News, Space

NASA can only make three more Plutonium batteries to power spacecraft in space

Multi-Mission Radioisotope Thermoelectric Generator (MMRTG). Image: NASA

According to the Department of Energy, the plutonium-238 stockpile is enough to make only three more nuclear batteries. These are used to power long-term space missions, like Curiosity rover now studying Mars on site, the Voyager probes which were launched in the 1970s and are now almost out of the solar system or New Horizon which is close to making the first Pluto flyby in history. New Horizon is also the fastest spacecraft ever built, racing at one million miles per day. All these remarkable achievements were made possible thanks to plutonium-238 and the technology developed to harness its heat.

Feature Post, Physics

Could you balance a pencil on a one-atom thick tip?

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It’s Saturday, so time for some fun physics. This non-trivial question is often asked in international physics contests and requires a bit of out of the box thinking.

Animals, Biology, News

The seemingly chaotic, but elegant movement of the octopus: how it pulls it off

octopus arms

Despite lacking a rigid skeleton, octopuses have a remarkable coordinated locomotion. Using high-speed cameras, a group at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem found the octopus achieves this by precisely and independently moving one or more of its eight legs to crawl its body, even when its facing a different direction. Moreover, there is no discernible rhythm or pattern to this undulating leg movement, making the octopus unique in this respect. It’s controlled chaos, and only the octopus itself completely knows how it pulls all this off.

Health & Medicine, News

Blowing vapor: cigarette use plummets among youth in schools, but e-cigs take their place

e-cigarette youth

Electronic cigarettes have soared in use among high school and middle school kids, tripling relative in 2014, while cigarettes have reached an all time low. The report was issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which found 4.6 million middle and high school students were current users of any tobacco product, which includes e-cigs despite the fact that it doesn’t burn or contain any tobacco – just the nicotine.

Feature Post, Psychology

How Oculus Rift could revolutionise Social Psychology

oculus rift

Upon acquiring virtual technology company Oculus, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg predicted that virtual reality technology would one day permeate areas of life further than just the world of gaming, and we would ‘someday [use virtual reality] to enjoy a courtside seat at a basketball game, study in a classroom, consult with a doctor face-to-face or shop in a virtual store’. It’s true – the creation of immersive, virtual environments does indeed have masses of potential for industries which beforehand, were seemingly incongruous with such technology. Social psychology, the study of human experience and behaviour, is one of them.

Anatomy, Anthropology, Biology, Did you know?, News

Why in the world do we have chins? Maybe, because we evolved from being just brutes

Man with prominent chin and missing teeth. Etching by Wenceslas Hollar.

Ever wondered what chins are good for? Upon a quick reflection, you might think it actually has some practical value, supporting your jaw against the massive chewing forces. But that’s nonsense. It doesn’t do any of that, as a recent research concludes. In fact, the chin – the last facial feature to stop growing – actually makes the jaw less resistant to the bending stress of chewing as we age. Though still a mystery, scientists believe the chin is actually a side effect of the rest of the face having become smaller. Much smaller than that of early ancestors or cousin Neanderthals, at least.

News, Observations, Space

Pluto – now in color, courtesy of New Horizon

Pluto and Charon. Image: NASA

These two dim dots are none other than Pluto, the dwarf plant, and Charon, its largest moon. Though it might not look like much, this is the first ever colored photograph of the two cosmic bodies ever taken. We have NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft to thank for this, which used its Ralph color imager to make the shot from 71 million miles away.

Anthropology, Archaeology, News

Handy women: females are better than male at DIYs – at least in chimps

Image via Daily Mail.

In most cultures, men are typically regarded as handy and it’s usually up to them to do the handy work – it’s quite a stereotype actually, but I think it’s among the few that really stick; but a new study reveals that women may actually be much more well suited for that job. Female chips were observed building and using

News, Space

SpaceX misses rocket landing by a hair’s breath – Dragon successfully launched, though

spacex landing

Today, SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket blasted off Florida’s Cape Canaveral Air Force Station at 4:10 p.m. EDT (2010 GMT) carrying the Dragon capsule to orbit, on slate for its rendezvous with the International Space Station where it’s tasked with a resupply mission. Instead of dropping in the ocean like the gazillion other rockets before it, the first stage of Falcon was programmed to make a controlled landing on a “autonomous spaceport drone ship.” The rocket did land on the spaceport, which is amazing in itself, but unfortunately it flipped over post landing and was damaged beyond repair. So, just almost!

Climate, News

Dutch citizens sue the government over human rights for lack of action against climate change

Image: Hague Court, Netherlands

Some 900 Dutch citizens have banded together and filled a lawsuit against the Dutch government over human rights, citing the latter’s lack of decisive action against climate change. This is the first such case in Europe where a group of citizens holds its government responsible for ineffective climate policy, and also the first to be based on human rights law.