Right now, five human spacecrafts study Mars by hanging out near it. Two do it from the Martian surface—the Curiosity rover, which began its mission in 2012, and the more-than-a-decade-old Opportunity rover—and three do it while orbiting around the red planet.
Earlier this month, one of those kinds of spacecraft happened to see the other.
On April 11, the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter passed near Aeolis Mons, a mountain near the equator in the planet’s eastern hemisphere. It photographed a hilly region nearby known as the Kimberley, and there it caught a robot that’s been hanging out among the hills for the past few months: the Mars Curiosity Rover.
Read more. [Image: NASA]
You want a time machine, don’t you?
Because one in 10 Americans do — at least that’s what they said when Pew Research Center asked what futuristic technology they would like to own.
That’s a notable percentage of people, especially when you consider that survey respondents came up with “time machine,” unprompted, out of every possible future invention they could imagine. (Naturally, flying cars were popular, too.)
The curious thing is that Pew found people’s level of interest in time travel had a lot to do with how old they are. About 11 percent of 30-to-49-year-olds said a time machine was the one futuristic device they’d want to own, but only 3 percent of people older than 65 said so.
And looking across demographics of the entire study group, people under 50 were way more into time-travel than people older than 50.
Why is that?
How the continent’s many obstacles, from widespread poverty to failed states, allowed African entrepreneurs to beat the West at reinventing money for the mobile age
Read more. [Image: Mike McQuade]
When Sandra Hassan created the I Am Alive app, her intention was mostly dark humor. A 26-year-old graduate student in Paris, Hassan had gotten sick of worrying about family and friends whenever she heard news of a suicide bombing in her hometown of Beirut. A detonation on January 21, in the same neighborhood where a car bomb had exploded just three weeks earlier, spurred her to action. In what she describes as an “expression of discontent,” Hassan developed an app that allows users, with one touch, to tweet a reassuring message to their followers: “I am still alive! #Lebanon #LatestBombing.”
The app quickly caught on: within a month, it was downloaded more than 5,000 times.
Read more. [Image: James Walton]
For most daydreamers, predicting the future is a business of missing more than you hit.
For example, we still haven’t eliminated childbirth by inventing designer babies grown in artificial wombs, a prediction the science editor of LIFE magazine made 50 years ago.
But that same editor surmised we’d be able to grow complete human organs from cell tissue in laboratories, and most Americans now agree that this sounds like something that will happen. Eighty-one percent of those polled believe organs will be developed in petri dishes by 2064. (Hey, why not, scientists are already working on lab-grown ears and noses.)
That’s according to a new Pew Research Center study that asked Americans for their feelings and predictions about the next 50 years of science.
But Americans’ optimism was not evenly distributed. If they were confident in the biomedical future, they were pessimistic about space. Only a third of us now believe that we’ll have colonized another planet by 2064. Here are nine other predictions Americans made.
Read more. [Image: Reuters]
CAPTCHAs are a time-worn way for humans to tell computers that we are human. They are those little boxes filled with distorted text that we’ve been told humans can decipher, but computers—the bad guys’ computers—cannot. So, Watson-be-damned, we enter the letters and gain access to whatever is behind the veil, leaving the bad bots steaming outside the pearly, CAPTCHA’d gates. As Google’s ReCAPTCHA website puts it: “Tough on bots, easy on humans.”
It is a satisfying display of human superiority built into the daily experience of the web. And, BONUS, you’re often helping do optical character recognition on old books at the same time. Take that, Machines, you don’t even have any books.
But then along comes Google today noting, in a showily short and breezy blog post, that their machines can beat ReCAPTCHAs 99% of the time.
When we see patterns in the atmosphere from space, they tend to be in the clouds of powerful storms. These all have roughly the same form: they look like a spiral galaxy with arms spinning out from the core.
But meteorologists have detected other organizational principles at work. Like, take the fascinating image above. It shows …. well, I wasn’t sure exactly what it showed. A meteorologist’s blog post described them as “convectively-generated mesospheric airglow waves,” but that did not quite explain how they worked or what they were.
So I got in touch with Steven Miller, senior research scientist and deputy director of the Cooperative Institute for Research in the Atmosphere (CIRA) at Colorado State University. Miller and his colleagues discovered these concentric rings while working with the newish satellite Suomi satellite’s next-generation low-light sensor. (They published a paper on the discovery in PNAS.)
Miller told me I was looking at glowing ripples in the atmosphere itself!
“These are literally ‘ripples of glowing atmosphere’ whose structure is the result of a train of gravity waves that is passing through a thin layer of the atmosphere that produces a very faint veil of light called ‘nightglow,’” he said. “These are not clouds (although they were forced by the thunderstorms below), and they do not occur in the troposphere, where our ‘weather’ is. They are much higher up—at the interface between the mesosphere and the thermosphere—about 90 km [55 miles] above the surface! The glow is revealing important dynamics of our atmosphere that would otherwise be completely invisible to us.”
Read more. [Image: Suomi]
The world is loud. As a partial result of this, the typical human aging process involves hearing loss that ranges from mild to severe. And though that loss can be a big problem—”blindness separates people from things,” Helen Keller said, while “deafness separates people from people”—it’s one that has a solution: Get a hearing aid.
It’s a solution that should be both easy and obvious. At this point, hearing aids are relatively advanced; digital technology means that the devices have gotten very good at filtering out background noise, minimizing feedback, and emphasizing human voices in noisy environments. The little machines have become adept, as one audiologist puts it, at making "soft sounds audible, average sounds average, and loud sounds okay to hear."
The main problem with hearing aids, though, has less to do with technology and more to do with culture: Many people who need the aids don’t want to get them. They associate them with age. They associate them with ailment. They associate them with the ailment that comes with age. As a result, in a society that values youth above almost all else, the people who can benefit most from hearing aids are often the ones least likely to take advantage of them.
While hearing aid manufacturers have responded to this by designing devices that are as small as possible and custom-fitted to the ear canal, one company has come up with another solution: a hearing aid that is integrated into smartphones. Starkey Hearing Technologies recently launched Halo, a hearing device that syncs with iPhones and iPads. The technology, the company says, doesn’t just amplify hearing; it also allows users to listen to music, sync movies, receive phone calls, and chat over Facetime. It allows for geotagging according to specific places—so, for example, it calibrates itself to the volume of a user’s favorite restaurant or coffee shop. It joins devices across wireless networks. It’s a medical-tech answer, basically, to the broad aspiration of the connected home.
Read more. [Image: TruLink/Starkey Hearing Technologies]
The future is vast, and scifi provides but a tiny porthole to see it.
Read more. [Image: Library of Congress]