July 18, 2015

CRISPR DNA editing system controlled by light

Japanese researchers led by University of Tokyo chemist Moritoshi Sato have refined the CRISPR-Cas9 method by developing alight-activated Cas9 nuclease, a technological advancement that significantly improves scientists’ ability to hone in on target genes for research. Converging these two methods brings specificity on a new level, making for increased spatial and temporal control over the system. Essentially providing scientists with an on/off switch for genes, this new method brings unprecedented precision to gene editing, something scientists have been seeking for. Scientists involved in the research engineered photoreceptors that developed pairs of photo switches called Magnets. These magnets were specifically designed to recognize each other based on electrostatic interactions. These interactions can be activated by light, thereby providing a way to analyze specific genes without activating or inactivating unnecessary DNA components. With these Magnets, Sato’s team was able to engineer a photoactivatable Cas9 nuclease (paCas9) for light-controlled genome editing.

The issue with the current version of the Cas9 nuclease is that it does not allow scientists to hone in on specific cells in specific areas. Difficult to control, the CRISPR-Cas9 system sans Optogenetics was not the most effective way for researchers to learn about the genome. In order to create this new, innovative method, Sato and his team split the Cas9 protein in half, inactivating it and pairing each half with a Magnet. When activated by blue light, the Magnets came together, pushing both halves of the Cas9 nuclease together. Now active, the new complex is now light activated and can turn on and off in the presence or absence of this blue light. Working to expand the colors of light compatible with the system, Sato and his team are working to continue to make genome editing more flexible.

Nature Biotechnology - Photoactivatable CRISPR-Cas9 for optogenetic genome editing

Commercial Exoskeletons for workers from Panasonic, BMW, Audi and others

The Japanese company Panasonic announced recently that it will start selling an exoskeleton designed to help workers lift and carry objects more easily and with less risk of injury. The suit was developed in collaboration with a subsidiary company called ActiveLink. It weighs just over 13 pounds and attaches to the back, thighs, and feet, enabling the wearer to carry 33 pounds of extra load. The device has been tested by warehouse handlers in Osaka, Japan, and is currently in trials with forestry workers in the region.

Though they have mainly been tested in medical and military settings, the technology is starting to move beyond these use niches, and it could make a difference for many manual laborers.

The Panasonic suit includes a lightweight carbon-fiber motor; sensors activate the motor when the wearer is lifting or carrying an object. With ActiveLink, the company is testing another, much larger suit designed to help carry loads as heavy as 220 pounds.

ActiveLink also has dual arm Powerloader Exoskeletons

Frozen Plains in the Heart of Pluto’s ‘Heart’

In the latest data from NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft, a new close-up image of Pluto reveals a vast, craterless plain that appears to be no more than 100 million years old, and is possibly still being shaped by geologic processes. This frozen region is north of Pluto’s icy mountains, in the center-left of the heart feature, informally named “Tombaugh Regio” (Tombaugh Region) after Clyde Tombaugh, who discovered Pluto in 1930.

“This terrain is not easy to explain,” said Jeff Moore, leader of the New Horizons Geology, Geophysics and Imaging Team (GGI) at NASA’s Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, California. “The discovery of vast, craterless, very young plains on Pluto exceeds all pre-flyby expectations.”

This fascinating icy plains region -- resembling frozen mud cracks on Earth -- has been informally named “Sputnik Planum” (Sputnik Plain) after the Earth’s first artificial satellite. It has a broken surface of irregularly-shaped segments, roughly 12 miles (20 kilometers) across, bordered by what appear to be shallow troughs. Some of these troughs have darker material within them, while others are traced by clumps of hills that appear to rise above the surrounding terrain. Elsewhere, the surface appears to be etched by fields of small pits that may have formed by a process called sublimation, in which ice turns directly from solid to gas, just as dry ice does on Earth.

In the center left of Pluto’s vast heart-shaped feature – informally named “Tombaugh Regio” - lies a vast, craterless plain that appears to be no more than 100 million years old, and is possibly still being shaped by geologic processes. This frozen region is north of Pluto’s icy mountains and has been informally named Sputnik Planum (Sputnik Plain), after Earth’s first artificial satellite. The surface appears to be divided into irregularly-shaped segments that are ringed by narrow troughs. Features that appear to be groups of mounds and fields of small pits are also visible. This image was acquired by the Long Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI) on July 14 from a distance of 48,000 miles (77,000 kilometers). Features as small as one-half mile (1 kilometer) across are visible. The blocky appearance of some features is due to compression of the image. Credits: NASA/JHUAPL/SWRI

Drilling 10 times faster than ever before with hypervelocity projectiles from ram accelerators

Rocket scientist Mark Russell sees a future where humans harness the earth's energy to travel the cosmos. "Human beings will eventually be a space-faring people," says Russell. "The energy required to go out of our planet and elsewhere is substantial. We will not be using oil and gas for that."

Russell is drilling deeper than ever before in pursuit of fossil fuels. That's because his company, HyperSciences, is funded through Shell's GameChanger program. HyperSciences' product is a high-velocity projectile that Russell hopes will one day help access geothermal energy, a clean, renewable energy source that eventually could replace the oil and gas he's currently seeking.

Russell comes from an Idaho mining family that has been breaking through hard mineral deposits for generations. He and his brother, Matt, dug two 11,300-foot-deep holes, the deepest in North America. Growing up in Kellogg, Idaho, and later Spokane Valley, Russell remembers taking apart his toy airplanes and putting rockets in them.

He earned his master's in aeronautics and astronautics at Stanford and moved to the Seattle area, where he designed airplanes and spaceships for Boeing and Kistler Aerospace. He then went to work for visionary Jeff Bezos' space exploration project Blue Origin, designing a takeoff and landing vehicle that is now on display in the Museum of Flight. In aerospace, you're either working for a mega-corporation that is doing one specific thing, Russell says, "or you work for a billionaire who has their vision for where they want to take their company in 20 years."

Hypersciences is focused on developing the drilling technology, which could be licensed to key suppliers or used directly by HyperSciences to produce geothermal energy. Russell said you must dig 5 kilometers (roughly 3 miles) into the earth to do so. At that depth, rocks are hot enough without being radioactive. To transfer the energy, you use water to bring steam to the earth’s surface. From there, a turbine captures the steam and turns it into energy.

HyperSciences has received roughly $1 million in grants from Shell’s GameChanger program, which supports unproven ideas that may impact the future of energy. The next round of funding came from angel investors, including the Alliance of Angels in Spokane, W Funds, Washington Research Foundation and Seattle tech entrepreneur Mike McSherry, who most recently sold his company Swype to Nuance Communications.

Information on the Ram Accelerator for drilling from the patent

Conventional drilling and excavation techniques used for penetrating materials typically rely on mechanical bits used to cut or grind at a working face.

Nanowires give 'solar fuel cell' efficiency a tenfold boost

A solar cell that produces fuel rather than electricity. Researchers at Eindhoven University of Technology (TU/e) and FOM Foundation today present a very promising prototype of this in the journal Nature Communications. The material gallium phosphide enables their solar cell to produce the clean fuel hydrogen gas from liquid water. Processing the gallium phosphide in the form of very small nanowires is novel and helps to boost the yield by a factor of ten. And does so using ten thousand times less precious material.

The electricity produced by a solar cell can be used to set off chemical reactions. If this generates a fuel, then one speaks of solar fuels - a hugely promising replacement for polluting fuels. One of the possibilities is to split liquid water using the electricity that is generated (electrolysis). Among oxygen, this produces hydrogen gas that can be used as a clean fuel in the chemical industry or combusted in fuel cells - in cars for example - to drive engines

Array of nanowires gallium phosphide made with an electron microscope. Credit: Eindhoven University of Technology

Nature Communications - Efficient water reduction with gallium phosphide nanowires.

