Tag Archives: Futurology

Futurology ~ Aliens watching us, Mars life, SpaceX mystery, Siri’s voice, power advance, purple scroll splotches, lost lingos, Wooly Rhino


It might look like a Star Wars set, but it’s Saint Catherine’s Monastery in Sinai, Egypt, which houses the oldest continuously-run library in the world.

Other worlds could spot the Earth — A group of scientists from Queen’s University Belfast and the Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research in Germany have turned exoplanet-hunting on its head, in a study that instead looks at how an alien observer might be able to detect Earth using our own methods.
They found that at least nine exoplanets are ideally placed to observe transits of Earth, in a new work published in the journal Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.
~ We may not be the only galactic voyeurs.

Traces of life on Mars — There is direct evidence of liquid water on the Red Planet, we have yet to find any microbes there. But new discoveries from NASA’s Curiosity rover have brought forth more compelling evidence of habitability on Mars. Researchers studying Curiosity’s data say the rover has detected boron in the 3.8 billion year-old Gale crater.
~ All that life may have been dead for billions of years, but still.

The fifth mystery mission of the US Air Force’s X-37B space plane is now underway — A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket carrying the robotic X-37B lifted off on September 7th at 10am EDT (1400 GMT) from historic Launch Complex 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center (KSC) in Florida. The Air Force is known to possess two X-37Bs, both built by Boeing. The uncrewed vehicles look like NASA’s now-retired space shuttle orbiters, but are much smaller. Most X-37B payloads and activities are classified.
~ So shush.

Apple made Siri should more human — When iOS 11 hits millions of iPhones and iPads around the world sometime after the 12th September, the new software will give Siri a new voice. Siri will take more pauses in sentences, elongate syllables right before a pause, and the speech will lilt up and down as it speaks. The words will sound more fluid and Siri will speak more languages, too. It’s nicer to listen to, and to talk to.
~ Sir is still the bomb for solving maths problems asked in plain language.

Power company kills nuclear plant, plans US$6 billion in solar, battery investment — After being unable to complete the Levy County Nuclear Plant a few years ago, Duke energy abandoned it, leaving ratepayers on the hook. Duke is now in the process of settling legal action as a result. As part of the settlement Duke will construct (or acquire) 700MW of solar capacity over four years in the western Florida area, construct 50MW of battery storage, undertake grid modernisations and install 530 electric car charging stations.
~ Constructive justice.  

High tech science solves 800 year scroll mystery — Eight hundred years ago, teenager Laurentius Loricatus accidentally killed a man in Italy. He then headed to a cave where he lived for 34 years, whipping himself to atone for his sins. Today, his story lives in the Vatican Secret Archives, on a piece of parchment covered in purple spots. This kind of damage is common on ancient parchment, but why? A team of Italian researchers interested in better understanding the ancient text decided to identify the microbes responsible for the splotching, and applied brand new techniques in order to do so. The researchers probably couldn’t have guessed some of the culprits. The team has offered new ways of understanding the ageing of these scrolls for the future.
~ Now they really know Loricatus was a  masochistic nutter. 

Lost languages discovered in one of the world’s oldest continuously run libraries — Saint Catherine’s Monastery, a sacred Christian site nestled in the shadow of Mount Sinai, is home to one of the world’s oldest continuously used libraries. Thousands of manuscripts and books are kept there, some of which contain hidden treasures. A team of researchers is using new technology to uncover texts that were erased and written over (‘palimpsests’) by the monks who lived and worked at the monastery. Some were inscribed in long-lost languages rarely seen in the historical record. Two of the erased texts were inked in Caucasian Albanian, a language spoken by Christians in what is now Azerbaijan – it only exists today in a few stone inscriptions.  Other hidden texts were written in a defunct dialect known as Christian Palestinian Aramaic, a mix of Syriac and Greek.
~ The work is becoming urgent, as the Islamic State’s presence in the Sinai Peninsula has made Saint Catherine’s monastery even harder to reach. And they hate history. 

Evolutionary glitch hit the Wooly Rhino — A new study looking at Coelodonta antiquitati, the extinct woolly rhino from the area that’s now the North Sea and the Netherlands, found that the number of individuals with extra cervical ribs – portentous of genetic glitzing – was especially high. This condition probably brought about their demise.
~ I actually prefer my own theory: a Neanderthal craving for Wooly Rhino jumpers and sporty knitwear. 

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Futurology ~ New wave, Korean star explosion, Saturn’s pole, alien looks, Burtonesque Venus probe, bacterial beats, human population mapped, Mexican man mystery, Neanderthal glue, ancient sharp-toothed whales


If your genital bacteria formed a band

New gravitational wave source detected — The Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO) in Louisiana and Washington state has three times detected gravitational waves. These are ripples in the fabric of space-time, emerging from colliding black holes. But scientists have been hoping to detect ripples from another type of cosmic cataclysm, not massive enough to collapse into a black hole. It may just have happened
~ They may be emitted by neutron stars. 

Stars found responsible for explosion spotted in the 1400s — On the night of March 11, 1437AD, in what is now modern-day Seoul, a new star appeared in the sky, seemingly out of nowhere. The newcomer shone for 14 days before fading into the darkness. Korean astronomers noted the mysterious star and its brief stint in the sky in their records. Centuries later, modern astronomers studying these records determined that what the Koreans had seen was a cosmic explosion called a nova. Michael Shara and his researcher colleagues have spent the last nearly 30 years looking for the star responsible for this nova. In a new paper published Wednesday in Nature, they say they’ve finally found it.
~ Apparently if the search range had been expanded a little, the team would have four this years earlier. 

Cassini stares into Saturn’s polar abyss — This week, NASA released a photo of Saturn’s north pole The doomed spacecraft recorded on April 26, the day it started its Grand Finale. It’s almost poetic to have a photo of Cassini staring into the void before it perishes within it.
~ Cassini has only three orbits left in its 20-year-long journey.

