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white pill #22 // a new hidden planet, a martian technology initiative, an air-to-air U2 video, a stem cell human embryo model, and sandal prints from 148,000 years ago
Good morning reader, welcome to the 22nd issue of the White Pill. It’s a space-heavy edition this weekend, with news coming out of the Mars Society and NASA’s DART team, among other items. A lot of interesting funding activity in this week’s White Pill Investment Index, then in our engineering and computing section, items on gold nanodots, GPS that works underground, lasers, and more. In our section on medicine we have yet another thing semaglutide (Ozempic) seems to be able to do, as well as a few more pieces of news. And finally, as always, fun stuff at the end.
Oh, please don’t forget — the White Pill has a X/Twitter account now, follow it for snackable science, energy, engineering, and space in your feed, and RT if you are so inclined.
Have a great weekend.
Ballistic lunar transfer. The Japanese lunar lander SLIM, whose mission it is to demonstrate an extremely precise moon landing that targets an accuracy of 330 feet (100 meters) (for comparison, Apollo 11’s lander targeted a 12 mile, or 20 km-wide landing range) lifted off after two years of delays on Wednesday. Its orbital trajectory, shown above, uses a ballistic lunar transfer, presumably (if I’m wrong, can you help in the comments?), to ‘save’ fuel on its lunar orbital injection, which happens at the end of 2023.
Hidden planet? Astronomers have been puzzling over countless Trans Neptunian Objects (TNOs), icy bodies that orbit the sun at greater average distances than Neptune, as well as a 621 mile (1,000 km) diameter dwarf planet called Sedna that have odd, ‘unexplainable’ orbits. Sedna, for example, has a 11,400-year highly elliptical orbit with an unusual inclination, and its distance from the sun is too far (936 AU away) to have been significantly influenced by the gravitational pull of Neptune, yet it's not far enough to be considered part of the Oort Cloud. But in a recent paper published in Astronomical Journal, two Japanese researchers used computer simulations to suggest a planet 1.5 to 3x the size of Earth located 250 to 500 AU from the sun is causing these strange orbits. (space.com)
Dimorphos updates. On September 26, 2022, NASA’s Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) intentionally slammed a spacecraft into the asteroid Dimorphos, which orbits a larger parent body called Didymos, to see if it could shorten its orbit by at least 73 seconds. In fact, the collision ended up shortening Dimorphos’ orbit by 32 minutes (jeez). Now, a high school teacher and his crack team of students noticed something about Dimorphos that NASA never expected: instead of stabilizing, the asteroid’s orbit has continued to decay, dropping an additional 34 minutes, potentially the result of impact debris smashing back down on the surface. Will Dimorphos’ orbit eventually make smash into its parent body Didymos? Who knows! DART coordination lead Nancy Chabot says they’ll release their own research into what happened soon. (New Scientist)
DART and Dimorphos most recently made an appearance on the White Pill in July, when Hubble snapped an image of it that showed boulders flying off the asteroid’s surface as a result of the collision
Mars Technology Institute. The Mars Society — dedicated to the exploration and settlement of Mars — announced the creation of the Mars Technology Institute (MTI), “whose purpose will be to develop the technologies needed to settle the Red Planet.” Mars Society President and Founder Dr. Robert Zubrin commented that while SpaceX and other companies are already working on transportation to Mars, “what is needed is an institution devoted to developing the technologies that will allow us to live once we are there.”
MTI will initially focus on the biotech problem of growing food on Mars. One major roadblock to Martian agriculture is the inefficiency of photosynthesis, which “is only about 0.2% efficient in converting the solar energy impacting a cornfield into biologically useful energy in the form of corn. This is not a major problem on Earth, where vast amounts of agricultural land are readily available. But it’s a show stopper for Mars.” (Twitter/X) (The Mars Society)
Be sure to check next week’s White Pill, in which the lead story will be a White Pill interview with Zubrin (!!)
