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Critical pieces of the Webb telescope handle the cold like a champ.

NASA/Chris Gunn

And you thought it got cold in winter. NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope made it through a frigid trial in a cryogenic chamber. An exposed human couldn’t survive in there, but a NASA camera did and we can all enjoy a fascinating look at what went on inside.

NASA’s photo, released Friday, looks like a still from a sci-fi movie, but it shows how important elements of the telescope react to the kind of extreme cold it will face in space. Webb, scheduled to launch in 2019, represents the next generation of space-faring telescopes. It will be the most powerful ever built and will pick up where Hubble and Spitzer leave off.

It will look for clues leading back to the early formation of the universe. Chamber A at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Texas is legendary. The massive thermal-vacuum facility once hosted Apollo spacecraft (and sometimes the crew members), but it got a remodel to help it simulate deep space conditions for testing the James Webb telescope.

NASA placed the combined optical and science instrument part of the telescope in the chamber and snapped a long-exposure photo at the mind-boggling temperature of 50 kelvins (around -369.7 degrees Fahrenheit/-223.2 degrees Celsius).

The camera was meant to monitor the telescope’s alignment and keep an eye on the black material used around the primary mirror to block out light. NASA says “the telescope shrank ever so slightly in the extreme cold of the chamber.”

Webb successfully passed its cryogenic tests, which NASA describes as “a significant milestone in the telescope’s journey to the launch pad.” We can enjoy the peek inside the chamber and be glad we don’t have to brave that kind of cold.

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Netflix's 'Altered Carbon' thrills when the sci-fi gets trippy

Joel Kinnaman is no Ryan Gosling.

Netflix

“Altered Carbon” is about human consciousness downloaded into different bodies. Which is fitting, because the new Netflix show feels like “Blade Runner“, “Ghost in the Shell” and “The Matrix” downloaded into one body and jostling for space. In terms of idea-packed cyberpunk world-building, “Altered Carbon,” on Netflix now, is a total blast.

Set several hundred years in the future, it features humans swapping bodies; sharp-tongued artificial intelligences; virtual reality; clones; and high-tech drugs, guns and body modification — the full sci-fi shebang. As with “Blade Runner”, our way into this richly imagined future is through an old-school noir mystery. The story opens with a gumshoe plot straight out of the pages of Raymond Chandler, involving a disillusioned antihero with a past; a duplicitous millionaire and his sultry wife; a locked room-style murder; and a cast of supporting suspects with their own complex criminal agendas.

Joel Kinnaman plays our sci-fi shamus, Takeshi Kovacs. He’s downloaded into a new body — known as a “sleeve” for the way minds can be slipped in and out of them — and hired by the murder victim himself. Like “Westworld” and other twisty-turny flashback-driven shows, untangling the various crimes and conspiracies requires a bulletin board covered in Post-its, but don’t worry if you lose track of the finer details.

Sometimes even Raymond Chandler didn’t know who killed the chauffeur.

Between the show’s creator, Laeta Kalogridis, and the original novel’s author, Richard Morgan, “Altered Carbon” cleverly mines the body-swapping premise with trippy scenarios like “cross-sleeving” — a mind being downloaded into a body of a different gender — or “double-sleeving”, when people split their mind into two bodies. Identity is thought-provokingly divorced from physical attributes like race and sex, while the elite are the people who have lived the longest and can afford the most clones. And the careless attitude to disposable human bodies gives a real weight and pathos to “real death”, when a person’s stored mind is destroyed once and for all.

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The availability of different bodies raises thought-provoking questions about identity.

Netflix

Netflix’s pot of money means the visuals look amazing.

The neon-drenched cityscapes look a lot like those in “Blade Runner”, but “Altered Carbon” finds its own identity with atmospheric VR sequences, novel future-flavoured fight scenes, and heavenly towers floating in distinctly uncyberpunk blue skies. This sounds like a lot of fun, although fun is one thing missing from long stretches of the show. The jokes are generally of the grunted sarcasm variety, and in a world where human flesh is disposable, the noir genre’s trademark sadism gets turned up to 11.

Men and women — mostly women — get cut to bloody pieces left, right and centre, usually while naked. I’m all for a bit of the old ultraviolence, and the zero-gravity and clone-based fights are great. But as with “Blade Runner 2049” viewers could find that their mileage varies regarding when, exactly, an examination of violence against women becomes instead just more depictions of violence against women.

And, as is often the problem with Netflix shows stretched over 10 hours or more, the pace can sometimes plod. Acting-wise, everybody from Kinnaman on down puts on their best noirish frowny faces, which does make the tone a bit one-note. Kinnaman’s looming blockhead only has one facial expression.

OK, so does Ryan Gosling in “Blade Runner 2049,” but let’s just say Joel Kinnaman is no Ryan Gosling.

Chris Conner’s gothic-inspired AI is one of the standout performances.

Netflix

The most entertaining support comes from Chris Conner as a gothic-inspired AI, and Matt Frewer as a grinning synth, but most of the cast sticks to sultry growling. I’d also love to see the actors have more fun with the body-swapping element by playing different personalities: Cliff Chamberlain and Matt Biedel deserve credit for delivering real highlights as secondary characters dropped into unfamiliar bodies, giving us fun scenes like one in which a chirpy Latina grandmother inhabits the body of a hulking thug. It’s when the story embraces its heightened sci-fi premise that the show really shines. “Altered Carbon” is worth a watch for moments like these when it’s not wearing its influences on its sleeves.

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The Pal-V Liberty flying car is ready to buzz the tower at Geneva

Anytime someone wheels out a new “flying car” I can’t help but let out a sigh. These machines are always hideous and of questionable functionality. Dutch company Pal-V thinks it can change that with its Liberty flying car.

