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Thu, 19 Jan 2017
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Microscope 1

Researchers create bio-compatible synthetic spider silk that could be used in regenerative medicine

© Lena Holm
A nest of artificial spider silk fibers.
Supple, light and biodegradable but stronger than steel: researchers said Monday they have succeeded in producing synthetic spider silk, one of nature's strongest materials.

Refined through the long process of evolution, the silk threads spun by spiders are 30 times thinner than a human hair and stronger even than Kevlar, a synthetic fibre used in making bullet-proof vests.

Scientists have long strived to copy the unique properties of the threads—essentially long chains of linked protein molecules.

When spinning, the spider secretes a protein solution through a narrow duct, along which the acidity changes and pressure increases, causing the molecules to link up and form chains.

But spiders are notoriously difficult to farm—producing small quantities of silk, and with a propensity for eating each other.

Now a team from Sweden said they have managed to copy the spider's feat using proteins in E.coli bacteria and a "spinning apparatus" which mimics the pH changes that spiders use to make silk.

Comment: Mother Nature's bio-superlens: Scientists achieve world first by using spider silk to view previously 'invisible' structures


SpaceX delays first Falcon 9 launch since explosion

© Joe Skipper / Reuters
Bad weather is blamed on the delay.
SpaceX has pushed back the latest Falcon 9 launch to January 14. Originally scheduled for January 8, the launch is its first since a rocket exploded in September 2016, destroying US$200 million worth of communication satellites in the process. SpaceX is blaming bad weather at the California launch site for the delay, with high winds and rain forecast at the Vandenberg Air Force Base in the coming days.

Iridium Corporate, whose satellites are being carried on board the Falcon 9, also tweeted about the delay. Ten satellites from Iridium are scheduled to be launched on Falcon 9 rockets by the end of 2017. On September 1 last year the Falcon 9 exploded during its launch in Florida, destroying a $200 million Amos-6 satellite belonging to Israeli company Spacecom.

An investigation found that a failed canister of helium inside one of the rockets' oxygen tanks exploded upon launch. In a statement SpaceX said changes would be made to the canisters' design to prevent future issues. A launch rehearsal was completed without problems on January 5. SpaceX is scheduled to deliver payloads on the Falcon 9 in the coming months, including a delivery to the International Space Station (ISS) on February 8.


Liquid iron - Clenched by iron bands

© ESA/DTU Space
A schematic of Earth’s electrical connections.
Is it liquid metal that circulates below the surface?

On November 23, 2013 the European Space Agency (ESA) launched the Swarm mission satellites from the Plesetsk Cosmodrome in northern Russia. Swarm consists of three identical orbiters, Alpha, Bravo and Charlie, placed in two different orbital planes. Alpha and Bravo fly side-by-side in an 87.4º inclination at an altitude of 450 kilometers (which will slowly decay to 300 kilometers), while Charlie was placed in an 88º inclination at 530 kilometers. All three are in a polar orbit. Propellant on the three satellites is expected to last about five and a half years. They will then burn up in the atmosphere.

Among other instruments, each satellite is equipped with a vector field magnetometer and electric field sensor, so that Swarm can measure variations in the electromagnetic fields generated by Earth's oceans and lithosphere. Since Earth's magnetic field is thought to be created by an "electric dynamo" thousands of kilometers below the surface, there is no way to "see" what is taking place there except indirectly.

Swarm mission manager, Rune Floberghagen wrote:
"We have very few ways of probing deep into the structure of our planet, but Swarm is making extremely valuable contributions to understanding Earth's interior..."
Earth's electromagnetic field does not originate from a single source. Instead different areas generate greater or lesser fluctuating electromagnetism—exactly how it changes is not known. Swarm analyzes differences in the time signatures among the satellites, as well as electromagnetic flux density surrounding Earth's fields, in order to determine what factors influence those changing fields.

Light Saber

US Air Force petitions for laser-based jet fighter weapons

The US Air Force (USAF) has issued a request for proposals (RFP) related to its efforts to field a laser-based self-protection system for its tactical combat aircraft.

The laser will be housed in a supersonic flight-capable pod to be developed under the Laser Pod Research and Development (LPRD) contract.

The RFP, posted by the Air Force Research Laboratory, Directed Energy Directorate, Laser Division (AFRL/RDL) on the Federal Business Opportunities (FedBizOpps) website on 5 January, seeks research proposals for the service's Laser Advancements for Next-generation Compact Environments (LANCE) project, which is geared at integrating a defensive laser weapon aboard current and future fighter-sized aircraft.

Comment: See also:


Spectacular collision of suns will create new star in night sky in 2022

The star will appear in the constellation Cygnus, also know as the Northern Cross
At the beginning of the 3rd century civil war raged in Britain as the Roman emperor Septimius Severus sought to quell unrest in the north.

But unknown to the fighting cohorts and Caledonian tribes, high above their heads two stars were coming together in a huge cataclysmic explosion.

Now 1800 years later the light from that collision will finally arrive on Earth creating a new star in the night sky - dubbed the 'Boom Star - in an incredibly rare event which is usually only spotted through telescopes.

Before their meeting the two stars were too dim to be seen by the naked eye, but in 2022, the newly formed Red Nova will burn so brightly in the constellation Cygnus that everyone will be able to to see it.

"For the first time in history, parents will be able to point to a dark spot in the sky and say, 'Watch, kids, there's a star hiding in there, but soon it's going to light up," said Dr Matt Walhout, dean for research and scholarship at Calvin College, Michigan, where the prediction was made.

