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The Lawless High Seas May Soon Gain Protections Under A Groundbreaking Ocean Treaty

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THE SARGASSO SEA — Ana Paula, the Esperanza’s officer in charge of the crew and equipment, readies the great white crane to drop the manta trawl into the Sargasso Sea. The trawl’s yellow wings and nearly 3 metre long mesh net that give it the appearance of a manta ray, its namesake, stretch out alongside the Esperanza, a 425-ton ship owned by Greenpeace that has spent the last five months traversing the open seas. The sky over this corner of the Atlantic Ocean near Bermuda is a little grey and the water’s a little rough, but the conditions are safe enough for the ship’s crew to let the trawl glide through the ocean this summer afternoon.

The manta trawl has one mission: to collect microplastic. When the crew brings it back on board after one hour, its little capsule that collects rubbish is full. White, blue, and black tiny bits and pieces of plastic, some as little as 5 millimetres across, fill the filter.

But another colour stands out, too: golden yellow. The manta trawl caught bundles of sargassum seaweed along with the plastics. This seaweed is what the Sargasso Sea is named after, and it provides unique habitat and food for hundreds of creatures, including tiny shrimp and endangered sea turtles. It’s an essential part of the ecosystem and it’s, in part, what these researchers have ventured out on the high seas to study.

There’s a lot scientists don’t know about this seaweed or about the Sargasso Sea, in general. A team of University of Florida scientists, for example, were on the trip to research how much the sargassum heats up compared to the rest of the ocean. They think it might serve as an incubator to help baby turtles grow, and they’re curious about how climate change could affect that dynamic.

Gathering more data — the concentration of microplastics, the role sargassum plays in helping endangered species develop, what animals swim through these warm waters — can help secure protections for the Sargasso Sea, as well as the rest of the world’s oceans. In fact, academics and activists such as Greenpeace have come together to propose a Global Ocean Treaty under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.

Only 1 per cent of the world’s oceans are currently protected. The treaty is calling for world leaders to raise that to 30 per cent by 2030, a number many scientists and groups, including the International Union for Conservation of Nature, have agreed on is necessary to keep biodiversity and fish populations healthy. The high seas — which make up 63 per cent of the world’s oceans area but aren’t owned or managed by any single country — are particularly in need of protection.

That’s the whole reason a team of scientists and activists have hit the high seas. Some people brave the open ocean for the glam and the ‘Gram, but others deal with the incessant sea sickness, sweat-inducing cabins, and months away from family to save the planet.

After a day of rain showers and rough waters, the sky clears up enough for a research excursion off the Esperanza. Several crew members are waiting for me, marine biologist Celia Ojeda, and others in the wet room, where they keep the life vests. Here, crew members crank some wheels and open a watertight door to the open ocean below. A black inflatable motorboat nicknamed Rhino is revving loudly and pushing up against the ship’s green hull.

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Ojeda, who handles the microplastics research for Greenpeace Spain, prepares to board Rhino with a quick glance at the captain for the go-ahead. Her short brown hair tied back out of her face, she quickly climbs down a rope and ladder and, with a final thud, lands in the boat. The rest of us follow behind, me much less gracefully.

With that, we’re off for about an hour on the Sargasso Sea to take eDNA samples. Since the Esperanza set sail, the crew has seen pilot whales, a tiny octopus and flying fish. The team can only imagine what other wildlife has been swimming beneath them throughout their trip. The eDNA sampling should give them some answers, helping them identify the vertebrates that have passed through the waters over the past 48 hours.

With gloves on the entire time, Ojeda attaches some hoses to a machine that she’ll run for a half-hour. The hose pumps in ocean water, which pulses through the hose, and runs into some small cylinder-shaped glass containers to analyse after the expedition. As we inch closer to the 30-minute mark, the captain lets us know: “20 minutes!” “10 minutes!” When we’re down to just seconds, he shouts, “5 ... 4 ... 3 ... 2 ... 1!” What Ojeda and her colleagues find can hopefully convince some of the world’s leaders that the high seas are worth protecting and with a quickness.

The world’s oceans face a multitude of threats, many of which get worse with each passing year. There’s climate change, which is driving up ocean temperatures globally. By 2100, temperatures may rise by up to more than 13 degrees Celsius.

As oceans warm up, so does key habitat for the animals that live there. Corals, for instance, are already suffering from marine heat waves. The oceans also absorb carbon dioxide, which makes the waters more acidic and uninhabitable for shellfish whose shells dissolve at these levels of acidity.

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The sargassum frog fish.

Then there are all the other human activities from mining to fishing to pollution, which the high seas are uniquely vulnerable to. The high seas are legally defined as waters that don’t fall under any single nation’s exclusive economic zone. That means they technically belong to everyone. It also means they’re hard to protect against activities like fishing or mining because they’re beyond any single nation’s jurisdiction, explained Porter Hoagland, a senior research specialist at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution.

“Historically, the high seas have been open to a wide array of uses,” he told Gizmodo. “There’s a notion of the freedom of the high seas, and with modern technology — including the ability to get out and use the ocean in those areas, as well as the ability to monitor and enforce — it’s now become increasingly, but not completely, more practical to think about conserving those areas.”

Making the case for conservation is never simple. That’s especially the case for the high seas because scientists haven’t focused their research efforts here historically. Quite frankly the oceans, in general, are still largely a mystery. More than 80 per cent of the world’s oceans remain unmapped, unexplored, or unobserved.

Without the data or science to show the need for protection, advocates have had a tough time making the case to save it. Yet if oceans aren’t protected, we risk losing a multitude of species forever, including ones we have yet to even discover.

“It’s not possible to think about conservation or think about managing an area or to even know whether an area warrants conservation without some scientific understanding of it,” said Hoagland. “The science is never complete, but we can’t do anything if we don’t know anything about an area.”

The sargassum seaweed makes the Sargasso Sea a particularly unique ecosystem to explore. This sea, in particular, has always been a mystery, sitting along the Bermuda Triangle whose stories of lost sailors and pirates stretch back beyond our time. Now, scientists are trying to demystify it. And they’re finding that despite being far from shore, it’s no oceanic desert. But they’re also finding a shocking amount of pollution intruding on this special place.

Ojeda and Shane Antonition, a research assistant at the Bermuda Aquarium, Museum, and Zoo, piece through the microplastic that the manta trawl has collected. This alone can take up to seven hours sometimes. They use silver tweezers to separate the microplastics from the sargassum, whose roots are like tiny nets. The swaths of sargassum seaweed seem like they can trap nearly anything from a sargassum frogfish that blends almost perfectly with the seaweed to a piece of plastic twine that stands out dramatically.
That’s, in part, what this Greenpeace expedition has been about. In the Sargasso, for instance, it’s clear macro and microplastics have infiltrated the ecosystem. The Sargasso Sea sits within the Northern Atlantic Subtropical Gyre, so the ocean currents that surround the body of water bring in ample amounts of plastic detritus.

