Brainy Quote of the Day

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

The Return...

"Star Trek" is coming back to TV in 2017 via CBS Television Studios. Here, the original Starship Enterprise model hangs in the Smithsonian's National Air and Space Museum.
Credit: National Air and Space Museum
Topics: NASA, Science Fiction, Space Exploration, Star Trek, STEM

I'm not saying we'll ever develop warp drive (though, we appear to be working on it). I'm reminded of Jules Verne: From Earth to the Moon. He posited a space gun, and did some rough calculations. He was way off, but think of when he wrote it, and fired the imaginations of scientists and engineers for four generations: 1865. We made it 103 years later on a rocket, though some still sadly doubt.

We've become too focused on our minor worlds of apps on phones, news feeds and million player online games; we've become consumers, not producers or dreamers. We nostalgically reach backwards to halcyon days that never existed except for personal myths, comforting though they may be.

Star Trek inspired a generation of scientists and engineers where some of the things we take for granted - automatic doors, cell phones, nanotechnology, remote control, robotics, WI-FI - were all inspired by a fictional story of going to strange new worlds and not being afraid of the different-than-us: but to boldly seek out challenges. We looked forward to the future; we weren't afraid of it, and we all...looked up.

Move over, James T. Kirk, "Star Trek" has another captain now. CBS Studios has tapped "Hannibal" creator Bryan Fuller — a veteran Trek writer — as a co-creator for its new Trek TV series launching in 2017.

Fuller has written for "Star Trek: Deep Space Nine" and "Star Trek: Voyager," and brings a deep appreciation of the "Star Trek" world to the new show, according to CBS Studios representatives. The new show will air on CBS All Access, a digital streaming platform. (The first episode will air on live TV.) [1]

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“For the past 50 years, Star Trek has been a groundbreaking franchise that not only changed the landscape of television, but made a significant impact on pop culture,” said David Stapf, President, CBS Television Studios. “When we began discussions about the series returning to television, we immediately knew that Bryan Fuller would be the ideal person to work alongside Alex Kurtzman to create a fresh and authentic take on this classic and timeless series. Bryan is not only an extremely gifted writer, but a genuine fan of Star Trek. Having someone at the helm with his gravitas who also understands and appreciates the significance of the franchise and the worldwide fan base was essential to us.”

Fuller most recently served as executive producer and writer on NBC’s Hannibal, based on the characters from the book Red Dragon by Thomas Harris. He got his start writing Deep Space Nine, followed by Voyager, where he worked his way from freelance writer to staff writer to co-producer. Fuller went on to create the critically acclaimed series Dead Like Me and Wonderfalls. Also, he served as writer and co-executive producer on the first season of Heroes, before leaving to create the Emmy Award-winning Pushing Daisies. Fuller is currently executive producing along with partner Michael Green an adaptation of Neil Gaiman’s novel American Gods for the STARZ network. [2]

1. New Star Trek TV Series Beams Up Bryan Fuller as Co-Creator
Sarah Lewin
2. Brian Fuller Named Co-Creator of New Star Trek TV Series

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Quantum Heat Transfer...

Image Source: Low Temperature Lab, Aalto University School of Science
Topics: Quantum Computer, Quantum Mechanics, Superconductors, Thermodynamics

Physicists in Finland have shown that it is possible to conduct heat over macroscopic distances at close to the maximum efficiency permitted by quantum mechanics. By directing photons along a superconducting waveguide, the researchers transferred heat between two resistors spaced up to a metre apart – some 10,000 times further than previously possible at the quantum limit. They say their technique could someday be used to cool chips inside quantum computers.

Quantum mechanics tells us that heat flow, like electric current, can be quantized. If a wire is so thin that an electron's cross-sectional wavefunction can only assume one possible configuration as it travels along the wire, there is an upper limit to the rate at which electrical energy can be transmitted for any given voltage. Likewise, there is a maximum rate at which heat energy can be transferred along a single channel connecting a hot bath to a cold one when the baths are at given temperatures. This is the quantum of thermal conductance, which is reached when the hot bath emits energy perfectly, the cold bath absorbs perfectly, and there is no heat loss along the way.

Physics World: Quantum-limited heat conduction smashes long-distance record
Edwin Cartlidge

Monday, February 8, 2016

Occam's Razor...

Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech
Topics: Astrophysics, Dyson Sphere, Exoplanets, Kardashev Scale, Kepler Telescope, SETI

It's looking less likely that a swarm of comets or an "alien megastructure" can explain a faraway star's strange dimming.

