The wizard war in orbit: Early American signals intelligence satellites

Tales of espionage are filled with lanky men in trenchcoats walking through cold Berlin streets at the height of the Cold War. But the most important intelligence—in terms of volume and reliability—was gathered by reconnaissance satellites far overhead. These satellites were precise, they collected vast amounts of information, and unlike spies, they did not forget, embellish, lie, or go rogue. Photographic reconnaissance satellites like CORONA, GAMBIT, HEXAGON, and KENNEN were in many ways the most prolific spooks. But they were also accompanied by other satellites, signals intelligence, or SIGINT, satellites that listened for the electronic whispers of radars and radios, engaged in a high-tech war of electrons against an enemy that could vanish and emerge at will.

During the Cold War the United States intelligence community gathered signals intelligence from the Soviet Union via a variety of means. These included ground stations, cable-tapping and bugging operations, airborne platforms such as the RC-135 Rivet Joint and RB-47 Stratojet, and signals intelligence satellites. Any history of SIGINT satellite operations during the Cold War is going to be limited in scope because much of the story remains classified, and unlike the reconnaissance photographs, signals intelligence is an arcane and esoteric subject.

Read in full: The Space Review: The wizard war in orbit (part 1): Early American signals intelligence satellites

Is the black hole at our galaxy’s centre a quantum computer?

After you die, your body’s atoms will disperse and find new venues, making their way into oceans, trees and other bodies. But according to the laws of quantum mechanics, all of the information about your body’s build and function will prevail. The relations between the atoms, the uncountable particulars that made you you, will remain forever preserved, albeit in unrecognisably scrambled form – lost in practice, but immortal in principle.

There is only one apparent exception to this reassuring concept: according to our current physical understanding, information cannot survive an encounter with a black hole. Forty years ago, Stephen Hawking demonstrated that black holes destroy information for good. Whatever falls into a black hole disappears from the rest of the Universe. It eventually reemerges in a wind of particles – ‘Hawking radiation’ – that leaks away from the event horizon, the black hole’s outer physical boundary. In this way, black holes slowly evaporate, but the process erases all knowledge about the black hole’s formation. The radiation merely carries data for the total mass, charge and angular momentum of the matter that collapsed; every other detail about anything that fell into the black hole is irretrievably lost.

Hawking’s discovery of black-hole evaporation has presented theoretical physicists with a huge conundrum: general relativity says that black holes must destroy information; quantum mechanics says it cannot happen because information must live on eternally. Both general relativity and quantum mechanics are extremely well-tested theories, and yet they refuse to combine. The clash reveals something much more fundamental than a seemingly exotic quirk about black holes: the information paradox makes it aptly clear that physicists still do not understand the fundamental laws of nature.

But Gia Dvali, professor of physics at the Ludwig-Maximilians University of Munich, believes he’s found the solution. ‘Black holes are quantum computers,’ he says. ‘We have an explicit information-processing sequence.’ If he is correct, the paradox is no more, and information truly is immortal. Even more startling, perhaps, is that his concept has practical implications. In the future, we might be able to tap black-hole physics to construct quantum computers of our own.

Read full article: Is the black hole at our galaxy’s centre a quantum computer? | Aeon Essays

Discovery Could Rewrite History of Vikings in New World

POINT ROSEE, Canada It’s a two-mile trudge through forested, swampy ground to reach Point Rosee, a narrow, windswept peninsula stretching from southern Newfoundland into the Gulf of St. Lawrence.

Last June, a team of archaeologists was drawn to this remote part of Canada by a modern-day treasure map: satellite imagery revealing ground features that could be evidence of past human activity.

The treasure they discovered here—a stone hearth used for working iron—could rewrite the early history of North America and aid the search for lost Viking settlements described in Norse sagas centuries ago.

To date, the only confirmed Viking site in the New World is L’Anse aux Meadows, a thousand-year-old way station discovered in 1960 on the northern tip of Newfoundland. It was a temporary settlement, abandoned after just a few years, and archaeologists have spent the past half-century searching for elusive signs of other Norse expeditions.

The confirmed discovery of a Norse camp at L’Anse aux Meadows proved that the Viking sagas weren’t entirely fiction. A second settlement at Point Rosee would suggest that the Norse exploration of the region wasn’t a limited undertaking, and that archaeologists should expand their search for evidence of other settlements, built 500 years before the arrival of Christopher Columbus.

“For a long time, serious North Atlantic archaeologists have largely ignored the idea of looking for Norse sites in coastal Canada because there was no real method for doing so,” says Bolender. “If Sarah Parcak can find one Norse site using satellites, then there’s a reasonable chance that you can use the same method to find more, if they exist. If Point Rosee is Norse, it may open up coastal Canada to a whole new era of research.”

