A crack in Larsen C | Photo: O.V.E.R.V.I.E.W., CC BY 2.0
This week we’ve got stories on a giant iceberg-to-be, Amazon’s takeover of Whole Foods (and their latest unrelated patent), and news about the progress of Chinese science. It’s the news roundup for Sunday, June 17, 2017!
A chunk of ice the size of Prince Edward Island is about to break off Antarctica and float off into the sunset. The Larsen C ice shelf is the fourth largest in Antarctica, at about 50,000km2. Noticed by scientists last summer, a crack has been slowly but surely developing that will lead to the separation of 5,000-6,000 km2 of that ice (roughly 9-12% of the total shelf). As of December, the crack was 131km long, and as of June 1 there were only 13km of ice left, and scientists are now reporting that it could be only a matter of days before it “calves” into what may be one of the largest icebergs ever recorded. Now, the iceberg isn’t going to do anybody any harm. It’s not going to wreck any ships or raise sea levels when it eventually melts (it’s already floating). But these ice shelves hold back land ice from going into the sea, and it’s that process that raises seal levels. It’s generally thought that the event will speed up the deterioration of the ice on the Antarctic Peninsula, and indirectly accelerate sea level rise. Current predictions have the rise at as many as six feet by 2100, which, if you’re curious, generally doesn’t work out well for coastal cities. So while we all wait for the inevitable, here’s a fun tool that lets you map out your favourite city as the sea rises foot by foot.
There are two pieces of Amazon news this week. Friday, Amazon announced its plans to buy woo-purveyor and single-most-expensive kale merchant Whole Foods for $13.7 billion. Normally I wouldn’t care what happens to Whole Foods or their strange triumphalism of “organic” foods, but this is Amazon we’re talking about. Writers have so far suggested that it’ll add massively to the company’s “Prime Pantry” offerings, and possibly even lead to drone delivery of millennial-finance destroying avocados in the near- to middle-term. I can’t wait. Meanwhile Gizmodo is reporting that the online retail giant is also working on ways to cut down on online comparison shopping in their brick and mortar bookstores. This is, of course, ironic, being exactly the way Amazon got started. They’ve filed a patent for a system that redirects customers looking for a better deal at a competitor’s site so they can’t know if the product’s cheaper elsewhere. It’ll only work on the store’s wifi, of course, but who knows: maybe they’ll build their next stores with faraday cages around them, and even cell signals will have to go through Amazon-controlled signal repeaters. Interference with those might be illegal, unless, of course your cell carrier sells out and signs a deal with Amazon, which they totally wouldn’t do… oh wait. Anyway you can read about the Whole Foods shenanigans at CNBC, and the patent thing over at Gizmodo.
Chinese Space Science
China’s astronomical science got another boost this week with the successful launch of their first astronomical satellite, the HXMT or Hard X-ray Modulation Telescope. The two and a half ton satellite was sent up on a Long March-4B rocket to an altitude of about 550 km, which is high enough to detect the cosmic X-rays that don’t make it through the Earth’s atmosphere. The satellite will give Chinese scientists the ability to perform a whole-sky X-ray survey, looking for everything from black holes to neutron stars (and more). The launch comes in the same week as news that another Chinese satellite has been used to help them send entangled quantum particles over 1200km, the furthest ever achieved, and hard on the heels of last year’s startup of FAST, the world’s largest radio telescope. Of course, the US won’t be able to benefit from all these successes, because Congress passed a law that effectively prohibits it, but I’m sure other countries will benefit instead. Sigh. You can read more about the story at AAAS Science magazine.
Best of the Rest
Of course as usual there’s all manner of things I can’t cover myself, so here it is, your weekly linkspam.
- Microsoft still can’t count, as evidenced by the name of their latest XBox
- The beginning of the universe still requires the impossibilities of the Big Bang
- Scientists have been able to watch DNA replicate for the first time
- Atari’s apparently making a new gaming console
- The science community now has a (sigh) “Tinder for preprints”, and
- Bill Nye Saves the World is getting a second season from Netflix!
That’s all for today, have a great week.
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Richard Ford Burley is a human, writer, and doctoral candidate at Boston College, as well as Deputy Managing 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.