Science & Technology


SOTT Exclusive: Time Travelling Into the Dark Ages

The Time Machine

The Time Traveller (for so it will be convenient to speak of him) was expounding a recondite matter to us. His grey eyes shone and twinkled, and his usually pale face was flushed and animated. The fire burned brightly, and the soft radiance of the incandescent lights in the lilies of silver caught the bubbles that flashed and passed in our glasses. Our chairs, being his patents, embraced and caressed us rather than submitted to be sat upon, and there was that luxurious after-dinner atmosphere when thought roams gracefully free of the trammels of precision. And he put it to us in this way--marking the points with a lean forefinger--as we sat and lazily admired his earnestness over this new paradox (as we thought it) and his fecundity.

'You must follow me carefully. I shall have to controvert one or two ideas that are almost universally accepted. The geometry, for instance, they taught you at school is founded on a misconception.'

'Is not that rather a large thing to expect us to begin upon?' said Filby, an argumentative person with red hair.

'I do not mean to ask you to accept anything without reasonable ground for it. You will soon admit as much as I need from you. You know of course that a mathematical line, a line of thickness nil, has no real existence. They taught you that? Neither has a mathematical plane. These things are mere abstractions.'

'That is all right,' said the Psychologist.
H.G. Wells, The Time Machine

That is how H.G. Wells' starts his story about time travelers. As it happens, certain Physicists today have controverted not one or two but dozens of ideas that are almost universally accepted, the result being that a layman is left with no clues at all about what is serious and what is just another weird and sensational speculation. I would like to bring some rationality to this exciting topic.

NASA Recruiting Volunteers For Out Of This World Jobs

Only 12 human beings have set foot on the moon. You could be the thirteenth ... if you make the cut. NASA's current recruiting effort for a new class of astronaut candidates specifies that the International Space Station and the return to the moon are part of the agency's goals, and this class will be the first to be trained to achieve them.

Men moon
Only 12 humans have walked on the moon, and NASA is currently looking for astronaut candidates who will have the opportunity to build a base there.

Still Grinding After All These Years Makes For Much "Opportunity"

With only about a month remaining before Opportunity's fourth anniversary (in Earth years) of Mars exploration, NASA's robotic geologist is still grinding into the surface of rocks to unlock the secrets of their interior chemistry.

Meanwhile, fall arrived in the southern hemisphere of Mars on Dec. 9, 2007, Opportunity's 1,378th Martian day, or sol, of exploration of the Red Planet. Ten days later, Earth made its closest approach to Mars, coming within 88 million kilometers (54.8 million miles).

Opportunity used the rock abrasion tool to bore a shallow hole into a rock target known as "Lyell_1" and then spent about 70 hours integrating data about iron minerals inside the rock using the Moessbauer spectrometer.

Mars grinding
A recent rock grind preformed on Sol 1351

Boston University Astronomers Map Full Extent Of Mercury's Comet-Like Tail

Boston University astronomers released new images of Mercury that capture both the source regions of and, for the first time, the extraordinary length of the planet's comet-like tail. Earlier research had mapped-out Mercury's sodium gas tail to approximately 40,000 kilometers, but planetary scientists from BU's Center for Space Physics (CSP) have found that the tail can extend more than 2.5 million kilometers, or 1.5 million miles, from the planet.

mercury comet like tail
©Center for Space Physics, Boston University
Mercury's tail of sodium gas captured by a wide-angle telescope showing an enormous extent of the atoms escaping from the planet's surface. The insert shows the source regions of the tail gases imaged at a different time using a very narrow field of view telescope. The source regions occur at high latitudes, probably related to solar wind access to Mercury's surface along specific magnetic field lines. The impacts of the solar wind ions and electrons result in sputtering sodium from the surface. Since Mercury is close to the Sun, the sputtered atoms are pushed away by the pressure of light, with this photon radiation pressure leading to the long tail. The brightness of the source regions is about 1 million times greater than the faintest part of the distant tail. The sizes of the source regions span about 1/2 of the planet's radius, while the tail extends to about 1500 times the radius of the planet, about 1.5 million miles.

Neural Basis Of 'Number Sense' In Young Infants

Behavioral experiments indicate that infants aged 4½ months or older possess an early "number sense" that allows them to detect changes in the number of objects. However, the neural basis of this ability was previously unknown.

In new research, Véronique Izard, Ghislaine Dehaene-Lambertz, and Stanislas Dehaene provide brain imaging evidence showing that very young infants are sensitive to both the number and identity of objects, and these pieces of information are processed by distinct neural pathways.

The authors recorded the electrical activity evoked by the brain on the surface of the scalp as 3-months-old infants were watching images of objects. The number or identity of objects occasionally changed.

cerebral pathways
©Izard V, Dehaene-Lambertz G, Dehaene S
Distinct cerebral pathways for object identity and number have been identified in the brain of human infants.

Listening For The Cosmic Symphony: Supercomputer Will Help Scientists Listen For Black Holes

Scientists hope that a new supercomputer being built by Syracuse University's Department of Physics may help them identify the sound of a celestial black hole. The supercomputer, dubbed SUGAR (SU Gravitational and Relativity Cluster), will soon receive massive amounts of data from the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) that was collected over a two-year period at the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave

Duncan Brown, assistant professor of physics and member of SU's Gravitational Wave Group, is assembling SUGAR. The department's Gravitational Wave Group is also part of the LIGO Scientific Collaboration (LSC), a worldwide initiative to detect gravitational waves. Brown worked on the LIGO project at Caltech before coming to SU last August.

keplers supernova remnant
©NASA, ESA, R. Sankrit and W. Blair (Johns Hopkins University)
Kepler's supernova remnant. Gravitational waves are produced by violent events in the distant universe, such as the collision of black holes or explosions of supernovas. The waves radiate across the universe at the speed of light.

Birds, Bats And Insects Hold Secrets For Aerospace Engineers

Hummingbird and flower
©Stockphoto/Steve Byland
Flapping flight is inherently unsteady, but that's why it works so well. Birds, bats and insects fly in a messy environment full of gusts traveling at speeds similar to their own. Yet they can react almost instantaneously and adapt with their flexible wings.

Natural flyers like birds, bats and insects outperform man-made aircraft in aerobatics and efficiency. University of Michigan engineers are studying these animals as a step toward designing flapping-wing planes with wingspans smaller than a deck of playing cards.

Tooth scan reveals Neanderthal mobility

ATHENS - Analysis of a 40,000-year-old tooth found in southern Greece suggests Neanderthals were more mobile than once thought, paleontologists said Friday.

Analysis of the tooth - part of the first and only Neanderthal remains found in Greece - showed the ancient human had spent at least part of its life away from the area where it died.
Monkey Wrench

Futuristic toy car runs on tap water

The new hydrogen fuel cell powered radio controlled car from Corgi

A remote-control car produced by the toymaker Corgi is the first household item to be powered by hydrogen fuel cell technology.
Evil Rays

Beatles space broadcast 'risks alien attack'

Fears that malevolent aliens will tune into this week's broadcast of The Beatles' song "Across the Universe" have been voiced by scientists.

The transmission raises questions about what we would want aliens to learn about our world