Tag Archives: Futurology

Futurology ~ Rosetta weirder, nanosatellites, Pluto’s weird glow, Musk alien, synthesised human genome, free Chilean solar, origin of dogs

A photo of Pluto revealed an odd glowing patch
A photo of Pluto revealed an odd glowing patch

Rosetta’s comet is even weirder than we thought — If you thought a comet that contains the building blocks of life and creates its own weather couldn’t get any more interesting, think again. Scientists finally have a theory as to why comet 67P — also known as Rosetta’s comet — has two distinct lobes. It’s actually two distinct comets, which break up, orbit one another and smash together again and again for all of cometary eternity. And despite how strange this relationship sounds, it may be a lot more common than we thought.
~ Break up to make up.

Autonomous nano satellites make up their now minds — Nanosatellites are small satellites with sizes ranging from a shoe box to a small suitcase are popular because they are cheap: just some communication gear and a few instruments. Also, they can piggyback onto other space missions. NASA is now preparing to launch in orbit around Mars two CubeSats, small satellites that will piggyback on InSight (Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport), NASA’s mission to understand the interior structure of Mars, now likely to be launched in 2018.
~ Now we can shotgun hundreds of little satellites instead of putting all the eggs into one basket. 

What is this weird glowing spot hovering over Pluto? Strange, glowing patches over Pluto are actually something else (almost) as mysterious. As researchers looked closer at a photo of sunlight streaming through Pluto’s haze (main picture, above), a question emerged: what’s that weird glowing patch in the upper right hand corner?
~ Researchers now think it’s probably just a cloud reflecting sunlight. Boring.

Elon Musk an alien? It’s easy to get a kick out of Musk’s quirky quotables. But the closer you look at his words and actions, the more you’ll start to see: he’s an alien who came from another galaxy to help save humanity. Here’s proof
~ I think you could level this charge at many public figures. 

Plans to synthesise the human genome — After it was reported three weeks ago that scientists have held a secret meeting to consider creating a synthetic human genome, the participants of that meeting have officially published their plans.
~ This can’t end well. Only the rich can afford it, and they’re ruining everything for the rest of us already. 

Chile giving away free solar energy — Chile’s solar industry has expanded so quickly it’s giving electricity away for free. Spot prices reached zero in parts of the country on 113 days through April, a number that’s on track to beat last year’s total of 192 days, according to Chile’s central grid operator. While that may be good for consumers, it’s bad news for companies that own power plants struggling to generate revenue and developers seeking financing for new facilities.
~ Here’s a thought: give it to struggling families instead of copper miners. 

Exoskin is  a programmable hybrid shape-changing material — Programmable matter isn’t a thing that we have a lot of experience with yet. It’s still very much a technology that’s slowly emerging from research labs. MIT is one of those research centres, and Basheer Tome, a masters student at the MIT Tangible Media Group, has been working on “membrane-backed rigid material,” called Exoskin, made up of tessellated triangles of firm silicone mounted on top of a stack of flexible silicone bladders. By selectively inflating these air bladders, the Exoskin can dynamically change its shape to react to your touch, communicate information, change functionality, and more.
~ Fire up the compressor out, we’re adding an extension!

We were wrong about the origin of dogs — The precise origin of domesticated dogs is mired in controversy. But a new study suggests dogs emerged from two different populations of ancient wolves. What’s more, this dual domestication happened on opposite sides of the Eurasian continent.
~ Meanwhile, humans have evolved to walk behind them picking up their poo.


Futurology ~ Mystery object, Mars tsunamis, Europa, better Aussie solar, chemical weapons, 3D in the air, dirt/paper, IBM beats flash, in-ear translator

Europa’s strange surface (Image:NASA/JPL-Caltech/SETI Institute)
Europa’s strange surface (Image:NASA/JPL-Caltech/SETI Institute)

Mystery object coming into focus past Pluto — Pluto may be long past, but NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft is by no means finished with the outer solar system. For the second time, New Horizons has observed 1994 JR1, a 145km-wide Kuiper Belt Object (KBO) that orbits over 3 billion miles from the sun.
The latest observations, made on April 7th and 8th by New Horizons’ Long Range Reconnaissance Imager and composited in the gif at this link, smash the spacecraft’s own record for our closest encounter with a KBO.
~ I have identified it – it’s a blob. 

Mega-tsunamis on Mars — Mars once featured a vast ocean that covered its northern hemisphere. New evidence suggests this Martian sea experienced at least two mega-tsunamis triggered by meteor impacts. Traces of these cataclysmic events can still be seen on the Martian surface, and they could still contain traces of ancient life.
~ It just sounds more and more attractive, doesn’t it?

Jupiter’s Europa more Earth-like — Europa, Jupiter’s watery ice-moon, has long attracted attention as a possible site for someday finding life. A new analysis shows its oceans may be even closer to our own. Oxygen production in both Earth and Europan oceans exceeds hydrogen production by almost exactly 10 times. This similarity in the proportions already has researchers pointing out that it could mean oceans on Europa could play a similar role to Earth’s oceans in spawning life.
~ But colder. 

Australian-invented solar panels most efficient — Most commercially available solar panels only are able to convert between 15 and 22% of the sunlight they’re exposed to into electricity. As part of an ongoing effort to improve the efficiency of increasingly important solar technology, a team from UNSW has created a solar cell module that boasts a world record efficiency rate of 34.5%.
~ The sun shines on Australia.

