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Sun, 21 Apr 2019
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SpaceX contracted by NASA to attempt to 'redirect' asteroid

© Pixabay

Despite an admission last year that it may be impossible to stop the 8.8 ton asteroid
Bennu from annihilating life on Earth, the perennial optimists at NASA have nevertheless granted SpaceX a $69 million contract to assist in the Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART), intended to save Earth from interstellar armageddon. The test, tentatively scheduled for June 2021, will have Elon's Musketeers crashing a kinetic impactor - in this case, a spacecraft equipped with cameras and solar panels - into a small moonlet accompanying Didymos, an 800-meter-long near-Earth asteroid. NASA notes that the moonlet, dubbed "Didymoon" by scientists, "is more typical of the size of asteroids that could pose a more common hazard to Earth" than its massive chaperone.

The goal, NASA says, is to launch the DART spacecraft atop a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket that will then make its way to Didymos and Didymoon to attempt to alter the latter's trajectory in a rehearsal for what could one day be a high-stakes game of cosmic bumper cars. "By using solar electric propulsion," NASA says, "DART will intercept the asteroid Didymos' small moon in October 2022, when the asteroid will be within 11 million kilometers of Earth." Meanwhile, Earthlings will watch with bated breath.

"The collision will change the speed of the moonlet in its orbit around the main body by a fraction of one percent," NASA promises, "enough to be measured using telescopes on Earth."


New device creates electricity from snowfall

Falling Snow
© Thom Holmes/Unsplash
UCLA researchers and colleagues have designed a new device that creates electricity from falling snow. The first of its kind, this device is inexpensive, small, thin and flexible like a sheet of plastic.

"The device can work in remote areas because it provides its own power and does not need batteries," said senior author Richard Kaner, who holds UCLA's Dr. Myung Ki Hong Endowed Chair in Materials Innovation. "It's a very clever device - a weather station that can tell you how much snow is falling, the direction the snow is falling, and the direction and speed of the wind."

The researchers call it a snow-based triboelectric nanogenerator, or snow TENG. A triboelectric nanogenerator, which generates charge through static electricity, produces energy from the exchange of electrons.

Findings about the device are published in the journal Nano Energy.

"Static electricity occurs from the interaction of one material that captures electrons and another that gives up electrons," said Kaner, who is also a distinguished professor of chemistry and biochemistry, and of materials science and engineering, and a member of the California NanoSystems Institute at UCLA. "You separate the charges and create electricity out of essentially nothing."


Bot-enabled interface between human brains and cloud storage is likely within decades

In not too many decades, where humans stop and the information superhighway begins will be impossible to determine.
Before the century is out, advances in nanotechnology, nanomedicine, AI, and computation will result in the development of a "Human Brain/Cloud Interface" (B/CI), that connects neurons and synapses in the brain to vast cloud-computing networks in real time.

That's the prediction of a large international team of neurosurgeons, roboticists, and nanotechnologists, writingin the journal Frontiers in Neuroscience.

A Human Brain/Cloud Interface, sometimes dubbed the "internet of thoughts", theoretically links brains and cloud-based data storage through the intercession of nanobots positioned at strategically useful neuronal junctions.

Instant access to information thus becomes possible without the need for external architecture such as computers and internet cables. Search and retrieval exercises will be initiated by thought patterns alone.

If ever fully realised the B/CI will far exceed the imaginative limits of early cyberpunk science fiction authors such as William Gibson, and lead to the realisation of many of the aims of the so-called post-human and cyborg movements.


Water that never freezes

lipid mesophase
© Peter Rüegg / ETH Zurich
Three-dimensional model of the novel lipid mesophase: This cubic motif is repeated regularly in the material.
Can water reach minus 263 degrees Celsius without turning into ice? Yes it can, say researchers from ETH Zurich and the University of Zurich, if it is confined in nanometre-scale lipid channels.

Making ice cubes is a simple process: you take a plastic ice-cube tray like you'd find in most households, fill it with water and put it in the freezer. Before long, the water crystallises and turns to ice.

If you were to analyse the structure of ice crystals, you'd see that the water molecules are arranged in regular 3-dimensional lattice structures. In water, by contrast, the molecules are unorganised, which is the reason that water flows.

Glassy water

Led by Professors Raffaele Mezzenga and Ehud Landau, a group of physicists and chemists from ETH Zurich and the University of Zurich have now identified an unusual way to prevent water from forming ice crystals, so even at extreme sub-zero temperatures it retains the amorphous characteristics of a liquid.


Elon Musk-linked scientists working on brain probes for DARPA

Musk brain probes
Last month a team of scientists affiliated with Elon Musk's Neuralink project published a paper identifying a new technique for inserting probes into brains. The study was published in a journal called BioRxiv, and according to Bloomberg, all five of its authors have been associated with Nueralink. It was noted at the end of the study that the research was funded through a DARPA Contract.

The team is developing this technique in hopes of building technology that is capable of monitoring brain activity. The study has been deemed "the 'sewing machine' for minimally invasive neural recording," since the technique works sort of like a sewing machine.

"Here, we demonstrate the feasibility and scalability of this approach with a system incorporating fine and flexible thin-film polymer probes, a fine and stiff insertion needle, and a robotic insertion machine. Together the system permits rapid and precise implantation of probes, each individually targeted to avoid observable vasculature and to attain diverse anatomical targets," the study says.