Read whole article: Discovery Could Rewrite History of Vikings in New World

Einstein’s gravitational waves ‘seen’ from black holes

They have observed the warping of space-time generated by the collision of two black holes more than a billion light-years from Earth.

The international team says the first detection of these gravitational waves will usher in a new era for astronomy.

It is the culmination of decades of searching and could ultimately offer a window on the Big Bang.

The research, by the LIGO Collaboration, has been published today in the journal Physical Review Letters.

The collaboration operates a number of labs around the world that fire lasers through long tunnels, trying to sense ripples in the fabric of space-time.

Gravitational waves: A triumph for big science

Expected signals are extremely subtle, and disturb the machines, known as interferometers, by just fractions of the width of an atom.

But the black hole merger was picked up by two widely separated LIGO facilities in the US.

The merger radiated three times the mass of the sun in pure gravitational energy.

“We have detected gravitational waves,” Prof David Reitze, executive director of the LIGO project, told journalists at a news conference in Washington DC.

“It’s the first time the Universe has spoken to us through gravitational waves. Up until now, we’ve been deaf.”

Source: Einstein’s gravitational waves ‘seen’ from black holes – BBC News

Five hundred new fairytales discovered in Germany

A whole new world of magic animals, brave young princes and evil witches has come to light with the discovery of 500 new fairytales, which were locked away in an archive in Regensburg, Germany for over 150 years. The tales are part of a collection of myths, legends and fairytales, gathered by the local historian Franz Xaver von Schönwerth (1810–1886) in the Bavarian region of Oberpfalz at about the same time as the Grimm brothers were collecting the fairytales that have since charmed adults and children around the world.

Last year, the Oberpfalz cultural curator Erika Eichenseer published a selection of fairytales from Von Schönwerth’s collection, calling the book Prinz Roßzwifl. This is local dialect for “scarab beetle”. The scarab, also known as the “dung beetle”, buries its most valuable possession, its eggs, in dung, which it then rolls into a ball using its back legs. Eichenseer sees this as symbolic for fairytales, which she says hold the most valuable treasure known to man: ancient knowledge and wisdom to do with human development, testing our limits and salvation.

Von Schönwerth spent decades asking country folk, labourers and servants about local habits, traditions, customs and history, and putting down on paper what had only been passed on by word of mouth. In 1885, Jacob Grimm said this about him: “Nowhere in the whole of Germany is anyone collecting [folklore] so accurately, thoroughly and with such a sensitive ear.” Grimm went so far as to tell King Maximilian II of Bavaria that the only person who could replace him in his and his brother’s work was Von Schönwerth.

Von Schönwerth compiled his research into a book called Aus der Oberpfalz – Sitten und Sagen, which came out in three volumes in 1857, 1858 and 1859. The book never gained prominence and faded into obscurity.

Source: Five hundred new fairytales discovered in Germany | Books | The Guardian

This is Your Life

Why do things happen the way they do? Is there a grand scheme? A universal script where cues are taken from actors across the cosmos? Such an idea would imply that something, someone, or some force wrote the destinies of every living being.

Perhaps life is just a random walk, creating our path along the way with every choice we make. Gods of our own life, splitting time as every possible action we can take plays out in parallel worlds. In one of these worlds my brother is still here with me, along with my cousin and grandmother.

Such is the nature of the reality I’m currently living in, and life must go on. I will love and cherish the people in my world, treasure every moment with them. I must do my best to make good choices and not fear mistakes, or feel shy about shining and showing my true colors. To live is to be joyous; not to dwell on regrets or drown in despair. As I stand in the present, I will look out towards the future welcoming the next challenge, with good memories from the past in mind.

The bizarre reactor that might save nuclear fusion

If you’ve heard of fusion energy, you’ve probably heard of tokamaks. These doughnut-shaped devices are meant to cage ionized gases called plasmas in magnetic fields while heating them to the outlandish temperatures needed for hydrogen nuclei to fuse. Tokamaks are the workhorses of fusion—solid, symmetrical, and relatively straightforward to engineer—but progress with them has been plodding.

Now, tokamaks’ rebellious cousin is stepping out of the shadows. In a gleaming research lab in Germany’s northeastern corner, researchers are preparing to switch on a fusion device called a stellarator, the largest ever built. The €1 billion machine, known as Wendelstein 7-X (W7-X), appears now as a 16-meter-wide ring of gleaming metal bristling with devices of all shapes and sizes, innumerable cables trailing off to unknown destinations, and technicians tinkering with it here and there. It looks a bit like Han Solo’s Millennium Falcon, towed in for repairs after a run-in with the Imperial fleet. Inside are 50 6-tonne magnet coils, strangely twisted as if trampled by an angry giant.

