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Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Oceans of Europa: Will the Solar Systems' 1st Extraterrestrial Life be Found There?

Jupiters Europa Jupiter's Europa. One of the most interesting non-Earth locations in the solar system. Never mind ice and occasional puddles, this moon has entire oceans - and where there's water, we can't help but hope there's life. Recent results show that there are heat sources to drive evolution of such as well, but there's still debate over what's actually going on in there.

Europa has been of interest since we started to suspect it hid water under its frozen crust, attracting the interest of everyone from NASA to Arthur C. Clarke. The widely accepted picture has Europa's rocky core stressed by the Jupiter's gravity. Which is a lot, by the way - at two times ten to the power of twenty-seven kilograms, Jupiter is so massive the SI system doesn't even have a prefix that goes that high.

A hidden ocean, sealed under kilometers of ice, far off in space. That image is so utterly calm you might have fallen asleep while reading it (in which case we apologize for stealing hours of your life), and according to Robert Tyler of the University of Washington it's entirely wrong. He's made mathematical models showing that the secret seas are hugely violent bodies thrown around by the immense mass of Jupiter.

Tyler's model, however, has those massive gravitational forces acting on the oceans directly. The result is truly titanic tides, waves so gigantic they make the Titanic itself look like a speck of sand. His models put the minimum kinetic energy of the flow at seven point three exaJoules. In the standard unit for ridiculous amounts of energy, that's one hundred thousand times the atom bomb dropped on Hiroshima, or 100 kiloLittleBoys.

The theory is meeting with some resistance, as papers effectively titled "Everything all y'all were saying up to now was wrong" usually do. We won't know either way until we get a closer look at this most interesting of interplanetary destinations. Until then we know one thing: with a theory that involves incredible undersea upheaval, super-nuclear natural disasters and energy sources for potential alien life, if it turns out he isn't right about the science Prof Tyler can always work with Michael Bay.

The key point of contention is the moon's crunchy ice covering. We know that the Jovian moon is coated in kilometers of frozen material, but that sort of handwaving figure can get you in trouble - exactly how many kilometers there are can make all the difference. We believe that the European core is heated by the massive tidal forces applied by Jupiter - but how does that heat radiate into space?

Most scientists believe that the subEuropan seas are locked under tens of kilometers of ice. Heat is then conducted from the warm core by bulk convective motion of ice - huge chunks of frozen material literally carrying the heat away with them as they move up through the icy layer, shuffling and refreezing as they dump heat into space.

Richard Greenberg, a professor of planetary sciences at the University of Arizona's Lunar and Planetary Laboratory, believes that the crust is thin, only a kilometer or so, and heat is carried out by simple conduction - much slower, but providing a constant flow of energy through a relatively fixed underwater region bordering the immense cliffs of ice.

Greenberg does weaken his case by accusing a "Big Ice" cabal of scientists of suppressing his results, holding back his views to favor their own established model. The thing is, when you start talking about a conspiracy against you it doesn't matter if you're right or wrong: you sound a bit crazy. Especially when that "cabal" isn't a hidden core of ultra-billionaires, but probably about twenty guys with tenure who meet twice a year to talk about space moons.

On the upside, it seems the shadowy Europa lobby can't keep him silent and he's published a book, "Unmasking Europa", putting forward his views and setting up the mother of all "I told you so"s if it turns out he's right. Again, he slightly weakens his case by fantasizing an entire Europan ecosystem based on a few flybys of the Galileo probe, and it's not as if popular opinion will actually sway the scientists investigating the issue.

What is important is that such issues do now percolate to the public, one way or another. Science is no longer the preserve of those either rich enough to afford it or trying to build missiles out of it. Beside the cook books and crime novels you can find imaginings of the stars, controversies of the cosmos, and books about the entire universe. Which are slightly more interesting than "Five things you can do with leftovers" by Dolores Housewife.

Posted by Luke McKinney.

Unmasking Europa

Europa 1 - Titan 0

Real Life Centaur? Woman Creates Robotic Horse Legs for Humans

We’ve all heard of clothes horses, dark horses and equines named Charlie, but horse legs for humans to wear has got to be a horse of another color if there ever was one, Read all about Seattle artist, Kim Graham, and her latest, one-of-a kind creation.

The beauty and vitality of horses have captivated mankind since time immemorial. Their graceful movements and unfettered energy until now seemed something out of reach, something only to be coveted and admired. Enter Kim Graham, a fine-art sculptor who has dabbled in special effects and fantasy-based mold-making, and while you are there, meet her Digitigrade Leg Extensions, which “give a person the uncanny and graceful appearance of an animal.”

