Mission to Bennu may help defend Earth, and there may be water there — Bennu is a 487.68m-wide asteroid that orbits the Sun relatively close to the Earth. NASA’s OSIRIS-REx mission won’t just take pretty pictures of the asteroid Bennu, it will also help scientists learn whether the rock will one day threaten Earth. OSIRIS-REx spacecraft also detected evidence of water on its target just a week after arriving. ~ To wetly threaten Planet Earth …
Quark soup droplets expand like Big Bangs — Stars and galaxies didn’t form right away. Scientists think that matter was initially a near-perfect fluid of quarks, the smallest known component of atoms. They have found evidence of these fluids in high-energy particle collider experiments. Now, evidence continues to mount that these liquids can form in unexpected ways, yielding tiny droplets that flow outwards explosively, like liquid Big Bangs in miniature. ~ Sounds like messy dining, though.
Experimental gene therapy stops mice getting fat — Researchers at Flinders University knocked out a gene known as RCAN1 in mice, hypothesising this would increase “non-shivering thermogenesis,” which “expends calories as heat rather than storing them as fat” – the mice were fed a high-calorie diet and did not gain weight. In particular, the modified mice did not store fat around their middles (a phenomenon associated with many health risks, including cardiac problems) and their resting muscles burned more calories. ~ Despite that, I don’t think I can bring myself to eat those skinny, gene-altered mice.
What did Minnesota kids from the year 1904 think would happen by the year 1919, or even 2019?They imagined fancy airships in the sky, “automobiles for everything,” and wondrous house-cleaning robots. They even imagined trips to Mars by the year 1919. Seriously. ~ I already have a wondrous house-cleaning robot. Me.
Incan temple virtually recreated — The 1500-year-old Pumapunku temple in western Bolivia is considered a crowning achievement of Mesoamerican architecture, yet no one really knew what the original structure actually looked like. Until now.
The stonework of the temple is considered so precise that ancient alien enthusiasts claim it was made by lasers and other extraterrestrial technologies. ~ The technique can now be used on other sites.
Two Chinese stalagmites enrich radiocarbon dating —Owing to the discovery of two stalagmites in a Chinese cave containing a seamless chronological atmospheric record dating back to the last Ice Age, radiocarbon dating will now be better.
An unbroken, high-resolution record of atmospheric carbon-12 and carbon-14 was found in a pair of stalagmites located within Hulu Cave near Nanjing, China, according to new research published in Science. ~ Now we can calibrate back a lot further.
Expanding universe mystery — An important discrepancy in measurements of the universe’s acceleration has theorists wondering whether we’ve gotten something fundamentally wrong in our understanding of the history of the universe.
One currently unexplained cosmological mystery is the ‘Hubble tension,’ where various measurements of the universe’s expansion seem to disagree. As the story surrounding this tension gets murkier, others have begun to come up with new ideas, but these attempts to explain away the difference without new physics don’t seem to hold up to scrutiny. ~ Yes, none of it holds up to mine.
3D-printed moon dust for Mars — Mars is lacking in the vast supply of natural resources we rely on here on Earth, and astronauts attempting to colonise, or even just visit, the red planet can only bring a limited supply of materials with them. The results of the European Space Agency’s latest 3D-printing experiments (main picture, above) prove it isn’t impossible, though. If there’s one thing Mars isn’t lacking, it’s dust. As a stand in for genuine Mars ingredients, researchers have turned to a simulated version of lunar soil, also known as lunar regolith. The ESA 3D-printed a sample of various parts using a light-sensitive binding agent mixed with the regolith (silicon, aluminium, calcium, and iron oxides that have been ground to a very fine dust). ~ Print me an Earth-bound ship!
Genetically-altered twins spark outrage — Twin girls born earlier in November had their DNA altered to prevent them from contracting HIV, according to an Associated Press report. If confirmed, the births would signify the first gene-edited babies in human history — a stunning development that’s sparking an outcry from scientists and ethicists. ~ He doesn’t appear to have been kidding. ‘Don’t worry, kids! We’re just going to infect you with HIV and see what happens …’
5 tech innovations that have changed music — Music is one of the fundamental appreciations that sets humans apart from every other living thing we’re currently aware of.
Beyond the artistry we connect with on an emotional level, there is a whole industry filled with gadgets, instruments and software that transforms the production and consumption of music. Read about five innovations that have revolutionised music in the last couple of decades. ~ Who needs musical ability when you have all this?
Harvard scientists solve age-old lens problem — Chromatic aberration is just a fact of life when it comes to photography. A combination of high-quality gear – lenses in particular – and user skill can minimise the tell-tale purple fringe. But what if a simple layer on your lens could all but eliminate CA? Enter a team of researchers from Harvard’s School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS), who have accomplished exactly this. ~ But it will take ages to reach consumers.
It’s all going to Apocalypticon in a handcart, but here are 5 innovations that can help save the oceans from plastic — The science and tech communities have also been collaborating with governments and big business on innovative solutions to stop the eight million tonnes of plastic that is dumped into oceans every year. ~ Humans work hard to solve ridiculous but terrible problems created by … yeah, humans.
Holiday spot for ExoMars 2020 mission selected — When it comes to landing a robot on another planet, perhaps the most important question is where to put the dang thing. The researchers behind the upcoming ExoMars mission, consisting of a rover and lander, have now announced their preferred location on the Red Planet.
ExoMars 2020 is the next part of the ExoMars missions: a rover and landing platform to be sent to Mars as part of a joint mission between the European Space Agency and Russia’s Roscosmos. ~ I dunno: no pool, and services are too far away.
Army space balloons — DARPA, the US military’s research arm, is currently testing a wind sensor that could allow devices in its Adaptable Lighter-Than-Air (ALTA) balloon program to spot wind speed and direction from a great distance and then make the necessary adjustments to stay in one spot.