What would aliens look like? Gizmodo spoke to astrobiologists about what extraterrestrial life might look like if we ever find it. Most didn’t think any of them would be even remotely human.
~ We saw some at Charlottesville, waving swastikas. 

NASA’s Tim Burtonesque probe concept — Venus is a toxic wasteland. Still, the second planet from the Sun deserves a little more attention. A team of researchers NASA’s Jet Propulsion has Laboratory dropped its latest design for a ‘clockwork’ rover they hope would be able to explore Venus — and the concept art is delightfully twisted.
~ There are probably lots of Burtonesque probe concepts they’d best avoid. 

Scientists created music from human bacteria colonies — The microbiome is made up of all the bacteria that are part of our bodies – the stuff living in our gut and our belly buttons and between our toes. To translate the microbiome into music, researchers took swabs of bacteria from their armpits, belly buttons, feet, mouth and yes, even their genitalia, then sealed those swabs onto laser-cut records. They assigned a certain region of the record to each region of the body and incubated it. In essence, the record player doubles as a petri dish plated with human bacterial cultures. An algorithm then translates images of the bacterial colonies into sound, using data points such as bacterial density and location on the record.The symphony of all that bacteria winds up sounding like some kind of etherial beatscape from outer space. You can have a listen here.
~ The mouth bacteria is delightfully peppy. 

Facebook has mapped the entire human population of Earth — Facebook doesn’t only know what its 2 billion users “Like,” it now knows where 7.5 billion humans live, everywhere on earth, to within five metres (15 feet). The company has created a data map of the planet’s entire human population by combining government census numbers with information it’s obtained from satellites, according to Janna Lewis, Facebook’s head of strategic innovation partnerships and sourcing. The mapping technology, which Facebook says it developed itself, can pinpoint any man-made structures in any country on earth. Facebook is using the data to understand the precise distribution of humans around the planet.
~ It’s all about figuring out internet quality to reach customers with advertising. Gah!

Oldest human remains on the North American continent — An ice-free corridor between the Americas and Asia opened up about 12,500 years ago, allowing humans to cross over the Bering land bridge to settle what is now the United States and places beyond to the south. History books have conveyed that information for years to explain how the Americas were supposedly first settled by people, such as those from the Clovis culture. At least one part of the Americas was already occupied by humans before that time, however, says new research on the skeleton of a male youth found in Chan Hol cave near Tulum, Mexico. Dubbed the Young Man of Chan Hol, the remains date to 13,000 years ago, according to a paper published in the journal PLOS ONE.
~ Mexico is well over 4000 miles away from any Bering land crossing. 

Secrets of Neanderthal glue revealed — Neanderthals were manufacturing their own adhesives as far back as 200,000 years ago. We typically think of fire, stone tools, and language as the “killer apps” of early human development, but the ability to glue stuff together was as much a transformative technology as any of these. The Neanderthals used tar for hafting — the practice of attaching bones or stone to a wooden handle to create tools or weapons. It was a force multiplier in engineering, allowing these ancient humans to think outside the box and build completely new sets of tools.
~ I bet they weren’t sniffing it, either. 

Ancient sharp-toothed whales upend Cetacean history — How ancient aquatic creatures evolved into giant filter-feeders remains a biological mystery. New research shows that ancient whales had razor-sharp teeth similar to land-based carnivores – an observation that’s upsetting a prevailing idea that ancient whales used their teeth for filter feeding.
~ They need a missing link to remove this.

Futurology ~ Interstellar unlock, diamonds on Uranus, Aussie probe, Musk spacesuit, tiny Mercedes, China fast train, ‘clean’ meat, DNA encryption, ancient wine, Babylonian trigonometry


The Space-X program has a new space flight suit, unveiled by Elon Musk

Odd interstellar observation could unlock Dark Matter mystery — An international team of astronomers found a series of strange shapes in data coming off of distant sources of radio waves. They hypothesise that the dips come from some mysterious sources passing in front of the light, maybe black holes or the centres of clusters of stars. If their hypothesis is correct, they think they may have found a new way to probe those sources – sources with masses difficult to observe by other means.
~ Blips and dips taking on huge importance. 

Diamonds on Neptune and Uranus — Researchers using the Linac Coherent Light Source at Stanford have demonstrated in the lab, with one of the brightest sources of X-rays on the planet, that the depths of these ice giants are perfect for the formation of diamonds.
~ Ooh, I know, let’s have a space war over the rights to them!

Probe still talks to Australia — For the 40 years since NASA launched the two Voyager space probes on their mission to explore the outer planets of our Solar System, Australia has been helping the US space agency keep track of the probes at every step of their epic journey.
CSIRO operates NASA’s tracking station in Canberra, a set of four radio telescopes (dishes) known as the Canberra Deep Space Communication Complex (CDSCC).
Four decades on and the Australian tracking station is now the only one with the right equipment and position to be able to communicate with both of the probes as they continue to push back the boundaries of deep space exploration.
~ I’m amazed Australia even lets any signals in, myself. Shouldn’t they be quarantined in a concentration camp for a few years first? And only released, if they survive, when they’re lives have been completely ruined?

Musk’s new spacesuit — Elon Musk’s new Space-X spacesuit is white, in contrast to the very blue spacesuits unveiled by Boeing in January. These are not, strictly speaking, “space suits.” More properly they are they are flight suits designed to be worn during the ride to space and back again on the ride back down to Earth. They have a limited time in which they can operate in a full vacuum and are not intended for spacewalks. 
~ Wonder if it smells a bit musky inside. 

