Cape Canaveral, Dec 4 (AP/UNB) — After a two-year chase, a NASA spacecraft arrived Monday at the ancient asteroid Bennu, its first visitor in billions of years.
The robotic explorer Osiris-Rex pulled within 12 miles (19 kilometers) of the diamond-shaped space rock. It will get even closer in the days ahead and go into orbit around Bennu on Dec. 31. No spacecraft has ever orbited such a small cosmic body.
It is the first U.S. attempt to gather asteroid samples for return to Earth, something only Japan has accomplished so far.
Flight controllers applauded and exchanged high-fives once confirmation came through that Osiris-Rex made it to Bennu — exactly one week after NASA landed a spacecraft on Mars.
"Relieved, proud, and anxious to start exploring!" tweeted lead scientist Dante Lauretta of the University of Arizona. "To Bennu and back!"
With Bennu some 76 million miles (122 million kilometers) away, it took seven minutes for word to get from the spacecraft to flight controllers at Lockheed Martin in Littleton, Colorado. The company built the spacecraft there.
Bennu is estimated to be just over 1,600 feet (500 meters) across. Researchers will provide a more precise description at a scientific meeting next Monday in Washington.
About the size of an SUV, the spacecraft will shadow the asteroid for a year, before scooping up some gravel for return to Earth in 2023.
Scientists are eager to study material from a carbon-rich asteroid like dark Bennu, which could hold evidence dating back to the beginning of our solar system 4.5 billion years ago. As such, it's an astronomical time capsule.
A Japanese spacecraft, meanwhile, has been hanging out at another near-Earth asteroid since June, also for samples. It is Japan's second asteroid mission. This latest rock is named Ryugu and about double the size of Bennu.
Ryugu's specks should be here by December 2020, but will be far less than Osiris-Rex's promised booty.
Osiris-Rex aims to collect at least 60 grams, or 2 ounces, of dust and gravel. The spacecraft won't land, but rather use a 10-foot (3-meter) mechanical arm in 2020 to momentarily touch down and vacuum up particles. The sample container would break loose and head toward Earth in 2021.
The collection — parachuting down to Utah — would represent the biggest cosmic haul since the Apollo astronauts hand-delivered moon rocks to Earth in the late 1960s and early 1970s.
NASA has brought back comet dust and solar wind particles before, but never asteroid samples. Japan managed to return some tiny particles in 2010 from its first asteroid mission , also named Hayabusa.
Both Bennu and Ryugu are considered potentially hazardous asteroids. That means they could smack Earth years from now. At worst, Bennu would carve out a crater during a projected close call 150 years from now.
Contact with Bennu will not significantly change its orbit or make it more dangerous to us, Lauretta stressed.
Scientists contend the more they learn about asteroids, the better equipped Earth will be in heading off a truly catastrophic strike.
The $800 million Osiris-Rex mission began with a 2016 launch from Cape Canaveral, Florida. Its odometer read 1.2 billion miles (2 billion kilometers) as of Monday.
Both the spacecraft and asteroid's names come from Egyptian mythology. Osiris is the god of the afterlife, while Bennu represents the heron and creation.
Osiris-Rex is actually a NASA acronym for origins, spectral interpretation, resource identification, security-regolith explorer.
Hong Kong, Dec 3 (AP/UNB) — Early last year, a little-known Chinese researcher turned up at an elite meeting in Berkeley, California, where scientists and ethicists were discussing a technology that had shaken the field to its core — an emerging tool for "editing" genes, the strings of DNA that form the blueprint of life.
The young scientist, He Jiankui, saw the power of this tool, called CRISPR, to transform not only genes, but also his own career.
In visits to the United States, he sought out CRISPR pioneers such as Jennifer Doudna of the University of California, Berkeley, and Stanford University's Dr. Matthew Porteus, and big thinkers on its use, like Stanford ethicist Dr. William Hurlbut.
Last week, those shocked researchers watched as He hijacked an international conference they helped organize with an astonishing claim: He said he helped make the world's first gene-edited babies , despite clear scientific consensus that making genetic changes that could be passed to future generations should not be attempted at this point .
U.S. National Institutes of Health Director Francis Collins called He's experiment "a misadventure of a major sort" — starring "a scientist who apparently believed that he was a hero. In fact, he crossed every line, scientifically and ethically."
But nobody stopped him. How can that be?
To be fair, scientists say there's no certain way to stop someone intent on monkeying with DNA, no matter what laws or standards are in place. CRISPR is cheap and easy to use — which is why scientists began to worry almost as soon as the technology was invented that something like this would happen.
And there is a long history in science and medicine of researchers launching experiments prematurely that were met with scorn or horror — some of which led to what are now common practices, such as in-vitro fertilization.