One sample from the manta trawl turned up 1,298 fragments of microplastic, which is higher than levels found in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, the poster child of ocean plastic pollution. Ojeda can’t help but feel worried every time she has to pull these pieces out of the seaweed, which she and Antonition throw back into the ocean when they’re done. This time, the seaweed is plastic-free and safer for wildlife.

“Ten years ago, we were used to seeing images of turtles trapped in plastic or trapped in nets,” Ojeda tells me in her air-conditioned lab on the ship. “The problem now is bigger because the plastic that is in [the ocean] is not seen, so it’s not perceptible for everyone, but it’s causing a lot of damage.”

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The method scientists use to sort the microplastics to properly count them.

This research is essential to securing this international treaty. The team of scientists wants to show how extraordinary the Sargasso Sea is — with its golden rainforest, another name for the giant sargassum mats that allow life to flourish in the middle of the ocean. Really, they want to show how valuable all the oceans are and why a Global Ocean Treaty could save them.

No environmental legal protections cover the high seas. This treaty is the first and only option currently, and there’s really no other alternative if it fails, Fabienne McLellan, the director of international relations for Swiss conservation group OceanCare, told Gizmodo.

This treaty didn’t come out of nowhere. It’s been some 15 years in the making. Now, a draft text finally exists, and world leaders are meeting at the United Nations (UN) in New York until the end of August to talk about every word, sentence, and paragraph until they can get it right.

“This opportunity we have right now is absolutely unique. It is a once-in-a-generation opportunity, really
,” McLellan said. “If we fail and we don’t get this treaty, there really are no other alternatives to protecting the high sea, so it’s very tense, but we are very positive and hopeful that we will achieve this.”

The Global Ocean Treaty covers four specific areas: marine genetic resources (which includes the process countries will follow to share any information or resources gathered from the high seas), environmental impact assessments, area-based management tools (such marine protected areas) and capacity building (which will lay out how countries implement and enforce the treaty). All the negotiating will focus on these four points, McLellan explained. While that can be limiting in what the treaty covers, it does keep the process grounded. Otherwise, McLellan joked officials may be sitting around negotiating for another 30 years.

Still, the process has taken a while. That’s because folks are literally starting from scratch, said Arlo Hemphill, a senior oceans campaigner with Greenpeace USA. As Hemphill explained to Gizmodo, the UN is also big on getting everyone on the same page, and that takes time. Like 15 years’ worth of time. There’s finally enough consensus to get the show on the road. Negotiators are working to finalise treaty language by April 2020. But even if they finish the text, it may still take months after that to get governments to sign off so don’t go celebrating just yet.

The last round of deliberations is set to end by next April, but no one I spoke to imagines that will be the final set of talks. The treaty will likely need more time. Norway, Russia, and South Korea have been most reluctant to sign onto the treaty, Hemphill said.

He suspects large-scale commercial fisheries may not be excited about it either. Any industry that could benefit from keeping business as usual — be it the commercial fishing industry or oil and gas giants — is likely to rage against the treaty. Lots of extraction potential remains in the high seas, and what kind of company will just give that up?

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A pair of triggerfish find shelter beneath some plastic near sargassum.

If the treaty can succeed, however, in requiring environmental impact assessments to keep harmful projects out of fragile ecosystems, that’s a major win. Still, that’s a major if. Even if the treaty does succeed, the possibility always remains that nothing will come from it. Look at the Paris Agreement, for instance.

It went into force in 2016, yet countries are still moving slowly (if at all) to put forth regulations to meet the climate goals the international agreement lays out. McLellan said that the Global Ocean Treaty currently contains language to make it legally binding, but the text remains a draft for now.

Still, you only need to spend just a couple days out at sea to notice the way humans are forever impacting it. And really you need just a single cotton candy sunset along the Atlantic Ocean’s horizon to realise that this piece of our planet is worth saving. Though there’s much we cannot see because it sits outside the realm of direct human exploration, it also still deserves to be saved. For without proper protection, this black, deep sea may remain that way, lost to us forever.

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The New Ad Astra Trailer Amps Up Brad Pitt's Space Angst

As Brad Pitt’s Major Roy McBride ventures into deep space in James Grey’s upcoming space thriller Ad Astra, the famed legacy astronaut’s mind is pushed to its limits both by the unknowable darkness he literally finds himself surrounded by and the metaphorical darkness about his father’s past actions that might have jeopardised all life in the galaxy.

While earlier trailers have emphasised how McBride will have to fight for his life as he falls from space and gets into high-speed chases on the surface of far-off planets, the new IMAX trailer promoting the film’s release leans heavily on the spectre of McBride’s father Clifford (Tommy Lee Jones), who’d previously travelled deeper into space than any other human.

The exact nature of what the elder McBride did during his own journey is surrounded in mystery, but it’s seemingly reacted to the freak occurrences in the presence involving antimatter. Jones’ brief voice over suggests that Clifford wants his son to find something, out there. But what it is and whether it’ll lead to humanity’s destruction is anyone’s guess.

Ad Astra hits theatres September 19.

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Woman Finds 3.72-Carat Yellow Diamond While Watching YouTube Video On How To Find Diamonds

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A Texas woman on a first-time visit to Arkansas’ Crater of Diamonds State Park says she discovered a nearly 4-carat yellow diamond — while watching a YouTube video about how to find the precious gemstones.

According to a report on the discovery from the state parks website, Miranda Hollingshead, 27, decided to visit the park with family last week as something fun to do together.

The park — where tens of thousands of individual diamonds have been found over the course of the last century — is situated just a couple of hours away from where Hollingshead lives in Bogata.

While surveying the park’s 37.5 acres of designated diamond discovery area, Hollingshead says she was “sitting in the shade, watching a YouTube video on how to find diamonds” when she spotted the massive 3.72-carat gemstone, noting that she “looked over at my kid for a second, and when I looked down, I saw it mixed in with other rocks.”

According to park interpreter Waymon Cox, the diamond — which was described as a light yellow colour and about the size of a pencil eraser — was likely discovered as the result of recent rainfall.

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“Much of the ground where Ms. Hollingshead found her diamond is made of unweathered volcanic rock,” Cox said in a statement. “When it rains, flowing runoff often leaves loose gravel, and sometimes diamonds, on the surface in these areas. Diamonds have a brilliant, adamantine lustre that makes them easy to spot, and Ms. Hollingshead happened to be sitting in just the right place to see the diamond sparkle in the sun.”

According to the state parks website, nearly 320 diamonds registered at Crater of Diamonds State Park this year, with 13 of those weighing at least carat. Combined, those diamonds make up a staggering 63.49 carats. Cox said Hollingshead described her diamond as reminiscent of “of a rounded molar, with a small indentation in one end.”

There are a ton of factors that go into appraising a diamond like the one that Hollingshead discovered, but it’s likely worth somewhere in the tens of thousands of dollars.

Assuming you have the time to hunch over and scour for diamonds across dozens of acres, Crater of Diamonds State Park sure seems to be a good place to find one. Just last month, 36-year-old Josh Lanik discovered a 2.12-carat diamond, the largest diamond discovery of the year at the time.

