Nuclear Fusion Breakthrough Confirmed: California Team Achieved Ignition. Research Continues

“A major breakthrough in nuclear fusion has been confirmed a year after it was achieved at a laboratory in California,” reports Newsweek:

Researchers at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory’s National Ignition Facility (NIF) recorded the first case of ignition on August 8, 2021, the results of which have now been published in three peer-reviewed papers….

Ignition during a fusion reaction essentially means that the reaction itself produced enough energy to be self-sustaining, which would be necessary in the use of fusion to generate electricity. If we could harness this reaction to generate electricity, it would be one of the most efficient and least polluting sources of energy possible. No fossil fuels would be required as the only fuel would be hydrogen, and the only by-product would be helium, which we use in industry and are actually in short supply of….

This landmark result comes after years of research and thousands of man hours dedicated to improving and perfecting the process: over 1,000 authors are included in the Physical Review Letters paper.

This week the laboratory said that breakthrough now puts researchers “at the threshold of fusion gain and achieving scientific ignition,” with the program’s chief scientist calling it “a major scientific advance in fusion research, which establishes that fusion ignition in the lab is possible at the National Ignition Facility.”

More news from this week’s announcement by the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory:
Since the experiment last August, the team has been executing a series of experiments to attempt to repeat the performance and to understand the experimental sensitivities in this new regime. “Many variables can impact each experiment,” Kritcher said. “The 192 laser beams do not perform exactly the same from shot to shot, the quality of targets varies and the ice layer grows at differing roughness on each target….”

While the repeat attempts have not reached the same level of fusion yield as the August 2021 experiment, all of them demonstrated capsule gain greater than unity with yields in the 430-700 kJ range, significantly higher than the previous highest yield of 170 kJ from February 2021. The data gained from these and other experiments are providing crucial clues as to what went right and what changes are needed in order to repeat that experiment and exceed its performance in the future. The team also is utilizing the experimental data to further understanding of the fundamental processes of fusion ignition and burn and to enhance simulation tools in support of stockpile stewardship.

Looking ahead, the team is working to leverage the accumulated experimental data and simulations to move toward a more robust regime — further beyond the ignition cliff — where general trends found in this new experimental regime can be better separated from variability in targets and laser performance. Efforts to increase fusion performance and robustness are underway via improvements to the laser, improvements to the targets and modifications to the design that further improve energy delivery to the hotspot while maintaining or even increasing the hot-spot pressure. This includes improving the compression of the fusion fuel, increasing the amount of fuel and other avenues.

“It is extremely exciting to have an ‘existence proof’ of ignition in the lab,” said Omar Hurricane, chief scientist for the lab’s inertial confinement fusion program. “We’re operating in a regime that no researchers have accessed since the end of nuclear testing, and it’s an incredible opportunity to expand our knowledge as we continue to make progress.”
Thanks to long-time Slashdot reader hesdeadjim99 for sharing the news.

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Are Space Scientists Ready For Starship – the Biggest Rocket Ever?

Slashdot reader sciencehabit shared this thought-provoking anecdote from Science magazine:

NASA’s Lunar Crater Observation and Sensing Satellite mission was brutish and short. It began on 9 October 2009, when the hull of a spent Centaur rocket stage smashed into Cabeus crater, near the south pole of the Moon, with the force of about 2 tons of TNT. And it ended minutes later, when a trailing spacecraft flew through and analyzed the lofted plume of debris before it, too, crashed. About 6% of the plume was water, presumably from ice trapped in the shadowed depths of the crater, where the temperature never rises above -173ÂC. The Moon, it turned out, wasn’t as bone dry as the Apollo astronauts believed. “That was our first ground truth that there is water ice,” says Jennifer Heldmann, a planetary scientist at NASA’s Ames Research Center who worked on the mission.

Today, Heldmann wants to send another rocket to probe lunar ice — but not on a one-way trip. She has her eye on Starship, a behemoth under development by private rocket company SpaceX that would be the largest flying object the world has ever seen. With Starship, Heldmann could send 100 tons to the Moon, more than twice the lunar payload of the Saturn V, the workhorse of the Apollo missions. She dreams of delivering robotic excavators and drills and retrieving ice in freezers onboard Starship, which could return to Earth with tens of tons of cargo. By analyzing characteristics such as the ice’s isotopic composition and its depth, she could learn about its origin: how much of it came from a bombardment of comets and asteroids billions of years ago versus slow, steady implantation by the solar wind. She could also find out where the ice is abundant and pure enough to support human outposts. “It’s high-priority science, and it’s also critical for exploration,” Heldmann says.

