(Artist’s Impression) New Horizons at 2014 MU69 | Image: NASA/JHUAPL/SWRI
This week we’ve got a massive attack on the internet’s address books, a spectacular crash on the surface of Mars, and the latest news on New Horizons’s next stop, a KBO named 2014 MU69. It’s our Sunday news roundup — check it out!
On Friday, the company Dyn, Inc. was hit by a massive Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attack, and for hours, parts of the internet were inaccessible to millions of people. Basically, the way it worked was this: whoever or whatever was responsible for the attack roped millions of devices around the world into all trying to access Dyn’s servers at the same time. This is a problem because Dyn is one of the big “address books” of the web, and tells everyone trying to get to, say, reddit, Twitter, or the BBC, that reddit.com, twitter.com, and bbc.co.uk aren’t actually where they want to go, and instead direct that traffic to a unique but completely imemmorable string of numbers (their IP addresses) that are the sites’ real addresses. These kinds of attacks are common, and are often used as a (definitely illegal) tool in things like arguments over block size in the Bitcoin ecosystem. The difference this time was the scale. It looks as though someone used a piece of malware to infect millions of “internet of things” devices — everything from webcams to routers to dishwashers — and convinced them all to have an abiding interest in knowing what Dyn, Inc. was up to on Friday, which temporarily broke the internet. You can direct a DDoS attack at anything online, but targeting a DNS like Dyn is basically targeting one of the internet’s weak spots. But until someone finds a way of giving everyone an up to date copy of the internet’s address book, this kind of attack can be expected to continue. Krebs has more (if you can get to his site… somoene’s in the habit of DDoSing him these days, too).
As I reported on Wednesday, phase one of ExoMars, the ESA/Roscosmos mission to the red planet, arrived after its nine month journey. While the Trace Gas Orbiter successfully entered into orbit where it will spend the next years mapping the Martian atmosphere and looking for signs of life, the Schiaparelli landing module was not so lucky. While we can’t say for certain what went wrong just yet, the lander stopped broadcasting before it reached the ground. It appears that not only did the lander jettison its parachutes too early, but its thrusters also seem to have shut down too soon. Now the Mars Reconnaisance Orbiter has spotted a black new black splotch about half the size of a football field that seems likely to be the remains of a rather catastrophic crash, which supports the hypothesis that the thrusters didn’t fire for long enough, leaving the propellant tanks full and, well, rather explodey. ESA scientists are still analyzing the data they received from the craft as it descended, and all the data will be useful in phase two of the mission. It’s important to remember that the TGO will be performing the vast majority of the science objectives of the mission, and so ExoMars is still a rousing success. But when phase two relies on the technologies tested on Schiaparelli to land a rover on the red planet, it does cast doubt on whether they really want to risk a lander just yet. Emily Lakdawalla has some great analysis of the MRO photos of the purported crash site over at the Planetary Society.
After its visit to Pluto in July of last year, NASA’s New Horizons craft still had some juice left in its steering thrusters, so while it piped back the most beautiful photos of Pluto ever taken (and a massive amount of scientific data that we’ll be poring over for years) the team at the helm found somewhere new to send it. About a billion miles past Pluto is a Kuiper Belt Object called 2014 MU69, and while it’ll take until 1 January 2019 for New Horizons to reach it, we just got our first real data about it thanks to a peek taken by the Hubble. The big news is that it’s red, maybe even moreso than Pluto, which out there in the deep dark of the outer solar system almost certainly means tholins. Tholins are a class of organic chainlike molecules formed when UV radiation interacts with things like methane, ethane, and nitrogen. They’re pretty scarce in our part of the solar system, but they might be some of the building blocks of life, so finding out that the outer solar system is full of them could tell us a lot about where we came from. But as I said, it’ll be a bit of a wait until New Horizons gets there, so by the time it does (if all goes the plan) the James Webb Space Telescope will already have launched (that’s October 2018) and maybe it’ll get a chance to take a peek just ahead of time as well. You can read more about 2014 MU69 over at NASA.
If you haven’t been playing along at home, there’s still time to catch up: it’s this week’s In Case You Missed It roundup. Here’s what we got up to:
- Monday was the latest update on the Impossible Drive (the “EmDrive” or “Cannae Drive”)
- Tuesday was on the intersection of patriotism and skepticism
- Wednesday was the breaking news about the arrival of ExoMars at the red planet
- Thursday was about how electric cars could really hit the oil industry hard if they don’t prepare, and
- Friday was about people that are actually upset that a pokemon is too “feminine.” Really.
If you missed any of those stories, now’s your chance!
Best of the Rest
And now it’s time for all the things we didn’t get to this week: your weekly linkspam!
- AT&T is going to try to buy Time Warner for a staggering $80 billion+ price tag
- Every episode of Jessica Jones season two is going to be directed by a woman
- We can now make transistors a single nanometer wide
- The ISS got three new crew members
- China launched two astronauts into orbit for a full month (their longest yet!)
- Orbital ATK returned to flight this week with a shipment of supplies to the ISS
- A coroner’s report indicates that chiropracty killed a playboy model by precipitating a stroke
- Nintendo launched the Switch, its next gaming platform, and
- Tesla reports that from now on, all its cars will have the hardware built in for full self-driving
That’s it for this week, but before we go, here’s a great video of a weatherman who is totally unphased by the impending demise of half a dozen towns.
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.