Month: December, 2018

Wealthy Explorer First to Reach Deepest Part of Atlantic Ocean

Vescovo prepares to load into the DSV Limiting Factor for his record-setting dive. Also pictured: rescue swimmer Colin Quigley, of Triton subs.

Vescovo became the first person to do so on a solo mission in a manned submersible vessel and the second ever to make a solo dive deeper than 5,000 meters (16,400 feet).

According to a statement released by the Discovery Channel which will air a documentary of the expedition in the upcoming years.

The deepest point of this trench plunges to 8,376 meters (27,480 feet) below the surface of the ocean.

James Cameron, in the Deepsea Challenger vessel, dove deeper in 2012 to 10,908 meters (35,790 feet) down in the Mariana Trench in the Pacific Ocean, the world’s deepest spot.

Triton Submarines President Patrick Lahey (left) reviews dive sites with Victor Vescovo.

It felt great to get to the true bottom of the Atlantic Ocean for the first time in history and to prove the technical capabilities of this diving system, which we believe is now the deepest operational one in the world,” Vescovo said in the statement.

“We are really looking forward to continuing to the other dive sites, and continuing our technical and scientific goals.”

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Pass it on: Popular Science

Aliens? Or Alien Impostors? Finding Oxygen Might Not Mean Life

In our quest for life beyond the Solar System, it makes sense to look for a world like our own.

We’ve long hoped to find an Earth-sized world around a Sun-like star at the right distance for liquid water as our first step, and with thousands of planets in our coffers already, we’re extremely close.

But not every world with the right physical properties is going to have life; we need additional information to know whether a potentially habitable world is actually inhabited.

The follow-up would be to analyze the planet’s atmosphere for Earth-like signatures: potential signs of life.

Earth’s combination of atmospheric gases — nitrogen, oxygen, water vapor, carbon dioxide and more — has been assumed to be a dead giveaway for a planet with life on it.

But a new study by planetary scientist Dr. Sarah Hörst’s team throws that into doubt. Even worlds rich in oxygen might not harbor aliens, but an impostor process that could fool us all.

The scientific story of how to even reach that point is fascinating, and closer to becoming a reality than ever before.

We can understand how this happens by imagining we were aliens, looking at our Sun from a large distance away, trying to determine if it possessed an inhabited world.

By measuring the slight variations in the frequency of the Sun’s light over long periods of time, we’d be able to deduce the gravitational influence of the planets on them.

This detection method is known either the radial velocity or the stellar wobble method, and can tell us information about a planet’s mass and orbital period.

Most of the early (pre-Kepler) exoplanets were discovered with this technique, and it’s still the best method we have for both determining planetary masses and confirming the existence of candidate exoplanets.

We also need to know the size of the planet. With the stellar wobble alone, we’ll only know what the mass of the world is relative to the angle-of-inclination of its orbit.

A world that’s the mass of Earth could be well-suited to life if it’s got an Earth-like atmosphere, but it could be disastrous for life if it’s an iron-like world with no atmosphere at all, or a low-density, puffy world with a large gaseous envelope.

Most of the planets we know of that are comparable to Earth in size have been found around cooler, smaller stars than the Sun. This makes sense with the limits of our instruments; these systems have larger planet-to-star size ratios than our Earth does with respect to the Sun.

Most of them orbit red dwarf stars — the most common class of star in the Universe — which means the forces should tidally lock them: the same side should always face the star. These stars flare often, posing a danger to any potential atmospheres on these worlds.

Historically, when we’ve looked to the skies for evidence of life beyond Earth, we’ve been biased by hope and what we know on Earth.

Theories of dinosaurs on Venus or canals on Mars still linger in our memories, and we must be careful that extraterrestial oxygen signatures don’t lead us to falsely optimistic conclusions.

We now know that both abiotic processes and life-dependent ones can create an oxygen-rich atmosphere.

The hard problem, then, will be disentangling the potential causes when we actually find our first oxygen-rich, Earth-like exoplanet.

Our reward, if we’re successful, will be the knowledge of whether or not we’ve actually found life around another star.

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Pass it on: Popular Science

This Lung-Like Device Can Transform Water Into a Clean Source of Fuel

A device inspired by human lungs can split water into oxygen and hydrogen

Get water in your lungs, and you’re in for a very bad time.

But when water enters a new type of “lung” created by researchers at Stanford University, the result is hydrogen fuel — a clean source of energy that could one day power everything from our cars to our smartphones.

Though this isn’t the first device to produce hydrogen fuel, the unique design could be the first step along the path to an efficient method of generating hydrogen fuel.

Looking to Nature

The Stanford team describes its device in a paper published on Thursday in the journal Joule.

When air enters a human lung, it passes through a thin membrane. This membrane extracts the oxygen from the air and send it into the bloodstream. The unique structure of the organ makes this gas exchange highly efficient.

