Category Archives: Futurology

Futurology ~ Ceres, Sun star, Pluto, Info theory, HIV progress, medical future past,

These two images, captured by NASA's Dawn spacecraft  from just over 80,467 kms away lets us see some of the geographic details of the dwarf planet.
These two images, captured by NASA’s Dawn spacecraft from just over 80,467 kms away lets us see some of the geographic details of the dwarf planet.

Our closest look at Ceres reveals a surface riddled with craters — As we get closer and closer to Ceres, we keep seeing new things. Initially, it was just the barest outline of the dwarf planet, then a strange selection of white spots, and, in these newest, sharpest images yet, you can see its mysteriously scarred surface.
~ At least it doesn’t have McDonalds and KFC yet. 

A star came within 0.8 light-years of our Sun just 70,000 years ago — An international team of astronomers has identified a star that passed through the outer reaches of the Oort Cloud some 70,000 years ago. It came within a distance of 0.8 light-years, making it the closest known flyby of a star to the Solar System.
~ That’s a breathtakingly close 8 trillion kms.

Nix and Hydra are  the tiny moons of Pluto — Eighty-five years ago, Clyde Tombaugh found a small dot of light shifting position while hunting for the trans-Neptune planet predicted by Percival Lowell. Now, the New Horizons probe en route to Pluto has photographed its tiny moons, Nix and Hydra.
~ Both names sound a bit negative, don’t they?

Theory of Information could resolve one of the great paradoxes of Cosmology — Stephen Hawking described it as the most spectacular failure of any physical theory in history. Can a new theory of information rescue cosmologists?
~ Well, I try not to worry too much about the cosmological constant paradox myself, but I’m glad someone is. 

How a ‘Photoshop for sound’ could transform restaurants and music halls — Restaurants have to strike a fine balance between eerily quiet and shouting-across-the-table loud. At Oakland’s Oliveto, the high-tech solution is a set of mics, speakers and sound-absorbing panels that constantly record, modify and pipe back the ideal background noise — essentially real-time Photoshop for sound.
~ Dare I venture ‘just turn the damned music off’?

Researchers block HIV infection in monkeys with artificial protein — Immunologists have developed a synthetic molecule that’s able to attach to HIV and prevent it from interacting with healthy cells.
~ One suspects the monkeys were artificially infected in the first place. Still, I’m sure they’ll be relieved.

The medical miracle headlines of the future (from 1951) — On January 2, 1951, the Rex Morgan, MD comic strip featured a New Year’s greeting insisting to readers that time is measured by progress instead of simply by years. And it’s not a bad thought, but looking at the ‘headlines of the future’ from 1951, one can’t help but be a little bummed out.
~ Progress (still) needed.

Futurology ~ Sun vid, Spaceplane, sun-fuel, Meccano furniture, war balls, tents

NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory provides incredibly detailed images of the whole sun 24 hours a day.
NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory provides incredibly detailed images of the whole sun 24 hours a day.

Spectacular video shows the beautiful and epic explosions on the Sun — To celebrate the fifth anniversary of NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory, NASA put out this video of all the coolest, jaw-dropping explosions that happened on our sun over the past five years. You basically watch the sun dance with shooting flares and solar loops. It’s unreal.
~ Pretty mesmerising. 

Inaugural launch of Europe’s Experimental Spaceplane — The first launch and reentry of the European Space Agency’s unoccupied Intermediate eXperimental Vehicle (IXV) went off this morning after a slight delay. The mini spaceplane made a splashdown in the Pacific Ocean after a quick but flawless journey.
~ To me it looks more like a rocket than a plane. 

Converting sunlight into liquid fuel with a bionic leaf — Artificial leaf techology made waves the moment it was announced by Daniel Nocera back in 2011. His latest research, published in PNAS, involves gathering hydrogen from this artificial leaf, carbon dioxide from another source, and feeding it to Ralstonia eutropha bacteria to create liquid fuel.
Researchers say the same process could be used to make vitamins.
~ Don’t real leaves do something similar?


Giant Meccano pieces let you build your own furniture —
Most of us can build furniture using instruction manuals. But what about when that safety net is gone and you’re forced to construct tables, chairs and shelves using just your imagination? That’s what Meccano Home proposes:, super-sizing the metallic construction toy so it can be used to build actual human-sized furniture.
~ And it looks cooler than Ikea.

Marine robotic war balls — Establishing a beachhead on enemy-held turf is historically one of the most dangerous jobs in warfare. A research team from Stamford, Connecticut has developed an amphibious drone currently being tested by the Marines. The GuardBot is a robot ball that swims over water at about 6.5 kilometres per hour and then rolls along the beach, at as much as a 30-degree incline and 32kph.
~ Inspired by the Barnes-Wallis bouncing bomb, perhaps. It certainly gives ‘beach football’ a new complexion.

