Popular Posts


Friday, May 31, 2013

Mars radiation fears won't deter Nasa: the will to explore will prevail

People become astronauts knowing it's a dangerous job, and measures can be taken to minimise their radiation exposure

Local magnetic fields may provide some radiation protection in particular regions on Mars, but astronauts' living modules will need to be buried. Image: Nasa
How safe would a mission to Mars really be? As well as embarking on trips lasting several years in cramped craft with no breakdown cover, future interplanetary explorers will need to accept that their bodies will be zapped by high-energy particles, raising their risk of contracting cancer and other ill effects of radiation.

On Earth, we're all exposed to natural radiation from a variety of sources, including brazil nuts, bananas, and invisible radon gas. We'd be exposed to much higher doses from extraterrestrial sources if the Earth wasn't so well protected. The planet's magnetic field is carved into a teardrop-shaped bubble – the magnetosphere — by the solar wind that blows from the Sun. Although it contains some regions of higher radiation, the magnetosphere's overall effect is to shield life on Earth, and astronauts in low Earth orbit, from the harshest effects of cosmic radiation. Earth's atmosphere provides an additional buffer against all but the most energetic of particles. Astronauts travelling outside the magnetosphere, however, have to rely on the shell of their spacecraft to protect them from danger.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

The Wow! Signal: Intercepted Alien Transmission?

SETI, the search for extraterrestrial intelligence, has seen astronomers scouring the sky for decades in hopes of receiving artificially generated radio signals sent by alien civilizations. But then, there’s a good chance we’ve already found just such a signal. And 1977 saw the most tantalizing glimpse ever.

Nicknamed the “Wow!” signal, this was a brief burst of radio waves detected by astronomer Jerry Ehman who was working on a SETI project at the Big Ear radio telescope, Ohio. The signal was, in fact, so remarkable that Ehman circled it on the computer printout, writing “Wow!” in the margin — and unintentionally giving the received radio signal the name under which it would become famous.

Despite a lot of effort, no identification has been found for the signal’s source, and no repeat signal has ever been found. It’s a complete mystery. The only conclusion that can be drawn is if the signal truly did originate in deep space, then it was either an astrophysical phenomenon of which we’ve never seen before, or it truly was an intercepted alien signal.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Do we need watches to tell us more than the time?

Big companies have been trying hard to make the long-awaited smartwatch "revolution" happen, so tick tock, what's taking so long?

Smartwatches are just not very smart when left to their own devices - they need to be connected to a smartphone for full functionality.

While the industry is growing quickly, nearly all still need a smartphone's Bluetooth connection to tell you much more than just telling the time.

What a smartwatch could potentially do, at least to thousands of children in the 80s, was typified by the wristwatch David Hasselhoff's character used in Knight Rider to control his car.

But the industry is still so new there are many different approaches.

Apple's smartwatch is rumoured to exist 
already... or not exist at all. Or exist 
sometime soon
"Smartwatches can already be split into three or four categories," says senior analyst Josh Flood, of ABI Research.

"There are notification watches - the really basic ones which just link to the phone, voice-capable smart watches which is a really cool idea and health and fitness smartwatches for heart rate and running."

Others see even greater potential.

"Through NFC [near field communication], could you transfer travel cards to the watch?" says Skooks Pong, vice president of Synapse, a company working with Nike to develop its FuelBand activity tracker/watch hybrid.

"I think the tipping point will happen at the back end of this year” - Josh Flood (ABI Research)

"Who knows where it will go but I would love to be at a point where I could walk into the store, tap my wrist and pay for whatever it is I'm buying."

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

'Smart skin' hope for touch sensor

Smart skin

Scientists have made a step forward in their ability to mimic the sense of touch.

A team from the US and China made an experimental array that can sense pressure in the same range as the human fingertip.

The advance could speed the development of smarter artificial skin capable of "feeling" activity on the surface.

The sensors, which are described in Science magazine, could also help give robots a more adaptive sense of touch.

Using bundles of vertical zinc oxide nanowires, the researchers built arrays consisting of about 8,000 transistors.

"This is a fundamentally new technology that allows us to control electronic devices directly using mechanical agitation" - Zhong Lin Wang (Georgia Institute of Technology)

Each of the transistors can independently produce an electronic signal when placed under mechanical strain.

NASA's Orion space program aims to renew lofty goals

When a rocket carrying a new crew vehicle lifts off at Cape Canaveral next year, it will be the first big step in a decades-long odyssey to see humans travel farther into space than ever before.

That ambitious program, called Orion, has goals that sound as if they were lifted from the pages of a sci-fi novel: the capture of near-Earth asteroids, bringing them into lunar orbit, a return to the moon, and putting astronauts on Mars.

