Huge X-class solar flare

could jam satellite signals

February 18, 2011

A powerful solar eruption that has already disturbed radio communications in China could disrupt electrical power grids and satellites used on Earth in the next days, NASA said.

The massive sunspot, which astronomers say is the size of Jupiter, is the strongest solar flare in four years, NASA said.

The Class X flash – the largest such category – erupted at 12.56pm [AEDT] on Tuesday, according to the US space agency.

A powerfuil solar eruption could disrupt satellites on Earth.A powerful solar eruption could disrupt satellites on Earth. Photo: AFP

“X-class flares are the most powerful of all solar events that can trigger radio blackouts and long-lasting radiation storms, disturbing telecommunications and electric grids,” NASA said.

NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory saw a large coronal mass ejection (CME) associated with the flash that is blasting towards Earth about 900 kilometres per second, it said.

The charged plasma particles were expected to reach the planet’s orbit at 2.00pm [AEDT] yesterday.

The flare spread from Active Region 1158 in the sun’s southern hemisphere, which had so far lagged behind the northern hemisphere in flash activity. It followed several smaller flares in recent days.

“The calm before the storm,” read a statement on the US National Weather Service Space Weather Prediction Service.

“Three CMEs are enroute, all a part of the Radio Blackout events on February 13, 14, and 15 [UTC]. The last of the three seems to be the fastest and may catch both of the forerunners about mid to late … February 17.”

Geomagnetic storms usually last 24 to 48 hours, “but some may last for many days”, read a separate NWS statement.

“Ground-to-air, ship-to-shore, shortwave broadcast and amateur radio are vulnerable to disruption during geomagnetic storms. Navigation systems like GPS can also be adversely affected.”

The China Meteorological Administration reported that the solar flare had jammed shortwave radio communications in southern China.

It said the flare caused “sudden ionospheric disturbances” in the atmosphere above China, and warned there was a high probability that large solar flares would appear over the next three days, the official Xinhua news agency reported.

In previous major disturbance of the Earth’s electric grid from a solar incident, in 1973, a magnetic storm caused by a solar eruption plunged six million people into darkness in Canada’s eastern-central Quebec province.

The British Geological Survey [BGS] said meanwhile that the solar storm would result in spectacular Northern Lights displays starting on Thursday.

One coronal mass ejection [CME] arrived on February 14, “sparking Valentine’s Day displays of the Northern Lights [aurora borealis] further south than usual”.

“Two CMEs are expected to arrive in the next 24-48 hours and further … displays are possible some time over the next two nights if skies are clear,” it said.

The office published geomagnetic records dating back to the Victorian era which it hopes will help in planning for future storms.

“Life increasingly depends on technologies that didn’t exist when the magnetic recordings began,” said Alan Thomson, BGS head of geomagnetism.

“Studying the records will tell us what we have to plan and prepare for to make sure systems can resist solar storms,” he said.

AFP Sourced & published by Henry Sapiecha

PowerTrekk fuel cell charger

allows for power on the go

By Paul Ridden

07:45 February 14, 2011

SiGNa Chemistry and myFC have developed the PowerTrekk, a 2-in-1 portable charging solutio...

SiGNa Chemistry and myFC have developed the PowerTrekk, a 2-in-1 portable charging solution that consists of a Li-ion battery pack and a hydrogen fuel cell

Outdoor types who need power for mobile devices away from the grid may find themselves carrying solar chargers or battery packs but, as we reported last year, hydrogen fuel cells offer instant juice benefits and zero degradation. Now, Stockholm’s myFC and SiGNa Chemistry have teamed up to launch the PowerTrekk, a pocket-sized, portable charging solution that combines the convenience of a battery pack with the instant power of a hydrogen fuel cell.

  • The PowerTrekk 2-in-1 portable charger is the first to use Mobile-H2 technology from SiGNa...
  • Devices are charged via USB, and the PowerTrekk keeps users informed of what's going on vi...
  • About a tablespoon of water is added to the central well of the PowerPukk after it's place...
  • The PowerTrekk will come in green, red and yellow and is expected to be shipped internatio...

Developed to provide some off-the-grid juice to outdoor enthusiasts or anyone who finds themselves away from a wall socket when their smartphone, GPS or digital camera battery dies, myFC‘s PowerTrekk 2-in-1 portable charger is the first to use Mobile-H2 technology from SiGNa Chemistry. In addition to sporting a Li-ion battery pack, the device also takes a Mobile-H2 cartridge called a PowerPukk.

