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28th July 2016

New antibiotic discovered in the human nose

German researchers have found bacteria in the human nose that produce a novel antibiotic which is effective against multiresistant pathogens.

 

new antibiotic from human nose

 

A potential lifesaver lies unrecognised in the human body. Scientists at the University of Tübingen and the German Centre for Infection Research (DZIF) have discovered that Staphylococcus lugdunensis (which colonises inside the human nose) produces a previously unknown antibiotic. As tests on mice have shown, the substance which has been named Lugdunin is able to combat multi-resistant pathogens, where many classic antibiotics have become ineffective. The study results were published on 27th July in the peer-reviewed journal Nature.

Infections caused by antibiotic-resistant bacteria – like the pathogen Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) which colonises on human skin – are among the leading causes of death worldwide. The natural habitat of harmful Staphylococcus bacteria is the human nasal cavity. In their experiments, Dr. Bernhard Krismer, Alexander Zipperer and Professor Andreas Peschel from the Interfaculty Institute for Microbiology and Infection Medicine Tübingen (IMIT) observed that Staphylococcus aureus is rarely found when Staphylococcus lugdunensis is present in the nose.

"Normally, antibiotics are formed only by soil bacteria and fungi," explains Professor Andreas Peschel. "The notion that human microflora may also be a source of antimicrobial agents is a new discovery." In future studies, researchers will examine whether Lugdunin could actually be used in therapy. One potential use is introducing harmless Lugdunin-forming bacteria to patients at risk from MRSA as a preventative measure.

 

 

new antibiotic found in human noseStaphylococcus lugdunensis (white) colonise on human nasal epithelial cells (pink) and combat the Staphylococcus aureus pathogen (yellow) by producing Lugdunin. Graphic: Professor Andreas Peschel.

 

Researchers from the Institute of Organic Chemistry at the University of Tübingen closely examined the structure of Lugdunin, noting that it consists of a previously unknown ring structure of protein blocks and thus establishes a new class of materials.

Antibiotic resistance is a growing problem worldwide. "There are estimates which suggest that more people will die from resistant bacteria in the coming decades than cancer," says Dr. Bernhard Krismer. "The improper use of antibiotics strengthens this alarming development" he continues.

As many of the pathogens are part of human microflora on skin and mucous membranes, they cannot be avoided. Particularly for patients with serious underlying illnesses and weakened immune systems they are a high risk – these patients are easy prey for the pathogens. Now the findings made by scientists at the University of Tübingen open up new ways to develop sustainable strategies for infection prevention and to find new antibiotics – also in the human body.

"If we can understand why they are living there [the nose] we may find new ways to combat bad bacteria, eradicate the spread of infection and maybe even find new therapeutic concepts, because we are in desperate need for new antibiotics," he concludes.

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27th July 2016

The first solar-powered aircraft to circumnavigate the Earth

Solar Impulse 2 has become the first solar-powered aircraft to circumnavigate the Earth – a journey of 43,000 kilometres (26,700 miles) – proving that clean technologies can achieve the impossible.

 

 

 

Taking turns at the controls of Solar Impulse 2 (Si2) – their zero-emission electric and solar airplane, capable of flying through day and night without fuel – Bertrand Piccard and André Borschberg have succeeded in their crazy dream of achieving the first ever round-the-world solar flight. By landing back in Abu Dhabi after 23 days of flight and 43,041 km travelled in a 17 leg journey, Si2 has proven that clean technologies can achieve the impossible.

Coming from Egypt, the aircraft landed back in Abu Dhabi yesterday morning at 4:05am local time (UTC+4) completing the final leg of an endeavour that began on 9th March 2015 when Si2 set off from Abu Dhabi with André Borschberg at the controls. Taking turns in the single-seater cockpit, Piccard and Borschberg flew across Asia, the Pacific Ocean, the USA, the Atlantic Ocean, the Mediterranean and the Middle East. A total of 19 world records were set or are still pending by the World Air Sports Federation (FAI). Of particular note were Borschberg's flying five consecutive days and nights over the Pacific from Japan to Hawaii in the longest duration a solo airplane of any kind has ever flown, and when Piccard achieved the historic first crossing of the Atlantic Ocean in a solar airplane.

For the two Swiss pioneers, it's the accomplishment of a dream that was considered impossible by many experts and demonstrates that clean energies and efficient technologies offer tangible solutions for sustainable air travel.

