Tag Archives: space

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. 

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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 ~ 4th wave, Pluto’s ice shards, low-tech for Venus, EVs, bot builders, McLaren body armour


NASA is going low-tech for an attempt at a usable rover for the inhospitable surface of Venus. It has built in wind turbines that distributes power to the treads

A fourth gravitational wave has been detected  — Astronomers have made a new detection of gravitational waves and for the first time have been able to trace the shape of ripples sent through spacetime when black holes collide. The announcement, made at a meeting of the G7 science ministers in Turin, marks the fourth cataclysmic black-hole merger that astronomers have spotted using Ligo, the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory.
The latest detection is the first to have also been picked up by the Virgo detector, located near Pisa, Italy, providing a new layer of detail on the three dimensional pattern of warping that occurs during some of the most violent and energetic events in the universe.
~ Can’t think of a smart-arse thing to say about this, so I will leave that up to the researchers: “Overall, the volume of universe that is likely to contain the source shrinks by more than a factor of 20 when moving from a two-detector network to a three-detector network.” So there. 

Pluto’s skyscraper ice shards — When NASA’s New Horizons space probe zipped past Pluto in 2015, it revealed portions of the dwarf planet’s surface were strewn with what could only be described as gigantic blades of ice, many of which extended into the Plutonian sky for hundreds of metres. Finally, after nearly two years of research, a team of scientists think they have figured out the nature of these odd features and how they came to appear on the surface.
~ I would have picked something to do with temperature …

Low-tech rover destined for Venus — The surface of Venus is, at approximately 450°C (850° Fahrenheit), hot enough for paper to spontaneously combust. Its atmosphere, an oppressive mix of carbon dioxide, nitrogen, and sulfur dioxide, is dense enough to crush a submarine. While certainly inhospitable to humans, is almost just as rough for robots. The last time a bot visited the surface of Venus was in the mid-’80s, when the Soviet Union sent its Vega lander to capture data about the planet’s soil. It lasted for less than an hour.
So NASA is going low-tech and is working on a boxy, tank-like bot that rolls around on treads (main picture, above), making it impervious to Venus’ rough terrain. Those treads are powered via a wind turbine that captures the planet’s whipping wind gusts and stores that power inside springs before distributing to the various systems on the rover.
~ It’s also using light refectors rather than fragile radio. 

Chinese researchers carry out Base Editing  to correct  mutation — Chinese researchers have taken tissue from a beta-thallasemia patient, created cloned embryos from that patient’s cells, and used a genetic editing technique known as Base Editing to correct the gene mutation that causes beta-thallasemia. The embryos were not implanted in a womb, so no actual babies were created during the procedure.
~ “Precise chemical surgery” indeed. 

Toyota, Mazda and, ah, Denso collaborate for electric cars — With governments around the world increasingly mandating some percentage of their countries’ car companies’ sales be of electric vehicles, the onus is on those brands to find more efficient and cost-effective ways to develop new models. Toyota is spearheading a new enterprise with the help of Japanese partner Mazda [which gives Ford a look-in, with it’s 33% stake in Mazda] and electronics powerhouse Denso to create standardised technology for EVs that the car brands can share in the future.
~ One suggestion: Denso should maybe consider changing its name to Clevero. 

Vacuum company Dyson aims to build a radically different electric car — The billionaire who revolutionized the vacuum cleaner said 400 engineers in Wiltshire had been working since 2015 on the £2.5 billion project.  Dyson says the car’s electric motor is ready, while two different battery types were under development that he claimed were already more efficient than in existing electric cars. Dyson said consumers would have to “wait and see” what the car would look like.
~ Going by Dyson’s other products, the mind boggles. And unlike most of their other products, they’ll hope it doesn’t suck. 

Bot armies that build things — At SRI International in Silicon Valley, researchers have developed perhaps the most impressive microbot army yet: the MicroFactory. It’s an ant colony made robotic, with half-millimeter machines zipping around to construct truly impressive structures. It could well be a glimpse at a future where 3-D printers give way to swarms of robots that cooperatively build stronger, more complex structures. The setup of the MicroFactory is fairly straightforward. The foundation is a circuit board that generates a magnetic field. The little robots themselves are magnets
~ I will really start to worry when their evolution passes from human direction. 

McLaren body armour — Developed by McLaren Applied Technologies for a “client X”, the armour is designed to “help protect vital organs after surgery”. The fully wearable composite shield does the job of the rib cage — protecting vital organs including the heart and the lungs, with the garment providing further protection from unexpected low energy impact.
According to McLaren, it’s designed to conform precisely to the client’s physique and is manufactured from a combination of materials, including carbon, Zylon and Dyneemafibres, as well as “highly-toughened resin”.
~ I guess this is really throwing down the Zylon and Dyneemafibre gauntlet to the other supercar companies …

Futurology ~ Einstein’s test, Trappist music, big Dawn, moon cellphone, accelerator gold mine, ancient deep, Sahara Solar for EU, app injects AR, NZ Tesla salt power, squishy robot future, ancient skull


Another Einstein theory passes another test — A team of scientists used 20 years of data from several telescopes to watch how three stars orbited the centre of our own Milky Way Galaxy, Sagittarius A*. They have created a general relativity theory test in a mass regime that isn’t well-tested today. The theory checks out, yet again, for Albert Einstein’s expanded theory of motion and gravity, the theory of general relativity.
~ For now.

