The ‘Asteroid Gold Rush’ is ON as President Obama Signs Space Mining Law

Space mining companies like Planetary Resources and Deep Space Industries have something to be extra-grateful for on this Thanksgiving day: President Obama has signed into law a bill that gives miners the right to extract resources from celestial bodies, including asteroids, the moon, and pretty much anything “out there.”

Companies with plans to mine in space were quick to express their gratitude, according to a great article on GeekWire:

“This is the single greatest recognition of property rights in history,” Eric Anderson, co-founder and co-chairman of Redmond-based Planetary Resources, said in a news release. “This legislation establishes the same supportive framework that created the great economies of history, and will encourage the sustained development of space.”

Anderson’s company has said the asteroid mining industry could eventually grow to trillions of dollars a year – but that’s dependent on the establishment of a spacefaring infrastructure that can use the off-earth water and other raw materials from near-Earth asteroids.

It’s also dependent on the establishment a legal infrastructure that lets miners keep what they get. That’s what the newly signed law, known as the U.S. Commercial Space Launch Competitiveness Act (H.R.2262), is expected to start doing.

The law addresses nearer-term issues as well: It extends the current “learning period” for the regulation of private-sector spaceships such as Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo and Blue Origin’s New Shepard to 2023; confirms that the International Space Station should stay in operation until at least 2024; and continues the indemnification of commercial space launches through 2025.

The bill signing spurred a flurry of excitement and praise, and certainly could signal the beginning of the “space gold rush” as companies accelerate their plans and new entrepreneurs jump into the new space resources mining race.  More great details, quotes and more are in the excellent article on GeekWire.


Source: – “Asteroid mining riches await: President Obama signs space resource bill into law

Featured Image Credit: Bryan Versteeg / Deep Space Industries

Device Scavenges Power Out of Thin Air

A new way to capture and harness energy from the air could lead to paper-based wireless sensors that are self-powered, low-cost, and able to function independently almost anywhere.

“There is a large amount of electromagnetic energy all around us, but nobody has been able to tap into it,” says Manos Tentzeris, professor of electrical and computer engineering at Georgia Institute of Technology (Georgia Tech).

“We are using an ultra-wideband antenna that lets us exploit a variety of signals in different frequency ranges, giving us greatly increased power-gathering capability.”

Inkjet printers are used to combine sensors, antennas, and energy-grabbing capabilities on paper or flexible polymers. The resulting self-powered wireless sensors may be used for chemical, biological, heat, and stress sensing for defense and industry; radio-frequency identification (RFID) tagging for manufacturing and shipping, and monitoring tasks in a variety of fields including communications and power usage.

Communications devices transmit energy in many different frequency ranges, or bands.  The team’s scavenging devices are able to capture the energy, convert it from AC to DC, and then store it in capacitors and batteries. The scavenging technology can presently take advantage of frequencies from FM radio to radar, a range spanning 100 megahertz (MHz) to 15 gigahertz (GHz) or higher.

Experiments utilizing TV bands have already yielded power amounting to hundreds of microwatts. Multi-band systems are expected to generate one milliwatt or more—enough power to operate many small electronic devices, including a variety of sensors and microprocessors.

By combining energy-scavenging technology with super-capacitors and cycled operation, researchers expect to be able to power devices requiring above 50 milliwatts.  In this approach, energy builds up in a battery-like supercapacitor and is utilized when the required power level is reached.

The researchers have already successfully operated a temperature sensor using electromagnetic energy captured from a television station that was half a kilometer away and are preparing another demonstration in which a microprocessor-based microcontroller would be activated simply by holding it in the air.

Exploiting a range of electromagnetic bands increases the dependability of energy-scavenging devices, Tentzeris says. If one frequency range fades temporarily due to usage variations, the system can still exploit other frequencies.

The scavenging device could be used by itself or in tandem with other generating technologies.  For example, scavenged energy could assist a solar element to charge a battery during the day.  At night, when solar cells don’t provide power, scavenged energy would continue to increase the battery charge or would prevent discharging.

