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Saturday, March 16, 2024

James Webb telescope confirms there is something seriously wrong with our understanding of the universe

James Webb telescope confirms there is something seriously wrong with our understanding of the universe

Illustration of the expansion of the Universe. Astronomers have used the James Webb and Hubble space telescopes to confirm one of the most troubling conundrums in all of physics — that the universe appears to be expanding at bafflingly different speeds depending on where we look.

This problem, known as the Hubble Tension, has the potential to alter or even upend cosmology altogether. In 2019, measurements by the Hubble Space Telescope confirmed the puzzle was real; in 2023, even more precise measurements from the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) cemented the discrepancy.

Now, a triple-check by both telescopes working together appears to have put the possibility of any measurement error to bed for good. The study, published February 6 in the Astrophysical Journal Letters, suggests that there may be something seriously wrong with our understanding of the universe.

Related: After 2 years in space, the James Webb telescope has broken cosmology. Can it be fixed?"With measurement errors negated, what remains is the real and exciting possibility we have misunderstood the universe," lead study author Adam Riess, professor of physics and astronomy at Johns Hopkins University, said in a statement.

Reiss, Saul Perlmutter and Brian P. Schmidt won the 2011 Nobel Prize in physicsfor their 1998 discovery of dark energy, the mysterious force behind the universe's accelerating expansion.

Currently, there are two "gold-standard" methods for figuring out the Hubble constant, a value that describes the expansion rate of the universe. The first involves poring over tiny fluctuations in the cosmic microwave background (CMB) — an ancient relic of the universe's first light produced just 380,000 years after the Big Bang.

Dozens of stars and galaxies glisten across deep space in this James Webb Space Telescope image of the El Gordo galaxy cluster

JWST's infrared cameras allow it to look at the universe in more precise detail than any telescope before it. (Image credit: NASA, ESA, CSA, J. Diego (Instituto de FĂ­sica de Cantabria), B. Frye (University of Arizona), P. Kamieneski (Arizona State University), T. Carleton (Arizona State University), and R. Windhorst (University of Arizona), A. Pagan (STScI), J. Summers (Arizona State University), J. D’Silva (University of Western Australia), A. Koekemoer (STScI), A. Robotham (University of Western Australia), and R. Windhorst (University of Arizona))

Between 2009 and 2013, astronomers mapped out this microwave fuzz using the European Space Agency's Planck satellite to infer a Hubble constant of roughly 46,200 mph per million light-years, or roughly 67 kilometers per second per megaparsec (km/s/Mpc).

The second method uses pulsating stars called Cepheid variables. Cepheid stars are dying, and their outer layers of helium gas grow and shrink as they absorb and release the star's radiation, making them periodically flicker like distant signal lamps.

As Cepheids get brighter, they pulsate more slowly, giving astronomers a means to measure their absolute brightness. By comparing this brightness to their observed brightness, astronomers can chain Cepheids into a "cosmic distance ladder" to peer ever deeper into the universe's past. With this ladder in place, astronomers can find a precise number for its expansion from how the Cepheids' light has been stretched out, or red-shifted.

Related: Mysterious 'unparticles' may be pushing the universe apart, new theoretical study suggests

But this is where the mystery begins. According to Cepheid variable measurements taken by Riess and his colleagues, the universe's expansion rate is around 74 km/s/Mpc: an impossibly high value when compared to Planck's measurements. Cosmology had been hurled into uncharted territory.

"We wouldn't call it a tension or problem, but rather a crisis," David Gross, a Nobel Prize-inning astronomer, said at a 2019 conference at the Kavli Institute for Theoretical Physics (KITP) in California.

Initially, some scientists thought that the disparity could be a result of a measurement error caused by the blending of Cepheids with other stars in Hubble's aperture. But in 2023, the researchers used the more accurate JWSTto confirm that, for the first few "rungs" of the cosmic ladder, their Hubble measurements were right. Nevertheless, the possibility of crowding further back in the universe's past remained.

