These are the latest articles and videos I found most interesting.
- Thinking Out Loud: The Century of Biology on Earth and Beyond
- Juno Captures the “Roar” of Jupiter
- Apollo: The Alignment Optical Telescope
- Inside Silicon Valley’s secretive test track for self-driving cars
- One more reason to get a good night’s sleep
With Jill Tarter, Bernard M. Oliver Chair for SETI Research at the SETI Institute in Mountain View, California and member of the Board of Trustees for that institution.
In a bold 2004 paper, Craig Venter and Daniel Cohen claimed that whereas the 20th century had been the Century of Physics (Special and General Relativity, Quantum Mechanics, Big Bang Cosmology, Dark Matter and Dark Energy, the Standard Model of Particle Physics…) the 21st century would be the century of biology. They outlined the fantastic potential of genomic research to define the current century. Wondrous as these predictions were, and as rapidly as they have played out and over-delivered during this past decade, these predictions were too parochial. This century will permit us the first opportunities to study biology beyond Earth; biology as we don’t yet know it, and biology that we have exported off the surface of our planet.
The technologies needed for discovering biology beyond Earth are different depending on whether you are searching for microbes or mathematicians, and depending on whether you are searching in-situ or remotely. In many cases the necessary technologies do not yet exist, but like genomics, they will probably develop more rapidly, and in more ways, than anyone of us can now imagine.
With a single sample of biology, it is difficult to discover what is necessary and what is contingent in the evolutionary story of life on Earth. A second example will vastly expand our understanding of what is possible.
Jill Tarter holds the Bernard M. Oliver Chair for SETI Research at the SETI Institute in Mountain View, California and serves as a member of the Board of Trustees for that institution. Tarter received her Bachelor of Engineering Physics Degree with Distinction from Cornell University and her Master’s Degree and a Ph.D. in Astronomy from the University of California, Berkeley. She has spent the majority of her professional career attempting to answer the old human question “Are we alone?” by searching for evidence of technological civilizations beyond Earth. She served as Project Scientist for NASA’s SETI program, the High Resolution Microwave Survey and has conducted numerous observational programs at radio observatories worldwide. She is a Fellow of the AAAS, the California Academy of Sciences, and the Explorers Club. She was named one of the Time 100 Most Influential People in the World in 2004, and one of the Time 25 in Space in 2012. Jill received a TED prize in 2009, two public service awards from NASA, multiple awards for communicating science to the public, and has been honored as a woman in technology. She was the 2014 Jansky Lecturer and in 2015 she became President of the California Academy of Sciences. Asteroid “74824 Tarter” (1999 TJ16) has been named in her honor.
Since the termination of funding for NASA’s SETI program in 1993, she has served in a leadership role to design and build the Allen Telescope Array and to secure private funding to continue the exploratory science of SETI. Many people are now familiar with her work as portrayed by Jodie Foster in the movie, Contact.
NASA’s Juno spacecraft has crossed the boundary of Jupiter’s immense magnetic field. Juno’s Waves instrument recorded the encounter with the bow shock over the course of about two hours on June 24, 2016. “Bow shock” is where the supersonic solar wind is heated and slowed by Jupiter’s magnetosphere. It is analogous to a sonic boom on Earth. The next day, June 25, 2016, the Waves instrument witnessed the crossing of the magnetopause. “Trapped continuum radiation” refers to waves trapped in a low-density cavity in Jupiter’s magnetosphere.
Bill describes the Alignment Optical Telescope used in the Lunar Module on the Apollo missions to the moon. This telescope took star sightings which were used to align the Module’s guidance system. Bill shows how the telescope used an Archimedes spiral inscribed on its eyepiece to replace the heavy motors, worm gears, and rigid tracks used in a traditional sextant — this shaved weight from the Lunar Module and allowed it to carry more fuel.
A former military weapons depot is now a track where companies can test their autonomous cars in private. The media has never set foot in the guarded GoMentum Station, until now. The track is not only attracting the attention of automakers like Mercedes and Honda, but also tech companies like Google and Apple. CNET’s Brian Cooley shows us how Honda is testing its latest self-driving car there.
The brain uses a quarter of the body’s entire energy supply, yet only accounts for about two percent of the body’s mass. So how does this unique organ receive and, perhaps more importantly, rid itself of vital nutrients? New research suggests it has to do with sleep.