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Roger's Equations

This blog is all about science and technology (with occasional math thrown in for fun). The goal of this blog is to try and pass on the sense of excitement and wonder I feel when I read about these topics. I hope you enjoy the posts.

Blue Origin Suborbital Launch and Recovery

Posted November 25, 2015 8:39 AM by Roger Pink

Billionaire Rivals

It looks like Bezos' "side" project Blue Origin is starting to get some traction. I'm a little disturbed by how news reports seem to be equating this accomplishment with the work SpaceX has done, but that doesn't mean it isn't impressive (it is!). Elon Musk protested the comparisons via twitter (justifiably so in my opinion). Still, it is nice to see at least the perception of competition is the commercial space race.

In case you haven't heard about the successful Blue Origin rocket launch and recovery, here is the article:

Blue Origin Launches Bezos's Space Dreams and Lands a Rocket

This time, Jeffrey P. Bezos' rocket went up - and it came down in one piece.

Mr. Bezos, the founder of Amazon, has been investing some of his wealth in space dreams, establishing a rocket company called Blue Origin. On Monday, Blue Origin launched its New Shepard rocket, named after Alan Shepard, the first American to reach space in a similar suborbital flight in 1961. The rocket lofted a capsule that is to eventually carry paying passengers on suborbital jaunts to a height of 329,839 feet, or 100.5 kilometers, above its launch site near Van Horn in West Texas. That is just above the 100-kilometer altitude that is considered the beginning of outer space.

The capsule descended to the ground under parachutes 11 minutes after blasting off. The rocket itself turned around and, firing its engines again, set back down at the launchpad at 4.4 miles per hour - faster than a person strolling, but gentle enough to prevent damage. It landed less than five feet from its target. "It was a totally nominal flight," Mr. Bezos said in an interview. "We're walking on cloud nine. There wasn't a dry eye in the house." This builds on a largely successful test flight in April. In that operation, the launch and the landing of the capsule were flawless, but the rocket crashed because of a failure with a hydraulic system. Mr. Bezos said engineers had replaced the hydraulics with a new design.

Article Continues Here

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Dwarf Planet V774104

Posted November 18, 2015 7:24 AM by Roger Pink

I came across this recently in the news and thought I'd pass it along. For reference, Pluto is roughly 2,200 km across.

Astronomers spot most distant object in the solar system, could point to other rogue planets

Astronomers have found the most distant object ever in our solar system, three times farther away than Pluto. The dwarf planet, which has been designated V774104, is between 500 and 1000 kilometers across. It will take another year before scientists pin down its orbit, but it could end up joining an emerging class of extreme solar system objects whose strange orbits point to the hypothetical influence of rogue planets or nearby stars. "We can't explain these objects' orbits from what we know about the solar system," says Scott Sheppard, an astronomer at the Carnegie Institution for Science in Washington, D.C., who announced the discovery here today at a meeting of the American Astronomical Society. V774104 currently sits 15.4 billion kilometers from the sun, or 103 astronomical units (AU) away. One AU is the distance between Earth and the sun.

The dwarf planet could eventually join one of two clubs. If its orbit one day takes it closer to our sun, it would become part of a more common population of icy worlds whose orbits can be explained by gravitational interactions with Neptune. But if its orbit never brings it close to the sun, it could join a rare club with two other worlds, Sedna and 2012 VP113. These two dwarf planets never come within 50 AU of the sun, and their orbits swing as far out as 1000 AU. Sheppard calls them "inner Oort cloud objects" to distinguish them from icy Kuiper Belt objects, which reside between 30 and 50 AU. The Oort cloud is a hypothetical, thinly populated sphere of icy bodies, thousands of AU away, that marks the edge of the solar system and the end of the sun's gravitational influence.

Subaru Telescope by Scott Sheppard, Chad Trujillo, and David Tholen

A moving blip in a forest of stars, V774104 was spotted last month by the Subaru telescope in Hawaii.

Article Continues Here

3 comments; last comment on 11/22/2015
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Quantum Cooling to Near Absolute Zero

Posted November 16, 2015 8:23 AM by Roger Pink

How Cold Can They Go?

Earlier this year, the record for coldest temperature achieved in a lab was broken by Stanford, who reached a temperature of 50 picoKelvin (50 trillionths of a kelvin).
Stanford Temperature Record

Using Quantum Mechanics to cool Helium

Although records are always interesting, sometimes techniques to improve an existing cooling method can be fascinating as well. In the video below, a Professor does a great job explaining how his group uses quantum mechanical tricks to cool liquid helium much further than you would normally expect.

Liquid Helium Cooling

1 comments; last comment on 11/17/2015
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Glass As Strong As Steel

Posted November 03, 2015 8:57 AM by Roger Pink

Corning Museum of Glass

Before getting to the news, I just wanted to recommend the Corning Museum of Glass to anyone who hasn't been there. If you're in the finger lakes region of NY ever, it's worth half a day. Pretty amazing place filled with Art and Science and the town is pretty cool too.

The Glass is Half Full?

Seems like every few months some new type of glass comes out that is tougher than previously discovered glasses. Scientists in Japan are keeping the evolution of glass going with their latest find, glass that is 50% alumina and hard as steel. See the article below:

Scientists develop 'unbreakable' glass almost as tough as steel

Japanese researchers have developed a new type of glass almost as hard as steel, a breakthrough that could lead to the development of substantially tougher windows and tableware."We will establish a way to mass-produce the new material shortly," said Atsunobu Masuno, an assistant professor at the University of Tokyo's Institute of Industrial Science. "We are looking to commercialize the technique within five years."