President Xi Jinping targets making China a developed country by 2050 and achieving unification with Taiwan by 2049

China is set to become more proactive in efforts to ensure global security and make a positive contribution, with a target of achieving cross-strait unification before the People's Republic of China marks the 100th anniversary of its founding in 2049.

The ultimate goal in Xi's strategy is to establish China as a developed country by 2050, a leader in building order in the region and a key player in maintaining global security. As Xi considers the Taiwan issue as part of China's national security, Taiwan should not overlook the significance of Beijing's recent moves to push for greater integration.

The goal during the second phase before the Communist Party of China celebrates the 100th anniversary of its founding in 2020 is to modernize the government, raise public income levels and assume a role in shaping regional and global security.

Beijing has also recently waived the entry permit requirement for Taiwanese planning to travel to China, while establishing a pilot free trade zone in Fujian province and encouraging young Taiwanese to start businesses there.

Progress towards a perfect lens with metamaterials

, researchers at Michigan Technological University have found a way to possibly solve one of the biggest challenges for creating perfect optical lens, getting light waves to pass through the lens without getting consumed. The journal Physical Review Letters published their study this July and is a continuation of work done by Durdu Güney, a professor of electrical and computer engineering at Michigan Tech.

A practical superlens, super lens or perfect lens, is a lens which uses metamaterials to go beyond the diffraction limit. The diffraction limit is an inherent limitation in conventional optical devices or lenses.

There has previously been experimental work that has imaged 40 nanometer objects using visible wavelengths.

The Promise of Metamaterials

Metamaterials are often based on natural materials but can be altered to have completely different optical properties. Metamaterials go beyond the limits of natural materials such as glass, plastic, metal or wood. To do that, the base used for making a metamaterial--like the thin silver films Güney's group uses--that are tweaked at the subwavelength scale so that light waves interact with the material in new ways. While no one has created a perfect lens yet, the metal base Güney tests would look more like a traditional glass lens; light would pass through instead of reflecting off the metal.

"Aluminum and silver are the best choices so far in the visible light spectrum, not just for a perfect lens but all metamaterials," Güney says, explaining metamaterials have been successfully created with these metals, although they still tend to absorb light waves. "Loss--or the undesired absorption of light--is good in solar cells, but bad in a lens because it deteriorates the waves."

The solution for a sharper image then is to offer up a sacrificial light wave.

Negative Index Metamaterials Solution

The solution to absorption is all in the light waves themselves, which behave strangely in metamaterials. To create their sci-fi light-bending properties, a perfect lens relies on negative index metamaterials. Positive and negative refer to how a material responds to propagating and decaying light waves, which are like the yin and yang of optics. Most materials--positive index materials--allow only propagating light waves to pass through. Negative index metamaterials on the other hand don't just pass through propagating light waves but also amplify the decaying light waves.

"In order for the perfect lens to work, you have to satisfy a lot of electromagnetic constraints," Güney explains. "We don't know how exactly the required optical modes [light waves in the material] need to be excited and protected in the lens for the perfect construction of an image."

Pathway to terahertz graphene transistors

. A team of scientists at the Max Planck Institute for Polymer Research (MPI-P) discovered that electrical conduction in graphene on the picosecond timescale - a picosecond being one thousandth of one billionth of a second - is governed by the same basic laws that describe the thermal properties of gases. This much simpler thermodynamic approach to the electrical conduction in graphene will allow scientists and engineers not only to better understand but also to improve the performance of graphene-based nanoelectronic devices.

The researchers found that the energy of ultrafast electrical currents passing through graphene is very efficiently converted into electron heat, making graphene electrons behave just like a hot gas. "The heat is distributed evenly over all electrons. And the rise in electronic temperature, caused by the passing currents, in turn has a strong effect on the electrical conduction of graphene" explains Professor Mischa Bonn, Director at the MPI-P.

Essentials of the thermodynamic effect on ultrafast transport in graphene.

Nature Communications - Thermodynamic picture of ultrafast charge transport in graphene

Constructions and other activity around China's next two aircraft carriers

June, 2015 photographs, show the beginnings of the hull of what has been called the Type 001A carrier taking form in the Dalian shipyard.

The shipyard appears to be employing a pyramid method of hull construction. Most civilian ships adopt a block method of hull construction for speed. As shipbuilding standards have improved, large military destroyers have also adopted this method of construction. The pyramid method of construction suggested by the photographs likely means that the project entails a greater level of difficulty than other civilian or military ships. The US still uses the pyramid method to build its carriers.

According to Western media reports, the Type 001A carrier incorporates an additional double rectangle structure, which, analysts say, is to allow for the installation of China's new X band active electronically scanned array radar system. The radar system, which will likely be installed on the second deck of the ship, will give the ship 360 degree coverage, making it more advanced than the Liaoning, the country's first aircraft carrier refitted from the hulk of a Soviet-era carrier purchased from Ukraine.

Shipyards for second and third aircraft carriers

China's first domestically produced aircraft carrier will be built by Dalian Shipyard, Chinese media reported, adding that there are several reasons for it to become the building base for aircraft carriers.

The first reason is that the Liaoning, which marks China's entry into the "world's aircraft carrier club," was repaired, maintained and converted at the shipyard, which has a workforce of engineers and skilled workers.

Secondly, the Dalian yard has built China's first missile submarine, speedboat and missile destroyer, as well as supply vessels.

Jiangnan Shipyard will likely build China's second domestically-built aircraft carrier.

The Dalian shipyard emerged because of its edge in the experience of design and production. Most of the parts of the Liaoning, especially the production of key equipment, came from the industrial unit of the Dalian facility.

China will require six years to build an aircraft carrier of its own and the next four aircraft carriers will boost the country blue-water naval capacity.

Although China's blue-water navy capacity is still limited, reports said the water displacement of the second domestically-built carrier will be 59,000 tons, equal to the Liaoning, which is already in service and can carry 22 fixed-wing fighters.

Training facility for aircraft carrier crews

Chongming island appears to be the likely training base for aircraft carrier crews.

ReWalk has a new exoskeleton for people with spinal cord injury

The new ReWalk Personal 6.0 battery-powered system features a light, wearable exoskeleton with motors at the hip and knee joints. The ReWalker controls movement using subtle changes in his/her center of gravity. A forward tilt of the upper body is sensed by the system, which initiates the first step. Repeated body shifting generates a sequence of steps which mimics a functional natural gait of the legs with walking speeds as high as .71 m/s (1.6 mph/ 2.6 km/h).

“The launch of the 6.0 offers those with spinal cord injury an exoskeleton design that fits better, walks faster and has better gait control than prior generations of the product,” said ReWalk’s CEO Larry Jasinski. “Our design efforts are built on many years of user experience with a philosophy of offering an outstanding product for use in all aspects of everyday life. The enhanced design of the 6.0 offers highly customized fittings, and software to better match the size and anatomy of each individual user, providing a better walking experience than any prior design and over any other known products in clinical trials around the world.”

The ReWalk Personal 6.0 is available now, priced at US$77,500.

July 17, 2015

Engineers give invisibility cloaks a slimmer design

Researchers have developed a new design for a cloaking device that overcomes some of the limitations of existing “invisibility cloaks.” In a new study, electrical engineers at the University of California, San Diego have designed a cloaking device that is both thin and does not alter the brightness of light around a hidden object. The technology behind this cloak will have more applications than invisibility, such as concentrating solar energy and increasing signal speed in optical communications.

“Invisibility may seem like magic at first, but its underlying concepts are familiar to everyone. All it requires is a clever manipulation of our perception,” said Boubacar Kanté, a professor in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering at the UC San Diego Jacobs School of Engineering and the senior author of the study. “Full invisibility still seems beyond reach today, but it might become a reality in the near future thanks to recent progress in cloaking devices.”

