The Daily Flash -Eco, Space, Tech (8/18)

Neptune-planet1 Neptune Finally Makes First Orbit Around the Sun Since Discovery In 1846

The planet Neptune will be in opposition — when the sun, Earth, and a planet fall in a straight line on Aug. 20. The planet will be exactly opposite the sun in the sky, being highest in the sky at local midnight. Usually this is also the point where the planet is closest to the Earth. This opposition is special because Neptune will be returning close to the spot where it was discovered in 1846, marking its first complete trip around the sun since its discovery. Coincidentally opposition in 1846 also fell on Aug. 20, although the planet wasn't actually spotted until over a month later, on Sept. 23.


Astronaut Muscle Would Wither Before Reaching Mars

Even if we could farm on Mars, astronauts might be too weak by the time they get there to help plow the fields. The first cellular analysis of muscles from astronauts who have spent 180 days at the International Space Station shows that their muscles lost more than 40 percent of their capacity for physical work, despite in-flight exercise. No matter how good their shape was before the astronauts left, they returned with muscles tone that resembled that of the average 80-year-old. In fact, the astronauts who were in the best shape before they launched were the most likely to come back with withered, or atrophied, muscles. NASA currently estimates it would take a crew 10 months to reach Mars, with a one year stay, and 10 months to get back, for a total mission time of about three years. These studies suggest they would barely be able to crawl by the time they got back to Earth with the current exercise regime. “The lack of load” — pressure on muscles — “is the main problem,” said biologist Robert Fitts of Marquette University. “There is no gravity and so any fibers within those muscles are unloaded. The load normally maintains protein synthesis and the size.” Even with plenty of activity, the lack of load leads to atrophy.

Death_grip_fungus_ant-thumb-600x489-86607 Fossilized mind control, 48 million years ago

This carpenter ant (Camponotus leonardi) is caught in the throes of a fungus-induced death grip. It has clamped itself to a leaf 25 centimetres above a forest floor in Thailand, and died. The reason is growing out of the back of its head. The reddish-brown stalk is made by a fungus called Ophiocordyceps unilateralis, which has invaded the ant's body and manipulated its behaviour. The exposed position is ideal for releasing spores.It turns out this parasitic mind-control is at least 48 million years old. David Hughes of Harvard University and colleagues discovered fossilised leaves of this age in Messel, Germany that bore characteristic "death grip" scars, suggesting that ants once clamped themselves onto them. It is the first time this sort of behavioural control has been discovered in the fossil record, and supports the idea that the ants and fungi have been locked in an evolutionary arms race for many millions of years.

Images Apple Hires Wireless Payment Guru, Prepare for iPhone Credit Cards

Apple's hired an expert in near-field communications to be its new product manager for mobile commerce. This is big news, in ways you may not immediately grasp: Propelled by Apple's cachet and iPhone's appeal, wireless payment tech may now be about to sweep over the world.

The man in question is Benjamin Vigier, who's been working in near-field comms (NFC) since at least 2004. In previous roles at flash memory firm Sandisk and Bouygues Telecom in France he worked on NFC tasks, and while at mFoundry–a mobile payments firm in the U.S.–he was responsible for PayPal Mobile and Starbuck's mobile service that made use of unique on-screen barcodes for payments. He's basically one of the big go-to guys if you're interested in cell phone payment systems.

Fast-talk-53-Morikawa-1 Derek Morikawa's Robots Pick Oranges From Trees (Really)

"In the citrus industry, the cost of labor is going up dramatically and is about half the cost of production. We realized that if we scan the orange tree first, we can tell where 95% to 99% of the oranges are in three dimensions. You can then calculate the most efficient way to pick the oranges, and the robot will do just that. We will be testing the first stage of these robots in California and Washington this year. We already have a prototype that figures out the proper way to prune wine-grape vines; it comes along with robotic arms that have hydraulic sheers, like Edward Scissorhands. And it gives the vines a haircut."

500x_drivingwhiletexting Why Isn't There A Better Way to Text While Driving?

It's deadly. It's irresponsible. And we've all done it. Before you commute home think about this: Why isn't there a better solution to texting while driving? Tuesday night in Los Angeles, celebrity plastic surgeon Dr. Frank Ryan drove his car over a cliff while sending a text to Twitter about his his border collie. (Quite possibly this tweet.) Dr. Ryan's death is a shame—mitigated only by the fact that he didn't hurt anyone else. (His dog Jill survived the accident, even.) But it's impossible not to feel a bit of schadenfreude at his self-inflicted death while doing something so trivial. "Darwin Award!" we chuckle. But we've all done it at times—or something equally as distracting while driving.


"The Galaxy" in Your Inbox, Free, Daily