Jupiter’s Moon Europa Has Enough Oxygen For Life

New research suggests that there is plenty of oxygen available in the subsurface ocean of Europa to support oxygen-based metabolic processes for life similar to that on Earth. In fact, there may be enough oxygen to support complex, animal-like organisms with greater oxygen demands than microorganisms.

The global ocean on ’s moon Europa contains about twice the of all the Earth’s oceans combined. New research suggests that there may be plenty of available in that ocean to support life, a hundred times more oxygen than previously estimated.

The chances for life there have been uncertain, because Europa’s ocean lies beneath several miles of ice, which separates it from the production of oxygen at the surface by energetic charged particles (similar to ). Without oxygen, life could conceivably exist at hot springs in the ocean floor using exotic metabolic chemistries, based on sulfur or the production of methane. However, it is not certain whether the ocean floor actually would provide the conditions for such life.

Therefore a key question has been whether enough oxygen reaches the ocean to support the oxygen-based that is most familiar to us. An answer comes from considering the young age of Europa’s surface. Its geology and the paucity of impact craters suggests that the top of the ice is continually reformed such that the current surface is only about 50 million years old, roughly 1% of the age of the solar system.

Richard Greenberg of the University of Arizona has considered three generic resurfacing processes: gradually laying fresh material on the surface; opening cracks which fill with fresh ice from below; and disrupting patches of surface in place and replacing them with fresh material. Using estimates for the production of oxidizers at the surface, he finds that the delivery rate into the ocean is so fast that the oxygen concentration could exceed that of the Earth’s oceans in only a few million years. Greenberg presented his findings at the 41st meeting of the American Astronomical Society’s Division for Planetary Sciences now under way in Fajardo, Puerto Rico.

Greenberg says that the concentrations of oxygen would be great enough to support not only microorganisms, but also “macrofauna”, that is, more complex animal-like organisms which have greater oxygen demands. The continual supply of oxygen could support roughly 3 billion kilograms of macrofauna, assuming similar oxygen demands to terrestrial fish.

The good news for the question of the origin of life is that there would be a delay of a couple of billion years before the first surface oxygen reached the ocean. Without that delay, the first pre-biotic chemistry and the first primitive organic structures would be disrupted by oxidation. Oxidation is a hazard unless organisms have evolved protection from its damaging effects. A similar delay in the production of oxygen on Earth was probably essential for allowing life to get started here.

Richard Greenberg is the author of the recent book “Unmasking Europa: The Search for Life on Jupiter’s Moon”, which offers a comprehensive picture of Europa for the general reader.

Source: American Astronomical Society, via Astrobio.

via Jupiter’s Moon Europa Has Enough Oxygen For Life.

The Recent Future / October 18, 2009 / Nature, SciFi / 0 Comments

First black hole for light created on Earth

An electromagnetic “black holeMovie Camera” that sucks in surrounding light has been built for the first time.

The device, which works at microwave frequencies, may soon be extended to trap visible light, leading to an entirely new way of harvesting solar energy to generate electricity.

A theoretical design for a table-top black hole to trap light was proposed in a paper published earlier this year by Evgenii Narimanov and Alexander Kildishev of Purdue University in West Lafayette, Indiana. Their idea was to mimic the properties of a cosmological black hole, whose intense gravity bends the surrounding space-time, causing any nearby matter or radiation to follow the warped space-time and spiral inwards.

Narimanov and Kildishev reasoned that it should be possible to build a device that makes light curve inwards towards its centre in a similar way. They calculated that this could be done by a cylindrical structure consisting of a central core surrounded by a shell of concentric rings.

There’s no escape

The key to making light curve inwards is to make the shell’s permittivity – which affects the electric component of an electromagnetic wave – increase smoothly from the outer to the inner surface. This is analogous to the curvature of space-time near a black hole. At the point where the shell meets the core, the permittivity of the ring must match that of the core, so that light is absorbed rather than reflected.