Baby steps in the odyssey are already being taken in labs and testing facilities across the nation. One is at Aerojet in Rancho Cordova, Calif. There, inside solemn buildings surrounded by fields of dry grass, rockets destined for the dark reaches of space are being designed and tested.

Aerojet is supplying the large and small rockets that will allow the Orion multipurpose crew vehicle, designed to house four astronauts, to orient itself during space flight and during the re-entry to Earth's atmosphere, said Sam Wiley, head of human space at Aerojet.

The company is also supplying a launch-abort system, which would pull the crew module to safety in a life-threatening event during launch.

Friday, May 24, 2013

Countdown: The Coldest Places on Earth

Venturing outside in the cold this winter, with record-breaking low temperatures stretching from Maine to southern Florida, may take some courage, but these recent lows are nothing compared to the ones on this list.

Check out the places in the world that hold the records for the coldest temperatures ever measured on Earth.

8. International Falls, Minnesota, United States (- 40 Fahrenheit/- 40 Celsius)

International Falls is so serious about its status as one of the coldest places in the continental United States that it has actually taken another town to court over the title.

In 2002, International Falls took Fraser, Colorado, to court in order to finally settle who had claim to the title "Icebox of the Nation," according to a report from the BBC. They now celebrate that win by hosting the annual four-day Icebox Days festival, which includes events such as frozen turkey bowling, snow-sculpting and candlelit skiing.

While it is in fact only the second coldest place in the continental United States, International Falls boasts the lowest average temperature in the country, hovering between 32 and 36 degrees F (0 and 2 degrees C).

NASA’s TESS will search for habitable ‘super earths’

Now that astronomers have discovered planets around other stars, and judged that those planets could have Earth-like conditions, the next step is to find out for sure. While we can’t visit them, astronomers hope to gather clues via telescopes.

The Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS), a new space-based telescope that NASA expects to launch in 2017, will conduct an “all-sky survey,” scrutinizing stars throughout the sun’s neighborhood, to find any yet-undiscovered exoplanets that may orbit them. According to George Ricker, the TESS mission’s principal investigator, the TESS sky scan will cover 400 times as much sky as any previous mission.

The Kepler telescope revealed hundreds of potential exoplanets in its four years in orbit. Unfortunately, most of those planets are in star systems that are a thousand or more light-years away from Earth. Such vast distances will make it impossible for us to study them in any greater depth. The TESS mission, by contrast, will attempt to find more promising study subjects by focusing on stars closer to Earth. They might turn up in orbit around one or more of the many red-dwarf stars and seven sun-like stars that astronomers have all calculated to be within 20 light-years of Earth.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

NASA Awards $125,000 Grant for 3D Printed Food on Long-Term Space Travels

Items on the menu include cricket pizza

Imagine exchanging recipes in the form of a piece of software instead of typed instructions on a website, and eating pizza with crickets on it instead of pepperoni.

This could be the future of long-term space travel, and even everyday life.

Anjan Contractor, who own Systems & Materials Research Corporation, has created a universal food synthesizer that uses a 3D printer to make food -- and he just received a six-month, $125,000 grant from NASA to create a prototype.

His prototype 3D food printer is based on a piece of open-source hardware called the second-generation RepRap 3D printer.  

The universal food synthesizer would read recipes in software form, where instructions on how to make certain foods would be embedded. This software tells the 3D printer which powders to mix with which liquids.

The software will also be entirely open-source, so that others can look at the code and create recipes. 

After the 3D printer "reads" the recipe, it uses a combination of powdered and certain liquid ingredients to make food layer-by-layer -- just like other 3D printed materials. Powdered forms of ingredients are used because they last longer.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

A Dream of Trees Aglow at Night

Antony Evans, left, and Kyle Taylor show E. coli with jellyfish genes.

Hoping to give new meaning to the term “natural light,” a small group of biotechnology hobbyists and entrepreneurs has started a project to develop plants that glow, potentially leading the way for trees that can replace electric streetlamps and potted flowers luminous enough to read by.

The project, which will use a sophisticated form of genetic engineering called synthetic biology, is attracting attention not only for its audacious goal, but for how it is being carried out.

Rather than being the work of a corporation or an academic laboratory, it will be done by a small group of hobbyist scientists in one of the growing number of communal laboratories springing up around the nation as biotechnology becomes cheap enough to give rise to a do-it-yourself movement.

The project is also being financed in a D.I.Y. sort of way: It has attracted more than $250,000 in pledges from about 4,500 donors in about two weeks on the Web site Kickstarter.