Touchdown for Perseverance

NASA makes history once more

Hello and welcome to The Edge, the newsletter that brings you groundbreaking stories from the frontiers of technology and science.

We’ve got some great stories for you today including a successful Perseverance landing, fascinating lucid dream experiments and lasers that can melt space junk. As always, we’ve added extra stories under each article should you find yourself in a curious state of mind. 

Today in history

What happened on February 20th in the past?

  • February 20th, 1874 - In New York City, the Metropolitan Museum of Art opens.

  • February 20th, 1962 - John Glenn becomes the first American to orbit Earth, aboard Friendship 7.

  • February 20th, 1986 - Mir is launched by the Soviet Union. Of its 15 years in orbit, it is occupied for ten.


Space junk and lasers

Desperate times and whatnot. Image credit: Miguel Soares/Victor Tangermann

Orbital Lasers Could Melt Defunct Satellites Without Polluting Space

Space junk is a serious issue. Right now, thousands of small debris pieces orbit Earth, including entire satellites. This is a problem and poses threats to space exploration.

Any collision could be a disaster. If it’s big enough, it could lead to the Kessler syndrome, a knock-on effect consisting of a cascade of collisions that each generate new pieces of debris, effectively making Earth’s orbit a war-zone.

Russian physicist Egor Loktionov has an out-there idea to solve the problem - using space lasers to melt satellites no longer in use into plasma.

In a soon-to-be-released paper, Loktionov describes how he has been experimenting with various spacecraft materials and how they react to laser pulse emissions. According to Loktionov, few solutions to dealing with space debris have really been attempted. He believes that laser removal might be the answer to that. Loktionov: “If shot from space, lasers would pose close to zero hazards. We suggest considering more precise impacts with space-borne lasers or our recycling concept.”

With companies like SpaceX and Amazon working on putting internet satellite constellations into space, the number of objects in orbit is only going to increase. Loktionov’s proposal therefore comes at a crucial time and hopefully it can lead to something actionable in the future.

The space junk issue.

Quick science

Other incredible stories from the world of science and technology. 


Mars, Perseverance’s new home

Human ingenuity never ceases to amaze. Image credit: NASA

NASA Rover Releases First Photos From the Surface of Mars

NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory made history again yesterday, this time landing their fifth rover, known as Perseverance, on Mars.

Around 3:56 EST, mission control confirmed the landing. Almost right after that, the first images came in and showed what Perseverance could see from its landing zone. So quick was the rover to send pictures that the haze you can see is actually dust settling from the landing. The low resolution of the images are due to the fact they were taken by the rover’s navigational hazard cameras so higher-quality images will be coming soon.

Perseverance landed in the Jezero crater, believed to be an ancient, dry river delta. Perseverance landed there for a very specific reason - NASA believes the site is the best place to look for signs of life on Mars. This will be a truly fascinating mission and we can’t wait for the results that come from it.

Everything to know about Perseverance.

Video of the week

“Inside The World’s Largest Nuclear Fusion Reactor”

Nuclear energy as it’s currently created relies on fission; that is, splitting atomic nuclei apart and gathering the energy that process generates. While vastly more efficient and environmentally friendly than fossil fuels and markedly cheaper than current green energy alternatives, nuclear fission still leaves behind waste. In addition, nuclear energy gets an unfair bad rap.

Nuclear fusion energy, the opposite of fission, might be the answer to all those problems. In this fascinating video by Tech Vision, we get a stunning look at the largest nuclear fusion reactor and the science behind it. It’s fascinating stuff and points to a potential future with practically limitless, clean energy.

MySpace is ‘back’ with SpaceHey

MySpace. The name is synonymous with the birth of social media and early online interactions. Many of us used MySpace before swapping to things like Facebook. The classic social media network has faded somewhat but many of us miss that original Myspace experience. With SpaceHey, we can revisit some of that nostalgia.

Image credit: SpaceHey

While not affiliated with MySpace, SpaceHey is a cool to throwback to 2005. The SpaceHey interface is incredibly similar to that of old MySpace (if memory serves correctly) and using it brings back a tonne of memories from the old MySpace experience. Nostalgia!


Scientific dreams

Sweet dreams. Image credit: Joe Shields via Unsplash/Futurism

Scientists Achieve Real-Time Communication With Lucid Dreamers in Breakthrough

In a breakthrough experiment, scientists have managed to create a line of real-time communication with volunteers who were lucid dreaming. The team, composed of scientists from Northwestern University and multiple European institutions, chatted with the dreamers and asked questions, getting answers in real-time given in the form of volunteer eye movement.

The experiment itself is incredible and it might help scientists learn more about how and why we sleep. The ability to lucid dream - being self-aware when you’re dreaming - is an unusual psychological phenomenon that has intrigued scientists for a long time.

The dreamers in the experiment were able to respond to the scientists’ questions by moving their eyes left or right. They could even solve math problems - all while asleep. The dreamers said they could hear the researchers’ voice as a kind of narrator, identifiable as something outside their dreams.

While communication wasn’t always accurate, the scientists are understandably excited about the developments. Lead author and Northwestern researcher Karen Konkoly said about the experiment that “It’s amazing to sit in the lab and ask a bunch of questions, and then somebody might actually answer one. It’s such an immediately rewarding type of experiment to do. You don’t have to wait to analyze your data or anything like that. You can see it right there while they’re still sleeping.” Commercial dreams anyone?

Why do we dream?

What we’ve been reading

A small selection of the articles we read this week.

Thanks for reading!

We hope you enjoyed this edition of The Edge.

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