DARPA has been working on ALTA for some time, but its existence was only revealed in September. “By flying higher we hope to take advantage of a larger range of winds,” says ALTA project manager Alex Walan. ALTA will operate even higher than Loon at 22,900 to 27,400 meters (75,000 to 90,000 feet or 14 to 17 miles) where the winds are less predictable. Statioanry, they could provide communication in remote or disaster-hit area, follow hurricanes, or monitor pollution at sea. One day, they could even take tourists on near-space trips to see the curvature of the planet. ~ Presumably, the balloons for Flat Earthers will be flat discs.
Plasma in their Chinese Experimental Advanced Superconducting Tokamak (EAST) reached a 100 million degrees Celsius — That’s six times hotter than the core of the Sun. This temperature is the minimum required to maintain a fusion reaction that produces more power than it takes to run. The Chinese research team said they were able to achieve the record temperature through the use of various new techniques in heating and controlling the plasma, but could only maintain the state for around 10 seconds. The latest breakthrough provided experimental evidence that reaching the 100 million degrees Celsius mark is possible, according to China’s Institute of Plasma Physics. ~ So this has great importance to humankind, because I reckon it would cook a pizza perfectly in a tenth of a second. Although I must admit the phrase ‘playing with fire’ also springs to mind.
Omnidirectional turbine wins award — A spinning turbine that can capture wind traveling in any direction and could transform how consumers generate electricity in cities has won its inventors a prestigious international award and a US$38,000 prize. Nicolas Orellana, 36, and Yaseen Noorani, 24, MSc students at Lancaster University, scooped the James Dyson award for their O-Wind Turbine, which, in a technological first, takes advantage of both horizontal and vertical winds without requiring steering. ~ I think they should call it ‘the wind bag’.
Tantalising but preliminary evidence of a ‘brain microbiome’ — We know the menagerie of microbes in the gut has powerful effects on our health. Could some of these same bacteria be making a home in our brains? The annual meeting of the Society for Neuroscience drew attention with high-resolution microscope images of bacteria apparently penetrating and inhabiting the cells of healthy human brains. The work is preliminary, and its authors are careful to note that their tissue samples, collected from cadavers, could have been contaminated. But to many passersby in the exhibit hall, the possibility that bacteria could directly influence processes in the brain – including, perhaps, the course of neurological disease – was exhilarating. ~ Yes, whatever floats your boats, brain peeps!
Dubai hover cops — Like a Sci-Fi thriller brought to life, Dubai has taken its police force to another level with fully functional Hoverbikes being added to the force by 2020.
It was only last year that the Dubai Police announced they were looking to upgrade their traffic patrol vehicles into Hoverbikes, but to have actually stuck to that promise and come out with some wicked cool tech in only a years time is pretty remarkable. ~ Crikey, you wouldn’t want to fall off into those props! (See main picture, above). And why? And won’t they whip up little sand storms?
Neanderthals were nicer than was thought — The stereotype of a typical Neanderthal life is that it was extraordinarily difficult, violent, and traumatic. But a comparative analysis of the remains left behind by Neanderthals and contemporaneous humans is finally overturning this unwarranted assumption.
Neanderthals have been depicted as club-carrying, dim-witted brutes who spent their days clobbering each other with reckless abandon.
New research published in Nature is finally setting the record straight, showing that Neanderthals and Upper Paleolithic modern humans experienced similar levels of head trauma. Yes, life was tough for Neanderthals — but the new research suggests life wasn’t any less tougher or violent for contemporaneous Homo sapiens. ~ So e tu, non Brutus!
Earth’s oldest soil —This could be tucked away in an ancient rock outcrop in Greenland, according to new research. Dating back some 3.7 billion years, the suspected soil – exposed underneath a retreating ice cap – could potentially contain fossilised traces of primordial life. ~ No! Don’t wash your boots!
Seyfert sucks up Earth-sized object — A team of physicists has reported an Earth-sized clump of matter flying into a black hole at nearly a third the speed of light. It’s a lucky observation: some scientists visualise smaller black holes as being like the black hole from the movie Interstellar – a massive, spinning, compact object surrounded by a disk of shredded gas and dust, looking much like an evil planet Saturn. Objects don’t fall directly into the black hole, but travel inward along these spinning clouds. But theoretical physicists predict that larger black holes might instead have “chaotic accretion”, meaning things can fall into them at any angle. ~ But where did the Earth-sized clump go after it went into the hole?
Japanese robots hop onto asteroid — Two tiny hopping robots successfully landed on an asteroid called Ryugu, then sent back some wild postcards from their new home. The tiny rovers are part of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency’s Hayabusa2 asteroid sample-return mission. Engineers with the agency deployed the robots early Friday September 21st, but JAXA waited until September 22nd to confirm the operation was successful and both rovers made the landing safely. ~ ‘We come in pieces …’
Solar-gathering battery — The problem of energy storage has led to many creative solutions, like giant batteries. For a paper published in the journal Chem, scientists trying to improve the solar cells themselves developed an integrated battery that works in three different ways: it can work like a normal solar cell by converting sunlight to electricity immediately; it can store the solar energy; and it can simply be charged like a normal battery. It’s a combination of two existing technologies: solar cells that harvest light, and a so-called flow battery. ~ I’m ever ready for this.
Spheres make concrete leaner and greener — Rice University scientists have developed micron-sized calcium silicate spheres that could lead to stronger and greener concrete, the world’s most-used synthetic material. The researchers formed the spheres in a solution around nanoscale seeds of a common detergent-like surfactant. The spheres can be prompted to self-assemble into solids that are stronger, harder, more elastic and more durable than ubiquitous Portland-style cement. The spheres are also suitable for bone-tissue engineering, insulation, ceramic and composite applications. ~ From that churning cement mixer to ‘please self assemble now …’
Spray-on antennas — In a study published in Science Advances, researchers in Drexel’s College of Engineering describe a method for spraying invisibly thin antennas, made from a type of two-dimensional, metallic material called MXene, that perform as well as those being used in mobile devices, wireless routers and portable transducers. ~ MXene it up, indeed.
