Science & Technology


SpaceShipTwo's fatal crash not caused by rocket engine

crash SpaceShip2
Crash site of SpaceShipTwo, Mojave, CA
It wasn't SpaceShipTwo's hybrid rocket motor -- which was flying on Friday with a new type of fuel -- that caused the fatal crash, the head of the accident investigation agency said late Sunday. The ship's fuel tanks and its engine were recovered intact, indicating there was no explosion.

"They showed no signs of burn-through, no signs of being breached," Christopher Hart, acting chairman of the National Transportation and Safety Board, told reporters at the Mojave Air and Space Port in Mojave, Calif. Instead, data and video relayed from the ship show its hallmark safety feature -- a foldable tail section designed for easy re-entry into the atmosphere from space -- was deployed early.

"The engine burn was normal up until the extension of the feathers," said Hart. Normally, the feather system wouldn't be unlocked until the rocket-powered spaceship is moving about Mach 1.4, or 1.4 times faster than the speed of sound.

Instead, the co-pilot moved the lever from locked to unlock when the spaceship was traveling at about Mach 1, Hart said. "I'm not stating that this is the cause of the mishap," he added. "We have months and months of investigation to determine what the cause was."

In addition to the possibility of pilot error, Hart said the NTSB is looking a variety of other issues that may have caused or contributed to the accident, including training, spacecraft design and the safety culture at Virgin Galactic and Scaled Composites, which designed and manufactured the spaceship. "There is much more that we don't know and our investigation is far from over," Hart said.

Comment: Variable geometry rudders can be "feathered" (rotated up 90 degrees) to increase drag and control vehicle yaw (a twisting or oscillation of a moving ship or aircraft around a vertical axis). They also reduce heating from friction. At 70,000 feet the rudders are de-feathered into gliding configuration.

Deploying the feather system is in two steps: move the lever to unlock, then move the lever to deploy. The co-pilot did the first but not the second step which is why it is called an "uncommanded" deploy. While the unlock was performed early on, they are not saying it was a pilot error that caused the crash. It is more likely a system failure of the second step, a tragic flaw unknowable by the pilot. A more thorough investigation will determine the final word on this fatal tragedy. As a totally commercial venture, the National Transportation Safety Board is the one handling the investigation.


Investigating a triple star system in formation

© ESO/L. Calçada
Artist's impression showing the gas and dust surrounding the triple star system GG Tau.
An international team of astronomers, including researchers at the LAB (CNRS/Université de Bordeaux), IPAG (CNRS/Université Joseph Fourier Grenoble 1) and IRAM (CNRS/MPG/IGN), has carried out the most accurate study so far of the cocoon of gas and dust surrounding the GG Tau A system. By combining complementary observations at submillimeter (ALMA and IRAM) wavelengths with those at infrared (VLTI/ESO) wavelengths, the researchers were able to identify the complex dynamics at work in GG Tau. For the first time, they detected motion of matter showing that exoplanets can form not only around one of the members of this trio of young stars, but also much further out in the disc surrounding the three stars. These observational findings, published in the October 30 issue of the journal Nature, reveal a more complex story than originally thought.

Although recent observational discoveries have shown the existence of many planets orbiting double stars, their formation ran up against the problem of the gravitational instabilities caused by the binary nature of such stars.. Observations of young binary stars are still too scarce to provide a detailed picture of these processes. Until very recently, GG Tau A, located 450 light years from Earth in the constellation Taurus, was thought to be a binary system of two stars, Aa and Ab. However, recent infrared measurements carried out with the VLT and VLTI (ESO) instruments have shown that GG Tau A is in fact a triple star system: GG Tau Ab is itself a binary star. The central star Aa is far enough away from the Ab pair for it to be surrounded by a circumstellar disc, first observed in 2011 with the IRAM interferometer.

Around this triple star system the researchers have already identified a rotating disc of gas and dust, whose center is cleared by gravitational tidal effects. As the three stars orbit around one another, they create an unstable gravitational region called a cavity, through which matter can only travel before falling onto the central stars. Further away, where the outer ring of matter is located, the gravitational field is no longer disturbed, and the rotating matter can form a stable structure. The existence of a central cavity around GG Tau A, known since the 1990s thanks to observations with the IRAM interferometer, partially confirmed these theoretical predictions. In the 2000s, the presence of gas in the cavity was detected, but the precise dynamics of this gas, which is the key to understanding the accretion mechanisms giving rise to planets, remained largely unknown.
Fireball 5

Newly discovered asteroid 2014 UR116 may threaten Earth

Asteroid 2014 UR116
© Reuters/NASA
Moscow University's robotic telescope has discovered a massive asteroid that could potentially hit Earth in the future. If such a collision happens, the explosion would be 1,000 more powerful the Chelyabinsk meteorite explosion in 2013.

