Science & Technology


Asteroid flying past Earth today has mini-moon!

2004 BL86
© NASA/JPL-Caltech
This animation, created from 20 individual radar images, clearly show the rough outline of 2004 BL86 and its newly-discovered moon. Click for larger animation.
Wonderful news! Asteroid 2004 BL86, which passed closest to Earth today at a distance of 750,000 miles (1.2 million km), has a companion moon. Scientists working with NASA's 230-foot-wide (70-meter) Deep Space Network antenna at Goldstone, California, have released the first radar images of the asteroid which show the tiny object in orbit about the main body.

While these are the first images of it, the "signature" of the satellite was seen in light curve data reported earlier by Joseph Pollock (Appalachian State University, North Carolina) and Petr Prave (Ondrejov Observatory, Czech Republic) according to Lance Bennerwho works with the radar team at Goldstone.

2004 BL86 measures about 1,100 feet (325 meters) across while its moon is approximately 230 feet (70 meters) across. The asteroid made its closest approach today (Jan. 26th) at 10:19 a.m. (CST), however it will peak in brightness this evening around 10 p.m. (4:00 UT) at magnitude +9.0. Unlike some flybys, 2004 BL86 will remain within a few tenths of a magnitude of peak brightness from 6 p.m. tonight (CST) through early tomorrow morning, so don't miss the chance to see it in your telescope.
Black Magic

Biotech firm using climate change hysteria to persuade Florida residents to accept GMO mosquitoes

gmo mosquitoes
© Reuters / Ricardo Rojas
Pointing to climate change and the rise of tropical diseases, British researchers hope to sell their idea of releasing millions of genetically modified mosquitoes in the Florida Keys. Almost 140,000 people have signed a petition against the plan.

For many years, the neighborhoods of the Florida Keys have been sprayed with insecticides to ward off a host of bugs, including perhaps the mother of all pests, the mosquito. Over time, however, Aedes aegypti, a mosquito that can spread the dengue fever, chikungunya, and yellow fever viruses has built up resistance to many of the insecticides used to kill them.

The rising risk of a mosquito infestation and disease outbreak presents an opportunity for one British firm, Oxitec, which has developed a method for breeding Aedes aegypti that kills mosquito larvae, AP reported.

According to Oxitec's website, the process involves injecting a "lethal gene" into either the male sperm or female egg that eventually kills the offspring.

Comment: Last year a town in Brazil issued an emergency decree due to the abnormal situation characterized as a biological disaster of dengue epidemic during a trial of GM mosquito releases. Even though concerns were raised by biologists who reported that in some circumstances releases of these GM mosquitoes could make dengue worse, they were ignored. The corporations developing and promoting GM organisms always claim that such organisms are safe, yet no independent risk studies have been undertaken. Thus people are left to rely on the word of the profiteers whose research is kept secret.

Fooling Mother Nature with Genetically Modified Mosquitoes


Mystery galactic bubble traveling at breakneck speed

Gas Bubbles
© NASA, ESA and A. Field (STScI)
This NASA graphic shows how scientists used Hubble Space Telescope observations of a distant quasar to discover that two giant gas bubbles are erupting from the Milky Way's core at 2 million mph. In this graphic, material shown in blue is moving toward the observer, while material in red is traveling away.
Giant bubbles of gas that erupted from the core of the Milky Way galaxy millions of years ago are expanding out into space at mind-blowing speeds, according to new observations that may help reveal how the strange balloon-like lobes formed.

Scientists using the Hubble Space Telescope have clocked the speed of gas bubbles, known as Fermi bubbles, at a whopping 2 million mph (3.2 million km/h). The giant structures now extend 30,000 light-years above and below the plane of the Milky Way.

"A few million years ago, there was a very energetic event at the galactic center, and we're seeing a remnant," lead author Andrew Fox, of the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore, Maryland, said at a press conference this month.

Fox presented the new Hubble observations at the 225th meeting of the American Astronomical Society in Seattle, revealing the age of the Fermi bubbles.
Magic Wand

Gergely Bogányi's classical piano makeover

GB and new piano
A new Hungarian-developed concert piano developed under the inspiration of acclaimed classical pianist Gergely Bogányi.
So many of life's familiar objects are constantly redesigned according to the whims of fashion and the latest trends. But the curves of a classical music instrument seem almost sacred, inviting design changes that tend to be of the nip-and-tuck variety, preserving familiar forms and ageless appeal. Even Liberace's piano, after all, is really only a tarted-up version of a classical shape.

front view
Bold new design!
But this week Hungarian pianist Gergely Bogányi unveiled a radical redesign of the grand piano, a project he initiated in order to make it sound the way he heard it in his head. Produced by Louis Renner, a world-renowned German company that specializes in making piano actions and hammerheads, Bogányi and a team of designers and engineers spent more than a decade rethinking the piano's 18,000 parts from the inside out.

