Second Space Telescope Takes ‘a Little Vacation’

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Another NASA space telescope has shut down and halted science observations, the AP reports. Less than a week after the Hubble Space Telescope went offline, the Chandra X-ray Observatory did the same thing. NASA said Friday that Chandra automatically went into so-called safe mode Wednesday, possibly because of a gyroscope problem. Hubble went into hibernation last Friday due to a gyroscope failure. Both orbiting observatories are old: Hubble is 28, while Chandra is 19.

Flight controllers are working to resume operations with both. NASA says it’s coincidental both went “asleep” within a week of one another. An astronomer who works on Chandra, Jonathan McDowell of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, tweeted Friday that “Chandra decided that if Hubble could have a little vacation, it wanted one, too.“

So Long, Google+

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Google is shutting down its long-shunned Plus social network for consumers, following its disclosure of a flaw discovered in March that could have exposed some personal information of up to 500,000 people, the AP reports. The announcement came in a Monday blog post, which marked Google’s first public description of the privacy bug. Google deliberately avoided disclosing the problem at the time, in part to avoid drawing regulatory scrutiny and damaging its reputation, according to a Wall Street Journal story that cited anonymous individuals and documents. The Mountain View, Calif., company declined to comment on the Journal’s report, and didn’t fully explain in its blog post why it held off on revealing the bug until Monday. As for Google+, it will be shut down over the next 10 months, but will remain open for enterprise customers who use it within their companies.

When Google launched Plus in 2011, it was supposed to be a challenger to Facebook’s social network, which now has more than 2 billion users. But Plus flopped and quickly turned into a digital ghost town, prompting Google to start de-emphasizing it several years ago. But the company kept it open long enough to cause an embarrassing privacy gaffe that could give Congress an excuse to enact tighter controls on data collection. The Google Plus flaw could have allowed up to 438 external apps to scoop up user names, email addresses, occupations, genders, and ages without authorization. The company didn’t find evidence that any of the personal information affected by the Plus breach was misused. The timeline laid out by Google indicates the company discovered the privacy lapse around the same time Facebook was under fire for a leak in its far more popular social network. Facebook’s breakdown exposed the personal information of as many as 87 million users to Cambridge Analytica, a data mining firm affiliated with President Trump’s 2016 campaign.

Hubble Glitch May Mean ‘Less Sky Coverage’

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The Hubble Space Telescope is in “safe mode,“ which does little to explain the trouble it’s in. The renowned telescope entered safe mode around 6pm Friday—meaning it’s essentially now just holding steady—following the failure of one of the gyroscopes used to point and steady the instrument. The gyro had looked to be on its final legs for a year, and its failure wasn’t a stunner, per a NASA release. But the surprise came when a backup gyro didn’t work as planned when fired up, the result being that Hubble is now pointed the wrong way, reports CNN. Scientists are working to revive the backup, but NASA says the telescope can still function if they can’t.

The Hubble started with six gyroscopes, but two failed years ago. The most recent pair of failures means that just two are currently functioning. If that remains the case, one will be shut off to serve as a backup, and Hubble will operate with a single gyro. It’s not ideal, but it’s workable. “While reduced-gyro mode offers less sky coverage at any particular time, there is relatively limited impact on the overall scientific capabilities,“ says NASA’s release. No other maintenance mission is planned for Hubble, stationed 340 miles above Earth; the James Webb Space Telescope was expected to have replaced Hubble by now. But following a series of delays, it’s now expected to launch in 2021, reports per Engadget.

A Rock That Held Open a Shed Door Is Worth $100K

The Smithsonian confirmed it: What one man in Grand Rapids, Mich., man used as a doorstop for years is a meteorite thought to be worth $100,000. That it was a meteorite was apparently known to him: The Detroit Free Press reports the unnamed man bought an Edmore-area farm in 1988, and the 22.5-pound hunk was apparently being used as a doorstop in a shed on the property; the owner told him it was a meteorite from the ‘30s. And there it sat for some time, until the meteorite’s new owner moved and took it with him. Then came a Jan. 17 meteor sighting over the state that spurred hunters to look for remnants—and prodded the man to get his checked out by Mona Sirbescu at Central Michigan University.

In a press release, the geology professor says she’s been asked to do similar evaluations many times, and jokes that “for 18 years, the answer has been categorically ‘no’—meteor wrongs, not meteorites.“ This time wasn’t like all the others: “It’s the most valuable specimen I have ever held in my life, monetarily and scientifically,“ she says of the iron-nickel meteorite. It’s the sixth-largest on record in the state (this biggest is 113.9 pounds) and has been verified by the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, DC, which is reportedly interested in buying it.

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