Sunday, April 29, 2007

Mind-controlled Toys in the Works

Engineers at NeuroSky Inc. are making toys that can be controlled using brain waves. In a demonstration in the company office in Silicon valley using a Darth Vader costume and lightsaber, an apparatus is worn like a tiara over the forehead (underneath the mask). This is what reads the brains electrical impulses and translates them into a wireless receiver in a toy light saber. The sword lights up whenever the player concentrates. If his attention wanders, the llight switches off. Developers say that it can have many other applicationss such as controlling an avatar in a computer game. To make it work, the player has to be calm and not get excited or nervous while playing. The technology does seem to be exciting, but if it will stifle the joy of playing, it may not be a hit to hardcore video gamers. The picture below shows NeuroSky staff Cynthia Lee using the product.

Hawking Finally Experiences Micro-gravity

Stephen Hawking, noted physicist who made groundbreaking theories on the structure and nature of the universe has finally had his wich come true to experience zero- or more accurately, micro-gravity. He flew in a plane which dived to allow passengers like him to literally float as if in outer space where gravity is negligible. The plane took off from the same runway where the Space Shuttle lands at the Kennedy Space Center. Hawking suffers amyotrophic lateral sclerosis disease which cost him use of his muscles. He talks with a machine.

Anyone for a Jet-Powered Toilet? When You Got to Go, You Go!

What's this contraption trailing heat waves and flame? Is it a new jet engine tester? A firefighter's simulation thing? No. no. no. It's a toilet, and it's made to go. Yes, if you need to go, you go along with it at jet speed! Built by Paul Stender, it uses an old 750-pound Boeing jet turbine! Stender was inspired as a young kid to make speedy things like this while watching racing snowmobiles.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Make Like a Chicken in Front of Your PC!

I stumbled upon this lately. This is an optical illusion of motion that will require your dynamic participation. Just look at the dot at the center and move your head forward and backward like what a chicken does and see the two rings rotate in opposite directions. Of course, the rings aren't really rotating. Your brain just laets you think they are. What's really moving is your head. Show it to others in the room and you'll have a blast watching them act like chickens in front of your monitor!

An Alien Pokemon World Deep in Inner Space

Mysteries of the Deep is a coffee table book, but not your typical one. If you're into science, particularly oceanography and marine biology, you would want to buy it immediately. One good reason is that it is chockful of the most amazing photographs of animals that live in the depths of the earth's oceans! It is edited by French film director Claire Nouvian and published by the University of Chicago. The blue creature pictured at left is the Vampyroteuthis infernalis, the "vampire squid from hell" as scientists call it. Perhaps it is because it has the ability to turn itself inside out by curling its tentacles over its head! Don't they all look like Pokemon characters?

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

People May Soon Be Able to Regrow Lost Limbs

Yasuhiko Kawakami of the Salk Institute of Biological Studies thinks he may have found a way for humans to regrow lost limbs like starfish and salamanders. They have a pathway of molecular signals that allow this ability. It has been called Wnt. Kawakami as well as molecular biologist Randall Moon says this pathway is also present in mammals like us. Kawakami found that by enhancing the activity of the Wnt pathway, he could encourage new wings to grow in embryonic chicks whose wings had been surgically removed. It has been known for a long time that children have the ability to regrow lost fingertips. As children mature over eleven years, they lose this capacity. The picture on the left shows an embryonic chicken with growing back after its removal.

Snakes Proliferate on Florida Island Despite Lack of Fresh Water

Here is a poisonous cottonmouth snake ready to strike with its fangs! This is just one of the dangerous snakes that thrive on Florida's Seahorse Key. About 600 vipers live around the 67-hectare island. Sometimes, there is an average of 22 cottonmouths on every palm tree-covered area! Indeed, it may be the most dangerous island in the region if snakes are the issue. Scientists have long wondered how these snakes live there with no fresh water and too few mammals to feed on. It is theorized that they live on the huge amounts of dead fish that the birds drop, vomit, and excrete every year. Wow, seafood-eating snakes!

