Earthquakes Will Rock Central U.S. a Decade After Oil Extraction Ends

By Roni Dengler | July 17, 2019 3:13 pm
An Oklahoma home damaged in 2011 during an earthquake that was likely spawned by injecting wastewater during fossil fuel extraction. (Credit: USGS)

Earthquakes used to be uncommon in Middle America. But in the last decade, quakes numbers have skyrocketed in Oklahoma and Kansas. The major uptick in seismic activity has risen alongside the growth of oil and gas production in the area. When fossil fuel companies dispose of wastewater by injecting it into underground wells, the increased pressure deep in the earth can trigger tremblors.

Now, in a new study, researchers say that not only have earthquakes in Oklahoma grown more frequent, they have also gotten deeper, as oilfield wastewater sinks and creates high pressure environments deep underground where earthquakes start. The research suggests wastewater may continue to sink and increase pressure that can trigger earthquakes for another 10 years even after oil and gas companies eventually stop injecting wastewater into underground wells.

“Our study implies that simply turning off the injection wells will not immediately stop the earthquakes,” said Virginia Polytechnic Institute hydrogeologist Ryan Pollyea, who led the new research.

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Elon Musk’s Neuralink Unveils Mind-Reading Implant that Could Be Ready for Humans by 2020

By Jennifer Walter | July 17, 2019 2:00 pm
Neuralink’s chip implantation machine, which is designed to insert the company’s N1 chip into people’s heads with extreme precision. (Credit: Neuralink)

He’s pioneered several multi-billion dollar companies, launched one of his cars into space, and now Elon Musk wants to hack your brain.

On Tuesday night, the CEO and co-founder of Tesla and SpaceX lifted the veil of secrecy on a new venture, called Neuralink. The company launched in 2016 promising to create cutting-edge brain-machine interfaces, but little was known about its operations until a press conference last night in San Fransisco.

Simply put, Musk and the Neuralink team want to implant a device into your brain that can read the electrical signals firing in your noggin, and create artificial ones, too. The point isn’t just to enhance current human abilities – like helping paraplegics walk or restoring sight to the blind – but also to let humans tap into memories and potentially even stream information from our brains to computers, and vice versa.

Musk wants to pioneer a type of implantable biotech that will allow humans to achieve “a sort of symbiosis with artificial intelligence.” To keep up with computers, he says we essentially need to rig our brains with machines.

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Mind & Brain, Technology, top posts

Human Wastewater Runoff is Killing Corals in the Florida Keys

By Jennifer Walter | July 17, 2019 12:24 pm
Bleached Corals
Corals stressed by heat and other environmental conditions can bleach, or kick out their life-giving algae companions. (Credit: sabangvideo/Shutterstock)

It’s been said time and time again that climate change is killing coral reefs. Rising ocean temperatures cause bleaching, which damages huge chunks of coral ecosystems from Australia to the southern United States.

But heat isn’t the only reason reefs are dying. Nitrogen runoff from human activities could be damaging corals around the world.

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Environment, Living World, top posts

SpaceX Says It Knows Why Crew Dragon Exploded

By Hailey Rose McLaughlin | July 17, 2019 9:00 am
spacex crew dragon
SpaceX’s Crew Dragon spacecraft opens its nose cone before docking with the International Space Station on March 3. (Credit: NASA)

Almost three months after SpaceX’s Crew Dragon capsule blew up during a test on April 20, the results of the investigation place blame on a leak and a faulty valve.

According to a report released by SpaceX, the “anomaly” in the test occurred about 100 milliseconds prior to ignition of the last thrusters. The leak let nitrogen tetroxide, a combustible component in rocket propellant, seep out enough to ignite a check valve and trigger the explosion.

Crew Dragon was going through a standard static fire test, a tethered-down run meant to measure the SuperDraco engines. These smaller rocket motors would be used to power a crew to safety away from the main Falcon rocket if something were to go wrong during a launch. But during the test, the capsule suddenly exploded at SpaceX’s Landing Zone at Cape Canaveral, sparking a wave of rumors amid a leaked video of the mishap.

Now SpaceX says its make several changes to Crew Dragon as a result of their investigation. This includes changing their valve systems to ones that seal completely until they’re opened by high pressure. In a news release, Elon Musk’s space company said that this change could “mitigate the risk entirely.”

