Mission to Bennu may help defend Earth, and there may be water there — Bennu is a 487.68m-wide asteroid that orbits the Sun relatively close to the Earth. NASA’s OSIRIS-REx mission won’t just take pretty pictures of the asteroid Bennu, it will also help scientists learn whether the rock will one day threaten Earth. OSIRIS-REx spacecraft also detected evidence of water on its target just a week after arriving. ~ To wetly threaten Planet Earth …
Quark soup droplets expand like Big Bangs — Stars and galaxies didn’t form right away. Scientists think that matter was initially a near-perfect fluid of quarks, the smallest known component of atoms. They have found evidence of these fluids in high-energy particle collider experiments. Now, evidence continues to mount that these liquids can form in unexpected ways, yielding tiny droplets that flow outwards explosively, like liquid Big Bangs in miniature. ~ Sounds like messy dining, though.
Experimental gene therapy stops mice getting fat — Researchers at Flinders University knocked out a gene known as RCAN1 in mice, hypothesising this would increase “non-shivering thermogenesis,” which “expends calories as heat rather than storing them as fat” – the mice were fed a high-calorie diet and did not gain weight. In particular, the modified mice did not store fat around their middles (a phenomenon associated with many health risks, including cardiac problems) and their resting muscles burned more calories. ~ Despite that, I don’t think I can bring myself to eat those skinny, gene-altered mice.
What did Minnesota kids from the year 1904 think would happen by the year 1919, or even 2019?They imagined fancy airships in the sky, “automobiles for everything,” and wondrous house-cleaning robots. They even imagined trips to Mars by the year 1919. Seriously. ~ I already have a wondrous house-cleaning robot. Me.
Incan temple virtually recreated — The 1500-year-old Pumapunku temple in western Bolivia is considered a crowning achievement of Mesoamerican architecture, yet no one really knew what the original structure actually looked like. Until now.
The stonework of the temple is considered so precise that ancient alien enthusiasts claim it was made by lasers and other extraterrestrial technologies. ~ The technique can now be used on other sites.
Two Chinese stalagmites enrich radiocarbon dating —Owing to the discovery of two stalagmites in a Chinese cave containing a seamless chronological atmospheric record dating back to the last Ice Age, radiocarbon dating will now be better.
An unbroken, high-resolution record of atmospheric carbon-12 and carbon-14 was found in a pair of stalagmites located within Hulu Cave near Nanjing, China, according to new research published in Science. ~ Now we can calibrate back a lot further.
NASA’s asteroid-sampling spacecraft has arrived at its target — NASA’s OSIRIS-REx has arrived at its target asteroid, Bennu, an important step on its mission to collect a sample from an asteroid and return it to Earth. OSIRIS-REx launched on September 8, 2016 from Cape Canaveral. It carries five data-taking instruments, and scientists hope to learn more about the Solar System’s origins and even what resources an asteroid might hold. The arrival marks the end of a two-year journey to Bennu, and the start of a 1.5-year study period. ~ We have only scratched the surface of the asteroid surface scratching.
Curiosity Rover finds something really shiny — An unusually smooth and reflective Martian rock has caught the attention of NASA scientists, prompting an investigation by the Curiosity Rover. With the spectacularly successful landing of the InSight probe on Mars earlier this week, our attention has understandably been diverted away from Curiosity, which has been exploring the Red Planet since 2012. ~ Attack! Attack! No, wait … Profit! Profit!
Cancer test takes ten minutes — Scientists have developed a universal cancer test that can detect traces of the disease in a patient’s bloodstream. The cheap and simple test uses a colour-changing fluid to reveal the presence of malignant cells anywhere in the body and provides results in less than 10 minutes. The test has a sensitivity of about 90%, meaning it would detect about 90 in 100 cases of cancer. ~ And it came from the fact that DNA sticks to metal in different ways.
Vaccine for bees — Bees may soon get an ally in their fight against bacterial disease — one of the most serious threats the pollinators face — in the form of an edible vaccine. That’s the promise held out by researchers in Finland, who say they’ve made the first-ever vaccine for insects, aimed at helping struggling honeybee populations. ~ Go bees! Go bees!
Plant motors to the light — when a Pink Flamingo Peace Lily routed to a robotic planter on wheels detects light nearby, it signals the robot to move closer. Set between two desk lamps (which have a kinetic life of their own, thanks to the Pixar Animation Studios opening sequence starring Luxo), the researchers show how quickly the plant responds by switching them on and off again. As Sareen puts it, “The agency of such movements rests with the plant.” ~ No longer a secret agency.
Repurposed coal mines could be the future of farming —Academics at the University of Nottingham see in them the potential future of food. They’ve patented a new system revolving around what they call “deep farming”: turning old coal mines into fully functioning farms.
Deep farms would have advantages that current land-based farms lack, including a controlled climate uninfluenced by weather and no need for expensive farming equipment. They wouldn’t need to be built in coal mines, but the scientists see them as a perfect starting point. ~ I think real progress will be made when we turn non-abandoned coal mines into underground farms.
All new Californian homes to have solar panels — Solar panels will be a required feature on new houses in California, after the state’s Building Standards Commission gave final approval to a housing rule that’s the first of its kind in the United States. Set to take effect in 2020, the new standard includes an exemption for houses that are often shaded from the sun. It also includes incentives for people to add a high-capacity battery to their home’s electrical system, to store the sun’s energy. ~ Coz the sun always shines in California.
Scientists gets more outrage for gene-edited twins — Ever since a Chinese scientist rocked the world by claiming he had created gene-edited twin girls, international outrage has only intensified. Francis Collins, director of the US National Institutes of Health called it a deeply unfortunate, misguided misadventure of the most dramatic sort. “It was shocking at the time. A week later, it’s still shocking.” ~ Well, that was frank, Francis. He will be chastised, no doubt.
Woman gives birth with transplanted uterus — A team of doctors in Brazil have announced a medical first that could someday help countless women unable to have children because of a damaged or absent uterus. In a case report published Tuesday in the Lancet, they claim to have successfully helped a woman give birth using a transplanted uterus from a deceased donor. ~ Thank goodness the donor was deceased.
More ancient Black Death — Long before the two deadliest pandemics in history (the Plague of Justinian and the Black Plague) an ancient strain of the bacterium responsible for these scourges, Yersinia pestis, may have already wreaked havoc among Neolithic European communities over 5000 years ago, according to a controversial new study.