An extremely thin cloaking device is designed using dielectric materials. The cloak is a thin Teflon sheet (light blue) embedded with many small, cylindrical ceramic particles (dark blue). Credit: Li-Yi Hsu/UC San Diego.

The reflection pattern from an uncloaked object on a flat surface (top) compared to the reflection pattern of the same object covered with the cloaking device (bottom), which effectively mimics the reflection from a completely flat surface. Credit: Li-Yi Hsu/UC San Diego

Extremely thin Dielectric Metasurface for carpet cloaking

Despite progress of solar and wind power over the last few decades coal power and emissions have grown faster

Global emissions are still rising and they have risen faster since 2000 than they were rising from 1970 to 1999

No one at last week’s UN climate conference thought the summit would deliver a deal to stop global temperatures rising more than 2 °C – generally considered to be the threshold above which catastrophic consequences are inevitable.

Instead, some called for Plan B: a global pricing system for carbon that is high enough to kill coal once and for all.

Some have claimed the opposite recently, heralding a report by the International Energy Agency finding that global energy-related emissions had not risen for the first time in 2014, even as the economy grew.

But Edenhofer thinks the 2014 figures could well be revised upwards. And even if they’re right, it was probably a blip rather than a turning point, he told New Scientist: “One year is not a good indicator.”

Even if carbon prices were introduced tomorrow, it is unlikely to be enough. Some politicians are still talking about limiting warming to 1.5 °C, but scientists now regard this as fantasy. “I’m struggling for words to characterise the 1.5-degree target,” said Thomas Stocker of the University of Bern, Switzerland. Even the 2 °C target has become “extremely ambitious”, he says.

Just about every scenario leading to 2 °C either assumes global emissions peaked around 2010 – they didn’t – or requires “negative emissions” (see “The dirty secret of 2 °C scenarios“). So achieving it requires either time travel or geoengineering, Kevin Anderson of the University of Manchester told the conference.

Nextbigfuture has indicated that it is ten to twenty times cheaper to reduce soot (soot darkens ice which increases melting and increases temperature by absorbing more heat instead of reflecting it into space).

Warming from soot is nearly equal to current warming from CO2.

There also needs be a massive scaling of nuclear energy.

City scale geoengineering can also be started and other geoengineering tests.

China largest telecom and 21 chinese cities are deploying multi-kilowatt wireless charging network for electric vehicles

ZTE Corporation, China’s largest listed telecommunications equipment company, is developing high-power wireless charging systems and services for electric vehicles, with a focus on public charging infrastructure. At a China-US workshop on electric vehicle standardization held in June (earlier post), Academus Tian, VP of ZTE New Energy Vehicle Co., presented an overview of ZTE’s efforts in wireless power transfer (WPT).

Tian said that ZTE’s inductive charging WPT module has a potential capacity of up to 30 kW, with a gap of 20 cm and efficiency of up to 90%. The footprint of the device is less than 1 m2; frequency is 85 kHz. ZTE, which has aggressively partnered with a number of passenger and commercial vehicles makers over the past few years, has recently launched a series of commercial vehicle (bus) WPT trials.

In March 2015, ZTE partnered with Hauer Auto to launch a wireless charging bus demonstration in a frigid climate (Changchung, with winter working temperatures around -26 ˚C (-14.8 ˚F)), using three 45-seat city buses on a 15.6 km (9.7 miles) route.

Also in March 2015, ZTE launched the trial of the largest capacity wireless charging system yet: 20 chargers that can support up to 100 12.5 meter buses in Zhengzhou.

Finally, the company is developing another trial at its own headquarters, with two charges supporting shuttle buses on the 12 km HQ-R&D line. The vehicle partner is Wuzhoulong Vehicle.

Tian said that the local governments in about 21 cities have already signed MOUs to deploy wireless charging solutions for pubic transportation; there are six cities in which WPT has already been launched.

July 16, 2015

Over 5000 base pairs were inserted into mammalian cells using a simplified end joining process

Mammalian cells are widely used for the production of therapeutic recombinant proteins, as these cells facilitate accurate folding and post-translational modifications often essential for optimum activity. Targeted insertion of a plasmid harboring a gene of interest into the genome of mammalian cells for the expression of a desired protein is a key step in production of such biologics. Researchers have shown that a site specific double strand break (DSB) generated both in the genome and the donor plasmid using the CRISPR-Cas9 system can be efficiently used to target ∼5 kb plasmids into mammalian genomes via nonhomologous end joining (NHEJ). They were able to achieve efficiencies of up to 0.17% in HEK293 cells and 0.45% in CHO cells. This technique holds promise for quick and efficient insertion of a large foreign DNA sequence into a predetermined genomic site in mammalian cells

The potential advantages of the CRISPR-Cas technology over ZFNs and TALENs are that it is relatively low cost, less time consuming, and does not require complicated protein engineering.

The results demonstrate the feasibility of CRISPR-Cas mediated gene insertion in HEK293 and CHO cells without the need of homologous sequence arms. While the efficiency (colonies per treated cell) of integration was not very high, it is high enough to make recombinant clone isolation without a selective marker feasible; these data encourage us to seek conditions that may improve on this frequency. Even as is, this system may prove useful for the genetic engineering of cultured mammalian cells for the production of high levels of recombinant proteins. For instance, one could target a highly active endogenous gene so as to expropriate its promoter for the production of a protein of interest. Although these ends could be achieved by homologous recombination, the use of NHEJ is simpler to implement as the plasmid vectors would be more easily constructed, or indeed extant plasmids could be used.

Promoter complementation selection. gRNAs were designed to target the region upstream of the promoter-less Puro gene provided by pFW (grey rectangles) in the HEK293 genome (solid line) and the region downstream of the CMV promoter on the pIC3 plasmid (white rectangles). The gRNA target sequences in the genome and in the plasmid are shown by thick vertical black lines representing the two different sequences at each of the two target sites. This assay ensures that only site-specific integration in proper orientation can give rise puromycin resistance. Protospacer adjacent motif (PAM) bases are in grey and the expected DSBs 3 nucleotides upstream to the PAM are shown as dotted lines.

Biotechnology and Bioengineering - CRISPR-Cas targeted plasmid integration into mammalian cells via non-homologous end joining

World income distribution shows progress against poverty and increased average world income

Our World in data shows the progress against poverty made over the last couple of hundred years. Before 1500 there was virtually no progress made against poverty.

This data shows that even with slower 5-7.5% annual GDP growth in China and 6-8% in India and 4-7% in some other south asian countries there will be significant catchup for people in those countries over the next few decades.

Max Roser (2015) – ‘Inequality between World Citizens’. Published online at OurWorldInData.org. Retrieved from: http://ourworldindata.org/data/growth-and-distribution-of-prosperity/inequality-between-world-citizens/ [Online Resource]

* In 1820 only few countries achieved economic growth. The chart shows that the majority of the world lived in poverty with an income similar to the poorest countries in Africa today (around 500 International Dollars). The data entry on global poverty shows that in 1820 between 85% and 95% of the world lived in absolute poverty.

* In the year 1950, 150 years later, the world has changed – it became very unequal. The world income distribution has become bimodal. It has the shape of a camel. One hump at around 500 International Dollars and a second hump at around 5,000 International Dollars – the world was divided into a poor developing world and a 10-times richer developed world.

* Over the following 3 decades the world income distribution has again changed dramatically. The poorer countries, especially in South-East Asia, have caught up. The two-humped camel shaped has changed into a one-humped dromedar shape. World income inequality has declined. And not only is the world more equal again, the distribution has also shifted to the right – the world is much richer.

