Possible superstar comet Atlas looks like it’s breaking up already – CNET


Comet Atlas

Virtual Telescope Project

Comet Atlas has the potential to put on one of the best shows by a melting space snowball in years, but there's some early indications that it might be breaking up early and cruising towards a spectacular fizzling instead. 

In a note shared via The Astronomer's Telegram Monday, astronomers Quanzhi Ye from the University of Maryland and Qicheng Zhang of Caltech report that Comet C/2019 Y4, or Atlas, may be falling apart. 

"We report the possible disintegration of comet C/2019 Y4 (ATLAS)," they wrote. "Images taken on (April 5) showed an elongated pseudo-nucleus... as would be expected from a major disruption of the nucleus."

Or as astrophysicist Karl Battams from the Naval Research Laboratory and NASA's Sungrazing Comets Project summed it up on Twitter: "an elongated nucleus isn't a great sign."

Atlas is named for the sky survey that first discovered it back on Dec. 28. The comet went through a period of rapid brightening in March that excited some skywatchers, with hopes it might eventually become as bright as Venus and perhaps even possible to observe in daylight. 

But comets are famously erratic and hard to predict. As they approach the sun, heat and radiation from our star can inflict serious damage, sending promising cosmic ice clods into early oblivion. 

These latest observations indicate that Atlas is a little less likely to show off its fantastically gassy plumage next month as hoped, but Battams says it's still too early to predict its demise as well. 

"The frustrating thing about comets is we often don't know exactly what they're doing or why they're doing it. There's still a chance that Comet ATLAS is just 'taking a breather' before another outburst," he told Spaceweather.com. "But I wouldn't count on it."

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Coronavirus app could trace your contacts without sacrificing your privacy – CNET

Coronavirus phone
James Martin/CNET

Some of the biggest names in encryption are developing a smartphone app they hope will tamp down the coronavirus pandemic without trampling on privacy.

Private Automated Contact Tracing, or PACT, is designed to let people figure out if they've been near others who've caught COVID-19, the respiratory disease caused by the novel coronavirus. If you've tested positive, you can use the app to voluntarily upload information to a server that then lets others find out they've been near someone infected. It will also let you find out if you've been near others who have the disease.

PACT does this without sharing your identity or phone number with anyone, including the government. The app also doesn't record your location. All it needs to know is that you were near somebody else running the app, not where you both were.

Among those participating in the effort are Ron Rivest of MIT and Adi Shamir of the Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel. The two scientists are the "R" and "S" in RSA encryption technology, the pioneering process that secures communication on the internet. It also includes researchers at the Massachusetts General Hospital Center for Global Health, Boston University, Brown University, Carnegie Mellon University, SRI International and different divisions of MIT.

"The way to flatten the curve is to get people to be sequestered who have been exposed as quickly as you can," said Rivest, one of the leaders of the project. "That means identifying  people as quickly as you can."

PACT, which hasn't got a release date yet, is an example of a burst in innovation to address the coronavirus pandemic. Companies that make cars or gaming computers are now making ventilators. Ordinary citizens are mobilizing to sew masks and 3D-print face shields for physicians, nurses and first responders. 

Other contact-tracing apps, including COVID Watch and Pan-European Privacy-Preserving Proximity Tracing, have also been developed to deal with the pandemic. Rivest hopes that some of the projects can unite. "We'd like to see a common approach," he said.

Contact tracing has historically been a manual process in which a health care professional painstakingly goes through a patient's history to figure out who they were near. It can be used to track down origins of a disease or predict where it might spread next. But it's a laborious process. And even when patients have strong memories, they often can't identify strangers like  fellow passengers on a bus. That's why apps are attractive to researchers. 

Privacy-first contact tracing

Using smartphone apps to trace contacts isn't a new idea. South Korea has used smartphone apps to track citizens' whereabouts during the coronavirus lockdown. Access to cell phone location data could let governments track people even without an app, something the US government has reportedly done. Phone-based tracking has also been used in Israel and Singapore, though the American Civil Liberties Union points out that phone-based data can have flaws that hobble its medical usefulness.

