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Walmart Black Friday ad features $99 Chromebook, $89 Windows 2-in-1 laptop



Walmart 2018 Black Friday ad

Walmart may not be the first place you think of when it comes to buy a new computer, but the retailing giant always manages to have a few deals on systems when Black Friday rolls around — and this year is no exception.

The company prides itself on having the lowest prices, and when it comes to Black Friday laptop sales, it’s the early leader, with a pair of notebooks selling for under $100. One is the Samsung Chromebook 3, equipped with an Intel Celeron processor, 4 gigs of RAM, 16GB of built-in storage, and an 11.6-inch display, for $99 ($100 off the regular price); the other is an RCA Cambio 2-in-1 Windows device, including Intel Atom CPU, 2GB of memory, 32GB of storage, 10.1-inch touchscreen, and detachable keyboard, for $89. Of course, RCA isn’t exactly a top-tier PC brand, but that price is $30-$40 lower than we’ve seen so far for any laptop running Windows that we’ve previewed as a Black Friday deal.

Walmart has a quartet of additional HP laptops if you don’t want the most bare-bones of specs. The Stream 11 moves up to an Intel Celeron N4000 processor, 4GB of RAM, 32 gigs of built-in storage, and a 1,366×768 11.6-inch screen for $159. For $100 more, the HP 15-inch Touch laptop uses an Intel Pentium chip, 4GB of memory, a terabyte hard drive, and a 15.6-inch touchscreen display.

A more powerful 2-in-1 option is the Pavilion x360, which features an Intel Core i5 chip, 4GB of memory, a terabyte hard drive (with 16GB of Intel Optane memory), 15.6-inch, and a digital pen for $499 ($180 off). Finally, gamers on a budget might want to consider the Pavilion Gaming Laptop, built around a Core Core i5-8300H processor, 8GB of RAM, 1TB hard drive, Nvidia GeForce GTX 1050 Ti graphics card, and 15.6-inch full HD display for $599, or $230 off the current price.

Like a few other retailers, Walmart will be selling the latest 9.7-inch iPad for $249, but unlike Target, it isn’t advertising any discount on the iPad mini 4. Cheaper tablet options include the 9.6-inch flavor of the Samsung Galaxy Tab E, which includes a $25 Google Play credit, for $129 ($60 off), and the 7-inch RCA Voyager III Android slate for a mere $28.

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NY officials detect polio again, warn of possible summer wave



Enlarge / Transmission electron micrograph of poliovirus type 1.

Health officials in New York have once again detected poliovirus in wastewater from Rockland County, where a case of paralytic polio occurred last summer.

Wastewater samples from Rockland and several nearby counties were positive for poliovirus for months after the initial case was reported in July, suggesting widespread circulation of the virus in the region.

So far this year, officials have only detected poliovirus in one sample, which was collected from Rockland in February. Two samples from the county taken during March were negative. Before the detection in February, the last positive sample from the region was found in mid-December in Orange County, just north of Rockland. The last positive detection in Rockland was in October.

While the data doesn’t suggest that poliovirus is again circulating widely in the region, health officials are wary that the virus could easily restart. Rockland has one of the lower vaccination rates in the state; as of August, only 60.34 percent of 2-year-olds in the county were up to date on their polio vaccinations. Some areas of the county have rates in the 50s.

Officials are concerned about the potential for international spread of polio to Rockland’s sizable Jewish community during upcoming holiday travel.

“With increased travel expected between Rockland County and Israel over Passover, the County of Rockland reminds families there is a real risk of paralysis from the polio virus if you are unvaccinated,” Rockland County officials said in a press release.

Israel’s Ministry of Health has recently reported four polio cases in children in the northern part of the country. One of the cases was paralytic. The strain of poliovirus behind the paralytic case in Rockland last summer was linked to viruses spreading in London and Israel at the time.

In addition, Rockland officials noted that we are heading toward summer, when polio transmission historically peaks.

“Polio is preventable through the complete vaccination series. Our hope is that we will not see another case of paralytic polio as we did last summer. I urge all who are unvaccinated or are under-vaccinated to complete their series. This is important locally as well as for travelers,” Patricia Schnabel Ruppert, Rockland’s health commissioner, said.

Officials continue pushing for vaccination in parts of the county where anti-vaccine sentiments are high. They’re offering free polio boosters at walk-in clinics, working with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to audit vaccination coverage at day care and schools, and trying to improve vaccination messaging.

“It is our obligation to protect all our residents from these debilitating and potentially fatal diseases. The law requiring childhood vaccinations has been in place for many years for this very reason,” County Executive Ed Day said. “I urge our residents to act now and protect yourselves, your family, and your community.”

In addition to fighting back polio amid poor vaccination rates, Rockland has also found itself fighting measles. In 2019, the county faced a prolonged outbreak that led to an emergency declaration.

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Webb Telescope confirms nearby rocky planet has no atmosphere



Enlarge / An illustration of what the inner portion of the TRAPPIST-1 system might look like.

