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We all know about the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter’s wild infrared sensor technology, called the Distributed Aperture System, that will (someday) allow pilots to see in a complete bubble for miles around their airplane. If, and when, the system comes online, it will allow F-35 jocks to literally look through the floor of their aircraft by viewing images collected by tiny infrared and electro-optical sensors mounted all over the plane on their helmet visors.
These sensors are so powerful that DAS-maker Northrop Grumman claims a test plane flying over Maryland and Virginia have accidentally tracked rocket launches in Florida with the system. If it sounds too good to be true, it is for now. Engineers are having trouble broadcasting high-quality images from the DAS onto the F-35 helmet’s curved visor. In fact, Lockheed just issued a contract for a backup helmet that won’t receive DAS info, for now anyway.
Still, this technology will likely be fielded eventually and it may appear in more than just JSF cockpits. Boeing’s Bill Sunick, director of V-22 business development, explained that we could see DAS-style sensors on future helicopters.
“I can see a migration eventually happening because that’s a good thing,” said Sunick during an interview at the Association of the U.S. Army’s annual conference here in Washington last week. “You don’t have your FLIR [sensor] ball out in the nose and you’re combining sensors because they use the same sensors for IR [and electro-optical images]. So, you’re constantly looking for ways to reduce weight and create synergies — distributed apertures are a good thing and with the 360 degree, above and below. So, you can get rid of the FLIR, you can get rid of all the separate missile sensors and have [all of that sensor info] stiched together and now you can do some innovative things like have crew awareness” where all members of an aircrew can be looking for threats all around the aircraft. More
New York University researchers led by Paul Chaikin have found a way to use synthetic DNA to make molecules that reproduce themselves. The technique gives scientists a tool to create different combinations on the DNA that aren’t necessarily available in nature. That opens up billions of possibilities for building completely new materials and even molecular machines. Chaikin and his colleaques reported their results in this week’s journal Nature.
Inside a living cell, enzymes split DNA’s ladder-like double helix molecule down the middle, leaving two single strings of nucleotides. The enzymes then tack on new nucleotides to each half in order to create an identical copy. Where there was one double helix of DNA, there is two. The cell then uses the copied DNA to perform a biological function such as build a protein, for example. This replication is crucial to a lifeform’s ability to exist and survive.
In this case, the researchers created two slightly different molecular “tiles,” each one made of 10 strands of DNA.
Such flights of fancy owe much of their prevalence to the simple fact that the technology already exists — automobiles and airplanes have been around for more than a hundred years. Given that modern man is capable of flying to the moon, designing a car that runs on coffee or even a motorcycle fueled by poop, one would think that sticking a couple of wings on a sedan isn’t asking too much.
So where are we with flying cars? How soon before we’re all soaring the wild blue yonder in our own personal verification that the future has indeed arrived?
About the closest we’ve gotten to take off is Terrafugia’s Transition Flying Car, with its foldable wings and front-wheel drive. Over the summer the company received special exemptions from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, essentially giving it clearance to start delivering the car next year.
The NHTSA exemptions allowed Terrafugia to outfit the Transition Flying Car with shatter-resistant plastic windows instead of the standard automotive safety glass normally used in cars. The exemptions also gave Terrafugia permission to use tires not normally allowed for multipurpose vehicles. More
Photograph courtesy Michael Theusner, Applied Optics
Blink and you might miss them, but these two colorful smudges (center) form the second half of the first quadruple rainbow to be caught on camera, validating years of claims that such phenomena could exist, a new study says.
“[It's as if] the natives are telling you that there’s this creature in the rain forest, but they only have stories,” said Raymond Lee, a professor of meteorology at the U.S. Naval Academy, who recently published a study in the journal Applied Opticsdescribing the conditions under which a tertiary rainbow should be visible.
Lee’s research inspired some scientists to try to snap photos of the elusive vision, resulting in this picture, taken June 11 near Bremerhaven, Germany. “When you finally succeed in capturing it in photography, that’s a thrill,” Lee said.
And while “quadruple rainbow” might call to mind a stack of four arcs, only two rainbows can be caught in a single frame, because of the way light reflects and bends within raindrops.
