Friday, July 5, 2019

SuperCam and robot arm installed on 2020 Mars rover

Engineers attach the Mars 2020 rover’s main robot arm
in a clean room at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory.
 Image: NASA/JPL-Caltech

After installing the wheels and suspension that will enable the Mars 2020 rover to move about the surface of the red planet, engineers at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, have installed the SuperCam instrument and the rover’s 2.1-metre (7-foot)-long robot arm. Launch remains targeted for July 2020.

The multi-purpose SuperCam, developed by the French space agency CNES and the Los Alamos National Laboratory in the United States, is has been dubbed the Swiss army knife of instruments” aboard the rover. (Full story)

Neural nets to simulate molecular motion cast

New work from Los Alamos National Laboratory, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and the University of Florida is showing that artificial neural nets can be trained to encode quantum mechanical laws to describe the motions of molecules, supercharging simulations potentially across a broad range of fields.

"This means we can now model materials and molecular dynamics billions of times faster compared to conventional quantum methods, while retaining the same level of accuracy," said Justin Smith, Los Alamos physicist and Metropolis Fellow in the laboratory's Theoretical Division.

Understanding how molecules move is critical to tapping their potential value for drug development, protein simulations and reactive chemistry, for example, and both quantum mechanics and experimental (empirical) methods feed into the simulations. (Full story)

Celebrate the Promise of Planetary Defense This Asteroid Day

An artist's depiction of an asteroid. Image: NASA/JPL-Caltech

The quest to protect Earth from threatening asteroids is about to get a boost, as "an absolute flood of new observations" comes from a new telescope designed to scan the sky, says Ed Lu, co-founder of the B612 Foundation, a nonprofit organization devoted to planetary defense.

Small asteroids pose a threat too, just on a more local scale, said Mark Boslough — who was the first U.S. scientist to visit Chelyabinsk after a six-story object exploded over the Russian town in 2013. Even objects in the 130-foot (40 meters) size range can pose a threat to cities, he said.

Boslough — a physicist at the Los Alamos National Laboratory — said these smaller objects perhaps shouldn't be cataloged, because there are so many of them. Instead, he recommends developing surveys that would note any that are imminently hurtling toward Earth. Then disaster planners could evacuate cities that might be under threat of the object, just like we do today for incoming hurricanes. (Full story)

BYU helping NASA prep for human mission to Mars

Researchers at Brigham Young University are helping with a NASA-sponsored project measuring the electrical charge and size of dust particles on Mars.

But BYU isn't the only university in the West conducting research into Mars for possible human exploration.

The University of New Mexico and Los Alamos National Laboratory are partnering on a research project studying interactions of boron and ribose in groundwater on Mars. Ribose is a sugar and a key ingredient of RNA, the nucleic acid present in all modern life, related to the more complex DNA. (Full story)

If You Solve This Math Problem, You Could Steal All the Bitcoin in the World

Courtesy photo.

You may have heard of the famous P versus NP problem. If you can prove or disprove its cryptically short equation, you’d be a million dollars richer—and maybe even billions of dollars richer, depending on your scruples. 

Theoretical computer scientist Scott Aaronson spoke about P versus NP problems last week at Los Alamos National Laboratory as part of the Quantum Computing Summer School. (Full story)

Science Café: NOVA What’s the Universe Made Of?

Come to the July New Mexico PBS Science Café and watch a segment of NOVA Wonders: What’s the Universe Made Of? Join a panel discussion with experts that will discuss recent discoveries and how they hope to push our understanding of the universe even further.

Speakers include:
• Galen Gisler, Ph.D., who spent 25 years at Los Alamos National Laboratory working on a variety of topics in astrophysics and space science
• Peter Polko is a postdoc in astrophysics at Los Alamos National Laboratory working on black hole discs and jets