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white pill #13 // discovery doubles total earth phosphate deposits, a metamaterial that can count, anomalous subsurface heat on the moon, FDA approval of a drug that slows alzheimers, and more
Reader, it’s the 13th edition of the White Pill, where the Pirate Wires crew rounds up all the most evocative, excellent news in space, science, medicine, energy, and engineering from this past week. Welcome back.
What makes this issue of the White Pill the best one yet? This week we’ve potentially got a new planet in our solar system (in the Oort Cloud region, but still) that got here from another solar system, a new brain cancer sensing nanowire, a mindbending experiment demonstrating the incredible audacity of evolution, new research on how to pack the most amount of stuff into a container, a video of a newly developed material that can, inexplicably, count to 10, and pics of a giant orb that’s recently appeared in Vegas in the Fun Stuff section, among other things. Also, another White Pill Investment Index, where we track all the most interesting companies that raised venture capital this week.
What’s not to love? Enjoy it.
But first, some excellent news
Have you heard? A massive reserve of high-grade phosphate rock was just discovered in Norway. Phosphorus is staple of modern agriculture and technology used in fertilizer, solar panels, EV batteries, and semiconductors. As of 2021, the USGS estimated the entire world’s phosphate rock reserves totaled 71 billion tons, the vast majority of which was located in Africa and China. But late last month, a Norwegian mining company discovered a 70-billion-ton reserve, doubling the USGS’s estimate of the global supply overnight. The company that located the deposit says it will be enough to sustain battery and solar panel demand for the next 50 years, and can begin mining it within five. (Potentially) excellent news. (Euractiv)
Anomalous heat and granite detected below the moon’s surface. “China's Chang'e 1 and Chang'e 2 orbiters picked up… anomalous heat, around 20 times higher than average for the lunar highlands,” researchers at Southern Methodist University and the Planetary Science Institute recently announced. Weirder, they concluded that the decay of radioactive elements in an enormous “granite matrix” is likely the source of the heat. And weirder still, granite is rare outside of Earth, because its formation is aided by tectonic plate activity and abundant water — if this granite wasn’t made by water, it must have been some other “extreme situation.” Mysterious. (Science Alert) (Nature)
Oort cloud may be harboring a hidden, ‘captured’ planet. A gravitational anomaly pulling on Uranus and Neptune has been chalked up in the past to a hypothetical “Planet X” lurking in the Kuiper Belt, but a new paper suggests the true explanation could be that the Oort Cloud captured an exoplanet from a different solar system. From the paper: “Dynamical instabilities among giant planets are thought to be nearly ubiquitous, and culminate in the ejection of one or more planets into interstellar space… We find that a fraction of planets that would otherwise have been ejected are instead trapped on very wide orbits analogous to those of Oort cloud comets.” Lonely. (Futurism) (arxiv.org)
US government soliciting space cargo shipping solutions. In an announcement on June 30, the DOD’s Defense Innovation Unit issued a call for “novel commercial solutions that enable responsive and precise point-to-point delivery of cargo to, from, and through space.” They cooking. (Defense Innovation Unit)
SpaceX rocket launched ESA’s Euclid space telescope on July 1, “designed to seek out invisible dark matter and dark energy” (space.com); also, SpaceX launch vehicles appear to have been equipped with upgraded cameras, and recent video shows quite a noticeable improvement in footage quality
Starship will switch from a “drifting” to “hot staging” separation strategy, during which the rocket’s second stage engines will fire up before detaching from the first stage (Space News) (h/t Orbital Index)
Astronomers used the JWST to discover most distant active supermassive black hole; it’s at the center of a galaxy that formed just 570 million years after the Big Bang (space.com)
Earth hit its aphelion — the distance at which its farthest from the sun — on Thursday, July 6, at 8:06 PM UTC (CBS)
NASA’s Mars chopper, Ingenuity, regained contact with Earth after going dark for two months (Futurism)
By the way, the Episode 4 of the Pirate Wires Podcast is out —
Episode 4 of the Pirate Wires podcast dropped yesterday, where the crew talks with John Luttig, who recently guested on PW with an article on the many bogus narratives driving the AI discourse. After, we discuss digital land acknowledgments and River Page’s piece on the congressionally-mandated AI regulatory committee staffed by people from the managerial DEI class, tasked with making policy recommendations to the President. Give it a watch. (The episode is also on Apple Podcasts and Spotify.)
