Wednesday, October 31, 2007

NASA ordered to 'fess up re 1965 UFO incident.

Ufologists take the slogan of the Quaker State seriously. "You've got a friend in Pennsylvania!" the motto goes; many think that one of those friends just might be from another planet!

In 1965 residents of the town of Kecksburg, about 40 miles southeast of Pittsburgh, watched a mysterious object fly across their skies and crash, then saw its wreckage taken away by tight lipped federal agents from the American Air Force, Army and NASA.

Sticking to their "it was a meteor" meme, the agencies had pretty much brushed the matter under the rug. But, get this: Pennsylvania's other official slogan is "Memories last a life time" and indeed, four years ago journalist Leslie Kean of New York City sued NASA demanding full disclosure on the mysterious crash. Surprise: the judge found in her favor!

At least, US District Court Judge Emmet Sullivan rejected NASA's request to throw the case out of court. The resulting negotiations led to the agency promising last week that it will conduct a more comprehensive search.

Will they find anything? Stay tuned.

Thanks Shaun Saunders to bringing this to our attention

Ringside watchers differ on 3 billion year old brawl

Say you're in the taproom at the Restaurant at the end of the Universe. Down the bar, one galactic cluster drunkenly bumps into another. Before you know it, they are entangled in a deadly clash so terrible, they're knocking the very dark matter out of each other!

That's what l
ast August, astronomer Douglas Clowe, then at the University of Arizona and his colleagues reported taking place about 3 billion light-years from here in the appropriately-named Bullet Cluster.

But now a Canadian team of researchers led by John W. Moffatt, PhD argues that what the Yanks thought they saw wasn't dark matter at all. Instead, the intermingling of the two vast bodies is resulting in a Modified Gravity event or "MOG" that has bent light passing through the non-dark matter of each cluster from even more distant stellar formations in slightly different ways, giving the appearance, if not the reality of a 'dark" form of matter. Moffatt says their Modified Gravity theory predicts that the force of gravity changes with distance. Is Einstein spinning in his grave?

Back in that restaurant bar, imagine you're watching the two multistellar bodies slowdancing through the lens of your partially filled glass beer mug, while you move it nearer and farther from your eye, and you'll be about right.

Astronomer Clowe and companions stand by their claims, however. That's dark matter out there, they believe.

NASA photo

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

And a microbe shall lead them....

Past futurologist Timothy Leary is vindicated. As he predicted in 1977, genetic reproduction in a gravity free environment does indeed unlock or activate great swathes of the Terran genome, hitherto unexpressed.

At least that's what the results of a study recently released by the National Academy of Sciences suggest.

In "Space Flight alters Bacterial Gene Expression" the forty (yes 40) authors observed that:

"Salmonella bacteria grown aboard the Space Shuttle on its STS 115 mission showed changes in the expression of 160 genes, with the RNA-binding protein Hfq in command....Global microarray and proteomic analyses revealed that 167 transcripts and 73 proteins changed expression with the conserved RNA-binding protein Hfq identified as a likely global regulator involved in the response to this environment."

The researchers concluded that it was the absence of gravity that precipitated the novel gene expression.

Similarly in Exo-Psychology Leary wrote that "[t]he significance of extraterrestrial flight has not yet been fully understood. Just as land-dwelling organisms rapidly develop neural and physiological equipment for the new environment, this transition to zero-gravity and extraterrestrial radiation will trigger off genetic and neurological changes necessary to adapt to interstellar life.

But as microbiologist Elio notes in his Small Things Considered blog, zero gravity is likely but one of the environmental changes the E Coli aboard the Shuttle went through:

"Besides gravity, which is clearly the focus of this paper, they really should control for a less obvious but potentially much more important factor: radiation. Our atmosphere shields us from an enormous amount of the stuff. The bacterial cultures that flew got exposed to much higher levels of radiation than the cultures that stayed on the ground, so it's entirely possible that the increased virulence is due to a mutation and/or general stress on the DNA repair machinery.

Dove suspects that "the reason they didn't look at this is that it was much easier to do gene expression chip profiling, rather than doing whole-genome sequencing on both cultures."

In a related vein, the High Priest of Psychedelia described psychological/philosophical impacts of zero G on several veterans of the lunar expeditions, who experienced it for extended periods:

"The beginnings of exo-psychological adaptation can be noted in several lunar veterans who returned claiming cosmic insights (Mitchell), philo­sophic revelations (Schweickart), and rebirth symptoms (Aldrin). "

How, one wonders, has that held up for the new generation of International Space Stationeers? Ten years along, any neo-philosophers among them? What about their post- space station progeny?

