Our closest look at Ceres reveals a surface riddled with craters — As we get closer and closer to Ceres, we keep seeing new things. Initially, it was just the barest outline of the dwarf planet, then a strange selection of white spots, and, in these newest, sharpest images yet, you can see its mysteriously scarred surface. ~ At least it doesn’t have McDonalds and KFC yet.
A star came within 0.8 light-years of our Sun just 70,000 years ago — An international team of astronomers has identified a star that passed through the outer reaches of the Oort Cloud some 70,000 years ago. It came within a distance of 0.8 light-years, making it the closest known flyby of a star to the Solar System. ~ That’s a breathtakingly close 8 trillion kms.
Nix and Hydra are the tiny moons of Pluto — Eighty-five years ago, Clyde Tombaugh found a small dot of light shifting position while hunting for the trans-Neptune planet predicted by Percival Lowell. Now, the New Horizons probe en route to Pluto has photographed its tiny moons, Nix and Hydra. ~ Both names sound a bit negative, don’t they?
Theory of Information could resolve one of the great paradoxes of Cosmology — Stephen Hawking described it as the most spectacular failure of any physical theory in history. Can a new theory of information rescue cosmologists? ~ Well, I try not to worry too much about the cosmological constant paradox myself, but I’m glad someone is.
How a ‘Photoshop for sound’ could transform restaurants and music halls — Restaurants have to strike a fine balance between eerily quiet and shouting-across-the-table loud. At Oakland’s Oliveto, the high-tech solution is a set of mics, speakers and sound-absorbing panels that constantly record, modify and pipe back the ideal background noise — essentially real-time Photoshop for sound. ~ Dare I venture ‘just turn the damned music off’?
Researchers block HIV infection in monkeys with artificial protein — Immunologists have developed a synthetic molecule that’s able to attach to HIV and prevent it from interacting with healthy cells. ~ One suspects the monkeys were artificially infected in the first place. Still, I’m sure they’ll be relieved.
The medical miracle headlines of the future (from 1951) — On January 2, 1951, the Rex Morgan, MD comic strip featured a New Year’s greeting insisting to readers that time is measured by progress instead of simply by years. And it’s not a bad thought, but looking at the ‘headlines of the future’ from 1951, one can’t help but be a little bummed out. ~ Progress (still) needed.
Scientists slow the speed of light —Scientists have found a way to slow individual photons within a beam of light. The researchers liken a light beam to a team of cyclists — while the group as a whole moves at a constant speed, individual riders may occasionally drop back or move forward. ~ Well, I do know how to slow a team of cyclists.
Rosetta in all its glory —The first scientific results from Rosetta at comet 67P have been published, and detail a surprising diversity of features on the 4-kilometer-long duck-shaped comet. ~ And cracks are appearing in the ‘duck’s’ neck.
Dramatic swirling vortex at Venus’s south pole — There’s a mass of swirling gas and cloud located some 37 miles (60 km) above Venus’s south pole. The image above was captured by the Visible and Infrared Thermal Imaging Spectrometer (VIRTIS) aboard ESA’s Venus Express spacecraft. ~ The picture was actually taken several years ago and has only just been released.
Biology-inspired robot flies and walks — A team from LIS, EPFL and NCCR Robotics proposes a new kind of flying robot that can also walk. Called the DALER (Deployable Air-Land Exploration Robot), the robot uses adaptive morphology inspired by the common vampire bat. ~ As long as it doesn’t need blood to work, I’m good with it.
Cities for a dry, dry future — A recent NPR report takes Los Angeles as an example of how urban water infrastructure will have to change, moving away from aqueduct systems first used in ancient Rome. ~ No more storm water run-off into the sea: LA will need every drop of water.
Flexible brain implants — A team led by MIT professor Polina Anikeeva has harnessed insights from the materials sciences to develop a better wire for deep-brain stimulation. They managed to fabricate flexible wires capable of not only stimulating brain tissue, but delivering drugs and recording brain activity simultaneously, while drastically reducing the side-effects one would expect from a traditional metal implant. ~ Your brain can be more finely controlled …
Startup to 3D-print cars — Local Motors solicits design ideas through crowdsourcing, allows anyone to use open source software to contribute ideas, and then 3D prints car bodies according to the chosen specs in a matter of days. Once 3D printing is complete, the Strati moves to a Thermwood CNC router—a computer-controlled cutting machine that mills the finer details—before undergoing the final assembly process, which adds the drivetrain, electrical components, wiring, tires, gauges, and a showroom-ready paint job. ~ And the motor?
