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Sat, 27 Aug 2016
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NASA to launch 7-year mission to potential civilization-destroying asteroid "Bennu"

© NASA
Bennu
NASA is about to launch a $1 billion 7-year mission to probe asteroid Benny, which may carry the building blocks of organic life, but also has a chance of hitting Earth late in the next century.

"It may be destined to cause immense suffering and death," Dante Lauretta, professor of planetary science at Arizona University and the lead researcher on the OSIRIS-REx mission, told the Sunday Times.

Comment: Perhaps asteroid Bennu has "friends" that we haven't sighted yet.


Sun

Scientists design solar cell that produces burnable fuel from carbon dioxide and sunlight

© University of Illinois at Chicago/Jenny Fontaine
Simulated sunlight powers a solar cell that converts atmospheric carbon dioxide directly into syngas.
Researchers at the University of Illinois at Chicago have engineered a potentially game-changing solar cell that cheaply and efficiently converts atmospheric carbon dioxide directly into usable hydrocarbon fuel, using only sunlight for energy.

The finding is reported in the July 29 issue of Science and was funded by the National Science Foundation and the U.S. Department of Energy. A provisional patent application has been filed.

Unlike conventional solar cells, which convert sunlight into electricity that must be stored in heavy batteries, the new device essentially does the work of plants, converting atmospheric carbon dioxide into fuel, solving two crucial problems at once. A solar farm of such "artificial leaves" could remove significant amounts of carbon from the atmosphere and produce energy-dense fuel efficiently.

"The new solar cell is not photovoltaic -- it's photosynthetic," says Amin Salehi-Khojin, assistant professor of mechanical and industrial engineering at UIC and senior author on the study.

Jupiter

Roscosmos prepares to explore Jupiter's moon Ganymede

© Wikipedia
Russia's space agency Roscosmos intends to send an orbiter and a lander to Jupiter within the next 10 years.

The main goal of the project is to explore Jupiter's moon Ganymede for the existence of primitive life forms.


Galaxy

Galactic Eye of Horus discovered by Japanese students

© National Astronomical Observatory of Japan (NAOJ)
Eye of Horus in pseudo color. Enlarged image to the right. The yellow object at the center is a galaxy about 7 billion light-years away and bends the light from two background galaxies.
I don't know about you, but I've always secretly wanted to serendipitously discover something incredible in one of my lab courses. Well, some students in Japan got to experience just that. A group of astronomers and undergraduate students at the National Astronomical Observatory of Japan (NAOJ) in Tokyo found a unique galaxy system they dubbed the Eye of Horus.

Masayuki Tanaka (NAOJ) and several students were looking at images taken with the Hyper Suprime-Cam at the Subaru telescope when they found the odd-looking system.

Once Tanaka saw the warped light, he immediately recognized it as a strong gravitational lens — where a galaxy's gravity bends the light from a background galaxy. Strong lensing helps probe the distribution of matter around galaxies.

A closer look at the images showed one reddish ring and another with a blue tint. The two colors suggested that not just one but two galaxies were being lensed, something that's rarely observed. There are only a handful of systems like this currently known, but the distant galaxies haven't been measured because they're too faint.

Based on data from the Sloan Digital Sky Survey, light from the lensing galaxy takes 7 billion years to arrive at Earth. Astronomers conducted follow-up observations on the Magellan Telescope and confirmed that light from the background galaxies take 9 and 10.5 billion years, respectively. The data confirm that there are two galaxies at two different distances. They also show that one of the galaxies seems to be made of two distinct clumps, according to Kenneth Wong (NAOJ), which could indicate a pair of interacting galaxies.

With 300 nights of data, the Hyper-Suprime Cam's survey is the largest observing program ever approved at the Subaru Telescope. The survey, still in its early phases, hopes to address outstanding astrophysics questions about the nature of dark energy, how galaxies evolve, and when galaxies first started pumping out stars. The team expects to find about 10 more double-lensed galaxies in the survey.

The paper on the discovery was published in the July 25th issue of Astrophysical Journal Letters.

Jupiter

Jupiter's Great Red Spot is a heat pump

© www.davidreneke.com
The atmosphere above the gas giant's famous storm is hundreds of degrees hotter than anywhere else on the planet and scientists are on the case. Temperatures 500 miles above Jupiter's famed Great Red Spot are far warmer than anywhere else on the planet, raising suspicions that the massive storm is the mysterious energy source that is heating the giant planet's upper atmosphere.

Scientists have yet to understand why Jupiter's upper atmosphere is about the same temperature as Earth's though the planet is five times farther away from the sun. A new study points to the Great Red Spot, a gargantuan storm that astronomers have been watching with telescopes on Earth for more than 300 years, as the heat source.

