Today, a startup called Atom Computing announced that it has been doing internal testing of a 1,180 qubit quantum computer and will be making it available to customers next year. The system represents a major step forward for the company, which had only built one prior system based on neutral atom qubits—a system that operated using only 100 qubits.
The error rate for individual qubit operations is high enough that it won't be possible to run an algorithm that relies on the full qubit count without it failing due to an error. But it does back up the company's claims that its technology can scale rapidly and provides a testbed for work on quantum error correction. And, for smaller algorithms, the company says it'll simply run multiple instances in parallel to boost the chance of returning the right answer.
Computing with atoms
Atom Computing, as its name implies, has chosen neutral atoms as its qubit of choice (there are other companies that are working with ions). These systems rely on a set of lasers that create a series of locations that are energetically favorable for atoms. Left on their own, atoms will tend to fall into these locations and stay there until a stray gas atom bumps into them and knocks them out.
Welcome to the Daily Telescope. There is a little too much darkness in this world and not enough light; a little too much pseudoscience and not enough science. We'll let other publications offer you a daily horoscope. At Ars Technica, we're going to take a different route, finding inspiration from very real images of a universe that is filled with stars and wonder.
Good morning. It is October 24, and today's image features an amazing shot of the Moon over a sanctuary in Sicily. It was captured by Dario Giannobile, a talented Italian astrophotographer.
This is a brilliant shot of the Moon, with the light from Earth shining on about 75 percent of the lunar surface and the remainder brightly lit by the Sun. The Moon is seen above the Santuario della Madonna Nera (Sanctuary of the Black Madonna) in Tindari, a small town on the northern coast of Sicily.
Ursula Vernon, aka T. Kingfisher, won the 2023 Hugo for best novel and found inspiration for her acceptance speech in a 2020 study about a species of water beetle that survives being swallowed alive by a frog by escaping through the frog's butt. Credit: Shinji Sugiura, 2020.
Inspiration can come from the most unlikely places, as fantasy author Ursula Vernon, aka T. Kingfisher, clearly knows. Vernon won the 2023 Hugo Award for Best Novel this past weekend for her dark fairy tale, Nettle and Bone, and while she was unable to travel to Chengdu Worldcon in China for the event, she posted the text of her acceptance speech (read at the ceremony by a friend) on her Patreon. After the usual preliminary remarks and thanks, Vernon opted to forego "serious and heavy" commentary for the following revelation:
There is a species of water beetle that regularly gets swallowed whole by frogs. And while there’s a lot of things you can do to keep from being eaten, once you’re inside a frog, your options are severely limited. Generally you get digested. But this particular species of beetle said “You know, I bet there’s another way.” And it started walking. In fact, it walked through the frog’s digestive tract and out the back end.
This is 100 percent true, you can look it up.
Naturally, we did look it up and honestly can't believe we missed covering this fascinating study in 2020. (At least we didn't miss the 2022 study on how certain species of beetle have evolved unusual "back pockets" to safely house symbiotic bacteria during metamorphosis, shuffling the populations out of those pockets via friction to the genital area as they emerge from their pupae.)
Shinji Sugiura of Kobe University in Japan discovered the unusual survival strategy of the aquatic beetle Regimbartia attenuata while looking into how predation pressures can lead to the evolution of innovative escape behavior in prey animals. He fed a bunch of the beetles to a pond frog (Pelophylax nigromaculatus) under laboratory conditions, expecting the frog to spit the beetle out. That's what happened with Sugiura's prior experiments on bombardier beetles (Pheropsophus jessoensis), which spray toxic chemicals (described as an audible "chemical explosion") when they find themselves inside a toad's gut, inducing the toad to invert its own stomach and vomit them back out.
As its name implies, the jet stream is essentially a river of fast-moving air in the atmosphere at about the altitude where airplanes fly. It is typically a few hundred miles across, and jets can indeed save a lot of fuel if they can fly within this air current, generally from west to east.
Jet streams also have significant implications for our weather on the ground, as they more or less steer storm systems that affect the mid-latitudes. That is, they in large part determine whether parts of the United States—which lies almost entirely in the mid-latitudes between the tropics and poles in the Northern Hemisphere—will see stormy or serene weather.
As always with weather, the situation is complex. But one of the more useful signals in a forecaster's arsenal is the El Niño–Southern Oscillation in the tropical Pacific Ocean, which vacillates between warmer sea surface temperatures (El Niño), cooler ones (La Niña), and neutral conditions. This broad pattern has widespread weather implications, including the location of the jet stream.
Everyone’s into asteroids these days. Space agencies in Japan and the United States recently sent spacecraft to investigate, nudge, or bring back samples from these hurtling space rocks, and after a rocky start, the space mining industry is once again on the ascent. Companies like AstroForge, Trans Astronautica Corporation, and Karman+ are preparing to test their tech in space before venturing toward asteroids themselves.
