Month: January, 2018

High-Altitude Balloon May Soon Be Giving The US Military And NASA A Low-Cost Eyes In The Sky

Arizona-based company World View successfully pulled off a five-day test flight of its specialized high-altitude balloon, which is designed to carry Earth-observing instruments to the upper edges of the atmosphere.

It’s the longest flight yet of the so-called “stratollite,” though eventually World View hopes to keep these vehicles flying for months, or even a year, at a time.

The stratollite is meant to act like a low-hanging satellite. But rather than rocket to space and then orbit the Earth, these vehicles are designed to leisurely float to more than 20 miles up in the stratosphere — and then stay there.

The stratollites “surf” the high-altitude winds in order to hover continuously over one patch of the planet.

Each stratollite balloon carries a package equipped with sensors, cameras, and other types of instruments to collect data on the Earth below.

World View envisions the technology being used for a number of applications, like weather-monitoring, communications, or disaster evacuation.

But in order to work, these vehicles have to stay put for long periods of time, and up until now, the longest stratollite flight had only lasted 27 hours.

World View also attempted a four-day mission at the end of June, sending a stratollite carrying a KFC chicken sandwich to the stratosphere. That mission ended after just 17 hours, due to a leak in the balloon.

This most recent stratollite took off on October 1st from World View’s new headquarters in Tucson — the first launch from the company’s Arizona facility.

The vehicle hovered between 55,000 and 75,000 feet, while successfully testing out equipment designed to steer the balloon and keep it relatively stable at the same spot.

On board were a 50.6-megapixel Canon EOS 5DS camera to do Earth observations, as well as communications equipment from the US military’s Southern Command.

The military is interested in using the stratollite to look for human and drug trafficking, as well as maritime piracy.

World View says it’s going to bring down the stratollite sometime today, after hitting all of its critical milestones.

This is an enormous leap in our development program and we are certain the stratollite is going to forge a new path in how we observe, react to and collect data about our planet,” Jane Poynter, CEO of World View, said in a statement.

Stratollites aren’t the only form of balloon travel that World View is focusing on. The company is also working on high-altitude balloons that can carry humans to the stratosphere, for a luxurious look at the curvature of the Earth.

This tourism venture, called the Voyager program, is already open for reservations, which run about $75,000 per ticket. However, no human flights have been scheduled yet.

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Pass it on: New Scientist

The Most Active Volcano In The Philippines Spewed Fountains Of Lava

The Philippines’ most active volcano spewed fountains of red-hot lava and massive ash plumes anew Tuesday in a dazzling but increasingly dangerous eruption that has sent more than 56,000 villagers fleeing to evacuation centers.

Lava fountains gushed up 700 meters (2,300 feet) above Mount Mayon’s crater and ash plumes rose up to 3 kilometers (1.9 miles) Monday night.

At least three major blasts followed Tuesday, including an explosion at nightfall that was capped by one of the most massive lava displays since the volcano started acting up more than a week ago, the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology (Phivolcs) said.

Around 6 p.m. Tuesday, Mayon exhibited lava fountaining that reached a height of 600 meters and generated a 3-kilometer high ash plume, Phivolcs noted.

Phivolcs showed a video timelapse of Mayon taken between 5:50 p.m. to 6:14 p.m. Tuesday taken at the Mayon Volcano Observatory, Lignon Hill, in Legazpi City.

Despite the danger, he said he needed to return to his village, about 8 kilometers (5 miles) from the erupting volcano, to take his cow and water buffalo to safety.

A few minutes later, the volcano belched a massive column of grayish ash that punched through white clouds into the blue sky.

Authorities warned a violent eruption may occur in hours or days, characterized by more rumblings and pyroclastic flows — super-heated gas and volcanic debris that race down the slopes at high speeds, vaporizing everything in their path.

The daytime eruptions have plunged nearby villages into darkness and sent lava, rocks and debris cascading down Mayon’s slopes toward the no-entry danger zone.

There have been no reports of deaths or injuries. Airplanes have been ordered to stay away from the crater and ash-laden winds, and several domestic flights have been canceled.

The Philippines, which has about 22 active volcanoes, lies in the “Ring of Fire,” a line of seismic faults surrounding the Pacific Ocean where earthquakes and volcanic activity are common.

