A Roundup of New Events in SpaceRead More
Space has featured several times in the headlines recently. With the asteroid that crashed in Russia and the news from Mars, we thought it might be time for a recap.
Last week’s meteoroid
Through the use of amateur videos, astronomers have been able to retrace the trajectory of the meteoroid that caused mayhem in Russia last week. Its orbit has identified that it came from the Apollo family of near-Earth asteroids. This family of asteroids is known to have an orbit that can cross the Earth’s. Theoretically, being able to trace meteoride orbits means forewarning of possible collisions. However, in practice this is not so simple.
An orbital overlap such as that seen last week is a rare event and is rarely cause for concern. Additionally, prediciting meteoroid orbits is not a simple task. Frequent sightings are required to plot an orbit; telescopes do not necessarily spot asteroids and other potential threats.
Another part of space has also been interesting scientists recently. On Mars, Curiosity may have detected perchlorate. The presence of life on Mars has been a matter of a debate since the Viking mission. In the 1970s, two probes, Viking 1 and 2 may have detected life while on Mars. However, the scientists who worked on these projects have disagreed on whether this is true or not ever since. The official version of the events states that life was not detected. The discovery of perchlorate by Curiosity may be able to put an end to this disagreement. Due to the longstanding disagreement, a sample would likely need to be brought back to Earth to settle things definitively. If Curiosity really has found perchlorate, a chemical that destroys organic matter, then a new review of the Viking mission’s data may be required. It is ironic that a malfunction in Curiosity’s equipment may resolve such a longstanding debate.
Continuing on the topic of Mars, there is a press conference scheduled for 6pm GMT this evening. A former NASA employee and other high profile businessmen will be taking to the press. The information available so far leads to speculation that a human mission to Mars may be on the cards. While we will need to wait until tonight to know if this is the case or not, whether or not such a mission is valuable will remain hotly debated. Do we need to send humans on a mission that will take over one year to complete when we can send robots. An answer of sorts is expected tonight.
An update on yesterday’s press conference
How Silicon Valley will make superstars of scientistsRead More
What would you expect to get if people from Google, Facebook and Apple came together for a grand and expensive projects? Well for the cynics answering “lawsuits” the actual response is a much more exciting and progressive one. Introducing the Breakthrough Prize in Life Sciences, a $3 million dollar each prize to reward research into curing diseases and extending life, totalling $33 million across 11 winners.
Led by Russian philanthropist and entrepreneur Yuri Milner, the awards are similar to last year’s physics-focused awards, which Milner also inaugurated. This time though he enlists two of the brightest and most influential men in all of technology, Google co-founder Sergey Brin and the hoodie-clad billionaire in need of no introduction, Facebook’s own Mark Zuckerberg, along with wife Priscilla Chan, a medicine graduate. Add into the mix Anne Wojcicki, founder of genetics company 23andMe, also the wife of Brin, and chairman of Apple, Arthur Levinson, himself fomer CEO of biotech company Genetech, and you’ve something of a dream team for life sciences and public engagement. Milner states “Young people will hopefully get the message that not only the careers in sports or entertainment can get a public recognition.”
“Priscilla and I are honored to be part of this,” said Mark Zuckerberg. “We believe the Breakthrough Prize in Life Sciences has the potential to provide a platform for other models of philanthropy, so people everywhere have an opportunity at a better future.”
Under the pattern of the now-annual awards, these winners will form part of a panel to choose the next set. The award can be won more than once and, unlike the Nobel’s limit of 3, can be awarded to as many collaborators as necessary.
For life sciences the effect of the award could be tremendous, it’s already suggested that the industry could see the same upturn in profitability and desirability that the computer science industry did. A spirit of freeform innovation, heavily publicized and incredibly-well backed financially. Perhaps the first of a new breed of life sciences superstar will find himself echoing Milner’s words, himself saying – “I think we will see some sort of merger between the people with the engineering skills and the people with the life sciences skills”. While life sciences is by no means a struggling industry, if afforded the same momentum and creativity as the early world wide web, by attracting the most innovative and ambitious graduates, the potential for real world progress is almost immeasurable.
