Gene therapy for advanced lymphoma gets FDA approval

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People with advanced lymphoma now have another type of treatment to consider. The Food and Drug Administration has approved Yescarta, a cell-based gene therapy designed to treat large B-cell lymphoma created by Kite Pharma. It’s the second time the FDA has approved a gene therapy for use in the US following a procedure meant to treat leukemia earlier this year.

The therapy requires a patient’s T-Cells, one type of white blood cells, to be harvested and modified. These engineered cells are designed to be attracted to a certain protein in tumor cells in order to kill them. Due to the complex nature of the procedure, a healthcare professional will have to go through training to be able to administer the pricey treatment — The Wall Street Journal says it will cost patients around $373,000.

Kite Pharma conducted a multicenter clinical trial involving 101 adults with relapsed large B-cell lymphoma to convince the FDA to give the therapy its approval. The tumors in 72 percent of the test subjects shrunk and even disappeared completely in 51 percent of the subjects. Despite being effective, the therapy can only be used if a patient has relapsed or failed to respond to at least two different kinds of treatment. That’s because Yescarta could cause pretty severe and life-threatening side effects, including anemia and low white blood cell counts. The worst possible reaction to the therapy? It’s none other than death: according to The WSJ, Kite Pharma determined that the deaths of two of its test subjects were related to the treatment.

Source: FDA, Gilead

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LowRide magazine puts the BMW R nineT on a diet

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Custom BMW R nineT by Lowride magazine
When the R nineT was on the drawing board, BMW engineers made sure it was easy to modify. And that custom-friendliness has become a core part of the bike’s ethos.

This Italian build takes that principle and rides away with it, and the unusually slim, tracker-inspired vibe makes it a real attention grabber.

Custom BMW R nineT by Lowride magazine
Most Motorradfahrer these days are aware of the R nineT’s modular nature, but even BMW themselves probably wouldn’t have envisioned the transformation this team of passionate Italian builders has wrought.

Led by Giuseppe Roncen of LowRide magazine, a bunch of talented builders have torn into and restyled a 2016 R nineT sourced from BMW Motorrad Italy.

Custom BMW R nineT by Lowride magazine
The bike retains its factory built frame, but the build team has replaced nearly everything else. Despite that, Giuseppe says the bike still retains the hidden modern tech the R nineT left the BMW Motorrad factory with.

“The bike was conceived as a show piece, but retains all the safety, reliability and street-ability of the original,” he says.

Custom BMW R nineT by Lowride magazine
“We kept the stock exhaust with the lambda sensors and butterflies, adding a short, upswept and handmade megaphone.

“We lost a little power after eliminating the factory airbox, but the bike is still very easy, smooth, and fun to ride. It feels and looks lighter than stock; we shed at least 25 kilograms [55 pounds].”

Custom BMW R nineT by Lowride magazine
The result is an R nineT that has been dramatically slimmed down, to the point that its silhouette more closely resembles a dirt tracker or trials bike. Yet somehow it still looks every bit an R-series Beemer.

Giuseppe and the team at Radikal Chopper were responsible for the overall design of the bike. The bodywork was done by Metalbike Garage.

Custom BMW R nineT by Lowride magazine
Eliminating the airbox allowed the builders to fabricate a bolt-on monocoque that connected directly to standard docking points. This also removed the need for the factory subframe bracing, as the monocoque by its inherent properties is self-supporting.

The aluminum bodywork was all hand formed and is a complete one-off. There were no molds, and the final product is a testament to the amazing skills of Metalbike Garage. The aluminum was then polished and partially painted, before being finished off with gold pin striping and brass cast BMW emblems.

Custom BMW R nineT by Lowride magazine
Amazingly, the factory wiring harness remains intact; the only modification is to the turn signal cabling. The seat is detachable, revealing the battery box and battery, so the bike’s as functional as the day it left the factory.

Even the liquid crystal display—which is perched atop a set of custom risers machined by FG Racing—still retains the same functionality as the original clocks, but with a far more fit-for-racing aesthetic.

