How to mute tabs in any web browser to prevent pages from making unwanted noise

woman using laptop headphones music
Different browsers offer different ways to mute tabs.

  • Every major browser lets you mute tabs, so you won’t hear any sound from the website in that tab.
  • To mute a tab, just right-click the tab and select the “Mute” option.
  • Google Chrome only lets you mute entire sites by default – to mute just an individual tab, you’ll need an extension.
  • Visit Insider’s Tech Reference library for more stories.

If you’ve been online for long enough, you’ve probably run into the scourge of the internet: auto-playing video ads. There are few things worse than opening a website only to have it blare unwanted music at you.

That’s why nearly every web browser lets you mute tabs. The mute tab feature silences everything in a specific tab, meaning that even the loudest video ad won’t bother you.

Here’s how to mute tabs on your Mac or PC using Google Chrome, Microsoft Edge, Firefox, and Safari.

How to mute tabs in Google Chrome

Despite being the most popular internet browser around, Google Chrome doesn’t have a built-in way to mute tabs like other browsers.

Instead, Google Chrome lets you mute entire websites. This means that if you mute a tab, any other tab that’s on the same website will also be muted.

To do mute websites:

1. Right-click a tab that’s on the website you want to mute.

2. Select Mute Site.

A YouTube video opened in Google Chrome. The user has right-clicked the tab to reveal the Mute Site option.
Right-click your tab to mute the site.

3. When you want to unmute it, right-click a tab that’s on that website again and select Unmute Site.

If you specifically want to mute individual tabs instead of whole websites, you’ll need to install an extension. We recommend the plainly named Tab Muter extension.

To use it:

1. Open the Tab Muter page and click Add to Chrome in the top-right, and then Add Extension.

The Tab Muter page in Chrome, with the pop-up asking the user if they'd like to add it to Chrome.
Add the extension to Chrome.

2. An icon that looks like a black speaker will appear in your Extensions list. You might see it right away in the top-right corner of Chrome – if not, click the puzzle piece icon and find it there. You can also click the thumbtack icon next to the Tab Muter icon to make sure it’s always visible.

3. When you want to mute a tab, open the tab and click that black speaker icon. It’ll immediately silence the tab.

A YouTube video in Google Chrome. The Tab Muter extension's black speaker icon is highlighted in the top-right corner.
Click the new Tab Muter icon.

When you want to unmute the tab, just click that black speaker icon again.

How to mute tabs in Microsoft Edge or Firefox

Microsoft Edge and Firefox let you mute tabs in the exact same way, and it’s much easier than in Google Chrome.

1. Right-click the tab you want to mute.

2. Select Mute Tab.

A page in Microsoft Edge, where the user has right-clicked the tab and selected Mute Tab.
Select the “Mute Site” option.

3. To unmute the tab, right-click it again and select Unmute Tab.

Alternatively, open the tab and press Control + M on your keyboard.

How to mute tabs in Safari

Safari does let you mute tabs, but it has a restriction: You can only mute tabs that are actively making sound. If you try to mute a tab when there’s no sound coming from it, the option will be either gone or grayed out. This means that you can’t preemptively mute tabs.

The instructions also differ a bit depending on how many tabs you have open.

  • If the tab you want to mute is the only one you have open, click Window at the top of the screen and then Mute This Tab. When you want to unmute, open the Window menu again and select Unmute This Tab.
A Safari user opening the Window menu and selecting Mute Tab.
If you’ve only got one tab, you’ll find the mute option in the Window menu.

  • If you have multiple tabs open, right-click the tab you want to mute and select Mute Tab. To unmute, right-click again and select Unmute Tab.
A Safari user right-clicking their current tab and selecting Mute Tab.
Like other browsers, you can also right-click the tab.

If you want to mute every tab making sound except for the one you’re currently in, click Window at the top of the screen and then Mute Other Tabs. Just remember that it’ll only mute the tabs that are actively making sound at that moment.