Program allows you to make songs with the sounds of planets orbiting the ultracool dwarf star TRAPPIST-1 — The player is part of a bigger program, aptly called System Sounds, which is the brainchild of a group of astronomers who have been studying the “resonant chain” of the TRAPPIST-1 star’s seven Earth-sized exoplanets, which were announced to the world back in February. A resonant chain describes how the alien planets’ gravitational tugs work together to keep them all in stable and circular orbits around each other and their host star.
TRAPPIST-1 represents the longest resonant chain “that has ever been discovered in a planetary system“.
~ Team with Belgian beer. Mmm. 

Massive spacecraft reporting back on asteroids — Dawn is 19.8 metres (65 feet) from tip to tip and it has an ion drive! But Dawn also has a serious job to do. Launched in 2007, it has been investigating Ceres and Vesta, two mysterious protoplanets in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter. These are smallish, truly ancient bodies, remnants of the early solar system (protoplanets are bodies that formed early on, some of which turned into actual planets like Earth) with plenty of secrets to tell – secrets that Dawn has been unravelling.
~ Ion drives start slow, but after 10 years Dawn is travelling at 40,233kph (25,000 miles per hour). 

Cellphone tower for the moon — The German company Part Time Scientists, which originally competed for the Google Lunar X Prize race to the moon, plans to send a lander with a rover in late 2018 to visit the landing site of Apollo 17 (NASA’s final Apollo mission to the moon, in 1972.) Instead of using a complex dedicated telecommunication system to relay data from the rover to Earth, the company plans to rely on LTE technology – the same system used on Earth for mobile phone communications – because the German startup is preparing to set up the first telecommunication infrastructure on the lunar surface.
~ Boy, aliens are going to love this. 

Particle accelerator in gold mine searches the stars — It took more than the 10 minutes to get down, the accelerator was sent so deep,  with the elevator slowed to a crawl to protect Caspar’s delicate, antique belt and pulley as it descended from the ground floor to the “4850 Level”— this is 1478 metres (4850 feet) underground, where the dirt floors are studded with metal tracks and a light breeze blows. The Caspar team wants to learn how stars a little older than the sun synthesize heavy elements.
~ Well, isn’t that the burning question on everybody’s lips?

Ancient deep-sea creature discoveries — Last month, scientists aboard the NOAA ship Okeanos Explorer visited a poorly-explored deep sea area about 1500km west of Hawaii. From giant sea spiders and rare snailfish through to comb jellies and glass-like corals, these are some of the weirdest critters we’ve seen in a while.
~ Clearly they haven’t watched the New Zealand parliament live feed. 

Sahara solar could help power the EU — In the global race to ditch fossil fuel reliance for more renewable energy sources, Europe is already making some impressive strides. That is likely to ramp up considerably thanks to a new European Union plan to build a large solar plant in the Sahara desert with the ability to generate enough power to keep much of Europe juiced up.
~ Endangering 12 lizards and three scorpions. 

Gaming company turning Starcraft into an AI lab — The new release of the StarCraft II API on the Blizzard side includes a Linux package made to run in the cloud, and with support for Mac (and that other platform). It also has support for offline AI vs. AI matches, and those anonymized game replays from actual human players for training up agents, which is starting out at 65,000 complete matches, and will grow to over 500,000 over the course of the next few weeks. StarCraft II is such a useful environment for AI research basically because of how complex and varied the games can be, with multiple open routes to victory for each individual match.
~ So one day, super intelligence can win a pointless game of something. 

iOS app injects the internet internet into real life — Mirage is an iOS app that’s the first to marry augmented reality’s hidden-world appeal with social media’s shareable, re-mixable content. And in doing so, it’s making AR not simply a technology of curiosity, but one of connection.
~ You know, it’s ‘augmenting’ reality. 

New Zealand salt gets Tesla power — A 250kW Tesla Powerpack system has been integrated with a a 660kW wind turbine at a a salt manufacturing factory at the top of New Zealand’s South Island. The first project of its kind in Australasia, it’s about to be switched on.
Vector Energy Solutions is the company working with Dominion Salt to integrate the battery storage system, which aims to meet 75% of the site’s energy needs on-site, rather than from the national grid. The system will be fully functional before the end of the year, Vector reckons.
~ Sustainable salt …

Squishy robot future — Many researchers advancing the field of robotics are actually engineering simpler bots designed to reliably perform very basic tasks. So instead of one day facing a terrifying future filled with terminators, these squishy rolling doughnuts might be our biggest threat. Yoichi Masuda and Masato Ishikawa detail their work on these bots in a paper, Development of a Deformation-driven Rolling Robot with a Soft Outer Shell, published for the 2017 IEEE International Conference on Advanced Intelligent Mechatronics. The researchers have designed this robot to function like the simplest of machines: the wheel, in this case made from a soft material that’s squished and stretched by a set of four wires connected to an inner core.
~ Easy to pack and carry, as well. 

