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Category Archives: Futurism
This past autumn, a professor at Wuhan University named Jau Tang was hard at work piecing together a thruster prototype that, at first, sounds too good to be true.
The basic idea, he said in an interview, is that his device turns electricity directly into thrust no fossil fuels required by using microwaves to energize compressed air into a plasma state and shooting it out like a jet. Tang suggested, without a hint of self-aggrandizement, that it could likely be scaled up enough to fly large commercial passenger planes. Eventually, he says, it might even power spaceships.
Needless to say, these are grandiose claims. A thruster that doesnt require tanks of fuel sounds suspiciously like science fiction like the jets on Iron Mans suit in the Marvel movies, for instance, or the thrusters that allow Doc Browns DeLorean to fly in Back to the Future.
But in Tangs telling, his invention lets just call it a Tang Jet, which he worked on with Wuhan University collaborators Dan Ye and Jun Li could have civilization-shifting potential here in the non-fictional world.
Essentially, the goal of this technology is to try and use electricity and air to replace gasoline, he said. Global warming is a major threat to human civilization. Fossil fuel-free technology using microwave air plasma could be a solution.
He anticipates this happening fast. In two years, he says, he thinks Tang Jets could power drones. In a decade, hed like to see them fly a whole airplane.
That would all be awesome, obviously. But its difficult to evaluate whether Tangs invention could ever scale up enough to become practical. And even if it did, there would be substantial energy requirements that could doom aerospace applications.
One things for sure: If the tech works the way he hopes, the world will never be the same.
Tangs curriculum vitae flits between a dazzling array of strikingly disparate academic topics, from 4D electron microscopy to quantum dot lasers, nanotechnology, artificial photosynthesis, and, of course, phase transitions and plasmonics.
Hes held several professorships, done research at Caltech and Bell Laboratories, published scores of widely-cited papers, edited several scientific journals, and won a variety of awards. He holds a U.S. patent for a device he calls a synchrotron shutter, designed to capture electrons traveling near the speed of light.
Tang says he first stumbled onto the idea for the plasma thruster when he was trying to create synthetic diamonds. As he tried to grow them using microwaves, he recalls, he started to wonder whether the same technology could be used to produce thrust.
Other huge stories, like the coronavirus pandemic and the baffling saga of Elon Musk naming his baby X A-12, were sucking a lot of oxygen out of the news cycle in early May, when Tang announced his invention to the world. A few outlets picked up Tangs story, including New Atlas, Popular Mechanics, and Ars Technica, but no journalist appears to have actually talked to him.
Because of that, there was little fanfare surrounding the sheer scope of his ambition for the technology and it went overlooked that Tang sometimes sounds as though hes invented a hammer and is now seeing a lot of things as nails.
After describing his plans to conquer aerospace with his new thruster, for instance, he starts to describe plans to take on the automotive industry as well with jet-powered electric cars.
I think the jet engine is more efficient than the electric motor, you can drive a car at much faster speeds, he mused. Thats what I have in mind: to combine the plasma jet engine with a turbine to drive a car.
But you wouldnt want to drive behind it, he warned, because you could be scorched by its fiery jet stream.
Over the course of our interview, Tang also brought up the possibilities of using the technology to build projectile weapons, launch spaceships, power boats, and even create a new type of stove for cooking. On that last point, Tang said that hes already built a prototype kitchen stove powered by a microwave air plasma torch but its so deafeningly loud that it sounds like a constant lightning strike.
Technically, the Tang Jet is an attempt to build a plasma thruster, a concept thats periodically gained attention in scientific circles. Michael Heil, a retired aerospace and propulsion engineer with a long career of Air Force and NASA research, told Futurism that Tangs research reminds him of several other attempts to build air propulsion tech that hes encountered over the years.
Plasma thrusters like those that would power a Tang Jet have been around for a while. NASA first launched a satellite equipped with plasma thrusters back in 2006, but its capabilities are a far cry from what Tang is proposing with his research.
Engineers have long dreamed of a plasma jet-powered plane, but every attempt has been smacked down by the technological limitations of the day. For example, New Scientist reported in 2017 that a team from the Technical University of Berlin attempted to build a similar thruster but like every attempt over the previous decade, their work never became useful outside of the lab.
