TIME Science

European Navigation Satellites Get Lost In Orbit

It's unclear if the system, a rival to GPS, will be good to go on schedule

The European Space Agency and the European Union want to provide an alternate to GPS—Global Positioning System, the space-based satellite navigation system operated by the United States—called Galileo, named after the astronomer who gave us the precursor of Newtonian physics. Galileo is a €5 billion project intended for civilian use scheduled to be completed and operational by 2019, with 27 satellites and 3 spares orbiting 14,600 miles above Earth.

The system suffered a setback on Saturday, though, when two satellites launched from French Guiana failed to attain their intended orbit, Phys.Org reports. It’s not immediately clear why there was a malfunction, and the agencies involved are investigating. In the meantime, however, Galileo’s French coordinator spoke to Agence France-Presse (AFP) and said it will be be complicated to correct the satellites’ orbits.

The latest pair of satellites had suffered more than a year of delays due to “technical difficulties in the setting up of the production line and test tools.” Meanwhile, two more satellites are supposed to be launched by the end of the year—which is also when Galileo was intended to reach its initial operational capacity.

As of now, it’s unclear whether Saturday’s malfunction will affect the system’s launch schedule.

[Phys.Org]

TIME Environment

Climate Change Could Happen Slower for the Next Decade, Study Says

California's Drought Becomes Critical
One of two major water storage lakes on the Russian River is lake Mendocino, which is nearly empty on January 24, 2014, near Ukiah, California. George Rose—Getty Images

Atmospheric temperatures are expected to rise slowly in the next decade

Temperatures have risen more slowly in the past decade than in the previous 50 years and will continue to rise at a somewhat slower rate in the next decade, according to a new study, even as climate change continues to raise temperatures to unprecedented levels worldwide.

The study, published in the journal Science, explained the temporary slowdown in rising temperatures as a potential consequence of the end of a 30-year current cycle in the Atlantic Ocean that pushes heat into the ocean.

“In the 21st century, surface warming slowed as more heat moved into deeper oceans,” the study says.

Despite this brief respite, the study says temperatures will begin to rise more quickly after the cycle is complete.

“Each of the last three decades has been successively warmer at the Earth’s surface than any preceding decade since 1850,” according to a different study published by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

“Trends based on short records are very sensitive to the beginning and end dates and do not in general reflect long-term climate trends,” the IPCC study said, cautioning that the slowdown in global warming does not mean the atmosphere will not continue to heat at a faster rate.

TIME Science

Mesmerizing Six-Second Timelapse Video Shows How the Earth Changed Over Six Months

Created by NASA using images from January to July

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According to NASA, no planets have “matched the dynamic complexity of our own.” This video by the NASA Earth Observatory, which will take you just six seconds to watch — unless you keep hitting refresh like we did — showcases that dynamic complexity over the course of six months.

You see the eastern hemisphere, from January 18 to July 25, and its subtle changes in weather systems and vegetation. The best part is the clouds — swirling, lovely, mesmerizing clouds. Good job, Earth. You’re pretty awesome.

WATCH: Breath-taking NASA Timelapse Video Shows a Star Exploding

TIME Environment

Check Out the Freezing Cold Place Where Scientists Found Life

There are close to 4,000 organisms living in the lake, which hasn’t seen sunlight for millions of years

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A subglacial lake 800 meters beneath the West Antarctic ice sheet has been discovered to contain “viable microbial ecosystems,” according to the National Science Foundation, which funded the project. The findings are the result of a 2013 drilling expedition in which researchers used a sterile, hot water drill to reach and collect samples from Lake Whillans, in the west part of the continent.

Researchers for project Whillans Ice Stream Subglacial Access Research Drilling (WISSARD) found organisms that feed off of rocks for energy and use Carbon Dioxide as a carbon source in water and sediment samples from the lake.

TIME Environment

Scientists Discover Microbes in a Subglacial Antarctic Lake

Ice floes floating on water
Ice floating in Ross Sea, Antarctica on June 15, 2014. De Agostini—Getty Images

It could help point to the possibilities of life on other planets

The frozen desert of Antarctica is challenging enough for life — never mind conditions beneath that ice-bound mass. But NBC News reports that a recent discovery by scientists reveals the water beneath the West Antarctic Ice Sheet to be swarming with microbes.

The findings, published in Nature, reveal that a diverse microbe ecosystem of 4,000 distinct species exists in subglacial Lake Whillans, which lies beneath 800 m of ice. The chemoautotrophs — organisms that gain sustenance from minerals found in the water instead of from sunlight — could also hint to the possibility of life on other planets, National Geographic reports. Scientists say that the conditions that the microbes live in could be similar to those in frozen lakes found on Europa or Enceladus, Jupiter’s and Saturn’s moons respectively.

“The report is a landmark for the polar sciences,” Martyn Tranter, a professor at the University of Bristol (who was not involved in the study), wrote in a commentary in Nature.

Tranter added that the discovery also raised “the question of whether microbes could eat rock beneath ice sheets on extraterrestrial bodies such as Mars.”