13-million-year old skull tantalises — The unexpected discovery of a 13 million-year-old infant ape skull in Kenya is offering a tantalising glimpse of a new species that lived well before humans and apes embarked upon their very different evolutionary paths.
~ It’s a remarkable discovery as a complete skull this old has never been found before. 

Futurology ~ lil Interstellar, origami robots, NASA flight times, embryo edits, age of anti-age, Zika drones, med-maggots, Woolly Mammoth comeback, what we expected in ’87


Humanity’s first ‘interstellar’ spacecraft — Last year, extraterrestrial exploration venture Breakthrough Initiatives announced an ambitious plan to send lots of tiny spacecraft to our nearest neighbouring star system, Alpha Centauri. The project ‘Breakthrough Starshot’ is focused on launching lightweight ‘nanocraft’ to the stars at rip-roaring speeds. Recently, the project took a big leap toward, having achieved its ultimate goal by successfully sending six test craft into Low Earth Orbit.
~ Or, it’s that bit that fell out of my toaster.

Inspired by the traditional Japanese art of origami, self-folding robots can go places and do things traditional robots cannot — A major drawback to these devices, however, has been the need to equip them with batteries or wires. Researchers from Harvard have found a new way to overcome this problem, by designing folding robots that can be controlled using a wireless magnetic field.
~ I just imagine a medical one of these in my body, and some brat hacking it … eek!

NASA to cut flight time in half — For almost a half-century there’s been a clear speed limit on most commercial air travel: 1062kph/660 miles per hour, the rate at which a typical-size plane traveling at 9144 metres/30,000 feet breaks the sound barrier and creates a 48km (30-mile) wide, continuous sonic boom.
That may be changing. NASA says it will soon begin taking bids for construction of a demo model of a plane able to reduce the sonic boom to something like the hum you’d hear inside a Mercedes-Benz on the interstate. The agency’s researchers say their design, a smaller-scale model of which was successfully tested in a wind tunnel at the end of June, could cut the six-hour flight time from New York to Los Angeles in half.
~ Of course, landing in Wichita would achieve the same time reduction.

Embryo edit — The first known attempt at creating genetically modified human embryos in the United States has been carried out by a team of researchers in Portland, Oregon. The effort, led by Shoukhrat Mitalipov of Oregon Health and Science University, involved changing the DNA of a large number of one-cell embryos with the gene-editing technique CRISPR. Mitalipov is believed to have broken new ground both in the number of embryos experimented upon and by demonstrating that it is possible to safely and efficiently correct defective genes that cause inherited diseases.
~ And you thought it was for potatoes. 

Tech to end faux SOS calls — A researcher at Carnegie Mellon University has developed an intelligent system that is helping the US Coast Guard to distinguish and weed out prank mayday calls that cost it up to millions of dollars a year when it leads to flying or motoring out for pointless rescue missions. The program, created by Carnegie Mellon’s Rita Singh, creates a barcode of a person’s voice, deciphering whether the caller really is on a boat or actually in a house somewhere. It can unmask repeat pranksters since it can pick up telltale markers and match them up.
~ AI will get you. 

Scientists working on anti-aging — Implants of stem cells that make fresh neurons in the brain were found to put the brakes on aging in older mice, keeping them more physically and mentally fit for months, and extending their lives by 10-15% compared to untreated animals.
Another effort involves advanced machine learning, a horde of lab mice, and the blood of 600 especially long-lived Estonians. And there’s always a mysterious emu gene
~ Now I am picturing long-lived Estonian emus with brain implants. 

Anti-Zika mosquito factory — A  white Mercedes Sprinter van began a delivery route along the streets of Fancher Creek, a residential neighborhood on the southeastern edge of Fresno, California. Its cargo was 100,000 live mosquitoes, all male, all incapable of producing offspring. As it crisscrossed Fancher Creek’s 200 acres, it released its payload, piping out swarms of sterile Aedes aegypti into the air. It’ll do the same thing every day until the end of December.
~ And eventually, if they still have libidos anyway, the mosquito problem will literally die out. 

Maggot med-bots — Tiny cylinders of hydrogel, a synthetic material that sucks up or spits out water depending on its temperature, have been developed by Franck Vernerey, whose lab is at the University of Colorado Boulder, to induce these makeshift medicinal maggots to creep through tubes by cycling them through warm, then cool water.
~ Yuck! How about a nice laser-curtain thing that looks cool instead? 

Wooly mammoth recreation may now actually be possible — Dr George Church is the inventor of CRISPR and one of the minds behind the Human Genome Project. He’s no longer content just reading and editing DNA; now he wants to make new life. In Ben Mezrich’s latest book, Wooly: The True Story of the Quest to Revive One of History’s Most Iconic Extinct Creatures, Church and his Harvard lab try to do the impossible, and clone an extinct Woolly mammoth back into existence.
~ And then they’ll turn out to be friendly and cuddly, and then what will Spielberg do? 

What we thought we’d have now, 30 years ago — Fifty years ago the first Consumer Electronics Show was held in New York City, giving local nerds a sneak peek at all the electronic toys arriving in 1967. Twenty years later, Art Vuolo attended the Summer edition of the trade show with a giant camera on his shoulder, giving us a wonderful time capsule of what was drool-worthy 30 years ago.
~ Smart people,  please. If only. 