Tents are becoming cubes — The lightest freestanding, mass-production tent currently available is the Big Agnes Fly Creek 2 Platinum. It weighs in at a scarcely believable 709g’s very expensive at $US550. Gizmodo follows the evolution of hiking tents.
~ The lighter they are, the more flimsy, surely? All my hikes seem to have involved bad weather. 

The US used to get ‘monster hurricanes’ — A new analysis shows that the northeast corner of what is now the United States was slammed by at least 23 severe hurricanes from the years 250 to 1150, many of them reaching category 3 and 4 status.
Researchers say these hurricanes, which formed in relatively warm seas, could be a harbinger of things to come.
~ Yay, more harbingers. 


Futurology ~ billions of earths, 1-atom transistors, bacterial vitamins, smartphone HIV tests, Turing’s notes, microbes made gold 

A new calculation predicts hundreds of billions of Earth-like planets — Using a 200 year-old statistical technique, a team of Australian astronomers has concluded that virtually every star in the Milky Way hosts at least one to two terrestrial planets capable of fostering life.
~ I can actually do that without any calculations: ‘there might be hundreds of billions of earthily planets’. See? Easy. 

One-atom-thick Silicene Transistors may lead to dramatically faster chips — As recently as 2010, human-made silicene – an atom-thin form of silicon – was purely theoretical. But now the exotic material has been used to make transistors, and researchers have found that silicene’s electrical properties lend it extraordinary potential in powering the next generation of computer chips.
~ Just don’t try and solder them to a circuit board yourself. 

New fibre-optic signal processing technique doubles communication Distance — Researchers at University College London (UCL) have demonstrated a new technique for fibre-optic signal processing that doubles the distance at which data travels error-free through transatlantic sub-marine cables.
~ New Zealand would like two, please. 

Genetically engineered bacteria in your colon could replace vitamins — It’s easy to forget how horrifying the effects of a vitamin deficiency can be. Each year, up to 500,000 children in the developing world go blind from lack of vitamin A. Half of those will then die within 12 months. The molecule that could save their lives is well-studied and abundant, yet we still haven’t figured out how to get it to them. The answer could be bacteria that permanently resides in their guts, making a continuous supply of it.
~ What are we waiting for?

Smartphone HIV test gets results in 15 minutes — A team of researchers from Columbia University have developed a device that can be plugged into a smartphone and used to quickly test for HIV (and syphilis). The mobile device tests for three infectious disease markers in 15 minutes using a finger-prick of blood, drawing all the power it needs from the smartphone. The accessory costs an estimated US$34 to make and is capable of replicating tests done in a laboratory using equipment that costs many thousands of dollars.
~ Fund that, someone.

Alan Turing’s notes found after being used as insulation at Bletchley Park — In 2013, a restoration project for Hut 6 of Bletchley Park uncovered a collection of papers being used as roof insulation. The papers were frozen to preserve them while they were inspected and repaired. Now they’re on display at an exhibition showing items found during the restoration process.
~ No comment. I’m still shaking my head.

Ancient microbes may have created the world’s largest gold mines — Nearly half the gold ever mined comes from the Witwatersrand Basin, a layer of gold-flecked rock that spreads out under South Africa. The mines there are famously deep and prolific. Why is there so much gold concentrated in this one small part of the Earth’s crust? Microbes.
~ Little creatures with surprisingly expensive habits. 

Futurology ~ Our solar system’s twin, Mock Mars fire and more

The Super Bowl's LED fixtures need 310,000 watts compared to 1.24 million watts required by the metal halide bulbs, yet they're twice as bright.
The Super Bowl’s new LED fixtures need 310,000 watts compared to 1.24 million watts required by the metal halide bulbs they replaced, yet they’re still twice as bright and turn on to full strength instantly..

Kepler 444 is solar system’s ‘ancient twin’ — Astronomers have found a star system that bears a striking resemblance to our inner solar system. It’s a sun-like star that plays host to a system of five small exoplanets — from the size of Mercury to the size of Venus. But there’s something very alien about this compact ‘solar system’; it formed when the universe was only 20% the age it is now, making it the most ancient star system playing host to terrestrial sized worlds discovered to date.
~ Something alien in space, whatever next?

Fuzzy yellow balls in space — The Milky Way Project asked members of the public to classify the objects in images from the Spitzer Space Telescope. One of the classifiers wondered what the fuzzy yellow balls in the pictures were. The astronomers got together, and now have an answer: They’re an early stage in the formation of stars about 10 to 40 times bigger than our sun.
~ I was happy with the old description. 

Mock Mars base fire — The brave men and women living in a (mock) Martian base (in Utah), have met a fiery end. After an (actual) greenhouse fire sent flames soaring up 3m into the air, things got out of hand though, and the greenhouse’s entire middle section was destroyed, forcing them to end the simulation.
~ Presumably, on Mars, with no oxygen, fire would be the least of your worries – at least outside the base.