Bogányi writes on the piano's promotional website that he is following in the footsteps of the great Hungarian composer and pianist Franz Liszt, who worked with 19th-century piano manufactures to improve the instrument's sound to match the expectations he had in his mind. The new piano, Bogányi says, "is born out of deep love, and humble respect for classical piano tradition, built upon a lifetime desire to improve upon it with fresh innovation in sound and design."

Bogányi's piano incorporates a weather-resistant composite soundboard within a modified traditional iron-and-wood piano frame that creates a stable, clear sound in all climates and allows the instrument to stay in tune longer than a traditional piano. Bogányi says he was inspired by traveling the world with his piano tuner, who was constantly trying to create a consistent, quality sound in every piano. "It was always so difficult with each concert hall having such different conditions that affected the piano," Bogányi says. "Dryness, dust, humidity were always a factor. Could we find a way to keep this quality consistent?" It's difficult to get a sense of how the redesign affects sound quality by watching the brief promotional video below, in which the human playing the piano is strangely absent.

Comment: You may like or not the shape of the new piano, but regardless, the sound is amazing! There are several excerpts to choose from.


Does the universe naturally produce complexity and reason?

Recent developments in science are beginning to suggest that the universe naturally produces complexity.
The emergence of life in general and perhaps even rational life, with its associated technological culture, may be extremely common, argues Clemson researcher Kelly Smith in a recently published paper in the journal Space Policy.

What's more, he suggests, this universal tendency has distinctly religious overtones and may even establish a truly universal basis for morality.

Smith, a Philosopher and Evolutionary Biologist, applies recent theoretical developments in Biology and Complex Systems Theory to attempt new answers to the kind of enduring questions about human purpose and obligation that have long been considered the sole province of the humanities.

He points out that scientists are increasingly beginning to discuss how the basic structure of the universe seems to favor the creation of complexity. The large scale history of the universe strongly suggests a trend of increasing complexity: disordered energy states produce atoms and molecules, which combine to form suns and associated planets, on which life evolves. Life then seems to exhibit its own pattern of increasing complexity, with simple organisms getting more complex over evolutionary time until they eventually develop rationality and complex culture.

Comment: Another author has coined a similar approach as "Rational Design Theory":

He puts forth his scientifically testable Rational Design Hypothesis at a time when mainstream science relegates any design theory as unscientific. His reverse engineering analysis of biological life confirms convincingly the validation of classical Darwininan evolution (of species), while at the same time questioning the whole neo-Darwinian notion of chemical evolution upon which the chemical soup theory of life's origins hangs its collective hat.

Shiller leaves speculation about the identity of the designer largely to the reader, but predicts that one important key to uncovering the signature will be the study of introns.


California considering more government access to cars' on-board computers

Stopped motorist
Earned ticket or routine stop with discretionary citation?
At a traffic school my wife once attended after getting a ticket, the instructor warned the class there are so many driving rules and so much discretion in enforcing them that any driver can be cited for something at any time. Drivers, he said, always are at the mercy of the traffic cop.

Even if that's an exaggeration, the general point seems true. We can drive without being obsessively concerned about getting pulled over because there (thankfully) aren't enough California Highway Patrol officers to stop us every time the speedometer hits 75 mph.

But what if the traffic cop were a computer that always is transmitting data about our driving habits to a government agency? That question increasingly is being asked given technological advancements and a new proposal by the state's air-quality control agency to expand the information your car's computer would be required to collect and potentially transmit to officials.

Currently, drivers get red-light citations via mail because of cameras placed at intersections. USA Today reported that some eastern states have suspended drivers from using toll lanes after their transponders showed them to be speeders. Private fleets often closely monitor, control and punish the behavior of their drivers. What's next?

The On Board Diagnostics computer systems on all of our late-model cars now collect a wide range of information mostly related to a car's emissions. When something is amiss, your dashboard flashes with a "check engine" light and you head to a repair shop to fix it. The goal is to assure cars aren't polluting the air.

But now the California Air Resources Board is proposing regulations (for a May board hearing) requiring manufacturers to significantly expand the kind of information on-board computer software collects about our driving habits.

Comment: One more way to tax or fine citizens. One more way to monitor and control population on an individual basis. One more way to make humans in the workforce obsolete. One more link in the fence. Belief in statistics far outweighs belief in humanity. We are morally and functionally stripped.