Tiny synths for skinny jeans — Teenage Engineering has been teasing its tiny PO-12 for nearly a year, and for the NAMM show, officially launching its pocket synth not as a standalone unit, but as a line of little noisemakers that look like Casio calculators with their faceplates snapped off. ~ In my pocket, it would pick up lint, but they sound amazing (watch the video at the link).
Oxford has a 175 year old battery that still works — There sits, in the Clarendon Laboratory at Oxford University, a bell that has been ringing, nonstop, for at least 175 years. It’s powered by a single battery installed in 1840. Researchers would love to know what the battery is made of, but they’re afraid that opening the bell would ruin an experiment to see how long it will last. ~ Perhaps never has a ‘dry pile’ sounded so attractive.
Toshiba’s eerie Sign Language Robot will silently stare into your soul — Proving its engineers are just as capable as anyone at developing a creepy human-like robot that embraces the Uncanny Valley, Toshiba has developed an android that specialises in sign language, thanks to a pair of highly articulated hands. One day, the company hopes it could serve as an artificial receptionist, but it’s probably going to need to learn to talk first. ~ Creepy but potentially useful.
Print a super-thin touchscreen display on just about anything — PrintScreen is a system for printing displays on nearly any kind of material: wood, Mylar, marble, leather, metal, paper. And what’s more, these super cheap, super fast displays are touch sensitive. They can be double-sided. You can roll ’em, fold ’em … ~ But you need to know when to hold ’em.
Computer fits together like Lego — Kano is a new kind of computer company, a startup that’s totally devoted to teaching a new generation about the craft of silicon. Its first product, a Raspberry Pi-based system so easy a child could build it, makes it easy to build a PC practically from scratch. ~ And not sponsored by Shell.
Possibly the World’s silliest (and most creative) protest against cars — In Latvia, a group of bicycle enthusiasts decided to show the city of Riga what it would be like if every bicycle turned into a car. So they built these amazing contraptions to remind everyone that cars are what cause traffic jams. ~ As long as the bike couriers don’t start doing it.
City growth explosions visualised — Cities are growing larger, and that over half the human population lives in a city. But when you see these maps charting the growth of megacities since the early 1900s … well, it’s stunning. It’s especially incredible when you realise most cities exploded in size over the past 50 years. ~ And get used to it – that’s what National wants for Auckland.
Archaeologists make more stunning discoveries on Antikythera shipwreck — The international team of divers and archaeologists investigating the site of an ancient Greek ship that sank more than 2000 years ago off the remote island of Antikythera have not been disappointed.
The site is bigger than they thought, and contains a treasure trove of artefacts. This is where the Antikythera Mechanism came from decades ago, which seems to be a highly complex geared calculation device of some sort. The wreck is so deep they’re using a diving exosuit with rebreather technology to get to it. ~ Plus the ship is perhaps 50 metres long – a monster for the era.
More accurate seafloor maps thanks to satellites — Using data from satellites that measure variations in Earth’s gravitational field, researchers have found a new and more accurate way to map the sea floor. The improved resolution has already allowed them to identify previously hidden features including thousands of extinct volcanoes more than 1000 meters tall, as well as piece together some lingering uncertainties in Earth’s ancient history. ~ It’s triumph of multiple pings.
So much ice gone, Earth’s gravity has been affected — The European Space Agency has been measuring gravity for four years, mapping variations and recording the changes those variations have undergone. Its data indicates “a significant decrease [in gravity] in the region of Antarctica where land ice is melting fastest. ~ They thought that only happened in oil barons’ Pina Coladas.
A particle that’s also its own antiparticle — In 1937, an Italian physicist predicted the existence of a single, stable particle that could be both matter and antimatter. Nearly 80 years later, a Princeton University research team has actually found it. ~ They should call it the Mussolini Particle — both the agent of change and its now destruction.
Ultrasmall organic laser — Researchers have made the tiniest organic laser reported so far: an 8-micrometer-long, 440-nanometer-wide device which looks like a suspended bridge riddled with holes. It’s carved into a silicon chip coated with an organic dye. Integrated into microprocessors, such tiny lasers could one day speed up computers by shuttling data using light rather than electrons. ~ The light at the end of the chipset.
Mesh solar cell is also a battery —Researchers at Ohio State have announced a breakthrough in solar energy technology that stands to revolutionise the industry. It’s a mesh solar cell that also stores electricity. The new hybrid device runs on light and oxygen, storing electricity with the help of a simple chemical reaction. The best part is that it brings down the cost of a standard solar cell by 25%. ~ Cheaper is better, so we’re less subject to the power monopolies.
Tiny emergency torch glows for 72 hours after you add water — Batteries have a limited shelf life, so any torch you’ve been saving for an emergency might not actually work when you need it. But these tiny emergency lights from Eton simply need you to add water to keep them lit for three full days. They cost US$10 each (main picture). ~ Water torch – yeah!