Scientists make a Möbius strip out of light — It uses two polarised beams of light which are allowed to interfere with each other. They’re bounced off a gold bead, creating a looped polarisation pattern with three or five twists — very similar to a Möbius strip.
~ Strictly, a Möbius strip actually has only one twist.

The first Super Bowl played under LEDs will use 75% less power — It might seem like LED bulbs are only for early-adopters hoping to cut down their monthly Con Ed power bill, but come Sunday, the energy-efficient lighting alternative will take centre stage at one of the greatest spectacles on Earth: the first Super Bowl to be entirely lit by LED bulbs.
~ They also promise more life-like and uniform lighting.

PopSizesWorld according to population sizes — Redditor TeaDranks has created a super-interesting cartogram in which the size of each country is apportioned according to its population. Suddenly, the largest countries in the world don’t look so mighty – for example, Russia and Canada.
~ And Japan should look like a super power compared to NZ, even though it’s physically about the same size. 

New technique reverses aging by decades in cultured human cells — Scientists from Stanford Medical Center have devised a technique for extending the length of human telomeres. It’s a breakthrough that could eventually result in therapies to treat a host of age-related diseases, including heart disease and diabetes. It could also result in longer, healthier lives.
~ My mother tried pickling with ‘Blenheimers’. Didn’t work. 

Early humans may have interbred with Neanderthals 55,000 years ago — It’s widely acknowledged that modern Europeans mated with Neanderthals at some point in the past. We’re just not entirely sure when or where. The recent discovery of an ancient skull in Israel may represent the critical missing link anthropologists have been looking for.
~ Well, I didn’t. 


Futurology ~ Speed of light slowed, space, medical, robotic and battery tech

Venus has a very choppy and fast-moving atmosphere
Venus has a very choppy and fast-moving atmosphere

Scientists slow the speed of light — Scientists have found a way to slow individual photons within a beam of light.  The researchers liken a light beam to a team of cyclists — while the group as a whole moves at a constant speed, individual riders may occasionally drop back or move forward.
~ Well, I do know how to slow a team of cyclists.

Rosetta in all its glory — The first scientific results from Rosetta at comet 67P have been published, and detail a surprising diversity of features on the 4-kilometer-long duck-shaped comet.
~ And cracks are appearing in the ‘duck’s’ neck.

Dramatic swirling vortex at Venus’s south pole — There’s a mass of swirling gas and cloud located some 37 miles (60 km) above Venus’s south pole. The image above was captured by the Visible and Infrared Thermal Imaging Spectrometer (VIRTIS) aboard ESA’s Venus Express spacecraft.
~ The picture was actually taken several years ago and has only just been released.

Biology-inspired robot flies and walks — A team from LIS, EPFL and NCCR Robotics proposes a new kind of flying robot that can also walk. Called the DALER (Deployable Air-Land Exploration Robot), the robot uses adaptive morphology inspired by the common vampire bat.
~ As long as it doesn’t need blood to work, I’m good with it. 

Cities for a dry, dry future — A recent NPR report takes Los Angeles as an example of how urban water infrastructure will have to change, moving away from aqueduct systems first used in ancient Rome.
~ No more storm water run-off into the sea: LA will need every drop of water.

Flexible brain implants — A team led by MIT professor Polina Anikeeva has harnessed insights from the materials sciences to develop a better wire for deep-brain stimulation. They managed to fabricate flexible wires capable of not only stimulating brain tissue, but delivering drugs and recording brain activity simultaneously, while drastically reducing the side-effects one would expect from a traditional metal implant.
~ Your brain can be more finely controlled …

Startup to 3D-print cars — Local Motors solicits design ideas through crowdsourcing, allows anyone to use open source software to contribute ideas, and then 3D prints car bodies according to the chosen specs in a matter of days. Once 3D printing is complete, the Strati moves to a Thermwood CNC router—a computer-controlled cutting machine that mills the finer details—before undergoing the final assembly process, which adds the drivetrain, electrical components, wiring, tires, gauges, and a showroom-ready paint job.
~ And the motor?

Powered by 2xAAA batteries
Powered by 2xAAA batteries

Tiny synths for skinny jeans — Teenage Engineering has been teasing its tiny PO-12 for nearly a year, and for the NAMM show, officially launching its pocket synth not as a standalone unit, but as a line of little noisemakers that look like Casio calculators with their faceplates snapped off.
~ In my pocket, it would pick up lint, but they sound amazing (watch the video at the link). 

Oxford has a 175 year old battery that still works — There sits, in the Clarendon Laboratory at Oxford University, a bell that has been ringing, nonstop, for at least 175 years. It’s powered by a single battery installed in 1840. Researchers would love to know what the battery is made of, but they’re afraid that opening the bell would ruin an experiment to see how long it will last.
~ Perhaps never has a ‘dry pile’ sounded so attractive.

