Electricity Directly Into Thrust

 

This past autumn, a professor at Wuhan University named Jau Tang was hard at work piecing together a thruster prototype that, at first, sounds too good to be true.

The basic idea, he said in an interview, is that his device turns electricity directly into thrust — no fossil fuels required — by using microwaves to energize compressed air into a plasma state and shooting it out like a jet. Tang suggested, without a hint of self-aggrandizement, that it could likely be scaled up enough to fly large commercial passenger planes. Eventually, he says, it might even power spaceships.

Needless to say, these are grandiose claims. A thruster that doesn’t require tanks of fuel sounds suspiciously like science fiction — like the jets on Iron Man’s suit in the Marvel movies, for instance, or the thrusters that allow Doc Brown’s DeLorean to fly in “Back to the Future.”

But in Tang’s telling, his invention — let’s just call it a Tang Jet, which he worked on with Wuhan University collaborators Dan Ye and Jun Li — could have civilization-shifting potential here in the non-fictional world.

“Essentially, the goal of this technology is to try and use electricity and air to replace gasoline,” he said. “Global warming is a major threat to human civilization. Fossil fuel-free technology using microwave air plasma could be a solution.”

He anticipates this happening fast. In two years, he says, he thinks Tang Jets could power drones. In a decade, he’d like to see them fly a whole airplane.

That would all be awesome, obviously. But it’s difficult to evaluate whether Tang’s invention could ever scale up enough to become practical. And even if it did, there would be substantial energy requirements that could doom aerospace applications.

One thing’s for sure: If the tech works the way he hopes, the world will never be the same.

Tang’s curriculum vitae flits between a dazzling array of strikingly disparate academic topics, from 4D electron microscopy to quantum dot lasers, nanotechnology, artificial photosynthesis, and, of course, phase transitions and plasmonics.

He’s held several professorships, done research at Caltech and Bell Laboratories, published scores of widely-cited papers, edited several scientific journals, and won a variety of awards. He holds a U.S. patent for a device he calls a “synchrotron shutter,” designed to capture electrons traveling near the speed of light.

Tang says he first stumbled onto the idea for the plasma thruster when he was trying to create synthetic diamonds. As he tried to grow them using microwaves, he recalls, he started to wonder whether the same technology could be used to produce thrust.

Other huge stories, like the coronavirus pandemic and the baffling saga of Elon Musk naming his baby “X Æ A-12,” were sucking a lot of oxygen out of the news cycle in early May, when Tang announced his invention to the world. A few outlets picked up Tang’s story, including New Atlas, Popular Mechanics, and Ars Technica, but no journalist appears to have actually talked to him.

Because of that, there was little fanfare surrounding the sheer scope of his ambition for the technology — and it went overlooked that Tang sometimes sounds as though he’s invented a hammer and is now seeing a lot of things as nails.

After describing his plans to conquer aerospace with his new thruster, for instance, he starts to describe plans to take on the automotive industry as well — with jet-powered electric cars.

“I think the jet engine is more efficient than the electric motor, you can drive a car at much faster speeds,” he mused. “That’s what I have in mind: to combine the plasma jet engine with a turbine to drive a car.”

But you wouldn’t want to drive behind it, he warned, because you could be scorched by its fiery jet stream.

Over the course of our interview, Tang also brought up the possibilities of using the technology to build projectile weapons, launch spaceships, power boats, and even create a new type of stove for cooking. On that last point, Tang said that he’s already built a prototype kitchen stove powered by a microwave air plasma torch — but it’s so deafeningly loud that it sounds like a constant lightning strike.

Technically, the Tang Jet is an attempt to build a “plasma thruster,” a concept that’s periodically gained attention in scientific circles. Michael Heil, a retired aerospace and propulsion engineer with a long career of Air Force and NASA research, told Futurism that Tang’s research reminds him of several other attempts to build air propulsion tech that he’s encountered over the years.

Plasma thrusters like those that would power a Tang Jet have been around for a while. NASA first launched a satellite equipped with plasma thrusters back in 2006, but its capabilities are a far cry from what Tang is proposing with his research.

