The Download: asteroid deflection, and Florida’s approaching hurricane

This is today’s edition of The Download, our weekday newsletter that provides a daily dose of what’s going on in the world of technology.

Watch the moment NASA’s DART spacecraft crashed into an asteroid

What’s happened: NASA is celebrating the success of humanity’s first test of a planetary defense system: crashing a spacecraft into an asteroid in order to change its orbit. NASA’s Double Asteroid Redirection Test spacecraft, or DART, was intentionally smashed into the asteroid Dimorphos at 7.14pm ET last night, spelling the end to a successful 10 month mission.

A small camera mounted on DART livestreamed the spacecraft’s steady progress towards the 160 meter-wide asteroid, located about 6.8 million miles from Earth, back to controllers based at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory. The strike was “basically a bullseye,” mission systems engineer Elena Adams said.

Why it matters: While Dimorphos had not been on course to crash into Earth, the project demonstrates NASA’s ability to deflect a dangerous meteorite collision in the future. Read the full story.

—Rhiannon Williams

Spotlight on: The Algorithm newsletter

The Algorithm is MIT Technology Review’s relaunched AI newsletter, bringing you all the latest news and views from the cutting edge of artificial intelligence. In this week’s issue, our senior AI reporter Melissa Heikkilä digs into how DeepMind is trying to make its chatbots both smarter and less toxic. Read the full newsletter.

Sign up to receive The Algorithm in your inbox every Monday, and check out the rest of our newsletter stable.

The must-reads

I’ve combed the internet to find you today’s most fun/important/scary/fascinating stories about technology.

1 Florida is bracing itself for Hurricane Ian  
Climate change makes it harder to predict hurricanes’ speed and severity. (Vox)
+ Tampa residents have been ordered to evacuate. (The Guardian)  
+ How Hurricane Ida dodged NYC’s flood defenses. (MIT Technology Review

2 Experts are divided over the right time to get a flu shot
However, they agree that getting vaccinated too early is a bad idea. (The Atlantic $)

3 TikTok and the US have reached a preliminary agreement
The data security deal will allow the platform to keep operating there. (NYT $)
+ Meanwhile, TikTok is facing a hefty fine in the UK for failing to protect kids’ privacy. (The Guardian)

4 South Korea’s chip industry is in crisis
The country has been caught up in the escalating chip war between the US and China. (FT $)
Corruption is sending shock waves through China’s chipmaking industry. (MIT Technology Review

5 Meta may squish Facebook and Instagram into a single interface
Linking accounts would make it easier to switch between the two. (CNBC

6 The successful Merge proved crypto’s haters wrong
At least, that’s how Ethereum sees it. (Wired $)
+ Bitcoin’s transition to sustainable energy is a slow one. (Reuters)
+ The cryptocurrency is on the rise again, but for how long? (CNBC)
+ Why The Merge could spell bad news for investors in the UK. (Bloomberg $)
+ Why Ethereum switched to proof of stake. (MIT Technology Review)

7 Inside the campaign to fight back against Asian hate
The heightened wave of vile racism is partly fueled by other political agendas. (The Verge)

8 Why Texas’ big bet on hemp failed
The supposedly drought-resistant crop struggled during the summer. (Undark)
+ Guatemala’s rainforest is growing. (New Scientist $)

9 How we find new songs these days
Getting a song on the soundtrack of a smash TV show certainly helps, but there are other ways too. (The Guardian)

10 Public wifi networks aren’t the notorious danger spots they used to be
That doesn’t mean your data is entirely safe, though. (WP $)

Quote of the day

“I’m experiencing so much music, but am I really listening to any of it?”

—Meg Lethem, a Boston bakery worker, explains her decision to ditch music streaming subscriptions in the hopes of finding inspiration elsewhere to the Guardian.

The big story

Can SpaceX and Blue Origin best a decades-old Russian rocket engine design?

June 2019 

On May 24, 2000, an unusual rocket took off from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. Like most rockets, the Atlas 3 had inherited its design from an intercontinental ballistic missile. But the rocket had a new first stage considerably more powerful than those it replaced. 

The RD-180, as the engine is called, was built in a factory outside Moscow. In a marriage that would have been unimaginable at the height of the space race, a Russian engine was powering an American rocket. But after Russia annexed the Crimea in 2014, the RD-180’s days as a staple of American rocketry were numbered. 

As relations with Russia frayed, congressional opponents of the engine succeeded in passing a prohibition against the engine’s use in American rockets after the end of 2022. But how did a decades-old Russian engine ever become the bar against which America’s best rocket scientists measure themselves? Read the full story.

—Matthew Bodner

We can still have nice things

A place for comfort, fun and distraction in these weird times. (Got any ideas? Drop me a line or tweet ’em at me.)

+ This 1994 summation of the internet, courtesy of future gazing BBC show Tomorrow’s World, is charmingly antiquated (thanks Niall!) 
+ Take a couple of minutes out to marvel at these impressive tech photographs.
+ Wow—iconic video game The Hobbit is really 40 years old.
+ Dust off your headphones: this fall promises a whole host of exciting new albums, including Brian Eno, Björk and the 1975.
+ Yikes, this shark’s smile sure is unnerving.

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