In 1991, Mount Pinatubo in the northern Philippines exploded in one of the biggest volcanic eruptions of the 20th century, killing about 800 people, covering entire towns and cities in ash and partly prompting the U.S. government to abandon its vast air and naval bases on the main northern Luzon island.

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Pass it on: New Scientist

Astrophysics: High Energy Galactic Particle Accelerator Located

The highest-energy cosmic rays that bombard Earth have been traced to their source — rare galaxies with supermassive black holes at their center.

A collaboration of more than 370 scientists working with the Pierre Auger Observatory in Argentina tracked the rays by pointing particle detectors skywards and tracing high-energy hits back to the objects that were most likely to have produced them.

These high-energy particles hit Earth’s atmosphere with an energy that is 100 million times higher than anything produced by man-made particle accelerators.

Unlike lower-energy cosmic rays, which are bent and deflected by magnetic fields in the Universe, high-energy rays whizz through space in a nearly straight line, making it possible to trace them back to their source.

Ultra-high-energy cosmic rays were first detected in 1962. But whatever made these particles was so extreme that it didn’t fall within any physics known at that time.

Since then, scientists have been determined to solve the mystery of where these super-energetic particles come from.

High-energy cosmic rays are extremely rare, with less than one particle hitting a square kilometer of Earth every hundred years. That has made them hard to study.

And although they pass in a nearly straight line through space, it has not been known exactly how much they are deflected by galactic magnetic fields.

Source revealed

The vast Pierre Auger Observatory has 1,600 ground-based particle detectors over an area of 3,000 square kilometers. Even so, the Auger team can spot these cosmic rays at a rate of only two per month.

The team measured cosmic rays from January 2004 until May 2006, and to ensure a rigorous check on their data, they then looked at a further year’s worth of data.

At the heart of AGN is a supermassive black hole, which churns up enough energy to spit out protons with staggering energies of more than 100 x 10 18 eV.

AGN are very violent situations in space,” says Alan Watson of the University of Leeds, UK, a spokesman for the Pierre Auger Collaboration.

Matching the direction of the rays to these violent galaxies is enough to convince Watson, and the Auger team, that they have found the source of the highest-energy cosmic rays.

But for some, the statistics aren’t quite good enough to be so certain.

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Pass it on: New Scientist

These Tree-Planting Drones Are About To Start An Entire Forest From The Sky

For the past five years, a group of villagers in the delta of the Irrawaddy River in Myanmar has painstakingly planted 2.7 million mangrove trees in an attempt to begin to restore an ecosystem that has been disappearing for decades.

But the work is laborious, and the local nonprofit guiding the work wants to cover a much larger area–so they’re now turning to tree-planting drones.

The drones, from the startup BioCarbon Engineering, can plant as many as 100,000 trees in a single day, leaving the local community to focus on taking care of the young trees that have already started to grow.

Last September, the company will begin a drone-planting program in the area along with Worldview International Foundation, the nonprofit guiding local tree-planting projects.

To date, the organization has worked with villagers to plant an area of 750 hectares, about twice the size of Central Park; the drones will help cover another 250 hectares with 1 million additional trees.

Ultimately, the nonprofit hopes to use drones to help plant 1 billion trees in an even larger area.

The drone technology works in stages. As a first step, mapping drones fly more than 300 feet over the land, collecting detailed data about the topography and soil quality.

An algorithm uses that data to choose the best locations to plant trees, and the best species to plant.

Next, a second group of drones, flying low over the ground, automatically follows the map to plant seeds in custom, nutrient-filled “seed pods” designed by plant scientists to support each species.

Each drone can carry a mix of different species simultaneously. The drones fire the pods quickly enough to penetrate the soil.

The process targets locations for planting a seed within centimeters. “We can modify what to plant, and where, so you have the highest chance of survival,” says Irina Fedorenko, co-founder of BioCarbon Engineering, who initially connected with the founder of Worldview International at a conference.

“If you do aerial spreading–you just spread seeds wherever–maybe they hit a rock, maybe they hit a swamp, and they’re not going to survive. But we can basically control for that.”

It’s technically possible for a single drone pilot to oversee six of the drones simultaneously, reaching the maximum of 100,000 plantings in a day, though drone regulations in some countries require a pilot for every drone, making the process slightly slower.

