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Mon, 24 Apr 2017
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Science & Technology


Race for space: Amazon CEO selling $1B stock to fund space flights for wealthy travelers

© Isaiah J. Downing / Reuters
The Blue Origin New Shepard rocket booster
Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos said he is annually selling nearly $1 billion worth of the online retailer to finance his aerospace corporation Blue Origin, which aims to send wealthy travelers to space as early as next year.

"My business model right now for Blue Origin is I sell about a billion a year of Amazon stock, and I use it to fund Blue Origin. So, the business model for Blue Origin is very robust," Bezos said Wednesday at the annual US Space Symposium in Colorado.

Blue Origin initially planned to test 11-minute space rides with passengers this year, but that probably will not happen until 2018, according to the company's founder.


Circle of life: Sea snails feast on the carcasses of dead blue jellyfish

© jeffayliffe/Instagram
Eerie footage of sea snails feeding on the carcasses of dead blue jellyfish on a South African beach has gone viral, creeping out netizens the world over.

National Geographic photographer Keith Ladzinski posted the creepy alien-esque scene to the nature magazine's Instagram account on Wednesday.

In roughly 24 hours, the video has amassed over 540,000 likes and generated an animated discussion with more than 10,000 netizens commenting on the strange phenomenon.

In the post, Ladzinski explains that he happened upon the plough snails' feeding frenzy while travelling along South Africa's picturesque Garden Route, a stretch of coast along the southwest of the country.


Astronomers close in on first direct view of a supermassive black hole

© Getty Images
If Avery Broderick's wishes come true, the next 10 days will bring something new to humanity's view of the universe. For the first time, the University of Waterloo physicist says, there could be "visceral, direct evidence that there are monsters in the night."

The monsters Dr. Broderick has in mind are supermassive black holes: terrifying giants that lurk in the hearts of galaxies, including our own, where they can devour stars and interstellar gas like cosmic vacuum cleaners.

Fortunately, Earth is in no danger of encountering such a lethal entity. The nearest one is at least 25,000 light years away from our solar system's quiet celestial suburb. But astronomers have long known that something very dark and heavy is sitting at the galactic centre. Indirect evidence points to a black hole that is more than 30 times the sun's diameter and a staggering 4.3 million times the sun's mass. The extreme gravity of such a dense object would be enough to trap light as well as matter. Falling into it would be a one-way trip, even for a laser beam. (Hence the term "black hole.")

Microscope 1

Beyond designer babies: Epigenetic modification may be the next game-changer - but we would be wise to go slow

Horror, eager anticipation, and every sentiment in between swirl around the prospect of designer babies. The most recent spate of articles, TED Talks, and conferences about the subject has been triggered by the discovery, announced in 2015, of a potent new method for modifying DNA — the CRISPR/Cas9 pathway. Biologists are elated about its heady potential for precisely modifying the genomes of organisms ranging from plants and animals to, yes, humans themselves. But while they're elated, many of them are also wary because many of these modifications would be heritable; this innovation, they argue, may therefore warrant a moratorium so that societal and moral implications can be fully assessed.

Ongoing efforts at self-regulation among leading scientists in the field certainly deserve our respect and support. But what seems to have gone relatively unnoticed over the last decade is the development of a separate but equally potent pathway for genetically engineering — and thus redesigning — human bodies and minds: epigenetics. Over the coming decades, altering our kids' DNA may not be the most appealing way to proceed. In fact, if the cutting-edge field of epigenetics fulfills its promise, the hoopla over designer babies may end up being misplaced. "Designer adults," created through epigenetic modification, may instead be the real game-changer. In such a world, bioenhancement tools used by today's "body hackers" like Peter Thiel and Ray Kurzweil — transfusions of youthful blood, elaborate daily regimens of pills and potions — would seem as crude and quaint as the leeches of yesteryear.


Fern-inspired electrode could boost solar power by 3000 percent

Inspired by an American fern, researchers have developed a groundbreaking prototype that could be the answer to the storage challenge still holding solar back as a total energy solution.

Current solar cell on panels widely distributed to retailers offer a maximum of 16-25 percent efficiency rate. The best examples of traditional silicon solar cells top out at around 25 percent efficiency, whereas multi-junction cells have achieved more than 40 percent.

The new type of electrode created by RMIT University researchers could boost the capacity of existing integrable storage technologies by 3000 percent.

But the graphene-based prototype also opens a new path to the development of flexible thin film all-in-one solar capture and storage, bringing us one step closer to self-powering smart phones, laptops, cars and buildings.

The new electrode is designed to work with supercapacitors, which can charge and discharge power much faster than conventional batteries. Supercapacitors have been combined with solar, but their wider use as a storage solution is restricted because of their limited capacity.

RMIT's Professor Min Gu said the new design drew on nature's own genius solution to the challenge of filling a space in the most efficient way possible -- through intricate self-repeating patterns known as "fractals".