Energy, Engineering, Computing
Researchers identify new technique for packing the most possible stuff in a container, can you believe it? Some nerds at MIT developed an algorithm for sorting stuff in such a way that the most amount of the stuff’s area is touching, meaning the least amount of emptiness between the things is in the stuff (i.e. the densest possible stuff). “It’s kind of like the game Tetris,” one of the researchers helpfully explains, in a Pulitzer-level analogy. “You want to leave as little empty space as possible.” (TechXplore)
Scientist evolve the “simplest, autonomously growing organism.” Scientists stripped a bacterial genome of all its non-essential genes, giving rise to a “minimal cell” exhibiting only half the evolutionary fitness of its unaltered bacterial predecessor. According to one of the study’s lead scientists, because “every single gene in its genome is essential, one could hypothesize that there is no wiggle room for mutations, which could constrain its potential to evolve.” But when they watched the minimal cell evolve over the course of 2,000 generations, its mutation rate turned out to be “exceptionally high,” and it regained all the fitness it lost when its genome was originally pared back. (Indiana University) (Nature)
Physicists create a mechanical metamaterial that can count. It’s a soft rubber block with eleven pairs of beams that “count” by sequentially bending when force is applied. What’s more, physicist Lennard Kwakernaak said, “Along the way, I found out that you can cause different reactions in the rubber by pushing with different levels of force. By experimenting with this, I was able to make a metamaterial that only counts to the end if you push on it in the right order, with the right amount of force. A kind of lock, in other words." Video below, and read more about how this ‘simple’ tech might be used on Phys.org.
Towards an aluminum battery. Engineers recently developed “the first design of aluminum radical batteries which use water-based electrolytes that are fire-retardant and air-stable, delivering a stable voltage output of 1.25 V and a capacity of 110 mAh g–1 over 800 cycles with only 0.028% loss per cycle.” Aluminum is one of the most abundant elements on Earth, and in fact is the most abundant abundant metallic element on its crust; i.e. aluminum-based batteries would probably be way cheaper, among other good things. (TechXplore) (ACS)
This forge press creating part of Nuscale’s first small modular reactor is squeezing an ingot that reaches temps of 2,300°F from the pressure — awesome video here
Researchers at Penn State University say they’ve just filed a patent for a type of glass that’s 10 times as crack resistant and can be made with around 30 percent less energy, because it has a lower melting temperature than typical soda lime silicate glass (TechXplore)
Microsoft teamed up with a major bank to test a light-based computer on real-world financial problems, which if successful would represent a major proof-of-concept for a technology often dismissed as impractical (Microsoft)
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.
Satellite propulsion — Benchmark Space Systems, developer of satellite propulsion tech to facilitate the growth of the space economy, raises just over $33m in venture funding
Nasal ‘epi pens’ — Bryn Pharma, a company working on a nasal-based epinephrine to treat anaphalaxis (this would be used instead of an epi pen), raises almost $27m in venture funding
AI-based scientific research search — Consensus.app, a company working on an AI-based search engine specifically for querying scientific research, raises a $3m seed in a deal led by Draper Associates
AI biopharma discovery — Synthetica Bio, developer of an enterprise-scale platform that uses generative AI for real-time biopharma discovery, raises a $2.5m seed
Electric airplanes — Seaflight Technologies raises a $1.4m seed to develop “autonomous winged ships” that fly at low altitude to deliver cargo
Nanowire sensor detects brain cancer from urine sample. Early detection of brain cancer is critical for ensuring a reasonable chance of survival; by the time symptoms emerge, it’s often too late. Thanks to a new zinc oxide nanowire sensor developed by Japanese researchers, brain cancer screening could now become a routine component of annual physicals, enabling widespread early diagnosis, and potentially a substantial boost in brain cancer survival rates. (Eurekalert) (Biosensors and Bioelectronics)
Cancer cells: just kill yourself. Scientists took mRNA that codes for a bacterial toxin, encased it in lipid nanoparticles, injected it into tumor cells, and found that the tumor cells would convert the mRNA into a toxin which killed ~50 percent of the cells in a Tel Aviv University study on mice. From one of the scientists: “The particles were injected into the tumors of animal models with melanoma skin cancer. After a single injection, 44–60% of the cancer cells vanished… ‘Thus, with a simple injection to the tumor bed, we can cause cancer cells to ‘commit suicide,’ without damaging healthy cells.’” (Phys.org)
FDA grants full approval to first Alzheimer’s drug proven to slow disease progression. Medicare and Medicaid will now expand coverage of the drug, Leqembi, enabling millions of Americans to reap its benefits. (CNN)
300,000-year-old giant handaxes crafted by early human ancestors. There’s no evidence to suggest our prehistoric ancestors had giant hands, and yet archaeologists keep unearthing giant handaxes. No one has a clue why these things are so big 🤔 (Vice)
A giant orb has appeared in Vegas. How is this thing real? (Below) (@VegasIssues)
Donut-shaped Earth theoretically possible, Twitter account says (with video)
AI lasers power the impressive industrial farming vehicle thats shown zapping weeds in this impressive video
Touch grass this weekend.
-Brandon Gorrell and Nick Russo