Vol. 1 / No. 25 — Dropping the Pitch, A Meteor in Murmansk, and Modular Phones

SpaceX's CRS-3 ISS resupply mission launches successfully on April 18 / Image Credit: NASA
SpaceX’s CRS-3 ISS resupply mission launches successfully on April 18 / Image Credit: NASA

SpaceX News

The big news this week has to go to SpaceX, with the successful launch of their CRS-3 mission to the International Space Station. All results were favourable: first, the launch went off without a hitch; second, all five secondary payload CubeSats were deployed successfully from the second stage, including KickSat, the crowd-funded “picosatellite launcher”; third, the first-stage recovery test was a massive success, with telemetry reading eight seconds at 0 m/s at sea level indicating complete survival of the stage to gentle splashdown; and finally the Dragon capsule was captured early Sunday by the ISS team, completing the delivery of 3,500 lbs of supplies and experiments to the station.

To add to that great news, SpaceX also completed a successful 250m flight and divert test of their new Falcon 9 Reusable rocket (F9R), the next level up from last year’s Grasshopper testbed. Add that to the news of the CRS-3 first-stage return, and the company is well on its way to its first rocket re-use, hopefully in 2015. Here’s a video of the full-sized rocket taking off and landing like it’s in a 1950s sci-fi flick.

The Sky Is Falling (On Russia. Again.)

In other news, thanks to the proliferation of dashcams in Russia, we have yet another video of a fantastic meteor burn-up over Russian soil, this time over Murmansk. io9 has links to both videos, and of course is trying to get more data, but Russia Today are reporting no official response from the government at this time.

Dropping the Pitch

The world’s longest-running science experiment (not counting the planet itself, one supposes), has reached a major milestone. Since 1927, scientists have been trying to observe pitch — easily one of the most viscous “liquids” available — acting like a liquid. The great Pitch Drop Experiment aimed to get observations of the substance “dripping,” but in the decades since its inception, no-one has ever seen it take place. But then, in its first 61 years it only dripped 8 times. This week it dripped for the ninth time, and it was caught on camera by three separate webcams. You can watch a time-lapse video of the drip at Scientific American, or head over to the University of Queensland’s pitch-drop website for more information.

And if the only kind of pitch you’re interested in is the baseball kind, here’s a story about a hell of a hit: this week Milwaukee Brewers’ catcher Martin Maldonado did what the Mythbusters had concluded was a myth and nothing but — he knocked the hide off a baseball. Given his stats, and this it’s never happened to a really good batter, I’m going to guess the secret to this is hitting the ball wrong.

Phones Go Modular

This week the prototype for Project ARA, Google’s take on the modular phone — arguably made popular as a design concept by Phonebloks.com — was demonstrated in a press conference. The bad news: someone dropped it and broke the screen. The good news: it basically made their point for them. The idea behind the modular phone concept is that all the parts would be interchangeable: including the screen. Break one and you can keep everything else — just pop the components off the back and stick them to a new phone. Engadget has a great article with all the details. The TL;DR? It’s coming soon, and if they can pull it off, it may be the last phone you buy.

In other Google news, as a follow up to last year’s announcement that they’d made a contact lens with an embedded blood sugar monitor, Google has announced the creation of a contact lens with a camera built in. Roll on, cybernetic future.

Graphene News

There have been a host of graphene news articles this week. First, scientists from China created electricity by just running saltwater over the stuff; then, researchers at Monash University in Australia announced a model for an entirely-carbon “spaser” (a kind of nanoscale laser) made with carbon nanotubes and, you guessed it, graphene; finally, researchers at the Max Planck Institute in Mainz, Germany, announced that they’ve found a way to create graphene in large amounts, both simply, and most importantly, cheaply, by using a bath of inorganic salts and an electric current. That last one may make the others much more useful. Until now, large-scale production of graphene has been nearly impossible, leaving many uses of the wonder material out of reach. With a ready supply of cheap and easy graphene, we may see a rapid rise in its use — and a rapid advancement in a host of technologies. The future is looking exciting.

The Future is Dingy

Finally, in an amusing article, Robert Sorokanich over at Gizmodo points out why, in an age of increasing LED use, our whites may not seem their whitest anymore. Turns out the fluorescent dyes in our bleach alternatives need UV light to work, and LEDs typically don’t produce any. On the plus side, we may not need to whiten our teeth so much so they don’t look yellow by comparison with our shirts. I’m a glass half full kind of guy.

The Best of the Rest

This week also saw an axe that splits wood by being off balance; the US Navy finding a way to get fuel from seawater; an article on why the Earth’s magnetic field reversing will be bad for us; and the purported discovery of the Loch Ness monster thanks to (wait for it) Apple Maps. That’s enough for me, I’m out.

Have a great week.