The researchers will continue to survey Lake Whillan next winter in search of other organisms that could further point to the varying possibilities of life.

TIME Science

Here’s What a Jellyfish Sting Looks Like in Slow-Motion

Microscope shows a close-up of the tiny, venom-filled barbs penetrating your skin

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If you’re afraid of getting stung by a jellyfish, just wait until you know what’s actually happening.

Going viral now is a video by the YouTube channel SmarterEveryDay that shows scientists at James Cook University in Australia using a high-speed camera to capture microscopic footage of the stinging process — in which small barbs on the jellyfishes’ tentacles called nematocysts thrust out as the victim brushes by. In other words, when you get stung by a jellyfish, you’re basically getting stabbed by hundreds of venom-filled, hypodermic needles.

Even better? It all happens within 11 milliseconds.

MORE: Can We Learn to Love The Jellyfish?

TIME Science

WATCH: Here’s What the Sun Is Actually Doing to Your Skin

This might make you reach for the sunscreen

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Nearly every living thing on the Earth depends on the Sun—directly or indirectly—for its survival. But for humans, exposure to the sun can also exact a cost: Stay outside too long (or beneath the rays of a tanning bed, as the case may be), and you run the very real risk of developing wrinkles, liver spots, and even skin cancer.

Damage is caused by ultraviolet rays, which lie outside of our visual spectrum; some creatures—as different as bees, reindeer, and salmon—can perceive them, meaning that they see the world much differently than we do. We do, however, have the technology to see the world in UV, and one inventive videographer took to the streets to show ordinary people what their skin really looked like.

“We showed people what they looked like in ultraviolet, & wondered aloud if they wanted to put on some damn sunscreen already,” Thomas Leveritt wrote on his Twitter feed. It’s amazing to see, really, and is a timely summer reminder that we only get one set of skin. Take care of yours!

TIME space

A Satellite Took Pictures of Another Satellite and Now It’s a GIF

The launch of DigitalGlobe's WorldView-3 is seen from Vandenberg Air Force Base on Wednesday, Aug. 13, 2014.
The launch of DigitalGlobe's WorldView-3 is seen from Vandenberg Air Force Base on Aug. 13, 2014. DigitalGlobe

Well, this is pretty meta

A series of pictures provided to TIME by DigitalGlobe shows what kind of fun you can have when you own multiple satellites.

The images captured the launch of the company’s newest satellite launching into orbit this past Wednesday.

The new WorldView-3 satellite, worth roughly a half-billion dollars and about the size of a small RV, became the highest-resolution commercial satellite in space. DigitalGlobe, the company that funded its manufacture, said it will offer 31-centimeter resolution, much clearer than the current 50-cm aboard the WorldView-2.

Technology aboard the new satellite will, among other things, supply Google Maps with higher resolution photos for “satellite view.”

The satellite that shot the photos was flying at an altitude of over 300 miles, according to DigitalGlobe, and orbiting at a speed of 17,000 mph.

Video of the launch from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California can be seen below.

TIME Science

The Frankenburger Is Coming Sooner Than You Think Thanks to Google

Developer Of First Cultivated Beef Burger Mark Post
A beef burger created by stem cells harvested from a living cow is held for a photograph by Mark Post, a Dutch scientist, following a Bloomberg Television interview in London, U.K., on Tuesday, Aug. 6, 2013. Bloomberg—Bloomberg via Getty Images

They may not taste great yet, but scientists, with the help of Sergey Brin, are ready to change that

It has been one year since I took part in one of the most surreal and expensive taste tests in human history. No, I didn’t eat a black Périgord truffle seasoned with gold or a bowl of beluga caviar. Last August in London, with 200 journalists and several hulking cameras staring at me, I was one of the two people to taste the so-called Frankenburger: the world’s first lab-grown beef burger, a five-ounce patty grown from cow stem cells that took a Dutch scientist four years of research and $332,000 to create.

Over the past 12 months, I’ve been asked The Question dozens of times, and each time I have given variations of the same underwhelming answer (it was ok; needs more fat). But I have also tried to make it clear that I hoped the burger I tried was just a first draft—the beginning of the meat-culturing age.

But as time has passed and I get fewer opportunities to say “it was one small bite for man, one giant bite for mankind,” I’ve started to wonder: Did that London event mean anything? Will it be just another weird moment in stunt-eating history? Or was it really The Beginning of the Cultured Meat Age?

The most exciting news I heard last summer was not that a cultured beef burger was actually, finally, being made—nor that I would be the guinea pig flown to London to try it. The news that got me most excited was that the mystery man bankrolling the burger was the co-founder of Google with an estimated net worth of $30.6 billion and a history of making sci-fi a reality. As soon as I heard the name Sergey Brin, I instantly thought: cultured beef could really happen.

But wait. Although Brin has nearly limitless resources, he also has limitless, omnivorous interests—everything from driverless cars to adventure space travel to asteroid mining projects. Brin didn’t attend last year’s burger tasting and hasn’t made any public comment on cultured meat for the past year. I wondered whether this was a one-burger-and-done project for him?

