NASA uses Google’s artificial intelligence to discover the 8th planet in a distant solar system

December 14, 2017 by  
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Today NASA announced that its Kepler telescope, with the help of Google AI, has discovered the 8th planet in a distant planetary system. The solar system Kepler 90 now ties our own solar system for having the most known planets. The groundbreaking discovery confirms that artificial intelligence can assist astronomers in identifying patterns in space that may be too challenging for humans. The Kepler Space Telescope launched in 2009, and since then it has discovered 2,337 exoplanets, many of which could be possible candidates for hosting life. The most exciting discovery, made in 2015, was that of Kepler-425b, the first Earth-sized planet to be discovered in a habitable zone around a star. Building upon human research, NASA utilized Google’s neural network – a sort of artificial intelligence – to make the discovery. Essentially, the system was taught to differentiate between similar but different patterns, expanding its capability and learning over time. Now, the AI has learned enough to identify subtle differences in space to detect weak signals that humans had failed to detect. This led to the discovery of the planet Kepler 90I, which researchers hadn’t noticed after searching the area. NASA says that human researchers may have eventually identified the planet, but the AI made that process much faster and more efficient. Related: Kepler data reveals 20 potentially habitable worlds 90I is a small, probably rocky planet tucked in the middle of the Kepler 90 solar system. It likely has a thin atmosphere and isn’t very hospitable to life. While Kepler 90 appears to be similar in many ways to our own solar system, it also has some distinct differences: the planets cluster close to the sun, rather than being spread out. It is also possible that this solar system may have more planets that we haven’t identified yet. + NASA

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NASA uses Google’s artificial intelligence to discover the 8th planet in a distant solar system

Laser-driven fusion energy leaves no radioactive waste – and it’s within reach

December 14, 2017 by  
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Dramatic advances in lasers could get us closer to fusion energy . An international team of 11 scientists is pursuing what was once thought to be impossible, according to the University of New South Wales (UNSW): fusion power with hydrogen-boron reactions. The researchers describe this in their recently published study as the ideal clean fusion process: the technique needs no radioactive fuel elements and doesn’t leave toxic radioactive waste. Could we be closer to better fusion energy? The world for decades has pursued igniting the heavy hydrogen isotopes deuterium (D) and tritium (T). But generated neutrons from DT fusion produce radioactive waste. The researchers in their paper suggest an alternative: fusing hydrogen with the boron isotope 11. And lasers could help make this hydrogen-boron fusion possible. Related: ‘We were blown away’ – researchers eliminate obstacle to fusion energy Instead of heating fuel to the Sun’s temperature with “massive, high-strength magnets to control superhot plasmas inside a doughnut-shaped toroidal chamber,” according to UNSW, scientists can reach hydrogen-boron fusion with rapid bursts from two powerful lasers. This process requires temperatures and densities 200 times hotter than the Sun’s core – but advances in laser technology may have reached the point where the two-laser approach actually could be viable. Study lead author Heinrich Hora of UNSW, who in the 1970s predicted it might be possible to fuse hydrogen and boron without needing thermal equilibrium, said in a statement, “I think this puts our approach ahead of all other fusion energy technologies.” HB11 Energy , a spin-off company in Australia, holds the patents. Managing director Warren McKenzie said in a statement, “From an engineering perspective, our approach will be a much simpler project because the fuels and waste are safe, the reactor won’t need a heat exchanger and steam turbine generator, and the lasers we need can be bought off the shelf…If the next few years of research don’t uncover any major engineering hurdles, we could have a prototype reactor within a decade.” The journal Laser and Particle Beams published the research online this week. Scientists at institutions in Israel, Spain, Germany, the United States, China, and Greece contributed. + HB11 Energy Via the University of New South Wales Images via Pixabay and HB11 Energy

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Laser-driven fusion energy leaves no radioactive waste – and it’s within reach

