Tag Archives: Futurology

Futurology ~ Galaxy rotation, Kepler power, gravitational waves, smaller devices, whiter white, new limbs, data diseases, mind uploading, systemic weirdness, particle-accelerated text, Denisovans with benefits, ancient Saharan cultivation

Nanoparticle eyedrops may one day replace glasses

All Disk Galaxies rotate once every billion years — According to a new study published in The Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society, astronomers discovered that all disk galaxies rotate about once every billion years, no matter their size or mass.
~ Is it just me  who finds it weird that distant galaxies follow a time frame dictated by the sun we happen to be circling? 

Kepler space telescope is running out of gas — NASA’s Kepler spacecraft has been peering deep into the Milky Way galaxy for nearly a decade. It has spotted over 2500 confirmed planets orbiting distant stars, with another 2500-plus possible worlds are waiting to be confirmed. But Kepler will be out of fuel in just a few months and left to its long, lonely orbit. The spacecraft will soon be replaced by another exoplanet-hunting space telescope, NASA’s Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS). TESS is set to launch into space on April 16th.
~ Er, they didn’t fit solar panels??

Gravitational Wave Detector progress — One of the most expensive, complex and problematic components in gravitational wave detectors like the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-wave Observatory (LIGO) — which made the first, historic detection of these ripples in space-time in September 2015 — is the 4-kilometer-long vacuum chambers that house all the interferometer optics. But what if this requirement for ground-based gravitational wave detectors isn’t needed? This suggestion has been made by a pair of physicists at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County (UMBC). They are developing a method that could allow extremely sensitive interferometers to operate in the “open air.”
~ After all, the open air is good for nearly everyone. 

Devices get smaller, so which watch? Can you imagine that one day all your devices might be in that thing around your wrist? Already, some people use  smartphones alone for all their computing … inconceivable 10 years ago. Reviews.com has decided on what’s best so far.

Ghostly beetle for new white — Scientists have engineered perhaps the whitest natural substance, using the same physics behind one ghostly white Southeast Asian beetle. White and black feel like opposites for a reason. Black-coloured things absorb nearly all of the light that strikes their surface, while white things send the light back, scattered equally at all wavelengths. A team of European scientists have essentially created the whitest paper using this physical property.
~ It can be 20 to 30 times whiter than white filter paper. Ouch!

Amputees to get new limb ‘feeling’ — Prosthetic hands have gotten increasingly sophisticated. Many can recreate the complex shape and detail of joints and fingers, while powered prostheses allow for independent, willful movement. But a new study published in Science Translational Medicine offers a potential glimpse into the future of the technology: Artificial hands that actually feel like living limbs as they move.

New methods find undiagnosed genetic diseases in electronic health records — Researchers have found a way to search genetic data in electronic health records to identify undiagnosed genetic diseases in large populations so treatments can be tailored to the actual cause of the illness.
~ Yay, a use for Big Data that’s other than pecuniary.

New brain preservation technique could lead to mind uploading — Using a technique developed three years ago, researchers from MIT and 21st Century Medicine have shown that it’s possible to preserve the microscopic structures contained within a large mammalian brain. The breakthrough means scientists now have the means to store and study samples of the human brain over longer timescales – but the method could eventually, maybe, be used to resurrect the dead.
~ It’s the downloading part some people clearly need. 

Nanoparticle eyedrops may one day replace glasses — A new paper from Bar-Ilan University’s Institute of Nanotechnology and Advances Materials in Tel Aviv, Israel and published by the European Society of Cataract & Refractive Surgeons, outlines the research, which involves a combination of “nanodrops” and a quick medical procedure.
~ But how will you wipe those smears off them? 

Systemic weirdness — The universe is loaded with a lot of strange symmetries between seemingly dissimilar systems, thanks to similar underlying physics. Take an electrical circuit, a spring and a swinging pendulum. These simple oscillators might look completely different, but they are governed by the same mathematical equations. Other similarities aren’t so simple – which makes them especially mind-boggling.
Separate teams of researchers have announced another discovery: specially-engineered materials, called topological insulators, displaying similar behaviours in very different systems.
~ I don’t think that’s weird. It’s like two vastly different political systems ending up with the same result: one was called Hitler and the other, Stalin. 

Particle accelerator reveals hidden text — History and particle physics seem like pretty disparate fields but they have more in common than you’d think. X-rays from a high-energy lab have revealed ancient Greek medical texts that had been stripped and covered with religious writing.
Scientists at the Department of Energy’s SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory have long been using high-powered X-rays at their Stanford Synchrotron Radiation Lightsource (SSRL) to analyse ancient texts. This week, they will be revealing the text beneath 10th-century psalms from the St Catherine’s Monastery on the Sinai Peninsula. The hidden words were a translation of writings by the ancient Greek doctor Galen.
~ Wasn’t he in Planet of the Apes? And yes, there is a connection there, too. 

Modern humans interbred with Denisovans twice in history — Modern humans co-existed and interbred with Neanderthals, sure, but also with another species of archaic humans, the mysterious Denisovans. Research now describes how, while developing a new genome-analysis method for comparing whole genomes between modern human and Denisovan populations, researchers unexpectedly discovered two distinct episodes of Denisovan genetic intermixing, or admixing, between the two.
~ Let’s all hope it was consensual. 

Entomologist confirms first Saharan farming 10,000 years ago — By analysing a prehistoric site in the Libyan desert, a team of researchers has been able to establish that people in Saharan Africa were cultivating and storing wild cereals 10,000 years ago. In addition to revelations about early agricultural practices, there could be a lesson for the future, if global warming leads to a necessity for alternative crops.
~ But first they had to rule out ants. 


Futurology ~ Space, new glass, moss tyre, Loomo, Dutch DNA, disease riddle, Pacifika

A Goodyear are concept is filled with moss that turns CO2 into oxygen.

Orion Nebula’s tangled web — Perhaps the most recognisable constellation in the night sky is Orion the hunter. Of the three bright orbs lined up below his belt – his sword – the middle one isn’t a star, but an entire nebula, and parts of it have been invisible to researchers until recently.
Scientists using the Atacama Large Millimetre/submillimeter Array in Chile and the IRAM 30m telescope in Spain have revealed a new view of the famous Orion Nebula. The observations let researchers identify a network of gas organised in relatively thin, tangled filaments. The result was new science and an incredible mosaic of images.
~ The formation of stars …

Old Red Dwarf wakes up neutron star — An international team of researchers first spotted what looked like the symbiotic relationship of an old red dwarf star waking up neutron star on 13 August 2017, using an Earth-orbiting telescope called INTEGRAL. While binary stars are common, a lot of things about this finding, from capturing the initial blast that signalled the start of the stellar relationship, were a surprise.
~ Time for work!

NASA spacecraft reveals Jupiter’s interior in unprecedented detail — NASA’s Juno spacecraft has revealed that Jupiter’s iconic striped bands, caused by immensely powerful winds, extend to a depth of about 3000km below the surface. The findings also provide a partial answer to the question of whether the planet has a core, “showing that the inner 96% of the planet rotates ‘as a solid body,’ even though technically it is composed of an extraordinarily dense mixture of hydrogen and helium gas,” reports The Guardian.
~ It has a way more atmosphere than Earth. 