Scientists invent teleporter that works using 3-D printer

© Allstar/Cinetext/Paramount
New system destructively scans objects transmits them through encrypted communications across any distance and rebuilds it the other side

Teleportation has been the holy grail of transport for decades, ever since Mr Scott first beamed up Captain Kirk and his crew in the 1966 opening episode of Star Trek. Now the technology may have been cracked in real life ... sort of.

Scientists from the Hasso Plattner Institute in Potsdam have invented a real-life teleporter system that can scan in an object and "beam it" to another location.

Not quite the dematerialisation and reconstruction of science fiction, the system relies on destructive scanning and 3D printing.

An object at one end of the system is milled down layer-by-layer, creating a scan per layer which is then transmitted through an encrypted communication to a 3D printer. The printer then replicates the original object layer by layer, effectively teleporting an object from one place to another.


Rare triple transit of Jupiter's moons visible across North America January 23

jupiters moons
© Starry Night software
An extremely rare event occurs on the night of Jan. 23, 2015, when three of Jupiter’s moons and their shadows cross the face of the planet.
On Friday night (Jan. 23), observers all across North America will witness a rare event when three of Jupiter's moons, and their shadows, pass across the face of the giant planet.

How rare are these Jupiter triple transits? I have seen two in the last 15 years personally, but the next one will not occur until 2032.

As Galileo found early in the 17th century, Jupiter has four large, bright moons that are usually seen as points of light on one side of the planet or the other. These satellites - Io, Europa, Ganymede and Callisto - are known as the Galilean moons, after their discoverer. Jupiter has at least 63 smaller moons, most of which are too small to be seen with amateur telescopes.

Fish lurk under Antarctica ice shelf

© Deep-SCINI UNL Andrill SMO team
A fish seen at the Ross Ice Shelf grounding zone beneath nearly 2,500 feet (740 meters) of ice.
In a cold and dark underwater world, where a never-ending rain of rocks keeps the seafloor barren, researchers were startled to find fish, crustaceans and jellyfish investigating a submersible camera after drilling through nearly 2,500 feet (740 meters) of Antarctic ice.

The swimmers are in one of the world's most extreme ecosystems, hidden beneath the Ross Ice Shelf, roughly 530 miles (850 kilometers) from the open ocean. "This is the closest we can get to something like Europa," Slawek Tulaczyk, a glaciologist at the University of California, Santa Cruz and a chief scientist on the drilling project, said, referring to Jupiter's icy moon.

This is the first time scientists have drilled through an ice shelf to its grounding line. These thick, floating tongues of ice are attached to glaciers or ice sheets, and the grounding line marks the transition from land to sea. Researchers with the Whillans Ice Stream Subglacial Access Research Drilling (WISSARD) project punched through the ice with a custom hot-water drill on Jan. 8 and discovered the marine life on Jan. 16. The WISSARD drillers are crunching through the ice with the same setup used to reach Antarctica's subglacial Lake Whillans in 2013, when scientists grabbed the first evidence of microbial life from a lake under the ice sheet.
Ice Cube

Indian space scientists fear the return of a 'mini ice age'

The fewer sunspot activities on the Sun witnessed since the last two solar cycles might lead to a "mini ice age-like situation" in coming years, Shrinivas Aundhkar, the director of Mahatma Gandhi Mission, Centre for Astronomy and Space Technology, Nanded, said here on Tuesday.

"The sunspots that can be seen on the Sun have comparatively less temperature compared to other surfaces on it (Sun)," he said while addressing a gathering for a lecture, Get Ready for Little Ice Age, held as part of the Narendra Dabholkar lecture series.

Aundhkar, who has worked with scientists across the world on Sun-Earth connection, said, "The Sun undergoes two cycles that are described as maximum and minimum. The activity alternates every 11 years, and the period is termed as one solar cycle. At present, the Sun is undergoing the minimum phase, reducing global temperatures."

He said winter temperatures have dropped in the northern polar cap and is leading to severe winters. "This has also triggered the jet stream, which is active in the northern parts of the globe to shift in inter tropical climate zone like India. As a result, cold wind conditions were witnessed during the last two years. The unseasonal hailstorms in November and December are a result of the influence of the jet stream. This has also led to steady weakening of magnetic energy of the Sun, leading to mini ice age like situation," he said.

"The Sun, our energy source, goes through phases of violent (maximum phase) and quiet (minimum phase) activity every 11 years, which is called one solar cycle. The effects of minimum activity of a solar cycle are seen for about a year. However, it has been revealed that the minimum activity was seen for more than four years in the recently concluded solar cycle. Thus, it was the longest and quietest minimum phase in the past 100 years," the scientist said.

Comment: SOTT has been saying this for years. See also: