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Archive for the ‘Space’ Category

A quick look at everything that caught my eye this past week:

Personalized Exo-Skeletons: In the future we may all have robotic exo-skeletons that help us out, making it easier for us to get around and haul heavy loads of equipment along the way.  Perfect for hikers, campers, little old ladies, or anyone who wants to go grocery shopping.  And now those exo-skeletons will be matched to our specific gaits.

According to Science Alert, “Scientists have developed special algorithms that enable body scaffolds called exoskeletons to adjust to the walk of the person wearing them, making these robotic aids more efficient and personalized.  The enhanced mechanics are able to tweak their behavior based on feedback from the wearer’s metabolism and other measurements, and the team behind the system is calling it human-in-the-loop optimization.”

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The Frame: Don’t like the fact that your television set is a giant eye sore in your living room?  Samsung has got you covered.

As Wired puts it, “The Frame, a clever mashup of a television and digital art display. One click on the remote toggles between the TV and “art mode,” a high-res display for digital paintings, drawings, and photographs. You can import your own images, order them from Samsung at $20 a pop, or subscribe to unlimited art for $4.99 a month.  The Frame mounts flush against the wall, like a painting in a gallery. That clever design trick, coupled with the wood or metal bezel and translucent cable linking it to the Samsung One Connect, disguise the fact the Frame also streams all your favorite shows.”

Personally, I’m a big fan of this concept.  It’s great for hosting company as you not only get to hide your TV, you also get to add in a conversation piece as you either discuss the art itself or the fact that your TV is hidden.  As a fan of great design it’s also worth appreciating for its great utilization of otherwise dead space.  And, who knows, if you like you might even find yourself spending more time staring at your TV than actually watching it.  If know I would if I could get to display my epic Instagram pictures.

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Concrete breakthrough: Scientists have finally figured out the key to why Roman concrete has survived for thousands of years while more modern day advanced concrete crumbles much more quickly than that.

As Pionic puts it, “Around A.D. 79, Roman author Pliny the Elder wrote in his Naturalis Historia that concrete structures in harbors, exposed to the constant assault of the saltwater waves, become ‘a single stone mass, impregnable to the waves and every day stronger.’

He wasn’t exaggerating. While modern marine concrete structures crumble within decades, 2,000-year-old Roman piers and breakwaters endure to this day, and are stronger now than when they were first constructed. University of Utah geologist Marie Jackson studies the minerals and microscale structures of Roman concrete as she would a volcanic rock. She and her colleagues have found that seawater filtering through the concrete leads to the growth of interlocking minerals that lend the concrete added cohesion.”

Further understanding of how the sea affects concrete could lead to improving the performance of modern day concrete.  Something that will definitely come in handy as the polar ice caps melt and sea levels rise around the world.

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Sprites successfully launched: Breakthrough Starshot, a joint effort by some of the world’s leading minds to launch tiny gram sized spacecraft capable of making their way to our nearest stellar neighbor, Alpha Centauri, has successfully completed its first launch of tiny craft called “sprites”.

As The Guardian puts it:

“The smallest spacecraft ever launched are successfully travelling in low Earth orbit and communicating with systems on Earth, scientists have announced.  Known as ‘Sprites’, the miniature satellites are just 3.5cm x 3.5cm and carry radios, sensors and computers, with each device powered by sunlight and weighing just four grams…Scientists say the latest development is an important precursor to an ambitious attempt to send space probes to planets beyond our solar system…”

Hopefully the sprites will continue to be operational and the next phase of the plan can begin in earnest.

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Are any of these the Greatest Idea Ever?

 

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I’ve always wanted to get a telescope.  Always wanted to take a step back from the minutia of my everyday life to marvel at the wonders of the Universe; to fully appreciate the scale and scope of the cosmos instead of taking my life for granted.  But I never took the plunge.  Never even knew where to begin.  What kind of telescope should I get?  How would I even know what I was looking at?  Would I ever use it enough to justify the cost?

Well, those concerns have all been alleviated thanks to an incredible new invention: a commercial telescope for the masses that is posed to revolutionize amateur astronomy.  Not since Galileo first gazed upon the stars has there been this much excitement surrounding a telescope.  And it’s all thanks to a partnership between French startup Unistellar and our alien signal hunting friends, the SETI Institute.