Broadband surface-wave transformation cloak - Molding acoustic, electromagnetic and water waves with a single cloak

Two experiments demonstrating that a cylindrical cloak formerly introduced for linear surface liquid waves works equally well for sound and electromagnetic waves. This structured cloak behaves like an acoustic cloak with an effective anisotropic density and an electromagnetic cloak with an effective anisotropic permittivity, respectively. Measured forward scattering for pressure and magnetic fields are in good agreement and provide first evidence of broadband cloaking. Microwave experiments and 3D electromagnetic wave simulations further confirm reduced forward and backscattering when a rectangular metallic obstacle is surrounded by the structured cloak for cloaking frequencies between 2.6 and 7.0 GHz. This suggests, as supported by 2D finite element simulations, sound waves are cloaked between 3 and 8 KHz and linear surface liquid waves between 5 and 16 Hz. Moreover, microwave experiments show the field is reduced by 10 to 30 dB inside the invisibility region, which suggests the multi-wave cloak could be used as a protection against water, sonic or microwaves.

The cloak could have potential applications in telecommunications (protection against mobile phone radiations) and soundproof devices (humans are most sensitive to sound waves of frequencies between 2 and 5 kHz). The design could also be scaled down in order to achieve cloaking at optical wavelengths, what would require an analysis of cloak’s dispersion.

Since the cloak works both in acoustic and microwave domains, it might offer new opportunities to drive and tune one field with the other one: for instance if the fluid within which pressure waves propagate is no longer air but some gas plasma or liquid electrolyte, we might be able to tune the density profile by microwave signals. On larger scales, control of sound and elastic waves could be used in anti-earthquake designs if protection is achieved via cloaking with seismic metamaterials34, that is for frequencies below 50 Hz. Finally, we note that preliminary numerical simulations suggest our cloak should also work in the context of management of thermal flux.

Guiding surface electromagnetic waves around disorder without disturbing the wave amplitude or phase is in great demand for modern photonic and plasmonic devices. In this work, we introduce a class of cloaks capable of remarkable broadband surface electromagnetic waves guidance around ultrasharp corners and bumps with no perceptible changes in amplitude and phase. This work provides strong support for the application of transformation optics to plasmonic circuits and could pave the way for high-performance, large-scale integrated photonic circuits.

Abstract - Broadband surface-wave transformation cloak
Guiding surface electromagnetic waves around disorder without disturbing the wave amplitude or phase is in great demand for modern photonic and plasmonic devices, but is fundamentally difficult to realize because light momentum must be conserved in a scattering event. A partial realization has been achieved by exploiting topological electromagnetic surface states, but this approach is limited to narrow-band light transmission and subject to phase disturbances in the presence of disorder. Recent advances in transformation optics apply principles of general relativity to curve the space for light, allowing one to match the momentum and phase of light around any disorder as if that disorder were not there. This feature has been exploited in the development of invisibility cloaks. An ideal invisibility cloak, however, would require the phase velocity of light being guided around the cloaked object to exceed the vacuum speed of light—a feat potentially achievable only over an extremely narrow band. In this work, we theoretically and experimentally show that the bottlenecks encountered in previous studies can be overcome. We introduce a class of cloaks capable of remarkable broadband surface electromagnetic waves guidance around ultrasharp corners and bumps with no perceptible changes in amplitude and phase. These cloaks consist of specifically designed nonmagnetic metamaterials and achieve nearly ideal transmission efficiency over a broadband frequency range from 0+ to 6 GHz. This work provides strong support for the application of transformation optics to plasmonic circuits and could pave the way toward high-performance, large-scale integrated photonic circuits.

Broadband surface-wave transformation cloak

scientists at Zhejiang University in Hangzhou, China, Nanyang Technological University, Singapore, and Massachusetts Institute of Technology created (so-called invisibility) cloaks based on specifically-designed nonmagnetic anisotropic, or directionally dependent, metamaterials that achieve nearly ideal transmission efficiency over a broadband frequency range.

Breeding improvement in animals for insight into genetic enhancement for humans and looks positive for Transhuman genetic engineering of superintelligence

Selective breeding has been used on animals for hundreds of years and statistical methods for breeding selection has been used for over one hundred years.

“Over the past 15 years, sprinters have improved faster than over the previous 150 years,” says Patrick Sharman of the University of Exeter.

Sharman and Alastair Wilson, also at Exeter, analysed 616,084 race times in the UK by 70,388 horses between 1850 and 2012. They then took a closer look at races between 1997 and 2012, for which more extensive and accurate data was available, including the speeds of non-winners inferred from finishing times.

The results show that since 1850, the speeds of winning horses in elite races have improved by 9-13 per cent, depending on the distance run. Winning horses now run between 1.5 and 2 meters per second faster than their counterparts did in 1850.

In the period between 1997 and 2012, sprinters improved most, adding 0.1 per cent to their speeds per year. Non-winners improved, too, adding between 0.03 and 0.09 per cent to their speeds per year.

A 2012 horse would beat a 1997 horse in a sprint race by around 17 meters. The average winning margin in elite races is just 3 meters.

“The annual rates of improvement are very small, despite the attentions not only of breeders and genetic improvement but also of vets, nutritionists and other animal scientists,” says William Hill of the University of Edinburgh. “It contrasts with rates of improvement in farm livestock, with annual genetic change in growth of broilers and milk yields of cattle exceeding 1 per cent a year.”

Various studies on human twins show many traits there is no detectable non-additivity. That is, gene-gene interactions seem to be insignificant, and a simple linear genetic architecture is consistent with the results.

Linear predictive models in animal breeding for over one hundred years.

This means that as we sequence and compare genes for millions of people around 2020-2022 then we will identify the thousands of genes involved in intelligence. These intelligence genes will mostly be additive. We can identify the good genes that contribute to make people more intelligent.

Pluto moon Hydra imaged as a potato-shaped moon measuring 43 by 33 kilometers

Since its discovery in 2005, Pluto's moon Hydra has been known only as a fuzzy dot of uncertain shape, size, and reflectivity. Imaging obtained during New Horizons' historic transit of the Pluto-Charon system and transmitted to Earth early this morning has definitively resolved these fundamental properties of Pluto's outermost moon. Long Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI) observations revealed an irregularly shaped body characterized by significant brightness variations over the surface. With a resolution of 2 miles (3 kilometers) per pixel, the LORRI image shows the tiny potato-shaped moon measures 27 miles (43 kilometers) by 20 miles (33 kilometers).

Like that of Charon, Hydra's surface is probably covered with water ice, the most abundant ice in the universe. Observed within Hydra's bright regions is a darker circular structure with a diameter of approximately 6 miles (10 kilometers). Hydra's reflectivity (the percentage of incident light reflected from the surface) is intermediate between that of Pluto and Charon. "New Horizons has finally nailed the basic physical properties of Hydra," says Hal Weaver, New Horizons Project Scientist and LORRI science operations lead. "We're going to see Hydra even better in the images yet to come."

Hydra was approximately 400,000 miles away from New Horizons when the image was acquired.

LPP Fusion has resumed dense plasma fusion test firing now using the new tungsten electrode

The Tungsten electrode has been attached and tests shots are being made with the LPP Fusion dense plasma fusion experiments.

The connection of the Tungsten electrode show extremely low electrical resistance, no more at any point than 18 micro-ohms, and good mechanical strength. This ensures that the cathode can safely take up to 1.6 MA of current, enough for the planned experiments.

With just a dozen shots performed so far, they can draw only very preliminary conclusions from our results. The first is that impurities do indeed seem to have dropped significantly with the new electrodes—the first main goal of the new experiments. Impurities appear to be the basic obstacle to high fusion yields, as they disrupt the filaments that are the first stage of compression of the plasma. The optical spectra obtained in the new experiments show peaks at wavelengths characteristic of tungsten, but at roughly ten times less abundance than the copper and silver impurities seen in shots with the old electrodes.