DARPA’s scheme to destroy chemical weapons — Agnostic Compact Demilitarization of Chemical Agents (or ACDC) yields no toxic waste products, and all of the tools are portable. One of McQuade’s set ups, a waste-to-energy engine, could run its electrical systems entirely off the power generated during combustion.
~ But it’s a long way to the top. 

3D printer works its magic in the air — Lasers and metal were part of 3D printing for decades before the machines became affordable for personal use. But researchers at Harvard are demonstrating a new technique by which 3D metal structures can be printed in midair, without the need for anything supporting them.
~ Magic! Alchemy!

IBM’s new storage is 50 times faster than Flash, and also cheaper — Flash storage is not as fast as RAM; but RAM can’t be used to store your regular files because of its volatile nature – ie that when the powers off it’s no longer holding data – and also RAM is expensive. It appears we may soon have the perfect middle ground: scientists at IBM have demonstrated reliably storing 3 bits of data per cell using a relatively new memory technology known as phase-change memory (PCM).
~ IBM, still in the game. 

A few scraps of paper can turn dirt into a super strong building material — As far as building materials go, they don’t come much cheaper than dirt, which is literally everywhere and mostly free. But soil isn’t terribly strong and has a habit of forming a shallow pile rather than more structurally-beneficial shapes. Luckily, making dirt super strong is incredibly easy.
~ Dirt. Cheap. 

Groundbreaking gadget claims to fit in your ear and translate foreign languages in real-time — A tiny gadget lets two people who speak a different language to each other yet understand each other. The gadget, called Pilot, translates English, French, Spanish and Italian. Pilot, which has yet to be launched, is priced at US$129.
It works by being connected to two different people, speaking two different languages, and translates what they are saying in your ear.But they have not said how it works except for that it uses ‘translation technology’ embedded in an app.
~ Roger, amigo. 

Futurology ~ Ceres bright spots, Venus, impossible drive, solar eclipse for coal, accidental battery breakthrough, brain waves, better fake muscles, old music, dinosaur theory


How Ceres’ bright spots were formed — We now have a good idea of what those bright spots on Ceres are, but the question of how they got there was mysterious. Now, an incredibly low-altitude image of the dwarf planet reveals details about their origins. Nasa’s Dawn spacecraft is currently in its lowest orbit over Ceres, just 386km above its surface, and it’s capturing the closest images (like that above) so far of the mysterious bright spots. Now we know that the glow likely comes from salt, and researchers have shifted their attention to the craters that house them. It turns out the craters are newer than we originally thought.
~ Hands up all those who hoped it was aliens waving lanterns, apart from me?

Something crazy about the atmosphere of Venus — Data from the European Space Agency’s first mission to Venus is back, and with it comes some fascinating insights into our nearest neighbor’s atmosphere. It turns out, parts of Venus are very, very cold thanks to data gathered as the probe crashed towards the surface.
~ That’s odd? I imagine most things in space to be cold. 

The ‘impossible’ EM Drive NASA is testing — The EmDrive, the so-called ‘impossible’ space drive that uses no propellant, has roiled the aerospace world for the past several years ever since it was proposed by British aerospace engineer Robert Shawyer. The claim advanced by Shawyer and others is that if you bounced microwaves in a truncated cone, thrust would be produced out the open end. Most scientists have snorted at the idea … but now MIT Technology Review has suggested how it might work after all.
~ Luckily I don’t own a microwave – otherwise I’d be off to the supermarket to buy some ice cream cones. 

Solar now cheaper than coal in India — India is on track to soar past a goal to deploy more than 100 gigawatts of solar power by 2022, the country’s energy minister Piyush Goyal has stated. Speaking at the release of a 15-point action plan for the country’s renewable sector, Goyal said he was now considering looking at “something more” for the fast-growing solar sector, since “I think a new coal plant would give you costlier power than a solar plant.”
~ Well, thank goodness for that. 

Researchers accidentally make batteries that could last a lifetime — A typical Lithium-ion battery breaks down badly between 5000-7000 cycles. Researchers at the University of California may have discovered a simple way to build a Lithium battery that can withstand over 100,000 cycles. This was a serendipitous discovery as the researcher was playing around with the battery and coated it in a thin gel layer. The researchers believe the gel plasticizes the metal oxide in the battery and gives it flexibility, preventing cracking.
~ Damn, I bet he was pissed off!

Researchers can Identify you by your brain waves with 100% accuracy — Scientists have developed a new system that can identify people using their brain waves or ‘brainprint’ with 100% accuracy, an advance that may be useful in high-security applications.
~ Well, I’ll just turn mine off, ha ha! Who wins then?

Super stretchy artificial muscles also self-heal — When you pull a muscle, it may hurt like heck for a while, but the human body can heal. The same is not true of the electrically-responsive polymers used to make artificial muscles for haptic systems and experimental robots. When they get cut or punctured, it’s game over — until this new polymer that’s super stretchy and self-healing.
~ No robo-yoga instructors required. 

Ancient song reconstructed — An ancient song repertory lost since the 11th century has been reconstructed by researchers from the University of Cambridge. Songs of Consolation was a medieval musical retelling of Roman philosopher Boethius’s magnum opus, The Consolation of Philosophy. You can listen to a short excerpt of the recovered work at this link.
~ I’ll wait for the rap version. 

We might be wrong about the reasons for the dinosaur extinction — A  study published in the Proceedings of the National Academies of Sciences today offers the strongest evidence yet that the extinction of the dinosaurs was less like a healthy tree getting toppled by a chainsaw, and more like a sickly one blowing over in a gust of wind.
~ Er, the wind blew and the dinosaurs fell over? OK, fine, whatever.

