English councils set to miss carbon emission targets Despite their climate pledges, many local authorities do not even know how much carbon they produceMany councils in England don’t know how much energy they use, a new survey reveals. The findings make it “inconceivable” that they will become carbon neutral within 30 years, as the government has mandated.According to the survey, 43% of councils – 93 of the 214 local authorities that responded to a freedom of information request from electrical contractors’ trade body ECA – do not measure the energy they use in council-owned buildings or know how much carbon they produce. Continue reading… Source – Full Article https://www.theguardian.com/society/2020/jan/27/english-councils-set-to-miss-carbon-emission-targets
Kindness is not enough: Australia needs a strategic national response to the bushfires | Audette Exel We’ve seen deeds of great courage and charity over the past few months. Now we need an effective, coordinated process to help the nation rebuildPeople are magnificent. They rescue our wildlife, defend our homes and towns, stare down fires against insuperable odds. And then they give money, often that they don’t have – to firefighters, aid agencies, the bereaved, the homeless, and animal hospitals.So much giving and yet, despite it all, I can’t quieten the alarm bells in my head. Will these good intentions have good outcomes? Do we know what we are doing, as we rush to help? Can… Source – Full Article https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2020/jan/27/kindness-is-not-enough-australia-needs-a-strategic-national-response-to-the-bushfires
How Indigenous land burning is protecting rare mammals on Australia's Tiwi Islands – video Scientists from Charles Darwin University and the Tiwi Land Rangers are researching how to help protect the rare brush-tailed rabbit rat and other small mammals using land burning. Burning in cooler months is not only preventing bushfires, but maintaining sanctuaries for the small mammals from predators like feral cats Continue reading… Source – Full Article https://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/video/2020/jan/27/how-indigenous-land-burning-is-protecting-rare-mammals-on-australias-tiwi-islands-video
This Marvelous Machine Splits Moon Dust Into Oxygen and Metal
Like the settlers of old, space explorers will live off the land. But if self-sufficiency on Earth is difficult, it’s orders of magnitude more challenging in space, where there are no trees to build shelter, no plants and animals to eat, no water to drink, and no breathable air.
Like The Martian’s Mark Watney, future space explorers will have to use a heavy dose of science-y resourcefulness to survive hostile environments on the moon and Mars. Luckily, also like Mark Watney, they’ll have access to some of the brightest brains on the planet.
Some of those brains, currently working at the European Space Agency, are making a machine that transmutes moon dust into oxygen—to breath and make rocket fuel with—and metal for building.
Moon Dust Is Nearly 50 Percent Oxygen
Truly, the surface of the moon is a barren wasteland. It’s like being exposed to the vacuum of deep space with the modest benefit of a little ground under your feet and dust on your boots.
It’s this dust, fine, grey, and bone dry, that may prove to be an invaluable resource for lunar homesteaders. Known as lunar regolith, moon dust is 40-45 percent oxygen by weight. Bound up in mineral and glass oxides, oxygen is the most abundant element on the moon’s surface.
Oxygen is also, obviously, necessary for breathable air, and it’s a key ingredient in rocket fuel—but you can’t breathe or fuel ships with moon dust. Which is where ESA comes in.
Performing Lunar Alchemy
To free up all that oxygen, ESA scientists heat a basket of simulated moon dust—which is a close approximation to the real thing—and calcium chloride salt to 950 degrees Celsius. The researchers split off the oxygen with an electric current, leaving behind a pile of metal alloys.
As it stands now, the process can separate 95 percent of the oxygen in 50 hours, but if you’re in a hurry, 75 percent can be extracted in just the first 15 hours.
The team unveiled a proof-of-concept last October, which they said was a significant improvement on other similar processes that produce less oxygen or require far higher temperatures. And there’s room for improvement. To that end, the team announced last week they’re setting up a new oxygen plant in the Netherlands to further refine things.
A key goal is to reduce the temperature. The higher the temperature, the more energy you need. And energy will be in finite supply on the moon. The team doesn’t have a target temperature in mind, ESA research fellow Alexandre Meurisse told Singularity Hub in an email, but they believe they can do better. How much better depends on how lower temperatures affect other aspects of the process (like efficiency).
Of Ice and Moon Dust
In addition to oxygen bound up in lunar dust, we know the moon has water. Though the details are still somewhat shrouded in mystery, scientists believe the moon’s water takes the form of ice in permanently shadowed areas at the poles.
We’ll need water to drink, of course, but we can also separate it into its elemental components, hydrogen and oxygen, by electrolysis. Provided we can get to the moon’s ice, how does the ESA process’s energy requirements stack up to the electrolysis of water?
Meurisse said the two resources will likely have different trade-offs to consider (though we may well need need both to support a sustainable presence on the moon).
Because ESA’s process involves high temperatures, it’s very energy intensive compared to water electrolysis which can be done at room temperature. But moon dust covers the entire surface as far as the eye can see. Grab a shovel and bag some up. The moon’s ice, on the other hand, will be rarer and much more difficult to mine, and we aren’t sure of its composition or what kind of processing it’ll require to make it usable.
There’s also something else to consider—that pile of metal left over once the oxygen has been pulled off and siphoned away. This metal may prove to be a reliable building material, something the ESA team will also look into exploiting in the coming years.
“Could [the metals] be 3D printed directly, for example, or would they require refining?” Alexandre asked. “The precise combination of metals will depend on where on the Moon the regolith is acquired from—there would be significant regional differences.”
Next, the team will build a pilot plant that could operate on the moon (but won’t be sent there) by the mid-2020s.
