“Wolf’s jaw” star cluster may have inspired parts of Ragnarok myth

Only the onset of Ragnarok can defeat Hela, the goddess of death, in Marvel's <em>Thor: Ragnarok.</em>

Enlarge / Only the onset of Ragnarok can defeat Hela, the goddess of death, in Marvel’s Thor: Ragnarok. (credit: Marvel Studios)

In Norse mythology, Ragnarok is a cataclysmic series of events leading to the death of Odin and his fellow Asgardian gods, and ultimately to the end of the world. Some iconographic details of this mythical apocalypse that emerged around 1000 AD may have been influenced by astronomical events—notably comets and total eclipses.

This is not to say that the myth of Ragnarok originated with such events; rather, they reinforced mythologies that already existed in the popular imagination. That’s the central thesis of Johnni Langer, a historian specializing in Old Norse mythology and literature at the Federal University of Paraiba in Brazil. He has outlined his argument in detail in a recent paper (translated from the original Portuguese) in the journal Archeoastronomy and Ancient Technologies.

Langer’s analysis is based on the relatively young field of archaeoastronomy: the cultural study of myths, oral narratives, iconographic sources, and other forms of ancient beliefs, with the aim of identifying possible connections with historical observations in astronomy. Both total eclipses and the passage of large comets were theoretically visible in medieval Scandinavia, and there are corresponding direct records of such events in Anglo-Saxon and German chronicles from around the same time period. These could have had a cultural influence on evolving Norse mythology, including the concept of Ragnarok.

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Source: Ars Technica – “Wolf’s jaw” star cluster may have inspired parts of Ragnarok myth

Pokemon Let’s Go: Well, I guess my adult ass is going to collect them all

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Source: Ars Technica – Pokemon Let’s Go: Well, I guess my adult ass is going to collect them all

Rocket Report: SpaceX gets top clearance, Europe job cuts, Russian plans

The Rocket Report is published weekly.

Enlarge / The Rocket Report is published weekly. (credit: Arianespace/Aurich Lawson)

Welcome to Edition 1.26 of the Rocket Report! This week, we have plenty of news to share about successes at Rocket Lab, as well as an important launch for India’s space program. We also link to an in-depth feature on the past, present, and future of Japan’s launch industry.

As always, we welcome reader submissions, and if you don’t want to miss an issue, please subscribe using the box below (the form will not appear on AMP-enabled versions of the site). Each report will include information on small-, medium-, and heavy-lift rockets as well as a quick look ahead at the next three launches on the calendar.

Rocket Lab enters its operational phase. Rocket Lab has moved from a company testing a rocket to one that has truly begun commercial operations. With the third flight of its Electron booster, the company delivered seven different satellites into orbit as part of its first fully commercial spaceflight. “The world is waking up to the new normal,” the company’s founder and chief executive, Peter Beck, said.

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Source: Ars Technica – Rocket Report: SpaceX gets top clearance, Europe job cuts, Russian plans

Whales are stressed out by climate change, and it shows in their earwax

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Source: Ars Technica – Whales are stressed out by climate change, and it shows in their earwax

Judge rejects neo-Nazi’s First Amendment argument in harassment case

Plaintiff Tanya Gersh of Whitefish, Montana.

Enlarge / Plaintiff Tanya Gersh of Whitefish, Montana. (credit: Dan Chung / Associated Press)

When Andrew Anglin isn’t editing his neo-Nazi website the Daily Stormer, he organizes harassment campaigns against perceived enemies. One target of an Anglin harassment campaign, Tanya Gersh, sued Anglin last year. On Wednesday, a Montana federal judge dealt Anglin a significant setback, holding that the First Amendment does not protect Anglin’s right to publish Gersh’s personal information and encourage his legion of anti-Semitic followers to harass her.

But this legal battle isn’t over yet. The judge’s ruling allows the lawsuit to go forward, but Gersh’s lawyers will still have to prove Anglin liable for invasion of privacy and other harms.

Still, the ruling could prove significant for other victims of online harassment. Anglin argued that he was just publishing information—like Gersh’s home phone number—and couldn’t be held responsible for what his readers did with that information. But the judge pointed to clear evidence Anglin knew exactly what readers would do with the information and egged them on at every step.

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Source: Ars Technica – Judge rejects neo-Nazi’s First Amendment argument in harassment case

Apple inks deal with A24 studio to produce original, feature-length films

Apple logo.

