Wednesday, October 22, 2014

'Digits' by Twitter integrates mobile devices and gets rid of the password

Digits, part of Twitter's new Fabric tool set
Digits, part of Twitter's new Fabric tool set
Don't worry, if that title startled you into thinking Twitter would be doing away with the typical username/password log-in scheme entirely, it's not -- rather, Twitter has just released a new service for users to forgo that process altogether on mobile devices like smartphones and tablets. It will be called Digits, and it's Twitter's way of making up for the cold shoulder it has long given to the dev community lately.

The time-saving trick lies in SMS verification, which allows you to simply input a phone number and have Twitter verify that number. This is a two-step process that is sure to make a lot of people happy, but I forecast some serious security issues coming alongside this new service. Only the future will tell, but let us hope Twitter is prepared.

Digits was not the only Twitter service announced today. In fact, the social media giant's service reveals included Fabric (tool set), Crashlytics (error reports), and MoPub (advertising). Should be interesting to see where these services will take Twitter!


Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Hubble Space Telescope finally identifies culprit in rare supernova, 20 years after discovery

Hubble Space Telescope finally identifies culprit in rare supernova, 20 years after discovery
So there's the supernova called SN 1993J, right, and as you might have already guessed this stellar explosion was discovered back in 1993. All would be fine and dandy with this supernova except for the fact that it was missing quite a bit of hydrogen, and no one could truly say why. Astronomers had theories, but hard evidence was even harder to come by.

That is, until Hubble turned its beautiful eye on the Messier 81 galaxy, home of SN 1993J, and identified a faint blue helium-burning star in the center of it all using new methods of spectral analysis (monitoring what is called "continuum emission," a mix of UV and optical light data). That may sound all complicated, but essentially we figured out a way to see a single star in a supernova, equivalent to a needle in a haystack -- or, perhaps more appropriately, a millionth of a needle in a trillion haystacks!

This discovery confirms the idea that the supernova's peculiar hydrogen-lacking qualities stem from its early life as a binary star system, in which one star robbed the other of tons of hydrogen and eventually caused a cosmic collapse. Still, the specifics of supernova star explosions are relatively fuzzy even to astronomers, and more research is under way to solve that.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Twitter reconfigures timelines to show you tweets from people you don't follow

Twitter reconfigures timelines to show you tweets from people you don't followUh-oh, looks like Twitter is getting itself into some hot water lately with its newest plan to reconfigure user timelines. This time, they plan to include tweets from people you don't already follow, based on the relevancy of that tweet to your interests. Of course, some people are a bit miffed that their once-sacred timelines will be commandeered by Twitter on occasion to broadcast what they think you will like, and it's understandable.

Twitter says they did some user testing with the id
ea, and found that users had a positive response to relevant tweets from non-followed users, so long as those tweets met a stringent standard for relevancy that monitored popularity of the tweet and accounts already followed. Following Facebook and Google, Twitter may know what you want to do before you even want to do it. Woah, man.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Watch Out Mars, you may be on a collision course with a comet this Sunday

Looks like it will come pretty close to Earth, too -- relatively.
Okay, so maybe it's not really a likely scenario, but there is a roughly 1 in 2000 chance that the comet, colloquially named Comet Siding Springs and designated as C/2013 A1, will slam right into the backside of Mars and unleash more energy than millions of atom bombs all at once. Astronomers are frothing at the mouth to see the recently-discovered comet make its orbit through the inner planets of our Solar System, an occurrence so rare for this particular celestial body that the last time it passed by, humans weren't even around.

Have I got you pumped up yet? Probably not unless you're into space stuff, but it's cool -- more room for me at the premium telescope spots.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Space Elevator and the Crusade for Tomorrow, the dream of a planetbound race

Humanity has always wondered what it would like to be among the stars. You can see it in creation myths, science fiction, and the countless fields of study devoted to space. The only problem is, space is really hard to get into; thanks to our atmosphere, getting anything off the planet requires significant fuel, and thus significant costs. Perhaps even unreasonable costs.

A space elevator to take human passengers and supply cargo into space
That's where the space elevator comes in. It's really that simple; it's just an elevator into space. A lot of the concept images show it as a roughly conical structure that stretches from one point on the Earth to another counterweight point in orbit. That way, supplies and passengers could be transports into space by riding the elevator, no dangerous rockets involved.

But is something like this feasible? That's the question that everyone is asking lately, as the hype begins to start back up. Even though big companies like Google and SpaceX are genuinely interested in the idea, it's one that dates back quite a few years... over a hundred years, actually. So is it even feasible?

Apparently, it is. Using nanofibers, which are often magnitudes stronger than steel, a space elevator could be constructed that can withstand most molestations. Can it withstand all of them, though? Some believe that vibrations from objects crashing into it, such as birds or space debris (or even worse: satellites), could set it off and bring our magnificent, expensive dreams crashing to the ground -- and into space.

This is the dilemma of the space elevator dream. To build, or not to build...

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

A binary black hole system caught on composite image, absolutely beautiful


Thank you x-rays! Humans get to take a look at a relatively common event in the Universe through the scope of an x-ray filter. This composite image assigns blue to x-rays and red to radio waves, both of which are different wavelengths. You can see the massive emission of x-rays clouding around the orbiting black holes (that blue cloud must be at least 100,000 light years apart, by my guess), as well as high-energy jets of radio waves generated by the black holes as they consume (and, thus, giving us an idea of the axis on which they rotate).

At the very center, you can see the dense, bright roiling accretion disks swirling around the gravity wells, perpendicular to the radio jets. The shape reminds me of a spindle, almost. What really gets me though, is that even though these behemoths are lashing out at each from over 25,000 light years apart (yes, that's how far that small space between them is) it still feels like they are on the verge of falling into one another is some cataclysmic event.

Alas, we would need to wait millions of years to witness it...