Now Tie Jun Cui and Qiang Cheng at the Southeast University in Nanjing, China, have turned Narimanov and Kildishev’s theory into practice, and built a “black hole” for microwave frequencies. It is made of 60 annular strips of so-called “meta-materials”, which have previously been used to make invisibility cloaks.

Each strip takes the form of a circuit board etched with intricate structures whose characteristics change progressively from one strip to the next, so that the permittivity varies smoothly. The outer 40 strips make up the shell and the inner 20 strips make up the absorber.

“When the incident electromagnetic wave hits the device, the wave will be trapped and guided in the shell region towards the core of the black hole, and will then be absorbed by the core,” says Cui. “The wave will not come out from the black hole.” In their device, the core converts the absorbed light into heat.

via First black hole for light created on Earth – physics-math – 14 October 2009 – New Scientist.

The Recent Future / October 15, 2009 / SciFi, Tech / 0 Comments

Plasma Rocket Could Travel to Mars in 39 Days

Last Wednesday, the Ad Astra Rocket Company tested what is currently the most powerful plasma rocket in the world. As the Webster, Texas, company announced, the VASIMR VX-200 engine ran at 201 kilowatts in a vacuum chamber, passing the 200-kilowatt mark for the first time. The test also marks the first time that a small-scale prototype of the company’s VASIMR Variable Specific Impulse Magnetoplasma Rocket rocket engine has been demonstrated at full power.

“It’s the most powerful plasma rocket in the world right now,” says Franklin Chang-Diaz, former NASA astronaut and CEO of Ad Astra. The company has signed an agreement with NASA to test a 200-kilowatt VASIMR engine on the (ISS) in 2013. The engine could provide periodic boosts to the ISS, which gradually drops in altitude due to atmospheric drag. ISS boosts are currently provided by spacecraft with conventional , which consume about 7.5 tonnes of propellant per year. By cutting this amount down to 0.3 tonnes, Chang-Diaz estimates that VASIMR could save NASA millions of dollars per year.

But Ad Astra has bigger plans for VASIMR, such as high-speed missions to Mars. A 10- to 20-megawatt VASIMR engine could propel human missions to Mars in just 39 days, whereas conventional rockets would take six months or more. The shorter the trip, the less time astronauts would be exposed to space radiation, which is a significant hurdle for Mars missions. VASIMR could also be adapted to handle the high payloads of robotic missions, though at slower speeds than lighter human missions.

Chang-Diaz has been working on the development of the VASIMR concept since 1979, before founding Ad Astra in 2005 to further develop the project. The technology uses radio waves to heat gases such as hydrogen, argon, and neon, creating hot plasma. Magnetic fields force the charged plasma out the back of the engine, producing thrust in the opposite direction. Due to the high velocity that this method achieves, less fuel is required than in conventional engines. In addition, VASIMR has no physical electrodes in contact with the , prolonging the engine’s lifetime and enabling a higher power density than in other designs.

via Plasma Rocket Could Travel to Mars in 39 Days.

The Recent Future / October 7, 2009 / SciFi, Tech / 0 Comments

It’s Official: Water Found on the Moon!

Since man first touched the moon and brought pieces of it back to Earth, scientists have thought that the lunar surface was bone dry. But new observations from three different spacecraft have put this notion to rest with what has been called “unambiguous evidence” of water across the surface of the moon.

The new findings, detailed in the Sept. 25 issue of the journal Science, come in the wake of further evidence of lunar polar water ice by NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter and just weeks before the planned lunar impact of NASA’s LCROSS satellite, which will hit one of the permanently shadowed craters at the moon’s south pole in hope of churning up evidence of water ice deposits in the debris field.

The moon remains drier than any desert on Earth, but the water is said to exist on the moon in very small quantities. One ton of the top layer of the lunar surface would hold about 32 ounces of water, researchers said. “If the water molecules are as mobile as we think they are — even a fraction of them — they provide a mechanism for getting water to those permanently shadowed craters,” said planetary geologist Carle Pieters of Brown University in Rhode Island, who led one of the three studies in Science on the lunar find, in a statement. “This opens a whole new avenue [of lunar research], but we have to understand the physics of it to utilize it.

