Welcome to my end of month round-up of science items that have piqued my interest as they’ve flowed across my social media stream. As a science fiction writer (and scientist) I keep track of these for both a personal fascination and writing inspiration. I never cease to be amazed at the advances and discoveries that are happening around the world and I know I’m only aware of a small minority. Anyway, here’s this month’s selection:
Every month there are new plans/ideas as to how we will reach and colonise the red planet. Although it seems the most notable event this month was the failure of the European Space Agency ExoMars lander. It appears that it’s parachutes did not open early enough and it crash landed into the surface. Helpfully NASA has released images of the disaster (follow this link – it’s the fourth item down). This is on the Popular Science site – well worth a look if you don’t know it.
We must go to Mars
There’s a sort of more positive note from Elon Musk, who has built an $12billion business around the idea of going to mars. He insists that Mars is a “long-term insurance policy” for “the light of consciousness” in the face of climate change, extinction events, and our recklessness with technology. OK, it may be more positive in his belief that we will go to Mars, and in the near future, even if his reasons are less than positive
US to work with private firms on Mars plan
President Obama has announced that the US will work with private companies on plans to send humans to Mars in the 2030s. He, pledges “to build new habitats that can sustain and transport astronauts”. This is to be the next chapter of America’s story in space. I can’t help feel that this might be better approached from a world perspective rather than a new country specific space race.
Staying in space (well, sort of)
University students have launched a rocket with a totally 3D printed engine. I love this – the democratisation of technology. This has been built by students at the California San Diego. I know technically it didn’t get into space – it travelled approximately 4000 feet. The rocket Vulcan-1, is 19 feet long, 8 inches in diameter, and capable of 750 pounds of thrust. It’s powered by a cryogenic combination of liquid oxygen and refined kerosene.
It seems this is no one-off stunt. NASA’s been working on and have tested 3D-printed parts. SpaceX has also used some 3D printed parts. I just wonder what else we can do with 3D printing technology?
I was attracted to this site by a close-up picture of Venus taken by the Magellan space craft. However, there are some other great pictures here – worth a look. Follow the link
Back to earth
“We are closer to curing all diseases than we think”
How could I not be drawn to a headline like this. We live in an ageing society and as we all know this putting an increasing burden on our health systems. However, some scientists are arguing that we are closer to understanding the nature of disease than we perhaps imagine and therefore to controlling it (if not actually curing all disease).
“We will not banish infectious disease from Earth but we will have strategies to quickly combat them if they do emerge,” says Francis S. Collins, the Director of the National Institutes of Health. “I do think what we can do is to develop an increasingly nimble system to identify the emergence of new infectious disease problems and quickly put in place the kind of prevention and treatment strategies that will be needed. We are already accelerating that pace.”
The speculation is that the same will be true of cancer, which with an aging population is something many more of us will face. “Even though it’s 200 plus diseases, with the trajectory we are on now, in the next couple of decades, we are going to have a tremendous amount of progress being made in managing [cancer] and for an increasing large number of patients, curing [it],” says Ronald DePinho, president of The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center.
All good news when one of the few thing you can count on in life is getting older.
More of those things that have you thinking – what??
1) Honey is a true “super food”. It is the only food that includes all the substances necessary to sustain life, including enzymes, minerals, water and vitamins.
2) It would take 100 years to watch every video on Youtube (although I’m not sure why you’d want to).
3) Don’t swim with coconuts! You are more likely to die from a falling coconut than a shark attack.
4) It can take a photon 40,000 years to travel from the core of the sun to the surface, but only 8 minutes to travel the rest of the way to earth.
5) Another of those facts that makes you think we cannot be alone in the universe: There are more stars in space than there are grains of sand on every beach in the world.
6) I knew there had to be a reason: Farting helps reduce high blood pressure and is good for your health.
As always comments are welcome.