Tag Archives: Futurology

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.

Futurology ~ Pluto, Planetary Habitability, alien coms, universe simulation, solar, burying carbon, happiness


Pluto has a blue sky — NASA just released its first colour view of those planetary hazes they have been so curious about. And, it turns out that, just like Earth, Pluto has bright blue skies arching overhead.  The blue tint tells us about the size and composition of the haze particles in its atmosphere.
~ Some may have been hoping for Purple Haze.

Planetary Habitability Index — Researchers at the University of Washington’s Virtual Planetary Laboratory have devised a new habitability index for judging how suitable alien planets might be for life. The point of the exercise is to help scientists prioritise future targets for close-ups from NASA’s yet-to-be-launched James Webb Space Telescope and other instruments.
~ Meanwhile, we’re lowering our own. 

How to message aliens — Our devices interface extremely well with humans but might not be very good modes of communication for an Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence. If alien life did pick up our broadcasts or space probes the relatively narrow-range of audio (narrow and low frequency), visual (slow refresh rate), and data transmission methods we use may make no sense to non-human entities. It’s therefore interesting to think of other ways we might communicate with beings of fundamentally different biology.
~ ‘We’re scary, unpredictable and violent, especially against our own kind and against anything we do understand, and against our own planet, but please don’t nuke us.’ Good luck with that. 

Simulating a universe on computer — The EAGLE Project is trying to simulate a universe inside a supercomputer. Housed at the University of Durham in the UK, is trying to understand how galaxies form and evolve. It starts using the basic information gleaned from cosmic microwave background by the Planck satellite, and then lets gravity ‘work its magic from there’.
~ Wait till they find the one actually running our universe. 

The port of Los Angeles had such a successful tech upgrade it’s already hitting its 2023 emission goals — Ports are responsible for some of the nastiest air pollution in major cities. The air was so bad from diesel-burning container ships as well as the trucks required to move the containers away from the port of LA that the surrounding neighbourhood of San Pedro sued LA, launching a highly publicised public health battle. In 2005 a series of strict environmental reforms planned to cap emissions at 2001 levels, something that was called impossible at the time. But ten years later, LA did it.
~ It has giant charging stations so container ships can ‘plug in’ to electrical power instead of burning more diesel in the port.

Wind power now the cheapest energy in the UK and Germany — Wind power has now crossed the threshold to become the cheapest source of energy in both the UK and Germany. This is the first time it has occurred in a G7 country. In the US, wind and solar are still massively overshadowed by the power generated from fossil fuel plants, but the percentage is creeping up.
~ No subsidies required. 

Princess making solar waves in Africa — Many people living in Africa need electricity. Luckily, something of a solar power revolution is afoot in Africa, triggering a wave of innovation from solar energy entrepreneurs. One of them is a princess (descended from an ancient Mossi warrior princess) who stresses that the best way to combat this problem is by empowering the people to educate and help themselves.
~ Goodbye to top-down solutions, which only really benefit the top.

France plans to bury its carbon emissions. Literally — At a March 2015 conference on Climate Smart Agriculture, Le Foll proposed the ambitious target of increasing French soil carbon contents by 0.4% year-on-year (“4 pour mille”). How France will meet the target is currently unclear but Le Foll clearly wants to stimulate French farmers and researchers into action.
~ And then you can’t see the problem. 

Tactics for Happier Living quiz — This quiz combines a number of scientifically valid scales for measuring happiness. These measurements are then used to generate a highly detailed and customised report with concrete suggestions for how you can live a happier life. It also includes your greatest strengths and weakness as it relates to your score, and compares it to population averages.
~ I’m happy. Or deluded. Either way, all good. 

Futurology ~ Metal asteroid, Mars avalanche and dwellings, temp circuits, gel-supported medical structures, Fugu fish, 88m genome variations


Metallic world in NASA’s sights — NASA announced the finalists for its next round of planetary explorations. There were the usual suspects (Venus, Jupiter’s asteroids) and, then, there was this: an asteroid, composed almost entirely of (possibly magnetic) metal, with a crust literally beaten away by interstellar collisions, named Psyche, which is so metallic, it may even be magnetic.
~ I’m sure Rio Tinto will be interested in a sponsorship deal. 

Carbon Dioxide avalanche on Mars — In another reminder that the Red Planet features a complex and active surface, the HiRISE camera aboard the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter captured an image of a dry ice avalanche streaming down a cliff.
~ Perfect for that extra terrestrial metal concert.

MarsIglooIgloos, tents and other Mars houses — Earlier this year, NASA and America Makes challenged Mars enthusiasts to design 3D printed habitats for future astronauts. After a four-month submission period, 30 design competition finalists were selected and displayed at the New York Maker Faire this past weekend. There, teams were judged based on their architectural concept and design approach, in addition to the habitability, functionality and constructibility of the concept using 3D printing. Gizmodo has more pictures.
~ First prize went to the ice-house, pictured. 

