Quantum Cryptography System Breaks Daylight Distance Record

An illustration of satellites orbiting earth and connected to each other by beams and arcs of various colors

Satellites can now set up quantum communications links through the air during the day instead of just at night, potentially helping a nigh-unhackable space-based quantum Internet to operate 24/7, a new study from Chinese scientists finds.

Quantum cryptography exploits the quantum properties of particles such as photons to help encrypt and decrypt messages in a theoretically unhackable way. Scientists worldwide are now endeavoring to develop satellite-based quantum communications networks for a global real-time quantum Internet.

However, prior experiments with long-distance quantum communications links through the air were mostly conducted at night because sunlight serves as a source of noise. Previously, “the maximum range for daytime free-space quantum communication was 10 kilometers,” says study co-senior author Qiang Zhang, a quantum physicist at the University of Science and Technology of China, in Shanghai.

Now researchers led by quantum physicist Jian-Wei Pan at the University of Science and Technology of China, at Hefei, have successfully established 53-kilometer quantum cryptography links during the day between two ground stations. This research suggests that such links could work between a satellite and either a ground station or another satellite, they say.

To overcome interference from sunlight, the researchers switched from the roughly 700- to 900-nanometer wavelengths of light used in all prior day-time free-space experiments to roughly 1,550 nm. The sun is about one-fifth as bright at 1,550 nm as it is at 800 nm, and 1,550-nm light can also pass through Earth’s atmosphere with virtually no interference. Moreover, this wavelength is also currently widely used in telecommunications, making it more compatible with existing networks.

Previous research was reluctant to use 1,550-nm light because of a lack of good commercial single-photon detectors capable of working at this wavelength. But the Shanghai group developed a compact single-photon detector for 1,550-nm light that could work at room temperature. Moreover, the scientists developed a receiver that needed less than one tenth of the field of view that receivers for nighttime quantum communications links usually need to work. This limited the amount of noise from stray light by a factor of several hundred.

In experiments, the scientists repeatedly established quantum communications links across Qinghai Lake, the biggest lake in China, from 3:30 p.m. to 5 p.m. local time on several sunny days, achieving transmission rates of 20 to 400 bits per second. Furthermore, they could establish these links despite roughly 48 decibels of loss in their communications channel, which is more than the roughly 40 to 45 dB of loss typically seen in communications channels between satellites and the ground and between low-Earth-orbit satellites, Zhang says. In comparison, previous daytime free-space quantum communications experiments could accommodate roughly only 20 dB of noise.

The researchers note that their experiments were performed in good weather, and that quantum communication is currently not possible in bad weather with today’s technology. Still, they note that bad weather is a problem only for ground-to-space links, and that it would not pose a problem for links between satellites.

In the future, the researchers expect to boost transmission rates and distance using better single-photon detectors, perhaps superconducting ones. They may also seek to exploit the quantum phenomenon known as entanglement to carry out more sophisticated forms of quantum cryptography, although this will require generating very bright sources of entangled photons that can operate in a narrow band of wavelengths, Zhang says.

Unhackable Quantum Networks Take to Space

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The dream of a space-based, nigh-unhackable quantum Internet may now be closer to reality, thanks to new experiments with Chinese and European satellites.

Quantum physics makes possible a strange phenomenon known as entanglement. Essentially, two or more particles such as photons that get linked or “entangled” can, in theory, influence each other simultaneously no matter how far apart they are. Entanglement is essential to the workings of quantum computers, the networks that would connect them, and the most sophisticated kinds of quantum cryptography—a theoretically unhackable means of information exchange.

Back in 2012, Pan Jianwei, a quantum physicist at the University of Science and Technology of China at Hefei, and his colleagues set the distance record for quantum entanglement. A particle on one side of China’s Qinghai Lake influenced one on the other side, 101.8 kilometers away. However, entanglement gets easily disrupted by interference from the environment, and this fragility has stymied efforts at greater distance records on Earth.

Now, Pan and his colleagues have set a new record for entanglement by using a satellite to connect sites on Earth separated by up to 1,203 km. The main advantage of a space-based approach is that most of the interference that entangled photons face occurs in the 10 km or so of atmosphere closest to Earth’s surface. Above that, the photons encounter virtually no problems, the researchers say.