MIT engineers just unveiled living, glowing plants

December 13, 2017 by  
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Glowing plants might sound like the stuff of science fiction – but a team of MIT researchers just grew a crop of watercress that emits emit dim light for almost four hours. Postdoctoral researcher Seon-Yeong Kwak led a team of engineers and scientists to instill the plants with the same enzyme that makes fireflies sparkle. MIT chemical engineering professor Michael Strano said, “The vision is to make a plant that will function as a desk lamp – a lamp that you don’t have to plug in. The light is ultimately powered by the energy metabolism of the plant itself.” Plant lamps or even tree street lights could brighten our world in the future thanks to recent research on glowing plants. The plants are illuminated by luciferase – the same enzyme that helps fireflies shine. Luciferase acts on the molecule luciferin to give off light. The team put these three components into nanoparticle carriers to get them to the correct part of a plant. The scientists showed they can also turn off the light by adding nanoparticles with a luciferase inhibitor, so they think they could eventually create plants that stop emitting light in response to conditions like sunlight. Related: 5 Bioluminescent Species that Light Up the World Past experiments to create light-emitting plants attempted to genetically engineer plants to express the gene for luciferase, according to MIT . But it’s a process that takes a lot of work for very dim light – and it’s often limited to just one plant type. The new MIT process can work on any kind of plant; so far the scientists have demonstrated it with watercress, kale, arugula, and spinach. They hope to be able to spray or paint the nanoparticles on leaves with future iterations, so trees or large plants could serve as light sources. The journal Nano Letters published the research online in November. Scientists from the University of California, Riverside and the University of California, Berkeley contributed to the work. + Nano Letters + MIT News Images via Seon-Yeong Kwak

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MIT engineers just unveiled living, glowing plants

Turns out blood-sucking ticks really did plague the dinosaurs

December 13, 2017 by  
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Scientists have found the first solid evidence that prehistoric ticks consumed dinosaur blood. The discovery of a 99-million year old piece of amber in Myanmar offers a rare glimpse into the lives of Cretaceous animals, large and small. Trapped within the fossilized sap, the tick is seen grasping onto a feather presumed to be from a feathered dinosaur. Though Mezozoic-era blood-sucking insects encased in amber have become part of the public’s imagination thanks to the  Jurassic Park films, the fossil record previously lacked clear evidence that dinosaur blood was on the menu. “Ticks are infamous blood-sucking, parasitic organisms, having a tremendous impact on the health of humans, livestock, pets, and even wildlife,” study lead researcher Enrique Peñalver told EurekaAlert , “but until now clear evidence of their role in deep time has been lacking.” Although the tick in life did indeed drink dinosaur blood, it is not possible to extract DNA from an amber-enclosed insect, a la Jurassic Park , because of the short life of complex DNA molecules. Nonetheless, the fossil adds considerably to our understanding of ecology in the age of the dinosaurs. “The fossil record tells us that feathers like the one we have studied were already present on a wide range of theropod dinosaurs, a group which included ground-running forms without flying ability, as well as bird-like dinosaurs capable of powered flight,” said Ricardo Pérez-de la Fuente, researcher at University of Oxford Museum of Natural History. Related: Scientists discover 52-million-year-old tomatillo fossil “So although we can’t be sure what kind of dinosaur the tick was feeding on,” continued Pérez-de la Fuente, “the mid-Cretaceous age of the Burmese amber confirms that the feather certainly did not belong to a modern bird , as these appeared much later in theropod evolution according to current fossil and molecular evidence.” In addition to the dino-centric discovery, researchers also identified a new species of tick, dubbed Deinocroton draculi or “Dracula’s terrible tick,”encased in a separate piece of amber. Via ScienceAlert Images via University of Oxford

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Turns out blood-sucking ticks really did plague the dinosaurs

Local Roots shipping container farms achieve cost parity with traditional farming