Why would anyone want to resemble an animal when walking? What secret fantasy is being fulfilled here? These are questions not answered by those who admire the otherwise non-outrageous, but totally unique works of art created by talented Kim Graham.

horselegs Real Life Centaur? Woman Creates Robotic Horse Legs for Humans

In her own words:

“Granted, they don’t look all that comfortable, though it takes just 10 to 15 minutes of walking to get used to them. The leg extensions work well on level surfaces, while sharp inclines are difficult and stairs are downright risky. Walking briskly is the best way to get around in these attachments. Galloping, not so much.”

The leg-extensions are custom-fitted and handmade from steel, cable, foam, and rigid plastic and add 14 inches of height to the wearer; kind of like an odd pair of stilts. They cost an arm and an additional leg ranging between $750-$1,000, if you desire the optional spring-loaded hooves.

If you want a fur costume built around the hooves in the hopes of fitting in with the horses and stable folk, that whimsy will also cost you extra. The fur does cause some problems (besides the obvious mental issue, that is). Getting in and out of the Digitigrade Leg Extensions when fur is involved can take an extra three minutes of preparation.

Right now leg extensions are new and their appeal is very limited, but who’s to say how those in the orbit of the horsey set will respond to these (not to mention the horses who might not like it)? As of this writing some actors and other brave pint-size performers already have their names on the two-month waiting list.

Kim Graham is known for her beautiful, unique sculptures and her work ranges from fine art pieces to large-scale architectural ceramic projects. Where do Digitigrade Leg Extensions fit into this grand plan? Only Kim can say for sure, but one can only contemplate what accouterments could be included to complete the Digitigrade Leg Extensions ensemble?

How about a canvas oat bag to carry around one’s neck and one with sequins for those more formal occasions? Maybe a bridle would be a good idea for those days when the wearer just “won’t behave”. Lastly but not leastly, how about a Kentucky Derby for humans in Digitigrade Leg Extension drag? (It should be somewhere in New Jersey so as not to confuse imposters.)

The possibilities are endless.


Newly Uncovered Enzymes Turn Corn Plant Waste into Biofuel

Cellulose-loving fungi can cut biofuel costs by enabling existing corn ethanol plants to process cheaper, woody feedstocks such as corn stover

By Steven Ashley

cellulosic biofuel enzymes corn stover

CORN STOVER: The remnants (or 'stover') of corn after it's harvested can be a good source of biofuel, especially when combined with the right enzymes.

"Visualize three tons of moldy bread." It's not the most appealing image, perhaps, but it's a description of the moist mound of growth media tended by bioscientist Cliff Bradley and his partner, chemical engineer Bob Kearns at their biofuel facility in Butte, Mont., that could help cut ethanol costs at the fuel pump.

Selected soil fungi that eat cellulose—the hard-to-digest, structural component of woody plants—thrive on the big pile of putrefaction from which Bradley and Kearns harvest certain powerful enzymes. The special enzymes allow standard biofuel plants to produce ethanol at lower cost by replacing some of the high-priced corn (starch) they process with cheaper corn stover "waste"—the leaves, stalks, husks and cobs of the maize plant itself.

Replacing 35 percent of the corn (which goes for $4.28 a bushel) now used in a typical ethanol plant with inexpensive corn stover (at $65 per ton) could save a quarter on each a gallon of ethanol the facility produces, the researchers calculate. And that's before any blender's credit or tax benefits from government for processing cellulose. Bradley and Kearns say that the basic integrated starch–cellulose process also works for biofuels produced in Brazil where ethanol is distilled from sugarcane and bagasse, or highly cellulosic cane plant residue.

Supporting development of the promising new technology is Cupertino, Calif.–based AE Biofuels, which has constructed a commercial pilot facility in Butte, where the pair demonstrates their integrated fermentation technology to potential licensing customers. The patent pending process "can be a bridge to cellulosic ethanol," says Andy Foster, executive vice president at AE Biofuels. The use of cellulosic feedstocks effectively enables farmers and producers to squeeze more ethanol from each acre of farmland, he states.

AE Biofuels is one of several companies in the U.S. that is trying to jump-start progress toward greener biofuels made from nonfood feedstocks with high cellulose content. But most of the demonstration efforts have slowed or halted "since the banking meltdown which made it very tough to arrange capital," says biofuels expert George W. Huber, a chemical engineer at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. Despite last year's economic turmoil, however, new pilot cellulosic biofuel plants were opened by KL Energy, Verenium Corp., and POET, LLC, he notes.

For the past few decades, Bradley and Kearns—self-styled "industrial fermentation guys"—have focused on developing effective ways to raise hard-to-cultivate soil fungi that secrete the crucial enzymes. Unlike their competitors, they grow fungi on the moist surfaces of solid nutrient particles. Standard large-scale fermentation processes, in contrast, take place in water-filled tanks. "They put an organism in a tank where everything's in a water solution," Kearns explains, "and then they try to get enough oxygen in there to make the aerobic fungi happy." Rather than "trying to adapt the organism to a desired environment," the two researchers created an environment that suits the organism.