While a tenfold reduction in impurities—to about one impurity ion for 500 deuterium ions—is a good start, it is not what Lerner calculated would be needed to preserve the filaments, nor what theory and previous experiments indicate can be achieved. For that, a 50-100 fold reduction in impurities is required, or 5-10 times less impurity than that has been achieved so far. Indeed, the initial results show the same symptoms of impurity—an “early beam” before the main pinch, and a slower motion of the current sheath, as had been observed with the old electrodes, although the early beam seems much smaller in the new shots. Given continued impurities, it is no surprise that fusion yields of about 1/8 of joule of energy are no higher than the best results observed with copper electrodes.

A possible source of inpurities might be a very thin layer of tungsten oxide—too thin to be seen or removed during the electrodes’ cleaning. Tungsten oxide dissociates at 1970 C, far below tungsten’s vaporization point of 5500 C, so an oxide layer will be far more fragile. The oxide layer might well give rise to the tungsten in the plasma as well. If this is the case, repeated firing will burn the oxide layer off and impurities will fall.

There are some hints that this may be happening, as x-ray emission and the pressure “pop” are falling as fusion yields are rising over the course of the first shots. But only more firing will confirm or refute this idea. The research team expects that as kinks are worked out of the system, firing will proceed more quickly, eventually reaching a goal of about 30 shots per week.

Lack of crater's on Charon indicate a youthful surface less than 100 million yers old

Remarkable new details of Pluto’s largest moon Charon are revealed in this image from New Horizons’ Long Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI), taken late on July 13, 2015 from a distance of 289,000 miles (466,000 kilometers).

A swath of cliffs and troughs stretches about 600 miles (1,000 kilometers) from left to right, suggesting widespread fracturing of Charon’s crust, likely a result of internal processes. At upper right, along the moon’s curving edge, is a canyon estimated to be 4 to 6 miles (7 to 9 kilometers) deep.

Mission scientists are surprised by the apparent lack of craters on Charon. South of the moon’s equator, at the bottom of this image, terrain is lit by the slanting rays of the sun, creating shadows that make it easier to distinguish topography. Even here, however, relatively few craters are visible, indicating a relatively young surface that has been reshaped by geologic activity.

In Charon’s north polar region, a dark marking prominent in New Horizons’ approach images is now seen to have a diffuse boundary, suggesting it is a thin deposit of dark material. Underlying it is a distinct, sharply bounded, angular feature; higher resolution images still to come are expected to shed more light on this enigmatic region.

The image has been compressed to reduce its file size for transmission to Earth. In high-contrast areas of the image, features as small as 3 miles (5 kilometers) across can be seen. Some lower-contrast detail is obscured by the compression of the image, which may make some areas appear smoother than they really are. The uncompressed version still resides in New Horizons’ computer memory and is scheduled to be transmitted at a later date.

Pluto's mountains and closeup of Charon indicate likely relatively recent geological activity

Icy mountains on Pluto and a new, crisp view of its largest moon, Charon, are among the several discoveries announced Wednesday by NASA's New Horizons team, just one day after the spacecraft’s first ever Pluto flyby.

"Pluto New Horizons is a true mission of exploration showing us why basic scientific research is so important," said John Grunsfeld, associate administrator for NASA's Science Mission Directorate in Washington. "The mission has had nine years to build expectations about what we would see during closest approach to Pluto and Charon. Today, we get the first sampling of the scientific treasure collected during those critical moments, and I can tell you it dramatically surpasses those high expectations."

“Home run!” said Alan Stern, principal investigator for New Horizons at the Southwest Research Institute (SwRI) in Boulder, Colorado. “New Horizons is returning amazing results already. The data look absolutely gorgeous, and Pluto and Charon are just mind blowing."

A new close-up image of an equatorial region near the base of Pluto’s bright heart-shaped feature shows a mountain range with peaks jutting as high as 11,000 feet (3,500 meters) above the surface of the icy body.

The mountains on Pluto likely formed no more than 100 million years ago -- mere youngsters in a 4.56-billion-year-old solar system. This suggests the close-up region, which covers about one percent of Pluto’s surface, may still be geologically active today.
New close-up images of a region near Pluto’s equator reveal a giant surprise -- a range of youthful mountains rising as high as 11,000 feet (3,500 meters) above the surface of the icy body.

July 15, 2015

China Arms trade will expand more as a side effect of expanded trade and economic influence than breakthroughs in quality of military gear

The National Interest looked at the future defense market race between Russia and China from the aspect of improving equipment from China. China is developing competitive equipment in the form of J17 and J31 fighters and submarines and tanks. If the gear is not competitive or better than Russian gear than China will not be able to compete for second place in supplying arms.

China's JF17 fighter is getting some military sales

The other aspect is that there needs to be the correct political and econommic relationship with the countries that will be customers. There is also the aspect of how much will arms importing demand grow or shrink in the major importing countries.

India's imports will likely stay at a high level. India and many other asian countries will not shift to China as an arms supplier. China would not want to sell arms to countries they might fight and those countries would not want to buy from China.

According to research institute, SIPRI, the volume of international transfers of major weapons in 2010–14 was 16 per cent higher than in 2005–2009. The top 5 recipients—India, Saudi Arabia, China, the UAE and Pakistan—accounted for 33 per cent of the total arms imports during the period. Saudi Arabia and the UAE will likely still buy american, french and british military gear.

China's development of its one belt one road strategy and investments in Africa are where they could grow the economics and the budgets to buy more arms.

It will be through increases in China's trade, world economy and global infrastructure projects where China will have thre relationships for increased arms sales.

Russia is the second biggest weapons exporter, as it exports weapons to 56 countries. Its weapon exports to India, China and Algeria make up 60% of the country's total weapon exports.

Aerion and Spike Aerospace racing to supersonic business jets around 2018-2021

The Spike Aerospace supersonic business jet is designed to carry between 12 and 18 passengers in the lap of luxury, is intended to take off in December 2018.

However, despite impressive engineering, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has banned supersonic flight over the U.S. making popular flights such as LA to New York unlikely in the near future.

Companies including Nasa and Boeing are currently trying to develop supersonic aircraft of their own to reduce the noise - or boom - that the jets make when breaking the sound barrier.

Spike Aerospace unveiled the latest update to the Spike S-512 Supersonic Jet, a stunningly elegant, sleek and innovative business jet that will sweep passengers to their destinations at supersonic speeds. Flying 450 mph faster than any other civilian jet, the Spike S-512 will enable customers to do more and enjoy more out of life. London will be just 3 hours away from NYC – making day trips for business possible. Or Paris to Dubai for shopping and entertainment and back home in time for dinner.

The most noticeable change to the aircraft design is that the wings are now a modified delta wing. According to Senior Engineer Dr. Anutosh Moitra “the new delta wing of the S-512 delivers high aerodynamic efficiency and improved flight performance in both low-speed flight and supersonic cruise. The highly swept leading-edge reduces wave drag and consequently reduces fuel burn and increases range.”

We’ve also modified the tail to reduce drag and improve aircraft control in supersonic conditions. “Improved stability characteristics of the new S-512 design allowed us to eliminate the horizontal tail resulting in further reduction of drag and weight,” adds Dr. Moitra.

Spike Aerospace S-512 Ssupersonic Jet Specifications
Length: 131ft
Wing span: 60ft
Cabin length, height and width: 40ft, 6.2ft and 6.2ft
Basic operating weight: 38,000lbs
Maximum takeoff and landing weight: 84,000lbs
Maximum Payload: 6,000 lbs
Useable Fuel: 40,000lbs
Maximum range: 4,000 nautical miles (7,408km)
Engines:P W JT8D - there are two
Thrust: 19,000lbs per engine
Maximum passenger capacity: 18
Top speed: 1,100mph of Mach 1.6
Price: $60million to $80million or £36.3million to £48.4million
Anticipated delivery: December 2018

Argonne working with Ford and others to demonstrate gasoline and natural gas blend for 10% more effinciency

It’s not as challenging as mixing oil and water, but scientists at the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Argonne National Laboratory are partnering with industry to study a tricky fuel mixing problem that could lead to more efficient engines.

