Archive for the ‘Space’ Category

An action packed week.  Even more so than usual.

1. The most habitable exoplanet yet.

Scientists have found water vapor in the atmosphere of an exoplanet making it the most habitable place we’ve yet found!

As Wired puts it, “On Wednesday, a team of astronomers from University College London announced that they detected water vapor in the atmosphere of a ‘super-Earth’ planet outside our own solar system. This is the first time water has been detected in the atmosphere of an exoplanet that is not a gas giant, which the researchers say makes it the most habitable exoplanet currently known. The planet, known by the catchy name K2-18b, is 110 light years away and orbits a red dwarf star about half the size of the sun. The planet is twice the size of Earth, eight times as massive, and orbits its host star once every 33 days.”

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2. New lens works better than human eye.

A revolutionary new lens could transform every optical instrument from cameras and eyeglasses to telescopes.

According to Endgadget, “A new breakthrough could soon revolutionize the design of almost every optical instrument in use today, including cameras, eyeglasses and telescopes. Combining recent developments in artificial muscle and flat lens technologies, a team of researchers at the Harvard John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS) have created a new lens that functions a lot like the human eye. Not only is the instrument capable of focusing in real-time thanks to an elastomer muscle, it features none of the bulk of a traditional spherical lens. It can even do some things the human eye can’t, including adjusting for astigmatism and image shift, two variables that lead to blurry vision.”

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3. Miracle Sheets.

A new brand of bedding could revolutionize home hygiene.

As Futurism puts it, “Miracle brand products are woven with anti-microbial silver that kills 99 percent of bacteria, meaning they stay cleaner and healthier much longer than a typical pillowcase or washcloth. To put it in more precise terms, Miracle’s products can be washed three times less often than other silver-free products because they’re essentially self-cleaning. How does silver accomplish all this? It all comes down to the precious metal’s ions, which naturally carry a positive charge that draws in bacteria and other microbes like a magnet before destroying them before they reproduce.”

Having to clean and do laundry less often? It’s a miracle!

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4. Liquid Magnets.

The list of amazing accidental discoveries just got a little bit longer.

According to Futurism, “Scientists created a metallic liquid capable of maintaining a magnetic field for the first time in history — and they did it entirely by accident.

University of Massachusetts Amherst engineers were working on 3D-printing liquids when they discovered that the droplets of iron, oil, and water were able to maintain a magnetic field, the researchers told Live Science, a first for any liquid.”

The discovery could lead to the invention of programmable tools.

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Are any of these the Greatest Idea Ever?

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We can harness the power of electricity and magnetism but there’s still one underlying fundamental force that we can’t yet control: gravity.  Which is a shame because as it turns out gravity may be the key to curing cancer.

According to Futurism:

“A team of doctors has a new idea in the fight against cancer: ship tumors up into space.

That’s based on a recent finding that most cancer cells subjected to microgravity in a lab died off without any other treatment, according to ABC News. Now the team of doctors from Australia’s University of Technology Sydney wants to send samples up to the International Space Station to further test the bizarre idea.

The team suspects that the cancer cells died off because microgravity disrupts their ability to communicate among each other or detect their surroundings.

‘When we’re in space, what happens to the body is that your cells start to feel this condition which we call mechanical unloading,’ Joshua Chou, the lead doctor behind the project, told ABC. ‘It means that there’s a lack of force because there’s no gravity. This actually affects how the cells move, how they function and also dictate their survivability.’”

To date we’ve tried everything we can think of to combat cancer from bombarding cells with radiation to forcefully removing tumors from the body.  We’ve even tried reprogramming cells. There has yet to be a miracle cure that destroys all cancerous cells.  But all that may be about to change thanks to a new approach that is literally out of this world.

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Is curing cancer in space the Greatest Idea Ever?