December 13, 2017 by  
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99 percent less water and 4,000 lettuce heads every 10 days: Los Angeles-based Local Roots achieves all that in their shipping container farms . And today they announced they’ve also reached cost parity with traditional farming . They plan to deploy over 100 farms in 2018. Inhabitat checked out their mobile TerraFarm in New York City and met with CEO Eric Ellestad and COO Matt Vail to hear more. We visited Local Roots’ TerraFarm in Manhattan a windy, chilly December day, but inside, green butterhead, red butterhead, green leaf, and red leaf lettuce was thriving. Vail and Ellestad started the company around four years ago on a mission to boost global health and seek sustainability in farming. A few statistics that fuel their mission? For one, the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization estimates agriculture is responsible for over 25 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions . And then, 52 percent of the food we do grow in America doesn’t even make it to the consumer, according to Ellestad. Related: 40-foot shipping container farm can grow 5 acres of food with 97% less water Their indoor farms address those issues. They can deploy TerraFarms right at or near distribution centers. They design, build, deploy, and efficiently operate the vertical farms , and sell the food – which they think is even better than organic produce. “In outdoor farming, whether it’s organic or traditional, there’s a lot of variability. Even across a field, there’s not going to be uniform nutrient application or soil quality. In our environment we’re able to consistently create growing conditions that optimize for flavor and nutrient density,” Ellestad told Inhabitat. “We can select varietals that are naturally more nutritious, even ones that don’t make sense to grow outdoors or are really susceptible to weather or have a short shelf life or break down in transit. We can bring those to market at scale with price parity and do that for some of the largest buyers.” They also see an accelerated growth rate in their TerraFarms. Ellestad said crops will grow two or three times as fast as they would in a field since they can create perfect growing conditions for a plant. They can reuse or recycle all of the water – their biggest use of water is actually for cleaning the farms. And since they can control the environment, they can grow local food year-round. “Instead of being constrained to a growing season, you’re growing fall, winter, summer, spring; in Saudi Arabia in the summer, in New York in December,” he told Inhabitat. “We’re over 600 times more productive per square foot compared with an outdoor farm. So suddenly you can bring commercial-scale food production into urban areas and start to bring them closer to the point of consumption.” Solar panels lined the roof of the mobile TerraFarm in Manhattan. They could generate three kilowatts, enough to operate the farm in sunny California, according to Vail. The indoor farms can go off-grid with solar or wind and batteries. Local Roots tends to evaluate the local grid before deploying a farm to see if it’s clean or if they might want to add a source of renewable energy . Now as they’ve cracked the code for cost parity with traditional farming, Local Roots will be expanding in a big way in 2018. They’ll deploy their first projects outside of the Los Angeles area, and plan to hire around 150 people. Ellestad said they’re also launching their retail brand in a new way. They hope to be on the East Coast by the end of 2018. But they’re already looking ahead to bringing nutrition to people around the world. Vail told Inhabitat, “We’re here with a mission to improve global health, so that means more than just LA and New York. It means developing countries around the world. It means the two billion people who today don’t have access to the micronutrients they need to be healthy.” Local Roots is working with the World Food Program (WFP) to deploy and field test a few TerraFarms in 2018 in a developing nation to be determined. These farms will be off-grid, likely equipped with solar power, so they will be self-sustaining; locals will just need to bring in water. Vail told Inhabitat, “We’ll educate and train the community to operate the farms, and they’ll then have ownership so they can feed their community perpetually in a really sustainable way with food that’s healthy, delicious, and local.” Find out more about Local Roots on their website . + Local Roots Images via Lacy Cooke for Inhabitat and courtesy of Local Roots

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Local Roots shipping container farms achieve cost parity with traditional farming

