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Science, Space & Robotics Posts - Page 3

Argument rages on regarding cost of border drones patrolling the skies

The use of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) is popular with the U.S. Customs and Border Protection, with patrols increasing along the U.S.-Mexico border. The General Atomics MQ-1 Predator drones are flying along the border, but the large costs in manufacturing and staffing drone teams remains controversial.

 

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The federal government has $39.4 million in funding committed to surveillance, and billions spent combating illegal immigration and drug trafficking, drones are an effective, yet expensive option.

 

"Border Patrol wants the money and it wants the drones," said Gregory McNeal, Pepperdine University law professor and drone expert, in a statement to NBC News. "This is the kind of crisis where, if you are Border Patrol, you seize the opportunity to get more funding from Congress."

Continue reading 'Argument rages on regarding cost of border drones patrolling the skies' (full post)

Technology largely unable to protect civilians from IED attacks

The use of improvised explosive devices (IEDs) against military targets proves to be successful, killing thousands of U.S. and coalition troops in Iraq and Afghanistan. However, the civilian death toll is staggering, with IED and suicide bomber attacks boosting casualty rates among civilians 70 percent over the past three years, a report recently noted.

 

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Unfortunately, there are very few technology-based solutions to defend civilians against IEDs, with bomb devices ranging from crude homemade IEDs to explosive devices useing military-grade supplies. As successfully demonstrated during the 2013 Boston Marathon bombings, a homemade pressure cooker IED with a mix of gunpowder, ball bearings and nails can be lethal - there was a final death toll of three people, injuring 264 athletes and spectators.

 

U.S. military personnel are relying more on armored vehicles, creating next-generation bomb detectors, and using unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) to conduct reconnaissance missions. The growing bloodshed in Iraq, however, will be difficult for local police officers and undertrained military personnel reduce civilian deaths. A massive 81 percent of 60,000 deaths recorded from 2011 to 2013 were civilians, and hit 66 countries, including Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Nigeria, Somalia, and Thailand.

Continue reading 'Technology largely unable to protect civilians from IED attacks' (full post)

DARPA researching self-guided .50-caliber ammo rounds

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) recently tested a .50-caliber self-guided bullet that pairs a maneuverable round with a custom optical guidance system. The Extreme Accuracy Tasked Ordinance (EXACTO) round is designed to help snipers be even more effective, and provides a bigger standoff range.

 

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The U.S. military hopes a self-guided round will make it easier to eliminate targets with a single shot - helping keep snipers hidden. Specifically, the guidance system will prove helpful in Afghanistan and other environments where there are high winds, dusty terrain, and sometimes harsh shooting conditions.

 

Continue reading 'DARPA researching self-guided .50-caliber ammo rounds' (full post)

Hubble telescope detects mysterious deficit of light in the Universe

The Universe as we know it is a lot darker than it should be, according to the latest readings from the Hubble Space Telescope.

 

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A new examination has revealed that ultraviolet light is mysteriously missing from the nearest known parts of the Universe. UV rays are largely invisible to us mortals because their wavelengths come up short of visible light, however, with high frequencies they can be visible in devices like ultraviolet lamps. Researchers at the University of Colorado Boulder's Center for Astrophysics and Space Astronomy says that UV light can travel at great distances across the Universe, and most of it adds up. But closer to home there's a deficit that is tough to explain, leading researchers to question just what's happening to ionizing photons.

 

"If we count up the known sources of ultraviolet ionizing photons, we come up five times too short," said Benjamin Oppenheimer, one of the researchers. "We are missing 80 percent of the ionizing photons, and the question is where are they coming from? The most fascinating possibility is that an exotic new source, not quasars or galaxies, is responsible for the missing photons."

Continue reading 'Hubble telescope detects mysterious deficit of light in the Universe' (full post)

ISEE-3 suffers thruster failure dashing hopes for new mission

The group of amateur volunteer operators that have been trying to get the ISEE-3 satellite back on its original mission after the satellite was sent to study comets decades ago have given a valiant effort. In the end, the satellite has now reportedly lost thruster capability. We mentioned a few days ago that the satellite had responded to commands and fired its thrusters.

 

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However, a subsequent attempt to get the satellite to fire its thrusters again failed. On Wednesday, the team trying to regain control of the satellite announced that a failure in the propulsion system of the satellite has made it impossible for the thrusters to fire again.

 

The team says that with the failure of the propulsion system, they have turned the satellite back to science mode and will gather data for as long as possible. They believe that the satellite can gather data for a few months. ISEE-3 launched in 1978 to study space weather and was retired 17 years ago. Operators say that with one thruster firing performed there is a small chance the satellite will hit the moon.