New research published in Cell describes a newly identified strain of Yersinia pestis, the bacterium that causes plague. The DNA of the new strain was extracted from a woman who lived in a Neolithic farming community about 4900 years ago in what is now Sweden.
Expanding universe mystery — An important discrepancy in measurements of the universe’s acceleration has theorists wondering whether we’ve gotten something fundamentally wrong in our understanding of the history of the universe.
One currently unexplained cosmological mystery is the ‘Hubble tension,’ where various measurements of the universe’s expansion seem to disagree. As the story surrounding this tension gets murkier, others have begun to come up with new ideas, but these attempts to explain away the difference without new physics don’t seem to hold up to scrutiny. ~ Yes, none of it holds up to mine.
3D-printed moon dust for Mars — Mars is lacking in the vast supply of natural resources we rely on here on Earth, and astronauts attempting to colonise, or even just visit, the red planet can only bring a limited supply of materials with them. The results of the European Space Agency’s latest 3D-printing experiments (main picture, above) prove it isn’t impossible, though. If there’s one thing Mars isn’t lacking, it’s dust. As a stand in for genuine Mars ingredients, researchers have turned to a simulated version of lunar soil, also known as lunar regolith. The ESA 3D-printed a sample of various parts using a light-sensitive binding agent mixed with the regolith (silicon, aluminium, calcium, and iron oxides that have been ground to a very fine dust). ~ Print me an Earth-bound ship!
Genetically-altered twins spark outrage — Twin girls born earlier in November had their DNA altered to prevent them from contracting HIV, according to an Associated Press report. If confirmed, the births would signify the first gene-edited babies in human history — a stunning development that’s sparking an outcry from scientists and ethicists. ~ He doesn’t appear to have been kidding. ‘Don’t worry, kids! We’re just going to infect you with HIV and see what happens …’
5 tech innovations that have changed music — Music is one of the fundamental appreciations that sets humans apart from every other living thing we’re currently aware of.
Beyond the artistry we connect with on an emotional level, there is a whole industry filled with gadgets, instruments and software that transforms the production and consumption of music. Read about five innovations that have revolutionised music in the last couple of decades. ~ Who needs musical ability when you have all this?
Harvard scientists solve age-old lens problem — Chromatic aberration is just a fact of life when it comes to photography. A combination of high-quality gear – lenses in particular – and user skill can minimise the tell-tale purple fringe. But what if a simple layer on your lens could all but eliminate CA? Enter a team of researchers from Harvard’s School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS), who have accomplished exactly this. ~ But it will take ages to reach consumers.
It’s all going to Apocalypticon in a handcart, but here are 5 innovations that can help save the oceans from plastic — The science and tech communities have also been collaborating with governments and big business on innovative solutions to stop the eight million tonnes of plastic that is dumped into oceans every year. ~ Humans work hard to solve ridiculous but terrible problems created by … yeah, humans.
Sun’s long-lost sibling — A nearby star, HD 186302, was almost certainly born from the same cloud of gas the Sun was 4.6 billion years ago. Astronomers have found it has an almost identical chemical composition as the Sun, is on a similar orbit around the Milky Way, and has the same age (within uncertainties). Interestingly, it’s only 184 light years away, implying statistically many more such stars are waiting to be discovered. ~ Hear that, Elon Musk? Maybe it’s time for you to leave us.
The Earth is sucking up water — The Earth around the Mariana Trench, which contains the deepest point on the planet, could be slurping up at least four times more water than previously estimated, according to new research. ~ This fact does my head in.
‘Experimental’ Lockheed jet enters production — Lockheed Martin’s X-59 Quiet Supersonic Technology aircraft (main picture, above) is officially in “the manufacturing phase,” bringing the company “one step closer to enabling supersonic travel for passengers around the world.” The experimental jet was awarded a contract from NASA earlier this year as it is capable of flying at supersonic speeds without creating loud supersonic booms. Currently, commercial supersonic aircraft are banned from flying over land because of the noise and potential damage the booms may cause. ~ So, it creates quiet supersonic booms? Looks like there’s room for two passengers – and they’ll have to lie down.
Solid plane flies without moving parts — The first ever ‘solid state’ plane, with no moving parts in its propulsion system, has successfully flown for a distance of 60 metres, proving that heavier-than-air flight is possible without jets or propellers. The flight represents a breakthrough in ‘ionic wind’ technology, which uses a powerful electric field to generate charged nitrogen ions, which are then expelled from the back of the aircraft, generating thrust. Steven Barrett, an aeronautics professor at MIT and the lead author of the study published in the journal Nature, said the inspiration for the project came straight from the science fiction of his childhood. ~ Shh! Don’t tell them about paper darts, kites, gliders and balloons! (And they say Americans don’t understand iony!)
First full-body human scans — EXPLORER, the world’s first medical imaging scanner that can capture a 3-D picture of the whole human body at once, has produced its first scans. The brainchild of UC Davis scientists Simon Cherry and Ramsey Badawi, EXPLORER is a combined positron emission tomography (PET) and X-ray computed tomography (CT) scanner that can image the entire body at the same time.
Because the machine captures radiation far more efficiently than other scanners, EXPLORER can produce an image in as little as one second and, over time, produce movies that can track specially tagged drugs as they move around the entire body. ~ I hate it when my drugs get tagged. When is the Council going to do something!?
High-fat, low-carb Keto diet gets critiqued by scientists — Diet fads often make the lofty claim that adjusting food habits one way or another will produce the dieter’s desired results. More specifically: eat this, not that, and watch the kilos fall off. But diets are hard to sustain, and diet debunking is constantly calling into question what and how much we should be eating.
In a review published this week in Science, scientists from diverse backgrounds and research focuses came together to address whether a high-fat, low-carbohydrate diet or vice versa was the better option for maintaining good health, as well as whether the specific kinds of fat and carbs mattered. ~ All I know is that too much of any one thing will never be good for you, and the darker the fruit or vegetable, the better it is for you.