The PowerPukk disc contains sodium silicide (NaSi), a non-flammable powder which rapidly produces hydrogen thanks to a stable and controllable reaction with a wide variety of non-potable, non-distilled water – including salt water – at room temperature. SiGNa says that the powder is generated from salt (sodium chloride) and sand (silicon dioxide) starting materials in a solvent- and purification-free process where the heat generated during manufacture is recaptured and used within the process, keeping energy consumption down.

About a tablespoon of water is added to the central well of the PowerPukk after it’s placed inside the belly of the PowerTrekk, after which the device’s Proton Exchange Membrane starts to silently convert the hydrogen into electricity. The only by-product of the process is a little water vapor. There’s no more waiting around for the sun to harvest enough energy to power your gadgets, and the unit is said not to suffer from degradation often associated with battery packs.

The PowerTrekk’s built-in Li-ion battery buffer has a capacity of 5.9 Wh (1600 mAh, 3.7 V) and the device has a rated output of 5V, 1000 mA and rated input of 5V, 500 mA. The PowerPukk Fuel Cartridge can be swapped out without interrupting the supply of power to the attached mobile device.

PowerPukk cartridges come in either five or ten packs and have a shelf life of two years minimum. myFC says that the fuel cell “is part of an industry program for reusing its materials and is made of coated can materials which prevent corrosion and leakage of chemicals,” and the PowerTrekk itself should become part of the industry’s electronic waste recycling program at the end of its operational life.

The 2.59 x 5 x 1.65-inch (66 x 128 x 42mm) PowerTrekk, which is currently on display at Mobile World Congress 2011 in Barcelona, will come in green, red or yellow and is expected to be shipped internationally in October for about US$200.

Sourced & published by Henry Sapiecha

DARPA asks the public to design

a new combat support vehicle

By Darren Quick

The XC2V must be designed around the tubular chassis found in the Local Motors Rally Fight...

The XC2V must be designed around the tubular chassis found in the Local Motors Rally Fighter

In an effort to streamline the design and build process for manufacturing military vehicles, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) is enlisting the “power of the crowd”. Through the Experimental Crowd-derived Combat-support Vehicle (XC2V) Design Challenge, which asks entrants to conceptualize a vehicle body design for combat reconnaissance and combat delivery & evacuation, the agency is looking to pick the brains of not only armed service members and engineers, but also members of the public and others that usually have no way to contribute to military design.

The challenge is being conducted with Local Motors, a Phoenix-based company that lets a community of car designers and engineers collaborate on designing cars, which can then be bought and built in regional micro-factories. Local Motors’ first “open source” production vehicle is the Rally Fighter, which was developed in 2008 using a crowd-sourced process. The XC2V design submissions must be based on the lightweight, tubular steel chassis and the General Motors LS3 V8 powertrain found in that vehicle.

Budding designers must also devise a vehicle that meets two mission sets – combat delivery and evacuation and combat reconnaissance. To meet the requirements of combat delivery and evacuation missions, the judges will be looking for flexible vehicle body designs that allow supplies, people and equipment to be transported around a potentially hostile battlefield in the quickest and most efficient way possible.

Meanwhile, in terms of combat reconnaissance, the vehicle must also be light and fast with the capability to mount sighting systems on the exterior and space inside to stow items such as camouflage and ammunition so it is easily accessible.

To help make the mission requirements easier to understand for those without a military background, DARPA has provided four different fictitious scenarios that illustrate how the vehicle might be used in different missions. DARPA and Local Motors will also provide feedback to competitors as submissions are received

Local Motors is accepting design submissions until March 3, 2010, which can be as simple as a sketch on a piece of paper or as detailed as a 3D CAD file. However, the submission must include a profile view, front/rear/Combo view and top (half or full) view.

Once the submissions are assessed, those that meet the competition requirements will be put to a vote on March 3 to 10, with anybody able to cast their vote on the designs, meaning that not only the designs, but the winner that is being crowd-derived.

Third place will be awarded US$1,000, second place $1,500, while first place will take home $7,500 and will get to see their vision become a reality as soon as June when a fully functional concept vehicle based on the winning design is due to be ready.

Entrants must be over 18 with full competition details and entry guidelines available at Local Motors’ website.

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Einstein’s prediction finally

witnessed one century later

By Tannith Cattermole

19:26 September 1, 2010

Einstein said it couldn’t be done. But more than one hundred years later physicists at the University of Texas at Austin have finally found a way to witness “Brownian motion”; the instantaneous velocity of tiny particles as they vibrate. The “equipartition theorem” states that a particle’s kinetic energy, that due to motion, is determined only by its temperature and not its size or mass, and in 1907 Einstein proposed a test to observe the velocity of Brownian motion but gave up, saying the experiment would never be possible.

