Science & Technology

Grey Alien

Is this ET? Mystery of strange radio bursts from space

Mysterious radio wave flashes from far outside the galaxy are proving tough for astronomers to explain. Is it pulsars? A spy satellite? Or an alien message?
© Roger Ressmeyer/Corbis
The Parkes telescope: tuned in.
Bursts of radio waves flashing across the sky seem to follow a mathematical pattern. If the pattern is real, either some strange celestial physics is going on, or the bursts are artificial, produced by human - or alien - technology.

Telescopes have been picking up so-called fast radio bursts (FRBs) since 2001. They last just a few milliseconds and erupt with about as much energy as the sun releases in a month. Ten have been detected so far, most recently in 2014, when the Parkes Telescope in New South Wales, Australia, caught a burst in action for the first time. The others were found by sifting through data after the bursts had arrived at Earth. No one knows what causes them, but the brevity of the bursts means their source has to be small - hundreds of kilometres across at most - so they can't be from ordinary stars. And they seem to come from far outside the galaxy.

The weird part is that they all fit a pattern that doesn't match what we know about cosmic physics.

To calculate how far the bursts have come, astronomers use a concept called the dispersion measure. Each burst covers a range of radio frequencies, as if the whole FM band were playing the same song. But electrons in space scatter and delay the radiation, so that higher frequency waves make it across space faster than lower frequency waves. The more space the signal crosses, the bigger the difference, or dispersion measure, between the arrival time of high and low frequencies - and the further the signal has travelled.

Comet 2

New Comet: C/2015 F4 (JACQUES)

CBET nr. 4085, issued on 2015, March 31, announces the discovery of a comet (magnitude ~16) by C. Jacques on CCD images taken on 2015, March 27.2 by C. Jacques, E. Pimentel and J. Barros with a 0.28-m f/2.2 astrograph at the SONEAR Observatory (Oliveira, Brazil). The new comet has been designated C/2015 F4 (JACQUES).

We performed follow-up measurements of this object, while it was still on the neocp. Stacking of 14 unfiltered exposures, 60-sec each, obtained remotely on 2015, March 27.7 from Q62 (iTelescope network - Siding Spring) through a 0.43-m f/6.8 astrograph + CCD, shows that this object is a comet with a sharp central condensation surrounded by a coma about 8" in diameter and a tail about 15" long in PA 237.

Our confirmation image (click on it for a bigger version)
© Remanzacco Observatory


Scientists: Mercury's surface blackened by billions of years of steady 'dusting' by comets

© NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Carnegie Institution of Washington
A team of scientists has a new explanation for the planet Mercury's dark, barely reflective surface. In a paper published in Nature Geoscience, the researchers suggest that a steady dusting of carbon from passing comets has slowly painted Mercury black over billions of years.

Mercury's dark surface has long been a mystery to scientists. On average, Mercury is much darker than its closest airless neighbour, our Moon. Airless bodies are known to be darkened by micrometeorite impacts and bombardment of solar wind, processes that create a thin coating of dark iron nanoparticles on the surface. But spectral data from Mercury suggests its surface contains very little nanophase iron, certainly not enough to account for its dim appearance.

"It's long been hypothesised that there's a mystery darkening agent that's contributing to Mercury's low reflectance," said Megan Bruck Syal, a postdoctoral researcher at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory who performed this research while a graduate student at Brown University. "One thing that hadn't been considered was that Mercury gets dumped on by a lot of material derived from comets."

As comets approach Mercury's neighbourhood near the Sun, they often start to break apart. Cometary dust is composed of as much as 25 percent carbon by weight, so Mercury would be exposed to a steady bombardment of carbon from these crumbling comets. Using a model of impact delivery and a known estimate of micrometeorite flux at Mercury, Bruck Syal was able to estimate how often cometary material would impact Mercury, how much carbon would stick to Mercury's surface, and how much would be thrown back into space. Her calculations suggest that after billions of years of bombardment, Mercury's surface should be anywhere from 3 to 6 percent carbon.

The next part of the work was to find out how much darkening could be expected from all that impacting carbon. For that, the researchers turned to the NASA Ames Vertical Gun Range. The 14-foot canon simulates celestial impacts by firing projectiles at up to 16,000 miles per hour.

Comment: See also:

SOTT Talk Radio: The Electric Universe - An interview with Wallace Thornhill

Evil Rays

University students extinguish fires with heavy bass

© Youtube
Extinguishing fire with sound
It's 2025, and a team of firefighters arrive on the scene of a massive conflagration. There's trucks and ladders, but also a team of drones tethered to a massive generator. As the drones swarm the flames, they blast a guttural roar that sounds like the unholy offspring of a bullfrog and a lawnmower. Firefighters follow up with hoses and foam, and within minutes, nothing but wisps of smoke are curling up from cooling embers.

That vision of the future could be possible thanks to a small, sound-powered fire extinguisher developed by two college seniors, Viet Tran and Seth Robertson, both at George Mason University in Virginia. Tran was searching for an idea for a class project when he stumbled upon an old DARPA project that used sound waves to put out a small fire. The device was rather large—a person certainly couldn't hold it. So he and Robertson set out to make it more practical.

Their extinguisher resembles an antique milk can connected to a well-ventilated amp. A bass speaker sits atop the barrel, which amplifies and directs the sound waves. Tom Jackman, reporting for the Washington Post, has more details:
They placed flaming rubbing alcohol next to a large subwoofer and found that it wasn't necessarily all about that bass, musically speaking, at least. "Music isn't really good," Robertson said, "because it doesn't stay consistent."

