Archived entries for science


From Gizmodo:

The ion is trapped in an electromagnetic field within the small cube at the centre and cooled with lasers to just a fraction above absolute zero. The lasers are fired through three of the glass shafts emanating from the cube, but must be carefully directed out of the other side to prevent them scattering within the clock, which is why there are six shafts in total.

Once the ion is cooled, another laser makes it resonate between two energy states with an incredible regularity governed by quantum mechanics. It gives off a regular pulse of optical radiation exactly 444,779,044,095,485 times per second.

Strange how something created with nothing but function in mind has such incredible form.


This recently discovered photo was taken from an elementary school about ten minutes after the Enola Gay delivered Little Boy and ushered in the Atomic Age.

From The Atlantic, where they’ve got more information.

Me? I’d pay everything I didn’t need to live.

We don’t know what new discoveries lie ahead, but this is the very reason we must go.

If you’ll excuse me, I think I have something in my eye.

Eight years ago you rolled down the ramp onto the cold, dusty, still surface of Mars.

Your original mission was for ninety days, which means that you’ve achieved it thirty-two times over, outlasting even your hearty sister rover, Spirit.

So, here’s to you, Opportunity. Thank you for showing us what we’re capable of when we try.

The Phobos Grunt was supposed to have been a curse-breaker. The Russians have had a hard time sending probes to Mars since, oh, 1960. Everyone they’ve sent up has gone wrong in some for or fashion. Nineteen of them in total over the past five decades.

But Phobos Grunt was going to be different. It was going to work.

The Russians were going to be the first to put a probe onto a Martian moon, and then they were going to bring part of it home with samples for analysis. It was going to be the biggest Martian endeavor since the Spirit and Opportunity rovers. It was going to break their curse and put them back on the bleeding edge of space exploration.

Notice how I’m talking about all of this in past tense? Was? Were? Yeah, there’s a reason for that.

See the area with the blue on that map above? If you live within any of those lines you might want to take care this Sunday when the Phobos Grunt comes burning back down through the atmosphere at hypersonic speeds. Four hundred plus pounds of the thing are expected to survive reentry, and while the Earth is mostly water, they can’t guarantee it won’t come down on your head.

Just what happened to the great Russian hope? No one’s really sure. The Phobos Grunt hit Earth orbit in November and then sort of stalled out and went dead. They weren’t able to stir the probe back to life, and the orbit’s been decaying ever since. I’m just glad it didn’t hit anything while it was up there. We don’t need any more debris up there.

So this Sunday, keep your eyes up and your head down. Michael Bay doesn’t need any reason to make an Armageddon 2.

That’s a rare Soyuz rocket launching at night in the Ural region of Russia.


It’s probably just some jackass leaving a light on three buildings over or a dead ant in the system or some other impossible-to-track down stray radical, but on the outside chance they actually did it…this happened/is happening:

From Physorg:

US physicists are to announce Wednesday that data from a major atom smasher lab may have revealed a new elementary particle, or potentially a new force of nature.

A spokeswoman from the US Department of Energy’s Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory, which operates the powerful  Tevatron, said the results would be released at 2100 GMT (1600 CDT) but offered no further details.

“Nobody knows what this is,” said Christopher Hill, a theorist at  who was not part of the team, according to the New York Times.

“If it is real, it would be the most significant discovery in physics in half a century.”

The Times report said the findings relate to a “suspicious bump” in the physicists’ data and could involve “a new and unexpected version of the long-sought Higgs-boson.”

Sometimes called the “God Particle,” the Higgs-boson has long eluded physicists who believe it could explain why particles have mass and its discovery is one of the most sought-after in all of physics.

If FermiLab beats CERN to the Higgs, I’m going to laugh for fucking days.

“Oh, what’s that? You spent how many billion Euros to build that giant thing? Pshaw. We did it with some left over fondue pots we found in the storage closet and a roll of orange shag carpet.”

Sourcing New Scientist to give you a rough over view of this:

Joe Davis is an artist and a research affiliate at Massachusetts Institute of Technology. In the mid-1980s, he became concerned that no image of humans had been sent into space representing the details of human genitals or reproduction.

So he led a project to transmit the sounds of vaginal contractions towards neighbouring star systems. To do so, he recorded the vaginal contractions of ballet dancers.

The messages were to be sent from MIT’s Millstone Hill Radar to Epsilon Eridani, Tau Ceti and two other stars. However, only a few minutes of footage was transmitted before the US air force, which had jurisdiction over the facility, shut the project down.

Nevertheless, the vaginal sounds that were sent will have reached Epsilon Eridani in 1996 and Tau Ceti in 1998. It is unclear what sort of reply we should expect.

