Tag Archives: Mars

Futurology ~ Space, Mars, old efficient engines, Bees and Trump, browser, poo and diamond power, survival apps, human insignificance


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Space and all that … supermassive — A stunning new image captured by the Hubble Space Telescope shows a galaxy that’s being strangled by tentacles of gas and dust. The strange and intricate shape of this celestial object is caused by a supermassive black hole (above) at its core — and it’s killing the host.
~ For myself, I’m quite relieved it’s 150 million light years away.

More Mars pictures — Two European Space Agency spacecrafts arrived at Mars on October 19th, right on schedule. One crash-landed on the red planet’s surface (ESA scientists are still trying to figure out what happened to poor ol’ Schiaparelli), but the other safely inserted itself into orbit and last week, the ExoMars orbiter sent home its first images.
~ CaSSIS is looking for gases.

Car engines get ever more efficient, but a 70-year-old invention could make them 30% more efficient — Achates Power in San Diego believes it has a better way: Ditch the design that has dominated engine design for the past 130 years in favour of an idea abandoned in the 1940s and see a 30% bump in efficiency. Most modern engines use a four-stroke, reciprocating single-piston design while the old tech Achates wants to reintroduce is two pistons in each cylinder.
~ Swings, roundabouts and cycles. 

Bees and Trump’s election — Animal groups often make extraordinary collective decisions that go far beyond the abilities of any single individual. The idea that groups can make collective decisions more successfully than individuals is known as the “wisdom of the crowd” and is arguably why we vote, have juries, and fill boardrooms. Today, it’s not clear if social media is pushing humanity into a death spiral or pulling us out of one.
~ ‘Animal groups’ …

How to see all your browser knows about you — Point your browser towards this website experiment called Click to get started. A cascade of information will begin to stream down on the page, from the number of cores your computer has to the movements your mouse makes. But there’s hope – two Swedish developers have created a site offering a way to wipe your entire existence off the internet in a few clicks, although there are caveats.
~ Click. But …

Cures and more buried online — Last month, a company named Iris launched a first version of an online engine that can read the abstract of papers, map out their key concepts and find papers relevant to those concepts. It provides a quick way to get a sense of the scientific landscape for a given topic, something especially useful when you don’t know the exact keywords for the type of research you are looking for.
~ Fantastic!

Ravenous bacteria eats poo, makes power — Researchers at Ghent University in Belgium have hit on a method of harvesting energy from raw sewage that treats the wastewater without using external electricity. It’s all thanks to starving bacteria. This method is still in its lab testing stage, but industry leaders are already interested in utilising it.
~ Well, if it’s one thing any human can create …

Nuclear diamond power — Scientists at the University of Bristol have found a way to convert thousands of tons of nuclear waste into man-made diamond batteries that can generate a small electric current for thousands of years.

Survivalist apps — Here’s a list of apps to help you get through.
~ Wait, the battery is dying …

Humans very insignificant when history is laid out on a football field — Humanity gets served up a nice slice of humble pie in this NPR video that lays out the history of our planet on a football field.
~ Humans only show up about an eighth-of-an-inch from the end zone. But it’s what you do with that inch …

Futurology ~ Planets, Mars, probes, seafloor, robots, weather and mass extinctions


The Rosetta probe is having its comet-ride closest to the sun
The Rosetta probe is having its comet-ride closest to the sun

‘Young Jupiter’ — Astronomers from Stanford and the Kavli Institute have discovered a new exoplanet orbiting 51 Eridani that strongly resembles a young Jupiter. They say its similarities could help us to understand how our own solar system formed. It’s a convenient discovery, because 51 Eridani is less than 100 light-years away, and only about 20 million years old.
~ Phew, it’s still youthful! 

Rosetta probe now in serious tanning range — The European Space Agency has released pictures taken by the Rosetta probe at comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko as it reached its closest approach to the Sun. The comet has now travelled 750 million kilometers since Rosetta arrived, and the increased solar radiation has caused ices to sublimate and created jets of gas.
~ Break out the sunblock! You are at perihelion!

Mars One still completely full of s__t — After watching a two-hour debate on the feasibility of the Mars One mission last night, Maddie Stone thinks she finally understands its problem. “It’s not that the company is broke. It’s that we don’t yet have the technology to sustain human life on Mars, and Mars One still won’t admit it.”
~ That’s fighting’ talk. But basically, if you go there, you will die, but you might not even make it as you might die on the way. Not really selling it, Mars One.