The researchers launched the quantum science experiment satellite (nicknamed Micius) from Jiuquan, China, in 2016. It orbits the planet at a speed of roughly 28,800 kilometers per hour and an altitude of roughly 500 km. “Through ground-based feasibility studies, we gradually developed the necessary toolbox for the quantum science satellite,” Pan says.

The experiments involved communications between Micius and three ground stations across China. Beacon lasers on both the transmitters and receivers helped them lock onto each other.

Micius generated entangled pairs of photons and then split them up, beaming the members of a pair to separate ground stations. The distance between the satellite and the ground stations varied from 500 to 2,000 km.

The record distance involved photons beamed from Micius to stations in the cities of Delingha and Lijiang. The experiments transmitted entangled photons with a 1017 greater efficiency than the best optical fibers can achieve. “We have finally sent entanglement into space and established a much, much larger quantum optics laboratory, which provides us a new platform for quantum networks as well as for probing the interaction of quantum mechanics with gravity,” Pan says.

Although these experiments generated roughly 5.9 million entangled pairs of photons every second, the researchers were able to detect only about one pair per second. Pan’s team expects a thousandfold improvement in this rate “in the next five years,” he says. He also notes that the current transmission rate for entangled pairs is close to what’s necessary to provide quantum cryptography for very brief texts; five years from now, networks of satellites and ground stations could successfully transmit at megahertz rates.

In another study, researchers in Germany found they could measure the quantum features of laser signals transmitted by a satellite a record 38,600 km away. These findings suggest that satellites could play a role in quantum networks that use less sophisticated forms of quantum cryptography that do not rely on entanglement.

Quantum physicist Christoph Marquardt from the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Light, in Erlangen, Germany, and his colleagues experimented with the Alphasat I-XL satellite, which is in geostationary orbit. Alphasat used laser signals to communicate with a ground station at the Teide Observatory in Tenerife, Spain.

Marquardt notes that the laser communications technology they experimented with is already used commercially in space. That, combined with the success of his and his colleagues’ experiments, suggests that quantum networks that do not rely on entanglement could be set up “as soon as five years from now,” he says.

Marquardt acknowledges that entanglement enables more-sophisticated strategies for foiling eavesdroppers. But “our approach only needs relatively small upgrades to proven technology,” he says.

The German scientists are now working with satellite telecommunications company Tesat-Spacecom and others to design a quantum network. Though it will be based on hardware already employed in space, it will require upgrades such as adding a quantum random number generator, Marquardt says.

Capsule Full of Space Station Junk Makes Fiery Re-Entry

A capsule filled with space station trash bit the cosmic dust Wednesday with a keenly interested scientific audience.

The cargo carrier broke apart and burned up while re-entering Earth’s atmosphere high above the Pacific. Researchers gathered information on the breakup from sensors it carried, in hopes that the data will improve future spacecraft.

Capsule Full of Space Station Junk Makes Fiery Re-Entry

Built by Virginia-based Orbital ATK Inc., the capsule had been cut loose from the International Space Station last week. It followed its own orbit until it was steered into the atmosphere, where it was consumed by the heat of re-entry.

The vessel had been the scene of another fiery experiment shortly after it left the space station. A large blaze deliberately was ignited in it so Nasa could study the spread of flames in weightlessness. Like the re-entry test, this, too, was aimed at enhancing spacecraft safety.

The so-called “Cygnus” vessel was named the S.S. Rick Husband, after the commander of the doomed space shuttle Columbia. Husband and six other astronauts were killed as Columbia broke apart during re-entry in 2003, the result of launch damage.

Nasa is paying Orbital ATK, as well as SpaceX, to stockpile the space station. SpaceX has another station supply run coming up next month, while Orbital ATK plans to resume launches from Wallops Island, Virginia, in August. Orbital ATK temporarily moved its Cygnus flights to Cape Canaveral, Florida, after its Antares rocket exploded during liftoff from Wallops Island in 2014.

This latest Cygnus was launched to the space station from Florida back in March, using another company’s rocket. Once the supplies were unloaded, the capsule was filled with more than 4,000 pounds of garbage and discarded equipment for disposal. It had delivered twice that much.

New 3D-Printed Polymer Can Convert Methane Into Methanol

Scientists have combined 3D printed polymers with methane-eating bacteria to create the first reactor that can produce methanol from the greenhouse gas, an advance that may lead to a more efficient energy production.