SunPower shingles solar cells to boost solar panel efficiency by 15%

December 13, 2017 by  
Filed under Eco, Green

SunPower has achieved a 15 percent efficiency increase in its panels in part by incorporating a novel design: shingling solar cells. For only $9 in additional costs from adding solar cells, the San Jose -based manufacturer’s P Series solar panels can be structured like shingles, maximizing direct sunlight exposure and raising efficiency. Many of the new designs incorporated into the P Series solar panel were created by Cogenra, a solar panel producer based in Fremont, California, which was acquired by SunPower in 2015. Because of this increase in efficiency through a relatively simple design tweak, SunPower’s stock jumped 12 percent as investors recognized the profit potential for these new panels. Although SunPower has had trouble achieving profitability in recent years, its new designs are promising. Unlike previous designs from the company, the P Series solar panels utilize cheaper, lower efficiency solar cells and make up for the efficiency loss through their shingling design. By shingling the solar cells, the space between cells is reduced, allowing more cells to be included on each panel. As a result, nearly 100 percent of the panel is covered with solar cells. Related: New rooftop solar hydropanels harvest drinking water and energy at the same time The P Series also incorporates a design that relocates ribbons and solder bands to the back of the panel, once again making room for additional solar cells facing the sun. This innovation and others have enabled the P Series to achieve a much more affordable production price. Investors had previously expressed concerns over the high capital investment required to build new SunPower factories and the high cost of its earlier model panels. To prepare for a broader stake in the market, SunPower, in collaboration with Dongfang Electric and silicon giant Zhonghuan Semiconductor, will build what is expected to be the largest solar manufacturing facility on the planet. This joint project has been dubbed DZS Solar. Via Electrek Images via SunPower (1)

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SunPower shingles solar cells to boost solar panel efficiency by 15%

Macron offers 18 scientists the chance to "Make Our Planet Great Again"

December 12, 2017 by  
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France’s president Emmanuel Macron had an answer to President Donald Trump’s decision to tug America out of the Paris Agreement : invite scientists to research climate change solutions in his country instead. The Make Our Planet Great Again initiative now has its first class: 18 scientists from around the world. They’ll move from institutions like Princeton University, Stanford University, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to work in France. Macron announced the 18 grants with French research minister Frédérique Vidal right before the One Planet Summit , a meeting convened by Macron, World Bank president Jim Yong Kim, and United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres to work towards climate action . 12 of the 18 scientists were based at American research centers, laboratories, or universities. Others come from institutions in Canada, Spain, India, the United Kingdom, Poland, and Italy. Related: Macron and Schwarzenegger throw shade at Donald Trump in new climate video Thank you for your answer to this first call, your decision to move and come to Paris. Here you have a hub to do more. pic.twitter.com/TFoGRLG5J8 — Emmanuel Macron (@EmmanuelMacron) December 11, 2017 One of the scientists is University of Plymouth professor Camille Parmesan, who hails from Texas and was a co-recipient of the 2007 Nobel Prize awarded to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change for her work as a lead author. She said Make Our Planet Great Again is “absolutely fabulous, and a very appropriate response to Trump pulling out of the Paris accords.” Bravo à tous ceux qui ont répondu au projet #MakeOurPlanetGreatAgain . Vous allez nourrir la vitalité dont nous avons besoin ! pic.twitter.com/X9t0sXdFd4 — Emmanuel Macron (@EmmanuelMacron) December 11, 2017 The French government is offering three to five year grants of up to 1.5 million Euros, or around $1.7 million, each, with a goal of attracting around 50 climate researchers. Over 1,800 scientists expressed interest. Of those, 450 were considered eligible and 255 turned in applications. 90 were invited to offer proposals, working with a French institution, and 57 proposals were turned in to the French National Research Agency. An international panel comprised of nine members reviewed the proposals. France will go through a second round of proposal evaluations next year, with Germany, which joined the project and committed 15 million Euros, or around $17.6 million. You can see the full list of the 18 winning scientists here . Via Science Magazine Images via Emmanuel Macron Facebook and Depositphotos

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Macron offers 18 scientists the chance to "Make Our Planet Great Again"

