A ghost in the machine | Image: medithIT, CC BY 2.0
This week’s news covers a Mars mission you might not have heard about that’s arriving today (!), the greatly-exaggerated reports of the demise of the Great Barrier Reef, and the second death of the legendary programmer Dennis Ritchie. Add to that our weekly In Case You Missed It and Best of the Rest segments, and you’ve got the This Week In Tomorrow news roundup for Sunday, October 16, 2016!
If you haven’t been paying much attention, you might not have noticed that a probe is arriving at Mars this week. A joint operation of ESA (the European Space Agency, pronounced like NASA, usually “essa” or “eesa”) and Roscosmos (officially the Roscosmos State Corporation), ExoMars is actually a two-launch mission. The first arrival is this week, and consists of two parts: the Trace-Gas Orbiter (TGO) and the Schiaparelli Entry, Descent, and Landing Demonstrator Module (EDM). These will pave the way for the launch of an (as-yet unnamed) ESA-built rover in July 2020, which will search for signs of former and present life on the red planet. Today, Sunday 16 October, starting at 10:30 EDT (14:30 GMT), ESA livestreamed the separation of the TGO and the Schiaparelli lander. Three days from now (Wednesday 19 October) starting at 9:00 EDT (13:00 GMT) they’ll be streaming Schiaparelli’s landing. We should have the first look at any images and data from the descent at the press conference scheduled for Thursday morning. The TGO will map the Martian atmosphere, especially looking for methane, which could give clues toward a good place to drop the second stage of the ExoMars mission. The Schiaparelli EDM will test the technologies needed to land the second stage’s rover. If Schiaparelli lands safely, it will be the first non-NASA craft to manage the feat, and despite a long string of bad luck: to date, all seven of Russia’s Mars missions have failed — Mars 2 (1971), Mars 3 (1971), Mars 6 (1973), Mars 7 (1973), Phobos 1 (1988), Phobos 2 (1988), and Mars 96 (1996) — and ESA’s only attempt, Beagle 2 (2003), landed but failed when its solar panels improperly deployed. Here’s wishing them the best of luck. You can get all the details for the livestreams over at ESA.
Demise Reports Greatly Exaggerated
Reports this week of the demise of the Great Barrier Reef were, to be blunt, greatly exaggerated, and it’s upsetting conservationists and environmental scientists who want to spread the word that it’s not too late. The “obituary,” a satirical piece seemingly designed to lampoon our collective lack of action to save the reef, was published Tuesday in Outside and taken as fact by a vast number of readers worldwide. This has prompted numerous scientists to go to media outlets far an wide with a single message: we can still save it. To be fair, it’s had a rough year. This year’s mass bleaching event was “the worst mass bleaching event on record,” taking out fully 22% of the reef. Increased atmospheric carbon has led to increased amounts of dissolved CO2 in the oceans, rendering them significantly more acidic, and “bleaching” the coral — leading them to eject the symbiotic algae that live inside the corals and give them their colour. Scientists are working on repopulation efforts, studying varieties of coral that are more naturally resistant to more acidic water, as well as working on engineering corals that can survive the changes we’ve made to the environment. For more on the story, you can check out the Guardian.
Demise Reports Greatly Delayed
Dennis MacAlistair Ritchie was a computer scientist of much renown. He invented the C programming language, and co-invented the UNIX operating system. He won awards like the Turing Award, the National Medal of Technology, and the Hamming Medal. He passed away, after suffering from heart disease and the treatments for prostate cancer, on 12 October 2011, and at the time people wondered whether this man, who most non-programmers had still never heard of, was actually more important than Steve Jobs, who had died just five days earlier. And then, five years later, Dennis Ritchie died again. It’s still not entirely clear what happened, but the fact that it was the fifth anniversary of his death to the day probably had something to do with it. Whatever the cause, news of his death was widely reported — Google CEO Sundar Pichai retweeted the news of Ritchie’s death from venture capitalist and tech writer Om Malik’s tweet, which cited a Wired obituary from 2011.
— Om Malik (@om) October 13, 2016
The internet did what it does, and the news went viral, with algorithms from Google’s to Facebook’s recognizing the renewed interest and flagging the five-year-old obituaries as “news.” Eventually the realization crept through the corridors of the web that the “news” was anything but, and the fire died down, but not before tens of thousands of people worldwide were given a chance to remember a great programmer and inventor — if five years late. One wonders what Ritchie would have thought of it all. Check out Gizmodo for more on the story.
And if you weren’t following along this week, here’s your chance to catch up!
- Monday: Happy Thanksgiving Canada, and thanks for giving us Chris Hadfield
- Tuesday: The Pink Salt Taste Test, in which yours truly tastes three salts three ways to see if it’s a thing
- Wednesday: Even “Clean” Coal Isn’t Really, because there’s always a catch
- Thursday: Alex Jones Sure Is Crazy, but at least this time Obama laughed at him, and
- Friday: Okay, I’m Officially Scared, says #FeministFriday correspondent Elle Irise, and with good reason
Check them out if you didn’t get a chance this week.
Best of the Rest
- Scientists behind the Thirty-Metre Telescope (TMT) are considering new locations because Hawaii is inhospitable
- The EU is considering mandating a car-charger in every new home from 2019 onward
- CRISPR is now being used to fight sickle-cell anemia, because what can’t it be used for?
- Scientists at Oak Ridge have made a cheap catalyst to efficiently turn CO2 into ethanol
- Scientists at Vanderbilt have found a virus with DNA stolen from a spider, and
- Icelandic prosthetics company Ossur’s “mind-controlled” foot and ankle is just 3-5 years from the market
And before I go, here’s something I just couldn’t resist: former Mythbuster Adam Savage walking incognito through New York Comic Con dressed as the best Totoro I’ve ever seen.
That’s all for today; thanks for reading! Except for the very *very* occasional tip (we take Venmo now!), I only get paid in my own (and your) enthusiasm, so please like This Week In Tomorrow on Facebook, follow me on Twitter @TWITomorrow, and tell your friends about the site!
If you like our posts and want to support our site, please share it with others, on Facebook, Twitter, Reddit — anywhere you think people might want to read what we’ve written. If there’s something you think we’ve missed or a story you’d like to see covered, drop us a line! Thanks so much for reading, and have a great week.
Richard Ford Burley is a human, writer, and doctoral candidate at Boston College, as well as an editor at Ledger, the first academic journal devoted to Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies. In his spare time he writes about science, skepticism, feminism, and futurism here at This Week In Tomorrow.