Metal-organic compounds produces new class of glass — Lightning and volcanos both produce glass, and humans have been making glass from silicon dioxide since prehistory. Industrialization brought us boron-based glasses, polymer glasses and metallic glasses, but now an international team of researchers has developed a new family of glass based on metals and organic compounds that stacks up to the original silica in glass-forming ability.
~ The new glass is so new, they have still to fully characterised all its properties. 

New tyre tech from recycled rubber and moss — Oxygene, a concept tyre from Goodyear, shows what might be, rather than what is. The tyre is 3D-printed from rubber powder made from recycled tyres. Then Goodyear fills the center mass of the tire with moss. The tyre captures road moisture, improving grip as it does so, and feeds it to the moss. The moss also captures CO2 and turns it into oxygen via photosynthesis. Tyres like this  would turn cars, especially electric cars, into part of the solution to anthropomorphic climate change.
~ Anthropo-what now? 

New Segway is a transporter-companion — The Segway Loomo is a personal mobile robot that is controlled by a smartphone. You can ride the Loomo, whether it’s a joy ride, a jaunt to the park or a quick spin around the neighbourhood. Disembark, and it becomes your robot. You can program it to track and follow you around and it can also capture video.
~ Right – I can’t think of a single reason I’d like to do either, but sure. 

Dutch police DNA-profile 21,500 men to try and solve 20-year-old murder — A Dutch investigation into the 1998 murder of 11-year-old Nicky Verstappen has taken forensic DNA testing to an extreme. In order to solve cold case, police have asked 21,500 men in the German-Dutch border area to participate in a massive DNA hunt. The hope is that the mass screening might identify a relative of the killer, whose DNA would be a close match.
~ Smart: perpetrators would probably try and evade testing, but their relatives?

Strange polio-like illness might finally have been identified — Since 2014, doctors have been stymied by a medical mystery: People, mostly children, were coming down with a previously unknown, polio-like illness that causes paralysis. Now, an international team of doctors published in The Lancet believe they have managed to confirm the main culprit.
~ Meticulous work rewarded. 

Genetic timeline of early Pacific settlers — Researchers have helped put together the most comprehensive study ever conducted into the origins of people in Vanuatu, regarded as a geographic gateway from Asia to the Remote Pacific.
The new research, published across two separate research papers, uses a combination of DNA analyses of ancient skeletons and modern samples, as well as archaeological evidence, to put together a complete timeline of migration to the island nation.
~ The people of Vanuatu today, like many peoples of the Pacific, can claim a dual heritage.

Futurology ~ Proxima Centauri, Jupiter, Saturn, AI jobs, tiny lights, DNA vid, ancient tattoos

This is either the exact spot the Cassini spacecraft cashed through Saturn’s atmosphere, or a random circle drawn on an image coz, what would we know?

Stellar flare dulls hopes for life on planets around Proxima Centauri — Scientists have discovered a flare from the sun’s closest stellar neighbour, Proxima Centauri. Many are reporting it could spell trouble for any hope for life on its exoplanet, Proxima b, and might also kill off a presumed set of other planets around the star. Last year, there were many reports that evidence of dust rings around Proxima Centuari would imply the star could have an elaborate planetary system alongside its confirmed exoplanet, Proxima b. But a new analysis of the same dataset calls those past results into question.
~ All that speculation at such distance could only ever be aProximate.

Jupiter’s Red Spot may disappear — The Great Red Spot has been a fixture of Jupiter ‘s cloudy visage for centuries and is among the most recognizable features in the solar system. But the Great Red Spot is shrinking, and recently, news stories reported it could vanish within the next 10 or 20 years. The storm’s shape is changing, most significantly in width, and as time marches on it’s becoming less oval and more circular.
~ The Great Red Spot is in fact a gigantic storm. It’s red because of the, uh, colour. 

Cassini crashed into Saturn — On 15 September 2017, the Cassini spacecraft ended its valiant 13-year mission by performing a kamikaze dive into Saturn’s upper atmosphere. A new image released by NASA shows the exact spot (main picture, above) where the Cassini craft was lost to us forever.
~ Got that Saturnians? It wasn’t an attack, just callous disregard. 

Saturn’s moon Enceladus has become an alien-hunting hot spot — Thought to be a barren cue-ball until NASA’s Cassini mission found both active geysers and a liquid ocean beneath its frozen surface, the icy little moon is now one of the likeliest places to encounter extraterrestrial life in our solar system. Last year, when scientists analyzed Enceladus’ ocean (actually a small drop of it blasted skyward in a geyser) they found evidence of hydrothermal reactions, which produce H2: just the kind of molecular food some little Enceladian organism might like to munch on. On Earth, similar microbes live in a deep sea hydrothermal vent off the coast of Japan.
~ Sounds yummy … maybe with a little mustard, anyhoo. 

Artificially Intelligent jobs — AI will create more jobs than it destroys was the not-so-subtle rebuttal from tech giants to growing concern over the impact of automation technologies on employment. Execs from Google, IBM and Salesforce were questioned about the wider societal implications of their technologies during a panel session at Mobile World Congress.
~ I don’t yet opt in to their conclusions, myself. 

Japanese engineering researchers have created a tiny electronic light the size of a firefly — They can ride waves of ultrasound, and could eventually figure in applications ranging from moving displays to projection mapping. Named Luciola for its resemblance to the firefly, the featherweight levitating particle weighs 16.2mg, has a diameter of 3.5mm (0.14 inch), and emits a red glimmer that can just about illuminate text. But its minuscule size belies the power of the 285 microspeakers emitting ultrasonic waves that hold up the light, and have a frequency inaudible to the human ear, allowing Luciola to operate in apparent total silence.
~ It’s going to annoy beings with better hearing, though – dogs, maybe? 

DNA organises itself in a video — DNA, when unravelled, can span more that two meters in length, but your body’s cells whip it into tidy bundles.
We’ve long known that the body can do this. But how it accomplishes this biological feat is another thing. Now, researchers from Delft University in the Netherlands and EMBL Heidelberg in Germany have succeeded in actually catching the process on video, observing how DNA gets structured in real time.
~ Thus also solving a debate.

More early tattoos revealed — A new analysis of two ancient Egyptian mummies has uncovered the earliest known examples of ‘figural’ tattoos on human beings – that is, tattoos meant to represent real things rather than abstract symbols. What’s more, at around 5000 years old, it’s the earliest evidence of tattoos on a woman.
~ The mummies were on display for decades without anyone noticing.

Futurology ~ Supernova birth, other Earths, DNA storage, brain folding, Modernist cooking, urban farming, plant origins

Models shed light on fetal brain-shape development (Image: Weizmann Institute via Gizmodo)

Amateur spots birth of a supernova — Victor Buso was testing his camera-telescope setup in Argentina back in September 2016, pointing his Newtonian telescope at a spiral galaxy called NGC613. He collected light from the galaxy for the next hour-and-a-half, taking short exposures to avoid the Santa Fe city lights. When he looked at his images, he realised he’d captured a potential supernova: an enormous flash of light an energy bursting off of a distant star.
~ Superlative serendipity.

Earth’s incredible, but is there anything else remotely like it? Aki Roberge, research astrophysicist at NASA, explained Earth is the only planet we know of where the presence of life has altered the atmosphere’s chemistry. If another Earth-like planet existed somewhere in the universe, we might be able to spot it by looking for a biosignature: spectral lines from chemicals such as methane, water vapour, oxygen, or other organic molecules indicative of life.
~ Or perhaps aliens waving us away, if they have any sense. 

