Here is my latest my round-up from the world of science. As always I attach no measure of relative importance to what I include. They are simply items that have caught my eye as they flow through my social media stream. This time it’s a little more space based, perhaps because I’m a science fiction author and I’ve been revising a book based way out there in the future.
The journey to Mars – its not all about Mars
William Gurstenmaier (NASA’s associate administrator for human exploration and operations) has been talking about NASAs ambitions for a Mars mission. What was interesting for me is that for me it’s the first time I’ve read an article that isn’t solely focused on Mars. A Mars mission is just part of broader mission for the human exploration of the solar system. They will use robots to build the base and they see robots and humans working together to conquer all the issues that humans will face in that wider exploration.
The SpaceX vision for Mars
Interestingly, Elon Musk the entrepreneur behind SpaceX has also been outlining his vision for Mars. His colonisation plan will use a reusable transportation system. It would take 100 people and complete the journey in 80 days with the ambition to get that down to 30 days (and I thought I was being ambitious with a three to four month transit time in Project Noah).
The spaceship will be refuelled with methane and oxygen in Earth orbit (I think he’s read Project Noah) and also on Mars after landing there. What’s more if you want to buy a place on the trip you will be able to do so for $200,000, so start saving. He sees the first Mars mission could blast-off as early as 2022 and in his vision there may be a million people living a self-sustained life on Mars within 100 years
Hardly news I know. After Apollo 11, Apollo 13 must be the most well known of the Apollo missions, even if most of us know it best from the Tom Hanks film. The mission was aborted when an oxygen tank exploded and crippled the spacecraft. It is legendary how NASA engineers and technicians worked around the clock to bring the crew home. However, Popular Science looks at it from another angle, demonstrating that the seeds of that disaster were sown in decisions taken from 1966 onwards. It details how a series of problems and malfunctions encountered in the manufacture of Apollo 13 were “over come” without addressing the fundamental design flaws they pointed to. These were then corrected after the Apollo 13 incident. An interesting, if somewhat technical article – follow the above link.
Is liquid water more common out there than we imagine?
I have always been given to understand that liquid water, essential for life (or at least life as we know it, Jim) is a rare occurrence in the galaxy, or the universe, due to the very specific conditions needed to maintain it as a liquid. However, two pieces of recent news suggest that it might be more common than we think. The first even made the six o’clock news here in the UK i.e. the Hubble telescope has detected plumes of saline water venting from the surface of Europa, the sixth closest moon of Jupiter. These plumes erupt upto 200km from the surface.
The second is that looking at the information from the New Horizons space craft scientists are speculating that a deep ocean may be hiding beneath the icy exterior of Pluto.
So if there is water out there, is there at least rudimentary life? Any future mission to Jupiter will take a closer look.
A battery free generator of electricity made from fish scales
This took my eye simply because it sounds rather bizarre. However, scientists in India have created just such a thing. The clear, flexible generator gathers energy from small movements such as body motions, sound vibrations and wind flow, and converts it into electrical power.
Apparently, collagen in fish scales is a piezoelectric material i.e. it generates an electric charge when put under mechanical stress. Other piezoelectric generators rely on toxic elements, so fish scales could be a more environmentally friendly alternative. In this case they used carp scales, attached gold electrodes and laminated them. With gentle hand slaps, the researchers used them turn on 77 green and blue LEDs.
A few more strange and wonderful facts.
1) Sorry – this one just appealed. The reason the taste of banana flavoured products don’t taste like bananas is because it is based on a type of banana that was wiped out by a plague in the 1950’s. OK, you have to ask why? As in why not come up with another one?
2) Apparently, Viagra, when dissolved in water, can make cut-flowers stay erect for up to a week longer than they usually would. I wonder who tried this first?
3) Who would have guessed? The first computer for business use was developed by the British tea shop, Lyons, in the 1950’s. It contained 6,000 valves and was used to add up the receipts of iced buns.
4) Household-cleaner Cillit Bang was used to clean plutonium stains away in a defunct nuclear power-plant in Scotland as it was being dismantled.
5) Why don’t we know about this? In 2002 a Brazilian mechanic Alfredo Moser invented a new type of lamp that uses no electricity. The Moser-lamp uses just a plastic bottle filled with water and the smallest bit of bleach (to stop algae), and works through the refraction of natural light – producing 40 – 60 watts per lamp! They are becoming popular in many countries where electricity is expensive, and have been fitted in over 140,000 homes in the Philippines.
As always comments are welcome
The colonisation of Mars features in my book Project Noah available for Kindle on Amazon, just follow the link.
My latest book, Bleak – The story of a shapeshifter is available for a limited time at £0.99 / $0.99 . Again just follow the link.
Both books can also be sampled on this site.