More than a century later Mark Raizen and his team have finally proved this long-anticipated prediction by means of “optical tweezers”: a single laser beam was fired at a 5?m micrometer bead from below, suspending the bead in an “optical trap” mid-air using the force from the laser and the gravitational force on the bead. A plate-like transducer shook the beads to be tweezed and measured them as they were suspended, and the Brownian motion of the trapped bead was studied with ultra-high resolution.

Having noted that in this case glass beads were 3 micrometers across, Raizen and his team have proved that equipartition theorem is in fact true for Brownian particles. This is the first time in history that the equipartition theorem has been tested for Brownian particles, which forms one of the basic principles of statistical mechanics. They now intend to go further by moving the particles closer to a quantum state for observation. They also expect this to stimulate further research into cooling glass beads to a state where they could be used as oscillators or sensors.

As with much of quantum science, they don’t expect the experiment to yield more answers than questions, however: “We’ve now observed the instantaneous velocity of a Brownian particle,” says Raizen. “In some sense, we’re closing a door on this problem in physics. But we are actually opening a much larger door for future tests of the equipartition theorem at the quantum level.”

Mark Raizen is professor of physics at The University of Texas at Austin, and the Sid W. Richardson Foundation Regents Chair. His co-authors are Tongcang Li, Simon Kheifets and David Medellin of the Center for Nonlinear Dynamics and theDepartment of Physics at The University of Texas at Austin. Their paper is published in Science.

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Mussels are remarkable creatures, not only in how good they taste steamed and buttered, but also in their ability to cling to rocks that are pounded by ocean waves. Their tenacious grip comes courtesy of byssal holdfast fibers that are secreted by the mussels themselves. Last year, scientists from Germany’s Max Planck Institute for Colloids and Interfaces analyzed these fibers in an effort to determine how they were able to maintain their brute strength, while also giving slightly to avoid snapping. This week, scientists from the University of Chicago announced that they have been able to replicate the fibers, producing an adhesive that could be used on underwater machinery, as a surgical adhesive, or as a bonding agent for implants.

Conventional adhesives typically involve a trade-off between strength and brittleness – they give, but can be ripped, or are hard, but can be snapped. Such substances are linked by covalent bonds, which are held together by two atoms sharing two or more electrons. U Chicago’s synthetic mussel adhesive, however, is linked by metals. This allows it to exhibit both strength and flexibility, as the bonds automatically self-heal if broken, without adding any energy to the system.

One of the keys to the material is a long-chain polymer, developed at Northwestern University. It takes the form of a green solution when combined with metal salts at low pH, but becomes a sticky red gel when mixed with sodium hydroxide to change its pH from high acidity to high alkalinity. This gel can repair tears to itself within minutes. Its stiffness and strength can be tweaked both by altering its pH, or by using different types of metal ions when creating it. The scientists are now trying to determine what other factors might affect its properties.

Besides offering an optimum combination of strength and give, the adhesive should also be environmentally-friendly, as it’s made from natural ingredients. A patent is currently pending.

“Our aspiration is to learn some new design principles from nature that we haven’t yet actually been using in man-made materials that we can then apply to make man-made materials even better,” said Chicago postdoctoral scholar Niels Holten-Andersen.

Sourced & published by Henry Sapiecha

Find Global warming lesson Information Read the facts on global warming.

On October 26, 2006, NASA launched two STEREO (Solar Terrestrial Relations Observatory) spacecraft. Using the Moon’s gravity for a gravitational slingshot, the two nearly identical spacecraft, STEREO-A and STEREO-B, split up with one pulling ahead of the Earth and the other gradually falling behind. It’s taken over four years but on February 6, 2011, the two spacecraft finally moved into position on opposite sides of the Sun, each looking down on a different hemisphere. The probes are now sending back images of the star, front and back, allowing scientists for the first time to view the entire Sun in 3D.

Each of the probes captures images of half of the Sun and beams them back to Earth where researchers combine the two opposing views to create a sphere. To track key aspects of solar activity such as flares, tsunamis and magnetic filaments, STEREO’s telescopes are tuned to four wavelengths of extreme ultraviolet radiation.

