How the weeks fly. It’s the end of the month again and time for my own personal eclectic mix of picks in the world of science that have come to my attention in the last few weeks. Again more inspiration for writers of science fiction, or any writers for that matter. After all this is happening now. Where it leads is up to our imagination, both as scientists and writers.
15 years of the space station
Space has now been inhabited continuously by humans for the past 15 years. Which if nothing else reminds us that there is more to life and the universe than what happens on this one tiny planet of ours. And for me it holds out the hope that further manned space exploration is not that far away.
It is also an illustration of what we can achieve when we (the world) work together. 16 countries have been involved in its building and over 200 people from 15 countries have visited it. Maybe there is hope for the human race.
Investing in space technology
This is surely the next big step is our exploration of space i.e. when there is a commercial imperitive for it. Apparantly the space industry is worth about $300bn, most of that involving satallites and launchers. However, there is increasing investment in space tourism, such as Virgin, and the potential for space mining. Some of those sectors of the space industry are already making money. Asteroid mining company Planetary Resources has agreed contracts with companies and individuals – even though it will be some time before they get to the asteroids. What’s more Congress in the US has approved a space mining bill. It seems to me that it was not that long ago that this was the stuff of science fiction.
Do we need a new theory of gravity
This was one headline that caught my eye. Apparently, Einstein’s theory of relativity holds up well enough here on earth but not so well when you go further afield. In the 1990’s scientists discovered, contrary to what they might have predicted, that the expansion of the universe is accelerating not slowing. Some invented ‘dark energy’ to explain this, not that anyone knows what that is. The other explanation is that we are using the wrong theories (yes, theories) of gravity. And I thought gravity was, well, gravity.
Underwater solar cells that can turn greenhouses gases into fuel
I like this one because it reflects my optimistic view that with enough effort man can solve just about any problem thrown at it, or that in this case it creates for itself. The idea here is that an artificial photosynthesis would use solar energy, water and the captured carbon dioxide to create fuel such as natural gas.
Is there an antibiotic apocalypse on the horizon
The scary one this month. Researchers in China have found E.coli bacteria that are resistant to the antibiotic colistin, ‘the antibiotic of last resort’. There are warnings that the finding heralds a post-antibiotic era. Also, what concerns healthcare professionals is that the DNA that makes the bacteria resistant to colistin can be passed on to other strains of bacteria.
Now I worked for a company that discovered a number of the antibiotics that are still in use today and I know the effort they put into trying to find that ‘next generation’ of antibiotics. However, after decades of trying that next big discovery proved illusive. Perhaps, the new generation of antibiotics will have to be much more specific than the broad spectrum ones we are used to. The downside of course is that these are commercially much less appealing. Also, we will have to have to learn not to overuse them as we have done in the past (and which has had a big hand in creating this problem).
Finally – a few facts about ‘space’
1) The word astronaut comes from the Greek astron (star) and nautes (sailor).
2) The Apollo astronauts foot prints could remain on the moon for 100 million years. There is no atmosphere or water to erode them.
3) 99% of all the solar system’s mass is in the sun.
4) Staying with the sun, more energy from the sun hits the earth in one hour than we use in a year. Seems like a big hint to me.
5) Our solar system orbits the centre of the Milky Way every 230 million years