Tag Archives: science

Futurology ~ Galaxy rotation, Kepler power, gravitational waves, smaller devices, whiter white, new limbs, data diseases, mind uploading, systemic weirdness, particle-accelerated text, Denisovans with benefits, ancient Saharan cultivation

Nanoparticle eyedrops may one day replace glasses

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. 


Futurology ~ Proxima Centauri, Jupiter, Saturn, AI jobs, tiny lights, DNA vid, ancient tattoos

This is either the exact spot the Cassini spacecraft cashed through Saturn’s atmosphere, or a random circle drawn on an image coz, what would we know?

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.

The Apocalypticon ~ around the world and (almost) back again

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.

Futurology ~ Supernova birth, other Earths, DNA storage, brain folding, Modernist cooking, urban farming, plant origins

Models shed light on fetal brain-shape development (Image: Weizmann Institute via Gizmodo)

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. 

Futurology ~ Pulsar nav, Magnetohydrodynamic Drive, air power, cancer test, snow Jandals, 3D printed drugs, NZ burrowing bat, iridescent dino

We used to think of dinosaurs in beige …

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 had iridescent 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. 

Futurology ~ Space weirdness, Quantum Machines, bilingual AI, soft robots, NASA tyres, glacier danger, coal to clean

NASA’s new tyres are virtually indestructible

Asteroid in close pass — (3200) Phaethon is a rock 5km in diameter with an oblong orbit that intersects Earth. It’s scheduled to make a nearby approach on December 16th. You’ll probably hear more fear-mongering shouting about it until then, but it isn’t a rock to worry about in our lifetimes.
~  It will pass a fifth of the distance from Earth to Mars at its closest. Mars is not exactly close. 

Chinese Monkey King satellite has made some odd discoveries — China’s Dark Matter Particle Explorer satellite (DAMPE or Wukong in China) is reporting the results of a year-and-a-half of space-staring, measuring the mysterious, high-energy electrons blasting Earth from space. The experiment has directly detected something that some similar experiments have hinted at, but others haven’t: a sudden drop-off in the electrons hitting the satellite. Whatever is going on, it’s weird.
~ But the Earth is still round. 

Space bacteria — Russian cosmonaut Anton Shkaplerov took routine samples from the outside of the International Space Station during a spacewalk. These samples were analysed and found to contain bacteria that must have come from somewhere other than Earth or the ISS itself. “Bacteria that had not been there during the launch of the ISS module were found on the swabs,” Shkaplerov told TASS Russian News Agency. “So they have flown from somewhere in space and settled on the outside hull.”
The Independent wrote “Finding bacteria that came from somewhere other than Earth would be one of the biggest breakthroughs in the history of science – but much more must be done before such a claim is made.”

Two new Quantum Machines have made actual science discoveries — Two teams of scientists are announcing that their quantum simulators – advanced quantum computers with very specialised scientific purposes – have made some real scientific discoveries.
~ I know I shouldn’t feel sorry for all those trapped atoms, but I do.

Bilingual AI without a dictionary — Two new papers show that neural networks can learn to translate with no parallel texts – a surprising advance that could make documents in many languages more accessible.
The two new papers focus on unsupervised machine learning. To start, each constructs bilingual dictionaries without the aid of a human teacher telling them when their guesses are right. That’s possible because languages have strong similarities in the ways words cluster around one another. The words for table and chair, for example, are frequently used together in all languages, so if a computer maps out these co-occurrences like a giant road atlas with words for cities, the maps for different languages will resemble each other, just with different names.
~ A computer can figure out the best way to overlay one atlas on another and voila! You have a bilingual dictionary.

Soft robots acquire origami skeletons — Robots are going soft. Literally soft, controlled with liquid or air instead of traditional motors. Soft robotics is hot at the moment. But without the rigidity and powerful motors of your typical robot, soft robots have been weak  until researchers at the MIT Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory and Harvard’s Wyss Institute developed a new kind of soft robotic muscle inspired by origami and awesomeness. It’s essentially a bag filled with air, inside of which is an origami structure that functions as a skeleton. By pumping air in and out, the researchers can get the muscle to lift 1000 times its own weight.
~ Could this also be used inside buildings to prevent collapse during earthquakes? 