 

solar impulse
André Borschberg (left) and Bertrand Piccard (right) in Abu Dhabi. © Solar Impulse | Ackermann | Rezo.ch

 

Bertrand Piccard had the vision of an airplane of perpetual endurance after his non-stop round the world balloon flight in 1999, when he made the promise to circumnavigate the Earth again, but this time without any fuel. In 2004, he began bringing together partners who provided funds and technology for this adventure and partnered with André Borschberg. An entrepreneur and skilled aviator, Borschberg took on the technical challenge of developing the solar airplane and making it fly. More than taking turns at the controls of Si2 in the air, the first ever round-the-world solar flight is also a tandem achievement on the ground: while Piccard developed the project outreach to promote clean technologies, Borschberg pulled together the team that designed and constructed Si2 as well as organised the flight missions.

"This is not only a first in the history of aviation – it's before all, a first in the history of energy. I'm sure that within 10 years, we'll see electric airplanes transporting 50 passengers on short to medium haul flights." said Piccard, addressing the crowds after exiting the cockpit of Si2. "But it's not enough. The same clean technologies used on Solar Impulse could be implemented on the ground, in our daily life."

"Flying one leg with a completely new type of airplane is difficult enough, but flying around the world is a real challenge," said his partner Borschberg. "More than a demonstration, it's the confirmation that these technologies are truly dependable and reliable. There is so much potential for the aeronautical world: while one hundred percent solar powered airplanes might take longer to materialise, electric planes will develop in the near future because of their tremendous advantages, such as energy efficiency."

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon spoke to Bertrand Piccard, live from the Si2 cockpit, a few hours before the landing in Abu Dhabi: "Solar Impulse has flown more than 40,000 kilometres without fuel, but with an inexhaustible supply of energy and inspiration. This is a historic day for Captain Piccard and the Solar Impulse team, but it is also a historic day for humanity," said the UN leader. "You may be ending your around the world flight today – but the journey to a more sustainable world is just beginning. The Solar Impulse team is helping to pilot us to that future."

Looking forward, Bertrand Piccard and André Borschberg will continue to actively promote the use of modern clean technologies as a way to improve the quality of life on Earth. Firstly, through the already announced creation of the International Committee for Clean Technologies that will build on the #futureisclean initiative to bring independent and credible guidance on energy policy to governments and businesses. Secondly, by carrying on the work initiated by the engineering team on unmanned and high endurance electric aircrafts, which could fly at high altitude for months – offering services with exponential added value and complementing the work done by satellites today, in a flexible and sustainable way.

"Solar Impulse is very well positioned to contribute to the next generations of manned or unmanned electric aircrafts. By capitalising on the engineering skills and expertise gained over the past decade, we will continue to work to encourage concrete innovations and disruptive solutions," said Borschberg.

 

solar impulse hangar
© Solar Impulse | Revillard | Rezo.ch

 

"We are pleased to welcome back Bertrand Piccard and Andre Borschberg after their outstanding success in circumnavigating the world using only the power of the Sun," said Sultan Ahmed Al Jaber, minister of state in the United Arab Emirates and chairman of Masdar, a company located in Abu Dhabi and specialising in clean technology, renewable energy, and sustainable development.

"As a leader in developing innovative renewable energy projects and technologies, Masdar is committed to supporting groundbreaking initiatives like Solar Impulse which will inspire and deliver a more sustainable future. Solar Impulse has proven just how practical the application of solar energy can be. It will also provide valuable data that will lead to critical improvements in two key areas, energy storage and efficiency. Masdar is truly excited about the endless possibilities of solar energy and we will be part of taking such technologies to the next level," Dr. Al Jaber concluded.

As stated in Bertrand Piccard's manifesto for clean technologies written in 2004, Solar Impulse's ambition is "for the worlds of exploration and innovation to make a contribution to the cause of renewable energies; to demonstrate the importance of clean technologies for sustainable development; and to place dreams and emotions back at the heart of scientific adventure." There is still much to be done to make the world we live in more energy efficient, but through innovation and pioneering spirit, the first ever round-the-world solar flight is credible proof that change is possible and that there is reason to hope for a more sustainable world.

 

solar impulse 2
© Solar Impulse | Revillard | Rezo.ch

 

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22nd July 2016

First atmospheric study of Earth-sized exoplanets

Using the Hubble Space Telescope, astronomers have performed the first spectroscopy of the atmospheres of Earth-sized exoplanets.