How to restart a Google Chrome browser without losing your open tabsHow to allow pop-ups in Google Chrome from all websites or specific ones onlyHow to clear your Google search history from your Google Account and on various web browsersHow to make Google your homepage in any web browser for easy access

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France is furious after Australia scrapped a submarine deal to partner with the US and UK. Here’s how American, British, and French subs stack up

The Virginia-class, nuclear-powered, fast-attack submarine, USS North Dakota (SSN 784), transit the Thames River as they pull into their homeport on Naval Submarine Base New London in Groton, Conn.
The Virginia-class, nuclear-powered, fast-attack submarine, USS North Dakota (SSN 784), transit the Thames River as they pull into their homeport on Naval Submarine Base New London in Groton, Conn. in Jan. 2019.

  • Australia’s new submarine partnership with the US and UK has upended a deal with France.
  • Australia will now pursue nuclear-powered submarines over conventional diesel-electric subs.
  • Here’s how American, British, and French submarine technology compares.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Australia’s abrupt decision to scrap a deal with France for conventional submarines to pursue nuclear-powered subs with the US and UK has stirred up geopolitical tensions by infuriating France.

Australia wants to replace its Collins-class attack submarines. The plan was initially to purchase a dozen diesel-electric Shortfin Barracuda submarines from France, but Australia has since abandoned that plan and partnered with the US and UK to acquire nuclear submarine technology.

At this time, it is unclear whether Australia will pursue British or American submarine technology or some mixture of the two, but here is how American, British, and French submarine technology compares.

USS Virginia, Virginia Class submarine
USS Virginia returns to the General Dynamics Electric Boat shipyard following the successful completion of its first voyage in open seas called “alpha” sea trials, July 30, 2004.

Virginia-class attack submarines

The US Navy’s Virginia-class submarines are nuclear-powered fast-attack vessels armed with Tomahawk cruise missiles, Mk-48 torpedoes, and UGM-84 Harpoon anti-ship missiles that were built for open ocean and littoral missions.

The newer Block V models will be over 450 feet long and have a displacement of more than 10,000 tons. This newer model will not only be larger than its predecessors, it will also have a significantly increased weapons capacity of about 65 torpedo-sized weapons. These submarines also have support capabilities for special operations forces.

The Virginia-class submarines have unlimited range, and the reactor core, which uses highly-enriched uranium, does not require refueling for the life of the ship, which is more than three decades.

These boats are among the quietest and are equipped with high-end sensors, giving the US Navy a degree of acoustic superiority in the undersea battlespace.

One of the Royal Navy's seven Astute-class nuclear-powered attack submarine moves through the water at the entrance to Holy Loch and Loch Long near Kilcreggan, in Argyll and Bute
One of the Royal Navy’s seven Astute-class nuclear-powered attack submarine moves through the water at the entrance to Holy Loch and Loch Long near Kilcreggan, in Argyll and Bute

Astute-class attack submarines

The British Royal Navy’s Astute-class submarines are nuclear-powered attack submarines that can carry up to 38 torpedo-sized weapons, including Tomahawk cruise missiles and Spearfish heavyweight torpedoes.

These vessels measure 318 feet, according to builder BAE Systems, and has a submerged displacement of well over 7,000 tons.

The UK’s Astute-class submarines are slightly faster than the Virginia-class submarines, and they have unlimited range. And like the American submarines, the reactors on the British vessels were designed not to need to be refueled for the life of the ship, around 25 years.

Additionally, these submarines have support systems for British special forces.

In many ways, the British Astute-class subs are comparable to the American Virginia-class submarines.

A Naval Group staff member stands atop the new nuclear submarine called "Suffren" in the Naval Group shipyard in Cherbourg, north-western France on July 12, 2019, ahead of its unveiling ceremony.
A Naval Group staff member stands atop the new nuclear submarine called “Suffren” in the Naval Group shipyard in Cherbourg, north-western France on July 12, 2019, ahead of its unveiling ceremony.

Suffren-class attack submarines and the Shortfin Barracuda

The French Navy’s Barracuda- or Suffren-class submarines are nuclear-powered attack submarines designed by French shipbuilder Naval Group and equipped with four torpedo tubes and 20 weapons racks able to carry heavy torpedoes, anti-ship missiles, cruise missiles, and naval mines.

