Category Archives: Futurology

Futurology ~ New moons, asteroid duo, 3D-printing space parts, robot art, Rolls-Royce cockroaches, time capsule, lost society


Robots are painting ‘art’ now – but cockroach jobs are still safe.

12 new moons have been found orbiting Jupiter and one is on collision course with the others — Researchers in the US stumbled upon the new moons while hunting for the mysterious ninth planet that is postulated to lurk far beyond the orbit of Neptune, the most distant planet in the solar system. The team first glimpsed the moons in March last year from the Cerro Tololo Inter-American Observatory in Chile, but needed more than a year to confirm that the bodies were locked in orbit around the gas giant. The fresh haul of moons brings the total number of Jovian moons to 79, more than are known to circle any other planet in our cosmic neighbourhood.
~ A head-on collision would create a crash visible from earth.

Odd asteroid duo — An asteroid discovered late last year is actually two gravitationally-bound objects in orbit around each other. But this particular duo, dubbed 2017 YE5, belongs to an exceptionally rare class of near-Earth objects. In June, the object made the closest approach it will make to Earth for the next 170 years, allowing scientists to take a closer look.
~ These self-orbiting rocks are as dark as charcoal, so they’re hard to spot.

3D-printing space parts — Lockheed Martin has finished quality control tests for its largest 3D-printed space part to date: an enormous titanium dome meant to serve as caps for satellite fuel tanks. The component measures 1.22 metres (4 feet) in diameter.

Robots that paint — CloudPainter creates evocative portraits featuring varying degrees of abstraction. One of its images was created by a team of neural networks, AI algorithms, and robots. Robotart’s founder, Andrew Conru, told MIT Technology Review that this year’s entries have shown refined brushstrokes and composition.
~ Yes, it’s really in how you read ‘Robotart’…

Rolls-Royce ‘cockroach’ robots — Rolls-Royce has announced it is teaming up with robotics experts at Harvard University and the University of Nottingham to develop tiny ‘cockroach’ robots that can crawl inside aircraft engines to spot and fix problems. These robots will be able to speed up inspections and eliminate the need to remove an engine from an aircraft for repair work to take place. The next step is to mount cameras on the robots and scale them down to a 15-milimetre size.
~ Yes, but will they spread pestilence? No! No real cockroaches will keep their jobs. 

WWII-era Time Capsule requires internet sleuths’ help — Do you know WWII veteran Richard Silagy or his family? Silagy lived in Cleveland, Ohio, sometime after World War II and hid a time capsule filled with personal items in his home. The time capsule was discovered underneath stairs in the basement of the house, and includes photos, yearbooks, his hat from World War II, and even a munitions shell dated 1944 that looks as though it was fired.
The time capsule was recently discovered by a housing contractor doing improvements on the house, but a search online for Silagy or any living relatives has been a failure so the contractor is turning to the public for help.
~ I don’t know him. 

Traces of lost society found in ‘pristine’ cloud forest — Deep in Ecuador’s lush Quijos Valley, a society thrived, then disappeared. But a lake preserved its story. In the 1850s, a team of botanists venturing into the cloud forest in the Quijos Valley of eastern Ecuador hacked their way through vegetation so thick they could barely make their way forward. This, they thought, was the heart of the pristine forest, a place where people had never gone. But they were very wrong. Indigenous Quijo groups had developed sophisticated agricultural settlements across the region, settlements that had been decimated with the arrival of Spanish explorers in the 1500s. In their absence, the forest sprung back. This process of societal collapse and forest reclamation is described in a new study published today in Nature Ecology and Evolution.
~ This shows the capacity of these forests to recover after they’ve been influenced by humans, which is a relief if you ask me. 

Advertisements

Futurology ~ Mars dunes, Welsh sites, underwater jetpack, caffeine genes, electric spider flight, NZ colour x-ray, rats kill coral, multiple human origins


Ghost dunes at Noctis Labyrinthus. Boxes B and C show close-ups. (MacKenzie Day & David Catling/AGU)

Mars’ ghost dunes — In a recent study in the Journal of Geophysical Research, planetary geomorphologist Mackenzie Day and astrobiologist David Catling announced their discovery of about 800 “ghost dunes” – the imprints of ancient sand piles – clustered in two different locations on Mars. Examining these former dunes can tell us more about the red planet’s historic climate, and might contain more surprises as well.
~ I always wanted to be a planetary geomorphologist … OK, not really. So, what can we possible ‘Tel’ from these dunes? 

Hidden cropmarks revealed by the drought in Wales — Elusive ‘cropmarks’ now reveal the sites of long hidden ruins. From above, these cropmarks stand out starkly from the landscape—unmistakable squares and circles that outline settlements from as far back as the Bronze Age. In the past weeks, Driver has captured cropmarks across the Welsh countryside, including those made by a previously undiscovered medieval cemetery, a rare type of monument in this area, but they stand out much ore than usual thanks to the current unprecedented heat in the northern hemisphere.
~ Let’s hope Driver captures a load of these images so age old mysteries can be solved. 

Student 3D-prints a marine jetpack — A product design student in the UK created a safer way to travel under water with a jetpack that can propel a swimmer at speeds of up to 13kph.
Archie O’Brien says it took him a year to design and build a functional prototype of his CUDA jetpack, after learning that similar underwater propulsion devices can cost as much as new cars. Forty-five 3D-printed components could be quickly modified and reprinted as the engineering of the CUDA was continually refined.
~ You may be able to buy one as early as 2019, but I want to know ‘is it quiet?’ As man, do I ever hate on f___king jet skis! Way touring everyone’s summers, you jet-skiing a-holes!

Caffeine gene-control — A team led by Martin Fussenegger of ETH Zurich in Basel has shown that caffeine can be used as a trigger for synthetic genetic circuitry, which can then in turn do useful things for us – even correct or treat medical conditions. For a buzz-worthy proof of concept, the team engineered a system to treat type 2 diabetes in mice with sips of coffee, specifically Nespresso Volluto coffee. Essentially, when the animals drink the coffee (or any other caffeinated beverage), a synthetic genetic system in cells implanted in their abdomens switches on. This leads to the production of a hormone that increases insulin production and lowers blood sugar levels – thus successfully treating their diabetes after a simple morning brew.
~ Wait till they try decent coffee, then, I guess. 

