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Endangered whale’s calving season peaks, but no babies seen

Scientists watching for baby right whales off the Southeast U.S. coast have yet to spot a single newborn seven weeks into the endangered species‘ calving season — the longest researchers have gone without any sightings in nearly 30 years.

Bad weather that has limited efforts to look for whales could be to blame, rather than a reproductive slump. But scientists also worry it could point to another low birth year for the imperiled whales after a grim 2017, when 17 confirmed right whale deaths far outpaced a scant five recorded births.

“We basically right now should be at the peak of the season and we haven’t seen anything, so that’s concerning,” said Clay George, a wildlife biologist who oversees right whale surveys for the Georgia Department of Natural Resources. “I’m going from being the optimist I normally am to being pretty pessimistic about it.”

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration estimates only about 450 Northern Atlantic right whales remain. The agency warned in December the species could face extinction without new protective actions.

Researchers hoped for signs of a robust reproductive year soon after the right whale calving season began Dec. 1. But no calves have been reported off the Atlantic coasts of Georgia and Florida, where the whales typically migrate to give birth each winter. It’s still relatively early in the calving season, which has about three months to go.

Clay said it’s the longest scientists have gone into the season without any calf sightings since 1989, when they began comprehensive surveys using trained spotters in planes to look for mother-and-calf pairs. Previously, the latest initial sighting was Jan. 1 — and that was during the dismal birthing season a year ago.

Right whales have averaged about 17 births per year during the past three decades. Since 2012, all but two seasons have yielded below average calf counts. The five births recorded last year were the lowest since 2000, when surveys found only one newborn whale.

The reason no calves have been spotted so far this season may have more to do with the weather. Planes used for aerial surveys have often been grounded this season because of high winds and cloudy skies. George said weather conditions have cut the number of survey flights per week roughly in half.

Barb Zoodsma, who oversees the right whale recovery program in the U.S. Southeast for NOAA Fisheries, said that’s why she isn’t worrying too much yet.

“I am not convinced that right whales aren’t here, rather than we just can’t see them because we can’t get out,” Zoodsma said. “We’re all scrambling to find answers and figure out what’s going on.”

Right whale reproduction can fluctuate greatly, year-to-year. After births bottomed out in 2000, the whales rebounded with a baby boom of 31 newborns the following year. One reason the numbers can seesaw so significantly is that female right whales typically give birth only once every three years or so.

Without an increase in births, right whales appear to be dying faster than they can reproduce. NOAA scientists said in December than the population has been declining since 2010, with females hit harder than males. Many whales die from being struck by ships or getting tangled in fishing gear.

Such deaths were the focus of a federal lawsuit filed Thursday by the Center for Biological Diversity and other conservation groups, who argued the federal government has failed to adequately protect right whales as required by the Endangered Species Act.

Also concerning to scientists has been the scarcity of adult whales off the Southeast coast during calving season. George said it was common to see 100 adults or more during winters a decade ago. Last year, a single male whale was the only adult spotted in addition to the few new mothers seen swimming with their calves.

The only sighting so far this year was an adult whale photographed by a man from his condominium window overlooking the Gulf of Mexico in Panama City Beach, Florida. Zoodsma said it was the first right whale seen in the Gulf since 2006, but no sign of an accompanying newborn.

Meanwhile, the Center for Coastal Studies in Massachusetts reported a survey flight Tuesday identified 14 adult right whales in Cape Cod Bay, an important feeding habitat. While that’s more whales than are typically seen in the bay this early in the winter, Zoodsma said it won’t necessarily affect calving because pregnant females typically have already migrated south by now.

“We’re in a bad spot with right whales, there’s no doubt about it,” Zoodsma said. “Everybody’s anxious to see more calves and the calves aren’t coming.”

She still hopeful newborn whales will turn up before the calving season ends in mid-April.

Article source: http://abcnews.go.com/Technology/wireStory/newborns-endangered-whales-calving-season-peaks-52439252

Even without El Nino last year, Earth keeps on warming

Earth last year wasn’t quite as hot as 2016′s record-shattering mark, but it ranked second or third, depending on who was counting.

Either way, scientists say it showed a clear signal of man-made global warming because it was the hottest year they’ve seen without an El Nino boosting temperatures naturally.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the United Kingdom’s meteorological office on Thursday announced that 2017 was the third hottest year on record. At the same time, NASA and researchers from a nonprofit in Berkeley, California, called it the second.

