Category: technology

By Robbie Gonzalez Way, way out at the cold, dark edges of the solar system—past the rocky inner planets, beyond the gas giants, a billion miles more remote than Pluto—drifts a tiny frozen world so mysterious, scientists still aren’t entirely sure if it’s one world or two. Astronomers call it Ultima Thule, an old cartography term meaning “beyond the …

By Sarah Lewin NASA’s new Mars lander isn’t quite ready to probe the Red Planet’s interior yet, but it’s starting to get the lay of the land on the surface — and in the atmosphere. The InSight lander is already deploying its powerful meteorology package to monitor the Red Planet’s weather. InSight touched down on the …

By Soo Youn and David Kerley For the first time, humans can hear wind from Mars. InSight, or NASA’s Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport lander, provided the first “sounds” of Martian winds to human ears on Friday. The spacecraft’s sensors captured a “haunting low rumble caused by vibrations from the wind,” a …

By BioMed Central The black hole at the centre of our galaxy, Sagittarius A*, has been visualised in virtual reality for the first time. The details are described in an article published in the open access journal Computational Astrophysics and Cosmology. Scientists at Radboud University, The Netherlands and Goethe University, Germany used recent astrophysical models of Sagittarius …

By Nick Lucchesi

A team of roboticists have taken another step toward the inevitable future where real-life Transformers move among us.

New research on modular, autonomous robots was published Wednesday that shows how robots can see, think, and decide to transform their shape based on the challenge facing them.

A six-person team published this research paper — “An Integrated System for Perception-Driven Autonomy with Modular Robots” — in the journal Science Robotics. The researchers hail from Cornell University and the University of Pennsylvania.

Here are the key areas of how the robot does what it does, in the words of the researchers.

“A lot of people have seen this in movies, if you’ve seen like Transformers or Big Hero 6, robots that can change their shape,” says Mark Yim, Professor, University of Pennsylvania, of the modular robots revealed this week. “We’ve had lots of examples of robots that can do things like walking or climbing stairs … but all of those things were done separately. This is the first time that we’ve actually had a system that could do all of this stuff autonomously.”

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By Aldo Serenelli

Energy is generated in the interior of the Sun through sequences of nuclear reactions in which four protons fuse together to form a helium-4 nucleus. These sequences are accompanied by the release of two particles known as electron neutrinos. Models suggest that 99% of the nuclear energy released by the Sun originates from three reaction sequences — collectively known as the proton–proton (pp) chain — that are initiated by the fusion of two protons. In a paper in Nature, the Borexino Collaboration1 reports the first complete measurement of neutrino fluxes that originate from these three sequences, based on an analysis of more than 2,000 days of data collection. The results help us to understand the details of how and why the Sun shines.

Neutrinos interact weakly with matter, and therefore escape almost unhindered from the Sun’s interior, to reach Earth about eight minutes later. Solar neutrinos therefore provide a direct view into the nuclear furnace in the Sun’s core. The Borexino experiment (Fig. 1) detects such neutrinos and determines how much energy they have by measuring the amount of light produced when the particles interact with the detecting agent (an organic liquid, called the scintillator, which is kept underground to minimize the amount of background radiation that can interfere with the neutrino signals). In contrast to all other solar-neutrino experiments, Borexino can measure the energies of both high- and low-energy neutrinos, which makes it possible to study the structure of the solar core using a technique known as neutrino spectroscopy.

Electron neutrinos can change into two other types (or flavours) of neutrino, known as tau and muon neutrinos, as they travel to Earth, a phenomenon known as flavour oscillation. The Borexino experiment is more sensitive to electron neutrinos than to tau or muon neutrinos, and so flavour oscillation needs to be accounted for when the measured neutrino fluxes are used to calculate the fluxes produced in the Sun. Taking this into consideration, the Borexino collaborators used the measured neutrino flux to work out the total power generated by nuclear reactions in the Sun’s core, with an uncertainty of about 10%, and found that this is the same as the measured photon output — thus showing that nuclear fusion is indeed the source of energy in the Sun. This value, calculated for the amount of energy produced through nuclear reactions, is comparable with previous2 results obtained by combining data from several neutrino-detection experiments, and places the most robust and model-independent constraints on the source of solar energy.