A better mosquito trap — A scientist in Australia has come up with an insecticide-free way to control a particularly pesky species of mosquito. The approach involves two things: deploying a decidedly low-tech mosquito trap called a GAT … and getting to know your neighbours. ~ Nice to know you, neighbour! Now, stop yapping and start trappin’. [But people are still working on the modified extinction possibilities too.)
Maths and science boys and girls — A study of school grades of more than 1.6 million students shows that girls and boys perform similarly in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) subjects. ~ Why is anyone actually surprised at this?
Don’t cut out that appendix! After more than a century of slicing tiny, inflamed organs from people’s guts, doctors have found that surgery may not be necessary after all – a simple course of antibiotics can be just as effective at treating appendicitis as going under the knife.
Peaking into mummies — A revved-up version of traditional CT scanning shows it’s possible to acquire microscopic-scale images of ancient Egyptian mummies, revealing previously unseen features such as blood vessels and nerves. ~ Seriously? I could have told them they’d have blood vessels and nerves!
Airborne lasers reveal many more Mayan structures — Using an airborne laser mapping technique called ‘lidar’, an international team of archaeologists has uncovered an astounding number of previously undetected structures belonging to the ancient Maya civilisation — a discovery that’s changing what we know of this remarkable society. ~ The ancient Maya’s range extended from what is today southern Mexico, Guatemala, and Belize.
According to World Health Organization data, China has overtaken the United States in healthy life expectancy at birth for the first time. The data from 2016 finds Chinese newborns can look forward to 68.7 years of healthy life ahead of them, compared with 68.5 years for American babies.
The United States was one of only five countries, along with Somalia, Afghanistan, Georgia and Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, where healthy life expectancy at birth fell in 2016, according to a Reuters analysis of the WHO data, which was published without year-on-year comparisons in mid-May. [I’m trying to get my head around 68.7-year-old babies.] Maybe Americans should ask for more surveillance?A high school in Hangzhou City, Zhejiang Province located on the eastern coast of China, has employed facial recognition technology to monitor students’ attentiveness in class, local media reports. Three cameras at the front of the classroom scan students’ faces every 30 seconds, analysing their facial expressions to detect their mood. The different moods – surprised, sad, antipathy, angry, happy, afraid, neutral – are recorded and averaged during each class. A display screen, only visible to the teacher, shows the data in real-time. A certain value is determined as a student not paying enough attention. Still sucks to be a girl, though. China’s gender gap is not confined to tech. The country’s gender parity ranking fell in 2017 for the ninth straight year, leaving China placed 100 out of 144 countries surveyed in a report by the World Economic Forum.
The country ranked 60th in terms of female labour force participation and 70th in terms of wage equality for similar work. Men on average had an estimated income of around $19,000, over $7000 more than women.
Samantha Kwok, the Australian-Chinese founder of the Beijing-based recruitment firm JingJobs, said clients often gave her two job descriptions: one to be published publicly and a second internal one that detailed requirements based on age or gender… A greenhouse gas is billowing into the atmosphere from a source somewhere in East Asia that no one can identify at a rate scientists have never before seen, and it’s ignited a scientific dash to get to the bottom of it. In 2014, mysterious toxic plumes of CFC-11 – a type of CFC – began to drift across the Pacific Ocean. [And who left the question mark off that headline, left?]
In the data wars, Google is reminding organisations to review how much of their Google Groups mailing lists should be public and indexed by Google.com since sensitive data is being exposed. The notice was prompted in part by a review that KrebsOnSecurity undertook with several researchers who’ve been busy cataloging thousands of companies using public Google Groups lists to manage customer support and in some cases sensitive internal communications. Google Groups is a service that provides discussion groups for people sharing common interests. Because of the organic way Google Groups tend to grow as more people are added to projects – and perhaps given the ability to create public accounts on otherwise private groups – a number of organisations with household names are leaking sensitive data in their message lists. Once, the Mad Men ruled advertising. They’ve now been eclipsed by Math Men: engineers and data scientists whose province is machines, algorithms, pureed data, and artificial intelligence. Yet Math Men are beleaguered, as Mark Zuckerberg demonstrated when he humbled himself before Congress, in April. Math Men’s adoration of data, coupled with their truculence and an arrogant conviction that their ‘science’ is nearly flawless [which has more to do with its money-making potential, I suspect],has aroused government anger much as Microsoft did two decades ago. Unknown third parties appear to be exploiting the Chrome Store’s ‘theme’ section to offer visitors access to a wide range of pirate movies including Black Panther, Avengers: Infinity War and Rampage. When clicking through to the page offering Ready Player One, for example, users are presented with a theme that apparently allows them to watch the movie online in ‘Full HD Online 4k’. Of course, the whole scheme is a dubious scam which eventually leads users to Vioos dot co, a platform that tries very hard to give the impression of being a pirate streaming portal but actually provides nothing of use. That’s why we all trust Google to build military drones, right? No? Coz that’s what’s happening. In March, Google signed a secretive agreement with the Pentagon to provide cutting edge AI technology for drone warfare, causing about a dozen Google employees to resign in protest and thousands to sign a petition calling for an end to the contract. Google has since tried to quash the dissent, claiming that the contract was “only” for US$9 million, according to the New York Times. Internal company emails obtained by The Intercept tell a different story: the September emails show that Google’s business development arm expected the military drone artificial intelligence revenue to ramp up from an initial US$15 million to an eventual US$250 million per year. Meanwhile, users in Europe have already filed complaints against Facebookand Google, saying the tech companies are in violation of the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). Apple approves Telegram update even after Russian government demands Apple shut the app down — Amidst a contentious battle with the Russian government over demands to pull Telegram, the encrypted message app, from the App Store, Apple has approved an updated version of the messaging app having seemingly blocked such changes for two months.