Custom BMW R nineT by Lowride magazine
Built into the monocoque is a hand formed fuel tank, which is less than half the stock width and emphasizes the BMW boxer twin in a way the original bike could not.

The engine looks the part too, thanks to Rizoma head and alternator covers. Rizoma also supplied the rearsets, mirrors, blinkers, master cylinder covers and reservoir.

Custom BMW R nineT by Lowride magazine
The story could quite easily stop at that point, but there’s more. When LowRide’s vision was unveiled a year ago at a BMW event at Monza, it caught the eye of BMW’s top brass. Soon after, it was shipped to Milan for the huge EICMA show—making it the only custom R nineT on the BMW Motorrad stand.

Guiseppe was then introduced to the renowned German tuner Edelweiss Motorsport. And that’s where things really ramped up a gear. Edelweiss work mostly on air-cooled boxers of the BMW and Porsche varieties, so they know a thing or two about extracting performance from flat engines.

Custom BMW R nineT by Lowride magazine
They took the 1200cc boxer twin of the R nineT and hit it with bored out cylinders and forged Pistal pistons. They also increased the compression ratio, gas flowed the heads, and threw in different camshafts and longer inlet funnels.

Then they revised the mapping, and installed a handmade exhaust with a larger pipe diameter to increase flow. (We’re told the sound from the HP Corse hydro formed megaphones is glorious and angry.)

Custom BMW R nineT by Lowride magazine
On the dyno the bike showed around 130 hp—a tasty increase of 20 over the original.

That power is now transferred to the ground via Jonich machined billet rims, which start life as five different sections held together by bolts. They’re then subjected to a resin treatment and baked for three days in an oven—which allows them to make use of tubeless tires, with special hubs hiding the air valves. With spokes laced up neatly to the hubs, the look is a beguiling blend of factory and custom.

Custom BMW R nineT by Lowride magazine
“After the tuning, and fitting a drag racing rear tire, it was pretty quick,” Giuseppe says. “Very loud and fast. Sprinting was fun.”

In the Essenza sprint races, the bike even outperformed a turbocharged BMW. But after a few passes, it was eventually eliminated by a Moto Guzzi running nitrous, which Giuseppe thinks was probably the fastest bike on the day.

Custom BMW R nineT by Lowride magazine
But that doesn’t take away from the style and beauty of this R nineT. It’s a fascinating, performance-driven rework of BMW’s hugely successful ‘heritage’ model—and we’re pretty sure BMW’s design team would give a big tick to Giuseppe and his dedicated artisans.

LowRide magazine | Instagram

Custom BMW R nineT by Lowride magazine

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Why paper cuts hurt so much

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The dangers of paper lurk at the microscopic level and they can cause a lot of pain.

Paper can cut through wood and plastic and lacerate skin with ease. Following is a transcript of the video.

Why do paper cuts hurt so much? There are a few reasons.

First, our fingers and hands are loaded with sensitive nerves. When you get a paper cut the nerves send pain signals to your brain.

Plus, a paper cut is not a clean cut. If you look at the edge of paper under a microscope you’ll see it’s jagged, sort of like shark teeth. 

This leads to messier, more painful wounds. Lastly, paper is made from wood and chemicals. So, that wood and chemical combination can get stuck in the skin. This can irritate the cut and bother you for days. 

Next time you get a paper cut, be sure to wash the wound and put a band aid on it. You’ll be thankful you did.

Join the conversation about this story »

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Google’s AlphaGo Zero taught itself to become the greatest Go player in history

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Google’s DeepMind lab has built an artificially intelligent program that taught itself to become one of the world’s most dominant Go players. Google says the program, AlphaGo Zero, endowed itself with “superhuman abilities,” learning strategies previously unknown to humans. 

AlphaGo Zero started out with no clue how to win the game Go — a 2,500-year old Chinese game in which two players use black and white tiles to capture more territory than their opponents. 

