TIME space travel

Watch a 3,500-Pound Spaceship Burn Up in the Atmosphere

When the Cygnus supply ship arrived at the International Space Station in July with cargo that included food, science equipment and mini-satellites, the astronauts aboard knew it would be making a dramatic exit.

Cygnus was released on August 15 from the ISS carrying more than 3,000 pounds of garbage, and was catapulted through the atmosphere with the plan of having it burn its way into oblivion.

And burn its way into oblivion it did. The commercial cargo ship separated from the ISS and dropped into the atmosphere over the Pacific Ocean two days later. A Vine posted Friday by one of the ISS’s current six astronauts, Reid Wiseman, shows Cygnus reentering the atmosphere and flaring up into a crisp.

TIME technology

Watch NASA Test These 3D-Printed Rocket Parts

3-D printers can bring rockets to space.

+ READ ARTICLE

If you thought the coolest application of a 3-D printer was creating a miniature model of yourself to show to your friends, then NASA has just proven you wrong.

Two 3-D printed rocket injectors were recently successfully tested by NASA at the Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama. These powerful injectors mix liquid nitrogen and hydrogen to produce a combustion that can reach temperatures over 6,000 degrees Fahrenheit and generate over 20,000 pounds of thrust.

It sounds simple enough — the injectors’ design was entered into a 3-D printer’s computer, and the printer then built each part through a process known as selective laser melting.

“We wanted to go a step beyond just testing an injector and demonstrate how 3-D printing could revolutionize rocket designs,” said Chris Singer, director of Marshall’s Engineering Directorate.

With conventional manufacturing methods, the rocket injectors would require the creation and assembly of 163 individual pieces; with the 3-D printer, only 2 pieces were necessary. This unique method not only saved scientists and engineers time and money, it is also less likely to fail than the traditionally-built piece.

TIME Environment

Solved: Mystery of Moving Stones in Death Valley

A sailing stone in Racetrack playa, Death Valley, CA.
A sailing stone in Racetrack playa, Death Valley, in California Mark Newman—Getty Images

A group of scientists say they've figured out how the "sailing stones" glide along the desert floor on their own

So-called sailing stones in California’s Death Valley National Park have perplexed tourists and scientists alike for their apparent ability to move on their own, leaving sometimes meter-long tracks in their wake.

But after years of speculation, researchers with patience, remote weather monitors, cameras, and stones that are fitted with GPS say they have discovered the force behind the phenomenon.

Wind (very strong winds) and ice (very thick ice) have long been considered as possible explanations for why the rocks, sometimes weighing hundreds of pounds, move. It’s actually a combination of a little of both, the team of researchers say in their study, published in the journal PLOS One this week.

Rainwater in what is known as the Racetrack Playa creates a shallow pond over the playa that, in cold winter temperatures, freezes over. When the ice begins to melt under the sun, it first breaks up into large panels thin enough that, with a nudge from even light winds, they shift — and push whatever rocks may lie in their path.

TIME anthropology

The Lost Hobbits of the Eastern Arctic

Wooden dolls were used both in ceremonies and as children's toys by the lost Paleo-Eskimos
Wooden dolls were used both in ceremonies and as children's toys by the lost Paleo-Eskimos University of Aberdeen/Qantiruuq, Inc

Scientists never understood what became of the Paleo-Eskimos who once peopled the north. Now they know—and there's new reason to miss them

Every indigenous group European explorers found when they first reached the Americas, from the Aztecs to the Inca to the Maya to the obscure Taino people were descended from a hardy bunch of immigrants who trekked over from Siberia more than 12,000 years ago, then spread east and south from there.

But when the Vikings began visiting Greenland and Baffin Island they bumped up against an indigenous group with a very different heritage—the Arctic dwelling people formerly known as Eskimos and now mostly called the Inuit. Based on archaeological evidence, scientists had established that they first came over from Siberia about 6,000 years ago and spread eastward across the very northernmost reaches of Canada, on the margins of the Arctic Ocean.