Scientists find the Earth’s constant hum is best heard from the ocean floor

December 12, 2017 by  
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European scientists have determined that the Earth’s unceasing humming is best heard from the ocean floor , presenting opportunities to better understand this mysterious phenomenon. Although the sound is far below the human hearing threshold, the Earth is constantly humming. While scientists have been aware of the Earth’s humming since 1959, with more definitive research emerging in 1998, the source of the sounds remains a mystery. Nonetheless, recent research using ocean-bottom seismometer stations has provided scientists with a clearer picture of the phenomenon than ever before. “It’s like taking a piano and slamming all the keys at the same time,” said Spahr Webb of Columbia University’s Earth Institute, according to National Geographic . “Except they’re not nice harmonics. They’re oddball frequencies.” The researchers, who hail from various earth science institutes across Europe , searched through seismometer records gathered from an area that stretches more than 1,200 square miles to the east of Madagascar in the Indian Ocean . Using this data, the team determined two high-quality seismometer stations from which it extracted the sound of a humming Earth. However, at 2.9 to 4.5 millihertz, the vibrations are nearly 10,000 times lower than the frequencies that humans can detect. From this data, scientists were able to determine that the loudness of the hum does not change over time, contradicting previous studies that documented a range of amplitude for the sound. Related: Everything we know about the Earth’s mantle is completely wrong A better understanding Earth’s humming may prove invaluable to creating a more comprehensive map of Earth’s interior, which is usually only able to be studied during earthquakes . Although the recent study has not definitely determined the source and nature of Earth’s humming, it has clarified the phenomenon and offered opportunities for further research. “To better understand where the signal comes from, we believe that observing oscillations from the ocean bottom can help,” said study co-author Martha Deen, according to National Geographic. The most recent study credits atmospheric turbulence and ocean waves with causing the sounds, though this is far from conclusive. Via National Geographic Images via Depositphotos (1)

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Scientists find the Earth’s constant hum is best heard from the ocean floor

Remarkable bacteria survives extremely harsh conditions by eating nothing but air

December 11, 2017 by  
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Scientists have discovered a strange new bacteria in the Antarctic that can survive the planet’s most extreme conditions just by breathing air. The discovery could help us find alien life in space. Scientists found microbes in Antarctica that exist on a diet of carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide, and hydrogen, in places where other life forms could never survive. But if life can survive in the extreme temperatures, darkness and strong radiation found in Antarctica, it stands to reason that life could survive in similar conditions in space. Related: Scientists warn thawing soil could suddenly unleash deadly pathogens unseen in centuries “The big question has been how the microbes can survive when there is little water, the soils are very low in organic carbon and there is very little capacity to produce energy from the Sun via photosynthesis during the winter darkness,” said Belinda Ferrari, lead researcher of the University of New South Wales team who made the discovery. Via Science Alert Lead image via Desposit Photos ( 1 , 2 )

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Remarkable bacteria survives extremely harsh conditions by eating nothing but air

Google Street View captures the migration of millions of crabs on Christmas Island

December 11, 2017 by  
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Google Street View Trekker is traveling to Christmas Island this week to capture the migration of millions of red crabs . In what naturalist David Attenborough has described as one of nature’s “most astonishing and wonderful sights,” huge numbers of the iconic, endemic red crabs annually travel from their inland forest homes to the ocean, where the crabs breed and lay their eggs. The red crabs have already begun their march to the sea and the peak number of crabs on the beaches is expected on December 13, 2017. Dr. Alasdair Grigg of Parks Australia is working with Google and wielding a Street View Trekker 360 camera to capture images from the event, which should be available in early 2018. The red crabs of Christmas Island, an Australian territory near the Indonesian island of Java, spend most of the year burrowed in the damp forest floor to preserve body moisture and protect themselves from the harsh equatorial sun. When conditions are right, 40 to 50 million crabs emerge from their dens to march towards the ocean. Parks Australia has set up walls and fencing to help protect and guide the crabs as they maneuver around manmade obstructions, such as roads. Related: Google maps the solar system for armchair space travelers Although few are able to actually travel to Christmas Island to observe the phenomenon, people around the world will be able to witness the migration thanks to Google and Dr. Alistair Grigg of Parks Australia. “Christmas Island is not on the radar of most travelers,” said Grigg in a statement. “We hope people can get a taste of the magnificent nature and the red crab migration through the eyes of the Google Trekker. We also hope they are inspired to appreciate the world-class conservation values of the Island.” This documentation of natural phenomenon follows similar efforts by Google, including virtual tours of all of South Africa’s national parks . Via Mashable Images via Google

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Google Street View captures the migration of millions of crabs on Christmas Island

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