It took AlphaGo Zero just three days to beat an earlier AI program (AlphaGo Lee), which had resoundingly beaten world champion Lee Sedol in 2016. After 21 days of playing, AlphaGo Zero defeated AlphaGo Master, an intelligent program known for beating 60 top pros online and another world champion player in 2017. By day 40, AlphaGo Zero had defeated all previous AI versions of AlphaGo.

And it achieved all these victories without any human-provided strategies or game-playing knowledge. Google published their results this week in the journal Nature.

“The most important idea in AlphaGo Zero is that it learns completely tabula rasa — that means it starts from a blank slate and figures out for itself, only from self-play, without any human knowledge, any human data, without any human examples or features or intervention from humans,” said lead AlphaGo researcher David Silver in a Nature interview

After watching their machine learn human strategies, Silver and his team watched AlphaGo Zero autonomously attain superhuman abilities.

“So what we started to see is that AlphaGo Zero not only discovered the common pattern and openings that humans tend to play… it also learned them, discovered them, and ultimately discarded them in preference for its own variance which humans don’t even know about or play at the moment,” explained Silver.

In May 2017, professional Chinese Go player Ke Jie (left)  plays against Google's artificial intelligence program AlphaGo.

In May 2017, professional Chinese Go player Ke Jie (left)  plays against Google’s artificial intelligence program AlphaGo.

Image: VCG via Getty Images

Google’s researchers used a “reinforcement learning” scheme to make AlphaGo Zero intelligent enough to learn on its own. Using a deep neural network — which is an artificial model of how human minds relate ideas and make the best possible outcome predictions — AlphaGo Zero made its own expert predictions and then learned from its errors.

Over the course of some 30 million games, AlphaGo Zero made an immense number of moves. This required around $25 million in computer hardware, according to Google DeepMind chief executive Demis Hassabis.

Now that AlphaGo Zero has dominated its world competition, Google thinks this unprecedented self-learning ability can be applied to other problems, without having to spend time and resources teaching the machine.

“If you can achieve tabula rasa learning, you really have an agent that can be transplanted from the game of Go to any other domain. You untie yourself from the specifics of the domain you’re in and you come up with an algorithm that is so general that it can be applied anywhere,” said Silver.

If the AlphaGo experiments are any clue, this sort of AI innovation could lead to “superhuman” thought being applied to other realms of existence — perhaps medicine or self-driving cars.

But according to DeepMind’s Silver, the aim is not to outpace humans; it’s for these intelligent machines to contribute to the sum of human knowledge.

“For us, the idea of AlphaGo is not to go out and defeat humans, but… for a program to be able to learn for itself what knowledge is,” he said. 

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This Blockchain-Powered Platform Aims to Disrupt the Esport Gambling Industry

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Esports wagering is a large — and growing — global industry at the intersection between gambling, technology and entertainment. In their 2017 Global Esports Markets Report, Newzoo found that China and North America will generate $362 million during 2017, or 52 percent of global esports industry’s revenue. If the esports industry continues on the same growth trajectory, the global industry is expected to generate $1.4 billion in 2020.

Unikrn’s blockchain-powered platform is tapping into this growth industry, offering services such as “skill and spectator betting applications, a tournament series, team ownership, a casino group and multimedia content for the esports fanbase.”

Along with launching an initial coin offering (ICO) in mid-September, the company has expanded its offerings to the European Union through a joint venture with RBP, a key player in the online horserace and sports betting market, and plans to launch a new skills-based product.

Expanding across the European Union comes after the platform was granted a much coveted gaming license from the Malta Gaming Authority (MGA). As one of the first European Territories to regulate online gambling, Malta has reportedly become a staunch regulatory supporter over the past several years. Today, over 100 companies currently hold a license issued by the MGA including software developers, online casinos and Remote iGaming operators.

Though obtaining a gaming license from the MGA took more than a year, for Unikrn, it has provided an opportunity to enhance their reputation as a legitimate esports wagering platform; something critical for their successful expansion and token sale. “They [MGA] are by every measure the gold standard and one of of the most respected authorities for responsible and ethical wagering,” said Unikrn founder and CEO Rahul Sood in a statement.