(Image courtesy NASA and public domain)

Friday, October 26, 2007

Totalitarian tech update

Cyber-utopian Cory Doctorow ponders: Is there a totalitarian urge embedded in our new technologies? Listen to his Leonardo Lecture at Simon Fraser University in Canada. This

"Many of us dreamed that computers, and later the Internet, would lead to an unstoppable burst of freedom. " writes Alex Smith on Ecoshock "Now we see people pushing RFID tracking chips for all our kids, cameras on every street corner, and secret rooms in AT&T to record all our Net activities."/

Monday, October 22, 2007

Waterspaceship Down?

Researcher Sharon Doty, of the University of Washington, Seattle, has found a way to transplant rabbit genes into poplars, turning the trees into high speed toxics removers with potential applications for keeping one's spaceship tidy. Another researcher may be turning watercress into swords.

Dotyt's research, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences , found that six-inch tall genetically modified poplar cuttings with a rabbit gene inserted into them removed up to 91% of the chemical trichloroethylene from the water used in their feed. The chemical was then broken down by the plants into a harmless salt, water and carbon dioxide--more than 100 times faster than by unaltered plants.

Poplars naturally use an enzyme called cytochrome P450 to break down contaminants. But the rabbit gene gives the plants a real kick.

The neo-poplars also broke down other common environmental pollutants including chloroform, carbon tetrachloride, and vinyl chloride.

"In view of their large size and extensive root systems, these transgenic poplars may provide the means to effectively clean sites contaminated with a variety of pollutants at much faster rates and atlower costs than can be achieved with current conventional techniques," wrote Sharon Doty.

So why not plant them throughout your space station, and let them continually gobble up waste chemicals?

Another study published in the PNAS demonstrated a way to break down the military explosive RDX. Neil Bruce of the University of York wrote that "One of the biggest concerns of RDX as a pollutant is that it migrates readily through soil into the ground water and subsequently contaminates drinking water supplies."

His team genetically modified Arabidopsis - a small flowering plant inthe cress family widely used as a model organism in plant biology - to express enzymes called XplA and XplB, which are known to break down RDX. The plants reduced RDX concentrations from soil up to 97% in one week.

Applications? What about inserting genes expressing Xp1A & B into one-celled algae, then spraying them onto enemy ammunition dumps? Done surreptitiously to a hostile planet's munitions, the ammo-eating algae could cause their weapons to give out little more than a green fizzle.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Thread-forming virus may become nano-silkworms.

There may shortly come commercially available fabrics composed utterly of genetically engineered viruses tricked into organizing themselves into vast columns. With enormous applications for microelectronics, too. (Thanks Shaun Saunders for the heads up on this ).

The viruses are gene-tweaked into binding with selecting inorganic, metallic and organic materials, and into queueing up into great aligned crystalline threads-- strong enough to weave into fabric and to use in nanoelectronics.

In her paper "Ordering of Quantum Dots Using Genetically Engineered Viruses" Dr. Angela Belcher, professor of materials science and biological engineering at MIT, describes how she learned to spin viruses into fibers. She predicts thread batteries and other weavable electronic devices of all kinds coming on line in the future. "It's not really analogous to anything that's done now," she says in Tehnology Review . "It's about giving totally new kinds of functionalities to fibers."

Note however, that the viri are not 'killed' as part of this process. The threads and fabrics to be spun with these threads will be made up of untold billions of 'living' viruses, suspended in their crystal matrix. Perhaps great tapestries of this material will serve as homes for a completely artificial yet still gene-powered intelligence.

Martian trinity could bring red planet alive.

Three large Martian volcanoes -- the Tharsis Montes -- Arsis Mons, south of the Martian equator, Pavonis Mons on the equator, and Ascraeus Mons to the north -- may only be dormant, not extinct. And outgassing from them could stir the chilly vichyssoise of Mar's primordial soup into action!

NASA Photo:

A team of researchers led by
Dr. Jacob Bleacher -- jointly of Arizona State University and NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md--have discovered that, unlike planet Earth's moving crust, where volcanoes erupt as the crust move over stationary plumes of magma, then flicker out as the crust moves on past that "hot spot", Mar's crust is stationary; the magma must come to the Mountain. The researchers posit horizontal flows of lave are moving beneath Mar's stationary crust.

"We finally have pictures with enough detail from the latest missions to Mars, including NASA's Mars Odyssey and Mars Global Surveyor, and the European Space Agency's Mars Express missions," Bleacher said.