Futurology ~ Cosmic guffaw, Io lava waves, scary-smart homes, intelligent intersections, touchpaint, laser-etcher, talking browser, synthetic bone


New cosmic radio burst stumps scientists — Fast radio bursts are split-second intergalactic blips of radio waves we’ve detected over the last decade. You’d think that if we pointed our telescopes and other space cameras in the direction these bursts came from, we’d spot something else, too. But no.
Scientists spotted the newest burst (and the 22nd ever), FRB 150215, on 15 February 2015 with the Parkes Telescope in Australia. FRB 150215 was strange for lots of reasons. But despite what may have been the most well-coordinated follow-up effort yet with all sorts of equipment, scientists still don’t know the cause of it, or similar FRBs spotted on different occasions.
~ It was a cosmic guffaw that so-called sentient beings could vote in an idiot to rule the world’s most powerful, thus dangerous, country. 

Massive lava waves on Jupiter’s moon Io — Io is the closest thing we have to Hell in our Solar System, a Jovian moon that features hundreds of active volcanoes and expansive lakes filled with lava. New observations suggests that the largest of these lakes, Loki Patera, produces enormous waves that repeatedly flow around the molten surface.
~ Sounds like fun – as the crust breaks apart, it’s possible that magma spurts upward in fire mountains.

Scary-smart homes — To set up a connected home, you’ve got two options: buy a bunch of smart gadgets that may or may not communicate with other smart gadgets. Or you can retrofit all of your appliances with sensor tags, creating a slapdash network. The first is expensive. The second is a hassle.
Before long, though, you might have a third choice: one simple device that plugs into an electrical outlet and connects everything in the room.
~ Are you listening, Stephen King?

Intelligent intersections — Clemson researcher Ali Reza Fayazi has provided a tantalizing glimpse at that future, a proof-of-concept study showing that a fully autonomous four-way traffic intersection is a hundred times more efficient at letting traffic flow than the intersections you and I currently navigate. Because cars don’t sit idling at the lights, Fayazi calculated it would also deliver a 19 percent fuel saving.
~ Give this bloke a medal! 

Touchscreen paint — Touchscreen smartphones and tablets are so intuitive that even babies can easily learn how to use them. So why can’t any object work like a touchscreen? Everything from guitars to jelly might soon be able to, thanks to scientists at Carnegie Mellon University who came up with a way to use conductive spray paint to make almost any object touch-friendly.
~ Could lend a new spin to graffiti. 

Laser-etch colour printer — A new laser printer can etch microscopic patterns onto sheets of plastic. Researchers at the Technical University of Denmark have taken inspiration from creatures like butterflies and peacocks, whose wings and feathers create bright, iridescent colours not through light-absorbing pigments, but by bending and scattering light at the molecular level, creating what’s known as structural colour.
~ It works by modulating the surface to control how light is reflected. 

Annoyingly browser-based voice synthesiser — Neil Thapen’s Pink Trombone is a browser-based speech synthesiser that lets you manipulate a simulated mouth, throat, tongue, and nasal cavity to create a remarkably realistic – and equally annoying – human voice [Main picture, above].
~ Aaaah … aah … Great to troll your co-workers with.

Synthetic bone implant — Engineers at the University of California San Diego have developed a synthetic bone implant with functional marrow able to produce its own blood cells. So far, researchers revealed in a paper published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences this week, they have successfully tested the engineered bone tissues in mice. But one day, those biomimetic bone tissues could provide new bone marrow for human patients in need of transplants, too.
~ We Can Build You. 

Futurology ~ Alien Megastructure, we are star dust, Milky Way thief, star collision, Saturn’s Death Star, mind-controlled zombie mice, 28¢ health care, Algorithm concert hall


elbphilharmonie

Another month, another Alien Megastructure theory — New research suggests that Tabby’s star (the celestial object voted most likely to host an alien megastructure) is acting weirdly because it recently annihilated an entire planet, and the shattered remains of that planet are now producing strange flickering effects. It’s probably the best theory we’ve heard so far.
~ I’d be acting a bit weirdly too-, with indigestion.

We’re made of sawdust — New research confirms what science popularisers like Carl Sagan have said all along: humans truly are made of ‘star stuff‘ – and there are maps to prove it.
In the largest undertaking of its kind, a group of astronomers at the Sloan Digital Sky Survey in New Mexico has used the APOGEE (Apache Point Observatory Galactic Evolution Experiment) spectrograph to analyze the composition of 150,000 stars across the Milky Way. The team has catalogued the amount of CHNOPS elements ( carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, oxygen, phosphorous, and sulphur) in each of the stars, and mapped out the prevalence of these ‘building blocks of life’ across the galaxy.
Go ahead and check out the team’s maps on SDSS.
~ Baby, you’re  star.

Our galaxy has been stealing planets — New research from the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics (CfA) suggests some of the 11 farthest stars in our galaxy, approximately 300,000 lightyears from Earth, were probably snatched from the Sagittarius dwarf galaxy. It’s the second-closest galaxy to our own, making it the perfect victim for this celestial crime.
~ And not humans’ fault, for a change. 

