Mars Rover gets wheels —At just a little over a year away from the launch of the Mars 2020 Mission, which will see NASA’s new rover reach the Red Planet on 18 February 2021, NASA has fitted the wheels to the vehicle.
Once in Jezero Crater, the rover will search for signs of prior habitability and evidence of past microbial life, collect rock and surface samples, and perform some groundwork for a human mission to Mars, including an oxygen production test. Each wheel (there are six) has its own motor. ~ A roving it will go.
Solar-powered electric car — Lightyear, a startup from the Netherlands, has come a long way since it won a Crunchie award in 2015, with a vehicle that now looks ready for the road. The Lightyear One prototype vehicle has a sleek, driver-friendly design and also boasts a range of 450 miles on a single charge – definitely a first for a car powered by solar and intended for the actual consumer market. ~ Will it work better in countries that actually get substantial sunlight?
Fuel from plants — Researchers in Japan and China have developed a two-step method to more efficiently break down carbohydrates into their single sugar components for the production of green fuel. ~ I can envisage so many issues with this around ramping up plant production to make fuel!
Apple’s new Mac Pro is being manufactured in China — After six years of manufacturing the cylindrical Mac Pro in Texas, Apple has shifted production of the new Mac Pro to China, even as trade tensions escalate between the US and China. ~ Imagine how much more than its ridiculous price it would cost at US labour rates!
Crohn’s diet breakthrough? A 25-year-old man first been diagnosed with Crohn’s in 2014 cut out all animal products and processed foods from his diet for 40 days, as part of a “period of religious observation.” He decided to stick with the diet, and a colonoscopy of the man’s ileum (the end of the small intestine long affected by his Crohn’s) revealed that it had fully healed. ~ This definitely deserves more research.
Mysterious, 10-million-light-year-long magnetic field connects two galaxy clusters — Scientists have detected radio waves emanating from the space between a pair of galaxy clusters—evidence of intergalactic magnetic fields and fast-moving particles in the space between these giant galactic assemblages. Even more mysteriously, the feature the scientists detected is tens of times longer than the distance that a relativistic electron can travel in its lifetime. ~ It’s pizza delivery!
Self-repairing rechargeables —Researchers in Japan have developed a self-repairing material that could extend the lifespan of batteries. Professor Atsuo Yamada at the University of Tokyo, Japan, has invented an oxygen redox-layered oxide (Na2RuO3) that could allow rechargeable batteries to last much longer as it’s self-repairing. ~ OK, next I want self-recharging.
Accumulated mutations create a cellular mosaic in our bodies — Mutations, most of them harmless, accumulate in our tissues over a lifetime. The subtle genetic variations in cells make humans a mosaic. Your body has about 40 trillion cells which all arose from a single fertilised egg. But the DNA in many of those cells is no longer a perfect clone of that original one. ~ So it It turns out you aren’t simply a clone of the cells you started with.
Pumping heart patch —A ‘pumping’ patch containing millions of living, beating stem cells could help repair the damage caused by heart attacks, according to researchers.
Sewn on to the heart, the 3cm (1in) by 2cm patch, grown in a lab from a sample of the patient’s own cells, then turns itself into healthy working muscle. ~ Rabbits recommend …
Ancient plague bacteria sequenced — Scientists have gained some insight into one of the first known calamities to visit mankind: a two century-long pandemic caused by the bacterial disease plague. Studying the remains of plague victims, the researchers say they were able to sequence the genomes of plague strains that devastated the Roman Empire starting in the 6th century. They also found direct evidence the plague’s destruction made it as far as England. ~ Maybe this item belongs in The Apocalypticon.
Salamander goo makes amazing medical glue —When Chinese giant salamanders are injured, they discharge white mucus from glands on their skin. New research shows this sticky salamander goo makes an excellent medical glue, sealing wounds and encouraging them to heal. Using the glue, scientists were able to close bleeding skin incisions in less than 30 seconds. ~ Current medical glues make wounds hot, they’re not elastic enough and can be toxic.
Scientists locate neutron star collision that could have created our solar system’s plutonium — in 2017, observatories around the world observed a high-energy collision between a pair of dense objects, each slightly more massive than the Sun but only the size of a city. A similar collision closer to home could have been responsible for producing some of the heaviest elements in our own solar system – and scientists think they know when it happened.
Using measurements of what’s left of these elements in ancient meteorites, a pair of researchers worked backward to locate the neutron star merger that produced some of them. ~ The abundances of these elements spiked approximately 80 million years before the solar system formed.
Water worlds could have very deep oceans —Scientists have good reason to believe that so-called water worlds – exoplanets with surfaces covered entirely by a single gigantic ocean – are common in the galaxy. But new computer simulations suggests that not only are water worlds prevalent, they’re also teeming with water – and at mind-boggling scales. Imagine oceans hundreds, and even thousands, of kilometres deep. ~ That’s no reason for Kev to make a movie, though. Water worlds are still hypothetical.
Data on protein — By 2020, researchers estimate that the world’s digital archive will weigh in at around 44 trillion gigabytes. That’s an astounding amount of data that isn’t necessarily being stored in the safest of places. Most storage mediums naturally degrade over time (if they’re not hacked or accidentally destroyed) and the cloud isn’t as reliable as companies want us to believe.
So researchers at Harvard University have turned to some unique chemistry they believe could safely archive the world’s data for millions of years — without requiring any power. Chemists at Harvard University took inspiration from nature and came up with a way to store data using oligopeptides: molecules made up of amino acids that are considerably smaller and easier to work with than DNA. ~ Getting pumped? Shake it, baby.
An end to AIDS may be within sight —A landmark study found men whose HIV infection was fully suppressed by antiretroviral drugs had no chance of infecting their partner. The findings support the message of the international U=U campaign that an undetectable viral load makes HIV untransmittable. ~ A major step forward.
Pinholes aid holographic transmission — Researchers in South Korea have designed an ultrathin display that can project dynamic, multi-colored, 3D holographic images. ~ This suggests holographic displays could be projected from thin devices like cell phones.
One-step method for biodegradable plastics — Researchers in Japan and the Netherlands have devised a one-stop method to produce plant-derived plastics. Bio-based plastics are emerging as a next generation material and are expected to replace petroleum-derived plastics. A plant-derived polyester, called polyethylene furanoate (PEF), is a promising polymer derived from plants that can replace the current favourite of the plastic industry, polyethylene terephthalate (PET). ~ Pfft.
Astonishing Densiovan fossil — The archaeology world has been abuzz with news of the first Denisovan fossil found outside Siberia. The 160,000-year-old jawbone was uncovered by a Buddhist monk in a Chinese cave nearly 40 years ago.
Now that it has finally been studied, it’s known it belonged to a young Denisovan individual who occupied the cave some 160,000 years ago. ~ Home Sapiens date back 200,000 years.
New research describes the remains of a gigantic, four-legged mammalian carnivore that terrorised Africa 22 million years ago —Simbakubwa kutokaafrika, which translated from Swahili means ‘big lion coming from Africa.’ But this was no feline: it belonged to an extinct group of mammals known as hyaenodonts, which have no close relation to any species of mammalian carnivore living today. Larger than a polar bear, and with a head as big as a rhino’s, Simbakubwa spent its time as an apex predator in Eastern Africa around 22 million years ago, eventually going extinct under mysterious circumstances. ~ Honestly, record keeping back then was all over the place.
Popping corks at CERN — Scientists have announced the observation of “CP violation in a D0 meson” at CERN, a discovery that will appear in physics textbooks for years to come. So?