Enlarge (credit: Apple)

Apple has lined up another partnership to boost its video-content offerings. According to a report by The Wall Street Journal, Apple signed a deal with A24 studio, a New York-based production company responsible for movies, including the 2017 Oscar winner for Best Picture, Moonlight.

Details of forthcoming projects haven’t been disclosed, but Apple reportedly signed a “multi-year partnership” to make “independent, feature-length films” with A24. Apple has numerous production partnerships and deals in the works already, but most are for serialized shows and other video content.

For the past year, Apple has focused on gleaning talent for its original content offerings. It began with the Carpool Karaoke and Planet of the Apps series, both of which are exclusively available on Apple Music.

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Source: Ars Technica – Apple inks deal with A24 studio to produce original, feature-length films

Fallout 76 is online and lonelier than ever

All hail Hypnotoad!

Enlarge / All hail Hypnotoad!

The first few hours in Fallout 76 are strange. It’s both familiar and foreign. The well-trod path of creating a character and exiting the safety of an underground vault is sharply juxtaposed with a distinct lack of scripted NPCs. Instead, in a departure from Fallout’s decades-long history of single-player titles, you share your slice of post-apocalyptic West Virginia (referred to as Appalachia) with real, live people. Since Bethesda didn’t provide pre-launch review code, we’ve only been able to spend our single day playing in this strange new land alongside the rest of the audience. So far, it’s unclear whether this experiment will be a successful one.

What is clear immediately is that Fallout 76 is the best-looking Fallout ever. Running on an Xbox One X and displayed on a 4K TV, the visuals are vibrant and clear, a far cry from the muddy textures of Fallout 4. So far, the game has run much more smoothly as well, without the long loads and jerky pauses of the previous Fallout titles. These days, that’s an impressive feat for a multiplayer game on launch day.

Fallout 76 starts similarly to other games in the series: after decades in an underground vault, protected from the nuclear war and ensuing fallout that devastated the United States, it’s time to go outside. While Vault-Tec subjected many of its vault inhabitants to convoluted social experiments, Vault 76 residents have a simple mission: on Reclamation Day, 25 years after the bombs fell, it’s time to leave and take the country back.

You’ll create a character from scratch, determining details like face and body shape, skin color, hairstyle, and gender (male or female only; there’s no non-binary option). Fallout 76 adds a fun photo mode that lets you snap your character using a variety of filters and frames, like an in-game Instagram. After taking that first photo and naming your character, you’re on your way.

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Source: Ars Technica – Fallout 76 is online and lonelier than ever

Sony is skipping E3 2019

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Source: Ars Technica – Sony is skipping E3 2019

Former NASA administrator says Lunar Gateway is “a stupid architecture”

Man in suit talks into a microphone.

Enlarge / Michael Griffin, Under Secretary of Defense for Research and Engineering, testifies during a House Armed Services Committee in April. (credit: Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

In recent weeks, NASA officials have been running a charm offensive on their proposed “Gateway” in lunar space, which would serve as a space station in a distant orbit around the Moon. The agency has proposed this interim step in lieu of returning directly to the lunar surface with humans. The agency has even started talking about the Gateway as a “spaceship,” presumably because this sounds more exciting than a “station.”

Public criticism of the proposal has been limited to date, in part because so much of the aerospace community has the potential to earn contracts by either helping to build the lunar space station or supply it with consumables once it is up and running in the mid-2020s. (We spoke to a few of the public critics for a feature published in September.)

However, during a meeting of the National Space Council Users’ Advisory Group on Thursday, some of the criticism we’ve heard privately spilled into public view. One of the committee’s members, Apollo 11 astronaut Buzz Aldrin, declared that, “I’m quite opposed to the Gateway.”

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Source: Ars Technica – Former NASA administrator says Lunar Gateway is “a stupid architecture”

FCC tells SpaceX it can deploy up to 11,943 broadband satellites

An illustration of the Earth, with lines circling the globe to represent a telecommunications network.

Enlarge (credit: Getty Images | Olena_T)

SpaceX today received US approval to deploy 7,518 broadband satellites, in addition to the 4,425 satellites that were approved eight months ago.