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Nearly Earthlike Planet Found in Libra

A new extrasolar planet had been found by scientists in the contellation Libra. Named 581 c, it orbits brown dwarf star Gliese 581. It is similar to the Earth because its temperature range is estimated to be between 32 and 104 degrees F. It is five times heavier than the Earth and may be rocky or not. It is theorized that it has water and an atmosphere but what makes up the air is still unknown. The new planet is only 20.5 light years away. The star pictured on the left is another one in Libra which has a planetary system. Yes, Libra has more than one. The planet pictured above is an artist's depiction of an alien planet near a giant star.

Explosion on Sun Captured by the Hinode Spacecraft

This is what an X-class solar flare looks like as it erupts from sunspot 930. It is a tremendous explosion from the sun and is part of the most detailed movie of such phenomenon. The footage was taken by the Japanese Hinode spacecraft, which has been dubbed the Hubble Telescope for the Sun. The telescope can see features on the sun as small as 90 miles wide from its orbit 93 million miles away. On the left are animations of the flare zone of sunspot 930. The red arrows show the direction of the sunspot's magnetic field. The area shown is twice earth's size! Click on the image above to view the color video of the explosion.

Real Kryptonite Unearthed in Serbia

Scientists exploring in Serbia have discovered a new mineral which they say is composed of the same chemistry that were written in the display for a kryptonite meteorite in the movie Superman Returns. The composition is sodium lithium boron silicate hydroxide. Dr. Chris Stanley, a mineralogist at London's Natural History Museum says "I was amazed to discover that same scientific name written on a case of rock containing kryptonite stolen by Lex Luther from a museum in the film Superman Returns."

Unlike the fictional kryptonite, which is green and glows, the real one is powdery white and nonradioactive. It also won't be called Kryptonite. It will be called Jadarite.

For news about movies, go to

Monday, April 23, 2007

Fossil of a Giant Fungus Found in Saudi Arabia

Scientists have debated on what this monster of a fossil was. It is aout 350 million years old and was thought to be a primordial tree or part of it. Now they know it is really a giant fungus that can reach 20 feet and clings to trees. It is called Prototaxites. Analysis of its insides show that it is clearly not a plant with its interwoven tubes that are 50 microns across. The fossil was found in the desrt of Saudi Arabia. The giant was the largest-known organism of its time. It lived when wingless insects, millipedes, worms and other crawling things dominated. Backboned animals have not yet evolved form the earth's seas. Scientists say it is a strange world.

The Sun in Full 3D Revealed by NASA

The National Aeronautics and Space administration (NASA) has finally released the 3D pictures and movies of the sun made by the STEREO spacecraft. Pictured is a still of the full disk of the sun from one of the movies. You'll only be able to view the 3D effect in a proper venue with a couple of video stereo projectors. To view the STEREO spacecraft in full 3D using red and blue glasses, click here. For directions on how to make your own red and blue 3D glasses, click here.

Fossilized Rainforest Preserved in Coal Mine

Scientists called it a natural Sistine Chapel with the frescoes consisting of fossilized leaves, intserspersed with pillar-like trunks of trees long dead. Estimated to be 300 millin years old, the forest is mainly exposed on the ceiling of the mine shaft.

William DiMichele, curator of fossil plants at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History says "It was an amazing experience. We drove down the mine in an armored vehicle, until we were a hundred meters below the surface. The fossil forest was rooted on top of the coal seam, so where the coal had been mined away the fossilized forest was visible in the ceiling of the mine.”

Pictured is pteridosperm, an extinct seed-producing fern-like plant. It is courtesy of Howard Falcon-Lang. The unique find is located in Vermillion County, just south of Danville, Illinois in the US.

Space Suit Sent Into Orbit

Oh my gosh! It's a astronaut drifting away in space! No, that's not an astronaut. That's not even a cosmonaut. It's just an empty space suit sent into orbit as an experimental satellite. It has been dubbed SuitSat. A Russian radio operator thought it would be something else to stuff an old space suit with a radio transmitter, digitized recordings of children's voices, three batteries, and old laundry, then send it outside the station and into orbit. An antenna on the helmet broadcast the voices for over two weeks and were monitored by radio operators. It seems that space suits suit outer space very well. More suits to follow...

A Sail to Propel Spaships in Space

This is what spaceships may soon use to sail through the emptiness of outer space. It is actually a sail made of mylar that's even thinner than most trash bags. It is designed to capture solar winds or moving photons from sources like the Sun and even other stars to push a spaceship forward to its destination. The idea is sound and some forms of solar sails had already been tested by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). But it is hard to imagine this flimsy apparatus holding up in an extreme environment. Would it someday take humans to the nearest star? Columbus had a hard time sailing to the Americas. I'm sure whoever will use this sail will also have a hard time getting to his destination. The travel time will be very, very slow. The image is courtesy of David Higginbotham.

