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Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

6 Beautiful Photos of Impact Craters—Where Space Rocks Met Earth

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Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

There are 188 confirmed impact sites on Earth that we know about. There are thousands on the Moon. This isn't because the Earth is lucky but because weather, water, and plate tectonics have erased much of the evidence of cratering on Earth. If for no other reason, then, the ones we know about are exciting indeed, and can tell us an awful lot about the early solar system. Here are six notable impact craters from around the world.

1. MANICOUAGAN CRATER

Of all the craters in the world, this is the one astronauts might have the easiest time spotting from space. (Meanwhile, you can see it above.) The next time you're on the International Space Station, keep a close eye on Quebec, where this crater was formed during the Triassic. The crater has a concentric structure which was caused by shock waves from the impact.

2. CHICXULUB

About 66 million years ago, a 6-mile fireball slammed into the Earth, creating a 110-mile-diameter crater. Today, Chicxulub is buried beneath the Yucatan Peninsula. It's not the biggest impact crater in North America, but we owe this one a lot for ridding the world of dinosaurs, which made room for mammals like us.

3. EL'GYGYTGYN

NASA

El’gygytgyn might sound like the name of Cthulhu's kid brother, but it's actually an impact crater on the Chukotka peninsula in Russia. An asteroid 1 kilometer across smacked the Earth around 3.6 million years ago, creating a crater, and eventually, a giant lake within it. Paleoclimatologists love this thing because it's located in the Arctic, where climate data is hard to come by. Lake sediment, on the other hand, is rich with climate data, meaning that scientists can use the crater lake to study the climate of Earth's distant past, which may enlighten us about the future.

4. LAKE BOSUMTWI CRATER

Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Lake Bosumtwi in the Ashanti Region of Ghana is the result of an impact crater formed during the Pleistocene. The crater has not been forthcoming with information; it is surrounded by a dense rainforest that conceals shock features caused by impact. Scientists have drilled into the lake floor to get the shock data necessary to work out what happened there a million years ago (aside from a giant rock crashing into the Earth, that is).

5. POPIGAI CRATER

Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Here's all you really need to know about the Popigai crater: 35 million years ago, a fireball (technically a bolide, or extremely bright meteor) between 3 and 5 miles in diameter crashed into an area in Siberia that was rich with graphite. So great was the impact that it instantly turned that graphite into diamonds. What kind of conditions could cause such a thing? According to Geology.com, "A hypervelocity impact of a 5-kilometer-wide object would produce an energy burst equivalent to millions of nuclear weapons and temperatures hotter than the Sun's surface."

6. WOLFE CREEK CRATER

Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

The next time you're in western Australia, you can visit Wolfe Creek Crater at the Wolfe Creek Meteorite Crater National Park. The half-mile-diameter crater was discovered by Europeans in 1947 during an overflight, though the Aborigines long knew about it, calling it Kandimalal and explaining it as the spot from which a rainbow snake emerged. It is the second-largest crater in the world to have left behind meteorite fragments.

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

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Nick Briggs/Comic Relief
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What Happened to Jamie and Aurelia From Love Actually?
May 26, 2017
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Nick Briggs/Comic Relief

Fans of the romantic-comedy Love Actually recently got a bonus reunion in the form of Red Nose Day Actually, a short charity special that gave audiences a peek at where their favorite characters ended up almost 15 years later.

One of the most improbable pairings from the original film was between Jamie (Colin Firth) and Aurelia (Lúcia Moniz), who fell in love despite almost no shared vocabulary. Jamie is English, and Aurelia is Portuguese, and they know just enough of each other’s native tongues for Jamie to propose and Aurelia to accept.

A decade and a half on, they have both improved their knowledge of each other’s languages—if not perfectly, in Jamie’s case. But apparently, their love is much stronger than his grasp on Portuguese grammar, because they’ve got three bilingual kids and another on the way. (And still enjoy having important romantic moments in the car.)

In 2015, Love Actually script editor Emma Freud revealed via Twitter what happened between Karen and Harry (Emma Thompson and Alan Rickman, who passed away last year). Most of the other couples get happy endings in the short—even if Hugh Grant's character hasn't gotten any better at dancing.

[h/t TV Guide]

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