Entirely new and bizarre microbes — Canadian scientists have identified microscopic creatures that are so unlike anything seen before, they had to create an entirely new branch on the evolutionary tree of life to slot them in. A new paper published in Nature offers the first genetic analysis of hemimastigotes: a rare and poorly understood group of single-celled microorganisms. Biologists have known about these wee beasties for well over a century, but only now can hemimastigotes be officially slotted into the evolutionary tree of life, a process more formally known as phylogeny. And by doing so, scientists have stumbled upon a completely new branch on the tree of life – one dating back billions of years. ~ They were collected from soil found along the Bluff Wilderness Trail in Nova Scotia, Canada.
Dutch art sleuth finds missing Byzantine mosaic — Art sleuth Arthur Brand, famous in the art world for tracking down works of art thought to be lost or destroyed has delivered one of his greatest finds yet: a 1600-year-old Byzantine-era mosaic of Saint Marks stolen from a Cyprus church after the Turkish invasion in 1974. It was in the possession of a British family, who bought the mosaic in good faith more than four decades ago. They were horrified when they found out that it was, in fact, a priceless art treasure, looted from the Kanakaria Church after the Turkish invasion, and they agreed to its return. ~ Nice job, Art!
Holiday spot for ExoMars 2020 mission selected — When it comes to landing a robot on another planet, perhaps the most important question is where to put the dang thing. The researchers behind the upcoming ExoMars mission, consisting of a rover and lander, have now announced their preferred location on the Red Planet.
ExoMars 2020 is the next part of the ExoMars missions: a rover and landing platform to be sent to Mars as part of a joint mission between the European Space Agency and Russia’s Roscosmos. ~ I dunno: no pool, and services are too far away.
Army space balloons — DARPA, the US military’s research arm, is currently testing a wind sensor that could allow devices in its Adaptable Lighter-Than-Air (ALTA) balloon program to spot wind speed and direction from a great distance and then make the necessary adjustments to stay in one spot.
DARPA has been working on ALTA for some time, but its existence was only revealed in September. “By flying higher we hope to take advantage of a larger range of winds,” says ALTA project manager Alex Walan. ALTA will operate even higher than Loon at 22,900 to 27,400 meters (75,000 to 90,000 feet or 14 to 17 miles) where the winds are less predictable. Statioanry, they could provide communication in remote or disaster-hit area, follow hurricanes, or monitor pollution at sea. One day, they could even take tourists on near-space trips to see the curvature of the planet. ~ Presumably, the balloons for Flat Earthers will be flat discs.
Plasma in their Chinese Experimental Advanced Superconducting Tokamak (EAST) reached a 100 million degrees Celsius — That’s six times hotter than the core of the Sun. This temperature is the minimum required to maintain a fusion reaction that produces more power than it takes to run. The Chinese research team said they were able to achieve the record temperature through the use of various new techniques in heating and controlling the plasma, but could only maintain the state for around 10 seconds. The latest breakthrough provided experimental evidence that reaching the 100 million degrees Celsius mark is possible, according to China’s Institute of Plasma Physics. ~ So this has great importance to humankind, because I reckon it would cook a pizza perfectly in a tenth of a second. Although I must admit the phrase ‘playing with fire’ also springs to mind.
Omnidirectional turbine wins award — A spinning turbine that can capture wind traveling in any direction and could transform how consumers generate electricity in cities has won its inventors a prestigious international award and a US$38,000 prize. Nicolas Orellana, 36, and Yaseen Noorani, 24, MSc students at Lancaster University, scooped the James Dyson award for their O-Wind Turbine, which, in a technological first, takes advantage of both horizontal and vertical winds without requiring steering. ~ I think they should call it ‘the wind bag’.
Tantalising but preliminary evidence of a ‘brain microbiome’ — We know the menagerie of microbes in the gut has powerful effects on our health. Could some of these same bacteria be making a home in our brains? The annual meeting of the Society for Neuroscience drew attention with high-resolution microscope images of bacteria apparently penetrating and inhabiting the cells of healthy human brains. The work is preliminary, and its authors are careful to note that their tissue samples, collected from cadavers, could have been contaminated. But to many passersby in the exhibit hall, the possibility that bacteria could directly influence processes in the brain – including, perhaps, the course of neurological disease – was exhilarating. ~ Yes, whatever floats your boats, brain peeps!
Dubai hover cops — Like a Sci-Fi thriller brought to life, Dubai has taken its police force to another level with fully functional Hoverbikes being added to the force by 2020.
It was only last year that the Dubai Police announced they were looking to upgrade their traffic patrol vehicles into Hoverbikes, but to have actually stuck to that promise and come out with some wicked cool tech in only a years time is pretty remarkable. ~ Crikey, you wouldn’t want to fall off into those props! (See main picture, above). And why? And won’t they whip up little sand storms?
Neanderthals were nicer than was thought — The stereotype of a typical Neanderthal life is that it was extraordinarily difficult, violent, and traumatic. But a comparative analysis of the remains left behind by Neanderthals and contemporaneous humans is finally overturning this unwarranted assumption.
Neanderthals have been depicted as club-carrying, dim-witted brutes who spent their days clobbering each other with reckless abandon.
New research published in Nature is finally setting the record straight, showing that Neanderthals and Upper Paleolithic modern humans experienced similar levels of head trauma. Yes, life was tough for Neanderthals — but the new research suggests life wasn’t any less tougher or violent for contemporaneous Homo sapiens. ~ So e tu, non Brutus!
Earth’s oldest soil —This could be tucked away in an ancient rock outcrop in Greenland, according to new research. Dating back some 3.7 billion years, the suspected soil – exposed underneath a retreating ice cap – could potentially contain fossilised traces of primordial life. ~ No! Don’t wash your boots!
Kepler’s legacy — Since March 2009, NASA has discovered more than 2600 planets, including potentially habitable ones, thanks to the Kepler Space Telescope. Last week, after nearly a decade of hunting for new planets, the Kepler finally ran out of fuel. NASA decided to officially retire Kepler within its current orbit, away from Earth, on Oct. 30, 2018.
NASA plans to continue the hunt for new planets. While Kepler’s mission was to search for planets about 3000 light-years away, NASA launched a new spacecraft called Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite, or TESS for short, in April of this year to search every star within 100 light-years of Earth. ~ Kepler kept on keeping on – until last week, anyway.
Earth weighed with ghost particles — Scientists have to use some roundabout methods to weigh the Earth and measure what’s inside it – typically, they’ve used sound waves and the strength of gravity to make their calculations. But one team has weighed the Earth in a whole new way: by measuring mysterious cosmic particles that pass through it. ~ Yeah, well, how much does it weigh, then?!
