Are neutrinos the key to FTL travel in science fiction?

CERN has recently announced that its OPERA experiment has generated results that suggest neutrinos travelling between Geneva and the INFN Gran Sasso lab in Italy are moving faster then the speed of light.

Faster-than-light (FTL) travel, or the lack thereof, is a key plot element in much science fiction, with many hard sci-fi fans taking the line that it should not be used because it is not physically possible.  This result points to a potential softening of that stance.  It is yet to be confirmed by others and has only resulted in measured speeds fractionally faster than light (less than 0.01% faster.)

Personally I will await further scrutiny of the results.  At such small deviations from an expected results anything from the composition of the material the neutrinos pass through, the spin of the Earth or even the fractionally reduced gravity inside the Earth may well be the cause of the anomaly.

Read the press release here: http://press.web.cern.ch/press/PressReleases/Releases2011/PR19.11E.html

James.

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Iain Banks on The Gadget Show this Friday

Iain Banks, acclaimed sci-fi and mainstream author of such classics as The Wasp Factory, The Player of Games and more recently Surface Detail, will be a judge for an ebook themed challenge on The Gadget Show in the UK this Friday (23rd.)

Read more about it on his website at: http://www.iain-banks.net/2011/09/14/iain-banks-on-channel-5s-gadget-show-23-sept-2011/

James.

NASA discovers Tatooine

The timing could not be better for this press release.  NASA have announced the discovery of an exoplanet that orbits two stars.  Making a reality of the twin-sunset scenes on Tatooine in the Star Wars saga.

This comes as the Blu-Ray box set of Star Wars – The Complete Saga is released.  A nine-disk set that gives Star Wars fans the chance to see the films in stunning quality.

Read about NASA’s discovery here: http://www.nasa.gov/home/hqnews/2011/sep/HQ_11-304_Kepler_Update.html

Read about Star Wars here: http://www.starwars.com/news/starwars_blu-ray.html

James.

A star explodes

SN 2011fe is the official designation for a super nova that was discovered a few weeks ago.  It has just reached its peak and should be visible through a good pair of binoculars in the galaxy M101.  It should then fade slowly over the coming days.

View the news release here: http://www.ox.ac.uk/media/news_stories/2011/110907.html

M101 on this graphic will show you where to look: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Ursa_Major_IAU.svg

James.

Stunning images of NASA’s footsteps on the Moon

NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) mission has just delivered some stunning images of the landing sites of the Apollo program.  You can clearly make out the footsteps and buggy tracks still present on the Moon’s dusty surface.  To the side, sunlight glints off the remains of the crafts and experiments from Apollo 12, 14 and 17.

It has been a long time since man last stepped on the Moon – Gene Cernan being the last man to leave the moon just before Christmas in 1972.  Hopefully these images will inspire people and governments to find ways both private and public to get man back to the Moon and then further afield.

See the pictures, and enlargements here: http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/LRO/news/apollo-sites.html

James.

Molecule-sized controllable machines

Most nanotechnology is about the properties of materials with a given structure at a nano-scale.  The results of the latest research at Tufts University has a far more practical application.  It is the first electrically-driven single-molecule engine.

The engine needs to run at a very low temperature (5 Kelvin) to be managable, but it is a significant step forward in producing nano-scale controllable structures.  As well as providing motive power, the engine also has the potential to be inverted to use the spin of the molecule to generate power at a nano-scale.

Read more at Tufts University here: http://now.tufts.edu/articles/really-little-engine-could

James.

NASA’s online solar system explorer @nasa_eyes

NASA have announce the release of a beta version of a new online tool to explore the solar system – Eyes on the Solar System.  User can pilot a point of view and move around the solar system, which includes the many probes and missions that are slowly creeping their way across the vast expanse of space.  Zoom in and have a look at the rings of Saturn, or move across to Mars and have a look at the desert landscape.

You need to install a small app to run the simulation – then fire up the tool and start exploring.  I recommend running it in full screen mode to get the most immersive experience.  You can also follow the project on twitter @nasa_eyes

Press release here: http://www.nasa.gov/home/hqnews/2011/sep/HQ_11-288_System_Eyes.html

Eyes on the Solar System here: http://solarsystem.nasa.gov/eyes/

James.

Robot plugs in new set of eyes

Industrial robots are used for a wide variety of tasks – from circuit board construction to assembling cars on a production line.  Many of these tasks require a high precision alignment of the work piece and the robot operating on the piece.  Sometimes supported by bespoke alignment systems.

Epson has just announced it will ship a new vision system for industrial robots – which will aid alignment and positioning of the robot on the work piece.  The new vision system also promises to accelerate the understanding and study of visual-reactive system.  It is an area that has a lot of interesting challenges and unsolved problems.

You can read the press release here: http://global.epson.com/newsroom/2011/news_20110829_2.html

James.

Artificial intelligence – the wrong way

There have been numerous press articles about the conversation between two AI chatbots that has been set up by Igor Labutov at Cornell Creative Machines Lab.  It connects two instances of the online chatbot Cleverbot.

The experiment of putting two chatbots up against each other is interesting, but I am hugely disappointed by the resultant conversation and the underlying algorithms that are revealed by the conversation.  If this is AI – then it is using a very weak interpretation of the word artificial.  While it may cause some amusement, I can’t help but feel that claiming these types of algorithms to be AI does an injustice to the ideals of machine intelligence.

You can see the press release and video here: http://creativemachines.cornell.edu/AI-vs-AI

Or browse some other interesting work done at Cornell Creative Machines Lab: http://creativemachines.cornell.edu/

James.