Vol. 1, No. 52 — Rosetta’s Ambition, Ten Years of Ubuntu, and China Heads to the Moon and Back

Rosetta’s Ambition

67P Churyumov-Gerasimenko, Photo: ESA, Rosetta, NAVCAM
67P Churyumov-Gerasimenko, Photo: ESA, Rosetta, NAVCAM

This week ESA released newer, closer pictures of 67P Churyumov-Gerasimenko, the comet it chased down last month and on which its lander will hopefully touch down on November 11. It’s the first time we’ve ever come so close to a comet with so many instruments and such brilliant cameras, and if the lander, named Philae, does land successfully, it will be the first time we’ve ever done that, too. A new series of photographs of the comet have been released, and ESA is currently judging submissions in the contest to name the landing site (currently called “J”). Now, filmmaker and artist Tomasz Bagiński has released a short film starring Aiden “Littlefinger” Gillen and Aisling Franciosi. Titled Ambition, it’s a beautiful piece based in large part on a distant future retrospective of the Rosetta mission, and what it means for humanity to have ambition. It’s well worth your seven minutes, I promise.

And in other film-related news, Adam Rogers over at Wired has a great story about how the upcoming Christopher Nolan film Interstellar actually contributed to our understanding of black holes. Turns out, in their drive to make a blackhole in the film as visually realistic as possible, they did some heavy visual rendering of the equations and a pretty bit of science happened. Check it out.

Ten Years of Ubuntu

Both Linux and Not, Photo: gnome-look.org user MarcoA, CC BY-SA 3.0
Both Linux and Not, Photo: gnome-look.org user MarcoA, CC BY-SA 3.0

This month, my favourite operating system turns ten. Ten years ago, in October 2004, the Ubuntu distro of “3rd-option” OS linux was released. Between then and now, it’s developed an estimated 25 million users, and alongside Mint and Debian is oneof the most popularly used versions around. The whole philosophy behind Ubuntu — that Linux should “just work” — has led them down some interesting (and in some cases controversial) paths, but overall it’s been a great ride, and I can’t wait to see what the next ten years hold. The latest release, 14.10 “Utopic Unicorn,” was released this week. You can read Scott Gilbertson’s article on the last ten years of Ubuntu over at Ars Technica.

China to the Moon and Back

This Friday China launched the Chang’e 5T-1, a probe with an 8-day mission to fly around the moon and back. The mission is simple: test components of the Chang’e 5 lunar sample return mission planned for 2017. Although it won’t be landing on the moon, it will be re-entering the atmosphere in a very similar way, allowing the CNSA to not only perform another test of the Long March 3C rocket on which it blasted off, but also to test for the first time the Chang’e 5 return capsule, which has to survive re-entering Earth’s atmosphere at great speed if the planned sample mission is to succeed. The probe lifted off from the Xichang base in Sichuan Friday, and is expected back late in the day on October 30.

The Coldest Cube on Earth

This week, scientists at CUORE, the Cryogenic Underground Observatory for Rare Events at the Gran Sasso National Laboratory in Italy announced a milestone: they cooled a copper vessel with an internal volume of a whole cubic metre down to just six thousandths of a degree Kelvin above absolute zero, or 6 millikelvins. It’s the first time such a large are has been cooled to such an unimaginably low temperature, and marks the beginning of the operation phase of the CUORE experiment. The idea behind the experiment is to look for incredibly tiny heat signatures of something called neutrinoless double beta decay. If the experiment does find that this is taking place, it will mean that neutrinos are Majorana particles, or particles that are their own antiparticles. Right now every fermion scientists have looked at has turned out to have a separate antiparticle, but evidence either way for the neutrino is still lacking. More on the story at Phys.org.

Smell Cells for Spinal Cords

Darek Fidyka, a 40-year-old Polish man, can now walk with a support, three years after his spinal cord was damaged in a knife attack that rendered him paralyzed. Scientists and doctors in Poland and the UK worked together to harvest cells from Fidyka’s nose, called OECs (Olfactory Ensheathing Cells), multiplied the cells in a lab, and then used them along with strips of nerve from the patient’s ankle to repair his spinal cord. Within six months he was gaining muscle in his left leg, and now, two years later, he’s walking with the help of a support frame. He’s even regained some control of his bladder and some sexual function. Needless to say, this is fantastic news for spinal cord injury sufferers around the world. For more on the story visit the BBC, or read the article in this month’s Cell Transplantation.

Gene Networks on Paper

A report in the October 23 edition of Cell announces new advances by scientists at Boston University in the use of paper-based gene networks for a variety of applications. The idea is to use artificial networks of genes, affixed to paper, to perform tasks — like identifying the presence of Ebola, or of an antibiotic-resistant bacteria, for instance, by simply changing colour. What’s more, the results indicate that these paper-based gene networks can be flash-frozen for at least a year and still work when thawed. While they’re still improving the sensitivity of the technique, this technology could lead to widespread testing for dangerous pathogens, tests for the presence of glucose, or even the simple production of made-to-order proteins. The Scientist has more on the story, or check out the article in Cell.

“Dead” Hearts

For the first time, doctors in Australia have successfully transplanted hearts that had stopped beating into new patients. In the past, receiving a heart from a donor has been a dicey affair: cell death in the circulatory system is quick, and so unless the heart is taken from a brain-dead patient and promptly put into the recipient, the chances of success are quite low. But now three patients have received hearts from patients who had died up to twenty minutes before. They hearts were placed in a new device which warms, oxygenates, and actually starts the “dead” hearts beating, keeping them both mobile and viable for up to four hours. This new technique could increase the number of heart transplant recipients by up to 30%. Check out the story in The Independent for more details.

Best of the Rest

Other things we saw this week include: a fairly convincing hoverboard; an interview with Elon Musk at MIT; a review of Google’s new “inbox”; a challenge to Traditional Chinese Medicine; bad news for “brain improvement” games; India’s MOM’s best picture home so far; a beautiful book out by Astronaut Chris Hadfield; and the very first installment of this blog’s latest series, Feminist Fridays.

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