On a personal level, working in the arena of digital marketing, it’s heartening to see the giants of the internet age extend such large philanthropic gestures in a way that will see massive positive media coverage. The charitable contributions of these individuals such as Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, Sergey Brin and organisations such as Google are often overlooked in a field dominated by stories of privacy intrusions or backhanded tactics. It’s important that these huge megaliths of the internet landscape can feed back in a positive momentum for improvement and betterment, and through this award no-one can doubt the philanthropic sincerity behind some of these major players in the industry.
In many cases there can be little doubt that Facebook, Google and Apple hold more power over the day to day lives of the average person than any other trio of companies – but that’s something to celebrate, not fear, if that power is used as constructively as this.
Here’s a detailed list of the winners
1 Cornelia I Bargmann
Torsten N Wiesel professor and head of the Lulu and Anthony Wang Laboratory of Neural Circuits and Behaviour at the Rockefeller University. Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator.
For the genetics of neural circuits and behavior, and synaptic guidepost molecules.
2 David Botstein
Director and Anthony B Evnin professor of genomics. Lewis-Sigler Institute for Integrative Genomics at Princeton University.
For linkage mapping of Mendelian disease in humans using DNA polymorphisms.
3 Lewis C Cantley
Margaret and Herman Sokol professor and director of the cancer centre at Weill Cornell Medical College and New York-Presbyterian hospital.
For the discovery of PI 3-Kinase and its role in cancer metabolism.
4 Hans Clevers
Professor of molecular genetics at Hubrecht Institute.
For describing the role of Wnt signalling in tissue stem cells and cancer.
5 Titia de Lange
Leon Hess professor, head of the Laboratory of Cell Biology and Genetics, and director of the Anderson Centeer for Cancer Research at Rockefeller University.
For research on telomeres, illuminating how they protect chromosome ends and their role in genome instability in cancer.
6 Napoleone Ferrara
Distinguished professor of pathology and senior deputy director for basic sciences at Moores Cancer Centre at the University of California, San Diego.
For discoveries in the mechanisms of angiogenesis that led to therapies for cancer and eye diseases.
7 Eric S Lander
President and founding director of the Eli and Edythe L Broad Institute of Harvard and MIT. Professor of biology at MIT. Professor of systems biology at Harvard Medical School.
For the discovery of general principles for identifying human disease genes, and enabling their application to medicine through the creation and analysis of genetic, physical and sequence maps of the human genome
8 Charles L Sawyers
Chair, human oncology and pathogenesis programme at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Centre. Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator.
For cancer genes and targeted therapy.
9 Bert Vogelstein
Director of the Ludwig Center and Clayton Professor of Oncology and Pathology at the Johns Hopkins Sidney Kimmel Comprehensive Cancer Center. Howard Hughes Medical Institute Investigator.
For cancer genomics and tumor suppressor genes.
10 Robert A Weinberg
Daniel K Ludwig professor for cancer research at MIT and director of the MIT/Ludwig Centre for Molecular Oncology. Member, Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research
For characterisation of human cancer genes.
11 Shinya Yamanaka
Director of the Centre for iPS Cell Research and Application, Kyoto University. Senior investigator and the LK Whittier Foundation investigator in stem cell biology at the Gladstone Institutes. Professor of anatomy at the University of California, San Francisco,
Meteors, Myself and IsonRead More
This morning I woke up, as I suspect many of us did, to the extraordinary videos of a meteorite impact in Russia. As a topic that never goes far beyond Hollywood or a handful of tin-hat wearing conspiracy theorists it seemed bizarre to see ordinary people, in their average uneventful days confronted by a streaking fire ball across the sky.
In case all this news had you tied up about asteroid nomenclature here’s a handy diagram. Which neatly covers the meteor vs meteorite distinction.
So now meteorites have wrestled away our attention, let’s have a look at their story through the ages.
Brought life to Earth
We owe the humble meteorite far more credit than it gets, as interstellar transmission of organics may just be what spawned life on our previously barren planet.