According to Phys.Org:

“Unistellar’s new eVscope leverages ‘Enhanced Vision’ imaging technology and now provides three unique features never before offered in a compact mass-market instrument thanks to this partnership:

  • Enhanced Vision produces extremely sharp, detailed images of even faint astronomical objects by accumulating their light and projecting it into the telescope’s eyepiece. Enhanced Vision technology mimics the light gathering capability of significantly larger reflector telescopes, thus delivering unprecedented views of night-sky objects previously inaccessible to amateur astronomers.

 

  • Autonomous Field Detection (AFD) powered by GPS, enables the eVscope to pinpoint celestial objects of interest without complicated alignment procedures or expensive equatorial mounts. Thanks to AFD intelligent pointing and tracking, astronomers from novice to expert, can spend more time observing and always know precisely what they are looking at. This system is also able to name any object the user is observing, thanks to a coordinates database of tens of millions of celestial objects.

 

  • Campaign Mode, a revolutionary and exciting feature developed at the SETI Institute, takes advantage of the telescope’s advanced imaging technology and allows users around the world to participate in observing campaigns to image and collect data on objects of special interest to researchers. In Campaign Mode, image data is automatically sent to a data repository at the SETI Institute’s headquarters in Silicon Valley. The international scientific community can then access unprecedented volumes of image data for specific objects, from thousands of telescopes around the world, at different dates and times. This in turn, can enable new discoveries and enhance our understanding of the universe around us.”

This telescope is a real game-changer on so many levels, as detailed above.  So much so, that the innovations bear repeating for we’re talking about a commercial telescope that works nearly as well as significantly larger telescopes, enables you to quickly and easily get your bearings, identify the objects that you’re looking at, and directly contribute to on-going research projects in real-time.  For a citizen scientist, it just doesn’t get any better than that.

Except when it does.  Because, believe it or not, this incredible telescope is set to be relatively affordable.  The exact price isn’t known yet but it’s expected to cost less than $1,000 when a crowdfunding campaign launches this fall.  And personally, I can’t wait!  This game-changing, do-it-all telescope is a definite must-have whether you’re an amateur astronomer or just hoping to become one.  And after spending the weekend camping out under the stars, surrounded by constellations in all directions, I can tell you that I definitely want to become one.  Now more than ever.

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Is the eVscope telescope the Greatest Idea Ever?

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Consciousness is one of the biggest mysteries remaining in science, right up there with trying to figure out what Dark Matter is.  And despite all of our recent technological progress we’re still no closer to figuring out what it is.

There is, however, an interesting theory making the rounds as some people are of the belief that consciousness is a result of quantum physics.  Something that always happens, no matter what, if certain conditions are met on a quantum level.  An inevitable outcome just like how the third law of thermodynamics and a system’s natural inclination to lose energy is an inevitability.  One that explains why the cells in our body die, why stars turn into black holes, and why sub-atomic particles pop out of existence.  Could it be possible then that there’s another Universal rule out there?  One that would explain consciousness?  And if consciousness is the result of quantum effects what impact does that have on our understanding of the Universe?

As Futurism puts it, “In 2006, German physicist Bernard Haisch, known both for his studies of active stars and his openness to unorthodox science, took Penrose’s idea a big step further. Haisch proposed that the quantum fields that permeate all of empty space (the so-called ‘quantum vacuum’) produce and transmit consciousness, which then emerges in any sufficiently complex system with energy flowing through it. And not just a brain, but potentially any physical structure.”

Any physical structure?! Like what?

“Stars may be thinking entities that deliberately control their paths. Put more bluntly, the entire cosmos may be self-aware.”

We can’t really fathom that the Universe may be conscious anymore than a plant can fathom the existence of people.  It’s just so far beyond our understanding and occurring on such a wide scale that even if we did have the capacity to fathom it we’d lack the perspective required to test it and prove it.  But at the same time it does make sense.  Star formation and planet formation happen so often that surely it can’t just be occurring randomly.  Perhaps there’s a larger rhyme and reason to it.  Something governing what happens, when it happens, and how it happens.

Is the Universe conscious?  Probably not.  Are some of its larger systems exhibiting conscious like behavior because of quantum effects?  Possibly.  Will we ever know for sure?  Definitely not.

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Is the Universe conscious?

