How a Space Snowman Called Arrokoth is Shedding New Light on Planetary Origins

Alan Boyle, GeekWire

GeekWire contributing editor Alan Boyle is an award-winning science writer and veteran space reporter. Formerly of NBCNews.com, he is the author of "The Case for Pluto: How a Little Planet Made a Big Difference." Follow him via CosmicLog.com, on Twitter @b0yle, and on Facebook and MeWe.

How a Space Snowman Called Arrokoth is Shedding New Light on Planetary Origins
NASA / JHUAPL / SwRI Image / Roman Tkachenko

The space snowman that was the focus of a close encounter with NASA's New Horizons probe last year is helping scientists answer a cosmic question: How did the building blocks of the solar system get their start?

"This is a game-changer," said Alan Stern, a planetary scientist at the Southwest Research Institute and principal investigator for the New Horizons mission.


Stern and other members of the New Horizons science team shared their latest findings about the snowman-shaped object now known as Arrokoth today at the American Association for the Advancement of Science's annual meeting in Seattle. Those findings are detailed in a trio of studies published by the journal Science.

The biggest revelation has to do with Arrokoth's ancient origins.

A detailed analysis of the object's double-lobed, snowman-like structure supports the view that Arrokoth came into existence when a localized cloud of primordial material collapsed into two nearby clumps that gently fused together.

That's in contrast to an alternate view, known as hierarchical accretion, which proposes that objects from different parts of the early solar system smashed together to form planetesimals like Arrokoth.

The studies released today follow up on first-look reports that were published in Science last May. The updated view presented by the scientists today is based on an analysis of 10 times as much data as they had available back then.

New Horizons was launched back in 2006 and got an unprecedented look at Pluto as it flew past in 2015. Arrokoth, which is a billion miles beyond Pluto, was chosen as the piano-sized probe's next target for observation. It's thought to be representative of the small mini-planets that took shape during the collapse of the solar nebula, the vast cloud of gas and dust that surrounded our infant sun.

With New Horizons' encounter with Arrokoth on New Year's Day of 2019, the space snowman became the farthest-out celestial object to be observed close up. The science team was wowed by the data that trickled back in the first months after the encounter, but they still had some mysteries to sort out.

This animated view of Arrokoth is based on images that were captured at slightly different viewing angles by NASA's New Horizons probe as it flew past. The 3-D effect helps scientists get a better sense of the Kuiper Belt object's shape and structure. NASA / JHUAPL / SwRI Image / Roman Tkachenko

Scientists now say several new clues have led them to the conclusion that Arrokoth's two constituent pieces formed in the same neighborhood of the primordial solar system and came together gently.

First of all, the two lobes have closely aligned poles and equators, and there's no evidence of a high-speed smash-up. "Only at much lower collision velocities, substantially less than the mutual escape speed, and at an oblique angle, do the outcomes of our simulations begin to resemble Arrokoth," the New Horizon scientists wrote in one of their research papers.

The simulations suggest that Arrokoth's two halves came together at a speed of 7 mph or less. "They're just kissing," William McKinnon, a planetary scientist at Washington University of St. Louis, explained at today's briefing. "If they were spacecraft, they'd be docking."

Another clue came from the uniformity of the object's spectral signature. Both lobes are unusually red in color, and spectral analysis suggests the strong presence of methanol ice. The fact that the two lobes are chemically homogeneous serves as further evidence that they formed in close proximity.

"It's drawing basically from locally sourced materials all at once," Lowell Observatory's Will Grundy said.

McKinnon said the cloud-collapse scenario would explain how the solar system got such a fast start 4.5 billion years ago. "It jump-starts planet formation," he said.

Planetesimals like Arrokoth almost certainly served as the seeds for growing bigger worlds, including terrestrial planets like Earth and gas giants like Jupiter, the scientists said.

A 3-D reconstruction of Arrokoth's shape indicates that the larger lobe measures 12.8 by 12.3 wide and 5.8 miles thick, while the smaller lobe is 9.6 by 8.6 miles wide and 6.1 miles thick. Those dimensions make the snowman look more like a squashed bug — but overall, it's not as squashed as scientists assumed it was last year. Arrokoth's volume is now estimated to be 30% larger than previously thought.