The problems with these attempts arent so much faults with the theory the concept of generating thrust with a plasma torch is fairly sound. Rather, issues begin to pop up when working out the logistics of building a vehicle that actually works.
Tang has little interest in commercializing the jet himself. Instead, he wants to demonstrate its merits in hopes that well-funded government leaders or titans of industry will be inspired to take the ideas and run with them.
The steps toward realization of a full plasma jet engine would cost lots of money, time and energy, he said. Such investment is beyond our present resources. Such tasks should be taken by aerospace industries or governmental agencies.
Thats a common mindset for scientists, said Christopher Combs, an aerodynamics researcher at the University of Texas at San Antonio.
Thats what us academics do, we figure out the physics and say Well I dont want to make a product,' he told Futurism. Its kind of a common refrain to see people in academia who have had something that gets a lot of attention.
Though hes intrigued by the underlying principles of the Tang Jet, Combs says its unlikely that it will scale up to the size needed to lift a plane in other words, the same challenges that proved insurmountable to previous plasma thrusters will rear their heads once again. The current prototype, for perspective, only produces about 10 Newtons of thrust about the same as a medium-sized model rocket.
Youre talking about scaling something by five orders of magnitude more than 100,000 times! Combs said. Which almost never works linearly. Lots of engineering happens in the middle.
And even if it were to scale perfectly, theres the issue of power. Iron Mans suit was powered by an Arc Reactor, and the flying DeLorean was powered by a Mr. Fusion unit that turned household trash into more than a gigawatt of power both of which, unfortunately, are fictional.
Fossil fuels store vastly more energy by weight than batteries, and thats unlikely to change any time soon. And thats too bad, because the Tang Jet needs a whole lot of power.
According to a paper Tang and his collaborators publishedabout the thruster prototype in the journal AIP Advances in May, the technology produces about 28 Newtons of thrust per kilowatt of power. The engines on the Airbus A320, a common commercial jet, produce about 220,000 Newtons of thrust combined, meaning that a comparably-sized jet plane powered by Tang Jets would require more than 7,800 kilowatts.
For perspective, that would mean loading an aircraft up with more than 570 Tesla Powerwall 2 units for a single hour of flight an impractical load, especially because the A320s payload could only carry about 130 of the giant battery units. Long story short, no existing battery tech could provide enough juice.
Does this thing just become a flying Tesla battery? Combs said. With the weight of these batteries, you dont have room for anything else.
The battery weight issue doesnt doom the Tang Jet, but it pushes options for its power source into the fringe. Tang is banking on improvements to battery technology over the next years and decades; those Technical University of Berlin researchers speculated about nuclear fusion. Unfortunately, any possible answers could be decades away or impossible.
It is worth noting that there exist compact nuclear fission reactors, like Russias KLT-40S, that produce enough power and weigh little enough that they could fit in a passenger plane or rocket.
But the safety and environmental implications of nuclear-powered aircraft are grim, and Heil was quick to point out that generating enough power isnt the only problem facing a Tang Jet. Actually getting the electricity from the power source to the thrusters would pose its own difficulties, perhaps requiring superconducting materials that dont exist yet.
You need power to generate thrust. And how do you move that power around on the aircraft? Heil said. Moving and controlling megawatts from the reactor to the jet is a huge challenge. You have to use big thick copper wires, that adds a lot of weight.
Overall, both Combs and Heil questioned the feasibility of a practical Tang Jet based on the technology we have today. Without a quick fix to the energy problem, its certainly a tall order.
But both said they were fascinated by the research and hoped to see future progress. They also pointed out that a plasma thruster could be useful for pushing satellites or spacecraft that are already in orbit though at that point it would need to bring propellant with it rather than using atmospheric air, since thered be none in the vacuum of space.
The bottom line, Heil and Combs agreed, is that we wont have a firmer grasp of the future of the tech until Tangs colleagues have evaluated and experimented with it.
Im rooting for this, and Id love to see it pan out, Combs said. But the scientist in me has some questions and some concerns.