Combine hydrogen with oxygen, and you get electricity — and unlike the burning of fossil fuels, the only byproduct is water.

For that reason, researchers have been looking into hydrogen fuel for decades, but they simply haven’t found a way to produce it that is efficient enough to be worthwhile.

This is mainly because hydrogen doesn’t often exist on its own in nature — we need to isolate it, often by separating water into hydrogen and oxygen.

Take a Breath

The Stanford researchers’ lung is essentially a pouch created out of a thick plastic film. Tiny water-repelling pores cover the exterior of the pouch, while gold and platinum nanoparticles line its interior.

By placing the pouch in water and applying voltage, the researchers were able to compel the device to create energy at an efficiency 32 percent higher than if they laid the film flat.

They claim this is because the lung-like shape did a better job than other fuel cell designs of minimizing the bubbles that can form — and hurt efficiency — during the energy-generation process.

The geometry is important,” Stanford research Yi Cui said.

The team will now focus on scaling-up its design and finding a way to get it to tolerate higher temperatures — right now, it doesn’t work above 100 degrees Celsius, which could be a problem for commercial applications.

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Pass it on: New Scientist

A Lab-On-a-Chip That Fits Inside A Smartphone Is Set To Change Our Relationship With Food

Smartphones of the near future will be able to scan a food item to see how fresh it is or check how clean the surrounding air is, following a new breakthrough by a team of engineers at Eindhoven University of Technology in the Netherlands.

In a paper published to Nature Communications, the team revealed its tiny, new spectrometer – a device that measures visible and invisible light, revealing a ‘footprint’ of every material and tissue.

While precise spectrometers are typically large devices because they split up the light into different colors and need to be measured directly, the Dutch team’s device takes measurements in a completely different way.

It does this using a special ‘photonic crystal cavity’ that acts as a ‘trap’ of just a few micro meters into which the light falls and cannot escape.

Contained within a membrane, the catching of the light results in a tiny electrical current being generated, which is then measured.

Still some way to go

To amp it up to measure larger frequencies, the researchers placed two of their membranes, one above the other.

The membranes influence each other and if the distance between them changes slightly, then the light frequency that the sensor is able to detect shifts, too.

Using a micro-electromechanical system, the distance between the membranes can be varied, thereby measuring the frequency at a wavelength range of 30 nanometres when it can discern about a hundred thousand frequencies, giving it exceptional accuracy.

This is made possible by the fact that the researchers are able to precisely determine the distance between the membranes to just a few tens of femtometres, a measurement equal to one-quadrillionth of a metre.

To show its usefulness, the team led by Prof Andrea Fiore showed that the device was capable of working as a gas sensor, as well as a precise motion sensor.

As for when we can expect such a precise sensor in smartphones, Fiore predicts it will be another five years or more as the frequency range it covers is still too small, at just the near-infrared range.

The next step for the team’s research is to extend the detectable spectrum as well as integrating the extra element of a light source with the micro-spectrometer, which will make the sensor independent of external sources.

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Pass it on: New Scientist

The Story Behind Our Planet’s Most Famous Photo


The crew of the Apollo 8 spacecraft (Bill Anders, 3rd left) following the lunar orbital mission, 27 December 1968.

This photograph is now half a century old. It was taken by the astronaut Bill Anders on Christmas Eve 1968 as the Apollo 8 spacecraft rounded the dark side of the moon for a fourth time.

When Earth came up over the horizon, Anders scrabbled for his Hasselblad camera and started clicking.

In that pre-digital age, five days passed. The astronauts returned to Earth; the film was retrieved and developed.

In its new year edition, Life magazine printed the photo on a double-page spread alongside a poem by US poet laureate James Dickey: “And behold / The blue planet steeped in its dream / Of reality, its calculated vision shaking with the only love.”

This was not quite the first look at our world from space. Lunar probes had sent back crudely scanned images of a crescent Earth shrouded in cloud.

A satellite had even taken a colour photo that, in the autumn of 1968, the radical entrepreneur Stewart Brand put on the cover of his first Whole Earth Catalog.

The next edition, in spring 1969, used Anders’s photograph, by now known as Earthrise.

Brand’s catalogue was a DIY manual for the Californian counterculture, a crowdsourced compendium of life hacks about backpacking, home weaving, tantra art and goat husbandry.

Its one-world, eco ethos was a weird offshoot of the macho tech of the space age – those hunks of aluminium run on rocket fuel and cold war rivalries.

But then looking back at Earth was itself a weird offshoot of the moon missions.

It just happened that Apollo 8’s aim – to locate the best lunar landing sites – needed high-res photography, which was also good for taking pictures of planets a quarter of a million miles away.

When Bill Anders took this photograph from the Apollo spacecraft on Christmas Eve in 1968, our relationship with the world changed forever

The Earth pictured in Earthrise looks unlike traditional cartographic globes that mark out land and sea along lines of latitude and longitude.