Temporary graphene circuits — Imagine electrical circuits that you could print off and use for a few hours before they melt away. A spy’s best friend, they could become reality thanks to a new kind of electric circuitry printed on graphene. The new technique from the Georgia Institute of Technology instead creates an electrical circuit that’s deposited onto a sheet of graphene, which then melts into the structure of the carbon sheets over time.
~ Short circuit.

3D gel printing has medical potential — A new 3D printing technique, developed by researchers from University of Florida in Gainesville, prints objects in an acrylic acid polymer gel that has the same consistency as hand sanitiser. Small needles deposit the material of choice — the team has used living cells, including human blood-vessel and canine kidney cells, so far — into the scaffold, where they can knit together. Without the gel, they’d just collapse in a sludgy heap; the team has used the technique to create intricate shapes, and can create spheres as thin as two sheets of paper and strands about 10 times thinner.
~ I’m all for being saved by the gel.

Fugu fish the future of painkillers — Fugu, the Japanese pufferfish that’s a luxe delicacy but also courses with neurotoxins more poisonous than cyanide, might help scientists invent pain-killing drugs. Japanese pharmaceutical company Astellas Pharma announced an initiative to make pain killers that work on your neurons the same way fugu poison does.
~ Of course the plan is to kill your pain, rather than you.

88 million human DNA variations — An international team of scientists has scanned the genomes of 2504 people from around the world to create the world’s largest catalogue of human genetic variation (HGV). The extensive database will help them understand why some people are susceptible to certain diseases. Human beings share 99.9% of their DNA but that tiny 0.1% difference accounts for all the individual variation among us. The new catalogue identifies all those global differences in people’s genomes.
~ I await the genomes of Zurich.

Futurology ~ Kuiper Belt, NASA mulls Uranus, self-healing spaceships, Quantum loophole, self-repair, Earth temperatures and sea, cancer cells, electric glue, solar soldiers


New Horizons considers the Kuiper Belt — The New Horizons spacecraft will adjust its course to make a flyby of Kuiper Belt Object MU69 in January 2019. This will be the most distant world ever explored. To be fuel-efficient the team needs to pick a target and adjust New Horizons’ trajectory now.
~ The Kuiper is the fuel-efficient choice: that’s very ‘now’. 

NASA mulls Uranus —According to a story in Astronomy Magazine, NASA is contemplating sending flagship sized space probes to the so-called “ice giants” of Uranus and Neptune. Voyager 2 flew by Uranus in 1986 and then Neptune in 1989. Each of these missions would happen after the Europa Clipper, a flagship-class mission scheduled for the mid-2020s.
~ Sorry, puns on that planet are impossible to resist. 

Self-repairing material for spaceships — If a rice-sized pellet whacked into the International Space Station, it could pack the punch of a hand grenade, causing precious oxygen to seep into space. So scientists have developed a clever fix that could buy astronauts the time they need to fully repair a breach: a self healing material consisting of a reactive liquid sandwiched between two layers of a solid polymer.
~ And for astronauts? 

‘Ingenious’ experiment closes loopholes In Quantum Theory — A Bell experiment in the Netherlands has plugged loopholes in the theory of quantum mechanics using a technique called entanglement swapping to combine the benefits of using both light and matter. It’s Nobel-Prize winning stuff.
~ ‘Entanglement swapping’ sounds like a euphemism for human relationships. 

Earth, temperatures and sea — What is out Goldilocks planet’s average temperature, i09 wonders? Gizmodo reckons we’re locked into at least a 90cm sea level rise (according to NASA, Earth’s global mean sea level has already risen 6cm over the past 23 years), and Motherboards considers which nations will be worst hit by water shortages.
~ Australia bad, New Zealand good – hear that, entrepreneurs?

Cancer cell growth reversal — Good news in that US scientists have discovered that restoring the normal miRNA levels in cancer cells can reverse aberrant cell growth.
~ Well, we seem to be able to program virtually everything else. 

Electric glue is waterproof — Researchers from Nanyang Technological University in Singapore have created a new type of glue that works in wet environments because it only hardens when a voltage is applied.
~ And to unstick it? 

Australia’s solar soldiers — Each bit of tech carried by modern soldiers is potentially using a different power source. Australian Defence Force grunts are at the point where dismounted soldiers can easily be carrying between 10 and 20kg of batteries.
The SIPS (Soldier Integrated Power System) is a smart design for a tech-reliant soldier, centred around sustainable energy use. The project is a collaboration between ANU, CSIRO and Australian company Tectonic. Part of the solution comprises flexible SLIVER solar cells integrated into the soldier’s kit.
~ I still find it disturbingly ironic that a western soldier represents hundreds of thousands of dollars worth or resources, training and equipment yet can be felled by a bullet costing a few cents or a bomb cobbled together from a disused pressure-cooker and some fertiliser. 

