Here are all the articles covered on the Spaced Out podcast this week!
2015 is the New Normal
According to science, the world is getting hotter. Remember those record breaking temperatures in 2015? Thanks to a series of new simulations, researchers now predict those temps will be the new normal in the 2020’s. Even IF we’re able to drastically release the amount of CO2 emissions, we’ll still see those temps become average temps by 2040.
Give Those Cows Some Beano!
Did you know that there are more cows on this planet than there are people in China? It’s true. There are 1.5 billion cows in the world and only 1.3 billion Chinese citizens. Did you also know that livestock accounts for 14.5% of greenhouse gas emissions? Cows, in particular, produce a lot of methane, a greenhouse gas that “traps solar heat 28 times faster than CO2.” (Dairy cows are especially harmful because of their longer life spans.) Why? Because one of their four stomachs is full of digestive microbes, called methanogens, that were made to convert fiber to methane and feces. That’s why cows belch, and fart so regularly. It’s how their system is supposed to work. It’s also why beef tastes so good. Methanogens also produce the fatty acids that give beef its hearty zest.
But we all know, because of global warming, beef just isn’t sustainable. That’s why scientists in Australia are using seaweed to feed their cattle. It still allows the cows to burp, but blocks the methane byproduct by 10-20%. In Denmark, researchers are engineering “supergrass” that will ensure the cows receive essential nutrients, but cut the methane. At Penn State, they’re going straight to the source, the stomach, by adding 3-nitrooxypropanol (3NOP) into cow feed.
The problem is, these solutions aren’t definitive. Depending on the method and the cow, the cow’s gut microbiology can revert back in as little as a few days.
Tactile Sensing, AI’s Newest Agenda
By using tactile sensors, a robot has learned how to close a ziplock bag. This may not seem like a big deal, especially if you’ve been closing your own for years, but for a robot, the task is really hard. Our human brains are capable of sensing (sight, sound, touch, etc.) and reacting to those senses accordingly. In order to create robots that would exist in the same environments as we do, they need to be able to process the environment the way we do, through the senses. The robots already have cameras for sight and microphones for sound, so roboticists have created tactile sensors for touch. These sensors can detect impact forces which teach a robot how to walk or open a door. Some scientists have gone a step further and created robot skin. Called distributed information processing, the smart material is a collection of sensors and computers that work independently of the robot itself. Instead of the robot processing all of those sensors, all at once, all of the time, the smart skin communicates only big picture information. Meaning, the skin will only tell the robot when its elbow is on the table. Cool.
The Skinny: Bennu and OSIRIS-REx
We’ve discussed it before, but let’s go into detail about the OSIRIS-REx mission and its plan to take a sample from an asteroid called Bennu. Yes, at the end of the 22nd century, the asteroid might make contact with Earth and leave behind a three mile wide impact crater, but that isn’t why scientists want to study it. About four billion years ago, our planet was showered with asteroids, a period of time astronomers call the “Late Heavy Bombardment.” Because this is also around the same time life on Earth began, some scientists theorize that these asteroids “may have delivered organic material and water to the early Earth.” Bennu is a carbonaceous regolith. In layman's terms, that means it’s a prehistoric asteroid that has “undergone very little change in the past 4.5 billion years. Scientists want a sample because the asteroid is expected to be a “pristine, primitive environment” and will likely help answer questions about the origin of life. Just how will they do it? The rocket, which launched this past september, will reach Bennu in August of 2018. Contrary to popular belief, it will NOT land on the asteroid, instead it will use it’s 11-foot robot arm called TAGSAM (Touch-and-Go-Sample-Acquisition-Mechanism) to grab 60 grams of material from the surface. The arm will make contact with the asteroid for about five seconds before returning to Earth in 2023. And get this, 75% of the sample will go untouched. Scientists want to preserve it for future research, for questions they don’t know to ask yet.
This Week In the Night Sky…
On Monday night (November 14th), prepare for the biggest and brightest supermoon of the year. Called a Beaver Moon because it was used to remind early American settlers to set beaver traps before the lakes froze over, it will also be the largest and closest moon to appear in the night sky since 1948. We aren’t expected to see a moon this big again until 2034, so get outside tonight and take a look!
The moon will be so bright in fact that it will reduce the visual quality of this year’s Leonid meteor shower. The celestial phenomenon will reach its peak on Thursday, November 17th, but it will compete with a 90%-lit supermoon. Typically, this shower allows observers to see about 15 meteors per hour, but this year, stargazers will only be able to see about five. But watching the shower is still worth it! At 44 miles per second, the Leonid meteors enter our atmosphere faster than any other meteor shower, meaning the resulting “fireballs” will be as bright as Venus in the night sky. Check it out!
Sources: Science News, Wired, Astronomy Magazine, Space.com