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Behold the awesome storms of Saturn, shown here by NASA in false-colour rendering.
The head of the storm is beyond the horizon in this view. Saturn’s atmosphere and its rings are shown here in a false color composite made from 12 images taken in near- infrared light through filters that are sensitive to varying degrees of methane absorption. Red and orange colors in this view indicate clouds that are deep in the atmosphere. Yellow and green colors, most noticeable near the top of the view, indicate intermediate clouds. White and blue indicate high clouds and haze. The rings appear as a thin horizontal line of bright blue because they are outside of the atmosphere and not affected by methane absorption.
In these seemingly dire times, optimism can be a revolutionary act.
Here’s two quick doses:
There’s been enormous progress in genomics; we’re now on the threshold of truly understanding how little we understand. While the anticipated firehose of genome-based treatments hasn’t materialized, we now know why it hasn’t materialized, and it’s possible to start filling in the gaps in the map. Turns out that sequencing the human genome was merely the start. (It’s not a blueprint; it’s not even an algorithm for generating a human being. Rather, it’s like a snapshot of the static data structures embedded in an executing process. Debug that.) My bet is that we’re going to have to wait another decade. Then things are going to start to get very strange in medicine.
Technabob is reporting that Russia is going to build a pod to knock old space satellites out of orbit. That’s lovely. The old orbiters should burn up in the atmosphere or splash down in the middle of the ocean. However, what’s going to stop the pod if it goes after the wrong satellite?
It seems oxygen is far more abundant than we ever suspected, particularly on moons that seem to be completely frozen solid. We recently found evidence of oxygen on Jupiter’s moons Europa and Ganymede, and now this finding on Europa. In fact, because the region of space surrounding Saturn’s rings has an oxygen atmosphere, it’s thought even more of the icy moons within the gas giant’s magnetosphere likely have little atmospheres of their own.
According to new data from the Cassini probe, the moon’s thin atmosphere is kept up by the constant chemical decomposition of ice water on the surface of Rhea. It’s likely that Saturn’s fierce magnetosphere is continually irradiating this ice water, which is what helps to maintain the atmosphere. Researchers suspect a lot of Rhea’s oxygen isn’t actually free right now, but is instead trapped inside Rhea’s frozen oceans.
As was mentioned in our interview with Amber Case, it’s Cyborg Month. Tim Maly has created the 50Cyborgs project; 50 posts about Cyborgs to celebrate the 50th Anniversary of the coining of the word. He writes:
…when you think about cyborgs… Don’t think about total loss of self, bodies encroached and erased by technology, humanity swallowed whole.
Instead think of cellphones.
Think about off-loaded memories, of constantly renewed enhancement and new abilities. But also think about insistent ringtones, and demanding interruptions, think of externally controlled access, and a reliance on a sprawling infrastructure.
We are shaped by the technologies because in integrating them, they become us. And though we can discard or upgrade them, this is no less true of our cultural selves. Who you are today is not who you will be tomorrow but those possibilities are shaped and constrained by the biology, culture and technology that is part of you.
There have been some fantastic submissions so far and it’s only up to no. 34. From Kanye West as a Media Cyborg to Kevin Kelly’s piece on Domesticated Cyborgs and Cities For Cyborgs: 10 Rules by Keiichi Matsuda, the creator of Domestic Robocop and Augmented City. Not to mention excellent pieces by our friends Chris Arkenberg and Paul Raven. I could go on and on.
For Grinding though, the clear favourite is Cyborg Realism: IEDs, Prosthetic Limbs and Military R&D. To quote Tim himself, it’s about “war enhancements, soldiers bodies and mass-produced, replaceable materiel, bluetooth replacement legs that send computers on the fritz and sometimes bug out and kick at random.” Featuring this video:
Kick ass! Dive in, and dive deep, into this excellent examination of the past and future of all things Cyborgery.
I love this new ecology of bio-mimiced robots.
From Wired UK:
The gecko’s toe hairs interact with the wall in a molecular attraction called “van der Waals force“. Using this force, a gecko can hang and support its whole weight on one toe. It only sticks when you pull in one direction.
For this reason geckos have rotational ankles to ensure that they stick at whatever angle they are running. Their rear feet turn backwards when they are upside down or walking down a wall head first — otherwise they’d fall.