Cloud Lightning

How getting hit by lightning changed a woman's synesthesia

Head trauma made her see strange colors, even ones that are "not even real."

© Jorge Silva/Reuters
Lightning strikes over Lake Maracaibo.
By age 20, AB had suffered four concussions, gotten viral meningitis, and been struck by lightning. "She's unofficially the unluckiest girl alive," says Kevin Mitchell, a neurogeneticist at Trinity College Dublin, who published a recent case study on AB, a pseudonymous subject. Her series of unfortunate events also ended up producing a scientific puzzle.

Because before all this, ever since she was a child, AB had been able to see colors with musical notes and perceive unique auras around people, the study reports. This mixing of senses is a little-understood phenomenon known as synesthesia. Synesthesia can come in many different forms, including colors that evoke sounds, words that evoke tastes, or even sounds that evoke touch. For AB, each insult to her brain—the concussions, the meningitis, the lightning—altered her synesthesia in different ways, both subtle and dramatic. Her synesthesia eventually returns exactly the same as before it went away.

6 intriguing types of synesthesia: Tasting words, seeing sounds, hearing colours and more


NASA: Huge planet hurling comets to their doom in nearby solar system

© nasagoddard / Instagram
The Hubble telescope has detected signs of several doomed comets plunging right for the heart of a nearby star. Astronomers says a Jupiter-like planet likely 'slingshot' the comets to their doom.

The star in question, roughly 23 million years old, is HD 172555, found in a nearby 'teenage' solar system 95-light years from Earth.

Astronomers believe such comets may hold the key to several long-running theories about the makeup of nearby star systems and how life-forming elements find their way onto planets.

"In fact, these star-grazing comets may make life possible, because they carry water and other life-forming elements, such as carbon, to terrestrial planets,"said Carol Grady of NASA's Goddard Spaceflight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, who is leading the study of the data.


Dystopian future now a reality as car-makers install 'emotional' AI's into vehicles

Bad idea installing 'emotions' in cars
Honda has teased the first image of what looks to be an ambitious new concept car — an experimental vehicle dubbed the NeuV. The automaker will be showcasing the car at CES on January 5th and says it will be automated, electric, designed for commuters, and will come equipped with artificial intelligence in the form of something called an "emotion engine."

Details are vague on what this all means, but Honda describes the emotion engine as a set of technologies that will "enable machines to artificially generate their own emotions." Will that mean some sort of in-car assistant that's cheery or grouchy depending on how much fuel there is in the tank? Or perhaps some sort of animated dashboard that gives you the stink eye when you cut someone off in traffic?

Comment: Or perhaps all that and more. Writing a computer program is one thing, but once you introduce artificial intelligence, it has the capacity to think, grow and learn beyond it's original programming - which means what AI can and will do, will eventually become unpredictable and out of human expectation and control.

Comment: It's foolish and naive to not be the least bit concerned when introducing artificial intelligence into society. Current technology is growing exponentially, beyond most people's ability to keep up with, meanwhile there is no concomitant emotional and spiritual development among people in society to balance out their growing reliance and addiction to technology. With the 'millennial' generation showing themselves to potentially being the most technologically dependent, inept and incapable generation of our time, what makes anyone think introducing AI will be of any benefit - and who is thinking of the long-term implications? Dystopian futures have been shown in a number of books and movies throughout the years, and it's well-worth paying attention to and watching them again but with a different outlook, realizing that something like that might just be around the corner. For further reading: And also watch:

Eye 1

P-REACT: New technology can detect suspicious behavior and catch criminals in the act

© Alan Thornton/Getty
Caught in the act? P-REACT can pick up suspicious behaviour.
Petty criminals had better watch out. A computer vision system has been developed that detects suspicious behaviour in CCTV footage as it happens. The system can then alert CCTV operators to intervene, and save the footage in case it is needed for evidence.

Researchers involved in the P-REACT project, which is the work of a consortium of European companies and organisations and is partly funded by a grant from the European Commission, say the surveillance technology could help catch criminals in the act and relieve police of "digital evidence overload" by highlighting video clips most likely to be relevant to investigations.

"If a camera at a gas station picks up suspicious activity, the video footage will be sent to the cloud, people at the gas station will be alerted, and nearby cameras will be told to look out for the criminals too," says project coordinator Juan Arraiza at Vicomtech, a research foundation in San Sebastian, Spain.

P-REACT tracks people's movements to work out whether they're simply walking along a street, for instance, or doing something dodgy. Its algorithms have been trained on sample scenes of people fighting, chasing someone or snatching a bag. They had to be finely tuned to identify these activities: hugging can look a lot like fighting, for example, while running can be mistaken for giving chase.

Fireball 2

White House says risk of catastrophic asteroid impact 'real'

© Reuters
The US government has proposed an increased global effort to locate 300,000 or so Earth-impact risks and prepare for potential future meteor collisions that could destroy cities.

Near Earth Objects (NEOs) are defined as asteroids or comets that come near our planet's orbit. A recently released White House document entitled 'National Near-Earth Object Preparedness Strategy' details how low-probability, high consequence impacts pose a "significant and complex challenge".

The report says that while a "civilization-ending"smash with space rocks over the next 200 years is unlikely, the risk of "smaller but still catastrophic NEO impacts is real."

Comment: For more information on Near Earth Objects and the impact they can have. Read: