The White Pill: The NASA UFO Conference
white pill #8 // earth's new quasi-moon, space robot workforces, all earth's water in a bubble, self-replicating machines, the nasa ufo conference, and more
Readers, it’s time to enjoy the eighth edition of the White Pill, Pirate Wires’ weekly roundup of evocative, fascinating developments in space, energy, engineering, computing, artificial intelligence, and medicine.
This Wednesday, NASA held a big press conference on UAP in D.C. Our recap of everything that went down there is the lead story. And as usual, we’ve got quite a bit more space news: a newly-discovered quasi-moon orbiting Earth, the possibility of beaming solar power from space, an advance toward human hibernation, new plans for SpaceX’s Starship, and a chart you’ll like.
In this White Pill we also discuss some really cool AI products that recently hit the market, to the bizarre chagrin of haters. And in addition to the White Pill Investment Index, where you’ll read about the most interesting projects that got funded this week, we go over how self-replicating machines could be the key to long-term civilizational survival, and several promising new medical advances.
Also: news in energy, engineering, and computing, like IBM’s plans to create a 100,000-qubit quantum computer, a carbon sequestration project in the Moroccan desert, and more. And at the end of the issue — as always — some Fun Stuff.
But first, some excellent news…
SpaceX plans another Starship launch for summer. After launchpad modifications and a six-engine static fire test in June, SpaceX will be ready to attempt another Starship launch later this summer, getting the US one step closer to the Science Victory. This time around, the company hopes to have a successful first stage, and to keep its concrete launch structure secure with water-cooled steel plates. Excellent news. (NASA Space Flight)
New leukemia chemotherapy technique may ultimately massively reduce side effects. Researchers have developed a technique that significantly reduces the accumulation of chemo drugs in vital organs, and thus could allow even the highest risk patients to be treated without suffering severe side effects. Using a “bispecific antibody,” they’re able to bind liposome-encapsulated chemo drugs directly to the surface of leukemia cells, thus preventing the drugs from attacking healthy cells. In mice, this approach lowered the accumulation of toxic chemo drugs in vital organs, and extended subject lifespan by up to four times. Excellent news. (Freethink)
Scientists record first X-ray of a single atom. The X-ray signals emitted by atoms are so weak that, until recently, the smallest amalgam of atoms observable by X-ray detectors was 10,000. To image materials at the atomic level, scientists have relied on instruments like electron scanning microscopes, which allow for single atom imaging, but are unable to identify what material a single atom is made of. Now, a new advance in X-ray detection technology known as synchrotron X-Ray scanning tunneling microscopy (SX-STM) has for the first time enabled both single-atom identification and chemical state measurement. Researchers expect SX-STM to spark a cascade of technological advances in fields such as quantum information and nanomedicine. Excellent news. (Phys.org)
Never in human history have more people been orbiting the Earth than right now. There are seventeen people in orbit around our home planet, going 18,000 miles per hour. (Space.com)
A newly discovered quasi-moon has been orbiting Earth since 100 BC. A space rock 50 feet in diameter called 2023 FW13 is only slightly influenced by Earth’s gravitational pull because it’s orbiting at a distance of nine million miles. Nonetheless, that slight pull was enough to turn the asteroid into a “quasi-satellite” around 100 BC — the century during which Julias Caesar was born — and ever since, it has circled the Earth during its annual journey around the Sun. But the cosmic bond won’t last forever. Scientists expect FW13 to start charting a new orbital trajectory around 3700 AD. (Live Science)
What about beaming solar power to Earth, from space? “A space solar power prototype was launched into orbit in January 2023 and scientists at Caltech are sharing that they have shown detectable power being beamed to Earth,” reads CalTech’s recent news release about their program Space Solar Power Project. Why not just use solar power collected here at home? (1) No clouds in space, so it’s ‘unlimited’ in comparison — and space-originating microwaves can penetrate clouds in Earth’s atmosphere without issue, (2) the technology could deliver power to areas without access to any power, and (3) we could beam it to a moon base and the ISS. Here’s a two-minute video on how it works. (CalTech)
Related: Japan aiming to beam solar power from space by 2025. After proving concept in 2015 by beaming “1.8 kilowatts of power, enough energy to power an electric kettle, more than 50 meters to a wireless receiver,” Japanese researchers are primed to beam solar power from space to receiver stations on Earth’s surface by mid-decade, using several small satellites to do the beaming. (Engadget)
Hibernation triggered in rodents via ultrasonic pulses. Researchers at Washington University in St. Louis successfully induced hibernation in rodents who, like humans, don’t naturally hibernate. Using ultrasonic pulses, the team stimulated rat brains to spur a drop in body temperature, a metabolic shift to burning only fats, and a 47 percent drop in heart rate. When the ultrasonic pulses were switched off, the rats woke up. The jump from rodents to humans is a big one, but still… interstellar space travel anyone?! (The Guardian)
Find a different take on human hibernation via meditation in White Pill Issue 3.
