A team of international researchers has set a new data transfer record. A memory to memory data transfer rate of of 186 gigabits a second. The team cranked up the network at the SuperComputing 2011 conference in Seattle in mid-November. Transferring data in opposite directions over a wide-area network circuit. The rate is equivalent to moving two million gigabytes per day, fast enough to transfer nearly 100,000 full Blu-ray disks – each with a complete movie and all the extras – a day. The researchers reached transfer rates of 98 gigabits per second between the University of Victoria Computing Centre located in Victoria, British Columbia, and the Washington State Convention Center in Seattle. Coupled with a simultaneous data rate of 88 Gbps in the opposite direction the team reached the astounding two-way data rate of 186 Gbps to break their own previous peak-rate record of 119 Gbps set in 2009. READ MORE
Asteroid dust collected by a Japanese spacecraft – HAYABUSA - has given scientists their first look into the outer covering of an asteroid.
The asteroid explorer HAYABUSA – previously named Muses-C – was launched in 2003 by JAXA – Japanese Aerospace Agency – The craft succesfully rendezvoused with Asteroid 25143-Itokawa, located some 320 million km from Earth in 2005. Hayabusa successfully re-entered Earth’s atmosphere in June 2010. As Hayabusa burnt up she dropped her payload- a heat resistant capsule - safely at Woomera in outback South Australia.
“Until now, asteroid exploration had been a one-way trip; however, the Hayabusa is a round-trip space mission. We’re now designing an improved next-generation space ship and are expecting the arrival of the Grand Navigation Era to the Solar System, such as a round trip to a main belt asteroid or to Venus, or a round trip via a deep space port” said project manager Junichiro Kawaguchi Read the full article »»»»
Researchers at Georgia Institute of Technology have demonstrated - at the IEEE conference July 6 - technology capable of harnessing ambient electromagnetic energy that pervades our modern world. By taking advantage of the transmitters that are already covering modern cities power is extracted from thin air. In a sense turning mobile phone base stations, tv transmitters and radio station transmitters into micro power stations. While this technology only provides very small amounts of power it is enough to power simple sensors and devices, eventually as the technology develops more advanced electronics may be powered, we may eventually see self-powered bumper stickers telling us to back the f off.
“There is a large amount of electromagnetic energy all around us, but nobody has been able to tap into it,” said Manos Tentzeris, a professor in the Georgia Tech School of Electrical and Computer Engineering who is leading the research. “We are using an ultra-wideband antenna that lets us exploit a variety of signals in different frequency ranges, giving us greatly increased power-gathering capability.” Read the full article »»»»
In the cold dark recesses of space a single mission carries the torch for humanity. Voyager 1 and 2 are soon to leave the solar system completely, entering deep space with its sensors being our eye’s and ears. Will they be required to stay left unless overtaking on some inter-galactic super highway ? That’s the adventure, we don’t know. The Voyager space craft have a history of surprising us, a tradition that will continue as long as the batteries hold up.
“They are about to break free of the solar system,” Ed Stone, Voyager project scientist at Caltech in Pasadena, Calif., said during a media teleconference (April 28). “We are trying to get outside of our bubble, into interstellar space, to directly measure what is there.”
The Voyager craft have reached the outer border of our solar system, the heliosphere. The heliosphere is the border-land between our solar system and deep space, like the shiny surface of a bubble. The heliosphere marks the end of the Sun’s sphere of influence, it is where the solar winds run out of steam and the furthest point of the magnetic field. Voyager 1 passed the first layer of the heliosphere, the termination shock and entered the heliosheath in the middle of December 2004.The Termination Shock is the first layer of the heliosphere, marking the point the solar winds have slowed to subsonic speeds as it starts to mix with the interstellar medium – the matter, gas and plasma that makes up the space between the stars -. The second layer, the Heliosheath is an area of turbulence caused by the slowing solar wind and interaction or mixing with the interstellar medium. Heliopause is the next region the Voyager will move through, an region where the solar wind has stopped due to its force being balanced by the pressure of the interstellar medium. Then it’s on to deep space, Voyager will then be humanities first inter-stellar space craft.
“The heliosheath looks to be about 3 to 4 billion miles (4.8 to 6.4 billion km) thick, and the spacecraft are already well into it. Based on their speed, they should be out in about five years.” Stone said.