The universe is full of regular matter. There’s also antimatter, which exists even here on Earth, but there’s much less of it. This new observation is important on its own, but it also takes physicists another step closer to explaining where all the antimatter has disappeared to. ~ D0, a Meson, a CP violation, Ray, a …
Kazakhstan meteorite hid evidence of ancient solar super flare — Scientists found evidence of an ancient solar “superflare” hidden in a meteorite first found in Kazakhstan in 1962. Meteorites can be useful for telling the story the Solar System’s history through the elements they contain. By analysing the Efremovka meteorite, a pair of researchers determined a superflare that occurred around 500,000 years after the Sun’s birth could have emitted as many x-rays as the largest solar flare each second, but for perhaps an entire year. ~ On the bright, well very bright, side: free X-Rays.
Twisted graphene is exciting stuff — Carbon sheets only a single atom thick, called graphene, take on a pair of important physical properties when they are twisted at just the right ‘magic’ angle relative to one another.
If the atmosphere this month at the world’s largest physics conference was any indication, twisted graphene has now spawned an entirely new field of physics research. ~ But is it recyclable?
Teeny-tiny Bluetooth transmitters —Battery-powered and energy-harvesting millimeter-scale sensors are meant to last for years without needing replacement, but their radios can’t muster the energy needed to communicate using even the lowest energy version of Bluetooth, called Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE). But now engineers at the University of Michigan have built the first millimetre-scale stand-alone device that speaks BLE. Consuming just 0.6 milliwatts during transmission, it would broadcast for 11 years using a typical 5.8-millimeter coin battery. ~ Teeny-tiny trackers, in other words.
Old human brains still make new cells — Humans can make fresh brain cells well into their 90s, but the production of new neurons falls in those with Alzheimer’s, even when the disease has recently taken hold, scientists have found. The findings may help doctors to diagnose Alzheimer’s at an earlier stage. ~ OK, brain, make me some new ones right now.
Booze without the bad effects —Alcarelle, a synthetic alcohol that should provide the relaxing and socially lubricating qualities of alcohol without the hangovers, health issues and the risk of getting paralytic, is starting to look like a possibility. ~ Cheers to that.
Gene editing record —Using a modified version of CRISPR, a team of geneticists has successfully triggered 13,200 genetic changes to a single human cell. That’s a new record, and by a long shot. This sweeping new editing process could eventually be used to strip DNA of useless or dangerous genetic information – or create entirely new kinds of life. ~ Oh, wait, will we get singe-cell humans? Lol.
Corn-starch plastic heals itself with a blast of heat — Researchers from the Leibniz Institute for New Materials in Saarbrücken, Germany, and from the nearby Saarland University, turned to corn starch to help develop a new lacquer coating that can bounce back from minor damage. ~ Boom-shacka-lacquer, oh yeah!
Five AI experiences you can try now in a browser — It can be hard to get your head around exactly what AI does and how it can be deployed though, which is why we present to you these five fun online experiments — all you need is a web browser and a few minutes to see some of the party tricks AI is already capable of. ~ Hmm, yeah.
Origin of the Universe — NASA has announced it will create a new telescope mission, the Spectro-Photometer for the History of the Universe, Epoch of Reionization and Ices Explorer. Luckily we can call it SPHEREx for short. It’ll look at how our universe has changed, and how common the ingredients of life are in the Milky Way. ~ Maps it.
Another Arctic crater, 35kms across — NASA glaciologists used topographical maps, satellite images, and radar scans to analyse an area of the Arctic and found a flat, bowl-shaped depression in the bedrock. This was surrounded by an elevated edge and characteristic central peaks, which form on the crater floor after an impact. The crater has eroded significantly over time, causing the team to estimate it was created somewhere between a hundred thousand years and a hundred million years ago. ~ Those big white bits of Earth must be easier to aim at.
A new kind of magnet —It has been theorised for decades, and now may have been experimentally proven to exist. It could eventually lead to better data storage devices. In a normal magnet, the magnetic moments of individual grains align with each other to generate a magnetic field. In contrast, in the new “singlet-based” magnet, magnetic moments are temporary in nature, popping in and out of existence. ~ I like singlets, especially in this weather, but they singularly fail to make me more of an attractant.
