Congratulations to the newest commercial astronauts!

Credit: FAA Office of Communications

Two pilots for Sir Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic received astronaut badges yesterday signifying that they had reached space…although just for a few minutes.

The pilots, Mark “Forger” Stuckey and Frederick “C.J.” Sturckow, received their astronaut wings on February 7, 2019 at a ceremony at the US Department of Transportation Headquarters Building in Washington, DC. The wings honor the flight the two took in Virgin Galactic’s Spaceship Two craft VSS Unity on December 13th where they reached an altitude of 51.4 miles (82.7 km).

Continue reading “Congratulations to the newest commercial astronauts!”

iRobot Finally Making a Robot Lawnmower

Image of iRobot Terra Robotic Mower setup via iRobot

Although they’re usually expensive and difficult to set up, robot lawnmowers have been growing in popularity over the past decade as people get more used to robots and get more lazy. Companies like Honda, Husqvarna, and Worx have had robot lawnmowers on the market for a while, with prices ranging from $600 up to $2,800. Now robot vacuum king iRobot is said to be entering the market with an as-yet-unpriced autonomous lawnmower called Terra.

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A Beautiful Nebula is Disappearing

At left, Eta Carinae and the Homunculus Nebula as seen by NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope in 2000. At right, an artist conception of what the star and nebular will look like in 2032. Image via Phys.org.

Nebulae are the gas and dust clouds that are ejected by stellar eruptions and explosions, and generally have a certain beauty about them. Back in 1847, the star Eta Carinae ejected a nebula that was nicknamed the Homunculus. Since then astronomers have photographed the nebula not only for its beauty, but because it provides information about its parent star. Astronomers now believe that within ten years or so, the nebula will be difficult to observe.

What’s causing the nebula to disappear? Well, the Homunculus will still be there, but Eta Carinae — a star that is of a type called a Luminous Blue Variable — is getting brighter and it will be almost impossible to make out the nebula. By 2036, it’s expected that the star will be ten times brighter than the nebula.

Is the star itself becoming more luminous? Not really. A team of astronomers led by Brazilian Augusto Damineli believes that the dust cloud that makes up the nebula is dissipating as seen from our vantage point, making the star appear brighter.

For amateur astronomers, there’s never been a better time to try to capture the beauty of the Homunculus nebula. Soon, it will be impossible to see it.

Source: https://phys.org/news/2019-01-goodbye-beauty-night-sky.html

Scotty would be happy: Oxford scientists create transparent aluminum

Scene from Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home. Image via Paramount Pictures

Remember the scene in Star Trek IV:The Voyage Home where Engineer Montgomery Scott divulges the formula for transparent aluminum to a manufacturer so the visitors from the future can get quantities of the material to use in bringing whales into space? Well, this isn’t as fun or useful, but a group of Oxford scientists have created a version of aluminum that is transparent to extreme ultraviolet radiation.

The team used a FLASH laser to knock out a core electron from every aluminum atom in a sample without disrupting the crystalline structure of the metal, which caused it to appear transparent to UV. The FLASH laser, located in Hamburg, Germany, is a new source of radiation that’s ten billion times brighter than any synchrotron and emits very short pulses of soft X-ray light that are more powerful than most electrical power plants.

The team focused that tremendous power onto an aluminum sample 1/20th the diameter of a human hair, rendering it transparent. Sadly, that effect only lasted 40 femtoseconds, but it’s showing that high power X-ray sources can be used to create new forms of matter.

Source: https://phys.org/news/2009-07-transparent-aluminium-state.html

Saturn’s rings are “relatively new”

Artist conception of Cassini at Saturn by NASA/JPL via Wikimedia Commons

Saturn’s rings are familiar to schoolchildren and adults alike, but recent analysis of data from the final days of the Cassini spacecraft shows that the rings are — geologically speaking — relatively new.

A team from the Sapienza University of Rome took data from 22 orbits of the Cassini spacecraft between Saturn and its rings, then performed a complex analysis of the gravitational pull from both the planet and the icy particles that form the rings.

What they found and published in the journal Science was that the rings have a mass of about 15 million trillion kilograms, which sounds like a lot until you realize that it’s only about 40% of the mass of Saturn’s moon Mimas or a trillionth of Earth’s mass. Based on the mass calculation and how much micrometeorite soot is falling onto the rings, the team believes the rings are anywhere from 10 to 100 million years old, with the data suggesting that the the higher number is more likely.