They tried ultra-high frequencies, such as 20,000 or 30,000 hertz, and could see the flames vibrating but not going out. They took it down low, and at the range of 30 to 60 hertz, the fires began to extinguish.

"I honestly didn't think it would work as well as it did," Tran said.
The extinguisher works by pulsing air across the base of the flame, the boundary layer at which the combusted material produces the flame itself. The deep sound produces successive blasts of air which disrupt the process of combustion. Eventually, the flame peters out.


Designers create a new world of exotic musical instruments

© MONAD Studio / Eric Goldemberg / Veronica Zalcberg
Piezoelectric Violin
Next month, visitors to the Inside 3D Printing conference at the Javits Center in New York City will have the chance to see - and hear - one of the most radical musical instruments ever created. Or should that be 'printed'? The two-string Piezoelectric Violin is the brainchild of architects Eric Goldemberg and Veronica Zalcberg of Miami's MONAD studio, in collaboration with multi-instrumentalist Scott F Hall, who has been dreaming up ways to fabricate exotic instruments since the 1990s.

"Our desire to create unusual instruments emerged when we realised the aesthetic and technical issues we were facing as architects did not differ much from those of musicians and composers," Goldemberg tells me. He and Zalcberg were interested to explore a "new conception for violin core functionality", and the instrument - which will be exhibited alongside other curious sonic specimens including their take on the cello, a 'hornucopia', and Hall's 'monobaribasitar' - is the result of "intense research on design and computation, leading to direct engagement with musicians, luthiers, composers and interactive artists of different kinds".

Comment: The world of classical music is moving into the future with more instruments being re-designed: Gergely Bogányi's classical piano makeover


Solar system-wide climate change: Bizarre bulge discovered on Jupiter moon Ganymede

A bizarre bulge approximately half as tall as Mount Kilimanjaro has been found on Ganymede, the largest moon in the solar system, and the unusual feature may have something to do with the subsurface ocean recently discovered on the Jovian satellite, according to reports.

The bulge is approximately 375 miles wide and nearly two miles tall, io9 said on Friday, and its cause and purpose currently have astronomers puzzled. Paul Schenk, a planetary scientist at the Lunar and Planetary Institute in Houston, said he came across the feature by accident.

Schenk, who reported his findings at the Lunar and Planetary Science Conference on March 20, explained to National Geographic that he was attempting to complete the global mapping of the moon's surface when he spotted the lump, which appears to be made out of thick ice.

The feature suggests that at one time, Ganymede's icy shell rotated atop the rest of the moon. Schenk believes that the bulge began growing at one of the poles, and then moved into a different position once its mass grew large enough. The shell slid atop the ocean, while the interior of the moon stayed in the same orientation, causing it to wind up at the equator.


Top ten breathtaking pictures of Mars from orbit

© NASA / JPL-Caltech / University of Arizona
Hematite in Capri Chasma
Mars exploration isn't all about Curiosity and Opportunity rovers. NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter has snapped loads of beautiful hi-resolution images of the red planet's surface since 2006.

The spacecraft, which is operated by the University of Arizona, is equipped with a $40 million HiRISE (High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment) camera.

The device is the largest aperture reflecting telescope ever sent on a space mission, and is capable of taking 0.3 megapixel pictures.

Mars is known as the red planet, but the HiRISE images have been enhanced by 'false coloring,' which helps scientists track changes on the planet's surface.


Made in Canada: Maple Syrup to digital killing machines

The Canadian army has actually made the gun from Halo
Of all the many things our country is known for producing - maple syrup, hockey stars, ketchup chips, snow — "firearms" have never really been associated with Canadian innovation.
Unless you include the article by H.P. Albarelli Jr. as he writes 'Who killed Gerald Victor Bull? Mystery still shrouds murder of American who helped arm Iraq'.
In many ways, Bull's story reads like a Tom Clancy novel gone amok. It is replete with enough codenames, secret and double agents, arms dealers, exotic weapons and strange deaths to split the seams of any conspiracy pinata.
Canada did not invent the gun, nor do its citizens even have the constitutional right to carry one without a license, proper training and a thorough background check.

So why is Canada being credited this week for shaping "the future of firearms?"

Because it appears to be true, that's why.


Animals CAN predict earthquakes: Scientists video behavioural changes as seismic activity increases


For the first time, scientists have filmed the behaviour of wild animals in Peru prior to a quake and believe their study could help improve short-term seismic forecasting. This still shows a Razor-billed curassow
For centuries there have been accounts of animals behaving bizarrely before earthquakes.

Now, for the first time, scientists have filmed the behaviour of wild animals prior to a quake and believe their study could help improve short-term seismic forecasting.

They found that animals in Peru - such as pumas and razor-billed curassow birds - ran for cover days before the event.

Researchers believe that the changes in behaviour may be linked to airborne ions.


Freedom in the clouds: Russia unveils Flying House project

Russian designers have presented a visual concept of a state-of-the-art house which they claim will be capable of flying.

A visual concept of a sophisticated new home which will be capable of floating through the air has been showcased by Russian designers, who claim that the house can also be used as a summer cottage and a small airship, media reports said.

The Freedom house, which has first and foremost been designed for so-called citizens of the world, can be installed almost anywhere on our planet — in the woods, at sea, on the coast, in the mountains, and in an urban area, according to Dmitry Ulitin and Anstasiya Taratuta of the design studio

The owner of this house will be able to make him or herself at home while soaring through the clouds, a dream that now may finally come true.