Utilizing ambient electromagnetic energy could also provide a form of system backup.  If a battery or a solar-collector/battery package failed completely, scavenged energy could allow the system to transmit a wireless distress signal while also potentially maintaining critical functionalities.

Continue reading to learn the uniquely simple way that the team created these devices and the applications they envision for them.


More News from NASA on the Mysterious “Megastructure Star”

The Mysterious “Megastructure Star” originally discovered by citizen scientists reviewing images from the Kepler space telescope and previously reported on Science Rocks My World has gotten additional focus from NASA.

The new study, based on data from the Spitzer Space Telescope, still doesn’t completely solve the mystery, but it does a good job of ruling out one more possible explanation:

The source of the still-mysterious dimming is very likely not the result of an asteroid-planet collision or asteroids colliding with each other.

An article from NASA provides the fascinating details of the new study:

A new study using data from NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope addresses the mystery, finding more evidence for the scenario involving a swarm of comets. The study, led by Massimo Marengo of Iowa State University, Ames, is accepted for publication in the Astrophysical Journal Letters.

One way to learn more about the star is to study it in infrared light. Kepler had observed it in visible light. If a planetary impact, or a collision amongst asteroids, were behind the mystery of KIC 8462852, then there should be an excess of infrared light around the star. Dusty, ground-up bits of rock would be at the right temperature to glow at infrared wavelengths.

At first, researchers tried to look for infrared light using NASA’s Wide-Field Infrared Survey Explorer, or WISE, and found none. But those observations were taken in 2010, before the strange events seen by Kepler — and before any collisions would have kicked up dust.

To search for infrared light that might have been generated after the oddball events, researchers turned to Spitzer, which, like WISE, also detects infrared light. Spitzer just happened to observe KIC 8462852 more recently in 2015.

“Spitzer has observed all of the hundreds of thousands of stars where Kepler hunted for planets, in the hope of finding infrared emission from circumstellar dust,” said Michael Werner, the Spitzer project scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, and the lead investigator of that particular Spitzer/Kepler observing program.

But, like WISE, Spitzer did not find any significant excess of infrared light from warm dust. That makes theories of rocky smashups very unlikely, and favors the idea that cold comets are responsible. It’s possible that a family of comets is traveling on a very long, eccentric orbit around the star. At the head of the pack would be a very large comet, which would have blocked the star’s light in 2011, as noted by Kepler. Later, in 2013, the rest of the comet family, a band of varied fragments lagging behind, would have passed in front of the star and again blocked its light.

By the time Spitzer observed the star in 2015, those comets would be farther away, having continued on their long journey around the star. They would not leave any infrared signatures that could be detected.

Marango says that more studies and observations are needed to settle the mystery of KIC 8462852, although his study does help to rule out one more possible explanation.

This leaves the original study’s conclusions as the still-favored theory (click here to read our original article about that study), that the aperiodic dimming of the start is probably because of a swarm of comets. On the other hand, some will certainly point out, it also doesn’t rule out the possibility of an alien megastructure…

Stay tuned, as they say, since this mystery still has a long way to go before it’s completely solved!

Source: – “Strange Star Likely Swarmed by Comets” 

Featured Image Source: Illustration of comet swarm by NASA/JPL-Caltech

Blue Origin Makes History by Sticking the Landing [Video]

Blue Origin, Amazon co-founder Jeff Bezos’ commercial space company, made history on November 23 when they became the first group in history to successfully land a reusable rocket after launching it to the edge of space. The New Shepard rocket, carrying and unmanned crew capsule, blasted to 330,000 feet (100.5 kilometers), where the crew capsule separated from the launch rocket and both fell back to Earth, with the capsule deploying parachutes before it landed and the rocket blasting its way to a successful touchdown on a landing pad.

The company celebrated their historic accomplishment, much anticipated after a failed New Shepard launch in April, beating Elon Musk and his company SpaceX to this major milestone of a vertical take-off and landing (VOTL) mission.

Blue Origin, SpaceX, and other companies are working to perfect VOTL landing technology for their rockets in order to reduce the cost of getting to space.