That kind of access raises concerns among privacy advocates, who worry governments will end up knowing too much about you. Tracking you could reveal political activity, private medical conditions and religious affiliations, and it can feel oppressive. "Privacy is a basic human need," says security researcher Bruce Schneier.

Building a privacy-respecting alternative is important, particularly in the US, says Kurt Opsahl, deputy executive director and lead lawyer at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, an online privacy group.

"Once you create things, they tend to stick around and get repurposed for other things," Opsahl said. "We need to make sure we're building something that's for a future we would want to live in, not enabling a technology that may seem like a good idea now but that would last longer than the crisis."

Opsahl cited the Patriot Act, which was signed into law shortly after the 2001 terrorist attacks, as an example. The law is still the center of an EFF legal fight about government surveillance.

The big challenge: Getting people to use the app

A barrier to PACT's success, however, is getting enough people to use it. Without a critical mass of users, PACT won't provide enough information about the spread of the disease to be useful. People might be leery about sharing that they've caught COVID-19 even with an app that's designed to protect their privacy.

The app could also "cause a false fear" in people if it tells them they might have been in contact with an infected person, said  Andrew Noymer, an associate professor of public health at the University of California at Irvine. That worry could be compounded by the difficulty of actually getting tested afterward.

"This is a well-intentioned scheme that's going to have zero public health impact," Noymer said. 

Another potential pitfall is security. The idea of helping fight the coronavirus without harming civil liberties is good, but the app has to have robust security to thwart hackers or abuse from trolls, like the ones who are "Zoombombing" videoconferences, Opsahl said. "Someone could try to attack it by putting in false information to try to put somebody they didn't like into quarantine," he said.

Still, people can change, particularly if encouraged by authorities or otherwise prompted. A week ago, few people in the US were wearing masks, and a month ago, few people were staying at home.

How the PACT app works

The app works by broadcasting a random, frequently changing ID number over Bluetooth and listening to others' IDs. If you test positive for COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, you can upload your history of ID numbers to a central server. Or if you want to check whether you might have been exposed, the app can check if your contact history includes any ID numbers from infected people.

"You want to allow something to sense if you're within 6 feet of someone for more than 10 minutes. Bluetooth can do that," Rivest said.

To prevent abuse, the app would only be able to upload your information after a medical authority presents you with a QR code the app can scan, Rivest said. The ID number changes frequently, perhaps as often as once a minute, so individuals don't have any persistent identifier.

PACT team members hope the app will get a boost from health officials and, perhaps, from Apple and Google, which offer coronavirus information pages and operate the two biggest app stores. Promotional placement in those stores would make a big difference. "We hope to have strong cooperation," Rivest said. Apple and Google didn't comment for this story.

Apple, which has a strong privacy protection agenda today, has tackled a similar idea with its Find My technology in which other people's iPhones can help locate yours if it's lost. Indeed, Rivest has discussed the technology in his classes, and it helped inspire PACT.

The increase in new COVID-19 cases appears to be flattening in the US, a good sign in the fight against the coronavirus pandemic. But even if the crisis abates, PACT could help prevent a rebound, said Robert Cunningham, an adjunct professor of cybersecurity at Carnegie Mellon University and member of the team.

"We can use this in a way to keep from flaring up again," Cunningham said. "The trick is to get this in place."

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President Trump will ‘take a look’ at pardoning Tiger King Joe Exotic – CNET


Will President Trump pardon Joe Exotic, aka the Tiger King?

Courtesy Netflix
For the most up-to-date news and information about the coronavirus pandemic, visit the WHO website.

