CLOSE
Original image

Meet the Starless Planet That Floats Alone

Original image

Say hello to what may just be the loneliest planet in the universe. CFBDSIR2149—as researchers unromantically refer to this orphan world—doesn't have a traditional solar system to call its own, and instead floats through the galaxy untethered to a larger sun-like body. According to a new report in the journal Astronomy and Astrophysics, its existence is making astrophysicists rethink what they knew about starless planets, which may be more common than previously believed. Here's what you should know about this parent-less object:

What's the planet like?

It's titanic—about four to seven times as massive as Jupiter. The free-floating object "cruises unbound through space relatively close to Earth" at roughly 130 light-years away, says Mike Wall at Space.com. Astronomers caught their first glimpse of CFBDSIR2149 ("2149" for short) while hunting for distant brown dwarf stars, or "failed stars" that never quite become massive enough to kick-start thermonuclear reactions at their cores. It's estimated that the lonely 2149 is between 50 and 120 million years old with a surface temperature of 752 degrees Fahrenheit (relatively cool compared to real stars). What's more: It may be like a lost child following a group of unfamiliar companions.

What does that mean?

The object was pinpointed moving through space among a small group of young stars called the AB Doradus Moving Group star cluster, says Irene Klotz at Discovery News. 2149 stood out among these stars because of its relatively cool temperature. Although it isn't orbiting any of them, there's a 90 percent probability that the oddball planet is "indeed associated with the group," says Space.com's Wall, since all the stars appear to be roughly the same age as it. There's still a small chance that 2149 is an unusually small brown dwarf star, but that means it would have to be billions of years older than its present company. That's why astronomers are pretty sure it's a young planet and not an old, failed star.

How did it end up orphaned?

Scientists aren't sure. Either it formed away from a parent star or was booted out from its original system by gravitational forces. For example, 2149 may have formed originally as part of a solar system, says Michael D. Lemonick at TIME, before it was "sling-shotted out in a close encounter with another planet."

Are there many others like it?

Not at all. A few orphan worlds were discovered in star-forming regions in the constellation Orion, but "this is the first time we have found one outside the cocoon of star-forming regions in the field," says astrophysicist Étienne Artigau at the University of Montreal, who co-discovered the planet. Now scientists are hoping to study the relatively close anomaly more intently — astronomers have already detected the signature of methane and water vapor in 2149's atmosphere. A separate study from 2011 found that if floating planets do in fact support life, they may act as "stepping stones" to spread life around the galaxy.

Sources: Discovery NewsNew ScientistSpace.comTIME

Original image
iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
technology
arrow
Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
May 21, 2017
Original image
iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva

Jacques Mattheij made a small, but awesome, mistake. He went on eBay one evening and bid on a bunch of bulk LEGO brick auctions, then went to sleep. Upon waking, he discovered that he was the high bidder on many, and was now the proud owner of two tons of LEGO bricks. (This is about 4400 pounds.) He wrote, "[L]esson 1: if you win almost all bids you are bidding too high."

Mattheij had noticed that bulk, unsorted bricks sell for something like €10/kilogram, whereas sets are roughly €40/kg and rare parts go for up to €100/kg. Much of the value of the bricks is in their sorting. If he could reduce the entropy of these bins of unsorted bricks, he could make a tidy profit. While many people do this work by hand, the problem is enormous—just the kind of challenge for a computer. Mattheij writes:

There are 38000+ shapes and there are 100+ possible shades of color (you can roughly tell how old someone is by asking them what lego colors they remember from their youth).

In the following months, Mattheij built a proof-of-concept sorting system using, of course, LEGO. He broke the problem down into a series of sub-problems (including "feeding LEGO reliably from a hopper is surprisingly hard," one of those facts of nature that will stymie even the best system design). After tinkering with the prototype at length, he expanded the system to a surprisingly complex system of conveyer belts (powered by a home treadmill), various pieces of cabinetry, and "copious quantities of crazy glue."

Here's a video showing the current system running at low speed:

The key part of the system was running the bricks past a camera paired with a computer running a neural net-based image classifier. That allows the computer (when sufficiently trained on brick images) to recognize bricks and thus categorize them by color, shape, or other parameters. Remember that as bricks pass by, they can be in any orientation, can be dirty, can even be stuck to other pieces. So having a flexible software system is key to recognizing—in a fraction of a second—what a given brick is, in order to sort it out. When a match is found, a jet of compressed air pops the piece off the conveyer belt and into a waiting bin.

After much experimentation, Mattheij rewrote the software (several times in fact) to accomplish a variety of basic tasks. At its core, the system takes images from a webcam and feeds them to a neural network to do the classification. Of course, the neural net needs to be "trained" by showing it lots of images, and telling it what those images represent. Mattheij's breakthrough was allowing the machine to effectively train itself, with guidance: Running pieces through allows the system to take its own photos, make a guess, and build on that guess. As long as Mattheij corrects the incorrect guesses, he ends up with a decent (and self-reinforcing) corpus of training data. As the machine continues running, it can rack up more training, allowing it to recognize a broad variety of pieces on the fly.

Here's another video, focusing on how the pieces move on conveyer belts (running at slow speed so puny humans can follow). You can also see the air jets in action:

In an email interview, Mattheij told Mental Floss that the system currently sorts LEGO bricks into more than 50 categories. It can also be run in a color-sorting mode to bin the parts across 12 color groups. (Thus at present you'd likely do a two-pass sort on the bricks: once for shape, then a separate pass for color.) He continues to refine the system, with a focus on making its recognition abilities faster. At some point down the line, he plans to make the software portion open source. You're on your own as far as building conveyer belts, bins, and so forth.

Check out Mattheij's writeup in two parts for more information. It starts with an overview of the story, followed up with a deep dive on the software. He's also tweeting about the project (among other things). And if you look around a bit, you'll find bulk LEGO brick auctions online—it's definitely a thing!

Original image
Opening Ceremony
fun
arrow
These $425 Jeans Can Turn Into Jorts
May 19, 2017
Original image
Opening Ceremony

Modular clothing used to consist of something simple, like a reversible jacket. Today, it’s a $425 pair of detachable jeans.

Apparel retailer Opening Ceremony recently debuted a pair of “2 in 1 Y/Project” trousers that look fairly peculiar. The legs are held to the crotch by a pair of loops, creating a disjointed C-3PO effect. Undo the loops and you can now remove the legs entirely, leaving a pair of jean shorts in their wake. The result goes from this:

501069-OpeningCeremony2.jpg

Opening Ceremony

To this:

501069-OpeningCeremony3.jpg

Opening Ceremony

The company also offers a slightly different cut with button tabs in black for $460. If these aren’t audacious enough for you, the Y/Project line includes jumpsuits with removable legs and garter-equipped jeans.

[h/t Mashable]

SECTIONS
BIG QUESTIONS
BIG QUESTIONS
JOB SECRETS
QUIZZES
WORLD WAR 1
SMART SHOPPING
STONES, BONES, & WRECKS
#TBT
THE PRESIDENTS
WORDS
RETROBITUARIES