March/April

The 10 Breakthrough Technologies for 2020

Our annual list of technologies that will have a major impact on the world.

The news: A patient in the US with no history of travel to outbreak hot spots or exposure to someone with coronavirus has been diagnosed with the disease, likely marking the first case of “community...

The case: The patient was admitted to UC Davis Medical Center in Sacramento, California, on February 19 from another hospital, but the virus wasn’t diagnosed until four days later. UC Davis had to call in the CDC to do the tests since it lacked the capability, hence the delay. In a statement, the hospital said it had put the patient under “strict contact precautions” and believed there “has been minimal potential for exposure here at UC Davis Medical Center.” However, it said a small number of employees have been asked to stay home and monitor their temperature.

A national response: President Trump announced yesterday that Vice President Mike Pence would lead domestic efforts to combat the disease. His administration has requested $1.25 billion in emergency funding from Congress.

Complicating efforts: We know that coronavirus is very contagious, but we are still learning how it passes from person to person. This new “community spread” case reveals gaps in testing capability in the US that could hamper efforts to slow the spread of the virus. Currently, only the CDC and a few local public health agencies have the ability to administer the tests.

The overall picture: At the time of writing, there are 60 confirmed cases of patients infected with coronavirus in the US, 43 of whom were passengers on the Diamond Princess cruise ship in Japan. Globally, there are nearly 83,000 confirmed cases and over 2,800 deaths as a result of the virus. The vast majority are still in China, although the spread of coronavirus to other countries, including Iran, Italy, and South Korea, has accelerated in recent days.  

Read Next: What are the most promising potential coronavirus treatments?

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A pair of astronomers just discovered a “mini-moon” asteroid within Earth’s orbit. And it turns out it may have been orbiting us for years, undetected until now. ...

How was it found: The asteroid, called 2020 CD3 (also known as C26FED2), was discovered by the Catalina Sky Survey at the University of Arizona on February 15. The two researchers responsible for the discovery held off on announcing their findings while they confirmed exactly what 2020 CD3 was and what its orbit looked like. Its small size and peculiar orbit helped hide it well from astronomers. 

Mini-moons are formally known as Temporary Captured Orbiters (TCO)—objects that are currently looping the planet, but will eventually shove off and resume their trip around the sun. CSS previously found a TCO that stumbled into Earth’s orbit in 2006, before exiting the following year. 

Tell me more about the rock: There’s honestly not much to tell yet. It’s estimated to between 6.2 and 16.4 feet in diameter. It seems to have entered Earth’s orbit three years ago. Its calculated trajectory so far suggests it will exit Earth’s orbit in April. "It cannot be ruled out that the object is artificial," says Theodore Pruyne, one of the researchers who made the discovery. "At this moment, with the observations we have, we can only say that it is a probable 'mini moon,'" and not just an old satellite or other human-made object.

What’s next: A lot more observations. Spotting a mini-moon is pretty rare. The goal behind CSS is to track 90% of all objects larger than 460 feet. Finding such small objects is basically an accident. And there are probably many more mini-moons orbiting Earth that we just haven’t spotted yet.

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