Alert Sign Dear reader, online ads enable us to deliver the journalism you value. Please support us by taking a moment to turn off Adblock on

Alert Sign Dear reader, please upgrade to the latest version of IE to have a better reading experience


Sci-tech: The wondrous world of science

June 10, 2012

Historic transatlantic electric flight Making transatlantic flights in novel ways has held a fascination of its own since Charles Lindbergh made his historic flight on the Spirit of St. Louis, setting a world record in May 1927. Now another world record holder, Chip Yates, is planning to fly the first all-electric aircraft some 3,600 miles across the Atlantic on the same route that Charles Lindbergh took. Chip Yates holds the current world record for the world’s fastest electric motorcycle. The “Flight of the Century” (FOTC), as his newly-formed company is appropriately called, has developed a new battery system that will replenish depleted batteries during the flight.

The concept of the “Infinite Range Electric Flight” technology developed by the company envisages the docking of the mother ship in mid-flight with flying battery pods that will be used to continue to provide power to the aircraft while the depleted batteries will be gently ejected and undergo guided descent for recharge and reuse. Nasa-based software is being used to identify the best locations along the flight path to launch and recover the battery pods. When docking is not practical, for instance in bad weather, then an alternative solution developed is to have the battery packs divided into segments and as batteries in each segment get discharged, they are ejected and guided down by GPS-fitted parachutes, for recovery and recharge. The remaining battery packs are used to fly the plane. With 10 such battery packs that are sequentially eliminated, the weight of the plane is considerably reduced allowing a doubling of its range.

Erik Lindbergh, the grandson of the legendary Charles Lindbergh, is also involved in this exciting project that could mark the beginning of commercial all-electric flights of the future.

Scanner for vegetable consumption Have you eaten your daily requirement of vegetables? To answer this question is not easy. It can be achieved by blood and urine tests or by skin and serum biopsies through which it is possible to detect tell-tale substances. This can be unpleasant and time-consuming. Now scientists at Yale University and the University of Utah have developed a completely non-invasive method that involves a handheld laser scanner that will tell you if you have had your daily quota of vegetables within a minute.

The flexible fibre optic probe is attached to a unit connected to a laptop. The probe throws blue laser light on to the skin of the palm, and the light that bounces off is analysed for the presence of carotenoids, using resonance Raman spectroscopy (RRS). The frequency of the light is so adjusted that only carotenoid levels are detected. This marks the development of a new procedure that can be potentially applied to many areas including diet-related obesity and many metabolic disorders.

Winds at 20 million mph The Chandra X-ray Observatory, launched in 1999, is one of the four great observatories of NASA. The other three great observatories are the Hubble Telescope, Compton Gamma Ray Observatory, and the Sptizer Telescope. The Chandra Observatory has discovered that ultra-fast 20 million mph winds are blowing in outer space from a gas disk around the “stellar-mass black hole” IGR J17091-3624. Astronomers at ESA’s Herschel Space Observatory now believe that such incredibly strong winds are preventing the formation of stars. There are two other types of black holes that are thought to exist that are much more massive than stellar black holes. They are the “intermediate-mass black holes” that occur in the centre of globular clusters and “supermassive black holes” that are found in the centre of the Milky Way and in other active galaxies.

Lurking at the core of all large galaxies lie black holes that swallow up anything that comes within their grasp. They don’t even allow light to escape, and hence they are invisible, being detected by the effects that they exert on stars and solar systems in their vicinity. Stellar mass black holes are formed when a star more than five times the mass of our sun (five solar masses) has burnt out all its energy. The outer layers of such stars are then thrown out in a huge supernova explosion. The core of the star then collapses and becomes so dense that even the atomic nuclei get tightly squeezed together. Once formed, the black hole continues to grow by swallowing up all the other stars in its neighborhood. So a small black hole can grow over a period of time to a supermassive black hole of millions of solar masses.

It is thought that hiding at the centre of our own galaxy, the Milky Way, lies a super massive black hole of more than four million solar masses.