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Gizmorama - December 4, 2017

Good Morning,

Curiosity, NASA's Mars rover, is about to get an upgrade. A new and improved rover is being developed for the next voyage to the red planet - Mars 2020.

Learn about this and more interesting stories from the scientific community in today's issue.

Until Next Time,

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*-- NASA's next Mars rover to improve on Curiosity --*

NASA's Curiosity rover has been a tremendous success, providing scientists streams of valuable data. But there's always room for improvement, and NASA engineers expect the next rover to improve on Curiosity's technological legacy.

At present iteration, the Mars 2020 rover features greater autonomy, seven new instruments and updated wheels.

Despite design improvements, the new rover looks a lot like the old rover. And that's because the Mars 2020 rover utilizes much of the same hardware. In fact, so-called "legacy hardware" accounts for 85 percent of the mass of the new six-legged craft.

"The fact that so much of the hardware has already been designed -- or even already exists -- is a major advantage for this mission," Jim Watzin, director of NASA's Mars Exploration Program, said in a news update published by NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory. "It saves us money, time and most of all, reduces risk."

The slate of new instruments added to Mars 2020 will help the rover explore Martian terrain that once hosted lakes and rivers, regions that may have once hosted life.

A new radar system accounts for one of the seven new instruments. It will produce images of rock and ice layers as deep as 30 feet beneath the Martian surface. A new laser will be tasked almost exclusively with hunting for carbon atoms.

The new rover's inherited Curiosity hardware will also receive some updates, including an improved color camera and a more powerful zoom lens. A new laser will allow the rover to vaporize rock samples for chemical analysis.

"Our next instruments will build on the success of MSL, which was a proving ground for new technology," said George Tahu, NASA's Mars 2020 program executive. "These will gather science data in ways that weren't possible before."

In addition to hunting for signs of ancient life, the rover will also test CO2 and oxygen-producing technologies that could be used on future manned missions to Mars.

The new rover will also be outfitted with improved landing technology. During descent, the rover's software will compare real-time images of the Martian surface with preloaded images of its landing targets to determine whether to adjust course and when to deploy its parachute.

"Terrain-relative navigation enables us to go to sites that were ruled too risky for Curiosity to explore," said Al Chen of JPL, the Mars 202 entry, descent and landing lead. "The range trigger lets us land closer to areas of scientific interest, shaving miles -- potentially as much as a year -- off a rover's journey."

The multiple stages of the Mars 2020 are currently under construction at JPL's Spacecraft Assembly Facility in Pasadena, Calif. A cruise stage will be responsible for flying the rover through space, while a descent stage will be tasked with delivering the rover to the Martian surface.

*-- Australian scientists invent important component for quantum computing --*

A team of scientists in Australia has developed an important new quantum computing component called a microwave circulator. Researchers say their invention will allow for the scaling-up of quantum computers.

The component is the first practical realization of the theoretical work describing topological insulators -- work that garnered the 2016 Nobel Prize in Physics.

Topological insulators are materials that operate as a unique phase of matter. The materials' internal structures operate as insulators, while their surfaces serve as conductors.

By manipulating these materials, scientists were able to build a circuit interface capable of mediating the interactions between quantum and classical systems. Such a component is essential to the construction of a real-world quantum computer.

The microwave circulator works like a traffic roundabout, sending electric signals in only a single direction, clockwise or counter-clockwise.

Commercial circulators, found in mobile communication base stations and radar systems, are prohibitively bulky.

Using topological insulators, scientists at the University of Sydney succeeded in miniaturizing the technology. The new materials allow scientists to effectively slow the speed of light, which allowed them to shrink the component without sacrificing performance. Scientists believe their breakthrough will allow for many circulators to be integrated onto a single computer chip.

Researchers believe the breakthrough will allow scientists to develop practical quantum computers, capable of performing real-world functions.

"It is not just about qubits, the fundamental building blocks for quantum machines. Building a large-scale quantum computer will also need a revolution in classical computing and device engineering," David Reilly, a professor at the University of Sydney, said in a news release.

The qubit is a two-state quantum-mechanical system, or system with two possible states -- a particle that can exist simultaneously in two different forms. The phenomenon is called qauntum superposition. When one quantum state is manipulated, the manipulation can be measured in the other quantum state, enabling the teleportation of information.

So far, scientists have only been able to develop rather simple quantum computers.

"Even if we had millions of qubits today, it is not clear that we have the classical technology to control them," Reilly said. "Realizing a scaled-up quantum computer will require the invention of new devices and techniques at the quantum-classical interface."

The newly invented microwave circulator -- detailed this week in the journal Nature Communications -- is one such device.

"Such compact circulators could be implemented in a variety of quantum hardware platforms, irrespective of the particular quantum system used," said Alice Mahoney, doctoral candidate and lead author of the new study.

Though a practical quantum computer is still several years away, scientists believe their latest breakthrough sets the stage for the advancements necessary to realize such a device.


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