Science & Technology

Comet 2

Crowded skies: Joint Japanese-Chinese meteor observation satellite launched from ISS

Kimiya Yui conducted the mission on Thursday, Japan time. The satellite, measuring roughly 30 centimeters across, was developed by a Japanese university team led by the China Institute of Technology. It is designed to observe the meteor phenomenon, when dust in space glows like stars as it enters the Earth's atmosphere.

The one-year mission is aimed at finding out whether the dust contains elements pertaining to the origin of life.

Workers at the Tsukuba Space Center of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency applauded when Yui pressed a button on the ISS to release the satellite.

Comment: You know it's getting busy up there when space agencies send up satellites to investigate...

Mr. Potato

In the future, music will be played through your skull — not your ears


According to its designers, the device allows wearers to listen to music without using earphones.
Tangled headphone cables and having to listen to other people's poor music choice through their shoddy earphones are two perennial problems facing busy commuters. Now, a design company claims to have solved these first-world woes, by creating a device that plays music through your skull instead.

Design company Studio Banana Things, which has offices in Lausanne, London and Madrid, launched a funding page for the device—called the Batband—on crowdfunding site Kickstarter. Ten days in, they have raised more than $250,000, smashing their $150,000 goal.

The Batband, which is available for preorder at 95.00 ($149), sits around the back of the wearer's head and has no earphones. Instead, three transducersone either side of the head and one at the backemit sound waves that are conducted via the skull into the inner ear. The device can be paired with a smartphone or music player via Bluetooth and has touch sensors that allow wearers to take calls or change tracks.


Mysterious energy bursts provide new way to chart the cosmos in 3-D

© Keith Vanderlinde
A lone meteor pierces the night above the Canadian Hydrogen Intensity Mapping Experiment (CHIME) pathfinder radio telescope at the Dominion Radio Astrophysical Observatory in Penticton, Canada.
If only calculating the distance between Earth and far-off galaxies was as easy as pulling out the old measuring tape. Now University of British Columbia (UBC) researchers are proposing a new way to calculate distances in the cosmos using mysterious bursts of energy.

In a study just featured in the journal Physical Review Letters, UBC researchers propose a new way to calculate cosmological distances using the bursts of energy also known as fast radio bursts. The method allows researchers to position distant galaxies in three dimensions and map out the cosmos.

"We've introduced the idea of using these new phenomena to study cosmological objects in the universe," said Kiyoshi Masui, a postdoctoral fellow at UBC and a global scholar with the Canadian Institute for Advanced Research. "We believe we'll be able to use these flashes to put together a picture of how galaxies are spread through space."

Some unknown astrophysical phenomenon is causing these bursts of energy that appear as a short flashes of radio waves. While only ten fast radio bursts have ever been recorded, scientists believe there could be thousands of them a day.

Monkey Wrench

Spermatogenesis: Scientists claim they have grown human sperm in the lab


Potential benefits for infertile men and young cancer patients, as French team say in vitro cells look like the real thing
Human sperm cells have been made in the laboratory for the first time by culturing immature cells taken from the testes of infertile men. The breakthrough promises to help young boys made sterile by cancer treatments and adult men who cannot make their own sperm, scientists have claimed.

The sperm cells made in an artificial "bioreactor" look identical to those produced naturally. The technology could be used in two to four years to help infertile men have their own biological children, according to researchers based at a French national research institute in Lyon.

Cloud Lightning

Electric Universe: Astronaut aboard ISS captures first video of an enormous burst of electrical discharge known as a 'blue jet'

Astronaut Andreas Mogensen caught a rare glimpse of a blue jet over India while aboard the ISS.
From the large bay windows surrounding the International Space Station's glass-enclosed cupola, Danish astronaut Andreas Mogensen caught an electric sight never before captured from space: a giant blue burst of optical activity — called a blue jet — radiating from a thunderstorm over India.

Capturing this beautiful upper atmospheric phenomenon ended up being the highlight of Mogensen's mission aboard the ISS. This was the first time a blue jet has ever been recorded from space.

People have been speculating about these "rocket-like" emissions from the tops of thunderclouds for over a century, but it wasn't until 1995 that scientists confirmed their existence after capturing a glimpse of these ejections while flying through a thunderstorm over Arkansas.

Blue jets, along with red sprites — a similar but distinct phenomena recently spotted in an image taken from the ISS — are enormous bursts of electrical discharge spiking upward from storm clouds in the upper atmosphere.

Blue jets emerge from the electrically-charged cores of thunderstorms and can spear 25 to 30 miles upwards in the shape of a cone.

To get a better look of the jet in action, check out this slowed-down version of the video.

Comment: More increased electrical activity manifesting. When scientists begin to embrace the winning Electric Universe theory, it will improve their grasp on the "basic physics of what causes lightning"; and they need not be 'puzzled' by the 'bright spots' on Ceres, facts from the Rosetta mission won't be so 'surprising' and the alignment of quasars won't seem so 'spooky'.

The Electric Universe model is clearly explained, with a lot more relevant information, in the book Earth Changes and the Human Cosmic Connection by Pierre Lescaudron and Laura Knight-Jadczyk.