Then about 700 years ago, these so-called Paleo-Eskimos, gave way to a newer group known as the Thule culture. They displaced the earlier arrivals, just as our own invading ancestors had displaced the Neanderthals in Europe some 40,000 years earlier. What wasn’t clear, however, was whether the Paleo-Eskimos (or the Dorset, the name given to the last stage of Paleo-Eskimo cultural evolution) were simply absorbed into this new, more modern culture or whether, they vanished from the Earth, as the Neanderthals did.

But now it is, thanks to new paper in Science. Based on genetic analysis of 169 ancient human remains from Siberia, Alaska, Canada and Greenland, along with genome analyses of modern indigenous people, the authors can say definitively that the Paleo-Eskimos did indeed vanish; that the Inuit people who live in the North American Arctic today are the direct descendants of the Thule invaders; and that neither group is related to the Native American tribes that came to inhabit the rest of the Americas.

Exactly how the Dorset people were overwhelmed is unclear. Unlike the Neanderthals, they evidently didn’t mate with the invaders. “In other places,” said co-author Eske Willerslev of the Center for GeoGenetics at the University of Copenhagen’s National Museum of Natural History, at a press briefing, “we see people meeting, maybe fighting, but also having sex with each other.”

But the Paleo-Eskimos were genetically distinct. “There is some genetic admixture with the Thule,” said lead author Maanasa Raghavan, also at the Center for GeoGenetics “but it happened thousands of years earlier, most likely in the Old World.”

Instead, argued co-author William Fitzhugh, of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History, in Washington, “they were probably just overwhelmed.” The Thule, he explained, had bows and arrows, dogsleds and large whaling crews he calls “almost military” in their organization. The Dorset, by contrast, had much simpler tools, and lived in small, isolated villages.

“Socially and technologically,” he said, “they were no match for this Thule machine that spread across their territory in less than 100 years.” They were either pushed out into fringes where couldn’t survive, or they were annihilated, he said.

Until that happened, however, the Paleo-Eskimos were an astonishing success story, given that they endured in the harshest of climates, without major disruption for a staggering 5,000 years. It’s extraordinary, said Fitzhugh, that they maintained genomic and cultural continuity over such a long period, while other world cultures were going through radical changes.

“One might almost say,” said Fitzhugh,”that they were the Hobbits of the eastern Arctic—a strange, isolated, conservative people whose history we’re just starting to get to know.”

TIME findings

Why Scientists Should Celebrate Failed Experiments

No losers here: all data is good data
No losers here: all data is good data ilyasat; Getty Images

Researchers live in dread of the null result—when a study turns up nothing. But that's exactly the wrong way to view things

Reporters hate facts that are too good to check—as the phrase in the industry goes. The too-good-to-check fact is the funny or ironic or otherwise delicious detail that just ignites a story and that, if it turns out not to be true, would leave the whole narrative poorer for its absence. It must be checked anyway, of course, and if it doesn’t hold up it has to be cut—with regrets maybe, but cut all the same.

Social scientists face something even more challenging. They develop an intriguing hypothesis, devise a study to test it, assemble a sample group, then run the experiment. If the theory is proven, off goes your paper to the most prestigious journals you can think of. But what if it isn’t proven? Suppose the answer to a thought-provoking question like, “Do toddlers whose parents watch football or other violent sports become more physically aggressive?” turns out to be simply, “Nope.”

Do you still try to publish these so-called null results? Do you even go to the bother of writing them up—an exceedingly slow and painstaking process regardless of what the findings are? Or do you just go on to something else, assuming that no one’s going to be interested in a cool idea that turns out not to be true?

