NASA scientists propose to make Pluto a planet again

February 21, 2017 by  
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Alan Stern has never been happy with Pluto’s demotion to dwarf planet. Principal investigator of NASA’s New Horizons mission, he told Gizmodo the International Astronomical Union’s new definition of a planet, which excludes Pluto, is “bullshit.” So he and a team of other NASA scientists have submitted a proposal to the IAU to once again refine the definition of what makes a planet, which would not only include Pluto , but also pretty much any round object in space that is smaller than a star. In the introduction of the new proposal , the scientists express concern that Pluto’s demotion to dwarf planet diminishes its standing in the public perception. Apparently a lot of people want to know why NASA sent New Horizons to Pluto if it’s not a planet anymore. To mitigate the public’s concern, they propose a “geophysically-based definition of “planet” that importantly emphasizes a body’s intrinsic physical properties over its extrinsic orbital properties.” In this case, a planet would be “a sub-stellar mass body that has never undergone nuclear fusion and that has sufficient self-gravitation to assume a spheroidal shape adequately described by a triaxial ellipsoid regardless of its orbital parameters.” Related: New evidence of clouds could make Pluto a planet again https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xmqDpuDLVYw As Gizmodo points out, such a definition would make a lot more objects in space planets, including Earth’s moon , but the existing definition excludes a lot of space bodies that deserve new consideration. Here are a few of NASA’s concerns with the existing definition of planets, as broken down by Science Alert: “First, it recognises as planets only those objects orbiting our Sun, not those orbiting other stars or orbiting freely in the galaxy as ‘rogue planets’,” they explain. Second, the fact that it requires zone-clearing means “no planet in our Solar System” can satisfy the criteria, since a number of small cosmic bodies are constantly flying through planetary orbits – including Earth’s. Finally, and “most severely”, they say, this zone-clearing stipulation means the mathematics used to confirm if a cosmic body is actually a planet must be distance-dependent, because a “zone” must be clarified. This would require progressively larger objects in each successive zone, and “even an Earth-sized object in the Kuiper Belt would not clear its zone.” While Stern formerly expressed concern that astronomers, not planetary scientists, have control over this definition, the final decision rests with the IAU. Pluto fans stay tuned. Via Gizmodo Images via NASA

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NASA scientists propose to make Pluto a planet again

Ancient microbes survive inside massive cave crystals for 50,000 years

February 20, 2017 by  
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Scientists have found strange, ancient microbes in Mexico’s Naica crystal caves that could be around 50,000 years old. Although the caves are so hot they’ve been described as hell – while also being so magical they’ve been described as Fairyland – the microbes have survived for thousands of years trapped in crystals . A biologist who studied the microbes referred to them as super life. Scientists discovered 40 different microbe strains and some viruses in the caves. The microbes are so bizarre that even their closest relatives are genetically 10 percent different, which is about as far away as mushrooms and humans, according to NASA Astrobiology Institute director Penelope Boston, who recently presented the research. The dormant microbes survived on minerals like manganese and iron. Related: Researchers discover that architecture has an impact on which microbes thrive around you The Naica caves are a great example of an extreme environment. Found by miners only around 100 years ago, the caves were isolated from the rest of the world for centuries until a mining company commenced drilling. According to Phys.org, some of the caves are as colossal as cathedrals , and are covered in crystals. But the magnificent caves are so sweltering the researchers could work for just about 20 minutes before retreating to a cool room around 100 degrees Fahrenheit. They wore inexpensive space suits and kept ice packs on their bodies. The find doesn’t claim the prize for oldest extreme life – years ago scientists wrote about living microbes trapped in salt and ice that may be around half a million years old. But Boston told the BBC the microbes her team found are extraordinary because “they are not very closely related to anything in the known genetic databases” and scientists can add the recently found microbes “to this atlas of possibilities that we can apply to different planetary settings.” The findings draw on nine years of research, but have not yet been published in a journal. Boston aims to run more genetic tests on the microbes, but did present the find at the recent American Association for the Advancement of Science conference in Boston, Massachusetts late last week. Via the BBC and Phys.org Images via Wikimedia Commons ( 1 , 2 )

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Ancient microbes survive inside massive cave crystals for 50,000 years