Bullet Bike Slices Through Air

What's this speeding along a track? Is it a plane? A rocket? A bullet? It's really a bicycle shaped like a bullet! These models are often made by enthusiasts for record-breaking speed attempts. This one was made by Canadian triathlete Greg Kolodziejzyk because he wanted to break the record for a human-powered vehicle (HPV). And he did break the 24-hour distance record! His bike had food, water and waste bags. At 70-pounds, it is capable of hitting 60 mph on a flat road.

Blue Holes Plunge Deep

What's this light at the end of the tunnel? This is really how it's like to be in an underwater cave that punges straight down for 200 feet. This kind of cave is called a blue hole. Pictured is one of the deepest in Abaco Island in the Bahamas, courtesy of Tamara Thomsen. The cave was formed during the last ice age in the Pleistocene Period when water melting from glaciers during a dramatic age of warming flooded vertical caves. Scientists hope to find lifeforms here that were long thought to be extinct.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

An Angry Blue Sun in Photos of the STEREO Spacecraft

These are false-color photos of solar prominence loops in a magnetically active region of the Sun. The image at the bottom gives a progressive view of solar radiation all the way to Earth's atmosphere. Such radiation can be dangerous since it can disable satellites, disrupt power grids and radio communications on earth and cause intense displays of aurora over the polar regions.

The photos were taken by were taken by a suite of five telescopes on the Solar Terrestrial Relations Observatory (STEREO) spacecraft, which were launched on October 25, 2006. They will soon provide full awe-inspiring 3D images of the Sun this April.
Scientists have predicted stronger solar storms starting this year with the coming peak of the 11-year storm cycle to be upon us by 2012. "We predict the next solar cycle will be 30 to 50 percent stronger than the last cycle," said Mausumi Dikpati, a solar scientist The last cycle peaked in 2001.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Superman's Fortess of Solitude on Earth is Real

Is this Superman's Fortress of Solitude? No. But it could very well be the movie's real life movie set. It is Cueva de los Cristales (Cave of Crystals) and it contains the world's largest known natural crystals of gypsum that are as long as 11 meters.

How did the crystals reach such super-sizes? For thousands of years, the crystals thrived in the cave's stable natural environment. Temperatures were a steamy 58 degrees Celsius. Because of the mineral-rich water, the growth of the crystals increased dramatically.

Inset is a picture of the fictional Fortress of Solitude from a Superman movie starring Christopher Reeve. For movie news, go to

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Vet's Hand Becomes Croc Snack

Yes, that's a hand in the crocodile's jaws. It actually belongs to his veterinarian. It's doctor, Chang Po-yu, was going to remove tranquilizer darts through the cage before treating the 200-kilogram reptile when it suddenly had the urge to snap and bite the hand off. Fortunately for Chang, shots were fired at the annoyed croc and it dropped the hand. Don't worry, the crocodile wasn't hit. Later, doctors reattached Chang's hand. Too bad for the crocodile, "there'd be no Chang Po him for lunch from now on!"

For a video of another veterinarian's arm getting bitten off by another crocodile, go to i-Mash.

Monday, April 16, 2007

Domo Resembles Short Circuit Movie Robot

For those who grew up in the Eighties, you are probably familiar with the robot Johnny-Five (left) that came to life in the movie series Short Circuit. Well what's compelling about that robot was its eyes. They were expressive eyes which made it more human. Now, there is a real robot that has even more realistic Sesame Street ogle-eyes. It has been called Domo (Japanese for "thank you") by the MIT developpers headed by Aaron Edsinger. Its eyes are actually a pair of video cameras connected to 21 computers. Domo is designed to be appealing, interactive and responsive to humans. It can identify objects and put them on shelves. The picture is credited to Donna Coveney. For more about movies, go to

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Balck Hole Eclipse Viewed in Fornax

Astronomers using the Chandra X-ray observatory of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) has photographed for the first time, a supermassive black hole in a state of eclipse with its disk of radioactive gas cloud. The eclipse occured in the galaxy NGC 1365 in the constellation Fornax, the furnace. The event gave them a glimpse into how black holes affect the matter around it.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Arsia Mons Volcano of Mars in 3D

This is a high-resolution picture of the caldera of Arsia Mons, one of the largest volcanos on Mars and in the solar system in terms of volume and challenged only by neighboring Olympus Mons (the tallest at 27 km above the surface plain). The greenish photo below is a 3D-ready image of a section of the volcano. If you have the right stereo specs like the one sometimes used in select 3D movies in theaters, you may also view this picture in depth, so to speak.