The pre-competitive research is focused on exploring technical concepts and development of engine technology that simultaneously uses natural gas and traditional gasoline to maximize the best characteristics of both fuels, while reducing oil consumption and making the most of the recent boom in natural gas supplies in the United States. The project partners Argonne with Ford Motor Company and FCA US LLC, under a cooperative research and development agreement (CRADA).

Wallner said vehicles that use both gasoline and natural gas have been around for some time, but what most people think of as a dual-fuel vehicle is actually more of a bi-fuel vehicle. Bi-fuel vehicles have compressed natural gas and gasoline on board, but typically use only one fuel at a time. A bi-fuel vehicle may use all its natural gas, then switch over to gasoline. The research concept being studied under the project will use both fuels at the same time, which will maximize the efficiency of an engine that uses this approach.

The project's objective is to understand potential benefits and demonstrate targeted blending of gasoline and natural gas in an engine that uses half as much gasoline and shows a 10 percent increase in overall efficiency and a 10 percent improvement in power density.

Hydrogels developed for controlled release of hepatitis C drug

Researchers at the Institute of Bioengineering and Nanotechnology (IBN) of A*STAR have developed a drug-delivering hydrogel to treat chronic diseases such as hepatitis C, a liver disease that kills around 500,000 people worldwide every year.

“The new gel from IBN prevents premature drug release in the body. This allows for long-term drug delivery and reduces the side effects from frequent drug administration. We hope that our solution can improve the treatment and well-being of patients suffering from chronic diseases such as hepatitis C,” said IBN Executive Director Professor Jackie Y. Ying.

The standard treatment for chronic hepatitis C infections includes a weekly injection of a protein drug called PEGylated interferon. The frequent injections increases patient discomfort, is time-consuming, and can cause depression and fatigue.

Previously, it had not been possible to use hydrogels to deliver drugs with long-term efficacy because controlling the drug release rate is difficult. Most hydrogels have a porous structure, which will cause the encapsulated drugs to leak prematurely and be eliminated rapidly from the body.

Photograph (left) and optical microscopic (right) images of the hydrogels with polyethylene glycol microstructures.

Biomaterials - Microstructured dextran hydrogels for burst-free sustained release of PEGylated protein drugs

A Use For Robert Forward's Statite Concept: Artificial Pole Stars

A guest post by Joseph Friedlander

The recent striking close conjunction

of Jupiter (around -1.8 or -2 magnitude) and Venus (-4.5 magnitude) in the late June and early July sky after sunset has given an easy visual comparison for bright starlike objects.
At closest Venus and Jupiter were  less than one Moon diameter apart.

 Are even  brighter starlight objects possible? Of course. You could have an object with considerable surface brightness but very small subtended angle as bright as the full moon ( -12.6 magnitude) or even brighter.  A supernova would easily qualify, depending on the distance.

 However, if we are talking about building artificial objects of such visibility, we need first to 1) quantify what counts as brightness to the eye and 2) consider the practicalities of doing so.

For jaded urban dwellers, used to light pollution, wanting to navigate by night by a bright starlike object, it is not really fair to ask them to try to seek out something much less bright than Jupiter.  For even moderate thin cloud cover, only Venus really punches through reliably.

Even the Moon of course,  can be defeated by heavy clouds. But for navigational purposes a tightly located moonglow can be almost as good as the visible disk.

So the range of brightness of Jupiter (around -2) Venus (-4.5) and the Moon (-12.6) are of interest to a discussion of artificial pole stars and navigation aids.

Venus is at -4.5 compared to -12.6 that is 2.8 times  less bright on the magnitude scale. However remember that each five magnitudes is 100 times brighter so that apparently small 8.1 magnitude difference is really thousands of times brighter. (~1738 times brighter)  I have read but never seen that on cold snowy winter mornings (dark ones) that Venus before sunrise can cast a detectable shadow. I have never seen it myself but everyone has seen full Moonlight and especially on snow it can have haunting beauty.

 What I never saw, but others of course have, was a daylight reentry fireball of the Space Shuttle Orbiter, often cited as comparable to Venus.  The International Space Station can occasionally get as bright as -5.9.

An excellent page on what it was like to visually observe the Space Shuttle Orbiter http://www.satobs.org/shuttle.html

Yes, experts can navigate with far fainter objects in dim skies by knowing precisely where to look. (In the early 60s the massive Echo satellites or briefly orbiting booster stages were often quite visible to warriors in  the hills of Indochina., and in the 80's I occasionally saw the Space Shuttle Orbiter moving through the cold winter Chicago sky).

  But that is not navigation on demand that you can teach to a child. An ideal artificial navigation star would be of useful brightness and location and designed for ease of use.

The natural full Moon is of apparent magnitude –12.6, far fainter than the blinding –26.73 apparent magnitude of the Sun—about 449,000 times less bright. So the Moon is 14.13 apparent magnitudes fainter than the Sun. As each unit of apparent magnitude is 2.512 times fainter or brighter than its’ neighbor (five magnitudes of difference are, by the Pogson scale of 1856, exactly 100 times brighter or fainter)-- we can therefore conclude that the Sun is 2.513 to the 14.13th power (449032.16 times) brighter than the Full Moon.

 (Note below Wiki's calculation for about the same number (~400000 times dimmer  full Moon than Sun)

The Moon’s area in the sky is about 0.2 square degrees. The sky itself has an area of 41253 square degrees. Thus the Moon’s area is 1/206265 of the sky! It seems bigger, especially at Moonrise---

Convenient guide to magnitude system http://www.icq.eps.harvard.edu/MagScale.html

From Wikipedia:  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Apparent_magnitude
In 1856, Norman Robert Pogson formalized the system by defining a firstmagnitude star as a star that is 100 times as bright as a sixth-magnitudestar, thereby establishing the logarithmic scale still in use today. This implies that a star of magnitude m is 2.512 times as bright as a star ofmagnitude m+1.
What is the ratio in brightness between the Sun and the full moon?

The apparent magnitude of the Sun is −26.74 (brighter), and the mean apparent magnitude of the full moon is −12.74 (dimmer).

Difference in magnitude :

 x = m_1 - m_2 = (-12.74) - (-26.74) = 14.00 
Variation in Brightness :

 v_b = 2.512^x = 2.512^{14.00} \approx 400,000 
The Sun appears about 400,000 times brighter than the full moon.

So my own calculations were somewhere in the reasonable range.
And, remember, the Full Moon is about 2000 times brighter than Venus, which itself is about 10 times brighter than Jupiter in tonight's evening sky.

So how do we build artificial pole and other navigation stars?
Robert L. Forward was a great science fact and entertaining science fiction writer and futurist.--Greatly missed.
Remembering how Arthur C. Clarke's 1945 description of the geostationary communications satellite did nothing to make Clarke a rich man, he patented starting in the late ' 80s a new concept-- the statite. In simplest form a giant solar sail hovering by light pressure not in orbit but in co-location above a given spot on Earth, he invented the polesitter satellite.  (Although it need not be located over a pole, but that would certainly be a convenient fixed spot for communications purposes)

From the patent:

(NOTE: The pictures can be seen in greater detail if you follow this direct link to the PDF and zoom in:  https://docs.google.com/viewer?url=patentimages.storage.googleapis.com/pdfs/US5183225.pdf)
The minimum distance from the earth for a Statite is sixty Earth radii or about nine times the geostationary orbit distance. 

 Statite (301) will always be kept at a fixed angle beta from the polar axis (303) of the Earth (305). This angle will have to be greater than 23.5% because the tilt of the polar axis of the Earth takes each pole 23.5% to the sunward side of the earth during one of the solstices and the Statite has to stay over the dark side of the Earth. FIG. 3 shows the position of the Statite at the summer and winter solstices. 