Excerpt from my forthcoming book: “Essentially, there are many threats that could wipe out huge numbers of humans. It’s worth recalling the dinosaurs were on the planet for around 60 million years before volcanoes and an asteroid wiped them out – Homo Sapiens has only been around for about 200,000 years. Yet, numbers of us may survive an apocalypse: we have done many times before.“
Asteroid from another star system found orbiting wrong way near Jupiter — Astronomers have spotted an asteroid orbiting our sun in the opposite (retrograde) direction to the planets. The 3.22km-wide (2-mile-wide) asteroid, 2015 BZ509, is the first “interstellar immigrant” from beyond our solar system to remain, according to the study published in the journal Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society. ~ Where are traffic wardens when you need them?
NASA’s new exoplanet hunter releases incredible first image — On the way to its final orbit around Earth, NASA’s planet-hunting Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS) sailed past the moon and snapped its first picture of space. TESS should be able to look at 200,000 stars in the 300 light-years around the Earth – and maybe this new shot (main picture, above) will show you what that really means. ~ I think that star 66th from the left, 1049 down bears closer examination…
German test reveals that magnetic fields are pushing the EM Drive — Researchers in Germany have performed an independent, controlled test of the infamous EM Drive with an unprecedented level of precision, and it turns out the thrust is coming from interactions with the Earth’s magnetic field. ~ We have all long awaited the ‘magnetic WTF thruster’ so this is exciting.
Gel-based robots can dance — Engineers at Rutgers University have started 3D-printing gel material that could one day give us softer, arguably less frightening robots. And to show off their so-called “smart gel,” they made it dance. It’s not just cute – the reactive synthetic might have far-reaching applications for the future of automation.
The printable ‘smart gel’ moves in response to electric stimuli. Made of a special polymer that reacts to electric impulses, the gel can be formed into a variety of shapes to perform tasks such as grabbing objects or moving them around. ~ Less frightening? I think a killer robot trying to kill me is not necessarily cuter if it’s made of gel, myself.
Scientist transfer memories from one snail to another — UCLA neuroscientists have transferred a memory from one snail to another via injections of RNA, a startling result that challenges the widely held view of where and how memories are stored in the brain. The finding from the lab of David Glanzman hints at the potential for new RNA-based treatments to one day restore lost memories and, if correct, could shake up the field of memory and learning. ~ But how fast, though?
Legend of Loch Ness Monster to be tested with DNA samples — For hundreds of years, visitors to Scotland’s Loch Ness have described seeing a monster that some believe lurks in the depths. But now the legend of ‘Nessie’ may have no place left to hide.
A New Zealand scientist is leading an international team to the lake next month, where they will take samples of the murky waters and conduct DNA tests to determine what species live there. University of Otago professor Neil Gemmell says he’s no believer in Nessie, but he wants to take people on an adventure and communicate some science along the way. ~ Besides, he says, his kids think it’s one of the coolest things he’s ever done.
Dinosaur-killing asteroid rewrote avian history — The asteroid that hit Earth 65 million years ago didn’t just suck for the big lizards. Shockwaves likely knocked down the trees, fires would have burned up entire forests, and less light would have meant fewer plants. Goodbye to homes for birds, then.
New research shows how the strike would have decided which species made it and which species didn’t. Without trees, only ground-dwelling birds would have survived. This surely would have had a profound impact on the kinds of species still around today – a bottleneck in evolution’s history that changed the course of life forever.
So, how smart was T-Rex anyway? Palaeontologist and evolutionary biologist Steve Brusatte shares his expansive knowledge by providing a concise and highly accessible overview of the dino era. Though extinct now, these remarkable creatures had a tremendous run, dominating the planet’s ecosystems for tens of millions of years. Dinosaurs flourished for over 150 million years, far, far longer than humans have been around, and they utterly dominated the planet and evolved into some of the most incredible feats of biology the world has ever seen. Many dinosaurs had big brains, implying high intelligence. ~ But could T-Rex bang a gong?
Using Relativity to magnify stargazing — Two teams of scientists report seeing single, twinkling stars in galaxies billions of light years away with the help of the Hubble Space Telescope. All they needed was Albert Einstein’s theory of general relativity. ~ And I thought that theory was about my Uncle Eddie.
Milky Way centre has loads of black holes — The supermassive black hole lurking at the center of our galaxy appears to have a lot of company, according to a new study that suggests the monster is surrounded by about 10,000 other black holes. ~ Holey heck.
The first 3d-printed steel bridge looks like it broke off an alien mothership — MX3D in Amsterdam just revealed the world’s first 3D-printed bridge. It’s made of a completely new type of steel, spans 12.19m (main picture, above), and will be installed early next year in De Wallen, the largest and best-known red-light district in Amsterdam. It also looks utterly otherworldly. ~ The pimps and pushers will be pleased.
Antarctic vegetables — As temperatures outside dipped to well below freezing, and as blizzards pounded the Antarctic research station, German scientists were carefully tending to a remarkable veggie garden – one requiring no soil or natural sunlight. The success of their first harvest, which produced vibrant-looking lettuce, radishes, cucumbers and other treats, represents a promising test run for similar greenhouses that could one day be built on Mars – or beyond. ~ Iceberg lettuce, anyone?
Archaeologists have now found ‘new’ Nazca lines with the help of drones — Peruvian archaeologists armed with drones have discovered more than 50 new examples of these mysterious desert monuments in adjacent Palpa province, traced onto the earth’s surface in lines almost too fine to see with the human eye. In addition, archaeologists surveyed locally known geoglyphs with drones for the first time – mapping them in never-before-seen detail. ~ It’s a sign.
Roman refrigerators — Archaeologists in Switzerland are conducting an experiment to figure out how ancient Romans used a series of deep shafts to keep food cool well into the summer months. The shafts were discovered in 2013 at Augusta Raurica, an archaeological site located near the Swiss city of Basel. The Roman colony was founded in 15 BC, and it soon blossomed into a vibrant metropolis and trade hub that was home to around 15,000 to 20,000 people. Today, Augusta Raurica remains one of the best-preserved Roman cities north of the Swiss Alps. ~ Really? To get cold in Switzerland, just walk up hill!