NASA’s tough titanium tyres — Stretch a Slinky toy too far, and eventually the metal coil will be warped so much it won’t be able to return to its original spring shape. That’s a problem also faced by the metal spring tyres designed to roll across the Moon, and other planets our rovers are exploring. But NASA has created an alternative, made from titanium, that can tackle any terrain and always return to its original tyre shape.
~ A tyre that can last for years with minimal maintenance is important when sending rovers to the other planets in our Solar System.

The glaciers of Pine Island Bay could drown us; they are two of the largest and fastest-melting in Antarctica — A Rolling Stone feature earlier this year dubbed Thwaites ‘The Doomsday Glacier.’ Together, they act as a plug holding back enough ice to pour over three metres (11 feet) of sea-level rise into the world’s oceans, an amount that would submerge every coastal city on the planet. For that reason, finding out how fast these glaciers will collapse is one of the most important scientific questions in the world today.
~ Marine ice-cliff instability is a feedback loop that could kickstart the disintegration of the entire West Antarctic ice sheet in turn effecting hundreds of millions of people worldwide. 

Dirty coal to clean energy in Germany — The path from dirty coal to clean energy isn’t easy. Bottrop’s Prosper-Haniel coal mine is a symbol of the challenges and opportunities facing Germany – and coal-producing states everywhere.
Around the world, as governments shift away from the coal that fueled two ages of industrial revolution, more and more mines are falling silent. If there’s an afterlife for retired coal mines, one that could put them to work for the next revolution in energy, it will have to come soon. One use for retired coal mines is as giant batteries for clean energy. To turn a coal mine into a battery, all you need is gravity.
~ Plus a lot of money.

Futurology ~ weird asteroid, exotic particle, weather tech, Musk hits deadline, robot salad, microbial kill-switches, ancient dogs on the leash

This artist’s impression shows the first interstellar asteroid: `Oumuamua. This unique object was discovered on 19 October 2017 by the Pan-STARRS 1 telescope in Hawai`i. Subsequent observations from ESO’s Very Large Telescope in Chile and other observatories around the world show that it was travelling through space for millions of years before its chance encounter with our star system. `Oumuamua seems to be a dark red highly-elongated metallic or rocky object, about 400 metres long, and is unlike anything normally found in the Solar System.

Oumuamua also has a weird shape — A few weeks ago an interstellar asteroid, now named Oumuamua, was discovered passing through our solar system. Being the first interstellar asteroid to ever be observed, a flurry of observations soon followed. An article in Nature revealed Oumuamua is more bizarre than originally thought, since it it is elongated, with a 10:1 aspect ratio, and rapidly rotating. This conclusion is based upon comparisons of its time-dependent light curve to those from 20,000 known asteroids.
~ Bye.

Two teams simultaneously unearthed evidence of an exotic new particle — A few months ago, physicists observed a new subatomic particle – essentially an awkwardly-named, crazy cousin of the proton. Its mere existence has energised teams of particle physicists to dream up new ideas about how matter forms, arranges itself and exists. Now, a pair of new research papers using different theoretical methods have independently unearthed another, crazier particle predicted by the laws of physics
~ So here I join in the general excitement that, uh, doubly-b tetraquark could exist. Woot. 

Latest weather-tech in space — A fastidiously clean scanning machine named VIIRS has been launched into Earth orbit on a Delta II rocket from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California, just one instrument outfitting a next-generation weather satellite. The Visible Infrared Radiometer Suite is a washing machine-sized sensor, built to capture light and other waves that bounce off the surface of Earth. It collects those reflections, turning them into data about our planet, the oceans, land and vegetation cover, ice caps, volcanic plumes, and global temperatures—allowing accurate weather forecasts, wildfire and fishing fleet tracking, and climate monitoring.
~ I have one in the laundry, although this one actually does the washing, no matter what the weather is doing.

Musk makes it right on time with Australian battery project — Elon Musk will get paid for building the world’s largest lithium ion battery in South Australia, with testing on the 100-megawatt project about to begin ahead of next week’s December 1 deadline to build it in 100 days, or it’s free.
State premier Jay Weatherill has announced that regulatory testing at the site, which is paired with French energy business Neoen’s Hornsdale wind farm, 230km north of the capital, Adelaide, will begin within days.
~ Gosh, doesn’t Elon just look so pleased and happy?

Robot salad — A startup called Iron Ox is taking the first steps toward roboticizing greenhouse farming, which has so far stubbornly resisted automation. In the very near future, then, the salad on your table may come from the hand of a robot.
~ Er, the robot has hands, then? Better make the thumbs green. 

