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How Much Snow Does Mars Get?
white pill #27 // herculaneum scrolls, neutron star collision, laser lightning rods, ai earthquake prediction, gene therapy for deafness, cyberpunk vespa
Readers, I’m happy to be back here in your inbox with White Pill Issue #27. Hubble spotted a mystery in our space section, and in our engineering and computing section, we have researchers successfully using a laser as a lightning rod. The Investment Index is BACK, and after that we have a gene therapy for deafness, a potential cure for chemo fog, and more in the medicine section. And as always, fun stuff at the end.
San Francisco readers, it was great to meet you on Thursday. Thank you very much for your support and your enthusiasm for the White Pill, it means a lot. It was excellent to hang with you guys.
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Ok, let’s get to it.
Hubble spots a mystery. The Hubble Space Telescope has spotted an intergalactic mystery, something called a Luminous Fast Blue Optical Transient (LFBOT). LFBOTs were first discovered in 2018, are quite rare, and of unknown origin. They're a little like a very powerful supernova, except they brighten and dim far faster, in days instead of weeks or months. This latest find complicates things further, because it's in the void between galaxies, the last place one would expect an energetic event like this to occur. The team working on these findings think it might be “the result of a collision between two neutron stars that were ejected from their host galaxy and had been spiraling toward each other for billions of years.” I look at this as proof that the book of discovery yet remains wide open, so let's keep exploring! Or as Shakespeare would say, "There are more things in Heaven and Earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy." (Universe Today)
The Millennium Falcon rides again! In the 16th White Pill, we told you about a comet reminiscent of the Millennium Falcon. It's back! The comet itself didn't disappear, but the explosive outgassing of dust and debris that formed a shape similar to the famous ship did. Except that it's now done it again and astronomers aren't entirely sure why, though it could be caused by cryovolcanism (an ice volcano). Stay tuned, this comet, imaginatively dubbed Comet 12P, should be easily visible to the naked eye in April 2024. (Spaceweather.com)
How much snow does Mars get? Great question. Thanks to new research we now have a better idea. “At its highest, the thickness of Martian snowfall is close to a meter in winter, decreasing to .21 m (about 8 inches) in spring and continuing to drop throughout summer until colder weather sets in.” (Ars Technica)
The capsule containing a sample of asteroid Bennu was opened last Wednesday. An initial look at the “bonus” material in the capsule revealed a high carbon content of about 5%, along with water locked in clay minerals. “The reason that Earth is a habitable world... is because these clay minerals... landed on Earth 4-4.5 billion years ago,” said the mission’s principle investigator Dante Lauretta. (Twitter/X)
SpaceX launched NASA’s Psyche mission on Falcon Heavy at 10:19 am ET yesterday. It will travel 2.2 billion miles (3.6 billion km) for 6 years to reach the metal asteroid Psyche. (CNN)
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Catching the lightning. Scientists have managed to deflect lighting by almost 200 feet in a real-world test using a powerful laser. While this has been done in a lab before, it’s the first time it worked out in nature. If you use a powerful enough laser, it turns air molecules into a plasma, which is electrically conductive, offering a path of least resistance to lightning from cloud to ground. The problem is creating a pathway that lasts. To achieve this in a useful way, researchers built a laser able to fire 1,000 powerful pulses per second. This successful test opens the door for laser lightning rods that give a far greater area of protection than traditional metal ones. Smart. (Science Alert)
AI predicts earthquakes. Accurately predicting earthquakes before they occur is the holy grail of natural disaster forecasting. But while we have a fairly good understanding of the type and approximate earthquake size an area is vulnerable to, actually predicting them has been impossible. Maybe not for AI though. A team from the University of Texas “tested an AI algorithm that accurately predicted 70 percent of earthquakes a week before they happened,” over seven months in China. It correctly predicted “the location of 14 earthquakes within about 200 miles of where they actually occurred and at almost exactly the calculated strength.” It issued eight false alarms, but only missed one earthquake. (Interesting Engineering)
This subsea freighter concept (pictured above) “carries cars from Japan to Europe for delivery. Using a nuclear power plant and magnetohydrodynamic drives (MHDDs) driven by liquid helium-cooled superconductors, it can travel at speeds up to 100 knots.” The concept appeared in a 1990 issue of Popular Mechanics. (@PatrickJBlum)
LUCIDBOX is a Netflix-y catalog of all manner of AI-generated media, browse it the next time you’re bored.
The White Pill Investment Index tracks investments in companies developing interesting, exciting, forward-thinking products. Deals are sourced using a combination of Pitchbook and reach outs to each company.