Scientists predict that a pair of stars in the constellation Cygnus will collide in 2022 — The  explosion in the night sky should be so bright that it will be visible to the naked eye. From a report on NPR:
If it happens, it would be the first time such an event was predicted by scientists.
~ Better dust off that manger. 

mimasMimas, a moon of Saturn, looks like the Death Star — This is easily one of the best pictures ever captured of Mimas, revealing intricate surface features and shadows cast across its iconic impact crater.
The Cassini spacecraft captured this image on October 22, 2016 at a distance of 185,000 kms (115,000 miles). Each pixel represents one full kilometre (3,300 feet). Mimas is just barely 400kms (248 miles) across, and it’s notable in that it’s the smallest body in the solar system to have a rounded shape, the result of its own gravity. Smaller satellites in the solar system, like Hyperion and Phoebe, are irregular, potato-shaped objects.
~ Big deal: an old golf ball also looks like the Death Star.

Our moon is older than we thought — The Moon is much older than previously estimated—up to 140 million years older. After analysing uranium decay in minerals called zircons, which can be found in Moon rocks brought back from the Apollo 14 mission in 1971, researchers concluded the Moon probably formed about 60 million years after our solar system was born. So now researchers have concluded the Moon is at least 4.51 billion years old.
~ Well, it is quite wrinkly.

Scientists have created mind-controlled zombie mice — Flash one light, and the mouse goes on the prowl, zombielike, stalking any prey in its path. Flash another, and it delivers a killing blow with its teeth. The mouse doesn’t hunt out of hunger — scientists are in control.
~ So, anyone else think scientists might use their time a bit better?

28¢worth of paper could transform health care — A loose assemblage of paper and string that Manu Prakash pulls from his pocket doesn’t look like much. And in a way, it’s not — just US20 cents’ worth (NZ28¢) of materials you can buy at an art supply store. But in another way, the Stanford bioengineer’s tangle of stuff is a minor miracle.
Prakash calls it a Paperfuge, and like the piece of lab equipment it’s named for, the centrifuge, it can spin biological samples at thousands of revolutions per minute. That’s a critical step in the diagnosis of infections like malaria and HIV. But unlike a centrifuge, the Paperfuge doesn’t need electricity, complicated machinery, expensive replacement parts, or even much money to operate.
~ Pure genius.

Algorithms design concert all — The most interesting thing about Herzog and De Meuron’s newly opened concert hall in Hamburg, Germany, isn’t the the Elbphilharmonie’s wave-like facade, which rises above the city. It’s not the gently curved elevator at the base of the lobby that deposits you into the belly of the Swiss architects’ alien landscape, and it’s not the Escher-esque stairways that guide you from one floor to the next.
For the Elbphilharmonie, Herzog and De Meuron used algorithms to generate a unique shape for each of the 10,000 gypsum fibre acoustic panels that line the auditorium’s walls like the interlocking pieces of a giant, undulating puzzle (main picture, above).
~ Each panel helps shape sound thanks to their individually crafted ‘cells’. But hey, what does it actually sound like?

Futurology ~ Humanity to space, Mars traces, weather satellite, strange numbers, tall modular building, fast-charger, plastic muscles, climate strains


Brroklyn now has 363 pre-fab apartments stacked into a 32-stroey block: the world's tallest modular building
Brroklyn now has 363 pre-fab apartments stacked into a 32-storey block: the world’s tallest modular building sits at 461 Dean.

Humanity’s space future — Getting out of Earth’s gravity well is hard. Conventional rockets are expensive, wasteful, and as we’re frequently reminded, very dangerous. Thankfully, there are alternative ways of getting ourselves and all our stuff off this rock. Here’s how we’ll get from Earth to space in the future.
~ The alternative is make room, make room!

No life on Mars, but possible traces there was once — If we ever get proof of past life on Mars, it’ll come in the form of biosignatures, fingerprints that could only have been left by living organisms. We’re a long way from finding that smoking gun evidence, but an analysis of silica minerals discovered by NASA’s Spirit rover pushes us one step closer. Because of their similarity to silica deposits shaped by microbial life on Earth, these intriguing Martian minerals are now being called a “potential biosignature.”
~ ‘Potential biosignature’ sounds like a description of Trump’s appointees.  Further examination required. 

Better weather analysis — NASA and NOAA have launched the Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite-R (GOES-R), the United States’ most advanced weather satellite yet, to study extreme storms, tornadoes, fires, lightning, and solar activity at unparalleled resolution.
GOES-R is on its way to a geostationary orbit 35,888kms (22,300 miles) above the Earth. When it reaches its destination, it becomes the first of a new generation of Earth-observing spacecraft that will extend NOAA’s ability to monitor weather in the western hemisphere until 2036.
~ So, how GOES-R it?

Strange number collisions — At the Hadron Collider in Geneva, physicists shoot protons around a 27-kilometre track and smash them together at nearly the speed of light. It’s one of the most finely tuned scientific experiments in the world, but when trying to make sense of the quantum debris, physicists begin with a strikingly simple tool called a Feynman diagram that’s not that different from how a child would depict the situation. But at a certain point, the logic starts to diverge
~ I do like the term ‘perturbative expansion’. 

