Tag Archives: Futurology

Futurology ~ Star gobbler, Mars helicopter, robo-varieties, Tesla power, 100,000 Einstein gamers, ancient pollution in Greenland


A fleet of 7-metre (23-foot) neon-orange sailboats will catch the wind with a solid wing more durable than a cloth sail, collecting extensive ocean data

Back Hole gobbles suns — This bloated supermassive black hole has an equally bloated name, QSO SMSS J215728.21-360215.1, or J2157-3602 for short. At 12 billion light-years away, it’s not close, so we’re observing this bright behemoth not as it is today, but as it existed some four billion years after the Big Bang.
Observations show that J2157-3602 is the size of about 20 billion suns, and it’s growing at a rate of 1 per cent every million years. Every two days, this black hole devours a mass equivalent to our Sun, gobbling up dust, gas, bits of celestial debris, and whatever else it can suck in using its powerful gravitational influence.
~ ‘J2157-3602’ for short? I prefer Ancient Sun Gobbler.

Ninth planet — Astronomers have realised that the motions of the objects past our eighth planet, Neptune, imply the existence of the ninth planet we deserve (compared to demoted Pluto, which is smaller than our moon). The theorised planet would be 10 times the mass of the Earth and take a long, eccentric orbit around the Sun. And just this week, scientists reported another strangely moving rock that bolsters the evidence for a ninth planet’s existence.
The new object, called 2015 BP519, takes an elliptical journey around the Sun spanning from 35 to 862 times the radius of Earth’s own orbit. But while the eight known planets orbit the Sun on the same plane, like slot cars on concentric tracks, 2015 BP519 orbits at a 54-degree angle to that plane.
~ Poor Pluto, you were just too little. 

Mars helicopter — NASA will be testing heavier-than-air flight on Mars by sending a miniature robot helicopter with the upcoming Mars 2020 rover.
The four-pound helicopter’s rotors will spin at 3000rpms, 10 times faster than helicopters here on Earth, according to a NASA release. That’s because the Martian atmosphere is only about 1% the density of Earth’s.
~ Well, it sounds more like a drone to me. Speaking of which …

Robo-sailboats — A start-up in California called Saildrone has built a fleet of robotic sailboats to gather tons of data about the oceans. The saildrones (main picture, above) rely on a hard, carbon-fibre sail to catch wind, and solar panels to power all of their electronics and sensors. Each drone carries at least US$100,000 of electronics, batteries, and related gear. Devices near the tip of the sail measure wind speed and direction, sunlight, air temperature and pressure, and humidity. Across the top of the drone’s body, other electronics track wave height and period, carbon dioxide levels, and the strength of the Earth’s magnetic field. Underwater, sensors monitor currents, dissolved oxygen levels, and water temperature, acidity, and salinity. Sonars and other acoustic instruments try to identify animal life.
~ Hopefully they also have ship avoidance equipment. 

Flying robot-insect — One of the RoboBee’s creators has helped develop RoboFly, which flies without a tether. Slightly heavier than a toothpick, RoboFly was designed by a team at the University of Washington. One member of that team, assistant professor Sawyer Fuller, was also part of the Harvard University team that first created RoboBee. That flying robot receives its power via a wire attached to an external power source, as an onboard battery would simply be too heavy to allow the tiny craft to fly, but instead of a wire or a battery, RoboFly is powered by a laser.
That laser shines on a photovoltaic cell is mounted on top of the robot. That cell converts the laser light to just seven volts of electricity, so a built-in circuit boosts that to the 240 volts needed to flap the wings. That circuit also contains a microcontroller, which tells the robot when and how to flap its wings – on RoboBee, that sort of ‘thinking’ is handled via a tether-linked external controller.
~ It’s slightly larger than a  real fly.

Tesla power for  Europe — Tesla has unveiled a new large Powerpack energy storage project to be used as a virtual power plant for grid-balancing in Europe. It consists of 140 Powerpacks and several Tesla inverters for a total power output of 18.2 MW. Instead of using gas generators and steam turbines kicking to compensate for losses of power on the grid, Tesla’s batteries are charged when there’s excess power and then discharge when there’s a need for more power.
~ Hopefully they’ll make some money for the scattershot genius. 