Four-eyed lizard — An ancient species of monitor lizard that went extinct some 34 million years ago had four eyes, according to new research. It’s the first time that scientists have ever seen such a thing in a jawed terrestrial animal – an observation that’s filling a gap in our understanding of how these features evolved. ~ Ah, but was four-eyed forewarned?
Rare supernova extinguishes star at record speed — Using data collected by the Kepler space telescope, an international team of astronomers led by Brad Tucker from Australian National University has documented the death throes of a star located 1.3 billion light-years away. Known as KSN 2015K, this unprecedented FELT reached its maximum brightness in just 2.2 days, which is 10 times faster than standard supernovae. ~ Or it’s a pretty full-on war in a distant galaxy …
Brown planet reopens debate — Scientists have discovered a planet a lot like Jupiter orbiting a dim star, if you can even call it a star – it’s nothing like our Sun. The finding once again makes us wonder: what is a planet, anyway? ~ I’m going with ‘big round thing in space that orbits and is not on fire’.
Alien DNA — If an alien life form is alien, how will we know what it is? DNA and RNA are the building blocks of life on Earth, but the molecules of life might differ substantially on another planet. So if scientists combing, say, the potentially habitable waters of Jupiter’s moon Europa were to stumble across a new life form, how could they know what they had discovered? Aha – scientists at Georgetown University suggest a method for identifying alien life using modern genome sequencing technology. ~ Please open your carapace, sir and/or madam, we would like to take a swab.
Cat-like ‘hearing’ with device tens of trillions times smaller than human eardrum — Researchers are developing atomically thin ‘drumheads’ tens of trillions of times thinner than the human eardrum able to receive and transmit signals across a radio frequency range far greater than what we can hear with the human ear. Their work will likely contribute to making the next generation of ultralow-power communications and sensory devices smaller and with greater detection and tuning ranges. ~ Have to go – I just heard my cat.
NVIDIA’s 2 Petaflop DGX-2 AI Supercomputer with 32GB Tesla V100 and NVSwitch Tech — NVIDIA CEO Jensen Huang recently announced a number of GPU-powered innovations for machine learning, including a new AI supercomputer and an updated version of the company’s powerful Tesla V100 GPU that now sports a hefty 32GB of on-board HBM2 memory. NVIDIA claims NVSwitch is five times faster than the fastest PCI Express switch and offers an aggregate 2.4TB per second of bandwidth. ~ All the better to monitor us with.
Bionic wheelbot — Using eight reconfigurable legs, the BionicWheelBot can creepily crawl along the ground, but then transform into a wheel and roll at an alarming speed. ~ It can tiptoe through tricky terrain then quickly roll through the flat bits.
A paperlike LCD is thin, flexible, tough and cheap — Optoelectronic engineers have manufactured a special type of LCD that is paper-thin, flexible, light and tough. With this, a newspaper could be uploaded onto a flexible paperlike display that could be updated as fast as the news cycles. It sounds futuristic, but scientists reckon it will be cheap to produce, perhaps only costing US$5 for a 5-inch screen. ~ I can almost guarantee the last word in its description will be gone by the time this becomes available.
Sewage sludge leads to biofuels breakthrough — Researchers have discovered a new enzyme that will enable microbial production of a renewable alternative to petroleum-based toluene, a widely used octane booster in gasoline that has a global market of 29 million tons per year. ~ Isn’t toluene also carcinogenic?
13,000-year-old human footprints found off Canada’s Pacific coast — Human footprints found off Canada’s Pacific coast may be 13,000 years old, according to a new study. The finding adds to the growing body of evidence supporting the hypothesis that humans used a coastal route to move from Asia to North America during the last ice age. ~ So that rules out flying.
Secrets of famous Neanderthal skeleton La Ferrassie 1 revealed — Anthropologists have provided new insights on one of the most famous Neanderthal skeletons, discovered over 100 years ago: La Ferrassie 1. Nearly all of the fractures were made post-mortem. La Ferrassie 1 was an old man (likely over 50 years old) who suffered various broken bones during his lifetime and had ongoing respiratory issues when he died. The skeleton was found in a burial pit and dated to between 40,000 and 54,000 years old. ~ The weight of sediments snapped the bones.
All Disk Galaxies rotate once every billion years — According to a new study published in The Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society, astronomers discovered that all disk galaxies rotate about once every billion years, no matter their size or mass. ~ Is it just me who finds it weird that distant galaxies follow a time frame dictated by the sun we happen to be circling?
Kepler space telescope is running out of gas — NASA’s Kepler spacecraft has been peering deep into the Milky Way galaxy for nearly a decade. It has spotted over 2500 confirmed planets orbiting distant stars, with another 2500-plus possible worlds are waiting to be confirmed. But Kepler will be out of fuel in just a few months and left to its long, lonely orbit. The spacecraft will soon be replaced by another exoplanet-hunting space telescope, NASA’s Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS). TESS is set to launch into space on April 16th. ~ Er, they didn’t fit solar panels??
Gravitational Wave Detector progress — One of the most expensive, complex and problematic components in gravitational wave detectors like the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-wave Observatory (LIGO) — which made the first, historic detection of these ripples in space-time in September 2015 — is the 4-kilometer-long vacuum chambers that house all the interferometer optics. But what if this requirement for ground-based gravitational wave detectors isn’t needed? This suggestion has been made by a pair of physicists at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County (UMBC). They are developing a method that could allow extremely sensitive interferometers to operate in the “open air.” ~ After all, the open air is good for nearly everyone.
Devices get smaller, so which watch? Can you imagine that one day all your devices might be in that thing around your wrist? Already, some people use smartphones alone for all their computing … inconceivable 10 years ago. Reviews.com has decided on what’s best so far.
Ghostly beetle for new white — Scientists have engineered perhaps the whitest natural substance, using the same physics behind one ghostly white Southeast Asian beetle. White and black feel like opposites for a reason. Black-coloured things absorb nearly all of the light that strikes their surface, while white things send the light back, scattered equally at all wavelengths. A team of European scientists have essentially created the whitest paper using this physical property. ~ It can be 20 to 30 times whiter than white filter paper. Ouch!