“Finding water on the moon would be a boon to possible future lunar bases, acting as a potential source of drinking water and fuel.

via SPACE.com — It’s Official: Water Found on the Moon.

The Recent Future / September 23, 2009 / Nature, SciFi / 0 Comments

Immortality only 20 years away says scientist Ray Kurzweil

Scientist Ray Kurzweil claims humans could become immortal in as little as 20 years’ time through nanotechnology and an increased understanding of how the body works.

The 61-year-old American, who has predicted new technologies arriving before, says our understanding of genes and computer technology is accelerating at an incredible rate.He says theoretically, at the rate our understanding is increasing, nanotechnologies capable of replacing many of our vital organs could be available in 20 years time.Mr Kurzweil adds that although his claims may seem far-fetched, artificial pancreases and neural implants are already available.Mr Kurzweil calls his theory the Law of Accelerating Returns. Writing in The Sun, Mr Kurzweil said: “I and many other scientists now believe that in around 20 years we will have the means to reprogramme our bodies’ stone-age software so we can halt, then reverse, ageing. Then nanotechnology will let us live for ever.”Ultimately, nanobots will replace blood cells and do their work thousands of times more effectively.”Within 25 years we will be able to do an Olympic sprint for 15 minutes without taking a breath, or go scuba-diving for four hours without oxygen.”Heart-attack victims – who haven’t taken advantage of widely available bionic hearts – will calmly drive to the doctors for a minor operation as their blood bots keep them alive.”Nanotechnology will extend our mental capacities to such an extent we will be able to write books within minutes.”If we want to go into virtual-reality mode, nanobots will shut down brain signals and take us wherever we want to go. Virtual sex will become commonplace. And in our daily lives, hologram like figures will pop in our brain to explain what is happening.”So we can look forward to a world where humans become cyborgs, with artificial limbs and organs.”

via Immortality only 20 years away says scientist – Telegraph.

The Recent Future / September 23, 2009 / Health, SciFi / 0 Comments

Tasting the Light: Device Lets the Blind “See” with Their Tongues

Neuroscientist Paul Bach-y-Rita hypothesized in the 1960s that “we see with our brains not our eyes.” Now, a new device trades on that thinking and aims to partially restore the experience of vision for the blind and visually impaired by relying on the nerves on the tongue’s surface to send light signals to the brain.

See with your toung!From the CPU, the signals are sent to the tongue via a “lollipop,” an electrode array about nine square centimeters that sits directly on the tongue. Each electrode corresponds to a set of pixels. White pixels yield a strong electrical pulse, whereas black pixels translate into no signal. Densely packed nerves at the tongue surface receive the incoming electrical signals, which feel a little like Pop Rocks or champagne bubbles to the user.

It remains unclear whether the information is then transferred to the brain’s visual cortex, where sight information is normally sent, or to its somatosensory cortex, where touch data from the tongue is interpreted, Wicab neuroscientist Aimee Arnoldussen says. “We don’t know with certainty,” she adds.

via Tasting the Light: Device Lets the Blind “See” with Their Tongues: Scientific American.

The Recent Future / August 23, 2009 / Health, SciFi, Tech / 0 Comments

DNA Evidence Can Be Fabricated, Scientists Show

Scientists in Israel have demonstrated that it is possible to fabricate DNA evidence, undermining the credibility of what has been considered the gold standard of proof in criminal cases.

The scientists fabricated blood and saliva samples containing DNA from a person other than the donor of the blood and saliva. They also showed that if they had access to a DNA profile in a database, they could construct a sample of DNA to match that profile without obtaining any tissue from that person.

“You can just engineer a crime scene,” said Dan Frumkin, lead author of the paper, which has been published online by the journal Forensic Science International: Genetics. “Any biology undergraduate could perform this.”