More on Tangs plasma jets: Scientists Create Jet Engine Powered by Only Electricity
Physicists at CERNs Large Hadron Collider just discovered a brand-new kind of subatomic particle and its composition is a baffling world-first.
The yet-unnamed particle is the first that we know of to be entirely made up of the same kind of quark, which is a building block for subatomic particles. In this case, according to preprint research shared online Tuesday, the particle is composed of four charm quarks an arrangement that could help physicists better probe the underlying forces holding particles together.
Charm quarks are just one of six flavors of quark, along with up, down, strange, top, and bottom. As one of the heavier flavors, the charm quarks are bound together by the same, poorly-understood fundamental force that binds protons to neutrons. Researchers hope the unusual combination can help them explain how that particular force works.
Particles made up of four quarks are already exotic, project spokesperson Giovanni Passaleva said in a press release, and the one we have just discovered is the first to be made up of four heavy quarks of the same type, specifically two charm quarks and two charm antiquarks.
Next, the team hopes to sort out whether theyve found a true tetraquark or rather two quark pairings that are bound together like atoms in a molecule though both would be valuable discoveries.
Todays discovery opens another exciting chapter in this scientific book, allowing us to study our theory of matter particles in an extreme case, spokesperson Chris Parkes said in the release.
READ MORE: Exotic never before seen particle discovered at CERN [University of Manchester]
More on the LHC: The LHC Just Discovered A New System of Five Particles
A French computer scientist developed a complex series of equations to predict the smallest number of Mars settlers needed to establish a successful, self-sustainable community on the Red Planet.
The number he arrived at just 110 intrepid explorers, who could all fit in a pair of SpaceX Starships, if they can actually carry 100 passengers each seems shockingly low considering the countless challenges of establishing a permanent presence on a new planet for the first time. But Universe Today reports that the researcher, Jean-Marc Salotti, of Bordeaux Institut National Polytechnique, focused on one key metric: how cooperatively the settlers would work toward their shared survival.
The math in Salottis research, which was published this month in the journal Scientific Reports, gets a bit complex. But the end result is a simple graph showing that once the settlement has 110 people, they can successfully work together on tasks that benefit the group at large like building facilities that harvest drinking water instead of fending for themselves.
If each settler was completely isolated and no sharing was possible, Salotti writes in the research, each individual would have to perform all activities and the total time requirement would be obtained by a multiplication by the number of individuals.
Of course, there are many challenges that need to be solved before we can settle Mars. But Salotti argues in his research that establishing models like these could help space agencies create data-driven plans for the endeavor.
Our method allows simple comparisons, opening the debate for the best strategy for survival and the best place to succeed, he wrote.
READ MORE: The Bare Minimum Number of Martian Settlers? 110 [Universe Today]
More on settling Mars: Reality Check: It Would Take Thousands of Years To Colonize Mars
Read the original here:
According to New Equations, a Mars Colony Would Need This Many People - Futurism
Researchers have yet to find any evidence of life on any other planet, including Mars.
But that hasnt stopped some rogue scientists from making outlandish claims and self-publishing evidence of the existence of a microbiological presence on the Red Planet, as CNETsJackson Ryan reports in an outstanding feature.
Self-described neurobiologist Rhawn Gabriel Joseph a man referred to by Ryan as the Space Tiger King, a nod to the popular Netflix docuseries is convinced that life already exists on Mars and Venus, and that we already have the evidence to back it up.
The roots of Josephs school of thought first started with the labeled release (LR) experiments on Mars in the 1970s, when NASAs Viking lander looked for biosignatures on the planet by carrying out a series of tests.
While the lander found no significant amount of organic molecules, some scientists, most notablythen-NASA researcher Gilbert Levin, believed the results did indeed confirm the existence life on Mars.
NASA refuted any such claims outright, writing that the experiments provided no clear evidence for the presence of living microorganisms in soil near the landing sites.
Joseph built on the research from this fringe group of researchers, by claiming that life was brought to the cosmos by a process called panspermia, a theory that suggests life in space was seeded with microbes carried by dust and meteors.
Over the decades, Joseph has attempted to get his work peer-reviewed and published in a variety astrobiology journals. He even went as far as creating his own journal, which he calls the Journal of Cosmology, likely an attempt to make his work appear more legitimate.