Oxide glass mainly consists of silicon dioxide, with its strength boosted by mixing in alumina, an oxide of aluminum. But it had been difficult for scientists to form glass containing a large amount of alumina because the oxide causes crystallization when the glass comes into contact with its container.The scientists bypassed this problem by using a containerless processing technique.

Article Continues Here

6 comments; last comment on 11/04/2015
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Sending Tardigrades to Phobos

Posted November 02, 2015 7:42 AM by Roger Pink


Some animals are just hard to kill. Tardigrades, also known as water bears, are micro-animals that can survive extreme conditions. Whether it's almost absolute zero or 150 degrees C or pressures 6 times greater than those found in the deepest ocean trenches, Tardigrades persist. Even the vacuum of space and radiation levels hundreds of times higher than would kill a human won't always kill them, and they can go 10 years without food or water. Under most of the conditions just described they are basically in stasis till the environment is suitable enough for them to revive.


LIFE Experiment

Tardigrades, along with some other specimens, were picked for a rather ambitious and perhaps morally questionable endeavor. The idea was to fly them to Mars' moon Phobos and back to see if they could survive the trip. The morality in question is it risks possibility of contaminating Phobos with Earth life. It doesn't matter now because the mission failed in 2011, but there are hopes to revive it.

LIFE Experiment

Here is an interesting article on the experiment:

Tough astronaut bugs to blast off for Martian moon

A ragtag group of rugged travellers is sent on a three-year round trip to a desolate moon that might be the site of a future human outpost in space.No, that's not a pitch for a reality show - it's a description of an experiment called LIFE (Living Interplanetary Flight Experiment) that is scheduled to set off for the larger of Mars's two moons, Phobos, on 8 November, from Baikonur, Kazakhstan. The travellers are not celebrities, but some of Earth's toughest organisms, including the bacterium and water bears - tiny invertebrates that can survive extreme temperatures and the vacuum of space in Low-Earth orbit.

The brainchild of the non-profit Planetary Society of Pasadena, California, LIFE will pack 10 such hardy organisms inside a container the size of a hockey puck and then hitch a ride aboard Russia's Phobos-Grunt (Phobos-Soil) spacecraft. LIFE will test an idea called transpermia, in which organisms "could be ejected off one planet in impacts, travel through space inside rocks, then be deposited on another world", says Bruce Betts, LIFE's lead scientist. Phobos-Grunt "will act as a simulated rock carrying life between planets". If the organisms survive, it would strengthen the idea that life on Earth might have come from other planets, or has travelled to other planets. Phobos lies far beyond Earth's protective magnetosphere, so LIFE should provide a glimpse of what happens when organisms are not shielded from many of the damaging charged particles from the sun and other sources. While organisms taken to the moon on Apollo missions went beyond the magnetosphere, it was only for a few days at a time. LIFE should expose its organisms to the radiation and temperatures of space for three years.

Article Continues Here

15 comments; last comment on 11/04/2015
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Engineering Viruses to Fight Cancer

Posted October 29, 2015 8:40 AM by Roger Pink

There has been a growing trend in medicine of using modified viruses to fight cancer. I came across a recent article and thought I'd pass it along. Enjoy!

Cancer-fighting viruses win approval

US regulators clear a viral melanoma therapy, paving the way for a promising field with a chequered past.

An engineered herpesvirus that provokes an immune response against cancer has become the first treatment of its kind to be approved for use in the United States, paving the way for a long-awaited class of therapies. On 27 October, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved a genetically engineered virus called talimogene laherparepvec (T-VEC) to treat advanced melanoma. Four days earlier, advisers to the European Medicines Agency had endorsed the drug.

With dozens of ongoing clinical trials of similar 'oncolytic' viruses, researchers hope that the approval will generate the enthusiasm and cash needed to spur further development of the approach. "The era of the oncolytic virus is probably here," says Stephen Russell, a cancer researcher and haematologist at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota. "I expect to see a great deal happening over the next few years."

Many viruses preferentially infect cancer cells. Malignancy can suppress normal antiviral responses, and sometimes the mutations that drive tumour growth also make cells more susceptible to infection. Viral infection can thus ravage a tumour while leaving abutting healthy cells untouched, says Brad Thompson, president of the pharmaceutical-development firm Oncolytics Biotech in Calgary, Canada.

Early attempts

The strategy builds on a phenomenon that has been appreciated for more than a century. Physicians in the 1800s noted that their cancer patients sometimes unexpectedly went into remission after experiencing a viral infection. These case reports later inspired doctors, particularly in the 1950s and 1960s, to raid nature's viral cupboard. Clinicians injected cancer patients with a menagerie of viruses. Sometimes the therapy destroyed the tumour, and sometimes it killed the person instead. Unlike the wild viruses used in those mid-twentieth-century experiments, some of today's anti-cancer viruses are painstakingly engineered. T-VEC, for example, has been altered to drastically reduce its ability to cause herpes. Researchers also inserted a gene encoding a protein that stimulates the immune system, which makes the virus even more potent against cancer.

Article continues here

7 comments; last comment on 10/30/2015
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