The US solar market grew by a record-breaking 95% last year

February 16, 2017 by  
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The United States solar market grew an astounding 95 percent in 2016, installing an extraordinary 14.5 gigawatts of new solar capacity, according to the annual Solar Market Insight Report (SMI) from GTM Research and the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA). For the first time in history, solar ranked as the number one source of new electric generating capacity in the US, accounting for 39 percent of new capacity additions across all fuel types in 2016. “What these numbers tell you is that the solar industry is a force to be reckoned with,” said Abigail Ross Hopper, SEIA’s president and CEO. “Solar’s economically winning hand is generating strong growth across all market segments nationwide, leading to more than 260,000 Americans now employed in solar.” Related: Solar power now provides twice as many jobs as coal in U.S. A record 22 states each added more than 100 megawatts of solar, with California topping the list for cumulative solar capacity at 18,304 MW. There are now more than 1.3 million solar PV installations in the US, with a cumulative capacity of 42.3 GW. Wind energy also enjoyed a great year, accounting for 26 percent of all new electric generating capacity. Most of the new solar capacity was in utility-scale solar, which grew 145 percent from 2015. For the first time since 2011, the non-residential market outpaced residential solar installations — community solar added a record of more than 200 MW, led by Minnesota and Massachusetts; and rate design and net energy metering resulted in the development of new non-residential solar projects, particularly in California. + US Solar Market Insight Via CleanTechnica Images via Wikimedia and SEIA

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The US solar market grew by a record-breaking 95% last year

North Korea’s ‘Hotel of Doom’ is the world’s largest abandoned building

February 16, 2017 by  
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This pyramid-shaped building in North Korea was once a contender for the tallest hotel in the world – but construction was interrupted in 1989 and it became the world’s largest abandoned building instead. The notorious 105-story Ryugyong Hotel – frequently referred to as the “Hotel of Doom” – could come to life after all, as Egyptian company Orascom fired the project back up again in 2008. The structure, designed by Baikdoosan Architects & Engineers, first broke ground in 1987 in Pyongyang, North Korea. It was supposed to open in 1989, two years later after the frame was finished. Work stopped in 1992 after the collapse of the Soviet Union (an ally and backer), and the hotel remained unfinished , looming over the North Korean capital. Related: Abandoned Floating McDonalds to Be Given New Life As a Marina in Canada In 2008, an Egyptian company took over the hotel and began adding exterior glass in the hope of finishing the project. Reports say that the interior has no plumbing or electricity, and it could require another $2 billion to finish. As of late construction on the hotel has stopped again, leaving the fate of the hotel unresolved. Photos via Wikimedia Commons

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North Korea’s ‘Hotel of Doom’ is the world’s largest abandoned building

Hundreds of ancient earthworks similar to Stonehenge found in the Amazon

February 7, 2017 by  
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For hundreds of years, the Amazon rainforest concealed over 450 massive, mysterious earthworks similar to those in Stonehenge . As a result of deforestation , researchers were able to catch a glimpse of the baffling geometrical geoglyphs in Brazil’s Acre state. The 2,000-year-old earthworks reveal a wealth of information we didn’t know before about how ancient people managed the rainforest . Many people used to think the Amazon rainforest ecosystem remained largely untouched by humans in the past, an idea challenged by the recent discovery of these huge earthworks. Led by Jennifer Watling of the University of São Paulo and the University of Exeter , a team reconstructed fire and vegetation history over 6,000 years near two of the geoglyphs, and found humans actually changed the bamboo forests heavily for millennia. They temporarily cleared areas to build the earthworks. Related: Archaeologists reveal fresh details about 4,500-year-old “New Stonehenge” As researchers didn’t find many artifacts around the earthworks, the sites probably weren’t villages, and their layout prompts researchers to think they weren’t used for defense. Instead, the ancient geoglyphs may have been utilized only once in a while for ritual gatherings. Watling cautions against excusing rampant deforestation based on this new information. Her team’s research shows while ancient people altered the rainforest, they did not employ long term, large-scale deforestation as happens today, or burn swaths of forest. Instead they employed ancient agroforestry practices and focused on economically valuable trees like palms to create what the University of Exeter describes as a prehistoric supermarket of products from the forest. Watling said, “Our evidence that Amazonian forests have been managed by indigenous peoples long before European Contact should not be cited as justification for the destructive, unsustainable land-use practiced today. It should instead serve to highlight the ingenuity of past subsistence regimes that did not lead to forest degradation, and the importance of indigenous knowledge for finding more sustainable land use alternatives.” Nine other researchers from institutions in Brazil, the United Kingdom, and Canada joined Watling in the research; the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences published their study online this month. Via Phys.org Images via Jenny Watling/Phys.org

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Hundreds of ancient earthworks similar to Stonehenge found in the Amazon