Birth control implant device can be turned on and off remotely

One of the problems that many women face with birth control today is that it can take a long time after they stop taking pills or using other devices before they can get pregnant. In the future, that problem might be alleviated using an implantable device with a microchip that can be remotely turned on and off.

 

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This implant could be used to deliver all sorts of medications, but the first use of it is expected to be for birth control. The implanted device could be left just under the skin for up to 16 years. Inside the device, the tiny microchip has small reservoirs of drugs gated by a titanium and platinum seal.

 

That seal will temporarily melt when an electric current is applied allowing the drug inside the seep out into the body. The reservoirs in the small 20mm square device are large enough for a 16-year supply of the contraceptive called levonorgestrel. The device is from a MIT spin off in Massachusetts and the project is backed by the Gates Foundation as well.

Rats use whiskers like humans use hands, research says

Rats actually use their whiskers in a similar way that humans use their hands and fingers, particularly when exploring the dark, according to a revelatory new piece of research on the rodents.

 

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Although it's long been known that mammals tend to use their whiskers to navigate dark patches, the full extent of control over the facial features was not known until now. Academics at Sheffield University set about using high speed videography to keep an eye on animals, each of which had been trained to run circuits for treats. Undergoing different scenarios, such as putting obstacles in their way or taking away visual cues, showed that the animals used their whiskers in a "purposeful" way to complete the track.

 

As the rats got quicker at running circuits, they also tended to change their whisker movements accordingly - whether that was to sweep surfaces or pushing their whiskers forward to detect objects that could be in their way. In the scenarios where they were likely to run into objects, the animals were more cautious and deliberately felt their way around using their whiskers. "All mammals except humans use facial whiskers as touch sensors. In humans we seem to have replaced this sense, in part, by being able to use our hand and fingers to feel our way," said Professor Tony Prescott. "The rat puts its whiskers where it thinks it will get the most useful information, just as we do with our fingertips."

NASA 3D prints a model of light-year-long Eta Carinae nebula

NASA has created a full 3D model of a light-year-long nebula that was coughed out by the Eta Carinae system, 7,500 light years away from Earth, in the 19th century.

 

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Eta Carinae can be found in the Carina constellation, and it's one of the brightest that are known out there by far - its smallest star is roughly 30 times as big as the Sun. In the 19th century, it spewed out the gassy Homonculus Nebula, and this is what the researchers have now printed off as a 3D model. NASA used the European Southern Observatory's appropriately titled Very Large Telescope and the X-Shooter spectrograph to image near-infrared, visible and ultraviolet wavelengths across the nebula to create the most complete image made to date. Researchers took this data to look at spatial and velocity information, which then enabled the creation of the very first high-res 3D model of the nebula.

 

The model was put together in Shape and allowed NASA staff to inspect the more unusual features of the nebula, including trenches and dust skirts, and because it was developed using an emission line of near infrared light that was created by the molecular hydrogen gas, even allows for a close-up guesstimate of the dust-covered sides facing away from our humble little planet.

ISEE-3 spacecraft team faces new challenge redirecting old satellite

Earlier this week we mentioned that a team of scientists working out of an abandoned McDonald's restaurant in California had been able to get the decades old ISEE-3 satellite to fire its thrusters. The thruster firing is the first step in an attempt to get the satellite back on track to begin studying solar winds, which was its original mission.

 

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Decades ago, NASA redirected the ISEE-3 satellite to study comets rather than the mission it was built for. After getting the satellite to fire its thrusters, the team working on the project are now reporting that they have hit another issue.

 

While the first part of the thruster firing succeeded, another attempt to fire the thrusters this week wailed and that firing will be attempted again Wednesday. The failed maneuver Tuesday was intended to fire the thrusters over 400 times to get the spacecraft onto a path to take it near the moon without crashing into the moon.

Continue reading 'ISEE-3 spacecraft team faces new challenge redirecting old satellite' (full post)

NASA's Voyager I swims into interstellar space

After a 37-year journey through our solar system, NASA's Voyager I has been hit by a third solar 'tsunami'. These solar tsunamis are coming from our sun, in the form of coronal mass ejections - in other words, shock waves from massive, violent eruptions on our sun.

 

 

Since 2012, there have been three of these CMEs, with the third one erupting on Monday. These eruptions have been helping NASA confirm something it proposed late last year: that Voyager is the first craft from Earth to travel into interstellar space. But what is interstellar space? Well, it's an area that is just beyond what is known as our heliosphere.

 

The heliosphere is an area where solar wind pushes back the dense plasma of space, in something that resembles a protective bubble. This plasma is the result of the death of stars millions of years ago. What should really make your scratch your noggin' is that the plasma found outside of the heliosphere, and in interstellar space, is 40 times denser than the plasma inside of the heliosphere.

Continue reading 'NASA's Voyager I swims into interstellar space' (full post)

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