Tag Archives: science

Another one then.

For all: a good new year. At xsamplex, 2008 will be ‘more of the same': we’ll bring you the bad, the good and (if I can make some more time) more code.

You may have already read about this one: The Edge’s yearly question to scientists, authors and others. This year’s question is ‘What has changed your mind and why?’. If you’re bored for a couple, it may probably take you a couple of hours to get through all the submissions (Metafilter thread and Slashdot thread). Additionally, more commentary at the Guardian.

There were two astronomy articles that caught my eye, last night. The first one is about the mysteries of our (outer) solar system, specifically about the Kuiper belt and the Oort cloud. The second one is actually a MetaFilter post about giant diamonds in space. The post links to an excellent site about stars.

The last link, is the one about the discovery of a 2500-year-old civilization in Russia. Actually, the find is at the bottom of Lake Issyk Kul (Wikipedia) in the Kyrgyz mountains. For a moment, I was thinking that it would be neat if news articles provided actual topography for these kind of locations.


Yesterday A tulip shaped island?(I think), the International Herald Tribune posted an article about Dutch plans to create a tulip-shaped island in the North Sea. The plan was brought up by the Dutch Innovation Platform (Dutch-only) with the goal to showcase the Dutch expertise in water management.

The idea is also mentioned at Wired’s, to be exactly, right here. The posting (it’s a blog, get it?) fires a couple of potshots at the idea, and for this, the author got (quite) some flak and history lessons with the usual bits of chauvinism.

That said, the idea is actually refreshing but not new: Earlier, Dubai decided to create 2 palm-shaped islands, which (naturally and intentionally) can only be seen from high above. With the rise of the (online) availability of satellite pictures (having become commodities, as you will), this is probably going to be an upward trend. This also brings me to the ever-mentioned claim: ‘The Great Wall of China is the only human-made object visible in space’. It’s not (See also this article at space.com).

Mars Express

I was reading about ‘the active glacier’, found by the ESA’s Mars Express earlier this week, which led me to look up the Mars Express website. Excellent (and amazing) imagery. My favourite one is the photo of the Cydonia region. While we’re at it, you may remember that (quite a while ago) Google launched maps for Mars, so here you go.

The ESA has been plugging away to make their websites as user-centric as possible: there are desktop downloads available in the form of screensavers and wallpaper. While I’m not really into screensavers (I have been running the same screensaver for ages, it appears: only recently I decided to switch to a screensaver depicting an aquarium in 3D OpenGL), I thought that the Mars Express wallpapers would have been interesting enough if they were available in the 16:9 resolution ratios (like 1280 x 800). They’re not and frankly, I’m too lazy to start cutting those images up.


Via MetaFilter: A NASA article about faster than light traveling, space colonization and science fiction. The article is an excellent overview of current propulsion techniques and what we’d need to travel to the nearest habitable planet.

If you’re into SF, Star-Trek and that and you are slightly unfamiliar with the paradoxes that traveling at the speed of light brings, you’re in for a disappointment. We don’t know enough about physics and we need (at least) make breakthroughs really soon now.

Charles Stross (author of Glasshouse and Halting State) has more sobering thoughts, highlighting the issues with sending a manned mission to (for example) Proxima Centauri: he notes that getting a vehicle at 10% of the speed of light requires the equivalent energy output of 400 megatons of nuclear missiles. Naturally, since we don’t want to overshoot Proxima Centauri, we need that same amount of energy to decelerate:

For a less explosive reference point, our entire planetary economy runs on roughly 4 terawatts of electricity (4 x 1012 watts). So it would take our total planetary electricity production for a period of half a million seconds — roughly 5 days — to supply the necessary va-va-voom.

Bruce Sterling wrote in 2004 (on colonizing Mars) that it’s a lot cheaper to colonize the Gobi desert than Mars. The two places are literally much alike: ‘they’re both ugly, inhospitable and there’s no way to make it pay':

On the other hand, there might really be some way to make living in the Gobi Desert pay. And if that were the case, and you really had communities making a nice cheerful go of daily life on arid, freezing, barren rock and sand, then a cultural transfer to Mars might make a certain sense.

More on this I will discuss in 2416, but I’m in a rush now: I have to travel to the future and tell the descendants of my twin-brother that they’re about to discover a wormhole to Proxima Centauri.


I‘m a Glacialisaurus action pictures.fan of EurekAlert, a site that provides scientific news and achievements in two-bite snack format. The only problem I have with the site is that the articles are short and (generally) don’t provide appropriate links. Take for example this one about that dinosaur find in Antartica: the article mentions digital images (by William Stout) but to actually find some samples, I needed some Google-Fu to see what that thing looked like.