Got that? So, Joe Davis, a full on bat-shit insane mad scientist, was pissed off at the lack of female genitalia on Carl Sagan’s Pioneer 10/11 plaques. Davis felt that we were basically throwing “monster versions” of ourselves out into space, and he felt something should be done about it.

Like convincing a bunch of dancers from the Boston Ballet to insert a device of his own design, record their vaginal contractions, and then have an equally bat-shit insane linguist translate those into recorded patterns into the basic phonemes of language.

Which he then beamed at two of our nearest neighbor stars.

Which I think might make Joe Davis the world’s first interstellar pornographer, but that’s neither here nor there.

Today is the twenty-fifth anniversary of the Challenger Shuttle disaster.

The mission designation was STS-51-L. It was to be the tenth mission for Challenger, and the twenty fifth mission the Space Shuttle Program.

It was one of the greatest failings in American space exploration, and a memory I’ll never forget.

Challenger disintegrated seventy-three seconds after liftoff. A simple seal failed, venting super-hot pressurized gas into the outside of the ship, causing the right solid rocket booster to sheer itself off from the vessel, rupturing the main external fuel tank.

Twenty-five years ago today, at roughly the time I’m writing this, seven brave men and women gave their lives in pursuit of something greater than any of us.

And as child, I watched it all happen.

I was young, very young. But I remember being in a classroom with other teachers and students, probably preschool. I remember being very excited to watch the shuttle launch. Even at that age, I understood the magic and the importance of what I was seeing. At the preschool, we watched all of the launches. It meant a disruption in the normal day’s activities, and added bonus for me.

I remember them calling all of us in. I remember the countdown. I remember the liftoff. Then I remember not understanding what had happened, and being perturbed by what happened next. One of the teachers immediately turned off the television, and ushered us all back to whatever it was we were supposed to be doing. Then I remember them talking in the hall, some of them crying.

I didn’t see another space shuttle launch until first grade. They were unsure about even letting us watch that one. You could feel the apprehension coming off the adults. They stunk of it. I guess they were afraid that seeing two launches turning into shooting stars would do horrible and irreversible things to our young minds. Me? I was just happy to get to see another shuttle launch.

And for a while in elementary school, we watched every shuttle go up. Then, gradually, it started to happen less and less. The shuttles would still going up every few months, but for some reason the teachers and students around me stopped caring.

Which I think speaks a huge volume about where the world took a misstep.

We slowly stopped caring about the bigger possibilities in life as we turned inward to cellphones and video games and the trappings of the digital age.

We started looking at space as place to hang communications satellites that would let us order more cheap things from China.

We stopped looking at it like those seven lost souls saw it. As a place to explore, to discover not just new things out in the black, but new things about ourselves and what we are capable of.

I firmly believe that space is our salvation. If we can get out of this gravity well, get up there, and see what’s out there, we have a shot at it.

But then, when I look back down at the Earth, I shake my head knowing that we’ll probably never make it there.

So, I look to you, as the child in that classroom twenty-five years ago. Don’t turn off the TV, don’t forget it is happening. Don’t let them tell you it is too expensive, or unnecessary or dangerous. Because it is the most important thing we as humans can possibly do.

Don’t let those seven have died in vain. Don’t forget about what it all means, means for us, and meant to them.

Crew of STS-51-L Challenger

Commander Francis “Dick” Scobee
Pilot Michael J. Smitd
Mission Specialist 1 Ellison Onizuka
Mission Specialist 2 Juditd Resnik
Mission Specialist 3 Ronald McNair
Payload Specialist 1 Sharon Christa McAuliffe
Payload Specialist 2 Gregory Jarvis

Requiescat in Pace.

Well, once they finish learning how to juggle, at least.

And, yes, this is being developed for military application.

Now that we’ve been over the “What” of Hatsune Miku, let’s go over the “Why”. As in, why she’s important.

Pat commented yesterday that on stage Hatsune’s not that different from The Gorillaz live shows, and that her voice is still based on a real person’s voice. And he’s right about both of those things. The Gorillaz project animated performers onto a screen that masks human musicians, and Hatsune’s voice is built up from the phoneme recordings of a real person.

But her key difference from previous, similar things is that her plasticity, her artificiality, is COMPLETE. Absolutely nothing about her is real.

First, let’s think about her as an animated character.