The researchers removed enzymes from methanotrophs, bacteria that eat methane, and mixed them with polymers that they printed or molded into innovative reactors.

New 3D-Printed Polymer Can Convert Methane Into Methanol: Study

“Remarkably, the enzymes retain up to 100 percent activity in the polymer,” said Sarah Baker, from the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in the US.

“The printed enzyme-embedded polymer is highly flexible for future development and should be useful in a wide range of applications, especially those involving gas-liquid reactions,” Baker said.

Advances in oil and gas extraction techniques have made vast new stores of natural gas, composed primarily of methane, available.

A large volume of methane is leaked, vented or flared during these operations, partly because the gas is difficult to store and transport compared to more-valuable liquid fuels.

Methane emissions also contribute about one-third of current net global warming potential, primarily from these and other distributed sources such as agriculture and landfills.

Current industrial technologies to convert methane to more valuable products, like steam reformation, operate at high temperature and pressure, require a large number of unit operations and yield a range of products.

The only known catalyst to convert methane to methanol under ambient conditions with high efficiency is the enzyme methane monooxygenase (MMO), researchers said.

The reaction can be carried out by methanotrophs that contain the enzyme, but this approach inevitably requires energy for upkeep and metabolism of the organisms.

Instead, the team separated the enzymes from the organism and used the enzymes directly.

The team found that isolated enzymes offer the promise of highly controlled reactions at ambient conditions with higher conversion efficiency and greater flexibility.

“Up to now, most industrial bioreactors are stirred tanks, which are inefficient for gas-liquid reactions,” said Joshuah Stolaroff, an environmental scientist on the team.

“The concept of printing enzymes into a robust polymer structure opens the door for new kinds of reactors with much higher throughput and lower energy use,” said Stolaroff.

The team found that the 3D-printed polymer could be reused over many cycles and used in higher concentrations than possible with the conventional approach of the enzyme dispersed in solution.

The research was published in the journal Nature Communications.

Soon, a botanical drug to cure dengue!

New Delhi: In what could be termed as a major advance in dengue treatment, scientists from India claimed to have come up with a novel botanical drug which will cure the world’s fastest growing mosquito-borne disease.

Sun Pharma, India’s largest pharmaceutical company, has signed an agreement with the International Centre for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology (ICGEB) on Wednesday to develop a novel plant-based drug to combat the dengue that afflicts at least 100,000 and kills at least 200 in India anually.

The drug, Cipa, is being developed from a plant called Cissampelos pariera, also known as abuta or laghupatha. Recently, they reported the potency of this plant in treating the disease.

Sun Pharma will develop Cipa, scientifically called Cissampelos Pareira, by following a drug registration process similar to that for a new chemical entity, consisting of all required in vitro, in vivo, pre-clinical and clinical studies meeting regulatory standards in India and worldwide, a joint statement issued by Sun Pharma and ICGEB said.

According to Navin Khanna, senior scientist at ICGEB, New Delhi and the group leader of the project, atleast 10 scientist have been working on this for at least 10 years now, studying at least 10 species of plants. He also added that each of the plants showed the characteristics to fight the symptoms of dengue.

It is said that the drug has completed pre-clinical work, through all phases of clinical studies.

Dengue virus is transmitted by female mosquitoes mainly of the species Aedes aegypti.

Dengue currently threatens about half the world’s population or almost 4 billion people, which leads to an estimated 60-100 million symptomatic dengue cases every year.

With no specific dengue therapeutics and prevention being currently available, the development is being seen as a major advance in dengue treatment.

One-sixth of Brazil’s microcephaly cases linked to Zika

Brasilia: Microcephaly cases in Brazil have increased to 1,271, and almost one-sixth are linked to the Zika virus.

 

Brazilian health ministry on Wednesday said between October 22 and April 30 out of 1,271 microcephaly cases 203 tested positive for the Zika virus.

The numbers were expected to further rise as the investigation was still ongoing, Xinhua news agency reported.

During the period, 267 babies died suspectedly from microcephaly or other abnormalities with the central nervous system during pregnancy or after labour.

The Zika virus, like dengue fever and chikungunya, is spread by the “Aedes aegypti” mosquito which is common in the Latin American and Caribbean region.

Brazil, one of the worst affected countries, registered the largest number of microphaly in newborns, supposedly related to the virus.