Miracle material can make seawater drinkable

© Mark Tipple / Getty Images
Water, water everywhere, but not a drop to drink? The Rime of the Ancient Mariner may soon be left redundant now that scientists have devised a sieve made of 'miracle material' graphene capable of removing salt molecules from seawater, rendering it safe to drink.

When it was discovered by Andre Geim and his colleague Konstantin Novoselov, physics professors working at Manchester University around 2004, graphene was hailed as a ground-breaking discovery, with the media calling it a "wonder material."

The Guardian once suggested it "could change the world" because theoretically the unique properties of the thinnest material on Earth could allow it to carry 1,000 times more electricity than copper and thus make it a replacement for silicon in computer chips.

Graphene is also thought to be 150 times stronger than the equivalent weight of steel, effectively making it the strongest-measured material in existence.

It is also as flexible as rubber and can stretch to more than 100 percent of its length.

It seemed, however, that no one could find a real everyday use for graphene - until now, that is.

Comment: New graphene-based filter could help manage global water crisis


Super SEALs' elite units to develop brain-stimulating technologies

© Halo Neuroscience
Using a product similar to this headset from Halo Neuroscience, the Navy SEAL community is conducting tests on neuro-stimulation technology.
At a conference near Washington, D.C., in February, the commander of all Navy special operations units made an unusual request to industry: Develop and demonstrate technologies that offer "cognitive enhancement" capabilities to boost his elite forces' mental and physical performance. "We plan on using that in mission enhancement," Rear Adm. Tim Szymanski said. "The performance piece is really critical to the life of our operators."

Szymanski expanded on his remarks in a brief interview later, saying he has his eye on a number of technologies, including pharmaceutical aids. But the results of one breakthrough involving the direct application of electrical stimulation to the brain have particularly caught his eye.

"In experiments, people who were watching these screens ... their ability to concentrate would fall off in about 20 minutes," Szymanski said. "But they did studies whereby a little bit of electrical stimulation was applied, and they were able to maintain the same peak performance for 20 hours."

Transcranial electrical stimulation was one of the technologies touted by then-Defense Secretary Ash Carter in July 2016 as part of his Defense Innovation Unit (Experimental), or DIUx, initiative. Since then, multiple SEAL units have begun actively testing the effectiveness of the technology, officials with Naval Special Warfare Command told Military.com

Comment: Super soldiers, expendable at all costs.


3 solar flares in 24hrs: Stunning images of sun eruptions

The sun has been snapped emitting three powerful blasts of radiation in recent days, causing some disruptions in the Earth's atmosphere. If strong enough, these solar events can interrupt GPS and communications signals around the world.

Solar flares are brief eruptions of intense high-energy radiation from the sun's surface. However, fear not, as "harmful radiation from a flare cannot pass through Earth's atmosphere to physically affect humans on the ground," NASA says.

The flares sprang from the surface of the sun on Sunday and Monday. Images of the phenomenon leaping out from the sun's surface were captured by NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory, which constantly watches our galaxy's glowing orb.


First ever discovery of Europe's cave fish

© Jasminca Behrmann-Godel
Fast evolver
Europe's first cavefish has been discovered by a cave diver in Germany.

The pale-coloured loach, shown above, is thought to have diverged from surface fish as glaciers from the last ice age receded some 16,000 to 20,000 years ago.

"Our first genetic studies, plus knowledge of the geological history of the region, suggest the cave loach population is amazingly young, certainly not older than 20,000 years," says Jasminca Behrmann-Godel at the University of Konstanz in Germany, who led the team that analysed the fish. "Despite this short time span, the fish show trademark adaptions to cave life compared with loaches from surface locations nearby, including a pale body colouration, much smaller eyes, plus larger nostrils and barbels."

It shows that adaptation to these subterranean habitats can be fast, and just a few thousand years might be enough for a fish to adapt to cave life, says Behrmann-Godel. "Cavefish could exist virtually everywhere in principle, and there's no good reason to expect long evolution times for them to adapt to cave environments," she says.

Cell Phone

Electrifying images of Wifi show the hidden world of EMF's

Using an Android app and long exposure photography designer, Luis Hernan was able to depict what Wifi actually looks like.
Do you ever wonder what the electromangetic fields (EMFs) that surround virtually every person carrying a mobile device with WiFi or data capability looks like? Well now, thanks to visual artist Luis Hernan, you can see this field — and it's electrically terrifying!

Every single day over 3.2 billion people access the internet to connect with others around the world or to find information, listen to music, watch videos, read books — you name it, and it's on the internet and everyone wants access to it. WiFi technology has certainly enhanced our lives in many ways, but has this access to instant information and connection come at a cost?

Because we can't see the frequencies of our WiFi devices, it's easy to overlook the potential harm they might be causing. If we could see them, would it make us think twice about how often we are using them? Using an Android app and long exposure photography designer, Luis Hernan was able to depict what this actually looks like.

Comment: As vivid and interesting as these pictures are, the signals that are emitted by cellphones, laptops, modems and cell towers disrupt the normal functioning of the human nervous system and have been shown to cause numerous health problems such as headaches, depression, brain fog, anxiety and in some cases, cancer.