Futurology 24 ~ The Anthropocene Epoch, and space to the past

Cyberterrorists nil, squirrels nearly 200.
Cyberterrorists nil, squirrels nearly 200.

There might be two other planets in our solar system — A group of astronomers from the UK and Spain maintain at least two planets must exist beyond Neptune and Pluto in order to explain the orbital behavior of objects that are even farther out, called extreme trans-Neptunian objects (ETNO).
~ Someone needs to shine a big light on these.

Lost Beagle Lander found seemingly intact on Mars — Following speculation earlier this week, scientists have announced they have found the missing British Mars lander, Beagle, on the surface of the Red Planet — although we’re still no closer to finding out what went wrong during landing.
~ Shot down like any other Space Invader.

The Anthropocene Epoch began with 1945 Atomic Bomb Test — Scientists have proposed July 16, 1945 as the beginning of the Anthropocene Epoch. That was the day of the first nuclear detonation test. They say “the Great Acceleration” — the period when human activities started having a significant impact on Earth – are a good mark of the beginning of the new epoch.
~ Call it what you like, we’re now more destructive than ever accept we have smartphones. 

Hot times indeed — 2014 is the hottest year since we humans started recording temperatures on Earth, according to two independent analyses by NASA and NOAA. Last year’s global temperatures broke a record set in 2010 and, before that, in 2005. We are on a steady march towards a warmer Earth.
~ Good times, huh? Go us. Better dee-fry some Graphene.

Human pressure on Earth reaching critical levels — Using 24 key social, economic, and environmental indicators, our friend Félix Pharand-Deschênes has created a dashboard that shows how human pressure on planet Earth is reaching critical level. Fast. The acceleration shown over the last 60 years is absolutely crazy. Zoom in. Freak out.
~ After the boom comes …

Everything you need to know about US cyberterrorism in one chart — Jon Mooallem spent the summer of 2013 keeping track of power outages, and you deserve to know that it exists [main picture, above].
~ So squirrels are not (almost invariably) cuter than cyberterrorists, they’re also much more effective.

Deep-fried Graphene stores energy — Materials scientists have constructed round, pom-pom-like graphene microparticles by spraying graphene oxide droplets into a hot solvent — a process akin to deep-frying. The technique could provide a simple, versatile means to make electrode materials for batteries and supercapacitors, possibly leading to devices with improved energy and power densities.
~ Deep fried food also stores energy. 

Cheaper smarter better bulb — A North Carolina company is raising the stakes with a new connected bulb that’s not only dimmable and programmable; it also lasts for 25,000 hours, just like its less-smart sibling. And it’s still a bargain, as the new Connected Cree LED Bulb comes in a 60W replacement option for just $US15.
~ Are we going to get a new tech trend of long lasting and durable? Hard to believe, but I wish it was so.

Mate of Danté murdered, as his 700-hundred-year-old pooh reveals — In 1329, an Italian nobleman and dear friend of Dante suffered a particularly horrid bout of diarrhoea that — it being the 14th century and all — promptly killed him at the tender age of 38. But now, thanks to Cagrande della Scala’s exhumed, mummified corpse and the 700-year-old poop found therein, we know this wasn’t your normal, everyday bout of fatal faeces. This was murder.
~ He was poisoned  with foxglove.

Ancient Egyptian dye may soon see through your skin — Egyptian blue was one of the famous pigments of the ancient world. Not only was it a scientific achievement, it has become an important historical signifier because it only came from contact with Egypt. It’s now being used in advanced technology that see right through your skin.
~ Sure beats peeling it off.

Human language may have evolved to help our ancestors make tools — Why did language evolve? A new study concludes that the art of conversation may have arisen early in human evolution, because it made it easier for our ancestors to teach each other how to make stone tools — a skill that was crucial for the spectacular success of our lineage. The study involved getting a number of college students to try to make their own primitive stone tools, some using language, others not. Only those who used language were able to make effective tools.
~ ‘Hey you! Make me a tool!’


Futurology 23 ~ Black Holes may collide and more

Ancient Se may refine our understanding of Chinese history.
Ancient Se may refine our understanding of Chinese history.

Black holes may collide — Astronomers have discovered what appears to be two supermassive black holes just one light-year apart, setting up a collision so massive it could be release as much energy as 100 million supernovas and destroy it’s inside galaxy.
~ Hate it when that happens.

Life on Mars — People keep seeing weird things etched in Martian rocks. Most of the time our brains are playing tricks on us. At other times, however, those familiar rocky features can be interpreted as processes that also occur on Earth.
A paper published buy a geobiologist in the journal Astrobiology has related structures photographed by Curiosity of Martian sedimentary rock with structures on Earth known to be created by microbial lifeforms.
~ Some things on Mars look like some things on Earth … are we really supposed to be surprised?

