I haven’t produced a science a science round-up blog for sometime. It’s not that I haven’t been following events and news, it’s just that I’ve had other things to blog about. Anyway, time to put that right. As always these are in no particular order of importance or merit they are just an eclectic mix of items that have caught my eye.
Out of this world
NASA have amalgamated more than 100 images from New Horizons to form a video fly-by of Pluto. New Horizons, in July 2015, became the first spacecraft to fly by the dwarf planet which is more more than seven billion kilometres from Earth. Worth a look – follow this link.
Cassini mission ends with final dive into Saturn’s atmosphere
This has of course been in the news recently as the Cassini probe made it’s first successful flight between Saturn itself and it’s rings. The probe has been out there for 13 years collecting data on Saturn and its moons. The spacecraft is now almost out of fuel. But what a way to go. It will end its days with a final magnificent fall into Saturn’s depths. Before that, however, it is going to go (boldly presumably) where no spacecraft has gone before.
After a final look at Titan, Cassini will complete 22 flybys, coming within 64,000 kilometres (40,000 miles) of Saturn’s centre. Cassini will make detailed maps of Saturn’s gravity and magnetic fields, and take a much closer look at Saturn’s rings. It will also take the best close-up photographs of Saturn to date.
Since 1957, there have been more than 4,900 space launches. This has led to over 27,000 pieces of space junk . Only 1,100 of the items up there are functional spacecraft. The rest are broken satellites, used rocket stages, paint flakes, frozen coolant and more, travelling at 17,000 mph. At these speeds even small objects can seriously damage a spacecraft. To emphasise the point these scraps of debris have been transformed into musical compositions at the Science Museum for the Adrift project. To Listen – follow this link.
Down to Earth
Scientists have filmed light going faster than itself
Yes, it was that headline that attracted me. I mean, surely nothing can go faster than the speed of light, I presumed, not even itself. What a team at Washington university have done is slow the light down by passing it through a dry-ice fog within two plates of silicon rubber. The light travels slower through the walls of the tunnel than the fog (no, I’m not sure I understand either). However, they then filmed the light equivalent of a sonic boom with a camera that takes a trillion frames a second – impressive. Apparently, this could have big implications for biomedical science i.e. it is fast enough to watch neurons firing and image live traffic in the brain.
While we all love our new gadgets and computers few of us give much thought to where all those discarded ones end up. Every year, humans produce millions of tons of electronic waste, or e-waste, which leaches toxic materials into landfills across the globe. This only set to increase. The main culprits are Europe and the Americas, produce about 34 pounds of electronic rubbish each year, although Asia is fast catching up.
In Asian countries a lack of infrastructure for e-recycling (and laws that make it mandatory), means most old electronics wind up in trash fires, backyards, or informal recycling systems that release harmful fumes into the environment. There is some hope, however, with Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan setting up efficient e-recycling systems. Now we in the West need to follow their example.
Bacteria that clean up water and generate electricity
I know it sounds too good to be true. For years, scientists have known the bacteria Shewanella oneidensis isn’t your average bacteria, having a natural ability to generate electricity by eating up heavy metals such as iron and mercury. In a new study, researchers the University of California, have shown that S. oneidensis may also offer a means to decontaminate wastewater.
The researchers decided to chemically modify the organisms because genetically modified microbes are restricted from release into the environment, thus limiting their practical applications. “We see DSFO+ being used to improve wastewater treatment by allowing the bacteria already used to treat the water to produce electricity, to enable other bacteria to create biofuels by putting electricity into bacterial strains and getting high-value chemicals out.” Sounds like win, win all round to me.
Reading some of these articles and a number of others that didn’t make the cut it is clear science and technology have, inadvertently, contributed to many of the problems the world faces. However, it also has the potential to help resolves many of these issues, if only we are prepared to put the effort behind those programs as well.
As always comments are welcome