Quick announcement: Join me at the Tucson Festival of Books this Saturday and Sunday. My panels include: “Gender Roles in Sci Fi and Fantasy” on Sat at 2:30 pm. “Where’s my hoverboard? Pop Culture in the Sci Fi Lanscape” on Sat 4-5 pm. “Worldbuilding in fiction” on Sunday 11:30 am.
Then, on Monday, March 11 see me in Chicago at Bucket o’ Blood Books: (7 pm at 2307 N. Milwaukee Ave., Chicago 60647). BYO Books!
== NEW Sciences ==
Science and the Great Delusion: Watch a video of my interview on Mendelspod.com – a regular podcast about biological sciences and the future. But you know me… I soon veer into society, history, anthropology, the scientific process and so on!
“Quantum Biology?” “Neuroparasitology?” “Recombinant memetics?” Read about Eleven New Sciences (beat that Galileo!) in a survey by George Dvorsky. Heh. I have used them all in stories, some going back thirty years. Where were you guys!
== Heavens above ==
2013’s first naked eye comet: This month, March 9-15 have a look just above the horizon where the sun has set for Comet PANSTARRS. A great show isn’t guaranteed… many comets fizzle! (I studied em for my doctorate.) But we’re overdue for a gaudy one. Another possibility… Comet ISON… will blaze this November through December.
The Mars panoramas just get better and better. Curiosity’s self portrait amid the walls and plains and central mountain of Gale Crater is simply wonderful.
Now let’s combine topics: Comets and Mars! It looks like Mars may actually get hit by a comet in 2014. As it stands right now, the chance of a direct impact are small, but it’s likely Mars will get pelted by the debris associated with the comet. Phil Plait calculates that if (not too likely) an impact actually happens, it would have an explosive yield of roughly one billion megatons: That’s a million billion tons of TNT exploding. Or, if you prefer, an explosion about 25 million times larger than the largest nuclear weapon ever tested on Earth. There is an immature part of me that soooooo wants to see that! It could even re-awaken the red planet, a bit.
Speaking of re-awakenings… White Dwarf stars are elderly, having burnt out their early, gaudy phases (like our own sun) and shrunk to little larger than the Earth. They were never thought likely places to find candidates for life, having probably cindered any former solar system during a red giant phase. Only now… Infrared observations have revealed disks of dust surrounding some white dwarfs, which could be the birthplace of a new generation of planets. Moreover, such planets could orbit VERY close in and be within a very very close “goldilocks zone.” Moreover, one that transits-eclipses the White Dwarf star would not be swamped out (since the WD is so dim). Rather, the planet’s atmosphere would be subject to transmission spectroscopy by the new James Webb Telescope. Cool! (Sorta.)
Speaking of eclipsing transits… see awesome first view of the Moon as a smaller thing passing in front of the Earth. And a spectacular view of Venus glimpsed through the rings of Saturn — as seen by NASA’s Cassini spacecraft.
New Dimension: Nebulas are even more amazing in 3-D! Finnish astrophotographer J-P Metsavainio has animated these space images in 3-D for a stunning effect.
And getting cosmic. Astronomers have directly measured the spin of a black hole for the first time by detecting the mind-bending relativistic effects that warp space-time at the very edge of its event horizon — the point of no return, beyond which even light cannot escape.
Black holes can apparently pulsate bubbles of inaudible sound through the surrounding galactic cloud, “57 octaves below B flat above middle C,” notes astrobiologist Caleb Scharf in Gravity’s Engines: How Bubble-blowing Black Holes Rule Galaxies, Stars and Life in the Cosmos — a new look at how black holes may profoundly influence the evolution of the cosmos… and ultimately the appearance of life.
== And let’s include time! ==
Scientists have discovered a 200-kilometre-wide (125-mile-wide) impact zone in the Australian outback they believe was caused by a massive asteroid smashing into Earth more than 300 million years ago. That’s about the same size as the crater remnant found in the Yucatan, from the rock that killed the dinosaurs 65 million years ago.
A fascinating new book by Marlene Zuk, Paleofantasy: What Evolution Really Tells Us About Sex, Diet and How We Live, dissects the romantic-nostalgic notion that infests both the left and the right… that humans were and remain better suited and adapted to the ways of life experienced by our ancestors, than we are for the crowded, stressful, and complex requirements of modern existence. “Recognizing the continuity of evolution also makes clear the futility of selecting any particular time for human harmony,” when we were perfectly adapted to our environment, writes Zuk. Certainly the nostalgists have a point; there are challenges that we must rise up to meet, and some of us are better at coping and thriving in a modern world than others. But there is very strong evidence that we are not the same, genetically and in many other ways, as our forbears who hunted across the savannah. We have changed. Are changing. And will change more in the future.