New way to use DNA as a storage device — Researchers from the Waterford Institute of Technology (WIT) in Ireland have developed a way to use bacteria to archive up to up to one zettabyte in one gram of DNA. The technique uses double-strained DNA molecules called plasmids to encode data which is stored in the Novablue strain of the E Coli bacteria.
~ Although we’re still figuring out the ‘old way’ DNA stores info.

Model brains reveal brain-folding physics — Brains fold in on themselves as they grow. How and why they do it is mysterious and studying it requires some pretty interesting science.
Israeli scientists wanted to study brain folding from a physics perspective. Growing brain cells for study can be difficult, though — so they came up with a solution to overcome this obstacle: growing simple mini-brains on a chip under a microscope.
~ Here comes the rise of the Organoids …

Modernist cooking needs gadgets, tools and precise measurements— Science requires precision, and these tools allow you to combine perfect amounts and get perfect results. Ryan F Mandelbaum learns to cook like a gadget nerd.
~ This is why you don’t accept dinner invitations from scientists. Crikey, talk about deleting all joy from the kitchen!

Antimatter in a van — Normally, scientists produce volatile antimatter in the lab, where it stays put in an experimental apparatus for further study. But now, researchers are planning on transporting it for the first time from one lab to another in a truck.
~ Very Wide Load …

Big data suggest urban farming — It makes intuitive sense that growing crops as close as possible to the people who will eat them is more environmentally friendly than long-distance shipping, but evidence that urban agriculture is good for the environment has been harder to pin down.
A widely cited 2008 study by researchers at Carnegie Mellon University found that transportation from producer to store only accounts for 4% of food’s total greenhouse gas emissions, which calls into question the concern over “food miles.” A recent analysis of urban agriculture’s global potential, published in the journal Earth’s Future, has taken a big step toward an answer—and the news looks good for urban farming.
~ And there are co-benefits, from social implications to urban heat reduction.

Plants appeared earlier than thought — For hundreds of millions of years, life on Earth was a purely aquatic phenomenon. The jump from the oceans to the continents was a monumental event, one that would irrevocably change the face of our planet. A new study suggests the first plants to make this evolutionary leap appeared much earlier than previously thought, and this affects our modelling of Earth’s atmosphere changes wrought by their impact.
~ Although that is a previous thought I haven’t previously thought. 

Futurology ~ Dark Photon, space Atomic Clock, Quantum silicone, AI pigs, lab meat, concussion test, free transport, new seafood, human skulls

Calved iceberg A-68, revealing the extent of its size (it’s over 4x bigger than London). The iceberg is about 192m thick, of which 30m , or about 10 storeys, rests above the surface (Image NASA/John Sonntag via Gizmodo)

Dark Photon portal to the Dark Universe — It appears the universe is full of dark matter – around six times more of it than there is regular matter. It has obvious visible effects, such as the way it bends light from distant galaxies. Despite dedicated searches, no signs of a dark matter particle explaining these effects have turned up.
Perhaps instead physicists will be able to find some dark force, a portal into the dark world. Such a ‘dark photon’ would be dark matter’s equivalent of a photon, in the way that dark matter particles interact with one another. Scientists are searching for such a particle. It hasn’t turned up yet, based on new results from the Large Hadron Collider in Geneva Switzerland. But the search isn’t over – and a lot of physicists are really excited about it.
~ We all mutter ‘matter matters’.

Atomic Clock for space — The so-called Deep Space Atomic Clock (DSAC) is far smaller than Earth-bound atomic clocks, yet far more precise than the handful of other space-bound atomic clocks, and it’s more resilient against the stresses of space travel than any clock ever made. According to a NASA statement, it’s expected to lose no more than 2 nanoseconds (2 billionths of a second) over the course of a day. That comes to about 7 millionths of a second over the course of a decade. n an email to Live Science, Andrew Good, a Jet Propulsion Laboratory representative, said the first DSAC will hitch a ride on the second Falcon Heavy launch, scheduled for June.
~ Seems like a long way to go to tell the time, though. 

Chip-based Quantum Computer passes test — Researchers from two teams now working with Intel have reported advances in a new quantum computing architecture, called spin qubits, in a pair of papers out today. They’re obviously not the full-purpose quantum computers of the future. But they’ve got a major selling point over other quantum computing designs. The qubits have been made in silicon chips, similar to what’s used in classical computer processes.
~ Thus offering the possibility of scaling up fairly rapidly.

Artificial Intelligence and Chinese pigs — Alibaba’s Cloud Unit has signed an agreement on with the Tequ Group, a Chinese food-and-agriculture conglomerate that raises about 10 million pigs each year, to deploy facial and voice recognition on Tequ’s pig farms. The company will offer software to Tequ that it will deploy on its farms with its own hardware. Using image recognition, the software will identify each pig based on a mark placed on its body, to correspond with a file for each pig in a database which records and tracks characteristics such as the pig’s breed type, age, and weight.
~ All the way to your plate? But this may all be in vain, for …

Lab-Grown meat is inevitable — That’s in a Wired story that’s paywalled, though.

Concussion blood test — The US Food and Drug Administration has approved a long-awaited blood test to detect concussions in people and more quickly identify those with possible brain injuries.
The test, called the Banyan Brain Trauma Indicator, is also expected to reduce the number of people exposed to radiation through CT scans, or computed tomography scans, that detect brain tissue damage or intracranial lesions. If the blood test is adopted widely, it could eliminate the need for CT scans in at least a third of those with suspected brain injuries, the agency predicted.
~ Still not making rugby any more attractive. 

Germany considers free public transport to combat air pollution — Car nation Germany has surprised neighbours with a radical proposal to reduce road traffic and air pollution by making public transport free, as Berlin scrambles to meet EU air pollution targets and avoid big fines.
The move comes just over two years after Volkswagen’s devastating ‘dieselgate’ emissions cheating scandal unleashed a wave of anger at the auto industry, a keystone of German prosperity.
~ Good luck with the pollution generated by your neighbours, then. 

Massive iceberg split reveals mysterious seafloor — An international team of scientists is about to embark on a mission to explore the newly exposed marine ecosystem underneath – one that’s been hidden for over 100,000 years.
Iceberg A-68, as it’s called, calved from Antarctica’s Larsen C Ice Shelf on 12 July 2017. Weighing about a trillion tonnes and featuring a surface area of 5800 square kilometres, the iceberg is about the size of Delaware, or about four times bigger than London, England. It’s been drifting away from the area for months now, slowly disintegrating into smaller and smaller bits (and spawning treacherous many icebergs in the process). For thousands of years, this chunk of ice rested above the seafloor, but with it gone, scientists are eager to explore the mysterious world underneath.
~ I predict it will be wet and cold. (It’s OK, don’t thank me.)

Swedish researchers found 8000-year-old mounted skulls — Researchers in Sweden have uncovered evidence of a behaviour never seen before in ancient hunter-gatherers: the mounting of decapitated heads onto stakes. The grim discovery challenges our understanding of European Mesolithic culture and how these early humans handled their dead.
Displaying decapitated heads on wooden stakes is something you might expect from the Middle Ages, but as a new paper published in the journal Antiquity shows, it’s a practice that goes back much further in time. The discovery is the first evidence of this behaviour among Mesolithic hunter-gatherers, who had not so far been known for dramatic displays of this sort. The researchers who found the skulls are at a loss to explain why these ancient Europeans would have mounted them on posts, but the reason may not be as sinister as it appears.
~ I suspect it was still hard to get a head in those days. 