To resolve this issue, Riess and his colleagues built on their previous measurements, observing 1,000 more Cepheid stars in five host galaxies as remote as 130 million light-years from Earth. After comparing their data to Hubble's, the astronomers confirmed their past measurements of the Hubble constant.

"We've now spanned the whole range of what Hubble observed, and we can rule out a measurement error as the cause of the Hubble Tension with very high confidence," Riess said. "Combining Webb and Hubble gives us the best of both worlds. We find that the Hubble measurements remain reliable as we climb farther along the cosmic distance ladder."

In other words: the tension at the heart of cosmology is here to stay.”

Wednesday, March 13, 2024

On "Quitting" YouTube

Malaysia Rises as Crucial Link in Chip Supply Chain - The New York Times

Malaysia Rises as Crucial Link in Chip Supply Chain

"U.S. and European companies looking to diversify from China are expanding around Southeast Asia, a sign of how geopolitics is reshaping tech manufacturing.

Workers inside a lab wearing protective clothing. The lighting makes the room appear yellow.
The European firm Osram was early to open shop in Penang, Malaysia.Jes Aznar for The New York Times

By Patricia Cohen

Reporting from Penang, Kulim and Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia and from Bangkok, Thailand.

Construction cranes still surround the brand-spanking new plant in Kulim’s industrial park in Malaysia. But inside, legions of workers hired by the Austrian tech giant AT&S are already gearing up to produce at full capacity by year’s end.

Outfitted in head-to-toe coveralls, with oversized safety glasses and hard hats, they’re reminiscent of the worker bees in the movie “Minions,” but color coded by function: Blue for maintenance. Green for vendors. Pink for janitors. White for operators.

AT&S is just one of a flood of European and American companies that have recently decided to move to or expand operations in Malaysia’s electrical and electronicsmanufacturing mecca.

The American chip giant Intel and the German corporation Infineon are each investing $7 billion. Nvidia, the world’s leading maker of chips powering artificial intelligence, is teaming up with the country’s utilities conglomerate to develop a $4.3 billion artificial intelligence cloud and supercomputer center. Texas Instruments, Ericsson, Bosch and Lam Research are all expanding in Malaysia.

The boom is evidence of how much geopolitical friction and competition are reshaping the globe’s economic landscape and driving multibillion-dollar investment decisions. As rivalries between the United States and China over cutting-edge technology simmer and trade restrictions pile up, companies — particularly those in crucial sectors like semiconductors and electric vehicles — are looking to strengthen their supply chains and production capabilities.

People walking inside a white factory.
AT&S, an Austrian chip maker whose largest plant is in China, started looking to diversify locations in 2020.Jes Aznar for The New York Times

AT&S had production sites in Austria, India, South Korea and China — its largest plant — when it started hunting for a new location.

“It was clear after 20 years of investment in China, we needed to diversify our footprint,” said Andreas Gerstenmayer, chief executive of AT&S. The company manufactures high-end printed circuit boards and substrates, which serve as the foundation for advanced electronic components that power artificial intelligence and supercomputers.

The company’s site search started in early 2020, just as warnings began to spread about a dangerous new coronavirus in China. AT&S scouted 30 different countries on three continents before settling on Malaysia.

Southeast Asia’s strategic position in the South China Sea and longstanding economic ties to China and the United States make the region an attractive place to set up shop. Nations like Thailand and Vietnam, AT&S’s second choice, are also aggressively courting semiconductor firms to expand, offering tax incentives and other lures.

But Malaysia has the advantage of a head start.

The country has been riding the tech wave since the 1970s when it energetically courted some of the world’s electrical and electronic superstars, like Intel and Litronix (now ams Osram, with headquarters in Austria and Germany). It created a free-trade zone on the island of Penang, offered tax holidays, and built industrial parks, warehouses and roads. Cheap labor was an additional draw, as was its large English-speaking population and a government supportive of foreign investment.

Vendors and trishaw drivers in Penang, where a free-trade zone has helped draw foreign companies. Jes Aznar for The New York Times

Malaysia’s history in the back end of making semiconductors was one of the primary draws, Mr. Gerstenmayer said.