In April, park visitor Glenn Worthington found a brown diamond weighing in at 1.52 carats.

But Hollingshead and her son were sure to give their discovery a suitably unique name: Caro Avenger. Hollingshead said her son “chose the name Caro, and I am a fan of superheroes, so it seemed like a good fit.”

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Lagavulin Released An Ultra-Exclusive 10-Year Single Malt Scotch

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Jet-setting across the globe and enjoying a glass of fine whisky go hand-in-hand, especially for those who feed their wanderlust hunger often. The Lagavulin 10-Year-Old Single Malt Scotch Whisky is here for liquid coverage-lovers, and it will be exclusively sold at Dufry duty-free stores in select airports across the globe.

The whisky spent time in American Oak casks to develop a rich, smoky flavor that is a genuine treat for your taste buds. According to malt master Dr. Craig Wilson, this delicious whisky is initially sweet and salty, evolving to a spicy and smoky finale. The creamy whisky is potent, yet warm, making it the perfect liquor to enjoy once you reach your destination and unwind in your hotel room. Bottled at 43% alcohol by volume, this Lagavulin whisky will not disappoint. This $61 bottle is yet another reason to travel the globe.

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Marine Archaeologists Reveal Submerged Wooden Structure From The Stone Age

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Archaeologists have spotted an 8000-year-old wooden platform in the waters off southern Great Britain.

The mostly intact find sat in a larger archaeological site around 11m below the water’s surface. It represents a substantial increase in the amount of ancient worked wood found in the United Kingdom, and scientists hypothesise that it was a platform used to build ships.

“As a feature by itself it’s quite incredible,” Garry Momber, director of the Maritime Archaeological Trust in the United Kingdom, told Gizmodo. “This is the most cohesive, intact structure from the Middle Stone Age ever recovered in the United Kingdom.”

Archaeologists first found the site in 2005, which included a pile of cut wood and artefacts such as remnants of wheat and string. This past year, further excavation revealed the large, intact wooden platform — layers of cut wood atop a wooden foundation. Carbon dating combined with tree ring data and the depth of the site revealed its age to be around 8000 years old.

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The reconstructed wood platform. 

Shortly after the end of the last ice age, sea levels were much lower, and there was no water separating the United Kingdom from France. Early humans could have migrated north into Great Britain and built sites like this. Rising sea levels eventually engulfed the site, while the dark, cold, wet conditions prevented the wood from rotting away.

The discovery is exciting for a lot of reasons. The wood demonstrates woodworking techniques not seen in British artefacts for another 2500 years. “It opens doors into something we know so little about — how these people arrived and how these societies slowly developed and changed,” Momber said. It also hints at how much of humanity’s history might be hiding underwater.

Other scientists were impressed by the site as well. “This is an important find for understanding early woodworking technologies in this part of the world,” Mark Aldenderfer, a distinguished professor at the University of California, Merced, who was not involved in the new study, told Gizmodo. He eagerly awaited more details, such as more information on how the dating was done.

Some of the researchers we spoke with were cautious about making any guesses as to the purpose of the structure.

“Whilst I love the idea that this is the oldest boat-building site in the world (which chimes so well with the maritime heritage of the Isle of Wight), I would be tentative of making this claim from the wooden timbers discovered,” Helen Farr, lecturer in archaeology at the University of Southampton in the United Kingdom, told Gizmodo in an email.

“However, a platform or walkway would fit with what I would expect from other known sites of this age.” She thought the site was important, and looked forward to the results of further analysis.

Still, the study demonstrates that there’s a lot we don’t know about the Stone Age. Given water’s importance to human throughout history, there’s likely plenty of ancient artefacts in oceans that would otherwise have degraded on land.

“I’ve always wondered what we’re missing that hadn’t survived that’s built of wood,” marine archaeologist James Delgado, Senior Vice President at Search Inc not involved in the study, told Gizmodo.

Unfortunately, the site is being lost to erosion. Said Farr: “It is really important to now think about how we can protect these important sites that can tell us so much about activity in the deep past.”

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Russian Sci-Fi Thriller Novel-Turned-Video Game Metro 2033 Is Becoming A Movie

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Before THQ’s Metro 2033 was a first person shooter, it was a novel written by Dmitry Glukhovsky about a nation of people forced to build a new underground civilisation in subway stations and tunnels after a devastating nuclear war. Now, it’s set to become a live-action film, courtesy of Gazprom Media.

Variety reports that after years of being approached to adapt the story for the big screen, Glukhovsky ultimately felt that Gazprom was the right outfit to produce a film. Even though no director, writer or cast has been announced, he’s confident that this telling will do his original vision justice:

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In Russia, I didn’t see any producers who could make a good [screen adaptation of] this book. It just seemed impossible. But now I finally met a team that I can entrust Metro with. Our ambitions turned out to be similar: To create a world-class blockbuster and stun even those who have read the trilogy and know it by heart. So as not to disappoint them, I am ready to become a creative producer of the movie and help create it with both my advice and action.

In Metro 2033, Russian society collapses following a nuclear war that begins in 2013, but it rebuilds itself anew as a series of warring factions that have all carved out space for themselves in the subway system.

In addition to the inter-faction conflicts that pop up more often than not, the surviving humans must also deal with the constant threat of vicious, mutated animals lurking in the subways where they hunt for prey.

Currently, filming for the project is slated to begin next year with a theatrical release on 1 January 2022.

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Murder Suspect Caught After AI Detected Victim's Face When Used To Apply For Online Loan

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An online lending company tipped off police to a suspected murder after a man allegedly tried to scan his dead girlfriend’s face.

When police found the 29-year-old man in southeast China, he was reportedly attempting to burn the woman’s body on a farm, according to the South China Morning Post, which says the story was originally reported by Xiamen Evening News.

Authorities suspect the man used a rope to strangle his partner on April 11 following an argument over money. The incident allegedly occurred in Xiamen. Then the man took the body and fled to his hometown of Sanming, which is a four-hour drive away.

In Sanming, the alleged murderer apparently attempted to use the victims’s identity to apply for a loan on Money Station, an app that uses facial recognition verification and requires the user to blink during the approval process. The app did not detect eye movement but it did detect that the voice was that of a man, not a woman.

Workers at the lending company manually checked the failed verification and saw the woman was bruised and had red markings on her neck.

According to South China Morning News, the man was formally arrested early this month. He has been accused of stealing ¥30,000 ($6260) from the victim’s account through her phone. He allegedly also used her phone to tell her parents she was taking a trip and to message her employer asking to take time off.

In the US, researchers have reportedly found workarounds to Apple’s “liveness” detection systems. But perhaps we’ll start to see more biometric verification steps in apps so we won’t have to worry about people stealing our identities after they murder us.