And speaking of Mars tech. After two and a half years, a microwave-sized pilot device on the Mars Perseverance Rover called MOXIE has FINALLY generated enough oxygen from the Martian atmosphere to keep a small dog alive for 10 hours. Send the doggo up! (Two and a half years is a long time, yes — but it’s a demonstration that we can hopefully scale. From NASA: “The next step wouldn’t be building MOXIE 2.0 … Rather, it would be to create a full-scale system that includes an oxygen generator like MOXIE and a way to liquefy and store that oxygen.”) (Business Insider)
Lunar operations. India’s Vikram Moon lander has found a wealth of important elements in the lunar soil near the Moon’s south pole that could be used for moon construction and manufacturing, including sulfur, aluminum, calcium, iron, chromium, titanium, manganese, silicon, and oxygen. No water ice yet, but in terms of exploration and development on the Moon, the more in situ resources available, the better. (IFL Science)
Read our interview with NASA Swamp Works co-founder Phil Metzger, in which we discuss the in situ use of lunar regolith to make rocket propellant out of its hydrogen and oxygen.
Here’s an extremely cool video of Rocket Lab’s Electron’s second stage separation that you must watch.
This week Arizona-based photographer Blair Bunting posted a tearjerker on YouTube (below) that documents his stunning trip to the edge of space to do air-to-air photography of the U-2 Dragon Lady. Oof. (The Drive)
Can a black hole be destroyed, and what would happen if it was destroyed? Check out this epic and interesting video from Kurzgesagt.
Elon Musk announced that SpaceX's Starship is ready for a second launch—the only holdup now is bureaucracy (FAA approval). (Twitter/X)
A Neptune sized exoplanet named TOI-1853b has been found to posses a density higher than steel. This is thought to result from a high energy impact of a planet sized body during its formation. (University of Bristol)
Check out this amazing, on-the-ground footage of SpaceX’s Dragon spacecraft re-entering the atmosphere on September 3, carrying a crew of astronauts back from the ISS.
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. Deals are sourced from Pitchbook.
Clone your brain — Delphi, a startup building an AI-powered tool that can clone your knowledge (from your digital footprint such as Youtube videos, your blog, your diary, even) and make it accessible in a web interface, raises a $2.7 million Seed led by Founders Fund, with participation from Lux Capital, Balaji Srinivasan, John Coogan, and others (they’re friends of the Pirate Wires empire, so go get on their waitlist now)
Iodine-based satellite propulsion — T4I, a company developing satellite engines that run on iodine (it’s 100x cheaper, and unlike xenon it doesn’t require a pressurized storage system), raises $2.68 million from Italian aerospace company Avio
Telomere extension — Rejuvenation Technologies, a startup developing a drug which uses “reverse transcriptase” to extend telomeres (cellular aging happens when your telomeres shorten), raises $10.6 million in venture funding in a deal led by Khosla Ventures
GPS-free navigation — Psionic, a company developing a self-contained inertial navigation system using lidar technology (perfect for navigation in space or in defense scenarios where GPS signals might be jammed), raises $4.15 million in venture funding from undisclosed investors
Skin grafts from fish — Kerecis, a Reykjavik-based company that offers fish-skin grafts used to treat chronic and traumatic wounds (the fish in question are wild Atlantic Cod), is being acquired by Coloplast for $1.3 billion
Moon exploration — Intuitive Machines, a company developing a diversified suite of services for organizations seeking to explore space (they offer a lunar “hopper” drone that can hop 15 miles from its mothership), is raising $20 million in a private placement funding event
AI that can reason — Imbue, a startup building AI systems optimized for reasoning (if you’ve used current chatbots, you know how hard the reasoning part is), raises a $200 million Series B led by Astera Institute and with participation from Nvidia and others
Open-source AI — Hugging Face, a leading player in open-source AI models and ML developer infrastructure, raises a $235 million Series D led by Salesforce Ventures, with participation from investors such as Amazon, AMD, IBM, Nvidia, and Alphabet
HUD for cars — Envisics, a company developing a holographic head-up display to overlay critical information into the driver’s field of view, raises a $100 million Series C led by Hyundai and General Motors
Another eVTOL company — ARC Aerosystems, an England-based company developing a 9-seater business jet with a top speed of 229mph, receives $7.47 million in grant funding from the British Business Bank
Satellites but at a 75 percent discount — Antaris Space, a startup that allows companies to design and program satellites via a web interface for a massive reduction in cost and time-to-orbit, raises a $7.7 million Seed led by Possible Ventures, Streamlined Ventures and Acequia Capital, with participation from Lockheed Martin and others
Hey — the White Pill just got a X/Twitter account, where we’re sharing all the excellent developments in tech, science, space, and medicine that we come across. Please follow, like, and retweet!