Gene-editing for reproductive purposes is effectively banned in the U.S. and most of Europe. In China, ministerial guidelines prohibit embryo research that "violates ethical or moral principles."
It turns out He wasn't exactly tight-lipped about his goals . He pursued international experts at Stanford and Rice Universities, where he had done graduate studies work, and elsewhere, seeking advice before and during the experiment.
Should scientists who knew of He's plans have spoken up? Could they have dissuaded him?
The answers aren't clear.
"It doesn't fall into the category of legal responsibility, but ethical responsibility," said Collins. He said that not speaking up "doesn't seem like a scientist taking responsibility."
China's National Commission of Health, Chinese Academy of Sciences and He's own university have said they were in dark and have since condemned him .
But three Stanford scientists — Hurlbut, Porteus and He's former fellowship adviser, Stephen Quake — had extensive contact with him over the last few years. They and other scientists knew or strongly suspected that He intended to try to make genetically edited babies.
Some confidantes didn't think He would follow through; others raised concerns that were never heeded.
Stanford has not responded to an interview request.
Quake, a bioengineering professor, was one of the first to know about He's ambition. Quake said he had met with He through the years whenever his former student was in town, and that He confided his interest a few years ago in editing embryos for live births to try to make them resistant to the AIDS virus.
Quake said he gave He only general advice and encouraged him to talk with mainstream scientists, to choose situations where there's consensus that the risks are justified, to meet the highest ethics standards and to publish his results in a peer-reviewed journal.
"My advice was very broad," Quake said.
Hurlbut thinks he first met He in early 2017, when he and Doudna, co-inventor of CRISPR, held the first of three meetings with leading scientists and ethicists to discuss the technology.
"Somehow, he ended up at our meeting," Hurlbut said.
Since then, He returned several times to Stanford, and Hurlbut said he "spent many hours" talking with He about situations where gene editing might be appropriate.
Four or five weeks ago, Hurlbut said He came to see him again and discussed embryo gene editing to try to prevent HIV. Hurlbut said he suspected He had tried to implant a modified embryo in a woman's womb.
"I admonished him," he said. "I didn't green-light his work. I challenged him on it. I didn't approve of what he was doing."
Porteus said he knew that He had been talking with Hurlbut and assumed Hurlbut discouraged the Chinese scientist. In February, He asked to meet with Porteus and told him he had gotten approval from a hospital ethics board to move forward.
"I think he was expecting me to be more receptive, and I was very negative," Porteus said. "I was angry at his naivete, I was angry at his recklessness."
Porteus said he urged He "to go talk to your senior Chinese colleagues."
After that meeting, "I didn't hear from him and assumed he would not proceed," Porteus said. "In retrospect, I could have raised a hue and cry."
In a draft article about the gene-edited twin girls, which He planned to submit to journals, he thanked UC Berkeley biophysicist Mark DeWitt for "editing the manuscript." DeWitt said he tried to dissuade He and disputed that he edited the paper. He said he saw the paper, but the feedback he offered was "pretty general."
He's claims, including that his work has resulted in a second pregnancy , cannot be independently confirmed and his work has not been published. He defended his actions last week at a gene editing summit in Hong Kong.
In contrast, another U.S. scientist said he not only encouraged He but played a large role in the project.
Michael Deem, a bioengineering professor at Rice University and He's doctoral degree adviser, said he had worked with He since the scientist returned to China around 2012, and that he sits on the advisory boards and holds "a small stake" in He's two genetics companies in Shenzhen. Deem defended He's actions, saying the research team did earlier experiments on animals.
"We have multiple generations of animals that were genetically edited and produced viable offspring," and a lot of research on unintended effects on other genes, Deem said. Deem also said he was present in China when some study participants gave their consent to try embryo gene editing.
Rice said it had no knowledge of Deem's involvement and is now investigating.
So far most of the attention has focused on regulatory gaps in China.
But that's not the whole story, said Rosario Isasi, an expert on genomics law in the U.S. and China at the University of Miami.
"Let's focus on how it happened and why it happened, and the way it happened," said Isasi. "How can we establish a system that has better transparency?"
There's no international governing body to enforce bioethics rules, but scientific bodies and universities can use other tools.
"If someone breaks those rules, scientists can ostracize, journals can refuse to publish, employers can refuse to employ, funders can refuse to fund," said Hank Greely, a professor of law and genetics at Stanford.
Greely expects He's experiment will have ripple effects in academia, whether or not regulators act. "Universities are going to take a harder look at what's going on. This incident will put everyone on alert about any related research."
Of course, sometimes bad beginnings can turn into better endings.
In 1980, University of California, Los Angeles, professor Martin Cline was sanctioned for performing the first gene therapy on two women in Israel and Italy because he hadn't gotten approval to try it at UCLA.
Cline announced his work rather than publishing it in a scientific journal, and faced criticism for trying "genetic engineering" on people when its safety and effectiveness hadn't yet been established in animals. Now gene therapy is an established, although still fairly novel, treatment method.
Two years earlier, in 1978, Dr. Robert Edwards was similarly denounced when he announced through the press the world's first "test tube baby," Louise Brown. The work later earned a Nobel Prize, and IFV has helped millions to have a child.
And this year, Louise Brown — mother of two sons, conceived in the old-fashioned way — turned 40.
New York , Dec 1(AP/UNB) — Hackers stole information on as many as 500 million guests of the Marriott hotel empire over four years, obtaining credit card and passport numbers and other personal data, the company said Friday as it acknowledged one of the largest security breaches in history.
The full scope of the failure was not immediately clear. Marriott was trying to determine if the records included duplicates, such as a single person staying multiple times.
The affected hotel brands were operated by Starwood before it was acquired by Marriott in 2016. They include W Hotels, St. Regis, Sheraton, Westin, Element, Aloft, The Luxury Collection, Le Méridien and Four Points. Starwood-branded timeshare properties were also affected. None of the Marriott-branded chains were threatened.
The crisis quickly emerged as one of the biggest data breaches on record.
"On a scale of 1 to 10 and up, this is one of those No. 10 size breaches. There have only been a few of them of this scale and scope in the last decade," said Chris Wysopal, chief technology officer of Veracode, a security company.
By comparison, last year's Equifax hack affected more than 145 million people. A Target breach in 2013 affected more than 41 million payment card accounts and exposed contact information for more than 60 million customers.
Security analysts were especially alarmed to learn that the breach began in 2014. While such failures often span months, four years is extreme, said Yonatan Striem-Amit, chief technology officer of Cybereason.
It was unclear what hackers could do with the credit card information. Though it was stored in encrypted form, it was possible that hackers also obtained the two components needed to descramble the numbers, the company said.
For as many as two-thirds of those affected, the exposed data could include mailing addresses, phone numbers, email addresses and passport numbers. Also included might be dates of birth, gender, reservation dates, arrival and departure times and Starwood Preferred Guest account information.
"We fell short of what our guests deserve and what we expect of ourselves," CEO Arne Sorenson said in a statement. "We are doing everything we can to support our guests and using lessons learned to be better moving forward."
The breach of personal information could put Marriott in violation of new European privacy laws, as guests included European travelers.
Marriott set up a website and call center for customers who believe they are at risk.
The hackers' access to the reservation system could be troubling if they turn out to be, say, nation-state spies rather than con artists simply seeking financial gain, said Jesse Varsalone, associate professor of cybersecurity at the University of Maryland University College.
Reservation information could mean knowing when and where government officials are traveling, to military bases, conferences or other destinations abroad, he said.
"There are just so many things you can extrapolate from people staying at hotels," Varsalone said.
The richness of the data makes the hack unique, Wysopal said.
"Once you know someone's arrival, departure, room preferences," that could be used to incriminate a person or for a reputation attack that "goes beyond your traditional identity theft or credit-card theft," he said.
It isn't common for passport numbers to be part of a hack, but it is not unheard of. Hong Kong-based airline Cathay Pacific Airways said in October that 9.4 million passengers' information had been breached, including passport numbers.
Passport numbers are often requested by hotels outside the U.S. because U.S. driver's licenses are not accepted there as identification. The numbers could be added to full sets of data about a person that bad actors sell on the black market, leading to identity theft.
And while the credit card industry can cancel accounts and issue new cards within days, it is a much more difficult process, often steeped in government bureaucracy, to get a new passport.
But one redeeming factor about passports is that they are often required to be seen in person, said Ryan Wilk of NuData Security. "It's a highly secure document with a lot of security features," he said.
Email notifications for those who may have been affected begin rolling out Friday.
When the merger was first announced in 2015, Starwood had 21 million people in its loyalty program. The company manages more than 6,700 properties across the globe, most in North America.
While the first impulse for those potentially affected by the breach could be to check credit cards, security experts say other information in the database could be more damaging.
The names, addresses, passport numbers and other personal information "is of greater concern than the payment info, which was encrypted," analyst Ted Rossman of CreditCards.com said, citing the risk that thieves could open fraudulent accounts.
An internal security tool signaled a potential breach in early September, but the company was unable to decrypt the information that would define what data had possibly been exposed until last week.
Marriott, based in Bethesda, Maryland, said in a regulatory filing that it was premature to estimate what financial impact the breach will have on the company. It noted that it does have cyber insurance, and is working with its insurance carriers to assess coverage.
