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Thu, 14 Dec 2017
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NASA's Voyager 1 still going after 37 years, 13 billion miles

Humanity's most distant spacecraft surprised its operators by answering the call to fire up rockets that have not been used in almost 40 years.

NASA's Voyager 1
© NASA/JPL/Caltech
As humanity's first visitor to interstellar space, NASA's Voyager 1 has revealed itself to be a trooper, answering commands that take almost 20 hours to arrive, and performing routine tasks and transmitting data back (another 20-hour one-way call) to the home planet.

Launched in 1977, the interstellar space probe Voyager 1 - a product of the US-funded NASA technology-incubation center, Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), in California - has broken all records for spaceflight by travelling some 13 billion miles from the sun, farther than any man made device, while remaining a viable scientific platform.


The production effect: Reading aloud improves recall

memory gears
You are more likely to remember something if you read it out loud, a study from the University of Waterloo has found.

A recent Waterloo study found that speaking text aloud helps to get words into long-term memory. Dubbed the "production effect," the study determined that it is the dual action of speaking and hearing oneself that has the most beneficial impact on memory.

"This study confirms that learning and memory benefit from active involvement," said Colin M. MacLeod, a professor and chair of the Department of Psychology at Waterloo, who co-authored the study with the lead author, post-doctoral fellow Noah Forrin. "When we add an active measure or a production element to a word, that word becomes more distinct in long-term memory, and hence more memorable."

The study tested four methods for learning written information, including reading silently, hearing someone else read, listening to a recording of oneself reading, and reading aloud in real time. Results from tests with 95 participants showed that the production effect of reading information aloud to yourself resulted in the best remembering.

Monkey Wrench

Better babies? Parents may one day be morally obligated to edit their baby's genes

If CRISPR/Cas9 or other gene-editing technologies are ever approved for use in human embryos, parents may one day feel as if they have to use genetic enhancements to give their children the best life possible.
As genetic editing becomes a reality, some say it would be wrong not to use it to cure disease

A doctor explains to a young couple that he has screened the pair's in vitro fertilized embryos and selected those that had no major inheritable diseases. The couple had specified they want a son with hazel eyes, dark hair and fair skin. Then the doctor announces that he has also taken the liberty of eliminating the "burden" of genetic propensities for baldness, nearsightedness, alcoholism, obesity and domestic violence.

The prospective mother replies that they didn't want those revisions. "I mean diseases, yes, but ..." Her husband jumps in to say, "We were just wondering if it's good to leave a few things to chance."

But the doctor reminds the would-be parents why they came to him in the first place. They want to give their child "the best possible start."

Comment: Just in case human gene editing goes horribly wrong scientists fall back on "CRISPR off switch"
Perhaps one of the most concerning aspects about CRISPR-Cas9 was the inability for scientists to turn off the gene altering sequence. The potential for wrong genes to be snipped away and the consequential introduction of rogue genetic changes in human or animal DNA into the gene pool was (and still is) rather terrifying. Now, however, scientists claim that they have found a way to hopefully mitigate this tremendous risk. In a new study, researchers say that they have found a tiny protein that can actually turn off Cas9 and prevent it from creating unwanted gene alterations. They say that the protein works on human cells - at least if they are in a petri dish.

Comet 2

Comet Dust: Researchers present list of 'pristine' ingredients that make up comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko

Left: The surface of Rosetta’s comet. As the comet approaches the Sun
© ESA/Rosetta/MPS for OSIRIS Team MPS/UPD/LAM/IAA/SSO/INTA/UPM/DASP/IDA (left), ESA / Rosetta / MPS for COSIMA Team MPS / CSNSM / UNIBW / TUORLA / IWF / IAS / ESA / BUW / MPE / LPC2E / LCM / IMF / UTU / LISA / UOFC / vH & S. (right)
Left: The surface of Rosetta’s comet. As the comet approaches the Sun, frozen gases evaporate from below the surface, dragging tiny particles of dust along with them. Right: These dust grains can be captured and examined using the COSIMA instrument. Targets such as this one measuring only a few centimeters act as dust collectors. They retain dust particles of up to 100 microns in size.
The dust that comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko emits into space consists to about one half of organic molecules. The dust belongs to the most pristine and carbon-rich material known in our solar system and has hardly changed since its birth. These results of the COSIMA team are published today in the journal Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society. COSIMA is an instrument onboard the Rosetta spacecraft, which investigated comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko from August 2014 to September 2016. In their current study, the involved researchers including scientists from the Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research (MPS) analyze as comprehensively as ever before, what chemical elements constitute cometary dust.

Comment: Also See:


Tesla activates Australia's 'mega battery' to feed their 'shaky' power grid using unreliable renewable energy

Tesla 'meag' battery in South Australia
© Reuters
Tesla 'meag' battery in South Australia
Tesla Inc switched on the world's biggest lithium ion battery on Friday in time to feed Australia's shaky power grid for the first day of summer, meeting a promise by Elon Musk to build it in 100 days or give it free.

"South Australia is now leading the world in dispatchable renewable energy," state Premier Jay Weatherill said at the official launch at the Hornsdale wind farm, owned by private French firm Neoen.

Tesla won a bid in July to build the 129-megawatt hour battery for South Australia, which expanded in wind power far quicker than the rest of the country, but has suffered a string of blackouts over the past 18 months.