Darwin’s theory of electric spider flight is finally proven — On Halloween in 1832, the naturalist Charles Darwin was onboard the HMS Beagle. He marveled at spiders that had landed on the ship after floating across huge ocean distances. “I caught some of the Aeronaut spiders which must have come at least 60 miles,” he noted in his diary. “How inexplicable is the cause which induces these small insects, as it now appears in both hemispheres, to undertake their aerial excursions.” Small spiders achieve flight by aiming their butts at the sky and releasing tendrils of silk to generate lift.
Darwin thought electricity might be involved when he noticed that spider silk stands seemed to repel each other with electrostatic force, but many scientists assumed that the arachnids, known as ‘ballooning’ spiders, were simply sailing on the wind like a paraglider. The wind power explanation has thus far been unable to account for observations of spiders rapidly launching into the air, even when winds are low, however. Now, these aerial excursions have been empirically determined to be largely powered by electricity, according to new research published Thursday in Current Biology. The study settles a longstanding debate about whether wind energy or electrostatic forces are responsible for spider ballooning locomotion.
~ It’s both, of course. 

New Zealand colour X-Ray breakthrough — A New-Zealand company has scanned, for the first time, a human body using a breakthrough colour medical scanner based on the Medipix3 technology developed at CERN. Father and son scientists Professors Phil and Anthony Butler from Canterbury and Otago Universities spent a decade building and refining their product, which enables high-resolution, high-contrast, very reliable images, making it unique for imaging applications in particular in the medical field.
~ Awesome!

Viruses may call Alzheimers — For decades, the idea that a bacteria or virus could help cause Alzheimer’s disease was dismissed as fringe theory. Not so much any more: a team of researchers from Harvard Medical School reported in the journal Neuron the latest evidence suggesting herpes viruses can spark the cascade of events that lead to Alzheimer’s disease, a fatal form of dementia that afflicts up to 80% of Australia’s 425,000 dementia patients.
~ Let’s hope a solution is possible. 

Rats also affect coral reefs — The much maligned rat is not a creature many would associate with coral reefs. But scientists studying reefs on tropical islands say the animals directly threaten the survival of these ecosystems. From a report:
A team working on the Chagos Islands in the Indian Ocean found that invasive rats on the islands are a big problem for coral reefs. Rats decimate seabird populations, in turn decimating the volume of bird droppings which acts as natural coral fertiliser. Scientists now advocate eradicating rats from all of the islands to protect these delicate marine habitats.
~ Of course, we’re not off the hook, as the rats were introduced by humans.

Humans did not originate from a single species — In the 1980s, scientists decided that all humans living today are descended from one woman dubbed Mitochondrial Eve, who lived in Africa between 150,000 to 200,000 years ago. This discovery, along with other evidence, suggested humans evolved from a single ancestral population, but this interpretation is not standing the test of time. The story of human evolution, as the latest research suggests, is more complicated than that.
By looking at some of the latest archaeological, fossil, genetic and environmental evidence, a team of international experts led by Eleanor Scerri from Oxford’s School of Archaeology have presented an alternative story of human evolution, one showing that our species emerged from isolated populations scattered across Africa, who occasionally came together to interbreed.
~ Humans emerged within a complex set of populations scattered across Africa. Take that, stupid white supremacists.

Futurology ~ New planets, stellar diamonds, Earth pictures, agile robot-swimmer, see-through WiFi, old languages, cars made from plants, Army ‘third arms’, ancient tiny bug


NASA has made 20 years of satellite imagery available

New technique reveals hidden infant planets orbiting a newborn star — Since the 1990s, scientists have detected thousands of exoplanets orbiting distant stars, but the discovery of baby protoplanets embedded within stellar expanses of gas and dust has proven to be a challenge. An international team of astronomers has used a new technique to finally discover not one, but three infant planets around a newborn star – an incredible finding that’s affirming long-held assumptions about planet formation.
~ My long-held assumption about planet formation was that it was all a mystery. 

Stellar diamond dust — New research published in Nature Astronomy suggests the interpretation that ‘anomalous microwave emissions’ detected in space were caused by a ‘new type of particle’ was wrong: it seems they’re caused by clouds of nanodiamonds located within embryonic star systems.
~ Jewellers salivate and start training for space travel…

NASA makes two decades of satellite images of Earth available to the public — The longest continuous daily satellite observation record of Earth ever compiled is now available for all of us to peruse.
Multiple instruments aboard NASA’s Terra and Aqua satellites, launched in 1999 and 2002, respectively, have kept close watch on the virtually the entire planet for nearly 20 years. Now, for the first time, the entire treasure trove of imagery and scientific information is available for exploration in Worldview, (main picture, above) an engaging, interactive web-based application.
~ And NASA didn’t forget New Zealand.

But wait, there’s more! You can now search your address across 750 million years of Earth’s history — Ever looked at a picture of the supercontinent Pangea and wondered where your current address would have been 250 million years ago? A new interactive map provides this very service, allowing you to see modern locations across 750 million years of our planet’s history.
This awesome 3D map is the brainchild of Ian Webster, curator of the supremely impressive Dinosaur Database.
~ No relation to me, as far as I know.
This is me 240 million years ago… looks nice, right?

Flexible fins makes for a very agile swimming robot — Festo’s new BionicFinWave robot isn’t the first underwater automaton that replicates the movements of creatures like cuttlefish or marine planarians. Robotics engineers have been working to replicate Mother Nature’s designs for decades, and when it comes to swimming, the undulating fin approach is one of the easiest.

Seeing you through walls with WiFi — Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology have developed a new piece of software that uses wifi signals to monitor the movements, breathing, and heartbeats of humans on the other side of walls. While the researchers say this new tech could be used in areas like remote healthcare, it could in theory be used in more dystopian applications.
~ Spies rejoice. China’s ‘government’ rejoices too. 

Disappearing Californian languages being saved thanks to optical scanning — Project IRENE is using cutting-edge optical scan technology to transfer and digitally restore recordings of indigenous languages, many of which no longer have living speakers. The recordings were gathered between 1900 and 1938 when UC anthropologists asked native speakers of 78 indigenous languages of California to record their songs, histories, prayers, and vocabulary on wax cylinders. The Documenting Endangered Languages initiative, which has support from the National Science Foundation and the National Endowment for the Humanities, is hoping to save this important history.
~ And then to decipher them … nearly 80 just from California shows you how diverse the American First Nations languages were. 

Cars made from plants — Materials-science researchers are finding that plant fibres can add durability and strength to substances already used in the construction of buildings and in goods that range from toys and furniture to cars and aircraft.
A big bonus is that, because plants lock up carbon in their structure, using their fibres to make things should mean less carbon dioxide is emitted.
~ Not surprising, really, considering how long plant fibres have been adding durability and strength to, you know, trees and that. 