UCLA researchers use solar to create and store hydrogen — UCLA researchers have designed a device that can use solar energy to inexpensively and efficiently create and store energy, which could be used to power electronic devices, and to create hydrogen fuel for eco-friendly cars.
The device could make hydrogen cars affordable for many more consumers because it produces hydrogen using nickel, iron and cobalt – elements that are much more abundant and less expensive than the platinum and other precious metals that are currently used to produce hydrogen fuel.
~ Making electricity and fuel with the same device is a real breakthrough. 

Microbial kill-switches — Scientists at Harvard have developed a pair of new kill switches that can be used to thwart bioengineered microbes that go rogue. Researchers have been testing the use of bioengineered microbes for a variety of purposes, from the diagnosis of disease in the human body to the neutering of mosquitoes. But there remain concerns about releasing manipulated microbes into nature. Could their augmented genes have unintended consequences? Could they morph and proliferate?
~ Somehow I’m not convinced this is safer.  

Ancient dogs were already on the leash 8000 years ago — A new analysis of ancient rock art demonstrates that humans hunted with dogs on the Arabian Peninsula over 8000 years ago – and it looks like those dogs wore leashes.
There are a lot of questions around the origin of dog domestication, such as when, where and how it happened. But a newly analysed set of panels depicts scenes of leashed dogs hunting alongside humans. Not only would this be the “earliest evidence of dogs on the Arabian Peninsula,” according to the study published recently in the Journal of Anthropological Archaeology, but it’s also the “earliest evidence of leashes“.
~ Or maybe it was the dogs that had humans on the leashes … also, did the men really hunt with erections? That seems a little counterproductive if you ask me. 

Futurology ~ Earth-like, antimatter bombardment, cute lil lander, 2040 Museum mag, Quantum computing, human DNA hacked, robots and aged DNA

Museum has already published its 2040 edition.

Earth-sized world just 11 light years away — Astronomers have discovered a planet 35% more massive than Earth in orbit around a red dwarf star just 11 light years from the Sun. Ross 128 b likely exists at the edge of the small, relatively faint star’s habitable zone even though it is 20 times closer to its star than the Earth is to the Sun. The study in the journal Astronomy & Astrophysics finds the best estimate for its surface temperature is between -60 degrees Celsius and 20 degrees Celsius.
Proxima Centauri b is closer at less than 4.3 light years away from Earth and in the star system closest to our Sun. Even so, due to a variety of factors, Ross 128 b is tied for fourth on a list of potentially most habitable exoplanets, with an Earth Similarity Index value of 0.86.
~ Meanwhile, we are hell-bent on making our own Earth less Earthlike. 

Mystery of Earth being bombarded by antimatter — New observations of nearby pulsars – lighthouse-like neutron stars beaming energy – seem to have deepened a mystery that’s been bugging scientists for around a decade. The Earth is being hit with too much antimatter from outer space, and no one is sure why.
~ Veritably antimatter-spattered, we are. 

Moon Express MX-1E Lander is heading for the moon or bust — After multiple extensions and a couple of flameouts, five teams are racing toward the March 2018 launch deadline, and the cutest contender might be the MX-1E, an R2-D2–shaped lander designed by space startup Moon Express.
~ The MX-1E fits inside a launch vehicle from partnering with the New Zealand company Rocket Lab.

Museum magazine publishes 2040 issue — The Alliance of American Museums has just published an ambitious Nov/Dec 2040 issue of Museum, the Alliance’s magazine. The columns, reviews, articles, awards, and even the ads describe activities from a 2040 perspective, based on a multi-faceted consensus scenario.
Besides virtual reality centers (and carbon-neutral cities), it envisions de-extinction biologists who resurrect lost species. It also predicts a 2040 with orbiting storehouses to preserve historic artifacts (as well as genetic materials) as part of a collaboration with both NASA and a new American military branch called the US Space Corps. And of course, by 2040 musuems have transformed into hybrid institutions like “museum schools” and “well-being and cognitive health centers” that are both run by museums.
~ Future retro-futurism …

Should we be excited about Quantum Computers? They’re fragile, and need to be kept at temperatures close to absolute zero. Quantum computers aren’t much like the desktop PCs we’re all so familiar with – they’re a whole new kind of machine, capable of calculations so complex, it’s like upgrading from black-and-white to a full colour spectrum. Gizmodo goes further.
~ Solves things so complex we don’t even have the minds to boggle at their complexity. 