The most important car you’ve never heard of — According to Gizmodo, the Autobianchi Primula (main picture, above) is perhaps the most technically influential car ever, because the fundamental theory and design of that car dictated the template that most modern cars use today. Fiat built almost 75,000 Primulas between 1964 and 1970. ~ And now, I have heard of it. But to me it looks rather distressingly like an Austin 1100.
Smart sneakers not dumb — The right shoe of every pair of UnderArmour HOVR shoes contains a chip that connects with the Map My Run app (also owned by Under Armour). With it, you can keep track of metrics like distance, pace, splits, cadence, and stride length. ~ You know you want ‘personal gait coaching’!
Cutting connection — Internet entrepreneur Arianna Huffington sees a bright future for a new kind of technology — the kind that helps individuals disconnect from the damage done by the internet’s first generation. And it can’t come soon enough, she says, as the next generation of technology may pose an ever greater threat to our lives and jobs. ~ So the next big thing in tech might be tech that lets us disconnect from tech …
Tinder for cows —UK farming start-up Hectare has launched its own equivalent for livestock. It’s called ‘Tudder‘. The app features data profiles of animals from 42,000 UK farms in an effort to help farmers find the perfect breeding partner for their cattle. ~ Cud-dle time.
The planetary health plate — This is a diet put together by scientists as a general guide for how to feed a projected 10 billion humans in 2050 while also keeping the planet from keeling over. It consists largely of vegetables and whole grains. ~ This has pretty much been my diet for the last 30 years. What are you doing?
‘New’ dinosaur — Living 140 million years ago in the early Lower Cretaceous, the newly discovered herbivore Bajadasaurus pronuspinax had a thing for growing spikes. It was part of the Sauropod family, but looked a little like a small Brontosaurus crossed with a porcupine. ~ OK, then.
Farout is really far out — For the first time, an object in our solar system has been found more than 100 times farther than Earth is from the sun.
The International Astronomical Union’s Minor Planet Center announced the discovery Monday, calling the object 2018 VG18. But the researchers who found it are calling it ‘Farout.’
They believe the spherical object is a dwarf planet more than 310 miles in diameter, with a pinkish hue. That colour has been associated with objects that are rich in ice, and given its distance from the sun, that isn’t hard to believe. Its slow orbit probably takes more than 1000 years to make one trip around the sun. ~ It sounds cold.
Mars crater filled with ice — The stunning Korolev crater in the northern lowlands of Mars is filled with ice all year round owing to a trapped layer of cold Martian air that keeps the water frozen. The 80-km-wide (50-mile-wide) crater (main picture, above) contains as much water ice as Great Bear Lake in northern Canada, and in the centre of the crater the ice is more than 1.6kms (one mile) thick.
~ Whiskey on that?
Best quantum computer yet?A startup based in Maryland has released and tested an impressive new quantum computer that demonstrates the power of an occasionally overlooked quantum computing architecture. ~ Yeah, that’s true, I had overlooked that.
Norway Is Entering a New Era of Climate-Conscious Architecture — The country now has a suite of buildings that generate more energy than they use. Powerhouse Brattørkaia is an ‘energy positive’ building that will open to the public next year in Norway.
The European Union has a target of making all new buildings zero-energy by 2020, but in Norway, carbon neutrality isn’t enough.
A consortium in Oslo made up of architects, engineers, environmentalists, and designers is creating energy-positive buildings in a country with some of the coldest and darkest winters on Earth. “If you can make it in Norway, you can make it anywhere,” says Peter Bernhard, a consultant with Asplan Viak, a Powerhouse alliance member. ~ Well, if anyone’s going to be climate conscious!
Dinosaur feathers — Feathers were common among dinosaurs, but scientists aren’t certain if the fur-like coverings of pterosaurs – a group of flying reptiles – were of the same sort seen on dinos and birds or something completely different. The discovery of two exquisite fossils in China now suggests pterosaurs were very much covered in feathers, potentially pushing back the origin of this critically important evolutionary feature by 70 million years. ~ Wonder if they were as brightly coloured as parakeets?