How the rings were formed is still a mystery. While some planetary scientists believe the rings were formed from a collision of several former moons, that theory doesn’t explain why the debris would have formed rings rather than clumping into new moons. The team thinks that Saturn may have gravitationally “caught” a comet or icy asteroid, which was then torn apart by gravitational forces and eventually formed the rings.

The rings are “only” expected to last another couple hundred million years.

GDU launches impressive SAGA industrial drone at CES

GDU SAGA light industrial UAV

You know me. I love me some drones. So when I received a PR blast today about the GDU SAGA industrial drone (AKA “light industrial UAV), I got pretty excited. This is not your run-of-the-mill photo drone; instead, it’s designed for:

  • Public security – search and rescue, border patrol inspection, fire fighting
  • Energy security – electric power inspection, oil and gas, equipment inspection
  • Infrastructure – transportation infrastructure, survey mining
  • Construction – real estate, construction site mapping, building inspection
  • Agriculture – crop monitoring

GDU does this through a series of snap-on payloads and a 1 kilogram (2.2 lb.) lifting capacity. The payloads include a gimbal for a DSLR, a 4K camera, an infrared camera for crop or power line inspection, 10X and 30X optical zoom cameras, a megaphone, a floodlight, a gas detector module, and a drop module.

The company makes a point of noting that this is a “military quality” drone; in fact, there are multiple press photos showing Chinese military folks using them. I was just impressed that the damned thing can fly in the rain:

GDU SAGA flying while being doused with water

Other specs:

DescriptionParameters
Dimensions745X555X225mm (Unfolded)
273X224X107mm (Folded)
Maximum Take-off Weight3.4kg
Maximum Load1kg
Maximum Horizontal Flight Speed15m/s (Sport Mode, Sea Level/ No Wind)
Maximum Flight Altitude3500m
Maximum Tolerable Wind Speed10m/s
Maximum Flight Time39 minutes
Satellite Positioning ModuleGPS/GLONASS Dual Mode
Hover Accuracy (P-GPS)Vertical: ±0.5m (Downward vision system: ±0.1m)
Horizontal: ±1.5m (Downward vision system: ±0.3m)
IP Protection LevelIP43
Video Transmission and Control Distance10KM

I’m going to see if I can get a loaner for a review; it looks pretty impressive.

CERN’s Large Hadron Collider taking a vacation until 2021

Inside the Large Hadron Collider. Photo by Maximilien Brice/CERN
Inside the Large Hadron Collider. Photo by Maximilien Brice/CERN

When you’re the world’s largest particle collider,  you get used a lot in order to try to help scientists search for the bits and pieces that make up our universe. The Large Hadron Collider is located beneath the French-Swiss border, and is 17 miles (27 kilometers) long. Using strong magnets, the LHC accelerates particles to incredible speeds and smashes them together in an attempt to find fundamental particles that make up matter. In order to help in that search, the LHC shut down for upgrades on December 3 and won’t be back up and smashing particles until sometime in early 2021. Continue reading “CERN’s Large Hadron Collider taking a vacation until 2021”

Microsoft Edge browser coming to Mac in 2019

Ahhh, remember those days when Microsoft Internet Explorer was the only  browser for Mac? That was a long time ago, and it causes many a Mac fan to shudder. Fortunately, Apple was able to survive those days and now Safari and other browsers like Google Chrome, Mozilla Firefox, and Opera are available. Now there’s word that Microsoft Edge will be available next year for Mac. Continue reading “Microsoft Edge browser coming to Mac in 2019”

Abandoned California home becomes a massive camera (video)

We’re used to cameras getting smaller and smaller, but photographer Ian Ruhter had the opposite idea. For a project he was working on, Ruhter and his team took an abandoned house in Bombay Beach, California, sealed it up tightly so no light would leak in, and then mounted a big lens in one wall to project an image onto a 66 by 90 inch piece of glass. They used the camera to produce a portrait of a local 100-year-old resident who had recently become homeless.

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Home Automation fans: Get thyself to IKEA

OK, this kind of straddles the line between my regular day gig at Apple World Today and Tangible Tech, but I though that this was worth mentioning to any TT readers who are also fans of home automation.

The big news? IKEA has added a $10 wireless control outlet (i.e., “smart outlet”) to its Trådfri home automation accessories. This is huge, since this type of smart outlet usually starts at about $25 and goes up from there. Continue reading “Home Automation fans: Get thyself to IKEA”