Conjecture: should the three volcanoes cook off, enough greenhouse gas _could enter_ the Martian atmosphere to warm enough to liberate some h2o into becoming at least, surface slush.
(Thanks to Shaun Saunders for bringing this to my attention)

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Forecast: Sex and Marriage with Robots by 2050

Shaun Saunders sent in this article by Charles Q. Choi, in Live Science:

Humans could marry robots within the century. And consummate those vows. The idea of romance between humanity and our artistic and/or mechanical creations dates back to ancient times, with the Greek myth of the sculptor Pygmalion falling in love with the ivory statue he made named Galatea, to which the goddess Venus eventually granted life. This notion persists in modern times. Not only has science fiction explored this idea, but 40 years ago, scientists noticed that students at times became unusually attracted to ELIZA, a computer program designed to ask questions and mimic a psychotherapist. "My forecast is that around 2050, the state of Massachusetts will be the first jurisdiction to legalize marriages with robots," artificial intelligence researcher David Levy at the University of Maastricht in the Netherlands told LiveScience. Levy recently completed his Ph.D. work on the subject of human-robot relationships, covering many of the privileges and practices that generally come with marriage as well as outside of it.

please click here or the story title for more

Friday, October 12, 2007

Are we missing a dimension of time?

From the Telegraph

A scientist has put forward the bizarre suggestion that there are two dimensions of time, not the one that we are all familiar with, and even proposed a way to test his heretical idea next year.
Time is no longer a simple line from the past to the future, in a four dimensional world consisting of three dimensions of space and one of time. Instead, the physicist envisages the passage of history as curves embedded in a six dimensions, with four of space and two of time. If it is confirmed, it could point the way to a "theory of everything" that unites all the physical laws of the universe into one, notably general relativity that governs gravity and the large scale structure of the universe, and quantum theory that rules the subatomic world.

click on the article title for the complete story

thanks to Shaun A. Saunders for the post

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Dragonfly or Insect Spy? Scientists at Work on Robobugs.

I have been hearing a lot about this from a great deal of people. Here is the Washington Post article online that Shaun Saunders found. We know the tech is there...saying that it is not, well is just hiding your head....what bothers me is that it's being deployed.... Has the pendelum swung that far back people? Is this the 21st century version of the sixties? Lots of unpopular wars, losts of protests, lots of government agencies spying, lots more interesting in causing fear and trouble..... Remember what Buffalo Springfield said.... "there's something happening here.... what it is ain't exactly clear..."

Here is the article

Vanessa Alarcon saw them while working at an antiwar rally in Lafayette Square last month.

"I heard someone say, 'Oh my god, look at those,' " the college senior from New York recalled. "I look up and I'm like, 'What the hell is that?' They looked kind of like dragonflies or little helicopters. But I mean, those are not insects."

Out in the crowd, Bernard Crane saw them, too.

"I'd never seen anything like it in my life," the Washington lawyer said. "They were large for dragonflies. I thought, 'Is that mechanical, or is that alive?' "

That is just one of the questions hovering over a handful of similar sightings at political events in Washington and New York. Some suspect the insectlike drones are high-tech surveillance tools, perhaps deployed by the Department of Homeland Security.

Others think they are, well, dragonflies -- an ancient order of insects that even biologists concede look about as robotic as a living creature can look.

No agency admits to having deployed insect-size spy drones. But a number of U.S. government and private entities acknowledge they are trying. Some federally funded teams are even growing live insects with computer chips in them, with the goal of mounting spyware on their bodies and controlling their flight muscles remotely.

The robobugs could follow suspects, guide missiles to targets or navigate the crannies of collapsed buildings to find survivors.

The technical challenges of creating robotic insects are daunting, and most experts doubt that fully working models exist yet.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Sun light caused mysterious blemishes on Iapetus

From the NewScientist online magazine

Blame the Sun for the mysterious dark blemishes on Saturn's moon Iapetus. New photos from the Cassini spacecraft reveal the splotches are mainly found on the sunward-facing slopes of craters and mountains, suggesting a runaway heating process is tainting portions of the moon. Cassini's imaging team members found that there are sharp-edged dark spots all over the surface, even on the moon's bright trailing hemisphere. Careful analysis revealed that these isolated spots are preferentially located on the sunward facing slopes of craters. That suggests that as the slopes get slightly warmer, ice there starts to evaporate. That exposes more dark stuff in the ice, which is then ready to retain even more solar heat.

thanks to Shaun Saunders for the update

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Jules Verne Dry Cargo Prepared In Turin

180 kg of cargo which is to be carried into space on board Jules Verne, the first Automated Transfer Vehicle, is currently undergoing final preparation in Italy, from there it will be shipped to the launch site in French Guiana. The cargo items which will be on board the inaugural flight of the European-built Automated Transfer Vehicle (ATV) when it docks with the International Space Station (ISS) early next year include spare parts for the European Columbus laboratory and the ATV itself. One of the cargo items is an air-exchange duct which is needed for immediate instalment inside the ATV following first ingress into the European cargo spacecraft.