100,000 gamers prove Einstein wrong — On 30 November 2016, around 100,000 people all over the world logged online and played a video game. The physics that govern the most basic aspects of our universe relies on maths that seems to work really well, but one concept, quantum entanglement, can seem downright upsetting. Entanglement confounded Einstein because of the way it seems to instantly send information faster than the speed of light. Einstein thought perhaps there were some hidden variables that would explain the entanglement without superluminal travel – if you just knew more about a quantum system, you’d be able to predict the properties of two entangled particles.
But the new experiment lead by Morgan Mitchell from the Institut de Ciències Fotòniques in Spain, called the BIG Bell Test, demonstrated that, sorry Einstein, your idea wasn’t right.
~ Because Quantum Mechanics is just weird.

Ancient Greece and Ancient Rome polluted, and the evidence is in Greenland — By drilling deep into Greenland’s ice sheet, an interdisciplinary team of researchers has chronicled the industrial waste produced by the ancient Greeks and Romans over a 1900-year period, linking pollution to economic booms, wars, and even plagues.
An indelible aspect of the ancient Greek and Roman economies involved the mining and smelting of lead and silver ores. The resulting emissions drifted up into the atmosphere, travelled thousands of miles, and eventually settled onto Greenland’s frozen surface. In a cyclical process that lasted for centuries, snow and ice covered this lead pollution, creating numerous sedimentary layers, and by consequence, a geological record extending for hundreds of feet into the ice.
~ Jeeze, imagine the mess our era has left a few layers above, then!

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Futurology ~ Cosmic seasons, submarine metamaterial, brain-like AI, wacky asteroid, Turing chemistry


If Jupiter and Saturn hopped around early in the Solar System’s history, they might have caused quite a commotion – and this asteroid may be evidence of that cosmic dance.

Distant planets affect out climate — Jupiter and Venus are such strong influences because of their size and proximity. Venus is the nearest planet to us – at its farthest, it’s ‘only’ about 260 million kilometres (162 million miles) and it’s roughly similar to Earth in mass. Jupiter is much farther away, but is the Solar System’s largest planet. The study says that every 405,000 years, due to wobbles in our orbit caused by the gravitational pulls of the two planets, seasonal differences here on Earth become more intense. Summers are hotter and winters colder; dry times drier, wet times wetter.
The results showed that the 405,000-year cycle is the most regular astronomical pattern linked to the Earth’s annual turn around the sun. Now we are in the middle of the cycle, as the most recent peak was around 200,000 years ago.
~ So you don’t need to shop for that season quite yet. 

Metamaterial bends water-born sound — Some of these materials (engineered objects with specific properties) display mind-bending physical properties including the blackest black, and ‘anti-magnets’. One potentially important metamaterial would be one that could control the direction of sound waves. Researchers led by research associate Amanda Hanford recently debuted their attempt at creating a sound-scattering metamaterial at the 175th Meeting of the Acoustical Society of America in Minneapolis. The researchers created the 90cm perforated steel pyramid, put it in a tank of water, and hit it with sound waves between 7000 and 12000 Hz in frequency. The material seemed to deflect the waves, based on the readings in the tank’s receivers.
~ Submarine cloaking device, then? 

Navigation AI develops brain-like location tracking — Now that DeepMind has solved Go, the company is applying DeepMind to navigation. Navigation relies on knowing where you are in space relative to your surroundings and continually updating that knowledge as you move. DeepMind scientists trained neural networks to navigate like this in a square arena, mimicking the paths that foraging rats took as they explored the space. The networks got information about the rat’s speed, head direction, distance from the walls, and other details. To researchers’ surprise, the networks that learned to successfully navigate this space had developed a layer akin to grid cells. This was surprising because it is the exact same system that mammalian brains use to navigate.
~ Or not, in my case sometimes. New Lynn, what do you do to my built-in GPS!!??

Wacky asteroid — A rock that formed in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter seems to have somehow travelled to the orbit of Neptune, according to a new observation. When they took a closer look at it with the Very Large Telescope in Chile, it appeared to have been made of materials normally associated with asteroids much closer to the Sun (ie iron, silicon and carbon). Planets and asteroids are usually composed from the stuff that was available in the region where they formed.
~ Maybe it’s lost in space. 

