Vol. 1 / No. 20 — SpaceX Delays, Fire and Water, and Distributed Cell Networks

Photo Credit: SpaceX
Photo Credit: SpaceX

SpaceX Delay

As has become a fairly commonplace occurrence, the SpaceX ISS resupply mission CRS-3 has been postponed to “no earlier than March 30” to deal with an apparent case of “contamination” of the unpressurized lower portion of the rocket. The extended delay is in part due to the ISS’s busy schedule: Soyuz TMA-12M is scheduled to launch from the Baikonur Cosmodrome on March 25, carrying three new crew members to the station as a part of Expedition 39. As part of the same crew changeover, three astronauts (two Russian, one American) returned to Earth on March 11. SpaceX enthusiasts have been eagerly awaiting the launch of CRS-3, as it is the first “in the wild” test of the planned first-stage return for the spaceflight company’s Falcon 9 rocket.

Also along for the ride? A hundred tiny satellites.

Meanwhile, scientists are currently working on a way to protect things in orbit from the nearly 300,000 pieces of “space junk” currently in orbit that pose varying levels of danger to satellites and astronauts: space lasers. There’s no way that could end badly.

Fire (and Water) Down Below

In interesting geophysical news this week, scientists have discovered strong evidence that there may be as much water in the rocks of the deep Earth as there is in the oceans that sit atop its surface. An analysis of terrestrial samples of a mineral called Ringwoodite (which is stable at very high temperatures and pressures) shows that they consist of about 1% water. While this might not sound like much, it suggests that the area in the Earth from which it comes — 410km-610km below the surface — may contain vast quantities of water. This is good news for exobiologists, as it suggests that “watery” planets may be more common throughout the galaxy. Nature has the full article.

And in case you missed it, closer to the surface there are literally thousands of underground fires burning, including Burning Mountain in Australia, which has been burning away for over 6,000 years. Sarah Zhang over at Gizmodo has the rundown.


Think the future is distributed? So does Steve Perlman, founder and CEO of Artemis, a company that’s aiming to change the way we think of cell coverage. Their product, the “pWave,” is a router-sized object that provides very high connectivity speeds to smaller areas, rather than via enormous, centralized towers. They’re lower power, more resilient to outages, and less apt to crash in times of high caller load, as current networks do in emergencies. While compatible with existing LTE modems in cellphones, there are also plans in the works for “pCell native” devices that will be able to take advantage of not only the speed, but also the power saving side of the equation. They plan to roll out a city-wide blanket of service in San Francisco in the last months of 2014, and from there? Who knows. Business Insider has the full story.

In other cell news, Google has confirmed longstanding reports that it is working on its own phone hardware — though it stresses that the Google Phone is only one of many R&D projects underway at Google Labs.

Last Days for Planet X

News this week out of the NASA’s WISE (Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer) mission puts another nail in the coffin of the idea that there’s another large, eccentric-orbit planet or proto-star in the solar system. The whole-sky survey found that no previously unknown object of the size of Jupiter or larger exists out as far as 26,000 AU, or 26,000 times the distance from the Earth to the sun, and nothing the size of Saturn or larger out to 10,000 AU. To be clear, Pluto orbits at roughly 49AU at it’s furthest, and Voyager 1 is at the edge of the heliosphere, at roughly 128AU. On the other hand, the Oort cloud is thought to sit at roughly 50,000AU, so there’s still a little wiggle-room for you tin-foil-hat Planet X folks if you need it to function in life.

Meanwhile in other telescope news, io9 reports this week on a new technique that could help scientists detect planets with atmospheres capable of preventing liquid water from drifting into space. They’ll just have to way four years to do it.

How Science Works

You may recall that at the beginning of February we reported that a Japanese team was claiming to have created stem cells from blood cells with a simple acid bath. Unfortunately for medicine, one of the authors on the team is now calling for a retraction of the study, citing uncertainty about his team’s conclusions in the light of research from other teams around the world. It should first be stressed that this doesn’t mean the findings are wrong — but what it seems to mean is that they’re no longer sure that the acid bath was how they got the stem cells, and they don’t want to claim they know precisely what’s going on now that they aren’t. This is, in fact, a victory for the way science is conducted: a result was tested elsewhere, found to be inconsistent, and now further work is being done to determine the reasons. Here’s hoping it leads to new and interesting answers.

Happy 25th, World Wide Web!

This week the web (not the internet, that’s older) turned 25, meaning Sir Tim Berners-Lee, its creator, felt the need to say what we’ve all been thinking: please, please don’t screw this up. The inventor of the web took some time to advocate in favour of net neutrality, especially in light of the recent developments in America.

Meanwhile, surprisingly, the US organization that holds the reins of the DNS (domain name system — by which all websites get their names) has announced that they don’t want to do it alone anymore. The chances of it being given up to the UN are exceedingly low, but it’ll probably get talked over more at the annual ICANN meeting in Brazil in April. 

Coming Soon: Something Big

And rumours are that US scientists will report next week that they have discovered “primordial gravitational waves” using the BICEP (Background Imagine of Cosmic Extragalactic Polarization) telescope at the south pole. These waves would be best described as echoes of the big bang in the fabric of spacetime, which until now have only been speculated to exist. If the announcement is what the rumours are suggesting, it could be pretty big.

The Best of the Rest

Here’s a rundown of the things I didn’t get to this week: the dump of MtGox data on the web has a BTC-stealing trojan in it; scientists have taught a robotic elephant’s trunk to learn like a baby does; animals are being scared by invisible-to-humans flashes of UV light from power corridors; David Wright, the head of the Office of Research Inquiry, has quit citing frustrations with the bureaucracy; astronomers have found a yellow star 1300 times the diameter of the sun; and io9 has a rundown of some of the teams vying for the Tricorder X-Prize.

Finally, here’s a video of F1 driver Daniel Ricciardo of team Red Bull explaining all the new technical advances that are being introduced to the 2014 F1 cars.

Have a great week.