These submarines, which are traditional open ocean submarines, are 326 feet long and have a displacement of about 5,200 tons.

As nuclear submarines, the Suffren-class submarines have unlimited range, but the reactors have to be refueled about every ten years.

“In terms of performance, the Virginia class has the best overall performance,” Bryan Clark, a former US Navy submarine officer and current defense expert, told Insider. “The Astute would probably be right behind it, and then the Barracuda would probably be third of those three.”

The agreement between France and Australia, however, was not for the nuclear-powered Suffren-class subs but a conventional diesel-electric variant.

This variant would have a max submerged speed about half that of a nuclear-powered submarine, have less battlefield flexibility, have decreased range, and need to surface more frequently. These submarines are more likely to be detected and monitored by a potential foe, especially one with a fleet as large as China. Submarines of this type are suitable for coastal defense but less than ideal for operations farther out.

Royal Australian Navy submarine HMAS Sheean arrives for a logistics port visit on April 1, 2021 in Hobart, Australia
Royal Australian Navy submarine HMAS Sheean arrives for a logistics port visit on April 1, 2021 in Hobart, Australia

Nuclear-powered submarines make sense

Clark told Insider that it is reasonable for the Australian navy to go with some type of nuclear-powered sub over conventional submarines as it looks to replace its Collins-class boats.

“A diesel submarine doesn’t really make sense because on its way to whatever it would be trying to do, it is going to be detected and monitored, especially with the degree of commercial and military sensing that is out there,” he said. “It’ll be tracked, and then when it arrives at wherever it’s supposed to operate, your opponent will probably be waiting there for you.”

Thomas Shugart, a former US Navy submarine warfare officer and current adjunct senior fellow in the defense program at the Center for New American Security, also said it’s a good idea, explaining that nuclear-powered subs would better meet Australia’s security demands in the contested Indo-Pacific region.

“I think it makes sense given the deteriorating military balance in the region,” he said. “And there’s no doubt for anybody who was paying any attention at all that the Australians were unhappy with where the Shortfin Barracuda program was going.”

That said, Clark and Shugart pointed out that there are potential downsides, such as program costs, though these were already high, and further delivery delays on bringing improved submarine capability to the Australian navy.

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The Apple Watch Series 7 joins the Apple Watch SE and Series 3 later this fall – here’s how they compare

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New Apple Watch prices 2021
Apple Watch Series 7 will replace the Series 6 in stores while the SE and Series 3 remain available.

  • Apple Watch Series 7 will be available “later this fall” with prices starting at $399.
  • The more affordable Apple Watch SE, released in 2020, will remain available for $279.
  • Apple Watch Series 3 remains the cheapest option at $199, but we no longer recommend buying it.

Table of Contents: Masthead StickyWatch Series 3 (38mm, GPS) (small)Watch SE (40mm, GPS) (small)

Apple Watch Series 7, the latest addition to Apple’s wearable tech family, will arrive later this fall, but the company will continue to sell the more affordable Apple Watch SE and Apple Watch Series 3.

Apple Watch Series 7 offers a roughly 20% larger screen, 33% faster charging, and improved dust resistance when compared to Series 6. It also continues support for health features that aren’t available on Apple Watch SE or Series 3.

Apple hasn’t confirmed an official release date or full pricing options for Apple Watch Series 7, but we expect the price to fall in-line with the current Series 6 prices starting at $399.

Apple Watch Series 7 vs. Watch SE vs. Watch Series 3: key differences explained

Keeping different Apple Watch models available creates a wider range of price points, with the Series 3 starting at $199 and the SE starting at $279. However, those models don’t have the latest Watch OS improvements, including health features like blood oxygen tracking and an electrocardiogram (ECG) app.

We no longer recommend buying the Apple Watch Series 3, due to its smaller size, limited storage space, and aging processor. Apple only sells the GPS version of the Series 3, which has 8GB of storage compared to the 32 GB offered by the Series 7 and Apple Watch SE. The $330 cellular + GPS models still available at Best Buy cost as much as the Apple Watch SE, despite having a smaller screen and older processor.