After creating the VoodooPC in 1991 then selling it to Hewlett-Packard, Sood spent 18 years as an entrepreneur. Next, he joined as general manager of Microsoft Ventures, Microsoft’s international startup accelerator and outreach program. Sood left Microsoft in 2014 to enter the world of live immersive esports betting by co-founding Unikrn.

Why Blockchain?

During its Series A round, Unikrn received funding from several notable investors including Mark Cuban, owner of the Dallas Mavericks, actor Ashton Kutcher’s venture firm, Sound Ventures, media executive Elisabeth Murdoch’s venture fund Freelands Ventures, media executive Shari Redstone’s Advancit Capital and the largest betting company in Australia, Tabcorp. The commonality between most of these venture funds is that they typically pick portfolio companies working in a mix of media, technology and entertainment.

Anthony Di Iorio, serial entrepreneur and CEO of Decentral, joined UnikoinGold as an advisory team member because he finds the project both intriguing and well-supported.

I’m a big believer in the power of decentralized technologies, like blockchains, to empower entrepreneurs and individuals,” he told Bitcoin Magazine. “I’m motivated to support the entrepreneurs, the projects, and the communities that are pushing that technology forward by applying it in interesting and exciting ways to existing markets. Unikrn is a bit special.”

Unikrn’s Editor-in-Chief of content, Ryan Jurado, describes the platform’s journey toward the blockchain as a tool for product and community growth. In 2015, Unikrn released Unikoin, a free, internal, non-cryptographic token issued in 2014 that gives users the ability to bet on esports and win prizes in regulated markets where Unikrn is unlicensed to operate. However, Unikoin had no secondary market and customers persistently asked for more value or uses for the token.

Jurado explained that idea for Unikrn to use blockchain technology first came from Mark Cuban in early 2016. After investigating the technology, the team found using a blockchain-based currency would improve compliance and accountability, two activities paramount in bookkeeping.

“The distributed ledger makes Know Your Customer (KYC) and risk management easier and less costly,” Jurado said to Bitcoin Magazine. “It saves time and money used for converting currencies, and helps minimize engagement with banks.”

Along with a distributed ledger model, Jurado also pointed out that the blockchain “expands real-time betting, live betting and skill-based products that would be difficult, or impossible, using fiat currency.”

The blockchain’s ability to increase transaction options while decreasing the need for transactional trust was another value Unikrn sought, Jurado explained, resulting in “an Ethereum-based token with an open ledger that can be used to better rate risk and flag potential abuse.”

A gaming platform such as Unikrn which runs vast numbers of transactions per day manages a lot of risk benefits from “an Ethereum-based token with an open ledger that can be used to better rate risk and flag potential abuse.” Furthermore, as Jurado pointed out, “For users, it’s a home-run: Using blockchain is less expensive than using fiat, and less overhead means less expensive products.”

Tale of Two Koins

To run the token sale and crypto platform, Unikrn opened a subsidiary, Unikrn Bermuda Ltd. The token that Jurado hopes will become “the decentralized token of esports and gaming” is called UnikoinGold (UKG) and was made available in September.

Di Iorio described UnikoinGold as “the (decentralized) beating heart of the secure and seamless wagering ecosystem Unikrn has pioneered.”

As for the original non-cryptographic token, Unikoin, Sood has stated that Unikrn is undergoing a “forking” of their token system in which there will be two currencies: UnikoinGold and UnikoinSilver.

Anybody in the world can buy and use the Ethereum-based UnikoinGold utility token in non-betting applications, including jackpots and experiences, software, hardware, esports, teams and tournaments; however, only users in Unikrn-licensed regions will be able to use it to bet.

Though UnikoinSilver can only be earned, it can be used in most unregulated markets around the world. “The token will allow every non-minor esports and gaming fan to engage in all Unikrn betting products, regardless of where they live. It is a free, non-blockchain token, but will allow fans to unlock real prizes and non-betting operations including editorial, production studios, tournament organization and live broadcasting.” UnikoinSilver also appears to be an alternative “to unregulated skin betting for regions where real-money betting can’t be offered.”