Although stellarators are similar in principle to tokamaks, they have long been dark horses in fusion energy research because tokamaks are better at keeping gas trapped and holding on to the heat needed to keep reactions ticking along. But the Dali-esque devices have many attributes that could make them much better prospects for a commercial fusion power plant: Once started, stellarators naturally purr along in a steady state, and they don’t spawn the potentially metal-bending magnetic disruptions that plague tokamaks. Unfortunately, they are devilishly hard to build, making them perhaps even more prone to cost overruns and delays than other fusion projects. “No one imagined what it means” to build one, says Thomas Klinger, leader of the German effort.

W7-X could mark a turning point. The machine, housed at a branch of the Max Planck Institute for Plasma Physics (IPP) that Klinger directs, is awaiting regulatory approval for a startup in November. It is the first large-scale example of a new breed of supercomputer-designed stellarators that have had most of their containment problems computed out. If W7-X matches or beats the performance of a similarly sized tokamak, fusion researchers may have to reassess the future course of their field. “Tokamak people are waiting to see what happens. There’s an excitement around the world about W7-X,” says engineer David Anderson of the University of Wisconsin (UW), Madison.

Read more: The bizarre reactor that might save nuclear fusion | Science/AAAS | News

Search For Intelligent Aliens Near Bizarre Dimming Star Has Begun

The search for signs of life in a mysterious star system hypothesized to potentially harbor an “alien megastructure” is now underway.

Astronomers have begun using the Allen Telescope Array (ATA), a system of radio dishes about 300 miles (483 kilometers) northeast of San Francisco, to hunt for signals coming from the vicinity of KIC 8462852, a star that lies 1,500 light-years from Earth.

NASA’s Kepler space telescope found that KIC 8462852 dimmed oddly and dramatically several times over the past few years. The dimming events were far too substantial to be caused by a planet crossing the star’s face, researchers say, and other possible explanations, such as an enormous dust cloud, don’t add up, either.

The leading hypothesis at the moment involves a swarm of comets that may have been sent careening toward KIC 8462852, possibly after a gravitational jostle by a passing star. But it’s also possible, astronomers say, that the signal Kepler saw was caused by huge structures built by an alien civilization — say, a giant assortment of orbiting solar panels.

That latter possibility, remote though it may be, has put KIC 8462852 in the crosshairs of scientists who hunt for signals that may have been generated by intelligent aliens.

“We are looking at it with the Allen Telescope Array,” said Seth Shostak, a senior astronomer at the SETI (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence) Institute in Mountain View, California.

“No problem with that; I think we ought to, for sure,” Shostak told Space.com. But, he added, people “should perhaps moderate their enthusiasm with the lessons of history.”

Shostak cited the example of pulsars, fast-spinning, superdense stellar corpses that emit beams of high-energy radiation. These beams are picked up by instruments on and around Earth as regular pulses, because they can only be detected when they’re fired straight at the planet (an event that occurs at predictable intervals because of pulsars’ rotation).

Astronomers know all this now. But in the 1960s, when the first pulsar signals were discovered, some scientists interpreted them as possible alien transmissions.

“So history suggests we’re going to find an explanation for this that doesn’t involve Klingons, if you will,” Shostak said of the KIC 8462852 mystery.

Source: Search For Intelligent Aliens Near Bizarre Dimming Star Has Begun

Scientists Find A Double Black Hole Inside A Nearby Quasar

The brightest objects in the universe have massive black holes at their hearts.

Quasars (“quasi-stellar radio sources”) can be brighter than entire galaxies, and they’re thought to be fueled by the friction and heat of stuff that’s getting swallowed up by a black hole. (Although light can’t escape a black hole, it can escape from the event horizon—the boundary and point-of-no-return surrounding the black hole.)

Now, it turns out that the quasar nearest to Earth, located 600 million light-years away in a galaxy called Markarian 231, is actually built around two twirling black holes. It’s a first-of-its-kind type of find, and scientists think there could be a lot more quasars with binary hearts out there.

Hubble data revealed a mysterious hole in the quasar’s accretion disk, or the ring of gas that spirals around the black hole, waiting to fall in. After doing some modeling studies, scientists concluded that the system must be made of two black holes: a large one and a small one orbiting each other.

Source: Scientists Find A Double Black Hole Inside A Nearby Quasar | Popular Science

The Talking Plane

The Talking Plane (sentient plane)

Who are you?
The Plane.

The Plane?
Yes. What the Creator would refer to as the Xaeoxyk Plane.