Surprising moon food suggested. Today, humans in space depend mostly on prepackaged food brought from Earth, which has a year-and-a-half shelf life. That’s not enough time to sustain humans for a long-term Moon colonization mission, let alone a trip to Mars. So in an effort to push beyond the constricting limits of space food systems, NASA launched its Deep Space Food Challenge in 2021, and one of the competing teams that’s moving to the final phase of the competition uses water and electricity to transform astronaut-exhaled CO2 into alcohol, which can then be fed to yeast, which in turn produce something akin to a protein shake. So yeah, astronaut breath smoothies… no one said it was going to be a luxury cruise… (MIT Technology Review)
In a first, NASA maps an exoplanet with the James Webb Space Telescope. 400 light years away, a gas giant called WASP-18, 10 times the size of Jupiter, completes a full orbit around its sun once every 23 hours. Observing the planet through the James Webb Space Telescope, scientists identified water vapor in its atmosphere and created a detailed temperature map of the planet — a first for JWST. The scientists also showed temperature differences of more than 1,000 degrees between the planet’s sun-facing and space-facing sides. (NASA)
Does the way our solar system cruises through the galaxy freak you out like it does me? Click the link to find out.
A quasar is currently going “goblin mode,” as the kids say, shooting out an X-ray beam 60,000 times hotter, and 100,000 billion times brighter than the Sun. (Space.com)
NASA’s TBIRD satellite broke the space-to-ground laser communication throughput record, transmitting two terabytes of data from orbit to Earth in a single five-minute flyover. This is a big improvement that will buff satellite-based research on e.g. Earth’s climate, high-resolution blackhole imaging, etc. (The Verge)
Watch SpaceX’s Dragon Capsule re-entering Earth’s atmosphere after a ten-day mission at the ISS. The capsule was carrying four astronauts; it splashed down safely in the Gulf of Mexico late Tuesday night. (Twitter)
In orbit around Mars, the European Space Agency’s ExoMars Orbiter sent an encoded message back to Earth in a ‘dry run’ for SETI. (seti.org)
UAE’s Space Agency will launch the MRB explorer in 2028, and by 2030, it will enter the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter. If successful, by 2034 it should be in position to drop a small lander onto the 30-mile-wide asteroid Justitia. (NYT)
Literally a million people knew about this before me, but NASA has a Twitter for exoplanets: @NASAExoplanets
The White Pill Investment Index: June 3
The White Pill Investment Index tracks investments in companies developing interesting, exciting, forward-thinking products. For last week’s deals, check out the previous edition of the White Pill.
This week in deals
Luxury hypercars — Drako Motors raises $100m from GV, Kleiner Perkins and Bessemer Venture Partners; Drako makes “the most powerful, quickest and fastest production hyper-luxury SUV in history,” according to its website.
A few more white pills
Chips — Lightmatter raises a $154m Series C from GV, Hewlett Packard Pathfinder, and Fidelity Management & Research to continue developing “a light-powered chip designed to speed up artificial intelligence driven computations by orders of magnitude.”
AI powered heavy equipment — SafeAI, a company working on technology to “accelerate the transition to autonomous construction and mining” by “retrofitting heavy vehicles with autonomous technology,” raises a $68m Series B.
Cyberpunk bikes — Land Energy, a company that makes electric motorcycles that are distinctly cyberpunk, raises a $22m Series A2 in a deal led by Ancora Holdings.
Investment in memes — Antimatter, an education-through-memes platform, raises $2m in a deal led by Version One Ventures. Balaji Srinivasan invested in Antimatter’s February 2021 seed round.
Moon power — Constanellis Aerospace, which is working on lunar-based power distribution hardware and services, raises nearly a $79m Series A.
Mineral exploration — Fleet Space raises a $50m Series C to continue developing satellite-based critical mineral discovery (as opposed to doing it like Daniel Plainview)
Neuroimmunity — Modulo.bio, which uses machine learning to find new treatments for neurodegenerative diseases raises $8m from Initialized Capital Management, Refactor Capital and Hawktail.
While this ‘lens-free camera’ doesn’t seem to need to be its own device (couldn’t it just be an iPhone app?), the concept itself is pretty evocative: generate imagery based on location coordinates and real-time local weather, both of which are seeds for generating text-to-image prompts, powered by Stability.ai. Above left is a real picture of the location that, above right, the lens-free camera generated an image of that same day. (@BjoernKarmann)
Generative AI expanding meme-verse frontiers. Adobe released a generative AI fill tool, and while I’m seeing some bizarre hostility to it on Twitter, it can do some pretty amazing stuff. For example, ST3U used it to modify memes — see below (inside the rectangles show the original memes).
At long last, Elon’s new pasta just dropped: quantum spaghetti. “Made from quantum ingredients, sourced from the multiverse,” with “Elon Musk’s interdimensional marinara,” this stuff looks pretty good. The fact that AI did the commercial is cool, too.
Lead story: what went down at NASA’s UAP press conference
Below the paywall: our lead story on NASA’s UAP press conference. Then: news in energy, engineering, and computing, like a geoengineering project in the Moroccan desert, and IBM’s plans for an insanely powerful quantum supercomputer. Also, a few medical advances that will make you say F yeah, and finally the Fun Stuff, such as a discussion of the fact that most Bronze Age iron was made from meteorites.