Big power from tiny Mercedes engine — The forthcoming Mercedes ‘hypercar’  Project One gets most of its oomph from a turbocharged 1.6-litre V6 engine. That may seem minuscule for this sort of use case, but this machine is a close cousin to the one that powered the car Lewis Hamilton drove to an F1 championship in 2015. Changes have to do with how, and how high, the engine revs.
~ Only oligarchs need get excited, and then you’ll be driving it at 10% of it’s potential anyway. Haha, sucks to be you.

China relaunches world’s fastest train — Seven pairs of bullet trains will be operating under the name Fuxing, meaning rejuvenation, according to the South China Morning Post. The trains will once again run at 350kph, with a maximum speed of 400kph (248 mph).
Following a fatal crash in 2011, the high speed train service reduced its upper limit from its then-record holding 350 km/h (217 miles/hour) to 250-300 km/h (155-186 miles/hour). It is reported the train service will use monitoring systems to automatically slow the trains in case of emergency. The Beijing-Shanghai line will begin operating on 21st September and will shorten the nearly 1319km (820 mile) journey by one hour, to four hours thirty minutes. Nearly 600 million people use this route each year, providing a reported $1 billion in profits . The Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei route begins operation now.
~ Wonder how the ticket price stacks up to air travel? It’s much less polluting, of course.  

Laptop batteries running homes — DIY Powerwall builders from around the world are harvesting old laptop batteries and turning them into powerful batteries capable of supplying energy to their entire homes. “It’s the future. It’s clean, simple, efficient and powerful,” Jehu Garcia, one of the most popular powerwall builders, told me. He and people like him are deciding for themselves what the future of alternative energy will look like, instead of waiting for technology companies to shape it for them.
~ Yep, it’s all green and clean … and then they die and you need to get rid of them. 

Gates and Branson fund ‘clean’ meat — A large global agricultural company has joined Bill Gates and Richard Branson to invest in a nascent technology to make meat from self-producing animal cells. Memphis Meats produces beef, chicken and duck directly from animal cells without raising and slaughtering livestock or poultry, and raised $17 million from investors including Cargill, Gates and billionaire Richard Branson, according to a statement Tuesday on the San Francisco-based startup’s website.
~ Fake cow, chicken and yuck.

Protect your DNA with encryption — Bejerano and Boneh published a paper in Science about a cryptographic ‘genome cloaking’ method. The scientists were able to do things like identify responsible mutations in groups of patients with rare diseases and compare groups of patients at two medical centres to find shared mutations associated with shared symptoms, all while keeping 97% of each participant’s unique genetic information completely hidden. They accomplished this by converting variations in each genome into a linear series of values. That allowed them to conduct any analyses they needed while only revealing genes relevant to that particular investigation.
~ Honestly, though, you’re just not that important. There are billions of you. Literally.

Italians have been tanking up on wine for ages and ages — In a study published in Microchemical Journal, researchers describe their big find of a jar dating back to the early 4th millennium BCE. After chemically testing the piece of pottery, the team found traces of tartaric acid, which is one of the main acids in wine. Its salts – called tartrates – were also found in the jug.
~ Six thousand years of boozing, wow!

Babylonians may have invented trigonometry — The Plimpton 322 tablet, discovered in the early 1900s in what is now Iraq, has long divided mathematicians confused by its columns and rows of numbers. But researchers from the University of New South Wales now say the 3700-year-old broken clay tablet is a trigonometric table. That would mean the Babylonians were 1000 years ahead of the Greeks, who are credited with creating trig.
~ So generations of school students have been cursing the wrong people. 

Futurology ~ 10 more Earths, Mars-sized mystery, visit Uranus, Bright Nights, human Genome rethink, long bog sword, ancient prosthetic toe


Lovely, lopsided Uranus …”

10 more planets humans may be able to ruin — Researchers from NASA’s Kepler space telescope team announced we might get to bring our garbage party to another planet — OK, a bunch of them.  The Kepler team has apparently identified 219 new planet candidates, 10 of which are roughly Earth-size and within their star’s habitable zone, the orbit zone around a star that could support liquid water and possibly life. This latest update to the Kepler catalogue brings the total number of planet candidates identified by the space-based telescope to 4034.
~ Well gosh, that’s heartening. Maybe they should have Keplered them to themselves? 

Mystery Mars-sized planet — It’s been about 11 years since Pluto was demoted to dwarf planet status, leaving a 2370km-sized void in our hearts. Since then, the hunt for Planet X – aptly renamed Planet 9 – has grown into an international movement to find such an object in the Kuiper Belt beyond Neptune’s orbit. Now, scientists Kat Volk and Renu Malhotra from the University of Arizona’s Lunar and Planetary Laboratory are upping the ante: they suggest a completely different, tenth planetary-mass object is hiding somewhere in the Kuiper Belt as well.
~ Sigh. Or, you know, they’re just making suff up. It’s pretty dark out there. 

Uranus is the loneliest thing in the solar system — It hasn’t had contact with anyone in over 30 years, since NASA’s Voyager 2 spacecraft whizzed by it on 24th January 1986. Thankfully, some good folks at NASA and elsewhere are advocating for missions to Uranus and its Ice Giant companion, Neptune, which could take place at some point in the next few decades.
~ If only I could think of a pun. 

Satellites solve ‘bright nights’ — When Roman philosophers such as Pliny the Elder witnessed moonless nights glow bright like the day, it made an impression. Others since then have been awestruck by these ‘bright nights’ too.
Scientists from York University in Toronto have since observed what they call “enhanced airglow events” where elements in the night sky release photons. They know what’s causing airglow in their satellite data. But now they think they have figured out what enhances the glow, which may have caused the brighter nights documented throughout history.
~ Let me guess: was it light?