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In The First Mandalorian Trailer, A Lone Ranger Survives On A Galaxy's Edge

Live-action Star Wars is returning to TV with The Mandalorian, the first non-animated Star Wars TV project since the infamous Caravan of Courage. Now, we finally have a look of what to expect from Disney+ and Jon Favreau’s mysterious tale of a wanderer on the outer rim of the galaxy far, far away.

After fans got a brief taste at Star Wars Celebration Chicago, Lucasfilm has finally lifted a slightly larger lid off of The Mandalorian at D23.

Set after the events of Return of the Jedi — and the downfall of the Empire — The Mandalorian follows the journey of a mysterious, a gun-slinging bounty hunter known only as the Mandalorian, as he navigates the lawless post-Imperial world of scum and villainy, performing a dangerous mission for a guild of Bounty Hunters.

You can also check out a new poster for the series below, released ahead of the panel today.

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The Mandalorian will star Pedro Pascal as the Mandalorian, accompanied by a host of actors including Gina Carano as Cara Dune, Carl Weathers as Greef, as well as Werner Herzog, Nick Nolte, Giancarlo Esposito, Emily Swallow, Omid Abtahi and the newly announced Ming-Na Wen, best known for her roles in Mulan and Agents of SHIELD.

The first episode of The Mandalorian will be available on November 19 in Australia with the launch of Disney+.

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The U.S. Air Force's New Robot Can Fly Any Plane And Turn It Into An Autonomous Drone

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Unmanned aircraft are the future of military aviation, minimising the risks to human pilots during dangerous missions and hazardous operations. Autonomous planes have already been put into service but the U.S. Air Force is now testing a robot that can pilot the military’s existing fleet of aircraft, making any plane autonomous with minimal modifications.

Making a plane with fly-by-wire controls, where the joysticks, pedals and other physical controllers are electronically linked to the aircraft’s engines and control surfaces, autonomous is relatively easy. An additional computer control system might have to be added to handle the extra processing, but it’s mostly a software upgrade. But for aircraft that aren’t already packed with billions of dollars of electronics and autonomy, making them fly themselves requires considerably more hardware modifications and added components, and the upgrades are usually permanent.

That’s what led the Air Force Research Laboratory, working a with a company called DZYNE Technologies Incorporated, who specialises in autonomous aircraft, to develop the Robotic Pilot Unmanned Conversion Program, also known as ROBOpilot. It doesn’t look like a robot in the traditional sense with arms and legs that allow it to hop in and out of planes all by itself. ROBOpilot is more like a collection of robotic components packed in a metal framework that can be installed inside a cockpit once the seats are removed.

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Using actuators, sensors, a robotic arm and even its own power system, the robot can operate a plane’s yoke (essentially used for steering the craft) push on the rudder and brake pedals, make throttle adjustments, and flip switches on the dashboard as needed to make proper and legal flights following the same Federal Aviation Administration guidelines that human pilots have to abide by while in the air. ROBOpilot even includes a camera system so that it can monitor feedback from the myriad of dials and gauges on a plane’s dashboard.

The robot looks like it completely takes over a plane’s cockpit, similar to how the Borg aliens from Star Trek take over other species. But it’s actually a non-invasive approach to converting an aircraft to autonomous flight. It can be installed and removed as easily as it goes in, leaving a plane ready to be helmed by human pilots again.

On August 9 at the Dugway Proving Ground in Utah, after a year of testing involving flight simulators, ROBOpilot successfully piloted a small Cessna plane for two full hours, including taking off, navigating a specific route, and then landing without a human at the controls.

The robot isn’t quite ready for duty just yet, hundreds of hours of additional testing will be required before the military trusts it to handle something larger, and more expensive, than a Cessna. But the approach will help extend the life of the U.S. Air Force’s expansive fleet of aircraft, bringing the benefits of autonomous flight to planes that have already proven themselves to be useful in service for decades prior, without completely putting them out of service while this robot earns its wings.

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DOCUMENTARY: THE PAN AMERICAN BOEING 377 STRATOCRUISER

This film from 1950 was created to give Americans a look into what it was like to fly on the then-new Pan American Boeing 377 Stratocruiser. The Stratocruiser was an advanced aircraft for its time, it featured a pressurised cabin, two floors of seating for passengers, and it could carry up to 100 people.

The Pan American Boeing 377 Stratocruisers were set up with luxurious interiors featuring changing rooms, well-equipped kitchens (galleys), a lounge on the lower level that could be entered via a spiral staircase, there were even sleeping berths, and private state rooms in the rear.

The Stratocruiser was developed from the WWII era C-97 Stratofreighter military transport which itself was based very closely on the B-29 Superfortress. For the 1950s the civilian-specification Stratocruiser was a revelation for travellers, offering luxury travel and opening up holiday locations like Hawaii and the South Pacific, and making holidays in Europe and further afield more attainable and far more comfortable.

This 25 minute film was produced for Pan Am to use as a showcase to new potential passengers. Many Americans had never flown in 1950 and there was no small amount of trepidation among many about the safety of large passenger planes.

If you’d like to learn more about the Boeing 377 Stratocruiser you can read about it on the official Boeing website here, or on the Aviation Online History Museum here.

We’ve added the United Boeing 377 Stratocruiser Hawaii Travelogue below for a little additional insight into the era and the uses airlines were finding for the 377.

Boeing 377 Stratocruiser

Pan Am Boeing 377 Stratocruiser

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A Dark Vision Rises In New Footage From Star Wars: The Rise Of Skywalker

Dark times call for dark measures.

After wowing attendees of D23 with footage from the final chapter of the Skywalker saga this past weekend, Lucasfilm has now officially released that footage online.

Primarily a montage of the entire saga, it concludes with brand new footage from the upcoming movie, Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker.

Heroes united! Fleets new and old ready for galactic civil war! A duel between Kylo Ren and Rey! General Leia! All this, and then yes... a dark look for Rey indeed, complete with a foldable, red-bladed double-edged lightsaber.

A vision of the Force? A trick? Or has Emperor Palpatine corrupted another fallen warrior of the light?

We’ll have to wait a few months to see. Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker hits theatres December 19.

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GAMERS: Check Out The Full “Dying Light 2” Gameplay Video

The last great human settlement exists within an unforgiving, infected world. Exceptional agility and combat skills make you a powerful ally and a valuable commodity. With your unique abilities you have the power to be an agent of change within this decaying metropolis. Use it wisely. Set for release in 2020

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Natalie Portman Seems Ready to Snap in the Latest Lucy in the Sky Trailer

Noah Hawley’s Lucy in the Sky is a film about how love makes people do wild, ridiculous things—like, you know, driving across the country in a misguided attempt to kidnap an ex-boyfriend’s new partner. Out of all the things in life that Lucy Cola (Natalie Portman) loves, though, she loves her job the most.

The latest trailer for the movie revisits the broad outline of Lucy’s story—how her life begins to lack meaning after she returns to Earth following a blissfully successful mission to space, circumstances that leave her with the powerful desire to go back up. Returning to space is all Lucy wants in the world, but her ambition and drive—things that make her the ideal candidate for the next mission—are what cause the men she works with to begin to question her state of mind. It all leads up to what looks like a massive breakdown that could ruin Lucy’s life. Lucy in the Sky drops into theaters October 4.