Nasa successfully fires Voyager 1 backup thrusters after 37 years

Voyager 1
Nasa's Voyager 1 spacecraft - cruising interstellar space billions of miles from Earth - was back on the right track Friday thanks to thrusters that were fired up for the first time in 37 years.

The unmanned spaceship was launched along with its twin, Voyager 2, more than 40 years ago to explore the outer planets of our solar system, traveling further than any human-made object in history.

But after decades of operation, the "attitude control thrusters" that turn the spacecraft by firing tiny "puffs" had degraded. The small adjustments are needed to turn Voyager's antenna toward Earth, allowing it to continue sending communications.

"At 13 billion miles from Earth, there's no mechanic shop nearby to get a tune-up," Nasa said in a news release.

Experts at the agency's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California decided to turn to four backup thrusters that were last used on November 8, 1980.

"The Voyager flight team dug up decades-old data and examined the software that was coded in an outdated assembler language, to make sure we could safely test the thrusters," said Chris Jones, chief engineer at JPL.

The engineers fired up the thrusters on Tuesday and tested their ability to turn Voyager using 10-millisecond pulses. Then they waited 19 hours, 35 minutes for the test results to arrive at an antenna in Goldstone, California.

Comment: Back in 2013, the spacecraft is reported to have left the solar system.


Pew Pew! US fighter jets are getting laser cannons

US fighter jet
© Lockheed Martin
It's been just a few months since Lockheed Martin gave the US Army the most powerful laser weapon ever developed, a ground vehicle-mounted system that can burn through tanks and knock mortars out of the sky. Now the US Air Force wants its own toy, so Lockheed's engineers are back in the lab, crafting the kind of weapon Poe Dameron could get down with. They're making a laser blaster for a fighter jet to swat down incoming missiles.

Decades after science fiction writers and directors imagined worlds of killer beams flying back and forth, reality is catching up. This spring defense contractor Raytheon became the first to destroy a target with a laser fired from a helicopter. At White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico, the Apache AH-64 shot a truck from more than a mile away, while on the move and from a variety of altitudes. Raytheon is also building a laser-firing, drone-killing dune buggy. Boeing has its own anti-drone laser cannon.

"This technology has been described as 'coming' for so long - with it never actually arriving - that people took to believing that it would never happen," says military analyst Peter Singer. "Well, now it's happening. After so many false starts, we're seeing real breakthroughs that are starting to make the idea viable."

Comment: Nice idea! Too bad the Russians thought of it first! And since they mentioned the Death Star, it looks like that's not far off either.

See also:


Neutrophil power: White blood cell inspired propulsion using acoustic vibrations and magnetic fields

Neutrophil and eosophil

Neutrophil and Eosinophil
When white blood cells are summoned to combat invasive bacteria, they move along blood vessels in a specific fashion, i.e., like a ball propelled by the wind, they roll along the vascular wall to reach their point of deployment. Since white blood cells can anchor themselves to the vasculature, they are capable of moving against the direction of the blood flow.

This type of behaviour of the white blood cells served as an inspiration for the postdoc, Daniel Ahmed, who was working in Professor Bradley Nelson's research group at ETH Zurich. In the lab, Ahmed and hi co-workers developed a novel system that enables aggregates composed of magnetised particles to roll along a channel in a combined acoustic and magnetic field. In addition, researchers of Jürg Dual's group have developed numerical and theoretical studies of the project. Their work was published recently in the journal, Nature Communications.

Arrow Up

Mass of warm rock is rising beneath New England, seismic study reveals

Seismic data revealed a rising balloon of warm rock beneath New England
© Vadim Levin/Rutgers University-New Brunswick
Seismic data revealed a rising balloon of warm rock beneath New England.

"We did not expect to find abrupt changes in physical properties beneath this region," researcher Vadim Levin said.

Deep beneath New England, a giant mass of warm rock is slowly but steadily rising toward the surface. The revelation undermines some of what scientists thought they understand about plate tectonics and the geology of the mantle.

"The upwelling we detected is like a hot air balloon, and we infer that something is rising up through the deeper part of our planet under New England," researcher Vadim Levin, a geophysicist and professor at Rutgers University-New Brunswick, said in a news release.

The mass of rock is not on the scale of Yellowstone. It measures a couple hundred miles across, and though it may one day form a new volcanic system, it is unlikely to yield an eruption for millions of years.

Scientists were first alerted to something peculiar after noticing a temperature anomaly deep beneath New England.

Levin and his colleagues used seismic data collected by the EarthScope project. For two years, a nation-wide system of seismic sensors, each positioned 46.6 miles apart, measured seismic waves traveling through the continental United States.

Seismic waves can reveal details about the medium through which it's traveling -- in this case, the lithosphere, which includes the upper mantle and crust.

Blue Planet

Disastrous super-eruption could happen sooner than first thought

Volcano erupting
Volcanoes pose a greater threat to humanity than first thought, with Earth scientists in the UK reporting that super-eruptions are historically more frequent than previous data revealed.

Analyzing volcanic activity within the last 100,000 years, researchers from the University of Bristol revised the timeline for super-eruptions, which can produce around 1,000 gigatons of erupted mass.

The Yellowstone Caldera in Wyoming is classed as one such supervolcano, which could emit sustained pyroclastic eruptions with climate- and life-changing results.