 

 

 

Using NASA's Hubble Space Telescope, astronomers have conducted the first search for atmospheres around temperate, Earth-sized planets beyond our Solar System and found indications that increase the chances of habitability on two exoplanets.

Specifically, they discovered that the exoplanets TRAPPIST-1b and TRAPPIST-1c, approximately 40 light-years away, are unlikely to have puffy, hydrogen-dominated atmospheres usually found on gaseous worlds.

"The lack of a smothering hydrogen-helium envelope increases the chances for habitability on these planets," said team member Nikole Lewis of the Space Telescope Science Institute (STScI) in Baltimore. "If they had a significant hydrogen-helium envelope, there is no chance that either one of them could potentially support life, because the dense atmosphere would act like a greenhouse."

Julien de Wit of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge, Massachusetts, led a team of scientists to observe the planets in near-infrared light using Hubble's Wide Field Camera 3. They used spectroscopy to decode the light and reveal clues to the chemical makeup of an atmosphere. While the content of the atmospheres is unknown and will have to await further observations, the low concentration of hydrogen and helium has scientists excited about the implications.

"These initial Hubble observations are a promising first step in learning more about these nearby worlds, whether they could be rocky like Earth, and whether they could sustain life," says Geoff Yoder, acting associate administrator for NASA's Science Mission Directorate in Washington. "This is an exciting time for NASA and exoplanet research."

The planets orbit a red dwarf star at least 500 million years old, in the constellation of Aquarius. They were discovered in late 2015 through a series of observations by the TRAnsiting Planets and PlanetesImals Small Telescope (TRAPPIST), a Belgian robotic telescope located at ESA's (European Space Agency's) La Silla Observatory in Chile.

TRAPPIST-1b completes a circuit around its red dwarf star in 1.5 days and TRAPPIST-1c in 2.4 days. The planets are between 20 and 100 times closer to their star than the Earth is to the Sun. However, because their star is so much fainter than our Sun, researchers believe at least one of the planets, TRAPPIST-1c, may be within the star's habitable zone, where moderate temperatures could allow for liquid water to pool.

 

trappist orbits

 

Astronomers took advantage of a rare simultaneous transit, when both planets crossed the face of their star within minutes of each other, to measure starlight as it filtered through any existing atmosphere. This double-transit, which occurs only every two years, provided a combined signal that offered simultaneous indicators of the atmospheric characters of the planets.

The researchers hope to use Hubble to conduct follow-up observations to search for thinner atmospheres, composed of elements heavier than hydrogen, like those of Earth and Venus.

"With more data, we could perhaps detect methane, or see water features in the atmospheres, which would give us estimates of the depth of the atmospheres," said Hannah Wakeford, the paper's second author, at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Centre in Greenbelt, Maryland.

Observations from future telescopes, including NASA's James Webb Space Telescope, will help determine the full composition of these atmospheres and hunt for potential biosignatures, such as carbon dioxide and ozone, in addition to water vapour and methane. Webb also will analyse a planet's temperature and surface pressure – key factors in assessing habitability.

"These Earth-sized planets are the first worlds that astronomers can study in detail with current and planned telescopes to determine whether they are suitable for life," said de Wit. "Hubble has the facility to play the central atmospheric pre-screening role to tell astronomers which of these Earth-sized planets are prime candidates for more detailed study with the Webb telescope."

The results of the study appear in the 20th July issue of the journal Nature.

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20th July 2016

2016 climate trends continue to break records

Two key climate change indicators – global surface temperatures and Arctic sea ice extent – have broken numerous records through the first half of 2016, according to NASA analyses of ground-based observations and satellite data.

 

global warming future timeline 2016

 

Each of the first six months of 2016 set a record as the warmest respective month globally in the modern temperature record, which dates to 1880, according to scientists at NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies (GISS) in New York. The six-month period from January to June was also the planet's warmest half-year on record, with an average temperature 1.3°C (2.4°F) warmer than the late nineteenth century.

Five of the first six months of 2016 also set records for the smallest monthly Arctic sea ice extent since consistent satellite records began in 1979, according to scientists at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Centre in Greenbelt, Maryland. The one exception, March, recorded the second smallest extent for that month.