The Netflix documentary series Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem and Madness, has been a huge hit for the streaming service. But its star, Joseph Maldonado-Passage, aka Joe Exotic, is still serving time in Texas after being convicted on two counts of murder-for-hire as well as other charges. On Wednesday, President Donald Trump was asked about whether he'd consider pardoning the former wild-animal-park owner, who is serving a 22-year sentence, and he didn't exactly say no.

"Your son yesterday jokingly said that he was going to advocate for (a pardon)," New York Post reporter Steven Nelson asked Trump, referring to statements Donald Trump Jr. made on Monday. The president didn't appear to know about either the show or his son's request, asking, "Which son? Must be Don. I had a feeling it was Don."

Trump admitted he knew "nothing about (Tiger King)," and joked with reporters, asking if they thought Joe Exotic should be pardoned, and finally said, "I'll take a look," before moving on to a coronavirus question.

Exotic's husband, Dillon Passage, recently told SiriusXM radio host Andy Cohen that Exotic was recently moved to a different facility where he was put in isolation because other inmates at his previous location had tested positive for the COVID-19 virus.

According to the New York Post, Exotic was moved from Grady County Jail in Chickasha, Oklahoma, to the Federal Medical Center in Fort Worth, Texas. Although the center wouldn't comment to the newspaper on Exotic's own health, a Facebook post dated April 2 on his personal page says, "Joe DOES NOT have the COVID-19 virus, he's in a 14-day quarantine because he was transferred from another facility."

Whether Trump ends up examining Exotic's case, Tiger King mania hasn't subsided. There are rumors that Netflix is making a new episode of the series (the network would not confirm this), and a miniseries starring SNL star Kate McKinnon as Exotic's rival, Carole Baskin, is on the way.

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The US Hitches Its Final Ride to Space From Russia—for Now

On Thursday, a Soyuz rocket carrying three astronauts to the International Space Station is scheduled to depart from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in the Kazakhstan desert. The coronavirus pandemic means there won’t be the usual crowds of wellwishers lining the streets to see the astronauts on their way, but the flight is a historic one. It marks the end of NASA’s dependence on Russian rockets for human spaceflight and the return of crewed launches to the United States. But NASA says American astronauts may still end up hitching rides to space in a Soyuz capsule in the future.

Ever since NASA called it quits on its space shuttle program in 2011, the Russian spaceport has been the only facility operating crewed flights outside of China. But that’s about to change. SpaceX is preparing for its first crewed NASA mission to the space station, which could launch from Florida by the end of next month. Boeing has also contracted with NASA for crewed flights, although its program was delayed for several months after a suite of errors during a test mission last year. For the first time in nearly a decade, NASA has options for sending humans to space.

“It’s an amazing time to be at this agency,” NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine said during a press conference in December. “We will launch American astronauts on American rockets from American soil. It’s overdue.”

Chris Cassidy, who is heading to the ISS for the third time, will be the only American astronaut on Thursday’s launch. His two flight companions, Ivan Vagner and Anatoly Ivanishin, are both cosmonauts at Roscosmos, Russia’s national space agency. Cassidy is a veteran of the shuttle program and flew on a Soyuz rocket once before in 2013.

According to a NASA spokesperson, Cassidy’s seat is the last one that the agency has purchased from Roscosmos. “However, NASA is currently in negotiation with Roscosmos for an additional seat,” the spokesperson wrote in an email to WIRED. “Once NASA certifies the Boeing and SpaceX spacecraft, NASA expects to work with Roscosmos and international partners to continue to fly mixed crews.”

NASA’s dependence on Russia to send humans to space has been expensive. A seat in a Soyuz capsule costs $86 million today, an increase of nearly 400 percent over about a decade and a half. A 2016 report from NASA’s Office of Inspector General found that the agency would end up paying Roscosmos more than $3.4 billion by the time SpaceX and Boeing were ready to fly. But when you’re the only one with access to the space station, you can charge what you want.