Chiplets to keep up with Moore’s Law — As chipmakers struggle to keep up with Moore’s law, they are increasingly looking for alternatives to boost computers’ performance. Moore’s Law is slowing. More density costs more and takes longer.
Chip chiefs say chiplets will enable their silicon architects to ship more powerful processors more quickly. One reason is it’s quicker to mix and match modular pieces linked by short data connections than to painstakingly graft and redesign them into a single new chip. ~ They’re like high-tech lego blocks.
Placebo Effect is surprisingly effective — For decades science has acknowledged the placebo effect insofar as it is constantly trying to fight against it – that humans have this pesky thing about healing themselves sometimes better than the actual drugs can. This has led to an entire interdisciplinary field trying to fold the placebo effect back into medicine, something that is worked into treatment, and not controlled out of drug trials. ~ I remember asking my daughter if she’d like a placebo for her hypochondria. Since she was only 4, this ploy worked very well for both of us.
Making biological cells from scratch — Researchers have been trying to create artificial cells for more than 20 years, piecing together biomolecules in just the right context to approximate different aspects of life. They generally fall into three categories: compartmentalisation, or the separation of biomolecules in space; metabolism, the biochemistry that sustains life; and informational control, the storage and management of cellular instructions.
The pace of work has been accelerating, thanks in part to recent advances in microfluidic technologies, which allow scientists to coordinate the movements of minuscule cellular components (main picture, above). ~ Life beckons. Then what?
Lasers reveal how plants produce oxygen —An experiment using intense laser pulses has allowed scientists to watch plants produce oxygen from water part of photosynthesis in real time, according to a groundbreaking new paper.
Photosynthesis fixes carbon dioxide into sugars and creates oxygen out of water in the presence of sunlight, turning the sun into usable energy. Scientists hope to understand this reaction and incorporate it into solar energy technology. This new study using one of the world’s brightest lasers to present a view of the intermediate steps of the reaction – a movie of the reaction occurring. ~ I’m breathing easier already.
Doing without plastic: what to use instead? Packaging designer Ryan Gaither believes in the power of cardboard. At the Swedish-owned BillerudKorsnäs design lab in Portland, Oregon, he’s laid down a massive sheet of it, as big as a king-size bed. He flips the switch on a machine that zips around the cardboard, stabbing and cutting it like a robotic exact-o knife.
BillerudKorsnäs is primarily a paper company that prides itself on its sustainably managed forests. It also has a process – the details of which it won’t divulge – that it says produces super strong paper. Every time you replace plastic with paper, it does more than reduce plastic pollution. It also helps climate change since plastic is made from fossil fuels. ~ Great stuff.
The enormous Black Hole we’re all orbiting — It’s not Trump, but he will appear in The Apocalypticon, no doubt. Astronomers have reported new telescope observations of the environment around the Milky Way’s supermassive black hole, named Sagittarius A* (A* is pronounced “‘a-star’) and they transformed the data into a lively animation. The video is positively ghostly. Clumps of gas swirl around the black hole, traveling at about 30% of the speed of light. Astronomers collected the data for the visualisation using an instrument on the European Southern Observatory’s Very Large Telescope, located in the deserts of northern Chile. The instrument, appropriately named GRAVITY, detected flares of infrared radiation coming from the disk surrounding Sagittarius A*. The researchers believe the bursts originated very close to the black hole, in an incredibly tumultuous region known as the innermost stable orbit. Here, cosmic material is slung around violently, but it remains far away enough that it can circle the black hole safely without getting sucked into the darkness. ~ Unlike the Earth if Trump keeps on going the way he is. You know, “Climate change is a hoax!” etcetera.
Life floats by. Maybe — Life may exist elsewhere in the Milky Way galaxy, though try as they might, scientists have yet to detect any sign of it. Part of the problem has to do with the size of space; finding traces of organic substances or the waste signatures of alien megastructures isn’t easy at such cosmic distances. Fortunately, there’s the possibility that alien life will come to us in the form of interstellar objects.
Things changed on October 19, 2017 when astronomers at the Hawaiian Pan-STARRS1 telescope system detected the first known interstellar object to visit our Solar System. ~ Basically, when it swings by, they want to examine it for bio-markers.
Ghostly dust moon — A ghostly dust satellite or two might be orbiting the Earth, according to new research building on a 60-year-old idea. Massive objects attract one another through the force of gravity. But when you have multiple huge objects with just the right masses, their mutual gravitational field can introduce some anomalies – like gravitational points that can hold things stable. ~ It took some work, but they found a cloud.
Chinese nano-fibre can lift 160 elephants — A research team from Tsinghua University in Beijing has developed a fibre they say is so strong it could even be used to build an elevator to space. They say just 1 cubic centimetre of the fibre – made from carbon nanotube – would not break under the weight of 160 elephants – that’s more than 800 tonnes. And that tiny piece of cable would weigh just 1.6 grams. The Chinese team has developed a new ‘ultralong’ fibre from carbon nanotube that they say is stronger than anything seen before, patenting the technology and publishing part of their research in the journal Nature Nanotechnology earlier this year. ~ Imagine getting stuck in that elevator, though. It’s not the solitude or the claustrophobia that would do me in, but the interminable canned Crowded House!
Compressed Air makes the best ‘battery’ — The concept for storing energy with compressed air is simple: suck in some air from the atmosphere, compress it using electrically-driven compressors and store the energy in the form of pressurised air. When you need that energy you just let the air out and pass it through a machine that takes the energy from the air and turns an electrical generator. Compressed air energy storage (or CAES), to give it its full name, can involve storing air in steel tanks or in much less expensive containments deep underwater. In some cases, high pressure air can be stored in caverns deep underground, either excavated directly out of hard rock or formed in large salt deposits by so-called “solution mining”, where water is pumped in and salty water comes out. Such salt caverns are often used to store natural gas. Compressed air could easily deliver the required scale of storage, but it remains grossly undervalued by policymakers, funding bodies and the energy industry itself. ~ Whoosh!
When kids stop smoking dope, their cognition improves in just one week — A study published in the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry finds that when adolescents stop using marijuana, even for just one week, both verbal learning and memory improve. The study contributes to growing evidence that marijuana use in adolescents is associated with reduced neurocognitive functioning. ~ So, you choose: legal high or legal low?