When robots mess up … theatrically — Plenty of robot stories deal with the dread of the too-perfect automaton, which overtakes us with its implacable logic and efficiency. But what could be even more disturbing is if robots were programmed to screw up, to make them seem more human. That’s the premise of the new stage musical, Sorry Robot.
~ Note to self: avoid.

Let them drink pooh water — The Janicki Omniprocessor turns human waste in sewer sludge into drinking water and electricity, in about five minutes. Former Microsoft CEO Bill Gates drank some. Bill Gates, who visited the facility in November to try the water for himself (the site is part of the Gates Foundation’s effort to improve sanitation in poor countries).
~ After dealing with Ballmer for so long, it’s probably not as strange as it sounds. 

Super grassy antibiotic — A microbe found in a grassy field appears to contain a remarkably powerful antibiotic. ‘Teixobactin’ kills dangerous pathogens without any observable resistance (at least not yet). Moreover, it destroys many types of drug-resistant bacteria and it’s safe in mammals. Its use may be limited, but it could represent a new class of antibiotics.
~ I’ve never found one of those in a grassy field.

US pet cemeteries reveal wolf arrival — Scientists doing a study of mitochondrial DNA found ways that ancient dogs are, in many ways, just like our own pets. But they also found the mitochondrial DNA only started branching out into different lines about 10,000 years ago, which means domestic dogs came late to the Americas.

Ancient musical instrument discovered in China — Chinese archaeologists working in Hubei province’s Zaoyang City have unearthed an ancient stringed instrument dating back thousands of years. It’s said to be the earliest ever found in China.
~ OK, so it’s not just a squashed wooden trumpet (main picture, above)

Futurology 22 ~ Nemesis, Saturn, space, healing Antimatter, Dolby Vision, charge-snakes, Nazi nuclear

Spaceplanes are another option to get us into space
Spaceplanes are another option to get us into space

Happy New Year! A dangerous nemesis star may visit our solar system many years from now — A stellar orange dwarf has a 90% chance of passing through the outer reaches of our solar system no earlier than a quarter of a million years from now. Sure, that’s a long way off, but this unwelcome guest could perturb the Oort cloud, flinging dangerous comets towards Earth.
~ I plan to be dead, but good luck.

Three-kilometre-high structures rising on Saturn’s rings — Someone on Reddit just posted an old November 2010 image by the Cassini spacecraft which shows 3.5-kilometre structures rising on Saturn’s B ring’s outer edge.
~ I always associate rings with Uranus. Hope the ring doesn’t unbalance and develop a wobble – could be calamitous.

How humanity will conquer space without rockets — Getting out of Earth’s gravity well is hard. Conventional rockets are expensive, wasteful, and as we’re frequently reminded, very dangerous. Thankfully, there are alternative ways of getting ourselves and all our stuff off this rock. Here’s how we’ll get from Earth to space in the future. (That’s a ‘Spaceplane’, main picture above).
~ I’m all for telekinesis.

Antimatter is already used in hospitals — In Pet scans. True.
~ Antimatter where it matters.

Researchers use gps to track antarctica’s ice migration in real time — Antarctica’s melting ice sheets have been a major contributor to global sea level increases over the last decade, and the losses are expected to accelerate over the next two centuries. A team from the UBL’s Laboratoire de Glaciologie has gone ahead and connected one such ice sheet to the Internet of Things.
~ I reckon that’s cold comfort.

How Dolby Vision works, and how it could revolutionise tvs forever — There are three ways television displays can be improved, two of which you’re probably already familiar with: you can up the density of the pixels or increase the refresh rate. But Dolby has taken to improving the third factor: it’s building a better and brighter pixel.
~ I still remember Dolby on my cassette player: muffle-muffle-muffle …

Tesla building robotic snakes that emerge from walls to charge cars — Elon Musk just tweeted some pretty exciting news. In the future, Tesla owners won’t have to worry about plugging in their cars. Robot snake arms will do it for them
~ Other orifices beware.

‘Futuristic’ Japanese city was planned for Australia In 1989, but nobody knew why — Cabinet documents from 1989 show that the plans to develop a futuristic (by 1989 standards) new city based on a Japanese proposal were shrouded in mystery and confusion.
The story of the Multifunction Polis is a fascinating one from a political standpoint: it was mooted, discussed, pitched for, awarded to Queensland, withdrawn, awarded to South Australia … then finally abandoned.
~ They may need an Aussie super-genius like Tony Abbott to work that out. 

Nazi nuclear — Suspiciously high radiation levels around the Austrian town of St Georgen an der Gusen had long fuelled [ha ha] theories there was a buried bunker nearby where Nazis had tested nuclear weapons during WWII. Those suspicions came one step closer to being confirmed last week after the opening of a 75-acre underground complex concealed behind earth and granite.
~ ‘Deep’, ‘dark’ and ‘Nazi’ always go together, don’t they? 

