Science News Roundup 10/10/18

Compiled by Carl Slaughter:

An abundance of planets with an abundance of water

If you hope to one day wake up to the news that scientists have discovered a planet with alien life, the scientists working with the Kepler space telescope have some very good news for you. In a presentation at the Goldschmidt Conference in Boston, researchers from Harvard revealed that the data from the Kepler telescope suggests that water-covered planets are actually a lot more common than you might think.

NASA chief wants to populate space

NASA obviously has a huge interest in mankind exploring space, so it would make sense that the administration’s newly-appointed chief shares the same interests. In a recent interview with Space.com, NASA’s newly-appointed boss Jim Bridenstine makes a couple of interesting declarations, but starts by assuring everyone that he wants to get as many humans as possible off of planet Earth.

DARPA invests in AI research

At a symposium in Washington DC on Friday, DARPA announced plans to invest $2 billion in artificial intelligence research over the next five years. In a program called “AI Next,” the agency now has over 20 programs currently in the works and will focus on “enhancing the security and resiliency of machine learning and AI technologies, reducing power, data, performance inefficiencies and [exploring] ‘explainability'” of these systems. “Machines lack contextual reasoning capabilities, and their training must cover every eventuality, which is not only costly, but ultimately impossible,” said director Dr. Steven Walker.

Satellites that have satellite babies that have satellite babies

Mysterious Russian satellite worries experts

 

Ion rocket engines

Rocket Scientist Natalya Bailey owns a space startup called Accion Systems that specializes in making wafer thin engines that require a tiny fraction of energy that conventional rockets use. If successful, these ion thrusters could revolutionize how we will move through the final frontier.

 

Flying scooter

A man in South China claims to have created the world’s first ‘flying scooter,’ although we’d be remiss not to point out its resemblance to a large quadcopter drone.

According to United Press International (UPI), the aerial vehicle can seat one person and travel at a top speed of roughly 70 kilometers per hour. The machine’s maximum load is 99 kilograms.

AI glider learns how to fly

It took mankind untold eons to learn how to fly, but now artificial intelligence is doing something similar and in a fraction of the time. No, there’s no robots constructing planes like the Wright brothers, but some AI-powered gliders are indeed learning how to cruise through the air just like birds, and they’re getting pretty good at it.

14-year-old builds bullet proof wall to protect students during school shootings

Audrey Larson is a 14-year-old inventor.

For past competitions, she’s created glow-in-the-dark pajamas and a device to pet your dog. But this year, after hearing about the school shooting in Parkland, Florida, she felt compelled to focus on a more serious issue….

Mars habitat contest

Yes, we’ve yet to successfully send humans to Mars, but we already need to start thinking how we can stay there for long stretches of time — or even for good. NASA launched the 3D-Printed Habitat Challenge back in 2015 to find a suitable artificial housing for the first wave of Martian residents, and now the agency has narrowed the contestants down to five after seeing the realistic virtual models they created. The agency and its project partner, Illinois’ Bradley University, judged 18 teams’ models created using a specialized software.

The Earth is wobbling, the Earth is wobbling!

…Two of the three factors identified by the scientists are glacial rebound and mantle convection. Glacial rebound happens when thick ice sheets physically push down on land masses, compressing them, but then release that pressure upon melting. The land then balloons back up over time, causing Earth’s spin to wobble as if slightly off-axis. The effects of the last ice age, which would have compressed a huge amount of land across many continents, is still being felt today in the form of glacial rebound…

Hexagons on Saturn

Saturn sure has a thing for peculiar shapes! Astronomers have known for some time that Saturn’s north pole has developed a very odd hexagonal shape. The massive storm swirling there has well-defined sides, and is a near perfect hexagon. It also has a habit of changing color.

Now, using images gathered from the Cassini mission (rest in pieces), a new study reveals that there’s not one, but two massive hexagons swirling on Saturn’s northern half, and the new one is even higher than the other. As LiveScience notes, scientists haven’t figured out if the two are actually connected in any way, but it would be a pretty wild coincidence if they’re not.

Super soldiers now

Ever since Captain America debuted in Marvel Comics, scientists have been getting closer and closer to creating real-life super soldiers. With the help of Professor E. Paul Zehr and his new book ‘Chasing Captain America’, we’ll explore the origin and history of the Star Spangled Man and explain the science of the super soldier serum that turned Steve Rogers into the Sentinel of Liberty!

 

“Starfish, destroy!”

Australia’s Great Barrier Reef has seen better days. The massive natural wonder is dealing with the impacts of ocean warming (thanks to manmade climate change) which have pushed species away and killed off massive sections of coral, but that’s not the only problem the reef has been forced to deal with.

More recently, an influx of starfish have begun to take over the reef. This is thought to be the result of chemicals from human activity running into the ocean. As CNET reports, some of those chemicals can have the unintended effect of promoting breeding due to increases in algae, which is exactly what the starfish look for to keep their offspring alive. But now, researchers have a robotic ally to keep starfish populations in check, and it’s a real killer.

“Lionfish, destroy!”

Lionfish are incredibly eye-catching creatures, and they’re a favorite of salt water aquarium enthusiasts because they just plain look cool. They’re also an incredibly troublesome species when they are introduced in areas where they don’t belong, and coral reefs in the Caribbean are under serious threat from an invasion.

Now, researchers from the Worcester Polytechnic Institute have developed an autonomous robot that is capable of hunting down lionfish all on its own. But the bot doesn’t just identify and kill the invasive fish — using sharp spears to snag the fish and bring it down — it also allows for the dead fish to be fetched by fishermen who can harvest and sell it.

Is humanity about to accidentally declare war on an alien civilization?

…So let’s say we get it right. We develop the right material to reflect enough of the laser light that it doesn’t incinerate the sail. We collimate the lasers well-enough and build a large-enough array to accelerate these starchip spacecrafts to their designed speeds of 20% the speed of light: ~60,000 km/s. And then we aim them at a planet around a potentially habitable star, such as Alpha Centauri A or Tau Ceti.

Perhaps we’ll send an array of starchips to the same system, hoping to probe these systems and gain more information. After all, the main science goal, as it’s been proposed, is to simply take data during arrival and transmit it back. But there are three huge problems with this plan, and combined, they could be tantamount to a declaration of interstellar war….

3 thoughts on “Science News Roundup 10/10/18

  1. I find the bullet-proof wall kind of sad and terrifying and also blackly comic. But rather than open the usual cans of worms I’ll go SFnal and speculate about what a useful resource a generation of kids who expect to be shot at and have access to bullet-proof armour will be when the Revolution comes.

  2. re Mars Habitats:

    I don’t understand why protection against cosmic radiation wasn’t judged more important in rating the designs. “Not cooking human brains” seems like a significant qualification to me.

  3. @Doctor Science: there also doesn’t seem to be any mention of dealing with the toxic perchlorate dust that will be tracked in every time someone comes in from outside.

    In a recent interview with Space.com, NASA’s newly-appointed boss Jim Bridenstine makes a couple of interesting declarations, but starts by assuring everyone that he wants to get as many humans as possible off of planet Earth.
    Although that’s mostly just to improve his commute.

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