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The moon has been receiving a lot of attention lately. From Elon Musk’s SpaceX trip around the moon — which recently signed on its first billionaire passenger — to NASA’s renewed plans for moon exploration, it seems we’re in a new lunar space race.

The latest exhibition at Denmark’s Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, “The Moon: From Inner Worlds to Outer Space,” looks at how artists have been looking upward to Earth’s satellite — not only from a scientific point of view, but also to the moon as a cultural symbol imbued with different meanings.

“I was the first artist in residence at NASA,” said artist-musician Laurie Anderson, whose work, co-created with fellow mixed-media artist Hsin-Chien Huang, is one of the highlights of the exhibition. “For three years, I just was a fly on the wall at Mission Control in Houston, Jet Propulsion lab in Pasadena, the Hubble in Maryland. Artists have a different point of view and that should be represented.”

Anderson has never shied away from drawing upon science for technological advancements to use in her work, which often has a futuristic tone. Her 1981 self-directed video for the song “O Superman,” which brought her progressive aesthetic into pop culture, is no exception and cleverly shows Anderson’s fascination with technology.

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By Mark Harris

Christopher Talbot thought he would make a great police officer. He was 29 years old, fit, and had a clean background record. Talbot had military experience, including a tour of Iraq as a US Marine, and his commanding officer had written him a glowing recommendation. In 2014, armed with an associate degree in criminal justice, he felt ready to apply to become an officer with the New Haven Police Department, in his home state of Connecticut.

Talbot sailed through the department’s rigorous physical and mental tests, passing speed and agility trials and a written examination—but there was one final test. Like thousands of other law enforcement, fire, paramedic, and federal agencies across the country, the New Haven Police Department insists that each applicant take an assessment that has been rejected by almost every scientific authority: the polygraph test.

Commonly known as lie detectors, polygraphs are virtually unused in civilian life. They’re largely inadmissible in court and it’s illegal for most private companies to consult them. Over the past century, scientists have debunked the polygraph, proving again and again that the test can’t reliably distinguish truth from falsehood. At best, it is a roll of the dice; at worst, it’s a vessel for test administrators to project their own beliefs.

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By Sara Reardon

With the tip of her syringe, Brandi pokes at a grey lump of heroin in a spoon. It’s a new variety of the drug that has shown up on the market in the past few days, and Brandi likes it. “I feel this more, I feel more of the pain resistance,” she says.

Once it has dissolved into a liquid, she injects it into her arm, then uses a fresh needle to inject the skinny arm of another woman. “She does it better than the hospital,” the woman comments.

“I’ll help anybody who needs it,” Brandi explains to public-health researcher Daniel Ciccarone of the University of California, San Francisco, who has been filming the entire process.

Ciccarone’s team has embedded with Brandi — whose name has been changed for this story — in Charleston, West Virginia, documenting her interactions without judgement or interference. Later, the group will analyse this video, in addition to half a dozen other videos of drug users from across the city, logging details big and small. Brandi does not heat the solution on the spoon, for instance, and that may increase the likelihood of spreading viruses such as HIV. And tests reveal that what she’s taking has been laced with fentanyl, a synthetic drug up to 50 times more powerful than heroin.

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By Tim Fernholz

Given recent trends, you may think humans have mastered filling a planet’s atmosphere with carbon dioxide and heating it up.

But scientists using data collected by NASA spacecraft say using this technique to make Mars habitable for humans is far beyond the technology we have today.

The problem is one of supply: There’s simply not enough carbon dioxide on Mars to create an atmosphere that traps heat and gases close to the planetary surface.

The idea of “terraforming” the red planet is to make it more Earth-like by increasing its temperature so that liquid water could exist, rather than freeze, with a greenhouse atmosphere more conducive to life. The vision has long inspired science-fiction authors and putative space explorers. When, in 2016, Elon Musk’s first presented his vision to go to Mars, few missed that images of the planet grew steadily greener as he unveiled the steps in his plan.

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