Turning to the future… I’ve received many messages from folks intrigued by my mention (in Existence) of a “phosphorus crisis” in the 2040s. For many, the novel was the first they’d heard of this, but the problem has been visible on the distant horizon for some time. Phosphorus is the rarest element in chemical life and ready reserves are being mined-out. A time will come when we all use PhosUrinals (or PUs) to reclaim as much as we can. Here’s one more article you might find interesting: Should you be worried about your meat’s phosphorous footprint?
== Bold endeavors ==
Looking toward the next big thing in physics: Seven experiments that could rock the paradigm in physics: The LHC, the Planck probe, LIGO, LISA Pathfinder, Dark matter searches via DAMA/LIBRA, nuSTORM Neutrino factories, and quantum transmissions.
The next Genome style project? “The Obama administration is planning a decade-long scientific effort to examine the workings of the human brain and build a comprehensive map of its activity, seeking to do for the brain what the Human Genome Project did for genetics.” BHO mentioned sci & tech in his SOTU more times than any other president, even Clinton.
India is testing out an idea that marries solar panels with irrigation canals. A 1 MW project has been built over nearly half a mile of the Narmada Canal in the state of Gujarat in India, and it will not only produce electricity but also conserve land and water by putting solar panels over a waterway rather than over fertile ground. It also should reduce evaporation of the canal water by an estimated 237,750 gallons of water each year. And why aren’t we doing this in California?
One of the technologies we are looking at in NASA’s NIAC program is robotic construction of lunar habitats. Both candidate methods envision a site in Shackleton Crater at the moon’s south pole… a little harder to get to but there may be water ice below the surface and a solar power station erected on the crater rim would get sunlight all month long instead of only 2 weeks at a stretch. One technology (see a cool video) would sinter lunar dust into rigid walls, one of the few methods that would need no binding agent carried up from Earth and no (or little) use of the precious water that may be needed for other purposes.
== Making Porfirio – more leaps for rat-kind ==
Duke University researchers imbed an implant that gives Lab rats a sixth sense — to detect infrared light — by sending a sensor’s signals to a part of the brain assigned to touch. “It could be magnetic fields, radio waves, or ultrasound. We chose infrared initially because it didn’t interfere with our electrophysiological recordings.” One key finding was that enlisting the touch cortex to detect infrared light did not reduce its ability to process touch signals.
The Brain is Not Computable: One of the researchers who created the infrared-detecting mice has also taken on the whole notion that Moore’s Law will soon empower us to mimic human brains (and then better) in silicon – a core tenet of belief among “singularity-transhumanists.” Miguel Nicolelis, a top neuroscientist at Duke University, says computers will never replicate the human brain and that the technological Singularity is “a bunch of hot air.” The neuroscientist instead thinks that humans will increasingly subsume machines (an idea, incidentally, that’s also part of Ray Kurzweil’s transhumanist predictions).
It had to happen. A Duke neuroscientist was able to link two rats’ brains—using electrode implants—so that they could communicate through their minds, even solve puzzles. See how far this might be pushed, with parrots in a scene in Existence.
Will my rat-forecast from Existence come true sooner than expected?
== Cool Tech ==
Clay tablets infused with copper or silver molded into cheap filters can purify water for six months. Made with clay and sawdust… firing burns off the sawdust, leaving a ceramic with very fine pores. The filter is then painted with a thin solution of silver or copper nanoparticles that serve as a highly effective disinfectant for waterborne pathogens.
Graphene supercapacitors could make batteries obsolete.
An oddly hypnotic wave pendulum. Watch the video.
Making music with gloves… quite interesting & “futuristic”….. Skip the 1st 7 minutes.
== Our friends in sea and time ==
A Megapod: Thousands of dolphins spanning across seven miles of ocean were sighted off the coast of San Diego.
Have you seen this about a 19th-century human-whale “treaty”? Australian whalers had an agreement with a local pod of Orcas known as “The Law of the Tongue.” The Orcas would herd baleen whales close to the shore of the Port of Eden, blocking their escape routes, at which point harpoon boats would set upon – and kill – the whales. The tongues of the baleen whales would be cut off by the whalers and delivered to the orcas as a food tribute. The humans and orcas would cooperate in other ways as well.
And finally…Scientists from the Senckenberg Research Institute reconstructed these models of nearly-alien faces of our hominid ancestors based upon skulls, bone and teeth fragments gathered from around the globe.
==See more of my articles about Space: Where are we headed?