Engineers have long dreamed of a plasma jet-powered plane, but every attempt has been smacked down by the technological limitations of the day. For example, New Scientist reported in 2017 that a team from the Technical University of Berlin attempted to build a similar thruster — but like every attempt over the previous decade, their work never became useful outside of the lab.

The problems with these attempts aren’t so much faults with the theory — the concept of generating thrust with a plasma torch is fairly sound. Rather, issues begin to pop up when working out the logistics of building a vehicle that actually works.

Tang has little interest in commercializing the jet himself. Instead, he wants to demonstrate its merits in hopes that well-funded government leaders or titans of industry will be inspired to take the ideas and run with them.

“The steps toward realization of a full plasma jet engine would cost lots of money, time and energy,” he said. “Such investment is beyond our present resources. Such tasks should be taken by aerospace industries or governmental agencies.”

That’s a common mindset for scientists, said Christopher Combs, an aerodynamics researcher at the University of Texas at San Antonio.

“That’s what us academics do, we figure out the physics and say ‘Well I don’t want to make a product,’” he told Futurism. “It’s kind of a common refrain to see people in academia who have had something that gets a lot of attention.”

Though he’s intrigued by the underlying principles of the Tang Jet, Combs says it’s unlikely that it will scale up to the size needed to lift a plane — in other words, the same challenges that proved insurmountable to previous plasma thrusters will rear their heads once again. The current prototype, for perspective, only produces about 10 Newtons of thrust — about the same as a medium-sized model rocket.

“You’re talking about scaling something by five orders of magnitude — more than 100,000 times!” Combs said. “Which almost never works linearly. Lots of engineering happens in the middle.”

And even if it were to scale perfectly, there’s the issue of power. Iron Man’s suit was powered by an “Arc Reactor,” and the flying DeLorean was powered by a “Mr. Fusion” unit that turned household trash into more than a gigawatt of power — both of which, unfortunately, are fictional.

Fossil fuels store vastly more energy by weight than batteries, and that’s unlikely to change any time soon. And that’s too bad, because the Tang Jet needs a whole lot of power.

According to a paper Tang and his collaborators published about the thruster prototype in the journal AIP Advances in May, the technology produces about 28 Newtons of thrust per kilowatt of power. The engines on the Airbus A320, a common commercial jet, produce about 220,000 Newtons of thrust combined, meaning that a comparably-sized jet plane powered by Tang Jets would require more than 7,800 kilowatts.

For perspective, that would mean loading an aircraft up with more than 570 Tesla Powerwall 2 units for a single hour of flight — an impractical load, especially because the A320’s payload could only carry about 130 of the giant battery units. Long story short, no existing battery tech could provide enough juice.

“Does this thing just become a flying Tesla battery?” Combs said. “With the weight of these batteries, you don’t have room for anything else.”

The battery weight issue doesn’t doom the Tang Jet, but it pushes options for its power source into the fringe. Tang is banking on improvements to battery technology over the next years and decades; those Technical University of Berlin researchers speculated about nuclear fusion. Unfortunately, any possible answers could be decades away or impossible.

It is worth noting that there exist compact nuclear fission reactors, like Russia’s KLT-40S, that produce enough power and weigh little enough that they could fit in a passenger plane or rocket.

But the safety and environmental implications of nuclear-powered aircraft are grim, and Heil was quick to point out that generating enough power isn’t the only problem facing a Tang Jet. Actually getting the electricity from the power source to the thrusters would pose its own difficulties, perhaps requiring superconducting materials that don’t exist yet.

“You need power to generate thrust. And how do you move that power around on the aircraft?” Heil said. “Moving and controlling megawatts from the reactor to the jet is a huge challenge. You have to use big thick copper wires, that adds a lot of weight.”

Overall, both Combs and Heil questioned the feasibility of a practical Tang Jet based on the technology we have today. Without a quick fix to the energy problem, it’s certainly a tall order.

But both said they were fascinated by the research and hoped to see future progress. They also pointed out that a plasma thruster could be useful for pushing satellites or spacecraft that are already in orbit — though at that point it would need to bring propellant with it rather than using atmospheric air, since there’d be none in the vacuum of space.

The bottom line, Heil and Combs agreed, is that we won’t have a firmer grasp of the future of the tech until Tang’s colleagues have evaluated and experimented with it.