The star (nicknamed "Tabby's Star," after its discoverer, Tabetha Boyajian) made major headlines last October when Jason Wright, an astronomer at Pennsylvania State University, suggested that it could be surrounded by some type of alien megastructure. A more likely idea — one that's far less exciting — is that the star is orbited by a swarm of comets. But scientists can't be sure either way.

The first signs of the star's oddity came from NASA's planet-hunting Kepler space telescope, which continually monitored the star (as well as 100,000 others) between 2009 and 2013. Astronomers, citizen scientists and computers could then search for regular dips in a star's light — a sign that an exoplanet has passed in front of that star. The largest planets might block 1 percent of a star's light, but Tabby's star dropped by as much as 20 percent in brightness. That, in and of itself, would be weird. But the periodic dimmings didn't occur at regular time intervals, either — they were sporadic. The signature couldn't be caused by a planet, scientists said.

Scientific American:
Comets May Not Explain "Alien Megastructure" Star's Strange Flickering after All
Shannon Hall,
#P4TC: Needle In A Haystack...

Friday, February 5, 2016

James Webb...

Inside a massive clean room at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland the James Webb Space Telescope team used a robotic am to install the last of the telescope's 18 mirrors onto the telescope structure.
Credits: NASA/Chris Gunn
Topics: Astronomy, Astrophysics, Hubble, James Webb, NASA, Space Exploration


NASA Administrator, February 14, 1961-October 7, 1968

James Edwin Webb was the second administrator of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, formally established on October 1, 1958, under the National Aeronautics and Space Act of 1958.

Born on October 7, 1906, in Tally Ho, North Carolina, he was the son of John Frederick and Sarah Gorham Webb. His father was superintendent of schools in Granville County for 26 years. In 1938 he married Patsy Aiken Douglas and they had two children: Sarah Gorham, born on February 27, 1945, and James Edwin Jr., born on March 5, 1947.

Mr. Webb was educated at the University of North Carolina, where he received an A.B. in education in 1928. He became a second lieutenant in the Marine Corps and served as a pilot on active duty from 1930-1932. He also studied law at George Washington University from 1934-1936 and was admitted to the Bar of the District of Columbia in 1936. More at: NASA/biographies.

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The 18th and final primary mirror segment is installed on what will be the biggest and most powerful space telescope ever launched. The final mirror installation Wednesday at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland marks an important milestone in the assembly of the agency’s James Webb Space Telescope.

“Scientists and engineers have been working tirelessly to install these incredible, nearly perfect mirrors that will focus light from previously hidden realms of planetary atmospheres, star forming regions and the very beginnings of the Universe,” said John Grunsfeld, associate administrator for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington. “With the mirrors finally complete, we are one step closer to the audacious observations that will unravel the mysteries of the Universe.” [1]

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The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) has accurately measured parts designed for the upcoming James Webb Space Telescope, the long-awaited successor to the Hubble Space Telescope. The NIST-measured composite titanium and stainless steel parts, which support the skeleton for the telescope’s massive mirror, will be used in the final round of NASA’s vibration tests on the mirror assembly before the telescope’s scheduled launch in October 2018.

The Webb telescope will travel to an orbit beyond the Moon, contain a mirror much larger than the Hubble’s, and be able to observe the formation of some of the first stars and galaxies more than 13.5 billion years ago. The telescope is the largest piece of precision metrology (measurement) equipment that NASA has been involved in creating. With its size, and the sophistication of its parts, extreme care must be taken to ensure the mirror and instruments remain properly assembled and aligned as they travel into space and face significant temperature changes throughout their journey. [2]

1. NASA's James Webb Space Telescope Primary Mirror Fully Assembled
Felicia Chou & Rob Gutro
2. NIST Performs Critical Measurements for James Webb Space Telescope, Ben Stein

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Spaghetti Monster...

Image Source: Urban Dictionary
Topics: Computer Science, Humor, Mechanical Engineering, Robotics, STEM

Beyond the non-rigid, this may have applications in realistic prosthetic limbs, like a replaced finger or hand severed in an unfortunate accident.

I tweeted this yesterday, and gave it a face lift, of a sort. This made me smile quite broadly, and chuckle! You have to admit: the resemblance is uncanny, and likely from highly imaginative nerds, not at all accidental.


Nature: Meet the soft, cuddly robots of the future, Helen Shen

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Not Fermi...