In NASA’s Sterile Areas, Plenty of Robust Bacteria

From the New York Times By WARREN E. LEARY:

Researchers have found a surprising diversity of hardy bacteria in a seemingly unlikely place — the so-called sterile clean rooms where NASA assembles its spacecraft and prepares them for launching. Samples of air and surfaces in the clean rooms at three National Aeronautics and Space Administration centers revealed surprising numbers and types of robust bacteria that appear to resist normal sterilization procedures, according to a newly published study. The findings are significant, the researchers report, because they can help reduce the chances of stowaway microbes contaminating planets and other bodies visited by the spacecraft and confounding efforts to discover new life elsewhere. Identifying and cataloging what microbes might survive sterilization is important in interpreting results of sampling missions to other planets, scientists said. If similar microbes turn up in alien samples, researchers could disregard the results as contamination and not evidence of extraterrestrial life.

Thanks to Xnewsman for the post

Monday, October 08, 2007

Quantum Computing Possibilites Enhanced With New Material

Scientists at Florida State University's National High Magnetic Field Laboratory and the university's Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry have introduced a new material that could be to computers of the future what silicon is to the computers of today. The material could provide a technological breakthrough that leads to the development of new quantum computing technologies. Quantum computers would harness the power of atoms and molecules to perform memory and processing tasks on a scale far beyond those of current computers. Semiconductor technology is close to reaching its performance limit. Over the years, processors have shrunk to their current size, with the components of a computer chip more than 1,000 times smaller than the thickness of a human hair. At those very small scales, quantum effects -- behaviors in matter that occur at the atomic and subatomic levels -- can start playing a role. By exploiting those behaviors, scientists hope to take computing to the next level. In current computers, the basic unit of information is the "bit," which can have a value of 0 or 1. In so-called quantum computers, which currently exist only in theory, the basic unit is the "qubit" (short for quantum bit). A qubit can have not only a value of 0 or 1, but also all kinds of combinations of 0 and 1 -- including 0 and 1 at the same time -- meaning quantum computers could perform certain kinds of calculations much more effectively than current ones.

click the article title for more information....or in truth, you have already made that choice at a quantum level in the multiverse, which means that you have, will and already made all the choices possible or not and is and is not moot. maybe possible is

Cassini Is On The Trail Of A Runaway Mystery


NASA scientists are on the trail of Iapetus' mysterious dark side, which seems to be home to a bizarre "runaway" process that is transporting vaporized water ice from the dark areas to the white areas of the Saturnian moon. This "thermal segregation" model may explain many details of the moon's strange and dramatically two-toned appearance, which have been revealed exquisitely in images collected during a recent close flyby of Iapetus by NASA's Cassini spacecraft. Infrared observations from the flyby confirm that the dark material is warm enough (approximately minus 230 degrees Fahrenheit or 127 Kelvin) for very slow release of water vapor from water ice, and this process is probably a major factor in determining the distinct brightness boundaries.

Ultimate amateur lightsaber duel

Wow, this is one of the most pro looking amateur light saber duels I have ever seen. It is an amazing tour of technical know how and movie special effect that even Lucas or Speilberg would and should envy. It is really that good!

Sunday, October 07, 2007

Mirrors 'could deflect' asteroids

Mirrors tackling an asteroid

From BBC News

Orbital mirrors could save earth from a catastrophic asteroid collision, researchers have claimed. Up to 5,000 mirrors would be used to focus a beam of sunlight on to the asteroid, melting the rock and altering its orbital path away from earth. Orbiting mirrors would be used to focus sunlight on an area of the asteroid - heating the rock to around 2,100 degrees Celsius. This would create a thrust which would nudge the asteroid off course. An asteroid 150m across could be sufficiently modified by a swarm of 100 mirrors in a few days.

Thanks to Shaun Saunders for the post

I am creating artificial life, declares US gene pioneer

Shaun sends in this from the Guardian Unlimited science website

Craig Venter, the controversial DNA researcher involved in the race to decipher the human genetic code, has built a synthetic chromosome out of laboratory chemicals and is poised to announce the creation of the first new artificial life form on Earth. This will herald a giant leap forward in the development of designer genomes. It is certain to provoke heated debate about the ethics of creating new species and could unlock the door to new energy sources and techniques to combat global warming. A team assembled by Venter, has already constructed a synthetic chromosome that is 381 genes long and contains 580,000 base pairs of genetic code. It is then transplanted into a living bacterial cell and in the final stage of the process it is expected to take control of the cell and in effect become a new life form.