Turing’s chemistry hypothesis as a Destination Filter — Alan Turing is rightly famed for his contributions to computer science. But one of his key concepts – an autonomous system that can generate complex behaviour from a few simple rules – also has applications in unexpected places, like animal behaviour. One area where Turing himself applied the concept is in chemistry, and he published a paper describing how a single chemical reaction could create complex patterns like stripes if certain conditions are met. It took us decades to figure out how to actually implement Turing’s ideas about chemistry, but we’ve managed to create a number of reactions that display the behaviors he described. And now, a team of Chinese researchers has figured out how to use them to make something practical: a highly efficient desalination membrane.

Futurology ~ Space fission, moon ice, feeling robot, graphene-create, sound camera, new humans, HIV, ancient Philippines


Evidence of lunar water may actually exist right here on Earth in the form of moganite trapped within lunar meteorites

Successful nuclear fission test for space use — NASA and the US Department of Energy say they have successfully tested a new type of nuclear reactor that could one day provide juice to colonies on other worlds. The reactor can power several homes (it outputs about 10 kilowatts) and appears able to operate in harsh environments. The new reactor uses more-conventional uranium fuel with a core about the size of a paper towel roll, the reactor can turn pistons that can run a generator.
Scientists believe it could run continuously for a decade or so, making deep space travel a lot simpler. They also gave it a catchy acronym: KRUSTY, which stands for Kilopower Reactor Using Stirling TechnologY.
~ Well, I like the acronym. It’s certainly better than ‘the Kilopower’!

Africa, meteorite, moon ice — Scientists have discovered traces of moganite in a lunar meteorite that was discovered 13 years ago in Africa. This mineral requires water to form, so its discovery is being taken as potential confirmation that frozen water exists beneath the Moon’s dusty surface.
~ ‘Potential confirmation’ sounds like Trumpian Newspeak. 

Pinhead robot lets you feel objects — Researchers at Stanford University have come up with a way for your hands and fingers to feel virtual objects with a unique robot that looks like an animated version of those Pin Art toys.
ShapeShift looks like a small desktop PC augmented with a dense grid of rectangular pins on top. When it’s moved around on a flat surface such as a table, a tracking marker syncs the location of the ShapeShift box to the location of the user’s hands in a virtual reality world.
~ But is that distant kitten fluffy?

A better concrete with graphene — In a recent study, University of Exeter’s Center for Graphene Science used nanoengineering technology to add graphene to concrete production. The resulting graphene concrete is two times stronger than traditional concrete and four times as water resistant, but with a much smaller carbon footprint compared to the conventional process of making concrete. The addition of graphene cuts back on the amount of materials needed in concrete production by nearly 50% and reduces carbon emissions by 446kg per ton.
~ Concrete production emits that much carbon? Crikey!

Sound camera — CAE Systems’ SOUNDCAM, currently making its way through a Kickstarter campaign, doesn’t generate images using only noise. What it does do is show you where sound is emanating from via its rear touchscreen and includes distance info and other interesting data.
~ Er, so now I rename my ears ‘SoundCams’? Coz they do the same thing. 

Human cells impervious to viruses — Two years ago, a consortium of scientists, lawyers, and entrepreneurs announced a plan to synthesise an artificial human genome from scratch – an extremely ambitious endeavour that’s struggled to secure funding. Project organisers have now disclosed details of a scaled-down version of the venture, but with a goal that’s still quite audacious: creating human cells invulnerable to infections.
~ Hey, ultra rich, the future just looks better and better for you. 

HIV antibody drug — A team led by scientists from the University of Hong Kong has developed a new antibody drug that will not only protect people from contracting HIV but also serve as a long-acting treatment for the virus, unlike current medication that must be taken daily.
~ Good news.

Ancient Philippine humans hunted rhino — Our species, Homo sapiens, weren’t the first humans to leave Africa by a long shot. The remarkable discovery of a 709,000-year-old butchered rhino fossil in the Philippines shows that so-called archaic humans were romping around the islands of southeast Asia a full 400,000 years before our species even existed.
~ I wonder what that tasted like. Tough?