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Scientists Hope To Solve The Mystery Of A Medieval Skeleton Used For Propaganda By Both The Nazis And Soviets

Prague Castle Warrior's Skeleton

Hitler once hoped that this skeleton would legitimize his claims to Czechoslovakia. Now the truth may be about to come out.

When human remains from the 10th century were discovered underneath Prague Castle in 1928, nobody had an inkling as to who the man was. The unidentified figure was buried with two knives, a sword, an ax, and a bucket, and would soon be used as a propaganda tool by both the Soviets and the Nazis.

A new study published in Antiquity journal aims to finally assess the man’s origins and how he arrived at his final resting place. The narratives placed around him in the mid-20th century were, after all, entirely ideologically driven by opposing factions of World War 2.

According to CNN, the skeleton was originally discovered by the National Museum of Czechoslovakia beneath the castle’s courtyard while researchers attempted to locate the oldest parts of the castle. This courtyard sat on the edge of an older cemetery, which belonged to a hill fort that existed there between 800 and 1,000 A.D.

When Ivan Borkovský found the skeleton, Czechoslovakia had only been an independent nation for 10 years. The Ukrainian man fought for the Austro-Hungarians before fleeing to the young country in 1920.

Borkovský’s decision not to publish a study on his findings would soon land him in a heap of terrifying trouble — from both the Soviets and Nazis.

Ivan Borkovský And Karel Guth

Ivan Borkovský and Karel Guth, the head of the Historical Archaeology Department of the National Museum in Prague. The latter was in charge of the Prague Castle excavations.

The Nazi army invaded Czechoslovakia in 1939. It didn’t take long for those in charge to find out about the mysterious 1,000-year-old figure — and quickly led to questioning Borkovský as to why he never shared this information with the world.

To buttress their claims to Czechoslovakia, the Germans claimed the buried skeleton belonged to a Viking or Germanic man and would thus showcase just how far German ancestry reached in the country.

Establishing that theory as fact would support Nazi Germany’s self-established claims to the territory, of course. They even suggested the castle was Germanic, rather than Slavic — and that Borkovský was purposefully engaged in a cover-up not to reveal these supposed truths.

He did try publishing a book about the oldest Slavic pottery recovered in Central Europe but rapidly reassessed once the Nazis threatened to throw him into a concentration camp.

One year later, he finally did publish his study on the Prague Castle remains, but with a tragic angle: his research was skewed to indicate the skeleton had Nordic ancestry — not Slavic, as was fairly evident back then — due to the mounting pressure from the Nazis to do so.

Heinrich Himmler Visits Prague Castle

Prague Castle during a visit from SS leader Heinrich Himmler in 1941.

Unfortunately, the end of the Nazis didn’t mean freedom for Borkovský. Soviet occupation after the war wrought its own complications along with potential time in a Soviet Gulag for his “anti-Communist activities.” Fortunately, he escaped before that could happen.

In 1946, he published a new study meant to course-correct his pressurized findings published during the war. This paper identified the burial site “as that of an important person who was related to the early Western Slav Przemyslid dynasty.”

Though Borkovský managed to right his wrongs, modern scientists and those safeguarding the historical record are eager to investigate further.

The latest study in Antiquity stated that the items buried alongside the man were considered foreign to that area during the time of death. The fire striker, for instance, was quite common for Vikings — but clearly didn’t hail from the region. Neither did his sword or the ax.

The bucket and knives, however, were certainly constructed nearby. This has left researchers forced to reassess how to approach medieval history in Europe — and how to retrace people’s steps with such contradictory evidence.

Researchers Move The Warrior's Grave

Members of the excavation project move the burial block of the warrior’s grave to the Prague Castle storerooms shortly after discovery. 1928.

“The sword is especially unique as it is the only one discovered in 1,500 early medieval graves so far found in Prague Castle,” said lead author Nicholas Saunders, a professor from the University of Bristol’s Department of Anthropology and Archaeology.

“Perhaps he was a Slav from a neighboring region, who had mastered Old Norse as well as Slavonic, or perhaps he regarded himself as a genuine Viking.”

Ultimately, Saunders explained that even in death, one’s identity can be used and manipulated to tip the political scales in a party’s favor. So while this 1,000-year-old skeleton was long buried, and peacefully so for centuries — several foreign countries used it to their advantage.

“Identities were complex in the medieval period, and the story of Borkovsky and the Prague Castle warrior grave reminds us that the identities of such past people frequently fuel modern political conflicts,” he said.

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Audi Is Building An AI-Assisted All-Electric Off-Road SUV

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Now that all-electric powertrains have become more widely accepted in the car world, we’re finally starting to see manufacturers play around with the possibilities. And while some are almost comically absurd, some are a bit closer to being production-ready. Audi’s newly-announced AI:TRAIL Quattro sits somewhere in the middle.

Unfortunately, the details of this upcoming concept are exceedingly scarce. But there are a few tidbits we can glean. For starters, we know the SUV is meant to be all-electric and will feature the brand’s legendary AWD system. Furthermore, the open-wheel design appears to suggest that this vehicle is meant to take on extreme terrain — not just some gravel and mud. And lastly, the name implies that this 4×4 off-roader will have some measure of artificial intelligence built-in, likely in regards to both the drive system and cabin controls. We’ll have to wait for the official reveal at Frankfurt, but we’re more than a little excited about this ambitious project.

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These Intrepid Shades Are Oakley’s First Mountaineering Sunglasses

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Mountaineering is the ultimate test of your physical and mental fortitude, as you climb treacherous peaks to earn the reward of breathtaking views. To ensure your eyes drink in all the visual glory atop the mountain, Oakley created the Clifden sunglasses.

The Oakley Clifden Sunglasses are marvelous mountaineering shades with a functional athletic design for intrepid adventurers tackling outdoor mounds. They have Unobtainium nose pads for excellent grip even when you sweat, a removable bridge blocker, and Unobtainium (a proprietary material developed by the brand) side shields to block glare and protect your eyes. For pristine views, the sunglasses feature a category 4 Prizm lens, offering unmatched protection in extreme light scenarios. And it has a lightweight 20-inch woven stainless steel leash, ensuring the shades won’t fall off on difficult parts of your descent. There’s no word on price or release date yet, but expect the Clifden sunglasses to be available soon.

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This 528HP Super Sedan Just Broke Two Nurburgring Records

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For those in the automotive world, Germany’s Nurburgring is perhaps the ultimate high-speed proving ground. So when a vehicle breaks a record there, it’s a noteworthy occasion. Well, Cyan Racing’s Lynk & Co 03 Cyan Concept sedan just broke two.