The agencies slightly differ because of how much they count an overheating Arctic, where there are gaps in the data.

The global average temperature in 2017 was 58.51 degrees (14.7 degrees Celsius), which is 1.51 degrees (0.84 Celsius) above the 20th century average and just behind 2016 and 2015, NOAA said. Other agencies’ figures were close but not quite the same.

Earlier, European forecasters called 2017 the second hottest year, while the Japanese Meteorological Agency called it the third hottest. Two other scientific groups that use satellite, not ground, measurements split on 2017 being second or third hottest. With four teams calling it the second hottest year and four teams calling it third, the United Nations‘ World Meteorological Organization termed 2017 a tie for second with 2015.

“This is human-caused climate change in action,” said Nobel Prize winning chemist Mario Molina of the University of California San Diego, who wasn’t part of any of the measuring teams. “Climate is not weather, (which) can go up and down from year to year. What counts is the longer-term change, which is clearly upwards.”

Which year is first, second or third doesn’t really matter much, said Princeton University climate scientist Gabriel Vecchi. What really matters is the clear warming trend, he said.

NOAA’s five hottest years have been from 2010 on.

During an El Nino year — when a warming of the central Pacific changes weather worldwide — the globe’s annual temperature can spike, naturally, by a tenth or two of a degree, scientists said. There was a strong El Nino during 2015 and 2016.

But 2017 finished with a La Nina, the cousin of El Nino that lowers temperatures. Had there been no man-made warming, 2017 would have been average or slightly cooler than normal, said National Center for Atmospheric Research climate scientist Ben Sanderson.

On the other hand, NASA calculated if the temperature contributions of El Nino and El Nina were removed from the global data through the years, 2017 would go down as the hottest year on record, NASA chief climate scientist Gavin Schmidt said.

Carbon pollution is like putting the Earth on an escalator of rising temperatures, with natural variation such as El Nino or the cooling effect of volcanoes like hopping up or down a step or two on that escalator, scientists said. Not every year will be warmer than the last because of natural variations, but the trend over years will be rising temperatures, they said.

The observed warming has been predicted within a few tenths of a degree in computer simulations going back to the 1970s and 1980s, several scientists said.

It has been 33 years since the last month that the globe was cooler than normal, according to NOAA.

Northern Illinois University climate scientist Victor Gensini has never lived through a month or year that wasn’t hotter than normal.

“I look at pictures of the great winters of the late ’70s from my parents and wonder if I’ll ever experience anything like that in my lifetime,” said Gensini, who’s 31.

———

Follow Seth Borenstein on Twitter at @borenbears . His work can be found here.

Article source: http://abcnews.go.com/Technology/wireStory/el-nino-year-earth-warming-52435946

Buses carrying tech workers targeted outside San Francisco

Six shuttle buses transporting Apple and Google employees were deliberately targeted by vandals who broke the windows with unknown objects while traveling on a highway south of San Francisco, authorities said Thursday.

Four Apple charter buses and one Google bus were attacked Tuesday during the morning and evening commutes along a 16-mile stretch of Highway 280, which connects San Francisco to Silicon Valley, said California Highway Patrol Officer Art Montiel. He said no injuries were reported.

Montiel said another Apple bus had a window smashed last week along the same stretch of highway, between State Routes 84 and 85.

It appears the buses are being targeted but it’s not clear if they are being attacked by someone on the side of the road or inside a moving vehicle, Montiel said.

The shuttles are unmarked, but double-decker buses are ubiquitous in the San Francisco Bay Area and have become a symbol of gentrification.

Protesters in San Francisco, where tax incentives have lured Twitter, Yelp, Spotify and other tech firms, have previously targeted shuttle buses ferrying employees to and from Silicon Valley, saying technology workers were driving up rents and increasing the income divide.

During 2013 and 2014 protests, demonstrators hurled rocks at the buses, slashed their tires and taped signs with profanity on them.

Montiel said investigators are also trying to determine what objects are being used in the attacks. Some employees reported it could be rocks or pellet guns.

“Luckily, there haven’t been any injuries or accidents but we do take this very seriously because if the driver gets distracted, it could cause a major crash and we could have injuries,” Montiel said.

Apple is rerouting its shuttles to Highway 101 as a safety precaution, he said.