End of life care for satellites — Astroscale, a company tackling the “on-orbit servicing” space, focusing on “life extension, in-space situational awareness, end of life, and active debris removal” for existing satellites (they’ll literally launch their own satellite to rendezvous with your satellite and then remove it from orbit), raises an estimated $83.6 million of Series G venture funding from Mitsubishi Electric, Mitsubishi and Development Bank of Japan.
Personal electric aerial vehicle — Jetson, a company building an EVTOL that carries one person (flight time is just 20 minutes but it looks like a sweet toy in any case), raises a $15 million seed.
Seagliders — Regent, a company developing an electric 12-seat aircraft for use exclusively over coastal waters (it’s designed to be a 180mph low-cost transportation solution for coastal city pairs), raises a $60 million Series A in a deal led by Founders Fund and 8090 Industries.
Warehouse robots as a service — Instock, a company that will install warehouse fulfillment robots and then charge clients every quarter for the number of items they move, raises $3.2 million in venture funding from undisclosed investors.
Bricklaying robot — Fastbrick Robotics, a company that sells a robot that uses its 105-foot arm to lay bricks at a rate of 500 per hour, receives $4 million of development capital from undisclosed investors through a private placement.
Water-based propulsion for space — Pale Blue, a Japan-based startup developing satellite thrusters that eject water (it’s a way to avoid using compounds such as hydrazine), raises a $6.7 million Series B from Sumitomo Mitsui Marine Capital and Incubate Fund.
An AI device? — Rabbit, a startup developing AI that sits between a user and any operating system (it will understand both you and your computer, and do things such as edit photos and book your travel reservations) (and they have hardware ambitions), raises $20 million of venture funding in a deal led by Khosla Ventures.
Gene therapy for deafness. Some estimates have auditory neuropathy, a type of deafness caused by a gene variation that ‘turns off’ the ability of inner hair cells in the ear to communicate with the hearing nerve, affecting up to 10% of children with hearing loss. Typically, the condition is treated with cochlear implants, which are suboptimal in everyday situations where there’s a lot of background noise and things making sound. But a gene therapy has been developed to reverse the effect of this variation, literally replacing the gene by putting the patient under general anesthesia and injecting it into his cochlea, and its first trial just began this month. Pretty cool, could be a game changer — results will be published in February, and trial participants will be monitored for the next five years. (FT)
Faster DNA detection. A new method of DNA detection is about 100x more sensitive than commonly used methods. It's faster too, potentially giving results in minutes instead of hours, days, or months that are typical now. It works by putting the sample in an alternating electric field, then, “we let the DNA dance.” The target DNA will have a specific oscillation frequency in the field that differs from other molecules, including non-target DNA strands. Among other benefits, this could allow for more rapid and easier disease detection, leading to faster treatment and better outcomes. (SciTechDaily)
Chemo brain, a type of brain fog, is common for cancer patients undergoing treatment. Researchers have now found that giving mice fiber supplements can reduce this by up to 50%. Human trials are next, but as fiber is safe and good for you anyways, this is actually one you can try at home. (Medical Xpress)
Finally, the fun stuff
The Herculaneum Scrolls, also known as the Villa of the Papyri Scrolls, are a collection of ancient Roman papyri that were carbonized by the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 AD. The carbonization helped to preserve the shape of the scrolls, but it also made them very fragile and difficult to unroll and read. So basically, we don’t know what they say… but we know they say something, because they’re scrolls. Discovered in the 18th century in the ancient town of Herculaneum, near modern-day Naples, they were found in a villa believed to belong to Julius Caesar's father-in-law, Lucius Calpurnius Piso Caesoninus.
But, plot twist, holy s**t, now we do know what they say (partly)!! They say “purple dye” or “cloths of purple” in Greek, which makes sense for scrolls like these, being found at a Roman emperor’s uncle’s house. Purple dye is, apparently, historically significant because it was often associated with royalty or nobility due to its high cost of production in ancient times.
We know what the scrolls say because of the Vesuvius Challenge, a computer science competition where participants were challenged to use machine learning to read the scrolls. Since then, participants have detected ink and words, as well as imaged the words. Really cool. (@natfriedman)
$10,000 will get you this cool cyberpunk scooter from Infinite Machine, pictured above.
Does this video show a 747 hovering in mid-air?
Listening to classical music together can synchronize certain physical responses in the audience. Researchers found synchronization of heart rate, breathing, and electrical conductivity of the skin; and “Individuals who rated more highly for personality traits such as openness were more likely to synchronize, while those with neurotic dispositions were less likely to align.” So interesting. (Science Alert)
Touch grass this weekend.
(Also, do you know someone who’s a great writer who would want to work for Pirate Wires? Who should we interview? What should we write more about? Please get in touch if you’re interested in discussing.)