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Thu, 25 Aug 2016
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SkyFire cubesat: Tiny cube satellites to probe Moon mysteries

© lockheedmartin.com
Artistic rendering of the SkyFire cubesat orbiting the moon.
A tiny probe armed with new infrared scanning technology will be on board NASA's 2018 exploration mission to the moon, along with a dozen similar "cube satellites." Dubbed SkyFire, it is a joint venture between the US space agency and Lockheed Martin.

On Monday, Lockheed announced that NASA has given final approval for SkyFire, securing its slot aboard the first Exploration Mission (EM-1). The primary mission, scheduled for September 2018, will be a test of NASA's Space Launch System (SLS) and the Orion Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle. SkyFire and other "cubesats" will be part of the secondary payload.

Info

Scientists discover a way to make networked microscopic crystals act like neurons

© Getty
The crystals act like neurons in the brain
Researchers have developed microscopic crystals that act like artificial neurons in the best attempt yet at mimicking the workings of the human brain.

The discovery, published in the scientific journal Nature Nanotechnology, has been heralded as a breakthrough in the nascent science of quantum computing, in which data processing tasks are carried out by collections of "machines" little larger than an atom.

When clumped together into networks, it is thought the crystals will be able to work together to carry out tasks far beyond the capability of the current breed of computers. The new systems will be able to carry out hyper-advanced analysis of weather systems and markets, as well as completing tasks innate to human beings, such as instantaneous facial recognition.

Comet 2

Comets & Asteroids - Summary for July 2016

During the month of July 2016, 1 new comet has been discovered and there were 4 comet recoveries. An international team of astronomers discovered a new dwarf planet (designated 2015 RR245) orbiting in the disk of small icy worlds beyond Neptune. The Team Radar at Arecibo observed the Near-Earth asteroid (154244) 2002 KL6. "Current comet magnitudes" & "Daily updated asteroid flybys" pages are available at the top of this blog (or just click on the underline text here).

The dates below refer to the date of issuance of CBET (Central Bureau Electronic Telegram) which reported the official news & designations.

Comet Discoveries

July 18 Discovery of C/2016 N4 (MASTER)
© Jean-Gabriel Bosch
Comet C/2016 N4 (MASTER).
Comet Recoveries

July 04 Recovery of P/2009 K1 (GIBBS) as P/2016 M2
July 04 Recovery of P/2008 J3 (McNAUGHT) as P/2016 N1
July 06 Recovery of P/2008 T1 (BOATTINI) as P/2016 N2
July 18 Recovery of P/2007 R3 (GIBBS) as P/2016 N3

Card - VISA

Another technology fail: The security holes of microchipped credit cards

Americans have spent much of 2016 lamenting the addition of chips into their credit and debit cards. In exchange for the extra few moments consumers spend checking out, however, they are promised enhanced security to protect their accounts.

But a new discovery unveiled Wednesday by professional hackers at the Black Hat USA summit in Las Vegas called into question the supposed ironclad security of the new chips, which are referred to as EMV technology.

Retailers and banks began replacing regular magnetic stripe card readers with EMV last October after credit card companies like Visa and Mastercard threatened to hold them responsible for false charges made on cards during magnetic strip transactions. The mandate came amid high-profile breaches of retailers like Home Depot and Target.

Bizarro Earth

Massive earthquakes affecting heavily populated areas of Pacific Northwest more frequent than previous estimates

A new analysis suggests that massive earthquakes on northern sections of the Cascadia Subduction Zone, affecting areas of the Pacific Northwest that are more heavily populated, are somewhat more frequent than has been believed in the past.

The chance of one occurring within the next 50 years is also slightly higher than previously estimated.

The findings, published this week in the journal Marine Geology, are based on data that is far more detailed and comprehensive than anything prior to this. It used measurements from 195 core samples containing submarine landslide deposits caused by subduction zone earthquakes, instead of only about a dozen such samples in past research.

Beaker

Russian scientists have developed a supermolecule that can speed up human tissue regeneration

© RT
Russian scientists said they have artificially produced a unique molecule that can rapidly regenerate damaged human tissue, boasting both antibacterial and antiviral defenses, as well as stem cell growth stimulation.

The peptide, Acegram, was developed at a laboratory in the Russian Ural city of Chelyabinsk.