The Vikings succeeded thanks to tar power — Vikings acquired the capacity to produce tar at an industrial scale as early as the 8th century AD, according to new research. The protective black goo was applied to the planks and even to the sails of the ships the Vikings used for trade and launching raids. Without the ability to produce copious amounts of tar, this new study suggests, the Viking Age may have never happened.
New research published in the journal Antiquity has shed new light on how the Vikings made tar, revealing a unique method of tar production previously unknown to scientists. ~ Snorri Tarson, then.
Neanderthals had lead in their teeth — Around 250,000 years ago, two Neanderthal children were exposed to excessive levels of lead in what is now France, according to new research. It’s the oldest known case of lead exposure in hominin remains – a discovery that’s presenting an obvious question: how could this have possibly happened so long ago? This is considered the oldest documented exposure to lead in hominin remains. As the how these children were exposed to lead, the scientists can only speculate. ~ Early dental work?
World’s first 3D printed bridge looks pretty cool — The world’s first 3D-printed steel bridge, a 12.19m stainless steel structure titled simply The Bridge, looks tantalizingly otherworldly thanks to its unique construction methods. It is now ready for installation in Amsterdam following its ongoing week on show at the Dutch Design Week from October 20-28. ~ Far canal.
Creating the first Quantum Internet — Scientists in Chicago are trying to create the embryo of the first quantum internet. If they succeed, the researchers will produce one, 30-mile piece of a far more secure communications system with the power of fast quantum computing.
The key has been the realisation of an unused, 30-mile-long fibre-optic link connecting three Chicago-area research institutions: Argonne National Lab, Fermi Lab and the University of Chicago. This led to the idea to combine efforts and use the link for what they call the Chicago Quantum Exchange. ~ That’s your dedicated channel right there.
Intel’s latest consumer CPU is close to a revolution —The 9th-Gen i9 9900K retails for US$859, has 8 cores that can run up to 16 threads concurrently, and it’s one of the first CPUs to ship with a turbo frequency of 5GHz. It isn’t just fast, it’s coming close breaking a long believed theoretical limit. 5GHz has been something of a pipe dream for many years, posing a theoretical barrier that most CPUs could not surpass without significant tweaking to the fundamental design of processors. But Intel shipped a limited edition i7-8086K earlier this year with the same clock speed, while AMD shipped the FX 9590 back in 2013 (although this was largely considered a failure). ~ Gassin’ the GigaHertz all right.
Tiny PC a powerhouse — You’ll soon be able to get Hardkernel’s ODROID-H2 — a 110mm² motherboard packing a full, x86-64 Intel CPU that can not only run Windows 10, but power two 4K displays.
The guts of the ODROID-H2 is Intel’s quad-core J4105 processor, clocked at 2.3GHz and based on the Goldmont Plus architecture. This isn’t some cut-down hardware, but a full, x86-64 chip that can run anything a regular desktop can. And it weighs just 320 grams! ~ Boo-yah! Well, I guess we should be surprised going by how much wallop the latest smartphones pack.
Device pulls drink water from the air — A new device that sits inside a shipping container can use clean energy to almost instantly bring clean drinking water anywhere: the rooftop of an apartment building in Nairobi, a disaster zone after a hurricane in Manila, or a rural village in Zimbabwe. And it does it by pulling water from the air. The design, from the Skysource/Skywater Alliance, just won US$1.5 million in the Water Abundance XPrize. The competition, launched in 2016, asked designers to build a device that could extract at least 2000 litres of water a day from the atmosphere (enough for the daily needs of around 100 people), use clean energy, and cost no more than 2 cents a litre. That challenge has now concluded. ~ Yeah, you thought it was a roof and guttering, didn’t you? But this thing even works where there is no rainfall.
New material can raise the efficiency of solar power — A composite of tungsten and zirconium carbide (both of which have the extremely high melting points of 3,700K) conduct heat extremely well, and neither of them expands or softens much under these conditions, meaning they would hold up better to the mechanical stresses. This could help, eventually, to lower the price of solar concentration arrays because it’s possible to use much less of it to build a heat exchanger. ~ The real hurdle is to come up with good enough, affordable batteries so that solar power can be used overnight.
Not exercising at all is worse for your health than smoking, diabetes and heart disease — Exercise helps you live longer [and this is, after all, a column about the future]. But a new study published in the journal JAMA Network Open goes further, finding that a sedentary lifestyle is worse for your health than smoking, diabetes and heart disease. There appears to be no limit to the benefit of aerobic exercise. Researchers have always been concerned that “ultra” exercisers might be at a higher risk of death, but the study found that not to be the case. ~ Of course, exercising on an active battlefield still poses potentially life-shortening risks no matter how fast you can run while carrying a load.
Archaeologists have discovered two previously unknown forms of spearpoint technology at a site in Texas — The triangular blades appear to be older than the projectile points produced by the Paleoamerican Clovis culture (once thought of as the earliest example of human activity in North America). This observation is complicating our understanding of how the Americas were colonised – and by whom. ~ And that’s the real point of the spearpoints.
Fearsome marsupial ‘lion’ of Australia disappeared 35,000 years ago, but why? — New research suggests it was climate change rather than human activity that caused Thylacoleo carnifex to become extinct. For millions of years, Thylacoleo carnifex ruled the forests of Australia, but the predatory species disappeared around 35,000 to 45,000 years ago. Humans first appeared in Australia around 60,000 years ago, leading scientists to wonder if humans were somehow responsible – hardly an outrageous suggestion, given our track record.
But this research helps demonstrate that even the fiercest predators [hint hint] can succumb to climate change. ~ What’s that, Skippy? Steve’s Land-Rover has overturned in the ravine?
World’s fastest camera shoots 10 trillion frames a second —For the new imaging technique, the team started with compressed ultrafast photography (CUP), a method that it is capable of 100 billion fps. That’s nothing to scoff at by itself, but it’s still not fast enough to really capture what’s going on with ultrafast laser pulses, which occur on the scale of femtoseconds. A femtosecond, for reference, is one quadrillionth of a second.
So the team built on that technology by combining a femtosecond streak camera and a static camera, and running it through a data acquisition technique known as Radon transformation. This advanced system was dubbed T-CUP. ~ I think Zeno ought to step in here.