Futurology ~ Galactic map, home-bound aliens, Spooky Action, DNA structure, arm-projector, Euro-AI


(A rendering of the “twisted knot” DNA structure. Illustration: Zeraati et al., Nat Chem, 2018)

Biggest galactic map yet — Astronomers from the European Space Agency’s Gaia mission will release the biggest map of our galaxy ever, using data collected by the Gaia space telescope. That includes 1.7 billion stars, as well as new information that could potentially solve some cosmic mysteries.
~ Well, sniff, I will of course be hanging out for version 3 with the Spectral Data …

Aliens stuck at home … maybe literally — Rocky worlds larger than Earth are commonplace in the galaxy, and a few of them may even be habitable. Which poses an interesting question: how difficult would it be for aliens living on these super-Earths to launch rockets into space, given the tremendous gravity? According to new research, it would be difficult to the point of impossibility – meaning that some aliens may be perpetually trapped on their home worlds.
~ Which also makes them rather hard to visit. 

Uranus really does smell — According to a study published in Nature Astronomy, scientists have determined the atmosphere of Uranus smells like rotten eggs. The smell of Uranus was determined by the use of an Near-Infrared Integral Field Spectrometer (NIFS), an instrument that allows scientists to determine what an atmosphere is composed of based upon the reflections of sunlight that bounce off of it.
~ Now surely they could have made the spectrometer’s acronym ‘SNIF’? Come on, people! Bit of effort here. 

Einstein shows his Spooky Action — For the first time, scientists have managed to show quantum entanglement – which Einstein famously described as “spooky action at a distance” – happening between macroscopic objects, a major step forward in our understanding of quantum physics. Quantum entanglement links particles in a way that they instantly affect each other, even over vast distances. On the surface, this powerful bond defies classical physics and, generally, our understanding of reality, which is why Einstein found it so spooky.
~ And it smells like roses. 

Australian scientists discover another human DNA structure — Scientists have identified the existence of a new DNA structure that looks more like a twisted, four-stranded knot than the double helix we all know from high school biology. The newly identified structure, detailed in the journal Nature Chemistry, could play a crucial role in how DNA is expressed.
Some research had previously suggested the existence of DNA in this tangled form, dubbed an i-motif (main picture above), but it had never before been detected in living cells outside of the test tube. Researchers at the Garvan Institute of Medical Research in Australia, though, found that not only does the structure exist in living human cells, but it is even quite common.
~ Good effort there. 

Arm projector — Researchers at Carnegie Mellon University, however, have now created a smartwatch prototype with a built-in projector that turns the wearer’s arm into a smartphone-sized touchscreen.
Despite what you may have seen on crowdfunding sites, the LumiWatch is the first smartwatch to integrate a fully-functional laser projector and sensor array, allowing a screen projected on a user’s skin to be poked, tapped and swiped just like a traditional touchscreen.
~ Yeah, how long is your arm going to last in an intense game? And so I will invent the Mouse Pad Sleeve, mwa-ah-ahh!

European AI — Leading scientists have drawn up plans for a vast multinational European institute devoted to world-class artificial intelligence (AI) research in a desperate bid to nurture and retain top talent in Europe.
The new institute would be set up for similar reasons as Cern, the particle physics lab near Geneva, which was created after the Second World War to rebuild European physics and reverse the brain drain of the brightest and best scientists to the US. Named the European Lab for Learning and Intelligent Systems, or Ellis, the proposed AI institute would have major centres in a handful of countries, the *UK included, with each employing hundreds of computer engineers, mathematicians and other scientists with the express aim of keeping Europe at the forefront of AI research.
~ Oh wait: sorry, UK, you had all those insular twits voting for Brexit, so maybe not. 

Futurology ~ Stargazing, 3D bridge, antarctic veggies, new Nazca lines, Roman refrigerators, four-eyed lizard


MX3D in Amsterdam has almost completed the world’s first 3D=-printed bridge

Using Relativity to magnify stargazing — Two teams of scientists report seeing single, twinkling stars in galaxies billions of light years away with the help of the Hubble Space Telescope. All they needed was Albert Einstein’s theory of general relativity.
~ And I thought that theory was about my Uncle Eddie. 