The drones are at least 10 times faster than humans planting trees by hand, while the process can cost half as much.

In the U.K., where the test plots have been in place for more than a year, the trees are showing good rates of survival.

“[Survival rates are] definitely much better than spreading from a helicopter, which many people use,” says Fedorenko. “In some species, it’s comparable with hand planting.

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Pass it on: Popular Science

Rocket Lab Has Reached The Orbit For The First Time

This weekend, US spaceflight startup Rocket Lab successfully launched its second Electron rocket for a crucial flight test — and reached orbit for the first time.

The Electron took off from the company’s New Zealand launch facility at 2:43PM local time on Sunday (or 8:43PM ET on Saturday), and about eight and a half minutes later, the rocket deployed three small commercial satellites.

It marks the first time the Electron has completed a full mission, and that may mean Rocket Lab is ready to start commercial flights of the vehicle.

Reaching orbit on a second test flight is significant on its own, but successfully deploying customer payloads so early in a new rocket program is almost unprecedented,” Peter Beck, Rocket Lab’s CEO, said in a statement.

Rocket Lab was founded on the principal of opening access to space to better understand our planet and improve life on it. Today we took a significant step towards that.

Rocket Lab’s big ambition is to be a dedicated launcher of small satellites. That’s why the company’s Electron rocket isn’t very big itself.

It stands at just over 55 feet tall, a slight stature compared to SpaceX’s Falcon 9, which is a lofty 180 feet tall. And the Electron’s capacity is limited, only capable of getting between 330 and 500 pounds to lower Earth orbit.

For comparison, the Falcon 9 can get around 50,000 pounds to a similar orbit.

But demand for this type of small rocket has been high. Operators of tiny satellites don’t have many options to get to space, and typically have to hitch rides on launches of much bigger probes.

That’s not always ideal, since it means waiting for someone else launch and possibly going to a less-than-desirable orbit.

But with a launcher like the Electron, small satellite operators can potentially pay for an entire rocket ride for their hardware, and Rocket Lab says individual flights may start as low as $4.9 million.

The company says it already has a full manifest of customers waiting for trips.

Before customers can start flying, Rocket Lab needed to show that the Electron could do its job, and getting to orbit was a key goal of this test.

During the first flight test of the vehicle, appropriately called “It’s a Test,” the Electron made it to space but failed to make it to orbit.

Some communications equipment on the ground lost contact with the rocket during flight, causing the vehicle to abort its mission. Rocket Lab said that if the mishap hadn’t occurred, the Electron would have made it to orbit.

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Pass it on: New Scientist

This Shark Eats Grass, And No One Knows Why

These sharks might be taking the expression “eating like a horse” a bit too literally.

Scientists have discovered that some sharks are eating a large amount of seagrass, as a significant part of their diet—but experts aren’t sure why the fish are deviating from their traditional carnivorous diet.

New research has shown that seagrass can make up more than 50 percent of a bonnethead shark’s diet. The small, shovel-headed sharks are closely related to the more familiar hammerheads.

It’s still possible that the sharks are just incidentally munching on seagrass as they feed on other prey, said Samantha Leigh, a Ph.D. candidate at the University of California, Irvine and a National Geographic explorer.

Even if it is incidental, it is a very large amount of grass, so they have to be able to process that somehow,” said Leigh.

Leigh conducted a nutrient content analysis that showed bonnetheads were digesting 56 percent of the organic matter in seagrass, similar to young sea turtles.

But in order to be considered true omnivores, an animal must obtain nutritional value or energy from the plants they eat.

Without knowing why bonnetheads are eating seagrass, it’s hard to know if this habit is purposeful, said Leigh, who is studying the shark’s digestive behavior.

It’s very likely they have some sort of microbiome living in their gut that is producing some of the enzymes that they need to break down this plant material, which is something we commonly find in omnivorous and especially herbivorous species,” she said.

However, younger bonnethead sharks have been found to have more seagrass in their stomachs than adult bonnetheads, which could point to a learning curve as the sharks mature and understand how to feed without simultaneously eating seagrass, said Dana Bethea, a research ecologist with NOAA Fisheries in Florida.

There’s a lot of prey handling learning that goes on in the younger life stages until they get to be bigger and really get their mouths around what they’re feeding,” she said.