Elected officials were quick to call for action.
The New York attorney general opened an investigation. Virginia Sen. Mark Warner, co-founder of the Senate Cybersecurity Caucus, said the U.S. needs laws that limit the data companies can collect on customers and ensure that companies account for security costs rather than making consumers "shoulder the burden and harms resulting from these lapses."
Dhaka, Dec 1 (UNB) -Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey will help launch the world's first super-high definition 8K television channel on Saturday.
Japanese broadcaster NHK said it had asked Warner Bros to scan the original film negatives in 8K for its new channel, reports BBC.
Super-high definition 8K pictures offer 16 times the resolution of HD TV.
However, few people currently have the necessary television or equipment to receive the broadcasts.
NHK says it has been developing 8K, which it calls super-hi vision, since 1995.
As well as improved picture resolution, broadcasts can include 24 channels of audio for immersive surround sound experiences.
It is hoping to broadcast the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games and Paralympic Games using the new format.
Television manufacturers including Samsung and LG have announced 8K-capable television sets, but they are still prohibitively expensive for widespread adoption.
NHK's new channel BS8K will broadcast programmes for about 12 hours a day.
The first programme at 10:00 local time (01:00 GMT) will be an information broadcast, highlighting future shows on the channel.
The channel will also broadcast live from Italy to showcase "popular tourist attractions from Rome, as well as food, culture and history".
(2001: A Space Odyssey has been remastered)
NHK said it had chosen to broadcast 2001: A Space Odyssey on its launch night so that viewers could enjoy a "masterpiece of film history".
Although many movies are shot on 35mm film, 2001: A Space Odyssey was shot on 70mm film, which was the highest quality available at the time.
Warner Bros was able to scan the original film negatives, repair scratches and provide an 8K version of the film that captures the "power and beauty of the original".
"The many famous scenes become even more vivid, with the attention to detail of director Stanley Kubrick expressed in the exquisite images, creating the feeling of really being on a trip in space, allowing the film to be enjoyed for the first time at home," NHK said in a statement.
In March, the channel will broadcast My Fair Lady starring Audrey Hepburn, which was also shot on 70mm film.
A new strategy
Japanese electronics-maker Sharp began selling its first 8K television in 2015. At launch it cost $133,000 (£104,000). Currently, a Samsung 8K television costs about $15,000 (£11,700) to buy.
Viewers will also need an 8K-capable satellite receiver. Sharp produces one that costs 250,000 yen (£1,750; $2,200). It requires four HDMI cables to get the pictures into a Sharp TV set, and another cable for sound.
Since 8K televisions and receivers are not yet owned by many people, NHK intends to showcase equipment in venues around Japan.
It hopes live events will tempt people to tune in, but will also repeat programmes regularly.
"8K is at the moment based around watching at the time of broadcast," it said in a statement. "We plan to increase the number of chances to watch through rebroadcasts."
"Content has always been crucial for a new TV technology to take off," Joe Cox, editor-in-chief of technology news site What Hi-Fi, told the BBC.
"The launch of the world's first 8K TV channel is great news, even if it is only in Japan. But realistically, mass market adoption is still a long, long way off.
"While the likes of Amazon and Netflix have charged head first into 4K this year, the BBC is only at the trial stage, and others are still struggling to stream HD, so 8K remains a pipedream in the UK.
"But with TV brands suggesting 8K resolution screens can improve 4K and even HD pictures, expect to see plenty more 8K TVs in 2019, even if the content doesn't come so quickly."
Hong Kong, Nov 30 (AP/UNB) — China's government has ordered a halt to work by a medical team that claimed to have helped make the world's first gene-edited babies.
Vice Minister of Science and Technology Xu Nanping told state broadcaster CCTV Thursday that his ministry is strongly opposed to the efforts that reportedly produced twin girls born earlier this month. Xu called the team's actions illegal and unacceptable and said an investigation had been ordered.
Researcher He Jiankui claims to have altered the DNA of the twins to try to make them resistant to infection with the AIDS virus. Mainstream scientists have condemned the experiment, and universities and government groups are investigating.
There is no independent confirmation of what He says he did. He has said a second pregnancy may be underway.
A group of leading scientists has declared that it's still too soon to try making permanent changes to DNA that can be inherited by future generations, as a Chinese researcher claims to have done.
The scientists gathered in Hong Kong this week for an international conference on gene editing, the ability to rewrite the code of life to try to correct or prevent diseases.
Although the science holds promise for helping people already born, the scientists said Thursday that it's irresponsible to try it on eggs, sperm or embryos because not enough is known yet about its risks or safety.
The conference was rocked by the Chinese researcher's claim to have helped make the world's first gene-edited babies, twin girls he said were born earlier this month.