Today New Horizons is more than 315 million miles beyond Arrokoth and zooming outward through the Kuiper Belt, the icy ring of material on the solar system's edge. It's expected to keep sending back scientific data about Arrokoth for another year.

In the meantime, New Horizons' scientists will be using time on ground-based telescopes to search for more distant Kuiper Belt objects that could be candidates for a future flyby. Within the next year or two, they hope to identify a third way-out world that's ready for its close-up.

The three Science studies are "The Geology and Geophysics of Kuiper Belt Object (486958) Arrokoth," with John Spencer of the Southwest Research Institute as first author; "The Solar Nebula Origin of (486958) Arrokoth, a Primordial Contact Binary in the Kuiper Belt," with William McKinnon of Washington University in St. Louis as first author; and "Color, Composition and Thermal Environment of Kuiper Belt Object (486958) Arrokoth," with Will Grundy of the Lowell Observatory as first author.

This story was originally published in GeekWire. Love space and science? Sign up for GeekWire's Space & Science email newsletter.

From Pitch Meetings to Power Lunches: LA’s Exclusive Membership Clubs 🗝️

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Summer's here, so it's time to zhuzh up your work environment. Discovering the best membership and social clubs in Los Angeles for meetings can boost networking and collaboration, offering exclusive venues and premium amenities tailored for professionals and creatives to thrive amidst the city's vibrant backdrop. These clubs provide a sophisticated setting for productive gatherings and meaningful connections in LA. Here are some top private member clubs perfect for meetings and productive work sessions.

The Jonathan Club

Club Details: The Jonathan Club, one of Los Angeles' original membership clubs, has been a cornerstone of the city's elite social scene since its founding in the mid-1890s. Its legacy is intertwined with the growth and development of LA itself, most notably through a pivotal meeting held at the club that sparked the idea for a southern campus of the University of California—what would eventually become UCLA. Today, the Jonathan Club continues to offer its members an unparalleled experience of exclusivity and refinement. With locations in both DLTA and Santa Monica, members enjoy access to premium amenities and spaces and a calendar with hundreds of social events and workshops throughout the year, providing ample opportunities for networking, personal growth, and leisure activities.

Membership Details: Initiation fee is around $50,000, and admission typically requires that you be invited or know someone who is already a member.

Spring Place

Image Source: Spring Place

Neighborhood: Beverly Hills

Club Details: A mix between co-working space and social club, this Beverly Hills hotspot is a more exclusive version of similar clubs. Spring Place Beverly Hills spans three floors and offers a stunning art collection. The interior is filled with tons of natural light and has an intentional design that fuels members to harness some of their best work. Members also have access to luxurious dining and nightlife pop-ups that happen at Spring Place.

Membership Details: There is a non-refundable initiation fee of $500 and then local membership for people under 30 starts at $300 per month, while monthly membership for locals over 30 is $600.

Griffin Club

Image Source: Griffin Club

Neighborhood: Cheviot Hills

Club Details: Located in Cheviot Hills, Griffin Club LA is a sporty club with ample shared workspace. Following a $20M renovation in 2020, the club now boasts seven LED-lit tennis courts, four LED-lit pickleball courts, two recreational lap pools, a 25-meter family pool for kids, an adults-only resort pool, and childcare services. It's the ideal destination for a clientele looking to mix work with competitive sport.

Membership Details: Membership is by invitation only and is subject to approval. Membership prices at the club vary. A family membership entails a $12,000 initial fee plus a $450 monthly fee, while a junior membership only entails a $2,000 initiation fee and a $205 monthly fee.

Soho House West Hollywood

Image Source: Soho House West Hollywood

Neighborhood: West Hollywood

Club Details: Soho House West Hollywood provides a stylish and exclusive work and meeting destination, featuring chic meeting rooms and workspaces with panoramic views of Los Angeles. Combining luxury amenities with a creative atmosphere, it offers an ideal setting for networking, collaboration, productive sessions, and an amazing Sunday brunch!