Comment: See also:

Ice Cube

Russia's Arctic drone sub to swim 10,000km under ice during trials

ice sky
© Global Look Press / Andrey Nekrasov
A secret Russian drone designed for long patrols of its Arctic waters will be ready for the first phase of sea trials in 2021, a top defense research official said. The non-nuclear sub is meant to stay underwater up to 3 months.

The Sarma project, which is overseen by Russia's state-owned Foundation for Advanced Research, was first confirmed to be in the works in 2018. Little is known about the future drone, except that it has been touted as an element of security for the Northern Sea Route - the 14,000km long maritime connection between northern Europe and the Pacific along Russia's Arctic coast.

Igor Denisov, the deputy head of the foundation responsible for physical and technical research, reported that the construction of the first demonstrator for the Sarma project will start in July this year while the first sea trials of the drone are planned in the White Sea in 2021.

Comment: If any country can do it, Russia likely can:


Scientists in China add human gene to Rhesus monkey DNA, making them smarter

Smart Apes
© Composite adapted from Pixabay images
The 2011 film Rise of the Planet of the Apes begins with concerned scientists attempting to cure Alzheimer's Disease with an experimental drug that they're testing on chimpanzees. Naturally, things spiral out of control, eventually leading to a super-intelligent chimps, a pandemic, and two sequels that deal with the dystopia that follows. Given that film made $481.8 million at the box office, you'd think that scientists in China - a country that has already given the world its first set of genetically-altered twins and at least 86 cases of testing CRISPR technology on humans, despite warnings from the global scientific community - would know that perhaps it's not a good idea to monkey about with primate brains.

Well, if you thought that, you're wrong. Scientists in China have successfully added Microcephalin (MCPH1) - a human gene responsible for fetal brain development - to the genome of 11 rhesus monkeys and it seems to be making them smarter. Yes, you read that correctly. According to the scientists, whose research was published in National Science Review, "the transgenic monkeys exhibited better short-term memory and shorter reaction time compared to the wild type controls in the delayed matching to sample task. The presented data represents the first attempt to experimentally interrogate the genetic basis of human brain origin using a transgenic monkey model, and it values the use of nonhuman primates in understanding human unique traits." According to MIT Technology Review, 11 embryonic monkeys were exposed to a virus carrying human MCPH1. The five that survived ended up with between two and five copies of the gene.


NASA shares stunning video showing the raw vastness and scale of space

Galaxy night sky
© REUTERS / Amr Abdallah Dalsh
NASA has clocked up numerous amazing technological feats of engineering and ingenuity for decades, but a recent video from the space agency shows just how much work they have cut out for them.

In just the last few years, NASA has provided some incredible perspectives on our own planet, including stunning images of some of the Earth's most majesticnatural phenomena.

Not content with studying our own backyard, the agency has beamed back photos and videos from Mars thanks to its now-deceased rover, not to mention orbiting far-flung asteroids to try and understand the origins of the universe itself.

In an attempt to explain the vastness of their field of study, NASA helpfully put together a short explainer video showcasing the mindblowing scale of the Milky Way galaxy.


The weakening of Earth's magnetic field has greatly accelerated, and it could have catastrophic implications for entire planet

planet Earth
Earth's magnetic field is getting significantly weaker, the magnetic north pole is shifting at an accelerating pace, and scientists readily admit that a sudden pole shift could potentially cause "trillions of dollars" in damage. Today, most of us take the protection provided by Earth's magnetic field completely for granted. It is essentially a colossal force field which surrounds our planet and makes life possible. And even with such protection, a giant solar storm could still potentially hit our planet and completely fry our power grid. But as our magnetic field continues to get weaker and weaker, even much smaller solar storms will have the potential to be cataclysmic. And once the magnetic field gets weak enough, we will be facing much bigger problems. As you will see below, if enough solar radiation starts reaching our planet none of us will survive.

Previously, scientists had told us that the magnetic field was weakening by about 5 percent every 100 years.

But now we are being told that data collected from the SWARM satellite indicate that the rate of decay is now 5 percent per decade...
It's well established that in modern times, the axial dipole component of Earth's main magnetic field is decreasing by approximately 5% per century. Recently, scientists using the SWARM satellite announced that their data indicate a decay rate ten times faster, or 5% per decade.

Comment: See also:


Israeli scientists print the world's first 3D heart

© Medical Xpress
A team of Israeli researchers has "printed" the world's first 3-D vascularized, engineered heart.

On Monday, a team of Tel Aviv University researchers revealed the heart, which was made using a patient's own cells and biological material. Until now, scientists have successfully printed only simple tissues without blood vessels.

"This is the first time anyone anywhere has successfully engineered and printed an entire heart replete with cells, blood vessels, ventricles and chambers," said Prof. Tal Dvir of TAU's School of Molecular Cell Biology and Biotechnology, Department of Materials Science and Engineering in the Center for Nanoscience and Nanotechnology, and the Sagol Center for Regenerative Biotechnology, who was the lead researcher for the study.

He worked with Prof. Assaf Shapira of TAU's Faculty of Life Sciences, and Nadav Moor, a doctoral student. Their research was published in Advanced Science.

Heart disease is the leading cause of death among both men and women in the United States. In Israel, it is the second largest cause of death (after cancer). In 2013, heart disease accounted for about 16% of the total number of deaths in Israel, according to the Health Ministry.