Futurology ~ Alien wow, Planet 9, space dustbin, DNA snaps, Photonic CPU, Zika resources, smart scalpel


Alien ‘wow’ signal explained after 40 years — A former analyst with the US Department of Defence is on the trail of a ‘cold case’ – an unexplained signal that some believe could have come from extraterrestrials. Way back in 1977 something amazing happened. Astronomer Jerry Ehman was using the Ohio State University’s Big Ear radio telescope to sweep the sky for possible signals from extraterrestrial civilisations. He found something. While pointing towards a grouping of stars called Chi Sagittarii on 15 August, he received a powerful blast of radio waves that lasted for 72 seconds. And finally, that may have been explained.
~ Ehman circled it on the readout and wrote: “Wow!” (shown above)

Guessing what Planet 9 looks like — The astronomical community is abuzz with the possibility that a ninth planet exists in the far reaches of the solar system. A new study by European scientists imagines what this hypothetical planet might look like, revealing important insights as to how we might actually find it.
~ My guess is ’roundish’.

Space dustbin — Developed by Added Value Solutions for the European Space Agency, a new device overcomes a problem that we don’t have to think about too much here on Earth: low gravity. If you use a drill or scoop to collect a sample on a low-gravity asteroid, it’s possible to push yourself away from the surface. Instead, this device uses three sets of rotating brushes that sweep dust into a central, hermetically sealed storage container. It will gather 113g in 20 seconds.
~ Sounds like a plan. Who wants dusty asteroids?

Scientists stored  images In DNA, then flawlessly retrieved them — A team of scientists has been able to store images within the life-defining molecules then retrieve them perfectly.
~ Is all about the ones and zeroes. But no, you can’t define what your kids will look like by uploading pictures of Richie McCaw into your DNA. 

CPU with Photonic interconnections — A  group of researchers has proposed a way to build transistors and optics on the same chip, doing so for the first time without a major overhaul of the chip-making process. And they used it to build an IC containing 70 million transistors and 850 photonic components, which together provide all the logic, memory, and interconnection functions a processor needs.
~ Still has a silicon substrate, though. 

White House fighting Zika — The Obama administration made a strong push in 2014 and 2015 to help curtail the West African Ebola Outbreak, and it largely worked: the outbreak has subsided (with some sporadic cases still appearing). With that in mind, the Administration seems to be ready to shift gears to focus on the next immediate threat, with the northern summer looming. So resources are being redirected to battle the Zika Virus.
~ Which is way worse than everyone thought, whereas Ebola is under control at the moment.

Smart scalpel distinguishes between good and bad tissue — Researchers and engineers at the University of Hannover in Germany, and the Free University of Brussels in Belgium, have developed a smart scalpel that uses piezoelectric transducers on its tip to quickly tell if brain tissue is healthy or not.
~ Just make sure you sharpen up your electronics before use.

Futurology ~ Planet 9, mass extinction, laser-hiding, brain machines, lip reading, wifi tracking, ice-free roads, AI Rembrandt, food resources


Finding Planet 9 — In January, Caltech’s Konstantin Batygin and Mike Brown (the astronomer credited with killing Pluto) shared compelling evidence of a planet larger than Earth and over 500 times further from the Sun. Planet 9 hasn’t been spotted — its existence is inferred by the improbable orbits of a handful of distant, icy objects. A race is on to find the mysterious world, and help is coming from all corners of the astronomical community.
~ Trouble is, some people think it’s going to lead to a cataclysmic event for Earth

How to survive a mass extinction — A study published in Scientific Reports sheds light on how Lystrosaurus defied death, earning itself the nickname “disaster taxon”. Analysing the bone microstructure and body size distribution of Lystrosaurus fossils both before and after the Permo-Triassic boundary, palaeontologists at the Field Museum learned that these ancient animals survived radical climate change by radically altering their life history strategy.
~ So, reinvent your life history? We’re mostly all doing that daily already. 

Lasers to hide us from evil aliens — A new study in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society proposes a way of hiding from aliens. Humans are so fickle. Professor David Kipping and graduate student Alex Teachey, both of Columbia University, determined how much laser light it would take to mask the dimming caused by our planet transiting the sun, or cloak the atmospheric signatures associated with biological activity.
~ Unfortunately, we are the evil aliens. 

Mapping the brain for better machines — An ambitious new program, funded by the federal government’s intelligence arm, aims to bring artificial intelligence more in line with our own mental powers.
~ That notion’s already scaring me: ‘must work harder must work harder … ooh, a snack!’

Better mechanical lip reading — Helen Bear and her colleague Richard Harvey have come up with a new lip-reading algorithm that improves a computer’s ability to differentiate between sounds—such as ‘p’, ‘b,’ and ‘m’ — that all look similar on lips. The researchers presented their work at the IEEE International Conference on Acoustics, Speech and Signal Processing (ICASSP) in Shanghai.
~ Sssshhhh …

Tracking people with WiFi — MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory has created a new system called Chronos that can accurately detect the position of electronic devices in a room – as well as the users who are carrying them – within tens of centimeters using Wi-Fi signals only.
~ Airplane Mode. Hah!

Conductive concrete for ice-free roads — Researchers at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln engineered concrete that melts ice. The energized concrete can be used on driveways, roadways, and bridges. Since magnetite-rich aggregates are blended into the specially-designed mix, it can also be used for military applications in electromagnetic shielding.
~ Roofs?

