Asteroid in close pass — (3200) Phaethon is a rock 5km in diameter with an oblong orbit that intersects Earth. It’s scheduled to make a nearby approach on December 16th. You’ll probably hear more fear-mongering shouting about it until then, but it isn’t a rock to worry about in our lifetimes.
~ It will pass a fifth of the distance from Earth to Mars at its closest. Mars is not exactly close.
Chinese Monkey King satellite has made some odd discoveries — China’s Dark Matter Particle Explorer satellite (DAMPE or Wukong in China) is reporting the results of a year-and-a-half of space-staring, measuring the mysterious, high-energy electrons blasting Earth from space. The experiment has directly detected something that some similar experiments have hinted at, but others haven’t: a sudden drop-off in the electrons hitting the satellite. Whatever is going on, it’s weird.
~ But the Earth is still round.
Space bacteria — Russian cosmonaut Anton Shkaplerov took routine samples from the outside of the International Space Station during a spacewalk. These samples were analysed and found to contain bacteria that must have come from somewhere other than Earth or the ISS itself. “Bacteria that had not been there during the launch of the ISS module were found on the swabs,” Shkaplerov told TASS Russian News Agency. “So they have flown from somewhere in space and settled on the outside hull.”
The Independent wrote “Finding bacteria that came from somewhere other than Earth would be one of the biggest breakthroughs in the history of science – but much more must be done before such a claim is made.”
Two new Quantum Machines have made actual science discoveries — Two teams of scientists are announcing that their quantum simulators – advanced quantum computers with very specialised scientific purposes – have made some real scientific discoveries.
~ I know I shouldn’t feel sorry for all those trapped atoms, but I do.
Bilingual AI without a dictionary — Two new papers show that neural networks can learn to translate with no parallel texts – a surprising advance that could make documents in many languages more accessible.
The two new papers focus on unsupervised machine learning. To start, each constructs bilingual dictionaries without the aid of a human teacher telling them when their guesses are right. That’s possible because languages have strong similarities in the ways words cluster around one another. The words for table and chair, for example, are frequently used together in all languages, so if a computer maps out these co-occurrences like a giant road atlas with words for cities, the maps for different languages will resemble each other, just with different names.
~ A computer can figure out the best way to overlay one atlas on another and voila! You have a bilingual dictionary.
Soft robots acquire origami skeletons — Robots are going soft. Literally soft, controlled with liquid or air instead of traditional motors. Soft robotics is hot at the moment. But without the rigidity and powerful motors of your typical robot, soft robots have been weak until researchers at the MIT Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory and Harvard’s Wyss Institute developed a new kind of soft robotic muscle inspired by origami and awesomeness. It’s essentially a bag filled with air, inside of which is an origami structure that functions as a skeleton. By pumping air in and out, the researchers can get the muscle to lift 1000 times its own weight.
~ Could this also be used inside buildings to prevent collapse during earthquakes?
NASA’s tough titanium tyres — Stretch a Slinky toy too far, and eventually the metal coil will be warped so much it won’t be able to return to its original spring shape. That’s a problem also faced by the metal spring tyres designed to roll across the Moon, and other planets our rovers are exploring. But NASA has created an alternative, made from titanium, that can tackle any terrain and always return to its original tyre shape.
~ A tyre that can last for years with minimal maintenance is important when sending rovers to the other planets in our Solar System.
The glaciers of Pine Island Bay could drown us; they are two of the largest and fastest-melting in Antarctica — A Rolling Stone feature earlier this year dubbed Thwaites ‘The Doomsday Glacier.’ Together, they act as a plug holding back enough ice to pour over three metres (11 feet) of sea-level rise into the world’s oceans, an amount that would submerge every coastal city on the planet. For that reason, finding out how fast these glaciers will collapse is one of the most important scientific questions in the world today.
~ Marine ice-cliff instability is a feedback loop that could kickstart the disintegration of the entire West Antarctic ice sheet in turn effecting hundreds of millions of people worldwide.
Dirty coal to clean energy in Germany — The path from dirty coal to clean energy isn’t easy. Bottrop’s Prosper-Haniel coal mine is a symbol of the challenges and opportunities facing Germany – and coal-producing states everywhere.
Around the world, as governments shift away from the coal that fueled two ages of industrial revolution, more and more mines are falling silent. If there’s an afterlife for retired coal mines, one that could put them to work for the next revolution in energy, it will have to come soon. One use for retired coal mines is as giant batteries for clean energy. To turn a coal mine into a battery, all you need is gravity.
~ Plus a lot of money.