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Space & Physics, top posts
MORE ABOUT: spacecraft

Protests Resume in Hawaii With Start of Thirty Meter Telescope Construction

By Korey Haynes | July 16, 2019 4:54 pm
Mauna Kea Telescopes
Telescopes atop Mauna Kea in Hawaii. (Credit: EastVillage Images/Shutterstock)

The Thirty Meter Telescope (TMT) has had a tumultuous start. Set to be the world’s largest visible light telescope, construction was slated to begin in 2015 near the peak of Hawaii’s Mauna Kea. But protests over construction on a mountain considered sacred by some Native Hawaiians stalled the project and sent it back to the courts. As a result, the TMT had to restart the lengthy approval process.

The telescope has since been approved again, but with construction set to start this week, protestors have once again blocked access to the summit. So far the protests have been peaceful and no arrests have been made.

The Peak of Observing

TMT has been in the works for years, and Mauna Kea was chosen for its home in 2009. While Mauna Kea is already the site of a dozen high-quality telescopes run by universities and science institutions from around the globe, the land itself is under lease from the state of Hawaii’s Board of Land and Natural Resources (BLNR) and administered by the University of Hawaii, making its use complicated.

The current terms of the lease state that the land should be returned to its natural state when the telescopes reach the end of their lifetime. The lease on Mauna Kea expires in 2033, when 40 of the 45 square kilometers the university administers will revert to state lands. And some people, many of them Native Hawaiians, believe that the land never should have seen development at all. Mauna Kea is a sacred site in Hawaiian tradition, and some object to the construction and traffic the science community has brought to the mountain.

The astronomy community values the mountain for its exceptionally clear skies thanks to the peak’s altitude, island location and favorable weather. But the issue of access is complex, with some astronomers siding with the protestors, and some Native Hawaiians approving of the telescope project.

The project does have a legal basis, though. The BLNR re-approved TMT’s permit in 2017, and the Hawaii Supreme Court upheld this ruling in 2018.

On Monday, Hawaii state officials attempted to close the road to the summit so that construction could begin. Protestors arrived early in the morning, linking arms through a grate in the road to obstruct any construction traffic, similar to their efforts in 2015. Officials were able to install a gate across the road after promising protestors would not be arrested. Protestors are now demanding that gate be removed.

Hawaii’s governor David Ige announced last week that he would be utilizing the National Guard for transportation and to enforce road closures, but that they would be unarmed and not used for law enforcement during the protests, NBC reports.

So far there have been no arrests linked to the protests, and no construction equipment started up the mountain.

ISS Mouse Experiment Tests How the Body Adapts to Living on the Moon

By Korey Haynes | July 16, 2019 4:00 pm
Japan’s experiment module on ISS, called Kibo. (Credit: NASA)

Astronauts living on the International Space Station spend hours working out every day just to avoid losing serious muscle mass and bone density in microgravity. But will such precautions be needed to live on worlds that are simply lower in gravity than Earth, like the moon and Mars? And what effect would such gravity have on growing children? These questions are almost entirely unanswered by science, but they’re vital for humanity’s aims to build permanent settlements off-world.

Now Japan has taken a first step toward answering some of these questions thanks to a new instrument in their KIBO module on the International Space Station. Called MARS – Multiple Artificial-gravity Research System – it can spin to produce gravity at a variety of levels. Scientists have used it to raise mice in microgravity, artificial Earth gravity and artificial lunar gravity. Then, they compared the mice to those raised in a similar habitat on the ground in true Earth gravity.

Mice in Space!

The experimental mice were reared in space for a month before returning to Earth for study. All the mice survived their time on station and the trip back to the ground. And, upon returning to Earth, the mice were dissected to check on their growth rates and internal organs.

The first round of experiments, back in 2017, compared the mice raised in artificial Earth gravity and microgravity to those raised on Earth. Scientists found that the ones raised with gravity – real or artificial – seemed to do fine. But the mice raised in microgravity suffered from loss of bone density and muscle mass compared to the other mice.

That’s pretty normal. Experiments on both mice and humans have proven this over more than half a century of spaceflight. But it was still helpful to prove that mice raised in artificial gravity could do as well as those raised with the real deal on the ground.

The second round of the experiment saw mice raised in simulated lunar gravity. That experiment just ended, and the mice returned to Earth in June on one of SpaceX’s Dragon capsules. After collecting the mice from the capsule, researchers shipped them to Japan for study.

