JASON-3, Gravity Waves, and Protein Photography | Vol. 3 / No 12

There’s a lot to get to this week, from a successful SpaceX launch to (maybe) seeing gravitational waves to photographing single proteins, so let’s get going while the going’s good.


Rendering of JASON-3, now in orbit | Photo: NOAA Satellites, CC0 (public domain)
Rendering of JASON-3, now in orbit | Photo: NOAA Satellites, CC0 (public domain)

NASA’s JASON-3 ocean-studying satellite has just entered its polar orbit, after a successful launch from SpaceX’s west-coast launchpad at Vandenberg Air Force Base. The launch went up on schedule this afternoon (morning, if you’re in California), but it looks as if the rocketry company still has yet to make their first at-sea landing. Reports are saying that the first stage came in just a little too hard, breaking one of the landing legs and tipping over, but having seen the video feed from Just Read The Instructions (the autonomous landing barge) showing it rocking up and down in 12-15 foot swells it’s hard to believe anything could land on it, let alone something with the inherent balance of an on-end pencil, so I think we can cut them some slack on this one. JASON-3 will map the height of the ocean surface worldwide to 3.3cm, which, from hundreds of miles away and thousands of miles per hour, is truly astonishing. With a little hard work, it should help us better predict the effects of climate change, as well better understand the mechanics of tropical storm formation. Check out NOAA for more.

Gravity Waves Hello (Maybe)

"LIGO on Hanford Reservation" by Umptanum - Self-photographed. Licensed under Public Domain via Commons.
The rather unpresuming-looking LIGO, on Hanford Reservation | Photo: Umptanum, CC0 (public domain) via Commons.

Rumours have been circulating this week that LIGO’s latest incarnation, aLIGO (the Advanced Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory) may have detected evidence of gravitational waves. Right now, that’s all they are — rumours — but then, that’s all they’d be at this point, anyway. Nobody wants to release potentially unconfirmed data, especially after the last gravitational wave signal was eventually determined indistinguishable from space dustShannon Hall over at Sky and Telescope has a great rundown on the likelihood of a result and what that result might mean.

Protein Photography

Photo: Jean-Nicolas Longchamp (et al.)
Photo: Jean-Nicolas Longchamp (et al.)

According to a paper published to the arxiv.org servers recently, imaging a single protein has become possible. Until this point, the best way to “look” at proteins was to arrange them into a crystal and x-ray them (which destroys them) and after much repetition, average the results and determine what, on average, the protein looks like. The reason has been that all the ways we had to look at proteins had the rather unpleasant side effect of destroying the proteins. The new technique, detailed in the paper, uses a thin film of graphene to “slow” electrons down enough so that they can capture a snapshot of a single protein without simultaneously blasting it into kingdom come. The images are still a little blurry, but it’s a heck of a feat and the first time it’s been done. You can find the paper at arxiv.org.


No more of these anytime soon | Photo: Matito, CC BY-SA 2.0
No more of these anytime soon | Photo: Matito, CC BY-SA 2.0

A new paper published the week over at Nature suggests that the human effect on the climate might have pushed back the next ice age by an additional 50,000 years. According to their data, we narrowly missed a new glaciation just before the beginning of the industrial revolution, and that things were likely to remain balanced in the “no new glaciers but no new ice age” state for another 50,000 years. But thanks to all the CO2 we’ve been pumping into the atmosphere, that’s been pushed back to 100,000 years — not that that matters to you, but I promise it means big things for the planet. You can check out the paper here, or some coverage over at Gizmodo.


In case you missed what we got up to here over the week, here’s your chance to check it out!

Best of the Rest

A lot more happened this week than I could cover, so here’s your weekly linkspam!

At this point I’d like to leave you all with my favourite way to remember Alan Rickman, who, like David Bowie, passed away from cancer this week at the age of 69. Epic Tea Time.


That’s all for this week. Remember, I only get paid in my own (and your) enthusiasm, so please like This Week In Tomorrow on Facebook, follow me on Twitter @TWITomorrow, and tell your friends about the site! Have a great week.