Hubble might soon look like a toy — The James Webb Space Telescope (JWST), which will be “in many ways a hundred times” more capable than Hubble, isn’t launching until 2018, but already astrophysicists are thinking about its successor. They’re calling it the High Definition Space Telescope (HDST) which would have a 12-metre segmented mirror.
~ I actually already have toys that look like toys – much cheaper.

PinataDigital seafloor map can help in climate change predicting — We know less about the deep ocean than we do about the surface of Mars. But if we want to really understand how humans are impacting the Earth, we need to start looking deep into the murk. That’s why scientists created the first digital map of the seafloor’s geologic composition. The latest map, published in the journal Geology, is the first to describe the diverse sedimentary composition of the seafloor. And that’s important, because patterns in sediments can help scientists unravel past environmental changes and predict our planet’s future.
~ But it looks like a piñata. And it missed New Zealand again. 

Universal language — We know a lot about language but we know relatively little about how speech developed. Most linguists agree a combination of movement and sound like grunts and pointing probably got us started, but how we decided which sounds to use for different words remains a mystery. Now, an experimental game has shown that speakers of English might use qualities like the pitch and volume of sounds to describe concepts like size and distance when they invent new words. If true, some of our modern words may have originated from so-called iconic, rather than arbitrary, expression—a finding that would overturn a key theory of language evolution.
~ And you were hoping it was love …

Cheap, 3D-printed stethoscope challenges top model — Tarek Loubani, an emergency physician working in the Gaza strip, has 3D-printed a 30-cent stethoscope that beats the world’s best $200 equivalent as part of a project to bottom-out the cost of medical devices. It out performed the gold-standard Littmann Cardiology 3. They now intend to make a range of ultra-low cost medical devices for the developing world.
~ Yay! I can hardly wait for the affordable pulse oximeter. And also to know what that is.

Robot builds robots, learns and builds better ones — An experiment was carried out at the University of Cambridge in collaboration with ETH Zurich, and the results were published in the journal PLOS One. A mother bot (a big robotic arm) designed, built, and tested “generations” of ten “kids”: tiny, cube-shaped bots. The mother used what it observed in each experiment to churn out even better-performing offspring the next go-around.
~ I think the best response is ‘oh shit’.

Robo-Weather — Microsoft researchers Ashish Kapoor and Eric Horvitz are using machine learning to make more accurate weather predictions over a 24-hour period. So while this robo-brain won’t be able to help you with a five-day forecast, it can more accurately tell you if rain or shine is more likely during the course of your day.
~ If only we could tell if it was raining just by feeling, seeing or hearing it …

Robots simulate mass extinctions — By simulating a mass extinction on a population of virtual robots, researchers have shown these cataclysmic events are important contributors to organisms’ ability to evolve, a finding that has implications to evolutionary biology, the business sector – and even artificial intelligence.
~ OK, this is now all too robo-incestuous.

Mercury, Mars, physics women, batteries and recharging, blurred people and laser punch


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Mercury basin enhanced — Mercury’s Caloris Basin can now be seen in an enhanced colour mosaic. The massive crater, formed some 4 billion years ago, is orange. Smaller craters made subsequently are rendered in blue, while orange splotches around the perimeter may be volcanic vents.
~ Or tobacco fields.

Mars loses and ocean, but gains potential for life — Looking at Mars’ dusty, desiccated landscape, it’s hard to believe that it once possessed a vast ocean. A recent NASA study of the Red Planet using the world’s most powerful infrared telescopes clearly indicate a planet had sustained a body of water larger than the Earth’s Arctic Ocean.
~ I wonder what the fish were like. 

17 women who changed the face of physics — From discovering pulsars to correcting the optics of the fuzzy Hubble Space Telescope, here are 17 stories of women who made undeniably vital contributions to astronomy and physics.
~ Going back a long way, too. 

Fujitsu tech tracks heavily blurred people — Fujitsu has developed image-processing technology that can be used to track people in security camera footage, even when the images are heavily blurred to protect their privacy. The company says that detecting the movements of people in this way could be useful for retail design, reducing pedestrian congestion in crowded urban areas or improving evacuation routes for emergencies.
~ And for identifying perps …

Flexible fabric generates power — A team of researchers in Korea and Australia have developed a flexible fabric which generates power from human movement. The breakthrough could replace batteries in future wearable devices.
~ I just need to re-shirt my phone. 

Goodyear tyres harvest heat — In the world of electric cars, efficiency is king, and wasted energy is just more miles you can’t travel. While regenerative braking is old news, regenerative tires that use heat and vibration to recharge the battery are new.
~ So do they work better in hot countries?