While these two key climate indicators have broken records in 2016, NASA scientists said it is more significant that global temperature and Arctic sea ice are continuing their long-term trends of change. Both trends are ultimately driven by the rising concentration of heat-trapping carbon dioxide, which has increased by 40% since pre-industrial times, along with various other greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.

 

 

 

The extent of Arctic sea ice at the peak of the summer melt season now typically covers 40% less area than it did in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Arctic sea ice extent in September, the seasonal low point in the annual cycle, has been declining at a rate of 13.4% per decade.

"While the El Niño event in the tropical Pacific this winter gave a boost to global temperatures from October onwards, it is the underlying trend which is producing these record numbers," said GISS Director, Gavin Schmidt.

Previous El Niño events have driven temperatures to what were then record levels – such as during 1998. But in 2016, even as the effects of the recent El Niño taper off, global temperatures have risen well beyond those of 18 years ago because of the overall warming that has occurred since then.

The global trend in rising temperatures is outpaced by the regional warming in the Arctic, according to Walt Meier, a sea ice scientist from NASA Goddard: "It has been a record year so far for global temperatures, but the record high temperatures in the Arctic over the past six months have been even more extreme," says Meier. "This warmth, as well as unusual weather patterns, has led to the record low sea ice extents so far this year."

 

arctic sea ice extent

global warming future timeline 2016

 

NASA tracks temperature and sea ice as part of its effort to understand the Earth as a system and to understand how Earth is changing. In addition to maintaining 19 Earth-observing space missions, the agency also sends researchers around the globe to investigate different facets of the planet at closer range. Right now, NASA researchers are working across the Arctic to better understand both the processes driving increased sea ice melt and the impacts of rising temperatures on Arctic ecosystems.

NASA's Operation IceBridge campaign last week commenced a series of airborne measurements of melt ponds on the surface of the Arctic sea ice cap. Melt ponds are shallow pools of water, seen in the photo below, that form as ice melts. Their darker surfaces absorb more sunlight and accelerate the melting process. IceBridge is flying out of Barrow, Alaska, during the melt season to observe these at a scale never before achieved. Recent studies have shown that the formation of melt ponds early in the summer is a good predictor of the yearly minimum sea ice extent in September.

"No one has ever, from a remote sensing standpoint, mapped the large-scale depth of melt ponds on sea ice," said Nathan Kurtz, IceBridge's project scientist and a sea ice researcher at NASA Goddard. "The information we'll collect is going to show how much water is retained in melt ponds and what kind of topography is needed on the sea ice to constrain them, which will help improve melt pond models."

 

melt pond arctic 2016

 

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19th July 2016

Smallest ever hard disk writes information atom by atom

Scientists in the Netherlands, working at the limits of miniaturisation, have used one bit per atom to create 1 kilobyte of data storage.

 

 

 

Every day, modern society creates more than a billion gigabytes of new data. To store all this information, it is increasingly important that each single bit occupies as little space as possible. A team of scientists at the Kavli Institute of Nanoscience at Delft University, Netherlands, managed to bring this reduction to the ultimate limit: they built a memory of 1 kilobyte (8,000 bits), where each bit is represented by the position of one single chlorine atom.

"In theory, this storage density would allow all books ever created by humans to be written on a single post stamp", says lead scientist Sander Otte. They reached a storage density of 500 Terabits per square inch (Tbpsi), 500 times better than the best commercial hard disk currently available. His team reports on this breakthrough in Nature Nanotechnology.

In 1959, physicist Richard Feynman challenged his colleagues to engineer the world at the smallest possible scale. In his famous lecture, There's Plenty of Room at the Bottom, he speculated that a platform allowing us to arrange individual atoms, in an exact orderly pattern, would make it possible to store one piece of information per atom. To honour the visionary Feynman, Otte and his team have now coded a section of Feynman's lecture on an area 100 nanometres wide.

 

smallest ever hard disk atom nanotechnology
STM scan (96 nm wide, 126 nm tall) of the 1 kB memory, written to a section of Feynman's lecture, There's Plenty of Room at the Bottom.

 

The team used a scanning tunnelling microscope (STM), in which a sharp needle probes the atoms of a surface, one by one. Using these probes, scientists not only see the atoms, but can also push them around: "You could compare it to a sliding puzzle", Otte explains. "Every bit consists of two positions on a surface of copper atoms, and one chlorine atom that we can slide back and forth between these two positions. If the chlorine atom is in the top position, there is a hole beneath it – we call this a 1. If the hole is in the top position and the chlorine atom is therefore on the bottom, then the bit is a 0." Because the chlorine atoms are surrounded by other chlorine atoms, except near the holes, they keep each other in place. That is why this method with holes is much more stable than methods with loose atoms and more suitable for data storage.