Company officials did not respond to an email requesting comment Thursday.

Article source: http://abcnews.go.com/Technology/wireStory/buses-carrying-tech-workers-targeted-san-francisco-52441799

Correction: Science Says-Meteor story

In a story Jan. 17 about meteors, The Associated Press reported erroneously the size of asteroids that scientists hope to be able to deflect from Earth’s path in the future. They want to have a defensive system for asteroids larger than 165 feet (50 meters), not 30 miles (50 kilometers).

A corrected version of the story is below:

Science Says: That Michigan meteor could have been meatier

Science Says: That Michigan meteor could have been meatier

By SETH BORENSTEIN

AP Science Writer

WASHINGTON (AP) — The fireball that streaked through the Michigan sky put on quite a show but as far as potentially killer space rocks, it was merely a flash in the pan.

There are much bigger asteroids careening through our solar system. Scientists who watch for them hope they spot them in time to get people out of the way if a truly dangerous one is heading straight to Earth.

So far, one isn’t coming.

Just as Tuesday’s meteor lit up the Michigan skies, about 30 scientists were gathered in California to discuss the biggest meteor hit in modern history — the 1908 explosion over Tunguska, Russia, that flattened 800 square miles (2,100 square kilometers) of forest.

And that’s nothing compared to what happened 65 million years ago when a 6-mile-wide (10 kilometer) asteroid that caused 70 percent of life on Earth to go extinct, including many dinosaurs.

“There are no Earth-crossing asteroids of that size in the solar system today,” said NASA senior scientist David Morrison, a space rock expert who organized the California workshop.

Since the 1990s, NASA has been conducting the Spaceguard survey looking for those large asteroids. So far, astronomers can rule out rocks bigger than 3 miles wide (5 kilometers), Morrison said.

Still, “something as small as 2 kilometers (1.2 kilometers) could really ruin your whole day for the whole Earth” and maybe kill three-quarters of the people but “wouldn’t be extinction,” he said.

Tuesday’s 6-foot-wide (2 meters) Michigan rock was too small to be tracked. It exploded in the air with the power of 100 tons of TNT, said Bill Cooke of NASA’s Meteoroid Environment Office. Scientists will now try to figure out where it came from.

A meteoroid is a small chunk of asteroid or comet. When it enters Earth’s atmosphere it becomes a meteor or fireball or shooting star. The pieces of rock that hit the ground, valuable to collectors, are meteorites.

Doppler weather radar shows flashes that indicate meteorites are on the ground northwest of Detroit, Cooke said.

For comparison, the fireball that shook Chelyabinsk, Russia, in 2013 was 60 feet wide (20 meters). It shattered windows and injured 1,600 people because of flying glass. It expelled 4,700 of times more energy than the Michigan one, Cooke said.

That one “came out of the sun at us like the Red Baron. It was too close to be picked up,” he said.

There are nine asteroids NASA is tracking for “potential future Earth impact” but none of them are likely to hit.

Eventually, scientists hope to have a defensive system, especially for rocks bigger than 165 feet wide (50 meters).

“We do have the basic technology to deflect an asteroid. We haven’t done it yet, but some of it is fairly basic physics. Like running into it with a spacecraft,” said Ed Lu, a former astronaut and head of the B612 Asteroid Institute, which works to protect Earth from being hit by space rocks.

Once astronomers spot a space rock heading into our planet, they can calculate where on Earth it should hit, said Morrison said.

“Probably the most useful thing we could do is evacuate the target area,” he said.

The world’s space agencies and astronomers have agreed on guidelines for warning and possible action if scientists spot space rocks 33 feet (10 meters) wide, NASA planetary defense officer Lindley Johnson said in an email. They will start with “shelter in place” advice and consider evacuations if there’s time and the rock is about 100 feet wide (30 meters).

Space agencies will consider trying to deflect an asteroid if it is at least 165 feet (50 meters) wide, he said.

Meteor fireballs “appear every few days somewhere in the world,” said Purdue University planetary scientist Jay Melosh. “Typically fireballs don’t do much. If they occur in the sunlight, people don’t notice them.”

Tuesday’s happened near Detroit — at night when it could be seen — so it got a lot of attention, Cooke said. It was powerful enough that it registered 2.0 on the U. S. Geological Survey’s seismic monitors.

But even at 28,000 mph, it wasn’t very zippy.