Animated characters are tied to visuals and to voices. It can be argued that Mel Blanc was more key to popularizing most of the Warner Bros characters than their visual representations. The problem here is that Mel Blanc is a human, and humans, well not to spoil the end of your life for you, die. And when Blanc finally did expire, Warner had several years where they had to convince people that Bugs Bunny really sounded like this new guy, and not at all like that old, dead guy. Same thing with Kermit the Frog, or Tony the Tiger, or any character that’s deeply engrained in the social consciousness and voiced by a real human with an expiration date. Hatsune Miko has no expiration dates. Because her voice is created in a computer by the clever application of a few billions ones and zeroes, she’ll never get die. She’ll never get old, go through puberty, or ruin her voice with smoking and whiskey. A thousand years from now, she’ll sound the exact same as she does right now. She is the first voice of the future, because in the future she’ll sound exactly the same.

Now, let’s think about her as a commercial character.

Ultimately, Hatsune Miko was created as a bit of stunt by Crypton Future Media. They’re sound technology people. So, they made the apex of current sound technology. She was meant to raise awareness of the company that created her, and I’m sure her records sales are a nice bonus. Like Pandora and her box, Crypton’s unwittingly unleashed something on the world. There is no question that most Disney pop stars are trained and groomed from a young age to become billion dollar industries. There is also no question that Disney would probably love to not have said pop stars taking a chunk of their revenue and then spend it on things that get them plastered all over the front of grocery store tabloids. Making a pop star out of ray tracing and vocal synthesizers is one way to do that. And it doesn’t have to be Disney doing it, either. If a relatively small company like Crypton can do it, anyone can. Every new product or initiative could have a fake pop star attached to it, filling the air waves and fiber optic cables. And speaking as a guy in advertising who could pitch that to a client, this is fantastic and frightening

Lastly, let’s think about her as a musical character.

Touched on this a bit in the first one, but Hatsune and the future things like her, are fixed point in space. The point can be fixed as a 16 year old pop idol, or a 60 year old torch singer, or a 20 something folk-rocker. And since they are artificial, and built up by a team of people, they’ll never go off on some bizarre introspective tangent and make a record like Pet Sounds. Their music will be consistent, uniform across all of their releases. And if the people behind them ever get bored or want to try something different? They’ll just whip up a new vocaloid and create a new artist.

Hatsune Miko is important because of the simplicity of what she represents: The idea of an unchanging, easily replaceable commercial entity that you owe nothing to and will never do anything to embarrass or betray you.

While I could put money on their never being an indie-rock vocaloid success (ONLY because the hipsters won’t allow it, not because it couldn’t be good), I can’t put that same money on idorus like Hatsune Miko carving out a niche for themselves in pop music.

I give you Hatsune Miku.

A teal-green haired Japanese school girl that’s apparently holding a leek or onion or something in this picture.

She’s fake. Completely not real. She’s the intellectual property of Japan’s Crypton Future Media. And probably the most crystal clear vision of the future that I’ve ever seen.

Crypton Future Media makes sound…things. Mainly digital libraries of sounds or programs to generate those libraries. They’ve sold their products to video game companies, software developers, and even Japanese government agencies. After looking over the list of companies they’ve done work for, I’d be willing to put money that everyone with a toe in the digital world has probably heard their stuff.

So what is a glorified MIDI card of a company doing whipping up an anime character with an apparent obsession with vegetables of the Alliaceae family?

The answer lies in a translation of her name.

Hatsune Miku can be loosely translated to mean “First Sound of the Future”.

And that’s exactly what Hatsune Miku is. She’s a completely artificial anime-esque pop sensation. In a world where pop stars are more often than not manufactured people with equally fake personalities and musical talents, Crypton Future Media has taken a visionary step and gone ahead and cut out the fleshy animal medium entirely.

Here’s the result, performing live in concert:

Hatsune Miku’s voice is created through the use of Yamaha’s Vocaloid voice synthesizer technology. Crypton took the vocal patterns of a young female anime voice actor, Saki Fujita, and through some technical wizardry and the Vocaloid synthesizer, created their most important product yet – a pop star.

God, I can’t tell you how surreal typing that line was. Anyway.

When she…err…it preforms, it’s a pre-rendered holographic projects done against a semi-permeable screen that lets you see the band behind her (featuring some of the crew from Crypton Future Media) and gives an illusion of depth.

Check out this longer video:

William Gibson, the Father of Cyberpunk, was speculating about creatures like Hatsune over a decade ago in his novel Idoru. But some how, I don’t think this is what he had in mind. While she’s not the first, she’s the biggest and most popular digital synthetic artificial whatever pop idol created yet. Hatsune Miku really is the first voice of the future.

Albeit a very, annoying, grating, saccharine future.

More on this tomorrow.

That’s the HRP-4C. Some kind of crazy Japanese robot. Sex robot, probably, considering the Japanese do everything they can to have sex with anything but each other.