The Federal Communications Commission voted to let SpaceX launch 4,425 low-Earth orbit satellites in March of this year. SpaceX separately sought approval for 7,518 satellites operating even closer to the ground, saying that these will boost capacity and reduce latency in heavily populated areas. That amounts to 11,943 satellites in total for SpaceX’s Starlink broadband service.

SpaceX “proposes to add a very-low Earth orbit (VLEO) NGSO [non-geostationary satellite orbit] constellation, consisting of 7,518 satellites operating at altitudes from 335km to 346km,” the FCC said in the draft of the order that it approved unanimously today. The newly approved satellites would use frequencies between 37.5 and 42GHz for space-to-Earth transmissions and frequencies between 47.2 and 51.4GHz for Earth-to-space transmissions, the FCC said.

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Source: Ars Technica – FCC tells SpaceX it can deploy up to 11,943 broadband satellites

New anti-gonorrhea drug called “metal as f–k”

Image of someone opening a condom.

Enlarge / It’s still best to avoid needing antibiotics. (credit: Wyoming Dept. of Health)

In the battle against gonorrhea, antibiotics have been forced into a rapid and devastating retreat. In the early 1990s, three different antibiotics were available as treatments recommended by the CDC. Resistance to one of these options was detected in the late ‘90s; since then, one after another, treatment options bit the dust. Now, resistance to all available treatment is growing.

“We are facing the real danger of multidrug-resistant, nearly untreatable gonorrhea,” wrote Susan Blank and Demetre C. Daskalakis in the New England Journal of Medicine last week. On its own, this is a very serious public health concern; taken together with the sharp uptick in the number of reported cases of gonorrhea in the US, it’s alarming.

A second paper published last week offers some hope: in a small trial, a new antibiotic did well against gonorrhea. The drug, called zoliflodacin, has a different way of attacking bacteria, making it a useful new option against antibiotic-resistant gonorrhea. A much larger clinical trial is now in the cards.

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Source: Ars Technica – New anti-gonorrhea drug called “metal as f–k”

Dealmaster: Get a 27-inch Dell UltraSharp 1440p monitor for $300

Collage of items for sale.

Enlarge (credit: TechBargains)

Greetings, Arsians! Courtesy of our friends at TechBargains, we have another round of deals to share. Today’s list is headlined by a deal on Dell’s 27″ UltraSharp U2717D, which is currently down to $300 at the company’s online store. That’s about $90 off the device’s price elsewhere.

The U2717D is an IPS monitor with a 2560×1440 resolution. It’s not the highest-end panel around: sharper 4K monitors have generally come down in price in recent months, and the U2717D itself isn’t top-of-the-line when it comes to black uniformity and maximum contrast ratio. With a 60 Hz native refresh rate, it’s not built for gaming either.

But its colors, gray uniformity, and viewing angles are all pluses, and the 1440p resolution is still a step up if you’re coming from an older 1080p panel. There’s a full array of ports on the back, and Dell’s design keeps the bezels nice and slim. The monitor comes with a three-year warranty as well. All told, it’s good value at this reduced price.

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Source: Ars Technica – Dealmaster: Get a 27-inch Dell UltraSharp 1440p monitor for 0

Wireless throttling: Senators ask four major carriers about video slowdowns

The word,

Enlarge (credit: Verizon)

Three US Senate Democrats today asked the four major wireless carriers about allegations they’ve been throttling video services and—in the case of Sprint—the senators asked about alleged throttling of Skype video calls.

Sens. Edward Markey (D-Mass.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), and Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) sent the letters to AT&T, Verizon, Sprint, and T-Mobile, noting that recent research using the Wehe testing platform found indications of throttling by all four carriers.

“All online traffic should be treated equally, and Internet service providers should not discriminate against particular content or applications for competitive advantage purposes or otherwise,” the senators wrote.

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Source: Ars Technica – Wireless throttling: Senators ask four major carriers about video slowdowns

This video shows just how much quicker the new Formula E car is

(video link)

Exactly a month from today, Formula E starts its fifth season. A lot will have changed compared to the sport we saw at season four’s finale in Brooklyn this summer. When the first race of the season—which takes place in Saudi Arabia, proving Formula 1 has no monopoly on holding races in problematic places—gets underway, it will do so with an entirely new race car, one that solves some of the complaints from skeptics of this all-electric series.