Leigh thinks it’s a “definite possibility” that this could be related to their unique diet, though Bethea isn’t sure.

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Pass it on: Popular Science

5 Secret Android Functions Most Of Users Don’t Know About

There probably isn’t a person now who hasn’t got an absolutely indispensable smartphone in their pocket.

However, despite this fact, there aren’t many people out there who know about all the incredible things these devices are actually capable of.

1. Save your battery power

If you choose a black or simple dark background for your screen, the automatic pixel highlighting will turn off, and you’ll notice that your device keeps its charge for much longer.

This feature isn’t available for all Android devices yet, but it’s already implemented on most Samsung smartphones and tablets. Give it a try!

2. Text-to-speech

Not only can you read this article but you can also listen to it if you have an Android device.

So if you prefer to hear incoming information rather than see it, go to Settings -> Accessibility and turn on the Text-to-Speech Output option.

3. Smartphone remote control

Just go to Settings -> Security -> Device administrators, and check the boxes next to Android Device Manager, Remotely locate this device, and Allow remote lock and erase.

4. Turning on Guest Mode

If you would like to temporarily give your phone to another person yet keep your personal data confidential, use Guest Mode. Swipe down from the top with two fingers, and touch the user icon on the upper right.

The Add guest icon will appear, and you’ll be able to choose which actions the person handling your smartphone will be allowed to take.

5. Screen magnifier

People with poor eyesight often have no idea how much this feature can help them. Just go to Settings -> Accessibility -> Magnification gestures.

Then you’ll be able to zoom in on any part of the display just by tapping it.

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Pass it on: Popular Science

Nintendo Introduced A New Product Called ‘Labo’

Nintendo surprised the world once again this week.

The Japanese gaming powerhouse announced a new product with a strange name: “Nintendo Labo.”

Stranger than the name, however, is the product itself: a cardboard construction kit for building gaming peripherals. A what?

It’s worth explaining up front what you actually do with Labo. It’s not just a toy you buy, but a construction set for toys that are used with the Nintendo Switch console. The sets start at $70, and come with games.

The project may seem strange, but it’s actually a perfect marriage of Nintendo’s history as a toy maker and its recent history as a video game powerhouse.

The word “Nintendo” is synonymous with “video games,” and has been for nearly 40 years.

But the company’s actually far older than you may know — over 128 years old! — and much of its history had nothing to do with Italian plumbers fighting evil turtles.

The bulk of Nintendo’s history was spent as a playing-card manufacturer, up until the mid ’60s when it began creating toys.

That toy division eventually morphed into one that focused on a burgeoning format — video games — in the late ’70s.

All of which is to say one thing: Nintendo Labo makes a lot of sense given Nintendo’s history.

It’s a toy. It’s a game. It’s something you build  — that you create — and then play with. It can be drawn on, or covered in stickers, or accidentally stepped on.

Maybe you’ll have to repair it with duct tape and, uh, an old soda carton. Maybe you use the box Labo came in!

Isn’t that kind of rad, actually?

On paper, Labo is a kind-of DIY, adaptable gaming peripheral, with custom games made specifically for the various permutations of that peripheral. In reality, it’s a custom game controller that kids get to build, fix, and own.

Here, Nintendo uses cardboard as a feature, not a flaw. Cardboard can be repaired easily! It also lends itself to modifications, which will assuredly result in some delightful, unexpected ways to play Labo games.

Nintendo is selling a box full of cardboard for $70 with some basic software!” one might argue.

What Nintendo is actually offering with Labo is a relatively inexpensive, Lego-like experience on its wildly popular Nintendo Switch console.

Better yet: The entry-level set, the “Variety Kit,” offers five different builds of varying complexities. Considering the cost of a Lego set nowadays, you’re probably not doing too bad by comparison!

Nintendo Labo is set to launch on April 20 2018.

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Pass it on: Popular Science

Quantum Field Theory – Reality Is Not What You Think It Is | Podcast

Quantum Field Theory is the current best understanding of the nature of reality that we have. It’s also the strangest. Join me as we break down how we got there and what it all means.

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From The Royal Institution – David Tong on Quantum Field Theory

Part one on Quantum Electrodynamics and Paul Dirac at PBS Digital Studios

Fermilab on Quantum Field Theory