Futurology ~ Old star and space, pocket DNA, lighten for climate, meat processor lab meat, rewriting ancient history

Australian rocks are forcing a rethink of Earth’s origins

Oldest Milky Way star — A team of Spanish scientists spotted the star J0815+4729 with a pair of telescopes and determined its age based on the amount of heavier elements it contained. The star was born perhaps 300 million years after the Big Bang, or 13.5 billion years ago – that makes it one of the oldest ever spotted.
~ Our Sun, by comparison, is a youthful 4.6 billion years old.

Lots of planets — Researchers at the University of Oklahoma looking at a galaxy 3.8 billion light years away spotted evidence of planets. More specifically, they think there should be at least 2000 objects, ranging from moon- to Jupiter-sized, per main-sequence star in the galaxy, based on how the galaxy’s gravity warped the objects behind it. This is not direct evidence, mind you; no one has spotted any actual planets.
~ But it’s evidence nonetheless.

Satellite comes back to life — A $US150 million NASA satellite which died from systems failure just five years after its launch has somehow reactivated and is still broadcasting. IMAGE was launched in 2000 and declared lost in 2005. It is still transmitting data beyond simple telemetry, indicating that some of its six onboard instruments may still be active. It’s possible the satellite turned back on during a period of time in which Earth’s orbit eclipsed its onboard solar panels, drained its batteries and forced a reset of IMAGE’s systems.
~ Reanimator …

Old NASA films saved by space enthusiast inform new parachute design — They contained the only surviving footage of the August 1972 qualification test for Viking’s parachute, the contraption responsible for safely decelerating the program’s landers through the Martian atmosphere. Because that atmosphere is 99% thinner than Earth’s, Viking’s engineers knew their spacecraft would be plummeting at supersonic speeds as they neared the planet’s surface. The engineers had thus built a novel parachute that could endure such punishing conditions: a 204-square-metre (2200-square-foot) expanse of white polyester with braided nylon suspension lines.
~ Cloth and rope is unpredictable at extremely high speeds in alien atmospheres. 

Pocket-sized DNA Reader — A few years back, a company called Oxford Nanopore announced it was developing a radically different way of sequencing DNA. Its approach involved taking single strands of the double helix and stuffing them through a protein pore. With a small bit of current flowing across the pore, the four bases of DNA each created a distinct (if tiny) change in the voltage as it passed through which could be used to read the DNA one base at a time as it wiggled through the pore. It’s still not perfect, but provides unique information.
~ Now they just need to update their software. 

White paint fights climate change — What do spraying sulphate aerosols into the atmosphere, fertilising the ocean with iron and building giant mirrors in space have in common? They are all large-scale climate engineering plans aimed at keeping our planet cool. They are also risky, have questionable effectiveness and are likely to alter climate systems in unexpected ways – they could make everything worse, instead of better.
Painting cities white, however, has just been proven to work. In research led by Sonia Seneviratne of ETH Zurich with researchers from UNSW, University of Tasmania, CSIRO and Pacific Northwest National Laboratory in the US, modifications like lightening the colour of buildings, roads and other infrastructure in high population areas reduced temperatures by 2 to 3°C.
~ When we re-roofed, we chose a light colour advisedly. 

World’s second largest meat processor invests in lab-grown meat — Tyson Foods, the world’s second largest processor and marketer of chicken, beef, and pork, announced it has invested in Silicon Valley startup Memphis Meats, a company that makes lab-grown meat using animal cells. The investment amount was not disclosed, but it follows a slew of other high-profile backers including Cargill Inc, Bill Gates and Richard Branson.
~ It amuses me that people say ‘yuck’ to this and then you see all the processed foods in their cupboards. 

Jawbone recites human migration — Archaeologists in Israel have uncovered the partial jawbone from what appears to be a modern human. Dated to between 175,000 to 200,000 years old, the fossil is 50,000 years older than any other human fossil found in the region, suggesting humans left Africa far earlier than previously thought.
The fossil was found in Israel’s Misilya Cave, one of several prehistoric cave sites on Mount Carmel. Multiple dating techniques put its age at between 175,000 to 200,000 years old: the fossil resets the date for when modern humans (Homo sapiens) first left Africa, leaving their continent of origin for the Middle East.

3.5 Billion-year-old fossils challenge ideas about earth’s start — In the arid, sun-soaked northwest corner of Australia, along the Tropic of Capricorn, the oldest face of Earth is exposed to the sky. Drive through the northern outback for a while, south of Port Hedlund on the coast, and you will come upon hills softened by time. They are part of a region called the Pilbara Craton, which formed about 3.5 billion years ago, when Earth was in its youth. According to John Valley, a geochemist at the University of Wisconsin, the fossils imply that life diversified remarkably early after the planet’s tumultuous beginning.
~ The fossils add to a wave of discoveries that point to a new story of ancient Earth.

Futurology ~ Trappist, Einstein’s Sun, Titan, space pooh, Norway electric, antifungal, genes, holograms, Australia-USA

The piece of Australia around Georgetown once belonged to the North American landmass (Image from Apple Maps)

Trappist may have two Earth-likes — It’s been less than a year since astronomers detected seven planets around TRAPPIST-1, a remarkable star system located 39 light years from Earth. New research suggests life could take root on at least two of these planets, thanks to a fortuitous orbital quirk. But other scientists aren’t so sure, saying TRAPPIST-1 still has much going against it in terms of its ability to foster life.
~ I am a great fan of fortuitous orbital quirks.

Another Einstein theory proven: the sun is losing mass — Mercury, the closest planet to the Sun, has a history of helping us study gravity. Albert Einstein demonstrated that Newton’s laws of motion break down when dealing with very large masses. He created his theory of general relativity to account for this: gravity is a manifestation of the warping of spacetime caused by massive bodies such as the Sun. Mercury’s orbit shows this warping most clearly – and, indeed, before Einstein’s work, scientists were long puzzled by its strangeness, even attributing it to gravitational effects from a made-up planet called Vulcan. Now, a team of researchers in the US are using new measurements of Mercury’s orbit to learn more about the Sun – and more about Einstein’s theory itself.
~ The genius who keeps on giving. 

Titan adds a third Earth-like feature — Titan, Saturn’s largest moon, is remarkable in that it features a dense atmosphere and stable liquid at the surface. The only other place in the solar system with these particular characteristics is, you guessed it, Earth. Thanks to a pair of new studies, we can add a third trait to this list of shared characteristics: a global sea level.
~ Well, haha, Titan, ours is on the rise! What’s yours doing?

Space pooh food — A Penn State researcher team has shown it is possible to rapidly break down solid and liquid waste to grow food with a series of microbial reactors, while simultaneously minimising pathogen growth. They reported their findings in the journal Life Sciences in Space Research.
To test their idea, the researchers used an artificial solid and liquid waste that’s commonly used in waste management tests. They created an enclosed, cylindrical system, four feet long by four inches in diameter, in which select microbes came into contact with the waste. The microbes broke down waste using anaerobic digestion, a process similar to the way humans digest food. The team found that methane was readily produced during anaerobic digestion of human waste and could be used to grow a different microbe, Methylococcus capsulatus, which is used as animal feed today. The team concluded that such microbial growth could be used to produce a nutritious food for deep space flight
~ Every week, I swear, there’s another reason not to venture into space. 

