The Hajj, a journey to Mecca that retraces the steps of Mohammed, is one of the religious pillars of Islam. Pilgrims making the Hajj are the primary reason why Saudi Arabia is one of the world's most visited tourist spots. Like a religious version of Orlando, Mecca and Medina draw about three million visitors every year, from every country in the world.
Unfortunately, the date for this year's Hajj, November 25th to the 29th, falls right smack dab in the middle of flu season, and Muslim countries from Morocco to Indonesia have begun wrestling with the problem of religious duty in a swine-flu world.
The F-22 Raptor stealth fighter was designed to defeat any threat it might face on the modern battlefield. However, earlier today an even tougher fighter based out of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue shot down seven of the planes before they even got off the assembly line.
Right now, thousands of satellites are circling the Earth. They're a diverse bunch. Some relay telephone calls, some spy on North Korea, some monitor the weather. But they all have one thing in common: each can only do one thing. A spy satellite can't suddenly start forecasting storms, and a communications satellite can't study asteroids.
Well, that's all about to change.
For years, Burmese pythons have invaded Florida's Everglades National Park, preying on indigenous species. Tracking them down has proven time consuming and difficult, so Park wardens have begun testing a new hunting method imported straight from the front lines of the War on Terror: unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) and thermal imaging technology.
David Hallac of The National Park Service already uses manned, fixed-wing aircraft to search the Everglades for birds, and he said moving to UAVs to cut down on costs is the natural next step.
Everyone knows the headache of waiting on line at the DMV to get a new driver's license. Now imagine repeating that process 1.2 billion times. Thanks to a new ID program, that's exactly what the government of India will soon experience.
The Indian government has just announced a plan to furnish every member of the country's immense citizenry with state-of-the-art biometric identification cards. The cards will carry retina and fingerprint data and credit and criminal histories, and will be linked to a central online database.
Four years ago, a team of researchers at the École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne in Switzerland switched on Blue Brain, a computer designed to mimic a functioning slice of a rat's brain. At first, the virtual neurons fired only when prodded by a simulated electrical current. But recently, that has changed.
Apparently, the simulated neurons have begun spontaneously coordinating, and organizing themselves into a more complex pattern that resembles a wave. According to the scientists, this is the beginning of the self-organizing neurological patterns that eventually, in more complex mammal brains, become personality.
Comic book-inspired technology tends to be awesome, and Shigeo Hirose's pneumatic grappling hook doesn't disappoint. Inspired by Batman's wonderful toys and the way Spiderman swings from web to web, Hirose designed the hook so that a series of them could work together to allow robots to navigate difficult terrain.
A winch launches the hook, which then orients itself to grasp whatever rests below it, thanks to an offset center of gravity. A braking spool keeps the line from knotting up, and pneumatic pressure controls the opening and closing of the grappling hook spikes.
Skin does more than look good (or, in my case, get covered in pimples and easily burned by the sun). It also protects the body from infection, dehydration, and a generally hostile world. As a result, victims of burns and skin diseases face serious problems beyond the obvious issues of pain and aesthetics.
For years, doctors have tried use synthetic skin for grafts and repairs, but the process to create that synthetic skin has always been expensive and time-consuming.
Now, a team from Germany's Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft science institute have created a way to mass-produce artificial skin, complete with blood vessels, that can be used for grafts, plastic surgery, or even cosmetics testing.
When we talked with element 112's discoverer, Sigurd Hofmann, on the significance of making a permanent mark on the periodic table, he told us he wanted a moniker that recognized a famous scientist while avoiding the flag-waving nationalism normally associated with the process. Today, Hofmann and his team made their decision public.
Good bye element 112 and ununbium, its placeholder name. Hello "Copernicium."