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To some people the future will always be out of our reach; impossible to predict despite the best efforts of today’s leading futurists and science fiction authors.  To others, we’re already living in it.  There are plenty of examples that could be used to help support either argument but one idea happens to work as an example for both: synthetic biology.  On the one hand, we’re starting to scratch the surface of what is possible so you could argue that the technology has already arrived.  On the other hand, the science is so new to use that we probably can’t even imagine how it will play out.

One person who may have a good idea of what is possible though is maverick pioneer Craig Venter.  Already one of the world’s leading synthetic biologists, Venter has now, for the first time, invented a machine capable of turning his own wild science fiction fantasies into a reality.

The machine is known as a DBC, a Digital to Biological Converter, and it sounds like something straight out of Star Trek.  The machine, once further refined, and shrunken down to a more manageable size so as to be commercially viable, would be capable of completing some pretty mind blowing tasks.  A homeowner could have one to print out the medications that they need to take or to create a sudden vaccine during a disease outbreak.  An astronaut could use one to print out life on another planet, thereby eliminating the need to transport already existing people across the vastness of space.  The machine could even be used to terraform a planet or to send unique alien lifeforms back to Earth from another world.  The possibilities are truly endless.

The Singularity Hub explains how it works:

“While automated DNA printers have already hit the market, the DBC takes it one step further. The machine is capable of building proteins from the genetic code (printing biological hardware, so to speak), bringing it one step closer to building living cells from scratch.

At the heart of the system is Archetype, proprietary software that optimally breaks down the input DNA sequence into more manageable short sequences to synthesize in parallel. This massively increases efficiency and reduces sequencing errors that increase with longer DNA strands.

Once assembled, the machine scans the strands for any errors before ‘pasting’ the bits back into complete DNA assembles. From there, a series of robotic arms transfer the DNA from module to module, automatically adding reagents that turn the synthetic genes into functional proteins.”

Obviously there is still a lot more work that needs to be done before we start seeing DBC’s on every street corner.  And if the struggles of the 3-D printing industry have taught us anything it’s that printing on demand isn’t as widely a sought after convenience as one might have imagined.  But then again, having the ability to print out your own medicine and vaccines could change that.  As could its ability to help us colonize space.

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Is the DBC the Greatest Idea Ever?

 

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I can only imagine how incredible it must have been to be alive when Neil Armstrong first walked on the Moon.  My generation hasn’t had that one singular moment where the entire world stood together in awe and marveled at a feat of modern ingenuity.  But just because we’re no longer paying attention that doesn’t mean the innovation has stopped.  It’s just shifted, from NASA and government sponsorship, to Space X and the private sector.  And based on Space X’s progress of late, that’s a good thing.

That’s because this past week they successfully launched reusable rockets on successive days for the first time.  Overall this marks their 13th successful launch, their 8th at sea, and their 9th in a row.  But the biggest news of all, was not just that Space X completed two successful launches within 48 hours.  It’s how they did it.

As the Verge reported:

“Today’s Falcon 9 was a new one sporting larger, upgraded titanium hypersonic grid fins. SpaceX founder and CEO Elon Musk tweeted that these are made out of a single piece of cast and cut titanium, and that they can withstand the heat of reentry without shielding. After the launch, Musk tweeted: ‘New titanium grid fins worked even better than expected. Should be capable of an indefinite number of flights with no service.’”

Musk is known for making bold statements but he’s also known for backing them up.  If he’s claiming that it’s now possible to have an indefinite number of flights with no service we’d have to take that statement at face value.  And if that’s true that’s a pretty remarkable feat of engineering, one that should drastically reduce the cost of flying to space even further.

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Is Space X’s reusable rocket the Greatest Idea Ever?

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Prepare to have your mind blown yet again for we may have finally figured out what dark matter is.  And we have the burgeoning field of superfluids to thank.

As Science Alert explains:

Superfluids are a form of cold, densely packed matter that has zero friction and viscosity, and can sometimes become a Bose-Einstein condensate, referred to as the ‘fifth state of matter’.  And as strange as they sound, superfluids are starting to appear more accessible than ever before, with researchers announcing just last week that they were able to create light that acts like a liquid – a form of superfluid – at room temperature for the first time.  The more we come to understand superfluids, the more physicists are willing to entertain the idea that they could be far more common in the Universe than we thought.”

Common enough to help us define what dark matter is?  Perhaps.