“I’m rooting for this, and I’d love to see it pan out,” Combs said. “But the scientist in me has some questions and some concerns.”

More on Tang’s plasma jets: Scientists Create Jet Engine Powered by Only Electricity

New idea to Defeat the Coronavirus

 

In order to find new treatments for COVID-19, scientists are probing how the coronavirus alters human cells when it infects and hijacks them.

Medical virologists at the Frankfurt University hospital have been culturing cells of SARS-CoV-2 since February, learning as much as they could about how it affects them, according to a Goethe University Frankfurt press release. Now, they’ve identified a number of compounds — available in existing drugs including the metabolism-inhibiting cancer medication WP1122 — that seem to stop the coronavirus from reproducing inside a host.

The team’s findings were published Thursday in the journal Nature. With those in hand, pharmaceutical companies are already launching clinical trials in a bid to develop new pharmaceuticals that could block the deadly virus.

Some viruses force cells to dedicate all their resources to churning out copies of the virus, but the virologists found that SARS-CoV-2 takes a less extreme approach. Instead of taking over all protein production within the cell, it increases the amount of proteins the cell synthesizes and helps itself to the surplus.

As a result, the team found that they could stop viral reproduction by taking away the building blocks of proteins, and found a number of compounds that did the trick.

“The successful use of substances that are components of already approved drugs to combat SARS-CoV-2 is a great opportunity in the fight against the virus,” lead author and Frankfurt virologist Jindrich Cinatl said in the release. “These substances are already well characterized, and we know how they are tolerated by patients. This is why there is currently a global search for these types of substances. In the race against time, our work can now make an important contribution as to which directions promise the fastest success.”

Detects Ancient Life … in Australia

 

Test Run

In order to make sure it was ready to hunt for extraterrestrial life on Mars, scientists put NASA’s new Perseverance rover through its paces using samples from the next best thing: Australia’s deserts.

When it launches to Mars in July, Perseverance will go on the hunt for signs of ancient, microbial life. Now, new research provides a promising sign that its tech is up to the task: while analyzing samples from Australia’s Flinders Ranges, the rover was able to find physical fossils and signs of microbes from hundreds of millions of years ago.

Historic Reconstruction

After finding traces of ancient life, researchers were able to use data collected by Perseverance to make an educated guess about what environmental conditions they lived in. Their work, published in March in the journal Astrobiology, could help steer future astrobiological research into other worlds’ ancient history.

“What is interesting is that we did find signs of ancient microbial life from the Cambrian period — which is when animals first evolved on earth,” University of New South Wales astrobiologist Bonnie Teece said in a press release. “We found biomarkers, we found organic compounds and we found physical fossils and minerals that are associated with biology on Earth.”

Dry Run

Teece argues that the Flinders Ranges makes a reasonable analog for Mars because of the dry, dusty, and wind-swept terrain, as well as the fact that fossils could be degraded by the same sorts of heat and pressure there and on Mars.

“We wanted to use the same techniques that are on the Rover to pinpoint the best areas for looking for life and show that these techniques work together well,” Teece said in the release.

Editor’s note 5/5/2020: This article has been updated to clarify that Perseverance analyzed samples from Flinders Ranges but wasn’t brought there itself.

READ MORE: Astrobiologists put Mars Rover life-detecting equipment to the test [University of New South Wales]
More on Perseverance: NASA’s New Mars Rover Still Launching in July Despite Coronavirus

How Big Space Really Is

 

Zooming Out

A new website called “The Size of Space” illustrates how incomprehensibly vast the cosmos are.

As you scroll to the side, the site takes you on a journey from the size of an astronaut all the way up to the entire observable universe. As the scale ramps up, from spacecraft to moons to planets and onward, the smaller objects become tiny dots before vanishing altogether.

Close Up

Neal Agarwal, the coder behind The Size of Space who’s also built pages like “Grandpa’s Art Show” and “Share This Page,” used some of the best visualizations for each of the objects — a rotating Earth based on satellite imagery, for example.

That means that most of the black holes are simply hand-drawn circles mixed in among the colorful images of distant galaxies and supernovas. Except, that is, for the giant black hole M87*, which was imaged earlier this year.

