The impossible cool of Cowboy Bebop
The 1998 hit is making a comeback. Stop what you're doing and watch the original.
Adam Frank is a professor of astrophysics at the University of Rochester and a leading expert on the final stages of evolution for stars like the sun. Frank's computational research group at the University of Rochester has developed advanced supercomputer tools for studying how stars form and how they die. A self-described “evangelist of science," he is the author of four books and the co-founder of 13.8, where he explores the beauty and power of science in culture with physicist Marcelo Gleiser.
- Cowboy Bebop is a genre-busting Japanese anime series.
- The stories, music, and science fiction are among the best I've ever experienced.
- The show is being rebooted on Netflix.
Every now and then in our movie/TV-show watching careers, there comes a moment when we are confronted with the shock of the new.
It could be that first scene in The Matrix when Trinity evades the cops by running sideways along the walls. It could be the opening of Doctor Strange when buildings peel apart like reality is being unzippered. Across a lifetime of watching as one mediocre story after another plays out within the expected bumper rails of its genre, every now and then we find something truly unexpected, truly creative.
That feeling of boundaries being busted was the essence of the hugely influential 1998 anime classic Cowboy Bebop. With a Netflix version of this seminal show on the way, it's a good time to remember (or be introduced to) a show that has been called "impossibly cool" for good reason.
Cowboy Bebop – Opening Theme – Tank! www.youtube.com
An (re)introduction to Cowboy Bebop
What's the best way to describe Cowboy Bebop? How about it's a Space / Western / Noir / Detective / Cyberpunk / Mob / Heist / Romance / Comedy show? Genre-busting was the point. These days, with streaming services pumping out series like water from a geyser, we've gotten used to writers trying to mash-up multiple genres. In many ways, however, Cowboy Bebop got there first and better and did it in all in animation.
To be explicit, Cowboy Bebop takes place in the year 2071. Earth has been rendered mostly uninhabitable by an accident with a new "stargate" technology that subsequently allows the solar system to be settled. Mars, the big moons of the gas giants, Pluto — they're all fully inhabited. But this new solar system is a lawless place, and the cops are forced to use bounty hunters, called cowboys, to wrangle the criminal population. The show follows the exploits of four of these cowboys and their ship "The Bebop" as they confront nefarious corporations, criminal syndicates, and their own pasts.
Cowboy Bebop is a remarkably adult, character-driven show, which is what made it so groundbreaking for anime at the time. As individuals, the crewmembers are not a particularly likable bunch. Spike Spiegel is an ex-hit man for the Red Dragon crime syndicate. Jet Back is an amiable ex-cop with a cybernetic arm who wants to forget his past. Faye Valentine is a cynical con-artist who can't remember hers. "Edward" is a teen girl and ingenious hacker.
As a team, they are neither deeply bound to each other nor very successful. This dissonance allows the show to work through the crewmembers' individual issues of loneliness and isolation. In addition, the animation was not afraid to represent the violence of its universe in stark colors. (Tarentino's wicked animation in Kill Bill Vol. I was directly inspired by Bebop). All these elements are what allow Cowboy Bebop to mix its science fiction DNA so successfully with its darker film noir elements. There are a lot of dive bars and rain-soaked, garbage-strewn alleys in the show.
Great music, plausible science fiction
Credit: Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/ASU/MSSS
And did I mention the music? As soon as the pulsing initial bass lines of its manic theme song "Tank" let loose, you know something wicked has been born. "Tank" is so compelling in its excellence, so "impossibly cool," it's as if the James Bond and Mission Impossible theme songs had a love child with "Secret Agent Man," who went on to overtake them. There's a reason "Bebop" is in the show's name, as each episode is called a "session." Composer Yoko Kanno and director Shinichirō Watanabe were looking to jazz as inspiration for the creative freedom they wanted the show to embody. But, like the show itself, there's more than one musical genre that gets explored. Kanno put together a band called Seatbelts for the show, and their work in jazz, blues and country are all worth consideration in own right.
Finally, while science fiction is just one of the many genres in Cowboy Bebop, there are ideas in the show that I still find compelling. Many of the cities they visit, for example, reside inside miles-wide craters whose steep walls serve to hold in breathable atmospheres. This always struck me as an ingenious possibility that was easier to achieve than full terraforming and one that deserved real scientific exploration. Also, the spaceships and space battle scenes are some of the best around.
Put it all together and you can see why, in the more than 20 years since Cowboy Bebop first aired on Japanese and then American TV (Adult Swim), it has become iconic and is held up as an example of how to break the rules and then rebuild them for your own purposes. If you have never seen the show, now's a good time to become acquainted as the Netflix version should appear sometime in the next year. If you have seen it, this is a good time to go back and remember why it was so impossibly good.
"3,2,1… Let's jam!"
The first nation to make bitcoin legal tender will use geothermal energy to mine it.
This article was originally published on our sister site, Freethink.
In June 2021, El Salvador became the first nation in the world to make bitcoin legal tender. Soon after, President Nayib Bukele instructed a state-owned power company to provide bitcoin mining facilities with cheap, clean energy — harnessed from the country's volcanoes.
The challenge: Bitcoin is a cryptocurrency, a digital form of money and a payment system. Crypto has several advantages over physical dollars and cents — it's incredibly difficult to counterfeit, and transactions are more secure — but it also has a major downside.
Crypto transactions are recorded and new coins are added into circulation through a process called mining.