It’s getting serious enough that economists published a series of papers on October 16 considering the growth of economic activity in space. For instance, a study by Ian Lange of the Colorado School of Mines considers the potential—and challenges—for a fledgling industry that might reach a significant scale in the next several decades, driven by the demand for critical metals used in electronics, solar and wind power, and electric car components, particularly batteries. While other companies are exploring the controversial idea of scooping cobalt, nickel, and platinum from the seafloor, some asteroids could harbor the same minerals in abundance—and have no wildlife that could be harmed during their extraction.
Lange’s study, coauthored with a researcher at the International Monetary Fund, models the growth of space mining relative to Earth mining, depending on trends in the clean energy transition, mineral prices, space launch prices, and how much capital investment and R&D grow. They find that in 30 to 40 years, the production of some metals from space could overtake their production on Earth. By their assessment, metallic asteroids contain more than a thousand times as much nickel as the Earth’s crust, in terms of grams per metric ton. Asteroids also have significant concentrations of cobalt, iron, platinum, and other metals. And thanks to reusable rockets developed by SpaceX, Rocket Lab, and other companies, since 2005 launch costs for payloads have plummeted by a factor of 20 or so per kilogram—and they could drop further.
Imagine sitting down to a fine-dining meal in which droplets of sauce dynamically move basil leaves and other garnishes around the plate in preprogrammed patterns. Alternatively, you could choose to mix and match droplets to create your own flavor profile. That's the long-term goal of the so-called "Dancing Delicacies" computational food project, which brings together scientists from Monash University’s Exertion Games Lab, Carnegie Mellon University’s Morphing Matter Lab, and Gaudi Labs in Switzerland to explore innovative new ways to turn meals into interactive performance art. Their latest invention is a 3D-printed plate that uses electrical voltage to manipulate liquid droplets, according to a paper published as part of the 2023 Designing Interactive Systems Conference.
“Cooking and eating is more than simply producing a dish and then facilitating energy intake,” co-author Floyd Mueller of Monash told Forbes. “It is about sharing, caring, crafting, slowing down and self-expression, and Dancing Delicacies aims to highlight these virtues at a time when they are often forgotten. The integration of food and computing will transform how we understand both computing and food as not two very different things, but a new frontier that combines the best of both.”
Chefs have been working with this kind of innovation for years via the molecular gastronomy and molecular mixology movements, creating a "Flor de Caco" dessert in which a cocoa bean expands like a flower when exposed to hot chocolate sauce, for instance. Then there was that cocktail (the "Disco Sour") that changed color when blended with citrus, thanks to the incorporation of butterfly pea flower tea, which is a pH-sensitive ingredient. On the technology side, in 2014, MIT's Media Matters Lab experimented with a shape-changing fork that inflated depending on how fast a person ate. Another fork design was outfitted with electronics, in which an LED changed from red to green when users touched a food item with a conductive element, indicating how much water was in the food.
During the height of the Cold War, the United States and Soviet Union engaged in a struggle across many fronts—economically, politically, diplomatically, and more. As part of this they were competing for hearts and minds of nations caught between the two superpowers.
The Space Race in the 1960s was all about geopolitics. By accomplishing feats in space, Americans and Soviets were showing off the supremacy of their culture and scientific communities. Ultimately, landing NASA astronauts on the Moon offered the terrestrial world a huge statement on why the American way was better.
When the geopolitical imperative for this ran out, so did the money.
Welcome to Edition 6.16 of the Rocket Report! Lots of news here today about big rockets, including a push by SpaceX to speed up launch licensing by the Federal Aviation Administration. The full-court press in Washington, DC, comes as the company says its Starship rocket is ready for a second flight test but still awaiting final regulatory approval. The earliest the launch could now occur is during the first half of November.
As always, we welcome reader submissions, and if you don't want to miss an issue, please subscribe using the box below (the form will not appear on AMP-enabled versions of the site). Each report will include information on small-, medium-, and heavy-lift rockets as well as a quick look ahead at the next three launches on the calendar.
Virgin Galactic to fly sixth mission in six months. The California-based suborbital space tourism company announced this week that its "Galactic 05" mission will take flight as early as November 2. Such a flight would continue Virgin Galactic's impressive monthly cadence of flying its VSS Unity spacecraft this year. This flight will carry researchers who will use the interior of the space plane as a lab for research.
On Tuesday, the US National Academies of Science released a report entitled "Accelerating Decarbonization in the United States." The report follows up on a 2021 analysis entitled, "Accelerating Decarbonization in the US Energy System." When the earlier report was prepared, the US didn't have a decarbonization policy, although the growth of natural gas and renewables was dropping the emissions involved in producing electricity. Within the following year, the US passed an infrastructure law, the CHIPS and Science Act, and the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA), all of which contained provisions intended to help cut the US's emissions in half by 2030. The Environmental Protection Agency has also formulated policies that should radically reduce the emissions from generating electricity.
In other words, shortly after the report's release, the US formulated a plan to accelerate decarbonization and a target of a 50 percent emissions reduction by 2030.
Rather than pat themselves on the back, however, the experts who prepared the original report recognized that the US's climate goals require it to reach net-zero emissions by mid-century, and that will require lots of policy changes beyond the ones already in place. The new report is largely a call for people to start thinking of what we need to implement to ensure emissions keep dropping after 2030.