The Brazilian government declared a state of health emergency in November 2015.

World Health Organisation (WHO) declared a health emergency of international concern on February 1, 2016, due to the rapid spread of Zika.

Why Solar-Powered Planes Are Still a Long Way From Carrying Passengers

Swiss pilot Bertrand Piccard made headlines on Saturday when he glided a solar-powered plane onto Moffett Airfield in California after a three-day journey across the Pacific Ocean. It’s the most recent stop in an around-the-world trip that began in Abu Dhabi last spring and is intended to raise awareness about the importance of reducing carbon emissions through the use of clean energy.

The plane itself, “Solar Impulse 2,” is a true zero-fuel aircraft, powered by more than 17,000 solar cells. It’s designed to carry just one pilot – Piccard and his colleague André Borschberg have been tag-teaming the journey around the world – and has the wingspan of a jumbo jet, although it weighs only two tons.

Why Solar-Powered Planes Are Still a Long Way From Carrying Passengers

The daring trans-Pacific flight has drawn global interest to the concept of electric planes, which have existed in various forms for several decades now. Some designs rely on solar cells, while others use various types of batteries, but the overall goal is the same: to achieve flight with minimal or no fuel burning.

Electric aircraft are among the more ambitious technologies being researched around the world in an effort to reduce carbon emissions from aviation. It’s a cause that’s rapidly gaining international attention. Aviation is currently responsible for about 1 percent of all the world’s carbon emissions – and as air traffic is expected to experience rapid growth in the coming decades, that proportion could quickly climb if no steps are taken to improve the fuel efficiency of aircraft. Some estimates have suggested that by 2020, emissions from aviation could be 70 percent higher than they were in 2005.

To that end, the UN’s International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) proposed the world’s first carbon dioxide emissions standards for aircraft back in February. And while some environmentalists have argued that the proposal did not go far enough, the action has placed aircraft emissions on the international radar – and scientists around the world are researching ways to reduce them.

Electric flight, however, may be among the technologies that are furthest from becoming practical. So far, most of the electric planes that have achieved flight have only been able to accommodate one or two people, and it will likely be at least a decade or two before the technology will progress to the point that it’s commercially viable.

“The big challenge is the batteries,” said David Zingg, director of the University of Toronto’s Institute for Aerospace Studies. For electric planes to become competitive, their power sources need to be able to store more energy per unit mass – otherwise, their speed and weight capacities will remain impractically low.

Angry Birds Action! Brings Angry Birds to Life

One of the earliest poster children for mainstream mobile gaming success, Angry Birds has come a full circle. From a being a smartphone game to a movie, there’s now a game to celebrate the movie’s release. It’s available on Android and iOS right now. And unlike Sony’s Ratchet & Clank reimagining on the PS4, it utilises augmented reality (AR) to a large degree.

Dubbed as Angry Birds Action!, Rovio has partnered with AR firm Zappar to bring the titular Angry Birds to life. Using Zappar’s zap code tech, fans can scan codes to unlock characters, AR mini-games, photo-features and a whole lot more in the way of interactive experiences.

Angry Birds Action! Brings Angry Birds to Life

“Imagine if everyday objects could unlock fun and exclusive content when scanned with a mobile device. With Angry Birds we’ve done just that– working closely in partnership with Rovio we’ve been able to deliver a hidden world of stackable experiences and in-game power-ups via BirdCodes on participating products and promotions to surprise and delight users,” said Caspar Thykier, Co-founder and CEO of Zappar. “This is the biggest and most truly integrated augmented reality project to date, with BirdCodes appearing on apparel, toys, cups, POS, and even candy dispensers across the world. Together with Rovio, we’ve set a new bar to bring AR to the mass market in a meaningful and rewarding way,” Thykier added.

“With the help of Zappar and our other partners we have put the Angry Birds characters and story at the centre of a truly 360-degree experience this summer, bringing the story world to life in a new way both for our heavily engaged fan base and newcomers alike,” said Miika Tams, VP Games at Rovio. “Angry Birds Action! is the cornerstone of our comprehensive Digital Movie Program, which bridges digital and physical entertainment like never before, and with more than 1 billion BirdCodes to be found out in the wild, at a scale never seen before either,” Tams said.

Some of the places you can claim these BirdCodes includes McDonald’s and H&M. While it’s unclear at this point of time if this promotion would make its way to India as well, Zappar does claim it would take place in 50 markets across the globe.

