Apple Lightning cable inspection finds an extra-smart connector, won’t make for cheap substitutes

Apple Lightning cable inspection finds an extrasmart connector, won't offer a cheap substitute

Apple made much ado of the Lightning connector it launched side-by-side with the iPhone 5, but what we’ve known about it has been limited outside of the presence of an authentication chip. Double Helix Cables’ Peter Bradstock has delved deeper and tells AppleInsider that there’s some clever wiring that clinches the reversible design. While Lightning’s power supply is truly symmetrical among the contact pins, the data isn’t — which suggests a chip inside is redirecting data to keep the plug working as intended. The technique helps explain why Apple would need any elaborate circuitry in the first place. No matter the wizardry inside, Bradstock doesn’t see any cut-rate Lightning alternatives being useful in the near future: as it’s unlikely that anyone outside of Cupertino knows how the authentication works at this stage, clone cables may amount to little more than heaps of metal and plastic ~ Jon Fingaz

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New comet might blaze brighter than the full Moon

halebopp_400x223
File photo of Comet Hale-Bopp which wowed observers in 1997. Image: Kazuhiro Seto.

A new comet has been discovered that is predicted to blaze incredibly brilliantly in the skies during late 2013. With a perihelion passage of less than two million kilometres from the Sun on 28 November 2013, current predictions are of an object that will dazzle the eye at up to magnitude —16. That’s far brighter than the full Moon. If predictions hold true then C/2012 S1 will certainly be one of the greatest comets in human history, far outshining the memorable Comet Hale-Bopp of 1997 and very likely to outdo the long-awaited Comet Pan-STARRS (C/2011 L4) which is set to stun in March 2013.

The new comet, named C/2012 S1 (ISON) was found by the International Scientific Optical Network (ISON) in Russia on 21 September when astronomers Vitali Nevski and Artyom Novichonok captured it on CCD images taken through a 0.4-metre reflector. Its near-parabolic orbit suggests that it has arrived fresh from the Oort Cloud, a vast zone of icy objects orbiting the Sun, pristine remnants of the formation of the Solar System.

C/2012 S1 currently resides in the northwestern corner of Cancer. At magnitude +18 it is too dim to be seen visually but it will be within the reach of experienced amateur astronomers with CCD equipment in the coming months as it brightens. It is expected to reach binocular visibility by late summer 2013 and a naked eye object in early November of that year. Northern hemisphere observers are highly favoured. Following its peak brightness in late November it will remain visible without optical aid until mid-January 2014.

Comet brightness predictions sometimes exceed their performance. Amateur astronomers of a certain age may remember the Comet Kohoutek hype of 1973 – not quite the ‘damp squib’ it has been portrayed, since it reached naked eye visibility! Even if C/2012 S1 takes on the same light curve as Kohoutek it is certain to be spectacular, quite possibly a once-in-a-civilisation’s-lifetime event. ~ Peter Grego

Einstein’s brain FOUND ON APPLE iPAD

Albert Einstein’s brain can now be downloaded to your trusty Apple iPad, should you own one.

Sadly it’s not an iOS-compatible simulation of the top physicist’s mind, best known for coming up with the general theory of relativity and laying the ground work for quantum mechanics. Instead it’s a selection of photos of slices of the German-born boffin’s grey matter.

Still – the app will let iPad users get as close to the great man’s brain as any neurobiologist can.

A slide of Einstein's brain available on iPad, credit NMHMC appEinstein’s brain … a still from the app

Einstein’s brain was removed and preserved when he died in April 1955. Pathologist Dr Thomas Harvey of Princeton Hospital split it into 170 parts and sectioned them into microscope slides. He then stained the wafers to highlight the cellular structure and nerve conduction tissue.

Dr Harvey’s collection of brain samples was bequeathed in 2010 to the National Museum of Health and Medicine in Chicago, which has just scraped together the cash to digitise the slides and put them in a new iPad app. The software is available from Apple’s App Store for $9.99, or £6.99, and funds will go to the museum.

The magnified high-resolution images give fanbois the view that they’d get if the brain slides were on the business end of a microscope, and the app makers hope opening up one of the world’s greatest brains to neurobiologists everywhere, as well as the the general public, will garner new insight into the workings of the Nobel prize-winning boffin’s cerebral matter.

Nothing exceptional was found about Einstein’s brain in 1955, but a 1999 survey found that it contained a rare density of connections between neurons in the language, spatial and mathematical areas.