Futurology 21~ possible Dark Matter, not water from comets and more

Space Station shot in Infra-Red
Space Station shot in Infra-Red

Possible Dark Matter spotted — Astronomers may finally have detected a signal of dark matter, the mysterious and elusive stuff thought to make up most of the material universe. While poring over data collected by the European Space Agency’s XMM-Newton spacecraft, a team of researchers spotted an odd spike in X-ray emissions coming from two different celestial objects — the Andromeda galaxy and the Perseus galaxy cluster.
~ It clearly wants to avoid spotting – hope we haven’t annoyed it. 

Comets didn’t bring the water — Scientists have dealt a blow to the theory that most water on Earth came from comets. Results from Europe’s Rosetta mission, which made history by landing on Comet 67P in November, shows the water on the icy mass is unlike that on our planet. The results are published in the journal Science. The authors conclude it is more likely that the water came from asteroids, but other scientists say more data is needed before comets can be ruled out.
~ It’s just a different flavour – I say embrace it. 

Our Space Station in Infra Red — The above image was taken 70m from the ISS as the European Space Agency’s Automated Transfer Vehicle docked with it earlier this year. Obtained using Laser Infrared Imaging Sensors, the images were obtained to help researchers develop better automated rendezvous procedures for use out in space. (Main picture, above).
~ Can’t see anyone waving, anyway.

Artificial skin feels pressure, dampness, heat — A new, stretchy artificial skin can pick up many of the sensations from the real thing, and could someday cover a lifelike prosthetic hand.
The skin was developed by researchers in South Korea, and combines the ability to sense pressure, temperature, and humidity.
~ Handy. 

Scientists invent a new form of ice — A new form of ice has just been created in a lab. It consists of frozen water molecules spun into a tiny, intricate, empty cage.
~ They did this because, er … there was nothing on TV that day?

3D printed dress — The garment here is a 3D-printed dress, made by design studio Nervous System. Although it’s not the first 3D-printed dress (that honour goes to a burlesque star), it’s one of the first to be made on Nervous System’s Kinematics system, software which can create complex structures composed of articulated modules. What that means is a 3D-printed dress that requires no assembly: take the pile of plastic out of the printer, wash it off, unfurl it, and you’ve got a dress.
~ A dress of sorts, anyway.

Super-duper map — The US Geological Survey and Esri have created a zoomable map that lets you explore all of the world’s ecological land units down to an astounding 250 metre resolution.
~ What? Why isn’t the washing out?!

Futurology 20 ~ Space DNA, cooling paint, solar, spoon, pain switch, Antikythera, huge block

German scientists discovered a huge cut stone block in Baalbek. It's 19.6 meters long by 6 wide, and is at least 5.5 high with a weight estimated at 1650 tons!
German scientists discovered a huge cut stone block (to the right) in Baalbek. It’s 19.6 meters long by 6 wide, and at least 5.5 high with a weight estimated at 1650 tons!

DNA survives critical entry into Earth’s atmosphere — The genetic material DNA can survive a flight through space and re-entry into the earth’s atmosphere – and still pass on genetic information. A team of scientists from UZH obtained these astonishing results during an experiment on the TEXUS-49 research rocket mission.
~ DNAlien, anyone?

Scientists develop ‘paint’ to help cool the planet — Engineers at Stanford University have developed an ultrathin, multilayered, nanophotonic material that not only reflects heat away from buildings but also directs internal heat away using a system called “photonic radiative cooling.” The coating can reflect away 97% of incoming sunlight. When combined with the photonic radiative cooling system it becomes cooler than the surrounding air by around 9F (5C). The material is designed to radiate heat away into space at a precise frequency that allows it to pass through the atmosphere without warming it.
~ And so it shall pass from Global Warming to Space Warming. Expect an angry missive from the Intergalactic Hegemony soon after. 

Large scale solar farm under construction — Large-scale solar plants are monstrous construction projects that cover hundreds or thousands of acres of land in photovoltaic goodness. This amazing video shows how they go from concept to reality.
~ And what of the land beneath? What happens to the eco-system?

Scotland renewable energy milestone — Thanks to a combination of wind, solar and hydroelectric, along with less-publicized sources such as landfill gas and biomass, Scotland produced 10.3TWh in the first half of 2014, which is more than it generated the dirty way.
~ Crikey, if you can do it there …

Magnifying spoon —  Object Solutions’ Magnifying Spoon lets you inspect your meal up close before you eat. Designed by Ernesto D Morales, Carlos Maldonado and Juan Pablo Viedma, there’s a good chance you’ll offend the proprietor of wherever you’re dining when you pull out the Magnifying Spoon, but that’s a small price to pay if it means you don’t end up with a disgusting spoonful of bugs, cigarette ash or coriander.
~ Shame it doesn’t actually make some meals bigger.