Computer Rembrandt — Rembrandt van Rijn was one of the most influential classical painters. And yet his newest masterpiece was unveiled only yesterday. How? By scanning and analyzing Rembrandt’s works, a computer was able to create a new painting in near-perfect mimicry of Rembrandt’s style. It has been named, appropriately, The Next Rembrandt.
The computer used machine-learning algorithms to create the portrait, which was then 3D-printed to give it the same texture as an oil painting. The Next Rembrant was a collaboration between Microsoft, ING, Delft University of Technology and two Dutch art museums (Mauritshuis and Rembrandthuis).
~ Who needs people? Oh yeah – people. 

Resources that go into food not eaten — The UN estimates that growing our food accounts for about 5 billion (and climbing) tonnes a year of carbon emissions; that’s about one fifth of the global carbon emissions. Within that number, you can also break down smaller sections: how much comes from just ranching, or how much comes from Uruguay, for example. What hasn’t been broken down until now, though, is how much carbon we’re releasing for food no one is eating. Researchers from Germany’s Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research have a study out today in Environmental Science and Technology that answers that question.
~ More efficiency is better for everyone and everything. 

Futurology ~ 5D Black Hole, bigger Milky Way, mini satellites, Planet 9, bullied robot, ship laser, low-power wifi, modular smartphone


Five-dimensional Black Hole could ‘break’ General Relativity’ — Researchers from the University of Cambridge and Queen Mary University of London have successfully simulated a black hole shaped like a very thin ring, which gives rise to a series of ‘bulges’ connected by strings that become thinner over time. Ring-shaped black holes were ‘discovered’ by theoretical physicists in 2002, but this is the first time their dynamics have been successfully simulated using supercomputers. Should this type of black hole form, it would lead to the appearance of a ‘naked singularity’, which would cause the equations behind general relativity to break down.
~ And so we welcome Admiral Scientific Confusion. 

A bigger Milky Way picture — APEX telescope has given us something even more complete: a map of the galaxy that covers four times the area of its previous best.
~ Are cows rejoicing?

Self-directed little satellites — Nanosatellites, small satellites with sizes ranging from a shoe box to a small suitcase, are popular because they are cheap and can piggyback onto other space missions. NASA is now preparing to launch in orbit around Mars two CubeSats. The satellites should be equipped with autonomous fault correction, something already available in certain drones or autonomous driverless cars, argues Hakan Kayal, a researcher at the University of Würzburg in Germany.
~ ‘CubeSat, please send telemetry for NASA mission.’ ‘Sorry, we’re on a break.’

Cassini directed to search for Planet 9 — Saturn’s Cassini probe is nearing the end of its mission, but that doesn’t mean it’s no longer useful. In fact, astronomers have found a totally new purpose for the plucky little space probe and its vast trove of data: searching for the elusive Planet 9.
~ Here’s a clue: look for it after Planet 8. 


Man bullies robot — Boston Dynamics has a new video showing off the latest version of Atlas, the humanoid robot. And it’s pretty incredible: the most striking thing about this new version is the amazing balance Atlas achieves as the bully tries to knock it down.
~ I wouldn’t like to be that bully in a couple of years. Take that, Bono-Hipster-Bully!

High-energy laser mounted and tested on German warship — Rheinmetall and the German armed forces have completed a recent test of their high-energy laser effector on a German warship. During the test, a 10-kilowatt high-energy laser, or HEL, was mounted on a MLG 27 light naval gun. The HEL was then used to track potential targets.
~ Smaller, more powerful drone-like missiles are harder to track. 

Low-power wifi breakthrough — The biggest downside of wifi for most users might be that it can really drain your smartphone or tablet battery, but a research team at the University of Washington has come up with a way to make using the nearly ubiquitous wireless technology in a less taxing way. This information has been released as a PDF.
~ More efficient wifi, oh yeah. 

World’s first modular smartphone — Out before the much anticipated Google Modular Phone Project ARA, is a new phone from Fairphone: the Fairphone 2, claimed to be the the world’s first real modular phone. Fairphone is more than just a phone manufacturer – it’s a social justice movement to raise awareness about conflict minerals in consumer electronics and the wars that the mining of these minerals is fueling in the DR Congo. The Fairphone 2 build consists of 5-inch Full HD LCD screen, Android 5.1 Lollipop, Dual SIM, 4G LTE, Wi-Fi and Bluetooth, Qualcomm quad core processor.
~ Laudable. Shame about the OS. 

Futurology ~ sharper radar, alien-hunting ’scope, 3D printing food, baby-brained computer, third arm, bio-powered chips, morphing tank, invisibility

Researchers have invented a third arm for drummers … as if they’re not noisy enough already.

Chip will make satellite radars way sharper — A new silicon chip is the centrepiece of a new 94GHz radar system being developed by the European Space Agency, that will transform radar systems in space missions. Being developed in Ireland by a company called Arrakis, its high resolution will, according to the Agency, make planetary landings far safer, as it will allow craft to image smaller obstacles on landing zones than current systems allow.
~ More accurate landings should result. 

The biggest alien-hunting radio telescope on Earth comes at a human cost — China is displacing over 9000 people to do it. The 500-metre-wide telescope is called FAST (Five-hundred-metre Aperture Spherical Radio Telescope), and it’s almost double the size as the next biggest radio telescope, a similarly shaped contraption in Puerto Rico. Its 460,000 reflective mirrors will reflect radio signals emitted by the universe onto a 30-ton antenna, which could help us unlock all kinds of galactic secrets. (China displaced 300,000 residents to clear the way for the Three Gorges Dam.)
~ But it won’t solve Chinese pollution or traffic. 