US Congress could fund geoengineering research for the first time

January 16, 2017 by  
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The United States Congress could fund geoengineering for the first time. Although the idea of large-scale climate engineering has stoked controversy in the past, the U.S. Global Change Research Program (USGCRP) has called on the US government to fund geoengineering research as humanity seeks new ways to deal with climate change . In a roadmap prepared for Congress, the USGCRP called for research to provide “insight into the science needed to understand potential pathways for climate intervention or geoengineering and the possible consequences of any such measures, both intended and unintended.” The USGCRP recommends research into two major geoengineering methods: capturing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and raising the amount of sunlight reflected by Earth. 5 geoengineering plans to fight climate change In the plan, the USGCRP said that “climate intervention cannot substitute for reducing greenhouse gas emissions and adapting to the changes in climate that occur” but that “some types of deliberative climate intervention may someday be one of a portfolio of tools used in managing climate change.” That means that politicians are still on the hook for limiting emissions and taking measure to adapt to climate change. Is geoengineering really the best approach to humanity’s climate change woes? Al Gore lambasted the idea as “insane, utterly mad, and delusional in the extreme” in response to a United Nations climate panel in 2014. Over a year later, MIT scientists released a study indicating geoengineering could bring about adverse unintended consequences . Via MIT Technology Review Images via Wikimedia Commons and Max Pixel

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US Congress could fund geoengineering research for the first time

Irish scientists identify new human organ

January 4, 2017 by  
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You’ve been walking around with an unknown organ without even realizing it. The mesentery, which connects the abdomen and intestine, isn’t exactly a new find, but doctors previously thought it was fragmented, instead of continuous. Now University of Limerick scientists are seeking to reverse the centuries-old viewpoint in an article explaining why this piece of the body deserves to be classified as an organ. For more than 100 years, scientists thought the mesentery was comprised of several different, complex segments. Not so, say J. Calvin Coffey and D. Peter O’Leary. They found the mesentery was in fact “one continuous structure,” according to Coffey, and worthy of classification as an organ. The mesentery serves to help organs like the colon and small intestine maintain their shape, wrapping around them in one ribbon of tissue. Coffey told Discover Magazine, “Without it you can’t live. There are no reported instances of a Homo sapien living without a mesentery.” He and his team established the continuous structure of the mesentery back in 2012, and have been building up evidence since then. Related: Scientists grow test tube human brains with potential to think and feel A better understanding of the mesentery could help doctors as they operate on the body, even resulting in less invasive surgeries and complications, according to the University of Limerick. Patients could recover faster and pay less if the medical community had further knowledge of the mesentery. Coffey said in a statement, “When we approach it like every other organ…we can categorize abdominal disease in terms of this organ.” So who gives the final word on whether the mesentery is officially an organ? Coffey told Discover Magazine he doesn’t actually know. For now his article can be read in the journal The Lancet Gastroenterology & Hepatology , who published the research in late 2016. Via Discover Magazine and University of Limerick Images via Alan Place and J. Calvin Coffey/D. Peter O’Leary/Henry Vandyke Carter

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Irish scientists identify new human organ

Faraday Future’s FF91 smashes speed record of Tesla Model S in ludicrous mode

January 4, 2017 by  
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Faraday Future made a bold claim Tuesday when the California-based automotive startup unveiled its 1,050-horsepower FF91, which they say will be the world’s fastest electric car . The production model was featured in a video at CES in Las Vegas, where it can be seen besting a Tesla Model S . Since its inception in 2014, Faraday Future has chased Tesla’s shadow—consistently promising to release a better electric car with a better battery—and the company has even started building a $1 billion factory near Las Vegas. While Faraday Future is already taking pre-orders for the supposedly lightning fast FF91 model, the company can’t pay for production without hefty support from investors, which have yet to be found. Does Faraday really have a future? While Faraday Future is an American company, it is backed in large part by Chinese billionaire Jia Yueting. Since 2014, the company has been teasing the automotive world with promises of bigger, better, faster electric cars, and the unveiling of the FF91, which Faraday calls “the first of the species”, marks the first time we’ve seen an actual car to back up the wild ambition, as the previous teasers have all been mere concepts. Faraday Future’s FF91 can reportedly accelerate from zero to 60 miles per hour in 2.39 seconds, shaving precious time off the record 2.5 seconds for a Tesla Model S P100D with “Ludicrous Mode” engaged . Related: Faraday Future breaks ground on $1B electric car factory outside Las Vegas In addition to its speed, the FF91 (that’s FF “nine-one,” the company clarifies in its press release) also boasts a longer range than any other commercially available electric car , with an estimated 378 miles of travel on a single charge of its 130 kWh battery. Faraday Future also claims to have achieved the fastest charging time with a home battery charger capable of juicing from 50 percent to full charge in under 4.5 hours. Faraday says deliveries of its super fast FF91 will begin in 2018, but there are a lot of “ifs” involved. The company is still working hard to raise capital for production of the FF91 (which is strikingly similar to where Faraday was a year ago at this time, with a different concept car) but they are already taking reservations toward purchases (much like Tesla) at $5,000 (which is refundable). There’s no word on what the FF91’s final price tag will look like, and Faraday Future’s reputation for big ideas without the actual technology to back them up may prevent the speedy electric car from ever hitting the road. Via Bloomberg Images via Faraday Future