Study forces scientists to rethink human genome — As genetic sequencing has gotten cheaper and computerised data analysis has gotten better, more and more researchers have turned to what are known as genome-wide association studies in hopes of sussing out which individual genes are associated with particular disorders. If you have a whole lot of people with a disease, you should be able to tell what genetic traits those people have in common that might be responsible. This thinking has resulted in an entire catalogue of hundreds of research studies that has shed light on the genetic origins of diseases such as type 2 diabetes, Parkinson’s disease, Crohn’s disease and prostate cancer, while helping fuel the rise of personalised medicine.
But now, a group of Stanford University geneticists writing in the journal Cell posit that such large studies are actually likely to produce genetic variants with little bearing on the disease in question — essentially false positives that confuse the results.
~ ‘False positives’ really is cruel irony. 

Stunning medieval longsword discovered in Polish bog — Late last month, an excavator operator was working at a peat bog in the Polish municipality of Mircze when he accidentally stumbled upon a glorious specimen of 14th century craftsmanship. The remarkably well-preserved longsword is a unique find for the area, and its discovery has prompted an archaeological expedition hoping to find more artefacts in the (location undisclosed) bog.
~ For the love of peat!

Study sheds new light on incredible 3000-year-old prosthetic toe — It’s called the Greville Chester Great Toe, and it’s one of the earliest prosthetic devices known to scientists. The Iron Age prosthetic was discovered by archaeologists 17 years ago in a plundered tomb that was carved into an older burial chamber known as Sheikh ´Abd el-Qurna, an acropolis just west of Luxor, Egypt. A team of researchers from the University of Basel and the University of Zurich are currently reexamining the device, and the archaeological site itself, using state-of-the-art techniques — and they’re learning some extraordinary new things about it.
~ Come on, if they could make a massive pyramid, a toe doesn’t seem that much of a stretch. 

Futurology ~ Galactic gas, Cassini outdoes itself, Saturn sound, Wanaka super-energetic, jetting robot, Mexican cancer bra, fast camera, speech reproducer, dino-chicken


Galactic hot-gas wave — An international team of scientists has found a giant wave of hot gas chugging along through the Perseus galaxy cluster, located about 250 million light years away. By combining data from NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory with radio observations and computer simulations, the researchers have attempted to demystify the strange phenomenon, and in doing so, have created one hell of a visual (above).
~ And Futurology’s first GIF. Yay!

Cassini’s Grand Finale mission — Each time the NASA-led spacecraft drops a new batch of raw images, we jump to our computers and frantically scroll through to find the best. The raw photos from Cassini’s second dive into the gap between Saturn and its rings are now available – and honestly, they might even be better than the first round.
Perhaps the most fascinating aspect of Cassini’s mission into the “big empty” was the “sounds” it picked up from particles – or lack thereof – in the gap. According to NASA, Cassini’s Radio and Plasma Wave Science (RPWS) instrument “detected the hits of hundreds of ring particles per second” vaporising into electrically-excited gas when it was just outside Saturn’s main rings, but within the gap, it detected very few. But you can listen to that here.
~ Or put your radio between stations for a very similar effect. 

Wanaka, NZ and the hunt for super-energetic particles — On April 25, 10:50 am local time, a white helium balloon ascended from Wanaka, New Zealand, and lifted Angela Olinto’s hopes into the stratosphere. The football stadium-size NASA balloon, now floating 20 miles above the Earth, carries a one-ton detector that Olinto helped design and see off the ground. Every moonless night for the next few months, it will peer out at the dark curve of the Earth, hunting for the fluorescent streaks of mystery particles called “ultrahigh-energy cosmic rays” crashing into the sky. Olinto hopes this will be the key to finally figuring out the particles’ origin.
~ Olinto, born in Brazil, is a professor of astrophysics at the University of Chicago.

ISS jetting robot — Astrobee by name, is a cubic bot outfitted with 12 thrusters spitting blasts of air. It glides cautiously across the granite, sounding not unlike a muted jet engine. To find its way around, the robot uses an array of sensors, from a camera that builds a 3-D map like Microsoft’s Kinect system
~ We’re the Jetsons …

Mexican student’s cancer-detecting bra — An 18-year-old student from Mexico has won the top prize at the Global Student Entrepreneur Awards (GSEA) for his invention of a bra that can help in the early detection of breast cancer. Equipped with around 200 biosensors, the bra maps the surface of the breast and is able to monitor changes in temperature, shape and weight.
~ After beating 13 other student entrepreneurs from around the globe, Rios Cantu took home an impressive US$20,000. Cantu was inspired by his mother’s ongoing battle with the disease. 

Camera shoots 5 trillion images per second Everything’s cooler in slow motion, but high frame-rate photography is an essential tool for scientists studying phenomena that occur in the blink of an eye. Researchers at Lund University have just revealed the fastest high-speed camera ever developed that can capture the equivalent of an astonishing five trillion frames every second, fast enough to visualise the movement of light.
~ I didn’t think you could fit that many trillions in a little second. 

AI speech generator can fake any voice — Using a powerful new algorithm, a Montreal-based AI startup has developed a voice generator that can mimic virtually any person’s voice, and even add an emotional punch when necessary. The system isn’t perfect, but it heralds a future when voices, like photos, can be easily faked. You can listen to some here, including Trump, Obama, Clinton …
~ It can read any text with a predefined emotion or intonation. The funny thing is, all the effort to even get close to this shows us how remarkable our own voices really are. 

Music damaged ears could get new parts grown for them — A team of scientists at Indiana University is using pluripotent stem cells, cells from the body that can be turned back into blank slate cells. The researchers were able to use these cells to create functioning pieces of the inner ear, chock full of hair cells and neurons. True stem cell hearing loss treatment is a long way off, but the result is, as far as they can tell, the first time anyone’s created hair cells from human pluripotent stem cells. So, a step in that direction.
~ Yay! What?

