Scientists’ plan to search for life in the universe — A blue-ribbon panel of researchers chaired by the University of Toronto’s Barbara Sherwood Lollar assembled the report at the behest of the US Congress, which asked in a 2017 law that a “strategy for astrobiology” be developed to prioritise “the search for life’s origin, evolution, distribution, and future in the universe.” The 196-page report does not offer easy access to ET, but the steady drumbeat of scientific advancement it documents suggests an increasingly sophisticated understanding of what we know – and don’t know – about biology on our planet and beyond.
~ Well, I like drumbeats anyway. Usually.
Jupiter’s moon Europa may have massive ice shards — Few moons in the Solar System are as intriguing as Jupiter’s moon Europa. A global ocean of salt water almost certainly surrounds the moon – and it would hold more water than any ocean on Earth. Above this immense sea, where surface temperatures dip to -184 degrees Celsius (-300 degrees Fahrenheit), a crust of water ice forms a shell. Astronomers predict that Jupiter, which bombards the moon with intense radiation, causes the entire moon to groan with gravity’s tug. Europa’s liquid water is a tempting target for future missions looking for possible alien microbes. But before a future lander can search for microscopic ET, the probe might have to contend with a forest of tall, jagged ice spikes. Their research suggests Europa is an icy hedgehog world, covered in ice formations rarely found on Earth.
~ I envisage a new range of Europa Ice Wines … called ‘Shardonay’. Yeah, you wish you’d thought of it!
Unknown seamounts are now known seamounts — Australian scientists have discovered a previously unknown chain of volcanic seamounts near Tasmania. The area appears to be brimming with marine life, including a surprising number of whales who may be using the undersea volcanoes as a navigational tool. The volcanic chain was discovered by scientists from the Australian National University and CSIRO, Australia’s national science agency, while on a 25-day mission aboard the research vessel Investigator to conduct detailed seafloor maps of the region. The undersea volcanoes are about 400 kilometres (250 miles) east of Tasmania, and they’re quite deep.
~ Or maybe the whales are just trying to keep warm.
Self-healing material uses carbon from the air — MIT chemical engineers have reportedly designed a material that can react with carbon dioxide from the air, “to grow, strengthen, and even repair itself.” According to MIT News, the polymer, which might someday be used as construction or repair material or for protective coatings, continuously converts the greenhouse gas into a carbon-based material that reinforces itself.
~ “This air is hard stuff, we’ll build a world from it!” (to quote the Mekons.)
Smart drones lighting concerts — Typically, you have an artist on stage for a concert singing songs, then a bunch of spotlights beams columns of colour through some fake smoke. But something new is on the horizon, and it’s equal parts creepy and futuristic: swarms of artificially intelligent drones are starting to show up on stages around the world. Some, such as the ones on Drake’s latest tour, of are tiny flying lights that float above the stage. Others, such as a recent Cirque du Soleil experience, featured more complex aircraft outfitted with lampshades that produced an almost ghostly effect. Metallica even has its own drone show.
~ A crash could really spoil your hairdo, though.
Inside a Hyperloop capsule — The real Hyperloop is quite different from the initial concept introduced by Elon Musk that had air bearings, supersonic speeds, and solar energy. HTT and Airtificial invested a total of 21,000 engineering hours and 5000 assembly hours to create Quintero One (above), a 32 metre capsule made of 85% carbon fibre; or, as HTT puts it, 85% ‘Vibranium’. The material that covers the capsule takes its name from the Marvel universe, but it doesn’t come from Wakanda: it is a double-layered patented-design that uses 82 panels of carbon fibre and 72 sensors able to detect problems related to the structural integrity of the vessel.
~ When it might travel at close to the speed of sound, structural integrity is very important.
Three brains sharing thoughts — Neuroscientists have successfully hooked up a three-way brain connection to allow three people share their thoughts – in this case, they played a Tetris-style game. The team thinks this wild experiment could be scaled up to connect whole networks of people, and yes, it’s as weird as it sounds. It works through a combination of electroencephalograms (EEGs), for recording the electrical impulses that indicate brain activity, and transcranial magnetic stimulation, where neurons are stimulated using magnetic fields.
~ Donald Trump seems to be able to share his thoughts without having a connection to anyone, though …
Yes, we can do without coal and save Earth — The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released a report saying the world’s electrical utilities need to reduce coal consumption by at least 60% over the next two decades through 2030 to avoid the worst effects of climate change that could occur with more than 1.5 degrees Celsius of warming. While that reduction seems out of reach, Bloomberg crunched some numbers and found it’s possible to meet consumption-cut targets on the current path.
~ But how reliable is Bloomberg anymore?
Neanderthal healthcare — Neanderthals cared for their sick and wounded, and new research suggests this behaviour was more than just a cultural phenomenon or an expression of compassion — it really did help them survive. To endure the harsh conditions of Ice Age Europe, Neanderthals adopted several strategies, including group hunting, collaborative parenting, and food sharing. New research published in Quaternary Science Reviews is adding another trick to the Neanderthal survival guide: healthcare. And the evidence dates back 1.6 million years ago.
~ OK, hands up who though this headline would be about the US.
Neanderthals helped us survive epidemics — A new study argues we have Neanderthals to thank for helping us cope with the viral tides we encountered as we marched around the globe. Stanford University researchers have identified DNA sequences that evolved in our ancient cousins that can produce antivirus proteins, which more than likely gave some human populations the edge they needed to survive. Roughly 1% of our genome’s coding was written in Neanderthal populations but this is a broad average – many families with African ancestry have zero, for instance, while other populations boast as much as 2% or more. So the question is how much of this difference comes down to the random drift of DNA being passed on around the globe, and how much is due to natural selection giving those with Neanderthal genes an advantage?
~ They seem pretty ugly the way we picture them now, in paleontological reconstructions, but maybe they were snappy dressers or something?