Completing the Nürburgring Nordschleife in 7 minutes and just over 20 seconds, this speedy super-sedan has just become the fastest four-door to complete the circuit ever — cutting the previous record by three seconds. That also means it’s the quickest front-wheel-drive vehicle in the world, breaking Jaguar’s record by a whopping 25 seconds. It managed that courtesy of a turbocharged four-cylinder engine capable of a more-than-impressive 528 horsepower and 372 foot-pounds of torque. Even more interestingly, this also marks the first time a Chinese manufacturer has claimed a record on the German track with a mass-production vehicle. Yes, you read that right: they’re building more of them for the public. We’ll have to wait to find out more, however, so sit tight.

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OMAZE NIHI SUMBA ISLAND RESORT

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Ranked Travel & Leisure's "Best Hotel in the World" two years in a row, the Nihi Sumba Island Resort is a bucket list-worthy destination and Omaze is sending two people to experience its splendor. The winner and a friend will be flown VIP to Indonesia for a six-night stay in one of their luxury villas. While there, guests will be treated to a half-day Spa Safari for a full menu of treatments from a cliff-side room. Afterward, they can catch a ride on the world's most exclusive wave — a private wave only available to ten surfers a day — then snorkel, paddleboard, or lounge around on the pristine beaches. Donations from the sweepstakes go right back to the island through the Sumba Foundation, an organization aiming to provide humanitarian aid through access to clean water, creating educational programs, and lessening the effects of malaria.

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Secretive Air Force Spaceplane Breaks Record With 719 Straight Days In Orbit

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The U.S. Air Force’s Boeing X-37B spaceplane broke a record yesterday for the most amount of time in orbit around the Earth. But we still don’t know when the uncrewed plane is going to land or even what it’s doing up there. All of the details about the X-37B mission are classified.

As of 6:43am Tuesday ET, the X-37B spaceplane’s fifth mission, dubbed the Orbital Test Vehicle (OTV-5), will have spent 719 days in orbit — just 11 days shy of a full two years circling the globe. The previous record was 717 days, 20 hours and 42 minutes, achieved just a few years earlier with OTV-4.

All we know about the 8.8 metre long spaceplane’s mission comes from the Air Force description, which is light on details, to say the least:

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The X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle, or OTV, is an experimental test program to demonstrate technologies for a reliable, reusable, unmanned space test platform for the U.S. Air Force. The primary objectives of the X-37B are twofold; reusable spacecraft technologies for America’s future in space and operating experiments which can be returned to, and examined, on Earth.

The Air Force notes that the vehicle is able to “return experiments to Earth,” but we have no idea what those experiments might be:

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Upon command from the ground, the OTV autonomously re-enters the atmosphere, descends, and lands horizontally on a runway. The X-37B is the first vehicle since NASA’s Shuttle Orbiter with the ability to return experiments to Earth for further inspection and analysis, but with an on-orbit time of 270 days or greater, the X-37B can stay in space for much longer.

Technologies being tested in the program include advanced guidance, navigation and control, thermal protection systems, avionics, high temperature structures and seals, conformal reusable insulation, lightweight electromechanical flight systems, advanced propulsion systems, advanced materials and autonomous orbital flight, reentry and landing.

 

The spaceplane looks a bit like the space shuttles, which were an incredibly exciting advancement for any kid of the 1980s and 90s. But the space shuttle program was killed and the vehicles now sit in museums.

Aside from its time in space, there are a number of other things that make this mission different. The X-37B has completed four missions using a Atlas 5 rocket but its most recent mission was launched on September 7, 2017 using a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket.

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Exclusive ‘Night Hunter’ Clip Sees Henry Cavill Tracking a Predator Through an Eerie Underground Lair

One of the more pulse-pounding post-DC projects for Henry Cavill comes in the form of Night Hunter, a dark thriller written and directed by David Raymond. Cavill plays another breed of super man, a detective named Marshall who teams up with a local vigilante (Ben Kingsley) to stop a criminal (Brendan Fletcher) orchestrating horrific crimes from behind bars. We’re excited to bring you an unsettling exclusive clip from the film, which offers further proof that if you hear Christmas music coming from a dark basement in the middle of nowhere, do not go down into that dark basement in the middle of nowhere unless you look like Henry Cavill.

Collider also spoke to Raymond, who told us why Cavill was the man to embody his predator-hunting detective:

“I wanted Henry because I felt there’s a side of him we’d not seen before. He’s got a formidable onscreen prescience, but for me, also a wonderful vulnerability. He’s playing a character who for all his strength, all his knowledge, he can’t do the one thing he truly wants to do… which is hug his daughter.

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Henry brings a real depth to Marshall, a sadness and almost guilt to him which he’s able to convey without saying anything. It’s all in his subtle performance, these glimpses of his soul that Henry reluctantly shows us in his mannerisms, his body language. It’s been a joy to watch Henry bring Marshall to life.”

Saban Films will release Night Hunter—which also stars Alexandra Daddario, Nathan Fillion, Stanley Tucci, and Minka Kelly—is available exclusively on DIRECTV now and in theaters and on-demand September 6.

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‘Motherless Brooklyn’ Official Trailer

Edward Norton. Bruce Willis. Alec Baldwin. Willem Dafoe. Michael Kenneth Williams. Bobby Cannavale. Fisher Stevens. Gugu Mbatha-Raw. Leslie Mann. With a cast of talent like that we could have told you that we were promoting a children’s movie and you would have been interested. But no, this is all about the feature length film Motherless Brooklyn written and directed by Edward Norton. Without giving too much away, Motherless Brooklyn follows Lionel Essrog–Norton’s character–“a lonely private detective afflicted with Tourette’s Syndrome, as he ventures to solve the murder of his mentor and only friend, Frank Minna.” It’s going to be a great film, of that we’re sure.

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In The New Joker Trailer, A Broken Man Becomes Batman's Greatest Foe

We’ve already had a few glimpses of Todd Phillips’ take on how a man like the Joker could come to existence, even in the already sordid world of Gotham City. But this latest look dives even further into the haunting downfall of Joaquin Phoenix’s Arthur Fleck.

Warner Bros. just released a brand new trailer for Joker, a movie that is coming way, way sooner than you’d think considering we’ve barely seen any of it!

Set as an origin story entirely separate from any previous cinematic iteration of Batman’s most enduring foe, the movie follows Fleck as the world around him begins to crumble, pushing stresses on the man that apparently lead to his complete undoing — and his rebirth as the cackling, calculated crown prince of crime.

Starring Joaquin Phoenix, Zazie Beetz, Robert De Niro, Frances Conroy, Brett Cullen and Marc Maron, Joker hits Australian theatres October 3.

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'Fastest Woman On Four Wheels' Jessi Combs Killed In Jet-Car Crash

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Wednesday, while attempting to beat her own land speed record, the 52,000 horsepower jet-powered car driven by racer, fabricator and television personality Jessi Combs crashed in the Alvord Desert in Oregon, killing her, as local news reports. Combs was 39 years old and held the title of “fastest woman on four wheels” after breaking 641km/h in that same North American Eagle Supersonic Speed Challenger in 2013.