Ebola vaccine delay may be due to an Intellectual Property dispute — For the past six weeks, about 800 to 1000 doses of an experimental ebola vaccine have been sitting in a Canadian laboratory instead of being dispensed to West Africa. The delay, it would now appear, may be on account of an intellectual property spat. ~ I am SO disgusted by this!
10 apps that are the next best thing to being in space — Most of us won’t ever visit space. But space has been brought to us, in the form of images and data collected for years by spacecraft, satellites and telescopes. Here are the 10 best online, interactive apps that allow you to explore space from your computer. Grab your mouse, Ensign — you have the helm. ~ And all without the vacuum.
Political hot air helps ozone — Finally, some good news about our troubled atmosphere: A UN study shows that the ozone layer is displaying early signs of thickening after years of depletion. It’s on the road to recovery — an achievement scientists say is due to political will. ~ Someone tell National.
Scientists capture the sound made by a single atom — Researchers at Columbia University and Sweden’s Chalmers University of Technology say that they have, for the first time, “captured” the sound a single atom makes when it is excited — a single “phonon,” as it were. ~ And there’s me thinking ‘Kanyé West for some reason’.
CERN tests first artificial retina capable of looking for high energy particles — Pattern recognition is one of the few areas where humans regularly outperform even the most powerful computers. But surprisingly, our brains only do part of the work. The most basic pattern recognition — edge detection, line detection and the detection of certain shapes — is performed by the complex circuitry of neurones in the retina. Now a team at CERN has built and tested an artificial retina capable of identifying particle tracks in the debris from particle collisions. ~ Every home should have one.
Information Theory places new limits on origin of life — Most research into the origin of life focuses on the messy business of chemistry, on the nature of self-replicating molecules and on the behavior of autocatalytic reactions. Now one theorist says the properties of information also place important limits on how life must have evolved, without getting bogged down in the biochemical details. ~ I always figured death was a fairly incontrovertible limit.
Bike lanes speed New York traffic — Although narrower streets can slow traffic, that doesn’t seem to have happened here — perhaps because traffic in this area was crawling at around 20kph to begin with. Just one major improvement to intersection design helped them handle more, while also letting bikes travel more safely: a pocket lane for left-hand turns: a devoted turning lane at most intersections that takes the place of the parking lane, which gets cars out of the way of moving traffic when they’re making a left. ~ Left turn helps society. Now there’s a surprise.
Australians design smart rescue boat — A new ‘smart’ search and rescue boat could soon be patrolling your local shores, all by itself. ‘Bruce’ was developed by a team of six students from Australia’s Queensland University of Technology for Google’s upcoming Maritime RobotX Challenge, which will be held in Singapore late next month. ~ That is smart.
US Army’s laser war truck can now see (and shoot) through fog — The problem with the current iterations of combat laser prototypes is they can easily be foiled by suspended condensation: smoke, fog and other obscurants deflect and diffract the beam as it’s en-route to its target. The HEL MD, however, proved earlier this year that the solution is simple: Just increase the power of the laser enough to burn through everything — including incoming mortar rounds. ~ That’s progress, right?
Bone armour — Archaeologists working near Omsk in Siberia have discovered a complete suit of bone armour. Found in near perfect condition, the unique armour dates back to the Bronze Age.
A suit of armour like this, which was buried at a depth of 1.5 meters and found without its unknown owner, has never been seen before in the Omsk region. Further analysis is required, but preliminary estimates place it between 3500 to 3900 years old. The artefact was found near the Irtysh River at a site of a sanatorium where there are plans to build a five star hotel. ~ That’s rather GoT.
Unreal Stonehenge finds — Using powerful ground-penetrating radar, investigators working around Stonehenge have detected a trove of previously unknown burial mounds, chapels, shrines, pits — and most remarkable of all — a massive megalithic monument made up of more than 50 giant stones buried along a 1082-foot-long c-shaped enclosure by using a magnetometer, a ground-penetrating radar (GPR), and a 3D laser scanner (main picture). ~ And guess what they were used for? You may as well, that’s what everyone else is doing.
NASA scientists find the first interstellar space particles —NASA has identified for the first time seven rare, microscopic interstellar dust particles . They date to the beginnings of the solar system. The particles have been identified amongst samples obtained by NASA’s Stardust spacecraft, which returned to Earth back in 2006. ~ At least they were looking in the right place.
Origami Solar Panels — Brian Trease, a mechanical engineer at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, is working with researchers at Brigham Young University to construct a solar array that uses origami principles for deployment. Such devices could one day beam power down to Earth — and folding them into a small size could minimise launch and assembly costs. ~ And if it doesn’t work, there’ll be a job opening for an Astronautical Origami Unfolder.