Launched in 1977 the Voyager space craft were dispatched to study the giant planets of our solar system, Jupiter and Saturn. Also on their itinerary were the many moons of both planets. By March and July of 1979 both craft had encountered Jupiter collecting some of the most detailed information and pictures ever. By 1982 both craft had completed their original missions, Saturn and her associated moons had been documented, Europa’s oceans measured. The volcano’s of Io captured in pictures. After the success of the Jupiter and Saturn flyby’s the Voyager program was extended to study the outer planets Uranus and Neptune. Between them, the two spacecraft have explored all of the giant outer planets of our solar system; Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune, their 49 moons, ring systems and magnetic fields.
To this day the Voyager craft continues to play an important role in many new discoveries. Recently scientists used data from voyager to confirm the existence of powerful magnet fields and clouds of fluffy dust just outside our solar systems protective bubble, the Heliosphere. This along with direct measurements of the solar winds within the heliosphere are helping scientists to better explain how the solar winds and inter-stellar winds interact.
The sensors of both craft are incredibly still operational after 33 years – originally a 4 year mission -. The cosmic ray detector, magnetometer, plasma wave detector and low-energy charged particle detector are all still functioning. Voyager 1′s ultraviolet spectrometer and Voyager 2′s plasma science instrument continue to transmit data. During the extended part of their mission’s the Voyagers have sent home 65 billion bits of information. Information that is transmitted in real-time by the 20watt transmitter on each Voyager, this faint signal takes 14 hours to reach Earth - even at the speed of light – and is picked up by NASA’s 34-meter Deep Space Network antennas in California, Australia and Spain.
The original Voyager program was called the Grand Tour an extension of the Mariner Inter-planetary exploration program. It was to include 4 Voyager space craft studying all of the outer planets. NASA usual habit of spoiling the party occurred early on, budget cuts reduced the number space craft from 4 to 2, the mission was also reduced to the study of Jupiter and Saturn. Six months before the launch one final change was made and the program was renamed Voyager.
It hasn’t been all smooth sailing for the Voyager space-craft either, early on there were problems directing the antenna. Both space-craft have been re-programmed a number of times to work around problems. At one point the recording tape for a camera become corrupted in the middle so it was reprogrammed to only use the outer edges.
The design of the Voyager craft was the culmination of many years of experience building and launching exploration satellites, that was the Mariner program. The Mariner program was NASA’s early testing grounds, from 1963 to 1973 Mariner taught NASA everything that went into the Voyager craft. Of the ten vehicles in the Mariner series, seven were successful and three were lost. The earlier Mariner missions concentrated on the inner planets, Mars, Mercury and Venus. Voyager 1 & 2 were initially designated as Mariner 11 and 12, before the budget cuts to the Grand Tour missions, they were still considered a part of Mariner program. Of the many lessons learned from Mariner was flexibility, lesson number one. The ability to reprogram the craft on the fly was essential to their continued success. The flexibility of the design wasn’t just for emergencies either, both Voyager craft had flight plan changes mid mission. This was seen through-out the early years with changes to the flight path being common. Once the intended missions were completed this flexibility allowed flight control to continue with the extended flight plan including Pluto and Neptune and now 33 years after their launch, the Heliosphere.
The greatest limitation for any space-craft is battery power and rocket fuel. Voyager 1 and 2 both use nuclear batteries, radioisotope thermal electric generators (RTGs). RTG’s use the heat – radioactive decay – from a chunk of plutonium to generate electricity, this form of battery has extremely long life, enough to keep both Voyager’s running until 2020 and maybe beyond. Both craft also have enough hydrazine fuel left to perform maneuvers for another 60 years.
Both space-craft carry a copy of the Golden Record, a time capsule introduction to humanity. On the record are sounds of our world, greetings in many languages, 116 images, where Earth is located and other information about us. The Golden Records have gained a lot of pop culture credibility, appearing in films like Beast Wars – it was the disk – , Star Trek the original motion picture featured V’Ger the remnants of the ancient Voyager’s Satellite with Golden Record and Futurama treats Voyager as bug kill on their spaceships windscreen. Fitting too that the disks were placed on the craft furthest away from earth. Humanities torch. On February 17, 1998 Voyager 1 passed the Pioneer 10 space-craft as the furthest away man-made object, a record now shared by both voyager space-craft. Voyager 1 is now over 17 billion km’s from Earth while Voyager 2 is close behind at 14 billion km’s from Earth.