Amputees to get new limb ‘feeling’ — Prosthetic hands have gotten increasingly sophisticated. Many can recreate the complex shape and detail of joints and fingers, while powered prostheses allow for independent, willful movement. But a new study published in Science Translational Medicine offers a potential glimpse into the future of the technology: Artificial hands that actually feel like living limbs as they move.
New methods find undiagnosed genetic diseases in electronic health records — Researchers have found a way to search genetic data in electronic health records to identify undiagnosed genetic diseases in large populations so treatments can be tailored to the actual cause of the illness. ~ Yay, a use for Big Data that’s other than pecuniary.
New brain preservation technique could lead to mind uploading — Using a technique developed three years ago, researchers from MIT and 21st Century Medicine have shown that it’s possible to preserve the microscopic structures contained within a large mammalian brain. The breakthrough means scientists now have the means to store and study samples of the human brain over longer timescales – but the method could eventually, maybe, be used to resurrect the dead. ~ It’s the downloading part some people clearly need.
Nanoparticle eyedrops may one day replace glasses —A new paper from Bar-Ilan University’s Institute of Nanotechnology and Advances Materials in Tel Aviv, Israel and published by the European Society of Cataract & Refractive Surgeons, outlines the research, which involves a combination of “nanodrops” and a quick medical procedure. ~ But how will you wipe those smears off them?
Systemic weirdness — The universe is loaded with a lot of strange symmetries between seemingly dissimilar systems, thanks to similar underlying physics. Take an electrical circuit, a spring and a swinging pendulum. These simple oscillators might look completely different, but they are governed by the same mathematical equations. Other similarities aren’t so simple – which makes them especially mind-boggling.
Separate teams of researchers have announced another discovery: specially-engineered materials, called topological insulators, displaying similar behaviours in very different systems. ~ I don’t think that’s weird. It’s like two vastly different political systems ending up with the same result: one was called Hitler and the other, Stalin.
Particle accelerator reveals hidden text —History and particle physics seem like pretty disparate fields but they have more in common than you’d think. X-rays from a high-energy lab have revealed ancient Greek medical texts that had been stripped and covered with religious writing.
Scientists at the Department of Energy’s SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory have long been using high-powered X-rays at their Stanford Synchrotron Radiation Lightsource (SSRL) to analyse ancient texts. This week, they will be revealing the text beneath 10th-century psalms from the St Catherine’s Monastery on the Sinai Peninsula. The hidden words were a translation of writings by the ancient Greek doctor Galen. ~ Wasn’t he in Planet of the Apes? And yes, there is a connection there, too.
Modern humans interbred with Denisovans twice in history — Modern humans co-existed and interbred with Neanderthals, sure, but also with another species of archaic humans, the mysterious Denisovans. Research now describes how, while developing a new genome-analysis method for comparing whole genomes between modern human and Denisovan populations, researchers unexpectedly discovered two distinct episodes of Denisovan genetic intermixing, or admixing, between the two. ~ Let’s all hope it was consensual.
Entomologist confirms first Saharan farming 10,000 years ago — By analysing a prehistoric site in the Libyan desert, a team of researchers has been able to establish that people in Saharan Africa were cultivating and storing wild cereals 10,000 years ago. In addition to revelations about early agricultural practices, there could be a lesson for the future, if global warming leads to a necessity for alternative crops. ~ But first they had to rule out ants.
Stellar flare dulls hopes for life on planets around Proxima Centauri — Scientists have discovered a flare from the sun’s closest stellar neighbour, Proxima Centauri. Many are reporting it could spell trouble for any hope for life on its exoplanet, Proxima b, and might also kill off a presumed set of other planets around the star. Last year, there were many reports that evidence of dust rings around Proxima Centuari would imply the star could have an elaborate planetary system alongside its confirmed exoplanet, Proxima b. But a new analysis of the same dataset calls those past results into question. ~ All that speculation at such distance could only ever be aProximate.
Jupiter’s Red Spot may disappear — The Great Red Spot has been a fixture of Jupiter ‘s cloudy visage for centuries and is among the most recognizable features in the solar system. But the Great Red Spot is shrinking, and recently, news stories reported it could vanish within the next 10 or 20 years. The storm’s shape is changing, most significantly in width, and as time marches on it’s becoming less oval and more circular. ~ The Great Red Spot is in fact a gigantic storm. It’s red because of the, uh, colour.
Cassini crashed into Saturn — On 15 September 2017, the Cassini spacecraft ended its valiant 13-year mission by performing a kamikaze dive into Saturn’s upper atmosphere. A new image released by NASA shows the exact spot (main picture, above) where the Cassini craft was lost to us forever. ~ Got that Saturnians? It wasn’t an attack, just callous disregard.
Saturn’s moon Enceladus has become an alien-hunting hot spot — Thought to be a barren cue-ball until NASA’s Cassini mission found both active geysers and a liquid ocean beneath its frozen surface, the icy little moon is now one of the likeliest places to encounter extraterrestrial life in our solar system. Last year, when scientists analyzed Enceladus’ ocean (actually a small drop of it blasted skyward in a geyser) they found evidence of hydrothermal reactions, which produce H2: just the kind of molecular food some little Enceladian organism might like to munch on. On Earth, similar microbes live in a deep sea hydrothermal vent off the coast of Japan. ~ Sounds yummy … maybe with a little mustard, anyhoo.
Artificially Intelligent jobs — AI will create more jobs than it destroys was the not-so-subtle rebuttal from tech giants to growing concern over the impact of automation technologies on employment. Execs from Google, IBM and Salesforce were questioned about the wider societal implications of their technologies during a panel session at Mobile World Congress. ~ I don’t yet opt in to their conclusions, myself.