Scientists used NASA's NASA Infrared Telescope Facility at the Mauna Kea Observatory in Hawaii to study Jupiter for nine hours in December 2012. They found a spike in temperatures over the Great Red Spot, a storm big enough to swallow three Earths that is the largest storm in the solar system.


Moon

Apollo astronauts experiencing higher rates of cardiovascular-related deaths from space radiation

Members of the successful Apollo space program are experiencing higher rates of cardiovascular problems that are thought to be caused by their exposure to deep space radiation, according to a Florida State University researcher.

In a new paper in Scientific Reports, FSU Dean of the College of Human Sciences and Professor Michael Delp explains that the men who traveled into deep space as part of the lunar missions were exposed to levels of galactic cosmic radiation that have not been experienced by any other astronauts or cosmonauts. That exposure is now manifesting itself as cardiovascular problems.

"We know very little about the effects of deep space radiation on human health, particularly on the cardiovascular system," Delp said. "This gives us the first glimpse into its adverse effects on humans."

Bulb

Microbes can now be used to turn sewage into clean water while generating enough electricity to power the process

© Jupiterimages/Getty
The usual way is a bit of a grind
A self-powered waste water treatment plant using microbes has just passed its biggest test, bringing household-level water recycling a step closer

They're miraculous in their own way, even if they don't quite turn water into wine. Personal water treatment plants could soon be recycling our waste water and producing energy on the side.

Last month, Boston-based Cambrian Innovation began field tests of what's known as a microbial fuel cell at the Naval Surface Warfare Center in Maryland. Called BioVolt, in one day it can convert 2250 litres of sewage into enough clean water for at least 15 people. Not only that, it generates the electricity to power itself - plus a bit left over.

This is a big deal, as conventional treatment plants guzzle energy - typically consuming 1.5 kilowatt-hours for every kilogram of pollutants removed. In the US, this amounts to a whopping 3 per cent of the total energy demand. If the plants could be self-powered, recycling our own waste water could become as commonplace as putting a solar panel on a roof.

Existing treatment plants use bacteria to metabolise the organic material in waste water. "There's lots of food for them, so they reproduce fast," says Cambrian chief technology officer Justin Buck. At the end of the process, the microbes can make up a third by weight of the leftovers to be disposed of. Before being put in landfill, this "microbe cake" itself needs to be heat-sterilised and chemically treated, which uses a lot of energy.

Info

One-third of American adults say they'd be 'enthusiastic' about having a microchip implanted in their brain to 'enhance their thinking power'

Over one-third of Americans would not only accept a microchip implant in their brain, but would be "enthusiastic" about the receiving the device to 'enhance their thinking power.'

Once the subject of dystopian science fiction novels, three emerging technologies served as a focal point for a new survey to glean the public's willingness to accept what many would call exceedingly invasive biomedical 'enhancements.'

Pew Research Center surveyed 4,726 adults — 47 of whom additionally agreed to participate in focus groups — to discern not only how well putative biomedical advancements might be received, but where the public stands on inherent ethical and moral questions arising from their use.

Given previous trepidations and warnings from government whistleblowers such technology could easily be employed for less than benevolent purposes, results proved a startling level of both acceptance and eagerness.

Powertool

Norway to build world's first ever floating tunnel underwater

© NPRA
The Norwegian coast may be beautiful but with more than a thousand fjords cutting into it, getting from one place to another often requires lengthy journeys.

Norway's Public Roads Administration (NPRA) has an ambitious plan to solve the problem by building the world's first floating submerged tunnel system about 30 meters (100ft) underwater.

The $25 billion project will allow vehicles to travel under the Norwegian Sea avoiding a 21-hour drive along the coastline.

Sherlock

New research finds dinosaurs may have suffered one-two punch of cometary impact and widespread volcanic eruptions

© Shutterstock/Esteban De Armas
By this point, it was already too late.
What killed the dinosaurs?

That was a mystery for decades; when I was a kid, there were tons of ideas but precious little evidence for any of them, making them little more than speculation. In the late 1970s and early '80s, though, the hypothesis was put forward that a giant asteroid or comet impact did the deed, and over the years evidence mounted.

The impact idea gained wide acceptance, but some details remained stubbornly difficult to explain with a single catastrophic event. Another idea that started gaining traction was that a series of huge and sustained volcanic eruptions occurred for a couple of hundred thousand years before the impact. These were no ordinary eruptions; they formed the Deccan Traps, a soul-crushingly huge region in India consisting of igneous rock layers more than two kilometers deep and covering an area of 500,000 square kilometers.

Half a million square kilometers. Yeah: huge.

This long-lasting eruption did ecological damage across the planet, weakening life and killing species. The clock was ticking on the dinosaurs and so many other species. When the impact came, their time was up.