More on space visualizations: NASA’s New Black Hole Simulation Will Completely Melt Your Brain

Caterpillars on the Moon

 

Space Prospector

Iconic construction vehicle company Caterpillar is working with NASA to build machines that could excavate and mine the lunar surface.

The goal is to determine whether it makes sense to send autonomous or remote-controlled construction equipment to the Moon, according to CNBC, to gather rocks, dust, and water that NASA could use as raw materials for its planned lunar outpost.

Self-Driving Shovel

NASA and Caterpillar have long collaborated on robotics projects, CNBC reports. But it’s the company’s autonomous capabilities — unusual for the construction vehicle market — that make it a standout candidate to build lunar infrastructure.

“There are many synergies between what NASA needs to meet exploration goals and Caterpillar technologies used every day on Earth,” NASA spokesperson Clare Skelly told CNBC.

Hazardous Workplace

Though Caterpillar’s resource industries division president, Denise Johnson, wouldn’t confirm any tangible lunar mission plans to CNBC, the idea of using at least semi-autonomous vehicles on the Moon is to cut down on how much dangerous construction work astronauts would have to do themselves.

“Customers are finding it difficult to operate in those remote locations, getting personnel in and out in a consistent way, which drives the value proposition,” Johnson told CNBC, specifically referring to using autonomous tech in hazardous areas on Earth. “The application of the technology becomes a necessity to make it work from a value-add perspective.”

READ MORE: Caterpillar’s autonomous vehicles may be used by NASA to mine the moon and build a lunar base [CNBC]
More on the Moon: NASA’s Plan for a Lunar Outpost Just Leaked

Livestreaming Human Autopsies

 

A bloody online video shows a doctor slicing into a human cadaver’s scalp, peeling back the skin, cutting open the skull with a brutally whining saw, and removing its brain. He holds the brain up for the camera to see, all the while explaining the process to a live online audience.

The cadaver’s face was covered by a towel, so by the end of the stream all the audience could see was a closeup of the inside of a skull that was so empty it no longer seemed like part of a human. The Twitch-style comments section was teeming with viewers sharing thoughts and questions.

“Nice trick to do that with the cut,” said one as the doctor sliced away.

The archived recording of a January 2019 livestream was posted to the website Autopsy.Online, a gruesome educational project run by the Autopsy Center of Chicago. The center was founded by autopsy pathologist Ben Margolis, the doctor who performed the brain removal.

Margolis offers clients — usually family members of the deceased who want answers or closure — the distinctly 21-century option to have their loved ones’ autopsies recorded or broadcast live. And many, he says, are taking him up on the offer.

Livestreaming the process of cutting into and dissecting a dead body may sound grisly or voyeuristic — almost like a snuff film or the unsettling wave of pimple-popping videos that flooded the internet a few years ago. But Margolis, who’s also an accomplished orchestral musician and improv performer, sees his services as an empowering tool for families of the recently deceased. Not only to provide useful information in the face of a tragic event, but also to help them come to terms with their loss.

“Families come to us for closure, for grief, to find out what happened,” Margolis told Futurism.

Margolis founded the Autopsy Center of Chicago in 2010. Archiving autopsies through photographs or video recordings is a common practice — there are years of gory videos (you’ve been warned!) on YouTube. But it wasn’t until January 2017 that Margolis performed his first live broadcast, strapping a GoPro camera to his head and giving viewers a first-person vantage point on the procedure as he explained each step on Facebook Live.

“Other autopsy videos basically plant a camera a few feet away from the case and it’s sort of a still perspective,” Margolis told Futurism, “and the person’s working away — you don’t know where to look.”

Margolis says that more immersive approach isn’t just a good sell to current or future doctors, but also more comprehensive for the casual, science-curious viewer, though sometimes he does use a stationary camera instead.

“Here it’s really directed,” he said. “You know the ‘Blair Witch Project’ — that live video — it’s kind of like you’re in it.”

While the livestreams are an engaging project, Margolis puts even more effort into his edited videos, which he turns into educational resources. To get the Autopsy Center of Chicago videos out there, Margolis created an app and is still building out his Autopsy.Online platform, which is full of annotated autopsy recordings.