DeepMind has developed a self-training vision computer that generates a full 3D model of a scene from just a handful of 2D snapshots — The system, called the Generative Query Network, can then imagine and render the scene from any angle. GQN is a general-purpose system with a vast range of potential applications, from robotic vision to virtual reality simulation.
~ It has so far only been tested on simple scenes containing a small number of objects, but still. 

The US military is prototyping new wearable ‘third arms’ to enhance soldiers’ combat abilities — These include an exoskeleton similar to those being trialled for factory workers, and a prosthetic arm device officially named the Third Arm, meant to make heavy machinery feel weightless.
~ Innuendo alert! 

99-million-year-old bug in amber — Featherwing beetles are some of the smallest insects out there but a researcher managed to spot an ancient specimen in a 99-million-year-old chunk of amber. Just half a millimetre long, this Cretaceous period beetle had its signature fringed wings unfurled when it met its sticky demise.
No, not that big, unidentified insect at right; Jason is the teeny beetle at the very bottom.
~ Jason, found in Hukawng Valley in northern Myanmar, is now the oldest known member of the featherwing beetle lineage. 

Futurology ~ Sterile Neutrino, life on Mars, New Horizons, medical monitoring, breast cancer advance, printed homes, Pompeii reanimated


Holland hopes to soon have 3D-printed homes

The Sterile Neutrino — Fermilab boffins in America are carefully speculating they may have seen evidence of a new fundamental particle: the sterile neutrino. The suggestion follows tests conducted by the Mini Booster Neutrino Experimen instrument, located near Chicago. Its mission is to detect neutrino mass through their oscillations. In the Standard Model of physics, neutrinos, like all particles, are initially assumed to be massless, but some observations, like neutrino oscillation, suggest there’s mass there. The experiment that possibly detected sterile neutrinos collected 15 years of data from its commissioning in 2002, and the results have only now reached pre-press outlet arXiv.
~ It just won’t be having any baby neutrinos. 

New Horizons is awake and ready — Pluto’s most famous visitor, the New Horizons spacecraft, has woken up after 165 days of hibernation. The probe is travelling onward to its next target, another mysterious Kuiper Belt object hiding in the far depths of the Solar System. Its nickname is Ultima Thule. which  is either one or two hunks of ice and rock, perhaps 32km in diameter total, but it’s 1.6 billion km beyond Pluto.
~ This will be the furthest object ever explored by NASA.

Mars’ organic matter — NASA’s veteran Curiosity rover has found complex organic matter buried and preserved in ancient sediments that formed a vast lake bed on Mars more than 3bn years ago. The discovery is the most compelling evidence yet that long before the planet became the parched world it is today, Martian lakes were a rich soup of carbon-based compounds that are necessary for life, at least as we know it.
~ Well, you know, not all life likes soup. I don’t. 

Your doctor monitoring you in real time — Scientists from The Australian National University have designed tiny optical sensors 50 times thinner than a human hair. These ultra-small sensors could be integrated into a watch to literally provide a window on our health. The sensors could measure very small concentrations of gases (‘metabolites’) coming through your skin and breath, allowing doctors to keep track of people’s health in real time.
~ Doctors will never escape their work!

Woman’s advanced breast cancer eradicated in world first — It is the first time that a patient with late-stage breast cancer has been successfully treated by a form of immunotherapy that uses the patient’s own immune cells to find and destroy cancer cells that have formed in the body. Judy Perkins, an engineer from Florida, was 49 when she was selected for the radical new therapy after several rounds of routine chemotherapy failed to stop a tumour in her right breast from growing and spreading to her liver and other areas. At the time, she was given three years to live. Doctors who cared for the woman at the US National Cancer Institute in Maryland said Perkins’s response had been “remarkable”: the therapy wiped out cancer cells so effectively she has now been free of the disease for two years.
~ Scientists grew billions of her own immune cells in the lab, then reintroduced them. 

Netherlandish 3D homes — The Netherlands’ first functional 3D-printed home will be ready to welcome occupants as early as next year. According to The Guardian’s Daniel Boffey, the one-story, two-bedroom house is the first and smallest of five 3D-printed concrete homes set for construction in the Dutch city of Eindhoven. The five-year initiative, known as Project Milestone (main picture, above), aims to combat the country’s shortage of skilled bricklayers and revitalize the architectural industry.
~ Maybe they should be printing our bricklayers instead. 

Pompeii re-experienced — With the recent discovery of the poor soul that copped a boulder to the face during the Mount Vesuvius eruption, the one that buried the ancient Roman city of Pompeii, it seemed a good time to dig up this amazing, Melbourne-made animation that retells Pompeii’s story, packing 24 hours into eight, tense minutes.
~ OK, for a little more punch, I say add in boulder guy!

Futurology ~ Eyes on the sky, new braille, biohybrid robotics, American ice age emigration


A single biohybrid robotic finger at work. The contracting and expanding muscles are those pink things at the top of the device

Incredible results from telescope aimed at black hole — Our own galaxy’s black hole is called Sagittarius A* and is four million times the mass of the Sun. The EHT scientists analysed 2013 data, which included the first southern hemisphere telescope added to the EHT’s network. Even using just this old data, scientists are getting really close to seeing the black hole. These are not the results of the impressive 2017 observations but even still, the scientists detected hints of structures near the black hole, at a distance three times the radius of the black hole’s event horizon.
~ I wonder what a black hole will look like … if only the name was more descriptive!

Hololens as a visual prosthesis — New research shows that Microsoft’s HoloLens augmented-reality headset works well as a visual prosthesis for the vision impaired, not relaying actual visual data but guiding them in real time with audio cues and instructions. TechCrunch reports:
The researchers, from Caltech and University of Southern California, first argue that restoring vision is at present simply not a realistic goal, but that replacing the perception portion of vision isn’t necessary to replicate the practical portion. After all, if you can tell where a chair is, you don’t need to see it to avoid it.
~ But will it help you sit down in it? 

Microsoft and Apple collaborated to make a new braille standard — The non-profit USB Implementers Forum (USB-IF) has announced a new standard for braille displays. It was developed in cooperation with Microsoft, Apple and other tech industry leaders. The USB Human Interface Device (HID) standard will make it easier for blind or low vision users to use braille displays across operating systems and hardware. It will also remove the need for specialised or custom drivers and simplify development.
~ Good feelings. 

Robotics combined with living cells — By growing muscles on an artificial skeleton, researchers from Japan have constructed an agile and surprisingly durable ‘biohybrid’ robotic finger joint. The breakthrough could eventually lead to more life-like robots and advanced prostheses.
~ Weird feelings.

