I accidentally ran across some neat science stuff happening, so I guess I'd better get 'em out:
- NASA's Upper Atmosphere Research Satellite, launched in 1991 and operational, at least in part, until 2005 (and the International Space Station had to dodge it in 2010!), will probably be crashing down to Earth in 26 or so chunks tomorrow. Up to 300 pounds each, the chunks are expected to hit an ocean, and apparently have almost no chance of coming down in North America; NASA calculates the chances of them hitting a human as 1 in 3,200. Old satellites inevitably fall out of orbit, due to heating or atmospheric friction or something slowing them over time, and generally they're supposed to be designed so that they burn up neatly in the atmosphere as they fall, but a--I think--recent re-evaluation of this satellite showed that major parts of its construction would in fact withstand atmospheric re-entry. Oops! Hopefully it doesn't hit anyone; if it does, it will be only the second time anyone's ever been hit by falling space debris: "The only confirmed case of a person being hit by space junk was in 1997 when Lottie Williams of Tulsa, Okla., was grazed in the shoulder by a small bit of debris from a discarded piece of a Delta rocket."
- Putting a bit more egg on NASA's face, Neil Armstrong has just called the US space program "embarrassing"; he doesn't like that we don't have a manned space flight mission now that the Shuttles are retired, and we have to rely on other countries--and possibly private companies, in the future--to do something like support the International Space Station, in which we have a major investment.
- A recent study--I think by the University of California, Berkeley--has managed to reconstruct images directly from peoples' brains using "functional" MRI technology ("fMRI") to read their brain activity, and then complex computer programs to take that data and convert it back into visual images. The subjects were strapped into fMRI machines, made to fix their eyes on a very specific location, and were then shown a selection of 18 million one-second YouTube video clips. :o Here are some of the reconstructions, fittingly enough in YouTube format:
Maybe I'm a pessimist, but I think some of those "matches" are not the same scene as the one the computer thought they were matching. And this sort of thing has been done before: as I mentioned back in June, in 1999 a similar procedure was performed with cats, and in 2008, a Japanese team achieved it with humans. That 2008 experiment produced only 10x10 black and white images from the fMRI data, though, so this new experiment has advanced the visual quality of the results considerably.
It isn't reading thoughts or anything like that--just visual sensory data coming directly from the eyes into the brain--but in A*'s story, Selenis' neural implants do something similar (in much higher fidelity, mind you!), so...neat!
- A team of French and Italian scientists working at CERN claim to have clocked a beam of neutrinos they fired from a particle accelerator near Geneva to a lab 454 miles (730 km) away in Italy as having covered that distance "60 nanoseconds faster than the speed of light"; a nanosecond is a billionth of a second, and the speed of light (in a vacuum) is 300,000 km/s, or 0.0003 km/ns, so that means I guess that the neutrinos arrived in just 0.0024332733 seconds, rather than the 0.0024333333 seconds that light should have taken--although hopefully they were adjusting for altitude, air pressure, gravity, and so forth. Needless to say, the experiment's results and conclusion--that neutrinos travel faster than light--is being taken with quite a bit of skepticism, in large part because the idea that nothing travels faster than light is pretty much the foundation of modern physics, or something like that. Also, since the speed of light can vary depending on what it is moving through, I wonder if they fired a beam of light alongside the neutrinos, as a control--the article doesn't say. And I'm pretty sure that neutrino bursts from things like supernova explosions in space have been timed alongside visible light from the same source before and have not been found to be faster, except in that they get a bit of a jump start since they can move directly through all the material in the collapsing star, whereas the photons have to wait until the surrounding material disintegrates before they can escape; that's the principle behind the Supernova Early Warning System, in fact. Nothing like a theory-shattering claim to stir up some good science drama, though. :P