An automatic telescope installed in Russia's Caucasus Mountains, near the city of Kislovodsk, first spotted the newly discovered space rock, dubbed 2014 UR116. The asteroid is estimated to be 370 meters in diameter, which is bigger than the size of the notorious Apophis asteroid.

Once Russian astronomers saw the new space object, they passed the data to colleagues at the Minor Planet Center of the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory. That means many observatories around the world closely scrutinized 2014 UR116, which helped to calculate the object's preliminary orbit.

2014 UR116's orbit is fluctuating because it also passes close to Venus and Mars, and the gravitational pull of these planets can also influence the asteroid's trajectory.

When a meteorite exploded in the skies above the Russian city of Chelyabinsk in February 2013, the energy of the explosion was estimated to be equivalent to 300-500 kilotons of TNT. But the Chelyabinsk meteorite was relatively small, about 17 meters in diameter and it disintegrated with a blast at an altitude of over 20 kilometers.
Cell Phone

How hackers use radio waves and cell phones to steal protected data

radio waves
Computers housing the world's most sensitive data are usually "air-gapped" or isolated from the internet. They're also not connected to other systems that are internet-connected, and their Bluetooth feature is disabled, too. Sometimes, workers are not even allowed to bring mobile phones within range of the computers. All of this is done to keep important data out of the hands of remote hackers.

But these security measures may be futile in the face of a new technique researchers in Israel have developed for stealthily extracting sensitive data from isolated machines - using radio frequency signals and a mobile phone.

The attack recalls a method the NSA has been secretly using for at least six years to siphon data in a similar manner. An NSA catalogue of spy tools leaked online last year describes systems that use radio frequency signals to remotely siphon data from air-gapped machines using transceivers - a combination receiver and transmitter - attached to or embedded in the computer instead of a mobile phone. The spy agency has reportedly used the method in China, Russia and even Iran. But the exact technique for doing this has never been revealed.

The researchers in Israel make no claims that theirs is the method used by the NSA, but Dudu Mimran, chief technology officer at the Israeli lab behind the research, acknowledges that if student researchers have discovered a method for using radio signals to extract data from hard-to-reach systems, professionals with more experience and resources likely have discovered it, too.

Comment: It appears as if nothing is safe anymore.


The 'plasmoelectric effect': New mechanism discovered to convert light into electricity

plasmoelectric effect
© Credits: Amolf/Tremani
Artist's impression of the plasmoelectric effect. An ultrasensitive needle measures the voltage that arises if a laser illuminates a metal nanocircuit consisting of a square matrix of miniscule holes in a thin gold film.
Researchers from FOM Institute AMOLF and the California Institute of Technology have discovered a new method for the generation of electrical potentials using light. With the help of minutely sculpted metal nanocircuits they could effectively capture light and convert it into an electrical potential of 100 millivolt. The research results are published on 30 October in the journal Science.

The AMOLF-Caltech team, which has worked together for many years, calls the newly discovered effect the 'plasmoelectric effect'. Albert Polman, leader of the AMOLF part of the team: "This is an entirely new way of converting light into electricity. We have now demonstrated that an electrical voltage can be generated; the next step is to see whether we can also collect electrical current and generate electrical power."

Small particles of precious metals such as copper, silver and gold are known to emit colourful spectrums if they are illuminated. A well-known example is stained-glass windows in old churches in which the colours are formed by small metal nanoparticles that have been enclosed in the glass. The light that shines on these particles is converted into plasmons: oscillations of the free electrons in the metal. That results in strong absorption and diffraction of certain colours of light.
Evil Rays

Ultracold disappearing act: 'Matter waves' move through one another but never share space

© Credit: Jeff Fitlow/Rice University
Physicists (from left) De Luo, Jason Nguyen and Randy Hulet observed a strange disappearing act during collisions between forms of Bose Einstein condensates called solitons. In some cases, the colliding clumps of matter appear to keep their distance even as they pass through each other.
A disappearing act was the last thing Rice University physicist Randy Hulet expected to see in his ultracold atomic experiments, but that is what he and his students produced by colliding pairs of Bose Einstein condensates (BECs) that were prepared in special states called solitons.

Hulet's team documented the strange phenomenon in a new study published online this week in the journal Nature Physics.

BECs are clumps of a few hundred thousand lithium atoms that are cooled to within one-millionth of a degree above absolute zero, a temperature so cold that the atoms march in lockstep and act as a single "matter wave." Solitons are waves that do not diminish, flatten out or change shape as they move through space. To form solitons, Hulet's team coaxed the BECs into a configuration where the attractive forces between lithium atoms perfectly balance the quantum pressure that tends to spread them out..

