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Sat, 19 Aug 2017
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Magnet

Mighty Mouse takes off - thanks to magnets

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© NASA JPL
It's hard to tell from this angle, but this mouse is floating in the air, thanks to a super-strong magnetic field.
With the aid of a strong magnetic field, mice have been made to levitate for hours at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California. The floating rodents could provide a valuable insight into how astronauts are affected by extended spells in zero gravity.

Strawberries and frogs have previously been levitated using the same method. It works because a strong magnetic field distorts the movement of electrons in water molecules, which in turn produces a magnetic field that opposes the one applied. The net result is a repulsive effect which, if suitably oriented and strong enough, can overcome the pull of gravity.

Yuanming Liu and colleagues at JPL in Pasadena, California, used a purpose-built levitation device containing a coil of wire, or solenoid, cooled to a few degrees above absolute zero so that it became superconducting. Running a current through the solenoid creates a magnetic field of 17 teslas, about 300,000 times that of the Earth.

Pharoah

Egyptian temples followed heavenly plans

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© Hisham Ibrahim / Getty
The Karnak temple in Luxor was laid out to coordinate with astronomical events.
Ancient Egyptian temples were aligned so precisely with astronomical events that people could set their political, economic and religious calendars by them. So finds a study of 650 temples, some dating back to 3000 BC.

For example, New Year coincided with the moment that the winter-solstice sun hit the central sanctuary of the Karnak temple in present-day Luxor, says archaeological astronomer Juan Belmonte of the Canaries Astrophysical Institute in Tenerife, Spain.

Hieroglyphs on temple walls have hinted at the use of astronomy in temple architecture, including depictions of the "stretching of the cord" ceremony in which the pharaoh marked out the alignment for the temple with string. But there had been little evidence to support the drawings. Belmonte and Mosalam Shaltout of the Helwan Observatory in Cairo found that the temples are all aligned according to an astronomically significant event, such as a solstice or equinox, or the rising of Sirius, the brightest star in the sky (Advances in Space Research, DOI: link).

Sun

Are Sunspots Disappearing?

The sun is in the pits of the deepest solar minimum in nearly a century. Weeks and sometimes whole months go by without even a single tiny sunspot. The quiet has dragged out for more than two years, prompting some observers to wonder, are sunspots disappearing?

"Personally, I'm betting that sunspots are coming back," says researcher Matt Penn of the National Solar Observatory (NSO) in Tucson, Arizona. But, he allows, "there is some evidence that they won't."

Penn's colleague Bill Livingston of the NSO has been measuring the magnetic fields of sunspots for the past 17 years, and he has found a remarkable trend. Sunspot magnetism is on the decline:
© NASA
Sunspot magnetic fields measured by Livingston and Penn from 1992 - Feb. 2009 using an infrared Zeeman splitting technique.

Light Saber

Airborne laser ready for flight tests

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© Russ Underwood, Lockheed Martin
The US military's missile-defence laser is taking to the air for its first full-power try-out.
It should be the moment of truth for the Airborne Laser (ABL). In the coming months, the multibillion-dollar laser built into a customised Boeing 747 will try to shoot a ballistic missile as it rises above the clouds.

Don't expect instant reports of success, though. Instead, if all goes to plan, we're likely to hear about a series of incremental improvements.

Developed by the US Department of Defense's Missile Defense Agency (MDA), the ABL aims to focus a beam of laser energy in the megawatt range for several seconds onto a missile at a "militarily significant distance" - more than 100 kilometres.

So far, the laser has only operated at near full power on the ground. On 18 August it was fired successfully from the air, but at reduced power. That, however, was no mean feat: aircraft vibrations play havoc with the precisely aligned optical components needed to generate a laser beam.

Sherlock

Extinct New Zealand Eagle May Have Eaten Humans

Sophisticated computer scans of fossils have helped solve a mystery over the nature of a giant, ancient raptor known as the Haast's eagle which became extinct about 500 years ago, researchers said Friday. The researchers say they have determined that the eagle - which lived in the mountains of New Zealand and weighed about 40 pounds (18 kilograms) - was a predator and not a mere scavenger as many thought.

Much larger than modern eagles, Haast's eagle would have swooped to prey on flightless birds - and possibly even the rare unlucky human.

Ken Ashwell of the University of New South Wales in Australia and Paul Scofield of the Canterbury Museum in New Zealand wrote their conclusions in the peer-reviewed Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology.

Using computed axial tomography, or CAT, the researchers scanned several skulls, a pelvis and a beak in an effort to reconstruct the size of the bird's brain, eyes, ears and spinal cord.