Throughout all the experiments, researchers could watch their mice on video to see how they behaved in space. Aside from the physical changes already measured in the microgravity mice, both these rodents and the lunar-gravity mice adapted their behaviors to their strange environments. They learned to maneuver, feed, and groom themselves with light or no gravity, just as humans have. The mice in artificial Earth gravity stood and ate normally, while those in microgravity learned to eat while floating, and those in artificial lunar gravity learned to wait until they had drifted to the ground before eating.

The truly valuable results will come once scientists have had time to analyze the samples from the mice raised in artificial lunar gravity. Until now, most tests have been essentially all-or-nothing when it comes to gravity, and that’s not what humans will deal with on the moon or Mars. But the fact that all the mice survived their month in space, regardless of the gravity of their situations, is already a good sign.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Space & Physics, top posts
MORE ABOUT: human spaceflight

At STEM Competitions, Gender Norms Still Hold Girls Back

By Sarah White | July 16, 2019 3:54 pm
Rachel Seevers demonstrates her submarine inspired by jellyfish
Rachel Seevers shows off her jellyfish-inspired propulsion device at ISEF. (Credit: Chris Ayers, Society for Science & the Public)

Seventeen-year-old Rachel Seevers waited nervously at the 2019 International Science and Engineering Fair (ISEF). The high school senior was about to demonstrate to the public a new kind of underwater propulsion system she’d created and tested in her parents’ basement. But no one came to talk to her. So, Seevers tried an experiment. She and a nearby male participant, who’d been getting lots of attention, switched spots, presenting each other’s research. Lo and behold, his project became much less popular with her standing in front of it, while hers suddenly attracted more interest.

But Seevers triumphed anyway. She went on to become the first-ever top winner from Kentucky, earning $50,000 to help her pay tuition at Harvard University in the fall.

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Mind & Brain, top posts
MORE ABOUT: memory & learning

Australopithecus Drank Breast Milk for Years to Survive Food Shortages

By Roni Dengler | July 16, 2019 10:30 am
An artist’s depiction of Lucy, the world’s most famous Australopithecus africanus. (Credit: Greg Grabowski/Shutterstock)

In the savannah of southern Africa three million years ago, an early human species known as Australopithecus africanus roamed the tropical grasslands chomping on a diverse diet of fruits, leaves and roots. The hominins ate well when the land was ripe with bounty, but seasonal rains and lengthy dry spells meant food was often scarce.

Now an international team of researchers has found that juvenile Australopiths depended on breast milk when other foods were meager. The discovery highlights long-lasting bonds between mother and infant and hints that this emergency diet may have made it harder for the species to survive in the long-term, perhaps contributing the species’ demise around two million years ago.

“Fundamentally, our discovery of a reliance by Australopithecus africanus mothers to provide nutritional supplementation for their offspring and use of fallback resources highlights the survival challenges that populations of early human ancestors faced in the past environments of South Africa,” paleoecologist and lead study author Justin Adams said in a press release.

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Living World, top posts
MORE ABOUT: human origins

NASA Bets on a Spacecraft that Can 3-D Print and Self-Assemble in Orbit

By Daniel Bastardo Blanco | July 15, 2019 6:20 pm
Archinaut One will test 3-D printing spacecraft components, and then assembling them, in low-Earth orbit. (Credit: Made in Space, Inc.)

Putting a satellite in space is news of the past, but launching a spacecraft that can 3-D print and self-assemble is a story of the future. NASA is now betting on the technology being ready for prime time as early as 2022.

Last week, the space agency announced that they had awarded a $73.7 million contract to a startup company called Made In Space, Inc. The money will fund a test of the concept using a small spacecraft, called Archinaut One, in low-Earth orbit.

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Space & Physics, top posts
MORE ABOUT: spacecraft

SpaceX Aims to Test Starhopper This Week

By Hailey Rose McLaughlin | July 15, 2019 5:15 pm
An artist’s illustration shows the eventual Starship, SpaceX’s future passenger vehicle, launching above the clouds. (Credit: SpaceX)

Exploring space on your next family vacation is still a few years in the future. But Elon Musk now says that Starhopper, the prototype for SpaceX’s future passenger spacecraft, could be tested as soon as July 16 at the company’s facility near Brownsville, Texas. That would coincide with the 50th anniversary of the Apollo launch.

In a tweet on July 12, Musk said that the Raptor engines, the high-tech powerful rocket motor created by SpaceX for Starship, were now mounted onto Starhopper.

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Space & Physics, top posts
MORE ABOUT: spacecraft
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