Evil Rays

Sonogenetics: Researchers use ultrasound to activate brain, heart and muscle cells

© Manuel Zimmer
Scientists have bred worms with genetically modified nervous systems that can be controlled by bursts of sound waves.

The tiny nematodes change direction the moment they are blasted with sonic pulses that are too high-pitched for humans to hear.

The pulses work by switching on motor neuron cells that are genetically modified to carry membrane channels that respond to ultrasonic waves.

Researchers said the worms demonstrate the power of a new procedure, dubbed sonogenetics, in which ultrasound can be used to activate a range of brain, heart and muscle cells from outside the body.

Comment: One could deduce from this study that sound (music and speech) can influence behavior.


Epic night sky event: Rare supermoon lunar eclipse

© Maxwell Palau/StarDude Astronomy
Astrophotographer Maxwell Palau captured this view of a total lunar eclipse from San Diego, California, on Oct. 8, 2014.
Editor's note: To find out more about the rare supermoon lunar eclipse of Sept. 27-28 and how to see it, visit: Supermoon Lunar Eclipse 2015: Full 'Blood Moon' Coverage.

This month's highly anticipated "supermoon eclipse" may be a magical treat for skywatchers, but there's nothing supernatural about the event.

On Sept. 27, skywatchers throughout North and South America, Europe, Africa, western Asia and the eastern Pacific Ocean region will witness a total eclipse that happens to occur when the moon looks abnormally large and bright in Earth's sky. It will be the first supermoon eclipse since 1982, and the last until 2033.

This rare celestial phenomenon has its roots in the moon's elliptical orbit around Earth.


Scientists call for total ban on microbeads: 8 trillion wind up in aquatic habitats daily in U.S. alone

© 5Gyres, courtesy of Oregon State University
Scientists are calling for a total ban on microbeads -- the tiny plastic pieces used in soap, toothpaste and face wash for exfoliation -- after an analysis estimated that 8 trillion of the beads wind up in aquatic habitats every day in the U.S. alone.

That's enough to cover more than 300 tennis courts every day, according to a scientific opinion article published this month in the journal Environmental Science & Technology.

"We're facing a plastic crisis and don't even know it," co-author Stephanie Green, a conservation research fellow at the College of Science at Oregon State University, said in a statement. Wastewater treatment plants, she said, simply weren't designed to handle microbeads, which she describes as "very durable."

Why are these beads such a big deal? It takes so long for plastic to break down that they stick around "virtually forever," according to the Wildlife Conservation Society's John F. Calvelli. The beads look like tasty snacks to fish, amphibians and other aquatic life, but due to some of the chemicals used to manufacture them, as well as the pollutants they absorb in the water, they are toxic to consume.

Comment: Microbeads are highly potent concentrators of toxins. Tiny marine creatures often mistake these particles for food, and when these creatures are eaten by other fish the chemicals then bio-magnify up the food chain. Top predators such as tuna and swordfish, which are consumed by humans, thus have high concentrations of these toxic microbeads.

Comet 2

Planetary detectives may have spotted massive cloud of comets orbiting distant star

A crowdsourced group of planetary detectives may have spotted a massive cloud of comets orbiting a distant star.

NASA's exoplanet-hunting Kepler space telescope spent four years carefully watching the same patch of sky, looking for any stars that dipped in brightness. These dips happen when an orbiting planet crosses in front of the star, and measuring their size and timing provides astronomers with data about the planet.

Most Kepler data is processed automatically by algorithms looking for repeating patterns, but a website called Planet Hunters lets citizen scientists inspect the data by eye in an effort to spot anything unusual.

Data from one star, known as KIC 8462852, was so strange that people started labelling it "bizarre" and "curious". Orbiting planets block their stars' light for a few hours or days at regular intervals that correspond to the duration of their orbit. But this star seemed to have two small dips in 2009, a large, weirdly asymmetric dip lasting a week in 2011 and a series of many dips during three months in 2013, some reducing the brightness of the star by as much as 20 per cent.


Australian student develops new ion space drive: Beats NASA's fuel efficiency record

Space engines might soon become far more resourceful: An Australian PhD student has claimed to have beaten NASA's fuel efficiency record and developed a new type of ion space drive that can use a variety of metals, even those found in space junk, as fuel.

University of Sydney doctoral candidate in Physics, Paddy Neumann, has developed a "new kind of ion space drive" that outperforms NASA's in fuel efficiency, according to student newspaper Honi Soit. While Neumann's technology is not that efficient in acceleration, it could potentially be used for the transportation of cargo over long distances in space.

The research, which is yet to be published in a peer-reviewed magazine, so far has been presented as a record breaking invention.

"The current record, held by NASA's HiPEP system, allows 9600 (+/- 200) seconds of specific impulse," the newspaper wrote. "However, results recorded by the Neumann Drive have been as high as 14,690 (+/- 2000), with even conservative results performing well above NASA's best."

NASA's variation of the ion thruster (High Power Electric Propulsion, or HiPEP) was ground-tested in 2003 and was intended to be used on a mission of Jupiter Icy Moons Orbiter, that was canceled in 2005.

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