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!
Kepler’s legacy — Since March 2009, NASA has discovered more than 2600 planets, including potentially habitable ones, thanks to the Kepler Space Telescope. Last week, after nearly a decade of hunting for new planets, the Kepler finally ran out of fuel. NASA decided to officially retire Kepler within its current orbit, away from Earth, on Oct. 30, 2018.
NASA plans to continue the hunt for new planets. While Kepler’s mission was to search for planets about 3000 light-years away, NASA launched a new spacecraft called Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite, or TESS for short, in April of this year to search every star within 100 light-years of Earth. ~ Kepler kept on keeping on – until last week, anyway.
Earth weighed with ghost particles — Scientists have to use some roundabout methods to weigh the Earth and measure what’s inside it – typically, they’ve used sound waves and the strength of gravity to make their calculations. But one team has weighed the Earth in a whole new way: by measuring mysterious cosmic particles that pass through it. ~ Yeah, well, how much does it weigh, then?!
Chiplets to keep up with Moore’s Law — As chipmakers struggle to keep up with Moore’s law, they are increasingly looking for alternatives to boost computers’ performance. Moore’s Law is slowing. More density costs more and takes longer.
Chip chiefs say chiplets will enable their silicon architects to ship more powerful processors more quickly. One reason is it’s quicker to mix and match modular pieces linked by short data connections than to painstakingly graft and redesign them into a single new chip. ~ They’re like high-tech lego blocks.
Placebo Effect is surprisingly effective — For decades science has acknowledged the placebo effect insofar as it is constantly trying to fight against it – that humans have this pesky thing about healing themselves sometimes better than the actual drugs can. This has led to an entire interdisciplinary field trying to fold the placebo effect back into medicine, something that is worked into treatment, and not controlled out of drug trials. ~ I remember asking my daughter if she’d like a placebo for her hypochondria. Since she was only 4, this ploy worked very well for both of us.
Making biological cells from scratch — Researchers have been trying to create artificial cells for more than 20 years, piecing together biomolecules in just the right context to approximate different aspects of life. They generally fall into three categories: compartmentalisation, or the separation of biomolecules in space; metabolism, the biochemistry that sustains life; and informational control, the storage and management of cellular instructions.
The pace of work has been accelerating, thanks in part to recent advances in microfluidic technologies, which allow scientists to coordinate the movements of minuscule cellular components (main picture, above). ~ Life beckons. Then what?
Lasers reveal how plants produce oxygen —An experiment using intense laser pulses has allowed scientists to watch plants produce oxygen from water part of photosynthesis in real time, according to a groundbreaking new paper.
Photosynthesis fixes carbon dioxide into sugars and creates oxygen out of water in the presence of sunlight, turning the sun into usable energy. Scientists hope to understand this reaction and incorporate it into solar energy technology. This new study using one of the world’s brightest lasers to present a view of the intermediate steps of the reaction – a movie of the reaction occurring. ~ I’m breathing easier already.
Doing without plastic: what to use instead? Packaging designer Ryan Gaither believes in the power of cardboard. At the Swedish-owned BillerudKorsnäs design lab in Portland, Oregon, he’s laid down a massive sheet of it, as big as a king-size bed. He flips the switch on a machine that zips around the cardboard, stabbing and cutting it like a robotic exact-o knife.
BillerudKorsnäs is primarily a paper company that prides itself on its sustainably managed forests. It also has a process – the details of which it won’t divulge – that it says produces super strong paper. Every time you replace plastic with paper, it does more than reduce plastic pollution. It also helps climate change since plastic is made from fossil fuels. ~ Great stuff.
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.
Surprising accelerator finding could change the way we think about neutron stars — Scientists using data from an American particle accelerator compared how protons and neutrons behaved in collisions between electrons and atomic nuclei. It’s an important nuclear physics result that has interstellar implications when it comes to understanding neutron stars, which are objects in space around 1.5 times to twice the mass of the Sun, but packed into a space less than 16km across. ~ This may surprise you, but it didn’t change my thinking coz I didn’t have any thinking (about neutron stars).