Such one-way adhesives are important for climbing because they require little effort to attach and detach a robot’s foot. Otherwise you have to press the foot down firmly to attach it and then work just as hard to pull the foot off. Directional adhesion is more like hooking and unhooking yourself from a surface.
With this in mind, Cutkosky and his team began asking how to build artificial materials that create the same effect. They came up with a rubber-like material with tiny polymer hairs made from micro-scale mould and attached it to a robot. The research was described in the journal Applied Physics Letters.
A layer of the adhesive was cut to cover a mechanical lizard’s foot. The newest versions of the adhesive have a two-layer system, similar to the gecko’s lamellae and setae, and allow Stickybot to climb smooth surfaces such as metal and glass. The scientists hope to develop the material to allow humans to climb walls like geckos, using technology called Z-Man.
If reality was a science-fiction novel, the prologue for the one starting today would include this text:
Masahiro Hotta at Tohoku University in Japan has come up with a much more exotic idea. Why not use the same quantum principles to teleport energy?
Today, building on a number of papers published in the last year, Hotta outlines his idea and its implications. The process of teleportation involves making a measurement on each one an entangled pair of particles. He points out that the measurement on the first particle injects quantum energy into the system. He then shows that by carefully choosing the measurement to do on the second particle, it is possible to extract the original energy.
All this is possible because there are always quantum fluctuations in the energy of any particle. The teleportation process allows you to inject quantum energy at one point in the universe and then exploit quantum energy fluctuations to extract it from another point. Of course, the energy of the system as whole is unchanged.
He gives the example of a string of entangled ions oscillating back and forth in an electric field trap, a bit like Newton’s balls. Measuring the state of the first ion injects energy into the system in the form of a phonon, a quantum of oscillation. Hotta says that performing the right kind of measurement on the last ion extracts this energy. Since this can be done at the speed of light (in principle), the phonon doesn’t travel across the intermediate ions so there is no heating of these ions. The energy has been transmitted without traveling across the intervening space. That’s teleportation.
Chapter One would be the construction of giant solar panels in space. The world would transition away from not just coal, but nuclear power too. We’d have a reason, nay be compelled to build a giant space fleet, setting up relay stations and outposts at first the Moon, then in orbit around Venus and Mercury.
Chapter Two would be the creation of a fleet powered by this very energy, having the power of the sun beamed straight into the star drives.
Chapter Three.. well, let’s not get ahead of ourselves.
Crazy, I know. But a guy can only hope for the best, right?!
Seems a belated retraction is in order; @Astro_Mike wasn’t tweeting from orbit, but was having his updates relayed via mission control.
From the NASA press release, here’s how:
This personal Web access, called the Crew Support LAN, takes advantage of existing communication links to and from the station and gives astronauts the ability to browse and use the Web. The system will provide astronauts with direct private communications to enhance their quality of life during long-duration missions by helping to ease the isolation associated with life in a closed environment.
During periods when the station is actively communicating with the ground using high-speed Ku-band communications, the crew will have remote access to the Internet via a ground computer. The crew will view the desktop of the ground computer using an onboard laptop and interact remotely with their keyboard touchpad.
The first Solar Sail spacecraft met an untimely end, crashing into the ocean instead of making it into orbit. But now, in 2010, a new, improved version of that craft–an entire spaceship that’s propelled only by the sun’s rays–is set to launch. And scientists will be see if this unique spaceship will become the prototype for long term interstellar travel.
Some scientists believe that such solar sail technology holds the key to long term exploratory spaceflight, according to the Associated Press.The solar sail spacecraft are designed to be propelled by accumulating photons, not solar winds, and though slow-moving at first, would eventually be able to reach tremendous speeds. And that’s right–it’s zero emissions space travel.
The new craft, called the LightSail-1, will actually hopefully be the first of a series of three similar solar-sailed spacecrafts created by the Planetary Society–the space advocacy organization founded by none other than Carl Sagan.
Planetary Society describes the first of the three missions, which it hopes will launch in December of next year, as follows: “Our first solar sail will lay the foundation for the whole LightSail program by demonstrating controlled flight with only the pressure of solar photons bouncing off the sail.”
Everyone is still freaked out by Big Dog, right?
Well brace yourself for this video:
The finished Petman will also mimic human physiology, for example sweating in response to temperature and humidity changes, to make it a realistic testing device for the suits.
Let’s take the glass-half-full approach; best robotic space explorers ever?!
