Category Archives: Science

USA, Arizona, Winslow – Meteor Crater Natural Landmark

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While we were driving on our 2019 Road Trip to Henderson, NV to visit family we passed by Meteor Crater Natural Landmark just east of Flagstaff, AZ (Meteor Crater Enterprises, Inc., Interstate 40, Exit 233, Winslow, AZ 86047 USA). We were in no hurry so we took the time to visit. As you can see from the aerial photo above, the crater is quite large.

IMG_0884The meteorite that created the crater 50,000 years ago is estimated to have weighed 300,000 tons and was traveling at a speed of 26,000 miles per hour when it hit the Earth. The meteorite exploded with the force of 2 ½ million tons of TNT. In the photo above you can see the largest found fragment of the mostly iron meteorite.

IMG_0876The resulting crater was 3/4 of a mile (about 1 kilometer) wide and 750 feet deep. Over the intervening 50,000 years, the crater has filled in some so that it is now only 550 feet deep.

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To give you some perspective of the size, they have placed a 6′ astronaut figure (because the astronauts headed to the Moon trained here) and a 4′ x 6′ US flag at the base of the crater. They are placed inside the red circle in the photo above.

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Of course, you can’t see them with the naked eye. Even in the close up above you can’t see them.

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I had to use one of the prepositioned telescopes at the visitor center observation deck to see them. With a little effort, I captured a photo with my iPhone. That does put the distance in perspective!

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There is a nice visitor center (far right) with a film and museum on the edge of the crater. You can also see in the photo above how the rim of the crater is raised almost 150′ above the level of the ground. This is because the meteorite buried itself into the ground before exploding. That explosion pushed the edge of the crater up as well as spreading millions of small meteorite bits around the area.

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We were also on a short guided (man in yellow) tour that went about a quarter of a mile west along the north rim of the crater.

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We thought that this side trip was well worth the expense (Adults: $18.00, Seniors (60+):  $16.00, Juniors: (age 6 to 17) $9.00, Non-Active Duty U.S. Military/Veterans (with I.D.): $9.00) and time.


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Coffee Seems to Combat the Onset of Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s

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(See my other Coffee related posts) – I read “Dark Coffee Can Reduce The Risk Of Alzheimer’s & Parkinson’s Diseases, A New Study Showed” a few months ago now, but seeing it again today, I wanted to share it. This article is based on “Phenylindanes in Brewed Coffee Inhibit Amyloid-Beta and Tau Aggregation” published in the October 12, 2018 issue of the journal Frontiers in Neuroscience.

In the study conducted at Krembil Brain Institute in Toronto, researchers tested three different Starbucks coffee blends (Instant light roast, dark roast, and decaffeinated dark roast) for phenylindanes. They looked for phenylindanes as these compounds which are produced in the coffee roasting process are known to inhibit proteins linked to Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s from clumping.

The study links the consumption of coffee, particularly dark roast coffee, with a reduced risk of developing Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s. The darker the roast, the more phenylindanes that are produced. This avenue of research is in its early stage and much is still unknown about the exact interaction of the compounds.

Still, this is yet another in a series of studies that indicate that chemicals contained in coffee have a beneficial impact on health.

Nuclear Rockets, ​the Future of Space Propulsion?

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(See my other Space and Propulsion related posts) – I came across the article “Earth To Mars In 100 Days? The Power Of Nuclear Rockets” today and wanted to share it.

 

 

The idea of a nuclear rocket engine was developed in the 1960s for NASA. The research was led by Werner von Braun and successfully tested in Nevada.

What is a nuclear thermal rocket?

A conventional chemical rocket carries combustible chemicals which are ignited, then the resulting gases flow out of a nozzle propelling the vehicle. In a nuclear rocket, a small marble size chunk of Uranium fuel undergoes fission. This energy released heats hydrogen to very high temperatures (nearly 2500 C). The hydrogen is then expelled from the vehicle in a nozzle like on chemical rockets. The difference is that nuclear propulsion is two to three times as efficient.  Tests were carried out starting in 1955 that have proven that this technique will work. Testing was discontinued in 1973.

Where are we Now? 

The original design required highly-enriched uranium. Current designs will most likely rely on low-enriched uranium.  This would make nuclear propulsion systems safer to work with. On May 22, 2019, the US Congress approved $125 million to fund new nuclear thermal propulsion development.

Another alternative being researched is using fusion instead of fission for propulsion. The Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory is working on what they call the Direct Fusion Drive. Applied Fusion Systems is also at work on a fusion alternative.

Whether it is fission in the short term or fusion in the long term, the prospects for nuclear-powered rockets looks very positive. Read the full article for more details.

Sailing in Space on Light

(See my other Space and Propulsion related posts) – The idea of a ‘sailing on light’ with a Solar Sail has been around for a while. A test flight of LightSail 1 (formerly LightSail-A) was launched on May 20, 2015. While the mission had problems, the LightSail 1 flight was considered a success.

The larger LinghtSail 2 is scheduled to launch June 24, 2019, aboard a SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket.