Crypto mining involves computers solving incredibly difficult mathematical puzzles. It is also incredibly energy-intensive — Cambridge University researchers estimate that bitcoin mining alone consumes more electricity every year than Argentina.
Most of that electricity is generated by carbon-emitting fossil fuels. As it stands, bitcoin mining produces an estimated 36.95 megatons of CO2 annually.
A world first: On June 9, El Salvador became the first nation to make bitcoin legal tender, meaning businesses have to accept it as payment and citizens can use it to pay taxes.
Less than a day later, Bukele tweeted that he'd instructed a state-owned geothermal electric company to put together a plan to provide bitcoin mining facilities with "very cheap, 100% clean, 100% renewable, 0 emissions energy."
Geothermal electricity is produced by capturing heat from the Earth itself. In El Salvador, that heat comes from volcanoes, and an estimated two-thirds of their energy potential is currently untapped.
Why it matters: El Salvador's decision to make bitcoin legal tender could be a win for both the crypto and the nation itself.
"(W)hat it does for bitcoin is further legitimizes its status as a potential reserve asset for sovereign and super sovereign entities," Greg King, CEO of crypto asset management firm Osprey Funds, told CBS News of the legislation.
Meanwhile, El Salvador is one of the poorest nations in North America, and bitcoin miners — the people who own and operate the computers doing the mining — receive bitcoins as a reward for their efforts.
"This is going to evolve fast!"
If El Salvador begins operating bitcoin mining facilities powered by clean, cheap geothermal energy, it could become a global hub for mining — and receive a much-needed economic boost in the process.
The next steps: It remains to be seen whether Salvadorans will fully embrace bitcoin — which is notoriously volatile — or continue business-as-usual with the nation's other legal tender, the U.S. dollar.
Only time will tell if Bukele's plan for volcano-powered bitcoin mining facilities comes to fruition, too — but based on the speed of things so far, we won't have to wait long to find out.
Less than three hours after tweeting about the idea, Bukele followed up with another tweet claiming that the nation's geothermal energy company had already dug a new well and was designing a "mining hub" around it.
"This is going to evolve fast!" the president promised.
How were mRNA vaccines developed? Pfizer's Dr Bill Gruber explains the science behind this record-breaking achievement and how it was developed without compromising safety.
- Wondering how Pfizer and partner BioNTech developed a COVID-19 vaccine in record time without compromising safety? Dr Bill Gruber, SVP of Pfizer Vaccine Clinical Research and Development, explains the process from start to finish.
- "I told my team, at first we were inspired by hope and now we're inspired by reality," Dr Gruber said. "If you bring critical science together, talented team members together, government, academia, industry, public health officials—you can achieve what was previously the unachievable."
- The Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 Vaccine has not been approved or licensed by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), but has been authorized for emergency use by FDA under an Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) to prevent COVID-19 for use in individuals 12 years of age and older. The emergency use of this product is only authorized for the duration of the emergency declaration unless ended sooner. See Fact Sheet: cvdvaccine-us.com/recipients.
Every star we can see, including our sun, was born in one of these violent clouds.
This article was originally published on our sister site, Freethink.
An international team of astronomers has conducted the biggest survey of stellar nurseries to date, charting more than 100,000 star-birthing regions across our corner of the universe.
Stellar nurseries: Outer space is filled with clouds of dust and gas called nebulae. In some of these nebulae, gravity will pull the dust and gas into clumps that eventually get so big, they collapse on themselves — and a star is born.
These star-birthing nebulae are known as stellar nurseries.
The challenge: Stars are a key part of the universe — they lead to the formation of planets and produce the elements needed to create life as we know it. A better understanding of stars, then, means a better understanding of the universe — but there's still a lot we don't know about star formation.
This is partly because it's hard to see what's going on in stellar nurseries — the clouds of dust obscure optical telescopes' view — and also because there are just so many of them that it's hard to know what the average nursery is like.
The survey: The astronomers conducted their survey of stellar nurseries using the massive ALMA telescope array in Chile. Because ALMA is a radio telescope, it captures the radio waves emanating from celestial objects, rather than the light.
"The new thing ... is that we can use ALMA to take pictures of many galaxies, and these pictures are as sharp and detailed as those taken by optical telescopes," Jiayi Sun, an Ohio State University (OSU) researcher, said in a press release.
"This just hasn't been possible before."
Over the course of the five-year survey, the group was able to chart more than 100,000 stellar nurseries across more than 90 nearby galaxies, expanding the amount of available data on the celestial objects tenfold, according to OSU researcher Adam Leroy.
New insights: The survey is already yielding new insights into stellar nurseries, including the fact that they appear to be more diverse than previously thought.
"For a long time, conventional wisdom among astronomers was that all stellar nurseries looked more or less the same," Sun said. "But with this survey we can see that this is really not the case."
"While there are some similarities, the nature and appearance of these nurseries change within and among galaxies," he continued, "just like cities or trees may vary in important ways as you go from place to place across the world."
Astronomers have also learned from the survey that stellar nurseries aren't particularly efficient at producing stars and tend to live for only 10 to 30 million years, which isn't very long on a universal scale.
Looking ahead: Data from the survey is now publicly available, so expect to see other researchers using it to make their own observations about stellar nurseries in the future.
"We have an incredible dataset here that will continue to be useful," Leroy said. "This is really a new view of galaxies and we expect to be learning from it for years to come."
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