Ancient coastal route to to America — The first people to cross into North America from Eurasia did so by travelling through the Bering Strait, or so the theory goes. A new theory has emerged proposing a coastal route into the continent, but evidence has been lacking. A recent analysis of boulders, bedrock, and fossils in Alaska is now providing a clearer picture, pointing to the emergence of a coastal route some 17,000 years ago. Archaeological evidence places humans in Chile around 15,000 years ago, and in Florida some 14,500 years ago yet the retreating ice sheets didn’t yield an interior pathway until about 14,000 years ago.
~ In Home Sapiens history – around 200,000–300,000 years – that’s still relatively recent. 

Ice Age Americas meet-up — As the last Ice Age was coming to an end, and as the first settlers arrived in North America, two distinct populations emerged. One of these groups would eventually go on to settle South America, but as new genetic evidence shows, these two ancestral groups – after being separated for thousands of years – had an unexpected reunion. The finding is changing our conceptions of how the southern continent was colonised and by whom.
~ But nothing prepared them for the Spanish. 

Futurology ~ Wayward asteroid, exoplanet hunter, EM Drive, gel-bots, snail memories, NZ connection to Nessie, T-Rex smarts


TESS can look at brighter stars than its predecessor, Kepler, could, and it can also capture dim red dwarf stars like TRAPPIST-1 or Proxima Centauri (image via Gizmodo)

Asteroid from another star system found orbiting wrong way near Jupiter — Astronomers have spotted an asteroid orbiting our sun in the opposite (retrograde) direction to the planets. The 3.22km-wide (2-mile-wide) asteroid, 2015 BZ509, is the first “interstellar immigrant” from beyond our solar system to remain, according to the study published in the journal Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.
~ Where are traffic wardens when you need them? 

NASA’s new exoplanet hunter releases incredible first image — On the way to its final orbit around Earth, NASA’s planet-hunting Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS) sailed past the moon and snapped its first picture of space. TESS should be able to look at 200,000 stars in the 300 light-years around the Earth – and maybe this new shot (main picture, above) will show you what that really means.
~ I think that star 66th from the left, 1049 down bears closer examination… 

German test reveals that magnetic fields are pushing the EM Drive — Researchers in Germany have performed an independent, controlled test of the infamous EM Drive with an unprecedented level of precision, and it turns out the thrust is coming from interactions with the Earth’s magnetic field.
~ We have all long awaited the ‘magnetic WTF thruster’ so this is exciting. 

Gel-based robots can dance — Engineers at Rutgers University have started 3D-printing gel material that could one day give us softer, arguably less frightening robots. And to show off their so-called “smart gel,” they made it dance. It’s not just cute – the reactive synthetic might have far-reaching applications for the future of automation.
The printable ‘smart gel’ moves in response to electric stimuli. Made of a special polymer that reacts to electric impulses, the gel can be formed into a variety of shapes to perform tasks such as grabbing objects or moving them around.
~ Less frightening? I think a killer robot trying to kill me is not necessarily cuter if it’s made of gel, myself. 

Scientist transfer memories from one snail to another — UCLA neuroscientists have transferred a memory from one snail to another via injections of RNA, a startling result that challenges the widely held view of where and how memories are stored in the brain. The finding from the lab of David Glanzman hints at the potential for new RNA-based treatments to one day restore lost memories and, if correct, could shake up the field of memory and learning.
~ But how fast, though? 

Legend of Loch Ness Monster to be tested with DNA samples — For hundreds of years, visitors to Scotland’s Loch Ness have described seeing a monster that some believe lurks in the depths. But now the legend of ‘Nessie’ may have no place left to hide.
A New Zealand scientist is leading an international team to the lake next month, where they will take samples of the murky waters and conduct DNA tests to determine what species live there. University of Otago professor Neil Gemmell says he’s no believer in Nessie, but he wants to take people on an adventure and communicate some science along the way.
~ Besides, he says, his kids think it’s one of the coolest things he’s ever done. 

Dinosaur-killing asteroid rewrote avian history — The asteroid that hit Earth 65 million years ago didn’t just suck for the big lizards. Shockwaves likely knocked down the trees, fires would have burned up entire forests, and less light would have meant fewer plants. Goodbye to homes for birds, then.
New research shows how the strike would have decided which species made it and which species didn’t. Without trees, only ground-dwelling birds would have survived. This surely would have had a profound impact on the kinds of species still around today – a bottleneck in evolution’s history that changed the course of life forever.

So, how smart was T-Rex anyway? Palaeontologist and evolutionary biologist Steve Brusatte shares his expansive knowledge by providing a concise and highly accessible overview of the dino era. Though extinct now, these remarkable creatures had a tremendous run, dominating the planet’s ecosystems for tens of millions of years. Dinosaurs flourished for over 150 million years, far, far longer than humans have been around, and they utterly dominated the planet and evolved into some of the most incredible feats of biology the world has ever seen. Many dinosaurs had big brains, implying high intelligence.
~ But could T-Rex bang a gong? 

Futurology ~ Star gobbler, Mars helicopter, robo-varieties, Tesla power, 100,000 Einstein gamers, ancient pollution in Greenland


A fleet of 7-metre (23-foot) neon-orange sailboats will catch the wind with a solid wing more durable than a cloth sail, collecting extensive ocean data

Back Hole gobbles suns — This bloated supermassive black hole has an equally bloated name, QSO SMSS J215728.21-360215.1, or J2157-3602 for short. At 12 billion light-years away, it’s not close, so we’re observing this bright behemoth not as it is today, but as it existed some four billion years after the Big Bang.
Observations show that J2157-3602 is the size of about 20 billion suns, and it’s growing at a rate of 1 per cent every million years. Every two days, this black hole devours a mass equivalent to our Sun, gobbling up dust, gas, bits of celestial debris, and whatever else it can suck in using its powerful gravitational influence.
~ ‘J2157-3602’ for short? I prefer Ancient Sun Gobbler.

Ninth planet — Astronomers have realised that the motions of the objects past our eighth planet, Neptune, imply the existence of the ninth planet we deserve (compared to demoted Pluto, which is smaller than our moon). The theorised planet would be 10 times the mass of the Earth and take a long, eccentric orbit around the Sun. And just this week, scientists reported another strangely moving rock that bolsters the evidence for a ninth planet’s existence.
The new object, called 2015 BP519, takes an elliptical journey around the Sun spanning from 35 to 862 times the radius of Earth’s own orbit. But while the eight known planets orbit the Sun on the same plane, like slot cars on concentric tracks, 2015 BP519 orbits at a 54-degree angle to that plane.
~ Poor Pluto, you were just too little. 