Membership Details: Two current member referrals are needed, plus an online application, and a recent photo to confirm your identity. Quarterly memberships start at $675.25, but if you’re under 27, you can pay $337.75 quarterly. However, if you want access to every house, membership costs $5,250.00 annually, or $2,650.00 if you’re under 27.

Little Beach House Malibu

Image Source: Little Beach House Malibu

Neighborhood: Malibu

Club Details: The Little Beach House Malibu is a small, local club for the creative community of Malibu and the surrounding coastal areas. The club is known for its magnificent dining room, bar, sitting room and terrace. It is the perfect place for a truly memorable work meal.

Membership Details: Malibu Beach House is not included in the Soho House membership. If you are an existing member, you can apply for “Malibu Plus” for an additional $2,190 a year, or $1,095 if you’re under 27.

San Vicente Bungalows

Image Source: San Vicente Bungalows

Neighborhood: West Hollywood

Club Details: San Vicente Bungalows is an exclusive, members-only social club located in West Hollywood, California, offering a luxurious and private environment for its high-profile clientele. The club is renowned for its strict privacy policies, elegant decor, and high-end amenities, catering to celebrities (and royals) and industry elites seeking a discreet space to unwind and socialize.

Membership Details: You must be nominated by a current club member to apply. Applications are evaluated monthly and annual dues start at $4,200 plus a $1,800 initiation fee.

The Aster

Image Source: The Aster

Neighborhood: Hollywood

Club Details: The Aster, located at the iconic intersection of Hollywood Boulevard and Vine Street, redefines the modern members' club with its emphasis on warmth and hospitality, blending public hotel amenities with private club exclusivity. Featuring bright, airy spaces and top-notch facilities such as an outdoor pool, recording studio, and rooftop bar, it offers a fluid environment for work, relaxation, and socializing.

Membership Details: Memberships start at $3,600 per year and be acquired by filling out an application. In addition to uploading a photo, hopeful members also have to write a small bio while highlighting their interests, skills, profession, and hobbies.

NeueHouse

Image Source: NeueHouse

Neighborhood: Venice/Hollywood/DTLA

Club Details: NeueHouse in LA is a chic private workspace and cultural hub designed for creative professionals, offering sophisticated workspaces, a dynamic calendar of cultural programming, and luxurious amenities. Situated in three bustling neighborhoods across LA, it provides a collaborative environment where members can work, network, and unwind in style.

Membership Details: You have to apply for the Salon membership, which includes questions like “dream dinner guests (dead or alive?)." Annual dues for Salon memberships are $3,000 plus a $200 joining fee. You can also inquire about the Gallery membership for flexible workspaces and offices for individuals or teams, starting at $595 per month, with various options depending on your needs.

🧬🔬AI-Driven Drug Discovery

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Terray Therapeutics is at the forefront of AI-assisted drug discovery and development, operating a cutting-edge laboratory in Monrovia, California. The facility, roughly two-thirds the size of a football field, functions as a data powerhouse, generating over 50 terabytes of raw data daily, which is an amount of information equivalent to 12,000 high definition movies, through its miniaturized automation processes.

Terray Therapeutics exemplifies a new wave of innovative companies harnessing artificial intelligence to revolutionize drug discovery and development. The key to their approach lies in generating vast amounts of high-quality experimental data to train their AI systems. This data-driven strategy enables rapid experimentation and pattern recognition, allowing the AI to make informed predictions about potential treatments. Terray's generative AI can digitally design drug molecules, which are then synthesized and tested in their high-speed automated laboratory. The platform measures the interaction between these molecules and target proteins, with both successful and unsuccessful results feeding back into the AI system.

This iterative process creates a powerful feedback loop, continuously refining the AI's predictive capabilities and accelerating the drug discovery process. Terray's tNova platform integrates chemical experimentation and computation at an unprecedented scale, producing massive amounts of precise, purpose-built data that becomes increasingly valuable with each cycle of design and experimentation. This unique blend of experimentation and computation allows Terray to efficiently explore a vast molecular space, potentially solving complex problems in drug discovery faster and more effectively than traditional methods.