The researchers expected to observe the property that a pair of colliding solitons would pass though one another without slowing down or changing shape. However, they found that in certain collisions, the solitons approached one another, maintained a minimum gap between themselves, and then appeared to bounce away from the collision.

"You never see them together," said Hulet, Rice's Fayez Sarofim Professor of Physics and Astronomy. "There is always a hole, a gap that they must jump over. They pass through one another, but they never occupy the same space while they're doing that.

"It happens because of 'wave packet' interference," he said. "Think of them as waves that can have a positive or negative amplitude. One of the solitons is positive and the other is negative, so they cancel one another. The probability of them being in the spot where they meet is zero. They pass through that spot, but you never see them there."

China unveils "laser to shoot down low-flying drones"

A remote controlled drone
China has developed a highly accurate laser weapon system that can shoot down light drones at low altitude, state media reported.

The machine has a two-kilometre range and can bring down "various small aircraft" within five seconds of locating its target, the official Xinhua news agency said, citing a statement by the China Academy of Engineering Physics (CAEP), one of the developers.

Xinhua showed pictures of large metal boxes in camouflage paint and the wreckage of a small drone, some of it burning.

It is expected to "play a key role in ensuring security during major events in urban areas" and address concerns on unlicensed mapping activities, according to Xinhua.

It is effective up to a maximum altitude of 500 metres and against aircraft flying at up to 50 metres per second (112 mph), Xinhua said.

Scientists explain why your dog kicks when you scratch his belly

dog belly rub
It's called the sweet spot. That perfect place on your dog's belly or sides that, when scratched, causes your pet's foot to go into crazy automatic kicking mode. Every dog owner knows where to find this magical region on his or her canine, as it usually offers up unmitigated joy.

As delightful as this puppy kicking is to watch, this reaction is actually a means of self-protection for your pet. It's called the scratch reflex, and it's an involuntary response that exists to keep your dog safe from dangerous bugs or irritants.
Pocket Knife

US scientists spy on human minds with brain decoder

brain scanning
© Reuters / Michaela Rehle
Keeping your thoughts strictly to yourself may soon prove infeasible, with scientists working on a break-through, mind-reading device. The idea is to help people who are physically unable to interact with the outside world.

In fact, it's all about hearing "inner voices" and correctly interpreting them with the help of unique individual decoders, a researcher from the University of California, Berkley, explained.

"If you're reading text in a newspaper or a book, you hear a voice in your own head. We're trying to decode the brain activity related to that voice to create a medical prosthesis that can allow someone who is paralyzed or locked in to speak," Brian Pasley told New Scientist magazine.

The team of researchers recorded brain activity in seven people undergoing epilepsy surgery, while they looked at a screen displaying texts from either one of the best-known speeches in US history: the Gettysburg Address by President Abraham Lincoln, or John F. Kennedy's inaugural address.

Comment: It is any body's guess how this type of technology will be used in the world controlled by Psychopaths who spy on every thing they seem fit for their plunder.


More BRICS Space success: China completes first mission to moon and back

© Credit: NASA
This is a composite image of the lunar nearside taken by the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter in June 2009, note the presence of dark areas of maria on this side of the moon.
China completed its first return mission to the moon early Saturday with the successful re-entry and landing of an unmanned probe, state media reported, in the latest step forward for Beijing's ambitious space programme.

The probe landed safely in northern China's Inner Mongolia region, state news agency Xinhua said, citing the Beijing Aerospace Control Center.

Xinhua said the probe took "some incredible pictures" of the Earth and the moon.

Prior to re-entering the Earth's atmosphere, the unnamed probe was travelling at 11.2 kilometres per second (25,000 miles per hour), a speed that can generate temperatures of more than 1,500 degrees Celsius (2,700 degrees Fahrenheit), the news agency reported.

To slow it down, scientists let the craft "bounce" off Earth's atmosphere before re-entering again and landing.

The probe's mission was to travel to the moon, fly around it and head back to Earth, the State Administration of Science, Technology and Industry for National Defence (SASTIND) said in a statement at its launch eight days ago.

Comment: The success of Beijing's ambitious space programme, together with India, their BRICS ally (Indias maiden Mars mission successful) is in direct contrast to their Western counterparts; who have suffered various anomalies recently, in a shockingly bad week for their space dominance:

Virgin Galactic Space Ship Two destroyed after in flight anomaly

Antares rocket explosion: A "vehicle anomaly", a deliberate destruction, or something else?

NASA rocket bound for International Space Station explodes just seconds after takeoff