Apple Watch Series 7 screen size comparison
Apple says the Series 7 will offer more than 50% the screen area of the Series 3.

Apple Watch SE was released alongside the Series 6 last fall and still has some of the best WatchOS features. In comparison to the Series 7, the SE doesn’t have an always-on display option, 5 GHz Wi-Fi, or Apple’s ultra wideband radio chip. As the more affordable model, the SE also doesn’t offer the more expensive stainless steel and titanium case options that Apple offers for the Series 6 and Series 7.

With the SE occasionally going on sale for $250, we recommend it if you’re curious about smartwatch features like heart and sleep tracking but don’t need advanced features like ECG, and don’t mind having a slightly smaller screen.

Apple Watch Series 7 will replace the Series 6 as the premium Apple Watch, but the new features won’t necessarily warrant an upgrade for all but the most dedicated of Apple Watch users. We’ll need to test the Watch ourselves to know if it’s worth an upgrade from previous models.

Apple Watch Series 7, Apple Watch SE, and Apple Watch Series 3 specs comparison

You can find complete specs for each Apple Watch model at Apple’s website, but we highlighted some of the key categories and differences in the table below.

Features and specs

Apple Watch Series 7

Apple Watch SE

Apple Watch Series 3

Price (base model)

$399 (expected)




41 mm, 45 mm

40 mm, 44 mm

38 mm, 42 mm


GPS or Cellular + GPS, Bluetooth 5.0, 5 GHz Wi-Fi

GPS or Cellular + GPS, Bluetooth 5.0, 2.4 GHz Wi-Fi

GPS only, Bluetooth 4.2, 2.4 GHz Wi-Fi


Green, blue, red, starlight, midnight

Space gray, silver, gold

Space gray, silver

Case material

Aluminum, stainless steel, or titanium



Storage space




Battery life

18 hours

18 hours

18 hours

Heart rate tracking




Water resistant




Blood oxygen app




Electrocardiogram (ECG) app




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Billionaire Bill Gross and his millionaire neighbor are back in court amid a months-long feud over an expensive sculpture and the ‘Gilligan’s Island’ theme song

Bill Gross and wife Amy Schwartz
Amy and Bill Gross.

  • Billionaire investor Bill Gross is back in court this week over a spat with his neighbor.
  • The neighbor claims Gross and his wife, Amy, violated a court order regarding playing loud music.
  • The conflict stems from a $1 million glass sculpture on Gross’s property.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Billionaire bond investor Bill Gross and his wife, Amy, are back in court this week over an ongoing spat with their next-door neighbors.

The legal battle has been raging for months between the Grosses and multimillionaire tech entrepreneur Mark Towfiq and his wife, who live directly next door in Laguna Beach, California. Towfiq now claims that Gross and his wife violated a December 2020 court order that required them to stop playing loud music when they aren’t outside and to follow local ordinances, Bloomberg reports.

Amy Gross testified Monday that her neighbors are driving her out of her home and that she has to announce her presence when she goes outside.

“I fear going into my backyard,” she testified, according to Bloomberg. “I couldn’t have my wedding reception there. I couldn’t have my birthday there.”

Towfiq’s wife, Carol Nakahara, testified that she and her husband feel helpless and that they “thought this was over” last year, Bloomberg reports.

The conflict began last year and stems from a $1 million sculpture

Towfiq accused the legendary bond trader and cofounder of Pimco and his partner, the former professional tennis player Amy Schwartz, of harassment and intentional infliction of emotional distress.

Gross and Schwartz – who appears to have taken her husband’s last name when they were married last April – had installed a a 22-foot-long sculpture on their property in Laguna Beach, California. The sculpture, created by the artist Dale Chihuly, consists of dozens of blue glass stems that reach nearly 10 feet high. It was installed by Gross as a gift to his partner in 2019 and cost $1 million, according to the Los Angeles Times.

Amy Gross told the Times last year that the glass pieces “are like my babies” and that she and her mother pray to them.