That’s the latest theory, at least, as put forth by University of Pennsylvania professor Justin Khoury and Princeton’s Lasha Berezhiani.  Essentially what they’re proposing is that Dark Matter isn’t just one phenomenon but rather a conglomeration of two different properties, one that takes hold on a micro scale, the scale of individual galaxies, and one that appears on a macro scale, when much larger structures are in play.

Basically, what they’re saying is that Dark Matter could be both a superfluid and weakly interacting ordinary particles at different times, holding galaxies together while also allowing ordinary matter to operate within the confines of that galaxy.  Which is why our calculations have always befuddled us up to this point.  We were looking for one explanation for all the unaccounted for matter in the Universe, for whatever undetectable force it was that was exerting gravitational influence on the structure of galaxies and the orbits of celestial objects within those galaxies but in vastly different ways.  If Dark Matter can behave differently on the macro and micro levels that could be the explanation that we were looking for.

As Science Alert puts it, “The idea is that the ‘halos’ of dark matter that exist around individual galaxies create the conditions necessary to form a superfluid – the gravitational pull of the galaxy ensures that it’s densely packed, and the coldness of space keeps the temperature suitably low.  Zoom out to a larger scale, and this gravitational pull becomes too weak to form a superfluid.”

Essentially, “The key here is that the existence of superfluid dark matter could explain the strange behaviors of individual galaxies that gravity alone can’t explain – it could be creating a second, as-yet-undefined force that acts just like gravity within the dark matter halos surrounding them.”

What could that as-yet-undefined force be?  Sound waves perhaps?

“When you disturb an electric field, you get radio waves, and when you disturb a gravitational field, you get gravitational waves. When you disturb a superfluid? You get phonons (sound waves), and this extra force could work in addition to gravity.”

If that’s true and the reason why Dark Matter has proven to be so elusive up to this point is because it’s really a superfluid most of the time then it may stand to reason that superfluids are far more prevalent throughout the Universe than we had imagined.  In fact, it may even be possible that the Universe itself is just one giant superfluid.

As Science Alert reported:

“’Recently, more physicists have warmed to the possibility of superfluid phases forming naturally in the extreme conditions of space,’ Jennifer Ouellette explains for Quanta Magazine.

“Superfluids may exist inside neutron stars, and some researchers have speculated that space-time itself may be a superfluid.”

I can get on board with this theory.  After all, I’ve always wondered what space was made up of.  It appears as total nothingness but I never believed that you could truly have nothing.  You’d have to have something.  And the superfluid explanation of space-time itself seems to fit.

Mind blown yet?

 

Have we finally figured out what Dark Matter is?

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We knew the human brain was special.  A remarkable information processing machine that we don’t fully understand.  Not yet, at least.  There was always the hope, though, that one day we might be able to figure out how it worked.  To figure out which part of the brain was responsible for which actions so that we might one day hope to reverse engineer it and then use that knowledge to create artificial intelligence that could mirror its properties.  However, a new mind-boggling discovery may be a damper on those plans.

As I Fucking Love Science puts it:

“The human brain is a convoluted labyrinth of passages in constant flux – routes are being created, strengthened, and deconstructed on a daily basis. On top of this, there are billions of neurons communicating with each other all day, every day via these ever-changing passages. At their junctions, there are synapses – about 1 quadrillion of them. If this all sounds complicated enough, then add a mind-boggling 11 dimensions to the mix.”

That’s right.  We just discovered that the human brain processes information in 11 dimensions!  11!!!  How do we know this?

According to Pionic, “Using algebraic topology in a way that it has never been used before in neuroscience, a team from the Blue Brain Project has uncovered a universe of multi-dimensional geometrical structures and spaces within the networks of the brain.

The research, published today in Frontiers in Computational Neuroscience, shows that these structures arise when a group of neurons forms a clique: each neuron connects to every other neuron in the group in a very specific way that generates a precise geometric object. The more neurons there are in a clique, the higher the dimension of the geometric object.”

We can barely comprehend three dimension on a daily basis.  How in the world are we going to analyze 11 dimensions?!  I have no idea but I do find it interesting that the precise number of dimensions that the brain was found to process information in is 11.  After all, that’s the same number of dimensions that exist in the Universe according to String Theory.  Is this purely a coincidence?  Or a mathematical inevitability predicated on the design limitations of information processing networks whether they be individual brains or entire universes?

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Have we finally figured out how the brain works?  And for that matter, the Universe?

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