The second-generation Formula E car has double the battery capacity, sporting 56kWh versus 28kWh for the first-gen machine. So those mid-race pit stops to change the car are a thing of the past. And the cars have gotten faster, too, as the video above shows. Audi factory driver Lucas di Grassi is behind the wheel of the original Formula E Spark-Renault SRT_01, as raced in season one. To his right is BMW factory driver Antonio Felix da Costa, equipped with the new Spark SRT05e. As you can see, the new car is a lot more interesting to look at than the old model’s “generic single-seater” styling.

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Source: Ars Technica – This video shows just how much quicker the new Formula E car is

When a network intel provider’s domain serves fraudulent content, something is wrong

The first of eight pages of results showing fraudulent PDFs available on vps4-atl1.ag0.thousandeyes.com.

Enlarge / The first of eight pages of results showing fraudulent PDFs available on vps4-atl1.ag0.thousandeyes.com. (credit: Dan Goodin)

ThousandEyes, a San Francisco-based network intelligence service, helps customers monitor all kinds of mission-critical things, from border gateway protocol leaks to DNS performance. But over the past week or so, the company has struggled with its own networking blunder that allowed scammers to host hundreds of thousands of fraudulent documents on its very own domain.

As the screenshot above shows, vps4-atl1.ag0.thousandeyes.com was hosting PDFs promoting screenplays, books, and how-to guides. By being hosted on a legitimate website operated by a security company, the content was designed to manipulate Google search results in a way that tricked people into clicking on questionable links. Google searches suggest that the documents were hosted on the subdomain since the beginning of the month, before being removed on Tuesday, as this story was being reported.

To park their content, the scammers took advantage of a lapse in the management of the ThousandEyes.com domain. An entry in the domain’s authoritative name servers pointed to the IP address 74.207.229.178. The IP address belongs to Web host Linode. ThousandEyes used the IP in the past, but at some point it stopped doing so. ThousandEyes admins, however, failed to remove the DNS entry from the name servers. The scammers then noticed the lapse, obtained the same IP address from Linode, and used it to host the scammy documents.

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Source: Ars Technica – When a network intel provider’s domain serves fraudulent content, something is wrong

Why aren’t chip credit cards stopping “card present” fraud in the US?

woman inserting a chip card into a terminal

Enlarge / Chip cards help prevent fraud but only if you use them. (credit: Patrick T. Fallon/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

A security analysis firm called Gemini Advisory recently posted a report saying that credit card fraud is actually on the rise in the US. That’s surprising, because the US is three years out from a big chip-based card rollout. Chip-based cards were supposed to limit card fraud in the US, which was out of control compared to similar fraud in countries that already used EMV (the name of the chip card standard).

Chip cards work by creating a unique code for each transaction, and (ideally) require a customer to enter a PIN to verify that they want to make the purchase. This doesn’t make it impossible to steal information from chip-based cards, but it does make it much harder to reuse a stolen card. By contrast, using a magnetic stripe to swipe a card simply offers all the relevant information to the merchant’s card reader, which is much easier for a bad actor to steal.

Gemini Advisory now says that 60 million credit and debit card numbers were stolen in the US in the past 12 months, and most of those were chip-based cards.

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Source: Ars Technica – Why aren’t chip credit cards stopping “card present” fraud in the US?

Facebook drops PR firm after revelation of anti-Soros campaign

Facebook's Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg speaks at the conservative American Enterprise Institute in 2016. Sandberg has been the mastermind of Facebook's political strategy in recent years.

Enlarge / Facebook’s Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg speaks at the conservative American Enterprise Institute in 2016. Sandberg has been the mastermind of Facebook’s political strategy in recent years. (credit: Allison Shelley/Getty Images)

Facebook has cut ties with a conservative public relations group called Definers hours after a Wednesday New York Times story revealed that the group had circulated a document linking some of Facebook’s left-wing critics to liberal billionaire George Soros.

According to the Times, Facebook initially hired Definers to help the tech company monitor media coverage of the company. But in October 2017, Definers started to play an active role in defending Facebook.

“A conservative website called NTK Network began publishing stories defending Facebook and criticizing Facebook rivals like Google,” the Times reports. “NTK is an affiliate of Definers.”

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Source: Ars Technica – Facebook drops PR firm after revelation of anti-Soros campaign

New trailer for Disney’s live-action Dumbo captures magic of original

Tears of a clown: Everyone's favorite misfit baby elephant with the big floppy ears is back.