Margolis’ ultimate goal is to complete a virtual “body map” where viewers can click on a body part and watch a video clip of that particular organ being removed and examined — a resource he says is particularly valuable for students who don’t have hands-on access to cadavers.

The platform also has a separate page for livestreams, parts of which are later edited into the shorter clips. Prior to launching his own app and platform, Margolis streamed on Facebook, which meant his audience was much larger and broader than the people who now pay for his content.

When it comes to the comments that pop up on his livestreams, Margolis says they’re largely positive. Sometimes, trolls will mock people for asking questions about what they’re seeing or share gross, occasionally sexually-explicit thoughts. But most people engage with the material in a constructive way.

“It’s not macabre, it’s the human body,” Margolis said. “We all have one, and it’s interesting.”

Most jarring for some viewers, Margolis told Futurism, is coming to terms with the fact that they’re looking at a dead body that was once a living person with thoughts and feelings. On one stream, Margolis was removing a cadaver’s brain when someone commented “Is that person dead?”

“That’s part of it: how do you talk about death? I’ve made an effort to be sensitive,” Margolis said, explaining that he’s banned people for making fun of others who asked questions, even if the answer seems obvious to some. “If you’re asking a question, there’s no issue. How wonderful that you can ask! If you’re ready to know what dead is, then teach. Help someone know, build a positive attitude.”

But the community response raises an important issue: how do you respect the deceased and their relatives while also putting meaningful content out there? Margolis says once he had 1 million people watching a livestream on Facebook at once — a lot of eyes casually observing the cut-open body of someone’s dead family member.

“The primary concerns with livestreaming autopsies are making sure that you are respecting the wishes and the privacy of the decedent and his or her family,” Baylor College of Medicine bioethicist Amy McGuire told Futurism, “and that you are treating the body with respect.”

Other bioethicists shared similar concerns — especially in regards to respecting the privacy of the deceased and their family members.

“It seems like a lot would depend on the purpose of the autopsy and whether the identity of the subject was going to be disclosed,” Mark Aulisio, chair of the bioethics department at Case Western Reserve University, told Futurism. Margolis keeps the names and identifiable characteristics of corpses under wraps. “If identifying information is not going to be disclosed, then professional and respectful comportment would be the main issue of concern,” Aulisio said.

Margolis takes pains to preserve the anonymity of cadavers. Before he begins recording, he covers up the deceased’s face in addition to any identifiable markings like tattoos or body tags. He also never discloses the person’s age or other personal details.

“We need to set it up in a way that’s ethical and empowers the family,” Margolis told Futurism.

McGuire saw those anonymizing steps as a positive sign, but also noted that as an ethicist she would want to make sure people were only using the videos for educational purposes.

New York University bioethicist Brendan Parent was most concerned about how clients are being approached about livestreaming or recording.

“Autopsy usually happens when we are suspicious about cause of death, which often involves private or sensitive life stories,” Parent told Futurism. “Even though this group is taking measures to prevent display of identifiable features and getting consent from family members, it’s unlikely any of the people whose bodies are being used conceived of this possible post-mortem state.”

Parent noted that Margolis’ practice is working on setting up a way for people to donate their bodies as part of their wills — similarly to how medical schools acquire cadavers to use as educational tools — saying that that would be a step in the right direction.

Margolis told Futurism that he spends upwards of an hour getting to know family members who approach him for autopsies before he considers bringing up the possibility of a video recording or livestream. In his consent forms, there are separate boxes asking for permission to take photos, video recordings, livestreams, or allow students into the room. If a client hesitates or seems uncomfortable after Margolis brings up the option to record to stream the autopsy, he says that he immediately backs down.

Even then, Margolis won’t bring up videos or streams at all if the deceased is a child or if the case involves an active criminal investigation, like for a suspected homicide.

But for those who agree to have their loved one’s autopsy recorded or streamed, Margolis says he sees the gesture as a gift and a way to build a legacy, akin to donating an organ or donating one’s body to science.

“What happens in the hospital is they get cut off, they get cut off from their relationships. If there’s some way to give life to that world again, to participate, it makes such a difference,” Margolis said. “It’s like organ donation, they want their loved ones to live on, to make a difference. Anything for the death not to be in vain is wonderful for them.”