That’s a question that plagues whole fields of science, raising the specter of what’s known as publishing bias—scientists self-censoring so that they effectively pick and choose what sees print and what doesn’t. There’s nothing fraudulent or unethical about dropping an experiment that doesn’t work out as you thought it would, but it does come at a cost. Null results, after all, are still results, and once they’re in the literature, they help other researchers avoid experimental avenues that have already proven to be dead ends. Now a new paper in the journal Science, conducted by a team of researchers at Stanford University, shows that publication bias in the social sciences may be more widespread than anyone knew.

The investigators looked at 221 studies conducted from 2002 to 2012 and made available to them by a research collective known as TESS (Time-Sharing Experiments in the Social Sciences), a National Science Foundation program that makes it easier for researchers to assemble a nationally representative sample group. The best thing about TESS—at least for studies of publication bias–is that the complete history of every experiment is available and searchable, whether it was ever published or not.

When the Stanford investigators reviewed the papers, they found just what they suspected—and feared. Roughly 50% of the 221 studies wound up seeing publication, but that total included only 20% of the ones with null results. That compared unfavorably to the 60% of those studies with strong positive results that were published, and the 50% with mixed results. Worse, one of the reasons so few null results ever saw print is that a significant majority of them, 65%, were never even written up in the first place.

The Stanford investigators went one more—very illuminating—step and contacted as many of the researchers of the null studies as they could via e-mail, asking them why they had not proceeded with the studies. Among the answers: “The unfortunate reality of the publishing world [is] that null effects do not tell a clear story.” There was also: “We determined that there was nothing there that we could publish in a professional journal” and “[the study] was mostly a disappointing wash.” Added one especially baleful scientist: “[The] data were buried in the graveyard of statistical findings.” Among all of the explanations, however, the most telling—if least colorful—was this: “The hypotheses of the study were not confirmed.”

That, all by itself, lays bare the misguided thinking behind publication bias. No less a researcher than Jonas Salk once argued to his lab staff that there is no such thing as a failed experiment, because learning what doesn’t work is a necessary step to learning what does. Salk, history showed, did pretty well for himself. Social scientists—disappointed though they may sometimes be—might want to follow his lead.

TIME space

Astronomers Just Witnessed the Formation of an Ancient Galaxy

An artist's impression of star birth deep inside the core of young, growing elliptical galaxy. Z. Levay, G. Bacon— STScI/NASA,

They call it "Sparky"

Think Milky Way, but smaller.

Astronomers have for the first time witnessed the formation of a massive galaxy, which they have dubbed “Sparky.” This galaxy contains twice as many stars as our own galaxy, but is is just a fraction of the size.

This galactic behemoth is so far from Earth that its observable light reaching our planet was actually created 11 billion years ago — that’s just 3 billion years after the Big Bang.

“We suspect that this core-formation process is a phenomenon unique to the early universe” explains Erica Nelson of Yale University, who’s a member of the team that put together the findings and research.

Astronomers suspect that there are other galaxies similar to Sparky. In the future, infrared telescopes such as NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope, which is set to launch in 2018, should help to shed some light on these issues.

TIME Archaeology

What Bronze Age Wine Snobs Drank

Remains of a Bonze Age happy hour
Remains of a Bonze Age happy hour Andrew Koh

There were some fine vintages 3,000 years ago, and a new study reveals how ancient mixologists made them finer still

It’s hardly news that the ancients drank wine — the Greeks, Romans and Egyptians all imbibed, as did pretty much any other civilization in which alcohol wasn’t prohibited for religious reasons. “We have written records,” says Brandeis University archaeologist Andrew Koh. “We’ve found jars marked ‘wine.’ We’ve found wine residues. It’s pictured everywhere.”

That being the case, you might think a cache of 40 wine jars unearthed from a room in the Bronze Age Canaanite palace at Tel Kabri, which stood more than 3,600 years ago in what’s now modern Israel, would be no big deal.

But you’d be wrong. “In the past,” says Koh, lead author of a paper describing the discovery in the latest issue of the journal PLOS One, “we wouldn’t have been able to say much more than ‘this is a bunch of containers that held wine.’”