“For a meteor this is about as slow as it gets,” Cooke said.

———

Follow Seth Borenstein on Twitter at @borenbears . His work can be found here .

———

This Associated Press series was produced in partnership with the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Department of Science Education. The AP is solely responsible for all content.

Article source: http://abcnews.go.com/Technology/wireStory/science-michigan-meteor-meatier-52418705

Science Says: That Michigan meteor could have been meatier

The fireball that streaked through the Michigan sky put on quite a show but as far as potentially killer space rocks, it was merely a flash in the pan.

There are much bigger asteroids careening through our solar system. Scientists who watch for them hope they spot them in time to get people out of the way if a truly dangerous one is heading straight to Earth.

So far, one isn’t coming.

Just as Tuesday’s meteor lit up the Michigan skies, about 30 scientists were gathered in California to discuss the biggest meteor hit in modern history — the 1908 explosion over Tunguska , Russia, that flattened 800 square miles (2,100 square kilometers) of forest.

And that’s nothing compared to what happened 65 million years ago when a 6-mile-wide (10 kilometer) asteroid that caused 70 percent of life on Earth to go extinct, including many dinosaurs.

“There are no Earth-crossing asteroids of that size in the solar system today,” said NASA senior scientist David Morrison, a space rock expert who organized the California workshop.

Since the 1990s, NASA has been conducting the Spaceguard survey looking for those large asteroids. So far, astronomers can rule out rocks bigger than 3 miles wide (5 kilometers), Morrison said.

Still, “something as small as 2 kilometers (1.2 kilometers) could really ruin your whole day for the whole Earth” and maybe kill three-quarters of the people but “wouldn’t be extinction,” he said.

Tuesday’s 6-foot-wide (2 meters) Michigan rock was too small to be tracked. It exploded in the air with the power of 100 tons of TNT, said Bill Cooke of NASA’s Meteoroid Environment Office. Scientists will now try to figure out where it came from.

A meteoroid is a small chunk of asteroid or comet. When it enters Earth’s atmosphere it becomes a meteor or fireball or shooting star. The pieces of rock that hit the ground, valuable to collectors, are meteorites.

Doppler weather radar shows flashes that indicate meteorites are on the ground northwest of Detroit, Cooke said.

For comparison, the fireball that shook Chelyabinsk, Russia, in 2013 was 60 feet wide (20 meters). It shattered windows and injured 1,600 people because of flying glass. It expelled 4,700 of times more energy than the Michigan one, Cooke said.

That one “came out of the sun at us like the Red Baron. It was too close to be picked up,” he said.

There are nine asteroids NASA is tracking for “potential future Earth i mpact ” but none of them are likely to hit.

Eventually, scientists hope to have a defensive system, especially for rocks bigger than 30 miles wide (50 kilometers).

“We do have the basic technology to deflect an asteroid. We haven’t done it yet, but some of it is fairly basic physics. Like running into it with a spacecraft,” said Ed Lu, a former astronaut and head of the B612 Asteroid Institute , which works to protect Earth from being hit by space rocks.

Once astronomers spot a space rock heading into our planet, they can calculate where on Earth it should hit, said Morrison said.

“Probably the most useful thing we could do is evacuate the target area,” he said.

The world’s space agencies and astronomers have agreed on guidelines for warning and possible action if scientists spot space rocks 33 feet (10 meters) wide, NASA planetary defense officer Lindley Johnson said in an email. They will start with “shelter in place” advice and consider evacuations if there’s time and the rock is about 100 feet wide (30 meters).

??????? Space agencies will consider trying to deflect an asteroid if it is at least 165 feet (50 meters) wide, he said.

Meteor fireballs “appear every few days somewhere in the world,” said Purdue University planetary scientist Jay Melosh. “Typically fireballs don’t do much. If they occur in the sunlight, people don’t notice them.”

Tuesday’s happened near Detroit — at night when it could be seen — so it got a lot of attention, Cooke said. It was powerful enough that it registered 2.0 on the U. S. Geological Survey’s seismic monitors.

But even at 28,000 mph, it wasn’t very zippy.

“For a meteor this is about as slow as it gets,” Cooke said.

———

Follow Seth Borenstein on Twitter at @borenbears . His work can be found here .

———

This Associated Press series was produced in partnership with the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Department of Science Education. The AP is solely responsible for all content.