NASA gets kids 3-D printing food — In collaboration with the American Society for Mechanical Engineers Foundation and Star Trek, NASA launched the Star Trek Replicator Challenge this week at the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum in New York. The initiative calls on students to design 3-D printable hardware needed to grow food and eat well in space. The space agency is working hard to figure out how astronauts can use technology to produce their own food and eat a more diversified, less shrink-wrapped diet overall.
~ Now, what shape and colour shall we make this nutritious space slop?

Baby-brained computing — Can artificial intelligence evolve as human baby does, learning about the world by seeing and interacting with its surroundings? That’s one of the questions driving a huge cognitive psychology experiment that has revealed crucial differences in how humans and computers see images.
~ Hopefully the results won’t then just learn what a-holes humans are. 

Paper replicates skin — A Saudi Arabian research team has used cheap household items to make a ‘paper skin‘ that mimics many sensory functions of human skin.
The artificial skin may represent the first single sensing platform capable of simultaneously measuring pressure, touch, proximity, temperature, humidity, flow, and pH levels.
~ Then cover it with a hijab?

Researchers at Georgia Tech have developed a wearable robotic limb that transforms drummers into three-armed cyborgs — The most remarkable thing about this wearable arm, developed at GT’s Center for Music Technology, is that it’s doing a lot more than just mirroring the movements of the drummer. It’s a ‘smart arm’ that’s actually responding to the music, and performing in a way that compliments what the human player is doing.
~ That’s all very well, but I just want to be able to read the newspaper while eating a sandwich. 

Bio-powered chips to fit inside cells — For the first time, researchers have developed a microchip powered by the same energy-rich molecules that fuel living cells. This advance could one day lead to devices that are implanted within cells while harvesting biological energy to operate.
~ The idea is making me hungry.

MorphTnkMorphin’ tank — Estonian defence company Milrem has developed a seriously cool military robot that is totally modular, so it can easily morph from an unmanned combat unit, to a humanless firefighter, to a makeshift medi-vac. The robot is called THeMIS (Tracked Hybrid Modular Infantry System). It’s 2m wide, nearly 90cm tall, and it can do over 32km per hour.
~ Can it morph into an ice-cream truck? No!

Mesh cloak invisible to radio — A team of US and Chinese researchers has created the first practical ‘invisible’ material that allows certain electromagnetic signals to pass unimpeded as they would through air. It represents a huge leap for real science. Previously, researchers could only make a single tiny sphere or cylinder invisible to certain electromagnetic wavelengths by taking advantage of a phenomenon called ‘dark state.’
~ It allows Justin Bieber songs pass right through you without making any impression.
Wait, they already do that!

Futurology ~ Gravitational Waves! GPS to a cm, phone AI, waste paper aerogel, tree energy, exercise grows brain cells

Some say 'gravitational waves', others say 'balls'
Some say ‘gravitational waves’, others say ‘balls’

Gravitational Waves — Since Albert Einstein first predicted their existence a century ago, physicists have been on the hunt for gravitational waves, ripples in the fabric of spacetime. That hunt is now over. Gravitational waves exist, and we’ve found them.
That’s according to researchers at the Laser Interferometer Gravitational Wave Observatory (LIGO), who have been holed up for weeks, working round-the-clock to confirm that the very first direct detection of gravitational waves is real. The LIGO team wanted to be absolutely certain before making an official announcement. Gizmodo hosted a physicist to answer people’s questions, and you can listen to them, too.
~ They’re detected by proxy, so how real is that?

New technique makes GPS accurate to a centimetre — GPS is an utterly pervasive and wonderful technology, but it’s increasingly not accurate enough for modern demands. Now a team of researchers can make it accurate right down to a centimetre.
~ Now you can really find that lost phone. 

Smarter AI for your phone — At the IEEE International Solid State Circuits Conference in San Francisco, MIT engineers presented a chip designed to use run sophisticated image-processing neural network software on a smartphone’s power budget.

Aerogel from waste paper — Aerogel is usually the preserve of expensive laboratory experiments — but what if you could make it from garbage? Now, a team of researchers has developed a technique to turn scrap paper into an incredibly light, highly insulating super material. It can soak up as much as 90 times its dry weight in crude oil, and 99% of that oil can then be wrung out so that the material can be re-used.
~ And so cheap to transport. But what happens when society becomes paperless? Aerogel from used smartphones and tablets? 

Wind energy from trees — The basic idea behind a new energy harvesting platform is to exploit the natural internal resonances of trees within tiny artificial forests capable of generating enough voltage to power sensors and structural monitoring systems.
~ Next challenge: harvesting wind energy from parliament.

Exercise grows brain cells — Researchers have discovered that aerobic exercise may increase neurogenesis. Based on the results, rats that were put on a treadmill grew more brain cells than rats that didn’t. Resistance training seemed to have no effect. This is significant, because the neuron reserve of the hippocampus can be increased, thus preconditions for learning for humans could be improved simply through aerobic exercise.
~ Don’t worry, it also still grows muscle cells. 

Futurology ~ Comet 67P, Ceres, Cosmic Fart Cloud, sci-fi predicts, CERN pain, mind reading, home batteries, brain time, Babylonian astronomy


Comet 67P oddness — The Rosetta spacecraft has the best view of comet 67P, but astronomers here on Earth are following the famous space rock’s trek across the solar system too. In the image above, they have spotted something very strange: the comet has two tails. The two streaks are technically different parts of one long tail of ice and dust grains, swept away from comet 67P’s surface as it’s battered with radiation.
~ OK, we get it, space is strange. 