“They are quite aware of what the needs of the semiconductor industry are,” he said. “And they have a well-developed ecosystem in the universities, in education, labor force, supply chain” and more. Support from the government was another attraction, he said.

Tengku Zafrul Aziz, Malaysia’s minister of investment, trade and industry, said foreign investment began to pick up 2019, driven by the widening use of semiconductors in everything from automobiles to medical devices. “There’s 5,000 chips in one car,” he said.

After the Covid-19 pandemic revealed devastating weaknesses in global supply chains, interest in Malaysia as an additional source soared.

That trend accelerated as great power conflicts bubbled over.

Both China and the United States moved to forge their own reliable semiconductor supply chains, in addition to supporting other critical sectors like renewable energy and electric vehicles.

“U.S. and European companies and even Chinese companies wanted to diversify out of China,” Mr. Zafrul Aziz said. China, too, is locating production facilities outside of the mainland, in part, some say, to sidestep U.S. sanctions. It’s a “China plus one” strategy.

Worries about Taiwan, the world’s largest producer of semiconductors, has further fueled investment in Malaysia, he said. The island is a source of growing friction between China, which maintains Taiwan is part of its territory, and the United States, which supports it politically.

Tech workers in Penang. Having so many tech companies in proximity has helped attract others.Jes Aznar for The New York Times

Malaysia is already the world’s sixth largest exporter of semiconductors, and packages 23 percent of all American chips.

“For a country of this size to be having that big an impact on the global semiconductor market is quite fantastic,” said David Lacey, director of advanced development and services at Osram, one of the world’s largest lighting companies.

Seated at a large conference table at the Sciences University of Malaysia on Penang, he rapidly pointed to the technology around the room. “There’s a TV, there are lights, there’s a projector, there are phones,” he said. “You can pretty much guarantee there is a Malaysia component somewhere.”

The proximity of so many tech companies also exerts a gravitational pull. In Penang and Kulim, which are connected by two long, snaking bridges, there are more than 300 companies.

“Everything is here,” said Eric Chan, a vice president and general manager at Intel in Malaysia. After a half century, that network and infrastructure are not easily duplicated.

Mr. Chan also mentioned the government’s crucial cooperation during the pandemic in keeping factories open.

Foreign direct investment was nearly $40 billion last year, more than twice the total generated in 2019.

“For a country of this size to be having that big an impact on the global semiconductor market is quite fantastic,” said David Lacey, an executive at Osram.Jes Aznar for The New York Times

Mario Lorenz, managing director in Malaysia for the German logistics company DHL Supply Chain, said “most of our big investments have happened in the last two years.”

During that time, the semiconductor sector has grown to dominate the company’s business in Malaysia. “We followed the trend,” he said.

Inside DHL Supply Chain’s newest global distribution center, Penang Logistics Hub No. 4, are bespoke orange and blue shelves specifically designed to handle the heavy, oversized crates used by a semiconductor company.

Four new supply chain facilities are in the works in Malaysia.

Malaysia’s track record has been mostly in the back end of the semiconductor supply chain — which includes packing, assembling and testing components — activities that traditionally have been considered less complex and of lower value.

But now the industry’s focus on packaging smaller chips — chiplets — more tightly together to increase computing power is increasing the value and technical complexity of those activities.

Intel is building its first overseas facility for advanced 3-D chip packaging in Malaysia. When you bring in cutting-edge technology there is a “ripple effect,” said AK Chong, a vice president and managing director of Intel in Malaysia. That development will attract dozens of new businesses and help advance the labor force’s entire skill set.

Such advancements will require a huge expansion of utilities like green energy, sanitation, water and a 5G digital infrastructure.

That’s a challenge for any country, particularly one whose history has been marred by a multibillion dollar corruption scandal involving its sovereign wealth fund. Even so, several company executives said they were confident in Malaysia role in the supply chain.

“They have projects to provide green energy by building up big solar farms,” Mr. Gerstenmayer of AT&S said. “Malaysia is on good path to becoming a hot spot in the electronics industry globally.”

Malaysia Rises as Crucial Link in Chip Supply Chain - The New York Times