Tag Archives: tech. science

Futurology ~ Betelgeuse, gecko space gripper, urine and algae power, vegan mayo meat, cool pavements, probiotic beer, bad bitumen bottles


This orange blob shows the nearby star Betelgeuse, as seen by the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimetre Array (ALMA)

Orion’s second biggest star in (sort of) detail — Pretty much everyone has heard of the Orion constellation and has probably seen it (you can even see it from New York, despite the light pollution). It’s hard not to like it. And if you spend some time studying its behaviour and meaning, you’ll only appreciate its intricacies even more.  Orion’s second brightest and biggest star, Betelgeuse, has been photographed by the Atacama Large Millimetre Array in Northern Chile. Not only is it one of the crispest images of a stellar surface yet, but it can tell scientists a lot about the massive star’s future.
~ Or is it just an out-of-focus lemon? 

Gecko-inspired space-junk gripper — Up in space, gripping objects takes on a whole new absurdity. Suction cups are right out, given they don’t work in a vacuum. And extreme temperature fluctuations rule out any sort of sticky adhesive. Then there’s geckos and their clever tiny feet – a new kind of robotic gripper for space emulates them, Stanford University and NASA JPL researchers report.
~ Or, we just train real geckos and put them in cute little space suits. 

Urine-generated power can kill salmonella — Scientists have understood that microbial fuel cells (MFC) can generate electricity from urine and other forms of waste for a while now. But new research shows the process can also kill bacteria and a new approach to sewage could be the result. The researchers imagine a self-sustaining system that would be of huge benefit to the developing world.
~ Your’e in with urine, because you can get hydrogen easily from it, you see. 

And then there’s the fattened algae — Because fat is essentially oil, fatty algae could be the world’s most successful fuel crop. Ajjawi and his colleagues spent nearly a decade tweaking an algae genome so it produces more than twice as much fat than wild versions of the same species, and they recently described their efforts in an article.
~ But will it smell like fish? 

Vegan mayonnaise company to grow ‘meat’ — The maker of vegan mayonnaise has been working on getting lab-made meat onto dinner tables everywhere. Hampton Creek, which built its name on plant-based condiments and vegan-friendly cookie doughs, has revealed that, for the last year, it has been secretly developing the technology necessary for producing lab-made meat and seafood, or as the industry likes to call it, ‘clean meat.’
~ I prefer to think of it as protein – as a vegetarian for nearly 30 years, I don’t need ‘pretend’ meat.

Cool pavements reflect well for Los Angeles — During the recent heatwave various officials swooped down on streets coated with an experimental light-gray sealer that makes old asphalt into “cool street”. And it works, with average temperature differences between coated streets and adjacent old asphalt around 10F (about 12°C). At a large parking lot, the temperature reduction was over 20F. If the material holds up and continues to meet other criteria, LA plans to use it on more pavement rehab projects, which could eventually make a difference in the heat island effect. The CoolSeal coating costs US$25-40K/mile, and lasts 5-7 years.
~ Not exactly a long-term or cost effective solution, then. 

New probiotic beer boosts immunity — A new patent has been filed for an innovative brewing technique that incorporates a live strain of good bacteria into the brewing process. Researchers at NUS (National University of Singapore) have created a probiotic sour beer that may boost immunity and improve gut health.
~ Ah yeah, we’re all dying to drink boozy yogurt, right? 

Disposable bottles may have curtailed ancient American populations — Pitch black water bottles were made by indigenous tribes who coated large, woven bulbs with the tar-like substance bitumen. Scientists have known about these bottles for years, but what they hadn’t considered was whether these plastic bottles contributed to the declining health in some old societies, like the Native American tribes that once lived off the coast of California. Skeletons dating back thousands of years evidence a mysterious physical decline. A new study, published today in the journal Environmental Health, measured the toxicity of making plastic from oily bitumen, and of storing liquid in the bottles.
~ Gosh, and it looks and sounds so delicious …

Futurology ~ Dwarf Planet Club, Jupiter, solar storm, big asteroid, solar moisture sucker, 3D-printed Boeing, landmine bacteria


