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Saturday, January 06, 2024

NASA Spacecraft Takes New Images of Jupiter’s Volcanic Moon - The New York Times

New Images of Jupiter’s Moon Io Capture Infernal Volcanic Landscape

"Juno, a NASA mission designed to study Jupiter’s origins, sent back new views of the most eruptive world in the solar system.

A view of the entire globe of the moon Io, which is reddish-orangish-brown and pockmarked with volcanoes on its surface. Half of it is cached in shadow.
A new image of Jupiter’s moon Io captured by the Juno spacecraft on Dec. 30.NASA/SwRI/MSSS

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A NASA spacecraft swooped past Io, one of Jupiter’s largest moons and the most volcanically active world in our solar system. The spacecraft, the Juno orbiter, made its closest flyby yet of Io’s turbulent landscape, and sent back snapshots speckled with sharp cliffs, edgy mountain peaks, lakes of pooled lava and even a volcanic plume.

“I was in awe,” said Scott Bolton, a physicist at the Southwest Research Institute and principal investigator of the Juno mission. Dr. Bolton noted how “incredibly colorful” Io is — tinted in orangy browns and yellows because of the presence of sulfur and flowing lava. He likened the moon to a pepperoni pizza.

Studying these features can help scientists figure out what drives Io’s volcanoes, some of which shoot lava dozens of miles into space, and confirm that this activity comes from an ocean of magma hidden beneath the moon’s crust. Deciphering the secrets of the volcanoes may eventually reveal the influence Jupiter has over its eruptions, which could be a clue to how the gas giant and its satellites formed.

The Juno spacecraft, designed to study the origin and evolution of Jupiter, arrived at the planet in 2016. NASA extended the mission in 2021, and the orbiter has since captured photos of the Jovian moons Ganymede, Europa and most recently Io.

It’s not the first time a NASA spacecraft has flown by Io. In 1979, Voyager 1 discovered Io was volcanically active during its journey to interstellar space. Two decades later, NASA’s Galileo mission sent back what Dr. Bolton calls “postage stamps,” or close-ups of specific features on Io’s surface.

Juno conducted a number of more distant observations of Io in recent years. Its latest flyby occurred on Dec. 30, when the spacecraft came within 932 miles of the moon. The images captured during this visit were made with an instrument called JunoCam and are in visible wavelengths. They are some of the highest resolution views of Io’s global structure. The mission’s managers shared six images of Io on the mission’s website, and members of the public have since uploaded digitally enhanced versions that highlight features on Io’s surface.

Dr. Bolton said he was struck by the sharpness of the edges on some of the mountains in the images, which left him pondering how they get shaped and what it would be like to visit such a place.

“I wonder what it’s like to hike there,” he said, “or to snowboard off that peak.”

Mission scientists are already at work analyzing these images, searching for differences across Io’s surface to learn how often its volcanoes erupt, how bright and hot those eruptions are and how the resulting lava flows. According to Dr. Bolton, the team will also compare Juno’s images to older views of the Jovian moon to determine what has changed on Io over a variety of encounters.

And they’ll get a second set of data to work with in a month, when Juno completes another close flyby of the explosive world on Feb. 3.:

NASA Spacecraft Takes New Images of Jupiter’s Volcanic Moon - The New York Times

Friday, January 05, 2024

A girl was allegedly raped in the metaverse. Is this the beginning of a dark new future? | Nancy Jo Sales | The Guardian

A girl was allegedly raped in the metaverse. Is this the beginning of a dark new future? | Nancy Jo Sales

"The cheerful language with which tech companies describe their platforms is often in stark contrast to the dark possibilities lurking within them. Meta, for example, describes its virtual world, the metaverse, as “the next evolution in social connection and the successor to the mobile internet”, a place where “virtual reality lets you explore new worlds and shared experiences”. But for a young girl in the UK recently, that “shared experience” was an alleged gang rape perpetrated by several adult men.

British police are investigating the sexual assault of the girl, identified only as being under the age of 16, in what is said to be the first investigation of its kind in the UK. The girl was reportedly wearing a virtual reality headset and playing an immersive game in the metaverse when her avatar was attacked.

Was this really rape? some have asked. The comments on an Instagram post for a storyabout the case in the New York Post were characteristically skeptical: “Couldn’t she have just turned it off?” “Can we focus on real-life crime please?” “I was killed in [the war video game Call of Duty],” one person said sarcastically: “Been waiting for my killer to be brought to justice.”

The difference, of course, is that while Call of Duty players can expect to be virtually killed sometimes as part of the game, the girl had no reason to expect that she would be raped. It isn’t yet known what game she was playing when the alleged assault occurred, but obviously there isn’t an online game where the goal for adult players is to rape children. The fact that they are able to in the metaverse is the issue at the heart of this case, which has attracted international attention.

The question of whether virtual rape is “really rape” goes back to at least 1993, when the Village Voice published an article by Julian Dibbell about “a rape in cyberspace”. Dibbell’s piece reported on how the people behind avatars that were sexually assaulted in a virtual community felt emotions similar to those of victims of physical rape.

As did the girl whose avatar was attacked in the metaverse, according to a senior police officer familiar with the case; he told the Daily Mail: “There is an emotional and psychological impact on the victim that is longer-term than any physical injuries.” In addition, the immersive quality of the metaverse experience makes it all the more difficult for a child, especially, to distinguish between what’s real and what is make-believe.

So while it is necessary for the police to investigate this case – with the courts to decide on the appropriate punishment for the alleged offenders – it is equally important for Meta to be held accountable.

Meta has a notoriously bad track record when it comes to protecting children and teenagers. In 2021, the whistleblower Frances Haugen revealed that Facebook’s own internal research showed how using Instagram (which the company owns) adversely affects teen girls’ confidence and body image. In October of last year, a bipartisan coalition of 33 attorneys general filed a lawsuit against Meta in California, alleging that Facebook and Instagram are responsible for a “national youth mental health crisis”.

If gone unchecked, sex crimes in the metaverse, against both children and adults, will become more common. A police investigator told the Daily Mail that the metaverse is already “rife” with sexual offenses. The Meta game Horizon Worlds has reportedly been the site of several sexual assaults. In 2022, the psychotherapist Nina Jane Patel, who does research on the metaverse, wrote of the “surreal nightmare” of being gang-raped in Horizon Venues (now Horizon Worlds). “Unlike in the physical world, there’s a lack of clear and enforceable rules in the metaverse,” said Patel.

A spokesman for Meta has said that users in the metaverse have “an automatic protection called personal boundary, which keeps people you don’t know a few feet away from you”. But apparently this feature isn’t doing enough to protect users from harm. This recent rape of a girl in the metaverse will be an important test for the UK’s new Online Safety Bill, a year-old set of laws to protect children and adults online. Some experts have expressed concerns that the bill doesn’t go far enough, focusing more on the content users publish rather than their actions.

The next generation of kids will spend an estimated 10 years in virtual reality over the course of their lifetimes – close to three hours a day – new research suggests. It may be that lawmakers need to add further protections to keep them safe. In the meantime, Meta could surprise everyone by stepping up and making the metaverse a place that lives up to its upbeat marketing.

  • Nancy Jo Sales is the author, most recently, of Nothing Personal: My Secret Life in the Dating App Inferno"

A girl was allegedly raped in the metaverse. Is this the beginning of a dark new future? | Nancy Jo Sales | The Guardian