The US Army is getting ready to drive into war in driverless trucks — In a year, its ‘Leader-Follower’ technology will enable convoys of autonomous vehicles to follow behind one vehicle driven by a human. It’s a direct response to the improvised explosive devices that caused nearly half the casualties in Iraq and Afghanistan. ~ Surely you just blow up the first truck then? Then they all stop, and let the plundering begin.. The next step is complete soldier-less wars.
Actors are digitally preserving themselves to continue their careers beyond the grave —From Carrie Fisher in Rogue One: A Star Wars Story to Paul Walker in the Fast & Furious movies, dead and magically “de-aged” actors are appearing more frequently on movie screens. Sometimes they even appear on stage: next year, an Amy Winehouse hologram will be going on tour to raise money for a charity established in the late singer’s memory. Some actors and movie studios are buckling down and preparing for an inevitable future when using scanning technology to preserve 3-D digital replicas of performers is routine. Just because your star is inconveniently dead doesn’t mean your generation-spanning blockbuster franchise can’t continue to rake in the dough. ~ So go image yourselves before the botox, filler and plastic surgery looks too obvious.
Powerful lasers changing labs — The winners of this year’s Nobel Prize in Physics didn’t just make discoveries. Their revolutionary work turned powerful lasers into ubiquitous lab tools. The tennis-court sized Berkeley Lab Laser Accelerator, or BELLA, uses one of the Nobel-winning methods to create one of the most powerful laser pulses on Earth. ~ BELLA is chirped pulse amplification on steroids. So you’d hope their aim is pretty good.
Antarctic ice making weird noises — Using special instruments, scientists have discovered weird sounds at the bottom of the world. The noise is actually vibrating ice, caused by the wind blowing across snow dunes, according to a new study. It’s kind of like you’re blowing a flute, constantly, on the ice shelf,” study lead author Julien Chaput, a geophysicist and mathematician at Colorado State University, said in a statement. Another scientist, glaciologist Douglas MacAyeal of the University of Chicago, likened the sounds to the buzz of thousands of cicadas. The sounds are too low in frequency to be heard by human ears unless sped up by the monitoring equipment. ~ Sounds cool.
Ancient Viking ship just metres from a motorway —Using ground-penetrating radar, archaeologists in Norway have discovered an ancient Viking ship buried just 50cm beneath the surface of a farmer’s field. The 20m-long ship, deliberately buried during a funeral ritual, appears surprisingly intact – and it could contain the skeletal remains of a high-ranking Viking warrior. ~ I guess it’s not all that surprising since it’s near the the large and fully intact Jelle burial mound.
Ancient sea sponge on steroids — Scientists from the University of California, Riverside, are claiming to have discovered the oldest known animal fossil – an ancient sea sponge that emerged between 660 million and 635 million years ago. ~ Unfair advantage?
Scientists’ plan to search for life in the universe — A blue-ribbon panel of researchers chaired by the University of Toronto’s Barbara Sherwood Lollar assembled the report at the behest of the US Congress, which asked in a 2017 law that a “strategy for astrobiology” be developed to prioritise “the search for life’s origin, evolution, distribution, and future in the universe.” The 196-page report does not offer easy access to ET, but the steady drumbeat of scientific advancement it documents suggests an increasingly sophisticated understanding of what we know – and don’t know – about biology on our planet and beyond. ~ Well, I like drumbeats anyway. Usually.
Jupiter’s moon Europa may have massive ice shards — Few moons in the Solar System are as intriguing as Jupiter’s moon Europa. A global ocean of salt water almost certainly surrounds the moon – and it would hold more water than any ocean on Earth. Above this immense sea, where surface temperatures dip to -184 degrees Celsius (-300 degrees Fahrenheit), a crust of water ice forms a shell. Astronomers predict that Jupiter, which bombards the moon with intense radiation, causes the entire moon to groan with gravity’s tug. Europa’s liquid water is a tempting target for future missions looking for possible alien microbes. But before a future lander can search for microscopic ET, the probe might have to contend with a forest of tall, jagged ice spikes. Their research suggests Europa is an icy hedgehog world, covered in ice formations rarely found on Earth. ~ I envisage a new range of Europa Ice Wines … called ‘Shardonay’. Yeah, you wish you’d thought of it!
Unknown seamounts are now known seamounts — Australian scientists have discovered a previously unknown chain of volcanic seamounts near Tasmania. The area appears to be brimming with marine life, including a surprising number of whales who may be using the undersea volcanoes as a navigational tool. The volcanic chain was discovered by scientists from the Australian National University and CSIRO, Australia’s national science agency, while on a 25-day mission aboard the research vessel Investigator to conduct detailed seafloor maps of the region. The undersea volcanoes are about 400 kilometres (250 miles) east of Tasmania, and they’re quite deep. ~ Or maybe the whales are just trying to keep warm.
Self-healing material uses carbon from the air — MIT chemical engineers have reportedly designed a material that can react with carbon dioxide from the air, “to grow, strengthen, and even repair itself.” According to MIT News, the polymer, which might someday be used as construction or repair material or for protective coatings, continuously converts the greenhouse gas into a carbon-based material that reinforces itself. ~ “This air is hard stuff, we’ll build a world from it!” (to quote the Mekons.)
Smart drones lighting concerts —Typically, you have an artist on stage for a concert singing songs, then a bunch of spotlights beams columns of colour through some fake smoke. But something new is on the horizon, and it’s equal parts creepy and futuristic: swarms of artificially intelligent drones are starting to show up on stages around the world. Some, such as the ones on Drake’s latest tour, of are tiny flying lights that float above the stage. Others, such as a recent Cirque du Soleil experience, featured more complex aircraft outfitted with lampshades that produced an almost ghostly effect. Metallica even has its own drone show. ~ A crash could really spoil your hairdo, though.
Inside a Hyperloop capsule — The real Hyperloop is quite different from the initial concept introduced by Elon Musk that had air bearings, supersonic speeds, and solar energy. HTT and Airtificial invested a total of 21,000 engineering hours and 5000 assembly hours to create Quintero One (above), a 32 metre capsule made of 85% carbon fibre; or, as HTT puts it, 85% ‘Vibranium’. The material that covers the capsule takes its name from the Marvel universe, but it doesn’t come from Wakanda: it is a double-layered patented-design that uses 82 panels of carbon fibre and 72 sensors able to detect problems related to the structural integrity of the vessel. ~ When it might travel at close to the speed of sound, structural integrity is very important.