Brain switch turns off pain — Scientists working together from several international universities have discovered it is possible to block a pathway in the brain of animals suffering from neuropathic pain, which could have a huge impact on improving pain relief in humans.
A chemical stimulator called adenosine binds to brain receptors to trigger a biological response, and has shown potential for killing pain in humans.
~ I’ll wait for the app.

Antikythera Mechanism older than previously thought — As if the freakishly advanced Antikythera Mechanism wasn’t astounding enough, a new analysis suggests the astronomical device is older than archaeologists assumed.
~ Genius that hasn’t aged.

Largest stone block discovered — German archaeologists working at Baalbek in Lebanon have uncovered the largest known ancient block. The fully exposed block (main picture, to the right) , which dates back to around 27 BC, is located in a stone quarry at the site of the ancient Heliopolis in Lebanon.
~ The stone was unmoved at its discovery. 

Futurology 19 ~ Waterless life, Vesta mapped, moon lamp, Microsoft robo-security, Chinese sys, Egyptian spells

Hige asteroid Vesta has been mapped in detail
Huge asteroid Vesta has been mapped in detail

Life might evolve on waterless planets — Astrobiologists Nediljko Budisa and Dirk Schulze-Makuch believe supercritical CO2 might be capable of acting as a life-sustaining solvent in a planetary, environment, which means life could evolve without the presence of water.
~ I’ll drink to that. 

Incredibly detailed map of Asteroid Vespa — A beautiful geologic map of big asteroid/minor-planet Vesta has been created (main picture) by a team led by planetary scientist David Williams, from data collected by NASA’s Dawn spacecraft during its 15-month orbit of the oblong object between 2011 and 2012.
~ I believe you can get lotion for bad asteroids. 

Supermoon lamp — An LED lamp designed by Nosigner is based on the March 19th, 2011 Supermoon, where the moon appeared 14% bigger and 30% brighter. It’s also completely accurate to the actual moon. Nosigner used data from the Japanese lunar orbiter Kaguya. ~ Have your own full moon every night. 

Microsoft testing robo-security guards — Microsoft is testing five robot security guards. They contain a sophisticated sensor suite that includes 360-degree HD video, thermal imaging, night vision, LIDAR, and audio recorders. They can also detect various chemicals and radiation signatures, and do some rudimentary behavioral analysis on people they see. They weigh about 300 lbs each, can last roughly a day on a battery charge, and know to head to the charging station when they’re low on power.
~ Stop or I’ll shoot! Please wait while Critical Security Update is in progress …

Cern discovers two knew subatomic particles — Particle physicists working at the Large Hadron Collider have detected two new subatomic particles that were predicted to exist but never seen. The discovery of the two new baryon particles stands to deepen our understanding of the universe.
~ I predict there might be another one. 

Intel panning thumb-sized PCs — Intel is shrinking PCs to (big) thumb-sized ‘compute sticks’ for next year. The stick will plug into the back of a smart TV or monitor “and bring intelligence to that,” said Kirk Skaugen, senior vice president and general manager of the PC Client Group at Intel, during the Intel investor conference in Santa Clara, California.
~ Catchy name? Not so much. 

Ancient Chinese pigment eliminates a dimension — Han purple is an ancient pigment that wasn’t reconstructed by modern chemists until 1992. The physicists found the pigment eliminates an entire dimension. It makes waves go two-dimensional!
~ Ancient Chinese cleverness strikes again.

Bike bottle gathers it own water — The weight of water limits how much can be brought on a long bike ride. There isn’t always an option to stop and fill up from a clean stream or drinking fountain, but  Austrian industrial design student Kristof Retezár has created the prototype of a water bottle system that condenses humid air into clean, drinkable water.
~ Fill, damn you!

1300 year old Egyptian spells deciphered — Arcane invocations in the Handbook of Ritual Power, an 8th-century, 20-page codex, has been translated and published by two Australian scholars of religion and ancient history. The researchers, Malcolm Choat at Macquarie University and Iain Gardner at the University of Sydney, believe the 27 spells in the codex were originally scattered among other documents, and later combined with other invocations to form a “single instrument of ritual power.”
~ I have one of those – iPhone 6. 

Futurology 18 ~ Comet mania and other interesting new from the future

The satellite Giotto got to a mere 600 meters of the famous fiery Halley's comet
The satellite Giotto got to a mere 600 meters of the famous fiery Halley’s comet

Can these seven words really define all life in the Universe? We might not know the meaning of life, but a group of scientists working for NASA came up with a definition for it that’s just seven words long: Self-sustaining chemical system capable of Darwinian evolution. But does this truly encompass all life, including the types we have yet to discover?
~ I doubt it. 

A 30-year history of getting closer to comets — How close have we come to comets before? i09 has a roundup. (Main picture: Halley’s comet from just 600 metres away.)