But after the sculpture sustained thousands of dollars in damage, Gross installed netting to protect it from the elements, which Towfiq and his wife said blocked their view. The couple filed a complaint with the city of Laguna Beach, which led to the city inspecting the property and informing Gross that he lacked the proper permits, the Times reported.

After the complaint was filed with the city, Towfiq and Nakahara claimed that the Grosses blared the “Gilligan’s Island” theme song, among other music, at all hours of the day and night, including turning the music on remotely when away from home, in an attempt to get them to drop the issue. (Bill Gross testified in December that the song has special significance for the couple.)

If Gross is found guilty of violating the restraining order, he could be jailed, according to Bloomberg.

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US stocks struggle to recover from Evergrande rout while investors await the outcome of Fed meeting

Traders work at the trading floor in the New York Stock Exchange on Aug. 19, 2021.
New York Stock Exchange on Aug. 19, 2021.

US stocks struggled to regain their footing Tuesday following a brutal sell-off sparked by beleaguered Chinese developer Evergrande during Monday’s session. Investors, meanwhile, are awaiting the outcome of the Federal Reserve’s two-day Federal Open Market Committee meeting beginning that kicked off on Tuesday.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average and S&P 5oo both ended lower, while the Nasdaq eked out a gain.

Here’s where US indexes stood at the 4:00 p.m. close on Tuesday:

“Financial markets have Evergrande as the top story and will enter wait-and-see mode until a meaningful update from the Chinese government,” Edward Moya, senior market analyst at foreign exchange firm Oanda, said in a note Tuesday. “The Evergrande story won’t lead to contagion in the US but there are so many questions about who will be protected once China says ‘enough’ and swoops in.”

Evergrande, China’s second-largest property developer, has more than $300 billion in liabilities and could miss key interest payments due Thursday. There are no signs yet that the Chinese government will step in to save the company.

On top of Evergrande concerns, investors are anxious about the Federal Reserve’s potential tapering of stimulus and the risk of a prolonged period of inflation.

While several analysts, including those at BlackRock Investment Institute, do not expect Fed Chair Jerome Powell to announce any policy change this month, they are still keeping a close eye on any signal of how he plans to scale back monetary support, which includes tapering asset purchases.

“We expect the Fed to start normalizing policy rates in 2023, a much slower pace than market pricing for lift-off in 2022 indicates,” the BlackRock analysts said in a note.

Another issue that might be discussed, according to Moya, is the multi-million-dollar stock purchases of Dallas and Boston Federal Reserve presidents Robert Kaplan and Eric Rosengren, which involved purchases of big-name firms like Apple, Alibaba, and Tesla.

“If the Fed struggles to deal with intensifying scrutiny after their ethics review, the FOMC could lose two of its hawkish members,” Moya said.

Elsewhere, Fintech firm Revolut plans to offer commission-free stock trading to US clients as the London-based startup takes on rivals like Robinhood and Square amid a boom in retail investing, CNBC first reported Tuesday.

In cryptocurrencies, the US Department of the Treasury on Tuesday revealed it will sanction Russian-owned Suex for its role in laundering financial transactions for ransomware actors, marking the first time the agency has ever blacklisted a cryptocurrency exchange.

Meanwhile, Binance, the world’s largest cryptocurrency exchange, is shutting down cryptocurrency derivative products for existing customers in Australia by the end of the year, the latest bid by the exchange to appease regulators.

Bitcoin hovered just above $42,000 after a broader cryptocurrency sell-off Monday.

Oil prices rebounded. West Texas Intermediate crude climbed 0.31%, to $70.51 per barrel. Brent crude, oil’s international benchmark, rose 0.88%, to $74.57 per barrel.

Gold jumped 0.56%, to $1,774.99 per ounce.

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Cuts to COVID-era unemployment benefits will lower US incomes by nearly $145 billion, according to economic think tank

an unemployed worker holds a sign that says  I Am angry as hell Fix Unemployment Now,'
Odirus Charles holds a sign that reads, ‘ I Am angry as hell Fix Unemployment Now,’ as he joins others in a protest on May 22, 2020 in Miami Beach, Florida.

