A seemingly simple change to airplane design can make a huge difference in fuel efficiency: add another engine. Yes, as counterintuitive as it sounds, NASA has figured out that by adding an engine to the rear of the plane the airflow of the plane itself can provide more thrust. Airplanes are notoriously bad for the environment and any efficiency in fuel consumption has a significant impact on emissions.
NASA’s idea is pretty straightforward: place a large turbofan engine on the rear of a plane, where it will collect the slow-moving air traveling along the plane’s body. This lets the wing-mounted turbofans be built smaller, which means less drag and a higher fuel efficiency.
That by itself would mean a minor improvement to fuel use, but NASA decided to go a step further. The engineers also added generators to the wing-mounted turbofans, and the electricity generated by these engines is used to power the tail-mounted one. This means that the rear turbofan that provides much of the plane’s thrust doesn’t require any fuel to operate.
A few years ago we looked at a TED talk on how to grow fresh air inside. The information was based largely on NASA’s research done in the 1980s called Interior Landscape Plants for Indoor Air Pollution Abatement, which looked into which plants are best for cleaning interior working spaces. They first looked at what is in the air in an average office then set out to find plants that remove chemicals that harm humans.
Everyday we face an existential threat to our planet from outer space! Asteroids can hit the planet at any moment and ruin our days. To help us prepare for such an event NASA (and other space agencies) are searching for and tracking asteroids. By knowing where they are we can potentially deflect an asteroid to not hit the Earth. Now you can help in this process using your computer at home.
The computer program was created through NASA’s Asteroid Data Hunter challenge, itself a part of the space administration’s larger Asteroid Grand Challenge, and was done in partnership with the Redmond, Washington-based Planetary Resources Inc. The contest, explains a NASA release, was launched at last year’s South By Southwest conference, to develop more sophisticated means of detecting and identifying asteroids by way of land-based telescopes.
Most of the news that gets covered here is related to new discoveries and good events happening around the world, but sometimes we need to take a step back from those discoveries and think deeper about what it all means. Recently NASA launched its most ambitious mission to Mars and they hope to find evidence of life.
But what is life?
Philosophers for hundreds of years have tried to answer this question and depending on who you ask we are closer or no closer than we were when humanity first asked such a question. Some people rely on old writings or established mythos for defining life, but those generally don’t old up when looking for something truly alien to us. Which leads us to something relatively new to the world of science and that is figuring out a sound and comprehensive definition for life for the purposes of scientific research.
Defining life poses a challenge that’s downright philosophical. There’s no ambiguity in looking for water, because we have a clear definition of it. That definition is the same whether you’re on Earth, on Mars, or in intergalactic space. It is the same whether you’re dealing with water as ice, liquid, or vapor. But there is no definition of life that’s universally agreed upon. When Portland State University biologist Radu Popa was working on a book about defining life, he decided to count up all the definitions that scientists have published in books and scientific journals. Some scientists define life as something capable of metabolism. Others make the capacity to evolve the key distinction. Popa gave up counting after about 300 definitions.
Things haven’t gotten much better in the years since Popa published Between Necessity and Probability: Searching for the Definition and Origin of Life in 2004. Scientists have unveiled even more definitions, yet none of them have been widely embraced. But now Edward Trifonov, a biologist at the University of Haifa in Israel, has come forward with a new attempt at defining life, based on a new strategy. Rather than add on yet another definition to the pile, he’s investigating the language that previous scientists have used when they talk about life.
Edward Trifonov: Life is self-reproduction with variations.
Trifonov acknowledges that each definition of life is different, but there’s an underlying similarity to all of them. “Common sense suggests that, probably, one could arrive to a consensus, if only the authors, some two centuries apart from one another, could be brought together,” he writes in a recent issue of the Journal of Biomolecular Structures and Dynamics (article PDF).
Nasa and the JPL have created a climate time machine to quickly explain to policy makers the effects of climate change.
Because everybody is affected by the weather, it seems like everybody likes to improvise themselves a climate scientist. Amateur theories about global warming are a dime a dozen and, unfortunately, that can make it hard for the general public and policy makers to figure out what’s based on sound science and what has just been made up in 5 minutes by someone who doesn’t know anything about climate science.
That’s the problem that NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) is trying to help fix with Climate Time Machine. Read on for more details.