Topics: Fermi Paradox, Planetary Science, Space Exploration, SETI

Well, this is news! Tipler in particular kind of (ahem), went over the edge in the theory world, and thus everyone kind of treats him like your very strange uncle. He apparently plays in the story of the Fermi Paradox that wasn't...

If Fermi wasn't the source of this pessimistic idea, where did it come from?

The notion “... they are not here; therefore they do not exist” first appeared in print in 1975, when astronomer Michael Hart claimed that if smart aliens existed, they would inevitably colonize the Milky Way. If they existed anywhere, they would be here. Since they aren’t, Hart concluded that humans are probably the only intelligent life in our galaxy, so that looking for intelligent life elsewhere is “probably a waste of time and money.” His argument has been challenged on many grounds—maybe star travel is not feasible, or maybe nobody chooses to colonize the galaxy, or maybe we were visited long ago and the evidence is buried with the dinosaurs—but the idea has become entrenched in thinking about alien civilizations.

In 1980, the physicist Frank Tipler elaborated on Hart’s arguments by addressing one obvious question: where would anybody get the resources needed to colonize billions of stars? He suggested “a self-replicating universal constructor with intelligence comparable to the human level.” Just send one of these babies out to a neighboring star, tell it to build copies of itself using local materials, and send the copies on to other stars until the Galaxy is crawling with them. Tipler argued that absence of such gizmos on Earth proved that ours is the only intelligence anywhere in the entire Universe—not just the Milky Way galaxy—which seems like an awfully long leap from the absence of aliens on our one planet.

Hart and Tipler clearly deserve credit for the idea at the heart of the so-called Fermi paradox. Over the years, however, their idea has been confused with Fermi’s original question. The confusion evidently started in 1977 when the physicist David G. Stephenson used the phrase ‘Fermi paradox’ in a paper citing Hart’s idea as one possible answer to Fermi’s question. The Fermi paradox might be more accurately called the ‘Hart-Tipler argument against the existence of technological extraterrestrials’, which does not sound quite as authoritative as the old name, but seems fairer to everybody.

Scientific American: The Fermi Paradox Is Not Fermi's, and It Is Not a Paradox
Robert H. Gray

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Sterile Neutrinos...

A section of CERN's Super Proton Synchrotron, which could be home to the SHiP experiment by 2026.
(Courtesy: Piotr Traczyk)
Topics: CERN, Cosmology, Dark Matter, Neutrinos, Particle Physics, Theoretical Physics

This is very interesting. Sterile neutrinos are dark matter candidates. From APS Physics, April 24, 2014:

A hypothetical neutrino that does not interact through the weak force could be the source of a recently detected x-ray emission line coming from galaxy clusters. However, previous models using this so-called “sterile” neutrino as a form of dark matter were not able to satisfy constraints from cosmological observations. Now, writing in Physical Review Letters, Kevork Abazajian of the University of California, Irvine, shows that a sterile neutrino with a mass of 77 kilo-electron-volts (keV) could be a viable dark matter candidate that both explains the new x-ray data and solves some long-standing problems in galaxy structure formation.

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A new experiment to search for hypothetical particles known as sterile neutrinos has been given the green light by scientists at the CERN particle-physics laboratory near Geneva. The SFr 200m (£140m) Search for Hidden Particles experiment (SHiP) would be built at CERN and start up a decade from now. The lab's member states will, however, need to approve the project before construction.

Predicted by certain extensions of the Standard Model, sterile neutrinos – if they exist – would interact extremely weakly, if at all, with ordinary matter. However, sterile neutrinos would transform into and out of standard neutrinos, revealing themselves via a greater- or lesser-than-expected rate of oscillation between the different types, or "flavors", of neutrinos. Physicists working on the Liquid Scintillator Neutrino Detector (LSND) at the Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico between 1993 and 1998 saw some evidence for such a transformation, but other experiments have failed to see a similar signal.

There are other plans to look for these hypothetical particles, but these experiments would focus on light sterile neutrinos with masses of less than one electronvolt. SHiP, in contrast, would seek more massive sterile neutrinos known as heavy neutral leptons. Weighing a few gigaelectronvolts, such particles would, very occasionally, decay into ordinary matter. According to SHiP spokesman Andrey Golutvin of CERN, their existence, unlike that of their lighter counterparts, could explain the predominance of matter over antimatter in the universe and the nature of dark matter. "Finding a light sterile neutrino would be a Nobel prize discovery, but it wouldn't solve the problems of the Standard Model," he claims.

Physics World: CERN gives thumbs up to new sterile-neutrino detector
Edwin Cartlidge