In early September, the Biden administration let federal pandemic-era unemployment benefits lapse for millions of Americans as the Delta variant surged.

Bloomberg reports that workers haven’t come rushing back after benefits wound down, as some experts anticipated. But early research has shown that ending benefits could strike a big economic blow for both jobless Americans and their states’ economies.

Now, a new report from the left-leaning Economic Policy Institute (EPI) shows just how much could be at stake.

The government’s decision to let unemployment benefits expire in September will result in a $144.3 billion decrease in annual income and a $79.2 billion decrease in consumer spending, according to EPI.

The average annual decrease in income from unemployment insurance cuts is $13,728 per person, and the average annual decrease in spending is $7,450, according to EPI.

Those figures come from an annualized analysis of research that looked at the economic impact of cutting off benefits early. Throughout the summer, 26 states – 25 of which are GOP-led – opted out of federal benefits early. Researchers from the University of Massachusetts Amherst, Harvard University, Columbia University, and the University of Toronto found that in the 19 states they analyzed, spending plunged.

They found that that the loss of UI benefits at the state level resulted in recipients of UI spending about $145 less per week. For every dollar in benefits lost, spending dropped by $0.52. That added up to a $2 billion drop in spending across all of those states.

At the start of the pandemic, the federal government expanded both the size and scope of unemployment insurance. Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) made gig workers and freelancers newly eligible, among others; a separate EPI analysis found that PUA made up the greatest share of federal UI distributed in 2020. The government beefed up benefits in the form of an additional $600 weekly, which would later become a $300 benefit.

The enhanced unemployment benefits – alongside stimulus checks – helped keep some Americans out of poverty. As Insider’s Madison Hoff reported, the US Census Bureau found that the official poverty rate rose by 1% in 2020. But the Supplemental Poverty Measure (SPM), which tracks income from programs like unemployment and stimulus, found those programs actually drove down poverty by 2.6%.

However, the expiration of unemployment programs was more likely to leave Americans of color behind, according to the EPI report. They cite Census Bureau data that found that workers of color were more likely to receive UI benefits than their white counterparts.

“If you get rid of the pandemic extended unemployment program, that’s like half the Black workers by definition aren’t going to be eligible to get any benefits,” Dr. William Spriggs, an economics professor at Howard University and the chief economist for the AFL-CIO, previously told Insider.

EPI said that cutting the payments will negatively impact marginalized communities and increase poverty – especially in areas with higher minority populations which often have stricter unemployment benefits.

Some experts and jobless Americans argued that benefits were ending too early; Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has introduced a bill that would restore benefits through February 2022 and pay them out retroactively to September 6.

Even so, the Biden administration affirmed in August that benefits would come to a close in September – although states could continue paying out benefits on their own or give impacted residents relief payments. But no state said it would continue benefits.

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Disney sinks 5% after CEO Bob Chapek warns about Disney+ subscription growth and says delta variant is creating production delays

Bob Chapek
Disney CEO Bob Chapek hinted that Disney World may soon lift its mask mandate for guests

  • Disney fell as much as 5% after CEO Bob Chapek warned about upcoming subscriber results for its streaming products.
  • Speaking at Goldman Sachs’ media conference, he said growth will be choppy in the shorter-term.
  • Chapek added that the delta variant of COVID-19 has contributed to production delays.
  • Sign up here for our daily newsletter, 10 Things Before the Opening Bell.

Disney stock fell as much as 5% Tuesday afternoon after CEO Bob Chapek warned investors that the delta variant surge of COVID-19 is creating production delays and could lead to choppy growth for the Disney+ streaming business.

Chapek said that while he still expects Disney+ subscriptions to hit its long-term targets, growth will be uneven in the shorter-term, with probably more “noise” than Wall Street analysts expect. The comments from Chapek came at a Goldman Sachs’ Media conference on Tuesday.

The COVID-induced production delays will lead to less product being on the Disney+ streaming platform, possibly making the offering less enticing for consumers amid the ongoing content wars between streaming companies like Netflix and HBO Max.

