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white pill #15 // 'oumuamua wasn't shaped like a cigar, astonishing fossil shows mammal attacking dinosaur, researchers say they found a meteorite that originated on earth, and more
Reader, I’m here to tell you that we have the most fun, thrilling, excellent White Pill for you yet (how do these just keep getting better and better?). In our 15th edition of the world’s most evocative and mind-bending newsletter covering space, energy, engineering, medicine, and tech, it’s great news all the way down. In our Excellent News section, we have a commercial-scale geothermal energy breakthrough. In our section on space, the Hubble captures boulders escaping the surface of an asteroid we smashed a spacecraft into, and a study argues for an evocative and lonely theory on rogue planets, among a bunch of other items. We have Cybertruck updates, CRISPR forests, and more in our Engineering and Computing section, and in the Medicine section, developments in MRI tech and brittle diabetes, among others. As always, fun stuff at the end, and the White Pill Investment Index in the middle.
Love you guys — enjoy.
First, some most excellent news
Significant geothermal development. Geothermal energy startup Fervo Energy just finished a 30-day commercial-scale pilot in northern Nevada which generated enough energy to power over 2,500 homes (3.5 megawatts) using an “enhanced geothermal system” (EGS). This could dramatically expand our ability to harness geothermal. In short, EGS technology can penetrate into parts of the earth’s crust that have — up until now — been inaccessible. “Any place that you wanted to drill… you could find temperatures high enough for what you want to do,” said Joseph Moore of the Department of Energy’s Frontier Observatory for Research in Geothermal Energy (FORGE) project. Excellent news. (Bloomberg)
Rogue planets. After the discovery of a second rogue planet, a new study argues that they’re “six times more abundant than worlds that orbit stars in our galaxy.” This theory will be tested by the Roman Space Telescope when it launches in 2027. From lead author Takahiro Sumi: “We estimate that our galaxy is home to 20 times more rogue planets than stars — trillions of worlds wandering alone.” Though untethered to any star, it’s possible for rogue planets to be ‘warm’ and even retain an atmosphere if still geologically active. Regardless, sure does sound lonely out there. (Phys.org)
Space is f**ing metal. The CHEOPS telescope recently found a gaseous Neptune-sized planet, dubbed LTT9779 b, with shining clouds of metal and glass and complete with titanium rain. It’s “super metal-rich atmosphere” actually makes it the most reflective planet discovered, unseating Venus for that honor. LTT9779 b “can form metallic clouds despite being so hot because the atmosphere is oversaturated with silicate and metal vapours… Imagine a burning world, close to its star, with heavy clouds of metals floating aloft, raining down titanium droplets,” explain the paper’s co-authors. (FutureTimeline)
Escape from Dimorphos. The Hubble Space Telescope captured an image (above) of the asteroid Dimorphos that shows 37 boulders that range from between three and 22 feet across ‘escaping’ its surface after NASA slammed its half-ton craft Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) into it in an attempt to change its trajectory in September 2022 (they were successful). From the Thursday press release:
[The boulders] are drifting away from the asteroid at little more than a half-mile per hour… [they were] most likely not shattered pieces [of the asteroid but] already scattered across the asteroid's surface… It's not clear how the boulders were lifted off the asteroid's surface. They could be part of an ejecta plume… [or] a seismic wave from the impact may have rattled through the asteroid — like hitting a bell with a hammer — shaking lose the surface rubble.