It was taken in 2004 by the Mars Express spacecraft using its High Resolution Stereo Camera (HRSC). The other picture below it shows Arsia Mons in relation to Olympus Mons. See how they compare visually in terms of size. Note that Arsia Mons does not have a defined extremity, but it's established diameter is at most 450 km. Olympus Mons, which has a more defined area, is 550 km wide. Still, Arsia Mons is recognized to have the largest caldera known at 120 km wide. Mauna Loa, the largest volcano on Earth, would fit snugly on top like a bottle cap.

Terrestrial Planet Finder to Find Earthlike Planets

Pictured are the National Aeronautics and Space Administration's (NASA) Terrestrial Planet Finder space telescopes.

NASA hopes to launch within ten to fifteen years the Terrestrial Planet Finder observatories which will work in space and study all aspects of planets outside the solar system, from their formation to their suitability to support life. The system is made up of two complementary observatories, a visible-light coronagraph (top) to be launched in 2014 and a formation-flying infrared interferometer (below) to launch before 2020.

Photo of Extrasolar Planets Revealed

This is an actual photo of the star GQ Lupi using Yepun, recognized on October 6, 2004. Yepun is one of the Very Large Array's (VLA) 8.2 meter telescopes. Based on astronomical models, the tiny white dot beside it is a young planet that's estimated to be a hundred thousand to two million years old. It's discoverers, Professor Ralph Neuhauser and his team, think that it is twice the diameter and mass of Jupiter. The picture on the left is an artistic depiction of how a planet is better "visible" in infrared light than in visible light. This is one reason why infrared telescopes can be better at finding extrasolar planets hidden by the glare of their parent star. Still, Neuhauser seems to have succeeded in taking a visual light photo of a one of them. Scientists have discovered at least 150 planets beyond the solar system and more are expected to be discovered.

Astronomers like the late Carl Sagan have promoted of the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI) program and pioneered the science of exobiology. But so far, none of the type like ours have been discovered.

Sagan believed that the Drake equation suggested that a large number of extraterrestrial civilizations would form, but that the lack of evidence of such civilizations (the Fermi paradox) suggests that technological civilizations tend to destroy themselves rather quickly. David Morrison, Senior Scientist of the NASA Astrobiology Institute (NAI) says that "if and when we do discover alien life, the possible relationships with life on Earth will be of prime scientific importance, such as whether such alien life uses genetic molecules like RNA and DNA."

While some say that Neuhauser is the first to have taken a photo of an extrasolar planet, an international European team of astronomers has confirmed that the photo below, taken in September 2004 was really the first picture of an extrasolar planet orbiting brown dwarf 2M1207 (named GPCC at the time).

So, who really took the very first picture? Maybe we should just credit them all.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Asteroid Grand Tour Determined by Scientists

Pictured is asteroid Ida with its small moon, 1993(2433)1 Dactyl, or simply Dactyl. Yes, here is an asteroid with a tiny asteroid orbiting around it. Scientists have been wanting to study asteroids even more these days. The problem is that there are too many of them and launching a space probe to any one of them may prove to be too expensive for such a small target with little expected scientific returns. Thus, they have decided to get teams to come up with an Asteroid Grand Tour in which an unmanned spacecraft shall visit at least four of a single or related type in an optimized manner.

The winning trajectory was identified by a team from the Polytechnic of Turin, Italy. Two professors, Lorenzo Casalino and Guido Colasurdo, along with Ph.D. student Matteo Rosa Sentinella and graduate student Francesco Cacciatore, successfully eliminated billions of possible asteroid trips to focus on the most practical ones. Their winning proposal, involves visits to four different asteroids in over nine years.

The Global Trajectory Optimisation Competition was instituted in 2005 by Dario Izzo of the European Space Agency's Advanced Concepts Team.