Scientists edit DNA within the human body — For the first time, scientists have edited the DNA inside of a patient’s body, in an attempt to cure a genetic disorder by permanently changing the human genome. The news represents a major landmark in science.
~ Now it has been edited, it’s called ‘human DNB’.

Robots advance, dance and enhance — Boston Dynamics’ ATLAS Robot is now a backflipping cyborg supersoldier [you know how we all need that] and wait till you see the firm’s new Robodog, and we’re already robotising our workers – but these are human workers with bionic enhancements working at Ford.
~ Where’s Waldo?

Super-old people get their DNA analysed — Scientists looking for clues to healthy longevity in people in their 90s and 100s haven’t turned up a whole lot. It is thought that the DNA of the very old may be a good place to look, but people over 110 are one in five million in the United States. The New York Times has chronicled one scientific quest to collect their DNA.
~ So forget good health and sobriety, let’s find a magic bullet instead. 

Futurology ~ Maybe planets, inside the Magellan, fake faces, ageing, charging colab, Roman wrong vase, Dingo origins

Mirror Lab staffer Linda Warren places the last piece of glass into the mold for Giant Magellan Telescope mirror 5

New planets may lurk in the nearest system to ours — New observations show there’s at least one, but possibly three rings of cold dust around our nearest star, Proxima Centauri. That could indicate the presence of more planets, according to new research.
~ Once we can count them, we can no longer denigrate this galaxy as Aproxima Centauri.

Inside the world’s largest optical telescope — Wired goes 24.3 metres (80 feet) above a mirror 8.38 metres (27.5 feet) in diameter. This disc of glass is one of seven mirrors that will eventually comprise the Giant Magellan Telescope. This mirror has already taken nearly six years – and US$20 million – to make.
~ Who’s the most complex mirror of all? 

NVIDIA’s freakishly fake ‘human’ photos — NVIDIA released a paper recently detailing a new machine learning methodology for generating unique and realistic looking faces using a generative adversarial network (GAN). The result is the ability to artificially render photorealistic human faces of “unprecedented quality.”
~ I’ve even noticed some actual human faces of unprecedented quality. 

Scientists have mathematical proof it’s impossible to stop ageing — Mathematically speaking, multicellular organisms like us will always have to deal with a cellular competition where only one side will win. And ultimately, that means our vitality will always come out as the loser.
~ I’ve always felt that to hate ageing is to hate nature. 

Car companies collaborate for electric charging network — A group of automakers has created a new company to build a network of 400 fast chargers across Europe ahead of the wave of new electric cars they’ve promised in the next few years, as countries push EVs as a way to meet emissions goals. Ionity, announced Friday by BMW Group, Daimler AG, Ford Motor Company and the Volkswagen Group, will install a network of 400 high-power EV chargers across Europe by 2020.
~ To make the EeVee EeZee.

Historians wrong about Roman vase — New research shows that the British Museum’s most famous artefact, the Portland Vase, was manufactured by a different technique than the one traditionally assumed by historians and archaeologists.
For centuries, experts in antiquities have said the Portland Vase, along with other Roman cameo glass artifacts, were manufactured by the ancient Romans using a blown glass technique. Australian National University scientist and expert glassmaker Richard Whiteley is now challenging this longheld assumption, arguing that many cameo glass pieces were built with a cold-processing technique now known as paté de verre.
~ Ah, so it was a paté pot and not a vase at all … well, that blows that theory.

At last we know where dingoes came from — It’s underwater now, but there used to be a land-bridge between mainland Australia and Papua New Guinea. A new DNA study shows dingoes migrated across this bridge between 8000 and 10,000 years ago in two waves.
~ They’re very attractive dogs compared to the miserable things that apparently existed in pre-European New Zealand. 