The researchers from Delft organised their memory in blocks of 8 bytes (64 bits). Each block has a marker, made of the same type of 'holes' as the raster of chlorine atoms. Inspired by the pixelated square barcodes (QR codes) often used to scan tickets for airplanes and concerts, these markers work like miniature QR codes that carry information about the precise location of the block on the copper layer. The code will also indicate if a block has been damaged, for instance due to some local contaminant or an error in the surface. This allows memory to be scaled up easily to very big sizes, even if the copper surface is not entirely perfect.

The new method offers excellent prospects in terms of stability and scalability. Still, this type of memory should not be expected in commercial use anytime soon: "In its current form, the memory can operate only in very clean vacuum conditions and at liquid nitrogen temperature (77 K), so the actual storage of data on an atomic scale is still some way off," explains Otte. "But through this achievement, we have certainly come a big step closer".

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18th July 2016

New dwarf planet found beyond Neptune

Astronomers have announced the discovery of 2015 RR245, a dwarf planet candidate in the Kuiper Belt with a highly elliptical orbit.

 

2015 rr245 orbit path

 

An international team of astronomers including researchers from the University of British Columbia (UBC) has discovered a new dwarf planet orbiting in the disk of small icy worlds beyond Neptune.

The new object is about 700 km (435 miles) in diameter – slightly larger than Pluto's moon Charon – and has one of the largest orbits for a dwarf planet. Designated 2015 RR245 by the International Astronomical Union's Minor Planet Centre, it was found using the Canada-France-Hawaii Telescope on Maunakea, Hawaii, as part of the ongoing Outer Solar System Origins Survey (OSSOS).

"Finding a new dwarf planet beyond Neptune sheds light on the early phases of planet formation," said Brett Gladman, the Canada Research Chair in planetary astronomy at UBC. "Since most of these icy worlds are incredibly small and faint, it's exciting to find a bright one that is easier to study, and which is on an interesting orbit."

RR245 was first spotted in February 2016 by astronomer JJ Kavelaars of the National Research Council of Canada. The OSSOS project uses powerful computers to hunt the images, and Kavelaars was presented with a bright object moving at such a slow rate that it was clearly at least twice as far from Earth as Neptune and 120 times further from the Sun than Earth.

 

2015 rr245 gif animation

 

The vast majority of dwarf planets like RR245 were destroyed or thrown from the Solar System as the giant planets moved out to their present positions. RR245 is one of the few dwarf planets that survived to the present day, along with Pluto and Eris, the largest known dwarf planets. RR245 now circles the Sun among the remnant population of tens of thousands of much smaller trans-Neptunian worlds, most of which orbit unseen.

Worlds that journey far from the Sun have exotic geology with landscapes of many different frozen materials, as the flyby of Pluto by the New Horizons spacecraft has shown. RR245 has been on a highly elliptical orbit for at least the last 100 million years, the researchers have calculated. After spending the last few centuries further than 12 billion km (80 astronomical units, or AU) from the Sun, it is now travelling towards its perihelion (closest approach) at five billion km (34 AU), which it will reach in the year 2096.

Since 2015 RR245 has only been observed for one of the 733 years it takes to orbit the Sun, its origin is still unknown, as is the gradual evolution of its orbit in the far future. Its precise characteristics will be refined over the coming years, after which RR245 will be given a proper name. As its discoverers, the OSSOS team can submit their preferred name to the International Astronomical Union for consideration.

RR245 is their largest discovery so far, and the only dwarf planet found by OSSOS, which has identified over 500 trans-Neptunian objects. This new find was only possible due to the exceptional observing capabilities of the Canada-France-Hawaii Telescope.

 

canada france hawaii telescope 2015 rr245
Credit: CFHT

 

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18th July 2016

Graphene-infused packaging is a million times better at blocking moisture

Plastic packaging might seem impenetrable – and sometimes nearly impossible to remove – but water molecules can still pass through. And this permeability to moisture can limit the lifespan of a product. To better protect goods such as electronics and medicines, U.S. and Indian scientists have developed a new kind of packaging that incorporates a single layer of graphene. They report their material, which reduces by a million-fold how much water can get through, in the journal ACS Nano.