Electric flights for Norway — Norway’s public operator of air transport plans to make all short-haul flights in the country entirely electric by 2040. State-owned Avinor, which operates most of Norway’s civil airports, is aiming to be the ‘first in the world’ to switch to electric air transport.
In a 2017 report, Avinor announced that in cooperation with the Norwegian Sports Aviation Association and major airlines, it had set up a development project for electric aircraft. Avinor said it had called for Norway to be established as a test arena and innovation center for the development of electric aircraft. Avinor intends to reduce aircraft greenhouse gas emissions in the short term by phasing in biofuels in the coming years, and then build on these reductions by phasing in electric planes.
~ Yesway! Electric at home paid for by exporting gas elsewhere. 

New antifungal provides hope in the fight against Superbugs —
Microscopic yeast has been wreaking havoc in hospitals around the world, creeping into catheters, ventilator tubes, and IV lines and causing deadly invasive infections. C. auris is particularly problematic because it loves hospitals, has developed resistance to a wide range of antifungals and once it infects a patient, doctors have limited treatment options.
But in a recent Antimicrobial Agents and Chemotherapy study, researchers confirmed a new drug compound kills drug-resistant C. auris, both in the laboratory and in a mouse model that mimics human infection. The drug works through a novel mechanism: unlike other antifungals that poke holes in yeast cell membranes or inhibit sterol synthesis, the new drug blocks how necessary proteins attach to the yeast cell wall. This means C. auris yeast can’t grow properly and has a harder time forming drug-resistant communities that are a stubborn source of hospital outbreaks.
~ The drug is first in a new class of antifungals which could help stave off drug resistance.

Parent’s not-passed-on genes may still effect you — Children resemble their parents in health, wealth, and well-being. Is parent-child similarity in traits and behaviours due to nature (the genes that children inherit from their parents) or nurture (the environment that parents provide for their children)? Answering this enduring question can directly inform our efforts to reduce social inequality and disease burden. Kong et al used genetic data from trios of parents and offspring to address this question in an intriguing way. By measuring parents’ and children’s genes, they provide evidence that inherited family environments influence children’s educational success, a phenomenon termed genetic nurture.
~ Doesn’t explain my super clever kids, then!

Cheap holograms — Holograms are a mainstay of almost any science fiction film set in the not-too-distant future and beyond. But the capabilities of our real-life versions still fall drastically short. They generally require an extensive set-up, can only be seen correctly from certain angles and often require special viewing headgear. But new research published in Nature might represent one of the greater leaps forward to date: a way to create a three-dimensional, solid- and clean-looking image that can exist in the same space as other objects and even move.
~ Don’t tell me, it’s called An Actual Object?

1.7-billion-year-old chunk of north America found sticking to Australia — Geologists matching rocks from opposite sides of the globe have found that part of Australia was once attached to North America 1.7 billion years ago. Researchers from Curtin University in Australia examined rocks from the Georgetown region of northern Queensland. The rocks (sandstone sedimentary rocks that formed in a shallow sea) had signatures that were unknown in Australia but strongly resembled rocks in present-day Canada. The researchers, who described their findings online January 17th in the journal Geology, concluded the Georgetown area broke away from North America 1.7 billion years ago. Then, 100 million years later, this landmass collided with what is now northern Australia, at the Mount Isa region.
Nuna then broke apart some 300 million years later, with the Georgetown area stuck to Australia as the North American landmass drifted away.
~ Trump might build a wall around it and take it back. 

Futurology ~ Pulsar nav, Magnetohydrodynamic Drive, air power, cancer test, snow Jandals, 3D printed drugs, NZ burrowing bat, iridescent dino

We used to think of dinosaurs in beige …

Pulsars to navigate space — Last week, Keith Gendreau and a team of NASA researchers announced they had finally proven that pulsars can function as a cosmic positioning system. Gendreau and his team performed the demonstration quietly last November, when the Neutron Star Interior Composition Explorer (a pulsar-measuring instrument the size of a washing machine, currently aboard the International Space Station) spent a weekend observing the electromagnetic emissions of five pulsars. With the help of an enhancement known as the Station Explorer for X-ray Timing and Navigation Technology (aka Sextant), Nicer was able to determine the station’s position in Earth’s orbit to within roughly three miles – while it was traveling in excess of 27,358kph (17,000mph).
~ Space is quite big, so not an unreasonable margin of error. 

The Magnetohydrodynamic Drive is real and you can build one — In the old movie The Hunt for Red October, the Russians built a so-called ‘caterpillar drive’ using hydro-magneto power instead of the traditional propeller. This new drive is way quieter than the traditional type, so quiet it could sneak up on the United States and blow it up. Here is the cool part: this magnetohydrodynamic drive, which turns water into a sort of rotor, is real. In fact, it’s pretty simple to build. All you really need is a battery, a magnet and some wires. Oh, also this will have to operate in salt water, so you might need some salt. Here is the basic setup.
~ Sure, the water gets pushed, but you can do it much better with a propeller.

Battery sucks power from the air — The Cota Forever Battery has the same size, form factor and power output of a traditional AA battery, but it can be inserted into a battery-powered device to instantly and easily make it compatible with Cota wireless power transmitters. Imagine never have to change the batteries in your TV remotes ever again, or not having to stay on top of countless IOT devices in your home that are constantly demanding a charge.
~ Yes, imagine all the strenuous effort this will save. An sucks power from the air? That’s how I’ve always thought about Coronation Street.

Blood test for cancer — The new test, developed at Johns Hopkins University, looks for signs of eight common types of cancer in just a blood sample and may prove inexpensive enough for doctors to give during a routine physical. Although the test isn’t commercially available yet, it will be used to screen 50,000 retirement-age women with no history of cancer as part of a $50 million, five-year study with the Geisinger Health System in Pennsylvania, a spokesperson with the insurer said.
~ Gadzooks, let’s hope it works. 

Snow Jandals — Snowshoes have been around for 5700 years, but this year Boulder, Colorado–based Crescent Moon has made the world’s first all-foam version (left – click it for a bigger view). Velcro bindings keep your shoes strapped to a teardrop-­shaped platform made from two layers of ethylene-vinyl acetate, or EVA, the same stuff used to fashion flip-flops. The snowshoes might look low-tech, but the combination of cleats and tire-like treads provide ample traction, especially on hardpack trails.
~ No more sinking feeling.  

3D print your own drugs — Someday soon, you might be making your own medicines at home. That’s because researchers have tailored a 3D printer to synthesize pharmaceuticals and other chemicals from simple, widely available starting compounds fed into a series of water bottle-size reactors. The work, they say, could digitize chemistry, allowing users to synthesize almost any compound anywhere in the world.
~ Yeah, can’t see any problems emerging from that. Grand plan. 