Oddness on Ceres — With the latest fly-over look at the surface of dwarf planet Ceres from NASA, things are getting even stranger. NASA put together this animated version of a fly-over of Ceres using their new low-altitude images from the planet, just 900 miles overhead. There is an unusually good look at those bright spots and how they are laid out across the geography — plus, you see all the different types of craters that house them.
~ There’s activity …

Cosmic fart cloud heading for us — A “giant galactic fart“, expelled from the Milky Way 70 million years ago, was first discovered in the 1960s. Smith Cloud is a starless ball of dust that’s approximately 11,000 light years long and 2500 light years across. It’s speeding toward us at a rip-roaring 1,126,540 kilometres per hour, meaning it’ll crash into the disk of the Milky Way in about … 30 million years.
~ You have to admit, ‘Smith Cloud’ sounds nicer than “giant galactic fart”.

How predictions from sci-fi work — The smartest person hundreds of years ago could not imagine the things we have now because what is science to us was essentially magic to them back then — the understanding just wasn’t there yet. That’s where science fiction steps in. The wild imagination of futuristic storytelling turns walls into windows, puts thought outside the box and breaks the constraints that science can set on us.
~ Still want the flying car …

CERN pain — CERN, home to the Large Hadron Collider, has grand plans to update the world’s largest particle accelerator complex in the next few years. But engineers have identified a barrier to the upgrade: there’s no space for new cables in the injectors that accelerate particles before they enter the LHC. A heap of obsolete cables are blocking the way to install new ones needed for the accelerator’s next big upgrade. To make space, CERN engineers have to identify and remove all the old, unused cables.
All 9000 of them.
~ There goes all the glamour of the job, right there. 

Brains read at the speed of, well, brains — An experiment by University of Washington researchers is setting the stage for advances in mind reading technology. Using brain implants and sophisticated software, researchers can now predict what their subjects are seeing with startling speed and accuracy.
~ I’ve been reading mine a lot. 

Tesla’s home batteries already working in Australia — Australia is the first country in the world to have Powerwall batteries installed and delivered, and companies like Natural Solar and Origin Energy are receiving and installing their first shipments into homes and businesses around Australia. New South Wales is first, but other states and territories have their first installations scheduled from the start of next week onwards.
~ It’s all very well to get solar on your roof – the trick is to store that power for your own later use. 

Our brains and measuring time — Our brains have an extraordinary ability to monitor time, but exactly how the brain tracks time is still a mystery. Researchers have defined the brain areas involved in movement, memory, colour vision and other functions, but not the ones that monitor time.
Over the last few years, a handful of researchers have compiled growing evidence that the same cells that monitor an individual’s location in space also mark the passage of time. This suggests that two brain regions — the hippocampus and the entorhinal cortex, both famous for their role in memory and navigation — can also act as a sort of timer.
~ And the hippocampus is more dangerous than it looks, right? That’s why I don’t swim in those rivers. 

fbertp2yq9ebgfz9adspBabylonian astronomy sext changes history —
 More than a thousand years before the first telescopes, Babylonian astronomers tracked the motion of planets across the night sky using simple arithmetic. But a newly translated text reveals that these ancient stargazers also used a far more advanced method, one that foreshadows the development of calculus over a thousand years later.
~ And you can probably grate nutmeg with it, too. 

Futurology ~ Kepler’s trove, X-ray Binary neighbours, naked Black Hole, star cluster life, 12-metre wide telescope, future work-drones, Replicants, Kodak Super 8, 1600s anatomy flip-book

NuSTAR picked up over 40 different instances of a mysterious space object called an X-ray binary thanks to its X-ray view
NuSTAR picked up over 40 different instances of a mysterious space object called an X-ray binary thanks to its X-ray view

Kepler finds a trove of planets — At the 227th meeting of the American Astronomical Society, astronomers announced a whopping 234 new exoplanet candidates discovered by Kepler in 2014. The best part? All of them are just tens of light years away.
The deluge of planetary candidates are distributed among 208 star systems, which means we have the honor of welcoming many new multi-planet systems to our cosmic neighborhood.
~ Kepler strove and found a trove.

Closest neighbour galaxy harbours something odd — The Andromeda galaxy, our own Milky Way’s next-door neighbour, just served up the best look we’ve ever managed to get and there’s something very strange hidden in this picture (above).
Taken with NASA’s Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array, an X-Ray telescope designed especially for getting unusually deep-space views – captured over 40 different instances of a mysterious space object called an X-ray binary, which are the results of dead or exploded stars that suck in huge amounts of nearby (living) stars and space debris, while throwing off a steady stream of X-ray radiation..
~ Well, I find all of space odd. 

The Naked Black Hole — Most galaxies have supermassive black holes at their centres surrounded by dense clouds of stars. Now, researchers have found one that seems to have lost almost its entire entourage. The team reported its find at the annual meeting of the American Astronomical Society. It  says it doesn’t know what stripped the stars away but has put forward a tantalising possibility: The object could be an extremely rare medium-sized black hole, which theorists have predicted but observers have never seen.
~ I predict many more inexplicables that will one dale become explicables.