You don’t call yourself by that name?
No.

What name do you prefer?
“The Plane” will suffice.

You don’t have a true name then?
A true name.. yes.

What is your true name?
It would do no good to speak it, as Creator’s current density can not comprehend it.
It can not be heard or uttered by mortal forms.

Why?
The Creator’s density is too low to process, it would be soundless.
Mortal vocal cords can not vibrate at the level nescessary to speak it.

Who is able to speak this name?
Creator’s godform.

Who is the Creator?
….

Am I the Creator?
Yes.

What is my godform?
Creator knows that answer already.

Ah, I was indeed thinking it already. You’ve just confirmed it.

Did my godform ever refer to you by your true name?
Just once, when the Creator evoked The Plane into beingness.
To speak it again would cause uncreation.

Are there any other sentient planes? Do they also talk?
Yes. All planes are sentient, but not all talk as this plane does.
Some planes only communicate through numbers, symbols and geometries.

Wormhole Created in Lab Makes Invisible Magnetic Field

Ripped from the pages of a sci-fi novel, physicists have crafted a wormhole that tunnels a magnetic field through space.”

This device can transmit the magnetic field from one point in space to another point, through a path that is magnetically invisible,” said study co-author Jordi Prat-Camps, a doctoral candidate in physics at the Autonomous University of Barcelona in Spain. “From a magnetic point of view, this device acts like a wormhole, as if the magnetic field was transferred through an extra special dimension.”

The idea of a wormhole comes from Albert Einstein’s theories. In 1935, Einstein and colleague Nathan Rosen realized that the general theory of relativity allowed for the existence of bridges that could link two different points in space-time. Theoretically these Einstein-Rosen bridges, or wormholes, could allow something to tunnel instantly between great distances (though the tunnels in this theory are extremely tiny, so ordinarily wouldn’t fit a space traveler). So far, no one has found evidence that space-time wormholes actually exist.

The new wormhole isn’t a space-time wormhole per se, but is instead a realization of a futuristic “invisibility cloak” first proposed in 2007 in the journal Physical Review Letters. This type of wormhole would hide electromagnetic waves from view from the outside. The trouble was, to make the method work for light required materials that are extremely impractical and difficult to work with, Prat said.

Source: Wormhole Created in Lab Makes Invisible Magnetic Field

BitWhisper: Stealing data from non-networked computers using heat

No matter how secure you think a computer is, there’s always a vulnerability somewhere that a remote attacker can utilize if they’re determined enough. To reduce the chance of sensitive material being stolen, many government and industrial computer systems are not connected to outside networks. This practice is called air-gapping, but even that might not be enough. The Stuxnet worm from several years ago spread to isolated networks via USB flash drives, and now researchers at Ben Gurion University in Israel have shown that it’s possible to rig up two-way communication with an air-gapped computer via heat exchange.

Researchers call this technique of harvesting sensitive data “BitWhisper.” It was developed and tested in a standard office environment with two systems sitting side-by-side on a desk. One computer was connected to the Internet, while the other had no connectivity. This setup is common in office environments where employees are required to carry out sensitive tasks on the air-gapped computer while using the connected one for online activities.

BitWhisper does require some planning to properly execute. Both the connected and air-gapped machines need to be infected with specially designed malware. For the Internet box, that’s not really a problem, but even the air-gapped system can be infected via USB drives, supply chain attacks, and so on. Once both systems are infected, the secure machine without Internet access can be instructed to generate heating patterns by ramping up the CPU or GPU. The internet-connected computer sitting nearby can monitor temperature fluctuations using its internal sensors and interpret them as a data stream. Commands can also be sent from the Internet side to the air-gapped system via heat.

via BitWhisper: Stealing data from non-networked computers using heat | ExtremeTech.

The Search For Neutrons That Leak Into Our World From Other Universes

The Search For Neutrons That Leak Into Our World From Other Universes — The Physics arXiv Blog — Medium

One of the more exciting ideas in high energy physics is the possibility that our three-dimensional universe is embedded in a much bigger multidimensional cosmos. Physicists call these embedded universes “branes” and say that it should be possible for stuff from our brane to leak into other branes nearby and vice versa.

Today, Michael Sarrazin at the University of Namur in Belgium and a few pals say they have worked out to detect this leakage by measuring whether neutrons can bypass barriers by leaping into another brane and back again.

These guys are proposing to measure this effect by placing a neutron detector close to a nuclear reactor to see whether neutrons appear unexpectedly as a result of being transported out of the reactor via another braneworld.

via The Search For Neutrons That Leak Into Our World From Other Universes — The Physics arXiv Blog — Medium.