Cape Canaveral, Feb 12 (AP/UNB) — The faraway space snowman visited by NASA last month has a surprisingly flat — not round — behind.
New photos from the New Horizons spacecraft offer a new perspective on the small cosmic body 4 billion miles (6.4 billion kilometers) away. The two-lobed object, nicknamed Ultima Thule, is actually flatter on the backside than originally thought, according to scientists.
Pictures released late last week — taken shortly after closest approach on New Year's Day — provide an outline of the side not illuminated by the sun.
When viewed from the front, Ultima Thule still resembles a two-ball snowman. But from the side , the snowman looks squashed, sort of like a lemon and pie stuck together, end to end.
"Seeing more data has significantly changed our view," Southwest Research Institute's Alan Stern, the lead scientist, said in a statement. "It would be closer to reality to say Ultima Thule's shape is flatter, like a pancake. But more importantly, the new images are creating scientific puzzles about how such an object could even be formed. We've never seen something like this orbiting the sun."
Project scientist Hal Weaver of Johns Hopkins University, home to New Horizons flight control center, said the finding should spark new theories on how such primitive objects formed early in the solar system.
Ultima Thule — considered a contact binary — is the most distant world ever explored. New Horizons zipped past it at high speed, after becoming the first visitor to Pluto in 2015. Mission managers hope to target an even more distant celestial object in this so-called Kuiper Belt, on the frozen fringes of the solar system, if the spacecraft remains healthy.
New Horizons is already 32 million miles (52 million kilometers) beyond Ultima Thule. It will take another 1 ½ years to beam back all the flyby data.
The spacecraft rocketed from Florida in 2006.
Cape Canaveral, Feb (AP/UNB) — It turns out our Milky Way galaxy is truly warped, at least around the far edges.
Scientists in China and Australia released an updated 3D map of the Milky Way on Tuesday. They used 1,339 pulsating stars — young, newly catalogued stars bigger and brighter than our sun — to map the galaxy's shape.
The farther from the center, the more warping, or twisting, there is in the Milky Way's outer hydrogen gas disc. Researchers say the warped, spiral pattern is likely caused by the spinning force of the massive inner disc of stars.
"We usually think of spiral galaxies as being quite flat, like Andromeda, which you can easily see through a telescope," Macquarie University's Richard de Grijs, who took part in the study, said in a statement from Sydney.
Lead researcher Xiaodian Chen of the Chinese Academy of Sciences in Beijing said it's difficult to determine distances from the sun to the Milky Way's fringes, "without having a clear idea of what that disc actually looks like." The stars on which his team's map is based — known as classical Cepheids — provided substantial measuring accuracy.
At least a dozen other galaxies appear to have warped edges in a similar spiral pattern, so in that respect, we're hardly unique.
The study appears in the journal Nature Astronomy.
Beijing, Jan 24 (AP/UNB) — Chinese tech giant Huawei announced plans Wednesday for a next-generation smartphone that will use its own technology instead of U.S. components, maneuvering to gain a competitive edge and sidestep complaints it is a security risk.
The leading supplier of network switching gear for phone companies, Huawei Technologies Ltd. is spending heavily to develop its own chips, an area where the U.S. dominates. That can reduce Huawei's multibillion-dollar annual components bill and help insulate it against possible supply disruptions when U.S.-Chinese relations are strained.
The handset, billed by Huawei as the first foldable fifth-generation smartphone, will be unveiled next month at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, the industry's biggest annual event, said Richard Yu, CEO of the company's consumer unit.
The phone is based on Huawei's own Kirin 980 chipset and Balong 5000 modem. The company says the Kirin 980, released in August, performs on a par with Qualcomm Inc.'s widely used Snapdragon 845.
Sales of Huawei smartphones and other consumer products rose more than 50 percent last year over 2017, showing "no influence" from Western security warnings, Yu told reporters. He said the consumer unit's sales topped $52 billion, or more than half of the $100 billion in annual revenue the company has forecast. Huawei has yet to release 2018 results for the whole company.
"In this complicated political environment, we still maintain strong growth," Yu said.
Chinese companies are trying to develop technology to better compete with Western suppliers in telecoms, solar power, electric cars, biotechnology and other fields.
The ruling Communist Party's plans for state-led development of such industries, along with robotics and artificial intelligence, helped trigger a trade war with President Donald Trump.
Both sides have raised tariffs on tens of billions of dollars of each other's goods in the dispute over American complaints Beijing steals or pressures foreign companies to hand over technology. Washington also says Chinese technology plans violate Beijing's market-opening obligations.
Huawei surpassed Apple as the No. 2 global smartphone brand behind Samsung in mid-2018. It uses Qualcomm in its high-end fourth-generation smartphones and earlier Kirin versions in lower-end models. The company, based in the southern city of Shenzhen near Hong Kong, also has developed chips for servers and mobile devices.
Apple Inc. and Samsung Electronics Ltd. already make their own chips.
Qualcomm has far more smartphone chip technology but Huawei is catching up, said Xi Wang of IDC.
"Generally speaking, Huawei's chips are equal to Qualcomm chips in performance," Wang said. "Not only at the mid-level but at the high end, Huawei can compete with Qualcomm."