Honestly, though, I can’t find a damn reason for them building this thing. They’ve been working on it for years, and so far they’ve taught it to walk like a model, and prance like a pop star.

Which considering both of those are completely pointless activities, gives credence to my sexbot theory.

Robots are a Big Thing in Japan. They’re so scared of dealing with an entire population of infirm elderly, they’re dumping hundreds of millions of dollars in an attempt to build a robot that can change out grandpa’s bedpan. And so far they’ve really only succeeded in doing things like the above. Oh, and building tech that lets people control robots with their brains. Which, admittedly, is kind of cool – and also really fucking scary.

It’s always amazed me that they can’t get robots to move right. In animation terms, there’s no ease-in/ease-out. The motion curves are essentially straight lines, and their platforms are so unstable they wobble like palsy case every time they finish a gesture. With just a little bit of collaboration from some one who understands how to make motion look good, they’d be able to fix a lot of the Uncanny Valley problems they are running into.

I’m rambling now.

One last look at the HRP-4C, showing us some of her its emotional range.

I mean, who doesn’t love that freaky, pore-less, super Muppet face?

Via Pink Tentacle


Carribbean Island to Offer Rides Into Space – (note: that’s their typo, not mine!)

XCOR Aerospace is teaming up with the southern Caribbean island of Curacao to develop a space port for future suborbital tourist and scientific flights. The agreement is with the territorial government of Curacao and a group of Dutch investors with the hopes of offering flights in 2014.

The joint venture is known as Space Experience Curacao, or SXC. The group will lease one of XCOR’s Lynx spacecraft. The Lynx is a small two-seat spacecraft (pictured above) designed to launch to more than 100 kilometers (about 328,000 feet).

The pilot and passenger would experience weightlessness at the apex of the flight. And from that altitude they will be surrounded by the darkness of space and see the curvature of the earth with the sandy beaches and turquoise waters of Curacao 62 miles below.

The cost of a single ride is expected to be $98,000.

I’ve been wondering why it’s taken so long for a small nation to try something like this. You’ve got an isolated landmass, limited international treaty recognition, and not much else. They’ve got billions of dollars of investment money to try out some crazy tech idea. Why don’t you two get together and party like mad scientist from 1967?

Now, commercial space launches are nothing new. All sorts of developing nations partner with telecom companies to put communication satellites in orbit, but this is the first time I’ve seen such a small country partner with such a big idea.

My hope is that it leads to a hole in the dam. Maybe make some small nation realize they’ve got nothing to lose by taking partnerships like this even farther. Make protected enclaves for gray-market tech research.

Feel like studying human cloning for organ harvesting? C’mon down to Nauru! Want to develop new wireless technologies but don’t want to bother with all of those government licensing restrictions? The Marshall Islands are here for you! Want to offer quick turn around experimental medical treatments in FDA-free research environment? Tuvalu has everything you need, and miles of tropical beaches!

I’m being a bit hyperbolic here, but I’ve always wondered why a small island nation never just went and gave the rest of the world the finger then threw their doors open to bleeding edge, morally ambiguous research. I mean, in a lot of ways, it is their right. We’re causing the ocean levels to rise, fucking them over, so why should they give us any mind?

Psst, psst.


I don’t want anyone else to hear this. They’ll get mad if the secret gets out.

I’m going to tell you the truth about that whole “Hawking says there is no God.” lede you’ve been seeing everywhere. You know, the hubbub that’s spinning out of lines like this:

“Spontaneous creation is the reason why there is something rather than nothing, why the universe exists, why we exist,” he wrote.

And this.

“It is not necessary to invoke God to light the blue touch paper [fuse] and set the universe going.”

From his new book “The Grand Design”. (Out next Tuesday from Bantam Books, get your copy now! The publishers and marketers are working hard to get you to care!)

And the truth is this:

The publishers know what they are doing, and they’ve released ONLY the introduction to the book. A book which posits that M Theory is the only viable solver for a non-supernaturally created universe. An introduction which, when released like this, as the intended purpose of PISSING EVERY BELIEVER ON THE PLANET THE FUCK OFF. Which causes them to write about it, and causes the press to cover those writings.

But what I guarantee you isn’t in that introduction, but is somewhere in that book is a bit where Hawking will admit that M Theory, while not overtly active, probably does in fact meet some of the definitions of God.

After all, if M Theory really does solve out and create a unifying theory of everything, wouldn’t that, oh, I don’t know, BE GOD?

So, all of this vitriol and rhetoric that’s flying around right now? Don’t buy any of it. It’s all just hot air blowing about. It’ll die down in no time at all.