Not the case, said Dr. Mark Post, the Dutch scientist who created the cultured beef burger.

“He’s as determined as we are to make this happen,” Post told me, adding that he’ll be traveling to California later this month and firming up a commitment for additional funding with Brin’s foundation.

While Post declined to reveal the specific dollar amount, he said that Brin’s second round of support will increase the size of his team from five to 20. In addition to tissue engineers and food scientists, the larger team will have experts on consumer preferences and on how to get the burger approved by food regulators.

With Brin’s funding, Post said that the 2.0 version of the lab burger will have several major improvements:

More fat. My biggest complaint was that that even fried in oil and butter, by a Gordon Ramsay-trained chef, the cultured beef burger tasted about as dry as a turkey burger. The first cultured beef burger had 20,000 muscle fibers but zero fat cells. It’s fat that gives a burger its critical juiciness. And it’s fat, some believe, that drives our meat cravings. During the next year, Post’s team will focus on growing fat tissue, which is slower and more technically challenging than many assume.

More red meat. Most burger-eaters have never heard of myoglobin. But this protein, whose job is to store oxygen in muscle cells, is what makes red meat red. The first cultured beef burger lacked myoglobin, and if it wasn’t for some coloring additives—a mix of beet juice, saffron and caramel—the burger would have looked more like chicken: yellowish and white. By adding myoglobin, the next burger will not just look like red meat, it will also have a higher iron content.

No more serum derived from blood from unborn cows. By far the biggest issue Post will address in the next year is the growth factor problem, which is more or less a deal-maker or breaker for lab-grown meat. My burger was created from 20,000 strands of muscle tissue grown in fetal bovine serum. It’s not just that FBS, which is collected from unborn cows at slaughterhouses, is inconsistent with the whole animal welfare spirit of cultured meat. It’s that FBS is ridiculously expensive. Some critics, such as synthetic biologist Christina Agapakis, call the high cost of cell culture the fatal flaw of the idea. But Post believes otherwise. He said he’s experimenting with 30 vegetarian and yeast-based growth serums—broths of amino acids, salts and sugars that will mimic hormones and catalyze meat cell growth. He says two cultures are particularly promising.

It’s an ambitious agenda, but with Brin’s backing, the increased staff and growing signs of consumer interest in meat alternatives, Post has radically revised his timetable. When I first visited his lab in 2009, he scoffed at the idea that a cultured meat product would be available in 10 years. But now Post believes a commercially viable cultured meat product is achievable within seven years. He expects to finish his work in a year and a half—and then pass along his work to experts on “scaling up.”

This doesn’t mean we’ll have a cultured beef option at McDonald’s in seven years. Post warns that these first cultured beef patties (appearing in 2021, if his estimate is right) won’t be feed-the-world burgers, let alone cost-competitive with conventional meat. Post envisions cultured meat will begin as a high-end product for people who care deeply about the environment and how their meat is produced (think Prius drivers). If there’s consumer demand, production will increase and prices will fall quickly.

Another reason Post is increasingly optimistic about a commercial future for cultured meat is that his work is getting interest from a different audience. Whereas lab meat used to attract interest from science-minded journalists and connoisseurs of futuristic moonshot ideas, now Post is often giving talks to the food industry’s rank and file, from flavor companies to food additives suppliers. “They’re considering it as a business idea.”

Josh Schonwald is a Chicago-based journalist and author of The Taste of Tomorrow: Dispatches from the Future of Food.

TIME robotics

This Robot Army Can Organize Itself

Harvard University — YouTube

Expect the future to be overrun with millions more like it

Scientists at Harvard University have created an army of over a thousand tiny robots that can communicate with each other to perform complex actions. The breakthrough could lay the framework for future robot brigades that collaborate to execute large tasks such as environmental cleanup.

The 1,024 simple bots, called Kilobots, are each only a few centimeters wide, but communicate with each other using infrared light to create large star- or K-shaped formations. Only the initial instruction to form up needs to be given — after that, Kilobots organize themselves and cooperate with each together to smooth out logjams or redirect bots that have wandered off-course.

Michael Rubenstein, the lead author of the study published in the journal Science, says that Kilobots mimic units found in nature such as a group of ants that link together to forge a river, or a body of cells that assemble to form an organism. “Biological collectives involve enormous numbers of cooperating entities — whether you think of cells or insects or animals — that together accomplish a single task that is a magnitude beyond the scale of any individual,” Rubenstein said in a statement released by the Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences.

Although scientists have directed simple bots to complete tasks before, this is the first time that such a large company has operated together. Radhika Nagpal, one of the researchers in the study, says that the Kilobots demonstrate the potential of robots to self-organize on a larger scale. “Increasingly, we’re going to see large numbers of robots working together, whether its hundreds of robots cooperating to achieve environmental cleanup or a quick disaster response, or millions of self-driving cars on our highways,” Nagpal said in a statement. “Understanding how to design ‘good’ systems at that scale will be critical.”

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