Slightly more than half the planet is illuminated. The line dividing night and day severs Africa. Earth looks as if it is floating alone in the eternal night of space, each part awaiting its share of the life-giving light of the sun.

Apart from a small brown patch of equatorial Africa, the planet is blue and white. At first glance it seems to have the sheen of blue-veined marble.

But look closer and that spherical perfection softens a little. Earth divulges its true state as oceanic and atmospheric, warmly welcoming and achingly vulnerable.

The Apollo 8 crew (from left) Frank Borman, James Lovell and Bill Anders

The blue is light scattered by the sea and sky. The white is the gaseous veneer that coats our planet and lets us live.

You can just make out the “beautiful blue halo”, with its gentle shift from tender blue to purple black, that Yuri Gagarin noticed on his first low-orbit flight.

That halo is our fragile biosphere, and is all that stands between us and the suffocating void.

Still, Earthrise must have changed something. What’s seen can’t be unseen. Perhaps it flits across your mind when you open Google Earth and see that familiar virtual globe gently spinning.

The non-human version of Earthrise from Lunar Orbiter in 1966.

Just before you click and drag to fly yourself to some portion of the world no bigger than an allotment, you may briefly take in, with a little stomach lurch, that this slowly revolving sphere holds close to 8 billion people, living out lives as small and short and yet meaningful as the universe is infinite and eternal and yet meaningless.

On that gigantic, glistening marble, mottled with blue-white swirls, lies everyone.

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Pass it on: New Scientist

The New Wave Of Flying Cars

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Watch a science fiction film and you’re sure to see a flying car. We’ve been dreaming of flying cars since before there were even cars. But it’s always been just a bit out of reach. Today, several companies are working on using drone technology to create personal flying vehicles. Here’s some of the most promising.

The PAL-V Liberty is a gyrocopter that debuted at the Geneva Motor Show in March 2018. You need a pilot’s license to fly it, and it can’t lift off and land vertically, you need a little forward momentum to drive. It runs on regular gasoline and can get 37 miles per gallon on the ground and 310 miles in the air.].

The company Kitty Hawk, financed by Google co-founder Larry page, has introduced the Kitty Hawk Flyer, which is basically a giant jet ski featuring 10 open rotary blades and pontoons instead of wheels, so you have to land on water. It’s a battery electric vehicle that’s computer controlled so that literally anybody could fly one of these things.…

The Flyer will be followed up with the Cora, a 2-seater vertical take off and landing vehicle (VTOL) that works like an air taxi. It’s also fully electric and can carry 400 pounds of people and cargo at a max speed of 110 miles per hour.…

The Terrafugia Transition has foldable wings that spread out when it’s time to fly. Changeover from driving takes about a minute, and it costs around $400,000. You also need a pilot’s license to fly the Transition.……

DeLorean Aerospace is run by the nephew of the famous John Delorean of Back to the Future fame. They’re working on a VTOL vehicle with a cool design.

Urban Aeronautics out of Israel has a couple of models they are working on, including the X-Hawk powered by two ducted fans carrying only two passengers. The Cityhawk is a larger variant that could be used for urban rescue missions.

Your Facebook Account Is Giving Away Your Personal Info Onto The Internet. Here’s how to stop it.

Facebook is kind of a mess right now. And there are plenty of equally messy reaction pieces cajoling you, and everyone you know, to delete your account in a massive middle finger to the web’s prevailing social network.

That’s the easy take and, honestly, we’ve experienced this mob response before. Did you #DeleteFacebook then? Me neither.

We think it’s worth considering a more measured approach. The sky might be falling, but you can still be a lot smarter about social media—what data you share with it and what data you let third-party apps and services see—without opting out of social networking entirely.

There’s still some good left in Facebook. Let’s consider all our options before doing anything rash.

Should you really delete Facebook this time? Maybe.

If you’re overly concerned about Facebook’s data-collection practices, you’ll probably feel a lot better if you start distancing yourself from the social network.

It’s healthier, too. Let’s recap the three major techniques you can try:

  • Just stop using the social network
  • Deactivate your Facebook account
  • Delete thyself

When you’re ready to say goodbye, let Facebook know, and be prepared to stay away from your account.

Deleting everything about you takes some time—up to 90 days—and if you log back in before Facebook “wipes” your account, this might interrupt the process.

Change your mind, and you’ll have to start the countdown all over again.

The deletion process is fairly extreme, so make sure you’ve set up your digital life before you depart.

That includes transferring ownership of any pages or groups you manage to those who will carry the torch once your profile has vanished into the digital ether.

Don’t forget to log out of all Facebook sessions and remove the apps from your mobile devices. And don’t use Facebook’s single-sign-on feature to log into websites anymore, lest you accidentally stop your account’s deletion.

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Pass it on: Popular Science