Buried beneath November's headlines depicting rising tensions on the Korean Peninsula, European economic woes, and the brazen disclosure of confidential State Department cables, a meaningful geopolitical event went largely overlooked: Nicaragua invaded Costa Rica. There was no shooting war and the incident involved only a small swath of disputed territory along the San Juan River, part of which divides the two nations. But a Nicaraguan commander added an interesting wrinkle to the narrative when he dragged an unlikely culprit into the dispute: Google.
It is often said that you can’t get something for nothing, but a handful of scientists from the University of Michigan would beg to differ. Theoretically speaking, they say, you can conjure particles from a vacuum under the right conditions. All you need is an ultra-high-intensity laser, a particle accelerator, and an open mind about what exactly “nothing” is (hint: it’s something).
The private spaceflight industry took another giant leap forward today as privately-owned SpaceX, with help from NASA, successfully launched a Falcon 9 rocket carrying its Dragon crew capsule into orbit from Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Though the crew capsule was unmanned for this maiden flight, the launch marks the first time a private spaceflight company has launched a spaceship into orbit with the intention of bringing it safely back to Earth.
A Japanese probe bound for Venus has missed its orbit and been seized by the sun’s gravitational pull, in a major setback for Japan’s shoestring space program. The probe, called Akatsuki, isn’t necessarily lost however. JAXA officials are still in contact with the probe and may try to insert it into orbit around Venus when it passes near the planet again – in six years.
The wrapper just came off Google’s newest version of Maps for Android (launching soon), and it looks pretty slick. Separating the refreshed Maps 5.0 for Android from its predecessor: faster map loading, an iPhone-like function that spins the map according to the phone’s compass, and an offline mode. And did we mention that maps are in 3-D?
Call it science imitating art imitating life. Arizona State researchers are working up a self-diagnosing, self-healing material that can sense the presence of damage and regenerate itself -- just like the Terminator. Like a biological structure, this “autonomous adaptive structure” could be used to develop useable composites that are self-healing, halting the progression of cracks or damage and regenerating material wherever needed to re-strengthen the structure.
Last month’s solar storm was pretty stellar, but the massive flare that erupted from the sun yesterday put it to shame, lashing out from the solar surface in a beautiful filament that stretched for 435,000 miles – nearly twice the distance between the Earth and moon and about 60,000 miles larger than last month’s plasma ejection.
Humans have invented all kinds of high-tech fixes to deal with plaque in the heart, but when it comes to battling tooth decay, a manual scrubbing with a bristle-brush is still our primary line of defense. But Dutch researchers may have just bested the toothbrush by characterizing and deciphering the structure of the enzyme responsible for plaque sticking to teeth. By adding an inhibitor to toothpaste or even to the food we eat, tooth decay and cavities could soon become a rarity.
If we’re ever going to create the next-gen quantum computers that promise to solve complex and difficult problems at super-fast speeds, first we’ll need to a means to manipulate atoms individually. So researchers from Duke and the University of Wisconsin have figured out how to do exactly that. Collaborators from those universities have demonstrated a laser system that can aim and focus tiny bursts of light onto single atoms without affecting other neighboring particles.
The holidays are here again, and with them all the usual trappings: joy, good cheer, and the crippling fear that someone might be harboring explosives in his or her nether regions. But don’t let the TSA bogart all the intrusive holiday fun; you can build your own handheld microwave body scanner at home, ensuring the safety of your holiday guests. All you need is a feedhorn for a satellite dish, an optical mouse, and a handful of other low-cost parts.