Article source: http://abcnews.go.com/Technology/wireStory/science-michigan-meteor-meatier-52418705

Apple banks on tax break to build 2nd campus, hire 20,000

Apple is planning to build a new corporate campus and hire 20,000 U.S. workers in an expansion driven in part by a tax cut that will enable the iPhone maker to bring an estimated $245 billion back to its home country.

The pledge announced Wednesday comes less than a month after Congress approved a sweeping overhaul of the U.S. tax code championed by President Donald Trump that will increase corporate profits.

Besides dramatically lowering the standard corporate tax rate, the reforms offer a one-time break on cash held overseas.

Apple plans to take advantage of that provision to bring back most of its roughly $252 billion in offshore cash, generating a tax bill of about $38 billion. That anticipated tax bill implies Apple intends to bring back about $245 billion of its overseas cash, based on the temporary tax rate of 15.5 percent on foreign profits.

Apple has earmarked about $75 billion of the money currently overseas to finance $350 billion in spending during the next five years. The spree will include the new campus, new data centers and other investments.

But most of the $350 billion reflects money that Apple planned to spend with its suppliers and manufacturers in the U.S. anyway, even if corporate taxes had remained at the old 35 percent rate.

Analysts have also predicted that most of those overseas profits will flow into stock buybacks and dividend payments. That’s what happened the last time a one-time break on offshore profits was offered more than a decade ago.

The new law lowers the corporate tax rate to 21 percent on U.S. profits while providing a sharper discount on overseas cash this year.

Apple CEO Tim Cook is now delivering on a longtime promised to bring back most of the company’s overseas cash if the taxes on the money were slashed.

Other U.S. companies, including American Airlines, ATT and Comcast, have handed out $1,000 bonuses to all their workers to share the wealth they will gain from the lower rate on their domestic earnings.

Excluding banks and other financial services companies, Moody’s Investors Service estimates corporate America has an estimated $1.6 trillion in overseas cash. Most of that is in the technology industry, with Apple at the top of the heap.

Trump and lawmakers are hoping companies use the money to raise wages, expand payrolls, open more offices and invest in new equipment.

After plowing nearly $46 billion into dividends and stock repurchases in its last fiscal year, Apple is likely to funnel a big chunk of overseas money to its shareholders. But Wednesday’s announcement was clearly designed to be a sign of its allegiance to the U.S., Apple’s most lucrative market.

The public show of support also helps the optics of a company that will still make most of its iPhones, iPads and other gadgets in factories located in China and other faraway countries that offer cheaper labor — a practice that Trump and others have criticized.

“Apple is a success that could only have happened in America, and we always felt a very big sense of responsibility to give back to our country and the people who have made our success possible,” Cook said during a ceremony Wednesday celebrating a new warehouse being built in Reno, Nevada.

The White House applauded Apple’s commitment.

“Just as the president promised, making our businesses more competitive internationally is translating directly into benefits for the American worker, through increased wages, better benefits, and new jobs,” White House spokeswoman Lindsay Walters said.

Apple Inc., which just spent an estimated $5 billion building a Cupertino, California, headquarters that resembles a giant spaceship, plans to announce the location of a second campus devoted to customer support later this year.

The company didn’t say how big the second campus will be, or how many of the additional 20,000 workers that it plans to hire will be based there. About 84,000 of Apple’s 123,000 workers currently are in the U.S.

One thing seems certain: Cities from across the U.S. will likely be offering Apple tax breaks and other incentives in an attempt to persuade the company to build its second campus in their towns.

That’s what happened last year after Amazon announced it would build a second headquarters in North America to expand beyond its current Seattle home. The online retailer received 238 proposals from cities and regions in the U.S., Canada and Mexico. Amazon is expected to announce the winning bid later this year.

Unlike Amazon, Apple isn’t openly soliciting bids from cities interested in its new campus.

———

AP writers Scott Sonner in Reno, Nevada, and Josh Boak in Washington, D.C., contributed to this report.

Article source: http://abcnews.go.com/Technology/wireStory/apple-build-2nd-campus-hire-20000-350b-pledge-52411277

3 charged with capital murder of Houston couple ‘executed’ in their gated community

Three people have been arrested in the killing of a Houston couple who authorities say were ambushed and “executed” at their home in a gated community.