The molecule is said to have a very strong regenerating effect due to attracting healthy cells to injured, irritated areas in the human body.


Info

Rare minerals from Siberian mine are unlike anything found in nature

© Igor Huskić, Friščić Research Group, McGill University
Individual crystals of synthetic zhemchuzhnikovite, prepared by Igor Huskić, McGill University.
One of the hottest new materials is a class of porous solids known as metal-organic frameworks, or MOFs. These man-made materials were introduced in the 1990s, and researchers around the world are working on ways to use them as molecular sponges for applications such as hydrogen storage, carbon sequestration, or photovoltaics.

Now, a surprising discovery by scientists in Canada and Russia reveals that MOFs also exist in nature—albeit in the form of rare minerals found so far only in Siberian coal mines.

The finding, published in the journal Science Advances, "completely changes the normal view of these highly popular materials as solely artificial, 'designer' solids," says senior author Tomislav Friščić, an associate professor of chemistry at McGill University in Montreal. "This raises the possibility that there might be other, more abundant, MOF minerals out there."

The twisting path to the discovery began six years ago, when Friščić came across a mention of the minerals stepanovite and zhemchuzhnikovite in a Canadian mineralogy journal. The crystal structure of the minerals, found in Russia between the 1940s and 1960s, hadn't been fully determined. But the Russian mineralogists who discovered them had analyzed their chemical composition and the basic parameters of their structures, using a technique known as X-ray powder diffraction. To Friščić, those parameters hinted that the minerals could be structurally similar to a type of man-made MOF.

Info

'Alien megastructure' star only gets more mysterious

© NASA, JPL-Caltech
Last fall, a little-known star called KIC 8462852 became our planetary obsession when astronomers said that its erratic flickering could be the result of an alien megastructure. Further observation of Tabby's Star yielded no signs of aliens, but the sudden dips in luminosity continue to defy explanation. Now, things just got a bit weirder.

In an unpublished paper posted today to arXiv, Caltech astronomer Ben Montet and Joshua Simon of the Carnegie Institute describe the results of a new photometric analysis of Tabby's Star, which was first flagged in the Kepler Space Telescope's database by citizen science astronomers.

By carefully examining all the full-frame images collected during Kepler's observational campaign, Montet and Simon discovered something astonishing: Not only did the star's light output occasionally dip by up to 20 percent, its total stellar flux diminished continuously over the course of four years.

For the first 1000 days of Kepler's campaign, Tabby's Star decreased in luminosity by approximately 0.34 percent per year. For the next 200 days, the star dimmed more rapidly, its total stellar flux dropping by 2 percent before leveling off. Overall, Tabby's Star faded roughly 3 percent during the four years that Kepler stared at it—an absolutely enormous, inexplicable amount. The astronomers looked at 500 other stars in the vicinity, and saw nothing else like it.

"The part that really surprised me was just how rapid and non-linear it was," Montet told Gizmodo. "We spent a long time trying to convince ourselves this wasn't real. We just weren't able to."

Cloud Lightning

'Fossilized' lightning bolts are showing just how powerful storms can be

© John Fowler
It turns out there's a strange parallel between meteorite strikes and lightning (besides terrifying things coming out of the sky): both phenomena can, under the right conditions, create glass.

That's what drew Matthew Pasek, a geoscientist at the University of Southern Florida, to study fulgurites.

"Fulgurite" is the technical term for the hollow rod of glass that lightning can create when it strikes sand.

They're surprisingly common; across the planet, lightning strikes about 45 times per second and creates about 10 fulgurites from those strikes.

In the process of studying fulgurites, Pasek found a new way to calculate how much energy a bolt of lightning carries. The width of the hollow tube, he learned, is correlated with the strength of the lightning bolt.

2 + 2 = 4

Saved by the whale! Humpbacks play hero when orcas attack

© Robert L. Pitman
A humpback whale protects a Weddell seal from an attacking killer whale.
The photo is extraordinary. In waters near the Antarctic peninsula, an enormous humpback whale floats on its back, cradling a Weddell seal on its chest and elevating it above the ocean surface. Only moments earlier, the seal was perilously close to becoming dinner for a group of hungry killer whales.

Biologist Robert Pitman snapped the image while on a research expedition in 2009 — but it wasn't the first time he had observed this unusual protective behavior.