Recently Voyager 2 has been making the headlines for all of the wrong reasons. The head-lines read “Have aliens hijacked Voyager 2 spacecraft “, no really. On April 22, 2010 Voyager 2 changed the language it spoke to NASA in. NASA were no longer able to decode Voyager 2′s instrument data transmissions. Technicians quickly began working to fix the glitch, sending new commands and testing systems. By May 25 transmissions had resumed, with the problem found to be a single bit had flipped itself from one to zero in it’s central computer. Still the incident drew some interesting commentary, so called alien expert Hartwig Hausdorf said:”It seems almost as if someone had reprogrammed or hijacked the probe – thus perhaps we do not yet know the whole truth”.
By far our favourite interplanetary and now inter-stellar craft the Voyager 1 and 2 have been our eyes and ears on this expedition of discovery. There are a number of danger periods ahead, the Heliosphere is a big unknown with deep space beyond that being even more of an unknown quantity. Hopefully our two scouts will continue on to deep space, keep blipping bits of information back to us about what is really out there.
More information at NASA
Scientists have recently confirmed the existence of large number of free-floating planets, planets not part of any particular solar system. These are the Loneliest Planets of all. Destined to roam the universe bumping along with no particular destination in mind and no travelling companions. Traditionally scientific belief has held that most planets orbited the sun they were formed around. A study has recently revealed – published in the scientific journal Nature - the possibility of 400 billion free-floating planets in the Milky Way. This raises many questions, how were these planets formed and can we explain all of these planets with current theory. What happens to planets in their life time ? This is one of those interesting new discoveries that makes us reconsider what we take for granted. “This is an amazing result, and if it’s right, the implications for planet formation are profound,” says astronomer Debra Fischer at Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut.
While rogue planets are a well-known phenomenon, planets are often ejected from their solar system it was only thought of as a rare phenomenon, not the norm. The results of the study into free roaming planets suggests there are many more of these free roaming planets than can be explained by this single theory, making it possible there is much activity and movement amongst the planets.
This new discovery isn’t a throw everything out and start over again moment but it does mean we may need to re-think the ways planets are formed. The distribution and make-up of planets through-out space is also looking a lot less organised. It;’s not just planets spinning around their sun in a nicely ordered fashion but also free-floating planets randomly travelling across space. The standard planet formation theory – Nebular hypothesis – revolves around the idea that a rotating disk of dust, compressed by gravity, slowly draws together to form the sun and planets. This will stay the dominant theory but there will now be a new generation of theories trying to explain these new observations Some new theories are already being discussed, outer planets being thrown off early in the solar systems formation, planets colliding and there is also the idea that a planet can form by itself from a smaller Nebulas dust cloud than a solar system is formed from.
Up until recently identifying free-floating planets was an extremely difficult exercise. Even spotting planets in orbit around a sun was no easy feat. Orbiting planets were identified by observing the planet’s sun and watching for the wink, as the planet passes in front of the star its light is blocked and it winks. Alternatively the wobble of the sun can be observed, the wobble is caused by the gravitational pull of the planet orbiting the sun. Even these clever techniques are useless when it comes to free-floating planets, with no sun to measure against free floating planets have remained a mystery, until recently. Using a technique called gravitational microlensing – using an objects gravitational effects on light – Sumi and his colleagues were able to spot over 450 possible free-floating planets while monitoring the light from 50 million stars for the microlensing effects. Of the 450 possibilities spotted 10 were singled out as extremely likely to be free-floating planets.
The study ws conducted at New Zealand’s Mount John Observatory and Chile’s Las Campanas Observitory over a two-year period. During the study 10 extremely good candidates for free roaming planets were identified and the data confirmed by the MOA – Microlensing Observations in Astrophysics - and OGLE – Optical Gravitational Lensing Experiment - collaborations. .Study author Takahiro Sumi, an astrophysicist at Osaka University in Japan, says the deduced number of homeless exo-planets surprised him. “The existence of free-floating planets has been predicted by planetary formation theory, but nobody knew how many there are,” he says.
Panspermia is a theory growing in popularity based around the idea that life spreads around the universe through planetary impacts – comets and other planets -. The impacts eject proteins and other organic matter into space which eventually seeds life on another planet. Free floating planets may be an important part of process, and may help this theory gain a little traction
Don’t feel sorry for these lonely planets though, they are free. Free to roam the universe, free to do as they please. From time to time though they may be captured by the gravity of a passing sun, captured in orbit. You never can tell with a free roaming planet.