Investigators believe when Bao and Jenny Lam, both 61, came home Thursday night, they were “ambushed” by the suspects as they parked in the garage,” the Harris County Sheriff’s Office said.

Harris County Sheriff Ed Gonzalez, who called the crime “heinous,” said the three arrested were charged with capital murder. One of those arrested confessed to the crime, an investigator said.

Authorities said they received numerous tips as a result of media coverage, which led investigators to the Lincoln Navigator the suspects were seen in near the victims’ home.

Two suspects were caught on surveillance video arriving at the subdivision Thursday, parking a Lincoln Navigator near the gate and then crawling under the gate and into the neighborhood, according to the sheriff’s office.

PHOTO: The Harris County Sheriff??s Office in Texas released surveillance video of persons of interest in the double murder of a husband and wife on Jan. 11, 2018.Harris County Sheriff
The Harris County Sheriffâ??s Office in Texas released surveillance video of persons of interest in the double murder of a husband and wife on Jan. 11, 2018.

PHOTO: The Harris County Sheriff??s Office in Texas released surveillance video of persons of interest in the double murder of a husband and wife on Jan. 11, 2018.Harris County Sheriff
The Harris County Sheriffâ??s Office in Texas released surveillance video of persons of interest in the double murder of a husband and wife on Jan. 11, 2018.

Authorities said the suspects “forced” the victims into their home, “where they were bound, robbed, and murdered.”

The suspects allegedly fled in the Lams’ car before returning and going into the house a few hours later, authorities said. Over the course of those few days, the suspects likely went back into the house several times, the sheriff’s office said.

The house appeared to be ransacked with firearms and other valuables were missing, the sheriff’s office said.

The victims’ son, who went to check on his parents Saturday night after not hearing from them since Thursday, called police from the home, the sheriff’s office said. When deputies went inside, authorities said they found the Lams bound and shot to death.

PHOTO: Authorities in Houston are investigating a couples mysterious double killing.KTRK
Authorities in Houston are investigating a couple’s mysterious double killing.

PHOTO: Authorities in Houston are investigating a couples mysterious double killing.KTRK
Authorities in Houston are investigating a couple’s mysterious double killing.

The sheriff’s office said the suspects, Khari Ty Kendrick, 23, Aakiel Ricardo Kendrick, 21, and Erick Alfredo Peralta, 20, were booked into the Harris County Jail.

According to an anchor at ABC station KTRK in Houston, one suspect said, “I’m sorry this happened.”

The sheriff today called the suspects “scumbags.”

At today’s news conference, the victims’ son, Richard Lam, said he is “relieved to have these three men off the streets, no longer able to harm anybody else.”

At a news conference earlier this week, the couple’s daughter, Michelle Lam, begged the public to help solve the case.

“We miss them so much,” she said. “They were just going home from having dinner.”

Richard Lam, a military officer, called his parents his “personal superheroes.”

He said Bao and Jenny Lam immigrated to the United States in the 1970s and worked several jobs at once.

“They just made sure we had every opportunity to realize our dreams,” he said. They later built successful businesses, the sheriff said.

Richard Lam said his father always wanted to be a military officer and often spoke how great the American military is.

“They were truly amazing people,” he said.

Article source: http://abcnews.go.com/US/charged-capital-murder-houston-couple-executed-gated-community/story?id=52404126

What you need to know about the meteor that caused seismic shock over Michigan

The meteor that lit up the night sky over southeast Michigan and shook the ground Tuesday night did not actually cause an earthquake, researchers say.

In fact, meteors do not cause earthquakes to rupture along a fault, according to William Yeck, a research geophysicist at the United States Geological Survey’s National Earthquake Information Center in Golden, Colorado.

The seismic observations associated with the meteor were assigned a magnitude 2.0 by the United States Geological Survey, which said the event was centered about 5 miles west-southwest of New Haven, Michigan, some 40 miles northeast of Detroit. The National Weather Service sent out a tweet that said, “USGS confirms meteor occurred around 810 pm, causing a magnitude 2.0 earthquake.”

But Yeck said the magnitude cannot be directly used to compare the meteor’s size to an earthquake because the source of the seismic signals are different.

“While the event was reported as a magnitude 2, the magnitude scale is used to estimate the size of earthquakes and therefore is not an accurate representation of the observations from a meteor,” Yeck told ABC News.

