Antimatter to ion drives: NASA’s plan for deep space propulsion
Ion drives, solar sails, fission and fusion … some of the ideas for powering the next generation of spacecraft have an aura of sci-fi about them, so it can be a giddy surprise to see NASA takes them seriously too. Read more
Where do deep space probes get their power?
As you are reading this, the Voyager 1 spacecraft, carrying its valuable gold-plated record describing life on Earth, is more than 20.6 billion kilometres away – or 138 times the distance between the Earth and the sun. It’s still sending back a faint signal, but how is this possible? Read more
Composite metal foams shield against bullets, radiation, and heat
Don’t be fooled by their unsexy name: lightweight composite metal foams are bulletproof, can block radiation and now, research shows they’re great heat insulators. Read more
How do bladeless fans work?
In 2009, British tech manufacturer Dyson released a product called the Air Multiplier – a fan that was quieter, more power-efficient and safer than others, and to top it all off, it didn’t have any blades. It sounds like technological witchcraft. So how does it work? Read more
New imaging technique brings Mars into focus
Planetary scientists may soon no longer need a rover to clearly see details of the Martian landscape. “Stacking” multiple photos snapped by a camera orbiting thousands of kilometres above can pick out objects on the surface just five centimetres wide, including tracks left by a rover. Read more
Swarm intelligence pulls off Kentucky Derby betting coup
Researchers have pulled off a betting coup on the Kentucky Derby using swarm intelligence to predict the first four horses over the line. Using a platform developed by the company Unanimous AI, 20 punters pooled their input and came up with the winning combination for which bookmakers paid 540 to one. Read more
A durable, more energy-efficient lithium-aim battery
A new, scalable lithium-air battery that lasts longer and is more energy efficient than current models has been developed by researchers in the US and China. You may have heard of lithium-ion batteries – you’ll find them in your portable electronics, for instance. But what about lithium-air? Read more
On-chip laser that could have your computer working at the speed of light
If you’re lucky enough to have a broadband connection by fibre optic cable, you already know about the speed of photonics – using light, not electric current, to send information. But while optical fibres use light to give us superfast internet, the data inside our computers still shuffles about on plain old copper wiring. To get round this, the industry’s biggest players, including Intel, IBM and HP, have been chasing the new ideal of “silicon photonics”, that would use the principles of optic fibre but inside our devices. Read more
Introducing robo-ray: part animal, part machine
It’s a cybernetic organism. Living tissue over a metal endoskeleton. No, it’s not the T-800 from the 1991 film Terminator 2 – but a robotic stingray made of rat heart cells stretched over a gold frame that can glide through water just like the real thing. Read more
Fake nuclear warheads exposed with neutron imaging
Does North Korean leader Kim Jong-un really have nuclear missiles at his disposal or is he all talk? A way to prove he does – or not – could be around the corner. US scientists have shown they can compare objects without revealing sensitive information, a method that could be used to verify nuclear warheads without exposing their structure or design. Read more
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