At this point, we’ve discovered lots of exoplanets that fall under the general label “Earth-like.” They’re rocky, and many orbit at distances from their host stars to potentially have moderate temperatures. But “like” is doing a lot of work there. In many cases, we have no idea whether they even have an atmosphere, and the greenhouse effect means that the atmosphere can have a huge impact on the planet’s temperature. So the Earth-like category can include dry, baking hellscapes like Venus with its massive atmosphere, as well as dry, frozen hellscapes with sparse atmospheres like Mars.

But we’re slowly getting the chance to image the atmospheres of rocky exoplanets. And today, researchers are releasing the results of turning the Webb Space Telescope on a rocky planet orbiting a nearby star, showing that the new hardware is so sensitive that it can detect the star blocking out light originating from the planet. The results suggest that the planet has very little atmosphere and is mostly radiating away heat from being baked by its nearby star.

The ultra-cool dwarf and its seven planets

TRAPPIST-1 is a small, reddish star—in astronomical terminology, it’s an “ultra-cool dwarf”—that’s about 40 light-years from Earth. While the star itself is pretty nondescript, it’s notable for having lots of planets, with seven in total having been identified so far. All of these are small, rocky bodies, much like the ones that occupy the inner portion of our Solar System. While the star itself emits very little light, the planets are all packed in closer to it than Mercury is to the Sun.

That leaves a number of them in what’s called the habitable zone, the area at which the heat delivered by the star could allow liquid water to exist on the planet’s surface. But that again depends on the properties of the planet’s atmosphere, should one exist. And there are reasons to think planets so close to a dwarf star might lack atmospheres. For the first billion years or so of a dwarf star’s existence, it’s prone to violent outbursts that could cook off any atmospheres that are not protected by strong magnetic fields.

There’s still a chance that geological processes could create a secondary atmosphere after the star settles down. But these atmospheres are likely to be rich in oxygen or carbon dioxide, with little in the way of hydrogen-containing molecules.

So, TRAPPIST-1 provides a fantastic opportunity—really, seven opportunities—to test some of our ideas about exoplanet atmospheres. And both the Hubble and Spitzer space telescopes have imaged some starlight that passes close to some of the planets as they pass between Earth and TRAPPIST-1. These observations didn’t provide any indications of an atmosphere, setting limits on how thick any gases above these planets could be.

But there’s a lot of uncertainty in those measurements. And the Webb Telescope, with its huge mirror and advanced imaging hardware, offers a new opportunity to take a second look at some of the TRAPPIST planets.

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Blue Origin provides a detailed analysis of its launch failure



Enlarge / The emergency escape system is seen firing on the New Shepard spacecraft Monday morning after its rocket was lost.

Blue Origin

A little more than six months after the failure of its New Shepard rocket, Blue Origin has published a summary of the findings made by its accident investigation team.

For a private company flying a private launch system, the analysis of this “NS-23” mission is reasonably detailed. Essentially, the rocket’s main engine nozzle sustained temperatures that were higher than anticipated, leading to an explosion of the rocket.

The accident occurred at 1 minute and 4 seconds into a research flight that launched on September 12, 2022. The emergency escape system performed as intended, rapidly pulling the spacecraft away from the disintegrating rocket. Had a crew been on board this flight, they would have experienced a significant jolt and some high gravitational forces before landing safely in the West Texas desert.

Blue Origin led the investigation, with assistance from the Federal Aviation Administration and the National Transportation Safety Board. Investigators had a wealth of data to pore over, both from telemetry obtained during the flight and hardware recovered from the desert in West Texas.

From this information, the mishap team noted “hot streaks” on the nozzle and determined that it was operating at higher temperatures than it was designed for. Although the summary does not explicitly say so, it appears that at some point in the flight campaign of this booster, design changes were made that allowed for these hotter temperatures to be present.

“Blue Origin is implementing corrective actions, including design changes to the combustion chamber and operating parameters, which have reduced engine nozzle bulk and hot-streak temperatures,” the company stated.

The company says it intends to return to flight “soon” with an uncrewed flight to give the three dozen payloads that were flying on the NS-23 mission another shot at weightlessness. Previously, Blue Origin said that it plans to resume human flights on the suborbital space tourism spacecraft later in 2023.

The summary omits some key information. For example, the company has not precisely said what forces the spacecraft experienced during its emergency escape other than to say that humans on board would have survived the experience.

Additionally, it is not clear what rocket will be used to launch the return-to-flight mission. The company’s first New Shepard rocket, Booster 1, was lost during an April 2015 flight. Booster 2 was retired in October 2016 after performing a successful test of the launch escape system on its fifth and final flight. Booster 3, which launched the NS-23 mission in September, was the company’s oldest operational rocket, making its debut in December 2017.

The company has used its newest rocket, Booster 4, exclusively for human launches. It has some modifications from Booster 3 to qualify it as a human-rated rocket. The company has also built a fifth booster that may be ready for its debut flight. A company spokesperson told Ars that she could offer no information about the next flight beyond what was in the summary.

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