In practice the angle could range from 30% to 45%. Statites at these angles could provide communication services to the United States, Europe, Alaska, Canada, all of the USSR, northern China, Argentina, Chile, New Zealand, southern Australia, and, of course, the Arctic and Antarctic.

At the summer solstice, and at an angle from the polar axis where beta equals thirty degrees (30%), the angle at the incoming sunlight will strike the sail at 6.5 degrees. 

At this angle to the sunlight, the performance of a flat solar sail is severely degraded. 

In such a situation, the Solar Photon Thruster has a considerable advantage over the simple solar sail in Statite operation.around the Earth, at all times of the year, even over the sunlit side, at the expense of slightly greater operating distance. 

Instead of the Statite being balanced by sunlight in the gravitational field of the Earth, the Statite would be placed in orbit around the Sun, at such a distance from the earth that the gravitational field of the Earth plus the moon is only a perturbation on the gravitational field of the Sun.

In this embodiment of the present invention, the solar propulsion system would be controlled so the Statite moves in a slightly ecliptical orbit around the Sun with a period equal to the Earth orbital period of one year. 

Light pressure is used to "levitate" the plane of this Statite's solar orbit above or below the ecliptic plane, and to vary the radius of the orbit during the year so that the Statite moves inside and outside the orbit of the Earth. The result would be that, to an observer on the Earth, the Statite remains fixed above one of the Poles of the Earth. 

Thus, although the spacecraft would be a "satellite" of the sun, it is a Statite of the Earth because it is adjacent to the Earth, but not in orbit around it. This embodiment is shown in FIG. 4 showing the Statite above the North Pole at the equinoxs and the solstices. T

he 1976 JPL solar sail technology has ample propulsive capability to allow it to carry out the orbit levitation and orbit ellipticity maneuvers necessary to place a Statite over the Poles of the Earth at all times of the year using the solar orbit embodiment of the present invention. 

Another mode of Statite system operation would place the Statite in an orbit around a fixed point adjacent to the Earth. In this mode of operation, although the Statite is moving relative to the Earth, it is not in orbit around the Earth, and, therefore, is not a satellite of the Earth. 

As is shown in FIG. 5, if Statite  (501) keeps its orientation inertially fixed while it is displaced off of its normal fixed operating point (503), the light pressure force Fp will compensate for the component of the gravitational force Fgz normal to the sail, but there will be a component of the gravitational force Frg tangent to the sail that will attempt to pull the Statite back to its normal fixed operating point; just as if there were a mass located at that point. The Statite can thus be induced to move through or circle about that point in a "halo orbit".

Finally, there is an interesting distance of three hundred and forty Earth radii where the period of such a "halo" orbit for a Statite is one year. The Earth's gravity at this distance is so weak that it could easily be reached by a 1976 JPL technology sail carrying a five ton payload. The center of this halo orbit would be chosen at some distance over the dark side of the Earth that would yield a comfortable sail tilt angle. Such a Statite would circle above the arctic circle, just 23.5 degrees from the polar axis, keeping itself positioned over that point where the northern most portion of the terminator crosses the arctic circle. To an observer on the ground, the Statite would appear to spin around the Pole once a day, staying on the opposite side of the Earth from the Sun. Such a Statite could be continuously observed anywhere north of twenty-four degrees north latitude.

A very different mode of Statite system operation is possible that would allow the Statite to be placed at any point around the Earth, at all times of the year, even over the sunlit side, at the expense of slightly greater operating distance. Instead of the Statite being balanced by sunlight in the gravitational field of the Earth, the Statite would be placed in orbit around the Sun, at such a distance from the earth that the gravitational field of the Earth plus the moon is only a perturbation on the gravitational field of the Sun.

Friedlander here again. So we want to build artificial pole stars and navigational aids of surpassing brightness and ease of use, ideally so simple Cub Scouts could use them and learn to navigate by unconscious calculation of angles literally just by looking at where the known location stars are in relation to you.

What might one such system of aids look like?  Imagine two statites  of Venus or better brightness parked over the North and South Poles,  at about ten geostationary radii out, comparable to lunar distances. Imagine four comparably bright (closer but smaller) large solar sail complexes parked in geostationary arc (they need not be active transmitters taking up a precious geo slot, simply solar sails maintaining their position in the arc)  at 0, 90, 180 and 270 degrees longitude.  Imagine for even more luxurious and ease of use sighting opportunities statites parked at 45 degrees north and south  over 0, 90, 180 and 270 degrees longitude. That is four geostationary sails and two polesitters and eight statites hovering on station all the time.

With such a deluxe system a child could learn celestial navigation and sighting, probably literally to the point of doing it without using a sextant. (At least to give you a rough idea of where in the world you were at a glance).  Special forces would love it because it is an entirely passive, signal free way of navigation not detectable by electronics and not disruptable barring some serious celestial weaponry.  Sailing of course would be enormously simplified (in clear weather) and very simple visual aids (keep the guide star on your right and level with this line) would enable even the most obtuse to get celestial navigation. What a boon for solo round the world sailors as well.

It would be a fantastic way to hook kids on math and astronomy. I am sure any enthusiast could generate about a dozen or two lesson plans for any class of bright kids.   Oh, well, thus far the fantasy.

But what of the practicality?
Let's blithely pass over the practicalities of sail design and stationkeeping, and just treat rough areas of reflector to get an idea of the magnitude of the system.

The Moon has albedo of about 6% (think dark asphalt parking lot but in brilliant sunshine when full) and a typical aluminium surface above 90%. (The planet Venus itself has cloudtop albedo of 70% or so)

The Moon is about 3476 km diameter at around 385000 km  (238000 mi) out.
A little over 10 times geostationary distance.of 35,786 km (22,236 mi) out.
So a body of similar albedo 1/10th the size should be of Lunar size and brightness as seen from Earth. (348 km for a 6% albedo film disk)
But if we can get 96% albedo we can get similar brightness from 1/16th the area or 4 times less apparent diameter in the 4 Geo stations. or around  87 km diameter solar sail parked in Geostationary orbit maintaining station.

At about 5 tons for a conservative sail design per square kilometer (Eric Drexler has designed sails with far less weight than this) you are talking aircraft carrier sized masses for a Full Moon bright GeoStar.

The sail would gain and loose momentum to keep on station. Full Moon bright, all day and all night-- and thus probably not going to happen given fears of biologically sensitive species.

in the Server Sky plan (computer satellites on quite a small scale in unbelievable numbers—supplying beamed electrical power and computing to Earth) , Keith Lofstrom has detailed the dangers of too much light in the night sky near the Earth-Moon system.

Corals may be triggered to incorrectly spawn with as little as 10% of full moon illumination (which is 1E-5 full sun), or 1E-6 of full sun illumination in the night sky. 

But Venus or greater illumination (2000 times less) should have no major problem, nor indeed 100 times Venus brightness. Anyway, the less light, the smaller the sails needed. If  1000 times less sail material, that only around 3 kilometers or 2 miles diameter sail material , mass in the mere tens of tons--per Venus brightness GeoStar,  doable today in theory.

The statites, being at lunar distances need 100  times the material for the same light.  But still under a kiloton for a very conservative design.

In conclusion, a constellation of a dozen objects of Venus or greater brightness should be quite buildable in the next century. Mass for the system,  low thousands of tons.  If biological sensitivities were not a problem, Full Moon levels of brightness and utter ease of navigation  even on moderately clouded nights, would shortly follow. (Mass for the deluxe system,  low hundreds of thousands of tons)

Is it likely? Hard to believe. If astronomy and navigation geek fantasies were as catching and addictive as lovers of this blog  feel them to be, you'd probably be reading this on Mars. On the other hand, on other planets such as Mars something like this would be an enormous aid in the settlement phase so maybe us space geeks will have the last laugh after all.

