Alt-week 10.6.12: supercomputers on the moon, hear the Earth sing and the future of sports commentary

Alt-week peels back the covers on some of the more curious sci-tech stories from the last seven days.

Altweek 10612 supercomputers on the moon, hear the Earth sing and the future of sports commentary

Normally we try to encourage you to join us around the warm alt-week campfire by teasing you about what diverse and exotic internet nuggets we have for you inside. Sadly, this week that's not the case. There's nothing for you here we're afraid. Not unless you like totally mind-blowing space videos, singing planets and AI / sports commentary-flavored cocktails, that is. Oh, you do? Well what do you know! Come on in... this is alt-week.

The moon. it's just sitting there, effortlessly controlling tides and Werewolves. It also seems a bit of a waste of some grade-a real estate don't you think? Well you might not, but University of Southern California graduate student, Ouliang Chang, certainly does. So much so, he presented an idea for a lunar-based supercomputer in a recent presentation at the AIAA Space conference. It's more than just one of the most exclusive zip-codes at stake here, Chang's proposal is also a solution to a very real problem -- potential data bottlenecks on NASA's Deep Space Network (that which supports interplanetary spacecraft missions and more). The envisioned machine would be located on the dark side of our moon near in a cold polar region which would help both help keep it cool, and avoid electromagnetism from Earth. If this sounds like something that might cost a few bucks, then you're right, an estimated 10 - 20 billion of them. While this might sound like a lot, the service it could provide would be invaluable as interplanetary data-flow continues to grow in demand. Cost, and mind-bending logistics aside, the presentation was said to at least spark the imagination of the broader community. In the meantime, we imagine lunar realtor's are already calculating their percentages.

Altweek 10612

Like the idea of an extraterrestrial condo, but worried about how you might wile away those cold, lunar nights? How about listening to the Earth sing? In fact, you don't have to go all that way to hear the Earth's "Chorus" (an electromagnetic phenomenon caused by plasma waves in Earth's radiation belts) as NASA's pair of satellites in the radiation belt (the very same we told you about a few weeks ago) are currently exactly where the "song" is emitted from -- and have sent back the clearest example of it yet. It's not exactly a sweet sonnet though, as in it's natural form it's inaudible to the human ear, and it's also believed to be a potential cause of so called "killer electrons" -- particles that get charged with enough power to damage systems). Weirdly, it also reminds of a futuristic whale call. Whether it's better than MJ's Earth Song is a matter of taste, but it's certainly out of this world. Please accept our apologies for that last pun.

There's another sound that might be almost inaudible to many ears, and that's the drone of bad match commentary. Even if you're a sports fan, you may still find yourself choosing a game based on who's talking over it, rather than who's actually playing. At least, that's the situation PhD Student Greg Lee found himself in, preferring those who could tell him something interesting, rather than just rote stats and figures. Inspired by this, he lead up a project to create a database of sporting anecdotes that would be offered up during a game based on score, players, game history and so on. The Sports Commentary Recommendation System (SCoRes) would provide commentators with access to a store of relevant and interesting tales that they could weave into their coverage, rather than rely on their memory recall in the heat of the moment. So far the system has been trialled on baseball games, with a trial group of 254 confirming they found the tailored tidbits enjoyable and entertaining. The team will present its findings at the AIIDE conference in California next week.

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While this next story may not be the sporting event of the season, it's certainly involves a new (inter) world record. A star spotted orbiting the Milky Way's central black hole has been clocked in at a ludicrously-fast 3,100 miles per second. This might not be a patch on the unbeatable speeds reached by light, but it does allow scientists the opportunity to test Einstein's theory of relativity in the next ten years. Why the wait? Well the speedy star has an orbit period of 11.5 years, and this means scientists can use S0-102 (as it is called) along with fellow star S02 (whose orbit is 16 years) to measure "precession" -- the change in their orbit's orientation. By doing so, astronomers can observe how much the gravity of the central black curves / bends space. This won't be the first time such a project has been undertaken, but the presence of two stars to take measurements from will allow for much more accuracy. No one's expecting any rules to be broken, but the chance to explore one of science's most important theories on such a scale is a rare luxury.

Altweek 10612 supercomputers on the moon, the Earth sings and the future of sports commentary

It's an oft-used phrase, but this time, we really do think we've saved the best 'til last. Gazing up at the stars can be amazing, we all know that. What about gazing back at Earth from within them? That's a privilege reserved for just a select few, most notably those aboard the ISS. Fortunately for you, though, someone invented the internet. This means you, too, get to enjoy the rare view of the Universe as seen from the space station without even leaving your den. Seriously, watch this video and tell yourself it's not amazing... you can't, can you? Enjoy 4-minutes and 48 seconds of visual bliss:

Seen any other far-out articles that you'd like considered for Alt-week? Working on a project or research that's too cool to keep to yourself? Drop us a line at alt [at] engadget [dot] com.

[Image Credits: University of Alberta / Greg Lee, Ethan Tweedie, Simon Lutrin / Wired]