Getting Water From Air, Picturing A Black Hole, and Whatever Tesla’s Up To Next | Vol. 4 / No. 25

An unrelated MOF | Image: Tony Boehle, CC BY-SA 3.0

This week we saw an invention that can draw liters of water per day from even desert air, the Event Horizon Telescope taking its first snapshots, and Elon Musk hyping Tesla’s future plans. It’s the news roundup for Sunday, April 16, 2017!

Water From Air

A scientist at UC Berkeley and his team have developed a material that can draw water from even desert air in surprising amounts, in a device powered only by the sun. The key to the device is the specific material they designed for the purpose. Called a MOF—a Metal-Organic Framework—it’s a type of crystalline molecular structure composed of metals and organic ligands in regularly-repeating structures. They’re typically very porous, with a resulting high surface area and other unique features that can let them work as molecular-scale filters. In this case, the particular MOF—designed by Omar Yaghi and applied with the help of engineer Evelyn Wang from MIT—has the property of being exceptionally good at absorbing water from gaseous solutions. In this case a kilogram of the material (2.2 pounds) can pull 2.8 liters (about 3/4 of a gallon) from the air in 24 hours. Basically, at night the air blows through it, and single molecules of water vapour get stuck in the just-right sized holes in the MOF. Then it’s closed up, and in the day the heat of the sun causes the water vapour to evaporate, where a condenser plate causes droplets to form and lets the water drip into a collector. The best part? Not only will it work in conditions as low as 20-30% humidity, but the inventors think this is just the beginning for the technology, and it could conceivably pull more water out of the air. In a world where in many places fresh water is hard to come by, this could be a game changer. You can read all the details over at AAAS Science.


Saggitarius A* | Photo: NASA Chandra X-Ray Observatory, CC0 (Public Domain)

Picturing A Black Hole

Back in February I wrote about the Event Horizon Telescope, a virtual telescope literally the size of the entire planet, designed to take the first-ever image of the supermassive black hole Sagittarius A*. Made up of radio telescopes from all over the world—Hawaii to Antarctica to France and a number of places in between—this week they all trained on two targets and took “snapshots” at the exact same time. First is the center of the Milky Way, where Sgr A* lies, and second is the center of the galaxy M87 where another great devourer sits. Now it’s going to take a little time to develop the picture: it consists of over four petabytes of data, roughly 500 terrabytes from each of the eight observatories. Fun fact: the fastest way to move that much data? Airplanes. So it’s going to take a while to move the thousands of hard drives to one location and synch all the data into two composite shots, but in a few weeks to a few months we should have our first images of the event horizon of black holes, which will once again help us to test Einstein’s theories to see if there’s anything we’re missing. You can read more about this story over at Engadget.


Keep building that Gigafactory, Tesla — You’re going to need it | Photo: Tesla

Telsa’s Next Steps

Elon Musk once again surprised the world—it’s pretty much his favourite thing these days, other than tunnels—with the announcement of two new products coming “soon” from Tesla. First, in September, we’ll get the first look at a Tesla-branded all-electric “semi” truck. Semis, otherwise known as a transport truck, big rig, eighteen-wheeler, tractor-trailer, or lorry, are the backbone of the container shipping business, ferrying cargo across land to any place a train or ship doesn’t go. And in America, that’s a lot of places. So an all-electric version will need to (a) have a long range and (b) an affordable price tag. If it can do both, it’ll seriously green up the shipping industry. Of course then Tesla’s autopilot will replace all the truck drivers, but that’s another story for another week. Second, some time in 2018, we’ll get  look at Tesla’s entry into the pickup truck market. With the kind of torque an electric motor provides, and the range and weight capacity promised by their other products, there’s a good chance it’ll be able to keep pace with other manufacturers, and maybe even push them in a greener direction. The real question is, with all the extra demand created by the company’s popularity, will the Gigafactory be able to keep up? Only time will tell. You can read more at TechCrunch.



So starting this week (as you might’ve noticed) we’re back to posting more occasionally, rather than every day. Turns out life’s hard when you’re doing the millennial hustle, and nobody pays us for this. So you’ll still get your Feminist Fridays and Sunday Round-ups, and occasionally you’ll get other posts during the week. I’ll still be posting anything I find interesting (along with commentary) over at our Facebook page though—so like and follow us there!

In the meantime, if you didn’t read Elle’s exhaustive explanation of the myriad things wrong with the Kendall Jenner Pepsi ad this week, well, now’s your chance.


Best of the Rest

And since life is short and writing takes time, here it is, the lazy way out: your weekly linkspam!


Lastly, if you didn’t feel small enough already, here’s a video that’ll make the sun (the freaking sun) seem miniscule.

That’s all for today, folks. Have a great week.


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Richard Ford Burley is a human, writer, and doctoral candidate at Boston College, as well as Deputy Managing Editor at Ledger, the first academic journal devoted to Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies. In his spare time he writes about science, skepticism, feminism, and futurism here at This Week In Tomorrow.