Milky Way centre has loads of black holes — The supermassive black hole lurking at the center of our galaxy appears to have a lot of company, according to a new study that suggests the monster is surrounded by about 10,000 other black holes.
~ Holey heck.

The first 3d-printed steel bridge looks like it broke off an alien mothership — MX3D in Amsterdam just revealed the world’s first 3D-printed bridge. It’s made of a completely new type of steel, spans 12.19m (main picture, above), and will be installed early next year in De Wallen, the largest and best-known red-light district in Amsterdam. It also looks utterly otherworldly.
~ The pimps and pushers will be pleased. 

Antarctic vegetables — As temperatures outside dipped to well below freezing, and as blizzards pounded the Antarctic research station, German scientists were carefully tending to a remarkable veggie garden – one requiring no soil or natural sunlight. The success of their first harvest, which produced vibrant-looking lettuce, radishes, cucumbers and other treats, represents a promising test run for similar greenhouses that could one day be built on Mars – or beyond.
~ Iceberg lettuce, anyone? 

Archaeologists have now found ‘new’ Nazca lines with the help of drones — Peruvian archaeologists armed with drones have discovered more than 50 new examples of these mysterious desert monuments in adjacent Palpa province, traced onto the earth’s surface in lines almost too fine to see with the human eye. In addition, archaeologists surveyed locally known geoglyphs with drones for the first time – mapping them in never-before-seen detail.
~ It’s a sign. 

Roman refrigerators — Archaeologists in Switzerland are conducting an experiment to figure out how ancient Romans used a series of deep shafts to keep food cool well into the summer months. The shafts were discovered in 2013 at Augusta Raurica, an archaeological site located near the Swiss city of Basel. The Roman colony was founded in 15 BC, and it soon blossomed into a vibrant metropolis and trade hub that was home to around 15,000 to 20,000 people. Today, Augusta Raurica remains one of the best-preserved Roman cities north of the Swiss Alps.
~ Really? To get cold in Switzerland, just walk up  hill!

Four-eyed lizard — An ancient species of monitor lizard that went extinct some 34 million years ago had four eyes, according to new research. It’s the first time that scientists have ever seen such a thing in a jawed terrestrial animal – an observation that’s filling a gap in our understanding of how these features evolved.
~ Ah, but was four-eyed forewarned? 

Futurology ~ Superfast supernova, brown planet, alien DNA, water, better ears, Petaflopper, spiderbot, paper like LCD, Canadian footprints, Neanderthal skeleton


Spider-bot transforms into a wheel for fast rolling

Rare supernova extinguishes star at record speed — Using data collected by the Kepler space telescope, an international team of astronomers led by Brad Tucker from Australian National University has documented the death throes of a star located 1.3 billion light-years away. Known as KSN 2015K, this unprecedented FELT reached its maximum brightness in just 2.2 days, which is 10 times faster than standard supernovae.
~ Or it’s a pretty full-on war in a distant galaxy …

Brown planet reopens debate — Scientists have discovered a planet a lot like Jupiter orbiting a dim star, if you can even call it a star – it’s nothing like our Sun. The finding once again makes us wonder: what is a planet, anyway?
~ I’m going with ‘big round thing in space that orbits and is not on fire’. 

Alien DNA — If an alien life form is alien, how will we know what it is? DNA and RNA are the building blocks of life on Earth, but the molecules of life might differ substantially on another planet. So if scientists combing, say, the potentially habitable waters of Jupiter’s moon Europa were to stumble across a new life form, how could they know what they had discovered? Aha – scientists at Georgetown University suggest a method for identifying alien life using modern genome sequencing technology.
~ Please open your carapace, sir and/or madam, we would like to take a swab. 

Slippery-rough engineered surface harvests water — A slippery rough surface (SRS) inspired by both pitcher plants and rice leaves outperforms state-of-the-art liquid-repellent surfaces in water harvesting applications, according to a team of researchers at Penn State and the University of Texas at Dallas.
~ Then we can bottle the water and add the little bits of plastic. 