Loackheed-Martin laser punches into car — Lockheed Martin recently tested its new Advanced Test High Energy Asset (ATHENA) laser on a Ford F-150. The weapons system hit the truck’s running engine from a mile away.
~ Its engine doesn’t run any more.

Futurology 14 ~ Mimas, Saturn, ancient comet, Mars, Solar Civ, Sun, Tesla, Ebola, life-raft, Cheerios, ash, Titanic


Comets from the Oort cloud are both ancient and rare. This one will bathe Mars in its light tail
Comets from the Oort cloud are both ancient and rare. This one will bathe Mars in its light tail

Mimas might have a subterranean ocean — It’s not the prettiest thing in the solar system, but Mimas — a pockmarked moon in orbit around Saturn — exhibits an odd wobble. A team of astronomers reckon there are two possible explanations: a subterranean ocean or it has an irregularly shaped core. Another Saturn moon looks frighteningly like a wasp nest
~ I vote we call the underground sea ‘Marcel M’.

Ancient comet will bathe Mars in light — Our Monday, something historical will happen: An ancient rare comet will arrive to Mars after millions of years travelling at 53km/s from the Oort cloud. It will look like you can see at this link, passing to within just a third of the distance from Earth to the moon and engulfing the Red Planet in its large tail.
~ Mars Bath.

Dark Matter sends a signal for the Sun — Astronomers from Leicester University have detected a strange signal in the X-ray spectrum that appears to be a signature of ‘axions’ — a hypothetical dark matter particle. It could take years to confirm, but this may be the first direct detection and identification of dark matter.
~ Scientists think it exists but they can’t prove it. It’s like the National Party’s conscience.

White House seeks advice on ‘Bootstrapping A Solar System Civilisation’ — The White House Office of Science and Technology Policy is planning ahead — way ahead. The agency wants you to email ideas for how “the Administration, the private sector, philanthropists, the research community and storytellers” can develop “massless” space exploration and a robust civilization beyond Earth.
~ It will end up ‘Let the market run it’, no doubt.

Mystery space ship lands on Earth after record time away — America’s spy space drone the X-37B has landed safely after a record-setting orbit of 675 days. The fact that this spacecraft has been in orbit for almost two years and has returned to Earth intact is an amazing technological feat, apparently.
~ It’s amazing? The Moon stays up there all by itself. 

Tesla S has iPhone 6 supplier internals — Well, sort of: the Tesla Model S gets attention because it’s an EV that can go from from 0 to 96kph in 4.2 seconds and can travel 265 miles on a single charge. But, a teardown of the vehicle by IHS Technology has also revealed that Elon Musk went for two 1.4Ghz, quad-core NVIDIA Tegra processors. IHS called the Tesla’s head unit the most sophisticated it’s ever seen, with 1000 more components than any it has previously analysed.
~ Now for the drivers …

Ebola robots — US robotics researchers from around the country are collaborating to build autonomous vehicles that could deliver food and medicine, and telepresence robots that could safely decontaminate equipment and help bury victims of Ebola.
~ Minimise contact – and then remote-sterilise the robots, too. 

Tipping rescue raft makes it easier to pull people from the water — Water rescues can be particularly tricky because you’re on the exact opposite of stable ground while you’re trying to pull someone to safety. But getting enough leverage to pull a heavy body out of the water looks a little easier with this clever inflatable raft that can be tipped backwards for easier access to the water, without that whole sinking issue.
~ And it’s back-packable.

Cheerios inside bags grow new Antifungals — Scientists grew a soil fungus for four weeks in a bag full of Cheerios and discovered a new compound that can block biofilm formation by an infectious yeast. The chemists claim that Cheerios are by far the best in the cereal aisle at growing chemically productive fungi.
~ So why am I not surprised?

Cigarette ash water filters — Among the long, long list of reasons why we shouldn’t smoke lies cigarette ash: it’s an unsavoury chemical cocktail that also happens to be a major eyesore around any popular smoking spot. But thanks to a team of chemists, we could use that same cocktail of horrific chemical to make water clean.
~ And it tastes like …?

A single breakthrough could cut costs on solar energy by 25% — Costs on solar are coming down steeply, and now they’re about to get even cheaper. A group of chemists at Ohio State University has invented a solar panel that stores energy without an external battery. The self-contained tuner/capacitor panels are already being licensed to industry.
~ We welcome the forthcoming Epic of Solarmesh.