Futurology ~ Interstellar Visitron, robots, Genetic revolution, Neanderthal with social support

This NASA animation shows the path of A/2017 U1 — an object likely of interstellar origin — through the inner solar system. A/2017 U1 made its closest approach to the sun on Sept. 9 and is now zooming away 97,200 mph (156,400 km/h) relative to the sun.Interstellar visitor — For the first time, scientists have observed an object they believe came from outside our solar system. The object is in a hyperbolic orbit that will send it back into interstellar space. The object, known as A/2017 U1, was detected last week by researchers using the Pan-STARRS 1 telescope in Hawaii.
It’s unclear what exactly this thing is. When A/2017 U1 was first spotted, it was thought to be a comet (and was therefore given the moniker C/2017 U1). But further observations have revealed no evidence of a coma (the fuzzy cloud of gas and dust surrounding a comet’s core) so the object’s name was amended to its current asteroidal designation.
~ How about we call it ‘Visitron’?Robots, robots, robots — Fanuc is a secretive Japanese company with 12,192 square-metre (40,000-square-foot) factories where robots made other robots in the dark, stopping only when no storage space remains. About 80% of the company’s assembly work is automated, and its robots then go on to assemble and paint cars, build motors, and make electrical components.
The Guardian GT (above) from Sarcos Robotics has 2-metre ( 7-foot) arms that replicate human motions with incredible smoothness and accuracy, but each limb can lift 227kg (500 pound) weight yet also  manipulate the most delicate of objects. Watching it in action is both hypnotic and unsettling.
And in the latest example of Philip K Dick-inspired nightmare becomes real life, Saudi Arabia just became the first nation to grant citizenship to a robot. The robot’s name is Sophia. It is artificially intelligent, friends with CNBC’s Andrew Ross Sorkin and arguably, a glimpse into the dark future that will kill us all.
~I’m working on my own robot invention: it’s a double-spherical self-motivating oared boat I’m calling the RowBot. Kickstarter, anyone?

Genetic revolution — The genome editing technology CRISPR revolutionised genetic engineering by allowing scientists to cut and paste tiny snippets of DNA with more precision than ever before. Now, one of the groups responsible for that technology has harnessed the power of CRISPR to also edit RNA, a molecule that, like DNA, is essential in the coding, regulation, and expression of genes. This development could eventually allow scientists to alter the expression of genes in the human body without having to change the genome itself. (And Wired has more.)
~ So now we’re messing with life’s vital macromolecules – a theologian’s nightmare. 

Neanderthals had social support — A re-analysis of a 50,000-year-old Neanderthal skull shows that, in addition to enduring multiple injuries and debilitations, this male individual was also profoundly deaf. Yet he lived well into his 40s, which is quite old by Paleolithic standards. It’s an achievement that could have only been possible with the help of others, according to new research.
~ And we’re still doing it – look how US senators are still propping up Trump. 

Cosmic lenses, Kilanova, robo-love, electric truck, fibre earthquakes, dolphin brains, Australian army VR

Ultra-powerful radio bursts may be getting a cosmic boost — The Very Large Array spotted a repeating radio burst that continues to puzzle astronomers. So-called fast radio bursts are enigmatic, ultra-brief, ultra-powerful bursts of energy coming from distant galaxies. They last for only a fraction of a second, but in that time they emit the energy of perhaps 500 million suns. Their power and brevity have created an astrophysical puzzle: What could possibly be making such blasts?
James Cordes, an astronomer at Cornell University, thinks he can help explain not only the power of these repeating bursts, but also the seeming irregularity of their eruptions: clouds of charged gas, or plasma, in an FRB’s host galaxy could magnify the burst by as much as a factor of 100.
~ I see a great future for these plasma lenses. 

The ‘Kilanova’ — On August 17, 2017, over 70 observatories around and above the world, including ones like LIGO and the Hubble Space Telescope, all spotted a flash of energy. This light came in many different flavours, and was consistent with a pair of dense neutron stars colliding in a cataclysmic ‘kilonova’ explosion.
So what did we learn from it?
~ Ah those binary star mergers! It will be a monopoly. 

First mass-produced electric truck — Japan’s Mitsubishi Fuso Truck and Bus has unveiled what it says is the world’s first mass-produced electric truck, as automakers around the world go all out to develop cars that run on battery power. The vehicle can carry about 3 tons of cargo and travel about 100 kilometres on a single charge. The truck, unveiled on Thursday, will be used by Japan’s largest convenience store chain, Seven-Eleven.
~ Just chuck some spare batteries in the glovebox for emergencies. 

For the love of robots — In summer 2002, mid-morning in a university research lab on the edge of Osaka, Japan, two girls were dressed in pale yellow, with child-puffy cheeks, black shoulder-length hair, and bangs. They stood opposite each other under fluorescent lights.
More precisely: one was a girl, 5 years old; the other was her copy, her android replica. Things have come a long way since then…
~ I’d prefer an iOS replica, obviously. 