By bringing launches back to the US, NASA stands to save a lot of money on crewed flights. Last year, the Office of Inspector General determined that a seat on SpaceX’s Crew Dragon capsule will cost just $55 million and a seat on Boeing’s Starliner capsule will cost around $90 million. (Boeing officials disputed this figure on the grounds that the company’s capsule can also carry a crew member’s worth of cargo, which they claim makes its seat price closer to $70 million.) Still, both price tags are still way less expensive than a seat on the space shuttle.

Thursday’s Soyuz launch will mark the end of the longest period in NASA’s history since it started crewed spaceflight that the agency didn’t have the capability to send its own astronauts to space. The rebirth of American crewed spaceflight will be spearheaded by Doug Hurley, who was the pilot on NASA’s final shuttle mission and one of two astronauts on SpaceX’s first crewed mission. Hurley and his crew partner Bob Behnken may be riding a Dragon to space this summer, but as far as mythical animals go, it seems more like a phoenix.

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Jeep Gladiator Maximus: Ready to rock (crawl) and roll – Roadshow

There are plenty of upgrades onboard, but most notably, there's a supercharged 6.2-liter V8.

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Disney Plus surpasses 50 million subscribers in five months – CNET


Disney Plus streams movies and shows from Disney as well as programming it acquired in its takeover of Fox, like The Simpsons. 


Disney Plus has surpassed 50 million subscribers in the five months since it launched, the company said Wednesday. By comparison, Netflix -- the biggest subscription video service in the world -- had 167 million global subscribers as of the end of last year. That's three times the size of Disney Plus now, but Netflix began streaming more than a decade ago. 

Disney Plus has proven to be one of last year's biggest launches, with one media analyst calling it "one of the greatest product launches of all time." When Disney initially set expectations for how Disney Plus would grow, the company predicted it would take five years to reach between 60 million and 90 million subscribers. But the service registered more than 10 million sign-ups in little more than a day after it launched the US and the Netherlands in November. By three months, it had more than 28 million members

It has since expanded to 14 total countries, including India and much of Western Europe. Disney noted Wednesday that 8 million of its subscribers are in India, where the service combined with the existing Hotstar streaming service there. 

The coronavirus, which causes the respiratory disease known as COVID-19, has also spurred more demand for streaming in recent weeks. As the virus spread rapidly around the world into a pandemic, it has shuttered swaths of the entertainment industry and confined people globally to their homes. That's resulted in spikes in video streaming

Disney has turned to its streaming service as a tool to cope with the coronavirus disruptions to its normal movie business. With movie theaters shuttered around the world, it put Pixar's Onward on Disney Plus last week less than a month after the film's theatrical release. Later the same day, Disney said it'll put its sci-fi fantasy Artemis Fowl straight onto Disney Plus rather than saving it for release in theaters once cinemas reopen. 

Disney Plus is perhaps the most high-profile example of traditional Hollywood throwing its fortunes in with streaming, competing against the likes of NetflixAmazon and a new wave of rivals like Apple TV PlusHBO Max and Peacock. With billions of dollars of investment at play, their competitive wins and losses will shape the future of television -- and affect how you're able to watch your favorite things. 

"We're truly humbled that Disney Plus is resonating with millions around the globe, and believe this bodes well for our continued expansion throughout Western Europe and into Japan and all of Latin America later this year," said Kevin Mayer, chairman of Disney's direct-to-consumer division -- which runs Disney Plus -- in a statement. "Great storytelling inspires and uplifts, and we are in the fortunate position of being able to deliver a vast array of great entertainment rooted in joy and optimism on Disney Plus."

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Get a Nest 3rd gen smart thermostat and Nest Protect smoke alarm bundle for $290 – CNET

Tyler Lizenby/CNET

When I started working from home, I made an important discovery: My thermostat was terrible. Just, simply awful. It was hard to program, always arrived to the party at the requested temperature long after I needed it, and couldn't be adjusted from anywhere except the middle of the hallway. Stepping up to a Nest, though, changed everything. Want to add some smarts to your own home's climate control? I have a deal for you. At Daily Steals you can get the Nest Learning Thermostat (3rd Gen) bundled with a Nest Protect  Smoke and Carbon Monoxide Alarm (2nd Gen) for $290 when you apply discount code CNETNEST3 at checkout.