New Robots on Way to the ISS

(See my other posts on Robots) – Today’s Cygnus cargo flight with 7,600 pounds of science, supplies & cargo for the ISS includes a pair of new robots. These will replace the current SPHERES robots on the International Space Station (ISS). The Astrobee robots have been developed by the Intelligent Robotics Group at the NASA Ames Research Center.

The new Astrobee robots are autonomous cubes designed to be flown around the ISS. The first pair of Astrobee robots are named Honey and Bumble. A third named Queen is scheduled to fly to the ISS later this year. These are very modular robots with hardware and software designed for a wide range of tasks and experiments. 

The robots are intended to fly around the ISS autonomously, perform experiments, and take video. While they will generally be operated by humans from the ground, they will occasionally operate without any supervision.

Each Astrobee robot is about 12 inches (30 cm) square.  They will use pressurized air from 12 different nozzles to propel themselves around the ISS. They can rotate in any direction and have no need to refuel as air is compressed and used from the ISS atmosphere.

The Astrobees are based on ROS and are equipped with six cameras, sensors, and enough computing power to allow them to operate autonomously. They can be fitted with modular payloads in their three different payload bays for a variety of experiments. Later this year a small arm will become available for manipulating objects and grabbing hold for maintaining their position. The robots will be able to undock, redock and perch within the ISS independently of the crew.

The robots should complete their checkout before the end of April. After that, they will map and be calibrated for the ISS modules. Final commissioning of the entire Astrobee system should be complete before the end of the year.

Celebrate National Robotics Week!

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Robots – This week, actually it started yesterday, celebrates robotics in the US. Per the National Robotics Week website:

National Robotics Week (RoboWeek) is a series of grassroots events and activities during the month of April aimed at increasing public awareness of the strength and importance of the U.S. robotics industry and of the tremendous social and cultural impact that robotics will have on the future. Activities come in all shapes and sizes from a robot block party, university open house, or a robotics competition. The mission of RoboWeek is simple — to inspire students in STEM-related fields and to share the excitement of robotics with audiences of all ages. Celebrate RoboWeek by hosting an event in your community, sponsoring or attending a local event, or spreading the word on social media.

National Robotics Week was first celebrated in 2010 after university and industry leaders appealed to the Congressional Caucus on Robotics to create a “national roadmap” for robotics technology. On March 9, 2010, the U.S. House of Representatives passed resolution H.Res. 1055, officially designating the second full week in April as National Robotics Week.

Is AI As Smart As We Think?

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Robots – Articles appear all the time touting how ‘intelligent’ a new system is. But are they really as smart as claimed? The article “How intelligent is artificial intelligence?” raises the point that we should look harder at how these systems have reached their conclusions.

This article is based on work done by researchers from TU Berlin, Fraunhofer Heinrich Hertz Institute HHI and Singapore University of Technology and Design (SUTD). Among the points raised in the article:

  • Some seemingly successful AI systems employ flaky or even “cheating” problem solving strategies
  • Some AI systems sometimes use so-called ‘Clever Hans Strategies’ [1]
  • It is quite conceivable that about half of the AI systems currently in use implicitly or explicitly rely on such ‘Clever Hans’ strategies.

The researchers used a technology developed earlier by TU Berlin and Fraunhofer HHI, the so-called Layer-wise Relevance Propagation (LRP) algorithm. This algorithm allows visualizing which input variables an AI system uses to make their decisions

 

 

Footnotes:

  1. Clever Hans was a horse that could supposedly count and was considered a scientific sensation during the 1900s. As it was discovered later, Hans did not master math but in about 90 percent of the cases, he was able to derive the correct answer from the questioner’s reaction.

Your Preference for Coffee is in Your Genes

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Coffee – After reading the article “Why Do I Like Coffee, But Not Tea? Science Says It May Come Down To Your Genetics” I now know part of what is in my genetic makeup – bitter taste receptor genes.

A study was undertaken at the University of Queensland in Australia to find out more about the genetic factor in the individual’s preference for coffee. The results of their study (“Understanding the role of bitter taste perception in coffee, tea and alcohol consumption through Mendelian randomization“) has been published in the journal Scientific Reports.

The study looked at 400,000 people in the UK between the ages of 37 and 73. It compared both their coffee/tea-drinking habits, along with data on their genetic makeup. They found that those who carry the “bitter taste receptor gene” are much more likely to drink large amounts of coffee. In fact, for each “extra copy” of that gene, the probability that the individual would be a coffee drinker went up by 20%.

‘Replicator’ 3D Printer

The new approach to 3D printing prints the entire object using light and special synthetic resin. This new technique is much faster and has other benefits. It can only print small objects now, but there is a lot of potential.

The researchers have nicknamed the printer “the replicator”. It creates objects much like a reverse computed tomography. The object to be replicated is scanned from multiple angles. Those scans are then projected on a tube with the resin. This technique allows printing in minutes rather than the hours of a standard 3D printer.