It’s been a while since I produced one of my end of the month science round-ups. However, recently a few items have grabbed my attention as a science fiction writer. As always these are not in any order of scientific importance. However, as any writer knows it’s these sort of things that start you asking questions that lead to… well who knows where.
Out of this world
Is there life on Mars and if so is it Martian?
There has been some potential evidence of organic life on Mars since the first missions. However, the problem is determining if this is actually Martian life or life we’ve introduced through contamination. The Viking missions were “baked” to destroy any possible earth organisms, but later missions, including the Curiosity rover weren’t. It was too difficult and risked damaging delicate electronics. It was considered that it didn’t matter, in that any earth organisms couldn’t survive on Mars. However, now that they have discovered the possibility of flowing water, that doesn’t follow. So the question remains if we find evidence of life on Mars is it actually Martian life?
Want to fly to Pluto?
Well at least you can get some idea of what that might be like from this NASA released video on Youtube. The video was constructed by scientists in the New Horizons project – the spacecraft that performed the Pluto flyby last July. They used over 100 pictures from the mission to simulate what a trip to the Pluto might feel like. Have a go here with this link.
The Juno Mission to Jupiter
Although it didn’t seem to receive much press attention in July the Juno mission successfully entered orbit around Jupiter. As well as giving us the most detailed photos yet of this gas giant it will probe deep into Jupiter’s atmosphere studying its composition, “weather” temperature etc. They will also probe the planets deep structure. The intention is to better understand how these giant planets form and therefore more about how solar systems form.
Back on planet earth
The mathematics of living cells, the brain and computers
Anyone interested in science fiction has come has come across the idea of artificial intelligence and computers/robots that can think like humans. Now as I understand it at the moment one of the main problems is that computers work in binary and we don’t. I guess that shouldn’t be a surprise, however this puts severe limitations on what current computers can achieve.
So how do you model biological brains? Apparently, mathematical structures called “Simple Non-Abelian Groups“ (SNAGs) may describe complex processes in living cells. SNAGs are commonly in mathematics and physics, and are based on the principles of symmetry and interaction. So SNAGs may give us great understanding of how living cells work and therefore how the brain works and after that well, science fiction has pondered that since it’s conception.
Apps and clinical research
I noted this article as it involves GlaxoSmithKline a company I used to work for. I didn’t know there was an Apple app called ResearchKit that up till now smaller groups have been using for studies and clinical trials. However, GSK will be the first big company to use it. They intend to study Rheumatoid arthritis, not the disease itself or a new treatment but how it affects some 300 patients in their daily lives. If successful, this will open a new world for collecting patient and medical research data. The more we can understand the effects of some of the disease the better treatments can be designed to combat them.
1. Scientists estimate that 275 million new stars are born every day.
2. The current estimate for stars in the Milk Way is 400 billion and of those 40 billion are likely to have planets. If just 1% of those are in the “Goldilocks” zone then that’s 500 million that could support life. And that’s just our galaxy.
3. The entire internet is stored and delivered on 540 billion trillion (no I don’t know what that looks like either) electrons, which together would weigh about 50 grams, the weight of one medium sized strawberry.
4. A table spoon of material from a neutron star would weigh about a billion tonnes
5. You could never travel to the edge of the universe, if you flew outward in a straight line , you would come back to the point where you began. Sounds familiar.
As always comments are welcome.