Hubble spots colliding galaxies in a spectacular dance

Hubble is still providing dramatic pictures of the universe despite the arrival of the James Webb Space Telescope. NASA and the ESA have released a Hubble image of Arp-Madore 417-391, a strange galaxy collision about 670 million light-years away. Their gravitational tug-of-war has produced an odd ring-like shape where the two galactic cores are relatively close and the star “plumes” form a circle.

The telescope spotted the merger using its long-serving Advanced Camera for Surveys, which has helped detect strange galaxies and even dark matter. Researchers are using the orbital hardware to build a list of follow-up observations for the much newer James Webb telescope, which has sometimes been used in tandem with Hubble to study space objects.

Arp-Madore 417-391 galaxy collision in context
The Arp-Madore 417-391 galaxy collision in its greater context.
ESA/Hubble & NASA, Dark Energy Survey/DOE/FNAL/DECam/CTIO/NOIRLab/NSF/AURA, J. Dalcanton

You may not see Hubble leading these discoveries for much longer. The telescope has suffered a number of system failures in recent years, and is expected to plummet to Earth as soon as 2030 if there are no interventions. While NASA and SpaceX are considering boosting Hubble’s orbit to keep it active, that extended lifespan isn’t guaranteed. This galaxy crash may represent one of the telescope’s last hurrahs, even if the observatory has years left in space.

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Critter & Guitari’s 201 Music Synthesizer is the long-awaited successor to its Pocket Piano

Critter & Guitari’s lineup of hackable music computers and video synths are undeniably unique. They do things that practically no other instrument can, plus they’re probably the most visually distinctive portable music devices out there. Its latest creation is the 201 Music Synthesizer, an arguably long overdue replacement for the company’s first product — the Pocket Piano

Like its flagship Organelle, the 201 is built on open source software, specifically Pure Data and Faust. But rather than trying to be all things to everyone, it’s more narrowly focused. It ships with six built-in synth engines covering chiptune-style bleeps, analog-esque sounds, drum samples, physical modeling (likely via Karplus Strong), and vocal synthesis. Rather than four knobs that vary in purpose depending on what patch you’ve loaded (which may or may not have particularly good documentation, depending on who created it), the 201 has three parameter knobs for envelope, tone and “surprise” — for when you just want a happy accident. 

One of the things that makes the 201 really standout though, is the pattern generator and sequencer. While you can simply play notes live and record them for later recall, the synth can also create patterns for you. A couple of presses on the unique maple keys and the 201 will start spitting out simple octave jumps, arpeggios or random polyphonic chaos. And if something strikes your fancy, you can save that as well. And you can save literally thousands of sequences to the included 8GB microSD card. 

Like the Organelle, you can actually hack together your own patches for the 201 using Pure Data or Faust, but that’s more of a nice bonus than the main selling point here. Under the hood of the 201 is a 900Mhz ARM processor with 512MB RAM, which should be plenty for most synth patches, but it’s not quite as powerful as the Organelle M. The 201 also has a built-in speaker, a 1/4-inch stereo out jack, 1/8-inch MIDI in and out, USB-A for connecting MIDI controllers, and USB-C for accessing the files on the microSD card.

Of course, to be a true replacement for the Pocket Piano, the 201 also needs to be portable. So, in addition to the AC adapter, it can be powered by three AA batteries. And at about one pound and a little over nine-inches long, it’s pretty easy to toss in a backpack. 

The Critter & Guitari 201 Music Synthesizer is currently crowd funding over at Kickstarter and has already surpassed its goal. If you’d like to secure one when they start shipping in April of 2023 you can back it before December 20th for $295. 

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New York’s crypto mining restrictions are the first in the nation

Cryptocurrency mining companies hoping to set up shop in New York State may bump into some limits. Governor Kathy Hochul has signed legislation restricting crypto mining in the country, making it the first state to clamp down on the practice. The environment-focused law establishes a two-year freeze on new and renewed air permits for fossil fuel power plants used for mining that uses demanding “proof-of-work” authentication. The Department of Environmental Conservation will also have to study if and how crypto mining hurts the government’s climate change mitigation efforts.

The bill passed the state legislature in June, but didn’t reach Hochul’s desk until this Tuesday. It wasn’t guaranteed to become law. The Hillnotes that the governor didn’t commit to signing the measure during an October election debate. Her main opponent, Lee Zeldin, said he wouldn’t sign the bill if he were in a position to do so.

Politicians and environmental groups have worried that crypto mining, particularly that involving proof-of-work, consumes too much energy. The computationally intensive process adds to the load on the electrical grid, and has even prompted some mining outfits in New York to build natural gas-based power plants to sustain their operations. The cryptocurrency world has sometimes tried to minimize the impact. Ethereum, for instance, recently completed a merge to a less energy-hungry “proof-of-stake” system that revolves around validation from certain users.

It’s not certain if other states will follow suit. Democratic Senators have pressured Texas to take action on crypto mining energy demands, but that state’s government hasn’t budged so far. Not surprisingly, crypto proponents have also balked at laws limiting their activity. The Chamber of Digital Commerce claimed New York’s law sets a “dangerous precedent,” and that proof-of-work mining played a role in economic growth. There’s also the question of effectiveness — New York’s law might drive some miners to states with looser policies.

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