I’m skeptical. At first glance, the Liberty looks like someone got hammered-drunk, took design aspects from the Audi R8, the Elio P4 and some rejected “Speed Racer” designs, and then stuck helicopter blades on top of it. The only thing about it that says “car” to me is the fact that it has wheels.

With the whirly bits unfolded, it could more or less pass as a helicopter… which is cool?

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The Pal-V Liberty looks equally sketchy on the road and in the air.

Pal-V

But it’s not a helicopter. The lift-generating rotors on top are wind-powered, and not driven by an engine. Thrust is provided by a propeller at the rear which makes this an autogyro, a type of aircraft first built and flown in the early 1920s.

The benefit for Pal-V is that an autogyro is decidedly less complicated to build than a helicopter and much cheaper to produce and run. The downside is that autogyros generally can’t take off vertically, so you’d need a decent run-up before lifting off, the way you would in a fixed-wing aircraft. One thing that the Liberty does have going for it is the fact that it’s compact.

With all its flying gubbins folded up and stowed, it will fit in a standard parking space. It will also run on premium gasoline, so there’s no need for exotic fuels. It’ll supposedly achieve 31 miles per gallon in car mode and will go through 6.9 gallons in an hour while flying.

It has a tank capacity of just over 26 gallons which works out to 4.3 hours of flight time with a 30-minute reserve.

Pal-V says the Liberty will hit 100 miles per hour on the road, while its recommended flying cruise speed is 86 mph to get maximum range. It’ll do 112 mph flat-out. You’re not going to set the world on fire with the Liberty; prepare to get your doors blown off by Cessnas and Pipers.

The Liberty has a maximum altitude of 11,480 feet.

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“Pfft, Gulfstreams are for nerds. I’m taking my Dutch autogyro to the beach rave in Goa!”

Pal-V

How much would you be expected to pay to dominate neither the road nor the sky? Well, if you just sold your app and you’re high on “raw water,” you can opt for the £599,000 Pal-V Liberty Pioneer version.

If you’re not balling quite so hard, you can slot yourself into a more plebeian Sport version at just £399,000. Keep in mind though, these pricing figures aren’t set in stone, Pal-V is careful about calling them “expected prices” and that has me wondering how much they could fluctuate. The Liberty is supposed to make its grand entrance next month at the Geneva Motor Show.

Rest assured, the entire Roadshow staff will spend the time until then convincing Andrew Krok to ride in it.

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Cute galaxies look like a penguin guarding its egg

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This once-spiral galaxy now resembles a watchful penguin looking over an egg-shaped galaxy.

NASA-ESA/STScI/AURA/JPL-Caltech

Can galaxies be cute? Yes, yes they can. NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope and Spitzer Space Telescope combined their efforts to produce a new look at a pair of galaxies called Arp 142, but more adorably known as “the Penguin and the Egg.”

The penguin (formal name NGC 2336) likely started off as a spiral galaxy that was distorted by the neighboring egg (NGC 2937). The egg is much different from its companion, both in looks and behavior. “The absence of glowing red dust features informs us that it has long since lost its reservoir of gas and dust from which new stars can form,” NASA said in a release on Wednesday.

This radiant view of the galactic pair comes from combining light in both visible and infrared spectrums as seen by the two space telescopes. While the galaxies strike a charming pose right now, NASA says “their mutual gravitational attraction slowly drags them closer together.” They will merge into each other over time and eventually lose their resemblance to a waterfowl watching over its unhatched young. The two are about 23 million light-years away.

At least the Penguin and the Egg are a lot friendlier-looking than some of the universe’s more ominous cosmic creations, like the Spider nebula or this skull-like asteroid.

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Alta Motors' electric motorcycles are ready for the mainstream

Alta Motors is one of the most exciting names in the burgeoning electric motorcycle market. By focusing its efforts on building off-road-focused electric bikes, it has been able to skirt the image problems suffered by other two-wheeled EV manufacturers and produce a compelling product that more than competes with its gasoline-powered rivals in performance, and now in price too. For the uninitiated, Alta Motors is a Northern California-based manufacturer of electric dirt bikes, enduro bikes and supermotos that has been in operation since 2010.

Its Redshift line of bikes has been well-received by the motorcycling press, and when you look at the specs of its freshly announced MXR electric motocross bike, it’s kind of easy to see why.

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Electric dirt bikes have finally gotten both cheap enough and sufficiently rad to compete with their gas-powered counterparts.

Alta Motors

The 2018 Redshift MXR is even lighter than its 265-pound predecessor, produces 50 horsepower and a frankly staggering 147 pound-feet of torque. To put that in perspective, that’s more torque than a BMW K1600 which weighs around three times as much as the MXR. It will do approximately 60 miles on the road or 40 miles off-road (give or take, depending on riding style and so on) and will now recharge in just an hour and a half on 240 volts.

The best part is that Alta’s prices are dropping as its supply chain and production methods improve. The MXR will set buyers back just £11,995, which in motorcycle terms isn’t cheap per se, but for an electric bike with these specs, that’s dirt cheap. Other models in the Redshift lineup will go for similar money, but well under the £15,000 that one might pay for a comparable Zero.

“While the costs of combustion vehicles are essentially flat to purchasing power, electric is still moving down the cost curve and is now a clear contender in terms of performance,” said Marc Fenigstein, chief product officer for Alta Motors. “Now that we’ve reached price parity and our vehicles outperform combustion in nearly every category, our plans are to bring electrics into the mainstream by making them more accessible to a more diverse set of riders and future motorcycle curious audiences.”

I’m curious to see where Alta goes next with its product line.

Whether it’s an all-electric adventure bike, an electric trials bike or something else entirely, I’m looking forward to throwing a leg over it.

30 2018 Alta Motors Redshift MXR gives gas bikes a run for their money

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