Super computer windfarm for Mexico — It’s being built by Spanish company Iberdrola, and will be located on a 2.4km high spot in Puebla state, one of the windiest parts of Mexico. The supercomputer used a simulation system called SEDAR (a Spanish acronym for “high resolution wind power simulator”) that calculates airflow and solves complex problems like where turbines should be situated. ~ Honestly, they can’t work out where’s windy themselves?
A thousand tiny robots swarming into shapes like intelligent insects — Since the first crude automatons running on clockwork mechanisms, mankind has been working to build the perfect artificial copy of ourselves for centuries. Researchers at Harvard University, inspired by the idea that one day life can be recreated using countless tiny robots, have been developing and building their Kilobots for years now. The Kilobots started off with just twenty-five units all working together to accomplish a task, then a hundred, and now a thousand (pictured above). ~ Sounds frighteningly close to ‘killerbots’ to me.
Very fast camera — Japanese researchers have recently designed a motion picture camera capable of capturing 4.4 trillion frames per second, making it the fastest camera in the world. The technique that allows for such speed is called STAMP (sequentially timed all-optical mapping photography). The research paper, published in the journal Nature Photonics, has the full details.
Robots have already taken over — If you think it’s just a joke that robots are going to replace humans, it’s not. It’s going to happen. In fact, CGP Grey explains in ‘Humans Need Not Apply’ how it’s already happening around us right now. You might not notice it but you will after you watch how we’re following historical patterns towards obscurity.
In reality, as CGP Grey shows us, real change happens when last decade’s shiny and fancy and new and expensive stuff becomes cheaper and faster.
Limits to smaller, faster computing —In a [paywalled] review article in this week’s issue of the journal Nature (described in a National Science Foundation press release), Igor Markov of the University of Michigan/Google reviews limiting factors in the development of computing systems to help determine what is achievable, in principle and in practice, using today’s and emerging technologies. “Understanding these important limits,” says Markov, “will help us to bet on the right new techniques and technologies.”
Luckily Ars Technica does a great job of expanding on the various limitations that Markov describes, and the ways in which engineering can push back against them.
Super futuristic DDR4 RAM — A new chipset and memory combination will blow away anything that came before it. DDR4 is the brand new memory standard, soon to replace the now seven-year-old DDR3 as the overclocker’s RAM of choice. Corsair’s new DDR4 RAM, along with other brands’ and the next-gen motherboards that support it, will go on sale at the end of this month. ~ And it looks pretty super!
Sponge could help fill gaps where bone can’t regrow itself — Your bones are masterful self-healers, but certain injuries and defects can leave a gap too wide for new bone cells to fill in. Texas A&M’s Dr Melissa Grunlan and team have come up with a solution, a biodegradable polymer sponge that supports new bone cell growth, then disappears as it’s replaced by solid bone. ~ I still want a third hand with three fingers and two thumbs in the middle of my chest that reaches my mouth so I can eat a sandwich while I do something else, personally. Grow me one of them, Dr Grunlan!
Historians rediscover Einstein’s forgotten model of the universe — In 1931, after a 3- month visit to the US, Albert Einstein penned a paper that attempted to show how his theory of general relativity could account for some of the latest scientific evidence.
Einstein had met Edwin Hubble during his trip and so was aware of the latter’s data indicating that the universe must be expanding. The resulting model, now translated into English, is of a universe that expands and then contracts with a singularity at each end. He wrote the paper in only 4 days, and this model was ultimately superseded by the Einstein-de Sitter model published the following year. ~ Er, yeah, I’ll read it later.
How a 1920s feminist imagined our futuristic high-tech world —Josephine Daskam Bacon was an author known for her adventure serials that featured female protagonists. But in 1929, she took a break from her regular fiction and slipped on futurist goggles for an article in Century magazine titled ‘In Nineteen Seventy-Nine’. Bacon imagined just how much progress women will have made fifty years hence — and whether her granddaughter would be able to “have it all” as some people here in the future might say. ~ Here’s a comment from Bacon: “No, the most the aeroplanes can do is to ease the traffic a little, and spread the accidents over a wider surface.”
Wyoming cave yields loads of interesting bones — Scientists excavating an ancient Wyoming sinkhole containing a rare trove of fossils of Ice Age mammals. It contains hundreds of bones of such prehistoric animals as American cheetahs, a paleontologist said on Friday.
The extensive excavation that began late last month uncovered roughly 200 large bones of animals like horses that roamed North America from 12,000 to 23,000 years ago and an uncounted number of microfossils of creatures such as birds, lizards and snakes. ~ I too have some interesting bones. My favourite wraps all around my brain.