This Spacespiracy Moment

October 18, 2016

 

3D Bones are all the Rage this Halloween

3D bones are really a thing. Seriously. A materials science engineer from Northwestern University in Chicago has created an extremely flexible material, an elastic polymer and hydroxyapatite blend, designed to be printed into the shape of bones.  Hydroxyapatite is a calcium material found in human bones and teeth, and when combined with the plastic polymer and implanted, stimulates real bone growth with a month. For all you non-med students out there, apparently that’s really fast! The 3D “bones” have only been tested in animals...but so far so good!

 

Aliens! Again!

After analyzing data from the Sloan Digital Sky Survey, two French-Canadian researchers are claiming that aliens are trying to contact us. They have detected several different signals that they believe to be of “intelligent extraterrestrial origin,” and have published their findings on the Cornell University Library’s website. But a couple of senior leaders at SETI (a non-profit research center focused on finding aliens) don’t believe these findings should have been published. In fact, they gave the incident a number '1' (also known as 'insignificant') on their Rio Scale. They claim that the data needs to be analyzed further before any definitive conclusions can be made. Um...isn't that the case with pretty much EVERYTHING in astronomy?! Nothing is ever conclusive, right?

 

Elon Musk and the Moore’s Code Debacle

Mars may not be as attainable as Elon Musk claimed. When he announced his plan to get humans to the red planet a couple of weeks ago, I must admit, I was drinking the Koolaid! But according to this article, the plan is flawed. Afterall, NASA has been working on getting us there for the past 50 years! This article discusses the “flaws” in Musk’s plan.

 

 

 

Gene Editing and the Future of Lab Rats

Scientists have been experimenting on animals for centuries. Today, it’s common practice to use zebrafish, rats, mice, and fruit flies. Why? Because they’re small, meaning their monthly room and board expenses are cheaper. AND their breeding cycles are fast, meaning test subjects are replaced quite quickly. What if I told you CRISPR, the hot new DNA sequencing machine, is changing all of that? Now, scientists can create perfect animal testing specimens. “This gene editing system allows scientists to target specific spots in a genome, where the Cas9 enzyme can then slice, dice and even add in new genes.” This will not only cut overall lab costs, but it will provide researchers with the purest samples and a more controlled experiement. 

 

GM Foods Just Might Curb Tanzania’s Hunger

A 2009 African law has been repealed...and it’s about time. The liability law states that “anyone involved with importing, moving, storing or using GM (genetically modified) products could be sued if someone else claimed the product caused them harm or loss.” As you can imagine, this deterred the introduction of GM products to African countries. Extreme weather over the past 18 months (El Nino) has left many of the conintent’s countries without water, forcing lawmakers to repeal the 2009 law. People need to eat, right? Last week, a drought-resistant white corn hybrid was planted in Tanzania, making it the African nation’s first GM crop. South Africa, Egypt, Burkina Faso and Sudan currently grow GMOs, and in the upcoming year, Malawi, Uganda, and Kenya are expected to as well. This progress in Africa may finally persuade the EU to lift its current GMO crop cultivation ban.

 

Google Does it Again

GPS tells its users the fastest routes because it has been programmed with route specifics, right? Google DeepMind (the same company that created AlphaGo) has created a GPS based Artificial Intelligence (AI) that can figure out the fastest London Underground routes without being programmed specifically to do so. How does that work? Via it’s neural network (a computer program that mimics the human brain), the AI has learned “general rules from specific examples,” stores them in an “external memory source that works somewhat like RAM in a regular computer,” and then uses that knowledge to plot out a new route “on the fly.” This hybrid machine (half neural network, half storage device) is quite the breakthrough. Until now, neural networks have been unable to solve complex problems that require analyzing data. Why? Because there was nowhere to store that data.

 

Ladies and Gentlemen, We’ve Got a New Dwarf Planet:

Eight and a half billion miles away from the Sun lives a newly discovered dwarf planet, making it the second dwarf planet in our solar system (Pluto is the first). Currently called 2014 UZ224, it was discovered by undergraduates at the University of Michigan. It sits in the Kuiper Belt (far enough out there to be free of Neptune’s gravitational pull), is 330 miles across, and orbits the Sun in approximately every 1,100 years.