Note: (Added later): In Indistinguishable From Magic, a fact book of his, Forward stated a corrected minimum polesitter distance of 250 Earth radii for stability including  solar tides.

July 14, 2015

China's leadership prioritizes development of a long range bomber

According to the latest issue of Kanwa Defense Review, a Canada-based publication specializing in defense affairs and weapons technology, a meeting held recently by the military defined the PLA air force as a "strategic force", a title previously monopolized by the PLA Second Artillery Corps, the country's de facto strategic missile force. Officers attending the meeting reportedly urged the PLA air force to prioritize the development of a long-range strategic bomber.

The Chinese military defines a long-range strategic bomber as one that can carry more than 10 tonnes of air-to-ground munitions and with a minimum range of 8,000 kilometres (5,000 miles) without refuelling, the China Daily said.

Chinese defence technology magazine Aerospace Knowledge said in a series of articles last month that China needs a long-range stealth bomber, China Daily said.
China has the midrange HK6

China is wanting to get B-1 B and TU160 style supersonic long range bomber technology.

US B-1 B , first built in 1986 with 12,000 km range and 75000 pounds of bombs

Maximum speed US B-1 B:
At altitude: Mach 1.25 (721 kn or 830 mph or 1,335 km/h) at 50,000 ft or 15,000 m altitude
At low level: Mach 0.92 (700 mph or 1,100 km/h) at 200–500 ft or 61–152 m altitude
Range: 6,478 nmi (7,455 mi; 11,997 km)

Entering service in 1987, the Tu-160 was the last strategic bomber designed for the Soviet Union. The Long Range Aviation branch of the Russian Air Force has 16 aircraft with fewer in active use. The Tu-160 active fleet has been undergoing upgrades to electronics systems since the early 2000s. The Tu-160M modernisation programme has begun with the first new updated aircraft delivered in December 2014
TU160, 12,300 km (7,643 mi) practical range without in-flight refuelling, 88000 pounds of bombs or missiles

Russian TU22M, 6800 km range, 46000 poounds of bombs

The last major US bomber was the B2 launched in 1997.

The US is workin on a Next-Generation Bomber and a United States 2037 Bomber. A future stealth bomber project, with a goal of least complementing, or supplanting a portion or all of the current B-52 and B-1 fleet. A deployment time frame goal of 2018 has been established

United States 2037 Bomber : A stealth, supersonic, long-range, heavy-payload, possibly unmanned strategic bomber project to replace the B-52 Stratofortress, with a deployment time frame goal of 2037.

Russia is working on the PAK DA.

Nuclear Agreement with Iran Reached

The deal struck between Iran and the P5+1 (the permanent members of the UN Security Council and Germany) in Vienna in the early hours of July 14th was broadly in line with the parameters of the Lausanne accord of April 2nd referred to by Mr Obama. The framework understanding contained limitations on enrichment levels, centrifuge numbers (see chart) and types, and a cap on Iran's stockpiles of low-enriched uranium. It also calls for the conversion of the Arak reactor to produce far less plutonium than the current design, and restricts research and development on more advanced centrifuges. Sunset dates for the various provisions, ranging from a decade to as long as 25 years were also established. In return, Iran will get relief from sanctions that have crippled its economy.


* The agreement on inspections is a form of so-called “managed access”. Inspectors will not be able to conduct “anywhere, any time” visits. Instead, they will have to give grounds for their concerns about prohibited activities and give the Iranians an opportunity to address them before access is made mandatory by the joint commission. All this must take place within two weeks. Refusal by Iran to provide inspectors access that persisted for more than another week would be deemed a violation of the agreement and therefore subject to re-imposition of sanctions. [Two week process for Iran to try to hide and cheat inspections]

* Iran will be able to begin deployment of advanced enrichment centrifuges after the first 10 years of an agreement, but for 15 years it will have to keep its stockpile of low-enriched uranium below 300kg. After that, Iran will be able to develop the industrial-scale enrichment it seeks, but while its breakout time to a bomb will notionally diminish from the one year sought by the agreement, its obligations under the AP are perpetual, ensuring that even as its nuclear programme starts to expand again it will do so under conditions of far greater transparency than in the past. As long as future American presidents remain committed to preventing Iran from ever having a bomb and will use force if necessary to prevent it, deterrence should be maintained.

* On the question of the whether or not the arms embargo should be lifted, as the Iranians were demanding, a compromise has been thrashed out that appears to favour the tough line taken by American negotiators. The embargo, as it applies to the sale of offensive weapons to Iran, will remain in force for a further five years, while the ban on any technologies relating to ballistic missiles will stay in place for eight years. That means that the Russians, for example, will be able to go ahead with the sale of the S-300 air defence system, but presumably not of strike aircraft or tanks.

* A mechanism has also been established for dealing with possible Iranian violations of the deal that would allow sanctions to snap back automatically. (65 day process)

CERN’s LHCb experiment reports observation of exotic pentaquark particles and should allow better understanding of matter

The LHCb experiment at CERN’s Large Hadron Collider has reported the discovery of a class of particles known as pentaquarks. The collaboration has submitted a paper reporting these findings to the journal Physical Review Letters.

“The pentaquark is not just any new particle,” said LHCb spokesperson Guy Wilkinson. “It represents a way to aggregate quarks, namely the fundamental constituents of ordinary protons and neutrons, in a pattern that has never been observed before in over fifty years of experimental searches. Studying its properties may allow us to understand better how ordinary matter, the protons and neutrons from which we’re all made, is constituted.”

Our understanding of the structure of matter was revolutionized in 1964 when American physicist, Murray Gell-Mann, proposed that a category of particles known as baryons, which includes protons and neutrons, are comprised of three fractionally charged objects called quarks, and that another category, mesons, are formed of quark-antiquark pairs. Gell-Mann was awarded the Nobel Prize in physics for this work in 1969. This quark model also allows the existence of other quark composite states, such as pentaquarks composed of four quarks and an antiquark. Until now, however, no conclusive evidence for pentaquarks had been seen.

The mass of J/ψ–proton (J/ψ p) combinations from Λb → J/ψpK-decays. The data are shown as red diamonds. The predicted contributions from the Pc(4380)+ and Pc(4450)+ states are indicated in the purple and black distributions, respectively. Inset: the mass of J/ψ p combinations for a restricted range of the K-p mass, where the contribution of the wider Pc(4380)+ state is more pronounced. (The other contributions from conventional hadrons, which are responsible for the remaining features in the data distributions, are not displayed.) © CERN / LHCb Collaboration

Illustration of the possible layout of the quarks in a pentaquark particle such as those discovered at LHCb. The five quarks might be tightly bonded (left). They might also be assembled into a meson (one quark and one antiquark) and a baryon (three quarks), weakly bound together. © CERN

Arxiv - Observation of J/ψ p resonances consistent with pentaquark states in Λ0 b → J/ψK−p decays

Observations of exotic structures in the J/ψ p channel, that we refer to as pentaquarkcharmonium states, in Λ 0 b → J/ψ K−p decays are presented. The data sample corresponds to an integrated luminosity of 3 fb−1 acquired with the LHCb detector from 7 and 8 TeV pp collisions. An amplitude analysis is performed on the three-body final-state that reproduces the two-body mass and angular distributions. To obtain a satisfactory fit of the structures seen in the J/ψ p mass spectrum, it is necessary to include two Breit-Wigner amplitudes that each describe a resonant state. The significance of each of these resonances is more than 9 standard deviations. One has a mass of 4380 ± 8 ± 29 MeV and a width of 205 ± 18 ± 86 MeV, while the second is narrower, with a mass of 4449.8 ± 1.7 ± 2.5 MeV and a width of 39 ± 5 ± 19 MeV. The preferred J P assignments are of opposite parity, with one state having spin 3/2 and the other 5/2.

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