A Billion for SpaceX, Microsoft Gets Back on the Horse, and Life, uh, Finds a Way | Vol. 2 / No. 13

The Newly-Christened "Just Read the Instructions"; Photo: SpaceX
The Newly-Christened “Just Read the Instructions”; Photo: SpaceX

$1 Billion for SpaceX

This week SpaceX announced that the private spaceflight company had raised another billion dollars in venture capital for “just under 10%” of the company. The majority of this amount, $900 million appears to come from Google, which received 7.5% of the company for their investment. This suggests that the other major investor in this round, Fidelity, has invested the other $100 million, for 0.8% of the company’s worth, although that part of the deal has not been publicized (perhaps Fidelity got a better deal than Google — the company is staying tight-lipped about the details, and 8.3% doesn’t quite seem enough to be “just under 10%”.). Overall this places the valuation of SpaceX at $12 Billion, running fourth on the Wall Street Journal’s top-valued privately-held companies. The investment comes hard on the heels of CEO Elon Musk’s announcement that he plans to build a network of hundreds of satellites to bring internet access to the underserved parts of the world, something Google has long held as one of its own goals.

In other SpaceX news, in a tribute to author Iain M. Banks, Musk announced that the drone ships used for recovering returned first-stage rockets will be named for two “planet-sized, Culture starships” in the novelist’s Culture series: on the east coast the ship will be named the “Just Read the Instructions”, and on the west, the “Of Course I Still Love You.” Mr. Banks passed away in 2013.

LIfe, uh, finds a way.
LIfe, uh, finds a way.

Under the Ice

In an announcement that would make Dr. Ian Malcolm proud, scientists working on the Whillans Ice Stream Subglacial Access Research Drilling Project reported this week they had found complex life — that is, fish — living in a ten-metre-deep pocket of water wedged between hard rock and roughly three quarters of a kilometre of ice, a place so inhospitable and dark the researchers weren’t even sure if they’d find microbial life, let alone fish.

Cute little paradox; Photo: Whillans Ice Stream Subglacial Access Research Drilling Project
Cute little paradox; Photo: Whillans Ice Stream Subglacial Access Research Drilling Project

According to Scientific American, the discovery was made by a subglacial robot named Deep-SCINI, and the fish are likely to be somewhat understimulated down there:

These fish, attracted perhaps by the novelty of light, were “curious and docile,” [University of Nebraska-Lincoln researcher Robert] Zook says. “I think they’re bored. I know I would be.”

It’s a great article and it’s up for free: I suggest you go read it.

This, but in your living room. Photo: Flickr user Kenming Wong, CC BY 2.0
This, but in your living room. Photo: Flickr user Kenming Wong, CC BY 2.0

The Verge Does Microsoft

All week my newsfeeds were clogged to the gunnels with news from Microsoft — almost all of it, strangely, from The Verge. Basically, on Wednesday, Microsoft had a big Apple-style press release conference about all the cool things it was up to, and Verge had it covered. From the official release of Spartan (the IE replacement), to the debut of Windows 10 for phones and the death of the “Windows Phone” brand, to the news that anyone with Windows 7 and Windows 8.1 would get a free upgrade to Windows 10, there wasn’t a five-minute span in which I failed to have something Windows related in my news feed. Well, fine. It looks exciting enough anyway. The most interesting news seemed to be the announcement of some bulky-looking headwear (more Lawnmower Man than Google Glass) that allows the user to augment their surroundings with digital additions and interact with them collectively. That is, if I understand this right, something could be hovering in the middle of the room, and I’d see one side, and someone on the other side of the room would see the other side of it. Called HoloLens, Microsoft is banking on the device as a useful and fun way of augmenting reality for the wearer. Most interestingly, Chris Plante over at (yep) The Verge thinks it could explain why Microsoft bought the studio responsible for the breakout hit independent game Minecraft. Check out his arguments, but I think if it works well he might be right.

In related news, there’s a good article over at Slate by Lily Hay Newman about why it’s finally time for Internet Explorer to die. I have to admit I agree.

Warning: Contains DNA?

According to a new poll, 80% of respondents would like food containing DNA to have warning labels. This is, of course, a staggeringly daft thing to want, because pretty much all food contains DNA. But don’t lose all hope for America yet. Sure, it’s true that the percentage of Americans who accept evolution is still only 47%, but there are other studies that show as many as 85% of Americans do understand what DNA is. There have been a few thoughtful responses to the survey this week, with these three being the best I’ve seen: Robbie Gonzalez at io9, Ben Lillie at his own blog, and Jason Lusk, one of the researchers responsible for the survey results. Check them out for the full story.

Hydrophobia: Now in Metallic Form

Scientists at the University of Rochester this week  announced the creation of a technique to make metals hydrophobic — that is, so resistant to water that it just bounces off. The technique involves using lasers to etch nanoscale patterns into the metals’ surfaces, creating a texture akin to a lotus leaf. The best part? Because it’s the actual surface of the metal being changed and not just an applied coating, it won’t rub off. Check out the article from Phys.org for more explanation, or Gizmodo’s Sploid blog for some great gifs.

Best of the Rest

A lot more happened this week, check it out: the NYT reports on how people who think of themselves as in authority actually come off sounding the part; Gizmodo reports on how the humanoid robot ATLAS is losing his tethers; ScienceMag reports on how science got a moment to shine in the US State of the Union Address this week; PopSci reports on a new stick-on glucose “tattoo” that could spell the end of the bleed-to-check age; IFLScience reports on the best smart earbuds ever made; and the USAF has declassified a bunch of Project Blue Book files, so get your tinfoil hats ready.

And to finish off this week, check out this post on ten new amazing images of comet 67P Churyumov-Gerasimenko just released by the Rosetta team.

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