 

 

Opportunity is Going Where No Rover has Gone Before

If you’re into planetary sciences, Martian gullies are quite famous. Their origins, and whether or not they were even created by water, have been highly debated over the recent months. Scientists don't even know if we can still call them gullies! (Gullies are Earth based geological structures that are caused by water.) Good thing we have our little Martian rover, Opportunity, to check things out for us. It will be the first rover to ever drive into one of these “gullies.” Let’s hope it comes back with some good intel!

 

Project Blue is Gonna Find the Next Earth

Remember when Pale Red Dot discovered an Earth-sized planet orbiting the closest star to our solar system, Proxima B? What about the other two stars in the system, Alpha Centauri A&B? Currently, only young, Jupiter-sized planets have been discovered orbiting around these stars but Project Blue is hoping to change that. With the help of the Boldly Go and SETI Institutes, it will launch a small telescope with “a coronagraph to block out the light of the stars” that uses ”adaptive optics to create a robust signal to noise ratio.” If all goes according to plan, in roughly two years time, they'll find a planet!

 

Ultraviolet Light Might Create Life, Y’all

Ok, you got me. Scientists have been assuming that for years now. I know, I know. But recent theories of hydrocarbon (a compound of hydrogen and carbon that ) formation have officially been debunked by the European Space Agency’s Herschel Space Observatory. By studying Orion’s components, they discovered that the CH+ (carbon-hydrogen positive ion) within the constellation is releasing light, rather than absorbing it. That means that not only is the ion “warmer than the background gas,” but that it was probably created by ultraviolet light hitting surrounding hydrogen atoms. 

 

Using Microlensing to Find Planets

This just might be the hottest thing in exoplanet observation right now. Gravitational microlensing is a process used to identify celestial bodies within our Milky Way, ranging in mass from a planet to a star. The process observes how the mass “gravitationally warps the space around it” by allowing for light from a more distant star to wrap around the nearby star, and show us images of the distant star. (INSERT A LOUD WHISTLING SOUND HERE). Yeah, that was a mouthful. Basically, we use one star to show us what another star looks like, or in this case, what it has orbiting around it. The exoplanet that was found is about 8,000 light years away, toward the center of our galaxy, and orbits a pair of red dwarf stars.

 

 

 

Well these Solar Systems are Strange

More and more exoplanets are discovered daily, and most of them are categorized as ‘hot Jupiters’ or ‘super Earths.' There are also ‘hot Earths,' terrestrial planets that orbit their stars in as little as two days or less. Scientists have identified 144 of these exoplanets and while most of them have neighboring planets, 24 of them do not, making their systems unique. Just how did these planets form? One theory is that they used to be hot Jupiters...

 

We’re Up to Two Trillion Galaxies, Folks!

A new galactic census has been published, increasing the amount of galaxies that exist (or have existed) in our universe, to two trillion! That’s ten times higher than previously thought! Astrophysicists at the University of Nottingham combined data from space and ground-based telescopes to “look at how the number of galaxies in a typical volume of the universe has changed over much of cosmic history. They then calculated how many galaxies have come and gone in the universe," arriving at the new number.

 

When It Comes to Aliens, This Company Will Happily Work with China

A few months ago, the National Astronomical Observatories of China (NAOC) announced the completion of FAST, its Five-hundred-meter Aperture Spherical Telescope. The telescope is HUGE and was built to look for extraterrestrial life. Now, NAOC, together with Breakthrough Listen (Yuri Milner’s $100 million venture to look for aliens), has a new announcement to make...they will be joining forces! In addition to FAST, they will be using the Green Bank Telescope in West Virginia and the Parkes Observatory in New South Wales, Australia.

 

The White House Frontiers Conference
On October 13th, President Obama, a self proclaimed science nerd, together with the University of Pittsburgh and Carnegie Mellon University, hosted the White House Frontiers Conference. The conference focused on “building U.S. capacity in science, technology, and innovation, and the new technologies, challenges, and goals that will continue to shape the 21st century and beyond.” One of the topics discussed was the future of the human body and the eradication of all disease. Obama took a special liking to Nathan Copeland and his prosthetic arm. Because of a car accident in 2004, Copeland is paralyzed, unable to feel his arms or legs. But Copeland’s prosthetic is different. Because of a microchip implanted in his brain, he can “control and feel the system with his mind.” Cool.

 

 

Sources: Science News, Wired, Astronomy Magazine

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writer | author | sci-fi storyteller

Lisa Caskey

writer | author | sci-fi storyteller
© 2016 by Lisa Caskey
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