That's an excellent deal; the Nest thermostat usually sells for $250 all on its own, and this bundle is selling for $330 at Amazon right now. Bottom line: This is 38% off the regular bundle price and is a savings of $40 off the best price at Amazon right now.

As CNET's Megan Wollerton points out in her Nest Learning Thermostat (3rd Gen) review, Nest isn't the revolutionary device it was when it first appeared back in 2011, but here's the thing: If you've never had a smart thermostat before, it's still pretty revolutionary for you. The latest Nest works with optional temperature sensors you can position around the house to tell Nest which rooms are most important to hit your target temperature. Nest is also easy to program and learns what kind of temperature settings you like throughout the day and proactively does it for you. If you prefer, it's a snap to control from your phone or by voice with Alexa or Google.

The bundle includes the Nest Protect Smoke and Carbon Monoxide Alarm (2nd Gen) as well, and this is perhaps the reason I'm so excited about this bundle. Yes, a smart thermostat is great, and comes in handy when you're working from home for the foreseeable future, so you can fine-tune your home office's working temperature throughout the day. But the Nest Protect does more -- it ensures your family's safety, and it's hard to put a price on that. In her CNET review of the Nest Protect, Megan said that "no other smoke and carbon monoxide detectors available today can match the second-gen Nest Protect in terms of looks and options, making it a great buy for anyone who appreciates design and connected features." 

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A human travel adapter could prevent jet lag – CNET

American soldiers

DARPA is working on how to cure jet lag and diarrhea in traveling soldiers.

Luke Sharrett/Getty Images

Advanced robot maker the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) says it's developed an acclimation and protection tool designed to reduce jet lag for soldiers deployed overseas. Diarrhea is also being targeted due to the military's limited access to safe water and food while deployed, DARPA said Monday. 

The "ADvanced Acclimation and Protection Tool for Environmental Readiness" (ADAPTER) tool can be implanted or ingested, and the system will allow people to enter a new time zone or sleep pattern, and negate five types of bacteria from contaminated food and water.

"ADAPTER will manage a warfighter's circadian rhythm, halving the time to reestablish normal sleep after a disruption," said Paul Sheehan, DARPA ADAPTER program manager. He added it will "enhance the health and mobility of warfighters."

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The information contained in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended as health or medical advice. Always consult a physician or other qualified health provider regarding any questions you may have about a medical condition or health objectives.

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Tesla Model 3 with 400-plus miles of range coming — for China, report says – Roadshow

More range for China, it seems.


Tesla production in the US may be in a holding pattern for now, but in China, the carmaker's plant in Shanghai is back online and cranking out electric cars. And the company might have a special longer-range model just for China coming in the near future.

Bloomberg reported Tuesday that Tesla plans to soon launch a Model 3 with 404 miles of range, according to sources familiar with the matter. Note that China and the US do not use identical systems to rate an EV's range, so it's not clear what kind of range this particular Model 3 would receive on the EPA cycle. Here in the US, the least expensive Model 3 returns an estimated 280 miles of range, though pricier versions return an estimated 322 miles.

Nevertheless, it'd be a major boost from the current Model 3 variant on sale in China, which goes 280 miles on a single charge. Tesla started building cars locally this past January with a starting price of about $45,000. According to Bloomberg's sources, the new Model 3 variant will start around $50,000, but that could change as the company finalizes details.

Most importantly, the longer-range model would, like the current variant, qualify for government subsidies to help Chinese buyers bring a Tesla home. The company will certainly need to pull out all the stops as the country begins to slowly ease restrictions following mass lockdowns and quarantines during the coronavirus pandemic.