Futurology ~ space, aliens and all, molecule transistor, human-like robot, stiff cheese, gloop-power, mountain warming, global warming, dining air-con

Giddy! R U D 2?
Giddy! R U D 2?

In a system like ours, far, far away … An international team of astronomers has detected a planet very similar to Jupiter orbiting at the same distance from a Sun-like star. And because the age and chemical composition of this system is similar to our own, it likely features an inner collection of rocky planets. Call it solar system 2.0.
~ Greetings x8.

Why aliens love the number 8 — When aliens finally come, the mathematicians are going to be the ones to make successful first contact because it’s far easier to convey numbers without common language.
~ That’s me off the comms team, then. 

Molecule anda few atoms make a transistor — An international team, including researchers from the US Naval Research Laboratory and the NTT Basic Research Laboratories in Japan, built a tiny little device using a scanning tunnelling microscope. They used that to position an organic molecule on a piece of indium arsenide, then placed charged metal atoms around it.
~ This is boom times for international teams. 

Robot did something human-like — An experiment shows how artificial self-awareness can be programmed into our technology. Roboticists at the Ransselaer Polytechnic Institute’s Artificial Intelligence and Reasoning Lab adapted three old NOA robots to see if they could pass a simple reasoning test indicative of self-awareness.
~ Don’t they build cars already? Humans can do that too, apparently. 

New super-stiff material is like Swiss cheese — An example of a new kind of super-strong material sandwiches a metal foam between two layers of carbon. The material was created by researchers from the NYU Polytechnic School of Engineering. First, the foam is made by encapsulating hollow alumina particles within aluminium alloy. Then, sheets of carbon fabric face-sheets are applied. The result is light, stiff and able to absorb incredible amounts of energy. Its creators reckon it will be used in automobiles, trains and ships.
~ And tanks, naturally. 

Japanese houses use heat from inside the mountain — A cosy, seven-unit residential complex is nestled at (and into) the foot of Mineyama Mountain in Takamatsu, Kagawa prefecture, in southern Japan. The great thing about sticking buildings directly into mountains is that internal temperatures are controlled geothermally, since the building is almost completely surrounded by earth.
~ A grounded approach. 

2014 was warm — A lengthy report compiled by the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration using work from hundreds of scientists across 58 countries has found that 2014 was the hottest year on record.
~ And no doubt the authors will be decried as weirdos with some kind of agenda.

This century will run on gloop — As we march deeper into the twenty-first century, we could have a lucrative new fuel on our hands. It’s blue-green and sometimes a little smelly. It’s found in wastewater, but it’s capable of powering jets. It’s microalgae. Though it looks like green scum or strands of hair floating on the water, microalgae is actually made up of microscopic, single-celled organisms capable of photosynthesis, like plants. It slurps in sunlight, and converts it to energy.

No more flu shots, just patches — The worst part about getting vaccinated is the shot. It’s painful and annoying. But now a group of researchers in Japan has tested a new ‘dissolving needle’ that is basically a painless patch that you stick to your arm. And it works.
~ I still shudder at the thought of metal going into flesh.

Table works as passive air-con — An unorthodox alternative to humming, power-sucking air-con is a giant heatsink dining table that promises to cool a room to a pleasant 22C. It’s a thermal sponge: the ZEF table works not unlike the ridged heatsink you’ll find perched atop a processor inside a computer. On the surface is a stylish solid oak panel, but beneath that is a folded sheet of anodised aluminium with tiny wax balls filling the gaps in-between.
~ Eat cool. 

Futurology ~ aliens, 67P’s sinkholes, future solar, robot kills worker, space and underwater farms, sea sneakers

Strawberries are growing under the sea off Italy
Strawberries are growing under the sea off Italy

What to expect from the aliens we meet — Alien civilisations will most assuredly be like snowflakes: no two will be the same. Each will differ according to an array of factors, including their mode of existence, age, history, developmental stage, and level of technological development. That said, advanced civilisations may have a lot in common as they adapt to similar challenges; we all share the same Universe, after all.
~ I never presume, myself, no matter what spiders do.

Rosetta’s comet developing sink holes — 67P, the comet ‘we’ landed a space probe on last year, is riddled with sinkholes. As the massive ball of ice and dust hurls itself toward the sun, its surface is continuing to evolve.
~ Rosetta’s orbit has shrunk, allowing closer inspection.

