NASA Heads Toward the Sun

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A NASA spacecraft zoomed toward the sun Sunday on an unprecedented quest to get closer to our star than anything ever sent before. As soon as this fall, the Parker Solar Probe will fly straight through the wispy edges of the sun’s corona that was visible during last August’s total solar eclipse. It will get within 3.8 million miles of the surface in the years ahead, reports the AP, staying cool despite the extreme heat and radiation, and allowing scientists to vicariously explore the sun in a way never before possible. “We’re in for some learning over the next several years,“ said Eugene Parker, the 91-year-old astrophysicist for whom the spacecraft is named; he’s the first living person NASA has given such an honor. From Earth, it is 93 million miles to the sun, and the Parker probe will be within 4% of that distance at its closest. That will be seven times closer than previous spacecraft.

Protected by a revolutionary new carbon heat shield and other high-tech wonders, the spacecraft will zip past Venus in October. That will set up the first solar encounter in November. Altogether, the Parker probe will make 24 close approaches to the sun on the seven-year, $1.5 billion undertaking. The Delta IV Heavy rocket thundered into the pre-dawn darkness, thrilling onlookers for miles as it climbed. A mission to get close up and personal with our star has been on NASA’s books since 1958. The trick was making the spacecraft compact and light enough to travel at incredible speeds, while surviving the sun’s punishing environment and the extreme change in temperature when the spacecraft is out near Venus. “We’ve had to wait so long for our technology to catch up with our dreams,“ project scientist Nicola Fox of Johns Hopkins University said. Adds Parker: “I’ll bet you 10 bucks it works.“

Lisa Jobs Recalls Asking Dad About Namesake Computer

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In an excerpt of her upcoming memoir in Vanity Fair, the oldest daughter of Steve Jobs recounts their complicated relationship when she was growing up. The Apple co-founder adamantly denied paternity until court-ordered DNA tests forced him to start providing support, and Lisa Brennan-Jobs writes about that and their sometimes prickly father-daughter relationship. As is well-known by now, Jobs named an early computer “Lisa,“ and Brennan-Jones remembers being in high school and finally asking her father about a rumor she’d grown up with. “Hey, you know that computer, the Lisa? Was it named after me?” she asked. “Nope,“ he responded dismissively. “Sorry, kid.” And that was that—until a dinner with Bono years later.

When she was 27, Brennan-Jobs accompanied her dad and other family members on a Mediterranean cruise, and they made as surprise pit stop in the south of France at a villa owned by U2’s frontman. At some point, Bono asked Jobs, “So, was the Lisa computer named after her?” After a brief hesitation during which Brennan-Jobs braced for the disappointing answer, Jobs replied, “Yeah, it was.“ Click to read the full excerpt from Small Fry, in which a young Brennan-Jobs recalls making the mistake of asking her dad for what she thought would be a leftover Porsche.

Facebook Wants to Help You Break Your Cell Phone Addiction

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Facebook and its photo sharing property, Instagram, are rolling out new features designed to help mobile app users spend less time scrolling mindlessly through news feeds. That’s right, the folks who draw so many of us in with notifications for every message, like, comment, and more now want us to put the phone down. At least for a little while. Per the Verge, new dashboard functions allow users to see how much time they’ve spent in the apps, set limits on usage time, and snooze those enticing notifications for a set amount of time (up to eight hours). The move is a bid by the social media behemoth to address growing concerns about the negative impacts too much screen time can have on users.

Doesn’t Facebook make money from me staring at my phone as much as possible, you ask? Yes, but Facebook might be betting that more controlled (read: less habitual) use of its app might cut down on that fatigue we’ve all felt after finding ourselves scrolling for hours each day. By that logic, the company could be hoping that users will have a more positive takeaway when they do use the app. It’s all summed up with an increasingly common buzz term in the social media sphere: “time well spent.“ It’s a term Instagram product director Ameet Ranadive used in explaining the new feature to Recode. “It’s really important for people that use Instagram and Facebook to feel like the time that they spend with us is time well spent,“ Ranadive said. “That’s the whole purpose of this release.”

He Won Math’s Most Coveted Prize. 30 Minutes Later, It Was Gone

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Algebraic geometry, particularly problems involving singularities and linear systems, is Caucher Birkar’s specialty. Hanging on to medals apparently isn’t. The renowned Cambridge professor had his Fields medal—known as the Nobel Prize of mathematics—stolen within 30 minutes of receiving it at the International Congress of Mathematics in Rio de Janeiro on Wednesday, the Guardian reports. It had been left on a briefcase on top of a table, along with Birkar’s cellphone and wallet. The briefcase was later recovered, minus the medal. Organizers say security footage has been reviewed and they are working with authorities to get the 14-karat gold medal back, the AP reports.

The organizing committee says it “profoundly regrets” the disappearance of the briefcase. The theft was a major embarrassment for organizers of the event, which is being held in Latin America for the first time, CBS reports. Birkar was one of four men to win the award, which is awarded every four years to mathematicians under 40. The mathematician, who was born in a Kurdish region of Iran and moved to Britain as a refugee 20 years ago, said his achievement was a win for the Kurds and hopes “this news will put a smile on the faces of those 40 million people.“

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