The journal is not much more than an outdated website, and has published claims made by Richard Hoover, another former NASA scientist, who suggested that we discovered fossilized bacteria in space, as CNET reports yet another claim NASA wants nothing to do with.
In 2014, Joseph even attempted to sue NASA into examining a biological organism the agencys Opportunity rover discovered on the surface of Mars. He claimed the rover found a mushroom-like fungus, a composite organism consisting of colonies of lichen and cyanobacteria, and which on Earth is known as Apothecium. It turned out to be a rock.
Just last year, Joseph caught a break when the reputableAstrophysics & Space Science journal published a paper of his that claimed life on Venus had already been found.
Based on photographic evidence made up of grainy black and white images, Joseph argues that Russias Venera 13 lander found evidence of life on Venus in 1982. The paper is still online, as CNET found. The journal added an editors note to the paper this month warning readers that conclusions of this article are subject to criticisms that are being considered by the editors.
Mainstream astrobiologists are not amused.
I feel like these guys have just poisoned the whole field, Paul Myers, a developmental biologist at the University of Minnesota, told CNET.
READ MORE: The search for life on Mars and the Space Tiger King [CNET]
More on life on Mars: Former NASA Scientist Convinced We Already Found Life on Mars
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Extremely Dubious Scientist Believes There's Mushrooms and Lichen on Mars - Futurism
If a new experiment is to be believed, a single gene-editing injection could someday eliminate the risk of heart disease.
Doctors from the biotech company Verve Therapeutics injected 13 monkeys with a serum that shut off two particular genes in their livers responsible for producing cholesterol and triglyceride fats, The New York Times reports. If the same could be accomplished in humans, scientists suspect that for many people, heart disease and fatal heart attacks could become relics of the past.
This could be the cure for heart disease, Dr. Michael Davidson, Lipid Clinic director at the University of Chicago Pritzker School of Medicine, who did not contribute to the research, told the NYT.
The idea would be to inject young people in order to gene-hack them so that they can go about life free of heart disease. Unfortunately for older generations, heart attacks and other conditions can be the result of decades-worth of high cholesterol filling their veins with plaque.
The serum altered the DNA of every cell in the 13 monkeys livers, according to the research, which hasnt yet been peer-reviewed or published but was presented Saturday at the International Society for Stem Cell Researchs annual meeting.
Specifically, it switches off two genes: PCSK9, which regulates LDL cholesterol thats the bad kind and ANGPTL3, which regulates triglycerides, a type of fat that can be stored in the blood.
It will be years before the team can repeat the experiment in humans, the NYT reports, because they need to observe the monkeys for any potential side effects from the gene alteration and to see if the effect is permanent or not.
We hope it will be one-and-done, but we have to validate that with clinical trials, Davidson told the NYT.
Russia Says It’s Sending Two Tourists to the International Space Station, Including a Spacewalk – Futurism
Back in the Game
For the first time since Russia halted its orbital space tourism program in 2010 due to growing International Space Station crew sizes, the countrys space agency Roscosmos is getting back into the game.
The country is planning to send two tourists to the station in 2023 inside a Soyuz spacecraft, according to the Agence France-Presse. One of them will even go for a spacewalk outside the station something thats never been attempted before, as such a mission requires extensive and costly training.
Roscosmos is partnering with Virginia-based space tourism company Space Adventures for the tourism program. The Russian space agency has already flown seven citizens to the station with the help of the company.
A private citizen completing a spacewalk would be another huge step forward in private spaceflight, Eric Anderson, Space Adventures CEO, said in a statement. We appreciate the chance to celebrate two decades of orbital space tourism with our Russian partners by opening up another first-ever experience.
The news comes after SpaceX successfully launched two NASA astronauts to the station using its reusable Crew Dragon capsule.
Plans to use the same shuttle for space tourists are already in the works. SpaceX announced its own partnership with Space Adventures back in February an interesting connection, since theres at least some bad blood between SpaceX and the Russian space program.
READ MORE: Roscosmos says it will send two tourists to the space station in 2023 and one of them will spacewalk [The Verge]