When SpaceX CEO Elon Musk talks up Starship, it’s mostly about human exploration: Set up bases on Mars and make humans a multiplanetary species! Save civilization from extinction! But Heldmann and many others believe the heavy lifter could also radically change the way space scientists work. They could fly bigger and heavier instruments more often — and much more cheaply, if SpaceX’s projections of cargo launch costs as low as $10 per kilogram are to be believed. On Mars, they could deploy rovers not as one-offs, but in herds. Space telescopes could grow, and fleets of satellites in low-Earth orbit could become commonplace. Astronomy, planetary science, and Earth observation could all boldly go, better than they ever have before.

Of course, Starship isn’t real yet. All eyes will be on a first orbital launch test, expected sometime in the coming months.
Starship would’ve made it easier to deploy the massive James Webb Space Telescope, the article points out, while in the future Starship’s extra fuel capacity could make it easier to explore Mercury, earth’s outermost planets, and even interstellar space. In fact, Heldmann and colleagues have now suggested that NASA create a dedicated funding line for missions relying on Starship. Heldmann argues that “We on the science side need to be ready to take advantage of those capabilities when they come online.”

The article notes that at an event in February, Elon Musk “explained how a single Starship, launching three times per week, would loft more than 15,000 tons to orbit in a year — about as much as all the cargo that has been lifted in the entire history of spaceflight.”

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Ransomware Causes ‘Major’, Long-Lasting Outage for UK Health Service’s Patient Notes

The Independent reports that the UK’s National Health System is experiencing a major outage “expected to last for more than three weeks” after a third-party supplying the NHS’s “CareNotes” software was hit by ransomware.

Unfortunately, this leaves doctors unable to see their notes on patients, and the mental health trusts that provide care “across the country will be left unable to access patient notes for weeks, and possibly months.”

Oxford Health NHS Foundation Trust has declared a critical incident over the outage, which is believed to affect dozens of trusts, and has told staff it is putting emergency plans in place. One NHS trust chief said the situation could possibly last for “months” with several mental health trusts, and there was concern among leaders that the problem is not being prioritised.

In an email to staff, Oxford Health NHS Foundation Trust chief executive Nick Broughton, said: “The cyberattack targeted systems used to refer patients for care, including ambulances being dispatched, out of hours appointment bookings, triage, out of hours care, emergency prescriptions and safety alerts. It also targeted the finance system used by the trust…. An NHS director said: “The whole thing is down. It’s really alarming…we’re carrying a lot of risk as a result of it because you can’t get records and details of assessments, prescribing, key observations, medical mental health act observations. You can’t see any of it…Staff are going to have to write everything down and input it later.”

They added: “There is increased risk to patients. We’re finding it hard to discharge people, for example to housing providers, because we can’t access records.”

“‘Weeks’ is an unreasonable period,” argues Slashdot reader Bruce66423, wondering why it couldn’t be resolved with a seemingly simple restore from backups?

And Alan Woodward, a professor of cybersecurity at Surrey University, warns the Guardian that “Even if it was ransomware … that doesn’t mean data was not stolen.”

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NetBSD 9.3: A 2022 OS That Can Run On Late-1980s Hardware

Version 9.3 of NetBSD is here, able to run on very low-end systems and with that authentic early-1990s experience. The Register reports: Version 9.3 comes some 15 months after NetBSD 9.2 and boasts new and updated drivers, improved hardware support, including for some recent AMD and Intel processors, and better handling of suspend and resume. The next sentence in the release announcement, though, might give some readers pause: “Support for wsfb-based X11 servers on the Commodore Amiga.” This is your clue that we are in a rather different territory from run-of-the-mill PC operating systems here. A notable improvement in NetBSD 9.3 is being able to run a graphical desktop on an Amiga. This is a 2022 operating system that can run on late-1980s hardware, and there are not many of those around.

NetBSD supports eight “tier I” architectures: 32-bit and 64-bit x86 and Arm, plus MIPS, PowerPC, Sun UltraSPARC, and the Xen hypervisor. Alongside those, there are no less than 49 “tier II” supported architectures, which are not as complete and not everything works — although almost all of them are on version 9.3 except for the version for original Acorn computers with 32-bit Arm CPUs, which is still only on NetBSD 8.1. There’s also a “tier III” for ports which are on “life support” so there may be a risk Archimedes support could drop to that. This is an OS that can run on 680×0 hardware, DEC VAX minicomputers and workstations, and Sun 2, 3, and 32-bit SPARC boxes. In other words, it reaches back as far as some 1970s hardware. Let this govern your expectations. For instance, in VirtualBox, if you tell it you want to create a NetBSD guest, it disables SMP support.