ESPN Meets Esports Meets Vegas

Having already raised $30 million in ether, the UnikoinGold token sale is capped at $100 million. One advantage it has as a token sale is the ease of onboarding users who are already familiar with token transactions. Unikrn’s other advantages come from the fact that they already have an existing platform that is profitable and an online community that is engaged. “This isn’t an investment,” said Sood in a Medium post, “It’s a purchase for a product that we developed that has utility on our platform and our users love and demand.”

A clear caveat to UnikoinGold’s success is that its gaming/ICO combination is sure to keep them visible on every regulator’s radar, which is why earning a Maltese gaming license was such a significant step.

Even at such a unique intersection between media, gambling and gaming, Unikrn is not the only player. Other esports betting platforms using blockchain technology include FirstBlood.io, Eloplay, Gimli.io and Skincoin. And it has yet to crack the lists of top esport betting platforms on sites like OpenOdds and EsportsOnly.

Sood does not seem surprised by his company’s success, thus far. “UnikoinGold was designed and intended for use by our own esports community. It’s like ESPN meets Esports meets Las Vegas.”

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Antimatter Property Beats Regular Matter After Scientists Make Incredible Precision Measurement 

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Image: CERN

If physics were complete as-is, the Universe wouldn’t exist. All particles would have found their antiparticle pairs and annihilated into a burst of energy. Matter and antimatter look like exact mirror images of one another, after all. There’s no difference between a particle and its antiparticle partner aside from having the reverse value of some of their intrinsic properties—they’re like mirror images.

Yet here we are, living lumps of regular matter reading blog posts on the internet, while antimatter only exists in some very specific cases, like in our experiments or as a product of some kinds of radioactive decay. A team of living lumps in Switzerland are one of many measuring the most fundamental properties of nature, hoping to find some difference between those of matter and antimatter. On the way, they’ve measured a single property of the proton’s antiparticle partner, called the antiproton, to mind-boggling precision. It’s so precise that it’s even more precise than the same value for the more abundant and well-known proton. They haven’t found a difference, but they’re not upset yet.

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“I’m in fact very happy that we achieved this,” said Stefan Ulmer, the spokesperson of the Baryon Antibaryon Symmetry Experiment (BASE) collaboration at CERN in Switzerland told Gizmodo. “This is one of the most difficult measurements that have ever been carried out in a Penning trap,” a device that uses magnetic and electric fields to store particles.

So, what’s antimatter? Every fundamental particle, every electron, proton, and quark (the proton sub-parts) has an accompanying antiparticle, according to scientists’ oservations. These antiparticles have the exact same mass and the exact opposite electrical charge from what scientists have measured. Scientists can’t explain why there should be so much more matter than antimatter in our Universe, which is why they carry out measurements at experiments like BASE.

The researchers were specifically studying the proton and the antiproton’s magnetic moment. This measurement is basically just what happens when you put the particle into a magnetic field and watch how it twists to align itself in the same way a bar magnet aligns itself when you put it near another bar magnet. It’s an innate number built into the fabric of the laws of particle physics; it’s similar to the way that you come with intrinsic properties built into your identities, such as a name and a favorite food.

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Making this kind of measurement is no small feat. First, CERN’s antimatter factory, its Antiproton Decelerator, must slow the antimatter down to low enough energies for scientists to make a precision measurement. Then they have to trap it in a vacuum equivalent to that of the depths of space between stars—otherwise, the antiproton might find another particle to annihilate with. Then they observe how the particle moves in the electric and magnetic fields of the traps, using the measurements to calculate the magnetic moment.

The number they got for the antiproton was −2.7928473441(42)μN, where μN is equal to another fundamental constant (like pi or e) divided by the proton’s mass. The most precise measurement of the proton’s number was almost exactly the same but with the opposite sign, +2.792847350(9)μN, according to the paper published in Nature. This is science, so both of those numbers have a spread of possible answers, represented by the numbers in parentheses—think of the parentheses as me saying “give or take a few seconds” after saying “Danielle was born on February 17, 1980, at 3:14:15 pm ET.” If you said Danielle was born the same day but at 3:15 ET, give or take a few minutes, we’d say our measurements were the same, but mine was more precise.

