Tag Archives: Futurology

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

Futurology ~ Rosetta’s mish, Trump’s idiocy, humanoid undersea robot, solar road, imperilled water, hot Pole


roseetta

Watch Rosetta’s entire mission in four minutes — With the historic Rosetta mission now over, the ESA has compiled a four-minute simulation showing the spacecraft’s complete journey as it weaved around Comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko.
~ Certainly saves some time. 

Trumps idiocy may drive some science — President-elect Donald Trump is tweeting again about the F-35 fighter jet. Last week, he said the F-35 program costs have gone “out of control,” and he was right, sort of. Except now his proposed solution appears to be a physically impossible fantasy plane. He has also decided what the world needs now is a new nuclear arms race.
~ Democracy has failed us. 

mjc0nzc1mq

Stanford built a humanoid submarine robot to explore a 17th-century shipwreck — Back in April, Stanford University professor Oussama Khatib led a team of researchers on an underwater archaeological expedition, 30 kilometres off the southern coast of France, to La Lune, King Louis XIV’s sunken 17th-century flagship. Rather than dive to the site of the wreck 100 metres below the surface, which is a very bad idea for almost everyone, Khatib’s team brought along a custom-made humanoid submarine robot called Ocean One.
~ Wel, that’s what I’d do. If I had a Stanford. 

The world’s first solar road has officially opened in the small village of Tourouvre-au-Perche in Normandy, France — The solar road is 1 kilometre long and can generate enough electricity to power the street lights. The panels have been covered in a silicon-based resin that allows them to withstand the weight of passing big rigs, and if the road performs as expected, Royal wants to see solar panels installed across 1000 kilometers of French highway. There are numerous issues, however.
~ No parking. 

Stunning images show Earth’s imperilled water — Throughout Earth’s 4.37 billion year history, water has been a constant—and in constant flux. During some periods, it’s covered the planet in glaciers. During other, warmer periods, it saturates the atmosphere into a planetary greenhouse. These days, the planet is thawing off from it’s last ice cycle — and being warmed at an unprecedented rate by industrialised civilisation. DigitalGlobe wanted to know what the state of Earth’s water currently looked like, so deployed an army of high-definition drones to snap pictures over four billion square kilometers of water-formed landscapes.
~ At least its photogenic.

North Pole’s alarming warming — So far 2016 is the hottest year on record (the only thing that could pull 12 months of above-average temperatures down now is if our sun suddenly vanished, and in that case we’ve got bigger problems). And if the north pole is any indicator, freak hot weather isn’t going away. In fact, it seems to be getting freakier.
~ As Gizmodo’s scribe puts it, “Santa’s elves must be sweating their pants off up there.”

Futurology ~ Cassini’s rings, space mechanic, weight of humanity, binary brains, Caesarians and evolution, the future


a9u2hohxuiqubkka3u0d

Cassini’s ring grazing orbits — A collage of images of Saturn’s stormy north pole was captured by Cassini on December 2nd, from a distance of approximately  640,000 kilometres( 400,000 miles), as the spacecraft was plunging toward the outer rim of the F-ring. The images above were taken with four different spectral filters, each of which reveals gases in different layers of Saturn’s atmosphere.
~ In that hexagonal storm on the right engulfing Saturn’s north, each wall is as wide as Earth.

NASA is building a space mechanic — You would never buy a hundred million-dollar computer without a repair plan, but that’s exactly what NASA does when it sends costly satellites into space. To ensure that its prized eyes-in-the-sky don’t become the solar system’s most expensive e-waste, the space agency is now building a robot capable of repairing and refueling satellites in orbit.
~ Grease, lube and solar panel change, please.

Weight of humanity — A study published in The Anthropocene Review has taken a stab at estimating the weight of Earth’s “technosphere”: all of the structures people have built, modified, or messed with in order to live here. As defined in the journal’s paper, the technosphere includes everything from factories to smartphones to the land we’ve farmed, and the planet-wide mountain of garbage we’ve created.
So far, they reckon it’s 30 trillion tons or roughly  50 kilos (110 pounds) of human-made crap per square meter.
~ Actually, if you think about it, we haven’t ‘added’ anything, as it’s all basically repurposed Earth stuff.