New pictures of Titanic launch have emerged — There’s a new exhibition at an Irish museum showcasing previously unpublished sepia-tinged photos of the ill-fated Titanic as it’s being launched to sea. The goose-bump inducing images show the luxury liner as it’s going down the Belfast shipyard’s slipway, along with excited spectators cheering on.
~ 117 prints in all! 

Futurology 05 ~ Dawn of time star, Mars, fiery reentry, cybermoths, solar, chair-you-wear, white beetle, land-mines


Cygnus-class resupply ship Janice Voss entering the Earth’s atmosphere on August 17 by Alexander Gerst

Cygnus-class resupply ship Janice Voss entering the Earth’s atmosphere on August 17 by Alexander Gerst

Star that exploded at the dawn of time — To probe the dawn of time, astronomers usually peer far away; but now they’ve made a notable discovery close to home. An ancient star a mere thousand light-years from Earth bears chemical elements that may have been forged by the death of a star that was both extremely massive and one of the first to arise after the big bang. If confirmed, the finding means that some of the universe’s first stars were so massive they died in exceptionally violent explosions that altered the growth of early galaxies.
~ Big, big bangs.

Modular hive home for Mars — In June, JPL and MakerBot were teamed up to host a competition for designing a futuristic Mars base. The competition is now over, and the top three designs have been chosen. First place went to Noah Hornberger, who designed a base with hexagonal rooms and shielding made of depleted uranium.
~ A honey of a house maybe, but I still don’t want to go. And what the hell is a ‘Mud Room’?

Mars rover’s wheel damage — The folks in charge of the Mars rover Curiosity have been trying to solve an increasingly urgent problem: what to do about unexpected wheel damage.
~ It’s a wheel challenge all right. 

Crystal-clear picture of a spaceship burning up on reentry — German astronaut Alexander Gerst took the above crystal clear photo of the Cygnus-class resupply ship Janice Voss entering the Earth’s atmosphere on August 17.
~ Alas poor Janice. 

Crystal-clear solar cells — A team of researchers from Michigan State University has developed a completely transparent, luminescent solar concentrator. Whereas most traditional solar panels collect light energy from the sun using dark silicon cells and converted into electricity using the photovoltaic effect, solar concentrators actually focus sunlight onto a heat engine that produces electricity.
~ Transparent energy, that’s the dream.

Bionic pants is chair you wear — For some people, for example assembly line workers, not having a chair to sit in can actually pose a health hazard. That’s why Noonee developed the Chairless Chair, a chair you wear.
~ Also perfect for quick toilet stops. I just had to show the picture for that one! (below).

Quick sit-down meeting, anyone?
Quick sit-down meeting, anyone?

Remote-controlled cyborg moths — Research being conducted at North Carolina State University is aimed at converting moths into biobots.
~ Everything looking fine, then a flame appears. 

While we’re talking about animal abuse, thermal solar plants have been incinerating birds — Federal investigators in California have requested that BrightSource — owner of thermal solar plants — halt the construction of more (and bigger) plants until their impact on wildlife has been further investigated.
The Ivanpah plant has more than 300,000 mirrors, each the size of a garage door. They focus and concentrate solar energy from their entire surfaces upward onto three boiler towers – the solar energy heats the water inside the towers to produce steam, which turns turbines that generate enough electricity for 140,000 homes. But the concentrated solar energy chars and incinerates the feathers of passing birds.
~ Ouch.

FarmBot: an open source automated farming machine — Farming has been stuck in a bit of a rut compared to other industries. Businesses across the globe have been innovating for decades, while farming has been using techniques handed down over centuries. The FarmBot Foundation is creating a machine, similar to a CNC mill and/or 3D printer, which is capable of being run by sophisticated software and equipped with tools including seed injectors, plows, burners, robotic arms (for harvesting), cutters, shredders, tillers, discers, watering nozzles, sensors and more.
~ Ee ai ee ai … oh no.

The whitest beetle — One species of beetle looks like it’s been given a lick with a paintbrush — but in fact, the Cyphochilus is covered in paper-thin scales that are brilliant white, and reflect more light than anything of a similar thickness that can be made by humans.
~ And super lightweight, due to ingenious design.

Sick plants could lead to hidden landlines — Land mines are explosive, of course, but also leak toxins into the soil that make plants sick. That’s unfortunate for the plants but fortunate for us if we can figure out how to look for sick plants as indicators of land mines. Aeroplanes equipped with a low-cost sensor that captures non-visible light might be the answer.
~ Or drones. of course.