Should we be strapping these to our torsos?
We’re all a little bit radioactive now. Thanks to atom bomb tests in the mid-20th century, it’s possible to use radioactive (but harmless) carbon-14 to date not only bristlecone pines and putative Noah’s Arks but also, in a recent Karolinska Institutet study, Grandma and Grandpa’s artery fat.
The technique used in this study—radiocarbon dating—is widely employed by archaeologists and geologists to determine when organisms like fossilized trees or plants lived. All organisms absorb carbon-14 along with normal carbon-12 in a ratio that mirrors how much of each type is present in the atmosphere. (Carbon-14 is produced naturally in the upper atmosphere by cosmic rays, and then mixes throughout the atmosphere and into the oceans.) When an organism dies, the carbon-14 starts to decay at a known rate—half the atoms become nitrogen-14 in about 5,700 years—and the amount left in the tissue when it’s dug up can be used to back-calculate its age.
Who needs people to guard a nuclear weapons facility when you can build an autonomous robot to do it?
Or, at least that’s what the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) was probably thinking when they ordered up three robo-tanks to take on the task of watching over the Nevada nuclear test site.
The first of the robots, named the Mobile Detection Assessment Response System (MDARS), just started working, according to Wired’s Danger Room, where we saw the story. Two more are scheduled to start their work in other remote locations on the Nevada National Security Site (NNSS, which is basically in the middle of the desert) within the next six months.
The NNSA claims in its press release that the new system will save six million dollars in infrastructure and a million a year in personnel and maintenance:
“The robots are a great addition to the NNSS protective force,” said Brad Peterson, Chief and Associate Administrator for Defense Nuclear Security. “The robots allow us to improve security at remote portions of the Nevada National Security Site at reduced costs. Deploying MDARS robots at NNSS is another example of NNSA’s commitment to being effective stewards of taxpayers’ money.”
“Peacekeeper” missiles are getting a new lease on life: as satellite launchers. Next week, the Air Force plans to launch the second of these decommissioned intercontinental ballistic missiles, renamed “Minotaur IV,” to deploy a trash-tracking satellite.
It’s nice to know that one relic will help us spot others–pieces of junk, like abandoned rocket stages left over from other space missions. As the IV in the new rocket’s name implies, the Peacekeeper isn’t the first retired missile to enter the Air Force’s very special recycling program. The first Minotaurs (pdf) incorporated stages from Minutemen missiles.
Barron Beneski is a representative of Orbital Sciences Corp., which holds the Air Force contract to transform the missiles into launch vehicles. Beneski told Discovery News:
“What is neat is that what was once a military weapons system is now a peaceful use of government assets. It’s the whole idea of turning ‘swords into plowshares.’”
Other countries, notably Russia and China, have similar missile makeover programs. Unlike these countries, the United States does not offer the boosters for sale on the open market–only for government use.
“OSC (Orbital Sciences) can’t sell a Minotaur to Brazil,” Wayne Eleazer, a retired Air Force officer, told Discovery News. “That’s still not allowed.”
Discoblog: Dang, What Was That? Astronomers Wonder What Just Whizzed by Earth
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Imagine dropping a few hundred dollars for a bottle of “premium wine” only to discover it tastes like plonk! For years, collectors of fine wines have gone to great lengths to ensure that the wine they buy is indeed of the advertised quality and age. From tamper-proof caps to prevent the dilution of a premium wine with cheap stuff to an electric tongue that can distinguish fine wines, connoisseurs have tried their best not to get ripped off. Now, they have another trick at their disposal, and this one involves an atom bomb.
According to new research, collectors can avoid purchasing a faked bottle of an old vintage by running the wine through a “bomb pulse” test, which uses the radioactive material present in air to date the wine. The system is accurate enough, say scientists, to date your wine’s vintage up to a year of its production–so that a collector can be certain, for example, that a Chateau Lafite Rothschild 1982 isn’t actually a child of the aughts.
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Seriously, shouldn’t government officials who are involved in clandestine activities be forced to sit through Computer Security 101?
According to a new report, a Syrian official displayed remarkable ignorance of best security practices while staying in a posh London hotel in 2006. The official was being watched by the Israeli intelligence agency, the Mossad, on suspicion that he knew something about a secret nuclear reactor in the Syrian desert at a site called the Al Kibar complex. When the Syrian stepped out of his hotel room and left his laptop behind, the Israeli agents got the opening they needed.
From Der Spiegel‘s excellent investigative report:
Israeli agents took the opportunity to install a so-called “Trojan horse” program, which can be used to secretly steal data, onto the Syrian’s laptop.
The hard drive contained construction plans, letters and hundreds of photos. The photos, which were particularly revealing, showed the Al Kibar complex at various stages in its development. At the beginning — probably in 2002, although the material was undated — the construction site looked like a treehouse on stilts, complete with suspicious-looking pipes leading to a pumping station at the Euphrates. Later photos show concrete piers and roofs, which apparently had only one function: to modify the building so that it would look unsuspicious from above.
Based on the laptop data and other evidence, Der Spiegel‘s report claims, Israeli planes bombed the alleged nuclear site in 2007.
The hard drive also had a snapshot of the head of Syria’s Atomic Energy Commission standing next to one of the leading members of the North Korean nuclear program, an engineer who is believed to be the mastermind behind North Korea’s plutonium reactor. Which leads to rule #2: when violating international treaties, aim for black ops, not photo ops.
80beats: The Mystery of the Missing Xenon: Fishy Data From N Korea’s Nuke Test
DISCOVER: Return of Nuclear Winter