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#1,542 – Terrascope

The Amazon rain forest is on fire.  The Arctic is burning.  Global temperatures are reaching new all-time highs on a daily and monthly basis.  It’s no longer enough to rail about impending Climate Change.  The change is already happening.  We are in a Climate Emergency.  At this rate our best hope for the survival of our species is to search for other habitable exoplanets that we could one day migrate to.  An exercise that’s challenging enough as it is yet alone when paired with the sense of urgency that a dying planet dictates.  To that end we may have some good news for future planet hunters: the idea of turning our own planet into a giant terrascope.

As Scientific American puts it, “Astronomers and Earth’s atmosphere are natural enemies. Stargazers want crisp, clear images of their celestial targets, whereas winds and clouds scatter and block starlight in ways that can scuttle even the most careful measurements. Minus the mild inconvenience of lacking air to breathe, many researchers might otherwise prefer our planet had no atmosphere at all—at least during their coveted observing nights at world-class telescopes. The Hubble Space Telescope and other giant off-world observatories can rise above the atmosphere’s complications but at costs that are, for lack of a better word, astronomical.

Now a new preprint study suggests that far from being a bane, Earth’s atmosphere could become astronomy’s boon, serving to amplify starlight in ways that reduce the need for enormous (and enormously expensive) telescopes on the ground and in space. Astronomers badly need such money-saving, performance-boosting approaches as the cost of building new state-of-the-art observatories soars to unsustainable levels.”

Futurism puts it more succinctly, “There’s a lot to it, but the basic idea behind the terrascope is that Earth’s atmosphere naturally refracts incoming starlight, just like the lens of a telescope, and with some effort, we could take advantage of this refraction.”

It’s an effort that we would be wise to invest in.  The survival of humanity may very well depend on it.

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Is the Terrascope the Greatest Idea Ever?

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One of the biggest fears with AI is that it’ll evolve a mind of its own, capable of reasoning, figuring things out, and then ultimately deciding that it would be better off without us pesky humans around.  And while we are a long way away from that happening we do have some pretty interesting developments happening with AI.  Such as the latest breakthrough involving a Universe simulator that somehow knows things it shouldn’t.

Futurism explains:

“Since we can’t travel billions of years back in time — not yet, anyways — one of the best ways to understand how our universe evolved is to create computer simulations of the process using what we do know about it.

Most of those simulations fall into one of two categories: slow and more accurate, or fast and less accurate. But now, an international team of researchers has built an AI that can quickly generate highly-accurate, three-dimensional simulations of the universe — even when they tweak parameters the system wasn’t trained on.

‘It’s like teaching image recognition software with lots of pictures of cats and dogs, but then it’s able to recognize elephants,’ researcher Shirley Ho said in a press release. “Nobody knows how it does this, and it’s a great mystery to be solved.”

This is more than just a neat party trick though.  It’s actually a very useful ability, one that scientists can use to make inferences about how the Universe works.  For instance, you could run multiple simulations, tweaking the percent of dark matter present in the Universe in each of those simulations, and then look at the results as a means of investigating what a real multiverse might look like.  Creating models in this manner, aided by an artificial intelligence capable of knowing things it shouldn’t, could be exactly what we need in order to crack some of the deepest mysteries of the Universe, answering the eternal questions about where we came from and where we’re going.

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Is an all knowing AI the Greatest Idea Ever?


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We’ve come a long way when it comes to peering into the Universe, going from thinking that everything in our solar system revolved around the Earth to being able to find potentially habitable exo-planets orbiting around stars hundreds of light years away.  We even just imaged a black hole for the first time and inch closer and closer to figuring out what Dark Matter is.  However, we’ve still have a long way to go before we go actually detect life on any of those exo-planets or say with certainty how the Universe began or why it’s continuing to expand.

To help us answer those enduring questions that keep us up at night we need better tools.  Highly sensitive, large-scale instruments that give us a level of clarity multiple factors above today’s standards.  After all, we were only able to image that black hole by literally turning the entire Earth into a giant telescope thanks to a network of inter-connected satellites scattered across the globe.  The new James Webb Telescope, Hubble’s replacement, is supposed to help with that.  It’s supposedly powerful enough to spot a single firefly millions of miles away.  But even that isn’t good enough.

