The Universe We Don’t Know

70 percent of the mass of the universe is made up of something called dark energy. Most of the rest of the universe is made up of something called dark matter, and only a very small percentage of the mass is the type of mass we see all around us. Even the scientists who use the phrases “dark energy” and “dark matter” have no idea what they mean. All they know is that they cannot account for most of the mass of the universe and that the expansion of the universe itself appears to be accelerating. When you look up at the sky at night and see the stars, what you are really seeing is the light of normal matter like glitter floating around in an enormous and unseen dark ocean.

Fermilab in the United States is planning to build a gigantic 500 megapixel CCD camera and attach it to a 4-meter telescope. Doing so will allow them to detect some of the faintest energy from the farthest reaches of our universe, which means the distant past of our universe, so that they can start working out some of the properties of dark energy. While dark energy and dark matter cannot at this point be seen, their interaction with normal matter can give us a lot of information. Using the glitter in the ocean analogy again, scientists will be looking at a few flecks of glitter to try to tell something about that ocean they cannot see.

One Cause of Aging: Mitochondrial Mutation

Scientists at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, Sweden have found a direct connection between the mutation of mitochondrial DNA in animal cells and the process of aging. Mitochondria, the tiny engines of cells, produce oxidants that have been implicated in cell damage over time, and their DNA may bear the brunt of the oxidant assault. The mitochondrial DNA of mice was modified to accelerate mutations by three to five times normal mutation rates. These mice developed age-related diseases earlier and lived only a third as long as normal mice.

As is typical with announcements of this sort, the researchers are staying clear of immortality promises, but they do suggest interventions might be developed that could treat many of the diseases of normal aging.

The research was led by Nils-Goran Larsson, a genetics professor, and was published this week in the scientific journal “Nature“.

Employment Opportunities in the Space Sciences

Space scientists in the United States are generally underpaid and competition for the few available jobs can be fierce. The future holds both good and bad news. Especially in planetary science and astronomy, the increase in NASA missions to the planets is opening up opportunities everywhere. The Space Science Institute in Colorado is advertising openings for young Ph.D. graduates to help with the increasing data returned from the Saturn planetary system by Cassini/Huygens. The Department of Planetary Sciences Lunar and Planetary Laboratory at the University of Arizona has recently expanded from one building to three and plans on adding 150 new employees to its existing 300 workforce.

Because of the sudden viability of private industry expanding into space, two space ports will be rapidly growing over the next few years. New Mexico will build a space port to host the X PRIZE CUP starting in 2006. The space port is also expected to offer a prime location for rocket launches. The Mojave Desert in California is another spaceport location that is already home to several private companies with astronautic interests. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is expected to certify the location as a spaceport next month. These spaceports could eventually result in an explosion in opportunities for scientists.

Another important milestone is the expected retirement of many current scientists. This sudden opening of jobs over the next ten years will bring a lot of fresh faces into the field.

On the downside, automation is rapidly taking over traditional duties, such as telescope operation and observations. It is a rare astronomer today that actually has to look through a telescope as a necessary part of his or her job. Automation is allowing observations of more frequencies at longer intervals over larger portions of the sky. All that date it stored in vast databases that are now being browsed by smart digital agents looking for interesting discoveries. In just the past few years such agents have discovered more faint objects such as asteroids and brown dwarfs than human beings have discovered in the entire history of human observation.

Ring Shepherds

It looks like the mission to Saturn is ramping up…today NASA released a new image from Cassini- Huygens less than a week after the last image. The outer visible ring is called the F-ring and in this image from May 1, 2004 you can see the two shepherd moons, Prometheus and Pandora, on either side of ring. The third moon in the image is Epimetheus.

Latest Image of Titan

Last Thursday NASA released a new image of Titan taken by Cassini-Huygens on May 5, 2004. The image is higher quality than anything that can be taken from Earth. As of today, Cassini-Huygens is just 37 days away from insertion into orbit around Saturn and only 18 days away from passing by Phoebe, one of Saturn’s distant outer moons.

Display Technologies Approach Consumer Release Dates

Samsung will release a 17-inch organic light-emitting diode (OLED) display in 2005. OLED technology consumes less power than LCD and is thinner and lighter. To date, OLED has shown up in much smaller formats for cell phones, car radio screens and digital cameras.

Seiko Epson has built a 40-inch organic electroluminescence (OEL) display and plans to start marketing the display in 2007. The technology is “printed” onto a substrate using an inkjet printer.

Sony hopes to demonstrate a new high definition projector technology at next year’s World Exposition in Aichi, Japan. The new technology can display HDTV on movie theater screens.

Older technology is advancing rapidly as well, setting up an incredible battle for dominance in the next few years. Samsung will release this July a 46-inch LCD HDTV. Video quality is best represented by the response time for the individual pixels in a monitor. Samsung’s LCD HDTV will have an amazing response time of 12 milliseconds (most computer LCD monitors have response times in excess of 24 milliseconds).

The two most important trends shaping future display technology are the move away from semiconductor technology to plastic technologies, and the development of technology to “print” these displays. Both trends will lead to cheaper production processes and flexible screens that will show up on everything from cereal boxes to Ultra HDTV wall screens by 2010.