Battery

Chinese solar plant expected to be the biggest

© Associated Press/First Solar
In this Sept. 7, 2009 photo released by First Solar, First Solar CEO Mike Ahearn, left, greets Chairman Wu Bangguo of the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress, in Phoenix
First Solar Inc. said Tuesday it has received initial approval from the Chinese government to build what may become the largest solar field in the world.

First Solar, which makes more solar cells than any other company, said it struck a tentative 10-year deal to build in China's vast desert north of the Great Wall. The project would eventually blanket 25 square miles of Inner Mongolia - slightly larger than the size of Manhattan - with a sea of black, light-absorbing glass.

The solar field would dwarf anything in operation in the U.S. or Europe. At 2 gigawatts, or 2 billion watts, the solar plant could pump as much energy onto China's grid as two coal-fired plants, enough to light up three million homes. Like most solar plants, however, it wouldn't produce electricity at night.

Display

Israeli Company Lands US Patent That Could Make Internet Search Giants Pay

Aviv Refuah, the young CEO of the public Israeli company Netex Corporation, has managed to score a US patent on an internet search option developed by the company he founded that could well force major Internet search players like Google, Microsoft and Yahoo to cough up royalties for future use of the technology.

Refuah, who started the company 12 years ago when he was barely 17 years old, is careful not to overestimate the awarding of the patent and the possible outcome for now, but that didn't stop the company's stock from soaring yesterday.

The technological centerpiece of the patent, referred to as 'www.addressing', basically allows internet surfers to type a site's name directly into the address bar or search box and get rerouted to a website straight away, without getting search results to choose from first. For example, if one were to type "techcrunch" in the URL field of a browser, the program would access this site right away without initiating a search query first. Furthermore, the infamous 'I'm Feeling Lucky' button on the Google homepage reportedly uses Netex technology that has now been successfully patented in the United States.

Arrow Up

3-D: It's nearly there

Three-dimensional imaging: New technologies that display 3-D visuals are on the verge of spreading from cinemas into the wider world

Bright and crisp high-definition (HD) images, a luxury not so long ago, are fast becoming standard in consumer electronics. HD technology is now well entrenched in the marketplace in the form of televisions, video cameras, Blu-ray players, games consoles and projectors. There seems little scope to improve the display of two-dimensional images, which provide about as much detail as the human eye can appreciate. So attention is shifting to the next frontier in display technology: three-dimensional (3-D) images.

In recent years 3-D cinema projection has made a dramatic comeback, shaking off its image as a gimmick and replacing the cheesy old red-and-blue glasses with new technologies that are easier to use and produce more lifelike results. Studios love 3-D because it is immune to piracy. Cinemas love 3-D because it allows them to offer something that even the most elaborate home cinema cannot match, and charge more for it. Now 3-D seems to be on the verge of moving out of the cinema and into a wider range of products.

Magnify

Superscanner helps scientists see into the unknown

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© Unknown
Researchers at The University of Nottingham have a new weapon in their arsenal of tools to push back the boundaries of science, engineering, veterinary medicine and archaeology.

From soils and sediments, to chunks of pavement, archaeological remains and chocolate bars... the Nanotom, the most advanced 3D X-ray micro Computed Tomography (CT) scanner in the world, will help scientists from a wide variety of departments across the University literally see through solids. The machine will make previously difficult and laborious research much easier as it allows researchers to probe inside objects without having to break into them.

The Nanotom has been supplied by GE Sensing and Inspection Technologies as part of a new project in the School of Biosciences to scan soil samples for research into soil- plant interactions. But it's also an interdisciplinary piece of kit which will be used by other Schools for a wide variety of projects.

Bizarro Earth

A Clash of Polar Frauds and Those Who Believe

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© New York Times Company
ARCTIC JOURNEY Robert E. Peary during his mission to the North Pole in 1909. Some still back his version of events despite evidence to the contrary.

In September 1909, Dr. Frederick A. Cook and Robert E. Peary each returned from the Arctic with a tale of having reached the North Pole. Neither provided any solid proof or corroborating testimony; both told vague stories with large gaps. They couldn't even convincingly explain how they had plotted their routes across the polar ice.

Yet each explorer's claim immediately attracted its supporters, and no amount of contradictory evidence in the ensuing years would be enough to dissuade the faithful.

A century later, the "discovery" of the North Pole may qualify as the most successful fraud in modern science, as well as the longest-running case study of a psychological phenomenon called "motivated reasoning."