University of Michigan boffins have discovered, while shooting lasers through glass, that light shining through non conductive materials exhibit strong magnetic characteristics. The magnetic properties of light were thought to be so weak that they could simply be ignored. With this research that has all changed, the assumption as it turns out was drastically wrong. They discovered that extremely powerful light can generate magnetic fields 100 million times stronger than previously estimated. “Strong enough to induce useable voltages and create magnetic batteries.” Professor Stephen Rand says, adding, “Enough sunlight, focused into an optical fiber, could generate electricity – that’s is a simple way to think about it.”
Along with the obvious optical properties of light it also has electric and magnetic qualities. Solar panels take advantage of the electrical properties of light. These new panels will use the magnetic properties of light to create a solar panel, with the potential to produce a similar amount of power as a traditional solar panel - 10% efficiency -. This does raise the interesting idea of hybrid Electric-magnetic panels for twice the power per square meter. Add in Thermal and you have the big three.
Currently the main drawback is the required 10 million watts per square centimeter of light to induce the effect, normal sunlight produces 0.136 watts per centimeter. Research is still in its infancy so these and other hurdles will present themselves but possibilities like clear windows that generate electricity, magnetic batteries and self-powered displays will keep the white coats solving problems. Maybe even more important though is this discovery will change the way we think about light and magnetic fields interacting.
This is a monumental discovery that opens up a whole new field of science, new possibilities. This is a much bigger change than just some new power source, it’s a whole new side to light that we were blinkered to for so long. Longer term this may change how we look at light -no pun intended - this crosses the light and magnetic boundaries. How much of a game changer this is will take time. Solid numbers are required before any solid conclusions can be made. The Journal of Applied Physics this week published the initial paper by Professor Stephen Rand and doctoral student William Fisher. Keep an eye on this one it will get real interesting.
Buddha’s Brother out…
Just above the clouds, on the other side of the sky is a phenomenon that’s caught the eye science, Sprites.
Sprites are a relatively newly discovered – 1989 – high altitude atmospheric optical emission – flash – they are a large-scale electrical discharge that occur high above thunderstorm clouds, or cumulonimbus, giving rise to a quite varied range of visual shapes flickering in the night sky. They are triggered by the discharges of positive lightning between an underlying thundercloud and the ground. Sprites only last for milli-seconds and can be quite dim compared to the lightning flash below the clouds. They look like recoil from lightning.
Sprites are often inaccurately called upper-atmospheric lightning. However, sprites are cold plasma phenomena that lack the hot channel temperatures of tropospheric lightning, so they are more akin to a fluorescent tube discharges than to lightning discharges.
The first photo’s taken on July 6, 1989 – by accident – scientists from the University of Minnesota captured the Sprite using low light cameras. Since then they have been photographed all over the world, anywhere a thunderstorm discharges lightning. Prior to 1989, Scottish physicist C. T. R. Wilson predicted in the 1920′s that electrical breakdown should occur in the atmosphere high above large thunderstorms causing this kind of effect.
The Sprites Campaign conducted by the Geophysical Institute of Alaska set out to answer many of the questions about sprites, how often do they ocure, dimensions, height, duration, speed, colour and other optical properties. Two jets and a ton of camera gear was used to collect footage of Sprites in action during June and July 1994.
It turns out Sprites occur when a large scale electrical discharges occurs high above a thunderstorm cloud, they stretch over a hundred kilometers high, don’t occur very often and have a reddish colour in general. Unlike lightning there is no heat or energy associated with the sprites flash. Sprites appear in quite varied range of visual shapes, and only appear over about 1 percent of lightning bolts. They were named after the mischievous sprite (air spirit) Puck in Shakespeare’s Midsummer Night’s Dream.
There are actually a number of other phenomenon in this new category of science. Blue jets which differ from sprites in that they project from the top of the thunderstorm, display a different colour and shape and also tend to be lower in the atmosphere. Also Jets are not associated directly with lightning. Along with Blue jets there are Blue starters, Gigantic Jets and Elves, all of which are different kinds of flashes occurring in the upper atmosphere.
Science making new discoveries all the time.
Buddha’s Brother out…