New Zealand’s burrowing bat — All but three land mammal species living on New Zealand were brought by modern humans, beginning around 800 years ago – and all three of those native mammal species are bats. But a newly discovered bat fossil suggests there may be more species hiding in the isle’s ancient rock. A team of researchers from Australia, New Zealand and the US announced that they have discovered evidence of an extinct bat species called Vulcanops jennyworthyae. The bat itself is weird: it was big and probably burrowed in the ground. But it also reveals a stranger evolutionary history of mammals on the island.
~ The 20 million-year-old bat teeth were pretty large, suggesting the bat was omnivorous and weighed around 40 grams.

English fossil palace — Turns out building blocks of Buckingham Palace (and a whole bunch of other buildings around the world) are made of 200 million year old microbes. Oolitic limestone is almost completely made of millimetre-sized spheres of carbonate called ooids, made from concentric layers of mineralised microbes.
~ Apt, since it houses fossilised royalty. 

Dino-bird had iridescent plumage — Caihong juji, a tiny, Jurassic-era dinosaur that lived 161 million years ago in what is now China was feathered theropod with an iridescent, rainbow coloured ring of feathers around its neck.
A nearly complete skeleton of Caihong juji – a name that means “rainbow with the big crest” in Mandarin – was discovered by a farmer in China’s Hebei Province in 2014. Researchers from the University of Texas at Austin and Shenyang Normal University have been taking a close look at it, releasing their findings in Nature Communications. Palaeontologist Dongyu Hu, the lead author of the new study, says the newly discovered dinosaur contained a curious mix of ancient and modern features, including iridescent plumage seen in some living ʻbirds.
~ But scientists speculating on what that plumage may have been for is wildly speculative, imo. 

Futurology ~ Star factory, comet spin, Mars ice, blacker back, gold, Blackbeard’s reading, ancient tool trove

The blue is water … on Mars

Star factory — Our Milky Way galaxy isn’t alone in this corner of space — it’s orbited by a few smaller dwarf galaxies, including the Large Magellanic Cloud. Inside that cloud is 30 Doradus (or the Tarantula Nebula), a “starburst” where stars are formed at a much higher rate than the surrounding area. And 30 Doradus has too many massive stars.
~ Unless they are pumped-up faux wannabes like on those reality TV programs. 

Comet slows its spin — Scientists across the world observed comet 41P when it approached Earth in 2017. It was close enough and bright enough to see with binoculars. One team of scientists, from the University of Maryland, watched the comet’s rotation rate drop rapidly, from one rotation every 20 hours to one every 46 hours. This is larger than any change in comet rotation measured yet, and it could help scientists learn more about how comets evolve over time.
~ What does that do to its gravity?

Scientists have discovered eight cliffs of nearly pure water ice on Mars — Some stand nearly 100 meters tall. The discovery points to large stores of underground ice buried only a meter or two below the surface at surprisingly low Martian latitudes, in regions where ice had not yet been detected. Each cliff seems to be the naked face of a glacier, tantalising scientists with the promise of a layer-cake record of past martian climates and space enthusiasts with a potential resource for future human bases.
~ Still not selling it.

Blacker black — Blackbirds aren’t actually all that black. Their feathers absorb most of the visible light that hits them, but still reflect between 3 and 5% of it. For really black plumage, you need to travel to Papua New Guinea and track down the birds of paradise. Although these birds are best known for their gaudy, kaleidoscopic colours, some species also sport profoundly black feathers. The feathers ruthlessly swallow light and, with it, all hints of edge or contour. By analysing museum specimens, Dakota McCoy, from Harvard University, has discovered exactly how the birds achieve such deep blacks. It’s all in their feathers’ microscopic structure.
~ And it’s hard to get out of your nostrils. 

Gold hits proton: surpass ensues — Surprise has popped up in the data of a decommissioned experiment at America’s largest atom smasher. Brookhaven National Lab physicist Alexander Bazilevsky and RIKEN physicist Itaru Nakagawa hitting a proton against a gold nucleus, approximately. Out on Long Island, New York, is the Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider, or RHIC, at Brookhaven National Laboratory. It is the world’s second-largest proton or atom collider (after the Large Hadron Collider in Switzerland), and has made discoveries about the kind of matter that probably existed in the split second after the Big Bang. Neutrons seemed to shoot out in the wrong direction after collisions between protons and gold or aluminium atoms. Now, they need to figure out the physics to describe what they actually saw.
~ Fun times at Long Island. 

Blackbeard’s reading matter — Old-timey pirates are typically portrayed as stupid, unrefined thugs whose only interests involved plundering captured ships and forcing enemies to walk the plank. The recent discovery of legible text on paper pulled from the cannon of Blackbeard’s flagship paints a strikingly different picture of these misunderstood sailors. Specifically, Blackbeard kept a copy of Edward Cooke’s A Voyage to the South Sea, and Round the World, Perform’d in the Years 1708, 1709, 1710 and 1711, detailing the British naval officer’s participation in a global expedition aboard the ships Duke and Dutchess.
~ Cooke’s account inspired Dafoe’s Robinson Crusoe

Prehistoric picnic spot in Israel yields hundreds of tools — The ‘mega-site,’ located in Jaljulia near the town of Kfar Saba, was discovered in November 2016 by developers who were surveying the area in preparation for urban development. Over the past year, a collaborative effort by the Israel Antiquities Authority and Tel Aviv University has uncovered thousands of artifacts at the one-hectare site, an area frequented by Paleolithic hunter-gatherers some 500,000 years ago.
Digging to a depth of 5 metres, the archaeologists uncovered layer after layer of tools and animals bones. At least six distinct sub-sites have been found within the excavation area.
~ Such a good picnic spot loads of people lost their tools …

Futurology ~ Space, robots, ancient Americans, dinosaur eggs and what’s coming

Alien megastructure is ‘just dust — An analysis by more than 200 astronomers has been published that shows the mysterious dimming of star KIC 8462852 – nicknamed Tabby’s star – is not being produced by an alien megastructure. The evidence points most strongly to a giant cloud of dust occasionally obscuring the star, reports The Guardian.
~ Well to me, that’s a relief. But hey, surely a cloud of dust should have been their first call, not ‘alien megastructure’?!

The border of earth and space — A new NASA mission, the first to hitch a ride on a commercial communications satellite, will examine Earth’s upper atmosphere to see how the boundary between Earth and space changes over time. GOLD stands for Global-scale Observations of the Limb and Disk, and the mission will focus on the temperature and makeup of Earth’s highest atmospheric layers.
~ Another mission, another future iteration of space junk. 

Smart bot could build homes on Mars — Built by the German space agency DLR, humanoid bots are being groomed to build the first Martian habitat for humans. Engineers have been refining Justin’s physical abilities for a decade; the mech can handle tools, shoot and upload photos, catch flying objects, and navigate obstacles.
Now, thanks to new AI upgrades, Justin can think for itself.
~ Here’s a better idea – the smart Alec can build a house for itself on Mars.

Soft robot may actually be useful — A burgeoning field called soft robotics promises to bring more “natural” movements to the machines. And today, a pair of papers in Science and Science Robotics detail a clever new variety of robotic “muscle,” a series of oil-fueled pouches activated with electricity. This actuator (aka the bit that moves a robot) is as strong and efficient as human muscle, but can pull off more contractions per second. Which could make for a prosthesis that moves more naturally, perhaps—or maybe farther down the road, soft yet strong robots that help you around the house without accidentally terminating you.
~ And I honestly do prefer not being accidentally terminated. 