On Twitter, Musk was both congratulatory and a bit critical of the New Shepard achievement, pointing out that the Blue Origin rocket has enough thrust to get to space, but not to achieve orbit, like SpaceX’s own Falcon 9 rocket.  SpaceX has already used the Falcon 9 to deliver cargo to the International Space Station (ISS), which the New Shepard would not be able to do.

To point this out, Musk’s tweets went like this:


So there you have it… perhaps a little rocket envy?  😉

Continue on to see a great video of the launch and landing….


Size Does Matter… At Least When it Comes to Smartphone Ads

In a very eye-opening new study, communications researchers have found that the screen size of a smartphone can change how much we trust advertisements, which could directly influence what we purchase.

“While people are using smartphones—and these days, smartphone screen sizes are becoming bigger and bigger—they may think that the larger screen sizes are actually enhancing their experience and increasing the amount of information they can take in, but this subtle difference in screen size can also affect them in ways that they may not realize,” says S. Shyam Sundar, a communications professor at Penn State.

“Our study sheds light on how they may be processing information on these new larger screens.”

Sundar says it only takes small differences in the size of screens to change trust levels and buying intentions. In the study, for example, the researchers tested smartphones with 5.3-inch screens and 3.7-inch screens.

“We are not talking about comparing a 57-inch television screen with a 10-inch screen, we are talking about mobile devices that have relatively small differences in screen size,” says Sundar.

The researchers, who released their findings in a recent issue of Human Communication Research, say the study suggests that while one screen size may not be better than the other, consumers may want to reflect on how the screen sizes and types of media are affecting them before they buy a product or sign up for a service.

“If you are using a large screen you may be more likely to trust the vendor and impulsively purchase a product,” Sundar says.


The researchers recruited 120 undergraduate students in Korea for the study. One group was assigned an Android smartphone with a 3.7-inch screen and another group accessed the web with an Android smartphone with a 5.3-inch screen.

Participants used the smartphones to visit a website to find a bus schedule. When they accessed the schedule, the website displayed either a video or text-based advertisement before showing the schedule.

After the session, the participants filled out a questionnaire to determine their depth of information processing, level of trust and buying intentions.

In the study, people who viewed video ads on large screens tended to experience feelings of affective trust, whereas reading text ads on smaller screens created greater cognitive trust.

“A simple way to put it is that affective trust refers to how you feel about something and cognitive trust refers to what you think about it,” says Sundar. “The difference is between what you think and what you feel.”

The researchers had expected that cognitive trust would be associated with behavioral trust and buying intention, but they discovered that affective trust was more influential. Participants who viewed video ads on larger screens were more likely to want to purchase a product.


Sundar adds that one form of trust is not better than the other, but that they indicate different depths of thinking by mobile users.

“There is a change in the depth of processing,” says Sundar. “When users have a large screen, people are processing heuristically, which means they are processing information in a less systematic manner, which may make them more prone to influences from cues in the surroundings and, in general, more open to persuasion.”

The feeling of immersion may prompt users who are watching videos on bigger screens to experience a media presentation as if they were inside it.

“If you feel like you’re there, you may be more inclined to trust things more,” says Sundar. “You feel like you’re almost in the environment, so it must be real.”

The researchers say this higher sense of immersion tended to change how people processed the information.

“The study showed that those who felt a higher sense of being there in the environment portrayed in the ad were more likely to think about the ad heuristically, rather than systematically,” says Sundar. “The same was true for those who felt the ads were more real.”

Ki Joon Kim, a professor of interaction science at Sungkyunkwan University, who collaborated on the study says the findings may have implications for the use of virtual reality in mobile advertising. He says the results may also help guide designers of wearable devices, which could have even smaller screens than smartphones.

“Our findings can provide guidelines for wearable device designers who are challenged to use very small screens to deliver information,” adds Kim.


Republished from under the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International license with a new headline, an updated introductory paragraph, and additional article links removed. Original article posted on Futurity by

Featured Image Credit: – mobile/flickr

Coming Soon: Ransomware Medical Device Hacking

What happens when a hacker takes control of your pacemaker and then demands a ransom so you can keep living? Most people would certainly pay. And it turns out that ransomware hacking of medical devices is almost certainly going to happen in the next year, according to a recent report by Forrester Research.