Meet Jianianhualong tengi, a distinctly chicken-like dinosaur that lived 125 million years ago during the Cretaceous period — This newly discovered species of dinosaur now represents the earliest known common ancestor of birds and closely related bird-like dinos, with a feathering pattern associated with aerodynamics (above). Its discovery is offering new insights into the evolution of feathers and flight.
~ My only thought is ‘one helluvan omelette’. 

 
Read more at https://www.gizmodo.com.au/2017/05/this-new-dinosaur-looked-an-awful-lot-like-a-chicken/#rHJWIjxEpYGK2vVR.99

 
Read more at https://www.gizmodo.com.au/2017/05/scientists-want-to-grow-your-music-blasted-eardrums-some-new-parts/#jX4uJ3z6ySIUxJMe.99

Futurology ~ Dwarf Planet Club, Jupiter, solar storm, big asteroid, solar moisture sucker, 3D-printed Boeing, landmine bacteria


2014 JO25 will whizz by Earth from roughly 1.8 million km away

New dwarf in our Solar System — When we think of dwarf planets, the first thing that comes to mind is obviously the injustice of Pluto getting demoted to one. But the truth is, these little guys (there are six currently recognised within our solar system) deserve just as much love as their mightier planetary cousins. And a new study suggests the dwarf planet club could get another member, in the form of a very small, distant object located roughly 92 astronomical units (AU) from the Sun called Planetary body 2014 UZ224, also known as DeeDee (for ‘distant dwarf’).
~ SevenDwarfs …

Huge cold spot on Jupiter — Using the Very Large Telescope array, an international team of astronomers has discovered a previously undetected cold spot on Jupiter. Measuring 14,000km wide and 12,000km across, the mysterious spot is bigger than the Earth itself. Intriguingly, the weather anomaly is likely being generated by Jupiter’s spectacular Northern Lights.
~ And it keeps regenerating itself. 

Every once in a while our Sun gives off a tremendous belch of high energy particles — Called a coronal mass ejection (CME), these episodes can vary in intensity, but they can produce bursts of electrical charge when they interact with our upper atmosphere in a geomagnetic storm. In a strange twist, new research shows that geomagnetic storms can produce the opposite effect, stripping the upper atmosphere of electrons for hundreds of kilometres. Which, if you like electronic gadgets, may be a problem.
~ Apparently, a tin-foil hat does not help. 

Massive asteroid passing soon — Later this month, a huge asteroid (main picture, above) that’s about 650m in length will get close enough to Earth for our viewing pleasure. Even though it won’t do any damage, this is a damn big slice of space garbage.
~ And it looks like a huge potato. 

Wringing water from the desert sky — A new spongelike device uses sunlight to suck water vapor from air, even in low humidity. The device can produce nearly 3 liters of water daily for every kilogram of water-absorbing material thanks to metal organic frameworks, or MOFs. Researchers say future versions will be even better.
~ The crucial part, to do any good, will be price and ability to deploy. 

3D printed parts save Boeing money — Boeing has hired Norsk Titanium AS to print titanium parts for its 787 Dreamliner, paving the way to cost savings of $2 million to $3 million for each plane. The 3D-printed metal parts will replace pieces made with more expensive traditional manufacturing, thus making the 787 more profitable.
~ One day maybe they’ll carry printers for literally on-the-fly parts manufacture.

Glowing bacteria finds landmines — More than 100 million landmines lay hidden in the ground around the world, but glowing bacteria may help us find them, according to a new study. The approach relies on small quantities of vapor released from the common explosive TNT, then a laser to remotely detect and quantify fluorescing bacteria from 20 meters away, mapping the location of the landmines.
~ A real glow of satisfaction. 

Futurology ~ Physics turducken, Saturn’s weirdness, sunspots, transmitting taste, faster memory, human cell computing


Saturn’s north pole as never seen before

A year for new theories, so why not combine them? It’s been a year of it, so why not combine all of the craziest physics ideas into one: a physics turducken? What if we, say, try to spot the dark matter radiating off of black holes through their gravitational waves? It’s all about axions.
~ And I thought that was an insurance company.

Saturn’s crazy north pole — Some incredible new shots of the atmospheric vortex at the center of Saturn’s north polar hexagon were captured by NASA’s Cassini spacecraft last week. The images were snapped during the latest of Cassini’s ring-grazing orbits, which have so far yielded stunning glimpses of Saturn’s rings, and its delightfully pasta-shaped moons.
~ Saturn is our system’s chameleon. And Saturn’s weirdest moon is full of electric sand!

New observations improve sunspot forecasting — From 2010 to 2013, McIntosh and his team used a trio of satellites to observe the entire solar surface at once for the first time. They watched as bright magnetic spots moved around the Sun, making the first real observation of a behaviour lots of scientists have expected to see its surface. The so-called Rossby waves the team observed will hopefully give us a useful new tool to predict solar weather — energetic particles blasting the Earth from magnetic events on the Sun — with several days or more advance notice.
~ Sunspot spotters …

Transmitting lemonade over the internet — In an experiment that involved 13 tasters, the subjects’ taste buds were stimulated using electricity from receiving electrodes; LED lights mimicked a lemony color. Some were convinced that the water they were drinking was, in fact, almost as sour as lemonade.
~ The amazing thing about the internet is how mush it can convince people of insane things. Just look at Trump, Marine Le Pen and Brexit. 

Magical new memory — Computer memory, that is. Intel is hoping to eradicate the speed vs price compromise with its new Intel Optane Memory. According to Intel, installing this single memory stick in your computer could supercharge even the slowest hard drive and give you the SSD’s best feature: Speed.
~ I’m ready. 