In the longer term, if the technology proves scalable and space-worthy, it could help make the moon into a gas station for spacecraft in Earth orbit and beyond. Manufacturing fuel on the lunar surface may prove more cost-efficient than dragging it up from Earth. Ultimately, explorers may use moon dust to breathe, build, and fuel missions across the solar system.
Image Credit: NASA
Source: Singularity Hub:
Nano-thin flexible touchscreens could be printed like newspaper Melbourne, Australia (SPX) Jan 26, 2020
Researchers have developed an ultra-thin and ultra-flexible electronic material that could be printed and rolled out like newspaper, for the touchscreens of the future. The touch-responsive technology is 100 times thinner than existing touchscreen materials and so pliable it can be rolled up like a tube. To create the new conductive sheet, an RMIT University-led team used a thin film Source: NanoDaily.com http://www.spacedaily.com/reports/Nano_thin_flexible_touchscreens_could_be_printed_like_newspaper_999.html
Lyrebirds are survivors, but the situation for Australian birdlife after the bushfires is dire | Sean Dooley Recovery after fires of such unparalleled enormity is going to take decades and enormous resourcesFor literally millions of years, the glorious songs of lyrebirds have rung out across the valleys of south-eastern Australia. Lyrebirds have an extraordinary vocal range and are famously accomplished mimics with their own lush, ringing calls mingled with impersonations on their avian neighbours.However, research from BirdLife Australia examining the impacts of the recent bushfires is showing that an unprecedented number of those valleys are cloaked in silence today. No lyrebirds are likely to be calling. No whipbirds. Or kookaburras, cockatoos, currawongs. Or any of any of… Source – Full Article https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2020/jan/26/lyrebirds-are-survivors-but-the-situation-for-australian-birdlife-after-the-bushfires-is-dire
If you love Australia, climate change should scare the hell out of you | Greg Jericho Conservatives love to talk up Australia ‘punching above its weight’, but they turn to self-hating cowards when it comes to climate changeI love Australia.It’s not a thing you hear too often from progressives. Mostly this is because we don’t go in for the pathetic jingo-nationalist, quasi-militaristic “love it or leave it”-style patriotism that John Howard attempted to link with a love of country. Continue reading… Source – Full Article https://www.theguardian.com/business/grogonomics/2020/jan/26/if-you-love-australia-climate-change-should-scare-the-hell-out-of-you
This Week’s Awesome Tech Stories From Around the Web (Through January 25)
The Most Complete Brain Map Ever Is Here: A Fly’s ‘Connectome’
Gregory Barber | Wired
“Researchers like Rubin believe a physical blueprint of the brain could become a foundational resource for neuroscientists—doing for brain science what genome sequences have done for genetics.”
The Secretive Company That Might End Privacy as We Know It
Kashmir Hill | The New York Times
“Searching someone by face could become as easy as Googling a name. Strangers would be able to listen in on sensitive conversations, take photos of the participants and know personal secrets. Someone walking down the street would be immediately identifiable — and his or her home address would be only a few clicks away. It would herald the end of public anonymity.”
Spot the Robot Dog Trots Into the Big, Bad World
Matt Simon | Wired
“After a few months on the job, Spot is beginning to show how it’ll fit in the workforce. [Boston Dynamics’] researchers have kept close tabs on the 75 or so Spots now working at places like construction companies and mining outfits. (Oh, and one’s with MythBuster Adam Savage for the next year.) They’re seeing hints of a new kind of cooperation between humans and machines, and even machines and other machines.”
This Is What We’ll See When Betelguese Really Does Go Supernova
Ethan Seigel | Forbes
“There’s no scientific reason to believe that Betelgeuse is in any more danger of going supernova today than at any random day over the next ~100,000 years or so, but many of us—including a great many professional and amateur astronomers—are hoping to witness the first naked-eye supernova in our galaxy since 1604. Although it won’t pose a danger to us, it will be spectacular.”
An Ethical Future for Brain Organoids Takes Shape
Jordana Cepelewicz | Quanta
“As research moves forward, it’ll be critical to determine the differences between brain organoids and actual brains, beyond the most obvious features, like size and connectivity. ‘We know that these [organoid] neurons are functioning. We know that these neurons are connected,’ said Bruna Paulsen, a postdoctoral fellow in the laboratory of the prominent organoid researcher Paola Arlotta at Harvard. ‘But what does that actually mean?’ ”
Source: Singularity Hub:
Cacao not gold: ‘chocolate trees’ offer future to Amazon tribes In Brazil’s largest indigenous reserve thousands of saplings have been planted as an alternative to profits from illegal gold miningThe villagers walk down the grassy landing strip, past the wooden hut housing the health post and into the thick forest, pointing out the seedlings they planted along the way. For these Ye’kwana indigenous men, the skinny saplings, less than a metre high, aren’t just baby cacao trees but green shoots of hope in a land scarred by the violence, pollution and destruction wrought by illegal gold prospecting. That hope is chocolate. Continue reading… Source – Full Article https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2020/jan/25/cacao-not-gold-chocolate-trees-offer-future-to-amazon-tribes-aoe
Aerial footage reveals feral horse crisis in burnt-out Kosciuszko national park – video New aerial footage from Kosciuszko national park reveals horrific fire damage to the landscape. There are also fears that the huge number of feral horses that remain are pushing bushfire-affected threatened species closer to extinction. ‘The horses are destroying the refuges of the endangered plants and animals in the mountains’, says Prof Jamie Pittock from the Australian National University. ‘It’s a crisis because the fire has burnt a lot of the habitats and we need to protect what remains’ Continue reading… Source – Full Article https://www.theguardian.com/environment/video/2020/jan/25/aerial-footage-reveals-feral-horse-crisis-in-burnt-out-kosciuszko-national-park-video