Mars helicopter — NASA will be testing heavier-than-air flight on Mars by sending a miniature robot helicopter with the upcoming Mars 2020 rover.
The four-pound helicopter’s rotors will spin at 3000rpms, 10 times faster than helicopters here on Earth, according to a NASA release. That’s because the Martian atmosphere is only about 1% the density of Earth’s.
~ Well, it sounds more like a drone to me. Speaking of which …

Robo-sailboats — A start-up in California called Saildrone has built a fleet of robotic sailboats to gather tons of data about the oceans. The saildrones (main picture, above) rely on a hard, carbon-fibre sail to catch wind, and solar panels to power all of their electronics and sensors. Each drone carries at least US$100,000 of electronics, batteries, and related gear. Devices near the tip of the sail measure wind speed and direction, sunlight, air temperature and pressure, and humidity. Across the top of the drone’s body, other electronics track wave height and period, carbon dioxide levels, and the strength of the Earth’s magnetic field. Underwater, sensors monitor currents, dissolved oxygen levels, and water temperature, acidity, and salinity. Sonars and other acoustic instruments try to identify animal life.
~ Hopefully they also have ship avoidance equipment. 

Flying robot-insect — One of the RoboBee’s creators has helped develop RoboFly, which flies without a tether. Slightly heavier than a toothpick, RoboFly was designed by a team at the University of Washington. One member of that team, assistant professor Sawyer Fuller, was also part of the Harvard University team that first created RoboBee. That flying robot receives its power via a wire attached to an external power source, as an onboard battery would simply be too heavy to allow the tiny craft to fly, but instead of a wire or a battery, RoboFly is powered by a laser.
That laser shines on a photovoltaic cell is mounted on top of the robot. That cell converts the laser light to just seven volts of electricity, so a built-in circuit boosts that to the 240 volts needed to flap the wings. That circuit also contains a microcontroller, which tells the robot when and how to flap its wings – on RoboBee, that sort of ‘thinking’ is handled via a tether-linked external controller.
~ It’s slightly larger than a  real fly.

Tesla power for  Europe — Tesla has unveiled a new large Powerpack energy storage project to be used as a virtual power plant for grid-balancing in Europe. It consists of 140 Powerpacks and several Tesla inverters for a total power output of 18.2 MW. Instead of using gas generators and steam turbines kicking to compensate for losses of power on the grid, Tesla’s batteries are charged when there’s excess power and then discharge when there’s a need for more power.
~ Hopefully they’ll make some money for the scattershot genius. 

100,000 gamers prove Einstein wrong — On 30 November 2016, around 100,000 people all over the world logged online and played a video game. The physics that govern the most basic aspects of our universe relies on maths that seems to work really well, but one concept, quantum entanglement, can seem downright upsetting. Entanglement confounded Einstein because of the way it seems to instantly send information faster than the speed of light. Einstein thought perhaps there were some hidden variables that would explain the entanglement without superluminal travel – if you just knew more about a quantum system, you’d be able to predict the properties of two entangled particles.
But the new experiment lead by Morgan Mitchell from the Institut de Ciències Fotòniques in Spain, called the BIG Bell Test, demonstrated that, sorry Einstein, your idea wasn’t right.
~ Because Quantum Mechanics is just weird.

Ancient Greece and Ancient Rome polluted, and the evidence is in Greenland — By drilling deep into Greenland’s ice sheet, an interdisciplinary team of researchers has chronicled the industrial waste produced by the ancient Greeks and Romans over a 1900-year period, linking pollution to economic booms, wars, and even plagues.
An indelible aspect of the ancient Greek and Roman economies involved the mining and smelting of lead and silver ores. The resulting emissions drifted up into the atmosphere, travelled thousands of miles, and eventually settled onto Greenland’s frozen surface. In a cyclical process that lasted for centuries, snow and ice covered this lead pollution, creating numerous sedimentary layers, and by consequence, a geological record extending for hundreds of feet into the ice.
~ Jeeze, imagine the mess our era has left a few layers above, then!

Futurology ~ Cosmic seasons, submarine metamaterial, brain-like AI, wacky asteroid, Turing chemistry


If Jupiter and Saturn hopped around early in the Solar System’s history, they might have caused quite a commotion – and this asteroid may be evidence of that cosmic dance.

Distant planets affect out climate — Jupiter and Venus are such strong influences because of their size and proximity. Venus is the nearest planet to us – at its farthest, it’s ‘only’ about 260 million kilometres (162 million miles) and it’s roughly similar to Earth in mass. Jupiter is much farther away, but is the Solar System’s largest planet. The study says that every 405,000 years, due to wobbles in our orbit caused by the gravitational pulls of the two planets, seasonal differences here on Earth become more intense. Summers are hotter and winters colder; dry times drier, wet times wetter.
The results showed that the 405,000-year cycle is the most regular astronomical pattern linked to the Earth’s annual turn around the sun. Now we are in the middle of the cycle, as the most recent peak was around 200,000 years ago.
~ So you don’t need to shop for that season quite yet. 

Metamaterial bends water-born sound — Some of these materials (engineered objects with specific properties) display mind-bending physical properties including the blackest black, and ‘anti-magnets’. One potentially important metamaterial would be one that could control the direction of sound waves. Researchers led by research associate Amanda Hanford recently debuted their attempt at creating a sound-scattering metamaterial at the 175th Meeting of the Acoustical Society of America in Minneapolis. The researchers created the 90cm perforated steel pyramid, put it in a tank of water, and hit it with sound waves between 7000 and 12000 Hz in frequency. The material seemed to deflect the waves, based on the readings in the tank’s receivers.
~ Submarine cloaking device, then? 

Navigation AI develops brain-like location tracking — Now that DeepMind has solved Go, the company is applying DeepMind to navigation. Navigation relies on knowing where you are in space relative to your surroundings and continually updating that knowledge as you move. DeepMind scientists trained neural networks to navigate like this in a square arena, mimicking the paths that foraging rats took as they explored the space. The networks got information about the rat’s speed, head direction, distance from the walls, and other details. To researchers’ surprise, the networks that learned to successfully navigate this space had developed a layer akin to grid cells. This was surprising because it is the exact same system that mammalian brains use to navigate.
~ Or not, in my case sometimes. New Lynn, what do you do to my built-in GPS!!??

Wacky asteroid — A rock that formed in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter seems to have somehow travelled to the orbit of Neptune, according to a new observation. When they took a closer look at it with the Very Large Telescope in Chile, it appeared to have been made of materials normally associated with asteroids much closer to the Sun (ie iron, silicon and carbon). Planets and asteroids are usually composed from the stuff that was available in the region where they formed.
~ Maybe it’s lost in space. 