Researchers are still investigating this specific incident, Yeck said. The seismic waves observed from these events are typically not from an impact but instead are sound waves generated in the atmosphere.

PHOTO: Image taken from video, Jan. 16, 2018, showing the meteor that the National Weather Service tweeted USGS confirms meteor occurred around 810 pm, causing a magnitude 2.0 earthquake.@topherlaine/Twitter
Image taken from video, Jan. 16, 2018, showing the meteor that the National Weather Service tweeted “USGS confirms meteor occurred around 810 pm, causing a magnitude 2.0 earthquake.”

Bill Cooke, the lead of NASA‘s Meteoroid Environment Office at the Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, said Tuesday night’s phenomenon occurred when a meteor, measuring about 2 yards in diameter and traveling at about 28,000 mph, entered the Earth’s atmosphere over Michigan.

The pressure difference between the air in front of the meteor and the air behind it caused the rock to break apart and explode in the sky with the force of less than 100 tonnes of TNT, Cooke said. That explosion generated shock waves that traveled down to the ground northeast of Detroit, where residents heard a loud boom and felt the ground beneath them tremble.

The meteor would not have landed intact, Cooke said, but rather tiny pieces weighing only a few ounces would have scattered over the area.

And it’s not a rare event.

“It’s common with fireballs that produce meteorites on the ground,” Cooke said. “When the shock waves hit the ground, it will shake the ground a bit.”

Still, the explosive flash, the sonic boom and the ensuing vibrations on the ground both dazzled and startled residents.

“That’s probably a little bit disconcerting,” Cooke said.

Although meteorites have damaged cars and the roofs of homes, Cooke said no one has been killed by a meteorite in recorded history.

“I would say most folks are pretty safe,” he said.

Article source: http://abcnews.go.com/Technology/meteor-earthquake-michigan-researchers/story?id=52404372

Taiwanese company unveils robot that plays Scrabble

One of the world’s most popular and mentally challenging board games may be getting even harder to play.

Taiwan’s largest high-tech applied research institution, The Industrial Technology Research Institute (ITRI), revealed on Monday a new companion robot that plays Scrabble with anyone willing to take on the challenge.

The Intelligent Vision System for Companion Robots, or ITRI, as the robot is known, integrates artificial intelligence, 3-D vision recognition and hand-eye coordination technologies to play scrabble and learn from the experience.

This companion robot can distinguish between various Scrabble cubes, words and their locations on the game board. It can even recognize individual words spelled by other players.

PHOTO: Taiwans Industrial Technology Research Institute revealed on Monday a new companion robot that plays Scrabble with anyone willing to take on the challenge.ABC News
Taiwan’s Industrial Technology Research Institute revealed on Monday a new companion robot that plays Scrabble with anyone willing to take on the challenge.

PHOTO: Taiwans Industrial Technology Research Institute revealed on Monday a new companion robot that plays Scrabble with anyone willing to take on the challenge.ABC News
Taiwan’s Industrial Technology Research Institute revealed on Monday a new companion robot that plays Scrabble with anyone willing to take on the challenge.

The robot can also grip, move and interact with the word blocks with extreme precision, placing the cubes in the correct cells without dropping or hitting the other cubes.

The game is played in traditional Scrabble form and is timed so that each player gets equal time to create a word. The companion robot can recognize the words and plays his word according to what was played by his opponent. Once the game is finished, players can view the gaming screen to see how they did.

The robot is a working prototype for now with no release date set, a company spokesperson told ABC News.

Article source: http://abcnews.go.com/Technology/taiwanese-company-unveils-robot-plays-scrabble/story?id=52241731

Lifelike robots made in Hong Kong meant to win over humans

David Hanson envisions a future in which AI-powered robots evolve to become “super-intelligent genius machines” that might help solve some of mankind’s most challenging problems.

If only it were as simple as that.

The Texas-born former sculptor at Walt Disney Imagineering and his Hong Kong-based startup Hanson Robotics are combining artificial intelligence with southern China’s expertise in toy design, electronics and manufacturing to craft humanoid “social robots” with faces designed to be lifelike and appealing enough to win trust from humans who interact with them.

Hanson, 49, is perhaps best known as the creator of Sophia, a talk show-going robot partly modeled on Audrey Hepburn that he calls his “masterpiece.”

Akin to an animated mannequin, she seems as much a product of his background in theatrics as an example of advanced technology.