Before humanity can begin it’s impending migration to the stars, some work needs to be done removing all the litter that has been left in orbit.
From The Guardian:
Robots that rescue failing satellites and push “dead” ones into outer space should be ready in four years, it has emerged. Experts described the development by German scientists as a crucial step in preventing a disaster in the Earth’s crowded orbit.
Last year it was reported that critical levels of debris circling the Earth were threatening astronauts’ lives and the future of the multibillion-pound satellite communications industry. But senior figures at the German Aerospace Centre (DLR) told the Observer they have been given the go-ahead to tackle a crisis that will come to a head in the next five to 10 years as more orbiting objects run out of fuel.
Their robots will dock with failing satellites to carry out repairs or push them into “graveyard orbits”, freeing vital space in geostationary orbit. This is the narrow band 22,000 miles above the Earth in which orbiting objects appear fixed at the same point. More than 200 dead satellites litter this orbit. Within 10 years that number could increase fivefold, the International Association for the Advancement of Space Safety has warned.
Klaus Landzettel, head of space robotics at DLR, said engineering advances, including the development of machines that can withstand temperatures ranging from -170C (-274F) to 200C (392F), meant that the German robots will be “ready to be used on any satellite, whether it’s designed to be docked or not”.
Thunderbots are go?!
Via nationalgeographic.com, a shot of the Trifid Nebula taken by the La Silla Paranal Observatory in Chile.
From New Scientist:
The interplanetary internet now has its first permanent node in space, aboard the International Space Station (ISS).
The new software will make sending data from space less like using the telephone, and more like using the web. In the modern era of the web and information on demand, teams still have to schedule times to send and receive data from space missions.
The payload recently sent down its first science data – images of crystals formed by metal salts in free-fall – using the new programming. Its new capability has already speeded up the transfer of data back to Earth by about four times, says BioServe’s Kevin Gifford. If data is lost during a link, the system automatically transmits lost data later. Until now someone had to schedule a second attempt.
While the Earth-bound internet uses a protocol called TCP/IP to allow distant machines to communicate over cables, the ISS payload uses delay-tolerant networking (DTN), which is being developed to cope with the patchy coverage in space that is arises when spacecraft pass behind planets or suffer power outages.
The protocol could also benefit space station operations by automating space weather alerts (see Space storm alert: 90 seconds from catastrophe)
Inflatable pneumatic modules already used in some spacecraft could be assembled into a 15-kilometre-high tower, say Brendan Quine, Raj Seth and George Zhu at York University in Toronto, Canada, writing in Acta Astronautica (DOI: 10.1016/j.actaastro.2009.02.018). If built from a suitable mountain top it could reach an altitude of around 20 kilometres, where it could be used for atmospheric research, tourism, telecoms or launching spacecraft.
The team envisages assembling the structure from a series of modules constructed from Kevlar-polyethylene composite tubes made rigid by inflating them with a lightweight gas such as helium. To test the idea, they built a 7-metre scale model made up of six modules. Each module was built out of three laminated polyethylene tubes 8 centimetres in diameter, mounted around circular spacers and inflated with air.
To stay upright and withstand winds, full-scale structures would require gyroscopes and active stabilisation systems in each module. The team modelled a 15-kilometre tower made up of 100 modules, each one 150 metres tall and 230 metres in diameter, built from inflatable tubes 2 metres across. Quine estimates it would weigh about 800,000 tonnes when pressurised – around twice the weight of the world’s largest supertanker.
This is just some of the stunning footage now being uploaded, taken by Japan’s Kaguya (Selene) probe as it orbited the Moon.
From New Scientist:
More than two decades after the world’s largest nuclear disaster, life around Chernobyl continues to adapt.
To determine how plants might have adapted to the meltdown, Hajduch’s team compared soya grown in radioactive plots near Chernobyl with plants grown about 100 kilometres away in uncontaminated soil.
Compared to the plants grown in normal soil, the Chernobyl soya produced significantly different amounts of several dozen proteins, the team found. Among those are proteins that contribute to the production of seeds, as well as proteins involved in defending cells from heavy metal and radiation damage. “One protein is known to actually protect human blood from radiation,” Hajduch says.
Determining how plants coped with life after Chernobyl could help scientists engineer radiation-resistant plants, Hajduch says. While few farmers are eager to cultivate radioactive plots on Earth, future interplanetary travellers may need to grow crops to withstand space radiation.