Turing’s chemistry hypothesis as a Destination Filter — Alan Turing is rightly famed for his contributions to computer science. But one of his key concepts – an autonomous system that can generate complex behaviour from a few simple rules – also has applications in unexpected places, like animal behaviour. One area where Turing himself applied the concept is in chemistry, and he published a paper describing how a single chemical reaction could create complex patterns like stripes if certain conditions are met. It took us decades to figure out how to actually implement Turing’s ideas about chemistry, but we’ve managed to create a number of reactions that display the behaviors he described. And now, a team of Chinese researchers has figured out how to use them to make something practical: a highly efficient desalination membrane.

Futurology ~ Space fission, moon ice, feeling robot, graphene-create, sound camera, new humans, HIV, ancient Philippines


Evidence of lunar water may actually exist right here on Earth in the form of moganite trapped within lunar meteorites

Successful nuclear fission test for space use — NASA and the US Department of Energy say they have successfully tested a new type of nuclear reactor that could one day provide juice to colonies on other worlds. The reactor can power several homes (it outputs about 10 kilowatts) and appears able to operate in harsh environments. The new reactor uses more-conventional uranium fuel with a core about the size of a paper towel roll, the reactor can turn pistons that can run a generator.
Scientists believe it could run continuously for a decade or so, making deep space travel a lot simpler. They also gave it a catchy acronym: KRUSTY, which stands for Kilopower Reactor Using Stirling TechnologY.
~ Well, I like the acronym. It’s certainly better than ‘the Kilopower’!

Africa, meteorite, moon ice — Scientists have discovered traces of moganite in a lunar meteorite that was discovered 13 years ago in Africa. This mineral requires water to form, so its discovery is being taken as potential confirmation that frozen water exists beneath the Moon’s dusty surface.
~ ‘Potential confirmation’ sounds like Trumpian Newspeak. 

Pinhead robot lets you feel objects — Researchers at Stanford University have come up with a way for your hands and fingers to feel virtual objects with a unique robot that looks like an animated version of those Pin Art toys.
ShapeShift looks like a small desktop PC augmented with a dense grid of rectangular pins on top. When it’s moved around on a flat surface such as a table, a tracking marker syncs the location of the ShapeShift box to the location of the user’s hands in a virtual reality world.
~ But is that distant kitten fluffy?

A better concrete with graphene — In a recent study, University of Exeter’s Center for Graphene Science used nanoengineering technology to add graphene to concrete production. The resulting graphene concrete is two times stronger than traditional concrete and four times as water resistant, but with a much smaller carbon footprint compared to the conventional process of making concrete. The addition of graphene cuts back on the amount of materials needed in concrete production by nearly 50% and reduces carbon emissions by 446kg per ton.
~ Concrete production emits that much carbon? Crikey!

Sound camera — CAE Systems’ SOUNDCAM, currently making its way through a Kickstarter campaign, doesn’t generate images using only noise. What it does do is show you where sound is emanating from via its rear touchscreen and includes distance info and other interesting data.
~ Er, so now I rename my ears ‘SoundCams’? Coz they do the same thing. 

Human cells impervious to viruses — Two years ago, a consortium of scientists, lawyers, and entrepreneurs announced a plan to synthesise an artificial human genome from scratch – an extremely ambitious endeavour that’s struggled to secure funding. Project organisers have now disclosed details of a scaled-down version of the venture, but with a goal that’s still quite audacious: creating human cells invulnerable to infections.
~ Hey, ultra rich, the future just looks better and better for you. 

HIV antibody drug — A team led by scientists from the University of Hong Kong has developed a new antibody drug that will not only protect people from contracting HIV but also serve as a long-acting treatment for the virus, unlike current medication that must be taken daily.
~ Good news.

Ancient Philippine humans hunted rhino — Our species, Homo sapiens, weren’t the first humans to leave Africa by a long shot. The remarkable discovery of a 709,000-year-old butchered rhino fossil in the Philippines shows that so-called archaic humans were romping around the islands of southeast Asia a full 400,000 years before our species even existed.
~ I wonder what that tasted like. Tough?

Futurology ~ Galactic map, home-bound aliens, Spooky Action, DNA structure, arm-projector, Euro-AI


(A rendering of the “twisted knot” DNA structure. Illustration: Zeraati et al., Nat Chem, 2018)

Biggest galactic map yet — Astronomers from the European Space Agency’s Gaia mission will release the biggest map of our galaxy ever, using data collected by the Gaia space telescope. That includes 1.7 billion stars, as well as new information that could potentially solve some cosmic mysteries.
~ Well, sniff, I will of course be hanging out for version 3 with the Spectral Data …

Aliens stuck at home … maybe literally — Rocky worlds larger than Earth are commonplace in the galaxy, and a few of them may even be habitable. Which poses an interesting question: how difficult would it be for aliens living on these super-Earths to launch rockets into space, given the tremendous gravity? According to new research, it would be difficult to the point of impossibility – meaning that some aliens may be perpetually trapped on their home worlds.
~ Which also makes them rather hard to visit. 

Uranus really does smell — According to a study published in Nature Astronomy, scientists have determined the atmosphere of Uranus smells like rotten eggs. The smell of Uranus was determined by the use of an Near-Infrared Integral Field Spectrometer (NIFS), an instrument that allows scientists to determine what an atmosphere is composed of based upon the reflections of sunlight that bounce off of it.
~ Now surely they could have made the spectrometer’s acronym ‘SNIF’? Come on, people! Bit of effort here. 

Einstein shows his Spooky Action — For the first time, scientists have managed to show quantum entanglement – which Einstein famously described as “spooky action at a distance” – happening between macroscopic objects, a major step forward in our understanding of quantum physics. Quantum entanglement links particles in a way that they instantly affect each other, even over vast distances. On the surface, this powerful bond defies classical physics and, generally, our understanding of reality, which is why Einstein found it so spooky.
~ And it smells like roses. 

Australian scientists discover another human DNA structure — Scientists have identified the existence of a new DNA structure that looks more like a twisted, four-stranded knot than the double helix we all know from high school biology. The newly identified structure, detailed in the journal Nature Chemistry, could play a crucial role in how DNA is expressed.
Some research had previously suggested the existence of DNA in this tangled form, dubbed an i-motif (main picture above), but it had never before been detected in living cells outside of the test tube. Researchers at the Garvan Institute of Medical Research in Australia, though, found that not only does the structure exist in living human cells, but it is even quite common.
~ Good effort there. 

Arm projector — Researchers at Carnegie Mellon University, however, have now created a smartwatch prototype with a built-in projector that turns the wearer’s arm into a smartphone-sized touchscreen.
Despite what you may have seen on crowdfunding sites, the LumiWatch is the first smartwatch to integrate a fully-functional laser projector and sensor array, allowing a screen projected on a user’s skin to be poked, tapped and swiped just like a traditional touchscreen.
~ Yeah, how long is your arm going to last in an intense game? And so I will invent the Mouse Pad Sleeve, mwa-ah-ahh!