Optical fibre network could be a giant earthquake sensor — Researchers at Stanford have demonstrated they can use ordinary, underground fiber optic cables to monitor for earthquakes, by using innate impurities in the fiber as virtual sensors. They plan a larger test installation in 2018. Their biggest challenge, they say, will not be perfecting the algorithms but convincing telcos to allow their sensor technology to piggyback on existing telecommunications lines.
~ Er, your voice is shaky …

Whales and dolphins grew big brains coz peer pressure — The human brain has evolved and expanded over millennia to accommodate our ever-more-complex needs and those of our societies. This process has given us the big brain we need to communicate, cooperate, reach consensus, empathize, and socialize. The same is true for cetaceans, like whales and dolphins, it seems. These sea creatures also grew big brains in order to better live in societies, according to a study published on Oct. 16 in Nature Ecology & Evolution.
~ Unfortunately, we live tenuously these days by the grace of those with small brains. 

Australian army turns to VR for resilience training — In an effort to help troops with the psychological stress of deployment, University of Newcastle will lead a $2.2 million project to explore what uses virtual reality can have in resilience training.
Christopher Pine, Minister for Defence Industry, has announced $2.2 million of funding by the Defence Science Technology Group and the Australian Army to explore how stress changes the way the brain works.
~ I’m not sure if being virtually resilient will translate to being actually resilient.

Futurology ~ Stolen star, Hauema ring, Titan methane storms, Moon atmosphere, Quantum puzzle, drone-slayer, Deep Learning, robots-camouflage, stay-home Stone Age

Naftali Tishby, a computer scientist and neuroscientist from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, presented evidence in support of a new theory explaining how deep learning works

Our nearest neighbouring star may have been stolen — Less than five light years away sit three stars orbiting each other. You probably remember that one of them, Proxima Centauri, has a planet orbiting in its habitable zone — which got us really excited about the possibility of life. But what if that star was stolen?
~ Tell it to the judge, I say.]

Ring discovered around dwarf planet around Haumea — Haumea was recognised by the International Astronomical Union in 2008 as one of five dwarf planets alongside Pluto, Ceres, Eris and Makemake. They are located beyond Neptune, 50 times farther away from the sun than Earth. By comparing what was seen from different sites the La Silla Observatory team could reconstruct not only the shape and size of the object itself but also the shape, width, orientation and other properties of its newly discovered rings.
~ A job for space Jif?

Intense methane rainstorms on Titan — Titan is the largest of Saturn’s 60 moons and is roughly the size of Mercury. It has an atmosphere, volcanoes, mountains, and sand dunes. And like Earth, Titan features free-flowing liquid at the surface, manifesting as rivers, lakes and seas. It has regional weather patterns and severe seasonal liquid-methane rainstorms.
~ Yeah, not really selling it. 

When the Moon had an atmosphere — New research suggests that long ago, an atmosphere briefly popped into existence as a result of intense volcanic activity. Around three to four billion years ago, powerful volcanic eruptions shot gases above the Moon’s surface faster than they could escape, creating a transient atmosphere that lasted for about 70 million years.
~ 70 million years is transient?

Australian scientists save 30-year-old Quantum puzzle — The scientific community has been working on this one for more than 30 years. Australian scientists from Griffith University just worked out how to measure things with with single particles of light to a higher precision than ever before – on a quantum level.
~ Dang, I thought I was about to solve that one. 

Humanity gets a laser-shooting, drone-slaying dune buggy — Small consumer drones are fairly benign nuisances, buzzing around beaches, filming neighbourhoods from 100 metres up, and hopefully keeping clear of airports. To US armed forces fighting overseas, though, small drones can be huge threats. They can be rigged with explosives and firearms, or simply deployed as surveillance tools. So Raytheon has rolled out an answer at the Association of the United States Army Exposition in Washington: a laser-shooting, drone-killing dune buggy.
~ Um, ‘hoorah’?

Deep Learning explained in new theory — The magic leap from special cases to general concepts during learning gives deep neural networks their power, just as it underlies human reasoning, creativity and the other faculties collectively termed ‘intelligence.’ Experts wonder what it is about deep learning that enables generalisation – and to what extent brains apprehend reality in the same way. But a new theory seems to explain it.
~ Experience, basically … why is this so surprising?