Ancient Americans we didn’t know about — She died 11,500 years ago at the tender age of six weeks in what is now the interior of Alaska. Dubbed ‘Sunrise Girl-child’by the local indigenous people, the remains of the Ice Age infant, uncovered at an archaeological dig in 2013, contained traces of DNA, allowing scientists to perform a full genomic analysis. Incredibly, this baby girl belonged to a previously unknown population of ancient Native Americans – a discovery that’s changing what we know about the continent’s first people.
All Native Americans can trace their ancestry back to a single migration event that happened at the tail-end of the last Ice Age. The evidence, gleaned from the full genomic profile of the six-week-old girl and the partial genomic remains of another infant, suggests the continent’s first settlers arrived in a single migratory wave around 20,900 years ago. But this population then split into two groups: one group that would go on to become the ancestors of all Native North Americans, and another would venture no further than Alaska. This is a previously unknown population of ancient North Americans now dubbed the Ancient Beringians.
~ Then they got ‘back-migrated’. 

Ancient dinosaur eggs perfectly preserved — Chinese construction workers digging on Christmas day found a gift that was wrapped 130 million years ago in the form of 30 incredibly preserved dinosaur eggs. The discovery was made in the city of Ganzhou at the future site of a new middle school, but work on the new facility had to be put on hold after the ancient eggs were discovered.
~ Here’s the plan, then: grind them into snake oil medicine. 

But wait, Gizmodo has more: All The Wild Stuff We’re Going To Do In Space And Physics In 2018.

Futurology ~ Weird from space, ISS, WWII ships research, oil and gas, brains and light, Mixed Reality, robot sweat, de-extinction

Magic Leap finally revealed a prototype of its Mixed Reality glasses

Weird space visitor has organic insulation — Oumuamua is the cigar-shaped object – about 400 meters long and only 40 meters in the other dimensions – that originated from somewhere else in the Galaxy and visited our Solar system while moving at nearly 20,9214 kilometres per hour (about 130,000mph). Scientists do not know where Oumuamua came from or what it is made of. It is not shaped like commonly seen asteroids, and unlike comets it does not leave a trail behind it, not even when it flies past the Sun. In fact, Oumuamua seems to be wrapped in a strange organic coat made of carbon-rich gunk that it likely picked up on its long travels through space…
~ Right, it wrapped itself. It’s Christmas after all. 

The space station is the best thing we ever did — The International Space Station is one of the few nonstellar things up there that we can see from down here without instruments. It’s a prefab home the size of a football field, 462 tons and more than $100 billion worth of pressurised roomlike modules and gleaming solar arrays, orbiting 250 miles above the surface of the Earth. Its flight path is available online, and you can find out when it will make a nighttime pass over your backyard. Right on schedule, you’ll spot an unblinking white light that’s moving at 28,163kph (17,500 mph).
~ Agreed, it’s pretty awesome. 

Physicists recycled WWII ships and artillery to unlock the mysteries of the universe — A million Russian artillery shells helped scientists discover the Higgs boson. All over the world, remnants of World War II weapons are built into the most mysterious experiments in physics.
~ Ploughshares, anyone? 

Oil, gas production gone by 2040 — In France, anyway. France’s parliament has approved a law banning all exploration and production of oil and natural gas by 2040 within the country and its overseas territories. Under that law that passed a final vote, existing drilling permits will not be renewed and no new exploration licenses will be granted. The French government claims the ban is a world first. However, it is largely symbolic since oil and gas produced in France accounts for just 1% of domestic consumption.
~ Still, could be worse. You know, planet-wide apocalypse or something. No pressure. 

Light, genes and brains — Along with his MIT neuroscientist colleague Dheeraj Roy and others, Susumu Tonegawa is upending basic assumptions in brain science. Early this year, he reported that memory storage and retrieval happen on two different brain circuits, not on the same one as was long thought. His team also showed that memories of an event form at the same time in the brain’s short-term and long-term storage areas, rather than moving to long-term storage later on. Most recently (and tantalisingly), his lab demonstrated what could someday be a way to bring currently irretrievable memories back into conscious awareness.
~ Hopefully, they also wrote it down somewhere. 

Magic Leap into Mixed Reality — After raising US$1.9 billion dollars, Magic Leap finally showed off it’s “mixed-reality” goggles. Was the wait worth it? Rolling Stone got a look: “The revelation, the first real look at what the secretive, multi-billion dollar company has been working on all these years is the first step toward the 2018 release of the company’s first consumer product. It also adds some insight into why major companies like Google and Alibaba have invested hundreds of millions of dollars into Magic Leap, and why some researchers believe the creation could be as significant as the birth of the Internet.”

Robot sweats while it does press-ups — In Science Robotics, researchers from the University of Tokyo showed off a humanoid that is strikingly lifelike not just in how it looks, but how it moves. The machine is a radical departure from the stiff, bumbling humanoids that have so far done a whole lot of falling on their faces.
~ It ‘sweats’ by circulating water through its frame to dissipate heat when it’s active. 

De-extinction — For the past few years science writer Britt Wray has been delving into the strange field of ‘de-extinction,’ travelling the world to meet with scientists working to bring back species ranging from the aurochs to the thylacine to the woolly mammoth. One of the most promising efforts is Revive & Restore, which hopes to create a living passenger pigeon by the year 2022.
~ Perhaps she could start planning ahead, for us?

Futurology ~ Space weirdness, Quantum Machines, bilingual AI, soft robots, NASA tyres, glacier danger, coal to clean

NASA’s new tyres are virtually indestructible

Asteroid in close pass — (3200) Phaethon is a rock 5km in diameter with an oblong orbit that intersects Earth. It’s scheduled to make a nearby approach on December 16th. You’ll probably hear more fear-mongering shouting about it until then, but it isn’t a rock to worry about in our lifetimes.
~  It will pass a fifth of the distance from Earth to Mars at its closest. Mars is not exactly close. 

Chinese Monkey King satellite has made some odd discoveries — China’s Dark Matter Particle Explorer satellite (DAMPE or Wukong in China) is reporting the results of a year-and-a-half of space-staring, measuring the mysterious, high-energy electrons blasting Earth from space. The experiment has directly detected something that some similar experiments have hinted at, but others haven’t: a sudden drop-off in the electrons hitting the satellite. Whatever is going on, it’s weird.
~ But the Earth is still round. 

Space bacteria — Russian cosmonaut Anton Shkaplerov took routine samples from the outside of the International Space Station during a spacewalk. These samples were analysed and found to contain bacteria that must have come from somewhere other than Earth or the ISS itself. “Bacteria that had not been there during the launch of the ISS module were found on the swabs,” Shkaplerov told TASS Russian News Agency. “So they have flown from somewhere in space and settled on the outside hull.”
The Independent wrote “Finding bacteria that came from somewhere other than Earth would be one of the biggest breakthroughs in the history of science – but much more must be done before such a claim is made.”

Two new Quantum Machines have made actual science discoveries — Two teams of scientists are announcing that their quantum simulators – advanced quantum computers with very specialised scientific purposes – have made some real scientific discoveries.
~ I know I shouldn’t feel sorry for all those trapped atoms, but I do.