If this is still too many numbers for you, just think—the picture the team took of the antiproton revealed an exact mirror image of the proton’s, but one that’s even clearer. And at least for this magnetic moment value, the image is really freaking clear.

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“It’s hard to appreciate how truly difficult it is to do what they do. I’m completely impressed by what these guys have done,” Jeffery Hangst, spokesperson of a different antimatter experiment hooked up to the Antiproton Decelerator called ALPHA, told Gizmodo. “This is really a work of art, this one.”

Everyone is excited about the measurement, but you’re right in thinking that we still don’t know why there’s so much more matter than antimatter. And physicists are using lots of experiments to measure the fabric of the Universe to find an answer. Whoever does find an answer will probably win a Nobel prize. And all that these guys can really do is continue to look and refine their experiments, hoping to find some anomaly.

Ulmer said: “We now have ideas to improve this measurement by a factor of 100”

[Nature via CERN]

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Earth is having its second-warmest year to date, and it’s not over yet

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Planet Earth has had its second-warmest year so far, and in the end, 2017 may wind up being the third-warmest year on record, ranking just behind behind 2016 and 2015. This year is also headed for the warmest year to occur without any El Niño or La Niña event in the tropical Pacific Ocean.

El Niño and La Niña events influence global average surface temperatures. El Niño in particular is well-known to boost global average temperatures on top of the long-term warming due to human emissions of greenhouse gases. This is what helped vault 2015 and 2016 to the top of the record warm years list, and this year’s lack of an El Niño event could keep 2017 at number three. 

New data released on Wednesday shows that the first nine months of the year ranked just 0.23 degrees Fahrenheit behind the record warmth seen in 2016. However, the same period only exceeded 2015 by 0.02 degrees Fahrenheit, and 1998 by 0.34 degrees Fahrenheit, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

The month of September was the fourth-warmest such month for the globe on record, according to both NOAA and NASA. 

January to September average temperatures between 1880 and 2017, showing the increasing trend.

January to September average temperatures between 1880 and 2017, showing the increasing trend.

The warmth in 2017 continues the trend of increasing global average surface temperatures that has accelerated in recent years, due to a combination of the emissions of greenhouse gases, such as carbon dioxide and methane, along with natural climate variability. 

The 10 warmest Septembers have occurred since 2003, according to the National Centers for Environmental Information (NCEI) in Asheville, North Carolina. In a report, NCEI scientists found that September 2017 marked the 41st straight September, and 393rd straight month with temperatures “at least nominally above the 20th century average.”

The last cooler-than-average month on Earth occurred in December of 1984, the same year that Steve Jobs introduced the first Macintosh computer.

Further driving home the point that the climate is headed further into record territory, the report found that nine of the 10 warmest January through September periods have occurred since 2005, with just one of the 10 warmest such periods occurring during the 20th century.

A weak La Niña event that may develop in the next three months could cause slightly lower global average temperatures toward the end of the year. This should help 2017 slide into the number three slot on the list of warmest years since modern record-keeping began in 1880.

Year-to-date global average temperatures compared to other warmest years.

Year-to-date global average temperatures compared to other warmest years.

In the Arctic, cooler and cloudier than average weather patterns during the summer melt season helped keep loss of sea ice to a relatively insignificant level. 

On Sept. 13, Arctic sea ice reached its annual minimum extent, at 1.79 million square miles, which was the eighth-smallest minimum extent in the satellite data record. This was the largest amount of sea ice remaining at the end of the summer melt season since 2014, but was still more than 400,000 square miles below the long-term average. 

Arctic sea ice is rapidly declining because of increasing temperatures in the Arctic, and feedback loops inherent in the climate of the Far North that ensure the region is experiencing about twice the rate of global warming as the rest of the world. 