No, what we need.  What we really need is a way to escape Earth all together.  A way to build a massive telescope in space where size limitations won’t matter.  Telescopes so large that they’ll be able to see just about anything.  Even image the surface of distant planets.

And soon we may have a way to do just that.

As Wired puts it:

“If we ever have giant inflatable telescopes in space, you can thank Chris Walker’s mom. Years ago, Walker was making chocolate pudding when he had to interrupt his culinary undertaking to field a phone call from his mother. He took the pudding off the stovetop, covered it with plastic wrap, and placed the pot on the floor by his couch. When the call was finished, he was startled to find an image of a light bulb from a nearby lamp hovering over the end of the couch. When he investigated the cause of this apparition, he found that a pocket of cold air formed as the pudding cooled, and that had caused the center of the plastic wrap to sag toward the pudding. This, in effect, formed a lens that was reflecting the light bulb.

“I thought ‘Hey, this is cool, but I have no use for it now,’” Walker, a professor of astronomy at the University of Arizona, says. But 30 years later, he used it as the basis for a proposal he sent to NASA Innovative Advanced Concepts, a program that funds far-out aerospace ideas.

The subject of that proposal was essentially a way to turn a giant inflatable beach ball into a space telescope. This suborbital balloon reflector wouldn’t contend with as much atmospheric interference as ground-based instruments. Furthermore, it could be easily scaled up, opening vast swaths of the universe to observation without the hefty price tag associated with building large telescopes.”

Personally, I love this idea.  Installing huge telescopes in space is an idea that I’ve long held.  I just didn’t know how to actually plan out the logistics to make it happen.  But thanks to Chris Walker and his mom now we do.  Secrets of the Universe here we come!

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Are giant inflatable telescopes the Greatest Idea Ever?

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We all learned in school that there are three phase of water: solid, liquid, and gas.  However, that may not be entirely true.  As it turns out there be another, more exotic, phase of water and it may be extremely abundant throughout the Universe.

As Wired reports, “The findings, published this week in Nature, confirm the existence of “superionic ice,” a new phase of water with bizarre properties. Unlike the familiar ice found in your freezer or at the north pole, superionic ice is black and hot. A cube of it would weigh four times as much as a normal one. It was first theoretically predicted more than 30 years ago, and although it has never been seen until now, scientists think it might be among the most abundant forms of water in the universe.”

But what if there’s more to it than that? What if superionic ice isn’t a new phase of water at all?

“Depending on whom you ask, superionic ice is either another addition to water’s already cluttered array of avatars or something even stranger. Because its water molecules break apart, said the physicist Livia Bove of France’s National Center for Scientific Research and Pierre and Marie Curie University, it’s not quite a new phase of water. ‘It’s really a new state of matter,’ she said, ‘which is rather spectacular.’”

A new phase of matter? As astonishing as that would be, it’s not the first time that a new state of matter has been discovered.  About a month ago National Geographic reported on another new type of matter.

“Now, a team has used a type of artificial intelligence to confirm the existence of a bizarre new state of matter, one in which potassium atoms exhibit properties of both a solid and a liquid at the same time. If you were somehow able to pull out a chunk of such material, it would probably look like a solid block leaking molten potassium that eventually all dissolved away.”

And these discoveries are likely just the tip of the iceberg.  As our instruments and the tools at our disposal continue to improve we may discover even more exotic forms of matter.  Meaning it won’t be long before we have to rewrite the textbooks once again.

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Is Superionic Ice the Greatest Idea Ever?

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Back on July 15, 2017 Jeff Bezos, Amazon’s founder, was in Cape Canerval, Florida at the Kennedy Space Center to receive the first ever Buzz Aldrin Space Innovation Award.  Afterwards he made several attention grabbing remarks about his future plans.