In a foretaste of a future where we increasingly use nanotechnology inside our bodies, scientists have "tattooed" cells with gold nanodots and nanowire. "This, they say, is a significant first step towards adding more complex circuitry." (Science Alert)
Using detectors for cosmic ray generated muons (a heavier, short lived version of an electron), scientists have created a type of GPS that works underground and underwater, which traditional GPS does not. Dubbed the muometric positioning system, once developed further it could be an important addition to our GPS system of navigation. (SciTechDaily)
What are lasers and how do they work? Check out this explainer to understand a piece of technology that's ubiquitous in our modern world.
An AR 3D modeling tool is soon coming to your iPhone that will essentially allow you to capture and manipulate real life objects with your phone (like a statue such as in this stunning demo).
Stem cell scenario. Israeli scientists created a model of a human embryo at day 14 in its development. To do this, they took stem cells derived from adult skin cells and “reverted” them to an earlier stage in which they had the potential to grow into a number of different types of cells.
The model embryo isn’t the first of its kind — in June, a US/UK team claimed that honor after they presented their embryo model at the International Society for Stem Cell Research’s annual meeting. Both teams’ work represent a deeper, more detailed understanding of the the early stages of human development than we’ve had before, and could lead to advancements in fertility treatments, provide solutions for couples struggling with infertility, and help us better understand miscarriages, among more potential. (Reuters)
The nose knows. A fascinating new study found that when fragrance was diffused for two hours through the bedroom at night, older adults without memory impairments experienced a "226% increase in cognitive capacity compared to the control group. The olfactory sense has the special privilege of being directly connected to the brain’s memory circuits.” Further studies will be planned to test the effectiveness of this approach in those with cognitive impairments. (SciTechDaily)
The results of a small University of Buffalo study suggest that giving newly diagnosed type 1 diabetes semaglutide (Ozempic) may altogether eliminate the need for injected insulin (wtf?). “We are now absolutely focused on pursuing a larger study for a longer period of time," said senior author of the paper Dr. Paresh Dandona. Lfg? (MedicalXpress)
Sometimes it's the little changes that make all the difference in people's lives. A common immunotherapy drug used to treat cancer can now be injected under the skin, saving numerous patients the time and discomfort of being hooked up to an IV. (Interesting Engineering)
A common sleeping pill, suvorexant, may help prevent Alzheimer’s disease by reducing the buildup in amyloid-beta and tau proteins. (Science Alert)
An existing treatment for multiple sclerosis may help treat Alzheimer’s disease as well. Mouse models showed it reduced inflammation in the brain, and helped clear neurotoxin proteins. Because it's already approved for human use, it could start helping Alzheimer’s patients immediately. (Medical Xpress)
Finally, the fun stuff
Some of our ancestors may have started wearing sandals as early as 148,000 years ago. Footprints from South Africa show crisp margins, lack of toes, and possible strap attachments points; all things you would expect to see in footprints from people wearing sandals. (IFL Science)
African elephants seem to use individually specific calls when addressing one another — the equivalent of names, making them the first non-human species to do so. This is different from the version of names dolphins call each other, which are imitations of a specific call made by individuals when communicating with them. (IFL Science)
The “Scent of Eternity” from an ancient Egyptian mummified around 1450 BC has been recreated thanks to modern of gas chromatography and mass spectrometry. The results showed beeswax, various plant oils, animal fat, bitumen, resin from conifers, and a plant compound called coumarin, which has a vanilla-like scent. In case you were wondering, a perfumer already recreated it, because why not? (Science Alert)
Touch grass this weekend!!