Human cells to compute — Cellular computing is more than just a convenient metaphor. In the last couple of decades, biologists have been working to hack the cells’ algorithm in an effort to control their processes. They’ve upended nature’s role as life’s software engineer, incrementally editing a cell’s algorithm – its DNA – over generations. In a paper published in Nature Biotechnology, researchers programmed human cells to obey 109 different sets of logical instructions …
~ I imagine hacking that process!

Futurology ~ Black Hole speedster, Indian Mars success, Quantum chemistry, artificial sun, robot solves uncertainty


India sent a spaceship to Mars for much less than it cost to make the movie The Martian

Enormous black hole streaking through space — Astronomers have spotted quasar 3C 186 thirty six thousand light years away from the center of its galaxy, seemingly trying to escape.
This quasar seems to be rushing away at around 2000 kilometers per second (4.5 million miles per hour) instead.
~ That’s inconceivably fast. Let’s hope it’s trajectory is mathematically away

A rocket to Mars cost less to get there than making the film The Martian — Ipsita Agarwal via Backchannel retells the story of how India’s underfunded space organization, ISRO, managed to send a rocket to Mars for much less than it cost to make the movie The Martian, starring Matt Damon. “While NASA’s Mars probe, Maven, cost US$651 million, the budget for this mission was US$74 million,” Agarwal writes.
~ Well if you think that’s bad, imagine how much it would cost to send Matt Damon to Mars.

Quantum Computing might finally have a use: chemistry — Simulations of molecules and chemical reactions to aid research into things like new materials, drugs, or industrial catalysts are not new, and account for a significant proportion of the workload of the world’s supercomputers. Yet the payoffs are limited because even the most powerful supercomputers cannot perfectly re-create all the complex quantum behaviors of atoms and electrons in even relatively small molecules, says Alan Aspuru-Guzik, a chemistry professor at Harvard. He’s looking forward to the day simulations on quantum computers can accelerate his research group’s efforts to find new light-emitting molecules for displays, for example, and batteries suitable for grid-scale energy storage.
~ And even less lab explosions. 

AI is better at lip reading — Scientists at Oxford say they’ve invented an artificial intelligence system that can lip-read better than humans. The system, which has been trained on thousands of hours of BBC News programs, has been developed in collaboration with Google’s DeepMind AI division.
Watch, Attend and Spell, as the system has been called, can now watch silent speech and get about 50% of the words correct. That may not sound too impressive — but when the researchers supplied the same clips to professional lip-readers, they got only 12% of words right.
~ Well, I still reckon it’s going to be hard to get people to write words on their lips. 

Massive artificial sun — An enormous machine looks like an insect’s eye uses 149 lamps to simulate sunlight, making it a handy tool for testing things like solar panels or generating clean energy. Scientists threw the switch on the world’s largest artificial sun on Thursday, which happened to be the birthday of the fellow who designed it, who had tears in his eyes.
~ Please point it at England. Oh, wait, Brexit …

Robot solves uncertainty — A human wearing a headset stands in front of a Brown University robot, which sits on a table with six objects in front of it. The human points at, say, a bowl, and asks, “Can I have that bowl?” A Microsoft Kinect atop the robot’s head tracks the movement of the hand to determine which object the subject means and combines that data with the vocal command. But two bowls are sitting right next to each other, and Iorek can’t differentiate which one the human wants. So it hovers an arm over the bowl it thinks the human wants and asks: “This one?” If the subject says no, the robot determines that its master seeks the other. That may seem like a simple interaction, something a child could do. But this is huge for a robot because the system solves a nasty problem: uncertainty.
~ OK, it can have my damn job, then. 

Futurology ~ Speedster star, Black Hole origins, TRAPPIST system, iPhone 8 AR, AI suicides, crazy-tough water bear


Scientists have a new theory as to how Black Holes might form

Star orbits Black Hole at 1% the speed of light — Astronomers have spotted a star whizzing around a vast black hole at about 2.5 times the distance between Earth and the Moon, and it takes only half an hour to complete one orbit. To put that into perspective, it takes roughly 28 days for our Moon to do a single lap around our relatively tiny planet at speeds of 3683 km (2288 miles) per hour.
~ Now that’s one cosmic Mazurka!

Wild new hypothesis for Black Hole formation — New research from an international team of scientists might have some answers to at least one of the critical questions, like how supermassive black holes, which range in size from millions to billions of solar masses, apparently formed very quickly in the early universe.
~ Looks like a massive Vape.

TRAPPIST 1 view — Last month, the solar system lost its collective chill when NASA announced the discovery of a seven-planet system called TRAPPIST-1, just 39 light-years from our Sun. The system is particularly exciting, not only because of its proximity to our planet, but because it has three planets within the habitable zone, where liquid water (and potentially life) could be supported. And on Wednesday, March 8th, NASA finally released its first-ever glimpse at the TRAPPIST-1 system (above left)…
~ Er, anyone else wishing for a few more pixels? 

Alien life jumping between Trappist planets — A new study from Manasvi Lingam and Avi Loeb at Harvard University makes the question of life in TRAPPIST-1 even more compelling: the researchers suggest that the TRAPPIST-1 planets are close enough to each other that microbes could travel from one world to another, via rocks.
~ I’ve jumped – or at least stumbled – between Trappists before. And rock was involved, so it sounds plausible to my finely-honed scientific sensibilities!

‘iPhone 8’ could herald start of Apple’s augmented reality ambitions — Computer simulations, and the means to visualize them, could be in the palm of your hand in new and potentially revolutionary ways later this year, if rumours about Apple’s forthcoming “iPhone 8” bear fruit.
~ Well, I dunno, if you start listening to that Tim Cook fellow, you can come up with almost any theory as to what Apple might produce. 