One severe limitation of Harvey’s slides is that it is hard to tell exactly where each sample was taken from Einstein’s brain: the 170 parts are loosely attributed to the brainstem and various lobes rather than specifically located. Solving the location of the brain parts is now considered to be much more important.

The Chicago museum features another interesting brain from Dr Harvey’s collection: Henry Molaison, who died in 2008 after living for decades with profound amnesia.

Planned updates to the Einstein app will include further slides as they are digitised and will add more context to existing ones. ®

Pyramid shaped rock found on Mars by NASA rover Curiosity

NASA, Pyramid, Mars, Curiosity
Meet “Jake Matijevic”. A pyramid-shaped rockfound on the planet Mars by NASA’s rover. NASA’s Mars rover Curiosity found an unusual pyramid-shaped rock en route to an area known as Glenelg, where researchers expect to find a combination of three different types of geological terrain.

The rock is pictured about 2.5m in front of the rover and is about 25cm tall and 40cm wide. It will be tested by the robot, which is has been on the move for the past six days travelling between 22m to 37m daily.

The pyramid-shaped rock, expected to be a lump of Martian basalt, has been named “Jake Matijevic” after the surface operations systems chief engineer for Mars Science Laboratory and the project’s Curiosity rover tragically died just after the vehicle touched down on August 6. The 64-year-old was a leading engineer for all of the previous NASA Mars rovers – Sojourner, Spirit and Opportunity.

NASA’s Mars rover Curiosity found an unusual pyramid-shaped rock en route to an area known as Glenelg, where researchers expect to find a combination of three different types of geological terrain.

The rock is pictured about 2.5m in front of the rover and is about 25cm tall and 40cm wide. It will be tested by the robot, which is has been on the move for the past six days travelling between 22m to 37m daily.

The pyramid-shaped rock, expected to be a lump of Martian basalt, has been named “Jake Matijevic” after the surface operations systems chief engineer for Mars Science Laboratory and the project’s Curiosity rover tragically died just after the vehicle touched down on August 6. The 64-year-old was a leading engineer for all of the previous NASA Mars rovers – Sojourner, Spirit and Opportunity.

Mars science Laboratory project scientist John Grotzinger told The Independent that the pyramid-shaped rock is not uncommon and is probably a product of wind erosion.

“Our general consensus view is that these are pieces of impact ejecta from an impact somewhere else, maybe outside of Gale Crater [where the rover landed], that throws a rock on to the plains, and it just goes on to sit here for a long period of time,” he said. “It weathers more slowly than the stuff that’s around it. So, that means it’s probably a harder rock,” he told The Independent.

During Curiosity’s two-year mission, researchers will use the rover’s 10 science instruments to assess whether the selected field site inside Gale Crater has offered environmental conditions favorable for microbial life.

Landing Pads Being Designed for Extraterrestrial Missions

 

Using the lessons of the Apollo era and robotic missions to Mars, NASA scientists and engineers are studying the hazards involved in any extraterrestrial landings. They are seeking ways avoid the rocks and soil visible in the foreground of this image of Buzz Aldrin working at the lunar module during the Apollo 11 moonwalk in July 1969. Photo credit: NASA/Neil Armstrong

Using the lessons of the Apollo era and robotic missions to Mars, NASA scientists and engineers are studying the hazards involved in any extraterrestrial landings. They are seeking ways avoid the rocks and soil visible in the foreground of this image of Buzz Aldrin working at the lunar module during the Apollo 11 moonwalk in July 1969. Photo credit: NASA/Neil Armstrong When the Mars Science Laboratory’s Curiosity rover landed on Aug. 6, it was another step forward in the effort to eventually send humans to the Red Planet. Using the lessons of the Apollo era and robotic missions to Mars, NASA scientists and engineers are studying the challenges and hazards involved in any extraterrestrial landing.

The technology is known as “vertical takeoff-vertical landing.” According to a group working in NASA’s Engineering and Technology Directorate at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, the best approach requires a landing pad already be in place.

“One of the greatest challenges to Apollo astronauts landing on the moon was dust, rocks and debris obscuring their vision during the final part of the descent,” said Rob Mueller, a senior technologist in Kennedy’s Surface Systems Office and Lunar Destination co-lead for NASA’s Human Spaceflight Architecture Team. “When the Apollo lunar modules reached the 30-meter point (about 100 feet), the dust was like a fog making it difficult to see their landing site. Similarly, photographs show there were some rocks and dust kicked up by the rocket engines on the sky-crane lowering the Curiosity lander onto the Martian surface.”