An article on Motherboard reveals the shocking details of this horrifying scenario:

The number one cybersecurity prediction for 2016: “We’ll see ransomware for a medical device or wearable.”

Ransomware takes control of a computer and holds it hostage until the victim pays, usually in the digital currency Bitcoin. To date ransomware has hit Windows users hardest, although Android and MacOS users are now facing similar extortion.

“That’s a bold specific prediction,” Joshua Corman, founder of I Am the Cavalry, a global grassroots organization focused on issues where computer security intersects public safety and human life, told Motherboard in a telephone call. “I hope it doesn’t happen as they say it will, because that would shatter our confidence in these lifesaving medical devices.”

The technical hurdles to create such ransomware are not high. “It’s definitely feasible from a technical standpoint,” medical device security researcher Billy Rios wrote in an email. “Given the urgency associated with these devices, I could see it as something that could happen next year. All that would be required from an attacker standpoint is small modifications to the malware to make it work.”

The cybersecurity of most medical devices is poor. A 2013 DHS advisory, based on research by Rios and colleague Terry McCorkle, warned that 300 medical devices made by 40 different manufacturers use hard-coded passwords—passwords that are set at the factory and cannot be changed by end users—easily discoverable by downloading the manual from the manufacturer.

Ransomware today is big business. The FBI in June of this year reported almost a thousand complaints related to the ransomware CryptoWall in the 14 months prior,“with victims reporting losses totaling over $18 million.” That’s just in the US. The Cyber Threat Alliance estimates that CryptoWall alone has resulted in “over US $325 million in damages worldwide.”

The bottom line? Medical device manufacturers who design devices that can be connected to any other device in any way need to take cybersecurity seriously and design appropriate security for their devices.

For more worrying details of this up and coming threat, see the highly informative article on Motherboard.

Source: – “Ransomware Is Coming to Medical Devices”

Featured Image Credit: Steven Fruitsmaak via Wikimedia Commons

Motherload of Dark Matter Discovered in Nearby Dwarf Galaxy

By measuring the mass of a nearby dwarf galaxy called Triangulum II, researchers may have found the highest concentration of dark matter in any known galaxy.

Although they outweigh particles of regular matter by more than a factor of 5, particles of dark matter are elusive. Their existence is inferred by their gravitational influence in galaxies, but no one has ever directly observed signals from dark matter.

Triangulum II is a small, faint galaxy at the edge of the Milky Way, made up of only about 1,000 stars. Evan Kirby, assistant professor of astronomy at Caltech, measured the mass of Triangulum II by examining the velocity of six stars whipping around the galaxy’s center.

“The galaxy is challenging to look at,” he says. “Only six of its stars were luminous enough to see with the Keck telescope.” By measuring these stars’ velocity, Kirby could infer the gravitational force exerted on the stars and thereby determine the mass of the galaxy.

“The total mass I measured was much, much greater than the mass of the total number of stars—implying that there’s a ton of densely packed dark matter contributing to the total mass,” Kirby says. “The ratio of dark matter to luminous matter is the highest of any galaxy we know. After I had made my measurements, I was just thinking—wow.”

Triangulum II could thus become a leading candidate for efforts to directly detect the signatures of dark matter. Certain particles of dark matter, called supersymmetric WIMPs (weakly interacting massive particles), will annihilate one another upon colliding and produce gamma rays that can then be detected from Earth.

While current theories predict that dark matter is producing gamma rays almost everywhere in the universe, detecting these particular signals among other galactic noises, like gamma rays emitted from pulsars, is a challenge.Triangulum II, on the other hand, is a very quiet galaxy. It lacks the gas and other material necessary to form stars, so it isn’t forming new stars—astronomers call it “dead.” Any gamma ray signals coming from colliding dark matter particles would theoretically be clearly visible.

It hasn’t been definitively confirmed, though, that what Kirby measured is actually the total mass of the galaxy. Another group, led by researchers from the University of Strasbourg in France, measured the velocities of stars just outside Triangulum II and found that they are actually moving faster than the stars closer into the galaxy’s center—the opposite of what’s expected. This could suggest that the little galaxy is being pulled apart, or “tidally disrupted,” by the Milky Way’s gravity.

