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Fri, 26 Aug 2016
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Camcorder

DARPA researching camera technology that can see around walls in 4 years

© Michaela Rehle / Reuters
If you're sick of having to move around corners to see what's behind them, you may have been born at the right time. DARPA, the US military's advanced research arm, says it will have developed a camera capable of seeing around corners in as little as four years.

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) is providing a $4.4 million grant to the Morgridge Institute for Research, an organization affiliated with the University of Madison-Wisconsin, to develop "non-line-of-sight imaging" camera technology, which can allow users to see around corners of solid objects.

The technology was first demonstrated by Massachusetts Institute of Technology researcher Andreas Velten in 2012. It works by sending a pulse of laser light into a room, causing the beam to hit a ceiling or wall, scattering and bouncing off surfaces and objects. Some of the scattered information makes it back to the sensor, allowing for a computer to construct an accurate picture of what the room looks like.

Comet 2

Brightest Kreutz sungrazer disintegrated by the sun

The sun is about to swallow a comet. The doomed sungrazer appeared earlier today in images from the Solar and Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO):
© ESA/NASA SOHO
"This is one of the brightest Kreutz sungrazers we've seen over the past 21 yrs," says Karl Battams of the Naval Research Lab in Washington DC. "Awesome! "

Kreutz sungrazers are fragments from the breakup of a single giant comet many centuries ago. They get their name from 19th century German astronomer Heinrich Kreutz, who studied them in detail. Kreutz fragments pass by the sun and disintegrate almost every day. Most, measuring less than a few meters across, are too small to see, but occasionally a bigger fragment like this one attracts attention.

The comet is vaporizing furiously and is not expected to survive much longer. Monitor the SOHO realtime images page for developments. Updates are also available on Karl Battam's excellent Twitter feed.


Fireball

Chelyabinsk meteor: A wake-up call for humanity

© Neuromainker via YouTube/Screenshot by Irene Klotz for Discovery News
This is the trail of Chelyabinsk asteroid which exploded about 14 miles above ground with a force nearly 30 times more powerful than the Hiroshima atomic bomb in 2013.
A small asteroid broke up over the city of Chelyabinsk, Russia, on Feb. 15, 2013. The shock wave it generated shattered glass and injured about 1,200 people. Some scientists think the meteor may have briefly outshone the sun. The blast was stronger than a nuclear explosion, triggering detections from monitoring stations as far away as Antarctica.

The incident was another reminder to space agencies about the importance of monitoring small bodies in space that could pose a threat to Earth. The same day Chelyabinsk happened, the U.S. House of Representative's Science, Space, and Technology Committee said it would hold a hearing to discuss asteroid threats to Earth, and how to mitigate them on top of NASA's currentefforts.

Coincidentally, the explosion came on the same day that an asteroid was flying by Earth. Called 2012 DA14, it passed within 17,200 miles (27,000 kilometers) of Earth. NASA quickly pointed out the asteroid was travelling in the opposite direction to the small body that exploded over Chelyabinsk.

Comment: Indeed, something wicked this way comes. For further reading on the problem humanity is now facing see:

Celestial Intentions: Comets and the Horns of Moses


Cassiopaea

1987 Supernova used to understand stellar evolution

© CAASTRO / Mats Björklund (Magipics)
Artist’s impression of the supernova flare seen in the Large Magellanic Cloud on February 23rd, 1987.
Thirty years ago, a star that went by the designation of SN 1987A collapsed spectacularly, creating a supernova that was visible from Earth. This was the largest supernova to be visible to the naked eye since Kepler's Supernova in 1604. Today, this supernova remnant (which is located approximately 168,000 light-years away) is being used by astronomers in the Australian Outback to help refine our understanding of stellar explosions.

Led by a student from the University of Sydney, this international research team is observing the remnant at the lowest-ever radio frequencies. Previously, astronomers knew much about the star's immediate past by studying the effect the star's collapse had on the neighboring Large Magellanic Cloud. But by detecting the star's faintest hisses of radio static, the team was able to observe a great deal more of its history.

The team's findings, which were published yesterday in the journal Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society, detail how the astronomers were able to look millions of years farther back in time. Prior to this, astronomers could only observe a tiny fraction of the star's life cycle before it exploded - 20,000 years (or 0.1%) of its multi-million year life span.

As such, they were only able to see the star when it was in its final, blue supergiant phase. But with the help of the Murchison Widefield Array (MWA) - a low-frequency radio telescope located at the Murchison Radio-astronomy Observatory (MRO) in the West Australian desert - the radio astronomers were able to see all the way back to when the star was still in its long-lasting red supergiant phase.

Butterfly

Microbial communities: Another reason green spaces are important for human health

New research finds that airborne bacterial communities differ from one urban park to the next but those of parking lots are alike—and differ from those of parks in subtle but potentially important ways.

At a glance, such findings seem intuitive. Parks often have different vegetation in them, and asphalt-covered parking lots are much the same—barren asphalt bombarded by solar radiation as well as heavy metals and fuel from motor vehicles.

The importance, according to University of Oregon researchers, is that this pilot study describes not only the differences in microbial communities but also how far from a park the influence may extend.

Recent studies suggest that the composition of the bacterial communities may be important to human health—and not in the ways you think, says Gwynne Mhuireach, a doctoral student in landscape architecture who led the new study that is online ahead of print in the journal Science of the Total Environment. There is a reason, she says, to believe that healthy air depends not just on the absence of bad things like pollutants, but the presence of good things such as bacteria with which humans have co-evolved.

"We're starting to build larger and more complex cities," Mhuireach said. "I am interested in ways to help maintain people's health and happiness as we do so. Some studies say that as we are building these denser cities we are losing green space. I am looking for mechanisms that explain why vegetation helps people and how we can design for it."