As the Mars Science Laboratory’s descent stage used rocket engines to hover, its sky crane lowered the Curiosity rover with a 25-foot tether to a soft landing on the surface.

Mueller and others are working on ways to develop landing pads that could be robotically constructed in advance of future human expeditions to destinations such as the moon or Mars. These specially constructed landing sites could greatly reduce the potential for blowing debris and improve safety for astronauts who make the trip to Mars or another destination.

“Our best estimates indicate that descent engines of the Apollo landers were ejecting up to one-and-a-half tons of rocks and soil,” said Dr. Phil Metzger, a research physicist in Kennedy’s Granular Mechanics and Regolith Operations Laboratory. “It will be even more challenging when we land humans on Mars. The rocket exhaust will dig a deep hole under the lander and fluidize the soil. We don’t know any way to make this safe without landing pads.”

Building a landing site in advance of human arrival is part of the plan.

“Robotic landers would go to a location on Mars and excavate a site, clearing rocks, leveling and grading an area and then stabilizing the regolith to withstand impact forces of the rocket plume,” Mueller said. “Another option is to excavate down to bedrock to give a firm foundation. Fabric or other geo-textile material could also be used to stabilize the soil and ensure there is a good landing site.”

Metzger explained that one of the ways to ensure an on-target landing would be to have robotic rovers place homing beacons around the site.

“Tracking and homing beacons would help a spacecraft reach the specific spot where the landing pad had been constructed,” he said.

Landing pad technology may be perfected on Earth well in advance of its use elsewhere in the solar system.

“Several commercial space companies are already discussing returning rocket stages to Kennedy or Cape Canaveral saving on the cost of sending payloads to low Earth orbit,” Mueller said. “Rather than the first stage simply falling into the ocean, the rocket would land vertically back here at the Cape to be reused.”

While landing pads will provide a smooth touchdown location, they will also require advanced technology design and decisions on how large the landing pad should be.

“One of the factors we have to consider is the atmosphere where a landing will take place,” Metzger said. “The Earth has a dense atmosphere that focuses the rocket exhaust onto the ground, but also reduces how far the ejected material is dispersed. Mars, on the other hand, has an atmospheric density that is 1 percent that of Earth. It still focuses the plume into a narrow jet that digs into the soil, but it provides less drag so the ejected soil will actually travel farther.

“Then compare that to the moon with no atmosphere,” he said. “The plume won’t be focused so it won’t dig a deep hole in the soil, but the ejected material will travel vast distances at high velocity. It is like a sandblaster on steroids. So the requirements for a landing pad are determined by the destination we’re landing on.”

Metzger envisions circular landing pads from about 50 to 100 meters (about 165 to 330 feet) in diameter.

“The specialized material taking the heat of the engine plume would be in the middle,” he said. “The area surrounding the center would be designed to hold up support equipment.”

Another issue is what substances to use in building the landing pads.

“Tests with prototype landers show that while pads are safer than touching down on natural surfaces, certain pad materials can produce debris of their own,” Metzger said. “A supersonic rocket exhaust becomes extremely hot when it impacts a surface. Asphalt or concrete are out of the question because the temperature causes those materials to break apart, throwing chunks of material in all directions.”

During investigations of prototype landers, various materials have been examined on the pads from which the vehicles have vertically taken off and landed.

“We’ve tested several types of materials and it seems that basalt regolith mixed with polymer binders hold up well,” Metzger said.

However, the one substance for landing pads that shows the most promise is the material used on spacecraft heat shields.

“Of all the substances we studied, ablative materials seem to work best,” Metzger said.

Ablative substances were used on the heat shields for spacecraft during Mercury, Gemini and Apollo. The heat of re-entry was dissipated by burning off successive layers.

“While ablative materials seem to work well, the layers will eventually all burn away,” Mueller said. “So next we may try reusable thermal protection material similar to that used on the space shuttle tiles or the Orion capsules.”

A human expedition to Mars is still many years away, but Mueller says now is the time to start planning for how to land on another planet.

“The technology we envision will take 10 to 15 years to develop,” he said. “We need to begin verifying that these concepts will work, and that’s why we are already involved in the research.”

For more information visit www.nasa.gov.

Warp Drive May Be More Feasible Than Thought, Scientists Say

A ring-shaped warp drive device could transport a football-shape starship (center) to effective speeds faster than light.
A ring-shaped warp drive device could transport a football-shape starship (center) to effective speeds faster than light. The concept was first proposed by Mexican physicist Miguel Alcubierre.
CREDIT: Harold White

HOUSTON — A warp drive to achieve faster-than-light travel — a concept popularized in television’s Star Trek — may not be as unrealistic as once thought, scientists say.

A warp drive would manipulate space-time itself to move a starship, taking advantage of a loophole in the laws of physics that prevent anything from moving faster than light. A concept for a real-life warp drive was suggested in 1994 by Mexican physicist Miguel Alcubierre; however, subsequent calculations found that such a device would require prohibitive amounts of energy.

Now physicists say that adjustments can be made to the proposed warp drive that would enable it to run on significantly less energy, potentially bringing the idea back from the realm of science fiction into science.

 

“There is hope,” Harold “Sonny” White of NASA’s Johnson Space Center said here Friday (Sept. 14) at the 100 Year Starship Symposium, a meeting to discuss the challenges of interstellar spaceflight.

 

Warping space-time

An Alcubierre warp drive would involve a football-shape spacecraft attached to a large ring encircling it. This ring, potentially made of exotic matter, would cause space-time to warp around the starship, creating a region of contracted space in front of it and expanded space behind. [Star Trek’s Warp Drive: Are We There Yet? | Video]

Meanwhile, the starship itself would stay inside a bubble of flat space-time that wasn’t being warped at all.

“Everything within space is restricted by the speed of light,” explained Richard Obousy, president of Icarus Interstellar, a non-profit group of scientists and engineers devoted to pursuing interstellar spaceflight. “But the really cool thing is space-time, the fabric of space, is not limited by the speed of light.”

With this concept, the spacecraft would be able to achieve an effective speed of about 10 times the speed of light, all without breaking the cosmic speed limit.

The only problem is, previous studies estimated the warp drive would require a minimum amount of energy about equal to the mass-energy of the planet Jupiter.

But recently White calculated what would happen if the shape of the ring encircling the spacecraft was adjusted into more of a rounded donut, as opposed to a flat ring. He found in that case, the warp drive could be powered by a mass about the size of a spacecraft like the Voyager 1 probe NASA launched in 1977.

Furthermore, if the intensity of the space warps can be oscillated over time, the energy required is reduced even more, White found.

“The findings I presented today change it from impractical to plausible and worth further investigation,” White told SPACE.com. “The additional energy reduction realized by oscillating the bubble intensity is an interesting conjecture that we will enjoy looking at in the lab.”

 Laboratory tests

White and his colleagues have begun experimenting with a mini version of the warp drive in their laboratory.

They set up what they call the White-Juday Warp Field Interferometer at the Johnson Space Center, essentially creating a laser interferometer that instigates micro versions of space-time warps.

“We’re trying to see if we can generate a very tiny instance of this in a tabletop experiment, to try to perturb space-time by one part in 10 million,” White said.

He called the project a “humble experiment” compared to what would be needed for a real warp drive, but said it represents a promising first step.

And other scientists stressed that even outlandish-sounding ideas, such as the warp drive, need to be considered if humanity is serious about traveling to other stars.

“If we’re ever going to become a true spacefaring civilization, we’re going to have to think outside the box a little bit, we’re going to have to be a little bit audacious,” Obousy said.

 

Curiosity Mars rover picks up the pace

 

Rock called "Jake Matijevic"
The target rock has been named in honour of a rover engineer, Jake Matijevic, who died in August

The Curiosity rover is making good progress towards its first major science destination on Mars.

The vehicle has now driven 289m (950ft) since its landing on the Red Planet some six weeks ago.

It has perhaps another 200m still left to cover to get to a location dubbed Glenelg, where researchers expect to find an interesting juxtaposition of three types of geological terrain.

But before it goes any further, the rover will study a dark rock.

Measuring about 25cm in height and 40cm at the base, it is not expected to have major science value.

Rather, the rock provides an opportunity for the robot to use three of its survey instruments in tandem for the first time.

The rock has been named “Jake Matijevic” in honour of a Curiosity engineer who tragically died shortly after the vehicle touched down in Mars’ Gale Crater on 6 August (GMT).

The rover will zap the rock from a distance with its ChemCam laser and examine it up close with its Mahli “hand lens” and the X-ray spectrometer known as APXS. The latter two devices are held on the end of the rover’s robotic arm; the laser is mounted on its mast.

The investigation will give a good idea of the atoms present in the Matijevic rock and its likely mineralogical composition – although the Curiosity science team fully expects to “discover” another ubiquitous lump of Martian basalt (a volcanic rock).

Looking towards Glenelg
The rover’s first major science destination, Glenelg, is still some 200m away (centre of image)

“It’s a cool looking rock with almost pure pyramidal geometry,” said Prof John Grotzinger, the mission’s lead scientist. Such a shape was not uncommon, he explained, and probably reflected wind erosion processes.

“Our general consensus view is that these are pieces of impact ejecta from an impact somewhere else, maybe outside of Gale Crater, that throws a rock on to the plains, and it just goes on to sit here for a long period of time. It weathers more slowly than the stuff that’s around it. So, that means it’s probably a harder rock.”

Exploring Mars: Timeline

Phoenix Mars Lander Arrives On Mars
  • 1965: First detailed images of Mars returned after successful flyby of Mariner 4
  • 2005: Radar data reveals the presence of large quantities of water ice on the planet
  • 2007: The Mars Exploration Rovers find evidence that water once flowed on the surface
  • 2008: The Phoenix lander directly samples water ice in shallow Martian soil
  • 2012: The Mars Curiosity rover prepares to study a dark rock, named “Jake Matijevic”

Source: BBC Science

The point of the upcoming exercise is to demonstrate the procedure for selecting targets of higher importance – rocks that in future could have significantly more scientific interest and which might require a sample to be drilled and delivered to two sophisticated analysis labs inside the rover’s body.

In a briefing with journalists on Wednesday, the US space agency (Nasa) also released pictures taken by the rover of the Martian moons Phobos and Deimos passing in front of the sun.

These transits are relatively rare – twice per Martian year, which is once every Earth year – but are of great interest to scientists trying to understand the internal make-up of the Red Planet.

“[The moons] have tidal forces that they exert on Mars; they change Mars’ shape ever so slightly,” explained Curiosity researcher Mark Lemmon from Texas A&M University, College Station.

“That in turn changes the moons’ orbits – Phobos is slowing down, Deimos is speeding up (like our Moon is). This is something that is happening very slowly over time.

“And with the transits, we can measure their orbits very precisely and figure out how fast they’re doing this. The reason that’s interesting is because it constrains Mars’ interior structure. We can’t go inside Mars but we can use these transits to tell how much Mars deforms when the moons go by.”

Moon Phobos grazing the sun's disc
The rover has been taking pictures of the moon Phobos crossing the disc of the Sun

Curiosity has now spent 43 sols (Martian days) on the planet. Much of that time has been spent commissioning the rover’s systems and instruments.

The vehicle was sent to Mars to try to understand whether past environments at its landing location in Gale Crater could ever have supported microbial life.

That question will more properly be addressed when it gets to the base of the big mountain (Mount Sharp) that dominates the centre of the 150km-wide equatorial depression.

Sediments at the lower reaches of the peak appear from satellite pictures to have been laid down in the presence of abundant water.

Curiosity will establish whether that is so, but it is unlikely to begin this particular investigation for many months.

The mountain target lies several km to the south-west of its current location, and the desire to see the interesting rocks at Glenelg is actually taking the vehicle in the opposite direction to Mount Sharp.

The science team is in no hurry, however. Curiosity is equipped with a nuclear battery and has ample power to complete its prime two-year mission. Further funding from Nasa could yet see this project drive and drive deep into the decade.

Drive to Glenelg
Since the rover started driving, it has covered almost 300m from its landing site, which was named in honour of the late science fiction writer Ray Bradbury
Mars rover (Nasa)
  • (A) Curiosity will trundle around its landing site looking for interesting rock features to study. Its top speed is about 4cm/s
  • (B) This mission has 17 cameras. They will identify particular targets, and a laser will zap those rocks to probe their chemistry
  • (C) If the signal is significant, Curiosity will swing over instruments on its arm for close-up investigation. These include a microscope
  • (D) Samples drilled from rock, or scooped from the soil, can be delivered to two hi-tech analysis labs inside the rover body
  • (E) The results are sent to Earth through antennas on the rover deck. Return commands tell the rover where it should drive next

    BBCNEWS.com