“The boulders could have been excavated from a circle of about 160 feet across (the width of a football field) on the surface of Dimorphos,” said David Jewitt of UCLA. The ESA will send its Hera spacecraft to investigate the crash site in late 2026. (Hubblesite h/t @ThePlanetaryGuy)
Um, what? A geophysicist recently presented his team’s findings about a meteorite, pictured directly above, found in Northwest Africa in 2018. Namely, his claim is that the space rock is from Earth. While some are skeptical — “when you're claiming extraordinary hypotheses, you need extraordinary evidence to back it up. I am still unconvinced,” a planetary scientist told Science Alert — the suggestion is that a terrestrial rock made it into space via an asteroid impact, or shot into space from a volcano, floated around for a while, and then touched back down in Africa. Wow if true. (Science Alert)
Pulsar Fusion has started building a nuclear fusion rocket in the UK (pic above, top left) — if it works, it could make getting around the Solar System a lot faster (Science Alert)
NISAR, a “powerful Earth-observing satellite” that “will study Earth's changing land and ice surfaces” (a NASA-ISRO collab) is coming together, pic bottom right above (JPL)
Check out videos of the ISRO’s Chandrayaan-3 rocket booster separation and fairing separation — and the cool earth views in the background; the rocket began its journey to the lunar south pole two Fridays ago (@thePrimalSpace)
The Australians have recovered what is “most likely a solid rocket motor casing” from a beach in western Australia, pic above top right (@AusSpaceAgency)
Virgin Galactic will send a former Olympian and a mother-daughter duo on their inaugural commercial space flight in August, pic above (CNN)
Highly recommend this analysis of the extraordinary claim that interstellar object ‘Oumuamua is an ET-made solar sail — so many interesting details about the object that haven’t really made it into the broader discourse; the piece also corrects the widespread belief that ‘Oumuamua is cigar-shaped — it’s actually most likely the shape of a pancake (pic above, bottom left) (@Astro_Wright).
Researchers built an AI model of the complex magnetic field in the Sun’s upper atmosphere, hopefully allowing far more accurate forecasts of Solar activity; solar events like large flares or coronal mass ejections can interfere with electronics, damage satellites, or put astronauts at risk, so better forecasts are key to our future in space (Phys.org) (Skoltech)
Watch this sublime clip of Falcon 9's second stage during an orbital sunset
July 20 marked exactly 54 years since Apollo 11 astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin became the first humans to set foot on the moon (@airandspace)
It was published in 2021, but it looks too cool not to include — Megastructures is a “visual encyclopedia” by Neil Blevins that “contains everything from orbiting space habitats to solar system spanning stellar engineering projects. Each of the 40 structures in the encyclopedia includes a scientific explanation, followed by paintings and diagrams that bring the concept to life.” Buy it here.
The White Pill Investment Index tracks investments in companies developing interesting, exciting, forward-thinking products. For last week’s deals, check out last week’s White Pill.
Solar energy at night — 247Solar, a company developing technology for storing daytime sun-generated heat in ceramic pellets to be used for electricity generation at night, raises an $8m Series A from Safari Partners and other investors
Cargo drones — Dronamics, a London-based startup developing “the world’s first cargo drone airline,” raises $2.2m in equity crowdfunding, bringing their total raised to-date to $44.8m
Surveyor robots — TinyMobileRobots, developer of… tiny mobile robots designed to help with precision GPS-aided marking on roads, construction sites and sports fields, raises $14.9m in debt and equity from STIHL Ventures and others
7-seater electric aircraft — Lilium, the Munich-based developer of electric vertical takeoff aircraft, is in talks to receive $42m in funding via a PIPE from Earlybird, a private equity firm, and other investors.
AI Grain Analysis — ZoomAgri, a company developing computer vision tools to assess the physical quality of grains and oilseeds such as corn and barley, raises $5.52m in venture funding from undisclosed investors
Remote heart monitoring — VitalConnect, developer of the VitalPatch adhesive cardiac monitor that allows physicians to monitor their patients while they recover at home, raises $30m in Series F funding in a deal led by Revelation Partners
Clothes that fit your body shape — Fitmatch.ai, developer of a tool that maps shoppers’ body shapes and then matches them with well-fitting clothing, raises $5.36m in venture funding from undisclosed investors
Don’t miss Owen Lewis’ recent White Pill feature article –
Engineering and Computing
CRISPR forest management. North Carolina-based researchers used a machine learning model to identify CRISPR gene editing strategies for, essentially, making trees ‘pulp-ier’ (easier to make into pulp). They were quite successful in their effort, growing gene-edited trees that were up to 50 percent more ‘pulp-able’ on one vector, and 200 percent more on another. At this point it may be obvious that I’m vastly oversimplifying the effect they achieved here, but ultimately the result means less energy spent for the same or more tree fiber (paper, diapers, cardboard, packaging, etc etc). It’s good. (SciTechDaily)