Huawei, founded in 1987 by a former military engineer, has rejected accusations it is controlled by the ruling Communist Party or modifies its equipment to allow eavesdropping.
Its U.S. market evaporated after a congressional panel labeled Huawei and its smaller Chinese rival ZTE Corp. security risks in 2012 and told phone companies to avoid dealing with them.
ZTE was nearly driven into bankruptcy last year after the Washington cut off access to U.S. technology over its exports to Iran and North Korea. President Donald Trump restored access after ZTE paid a $1 billion fine and agreed to replace its executive team and install U.S.-chosen compliance officers.
Australia, Japan and some other governments also have imposed curbs on use of Huawei technology.
The company has stepped up efforts to mollify security fears after its chief financial officer, Meng Wanzhou, was arrested in Canada on Dec. 1 on U.S. charges she lied to banks about trade with Iran.
Huawei's founder and CEO, Ren Zhengfei, is Meng's father. In a rare public appearance, he told foreign reporters in a 2½-hour interview on Jan. 15 that he would reject requests from Chinese authorities for confidential information about its customers.
Yu said that despite "political noise" in some countries, Huawei sales outside the United States haven't suffered due to security concerns. The company says it serves 45 of the 50 biggest global phone companies and has signed contracts with 30 carriers to test 5G technology.
"Worldwide, all the carriers love us," said Yu.
Yu repeated Ren's assurances that Huawei has never received an official request for confidential information about customers.
"At Huawei, we never do these kinds of things," he said. "We always protect our customer."
New York, Jan 24 (AP/UNB) — Amazon is bringing delivery robots to the streets of a Seattle suburb.
The online shopping giant says it started to test self-driving robots in Snohomish County, Washington, Wednesday that can bring Amazon packages to shoppers' doorsteps.
The robots are light blue, about the size of a Labrador, have six wheels and the Amazon smile logo stamped on its side, according to Amazon photos . Six of them will be roaming the sidewalks and streets of the neighborhood.
Amazon says a worker will accompany the robots at first, but it didn't provide additional details of how the service would work. The company did not respond to questions about the test.
Several companies have been testing similar delivery robots on college campuses that deliver fast food or snacks to students.
Amazon says its robot, which it is calling Scout, can navigate around pets and pedestrians.
Bremeverhaven, Jan 24 (AP/UNB) — Scientists prepared Thursday to embark on an unprecedented, years-long mission to explore the Indian Ocean and document changes taking place beneath the waves that could affect billions of people in the surrounding region over the coming decades.
The ambitious expedition will delve into one of the last major unexplored frontiers on the planet, a vast body of water that's already feeling the effects of global warming. Understanding the Indian Ocean's ecosystem is important not just for the species that live in it, but also for an estimated 2.5 billion people at home in the region — from East Africa, the Arabian peninsula, South and Southeast Asia.
The Nekton Mission, supported by over 40 organizations, will conduct further dives in other parts of the Indian Ocean over three years. The research will contribute to a summit on the state of the Indian Ocean planned for late 2021.
The Ocean Zephyr is preparing to leave Bremerhaven, Germany, on the first leg of trip. Researchers will spend seven weeks surveying underwater life, map the sea floor and drop sensors to depths of up to 2,000 meters (6,560 feet) in the seas around the Seychelles.
Little is known about the watery world below depths of 30 meters (100 feet), which scientists from Britain and the Seychelles will be exploring with two crewed submarines and a remotely operated submersible in March and April.
Ronny Jumeau, the Seychelles' ambassador to the United Nations, said such research is vital to helping the island nation understand its vast ocean territory.
While the country's 115 islands together add up to just 455 square kilometers (176 sq. miles) of land — about the same as San Antonio, Texas — its exclusive economic zone stretches to 1.4 million square kilometers (540 million square miles) of sea, an area almost the size of Alaska.
Jumeau said the Seychelles aims to become a leader in the development of a "blue economy" that draws on the resources of the ocean. The archipelago relies on fishing and tourism, but has lately also been exploring the possibility of extracting oil and gas from beneath the sea floor.
"Key to this is knowing not only what you have in the ocean around you, but where it is and what is its value," he said. "It is only when you know this that you can properly decide what to exploit and what to protect and leave untouched."
"Research expeditions such as the Nekton Mission are therefore vital to help us fill those gaps and better know our ocean space and marine resources to make wise decisions in planning the future of our blue economy," Jumeau added.
The island nation of fewer than 100,000 people is already feeling the effects of climate change, with rising water temperatures bleaching its coral reefs.
"Our ocean is undergoing rapid ecological transformation by human activities," said Callum Roberts, a marine conservation biologist at the University of York, England, who is a trustee of the mission.
"Seychelles are a critical beacon and bellwether for marine conservation in the Indian Ocean and globally," he said.
The mission's principal scientist, Lucy Woodall of Oxford University, said the researchers expect to discover dozens of new species, from corals and sponges to larger creatures like types of dog-sharks.
The Associated Press is accompanying the expedition and will provide live underwater video from the dives, using new optical transmission technology to send footage from the submarines to the ship and from there, by satellite, to the world.