Enlarge / Tears of a clown: Everyone’s favorite misfit baby elephant with the big floppy ears is back. (credit: Disney)

When Disney first announced a live-action version of its 1941 animated classic, Dumbo, plenty of people were skeptical. The original was well-nigh perfect. Why mess with perfection? Reactions were decidedly more positive when the first teaser dropped earlier this year. Now there’s a new trailer that should dispel any lingering doubts. The live-action Dumbo promises to be just as magically transporting as the original.

In the 1941 film, the newborn Dumbo becomes the butt of jokes because of his enormous ears. When some boys taunt him, his enraged mother loses her temper and attacks them. She is declared mad and locked in a cage, leaving Dumbo alone. Too clumsy to be featured in the circus elephant act, he is made into a clown instead. Dumbo’s only friend in this miserable existence is a mouse named Timothy, who discovers Dumbo can fly and stages an elaborate stunt at a circus performance one night to prove it. Dumbo becomes the star of the circus and is reunited with his mother.

Director Tim Burton’s version appears to follow the same general outline, with a few updates. Here, Dumbo is befriended by two young children, whose father has been hired by the circus to care for the baby elephant. Dumbo’s flying ability draws the attention of an evil entrepreneur (played by Michael Keaton), who buys out the circus, the better to exploit its star attraction. The circus moves to Dreamland, a place somewhat reminiscent of Disneyland. This being a Disney film, it’s safe to assume that Dumbo and his friends triumph over those who would exploit them for profit, and live happily ever after.

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Source: Ars Technica – New trailer for Disney’s live-action Dumbo captures magic of original

SpaceX seeks to tie its record for most launches in a year on Thursday

A Block 5 variant of the Falcon 9 rocket launches the Telstar 19 mission in July.

Enlarge / A Block 5 variant of the Falcon 9 rocket launches the Telstar 19 mission in July. (credit: Trevor Mahlmann)

In 2017, SpaceX finally answered critics of the company who said it had not delivered on the promise of a high flight rate for its low-cost launch program.

Prior to last year, the critics were not wrong—SpaceX had never successfully launched more than eight rockets in any given year. Finally, in 2017, it attempted 18 launches, and all made it safely into space. The SpaceX steamroller had arrived.

This year the company has had a lot on its plate. It flew the large Falcon Heavy rocket for the first time in February. It introduced a brand-new, potentially highly reusable variant of the Falcon 9 rocket in May. And all throughout the year, the company’s engineers have been scrambling to finalize development of the Dragon spacecraft to meet NASA’s needs to get its astronauts to the International Space Station.

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Source: Ars Technica – SpaceX seeks to tie its record for most launches in a year on Thursday

Open mind, wide open throttle: We go to our first NASCAR race

NASCAR logo.

Enlarge (credit: Aurich Lawson / Getty)

RICHMOND, Va.—Earlier this year, I took a long-overdue look at NASCAR. That deep dive into the technology busted stereotypes and preconceptions, but it really was only part of the NASCAR puzzle. In fact, I’d go so far as to say I ignored perhaps the most important aspect of the nation’s most popular motorsport. This only really sank in a few weeks ago after I, at long last, went to Richmond Raceway to witness my first NASCAR race. Because the key to understanding NASCAR—at least to this observer—is simple: it’s all about the spectacle.

This Sunday is the title-decider at Homestead-Miami Speedway in Florida. After 267 laps—400.5 miles if you’re reading this in America, 644.5 km if you aren’t—the 2018 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series (to give it its full name) will have a winner. The championship is now a four-way fight among Kyle Busch (Joe Gibbs Racing), Kevin Harvick (Stewart-Haas Racing), Joey Logano (Team Penske), and Martin Truex Jr. (Furniture Row Racing). NASCAR has moved to a playoff structure of late to ensure the championship goes down to the wire. So each of the four drivers enters the weekend with an equal shot: whoever finishes highest in the running order will be crowned champion. (What happens in the event of crashes and so on is explored by Alanis King here in much better depth than I could hope to provide.)

Focusing just on the technology was an omission, but it was no error. I purposefully chose my off-season visit to North Carolina at the beginning of this year as my introduction to NASCAR. Ars is about technology, after all; visiting the sport at home, when things are quiet, meant we could focus on the technology without everything else that comes with being at a race weekend. Less danger of cultural tourism, too.

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Source: Ars Technica – Open mind, wide open throttle: We go to our first NASCAR race