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Faraday Future’s FF91 smashes speed record of Tesla Model S in ludicrous mode

World’s highest bridge is now open for vehicular traffic

December 30, 2016 by  
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Acrophobes beware, the highest bridge in the world is open for business. After three years and over $140 million, the Beipanjiang Bridge in southwest China just opened. At 1,854 feet, the suspension bridge is either maniacal, or an engineering marvel. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zBWddXUCBsY The recently-completed bridge stretches across the Beipanjiang Valley, connecting the Yunnan and Guizhou provinces. What once was a five hour journey between the two places has been slashed to a quick hour and a half trip thanks to the new bridge. The engineering feat is an astounding 4,400 feet long, and is about the height of a 200 story building. According to CNN , the bridge is the highest due to the enormous distance between the ground and the bridge’s deck. Related: World’s tallest and longest glass bridge closes after only 13 days Beipanjiang project director Zhou Ping told CCTV, “In October 2013, the Ministry of Transport approved the Beipanjiang Bridge and gave us 8.9 million yuan in scientific research funding. Our project provided match-funding of around 6.1 million yuan, bringing the research fund to around 15 million. Many institutes, including Jiaotong University, Guizhou Highway engineering group, and the Guizhou office of transportation joined together to conduct research and development. We developed a new kind of technology called cantilever erection by longitudinal launching, and this significantly shortened construction time.” Wind affected construction, so builders had to be especially precise, assembling bridge sections on site. CCCC Highway Consultants deputy chief engineer Liu Bo said one of their main challenges was discerning where to place bridge piers, as the gorge beneath the bridge is around 1,640 feet deep. They were eventually able to work around these issues to build the bridge, which has overtaken the 1,627-foot-high Sidu River Bridge as the world’s highest. Guizhou province also boasts seven of China’s 10 highest bridges. Via CCTV and CNN Images via screenshot

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World’s highest bridge is now open for vehicular traffic

World’s highest bridge is now open for vehicular traffic

December 30, 2016 by  
Filed under Business, Green

Comments Off on World’s highest bridge is now open for vehicular traffic

Acrophobes beware, the highest bridge in the world is open for business. After three years and over $140 million, the Beipanjiang Bridge in southwest China just opened. At 1,854 feet, the suspension bridge is either maniacal, or an engineering marvel. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zBWddXUCBsY The recently-completed bridge stretches across the Beipanjiang Valley, connecting the Yunnan and Guizhou provinces. What once was a five hour journey between the two places has been slashed to a quick hour and a half trip thanks to the new bridge. The engineering feat is an astounding 4,400 feet long, and is about the height of a 200 story building. According to CNN , the bridge is the highest due to the enormous distance between the ground and the bridge’s deck. Related: World’s tallest and longest glass bridge closes after only 13 days Beipanjiang project director Zhou Ping told CCTV, “In October 2013, the Ministry of Transport approved the Beipanjiang Bridge and gave us 8.9 million yuan in scientific research funding. Our project provided match-funding of around 6.1 million yuan, bringing the research fund to around 15 million. Many institutes, including Jiaotong University, Guizhou Highway engineering group, and the Guizhou office of transportation joined together to conduct research and development. We developed a new kind of technology called cantilever erection by longitudinal launching, and this significantly shortened construction time.” Wind affected construction, so builders had to be especially precise, assembling bridge sections on site. CCCC Highway Consultants deputy chief engineer Liu Bo said one of their main challenges was discerning where to place bridge piers, as the gorge beneath the bridge is around 1,640 feet deep. They were eventually able to work around these issues to build the bridge, which has overtaken the 1,627-foot-high Sidu River Bridge as the world’s highest. Guizhou province also boasts seven of China’s 10 highest bridges. Via CCTV and CNN Images via screenshot

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