Cat-like ‘hearing’ with device tens of trillions times smaller than human eardrum — Researchers are developing atomically thin ‘drumheads’ tens of trillions of times thinner than the human eardrum able to receive and transmit signals across a radio frequency range far greater than what we can hear with the human ear. Their work will likely contribute to making the next generation of ultralow-power communications and sensory devices smaller and with greater detection and tuning ranges.
~ Have to go – I just heard my cat. 

NVIDIA’s 2 Petaflop DGX-2 AI Supercomputer with 32GB Tesla V100 and NVSwitch Tech — NVIDIA CEO Jensen Huang recently announced a number of GPU-powered innovations for machine learning, including a new AI supercomputer and an updated version of the company’s powerful Tesla V100 GPU that now sports a hefty 32GB of on-board HBM2 memory. NVIDIA claims NVSwitch is five times faster than the fastest PCI Express switch and offers an aggregate 2.4TB per second of bandwidth.
~  All the better to monitor us with. 

Terahertz chips — Following three years of extensive research, physicists have created technology that will enable our computers – and all optic communication devices – to run 100 times faster through terahertz microchips.

Bionic wheelbot — Using eight reconfigurable legs, the BionicWheelBot can creepily crawl along the ground, but then transform into a wheel and roll at an alarming speed.
~ It can tiptoe through tricky terrain then quickly roll through the flat bits. 

A paperlike LCD is thin, flexible, tough and cheap — Optoelectronic engineers have manufactured a special type of LCD that is paper-thin, flexible, light and tough. With this, a newspaper could be uploaded onto a flexible paperlike display that could be updated as fast as the news cycles. It sounds futuristic, but scientists reckon it will be cheap to produce, perhaps only costing US$5 for a 5-inch screen.
~ I can almost guarantee the last word in its description will be gone by the time this becomes available. 

Sewage sludge leads to biofuels breakthrough — Researchers have discovered a new enzyme that will enable microbial production of a renewable alternative to petroleum-based toluene, a widely used octane booster in gasoline that has a global market of 29 million tons per year.
~ Isn’t toluene also carcinogenic? 

13,000-year-old human footprints found off Canada’s Pacific coast — Human footprints found off Canada’s Pacific coast may be 13,000 years old, according to a new study. The finding adds to the growing body of evidence supporting the hypothesis that humans used a coastal route to move from Asia to North America during the last ice age.
~ So that rules out flying. 

Secrets of famous Neanderthal skeleton La Ferrassie 1 revealed — Anthropologists have provided new insights on one of the most famous Neanderthal skeletons, discovered over 100 years ago: La Ferrassie 1. Nearly all of the fractures were made post-mortem. La Ferrassie 1 was an old man (likely over 50 years old) who suffered various broken bones during his lifetime and had ongoing respiratory issues when he died. The skeleton was found in a burial pit and dated to between 40,000 and 54,000 years old.
~ The weight of sediments snapped the bones. 

Futurology ~ Sodium Earth, medical advances, green tech, DNA-RNA etc


Schema DRESDYN: 3-D-Modell der Anlage (Nov. 2015)

Scientists building a mini-Earth with 8 tonnes of spinning liquid sodium — Many scientists still don’t know much about our planet’s magnetosphere, and about planetary magnetic fields in general. There are several effects hypothesised to add to this “dynamo” that drives the magnetic field. Some think it’s related to the buoyancy of the metals inside the Earth, for example. But these scientists want to know how precession, like the motion of a wobbling top, adds into the mix.
To try to figure it out, German scientists are recreating the Earth in a lab. Sort of.
~Data by 2020. Now there’s a vision. 

Of which, UK doctors used stem cells to restore eyesight in two people — Two elderly patients with macular degeneration at Moorfields Eye Hospital in London were given a cutting-edge stem cell therapy as part of a small trial to improve vision for people with sudden and severe loss of vision caused by what’s known as ‘wet’ macular degeneration, in which abnormal blood vessels grow under the retina and macula in the eye. ‘Wet’ macular degeneration is less common than ‘dry’ macular degeneration, but it is a more severe form of the disease. The two patients in the study went from not being able to read even with glasses, to reading 60 to 80 words per minute with normal reading glasses.
~ Further trials needed …

Wearable MRI scanner — British scientists have invented a new type of brain scanner that patients can wear on their head allowing them to move while being tested.
Neuroscientists will be able to envisage a whole new world of experiments with such a device, which looks like a prop (left) from a budget sci-fi movie or phantom of the opera.
~ And it’s called ‘Meg’. I prefer ‘Nut Meg’. 