In Australia’s Northern Territory, red-collared lorikeets, a brightly colored parrot, seem to get tanked every year starting at the end of the dry season in June and August and ending with the wet season in October and November. The apparent avian alcoholics stagger about the streets and fall from trees.
“They exhibit odd behavior like falling over or difficulty flying [and] they keep running into things,” said veterinarian Stephen Cutter from The Ark Animal Hospital in Australian Geographic.
Like shy humans, the apparently blitzed birds get friendlier and lose their fear of people. But the revelry may be a sign of a deadly illness, not just bacchanal bliss from fermented fruit.
Unlike a human on a bender, the birds don’t just sleep it off. The effects last several days, and are accompanied by respiratory problems and a discharge from bird’s nostrils, mouth, and eyes. Cutter suspect a virus may be at work.
The world’s largest astronomical facility has opened its eyes, turning nearly two dozen antennae toward the heavens to study the building blocks of the cosmos. The Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array consists of 20 radio antennae for now, but will contain 66 by 2013, giving it a higher resolution than the Hubble Space Telescope.
Appropriately enough, the first images captured the Antennae Galaxies, a pair of colliding galaxies replete with stars and stellar nurseries. ALMA’s 39- and 23-foot dish antennae can resolve areas of dense, cold gas that other telescopes could not detect.
ALMAsits in the high Chilean desert, about 16,000 feet above sea level and above much of the interfering atmosphere. These pictures were made with 12 telescopes situated relatively close together; science observations during the next few months will be even clearer.
Closer-situated antennae yield a wide field of view, so astronomers can search for items they want to study in more detail. Moving the antennae farther apart provides a narrower focus, like using a finer lens on a regular telescope. Instead of tunable knobs, ALMA has 192 separate antennae pads for the huge dishes to be moved around. More
Sept. 29, 2011 — Inventions are funny things. Sometimes it takes decades for a new technology to shake up an industry. The automobile, for example, took a few decades to disrupt transportation and completely revolutionize it.
That isn’t unusual, said Eric Schatzberg, associate professor of the history of science at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. “Technologies do change our world, but only as the result of human choices first to develop the technology to a level of practicality, and then to adopt it widely enough so that its use becomes widespread,” he said.
Dominic Basulto, a “digital thinker” at consulting firm Electric Artists, agreed. “When the first PCs came out, there was widespread disbelief that every individual would need one of these,” he said. “Yet, the PC ended up disrupting the entire computer industry, and then the entire technology industry.”
In the last century, new technologies have arisen that hardly anyone from the time of the telegraph could have imagined. We look at 10 of them that have completely altered how we live, do business and define our cultures. More
After realizing that the PopSci editors’ chat room is awash in amazing pictures that don’t necessarily see the light of day on our site (due to oldness, redundancy, or a host of other dealbreakers) we thought: why are we keeping these to ourselves? Here are the pictures this week that made us gawk, laugh, and email the .jpg links to our friends, from a perfectly geometrical haircut to a dude gliding through a giant Chinese cave in a wingsuit.
Click here to see this week’s most amazing science and tech images.
Deep in the depths of the Dead Sea, new life has been discovered. Thanks to newly found freshwater springs, certain forms of bacteria thrive, bacteria that, unlike other known freshwater and saltwater bacteria, can cope with rapidly changing salinity. It’s the intriguing results of the first study of the Dead Sea in years, a rare undertaking partly because “accidentally swallowing Dead Sea salt water would cause the larynx to inflate, resulting in immediate choking and suffocation.”
When the Jordan River’s entry into the Dead Sea was cut off in the 1950s to provide more fresh water for Jordan, the sea’s main source of fresh water was cut off. Ever since, the Dead Sea has been getting deader and deader, as far more water evaporates than is fed back into it (the sea’s water level sinks by about four feet every year). But the high and fluctuating salinity of the Dead Sea leads to all kinds of weird bacterial developments, as in the algae blooms of 1980 and 1992 that turned the sea red. Just this past week, researchers from Ben-Gurion University of the Negev released the results of a study that shows two major findings. First, there are freshwater springs deep in the craters on the floor of the Dead Sea. Second, there are huge mats of thriving bacteria down there–and the researchers have never seen bacteria that can survive in these conditions before. (They’re not aliens, though. That’d be crazy.) More