Combs was attempting to beat her previous record, and had attempted it as recently as last year, when she managed a 777km/h shakedown run before mechanical problems ended the attempt, as noted on the team’s bio page for Jessi.

Just a few days ago, Combs tweeted a picture of her and the jet car as they prepared for this most recent speed record attempt:

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It may seem a little crazy to walk directly into the line of fire... those who are willing, are those who achieve great things. .
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People say I’m crazy. I say thank you ;)

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Combs’ death was confirmed on Instagram by Terry Madden, a member of Combs’ team:

Combs was a lot more than a very, very fast person. She was a skilled builder and fabricator, representing the American Welding Society, and even designing a line of women’s welding gear:

Combs was on television frequently, appearing on Overhaulin’, All Girls Garage, and even served as a host of Mythbusters.

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Combs was an accomplished off-road racer as well, competing in the Baja 1000 and was the first woman to place at a King of Hammers event; in 2016 she had a 1st-place finish at the King of Hammers, earning her the nickname “Queen of Hammers.”

Combs was an impressive force in racing and motoring regardless of gender, but as a woman everything she achieved she did so despite the resistance of what is still a male-dominated world, and provided a valuable role model for other women in motorsport and hands-on automotive work.

Jessi’s family has issued a statement:

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It is with extreme grief, and in celebration of her life that her family and close friends share that race car driver, and TV personality Jessi Combs, passed away in a fatal crash, where she was pursuing a land speed record in the North American Eagle on August, 27th 2019 on a dry lake bed in Oregon. The details of the crash have not been released at this time.

Jessi was known for her bright smile, positivity, and tenacious pursuit of the fulfilment of her dreams. Her drive was infectious, and she served as a role model for young Girls, and Women around the world. People that loved her and followed her became family, all bonded together by adventure and passion.

Her fans adored her, and she lived to inspire them. Jessi’s most notable dream was to become the fastest woman on Earth, a dream she had been chasing since 2012. Combs was one of the rare dreamers with the bravery to turn those possibilities into reality, and she left this earth driving faster than any other woman in history.

Surrounded by her family and friends at the time of her passing, Jessi lived fearlessly and her legacy lives on in the countless lives she touched.

Jessi is known for her hosting work on television series including “All Girls Garage”, “Overhaulin’ “, Extreme 4x4 and Autoblog’s “The List”.

Jessi is survived by her Mother Nina (Chuck, niece Nina Alayne) Darrington, Father Jamie (Sandy) Combs, brother Kelly Combs (Cary, Eli, Ethan and Anna), sisters Danielle Theis (Jacin, Justice, Nation), Brother Austin Darrington (Leah, Lane) Kayla Green, Kyrie Darrington, Natasha Darrington

Step sisters Rebekah Hall (son Aaren Kearns), Arielle Hall (son Dru Hanson). And Jessi‘s love Terry Madden and his son Dalton.

A celebration of Jessi’s life in being planned and a foundation is being created to continue her efforts to empower women and young girls to follow their dreams.

 

 

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Why Every Gamer Should Play Elite Dangerous

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One of the great tragedies of modern society is the inability to look past ourselves. To put aside our petty squabbles and confront the vast scope of our stratosphere and beyond.

Try as we might, we find it almost impossible to stop staring into the void of humanity’s many, many mistakes and/or our latest gas bill to consider the possibilities of not only our planet, but the solar system and galaxy around it.

This is a deeply powerful reality that we somehow take for granted. Every astronaut that has ever ventured into Earth’s low orbit or the surface of the Moon has returned to say the exact same thing: Nothing else matters when you’re up there. When you looking at our tiny blue planet from above, all basic human concerns evaporate. Some of them for good.

Imagine what this does to a person: in a shocking instant, you completely reset your internal earthly compass and wash away a slew of things you thought you needed to worry about. In return, you are suddenly overwhelmed with the monumental size of the universe. That is, if we’re being honest here, probably not an even trade. To realise that we’re all simply floating on a big wet rock in a vast expanse of nothingness is a shattering thought that can’t be matched.

It’s an absolute misfortune of modern technology that very few of us will have this stunning experience in our lifetimes. Aside from Richard Branson, Elon Musk and other obscenely rich white dudes, the only people that continue to shake off their planet-based worries will be trained astronauts. And in this day and age, the number of kids wishing to chase this dream doesn’t seem to be all that large.

But not all hope is lost. We can still try our best to wrap our minds around the cosmos without ever actually being physically there.

Let’s give it a try.

4.3 light years from Earth, there’s a star. It’s the closest star to Earth aside from our own Sun, which is also a star. Because all suns are stars but not all stars are suns. Anyway, the star that’s four light years away is called Alpha Centauri and there’s some debate as to when it was first discovered. There’s evidence it was first spotted sometime between the years 100 and 170. Then there’s other people who saw it in 1582, 1689, 1752 and 1833 and all these people went blue in the face trying to convince other people that Alpha Centauri was a real thing that existed. Which we’ve now confirmed.

I mentioned it was four light years away. This means that if somehow we invented a spaceship that could travel at the speed of light, we could reach this star in four years. Unfortunately, such technology doesn’t exist yet.

Even though Alpha Centauri is in our own Milky Way galaxy, the space between us and this star is humongous. Most of outer space is empty blackness and it takes a long time to get across it. So to give you an example: if we don’t invent a spaceship which travels at the speed of light and just go with what we have now – it would take around 54,000 years to reach this star. Bear in mind, that’s only the speed of an unmanned probe. If we wanted to actually travel there in a standard space shuttle, it would take around 165,000 years.

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That’s how slow we are at the moment. Even though the astronauts that went to the moon arrived in four days and we now have satellite probes that can get there in six hours, in the grand scheme of things we’re about as fast as a very old snail trying to travel to a star in another solar system. If the snail stopped for coffee quite often. That’s what you get when you live in a galaxy that’s 100,000 light years in diameter.

Here’s some other fun/terrifying facts about our universe:

Including our sun, our galaxy alone is home to about 100 billion stars.
The Sun is over a million times bigger than Earth
The Milky Way galaxy is a part of 30 other galaxies that contains hundreds of billions of stars. This collection of galaxies is called the Local Group and it’s 10 million light years across
Our entire galaxy orbits what lies at the centre of the Milky Way – a supermassive black hole, which is estimated to be 4 million times bigger than the Sun and surrounded by at least a dozen other black holes

So in 2019, it’s pretty clear that we don’t have the intelligence or technology to get us anywhere significant in a timespan shorter than the Extended Editions of The Lord Of The Rings trilogy. If that’s the case, why don’t we just say “Well, that destination is beyond our reach” and give up?

That’s not NASA’s style. Seemingly untouched by the frivolity of society’s nonsense, NASA is still getting the job done on a regular basis without most people on this planet giving a damn. They have about 35 active missions exploring different parts of our solar system. Robot rovers on Mars, probes orbiting dwarf planets and Voyager 1, which is the only spacecraft in history to leave our solar system and enter interstellar space. And that bad boy was launched in 1977.

