Have you heard the stories about this supposed reactionless drive, “unveiled” at a NASA conference in Ohio? I’ve put in a query to Geoff Landis – NASA scientist and renowned SciFi author, who promised to watch developments and give us the straight dope… or poop. To be clear, there are some places where we already can do a version of this — turn solar energy directly into motion, without using reaction mass or rocketry — e.g. by applying electrodynamic tethers to leverage against the Earth’s magnetic field…
…but only where there is an electron rich zone like the Van Allen belts to close the circuit loop. Interestingly, electomagnetic tethers work in exactly the realm you must climb through before deploying a solar sail. ( See this process illustrated in both my short story “Tank Farm Dyamo” and in the first chapter of EXISTENCE, which I read aloud for you, here.)
Meanwhile. NASA released high-quality footage of their experiment in near-space in June, deploying the agency’s Low-Density Supersonic Decelerator (LDSD) and experimental parachute systems that will be helpful in maneuvers and landings near planets, like Mars. Way cool footage!
Oh but we really need to get out there! Dig this — “Within a two-week period in August 2013, astronomers observed three massive volcanic eruptions on Jupiter’s moon Io. The grand finale was an eruption they say was one of the brightest volcanic eruptions ever observed in our solar system. These astronomers are speculating that these eruptions on Io – which can send material hundreds of miles above the little moon’s surface – might be much more common than they previously thought.”
We should have a satellite observatory in-residence above Jupiter, permanently.
Meanwhile, researchers have found a microbial menagerie that thrives in tiny water worlds floating in oily tar pits ... perhaps a model for life on Titan?
== Biology R-us ==
It seems brain regions that contribute to optimal social functioning are also vital to general intelligence and emotional intelligence.
Google and Novartis announced that they’re teaming up to develop smart contact lenses that monitor glucose levels and automatically adjust their focus. Such “prototype lenses contains a device about the size of a speck of glitter that measures glucose in tears. A wireless antenna then transmits the measurements to an external device. It’s designed to ease the burden of diabetics who otherwise have to prick their fingers to test their blood sugar levels.”
Also possible: drug delivery, night vision, glaucoma testing, and later full immersion VR/AR.
You’ve heard about this second hand… now the science of how the adolescent brain differs and grows. This fascinating article, Dude Where’s My Frontal Cortex, by Robert Sapolsky tracks the last part of us to develop, the prefrontal lobes responsible for planning and impulse control. A thorough, insightful, compassionate and well-written piece.
Also, it seems that the model of “competitive neuron development” that I wrote about in EARTH (1989) is now viewed as standard biological fact. Astrocytes — a type of glial cell traditionally thought to provide more of a support role in the brain are now seen as critical for some forms of memory, such as object recognition. Terrence Sejnowski, head of the Computational Neurobiology Laboratory at the Salk Institute, has led this effort. Without astrocyte-driven “gamma waves” mice were unable to recognize that objects are novel in their environment. Even more interesting are the techniques that the Salk folks use to subtly turn these activities on and off, in the brain.
The parts of North America with the greatest diversity of species of birds? Get ready for a shock.
No worries? Fish seem to flourish on anti-anxiety drugs being flushed down to our oceans.
By analyzing the brainwaves of just 16 individuals as they watched mainstream television content, researchers were able to accurately predict the preferences of large TV audiences.
== Tech and Engineering ==
Regarding a longstanding complaint over a lack of reliable-easy access to entry-level (and universal) programming languages… from my famous “Why Can’t Johnny Code?” essay… the makers of Scratch have now come up with ScratchJr, aiming it squarely at kids in the 5-7 year old range. Interesting.
A fascinating rumination on future Infrastructure… major projects that might consume (and be well-worth) hundreds of billions of dollars of investment, and returning far, far more in benefits, By Futurist Thomas Frey. Though he left out half a dozen that I mention in EARTH, alone!
Five “next” technologies. For example: DARPA researchers have fabricated a prototype with three gyroscopes, three accelerometers and a highly accurate master clock on a chip that fits easily on the face of a penny.
Now, a new catalytic system for converting carbon dioxide (CO2) to methanol — a key commodity used to create a wide range of industrial chemicals and fuels. You still need a source of hydrogen, so energy must be put in, upstream, by splitting water… another area of developing research.
Researchers at NASA‘s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), California Institute of Technology, and Pennsylvania State University have developed a 3D printing process that transitions from one metal or alloy to another in a single object.
And finally… here are Ten Sci Fi Novels that will make you more passionate about science! Glad to be included — with my novel, The Practice Effect.
Pessimists are fools.