Three brains sharing thoughts — Neuroscientists have successfully hooked up a three-way brain connection to allow three people share their thoughts – in this case, they played a Tetris-style game. The team thinks this wild experiment could be scaled up to connect whole networks of people, and yes, it’s as weird as it sounds. It works through a combination of electroencephalograms (EEGs), for recording the electrical impulses that indicate brain activity, and transcranial magnetic stimulation, where neurons are stimulated using magnetic fields. ~ Donald Trump seems to be able to share his thoughts without having a connection to anyone, though …
Yes, we can do without coal and save Earth — The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released a report saying the world’s electrical utilities need to reduce coal consumption by at least 60% over the next two decades through 2030 to avoid the worst effects of climate change that could occur with more than 1.5 degrees Celsius of warming. While that reduction seems out of reach, Bloomberg crunched some numbers and found it’s possible to meet consumption-cut targets on the current path. ~ But how reliable is Bloomberg anymore?
Neanderthal healthcare — Neanderthals cared for their sick and wounded, and new research suggests this behaviour was more than just a cultural phenomenon or an expression of compassion — it really did help them survive. To endure the harsh conditions of Ice Age Europe, Neanderthals adopted several strategies, including group hunting, collaborative parenting, and food sharing. New research published in Quaternary Science Reviews is adding another trick to the Neanderthal survival guide: healthcare. And the evidence dates back 1.6 million years ago. ~ OK, hands up who though this headline would be about the US.
Neanderthals helped us survive epidemics — A new study argues we have Neanderthals to thank for helping us cope with the viral tides we encountered as we marched around the globe. Stanford University researchers have identified DNA sequences that evolved in our ancient cousins that can produce antivirus proteins, which more than likely gave some human populations the edge they needed to survive. Roughly 1% of our genome’s coding was written in Neanderthal populations but this is a broad average – many families with African ancestry have zero, for instance, while other populations boast as much as 2% or more. So the question is how much of this difference comes down to the random drift of DNA being passed on around the globe, and how much is due to natural selection giving those with Neanderthal genes an advantage? ~ They seem pretty ugly the way we picture them now, in paleontological reconstructions, but maybe they were snappy dressers or something?
History-making moon discovery —Scientists may have detected the first moon orbiting a planet in a far-off solar system, though they caution that they still want to confirm the finding with another round of telescope observations. That planet, Kepler-1625b, is one of thousands scientists have recently detected around distant stars. No one, however, has ever conclusively found an alien moon. ~ The first ‘exomoon’.
Japan’s MINERVA-II rovers have sent back a batch of new photos from Ryugu, including a stunning new video —The 15-frame video was captured by MINERVA-II2, also known as Rover 1B, on September 23, the same day that it and its companion, MINERVA-II1, landed on Ryugu, an asteroid located 280 million km from Earth. The rovers were dispatched by Japan’s Hayabusa2 space probe, which arrived in orbit around the asteroid back in June. ~ I might wait for the series.
Weather balloon discovers strange new particle — A weather balloon in Antarctica spotted what looked like a high-energy particle from outer space striking the ice back in 2006. Except the particle didn’t hit from above — it somehow travelled all the way through the planet. Eight years later, it happened again. ~ Heavens below!
Starlite paste cooled everything, but it’s lost — The BBC has posted an interesting video series on Starlite, a white paste developed in the 1970s and 1980s by British hairdresser Maurice Ward that could completely insulate any object it coated, like a raw egg or a piece of cardboard, against extreme heat sources. Ward was an eccentric inventor and not a classically trained scientist. He came up with the formula for Starlite by experimenting wildly with different substances. Sadly, Ward took the chemical formula for Starlite to his grave with him in 2011. To this day, nobody knows the exact chemical composition of Starlite, or how one might go about recreating the substance. ~ Dang!
Paint-like coating facilitates ‘passive daytime radiative cooling’ — This is when a surface can efficiently radiate heat and reflect sunlight to a degree that it cools itself even if it’s sitting in direct sunlight. Columbia School of Engineering’s newly-invented coating has “nano-to-microscale air voids that acts as a spontaneous air cooler,” which is a very technical and fancy way of saying that the coating is great at keeping itself cool all on its own. ~ What’s it like with ardour?
Rechargeable zinc-air battery — A company backed by California billionaire Patrick Soon-Shiong, announced it has developed a rechargeable zinc-air battery that can store energy at far less cost than lithium-ion. The technology avoids some of the downsides of li-ion, including flammability and the use of cobalt. ~ It’s also rechargeable for many more cycles, so longer-lived.
Robot wrote a book — Ross Goodwin, a former ghostwriter for the Obama administration, uses neural networks to generate poetry, screenplays, and, now, literary travel fiction. Goodwin used a custom machine to ‘write’ a ‘novel‘ narrating its own cross-country road trip. ~ Seriously? Surely Mills and Boon et al has been written by robots for years, it’s so formulaic.
Plant discovery is already extinct — It took a little while, but a tiny, delicate plant found in Japan 26 years ago has been formally classified as a new species. But after residing in a museum collection since the early 1990s, the single specimen of Thismia kobensis remains the only one ever found. Tragically, this means the so-called fairy lantern may already be extinct. ~ Clone it?
Ancient seafloor muck serves as Earth memory — Digging through sediment layer by layer reveals nearly everything the planet has ever experienced, a veritable history book of life and death on Earth. You just have to learn how to speak in the language of shells, dust, and chemical compounds, which is exactly what Earth scientists probing the muck have learned to do. ~ To get these cores, they use a piston corer up to 8.05km below the waves.
Seyfert sucks up Earth-sized object — A team of physicists has reported an Earth-sized clump of matter flying into a black hole at nearly a third the speed of light. It’s a lucky observation: some scientists visualise smaller black holes as being like the black hole from the movie Interstellar – a massive, spinning, compact object surrounded by a disk of shredded gas and dust, looking much like an evil planet Saturn. Objects don’t fall directly into the black hole, but travel inward along these spinning clouds. But theoretical physicists predict that larger black holes might instead have “chaotic accretion”, meaning things can fall into them at any angle. ~ But where did the Earth-sized clump go after it went into the hole?
