is called “potentially hazardous”.

However, NASA has warned that it is time to take the threat of an Earth-destroying asteroid seriously.







Asteroid would reinform if we tried to destroy it

A scientific study released last year poured cold water on the cinematic theory that humans could simply blow up an asteroid on a collision course with Earth, and found that blasted away fragments from the asteroid would be likely to reform with it because of gravity.

Fortunately for us, this hasn’t been the case with 1998 OR2.

Dr Brad Tucker, an astrophysicist at the Australian National University, said: “This asteroid poses no danger to the Earth and will not hit – it is one catastrophe we won’t have.

“While it is big, it is still smaller than the asteroid that impacted the Earth and wiped out the dinosaurs.”

Dr Anne Virkki, head of Planetary Radar at the Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico – which has also captured an image of the 1.2-mile wide space rock – has been tracking the asteroid.

Her team, which began observations of the the object on 13 April, joked that its most recent pictures suggested the asteroid was wearing a mask.







Japanese probe lands on asteroid

Dr Virkki said: “The small-scale topographic features such as hills and ridges on one end of asteroid 1998 OR2 are fascinating scientifically.

“But, since we are all thinking about COVID-19, these features make it look like 1998 OR2 remembered to wear a mask.”

The asteroid is not expected to approach Earth again for another 49 years, although scientists will continue to monitor it.

Flaviane Venditti, a research scientist at the Arecibo observatory, said: “The radar measurements allow us to know more precisely where the asteroid will be in the future, including its future close approaches to Earth.

“In 2079, asteroid 1998 OR2 will pass Earth about 3.5 times closer than it will this year, so it is important to know its orbit precisely.”

Germany flips to Apple-Google approach on smartphone contact tracing

Germany flips to Apple-Google approach on smartphone contact tracing

BERLIN (Reuters) – Germany changed course on Sunday over which type of smartphone technology it wanted to use to trace coronavirus infections, backing an approach supported by Apple and Google along with a growing number of other European countries.

FILE PHOTO: A sign with distancing rules and the notice that masks must be worn, is seen at the entrance of a shop, as the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) continues in Erfurt, Germany, April 24, 2020. REUTERS/Karina Hessland

Countries are rushing to develop apps to give a detailed picture of the risk of catching the coronavirus, as the chain of infection is proving hard to break because it can be spread by those showing no symptoms.

Chancellery Minister Helge Braun and Health Minister Jens Spahn said in a joint statement that Berlin would adopt a “decentralised” approach to digital contact tracing, thus abandoning a home-grown alternative that would have given health authorities central control over tracing data.

In Europe, most countries have chosen short-range Bluetooth “handshakes” between mobile devices as the best way of registering a potential contact, even though it does not provide location data.

But they have disagreed about whether to log such contacts on individual devices or on a central server – which would be more directly useful to existing contact tracing teams that work phones and knock on doors to warn those who may be at risk.

Under the decentralised approach, users could opt to share their phone number or details of their symptoms – making it easier for health authorities to get in touch and give advice on the best course of action in the event they are found to be at risk.

This consent would be given in the app, however, and not be part of the system’s central architecture.

APPLE REFUSED TO BUDGE

Germany as recently as Friday backed a centralised standard called Pan-European Privacy-Preserving Proximity Tracing (PEPP-PT), which would have needed Apple in particular to change the settings on its iPhones.

When Apple refused to budge there was no alternative but to change course, said a senior government source.

In their joint statement, Braun and Spahn said Germany would now adopt a “strongly decentralised” approach.

“This app should be voluntary, meet data protection standards and guarantee a high level of IT security,” they said. “The main epidemiological goal is to recognise and break chains of infection as soon as possible.”

Bluetooth-based smartphone contact tracing operates by assessing the closeness and length of contact between people and, if a person tests positive for COVID-19, telling recent contacts to call a doctor, get tested or self-isolate.

Early results in countries such as Singapore are modest, however, especially when set against the technology’s potential to redefine the relationship between state and individual.

An open letter from hundreds of scientists published last Monday warned that, if the contact tracing data was centralised, it would allow “unprecedented surveillance of society at large”.

The tide was already running against PEPP-PT and its main backer, German tech entrepreneur Chris Boos, as collaborators pulled out, faulting its methodology and its slowness to open up its work to wider scrutiny.

“GRAVE ERRORS”

One of the members of PEPP-PT, Germany’s Fraunhofer HHI research institute, was told on Saturday that it had been taken off the project, correspondence seen by Reuters showed.