Battery

Chemists create vitamin B-2 driven battery

© Diana Tyszko/University of Toronto
University of Toronto chemist Dwight Seferos and colleagues created a lithium-ion battery that stores energy in a biologically-derived unit, using flavin from Vitamin B2 as the cathode.
A team of University of Toronto chemists has created a battery that stores energy in a biologically derived unit, paving the way for cheaper consumer electronics that are easier on the environment.

The battery is similar to many commercially-available high-energy lithium-ion batteries with one important difference. It uses flavin from vitamin B2 as the cathode: the part that stores the electricity that is released when connected to a device.

"We've been looking to nature for a while to find complex molecules for use in a number of consumer electronics applications," says Dwight Seferos, an associate professor in U of T's Department of Chemistry and Canada Research Chair in Polymer Nanotechnology.

"When you take something made by nature that is already complex, you end up spending less time making new material," says Seferos.

Comment: Other novel battery ideas:


Eye 2

Napping on the wing: Researchers discover birds can sleep in flight

© B. Voirin
Frigatebirds reaches a wingspan of over two metres. They are excellent gliders and can cover several hundred kilometers a day.
For the first time, researchers have discovered that birds can sleep in flight. Together with an international team of colleagues, Niels Rattenborg from the Max Planck Institute for Ornithology in Seewiesen measured the brain activity of frigatebirds and found that they sleep in flight with either one cerebral hemisphere at a time or both hemispheres simultaneously. Despite being able to engage in all types of sleep in flight, the birds slept less than an hour a day, a mere fraction of the time spent sleeping on land. How frigatebirds are able to perform adaptively on such little sleep remains a mystery.

It is known that some swifts, songbirds, sandpipers, and seabirds fly non-stop for several days, weeks, or months as they traverse the globe. Given the adverse effect sleep loss has on performance, it is commonly assumed that these birds must fulfill their daily need for sleep on the wing.

Half-awake or fully awake in flight?

How might a bird sleep in flight without colliding with obstacles or falling from the sky? One solution would be to only switch off half of the brain at a time, as Rattenborg showed in mallard ducks sleeping in a dangerous situation on land. When sleeping at the edge of a group, mallards keep one cerebral hemisphere awake and the corresponding eye open and directed away from the other birds, toward a potential threat. Based on these findings and the fact that dolphins can swim while sleeping unihemispherically, it is commonly assumed that birds also rely on this sort of autopilot to navigate and maintain aerodynamic control during flight.

R2-D2

Computer algorithms are increasingly shaping and filtering our experience of the real world

The use of algorithms to filter and present information online is increasingly shaping our everyday experience of the real world, a study published by Information, Communication & Society argues.

Associate Professor Michele Willson of Curtin University, Perth, Australia looked at particular examples of computer algorithms and the questions they raise about personal agency, changing world views and our complex relationship with technologies.

Algorithms are central to how information and communication are located, retrieved and presented online, for example in Twitter follow recommendations, Facebook newsfeeds and suggested Google map directions. However, they are not objective instructions but assume certain parameters and values, and are in constant flux, with changes made by both humans and machines.

Embedded in complex amalgams of political, technical, cultural and social interactions, algorithms bring about particular ways of seeing the world, reproduce stereotypes, strengthen world views, restrict choices or open previously unidentified possibilities.

As well as shaping what we see online, algorithms are increasingly telling us what we should be seeing, the study argues. For example, an algorithm that claims to spot beauty and tell you which selfies to delete implies we should trust technology more than ourselves to make aesthetic choices. Such algorithms also carry assumptions that beauty can be defined as universal and timeless, and can be easily reduced to a particular combination of data.

Chalkboard

Scientists suggest modern man's immunity to toxic smoke led to evolutionary advantage against Neanderthals

© SEBASTIAN WILLNOW/AFP/Getty Images
A reconstruction of a Neanderthal man at the Prehistoric Museum in Halle, eastern Germany
Modern humans might have beaten the neanderthals because because they couldn't stand the heat and had to get out of the kitchen, scientists have suggested.

Our ancestors may have had an evolutionary advantage in the kitchen because they were more immune to the effects of toxic chemicals that came from cooking meat and burning wood, according to a new study.

We got that power because of a genetic mutation, the study says. And since modern humans from our species, the Homo sapiens, are the only primates carrying it, it would probably have helped them get the advantage in the evolutionary war.

As such it might help why modern humans were able to flourish as their Neanderthal cousins died out, about 40,000 years ago.

But it might also explain why we took up smoking, since the same mutation helps people enjoy breathing in toxic smoke.

Moon

Moon landing rights granted to a private company for the first time ever

© Moon Express
An artistic rendering of the MX-1 lander on the surface of the Moon.
Spaceflight venture Moon Express wants to be the first private company ever to land on the Moon in 2017 — and now the company has been granted approval by the United States government to launch to the lunar surface. It's the first time the government has granted regulatory approval for a private mission beyond Earth orbit. And Moon Express came very close to being denied permission to go.

No regulatory framework currently exists for a commercial space missions to another world. Lawmakers are working on a permanent solution, but it likely won't be ready in time for Moon Express' 2017 mission. So the company came up with its own temporary framework — a regulatory patch — that the US government could use to oversee the company's mission. And after a meeting between the Federal Aviation Administration, the White House, and the State Department, Moon Express has been given the approval it needs to launch to the Moon.

So far, commercial companies have mostly just launched satellites into space; all specialized private missions, like launching cargo to the space station, have been overseen by NASA. That means Moon Express could be the first private company to land on the Moon, as well as the company that travels the farthest away from our planet.