These days, packaging is everywhere, sometimes even on individual fruits or vegetables. Wrapping products from food to electronics in plastic films can protect against dust, bacteria and to some extent water. But to maximise the lifetime of moisture-sensitive devices such as organic light-emitting diodes (OLED) for more than a year, for example, the packaging must restrict water vapour from entering at a rate of less than 0.000001 (10-6) grams per square metre every day, according to study author Praveen C. Ramamurthy. Today's typical packaging is far from achieving that goal. Ramamurthy and colleagues wanted to see whether adding graphene to flexible polymer films would help.

The researchers synthesised a layer of graphene by chemical vapour deposition and using a simple and scalable process, transferred the graphene to a polymer film. Water vapour permeated the material at the target rate of less than 10-6 grams per square metre per day. An accelerated aging test showed that an organic photovoltaic device wrapped in the graphene-infused film would have a lifetime of more than a year compared to less than half an hour if packaged in the polymer without the graphene.

 

graphene

 

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14th July 2016

Robots could build giant telescopes in space

Researchers have published a new concept for space telescope design that uses a modular structure and robot to build an extremely large telescope in space, faster and more efficiently than human astronauts.

 

robot space telescope construction

 

Enhancing astronomers' ability to peer ever more deeply into the cosmos may hinge on developing larger space-based telescopes. A new concept in space telescope design makes use of a modular structure and an assembly robot to build an extremely large telescope in space, performing tasks that would be too difficult, expensive, or time-consuming for human astronauts.

The Robotically Assembled Modular Space Telescope (RAMST) is described by Nicolas Lee and his colleagues at the California Institute of Technology and the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in an article published this week by the Journal of Astronomical Telescopes, Instruments, and Systems (JATIS).

Ground-based telescopes, while very large and powerful, are limited by atmospheric effects and their fixed location on Earth. Space-based telescopes do not have those problems – but have other limits, such as launch vehicle volume and mass capacity. A new modular space telescope that overcomes restrictions on volume and mass could allow telescope components to be launched incrementally, enabling the design and deployment of truly enormous space telescopes.

The Hubble Space Telescope features a mirror diameter of 2.4 m (7.8 ft). Its successor, the James Webb Telescope – due for launch in 2018 – will be nearly triple this size at 6.5 m (23 ft). A longer-term proposal known as the Advanced Technology Large-Aperture Space Telescope (ATLAST) would be even larger, with a mirror up to 16 m (52 ft) in width. The future concept by Lee and his colleagues, however, would dwarf all of these, spanning 100 m (328 ft). This would be powerful enough to obtain detailed views of exoplanets in other star systems, as well as images from the deep universe with phenomenal clarity.

 

future space telescopes timeline

 

The team's paper, "Architecture for in-space robotic assembly of a modular space telescope," focuses primarily on a robotic system to perform tasks in which astronaut fatigue would be a problem. The observatory would be constructed in Earth orbit and operated at the Sun–Earth Lagrange Point 2.

"Our goal is to address the principal technical challenges associated with such an architecture, so that future concept studies addressing a particular science driver can consider robotically assembled telescopes in their trade space," the authors write.

The main features of their proposed architecture include a mirror built with a modular structure, a general-purpose robot to put the telescope together and provide ongoing servicing, and advanced metrology technologies to support the assembly and operation of the telescope. An optional feature is the potential ability to fly the unassembled components of the telescope in formation. The system architecture is scalable to a variety of telescope sizes and would not be limited to particular optical designs.

"The capability to assemble a modular space telescope has other potential applications," says Harley Thronson, a senior scientist for Advanced Astrophysics Concepts at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Centre. "For example, astronomers using major ground-based telescopes are accustomed to many decades of operation, and the Hubble Space Telescope has demonstrated that this is possible in space if astronauts are available. A robotic system of assembly, upgrade, repair, and resupply offers the possibility of very long useful lifetimes of space telescopes of all kinds."

 

future space telescope

 

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14th July 2016

Global airline fleet to double by 2035

Boeing has predicted a demand for 39,620 new airplanes over the next 20 years, an increase of 4.1 percent over their previous forecast.