Facebook fighting suicides — Earlier this month, Facebook began turning some of those AI tools to a more noble goal: stopping people from taking their own lives. Admittedly, this isn’t entirely altruistic. Having people broadcast their suicides from Facebook Live isn’t good for the brand.
~ Well, here’s a tip: stop those bloody ads appearing!

Secret of the tcrazy-tough water bear is a protein — There’s no toughness like that of the water bear (or tardigrade), which looks like a cannon wearing a pair of wrinkled khakis. This microscopic critter can survive boiling water, alcohol, some of the lowest temperatures in the universe and blasts of radiation that would kill a human. Now researchers claim they’ve found an exclusively tardigradean protein that the creature produces, forming it into a glass bead.
~ Ah, well, now that you say it, it seems obvious!

Futurology ~ Mars spuds, lost spacecraft, Waze ways, FM everythings, super oil sponge


Spuds can grow on Mars — The International Potato Center (CIP) has launched a series of experiments to discover if potatoes can grow under Mars’ atmospheric conditions, as well as under extreme conditions on Earth. The CIP placed a potato inside a “specially constructed CubeSat contained environment” that simulates Mars temperature, air pressure, oxygen and carbon dioxide levels. They then used sensors and live-streaming cameras to record the soil and monitor the status of the potato. Preliminary results are positive as cameras inside the container show sprouts.
~ For sure, for sure. I bet they didn’t simulate the radiation load, though. 

NASA found a lost spacecraft — NASA has been having some real success locating wayward spacecraft, including its STEREO-B solar observer. The agency has now done it again, locating an Indian spacecraft that lost contact with the Earth nearly eight years ago.
~ Seriously, people, just stick a Tile on it. 

Waze and other traffic-dodging apps prompt cities to game algorithms — Waze and others are causing traffic planners to try to figure out how to gain back control of traffic systems. Navigation apps like Apple Maps, Google Maps and Waze started telling drivers to hop off the freeway at Fremont’s Mission Boulevard, cut through residential streets and then hop back on the highway where things were clearer – much to the distress of the people who lived there. Changes may simply reroute commuters into other neighbourhoods.
~ You’re not actually ‘stuck in traffic’. You are traffic. 

New tech turns any object into an FM transmitter — A research team from the University of Washington has introduced a technique called “backscattering” which uses ambient low-power radio signals to broadcast messages from random objects to smartphones in the local vicinity.The researchers hope the development could help support various smart city applications, and picture a future where anything from a poster at a bus stop to a road sign can transmit audio updates and information to passers-by.
~ Whereas I picture a future where every damn thing is beaming adverts at me. 

New sponge soaks up oil and can do so hundreds of times — Seth Darling and his colleagues at Argonne National Laboratory in Illinois have created a new material that can absorb up to 90 times its own weight in spilled oil, then be squeezed out like a sponge and reused. Most commercial products used for soaking up oil, called “sorbents,” act like a paper towel and are only good for a single use. (Once typical sorbents are used, they get incinerated along with the oil.)
~ Notice the absence of ‘ab’ in ‘sorbents’. So is that the ‘scence’ of ab now? And nobody tell Kevin Costner’s brother. 

Futurology ~ Sun hunch, NASA side mission, space junk, losing freeways, mind-boggling maths, bee drones, US genes


(Image from Nine Planets)
(Image from Nine Planets)

Scientists have a weird hunch about why the Sun spins too slowly — Physicists have long known that the Sun spins, like the Earth. But a few decades ago, they realized the surface of the Sun spins more slowly than their models predicted – not by a lot, but enough to signal that something they didn’t understand was going on. This kicked off a solar mystery.
A team of astronomers has stared into the Sun long enough that they think they’ve found the source of the slowdown.
~ I’d suspect tiredness.

NASA’s Trojan side mission —OSIRIS-REx is one of the busiest spacecrafts in the solar system. It blasted off in September 2016, and has been getting ready to rendezvous with the object of its mission, an asteroid called Bennu, to bring back samples to Earth. But before the spacecraft links up with Bennu in 2018, it’s been assigned a side project: for 10 days this month, OSIRIS-REx will investigate whether or not Trojan asteroids exist at certain points in Earth’s orbit called Lagrange points.

Space junk — An experimental Japanese mission to remove dangerous debris from orbit has ended in failure. It’s a frustrating setback given the mounting risks posed by the nearly two million bits of junk currently swirling around our planet.
~ Here’s my idea: stick a powerful magnet on one, and when it’s collected a few others, deal with them together. 

Losing freeways — Rip out eight lanes of freeway through the middle of your metropolis and you’ll be rewarded with not only less traffic, but safer, more efficient cities … it’s true, and it’s happening in places all over the world.
~ This is apt, as I feel like a loser every time I get trapped on Auckland’s. 

Maths is beautiful in theory, miraculous when applied, and awe-inspiring at every turn — Appreciate the diversity and implications of math. While an artistic temperament is often considered the exact opposite of the kind of personality that loves complicated equations, pure mathematicians are really just a bunch of lunatics endlessly working with abstraction and beauty. And folks who work in fields of applied mathematics often end up finding a use for those abstract ideas.
~ I used to use a calculator, but now Siri does all my maths. 

Bees are dying but … tiny bee drones — We rely heavily on bees and other species to pollinate our plants, and though there isn’t global data, there have been enough local die-offs to spark widespread concern, according to a report from the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services. Now, a team of scientists from the National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology (AIST) in Japan has engineered drones featuring a specially-engineered adhesive to pick up and deposit pollen.
~ I already saw this on Black Mirror

Huge US diversity thanks to 770,000 vials of spit — Genetics have been used to track historical migration before, but this new study gives us a look at recent history. Where the data is most remarkable is in its granularity: the ability to point not just to France but to specific regions of France, and track the migration of those groups of people over time.
~ And surprise! Despite Trump’s henchmen’s ideas, the US is very, very diverse. All that spit seems most appropriate.