An exoplanet has a surface so hot, it rips apart water molecules — It’s almost a star, but not quite; it’s an ultra-hot, Jupiter-like world located around 880 light years from Earth. It’s so hot, it rips water molecules into its components (oxygen and hydrogen), which makes it far different from any of the worlds in our own Solar System. ~ It looks more like a star than a planet.
Ambitious Human Cell Atlas aims to catalogue every type of cell in the human body —For the last two years Aviv Regev, a professor of biology at MIT, has been co-leading a massive international effort to account for and better understand every cell type and sub-type in the human body, and how they interact. The Human Cell Atlas has received less attention than the US$3 billion Human Genome Project, which was completed in 2003 after 15 years of work, but it’s equally ambitious. ~ It’s all about those dang faulty proteins!
Scientists have found a rapid way of producing magnesite which could one day help remove CO2 from the atmosphere — If this can be developed to an industrial scale, it opens the door to removing CO2 from the atmosphere for long-term storage, thus countering the global warming effect of atmospheric CO2. ~ Ah, storing it where, guys?
Heat wave reveals the outlines of hidden garden and ghost village — British Isles heatwaves and wildfires have been revealing hidden signs of the past, from crop marks dating back thousands of years to giant signs meant to signal World War II pilots. At Chatsworth House, a Derbyshire estate perhaps most famous for its connection to Pride and Prejudice, the heat wave exposed the outlines of a long-gone world: the gardens and village that existed here back in the 17th and 18th centuries. ~ So, a visual guide to the pride and, presumably, to the prejudice.
Easter Island collapse theory questioned — The indigenous people of Easter Island, the Rapa Nui, experienced a societal collapse after the 17th century because they stripped the island clean of its natural resources. Or at least, that’s the leading theory. An analysis of the tools used by the Rapa Nui to build their iconic stone statues suggests a very different conclusion, pointing to the presence of a highly organised and cohesive society.
New research published in the Journal of Pacific Archaeology is now offering a different perspective, showing that the Rapa Nui people maintained a thriving tool-building industry during the time of their alleged descent into ‘barbarity’. ~ Time to carve out a new theory.
Egyptians preserving corpses long before the Pharaohs — Researchers had long assumed mummies that predate Dynastic Egypt (which begins around 3100 BCE), were preserved somewhat spontaneously by the natural scorching and parched sand of a shallow desert grave. Scientists have often considered this hands-off approach to be a major precursor to the painstaking process of deliberate mummification that was refined over the next 2000 years and reached its apex during the New Kingdom era (c. 1550–1070 BCE), when embalmers excised organs and drained fluids before swaddling a corpse in strips of linen.
But a new paper in the Journal of Archaeological Science suggests it was the result of a carefully concocted recipe, implying the body preservation culture predated the pyramids. ~ The Grand Mummies …
99-million-year-old beetle preserved in amber was a pollinator — Amber fossils containing bugs are nothing new, but the discovery of a beautifully preserved Cretaceous Period beetle with bits of pollen still around it is changing what we know about the planet’s earliest pollinating insects.
This beetle belonged to the boganiid family, which are exceptionally rare in the fossil record, but are known pollinators of cycads. ~ A bogan insect indeed.
Is it a star or a planet? No, it’s a, um, Starnet … Various news outlets have been discussing a strange object in space, which may or may not be a planet. New measurements show that what was thought to be a brown dwarf – essentially a “failed star” that is too small to generate nuclear fusion, but too big to be a planet – might be a planet after all. But that’s far from the strangest part of this story.
Scientists recently took another look at four nearby brown dwarfs, as well as at this strange object, which is located only 20 light years from Earth. The new observation demonstrated that the weird object actually straddles the boundary between planet and brown dwarf. That’s cool, but even more perplexing is how all five of these objects ended up with their intense magnetic fields. ~ I think I will call it the Halo-Dwarf.