He’s done cases where the autopsy reveals genetic medical conditions or helps determine whether living relatives might inherit conditions like Alzheimer’s. Armed with that information, those people can then go on to ask better questions and more effectively advocate for themselves when navigating the healthcare system.

“Autopsy is always for the living,” Margolis said.

The End of The World as we know it

 

Growing Divide

As jobs are automated out of existence, the division between the very wealthy and the very poor will grow — and any notion of a comfortable middle class will vanish.
That’s according to Roey Tzezana, a future studies researcher at Israel’s Tel Aviv University, according to Haaretz. That stands in contrast to the common argument that new jobs will emerge as others vanish, painting a grim picture for the workforce and global economy.

Survival Wages

Tzezana argues that the jobs that tend to survive automation are lower-paying, according to Haaretz, meaning that as companies generate increased wealth, almost none of it ends up in the pockets of workers. Instead, more people are stuck living paycheck to paycheck, even if unemployment rates are technically low.
“This figure is the end of the world for the average people,” Tzezana said, speaking about the growing gap between labor productivity and wages. “It reflects a rather depressing picture: The state and the economy are advancing by storm — but the workers are almost not benefitting from this progress and are left behind. It is almost a catastrophe.”
The end result? A society defined by pockets of extreme wealth but otherwise dominated by people who barely have enough to get by.

READ MORE: Futurist Sees ‘The End of the World as We Know It for Average Person’ [Haaretz]
More on automation: Globally, Most Workers Think Robots Couldn’t Handle Their Jobs

If Earth Collided with a Black Hole

 

Worlds Collide

A new online tool calculates just how much cosmic destruction a run-in between the Earth and a black hole would cause.
The aptly-named Black Hole Collision Calculator determines how much a black hole would expand and the amount of energy it would release if it absorbed the Earth — or any other object, since the calculator is totally customizable, Space.com reports.
 

Big Kaboom

Particle physicist Álvaro Díez created the tool, which is hosted on the calculator database project Omni Calculator. Based on his calculations, a black hole swallowing the Earth would release some 55 quintillion times the planet’s annual energy consumption.
But even that destructive event would be a light snack for a supermassive black hole — its event horizon would only expand by a hundredth of a trillionth of a percent, per the calculator.
The main flaw with the calculator? The artistic rendering of a black hole obliterating the Earth that pops up next to the results doesn’t change to match any increasingly goofy collisions.
 

READ MORE: See What a Black Hole Would Do to Earth with Online ‘Collision Calculator’ [Space.com]
More on cosmic annihilation:Two Supermassive Black Holes Are on a Devastating Crash Course
 

Crops in Martian Soil

 

Astronaut Farmer

Martian and Moon soil is surprisingly fertile, and new research suggests it may someday be possible to harvest crops grown at off-world colonies.

When Wageningen University scientists tried to grow ten different crops in soils developed by NASA to mimic that found on Mars and the Moon, nine of them grew edible parts and viable seeds, according to research published this month in the journal Open Agriculture.

While future off-world farmers will have to grapple with countless other problems — like, uh, the lack of an atmosphere — the experiment is still a tentative good sign for the future of off-world settlements.

First Steps

The plants grown in simulated Martian or lunar soil weren’t as successful as those grown in normal Earth conditions, and in most cases the mock Martian crops fared better than the Moon plants. Still, vegetables like tomatoes, radishes, rye, and quinoa grew in both types of space soil, with spinach as the lone casualty.

“We were thrilled when we saw the first tomatoes ever grown on Mars soil simulant turning red,” project leader Wieger Wamelink said in a press release. “It meant that the next step towards a sustainable closed agricultural ecosystem had been taken.”

READ MORE: Soil on moon and Mars likely to support crops [De Gruyter via Phys.org]
More on Mars farming: Contaminating Mars With Microbes Could Kickstart Colonization
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Black Holes Dark Energy

 

Well Actually

Some of the black holes floating around our universe might actually be something else entirely.