Japanese engineering researchers have created a tiny electronic light the size of a firefly — They can ride waves of ultrasound, and could eventually figure in applications ranging from moving displays to projection mapping. Named Luciola for its resemblance to the firefly, the featherweight levitating particle weighs 16.2mg, has a diameter of 3.5mm (0.14 inch), and emits a red glimmer that can just about illuminate text. But its minuscule size belies the power of the 285 microspeakers emitting ultrasonic waves that hold up the light, and have a frequency inaudible to the human ear, allowing Luciola to operate in apparent total silence. ~ It’s going to annoy beings with better hearing, though – dogs, maybe?
DNA organises itself in a video — DNA, when unravelled, can span more that two meters in length, but your body’s cells whip it into tidy bundles.
We’ve long known that the body can do this. But how it accomplishes this biological feat is another thing. Now, researchers from Delft University in the Netherlands and EMBL Heidelberg in Germany have succeeded in actually catching the process on video, observing how DNA gets structured in real time. ~ Thus also solving a debate.
More early tattoos revealed —A new analysis of two ancient Egyptian mummies has uncovered the earliest known examples of ‘figural’ tattoos on human beings – that is, tattoos meant to represent real things rather than abstract symbols. What’s more, at around 5000 years old, it’s the earliest evidence of tattoos on a woman. ~ The mummies were on display for decades without anyone noticing.
Around the world … A survey of satellite data published in the journal Cryosphere [links to a PDF] confirms what scientists have suspected for a while now: ice loss from the critical region of Antarctica is happening at an increasingly fast pace. Antarctica lost roughly 1929 gigatons (a gigaton is one billion tons) of ice in 2015, which amounts to an increase of roughly 36 gigatons per year every year since 2008. Nearly 90% of that increase in loss occurred in West Antarctica, “probably in response to ocean warming,” according to NASA. Photos and video emerging from the Indonesian island of Sumatra are absolutely terrifying.Thankfully, no one has been hurt, but the smoke and ash bubbling from Mount Sinabung after an eruption on February 19th is like watching a mythical monster slowing taking over the sky (left). High levels of microplastics have been found in Northwest Atlantic fish. A study, published in open-access journal Frontiers in Marine Science, found microplastics in the stomachs of nearly three out of every four mesopelagic fish caught in the Northwest Atlantic. And in the US, where a deranged president is urging teachers to get armed and trained [oh yay, schoolyard firefights, they won’t be dangerous …], legislators declared porn is a health risk but assault weapons are fine. But actually, America’s greatest vulnerability is its continued inability to acknowledge the extent of its adversaries’ capabilities when it comes to cyber threats, says Ian Bremmer, founder and president of leading political risk firm Eurasia Group.
The latest bug to hit Apple devices wrought havoc on the internet.The issue, which has become known as the Telugu bug, gave people the ability to crash a wide range of iPhone, Mac and iPad apps just by sending a single character from the third-most-spoken language in India. Apple patched the bug a few days later (so update your Apple devices!) because mean-spirited users took to using the Telugu symbol to “bomb” other peoples’ devices. By adding the symbol to a user’s Twitter name, you can crash the iOS Twitter app simply by liking someone’s tweet.
Emerging risks of AI — A new report authored by over two-dozen experts on the implications of emerging technologies is sounding the alarm bells on the ways artificial intelligence could enable new forms of cybercrime, physical attacks, and political disruption over the next five to ten years.
Bonkers clock — Depending on the day, Amazon founder Jeff Bezos is either the richest or second richest human on Earth. And while he’s trying to figure out how to use some of that money philanthropically, he announced construction has begun on the giant clock in the middle of nowhere that he put up $US42 million to build. The 10,000 Year Clock is intended as a symbolic reminder that we should consider the long-term impact of our actions. ~ Or he could spend that money on actually helping people … twat.
Finally, some goodish news: more than 50% of Australia’s coal fleet will be over 40 years old by 2030, and the Australian electricity grid, along with these ageing fossil fuelled power stations, are increasingly vulnerable to worsening extreme weather events.
To reach zero carbon pollution well before 2050 in order to effectively tackle climate change, Australia needs to increase reliance on renewable energy. The good news is that Australia could reach 50% renewables by 2030 even without significant new energy storage.
Amateur spots birth of a supernova — Victor Buso was testing his camera-telescope setup in Argentina back in September 2016, pointing his Newtonian telescope at a spiral galaxy called NGC613. He collected light from the galaxy for the next hour-and-a-half, taking short exposures to avoid the Santa Fe city lights. When he looked at his images, he realised he’d captured a potential supernova: an enormous flash of light an energy bursting off of a distant star. ~ Superlative serendipity.
Earth’s incredible, but is there anything else remotely like it? Aki Roberge, research astrophysicist at NASA, explained Earth is the only planet we know of where the presence of life has altered the atmosphere’s chemistry. If another Earth-like planet existed somewhere in the universe, we might be able to spot it by looking for a biosignature: spectral lines from chemicals such as methane, water vapour, oxygen, or other organic molecules indicative of life. ~ Or perhaps aliens waving us away, if they have any sense.
New way to use DNA as a storage device — Researchers from the Waterford Institute of Technology (WIT) in Ireland have developed a way to use bacteria to archive up to up to one zettabyte in one gram of DNA. The technique uses double-strained DNA molecules called plasmids to encode data which is stored in the Novablue strain of the E Coli bacteria. ~ Although we’re still figuring out the ‘old way’ DNA stores info.
Model brains reveal brain-folding physics — Brains fold in on themselves as they grow. How and why they do it is mysterious and studying it requires some pretty interesting science.
Israeli scientists wanted to study brain folding from a physics perspective. Growing brain cells for study can be difficult, though — so they came up with a solution to overcome this obstacle: growing simple mini-brains on a chip under a microscope. ~ Here comes the rise of the Organoids …
Modernist cooking needs gadgets, tools and precise measurements— Science requires precision, and these tools allow you to combine perfect amounts and get perfect results. Ryan F Mandelbaum learns to cook like a gadget nerd. ~ This is why you don’t accept dinner invitations from scientists. Crikey, talk about deleting all joy from the kitchen!