2014 JO25 will whizz by Earth from roughly 1.8 million km away

New dwarf in our Solar System — When we think of dwarf planets, the first thing that comes to mind is obviously the injustice of Pluto getting demoted to one. But the truth is, these little guys (there are six currently recognised within our solar system) deserve just as much love as their mightier planetary cousins. And a new study suggests the dwarf planet club could get another member, in the form of a very small, distant object located roughly 92 astronomical units (AU) from the Sun called Planetary body 2014 UZ224, also known as DeeDee (for ‘distant dwarf’).
~ SevenDwarfs …

Huge cold spot on Jupiter — Using the Very Large Telescope array, an international team of astronomers has discovered a previously undetected cold spot on Jupiter. Measuring 14,000km wide and 12,000km across, the mysterious spot is bigger than the Earth itself. Intriguingly, the weather anomaly is likely being generated by Jupiter’s spectacular Northern Lights.
~ And it keeps regenerating itself. 

Every once in a while our Sun gives off a tremendous belch of high energy particles — Called a coronal mass ejection (CME), these episodes can vary in intensity, but they can produce bursts of electrical charge when they interact with our upper atmosphere in a geomagnetic storm. In a strange twist, new research shows that geomagnetic storms can produce the opposite effect, stripping the upper atmosphere of electrons for hundreds of kilometres. Which, if you like electronic gadgets, may be a problem.
~ Apparently, a tin-foil hat does not help. 

Massive asteroid passing soon — Later this month, a huge asteroid (main picture, above) that’s about 650m in length will get close enough to Earth for our viewing pleasure. Even though it won’t do any damage, this is a damn big slice of space garbage.
~ And it looks like a huge potato. 

Wringing water from the desert sky — A new spongelike device uses sunlight to suck water vapor from air, even in low humidity. The device can produce nearly 3 liters of water daily for every kilogram of water-absorbing material thanks to metal organic frameworks, or MOFs. Researchers say future versions will be even better.
~ The crucial part, to do any good, will be price and ability to deploy. 

3D printed parts save Boeing money — Boeing has hired Norsk Titanium AS to print titanium parts for its 787 Dreamliner, paving the way to cost savings of $2 million to $3 million for each plane. The 3D-printed metal parts will replace pieces made with more expensive traditional manufacturing, thus making the 787 more profitable.
~ One day maybe they’ll carry printers for literally on-the-fly parts manufacture.

Glowing bacteria finds landmines — More than 100 million landmines lay hidden in the ground around the world, but glowing bacteria may help us find them, according to a new study. The approach relies on small quantities of vapor released from the common explosive TNT, then a laser to remotely detect and quantify fluorescing bacteria from 20 meters away, mapping the location of the landmines.
~ A real glow of satisfaction. 

Futurology ~ Physics turducken, Saturn’s weirdness, sunspots, transmitting taste, faster memory, human cell computing


Saturn’s north pole as never seen before

A year for new theories, so why not combine them? It’s been a year of it, so why not combine all of the craziest physics ideas into one: a physics turducken? What if we, say, try to spot the dark matter radiating off of black holes through their gravitational waves? It’s all about axions.
~ And I thought that was an insurance company.

Saturn’s crazy north pole — Some incredible new shots of the atmospheric vortex at the center of Saturn’s north polar hexagon were captured by NASA’s Cassini spacecraft last week. The images were snapped during the latest of Cassini’s ring-grazing orbits, which have so far yielded stunning glimpses of Saturn’s rings, and its delightfully pasta-shaped moons.
~ Saturn is our system’s chameleon. And Saturn’s weirdest moon is full of electric sand!