Space wall of hydrogen — The New Horizons spacecraft, now at a distance nearly 6.4 billion kms from Earth and already far beyond Pluto, has measured what appears to be a signature of the furthest reaches of the Sun’s energy — a wall of hydrogen. It nearly matches the same measurement made by the Voyager mission 30 years ago, and offers more information as to the furthest limits of our Sun’s reach. ~ The Mexicans are very clear they did not pay for it.
Japan’s Hayabusa2 spacecraft came tantalisingly close to asteroid Ryugu — It has offered an unprecedented view of the asteroid’s boulder-strewn surface.
The third descent of the mission saw Hayabusa2 come to within 851m of the asteroid, making it the closest encounter to date. ~ Shame that surface is so boring, right?
Densest SSD take on a new shape — The chip giant Intel first set out this form factor a year ago, based on the Enterprise & Datacenter Storage Form Factor (EDSFF) standard for server makers to cut cooling costs and offer a more efficient format than SSDs in the classic square 2.5 inch size. Intel describes the new ruler-shaped Intel SSD DC P4500, which is 12 inches by 1.5 inches, and a third of an inch thick, as the world’s densest SSD. Server makers can jam up to one petabyte (PB) – or a thousand terabytes (TB) – of data into 1U server racks by lining up 32 of these 32TB Intel rulers together. ~ I love SSDs, they’re so fast and robust compared to hard drives.
With a budget of just $US600 —a mere pittance compared to what robots such as ATLAS cost to develop — students from the University of California’s Davis’ College of Engineering created a machine that’s capable of tying shoe laces all by itself. ~ This will be really useful for tying the laces of people who can no longer bend over, presumably.
Cancer put to sleep in Australia — In a world first, Melbourne scientists have discovered a new type of anti-cancer drug that can put cancer cells into a permanent sleep, without the harmful side-effects caused by conventional cancer therapies.
The research reveals the first class of anti-cancer drugs that work by putting the cancer cell to ‘sleep’, arresting tumour growth and spread without damaging the cells’ DNA. The new class of drugs could provide an exciting alternative for people with cancer, and has already shown great promise in halting cancer progression in models of blood and liver cancers, as well as in delaying cancer relapse. ~ Basically, it stops the cancer cells dividing and replicating.
Chili can keep rodents away from seeds they’d eat — New research suggests that capsaicin – the spicy element of chili peppers – can be a robust deterrent to seed-eating rodents. Ecologists interested in restoring ecosystems after disturbances such as wildfires conducted experiments with deer mice. They started with glass enclosures where on one side, the mice were offered regular old sunflower seeds, while on the other side were seeds that had been given a special, capsaicin-laced coating. The mice ate 86% fewer pepper-treated seeds than untreated ones. When they took the experiment outside to the Missoula Valley in Montana, the scientists saw the results play out. Seeds treated with capsaicin were far more likely to survive to become plants than ones left untreated. ~ But if they develop a taste for it the same way people can, all we do is vary their palettes.
Prehistoric mass graves located along coastlines around the world may be linked to ancient tsunamis — Mass graves are common in the archaeological record. There’s the Viking-age Ridgeway Hill Burial Pit in the UK which contains 54 skeletons and 51 dismembered heads, or the Early Neolithic mass grave of Schöneck-Kilianstädten in Germany, a likely massacre that resulted in the deaths of at least 26.
In these and similar cases, archaeologists attribute the burials to warfare or pillaging, as evidenced by wounds such as blunt-force trauma, injuries caused by weapons, or decapitations. But in some cases, where the cause of death isn’t obvious, and where no written or oral history exists to explain the presence of a mass grave, archaeologists can only speculate as to the cause.
New research suggests scientists have overlooked a possible cause of some ambiguous mass graves located along oceanic coastlines: ancient tsunamis. ~ They’re going mohave to find diatoms to prove it (really).