 

global passenger plane fleet double 2035

 

In its latest market outlook, aircraft manufacturer Boeing has predicted that the number of commercial planes in service globally will increase by 39,620 during the next 20 years. When accounting for the number of retired planes, this means an increase from 22,510 today to 45,240 by 2035, more than doubling the worldwide fleet. The total value of those new airplanes is estimated at $5.9 trillion.

"Despite recent events that have impacted the financial markets, the aviation sector will continue to see long-term growth with the commercial fleet doubling in size," said Randy Tinseth, vice president of Marketing, Boeing Commercial Airplanes. "We expect to see passenger traffic grow 4.8 percent a year over the next two decades."

The single-aisle market will be especially strong, with low-cost carriers and the emerging markets driving growth. 28,140 new airplanes will be needed in this segment.

"There's no question the heart of the single-aisle market is around the new Boeing MAX 8 and the current 737-800," Tinseth added. "Airplanes that size already account for 76 percent of the global single-aisle backlog, and our products have the clear advantage in that space."

On the widebody side, about 9,100 airplanes are in the forecast, with a large wave of potential replacement demand in the 2021-2028 time frame. Boeing has forecast a continued shift from very large airplanes to small and medium widebodies such as the 787, 777 and 777X. The Asia market, including China, will continue to lead the way in total airplane deliveries.

 

global passenger plane fleet double 2035

 

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12th July 2016

Imagining life in 2036

A new survey reveals the technologies Americans think will disrupt traditional industries over the next 20 years.

 

2036 predictions future timeline technology

 

This survey was inspired by a list of predictions made by Imperial College London's Tech Foresight research team, released as part of Technology Week in London. SMG Insight/YouGov interviewed 2,088 American adults to find their views on technology in 20 years' time. The results show that a large majority of people (69%) believe that physical money will disappear, two-thirds (66%) believe that pizza deliveries via drone will be commonplace and virtual reality will be routinely used for doctors' appointments. About half the respondents believe it likely that communication devices will be commonly embedded in our bodies. The prediction seen as the least likely is that robots will outnumber human beings, with only 26% considering this likely.

Professor David Gann, Vice President of Innovation at Imperial College London, commented: "London's technologists, scientists, medics and entrepreneurs are creating the future. No city in the world enjoys London's quotient of talent, technology, culture and capital. It is a potent combination. It's an environment where ideas flourish, design and innovation is embraced and new technologies are transforming our lives for the better."

 

digital technology

 

Separate research from Accenture recently revealed the impact of technology on the global economy, with its Digital Multiplier report estimating that the digital economy currently represents 22.5 percent of the world's GDP. This is expected to rise to 25 percent by 2020.

The US is the world's most digital economy, with existing digital investments accounting for 33 percent of its output. Accenture's report highlights how digital skills and digital technologies are having impacts across various sectors – 22 percent of the global retail industry's output is derived from digital, 28 percent in health, and 20 percent in consumer goods.

What are your predictions for 2036? Let us know in the comments below...

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7th July 2016

African Union to launch new "single African passport"

The African Union (AU) is introducing a common passport that will allow visa-free access to all 54 member states.

 

african union

 

While the shock result of Britain's referendum may threaten the already fragile European Union, other regions of the world are seeing closer integration. Russia, for example, recently helped to establish the Eurasian Union – a political and economic union consisting of Russia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Armenia and Kyrgyzstan. Meanwhile, the East Asian Community (EAC) is a proposed trading bloc for the East Asian and Southeast Asian countries, which may arise out of either ASEAN Plus Three or the East Asia Summit (EAS). On the other side of the planet, the Union of South American Nations was established in 2008 and consists of 12 member countries.

Now, the African Union (AU), formed in 2002 as a continental union of 54 nations in Africa, has taken its latest step towards closer integration by announcing a new electronic passport (e-Passport). This will be launched at the next AU Summit taking place in Kigali, Rwanda from 10th-18th July 2016. This flagship project, first agreed upon in 2014, will be a major part of Agenda 2063 – a strategic framework for transforming the continent over the next 50 years. The AU passport has the specific aim of enabling the free movement of people, ideas, goods, services and capital, fostering intra-Africa trade and socio-economic development.

Aspirations 2 and 7 of Agenda 2063, respectively, envision a future Africa that is "integrated" and "united", with a single African passport seen as an important milestone towards achieving that goal. Common passports have already been adopted across a number of smaller regions, such as the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS). The proposed AU passport would be an electronic document permitting continent-wide travel, without the requirement for a visa – except for Morocco (the only non-AU nation in Africa) and several island territories held by Spain, France, Portugal and the UK. The first AU passports will be issued to AU heads of state, government ministers and representatives of AU member states later this month. They will be rolled out to all AU citizens by 2018.