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As completely impressive as NASA’s current efforts are, there is a future mission that is in the very early planning stages that is probably their most ambitious and exciting. In Alpha Centauri’s solar system, potentially habitable planets have been discovered. Over 3,000 planets outside of our solar system have been confirmed (these are the ones called ‘exoplanets’) and Alpha Centauri holds what might be the best one. But we need a closer look before popping any champagne corks.

That’s why NASA plans to send an interstellar probe to check it out. The launch date is 2069, which will be 100 years since the Apollo 11 moon landing.

I can’t even imagine what the year 2069 is going to look like. Will it be a brilliant utopia or a wasteland? Will humans be travelling in flying cars or fighting each other to the death for the prize of drinking out of a toilet? Who knows. But the point is – NASA is banking on someone still being here to launch a probe.

Exploring outer space. On some level as a species, when push comes to shove, it’s probably the only thing that really matters anymore. Reaching out to the true unknown to discover worlds beyond our own and possibilities we never imagined. It’s a better alternative to whatever the hell we’ve done to our own planet. So why not expand our horizons and hopefully start again without the same mistakes?

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The ambition and foresight held in the imagination of the scientists at NASA for the 2069 mission to Alpha Centauri is awesome. Like, I stand in awe of it. The necessary technology doesn’t exist in 2018 but they’ve already gone ahead and slotted in a date in the belief that once the calendar flips over to fifty-one years from now, we will have come up with a viable solution to make it happen. Will it be faster than light travel? A wormhole generator? Some kind of intergalactic Uber?

Whatever we eventually create, this faith in the importance of discovery and exploration of our tiny corner of the cosmic neighbourhood is almost as inspiring as the universe itself. To throw ourselves out into the darkness of space with very little concrete information about what we’ll find.

This kind of raw enthusiasm for everything that exists beyond our own planet is one of the main reasons everybody should play Elite Dangerous.

Now in its fifth year, Frontier’s rebirth of their 1984 space trading/combat game has proved to be an extraordinary slow burn. While recent trends and genres in video games have exploded, flared and fizzled out, Elite Dangerous has quietly been creating an entire galaxy. This isn’t hyperbole; there’s hundreds of billions of stars in this game and if you have the fuel and the time, you can visit them all.

As astounding as these numbers are, that’s not the draw of Elite. It’s the solitude within the environment of space. The quiet achievement that you feel when you deliver illegal cargo. The tentative excitement when you stumble across valuable salvage on the surface of a distant moon. The confidence you attain after a long drawn-out battle with a criminal pilot.

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In between these moments is where the true heart of Elite Dangerous beats. Much like the empty spans of black in our solar system, the majority of your time is spent maintaining flight patterns, inspecting menus, listening to news reports and mapping out where to go next. This becomes the deep, rewarding flow of this galaxy and within this minutiae, your achievements and satisfaction slowly compound until these activities transform from trivial to absolutely vital.

Within its unique multiplayer environment, it’s rare that you’ll see another person. They’re out there but as you’d expect, the galaxy is a big place and everyone is busy doing their own thing. But that’s not to say other players being present doesn’t make a difference. Quite the contrary. Through community goals and parts of the overall story, it would be essentially lifeless without this desolate version of a shared universe.

In the world of Elite Dangerous, it is currently the year 3305. Human society has expanded throughout the galaxy setting up thousands of space stations, planet-based colonies, trade routes and federated space. With enough credits in your pocket, you are loaned a small ship (called a Sidewinder), and you choose how exactly you’re going to carve out a niche for yourself in this monumental playground.

There’s an absurdly huge amount of background story and a perpetually evolving universe that pushes events forward but when it comes your own personal journey, it’s entirely up to you. You can become a bounty hunter. Earn thousands of credits as a courier between outposts or gather exploration data in unknown solar systems. You have no concrete direction however Elite Dangerous never feels directionless. You’re overwhelmingly alone, but never lonely. It’s just you, the entire galaxy and the decision about what to do next. A genuine and rewarding feeling of carving out a place for yourself in this massive void of outer space is ever present.

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While you’re deciding on your interstellar career path, the external events of Elite shape the universe. Via an galaxy-wide news report service (GalNet), you begin to learn the immense scale of the corporate interests, power struggles, warring factions (which you can help or hinder) and countless other growing interests throughout the corners of the game. The details that further submerge you into the atmosphere of this quietly colossal cosmos are seemingly never ending.

One single player can make a huge impact in Elite Dangerous but there’s no inherent responsibility in the game for anyone to do so. For example, a player by the name of DP Sayre was minding their own business on the Xbox One version of the game in January 2017. Flying their ship to another part of a galaxy, they suddenly lost control and was pulled out of hyperspace. All power to the ship was lost and DP Sayre was left drifting in an unknown sector.

Up until this point, other players had the technology to ‘interdict’ your ship and pull it from supercruise (faster-than-light travel) but interfering with someone’s flight pattern while they were in hyperspace (even faster than FTL) was simply off-limits. Nobody in the game had experienced this event before. The reason for this? First contact with aliens.

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This player had stumbled across the first ever Thargoid ship. It floated down, scanned their ship and disappeared again into the void of space. Power was soon restored and after they posted the encounter on Youtube, the Elite community went insane. Thargoids had been rumoured at the fringes of the Elite series but for this one single player to have the first encounter was staggering. The team at Frontier have been notoriously coy about how or why this particular section of space was chosen for this exchange. Which of course, lends itself to the further overall mystery about the future of Elite.

Since then, the presence of Thargoids in Elite Dangerous has expanded immeasurably. They’ve revealed more of their own planetary structures, spread to other areas and even attacked space stations. You can go searching for them or help out survivors of their attacks. Or neither.

Instead, you can search ruins, investigate derelict mega-ships that have been missing for hundreds of years, act as an intergalactic taxi driver for passengers willing to pay millions of credits for long journeys, hunt down pirates in lawless systems or simply park yourself in the rings of a planet and quietly mine asteroids for valuable minerals to save up for that sweet new ship. Or maybe you can join the Fuel Rats, a dedicated group of players that help pilots who have run out of fuel. If you’re stranded in space, enter your coordinates on the Fuel Rats website and a player will come refuel your ship and send you on your way.

But as I said, it’s all up to you.

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“The Spy”: Sacha Baron Cohen Limited Series Has Cover Blown by Netflix

Emmy Award nominee Sacha Baron Cohen (Showtime’s Who Is America?) is taking a break from flaming close-minded political and societal big-wigs for his next project, the upcoming Netflix limited series The Spy. Written and directed by Emmy-winner Gideon Raff (Homeland, Tyrant), the project is based on the life of legendary former Mossad agent Eli Cohen (Cohen).

As an undercover spy in Syria in the 60’s, Cohen was able to work his way into the world of power-hungry military leaders and their rich friends – earning a history-changing level of access to Syria’s biggest anti-Israel secret initiatives.

The Spy, set to hit the streaming service on September 6

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