Antimatter in a van —Normally, scientists produce volatile antimatter in the lab, where it stays put in an experimental apparatus for further study. But now, researchers are planning on transporting it for the first time from one lab to another in a truck. ~ Very Wide Load …
Big data suggest urban farming — It makes intuitive sense that growing crops as close as possible to the people who will eat them is more environmentally friendly than long-distance shipping, but evidence that urban agriculture is good for the environment has been harder to pin down.
A widely cited 2008 study by researchers at Carnegie Mellon University found that transportation from producer to store only accounts for 4% of food’s total greenhouse gas emissions, which calls into question the concern over “food miles.” A recent analysis of urban agriculture’s global potential, published in the journal Earth’s Future, has taken a big step toward an answer—and the news looks good for urban farming. ~ And there are co-benefits, from social implications to urban heat reduction.
Plants appeared earlier than thought — For hundreds of millions of years, life on Earth was a purely aquatic phenomenon. The jump from the oceans to the continents was a monumental event, one that would irrevocably change the face of our planet. A new study suggests the first plants to make this evolutionary leap appeared much earlier than previously thought, and this affects our modelling of Earth’s atmosphere changes wrought by their impact. ~ Although that is a previous thought I haven’t previously thought.
Pulsars to navigate space — Last week, Keith Gendreau and a team of NASA researchers announced they had finally proven that pulsars can function as a cosmic positioning system. Gendreau and his team performed the demonstration quietly last November, when the Neutron Star Interior Composition Explorer (a pulsar-measuring instrument the size of a washing machine, currently aboard the International Space Station) spent a weekend observing the electromagnetic emissions of five pulsars. With the help of an enhancement known as the Station Explorer for X-ray Timing and Navigation Technology (aka Sextant), Nicer was able to determine the station’s position in Earth’s orbit to within roughly three miles – while it was traveling in excess of 27,358kph (17,000mph). ~ Space is quite big, so not an unreasonable margin of error.
The Magnetohydrodynamic Drive is real and you can build one — In the old movie The Hunt for Red October, the Russians built a so-called ‘caterpillar drive’ using hydro-magneto power instead of the traditional propeller. This new drive is way quieter than the traditional type, so quiet it could sneak up on the United States and blow it up. Here is the cool part: this magnetohydrodynamic drive, which turns water into a sort of rotor, is real. In fact, it’s pretty simple to build. All you really need is a battery, a magnet and some wires. Oh, also this will have to operate in salt water, so you might need some salt. Here is the basic setup. ~ Sure, the water gets pushed, but you can do it much better with a propeller.
Battery sucks power from the air — The Cota Forever Battery has the same size, form factor and power output of a traditional AA battery, but it can be inserted into a battery-powered device to instantly and easily make it compatible with Cota wireless power transmitters. Imagine never have to change the batteries in your TV remotes ever again, or not having to stay on top of countless IOT devices in your home that are constantly demanding a charge. ~ Yes, imagine all the strenuous effort this will save. An sucks power from the air? That’s how I’ve always thought about Coronation Street.
Blood test for cancer — The new test, developed at Johns Hopkins University, looks for signs of eight common types of cancer in just a blood sample and may prove inexpensive enough for doctors to give during a routine physical. Although the test isn’t commercially available yet, it will be used to screen 50,000 retirement-age women with no history of cancer as part of a $50 million, five-year study with the Geisinger Health System in Pennsylvania, a spokesperson with the insurer said. ~ Gadzooks, let’s hope it works.
Snow Jandals — Snowshoes have been around for 5700 years, but this year Boulder, Colorado–based Crescent Moon has made the world’s first all-foam version (left – click it for a bigger view). Velcro bindings keep your shoes strapped to a teardrop-shaped platform made from two layers of ethylene-vinyl acetate, or EVA, the same stuff used to fashion flip-flops. The snowshoes might look low-tech, but the combination of cleats and tire-like treads provide ample traction, especially on hardpack trails. ~ No more sinking feeling.
3D print your own drugs — Someday soon, you might be making your own medicines at home. That’s because researchers have tailored a 3D printer to synthesize pharmaceuticals and other chemicals from simple, widely available starting compounds fed into a series of water bottle-size reactors. The work, they say, could digitize chemistry, allowing users to synthesize almost any compound anywhere in the world. ~ Yeah, can’t see any problems emerging from that. Grand plan.
New Zealand’s burrowing bat — All but three land mammal species living on New Zealand were brought by modern humans, beginning around 800 years ago – and all three of those native mammal species are bats. But a newly discovered bat fossil suggests there may be more species hiding in the isle’s ancient rock. A team of researchers from Australia, New Zealand and the US announced that they have discovered evidence of an extinct bat species called Vulcanops jennyworthyae. The bat itself is weird: it was big and probably burrowed in the ground. But it also reveals a stranger evolutionary history of mammals on the island. ~ The 20 million-year-old bat teeth were pretty large, suggesting the bat was omnivorous and weighed around 40 grams.
English fossil palace — Turns out building blocks of Buckingham Palace (and a whole bunch of other buildings around the world) are made of 200 million year old microbes. Oolitic limestone is almost completely made of millimetre-sized spheres of carbonate called ooids, made from concentric layers of mineralised microbes. ~ Apt, since it houses fossilised royalty.
Dino-bird hadiridescent plumage — Caihong juji, a tiny, Jurassic-era dinosaur that lived 161 million years ago in what is now China was feathered theropod with an iridescent, rainbow coloured ring of feathers around its neck.
A nearly complete skeleton of Caihong juji – a name that means “rainbow with the big crest” in Mandarin – was discovered by a farmer in China’s Hebei Province in 2014. Researchers from the University of Texas at Austin and Shenyang Normal University have been taking a close look at it, releasing their findings in Nature Communications. Palaeontologist Dongyu Hu, the lead author of the new study, says the newly discovered dinosaur contained a curious mix of ancient and modern features, including iridescent plumage seen in some living ʻbirds. ~ But scientists speculating on what that plumage may have been for is wildly speculative, imo.