Photographs from the comet — Boulders seem to defy gravity in the view below, apparently clinging to the steep sides of the larger lobe of the comet — although, of course, it is all a matter of the orientation of the image and the local gravity vector.
~ If you ask me, the comet seems to defy gravity too. And what would you eat there? I reckon ‘Philae gumbo.’

Dark Magma — The magma fueling the volcanoes of Hawaii and Yellowstone National Park pipes from deep inside the planet. Scientists have struggled to understand why there are hot spots there, so distant from the grinding tectonic plate boundaries at which volcanoes normally appear. New research chalks the mystery up to ‘dark magma’: deep underground pockets of red-hot molten rock that siphon energy from Earth’s core.
The way heat flows from the core to the mantle could potentially affect the way Earth’s magnetic field evolves over time.
~ My advice it so leave it alone. 

Made of mushrooms, the drone decomposes when you lose it
Made of mushrooms, this drone just decomposes when you lose it (apart from the rotors, wires and battery)

Mushroom drones decompose when the crash land — It may not look much different to a regular drone, but that’s a good thing — because this little UAV is made from biological materials that allow it to biodegrade and simply melt into its surroundings.
~ Hopefully it’s not for military use – imagine the ignominy of being assassinated by a mushroom.

Wikipedia disease forecasting — Scientists from Los Alamos National Laboratory have used Wikipedia logs as a data source for forecasting disease spread. The team was able to successfully monitor influenza in the United States, Poland, Japan, and Thailand, dengue fever in Brazil and Thailand, and tuberculosis in China and Thailand. The team was also able to forecast all but one of these (tuberculosis in China) at least 28 days in advance.
~ Do tell, then. What’s next and where?

The rise of a vaccine-resistant strain of Polio — Globally, Polio has been eradicated in countless countries. It should only be a matter of time before it goes the way of Smallpox, but there are a few hold-outs where the virus is stubbornly hanging on. This story is about a virus’s last ditch effort to survive.
~ Ah, yeah, Congo again. 

Futurology 17 ~ All from nothing after all to ghosts

Picture from the internet telepathy story at Gizmodo
Picture from the internet telepathy story at Gizmodo. On the right – telepathy breakthrough. On the left, mum at the hairdresser watching custard on YouTube. 

All from nothing after all — One of the great theories of modern cosmology is that the universe began in a ‘Big Bang’, but the mathematical mechanism by which this occurred has been lacking. Cosmologists at the Wuhan Institute have published a proof that the Big Bang could indeed have occurred spontaneously because of quantum fluctuations.
~ I’ve often wondered when the Wheeler-DeWitt equation would provide the equation. No I haven’t.

Largest Kepler object is Triton — Out beyond Neptune, the last of our Solar System’s gas giants, the icy graveyard of failed planetesimals lurks: the Kuiper Belt. Among these mixes of ice, snow, dust and rock are a number of worlds — possibly a few hundred — massive enough to pull themselves into hydrostatic equilibrium. The most famous among them are Pluto, the first one ever discovered, and Eris, of comparable size but undoubtedly more massive. But there’s an even larger, more massive object from the Kuiper Belt than either of these, yet you never hear about it: it’s Triton, the largest moon of Neptune – a true Kuiper Belt object.
~ Better buckle up, then. 

Geoengineering could be used to prevent catastrophic climate effects caused by giant eruptions — New research suggests it may be possible to counteract the effects through deliberate emissions of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, dampening the abrupt impact of a massive eruption. Such measures could stave off the perpetual winters that follow these eruptions.
~ I don’t even enjoy the non perpetual winters, personally.

How many parallel processes run in human brains —fMRI data has revealed just how parallel gray matter is. The analysis is complex, but the outcome is simple to state. Georgiou says independent component analysis reveals that about 50 independent processes are at work in human brains performing the complex visuo-motor tasks of indicating the presence of green and red boxes. However, the brain uses fewer processes when carrying out simple tasks, like visual recognition.
~ Or voting.

Telepathy over the Internet is getting real — Researchers at the University of Washington have successfully demonstrated a brain-to-brain interface in a six-person study. This is the second such study, but with more people, more confidence, and enough success to presume that telepathy might just leap out of the realm of sci-fi.
~ I can often tell what’s on a website just by looking at it. 

Robot makes people feel like a ghost is nearby— In 2006, cognitive neuroscientist Olaf Blanke of the University of Geneva in Switzerland was testing a patient’s brain functions before her epilepsy surgery when he noticed something strange. Every time he electrically stimulated the region of her brain responsible for integrating different sensory signals from the body, the patient would look behind her back as if a person was there, even when she knew full well that no one was.
Now, with the help of robots, Blanke and colleagues have not only found a neurological explanation for this illusion, but also tricked healthy people into sensing ‘ghosts‘.
~ Next the ghost of HG Wells will make you feel robots are imminent… Meanwhile ‘mediums’ will carry on tricking themselves and others they can really see ghosts.