Life in star clusters … maybe — Globular clusters are ancient, gravitationally-bound regions of space that can pack a whopping million stars per hundred cubic light years. Once thought to be uninhabitable, new research by Rosanne Di Stefano of the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory and Alak Ray of the Tata Institute in Mumbai suggests that globular clusters may, in fact, be the ideal places for advanced civilisations to flourish.
~ I thought the ideal places were ‘anywhere with internet’.

Astronomers want to build a 12-metre wide telescope to find the next Earth — Representatives from the Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy (AURA) shared their hopes and dreams at the American Astronomical Society meeting for the next flagship, space-based observatory —  the successor to the JWST scheduled to launch in 2018 and to run for up to a decade.It wouldn’t  launch until the 2030s, but would seek answers to two profound questions: whether or not we’re alone in the universe and how the building blocks of our universe have evolved over cosmic time.
~ The race is on to find the next ‘Earth’ by the time we’ve totally trashed this one. 

Microsoft, Google, Apple identifying what 1st graders should know  — K12CS.org has announced a New Framework to Define K-12 Computer Science Education, the collaboration of participants from a number of states plus technology companies (Microsoft, Google, Apple) and organisations and individuals want to define what kids should be learning, because …
~ … we’d like to define our future workforces now!

Molecules observed self replicating — Researchers at the University of Groningen (Netherlands) have developed a self-replicating system able to not only pass hereditary information from one generation to another, but also mutate. It is a crucial step towards Darwinian evolution of abiotic species and artificial life.
~ Let’s call them Replicants – after all, Ray Batty just got activated …


Kodak launches film video cameras … really! Kodak chief Jeff Clarke told the Wall Street Journal that film for new ‘Super 8’ cameras will cost $US50 ($71) to $US75 ($106) a cartridge, and the camera itself will set you back $US400 ($567) to $US750 ($1059). After processing, you’ll also have two options for media: either digital copies of your home movies or 8mm film you can put in a projector.

Columbia has digitised a bestselling anatomy flipbook from the 1600s — In 1613 Johann Remmelin published Catoptrum Microcosmicum, which became a best-seller for about 150 years. Columbia University has just published it online. The work, originally in Latin, was translated into several languages and explained the human body using movable flaps to take people down through successive layers.
~ It’s here in all it’s monotone gory glory

Futurology ~ electrons life-span, Universe, Venus weather sat, Mars sand, astronaut motion, hover-bot, Wolfram lingo, Angkor Wat


Electrons live at least 5 Quintillion times the age of the universe — Basic physics suggests that electrons are essentially immortal. A fascinating experiment recently failed to overthrow this fundamental assumption. But the effort has produced a revised minimum lifespan for electrons: 60,000 yottayears, which is — get this — about five-quintillion times the current age of the Universe.
~ That’s what we call a whole lot of quite a lot. 

Blast of beads is an analogue for the early universe — A machine shoots a blast of beads at a metal target. The result is a beautiful conical structure known as a ‘water bell’. It’s significant because one kind of substance (granular material) changes its behaviour to act like another substance entirely — and the universe has seen this kind of change before.
~ I’ve seen it before too – it’s called ‘making a smoothie’.

Simulation figures out potential life — Our home galaxy isn’t as hospitable to life as you might hope. Cosmic radiation, supernova explosions and collisions with small galaxies make much of the Milky Way too hellish for biology. But a detailed new simulation locates quiet and fertile cosmic neighborhoods, including a surprising locale: wispy streams of stars flung far beyond the main body of the Milky Way.
~ Doesn’t really explain where Earth fits, though. 

Weather satellite orbiting Venus — Venus has a new climate observing spacecraft, Akatsuki. The spacecraft approached Venus to make its audacious, last-ditch attempt at orbit. The plan worked, giving the planet its first robotic companion since the European Space Agency’s Venus Express died in January 2015.
~ Outlook for Thursday: Venusian.


Rover goes into a Martian sand-dune — A  remarkable image (above) shows a super close-up view of an undisturbed patch of Martian sand. These course grains remain on the surface as smaller particles get sifted downwards when the wind blows.
~ I thought it would be red. 

Motion tracking helps NASA plan space environments — A clever new technology could help NASA figure out how astronauts use their environments, so that we can build much better ones
~ May also help figure out how astronauts will one day be able to play Twister. 

Soccer-ball sized hover-bot is much safer —  Fleye is the exact opposite of classic drones, according to the Belgian engineers behind the bot. There’s no huge propeller, no clunky frame, and no heavy crashing into bleachers at sporting events. It’s being billed as a personal, autonomous robot.
~ Major challenge is getting hot to stay in the air longer than ten minutes. 

Wolfram teaching kids his language — Stephen Wolfram received a PhD in particle physics at age 20. Wolfram’s new book, An Elementary Introduction to the Wolfram Language (free on the web), aspires to teach those new to programming how to do much more than just move Minecraft and Star Wars characters around.
~ Laudable. 

Angkor Wat’s ‘Last Stand’ — A new excavation on an iconic Cambodian temple reveals who worked there, how they lived, and how they may have been conquered.
~ Let’s hope they weren’t Trumped.

Futurology ~ Distant galaxy, no life, not Nice, green rockets, smart street lights, China’s ghost cities

How many ghost cities are there in China? Loads ...
How many ghost cities are there in China? Loads …

Massive galaxy cluster 8.5 billion light years from Earth — This particular cluster, appropriately dubbed a Massive Overdense Object (MOO), was first detected by the Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE), in an all-sky survey performed in 2010-2011. Remote objects like MOOs leave a distinct signature in space; their lightwaves becoming longer and more stretched as they traverse impossible cosmic distances.
~ No plans to visit. 