Some believe this two-year schedule is overly optimistic, however. AU Director for Political Affairs, Dr. Khabele Matlosa, acknowledges the target of providing all citizens with the passports by 2018 is ambitious and that full coverage "may not be achieved until several years later". David Zounmenou, senior research fellow at the Institute for Security Studies in Pretoria, South Africa, shares his view: "Not all countries have the same level of technology needed for the biometric system and to register their citizens," he says. "The timeframe is too short – 2020 would be a fine effort."

Deeper integration – such as the formation of a single, pan-African common market – presents enormous political and logistical challenges, but is expected to follow in the decades ahead. On current trends, the World Bank estimates that most African nations will achieve "middle income" status (defined as at least US$1,000 per person per year) by 2025. The gross domestic product (GDP) of the continent, today standing at $2.4 trillion, will see a 12-fold increase by 2050, mushrooming to $29 trillion, larger than the combined GDP of the US and the Eurozone in 2012.

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5th July 2016

NASA's Juno spacecraft enters orbit around Jupiter

After a five-year journey to the Solar System's largest planet, NASA's Juno probe has successfully entered Jupiter's orbit during a 35-minute engine burn. Confirmation that the burn had completed was received on Earth at 8:53 p.m. PDT (11:53 p.m. EDT) on Monday 4th July.

 

 

 

"Independence Day always is something to celebrate, but today we can add to America's birthday another reason to cheer – Juno is at Jupiter," said NASA administrator Charlie Bolden. "And what is more American than a NASA mission going boldly where no spacecraft has gone before? With Juno, we will investigate the unknowns of Jupiter's massive radiation belts to delve deep into not only the planet's interior, but into how Jupiter was born and how our entire Solar System evolved."

Confirmation of a successful orbit insertion was received from Juno tracking data monitored at the navigation facility at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California, as well as at the Lockheed Martin Juno operations centre in Littleton, Colorado. The telemetry and tracking data were received by NASA's Deep Space Network antennas in Goldstone, California, and Canberra, Australia.

"This is the one time I don't mind being stuck in a windowless room on the night of the 4th of July," said Scott Bolton, principal investigator of Juno from Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio. "The mission team did great. The spacecraft did great. We are looking great. It's a great day."

Preplanned events leading up to the orbital insertion engine burn included changing the spacecraft's attitude to point the main engine in the desired direction and then increasing the spacecraft's rotation rate from two to five revolutions per minute (RPM) to help stabilise it.

The burn of Juno's 645-Newton Leros-1b main engine began on schedule at 8:18 p.m. PDT (11:18 p.m. EDT), decreasing the spacecraft's velocity by 1,212 mph (542 metres per second) and allowing Juno to be captured in orbit around the gas giant. Soon after the burn was completed, Juno turned so that the Sun's rays could once again reach the 18,698 individual solar cells that give Juno its energy.

 

jupiter juno

 

"The spacecraft worked perfectly, which is always nice when you're driving a vehicle with 1.7 billion miles on the odometer," said Rick Nybakken, Juno project manager from JPL. "Jupiter orbit insertion was a big step and the most challenging remaining in our mission plan, but there are others that have to occur before we can give the science team the mission they are looking for."

Over the next few months, Juno's mission and science teams will perform final testing on the spacecraft's subsystems, final calibration of science instruments and some science collection.

"Our official science collection phase begins in October, but we've figured out a way to collect data a lot earlier than that," said Bolton. "Which when you're talking about the single biggest planetary body in the Solar System is a really good thing. There is a lot to see and do here."

Juno's principal goal is to understand the origin and evolution of Jupiter. With its suite of nine science instruments, Juno will investigate the existence of a solid planetary core, map Jupiter's intense magnetic field, measure the amount of water and ammonia in the deep atmosphere, and observe the planet's auroras. At its closest approach, it will come within 3,000 miles (5,000 kilometres) of the cloud tops. The mission will take a major step forward in our understanding of how giant planets form and the role these titans played in putting together the rest of the Solar System. As our primary example of a giant planet, Jupiter can also provide critical knowledge for understanding the planetary systems being discovered around other stars.

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