World’s tallest modular building points to the future — 461 Dean has become the world’s tallest modular building. Designed by New York architecture firm SHoP, the Brooklyn residential tower consists of 363 pre-fab apartments that stack like Tetris blocks into a 32-story building. It’s an impressive architectural feat, to be sure—but 461 Dean is also an important test of modular design’s potential to make cities more affordable.
~ ‘I’m leaving, and taking my apartment with me!’

Battery charges in seconds, lasts a week — A new type of battery that lasts for days after a few seconds’ charge has been created by researchers at the University of Central Florida. The high-powered battery is packed with supercapacitors that can store a large amount of energy. It looks like a thin piece of flexible metal that is about the size of a finger nail and could be used in phones, electric vehicles and wearables, according to the researchers.
~ Path. Beat. Door.

New plastic muscles — Researchers at MIT have found a way to use cheap, nylon plastic as an artificial muscle, we’re now one step closer to creating artificial humans—and opulent fantasy theme parks.
~ So don’t throw away those shopping bags just yet.

Will human evolution be shaped by climate change? Probably not, as it’s happening too quickly, but these eminents all have interesting takes on the concept.
~ There’ll be some tech fixes while the super-rich build dream bio-homes and the poor suffer unimaginably, that’s my take. 

Futurology ~ Wolfram and Hawking on space travel, stunning solar eclipse, tube-grown chips, CRISPR genes


wolfworld

Stephen Wolfram devised interstellar travel — The new movie Arrival depicts first contact with aliens. Its producers faced the question of how interstellar spacecraft would actually work, and  turned to futurist Stephen Wolfram, who came up with an answer overnight (via Slashdot).
Wolfram’s theory posited that space is just one of the attributes emerging from a low-level network of nodes, where long-range connections occasionally break out of three-dimensional space altogether.
~ Yep, that’s exactly how I would have done it. If I was a genius who knew anything about this stuff. And we’d better do it, because …

Stephen Hawking says the only way humankind can escape mass extinction in 1000 years is to find another planet — During a speech at Britain’s Oxford University Union, Hawking detailed the history of man’s understanding of the universe and reiterated that the future of humankind lies in space. “We must also continue to go into space for the future of humanity,” he said. “I don’t think we will survive another 1000 years without escaping beyond our fragile planet.”
~ I don’t think I will last that long either. 

Stunning eclipse captured — A total solar eclipse happens every 18 months, but is only visible from a few places on Earth, and lasts just minutes. Hungarian photographer György Soponyai lets you experience the magic anyway with digitally manipulated time-lapse captures of a total solar eclipse above the sky in remote Svalbard, Norway from start to finish.
~ This was two photos every 15 minutes over 12 hours. 

IBM growing chips in tubes — Tiny, molecular-level structures could, in theory, be used to make chips that are six to ten times faster than today’s silicon-based variety while using far less electricity.A  team of IBM researchers say they’ve made a breakthrough that brings the nano-dreams closer to reality.
~ Watch out for litigation from Pringles. 

CRISPR genes and humans — A team of scientists in China has become the first to treat a human patient with the groundbreaking CRISPR-Cas9 gene-editing technique. While the results of the trial are uncertain, it’s a historic milestone that should serve as a serious wakeup call to the rest of the world.
~ This is envisaged as an answer to various cancers. Hurrah to that. 

 

Futurology ~ Alien Megastructure, Planet 9, Mars software glitch, salt reactor, space-back, winter predictable, MacBook Pro Touch Bar, survive community, rich people


(Image from Gizmodo)
(Image from Gizmodo)

Berkely hunts Alien Megastructure — Since it was first suggested that the flickering star known as KIC 8462852 might be a Dyson Sphere, telescope-toting astronomers associated with the search for extraterrestrial intelligence (SETI) have been scouring the system for signs of aliens. Now, the most well-funded SETI program on Earth, UC Berkeley’s Breakthrough Listen, is getting in on the hunt.
~ Tabby’s Star is ‘astonishingly weird …’

Sun tilt points at Planet 9 — Planet Nine, the undiscovered planet at the edge of the solar system that was predicted by the work of Caltech’s Konstantin Batygin and Mike Brown in January 2016, appears to be responsible for the unusual tilt of the Sun, according to a new study.
~ The study has eclipsed others. 

Software ruined the Mars landing — Researchers with the ExoMars mission are pointing to a potential software glitch as the cause of last week’s crash of the Schiaparelli lander. The challenge now will be to isolate and correct the error in hopes of preventing a repeat in 2020, when mission planners aim to land a much larger rover on the Red Planet.
~ Note to self: don’t dare say ‘Windows …’

Space travel is bad for your back — New research shows that astronauts who return from extended missions in space experience a significant weakening of their spinal muscles. Disturbingly, their back muscles don’t return to normal even after several weeks back on Earth.
~ At least space travel is good for the imagination. 

Molten salt reactors could also power Mars stations — NASA has had concrete plans to send people to the Red Planet since 2010—with target dates in the 2030s. But whoever gets there first, the power problem remains. Astronomer Frank Shu has a great idea that could work: a type of nuclear reactor that’s cheaper, safer, and more efficient than the ones currently in wide use.
~ My condiments to that scientist. 