EurekAlert does link to the magazine that features the (published) findings: however, to find detailed information about this, you need to dive deep into the site to find an abstract about the new dino, plus the magical (but technical) full article (PDF format!).

My. Suck.s

Earlier, I was looking for an OpenWRT version that could run my Linksys WRT54G. This is where I found out that the hardware version of my router (“8″) isn’t supported. Aw. Apparently, Linksys switched to a propriety embedded OS, the [infamous] VxWorks. Aw2.

There are holy wars being fought about routers, particularly which one sucks and which one doesn’t. Personally, I haven’t had many issues with Linksys hardware and the WRT54 I bought this summer (no review!) was a piece of cake to set-up. I wished I had bought the one with that extra USB slot, though.

Talking about that infamous VxWorks: it’s a real-time operating system (Wikipedia) which is competing hard against Microsoft’s Mobile/CE platform. It’s apparently ported to many processors and it powers (and powered) most likely your favourite spacecraft, including the Mars Pathfinder mission. There’s an interesting anecdote about how the software almost threw a kink in the cable, detailed in this article at Microsoft Research (with an interesting follow-up from the JPL).

Pray, tell, rain

I read that sm_corona_virus.jpgthe Orthodox Church of Cypres has ordered priests to pray for rain on December the 2nd of this year. It appears that this is a routine that has been done before, most recently when a comparable drought struck the island 9 years ago.

BBC also reports that scientists have created a detailed map of Antartica. The images come (primarily) from the Landsat spacecraft and there are plans to make the data available for use in software like ‘Virtual Earth’ and ‘Google Earth’. You may want to view the results right at LIMA, that is, if you can get through the bottleneck (yeah, yeah, it’s a popular site this week).

And last but not least, an excellent (long) article about retrovirusses at The Newyorker. The article discusses the influence virusses had (and have) on our body’s immune system and cancer, and (particularly) about how retrovirusses have become part of our DNA. There’s some interesting commentary about new approaches to tackle HIV (a retrovirus), for example, by accelerating its life cycle (the faster a cell reproduces the more errors it makes, eventually passing non-threatening DNA to future generated cells.). Mind-blowing read. You can read the follow-up discussing over at MetaFilter.

Klaatu barada nikto

When astronauts (or cosmonauts for that matter) from a different country get into a fight, which country’s law does apply? (via Slashdot) According to a 1967 treaty (Outer Space Treaty), states have legal jurisdiction within spacecraft registered (‘owned’) by them, which more or less compares with current maritime treaties. Imagine keelhauling with the CanadArm! Pirates of The Void. Yeeargh.

Earlier this week, researchers discovered a fifth planet around star 55 Cancri. The star itself is 41 light-years away in the direction of the constellation Cancer. This brought me to a couple of sites that track down ‘extra solar planets’. The first one is the Extrasolar Planet Encyclopedia, which truly reads like a 1995 website (Good memories). The second one is JPL’s ‘PlanetQuest’, which sounds like the title of a typical 80s adventure movie. That aside, both websites have excellent explanations how astronomers can detect planets around stars (PDF file!).

I don’t know if I’ve ever mentioned this before, but there’s going to be a remake of the 50s classic ‘The Day The Earth Stood Still’, which will star Keanu (“Klaatu”) Reeves and Jennifer Connelly (@wikipedia). The last time I saw this movie was when I was way smaller and when everybody still had black and white TVs in their livingrooms.

Space: the 13 billion light years frontier

The most interesting (scientific) news was that a team of astronomers discovered the most distant galaxy, which is 12-point-something billion lightyears away from us. This is interesting, because obviously, that particular galaxy is one of the first ones created after the Big Bang (which started 13.7 billion years ago).

I briefly watched TV today and saw that Daily Planet (a show I hardly watch for no particular reason other than that I generally don’t watch TV) covered the recent Montreal college shooting, which took me be surprise. I always understood that these shows were pre-recorded. Obviously they aren’t.

Talking about Daily Planet; They just published an article saying that Titan (the Saturn moon) could have snowfall.

And then Pluto’s downfall continues going down deep: the Planet formerly known as Pluto has been given the official name of ‘134340 Pluto’. Tragically, the ‘dwarf’ planet that was the cause of Pluto’s demotion, 2003 UBI313, has officially given the name of Eris (or see Wikipedia).