But, then again, I wouldn’t go buying the book either. Because even if you do, you’ll be justifying the publisher’s tactics to sell it.

That’s what libraries are for, after all.

A NASA astronaut on the Space Shuttle Endeavor brought space back down to Earth. Astronaut Don Pettit took over 85 time-lapsed videos of Earth from his stint on the International Space Station to highlight features of the changing planet.

“There is phenomenology that happens on a timescale that you can’t see in real time,” he said. “It occurred to me that making time-lapse movies on the space station would bring out things that you normally don’t observe.”

Pettit also wanted to capture what it feels like to be in space. “You feel like you’re on a frontier,” he says. “I like to define a frontier as a place where your intuition does not apply. It’s a place where the answers are not in the back of the book. As a result, a frontier is a place that’s rich in discovery.”

From WIRED. There are a bunch more orbital time lapse videos over there, too.


Supermassive Black Holes Formed by Colliding Primordial Galaxies

Astronomers have solved the mystery of how supermassive black holes formed early in the universe’s evolution by modeling the collision of giant primordial galaxies.

“This the first work that demonstrates the formation of a supermassive cloud that is big enough to form a supermassive black hole,” said physicist Lucio Mayar of the Institute for Theoretical Phyics in Switzerland, lead author of the study published Aug. 26 in Nature. “Other simulations who have tried to do this have started with only one galaxy. But we know that in the early universe galaxies were rapidly colliding.”

Supermassive black holes have masses hundreds of millions of times that of our sun, and are at the center of almost every galaxy, Mayar said. In the study’s mathematical simulation, one was formed when two primordial galaxies — which contained much more gas relative to galaxies today — collided with each other. During the collision, the gas in the galaxies was pulled towards the center by gravitational tidal forces — like water on Earth gets pulled towards the moon — forming a dense, massive cloud that would quickly collapse into a giant black hole.

“It has been perplexing how such black holes with masses billions of times the mass of the sun could exist so early in the history of the universe,” astronomer Julie Comerford of University of California Berkeley, who was not involved in the study, wrote in an e-mail to “These simulations are an important advance in understanding how those supermassive black holes were built up so quickly.”

The new simulation has important implications for finding gravitational waves — ripples in the space-time continuum predicted by Einstein’s theory of general relativity.

“When you have the creation of these supermassive black holes you have enormous bending of space time, and we think these will be the strongest gravitational waves that you can detect in the universe,” Mayar said. “If you formed these massive black holes in the early universe you should detect lots of these gravitational waves from the very early universe.”

Space is so big. So fucking big. We try to shrink it down to little pictures from x-ray telescopes, but it really isn’t anything like that at all.

For hundreds of millions of years that’s going to be nothing more than a mass of perpetually exploding suns. Then it’s all going to go dark for trillions of years. And ultimately it’ll bleed away all of the matter in the black hole as background radiation and disappear.

And we’ll barely be around to see a fraction of a fraction of it happen.

It still gets to me that black holes can die. These ancient, impossible massive, near omnipotent creations of nature will eventually wither and die. All of that matter they’ve sucked in, bled slowly out as tepid cosmic noise. A cycle, billions of years in the making, to evenly distribute the base elements of the universe.

The machinations of God, if such a thing exists, are so far beyond the scope of human conception, we have no hope of grasping even the edges of it.

That’s a demonstration of the Telenoid R1, a telepresence communication robot…thing.

The idea is that the R1 will act as a physical, minimalist representation of a far, far away person sitting in front of a computer. Through a webcam, the R1′s software tracks the physical movements of said person, and moves the R1 robot accordingly. That’s the rationale to blame for the creepy as shit movements of the wormbot that you see in the video.

Right now, porn’s tech heads and lawyers are exploring the real time, peepshow-esque things that came be accomplished with the iPhone 4′s Facetime application. Just think of what they could do with the R1′s hardware slapped into something like a RealDoll. Dial into a pay per minute/pay per act service and have a real human being digital service you through nothing more than a webcam and a broadband connection.

Who needs a virtual sex doll when science is bringing real ones to our doorstep?

The worst part of this?

The really creepy people are the ones that want fuck the damn thing as-is.

Story is everywhere today, but give Pink Tentacle your traffic. They are awesome.

From Wired’s Danger Room blog:

Pain Ray Recalled From Afghanistan

Well, now the so-called “Active Denial System” has been recalled. It’s headed back to America, without ever being fired in hostility. “The system will not be used here and is being sent back to the States,” ISAF spokesman Lt. Col. John Dorrian tells Engadget’s Sean Hollister.

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