Musk: Tesla in early talks with major car manufacturer about licensing company’s Full Self-Driving software (Electrek)
Tesla: “We are now testing Cybertruck vehicles around the world for final certification and validation. This might be the most unique vehicle product in decades; with that comes trialing and testing new technologies. As far as we know, Cybertruck will be the first sub-19 ft. truck (fitting into a garage) that has both a six-foot bed and four doors. Both technologically and architecturally, this vehicle will break a lot of boundaries — very much in line with how we think about vehicle engineering and manufacturing.” New pics above. (Inside EVs)
Some recent Tesla lore surfaced about “the 25 Guns,” “rumored to be an elite group of Tesla engineers that report directly to [Elon Musk, brought in] to solve the most challenging problems, especially when time is of utmost importance. Basically, they are the Delta Force of engineers”; it was confirmed by Musk (“They were instrumental to the success of Giga Berlin”), (@OwenSparks_)
OpenAI is rolling out custom instructions for GPT. From their announcement: “ChatGPT will consider your custom instructions for every conversation going forward. The model will consider the instructions every time it responds, so you won’t have to repeat your preferences or information in every conversation.” (OpenAI)
Alzheimers progress. From MedicalXpress: “Researchers analyzed 4,800-plus proteins in the blood of more than 10,000 middle-aged people (aged 45-65) over 25 years [and] identified 32 proteins linked to the risk for dementia later in life.” Identifying “certain markers in the blood [which may] occur 10 to 20 years before the start of symptoms [could] help doctors determine who is at high risk for dementia.” From the Multimodal Imaging of Neurodegenerative Disease Unit at the U.S. National Institute on Aging, you can find the new paper in Science Translational Medicine.
MRI progress. Last Friday, Scientists at the University Medical Center Freiburg announced that they made significant advances in MRI technology after developing a way to “significantly enhance visibility” of MRI scans. “This plays an important role in personalized cancer diagnostics, among other applications.” (MedicalXpress)
The longer you look at this pic (above) that Neuralink tweeted on Tuesday of its surgeons practicing with its implant, the more interesting it gets
A protein from the scorpionfish has been found to effectively kill drug resistant bacteria in people suffering from cystic fibrosis, and if it’s safe, it could see widespread use against antibiotic resistant infections (Medical Xpress)
A treatment called Lantidra, developed by Chicago startup CellTrans, that functionally cures “brittle diabetes” — a rare form of the disease — has been approved by the FDA (Freethink)
In an early May issue of the White Pill, we wrote up drug manufacturer Eli Lilly’s press release announcing super encouraging results of a 1,700-person study on the effect of their drug Donanemab, which showed that it significantly slowed Alzheimer’s progression — the full paper on the study was published this week
New fossil discovery literally shows a mammal eating a dinosaur before getting ‘entombed’ in lava?? A paper published in Scientific Reports on Tuesday reveals an astonishing fossil that was formed when a volcanic debris flow interrupted what appears to be a large predatory rodent-like mammal trying to kill a dinosaur larger than it. From the paper: “Mesozoic mammals are usually depicted as having lived in the shadows of their larger dinosaurian contemporaries, but this new fossil convincingly demonstrates that mammals could pose a threat even to near fully-grown dinosaurs.” Suffice to say, nature is f**ing metal. (Nature)
Fascinating: “Oil lamps, weapons, human skulls, and other artifacts were used as part of necromancy ceremonies that took place” in a Jerusalem cave during the Late Roman period (~400 AD to 900 AD), a pair of archeologists recently speculated. More, artifacts from two previous time periods — an Intermediate Bronze Age axe (~2100 to 1550 BC) and an Early Bronze Age juglet (~3300 to 2100 BC) — were found with those from the Late Roman period, indicating that “ancient items were gathered and redeposited in the Late Roman–Early Byzantine period… as part of cultic activity.” (Cambridge.org)
Researchers confirmed that the weird circular bare patches of dirt in the Namibian grasslands known as fairy circles are caused by termites (Phys.org)
The exhibit is from 2021 (video below), but made the rounds on Twitter this week: John Moon’s Chasing Stars in Shadow is a beautiful AI-powered interactive installation that tells a story “about shadow kids who come and go between 2D and 3D… [progressing] to next stages when the viewer finds and approaches the shadows who call him here and there.” Here’s the artist’s website. (ht @LinusEkenstam)
Touch grass this weekend.