While Rovio’s past few quarters have resulted in a spate of layoffs, hopefully its much-awaited movie release should stem the tide. Angry Birds isn’t as popular as it used to be and without a massive follow-up in sight, diversifying the brand across other media such as movies seems like the shrewd way forward.

Practitioners Seek Standards for Ayurveda Medicines

Ayurveda practitioners seek standards for Ayurvedic medicines

Ayurveda practitioners from across the country assembled to sought standards for Ayurvedic medicines to popularize Ayurveda and create more awareness among people about its health benefits. They also sought from the Centre substantial hike in funding for Ayurveda for research work and creating health infrastructure across the country.

Practitioners Seek Standards for Ayurveda Medicines

“Standards for Ayurveda medicines should be formed in order to create awareness among people about its health benefits,” All India Ayurveda Congress President Devender Triguna said. Recently, All India Ayurveda Congress has held its 58th session here which was attended by President Pranab Mukherjee

Vaidyas (who practice Ayurveda) pointed out that it was essential to come out with standards or certification for Ayurveda medicines so as to make it more popular among people about its “purity”. “Our strength is purity and there should be standard to measure it. The standards for Ayurveda medicines should be set like we have ISI mark which will help in building more confidence among people about its remedies,” said Ayurveda medicine maker Shree Dhootapapeshwar, ED, Ranjit Puranik.

President Pranab Mukherjee had asked to “demystify and popularize” Ayurvedic medicine through “informative marketing and user-friendly packaging”. “Ayurveda and Siddha had laid down protocols for treating diseases that resembled diseases that we know today as HIV and tuberculosis,” Mukherjee had said.

Presently, the combined market of Ayurvedic medicines along with naturopathy, Unani is pegged at Rs. 14,000 crore, growing at a rate of 12-14 per cent per annum. Triguna further demanded from the Centre to earmark at least 20 per cent of total health budget for Ayurveda, saying it was essential for carrying out research in this oldest form of medicine and building necessary infrastructure in this regard.

SpaceX Targets 2018 for First Mars Mission

SpaceX plans to send an unmanned Dragon spacecraft to Mars as early as 2018, the company said on Wednesday, a first step in achieving founder Elon Musk’s goal to fly people to another planet.

US space agency Nasa, which is aiming for a human mission to Mars in the 2030s, said it will provide technical support for SpaceX’s first foray, known as Red Dragon.

SpaceX Targets 2018 for First Mars Mission

SpaceX “could provide valuable entry, descent and landing data to Nasa for our journey to Mars, while providing support to American industry,” Nasa said in a statement.

The announcement marks SpaceX’s first target date for its unmanned mission to Mars.

The SpaceX program is intended to develop technologies needed for human transportation to Mars, a long-term aim for Musk’s privately held company, which is formally known as Space Exploration Technologies.

The company said it will provide details of its Mars program at the International Astronautical Congress in September.

“Dragon 2 is designed to be able to land anywhere in the solar system,” Musk posted on Twitter. “Red Dragon Mars mission is the first test flight.”

He said that with an internal volume about the size of a sports utility vehicle, the Dragon spacecraft would be uncomfortable for people making the long journey to Mars.

Musk, a billionaire entrepreneur who helped to found Tesla Motors and PayPal, started SpaceX in 2002 with the goal of slashing launch costs to make Mars travel affordable.

SpaceX intends to debut its Mars rocket, a heavy-lift version of the Falcon 9 booster currently flying, later this year.

The company recently has made spaceflight history by returning Falcon 9 rockets to landing pads on land and sea – key to Musk’s quest to develop a relatively cheap, reusable launch vehicle.

SpaceX now flies cargo versions of its Dragon capsule to and from the International Space Stationunder a $2 billion resupply services contract with Nasa.

SpaceX also is upgrading the capsules to carry astronauts, with test flights to the station scheduled for 2017, under a separate Nasa contract worth up to $2.6 billion.

Nasa does not plan to provide financial assistance to SpaceX’s Mars mission. The agency is investing in its own heavy-lift rocket, capsule and launch pad modifications targeting Mars travel.

By the time Nasa expects to debut a test flight in lunar orbit with astronauts onboard in 2023, the agency will have spent about $24 billion on the program, an April 2016 Government Accountability Office report shows.