According to Futurism:

“Amongst his statements was an assertion that humans should terraform the Moon. According to Tech Radar, Bezos claimed, “It’s time for America to go back to the Moon, this time to stay.” He then added, “We should build a permanent settlement on one of the poles of the Moon.” He ended on a positive note: “If we have reusable rockets, we can do it so much more affordably than we have ever done it before. We have the tools. We have the young people with a passion to do it. We can get that done today.’”

Well maybe not today but soon enough and now less than two years later Bezos has finally unveiled those specific plans which involve sending a moon lander known as Blue Moon to our satellite’s south pole, bringing his bold proclamation one step closer to fruition.

As Wired puts it:

“When Robert Heinlein wrote his masterpiece of space age realism, The Man Who Sold the Moon, he had no way of knowing how prescient it would be. Published in 1950, it tells the tale of Delos D. Harriman, the ‘last of the robber barons’, who is hellbent on being the first man on the moon. Harriman drives himself to the brink of bankruptcy and madness chasing his lunar ambitions, which he feels can’t be left to the bumbling government bureaucracy to handle. At the dawn of the new space race, it feels more relevant than ever.

These days, billionaires with their own space program are in abundant supply—Elon Musk, Paul Allen, Richard Branson, Robert Bigelow. But towering above them all is Jeff Bezos. Once the richest man in the world, Bezos is Harriman become flesh. For the last 19 years he has bankrolled his space company, Blue Origin, almost entirely out of pocket and has made his goal of colonizing the moon known. He is also, incidentally, a big fan of Heinlein.

Today Bezos unveiled a mock-up of Blue Origin’s lunar lander at a small invite-only event in Washington, DC. As detailed by Bezos, the plan is to send the lunar lander, called Blue Moon, to Shackleton Crater at the moon’s south pole. Last month, the company hinted at its plans with an enigmatic tweet depicting Endurance, the ship that carried British explorer Ernest Shackleton on a disastrous mission to Antarctica in the early twentieth century.”

The idea here is that Blue Moon will drop off important supplies at Shackleton Crater, paving the way for future manned missions by 2024 that will lay the groundwork towards establishing a permanent human colony on the moon.  A colony that could then pave the way for future space exploration missions including the eventual terraforming and colonization of Mars.

Bezos has taken a lot of flack lately for his sexual transgressions which have lead to him getting divorced and losing half of his wealth and rightfully so.  But maybe Bezos’ self-inflicted walk of shame should have been met with more sympathy.  Considering that Bezos was funding Blue Origin himself, that loss of wealth also means that there’s now less money pouring into Blue Origin.  For now, it doesn’t seem to be affecting his plans but perhaps it one day will.  Turning Bezos into a real-life version of Harriman, going bankrupt to fulfill his dreams.  For our sake and the sake of humanity’s space-faring future, let’s hope that’s not the case. Especially when you consider that Bezos has far-ranging ambitions when it comes to space, aside from just wanting to colonize the Moon.

According to Fast Company:

“Bezos announced a massive vision for the future in which “Earth is zoned residential and light industry,” with heavy industry and mining moving to space.

But even a gentrified Earth won’t be enough to support the ballooning human population. So Bezos is also proposing a constellation of space stations modeled after ideas from his former Princeton professor, Gerard O’Neill. The physicist’s namesake O’Neill cylinders would be miles-long, mile’s wide structures that rotate–using centrifugal force to produce artificial gravity–and harvest sunlight to grow crops.”

The cylinder space station idea is one that is firmly rooted in science fiction so to me the idea that is the most revolutionary here is the idea that Earth would be “zoned residential” with all industry moving to space.  Considering how expensive it is to get things into orbit relocating all industry into space would seem to be a daunting task.  But it makes sense.  Earth is the only place in the known Universe that can support life.  Shouldn’t it therefore be 100% committed to that one and only task?  Everything else that can take place somewhere else should do just that!

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Is Blue Moon the Greatest Idea Ever?

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