Futurology ~ Life on Europa, odd astronaut DNA results, 2nd Life VR Social world, entry into physics, concrete


After four years' work, Sansar the VR world should arrive this year
After four years’ work, Sansar the VR world should arrive this year

Promising new tool may help find life on Europa — Scientists have tailored an old-school chemistry technique to analyse amino acid patterns, creating a tool for sniffing out alien biosignatures in just a few grams of seawater.
The method, 10,000 times more sensitive than similar techniques used by NASA’s Mars Curiosity Rover, is ideally suited for a life-hunting mission to Jupiter’s moon Europa, or Saturn’s Enceladus, lead study author Peter Willis told Gizmodo.
~ Not so good for dry planets, then. 

Odd DNA results for Scott Kelly — Astronauts Scott and Mark Kelly volunteered themselves as test subjects for NASA, which has been studying the pair since they’ve returned from their respective voyages in space: the identical twin brothers are subjects of a 10-part investigation to understand the impact of space travel on the body.
As identical twins, the brothers are genetically very similar. However, researchers found that while he was in orbit, Scott’s telomeres — the caps on the ends of chromosomes — grew longer than his twin brother’s. Though Scott’s telomeres returned to their pre-flight lengths shortly after he returned to Earth, these results were totally unexpected, since telomeres naturally shrink over the course of one’s life, and the stresses of spaceflight are supposed to accelerate this.
~ Must be a pain being born as an Identical Test Subject. 

Sansar, the new virtual reality world from Second Life’s creators — after four years work, will arrive later this year on Oculus Rift and HTC Vive headsets. “It is trying to solve some of the big problems that plagued Second Life for years,” reports MIT Technology Review, “such as that most users come in through what is essentially a front door and have a hard time finding things to do once they get in… In the demos I tried, I navigated via an atlas that shows a simple clickable thumbnail image of each destination along with its name.”
~ Let me in! Reality has become so freakin’ crazy!

Want to get into physics? Wired has some tips for you.
~ No, I want to get into Sansar! Meanwhile, Siri is the maths master for converting units easily. 

Concrete … what is it? we invented it, we lost it, we reinvented it — Here’s how we discovered concrete, forgot it, and then finally cracked the mystery of what makes it so strong. For concrete, we usually picture white pavements, swimming pools and building foundations. Most of us aren’t aware of concrete’s fiery volcanic origin story, or that concrete is a $100 billion dollar industry. In fact, it’s the most widely-used material on our planet after water. Ton for ton, humans use more concrete today than steel, wood, plastics, and aluminum combined.
~ “We are all Romans, unconscious collective…”

Futurology ~ 2017 in space, massive Antarctica object, Avatar robot, 2016 as horror film, Ebola vaccine, Vera Rubin and Dark Matters


cassinita-680803307

Next year in space — Wired has a story about all the great space stuff the magazine’s writers are expecting in 2017. One is that NASA needs to get to Mars, and is just about ready for liftoff: the SLS is still deep in its testing stages, and those will continue right up to the rocket’s projected 2018 launch date, when it’s set to carry the Orion spacecraft on an unmanned mission. In 2017, the rocket will enter its Green Run phase at NASA’s Stennis Space Center: a bunch of static booster-firing, resonance-checking test runs.
~ Pah! Mars is so 2016, don’t you think?

Satellite spots massive object hidden under the frozen wastes of Antarctica — Scientists believe a massive object which could change our understanding of history is hidden beneath the Antarctic ice. The huge and mysterious “anomaly” is thought to be lurking beneath the frozen wastes of an area called Wilkes Land. It stretches for a distance of 243 kms (151 miles) across and has a maximum depth of about 848 meters. Some researchers believe it is the remains of a truly massive asteroid which was more than twice the size of the Chicxulub space rock which wiped out the dinosaurs.
~ Well, that’s more likely than Nazi flying saucer bases. 

South Korean Avatar-styled robot — A robot which bears a striking resemblance to the military robots seen in the movie Avatar has taken its first baby steps. The robot standing in a room on the outskirts of Seoul, South Korea stands four meters (13 feet) tall and weighs 1.5 tons.
~ Designer Vitaly Bulgarov’s work experience includes work on Transformers, Terminator and Robocop.

2016 as a horror movie — This year has been pretty horrifying. Dozens of our favorite celebrities died, a gorilla was shot dead in front of children at the zoo and a former professional wrestling star was elected president. Not to mention America being taken over by a fatuous big-mouthed idiot.
So it makes perfect sense that 2016 should be made into a horror film: YouTube channel Friend Dog Studios published a fictional movie trailer based on the year’s events.
~ Hey, at least it was a good year for architecture

Obama wrote the most popular science journal of 2016 — The hottest scientific journal article of 2016 wasn’t on black holes or dinosaur-killing asteroids: it was on the Affordable Care Act, and it was penned by sitting President Barack Obama. Imagine that ever happening again.
~ Indeed.

Ebola vaccine 100% effective — A new Ebola vaccine provides 100% protection against one of the two most common strains of the Ebola virus. The results of this trial were released in The Lancet. Although the vaccine, known as rVSV-ZEBOV, has yet to be approved by regulators, the New York Times reports that scientists have already created an emergency supply of 300,000 doses, should another Ebola outbreak occur.
~ This is definitely very good news. 

The woman who convinced us that Dark Matter existed was never awarded a Nobel Prize — Vera Rubin, one of the most important astronomers of the 20th century, died on December 25th in Princeton, NJ at age 88. She played a seminal role in our understanding of dark matter, and should have been awarded a Nobel Prize in Physics … but never was.
~ Yet another very smart, overlooked woman scientist. Actually, 2016 cemented science’s sexual inequality problems