European AI — Leading scientists have drawn up plans for a vast multinational European institute devoted to world-class artificial intelligence (AI) research in a desperate bid to nurture and retain top talent in Europe.
The new institute would be set up for similar reasons as Cern, the particle physics lab near Geneva, which was created after the Second World War to rebuild European physics and reverse the brain drain of the brightest and best scientists to the US. Named the European Lab for Learning and Intelligent Systems, or Ellis, the proposed AI institute would have major centres in a handful of countries, the *UK included, with each employing hundreds of computer engineers, mathematicians and other scientists with the express aim of keeping Europe at the forefront of AI research.
~ Oh wait: sorry, UK, you had all those insular twits voting for Brexit, so maybe not. 

Futurology ~ Einstein Ring and more, Arctic lakes, electric avenue, 3D-printed houses, old onion, ancient bird-flip


Sweden has installed the first electric road – it charges vehicles as they drive across it.

Hubble Space Telescope discovered a light-bending Einstein Ring in space —The perfect circle surrounding a galaxy cluster in a new Hubble Space Telescope image is a visual indicator of the huge masses bending time and space in that region. The galaxy cluster, called SDSS J0146-0929, features hundreds of individual galaxies all bound together by gravity.
There’s so much mass in this region that the cluster is distorting light from objects behind it. This phenomenon is called an Einstein Ring because Albert Einstein suggested that a massive object would warp space and time back in the early 1900s.
~ This process is known today as a gravitational lens. Wow, what a clever bloke Einstein was!

Tiny neutron star spews out X-rays — The Hubble keeps on discovering. 1E 0102.2-7219 has the remnants of a supernova in one our Milky Way’s closest neighbours, the Small Magellanic Cloud dwarf galaxy. This supernova remnant is especially well-studied, but that hasn’t stopped astronomers from continuing to find new surprises, such as the neutron star at its centre.
~ A neutron star can pack the mass of our Sun and more into a ball less than 32km across. Heavy, right? 

Europe’s gas-sniffing spacecraft to detect Martian gases — In about two weeks, the European Space Agency and Roscosmos orbiter will begin to scan the Martian atmosphere in search of trace gases, including those potentially linked to life.
~ Mars’ atmosphere is about 100 times thinner than Earth’s. So it’s got to be one amazing sniffer. 

One-degree rise in temperature causes ripple effect in world’s largest High Arctic lake — A 1 C increase in temperature has set off a chain of events disrupting the entire ecology of the world’s largest High Arctic lake. The amount of glacial meltwater going into the lake has dramatically increased. The changes resulted in algal blooms and detrimental changes to the Arctic char fish population, and point to a near certain future of summer ice-free conditions. The findings document an unprecedented shift from the previous three centuries.
~ A gimp I know once told me that ‘global warming was a left wing conspiracy’. I asked him what the left wing could possibly gain from such a conspiracy. He cut me off. 

Then there are these just-discovered  ‘super-salty’ arctic lakes — Anja Rutishauser, a PhD student at the University of Alberta, accidentally discovered two sub-glacial super-salty lakes while conducting a geological survey of the area. She was able to confirm the presence of a hypersaline subglacial lake complex.
The lakes measure about five and eight square kilometres (between two and three square miles) in size, but aren’t connected to any known sources of meltwater. Excitingly, these super-salty lakes, with their cold, liquid water, are potential hosts for microbial life – and reasonably good approximations of what the conditions might be like on Jupiter’s moon Europa and Saturn’s moon Enceladus.
~ But are they full of pre-salted fish? 

World’s first electrified road for charging vehicles opens in Sweden — A 2 kilometre (1.2-mile) stretch of road with electric rails has been installed in Stockholm, Sweden. This allows electric vehicles to charge up their batteries as they drive across it. The technology behind the electrification of the road linking Stockholm Arlanda airport to a logistics site outside the capital city aims to solve the thorny problems of keeping electric vehicles charged, and the manufacture of their batteries affordable.
~ At a cost of €1m per kilometre, the cost of electrification is said to be 50 times lower than that required to construct an urban tram line!

3D-Printed public housing unveiled in France  — Researchers have unveiled what they billed as the world’s first 3D-printed house to serve as a home in the French city of Nantes, with the first tenants due to move in by June. From a report:
Academics at the University of Nantes who led the project said it was the first house built in situ for human habitation using a robot 3D-printer. The BatiPrint3D robot uses a special polymer material that should keep the building insulated effectively for a century. It took BatiPrint3D around 18 days to complete its part of the work on the house, creating hollow walls that were subsequently filled with concrete.
~ The 95-square-metre (1000 square feet), five-room house will be allocated to a local family qualified for social housing.

Sweden had a Pompeii and an onion — On the Swedish island of Öland, at a ring fort called Sandby Borg, archaeologists have uncovered a peculiar onion, project leader Helena Victor found a preserved bulb and sent it to archaeobotanist Jens Heimdahl at The Swedish History Museum, who discovered the ‘big nut’ was in fact a 1500-year-old onion. It’s the oldest one ever found in Scandinavia.
Sandby Borg was the site of a mysterious fifth-century massacre. In 2013, Sweden’s Kalmar County Museum and Lund University researchers found the slaughtered remains of its inhabitants.
~ Maybe they had terrible breath …

88,000-year-old middle finger found in Saudi Arabia could rewrite human history — A lone, bony middle finger is probably the oldest directly dated fossil of our species to ever be found outside of Africa and the region that comprises Israel, Syria, Lebanon and Jordan. But the new discovery is not without its critics, who say older evidence of human habitation outside of this region exists elsewhere, and that the finger might not even be human.
~ I’m not convinced either. After all, it’s hard to write anything with just one finger. 

Futurology ~ Stargazing, 3D bridge, antarctic veggies, new Nazca lines, Roman refrigerators, four-eyed lizard


MX3D in Amsterdam has almost completed the world’s first 3D=-printed bridge

Using Relativity to magnify stargazing — Two teams of scientists report seeing single, twinkling stars in galaxies billions of light years away with the help of the Hubble Space Telescope. All they needed was Albert Einstein’s theory of general relativity.
~ And I thought that theory was about my Uncle Eddie. 

Milky Way centre has loads of black holes — The supermassive black hole lurking at the center of our galaxy appears to have a lot of company, according to a new study that suggests the monster is surrounded by about 10,000 other black holes.
~ Holey heck.