One of the pair's special enzymes readily degrades cellulose and another has the unique ability to break down corn starch at ambient temperatures, a talent that enables existing corn ethanol plants to incorporate cellulosic feedstocks into their standard starch fermentation processes. "The integrated process uses the same equipment, which is important now that capital financing is so hard to get," Bradley says.

New Inglourious Basterds Trailer

It’s taken a while and spell check still hates the hell out of the title, but Inglourious Basterds has finally come up with another trailer for Tarantino’s latest war epic. The Weinsteins are releasing the picture and hopefully don’t fall into bankruptcy before that time. Actually, not sure many people actually like the Weinsteins and their notorious traits of holding movies (cough…Fanboys) and/or re-cutting foreign films (Harvey Weinstein is reportedly attempting to cut out 40 minutes of this one too). And no one wants to see anything that would make Inglourious Basterds a lesser film. Check out the trailer and international poster below:

vert. Bastardi

Arizona has longest stretch under 100 deg says since 1913

June hasn't been this nice since ... 1913

Meteorologists are reluctant to call a month "nice." They have their data and their science and typically do not describe the weather in such subjective terms.

Except now, because the data prove it.

"It's probably the best June since I've been here, and I've been here most of my life," said the National Weather Service's Valerie Meyers, who is in her late 40s. "It's been really nice."

Possibly the nicest June ever.

It's that type of thing that is fun to say but hard to quantify.

Thursday, however, was the 14th consecutive day to stay below 100 degrees. That's the longest stretch of its kind in any June since 1913.

The lower temperatures have allowed people to sleep with windows open and drive with their arms out vehicle windows. Evenings, too, have been spent chatting with neighbors while children or grandchildren play. Those events are not life-changing, but they are, well, nice.

Typically in June, high-pressure systems begin to form above the Valley. High pressure means clear skies and little wind. And, in June, clear skies let in the sunshine, sending the temperatures soaring.

This June, though, has remained cool because of what Meyers called "a persistent area of low pressure off the West Coast."

The low pressure has prevented the high-pressure systems from getting into place.

Alas, all good things must come to an end. This weekend, the days will heat up. Temperatures are expected to be back in the 104-105 range by the middle of next week.

Best Party Trick Ever: Multi-Device Wireless Broadband from Sprint MiFi

Written by Jolie O'Dell

It's the length and width of a credit card. It's the thickness of a couple nickels. It'll let you and a few friends get an Internet connection just about anywhere with no wires whatsoever.

It's a MiFi, Sprint's new wireless broadband device, and it's geek gadget magic that'll realistically fit in your wallet. Disclosure! Sprint gave us a MiFi device to test. We tested it for a couple weeks and sent it back. We were sad to see it go.

We first tested the device with three laptops at a Facebook Vanity URL-Grabbing party. The host's WiFi connection was getting bogged down with traffic from about 20 other devices, so three of us picked a spot and huddled around the warmth of our own connection.

Sweetly simple and functional, the device easily accommodated the three users' surfing around. Multimedia uploads were as zippy as on a normal connection during the time we were test-driving the device.

Another test involved a crowded WiFi situation at a local coffee shop. Two laptops were connected to the device with the same lightning-fast results.

We even had time to literally road-test the MiFi; there's still something man-on-the-moon-ish about accessing the Internet from a moving car. We built a website during the course of a two-hour mini-road trip.

The battery held a charge for a good couple hours between charging, and the connection worked at ranges of 10-20 feet. We did notice a bit of trouble when using the device for long periods of time with just one device; every now and then, the card seemed to overheat and would drop the connection. A rest and reboot period solved the problem, but it would've been painful/disastrous had we not had access to a backup WiFi network in the meantime.

Still, the device is pretty amazing. We highly recommend seeing it in action:

Slight correction: The Sprint website states the device can support up to five devices.

Now, as previously disclosed, we received the free-as-in-beer, no-strings-attached version of the MiFi. We were not required to go through the new account/line activation process, any rebate loopholes, contract renegotiations, or other factors that make mobile services companies so uniquely pleasant (and by "pleasant," we mean "exquisitely tortuous in the BDSM sense"). The MiFi is advertised now at $99.99 per device, based on several conditions that seemed to require scientific calculators and gave us headaches. We recommend calling Sprint if you're interested in the device and finding out exactly how much the price would be for you. We're also aware of a similar Verizon device but have not yet been exposed to it, ourselves.