Thanks to an unprecedentedly sophisticated analysis of the deposits inside those containers, however, Koh, who has a joint appointment in Brandeis’ Classical Studies and Chemistry Departments, along with two colleagues, can conclude much more, specifically that the wine was flavored with — deep breath, now — honey, storax resin, terebinth resin, cedar oil, cyperus, juniper and possibly mint, myrtle and cinnamon as well.

Not only that: on one side of the room, the wine was mostly unflavored; in the middle, it contained about half that long list of ingredients; and in a small adjoining room it contained them all. In fact, Koh and his colleagues think this wasn’t really a storage facility at all. It was a sort of kitchen, where wine was brought in from the surrounding area — the jars were made from local clay — and a brewmaster of some sort subtly flavored them before they were served in the banquet hall next door.

“We’ve known about the existence of these complex wines for a long time,” says Koh, “and we’ve even got recipes. But to find examples of the actual wines, that’s what makes the science so compelling.”

The additives aside, the wine itself was the same from jar to jar. That, plus the fact that wine was generally not saved from one season to the next, led Koh and his co-authors to conclude that it was all from a single year’s vintage. And that particular vintage clearly never made it into the banquet hall — almost certainly because an earthquake collapsed the walls, breaking the jars and spilling what was inside.

Although this palace stood — and perhaps fell — on what is now Israeli soil, it wasn’t an Israelite palace. Biblical chronology suggests that the Jews were slaves in Egypt at the time. During the Exodus, when Moses led his people to the Promised Land of milk and honey, it was people like these winemakers they ended up conquering.

The excavations at Tel Kabri aren’t over. Koh and his team will return next year, and, he says, “We’re confident we’ll find other rooms, maybe with jars of olive oil. We might also find statues, jewelry, the kind of stuff the public likes.”

That’s not what the archaeologists care about, however. “We’re more interested,” Koh says, “in knowing how people lived.”

TIME animals

Scientists Claim GPS Data Has Finally Solved the ‘Sheepdog Mystery’

Sheepdog herds flock
A sheepdog herd sheep at the Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary in Brisbane, Australia, on April 5, 2012 Chris Hyde—Getty Images

Researchers say a trained canine turns a roaming flock into a cohesive bunch by following two simple steps

With a GPS tracking device attached to its back, an Australian sheepdog has finally revealed how a single canine can control a rebellious flock, according to a new study.

The “sheepdog mystery” has baffled scientists and mathematicians for generations, but a new paper in a journal by Britain’s Royal Society says the secret lies in the animal first bringing the sheep together by weaving side-to-side at their rear, then driving them forward.

“If not cohesive, it will make it cohesive, but if it’s already cohesive, the dog will push the herd towards the target,” Daniel Stroembom of Uppsala University in Sweden, co-author of Solving the Shepherding Problem: Heuristics for Herding Autonomous, Interacting Agents, told Agence France-Presse.

The study suggests that a talented sheepdog could use the technique to control a flock up to 100-strong.

Researchers hope that the new knowledge can be applied to future planning with regards to crowd control, and even guiding groups of exploring robots across remote terrains.

[AFP]

TIME technology

SpaceX Delays Launch Days After Test Mishap

SpaceX
A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket sits on a lauch pad on Oct. 7, 2012 in Cape Canaveral, Florida. SpaceX is delaying this week's Falcon 9 rocket launch by a day following an explosion of a test flight of its experimental Falcon 9R rocket. Joe Raedle—Getty Images

The company says it will review flight record details before the next test flight

SpaceX delayed the launch of a commercial communications satellite on Tuesday, days after an experimental rocket failed mid-flight.

The private space firm founded by Elon Musk was set to launch the AsiaSat 6 satellite on its Falcon 9 rocket early Tuesday from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida, but the launch was delayed 24 hours, the Los Angeles Times reports.