🤝 Venture Deals

LA Companies

  • Fuze Technology, a provider of rentable portable phone chargers, has raised a $11.5M Series A led by Beverly Pacific and joined by Palm Tree Crew, Bain Capital Ventures Scout Fund, Dream Ventures, Live Nation, ASM Global, SCIENCE Ventures, Haslem Sports Group, and Simon Ventures. - learn more
  • Stanly, a platform that offers fan-to-fan and artist-to-fan communication and commerce, raised an $8M Funding Round led by C Capital and joined by AppWorks, Goodwater, and Palm Drive Capital. - learn more
  • GrayMatter, an industrial robotics company, raised a $45M Series B led by Wellington Management and joined by NGP Capital, Euclidean Capital, Advance Venture Partners, SQN Venture Partners, 3M Ventures, B Capital, Bow Capital, Calibrate Ventures, OCA Ventures, and Swift Ventures. - learn more

LA Venture Funds

LA Exits

  • Webtoon Entertainment, an online cartoon company based in LA carved out of South Korea's Naver, set IPO terms to 15m shares at $18-$21. It would have a $2.6b fully diluted market value, were it to price in the middle, and plans to list on the Nasdaq (WBTN). - learn more
  • EV maker Fisker has finally filed for bankruptcy. - learn more
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Sony Pictures Experiences Division Formed After Alamo Drafthouse Acquisition

Christian Hetrick

Christian Hetrick is dot.LA's Entertainment Tech Reporter. He was formerly a business reporter for the Philadelphia Inquirer and reported on New Jersey politics for the Observer and the Press of Atlantic City.

Sony Pictures Experiences Division Formed After Alamo Drafthouse Acquisition

🔦 Spotlight

Sony Pictures Entertainment has acquired Alamo Drafthouse Cinema in a groundbreaking deal that marks the first time in over 75 years a major Hollywood studio will own a movie theater chain. This acquisition signals a potential shift towards vertical integration in the film industry, with Sony gaining more control over the distribution and exhibition of its films.

The deal allows Sony to expand its presence in experiential entertainment, aligning with its vision of engaging audiences outside the home through unique offerings. Alamo Drafthouse's innovative dine-in movie experience, devoted fanbase, and curated programming like Fantastic Fest make it an appealing acquisition target. Sony stressed that Alamo will continue operating its 35 locations under CEO Michael Kustermann, who will head the new Sony Pictures Experiences division.

While the move provides financial backing for Alamo after its bankruptcy struggles, questions remain about whether the chain can maintain its independent spirit and personality under Sony's ownership. Alamo is renowned for creative programming like themed events, interactive screenings, and a strict no-talking policy that has cultivated a passionate community of moviegoers. Balancing this distinct identity with Sony's corporate interests will be a key challenge moving forward.

From a technological standpoint, this move opens up possibilities for Sony to enhance the moviegoing experience at Alamo Drafthouse locations through integration of advanced audiovisual systems, immersive technologies, and projection/sound solutions. In addition, Sony could create a more seamless and connected experience for moviegoers, such as through integrated ticketing platforms, mobile apps, and personalization driven by data analytics. While specific technological plans are not detailed, the combination of Sony's resources and Alamo Drafthouse's innovative approach could foster synergies and drive the development of new technologies to differentiate the theatrical experience further.

🤝 Venture Deals

LA Companies

  • Apex, a satellite bus maker, raised a $95M funding round co-led by XYZ VC and CRV joined by Upfront Ventures, 8VC, Toyota Ventures, Point72 Ventures and others. - learn more
  • Regard, a developer of AI tools to help medical providers synthesize patient data, raised a $30M Series B led by Oak HC/FT at a $350M valuation. - learn more
  • Daisy, a small business tech installation startup, raised an $11M Series A co-led by Goldcrest and Bungalow. - learn more
  • Pyte, a startup that allows companies in highly regulated industries like finance and healthcare to perform computations on encrypted data without ever decrypting it, raised a $5M Funding Round led by Myriad Venture Partners. - learn more

LA Venture Funds

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