Winter predictable a year in advance — Thanks to supercomputer technology granted by the UK Government in 2014, a £97 million high-performance computing facility has allowed researchers to increase the resolution of climate models and to test the retrospective skill of forecasts over a 35-year period starting from 1980… The forecasters claim that new supercomputer-powered techniques have helped them develop a system to accurately predict North Atlantic Oscillation: the climatic phenomenon which heavily impacts winters in the UK.
~ I really don’t think this is such a breakthrough. For thousands of years, the British winter has been utterly predictable as ‘very wet and incessantly miserable’. 

All the stuff you can do with the MacBook Pro’s new Touch Bar — Apple’s first big update to the product line since 2012 is thin, light, and sports a giant trackpad, but the flashiest change by far is the Touch Bar.
~ Sorry, couldn’t resist. It’s high tech, though …

Survive climate change with a good community — The variable that best explained the pattern of mortality during the Chicago heat wave was what people in my discipline call social infrastructure, and this has implications for dystopia.
~ Yeah, yeah, yeah yeah.

Rich people don’t pay attention to other people — In a small recent study, researchers from New York University found that those who considered themselves in higher classes looked at people who walked past them less than those who said they were in a lower class did.
~ Certainly explains why I have so much time for people. 

Futurology ~ Space and all that, massive lenticular print, flexible 3D prints, dogs understand, AI-made trailer, design collection online


(Image from Gizmodo)
(Image from Gizmodo)

Space and all that — Last week, astronomers announced our nearest neighbouring star hosts an Earth-sized planet in the habitable zone—an exciting prospect for alien life, and a possible second home for humanity. But before we assemble the interstellar welcoming party to greet our cosmic neighbours, we need to figure out whether Proxima b is capable of supporting life at all. That question could be answered in less than three years.
The hunt for the 9th planet has led to the discovery of many other objects in the outer Solar System, we finally know what caused those weird craters on Phobos [they’re self-inflicted!], there’s a giant ice volcano on Ceres, Juno’s latest images shows a barely recognisable gas giant, and astronauts have finally tested an alien-detecting DNA sequencer in space, and it has been announced NASA’s new lander will head to Mars in 2018.
~ A veritable space opera for you. 

Lenticular

Schiphol shows off the world’s biggest Lenticular Print Wall —  Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport, and you’ll pass a long wall of drifting clouds. It looks like a very big LED screen but it isn’t. There’s dimension to this cloudscape. There’s parallax. And when you stop moving, the clouds do, too. Daan Roosegaarde created the mural: a 112-metre shapeshifting panorama that used lenticular technology (little lenses over ink, basically).
~ Far canal, Amsterdam!

3D prints remember their shapes — MIT researchers are using a new 3D-printing process to create tiny structures that change shape at specific temperatures – opening the door for a new drug delivery system that only medicates patients if they have a fever.
~ Medi-dimensional.

Dogs understand what you’re saying, not just the sound of your voice — New research reveals that canines understand more subtleties in speech than we thought, thanks to similarities in brain regions to those of humans. A study by a team at Eötvös Loránd University found that dogs understand both words and intonation to degrees.
~ Dog, leave me alone …

IBM’s AI-made trailer — Morgan, staring Kate Mara and Paul Giamatti, is a sci-fi thriller about scientists who’ve created a synthetic humanoid whose potential has grown dangerously beyond their control. Fitting, then, that they’d employ the help of America’s AI sweetheart IBM Watson to build the film’s trailer, which you can see here.
~ Yay! So even the creative trades will soon be replaced…

Museum collection goes online — Cooper Hewitt, the Smithsonian Design Museum spans 3000 years of history. The oldest object in the collection is the Egyptian ‘lotus-shaped cup. Some of the newest artifacts, like architectural drawings acquired in recent years, are of structures that haven’t even been built yet. Ancient history, the future, and all the years in between — that’s a lot of stuff. And now you can see it all online.
~ 92% of the collection is viewable. It’s a brilliant resource for students of design

Futurology ~ electrons life-span, Universe, Venus weather sat, Mars sand, astronaut motion, hover-bot, Wolfram lingo, Angkor Wat


Borexino

Electrons live at least 5 Quintillion times the age of the universe — Basic physics suggests that electrons are essentially immortal. A fascinating experiment recently failed to overthrow this fundamental assumption. But the effort has produced a revised minimum lifespan for electrons: 60,000 yottayears, which is — get this — about five-quintillion times the current age of the Universe.
~ That’s what we call a whole lot of quite a lot. 

Blast of beads is an analogue for the early universe — A machine shoots a blast of beads at a metal target. The result is a beautiful conical structure known as a ‘water bell’. It’s significant because one kind of substance (granular material) changes its behaviour to act like another substance entirely — and the universe has seen this kind of change before.
~ I’ve seen it before too – it’s called ‘making a smoothie’.

Simulation figures out potential life — Our home galaxy isn’t as hospitable to life as you might hope. Cosmic radiation, supernova explosions and collisions with small galaxies make much of the Milky Way too hellish for biology. But a detailed new simulation locates quiet and fertile cosmic neighborhoods, including a surprising locale: wispy streams of stars flung far beyond the main body of the Milky Way.
~ Doesn’t really explain where Earth fits, though. 