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One small step for man, one beautiful table for mankind

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apollo_11_table_1

Our fascination with the cosmos is far from ending… We saw the Mars Chair just hours back and now we look at undeniably the most interesting looking table we’ve seen in years! The Apollo 11 table is a stunningly detailed replica of the moon, but more specifically, it’s the point on the moon that humans made first contact with! That’s right. Sculpted in fiberglass with details so precise, they will make your jaw drop, the Apollo 11 table showcases the crater on which the Apollo 11 landed in 1969, marking man’s first steps on the moon, and also America’s successful attempt at getting ahead of the Soviet powers in the Space Race!

The Apollo 11 table takes attention to detail to the max. Using actual digital files from NASA’s archives, Harow manages to sculpt them into fiberglass following multiple thick coats of transparent resin, that become the invisible slab above the moon’s surface. This also allows for some incredible light-play against the moon’s sculpted surface.

What pleases me is even the fact that the legs of the table extend the story and inspiration for the table. Designed to look like the legs of the LEM landing pod, the feet of the table come machined in a brass aluminum alloy and make for a great design detail to an already marvelous looking table!

Designer: Harow

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Scientists Just Found the Perfect Spot to Build an Underground Colony on the Moon

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The Marius Hills Skylight, as observed by the Japanese SELENE/Kaguya research team. (Image: NASA/Goddard/Arizona State University)

For years, scientists have wondered if dark, crater-like features on the lunar surface might be entrances to giant caverns carved long ago by flowing lava. Researchers from Japan and the United States have uncovered new evidence to prove that these features actually exist—which is good news for future lunar colonists looking for a convenient and safe place to live.

New research published in Geophysical Research Letters shows that several pits located near the Marius Hill region of the Moon are large open lava tubes, and that these ancient caverns have the potential to offer, in the words of the researchers, a “pristine environment to conduct scientific examination of the Moon’s composition and potentially serve as secure shelters for humans and instruments.” The team, which included scientists from NASA and Japan’s space agency, JAXA, combined radar and gravity data to make the finding.

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No doubt, these caverns would be perfect for aspiring lunar colonists. Inside these large holes, humans would be protected from the Sun’s dangerous rays, and other hazards. The Moon has no atmosphere to speak of, so these “instant” shelters would be extremely advantageous.

Our future home? A view of the eastern Marius Hills, with the Marius crater at top right. (Image: NASA/Lunar Orbiter 2)

For years, scientists have suspected that these lunar features were lava tubes—naturally occurring channels that form when lava turns into a hard crust. Millions of years ago, when the Moon experienced volcanic activity, flowing lava carved the surface, and when these channels drained, they oftentimes left a hollow void behind. Previous research showed that these caverns, should they exist, would be stable enough for subterranean lunar bases.

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JAXA scientists analyzed radar data from the SELENE spacecraft, which was designed to study the origins of the Moon and its geological history. As this new study shows, this instrument is also good for detecting lunar lava tubes, which it does by bouncing radar off the lunar surface. By peppering the entrances to these suspected caverns with radar bursts, the scientists were able to detect a distinctive echo pattern, where a decrease in echo power was followed by a second large echo peak. This pattern was the smoking gun, signifying the presence of a floor and a ceiling of a lava tube. Because the scientists found several similar echo patterns at locations nearby, there may be more than one lava tube.

And it just so happens that this area corresponds to locations where NASA, through its GRAIL mission, was able to identify mass deficits—that is, locations on the lunar surface where mass appears to be reduced or missing, which GRAIL detects as slightly less gravity.

Philadelphia is shown inside a theoretical lunar lava tube. (Image: Purdue University/David Blair)

By combining the SELENE and GRAIL data, the team was able to not just prove the presence of a lava hole, but also the depth and height of the cavity. And it’s big—extending for several kilometers in length, and at least one kilometer in height and width.

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Quite suddenly, the Moon seems like a more welcoming place. It’s time for us to go back.

[Geophysical Research Letters]

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