Robot camouflage informed by the octopus — Scientists have engineered a material that can transform from a 2D sheet to a 3D shape, adjusting its texture to blend in with its surroundings. They mimicked the abilities of an octopus, which can change both shape and color to camouflage. This is a first step toward developing soft robots that can hide in plain sight, robotics expert Cecilia Laschi writes of the research.
~ Oh no, where did I put that washing machine?

Staying home changed the Stone Age — A new study by scientists at the University of the Witwatersrand suggests that at about 58,000 years ago, Stone Age humans began to settle down, staying in one area for longer periods. The research provides a potential answer to a long-held mystery: why older, Howiesons Poort complex technological tradition in South Africa, suddenly disappear at that time.
~ Yet no TV …

Futurology ~ Higgs twin, 3D Graphene, super-accurate time, asphalt batteries, Puerto Rico solar, new chopper, Neanderthal discoveries

Bell finally has its tilt-rotor military helicopter replacement ready

The Higgs Boson’s twin could reveal our universe’s dark sector — The words most powerful particle accelerator, the Large Hadron Collider at the CERN laboratory near Geneva, has failed to find any of the hoped-for particles that would lead physicists beyond the Standard Model of particle physics. But it’s possible the LHC has been producing such pivotal new particles all along, and that we’re just not seeing them.
~ I’m definitely not seeing one. 

Laser light forges graphene into the third dimension — The wonder material graphene gets many of its handy quirks from the fact it exists in two dimensions, as a sheet of carbon only one atom thick. But to actually make use of it in practical applications, it usually needs to be converted into a 3D form. Now, researchers have developed a new and relatively simple way to do just that, using lasers to ‘forge’ a three-dimensional pyramid out of graphene.
~ So soon we may move from ‘wonder’ to ‘usable’?

How accurate a clock do you really need, honestly? A team of physicists lead by Sara Campbell at the National Institute of Standards and Technology used the weirdness of quantum mechanics to create the most precise atomic clock yet. This clock employs atoms vibrating in three dimensions, using laser light to trap them in a sort-of miniature modular bookcase where they count down the tiniest measurable time units. The clock could one day help scientists devise some mind-boggling experiments.
~ They’re my favourite kind of experiments. 

Rice University adds asphalt to speed Lithium metal battery — The Rice lab of chemist James Tour developed anodes comprising porous carbon made from asphalt that showed exceptional stability after more than 500 charge-discharge cycles. A high-current density of 20 milliamps per square centimeter demonstrated the material’s promise for use in rapid charge and discharge devices that require high-power density.
~ So now I’m picturing all the battery manufacturers lining up to get their asphalt. 

Elon Musk says Tesla could rebuild Puerto Rico’s power grid with batteries, solar — After Puerto Rico was hit by hurricane Maria, Tesla quickly started shipping hundreds of its Powerwall batteries there to try and get power back on to some houses with solar arrays. Now, Tesla CEO Elon Musk took to Twitter to say that Tesla could rebuild Puerto Rico’s power grid with batteries and solar on a bigger scale. Puerto Rico’s electricity rates were already quite high at around $0.20 per kWh and reliant on fossil fuels.
~ Unfortunately there are issues arising with installers ripping off desperate clients. 

Osprey-derived V-280  may finally be ready to replace US military helicopters — When fully operational, the V-280 Valor should offer double the speed and range of the conventional helicopters it’s aiming to make redundant. The V-280 is smaller, simpler, and cheaper than the massively complex V-22, which dates to the late ’80s. Bell designed and built the V-280 from scratch, always with an eye on making it easy to assemble and maintain, with lessons learned from building the V-22, a joint project with Boeing.
~ This could be a revolution for the military, sure, but easy-to-fly must surely have non-military benefits, to, around freight and accessibility?

Humans today have even more Neanderthal DNA than we realised — A international team of researchers has completed one of the most detailed analyses of a Neanderthal genome to date. Among the many new findings, the researchers learned that Neanderthals first mated with modern humans a surprisingly long time ago, and that humans living today have more Neanderthal DNA than we assumed.
The resulting study, now published in Science, confirms a bunch of things we already knew about Neanderthals, while also revealing things we didn’t know.
~ I think I’d worked this out just from following Twitter and the news.