Prehistoric plumage

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Hairy new chapter in 3-D printing

It may seem that 3-D printers can spit out just about anything, but extremely fine features such as hair and fur have defied the technology until now.

Instead of spending hours using conventional computer-aided design software to draw thousands of individual hairs, researchers at MIT’s Media Lab built a new software platform that allows users to define the angle, thickness, density and height of thousands of hairs in just a few minutes.

Playing with various dimensions, they designed and printed arrays of hair-like structures ranging from coarse bristles to fine fur onto flat and curved surfaces using a conventional 3-D printer.

Could the technology be used to print wigs and hair extensions? Possibly, the researchers say. But that’s not their end goal. Instead, they’re seeing how 3-D-printed hair could perform tasks such as sensing and adhesion.

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Credit: USGS / NASA Landsat data / Orbital Horizon / Gallo Images / Getty images

Happy Asteroid Day!

Some 590 million years ago, geologists estimate, a massive asteroid slammed into what is now South Australia. A remnant of that impact is pictured here – Lake Acraman, a small, shallow salt lake in the arid Australian outback. Studies of the current land surface and debris ejected by the collision suggest that the impact produced an uplifted ring spanning roughly 40 kilometres in the crater’s centre. The rim surrounding the inner ring may have spanned 85 to 90 kilometres, and the total area of disturbed rock might have been as wide as 150 kilometres.

This week Asteroid Day was celebrated to increasing awareness about the threat asteroids such as this one potentially pose to our planet and what we can do to head off future impacts. Asteroid Day marks the anniversary of the largest asteroid impact of Earth in recorded history. On June 30, 1908, a relatively small asteroid (40 metres) exploded over Tunguska, Siberia, releasing the energy equivalent of 100 tonnes of TNT and devastating around 1,200 square kilometres.

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Credit: ESA / V.Crobu

Underground and wet

We usually send them 400 kilometres into the sky, but this week the European Space Agency sent six astronauts from five space agencies around the world 800 metres down into the rocky caves of Sardinia, Italy.

After a week of training, the ”cavenauts” said goodbye to sunlight and will spend six nights underground, setting up basecamp in the Sa Grutta cave. Cut off from the usual day–night cycle – and civilization – they will rely on each other and communicate with the surface to achieve their mission goals, just as if they were living on the International Space Station.

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Credit:Royal Saskatchewan Museum / R.C. McKellar

Amber preserves ancient bird wings

Two 99-million-year-old bird wings found fossilised in Burmese amber are the first examples of hair follicles and feather arrangements from the days of the dinosaurs.

The specimens found in the Kachin Province and described in Nature Communications provide a rare glimpse into the development of juvenile wings in ancient birds. Comparison with other fossil species suggests that the wings belonged to enantiornithine birds – a lineage of birds that died out with the dinosaurs at the end of the Cretaceous. But these fossilised feathers closely match to the plumage of modern birds.

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Credit: NASA / Bill Ingalls

Booster test for Space Launch System rocket

A booster for what is currently the most powerful rocket, NASA’s Space Launch System, successfully fired up this week during its last full-scale ground test at Orbital ATK’s test facilities in Promontory, Utah.

When ignited, temperatures inside the booster reached 3,300 ˚C. The two-minute, full-duration test provided NASA with critical data on 82 qualification objectives that will support certification of the booster for flight. Engineers now will evaluate these data, captured by more than 530 instrumentation channels on the booster.

The booster will operate in parallel with the Space Launch System’s main engines for the first two minutes of flight, providing more than 75% of the thrust needed for the rocket and Orion spacecraft to escape Earth’s gravitational pull. The Space Launch System’s first uncrewed test flight with Orion is due in late 2018 and will be another key milestone on the agency’s Journey to Mars.

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