All posts by Daniel Davies

Asteroid passing Earth allows trackers to test impact warning systems

Asteroid trackers around the world will today test asteroid warning systems on an asteroid passing Earth.

The asteroid, named 2012 TC4, was first spotted 5 years ago, but will today pass Earth at a distance of about 42,000km (26,000 miles), which will bring it within the Moon’s orbit.

Its close approach to Earth will give trackers the chance to test a growing global observing network who will communicate and coordinate their optical and radar observations in a real scenario.

“This campaign is a team effort that involves more than a dozen observatories, universities and labs around the globe so we can collectively learn the strengths and limitations of our near-Earth object observation capabilities,” said Vishnu Reddy, an assistant professor at the University of Arizona’s Lunar and Planetary Laboratory in Tucson, who is leading the 2012 TC4 campaign.

“This effort will exercise the entire system, to include the initial and follow-up observations, precise orbit determination, and international communications.”

Orbit prediction experts say the asteroid, which measures somewhere between 15m and 30m (50-100ft) in size, poses no risk of impact with Earth.

However, when a similar sized asteroid exploded over Chelyabinsk in central Russia in 2013 it produced 30 times the kinetic energy of the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima and caused a shockwave that resulted in damage to buildings and injured more than a thousand people.

Observers around the world have been tracking TC4 as it approaches Earth and reporting their observations to the Minor Planet Center, where the conclusion has been made that it poses no threat and merely provides a platform to test for real asteroid impacts.

No asteroid currently known is predicted to impact Earth for the next 100 years.

Image courtesy of Alex Alishevskikh. Feature image courtesy of  NASA/JPL-Caltech

“Asteroid trackers are using this flyby to test the worldwide asteroid detection and tracking network, assessing our capability to work together in response to finding a potential real asteroid-impact threat,” said Michael Kelley, program scientist and NASA lead for the TC4 observation campaign.

Tens of professionally run telescopes across the globe will be taking ground-based observations from visible to near-infrared to radar.

Amateur astronomers may contribute more observations, but the asteroid will be very difficult for backyard astronomers to see, as current estimates are that it will reach a visual magnitude of only about 17 at its brightest, and it will be moving very fast across the sky.

Microsoft’s looking to invest in entrepreneurs creating the future of artificial intelligence

Microsoft is backing a competition that is seeking to find entrepreneurs who are “pushing the boundaries of artificial intelligence”.

Innovate.AI is searching for start-ups in North America, Europe and Israel who are developing cutting-edge AI for intelligent apps, services or platforms that will help companies and society.

One start-up per region will be handed $1 million in venture funding and $500,000 in Microsoft Azure credits. In addition to those three winners, the AI for Good prize will see a further $500,000 in funding paid by Microsoft and $500,000 in Azure credits handed to the applicant that can show the best use of AI to improve society.

“At Microsoft, the future is rooted in the advancement of AI technologies,” said Nagraj Kashyap, corporate vice president of Microsoft Ventures.

“We’re excited to launch this competition with a strong group of venture capitalists that recognizes the importance of leveraging these technologies to amplify human ingenuity and power innovation in AI forward.”

Alongside the corporate venture arm of Microsoft, Microsoft Ventures, Innovate. AI is also backed by the venture capital firms Madrona Venture Group, Notion Capital and Vertex Ventures Israel.

Up to 10 finalists will qualify from each region for a chance to pitch their innovation in person, but they must introduce a product, service or platform that utilises or intends to utilise AI techniques, as defined by relevant scientific research.

The start-ups will also only be considered if they have raised less than $4 million in combined equity funding or loans..

Image courtesy of Microsoft reporter

“Start-ups are already able to create significant businesses based on AI at the platform and application levels,” said S Somasegar, managing director of Madrona, which manages more than $1.3 billion.

“Now that they are leveraging emerging AI platforms, opportunities are increasing to create not only a great business, but one that has a strong and positive impact on society.

“As partners with our companies, we work every day to foster the kind of innovation that will change lives, and we are excited to work with Microsoft Ventures to identify passionate founders and teams that will build the next generation of intelligent applications.”

Since launching Microsoft Ventures last year, Microsoft has invested in more than 40 start-ups, and the company has also formed an AI fund to support start-ups focused on inclusive growth and a positive impact on society.

Start-ups have until December 31 to submit their entry to Innovate.AI.