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Monday, October 28, 2013

Water squishes into stable shapes, no container required

Nanoparticles lock together to hold water in place for more than a month

WARPED WATER A tiny ball of water holds its football shape for days because nanoparticles coating it lock together to trap it.

Distorted droplets of water can hold their elongated shapes for weeks when surrounded by a thin layer of nanoparticles.

Researchers at the University of Massachusetts Amherst plunged water droplets loaded with plastic nanoparticles into a mix of oil and silicone polymer. Submerged in the slimy solution, the water’s nanoparticles floated to the edges of the droplets and interacted with the silicone polymer to form a detergent, which coated each ball of water. The researchers then flipped on an electrical current, which stretched the water droplets and their detergent layers into a football shape.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Button Up: Here’s the Coldest Place in the Universe

Image: The Boomerang Nebula, called the “coldest place in the Universe,” reveals its true shape with ALMA. The background blue structure, as seen in visible light with the Hubble Space Telescope, shows a classic double-lobe shape with a very narrow central region. ALMA’s resolution and ability to see the cold molecular gas reveals the nebula’s more elongated shape, as seen in red.

It’s easy to guess where the hottest place in the universe might be—the core of a giant star, maybe, or a disk of gas heated to millions of degrees as it tries to cram its way into a super-massive black hole, or even, for a fraction of a second, a fusion reactor in New Jersey. It’s harder to imagine the coldest place, though.

You might think that the thermometer drops as far as it can go in the vast empty darkness between stars. But you’d be wrong. How about between galaxies? Wrong again. The coldest place, according to astronomers using the world’s newest giant telescope, is the Boomerang Nebula, a cloud of gas puffed out by a dying star some 5,000 light-years away. Intergalactic space is admittedly pretty cold, at -455°F (-270°C). But parts of the Boomerang have it beat, clocking in at -457.7°F (-272°C). That’s about 2°F (1.1°C) above absolute zero, the coldest temperature possible according to the laws of physics.

Friday, October 25, 2013

What's the weather like on Titan? 'Salt flats' provide new clues

This false-color mosaic, made from infrared data collected by NASA's Cassini spacecraft during a Sept. 12 flyby, reveals the differences in the composition of surface materials around hydrocarbon lakes at Titan, Saturn's largest moon.
Fresh images of the hydrocarbon lakes on Titan reveal what appears to be the extraterrestrial equivalent of salt flats — a discovery that adds yet another layer of mystery to Saturn's largest moon.

Titan is permanently shrouded in a methane-rich haze, making it the only moon in the solar system to have a dense atmosphere. Instruments on NASA's Cassini orbiter, however, can cut through the haze and see what lies beneath.

During previous flybys, Cassini's cameras have mapped chilly lakes of methane and ethane in Titan's northern hemisphere. The readings have led scientists to believe that there's a "hydrologic cycle" at work, with hydrocarbons raining down onto the surface, collecting in the lakes, and evaporating back into the atmosphere.

In the past, the spacecraft's visual and infrared mapping spectrometer has been able to capture only distant or oblique views of the lakes and surrounding terrain. But during flybys in July and September, the VIMS instrument got a much better view — thanks to seasonal changes on Titan, rain-free weather and an improved viewing geometry.

The new images appear to shed light on a key stage of Titan's weather cycle — the stage that puts the liquid hydrocarbons back into the atmosphere.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

'Asteroid 2032:' Will 2013 TV135 crash into Earth in 2032? Probably not.

An artist's illustration of a large asteroid headed for Earth.
Asteroid 2032: Asteroid 2013 TV135 has a 1 in 49,000 chance of hitting Earth in 2032, says NASA. Of course, that's based on just one week of data out of a 4-year orbit, so don't start digging your bunker yet.

Last week, Ukranian scientists observed an asteroid on a collision course with Earth – in 19 years. The astronomers sent word out to their colleagues around the globe, several of whom independently confirmed the discovery of 2013 TV135, as it has been lovingly named. 

2013 TV135 buzzed past Earth last month, on Sept 16, and is due for a return visit on Aug. 26, 2032, at which point it could collide with Earth – or just whiz past again. If it does collide with our planet, the asteroid's large size and high speed will combine to make an explosion equivalent to a 2,500 megaton bomb, NASA estimated. That's equivalent to 50 of the largest atomic bombs ever created, and 125,000 times the size of the bomb dropped on Nagasaki.

Friday, October 11, 2013

Do Jupiter and Saturn have diamond 'rain'?