Dr. Frumkin is a founder of Nucleix, a company based in Tel Aviv that has developed a test to distinguish real DNA samples from fake ones that it hopes to sell to forensics laboratories.

The planting of fabricated DNA evidence at a crime scene is only one implication of the findings.

A potential invasion of personal privacy is another. Using some of the same techniques, it may be possible to scavenge anyone’s DNA from a discarded drinking cup or cigarette butt and turn it into a saliva sample that could be submitted to a genetic testing company that measures ancestry or the risk of getting various diseases. Celebrities might have to fear “genetic paparazzi,” said Gail H. Javitt of the Genetics and Public Policy Center at Johns Hopkins University.

via DNA Evidence Can Be Fabricated, Scientists Show – NYTimes.com.

The Recent Future / August 18, 2009 / SciFi, Tech / 0 Comments

Transparent aluminium is ‘new state of matter’

”What we have created is a completely new state of matter nobody has seen before,’ said Professor Justin Wark of Oxford University’s Department of Physics, one of the authors of the paper. ‘Transparent aluminium is just the start. The physical properties of the matter we are creating are relevant to the conditions inside large planets, and we also hope that by studying it we can gain a greater understanding of what is going on during the creation of ‘miniature stars’ created by high-power laser implosions, which may one day allow the power of nuclear fusion to be harnessed here on Earth.’

The discovery was made possible with the development of a new source of radiation that is ten billion times brighter than any synchrotron in the world such as the UK’s Diamond Light Source. The FLASH laser, based in Hamburg, Germany, produces extremely brief pulses of soft X-ray light, each of which is more powerful than the output of a power plant that provides electricity to a whole city.

The Oxford team, along with their international colleagues, focused all this power down into a spot with a diameter less than a twentieth of the width of a human hair. At such high intensities the aluminium turned transparent.

Whilst the invisible effect lasted for only an extremely brief period – an estimated 40 femtoseconds – it demonstrates that such an exotic state of matter can be created using very high power X-ray sources.

Professor Wark added: ‘What is particularly remarkable about our experiment is that we have turned ordinary aluminium into this exotic new material in a single step by using this very powerful laser. For a brief period the sample looks and behaves in every way like a new form of matter. In certain respects, the way it reacts is as though we had changed every aluminium atom into silicon: it’s almost as surprising as finding that you can turn lead into gold with light!’

via Transparent aluminium is ‘new state of matter’.

The Recent Future / July 29, 2009 / SciFi / 0 Comments

‘Repulsive’ Side To Light Force Could Control Nanodevices

A team of Yale University researchers has discovered a “repulsive” light force that can be used to control components on silicon microchips, meaning future nanodevices could be controlled by light rather than electricity.

The attractive and repulsive light forces Tang’s team discovered are separate from the force created by light’s radiation pressure, which pushes against an object as light shines on it. Instead, they push out or pull in sideways from the direction the light travels.

via ‘Repulsive’ Side To Light Force Could Control Nanodevices.

The Recent Future / July 15, 2009 / SciFi, Tech / 0 Comments

Australian scientists may have worked out the mystery of teleportation | The Daily Telegraph

AUSTRALIAN scientists have developed a new method for transmitting data with light that may lead to super-fast quantum computers and teleportation technology.

The research team from the Australian National University developed a new approach to generating quantum entanglement in beams of light using only two parts.

Quantum entanglement is a process in which two objects are linked together in such a way that any changes to the properties of one can be measured from the other regardless of the distance between them.

This process of linking particles has existed for a few years but team leader Dr Jiri Janousek says this new method allows it to be achieved in a much simpler way.

“Usually, when you want to generate entanglement you need a lot of sources of light and a lot of receivers but we found a way to use only one source and one receiver to generate and measure entanglement,” Dr Janousek said.

via Australian scientists may have worked out the mystery of teleportation | The Daily Telegraph.

The Recent Future / June 21, 2009 / SciFi / 0 Comments