“My next steps are to make measurements to confirm that other group’s findings,” Kirby says. “If it turns out that those outer stars aren’t actually moving faster than the inner ones, then the galaxy could be in what’s called dynamic equilibrium. That would make it the most excellent candidate for detecting dark matter with gamma rays.”

A paper describing this research appears in the Astrophysical Journal Letters.


Republished as a derivative work from under the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International license. Original article posted on Futurity by 

Featured Image Credit: NASA

Why is there Still So Much Mystery Regarding Menstruation?

It’s interesting: with all of the advances in medical science on so many fronts, what is it about menstruation in women that has had it remain so under studied? Did you know that among mammals, female monthly menstruation is not common? In fact, in many other mammal species, nothing like the human equivalent of menstruation happens at all.

An incredibly insightful article on Live Science’s website reports the results of a recent survey of the past 40 years of medical research on this topic:

“There’s so much we don’t understand about why this repeated event of shedding and repair happens,” said Dr. Hilary Critchley, an ob-gyn and reproductive health researcher at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland. “It’s so crucial for the reproduction of our species. But it’s not a popular topic to study. There’s a big to-do around talking about problems that people don’t see.”

In a paper to be published in an upcoming issue of the journal Human Reproduction Update, Critchley and a colleague at the university, researcher Jacqueline Maybin, combed the scientific literature published over the last 40 years on all aspects of menstruation, medically defined as the loss of the endometrium, or the tissue that lines the inside of the uterus.

Their conclusion? There’s a lot that researchers still don’t know about menstruation and how it affects women’s health.

For example, some women who have heavy bleeding during menstruation also have certain conditions, such as uterine fibroids(which are noncancerous growths in the uterus) or endometriosis (a condition in which bits of endometrium appear outside of the uterus). But some women with heavy bleeding seem to have no other related problems.

Researchers aren’t sure whether the cause of heavy bleeding lies in the lining of the uterus itself or in the mechanisms that normally control the bleeding. Moreover, researchers don’t know whether the cause of heavy bleeding is the same in women with fibroids as in those with endometriosis, or in women without either condition.

But finding the answers would help millions of women; heavy bleeding can be a major disruption in a woman’s life, Critchley said. Normally, women lose about 1.2 ounces (35 milliliters) of blood monthly, she said. When blood loss approaches 2 ounces (60 ml), women are at risk for anemia. Women with blood loss of 2.7 ounces (80 ml) or more are diagnosed with the clinical condition called heavy menstrual bleeding, or HMB, she said.

However, some women lose 13.5 ounces (400 ml) of blood every month. For comparison, when people give blood to a blood bank, they donate about 17 ounces (500 ml), and donations are allowed only every eight weeks.

“These women with heavy menstrual bleeding are just debilitated. They are miserable. They can’t go out of the house,” Critchley said. “This dominates their social lives, their holidays, their weekends.”

Really understanding the biological process of menstruation would be a benefit in so many ways. Continue on to the next page to learn more about that…


New Micro-robot Design Moves Without Electricity

Researches at Seoul National University have designed a micro-robot that does not need a power source, such as batteries to provide electricity, in order for it to move. The design was inspired by nature, pine cone seeds, to be exact, and in fact uses humidity changes in its environment to create locomotion.

An excellent and informative article on the News Wise website provides the details about this exciting new robot and what kinds of things it could do:

The mechanism involved in plant movement is much simpler than that of animals using muscles. To generate motion, plants and some seeds — such as mimosa leaves, Venus flytraps and pine cones — simply harness the supply or deprival of water from plant tissues.

The future of bio-inspired engineering or robotics will greatly benefit from lessons learned from plants, according to a group of Seoul National University researchers.

The mechanism involved in plant movement is much simpler than that of animals using muscles. To generate motion, plants and some seeds — such as mimosa leaves, Venus flytraps and pine cones — simply harness the supply or deprival of water from plant tissues.

The future of bio-inspired engineering or robotics will greatly benefit from lessons learned from plants, according to a group of Seoul National University researchers.