On Friday, a test flight of the Falcon 9R, an experimental reusable rocket, experienced an anomaly, SpaceX said in a statement. As a result, the flight was terminated–the rocket blew itself up.

No one was injured in the incident, and the company said that the experimental flight was “particularly complex.”

But SpaceX said at the time that it would review flight record details before the next test flight, and the LA Times reports that the space exploration company is taking extra time to review the case ahead of the AsiaSat 6 satellite launch.

[LA Times]

TIME

China’s Supersonic Submarine? Not Gonna Happen

Take your time, boys; you're not going anywhere fast
Take your time, boys; you're not going anywhere fast Mike Clarke—AFP/Getty Images

To hear Chinese military sources tell it, the country is on its way to developing a submarine that can travel 6,100 mph—which is why you should never listen to Chinese military sources

There are a whole lot of things that won’t be happening anytime soon. Pigs flying, for instance; that won’t happen. All of the raindrops becoming lemon drops and gumdrops; that won’t happen either. And despite what you have been reading practically everywhere today, no, China won’t be deploying a submarine capable of moving at 6,100 mph (9,800 k/h) and covering the distance from Shanghai to San Francisco in 100 minutes—at least not in anything remotely like the near future.

Let’s begin with the source of the story: engineer Li Fengchen, of the Harbin Institute of Technology, the project’s lead researcher. Mr. Li is surely an impeccably honest man and a very good engineer, but the Chinese government has not always covered itself in glory when it comes to candor and there’s no reason to believe they’d start with a program as sensitive as this.

“The idea that any Chinese research association would talk about its best ideas is ludicrous beyond words,” says physicist and naval weapons expert Norman Friedman, of the U.S. Naval Institute. “They simply don’t go public with this kind of project, though they do sometimes show off things that don’t exist.”

The bigger problem involves a couple of matters Friedman knows a thing or two about: physics and engineering. The technology that has caused all the buzz is something called supercavitation, and there’s nothing fanciful about it—it’s been around since the Cold War, though it’s been used only in torpedoes. Supercavitation involves agitating water in such a way that it forms a bubble of vapor completely surrounding the moving body, dramatically reducing friction, and dramatically increasing speed. Traditional propellors can’t be used to generate that speed, since they have to touch the water and all any part of the sub or torpedo touches is vapor. Instead, rocket engines provide the push, relying on the same action-reaction principle rockets use in space.

“It’s not a friction-free ride,” says Friedman, “but you do get some distance out of it and it can move at high speeds.”

But how much distance and how high a speed? There, it turns out, is the rub. The best-known supercavitating torpedo, the Russian Shkval—or squall—achieves a speed of around 200 knots (230 mph), according to Friedman, but it’s a short-range weapon, able to sprint only about 10,000 yards, since it must be stuffed with enough hardware both to churn water to vapor and run the rocket engines and still have enough room left over for an explosive charge. With all that, it can carry only a limited amount of fuel.

A submarine, Friedman estimates, could possibly stretch the range to 40 mi. (64 km). But as for somehow increasing the speed from 230 mph to 6,100 mph? Even the Chinese spokesfolks who are talking so freely don’t pretend to have an answer for that one.

Finally, there’s the problem of trying to point the sub where you want it to go. For both surface vessels and submersibles, that job is achieved by turning a rudder against the water, but poke a rudder into the water of a supercavitating vessel and you pop the bubble that surrounds the ship—not to mention snapping the rudder completely off when it suddenly encounters resistance. “Steering,” Friedman says, “wouldn’t be any fun.”

None of this is to suggest that these problems won’t be solved some day. But that’s true of almost any technical challenge you can name. Despite what China is saying, the submarine’s some day isn’t a soon day.

Your browser, Internet Explorer 8 or below, is out of date. It has known security flaws and may not display all features of this and other websites.

Learn how to update your browser
Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 46,421 other followers