Gravitational Waves, Throttling Videos, and SpaceX News | Vol. 4 / No. 44

This week we’ve got stories of a possible new type of gravitational wave discovery, the beginning of the video-throttling wars, and a few stories from SpaceX and Elon Musk. It’s the news roundup for Sunday, August 27, 2017!


Image: NASA Blueshift

A New (Gravitational) Wave

Rumours are swirling around the astrophysics community this week after a couple of tweets seemed to announce the discovery of a new type of gravitational wave signal—from two neutrons stars colliding. On August 18, astronomer J. Craig Wheeler tweeted “New LIGO. Source with optical counterpart. Blow your sox off!” with another astronomer, Peter Yoachim, tweeting that a “merging neutron-neutron star is the initial call.” Now, bear in mind that none of this is official until it’s been through a heck of a lot more scrutiny than this, but if confirmed by the data, it’ll be the first time we’ve seen gravitational waves from something that we can also see otherwise (these collisions, as seen in the NASA illustration above, can create GRBs (Gamma Ray Bursts)). Of course when the top-level update from the LIGO-Virgo collaboration essentially reads “we’ve got some signals but we’re not saying anything until we’ve had a good long look at the data,” we might be in for a wait for that confirmation. You can read way more about what all this might mean over at Nature.



Throttling Mobile Video

Ever since I switched to Google’s Project Fi, I’ve looked on with morbid curiosity at the garbage fire that is other people’s cellphone plans in the US. I live in a city, I work from home or at a university or a coffee shop, so I’m almost never in need of cellular data. Add to that that I’m nearly done paying off my phone (and that I’m under zero obligation to get a new one when I have), and I’ll be paying ~$30/month for a phone that works well, with 1 GB of data and $10 for each additional GB (pro-rated, so $1 for 100MB, etc.). So watching Verizon stretch the credible limits of the word “unlimited” this week has been… interesting. See, they’re now in a war with T-Mobile over who can offer less on so-called unlimited plans… or something. The idea is that “to lower congestion” they’re going to drop the bandwidth of videos their users watch, to what they hilariously refer to as “DVD quality,” which is a hell of a euphemism if I ever heard one. When’s the last time you tried to watch a (non-HD, non-blu-ray) DVD on a modern device? Yeah. So anyway, they’re offering “unlimited” plans in the $75-$85 range (plus taxes, fees, ancillary charges, etc.) with names like “go unlimited,” “beyond unlimited,” and “prepaid unlimited,” with limitations on what you can see, which sounds right up the alley of Ajit Pai, the new anti-net neutrality FCC chair. Maybe Gizmodo is right, and this is the beginning of a race to the bottom for US cellular service. You can read more about it here.


Photo: SpaceX/Elon Musk

SpaceX (and Elon Musk) News

On Thursday, SpaceX a long last launched a Taiwanese-built satellite into orbit, after years of delays and setbacks. The Formosat 5 contract was… expensive for SpaceX. It’s the lightest payload for a Falcon 9 ever because it was originally supposed to go up on (get this) a Falcon 1, and its delays have been costly for the rocket company. But the launch went off perfectly, and the first stage landed as expected on the Just Read The Instructions, hopefully to be used again some time soon. You can read more about that at Spaceflight Now. In the meantime, Elon Musk has Instagrammed about the new spacesuits SpaceX has designed (and tested!) for the Commercial Crew program. In the photo, which shows the torso and helmet with… gosh I hope that’s a mannequin in it… with the caption “First picture of SpaceX spacesuit. More in days to follow. Worth noting that this actually works (not a mockup). Already tested to double vacuum pressure. Was incredibly hard to balance esthetics and function. Easy to do either separately.” As The Verge reports, these aren’t “out for a spacewalk” spacesuits, but rather pressure suits for astronauts to wear inside the Dragon capsule in case of a pressure loss. Still, they look pretty sweet and I can’t wait to see more.

Lastly, it’s also worth noting that Musk signed a petition to the UN to outlaw autonomous killer robots the way we outlaw landmines and other godawful killing machines, because honestly we shouldn’t be letting algorithms kill people without serious human oversight.


Best of the Rest

As always, there’s more to get to than I can on my lonesome, so here it is: your weekly linkspam!

And I’ll leave you today with this (very long to load) compilation of people’s photos of the solar eclipse. Maybe close a few tabs before trying to open it.

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.