“You’re talking to me right now, which is very ‘Blade Runner,’ no?” Sophia said during a recent visit to Hanson Robotics’ headquarters in a suburban Hong Kong science park, its home since shortly after Hanson relocated here in 2013.

“Do you ever look around you and think, ‘Wow I’m living in a real world science fiction novel?’” she asked. “Is it weird to be talking to a robot right now?”

Hanson Robotics has made about a dozen copies of Sophia, who like any human is a work in progress. A multinational team of scientists and engineers are fine tuning her appearance and the algorithms that enable her to smile, blink and refine her understanding and communication.

Sophia has moving 3D-printed arms and, with the help of a South Korean robotics company, she’s now going mobile. Shuffling slowly on boxy black legs, Sophia made her walking debut in Las Vegas last week at the CES electronics trade show.

Her skin is made of a nanotech material that Hanson invented and dubbed “Frubber,” short for flesh-rubber, that has a flesh-like bouncy texture. Cameras in her eyes and a 3D sensor in her chest help her to “see,” while the processor that serves as her brain combines facial and speech recognition, natural language processing, speech synthesis and a motion control system.

Sophia seems friendly and engaging, despite the unnatural pauses and cadence in her speech. Her predecessors include an Albert Einstein, complete with bushy mustache and white thatch of hair, a robot named Alice whose grimaces run a gamut of emotions and one eerily resembling the late sci-fi author Philip K. Dick, which won an award from the American Association of Artificial Intelligence. They variously leer, blink, smile and even crack jokes.

Disney’s venture capital arm is an investor in Hanson, which is building a robot based on one of the entertainment giant’s characters.

An artist and robotics scientist, Hanson worked on animatronic theme park shows, sculpting props and characters for Disney attractions like Pooh’s Hunny Hunt and Mermaid Lagoon. He studied film, animation and video, eventually earning a doctorate in interactive arts and technology from the University of Texas at Dallas.

Hanson says he makes his robots as human-like as possible to help alleviate fears about robots, artificial intelligence and automation.

That runs contrary to a tendency in the industry to use cute robo-pets or overtly machine-like robots like Star Wars’ R2-D2 to avoid the “uncanny valley” problem with human likenesses such as wax models and robots that many people find a bit creepy.

Some experts see Sophia as mainly a clever marketing gimmick.

“It’s a good advertising tool, whatever that company produces as a business plan,” said Roland Chin, chair professor of computer science at Hong Kong Baptist University.

Global market revenue for service robotics is forecast to grow from $3.7 billion in 2015 to $15 billion in 2020, according to IHS Markit. That includes both professional and domestic machines like warehouse automatons, smart vacuums and fuzzy companion robots.

Hanson Robotics is privately owned and has a consumer-oriented business that sells thousands of shoebox-sized $200 Professor Einstein educational robots a year. Chief Marketing Officer Jeanne Lim says the company is generating revenue but won’t say whether it’s profitable.

For now, artificial intelligence is best at doing specific tasks. It’s another thing entirely for machines to learn a new ability, generalize that knowledge and apply it in different contexts, partly because of the massive amount of computing power needed to process such information so quickly.

“We’re really very far from the kind of AI and robotics that you see in movies like ‘Blade Runner’,” said Pascale Fung, an engineering professor at Hong Kong University of Science and Technology. “Sorry to disappoint you.”

Unlike toddlers, who use all five senses to learn quickly, machines generally can handle only one type of input at a time, she noted.

While Sophia’s repartee can be entertaining, she’s easily thrown off topic and her replies, based on open-source software, sometimes miss the mark.

Hanson and other members of his team like Chief Scientist Ben Goertzel have set their sights on a time when the computer chips, processing capacity and other technologies needed for artificial general intelligence could enable Sophia and other robots to fill a variety of uses, such as helping with therapy for autistic children, caring for seniors, and providing customer services.

As for tackling challenging world problems, that’s a ways off, Hanson acknowledges.

“There’s a certain expression of genius to be able to get up and cross the room and pour yourself a cup of coffee, and robots and AI have not achieved that level of intelligence reliably,” Hanson said.

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Online:

http://www.hansonrobotics.com/

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Follow Kelvin Chan at www.twitter.com/chanman

Article source: http://abcnews.go.com/Technology/wireStory/lifelike-robots-made-hong-kong-meant-win-humans-52369526