“A series of grave errors were made by PEPP-PT regarding communication that, at the end of the day, caused serious damage and led to this decision,” Fraunhofer HHI head Thomas Wiegand said in a message to colleagues.

Germany’s reversal brings it into line with a proposal by Apple and Google, who said this month they would develop new tools to support decentralised contact tracing. In Europe, France and Britain still back centralisation.

Centralised apps would not work properly on Apple’s iPhone because, for Bluetooth exchanges to happen, the device would need to be unlocked with the app running in the foreground – a drain on the battery and an inconvenience to the user.

But the iPhone will integrate with decentralised protocols such as DP-3T, which has been developed by a Swiss-led team and has been backed by Switzerland, Austria and Estonia.

Backers of DP-3T, short for Decentralised Privacy-Preserving Proximity Tracing, say it is still possible for users voluntarily to opt in to sharing their phone number in order to pass epidemiologically useful data – although not location – to authorities to aid contact tracing. But this would be part of an app, not of the system architecture.

DP-3T, in a statement, welcomed Germany’s change of heart. PEPP-PT did not respond to requests for comment.

Germany flips on smartphone contact tracing, backs Apple and Google

Germany flips on smartphone contact tracing, backs Apple and Google

BERLIN (Reuters) – Germany changed course on Sunday over which type of smartphone technology it wanted to use to trace coronavirus infections, backing an approach supported by Apple and Google along with a growing number of other European countries.

FILE PHOTO: A sign with distancing rules and the notice that masks must be worn, is seen at the entrance of a shop, as the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) continues in Erfurt, Germany, April 24, 2020. REUTERS/Karina Hessland

Chancellery Minister Helge Braun and Health Minister Jens Spahn told the Welt am Sonntag newspaper that Berlin would adopt a ‘decentralized’ approach to digital contact tracing, in so doing abandoning a home-grown alternative.

Nations are rushing to develop apps to assess at scale the risk of catching COVID-19, where the chain of infection is proving hard to break because the flu-like disease can be spread by those showing no symptoms.

In Europe, most countries have chosen short-range Bluetooth ‘handshakes’ between devices as the best approach, but have differed over whether to log such contacts on a central server or on individual devices.

Germany as recently as Friday backed an initiative called Pan-European Privacy-Preserving Proximity Tracing (PEPP-PT), whose centralized approach was criticized by hundreds of scientists in an open letter last Monday as opening the way to state surveillance.

“We will back a decentralized architecture that will only store contacts on devices. That is good for trust,” Braun told ARD public television in an interview.

Although Bluetooth-based smartphone contact tracing is an untested technology and early results in countries like Singapore are modest, its development is already redefining the relationship between the state and individual.

It would work by assessing the closeness and length of contact between people and, should a person test positive for COVID-19, tell recent contacts to call a doctor, get tested or self-isolate.

OFF THE CASE

One of the members of PEPP-PT, Germany’s Fraunhofer HHI research institute, was told on Saturday that it was being taken off the project, correspondence seen by Reuters showed.

“The project will be handed over and others will be able to make use of the results we have achieved so far to build a decentralized solution,” Fraunhofer HHI head Thomas Wiegand said in a message to colleagues.

Germany’s change of tack would bring its approach into line with that taken by Apple and Alphabet’s Google, which said this month they would develop new tools to support decentralized contact tracing.

Importantly, Apple’s iPhone would under the proposed setup only work properly with decentralized protocols such as DP-3T, which has been developed by a Swiss-led team and has been backed by Switzerland, Austria and Estonia.

Health authorities are keen to get insights into the spread of infection and make use of digital contact tracing to support existing teams that work phones and knock on doors to warn those at risk.

Backers of DP-3T, short for Decentralised Privacy-Preserving Proximity Tracing, say it is still possible for users to opt in to sharing their phone number to aid contact tracing – but this would be part of an app, not of the system architecture.

And although using Bluetooth means the location of an infection event cannot be known to the authorities, it would still be possible for users, by opting in, to share epidemiologically useful data under a decentralized approach.

DP-3T said in a statement that it is was “very happy to see that Germany is adopting a decentralized approach to contact tracing and we look forward to its next steps implementing such a technique in a privacy-preserving manner.”

PEPP-PT said it planned to issue a statement in due course.

The Fraunhofer HHI institute did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Additional reporting by Andreas Rinke; editing by Jason Neely