Bilingual AI without a dictionary — Two new papers show that neural networks can learn to translate with no parallel texts – a surprising advance that could make documents in many languages more accessible.
The two new papers focus on unsupervised machine learning. To start, each constructs bilingual dictionaries without the aid of a human teacher telling them when their guesses are right. That’s possible because languages have strong similarities in the ways words cluster around one another. The words for table and chair, for example, are frequently used together in all languages, so if a computer maps out these co-occurrences like a giant road atlas with words for cities, the maps for different languages will resemble each other, just with different names.
~ A computer can figure out the best way to overlay one atlas on another and voila! You have a bilingual dictionary.

Soft robots acquire origami skeletons — Robots are going soft. Literally soft, controlled with liquid or air instead of traditional motors. Soft robotics is hot at the moment. But without the rigidity and powerful motors of your typical robot, soft robots have been weak  until researchers at the MIT Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory and Harvard’s Wyss Institute developed a new kind of soft robotic muscle inspired by origami and awesomeness. It’s essentially a bag filled with air, inside of which is an origami structure that functions as a skeleton. By pumping air in and out, the researchers can get the muscle to lift 1000 times its own weight.
~ Could this also be used inside buildings to prevent collapse during earthquakes? 

NASA’s tough titanium tyres — Stretch a Slinky toy too far, and eventually the metal coil will be warped so much it won’t be able to return to its original spring shape. That’s a problem also faced by the metal spring tyres designed to roll across the Moon, and other planets our rovers are exploring. But NASA has created an alternative, made from titanium, that can tackle any terrain and always return to its original tyre shape.
~ A tyre that can last for years with minimal maintenance is important when sending rovers to the other planets in our Solar System.

The glaciers of Pine Island Bay could drown us; they are two of the largest and fastest-melting in Antarctica — A Rolling Stone feature earlier this year dubbed Thwaites ‘The Doomsday Glacier.’ Together, they act as a plug holding back enough ice to pour over three metres (11 feet) of sea-level rise into the world’s oceans, an amount that would submerge every coastal city on the planet. For that reason, finding out how fast these glaciers will collapse is one of the most important scientific questions in the world today.
~ Marine ice-cliff instability is a feedback loop that could kickstart the disintegration of the entire West Antarctic ice sheet in turn effecting hundreds of millions of people worldwide. 

Dirty coal to clean energy in Germany — The path from dirty coal to clean energy isn’t easy. Bottrop’s Prosper-Haniel coal mine is a symbol of the challenges and opportunities facing Germany – and coal-producing states everywhere.
Around the world, as governments shift away from the coal that fueled two ages of industrial revolution, more and more mines are falling silent. If there’s an afterlife for retired coal mines, one that could put them to work for the next revolution in energy, it will have to come soon. One use for retired coal mines is as giant batteries for clean energy. To turn a coal mine into a battery, all you need is gravity.
~ Plus a lot of money.

Futurology ~ weird asteroid, exotic particle, weather tech, Musk hits deadline, robot salad, microbial kill-switches, ancient dogs on the leash

This artist’s impression shows the first interstellar asteroid: `Oumuamua. This unique object was discovered on 19 October 2017 by the Pan-STARRS 1 telescope in Hawai`i. Subsequent observations from ESO’s Very Large Telescope in Chile and other observatories around the world show that it was travelling through space for millions of years before its chance encounter with our star system. `Oumuamua seems to be a dark red highly-elongated metallic or rocky object, about 400 metres long, and is unlike anything normally found in the Solar System.

Oumuamua also has a weird shape — A few weeks ago an interstellar asteroid, now named Oumuamua, was discovered passing through our solar system. Being the first interstellar asteroid to ever be observed, a flurry of observations soon followed. An article in Nature revealed Oumuamua is more bizarre than originally thought, since it it is elongated, with a 10:1 aspect ratio, and rapidly rotating. This conclusion is based upon comparisons of its time-dependent light curve to those from 20,000 known asteroids.
~ Bye.

Two teams simultaneously unearthed evidence of an exotic new particle — A few months ago, physicists observed a new subatomic particle – essentially an awkwardly-named, crazy cousin of the proton. Its mere existence has energised teams of particle physicists to dream up new ideas about how matter forms, arranges itself and exists. Now, a pair of new research papers using different theoretical methods have independently unearthed another, crazier particle predicted by the laws of physics
~ So here I join in the general excitement that, uh, doubly-b tetraquark could exist. Woot. 

Latest weather-tech in space — A fastidiously clean scanning machine named VIIRS has been launched into Earth orbit on a Delta II rocket from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California, just one instrument outfitting a next-generation weather satellite. The Visible Infrared Radiometer Suite is a washing machine-sized sensor, built to capture light and other waves that bounce off the surface of Earth. It collects those reflections, turning them into data about our planet, the oceans, land and vegetation cover, ice caps, volcanic plumes, and global temperatures—allowing accurate weather forecasts, wildfire and fishing fleet tracking, and climate monitoring.
~ I have one in the laundry, although this one actually does the washing, no matter what the weather is doing.

Musk makes it right on time with Australian battery project — Elon Musk will get paid for building the world’s largest lithium ion battery in South Australia, with testing on the 100-megawatt project about to begin ahead of next week’s December 1 deadline to build it in 100 days, or it’s free.
State premier Jay Weatherill has announced that regulatory testing at the site, which is paired with French energy business Neoen’s Hornsdale wind farm, 230km north of the capital, Adelaide, will begin within days.
~ Gosh, doesn’t Elon just look so pleased and happy?

Robot salad — A startup called Iron Ox is taking the first steps toward roboticizing greenhouse farming, which has so far stubbornly resisted automation. In the very near future, then, the salad on your table may come from the hand of a robot.
~ Er, the robot has hands, then? Better make the thumbs green. 

UCLA researchers use solar to create and store hydrogen — UCLA researchers have designed a device that can use solar energy to inexpensively and efficiently create and store energy, which could be used to power electronic devices, and to create hydrogen fuel for eco-friendly cars.
The device could make hydrogen cars affordable for many more consumers because it produces hydrogen using nickel, iron and cobalt – elements that are much more abundant and less expensive than the platinum and other precious metals that are currently used to produce hydrogen fuel.
~ Making electricity and fuel with the same device is a real breakthrough. 

Microbial kill-switches — Scientists at Harvard have developed a pair of new kill switches that can be used to thwart bioengineered microbes that go rogue. Researchers have been testing the use of bioengineered microbes for a variety of purposes, from the diagnosis of disease in the human body to the neutering of mosquitoes. But there remain concerns about releasing manipulated microbes into nature. Could their augmented genes have unintended consequences? Could they morph and proliferate?
~ Somehow I’m not convinced this is safer.  

Ancient dogs were already on the leash 8000 years ago — A new analysis of ancient rock art demonstrates that humans hunted with dogs on the Arabian Peninsula over 8000 years ago – and it looks like those dogs wore leashes.
There are a lot of questions around the origin of dog domestication, such as when, where and how it happened. But a newly analysed set of panels depicts scenes of leashed dogs hunting alongside humans. Not only would this be the “earliest evidence of dogs on the Arabian Peninsula,” according to the study published recently in the Journal of Anthropological Archaeology, but it’s also the “earliest evidence of leashes“.
~ Or maybe it was the dogs that had humans on the leashes … also, did the men really hunt with erections? That seems a little counterproductive if you ask me.