New observations improve sunspot forecasting — From 2010 to 2013, McIntosh and his team used a trio of satellites to observe the entire solar surface at once for the first time. They watched as bright magnetic spots moved around the Sun, making the first real observation of a behaviour lots of scientists have expected to see its surface. The so-called Rossby waves the team observed will hopefully give us a useful new tool to predict solar weather — energetic particles blasting the Earth from magnetic events on the Sun — with several days or more advance notice.
~ Sunspot spotters …

Transmitting lemonade over the internet — In an experiment that involved 13 tasters, the subjects’ taste buds were stimulated using electricity from receiving electrodes; LED lights mimicked a lemony color. Some were convinced that the water they were drinking was, in fact, almost as sour as lemonade.
~ The amazing thing about the internet is how mush it can convince people of insane things. Just look at Trump, Marine Le Pen and Brexit. 

Magical new memory — Computer memory, that is. Intel is hoping to eradicate the speed vs price compromise with its new Intel Optane Memory. According to Intel, installing this single memory stick in your computer could supercharge even the slowest hard drive and give you the SSD’s best feature: Speed.
~ I’m ready. 

Human cells to compute — Cellular computing is more than just a convenient metaphor. In the last couple of decades, biologists have been working to hack the cells’ algorithm in an effort to control their processes. They’ve upended nature’s role as life’s software engineer, incrementally editing a cell’s algorithm – its DNA – over generations. In a paper published in Nature Biotechnology, researchers programmed human cells to obey 109 different sets of logical instructions …
~ I imagine hacking that process!

Futurology ~ Rosetta’s eruptions, Pluto’s deep oceans, Earth’s oxygen leak, bad food detector, Quantum Teleportation, smoking damages DNA, Marshalls going under


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What caused the weird eruptions on Rosetta’s comet — Last summer, something strange happened on Rosetta’s comet. After a period of calm, the comet began throwing huge jets of comet dust into space before abruptly stopping. Now, we finally know what happened. It was the sun heating up the comet’s volatile terrain after long, cold nights.
~ I was happy with the explanation ‘weird eruptions’.

Pluto’s oceans might be really deep — In recent months, there’s been growing evidence that Pluto is hiding a liquid water ocean beneath its frozen surface. New models by researchers at Brown University support this hypothesis, and take it one mind-boggling step further: Pluto’s ocean may be over 100 kilometers (62 miles) deep.
~ It’s salty, too. 

Our atmosphere is leaking oxygen — Atmospheric oxygen levels have dropped by 0.7% over the past 800,000 years, and while scientists aren’t sure why, they’re rather excited about it.
~ I suspect someone just isn’t breathing out properly. 

Gadgets detects off food — A new paper in ACS Infectious Diseases details a new technique that combines two existing food contamination detection methods (magnetic resonance and fluorescence testing) into a single fast diagnostic test. It can check for both high and low levels of E. coli bacteria simultaneously, without the time and lab-work of traditional culturing. The results, lead author of the paper Tuhina Banerjee told Gizmodo, start to become clear within one minute. After 15 minutes, the technique can give a confirmed test result for the presence of E. coli.
~ We have a cat. If it won’t eat it, nor will I (although I concede this only works for fish and meat, and not for vegetables).

Quantum teleportation just moved out of the lab and into the real world — Two independent teams of scientists have been successfully sending quantum information across several kilometres of optical fibre networks in Calgary, Canada, and Hefei, China. Quantum teleportation relies on a strange phenomenon called quantum entanglement: that two particles are inextricably linked, so measuring the state of one immediately affects the state of the other, no matter how far apart the two are.
~ I’m only going to be taking this seriously when it can send pizza. 

Smoking permanently damages your DNA — Smoking scars DNA in clear patterns, researchers reported Tuesday. Most of the damage fades over time, they found –but not all. Their study of 16,000 people found that while most of the disease-causing genetic footprints left by smoking fade after five years if people quit, some appear to stay there forever.
~ Just when you thought all the bad news about smoking was already found. 

The Marshalls are already experiencing sea level rise, so people have been leaving — On low-lying fragments of land like the Marshall Islands, the tides are threatening to take away what they previously helped support: life. Here, no one is spared the rising seas. Most departing Marshallese are heading for the USA. More than 20,000 people from this remote sprawl of islands, located between Hawaii and Australia, are now in the US, and they gather mostly around Springdale, an unremarkable corner of Arkansas.
~ Unremarkable, I’ll wager, except for its distance from and height above the sea?