Astronomers discover Great Cold Spot on Jupiter

Astronomers have discovered a massive aurorae-generated weather system, dubbed the Great Cold Spot, on Jupiter. Comparable in scale to the planet’s famous Great Red Spot, the phenomenon may have existed for thousands of years and is the first direct evidence of a sustained weather system generated by polar aurorae, opening the possibility of similar phenomena on other planets.

Observed by University of Leicester astronomers as a localised dark spot that is up to 24,000km tall and 12,000km wide, the spot is located in the planet’s thin high-altitude thermosphere. It is thought to bearound 200 Kelvin cooler than the surrounding atmosphere, which has a temperature range of between 700K (426°C) and 1000K (726°C).

“This is the first time any weather feature in Jupiter’s upper atmosphere has been observed away from the planet’s bright aurorae,” said study lead author Dr Tom Stallard, associate professor in Planetary Astronomy at the University of Leicester.

“The Great Cold Spot is much more volatile than the slowly changing Great Red Spot, changing dramatically in shape and size over only a few days and weeks, but it has re-appeared for as long as we have data to search for it, for over 15 years.  That suggests that it continually reforms itself, and as a result it might be as old as the aurorae that form it – perhaps many thousands of years old.”

The phenomenon is thought to be caused by the magnetic field of the planet, with Jupiter’s polar aurorae pushing energy into the atmosphere in the form of heat flowing around the planet. This push creates a cooling region in the thermosphere; the boundary layer between the underlying atmosphere and the vacuum of space.

The Great Cold Spot was found by using the CRIRES instrument on the Very Large Telescope (VLT) to observe spectral emissions of H3+, an ion of hydrogen present in large amounts in Jupiter’s atmosphere.  With the ion observed, the astronomers were able to map the mean temperature and density of the planet’s atmosphere.

The team was then able to compare its map to images of H3+ emission from Jupiter’s ionosphere taken by NASA’s InfraRed Telescope Facility from 1995 to 2000. By combining images taken over set periods of time, including over 13,000 images taken over more than 40 nights by the InfraRed Telescope Facility, the team was able to find the Cold Spot as a dark area in Jupiter’s hot upper atmosphere.

The changing shape of the newly discovered Great Cold Spot, as observed over time. Image courtesy of the University of Leicester. Featured image courtesy of NASA

“What is surprising at Jupiter is that, unlike weather systems on Earth, the Great Cold Spot has been observed at the same place across 15 years. That makes it more comparable to weather systems in Jupiter’s lower atmosphere, like the Great Red Spot,” added Stallard, who is funded by the Science and Technology Facilities Council.

“Observations and modelling of Earth’s upper atmosphere have shown that, on the short term, there may be changes in the temperature and density of the upper atmosphere.”

The team now hopes to use what was learnt of the Cold Spot to search for other such features that may be hidden in the gas giant’s atmosphere.

The study, which is published in Geophysical Research Letters, is available in full online.

Valve’s ‘Knuckles’ controller brings individual finger control to VR

With a prototype first revealed at the company’s Steam Dev Days conference last October, Valve’s new ‘Knuckles’ controller is now being shipped to developers as a prototype, while a blog post unveils a few more of the specs.

What’s important about the new controller is that it on only utilises an ‘open hand’ design that will mean you don’t have to spend your entire time gripping the controller like a weapon, but  it also features basic tracking for individual fingers.

The device is similar to the current HTC Vive motion controller, positioning in 3D space via Steam’s Lighthouse tracking system, but looks to build to the next stage of what can be done with motion control in VR. Specifically, Valve is looking to bring a much greater presence of your virtual hand into the market.

Moreover, they’re looking to make that virtual hand feel far more natural. With the controller able to grip onto your hand – think somewhat similar to securing your Wiimotes to your wrist – you’ll be able to operate in the virtual space with an open hand. While it may seem a small thing, it brings a whole new realism to any kind of grabbing or catching motion.

In addition, the ability of the Knuckles to track the movement of individual fingers could prove a real game-changer to virtual reality experiences.  Using a number of capacitive sensors to detect the state of your hands when your finger is on a button, or particular part of a controller, the controller will, according to the dev post, “return a curl value between zero and one, where zero indicates that the finger is pointing straight out and one indicates that the finger is fully curled around the controller”.

In essence, this means that the controller will be able to sense fine gradations of movement in each of your fingers, rather than relying on a binary “open” or “closed” status. Beyond lending a more organic feel to the use of your virtual hand, this will also allow users to make use of a range of hand gestures currently unavailable with VR controllers. A screenshot from a new version of SteamVR Home displays the possibilities with a Knuckles user’s avatar throwing up devil horns.

Images courtesy of Valve

It’s worth noting that this isn’t a perfect tracking system. While farther along than, for example, the Oculus Touch controllers, which allow you to slightly open your fingers while tracking the three non-index fingers together via an analog trigger, the Knuckles aren’t exactly ‘full’ finger tracking. Ideally, controllers will reach the point of knowing where your fingers are at all times with pinpoint precision. Until then however, the Knuckles are no small step forward.

The current Knuckles controller dev kit reportedly has a battery life of three hours and requires an hour of USB Micro charging to fill up (if accurate, these numbers put it roughly in the same realm as Vive controllers in regards to battery). We’ll have to wait on confirmation of this and other details,

Elon Musk speaks to LA's mayor about his Boring Company

Elon Musk said this week that he has held “promising conversations” with L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti, regarding the potential of bringing his recently formed Boring Company to the city. One of the ideas reportedly under consideration would see an express line to LAX airport from LA’s Union Station being built.

Source: Tech Crunch

Atari is back with a new console

Last week, Atari began teasing a new product called the Ataribox. Now, in an exclusive interview with GamesBeat Atari CEO Fred Chesnais has confirmed that the pioneering video game company is working on a new game console. “We’re back in the hardware business,” said Chesnais.

Source: Venture Beat

Nasa find 10 planets that could potentially host life

Nasa has added a further 219 candidates to the list of planets beyond our solar system, 10 of which may be about the same size and temperature as Earth, and may host life. Scientists found the candidates in a final batch of Nasa’s Kepler Space Telescope observations of 200,000 sample stars in the constellation Cygnus.

Source: The Guardian

Tesla Model S told driver to put his hands on the wheel before fatal crash

Federal regulators said on Monday, the driver of a Tesla Model S, who was killed in a collision while the car was in autopilot mode, did not have his hands on the steering wheel for a prolonged period of time despite being repeatedly warned by the vehicle that having his hands on the wheel was necessary.

Source: Ars Technica

Uber founder Travis Kalanick resigns

Having last week said that he was taking an indefinite leave of absence, Uber boss Travis Kalanick resigned as chief executive of the company this week after pressure from shareholders. His resignation comes after a review of practices at the firm and scandals including complaints of sexual harassment.

Source: BBC

Facebook defends against injunction to remove Oculus Rift from sale

Facebook and Oculus want a federal judge to let them continue selling Rifts despite a jury deciding Oculus stole another company’s computer code. Lawyers for Facebook said halting the sale of Oculus Rifts “would serve no one but ZeniMax, who would use it only as leverage to try to extract money from Oculus”.

Source: Bloomberg