For Disney’s fiscal fourth quarter, Chapek expects an increase of low single-digit-millions to its streaming platform ex-Hotstar, which is Disney’s streaming service for the Indian market. Meanwhile, Chapek said Disney’s Star+ streaming platform in Latin America is off to a slow start.

Rich Greenfield of Lightshed Partners said, “None of the Disney Plus issues sound long-term but he [Chapek] is clearly trying to bring down quarterly expectations and even says you can’t judge us on subscriptions quarter-to-quarter.”

After missing consensus views in the fiscal second quarter, Disney beat them in the third. Disney+ had about 116 million paid subscribers at the end of June.

Despite the potential weakness in Disney’s streaming business, Chapek said that it is seeing strength in its theme park business despite the COVID-19 surge, and that its cruise ship bookings have seen momentum going into the second half of next year.

Disney stock chart
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NASA is sending a water-hunting lunar rover to a shadowy crater on the moon’s south pole

nasa viper moon rover on lunar surface dark shadows
An artist’s concept of NASA’s Volatiles Investigating Polar Exploration Rover, or VIPER.

NASA is embarking on a new moon shot, aiming to one day build a permanent crewed station on the lunar surface. Before it sends any people, though, the agency is launching a golf-cart-sized robot to the moon’s freezing, shadowy south pole.

The rover, called the Volatiles Investigating Polar Exploration Rover (VIPER), will spend 100 days mapping out water sources – the first such survey of the lunar south pole.

Eventually, NASA hopes to set up a permanent base there, then use it to springboard the first human missions to Mars as early as the 2030s. That’s why it’s important to know where water is: It can be broken down into its component elements, hydrogen and oxygen, and both of those can be turned into rocket fuel.

Flying humans to Mars will require a lot of propellant, which is incredibly heavy for a rocket to carry as it lifts off from Earth. So fueling up on the moon may be necessary for NASA to send astronauts to the red planet.

“Where there’s water, there’s fuel,” NASA Administrator Bill Nelson said in a town hall on Tuesday. “That could well be a gas station for us in the future.”

On Monday, NASA announced that it has chosen a landing site for VIPER to search for that gas station: a mountainous region next to the moon’s Nobile Crater. The agency plans to send the robot there in 2023.

That area is up high in a mountain range, which will help NASA maintain communication with the rover from Earth. It also hosts a variety of environments – from permanently shadowed craters at nearly -400 degrees Fahrenheit to sunny regions that are closer to 0 degrees.

Spacecraft orbiting the moon have already identified signs of water on the south pole, but NASA doesn’t know precisely where that water is or what its chemical makeup is like.

“When we’re down there on the moon, working with scales that you and I are more familiar with than orbital scales, we really don’t know where that water is,” Anthony Colaprete, lead scientist on the VIPER project, said in a briefing on Monday. “We wanted to broadly understand a range of environments on the moon. The Nobile region offered that.”

VIPER will be NASA’s first moon rover in 50 years. If successful, it will also be the first machine to ever land on the moon’s south pole without deliberately crashing.

VIPER will follow ‘corridors of light’ and dip into ancient shadows

VIPER will land in an exceptionally shadowy region of the moon.

“The poles of the moon are dramatic, especially the south pole, where ancient impact basins have lifted mountains that dwarf Mount Everest,” Colaprete said.

The sun, just barely peeking over the horizon, creates shadows of those mountains that can stretch hundreds of miles. That could pose a problem for VIPER, which relies on solar power. So the rover will need to follow “corridors of light,” Colaprete said, as shadows move across the pole.

nasa moon rover viper
An engineering model of VIPER created to evaluate the rover’s mobility system. Testing involves driving the rover over various slopes, textures and soils.

But occasionally, the rover will dip into craters that lie in permanent shadow, areas sunlight hasn’t touched in billions of years. These craters are a big reason NASA chose this landing spot, since those shadows could preserve ancient reservoirs of ice.

All in all, NASA expects VIPER to cover 10 to 15 miles and visit six spots with different temperature ranges, where water ice could lie at various depths below the surface. VIPER will drill into the lunar surface to find that ice.

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