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Baidu Has China’s First Permits For Fully Driverless Robotaxi Services

China’s first fully autonomous, commercial robotaxi rides — with no safety drivers — are about to open for public passengers in Wuhan and Chongqing, marking an inflection point for one of the key technological revolutions of the 21st century. New Atlas reports: The two newly-issued permits allow Baidu to charge for driverless rides within a 13-sq-km (5-sq-mi) area in Wuhan, between 9 am and 5 pm, and within a larger 30-sq-km (11.6-sq-mi) zone in Chonqing’s Yongchuan district between 9.30 am and 5.30 pm — so while they’re currently set to avoid peak hours, they’ll be mixing it up with plenty of daytime traffic. Each zone will run five 5th-generation Apollo cars, with remote drivers ready to assume control if the vehicles get themselves into any sticky situations. Home base will be watching closely through the cars’ camera systems, particularly in these early days.

Baidu’s Apollo Go is already the world’s biggest robotaxi company, with operations already live in all tier-one Chinese cities using the same 5th-gen car, with backup drivers on board. The company recently revealed its 6th-gen design, its first ground-up fully autonomous car for mass production. The Apollo RT6 will cost just RMB 250,000 (US$37,000) to manufacture, says Baidu, and its optional, removable steering wheel and generous, configurable cabin space will make it one of the first proper mobility pod-type services when it hits the streets commercially in 2023.

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Facebook Will Begin Testing End-To-End Encryption As Default On Messenger App

Facebook announced on Thursday it will begin testing end-to-end encryption as the default option for some users of its Messenger app on Android and iOS. The Guardian reports: Facebook messenger users currently have to opt in to make their messages end-to-end encrypted (E2E), a mechanism that theoretically allows only the sender and recipient of a message to access its content. Facebook spokesperson Alex Dziedzan said on Thursday that E2E encryption is a complex feature to implement and that the test is limited to a couple of hundred users for now so that the company can ensure the system is working properly. Dziedzan also said the move was “not a response to any law enforcement requests.” Meta, Facebook’s parent company, said it had planned to roll out the test for months. The company had previously announced plans to make E2E encryption the default in 2022 but pushed the date back to 2023. “The only way for companies like Facebook to meaningfully protect people is for them to ensure that they do not have access to user data or communications when a law enforcement agency comes knocking,” Evan Greer, the director of the digital rights group Fight for the Future, said. “Expanding end-to-end encryption by default is a part of that, but companies like Facebook also need to stop collecting and retaining so much intimate information about us in the first place.”

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Microsoft Claims Sony Pays Developers ‘Blocking Rights’ To Keep Games Off Xbox Game Pass

In a lengthy document submitted to the Brazilian government as part of its investigation into Microsoft’s acquisition of Activision Blizzard, Microsoft has claimed Sony pays developers “blocking rights” to prevent games from appearing on Xbox Game Pass. From a report: The accusation appears in a 27-page rebuttal of Sony’s recent objections to Microsoft’s Activision Blizzard buyout, made to Brazil’s Administrative Council for Economic Defense (CADE) as part of its investigation. Much of Sony’s argument had focused on Call of Duty – which it claimed had “no rival” and was “so popular that it influences users’ choice of console” — with the PlayStation maker suggesting, among other things, that the inclusion of Call of Duty on Microsoft’s Game Pass service would hamper its ability to compete.

Microsoft’s response is as wide-ranging as Sony’s initial objections, touching on everything from the fact it has previously managed to grow Game Pass without Activision Blizzard’s titles — suggesting Call of Duty mightn’t be quite as “essential” as Sony claims — to a reiteration of its assurances that it won’t be making Call of Duty an Xbox console exclusive. It’s here that Microsoft takes a swipe at Sony, pointing out (as per a Google-translated version of its filing) that for all its concerns around exclusivity, “the use of exclusive arrangements has been at the heart of Sony’s strategy to strengthen its presence in the gaming industry.” Microsoft says Sony’s concerns are “incoherent”, given that, by virtue of PlayStation’s dominant market share, the company is a leader in the distribution of digital games – especially when, as Microsoft claims, Sony has actively hampered the growth of Game Pass by paying for “‘blocking rights’ to prevent developers from adding content to Game Pass and other competing subscription services.” Further reading: Microsoft Justifies Activision Blizzard’s $69 Billion Acquisition By Telling Regulator Call of Duty Publisher Doesn’t Release ‘Unique’ Games.