The brain’s basic computational algorithm is organised by power-of-two-based logic — So reports Sci-News, citing a neuroscientist at Augusta University’s Medical College. Researchers from the US and China have documented the algorithm at work in seven different brain regions involved with basics like food and fear in mice and hamsters.
~ Well, that’s a relief. Or not. 

Caesarians changing evolution — A new study from the University of Vienna, suggests that Cesarean sections are changing the trajectory of human evolution, altering physical characteristics in both mothers and babies. Trouble is, the researchers presented virtually no empirical evidence to support their extraordinary claim, and the credulous media simply took it at face-value.
~ Et tu. 

The future — It’s that time of year again, when people try and project and predict the future. To the future! It’s going to happen, but who really knows how? For one thing, in 2017 there will be a new iPhone, Kaby Lake CPUs will make it to the Mac, and Apple has been working on VR and Ai and AR so hopefully we’ll see something. Meanwhile, Wired has a podcast of more general predictions.
~ And Trump will make more stupid tweets and people of conscience will quail anew.

Futurology ~ Humanity to space, Mars traces, weather satellite, strange numbers, tall modular building, fast-charger, plastic muscles, climate strains


Brroklyn now has 363 pre-fab apartments stacked into a 32-stroey block: the world's tallest modular building
Brroklyn now has 363 pre-fab apartments stacked into a 32-storey block: the world’s tallest modular building sits at 461 Dean.

Humanity’s space future — Getting out of Earth’s gravity well is hard. Conventional rockets are expensive, wasteful, and as we’re frequently reminded, very dangerous. Thankfully, there are alternative ways of getting ourselves and all our stuff off this rock. Here’s how we’ll get from Earth to space in the future.
~ The alternative is make room, make room!

No life on Mars, but possible traces there was once — If we ever get proof of past life on Mars, it’ll come in the form of biosignatures, fingerprints that could only have been left by living organisms. We’re a long way from finding that smoking gun evidence, but an analysis of silica minerals discovered by NASA’s Spirit rover pushes us one step closer. Because of their similarity to silica deposits shaped by microbial life on Earth, these intriguing Martian minerals are now being called a “potential biosignature.”
~ ‘Potential biosignature’ sounds like a description of Trump’s appointees.  Further examination required. 

Better weather analysis — NASA and NOAA have launched the Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite-R (GOES-R), the United States’ most advanced weather satellite yet, to study extreme storms, tornadoes, fires, lightning, and solar activity at unparalleled resolution.
GOES-R is on its way to a geostationary orbit 35,888kms (22,300 miles) above the Earth. When it reaches its destination, it becomes the first of a new generation of Earth-observing spacecraft that will extend NOAA’s ability to monitor weather in the western hemisphere until 2036.
~ So, how GOES-R it?

Strange number collisions — At the Hadron Collider in Geneva, physicists shoot protons around a 27-kilometre track and smash them together at nearly the speed of light. It’s one of the most finely tuned scientific experiments in the world, but when trying to make sense of the quantum debris, physicists begin with a strikingly simple tool called a Feynman diagram that’s not that different from how a child would depict the situation. But at a certain point, the logic starts to diverge
~ I do like the term ‘perturbative expansion’. 

World’s tallest modular building points to the future — 461 Dean has become the world’s tallest modular building. Designed by New York architecture firm SHoP, the Brooklyn residential tower consists of 363 pre-fab apartments that stack like Tetris blocks into a 32-story building. It’s an impressive architectural feat, to be sure—but 461 Dean is also an important test of modular design’s potential to make cities more affordable.
~ ‘I’m leaving, and taking my apartment with me!’

Battery charges in seconds, lasts a week — A new type of battery that lasts for days after a few seconds’ charge has been created by researchers at the University of Central Florida. The high-powered battery is packed with supercapacitors that can store a large amount of energy. It looks like a thin piece of flexible metal that is about the size of a finger nail and could be used in phones, electric vehicles and wearables, according to the researchers.
~ Path. Beat. Door.

New plastic muscles — Researchers at MIT have found a way to use cheap, nylon plastic as an artificial muscle, we’re now one step closer to creating artificial humans—and opulent fantasy theme parks.
~ So don’t throw away those shopping bags just yet.

Will human evolution be shaped by climate change? Probably not, as it’s happening too quickly, but these eminents all have interesting takes on the concept.
~ There’ll be some tech fixes while the super-rich build dream bio-homes and the poor suffer unimaginably, that’s my take.