No sign signs of life — A few months ago, citizen scientists trawling through data collected by NASA’s Kepler mission noticed something weird: a star that flickers aperiodically, its light output sometimes dipping by as much as 20%. KIC 8462852, recently dubbed “Tabby’s Star,” was like nothing we’d ever seen before. So for the past two weeks, the ATA — consisting of 42 six-meter antenna — has been trained on KIC 8462852, hunting for the radio signals that could end our cosmic loneliness once and for all. And there aren’t any.
~ Of course, they could communicate by hand signals. 

Hydrocarbon dunes on Titan — NASA made an announcement that Titan, a moon of Saturn and the largest moon in the solar system, has hydrocarbon dunes. The discovery has highlighted the entirely alien nature of Titan, which has seas, lakes and rains of liquid methane and ethane and a surface comprised on water ice. The fact that it has dunes made of frozen hydrocarbon that acts like sand, blown by the wind on Earth is yet another piece of data that has scientists interested in studying Titan further.
~ Hmm, what could we use those for?

Model of the solar system formation no longer Nice — In 2005, scientists put forth the Nice Model to explain the configuration of the Solar System’s planets. It was thought the outer planets, Jupiter in particular, migrated through the inner Solar System, and were then pulled back out by the presence of the outer giants, causing the late heavy bombardment of the terrestrial planets as it crossed the asteroid belt. But no.
~ So, is God back? 

Green rocket fuel —  A rocket fuel based on ammonium dinitramide supplemented with methanol, ammonia and water is far more stable than hydrazine, not sensitive to shock, air, or moisture, is not particularly toxic or corrosive on the scale of rocket fuels, and has an appropriate range of temperatures for being stored and for use. As an extra bonus, the fuel is also more efficient than hydrazine. The catch? It requires more catalyst to actually react, but when it gets started it burns about twice as hot.
~ Surely they can colour the fuel any way they want.

Smart LA street lighting also boosts wifi connectivity — Los Angeles is introducing a smart street lighting system featuring connected LEDs and fully-integrated 4G LTE wireless technology. In a collaboration between Dutch tech firm Philips and Swedish telco Ericsson, the SmartPole project aims to deliver LA citizens public lighting which is energy efficient while it improves network performance in urban areas.
~ Smart, but also harder to repair. 

The ghost cities of China — There are lots of pictures of these uncanny cities, built fast for populations that have yet to arrive, but it’s really difficult to figure out how many actually exist. A new paper highlighted by MIT Technology Review explains how they developed a far more reliable way to measure ghost cities: the data that each of us generate in our homes every day by using the internet.
~ OK, China, you could think about renting them out for perfect dystopian movie sets. 

Futurology ~ Insane star, neutrino data, El Nino, scientists warn against AI, wifi footpaths, sleep

Neutrinos going through the arctic generate staggering loads of data (image from Motherboard)
Neutrinos going through the arctic generate staggering loads of data (image from Motherboard)

Insanely variable star puzzles — A star has a variation in starlight of over 20% (you have to scroll down past the first couple of articles on this site). We don’t have a very good explanation for this, since most vary only within 5%, also of course some people are speculating such variation could be caused by a civilization building a Dyson Sphere around it. Of course – that’s what immediately sprung to my mind (not). Huge panels (or clusters of them) hundreds of thousands of kilometers across, and oddly-shaped, could produce the dips we see in that star’s light. well, that’s overwhelmingly unlikely, but hey.
~ I bet they’ll have the best vacuum cleaners. 

Search for neutrinos deep inside ice sheet grapples with staggering loads of data — Deep beneath the Antarctic ice sheet, sensors buried in a cubic kilometer of frozen H2O are searching for neutrinos. The raw data is stored on tape at the pole, and a 400-core cluster makes a first pass at the data to cut it down to around 100GB/day. A 4000-CPU dedicated local cluster crunches the numbers. The storage system has to handle typical loads of “1-5GB/sec of sustained transfer levels, with thousands of connections in parallel,” Merino explained.
~ Hopefully Merino will be warm enough there with a name like that. 

Bad El Nino on its way — NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center issued the US Winter Outlook, and the long and short of it is the US is in for some serious weather weirdness. Wind patterns and water temperatures look eerily similar to the very bad 1997 conditions.
~ But does that mean New Zealand will have a great summer? Coz I’m voting for that. 

European scientists warn against computer super intelligence — During a recent United Nations meeting about emerging global risks, political representatives from around the world were warned about the threats posed by artificial intelligence and other future technologies.
~ And wait till your car takes over the driving. what if it gets drunk on data? 

English town spreads wifi from the footpaths — In the sleepy British town of Chesham, the very ground on which people walk is now providing respectably fast wifi to residents as they wander the streets.
~ Footloose and data-free.

Sleeping badly is normal— A team from the University of California studied three groups that continue to live pre-agricultural ways of life. 94 individuals from across these societies wore devices that measured their movement and dilation of blood vessels at the surface of the skin. The team also measured temperature and humidity in the environments where people slept. From 1165 days of data, the team found the participants slept for between 5.7 and 7.1 hours a day, with an average of around 6.5 hours. That’s at the low end of the sleep spectrum in the Western world. The team found the participants rarely napped and in fact stayed awake after the sun went down for an average of 3.3 hours. All told, the results suggest that our desire to clock up eight hours of sleep or more every night may be just that — a desire, rather than a necessity.
~ So much for the sun totally dictating sleep patterns, then. The time at which participants went to bed was more likely to be dictated by temperature.