Solar war fear
Commander Chris Hadfield, Astronoaut
At the height of the Cold War, on May 23, 1967, the United States faced a “jamming” of all radar and radio communications, which it assumed was a Soviet attack. According to recently unclassified documents tweeted by Canadian astronaut Commader Chris Hadfield, the United States Air Force started preparing its aircraft for war. However, a possibly disastrous military conflict was avoided when US military space weather forecasters conveyed information about a solar storm’s potential to disrupt radar and radio communications across the poles. The solar storm, the scientists told the Air Force, had been caused by an unusually massive solar flare observed on that fateful day.
According to a research paper published in Space Weather, a journal of the American Geophysical Union, retired US Air Force officers described the scare caused by the massive solar storm that had led the world to the brink of a nuclear war. “Had it not been for the fact that we had invested very early on in solar and geomagnetic storm observations and forecasting, the impact (of the storm) likely would have been much greater,” said Delores Knipp, a space physicist and lead author of the study. Ultimately, the storm led the military to recognise space weather as an operational concern and build a stronger space weather forecasting system, the study says.
A healing house
David Brin, Science author
When someone speaks of a “smart house”, people usually think they’re talking about WiFi-enabled households that can be controlled by a single smart device like a tablet or smartphone. However, the US Defence Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) has a different version of “smart house”, according to an article tweeted by science writer David Brin. As per the article, DARPA is working on new construction materials that can be “grown” at the site of construction instead of being carried there. “Imagine that instead of shipping finished materials, we can ship precursors and grow them on site using local resources,” DARPA’s Engineering Living Materials Programme chief Justin Gullivan says. The ELM team, Gullivan says, also hopes to combine the structure of the living tissue for such “self-healing concrete” so that it can repair minor damage by “healing itself”. This concrete is to be made from stuff such as structural materials made from inexpensive feedstocks, packing materials derived from fungal mycelium, and building blocks made from bacteria and sand. DARPA is working on infusing this technology with 3D printing bio-construction materials.
Eric Topol, Geneticisist
When people get drunk and get tattoos, they usually regret it later. However, according to an article tweeted by geneticist Eric Topol, scientists are working on a new temporary tattoo that will tell people if they’ve had one too many drinks. Researchers at the University of California have come up with a temporary tattoo that monitors a person’s blood-alcohol level from the sweat produced on their skin. The tattoo can also send the information to a car or a smartphone using Bluetooth.
Seeing green, again
Jonathan Eisen, Biologist
Scientists were abuzz over the past week tracking their countries’ progress at the Rio Olympics. But one particular sporting venue at Rio seemed to be the centre of attention for scientists on Twitter — the swimming pool. As a second swimming pool at Rio turned green, scientists took to Twitter to explain the possible reasons for the odd colourisation of water at the mega event. There had been speculation that some form of algae was the cause, but that theory was dismissed. Another theory on Twitter suggested that swimmers were being rather free with their bladders. This theory too was quickly rubbished by scientists who said that people pee inside pools all the time, and it shouldn’t cause a change in the colour of the pools. “Mid- afternoon, there was a sudden decrease in the alkalinity in the pool, the main reason the colour changed,” Mario Andrada, a Rio 2016 spokesman, said, according to an article tweeted by biologist Jonathan Eisen. Rio officials added that the colour change had been brought on by a large number of people swimming, which had upset the alkaline balance of the water. Officials also asserted there was no health risk to the athletes.