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Twitch Founder Justin Kan: Web3 Games Don’t Need To Lure Players With Profit

An anonymous reader quotes a report from TechCrunch: Top crypto VCs are constantly touting the potential of video games as one of the most compelling use cases for blockchain technology. […] TechCrunch talked to Justin Kan, co-founder of Twitch and more recently, Solana-based gaming NFT marketplace Fractal, to get his thoughts on what it will take for this subsector of web3 to live up to the hype. Kan said that web3 gaming has a long way to go — while there are about 3 billion gamers in the world, including those who play mobile games, he noted, far fewer have bought or interacted with any sort of blockchain-based gaming asset. Kan sees this gap as an opportunity for blockchain technology to fundamentally change how video game studios operate. “I think the idea of creating digital assets, and then taxing everyone for all the transactions around them is a good model,” Kan said.

In some ways, web3 gaming was been built in response to the success of games such as Fortnite that were able to unlock a lucrative monetization path for gaming studios through micro-transactions from users buying custom items such as outfits and weapons. Web3 game developers hope to take that vision a step further by enabling players to take those custom digital assets between different games, turning gaming into an interoperable, immersive ecosystem, Kan explained. Kan has made around 10 angel investments in web3 gaming startups, including in the studio behind NFT-based shooter game BR1: Infinite Royale, he said. Still, he admitted that building this interoperable ecosystem, which he sees as the future of video games overall, doesn’t technically require blockchain technology at all. “Blockchain is just the way that it’s going to happen, I think, because there’s a lot of cultural momentum around people equating blockchain with openness and trusting things that are decentralized on the blockchain.”

[T]he appeal of an open gaming ecosystem is more about the principle of the matter than it is about making a living. “I actually think that people equate NFTs and games with this play-to-earn model where people are making money and doing their job [by gaming], and I think that’s completely unnecessary,” Kan said. “Having digital assets in your game can work and be valuable, even if nobody is making money and there’s no speculative appreciation or price appreciation on your assets,” he added. It’s common for popular games to attract new development on top of their existing intellectual property. Kan shared the example of Counter-Strike: Global Offensive (CSGO), a video game in which custom “skins” have sold for as much as $150,000 each. “I funded a company that builds on top of the CSGO skins,” he said. “CSGO changed the rules about what was allowed and actually confiscated over a million dollars just from this company — so yeah, I don’t want to build on top of these non-open platforms anymore.” “Kan sees blockchain-based games as just a ‘more economically immersive’ version of the marketplaces that already exist in video games,” adds TechCrunch. “He doesn’t think users will flock to blockchain gaming just to make money, though.”

“I think that web3 games are just being more open and saying, instead of this being a black market, we’re going to make this a real market and people’s economic participation is going to vary to different levels. There’s gonna be people who only play the game and never buy things with money. There’s gonna be some people who are making some side money because they’re really good at the game, and they’re getting some things in the game they’re selling [or trading].”

He added: “In order for this market to actually be big, it’s going to require normal people who want to play games for fun to play these games. That doesn’t exist yet. I think most of the market today is people who are crypto-native.”

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28 Years Later, Super Punch-Out!!’s 2-Player Mode Has Been Discovered

Hmmmmmm shares a report from Ars Technica: While Punch-Out!! has been one of Nintendo’s most beloved “fighting” series since its 1984 debut in arcades, it has rarely featured something common in the genre: a two-player mode. On Monday, however, that changed. The resulting discovery has been hiding in plain sight on the series’ Super Nintendo edition for nearly 30 years. Should you own 1994’s Super Punch-Out!! in any capacity — an original SNES cartridge, a dumped ROM parsed by an emulator, on the Super Nintendo Classic Edition, or even as part of the paid Nintendo Switch Online collection of retro games — you can immediately access the feature, no hacking or ROM editing required. All you need is a pair of gamepads.

[T]oday’s Super Punch-Out!! discovery revolves around a simple series of button combinations, which require nothing more than a second controller. The two-player mode is hidden behind an additional, previously undiscovered menu, which lets solo players skip directly to any of the game’s boxing combatants. It’s essentially a “level select” menu, which many classic games featured for internal testing, and speedrunners could arguably use it to practice against specific opponents more quickly.

This menu can be accessed by holding the R and Y buttons on player two’s controller at the “press start” screen, then pressing Start or A with player one’s controller. Do this, and a new menu appears, displaying all 16 boxers’ profile icons. Pick any of these icons to engage in a one-off fight; once it’s over, you’re dumped back to the same boxer-select menu. In this menu, friends can access a two-player fight if player two holds their B and Y buttons down until the match starts. You won’t hear a sound effect or any other indication that it worked. Instead, the match will begin with the second player controlling the “boss” boxer at the top of the screen. Combine the “ABXY” array of buttons with “up” and “down” on the D-pad to pull off every single basic and advanced attack. All credit goes to the coder responsible for the new @new_cheats_news account on Twitter, notes Ars.

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