Weather satellite orbiting Venus — Venus has a new climate observing spacecraft, Akatsuki. The spacecraft approached Venus to make its audacious, last-ditch attempt at orbit. The plan worked, giving the planet its first robotic companion since the European Space Agency’s Venus Express died in January 2015.
~ Outlook for Thursday: Venusian.

MarsSand

Rover goes into a Martian sand-dune — A  remarkable image (above) shows a super close-up view of an undisturbed patch of Martian sand. These course grains remain on the surface as smaller particles get sifted downwards when the wind blows.
~ I thought it would be red. 

Motion tracking helps NASA plan space environments — A clever new technology could help NASA figure out how astronauts use their environments, so that we can build much better ones
~ May also help figure out how astronauts will one day be able to play Twister. 

Soccer-ball sized hover-bot is much safer —  Fleye is the exact opposite of classic drones, according to the Belgian engineers behind the bot. There’s no huge propeller, no clunky frame, and no heavy crashing into bleachers at sporting events. It’s being billed as a personal, autonomous robot.
~ Major challenge is getting hot to stay in the air longer than ten minutes. 

Wolfram teaching kids his language — Stephen Wolfram received a PhD in particle physics at age 20. Wolfram’s new book, An Elementary Introduction to the Wolfram Language (free on the web), aspires to teach those new to programming how to do much more than just move Minecraft and Star Wars characters around.
~ Laudable. 

Angkor Wat’s ‘Last Stand’ — A new excavation on an iconic Cambodian temple reveals who worked there, how they lived, and how they may have been conquered.
~ Let’s hope they weren’t Trumped.

Futurology ~ space, aliens and all, molecule transistor, human-like robot, stiff cheese, gloop-power, mountain warming, global warming, dining air-con


Giddy! R U D 2?
Giddy! R U D 2?

In a system like ours, far, far away … An international team of astronomers has detected a planet very similar to Jupiter orbiting at the same distance from a Sun-like star. And because the age and chemical composition of this system is similar to our own, it likely features an inner collection of rocky planets. Call it solar system 2.0.
~ Greetings x8.

Why aliens love the number 8 — When aliens finally come, the mathematicians are going to be the ones to make successful first contact because it’s far easier to convey numbers without common language.
~ That’s me off the comms team, then. 

Molecule anda few atoms make a transistor — An international team, including researchers from the US Naval Research Laboratory and the NTT Basic Research Laboratories in Japan, built a tiny little device using a scanning tunnelling microscope. They used that to position an organic molecule on a piece of indium arsenide, then placed charged metal atoms around it.
~ This is boom times for international teams. 

Robot did something human-like — An experiment shows how artificial self-awareness can be programmed into our technology. Roboticists at the Ransselaer Polytechnic Institute’s Artificial Intelligence and Reasoning Lab adapted three old NOA robots to see if they could pass a simple reasoning test indicative of self-awareness.
~ Don’t they build cars already? Humans can do that too, apparently. 

New super-stiff material is like Swiss cheese — An example of a new kind of super-strong material sandwiches a metal foam between two layers of carbon. The material was created by researchers from the NYU Polytechnic School of Engineering. First, the foam is made by encapsulating hollow alumina particles within aluminium alloy. Then, sheets of carbon fabric face-sheets are applied. The result is light, stiff and able to absorb incredible amounts of energy. Its creators reckon it will be used in automobiles, trains and ships.
~ And tanks, naturally. 

Japanese houses use heat from inside the mountain — A cosy, seven-unit residential complex is nestled at (and into) the foot of Mineyama Mountain in Takamatsu, Kagawa prefecture, in southern Japan. The great thing about sticking buildings directly into mountains is that internal temperatures are controlled geothermally, since the building is almost completely surrounded by earth.
~ A grounded approach. 

2014 was warm — A lengthy report compiled by the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration using work from hundreds of scientists across 58 countries has found that 2014 was the hottest year on record.
~ And no doubt the authors will be decried as weirdos with some kind of agenda.

This century will run on gloop — As we march deeper into the twenty-first century, we could have a lucrative new fuel on our hands. It’s blue-green and sometimes a little smelly. It’s found in wastewater, but it’s capable of powering jets. It’s microalgae. Though it looks like green scum or strands of hair floating on the water, microalgae is actually made up of microscopic, single-celled organisms capable of photosynthesis, like plants. It slurps in sunlight, and converts it to energy.

No more flu shots, just patches — The worst part about getting vaccinated is the shot. It’s painful and annoying. But now a group of researchers in Japan has tested a new ‘dissolving needle’ that is basically a painless patch that you stick to your arm. And it works.
~ I still shudder at the thought of metal going into flesh.

Table works as passive air-con — An unorthodox alternative to humming, power-sucking air-con is a giant heatsink dining table that promises to cool a room to a pleasant 22C. It’s a thermal sponge: the ZEF table works not unlike the ridged heatsink you’ll find perched atop a processor inside a computer. On the surface is a stylish solid oak panel, but beneath that is a folded sheet of anodised aluminium with tiny wax balls filling the gaps in-between.
~ Eat cool.