Future solar panels are pretty up close — Perovskite is not an Eastern European bird of prey, but a potential future of solar power. First discovered in 1839 but only recently used in solar applications, Perovskite is defined not by the elements it contains but by its crystalline structure. Cheap compared to silicon crystals, perovskites are even beginning to rival them in efficiency terms, because the lack of defects ensure that photons are neatly converted into electrons with few losses.
~ And that’s something to PerovSkite about. 

Volkswagen robot kills worker — A worker at a Volkswagen factory in Germany has died after a robot grabbed him and crushed him against a metal plate. This is perhaps the first severe accident of this kind in a western factory, and it’s sparking debate about who is responsible for the accident: the man servicing the robot beyond its protection cage or the robot’s hardware/software developers who didn’t put enough safety checks.
~ Responsibility in the robo-era.

LED lighting for space farms — Gardens may be unruly messes on Earth, but in space we’ll need our vegetable patches to run like well-oiled machines. So researchers at Purdue University are working out the scientifically-perfect cocktail of LED light to grow bumper crops in total confinement.
~ Er, doesn’t the sun also shine in space?

Meanwhile, underwater strawberries from Italy — Just off the coast of Noli, Italy, tethered twenty feet below the surface of the Mediterranean Sea, hover five bulbous biospheres filled with plants, light, and warm, wet air. The underwater greenhouses (main picture, at top) make up Nemo’s Garden, an experimental agricultural project, now in its fourth year, operated by a company that specialises in diving equipment.
~ Salt with that, madam?

Sea plastic — Our oceans are full of plastic, so scientists are mapping where it lies, which means we can begin scooping it up — and perhaps even start to use it to create new products, like these sneakers. A collaboration between Adidas and Parley for the Oceans, these running shoes are a design concept made using just plastics found in oceans. The bulk materials are made from reclaimed waste; fibres, yarns and filaments are wound from illegal deep-sea gillnets. The bright blue lines in particular are made form the distinctive blue nets you may have seen in the back of a trawler.
~ I have to worry what they’ll smell like after a few sessions. 

Futurology ~ Ceres, Sun star, Pluto, Info theory, HIV progress, medical future past,

These two images, captured by NASA's Dawn spacecraft  from just over 80,467 kms away lets us see some of the geographic details of the dwarf planet.
These two images, captured by NASA’s Dawn spacecraft from just over 80,467 kms away lets us see some of the geographic details of the dwarf planet.

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.

Futurology ~ Speed of light slowed, space, medical, robotic and battery tech

Venus has a very choppy and fast-moving atmosphere
Venus has a very choppy and fast-moving atmosphere

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?

Powered by 2xAAA batteries
Powered by 2xAAA batteries

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.

Futurology 13 ~ From robo-linguist, cure for Diabetes to more Antikythera finds

So far In the android can only pass along simple greetings in Japanese sign language
So far In the android can only pass along simple greetings in Japanese sign language

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. 

Have scientists developed a viable cure for Type 1 Diabetes? In what’s being called one of the most important advances to date in the field, researchers at Harvard have used stem cells to create insulin-producing beta cells in large quantities. Human transplantation trials could only be a few years away.
~ Well, take your time why don’t you.

Cars take up this much more space than bikes
Cars take up this much more space than bikes

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.

Futurology 12 ~ Seafloor, gravity, antiparticle, solar, coal, water-torch, Ebola

Blackout Buddy H2O’s shelf-stable magnesium-oxide battery remains inert until water kickstarts the chemical reaction that provides electricity to the three white LED bulbs
Blackout Buddy H2O’s shelf-stable magnesium-oxide battery remains inert until water kickstarts the chemical reaction that provides electricity to the three white LED bulbs

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.

World’s first clean coal commercial plant just opened In Canada — Canada has switched on its Boundary Dam Carbon-Dioxide Capture and Storage (CCS) Project. In is now the only country on Earth with a commercial-scale, coal-fired power plant capable of harvesting its own CO2 and sulfur dioxide emissions.
~ Coal that eats itself.

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!

Futurology 08 ~ Space apps, ozone, Atom sound, Retina, Info Theory, bikes speed traffic, smart rescue, bone armour, Stonehenge revelations

The area around Stonehenge was busier than previously guessed
The area around Stonehenge was busier than previously guessed (click to enlarge)

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.

Rural areas in the US may soon get high-speed wi-fi over unused tv bands —If you live out in the less densely inhabited regions, chances are good that high-speed internet in your area is pretty hard — if not impossible — to come by. That could soon change thanks to a team from Rice University who hacked currently unused, Ultra High Frequency (UHF) TV spectrum into a high-speed, wireless internet pipeline.
~ Listen up, Kiwi farmers, there is hope.

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.