Japanese robots hop onto asteroid — Two tiny hopping robots successfully landed on an asteroid called Ryugu, then sent back some wild postcards from their new home. The tiny rovers are part of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency’s Hayabusa2 asteroid sample-return mission. Engineers with the agency deployed the robots early Friday September 21st, but JAXA waited until September 22nd to confirm the operation was successful and both rovers made the landing safely. ~ ‘We come in pieces …’
Solar-gathering battery — The problem of energy storage has led to many creative solutions, like giant batteries. For a paper published in the journal Chem, scientists trying to improve the solar cells themselves developed an integrated battery that works in three different ways: it can work like a normal solar cell by converting sunlight to electricity immediately; it can store the solar energy; and it can simply be charged like a normal battery. It’s a combination of two existing technologies: solar cells that harvest light, and a so-called flow battery. ~ I’m ever ready for this.
Spheres make concrete leaner and greener — Rice University scientists have developed micron-sized calcium silicate spheres that could lead to stronger and greener concrete, the world’s most-used synthetic material. The researchers formed the spheres in a solution around nanoscale seeds of a common detergent-like surfactant. The spheres can be prompted to self-assemble into solids that are stronger, harder, more elastic and more durable than ubiquitous Portland-style cement. The spheres are also suitable for bone-tissue engineering, insulation, ceramic and composite applications. ~ From that churning cement mixer to ‘please self assemble now …’
Spray-on antennas — In a study published in Science Advances, researchers in Drexel’s College of Engineering describe a method for spraying invisibly thin antennas, made from a type of two-dimensional, metallic material called MXene, that perform as well as those being used in mobile devices, wireless routers and portable transducers. ~ MXene it up, indeed.
A better mosquito trap — A scientist in Australia has come up with an insecticide-free way to control a particularly pesky species of mosquito. The approach involves two things: deploying a decidedly low-tech mosquito trap called a GAT … and getting to know your neighbours. ~ Nice to know you, neighbour! Now, stop yapping and start trappin’. [But people are still working on the modified extinction possibilities too.)
Maths and science boys and girls — A study of school grades of more than 1.6 million students shows that girls and boys perform similarly in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) subjects. ~ Why is anyone actually surprised at this?
Don’t cut out that appendix! After more than a century of slicing tiny, inflamed organs from people’s guts, doctors have found that surgery may not be necessary after all – a simple course of antibiotics can be just as effective at treating appendicitis as going under the knife.
Peaking into mummies — A revved-up version of traditional CT scanning shows it’s possible to acquire microscopic-scale images of ancient Egyptian mummies, revealing previously unseen features such as blood vessels and nerves. ~ Seriously? I could have told them they’d have blood vessels and nerves!
Airborne lasers reveal many more Mayan structures — Using an airborne laser mapping technique called ‘lidar’, an international team of archaeologists has uncovered an astounding number of previously undetected structures belonging to the ancient Maya civilisation — a discovery that’s changing what we know of this remarkable society. ~ The ancient Maya’s range extended from what is today southern Mexico, Guatemala, and Belize.
Astronomers have identified the final chunks of all the ordinary matter in the universe — Despite the fact that it took so long to identify it all, researchers spotted it right where they had expected it to be all along: in extensive tendrils of hot gas that span the otherwise empty chasms between galaxies, more properly known as the warm-hot intergalactic medium, or WHIM. Early indications that there might be extensive spans of effectively invisible gas between galaxies came from computer simulations done in 1998. ~ Ah, those tendrils of hot gas!
Spock’s home — In a wonderful example of truth validating fiction, the star system imagined as the location of Vulcan, Spock’s home world in Star Trek, has a planet orbiting it in real life. A team of scientists spotted the exoplanet, which is about twice the size of Earth, as part of the Dharma Planet Survey (DPS), led by University of Florida astronomer Jian Ge. It orbits HD 26965, more popularly known as 40 Eridani, a triple star system 16 light years away from the Sun. Made up of a Sun-scale orange dwarf (Eridani A), a white dwarf (Eridani B), and a red dwarf (Eridani C), this system was selected to be “Vulcan’s Sun” after Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry consulted with astronomers Sallie Baliunas, Robert Donahue, and George Nassiopoulos about the best location for the fictional planet. ~ ‘Gleaming brilliantly in the Vulcan sky’.
Unprecedented glow around neutron star — Neutron stars, which contain more mass than the Sun but have a radius of only a few miles, continue to be the subject of intense observation. Now, scientists have spotted one of these ultra-dense objects emitting infrared radiation far brighter than they’d expect, over a seemingly wide swath of space – larger than our Solar System. They have several ideas as to what they’re looking at, and any of these ideas, if verified, would be important discoveries. ~ My idea is that gleaming Joanna Paul stuff women used to put on their faces.
Where are we, again? The third edition of the International Celestial Reference Frame, or ICRF-3, is the most up-to-date version of the International Astronomy Union’s standardised reference frame. Imagine the universe as a graph from geometry – scientists need a place to put the origin and axes. ~ Very Long Baseline Interferometry puts us in our place.
First Hydrogen-powered train hits the tracks In Germany — French train-building company Alstom has built two hydrogen-powered trains and delivered them to Germany, where they’ll zoom along a 62-mile stretch of track that runs from the northern cities of Cuxhaven, Bremerhaven, Bremervorde, and Buxtehude,” Alstom is contracted to deliver 14 more hydrogen-powered trains, called Coradia iLint trains, before 2021.
The trains are an initial step toward lowering Germany’s transportation-related emissions, a sector that has been intractable for policy makers in the country. ~ Smart motion.
Robots to take and give jobs — The advancement of robotics and artificial intelligence will make 75 million jobs obsolete by the year 2022, according to a new report. Sounds dreadful, but the same report goes on to predict the creation of 133 million new jobs over the same period. ~ Yeah, but maybe I don’t want to be a robot-polisher!
Robot skin transforms inanimate objects — Typically, robots are built to perform a single task. To make them more adaptable, researchers from Yale University have developed a kind of ‘robotic skin’ that transforms ordinary objects into multifunctional robots.
OmniSkins is made from elastic sheets embedded with sensors and actuators. The flexible sheets can be wrapped or affixed to a soft, malleable surface, such as a stuffed animal or a foam tube. The skins then “animate” these objects by applying force to their surface, leading to distinct movements. ~ So chuck it on corpses and make zombies? Yuk!