Space weather forecasting

The resultant 3D images will allow researchers to improve space weather forecasts to provide earlier and more accurate warnings for potentially damaging coronal mass ejections (CMEs) that can impact aircraft navigation systems, power grids and satellites. Previously, an active sunspot could emerge on the far side of the Sun before the Sun’s rotation turned that region toward Earth, spitting flares and clouds of plasma with little warning.

“Not anymore,” says Bill Murtagh, a senior forecaster at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) Space Weather Prediction Center in Boulder, Colorado. “Farside active regions can no longer take us by surprise. Thanks to STEREO, we know they’re coming.”

As part of NASA’s ‘Solar Shield’ project, the NOAA is already using 3D STEREO models of CME’s to improve space weather forecasts, but the full Sun view should improve these forecasts even more. And the forecasting benefits aren’t just limited to Earth. The global 3D model of the Sun also allows researchers to track solar storms heading for other planets, which is important for NASA missions to Mercury, Mars and even asteroids.

“With data like these, we can fly around the Sun to see what’s happening over the horizon—without ever leaving our desks,” says STEREO program scientist Lika Guhathakurta at NASA headquarters. “I expect great advances in theoretical solar physics and space weather forecasting.”

More answers

NASA also expects the 3D images of the Sun to shed light on previously overlooked connections. For instance, researchers have long suspected that solar activity can “go global,” with eruptions on opposite sides of the Sun triggering and feeding off each other. The global images will allow them to actually study the phenomenon.

In conjunction with NASA’s Earth-orbiting Solar Dynamics Observatory, the STEREO-A and STEREO-B probes should be able to image the entire globe of the Sun for the next eight years. Therefore, these initial images are just the beginning of what should be some truly stellar images and movies that NASA says will be released in the weeks ahead as more of the data from the STEREO probes is processed.

Sourced & published by Henry Sapiecha

Adult-sized, His and Hers home robots

By Mike Hanlon

Wednesday October 8, 2003Looking for some entertaining, hassle free housemates whose personality you can program yourself? These interactive, remote controlled, multifunctional robots were designed and built by International Robotics and feature on-board computers that can be fully programmed for communication or automated “performance” sequences. The adult-sized pair are part of the 2003 Christmas Book from Dallas based specialty retailer Neiman Marcus. The “His” Robot is designed to respond empathetically to humans and features programmable technology that will help him evolve his personality to suit your preferences and input. The “Her” Robot has a multicolour moving message display that can be re-programmed from a laptop. These state of the art home Robots cost US$400,000 a pair. The 2003 Neiman Marcus Christmas Book is full of fantastic wares, many of which rate as serious gizmos –

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Cougar 20-H surveillance robot

that sees through walls

and detects breathing up to 300 foot

By Darren Quick

21:59 February 6, 2011

The Cougar20-H is a remote-controlled surveillance robot that is so sensitive it can not only detect motion through walls but, to ensure no one goes unnoticed, it can also detect the breathing of a stationary person. Packing a fine beam ultra-wideband (UWB), multi-Gigahertz radio frequency (RF) sensor array as well as multiple integrated cameras for day and night time visibility, the Cougar20-H was designed by surveillance imaging specialist TiaLinx to provide improved situational awareness to soldiers while keeping them out of harm’s way.

The lightweight and agile robot travels on caterpillar tracks and is remotely controlled via a laptop that can be located more than 300 feet (91 m) away. An RF scanner mounted on the robot’s lightweight arm transmits highly directional wideband signals that are able to penetrate reinforced concrete walls at an extended range. Reflections from the targets are captured by a signal detector circuit in the receiver and amplitude and delay information is then processed in an integrated signal processor to track the targets in real time.

“Cougar20-H has the capability to sense-through-the-wall (STTW) at farther distances than Cougar10-L that was launched last month,” said Dr. Fred Mohamadi, Founder and CEO of TiaLinx. “Cougar20-H can also be remotely programmed at multiple way points to scan the desired premise in a multi-story building and provide its layout. In contrast only Cougar10-L is capable of scanning a premise horizontally for unexploded ordnance (UXO) as well as vertically to STTW.”

TiaLinx developed the Cougar20-H’s real-time UWB RF Imaging technology with funding from the U.S. Army. In addition to military applications, the robot, which ships next month, could also allow law enforcement agencies to detect potential targets within buildings or allow firefighters to locate people inside burning buildings.

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Tech Talk Video about building guidance system

Thumbnail image for video asset.

Doughnut blimp guide

A Queensland avionics engineering student has created a floating doughnut shaped blimp to guide people through a building. Courtesy CSIRO.AUSTRALIA

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