It’s possible that some may be blobs of dark energy, the mysterious theoretical force thought to be pushing the universe’s outward expansion, according to Live Science. A pair of University of Hawaii scientists arrived at the unexpected conclusion when they were trying to make sense of that expansion — and if their work holds up it could rewrite our understanding of the cosmos.

Space Blobs

Conventional physics holds that a black hole’s singularity is an infinitely dense point that exerts a gravitational pull so strong that it absorbs anything that ventures too close. But some black holes may actually be dense masses of dark energy that grow larger as the universe expands, whether or not they feed on anything nearby, according to research published in The Astrophysical Journal in August.

In a second study posted on the preprint server ArXiv last month, the team found that the interactions of these theoretical objects could have caused some of the more bizarre and difficult to explain gravitational waves that were detected a few years back, Live Science reports.

Measure Twice

In essence, replacing black holes with these so-called Generic Objects of Dark Energy would help explain several mysteries of the cosmos. But theoretical calculations aside, their work hasn’t yet been confirmed.

And other experts are far from convinced. Vitor Cardoso, a physicist at Portugal’s Instituto Superior Técnico told Live Science that the new models are “counterintuitive and hard to digest.”

READ MORE: Black Holes As We Know Them May Not Exist [Live Science]
More on black holes: New “Chameleon Theory” Could Explain Dark Energy, How Galaxies Formed

Ufo Tech Fusion

 

Space Age

A U.S. Navy researcher with a quasi-facetious reputation for working on “UFO-like technology” just patented a compact nuclear fusion reactor that could allegedly fit inside of a vehicle — and don’t worry, we’re going to try our hardest to unpack that for you.

Salvatore Cezar Pais, the engineer who also patented room-temperature superconductors for the Navy, was granted a patent for a small nuclear fusion reactor capable of generating anywhere from 1 billion to 1 trillion watts, according to The Drive. That’s far more powerful than any of America’s operational nuclear power plants — but it’s also not clear how much, if any, of the patent represents feasible technology.

Science Fiction

As with any bizarre tech patent, it’s hard to tell what’s really going on here — it seems unlikely that the Navy has suddenly cracked the long-elusive mystery of practical fusion reactors.

But then again, The Drive reports that Pais’ tiny reactor sailed through the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office without ever being rejected. That, it’s worth noting, is unusual for his seemingly sci-fi inventions. Typically, The Drive reports, he’s had to appeal patent office rejections.

Hush-Hush

The Navy hasn’t yet commented on the new patent, which says the reactor could be used in a “space, sea, or terrestrial environment.”

It remains unclear specifically what applications, if any, the Navy expects to use such a device, should it actually someday exist. But hey, maybe someday we’ll see U.S. military flying saucers zipping across the sky.

READ MORE: Scientist Behind The Navy’s “UFO Patents” Has Now Filed One For A Compact Fusion Reactor [The Drive]
More on bizarre Navy patents: US Military Files Patent for Room-Temperature Superconductor

Plan to capture of a Black Hole

 

Candid Camera

The black hole cinematic universe is growing: scientists running the Event Horizon Telescope (EHT) just announced plans to capture real-time video footage of Sagittarius A*, the supermassive black hole at the center of the Milky Way.

The EHT, an international network of observatories that combine their data to function like a planet-sized telescope, first captured that groundbreaking image of a black hole back in April. But now the team is getting more ambitious, telling Business Insider that it plans to capture actual video of a black hole.

Looking Inward

Scientists already plan to record and share video of M87*, the black hole in that image from April. But Sagittarius A* has been notoriously difficult for astronomers to image due to a massive accretion disk of superhot gas blocking their view.

But the M87* video will be months of time-lapse footage, not a real-time movie, BI reports. That’s because M87* has a larger, slower-moving accretion disk that doesn’t change nearly as rapidly.

Galactic Feast

With video footage, EHT astronomers hope to better understand the intense light beamed outward by feeding black holes.

“Imagine you could see the black hole during one of those periods of activity,” EHT head Shep Doeleman told BI. “You’d see exactly where that emission was coming from.”

READ MORE: Astronomers plan to film the black hole at the center of the Milky Way galaxy as it gobbles up stars and planets. The video could open a ‘new field’ of science. [Business Insider]

More on black hole vids: Astronomers Say They’ll Soon Release First Video of a Black Hole