Summer Solstice at Stonehenge (PICS) — Pagans and partygoers drummed, danced or gyrated in hula hoops to stay awake through the night, as more than 35,000 people greeted the summer solstice Sunday at the ancient stone circle of Stonehenge. Despite fears of trouble because of the record-sized crowd, police said the annual party at the mysterious monument was mostly peaceful.

Click here for the pics: Summer Solstice at Stonehenge

Amazing Shot: 8th Grader Forward Flips, Hits 60 Foot Basket — An Ohio eighth-grader pulled of a stunt shot that has to be seen to be believed. He runs forward, does a forward somersault/flip using the basketball to push off the floor, and then hurls the ball towards the basket at the opposite end of the court, 60 feet away.

Tim Burton's twisted 3D adaptation of Alice in Wonderland.

HBO's 'The Pacific'!

At long last, here's the trailer for HBO's "The Pacific," the long-awaited follow-up to Tom Hanks and Steven Spielberg's beloved WWII war epic "Band of Brothers." ... "I believe in ammunition!"

"The Pacific" has reportedly a budget around $200 million which, if correct, would almost certainly make it the most expensive TV project of all time. The new mini has quite a legacy to live up to when it debuts next year. Though its initial post-9/11 run on HBO was relatively lackluster, "Band of Brothers" kept gathering fans as the years passed. Runs on basic cable networks such as History Channel followed. The DVD set for "Brothers" still manages to float into the top ranks of Amazon's best-selling DVDs (and is currently selling great in Blu-ray).

Los Angeles Sheriffs Getting Electric Mini Coopers

LA County Sheriffs stuck driving Crown Vics are about to be left feeling tragically un-hip. Their Board of Sups just approved a deal with BMW to lease 17 fully electric MINI Coopers.

Approved on Tuesday, the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department will lease the MINI Es for only $10 a month. With a market lease rate of $850, automaker BMW offered up the bargain price in exchange for deputy’s feedback.

Um, BMW, I too will give you feedback for $10 MINI E lease.

I’m sure the MINI’s will sport the standard police flare, but my vote is for the pimped out–and unrelated–version above by Agent Provocateur. Not that the 60’s style isn’t cool too.

BMW wants feedback for how the MINI Es drive and handle on Los Angeles County road conditions, Sheriff’s spokesman Steve Whitmore said. You know, like can they chase Ford Broncos and stuff like that.

On top of the discount price–which constitutes a gift to the county–MINI USA will also be installing charging stations and handling all vehicle maintenance and repairs. The MINI Es will be accompanying the police force’s full size Crown Vics, Caprice Classics, and more recently Dodge Chargers.

Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors approved the gift as it supports the county’s strategic goal of promoting environmental responsibility. The cars will be used for administrative, recruitment, volunteers, and other specialized units.

“It’s clean-energy, it’s cost-effective and it could prove to be a boon for the county,” Whitmore said.

The MINI E model is currently only available to drivers in the U.S. as part of a field trial. And only 23 of the 450 Mini E prototypes have been delivered thus far.

While here in the States a MINI cop car might sound a bit ridiculous, it’s not that odd of an idea. The Cooper has a long history of being a police vehicle. Even Oregon’s Tualatin Police Department has one!

Here are some MINI cop cars, both real and fake:

Source: AllCarsElectric

Photos: AROnline, MalaysiaMiniLover, Classic Vehicles on Flickr, CincinnatiMINI, PoliceMINICooper, ForBunk on Flickr

California man creates life size Bumblebee Transformer in front yard.

bumblebee transformer lifesize

This story is a couple months old but I couldn’t find a whole lot of information about it on the web so I thought I would re-share it with you. A Lemoore man decided he liked the Transformers so much that he built a life size replica of the cartoon version of Bumblebee in his front yard.

“I’ve always been a fan of the Transformers,” Tom Rhoads Rhoads stated to the crew at mim. “And when my son was born I decided to make the statue.”

The statue stands at 18 feet tall and built from a used Volkswagen, yes that’s right a used Volkswagen, in this economy who can afford to chop up a new Camaro and besides some of us liked the cartoon characters better!

The statue took him and a friend a year to build in their spare time:

“Sometimes it seemed as if we would never get through it, all the parts spread out, but then it just came together.”

A crane had to hoist the 1200 lb robot onto its feet after the welding was completed. Its legs are made of steel and angle iron to keep it secure.

If you asked me, he should have killed two birds with one stone (sorry PETA) and made the gun in its hand be Megatron. We all know he was a lame gun in the cartoon version, right?

Stay tuned, as Tom’s next project is the semi truck in the back. I wonder what he has planned for that…..

A life size replica of the Transformer Bumblebee.18 Foot tall Bumblebee from the movie Transformers Old style transformer Bumblebee replica Transformers sign in front of property Cartoon character Bumblebee from Transformers