Briefly Noted

Shorter than a post. Longer than a Tweet.

The spacecraft’s not much bigger than a loaf of bread and it has a boxing ring-sized solar sail propelling it through space.

LightSail 2, a project from The Planetary Society, a space advocacy group, successfully opened its solar sails earlier this week and is now floating through space. The project is meant to demonstrate the potential solar sails have for long distance space travel.

Via Science Alert:

If you’re not familiar with solar sail technology, the idea is relatively simple, at least in theory.

A solar sail utilizes the momentum of the photons coming from the Sun, much the same way that a sailboat captures the energy in the wind. The light sail doesn’t capture the photons. The photons bounce off of the reflective surface and propel the sail. It’s lightweight, simple technology that has great potential.

In the vacuum of space, it works. There’s no resistance to the spacecraft’s momentum, so over time, as more and more photons bounce off it, its speed increases. All without carrying any fuel or other propulsion system…

…They also gain more and more momentum as they travel. They can continue to accelerate as long as photons are hitting them. A solar sail spacecraft can reach speeds that a chemical rocket can never reach, even though, obviously, they can’t escape the gravitational pull of Earth on their own.

Here’s a look at the microthin sail.

LightSail 2’s 344 square foot sail when deployed. By The Planetary Society.

And here’s a brief history of solar sailing. It starts all the way back in 1608.

By The Planetary Society.

Follow along at The Planetary Society.

Fifty years later, Charles Shulz’ brief letter to a 10-year-old boy still resonates. Unfortunately.

For background on the letter and its discovery, see KQED and the Charles M. Schulz Museum.

A brain implant that transmits video directory to the visual cortex is allowing some formerly blind patients to see.

Via The Daily Mail:

“Previously all attempts to create a bionic eye focused on implanting into the eye itself. It required you to have a working eye, a working optic nerve,” Shortt told the Daily Mail.

“By bypassing the eye completely you open the potential up to many, many more people.

“This is a complete paradigm shift for treating people with complete blindness. It is a real message of hope.”

The six participants in trials of the Orion Visual Cortical Prosthesis System had a 60-electrode panel implanted in the visual cortex at the back of their brains. Doctors then spent months with them using computers to map their visual fields. Basically, they were reteaching the visual cortex how to process images.

Once the mapping was complete, the participants were given eyeglasses with small video cameras on the front.

“It was an incredible moment,” said one participant who saw his wife and children for the first time. “It was very humbling.”

More: A Cure for Blindness

As Los Angeles ponders a green, electric future, it might consider times past. The city is targeting the 2028 Olympics to drastically expand its public transportation system with a $28 billion infrastructure project.

Seems, though, something of its type once existed. LA had a light rail system over a hundred years ago. It looked something like this.

Created by Jake Berman, the map shows the Pacific Electric Railway system as it existed before World War I.

As LA Magazine notes:

L.A.’s transit history is chock-full of depressing and hilarious (but mostly depressing) missteps, encounters with myopia, and instances of sabotage, none more notable than the destruction of the Pacific Electric Railway System. The 1,000-plus-mile network of streetcar lines, which stretched from the ocean all the way to Redlands, was gradually dismantled, either by a nefarious cabal of pro-automobile interests or because of Americans’ changing transportation preferences, or some combination of the two.

Something to consider next time you’re stuck bumper to bumper on the 405.

And now for something beautiful: the International Space Station crosses the sun

The International Space Station crosses in front of the sun. By NASA/Rainee Colacurcio.

If you haven’t spent time with it, check out NASA’s Astronomy Picture of the Day. It’s a throwback, old-timey site holding an archive of amazing.

Welcome to the current state of deepfake videos where you could ask yourself how much more screwed could we be? And the answer would be, none, none more screwed.

Via Drew Harwell, The Washington Post

Top artificial-intelligence researchers across the country are racing to defuse an extraordinary political weapon: computer-generated fake videos that could undermine candidates and mislead voters during the 2020 presidential campaign.

And they have a message: We’re not ready.

The researchers have designed automatic systems that can analyze videos for the telltale indicators of a fake, assessing light, shadows, blinking patterns — and, in one potentially groundbreaking method, even how a candidate’s real-world facial movements — such as the angle they tilt their head when they smile — relate to one another.

But for all that progress, the researchers say they remain vastly overwhelmed by a technology they fear could herald a damaging new wave of disinformation campaigns, much in the same way fake news stories and deceptive Facebook groups were deployed to influence public opinion during the 2016 election.

More: Top AI researchers race to detect “deepfake” videos: “We are outgunned”