Editing RNA, not DNA, could cure disease one day — DNA is the code of life, and so advances that allow us to edit that code have unlocked vast potential, from simply editing away the buggy code of disease, to engineering animals that don’t spread illness, to, maybe one day in a distant future, creating so-called designer babies. But editing another essential molecular component of our biology – RNA, the messenger used by cells to turns DNA instructions into proteins – also holds great promise.
~ RNA turns genetic instructions from DNA into proteins.

Machine learning spots treasure trove of elusive viruses — Researchers have used artificial intelligence (AI) to discover nearly 6000 previously unknown species of virus. The work illustrates an emerging tool for exploring the enormous, largely unknown diversity of viruses on Earth. Although viruses influence everything from human health to the degradation of trash, they are hard to study. Scientists cannot grow most viruses in the lab, and attempts to identify their genetic sequences are often thwarted because their genomes are tiny and evolve fast.
~ One man’s treasure is …

First proof a synthesised antibiotic is capable of treating superbugs — A ‘game changing’ new antibiotic which is capable of killing superbugs has been successfully synthesized and used to treat an infection for the first time – and could lead to the first new class of antibiotic drug in 30 years.
~ It’s a simplified, synthesised form of teixobactin.

Researchers create new low-cost, sustainable material for reducing air and water pollution — A new ‘green’ material made from solid wastes and natural polymers promises better results than activated carbon in adsorbing pollutants in wastewater and air. The material is synthesized inexpensively from solid wastes and a naturally abundant polymer, and can cut down pollutants in air and wastewater with more success than activated carbon, the current gold standard adsorbent.
~ Is that hoisting waste by its own petard? 

Bacteria eat greenhouse gas with a side of protein — With the ability to leech heavy metals from the environment and digest a potent greenhouse gas, methanotrophic bacteria pull double duty when it comes to cleaning up the environment. But before researchers can explore potential conservation applications, they first must better understand the bacteria’s basic physiological processes. New research has identified two never-before-studied proteins, called MbnB and MbnC, as partially responsible for the bacteria’s inner workings.
~ If it eats, what does it excrete?

New valve technology promises cheaper, greener engines — New technology reliably and affordably increases the efficiency of internal combustion engines by more than 10 per cent. The patented system for opening and closing valves could significantly reduce fuel consumption in everything from ocean-going ships to compact cars.
~ Aha, but what about compact ocean-going cars?

IBM unveils the ‘World’s Smallest Computer’ — On the first day of IBM Think 2018, the company’s flagship conference, IBM has unveiled what it claims is the world’s smallest computer. It’s smaller than a grain of salt and features the computer power of the x86 chip from 1990.
The computer will cost less than ten cents to manufacture, and will also pack “several hundred thousand transistors,” according to the company. These will allow it to “monitor, analyze, communicate, and even act on data.”
~ It’s a bit hard to see the screen, though, and typing, what a nightmare!

Graphene makes better hair dye — Researchers at Northwestern University think they have stumbled upon an unexpected new use for the so-called supermaterial graphene: an easy-to-apply, safer and sturdier black hair dye that could give other permanent dyes a run for their money. The new dye even made hair immune to frizz and static electricity.
~ Finally, a real use for Graphene! 

Genomes of five late Neandertals provide insights into Neandertal population history — Researchers have sequenced the genomes of five Neandertals who lived between 39,000 and 47,000 years ago. These late Neandertals are all more closely related to the Neandertals that contributed DNA to modern human ancestors than an older Neandertal from the Altai Mountains that was previously sequenced. Their genomes also provide evidence for a turnover in the Neandertal population towards the end of Neandertal history.
~ And there was  hoping one sample at least was from Zurich, so I could write ‘Genomes of Zurich’… but no, they were from Croatia, Siberia and the Russian Caucasus.

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.