The pure simplicity of the manner by which pine cones and seeds respond to changes in environmental humidity with motion is at the heart of the group’s work.

“Some seeds consist of a head that contains all its genetic information, along with a long appendage called an ‘awn’ that is responsible for locomotion — just like an animal’s sperm,” explained Ho-Young Kim, a professor in the Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering at Seoul National University. “Awns are composed of two tissue layers: one that swells with humidity (active), and another that’s insensitive to humidity change (inactive).”

If environmental humidity increases, the bilayer bends from changes in length-wise swelling. Periodic humidity changes cause the bilayer to bend and unbend repeatedly — meaning that changes in environmental humidity can be converted to mechanical work.

“We mimicked the bilayer structure to make an actuator that can generate motions by using environmental humidity change,” Kim said. “Plants move slowly — one cycle of bending and unbending can take an entire day. To increase the response speed of the bilayer, we had to develop a novel way to fabricate the active layer. Its response speed increases with the surface-area-to-volume ratio of the layer because humidity can be absorbed more rapidly, so we deposited active nanoscale fibers onto an inactive layer.

To create locomotion, the team designed and attached legs, and then their tiny robot could move under its own power. But how do you make it really move?

It turns out that the team has that figured out too, and they have provided a mathematical model to help other researchers choose an optimal fast speed based on the robot’s size.

For more details like these, please see the amazing article on the newswise website.


Source: – “Tiny Robots Inspired by Pine Cones


[Video] This Cell Will Self Destruct in 3, 2…

For people, illusions, like those created by magicians, can be mind bending and thrilling but normally do not result in anyone’s death. However, a team researching the effect of sodium as a stressor on yeast discovered that a very specific illusion of sodium stress that itself would not be lethal, yet still caused the yeast cells to commit suicide.

A fascinating post on the University of California San Francisco website reveals the details on how this mechanism was accidentally discovered by two post-doctoral researchers at UCSF, and the surprising application that the discovery may have for cancer treatment in the future:

“The ability to perceive and respond to the environment is a basic attribute of all living organisms, from the greatest to the smallest,” said Wendell Lim, PhD, the study’s senior author. “And so is the susceptibility to misperception. It doesn’t matter if the illusion is based on molecular sensors within a single cell or neurons in the brain.”

In the new study, published online Nov. 19, 2015 in Science Express, Lim and his team discovered that yeast cells falsely perceive a specifically timed pattern of stress – caused by alternating between low and mildly increased sodium levels – as a massive, continuously increasing ramp of stress. In response, the microbes end up over-responding and killing themselves. The results, Lim says, suggest a whole new way of looking at the perceptual abilities of simple cells and could even be used to develop new approaches to fighting diseases using the power of illusion.

“This discovery was a bit of an accident actually,” said Lim, chair of the Department of Cellular and Molecular Pharmacology at UCSF, director of the UCSF Center for Systems and Synthetic Biology, and a Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) investigator. “We were interested in the general issue of how cells interpret information over time. Frequency is a key aspect of all our communications, whether it’s hearing language or transmitting radio signals, but do cells themselves use this kind of information? It’s something we don’t know much about.”

To explore this question, two postdoctoral fellows in Lim’s lab, Ping Wei, PhD, now at Peking University School of Life Sciences, and Amir Mitchell, PhD, set up a system that allowed them to expose yeast to a mild stressor – a small increase in salt in the yeast’s environment – and to oscillate between the increased salt level and the baseline level at different frequencies.

Normally, sensor molecules in a yeast cell detect changes in salt concentration and instruct the cell to respond by producing a protective chemical. After this transient response, the cell can resume growing happily as if conditions had not changed. The researchers found that the cells were perfectly capable of adapting when they flipped the salt stress on and off every minute or every 32 minutes. But to their surprise, when they tried an eight-minute oscillation of precisely the same salt level the cells quickly stopped growing and began to die off.

“That was just a jaw-dropping moment,” said Mitchell. “These cells should be able to handle this level of osmotic stress, but at one particular frequency they just go haywire. We’d never seen anything like this before.”

On the next page, a great time-lapse video shows the contrast of no stress to constant stress to the 8 minute stress oscillations: