“February 23, 2005” – In this edition of RADIO Frontier Channel, I will explain a little bit more about this podcast, discuss the latest planetary science missions, review the iPod Photo and iPod Shuffle, and briefly explore the Technological Singularity.
“February 20, 2005” – This week, in addition to listening to the winds of Titan, we will train our ears on the winds of change here on Earth. The first human-animal chimeras have emerged in laboratories around the world and with them a new debate in bioethics. Biology continues to merge with silicon-based technology. And if you think science fiction becoming science fact is unsettlingly, then you may not want to listen to my commentary on transhumanism and rumors of current life on Mars.
UPDATE – NASA Responds to Mars Life Rumor – Friday, February 18, 2005 – NASA posted the following press release about media reports of evidence for extant life on Mars:
News reports on February 16, 2005, that NASA scientists from Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, Calif., have found strong evidence that life may exist on Mars are incorrect.
NASA does not have any observational data from any current Mars missions that supports this claim. The work by the scientists mentioned in the reports cannot be used to directly infer anything about life on Mars, but may help formulate the strategy for how to search for martian life. Their research concerns extreme environments on Earth as analogs of possible environments on Mars. No research paper has been submitted by them to any scientific journal asserting martian life.
File this under “Rumors”…Space.com is reporting that two scientists from NASA’s Ames Research Center have submitted a paper to the journal Nature detailing possible signatures of current biological activity on Mars. The scientists apparently reached this conclusion after discovering activity on Mars similar to the activity of novel subsurface life forms in extreme conditions near the Rio Tinto river in Spain.
One of the signatures is the presence of methane in the martian atmosphere, independently detected by the ESA orbiter Mars Express and ground-based observatories last year. Another rumor has Vittorio Formisano, one of the lead scientists for the Mars Express mission, announcing next week the detection of other gases in the martian atmosphere that strongly hint at biological activity. The official program for the 1st Mars Express Science Conference appears to confirm this rumor, with a talk entitled “Methane, formaldehyde and water by PFS” to be presented by Formisano on Thursday, February 24, 2005.
In September 2004 the ESA team announced an overlap of water vapor and methane in the atmosphere above Arabia Terra and two other regions on Mars. In the background image the highest concentrations of water vapor are in green.
Even if these rumors are confirmed, the evidence may not be conclusive. The above work is allegedly undergoing peer review prior to release. Other scientists will need to confirm the results and then new missions to Mars will need to be launched to explore areas of interest and search out the potential Martians. The process may take more than a decade, but could lead to one of the most profound discoveries in human history.
Scientists at chipmaker Intel Corporation have successful built and operated a continuous silicon laser, something that until recently was believed to be impossible. Silicon tends to scatter photons. As reported in an article in the current issue of the journal Nature, the new silicon laser makes use of a diode to prevent this scattering, resulting in a continuous laser beam.
Current computer and communication technologies depend on converting photons of light into electrons for use by electronic equipment. The holy grail of photonics is to eliminate this inefficient conversion and create equipment that uses only photons. This would lead to optical computers that run cooler and faster than current microchips. Communication speeds, including Internet access would see a similar jump in speed. Intel’s new laser brings the benefits of photonics to silicon, which is much cheaper to work with than current photonics equipment made from more exotic and expensive materials.
Chips and equipment making use of this technology are still several years away, but a clear development path appears to have opened up.
Google recently completed a project to archive the past 20 years of Usenet messages within their free Google Groups service. These are text messages posted on newsgroups (kind of like electronic bulletin boards) since the early days of computer networking. Usenet predates personal computers, DOS, the World Wide Web (WWW), and Internet browsers; in essence, most of the Information Age. Usenet eventually became accessible through the web interface after the first web browsers began to appear in the early 1990’s.
The messages are a unique historical record on a wide range of topics. For example, there is an announcement by Tim Berners-Lee’s regarding the World Wide Web project way back in 1991, two years before another post announcing a beta version of Mosaic, the ancestor of Microsoft’s Internet Explorer and Netscape’s Navigator web browsers. Google provides a fascinating Usenet timeline covering the two decades between 1981 and 2001.
One of the top news stories about the future of medical technology making the rounds last week was based on a journal article now almost a year old. In the April 2004 issue of the Archives of Ophthalmology doctors reported on “The Artificial Silicon Retina Microchip for the Treatment of Vision Loss From Retinitis Pigmentosa.” These tiny chips contain about “5000 microelectrode-tipped microphotodiodes”, or solar collectors which send their signal to still-functioning retinal neurons. The six patients in the study, all suffering from retinitis pigmentosa, reported improved vision and no side effects, such as infection.
The prospect of silicon computer technology and human biological cells working together to correct and cure medical conditions was once dismissed as fantasy. This work, along with the many other threads of technology being tested successfully elsewhere, is proving just how adaptive biology can be.
The Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity is heading south on a long and flat expanse of desert. There are few rocks in the region, low dunes, and uninterrupted views of the horizon. Because of the lack of obstacles, Opportunity is covering record distances (sometimes over 150 meters a day).