Tesla did not immediately respond to Roadshow's request for comment.

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Bernie Sanders Is Out—but He Transformed Campaigning For Good

Bernie Sanders has officially suspended his bid for the Democratic nomination for president. After getting steamrolled in a series of state primaries by former vice president Joe Biden, the Vermont senator and former front-runner accepted the reality that the contest was effectively over. “I cannot in good conscience continue to mount a campaign that cannot win,” Sanders said in a livestream to more than 100,000 onlookers.

The digital format of the announcement—Sanders, alone, speaking into the camera, without the throngs of young supporters who might otherwise have attended his farewell speech—was a consequence of the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic. But it was also appropriate in its own way. Sanders has been making the same policy arguments for a half century, but his presidential campaigns in 2016 and 2020 were among the most technologically innovative in history. He may not have fully delivered the “political revolution” he so often promised, but that doesn’t mean he didn’t revolutionize politics.

“In so many ways, Bernie Sanders’ run in 2016 and, less so, in 2020, cemented the fact that insurgent candidates running a strong, robust challenge to institutionally validated candidates can use the internet as an extremely powerful tool,” says Daniel Kreiss, a professor of political communication at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. (The distinction: By 2020, Sanders was less of an insurgent.) “To translate energy and enthusiasm into very real, very concrete, and very powerful electoral resources.” 

Sanders wasn’t the first insurgent candidate to make creative use of digital technology, of course. Howard Dean used Meetup in 2004. Barack Obama’s 2008 campaign tapped into emerging tools to achieve unprecedented email outreach. But those were ages ago, in tech years. As much as any political figure, Sanders showed how politics could work in the age of YouTube, Instagram, and the smartphone.

That prowess starts with social media. Beginning with his run against Hillary Clinton in the 2016 election, Sanders has relied on a massive Facebook following and targeted Facebook ads to build an enormous email list. Those techniques—which Donald Trump, another former outsider, has also deployed to dramatic effect—allowed Sanders to raise a war chest surpassing his rivals’ while spurning fundraisers and wealthy donors. (In his speech today, Sanders thanked supporters for making 10 million contributions, at an average donation of $18.50.) His 2020 campaign fastidiously livestreamed all of his appearances across Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and—in a nod to the candidate’s appeal among younger voters—Twitch, which also hosted his concession speech. A Sanders rally might draw a few thousand people in person but could reach hundreds of thousands online. The campaign told The Washington Post in March that, of 57 million Facebook Live views for Democratic primary candidates over the previous year, the Sanders campaign accounted for 54 million.

“The smartest thing that the Sanders campaign did was to invest in building an owned media infrastructure to reach their own supporters where they thought they would be,” says Kyle Tharp, the vice president of communications at Acronym, a Democratic digital communications organization. “They calculated very early on that the media would not give them a fair shake, and so they built their own.” He adds, “I think the livestreaming of campaign events is going to become a major best practice.” 

But while Sanders’ social media presence has gotten the most attention, his embrace of distributed organizing—using technology to enlist and manage an army of volunteers—might prove even more influential in the long run. “I think those almost-more-boring tools for organizing are the Sanders legacy and have become really important and fundamental to campaigning,” says Jessica Baldwin-Philippi, a Fordham professor who studies the use of digital communication in politics.

A Digital Army

Those innovations started back in 2015, during the first Sanders presidential campaign. They were born, as always, of necessity.

“We had 100,000 people sign up to volunteer on day one,” says Kenneth Pennington, the digital director for the first Sanders campaign. Pennington fought for permission to hire one organizer: Zack Exley, a veteran of progressive politics. It didn’t go smoothly at first. “He asked me, OK, now I need to hire a team of organizers who will help put all these volunteers to work.’” Pennington says. “I said, ‘You don’t understand—I only have a budget for you, and I had to put my ass on the line to get you hired.’ And he quit on day one.’”

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