The first 3d-printed steel bridge looks like it broke off an alien mothership — MX3D in Amsterdam just revealed the world’s first 3D-printed bridge. It’s made of a completely new type of steel, spans 12.19m (main picture, above), and will be installed early next year in De Wallen, the largest and best-known red-light district in Amsterdam. It also looks utterly otherworldly.
~ The pimps and pushers will be pleased. 

Antarctic vegetables — As temperatures outside dipped to well below freezing, and as blizzards pounded the Antarctic research station, German scientists were carefully tending to a remarkable veggie garden – one requiring no soil or natural sunlight. The success of their first harvest, which produced vibrant-looking lettuce, radishes, cucumbers and other treats, represents a promising test run for similar greenhouses that could one day be built on Mars – or beyond.
~ Iceberg lettuce, anyone? 

Archaeologists have now found ‘new’ Nazca lines with the help of drones — Peruvian archaeologists armed with drones have discovered more than 50 new examples of these mysterious desert monuments in adjacent Palpa province, traced onto the earth’s surface in lines almost too fine to see with the human eye. In addition, archaeologists surveyed locally known geoglyphs with drones for the first time – mapping them in never-before-seen detail.
~ It’s a sign. 

Roman refrigerators — Archaeologists in Switzerland are conducting an experiment to figure out how ancient Romans used a series of deep shafts to keep food cool well into the summer months. The shafts were discovered in 2013 at Augusta Raurica, an archaeological site located near the Swiss city of Basel. The Roman colony was founded in 15 BC, and it soon blossomed into a vibrant metropolis and trade hub that was home to around 15,000 to 20,000 people. Today, Augusta Raurica remains one of the best-preserved Roman cities north of the Swiss Alps.
~ Really? To get cold in Switzerland, just walk up  hill!

Four-eyed lizard — An ancient species of monitor lizard that went extinct some 34 million years ago had four eyes, according to new research. It’s the first time that scientists have ever seen such a thing in a jawed terrestrial animal – an observation that’s filling a gap in our understanding of how these features evolved.
~ Ah, but was four-eyed forewarned? 

Futurology ~ Superfast supernova, brown planet, alien DNA, water, better ears, Petaflopper, spiderbot, paper like LCD, Canadian footprints, Neanderthal skeleton


Spider-bot transforms into a wheel for fast rolling

Rare supernova extinguishes star at record speed — Using data collected by the Kepler space telescope, an international team of astronomers led by Brad Tucker from Australian National University has documented the death throes of a star located 1.3 billion light-years away. Known as KSN 2015K, this unprecedented FELT reached its maximum brightness in just 2.2 days, which is 10 times faster than standard supernovae.
~ Or it’s a pretty full-on war in a distant galaxy …

Brown planet reopens debate — Scientists have discovered a planet a lot like Jupiter orbiting a dim star, if you can even call it a star – it’s nothing like our Sun. The finding once again makes us wonder: what is a planet, anyway?
~ I’m going with ‘big round thing in space that orbits and is not on fire’. 

Alien DNA — If an alien life form is alien, how will we know what it is? DNA and RNA are the building blocks of life on Earth, but the molecules of life might differ substantially on another planet. So if scientists combing, say, the potentially habitable waters of Jupiter’s moon Europa were to stumble across a new life form, how could they know what they had discovered? Aha – scientists at Georgetown University suggest a method for identifying alien life using modern genome sequencing technology.
~ Please open your carapace, sir and/or madam, we would like to take a swab. 

Slippery-rough engineered surface harvests water — A slippery rough surface (SRS) inspired by both pitcher plants and rice leaves outperforms state-of-the-art liquid-repellent surfaces in water harvesting applications, according to a team of researchers at Penn State and the University of Texas at Dallas.
~ Then we can bottle the water and add the little bits of plastic. 

Cat-like ‘hearing’ with device tens of trillions times smaller than human eardrum — Researchers are developing atomically thin ‘drumheads’ tens of trillions of times thinner than the human eardrum able to receive and transmit signals across a radio frequency range far greater than what we can hear with the human ear. Their work will likely contribute to making the next generation of ultralow-power communications and sensory devices smaller and with greater detection and tuning ranges.
~ Have to go – I just heard my cat. 

NVIDIA’s 2 Petaflop DGX-2 AI Supercomputer with 32GB Tesla V100 and NVSwitch Tech — NVIDIA CEO Jensen Huang recently announced a number of GPU-powered innovations for machine learning, including a new AI supercomputer and an updated version of the company’s powerful Tesla V100 GPU that now sports a hefty 32GB of on-board HBM2 memory. NVIDIA claims NVSwitch is five times faster than the fastest PCI Express switch and offers an aggregate 2.4TB per second of bandwidth.
~  All the better to monitor us with. 

Terahertz chips — Following three years of extensive research, physicists have created technology that will enable our computers – and all optic communication devices – to run 100 times faster through terahertz microchips.

Bionic wheelbot — Using eight reconfigurable legs, the BionicWheelBot can creepily crawl along the ground, but then transform into a wheel and roll at an alarming speed.
~ It can tiptoe through tricky terrain then quickly roll through the flat bits. 

A paperlike LCD is thin, flexible, tough and cheap — Optoelectronic engineers have manufactured a special type of LCD that is paper-thin, flexible, light and tough. With this, a newspaper could be uploaded onto a flexible paperlike display that could be updated as fast as the news cycles. It sounds futuristic, but scientists reckon it will be cheap to produce, perhaps only costing US$5 for a 5-inch screen.
~ I can almost guarantee the last word in its description will be gone by the time this becomes available. 

Sewage sludge leads to biofuels breakthrough — Researchers have discovered a new enzyme that will enable microbial production of a renewable alternative to petroleum-based toluene, a widely used octane booster in gasoline that has a global market of 29 million tons per year.
~ Isn’t toluene also carcinogenic? 

13,000-year-old human footprints found off Canada’s Pacific coast — Human footprints found off Canada’s Pacific coast may be 13,000 years old, according to a new study. The finding adds to the growing body of evidence supporting the hypothesis that humans used a coastal route to move from Asia to North America during the last ice age.
~ So that rules out flying. 

Secrets of famous Neanderthal skeleton La Ferrassie 1 revealed — Anthropologists have provided new insights on one of the most famous Neanderthal skeletons, discovered over 100 years ago: La Ferrassie 1. Nearly all of the fractures were made post-mortem. La Ferrassie 1 was an old man (likely over 50 years old) who suffered various broken bones during his lifetime and had ongoing respiratory issues when he died. The skeleton was found in a burial pit and dated to between 40,000 and 54,000 years old.
~ The weight of sediments snapped the bones.