An artist's conception of a robotic craft plucking diamonds
from an alien planet.
Diamonds are forever, unless you’re on Saturn or Jupiter. Loads of the super-hard precious stones may be floating among the gas giants’ fluid layers and melted into liquid further into their depths, say a pair of planetary scientists.

The research, being presented at the Division for Planetary Sciences conference this week in Denver, sprang from very humble beginnings — soot in Saturn’s atmosphere, said Kevin Baines, a planetary scientist at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and one of the work’s coauthors.

Baines, who works on the Cassini mission’s Saturn-orbiting spacecraft, was studying thick yellowish ammonia clouds in Saturn’s atmosphere when he noticed other extremely dark clouds cropping up as well.

“It’s almost like clockwork in the southern hemisphere, where we were studying these thunderstorms,” Baines said. “Whenever you have a thunderstorm you get both these types of clouds.”

The dark stuff turned out to be soot, bits of pure carbon with no internal structure trapped in frozen ammonia, Baines said. But where was this soot coming from? He and planetary scientist Mona Delitsky of California Specialty Engineering in Pasadena came up with an idea.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

'Terminator' self-assembling cube robots revealed by MIT

Cube-shaped robots that can flip, jump and assemble themselves into different shapeshave been unveiled by scientists at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).

The modular M-Block robot with 
its innards and flywheel exposed
The small robots, known as M-Blocks, have no external parts but can move using an internal flywheel mechanism.

They stick together using magnets.

The scientists envisage miniaturised "swarmbot" versions self-assembling like the "liquid steel" androids in the Terminator films.

More realistically, the researchers at MIT's Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL), believe armies of such cubes could be used for making temporary repairs to bridges or buildings, or as self-assembly, re-configurable scaffolding.

Modular robots have the advantage of being able to adapt to whatever task or terrain is presented to them.

Saturday, October 5, 2013

WildCat Robot Gallops, Bounds

Four-legged animals can bound and gallop, maintaining their balance even though they all four legs come off the ground. Boston Dynamics, the same robotics company that brought us the humanoid robots Petman and Atlas as well as the Big Dog that can fling cinder blocks, has just unveiled a machine that can bound and gallop like a horse or cheetah. Called the WildCat, its the fastest un-tethered, four-legged robot in world.

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Earlier models of the robot, called the Cheetah, were tethered and ran on treadmills. The big challenge was making one that cold turn and recover its balance. In a just-released video the WildCat can be seen running and bounding, with a galloping gait that mimics what animals do, though the forward-bending “knees” make the robot look a bit like it is running backwards.

Like the other independently mobile robots Boston Dynamics has built, this one runs on a gasoline engine; the noise it makes is quite loud. It can hit top speeds of about 16 miles per hour. That’s not as fast as the tethered version, which could hit 27 mph, but it’s pretty impressive nonetheless.

Friday, October 4, 2013

Is Bigfoot Real? Science Group Claims Sasquatch Exists, 'Welcome to Night Vale' America

Maybe it's all the October excitement...or everyone just woke up in Night Vale...because scientists are now confirming that Bigfoot is real...well some scientists. A recent study called the Sasquatch Genome Project claims to have found DNA and video evidence that the human-ape hybrid actually exists.

Bigfoot conspiracy theorists have been given enough fuel to support their claims for the next 50 years. A recent study was released by Dr. Melba S. Ketchum, titled, ''Novel North American Hominins, Next Generation Sequencing of Three Whole Genomes and Associated Studies,'' and reports to have collected key evidence to confirm the existence of bigfoot. The official press release reads:

''One hundred eleven samples of blood, tissue, hair, and other types of specimens were studied, characterized and hypothesized to be obtained from elusive hominins in North America commonly referred to as Sasquatch. DNA was extracted and purified from a subset of these samples that survived rigorous screening for wildlife species identification.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Cassini probe sees plastic ingredient on Titan moon

The Cassini probe has detected propene, or propylene, on Saturn's moon Titan.

On Earth, this molecule, which comprises three carbon atoms and six hydrogen atoms, is a constituent of many plastics.

It is the first definitive detection of the plastic ingredient on any moon or planet, other than our home world, says the US space agency (Nasa).

The discovery, made by Cassini's infrared spectrometer, is reported in Astrophysical Journal Letters.

"This chemical is all around us in everyday life, strung together in long chains to form a plastic called polypropylene," said Conor Nixon, a Nasa planetary scientist from the agency's Goddard Space Flight Center. A classic example would be the plastic boxes used to store food in kitchens worldwide.

Titan is dominated by hydrocarbons - principally methane, which after nitrogen is the most common component of the atmosphere.

Sunlight drives reactions that break apart the methane, allowing the fragments to join up and form even bigger molecules.