M Thomas Apple Author Page

Science fiction, actual science, history, and personal ranting about life, the universe, and everything

The University of Tokyo just covered a robot finger with real skin. The jokes write themselves…

June 20, 2022
MThomas

Skin is also just the first step in combining organic matter with machines, and opens the door for incorporating nerves and sensory organs such as olfactory receptors which can detect scents.

https://soranews24.com/2022/06/16/robot-finger-covered-in-living-skin-developed-by-university-of-tokyo/

The original report was published online by the U of Tokyo before it was covered last week by several online sources, including WebMD, the Independent, France 24, and ABC7, but the Sora News is the only one to post Japanese reader comments about, well, what fingers can do. Ahem.

The final quote of the researchers was posted on WebMD as:

“We believe this is a great step toward a new biohybrid robot with the superior functions of living organisms.”

https://www.webmd.com/skin-problems-and-treatments/news/20220616/robot-finger-with-living-skin-points-to-a-new-future

Eek. Maybe might wanna rethink this…

Amino acids found in material brought back by Hayabusa-2

June 6, 2022
MThomas

More than 20 types of amino acids have been detected in samples Japan’s Hayabusa2 space probe brought to Earth from an asteroid in late 2020, a government official said Monday, showing for the first time the organic compounds exist on asteroids in space.

https://english.kyodonews.net/news/2022/06/9a7dbced6c3a-amino-acids-found-in-asteroid-samples-collected-by-hayabusa2-probe.html

This lends support to the hypothesis that life on Earth was brought to it during the Late Heavy Bombardment period – in which meteors brought not just water but the building blocks of life…

Now imagine if someone were to find an asteroid with addition proteins NOT found on Earth… (i.e., my novel’s scientific premise…)

Plants can grow in lunar soil (barely)

May 16, 2022
MThomas

Doesn’t look too terribly attractive…

The samples were extremely hydrophobic, and repelled water as if it were the most disgusting thing ever invented. Researchers labored to get the lunar soil to gradually soak up water. They also added a nutrient solution.

https://www.washingtonpost.com/science/2022/05/12/plants-grow-in-lunar-soil/

Turns out that it is possible to grow plants on the Moon…

…although you might want to wear gloves while farming, since the “soil” contains tiny pieces of glass from constant bombardment.

Continue Reading

Super Flower Blood Moon coming soon

May 15, 2022
MThomas

I love the “illustrative diagram” note for people who might complain this is not scientifically accurate due to scale.

…if you are lucky enough to live Western Europe, parts of northwestern Africa, and some of the Americans…

As for why the Moon appears red…

“You’ll actually be seeing every sunrise and every sunset occurring around the Earth at once. All of that light will be projected on to the Moon.” (Dr Gregory Brown, Royal Observatory

https://www.bbc.com/news/science-environment-61423765

And if you happened to be standing on the Moon at the time, you’d see a blood ring encircling the Earth in front of you (ah, assuming you were not on the other side of the Moon).

Come on. Somebody has got to figure out how to get a picture of that.

“Make Uranus mission your priority” –uh, for what practical reason?

April 30, 2022
MThomas

Researchers think an in-depth study of Uranus can help them better understand the many similarly sized objects now being discovered around other stars.

https://www.bbc.com/news/science-environment-61155725
Uranus’s strange tilt is probably due to getting smacked by a very large body a long time ago…

Uranus is weird. It has rings. It has 13 moons, some of which may harbor life beneath their icy surfaces.

It has a funny name.

I get it. But learning more about how its formation affects planet formation is just not that important.

“Pure” researchers probably are interested, but frankly, if NASA wastes its time doing this, they will miss the opportunity to settle the Moon and Mars, mine asteroids for valuable resources, and explore other moons like Titan and Europa.

China will get there first.

Pure research is all fine and dandy, but it’s also incredibly expensive — taxpayer dollars should be spent on projects with more tangible benefits.

Largest comet ever seen barreling through the solar system

April 18, 2022
MThomas

C/2014 UN271 on the far right has a nucleus 50 larger than the average comet.

“Its size, which NASA noted is larger than the state of Rhode Island, is an estimation because the comet is still too far away for Hubble to tell for certain.”

https://www.businessinsider.com/largest-comet-ever-seen-barreling-toward-inner-solar-system-nasa-2022-4

Note that the original title was “…toward the Inner Solar System”…and yet the article goes on to explain that it won’t come any closer than a billion miles from the Sun, “‘slightly farther than the distance of the planet Saturn,’ NASA said in a statement.

Uh. The inner solar system is *no where near* Saturn. Try again, fear-mongers.

Sigh.

Anyway, it really is the proverbial “tip of the iceberg,” since this was seen with Hubble, and we have yet to see just what the new James Webb telescope can do. The Oort Cloud is a big place. There must be millions upon millions comets just waiting to be discovered.

Why do all the planets orbit the sun in the same direction?

April 16, 2022
MThomas

Note: not to scale (duh). Thanks, Getty. Uh, is this really the best way to show the solar system? (There…are…NINE..planets!)

Think of pizza dough flattening into an enlarging disk as it’s tossed. Because the cloud had an initial rotation, this same direction of spin has persisted…

https://www.popularmechanics.com/space/solar-system/a39729213/why-do-all-the-planets-orbit-in-the-same-direction/

So basically the answer is simply that that’s the way they all started out.

Some moons, however, do have retrograde orbits. I.e., they orbit in the opposite direction around their respective planets. Some small asteroids and comets also have retrograde orbits due to their small mass being easily affected by larger cosmic objects.

But Ibet now you’re all thinking of pizza… 🍕

Let’s make rocket fuel with E. Coli!

April 12, 2022
MThomas

In short, the algae will use sunlight to transform CO2 into sugars that are then enhanced by bio-engineered E.coli into 2,3-butanediol. Interestingly, 2,3-BDO is not entirely conceptual as it currently exists and is mainly used to produce rubber components. It has just never been thought of as fuel before.

https://www.universal-sci.com/article/producing-rocket-fuel-on-mars-using-microbes?utm_campaign=Universal-Sci%20Weekly&utm_medium=email&utm_source=Revue%20newsletter

Neat. So all the astronauts have to do is bring, uh, how much algae we talking here?

The article doesn’t say, but it does mention a by-product of the process: Oxygen!

That would seem rather helpful. Mars or bust?

Meet the man who was Shatner’s eye

March 28, 2022
MThomas

www.washingtonpost.com/magazine/2022/03/22/star-trek-movie-shatners-eyeball/

The iconic “retina scan” scene in Star Trek II: Wrath of Khan was not Shatner’s own eye.

It was an “eye double” software engineer.

(As the man himself says, your iPhone can take a more detailed picture these days, but it was high tech for 1982…)

Psyche! It might not be as heavy as we thought

March 4, 2022
MThomas

A new study suggests that 16 Psyche, one of the most intriguing and most valuable asteroids we know of, could be covered in iron-spewing volcanoes.

https://www.forbes.com/sites/jamiecartereurope/2022/02/24/the-iron-giant-asteroid-worth-more-than-our-global-economy-may-have-an-explosive-secret-say-scientists

Psyche is an asteroid that was probably once the heart of a planet in the early system, one that didn’t survive the violent process of planet formation.

Yep — that “worth more than the global economy” rock in space.

But we’ll have to wait a few years to find out if it’s “less metal and more hard rock” — the Psyche Mission rockets off in August 2022 and the probe won’t arrive for four more years.

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