Saturday, October 06, 2007

Nanothreads spun to create living tissue

From the online issue of Scientific American - Shaun Saunders sends in this story with this note:
"reminds me of the scene near the end of 'The empire strikes back' when skywalker is being repaired in a tank..."

Scientists using an electrically charged needle have electrospun nanosize threads of cells encased in plastic polymers to create living microfibers that promote tissue regrowth. Unfortunately, the electrical charge can hurt both the spun cells and the scientists doing the spinning. But now mechanical engineers at the University College in London have invented a way to spin nanothreads using only pressure and, with the help of medical colleagues, shown that they can create such nanothreads of living heart tissue, potentially revealing the way to weave an entirely new, healthy heart or even fresh, new skin. The researchers successfully used this method to spin tissue from smooth muscle cells from rabbit aortas with a special device comprising three concentric needles: an inner needle pushing out the cells, a second needle ejecting an encasing polymer, and a third, surrounding needle that applies pressure. By flowing the cells at a slow rate, the polymer at a slightly faster rate, and applying pressure researchers teased out a microthin, continuous thread. The technique may allow researchers to create living scaffolds of cells to deliver drugs as well as grow or regenerate the heart and other organs.

Friday, October 05, 2007

Computer to Read Minds

Our correspondent Shaun Saunders was perusing the page and came across this little gem. As odd and funny as it sounds, these people are dead serious!

They're already predicting, mathematically, what you'll want to watch, what you'll want to wear, and who you'll want to vote for. Obviously, the next step is for computers to read your mind. Your computer won't be picking up details about your plans for the evening anytime soon. But researchers with the Human Computer Interaction group at Tufts have, thanks to a $450,000 grant from the National Science Foundation, come up with a straightforward way for your computer to tell if you are overworked, under-worked or not working at all. The mind reading actually involves measuring the volume and oxygen level of the blood around the subject's brain, using technology called functional near-infrared spectroscopy (fNIRS). The user wears a sort of futuristic headband that sends light in that spectrum into the tissues of the head where it is absorbed by active, blood-filled tissues. The headband then measures how much light was not absorbed, letting the computer gauge the metabolic demands that the brain is making.

For more click here

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Is a 'naked singularity' lurking in our galaxy? news service

Could a naked singularity, the bare core of a black hole, be sitting at the centre of our galaxy - an object so dense it would shred the known laws of physics? Singularities exist in the heart of every black hole, according to Einstein's general theory of relativity. When matter collapses under its own gravity, it forms either a point of infinite density. But each of these singularities is cloaked by a so-called event horizon – where light and everything else is inexorably sucked inwards. So we could never see one. Unless, that is, there are black holes that spin at extreme speeds. A spinning black hole drags nearby space around with it, and if it spins fast enough, then light and matter could escape from right by the singularity, (the Kerr Newman area. If you recall the story I read a couple of weeks ago, Stephen Baxter's Pilot. The story describes an encounter with a black hole and this area, check it out! pac) because they would be flung outwards by the dizzying rotation. This gravitational tornado would have no event horizon, and the singularity would be exposed. Astronomers could start looking for these naked singularities in the centre of our galaxy. It seems that even though they can't be viewed directly, the effects on the surrounding space would be very observable. Such immense forces would create what is called a "gravity lens effect" which would distort light from other stars or galaxies as it passes through the area.

Click here for the complete story

thanks to Shaun A. Saunders for the post

Monday, October 01, 2007

Secrets of 1957 Sputnik Launch Revealed


When Sputnik took off 50 years ago, to the world it seemed like the unveiling of a sustained Soviet effort to conquer space and score a stunning Cold War triumph. But 50 years later, it emerges that the momentous launch was far from being part of a well-planned strategy to demonstrate communist superiority over the West. Instead, the first artificial satellite in space was a spur-of-the-moment gamble driven by the dream of one scientist, whose team scrounged a rocket, slapped together a satellite and persuaded a dubious Kremlin to open the space age. And that winking light that crowds around the globe gathered to watch in the night sky? Not Sputnik at all, as it turns out, but just the second stage of its booster rocket, according to Boris Chertok, one of the founders of the Soviet space program. Chertok couldn't whisper a word about the project through much of his lifetime. His name, and that of Sergei Korolyov, the chief scientist, were a state secret. Now, at age 95 Chertok can finally give full voice to his pride at the pivotal role he played in the history of space exploration.

Click the article title or here for the complete story

AP Photo/Bob Child