What a meteorite can give, a meteorite can take away and after spawning all life on Earth the next meteorite on this list killed off a large chunk of it and finished, with aplomb, the extinction of the dinosaurs. What was bad news for the dinosaurs turned out to be an open door for mammals, as the very distant ancestors of modern day animals took centre stage. The meteorite left a 180km crater, in modern Mexico, so immeasurably huge that no-one picked up on it until 1980.
Skip forward 60-odd million years and a fair few asteroid impacts, mostly creating the obligatory crater or so we assumed, and in 1908 we saw a new pattern of destruction in the shape of a meteor over Russia. The 50 meter meteor exploded in mid air over the Siberian forest levelling over 2000 square km of trees.
By 2000, our desperation to hand everything over to computers got the better of us and an Australian man named Michael Paine drew up a computer projection for potential asteroid impacts. The alarming stats produced suggested that every 90 years one asteroid will kill on average 120,00 people, unless it created a tsunami which could kill up to 470,000. These frightening stats added to the already scary 1994 Shoemaker-Levy asteroid smashing into Jupiter, creating devastation on a scale greater than Earth itself and led to a great increase in the fear of meteorite impacts.
Still, it probably wasn’t top of your mind until this morning and the alien scenes of a meteorite impact in Chelyabinsk in Russia. Thankfully no-one was fatally hurt by the impact (at the time of writing) but almost 1000 people have been injured, mostly from windows shattering.
Here a couple of videos of the event.
Those videos showcase a once in a lifetime sight, though anyone with a telescope or a good pair of binoculars can catch a glimpse of an asteroid for themself tonight in a far less terrifying environment. The asteroid, which is completely unrelated to the Russian impact is the 15 storey high 2012DA14. Astronomer, Neil deGrasse Tyson, cheerily notes, that while it won’t hit the Earth on this pass-by, when it inevitably does it will likely detonate in the atmosphere with 1000x the force of the Hiroshima atomic bomb.
Panstarrs & Ison
Later in the year we’ll be treated to two incredibly bright comets that may outshine the moon on some nights. Here’s a link to an astronomer’s very promising projections.
Looking out for your rock
These events remind me that more than just being the digital guy at a global marketing agency sat at my desk in Manchester, I’m a digital guy sat on a huge chunk of rock travelling through an infinite void full of an uncountable number of other rocks. Luckily for our special chunk of rock though we’ve got the intelligence and ingenuity of the best of those 60 odd million years’ evolution since the dinosaurs making sure we’re not dealt the same bad hand as the dinosaurs, or at least we will know well in advance.
February 7th, a day of milestones – not least for Notch!Read More
It’s a special day at Notch, the second anniversary of Notch entering the bustling arena of Manchester marketing agencies. It’s our second birthday! We’re delighted to be sharing the day with a few other poignant events in history.
February 7th is a huge day for our fellow brit, Ellen MacCarthur who completed thefastest ever round the world voyage, clocking in at the record-breaking time of 71 days and 15 hours.
It also stands as perhaps the most important day in the political calendar of a continental Europe as the same date in 1945, 1990 and 1992 shaped the future of the continent. Firstly February 7th 1945 marked the date of one of the days of a secret meeting between wartime leaders Stalin, Churchill and Roosevelt at Yalta, in the Crimea. The division of Europe as initially proposed at this conference defined the course of the continent until Feburary 7th 1990 when the Communist party in USSR accepted opposition parties for the first time, a hugely important turning point in the fall of the Soviet Union. Two years later and once again a gathering of the eminent leaders of the day lead to the signing of the Treaty of Maastricht, laying the groundwork for the European Union.
The 7th of February isn’t limited in importance to terrestrial activity, it also marks the date of the first human flying in space, using a gas-powered jet-pack to maneouvre around, before returning to his space shuttle, Challenger.
So there you have it, it’s a big day for many people beyond us, nevertheless:
Happy Birthday Notch!
Come and share a virtual glass of champagne with me on Twitter, @mattatnotch or send a birthday wish to @notchcom.